Saturday, December 12, 2015

Is Your Child A Gamer?

I ran across an article this weekend from Tim Elmore's blog about gaming and instantly thought I needed to share this with parents.  I have referenced Elmore in my blog in the past, and also provided links to some of his articles.  He is a leader in the study of adolescents and parenting, as well as developing leadership skills in our young people.  In the article that I am linking you to, he defers to Andrew McPeak, a writer, curriculum designer, and speaker.  McPeak provides some very informative insight into gaming, how it has changed our world and how he predicts it will continue to impact it.  With a gamer of my own, I found this very insightful, and hopefully you will as well!

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Why Are We Still So Uncivilized?

Compared to the other industrialized countries of the world we still have strong remnants of the “Wild West” mentality.  There is a lot of “romance” in that tradition and a tremendous amount of patriotism and “American identity”  connected to it.  The reality is that we are a nation that is still in its infancy compared to those we consider our peers around the globe.  Perhaps an analogy is that we going through those “terrible twos” right now.  Like a two-year old, perhaps our society is going to mature in the next few years and we will be more civilized, more kind to one another, and less violent like other countries in the civilized world.  What am I talking about?  It appears to me that we have real problems in this country with violent behavior and I quite frankly wonder when we are going to get past it.

First off, I am comparing us to other civilized countries in the world.  Certainly there are examples in the world where horrendous things happen in their society, like women being stoned to death and Christians being beheaded in the Middle East.  Scores of innocent men, women, and children are mowed down by drug cartels in Central America and Mexico.   In those respects, I believe Americans believe that we are far more advanced than those societies.  What I am talking about are industrialized nations that we compare ourselves to as modern nations and civilized societies.  And it is in these comparisons that frankly, we don’t stand up as very civilized.  Yes, there are terrorist acts committed by citizens in England and France, but when you look at the degree of incidence, daily life in the United States is far more violent. 

When asked in July 2015 what are the greatest threats are to America, President Obama’s nominee to serve as the next Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Joseph Dunford, listed in order: Russia, China, North Korea, and ISIS.  Hard to argue with that from a global perspective, though some members of Congress want to lump Iran into that category.  However, in an article that appeared in The Daily Beast earlier this year, Dean Obeidallah, argues that an even bigger threat lives right here within out boarders: ourselves.  More specific, those of use who are determined to maintain a society based on an extremist view of the 2nd Amendment.

What I am talking about is not the right to bear arms.  Rather, I am simply pointing out that according to Obeidallah, in the United States of America, more Americans were killed by other Americans with guns in 2013 (33, 636) that all of the Americans killed on U.S. soil by terrorists in the last 14 years (3025).  That includes the 2,977 killed in 9/11 and 48 others killed by terrorists, over half of those by American white supremacists (  To me, this is barbaric!  The fact that we are killing more of each other on a daily basis that any foreign enemy has done in years says a lot about how violent we have become!  Whether it is by gun or some other means, killing fellow human beings is uncivilized, and Americans are doing this at a far greater rate than other civilized societies.  The easy access to guns just makes it easier.  Every day over 30 Americans are killed by guns and of those 30, five children or teenagers are included.  This is 11 times more often than children and teens killed by guns in other civilized country (

Okay, I’ll stop on the gun issue because I am aware of the emotions involved.  Bottom line: other civilized countries do not have anywhere close to the number of violent deaths inflicted by members of the citizenry.  Other proof?  How about men killing women?  Every day in our nation, three women are killed by their husband, boyfriend, or a person they had been in a relationship with at one time.  One-third of all women murdered in our country were killed by current or past male partners (  Domestic violence is a term we hear a lot, yet what is being done to reduce it?

Even the most popular sport we watch is extremely violent, some say barbaric.  In fact, it may seem the spectacle of American football is second only to gladiators in the Coliseum in terms of sanctioned violence.  The National Football League had over $9 billion in revenue at the end of  the most recent season with the stated goal of $25 billion by 2025.  And players are dying playing the game.  No, there has not been a death on the field in the NFL for years, and in fact, only one actually died on the field during a game back in 1971.  However, one cannot ignore the deaths related to brain injuries suffered playing the game, nor those of players from youth leagues to the college level.  The rest of the world has moved beyond gladiator contests with soccer being the most popular contest in the world.  You get into all kinds of arguments about the future of football and how long it will last.  Some state that as we evolve as a society it will become a thing of the past and we will move on to less violent spectator options.  Who knows.  But, there are attempts to make it less violent, which begs the question, will it be as popular if it is not?

Maybe what is going on right now is that American is undergoing some growing pains.  The angry, whiney two-year old in us is lashing out against things that make us unhappy and we just don’t know any better.  Maybe because parents are making choices for their children to keep them away from some of the more violent games at a young age will have an impact on our society.  We still have not addressed the issue of mental illness very well in our country and the violence that accompanies it, and that is a worry.  But hopefully this is a stage we are going through and perhaps one day people killing one another in our country will reflect the numbers in more civilized societies.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

What Do You Have To Lose?

“Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose.” – Steve Jobs

I pulled this quote off an article I read shortly after Apple icon Steve Jobs passed after an incredible battle for a number of years against cancer.  It really struck me at the time and I saved it, coming back to it a number of times to contemplate my life, as well as what it means to me as an educator.  As I thought about what I have experienced with teenage students and see every day when I walk the halls or visit classrooms, Job’s words may in fact be the best advice that I could give to students.  And, after being an educator for thirty years, the reason that I want to send this message is because things have not really changed. 

