Friday, December 14, 2018

A wrong solution for Michigan's schools

"Stacked rankings" are the business equivalent of education's bell curve for grades. A few "A's" and "F's" and a whole lot of "C's".

Microsoft has used stack rankings. Some argue that it led to Microsoft's "lost decade"; a loss of collaboration and creativity. 

Every current and former Microsoft employee I interviewed—every one—cited stack ranking as the most destructive process inside of Microsoft.
Kurt Eichenwald
Vanity Fair, August 2012

HB 5526 (page 68), recently passed by the Michigan House and forwarded to the Michigan Senate has a "stacked rankings" component. It requires the following when grading schools:

While the language is not clear, the intent is very clear. Similar schools will be grouped and compared to one another. This requires some schools to get an "A" grade and some to get an "F" grade.
Stacked ranking - enshrined in state law.

Microsoft thinks so much of it that they have abandoned it. Brustein says that "corporate America has largely lost confidence in management programs that jam employees onto bell curves."

Yet, HB 5526 requires failure.


The cynical side of me is inclined to believe that it is because those opposed to public schools want to ensure that there will be failures. 

This model refuses to accept that all schools within a class or grouping could be doing well. 

Why not create a real system that honestly evaluates what is occurring without mandating that there be failure? 

Secondly, there is an assumption in this bill that schools can be grouped by similar characteristics. That may be true in general but not in specifics. Any one who has been in schools knows that each school has its own culture, its own unique characteristics that make it different from every other school.  

But HB 5526 requires that within this narrow band of similar schools some schools will fail.

What this means is that a school with high performance could receive a low grade when compared to others within its "class." However, a school with lower performance may receive a high grade when compared to schools within its class.

The bills sponsors say this, and other provisions of the law, are done to give parents clarity on school performance. This bill does nothing of the sort.

Public schools are doing good work. Instead of mandating failure let's create a system that honors the hard work and the success is occurring in public schools.

Thursday, December 13, 2018

When the grade is wrong

The Michigan House passed a bill that will soon pass the Michigan Senate and be sent to Governor Rick Snyder for his signature. It is almost assured that he will sign this legislation. 

Among other things it will require each school to receive a letter grade of A-F not later than September 2019 in the following areas:
  •  Proficiency on state assessments in math and English Language Arts
  • Student growth on state assessments in math and English Language Arts
  •  Growth of English Language Learners
  • Graduation rate of high school students
  • The academic performance of students on state assessments compared to student performance in schools serving a similar population
The legislation also requires that beginning in September 2019 each school shall receive a ranking of significantly above average, above average, average, below average, or significantly below average in each of these categories:
  •  Rate of pupils who are chronically absent
  •  Participation rate on state assessments
  • Pupil subgroup performance (typically these are racial/ethnic categories but also include special education and English Language Learners) on state assessments compared to statewide performance
This advocates for letter grading and these rankings suggest that this will make schools more accountable and will lead to improved performance. 

This is a lie.

I was clear with our state legislators that I was opposed to this legislation for several reasons. First, it was not needed. The Michigan School Data website already provides parents with a dashboard of information. This dashboard provides relevant information on every school in Michigan in easy to understand charts and graphs. 

No letter grades are provided on the Michigan School Data website because they are not needed. The information is clear. Letter grades would not add any appreciable information or clarity that is not already available.

Second, letter grades and rankings cannot summarize a school’s character and performance. Even dashboards do not reveal the culture, climate, individuality, or resources of a school. Letter grades certainly do not do provide that information.  

The letter grade bill does not provide a parent or community member with any of the following information:
  • Class sizes
  • Available Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate classes
  • Available advanced classes at all levels
  • Available extra-curricular activities
  • Available curriculum in science, social studies, art, music, physical education, library/media
  • Instructional support available in math and reading
  • Dedicated space for art, music, library
  • Teacher turnover rates
  • Availability of extra experiences in science, technology, engineering, and math
  • Available technology in the schools
There are many other factors that this letter grade bill does not provide information on that are relevant and important to parents as they consider whether a school is a school to which they would want to send their children. But this bill ignores those factors because it is a bad bill.

