Sunday, December 21, 2014

Harnessing the "Unbroken"

I cannot wait to see "Unbroken" when it comes out in theaters on Christmas day. The movie was written based on the book by Laura Hildebrand, that tells the story of American Hero, Louis Zamperini. Louis, who passed away just this past summer, has one of the most awe inspiring, unbelievable stories of all time. So much so, that if I were to tell you it was true, you would have to look him up to make sure I wasn't messing with you.

Louis grew up in Torrance, California, where he learned to love the sport of running. He was so talented that he earned a scholarship to USC in the 1930's. At USC, he was one of the fastest young men in the nation, giving him an opportunity to try out for the Olympic team. When he made the team in 1936, the destination was Berlin, Germany near the pinnacle of the Nazi rise to power.

He ran so well at the 1936 Olympics, that Hitler demanded to meet this young boy with the "fast finish." He didn't medal but he was close and this pushed him to train harder for the next olympics. The only problem was that the world was thrown into war and so was he, so he didn't have his chance. Instead, Louis was enlisted and became an airman.

Flying over the Pacific, his plane was shot down somewhere near the Marshall Islands. Louis, along with only one of his partners, survived 47 days at sea, fighting off sharks, hunger, heat, and deliriousness. When they finally hit land, they were captured and held in prison for months. In prison, Louis was tortured and beaten. However, he was tough and had enough attitude to keep him alive. When he was saved, his story became world famous during the post war era. It has recently just been brought back to life.

When I think about Louis, I think about so many of the students that I know and have known. What I didn't tell you about the story was that Louis got into a lot of trouble at school. He should have been kicked out several times. But he found what he loved thanks to some people who encouraged and redirected him. The "bad boy" image that he had, would later serve him well as a survivor. Though most people though he would end up in prison, they had no idea the how great the context of that prediction would make him. Once he found his passion and got focused, his life headed in an incredible direction. It is hard and there is not always a happy ending, but we have a chance to help young people do great things. So the next time you have a student or know a kid who is a really tough cookie, remember that they could be the next Louis Zamperini. Leading is Teaching.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Put Down the Turkey and Give Thanks

Thanksgiving is naturally the time to reflect on all of the things that make our life wonderful. For me, this includes my wife, my soon to be first child, my family, my home, and my job. Today, I really want to focus on why my job, has helped shape me as a person and why I am thankful for that transformation.

Things I am thankful for:

1) Not becoming a sports radio host.

No offense to sports radio hosts, but if I would have stuck with that major, I would not be the person I am today. I have had hundreds of cherished memories with kids since I decided to become a history teacher. I have laughed harder than you could imagine, cried secretly when I witness one of my students overcome hardship to succeed, and worry endlessly about students as I think about the decisions they will inevitably make. However, if I wouldn't have decided not to pursue journalism, I would not have the privilege to feel the pride and inspiration in knowing that I had some small role in making a better tomorrow by providing for student needs today.

2) The student that made my first day more difficult than I would have liked.

I was so excited to complete my first day of teaching. I was almost there when a student stayed back as the class left. The student proceeded to talk to me about the struggles they had gone through and how they had contemplated suicide. In that moment, I began to realize that teaching was much more than the subject being taught. Teaching is about helping, mentoring, and preparing students for life. Sometimes this is difficult as we have students from difficult home lives, backgrounds and experiences. But teachers are on the front lines, ready to work with kids no matter what the day looks like. I am so thankful for that experience.

3) Learning from the learner.

I learned more about history, research, writing, presenting, and group work once I became a teacher than I ever knew before. Students have the most incredible minds and they question everything. This forces teachers to think on their toes, and make sure they come to every class with their A game. I learn something everyday from a student even as a principal. We are incredibly fortunate to see these young minds at work. And this is not just from the straight A student or the ASB President. These ideas and questions come from all of the young minds that come to us on a daily basis. This place of learning is truly inspiring.

4) People who want to teach despite all of the naysayers.

Teaching is a gift. Teachers are my superheroes. This is a job with a higher calling and I am so thankful to witness greatness in the field on a daily basis. This job has a direct impact on the future and despite all of the obstacles, great people still feel lead to take on this profession. Since the beginning of history, teachers have been instrumental in the fate of humans. This has never been more true than now.