This is what I have seen.  High school students want to be accepted.  Peer pressure has always been there.  There is no difference today than there was when I was a rookie teacher in 1985.  Teenagers will go to great lengths to be accepted by others.  They get their hair cut or styled like other kids.  Their clothes are basically the same as other kids they hang out with.  The do, say and believe the same things.  With just a few exceptions, there are very few unique individuals among a typical group of high school students.  There are some that like to think they are expressing their individualism and “real-self,” but in reality they are just like other kids that are trying to so the same.  Most boys think about girls, and most girls think about boys.  Some kids like sports, some like cars, and some like hanging out with friends.  Same as when I was in high school.

At the same time, there is a difference between the teenagers we have in school today compared to those when I started out in the mid-eighties.  In my opinion, kids today live under much heavier influence from their parents.  In the past we heard the term “teenage rebellion,” but we don’t hear it much these days.  Parents aren’t as strict as previous generations and thus their kids don’t have to challenge them as much as kids once did.  They also care about what their parents think.  They don’t want to disappoint them and thus there is a fairly high level of conformity.  The young people today in no way resemble the high school students of the 1960’s or the 1980’s who not only challenged their parents but also the status quo.  I am not saying it is an easy job being a parent of teenagers today, but I will argue very strongly that it isn’t as tough as it was for moms and dads in previous eras.  Sure, it is a sign of the times and things are a lot different now, which is perhaps why Job’s made the observation noted above.

We have created a sense in this country that everything is high stakes and every thing our kids do is vitally important to their future.  We have protected, coddled and laid out a plan for their future so that they can succeed.  We have done everything we can to limit risk in their lives.  Heck, even in rural Iowa we have parents reserving spots in the “right” pre-school before their kids are even born!  We have given trophies to all the players so they feel like they didn’t lose.  And we have spent money we don’t really have so our kids have the right clothes.  Moms and dads call professors at college to check and see what their child can do to improve their grade.  This very, very strong environment of conformity and fear of failure has resulted in kids not knowing how to cope or deal with adversity or when life throws them a curve.  

So how does this fit with what Jobs had to say?  It is simple: take a risk.  Take a chance.  Try something just because you want to and don’t worry about what others might think.  No risk no reward!  I read where psychiatrist’s and therapist’s appointment schedules are packed in many parts of our country with twenty-somethings who cannot cope with having to make decisions on their own, or have no sense of accomplishment or self-worth because all they ever accomplished was actually done by their parents.  What I would love to see within our school community is for kids to break out of the mold.  Why does popularity conflict with leadership?  Why can’t kids stand out from a crowd and be a leader without risking negative ramifications from their peers?  What about standing out from the crowd and showing support for a cause that might not be so popular, or defending a peer being persecuted by others?  Or better yet, not being afraid to create and think, and not worry about the grade?

In reality high school is a very brief period in a person’s life.  Some marketers try to convince kids that they are the best years of their life, a sham to get them to spend money on “memories.”  From my perspective, a way to make them better years in one’s life that perhaps results in a more productive and happy life is to take the Apple innovator’s advice and approach every day like you don’t have anything to lose.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Money Does Matter

If you want to argue that money doesn’t matter when it comes to how our students learn and perform, and thus where they get into college and what jobs they get, guess again.  It does!  “That’s garbage!” you say.  “How much money a person has does not effect how smart they are, how hard they work, or the grades they get.”  One might not thinks so, but apparently it does.  As the chart below demonstrates, there is a direct correlation between wealth and performance on the SAT test, that simply mean, the kids that come from wealthy families will do better on the SAT than those kids that come from families with less wealth.
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I admit it.  The first time I saw this chart I thought, “You have got to be kidding me!”  In no way, shape or form did I believe that such a correlation existed.  If you had told me that kids from wealthy families scored better than kids from poor homes, I would have agreed 100%.  However, in my mind the middle class kids would most certainly perform at the same level as those from homes of privilege.   But that is not what the results show.  The more wealth a family has, the better their children will do on the SAT.  There is most definitely an advantage here that adds to the continued inequality in our country, and perhaps serves as a barrier for many to “live the American dream.” 

It isn’t too difficult to understand how the children of the wealthy have an advantage.  They go to private schools with highly paid and highly qualified instructors.  They live in homes that value education and provide learning opportunities out of the classroom from an early age.  They are under a great deal of pressure from their parents to succeed and to continue the family’s success.  Opportunities exist for them to prep for tests like the SAT and ACT.  The list goes on and on. 

When you look at the percentage of students who attend the elite universities, the entrance requirements are very high.  To get in a prospective student must have SAT and/or ACT scores very top end.  And since they are also very expensive, it only makes sense that there is a disproportionate number of students from wealthy backgrounds in attendance.  Sure, there are examples of students from poor homes – heck, even homeless kids – that beat the odds and get into Harvard.  But they are more than the exception to the rule.  Harvard and Yale turn down more valedictorians than most schools have apply, and most of those rejected students are from middle-class families. 

