Tag Archives: #kychat

Hey Bammy! If Anyone Can Reverse the Negative National Narrative, Parents Can!

I whole-heartedly support the concept of the Bammy Awards: “to celebrate all that is good in American education” and “to reverse the negative national narrative that dominates the education field.” The Bammy Awards weave together our collective body of work into one exhilarating story that as individual educators we often struggle to spin. This inability to counter the negativity aimed at our profession, my life’s purpose, puzzled me for years. Experience eventually taught me that the negativity was little more than a community reaction to what was misunderstood. When I was a school principal, I painfully learned that my community’s perception of me and of my school, whether accurate or not, WAS the story. Perception is reality, right? And, because the largest contingency in my school community were my students’ parents, parent perception and what they did not understand about education fueled the story they were telling.

Parents’ perceptions of school are shaped by their own education experiences, past and present. We can’t do anything to address a parent’s past experiences, but we sure can influence their current interactions with school and their relationships with teachers, those relationships that form the foundation for and strong family-school partnership. We can work to make parents raving fans of our schools and of the education field as a whole by empowering parents, by sharing with them the edu-jargon and edu-knowledge we live for, and by including them in decision-making for real issues. We can invite parents to be our true partners in education. As partners, they too will soon become compelled to reverse any negative perception of American education. In a school of 600 students, there are likely more than 1,000 parents ready to engage in the national narrative. That is a small army. If we don’t reach out and offer our knowledge and our partnership, that army may join the ranks of the negative national narrative. However, make each of them a parent leader and school partner, and watch that negative national narrative fall apart!

My school district has embraced dispositional hiring for finding the most effective teachers to lead our classrooms and to build meaningful relationships with parents. We intentionally look for teachers who genuinely want to draw parents into the education process as partners in education. Schools who hire these teachers empower parents by sharing teaching and learning knowledge and by including parents regularly in the school decision-making process.

One of my favorite dispositional interview questions to ask teacher candidates is: “Will the parents of students in your classroom be involved, engaged, or empowered, and what is your role in getting them there?” Of course, there is no “right” answer to this question. However, if the hiring committee listens closely to HOW the candidate responds, they can get a pretty clear picture to what extent the candidate values parent-teacher partnerships. For example, an answer such as, “I will ensure that my parents are involved by providing them opportunities to make photo copies and to help when I need it,” does not likely indicate a disposition for fostering true parent-teacher partnerships. On the other hand, a candidate who responds with, “My students’ parents will be empowered to join my class at any time during the day so that they might learn along with us and share their experiences with us,” is likely a teacher who values school-home partnerships.

A colleague recently lost her mind (we all do from time to time) and, while venting, complained to me, “Parents just don’t want to be engaged in their children’s education.” I could tell by the look on her face she immediately remembered my position on this topic and wished she could take back those words. “Hogwash!” I replied. (For real… I said that. I love that word.) “Of course they want to be engaged. But, we have to provide parents with the opportunities, entrust them with the knowledge, and likely give up a portion of the control to which we have grown accustomed.” We all learned from Schoolhouse Rock that “Knowledge is power!” In schooling, we educators are the keepers of that knowledge. Hiring teachers who will empower parents and who embrace school-home partnerships is essential for all students to find school success. The more we empower parents in the decision-making process, the more engaged parents will become in their children’s learning and in the school community. They will become raving fans of American education and they will take over the national narrative. I believe that.

I suspect that the one-hundred-plus educators nominated for a Bammy Award this year possess the disposition for building effective parent-school partnerships. I also suspect the four (yes, four) parents nominated as of 11:00 pm on 5/7/15 share that disposition, too. I also suspect that if you are reading this blog post, you know of a parent or 1,000 parents who share that disposition. I encourage you to acknowledge those parent voices. Lift them up and honor them with a Bammy nomination so that they are noticed. Join me in celebrating all that is good in American education by nominating a parent leader for a Bammy Award at http://www.bammyawards.org/.

In My Ear, In the Moment, In 2015

They say a picture is worth a thousand words, which makes both figurative and literal sense when the picture is a photo of an actual thousand pieces. The thousand pieces you see in the picture above is from my dismantled iPhone.  Most of those pieces are not visible to you, because they are tiny. I mean tiny like fleas on a dog tiny, and equally aggravating. And by the way, some of those tiny screws are now forever lost in the forest of my bedroom carpet.  What you are really looking at is a bona fide near miss #holidaycatastrophe. But, lucky for me, I had Jason Mraz in my ear.

