Come What Résumé: 10 Tips for Creating a Worthwhile Showcase of You (for teacher candidates, specifically at my school)

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It’s that time of year when I am inundated with a stack of nicely formatted lists of credentials, often slipped into plastic-bound report covers or printed on some stronger-than-usual cardstock with an elegant parchment appearance in hopes that they will somehow impress me more than the other competing profiles. Increasingly, though, these résumés are being submitted digitally, and all too often, they have a redundant appearance of the mediocrity for which our profession is all too often criticized.

In an effort to provide a more interesting endeavor for myself in reviewing these sometimes painfully boring documents, I would like to provide my ten tips for improving résumés. Understand that not all résumé recipients may have the same expectations; it is especially important to try to get to know the prospective employer or employers before writing any résumé that is likely to gain his or her attention.

My 10 tips for writing résumés:

  1. If you are submitting your résumé through an online application service or attaching it as a digital document to some form of communication, please name the file something other than “Resume.pdf.” Though I appreciate the .pdf format, the generic “resume” does not set it apart from others. Granted, it would be obnoxious if every candidate for a position submitted a file with superfluous modifiers like “Rachelsreallyawesomeresume.docx” or with some odd title like “MyDogAteMyResume.pdf,” but including your first initial and last name or other identifying characteristics helps when sorting through numerous files with similar names. Two other possible additions that may appear in the file name are the identifier for the school or date for which the interest is expressed. This subtly suggests that the résumé has been recently updated or designed for this particular submission. My résumé file name might be “PCSS_TFUHRMAN_RESUME.pdf” or “TFuhrman_Resume_2017.pdf.”
  2. Please do not mistakenly use the word “lead” in place of what should be “led.” If you led an activity, please demonstrate your effective leadership by using the correct homophone. It is difficult to lead very effectively if you have too much lead in your résumé. Homophones are sly and often fly under the radar of most spell-checkers, so watch for these tricky little words. They can persuade a prospective employer to consider other applicants more seriously when it comes to other similar qualifications.
  3. Don’t let your font choice and résumé template be more impressive than your credentials. Whether the résumé was Pinterest-inspired or a quick choice from a set of Google Doc template choices online doesn’t have much bearing on whether I intend to interview a candidate. Instead, the substance should be in the quality of the credentials and the diversity of experience noted in the words of the résumé.
  4. Include an unique experience or educational element. For some, this is more readily available than for others. Perhaps, you had an opportunity to serve as a missionary in a remote part of Africa or overcame what seemed the insurmountable conditions of poverty to be the first college-educated member of your family. Keep in mind that I am hoping to invite a person to become a part of our school family, not to simply enlist a conglomeration of listed qualifications to fill a void intended for a robot. Our experiences shape who we are as educators, and significant experiences contribute to significant learning, both personally and professionally.
  5. Give me an indicator that you have some tech savvy.  Some of the greatest educators I have known have used very little digital technology in their practices, but they have also been very willing and receptive to incorporating technology to better meet the needs of their learners. Here’s an idea: include a QR code link to a Youtube video about you or a portfolio or website you have designed. Even better, link a Google Form asking for feedback, either about your résumé or your candidacy, in general. Include questions like, “What most impressed you about my résumé?” or “What types of professional experiences would you like to see that are not currently on my résumé?” If you include this on all résumés, you may receive some valuable insights while impressing prospective employers with both your affinity for using technology and your interest in getting meaningful feedback.
  6. Know my school. Certain data is available on the state’s public report card, but do as much as you can to learn about our school and whom it serves. As I indicated before, we consider our school a family, and if you want to be part of the family, make sure you know with whom you are intending to get into a relationship. If you have opportunity to volunteer or get temporary experience at our school, this will help you to better understand who we are and whether you want to be a part of it (understanding that every family has changing dynamics, and we are always interested in changing in ways that will better serve our students). If you minored in Spanish or have done extensive study of Ruby Payne’s poverty research or Eric Jensen’s brain-based research, you might want to mention it in your résumé.
  7. Find a place to include titles of your most valuable reading selections or what you plan to study next. Just as knowing my school would help you to know what we value, it is important for me as a future employer to know what you value in educational research and study. Noted membership in an organization or attendance at a conference may not tell me nearly as much about your views related to education as your most powerful book studies, video playlists, or Facebook groups. Be authentic, and reveal what drives you as an educator. Though a résumé doesn’t always offer a lot of room for this, be clever in letting me know what drives you as an educator and in what you are most willing to invest your time and energy. I am convinced that some of the most powerful learning experiences have no GPA attached to them, so it is important to include something beyond the Dean’s List distinctions.
  8. If appropriate, find a place to include your sense of humor in your résumé. Ultimately, this has the potential to set a tone for collegiality or completely undermine it, so be careful not to offend or inadvertently confuse a potential employer. I like to think I have a healthy sense of humor that makes life more enjoyable (though some of my colleagues may question this self-evaluation). This is a risk that may not work for everyone, but if I can identify a common sense of humor with a prospective candidate, I am confident that both my colleagues and students will appreciate the authenticity of a person who can appreciate some of the comical elements of life in spite of the many stressors increasingly associated with education.
  9. Give me food for thought. I love brain-based teaching practices and research (as well as many other innovative and emerging educational topics) and love to learn something new every day. Find a creative way to teach me something with your résumé. This may require a little bit of effort to guess at something that I don’t know (though I can assure you that there is plenty), but if it challenges and engages me, I will have a hard time not looking at your résumé again.
  10. Finally, proofread your résumé, and have an honest friend read it. Not all principals and prospective employers are former high school English teachers, but pretend that they are. If I read a résumé with too many grammatical errors or odd choices of words, remind yourself that I am looking at this as the work of a person who will educate my students. If he or she is not attentive enough to detail in a representation of his or her skills and qualifications in a document for which the author had plenty of opportunity for revision and refinement, how will this person likely perform in a classroom where decisions have be made spontaneously and with accuracy every day? I would suggest to anyone submitting a résumé to read it to someone whom he or she trusts as a person who will provide honest feedback and ask the person to ask an array of questions related to what you have included on your résumé. The more opportunity you have to speak about and process what you have written, the more you will recognize areas for revision and determine whether the document really represents you well.

