Friday, December 15, 2017

Is "Leveling the Playing Field" really leveling the playing field?

My phone rings at work... it's EdSurge asking for feedback from their Fusion conference last month.  It was a great conference with tremendous networking opportunities and fantastic discussion regarding personalized learning opportunities for students.
The woman on the other end of the phone asks, "Tell me more about your district."  I love talking about our district, our infrastructure, and the learning opportunities we provide for students.  One of my biggest talking points is our migration from a legacy system to Google Apps for Education (side note:  hate the name "GSuite").
"You know, since we migrated to Google Apps for Education, we have really leveled the playing field.  It is so much easier for teachers to share documents with students, collaboration has never been greater, and the fact that all students have Gmail and GAFE accounts, has been a tremendous shift."  But in reflection, have we really leveled the playing field?  Have we provided the proper support and guidance for our staff and our students?  That is an open-ended question.  I feel the staff members who have embraced the shift will speak favorably of it; some don't care, and others do not like change.  Welcome to human beings 101. 
I am concerned.  Are our socioeconomically disadvantaged students and historically underserved students on an equal playing field?  Do their parents understand the shift and the impact these tools can have?  Do they have an environment they can study quietly in when at home?  How do we truly "level the playing field?"
For starters, this can't be one person's vision.  It has to be a grass-roots effort; district and site leadership have to embrace technology integration.  They need to understand the SAMR model. They need to walk the walk and talk the talk.  Without a shared vision that includes and informs all stakeholders, technology initiatives fail.  Nobody wants to repeat the LA Unified iPad nightmare.  But it can easily be repeated if we aren't careful.  Technology shouldn't be put in schools because it is sexy; it should exist to extend learning opportunities for all students and teaching opportunities for our staff members.  And quite frankly, with a shared vision, getting there isn't as hard as many may think.  Shared vision.  Communication. We can do it.  We can level the playing field for all students.  Baby steps.  We will get there.

Monday, November 27, 2017

The End of the Innocence

I have not felt like blogging for some time.  The current climate in our country is of a big concern to me.  The country is divided right now as it was during The Civil War or the Vietnam era.  So much for progress.

Often when I am feeling uncertain, I turn to music.  My take on the turmoil reminds me of Don Henley's song, The End of the Innocence.  Life continues to change in ways we never thought would happen and I am longing for simpler times when there was more common ground.  Nowadays many Americans have forgotten how to argue civilly.  It seems that we are more divided than ever - mostly along party lines.  We are experiencing a presidency like we've never experienced before - one of an immature, spoiled child who wants to rob Americans of their basic, guaranteed freedom, while looking out for the one percent that really doesn't need help.  So much for "draining the swamp."

But on an even more personal scale, I've noticed that the divisions in our country are running deeper - greatly affecting families and relationships.  A person who was a mentor to me early in my career - a person who worked predominantly with students of color, provided them with hands-on skills and jobs, and even called many students every morning to ensure they made it to school on time seems to have turned to a conservative side that is unfathomable to me.  We used to argue that George W. Bush was the worst president ever (for the record, he later agreed with me that W was awful) - but it was civil discourse.  When he told me Obama was a communist, I listened and respectfully disagreed.  But now... an educated person who spent 40 years as an educator, is buying into the current administration and turning a blind eye to so many things.... I will never understand.

I've always said that I want my children to grow up in a world that treats them equally. That gives them a fair shake.  A world that will never judge you on the color of your skin, but "on the content of your character."  I fear that world is disappearing and can only hope that people come to their senses.  We have seen this happen in other countries; we have seen this happen in our own country - but decent people took a stand.  It's time to take a stand.

The following lyrics from The End of the Innocence resonate with me...

O' beautiful, for spacious skies
But now those skies are threatening
They're beating plowshares into swords
For this tired old man that we elected king (reference to Reagan)
Armchair warriors often fail
And we've been poisoned by these fairy tales
The lawyers clean up all details
Since daddy had to lie
Who knows how long this will last
Now we've come so far, so fast
But, somewhere back there in the dust
That same small town in each of us
I need to remember this
So baby give me just one kiss
And let me take a long last look
Before we say good bye
Just lay your head back on the ground
And let your hair fall all around me
Offer up your best defense
But this is the end
This is the end of the innocence

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

September 8, 1987

Dates.  We all have dates that we remember no matter what.  Our birthday, the birthdays of loved ones, anniversaries.  And of course, historical events.  As a young child, I remember my grandparents telling me where they were as they learned that Pearl Harbor had been bombed; I remember them (and my parents) telling me where they were and what they were doing when JFK was shot - as well as MLK and RFK.  I think about my life - President Reagan being shot, the Space Shuttle exploding, the Rodney King verdict and riots that ensued, OJ and the Bronco chase.  9/11.  More recently, November 8, 2016 - (talking about a day that will live in infamy.)

