Friday, December 14, 2012

Faux Me

A lot has been said in the news of late about bullying in school.  It is an issue that as an educator and parent of two daughters that never seems to be far from my mind.  I work at a school where bullying is a problem, but I don't want to paint a picture that it is a major problem or what we spend a majority of our time handing out discipline for, because we don't.

Students have conflicts, and students have mean, spiteful, and downright awful things said about and to them.  When they come to our office we try to find a solution to the problem, most successfully by getting our guidance counselors involved and having the students go through a mediation process, and on occasion when necessary we utilized punitive discipline measures if the counseling approach does not work.  For more overt or physical bullying we go right to punitive discipline with the student, but most of what we deal with is drama and name calling.

Lately, we have been dealing more and more with Cyber-bullying.  This is not an earth shattering revelation, or even something unique to our school, although it definitely is a by-product of our technological age in which things that were previously often said only in private, and suddenly made them very public.  Things that are said now have a much broader and quicker reach than they did when I was in high school.  The hurtful comments, or embarrassing moments that used to quickly fade into the background, are now posted, liked, tweeted, re-tweeted, and made into viral videos for all to see again and again.

I am not technophobic, or someone who sees technology as the end our civilization as we know it.  As I told our school newspaper when I was interviewed by them for an article on technology, it is neither good nor bad-how we use it can be either good or bad.  It is however, something that we need to educate ourselves and our students about. This is a about a teachable moment and learning that has taken place within me.

Today, while in a meeting at our corporation office, I received a google chat message from our building secretary who stated that a teacher had contacted her about a student who had something inappropriate on their computer and that it was about me.  When our meeting had finished, I went to the teachers room, and was shown a fake twitter account that was sending out tweets as me.

It was something that eventually was bound to happen to one of the administrators in our building, and so it did not shock me. Nor did the language that the student was using in sending out their posts.  It was vulgar, crass, and did not require much wit or thought to create.  I was mildly offended that faux me wasn't very witty or insightful.

What really upset me though, was not what was being said, but rather the students who had followed faux me, and those that had favorited or re-tweeted some of the statements faux me was making.  It was not the students that I expected to see doing this.  The students who were deciding to follow faux me, largely were "good students".  They were some of our athletes, better students, students that I thought I had a good working relationship with.  They largely were not the students I see and work with on a regular basis, who I would not be surprised would vent about me in this way.

Even with all of this, the learning for me was yet to come.  As the day went I on, and I doggedly tried to track down who had set up this account, I missed the bigger picture.  The issue was not what was being said, or how it might damage my professional life.  It was not the horror in my mind that these are things that students thought I would think or say.  It was not the frustration of the process in contacting twitter to have the account removed.  Rather it was walking down the hallway at the end of the day, feeling like everyone was watching me, and that certain groups of students when I walked by were speaking about me, laughing about this, and gossiping about what was going on.  That was the hardest part of the day, and that was where the learning occurred.

It suddenly became very real, I now better understood what the students that come in to my office and say that people were talking about them felt like.  Even if the majority of students were not talking about this, and in reality a majority probably did not know it even exists, it still felt as if all eyes were on me and people were talking about me as I walked by.  I felt uncomfortable, I felt like I didn't want to be there, I felt that I wanted to go back to my office, shut the door, and stay there until the building was empty.

I am an adult, who is secure in who I am as a person.  Imagine being a self-conscious teenager and having to experience this on a daily basis?   Maybe it is time to look closer at how we are teaching students to relate to each other and the broader impact their actions now have in our digital, connected world?  Maybe we need to think before we tweet, and be willing to stand up when others put people down, rather than passively encouraging that behavior through the seemingly insignificant actions of favoriting, liking, or re-tweeting?  Maybe as a nation we need to return the idea of "civility" to civil discourse?

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Here's to the Trailblazers

Apple always does such a great job in creating an image for what they want their consumers to perceive themselves as.  They tug at our heartstrings, even if we have never used or want to use an Apple project.  This is one of my favorites, but now as I am in the first year of creating a new school from the ground up, it has come to resonate even more with me.  Although I think it should go beyond thinking different, but rather focus on blazing a trail.

The hardest part of this year has not been following the path trod by those who have started New Tech Network schools before, it has been in finding our own branch of that path.  For while New Tech has done a fantastic job in preparing us as a staff, giving us a solid foundation of professional development in the practice of PBl, it is the branches that divert from that path that we must travel as we work to make the Weidner School of Inquiry a reality.

The vision that we have is clear, we can all articulate it, explain it, inspire with it, and dream about it.  We know where we want to go, and what we want our students to look like when they graduate.  We have all the buzzwords, vocabulary, and jargon carefully memorized and categorized to be utilized for maximum impact with our students, our community, and ourselves.  The vision is the easy part, it is creating path to that destination that takes a very sophisticated kind of GPS.

It is figuring out what to do to get to that vision that is the challenge.  How do we create a culture that focuses on trust, respect, and responsibility and then nurture it throughout the year?  How do we help freshman mature and see the value in education?  How do we focus on the day to day grind, without losing site of the progress we have made?  How do we motivate the unmotivated, but more importantly get them to connect their learning not to a grade, but to the ideas themselves?  How do we give students a new pathway of learning, while realizing that the core skills of learning-reading, reflecting, questioning, discussing, and analyzing-have not changed since the days of Socrates, and it is these skills that most of our learners lack the most.  Where do we turn, when the path seems most tangled to find a new way forward?  How do we celebrate all that we have done, when there seems to be so much more to do?

So here is to Washington, who as President had the pressure of everything he did setting precedent for those who came after him.  To Lewis, Clark, and the mountain men, who not only saw the Rockies from a distance across the plains, but also forged a path through them that others could follow.  To Lindbergh and Earhart who saw the same oceans as Columbus, Magellan, and DeGama and a new way to cross them from above.  To the many men of NASA in the 1950s and 1960s, who not only saw the moon shining brightly each evening, but found a way to put a man on it's surface.  Here is to everyone who blazed a new path, traveled a new highway, or forged ahead on their own.  For while the joy comes in the journey, it is the strength to press onward that gets you there.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Wellness Update: The Holiday Edition 1

Thanksgiving, heck the whole holiday season, has always been fraught with dangers for me, especially as I have become an adult and moved away from home.  It is a time of relaxation, boredom, family, football, and vastly overeating due to all of those factors.  As the holiday season progresses, the eating continues over a number of holiday events, and my propensity to pack on the pounds increases as well.

