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It Just Doesn’t Matter

There is enough to deal with inside the classroom. Don’t get distracted by all the noise outside your four walls.

Back to back blogs with soliloquies from the king, Bill Murray.

Camp North Star is down big to rival, Camp Mohawk. All seems lost. Until Bill Murray (Tripper) gives a rousing speech which turns the tides leading to the ultimate underdog victory.

How does Tripper do it? Does he have a new gameplan? Did he discover a loophole in the competition? Is he highlighting the strengths and talents of his campers? Does he share Camp Mohawk’s greatest weakness?

None of the above.

Tripper’s master plan is, “It just doesn’t matter.”

Tripper highlights all of Camp Mohawk’s advantages (great athletes, best equipment money can buy, personal masseuses, training methods from the Soviet Union, etc.). He puts into words what everyone is thinking. All of Camp North Star is consumed with how wonderful Camp Mohawk is. They are focusing on what they can’t control, not what they can.

His solution is simple, stop worrying about Camp Mohawk. Not only does it not benefit Camp North Star in the competition, but it is actually making them perform worse.

I don’t know if Tripper believes that Camp North Star can win. I do know that he believes that they will have a lot more fun, play better, and have a better shot at winning if they stop focusing on Camp Mohawk.

Connection to Education

Social media is great! Unless you are looking for positive stories about teaching in America. Twitter and Facebook are littered with information about the mistreatment of teachers. Whether it is teacher pay, insurance, or general respect, educators seem to be on the short end most of the time.

This post aims to solve none of those problems. Rather, my advice, or Tripper’s advice, is, “It just doesn’t matter.”

As a teacher there are a million things that are out of your control. What you can control is what happens in your classroom when it is just you and your students.

Choose to spend the time focused on meeting the needs of your students. Be grateful that you have the opportunity to make a difference in someone else’s life.

You may not have many resources, but you have the most important resource, time. With time and a desire to always do what is best for your students, you can make all the difference.

Those who carry the baggage of all the things wrong in education dump that on their students. If you come into your classroom upset about what you don’t have or jealous about what somebody else has it is going to come out in your teaching. Teaching is too personal for it not to.

Control what you can control. Focus on what matters. “It just doesn’t matter” what is happening outside of your classroom, because magic is happening inside it.

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Put a Little Love in Your Heart

What is the best way to leave school with a smile on your face?

There are certain holiday movies I look forward to watching every year. Scrooged is one of those films. It is great from start to finish. However, the last ten minutes are incredible. If I am flipping through the channels and this scene is on, I have to sit and watch. And even though I have not invested in the prior 2 hours, I always find myself getting choked up.

Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol has been retold dozens of times. Scrooged might be my favorite retelling. We follow Bill Murray (Frank Cross) as he meets with three ghosts on Christmas Eve. By the end of the night he has transformed from a money obsessed selfish television executive to a true believer in the Christmas spirit and power of giving back.

“If you give…then the miracle can happen to you.” What does Frank mean by give? What does he mean by miracle?

At the beginning of the film Frank gives his brother bath towels for Christmas. Why? Because he does not know his brother. He does not know anyone, because his actions have been guided by power and greed. Throughout the movie, he starts listening and learning about the people around him. He begins to reflect on the consequences of his actions, or inactions, and understand what it is people truly need.

In order to “give” you have to connect with those around you. You have to understand what they really need.

The miracle Frank refers to in this scene is purpose. He finally understands the power of doing for others. Working in his own self-interest has left him empty. Only through the power of giving back does Frank feel fulfilled. His miracle is the happiness that overwhelms when he starts living a life to help others.

Connection to Education

Everyone knows the phrase “slippery slope.” Most of the connotations are negative. Start off down the wrong path and a whole host of other problems are sure to follow. But, what if we applied this principle to making positive choices?

Image result for peak of a mountain cartoon

In the image above we see two sides of the mountain (two slippery slopes). One side represents making a poor choice and dealing with all the consequences of that choice. The other side represents positive actions and the benefits that come from going in that direction.

Where do we start to go down the positive path?

Frank started with giving and that is where educators should start. In order for Frank to give he had to understand the people around him. In order for educators to give, they have to know their students. Without creating meaningful relationships, the best we can hope to give our students are bath towels.

When you get to know your students, you know what they need:

  • Time
  • Patience
  • Understanding
  • Love
  • Attention
  • Affirmations
  • A Second Chance

Here is where the miracle happens. When you know what your students need and you give it to them, amazing things happen (miracles happen). Students look forward to coming to your class. They work for you. They give you everything they have.

Giving opens up the potential of your students and provides them with the opportunity to fall in love with school. But Frank’s giving does not only help realize the miracle for the recipients of his kindness, he benefits as well. The same is true for educators.

When you form meaningful relationships with students and provide them with what they need, you will feel the overwhelming joy that few other professions provide. You will leave school with a big smile across your face.