So, with all of this mentioned above, why on earth am I blogging about September 8, 1987?  That day changed my life - and to this day, I am forever grateful.  September 8, 1987 was my first day of junior year at Sequoia High School.  Up until this point in my life, I had NO idea what I wanted to do when I finished high school.  Nobody in my family ever attended college.  My oldest brother joined the Navy when he graduated; my other brother had just graduated and was trying to figure it out.  But on this day, as the bell was about to ring for the beginning of fourth period, it all changed.  I walked into Room 129, sat down... and the rest is history.

The desks in the classroom were in a "U" shape, three students deep.  And right when the period started, the crazy teacher grabbed his camera and started taking our pictures by rows - for his seating chart!  The energy that came out of him was contagious; he spent very little time talking about rules; instead we talked about what we were going to learn and got down to business.  Yep, One Run, Two Zoo (if anybody reads this blog and knows me, they will know what 1R 2Z is.)  Fifty minutes later I emerged from the room knowing I wanted to be a teacher.  The reason:  my teacher, Rod Liner.

Fast forward 30 years later.  I am entering my 23rd year as an educator.  I was fortunate enough to start my career at Sequoia and receive mentoring from Rod.   I had him as a guest speaker in class - we put together a panel for students to ask questions on many topics such as gays in the military and the Holocaust.

During my first year teaching, Rod told me to read a book - The Drifters by James Michener - changed my life.  Fortunately we have not lost contact - and to this day we correspond regularly - emails that I look forward to.  When we do see each other in person, I think we hit 30 topics in 30 minutes - classic!   Rod's passion for life, learning, his family, and sharing experiences is still burning strong.  Every book or film he has recommended is a home run.  As I've traveled in Europe more recently, every recommendation he makes is spot-on.

I once read this quote:  "Know and be known.  Relationships are everything."  How true.  Life is about relationships and the time we put into them.  Life is about sharing experiences with those you love.  Rod taught me about life.  I hope I've done that for others along the way.

The last day of school for the 1987-1988 school year... Rod's closing comments to us:  "If you are sitting on a bench and an elderly person sits down next to you.... and at the same time a beautiful woman pulls up in a Lamborghini and offers you a ride - you better stay on that bench.  You'll learn more from that elderly person then you'll ever learn from a Lamborghini."

Sunday, May 21, 2017

CUE Rockstar - History Edition

My head is spinning.  I typically dislike giving up a weekend.  I cherish my weekends - from golfing, to going to the gym, to spending time with family, or just relaxing.  Weekends are sacred time.  However, when I read that CUE was providing a professional development opportunity (their Rockstar Brand with a history focus), I could not resist.  To make it even more enticing, the event's venue was on board the aircraft carrier & museum -  USS Hornet.  
USS Hornet - Alameda, CA

Yeah, I may be "on the dark side" now as an administrator.  But my passion remains in the history classroom and this was an opportunity I did not want to miss.

From learning about best practices for active lesson planning - teaching skills rather than content - to HyperDocs and "Breaking up with Lectures," it was worth every moment.

Over 100 educators attended this event.  It speaks to the drive and desire of teachers - to learn more and incorporate new techniques into a profession that is often under-appreciated.

Helicopter on board USS Hornet
If anything, events like this spark my passion and make me want to provide richer professional development opportunities for teachers in my district.  We can make a difference - we can provide students with rich learning opportunities with and without technology. We can be the teachers that ignite the fire in our students.

Other takeaways - the podcast "Teaching Keating" - I've already consumed four episodes.  The connection to lessons in moving and teaching are incredible and providing me with some serious reflection time.... #cuerockstar #bethechange

Monday, April 24, 2017

Hallowed Ground

Panoramic Picture of the cemetery
As we left Florence, Italy during Spring Break, we asked our tour guide to stop at the American Cemetery in Florence.  Lisa and I had been there with students in 2015, but none of the adults on our current tour, nor our tour guide, had ever visited the cemetery.

Battle map
4,401 Americans interned
Wall with names of MIA  

There's something about a cemetery, especially a military cemetery, that creates a quiet, reflective mood among people.  It doesn't matter what type of excitement or chatter may have been transpiring on the tour bus, the mood becomes serious - even somber - as we enter these places.