This Thanksgiving I was determined to try and avoid that get a good start to the holiday season.  Wednesday started off well, sort of.  My planned day at school was waylaid by the fog and a day of not having to worry about having access, and time, to eat in an unhealthy manner for long stretches became clouded by a day of working in my office, with access to snacks brought in for our staff that would now go uneaten, unless the small group at school all chipped in.  I am proud to say that while I did indulge in some cheese and crackers and some great cocktail meatballs, I avoided the cupcakes arranged and frosted to look like a turkey dressed as a pilgrim.  That evening, instead of heading home when school was cancelled for the day, I stuck around and went to yoga class to kickoff my weekend.  

Thursday morning came, and the eating fest began sensible enough with an fried egg sandwich for breakfast.  Lunch, not so good as I watched my fantasy football team’s defense (Houston) get torched by the Lions, and drowned my sorrows in a small plate of homemade nachos.   Thanksgiving dinner was a better performance for me, as I ate sensible of the turkey, stuffing and other Thanksgiving faire, but the double helping of desserts was probably not a wise idea on my part.  I woke up the next morning, just hoping I had not gained 5 pounds.   Amazingly I lost 1.  I credit the better digestion created by some of the yoga poses Sam Boys had us do on Wednesday night.  

Friday was another odd day of eating, as I did well in the morning, not as well in the evening as I cooked my wife’s favorite meal, Italian Chicken Bake, which is fettucine noodles baked with chicken, onions, and mushrooms that have been simmered and then topped with parmesan and mozzarella cheese and a cream sauce.  It is decadently good, but not really great low in calories.  I had one small bowl, and then picked at my daughter’s leftovers.

Saturday brought the most bizarre eating day.  I had nachos for lunch again, while watching football-notice a pattern yet-then consumed a whole tub of popcorn and a box of raisinets while watching Lincoln at the movie theater.  I rationalized this over consumption fest by having a Diet Dr. Pepper, and the satisfaction that it was a really great movie, with the most realistic portrayal of Lincoln I have ever seen.

Sunday brought dinner at my mother-in-laws, and more moderation in eating, with no dessert this time.  Monday morning I stepped on the scale, be delightedly find I had lost another pound to make it 2 for the week of Thanksgiving.  Unfortunately, I am not sure what I did to do so.  

As I sit eating a salad for dinner tonight, prior to our game against Triton, I am hoping that I can continue whatever streak my metabolism was on last week and continue to lose weight, while I gain great moments with my family this holiday season. The reality though is that it will not happen by mere luck for too much longer. With this in mind I will be back in yoga on Wednesday night, and will be adding a Monday cycling class to my workout regime, as well as looking for a Thursday afternoon class that I can join as well. Or maybe I will take Sam Boys challenge and join him on a Wednesday night for yoga, followed by Bodypump, and then restorative yoga...

Thursday, November 15, 2012

What can I Learn from a Rock Star

We had a motivational speaker in for a convocation today.  It was an assembly that I have to admit I was somewhat skeptical about.  I am always nervous when you have someone come in and talk to students about the mistakes that they made in their younger lives, and that they were now fine and had gone through those tough times to come out on the other side in one piece, if not always completely whole.  My fear always is that the students will get the message that the speaker went out and partied and lived it up and was then able to turn their life around and be productive.  I am not a person who doubts that this can, and does happen, but I am enough of a realist to know that the success rates in those cases are a lot less than the rate of failures.

This evening, as part of the convocation series, our school hosted a concert by the motivational speaker's band.  It featured his band, and two other bands that I had never heard of.  We had a packed auditorium as students from around the county came to take advantage of the free show.  The music they played was not overly memorable, I cringed as one of the bands did a metal version of Phil Collins In the Air Tonight, a seminal song of my youth, and did an equally sour face for the rock version of Beat It, but I also noticed something else.

The 2 intro bands, and band leader, who barely knew our students, could elicit from them great expressions of enthusiasm about anything they said or did.  When the son of the lead singer came on stage and lead the crowd in cheers, they responded more vocally and physically then when our cheerleaders exhorted the crowded during home games.  He ran from one side of the stage to another, having the students do a vocal and physical wave as he ran by.  It made me wonder, what do Rock Stars know the educators may not have tapped into?

As I sit in our now empty auditorium, and watch the roadies pack up the equipment to head out into the night, I still don't have any real answers.  I know that I watched the motivational speaker be very frank and honest with our students.  I watched as he was able to connect with a large number of them during only a 15 minute talk.  I also know that these are not last relationships or contacts, but could in a large part be the thrill of being out of class for 50 minutes, and seeing a very charismatic individual perform.  But there was something else at work.

Each person on that stage was willing to be themselves, was willing to risk being a little foolish.  They were able to be real in front of our students, to be fully human, and in doing so were able to connect.  One of the skits that the convocation crew did was about wearing masks.  In watching what happened throughout the night, it made me wonder what mask do I wear in my role at school, and what might happen if I simply took it off?

Update to Post:
The morning after the concert I opened my email to find a message from Michael Delp who teaches Algebra I, Geometry, and Algebra II on our staff.  He wrote what I call a Jerry Maguire message.  Many of you probably remember the scene, Jerry wakes up in the middle of the night and writes a manifesto about how to change their business.  It is a revolutionary moment for him, and it was for Michael.  He was so fired up that he had to email our staff at 2:30 AM before he went to sleep.

The next afternoon I made a point of going to Michael's room and watching him teach his students.  It was amazing, he was unmasked and teaching like a rock star.  He took off the mask, told his students he was standing on a professional cliff.  I confessed that he makes them learn things simply to jump through the hoops that the state has set up.  He revealed that he believed there was a better way and that they would be trying to incorporate those kinds of activities into class.  He also said that they would have to jump through some hoops, but he explained why they had to do this.  More importantly he explained why learning those concepts was important as well.

The response from the students was the best part.  They were engaged, energized, excited to be learning math.  Mr. Delp spent the next 15 minutes going through a problem about fixing a bicycle.  The students continued to be engaged and work through the problem.  At various times he had to remind students to stay with him, as this was a review of the day before, but he continued to hold their attention until they got to the problem for the day, which he introduced by showing this slide and telling the story from his life of how he came up with this problem.

It was math in a real life context, that most of us have never thought of.  It was math that engaged his students.  It was teaching without a mask.  Teaching that took a risk, not of the learners, but of the teacher and then the students as a group.  It was teaching that I believe will make a difference.  It was an example of what can happen when we are willing to take off the mask and teach from the place that we really believe education should come from, our hearts.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Who's your Yogi now?

One of the best parts of my Journey to Wellness has been the opportunity to take some classes at the Fitness Forum.  It has brought some variety to my exercise routine, given me a break from the treadmill, and allowed me to explore other fitness options.  During our fall break at PHS I was able to take advantage of our day off and attend a class that I had been wanting to try, Yoga.

