Why Did He Leave The Room?

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He just got up and left the room!

Who does that?!

In the middle of writing a sentence.

Who does he think he is?

Henry David Thoreau in need of an inspirational stroll.

Let me rewind a bit. My son is in kindergarten and last week he and his classmates brought home Writing Journals. Every Thursday night they will be given a writing prompt for homework. This could be fun. Although, I knew just because I love to write doesn’t mean my five year-old, who just learned how to hold a pencil, will share my passion.

We were playing with his matchbox garage when I asked him if he was ready to write in his journal. He was said he was and he went downstairs to get his brand new Writing Journal. When he came back up I was waiting with baited breath. I tried to contain my excitement.

The writing prompt was glued to the top of the page. It was so cute. His assignment was to illustrate something he likes to do in the snow and then write a sentence describing his illustration. Derek chose to draw a picture of a snowman. He seemed to be enjoying himself and I was beginning to think that this would be an enjoyable weekly ritual. His little snowman was adorable but, as you can imagine, I was more excited about what he was going to write.

When he finished coloring he just stopped. I had to remind him that he had to write a sentence. He was fine with that. I think he simply wasn’t accustomed to writing sentences. He dictated it to me first. It was something like “I like to make a snowman.”

He went back and looked at the reminders that his teacher had glued inside his journal. So he knew that the i had to be uppercase or capital. I can’t remember which term they use nowadays. And then? Well, then he had to go downstairs. He said he’d be right back. It was at this that I was worried that maybe this was going to be too much for him. Or that he just decided to give up.

A minute or two later he returned. With his backpack. He had remembered that that day he had completed a worksheet that actually had the word like on it.

What a clever kid!

Here I was thinking that he may have been giving up and he was simply warming up. He used this sheet as a reference to spell a few words and I helped him with the rest. I didn’t spell them for him. But I did help him sound the words out so that were phonetically correct.

I was so proud of my little buddy. He not only wrote his first sentence, he showed me that he had already learned an important lesson. One that I think we too often forget.

We don’t need to know it all!

We spend too much of our time trying to cram too much stuff into our heads. We don’t leave space for thoughts and ideas to move around. And yet we are constantly trying to fill our heads with more. Then we wonder why when it comes time to solve a problem or create something unique, we are unable.

It is because the stuff we have in our heads has no room to move. To breathe. To grow.

It’s time to stop this madness!

We must pick a few things and try to learn as much about them as we possible can. Things that we are passionate about. Things that keep us up at night. In a good way.

You have a question about how to implement Makerspaces. Contact Laura Fleming.

You’re not sure how to create an engaging lesson. Direct message Dave Burgess.

A leadership issue has you stumped. Tweet Todd Whitaker.

You can’t figure out how to motivate young black males. Connect with Baruti Kafele.

This list could go on and on. But you get the point. You don’t need to know everything about everything. Give yourself a break. Allow yourself some space. And simply pick one or two things where you can kick ass.

And while we’re at it, let’s remind our kids and our students of this too. We owe it to them. Honor rolls and Principal’s lists are crazy. Who nowadays is actually good at everything?

Lin Manuel Miranda and…

Short list of one.

My son taught me a wonderful lesson last week. Let’s just hope I remember it the next time I think I need to know it all. I won’t and I never will. And that’s okay. Because as The Beatles sang:

 

I get by with a little help from my friends.

The Beatles

Because I Love You

waffles

This happens every time!

She cooks and then she leaves the kitchen and the surrounding area a mess.

Then I have to be the bad guy and remind her to clean it up.

I do like that she loves to cook and to be honest she is quite good at it.

Well yesterday she made us waffles and they were delicious. And since she did the cooking, I probably should have offered to clean up. But she is eleven and I am trying to teach her to take more responsibility for her actions. Like cleaning up after herself. Just so you don’t get the wrong impression, she is not a rebellious tween who her mother and I are worried about. In fact, she is a straight A student who is kind to everyone and is the best big sister a five year old brother could ever ask for.