I like to listen to NPR on my car radio in the morning while driving to work.  My favorite NPR segment is “In Your Ear”. Guests on the program share the music they currently are listening to on their iPods, and describe why their picks inspire them, move them, or just plain make them happy.  This past week, along with the usual Christmas carols and Fa-la-la-la-las, this Jason Mraz song was in “In My Ear.”:

Living in the moment.
Living my life.
Easy and breezy.
With peace in my mind.
I got peace in my heart.
Got peace in my soul.
Wherever I’m goin’,
I’m already home.
Living in the moment.

That’s a lot of peace.  We can never have too much peace.  In fact, like many educators, I was more than ready for some peace of mind when my Holiday break rolled around last week.  Educators experience a mad flurry of “have to get done” projects and events at the end of December. My mad flurry was no exception, and to slow things down a bit, I decided to cut some Christmas shopping corners.

For a variety of practical reasons, I wanted Santa to give each of my children phones. I did not want, however, to spend any money to get there. My fifteen year-old already owned a beat-up early generation iPhone with a shattered screen that was barely held together with duct tape. My eleven year-old did not have a phone. My wife had recently purchased a new iPhone 6, and my work phone was scheduled to arrive any day. In hindsight, I probably should have just purchased new phones for each of them.  Instead, I succumbed to the evil Daddy Cheap Skate standing on my left shoulder whispering in my ear, “You can spend $30 on two new screens and a tool kit to replace the cracked screens on your phone and Gwen’s phone, and slyly pass them off as new to your children on Christmas morning! Bwwwaaahhhh ha ha! ”  Tempting me further, Daddy Santa Claus Wannabe was standing on my right shoulder whispering, “Picture it! Your beautiful grateful children on Christmas morning, wide-eyed, smiling broadly, and in perfect gleeful unison exclaiming, “Thank you Mommy! Thank you Daddy!” with Karen Carpenter crooning “Happy Holidays! Happy Holidays!” in the background.” A Norman Rockwell moment, right?  Not exactly.

Have you ever tried to replace an iPhone LCD screen?  Well, don’t.  Contrary to what the nice man on the ten-minute  YouTube video says in his best Bob Ross annoyingly calm voice, it is nearly impossible. Just to get to the tiny screws that hold the iPhone together, you have to remove each and every minuscule Silicone Valley part from the belly of that phone.  AND THEN YOU HAVE TO PUT THEM BACK TOGETHER, if you can find each of the removed screws.  Not going to happen!  In the end, one of our phones powered on, but the touch screen did not work.  The other phone’s screen stubbornly remained black, even though it did power on, as evidenced by the two short vibrations coughed from the phone when we flipped the ringer switch.  My wife and I spent seven hours – I am not exaggerating – SEVEN hours locked in a very tense room trying to create the perfect Christmas moment.  Seven hours we will never get back.  Our Christmas happy disappeared somewhere around hour three.  There was no “Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me” in that room.  My wife was crying and I was on the verge of tears myself.  Christmas was ruined.  Then I remembered…I had Jason Mraz in my ear:

If this life is one act,
Why do we lay all these traps?
We put them right in our path
When we just wanna be free.
I will not waste my days
Making up all kinds of ways
To worry about some things
That will not happen to me.

Of course Christmas was not ruined.  But, I had set myself up for failure. I had laid this trap myself and led my wife and me right into it.  I was not “easy and breezy” with peace in my mind, heart and soul.  Instead, I viewed every passing moment as a threat to a happy family Christmas.  Instead of living in those moments, taking on the challenge with joy, I batted defensively at each one and watched them fly by with despair.  Once those moments passed, I didn’t feel relieved; I felt defeated. Those moments became part of the past, lost to time, never to return again. Some argue that the past and the future are really just creations of man, ideas that cannot be proven. The only thing we can prove, they say, is that we are here right now, in THIS moment.  And, now, actually THAT moment is gone. And, THAT one.  Get ready…here comes the next moment…and there it goes.

When I think of life as a series of precious moments strung together, one after the other, it gives me a renewed sense of purpose and empowerment.  I can choose to live in those moments, even the most difficult moments, breath them in and taste them, soak in them and experience them as the gift of life itself.  This includes moments in my personal and professional lives. An educator’s day consists of a stream of quickly moving and high energy overlapping moments.  According to Shawn Achor (@shawnachor) of GoodThink, Inc. and author of The Happiness Advantage, the key to my happiness as a school leader depends on whether I live in each moment as if it is a threat or a challenge.  I chose school leadership (or did it choose me?) because of its problem-solving focus, so I know I can live happily in the moment of any challenge.  In the moment of a perceived threat, however, I just react and miss the moment altogether. Peace of mind, heart and soul will flow only from my choice to accept a difficult moment as a challenge rather than a threat to merely survive.

