Saturday, December 27, 2014

A New Trend that Affects Our Students’ Future (Part 1)

I am going back to Tim Elmore for this entry.  I actually saw the report from The NDP Group, business consultants that provide market information and advisory services to help clients make better business decision, that he references in another publication and found it very interesting.  Reflecting on what I see among teenagers today, I had no choice but to concur with the data, and to me that is very scary!  In recent months I have started joking with folks about how it will not be long until people start telling us we need to add the “How To Talk Face-to-Face” class in high school because is seems that this is becoming a lost skill among young people.  Perhaps I am not too far off!  I really do not want to see the kind of future portrayed in Elmore’s article for our kids, and it would seem that we need to do something about it.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Swing Your Sword

I finally grabbed the opportunity to get my hands on a book that I’ve wanted to read for quite some time.  Mike Leach is one of my favorite people.  For those that have never heard of him, he is currently the head football coach at Washington State University.  You may recognize an incident that had him in the news a few years ago when he was at Texas Tech and he got cross-wise with the school’s president and AD because of the way he treated, or mistreated the son of a famous ESPN announcer that was on the Red Raider team.  A lot of allegations flew back and forth, and while I don’t condone what Coach Leach is accused of doing, from everything that I read, there is a great deal of question as to whether Craig James’s accusations were true.  It would seem that in the aftermath, Coach Leach has been exonerated to a large extent, and he has moved forward making a positive impression on the lives of young men. 
In the interim between coaching at Texas Tech and Washington State, he wrote Swing Your Sword: Leading the Charge in Football and Life.  Leach is an eccentric, a character in a sport dominated by cliché spewing homogenized coaches that look and sound the same.  Most of them are afraid to say or do anything that may get them in trouble with their employers or fan base, or perhaps prevent them from getting that next big contract.  It is that way in professional sports as well.  Those colorful coaches that fans loved to follow because of the flair they brought to the game and the sport are few and far between.  Mike Leach is a throwback, and is one of my absolute favorites because there is a lot more than football to this guy.  His fascination with pirates and Geronimo, the great Apache warrior, is almost as famous as his high-speed offense.  He is one of those guys that actually gets away from the sport and has a life beyond X’s and O’s.  And, one of his first coaching experiences, after he earned a law degree, was in our state at Iowa Wesleyan in Mt. Pleasant.
When I finished the book I pulled five points that Coach Leach made and shared those with members of our coaching staff.  There are three of those that I want to share with you.  The first one is:  If they say “me, me, me” or “I, I, I” and complain a lot, then you need to get rid of them.  Okay, in my business I can’t just get rid of people because they are self-centered, but I work in the field of education and others like me need to understand this and do what we are hired to do: educate.  First of all, “me” people generally lack true confidence and have learned that it is okay to be selfish.  Many have been reinforced throughout their life that they are “better than others” and this attitude is okay.  They strive for individual glory at the expense of others, again because others have told them that this is okay and acceptable.  In our profession, we do employ folks like this, coaches who know their win-loss record but can’t tell you much about their players other than their jersey number, and teachers who talk about all they have done for kids rather than what the kids have accomplished in their class.  As a building leader, it is my job to confront people on this “me first” attitude and direct them to what is most important in our jobs – the students.  And, we have students that come to us with this attitude and must teach and coach them that selfishness leads to conflict and a breakdown in a community.  One only needs to go to a basketball game to see “me first” teenagers.  Coaches face challenges working with these kids.  Coach Leach gets rid of them, but at the high school level, we are charged with teaching them.  Benching the selfish player often sends the message, but it often takes time to develop humility and servitude in a teenager.  These are sometimes tough decisions, but to live and work in society successfully, one must develop those traits.
The second point is one that is not unique to Leach: You have to be a great listener to be a great communicator.  One of my former coaches that I hold in high esteem once said to us in a huddle between innings during a frustrating game, “God gave you two ears and one mouth.  Use them proportionally!”  I am a talker!  I know it because I am constantly reminded by my wife that I droll on and on and do not get to the point.  That said, one of the skills that I believe that I have really improved on is listening.  It has been a conscious effort and I have found that when I listen, and when I wait, people often share a lot more and thus I learn a lot more about them.  Listening helps build relationships for this very reason.  When discussing a problem someone is having, when I let him or her talk, they often solve it themselves.  Keeping my ears open and my mouth shut is difficult for me, but it has helped me grow as a leader, and is something that I have worked to teach students when the opportunity presents itself.

The third point is based on a statement directly from the book.  Leach wrote, “It really makes me ill whenever I hear a coach say, “To win, you gotta have great players.”  If you believe that, then why do you need a coach?  The team with the best players ought to be able to walk on the field and win in spite of the coach.  The best players give you an advantage just like the bright students have an advantage.  But they don’t automatically win, or perform the best in a class.  Every individual can improve, and the goal for each and every one of us should be continuous improvement.  Back on the field, nothing gives me greater joy than to see the team that plays smart and disciplined beat the team with the great athletes.  Too often people waste the advantage they have, and when we do have it, we need to do something productive with it.  In my opinion, those who have a leg up in life have an obligation to build on their strengths and give a hand up to others.  All of us educators are obligated to nurture and challenge every student, and celebrate the little victories that all of them experience.  We need to win with the players that walk into our classroom, regardless of their level of greatness.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Is College Worth It?

