Saturday, January 16, 2021

To a Teacher in a Pandemic

I have seen many stories this year about the academic struggles of students.  Many teachers have a lot of student failures -- more than they have experienced in their entire career.  And it can be demoralizing. But teachers… you have not failed.   You have bent over backwards for your students.  You have given them chance after chance after chance… and many of them are continuing to make decisions that don’t seem rational to us.  While you all are not responsible for the decisions of your students; many of you all are taking these grades personally.  You hurt because your students have not been successful, but you also hurt because you know many of your students are confronted with challenges at home which are out of their control.  And so you hurt because your students hurt.  I always appreciate conscientious educators, but I don’t want you to feel the weight of the world on your shoulders.

 When you Google school mission statements, you will see phrases like:

“We will challenge students to reach their potential…”

“We will maximize learning opportunities…”

“We will inspire students to be life-long learners…”

“We will provide a safe and nurturing environment…”


The imperative of providing a safe environment is the obvious reason so many schools have transitioned to a virtual learning model. Safety trumps “best practices.”  But how do we fulfill our academic mission in a pandemic?  To put it bluntly, we refuse to give up.  We continue to maximize opportunities for students; we continue to challenge; we continue to nurture; we continue to inspire.  


So how many opportunities do our students deserve?  I’m not sure how to answer that except to refer back to the mission.  And consider what is missing from most mission statements.  Timeframes.  Timeframes for gaining knowledge… timeframes for developing skills… timeframes for learning.  The goal is that they will become responsible; clearly many of our students are not there yet.  So we push on.

One of my former teachers became the Teacher of the Year for his district several years ago.  A reporter asked him for his advice to teachers. This is what he said: “Teach every student like you are their lifeline.  You are their last chance to succeed.  You don’t know what each child has been through.  You don’t know how many chances each child has had.”


When you look at your list of students, you may see a lot of failures.  When I look at our list of teachers, I see a lot of lifelines.  Do the students deserve another chance after you have given them so many already.  Perhaps not.  But as one teacher told me, “This is the year for grace.”  That would suggest that “deserve” has got nothing to do with it.  The mission of all educators is about our collective commitment to our students.  So thank you for making that commitment.  I hope we will all be able to look back on this year and remember it as the year we refused to give up on our students.

Friday, January 1, 2021


This blog post is not inspirational... but it's all me.  Years before I had a professional twitter account, I tweeted anonymously some of my silly musings.  What follows is a collection of those.

People who disagree with me have entirely misunderstood the absurdity of their position.

I've decided to make the most of yesterday. It's just that the timing is a bit awkward.

Bank robbers really should report their additional income  to the IRS ... cause tax evasion could definitely get them in serious trouble.

I talked to the Judge about the importance of forgiveness ... but apparently, his honor doesn't go to church.

Usually I live moment to moment, but sometimes I skip a few "moments."  That can be quite disorienting, actually.

I'm thinking about coming up with a good idea.  Right now, I'm just waiting to see how things play out.  We'll see.

"Hooked on Phonics" really could work for you.  Give it a chance.  Also ... give peace a chance.

If ever you need help with anything ... ever ... please don't hesitate to contact one of your real friends. (Not just saying that either.)

I haven't heard much about the "Cold War" lately.  Perhaps something good has come from "Global Warming."

Sometimes I just don't get it ... like when I was messin' around with thermo-nuclear physics yesterday.

I'm in favor of the ethical treatment of animals. But not fire ants.

It's not easy being this cute. It's sort of a collaborative effort between my stylist, my publicist, and my accountant.

When you come to terms with the fact that life isn't fair, you probably won't be as pissed that I took your parking place.

People who have a lot of answers make me nervous. They gotta be making stuff up.

Sometimes I think I'm poised for greatness ... but then I realize it's just heartburn.

Blood may be thicker than water but it's not quite as thick as fondue cheese.

Broccoli Smoothies are not as good as you would think they would be.

I guess politically correct kids play cowboys and Native Americans. It just doesn't seem like it would be as much fun.

If heaven is like an amusement park with no lines, then I'm really gonna start being good.

I thought about getting a "nose job" but eventually concluded it would get old working with noses all day.

