Don’t Blink. We are Redefining Culture and Education.

A year ago, I wrote a blog post titled, “Are We Parade Ready?”  You can find that post here. I loved writing about my son and the history that little league has played in our lives.  I was able to connect the relationship between my son’s Little League parade to our work in education.  In fact, when the COVID-19 situation hit us in early March, I sat at the Kings Park Youth board member meeting wondering if we really had to postpone our parade from April 4th to April 25th.  Yet, here we are.  It is May 18th, and I go back to last year’s post now with a different lens.  Forget baseball, hot dogs, bounce houses, and the dugout camaraderie.  Our focus is centered 100% on the most important aspect of society: student learning. 

As a technology leader in East Williston, I obsess over momentum, innovation, disruption, and developing new stocks of knowledge.  Throughout the process of my leadership, I reflect EVERY DAY because the product of student learning must be top-notch.  I reflect daily on all conversations, decisions, reactions, and interactions where relationships and culture are built every minute. But, what about now?  It is easy to prepare for the use of Chromebooks district-wide.  It is easy to purchase digital tools and lead professional development on them.  It is easy to be techie because you aren’t afraid to click.  What about capacity?  At my budget presentation in early March, I spoke about building a bridge of innovation alongside our current one and bringing all members over at their own pace to eventually meet on the other side.  I used the below picture of the construction of the new Tappan Zee bridge to illustrate this work.  Thank you, Bill Brennan, for sharing this thought a few years ago at CELI.  I spoke about capacity building and seeing instruction, not technology, at the core of everything we do.  I knew that appropriate uses of digital learning would organically seep into our practice to augment students’ learning.  Well, the bridges merged so much faster than we expected.  We are on the other side, folks.  We can stop talking about the SAMR model because we all got to Redefinition in the blink of an eye.  For this reason, I go back to my original question with a twist: Were we really parade ready? 

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Capacity, relationship, and trust-building

I am in awe every second I spend talking to East Williston’s teachers and staff members about their choreography of remote learning.  I see their Google Classroom posts.  The engagement they lead when they Meet with their students, their passion to get this right, their acute focus on students’ well-being and safety above everything else, their communication with parents, their continued attention to teaching literature of all stories, and their app-smashing ability to amplify students’ success.  Everything Google, FlipGrid, Buncee, Pear Deck, Screencastify, FlipGrid, Kami, Jamboard, Google Meet, Voxer, kidOYO, Gimkit, Storyboard That, and the list could go on and on. While they may not feel it in their hearts, our teachers are nailing it. We continue to ask questions, build our own approach, seek assistance in groups and individually, hold morning meetings, research best practices with virtual learning, collaborate with our PLNs, tell our students’ stories on Twitter using #EWLearns, and somehow interview and find the best candidates for our openings so we are even stronger moving forward.  No response to this situation is perfect but we have the mass and velocity in place.  A momentum that inspires and fuels our work.

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We know as educators that one’s practice is only as sound as the comfort and understanding of one’s authentic audience.  As part of our work, we have held live parent tutorials, updated our community through newsletters and videos (even with babies every morning playing a role), and asked parents to share their needs with us. Throughout these past two months, we have listened (and continue to do so) to our students and families.  At the core of all suggestions is the concept of time.  Daniel Pink’s When is a must-read now for those who have yet to read it. Our teachers are listening to kids.  What time are they waking up?  What time is the best for communication? When will we get the most out of students during a Google Meet?  How do we make sure we aren’t wasting their time?  Are our Google Classrooms consistent in structure and layout? Are teachers on a grade level or in a department consistent with their content and delivery?  Are we as an organization providing consistent leadership? We reflect, analyze, and build each day because education is about our community of partners.

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I see this journey through the pandemic as an opportunity to get better.  The reminder that educators NEED to be connected so their students can be champions.  The chance to get things right because when we do, we will rewrite the narrative of education.  Teachers and educators always find a way to give voice to their students.  Whether it is through a smile in the hallway, a pat on the back, a nod, the asking about their families or pets, or the gestures that scream, “I am your teacher and I have your back.” THIS is the hardest part.  The unknown. The impossible guarantee of health and protection. The missing comfort that lies within glances of approval and the genuine power of collaborative tears and laughter. For this reason, remote learning will never be enough. But, when we have to teach/support/counsel/lead in such a way, we will walk with pride and keep our shoulders high for we will be as parade ready as ever. 