Unlike 2015, we had a docent provide us with some very important information about the cemetery and the entire Italian campaign during World War 2.  I never realized that Rome surrendered to the Allies on June 5, 1944 - the day before D-Day.  It seems to me that, like many other historical events, this sacrifices of the men and women fighting in Italy was overshadowed by the Allied invasion of Normandy on June 6, 1944.
Statue honoring American forces

Our docent was wonderful - a fantastic young man from New York who works for the American Battle Monuments Commission.  He was well prepared.  His review of the battle maps was fantastic.  (I didn't know that both South Africa and Brazil sent troops to fight with the Allies, did you?)  We learned a lot about the missing soldiers who's names are engraved along a wall.  Remains of WW2 era soldiers are still being found and identified to this day!

Probably the most moving piece of this visit for me was the final words from our docent.  He said, "Each of these tombstones is a person - a story.  They loved baseball, candy, playing in the streets.  They were sons, daughters, brothers, fathers, husbands, and wives.  As you walk along the graves, please say 'thank you' to the fallen soldiers.  It may be the first time they have ever heard this."  This alone changed my entire visit.  I found myself reading every name I could, and then saying (aloud), "Private Wagner from Pennsylvania: thank you for your service and sacrifice."  This made the whole thing more real to me.  I am inspired.  I want to learn more and honor these fallen.  This hallowed ground must be preserved forever.

Disparities in Life....

My wife had to supervise the junior/senior prom Saturday night in San Francisco.  The ASB students chose the Design Center as this year's location.  As we exited Vermont Street, I was absolutely overwhelmed by the number of homeless encampments set up along Vermont Street and other nearby streets.  There were easily 40 "tents" along the streets that was the "housing" for these people.  Then, one block over, nothing but excess.  Students pulling up in stretched limousines or party buses, dressed to the nines.  Don't get me wrong - I am glad that students are able to celebrate their high school years with such an amazing event.  However, the disparity in wealth really got to me and made me think...."How can we combat this homeless challenge?"

I know the current administration won't do anything to help the homeless.  And quite frankly, I am not sure what past administrations have done either.  The homeless situation is one that is not only hard to comprehend, but one that will require such an intense and in-depth program that cannot lose funding in order to remedy the situation.  

I've often said that people need to help themselves before receiving help - or should I rephrase with, "people need to want to be helped."  Perhaps this situation may even come down to values.  Some of the homeless are so down and out that they may be past the point of no return.  They have succumbed to this life style and it has become all they know.

What would a program look like that would help these unfortunate individuals?  And in the Bay Area economy?  How can we create a program that provides housing, meals and basic health care in exchange for productive work?  

I know every situation is unique.  I am quite confident that these homeless individuals did not wake up one day and say, "I think I'll live in a tent along Vermont Street tonight, freeze my ass off, and beg for food."  Ummm, how to remedy....  How do we get others to care?  I wish I had the answer.

Sunday, April 2, 2017

That Was A Fast Three Months

I can't believe that 2017 is already 1/4 of the way over.  It doesn't seem possible, but it has happened.  I can't remember a stranger year.  Just the other day, I read a Twitter feed from Jon Meacham - recognizing the 36th anniversary of the assassination attempt on President Reagan.

Moments like that are forever stamped in my mind.  I remember our fourth grade teacher, Mrs. Larson, sitting down and telling us.  She was nearly in tears.  We were all in utter disbelief.  I remember while teaching US History, telling my students there are certain moments in all of our lives that we will always remember.  For my grandparents generation, it was, "Where were you when Japan bombed Pearl Harbor."  For my parents, it was, "Where were you when Kennedy was assassinated."  Strangely enough, my generation and my children's generation seem to have a lot of these moments; mine:  Reagan's assassination attempt, space shuttle blowing up, the OJ Simpson saga, Obama getting elected, and finally the election of 2016.

Today during the show Face The Nation, Meacham was interviewed about the similarities between Andrew Jackson as President and the 70+ days of the Trump administration.  Both of these people were political outsiders.  Both had a mean streak.  When the anchor asked Meacham what Trump could do at this point to get on the right track, Meacham was simple and clear:  Start leading.  Stop with the tweeting and diversions.  Get out there and lead.

This makes incredible sense, not only with the presidency, but with life in general.  I think about dynamics in the school district I work as well as individual departments - stop with the games and remember what we are here for:  to educate all students to the best of our ability.  Hopefully Trump will take Meacham's advice (if he's at all capable) and we can have some positive memories stamped in our minds forever - not of tragedy, but of unity and the American spirit.

Wow... first post in two months.... and I'm still all over the map.