This may seem very out of place for someone who is not at all flexible, but the idea of being able to try and improve my limited flexibility, spend time in an activity that is designed to reduce stress, and learn something new was an intriguing proposition.  It was a proposition that would lead to me find a new exercise that I am beginning to really love.

My first experience with yoga, beyond the Wii Fit yoga program, was at an Indiana Association of School Principals conference when I attended a session on Yoga for Discipline.  The 30 minute session focused on how we can utilize the principles of yoga to help students focus and calm down when in stressful situations.  We learned one position, and really focused on how to control our breathing. This class would be nothing like this.

Class began with the sound of popping cartilage and bone as my sinews, muscles and body bent, twisted and stretched in ways that it hasn't in decades.  The best part, while I was moving into the various positions of yoga and reawakening long ago calcified joints I felt no pain in those muscles.  The instructor was very good at encouraging us to explore the positions, but also to stay within our limits.

The second piece of learning that occurred was that yoga is strenuous.  In my mind I thought of yoga as sitting around stretching and listening to calming music, which did occur.  What I didn't anticipate was how much it pushed my body, how many calories I burned (over 300 based on Fitness Forum's calculations), and how much the warrior pose could make my legs shake from exertion.

Finally my hour of yoga was a fantastic way to get away from all of the daily stresses of life.  Within moments of entering the yoga studio, sitting on my mat and beginning to learn how to focus on my breathing my mind began to empty.  For the next hour, all that was able to penetrate my focus and concentration was the soothing sound of the instructor's voice moving us from position to position and the sound of my breathing as I focused on my practice.  Even the soothing music faded into the background, and no other thoughts from my day were able to penetrate this envelope of calm.  It was rejuvenating and enlightening all at the same time.

Since my first experience with yoga I have returned to class one time (the next week) and it is joining my Saturday morning Body Pump class as a part of my weekly fitness routine.  In short I am learning that while the Fitness Forum is a great place to lift weights, run, swim, or play court games, it is even better when you utilize the structured classes they offer to enhance your exercise routine.  I really can't wait to see what class I can explore next.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Creating a Space for Inquiry

On October 24, 2011 Walter Isaacson's autobiography of Steve Jobs was released, and the world at large was given an insight into the life of one of history's great innovators.  The information that this book contained became one of the pivotal design points as we looked at creating collaborative spaces at the School of Inquiry.  In the book Isaacson tells about how when Jobs created the Pixar headquarters "he had the Pixar building designed to promote encounters and unplanned collaborations" (Page 430-431 Kindle Edition).  With this in mind we tried to be very deliberate in creating a building that would not only support, but encourage, a culture of collaboration.

The first step in this design was to create an openness that would allow students to collaborate easily.  Traditional desks would not work well for this environment, so we began to explore furniture that could be combined in a variety of ways, and that was very mobile. However, after a visit to Steelcase University at the headquarters of Steelcase in Grand Rapids, MI, our plans to have all of the furniture easily movable were replaced by large tables that would allow students to transition to collaborative work easily and thus save time from moving the furniture around.  The student chairs, on the other hand, were intentionally picked to be able to move, swivel, and rock so that active students could have some motion even while working at a table with peers.  Large projection screens were placed towards the ends of these tables, as seen in the image above, to give every student the "best seat in the house".

The use of these tables has helped students to work collaboratively as it puts them in easy contact with their group members on a daily basis, creates a work space that is conducive to discussion and sharing, and allows students to easily move around and regroup around that workspace.  Additionally, the huddle boards (small detachable white boards) that align the walls of the room, have also proved to be a popular addition to the class as it allows students to collaboratively list ideas, sketch drawings, and create graphic organizers of their work very easily.  Additionally,have been great for collaboration over long distances as our students and staff can use them to engage the whole class in Skype sessions with experts beyond our town.   By using and iPad connected to the projectors via AppleTv and a microphone system, facilitators are able to bring the conversation to individual students who have questions for our experts.

The second design element was create flex spaces in the hallways that would not only look good, but also be used on a regular basis.  In terms of cost per use, square footage in high schools hallways is largely wasted space, it was our goal to utilize this space so that students would have areas that could be effective for group work, outside of the classroom.  To do this we have created four flex zones each with it's own unique character and furniture.  To further aid this process, all classrooms have large windows that allow students to see in, and observe what is happening, and teachers to see out, and thus be able to monitor students who are working in the flex areas during class time.  Below is a screen cast showing artist renderings of the collaborative spaces in our permanent home and pictures from our temporary space.

When thinking about how students share digitally the focus is often in how students work with each other when not in the same location.  This occurs often outside of the classroom when students are working at home, but within the School of Inquiry our flex areas also enhance digital collaboration that occurs face to face.  By giving students a way to easily share digital content visually with each other.  As they gather around the dining space and media scape, they can easily share information that they are working on, show what they are working on, without having to have students crowd around a single display, as well as create areas that are conducive for discussion.  

The final element of collaboration was to create ways to encourage staff collaboration.  The first part of that was to remove teacher desks from the classrooms, the second was to create a staff room that had desks and a conference space for teachers.  In our current home, we utilize the large conference table pictured below to hold staff meetings, eat lunch, and hang out while working on projects and other work. Utilizing this space the staff has grown into a efficient team that works together to create the best educational environment and experience for our students.  Staff members regularly give input to each other on projects they are working on, help with the creative process, and discuss student concerns.  The informal meetings that Steve Jobs looked to create at Pixar are happening at Inquiry, and helping to make our students and staff better learners.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Learning, Growing, and Building. All Part of a Typical Day at Inquiry.

The speed of a school year never ceases to amaze me always seems to catch me off guard.  Things start off slowly in August, build in September, and then fly once October comes.  I am not sure if it is because the end of September and early October bring a flurry of activity around the school with Homecoming, the state Band Competitions, Sectionals for Sports, Spell Bowl Championships to chase or simply because the changing of the seasons seems to accelerate at this time, but the second six weeks of our trimester always dwindles away like the hour glass sands the Wicked Witch of the West used to horrify Dorothy as she held her captive to get the Ruby Slippers.  Faster and faster, slipping away until quickly they are gone.  It is during these times that I most often lose site of the progress that is being made.

Today was one of those rare days when all of the pieces that I most want to see where in place. We had visitors in to view presentations by our Leadership Institute Class on Career Cluster Infographics they had created.  Students heard from a recent Plymouth High School graduate who was home for Fall Break from DePauw University.  Our Global Perspectives students continued there research and discussions about religious tolerance, after Skyping with a board member from the Center for Religious Tolerance who teaches at the University of South Florida.  In Algebra and Geometry the students continued to work on the problems presented by mathematics.  As I walked into classes I can see students learning and growing.  Presentations are getting better, projects are going deeper, and the facilitators are raising the bar on the rigor of the projects, while fine tuning them so that the learning is taking place mostly within the scope of the project as opposed to work done outside of that focus. And when I walk through our future home, walls are going up and you can begin to see where students will learn into the future.

