Monday, January 15, 2018

Compassion - By action not by proxy

Each year our Novi Middle School students take a trip to Washington DC. As part of that experience we visit the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial.

Our students, familiar with Dr. King because of his legacy and his service to our country, have, like most of us, read or at least listened to his great “I Have a Dream” speech, given on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington DC. On our visit to Washington DC our students visit the Lincoln Memorial and stand in the exact spot where Martin Luther King Junior stood as he looked out on hundreds of thousands of people and uttered those famous lines “I have a dream!” Those words mobilized a generation and today still capture our hopes and our dreams and our best intentions.

But the true genius of Martin Luther King Junior was not the speeches he gave in front of hundreds of thousands of people.
The true genius of Martin Luther King Jr. was not his association with presidents and leaders throughout the world.
No the true genius of Martin Luther King Jr. was his ability to live the words that he so eloquently spoke. When he spoke of making a difference, he lived a life that made a difference. He was able to put into action the words that he spoke about our hopes and dreams.
The true genius of Martin Luther King Jr. was that he not only was able to talk about the importance of supporting one another he was able to live a life that showed he really did care about other people.
Emblematic of this commitment was Dr. King’s last recorded speech. It was given on April 3, 1968, in a church in Memphis, Tennessee. It was a speech given to support the sanitation workers of Memphis, Tennessee. On April 4, 1968, Dr. King would be shot and killed.
Think about that for a moment.
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s last recorded speech was given in a church in Memphis, Tennessee to support . . . garbage men.
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. – Nobel Peace Prize awardee in 1964.
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. – public speaker whose I Have a Dream speech attracted over 250,000 people to Washington DC in April 1963.
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr – honored by presidents and politicians.
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. had the power and the social cachet to do and be almost anything. Yet on April 3, 1968, Dr. King was in Memphis, Tennessee, to speak to and support . . . those who picked up other people’s garbage.
Why would he do that?
A clue is contained in the speech that he gave that evening.
In this speech Dr. King talks about the tendency of people – people like you and me – to engage in “compassion by proxy.”
The tendency of people to talk about the importance of helping other people, the tendency of people to recognize the need other people have, the tendency of people to understand intellectually that there is a problem, the tendency of people to actually see a problem but to not get involved.
Compassion by proxy is the belief that we are compassionate if we recognize and talk about the problem.
Dr. King emphatically and strongly stated that if we believe that we can be compassionate by proxy we are wrong.
Dr. King was clear. Compassion requires investment.
Compassion requires getting out of our office, out of our homes, out of our cars, and into the lives of those we seek to help.
We cannot be truly compassionate if we refuse to visit, help, work with, stand next to, sit with, eat with, talk to, walk with, and be with those who need our help.
We honor Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. because we too believe in what he stood for. We believe in the words of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., words that call us forward to support and help other people.
But we would miss the true intent and the true power of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. if we do not recognize that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. calls us to get involved, to act, to actually do something for others. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. would be glad that we honor him but more importantly Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. would be happier if we actually do the work of being compassionate.
Let each of us commit to action that will make a difference for our community.
Let each of us identify specific things that we can do to support the cause of justice.
Let each of us find ways to help everyone in our community find their voice.
Let each of us not be satisfied with compassion by proxy.
Let each of us become people of action, those that will and do make a difference for others in our community.

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Kids are not numbers

It says I'm overweight!

Right there on the BMI Calculator.

But that's an improvement. According to the BMI, I used to be obese. And, perhaps, I might have been.
But that was over a year ago. Since then I've started exercising more consistently. I'm eating better. I'm eating less.
And I've made progress.

But a number is a number. The problem is a number is not the story. A number helps tell the story but it is not the story.

In schools we sometimes forget that. We test our students. We get a number back. We begin to believe that the number is the kid.

But it is not.

The kid is the kid. The kid has a number - a test score, a grade on a test - but that number is not the kid.

The kid is the kid. And the kid has a story.

I believe that our job is to help the kid tell their story, find the ending that she wants, find the ending that she could have, create a story that is rich, complex, fascinating. That requires that we learn about our students. That requires that we care about our students. That requires that we listen and look and help our students.

That requires that we see beyond the number.

Because the kid is not a number.

The kid is a kid. And the kid has a story.

Saturday, October 7, 2017

Measuring the worth of a school

I sit in an office at Novi High School. Outside I hear the sounds of a marching band.

Today is the Novi High School Marching Band's Annual Fanfare. Marching bands from around the state come to compete against each other, demonstrating remarkable skills and providing quite a show.

It is a culture that I know little about. I was never in a marching band. I played in my school's band from the fifth grade through the 9th grade. But the practice thing proved to be a stumbling block and when I went to high school I did not pursue band.

Looking back on it, that was probably a mistake. Why?

What I have learned as I watch the Novi High School Marching Band is that it is a tremendously powerful and positive culture. It requires a ton of work - marching band camp, lots of practice, learning not only music but how and when and where to move. At times the director, and at times the students, get frustrated.

But through their efforts students learn the value of hard work, discipline, how every one must work together to accomplish a goal. Students learn the value of being part of something bigger than themselves.

What these students do is not measured on a test. What these students do does not get published in the paper. What these students do does not lead the news at night.