The Puritan work ethic that has been a cornerstone of this country may not be enough to level the playing field.  Wealth is power, and from the data, it would appear that it will be sustained based on how these students perform on an important standardized assessment.  There has been a lot of conversation about the 1%, the growing percentage of children living in poverty in this country, and the huge disparity in the distribution of wealth.  Education remains the best bet for a person to improve their social standing, but it must be recognized that until we have a more equal distribution of wealth, education may not be enough.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Why I Have Those Pictures On My Wall

It has been 25 years since I loaded four high school wrestlers up in my Pontiac Grand Am and headed east to Hampton Sydney College in Virginia for the Granby School of Wrestling.  I was a young high school social studies teacher and wrestling coach and I had some very promising young wrestlers coming up and I wanted a chance to learn more about the “Granby system” of wrestling and to expose these young wrestlers to what I had been told were some of the best teachers of technique in the country.  I could spend a couple of hours telling stories from that trip, but that would bore most of you!  Why I mention this is because of one moment that took place on the trip that changed my life, and it did not take place at the wrestling camp.

I have described in a previous article how my parents always built in learning opportunities for my brother and me when we traveled.  Going to Virginia for the first time, and being a social studies teacher, I could not pass up the chance to spend extra time with the boys going to historical sites in perhaps our most historical of states.  The problem was choosing what to see!  One of the stops we made was Monticello, the home of our third President and author of the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson.  What an incredibly beautiful home!  And it was less than five minutes into our tour that we were standing in one of the parlors and there were thirteen portraits hanging on the wall.  The guide went on to explain the significance of the individuals featured in the paintings.

Thomas Jefferson was a man of incredible talent with a keen sense of curiosity.  He was also a student of culture and history, and recognizing his role in the creation of a new country, he collected ideas and philosophies from some of the great minds of the world.  In his parlor he had a collection of portraits of individuals he admired and respected for one reason or another, including the “three greatest men that ever lived” – John Locke, Isaac Newton, and Francis Bacon.  He also included explorers Christopher Columbus and Ferdinand Magellan, as well as American statesmen George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, and James Madison.  As we continued our tour I remember thinking about who are the people that I would have on my wall, and a number of individuals emerged. 

I’m not going to bore with a list and stories of the people I have on my wall.  It is kind of funny because some of the pictures have autographs and people think that is why I display them.  In reality, each of these are people I have tremendous respect and admiration for, and I do find myself thinking about them from time to time.  Pat Summit is in my opinion one of the greatest coaches of all time, regardless of sport, and her indescribably will and determination to get her players to play as a team is something that few have to extent she does.  Now, the way that she is battling one of life’s most unfair diseases – Alzheimer’s – with class and dignity, only adds to my respect for her.  Hank Aaron was not the first African-American to play in Major League Baseball, but he was one that broke the color barrier in the South playing for the Atlanta Braves.  My reason for including him is because I was very aware of the blatant racism he experienced in pursuit of Babe Ruth’s home run record.  Again, the way he handled unbelievable stress and threats with class and dignity is a lesson for all of us.  Brook Berringer is a young man most of you do not know.  He is the one of two people on my wall that I actually met.  Why a 22-year old college quarterback who died tragically in an accident when he crashed a plane he was flying?  Because Brook met the bell when his number was called.  He stepped up and led Nebraska to a National Championship as the second team quarterback, only to be relegated to backup the next season.  Yet he was there for the team and he put himself second to its success.

I don’t know that everyone needs to have a set of pictures of people they admire on the wall.  Maybe that’s a little over the top.  However, we all have people that have had an impact in our life, and there are those who we can learn from, whether they are role models or a trusted friend.  I just choose to put their pictures on my wall to remind me from time to time of the person I aspire to be.  And, they also serve as a great discussion starter when I have a student in my office, particularly when there may be a few character issues to discuss!

Monday, October 5, 2015

Do We Really Want to Run A School Like A Business?

For as long as I can remember I have heard people outside the field of education say, “schools need to be run like a business.”  Married to an accountant and individual who worked for nearly twenty years for a family business and as a CPA before that, I have heard it more times than I can count in my own home!  It has been said from political circles to barbershops.  Apparently there is a sense that all of the problems in education will be cured if it is just run like a business.  So, for the sake of argument, let’s take a little walk down that road.  Let’s run school like a business.
What business should we emulate?  What business should we model our school after?  Let’s start with Subway, one of the largest restaurant chains in the world.  Talk about a successful company, and one that I patronize regularly for their fresh sandwiches.  Let’s take Subway’s business model and run schools like this corporate giant.  They have a great marketing program that we could emulate that associates Subway with health and wellness, something that many other fast-food chains struggle with.  They have hired former Olympic athletes as spokespersons, and have recently brought back Jared Fogle, the man that lost over 250 pounds eating Subway sandwiches.  Eat at Subway and eat healthy!

Have you ever read the fine print at Subway?  Do you realize that those “healthy” sandwiches are those 6-inch ones with just meat and vegetables.  Start adding cheese, mayo, and other condiments and you have virtually the same type of food available at McDonalds or Burger King.  How about the fact that until a few years ago, the bread used by Subway contained a chemical called azodicarbonamide.  This chemical is also found in yoga mats and the soles of shoes to add elasticity.  How can that be healthy?  Yes, Subway took that out of their bread once it was exposed, but is that kind of business practice that we want to emulate at a school?  Subway and a lot of other businesses have cultivated a particular image that often covers up a lot of things that they don’t want the public to know.  Public schools cannot get away with that, nor should they.