Keep Your Focus

Every year education gets more complex. There is more to do, more to worry about, and more to understand. In a profession that is often overwhelming, it is extremely important to maintain your focus.

The aging pitching ace, Kevin Costner (Billy Chapel), finds himself in New York one last time facing the Yankees. As Chapel gets ready to face the first batter, he scans the stadium focusing on the insults being hurled his way from the home fans.

In order to hone in at the job at hand we hear Chapel say, “Clear the mechanism.” After that, the surrounding noise is drowned out by Chapel’s primary focus, the opposing batter.

Spoiler alert: Chapel goes on to pitch a perfect game. He is only able to accomplish the rare task because he can separate the distractions from the job.

It’s that simple. Teachers need only to say, “Clear the mechanism” as they walk into class every student will follow directions, participate, support each other, and master the content. Okay, maybe it is not quite that easy.

The best way for educators to maintain the proper focus is by asking themselves one question, “Is this what is best for my students?”

Two of the most common examples of distractions that can detract from doing what is best for students are time wasting and emotional energy drains.

Time Wasting

The tasks of an educator are many and the school day is only so long. Teachers and principals should prioritize their daily schedule based on what will yield the largest benefits to students.

It may be helpful to track your activities, outside of direct instruction, for a week and then reflect on the impact each activity has on student learning.

Example (One Day)

7:30 to 8:00 – Making Copies – Low Impact on Student Learning

11:30 to 11:50 – Eating Lunch – Low Impact on Student Learning

11:50 to 12:10 – Comparing Common Assessment Data with PLT – High Impact on Student Learning

12:10 to 12:30 – Revising Future Lesson Plans Based on Data Review – High Impact on Student Learning

12:30 to 1:00 – Searching the Internet for Project Ideas – Medium Impact on Student Learning

3:30 to 4:30 – Providing Meaningful Feedback on Student Assignment – High Impact on Student Learning

This a very simplified outline of a teacher’s use of time before school, during planning, and after school. I recognize that there are certain tasks that have to be done, even though they have a low impact on student learning. But, these tasks should be minimized, or an alternative or more efficient means to accomplish the activities should be considered.

If you find that you are spending an exorbitant amount of time making copies, have you considered the use of technology in your classroom? Could students use notebooks instead of receiving a copy of everything? Can you get by with only a classroom set?

Ask a colleague whom you consider to be a master teacher to log their time as well. After a week compare the data. It may be surprising to see how they prioritize their time.

When you are cognizant of your time and what you spend it on, you will inevitably become more efficient.

Emotional Energy Drains

Teaching is emotionally draining. If you want to hang out with an educator on the weekend, make it a Saturday, because most teachers are sleeping by 8 o’clock on Friday night.

Passion, enthusiasm, and energy are essential elements to strong teaching. To keep those at peak levels, we must avoid emotional drains.

Examples of Energy Drains

  • Complaining Colleagues – Conversations with co-workers around all the problems in education
  • Negative Student Talk – Discussing and hearing about all the “problem” students you and others have to deal with it
  • Emotionally Charged Emails – Reading and responding to negative emails from parents
  • Power Struggles with Students – Constantly seeking the upper-hand when working with challenging students.
  • Failed Lesson Obsessing – Wallowing in the aftermath of a failed activity

It is difficult to go through a school day and not encounter one, if not more, of these energy suckers. The key is to quickly recognize it for what it is, and move on to a high student impact activities.

When you spend too much time in an energy drain your ability to maintain the positive energy, enthusiasm, and passion in the classroom will become almost impossible.

While it may not be as simple as “Clearing the mechanism,” focusing your time and energy on doing what’s best for students will ultimately lead to greater job satisfaction and better student results.

Adopting New Ideas

As educators we are overwhelmed with resources, professional development, and information. There are times when we are blown away by what we see or read that others are doing with students. While it is extremely important to continuously grow, we must be sure not to redefine who we are every time we discover something new.

Carl and Russell just met Dug, and are obviously mesmerized by the fact that he can speak. As Dug explains where his ability to talk came from, he is distracted by an off-camera squirrel.

This scene from 2009’s Up has become synonymous with distractions. Are you trying to redirect your kids, but their eyes keep drifting back to the television? Squirrel. Are you having a heartfelt conversation with your spouse at dinner, but they keep eavesdropping on the first date at the next table? Squirrel. Are you holding a faculty meeting, but the whole staff is checking their phones for weather updates regarding the possible upcoming snow day? Squirrel.

The wonderful thing about technology is that it has shrunk the world. Through YouTube, Twitter, Pinterest, TED Talks, blogs, and a host of other communication platforms, we are able to see what teaching looks like across the globe. No longer are we confined to textbooks and the four walls of our schools.

So what is the problem?

The problem is that when we try to replicate what an educator is doing somewhere else, we may fail to recognize what was done with students prior to what we saw and that not all students need the same thing.

What better way to emphasize the first point than with another movie clip.

