Reitz High School

Reitz High School
Evansville, IN

Friday, November 30, 2012

How is Your Tone?

           I hope all of my readers had a great Thanksgiving.  I am still recovering from the amount of dumplings and desserts I had over the four-day weekend.  It was really one of the best Thanksgiving breaks that I can remember.  I feel refreshed and am now ready to take on the countdown to Christmas.

            Let’s get down to business.  The title of this week’s article is called “How is Your Tone?”  Have you ever listened to a speaker or overheard someone say something that you agreed with, but you just didn’t like his or her delivery?  You might have even said to yourself, “Why did they say it like that?”  Sometimes the tone in which things are said can be a turn off to people and make your valid point or comment completely futile.

            The way we talk to our students is no exception.  When you talk to a student about a poor behavior or a bad choice they made, there are methods that are effective and there are also methods that can escalate the situation completely out of proportion.  Trust me, in my 20 years of being a teacher; I have done the latter of these two not only in my classroom, but with my own children.  It wasn’t that the child didn’t need to be corrected.  It wasn’t that what I said was wrong, but it was how I said it.  My tone set the stage for the outcome.

            This is not an easy thing to do.  It is in fact very difficult.  You have just spent hours preparing a lesson, gathering materials, and setting it up in your classroom or online.  You have high expectations that your students will be engaged in this lesson and will love it.  The last thing you want or need is for one of your students to misbehave and keep other students from learning.  You also have in the back of your mind that your evaluation depends on the growth of your students’ learning.  So you are in front of the class with the adrenaline flowing, you have the attention of your students, and everything is going peachy when one of your students decides to check out and cause a disruption.  I would compare this situation to an episode of “COPS.” You know the one where the speeder drives away from the scene and now there is a high-speed chase. 

            Now you are in hot pursuit of this student.  Your temper has gotten the best of you and just like in the TV show, the car has crashed, the trooper it out yelling at the speeder to get on the ground.  You now find yourself raising your voice at the student that disrupted your lesson.  Well, at that point you have blown it.  Nothing good is going to come out of it.  You just took it to a level that it did not need to go.  You didn’t watch your tone.  If you have taught for any period of time, you know exactly what I am talking about.  Unfortunately, none of our college education classes taught how us how to have the patience of Job.

            So, I am writing this today to help remind you to take a few deep breaths, get control of yourself, and use a tone that will not escalate any situation in to orbit.  If it were easy, we would all be doing it, right? I want you to know that I am writing this article for myself as well. I want to conclude by saying this.  Your tone is much more powerful than the content of what you say.  Now make it a great day or not, the choice is yours.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Count Your Blessings

           You have read my articles about my stances on technology and education. Here on Thanksgiving weekend I wanted to change things up and do an article on the things that I am thankful for.  I thought this would be a great way that you could get to know me personally.

            First of all, I am thankful for my parents.  They did a terrific job of raising me and instilling in me a great work ethic, good values, and bringing me up in a Bible believing home.  They were an awesome example of what a marriage is supposed to be like and how to have an unconditional love for my own wife and daughters.  If I could be just half the dad my father was to me, I would be doing fine.

            I am thankful for my wife and two daughters.  I have always heard the saying that behind every good man is a great woman.  I am a believer in that statement.  I certainly would not be where I am today without the encouragement, love, and support of my beautiful wife.  My two daughters are the apples of my eye.  They are true blessings to me.  They have brought me many smiles and laughs in the last fifteen years.  It is amazing how raising children makes you say things your parents said to you. 

            I am thankful for my brother and his family.  He also taught me many things as I was growing up.  He is seven years older than I am, so I had the advantage of seeing first hand of what to say and NOT to say to my mom and dad.  Thanks Steve!  I thank you for going through things first and making the mistakes so I didn’t have to.  My brother and his wife have twin boys.   My nephews definitely keep things very interesting.  Raising boys is sure different than girls.  I enjoy watching them keep my big brother on his toes.

            I am thankful for the family that I married in to.  I am not just saying this to get brownie points.  I know my mother-in-law reads this blog, but I would say the same even if she did not.  You don’t just marry a spouse; you marry their family as well.  I am blessed with great in-laws that have been wonderful to us throughout our almost 19 years of marriage.  You will never find a more generous family that would do anything for you.  My wife’s sister just had a baby that is now about six months old and she is a doll.  She has and will totally brighten up this Christmas season for all of us.

            I am thankful for my job.  I love what I do.  I truly enjoy seeing teachers understand technology and how to use it in their classroom.  I love to see teachers get excited about something new that I was able to show them.  That joy gets passed on to their students and helps them get excited about learning as well.  I also enjoy providing PD for the students.  I still get the classroom experience once and a while by teaching students how to use a certain web tool or piece of software for a class project or assignment.  I really could not be any happier than where I am. 

