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I wrote this speech in honor of our Veterans for our school's annual Veterans Day Flag Ceremony held on November 12, 2018
"My fellow Americans, ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country." This quote by President John F. Kennedy during his inauguration address is one of the most famous quotes in our nation’s history. At the time of his speech, it was a call to action. It was a challenge made to every American to contribute in some way to make our country better. Today as you know is Veterans Day. It is a day in which we recognize, celebrate and honor, the men and women who answered that call…..the call to serve…the call to be bigger than themselves and represent our country as a member of the armed forces.
The importance of service is a vital part of a person’s character. It helps to define who we are a person, a school, a community, a town, a state, and a country. The decision to serve means that you are making a choice. A choice to make a difference. To take up a cause and enrich the lives of others. The Veterans that join us today made a choice….a choice to set aside their personal ambitions and dreams to protect the lives of their fellow Americans and the freedoms that we hold dear. Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.
Today I think of my childhood friend, United States Senior Chief Thomas Baldwin who in May retired after 20 years and 9 months serving our country. I remember when I was 18 years old and ready to head off to college and Tom pulled into the driveway of my parent’s house to say goodbye. He was heading off to basic training and did not know when we would see him again. I was so proud of him but so scared at the same time. I remember giving him a big hug and yes, even shedding a few tears because neither one of us quite knew what the future would hold. Over the next 21 years he served our country proudly. The sacrifices he made were many. He would spend months at sea far away from shore, over time he missed family holidays, birthday parties, and seeing his children grow up for periods of time. In fact, he even lived in a different state then his family toward the end of his service so his children could stay in their schools. He is a man of integrity, honor, loyalty and American pride. I’m honored and humbled to call him my friend and so proud of all he has accomplished. Thankfully he has rejoined his family and has started his life as a civilian. His service made a difference. Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.
In preparing my speech today I came across an interview with Jeffrey Courter from Chicago, Illinois. He had served his country as a Marine, a Navy Reservist and an Army National Guardsman. When talking about his time of service I was struck by the comments he said about his time in Afghanistan. “My deployment to Afghanistan changed me in many ways. It opened my eyes to poverty, oppression, and human need. I saw children standing barefoot in snow. I saw old villagers afraid of terror. I saw families of Americans providing toys, school supplies and clothing to poor Afghans. I saw bravery, kindness, and evil up close. I saw suffering on a scale I had never encountered before. People asked me whether I made a difference being deployed there. I would say, “A very small difference, but if everyone makes a very small difference, in time it will make a large difference. Service is the gift we give to the world. It’s what makes us human. It is also what gives our lives meaning. Serving my country is part of serving humanity.” Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.
Throughout the day you will have the opportunity to hear from our veterans about their service to our country. I want you to pay attention, not just to what they are saying but how they are saying it. I want you to notice the passion, honor, conviction and pride in how they speak. For some, they have recently finished their terms of service while others served proudly many years ago. The veterans that sit before you today have served in Vietnam, Korea, Panama, Iraq, Afghanistan and peace keeping missions throughout the world. They fought proudly with their brothers and sisters against some of the world’s most dangerous enemies. They all made sacrifices like my friend Tom.. They all have stories like Jeffrey Courter. They made a difference.. Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.
My challenge to all of us here today is “What difference are you making?” It is a very important time in our country where we are in need of leaders. We are in need of people, whether you are a student or a senior citizen, who are willing to follow their passion, that “thing” that gets that fire burning inside of you that you can wait to spread to others. There are so many ways that we can serve. For the students…get involved. Serve your community, get involved in a service project, be a student tutor, read to elementary students, design bulletin boards around the school, donate food to a local food pantry, join the boy scouts or girl scouts, be a leader on Student Council or one of our clubs, be part of a local youth group, help out at the Boys and Girls Club. For those of us in the community, be a mentor to a student, be a guest speaker in a school, donate your time at the library, if you are talented and can make a blanket for the homeless or organize a fundraiser, it helps make us stronger as a person, a school, a town, a state and a country. We need to make it a life-time commitment to help others. It can’t be a one time thing. Today we recognize those who were willing to sacrifice their lives…..and some did….so that we can be here….today….standing in the sunshine….. Through service, we participate in our shared commitment to create a "more perfect union." As Robert Kennedy said, "Each time a man stands up for an ideal or acts to improve the lot of others or strikes out against injustice he send forth a ripple of hope." That is the power of service…..Ask not what our country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.
November 11th is certainly a special day each year. Yesterday marked the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I. It was 11:00 in the morning, on the 11th day, on the 11th month……One hundred years ago yesterday……tired and weary, members of Battery E, 11th Field Artillery marched onto an empty battlefield, loaded a round into their favorite canon nicknamed “Calamity Jane” and fired a “closing” shot signifying the end of World War I. 100 years = 36,500 days, 100 years = 876,000 hours, 100 years = 52,560,000 minutes. There have been millions of men and women who have served our country since that time. Today we thank you….we honor you and celebrate you for what you did for our country.
In closing, I would like to end with a poem that I found this weekend on Instagram. It was posted and narrated by movie star, Dwayne Johnson, otherwise known by fans of the WWE as “The Rock," a strong supporter of the armed forces.
We look back at 100 years with honor in our eyes..
From the ocean to the desert and beyond the farthest skies
We thank the men and women that stand up for our rights
Walking into battle, morning, day and night.
A nation on their shoulders every single day
For your peace and safety
We will always pray
And although you may be far from home
Never feel alone
Because in our hearts
And in our minds
You will always roam
Gratitude to the hardest workers
Is What We Have to Give
To Show Respect for the Freedom
With Which We All Live
Thank you Veterans for your sacrifice, your service and your commitment in helping make our country the land of the free and the home of the brave! Pequannock Valley School salutes you!