Okay, maybe we don’t want to run our schools like a sandwich business.  How about a different business, maybe a cable company or other television provider?  Maybe schools should operate like Mediacom.  They sell you a basic service and require you to sign an agreement for a couple of years.  Then they come up with new options for new subscribers at a discounted rate, but when those who already have Mediacom want to have those options they can only get them with an upcharge.  With that kind of a model, how will parents respond to upcharges?  And let’s not forget when service is dropped and people who have paid for service have to do without.  Can a school just drop service and do nothing about it?

Maybe we should run schools like Citi Bank or Ameriquest Mortgage or Bank America or Goldman Sachs.  These are businesses that “are too big to fail” despite the fact that they committed fraud and all sorts of other crimes.  If a school follows those same business practices, such as fraud, discrimination, and lying to government investigators, would they be allowed to fail?  Eight teachers in Georgia have significant prison sentences for altering or fixing text scores.  Interesting that African-American teachers are sent to prison for this crime, yet white executives who committed crimes costing people millions of dollars aren’t getting similar sentences.

How about Enron?  How about British Petroleum?  How well have they done with that cleanup in the gulf due to that horrific oil spill?  I would be concerned about a school running with a model that does not take safety and concern for the community seriously.  Or one that sends the message to students that you don’t have to be responsible for damage that you cause.  Maybe American Express, a business that the Consumer Financial Bureau order to pay more than $75 million to settle claims that it charged improper fees and misled customers with add-on products, is a company that school should emulate.

I can remember when you would walk into Walmart and see signs that said “Buy American” and yet today the majority of the products sold in their stores are manufactured in China and most of their employees with children live below the poverty level.  I don’t think this business model is going to be accepted by our community.  We can debate about teacher pay, but what other profession that requires a four-year college degree pays less?  If we were to run schools like Walmart we would outsource all of our purchasing and not support the local economy and businesses, and keep wages for employees at a subsistence level.  Do people honestly believe we would attract high quality people to teach in that kind of school?

It is important to point out that in recent years where laws have permitted, a number of privately owned schools have been open for business under the guise of “charter schools.”  Now we have schools operating as a business.  How are they doing?  Let’s look at a couple of issues with these schools.  First of all, for the sake of comparison, our superintendent would have to be paid a lot more!  Deborah Kenny, who oversees Village Academy Network, Inc., was paid $499,146 last year.  Eva Moskowitz from Success Academy C.S. Inc. was paid $475,244.  To put that in perspective, that is over three-times what our current superintendent is paid.   And when you look closer at some of these privately owned charter schools, such as Kennedy Charter School in Charlotte, North Carolina, you see a student body that has low performing scores on state assessments and the top administrator being paid $187,000 a year.  I am not sure that is a good business model.  Yet if this were a public school, they would most likely be forced to undergo significant reforms outlined in No Child Left Behind.  Also in education look closely at the for-profit colleges and the corruption that has been uncovered.  Corinthian Colleges Inc. has declared bankruptcy “amid allegations that it had falsified grades, attendance, and job placement rates.”  I’m not sure those business models are good for education.  

Politicians and businessmen all seem to think that they know what is best for education.  They all went to school and think they know more about it than those of us who have spent our professional careers in education.  When I look at the mess we have in those two parts of our society, it is crystal clear that the management of schools needs to be left up to the educators.  What two entities in our country have exhibited more greed, arrogance, and corruption than business and politics?  Here’s a deal: If business people will keep their nose out of telling us how to run schools, I won’t tell them how to run their business, even though there are a few things I could teach them!

Sunday, September 20, 2015

At What Point Will We Wake Up In Regard To Youth Sports?

Back in the summer of 1970 I was commissioner, general manager, head coach, and player in my own baseball league in Ames, Iowa, more specifically in University Village north of the Iowa State campus where I lived with my parents and brother when my dad was in graduate school.  I have always wanted to run the show, and I did.  I gathered up the kids living in the apartments during those summer months and I put together a baseball league.  We had kids living in university housing from all over the world and most of them at least knew a little about playing baseball, though a few didn’t have a clue.  Didn’t matter.  They all played.  I drove moms nuts because I insisted that they all bring a white t-shirt (remember, back in 1970 there was no such thing as a colored t-shirt, let along screen printed ones!) over to our apartment and we went nuts with magic markers.  I knew all of the major league teams at the time and what their uniforms looked like and we took those markers and made our own.  I did run into resistance from moms when I decided we were going to have an all-star game and everyone needed new uniforms!  Apparently one white t-shirt marked up to look like a Dodger uniform was enough!  We played every day near the playground area and I kept stats.  By the way, I led the league in every positive category!  Hmmmm.  Perhaps the stat keeper was a little biased!

This is just one of my childhood memories of playing in the sandlot, backyard, or in the park with friends.  We changed sports with the seasons and wore out the knees of our Tuf-Skins.  Other than those homemade t-shirts that served as our jersey, no uniforms, no special shoes, no wristbands, no $300 bats, no private lessons for hitting, no private lessons for pitching.  None of that.  Just a group of kids from the neighborhood playing outside.  We loved it!  We laughed and we cried.  We argued and got really mad!  We called people names.  And once in a while we fought.  We also put an arm around a buddy that had a bad day.  Best of all, there were no adults around!

