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.

Someone to Carry You…

crawl

We see the letters posted on the Internet from educators who are disgruntled or dissatisfied with their positions as teachers within our current education system (for example this letter from Huff Post Education).

However, I do wonder about the stories not being told about educators who make a difference every day and choose to continue in the profession.  The message I see, time and again in the media, from educators is that they are dissatisfied with the way education works, the system is broken, they don’t like the policies so their answer is to resign.

That’s a great lesson for our students<insert sarcasm here>… when things don’t work the way you want… just quit.   The more difficult challenge of working with the system and systemically striving for positive change is an act that almost never makes the papers.   For that reason, I’d like to share why I am in education and why I will continue to be in education without an incendiary resignation letter.

This is my open response, as an educator, to the above-mentioned letter:

Dear Administrators, Superintendents, Teachers, et al.,

This is my official letter declaring my dedication to the students and children that we serve every day in our classrooms and schools.

I am exceedingly happy to have the privilege to serve children who are just beginning to understand the very complex world in which we live.  There is nothing more rewarding than sharing a learning experience with a student and building a relationship of trust in which both the student and the teacher form new knowledge together.  We believe that the parents are the primary educators of their children and as such we form a partnership that always strives to provide children with the resources and learning experiences they need in life. We are an extension of the home family unit and that is a sacred honor that I hold close to my heart.

You see… there are very few professions as noble as that of educator.  We are tasked with helping a child grow their knowledge and mind so that they can be successful and happy in their adult lives while providing for the betterment of society.  Why wouldn’t someone want to be involved in a profession such as this?

I did not enter the field of education with grand notions that I would make a six-figure salary, be understood by parents who do not yet recognize the professional degrees and credentials I hold, face the reality that teachers tend to be looked down upon as failing by our society, or that I would have to face policies and practices that were designed for a factory-era society rather than one that should be looking to the 22nd century.

You may call me crazy… but those are among the chief reasons I entered this profession. So that I may change them.

So many teachers become disillusioned with the education system and I have to ask “why?”  Did they enter this profession blindly? Did they (sorry for the pun) not do their homework and learn all they could about teaching and what it entailed in our society? I have to wonder when I read resignation letters that complain about low wages, following policies they might not agree with, etc.  If someone is out there speaking untruths to our pre-service teachers, please let me know so that we can stop them.  I’m going to break this down to the lowest common denominator:

Teaching is hard; it will be an uphill battle; you will not be paid what you are worth; people will judge you based on tests you do not take; it is not fair.

This is the state of most school systems within the United States.  Enter the profession knowing that the above statements are true and that this is the reality in a large portion of the schools that exist today.

Are you ready for the challenge?

Enter this profession, knowing what you know and fight for change.  If you quit the profession knowing all of the above from the beginning, you only have yourself to blame. Do not blame the administrators, parents, colleagues, policies, practices, etc. Only you have the power to enter a system that is struggling and to make it better.  Our society is so set on instant gratification that we believe if we haven’t brought about immediate change, then we are failing.  Take a deep breath for this one:

Failure is okay.

We learn from it and we rework our strategies.  Quitting, for the true educator, is never an option.

So many educators complain about policies that make them uncomfortable.  The standards movement had its detractors, NCLB had its critics, Race to the Top has been torn apart, Common Core State Standards have been openly attacked… some people will never be happy with change and that is okay.  But realize that our profession is built upon change.

The very nature of education should be change.

We are not supposed to teach children the same way we have been teaching for the last 100 years.  Technology, society, and the world move ahead with or without us.  I’m sorry to break the news to you but that worksheet or standard that you really love may have to disappear.  A worksheet and a standard do not make you a good educator.  What makes you a good educator is the ability to take a learning goal, objective, standard, etc. and to make that come alive for your students. Don’t like the new standards? Well, get involved in the politics of creating those standards. Don’t like the new policy, work to change it.  Can you change everything or affect everything? No. But demonstrate to the world that we can fight for it.  Quitting only demonstrates that the issue really wasn’t that important to you in the first place.

Let’s be honest, the message quitting sends isn’t that the system is broken.  The message it sends is that you are not happy about the condition of education and you do not value students enough to continue to fight for them. I understand the fatigue of the fight; I’m in it myself. So quit if you must, but don’t bash the administrators, colleagues, or policies because you couldn’t continue the fight. All that serves to do is lower the morale of those of us in the trenches and discourage those who are considering taking up arms to make this a better world for our students.