It is times like this that I need to remember the other story of Oz, Wicked, and my favorite piece-that of Defying Gravity.  You see, this is exactly what everyone involved in Inquiry has done this year, they have Defied Gravity.  They have done something that no Plymouth student, teacher, or school has done before.  They are shifting the focus from regurgitation to inspiration, from teacher lead to student driven, and from content focused learning to learning that develops life long skills while still including essential content.  With that being said, we still have a long way to go before we can truly fly, but what an amazing trip it has been and will continue to be.  Let the time fly by because each day that passes only brings us closer to our goals and helps us all  to learn, grow, and build.
Skyping on Religious Tolerance
Hearing from DePauw Student
STEM Career Cluster InfoGraphic

Walls going up

Entry Wall.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Wellness Update 4-I Think.

It has seemed like a long time since I last wrote about my wellness journey, and that in many ways says a lot about where my journey is.  But, as was my goal, I continue to learn about myself, my wellness, and the different ways in which I need to grow.

Here are a few of those learning moments from the last two weeks:

  • Even though it will hurt.  You can't take 5 days off just because your legs kill from the workout that your trainer put you through.
  • You have to embrace the challenge that your next workout with your personal trainer will be, not shy away from it.
  • Going on a wellness journey that is being documented in the newspaper is fun, having people recognize you while on that journey is interesting.  This past week our first articles ran, and when I went to buy a hot dog at the soccer game, after not eating all day, the concession stand owner was questioning my commitment.  Later in the week, while at the football game, the same thing happened over a bag of Peanut M&Ms.  The nice part of this is my accountability network just got a whole lot bigger.  Now if I can just get my staff to use the keys that I gave them to lock up our community stash of chocolate it would be even better.
  • I am a major stress eater, and I have a job that occasionally has stress.  One of the key pieces that I need to learn in this journey is a better outlet for my stress than food, particularly the unhealthy kind that I invariably turn to in those moments of stress.
  • I am getting used to running on the treadmill, but I stil don't love it.  I need to interspace some runs outside on weekends just for the enjoyment of being outside on a run.
  • Weekends are deadly.  The biggest pattern is I lose weight through the week, and then add it during the weekend.  While this is not a stress issue, it is one of will power and I need to build mine a bit more.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Is the Internet all it's Cracked up to Be

For the longest time I have been a big advocate for the power of the internet to be able to change our lives.  Not merely how we learn, who we learn from, and the resources we have for learning, but how it can really change the world by connecting us to more information, more knowledge, and more knowledgable people.  I work in a school where collaboration is the ideal method of learning, where students and staff are required to work with their peers and with each other as they tackle problems to better engage in learning the standards they are required to know.  The idea that two heads are better than one is becoming ingrained in the DNA of our school, and the idea that two thousand is better than two has great appeal to me.  But what if all of that connecting, all of that information, all of those places to explore and connect, are keeping us from really utilizing our potential.

My summer started with this video from TEDX by Sherry Turkle entitled "Connected but Alone".
In which she speaks of how her daughters spent an evening hanging out with their friends, in the same room, texting each other.   School started with me reading a post by a student, Vett Vandiver, who wrote about the dangers of social media robbing us from living in the moment.  Finally, this week I read a post from Paul Miller of The Verge on how he is spending a year disconnected from the internet.  He speaks of how his life has been going since he disconnected 3 months ago.  How he has more time for other things he enjoys, like talking to people in a coffee shop.

In many ways this is a scary realization and place to be for me.  If you ask any of my friends, I am probably the most connected person they know.  So much so, that I have been very conscious this year about not using my phone to check email during passing periods at school, or while I am in classrooms, or in the cafeteria.  Today for the first time I used my computer during lunch to catch up on email, because I had over 40 for the morning and was waiting on an urgent email from a teacher who I might have needed assistance in preparing for his next class.

But as I have aged this year, I have come to realize that sometimes this connectedness is distracting.  I no longer can multi-task to the degree that I could when I was younger, much to the delight of Dan Funston our assistant superintendent who does not believe that people can multitask.   While I still read extensively, I can never seem to catch up on all my reading-I currently have over 60 articles in my Read it Later App (Pocket), and I have not checked my Feedly account for 2 weeks so the articles have probably piled up to close to 1000.  It is not that I am not selective in what I read, but it is that there is so much more out their to interact with.  The ultimate may have come this weekend when I was at the wedding reception of one of my former students.  During dinner, as my wife chatted with a colleague from work and my daughter played with the Orbies that were filling glasses as a table decoration, I watched Notre Dame battle Purdue on my iPhone propped up against a bowl of nachos with the sound turned off.  I am not sure what was worse, that I was doing this, or that one of the pastors from our church was hanging over my shoulder because he was getting poor reception on his phone.

I am not ready to disconnect quite yet, as I keep finding more positives than negatives from being online.  But I am starting to realize that I need to monitor not so much how I am using the Net, but rather where I am using it and to what ends.  How is your internet habit hindering your potential?

Monday, September 10, 2012

Learning to Grow, Growing to Learn

This is a cross post from the Plymouth Community School Corporation's 180 Days of Learning Blog.

Last year the volleyball team at PHS had shirts that read “Growth is too slow a word”.  I liked the sense of urgency that the shirts brought to a team starting with a new coach.  However, sometimes in education I think we often take this response to our detriment.  Growth, sometimes, is both what we need to find and what we should truly be measuring.  This is not to say that how students perform on tests or what grades they get don’t matter, but rather what we all really should seek is that our students our growing each day.  That is in many ways the key to learning over a lifetime, daily growth.  Sometimes it will be measurable in leaps and bounds and at other times be measurable only in small drips from the wellspring of knowledge.  One way or another though, growth is what we should seek.
With that in mind, here is how I have seen our students at the School of Inquiry grow over our initial 3 and 1/2 weeks.  I have seen students, as freshman be able to greet visitors, introduce themselves, and shake their hand with a firm grip before describing to the person what their strengths are, how those strengths play out in their lives and interests, and what their goals for this year and future are.  I have watched students in mathematics classes work together to build a tower out of spaghetti, tape, string, and a marshmallow.  Seen those same students create plans for a wedding and then meet with a client to discuss those plans.  In Global Perspectives I have gotten to  watch students work together as they try to create a restaurant around a global impact issue.  
The best growth though has come when I ask them about what they are learning.  With rare exception they look me in the eye and tell me what they are doing, and more importantly, why it is important or relevant.  They are solving problems and engaging in their lessons, not merely spouting facts they have memorized.  In a recent article in Education Week Tony Wagner, the first  Innovation Education Fellow at the Technology & Entrepreneurship Center at Harvard, wrote the following:
“No one seems to question exactly what students should be achieving beyond better test scores. What matters today, however, is not how much our students know, but what they can do with what they know.”
Growth very well may be too slow a word, but if we can continue the growth I have seen over these first few weeks, then I think we can give Mr. Wagner the type of student he is looking for.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Creating a Shield from Fear of Failure