Have you ever had one of those moments in the classroom as a teacher or in your school as a building leader where it takes you a few days to reflect on the joy and excitement that it has brought you? Moments where when you close your eyes you can still feel the energy, see the smiles on the face of your students or staff, hear the "buzz" of conversation, witness the learning that is going on around you. If you have had those moments, Congratulations. If you haven't had those moments yet, they are coming. Those moments transform you as an educator. They make you stop and realize the tremendous power in what we do in education and help you recognize why our roles are so important in the lives of our students, our colleagues and our communities. They are moments that can happen when you least expect them, or ones that come from a vision, from hard work, from dedication, from a relentless pursuit of wanting to do what is best for those you serve. When they happen.....cherish them.
I have been fortunate to have several of those "moments" throughout my career. However, in the hustle and bustle of a school year, the feelings of those past moments tend to be a distant memory as you work toward "the next thing" happening on a particular day. I was fortunate to have "a moment" this Friday at the Pequannock Technology Summit (#peqsummit) where I am a co-organizer with my colleagues, Beth Sheridan (@beth_sheridan6) and Peter Cook (@pcooktech) that I am still having "all the feels" two days later because of the impact it had on me and on my staff.
The Pequannock Technology Summit was a vision that I had five years ago that members of our Leadership Team turned into a reality. Over the past four years it has evolved into a dynamic, personalized professional development workshop focused on providing teachers, administrators and support staff with relevant learning opportunities to enhance their practice. Thanks to our Superintendent, Dr. Brett Charleston, we have been able to have some of the top educators in the country come to speak. Educators like Will Richardson, Alice Keeler, Rich Kiker and this year's speaker, Weston Kieschnick have kicked off the Tech Summits with powerful messages. Weston is the author of the book Bold School: Old School Wisdom + New School Technology = Blended Learning That Works. Wes set the stage for this year's summit talking about the importance of realizing that education is not broken. Education is not all about technology. It is about creating outcomes, using effective instructional strategies and then capitalizing on the technology tools that will help bring the outcomes to fruition through solid planning. The message resonated loud and clear to those in attendance as applause, head nods and shouts of agreement came from the audience. Weston's energy, passion, humor, wisdom and outgoing personality set the room on fire! (Not literally, no panic ensued).
Weston's message to "Go Forth and Be Bold" came to fruition following his keynote as 500 educators participated in over 30 workshops focused on Blended Learning. If you do a search for #peqsummit on Twitter you will see all the amazing learning, collaborating, and fun that was being had by everyone. Weston also provided workshops throughout the day on Instructional Coaching, Maintaining Grit and What Blended Learning Should Look Like. The greatest part about the day and where my "moment" occurred, was to watch teachers and administrators feeling empowered to share the great things they are doing. In every classroom presenters and attendees were working together, sharing best practices, learning and growing for the betterment of their students and for the students that will come after them. All of the effort that went into planning this event for our staff came alive before my very eyes.
With every conversation I had with attendees the smiles got bigger and bigger. Comments like "I feel so fortunate to work in a profession where so many are willing to put themselves out there and share their knowledge/experiences so that the whole profession can benefit and grow," and "The Pequannock Tech Summit is one of the finest workshop opportunities on the East Coast. The #peqsummit energizes & boosts me every year! Thanks for the professional lift" gives me the motivation I need to strive to make next year's conference be even more "BOLD."
If we truly want to make a difference in education we need to "Go Forth and Be Bold." We must be willing to take risks, to share what we know, to collaborate with our colleagues and to push each other to be better than we were the day before for our students. Weston said it best in his keynote. "Education is not broken. But, it is a dangerous game when in the name of innovation we determine the skills of the past, have no place in our future. We have to get as excited about pedagogy as we do about technology. Create a culture of "AND." It was a tremendous day of learning that I am so proud to be a part of each and every year. The entirety of the day was a "moment" in my educational life that I will never forget. From the things I learned, to the people I met, every part of the day was what should be happening in schools everywhere.
Thank you Weston Kieschnick. Thank you Peter Cook and Beth Sheridan. Most of all, thank you to everyone who made this event so special. Thank you for your tireless efforts to learn and grow to make schools a great place to be for students. As you get ready for your next "moment," don't wait for it to happen. Go Forth. Be Bold. Do what is best for kids. They are waiting.
I am not a surfer. Honestly, I don't know the first thing about surfing. I marvel at the people that can do it and make it look so easy. It must be exhilarating when you "catch the big one" and ride it all the way to shore. My family is fortunate that we get to spend a few weeks down at the Jersey shore each summer. As my son has gotten older (10 years old), he has "dabbled" in surfing. He wants to be a surfer but has a hard time recognizing that it takes a lot of work to be able to stand up and "catch a wave." Two weeks a year does not make one a "surfer." Watching YouTube videos on surfing does not make one a surfer. Unfortunately, for Ryan having a Dad that is not a surfer is not a big help either. The biggest help to Ryan is trying it, failing, and trying it again. However, it takes a certain mindset for that to happen.
Yesterday,Ryan was out in the ocean trying to surf when I saw him slamming his fist in frustration when he couldn't stand up on the board. I kept encouraging him to keep trying but for a 10 year old growing up in today's world, he wants immediate results. With each wave I could see his frustration building and building. He was watching others around him catching waves and it wasn't happening for him. Then, it happened, the chord on his board broke off and there he went, carrying the board out of the water. "I give up. I stink," were the first things he said as he met me on the beach.
Remaining positive, I said, "Let's go get it fixed and get back out there." So we took a ride over to Ocean Hut Surf Shop were we met the owner, Tony. "What's up little man? Looks like you are missing your chord. Let's get it fixed and you can go catch the big one." Tony quickly got to work repairing the board and talked with Ryan the entire time. "I know why this happened," he said. "You are not standing on the board in the proper spot so it was causing pressure on the back of the board which popped the screw loose. Let me guess, you are having trouble standing up so you just jump off."
Ryan was surprised that Tony knew what was happening. As a 10 year old his mind was blown that someone could predict exactly what happened. "Yes," Ryan said. "I really want to stand up but I can't do it."