So how come when I drive around West Union on an incredibly nice summer day, I don’t see any kids anywhere outside?  Correction: one young man riding a bike across the highway.  Oh, there are a lot of reasons that can be listed.  Both parents working and no one to push the kids outside, video games, and the list can go on and on.  But another reason is that the kids don’t have to go outside and play with their friends because adults have taken over and organized their lives so much for them that they already do!  Confusing?  Because adults have become so busy with their lives, both work and personal, they have scheduled their children’s lives to the point where kids don’t know what it is like to gather up their friends and go outside and play ball.  And I would argue that the model we have created for youth sports in this country is broken.  We have imparted adult values on what should be kids games and the ramifications are very negative.

Let’s take a look at some numbers.  Three out of four American families with school-aged kids have at least one playing an organized sport.  However, by the time kids are 15-years old, according to Open Access Journal of Sports Medicine, 80% of those kids have quit playing.  Think about that.  Of those little kids that swim on swim team, play softball and baseball, play basketball, wrestle and play football, by the time they basically start high school, they quit playing sports.  Some kids are sick of playing, as today there seems to be a growing gap between the child’s desire to enjoy the sport and some adult views that youth sports are “mini-versions of win-at-all-costs adult sports.”  I have been involved with youth sports from small-town recreational programs to national elite levels and all one has to do is take a step back and look for a couple of things.  Take a look at the players and then look at the parents.  Who is more intense and engaged in the game emotionally?  Quite often it is the parents.  Where are the negative comments coming from, whether directed toward the officials, coaches, other team, or players?  Nearly every time, it comes from the parents, not the players.  It is almost sad to say, but I have seen parents hauling kids all over the country with the goal of getting their child in front of college coaches or scouts because they want so much for their child to get a college scholarship to play.  Maybe I am a bit callused, but I believe that for many parents it is for their own ego.  Watch the pride that comes across a parent’s face when they talk about the colleges that are “looking at their child.”  Parents love to brag on their kids and what greater level of accomplishment can they share than to say they got a scholarship offer.

What is scary is that for many of those kids that quit playing before they have a high school career, injuries have been a primary reason.  From a 2013 study of 1200 young athletes, those that concentrated on a single sport were 70-93% more likely to be injured than those who played multiple sports.  The single sport focus vs. multiple sport participation issue is one that can be addressed at length, but what these findings basically say is that kid’s bodies are getting worn out at a very young age.  Because we have organized youth sports into this model that works for adults, because some parents are doing everything possible for that elusive college scholarship, and because there are people out there that have recognized that there is a way to make a buck (actually millions) on this youth sports industry, the pawns, err, kids, are getting worn out and tired of playing games at a very young age.  For years our culture has loved the high school hero, but many of those potential heroes are on the sideline doing something different than playing sports.

There is no question America is a sports-obsessed society.  I love sports and am very interested in all aspects of the games we play.  But things are out of whack right now and while many things have improved over time, I am not so sure that this is the case.  Before I end my days on this planet, I hope that one day I will drive by a corner lot or a park and see a dozen kids out there playing ball.  Better yet, they will be arguing over whether one of them was out at first base, and figure out a way to resolve it on their own, without an adult in sight.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

What Kind of A Parent Are You?

I am going to let you in on a secret: teachers, principals, and other school employees talk about parents.  Shhhh!  It’s a secret!  However, since the cat it out of the bag I will let you know that a lot of generalizations are made, during times of frustration some pretty negative things are said, and yes, there are often a number of positive conversations about parents as well.  We recognize that parents never talk about teachers or principals so I thought it was important to come clean and let you folks know that we do talk about you.  

I have never been very good with sarcasm, and as I have read and re-read the paragraph above I still wonder if I could have put it better.  However, what I want parents to know is that the relationship we have with you is very important.  Communication is the key, and when we have good communication things generally go much better with your child’s education at our school.  Just like every student is an individual with unique qualities and characteristics, you parents are the same.  There are times we forget that, especially when we make some of those broad-sweeping generalizations like I mentioned above.  We do know that parenting is tough.  Most of us have been through it.  And, we know that people parent differently.  Where we sometimes have difficulty is understanding why some parents deal with their children different than we did with our own.  It is for that reason that I have spent quite a bit of time learning about different parenting styles, trying to figure out how we work with students who have been raised differently than how I was raised, and how I raised my kids.  To that end, I have come across some interesting articles about parenting, and attended a very interesting session at this past year’s NASSP conference about the different ways parents are raising their kids today.  James Pedersen, an individual who has researched parenting styles and written a great deal about them, groups parents into three general categories: Hyper-Parents, Hypo-Parents, and Traditional/Neo-traditional Parents.  
Pedersen says that the biggest difference between parents today and those of days gone by is that today’s parents are “hyper-aware” and want to resolve all of their child’s problems for them.  According to him, this is based on previous generations of child rearing that focused on wanting to raise children to be more sensitive and caring.  That has come with a price because those more caring and compassionate people (us!) are parents now!  Compared to previous generations of parents, we are more aware of what is going on in our children’s lives, are more demanding, and more questioning.  Based on that, here a few types of parents, and perhaps you can identify what kind you are. 

The Hyper-Parents are those that over parent.  They are over-involved in their child’s lives and in many instances there tends to be blurred lines between their own goals for their child and their child’s goal.  They tend to have overly high expectations and attempt to remove obstacles to insure their kid’s success.  Included in this category of parent is the Helicopter Parent, who “hovers over their child, rarely letting them do anything by themselves.”  A more intense form of parent, The Blackhawk not only hovers, but also attempts to shoot down anyone who they believe is in the way of their child’s success.  Two other kinds of hyper-parents are the Curling and Snowplow.  The Curling parent “smooths the ice” for their child, while the Snowplow “blasts through” their child’s obstacles.  Also in this category is the Tiger Mom, where nothing their child does is ever good enough, nor is what anyone connected to their child does.  And, there is the Attachment Parent who refuses to let their child go. 