            I am thankful for a wonderful church.  Not everyone is able to find a great church home.  My family has been blessed with one that has provided the things we need to grow as Christians.  I am thankful that Jesus is my Savior and that he came to this earth to save me so that I can have eternal life.

            I am thankful for my home, cars that run, and all of my wonderful friends.  I am thankful to have been born and live in the United States where we have the freedoms that we take for granted each day.  I am thankful for people in the military that are willing to risk their life to protect our great nation.

            I am blessed beyond belief and way more than I deserve.  No matter where you live or what your situation is, I hope you can take the time to count the positives in your life and give thanks for each of them.  I would like to wish a Happy Thanksgiving to all of my BlogSpot readers.  I hope you have a blessed weekend. 

Friday, November 16, 2012

The Technology Vision Must Be Shared By Everyone

          I am blessed to work in a school district that has oodles of technology.  We have Promethean boards in almost every classroom, teacher computers with Internet access, document cameras in every classroom, and all of our students in 6-12 grade have a netbook.  The resources the students have at their fingertips are endless.  The technology is a powerful tool in our classrooms; well at least for the teachers that are utilizing them.  So why wouldn’t they?

            Well, in some instances the cart was put before the horse.  I do not want this article to be a gripe session.  That is not my intent.  I would however like to give some pointers from my perspective of how to make a 1:1 environment in your district have success.  The best way to do this is to give you a numbered list in the order in which things need to happen.  I will do my best to explain the “why?” in each number.

1.     First, build a network that can handle the load you are going to put on it.  If you don’t, you are going to create frustration for teachers and students.  When things do not load fast enough or do not load at all, the devices will get put away and the paper and pencil will come back out.  Teachers don’t have time to watch browser spinners spin around while websites are trying to be accessed.

2.     Second, make sure you staff enough people for tech support, as well as coaches that can provide professional development for your teachers/students so they can learn how to use the new devices.  Teachers have so much on their plate that they do not have time to sit down and learn something brand new for themselves.  An eLearning coach can show them how to use the program/equipment in less than half the time and can provide ongoing, continuous support.  This also lowers frustration levels.  Do I sound like a broken record?  We must keep frustrations low for all.  That is key!

3.     The technology vision must be shared/owned by the district’s superintendent.  He or she must share the vision with building principals and administrators.  They must have an understanding of how the technology works and they must model using it with the teachers. For example, they could use a Google doc for a faculty meeting agenda or minutes versus the good old paper copy that everyone picks up at the beginning of the meeting and then tosses it in the trash on their way out.  School principals and administrators can make or break a 1:1 environment.  They must buy into it for it to be successful.  They need to encourage the use of the devices and harvest creativity in their teachers to help keep students engaged.

4.     The most important piece is “this vision” must be shared/owned by the teachers.  How and why is technology being used?  How will it help student achievement?  How will it help a teacher’s job become better, not necessarily easier?  It totally should not make it harder or more frustrating.  Again, provide consistent and continuous support from an eLearning coach.  Provide time for your teachers to see the coach on a regular basis.  If teachers have to give up lunch or personal time, it may not happen.  Remember, many teachers are parents too.  They have to take their kids to school or daycare.  They have to pick them up after school or take them to an extra curricular activity.  They have plans to make, papers to grade, parents to contact, webpages to update, data to study, and a teacher’s list is never ending.  We cannot always expect them to give up personal time to learn something that they are expected to use to perform their job.  Your school could do teaming, blocked scheduling; provide an alternative schedule once a week where each teacher gets an extra period off to go to a PD in the building.  There are many ways it can be worked right in the school day. 

5.     Lastly, teachers must be expected to use the new technology.  If teachers are not expected to use the technology, then most will keep on doing what they always have done and keep getting what they always have gotten.  They have to understand that the technology is not going away and that it is here to stay.  It is not just the latest buzzwords that will be around for a couple of years and then just forgotten about when the next thing comes along.  Does that happen in your school district too?

         The key to any program is that everyone must share/own the vision.  It should never make anyone’s job more difficult.  Frustration levels have to stay low.  The vision must begin from the top and  shared down.  Everyone must feel a sense of ownership in the vision.  Expectations must be set for teachers and students.  If these guidelines are followed, I think a 1:1 initiative could and will be very  successful.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Competition Instead of Collaboration?

            Anytime test scores or data about the schools in our district are reported, our local newspaper takes that data and reports it.  As they report it, they rank and list the schools in order from highest to lowest or basically best to worst.  This type of reporting automatically creates a competitive nature between the schools in our district.

             This same type of ranking is used among sports teams.  Based upon their previous years of performance and this year’s record, teams from high school to pro are ranked with a number.  Everyone wants to be number one and everyone else wants to beat number one.  When schools are ranked using their standardized test scores, I cannot think of a principal or school administrator that wouldn’t want their school to be at the top of the list.

