Reitz High School

Reitz High School
Evansville, IN

Thursday, September 26, 2013

So, You Call Yourself a Christian?

I recently read a news article on a local television station’s website about a preacher that was being protested by students on the campus of The University of Southern Indiana.  As I read the headline my heart sank.  I thought here we go again, another Christian, like Tim Tebow, that is getting picked on.  As I read the article, I found out that was not the case.  It sounds like this guy didn’t have a great understanding of young people and how to communicate with them.  I completely disagree with the methods he was using to get attention from the students.  I then thought, well here is another example of why Christianity gets a bad name.

Yes, I call myself a Christian.  What exactly does that mean?  It doesn’t mean that I am perfect or better than any other human on this planet.  It doesn’t mean that I never do anything wrong.  I make mistakes hourly, if not more frequently.  What being a Christian does mean is that I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.  I believe he came to this earth, lived a sinless life, and paid for all of our sins as he was crucified and hung on a wooden cross.  I believe he died and rose again on the third day.  And because I have accepted him into my heart and do my best to live for him each day, he will come back again to take me to live with him in heaven forever. 

Once you have asked him into your heart and accepted his death as payment for your sin, then what.  What is the Christian life like?  I know what the world believes it is like.  A verse that comes to mind is in a song by the group AC/DC.  The verse says, “Feeling like a Christian.  Locked in a cage.  Thrown to the lions.  On the second page.”  They see it as a lonely, restricted life where you cannot do anything enjoyable and no one has your back.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  Rather than feeling locked up, I feel free.  I am free from the bondage of my sin.  I don’t have to worry about being alone.  My favorite book in the Bible is the 23rd Psalm, which says, “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me.”  I don’t have to be afraid of my destination when my Earthly life is over. 

I am married to a wonderful woman.  We have two incredible daughters, which at times don’t act the way we would like them to.  I have a job and go to work each day.  I face the same trials and temptations that all people face in their daily lives.  I go to my kids’ school functions.  I live a life that I feel most typical Americans live.  Being a Christian doesn’t exempt me from any problems or anything else that non-Christians face.  What makes me different are the decisions I make and how I choose to deal with what comes my way.  Remember the WWJD slogan that went around a few years back?  Do I do it all just like Christ would have?   The answer is “No.”    I don’t handle every situation like I should.  I am just a man.  I try to be like Jesus.  I do my best to make good decisions, but my wife would be the first one to tell you that I fail.  Each morning before I start my day, I ask for forgiveness.  I pray that the Lord will be with me as I go about my day and I also pray that people see Christ in me.  I want to be a blessing to someone each day.  And when the day does not go exactly as planned, I have someone I can turn to and count on.   I do my best not to worry.  I turn the situation over to the Lord and try to have the faith that he is always by my side and will take care of me no matter what.  I am blessed with much more than I deserve.

I am free to truly live and experience life to its fullest and follow his Word.  His Word is The Bible and everything in it from cover to cover is what should be followed.  Some like to pick and choose what to follow, take things out of context, or change it by saying that we are living in different times.  There is no doubt that we do live in different times, but the path is still the same regardless of the decade, century, or millennium that we live in.  The Bible should never be viewed as a book of rules and restrictions, which again is how the world views it.  Instead, think of it as an instruction manual, a road atlas, or a GPS system to help guide you through this life.  When all is said and done, this life on planet Earth is just a small fraction of what eternity is going to be.  The old Hymn “Amazing Grace” says, “When we have been there 10,000 years bright shining as the sun, we’ve no less days to sing God’s praise than when we’d first begun.  Google says that humans live an average of 66.88 years.  We cannot even fathom what 10,000 years would be like.  We cannot possibly understand what Heaven will be like.