But now it is law. And schools will suffer. The law does nothing to improve schools. In fact it will lead schools to focus on these factors at the exclusion of providing students with other experiences that are meaningful and important. 
  • Why promote science when the school will not receive a grade in that subject?
  • Why promote social studies when the school will not receive a grade in that subject?
  • Why have Advanced Placement, International Baccalaureate, or a rich and deep curriculum then the school will not be graded or rated in those areas?
  • Why promote the arts when schools will not receive a grade in that subject?
  • Why create Maker Space classrooms and provide those experiences when schools will not receive a grade in those experiences?
  • Why provide a dedicated media specialist and a dedicated media center when schools will not receive a grade for that?
The legislation requires "similar schools" to be compared and graded against one another. Some may argue that is fair. But the circumstances and context of an individual school are not taken into consideration. Only the performance in reading and math will be considered. What will result is a school that pays attention to student mental health or provides great after school activities or provides reading and math support will be graded low in their "similar school" ranking even though they score higher in reading and math than the majority of schools in the state.

This bill will not improve schools. It has the real possibility to make things worse as schools, in an effort to improve a grade, narrow curriculum and reduce opportunities for students. 

Chasing a grade has never proved to be a good strategy to learn deeply. 

This letter grade legislation will not improve schools in Michigan. In fact, it will make things worse.

Sunday, November 25, 2018

It’s not even December!

With Thanksgiving in the rear view mirror, it is now time to turn our attention to the more important things in life. What’s more important than than taking time to reflect on our blessings and give thanks?

Nothing really. Being grateful, for things large and small, can be a wonderfully, powerfully positive part of life.

Unless you’re a student. Then the most important thing in the world is wondering when the first snow day will come. And that all depends on whether or not your Superintendent has a heart.

For Superintendents snow days are “no win” days. Whatever you do, someone will criticize the decision.

As a Superintendent, we obviously believe that being in school is important. Learning. Building relationships. Stoking curiosity. Laying strong foundations. Providing opportunities. All those things happen at school. And it’s all important.

But Superintendents also recognize that student and staff safety are important as well. Getting safely to and from school is not something on which to take chances.

Well, as fate would have, tonight I am worried about the weather. And it’s only November 25th.

So tonight I will talk with other Superintendents and a weatherman about what will happen in the next few hours. Then I will arise at 4:00 AM to see what has happened and wonder about what will happen.

And then I will make a decision.

But really . . . it’s not even December!

Friday, November 9, 2018

How much is time worth?

We can invest our time in many ways.

For the last several days, thirty-one Novi Community School District staff members and I have invested about 90 hours in, with, and for 367 Novi Middle School students on their trip to Washington DC. We left at 5:00 AM on a rainy Tuesday morning and will return home around midnight Friday night.

We’ve seen a lot.

Art galleries.

But was the time worth it?

The thirty-one Novi staff members think so. As do I.

But why exactly?

The answer is complicated.

If the goal was to ensure that our students learned history and civics and the importance of informed citizens participating in their democracy, we probably failed.

That’s not to say that what we did had no impact on their knowledge of our country or our government. But those of us who are much older are still trying to figure out how democracy and debate and civic participation work.

And they are in 8th grade.

If the goal was to inspire our students by exposing them to the American spirit as seen in the Museum of American History or the Air and Space Museum or the Museum of African American History and Culture, we probably failed. These students saw a lot on their visit but measuring the impact of seeing the Spirit of St. Louis airplane or the flag that inspired the Star Spangled Banner is difficult.

And they are in 8th grade.

Still, at times one could sense that these students were trying to figure things out.

When we saw the name of a former Novi resident on the Vietnam War Memorial or the names of fallen police officers at the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial, these students were amazingly reflective.

When we stood inside the US Capitol Rotunda, these students were filled with awe.

When our guide shared the story of September 11, 2001, at the Pentagon Memorial and we stood over the youngest victim’s marker, I had a sense they were really trying to sort out the world in which we live.

This trip is about those things. But it is about other things as well.

One of the most important parts of this trip is for these 367 students to see that there are adults who care deeply for them. Not because of their grades or their looks or their families.

No. These adults care for these 367 students because each one is unique and challenging and funny and young. And these adults want them to have a chance in this world.

And that is why these adults invest almost 90 hours of their lives. So that these young adults can have a foundation on which to build their lives. These adults invest so that these young students can have memories that they may use to continue to build our world.

Time well invested.

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

To the parents of Bus #5

November 6th is Election Day.

Please vote.

November 6th is also the day that I board a bus bound for Washington DC.

