Thursday, December 27, 2012

No Return Policy Here

As the holiday season winds down, a certain part of it has got me thinking about our students. The dasys after Christmas have been known as one of the busiest times for returning items that aren’t wanted during the year. Lines are long, people are in a hurry, and people just want something else that is ideal for them in return of their original gift. It makes me think of the following:

The wrapping paper is dramatically ripped off the present….the box is torn open….What is it??...It turns out it’s not quite what you wanted but you say with a smile, “I love it, thank you.”  You end up taking it home and the next day you are in the store returning it for something you really want and like.  A similar scenario might go like this…the paper is ripped off…you’re trying to hold back the excitement of the unknown…you open the box and before you have a chance to say anything…the giver of the gift says, “If you don’t like it, I have a gift receipt in the box”.  We have all seen or heard of these scenarios before….now just imagine if those gifts were our students.  In education, there are no “return policies” for our students.  We have to work with every kid that comes through our front door to the best of our ability, every single day.

An example of a return policy for a retail superstore that tightened its return policy for computers (including tablets, netbooks, and eReaders), cameras and other electronics such as game consoles and GPS units, which now must be returned in 30 days.  Opened items may not get a refund or an exchange at all.  In education, we don’t get a choice to make a decision if we want to work with a student or not.  We shouldn’t have a choice to say, “Nope, I don’t want this one.” Or, “Let me work with this student for 5 - 30 days and I will let you know if I want to keep him/her or not.”  We don’t get to look at a student like a gift and say, “It’s not the right size, color, or style.”  We can’t send students back to their home and ask for another student in return that is from a different background because we think they will be more successful in our classroom or school.  As educators, it is our moral responsibility to believe that no matter what background they come from, they will be successful in our school.  Educating all means all.  NO return policy here.

The returning of gifts also reminded me of the four different types of schools in DuFour & Eaker (2004) Whatever It Takes: How PLC’s Respond When Kids Don’t Learn.  The four different schools believe all students can learn but differ in many ways.

The different schools are described as:

The Charles Darwin School believes that all students can learn…based on their ability.
· The Pontius Pilate School believes that all students can learn…if they take advantage of the opportunity provided to them.
· The Chicago Cubs Fan School believes that all students can learn…something, and we will help all students experience academic growth in a warm and nurturing environment.
· The Henry Higgins School believes that all students can learn...and we will work to help all students achieve high standards of learning.

These different types of schools can represent individual educator beliefs, a majority of the school’s beliefs, or the whole school’s belief that represents the school culture when believing in that all students can learn.  When looking at these four different types of schools, the only one that doesn’t seem to have a “return policy” mentality is the Henry Higgins School.  The other three schools find a reason that a student or a group of students in which they might wish they could return them for something more to their liking and more towards their perception of what an ideal student would be for them.  If we are to perform our moral responsibility as educators, we have encourage everyone in our school to perform in way that represents the Henry Higgins School in that we will work with all kids to achieve high standards of learning.  By doing this, we eliminate any preconceived notion or excuse to think about a “return policy” in our own school. 

The students in our schools are our presents and we have to appreciate and believe in every single one of them every single day.  When we unwrap the paper of a student, we should excited and appreciate the differences that they bring to our days as an educator.  The student (our gift) is what we get at the start of each year.  We make that gift into the most enjoyable present every single day.  No “return policy” here. 

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Are you, "In the Zone"?

When we hear someone was, “in the zone”, we often think of Michael Jordan in the 1992 NBA Finals when he gives "The Shrug" to Magic Johnson on the sidelines after hit hits another three pointer on his way to 35 points in the first half or Tiger Woods winning his first Masters in 1997 by shooting 18-under par  and beating the best golfers in the world on the biggest stage by an unheard of 12 strokes.

These two were on fire and definitely “in the zone” on that given day.  They were at the peak of their abilities.  They had that perfect moment.  They have made a career of being “in the zone”. They didn’t get there by accident.  They outworked everyone. They were fueled by learning everyday about their own personal skill set and the need of others to get there.  Not many people get those perfect moments but they keep striving for them and getting really close.  For some people, reaching that level of “in the zone” keeps them going every day.  They want it so bad they can taste it.  They will do anything they can to reach their goal.  Others, well… if they can’t reach it, they get defeated.  They begin to settle.  It’s good enough for me, they think.  They believe that their results are good.  They stop looking for solutions to keep getting better.  They accept the fact in their mind they can’t get better because they are already pretty good.  They keep doing the things they are doing and getting the same results.  They have given in to the status quo and a mindset that has given up on growing and learning.  Their internal motivation to be their best and be “in the zone” has been put up on the shelf to collect dust.  They have fallen victim to being in another zone, their “comfort zone”. 