As I indicated early in this post, I am no definitive expert on this topic, but I am somewhat experienced in the matter of examining and choosing résumés for consideration of applicants for a position, extending all the way back to my senior year in high school. Having reviewed and mentally revised hundreds of résumés, I am looking for a sense of newness and authenticity that will ease the pain of filing through page after page of the same look and feel of résumés. Résumés should better represent the candidates and provide more of a story than a timeline. If I want to attract and contribute to high-quality, dynamic people as a part of my school family, I feel it is important to share these expectations and hope that those who consider these suggestions in their résumés will offer a more colorful depiction of people with whom I want to spend my working days.

Beyond the Test: Some of the Best (Learning Experiences)

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So we have arrived in the month of May, and the great summative assessment monster is being boxed up and sent back to its home, not to be battled with the slender, yellow, graphite-bearing swords again until about this time next year (unless, of course, we have opportunity to battle with keystrokes and mice in the near future). Though an expected barrage of field trip requests preceded the testing window, this year offers a few unique opportunities that get our students and teachers beyond their classrooms at Jere Whitson Elementary.

Annie

We have been blessed to have the opportunity for our entire Kindergarten through fourth grades to attend the Prescott South Middle School production of the acclaimed Annie, and though there was undeniable beauty in the performance of every musical number and lyrical line, the great beauty was experienced in the expressions on our students’ faces, many of whom had not previously attended a musical until last year, and many of whom looked enviously at the middle school actors as though they had the accolades of Broadway actors. The arts are important for creative expression, and this experience reinforced how important they are for the inspiration of younger students to engage in performance and ambitious endeavors.

Country Music Hall of Fame and Studio B

A little farther from our home, our students in our school chorus, comprised of selected third and fourth grade students, earned an amazing opportunity to visit the Country Music Hall of Fame and to tour Studio B. The students participated in a pancake breakfast fundraiser held on a Saturday morning at our school in order to demonstrate their investment and eagerness to experience a rich, music education experience. Again, the importance of the arts comes to life in a real and meaningful experience that our students will likely not forget. Our students had the opportunity to learn about the history of Studio B, to experience the wonders of music engineering, and to see the wondrous instruments, costumes, automobiles, and archived performances associated with some great country music artists.