But what these students do is tremendously important.

It connects them to the each other. It also connects them to Novi High School. They build relationships with each other and with teachers and staff who push them to excel.

These students have a purpose, a goal, something that they can invest their time and energy in.

When measuring the worth of a high school it is important to remember that a test score is not the only, not the most important, and certainly not the single best factor to consider when deciding if a high school measures up.

Politicians pass laws that purport to be able to measure the worth of a school. Attendance, graduation rates, test scores. Those things are routinely measured and publicized.

I would suggest that there are many other ways to measure the worth of a high school. I would also suggest that being in a marching band may have a greater impact on future success than the performance on a state assessment.

So play on Maestro!

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

A kind surprise

Last Thursday I was headed home. It had been a good day.

But it was late. It was raining. I was ready to be home.

I started my car, wipers turned on, and then I noticed it. A bag. Under my wiper.

I stepped back into the rain, grabbed the bag, mumbled to myself, and sat back down in the car.

That's when I noticed what was stapled to the bag.

It was a gift. Inside the bag was a simple note. It started like this:

And suddenly the night was not as dark, the rain not as noticeable.

It was a simple gesture. But someone had to make the effort. Create the bag. Write the note. Take the time to find my car.

It was deeply appreciated.

In the book "The Seventh Most Important Thing" by Shelley Pearsall, Mr. Hampton is "building heaven." Arthur is assigned to help. Arthur reluctantly, grumblingly is assigned to collect seven things Mr. Hampton needs to build heaven. (It's a great book for families to read with their children in grades 4-8.) 

I used that book as the jumping off spot for our "Welcome Back" meeting with staff in August. What seven things do I need to do my job? What seven things help me as I work to build a great school district?

One of my seven things was kindness.

And on a rainy night, I found a bag, with a note, and a spirit was brightened. All because someone was kind to me.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

What about day two?

On the first day of the 2017-2018 school year, students eagerly entered our buildings.

My question is:

Did we give our students a reason to come back on day two?

I have confidence that our teachers gave our students a reason to look forward to day two. At times it is easy to forget that learning works best when we have a compelling reason to learn. Our students will be eager to learn if, every day, we can provide a compelling reason to invest their time and energy into the process of learning.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

It's summer! Time to read!

It's summer!

Time for baseball, hot dogs, amusement parks, water parks, bike riding, vacations, swimming, fishing, . . .  The list could go on and on. 

One thing to add to the list is reading. Summer is a great time to read.

For students, summer reading is critically important. 

Richard Allington, a reading researcher, suggests that young readers can actually go backwards in the summer.  By the end of 6th grade this accumulated loss during the summer can create a reader who is up to 18 months behind where he or she should be. 

For the rest of us - we can be role models as we read in the summer. More importantly we can enjoy ourselves as we find great stories to entertain and inform.

If you are still hesitant - reading is actually good for you. Reading fiction makes you smarter. It increases your vocabulary and language skills and boosts your emotional intelligence. 

So really you have to read!

What should we read? I'm glad you asked. Here are four great choices. 

Technically these books were published for students in grades 4 - 8. But if you love great writing and engaging stories I would encourage anyone to read them. I enjoyed each of them.

Circus Mirandus by Cassie Beasley. An all time favorite book. It is exceptional!

Miss Bixby's Last Day by John David Anderson. A second all time favorite book. Again, exceptional!
Posted by John David Anderson. A just released novel great for middle school students. I loved it.
Posted by [Anderson, John David]

Pack of Dorks by Beth Vrabel. Story of friendship and learning about who you are. 
Pack of Dorks by [Vrabel, Beth] 

That should get you started.

Friday, May 26, 2017

Trusting numbers more than we should

Research has discovered that calorie counters on apps such as the Apple Watch and Fitbit are, for those of use trying to lose weight, not accurate. The report states:

Even when you're using a tech gadget to track calories out, the results are likely too high to tie to the amount you should or can consume.

Yikes! You mean those four minutes on the elliptical don't really burn 400 calories!

While this is both mildly amusing and annoying, how does this connect to learning?

Look at how I have rewritten the sentence about tech gadgets and calories.

Even when you're using a STANDARDIZED TEST to track LEARNING, the results are likely too high (OR POSSIBLY LOW) to tie to the RESULT TO ACTUAL GROWTH OR PERFORMANCE.

As a society, we have become enamored with test results. We have more data than we can possibly use.

That is true in schools. We give an assessment to identify a student's current performance. If they are below a predetermined threshold we, at times, progress monitor every week, every two weeks, every month to see if the student is improving. We then give a mid-year assessment to see what progress a student is making. We fret over decreases of a point or two and celebrate increases of a point or two.

We are driving ourselves and our students crazy!

We need to assess students. But let's do it reasonably.

Let's assess at the beginning of the year and the end of the year.

In between, let's trust the teacher to be able to identify if a student is making progress. Teachers sit down with students to listen, talk, ask questions, and, because they develop relationships with students and come to know them well, teachers know the progress a student is making.

Standardized assessments are clearly part of the process of coming to know if a student is making progress. But we have to also:


Teachers know more about their students than we are often willing to admit. Let's honor the knowledge and skill of our teachers and recognize that teachers can tell us a lot about whether or not students are learning.