The following statement was made: “We feel defeated and helpless: If we speak out, we are reprimanded for not being team players; if we do as we are told, we are supporting a broken system.”  I have a couple of problems with this. If you speak out you may be reprimanded, but perhaps it has to do with the way you are speaking out.  Is it constructive or is it complaining? If you do as you are told you are not necessarily supporting a broken system.  You have to have a system to work with in order to make changes in the first place.  Is it the best system? No. But to say you won’t do what you are contracted and have agreed to do when you accepted the position only highlights that you truly did not know what you were getting into. Instead, work with the system, and use the procedures and policies put in place to make positive changes. And be prepared, people will criticize you for this.  Any change is met with resistance.

Some ask and argue, “Can I stand by and watch this [failed education] happen to our precious children?” and the response is to quit and fight from outside the system.  I’m sorry, you did something worse than stand by and watch, you left the field of battle. Your colleagues are still there attempting to make things better and you abandoned us.  You abandoned your students. You didn’t stand by… you sat down.

In her resignation letter Mrs. Hawkins asks: “Can the district do a better job of advocating for our children and become leaders in this educational system rather than followers? With my resignation, I hope to inspire change in the district I have come to love.”

A follower quits following.  A leader guides his or her ship through turbulent waters and fights to make the voyage to the desired destination.

I profess that we have leaders and that they are fighting every day to make a difference in the educational landscape. Leaders like @sjsbates@theweirdteacher, @tritonkory, @btcostello05, among many others.  We fight to bring about change and find the value in the current changes that are taking place.  Are the changes enough? No. But we all have to start somewhere.   I do not know how the resignation of an individual is supposed to inspire change.   Perhaps the resignation is a good thing, because we’ve lost someone who has given up the ghost in the battle for education reform.

I say to you teachers, educators, colleagues, brothers and sisters in arms… do not give up the fight. Become a leader.  Chart these tumultuous waters, brave the maelstrom of doubt and dissent, and stand with us as we make this a better world for our students. You are the good news in education and you are the stories that should be told to the world.  Let’s stop perpetuating incendiary resignation letters from teachers and, instead, support the great work educators perform every day to make a difference in the lives of their students and for the betterment of the education community in our great United States of America.  The best way to teach students that they matter and can make a difference is to show them that we matter and that we can make a difference.  That is hard to do if we simply quit and hope that it will somehow inspire change.

We are in this together. Do not let the fatigue get to you. Lean on each other.  Remember this great quote from Firefly:

“When you can’t run, you crawl, and when you can’t crawl – when you can’t do that- you find someone to carry you.”

Let’s carry each other and make this a better world for every child out there.

I invite your comments and I ask that you consider writing your own letter to continue our fight.  Let’s stop quitting and let’s start making a difference.

This is Captain Wick… ending transmission and awaiting your reply.

#revogogychat
#browncoateducators
#shinyedchat
#bcedchat
#revogogy

Of Mr. Selfridge and Education

Selfridge's - Oxford Street at night
Creative Commons License Photo Credit: Ho John Lee via Compfight

“Why should man allow jealousy to make him miserable? Why should he hold his eyes so close to the surface that he cannot take a broad survey of life?” – H. Gordon Selfridge

 A Store is Born

I’ll be the first to admit that I am by no means even close to being an Anglophile. I enjoy history and I like looking back at where we have been to see how it has shaped where we are and how we can make choices that will form where we are going.   My wife enjoys shows such as Downton Abbey and if she happens to be watching it when I’m in the room I tend to enjoy it as well.  Apparently, there is a new show she has started watching called Mr. Selfridge; it is about the retail magnate who started Selfridges and the lives and happenings surrounding him.  I came to the show a bit late. I only saw one episode and it involved a visiting dancer and different departments working together and apart from one another.

As I watched, I couldn’t help but make parallels to modern education.  It was easy to envision Mr. Selfridge as a principal who desired to make changes for the better for his school.  I saw him as fair, stern, and as a man of great vision (of course this is based off of one episode, but I am certain this is more than likely an accurate representation).

Taking a Broad Survey of Life

There was one interesting event that immediately caught my attention.  A new American department manager came to the store and took materials from another department without asking that department manager for permission.  The American had demonstrated vision and ingenuity and ultimately made quite an impression with the customer and Mr. Selfridge. The other department manager took offence and wanted to ensure that this didn’t happen again.  Except, Mr. Selfridge commended the departments working together and the end result.

What I found realistic was that, despite this, the department manager informed her staff that under no circumstances were they to give anything from their department to the American manager again.  The complexity of the human condition was demonstrated in these actions. I had a moment of clarity and began to connect this event to modern education.

I see the different departments as different classrooms.  I envision the store as the school and of course the students and parents as the customers.

I’ve witnessed teachers who get so narrow in their view that they focus only upon their own classroom and only upon what will help themselves.  Like this department manager, they focus on the glory of the self rather than the possible success of the institution.  Luckily, my staff does not fall into this troubling pattern.  We are actively working on understanding that we are a team, an elite unit that is formed to help students learn.  I’ve faced battles with some educators that have their eyes so close to the surface that they cannot take a broad survey of their practices.