The Great Shake

With emphasis year round on the importance of college and career readiness, we are pleased to host a wonderful experience envisioned and orchestrated by our Upper Cumberland Academic Career Coaches. The Great Shake and JWES Career Day drew from local professionals and community resources to engage all fourth grade students in many brief encounters with adults who care, during which they practiced the skills they had been developing over the past eight weeks during some of their library and counseling classes with their academic career coaches, including shaking hands, speaking articulately, and presenting information about themselves concisely and creatively. No standardized test can measure the impact of the experience, which is intended to shape young students into curious and ambitious learners who are increasingly more aware and capable of pursuing a diversity of higher education and career options.

TTU 4th Grade Visit Day 

An excursion that we pursued last year in an effort to provide greater awareness about post-secondary opportunities was a full day for students in our fourth grade to visit various parts of the Tennessee Technological University campus, with multiple departments of focus. Our students benefit from getting a closer look at the many facets that university life has to offer and recognize that Tennessee Technological University, which is a short walk away for most of them, is an accessible institution which offers a plethora of post-secondary possibilities. This year, our visit includes the following:

TTU iCUBE and iMakerspace

Hooper Eblen Center

College of Engineering Student Ambassadors

TTU School of Agriculture

TTU Music Department

Some Photos from Last Year’s Visit:

JWES/ELP Ag Lab

Last academic year, we set out to develop a space adjacent to our campus which we learned belonged to our school system as a venue for our students to explore, observe, and engage in agriculture education. Through generous contributions of various local partnerships, the Ag Lab now features various raised beds, a small greenhouse/shed, several weather measurement instruments, and a demonstration space for students to gather and record their observations. Our long-term goals for the Ag Lab range from exploring horticultural concepts and actively participating in planting and harvesting to the study of renewable resources and studying small animal life. With our official ribbon cutting scheduled for next Tuesday morning, we are excited about the potential of this great experiential venue for learning.

 

The only thing you won’t find in these photographs are students seated in conventional desks, prepping diligently for standardized assessments. What you will find are students engaged in the work and appreciation of the world in which they live, a world enriched by the arts, agriculture, and college and career possibilities. Though our aim is to increasingly make this possible throughout the academic year, we find it freeing to pursue these opportunities when we find that the confines of testing are lifted. Every day at Jere Whitson Elementary, we proclaim together, “Let’s prove we care,” and what better way is there to do so than to immerse our students in rich and relevant experiences that remind them that academics are important beyond grades and tests and are the basis for the application to various venues they may encounter, both today and tomorrow.

So this ends the series of BLOGs on “Testing is Over . . . What Now?” but it shouldn’t be the end of the conversation or opportunities for mutual inspiration. Make sure to check out the BLOGs/VLOG by my Twitter-connected PLN friends who participated earlier in the week, and engage with us on Twitter, especially on #TNEdchat and a variety of other Twitter conversations:

@mickshuran

@juliedavisEDU

@kingsterchris

@JacobDunn

@tfuhrman

Also, check out the earlier posts, if you missed them:

Monday (May 1): Mick Shuran! His focus was on changing the mindset or culture of how it seems testing determines the end of school. No Alice Cooper, School’s Not Out for Summer…yet! http://mickshuran.com

Tuesday (May 2): The illustrious Julie Davis, “ed-tech extraordinaire” and my closest connection to Julie Darling Donuts, shared her insight and tips on trying new things during this gray area of non-testing. http://techhelpful.blogspot.com/

Wednesday (May 3): Tullahoma City Guru (and LTL Podcaster), Google great Christopher King shared his thoughts and ideas about ending the year by running stright through first base in a different format, a VLOG for all you visual and audial learners http://firesidechats.blog/

Thursday (May 4): Social studies expert Jacob Dunn brought a current “in the classroom” perspective towards what we as educators can do after testing.  https://cultivateedu.com/

And, finally, whether you decided to celebrate this week or will celebrate next week as Teacher Appreciation Week 2017, I hope that you will join with fellow educators by providing sincere appreciation for what they do and how they touch the lives of students, families, and each of us as we persevere in our journey as educators.

