Saturday, October 25, 2014

Attractive Poison

Alison Randall recently told the story of stepping out of her front door to pick up the morning paper, and noticed the red mound that had been created by fire ants during the night.  Alison, probably like many of us, learned by painful experience that fire ants were not anything to be trifled with. She went to the garage for some pesticide to apply. The instructions on the label read: "(This pesticide) is highly attractive to fire ants. They will carry it into their mound, feed it to their queen, and the colony will die"  Alison followed the instructions as listed, sprinkling the granules on and around the mound.  A short time later, she noticed a great deal of activity around the mound.  The fire ants were busy collecting the granules in their pincers and sprinting to take them inside their home, not knowing yet the fatal consequences of their choices.

I think about this story and its application to our education arena today.  It seems with each year, education appears to be an easy target for legislation reform.  And while I'm all about improvement, it appears that most efforts are spearheaded by well-funded individuals and groups who have a very limited view of what quality education is and how it should be defined.  It is how we got to our current over-assessment of students and cutting of creative opportunities for students.  It is what has created the overall belief that our schools are failing (a belief that I don't share, btw).  Even in my home state, we are preparing to vote on an education amendment, a piece that has made it on the ballot through the efforts of a well-funded interest group.  Ask any given educator, and chances are high this amendment would be considered a poison; and to the individual voter who doesn't take the time to understand the natural consequences, it may appear to be attractive.

Our schools are wonderful places to create learning opportunities and connect students to their future. They are also bound by the limitations that our society places upon them. Part of our challenge and responsibility as educators, and as leaders within our neighborhoods, is to help our communities understand the directions on the label, and that through their votes and voice, they are our greatest partners by the excellence they insist upon, including not allowing the attractive poisons into our schools. Please join me in advocating what is best for our students.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Acknowledging Dan

Tonight one of my daughters told me that what I did was a good thing, and that she was proud of me. I think it was the circumstances of why she made the statement that was remarkable, and also affirming as a parent that our actions are the greatest model of teaching for our kids.

Our Friday nights generally are as lazy as possible.  Wonderfully exhausted from the learning & work week, the routine is to unwind as soon as possible.  This particular evening, the older two were enjoying their schools Friday Night Lights, and we took the younger two to Qdoba.  As my daughters were yapping away while my overstuffed burrito was falling apart, I noticed a man come in and find a seat in corner.  His clothing and condition were extremely poor; he pulled his stained hoodie off of his head and glanced our way. His face appeared hollow.  He looked around quickly and laid his head down.

I tried to return to my meal, and found myself feigning interest in my girls' conversation.  I noticed my wife glancing toward the man just as I was.  Up to this point, I have become proficient in ignoring the needs of those on a street corner holding up a sign that says "homeless - anything helps - and God Bless."  But I felt something different here.  I looked a bit longer, and noticed his head; it appeared that patches of hair weren't growing, and skin was blotched.  Make whatever judgments, but he simply looked malnourished and neglected.  Then he lifted his head and looked around again.  I think he was just waiting for a worker to ask him to leave.

I went over and asked him if he needed some food, and he said yes.  I asked what he would like, and his answer was anything please.  What struck me as I was talking was the look in his eyes, nearly void of all hope. This person needed food.  Sadly- that was his secondary need.  More important, I felt he needed to be acknowledged.  He needed to know that he was not invisible.

I went to the counter and ordered him some food.  The workers there beginning their conversation about how they were going to get him out of there.  I let them know I was buying food for him, and they wouldn't need to escort him out.  I took his food to him, got him a drink, asked his name, and shared my name.  I invited him to enjoy his meal, and left him with a God Bless.

Driving home is when my daughter told me that was a good thing I did, and that she was proud of me.  She acknowledged me, and my value.  And I how couldn't help but think about Dan, and how often he had been acknowledged, and had he ever been told of his value as a human being.

The Master Shift's photo.


Saturday, October 4, 2014

Maybe it's good to sweat the small stuff...

I’m a Van Halen fan. When I hear a Van Halen song on the radio as I’m driving, I usually grab the seat belt strapped across me, and enter immediately into an air guitar contest.  I’m sure it’s not impressive, but I rock on anyway.  And never would I have thought the artists behind “Ice Cream Man” and “Jamie’s Cryin’” would teach me a lesson about details-

David Lee Roth’s autobiography highlighted how maintaining control over the little things generally translated to the big things going well. When Van Halen was hired to play a show, they provided the promoter with a contract “rider” that outlined specific things the promoter would be responsible for.  From sound and lighting requirements, backstage area, security needs and personal wishes of the band. Specific and trivial alike, it was all in the rider.

Somewhere in middle of the Van Halen rider was the curious stipulation that a bowl M&M candies be backstage for the band, with all of the brown candies removed. If any brown M&M’s were in the bowl, the band could cancel the entire concert at the full expense of the promoter. That meant that because of a single candy, a promoter could lose millions.  Why? In dealing with million-dollar equipment items, pyrotechnics, and large crowds, concerts are a big deal, and with safety in mind of fans and band, the magic in making it work is in the details.  To ensure the promoter had read every single word in the contract, the band created the “no brown M&M's” clause.

This story intrigued me.  Partially because I’m a big-picture person.  I come up with BHAGs (Big Hairy Audacious Goals) based upon the end-in-mind and get to work, generally without taking the time to play architect.  Along the way I come across more obstacles then I had hoped for.  As hope is not a strategy, maybe my approach should include more front-loading with the details, as small as they may be.  Little details manner.  They define you in a big way.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Embracing confusion, ambiguity and wonder

It doesn't take much to make an immense difference in children’s lives…just some kindness, individual attention and acknowledgment, and encouraging them to discover continuously.

In helping kiddos to become perpetual students, the challenge usually falls more with the adults.  My unscientific general observation is that too many adults, even within our beloved education field, have arrived at their final destination, and this influences a false benchmark of what students can become.  I see an embedded belief that as long as the students are not confused and proficient at what we have taught them, that they have arrived too.

Being confused is usually considered to be negative.  What if we taught that it’s okay to be confused? What if we, as adults, embraced this idea that is best exemplified by toddlers: Be aware of wonder and discovery. Fight the natural maturing tendency to accept things as they are, and model that the mark of an “educated” person is to be open-minded, inquisitive, and yes- perplexed.  We should promote that it is desirable to end our understanding and beliefs with question marks.  We should embrace comfort with ambiguity.   Our own learning should be creating school and classroom environments that are designed to lead students to the edge of our perceived limits, then encourage them to go beyond.

Knowledge is marvelous, but wisdom is better.  Wisdom comes from experience, and the most awesome experiences comes from acting upon wonder.