Monday, January 20, 2014

Patience, Evaluation, Reflection

In my opinion, the silver screen has experienced a huge renaissance in the last few years. Trying to decide which film I enjoyed the most between Argo, Silver Linings Playbook, The Ides of March, Zero Dark 30, and the Hunger Games is an exercise in futility. Most of those movies, however, are not the type I can watch over and over. Moneyball, the story of a small market baseball team, whose general manager tries to win more by spending less and maximizing his existing talent, is. Moneyball really makes me think.

Recently, I discovered a scene at the end of the movie that provides great insight into our profession and gives us some guidance towards better teaching and leadership. 
When I first started teaching, I wanted to hit home runs everyday. I was blessed with confidence and new ideas from my cooperating teacher, and when I finally got my first job, I was ready to light the world on fire. At the end of that first year, I probably spent more of my time putting out the fires that I created. Even today, I think conscientious and ambitious school leaders want to create groundbreaking changes in our schools. We want to be the ones with the next pioneering idea that changes the game. If Steve Jobs and Bill Gates did it in their fields, maybe we could too.

But in education, the most innovative changes often are enacted with patience, consistent evaluation, and most importantly, reflection.  

Rounding first and heading for second might be something we have never done before. Experimenting with a new lesson can be frightening for a teacher just like presenting a new initiative  might be nerve-racking for an administrator. Even professional development can be intimidating. When I first started using Twitter, I told my wife that this new commitment, "could easily take an hour of my time every day to do it right." Talk about the fear of the unknown

The truth is- we don't have to hit home runs every day. 

Educators who are patient with their students and adapt to the changes in education are exhibiting an important skill in our profession. If we consistently evaluate the effectiveness of our lessons or our initiatives and back it with strong evidence, we can be confident that our ideas are making a difference. Finally, through reflection and conversation, we can humbly assess what needs to change and how we can change it. 

By doing so, we are going to hit plenty of home runs, and not even realize it. 

Monday, January 6, 2014

Don't Live Life in the "Woulds"

I've always felt that a teacher's relationship with their class was unique. The routines, the stories, the laughter, and the lessons are part of a special experience that only the people in that class understand. In the interest of transparency and sharing...

An Open Letter that I'm emailing my students this week...


As you know, we are starting second semester today. As you may not know, we are just 126 days from the National AP US History exam. While we have crossed the halfway point, I'm sorry to say that we are not gearing down. We are gearing up.

As we said at the beginning of the year, you signed up for something different. You signed up for a class that gives you a tremendous opportunity. You are a part of something bigger than just "us." In May, 400,000 students nationwide are going to take this test just like you. Your work, your dedication, and most importantly, "your consistency," will be challenged by some of the best students nationwide, and by the hardest test you can attempt.

On most nights, you will make difficult choices in how to balance your time. I totally understand. I know many of you are extremely committed to your families, extra-curricular activities, and of course, your classwork. I want to give you 3 bits advice before we start second semester:

1. This test rewards consistency.
If you can do your notes well every night..if you can pay attention in class every day...if you can ask questions and challenge me, you, too, will be rewarded. This test is important for your future, but your score will not define you. We want you to earn 4's and 5's. We want you to be able to tell your parents that you just saved 6,000 dollars on your college tuition. But more importantly, we want you to build the habits that allow you to EARN success. Consistent habits help you earn success.

2. Believe in yourself.
Did you know that the median ACT reading score in your class is a 19.8?  That's average by national and state standards. Don't feel bad, all my classes in year's past are the same. Average. Just average.
But you are anything but average. 
If that number meant anything, very few of you would pass the test. 96% of Leyden students have passed this test in the last two years. You are doing everything it takes to be successful. Believe in yourself. I believe in you.

3. Don't live life in the "woulds."
Not the w-o-o-d-s. The w-o-u-l-d-s. I wish I would have... If I only would have... I would have but...
I didn't pass this test in high school. I wish I would have. When you get to college, your test score will matter. You will feel less pressure to finish in four years. You will get to take other classes that feed your passions. But when you get your score in July, you won't think about all that. You will feel pride. You will feel satisfaction. You will feel excited to email me to tell me all about it. What you won't feel is regret. Don't live life in the woulds. Continue to run through a wall for me and I will continue to run through a wall for you.

Welcome back! Let's do this!
Mr. Sharos