My therapist asked me if I would rather be an apple or an orange.  I protested the question ... you can guess how that conversation went.

You would think that the invention of peep holes would have led to collapse of the "knock-knock joke" industry ... but it just hasn't.

I like the way attractive people look.

If I can get 1,000,000 people to each donate $1, then I'm optimistic that my fundraiser will work.

I've heard people talk about the power of prayer ... but nuclear energy also seems to have a lot of potential.

Life is like a box of donuts ... but with a few more calories than the box of chocolates.

I have not read all of Shakespeare's stuff, but he seems to be a pretty good writer.

There is an adage about walking softly and carrying a big stick, but I find that when I have a real big stick, I can walk however I want.

I look at money the way God does: I don't have to have to have it ... but it would really be nice if people gave me a bunch every Sunday.

Sometimes I find myself offensive ... yeah, I don't know what to do with that.

I'm pretty sure my therapist is ripping me off.  So far, all we're doing is just talking.

I'm planning on becoming filthy rich.  I do have a backup plan though ... and it doesn't require quite as much money.

The coolest thing about being God is not having to footnote any of your books.

I always thought it would be a good idea for people with bad breath to become prolific texters.

Be very skeptical of autobiographies that have extensive bibliographies.

My neighbors have the best neighbors ever.

I went to the neurologist and he told me it was "all in my head."

I imagine that none of the cars in hell have air conditioning ... and I bet that the traffic is absolutely hellacious.

Of all the things I say, I regret the dumb stuff the most.

Mac is indeed a good name for a truck ... also a good name for a daddy.

There comes a day in every man's life when you realize it's time to grow up.  Today is not that day for me.

I frequently get distr

I bet if you ever could walk through a cloud, it would seem kind of foggy.

I refuse to be pessimistic ... which is actually quite remarkable in light of how hopeless the situation is.

There's a song in my heart ... but I wish it were a catchier tune.

I consider myself a "part-time philosopher." It's not much of a living really.

I've learned the secret in most races ... is to run faster.

People like me are usually just full of it.

The road to hell is not actually paved ... So be careful with your pithy expressions.

When someone tells me "nanny nanny boo boo," I just think they're so immature.  Besides, I'm rubber and they're glue ...

I do believe in "situation ethics" ... but only in certain situations.

I wonder what sorts of skills shepherds list on their resume.  (I never said I wonder about sensible things.)

I'm convinced that I could accomplish much more if I had a cape.

An apple a day ... and oatmeal, fresh vegetables, whole wheat, a daily multivitamin, and plenty of exercise , keeps the doctor away.

I hope my issues are "developmentally appropriate" ... cause if they're not, I've REALLY got issues.

"The truth will set you free"  ... is not a particularly good motto for criminals.

Some things are better left unsaid ... like those times you criticize me.

I wonder what religion God is partial to.

I hope I'm not made in God's image ... cause that wouldn't reflect too well on God.

I've decided not to talk to idiots today.  If you see me just wave at you, you might need to do some "soul searching."

Sometimes I lose my "cool" ... but right now, I think it's just misplaced.

I'm afraid I've forgotten the awesome idea that I'm fairly certain I had.

If reincarnation is true, I hope I don't come back as one of those people who doesn't believe in reincarnation, cause I hate being wrong.

I've noticed that beautiful people tend to monopolize the convertibles in parades.

Criminals should start smiling for their mugshots. I think they would notice that their whole outlook changes.

Those who repeat the past, are condemned to have deja vu.

The truth is usually somewhere in the middle ... which is why I usually tune out at the beginning and end of conversations.

When things don't go as planned, I find it's best to just pretend.

Ever since I read about what went down in the Garden of Eden, I've been very leery about talking snakes.

I have a killer idea for a reusable paper towel ... but instead of paper, it would probably need to be some sort of cloth-like material.

I march to the beat of an imaginary drummer that doesn't keep good time.

If you find yourself in prison for a crime you did not commit, ask your lawyer for some sort of refund.

If I die and see a light at the end of a tunnel,  I'll probably be wondering why in the hell God put tunnels in heaven.

If we run into each other in another life ... let's just play it cool.