Innovating Without Enervating

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“Innovation” is a buzzword in education right now that gets tagged to a lot of practices that aren’t necessarily innovative but more of what education technology guru Adam Bellow calls “iterative.” They’re not entirely new and unique practices but instead mirror what has been successful in other places and are modified to address needs or situations specific to those engaged in them. Iterative practices are not to be interpreted negatively in all cases; in fact, we typically like to employ research-based practices which demonstrate success, thereby implying that they are indeed iterative with good reason.

“Innovation” has no clear attributes and can often have a crazy or unusual appearance to those not authoring such ideas and practices. Some forms of innovation are absurd and reveal products as absurd as their conception. Nonetheless, in a world in which change is inevitable, it is important to have members of a group who are willing to be avant-garde such that they are purposeful in doing so. In my realm of influence, I look for these in schools and hope to be innovative in my ideas and practices, such that others will take risks and emulate willingness to try new ideas and strategies that may produce more desirable results.

One of the greatest challenges to the innovators is that they too can become enervators. To provide some clarity, look at the definitions of these words in juxtaposition:

Innovate: “to introduce as or as if new”

(“”Innovate.” Merriam-Webster.com. Merriam-Webster, n.d. Web. 24 Jan. 2017.)

Enervate: “to reduce the mental or moral vigor of” or “to lessen the vitality or strength of”

(“Enervate.” Merriam-Webster.com. Merriam-Webster, n.d. Web. 24 Jan. 2017.)

The energy and passion with which I pursue innovative ideas can be somewhat intimidating to those whose paradigm will not allow for such brazen cliff-jumping, and so I must temper my excitement with some of these ideas in which I now try to couch innovation for myself and others. For those whose default is not to innovate, it can be overwhelming to be in the presence of innovators without support. Even for innovators, it can be enervating to innovate alone. For this reason, I propose these simple strategies for encouraging innovation in a school.

 

New Year's resolution leads to 791st Dark Horse Defender victorygreen_bay_packers_cheerleader_4

More Champions than Cheerleaders

This is not at all intended to denigrate the role of cheerleaders in the metaphorical sense or the literal sense that these individuals support others. Cheerleaders are sometimes essential to motivate and exhilarate those for whom they are cheering. We all appreciate the cheerleaders for their very vocal, present, and energetic approach to giving encouragement; however, cheerleaders alone are not typically sufficient to sustain innovative efforts.

Champions are not simply the victors, as many tend to think of them. A very important definition of champion uses the term to indicate a role of an advocate or defender.  Innovators need to know that someone is fighting or advocating for their innovative attempts while they launch into innovative battles. Most innovators are more likely to encounter far more conflict, difficulty, and naysaying than their complacent counterparts.

For example, an innovative educator is likely to face ridicule by colleagues who are far less interested in changing and improving their practices. Others face difficulty in their implementation of innovative practices because they lack confidence or a sense of how to follow through with their initial plans and ideas. We must champion these individuals to persevere and reflect on their innovative attempts. We must be willing to defend their choices to be innovative even in the face of conflict.

 

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Resources beyond Reservations

What hinder some innovators are the reservations they impose upon themselves based on the inaccessibility of resources, either material or human. To alleviate this hurdle, we can provide space, materials, and connection to willing co-partnerships to promote and sustain the innovative projects and ideas. We can’t allow a lack of anything to hinder purposeful innovators, and we should seek to develop them and their confidence by demonstrating our commitment to their efforts in this way. An unfed innovator is likely to find his or her own food or may sink to complacency. Just as a fire will die if resources and fuel run out, a teacher’s innovative fire may die without resources.

Seldom do I simply shut down an idea due to a lack of funds; I generally try to ascertain more information about the need for the funds and suggest that they may not come and the timeline for procuring them may not be short, but I am willing to fight for funding if I see that the purpose is to improve conditions of learning for students and the passion for doing so is authentic. Most innovators seek ways to work around funding restraints and seek other funding possibilities, but they need to feel that they have license to do so, and many need to be encouraged in this.

