Monday, December 31, 2018

Life is Beautiful

One of my favorite movies is an Italian film called, "Life is Beautiful."  (The film has nothing to do with this post... but if you haven't seen it, you should.)

We celebrate Thanksgiving once a year, and that is the traditional time to reflect on what we are grateful for.  It occurs to me though, that when we think about the little things that we are grateful for, we are continually reminded that life is indeed, beautiful.  Gratitude should not be a "holiday thing."  It should be a way of life.

I'm thankful for:

Non-stick pans

Cherry tree blossoms

Dates with my wife

Honest plumbers

Apple Music

"Hot and Ready" $5 pizzas

Cruise control

People who's glass is always "half full"

Saturday mornings


The willingness of my kids to laugh at my jokes

My garlic press

The Autobiography of Malcolm X

Comedy that makes me laugh until I cry

OJ that is not from concentrate and doesn't have pulp

Scented candles

Warm towels, right out of the dryer

The dedication of teachers

Salsa that has just the right texture

The versatility of melted cheese

Waterless hand sanitizer

The cultural contributions of Leonardo Da Vinci, Run DMC, and Maya Angelou

Lawn mowers that start on the first crank

The benefit of the doubt

Woodford Reserve

3 day weekends

The efficiency of microwave ovens

Mocha Frappuccinos

The life of Jimmy Carter

Coconut shrimp

The smell of new born babies

And other stuff.

I think life is made beautiful by the little things.  I hope to always remember them.

Sunday, December 30, 2018

Reflections on Exceptional Teachers

When I think back on my teachers who were most effective, there is something they all had in common: they all seemed excited to be teaching us.  Teachers should always be aware of the attitude and energy they bring into class. I promise you, the students are aware of it.

When teachers show up for work, deliver quality lessons, and treat the students well… even when they don’t feel like it… they demonstrate their professionalism.  And they earn the admiration of their colleagues.

My daughter has talked for several years about how much she loved her 5th grade teacher.  When I asked her what she liked about her. Her response: “She liked us!” So simple… yet so profound.  Kids gravitate to the teachers that like them.

There is a teacher that both my sons had in high school.  They both raved about her. When I asked my younger son what he liked about her.  Without hesitating her, he said: “She cares so much! She cares so much about her job!”  The kids notice. Never forget… the kids notice.

We talk a lot about students being engaged.  It occurs to me that one of the hallmarks of an exceptional classroom is the TEACHER being engaged.  Kids love it when their teacher is active, involved, and energized. And they can tell which ones are really “into it” … and which ones aren’t.

In a great classroom, the students aren’t the only learners.  The TEACHER is a learner also. When teachers are curious, when they are vulnerable, when they continue to grow… they provide stronger instruction, and they provide a great example to their students.

It’s nice when teachers are creative, dynamic, and innovative… but I actually think I prefer patient, flexible, and kind.

I asked a principal one time what makes his teacher so awesome.  He said she is relentless about trying new strategies or finding resources to help kids understand math.  She will do whatever it takes to help them succeed. Exceptional teachers will do whatever it takes!

Good relationships with students usually do not happen accidentally.  They are cultivated by exceptional educators intentionally.

Teachers don’t have to be funny, creative, innovative, inspiring, or charismatic.  But they have to care about their students and take pride in their work. If they do those two… they will have a remarkable career.

Exceptional teachers teach… and then reteach… and sometimes tutor individually… because they realize not every student gets it the first time, (or even the second time.)

We can’t control the home environment of our students, but exceptional teachers control their classroom environment.  Under their care, the students can feel safe, feel supported, and feel loved.

Exceptional teachers don’t need WiFi to engage their students.  Technology is a great thing… but the passion of the teachers is always the most important variable in the classroom.

Great teachers make it look easy…. But they actually work really hard at it.  Greatness never comes without commitment and sacrifice.

The most effective teachers are the ones who realize they’re the most important variable in the classroom.

The legacy of an exceptional teacher is not built in their lesson plan book… but in their conversations with students.  The lessons are important… but the relationships are essential.
Passionate teachers don’t just inspire their students… they inspire their colleagues.  They have the potential to impact the culture of the entire school.
Most exceptional teachers did not start out that way. But... they reflected on what worked and what didn't; they learned from their colleagues; and they always kept their focus on students.
Every teacher has the potential to be a better teacher.

Saturday, December 15, 2018

Will You Check On Me?

When a former colleague of mine, Joe Turner, was named "Teacher of the Year," a reporter asked him for his advice to new teachers.  He responded:

       "Teach every child like you're their lifeline... like you're their last chance to succeed."

When I read this, it shook me to my core.  I shared it with our leadership team and it inspired an initiative at our school that we simply call "Lifelines."  This is not a formal program; it is not structured; and there is no paperwork. We simply ask our staff members to be a lifeline to 1 or 2 students who would benefit from an adult in their corner.  As a faculty, we commit to going above and beyond to care about these students.

Not too long ago, our counselor gave me my three "lifelines."  One of the challenges for me with this project, is that I don't teach these students.  I may not even see them every day.  The hallways are crowded, so class changes aren't always great opportunities to have conversations with students.  And it can sometimes be awkward calling kids into the office just to check on them.

But a couple weeks ago, I had an idea -- a new strategy for making regular connections with my 3 students.  I called "Caleb" down to the office, and I said, "Caleb... will you do me a favor?" He smiled and nodded, "yes."  I continued, "I usually have good days, but not always.  Everyone can benefit from others checking on them.  Will you do me a favor and check on me every day, just to make sure I'm doing alright."  He smiled again and said "ok."  I documented this process on Twitter.

I had this conversation with two other students, and the results have absolutely fired me up.  These three students are making regular eye contact with me in the halls, they are smiling at me, and they are asking me about my day.  This gives me a regular opportunity to connect with them, and it is teaching them to think about the well being of someone besides themselves.  As the year progresses, I hope to have longer and more substantive conversations with these students, but for right now, I'm  stoked that these guys are connecting with me everyday.  I love that we have three students who are now checking on their principal!