I make it a point to respect people who tell me, "the feeling is mutual."

It sort of made me feel bad, when my therapist said, "Are you serious?" like 10 times in our first session.

I make a point to avoid hanging out with people who are "judgmental."

I hope to look back on our time together with fond memories ... so try to be cool, ok?

Be true to yourself ... unless you're a total jerk ... and then we'd all like you to pretend.

If you can't say something constructive to me, just give me a shallow compliment.

If anyone tries to get you to do spaghetti on the grill, they're messing with you, cause that doesn't work.

Jesus, Buddha, and Mohammad walked into a bar.  I don't know what was said but think of the possibilities.

How cool would it be if God had a twitter account? (e.g. @God "About that earthquake ... my bad."

Sometimes I smile in the face of danger ... but usually I run.

If you decide to become religious, it's VERY important that you choose the right one.  I'm just sayin' …

When Jesus wasn't sure what to do in a certain situation, he probably just thought to himself, "What would I do?"

For the most part, God spaced out the holidays pretty well.

There are salmon who swim their butt off to get upstream, and then get eaten by a bear ... so your life really isn't too bad.

I used to be depressed about my incoherent babbling, but lately, I've not been depressed about it.  So hey ... progress.

When the poop hits the fan, everyone ducks, but what is really needed is for someone to ask why anyone is throwing poop at a fan.

It's good to "suck the marrow" out of life ... but I don't recommend doing it to a chicken bone.

4 out of 5 dentists graduated in the top 80% of their dental class.

What if you went to Confession, and your priest said, "Father Mike, you gotta come hear this."

Whenever people tell me I'm wrong, I usually clarify things for them ... cause they're clearly mistaken.

Sauntering" is usually quicker than "meandering."  I hope this helps.

I heard NY is thinking about annexing those little New England states.  NY can be pushy like that.

If you've spent any length of time trying to contact me on CB radio, you've probably been frustrated ... cause I don't have a CB radio.

I think more people should use the term "freakin'" in business meetings.  It adds authenticity to any conversation.

It's unfortunate that those who need my advice do not have the good sense to ask for it.

I know God meant to punish the talking snake by making all snakes slither on their belly, but the snakes I've seen don't seem too put out.

I've noticed that healthy foods tend to taste a lot like fruits and vegetables.

I'm making this statistic up ... but 68 percent of Americans are nuts.

If I had to start a war, I would call it "Operation Whoop-ass.". I just think it would set the right tone.

Your life is a canvas on which you can paint a beautiful picture ... or you could download a free one off the internet.

If everyone committed to doing just one extraordinary thing for me ... think how much nicer my life would be.

If you can't find the proof you're looking for, you're probably just looking in all the wrong pudding.

No one has ever committed a violent crime while drinking a chocolate milkshake.  The conclusion here is obvious.

"Make love, not war" is a good slogan for every decade.

Today will eventually remind me of another great day I had.

It can be rewarding to reflect on one's brilliant ideas. So if I ever have one, I'm definitely going to reflect on it.

If you've ever had a random, silly, utterly inconsequential thought, we could be kindred spirits.

If you are already in the room after you discover your zipper down, casually remark, "wait  a minute ... where are the urinals?"

I guess in the "old days" they didn't do things the "old fashioned way" ... they just did it the regular way.

Sometimes your brain can represent different seasons.  Like mine is Friday.  Also, still waiting on the CAT scan results.

I think those folks who look down on others are about the lowest form of ...  never mind.

I couldn't tell if the judge was mad or if he really wasn't ticklish.

There were very few "repeat offenders" in the Old Testament ... what with the stoning and all.

I thought the expression "rules are made to be broken" was a famous one ... but this judge doesn't seem to know about it.

If you're reading this while you're driving, shame on you.  If you're not driving, you probably would have been better off going for a drive

If I'm ever reincarnated, I hope I come back as a Hindu.  It could be terribly confusing otherwise.

If you're walking down the street and a lion starts chasing you ... I hope you escape, cause that will make a great story.

Sometimes when I'm at a friend's house, I like to say, "Hey, make yourself at home."

I guess there's more than one way to skin a cat, but if that's interesting to you ... you need therapy, dude.