            We live in a world where we hear words like sharing and collaboration.  Educators should develop a Personal Learning Network (PLN) to get new ideas and help solve problems.  I personally believe in collaborating and using a PLN to get ideas and opinions.  I want to hear what others have done and are doing to bring success to their classrooms. I too want that same success in my classrooms in the schools that I work with.  Technology, social networking, and the Internet have now made it easier than ever to find and connect with professionals all around the world.  What an awesome concept huh?   We should all be sharing these cutting edge techniques to help the future of our country and world to be better educated. 

However, would you expect the number one ranked NFL or NCAA team to publish their playbook that has helped them be successful?  Should they give away all of their secrets to help the other teams improve?  I don’t think so.  If a coach has designed plays and defensive formations that work, they will want to keep those a secret in order to stay on top.  School administrators and even teachers have this same attitude when it comes to education and standardized test scores.  It is very sad, but it is reality.  We don’t want the school in which we work to be at the bottom of the ranking list.  Therefore we don’t want to share out with our rival schools what is working for us.  We don’t want to collaborate and let them steal are lessons.  They might do it better and beat us in the test score ranking and that makes us look bad.  Do you see where I am going with this?

Now lets get this straight, I am not one that is against holding teachers and administrators accountable.  What I am against is basing a school’s success on one test that is given only a few days out of the 180-day school year and putting that school on public display with a number that does not really reflect the quality or success of that school.  This does nothing but create tension and an unhealthy climate among educators. 

If we want education in the United States to be high quality and cutting edge, then we have to knock down the competition barrier that standardized tests are creating.  We need to encourage sharing and collaboration of our successes.  All educators across our towns, counties, and states need to be unified.  Lets prepare our students for the future with the best we have to offer.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Replacing Textbooks with Digital Content

             I just read an article by Josh Lederman of Huffington Post.  He writes about where U.S Education Secretary Arne Duncan called on Tuesday, October 23 for the United States to move as fast as possible away from printed textbooks and toward digital ones.  He declared, “Over the next few years, textbooks should be obsolete.” 

He talked about how other countries, such as South Korea, are leaving their American colleagues in the dust.   These countries are also moving faster in the implementation of digital learning environments.  Some have even set a goal to be fully digital by the year 2015.

“The World is changing and this has to be where we go as a country,” Duncan said.

I agree with Mr. Duncan’s statement that the world is changing.  In my last post I brought up that very point and we, as educators have to change the way we are teaching and reaching today’s students.  Today’s learner is not as easy to engage as they were 20 years ago. 

In a world of game consoles, iPads, iPhones, laptops, wireless networking, email, texting, and sharing I see that digital learning is totally the way to go.  I don’t necessarily think that means to go from print on paper to print on a computer screen.  I don’t think the answer is that textbook companies take their paper copies and create digital pdfs.  That is not what eLearning or digital learning is all about.

As I finished the articles, the biggest complaint in the comment section had to do with digital textbooks not being any cheaper than hard copies.  That is a true statement, but with the resources that can now be found on the Internet, are textbooks digital or hard copy even necessary?   Just last week, Ira Socol tweeted this message out on Twitter, “Textbooks were invented because information was expensive and schools wanted minimally educated teachers.  Why do we want digital textbooks now?”  He went on to say, “Textbooks were a solution to a problem that no longer exists.” Textbooks are a nice resource, but they should never drive a classroom or a curriculum. 

I believe the answer is the creation and curration of digital content.  Just about anything you want to learn about or learn how to do can be found in a YouTube video or by doing a Google search.  No kidding, I learned how to disassemble, clean, and reassemble an M1 Garand Army Rifle by watching a video on You Tube.  I found out how to make my own chili mix with some spices I had in my cabinet by doing a Google search.  I can solve just about any kind of math problem by typing it into the Google search box.  Our students today can have answers to just about everything they can learn in a textbook in just a few clicks on device connected to the Internet.

I am in the process of building and curating digital content now.  Our schools are standards driven, so why not take the standards, break them down, and find resources that teach about each standard?  Once the student has explored and used the resources, then tasks are assigned.  If the students can complete the tasks, then there is a good possibility they comprehend and have mastered that standard.  They are then ready to move on and go to the next level or standard. 

The second biggest complaint in the comment section was cost of the digital devices for each student.  This might be the most valid argument.  However, Tech Crunch reported that 50.4% of American citizens own a smartphone.  This does not include iPods, iPads, or laptop computers.  Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) is a trend that many school corporations are adopting.  There are always grants that can be written.  Big companies like Dell will donate equipment if you report regularly about how you are using them.  I believe there are opportunities to get cheap to free devices out there. 

Like I said last week, “We need to stop making excuses and prepare our students for their future.”