Wednesday, June 15, 2016

This heartache will stop hurting - eventually

As I was driving home from watching the Novi High School girls' soccer team play a Division One State Semi-final game, listening to songs on my phone, Jason Aldean's song "Heartache That Don't Stop Hurting" began playing.
It seemed appropriate.

As I left the stadium our Novi High School girls' soccer team was in various stages of heartache.

They had played a tremendous game, leading for most of the second half. However, as has happened time and time again in sports, our girls had not been able to put the Stoney Creek High School girls away. Stoney Creek scored a late goal and after two scoreless overtime periods, the Novi High School girls lost in a shoot out.

From time to time we debate the value of high school sports. Clearly at times there is an over-emphasis on winning. There are many examples of the adults who are in charge of high school athletics acting irresponsibly. There clearly is an actual financial cost to high school athletics.

But I believe in high school athletics.

One of the reasons I believe in high school athletics is because of what I saw last night. I saw our students with their hearts aching and with tears flowing. Their physical appearance expressed sadness.

These students will never forget that game. Years from now they will look back with regret, minds filled with "what-ifs" and "if we had just . . ."

But our students will also not forget that game because they will recognize - not today, not tomorrow, maybe not for awhile - that success is difficult to achieve. This game came at the end of a long season. They had worked hard. They had suffered through bad-weather games, difficult-field-condition games, very-good-opponent games. Through it all they had managed to find ways to win, reaching within one game of playing for a championship.

And yet - in the end, despite their effort and their commitment - their hearts were hurting.

The lessons that our Novi High School girls' soccer team is learning are lessons that every student in our school district needs to learn. Lessons about effort, commitment, teamwork, collaboration, sacrifice, and support are worth learning. These often are lessons that are not learned from a book. These are lessons that are learned from living life.

And high school athletics helps to teach these lessons.

Not every student participates in high school athletics. Participation in our high school marching band or in our robotics team or our quiz bowl team or our DECA and HOSA student organizations also help teach these lessons. In Novi we invest in comprehensive school athletic and extra-curricular programs because the investment helps our students learn important lessons that prepare them to be successful.

Even if the lessons break their hearts.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Waffles, Pop Tarts, and Starbursts: Navigating a new world

While I like to think of myself as young, there are times when I feel old. This, for example, makes me feel old.

And this . . .

When I was growing up I did not think that the world would care what my breakfast looked like, my feelings on new Pop Tart flavors, or that I liked to eat sweet things. I often shared these deep insights with my friends but I never considered that other people outside of my circle would care.

Evidently times have changed because my twenty-six year old son routinely publishes these kind of pictures on Instagram.

And he is not alone.

Look at Instagram or Snapchat or Twitter or Vine or the host of other social media sites that everyone - even old people like me - post to and access daily. Pictures like these and an infinite variety of other pictures and thoughts are found there - EVERY SINGLE DAY!

That is not to say that this is all social media is used for because social media presents multiple opportunities for people of all ages to find their voice, advocate for important issues, and learn from each other. Twitter, for example, has connected me to educators from around the nation and the world who bring me new and needed perspectives.  

While social media presents multiple opportunities for self-expression, helps people find their voice, encourages collaboration, and provides platforms for advocacy, even my twenty-six year old has come to realize that there is a power in social media that takes time to recognize and to harness.

One of his recent texts to me contained these words:

And it is not just teenagers who struggle to understand this new "responsibility and power." There are numerous examples of adults who have not quite figured out that words and pictures that are posted to Twitter or Instagram or Vine can have consequences.

And that is where the tension rests for us in positions of responsibility in schools.

How do we use social media tools and help students learn without over-reacting?

Social media tools create wonderful opportunities to connect. Social media provides students with an audience. Social media connects students with experts that they would never have had access to before. Social media creates engagement. Social media provides feedback.

But social media also allows students to share more than they should, to share in inappropriate ways, to share way too much.

So where should I draw the line?

Schools are supposed to be places where students can and should learn. But sometimes students act, quite honestly, stupidly. (They are not stupid - they just do stupid things.) Sometimes these acts are unintentional - they quite honestly had no idea that others people would be offended. At other times their actions were quite deliberate - they set out to offend or be provocative or to cross a line or, unfortunately, to threaten.

(To be clear this reflection is not about criminal acts. A threat, a picture purposefully posted to violate another person - these acts, and others, need to be punished both by the school and by the police.)

When my students post comments or pictures, when they share ideas and reflections that are offensive or vulgar or lewd - either with foresight or without - what should my response be?

Students need to learn. Those of us in schools need to teach and model and mentor. When lines are crossed what should be the consequence?

Finding the balance and navigating this new world can be difficult.

Friday, June 3, 2016

Undervaluing our students

Jimbo Fisher is the head football coach of the Florida State Seminoles.

Last season he earned $3.7 million dollars.

This is not a rant on the perverted senses of our American society that is willing to pay a football coach close to four million dollars a year to coach. No, this is a rant about how we undervalue providing support for students and overvalue providing support for athletes.

Sports Illustrated once wrote a column on Coach Fisher and said the following:

Fisher explained that since taking over (as head coach at Florida State), he had hired a nutritionist to monitor what players ate. He had contracted a mental-conditioning coach to change how players thought. He had inherited two strength-and-conditioning assistants, then hired six more and was on the verge of bringing on a seventh to ensure that players received more individual attention in the weight room. Fisher then asked boosters to dig deep because he needed more. He wanted better dorms for the players and an indoor practice facility. 

I am in the midst of planning my 2016-2017 school district budget. We received a $60 per student increase in per pupil funding. That is a .7% increase from this year.

In my district, I hire first grade teachers and third grade teachers and math and Spanish and Japanese and history teachers and expect them to attend to all of the variety of issues that a first or third or eighth or eleventh grade student brings to the classroom. I do not have the luxury of hiring specialists for every issue that students bring into the classroom.

If a student needs to learn to focus, I expect my teacher to help them do that.

If a student has to get organized, I expect my teacher to help them learn to do that.

If a student needs work on the basics, I expect my teacher to help them with that.

When a college football coaches has a need, they spend money to address it.

When teachers have needs, on the other hand, they get busy fixing the problem.

As the 2015-2016 school year barrels to a close I am once again reminded that teachers do amazing things because we continue to undervalue, under-appreciate, and under-fund our students.