When Connected Educators Break Connections

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“To one who has faith, no explanation is necessary.

To one without faith, no explanation is possible.”

-St. Thomas Aquinas

Yesterday an old blog post of mine: Someone to Carry you seemed to strike a rather exposed nerve with a Kindergarten teacher.  I went to lunch and returned to 30+ twitter notifications about the post from colleagues that I respect as well as from this individual who happened to take issue with the post.   I am a huge supporter of debate and discourse when it is intelligent, based on fact, and has a modicum of decorum which purports mutual respect between parties with dichotomous views.  Yet what I returned to (after my lunch) was blatant slanderous statements toward myself based on nothing more than conjecture.

Had this been any random internet troll, I could probably look the other way and move on, however this person is a teacher. Not only is she a teacher, but she is a “connected educator” and founder of a wonderful group of early childhood education teachers who get together and have their own #kinderchat.  Furthermore, she’s also a Catholic school teacher.   All of these facts regarding someone who is an educational leader means that my expectations for her digital footprint and behavior are high.

Perhaps that is my mistake, after all even the best person in the world is still just a person. I’m rather sad to say that my first experience with a connected educator of this caliber left much to be desired. Apparently Heidi Enderchat (@hechternacht) seems to have lost some of the very Catholic values I would expect from a Catholic school teacher.

When I returned from my very much needed lunch, I found that she had called my post condescending.  Okay, I can handle that. It wasn’t meant to be condescending but to each his or her own.  What troubled me more was that rather than modeling for other connected educators and students around the world what good practice would be, she jumped to wildly slanderous conclusions about me on a personal level.

The large cause of this being that the post I wrote was against teachers who leave the profession and write incendiary resignation letters on their way out.  These teachers basically douse the ship with gasoline light a match and drop it on the deck as the leave their colleagues to try to put out the fire they have caused while simultaneously working to fix the issues that were already present.  It adds little to the dialogue of helping to fix the problems in education.

Apparently, Heidi took issue with the fact that I am no longer a school administrator and therefore I embody the very thing I wrote about (in her minds eye).  What she failed to realize, even after repeated statements to inform her, is that I did not quit the profession.  Not only that, but I did not quit and write a letter about how bad the school system is and how good teachers are forced to leave the profession.  As a matter of fact, I left a position at my school (without writing hateful letters) and I went to work for a corporation (something that her comments indicate is distasteful).

But here is the reality… When I was a teacher, I could help roughly 30 students a year… after 10 years I will have helped approximately 300 students.  I have always wanted to help the most students I possibly can.  Therefore, I became an administrator.  As an administrator within 10 years I could help on average 3000 students or more per year.  In my current role at a startup company that believes in childhood education I can help tens of thousands of students worldwide in the course of ten years.   I’d like to be clear, I did not leave the profession of education, I didn’t quit, I didn’t write a letter saying how bad education was… I think education has a lot of work that needs to be done with it but its still pretty good compared to some other areas in the world.

The direct statements from Heidi levied at me with absolutely no proof or even asking me what happened were:

“Quitting yourself (me) out of ambition is pretty arrogant.”

I asked where I ever said I quit out of ambition and her rather snide response was:

“Maybe it was an inability then? I don’t know, I just know you quit.”

– Wow. Really, so without ever asking me about the situation or fully comprehending what I do now in the field of education I was called either arrogant and ambitious or I was labeled by her as having an inability to be a school administrator.  The only true statement she made was that she “didn’t know”.  I was a rather successful school administrator. I started and founded the Cathedral school at the heart of our diocese under the direct leadership of the Bishop.  It saddens me that Heidi, a Catholic school teacher at Stuart Country Day School of the Sacred Heart (@StuartCDSchool),would treat another human (let alone another Catholic educator) with such disrespect, simply for having a difference of opinion.  I honestly worry for the students in her class who are just forming their views of the world. If they learn anything from modeling or watching what adults do around them, they may learn that if you disagree with someone… attack them personally. How sad.

