Thursday, August 6, 2020

We can find our way

School starts, for my district, in just over a month.

All around me districts are starting to make their decisions on what school will look like in the fall. And no one is happy.

I would hope that we would all agree that no one wants to harm students.

Those of us who work in schools care deeply for the students who walk into our classrooms and into our hearts each day. Our teachers spend six hours a day with these students.
Many spend much more time than that. Coaches, club sponsors, tutors - some teachers are with students eight or nine hours a day.

And there are days when magic happens.
When students see and think and learn things that they never would have without a teacher guiding them, it is truly amazing. And when that happens, everyone - students, teachers, and even Superintendents - understand the power that comes when students are with each other and with a caring and committed teacher.

And parents depend on public schools. To teach content. To teach collaboration and cooperation. To teach lessons that are hard to teach at home.

And schools also provide a safe place for kids. Every single day.

But we find ourselves in an unusual circumstance this year. A public health crisis that started in January, that forced the closure of schools in March, and that continues to linger through the summer has changed the context for this fall. Now, we are not only worried about first days and academics and homework, we are also worried about our health.

What I know to be true is this - we can find our way.

There is no one perfect option. There is no one size fits all solution. There is no choice that does not come with risk and downside.

But the adults have to agree that we can find our way.

Our children are watching us to see how we will travel this road.

Will we talk to one another? Or will we shout instead?

Will we find common ground? Or will we cling to and defend "my" idea?

Will we work together? Or will we fall apart?

I wish I had the answer. I wish I knew exactly what to do. I wish whatever choice was made would be guaranteed to work.

But it doesn't work that way.

Instead, we must agree that we will proceed down the road intending to do what is right for our students and our children. If we must change course, we will. If we must pick up the pace, we will. If we must slow down, we will.

What I know is - together we can find our way.

Monday, June 1, 2020

Thoughts on where to go from here

As a parent you have had to deal with a lot this year. The pandemic. The arguments between people over wearing masks. Now the death of a black man. Protests and then conflict throughout the country.

In the movie To Kill a Mockingbird, Atticus Finch tells his son Jem, “Lot of ugly things in this world. Wish I could keep them all away from you, but I can’t.”

In 2020, there have been a lot of ugly things. 

The most recent example happened in Minneapolis with the killing of George Floyd. 

As a parent it’s hard to know how to talk with your children. 

As parents we want to protect our children. Keep the ugly things away.

I would encourage you to help your children and your students understand the hard, ugly things that we see in this world. Look for clues from your children. Listen. Be honest. Help them understand and process the ugly things.

In my school district, we pride ourselves on accepting people, celebrating our diversity. But the truth is there is ugly in the world. Not everyone celebrates differences. Not everyone believes that someone who is different is equal or worthy or important.

As a parent, as a teacher, as someone who believes that there are things worth fighting for, it is up to us to help our children, our students, learn about the ugly in the world and find ways to make it better. It is our responsibility.

It will be difficult. We’ll make mistakes. 

But to hide the ugly is worse.

While we can’t be together because of the pandemic, we can support one another through phone calls and emails and text messages.

So let’s trust each other. We can help our children. We can help each other.

Tuesday, May 5, 2020

What teachers do you remember today?

Mr. Robbins was my 6th grade teacher. He was a good teacher. I am sure that he helped me learn the content standards and prepared me for the academic rigors of junior high and high school.

But that's not why I remember Mr. Robbins.

I remember Mr. Robbins because he was kind to me.

In 6th grade I needed a person in my school whom I could count on to be kind to me. And Mr. Robbins was that person.

In 10th grade, Ms. Ely was my English teacher. Instead of letting me coast through my sophomore year of high school she made me do a lot of work. She pushed me to become a better reader and writer. I didn't like her at times because she never let me off the hook.

In 10 grade I needed a person in my school whom I could count on to push me. And Ms. Ely was that person.

Today, the first Tuesday in May, Tuesday, May 5, is Teacher Appreciation Day. Take a moment to remember those teachers who made a difference in your life. Not every teacher I have had has been memorable. But the ones who have been - they were outstanding.