I guess Jesus never said, " Hey ... Nobody's perfect!"

If I ever get arrested, I hope they forget to read me my rights.  What a great "loophole" that would be!

The doctor told me to drink more fluids in the morning but now the bourbon seems to be interacting with my cholesterol meds.

If I'm ever irritable with you, don't take it personally ... you probably just caught me on a bad year.

I hate it when I hear a dumb comment ... and realize I heard it because I said it.

It would have been so cool if Christ had passed around an ice cream cone at the Last Supper.  That would really make communion awesome.

"Regret" is generally not very constructive. Please disregard this advice when speaking before your parole board.

Pray for those who persecute you.  Also, file a police report, obtain a restraining order, and press charges.

If I ever get to be a movie star, you might start reading books  ... cause the movie industry is hurtin'.

I'm very discriminating about the propaganda I choose to swallow blindly.  My main rule of thumb is to only believe the true stuff.

The truth can be a slippery thing ... like snot on a door knob ... (or something else slippery.)

Concussions are a serious thing. My seven almost warped my sense of humor.

The world would be a more pleasant place if those two possums had been tardy getting to the ark.

The human brain may reflect intelligent design, but the male nipple reflects mediocre design.

The Truth is sometimes like a wedgie ... in that it can be uncomfortable. 

In lieu of sending flowers to my funeral, please send me gift certificates now.

When they carve the epitaph on my tombstone ... I hope it's a long time from now.

I don't pretend to know the future.  But I do pretend to know lots of other stuff.

I really like to say clever things ... but I've been in a "dry spell" for a few years now.

Freedom in America comes with a cost.  The judge set my bail at five thousand, for example.

I bet the Pope is easy to recognize at a pool party.  Just sayin'...

Whenever I interview for a job, I tell the employer, " Don't call me; I'll call you." (It makes me feel like I'm holding the cards.)

Sometimes there are people in this world who just kick your butt ... which is why I'm always packin' Charmin.

I'm still trying to figure out how to strut, sitting down.

I sometimes have a point ... and that's something.

I'm not optimistic about the future of Eight-Tracks or Palm Pilots.

It turns out ... "The truth is a funny thing, your honor." ... is not an effective line.

I tell the truth most of the time.  Try to be discerning.

One idea is to tell your boss he "takes work too seriously."  Maybe that idea will work out better for you.

When Noah saw the dinosaurs coming toward the Ark, I bet he thought to himself, "You gotta be kidding me!"

Life is like changing a baby's diaper; you never know what you're gonna get.  Well ...  you do sometimes.  That reminds me of a bumper sticker.

It's generally nice to feel "needed" ... except like during roll call on Cell Block D.

If they ever write a book about me, I hope it has a happy ending ... cause .... you know ...

I can find the humor in most of life ... especially the funny parts.

Never trust a liar who is smiling.  Actually, the "smiling" part is not that important.   

I'm resolving to live each day as if my life depended on it.

Santa delivering presents on Jesus' birthday ... one of the great coincidences of history.   

Please remember the importance of forgiveness after I take your cookies.

I've decided to exchange my core values for a plethora of peripheral values.

I've never really scoffed at danger.   Actually, I'm not even sure of the correct way to scoff.   

If the sun explodes, I hope it happens in the summer ... cause otherwise, I bet it would get really cold.

It's not all about winning.  Sometimes it's about the trophy.  

Fool me once ... shame on me.  Fool me twice ... and buddy ... you have lost yourself a friend.

Studies have shown that research causes side effects.   

You can take my body ... my mind ... and my heart ... but please don't ever take my essence.   

I actually prefer blessings without disguise.   

I'm probably not as smart as I hoped you assumed a person like me thinks he should be. 

Sometimes when I'm sad, I think to myself, "don't be sad."  (This doesn't work by the way.) 

I'm thinking about achieving total enlightenment for 5 easy payments of 49.95.   

And don't forget to hand your cafe mocha to a friend before getting on the trampoline.   

I've reviewed your chart and it appears you ingested some di-hydrogen monoxide.   

If you're ever lost in the woods, remember ... moss is usually a greenish color.  

We don't have to be monkeys to pull ticks off each other.  It's just a kind gesture.   