It was then that I found out that this connected educator had a rather myopic and 19th-20th century view of what it means to be a teacher. She blatantly tweeted at me:

“Sorry, working for a corporation is not a teacher. You aren’t dealing w the stresses of kids day in, out.”

– Really? In order to be a teacher one must deal with the “stresses” of kids day in and out? Don’t get me wrong, I’ve had stressful days with my students but I would never define my role as a teacher as being based upon having stress with kids.  As a matter of fact, very few days were stressful when I was in the classroom.  I enjoyed my experiences.  In her interview for Connectededucators.org it becomes apparent that she may be feeling the stress of the kids and the weight of her profession. The interview is peppered with remarks, such as:

“by the end of the day my energy is generally running below zero!… I would say that teachers, as exhausted and stretched as we are… The frustrations, loneliness, and isolation of a teacher are real things.”

She may have called me arrogant, condescending, ambitious, possessing an inability to be a teacher, a quitter (all of these things untrue once facts are looked upon) But her own statements seem to highlight a teacher who is very much frustrated, lonely, isolated, tired, exhausted, etc. These conclusions I come to are based on her own words and not, as she unceremoniously used upon me, upon assumptions.  I have afforded her the courtesy of actually checking my facts and having evidence to support them.

When a noted education author refuted her statement that I quit by saying “He didn’t quit, you’re assuming.”  there was a rather childish response and need to be right when she said “Is he doing it now? No. That’s quitting, Leaving. Moving on. Doing something else. Not doing it. Stopped. QUIT.”

I personally think its a vocabulary issue on the definition of quitting and some connotative differences between quitting, resigning, and moving to a new position with the same field or profession. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to explain to her how moving to a new position where I develop lessons for tens of thousands of students in various methodologies and with an eye toward teacher assessment, parent use, and student engagement is still very much teaching.  In the 21st century Teaching is so much more than the old image of the schoolmarm in the classroom at the podium lecturing to students.  Teachers come in all shapes and sizes.  A very small informal survey I conducted returned 100% results that a teacher did not in fact have to have the stress of kids or a classroom to be considered a teacher.

Again, had this been an average user or teacher I would have probably paid this little attention. However this is a person who purports to be a connected educator, running international edchats for teachers… she is a leader who should be influencing educators for the positive.  We all get tired from time to time.  We all get frustrated and have stress with our students. But we shouldn’t let that overwhelm common sense and we certainly shouldn’t openly lay slanderous statements against others.

To state that I quit: False.

To state that I left for ambition: False.

To state that I a have an inability to be in the classroom: False.

To state that I am not a teacher: False.

For the record, I moved to a new position, one that has the potential to help tens of thousands of students on a global level.  I did not quit.  Also upon my change in position, I refused to write an incendiary letter and send it to Huffington post or any other public newspaper.  Why? Because I stand by my original post (Someone to Carry You)  I will not light a match and watch the ship burn as I move on to continue helping students.  I believe in education. We are doing great things. And it is true… I still have little respect for those who leave and write these letters to the paper.  I no longer consider them colleagues as they have truly left the profession and done so in a manner that is poor in taste and practice and actually does more harm to those who remain in education than it should.

Bullies exist in all ages and throughout all professions.  They exist in the classroom and they exist in cyberspace among our own peers.  There is a moral obligation as an educational leader and as a Catholic school teacher to make sure your statements are true before launching accusations without any proof. I hold these leaders to a higher standard than I probably should. However, if she is a connected educator(as she claims to be)… I think her connection might be a little broken.


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What can we take away from this encounter? That is the question I ask myself whenever something like this happens.  After all, great teachers are often lifelong learners.    For me, it would be, check your facts and don’t assume anything.  Take the time to get to know the person you disagree with.   I’m sure there are many more lessons throughout.

What strikes me most is the statement that in order to be a teacher you have to have the “stress” of kids day in and out.  I wholeheartedly disagree.  It seems some of my other professional colleagues also disagree with that statement.

