Monday, August 10, 2015

Encouraged Educators

There is a gospel song that I like with the following lyrics: "Sometimes you have to encourage yourself. Sometimes you have to speak victory during the test." In recent weeks, I have found myself telling many of my colleagues and friends in education this same message.  And if I am honest, I had to tell myself this message just today on my drive home from work.  Each of my colleagues and friends that work in education made the decision to do so because they have a passion for education and the communities they serve.  The passion is why I did the career switch from the legal field to education.  I want to use this post to encourage other professionals in education. I understand the struggle of staying true to your passion, setting high standards, but still having to battle those within and outside of the education system on a daily. 

My first piece of advice is to remember your "why". Remembering why we as educators do what we do is vital for sustainability.  Although this is an exciting time in education with LCFF/LCAP, there are some situations you will need to encourage yourself through in order to sustain your professional standard and remain effective for students.  Let me state a few of those obvious situations: bureaucracy;  policies and practices that are not in the best interest of student learning and development; ineffective leaders/educators; emphatic resistance to change; lack of funding; lack of accountability; or lack of vision. These are common situations that discourage the best of educators.  I will not even touch on the petty issues that cause major distractions to progress such as co-worker sabotage, incompetent/ineffective/insecure leadership, middle school drama at the workplace, or misguided intentions.  Remembering the why helps to keep us committed when the distractions, obstacles, and challenges come full force, and back-to-back. 

My second piece of advice for educators is to connect with like-minded educators.  It can appear to be a lonely campus or district office when you seem to be at it alone.  Having like-minded colleagues is important to accomplishing small and big goals.  Not to mention, having a professional sounding board is a great checks-and-balances. You must believe in yourself, because others are bound to doubt and discourage you.  And when you struggle with believing in the mission and plan, your like-minded colleagues will bring you back to center. 

Last piece of advice is know when to unplug and recharge.  The work of an educator is extremely rewarding, but can also be quite draining.  Most educators have endless patience for students, but have little to no patience for the adults that work within the system.  Find your happy place and go there.  A recharged educator is an effective educators. I know it is hard to do, but do not take anything within your day personal because personal matters follow you home, while professional matters stay at the office.  

Be encouraged.

Friday, July 10, 2015

Class of 2015

Today, I had the awesome privilege of being the keynote at a high school graduation.  I told the graduates naturally, they would feel like it was “over” or they finally “finished”.  Then, I broke the bad news.  I told them it was only the beginning.  High school graduation ends the K-12 chapters of our lives, and begins our journey to who we will be in, and what we will contribute to, the world. I told the graduates they needed to be prepared, purposeful, predictable, and persistent.  These are things we must tell every young person, especially those getting ready to embark upon the adult world, start new chapters, travel new roads, and open new doors. Each of them has his/her own path.  Some will go on to college. Some will seek a trade.  Some will jump right into the workforce.  And, some will simply enjoy summer and figure it out afterwards.  Either way, education is the key that unlocks the doors of opportunity and high school graduation is the first key. 

I told the graduates to be prepared for the world that is waiting for them. It may not always greet them with open arms. It may not always make them feel as if they belong. I was honest with them and told them it can be COLD and CRUEL.  But, I also reminded them that they had within them everything they needed to change it. I told them everything that everyone had invested in them up to this point prepared them for the challenge.  Their parents instilled core values and guiding principles in them, and they shall act as their compass.  Their family and extended family helped them establish a sense of pride of self and culture, and that shall be their strength. And lastly, their community was telling them it believed in them and needed them to succeed, and that shall be their motivation.

I told them to be purposeful. Don’t waste time, because they could never get it back.  I then told them to wake up every day and remind themselves that if it doesn’t have purpose, it’s not worth their time.  I read something online and it said, “do something today that your future self will thank you for”.  I told them to take time to smell the roses, live, love and laugh, but always remember every choice is a seed and time is the soil.  I asked them “What are you planting? What harvest will you reap in five and ten years.” 

Then I told them to be predictable in the way that their generation is known for being rebels and forward thinkers.  They are called Generation Y, the Millennials, and Generation Me. I told them to use who they were to change the world.  I encouraged them to be rebels for causes.  There are tons of causes that need them.  I could have been cliché-ish and said they need to end world hunger or discover the cure for cancer. Although either or both of those would be great, instead, I reminded them of some causes closer to home: justice, equity, economic empowerment, community revitalization, affordable housing, innovation in agriculture, and youth and young adult civic engagement. Each of these causes need forward thinking rebels.  I challenged them to be rebels and be forwarding for causes that are important to them. Generation Me usually refers to the concept that their generation feels entitled.  However, for me, Generation Me brings to mind the famous quote, “If not me, then who? If not now, then when?”  If the educated, youthful, intelligent, current and future leaders are not going to change this world, then who will. Generation Me can be redefined to mean they accept their responsibility and part in changing their communities, cities, states, countries, or world.

Lastly, I told them to be persistent.  Anything worth having, takes hard work.  There will be naysayers, but I told them to be persistent and do not let others’ criticisms distract them from their purpose.  There will be challenges and hurdles, but I told them to be persistent and do not turn around and do not give up.  Sometimes they will need to regroup, re-strategize, re-evaluate, and re-position themselves, and that’s okay, but we must encourage them to keep going.  It will always be easier to give up, but I encouraged them not to do so.