I am going back to Tim Elmore for my blog this month.  In a previous article from his Growing Leaders blog, he wrote about the broken business model that our nation's colleges and universities continue to follow.  This article follows up with a number of reasons why the post-secondary system is broken, at least from his perspective, and the impact that is having.  One thing that we as parents of students who are in college, or are intending to go to college have to remember is that we are consumers.  Sending a child to college is not just an educational decision.  It is very much a financial or a business decisions.  I encourage you to read this article and catalog it as you look forward to your child's education beyond high school.

The Real Cost of a College Education

Friday, November 7, 2014

Why Are There So Many Social Studies and Physical Education Teachers In the Job Market?

One of the things that educators do is have conversations with students about their future and the plans they may have for a career.  The fundamental purpose for high school is to prepare students for their career, in some instances more directly than others.  A small percentage of students go directly into the work force right out of high school, but most recognize that they have more education to work through before they have the skills and knowledge to enter the job market.  One of the realities of our time is that young people today are going to have to be prepared for more unknowns than previous generations.  The vast majority is going to have multiple careers.  Few will have the same job or occupation their whole work life.  The job market is changing at a rapid rate and the most important qualities graduates are going to have is adaptability and the ability to learn new skills.  That said, they are going to have to be critical analysts of the job market.  This is a must as college costs continue to increase and the decisions that one makes in regard to their career could be worth thousands of dollars over a very short time.
In my field, education, I am astonished at the number of students who continue to graduate from college looking to be either social studies or physical education teachers.  These two content areas have had a glut of candidates for years, yet colleges continue to graduate students seeking jobs in these areas.  In my sixteen years as a principal I have hired at least a half dozen social studies teachers, the first one about twelve years ago.  What I find incredible is that some of the same people seeking a social studies teaching job in 2002 are still looking for that job today, along with an increasing number of other candidates.  A similar situation exists for PE teachers.  I spoke recently to recent graduate seeking a job who had applied for twenty-five teaching positions before even getting an interview!  I continue to see young people come through our school as student teachers in this field and have not heard of one that got a job upon graduation.  Yet there is a tremendous shortage of candidates for teaching positions in other content areas.  My fundamental question is: Why are colleges continuing to accept students into these glutted fields, and why aren’t they directing them to those in shortage areas?  Colleges need money, but where is the responsibility?  Education departments keep track of their graduates and have to know that social studies and physical education teaching candidates are not getting jobs.  But, then again, is it the college’s responsibility?
All of us have heard that we need to follow our passion or dreams.  Some of us have been told that you need to find what you love to do, and if you are lucky, you will get paid to do it.  The cynic in me says that’s a pile of you know what!  Of course we need to find something that we are interested in, and would like to do.  That makes sense.  But if the writing is on the wall and the job market does not project well, why would you choose something where the odds of success are very small?  There are tremendous resources available online, and our guidance counselor has a wealth of information to help with these decisions.  The sad reality is that thousands of young people are graduating from college after building up a great deal of debt and are not finding jobs in their field of study or at their level of education.  There are a number of careers out there that are in high demand, many of them with high pay and benefits.  Students and parents need to take a look at these, because some of the jobs we may want are simply not available.  I was lucky.  I was both a social studies and a PE teacher.  But that was a long time ago.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Too Many Freaks And Not Enough Circuses