I might add that also with me on this bus - Bus #5 - will be 3 teachers and 47 8th grade students. 

Please send good thoughts our way.

We are part of the Novi Middle School 8th grade trip.
  • 8 buses
  • 27 teachers
  • 1 Assistant Principal
  • 1 school police liaison officer
  • 1 Board of Education member
  • 1 school nurse
  • And me - the Novi Community School District Superintendent. 
We board buses at 5:00 AM Tuesday, November 6th, and return home by midnight on Friday, November 10th. Over 350 8th graders and their chaperones on a four-day journey to Washington DC and back.

I have been on this trip five previous times. On my first trip in 2012, a norovirus swept through our merry band of travelers. Let me just say it was not pretty.

I am sure it will not happen again.

Why do we do this?

To learn history, of course. To see the US Constitution displayed in the Rotunda of the National Archives Building. To see the changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery. To think and reflect on Thomas Jefferson and Martin Luther King Jr. and the Vietnam War Memorial.

Your sons and daughters can at times be very reflective, understand the enormity of a moment, see with clarity how what they are studying about history in Novi, Michigan, connects with the larger world they live in.

But, at times, we are reminded that they are 8th graders. 

On one trip, as we sat in Ford's Theater, a student listened to the guide and asked earnestly, "Wasn't President Lincoln shot in a theater?" The answer, of course, was "Yes. Yes President Lincoln was shot in a theater. In fact, he was shot in this very theater."

So, at times, the lessons of history are not as clear as we think them to be.

And that is when I am reminded that there are other purposes for this trip.

The Washington DC trip is educational.

But it is also about other things.

It is about 8th grade students learning to navigate social situations on a bus for ten to twelve hours. It is about 8th grade students keeping track of their own suitcase. It is about 8th grade students listening to adults who are not their parents. It is about 8th grade students problem solving how to charge a phone. It is about 8th grade students being with friends.

I am glad that our students - your sons and daughters - have this chance, can experience this trip in this way.

It will provide lasting memories.

And, if we are lucky, it will reinforce that we are fortunate to have each other.

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Wishes can come true

Every year . . .

People come from all over town to adorn me with
scraps of paper, tags, bits of fabric, snippets of yarn,
and the occasional gym sock.
Each offering represents a dream, a desire, a longing. . .

They're all hopes for something better.
Katherine Applegate

In the Novi Community School District, we have wishes. For our students. for our colleagues. For ourselves. 

In August, at the beginning of our school year, we started our school year thinking about what our wishes for the school year would be. I asked our staff to write down their wishes. 

But now, eight weeks into the school year it is sometimes hard to remember what we wished for in August. Early mornings, late nights, grading papers, walking the dog, dropping off and picking up children, remembering to do the laundry, trying to remember everyone's name.

Life takes a toll.

So today, October 23rd, was our first Novi WishTree Day of the year. It was a day for the Novi Community School District staff to remember and reflect on our wishes for the school year and to recommit to working to make them come true.

Bob Marley (yes that Bob Marley) is reported to have once said, "The people who are trying to make this world worse off aren't taking a day off. How can I?"

In that spirit, our Novi WishTree Day was a chance for our Novi staff to wish again on this school year. 

Thursday, September 13, 2018

Some things work . . . Some things do not

We know what works and, just as importantly, what doesn't work.

(That doesn't mean that new ideas, new ways of doing things, new practices won't be found. Of course they will and those new ways of doing things will improve our work tremendously.)

But, for now, let's focus on what we do know.

Some things work. 

Some things do not.

Let's do what works.

School teachers and administrators have the What Works Clearinghouse. This website states its purpose is to provide "educators with the information they need to make evidence-based decisions."

Doctors and patients have Choosing Wisely - a site dedicated to promoting "conversations between clinicians and patients by helping patients choose care that is supported by the evidence, not duplicative of other tests or procedures already received, free from harm, and truly necessary."

If we know what to do and what not to do why do we choose poorly? Daniel Niven, a physician who studied why doctors did not abandon practices that were not effective, reported in a New York Times article that:

Even if the new contradictory science is accepted, providers often struggle applying this information in their daily clinical practice.

There are reasons for why those of us who are supposed to now better do not change.
  1. We work in systems that do not adapt well to change. 
  2. We are stubborn.
  3. We don't keep up with the science in our field.
  4. We trust our gut more than the evidence.
My wish is that those of us in schools, those of us charged with making sure that our students learn, must be willing to use best practice, look at the evidence, and change when we need to and stay the course when it is appropriate.

