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A Love Letter to the Teachers of Eanes ISD


“All good things must come to an end.”

Who said that? Do they really have to end? Does it always have to be the good things that end?

I’ve spent the past 21 years of my life in public education and the past 13 at this amazing district known as the Eanes Independent School District. During my time here, I’ve had three incredible children enter the world and the schools here. I’ve made connections and friendships with families, the community, legislators, business leaders and beyond.

To say it’s been an incredible journey is a gross understatement. While I am somewhat torn emotionally at the fact that this will be my final year at Eanes ISD, I’m also excited for what the next chapter in my life will bring and where this ride will take me. As I often do, lately I have been reflecting on my time here and all that WE accomplished. Without a doubt, the highlight of my career has been working with the incredible teachers in this district. You inspire me, make me laugh, make me grow, and push my beliefs. We’ve shared thoughts, ideas, tears, and struggles.

To the teachers of Eanes ISD, I cannot thank you enough for all that you’ve given me and my family.  So, before I go, I wanted to write you this love letter.

Have confidence in yourself. You have one of the hardest jobs on the planet, helping young humans learn. Know that this is EXTREMELY hard, but you pull it off with ease. Continue to have confidence in yourself and it will translate into even better experiences for you, your students and those around you.

Do the right thing, even when it’s hard. It’s much easier to just do the bare minimum or to not try something new. When I started in my current role here in 2010, integrating technology meant something COMPLETELY different than it does today. That said, the mindset around technology, while ripe with challenges, shouldn’t change our mission. The mission is NOT to raise kids, but to raise ADULTS ready for the world in front of them. Sometimes that means struggling with new things or trying a new idea that may fail, but remember to keep your confidence and your chin up through those times of struggle.

Change is inevitable and constant. When I started in this district, I always had a 3-year plan. Every 3 years I’d change schools or jobs. It took me 13 years to enact on my 3-year plan, largely due to the amazing community here. I changed my belief that I needed to constantly be changing jobs. My new goal was to see all three of my kids graduate from Westlake High School.

But now, that plan has also changed.

There will be many people that come in and out of your life here. There will be new standards to teach. New rules and policies to follow. And yes, technology will change (in fact, quite rapidly). You can either fear the change or embrace it. That sounds easy enough to do, “embrace change”. However I’m going to challenge you to also think about and question change when it happens. Understanding the “why” behind something is an important step in owning whatever the change is.

Have an opinion and don’t be afraid to express it. In fact, you are obligated to express it. We can’t continue to grow as a society or district or organization if everyone nods their head and moves on. Don’t be afraid to speak your mind. A couple of years ago we started a “League of Innovators” with this purpose. These teachers applied to be a part of group with the ultimate goal of improving the district as a whole, not just around technology. I cherish my time with those in the league and the impact they had on our program. Please continue to express your opinion, even when it’s scary.

Whenever possible, be transparent. Trust is built around communication and transparency. Be open to letting others come into your classroom and growing from their feedback. Expect the same transparency from your leaders, as it will also help them and the school grow as a result of having open conversations.

The struggle is real, but move past it. We all have things that we bring to work with us. From personal issues to family health, stress and struggle are a part of all of our lives. It’s how we handle it that makes the difference, not only to ourselves, but our students. We are humans teaching humans. We are in this for the outcome, not the income. Don’t let your bad days get the better of you and don’t let your best days go to your head. Try your best to keep your #EnergyForward.

There will be days when you feel like you are on an island. You close your door with a single goal of teaching the kids in the room in front of you. Never forget how amazing it is to help kids learn, but also never forget that even if you feel alone, you are not. Lean on your colleagues. Lean on your friends. Lean on your family. After all, learning is better when played as a team sport.

Know there’s a bigger picture and it’s not just about making people comfortable. With transparency and openness comes discomfort. Humans are built to avoid conflict. Since the early days of life, if we sense danger, we either fight it or flee from it. This evolutionary trait will not change overnight, but we can try and overcome it to engage in meaningful discourse. We can’t progress as a society if we spend all of our time either being compliant or having well thought out arguments typed on a Facebook thread. Disagreement and discomfort can be a good thing if it takes us all to a better place.

Don’t be stifled by fear. There will be times when you are afraid to try something new. While there are always consequences for actions, that doesn’t mean you should be afraid to try something. Fear can be suffocating to innovation and creativity. Take well-thought out risks that help improve learning and engagement for your students. Mistakes may happen, but modeling how you learn from those mistakes makes a lasting impression on the students in your classroom.

Creativity is born out of struggle. There will always be some roadblocks on the path to success. Time. Money. Resources. Restrictive filters. When embarking on a new idea or project with your kids, embrace the failures and learn from them. Don’t give up. Roadblocks are there to slow you down, not stop you.