I’m interested to know… what are your thoughts on this? Does one have to have the stress of kids to be considered a teacher? Is this just one person’s limited view of education and teaching? Please share your thoughts.

Also, if you decide to Quit (genuinely quit) teaching… please don’t set our ship on fire and write one of those letters saying how horrible education is…. we get it… you weren’t happy… but you left and did little to help solve the problem. I’m still working on the problems… Together we journey and together we will make wonderful things happen for our students and colleagues.

Demand High Quality

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“Believin’ all the lies that they’re tellin’ ya
Buyin’ all the products that they’re sellin’ ya
They say jump and ya say how high” – RATM

Today I received some troubling news.  I even wrote a short tweet on twitter about it, but I took it down because I felt it deserved an entire post instead of just a short 140 character shout out.  It is that time of year when administrators are getting ready to hire teachers (if they haven’t already).  This is a sacred process that is of the most critical nature.  A principal is tasked with finding and selecting the most qualified and best suited individual to help at least 30 lives learn and improve for an entire academic year. This is a task that should not be taken lightly and one that should have the strongest of criteria to fulfill.

I was speaking with a colleague on the east coast.  I respect her well and know that she always strives to do what is best for her students as well as for her school.  She mentioned that she was upset because of the new teacher that was being hired at her school.  When I asked “why” she gave me an answer I wasn’t expecting and I must say it also had me quite upset because I realize the practice doesn’t just take place at her school but is something that happens across the nation on a regular basis.  The teacher that they were hiring isn’t qualified for the position.  This could mean a lot of things so let me be specific.  The teacher does not hold a teaching credential, has served as a substitute teacher (which has very minimal requirements in most states) and has been selected instead of increasing the search for a more qualified individual.  I feel bad for a lot of people in this situation.  I feel bad for the new teacher… its not going to be an easy road, I feel bad for the students who are going to receive a sub-standard teacher instead of at least a teacher with basic qualifications, and I feel bad for the school that has an administrator too lazy to roll up her sleeves and conduct a thorough search.

I know they’ve been looking for a while and not found any candidates.  My colleague tells me one teacher was offered the position but found another job due to the slow nature of her administrator to actually select and notify the candidate.  However, if traditional search methods aren’t working then there should be something outside the box.  Look out of state, go online and post the position with video interviews. Find the ideal QUALIFIED candidate.  Right now this administrator is gambling with the education of her students and its just not right.  It is her decision to make but in my opinion it makes for a very weak administrator.  I was once faced with similar difficulties in locating an ideal candidate for a position.  However I was prepared to step into the classroom if necessary with my teaching credential to ensure that the students received the education they deserved.

I had a set policy when I ran my school.  EVERY teacher had to be credentialed. That even included substitute teachers.  I know that many schools do not have that policy.  I also know that one school had a substitute come in with minimum qualifications (basically a BA degree, no teaching credential, not even a course taken in teaching or pedagogy) and at the end of the day multiple students emailed the actual teacher saying how nice the substitute was, but that they needed help because they couldn’t understand the assignment or what he taught them.

Education has, for too long, stagnated and floated upon the river of poor education brought on by the deluge of unqualified candidates.  The current minimum qualifications are horrible but at least they exist and should be met.  Any administrator that ignores this really does a discredit to the profession of teaching.  Only the most overwhelming emergency should excuse them from making this horrible choice.

Stand up parents, teachers, and administrators.  DEMAND  that your children receive education from at least MINIMALLY qualified teachers (I SAY DEMAND EVEN MORE) and if you find that your school has hired a teacher who doesn’t even have a credential… move your child or demand your administrator be held accountable.

For too long the system has said “JUMP” and we’ve responded “HOW HIGH”.  It is time we respond with “HOW, WHY, and it better be high quality.”

This happened to my friend on the east coast, but I am certain its happening in just about every state out there.  I’d love to hear your opinion on this and ideas about how we can stop this practice from continuing.

Waivers are not the answer.