As I head into 2015, I’m choosing to live in each moment, viewing tiny little screws and thousand piece problems as challenges rather than threats.  Instead of trying to create perfect Norman Rockwell moments to live in, I’ll live in the moments I’m dealt.  With peace in my mind, in my heart, and in my soul!  If I get a little off course at work or at home, I’ll pay closer attention to that song in my ear.

I’m letting myself off the hook for things I’ve done.
I let my past go past
And now I’m having more fun.
I’m letting go of the thoughts
That do not make me strong.
And I believe this way can be the same for everyone…
Living in the moment.

If  you’d like to have Jason Mraz’s song in your ear, go to

 

Lost In a Daydream

“The whole art of teaching is only the art of awakening the natural curiosity of young minds for the purpose of satisfying it afterwards.”  – Anatole France
My family and I followed my wife to Europe a few summers ago while she was teaching opera students in Spoleto, Italy. Her teaching schedule allowed one weekend of free time, so we made the most of it using the rail system to see as much of Europe that we could pack into 3 days. It turned into quite the adventure. After spending an evening in a sleeper car on a train from Paris that broke down in the Alps, we found ourselves somewhere between Milan and Rome on a bullet train that was sitting painfully motionless on the track in the middle of grape vineyards. Our trip was halted  because the train terminal in Rome several miles ahead was reportedly on fire. Seriously. The Griswolds’ “European Vacation” had nothing on us.
My daughter, Katelyn, 8-years old at the time, was bored out of her mind sitting on that motionless train. I glanced at her in the seat next to me.  Her eyes told me that she was lost in a daydream as she slowly and smoothly turned a bottle half filled with water over and over.  I watched her for about 10 minutes.  Then, without stopping, she said quietly, “I wonder why the water in this bottle doesn’t just clump up; I wonder why it follows the shape of the bottle.”  I started to say something to her about molecules and blah, blah, blah, but she quickly stopped me: “No Daddy! I don’t actually want to know the answer.  I just want to wonder about it.”  And, she went back to twirling her bottle.
Wow. Out of the mouths of babes!  I learned a lot from my daughter in those 10 minutes.  I saw the seeds of inquiry-based learning up close and personal.  I saw what intrinsic curiosity and a drive to learn looks like disguised as an 8 year-old’s daydream.  I imagined how this same scene might play out in a classroom. How might a teacher huddle up next to a daydreamer, tap into her curiosity and activate inspired learning? 
I stumbled upon such a teacher – a character in a Newbery Award winning book from 1954: The Wheel On the School by Meindert DeJong, illustrated by Maurice Sendak.  I had never heard of this book, but Sendak’s name caught my eye in a pile of books a teacher put on an “up for grabs table” at the end of a school year, so I claimed it for my own.  In the story, a teacher challenges his students to wonder: 
“We can’t think much when we don’t know much.  But, we can wonder! From now until tomorrow morning when you come to school, will you do that?  Will you wonder why and wonder why? Will you wonder why storks don’t come to Shora to build their nests on the roofs, the way they do in all the little villages around?  For sometimes when we wonder, we can make things begin to happen.”
 
As the story unfolds, these children DO wonder and they DO make extraordinary things happen.  Is this true of our own students: our quiet thinkers who sit on the corner of the playground and our classroom daydreamers who frustrate us to no end because they appear to not be engaged in learning?  Maybe our daydreamers are wondering about things that are more educationally rich than the so-called knowledge we expound. Maybe they are poised to “make things happen”. How can we incorporate into our school day the freedom to daydream about the “whys?” the “what ifs?”  and then provide opportunity for daydreamers to examine ideas that spring from their wonderment?  
 
“But, the school day is short” we all say. Yes, it is. So, why would we waste any bit of it?  We should use that valuable time looking for opportunities to jump into a child’s daydream and awaken their natural curiosity. It comes down to choices about what we value about learning. Can we carve out some instructional time for the daydream, find ways to gently shake it up, and then through artful teaching satisfy student curiosity and guide students to make things happen?  I wonder…

Surprise & Delight on the First Day of School

I moved with my family from Western New York to Northern Kentucky just over 4 years ago. It was a big move for us in every way, including new jobs for both my wife and me: Gwen as a college professor and me as a school principal.  We were anxious about starting new jobs, but as parents, we were were mostly concerned about how our children, Jacob and Katelyn (10 years and 7 years old at the time) would adjust to a new school community that is literally 15 times the size of their previous school district.  
 
Everyone in the Detwiler house experienced intense first-day-of-school jitters that first year.  I was excited and nervous about meeting my new school family, and my wife and kids felt the same about their schools.  I was thrilled to be taking on the Lead Dreamer role in a new school, and I enjoyed my first day visiting classrooms, talking with teachers and staff, and meeting parents.  But, I was also distracted all day thinking about Jacob and Katelyn. Were they okay? Did Jake puke at lunch? Did Katelyn meet a boy and run away? Yes, I do tend to exaggerate.  I call it “literary license”.
 