 

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Time to Try

Another common hindrance to innovation is a lack of time to innovate. Different institutions have ways to provide time for innovators. Most innovators seem to find the time outside of the school day because of their passion for innovating; however, educators also need to be given opportunity to innovate with colleagues and students without fearing repercussions for not accomplishing some other objective. Though after-school programs for students and professional learning with other adults may be one way to accomplish this, teachers with innovative ideas should be given some freedom within the regular daily schedule to innovate, such that the focus and purpose of the innovation is consistent with goals for the students and school. Many times, an innovative practice will result in more productive use of time even if it is initially an interruptor in the daily schedule.

 

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Freedom to Fail (with intent to reflect and refine)

Innovators need to know that if they fail, they won’t be punished for their efforts. Failure can not be a destination which allows an educator to settle, but a place for reflection and refinement which leads to improved practice. Repetitive failure without reflection is a sign of an absence of purpose and a reliance on improvisational methodologies. Failure that leads to complacency or despondency is not to be encouraged since it does not promote positive development, nor does it lead to more innovation. The potential for failure must not inhibit an educator’s interest in innovating further, but failure must be a point for a type of reconstructive surgery, and this may or may not always include additional innovation.

Sometimes innovation followed by undesired results in one area reveals that better-known and more trusted practices are more effective, but such a “setback” should not serve as a definitive reason to preclude future attempts at innovation.

 

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Owning without Groaning

Teachers who innovate need to know that they can take ownership of their ideas and practices and share them with others, but when they begin to feel discouraged by others not “buying in” or receptively adopting their ideas, they should be reminded that innovation can not be forced and they must be willing to accept that their innovations, though well-suited to them, may not be appropriate for others at that time.

 

post-it-notes

I am a firm advocate of innovation, such that it serves the purpose of growing opportunities and success for the educators and students of my school; nonetheless, even the best intentions can unwittingly result in enervation if certain supports are not in place. As I continue to walk with interest in innovating and innovators, I know that innovation doesn’t fit every circumstance and situation, and sometimes the tried and true methods are used so often because they effectively serve the intended purpose. Nonetheless, invention and innovation that seek to solve problems and encounter issues from new perspectives for the sake of developing our students into more introspective and creative learners are always welcome at my school.

Seeking to Be a Pulse to Tone Converter

I remember as a child picking up the receiver and dialing a number on a rotary telephone  and the odd excitement that it brought when I called a number with multiple eights, nines, or even zeroes. I would listen to the pulses, and though I still don’t know the specific series of pulses for each telephone number I dialed, I felt that this was some advanced form of Morse Code that allowed me to connect with the intended party. I also knew that if a single digit was mis-dialed, I would have to re-start the sequence of pulses and watch the transparent spinning circle make its way through each rotation again.

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Later, I remember the trimline phone that allowed for simple push-button dialing and (at least in the case of the telephones I had) allowed for the transition from pulse to tone dialing by the flip of a simple small switch.

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Again, I was not all that concerned with the significance of the  feature but found it fascinating to dial sometimes to hear tones representing the numbers and at other times listening to the familiar sound of pulses.

As I nostalgically reminisced about these phones, I began to think about the “pulse” surveys that I periodically send to my teachers to get some feedback about initiatives and programs in our school; I review the results with my assistant principal and share the feedback with our school leadership team. I realized that I make efforts to listen for the pulse, but I must (with the collective ideas and efforts of others) make these translate to setting a tone for the future.

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The pulse metaphorically presents a cause for reaction, whereas the tone is indicative of the action. Just as physicians interpret certain elements of our health by listening to our pulse, we must be careful to listen to the pulse of those whom we lead so that we might assess the health of the culture and systems therein. If we merely listen and produce no action, we will likely hear a dimming pulse.

I endeavor to listen even more carefully to the pulse this year, placing the metaphorical stethoscope on even more locations (beyond the somewhat impersonal survey format) in an effort to set a clearer tone indicative of support, love, and opportunity for all constituents of our school family: students, families, community friends, faculty, and staff. Though I anticipate it won’t be as simple to set an intended tone as pushing buttons, I hope not to mis-dial and instead generate a venue for communication that will continue to not only sustain the current pulse but to further enliven the pulse of our school. I am blessed with a team of fellow educators, staff, and families whom we serve who are fully capable of producing an even more remarkable tone, as evidenced by the great tone that we have already set together.