The comfort zone often is a place where we feel safe with our mind and body.  It’s a place where, in our profession, we can get a few small wins and the risk percentage for a loss is pretty low.  For many, this is the place to be and the place where they feel they do their best work.  But, if we truly want to make a greater difference on a wider spectrum of people, we have to take our size twelve feet and step out of the box to confront our own comfort zone. This is for the greater good of the people we should be influencing.  We have to keep learning about our strengths and weaknesses from others. Let them tell us what they see or don't see in us. We have to pull out the old feather duster to clean off that relentless desire to challenge our minds and be willing to find the most minuscule area within our practice to be better than we were the day before.  If we do this, we still have the opportunity to have that “in the zone” moment, day, month, year, or better yet career.  Can we sustain being "in the zone"?

For me, I want to have opportunities to feel like I can be “in the zone” within my education profession. I have come to realize though, its not easy to be there and be their at all times.  There are days where I am sure we feel close. This desire has never been stronger than right now for me. Learning with others has rejuvenated me to have the confidence and expectations of myself to try to new things. I have realized that the mindset of, “this is way I have always done it”, isn’t always best for me or for the people I am charged to lead and empower.  The best way we can find out which zone we are in is if the people we should be influencing can feel the same feeling right along side with us as it’s happening day in and day out. Each and everyone one us still have this opportunity if we don’t settle in our in the comfort zone for too long.  Be “in the zone” today and everyday!

When do you feel like you are in the zone?  I would be interested in your thoughts.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Leaving the Island Behind

I am finally sitting down to write my first blog post.  I have to thank the power of my personal learning network for the encouragement to reflect in this manner.  This leads me into the topic of how Twitter and my PLN have powerfully impacted me in a way that convinced me that I could share my thoughts with people while learning from others.  The two have created a passion for intrinsic motivation for me to be a continual learner from educators and leaders all over the world. 

Twitter has reminded me that I am no longer on a deserted island by myself, thinking and hoping that I am doing things right to the best of my knowledge and abilities.  An awesome member of my PLN who I met through Twitter, Jimmy Casas (@casas_jimmy), reminded me when he posted to me, “@Aaron_Becker32 You are not on an island all by yourself anymore partner. Got your back!”  His response was from my post on a chat on Twitter called #satchat.  The question was about things we would have changed when we reflect on our first job as a principal.  I stated, “#satchat A6: Would have changed being connected to more people. Felt like on an island in small district. Twitter opened doors & mind for me.” I think many educators would or could say the same thing before Twitter or other social media that connected them professionally.  When I was in this small rural Iowa school, it was literally surrounded by cornfields and not much else. I wouldn’t change the experiences there for anything other than being more connected to the outside world. I can remember feeling like it was a weakness if I didn’t know something or how to deal with an issue from the principal’s point of view.  I can remember feeling and saying to myself, “who can I talk to or call for help?”  I didn’t have another principal in the district that I could talk to about things.  So, I usually just tried to figure it out myself or call the one or two principals in the surrounding districts that I knew.  It was very limiting, frustrating, and at times very stressful.  Through Twitter, I have realized there were people just like me who were searching for help or their own professional development.  The best part has been that it is available 24/7/365 at my fingertips.  Twitter and my PLN have become some of the best, if not the best professional development I have participated in my educational career. It has made me an education junkie in which many days I can’t wait to read what others are doing in their schools or reading articles about larger educational movements that may impact me, my staff, or students.

However, this feeling about Twitter wasn’t always there for me though.  I was first introduced to Twitter while taking classes with my fellow education buddies, Deron Durflinger (@DeronDurflinger) and Nathan Wear (@Nathan_Wear). They are great follows by the way. They showed me how they used it and I followed a few people but I didn’t really get engaged with it.  I lost interest and thought that it was okay, but it wasn’t something for me.  Months passed in which I didn’t check in on my Twitter account.  During that time, I read the book Mindset, by Dr. Carol Dweck, which dealt with people having a fixed or a growth mindset.  This book made me reflect deeply about who I was as a person and also professionally.  After reading the book, I wanted to make sure I had a growth mindset in life and specifically in my profession as an instructional leader. This fueled my curiosity and desire to not settle and be satisfied with my current practices.  I decided I had to be intentional in finding ways to spark new ideas and challenge myself intrinsically.  During this time, I kept hearing about educators using Twitter for their PLN.  I wanted to know what this PLN thing was and how could Twitter help me.  Over a period of time, I figured out how to best use it for my benefit. Professionally, I started to see the endless educational and leadership resources out there available for reading, borrowing, and stealing.  I was able to see new points of view on educational topics in which I had been very close-minded.  Through this avenue of communication, I am also able to make personal connections with educators that I may have never known in my lifetime who can provide feedback and challenge my thinking.  This part has been the most rewarding.  Knowing that I have people I can count on 24/7/365 for educational advice, at the tips of my fingers, is an awesome feeling.  This feeling has created a new energy for learning and a desire to be connected to people all over the world.  I now know I will never have to go back to the way it was before; feeling like I had to have all of the answers or feel like I was working on an island.  The only island I want to be on is one where I am relaxing on a vacation.  Hopefully, that island comes sooner than later.  Thanks Twitter and thanks to my PLN.  You have inspired me.