I spent today with other directors of New Tech Network schools in the state of Indiana.  During our meeting one of the directors, Tom Warnicke of the School of Ideas, told a story about being in Cincinnati where the network was trying to raise money from some local CEOs.  During the meeting one of the CEOs stated that "“C” students change the world because we are willing to take a risk, “A” students are too concerned with failure to take a risk."  As I drove home I thought more and more about the quote.  I had instantly tweeted the quote out because it resinated so much with me, but why?  

It wasn't the idea that "C" students did better than "A" students in the real world.  While I was not an "A" student in high school, I was not a "C" student either.  I was an average student who did well in English, History and Science, but struggled in courses that involved math.  I did well enough to get into a good college (Valparaiso) but I was not interested, motivated, or mature enough academically to excel in more course work.  My academic awakening didn't come until I returned to school to become an educator and then later when I began to take graduate work at Ashland University in Ohio with some truly gifted educators who pushed me to be serious about my craft and my studies.  

After my first year at PHS one of our students who had graduated the year before and was attending a prestigious private college returned to visit the school.  Our principal Mr. Condon asked this student, who had finished in the top 10 of his class, what his one regret from high school was.  The student responded that he wished that he had pushed himself more academically, taken harder classes rather than protecting his GPA and class rank.  Maybe it was his story that appealed to me about the quote, the idea that we should encourage our most gifted students to stretch their boundaries and challenge their limits in school.  It was not that I wanted "C" students more than "A" students, but rather I wanted students at all levels to take more chances academically.

One of my goals for the school of Inquiry was to find a way for students to have failure in a nurturing environment so that they can learn to rebound and establish Grit.  I came to this conclusion after reading this article last year in the New York Times about several high profile schools in NYC.  The article spoke of how one of the keys to success is resiliency, the ability to get back up after falling down.  

This is not what the quote is speaking of though.  It is speaking about students being willing to take risks.  As I reflected more I thought about how I have taken risks lately.  There are three areas that quickly came to my mind where I have recently taken risks.

First on the golf course.  I am not, nor have I ever been a great golfer, but there was a time in my life when I could break 90 with some regularity.  That time has long since passed, but every once in a while I can get on a roll and approach that goal again.  It happened two weeks ago at Mystic Hills.  On the front side I felt strong, my drives were controlled, my irons felt great in my hands and my ball striking was crsip.  I was on a roll, until a storm began to roll in and we saw lightning near the front 9.  Not wanting to be a real life Caddyshack scene we started to head to the clubhouse.  When we reached the clubhouse the storm had begun to turn back south, but was still over the front 9, but the back 9 was cloudless and sunny, so we headed to hole number 10 to tee off.  

As I stood over the ball on 10 a sense of foreboding came over me.  You see I have never played well on the back side of Mystic in my life, having once shot a 60 on it.  I hit my first drive, watched it head on a line drive dead left for the driving range, hit a mound and stop after going only 100 yards.  I began to feel fear creeping in.  On every shot, except 2 on the par 3 12th hole, I had horrific swing thoughts and was convulsed by fear.  I ended up shooting over 50, losing a match that I was running away with on the front side, and having a miserable afternoon.  The only bright spot came when I holed a 25 foot putt for birdie on the par 5 15th hole, to put me at even in the match and give me confidence heading into the final three holes.  But on the par 3 17th with the match still tied and my opponent in the high grass I pulled my iron shot onto the highway running next to the course while trying to play the safe shot to the middle of the green and collapsed again.  On the front side, where I was confident I took any risk that came my way, as if I could not fail.  On the back where fear strangled my every stroke, I could not even play the safe shot correctly.

The second area is in my recent 4 fantasy football drafts.  In each draft I was able to draft, or have kept, high quality players early in the draft.  Because I had solid players at the key positions of quarterback, running back, and wide receiver I was willing to draft risky players who potential could have high rewards this year.  The key to drafting boldly was not confidence, but rather knowing that I was supported by the other players that I had already drafted.  My risks were back up players that could be great, but were not my only chance at winning.  Without the strong backing of other players, I would not have been able to make those moves.

Finally the School of Inquiry in and of itself is a risk.  While we have the backing and support of our community, our school corporation, and a nationwide network, there is no guarantee that we will be successful.  For a time fear of failing was paralyzing to me, it still is at times.  But as I watch my staff give everything they have to make our endeavor a succes and see students responding and growing I have come to realize that fear of failure is what will cause our failure.  

In 1933 Franklin D. Roosevelt said at his inauguration that "the only thing we have to fear is fear itself-nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance."  I have always admired this statement, because it was so true for the time in which he came into office.  I appreciate it more today because it is so relevant to what we are trying to do at Inquiry and what I want my students to become-adults who are willing to take risks to create a better world for all of us.  In order to succeed though I will need to learn from my experiences with fear; give them experiences that will build there confidence without over inflating it, support them so they can take chances without having it be an all or nothing proposition, and being brave in taking on the fears in my mind that can paralyze me.  Maybe then we can create a school that creates students who emulate those in the video below.

Big Picture, Small Implementation

It is nearing the end of week four at the School of Inquiry, and my blogging time is dwindling away, as it has in the past.  This post was actually supposed to go up last week, really is the small things that you never consider that eventually loom large.  The big picture is often very easy to see, but like much like looking at George Seurat's iconic painting Saturday in the Park, when you begin to look closer it is a lot of little pieces that make up the bigger view.

The largest focus in our preparation has been to build a solid culture and foundation for our students and staff to build their learning on.  I believe that we have done an outstanding job of doing this.  No, not everyone is best friends and sits around the campfire singing Kumbaya all day.  But our students have spent a lot of time discussing the ideals of Trust, Respect, and Responsibility that our the foundation of a New Tech school and based on conversations I have had with them they get it.  They are willing to come to the staff when they have concerns about how they are learning or with students they are working with.  The staff has embraced the change and is working incredibly hard to make an incredible learning environment for students. We have rooms geared towards collaboration and that are welcoming to students.  We have a collaboration suite that students want to spend time in, the building is getting built at a seemingly fast pace. The big picture piece is coming into focus.