 

What #NOTATISTE16 Is Teaching Me

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#NOTATISTE16 gives many of us who are otherwise unable to travel to the ISTE Conference in Denver, Colorado an opportunity to live vicariously through the social media interactions with other like-minded educators at #ISTE2016 and a gorup of more than 1,000 other educators who also are not attending #ISTE2016 in person.

With the subculture that Jennifer Wagner (@jenwagner) has generated year after year with what has become a Google Community group and is accompanied by various challenges and mimicry of the actual events of ISTE, educators are compelled to collect learning experiences and to engage in a variety of entertaining and multifarious learning experiences. For the frugal with internet connections or the educators who simply love the competition to win prizes from the multitude of sponsors for the #NOTATISTE16 group, this is exciting and may even bridge the digital divide for those building a social media PLN.

So though I am learning about numerous great tools and resources for educational technology application and new philosophical approaches to education and learning, my learning has come to three major points in my participation in #NOTATISTE16 this year:

  1. Competition drives activity. I have known for quite some time that I enjoy competition, but I have realized while participating in the #NOTATISTE16 challenge that when I am focused on solving a problem or tackling a challenge I take it seriously and seek out the resources that I need to accomplish the task. This reminds me how incentives drive learners at all levels when they are meaningful and relevant and that challenges with feasible solutions and even sometimes creative or innovative possible solutions drive learners to success.
  2. Educators who share care. Seeing teachers draw from one another and freely share resources for the good of students everywhere in the realm of social media really impressed upon me more powerfully why I am an educator and why I intend to treat others with integrity and honesty without holding onto experiences simply for my own enjoyment. I am encouraged by the intentions of fellow educators to share not only their tools and resources, but also their trials and triumphs as they experience beautiful epiphanies and learning with their students and colleagues.
  3. I truly am a nerd, and love this about me. Every new device, program, and robot or gadget that I saw through the social media feeds with hashtags #ISTE2016 and #NOTATISTE16 excited me and generated a zeal for finding ways to experience it so that I might also carry that zeal to my students and teachers in my building. I do not anticipate ever losing this eager anticipation of the next valuable technology tool for learning and experiencing the world in a more exciting and engaging way.

So as I continue into my last day #NOTATISTE16, I hope to continue to build relationships virtually with other educators and to develop a greater repertoire for both the tools and resources and the passion that comes from some of the most well-known personalities in educational technology, as well as from the new innovators who are sharing their experiences so freely with others.

 

Inspirational Week as March Begins

Three experiences this week clearly reminded me why it is rewarding to be an educator and important to provide experiences for students whose education is too often limited by life’s circumstances.

Astronomical Aspiration: The first experience that enlightened me this week was the visit to our school by Billy Hix (@billyhix) and his colorful learning experience through the use of his portable planetarium this past Wednesday. Economic limitations often hinder our students from experiencing much of the world beyond their zip code, but Billy Hix expanded their horizons to as far as the outer limits of the universe through the use of some technology that is quite uncommon in most school systems, much less in the homes of our children. He engaged students with stories that made astronomy and Greek mythology come to life, even detailing how the cast of Greek characters interacted in the constellations so evident in the night sky. Additionally, Billy Hix tells his own story of aspiration and its realization in his eventual position with NASA, encouraging students to pursue their positive interests without feeling hindered by others’ limited expectations for them.

hixplanetarium

BillyHixTwitterReplies

The enthusiasm of our teachers and students during and following this event reiterated for me how meaningful an experience can be when those leading it demonstrate how valuable students are and provides opportunities for extending and enriching their educational journey.

Enlightened Shadow: On Thursday, I had another powerful experience as I was encouraged to consider participating in the #shadowastudent Challenge (http://shadowastudent.org/). The pervious day, students in third and fourth grades were asked to submit reasons why they wanted me to shadow them for the day, and through careful rubric-based consideration, I narrowed down the candidates and selected the child I would shadow. I began my day meeting my student as she was dropped off at school (I had initially made plans to meet a different child at her home and walk to school with her, but she was unavailable for the experience). After walking through the front door, we headed to breakfast, and I stayed with her throughout the day until dismissal.