I honestly don’t remember where I heard this statement.  It could have been a line in a movie, or maybe something said on a news program by a commentator or someone being interviewed.  I Googled it and immediately saw that I could order a t-shirt with this statement on it, and that there is a blog out there with this statement as a title.  It would appear that at least somewhere, it is a common cliché or one-liner.  Heck, I hadn’t ever heard it before!
My initial reaction to it was “that’s kind of a funny line” and “boy, isn’t that the truth!”  So I wrote it down, as I often do, because I like to keep track of quotes, and then came across it and had a new reaction.  To put it blunt, I am tired of intolerance.  I am tired of some people who express their mean, sick, negative opinions of other people.  The battle of words being waged by people who disagree with a person’s sexual preference, and the actions taken by zealots that prohibit women from exercising their “inalienable rights.”  Our own governor refusing to allow child refugees to come to Iowa, even though there are families more than willing to take them into their homes.  Didn’t he live here when Governor Ray and hundreds of Iowans welcomed families and individuals from Southeast Asia?  Because these kids don’t speak our language and I would guess, come from Central American countries, they are somehow “less” than other children.  These kids are fleeing lives of violence, poverty, and in many cases, and absence of any kind of a family with the hope of a better life in this great nation of ours.  Just like all of our forefathers, they have come here seeking comfort and a new start.  We can certainly deal with this immigration issue better, but the venom coming from the mouths of people like Ann Coulter and other talking heads is disgusting.  It seems that many people that have the microphone have a total disregard for civility and respect.  Why do kids bully?  Because adults can get away with it!
In our school, we still haven’t gotten to the point where we have mutual respect and tolerance for all, though were are certainly closer than other aspects of our society.  Every school is a melting pot of different people.  Teachers and students come in all different shapes and sizes, and a few different colors.  There are different personalities, ideas, opinions, and motivations.  We have students with unique abilities and some with disabilities.  Diabetics, autistics, hearing impaired, musically impaired, athletically delayed, academically gifted, academically challenged, tongue-tied, and vertically compromised are but a few of the characteristics of people in our building. 
There are people that think they are better than others because they are natives, living in this community their entire life, and others who believe they are superior because of their last name or due to the income that their parents generate.  It is difficult for students new to town to be accepted for a multitude of reasons, but in large part it is because they in someway may threaten the status quo.  By the time students reach high school they have unfairly established some type of a pecking order.  That is not totally unique to our school, but there are places where people are welcomed and integrated easily into the school community.
By now some of you believe that I have thoroughly trashed the students and staff at our school.  No, I haven’t.  We have a very good school and we have many great people that walk through the doors every day.  Each person has a lot more good days than bad, and we are all human.  Mutual respect is absolutely necessary in order for any organization to function at its highest level.  Mutual respect is contingent on acceptance and tolerance.  On some issues, that is the ability to agree to disagree, done so respectfully.  In human relations, it is absolute adherence to the Golden Rule, the only “law” consistent in all of the major religions of the world.  Every person that resides in our building for a few hours each day must have the opportunity to leave with a smile on their face because they had a good day, because they didn’t have someone call them a name, put them down, or refuse to let them sit at the same table at lunch.  Tolerance.  Acceptance.  Respect.  Community.  Until we have an environment where 100% of our people exercise those character traits 100% of the time, we have a problem and we have work to do.  We don’t have any freaks, and while there are days when is does seem like it, NFVHS is not a circus. 

Friday, October 10, 2014

Take a Trip

I remember a conversation I had with a little while back with a recently graduated student during softball season and her overwhelming joy and anticipation about an upcoming trip that her family had planned between the end of softball and the start of school.  Adding to her excitement was the fact that her family had never taken a trip like that before.  If I remember correctly, the plan was to drive west through Colorado and the Rocky Mountains, through Utah and Nevada and into northern California.  She was particularly excited about seeing San Francisco and Yosemite, as well as Napa Valley.  I shared some “must see” experiences for San Francisco, and then added more when she explained that they would also head down the coast to southern California and work their way home through Las Vegas.  So much to see and so much excitement!
Traveling is something that both my wife and I love to do, as well as something we have done with our kids.  We have made a point to turn some of our business trips into family vacations when we can, and we have also taken advantage of other opportunities when they have come up.  When our kids were very small we made a decision that we wanted them to see what is out there and to experience all there is in the world, starting with this incredible country we live in.  Yes, there were some miserable moments when they were younger and not too tolerant of long rides in the backseat of the car.  A trip to the Black Hills stands out!  And there were times when my frustrations boiled over as well, as the other three members of my family can attest.  But this part of one of my fundamental philosophies of education: Don’t let school get in the way of your education.  Now I understand that sounds strange coming from a principal, but it is something that I strongly believe and something that was instilled in me by my parents.  You see, there is so many different things out there that we can learn about, but we have to get out and experience them, and in my opinion, we are short-changing ourselves when we don’t.
I get it that not all families can afford fancy vacations, and while it is hard for some people to believe, we have students at NFVHS that have never been to Des Moines, have not been out of the state of Iowa, nor ever spent a night in a hotel.  It is for that reason that I am thoroughly impressed with the travel opportunities we have for students at our school, and I sincerely wish we could make sure that every student has a chance to go on at least one of them.  In fact, in one of those conversations I had with Mr. Willhite late on a Friday afternoon when we apparently didn’t have anywhere better to go, we discussed how we might add even more opportunities than what we currently have for students.  Is that part of our educational mission?  Is that something that would benefit the both the students and the academic program at our school?  Is it even possible?
I always hesitate to make lists because without a doubt, I will leave something out.  But I think I can come close to trips that we offer.  Spanish students go to Costa Rica every two years.  Any student can apply to go to Uberlingen, Germany every other year.  Seniors that take four years of math, science, or art can spend a couple of days in Chicago.  The band and chorus take a trip every couple of years to a city, including Washington, DC, Kansas City, and St. Louis in recent years.  Some FFA kids have a chance to go to their national convention in either Indianapolis or Louisville, and other go to Ames for the state convention.  Some business students took a day trip to Minneapolis this past year.  Yes, each trip has “strings” or qualifications, but for most students, there is one that nearly every student could qualify for.
My parents made a point of including educational aspects to all of our vacations, and we do the same on the ones we take with our kids.  Obviously the school trips do the same.  Yes, they cost money and that can be a barrier.  I would like to think we could overcome that so we don’t have students who have never left Iowa or spent a night in a hotel before they graduate from high school.