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Are We Parade Ready?

If you ever played Little League baseball or even coached it, there is one thing that will forever be etched into your baseball memory…the Opening Day parade.  As a little leaguer in West Hempstead, I can clearly remember every detail. The march to Echo Park, the banners, the music, the energy that seemed to saturate every inch of the pavement, the smiling parents, the passion that lived in every step of all boys and girls, the candy at the concession stand, and the pride that existed in every ounce of choreography.  In fact, I can probably precisely trace the bond that my father and I shared back to these days. It was our thing every year. As a current little league coach in Kings Park, I look forward to these days with my son. This year was different. The weather rained on our parade…on April 13th only. Since the 13th, our Kings Park Youth board has been working tirelessly to reschedule every aspect of the parade to ensure our children don’t miss out.  Us, too, let’s be honest. We won’t let the weather take us off course for what is best for kids. What if we approached teaching and learning every day like we do the little league baseball parade? We would guarantee….

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  • The experience is worth the anticipation.  I continue to hear stories of  how disappointed our kids were that the parade was postponed.  Even from kids who fear parades. Kids couldn’t sleep the night before because the reports of bad weather worsened.  Imagine classrooms where the learning matched the students’ anticipation the night before. Teaching and learning with students in mind.  Students who relentlessly think about how great tomorrow is going to be in their classrooms. Classrooms where the learning is so engaging that to miss out would be a disappointment.  What if we concentrate on this idea when we plan lessons that give voice to the students sitting before us? That the choreography sings to the students’ ears.  Could we eliminate the instruction that just passes time? The instruction that students wouldn’t waste their time thinking about beforehand? Let’s plan the learning parade.  EVERY DAY. EVERY MINUTE.

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  • We proudly wear our brand together.  I think what prompts little league players to smile the most on opening day is the wearing of their uniforms.  It is the bond that they share with their teammates. Walking behind their team banners furthers this connection to something bigger.  Something better. Every member of the team informs the brand. What it means to be a five year old Met. A seven year old Yankee. A ten year old Brave.  What if we ensure that all staff members, students, and community members understand the brand that they represent? What if this brand is communicated clearly? What if we are honest with each other when the brand is cheated on?  What if we culturized every aspect of our schools so the brand never bleeds?

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  • Our students look forward to marching…through our hallways and into our classrooms. Tom Murray asked, “Do your students knock down the doors to get into your classroom?” Think about the difference between students walking through the hallway because they have three minutes to pass and students who march to their classrooms with the same energy witnessed during a little league parade.  If number one above was in place, hallways would be different. We wouldn’t have to move students along. Can we be bold enough to draw a connection between hallway behavior and the teaching and learning that exists in our classrooms? Let’s look at that data. Which rooms are students running toward? Which are they purposely showing up to at the bell or just after it rings?

 

  • Despite the weather that NYSED may throw at us, we write the counter narrative.  The focus on the initiatives from NYSED often reside in negative places.  The obsession with over testing, evaluation scores, new standards, revised accountability measures, unrealistic expectations in short amounts of time, data that may not make sense, and the list can go on and on.  With all of this, the best school leaders and teachers don’t take their eyes off of the prize of amplified student learning. We write the narrative that speaks to our students’ needs. We allow our teachers to tell their own stories in real time.  We push students to write for authentic audiences. We motivate staff members to develop PLNs so they can see beyond the ideas that can be walled in. We put technology in students’ hands because we KNOW and BELIEVE in the world that we live in. We understand that balanced screen time is GOOD for kids.  We read, we write, we reflect, and we learn together. ALL OF US. We choose connected because our kids deserve it. We are transparent and vulnerable. We not only embrace change but we seek it. We crave it because kids change, too.
  • Our morale and culture are what we decide them to be.  I really believe that morale and culture are created and destroyed every minute. In fact, they are created and destroyed but its own members.  See number four above. I have been a teacher, dean, assistant principal, curriculum associate, executive assistant for technology integration, and now a director of technology and innovation.  I have loved every job because I seek change and celebrate the bright spots. I create a culture of yes in all that I do. Even when one of my former organization’s cultures didn’t match the students’ needs.  Look at the Kings Park Youth approach. We are doing everything we can to make sure that our parade will go on at some point in May. We can live inside the culture of “We are sorry it rained. We don’t control the weather.” Or, we create a culture of “We will find another date for the photographer, the players and coaches, the grand marshal, the food truck, etc.  We will find a way.” How could we not?