I could not wait to get home that night to find out how the first day of school went for my children. As I entered my house and walked into the kitchen, I was practically knocked off my feet by my son.  Jacob could not wait to tell me about his Science teacher: “Dad, you will not believe what she did!  Get this:  She turned off the lights and lit a candle … a CANDLE dad, in the classroom. Then, in a soft voice (Jacob lowered his voice for dramatic effect) she said to us, ‘Things are not always what they appear to be.’ Then, she blew out the candle.  And, do you know what she did next?  (Now loudly, with glee) SHE TOOK A BITE OUT OF THE CANDLE! Then another, and another, until she had eaten the whole thing!!  Can you believe that, Dad?!”  Well, I of course said, a little concerned, “No, I can’t believe that. What was she actually eating?”  Jacob leaped out of his chair and with giddy laughter replied, “A POTATO.  She made the candle out of a potato! All of us, the whole class, were dead silent, watching her eat the candle. We all thought she might be some kind of witch. But, don’t worry, she’s not. It was a potato. Get it, Dad?  ‘Things are not always what they appear to be.'” Then Jacob said the magic words that to this day still bring tears of joy to my eyes, “I love it here! This is going to be the best year ever!”
 
Surprise & Delight.
 
I am fortunate to be part of a team of educators from my school district who is participating in the University of Kentucky’s Next Generation Leadership Academy this school year.  During our first session, we met Mr. Buddy Berry, the Superintendent of Eminence Independent School District in Kentucky. (Follow him on Twitter @BuddyBerry and #surpriseanddelight) Mr. Berry’s inspiring presentation was about the incredible transformation his school district has undergone in terms of innovation and 21st century learning.  His entire story was captivating. However, it was something Mr. Berry said toward the end of his presentation that has stuck with me for weeks.  Paraphrased, it is this, “The best measurement of student engagement is how many times our students go home at the end of the day and exclaim to their parents, ‘You won’t believe what we learned today!’ THAT is engagement with Surprise & Delight.”
 
Surprise & Delight is also a powerful hook for engaging parents.  My superintendent in Boone County, Kentucky, Dr. Randy Poe, often reminds school leaders, teachers, and staff to make parents and the community “raving fans” of our schools so that they become our strongest supporters and active partners in education.  Citing the book Raving Fans by Ken Blanchard and Sheldon Bowles, we make raving fans of our school community by discovering what our customers want and deliver “plus one”.  In public education, this requires us to talk to our customers – our students and our parents – to discover what their education needs, hopes, and dreams are, then deliver on them.  In my opinion, the “plus one” can be fulfilled through Surprise & Delight.
 
While many of you are still looking forward to the first day of the school year, my first day occurred  over a week ago. Let me share how teachers and staff in my school provided Surprise & Delight to both students and parents, before school even started, exciting a school community that is now eager and hopeful for the best school year ever:
 
– Teachers invited students and parents to summer picnics and to “Meet Me at the Playground” afternoons, and started building important relationships with families. 
– Teachers made summer telephone calls to their students and families introducing themselves and expressing enthusiasm for the school year ahead.  
– During our school “Meet and Greet” night, families were photographed in a photo booth, and the photo was attached to a card that asked the students and the parents, “What are your hopes and dreams for this school year?” The cards and photos now hang in the school hallways as a reminder that we value parent and student voice and that we are committed to seeing family dreams become reality.  
– On the first day of school, as children got of the buses or were escorted into the buildings by their parents, they were greeted by dancing teachers and staff with smiling faces, while one of our teachers, dressed as a club D.J., amplified fun celebratory music that blared all over the campus. A little unorthodox?  Probably.  Surprising & Delightful?  Most definitely!  I heard a number of parents say, “I love this school” as they were headed to their cars.  See for yourself… 
 
 
These are just a few examples of how Surprise & Delight infused into a school culture can be a legitimate strategy for building trust and relationships with families.  What about you?  As you are preparing for that first day of school, as you are aligning lesson plans to learning standards and putting the last touches on your classroom Maker Spaces, STEAM labs, and Literacy Studios, don’t forget to ask yourself, “What is my plan for Surprise & Delight?”  If your plan comes from your heart, is purposeful, and is executed with confidence and joy, you will make “raving fans” of your students and of their parents.  Guaranteed, your students will go home and exclaim to Mom and Dad, “You will NOT believe what I did at school today!” Use Surprise & Delight to fuel student and parent engagement on the first day of school and sustain it throughout the year. 
 
Note: Do you want to “Steal Like an Artist” and try the lit potato / candle trick to Surprise & Delight your students on the first day of school?  Find out how it works and the science concept behind it here.