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Trust is earned

I walk into a classroom and see a nineteen first grade students. They are, even at this young age, all shapes and sizes and colors. Tall. Short. Stout. Slim. Brown. Black. White.

It often takes my breath away.

What these first grade students don't know but I do is that some are rich, some are poor. Some have parents with advanced college degrees, some have parents who have only a high school diploma. Some students live in a half-million dollar house, some live in a trailer park.

And yet here these nineteen students sit, listening to their teacher and to each other. Each with a unique set of experiences, each adding to the rich tapestry of this first grade classroom.

These nineteen students sit in this classroom because their parents trust us. Parents trust us to see the uniqueness in their child. Parents trust us to look beyond the color of their child's skin, the accent of their language, the clothes that their child is wearing to see who and what their child is and who and what their child can become.
Atul Gawande recently gave the commencement address at U.C.L.A. Medical School and he said,

. . . trust is earned because of your values, your commitment to serving all as equals, and your openness to people’s humanity. 

A continuing, abiding, deeply-held value of those who work in public schools is that our schools should provide a place - a meaningful place - for everyone. We sometimes fail and stumble, but our core value is that public schools should provide a high quality experience for every student.

We begin to lose the trust of our parents when our parents begin to believe that we are sorting and separating our students. When parents see and believe that we, public school educators, are seeing some students as worthy of including and some students as less than that.

I believe in public education. But public education means that I have a moral obligation to provide a high quality, engaging experience for any student who walks through the door. I must believe that.

Even though my students do not come to me with the same experiences, the same resources, the same foundation, I must see in every student possibility, promise, potential.

Public schools are for all students.

That is the core principle of public education. Anyone who comes to the door of a public school is welcomed. 

And not just welcomed, but invited in with the promise that those inside will care for, challenge, comfort, protect, encourage, motivate, love, honor, and educate them.

We have not always lived up to that core principle. There are far too many instances where some students are valued less than others. Students with disabilities. Students of color. Students who look, sound, dress differently have historically been denied some of the benefits of a free and appropriate public education.

But the goal remains the same. Our public schools do not turn anyone away. If you show up at our door, the promise is that we will educate you.

Rich students and poor students.

Students from two parent families. Students with only a mother. Students with only a father. Students living with grandparents. Students living with aunts and uncles.

White students. Black students. Brown students. Students who speak English and students who don't.

Straight students. Gay students. Students who struggle with their identity.

In my district we have over 55 different languages from around the world spoken in the homes of my students. We don't have an ethnic majority - no race/ethnicity is over 50% of the student population.

We have students living in one of the wealthiest zip codes in the country and students who qualify for free and reduced lunches.

My district reflects the changing demographics of the United States. My district reflects the promise of public education, of public schools.

We earn the trust of our students, our parents, and our community when we live our values - that education is for everyone who walks through the door.

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

We are in this together: It's not us vs. them

Easy answers are easy to find.

An opinion piece recently was posted on the CNN website. It heralded the Supreme Court's recent decision regarding union dues. I am not here to discuss the merits of that decision.

What I would like to discuss is what was written in the first paragraph of the editorial when it states that with this decision the US Supreme Court provided an opportunity to overcome "two of the biggest obstacles to transforming education in America: the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers."

That's an easy answer. But, in my opinion, it's not true.

I am not here to defend teachers' unions. But suggesting that they are two of the biggest obstacles to transforming education is not right.

The author makes no mention of things like:

poverty, racial discrimination, depression among children and teens, parental involvement, second languages, community support, funding, preschool education, the availability of public libraries, hunger, the impact of social media, an over reliance on testing,

In my opinion these are bigger obstacles to transforming education.

The teachers I work with everyday in my school district search for ways to make a difference. This year a team of teachers at our high school teamed up to support students who struggled and over 80% of those students earned credit they would not have earned without that intervention, credit towards graduation. We have 2nd grade teachers who have started a garden club to help 2nd grade students learn a variety of valuable lessons - both inside and outside of the curriculum. We have teachers who pay for students' lunches. We have teachers who make sure that every student hears his or her name every single day.

The vast majority of these teachers are union members. Their union supports them. That is not to say that they do these things because they are union members but being a union member is important to them.