Hypo-Parents are those that under parent.  One that I found very interesting is the Free-range Parent, and since attending the conference, there has been quite a bit written about these kinds of parents.  In essence, they are the “anti-Helicopter,” “anti-Attachment” parent.  Like free-range chickens, they allow their kids to roam believing that they need to make their own way in life and learn for themselves.  Two examples in the news recently are the parents that were cited for neglect by letting their kids walk to a park by themselves about six blocks from home in an east coast city, and parents who live outside of New York City that allow their kids to visit the city on weekend evenings unaccompanied by adults.  Interesting that neglect is a term used here when these folks believe the best way for their child to grow and learn is out from under the wings of the parent.  We see a number of Best Friend or Karaoke parents, those that want to be the child’s pal or buddy rather than a parent.  And there is the Pussycat Parent that doesn’t want to upset their child and therefore do very little in terms of providing guidance or structure.
The last group is those referred to as the Traditional or Neo-traditional parents.  While the general assumption is that there is a parent at home keeping an eye on the kids as they grow up, there are a variety of different configurations.  The Backbone Parent is not afraid of saying “no” or making difficult decisions.  The Balance Parent insists on having balance in life and works to be sure that their child is not overextended.  The Faithful Parent uses their religious beliefs as a foundation for parenting.  There are a number of parents in our district that would fall under one of these categories, and they tend to be very supportive school and their children’s education.

John O’Sullivan provides a different perspective on parents that has merit as well.  According to him, kids today are pawns in an adult driven, hyper competitive race to the top.  This race takes place in academics and athletics that serves the needs of the adults, but rarely the kids.  According to O’Sullivan, we have a generation of kids that are being pushed to accomplish the dreams of their parents rather than their own, and some of them are actually sacrificing what most of us would consider a normal childhood.  He has a name for this kind of parent as well – The Avatar.  They have assumed the identity of their child and are trying to live out their unlived life through their kids.

As I have learned more about parenting, and looked at the different ways parents make decisions, and the motivation for those decisions, I can put faces on a lot of these different types.  But as I have dug in deeper, I have also done a great deal of self-reflection, and what I have determined in my own case is that I have characteristics of a handful of these types, or have passed through different phases of parenting.  Some of that has been good, and regretfully, some it has not.  The conclusion I have come to is that there needs to be balance and moderation, and perhaps the most damage that has been done to kids is with the extremes.  I look at some of the kids in our hallways and am really concerned about how they are going to make it through life without mom and dad right there with them.  I have wanted to ask a couple of moms if they plan to go to college with their child.  By the same token, we have had kids that have survived in spite of an absence of parenting, and it impresses me the resilience they have shown.  If you see bits of yourself in the short descriptions I have provided, perhaps spend a little bit of time thinking about what you can do better in order to help your child become an independent productive member of our society.  Isn’t that the goal we all have for our kids?

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Uncoachable Kids Become . . .

I have seen a couple of different quotes that start with “Uncoachable kids become . . .”  One of them continues . . . “unemployable adults.  Once you are convinced the coach cares, let your kids get used to someone being tough on them.”  The other one is from Fayette alum and head softball coach at the University of Alabama, Patrick Murphy.  His goes like this: “Uncoachable kids become unemployable adults, let your kids get used to someone being tough on them.  It’s life, get over it!”  The message is very similar, and one that I have seen in similar forms a lot lately, and used in arenas other than sports.  I do not believe it is a new concept as I can think back to my playing days and former teammates that I would classify as uncoachable.  And yes, I can think of examples of where they have struggled over the years sustaining meaningful employment and having a happy, successful life.

I could discuss coaching and the approaches that are commonly used today, but my focus with this article is on the other side of the equation: the student.  However, I feel a couple of brief comments need to be said about coaching.  First of all, coaches have changed a lot over the past 30 years, especially at the high school level.  And overall, the abusive strategies that some coaches have employed do not exist anywhere close to the extent they used to.  School leaders have paid a lot more attention and public pressure has forced positive change.  Yet, there are still some very tough coaches out there.  Some that will raise their voice and push kids to their limit.  What I think is important is that there is a difference between tough and abusive, and frankly, tough coaches generally get students to maximize their potential.  The same can be said about teachers and others who work with young people.  Those that are tough more often than not get results.  They might not be liked, but they get results.

So what about these uncoachable kids?  As I stated, this is not a new phenomenon.  However, today there are differences that coaches and teachers must face.  Perhaps the most obvious is that young people today have a strong need to know “why.”  They often question coaches/teachers wanting to know “why.”  When coaching was much more similar to the dictatorial practices of the military, leaders/coaches did not have to respond to “why.”  They demanded conformity and to question was insubordinate.  Today, things have changed in schools and on many athletic fields.  Coaches and teachers get frustrated with this, but it is necessary most of the time.  That said, coaches and teachers are still authority figures, and whether they answer the question or not, in order for the team/group to move forward, they have to conform.  And that is where a lot of problems exist today.  In many instances they don’t conform because they don’t like the “why” or they have opinions/beliefs that are different and insist on following those.  That does not translate well to the work world.  When a boss that owns a company tells you do to something, she does not need to tell you “why.”  They are the boss, and it doesn’t matter “why.”  They are the boss.  If students do not learn to conform when it is necessary or in particular instances – when they are uncoachable – then that is a skill they will be lacking when they move into employment.