5) The community rallies behind a school

I am so thankful for the families, businesses, organizations, and community members that volunteer
 their time and commit their finances to ensure student success. I get to meet people from all fields and backgrounds with the common goal of making great things happen for kids. I am so thankful for these opportunities and the dedication of the whole community. That is a great lesson for our kids to learn. It truly takes a village.

Have a Happy Thanksgiving!

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Edupreneurship is a Must!

One of the big focus areas in the education world is Career Technical Education. This encompasses a variety of classes that focus on career skills, hands on learning, work experience, and preparing students to work right away upon graduation. This provides students the opportunity to find skills that can allow for them to be employable and adaptable in the job market. Most would agree that their local schools could use more of these types of programs. I would strongly agree with that too. However, there is one thing lacking in our schools that would make this process even better. Our students, not just those involved in CTE programs, should be required to learn finance, entrepreneurship, and marketing before leaving our schools.

It is time that we start teaching our students business skills in school. We all know that there is a strong need for personal finance education in schools, but we also need to teach them how to start and run their own business. There is a different language to finance, business, and economics that our students do not know. We are teaching them to write in schools but are we teaching them to write in a variety of ways that will lead them directly to success in the workforce?

The United States is at a turning point in our economic future. We will need more business to be established and successfully run than ever before. That is why our students must learn these skills in our classrooms. They should be required to:
1) Create a resume, a professional website which includes a professional portfolio, and a social media profile that connects them with others in their desired field.
2) Write a business plan that will be edited by peers, the teacher, and a local community member.
3) Build a prototype or design a sample for their classmates and community to see.
4) Balance a budget to determine their costs versus their projected revenue.
5) Attempt to start their business before graduating.

We you look at the characteristics of a successful entrepreneur, it lines up with what we want from our students. An entrepreneur is self motivated and driven to find success no matter what challenges come their way. An entrepreneur is willing to take risks but is focused on taking calculated risks that will pay off. An entrepreneur is articulate, social, involved in the community, and connect to several other professionals. An entrepreneur never makes the same mistake twice. An entrepreneur is well rounded and makes a difference in the economic success of the community. These are all characteristics that I would like to see in my students.

To some people this list of requirements may seem crazy. To me, I think these are essential skills for the success of our students. We can use state standards and core curriculum to teach these skills. However, schools have never fully taken these concepts and implemented them school wide. This is a step we all must take. We cannot simply rely on the limited amount of business and economics to teach our students these skills. We can set them up for success by teaching them to be entrepreneurs now.

Leading is Teaching

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Creativity...The Key to Challenging Students to be Their Best

I have to admit, I could never color inside the lines as a child. My colorings or drawings were never neat and my glue jobs were even worse. I don't know if it was some kind of early non-conformist act of trying to move beyond the lines of confinement, but I am pretty sure I was just horrible in art. As I was told that we were being "creative" I looked at my neighbors drawing and then mine, and concluded that there was no way that hers and mine could both be "creative," so I guessed that mine was not. As a result, I was convinced that people were either creative or not. In fact, I truly believe that I was not even though I desperately wanted to be. However, when I look back on my education and I look at schools today, I am struck by the thought that we have neglected to truly teach our students the importance and the structure of the creative process.

Creativity has been misused for far too long in our schools. Even now, as it is included in the Four C's as one of the most important 21st Century skills, it is often looked upon as a side note rather than a focus. Creativity is reserved for electives and projects at the end of the semester when everyone has completed their coursework. Most people associate creativity with art, media, drama, and maybe creative writing courses. The perception is that creativity is the glitter you sprinkle on top after completing all of the "real work." We have to break this cycle of thinking.

The truth is that creativity is the key to unlocking the maximum capacity of our students. We have to understand that creativity is the launching point for our students to be engaged, motivated, challenged, and to feel a sense of accomplishment when they complete their work. We as humans are naturally inclined to want to solve problems creatively, come up with creative conclusions to challenging questions, or create things that improve the processes of our lives. If we design projects in our schools where the problem is meaningful, the methods by which the problems are solved are left to the student being challenged, and the outcome is important, the sky is the limit for what a young mind can do.