It's the little details that occasionally trip us up.  How do we respond to students who are struggle to turn assignments in?  What do we do if a student fails a course and must repeat it?  Do students get the same grade for both subjects in an integrated course?  How do we keep track and formalize decisions that are made by our staff?  How do we utilize the rubrics for the School Wide Learning Outcomes?  How can we help students to be better organized, while trying to be better organized ourselves?  How can we best integrate courses so they blend seamlessly into one course?  How do we manage the tensions and perceptions that exist with those outside of our school within the larger school?

None of these small details is a shock to me.  None are insurmountable challenges.  None are items that can not be thought about, addressed, and creatively resolved.  They are all important though and all need to be looked at closely.  Much like the dots that create Seurat's masterpiece.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

The Exercise Nazi

I loved the Soup Nazi episodes from Seinfeld, it took something totally reprehensible and gave it a slightly new meaning, someone with incredibly exacting standards and a zeal to hold others to them.  It took the idea from my youth of the "Russian Judge" who would give an incredibly harsh score for a good performance and took it to another level.  Tonight I am using the term in a way I never thought I would, while still being uncomfortable about using it.

I had my first training session with Mel at Lifeplex today, and I ache more than anytime in my life.  I would gladly take any conditioning I did in any sport I participated in HS in, including football 2-a-days, over what I did today.  It was not so much the workout, which was hard, or my being out of shape, which is true, but rather they way she was so supportive I really did not want to not live up to her expectations.  Much like George and Jerry, who would go to ridiculous lengths to get the soup from the Soup Nazi, I was determined to push myself to whatever lengths she asked.

And ask she did.  She started off with something challenging but simple, balancing on a 1/2 ball, then jumping onto the ball, then finally jumping up while on the ball and turning a 1/4 turn.  Then the hard stuff kicked in.  I had to do walking lunges, while holding a 12 pound weight so I could twist over the knee on the ground and use a slide to slide my back leg up so I kept working the same leg again and again.  Then 20 squat jumps, which showed my lack of vertical is well even more lacking, but really made my legs scream at me as well.  Then back to more lunges on the other leg, then some jumping jacks, and moving squats with the weight.  She then told me to run to the water fountain, which proved my legs were jelly and almost made me fall over.  

We then went to using tubes for step touches, did push ups with overhead presses, and then got out the exercise ball for 7 core exercises.  It was an exhausting workout, but with rare exception-don't even ask about my push ups they were worse than my lack of vertical-I was able to rally and make a strong effort.  Mel at my side encouraging me the whole way through.  

I can't say that I am looking forward to my next session with Mel, but I am determined to perform better and continue to earn her praise, which is what you want a good coach to do.  Inspire you to be better than you are.  I'm inspired to see what comes next.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Wellness Update-Week 3

Me running on treadmill
Some observations from my morning workouts this past week:

  • Not weightlifting for 6 years is probably not good.  Not so much when I did my lower body workout, but Wednesday's upper body workout really killed.
  • Even when you pay attention to how to use the machines, you can still forget how to use them and get frustrated that you look silly.  Need to ask for a reminder about a couple this week.
  • I really don't like running on the treadmill.  It is not so much the feeling that I am putting out all this effort and going nowhere, but rather that it is really hard to get lost in my run when I am on the treadmill.  The scenery never changes, in fact most often I am looking in a mirror at me.  The pace never lets up, unless I agree to give in an lower it. Time seems to creep slowly by, unless like this week the machine throws me for a loop and is programmed to change speeds at set intervals.  

Monday I ran for 20 minutes at 6.1 mph (9:50 pace).  It was the fastest I had run all summer by over a minute and I was able to make 20 minutes.  The best part was that twice during my run, after each 5 minutes of running, I had a 1.5 minute burst where the pace increased to 6.4 mph (9:10 pace) automatically and then dropped down again.  I actually found myself looking forward to these moments of a quick burst of speed.  It made the run go much smoother and seem to not last as long.

With this in mind, I was really looking forward to my run on Wednesday.  Until it started and the first change of pace came.  It was then I discovered, I really hate running on a treadmill on an incline.  Instead of a change of pace, it was a change in incline.  I went from 1% incline to a 3% incline, and then to a 4% incline, before settling back down to 1% for the final 9 minutes, of which I only lasted 4 until I had to walk (I did finish by running the last 2.5 minutes when they came in to take my picture and pride kicked in).

I also found out that sometimes running while looking at yourself run is not such a bad thing.  As I was running on Wednesday I looked at my legs and noticed that my left calve looked larger than my right calve.  I thought it might just be me being tired, or maybe the angle I was looking at in the mirror, but I filed it away in my head.  On Friday I looked again, and find that no I was right my left calve was definitely larger than my right one.  With this in mind I asked our athletic trainer at PHS Ryan Carrol what he thought.  He agreed, then after a few more questions he suggested I speak with my doctor, Dr. David Darr, and see what he thought.  I had an Ultra Sound on Monday, waiting to hear what they find, but without the Journey to Wellness I would not have thought much of the slight pain in my left calve and not gotten it checked out, so I am learning more each week about my own state of health.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Building Students is a lot Like Building a School Building

This post is several days in the making and has been spurred on by items I have read, things I have observed, and thoughts I have thunk as the scarecrow might say.  It really all began with an email from our Director of Professional Development, Jennifer Felke (@jenfelke) commending our staff for a great second week of work at the School of Inquiry.  It got me thinking about what a great week it was, despite some challenges that are simply part of starting something new.  It also prompted me to let my staff know what I had observed this week and what a great job I thought they had been doing and how fortunate I feel to work with such an awesome team.  In the midst of that message, I began to think about a video I had taken earlier in the week of construction continuing on our permanent building. It lead me to write this:
In some ways this year is going to be like watching our new home being built.  There will be times when we see incredible changes in a few short days-in 1 week we have gone from an empty shell with an elevator shaft (image above) started to the video I shot Thursday ( today having the atrium cut out and steel being put over the first floor (I was getting looks from the construction guys so no picture or video unfortunately but I will get one tomorrow)-to times when it will seem as if nothing much is being done to move the ball forward that is visible, but incredible work will be getting done in ways we don't see-putting in electrical and floor boxes, wiring for technology, creating the HVAC and other mechanical areas-that are just as important as the flashy stuff we can ew (sp?) and ah over.  
Saturday morning I read this post by Cale Birk via Connected Principals.  In it he speaks of the flow zone.  That place where new challenges are at the appropriate level of challenge.  Where learners are supported as they reach beyond what they think they can do and go further than they had ever dreamed.  It is the place where tasks are not easy, but are not overwhelming.  Finding this flow zone for our students, at all the various levels of expertise they have, will be one of our greatest challenges.  For me with my staff it means giving them the confidence to leave the site of the shore, without knowing the terror of being lost at sea.  It means not simply being the head cheerleader, but also asking tough questions about our practice and being able to guide us as a group to answers to those questions.