Tony immediately replied, "Yes you can. Every surfer fails...every day. In fact, if you haven't had this happen to you then you haven't worked hard enough to try to stand up. You have to keep practicing, never give up and realize that there is a wave out there for you. I've been surfing my whole life and I fail every day. It's how I get better." As Tony fixed Ryan's board he gave Ryan advice about surfing and what to do to stand up. He taught him out to ride out to a wave and paddle so you can catch one. After he fixed the surfboard I could see a determination in Ryan's eyes. "Let's go Dad, I want to get back out there," he said as we left the store. We thanked Tony and on his way out he said to Ryan, "Never give up. Surf's up buddy."
On our way back to the beach I reflected on what Tony said. It reminded me of the growth mindset that we must instill in our students that we have in our classes. We must continue to encourage them to never give up, and help them develop an understanding that if you work hard, failure becomes part of the learning process. Students often get caught up in a "fixed mindset" in that they feel like they will never be able to learn it or "it is too hard." As educators we must continue to emphasize the importance of finding their passion, providing feedback on how they could do better, putting supports in place to help them succeed and challenging ourselves to model learning for the students.
Tony didn't have to spend time talking with Ryan. But he was so passionate about surfing that he wanted to share his passion with a young boy who may have given up on the sport that Tony loved so much. As educators, we must do the same. Share our passion for learning with students who feel like they don't know how to learn.......yet. As we start a new school year, the tide is rolling in and there are plenty of waves out there to catch. With each wave that we try to surf to shore, may we be constantly reminded to never give up. Our students are counting on us. Surf's up!
Oh yeah....and after we got back to the beach, this happened....
I had the pleasure of visiting the Disrupt-EdTV studio last week where I had the opportunity to share some ideas about how to creating a culture of curiosity in schools. Below is a snapshot of what I discussed......
“There are two types of schools. There are schools that prepare students for their future, and there are those that allow adults to live comfortably in the past.” (Insert mic drop here.) This quote by Weston Kieschnick, author of Bold School, sparks quite the debate about the state of education today. There is no doubt that education is changing. Are schools? As educators, we need to ensure that we are preparing students for a future that they are prepared for, not one that we as adults are comfortable with. Students are going to need to think critically, be creative, be able to communicate effectively with others, ask questions and be resilient. It is our responsibility as educational leaders and teachers that we are embrace a culture of curiosity, innovation and excellence. It may require us to reach outside our comfort zone but the reality is, our future is depending on it. Being disruptive in education means pushing the status quo and understanding that being uncomfortable may be the norm if it prepares our students for their future. There are some fundamental principles that you can put in place in order to create schools that thrive in a culture of curiosity and innovation.
Put an emphasis on building relationships. One of the reasons that I became an educator was because of the positive relationships that I had with my teachers throughout my life. They took a vested interest in me. It wasn’t just about my grades or their class. They got to know my strengths,weaknesses, interests and values. When I knew that my teachers believed in me, I wanted to do well not just for me, but for them. Students walk into our schools and our classrooms every day, looking for someone to believe in them. Before any learning happens, take time to foster relationships with your students. There is no greater influence on the success of your school than creating a culture where students feel safe, valued and supported.
Ask the right questions. Too often students go through a school day without answering a question or worse yet, asking one. If we are to create schools that are preparing students for their future, we need to ask questions that require students to think beyond recall. We need to push to levels of synthesis and analysis that require students to think critically. However, a critical aspect of creating a culture of curiosity is teaching students how to ask questions. In The Innovator’s Mindset by George Couros says that “Innovation starts not by providing answers but by asking questions.”
As teachers we must also ask ourselves questions in order to ensure that we are meeting the needs and expectations of our students. Couros goes on to provide critical questions for innovative educators to ask themselves:
● Would I want to be a learner in my own classroom?
● What is best for this student?
● What is this student’s passion?
● What are ways we can create a true learning community where teachers and students are learning together?
● How is what you are doing working for the student?
If we are expecting our students to ask the right questions in our classrooms, we should be asking ourselves questions about whether or not we are doing what is in the best interests of our students and pushing them beyond what they think they are capable of doing.
Students need a voice and choice. The availability of technology has opened the door to endless possibilities for students to learn and grow. Technology evens the playing field for students of all abilities, skills and talents. Providing opportunities for students to research, explore, communicate, translate, create, modify and share allows them to take ownership of their learning that might not have been possible before. Allowing students to demonstrate mastery by providing options can highlight abilities of students who may not always be the most talkative, or the ones who may be more visual, or the artistic students or students who have difficulty working in groups. Providing choice to demonstrate learning gives all students a voice to own their own learning. The goal is empowering students to want to pursue learning beyond the classroom.
Embrace the “struggle.” Students (and parents) have been trained to believe that grades are the sole determination of a child’s success in school. School becomes more about chasing grades than what the grade truly represents. If we, as educators, are going to disrupt education, we must seek to move learning from “grade focused” to “improvement focused.” Students must learn to “embrace the struggle.” It is in failure where true learning happens. Learning from mistakes teaches resiliency and persistence. Schools must seek to cultivate a “growth mindset” in students where they believe they can grow. If we are going to prepare students for their future, classrooms need to emphasize the process of learning. Generating ideas, brainstorming, creating, testing, modifying, and re-doing should become daily practice in classrooms. When learning isn’t mastered, the answer a student gives should not be, “I don’t know.” It should be, “I don’t know…..yet. I’m going to find out.” Change the way we interact with students. Empower them. Make school an exciting place to learn and grow.
Invest in professional development. Whether you are an administrator or a teacher, there is no greater investment you can make in your students than a strong professional development program. A professional development program is not a few days built into the school calendar. It is a comprehensive, structured year long experience that offers varied opportunities to learn. Whether it is teacher driven workshops at faculty meetings, book studies, “power PD” at lunch or afterschool, teacher edcamps, twitter chats, voxer, podcasts, or simply observing your colleagues, there are so many opportunities to learn and to grow. As educators, we cannot sit back and let professional development be irrelevant. As Rich Czyz says in his book, Four O’Clock Faculty, “If we are to improve as educators, it is imperative that each of us takes responsibility for our own professional learning.” When teachers make the most out of their own learning, we are able to provide experiences for students that awaken their natural curiosity, creates a professional culture of growth, mastery and sets a myopic focus on student achievement.