In his book, "Creative Intelligence: Harnessing the Power to Create, Connect, and Inspire," Bruce Nussbaum explains that great design and innovation come from Knowledge Mining, Framing, Playing, Making, and Pivoting (adjusting for growth and change). This is not free time. This is a structured creative process that we all should implement in our classrooms and schools. Knowledge Mining is the all important skill of researching. Framing includes finding out the problem and the need for a solution within the context. Playing involves the testing of theories, trail and error, and design. Making is the finishing of the product or the answering of the question. Pivoting is making your answer, invention, design, or outcome meaningful to the current climate and purpose. For example, it could be making your design into a business venture.

Why are we not using these fundamental processes of creation in our classrooms today?

In history, there have been great military leaders, athletes, musicians, inventors, scientists, artists, and architects who would be considered children today. These young people achieved greatness because they saw the need for greatness and used their creativity to seize it. Are we asking our students to do these things today? What are we asking them to do with their creativity? They are entering one of the most economically uncertain times in American history, into a workforce that none of us can realistically predict, and into a world that is more globalized than ever before. How do we prepare them for something so intimidating and unpredictable? We have to harness the power of creativity to teach them how to be critical thinkers, collaborators, communicators, and community members. They have to be competent in their ability to problem solve using their creativity. Instead of asking if our classes are rigorous, we should ask if our classes involve the creative process. Because if they do, there is no question about how challenging and worthwhile the learning is. Leading is Teaching.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Teach a Kid to Fish

There are many things students can learn from Kindergarten to their Senior year. They will have between 30 to 40 different teachers in that time span depending on where they go to school. They will additionally have coaches, trainers, tutors, counselors, principals, and more during that time. So the areas in which the students focus their learning are likely diverse due to school philosophies, teacher personalities, student interest, and community identity. Every student will take their core classes of English, Science, Social Science, and Math, but even those subjects can vary in approach and execution from teacher to teacher. However, our students, through all of these years and all of these different teachers, rarely are taught "how to fish."

I don't mean that we are obligated to teach our students literally how to fish. Although I think that is a pretty useful skill. What I mean can easily be described by looking no further than the polynesians. I am a big fan of Hawaiian history because it is part of my ancestry and culture. And I know, as do you, that fundamentally, Hawaiian life is built from the water. By studying Hawaiian history, it is clear to me that Hawaiian's taught their children how to fish. Without that ability, food would not be available and the people would suffer. It simply would not be sustainable. We as modern Americans have a different task with the same importance.

College loan debt and credit card debt amongst young people are growing epidemics in the United States. When you consider that only 60% of college students graduate within 6 years, that is a staggering fact (Friedman, 2008) and that 40 million Americans have college debt (McCarthy, 2014), those are staggering numbers. Yet, are we teaching our students in Middle School and High School to be financially responsible? Their entire life will depend on their ability to provide themselves and their families through financial means. But this curriculum is missing from our classrooms.

The cost of college is climbing daily. The availability of jobs has declined in the last five years. It is more important than ever to "teach our students to fish." We need to teach them what is wise and what is not when working with credit cards. We need to teach them about interest and investment so that they don't bury themselves before they get started. We live in a time where a person can spend most of their working life paying of credit card debt and college loan debt. This doesn't even count home loans and car loans. Financially literacy should be on every student's schedule at least once throughout their time in school. If our job is to prepare them to be successful in life, which it is, then we NEED to teach these skills.

There are two ways in which our schools can do this. First, schools can adopt financial literacy skills that they believe are essential. Then they can implement these skills into projects in English classes and math classes. For example students could write a comparative essay on the use of loans for college as opposed to taking a different route. They could compare mortgages and do a case study on the factors that lead to lower interest rates. Another way that schools could implement this is by taking courses like health, geography, and life skills, and gearing them more toward financial literacy. Design curriculum and courses that allow students to create budgets and set financial goals. Student could work on projects that give them real experience working with realities that will hit them as soon as they leave our schools. All schools would better serve our students and communities by making the change.

It is our responsibility to teach financial literacy to our students. They need to know what is ahead of them. They need to understand what choosing the "right school" or the "right career" truly means. They need to be encouraged to follow their passions, but given guiding steps to not fall face first in their pursuits. Of course English, Math, Science, and History are important. But could we not add financial literacy in that same category of core skills? We have the power to help our students be financially educated adults who understand the negative and positive consequences of their financial decisions. We need to teach them how to fish. Leading is Teaching.


     Friedman, T. (2005). The world is flat: A brief history of the twenty-first century. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

     McCarthy, K. (2014, January 22). 10 Fun Facts About the Student Debt Crisis. Retrieved October 11, 2014, from

Sunday, September 28, 2014

More Time or More Efficiency?