What do you think Heaven will be like?  Is it like the cartoons you see where people with white robes and wings play a harp?  I sure hope not.  That pretty much shows that our human minds cannot grasp the concept of what heaven is going to be like.  John tried to describe it in the Bible.  He talked about streets of gold, gates of pearl and walls of jasper.  Whatever it is, it is going to be incredible.  The one that created each and every one of us is designing it.  Hello?  Have you ever bought a camera, game system, stereo system, or electronic device and purchased some after market parts to install or use with it?  You can get ones made by the company that produced it or some generic ones that are cheaper.  A few years ago, we got a Wii game system for Christmas.  We needed extra controllers so we bought a couple of the off brand controllers.  To tell you the truth, I wish we just would have paid a little extra and got the Nintendo brand controllers.  The off brand controllers just didn’t measure up or last as long.  The reason I am telling you this, is God is our manufacturer.  He knows us better than we know ourselves.  The Bible says he knows the number of hairs on our heads.  Don’t you think he is going to create a place that we like or are compatible with?  I kind of think so. 

When I was in the classroom, I taught science for many years.  You might think, well how did I get around this evolution vs. creation thing?  The answer is simple.  To say that no evolution or adaptations of certain animals ever occurred is having a very closed mind and limiting exactly what God can do.  Do I believe that humans came from apes?  No, I do not, but I do believe that God could have created some species of animals to have the ability to change or adapt over the years.  He is God.  He can do anything!  Why would I limit the capabilities of the creatures he has created?  Take a look at our planet.  It just happens to be just the right distance from the Sun that we don’t freeze or fry to death.  It just happens to have the right amount of gravity and the correct amount gasses in the atmosphere to hold in just enough heat, but not too much.  The Earth rotates on its axis at just the right speed that most places on Earth experience day and night.  It just happens that the night is the approximate number of hours we need for sleep every 24 hours.  We have plants and animals that provide us with food.  We have water to drink.  I could go on and on about the conditions that are needed for life to exist.  Do I believe it all happened with a big bang or everything just kind of fell into place after a couple of giant asteroids collided or a few cells began to combine in a mud puddle?  Come on, there IS a higher power and his name is Jesus Christ.  He is the one that was, and is, and is to come.

What if I am wrong?  What if all of this is a farce?  Well, I guess I am guilty of trying to live a life where I treated people with respect.  I tried to see people for who they were and not what kind of clothes they wore or cars they drove.  I was honest and did my best to do what was good and right.  I had a great work ethic.  I loved my wife and raised children that will hopefully be good citizens and follow in my footsteps.  I helped people who were in need.  I tried to be positive and uplifting to those I worked with and people in general.  I enjoyed making people smile, laugh and enjoy life.  What if you are not a Christian and you are wrong?  I am not sure I would want to find out.  See what the Bible has to say about it.  You can make your own decision.

I would like to conclude by saying; Christians need to be careful about how they are perceived by others.  We want the people around us to want what we have got.  We don’t want to be so holier than thou that we are no earthly good. The turn so you don’t burn approach is not really an effective way to communicate with young folks or anyone for that matter.  I am not saying be wishy-washy or water it down, but talk about God’s promise.  Talk about how a personal relationship with our Lord and Savior can be a freeing and awesome experience.  It is not a life of rules and restrictions.  All good products come with an owners/instruction manual.  The Bible is that manual for humans.  The manufacturer knows how to keep our lives running the best possible way.  Read that book and do life the way it was intended.

I would like to thank my mom and dad, Mike and Rosemary Tron for raising me in a Christian home and instilling these principles in me. 

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

5 of 10 Essential Qualities of an eLearning Coach

The 5th Essential quality is the ability to be a good motivator.  The word motivate, by definition, means to provide with incentive; move to action.  This means that the coach must provide teachers with a reason to work harder and to their full potential.   As a leader, the coach is responsible for motivating and inspiring teachers to get as excited as they do about using technology effectively in the classroom.

How is this motivation achieved?  How do we get teachers fired up and excited about utilizing technology?  Provide positive feedback and encouragement.  Spotlight teachers that are trying or experiencing some success.   Find something that has impressed you and be genuine about it, even if it is something small or simple and let them know that they are doing it well.   Show and tell their victories to the other teachers at a faculty meeting or assembly.  Let the principal know and have them get in on the praising session.  When other teachers see them getting excited and finding success in the classroom, they will want a piece of that as well.