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I’ve heard educators say, “Let’s make school like Disney World.”  Let’s keep it easy. Let’s infuse the excitement, energy, and connectedness of the little league parade into our daily work.  Rain or shine.

Stretching Ourselves For Others

How many gyms do you drive by each day that you currently pay for, paid for in the past, and never used more than ten times?  Gym owners love January. It seems as if we are all looking to lose weight every year at this time. I bet Romaine lettuce stock will be at an all time high.  We hear the same comments in our houses, faculty rooms, and in our lofty resolutions. After the holidays, I will start. When I get back to work on January 2nd, I am starting a strict diet.  I am just going to drink water and not eat the cookies in the main office. I still have five months before I will be at the beach.

For many, these comments have to do with our concern with how others perceive us.  I think that is why these resolutions rarely become accomplished actions. We become secondary to some other primary reason for the annual goal.  What if our resolution focused on one word that aided the leaky parts of ourselves? If we bandaged these leaks, we could impact others at a heightened level, right?  It is with this goal in mind, that my #oneword for 2019 is STRETCH. This year, I am going to STRETCH…

My PLN.  The most important aspect of our work is our commitment to growth.  We must continue to improve our practice every single day (if not hourly).  Through following passionate and accomplished educators, I am able to reflect on what I do and make immediate changes to ensure the needs of all students are met.  This year, I am going to stretch my PLN to include voices from people outside of the education field. We have so much to learn about leadership and this can be achieved through following the work of leaders of many different organizations.  My PLN doesn’t reflect this diversity. I have to do this better because my followers will benefit. It was Bill Brennan’s quote that struck me the day before I got on Twitter. In speaking about his networked intelligence and connection with a man noted as a top five management thinker in the world, Bill shared, “If I am learning from Don Tapscott, who is Don Tapscott learning from? I am drafting off that learning.”  I will find my Don Tapscotts.

My impact at the elementary level.  I had the amazing opportunity to spend time in Kelly Donohue’s kindergarten class the Friday before the break.  With the help of Karen Gilligan, Kelly planned an awesome coding lesson for her kindergarten students. I quickly invited myself in to assist.  On the drive to North Side that morning, I ran through a pre-mortem strategy in my mind. I do this often when trying something new. Thanks to Don Gately for sharing this approach when we planned the first EdCamp Long Island in 2014. What if the students won’t be able to code a gingerbread man?  What will happen if students don’t understand directions? What if I shot above the rim when I strongly asserted that kindergarten students can code on kidOYO? The post-success reality: What if…I wasn’t needed because the students ROCKED and owned their own?! The 20 minutes in this classroom reminded me that we need to stretch our expectations of what students can do with technology as early as kindergarten.  We need to get them connected. The best part is that Kelly’s students partnered with 4th grade mentors from Kelly Powers’ class. The fourth grade students moved their kinder friends from gingerbread men to maze code on kidOYO. As Bonnie McClelland once taught us, students are techie because they are not afraid to click. Our youngest students are not afraid to click. We sometimes are. I can’t wait to stretch myself in 2019 and lift technology with our elementary learners.  Be present. Not visible.

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My office.  I am rarely in my office.  In fact, the week before the break, Joan Anderson, our World Languages Chair, stopped in and said, “I have never seen you in here this much.”  People notice active leadership. Those who know me know that I love being “in the building” and spending time with teachers. I aim to build connections and relationships with all staff members.  Culture can be built and destroyed every minute in a school. With this in mind, when I do have time that can be spent in my physical office, I am going to stretch its walls.  Although thanks to Colette Hardy, my office has the coolest wall I have seen (below).  The beauty of technology is that I can grab my Chromebook and sit in open spaces and work.  Three target spaces come to mind. I absolutely adore libraries (and librarians). The personality in a library’s space is like no other. I will seek a table for my office. Find space in hallways for my office. Find space closer to students for my office. Stretch connections.  Stretch relationships. Stretch my leadership.