#shadowastudent_presidentproject

I really came to this experience with few expectations but was excited to find that the student whom I shadowed experienced many great opportunities throughout the day. I was impressed by her ability to learn autonomously as she engaged in music theory exercises, research, and applied mathematical principles. I was also pleased to see that what we offered as meals were appropriate. What struck me most was the importance of the relationships established and how these shaped her day just as critically as any academic experiences. I am certain that her experience differed from most days in some respects as she artificially escorted her 6’4″ shadow all over our campus, but her friendships and relationships with her teachers revealed how meaningful social connections can enhance and support students and how the absence thereof can lead to equally negative consequences. Hopefully, the shadowing experience has led to another meaningful relationship that I can continue to foster for the rest of this year.

Valued Voices: My third experience that brought me to better appreciate my role as an educator began Friday, as I joined 49 other educators from Tennessee who came together to comprise the first Tennessee Ed Voice Fellows (@TNEdVoice) cohort. We were met by other national America Achieves (@aaftp) fellows, as well as SCORE President David Mansouri (@davemansouri) and Director of Educator Engagement Melissa Stugart (@melissastugart), who helped to elucidate for us the often obfuscated history of Tennessee public education. Marcus Markle, Program Manager for the Tennessee Educator Voice Fellowship, led the events of the weekend, and brought together wonderful voices and ideas that would inspire me and others to share our voices on the issues that really matter to us in education in Tennessee. We had opportunity to hear from panelists, which included Commissioner Dr. Candice McQueen (@mcqueencandice), Representative John DeBerry, Educator James Dittes (@Father_Ahab), and ASD Director Malika Anderson (@Malika_TN). We had opportunity to hear from a number of other fellows, whom I will detail in other blog posts, and these were all very informative and greatly enriched me as an educator.

@TNEdVoice

The biggest takeaway I have after attending the @TNEdVoice meeting is that our voices as educators are not only important to represent ourselves, but to advocate boldly for what is best for our students. Though this is not a profound point, it is one that becomes clearer when one has opportunity to engage in conversations with other educators who are passionate about optimal learning conditions for their students and integrity with respect to educational matters. I was touched by so many stories from the experiences of other educators and, vicariously, their students, but, more importantly, I was empowered to take the next necessary steps in advocating for what our schools need with actionable plans and proposed solutions, and I am now even more willing to share my voice to meet this end, not just for my school and school system, but for students throughout Tennessee and the United States. Though I know this proves to be an exhausting endeavor and it will be met with considerable resistance and challenges, I am willing and ready to join others who feel as passionately as I do about bringing the best learning experiences to our students who not only will shape tomorrow, but who are already shaping today.

 

 

 

5 Areas in Which Balance May Not Be Easy, But Should Be Carefully Considered for Schools

balance

As I consider where we must put our efforts this year in educating students, I recognize that there are important areas in which our efforts must be to reflectively analyze our approach to strike a balance; such a balance requires ongoing investigation of both quantitative and qualitative data, some of which is not easily obtained. These areas, in particular, though I would like to see as areas in which great clarity can be attained, are somewhat perplexing and require consideration of multiple perspectives that take into account far more than a single data set can provide.