Final Thoughts:

Whenever you begin to try something new  you are going to have those  moments of sure bliss, when everything is working and all seems right with the world.  Those moments when you say, "why I have I not been doing this all along".  You are also going to have those moments when you want to say, "why did I ever agree to try this.  What was I thinking!"  With either comment, I want my staff, and myself to focus on what is working, what needs improving, and most importantly to not lose sight of our ultimate goal, creating a great learning environment for students to excel in.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Wellness Update

My brother and I after Soldier Field 10 Mi.
I am the rounder shaped one.
As part of my goal to model being a life long learner to my students and staff I have dedicated one day a week in this blog to chronicle my journey to wellness in which I am attempting to get healthy and learn more about myself in the process.  Last week's post was a rundown of how out of shape I am, not as bad as I feared but definitely not good.  This week I am hoping to explain what I learned about myself during this process in week 1.

So here I go, things I learned last week:

  • 5:15 AM is really early in the morning, and seemingly harder when I know after my 30 minute drive I will need to work out, as compared to when I left at that time as a swim coach and only had to put others through a rigorous workout.
  • I really like being on a rowing machine.  I had never done this before, and found it to be not as daunting as it first looked for someone who can be rhythm and co-ordination challenged.
  • Working out is much better when you have someone there to push you.  This is true of any endeavor you take and a main reason why I like collaborating and working on teams.
  • I still hate running on treadmills.  This was probably exacerbated by having to run at a 10 minute mile pace, or faster, after spending my summer running at a leisurely 10:30-11:00 minute pace, but the boredom and feeling of going nowhere still drives me nuts.
  • I am really tied to following instructions.  Even though the 10 minute or less pace was incredibly challenging, I felt obligated to do it, as that is what they had programmed into my key card for a workout.  I am not so much of a slave to directions though that I did not cut the program short (at 20 minutes vs. the 30 they programmed) when I felt that I had gone as far as I could go.  It helped that I had been told that if I did interval training I would only have to do 20 minutes, otherwise who knows what might have happened.
  • Eating only salad at lunch is boring.  And ultimately leads to me snacking as soon as school ends and raiding the chocolate stash in the School of Inquiry.  (Yes English teachers, I know not to start a sentence with And, but it the format of my bullets better than a comma and continuation of the previous thought).
  • I need to get my staff to put a lock on the chocolate stash and not allow me to have the combination.  While I am willing to eat healthy, I am also too easily distracted from my goal by the soothing stress relieving properties of  the cocoa bean.
Results for the week:
1.5 lbs lost, no real workouts done, but 1 fitness test that I counted as a workout and 1 instructional period on how to use the equipment I also counted as a workout.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

The First Week of Inquiry

We finished our first week at the School of Inquiry with some amazing momentum.  I am so proud of the time, effort, and embrace of change that my staff has shown this week.  I am also impressed by the way students have jumped in to a new environment and way of learning.  Embracing the idea, though they are uncertain in many cases how it will all work out, of changing how they will learn.  Some highlights from the week:

Monday's Amazing Race was awesome.  You can see how it went in this video by Tom Felke.  I know I had a great time watching students take on challenges and then hearing them process what they learned in our group discussion.  On Monday night we had a packed house for our first ever Back to School Night for parents with the first session on the School of Inquiry at overflow capacity.

Thursday brought a visit from Theresa Shafer, Online Community Manager for the New Tech Network, and a day of students learning about themselves and helping to create the culture of the school.  In Global Perspectives students had an intense discussion about what Trust, Respect, and Responsibility meant to them, and how they wanted to see them utilized in Inquiry.  In their math courses students learned about their personalities in the What's Your Color activity and how to utilize what they learned about these personalities in their group work.  In Leadership Seminar students began their journey to discover more about who they are as people and what strengths they posses.

Friday, brought my two favorite moments of the week. One was student based, one teacher based.  The student based moment came watching students in their math courses build towers out of spaghetti, tape, string, and a marshmallow as facilitator Michael Delp encouraged them..  Pictures of the winning entries are below.

The teacher moment came in the afternoon.  After having a rough morning in which they felt they had lost their students, my Global Perspectives facilitators (Lisa Mercer and Grant Masson) went to lunch and prep and completely reworked their lesson plan for the afternoon to be a more engaging activity.  It was an amazing moment to see and hear about.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Rookie Mistakes

The last post I wrote was about what my learning journey would be this year, that I would learn more about how to keep myself healthy through my journey to wellness.  That would be the focus of my non-educational learning.  Today I got another area to learn in, and it really was not a surprise or an unknown area.  Today I learned about making Rookie Mistakes.

For those of you not in the Plymouth area, or long time blog readers, today was the opening of the School of Inquiry, our New Tech Network PBL School within a School.  It should have been an incredibly exciting day seeing my staff getting work with and build relationships with our students.  Instead, it became-for me the day of Rookie mistakes.  My first Rookie Mistake came as I was walking down the hallway towards Inquiry, after spending the morning supervising student pictures in another part of the building.  Jen, my director of professional development, came walking down the hall with a big smile on her face.  She expected me to ask how it was going, I instead asked what time our Wednesday Collaboration Meeting was to begin.  It is not that I did not care about how things were going, nor was it that I didn't want to hear, but I wanted to make sure I would not be late for the meeting and have time to make one last check on pictures, plus I wanted to hear how everyone's day was going.

My second rookie mistake was made later in that very meeting.  As we were having some idle conversation, while waiting for all staff members to arrive, I mentioned that I was either going to workout after school, or play golf with the principal of the high school.  One of my staff members was sitting next to me, and he said play golf.  While nothing more was said, the look on his face said all I needed to know.  He was thinking, "we are killing ourselves doing all of this work and change, and he is going out to play golf."  I instantly regretted saying it.

I had forgotten the number one rule of team building.  We are all in this together and all must be "All In".  When I was a swim coach, I was able to get our swimmers to work incredibly hard for long hours, but I what made it work was that we were all there together, all working hard, and all present at every practice.  I had forgotten to always be All In.  While my staff was having a exciting, and due to all the change, stressful day, I was not present-as I was fulfilling my duties at picture day, and I was then going off to play golf.

