The past few days have provided great opportunity for reflection, horror and inspiration. As I noted in a Twitter post last night, at one point I almost felt overwhelmed.
What led to this overwhelming feeling? Well, it all started with a Mindshift article titled “Why Discipline Should Be Aligned With A School’s Learning Philosophy.” As I read that article, I reflected on my early teaching career. I felt a combination of shame and horror as I though about my interactions with students and administrators regarding student discipline. As I painfully revisited those interactions, I felt like I was “dreamwalking” in an episode of Jon Harper‘s My Bad titled “I Was A Hypocrite with a Double Standard for Learning and It Made Me Weak.” Mentally, I apologized to those students, and even attempted to reach out to former administrators to apologize for Jeff See 1.0.
If we give students the opportunity to improve or correct mistakes in every other learning area except discipline, what message do we send them about school?
After allowing myself 15 minutes to feel self-pity and remorse, I started reflecting about the difference in my academic teaching practices and my discipline teaching practices as a young teacher. Ultimately, I asked myself “If we give students the opportunity to improve or correct mistakes in every other learning area except discipline, what message do we send them about school?” The English teacher in me cringes at the awkwardness of that sentence, but at the time it felt “right.”
So, Instead of my usual short, pithy comment when sharing articles on social media, I share the article on Facebook with that poorly worded sentence.
Then I continued with my article dig – using the Nuzzle App – and came across a fantastic post by George Couros titled “Finding Inspiration in Yourself.” In the article, George highlighted the challenge of “trying to inspire others to action, when you can’t find ways to inspire yourself.” The piece really resonated with me, and I started thinking about my new role in my new building in my new district and wondered how I could inspire myself to reflect more and share my risks, struggles, and challenges with my new team of educators.
As I wrestled with that thought, my PLN friend, Mark French replied to my comment on Facebook.
Hmmm…why would someone want to steal something I said? Nonetheless, I told Mark he could use the quote.
And I went back to revisit George’s post. George said, “Take a breath and think about where you are today, and then think about where you have come from. It would be easy to think about the negatives, but try to focus on things that you have overcome and that right now, and find growth.” That took me back to Mark’s request, and I reread my original comment. Despite the rough wording, that was my original thinking about a topic with which I struggled so often early in my teaching career. The new lens I have as a building admin has me asking questions I could never have asked as a young teacher trying to manage five classes and learn a new curriculum.
At that moment, I could not help but feel inspired and realize that something I experienced and though made someone else think. Suddenly, I finally understood what Angela Maiers has told us for years.
I won’t get carried away. It was one original thought and it resonated with a few of my Facebook friends and PLN members. More importantly, I can see how far I have come and how I now make sure that students know and staff know they are important and matter. And I have more thinking to do about the mixed messages we send kids about school when we allow them to “fail” and improve with every aspect of school but discipline.
I have to see if I can find those former students now and apologize in person. I’m so sad that they only knew Jeff See 1.0. Jeff See 5.0 cares much more about them as people and understands that despite my “cutting edge” thinking about allowing students to make mistakes in their academic work and correct them to learn, I absolutely failed them when it came to discipline learning.
And to my former administrators: Keith Rodda, Tom Parker, Chuck Grable, Pete Cernohous, Jay Jones, Tom Wissink, Julie Mosher, Matt Zimmermann, Tim Doleysh, Lexi Ballweg, Ann Schultz, and Erin Kohl…I’m sorry it took me so long to understand. I wish you, too, had worked with Jeff See 5.0.
Let me warn first that you can probably categorize today’s post under “Longform” – minus the journalism. So I warned you – this is long. If you choose to read it on, I think it is worth the time.
Yesterday, on my ride home from work (I have an hour-long commute from Clintonville to Oshkosh), I reflected on the strife we have seen since Tuesday night. I worked this week to help keep those most vulnerable in my school safe, and it led to a lot of reflection. I thought about the highlight from my week: reading to a young man who in spite of his uncontrollable fits of rage (or maybe because of them) has me rooting for him. When I came home last night, I made a decision and sent out a post to my friends and family on Facebook.
The response was incredible. I have so many titles recommended that I cannot wait to talk about with this child on Monday. Some very kind folks are also sending some books or means to get some books for this student. My sister even reminded me that I have some ancient action figures that might make this boy smile. Thanks, Wendy!
As part of my Facebook post, I promised to tell everyone the entire story in a post on my blog. I’m hoping if folks see this young man as I see this young man, more of them will choose to rally to his cause.