But back to the waffle debacle. The sink was a mess, the counter was dirty and the table where we ate still had plates of leftover waffles and syrup. I’ve learned that sometimes I have to choose when and where I pick my battles. Just earlier in the week she and I had gotten into it about this same type of thing.

So, after waiting a bit I finally decided it was time to remind her that I expected her to clean up the mess that she had made cooking breakfast for us. She said she had a headache and needed to take a shower. Promising to clean it all up once she got out. Fair enough I thought. The waffles weren’t going to go bad and it when it got done wasn’t really the point. It just needed to get done.

It was while my daughter was in the shower that I realized something. Yes, by making her clean up after herself I was teaching her responsibility. And the past ten times we had had this discussion I held firm to my demands. But this time? This time seemed different. I realized I had the perfect opportunity to model something much more important than responsibility.

I was not sure if the lesson would be lost. Tweens’ brains don’t always pick up what we’re puttin’ down. But then again, neither does mine. I knew it was worth a try. So while my daughter was taking a shower trying to get rid of her headache, I worked as quickly as possible to clean up everything. I rinsed the dishes, loaded the dishwasher, cleaned the counter, cleared the breakfast table and stored the leftover waffles in the fridge.

I finished just in time. When she walked through the kitchen to go upstairs I don’t think she even noticed what I had done. Hmmm, maybe my idea wasn’t so good after all. But then when she came back down she did. And she said, “Daddy, I was going to clean everything up. Why did you do it?”

 

Because I love you.

The Achievement Gap

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Three simple words that can silence a room almost as quickly as they are uttered. We all know it exists. We’ve known for quite some time now. But it’s not going away. In fact, it appears to be widening in many areas.

And it’s not as if we aren’t giving it attention. We’ve thrown money at it to see if it that would work. That had little to no effect. We’ve had educators receive professional development led by “experts” that we just knew would do the trick. Strike two. We’ve even begun, in the last two presidencies, collecting disaggregated data in the hopes that increased vigilance and accountability would somehow be the silver bullet we’d been looking for. Strike three.

Now what?

I for one, believe that we are going about this all wrong. My concern is that, we are so focused on being politically correct, that we have lost sight of doing what is right. For kids that is. Sure, we can say that we are trying to narrow the gap and maybe that allows us to sleep better at night. But each of us knows that the gap will still be there in the morning when we wake up.

The recent emphasis on equity as opposed to equality has led us to believe that all students are getting what they need. But it’s going to take more than our current level of differentiation to accomplish what needs to be done. What needs to happen is going to look very different from what we are doing and it is going to require us to think outside of the box. More than anything, it’s going require us taking some hits.

And I think these are hits worth taking because our current efforts are not working.

I know that what I am about to say will not come as a surprise to many, if any.

But the children that walk through our doors each morning are coming to us with vastly different levels of preparedness. Simply put, many of the kids we serve each day are just not ready for what it is we are putting them through. Yet, we act as if a tweak here or a tweak there will help them make it through the day.

Knowing is not enough; we must apply. Willing is not enough; we must do

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

I’m here to tell you that (a) they’re not making it through the day and (b) just making it through does not help narrow gaps. This is my 20th year in education and in all of my years I have never seen children enter school with as many social, emotional and physical needs as I do today. The current level of need absolutely blows me away!

We say Maslow before Bloom, but somehow Bloom always wins out. I would estimate that about 90% of my school day is spent helping students who are not ready for school cope and make it to the last bell. And believe me, it is extremely difficult for both of us. Many students in this country need more something different than what we are providing them.

It’s not as of our students aren’t trying to tell us. Some cry, some scream, some kick, some run, some sleep and some fight. We think that this is by choice. But let’s get real. Most of these students are crying out for help. They are tired. They are hungry. They are angry. They are stressed. They have cortisol levels that are off the charts.