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Learning beyond the classroom walls.  We do a fantastic job with Global Read Aloud, World Read Aloud, Google Hangouts with authors, etc.  What if we put more focus on connecting with students across the country/world outside of these major events?  Why can’t it be a regular strategy in our teaching and learning? If we are reading a book with an interesting setting, why not connect with students who live there?  Connect with students who live in parts of the country/world of the history we are learning in class? Our Chromebooks have cameras (most have two now), our flat panels are perfect displays, and through Twitter, we can find partners in less than five minutes?  Let’s stretch our learners’ connections. We can easily break down walls with a camera, an Internet connection, and a willing teacher leading the collaboration. I started a Buncee collaboration that didn’t get off the ground yet. I am going to stretch this goal in 2019.  Let’s start creating Buncee boards, filming FlipGrid videos, constructing Padlets of ideas, and achieve true global learning. Why not?

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I am ready to stretch myself in these areas in 2019 while I drink water, not eat cookies, eat salad, get ready for Punta Cana….

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Motivated on Monday and Beyond

It’s 6:15 a.m. on a #CelebrateMonday morning and there are twenty-three Voxer messages in my Learning Transformed Voxer chat queue.  Twenty-three reflections on learning, leadership, and ways to instigate change in our schools. As Eric Sheninger and Tom Murray share in the book, strong leaders don’t just embrace change, they seek it.  As I put together the lunches for my two children and think about my day, I am drawn to listening, replying, and adding to this conversation that is simply nonstop. A conversation that Eric Sheninger and Tom Murray participate in with their author voices.  As Amanda Kavanagh noted, the chat is on fire. I have never seen anything like it. In only discussing the book’s Introduction, we examined and debated early acceleration in math, Google vs. Microsoft 365 or 360 (and how maybe Microsoft only works well during leap years), the beauty of Fountas and Pinnell, instructional tech plans that truly speak to instruction and not management, telling our students’ stories, the power behind surveying students, the imperativeness of being a connected educator, and the ability to own your own learning (and of course our obsession with kidOYO found its presence).  As one member shared, “I feel as if I had a full day of learning before I got to work.” But, that is just it. As Dr. Tony Sinanis commented in his presentation at #CELI18, “Learning should not be secondary to what you do at work.”  I am fortunate. I am blessed. I am simply in awe of the educators in my PLN. They drive me to be better and they push my thinking. What would I do without this chat? Without them? Without the humor? Without this reflection canvas? Without this extra reason to read more often?

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Here is where this blog post really begins.  Unfortunately, we are surrounded by those who choose these withouts on purpose.  How do we work collectively to model connected learning?  As Dr. Don Gately questioned at #CELI18, why do people choose to be disconnected? I don’t know if Voxer is for everyone.  But learning has to be. Our #kidsdeserveit. Perhaps the four ideas below can be a start:

 

  1. Always have a book that you are currently reading with others.  You can read a paper copy. You can read a digital copy. Either works.  I prefer a hybrid approach. But, read something and reflect as a group on how the text connects to your work, your students’ lives, and the change that your school community deserves.  Many of the members of our Learning Transformed chat collaborated on End of Average and School Climate. See the trend? Share your reading life on your email signature.  
  2. Own your own learning.  You may work in an organization that fosters professional learning.  You may not. If not, get behind the wheel and begin driving your own path forward.  It is about you and not the others who remain in their own back seats. Build a PLN. Find a Voxer book chat.  Attend an EdCamp (EdCamp Leader is July 20th….). Follow the educators listed at the bottom of this post in the Voxer screenshot.
  3. Participate in an honest feedback loop with someone you trust, admire, and learn from.  I am lucky to work every day with dedicated educators who reflect on best practice, focus on the highest level of success, and feel comfortable dissecting leadership decisions that we weigh each day.  I am especially lucky to have Dr. Danielle Gately to provide laser sharp feedback as part of this necessary loop. I rely on her honesty and passion. Find someone like her in your organization who seeks to make you better.  If you don’t have that person, lead up. Start the conversation.
  4. Technology.  Never leave home without it.  Yes, I am serious. You must always be connected.  When you have questions, you need to be able to connect with those outside of your organization, your county, your state, or even your country.  Digital access and collaboration have made learning so much easier than in the past. Let Twitter push your practice. In fact, always consult Twitter.  You aren’t on Twitter….what?!?

