Sunday, September 27, 2015

What's In a Word?

Tolerance.  Shouldn't we expect more?

There are particular words that are used to help educate individuals regarding social issues. These words are intended to promote thought and impact positive change. For many I am sure the intended purpose was accomplished.  However, I am unsure if those people were the target audience.  I often wonder if the words we choose help or hinder what we hope to accomplish.

Many years ago, as a new teacher, I was bothered by the word tolerance.  I always felt it had a negative connotation.  When I hear "tolerate" I immediately think that this is going to be something unpleasant and I will just have to get through it--endure it.

Tolerance is defined firstly as the capacity to endure pain or hardship, and secondly as sympathy or indulgence for beliefs or practices differing from or conflicting with one's own (Merriam-Webster). Perhaps because I have been an educator most of my life it is all about the set-up, and this is not a good one.

I have not seen much from the "tolerance movement" over the past three decades that has changed my mind.  I continue to observe individuals and/or groups screaming at one another in the name of tolerance or intolerance, depending on your side.  Most recent high profile issues: Black Lives Matter versus All Lives Matter, Clerk Kim Davis and Same Sex Marriage,  and student Lila Perry and the Hillsboro Community.   On any given day we hear that there are wars taking place.  There is a war on women, a war on black men, a war on Christians, just to name a few.

People using this verbiage have either never actually been in a war or are intentionally using rhetoric in order to inflame emotions.  Just like "tolerance" war has a negative connotation.  Yes, it can indicate a campaign, struggle, movement, clash, etc., however by choosing specific words we determine, perhaps manipulate, the likely intellectual or emotional response we will get.

If our goal as a country and society is to understand and value each other we must realize that the words we use will enhance or hinder that goal.  We all have intellectual and emotional responses to what we see and hear.  For most the emotional response comes first and if it is strong enough genuine intellectual engagement may never follow.  Emotional responses are important and very much needed.  This is how we demonstrate we care and what makes us stand up when we see and injustice or help when we see someone in need.  I hope that we use are words to promote reconciliation and not divisiveness, to promote understanding and not take sides.

One thing I do know is that to value is better than to tolerate. We value what and who we know. Enrich your life, take a chance, step out of your comfort zone, and make a point to talk to people. Learn from them and let them learn from you.  It is much easier to value others when you know their story.

We all have stories to tell.  We all have stories that need to be heard.  

Saturday, September 26, 2015

It's Not You, It's Me

There is an enormous amount of great information available online.  I am continually being validated, challenged, and/or provoked by other professionals.   I appreciate others' insight and wisdom.  It is important that we continue to share the joys and challenges of student and adult learning.  

There is nothing better than a passionate discussion with a variety of professional perspectives and opinions. Regardless, of how strongly I feel about the topic at hand, I always walk away with something I had not thought of, need to learn more about, or need to reconsider.  

A few days ago I read Employers' Challenge To Educators: Make School Relevant To Students' Lives (+MindShift).  After reading the article I perused the comments to that continue the conversation and can provide additional insights to the topic.  I was taken aback by many of the postings. So much so that I returned to the article and reread it (more than once).  Still I could not see what brought on the defensive/attack-like comments.  

Granted, we all interpret through our personal lens, and online discussions are not the best for understanding the person behind the comments.  However, I have experienced this throughout my career; defensiveness over self-reflection.  

Educators seem to make the worst students.  We tend to be very defensive and to deflect from ourselves, our practices, and/or our system, whenever there are recommendations for improvement.   Too often we are preoccupied with proving "It's not me/us" that we perceive blame where none was intended, and we miss an opportunity to learn from others.  As the world is ever-changing so must we change and adapt to it.  

It is rarely about the wrong or right we make it into (teacher vs. administrator, education vs. business, K-12 vs. higher education, educators vs. parents, content vs. skills, etc.).  As we know better we do better.  It is our reality that what is right today, may be wrong tomorrow, and right again next week!

We must listen and reflect on what our community--students, parents, employers, employees, etc.--have to say about their needs.  We are the beginning not the end of the process. When we allow the discussion to become about us, it is no longer about students and learning.  Regardless of where the divisiveness originated we are obligated to overcome it; to listen, be open, and willing to consider there may be a better way.

Immediately dismissing another's input is reciprocal and diminishes our mission and the profession.  

I wonder how differently things would be if we started with this premise? "It's not you, it's me." Regardless of the answer, by examining our own thoughts, behaviors, habits, and practices, I believe something valuable will be discovered by the process. That discovery will help everyone in the community move forward--together!  

Thursday, August 6, 2015


It is time for students to begin returning to school.  What should be an exciting time for all is, for too many, a time of anxiety and fear; fear of how they will be treated because they are (or perceived as) lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT).  Will they be bullied, laughed at, the target of slurs, or excluded?  Will they have to hide or deny who they are in order to be a valued member of their school community?
The +GLSEN  2013 National School Climate Survey concluded the vast majority of LGBT students in Missouri regularly heard anti-LGBT remarks.  Remarks such as, "gay" used in a negative way (e.g., "that's so gay"), homophobic remarks (e.g., "fag" or "dyke"), negative remarks about gender expression, and/or negative remarks about transgender people.
If asked, no one would disagree that schools should be a safe haven for ALL students.  But for LGBT students the expectation for this haven may be at the cost of cloaking their authentic selves. In other words: Don’t ask—Don’t tell.  

