Sunday, January 29, 2012

Teacher as the New Salesperson: Words with Friends Style!

I have recently become aware of a current phenomenon that is sweeping our globalized world like wildfire. This phenomenon can be seen through the new way marketers have gone about capitalizing on our innermost excitement levels. For example, if one plays the popular game "Word with Friends," then one can relate to this style of marketing. There are many games and apps out there that do the same thing: this "thing" I am speaking of is the immediate praise coupled with instantaneous advertising or marketing. Think about it. If you played "Words with Friends," you know what I am talking about: that feeling when you lay the cerebral smackdown on a friend with a word that is worth 87 points! Wow! One might think, there is no greater feeling! Well, that feeling is being capitalized on by marketers and advertisers who found out, that we get really excited when we "score big" or perform well in a game. That way, if they tap into this excitement with immediate exposure to the advertisement of the product they are trying to sell, then we (as players and consumers) may be more apt to buy what the advertisers are selling. What if we did this in the classroom? What if we applied this in education? This could be like immediately rewarding students for doing something good and coupling this with what we are "selling" them. In the end, isn't this what teachers find themselves doing most of the time any way? We, as educators, are constantly trying to tap into student interest in order to reach maximum engagement levels or, as Schlechty calls it, authentic engagement. For the unmotivated student, this can be like "pulling teeth" for even the best of teachers. I am a big believer in seeking authentic engagement in our students. This is why I think we can mimic this new way of strategically timing how we "sell" our students that what we are learning is worthwhile and important. What do you think? Is this new way of advertising relevant to the classroom? Can you think of some student out there where this might work?

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Do you believe in your "problem" students?

Two nights ago, I was driving home after a long day at the school. After overseeing the night's athletic events, I left for home around 9pm. I called my sweet and supportive wife to tell her I'd be home soon after I stopped to fill up my gas tank. I actually did not make it home until just before midnight. Why? Yes, you guessed it. I ran out of gas. My gas tank started sputtering while on the interstate just 3 miles before my gas station's exit. I nursed it one extra mile before stopping in utter frustration. I just wanted to be home and rest. I resolved to get out of the car, shed my suit jacket along with my tie and run/walk two miles in 40 degree temperatures until I reached my destination. Once I arrived at a Shell station 45 minutes later and was loaned a gas can, I began to fill the gas can up and return to my abandoned car. As I finished filling up the can, a voiced called out, "hey, man... Everything okay?" I looked up with red cheeks, a sniffling nose, and a look of fatigue and lied. I said, "yeah, everything's okay." Too embarrassed, I just thought I'd fake it. The voice was a 21 year old named Matt. Relentlessly, Matt asked another question, "do you need a ride somewhere?" I decided to be real and admit my blunder. "Yeah, I actually ran out of gas two miles from here." Without hesitation, Matt said, "get in and I will give you a ride." In our ten minute ride back to my car, I discovered Matt was a local guy. He asked me what I did for a living, I confessed with embarrassment, "this schmoe is actually an assistant principal here in the area." With some bit of surprise, Matt said, "you would have seen a lot of me when I was in school. I was always in the principal's office. I was a terrible student." I replied, "well, Matt... It looks like you turned out alright." He responded, "yeah, I am trying. I am working three jobs right now and trying to get into a community college next year. I try to do good for others and do one good deed a day." I looked at him and said, "Well, thanks for this good deed. Thanks for your help." This got me thinking. I wonder what Matt's teachers thought of him when he was in school. I wonder what his principal thought of him when he was repeatedly in their office after making bad choices. I am sure Matt had caring teachers and I actually know his former principals and know for a fact they are good people, but I am sure it crossed their mind... "will he ever get it?" I think Matt has "got it." Will you join me the next time you conference, correct, teach, review expectations, etc. with the "Matt's" of the world? Let's think of how they CAN be when they are out of school, not just limit our frustrations to the present frustrations. How many students are out there who "cut up" one day only to make a HUGE positive impact on society ten years down the road? I certainly have appreciated and benefitted from fresh starts and I think Matt has tOo. This week, as you inevitably get frustrated with "that student" just remember he or she could greet you on a cold, January night when you really need them. Tomorrow's problem student might be next week's savior!

Sunday, January 8, 2012

What should our schools produce?

About a week ago, I had lunch with a good friend, a childhood friend, who now lives as a successful financial banker in New York City. As we talked over a burger and fries, like a lot of friends who play "catch up," our conversation lead to a discussion of family, old friends, and old stories. In addition, we also spoke of his close proximity to the Occupy Wall Street movement (for which he witnesses each and every day due to where he resides and what he does for a living). However, one of the most intriguing parts of our conversation came when I asked him the following question, "as a successful banker, what is it you look for when hiring and leading prospective and future bankers? In other words, what should public schools be doing to send you quality workers?" I thought his answer was intriguing. According to my dear friend, public schools need to produce students/graduates who are curious to learn, good at problem solving ferociously going about solving problems, unfocused on rote memorization, excited about learning, and given the opportunity in school to explore what they are interested in. He went on to say ALL of THIS encourages the student to be curious and seek a solution to the problems of life. Spoken like a true constructivist, he went on to reflect on his own upbringing in public schools. He felt like he was given little opportunity to dive into things that interest him, to think on his own, and to explore what he thought was curious. I went to the same schools as my friend and my recollection is very similar. As an educator now, I seek to change education by focusing less on standardization and a focus on memorizing facts and instead a focus on what our business leaders are looking for... Problem solvers, creators, curious individuals who are ready to take on the future. Will you join me? #edudream

Monday, January 2, 2012

The Infamous Countdown...

My winter break is quickly coming to a close. I know... I know... I am spoiled as an educator to receive such long "breaks" from time to time. My family and friends remind me of this often as they have already returned to work in between Christmas Day and New Year's Eve. I am blessed to have these breaks as I know many other educators are too. No matter your profession, if you have received time to enjoy friends and family this past holiday season, you know what I am talking about. These breaks are well deserved by our profession: a profession of professionals who work extended hours every day of every week in between the breaks they do receive. This post, however, is not really about the breaks that come 3-4 times per year for most educators... This post is about the time spent in between the breaks. There is something I have observed for the last nine years as the "infamous countdown." All too often, many of us in the field of education sadly look to the next break as the next great "savior." This next week all across our country there will be educators starting the countdown just days or even hours after coming back from this past winter break. I can hear it now, "just 12 more days until MLK day," "if I can make it until Spring Break!," and "May 24th could not come soon enough!" I wonder, do our doctors say that about us patients? Do our realtors say that about their clients when they are showing homes? What about our professors? What about your local pastor, priest, or clergy? What if you heard them say... "I cannot wait until this Sunday is over... I want Monday to come!" My first year as a teacher, I remember one of my colleagues said "I can't wait for the break so I can get a break from those kids, those brats." I seek to change this negative attitude through leadership and through encouragement. Join me in helping change this culture if it so exists within your school. Just to be clear, I am not against counting down to goals just before a deadline that bumps up against a break. I am also not against celebrating when a break comes. I celebrate these well deserved breaks every time. But, again, this is not about the break... This is about our attitudes leading up to our breaks. It is about being positive and making the most of the time we are given with our students and our colleagues. I believe our students and colleagues deserve this... They deserve our best. How do you maximize your time? Do you struggle with the countdown? Do you view this is a impediment to many educators?