A little recognition can go a long way.  It can really help teachers feel good about what they are doing and improve the overall morale of the faculty.  When this happens, you will have everyone wanting to buy in and incorporate some technology in their classrooms.  Taking the time to make a big deal out of the small things will do wonders for teachers' attitudes.  When they believe that you really care about them and want them to have great experiences in their classrooms, they will want to do more.

Take the time to listen.  Remember listening is half the job of being a good communicator.  It also is another way to show that you care and can increase motivation.  When teachers experience frustration with a device, the network, or user/student errors it can cause them to give up quickly.  I am not talking about chronic complainers or naysayers here, I mean those that have really tried and the lesson was a bomb.  Carefully listen to them.  That alone can help ease their frustration.  Reassure them that sometimes it happens, they are not alone, and next time it will go better. 

These tips  can help any eLearning coach or leader become a good motivator.  This isn't rocket science.  What motivates you?  What makes you want to do a better job?  Take those ideas and turn them into reality with those you are leading.  It will make a huge difference and we all still want to make a difference don't we?

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

4 of 10 Essential Qualities of an eLearning Coach

Finally, I am continuing my series on the essential qualities of an eLearning coach.  This week, we will look at quality number 4.  Just to recap, since it has been a few weeks, number one was the ability to establish positive relationships.  Number two was to be flexible and accommodating and   number three was the ability to be a great communicator.  If you missed any of these posts, then please look in the archives and check them out.

      The fourth characteristic is to be enthusiastic and passionate.  Excitement is contagious. When a leader is motivated and excited about the cause, people will be more inclined to follow.  So how can you be more enthusiastic and passionate you might ask?  Well here are some tips that might help.

  1. Set goals and devise a plan to reach them.  Lawrence J. Peter, author of The Peter Principle, says: "If you don't know where you are going, then you will probably end up somewhere else."  If you know where you are going, then you will be more confident and sure of yourself.  This will allow your enthusiasm to show through.  
  2.  Be organized!  When you are organized chances are that you will be less distracted and more productive.  When you have a productive lesson with a group of teachers, your enthusiasm will be evident!  They will see it in your smile.
  3. Look for those "Aha!" moments.  There are those times during a presentation with teachers where they finally get something or find a way to use a tool in their classroom.  Feed off of that excitement and get excited with them.  Others in the group will want to be a part of that.
  4. Don't dwell on negative things.  Sometimes a tool, the technology, or lesson just bombs.  Learn from those failures, but then put them out of your mind.  Also, don't worry about things that you cannot change.
  5.  Don't try to solve everyone in the group's problems yourself.  Don't be afraid to say, "I don't know that, but will find an answer and get back to you."  You can quickly become overwhelmed, frustrated, and lose that enthusiasm and passion.  Stay focused on your lesson/presentation and find some of the answers that you're not sure about at a later time and don't forget to follow up.
  6. Meet often with other enthusiastic people.  Our team of eLearning coaches meets weekly.  This is very refreshing to share and get ideas from folks that believe in the cause.  You can also discuss your victories and failures.  These discussions are usually uplifting and come with excellent advice.
  7. Take the criticism of the naysayers with a grain of salt.  Don't listen to the people who criticize you without being constructive or always seem to discourage you.  Chances are, it is not you, they are just at war with everyone.
  8. Keep your energy level up!  Prepare, get plenty of rest, eat right, and exercise when you can.  Wow, I sound like my mother or a health teacher.  When your energy level is up, that energy will be contagious.  
If you’re not excited about the tool, device, or program you're selling to your teachers or don't show an interest yourself, not only will it come through in your lessons and presentations, but it will also put a damper on your efforts to get win them over and convince them to make a change.

Henry Ford once said, "You can do anything if you have enthusiasm. Enthusiasm is the yeast that makes your hopes rise to the stars. With it, there is accomplishment. Without it there are only alibis.”

