Tragic Takeaways

I sat at my desk yesterday while my students were taking a district assessment. I opened up tweetdeck to see what my PLN was up to on this fine Friday. One of the columns I have in tweetdeck is for news and journalists from around the world. That was when I saw the tweet that changed the course of my day.

Upon reading that tweet I continued to follow the tragedy unfold through social media as well as various news sites. At some point in the afternoon, I just sat at my desk and nearly lost it. Too many images and stories that were being shared were just too much for me. My thoughts went to my own kids who were in elementary schools right then as well as the students sitting in my room.

For my own children, the thought of them having to experience something like the children in Connecticut did yesterday is just too much for me to handle. I cannot even comprehend what those parents are going through nor do I want to try. As I sat in my classroom and looked at the kids in my room, my mind naturally began to race. What would I do if a shooter came into my school building? How would I react? What would I do to ensure my students would be safe and get to see their parents again? As I asked myself these questions I realized that the thought of losing one of my students would be just as painful as losing my own children. I am not sure those that are not teachers can understand this. They just can’t.

As I went on a run this morning, I reflected on the big question, “Where do we go from here?” There are plenty of people shooting their mouths off and sharing their opinions and everyone is entitled to do that. Clearly, I am doing the same. For me, I focused on a few key takeaways from this horrific event.

·         Guns kill people. Our obsession as a country with guns and violence needs to be addressed. Had this man been armed with a knife, this would have been a much different story. Some will say that criminals and thugs will get guns if they really want them regardless of laws. That may be true…but criminals and thugs are not the ones shooting up schools.
·         You don’t have to look far to see the level of exposure young kids have to violence in movies and video games. How many parents disregard ratings and guidelines on such things and expose their children to graphic violence? As parents we have a tremendous responsibility to make sure our children do not see gun violence as normal behavior. We have to be parents.
·         Knee jerk reactions, such as arming teachers or front office staff are not the answer. Rather than putting more guns in schools, let’s put in more counselors and social workers. Let’s shift our focus to helping and healing our students with mental illnesses. Rather than shunning these individuals in schools and in society, let’s instead help them. Let us strive to understand them and support them in any way we can.
·         Let’s address bullying and create loving and tolerant environments within our schools. Character education programs and pep assemblies do little to address a systemic problem of intolerance and lack of empathy in our society. How many of these shooters were picked on, shunned or treated harshly by peers or in some cases teachers?
·         Don’t settle for meaningless tributes as the only way to honor the victims and families. It will take more than a tweet, a status update or a note on an NBA sneaker to change the cultural problems events like this expose. Take an active role in making your school safer and helping anyone in your life to be more tolerant and empathetic.
·         Cherish ever moment with your children and students…let them know how much you love them every single day.

I don’t have any answers and I genuinely feel my heart broken this morning. Yes, I have seen these events happen in other schools before, but this one got to me in a real way. I am not sure if I will look at my own kids or students in the same way as I return to work this week. However, I am sure that I will make my classroom and my home a loving environment in which everyone feels safe and welcome. 

The Jerk Store Called...

I originally posted this blog on the EdReach Disruptors channel last week. In addition to my readers over there, I wanted to share it here for those of you that may not have read this. If you are not a follower of the EdReach crew, I strongly urge you to check out some of the great stuff they are doing. 

The Jerk Store Called...

Ever since I was a young, I was accused of being a troublemaker. I questioned authority and was seen as a boat rocker.  I never took things at face value and many would have considered me a skeptic. In some cases, I was called an outright jerk…and other colorful names. Now, I always thought these character traits had value and allowed me to be a more reflective and honest person. However, recently I have been told that maybe I need to stop doing that. I have been told that I do cause trouble and when I question and challenge things it's not good or productive.

When I say that maybe we don't need principals or need to look at that role differently, people get upset. When I question if the flippedclassroom is an instructional model we should value, I ruffle some feathers. When I share my beliefs about homework and how I think students should learn, I get raised eyebrows. When I share honest opinions and observations that I have as a teacher in a public school, I have people that are frustrated with me and my honesty. Recently, I was told that if I would just conform and go with the flow, I would be much happier.

The problem is…I can't do that. I'm not even sure I know how to do that. When I see something that in my opinion is wrong, I'm going to say something about it. When I see there might be a better way to do something, I'm going to speak up. On top of that, I ask a lot of questions to hopefully cause some thinking and in some cases to challenge conventional so called “wisdom”. I just can’t seem to keep my mouth shut when there are things that are just not “right” for kids and learning in our schools. My sense of right is not the same as others, but I at least welcome the conversation and discourse.

I really think that far too many teachers conform, go with the flow and take just about everything at face value. They don't challenge things. They don't question things. They don't stand up for what they know is right for the profession and for the students they teach. As a result of this, they're taken advantage of and in the end it is the kids that suffer. I just can't help but think of the positives that could come about if more teachers would stand up and question the status quo. Just think of what kind of educational system we could have if we had teachers advocate for themselves and for their students without fear of repercussions. We teach our students to self-advocate and raise questions but are we modeling that in our own lives and careers?

Yes, some people don't like me. Some people think I'm a jerk or that I cause trouble or that I speak my mind a little too freely. That is probably true. There are probably times I should keep my mouth shut and just go with the flow and toe the line. However, I just can't help but think that if I do that nobody's going to step up. Nobody's going to speak out and we're going to keep doing things the way we've always been doing them. I challenge you to stand up to speak out, be a troublemaker, rock the boat and challenge things. Even if things don't change, I can hope people will start talking and writing if for no other reason than to react to me. I hope people will start reflecting and looking at things in a different manner. At the end of the day I just want people to think. Thinking and conversing is how change will be possible…