You are a rockstar. You are the front line. Students will graduate. Families move out. Administrators will come and go. Change happens. Roadblocks will try to slow you down. You have to be the one to set an example for your students. You have to show them how to struggle and how to persevere. You have to put a smile on your face when an angry parent misunderstands what their 6-year-old told them you said. You have to grin and bear it when a new policy or directive from the state is passed into your classroom. These things are not easy. But you didn’t get into this profession for easy.  You go into this profession to make a difference.

Know that you have made a tremendous difference on one individual and his family. I thank you all for making these last 13 years amongst the best in my life. I will miss the day-to-day friendships. I will miss the philosophical debates. I will miss a teacher running up to me inspired with a crazy idea to improve learning in their class and then helping them achieve it. I will miss leading professional learning for you in a multitude of forms (online, workshops, LearnFestATX, etc). Most regrettably, I’ll miss being able to work alongside you.

As I head into the my next chapter as a full-time consultant and speaker, know that I carry with me the collective passion and knowledge of the incredible teachers I’ve worked with during my time here. I don’t know where this next chapter of my life we ultimately take me, but, because of your support, I do know this….it will KICK ASS.

With love from your colleague,

Carl

 

Eye-Opening Reflections on the #Student4aDay Challenge

My pre-requisite teenage selfie before I start the day

My pre-requisite selfie (with hoodie) before I started the day.

I’ve been blessed to experience amazing professional development from around the world.  I’ve had incredible, powerful conversations with people in my PLN via social media that help me learn and grow.  All that said, yesterday’s #Student4aDay Challenge was the most eye-opening and possibly most life-altering experience for me as an administrator in a public school.  What follows is my reflection on the day and some major “Aha’s” that I hope will guide both the future of professional development for our teachers but also the lives of our students. For those of you that want a play-by-play recap of the day, check out the hashtag #Student4aDay on twitter.

About the challenge:

I blogged out my predictions and a little bit of the background for this challenge in this post, but the gist is I wanted to “be” a 10th grade student for a day.  My main goal was to see what student life is like in this 1:1 mobile world at a highly successful place like Westlake High School.  I was also curious about how they interacted with the teacher and each other, the desks they had to sit in, how they used technology, and generally, what their day felt like.

My Schedule:Screen Shot 2014-12-05 at 12.47.37 PM

I “borrowed” this schedule from one particular student who agreed to let me shadow her. However, because we had a pre-scheduled site visit, I needed to do take both 4th and 5th period off.  It worked out well since World History had a sub and were going to just watch a video. I also had a AP US History teacher request I visit her class at 7th period instead of going to choir.  Since I was feeling under the weather and my singing voice was not up to snuff, I took advantage of the opportunity to see her Humanities course in action.

Predictions Recap:

I made 5 predictions (or hypotheses) about how the day would go.  Here’s how they turned out:

1. Kids will be on their phones between classes – SOMEWHAT TRUE – There were a few kids texting or listening to music or even talking on their phones (rarely), but for the most part, kids were talking to each other.  They were having conversations about a certain class, a movie, a game, or what they were doing after school.  I assume some talked about relationships too, but they tended to quiet down when I got close.

2. My lack of a healthy singing voice will hurt me in choir – FALSE – Since I swapped out Choir for US History, this one never came to pass.

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Desks not meant for large humans

3. The desks will hurt my back- TRUE – I suffer from mild back issues, but sitting in these torture contraptions was getting to be down right painful by the end of the day.  I found myself fidgeting in them, turning to the side, slouching over, and generally just constantly shifting from one “cheek” to the other.

4. Technology use will be a mixed bag – TRUE – In the English class it was extremely hands on, with the teacher using Nearpod to engage student questions about Catcher in the Rye and even have us draw what we thought Holden Caulfield looked like.  Of course, the two computer lab courses heavily used technology as well. Most classes used the projector at a minimum, however one class, Geometry, had a long term sub and so he was relegated to only using the dry erase board.  No technology (except for calculators) were allowed out in that class.

5. My “real job” will affect my job as a student – I did miss 5th period for a meeting and during US History I was asked to help trouble-shoot with a Nearpod issue.  I tried to claim I was just a regular high school kid, but the class cleverly remarked that most kids could help troubleshoot technology, so I should too. Well-played…..

Class I was best at:

FullSizeRenderInteractive Media – of course!  The class was at the end of a Photoshop project designing a an advertising poster for the college of their choice to recruit students.  I observed several students working collaboratively on their posters (and some procrastinating). I came up with my Matthew McConaughey -University of Texas concept (pictured left) and nearly finished it within the 50 minute class period.  One of the quotes of the day came when a fellow-student called out another student for procrastinating to which she responded with “I’m not a ne’er-do-well!”