Real gold does not glitter

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“Take heart and come on! I will not fly away.” – St. Joan of Arc

Being a principal it is sometimes hard to admit that you’re human. It was pointed out to me during a very intense meeting that the position of principal within a school is a lonely one. We walk a hard path with little gratitude or recognition. In truth, we do not seek either. When things go well everyone is happy. When challenges arise it is upon the shoulders of the principal that they fall. This not only includes what is happening within the school but within the administrator’s personal life. There is a very firm line that is drawn between what the principal should and should not disclose with his or her faculty (both personal and professional information).

We are the stoic walls that are expected to hold our ground against tsunamis and tempests that batter us in a maelstrom of activity. I know that many would say that they don’t expect administrators to be super human, and that’s good because we are not. Yet we face a challenging path of remaining confident, steadfast, and as a fixed point upon which the whole school can rely upon. It is a lonely road.

When personal strife hits, I am usually the first one to make the rounds to the early elementary grades. The students bring hope to me. They are the embodiment of potential, joy, and curiosity. Yet there are times (when the weight of events is so heavy) that I leave happy for the students but on the brink of tears because the joy they feel is ever longed for by those who endure some of life’s more difficult challenges.

Its important that the school community sees the administrator as ever vigilant and strong in his or her resolve to ensure that every student receives the best and most caring education available. We sally forth with a façade of armor that glimmers and shines. Beneath this façade lays the true armor, dented, cut open, and held together through the battle-weary days and nights. To the outside world, as Led Zeppelin once said “all that glitters is gold.” However beneath that glitter is the true warrior, sometimes smiling, sometimes hurting, sometimes laughing, sometimes crying. It may be just me and my own philosophy of leadership, but I feel the need to always be the one to set the example for my faculty and families. I know that I am not the only administrator to experience this phenomenon.

How do other administrators cope with the need to lead their crews to new destinations while maintaining their strength in the face of personal grief? I do not know. If you have any answers, I (and I’m sure others in similar situations) would love to hear them.

The next time you pass your principal or VP or any admin in the hallway or anywhere else, give them a smile. The one they are giving you may sometimes be masking pain that cuts to the core but your smile may help him or her to recapture glimmers of hope.

Thank you all for reading this. I hope it somehow helps others to get through their day.

 

 

A guide through the dark forest

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“It used to be, everyone was entitled to their own opinion, but not their own facts. But that’s not the case anymore. Facts matter not at all. Perception is everything.” – Stephen Colbert

I’ve been reflecting on our modern western society lately.  What I’m about to write isn’t anything new; it isn’t anything we haven’t encountered before. However, I’ve faced some of these characteristics of our society and witnessed many friends and colleagues face these characteristics at great distress to their emotional and mental state.  Today I am writing about the tendency to ignore facts and instead to trust perception.   Colbert’s quote at the beginning of this post is right on the money. “Facts matter not at all. Perception is everything.”

In education, teachers and administrators are usually the type of people who live and die by facts.  After all, one of our main duties is to teach students facts and to help them use these facts to influence the world in which they live.  This is why it is difficult for those of us in education to face criticism from others that are based on nothing more than perception.  The educator inside of us wants to shout out with a thunderous cry: “But here are the facts!” Yet these cries are often perceived (yes, that ‘perception’ word is sneaking its way in with a different permutation) as defensive, dismissive, or they are completely disregarded.

I have had to help my fellow educators with this, when a parent perceives that the teacher is “mean” or that they are not teaching standards based lessons.  The reality/fact is that the teacher is not mean, and that they are doing their job in an exemplary manner. The teacher knows this, as the administrator I know this, however the parent perceives this to not be the case despite the facts that provide evidence.

Over the years I have had teachers in my office in near tears when I have to share with them what the perceptions are of some of the parents about them.  Its biting to have someone criticize you.  Its even more biting when that criticism comes about something you are deeply passionate about and to which you give your heart and devoted time.