And yet we expect them to conduct themselves like their peers and achieve at the same levels as their peers? Get the f*$% outta here! Their peers don’t have to deal with any of the issues that they do. Yet, and here is where things get tricky. If we even hint at having different expectations for these students then we are accused of showing prejudice. We are told that we do not believe that all students can achieve.

I for one, do believe that all students can achieve. And for the most part, I believe that all students have the potential to achieve at high levels.

But…

We must work to give all students a fighting chance. But we are not. It’s as if we are sending kids out to play tackle football without a helmet and without pads. Sure, they get to be on the field. And some may even make out okay. But most won’t. And as each day passes, they become more battered and more bruised. Yet they keep coming back because they are told they have to. And this is when gaps begin to form.

What do I have in mind, you ask. It will look different for each child. And it will take some time, but I believe it is possible. Here is a list of ways I think we can get there:

  • Begin each day with 30 minutes of rigorous exercise
  • Provide a comfortable and safe place for students that lack sleep to get some extra sleep.
  • Help students reduce their cortisol levels when they enter school so they don’t start their day angry
  • Spend as much time building inter/intrapersonal skills as we do math, reading and writing skills
  • End each day celebrating accomplishments and setting goals for the future

I believe the only way to close and eliminate the achievement gap is to make sure that all students are fully equipped. As I mentioned earlier, this will involve us taking some hits early.

So what?

If it means that more students are successful then I say bring it on.

We can’t worry about being politically correct.

We can’t what it looks like if we find that one group needs more help than others.

We can’t worry about what outsiders say.

We must remember that our number one priority is to fully equip all students so that they are able to run out onto the field and compete.

The bottom line is that we must start doing what is best for kids and stop doing what looks best for adults.

From now on the rule is Maslow before Bloom, always!

In those days, we finally chose to walk like giants and hold the world in arms grown strong with love. And there may be many things we forget in the days to come. But this will not be one of them.

Brian Andreas

I Said Yes

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I can’t today.

Sorry, I have a meeting.

I wish I could.

This is just a sampling of the responses I give students when they ask to eat lunch with me. I wish I didn’t have to. But the nature of my job is such that it is very rare that I have 20, let alone 30, consecutive minutes to sit down and eat lunch with a student.

And so I hate to commit to eating lunch with a child because I know that at any second I could be called to a classroom because a child is struggling and the teacher needs my assistance. I have read and heard that we should not allow what is urgent to take precedence over what is important. Like sitting down and eating lunch with students.

But the urgent matters that I often get called for are ones that must be handled right away. Or the learning in the room can’t continue. And so I go when and where I am called.

I realize that this is not a situation that is unique to me. And it’s not as if the people that I work with have it better. It’s just frustrating. That’s all. Okay, whine time is over.

But last week I was asked to eat lunch. By a student who asks me almost everyday. By a student who is simply put, a beautiful soul. And you know what?

I said yes!

I had the best time. She got to share with me how and why her day was AWESOME and I got to just sit back and listen about why. It was wonderful. I showed her some videos of my kids that I thought she might enjoy and she smiled and seemed to enjoy watching them just as much as I did.

We had to stop a few minutes early because I was called to a room. But to get to spend 25 minutes eating lunch and connecting with this student made my day. She makes me smile. Because no matter what seems to be happening around her, she is always happy.

She is often in the rooms that I get called to. To deal with the urgent. And yet it doesn’t seem to phase her.

She continues to ask me to eat lunch with her.

Despite the fact that I have to turn her down almost every single time.

Why hasn’t she given up on me?

Why does she keep asking?

Doesn’t she realize that my office is often filled with angry, aggressive and sometimes violent children? She must know. And yet…

Maybe she is trying to teach me something that I have yet to figure out.

I have the magnet. I share the quote with those that I feel could benefit from hearing it. But am I following my own advice?

 

Peace

It does not mean to be in a place where there is no noise trouble or hard work. It means to be in the midst of those things and still be calm in your heart.