I ended my speech by reciting the poem I tell my grandson daily, “Hey Black Child” by Eugene Perkins.   When I read it, I changed “Hey Black Child” to “Hey Graduate”, but this poem applies to ALL children, youth, and young adults:

Hey Black Child,
Do you know who you are?
Who you really are?
Do you know you can be
What you want to be?
If you try to be
what you can be.

Hey Black Child,
Do you know where you’re going?
Where you’re really going?
Do you know you can learn
What you want to learn?
If you try to learn
What you can learn?

Hey Black Child,
Do you know you are strong?
I mean really strong?
Do you know you can do
What you want to do?
If you try to do
What you can do?

Hey Black Child,
Be what you can be
Learn what you must learn
Do what you can do
And tomorrow your nation will be what you want it to be.

Congratulations to Class of 2015. I pray I have more opportunities to do what I love….ENCOURAGING OTHERS.  

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Equality vs. Equity

Education often focuses on how resources are distributed. The idea of distributing resources based on equality vs. equity is controversial depending on what side of the scale an individual or school lands.  Equality is dividing the pie so everyone gets equal pieces.  Equity is dividing the pie based on need.   To illustrate the premise of equality vs. equity, let’s look at special education. Some districts operate their own SELPA departments. SELPA’s responsibility is to assess and provide services to students based on individual student’s disabilities and needs through an Individualized Education Plan (IEP).  Unfortunately, it is not uncommon for SELPA’s to have a one-size-fits-all approach to providing supports and services to students with disabilities. For example, a one-size-fits-all approach could be every student with an IEP receives 60 minutes a week of resource services (one-on-one assistance with academics). Every student receiving the same supports and services is an example of equality.   On the contrary, equity would require that if an 8th grade student is reading at a 1st grade level that she would receive more resource services, perhaps 180 minutes, because her deficit is greater.

How resources are divided has a direct impact on student learning.  If we are not cautious and intentional in how resources are divided, we risk the chance of widening the achievement gap instead of closing it.   The achievement gap is evident in districts when School A is in need of all remedial core classes in the master schedule, with little to no AP options for students; while School B has no remedial sections, and invests heavily in accelerated and AP courses in the master schedule.  Yet, each school gets equal portions of funding.  The achievement gap and resource distribution are not mutually exclusive conversations.  These two variables have an inverse relationship, as one increases, the other decreases.  Unfortunately, typically resources decrease and the gap increases.  However, in this post-LCAP era, we have an opportunity to get it right for our students.  LCAP attempts to provide more resources to districts with high concentrations of students with high-risk factors.  If funds are allocated properly in the LCAP, the students with the greatest needs will finally get the support to which they are entitled.  In short, to close the achievement gap, we must fund schools based on equity, not equality. We must be intentional in our efforts and expect outcomes.   And lastly, we must be disgusted and disturbed by the achievement gap. 

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

The Key

I have decided to write this blog as a therapeutic process, as well as to use it as a soapbox for those things about which I am passionate.  I hope this blog helps to transform the minds of individuals from focusing on the problem to focusing on the solution.  Although I hope the average individual gets something from this blog, I am intentional in its content and hopeful to impact the thought process of educators.  By educators, I do not only refer to teachers, but each person that works in the public education system; and, if I am honest with myself, also recognizing each person who has accepted the responsibility of educating young people even outside the education system.

That being said, I truly believe that education is the key that unlocks the doors of opportunity. The "key" is being distributed every day on school campus across the world.  The reality is some students receive "master" keys and some students receive "restricted" keys.  Master keys allow access through several doors with one single key.  Whereas, a restricted key has restrictions: who can obtain a copy, how many may be made, and who may issue copies.  As educators, we must ask questions of the system in which we are dedicated.  We must ask of ourselves, what is our purpose in the educational system.  Is our purpose to have means to live and provide for our families (paycheck)? Is our purpose solely to deliver instruction, without concerns for results (compliance)? Or, is our purpose to positively impact the lives of young people by positively impacting the system that services them (outcomes)? Some may say, their purpose is all three.  To that, I reply, "Great!"  However, I have worked in education long enough to know that there are some that are only there for a paycheck, or a paycheck and compliance.  Although, I have been extremely blessed to have worked with individuals that share my passion and purpose: a passion to support young people in order that they experience success; and a purpose to positively impact the system that hands out the keys to success. 

In my professional opinion, the problem in education is the focus on the problem.  We know there is an achievement gap.  I have read several expository writings on the gap.  I can see the gap in my day-to-day dealings at work. We know English Language Learners are not performing at grade level. We know poverty has an impact on student readiness.  We know we need to focus on student learning, not just teacher compliance.  We know there is a lack of accountability.  These are problems.  I have attended meetings where three-fourths of the discussion was on the problem, and a mere one-fourth to discuss short-term and long-term solutions.  This is a poor use time, resources and brainpower.  As leaders, it is important to stay solution-focused, be innovative, recognize the strengths of those on your team, and remember the students are the most important individuals on campus.  They are our customers.  The system is only successful if each student is successful.  Leaders cannot become complacent, discouraged, or weary. Remember, education is the key that unlocks the doors of opportunity.  We must ensure each student receives a master key.