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Heroes, They Live Among Us

Michael Tron, Air Force '52-56
Victor Yoak, Navy WWII
For those of you that regularly read my blog, I promise that I will get back to the fourth part of the eLearning coach series very soon. A movie and a visit from a friend that is a retired Indiana State Police detective have really motivated me to put out this post today. 

Joe Rhodes, Ret. ISP
 I believe that I mentioned in an earlier post that one of my hobbies is the collection of military, police, and firefighter uniforms and memorabilia. My collection includes photos of family members and friends that have served or that are currently serving in each of those professions. I call the wall they are hanging on The Wall of Heroes. I admire the courage that each of these people have. The concept that they are willing to risk their lives for others, including me, is very humbling. What is most amazing is that these folks don't usually see themselves as anyone special, but to me they are America's true heroes. I believe that I am one of America's biggest patriots. I am dedicated to the honoring of the people of service. 

Bob Vowel, Ret. Fire Chief
Over the weekend I watched the HBO movie called Taking Chance. It is the true story of a US Marine named Chance Phelps that was killed in Iraq. Lt. Colonel Mike Strobl, played by Kevin Bacon, is a marine officer and Desert Storm veteran that has chosen not to go on another combat tour because of his young family. Instead, he joins the military personnel group that volunteers for escort duty. The movie follows Strobl's week-long trip accompanying Phelps' body from a Delaware military mortuary to the burial spot in his hometown in Wyoming. The movie is very well done and extremely moving. There are no political views or issues about the Iraq war. It is simply a tribute to the dedication and professionalism of our military, as well as the pain and suffering a family experiences with the death of a fallen warrior. I checked the DVD out at the public library. If you can find a copy of it, I highly recommend watching it. 

Tim Alford, EPD

 After I watched the movie, it made me think again about all of the American people across this country and around the world risking it all daily in the line of duty. These are the people who are dedicated to keeping our country, cities, towns, highways, and neighborhoods safe. At church, I work with a retired fire chief. I teach with the wives of city and county policemen. A retired state police detective that served for 32 years on the force lives down the street. My great uncle and my wife's grandfather served in WWII. My father and his brothers served in the Korean conflict. I have a cousin and a friend that served in Desert Storm. Many of my former students are in these positions now. They live among us. If you know of anyone that has served as a marine, soldier, airman, sailor, police officer, firefighter, or emergency medical service worker, please take the time to thank them and give them the respect and dignity that they deserve.

Friday, September 6, 2013

Teach The Whole Child

A recent conversation with a fellow teacher has caused me to interrupt my series on the Essential Qualities of an eLearning Coach.  I will resume the series in my next post, but for right now my focus has shifted.  I have been in education now for 21 years.  I have seen many changes over that period of time.  I have heard buzz words such as curriculum mapping, assertive discipline, dive into the data, drill down, rigor, differentiated instruction, standards, and engaging lessons.  I have seen administrators jump on the band wagons of Lee Canter, Harry Wong, Phil Schlechty, Fred Jones, Ron Clark and various other educational leaders.  Teachers seem to get pulled in one direction and then another from year to year.  Projects are started, that never get completed, and soon they are forgotten only to find out that another band wagon is now being followed.  Does this sound familiar?

Please understand that I am not bashing or knocking any of the leaders in the list above.  Each of them has made some good contributions to education.  I just find it humorous how quickly one philosophy is dropped and another is adopted.  Especially when these philosophies determine and drive how educators should be doing things in the classroom.  Plus, they seem to change every other year.

I have taught under at least 10 different administrators in my 21 years.  Each of them has had a little different philosophy about things.  One thing that they have all had in common was the pressure they felt from standardized test scores.  This pressure gets passed down to the teachers and then on to the students.  I remember one of my administrators specifically stating in a faculty meeting, "If it is not on the test, then it should not be going on in your room."  The test mainly consists of English Language Arts and mathematics.  So, if a student is not great in either one of those subject areas, then they are not smart and will never amount to anything in this World.  Is that right?  That is pretty much what is being expressed here.  I don't really believe that is what administrators really believe, but the pressure for the school to do well has been blown completely out of proportion.  Subjects such as science, art, music, social studies, physical education are all put on the back burner and have lost importance.  That is such a shame, it should be criminal.