Some believe the best solution is to not bring attention to yourself or your circumstances as to not invite problems.  Simply put this approach is wrong.  It is dismissing the emotional wellbeing of LGBT students for the sake of individuals whom at best are uninformed or uncomfortable or at worst homo/transphobic.

In your school:
  • Do the adults feel a responsibility to educating themselves to better understand LGBT individuals?
  • Do teachers/administrators take the lead in meeting the needs of LGBT students or wait until there is a district policy or law enforcing it?
  • Are “jokes” allowed or overlooked as long as no LGBT individuals hear it?
  • Do people immediately jump to the conclusion that every image with rainbow colors is promoting a “gay agenda?”
  • Are there individuals that take every available opportunity to express their personal anti-LGBT views?
  • Would you confront and/or willingly report a fellow educator for discriminatory behavior toward LGBT individuals?
As educators it is our duty to advocate for all students.  That means calling out behaviors that are negative toward any individual or group.  

Silence condones.  

It is essential that we confront these behaviors in classrooms, hallways, locker rooms, fields, courts, cafeterias, teacher lounges, offices, or meetings—everywhere and always.      

Although, the focus of this writing has been on students, the reality is this is about all LGBT persons, including educators themselves.  It is naive to believe LGBT students feel welcomed, accepted, and valued in schools if LGBT teachers remain cloaked and hidden. That is a loud and clear message: "You tolerate me because you have to.  You do not value me."  
This is about human rights.  Our public schools are built on the premise of equal rights for all. As educators we must honor the sanctity of human rights above all else.  Not to do so is malpractice.  +Human Rights Campaign

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Educating for the Past, Present, or Future?

If we genuinely want to educate our young people to think critically, and be citizens of the world, why do so many of us insist on teaching to the past, instead of to the future.  As educators, if we do not consider ourselves, first and foremost as learners, perhaps we should reexamine our mindset.  We are navigating the Technology/Informational Age which requires constant learning and upgrading.  We become behind just by teaching the present.  I realize it is hard to wrap your head around, however, being hard does not make it any less true.

There was a time when getting an education was dependent on schools.  Sources of knowledge were limited, and except for the wealthy elite, students had to rely on public institutions to access it.  That is no longer the case.  We can access anything, anywhere, anytime, and we DO!  Yet, walking into most classrooms today means walking back in time where the use of your personal electronic device should be put away so as not to distract from the teacher’s lesson plan, Think about that for just a minute.  Everything you want to know can be accessed using your tablet, laptop, or phone. This device that we are never without except in the classroom.

There is not a lack of access to information anymore. Everyone has access!  There is a lack of evaluating information. There is a lack of knowing how to use that to which we have access.  Is taking that access away really what we should be doing?  Seems a bit ironic. If schools wish to stay relevant as institutions of learning, we must realize to teach is to be in a constant state of learning, not comfort.

  • Do you feel a sense of panic when the technology you use changes?
  • Do you avoid integrating technology into your teaching?
  • Do you fear your students know more than you do about using technology?
  • Do you just fear changing?

The proof that we, as educators, have not yet joined the Information Age is any continued discussion on how to use technology in education.  When we learn how to manage our classrooms having the same freedom of access as the local coffee shop during “lessons” we will know that we are where we need to be.  In other words, when using technology is as routine and commonplace as opening a notebook and picking up a pencil.

What Do Our Ripples Say About Us

Do you ever think about the number of choices we make everyday?  Perhaps we don’t think much about it. Maybe we should. I contend that every single choice we make has a ripple effect.  That ripple can be positive or negative.
Recently, I was having dinner with a friend who is a teacher.  As it turned out our server was a past student.  He gave us an update on what he had been doing since graduation.  Before leaving he shared one of his best memories of high school.  He came to my friend’s class and she told him he did not look well.  He confirmed he didn’t.  During class he put his head down and subsequently fell asleep.  When he awoke he was surprised to find it was the next period and a different class of students surrounded him.  My friend told him he was sick and needed to go to the nurse so he could go home.  He told us he couldn’t believe that she had allowed him to sleep in class and not be in trouble.  It was the nicest thing a teacher ever did for him.
As he left the table my friend said, of all the things I do for students, I am remembered for letting someone sleep during class when he was sick.  I said what better way is there to be remembered than as caring and kind.  A choice. A ripple that was felt years later.
Last night I was at a high school basketball game.  I heard someone call my name.  I turned and recognized one of my students (I do not know him well, in fact, I do not know his name).  He had a money in his hand and asked if I had $2.  I thought he may have wanted something from concessions and did not have enough money.  I said I might and turned to check when I remembered I did not have my purse.  I told him and said what do you need?  He didn’t have enough money to get into the game.  I was going to my car to get the money when the person working the gate overheard us talking. She took half the entry fee and let him into the game.  As she stamped his hand she said, I just want you to remember this, when you get a chance to help someone that is short on money in the future, I want you to do it.  A choice in hopes of creating a ripple.
As for me I felt happy.  I must have made choices with my interactions with students that gave this one the confidence to ask me for help, even if it was just $2.   A simple situation such as this makes me feel that I am getting it right.  I know it is impossible for one principal to have a personal relationship with 2,000 students.  The choices I make each and everyday when interacting with them create ripples.
It is the unintended consequences of choices, the simplest of choices, made on a daily basis that have the greatest ripple effect on those around us, and therefore, ourselves.  It is the smallest of pebbles dropped in the water, again and again, rather than a onetime boulder, that ultimately define our impact.  The best part?  We have a lifetime of pebbles to choose from.  If we choose the wrong one we get another chance to get it right.  If we have the awareness to do so.