There are some “in the trenches” that say, “Sure, this all sounds great in theory where we are creating innovative schools and students are creative and resilient, but it isn’t always reality.” I believe it can be. It begins with accepting the challenge to make schools a place where students and teachers foster positive relationships and shift the focus from “grades” to “mastery” and from “memorization” to “application.” It continues with embracing a “growth mindset” that is not only “improvement based” but actually encourages students to learn from “failure.” Schools need to be a place where teachers and students are learning and growing together. When all stakeholders feel supported and encouraged, there is no telling the levels of achievement that can be reached. Are you uncomfortable thinking about it? Good. It is time to disrupt education and create a culture of curiosity in schools. You may think your school is not ready. The reality is, your school is not ready…..yet. They are waiting for you. Get after it!
This past Tuesday I took a trip up to Sparta High School in Sparta, NJ to view a new educational documentary entitled "RE:THINKING" that was shown by the Sussex County Principals and Supervisors Association. I am not a big movie watcher, (the last film I saw was Star Wars: The Force Awakens) and I can't tell you the last time that I watched a documentary. However, there was a "force" (sorry, couldn't resist) that was pulling me to check this movie out this week. It was a great opportunity for me to challenge my thinking and assess my priorities as a leader because the documentary was going to address a fundamental question that I ask myself every day...."Are my students really prepared for their future?"
In doing some research on the movie, I came across the website , rethinkingmovie.com. There it describes the film as follows: "RE:THINKING dives deeply into the research and practice of what it looks like when students are asked to think and what it means to teach thinking skills in the classroom. Following the work of Drs. Derek and Laura Cabrera of Cornell University, RE:THINKING follows four school districts over the course of three years as they successfully meet public education requirements, while embracing a culture that emphasized thinking over memorization and valued the individual child not as an empty vessel to be filled but as an adult-in-training." I couldn't help but be excited because for the past several years my staff and I have worked very hard to shift the focus of our student's learning from memorization to critical thinking and analysis. I was anxious to see if we are on the right track.
While I won't spoil the movie for those of you who want to watch it, there were certainly many takeaways that I found to be thought provoking and transformational. As a Principal the movie caused me to stop and reflect on what I am doing as leader and what our school is doing to facilitate "thinking" for our students and our staff. Here are some snapshots of the movie that got me "rethinking....."
1) What are we preparing students for? Is it for what we are comfortable with? Wow. I haven't really thought about their learning that way. Are we leading students toward a future that makes us comfortable or are we challenging students to be prepared for a future that is uncertain? As I follow my PLN on Twitter and speak with colleagues from other schools, my belief is that we are preparing students to succeed far beyond the walls of our schools. However, although it might be uncomfortable for us, it is critical that we constantly adapt to the needs of our students so that we prepare them for the future that they are comfortable with.
2) Culture trumps strategy. Truth. In David Guerin's blog " 17 Signs You Are a Future Driven Educator," he highlights the importance of building culture. He says "When your students know you believe in them, it brings out the best in them. Your encouragement makes all the difference. The person who influences you the most is the person who believes in you. They will rise to your expectations. You see them for who they are becoming and not just who they are right now. You see a bright future for your students." You can have all the administrative meetings and action plans you want to develop the "strategy" for student achievement. If you do not have a culture of trust, empathy, accountability and responsibility in which everyone together is working toward a common goal and who all believe in the power of "we", student success will be difficult to attain. Building and fostering relationships with your students is essential to starting the shift in the thinking process. (Check out David's blog here: http://www.davidgeurin.com/2017/09/17-signs-youre-future-driven-educator.html)
3) Learning how to learn is transferable. We must help students understand that "how they learn" is often more important than "what they learn." Classrooms must be connected in that students can work with their teachers, regardless of content, to develop critical thinking and problem solving skills, to learn how to collaborate and share ideas, and to take risks with how they learn. Failure may happen, but learning from failure embraces a "growth mindset" that will drive thinking and learning to new levels.... perhaps even to an "Innovator's Mindset."
4) People become alienated from curriculum because it is disconnected from their lives. Curriculum should be a living, breathing document. Far too often in schools "the curriculum" sits in a binder or a google drive and gets forgotten about when the daily routines of school begin to happen. The same lesson plans and assessments are used because "it worked last year." Our students are learning in new and engaging ways. It requires that our curriculum evolves. The last thing we want in our classrooms and schools is for them to be stagnant.
5) Are we allowing for natural curiosity in our schools? Taking after the #leadlap philosophy, we should be creating schools in which students want to run into, not out of. We want students to be curious about learning. We want to them to question. We want them to be able to explore what they are passionate about. When students are excited about what they are learning, they are more inclined to ask questions, think critically and explore opportunities that aren't always available to them when they are not engaged in their learning. I have been proud of what my staff has done through PBL, makerspaces, simulations, Genius Hour, and BreakoutEDu activities that have sparked student learning in various ways. Teachers must know what gets their students excited about learning. Help students find "their why" and "their way."
6) Are we okay with children not knowing the pythagorean theorem? Are we okay with students not knowing how to build a relationship? With state mandates and standardized testing there is an emphasis placed on "covering the material." Unfortunately education has become about numbers. Evaluation scores, school rankings, state report cards and test scores have become the norm. We have to remember that schools are about students. Are we willing to give up content for the sake of teaching students critical skills such as communicating with each other, building positive relationships, overcoming challenges, productive struggle? I learned the pythagorean theorem in 10th grade Geometry. That was also the last time I used it.... (sorry math teachers.) However, I do remember struggling and overcoming challenges in that class. I remember my friends helping me study for tests. I remember learning from failure. I'm okay with that.