As she was leaving my office and preparing to dump her tray, she asked me if I was going to be still be at school at 4 o’clock. She was going to be practicing a song for her after school group. I can’t remember if I was or not. But I do know that I missed it. And that is a shame.

I would have loved to have should have been there.

I must start making time more often to eat lunch with this student. In my position there will always be noise and trouble and hard work. But I must do a better job of finding peace. And spending time with people who have already figured this out is a great way to start.

I Must Do The Same

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In those days, we finally chose to walk like giants and hold the world in arms grown strong with love. And there be many things we forget in the days to come. But this will not be one of them.

Brian Andreas

If I hadn’t witnessed it with my own eyes, I am not sure I would have believed it could happen.

Three times in three days!

But it did.

The first time I took a little bit of the brunt. Not much. But a little. The student had lost their temper and cursed and pushed and almost reached the point of no return. Almost. But not quite. And if I had gone with my initial reaction I would not have this story to tell.

Lucky for me I got some good advice.

Have the student and the teacher sit down together. To come up with a plan on how they could move forward. I knew this wasn’t going to be easy. The level of disrespect shown to this teacher was off the charts. And to be quite honest, I had no idea how the conversation was going to go.

It couldn’t have gone any better. The teacher had every right to be mad. To be livid. But they weren’t. They had every right to ask for their “pound of flesh.”  But they didn’t. This teacher did ask for one thing. To be treated with respect. A more than fair request.

Towards the end of the conversation I made a suggestion. One in which I probably had no right to ask. But in the hopes of rebuilding this relationship I thought it just might work. I asked the teacher if they’d be willing to take on this student as an assistant of sorts. Without a thought, the teacher agreed. The conversation ended with a firm handshake and gentle heart.

It’s moments like the one above that give you hope. They give you hope that you can make a difference. They give you hope that what you’re doing is worthwhile. They let you know that people are inherently good when given a chance.

So you can imagine my disappointment when two days later, the same student ended up in my office for a remarkably similar event. I was speechless! Didn’t they learn? Hadn’t they reflected on what took place? Weren’t they grateful for having been given a second chance?

At least I had learned something. I did not fly off at the handle. I didn’t make any rash decisions. Instead, I asked the staff member who was on the receiving end of the student’s anger to come to my office. While they made their way to my office I lectured the student on the inappropriateness of what they had done.

Once again, the offended adult was not looking for revenge or hoping for punishment. They simply wanted the student to do the right thing. Despite the fact that this staff member towered over the student by at least two feet, they did not look down on them. The meeting ended with a sincere apology and a firm handshake.

Not thirty minutes had gone by when I got wind that this student had disrespected yet another staff member. I took a deep breath and tried to fathom how this was possible. Was I being played?

I was able to speak to this staff member before we met with the student. And once again, the staff member’s main concern was for the student, not for themselves. In fact, they told me they just knew that they were going to win this kid over.

What!?

Here, this grown adult was threatened and disrespected and all they wanted was to win this kid over. And I can tell you because I was in the room. That’s exactly what they did! Hugs were exchanged and smiles were warm.

As I sat and reflected on what I had witnessed over the past three days I couldn’t help but feel honored. To get to work with such amazing people each and every day is a gift. The work we do is hard. But when you work with good people it’s not as hard as it could be.

The student and I sat for a while. And I have to think that they were just as amazed as I was at the unconditional forgiveness that we had witnessed over the past three days. My charge to the student was that they now  were to try and show the same unconditional forgiveness the next time they feel as if they had been treated unjustly.

And you know what?

I must do the same.

[Suhm-pin]

sumpin

You become responsible forever for what you have tamed.

The Little Prince, Antoine de Saint-Exupery

I know it is coming soon.

It’s simply the natural progression of things.

But I am not looking forward to it.