Another major factor that has caused change is that some parents have developed stronger opinions on what they believe are in the best interest of their child and insist that they listen to them rather than the coach/teacher.  We have seen basketball players look at their dad in the crowd during a time out when they should be listening to the coach.  Dads often walk behind the bench at softball games and tell their daughters what they should do, even if it contradicts the coach.  Parents have invested quite a bit of money in travel teams and private lessons, and question the abilities of the coach, even at the college level.  Based on that, no one should be surprised that a teenager is difficult to coach when they are hearing a different message at home.  I am well aware of a basketball situation that existed in our school where the student was being coached one way in the gym and told the exact opposite at home each night by Coach Dad.  Obviously they had to go home each night and answer to Coach Dad, which as a result created a lot of tension in the gym at practice and during games when they did not follow the expectations of the coach.  Unless a student is going to work for their parents when they are finished with high school, this kind of behavior is not going to be tolerated on the job site.

Some kids are just stubborn or have a mind of their own.  For whatever reason they have ideas or practices different from their teacher.  Classrooms have gone through a lot of the same changes that coaching has in recent years and are a lot more student-centered than you and I experienced.  That said, there is still an authority structure in the classroom, and if a student doesn’t meet deadlines or doesn’t complete a retake, this reflects a great deal on their habits and perhaps even their belief system.  I don’t believe it is the role of the school to teach responsibility.  That is something that should be done at home, but I can tell you that once they start working, if they are not on time or are unwilling to re-do some of their work, they are not going to stick with that company very long.

We have entered a period in our history where people have access to a great deal of information in a short amount of time.  Students are exposed to more life experiences at a younger age than their parents and teachers, and it is natural that they are going to question things a lot more.  But the reality is that when they enter the job market, they are going to work for individuals who grew up a lot different.  If a young person is not receptive to coaching, if they always think they know a better way, then there are going to be difficult times ahead.  In the athletic arena, parents have to entrust their child to the coach.  The coach is the one that is employed by the district to do a job.  I have not met one that doesn’t want to win games, and to do that they must sometimes make difficult decisions.  The coachable young man will recognize that he can help the team by being a rebounding presence and play inside rather than stay outside shooting 3-pointers.  The uncoachable player will defy the coach, or pout about not getting to fire them up from long range.  As an employer, what person will you hire?

Saturday, August 8, 2015

Challenges or Rewards?

There is no question that we have made a number of changes in our school the past couple of years with sharing, grading, Capstone, and others.  Actually, we have made quite a few changes the past five years with the goal of improving our schools so that our students were challenged and better prepared for college and the work world.  It was not that many years ago when it was quite common for the senior year to be quite honestly, laughable, in terms of the course load many students took and attitude of “cruising” through the final year before one had to get serious about college or getting a job.  The result of this was a large percentage of students finding themselves unprepared for the rigors of college and basically wasting a year of learning opportunities.  Heck, some seniors were hardly in school due to low graduation requirements, as well as lax standards for attendance, low expectations, and easily abused entitlements like early release.
At no point have I ever thought school should be like the military, though my mind has wandered from time to time about some of the discipline and procedures they use and how that might transfer to a public school!  (Note: I haven’t viewed it as prison either, and laugh when students say that it is!  I have offered to take students to a prison to visit so that they can compare!)  That said, there is an analogy for what I am discussing.  When our troops face the possibility of entering a conflict they are put through the most challenging, excruciating training that their leaders can put them through to prepare them for what lies ahead.  If they did not prepare them in the most demanding way possible, that would be an injustice if not criminal.  Why would it be any different with education?
There is proof that a demanding high school education serves students well when they go on to college.  I have heard it spoken hundreds of times!  “College math was a breeze due to having Mr. Post teach math at Galva-Holstein.”  “Writing classes in college are easy compared to taking comp from Mrs. Kovarik at NFV.”  “I hated Mrs. Bishop at Chariton, but I smoked chemistry in college because I had her in high school.”  “My four years in Ag at Creston with Mr. Zumbach made four years at Iowa State fly by.”  You see, when students are challenged, and when they sometime have to give more and work harder than even they believe they can, it paves the way for success down the road.
I cringe when students complain about a teacher being too tough.  I really cringe when parents say the same thing!  I question the decisions that are made when a student drops a tough course to take an easier one.  Why would you do that?  This will sound like a commercial, but this country prides itself on the Protestant work ethic, and it was through blood, sweat, and tears that it became great!  And yet, we allow students to back away from challenges and complain that a teacher is too demanding.  Why?  Because we want life to be easy and our children happy?  We adults know that life has challenges and there are going to be setbacks far bigger than getting a low grade, or obstacles tougher to overcome than having to rewrite a paper or staying up late to study for a test.  Yet we want to give our kids a paved road to Easy Street.