7) The struggle is learning.....we simplify for students by trying to take the struggle away. Students today crave instant gratification. Technology has caused the world to forget what it is like to wait for anything. Answers are at our fingertips. All we have to do is "Google it," send a text, DVR it, or ask Siri. Students today need to learn to struggle. They need to learn how to think, to question, to analyze, to re-do. The reward of learning is in the journey, not the destination. We have to make our classrooms more improvement focused and less grade focused. As Yoda once said, "We must unlearn what we have learned." If we take the struggle away and never learn to think for ourselves, "that is why we fail."
8) Personalization is important. Everyone learns differently. Everyone thinks differently. We must embrace the individual student and seek to find ways to grow with them. When you find caring teachers, you have passionate students. When students feel that you know them and you will help them through the struggle, it makes all the difference between a classroom of students and a classroom of learners. Hearing the words, "I believe in you. You can do it" will not only personalize their learning, it also might be the only positive comments that your students get during their day. Parents don't keep their best students home. They send their best. Sometimes school is the safest place for them. Create opportunities to personalize learning.
9) The best way to improve education is to share all "the bests." Classrooms and schools cannot function in isolation. Schools must invest in their teachers. There must be meaningful, relevant, purposeful professional development for staff that enables them to share best practices, highlight key learnings, collaborate across grade levels and content areas. If we expect our students to be learners and thinkers, as educators we must model that practice. We must constantly seek to learn. Check out how we learn at our school... https://youtu.be/SmtVzHFl3rc When it comes to student success we can leave no stone unturned. We must look for the best ways to reach them. When we maximize our potential, so will they.
10) Imagine if all we are doing is rolling out students who are really good "at school." If this happens then we have failed them. Students must learn to be able to articulate their thinking, look at different perspectives, question their own view of the world, use evidence to defend an argument, determine fact from fiction. As much as schools are controlled by mandates, standards and regulations, they must remember that the future is not. Our students need to be prepared to be ready for a world that is constantly changing. The goal is to produce a citizen that is capable of thinking carefully, thoughtfully and critically for the rest of their lives.
On the drive home I reflected on what RE:THINKING was all about. The end of the documentary left a vision in my head that reminded me of our purpose as educators. We are responsible for educating the eager young minds of tomorrow. Their future is not written. It means that our best lessons have not been written yet either. We must challenge ourselves and our students to "rethink" what we are learning and doing. We need to make school a place where thinking transcends culture and embraces the unknown. Students are waiting. We need to make sure they are prepared. Put on your thinking caps...........
This past summer I had the opportunity to read the book "Lead Like a Pirate" by Shelley Burgess and Beth Houf. At the time, I was looking for something that would continue to cultivate my passion for leadership but also to guide me in how I can continue to transform my school to make it an amazing place for my staff and students. In a previous blog post, (https://richardhayzler.weebly.com/blog/a-pirates-life-for-me), I talked about the PIRATE acronym and how I would look to put it into practice this year. For the past five months I have worked to lead with Passion, Immerse myself in my work for students, build a Rapport with the Community, Ask a lot of questions, make positive Transformations in the building and be Enthusiastic about learning. It all paid off as my school was faced with tremendous adversity this past week. As captain of "the crew" we were about to head into uncharted territory...........
I received a call on Sunday afternoon from my Superintendent that there had been accident in front of my school that knocked out power to my building. Fortunately, the person was okay, but the telephone poles were not. If we were going to have school, I was going to need to relocate 550 students and staff to the high school and figure out a way to keep instruction going as the high school was having a "normal" day of school. After the initial "how I am I going to do this?" feeling, I sat down, collected myself and said, "What would a PIRATE leader do?" The course had been charted, it was time to set sail......
I have a passion for excellence. If we were going to do this, I wanted it to be as perfect as it could for my students and staff. I knew that people would be scared to send their students to the high school. (After all, it was only a few short months ago, some started middle school!). I immersed myself in the process of making this happen. I knew it would be important to have a plan in place before we notified the community. I worked out a schedule, in collaboration with my Superintendent and the high school Principal, and began to ask questions....
1) How many open rooms does the high school have in their normal bell schedule?
2)How was I going to get the students in the building, take attendance and centralize
3) How am I going to review security procedures and communicate with building staff?
4) What will learning look like?
5) How can I give my teachers time to get prepared to provide instruction when all of their materials are at our school?
6) What can we do to ease the concerns of the community about this scenario?
I was going to need to transform my school into a learning environment that was meaningful, relevant and powerful enough that the community would buy into it in the event that we would need to be here for multiple days. Regardless of what was going to happen, I needed to be enthusiastic that it was going to work! I set up a Google Doc that I shared with my administrative team and off I went in preparing for the day. T-minus 12 hours........
After organizing a bell schedule, building teacher schedules with room assignments, organizing a school wide lunch, creating an opening assembly for the students, developing an "afternoon" activity, speaking with company that runs the cafeteria, and discussing procedures with our Director of Security, I was ready to communicate the expectations to the parents. I sent a community email out to the parents explaining the expectations, I tweeted out from our School Twitter handle (@PVPantherPride), posted to Facebook and our school website. I did everything I could to assure parents that the day would be one filled with learning and FUN! I then set up a Google Doc with my staff and they began sharing lessons and resources. In the event that we were going to be at the high school for more than one day, we needed sail through Monday on calm seas.
When I arrived at the high school at 6:30am I did the only thing I could think of at the time. I put on a pirate hat that I had in the back of my car (I learned to always be prepared from Jay Billy at EdCampNJ). I was ready to captain the ship. I met the staff at 7:30am, had a quick meeting with them, explaining that our motto was "Win the Day." We greeted the students at the door as a staff and guided them into the auditorium where they sat by their first period class for attendance. I reviewed the day with them and then sent my teachers on their way to plan for the day.
The previous night I organized an assembly that I wanted to do with the students on "Learning in a Climate of Curiosity." I happened to be moderating the #learnlap (Learn Like a PIrate) chat on Monday night so I thought it would be neat to test out the questions and have a "Twitter chat" with the entire school. We had a four question "chat" in which they discussed "What makes them curious?" "What resources do they use to learn more about a topic?" "What happens when their learning doesn't go according to plan?" "In what ways do you learn best?" We had some great conversations with students talking with each other and with me about how to make our school a better place. It was a great way to kick off the day!