Class I was worst at:

Chemistry – This was a mixture of style and content. I’ve always been a big fan of science and when I think about my favorite high school teachers, science usually comes to mind because it’s so hands-on.  However, this particular class on this day was a review class, so it was very direct-teach over concepts I haven’t had to remember since…frankly….the last time I was in high school chemistry. (Quick! What’s Avogadro’s number?)  The students had been over this more recently, but my memory was shaky.  So much so that I failed the 2-question quiz over a couple of simple molecular concepts. 😦

Outcomes (or “AHAs”):

I could probably write a blog post on each class I was in and the overall student life.  However, I’m going to try and summarize what I discovered during this day in four major “AHA” moments.

AHA #1 – The schedule is overwhelming 

From the amount of time you have (50 minutes) in class to the amount of time you have in passing period (6 minutes), the day flew by without much time for deep thought or reflection.  I realize that giving teenagers too much transition could spell trouble, but I barely had a second to digest what I had learned before abruptly moving to the next subject. And in the classes (like English and US History) where we were starting to have a good, deep discussion on a topic, we were interrupted by the bell.  I can really see the benefits of having some sort of hybrid block-schedule after a day like today.  In the end, I was completely exhausted at the end of the day and, strangely enough, just wanted to go home and play video games.

AHA #2 – The technology may have changed, but the kids haven’t

Sure they were on their phones during passing periods and occasionally they’d listen to music when done with an assignment, but for the most part, the kids were kids.  Typical teenagers with angst and hopes and dreams (channeling my inner-Caulfield here).  In the chemistry class, there were one or two students that tended to answer every question, while the rest of us (including me) blankly stared at the board. In between classes I even got into a spirited conversation with a 16-year old about how good the latest Tell Tale Walking Dead game is. The girls giggled and the boys sighed at times, but in general, the kids were respectful and attentive no matter what the subject. (save for a couple of girls I noticed texting under their desks during Geometry). One kid did try to use his camera on his phone to take a picture of notes on the board to which another kid called him lazy.  His response was priceless – “That’s not being lazy, it’s being efficient.”

AHA #3 – How much of this content will be relevant in later life?

My Chem1 Quiz results

My Chem1 Quiz results

I can understand that taking courses like Geometry and Chemistry and Business Infrastructure Management give you the ground work for some basic life skills.  However, I can honestly say I’ve NEVER used Avogadro’s number (6.02×1023 for those of you dying to know) in my real life. In fact the last time I used it was 24 years ago when I was a sophomore taking Chemistry.  Why do we feel compelled to still teach the “4 core” subject areas every year in high school?  Is it because this is what we’ve always done?  I can see it being useful to those with a real interest in Chemistry or Calculus or Poetry but why force it on every student?

AHA #4 – It’s still really all about the teacher (and their style)

I’ve written in the past that technology is the “Great Amplifier” when it comes to teaching.  It can make a good teacher great and a bad teacher terrible.  In the classes I felt most engaged were the ones where technology was “invisible” in a sense and the focus was on the content and the discussion. I can tell you almost verbatim things I learned about Thomas Nast political cartoons based on the student discussion but I can barely remember what mathematical equation I was told in Geometry.  The biggest difference in those classes was both the style in which the teacher facilitated discussion but also the physical configuration of the classroom.  Desks in rows tends to imply that it’s all about focusing on the teacher (always exceptions to this too, as I discovered in the tremendously engaging English class).  Desks with the ability to turn or face each other made the center of the room the focus, a place where ideas could be shared and discussed without judgment.

All in all, I have learned a lot from this day, much of which I hope to apply and help steer changes in the classrooms and schools for kids in the coming years to make it more about student-centered, personalized learning. It’s been an eye-opening experience that I hope others in my district (and in other districts) will attempt.  I even reached out to some law-makers on Twitter to invite them in to do the same.  It was both a humbling and frustrating experience that I was honored to be able to attempt and it will live with me forever.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go home and play some video games.

How I looked (and felt) at the end of the day

How I looked (and felt) at the end of the day

Editor’s note: Tracie Simetal took on the #student4aday challenge as well and live-blogged her results on this Google Doc.  Kudos to Tracie and any other administrators willing to take this on!

Update: The Austin American-Statemen ran a report on this experiment and posted it here: http://www.statesman.com/news/news/local/administrator-spends-eye-opening-day-as-student/nkHWG/

Going #emailLess for Lent

noemailTomorrow, with the beginning of Lent, I’m giving up email for 40 days.  I know what a lot of you are saying – “Oh jeez, that’s pretty easy, wish I could do that.”  It’s not going to be as easy as you think though, especially with our dependency on the now 43-year old communication tool in business and education.  So why even bother? I have many reasons, but it all started a few months ago…

An idea is born

Sometime in September, I sent an email out to all 2700 Westlake High School students.  It was a simple request, asking them about an update for the iPad and how many had done it.  Two weeks later, ONE student emailed me back.  I was so grateful, but at the same time exasperated at the lack of response.  I asked the student, “Thank you so much, but why did you take two weeks to email me back?” His response left me floored – “we don’t use email.”