We need to stop standardizing things that are not standard.  Humans are not standard, they never have and never will be.  Each person is not going to be a great speaker, reader, or mathematician.  Those are not the only skills a person needs to be successful in this life, but the pressure is on.  Some school corporations have gone as far as having successful business managers and owners come in and tell how things should be run to help improve.  Heck, these methods worked for business, why not the school too.  I was at a conference in Indianapolis when the keynote told the following story.  A manager of a food processing plant was explaining how to run a successful educational institution based on how he ran his plant.  One brave teacher stood up and asked a question.  He asked, "How do you handle when a shipment of berries come in and they are not up to your standards to put into your product?"  The man replied that he would send them back.  He stated he would never put inferior ingredients into his products.  The teacher laughed under his breath and said that in public education we have to take what we get.  We cannot send anyone back.  The business owner then stopped his speech and sat down.

I believe the answer here is that there is not just one standard way to do education.  We all have different strengths and weaknesses.  Every student that takes physical education is not going to be a star athlete.  In the same way, every student in math class is not going to be Pythagoras.  We need to teach all subjects and teach the whole child.  Be the courageous teacher that stood up and brought things to reality.  How many Einsteins have fallen through the cracks because we are teaching to the test?  The time has come for standardized tests to stop dictating what education is supposed to do.   

Monday, September 2, 2013

3 of 10 Essential Qualities of an eLearning Coach

This week we are ready to discuss the third essential quality of an eLearning coach.  I believe number three has to be the ability to be a good communicator.   Communication by definition is the process of transferring information from one person to another using a variety of methods.  It is also a way to establish and modify relationships. 

In order to be a good communicator, the coach needs to be confident and believe in what they are teaching or demonstrating.  Try to take time each day to be aware of your opinions and feelings so you can adequately convey them to others. The coach should not be hesitant to speak because they do not feel what they are teaching would be beneficial.  Some tools that are worthwhile to one person may not be useful to someone else.

When communicating, the coach should make eye contact with the group and not just look at the device or computer screen.  The computer is not the coaches audience.  Good eye contact conveys interest and encourages the group to be interested in the coach in return.  It is OK to use hand gestures.  I believe using hand gestures shows that you are passionate and enthusiastic.  Be relaxed.  It shows that you are approachable and interested in what members of the group have to say.  As always, be respectful and considerate of what others have to say.  Be sensitive to the feelings of others.  The coach should be a good listener.  This is one skill that is sometimes forgotten.  Talking is only half of communication, listening is the other half.  When talking to the group, remember to slow down.  Many times, the people in the group are not as up to speed the coach.    

A teacher in the classroom has students that come from a variety of backgrounds.   Those students also have different amounts of knowledge of the subject that is being taught.  The teacher must differentiate instruction to meet the different levels of her students.  eLearning coaches experience the same thing when working with adults.  They work with teachers and administrators that have different levels of background, experience, and skills with technology.   

In order to be a good communicator, an eLearning coach must be able to simplify technology and make it seem effortless for everyone.  The school's staff does not want their lives to be more difficult because of some new device, program, or webtool.  The coach must possess the ability to make even the most complex tech issue appear to be easy.  I believe the coach's essential role is to put teachers and administrators at ease when it comes to technology and help them to solve their problems quickly without excuse.  The coach should make technology integration seem simple by meeting teachers where they are with their tech skills.  From that point they can then help them to move forward.   A good coach should encourage creativity and actively work to get teachers out of the box and into teaching with 21st century skills in mind. 

Good communication is an essential quality for success.  This quality is what helps set the coach apart as a leader. The eLearning coach needs to make students, teachers' and administrators' lives easier and lift something from their plate.