As of today, November 11, 2016, my five-year old son still pronounces the word something like this

[ Suhm-pin ]

And I love it! Each time he says it I just melt. You see, it wasn’t that long ago that my daughter, who is eleven, had similar words that she had her own unique way of pronouncing. Not any more. I miss them. At the same time, I am proud of the girl she is becoming. On her own. It is beautiful to watch.

But I am also reminded of the enormous responsibility we have before us. We are presented with these “eyes-wide-open” hatchlings who know nothing of what they are about to face. And it seems like just yesterday that we ourselves were in need of taming.

Or were we?

Were we that unruly?

Did we not have more to offer than just obedience?

Was the leash what we really needed?

There are times when I correct my children or students and then I wonder. Why? And am I correcting or am I taming? Yes, we have a responsibility as parents and teachers and adults, to guide children. The world is not easy to navigate. And there is much we can teach them.

But I think we are forgetting one crucial fact.

There is much they can teach us.

Until they are tamed.

And then…

Well, one of the synonyms of tame is broken. Once something becomes broken it no longer thinks for itself. It becomes dependent. Worse yet, it becomes obedient. Is that what happened a few weeks ago? Were many voters in such a state of dependence and obedience that they no longer were able to think for themselves? Have they been tamed past the point of no return?

It was as if folks were being led around on a leash. But they were okay with it because…

Were they even aware?

I don’t fault them.

We let it happen.

Like a mistreated animal, they were sometimes beaten (sexually assaulted women) and other times denigrated (homophobic slurs). Yet this was okay, because their master held the leash. And he would give them a treat from time to time. He really did love them and he couldn’t possibly have meant all those things he said.

And was what he said really that bad? 

Master is always right.

Master has the treats.

Master lets us out.

Master must be right.

Yes, Master must be right!

He is our master and he takes good care of us. He would never let anything or anybody hurt us. He promised.

Those that speak against the Master don’t know him. They wildly run around unleashed and think they know. But they don’t. We remember when we used to run around leash-less. It was…

Actually we can’t remember.

Oh well.

It doesn’t matter anymore now that we have Master.

My son still can’t properly pronounce the word something and I freakin’ love it! I am not ready to tame him just yet. In fact, I don’t think if I ever will be. Because if I do, then he will no longer be able to run free. He will no longer have the ability to think for himself.

And that is [ Suhm-pin ] I am just not ready to have happen.

Who’s In?

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It took all of about 5 seconds. But it has been almost a week now. And as I sit in silence as the sun begins to rise, I think, “this is the moment I want to share.” Because it was beautiful. Because it was powerful. And because it mattered. A lot!

The school day had started and I was simply walking down the hallway. When a young student turned and happened to notice I was behind him. He was at a distance where most children would simply say Hi Mr. Harper and return to class. I would have been have been fine with that. But this young man did something quite different.

This beautiful child turned, walked towards me and opened his arms wide to give me a hug. He didn’t have to. I didn’t ask him to. He wanted to! And it meant the world to me. Not so much because he gave me a hug. But because he knew I wanted one. And because he wanted one too.

Moments like this can’t be planned and they can’t be measured. But we can work for them. And we must work for them. I work with an amazing group of people everyday that do just that. They work for the moments.

But it is hard work. And what appears to be effortless is oftentimes quite exhausting. What I mean is that there are those that we watch and we think that because they appear to, have it all together, everything comes easy to them.

Their class is awesome!

They always seem happy.

Their students adore them.

But it’s not that simple! These folks have to work damn hard. And it is very easy to forget this. We spend much of our time helping and nurturing those that we see in need or those we see that are struggling. And we forget about those that don’t appear to be struggling.

This week let’s take more time to check on these folks.

They are struggling too.

But they continue to smile.

And they are always positive.

And we continue to lean on them when we need help.

But they are human.

And they get tired. And they get angry. And they get down.

But you’d never know it. This week let’s thank them for what appears to effortless. This week let’s thank them for always being there. This week let’s thank them for creating so many powerful moments.

Better yet, this week let’s create a moment for them.

Who’s in?