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.