Tip-o-the-day: If you ever ride in a time machine, make sure you take along a healthy snack.  You know ... just in case.

If you could get into the brain of a genius ... you'd probably find it wet and slippery.   

I've heard laughter is the best medicine.  But if you have an infection, you should probably consider an antibiotic.

I've done some research on the "secret of life" ... and it appears to be breathing. (So keep it up.)

A mind and the last piece of cheesecake are both terrible things to waste.   

"... like a toilet that just won't flush" could be a great metaphor.  I'm just not sure for what yet. 

Some children's songs really hit the nail on the head ... like "Jimmy cracks corn and I don't care." 

Fridays light up my life like a candle lights up a mostly lit room.

When you hear the title, you think the song could work as a lullaby ... But "Sweet Child-O-Mine" just doesn't ... on any level

Never underestimate the value of a dollar ... Well actually, with inflation and all, it might be a good idea ... so never mind.

Tip-o-the-day: when "riding off into the sunset," make sure you're heading west. Otherwise, it ruins the whole concept.

I wonder why the proof is never in the jell-o.   

I suspect there aren't a lot of pilots with bad resumes.   

Security, camaraderie, support, stability ... see, it is possible to be on a chain gang and look at the bright side of things.

If you're looking for something to do today, you could try weaving your hopes and dreams into a beautiful tapestry ... or you could go to a bar.

Sometimes I pretend I know what I'm talking about .......... actually, a lot of times.   

I no longer have a problem with "denial." 

When a dog lacks perspective, perhaps it's because he can't see the forest for the toilets.   

I believe the children are our future ... but I'm not prepared to sing a song about it.   

When a proctologist wins an award, you gotta wonder who or what they thank for their inspiration. 

I bet a zebra without stripes looks kind of like a white donkey.  

God is the inventor of bling ... what with streets of gold and all.  

Bamboo can be quite nourishing ... And a toothpick is included.   

I bet it could be dangerous if you're scuba diving and you remember a really funny joke.  

Whenever someone loans me money, I like to say, "Your kindness can never be repaid."

Going for a walk at dusk is kind of like going for a drive at dusk ... but slower.   

Boy that was weird ... I just had a flashback to a time when I had deja vu.

Just have your people get in touch with my people.  (Man, that's fun to say.)

My future biographer will want to think about how he's gonna supplement his income

If you're bored with your life, quit trying to remain "above the fray."  A good fray can really spice things up.  

Dinosaurs may have lived in a "dog eat dog world" .. but I bet they didn't care ... you know ... cause they were dinosaurs.

A great smile can light up a room ... so can a nice lamp.

It would really help me out if everyone would give me a dollar ... Not asking for handouts ... Just a dollar.

You can pick your friends, but you can't floss their teeth ... so it's best to pick friends who already have good teeth.

In one sense, the bottom line is "crack."

Life is too short to spend time not eating chocolate chip cookies.

The world would be a better place if we all knew how to get ... how to get to Sesame Street.

The guy in front of me needs to get off his phone and pay attention to his driving.

If my life is made into a movie, I hope it would have a really cool soundtrack.  Otherwise, I probably wouldn't watch it.

I think people should exchange "LOL" for a new acronym: "LTM" (Laugh To Myself) ... and then not type it.

(I'm truly sorry about all the time you just wasted.)

Sunday, November 22, 2020

When the Mission is the Problem

The mission is vital; it is the essence, after all, of what drives any organization.  But there are times that commitment to the mission may actually undermine core values that are more fundamental to the organization.  

When I was a counselor at Space Camp in the summer of 1992,  I knew little about the story behind the Challenger explosion which happened just six years earlier.  After watching the Netflix documentary, Challenger: The Final Flight, I was left with a sense of sadness about the seven lives which were prematurely and needlessly snuffed out, but I was simultaneously struck with lessons for leadership and organizational culture.

Engineers who worked on the solid rocket booster had documented concerns for years about the integrity of the seals which contained the extremely flammable fuel in the boosters.  Specifically, there were repeated alarms about the O-rings which were responsible for the seal.  Contract engineers, as well as some staff who worked within NASA, had maintained there needed to be a complete redesign of the seal.  But NASA was dependent on the national government for funding, and this entailed significant political pressure within the organization to maintain a rigorous flight schedule with the space shuttle program. They did not think they could afford to ground the fleet. 