Rookie Mistakes are not in and of themselves fatal, and they happen to help us grown. How we respond, determines this growth and lack of fatality.  I just wish they were avoidable.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Journey to Wellness

Plate 1 of Last Supper
Plate 2 of Last Supper
Desert from Last Supper

Normally I stick to education topics on this blog, but this year I have challenged my staff to spend 20 minutes of their school day, everyday, learning something new.  It can be related to school, or not related to school, but it has to be spent learning and it must be shared with other members of our staff and with our students so that they can see us modeling learning.  I really wasn't sure what I wanted to learn this year, I am continually learning about education, and a wide range of other topics, but I wasn't sure what I truly wanted to pursue.  I enjoy politics, government, and economics, but tend to want to stay away from those in this forum, as they so often inflame passions.

A few weeks ago, our superintendent Dan Tyree approached me about being part of the Plymouth Lifeplex's Journey to Wellness Campaign.  In this program Dan and I would be measured and evaluated, given access to Fitness Forum's facilities and staff, and then write about our journey to get healthier for the local newspaper.  It is a program that they do each year with different community members.  I thought that I really needed to get back into shape-realizing that my current round condition is a shape, but not one that I want-and that being in a program that would give me some serious accountability would be good.  I had spent June running every other day, spent July trying to run every other day-not so good-and have not run since we left for vacation on July 22 three weeks ago.  My ability to over focus on my job, to the detriment of my wellness was becoming evident again.  Thus, my learning for this trimester will be about learning more about myself and how to get healthier.

Yesterday I had my last suppers at a local buffet (pictures above).  Today I went for my fitness evaluation, they had us talk about our exercise and health history.  I told them that I had played sports growing up-baseball, swimming, basketball, pickup football-had played 2 years of high school football, 3 years of high school basketball, swam for a year, played lacrosse for a year, and water polo for 2.  During college I played 4 years of intramural basketball, but did not exercise much at all ballooning from my senior year of high school 165 lbs to 225 after my freshman year and as high as 315 lbs 4 years ago when I first started running 5Ks and dropping down to 242.5 when I started at PHS.  I gave them my sorted history of running, barely running a mile in my first Race to Wrigley, finishing the Indianapolis Mini-Marathon (13.1 miles) 2 years later, running 5 mile race this past April on roughly a 10:30 pace, nearly dying at the end of May when without really training I ran the Soldier Field 10 Miler in a total time slower than my Mini Marathon pace to my present regime of going out and running 3.1 miles on a 10:45-11:00 pace.

During my evaluation I learned that I am 6'2.5" (I somehow have grown), weigh 279 lbs, have a resting heart rate of 68 bpm (which they say is good), am at 29.1% body fat (with 197.8 lbs of lean mass and 81.2 lbs of fat mass), have BMI of 35.8, can stretch 12 inches (not good), have a VO2 Max of 39 ml/min/kg (this measures how much oxygen you can take in while exercising and is good) can leg press 160 lbs 10 times (I admit that I think I could of done more but had done like 10 reps prior to finding a decent weight) chest press 75 lbs 10 times in short I am kinda weak.

After we got done, we set some goals.  My goals are thus:

  1. Lose 32 lbs so that my body fat is at 20% and thus in the normal range.
  2. Exercise 30-45 minutes 3 times per week, running 3.1 miles on 10 mile pace when I run.
  3. Increase my strength-no real measurable goal here as I doubt my base for starting.
Hopefully this will be an interesting journey of learning more about myself, plus a good once a week blog topic.  One thing I truly believe as administrators we spend a lot of time working for our schools, which is good, but we need to have balance so that our health does not deteriorate.  My last goal is to find and maintain that balance.

What do you want to learn between now and November?

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Our Most Important Mission

Flip, RISE, Common Core, ECAs, ISTEP+, High Stakes Testing, Race to the Top, Longer Days, Longer School Years, Blended Learning, Charter Schools, Online Learning, NovaNet, 1:1, BYOD, Design Thinking, Project Based Learning, Inquiry Learning....The changes and programs come fast and furious in the 21st Century, so much so that I think 21st Century Skills ultimately might come down to learning best to manage the rapidity and frequency of change.  With all of these programs, stresses, and attempts to transform our educational system I sometime fear that we are losing sight of what is has continually been proven to be our most effective methodology, relationships.

This was brought home to me yesterday when I read Adam Saenz's post at the Huffington Post titled From Jail to Harvard:  Why Teachers Change the World.  Mr. Saenz tells his story of how he fought depression throughout his youth, and then was inspired by two notes left in an old journal by two former teachers.  The notes, only a few sentences, spoke of the qualities two of his teachers saw in him.  They praised him for his work, and spoke of the future they believed that he had.  In short, two a young man struggling with depression, they gave him hope.  He utilized this hope to first take one college course, then another, and finally at the age of 27 to earn his college degree.  He then went on to graduate school and to earning a PhD.

As we begin the school year, it is my hope that all of us, despite the rapid and ongoing challenges and changes we face as a profession, rededicate ourselves to the methodology that pays off the most, relationships, even though most often we may never know how really impactful our kind words may prove to be.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

What to Name a Blog

Never thought I would write a post on something like this, but this has been a question that seems to haunt me the more I dive into using social media for professional development and for my PLN.  When I first started using twitter, I really had no idea what it was-in fact I was basically a dormant user for 3 years prior to going to NTAC 2011 as part of the New Tech Network and I learned about Hash Tags and HootSuite-and thus did not really think much about my user name.  Thus the identifying, but somewhat boring and excessively long (11 characters) ken_v_olson twitter name.  There have been times I wish that I had gone with something a little more daring or related to my occupation, but my creativity creativity usually fails and I come up with nothing distinctive.

When I began my blog on Edublogs last year I settled on the name "Inquiring Minds" because it fit with the name of my school, The School of Inquiry, and it was what I have tried to have as a an adult learner, and inquiring mind.  When I decided to move to my blog to Google Sites, to model it's use to my students, I was able to keep the blog name, but I was disappointed that the comments feature would not work, unless I allowed readers to edit my words.  With this in mind I switched to Blogger this week, but the url was taken.  To remedy this, I simply replaced the second "i" in inquiring with a "y" making it inquiryng.

I was worried that I would get comments about not knowing how to spell, and I did right away, but while I could change the name of the blog to the correct spelling, even if the url was different, there was a consistency about it-and a quirkiness-I liked.  Then I read this blog post by Todd Hurst from the University of Indianapolis' Center for Excellence in Leadership and Learning (CELL) on What's in a (School's) Name?.

After reading his post, I believe that our school's name fits what we hope to do, create learners who are active participants in their education.  Learner's who ask questions and seek out answers.  Who inquire about the word around them.  In thinking this though, I also believe that the blog name I have chosen fits me and how I approach my own education.  I seek answers from a wide range of sources, continually ask questions on how to improve my school and professional practice, and am a little quirky in how I go about it.  Inquryng may be a great way to put it.  What do you think?  What truly is in a name?