Unions have professionalized education. Better wages. Better working conditions. Protections for teachers from people like me - administrators who are sometimes arbitrary and capricious and expect outcomes that cannot be achieved without fundamental changes in society. Unions have helped to identify what works in classrooms and with students, have raised relevant questions about how what goes on outside of classroom and school affects what goes on inside the classroom and school, and have, overall, exerted a more positive than negative impact over the course of their long history. 

I agree that unions have at times strayed from a laser-like focus on the issues that are relevant to classrooms, teachers, and improving schools.

Perhaps the point being made in this opinion piece was that teachers should have a choice as to whether they should belong to the union. If so make that the headline.

Suggesting that educational reform has been stymied by unions is to ignore the fact that teachers and their union leadership have fought for our students and fought to improve our schools for many years in large and small ways.

Are they always right? No.

Do they make mistakes? Yes.

Can they do better? Absolutely.

But are they part of the answer to improving education in my state and my district? I believe that they have been in the past and can and will be in the future.

Do we need to improve education in the United States? Absolutely! But we will never get to that conversation if we continually make the conversation about other things.

When we demonize institutions and people, when we artificially create us vs. them relationships, when we say if we could just change this one thing and everything will be OK, we prevent real dialogue and collaboration on really important issues. I would hope that we could move past attacks that seek to divide us and find ways to work with each other so that our students will ultimately benefit.

Friday, June 29, 2018

Can breaking and filling hearts teach lessons?

A lot can happen in two years.

Two years ago as I left Stoney Creek High School, our Novi High School girls' soccer team was heartbroken. Defeated in a shootout in the state soccer semifinals. 

Two weeks ago as I left Williamston High School our Novi High School girls' soccer team was joyful. Victorious in a 1-0 Division One championship game! 
This picture shows the joy and heartbreak. One team celebrates a championship. One team suffers in defeat.

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. I've seen teams lose and I've seen teams win. But the value is not in the outcome. The value is in the process.

High school athletics teaches lessons that cannot be learned in a classroom. In the afterglow of the championship or in the crushing sadness of defeat the lessons may not be readily apparent. But both teams will at some point begin to recognize that success is difficult to achieve and not guaranteed.

This game came at the end of a long season for both teams. Each team had worked hard to get to this point. 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. And now they would play for a championship.

One team won. One team lost.

But valuable lessons were learned. Lessons about effort, commitment, teamwork, collaboration, sacrifice, and hard work are worth learning. These often are lessons that are not learned from a book. These are lessons that are learned from living life.

And often the lessons are learned in ways that can break or fill a heart.

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. Novi, like school districts all over Michigan and all over the United States, invest in comprehensive school athletic and extra-curricular programs because the investment helps our students learn important lessons.

Lessons that at times can break or fill a heart.

Thursday, May 3, 2018

What do I see today?

As I drove down the road, the sun set before my eyes. It was glorious. I had to take a picture.
Realizing this was a pretty silly thing to do while I was driving, I stopped along the side of the road to take another picture. And watch.
No other car stopped. Traffic continued to fly by. Nobody it seemed was noticing - but me.

Every day incredible, wonderful, beautiful things go on all around me.

How often do I fail to see?

How often do I instead focus on those things that are not so incredible, not so wonderful, not so beautiful? How often do I not see the things that will bring me joy?

An age is called dark not because the world stops producing beauty. An age is called dark because people fail to see.

Friday, April 13, 2018

Why teachers are willing to look foolish

Here he was . . .
A grown man.

Inside a bubble.

Knocked flat by an 8th grader during a spirited game of Bubble Ball Soccer.

Legs splayed, students cheering.

Not everyone is meant to be a teacher. And this is one of the reasons why.

When you are a teacher you are willing to become vulnerable, exposed.

When you are a teacher it is you and twenty-two or twenty-seven or thirty-three students. Every minute. Every hour. Every day. For hours a day those faces look to you for guidance, for direction, for a way forward.

The faces of those students will let you know when you are awful at your job. Depending on their age they may even tell you when you are awful.

Vulnerable. Exposed.

But they will also erupt in joy, a smile spread across their face, a sparkle in their eye when the struggle pays off, when understanding comes, when their vision becomes reality.

To be a teacher means that you are willing to admit when you don't know an answer, to talk about how you struggle to find just the right word to finish your essay, how you get scared when you try to learn something new.