I first met “Sam” (not his real name, but having to say “this boy, child, young man” feels disconnected and artificial) last year when Scott and I went to the elementary school to meet and welcome our future students. Sam stood out immediately – he with his fists clenched, a sullen look, and inability to make eye contact – because he swung from rage to elation so quickly. He knew we were coming, so as soon as he saw us he came over to share the paper airplane he made. That was our first fist-bump.
This school year has been an understandable adjustment for Sam. New building. Bigger kids. New bullies. Earlier this year, Sam struggled greatly. When he became angry, he would put his jacket hood on his head, clench his fists, and “march” like Frankenstein’s monster down the hall, not hearing or seeing anyone who got in his way.
One time in particular, students in the cafeteria for breakfast made it difficult for Sam. The next morning, I ate breakfast in the cafeteria with Sam, reassuring him with a fist bump that “We got this.” I also started making up reasons to show up in his classes or bump into him in the hall. One morning for breakfast Sam looked at me asked, “Are you stalking me?” I laughed and said, “No. I missed our fist bump today. You were mad at something and left me hanging.” He grinned and said, “Not today. Tomorrow.”
Several weeks ago, one of Sam’s teachers came to me before school and said he felt Sam needed to talk to me about a consequence. He was sent to that room for help on reading but was refusing to read and had started swearing at the teacher about this. [Let me reassure everyone. This teacher is not naive; he has worked with emotionally and behaviorally disturbed students for decades, and understands when a student needs intervention beyond what he can offer in the classroom.] I told the teacher I would swing by his room after school started and have a talk with Sam.
When I came into the room, I saw Sam trying to concentrate on one of Gary Paulsen’s Hatchet Adventure Books. I asked him to come with me so we could chat. He got up right away and started to follow. Then he stopped, went back, and put something in his cubby hole in the back of the room. I asked him if he needed any of that for his next class, but he said his teacher just had him keep that stuff in the classroom, so he wouldn’t lose it.
As we made our way to my office, I asked Sam why he didn’t want to read chapter books. He replied, “I don’t like that I have to answer questions while I read.” We talked about how we don’t always have to answer questions. Next I asked him what kinds of books he liked to read at home. He said he didn’t. When I asked why, he said “We don’t have any books at home.” That stopped me short. Further questions helped me learn that he liked books with adventures and that he didn’t like chapter books in middle school because they didn’t have as many or sometimes any pictures compared to the books he liked reading.
Once at my office, we talked about how Sam might have handled the situation with his teacher differently next time. He had a lot of great ideas, and I learned that the will to read was there. We just hadn’t found the right books yet. As we neared the end of our chat, Sam said he needed a consequence for his actions because he didn’t handle it the right way. While it lifted my spirits that Sam knew he hadn’t handled his frustration well, I knew this was a blip. We had about ten minutes left in class, so I said that if it made him feel better he could sit in the ISS room until the bell rang but that he wasn’t being punished.
At that moment, he took time to look around my office. He said, “Hey…do you like Star Wars?” I asked why he asked, and he correctly noted that I had thirteen different Star Wars things in my office. I told him that I LOVE Star Wars, and he screamed, “Me, too!” I told him I was just about his age when the original Star Wars came out in the theater. He said, “Wow. You are old.” We fist-bumped, and Sam headed to the ISS room.
After a minute, I checked on Sam and told him he could just sit if he wanted, but I asked him to think about reading his book. He opened it, and I said, “Sam, don’t do it for me. If you feel like it, do it for you.” A minute later, Sam came into my office asking for a pencil and paper. I asked why he needed those, and clearly exasperated with my lack of knowledge, Sam sold me in his best “Duh!” voice, “Because he’s going to have questions for me about my book!” I smiled a lot after that.
That weekend, I ended up inside Barnes & Noble, looking for Star Wars chapter books with pictures. I found lots of great-looking titles and settled on Star Wars: Before the Awakening.
Thursday morning of this week, I went down to that same teacher’s room and asked Sam to come with me to my office. I think he thought he was in trouble, because he pulled the Frankenstein march on me. When we got to my office, I pulled out the book and showed it to him. Sam’s face lit up and he just had a look of awe. I explained that this told the stories of some of the characters in The Force Awakens before we meet them in the movie. I talked about Finn and Rey and Poe. And then a funny thing happened. Sam leaned in close and whispered, “Actually, Mr. See, I haven’t seen the new movie. I don’t know who those people are.”
