Sunday, November 29, 2015

Teamwork Makes the Dream Work #KidsDeserveIt

Today's guest post is from Brent Clarkson, an educator in Katy, Texas.

I began my career in education in 2008 and waved my white flag at the end of the 2011-2012 school year. I had enough and was at rock bottom. I didn’t want to teach anymore. I was defeated. I was deflated. I was on great campuses with great administrators but still felt like I was on an island alone. That’s the end of the beginning of my story.

Fast forward three years. Recently, I had a cool opportunity to be interviewed on my campus regarding how building a PLN is helping me grow as a teacher. When I was done with the interview, it really hit me that the reason why we connect with other educators is not simply so we can grow ourselves. It’s because our students deserve us to be the best we can be and we can’t do that acting as a lone wolf. Here’s what came out of the interview: The first question that was asked was “What is the most exciting thing about edcamps?” I love seeing teachers step out of their comfort zones to try something new. For many teachers, edcamps are new and fairly uncomfortable at first. Stepping into a room full of people that you likely don’t know (unless you’re already connected via Twitter or some other digital medium of a PLN) could be really frightening. What an awesome opportunity for growth on so many levels! Edcamps all but force you to meet new people, connect with and learn from them. If you haven’t tried one yet, do!

The next question was “What is one way in which you have grown as a professional from building a PLN?” I couldn’t narrow it down to one thing so here goes…growing my PLN through Twitter (@BClarksonTX) and Edcamps has completely revolutionized the way my classroom is run. For years my class was teacher driven and led from the front. Lecture after lecture, worksheet after worksheet expecting students to meet me where I was and just “get it.” Was this effective for some? Maybe. Was it reaching all of my students though? By no means. Getting connected to great educators like Todd Nesloney, Bethany Hill, Dave Burgess and Aaron Hogan (among many others) has helped open my eyes to my shortcomings as a teacher. Even with my eyes opened to this, however, it was a big transition. It’s a scary thing to have had the reins held tightly in my white knuckle grip, loosen it a little and let students hold on with me. When we come to this realization that doing what kids deserve is the best thing we can do in our schools, magic happens. Students begin to experience learning rather than listening to boring lectures. Students begin to take ownership of their education. Content becomes real to them. Real world application begins to take place. Doesn’t sound so scary anymore, does it?

SOAPBOX ALERT!! I’ve also had a shift in mindset when it comes to homework. STOP GIVING IT! Seriously…students are at school for seven hours a day already. Pile on top of that three hours of homework and we’ve stolen any opportunity for family time and co-curricular activities. Is it really worth that? Why would I send my students home to work on something they may not be familiar with yet? To practice it incorrectly? To have ZERO assistance if parents or guardians aren’t available? I can spend time with my students in class and accurately assess whether or not they have grasped the material without bogging them down with more work outside of school. If we think we should go the route of “it’s teaching them responsibility,” here’s a great short read from Alice Keeler on the same topic. Bottom line is I’m learning that I’m as much a fan of homework as my students are.
The final question was, “How do you use your PLN to research and learn?” This question takes me back to the very beginning of this post. In 2012 I had waved my white flag. I quit and walked away. I gave away all of my “teacher stuff” and was done. It took about three weeks in my new job to mourn the day

I waved that flag. I sat at my desk at my new job pushing papers looking at my watch knowing what period my new students would have been in and that they were probably dissecting chicken feet. Fast forward nine months. After almost a year of being out of education, I finally had my chance to get back in: a job fair! I had a few interviews and was blessed to secure a position at one of the best junior highs in the state with an amazing admin staff, seven minutes from my house. Shortly after being back in the classroom, I discovered the beauty of connecting with other educators through Twitter (thanks, Todd). I began to build my first PLN and never looked back. I use my PLN to grow in any way that I can. I research different methods for assessment. I learn from others that are WAY better than I am. I use it for encouragement. I use it to encourage. My PLN rejuvenated my career and helps me be the best teacher I can be every day.

As my two little boys (and John Maxwell) always love to say, “Teamwork makes the dream work!” Now, get out there and build your team! Why? Because #KidsDeserveIt!