I have always struggled with the notion that hard work is equated with how much time someone puts into a task. There is certainly some value to the idea that the more time you put into a task, the better the outcome. However, efficiency is always more important than time. Time is relative to each task and more time does not necessarily mean a better outcome. For instance, if an apprentice spends hours upon hours studying the manual, but does not get to the hands-on, guided experience with the instructor, he/she will not ever become a master. If the athlete watches film, runs drills, but never gets to run the plays full speed, he/she will not become a great player. These examples are true no matter how much time one puts into studying theory. There has to be efficient time spent performing the experience related task to become successful in that area.

So many times we look at rigor the very same way. Our traditional notion of rigor is spending a lot of time studying. This can be true sometimes as it takes a certain amount of knowledge before someone can put anything into practice. However, spending the short class time we have with an experienced instructor simply listening to them talk is not exactly the true definition of rigor. I have taken classes where I have recorded hundreds of pages of notes but would certainly not consider them rigorous. However, the interpretation of many is that more homework equals more rigor. This could not be further from the truth, especially in middle school and high school classroom.

Teachers are the experts in their field. Time in class is precious. It is not good enough to give direct instruction the whole class period and then send students home to do the actual work. We have to break from this way of thinking. In class, students should be guided into doing hands-on, involved, meaningful work while the teacher is their for support. This is called efficiency and is far better than expecting students to learn by having them spend more time on it at home.

There is nothing wrong with homework. In fact, I think it is a great concept. The problem is that in many settings, it is misused. Homework should enhance the learning experience rather than replace it. Class time has to be the most efficient, effective, and important time in the learning process. Homework, should be expand the learning opportunities and allow for discovery. It shouldn't just be more time. It should actually be beneficial to students rather than an excuse to do more work. Many worry about preparing students for college (how college needs to change is a whole different story). However, teaching students how to research, write, organize, collaborate, and communicate, will prepare them. We will teach them to be intrinsically motivated by teaching them to love learning rather than obscurely tying their achievement to "more time." Students who know how to learn, will be successful in college. They will have the right skills. At that point, they will just have to try.

Our goal is to be more efficient and effective in our classrooms so that students can learn outside of them as well. Leading is Teaching.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Change is a Good Thing. We Make it That Way.

Change is inevitable. It is a part of every person's life and is something that many of us never get used to. We are creatures of habit and it is easiest to live within our comfort zone. We are naturally resistant to change because we feel more comfortable in the way it has always been and most feel like there is little risk in keeping things the way they are. Little do we know that by maintaining status quo, we put our chances of success, adventure, accomplishment, and fulfillment at risk.

Leadership takes the courage, fortitude, and mindset to accept change. Every major movement that has shaped our world has started with a leader who understood the need for change and pursued it rather than running from it. The book, "Three Cups of Tea" is about a man named Greg Mortensen who accepted change after being inspired by people in a small village in mountains of Pakistan. He recognized that the children there needed education to improve their living conditions. Rather than dismiss this idea with excuses like, terrorist threats, lack of infrastructure, and cultural constraints, Mortensen challenged the way things have been by fighting to establish a school for boys and girls to learn. He could have thrown money at the problem like people have in the past, but instead he took a risk and invested into something that he felt was worthy of pursuing. This is a great model for those of us that are afraid of change.

We find comfort in the success of the past. We feel that if it was successful in the past, it can happen again. However, like every good historian would tell you, context changes and therefore so should our approach. Change will happen, but our ability to adapt to it will determine how much success we have beyond it. Embracing change is easier said than done but leaders and change agents are prepared for it.

I think about the ability to change every day that I walk onto my campus. I believe that we are living in the most rapidly changing time the world has ever seen since its creation. Our students are stepping into this world and looking at us to prepare them for it. It is vital to their future that we prepare them for the changes that will inevitably come. There is no pre-packaged curriculum to accomplish this. But great teachers will rise up and create projects and learning opportunities for students that help them to be "change ready." They will teach them the process of inquiry, organization, and execution. They will teach them to work as a team and use their creativity to solve problems.

I want my students to embrace change. I want them to take on every challenge as an adventure and be fully equipped to persist through it. The result of change lies in their reaction to it. Change is a good thing. We make it that way. Leading is Teaching.