I hope that you can remember teachers from your past that gave you just what you needed. Teachers who were kind or who pushed you or who made you feel like you mattered.

In our district, the Novi Community School District, we have great teachers. I have been in their classrooms. I have seen them in action. They make a difference for the children of our community.
So on this Teacher Appreciation Day , I honor teachers. Thank you for making a difference!

Friday, April 10, 2020

Our students don't just need a device

We are closed.

Governor Whitmer ordered all K-12 schools in Michigan to close beginning March 16. Originally, we had hoped that we would reopen in April.

That fleeting hope was dashed on April 2nd when the Governor closed schools for the rest of the year.

Those who believe in technology have jumped in to extol the value of online learning. Who needs a classroom? Just provide every student a laptop and an internet connection.

Problem solved.

I would disagree.

While it is true that learning can occur online, students need more than a device. 
Students need caring adults in their lives who know them, try to understand them, support them, push them, and care deeply for them.

Our kids don't just need a device.

They need adults - who are not their parents - demonstrating to them that they are worth it.
  
Our Novi teachers do more than just feed students content. They encourage. They motivate. They challenge. They support. They create an environment where students not only learn but also develop a sense of themselves - who they are and who they can become.

And not only our teachers. We have bus drivers, secretaries, paraprofessionals, support staff who spend more time with the children in our district than their parents do. And each of them makes a difference for our students. 

During our pandemic closure, I am doing a read aloud every day. It is hoped that it does some good. The book we are currently reading is Ms. Bixby's Last Day by John David Anderson.

In one passage Ms. Bixby, the 6th grade teacher, tells Topher, her student:

We all have moments when we think nobody really see us.
When we feel like we have to act out or be somebody else just to get noticed.
But somebody notices Topher. 
Somebody sees.

Our Novi Community School District staff - teachers, administrators, secretaries, paraprofessionals, bus drivers, lunch support, hall monitors, tech staff - see. Our staff see our students. They notice. They care.

This caring relationship provides our students with a floor to stand on, to grow from, to become whom they were meant to become.

The process is messy. The process is slow at times.

But people make the difference.

In a virtual learning environment devices are clearly important.

But what's most important during this pandemic closure is to remember that our students need more than a device.

They need us.

Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Yes, things have been lost

We must admit that we have suffered a loss.

Many, in fact.

Physical.

Grandfathers and grandmothers. Parents. Siblings. Best friends. They have died. Been taken from us by a killer none of us knew about just a few short months ago.

By now we all know of coronavirus - COVID-19. It has disrupted life in ways small and large.

None bigger than the actual ending of life. We grieve along with those who have suffered this loss of life. Words cannot express what they feel, what we feel, how both parties ache.

Some of these losses will haunt those who have lost. They could not be present because of hospital rules and significant concerns about who might be infected. So some of those we have lost were alone. And that hurts and haunts and brings us to our knees.

And there are other losses.

A high school senior year disrupted.

Prom? Probably gone.

Graduation? Up in the air. Almost gone. More than likely altered at least.

The spring sports team? Probably done. 

The final band, orchestra, choir concert? The final dance? The scholarship breakfast? The senior picnic, last day of school? All hang in the balance.

No matter how many people say we will get through this, that we will look back on this and remember the lessons that we learned, what we know now is that we have lost.

So let us give ourselves time to grieve. To ache. To let our hearts break.

It is OK.

We can't stay here forever. At some point we must pick up and move on.

But right now, we can hurt. Don't tell me there is a silver lining, a lesson to be learn, that it is part of a bigger plan.

Just sit with me. Share my pain. Let me know that you care. Let me know that you understand . . . that things have been lost.

Be quiet. Be kind. Be there.

Thursday, March 5, 2020

It's a broken heart . . . it's supposed to hurt

Last night, as I sat in our Novi High School National Honor Society induction ceremony, two of our Novi High School winter sports teams were competing in the state playoffs.

Both lost.

But that does not tell the whole story.

Winter sports is a grind. The season seems long. It stretches from one calendar year to the next. It encompasses holidays. The weather outside can be dismal.