The launch of Challenger, which was scheduled for late January in 1986, was delayed by thunderstorms around Cape Canaveral and then further threatened by a snap of sub-freezing temperatures.  As was routine, a team of NASA managers conducted a flight readiness review to ensure that the launch could move forward.  Because of the unusual cold weather, this involved meeting with the contractors who were responsible for the manufacture of the different systems within the space shuttle to ensure the mission was safe to proceed. The company, Morton Thiakol, was responsible for making the solid rocket booster.  

The engineers at Thiakol overwhelmingly recommended that the launch be delayed because of the cold weather.  In response, the Project Manager at Marshall Space Flight Center responded: "Good God, Thiokol!  When do you want me to launch, next April?"  After further deliberation, the managers at Thiokol overruled the engineers and gave approval for the launch.

An inquiry into the Challenger explosion by the Rogers Commission released a report which indicated the explosion was the result of a bad seal in the solid rocker booster, as well as a flawed decision making process which did not maintain the necessary safe guards for a successful and safe shuttle program. NASA executives felt political pressure from Congress to keep the shuttle missions on schedule.  That pressure was felt by the program managers, and it also trickled down to the contractors. 

Over 27 years in education, I can't tell you how many times I have witnessed colleagues avoid telling tough information to supervisors. They avoided hard conversations because the truth would be uncomfortable for the boss. They weren't sure how the administration would respond to news it didn't want to hear. In education, we need to have hard conversations about student achievement, staff morale, equity, the impact of a global pandemic on the school community, and myriad other issues. Leaders need to have these conversations, and in fact, cultivate them. They need to be willing to listen to bad news.  They need to be willing to hear the truth, even when it gets in the way of the "mission."  And they need to create a culture in the organization where everyone feels comfortable speaking up.

Thursday, November 5, 2020

Letter to a Discouraged Student

 To a discouraged student,

You're discouraged.  I know you are.  Your heart sank when you saw the grades. But those letter grades don’t define you.

Last spring didn’t go like it was supposed to go.  You missed out on activities.  You missed seeing your friends at school every day.  And this year isn’t normal either.  It’s uncomfortable to wear a mask at school.  Remaining “socially distanced” isn’t much fun either!

You are having to learn in ways you never learned before. All the technology and all the directions can be confusing.  And you are having to be more responsible for your learning than ever before.  You are being asked to learn independently and keep up with your own work in ways that many college students are not even able to handle.  

We might not know about all the distractions at your house or that your Wi-Fi keeps going out.  We might not know about all the hours that you’re having to watch your siblings.  We don’t know that your parents might not be able to help you figure out how to submit your assignment online… or explain the project  that doesn’t make sense to you.  We don’t know about your part time job or that you usually don’t get a full night’s sleep.  You’re already a great employee… but you aren’t getting any points for that in the gradebook.

You've never made the honor roll, but you have worked hard for your "C’s". You're kind, but we don't have a rubric for kindness.  You smile every morning, but facial expressions don't go in the grade book. You're always on time, and you're never in trouble, but there wasn't a question on the test about that.  

That letter grade does not represent the qualities that are most important about you; it certainly does not represent your hopes, goals, and dreams.  You have potential that is not measured by that last test.  You have gifts that were not assessed by that last quiz.  You didn't make the honor roll... but we still think you're a neat kid.

You're bored, and it's hard for you to care about assignments when you don't think they have anything to do with your life.  You're good at things that we don't seem to care about.  You're passionate about things that aren't on the syllabus.  You're tired of being compared to those around you. You feel like you don't measure up -- like you are inadequate.  But your grade does not reflect your IQ or your worth.  It is arbitrary.   I'm sorry that the grade is so important to all the adults.  Your future employers will care about other things too. They will care if you work hard; they will care how you work with other people; they will care that you don’t give up… even when the job gets really hard. You may not feel successful now… but please persevere.  You will be a valuable employee.  You will be a wonderful neighbor. You will be a great citizen.