They are not alone in this. I too have faced similar crisis of perception from time to time. It stings. Yet the fact that I have faced similar situations or situations that are much heavier often helps in our discussion.  I am able to share my experiences, my pain, my frustrations that no matter how much I give there will always be some who wish to see darkness in the forest rather than light and hope. I believe it helps the teacher understand that they are not alone. I try to bolster their self image and devise strategies to help improve the perception so that it more closely resembles reality.

One of the hardest things I have to say and explain is that while perception is not reality, the perception of the parent is the parent’s reality.  We have to address it and cannot ignore it hoping that they will change their mind.  We will not always be successful; some people have their mind set and they do not want to leave the darkness of the forest.  However, sometimes people are looking for a guide to help walk them through the darkness and to lead them to the sunny brooks and glens that warm the heart and mind. Its difficult to be the guide when you are perceived as something in the darkness. Yet, this is exactly what we must attempt to accomplish.

I do not write this post to complain.  Instead, I write it for my colleagues so that they know that they are not alone.  Hamlet said it best, “For there is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.”  We are in the profession of thinking.  As much as it pains us, lets work through our hurt feelings and help change the thinking so that all understand the good that we are constantly doing in our classrooms and schools.

I’m interested in your thoughts on this.  What strategies have you used to help change a misplaced negative perception? What advice do you have for those of us in the trenches pushing ever forward to help our students?

A hard day

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Today was a hard day.

You know that you’ll face a lot of challenges as a leader of a school.  There are issues of bullying, custody battles, teacher morale, curriculum creation and analysis; community building… the list goes on and on.

No one can really prepare you for all of that, but somehow those of us who are crazy enough to take on this leadership role manage to find innovative ways of coping with all of these challenges.  We become the glue that holds everything together.  Actually, that’s not true, the teachers are the glue, admins are the ones planning on where the glue needs to be to keep it all together… Alright I’m beginning to sound a lot like a glue salesman and I shouldn’t.

Today was difficult because one of our colleagues passed away last Sunday.  I work at a Catholic school and this was a time when I was called upon to be a true spiritual leader for my community.  It wasn’t easy and I only got through it by the grace of another spirit, “The Holy Spirit.” I know I don’t have the strength to do it on my own.

I really dislike going to funerals… there’s something about them that really impacts me.  I’m happy for the soul that can now move on with the Lord, but there’s finality in the physical sense and being faced with that reality has a deep and lasting effect upon me; it always has. For that reason, I rarely attend funeral services.  Yet, I found myself in the position of being the school leader who arranged grief counselors, kept the community informed, cancelled a school day for the services, coordinated the necessary events, and spoke at the service.

It was hard.

We lost a friend and a colleague.  We lost someone dedicated to children and the Lord. We lost someone just like ourselves. It is during times like these that you truly learn what servant leadership is all about.  It’s not about you.  The services weren’t about my discomfort or me; it was about a life that was to be celebrated.  It was about the needs of my students, faculty, and the family. Its during times like these that one must reach deep within and pull upon the strength of the Holy Spirit as well as the strength of friends.

I put on a strong face all week.  I pushed through various challenges that face a school on a day-to-day basis as well as the crisis at hand. But today I broke one of my personal rules.

I cried in the presence of my faculty. Generally, I do all I can to not let emotion show, but I think this is a special circumstance. Maybe it’s a good thing. Maybe they’ll realize I’m a little more human than they once thought. But there’s only so much a person can take before that silent wave of emotion washes over you and spills out.

The children at the service made it better, their smiles and their laughter.  They reminded me why my colleague and myself were in teaching in the first place.

I know this post isn’t as well written as it could be, but I’m a bit spent after today.

I guess the whole point of this post is to help myself come to grips with the gravity of the situation.

I just want to thank those of you who have been with me and helped me as I tried my best to be the leader my community needed, you know who you are.  I may not have done everything right, but I’m trying, every day. Something as serious as death reminds me that we have limited time on this planet. Let’s make the best of it and let’s make it a better place for our children to learn.

My thoughts and prayers are with you all and I know that my colleague watches over us as we continue to help our children learn.

Make a difference today. For we do not know the hour when we may be called to greater things.