When you are a teacher you are willing to express your enthusiasm for history or solving complex problems or visiting museums. When you are a teacher you talk passionately about why you learn, how you learn, your longing to learn.

And at times your students will not understand. But, in time, you hope they will. 

Vulnerable. Exposed.

And you are willing to get into a bubble and play soccer knowing that you will look foolish because you understand that vulnerability breaks down barriers, open doors, cements relationships that can, at some point, lead to learning. And for that you are willing to be  . . .

Vulnerable. Exposed.

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Tools to talk to kids about tragedy

The school tragedy in Florida makes most of my week’s activities seem trivial. I know what I do and what I talk about will be important, but it pales when considering the events in Florida.

Today, I want to be in my school district, walking the halls, reassuring teachers, saying hello to students, calming parents.

Doing that would calm me.

But more must be done. Our students need us - the adults - to help them process the news. However, we - the adults - have a hard time processing tragedies like this as well.

Here are two resources that might help.

We need to do more. Pass legislation. Reform existing laws. Support mental health initiatives. But those actions can wait for another day.

Today and tomorrow, and in the days to come, let’s make sure we can help our children talk about and reflect upon another day of terrible news. 

Thursday, February 8, 2018

When the kids are swearing at me

"You should be mad," they said to me.

"I would never let kids talk to me like that," they said.

"These kids should be punished. They were very disrespectful," they said.

What did I do that made all of these kids mad?

I didn't call a snow day.

When we were in school most of us loved snow days. The unexpected day off. The sweet bliss of ignoring homework, staying up late, sleeping in. The interruption of the routine.

As the Superintendent the actual snow day is fun. Getting to the snow day - not so much.

I happen to believe that school matters. I know that learning can take place anywhere and that learning certainly is not confined to the hours of the school day.

But school potentially provides an enriching environment. Students lives are enriched when they feel safe, when they have positive peer interactions, when they have some structure and discipline to their day, when they experience new things, when they are challenged to think in ways that they have not thought before.

Being in school provides those experiences.

More importantly, students lives are enriched when they have positive interactions with adults who are not their parents. Students lives are enriched when school teachers and administrators and counselors and secretaries know students' names, ask about their lives, push, mentor, guide, and support them.

Those things happen in schools every single day.

So not being in school is a big thing to me.

But on occasion, it is not safe to be in school. A power outage, a water main break - there are a host of things that can make school not a safe place.

In Michigan, during the winter, snow is the thing. Getting to school. Getting home from school. Making sure teachers and students can arrive on time and safely is of utmost importance.

This year, on Super Bowl Sunday, it started to snow. But it was during the day. Our maintenance crew was on it, getting the plows out early. Our city sent their plows out. And, in the end, we received only about 4 - 5 inches of snow. The vast majority of it before night fell.

I was confident that we could have school.

But some schools were not so confident. They had buses that traveled over dirt roads, their city services may not have been as good, and so on. And those schools closed.

And the students in my district were mad. They took personal offense that I did not close our schools. I was not alone. Other schools around us were open. But that did not matter. Our schools were open and they wanted them closed.

And some of them took to Twitter and other social media outlets and let me have it.

Most of it was good fun.

And I enjoy the banter with the students. I joke with them. They joke with me. They create memes of me. I laugh. They laugh.

But some of it crossed the line. It became personal. Inappropriate and vulgar language was used. Attempts were made to embarrass or humiliate me.

People actually felt sorry for me.

What's the appropriate reaction to mean-spiritedness like that? I believe it becomes a teachable moment.

We live in a world where there are many examples of people yelling and cursing to make their point. My students see adults every day calling other adults names, trying their best to humiliate, embarrass, or belittle. It appears that there is an intoxicating allure to making one's self feel powerful by swearing at or embarrassing another person.

Schools can help. Schools can model for our students how to poke fun in a positive way. Schools can help students reflect on appropriate ways to express frustration or anger or disappointment.  Schools can be places where kids and adults figure out together the power of social media to influence another person.

And that is what has happened in the schools in my district. Teachers have used this as a teachable moment. Teachers have had conversations with their students about how messages are sent and how messages are received. This event has opened doors and allowed meaningful dialogue about social media to take place.

And today a major storm is predicted - for tomorrow.

What will I do? And what messages will I receive?

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.