You're discouraged... but I want you to know we care.  I want you to know we believe in you.  We want you to know that you have a bright future. You have talents and gifts that we may not even know about yet. We haven't found out how to measure them.  But you have them!

You are amazing... and your worth will never be measured by a letter grade.  So please don't give up.  We want you to graduate.  We need you to graduate… because you are our future.  And your education will open so many doors for you.  Your teachers care about you and they care about your future.  We might not know your whole story, but we care about your success, and we’re invested in you.  I care about you… and I'm in your corner.  Keep on keepin’ on!


                                                                                                        ~ Danny Steele

Sunday, October 18, 2020

Letter to a Stressed Teacher in 2020

Teacher Friend,

You're stressed.  I know you are.

I'm a principal, and it's easy for me to say, "Hang in there -- thanks for all you do!"  But I want you to know exactly what it is that I'm thankful for.

Last spring was a whirlwind.  I'm sorry that so many of you didn't really get to say good bye to your students.  You invested into their lives all year, and then the rug was ripped out from underneath you.  That hurts.

I'm sorry about the anxiety you experienced all summer, not knowing what your job would look like in the new year -- not knowing if all your students were ok.

Your school year may have started late; you may not have had all your students in your room.  You probably had to learn new ways of delivering instruction.  You had to learn new technology... and that technology didn't always work!  You had to rearrange your classroom!  And it's hard to teach with masks.  It's not easy to connect with students when you can barely see their faces, or in many cases, they're not even in your room.  You became a teacher because you want to build relationships with students, and it's never been so hard.  However your school year began, I know it wasn't normal... and it was ridiculously challenging.

You love being a teacher, but you are worried about your health.  You are worried about the health of your students.  You are worried about the health of your own families.

But you push on.

Thank you for taking time to prepare meaningful lessons... even when you feel yourself dragging.

Thank you you for providing encouragement and support to your colleagues when they're down.

Thank you for being kind to your students... and for realizing that may be the only kindness they experience all day.

Thank you for working to motivate your apathetic students.  Sometimes your efforts don't seem to make a difference. But you keep trying... because that's what teachers do.

Thank you for your willingness to learn new ideas from your colleagues.  I admire your commitment to being a better teacher tomorrow than you were today.

Thank you for trying to connect with students who don't seem reachable... because you realize you may be their only lifeline.

Thank you for making all those phone calls.

Thank you for your patience with the students who may be disruptive and annoying... because you know that those students still need you.

Thank you for working to ensure your students have a brighter future.

Thank you for being the kind of teacher that you would want your own kids to have.

I know you're tired, and you have a right to be.  I'm sorry that we just put another kid in your class... making it even harder to socially distance.  I'm sorry we just asked you to fill out another form.  In spite of the challenges, you maintain your passion for kids; you hold on to your commitment to making a difference.  I never take that for granted.

You're stressed... but you push on.

To me... that makes you awesome... and I appreciate you.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                         Danny Steele

Thursday, October 15, 2020

10 Things I Believe About Education and Leadership During a Pandemic

1. This pandemic has underscored an important truth that many educators have always known: we need each other.  Nothing can replace human connection.  Nothing can replace personal interactions.  Nothing can replace relationships. Teachers do care about their students, and they understand that connecting with students is more important than ever. But they cannot carry the weight of the responsibility for the social and emotional health of all their kids. That’s too much to bear. It takes a village.

2. As many parents have found themselves trying to help their own kids who have had to do some learning at home, they have been reminded that teaching is not easy. It's a skill... and it requires a great deal of patience.

3. We ask our students to be life-long learners.  Well… as educators are confronted with the reality of adapting to radically different instructional models… this is the perfect opportunity for us to practice what we preach and model for our students a little bit of “life-long learning.”

4. The realities of COVID and virtual instruction have underscored the need to provide equitable learning experiences for every student. Not all students have access to technology and WiFi. And not all students have parents who have the time and ability to help with school work at home. As educators, we have to be mindful of that reality and we must work to close the opportunity gaps.

5. It’s easier to throw stones than it is to make tough decisions.  And sometimes, being a leader involves coming to terms with the fact that any decision you make will be the “wrong” one to a whole lot of people.