 

 

Liturgy, Legacy, and Life

I still remember the t-shirt my mother wore around the house when she cleaned.  It was worn. It was old but it boldly wore the brand that captured my father’s work life.  This brand seeped its way into our very being.  It was the supposed Post Office slogan: “Neither snow, nor rain, nor heat, nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds.”  My father spent his entire work life with the United States Postal Service.  He was a mail carrier and spent many years as a supervisor.  He enjoyed the former much more than the latter.  His work ethic was like no other.  He was always on the job.  Of course it didn’t help that we lived three blocks from the West Hempstead Post Office.  I can’t tell you how many times the carriers locked themselves out of the parking lot after hours.  They called.  He responded.  He had patience with most things but none for those who gave less than 140% in life.  It is for this reason that we feared my father more than the Friendly’s manager when we felt like calling in sick at the age of sixteen.  We just couldn’t do it.  

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Similar to the Post Office 24/7 life, I find myself always connected.  Yet, with technology push notifications, I can be more than three blocks away to accomplish what is needed as a servant leader.  If we aren’t servant leaders, we become followers from the top of the pyramid.  Many people always comment on it.  Do you ever sleep?  Do you ever not answer an email within two hours? Do you ever shut off Twitter? Do you feel like you have too much screen time? Is the Apple Watch better or worse for your work life? What about your own time?  The questions go on and on.  I do aim for more balance. I do.  But, I always want those who are following behind or to the side to be shielded from the weather up ahead.  

 

For the past few years, it has hit me how losing a parent impacts the things you do each day.  Your mind is always focused on how to live up to the expectations, the legacy, and the liturgy to which you were cultured.  We were never a family of religion.  Yet, the “religion” that we knew was you work hard to get the best grades, you respect your family and friends, you love unconditionally, you rise above obstacle, and as the Post Office forced upon us…you weather the storms that come your way. If my father were to read Don Gately’s blog, he would agree with Don and the way his mother lived.  “We cannot determine what will happen to us in life, but we get to decide how we will respond.”  We can create the weather at times and when we can’t, we won’t let it stop us from completing “our appointed rounds” of what need to do for kids.  The many obstacles that jump into our path should never diminish our work ethic.  Like my mother, educators need to wear this brand.  We must believe in seeing beyond tradition and develop our craft based on our students’ unique and ever-changing platforms, regardless, as Don noted in his post, it “feels right or [it’s] easy for us.”  We can’t, as George Couros stated in The Innovator’s Mindset, become “companies, like Blockbuster, that refuse to let go of outdated business models” even when the weather is something far beyond what we predicted.  

 

Key Food. Kids. Kismet.

“This is your opportunity to design schools that value

creation over compliance and making over memorizing.”

-George Couros, The Innovator’s Mindset

 

While leading instructional technology and the district’s nine libraries in a large K-12 (large for Long Island, NY) school district, a staff member said to me, “Ed, you know you should be doing more.  You can lead change.”  I was intrigued by her words.  We progressed so much in our thinking and mindset in two years, but she must have seen “change” as something deeper than what we were doing in our department.  I knew that if I could work alongside a curriculum leader who saw teaching and learning the way I did, I could help write the counter narrative of education as a director of an entire technology department.  However, I knew I would only serve as a technology director if I would be able to model technology integration on all levels, team with teachers and students in classrooms, and assume a front row seat in watching how my decisions with backend technology and purchasing were delightfully amplifying the voices of all students.  I could not and would not be the technology director who spent the majority of his time saturated with analyzing servers, blades, fiber, bandwidth, etc.  Yes, those are crucial in delivering technology integration, but embedding yourself in instruction must always come first.  In fact, as a former building leader, it must be our commitment that all decisions with technology place students, teachers, and the daily routines of school buildings at the core.  Learning first-technology second.  It then happened.  In late June, the OLAS posting that spoke to my need to be “doing more and leading change” was posted: Director of Technology, Innovation, and Information Services in East Williston.  To answer the question that people continue to ask, leaving a job you love is never easy.  It has to be the right fit.  From the time I hit submit to the day I accepted the position, I continued to remind myself of the requirements to take this leap.  Curriculum leader who spoke my language: Dr. Danielle Gately, check!  Ensure I could be present in all buildings while taking care of the backend technology: Three buildings, check!  A superintendent and leadership team who understand the value of the building: check!  