We have taken steps in the direction we should be headed, and we are being careful about what we do.  Demanding is different than impossible, and tough is not the same as unreasonable.  Teachers have raised their game to meeting increased expectations, and they continue to grow in terms of how best to teach students.  We continue to seek the best ways to support students.  And, we will continue to eliminate the “easy classes” and develop curriculum so that students have the knowledge, skills, and confidence to succeed at the next step in their life.  Perhaps our greatest challenge is motivation and convincing them that they can excel and achieve, but on that end, the job is bigger than what we can do ourselves.  We need parents to join in this as well, and rather than complaining about something being too hard or too much, help your child prioritize things in their life and put maximum effort into those pursuits that will best prepare them to live life and meet the challenges ahead.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Some Things Your Kids Can Do This Summer

Summer is certainly a time when student, teachers, and even principals need some time to re-charge and prepare for the challenges that will meet us when we return to school in August.  However, while it is important for everyone to get a little rest and relaxation, getting too far away from school isn't necessarily a good idea.  Speaking as a principal, I honestly never get totally away as there are at most five days a summer that I don't do something related to school.  And, most teachers work off and on throughout the summer, taking classes, preparing new instruction, or simply refining some of the things they do.  There are things that students can do as well to keep their brains engaged and to insure that they don't backslide on some of the important things that they have learned.  Here are a few suggestions from Dustin Le in Edudemic that you may want to consider with your own kids!
Ten Creative Ways Students Can Have A Better Summer Break

Friday, May 29, 2015

A Salute to the Class of 2015

The following is the preliminary script for the address given to the graduates of the Class of 2015 at their commencement exercises May 29, 2015 at North Fayette Valley High School.
For the past few months I have tried to articulate in my mind what I wanted to say at graduation about the seniors in the Class of 2015 at North Fayette Valley High School.  Generally it has been easy for my to capsulize a class in a few words, but this year’s group has proven very difficult to sum up.  I have kept searching for that to no avail.  I remarked a year ago about the incredible academic achievement of the Class of 2014 with scores and accomplishments that were mind blowing.  In 2013, I spoke about the incredible pockets of talent and the amazing performances and accomplishments members of the class had over the course of their high school career.  For the Class of 2012 I discussed the potential and my personal curiosity as to where they were all going to end up.  But what about this bunch that sits before me?
Here is what I have come up with:  You are like the middle child.  Now I am going to describe what I mean from a few different perspectives.  You see last year in the first year of NFV, the seniors were the ones that got all of the attention.  First to do this, first to do that, and on and on and on.  They were the ones that had to leave behind their comfort zones in their last year of high school.  They got to make decisions and set the foundation for what was to come.  And the 9th and 10th graders – the younger siblings – we weren’t too worried about them because after a couple of years they would be just fine.  Plus, just like moms and dads do, we gave them extra attention to make sure they found their way.  And yes, we worried more about them than we did about you.  Would they find their way around the building?  Would they make friends?  How would they handle a school so big?  What about driving so far so early in the morning? 
And then there were you, the juniors.  Did anyone even notice you were here?  Were you here?  There’s three or four of you that we needed to check on this year to be sure you were who you claimed to be!  A lot of folks couldn’t tell the difference between a D.J. and a J.D.!  In some respects it was kind of like your class was invisible.  Neglected.  The school year ended, the first class of North Fayette Valley graduated and everyone patted themselves on their back about how well Year 1 had gone.  People were feeling pretty good.
And then we started this past school year, and with the older sibling gone and out of the house, the middle child was now ready to come out of his/her shell.  And this is what we found – this group of young men and women – these seniors – had become a strong, unified class of students that supported each other and had worked together to make each other better.   They had developed new friendships and found a lot of common interests.  Most of them have not been caught up getting a lot of individual attention or having the spotlight on them.  They have explored opportunities and have performed at a very high level.   There are some incredible minds in this class.  Some great thinkers.  A lot of this became evident through their Capstone experience.  They raised the bar with the quality of research and presentations they gave.  Many of them attacked the project, like they attack their classes, with the goal of learning.
Like the middle child there is a sense of empathy and a desire to help others.  A few were integral in putting together a program to draw awareness to how many students in our school struggle with mental health issues.  Others have provided much needed and appreciated service to others, such as playing the piano at a nursing home.  Parents are biased, but when I say that there are some really great kids in this class, you can take that coming from someone that wouldn’t say it if he didn’t mean it!  There are some truly nice, caring people that sit before me today, and we all have benefitted from having them build the foundation for our school.
Middle children do succeed, and a research study from the United Kingdom presents evidence that they out do their older and younger siblings.  Over half of the Presidents of our country were a middle-child.  Bill Gates, Peyton Manning, J-Lo, Donald Trump, Abraham Lincoln, David Letterman, Warren Buffett – all middle kids.  There were not great expectations place on this class – typical of the middle child – and perhaps because of this, they blossomed as their own intuition dictated.  They have done their own thing, and it has worked out very well.  We have over around 50 musicians in this class that have performed at the highest level in the state.  We have athletes that have won at the highest level in the state.  We have students that have represented our school extremely well in a number of different ways, making the staff and the community very proud.

The Class of 2015 is the one that has truly defined North Fayette Valley.  They have been instrumental in terms of setting the expectations for future classes.  They have to a large extent defined what it means to be a TigerHawk.  In this year’s class  you can truly see how some of the old traditions have merged and new ones are starting.  You saw a number of photos in the video earlier and rarely did you see one from the past year where students from both districts weren’t in the frame.  Some of these young men and women are going to make a difference in the lives of others in a big way.  There are people in this class with a social conscience who recognize that they have a role in the betterment of our lives.  To them I wish great success and hope that they will not be deterred by limits place upon them by others.  Good luck to all of you!  You have made us proud to be from NFV!