6. Patience… flexibility… support… and grace.  If this is not what we’re bringing to the table right now, then we’re bringing the wrong stuff.  And your colleagues need to know that they are not alone.  No one should struggle in isolation.  And you can still build a positive culture in the face of adversity.  This is the magic of camaraderie.  It is the beauty of knowing that we’re all doing this together.  And we’re not alone.

7. Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs applies to educators now more than ever.  Leaders need to remember that when they’re talking about culture, mission, and all that stuff at the top of the pyramid… they have staff members who are worried about safety, security, and all that stuff at the bottom of the pyramid. Sometimes, teachers don’t need their administrators to inspire them, motivate them, or even lead them. Sometimes, what teachers need... is for their administrators to listen to them, understand them, and validate their experiences.

8. Leaders need to acknowledge the challenges and trauma that are confronting those they are leading. They need to be willing to listen to bad news. They need to be willing to hear uncomfortable truths. And they need to create a culture in the organization where everyone feels ok speaking up; they need to ensure they are creating safe spaces for candid communication.

9. Educators are confronted with two moral imperatives that are sometimes in conflict: First, we need to provide the best possible education for every student. Second, we need to ensure that all of our students and colleagues are safe. Most students learn best when they are in school, so we need to have them there when it is safe to do so.

10. Students are resilient. Teachers are resilient. They both have challenges... and they both need continued support and encouragement. Hope abides.

Sunday, November 24, 2019

Maintaining Staff Morale

David Weinberger once said, "The smartest person in the room is the room."  This poignant adage speaks to the power of collaboration, and it is something I got to experience first hand this summer.  I had the very cool privilege of working with ten talented and passionate educators to write a book - Volume III of the Education Write Now series.  Under the leadership of our skilled editors, Sanée Bell and Jeff Zoul, and with the support of our amazing editor, Lauren Davis, we each wrote a chapter.  Our goal, and the focus of this project, was to provide solutions to common challenges in our schools and classrooms.

I tackled the challenge of maintaining staff morale, and you can check out my intro below:

"Teaching is hard, and it can be emotionally draining. Educators deal with the pressure of standardized tests.  They are tasked with teaching rigorous academic standards but also developing strong character while responding to the social and emotional needs of their students.  They have the often overwhelming challenge of identifying students at risk of suicide. They work under the pressure of state mandates and district initiatives. Their schedule and position often create feelings of isolation.  They may struggle to keep up with evolving technologies and shifting standards. And recent news stories of teacher strikes across the country have underscored the reality that teachers are underpaid and often struggle to make ends meet.  So teacher burnout is real, as are the teacher shortages we constantly hear about.  
What can we do to mitigate the impact of pressures that confront teachers every day they come to work?.  What can we do to stay motivated in spite of the adversity? There is hope. Administrators and teachers can both play a role in creating the kind of school culture that fosters strong morale.  This chapter will outline ten strategies for administrators and ten strategies for teachers. While schools are often underfunded, staff morale does not need to be a function of fiscal resources.  Educators have tremendous potential to impact the attitude and joy of all those in the school building through clarifying their values and shifting their perspectives.  So here we go." 

You can get some other teasers by checking out blog posts from my colleagues linked here:

Lynell Powell
Rachelle Dene Poth
Jennifer Casa-Todd
Josh Stumpenhorst
David Geurin
Jeff Zoul
Sanée Bell
Ross Cooper
Katie Martin

We were all fortunate to have this amazing professional experience, and we sincerely hope that educators benefit from the wisdom, insight, and strategies found in this volume... but we all understood that our mission carried an added significance.  All of the royalties generated from this book will support the Will to Live Foundation, a nonprofit foundation working to prevent teen suicide.

I'm grateful for the opportunity provided by Routledge Publishing.  I'm grateful for the vision of Lauren, Jeff, and Sanée... and their passion to see this project through.  And I am grateful for the honor of working along side Jennifer, Ross, Rachelle, David, Katie, Lynell, and Josh.  It is our hope that other educators will find this volume a useful resource as they seek to refine their craft and improve their corner of the world.  Education Write Now: Solutions to Common Challenges in Your School or Classroom is out now.  Check it out here!