There it was, plain and simple.  Much like the music shifts from generation to generation, apparently forms of communication have shifted.  This may seem obvious to anyone reading this, but I started thinking, what am I going to do about it to keep the adults connected with the youth (especially in a profession like mine)?

The Hypothesis

By giving up email as a primary communication tool for a period of time (40 days), others trying to get in touch with me will be forced to use alternate means of communication, thus making them much more aware of the many other ways we can communicate besides email.

Other Theories and Data

I spend on average between 2.5 to 4 hours a day on email.  When I say “on” email that means reading it, replying to it, checking it on my phone, checking it on my iPad, deleting, archiving, sorting etc.  The actual tasks that come to me via email may actually be less than the amount of time I’m on it.  While communication is important, I’m hopeful that with alternate forms (chat, phone call, tweet, etc) of communication, I’ll be saving time in my day to work on other tasks and more meaningful projects.

One other negative about always checking email is that I’m spending time either on my computer (at work) or on my phone (at home) rather than actually communicating with people or my kids face-to-face.  I’m hoping that by freeing up this time, I’ll be able to spend more time on campuses talking to people and less time in my office alone.  I’ll be tracking data on increases in human interactions, increased connections via social platforms, and time spent working on meaningful projects.

Alternate forms of communication:

You might be surprised at the number of alternate ways we communicate.  I have set my auto-response on my email and when listing all the other ways to get in touch with me, I came up with 15!  Here’s a screen shot of my actual auto-response that will go out starting tomorrow:Screen Shot 2013-02-12 at 8.40.33 AM

Since I don’t have unlimited text messages and I don’t want my personal cell number going out to the world, I’m using the Google voice app to gather voice messages and texts.  Besides the auto-response, I’ve also rearranged the apps on my phone into a folder called “Communication 2.0” in hopes of having all my messages go there.

IMG_3596

Positive Expected Outcomes:

This social experiment will be a success if:

  1. I can get at least one person to communicate in a different way
  2. I can work on more meaningful projects
  3. I can actually talk and visit with more people in person

Challenges

The main challenges lie with my peers.  Email has become the easiest tool for many of us, so learning a new way to reach out to someone will be frustrating for some.  I’m fully aware that many of the administrators in my building and at other districts use email as the primary and sometimes only form of communication.  That might get me in some hot water as this challenge goes along, but that’s also why I tied it into Lent.  After all, I can’t get fired for religious reasons right?

Follow the progress

I’m starting an #emailLess page on this blog where I’ll post updates every so often.  I’ll also be tweeting to the hashtag #emailLessLent as I encounter challenges, interesting stories, and hopefully, some positive outcomes.

A journey

I’ve been on a journey to a magical land where the world is positive, the weather is always 72 degrees, and the food comes at you in loads that you don’t have to pay for. You may think- is this Heaven? Or is this a scene from Albert Brook’s underrated comedy “Defending Your Life”?

No Meryl, this isn't heaven, it's Cupertino

No. This is Cupertino, California. The words “yes, but” never enters their vocabulary. The phrase “you can’t do that” doesn’t ever weed it’s way into the vernacular here.
I was recently honored to be part of a select group of 15 administrators from 11 different states picked to be a part of “Apple Academy”. I know what your thinking – there goes Carl taking big gulps of the Apple Kool-aid again. Normally, I’d agree with you. Or worse – say “yes, but”. However the enlightening part about this trip has nothing to do with Apple products or their world of 350,000 apps (over 20,000 in education alone).
It’s in their attitude.
It’s in the people they hire.
It’s absolutely contagious.

I came away with greater knowledge of how Apple will improve our education, but more than anything else I wanted to bottle their “Yes, and” attitude and feed it to my staff.
While Apple didn’t develop the mantra “Yes, and”, it’s certainly a part of their life’s blood.
We in education become too hung up on the “Yes, but’s” in the world. We use as a way to scapegoat to avoid change.
Yes, but we have state testing to worry about.
Yes, but we have too much distraction in the classroom already.
Yes, but what will the community think about all of this change?

These are all things I heard upon return from my journey. While it grounded me quickly and forced reality on me in a way that almost made me hurl, I could now palpably taste the negativity in the air. We’ve grown so adapted to the extra burden of “yes, but” that we are accustomed to carrying the extra weight.

Is this the real life? Is this just fantasy?

My journey to Apple-land freed me of those weights.

And while I will try my best not to put them back on again, I also want my co-workers to experience the freedom of living in a “yes, and” world. Life becomes so much more livable. Work becomes so much more enjoyable. You just have to commit to it.

And a journey to Cupertino wouldn’t hurt either. 🙂

Editor’s note: This article posted from my iPhone.