 

On the afternoon of my first interview, I stopped into Key Food in Kings Park.  Key Food is a small supermarket where you can quickly shop and find everything you need while avoiding large lines at the bigger food stores.  It is the Cheers of supermarkets.  I needed vegetarian chili beans for a taco dip my wife was making.  I walked in and asked a cashier, “Do you know in which aisle I can find chili beans?”  She quickly blurted, “Aisle 3.”  A customer remarked, “Wow, you knew that as a cashier!?”  Her response stayed with me.  She laughed and commented, “We do everything here. Once I get done with this line, I will be leveling the shelves.”  Like me, she found joy in wearing many hats.  The size of Key Food allowed her to do so.  The collaborative nature of this small supermarket is remarkable. It is the answer to a former colleague who said to me before accepting this new position, “You know in small places, you set the table and cook the dinner, too.”  Could there be anything more important than working on all levels of the organization?

 

Earlier this month, I was joined by teachers and students in presenting a Technology Update at the Board of Education Work Session.  The most important piece of this presentation was the sharing of how the integration of various digital tools (FlipGrid, Buncee, Pear Deck) were enhancing the teaching and learning in our classrooms.  As you would imagine, it wasn’t about sharing how our SMART Schools plan would soon be approved.  A fifth grade student’s comment spoke to the change that we can lead as technology directors when we focus on teaching and learning.  She stated, “FlipGrid is one of my favorite websites to go on, however I’m not the best at it. Sometimes it takes me eight tries to get it right.  Creating a video allows you to be yourself and show your personality.”  In her statement, she captured our vision.  Develop thinkers who are not afraid to fail while finding and sharing their voices with authentic audiences.  Growth Mindset + Reflection + Personalized learning = Amazing. Check out the article on the presentation here.

 

That same week, I was sitting in my office tweaking my budget for 2018-2019.  While thinking about how many learners would benefit from KidBlog, a tool that allows younger students to blog safely, a student knocked on my door.  She asked, “Would you mind if I sat in your office to quickly record my podcast?” I was quick to respond, “Of course I wouldn’t mind,” but I followed with, “What is your topic?”  She shared, “I am podcasting an excerpt from my blog on living in both the Western and Eastern worlds.”  I stopped typing my budget and listened.  For once, I would consciously not multi-task.  Her writing deserved every ounce of my attention.  What a powerful topic!  She shared the different impacts the two regions had on her voice, acceptance, and her ability to find herself.” Her post was saturated in the positive aspects of each.  How cool to have this experience and have access to tools to share it! The three minutes of this student sitting at my small table spoke to the wealth of podcasting, blogging, and the importance of empowering student voice.  Yes, this is what it is all about.  Ensuring our students have access to technologies that help them express their true selves…with the world.

 

When many people hear the word Kismet, they may think of The Inn and The Out.  Yes, I do love Fire Island, too.  Yet, when I think about what I do every day, I know I have found the fortune, the fate that all instructionally-minded technology directors seek.  A true kismet of technology, teaching and learning, innovation, and change.  A kismet where our student creators, thinkers, and status quo disruptors are reminding me that seeking a new challenge and a deeper impact is always worth the journey.

 

Giving Kids Their Just Des(s)erts

Throughout the summer, I often keep my eye on experiences that could serve as inspiration for ways in which I could think differently in the upcoming school year.  In fact, I evaluate each experience for its potential presence in my future leadership decisions.  Last week, at my block party on Sesame Street, I was reminded of four essential attributes of successful classrooms and schools.  Yes, I do live on Sesame Street. These reminders did not take place on the countless trips I took on the inflatable slip and slide or while I was throwing a baseball at the dunk tank’s target (although I do believe that fun should saturate teaching and learning).  Yet, the ice cream party for the tens of kids (and adults who stopped by for a taste and some awesome coffee) hosted by Mr. and Mrs. Bradshaw (Mr. and Mrs. Bradshaw, Sr.) motivated this blog post and a look at key elements of great schools