At first, I stopped short. How had he not seen this movie? In the next breath, of course, I remembered that Sam is homeless and lives in a motel in town. No, he had not seen the movie. I said, “Sam, it’s OK that you haven’t seen the movie. Unlike most of us, you will know these characters before you see the movie. I bet you’ll enjoy it even more than I did.” He said, “My dad can’t afford that movie.” I simply reassured him that “We’ll figure out a way.” His reply cut right at my heart. “I didn’t think I’d ever get to see it.”
Sam started out reading, but struggled with some of the words. I helped him pronounce them, and we talked about what they meant. At one point he became so frustrated, that I said I could find an easier book, if he wanted. He looked at me and said, “Not a chance!” Like I have done since I read the Lemony Snicket and Harry Potter books to my own daughters, I created voices for all of the characters. As tension rises, so does my voice. When a whisper is called for, I use that, as well. I lean in on the action when I have to and cover my eyes when I don’t want to watch.
When it was Sam’s turn to read again, I pulled up short again and felt that pesky, salty discharge in my eyes. You see, Sam read and created voices for the characters, and even though it did not match the action of the story, he had tension or softness in his voice. I had not expected that.
As I read Finn’s story, which starts with a tense battle simulation, Sam literally squirmed around in his chair, squatting or moving from one knee to another as the battle action called for it. Together, we lowered our heads to the conference table in my office, spying for FN-2000 and FN-2099 and the enemy gun.
When I closed the book after the action-packed battle simulation opening, I told Sam that this is his book and that when we are done it is his to take home. His jaw dropped and he asked so questioningly, “Mine?” When I said yes, he whispered, “I’ve never owned my own book.” I want to remedy that problem, so that’s why I posted to Facebook.
I’m not so naive as to think I can “fix” poverty or even that I can save every one of our students in need. Instead, I’m hopeful that each time I have the opportunity, I can provide hope that ripples outward. The battles raging on social media right now are beyond my ability to repair. What I can do is make sure that a little boy who has never owned a book, gets some books to call his own. Maybe he will one day read to his own children. And maybe they will have hope.
I apologize for the lengthy post. I hope you felt this story that needed telling was worth your time.
I cannot even remember my One Word from 2015. I know I shared it with my Varsity PTCamp Voxer group, but it says a lot about my commitment to my word that I cannot even recall what I chose.
I want to commit this year. I want to go beyond “dabbling,” so instead of just uttering my word to my PLN, I created a graphic and chose to write a post.
When most people hear the word “connected” coming from a principal, they probably think about Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach and Lani Ritter Hall’s The Connected Educator. And certainly, educators using Twitter and other social media tools to reach out to the broader world has much merit. I try to get my staff connected all of the time.
But if our definition of “connected” stops at the internet wall, we do not give enough credit to the power of being “connected.”
In the summer of 2014, I met a group of people who have become some of my nearest and dearest friends. While I have only met one of the face-to-face, I talk to all of them nearly every day. We began our journey together reading Beyond The Bake Sale, and we talked about ways to improve our efforts at Family and Community Engagement. Once we all realized how diverse, yet common, our experiences were, our conversations quickly moved beyond just how to improve family engagement.
Jay Posick, a principal from Merton, WI has not missed a day of running in more than 10,000 days. Back when our group first met, though, Jay was approaching the 10,000 day milestone and Geniene Delahunty, our “cruise director,” planned a special day for Jay. She orchestrated a project where many members of our group “ran” a copy of Beyond The Bake Sale from Australia to Merton, and Geniene delivered it to Jay in a special ceremony that Jay’s school and district kept secret from him. When I tell people about that event, they just stare, unbelieving.
After all, who drives over six hours to deliver a book and a hug to someone they have never met? When you become “connected,” you’ll understand what kind of person does that. Our group connected with more than just digital tools. We care about each other and we want to help each other succeed. We understand the importance of relationships to the personal and professional well-being of everyone. Most of all, we remember what is was like before we connected, and we never want to go back there again.
This year, my “One Word” blog posts will talk about a number of different ways I strive to stay connected. From digital to analog to face-to-face, I hope I find ways to become more connected to my family and friends, my school, my peers, and my PLN. I have committed to these connections, and thanks to a nudge from Don Wettrick, I have committed to writing about this year’s journey.
I hope to become more connected to those of you I see in my Twitter feed. If we have never met in person, I hope to change that.
Here’s hoping that we connect…and stay connected.