Yet, these student athletes practice each day, show up on game day, give everything they have.

Our Novi High School girls basketball team had the lead at halftime against a perennial power. Unfortunately, the second half did not go our way and the girls lost.
Our Novi High School boys hockey team also played a perennial power. The game went to three overtimes. Our goalie stopped 54 shots, but, ultimately, the boys also lost.


Today, by chance, I bumped into our hockey coach. He said two important things. First, it hurt. Second, this is what high school sports is all about.

I am sure that our girls and boys hearts are heavy today. Both teams had a chance. You play to win. And it did not happen.

That hurts.

But it is the chance you take when you play the game. These athletes knew going in that only one team a season wins the last game of the year. Only one team celebrates. The rest have their hearts broken.

And that is the beauty of high school sports. Participating in athletics helps learn lessons that may not be learned in the classroom. Winning is fun. But the lessons learned can, and may, define a lifetime. 

Hard work.

Grit.

Planning.

Practice.

Creativity.

Curiosity.

Team work.

Collaboration.

Communication.

These lessons and many more are learned as our students engage in our athletic program.

Broken hearts will heal.

And the lessons learned will, hopefully, help our students continue to have confidence as they move forward with their lives.

Friday, February 28, 2020

Let's support, not retain, our 3rd grade students

What if I told you that the state of Michigan was mandating that by the end of 3rd grade all students needed to be 52 inches tall – that’s almost 4 ½ feet. That’s the average by the way.

If a student is not 52 inches by the end of 3rd grade he or she would be retained and would need to repeat 3rd grade. 

I could argue that I am not punishing the child. I’m just doing this for their own good. Small children get teased. Small children are weaker. They could fall behind. They can’t keep up. They will experience failure in some tasks. 

What if I told you that those children who are not 52 inches by the end of 3rd grade would be retained? 

You would say that I am nuts!

And I would agree.

Because in 3rd grade, students are not the same age. Some could be almost eleven months older than their friends. Plus, parents come in different sizes – genetics influence how tall the child will be. Plus nutrition. Sleep. Allergies. Lots of things influence growth.

You might argue that instead of holding students back, maybe we should just support them. Help them be successful. Provide support if and when it is needed. Let them stay with their friends. Let them grow, with support from us. 

That seems reasonable. 

What if I told you that the state of Michigan was mandating that by the end of 3rd grade all students needed to be at or near proficient in reading or they would need to repeat 3rd grade?

Does that make sense?

Kids need to read. On that I think we would all agree.

But, 3rd graders can be almost eleven months different in age. 3rd graders can have significantly different home literacy environments. 3rd graders can have different levels of support in their communities. 3rd graders develop at different paces.

Instead of retaining 3rd graders, we need to support 3rd graders. And while we are at it, we need to support 2nd graders and 1st graders and kindergarten students and preschool students. 

What we need to do is have reading specialists in every building who can support students who struggle. 

What we need to do is ensure that our teachers know and understand literacy and can intervene strategically when necessary, 

What we need to do is create class sizes that are manageable. 

What we need to do is provide public libraries that support our students. 

What we need to do is support parents so they can support their children and improve their literacy.

What we need to do is encourage parents to read to their children every day, talk to their children every day about meaningful things, and love their children so their children have confidence.

Let me repeat, kids need to read. But, punishing them by retaining them is not the answer.

Research demonstrates that retention is not an effective strategy. Early retention has a number of negative side effects and does not help close the gap or promote success.

What does work is having high quality classrooms in schools that have resources to intervene early and with effective instructional strategies. 

So in Novi, we will be exercising the legally allowed Superintendent good cause exemption for students whose 3rd grade test scores indicate that they might be struggling in reading. We will learn each child’s strengths and weaknesses. We will treat each child as an individual. We will also continue to provide high quality instruction and support from interventionists as appropriate. We will work with families to identify family literacy practices that will make a difference. We will promote these students to 4th grade.

Kids need to read. In Novi, we will work to make sure that all of our students have the support they need to be successful and that we continue to prepare them for their future.