Following the assembly, we then had three instructional periods. Students and staff went to assigned rooms. Some classes were held in the auditorium, on the stage, in the cafeteria, in the media center, and in the gym. The high school staff was gracious enough to allow us to use empty classrooms as well. We were able to arrange for the high school students to meet with my 8th graders to talk about high school in the first instructional block. My staff did an outstanding job of keeping instruction meaningful. Being a 1:1 school we were able to continue learning with our chromebooks. It was a proud Principal moment for me. All of the hard work that we had put in as a staff over the past five months was on full display. We were truly a BOLD SCHOOL (great book by Weston Kieschnick) as we blended "old school" wisdom with new school technology.
After eating lunch as a whole school, I arranged for the end of the day for the entire school to watch the movie, Wonder. It was recently released on DVD so I was able to preview it the previous night and created some discussion questions that would follow the next day for the students in the event we would be back at the high school. It was also pretty neat that the Oscars was on Sunday night so we decided to have a "PV Goes to the Movies" portion of our day. My staff and students were all together in the auditorium as the movie played. It was certainly interesting watching the students respond to the movie. There are so many key topics that are vital to the life of a middle school child. Friendship, overcoming challenges, bullying, communicating with family and acceptance are all areas that need to be addressed with this age group. Since we did end up coming back for a second day, we had grade level assemblies with the three grades in which we highlighted each one of those topics and then had students design their own precepts that we will post throughout the school.
Following the movie, the staff walked the students out of the building (about 15 minutes before the high school dismissal) and ensured that all students left with a parent. We then held a staff meeting to review the day. It was one of the most rewarding and exhausting days of my career. I was so proud of the way that the staff and students responded. Little did we know that we would back for Day 2 on Tuesday!
It began the same way with students meeting in the auditorium. Now that we had experienced what a day at the high school was like, with the help of a few of my teachers, we designed a full instructional day with all of the teaching periods. We used the auditorium as our home base in between each period. We would gather there, take attendance by period and then head off to classrooms. Again, the staff and students rose to the occasion! We had our class assemblies as I mentioned earlier, to discuss "Wonder" so the staff could regroup and get ready for the second half of the day. We dismissed the students successfully and had a meeting to end the day.
I explained to my staff that you can never prepare for days like these but the true character of a person is shown when they are faced with adversity. This was not a one man show. This was a true team effort and I could not thank them enough for everything they did for me and for the students. Regardless of how rough the waters were, we were able to immerse ourselves in our work with passion, enthusiasm and a spirit like I had never seen.
At the conclusion of the day I had a staff member come up to me and say, "We would follow you anywhere." Another said, "I know you told the students that we wanted to show the community what our school was about, everyone in this room wanted to do it for you and John." (John is my awesome Assistant Principal). I have never felt more humbled and proud. We are a PV Family and to watch the staff and students come together to make school AMAZING, is everything that a Pirate leader searches for!
Unfortunately, Wednesday we were hit with a major snowstorm that cancelled school for the next three days. I can't wait to get back to the students and our school on Monday! As Dorothy said in The Wizard of Oz, "There's no place like home." In the meantime I sent out a moderated Flipgrid, https://flipgrid.com/77901c, to the parents and students asking for their feedback about their experience and what they learned from Wonder that will make our school a better place. All of the feedback has been positive with some students saying, "They couldn't wait to spend the next day at the high school!" and "I can't wait to go back to school!"
Learning can happen anywhere, a middle school, a high school, or in a snow storm. When you focus on building relationships, being passionate with your staff, immersing yourself in the success of your school, creating rapport with the community, asking questions, transforming learning and being enthusiastic, it is amazing what your school can be capable of doing. I was blessed over these past two days to be able to Lead Like a Pirate and sail into uncharted territory.....find me that horizon!
I have spent much of my life watching professional sports. Whether on television or attending the game, I have marveled at the ability of the athletes as they showcase their talent on a daily/weekly basis. I spent much of my childhood imagining myself hitting the game winning home run for the New York Yankees, the buzzer beating jump shot to defeat Michael Jordan or throwing a Super Bowl winning touchdown pass for the New York Giants. While I have met professional athletes up close, I never really had the opportunity to talk with one for an extended period of time. This past week I met a former professional athlete who I appreciate not for his athletic ability but for why he was talking with my students at my school.
Chris Herren, a former Boston Celtic and college basketball star, visited PV School to share his story about how his career was derailed due to substance abuse and addiction. I have seen many speakers come to school and talk to students about the dangers of drugs. "Don't do drugs. It's bad for you." While the message is important, students have a hard time connecting to speakers who lecture about how bad drugs are. Chris was different. While he talked to the students about the importance of staying away from drugs, he was really invested in trying to help "just one." His message covered important middle school topics of bullying, self-harm, self-esteem, relationships, peer pressure, drinking, vaping and smoking. For an hour and half, you could hear a pin drop in the gym as the students hung on every word he said.
"Just one." All I kept thinking was I hope that Chris is right. This assembly would be a success if even "just one" learned something and thought about the decisions that they made when faced with peer pressure or feelings of self doubt. It would be a success if "just one" spread Chris's word with others. It would be a success if "just one" stood up for someone who was being bullied. It would be a success if "just one" chose to be kind to someone who needed a friend. It would be a success if "just one" made the decision to help a friend who was making poor choices. It would be a success if "just one" chose to make a healthy choice rather choosing to vape or smoke. All of those "just ones" can become "many" and Chris's message could spread like wildfire.