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Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Get Your Kids Deserve It Bracelet #KidsDeserveIt

We're busy writing our Kids Deserve It book and making great progress. We've ordered Kids Deserve It bracelets for our followers/readers, please fill out this form and we'll mail you one! 

Thanks for all the Kids Deserve It support!

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Evaluate and Elevate Your Why #KidsDeserveIt

Today's guest post is from Sanee Bell, Elementary Principal from Houston, TX.

I like to say that I grew up in humble beginnings. I was raised in a two parent home until my parents divorced when I was 12 years old. It was at that time of my life when I began to experience situational poverty. I didn't know that the way we were living was considered to be at the poverty level. The government sets those standards and families who are living in those conditions usually don't know that a "standard" has been set to describe what they know to be normal. Whatever the standard, I knew that I wanted a new normal, and that there was a better way to live. At the time when I most needed stability, encouragement, direction and guidance, I found it at school in the teachers and coaches who genuinely cared about me and my well-being. 

Those individuals didn’t seek me out because they knew my situation. No one at school, even my friends, knew my situation. The beauty in the story is that they didn’t need to know those things to invest in me. What they didn’t know was that I needed opportunities and experiences at school more than ever. Those experiences helped me to escape from my home life, and I viewed them as a means to a better way of living after I graduated from high school. Education saved my life and changed the path of my future generations.

I tell you this brief bio so that you can understand my why. Our life experiences help shape who we are today. I always knew my why, introspectively, but it has taken deep reflection to own it and to be courageous enough to tell my story to others.  People want to know why I chose this profession. They want to know my passions, what motivates me, and what drives me to make the decisions that I make. As an educator, I should be able to state my why to anyone who asks "why do you do what you do?" In order to do this, I had evaluate my why in order to elevate my purpose. Educators who know their influence and the power that they have in the lives of children truly understand and are able to articulate their why to others. My why is hinged on three beliefs.

- I lead because education is the great equalizer.
Where a child lives should not be a determining factor of the type of education a child receives. Each day in our country many students come to school with a privilege gap. It is our responsibility to recognize and minimize this gap. Most students don't get to pick where and if they go to school. Since attendance is compulsory, the experiences that students engage in at school should be worth it. My education opened doors for me. It allowed me to cross the bridge into another world that I would not have known if I had not graduated from high school and college. 

- I understand my impact.
Coming to your why means really digging deep and knowing your own story. Growing up we were told to never tell our family business. I learned how to wear a mask and act as if I didn't live in a home where we were struggling to have our basic needs met. It has taken me time and courage to appreciate my why. My why is bigger, bolder and better because of my life experiences. My why has helped me to know and accept my impact as a principal. There are other Sanee's out there who deserve a quality education and who are depending on us to ensure that what we promise to offer students is what is actually being provided. In the lives of some children, the school and the adults who work in it are the only icon of stability that some children know. Some students have obstacles and challenges to overcome that many adults can’t even begin to fathom. A person does not have to have the same background or experiences to relate or see a sense of urgency in a situation. Our influence is greater than we’ll ever know, and our impact on the lives of children can change lives.

- If not me, then who?
I can't expect others to give and be their best for children if I am not modeling the way. If I don't advocate for all students, how can I expect that to be the pervading culture of my building? I know that access to education can be a life or death matter for some students. I recognize the sense of urgency that we must have as educators to prepare children for their future, which is not a world of standardization, but a future where they will be equipped to contribute to our society and greater causes than any individual can accomplish alone.  I know that it doesn't matter where you came from but where you are going in this life that determines future paths. Being an educator is my passion. I find significance in this work that I have been called to do. I heard Angela Maiers describe passion as not doing what you like to do, but doing what you must do. I could not imagine doing anything else than having the privilege and honor to impact the lives of children each day. I must do this work, because someone did it for me.

If we don't evaluate our why by taking self-inventory of our story and what drives us to teach and lead each day, we run the risk of losing sight of our core business. More importantly, if we don’t elevate our why, we may minimize the sense of urgency of our calling. Our business is critical, and as educators, we should be committed to changing the lives of children. I challenge all of us to reflect, recharge, and renew our commitment to our students and our noble profession. Go change the life of a child! Our kids deserve our best and nothing less.