  1. Technology: Proficient and meaningful use of new technologies requires access to such technologies, both physically and in terms of skill development, and the use of technology should lead to significant and transferable learning experiences. Nonetheless, other skill development is necessary, and technology is not infallible in its uses and technology can both positively empower and unfortunately negatively enable certain behaviors related to education and learning. Some assistive technologies, when used with students who do not need them, can actually hinder students from achieving at a higher potential.  For example, a student who can read fluently and quickly who uses a “read-aloud” feature available in a technology-rich environment may be slowing down his or her reading and preventing the child’s potential development of more sophisticated analytical reading comprehension strategies.  Technology must be used as a capacity builder and experience enhancer rather than as a convenient tool or resource for simply accomplishing the same learning tasks and producing the same educational events with a different means of delivery. Many new technological advances in augmented reality, virtual reality, wearable technologies, and some that have not even been yet developed will impact education, and it is very important that our students are immersed in some use of these technologies only insofar as they enrich their educational experience and lead to their meaningful and relevant exploration of other venues and educational experiences. Students will most benefit from their own personal investment of time and effort in development, innovation, and active presentation of discoveries related thereto and should be supported in environments that allow for this.
  2. Family “Enrichment”: The family is both the greatest potential support for a student and the greatest possible determiner of the child’s sense of direction and ambition. Our role as educators is to empower a family and the constituent students therein; our role should not, however, be to undermine family values that may differ from our own if such values are not in some way harmful or detrimental to the children. We have to be sensitive to cultural differences that exist from one family to the next and be aware that differences in preference do not dictate a need for serious intervention on the part of educators in the affairs of the family. We can influence and educate the entire family insofar as we consider the well-being and best interest of all of the family’s members, but we should not impose our own sense of ambition or culturally defined desires and measure of success upon others. The balance can be struck when we provide multiple experiences that reveal what we see as valuable in our cultural framework, but we must be careful not to tout all of our practices as superior such that we inadvertently alienate the families whom we serve. If we are to reach our children and their families, we must be careful not to denigrate but should instead appreciate what their families have to offer, especially as each provides an identity for its children.
  3. Quantitative Data Analysis: Quantitative data are driven by so many different programs and variables in our present data-driven world that they can certainly present a piece of the puzzle which is the whole child, but they can by no means represent the entirety of a child’s academic or socio-emotional disposition in isolation without consideration of the multiple variables that impact them. Should poor test performance alone indicate to us that a child has a low or high academic aptitude? Absolutely not! However, should poor test performance (on more than one occasion) indicate to us that the child struggles with the assessment? Yes. Our daunting but imperative charge is not simply to use the data with a simple “if, then” approach but to decipher the data and to determine what contributed to the data. Too many of the contributing data are often only available to us through speculation about home conditions or demeanor during testing, which can be skewed and perhaps misleading. What, then, do we do with assessment data? Begin to assemble a puzzle with flexibility in knowing that the pieces (like standardized assessment data) can change and that the picture we want to assemble is that of the child’s greatest potential, not necessarily the picture of perfection. Nonetheless, assessment data should not be dismissed and should help us to better identify where a child has some needs, especially in the context of assessment.
  4. Recognition and Celebration: It is so important that we recognize and celebrate the achievements of our school families; however, if we do so too often for everything, we find ourselves in a place where such recognition is not distinctive and becomes disingenuous. The parody in which “everyone gets a trophy” has some merit in depicting the importance of sincerity and expectation in recognition of accomplishments and how too much praise can be trite and forgettable. When something truly spectacular happens, it should be treated as such, given its respective impact upon the person who accomplished it and others. Too little recognition of successes can lead to a stagnant and unappreciative school culture in which few strive to achieve because of the absence of an impetus for doing so. A school in which rewards are given even to those who do not display effort is one that presents a false sense of accomplishment. We can promote growth mindset, but should do so only through an authentic lens, not through a sympathetic view that causes our praise and recognition to be stripped of significance.
  5. Transparency: Transparency is essential to a system that acts with integrity, but too much transparency can sometimes lead to misgivings about decision-making and overwhelmed recipients of too much information. It is important to be transparent about the actual status of a situation or the motives behind a decision insofar as such transparency will help to keep people informed, safe, and not blindsided by something that concerns the well-being of the children and their families. Certainly, the premise underlying FERPA and HIPPA laws recognizes the need for children’s and families’ respective privacy and though both impose some difficulty for transparency in some situations, they more often protect people from too much information being shared with unrelated parties. Being candid and sincere is critical to building morale, especially with those identified in leadership roles within a school; humility and receptivity to multiple perspectives are key to a successful school if they are used to better inform decisions on the school’s behalf. Without some level of transparency, neither of these is possible. The best basis for transparency is a need to be honest and forthcoming about the issues that impact those with whom information and views are shared in a way that serves to maintain the well-being and success of each child and school stakeholder. May some question who is to determine what is in the best interest of these parties? Of course, but we must act with integrity in making these decisions and provide transparent responses in ways that serve and support the mission and values of our schools.

Too often, I am afraid that we inadvertently oversimplify some of these issues by committing to programs or initiatives without fully considering whether our approach is appropriate to the context for which it is intended. As one who likes to commit fervently, wholeheartedly, and zealously when I am convinced that a plan of action is the best, I must be careful to remember that extreme approaches, though perhaps exciting, are not always prudent and that caution must be exercised so that all involved parties are treated with a purpose that extends beyond my own frame of reference, ultimately to benefit our students and larger school family.