In the classroom and in our schools we have the opportunity to affect "just one" all the time. While Chris felt a calling to tell his story, teaching is also a calling. We are charged with educating the minds of tomorrow, sparking curiosity, forging relationships and helping them grow. Our responsibility to design lessons, create activities, develop goals, and monitor progress are difficult. However, with every moment in the classroom, there can be more than "just one" that you may make a difference in more than you did the day before. Our students deserve our very best. They deserve teachers and administrators who are willing to try new things, take risks with them, encourage them, push them beyond what they think they can do. It is hard work, but if we can change the course of "just one" student's life everyday, we are making strides to preparing them for a better future.
As educators we might not know what it feels like to hit a game winning shot or win a championship. But we do know what it means to work together as a team for a common goal......to do what is best for our students. Chris Herren's message of "just one" has a powerful meaning. Our influence on the lives of our students cannot be measured. We must do whatever it takes for our students because you never know who that "just one" will be. When students walk into your school or into your classroom, give them everything you have to give. Even though they may not always show it, they look to you for guidance, advice and inspiration. Our students are still choosing their path in life. Let us show them the way, encourage them to dream big and to know that it is never to late to give their very best. Let's turn "just one" into "every one." Thank you teachers for all that you do to influence our future. I am your biggest fan.
Below is the speech I gave at our annual Veterans Day Flag Ceremony. Thank you to the men and women who have served and continue to serve our country.
“What’s your favorite color?” It is a question that we have all been asked many times throughout our lives. It is usually one of those questions that you are asked on the first day of school when you are getting to know your classmates, or when you are talking with a younger sibling or cousin or for those of us who are a little older, a child or grandchild when they want to know more about you. The question, while really simplistic in nature, can have a really deep meaning. “What is your favorite color?” Take a second, think about it. When do you see your favorite color every day? Is it in the clothes that you wear? The color of your house? Your bedroom? Your favorite stuffed animal? Your car? Can you remember when you picked your favorite color? Why did you pick it? Has it changed? In 1942, Linda was a first grade student in a little one room school house in Idaho. She was one of four children raised by two loving parents, her father served in the Navy. One day she was asked by her teacher to name her favorite color and to write about it. Little did she know that her answer would end up having her in the Principal’s Office for a meeting with her parents.
Linda gave an answer that might surprise you. You see, Linda’s answer was one that we take for granted every single day. We can see her answer every morning before we enter PV School, every time we are in our cars driving down the highway, we can see her answer in every classroom, we can see her answer on the faces of the Veterans we are here to recognize today. You see, Linda ended up in the Principal’s office because she refused to change her answer when the teacher asked her to answer the question, “What is your favorite color.” Linda kept writing over and over again that her favorite color was red, white and blue.
Today, we are here to recognize and honor those who have dedicated their lives to the “Red, White and Blue.” The Flag that flies above our heads today represents more than just three colors. It symbolizes our past and those that fought and died in developing and protecting the freedoms and democracy that we have today. The Flag represents the present, honoring those that continue to serve and protect our country on land and overseas. The Flag represents the future, our hopes and dreams, it represents you, that stand before us as the future leaders of our country. Our Veterans have served and continue to serve “the Red, White and Blue” because they believe in what it stands for…..they believe in our future…..they believe in you.
Today you will hear from our veterans about their service to our country. I want you to pay attention, not just to what they are saying but how they are saying it. I want you to notice the passion, honor, conviction and pride in how they speak. For some, they have recently finished their terms of service while others served proudly many years ago. But for each one of them, they symbolize the colors, Red, White and Blue.
Colors have certain meanings. The color red can be defined by valor or strength. Our Veterans have demonstrated heroic courage, boldness and determination in the face of fear. The veterans that sit before you today have served in Vietnam, Korea, Panama, Iraq, Afghanistan and peace keeping missions throughout the world. They fought proudly with their brothers and sisters against some of the world’s most dangerous enemies. We honor all those who have sacrificed their lives and paid the ultimate price so that we can live in freedom. Listen to their stories of valor today White is often defined using the words purity, safety and innocence. Our veterans fought to keep the country safe and ensure that those of us who would be born later on would be free from the experiences of war and conflict. Their mission to keep us safe lives in the hearts and minds of all that have served and continue to serve today.
The color blue, which happens to be my favorite color, is often defined by the words perseverance, trust and loyalty. I want you to listen today as the Veterans share their stories of how they had to persevere through sleepless nights, dangerous conditions, weeks and months away from their families, missing holidays, and family celebrations because they were loyal to our country.
Every morning we have the opportunity to stand outside PV and take a look at our flag that waves proudly in the front of the school. Every morning we have the opportunity to pledge allegiance to one nation, under God, indivisible with liberty and justice for all. Let us not take these things for granted. Instead of playing on our cellphones outside of school or just going through the motions of saying the pledge, take a look at the flag and know that it waves for us. Remember that it it represents the millions of people that have served and continue to serve our country. As we consider the impact those individuals have had on the world, defending freedom and protecting democracy, we need to realize, that these veterans deserve more than just one day of recognition. They deserve to be recognized every day.
You are the future. The men and women of our military have served and are serving our country for you. They don’t know you but they are serving and protecting us so that we can maintain the same freedoms that they have had. So, I am challenging you to join them. Yes, I know you aren’t old enough to serve our country but you can serve. Serve your community, get involved in a service project, be a student tutor, read to elementary students, design bulletin boards around the school, donate food to a local food pantry, or even pick up a student’s books when the fall in the hallway. We all have roles to play to help continue to make this country, the greatest country in the world. Linda’s role was to answer the question, “What is your favorite color?” ….to this very day she responds with the same answer….Red, White and Blue….why, because she loves our flag and what it stands for…..the greatest country in the world. Thank you Veterans for representing the Red, White and Blue and for showing your favorite colors to all of us. Students, the next time someone asks you “What is your favorite color?.......maybe you might end up in the Principal’s office………. which isn’t such a bad thing…because I have a pretty good view of the flag from there. Thank you.