 

PATIENCE

One can imagine the scene when an ice cream party in a neighbor’s gazebo is announced at a block party after kids spent hours getting dunked in a dunk tank, sliding down water slides, eating sno-cones, and filling up with as much sugar as they could find.  “What? Ice cream? Where? How do I get there? Up that hill????”  I was one of those kids.  I quickly grabbed my son, Max, so I would have an excuse to get a bite of chocolate.  Well, I knew he would want ice cream, too.  Of course the expected scene ensued. Kids were grabbing, yelling with excitement, asking to try flavors (as if it were an ice cream shop), etc.  I looked up to see the Bradshaws as calm and cool as can be.  Speaking to a five year old, “Can I help you young man? Sure, coming right up.”  Mr. Bradshaw even went through each topping choice to ensure kids made the right choice.  AMAZING!  As educators, we need to model this same patience.  Let’s allow kids to be kids and in the midst of bursting energy, still make students feel as if they have as much time as they need to make the right decisions.  Due to the Bradshaws’ patience, there was personalization in this gazebo.  All kids should get this in their ice cream sundae and more importantly, in their education as well.

CHOICE

In hearing the adults’ comments as I was enjoying my chocolate ice cream (see above), many people were impressed that there were choices for ice cream flavors, cones, and toppings!  This ice cream social could have been simple.  Chocolate or vanilla ice cream.  Chocolate syrup and maybe a cherry. Nooooo…not in the Bradshaw Ice Cream Gazebo.  I was even able to grab my favorite topping…gummi bears.  With many flavors and toppings to choose from, kids were able to create their perfect dessert.  This should be our same guarantee for students in schools.  Choices.  When we dedicate our schools to our students’ needs, we know we must provide options and different paths to success.  All kids learn differently.  Let’s make sure we provide spaces where all kids can have a voice.  Let’s imagine schools where students drive the details of their coursework.  Schools where teachers and school leaders make their way into students’ classrooms (it should be THEIR space not ours).  Let’s think about ways in which we can gain students’ input before we plan our instruction.  Students should be able to create their own process and product.  Perhaps we could finally hear why a gummi bear in ice cream makes sense!   My mother still can’t understand it.

ENVIRONMENT

In taking all of this in, I immediately knew I was going to be writing about this experience.  I took notice of the Home Goods-like signs that were precisely hanging in the gazebo.  Ice Cream Cones 10 cents.  Twisted Licks Frozen Custard.  Was this added touch necessary?  Did it impact the kids?  Absolutely!  Just like the environment that was established in this gazebo, the walls in our schools can talk.  What do we put on the walls in our classrooms and hallways?  Do the walls speak to the culture that we aim to create? Let’s think about these important questions despite these details sometimes being overlooked.  Let’s have kids fill the walls with artwork.  Let’s provide students opportunities to play their original films on televisions spread throughout the school.  Let’s have chalkboard walls where students can leave inspiring messages.  Or questions.  And let’s answer them…one by one.

CULTURE

If I had to guess, the Bradshaws served sixty to seventy kids ice cream.  Maybe even more because I caught some of my guests getting seconds.  Of these children, it would be safe to say that they didn’t know eighty percent of the kids.  It didn’t matter.  All kids were given the highest level of respect and treatment.  The Bradshaws were friendly.  They asked questions and invited everyone into their space.  Race, class, gender, history, and every other social construction that people put into play never took a role in the gazebo.  Can we make sure the same is granted in our schools?  Can we strive this year to raise complete awareness so this culture exists between kids as well?  The culture in the gazebo was open. It was positive and it was welcoming!  Let’s keep our eyes wide open so we pick up on the intended and unintended actions that establish relationships, culture, and community in our schools.  It could be the difference between students wanting seconds and others needing them.

Sometimes we find content for our writing and for our leadership in uncommon spaces.  The Bradshaws funding and hosting an ice cream party in their backyard gazebo is not a common practice.  It was so kind and humble.  It was pleasantly unique.  Pleasing kids was at the core of every question, statement, and intention.  Similarly, in the words of Dr. Bill Brennan, let’s be INTENTIONAL about our ATTENTIONS when we deal with our students this upcoming school year.  Let’s give all kids what they deserve…their just des(s)erts.