Jeff Godblum (Ian) lectures Richard Attenborough (John) about the dangers of how he achieved the rebirth of dinosaurs. Ian speaks about the power that John is yielding, when he states, “It didn’t require any discipline to obtain it.” He continues, “You didn’t earn the knowledge for yourselves, so you don’t take any responsibility.”

When teachers and principals are too quick to implement something they recently learned, they discount the time and effort it took from the originator to perfect it. To assume that any successful educational idea, protocol, system, innovation, or process can be copied and replicated at any school is naive.

What you don’t see when you are enamored with a presentation is all the errors that were made beforehand. All the feedback sessions that were had behind closed doors. All the practice it took to get it right.

The second, and more important, aspect to consider are your students. Every school is different and every child is unique. It can’t be assumed that just because a system was successful in a school with similar demographics as yours, means it will work for your students.

So, should you ignore anything great that your hear about?

Absolutely not. Here are a few suggestions when trying to incorporate something you recently saw and are very excited about:

  1. Share it with colleagues at your building. Collective buy-in beats operating from an island.
  2. Look at student survey data if you have it or create it if you don’t. What do students think is going well and what do they want? Carving out an extra 30 minutes of enrichment time a day when students feel they are struggling to keep up with curriculum in current length classes might not go over well.
  3. Read 2-3 other ideas around the same topic. A quick Google search will yield articles and information about the topic you are interested in. You may find data to back-up your enthusiasm. However, you might find that the case you were so fired up for is an outlier.
  4. Reach out to the presenter/author. With social media, most people are extremely accessible. They may be able to share starting points, pitalls, and resources.
  5. Go slow and take your time with implementation. Nothing happens overnight. Get feedback along the way. If you followed steps 1-4, there is some real potential. Don’t waste the opportunity by doing too much too soon.

Being moved by a speaker or book is an amazing feeling. We got into education to help kids. It feels natural to want to jump right into something when we feel like it will benefit students. But, it is important to understand that behind every great idea came a great deal of planning, feedback, and mistakes. And, be sure you are thinking about what is best and will work for your students. Lastly, always remember that in order to achieve success…squirrel.

You Don’t Always Have to Win

That is a difficult title for me to write. Growing up with two brothers, competition was a way of life. However, in education, always trying to come out on top can ruin relationships.

I hated this scene when I was a kid. I rooted for Geena Davis (Dottie) the whole movie. I found Lori Petty (Kit) to be overly whiny. So when Dottie drops the ball in the final game, allowing Kit to win the title for Racine, I was devastated.

As I’ve grown older, and rewatched A League of Their Own, I understand and appreciate Dottie’s decision (yes, it was a decision) to drop the ball allowing Kit to become the hero.

So why did she do it? She did for Kit, but she also did it for herself.

Throughout the film, Kit is fragile, anxious, and diffident. Without Dottie, she would have never had the opportunity to play in the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League. Kit’s lack of self-confidence stems from living her life under the towering shadowing of her big sister. Dottie is well aware of this, because she sees it on Kit’s face… and Kit flat out tells her.

And what does Dottie have to gain from holding on to the ball? Sure, she costs her team the championship, but she could have lost her relationship with her sister. Seeing her husband safely return from the war, solidified that she had everything she needed, which did not include an All-American Girls Professional Baseball League Championship.

When faced with winning or doing the right thing, Dottie chose to do the right thing, and won in the end.

Sometimes the stress of school builds to a point where students and parents are seen as enemies, not allies. It is at these moments when administrators and teachers sometimes make the wrong decision to “win” instead of doing what is best for students.

Every teacher has a late policy. It could be a school policy, a grade level policy, or a team policy. Often students sign contracts (parents too) at the beginning of the year stating that they read and understand said policies.

There will come a point during the school year when a student has a legitimate reason why he did not complete an assignment. That teacher will have a legitimate signed contract that shows the student understood the late policy and has now violated it.

What should the teacher do?

If they are currently viewing the student as the enemy, they may choose to dig their heels in and “win.” And why not? They have the signed contract to back their position.

But, if they see this as an opportunity to strengthen the relationship, they may choose to work with the student. Ultimately, creating a plan with the student to finish the assignment is a win for both the student and the teacher.

As an administrator there are times when you face similar scenarios with parents. A parent might have not completed the paperwork for their child to apply for Student Council, failed to pay the deposit for a class field trip, or missed the deadline to waive their child up to a higher math course.

Being the amazing principal that you are, I am sure that you sent out several reminders to parents about these events. You probably posted information on your website, tweeted out details, or advertised them through your PTA.

Should you stick to whatever information was shared like it was set in stone? Or do you need to bend a little bit? At the end of the day you know what is best for the child.

One might argue that once a deadline has passed, there is nothing that can be done. I think that is nonsense. In my experience there is almost nothing that can’t be done to accommodate for missed opportunities.

Helping parents, especially when they know that they made a mistake, is a golden way to unite the school and the home.

Dottie chose her sister over winning the championship. I hope you choose students over “winning.”

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