I will be the first person to say that I am not an expert when it comes to education. I am learning new things everyday that are shaping my growth and development as an educator. New instructional strategies and theories, enhanced technology, opportunities to share best practices easier than ever before and a global network at your fingertips continue to change the landscape of education. All of these things have extended the boundaries and capabilities of schools throughout the country. Money is being invested in new technology, "flexible" furniture, the latest software or curriculum resources. However, one thing remains constant. One thing that I believe is the single most important element to invest in if you want to see true transformation in your classroom and in your schools........people.
In a profession that is often driven by data of student growth percentiles, standardized assessments, diagnostic reading levels, math benchmark exams, IQ tests, and placement assessments a line in the sand can be drawn between teachers and administrators, students and teachers, schools and their communities. Everyone becomes focused on what the data means regarding school rankings, student placement, property taxes, or even someone's job status. Districts, schools and communities get so caught up in what they think the data means that they sometimes forget that there are people behind what that data is representing. There are students who come to school from busy family lives or broken homes, teachers who are working hard to support their families, and administrators staying up late at night thinking about how to make schools better for "their kids."
If schools are to be successful is understanding the data important? The answer is yes. However, what is more important is fostering relationships with students, staff and community members so that these stakeholders feel safe, feel trusted, feel encouraged and most importantly, feel accountable for their success and for the success of their school. My belief is that creating a positive school culture grounded in Knowledge, Spirit and Promise can go a long way in making a positive investment in our students, staff and communities.
Schools should be a place where Knowledge is developed. The proverb, "Knowledge is like a garden; if it is not cultivated, it cannot be harvested" depends on people. It depends on the teachers and students working together to quench a thirst for knowledge. It means that the Building Administrators are providing opportunities for the teachers to grow and enhance their practices. It requires that the Administrators themselves are building their own relationships through professional development, PLNs and community outreach. An investment must be made in time, resources and RELATIONSHIPS in order for that knowledge and success to be harvested. People working together on a common goal....learning with and from each other, creates a climate and culture where success likes to live.
When you walk into a building I always recommend that you listen to its heartbeat. What do you hear? Is the building alive? John Maxwell says that "excitement is an incredible energizer to the human spirit." When students and staff enjoy coming to school everyday there is a certain Spirit that awakens within a school. I met with my Principal's Advisory Committee last week and I asked them what was one thing they loved about the school that makes them come every day. Almost to the student, their response was "how caring and supportive their teachers and administrators were" and how they loved "the Panther Pride." When there is an investment made in trust, empathy, honesty, compassion and consistency, a person's soul can be set on fire. All it takes is a spark to see the spirit of a building come alive when people feel that they are cared about and valued.
A school is filled with so much Promise. Students are learning at rapid rates and in ways many people don't understand. Technology has paved the way for monumental shifts in learning. It requires that as educators, we meet students were they are and blend their way of learning with proven theories of instructional practice. It also requires that teachers and administrators make an investment in their own development so that learning experiences can be created for students that encourage collaboration, creativity and critical thinking. When everyone is working together there is no limit to the level of promise that our students can achieve. Investing in each other as educators and in our young people strengthens the opportunities for schools and for their communities.
Is it possible for me to sit behind my desk crunching numbers, checking lesson plans, and writing reports? Of course! However, I would much rather spend my time investing in what makes our building come alive everyday, in what makes my job so enjoyable, in who holds the future in their hands filled with knowledge, spirit and promise.............the people. So as education continues to change around us, remember, the greatest investment you can make is not in textbooks, computers, or new furniture. It is in the eager young minds of tomorrow who are led by the minds of today. Make the investment. It doesn't require much. It could be a conversation in the hallway, supporting a teacher who is trying something new in the classroom, sitting down and talking with a teacher in an empty classroom, giving a "high five" in the hallway, making a positive phone call or just saying hello to someone who thinks they aren't being noticed. You can't put a price tag on what you might get out of it.
So.... are you all in?
Every student....Every Day...Whatever It Takes. It is a powerful mantra that should live in the hearts and minds of every educator who sets foot inside a school. It is a philosophy that can change the climate and culture of a school and it's community. It is a lifestyle that encourages commitment, desire and responsibility. It is a mindset that promotes growth and a constant pursuit of excellence. Three distinct phrases, put together into one message of hope, encouragement and motivation has sparked a flame that is burning inside me that has set my soul on fire.
Our district had the opportunity to hear from Jimmy Casas, co-author of the book Start. Right Now. and What Connected Educators Do Differently on our first day back to school this September. He provided a motivating, inspiring message that challenged all educators, not just those in our district, to make students the priority, to cultivate a culture of excellence and not settle for being "average." As I reflected on the message, I thought about my role as a school Principal. Do I make the students the priority in EVERY decision I make? As a staff are we creating a culture of excellence together in everything we do? Am I accepting "average" as a standard for my staff, my students, and myself. Am I doing whatever it takes?
In seventeen years of education it is my hope that I have been doing whatever it takes every day for every student. However, I also must be realist. Giving "whatever it takes" every day for every student is a daunting task. What does it mean to do "whatever it takes?" "Whatever it takes" looks different for everyone. How do you know if you have given "whatever it takes?" As Jimmy said, "if we are to create a culture of excellence, we have to know what "Whatever it takes" looks like in our schools. As I reflect on my day to day responsibilities that I have had as a teacher, coach, adviser, mentor and administrator I think back to the many opportunities I have had to "give whatever it takes." It makes me smile, it makes me laugh, it gives me joy, it moves me to tears. Those times have helped forge positive relationships with my students that I hope have meant as much to them as they have to me. Whether it is getting a student to see their potential in the classroom, or simply just to get them to smile or laugh through a difficult time, there are opportunities to do "whatever it takes" all the time. We should celebrate those times, recognize them and continue to search for ways to cultivate excellence. There are students who walk into your school or classroom every day looking for someone to motivate them, inspire them, believe in them. We have a responsibility to do "Whatever it takes" to help them succeed. After all, we were all that student once.
I'd love to hear your "whatever it takes" moment. Share them below! Let's continue to build a culture of excellence together.
Richard M. Hayzler
A life long educator, Rich is excited to share his ideas and thoughts about education and how we can change the world for our students and our staff.