We live in a time that is ready for change. The system hasn’t failed us, it has served its purpose. We have simply outgrown the system.  It is time for people of vision to move us forward into the 22nd century of education. I only ask that as we do so, we take a step back and take a broad survey of our situation so that we may work as a team.

I look forward to future episodes and I hope that I will continue to be able to make parallels with education.

Your View

I’m interested in your thoughts on this topic.  Have you experienced teachers that don’t like to share and mire themselves in the myopic view of their classroom?  How have you encouraged collaboration? How can we develop a more global view of the school so that we realize we are all on the same team? I look forward to your comments and thoughts.

Click on the dialogue bubble at the beginning of this post to leave a comment or click here to leave your comment.

Gen X in Education: Don’t be Late

Generation X

Creative Commons License Photo Credit: Chrisinplymouth from Flickr

Our little group has always been and always will until the end – Nirvana

I’ve been mulling over what it means to be a member of a generation that is smaller than the generation that came before it and the generations that have followed. You see, I’m a member of that “forgotten” generation known as Gen X. Ive been reading “X Saves the World” and finding it entertaining and informative. Because this generation is a minority sandwiched between the Baby Boomers, Y gen, and Mellennials, I’ll fully understand if you skip reading this post and move on to other compositions that appeal to the masses. However, if you are compelled to read further, then I welcome you to this reflective piece of writing.

At the beginning of this school year I sat in a room with other administrators to hear a presenter give a speech on generational differences. He asked those in attendance to raise a hand if they were born between certain years. As he did this a vast majority went up for the Baby Boomer generation. Then he came to my range. I sat in the front row and raised my hand when he asked who was born between 1965-1980. I saw an interesting look cross his face as he noted me then scanned the room and stated “just you?” I glanced around the room and apparently it was true; I was the only administrator who was a member of Generation X. I thoroughly enjoyed his speech, however it was tailored to the Boomer principals dealing with Mellennials. I found myself in the unique position of reversing a great deal of what he said to help me work with my Boomer-Mellennial faculty.

Many of the traits associated with Gen X are vital to pushing education in new directions that have the potential to help improve student learning. Here are just a few traits associated with my compatriots:

  • Expects immediate and ongoing feedback & is comfortable giving feedback to others
  • Independent
  • Resilient
  • Highly adaptable
  • Dislike authority & rigid work environments
  • Eager to learn new skills
  • Works to live does not live to work
  • Not impressed by titles
  • Technically competent

The list goes on and on. As I read through the list above, I find that there is a need for each of these qualities in order to make significant changes to education. It would seem that built into the very fiber of my generation is a need to ask “why” something is done rather than to blindly accept what has always been. This is a valuable asset when taking up arms to challenge educational practices that have been in place for more than a century.

I’m under no delusion, we also have our weaknesses. Gen Xers can be overly confident. We can sometimes push forward and think, in our own naïveté that we know best. It’s a double edged sword. Sometimes that confidence is necessary to ignite real change and to weather the maelstroms that threaten to sink our initiatives. Other times, our disdain for authority hinders our ability to change course when the rockets come at us sideways. However, more often than not, it’s a benefit rather than a weakness.

Being a member of the minority generation perhaps means that even as more and more people become administrators, the number of Gen X administrators will always be small. However this should in no way hinder our ability to affect real, significant change in education. We may be a small group when it comes to generation population numbers, but we are also innovative thinkers who desire new methods of solving old problems.

I am the first Gen X principal in my diocese; an honor and a pressure that I embrace. I consider myself the first shot fired across the bow by Generation X to herald innovative, revolutionary change in Catholic education in my diocese. However, I cannot do it alone. It will be with the help of my Boomer, Y, and Mellennial colleagues that we truly improve student learning. I may be at the helm of the ship I call my school, but it is the crew that must trust in the direction in which I steer our course. Conversely, I must trust to the strengths and skills of the other generations that sail with me.

Gen X may be a small generation, however we have the potential to enact real, significant change. I call upon my brothers and sisters of my generation to stand up and apply for leadership positions in education. The time to make our voices heard is now. In the words of Nirvana (a symbol of Gen X):

“Take your time, hurry up, the choice is yours. Don’t be late”.

Perhaps it’s that last line that means the most. We (Gen Xers) do things the way we want, but we are rapidly approaching the point where we may be too late to affect change. So don’t be late my fellow X colleagues. We need principals with your unique qualities.

I found this to be an interesting reflection on my generation and value your feedback and thoughts. I would love it if you would share with me a comment or two on this topic.

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