Monday, July 28, 2014

Looking Through a Different Lens

What's the best thing that's ever happened to you as an educator?  Is it when your first class walked across the stage on graduation day?  When a student came back to your class ten years later and said thank you for making a difference in his/her life.  Or watching one of your students accomplish an incredible task such as competing in the state wrestling finals or earning an academic scholarship to a prestigious university?  I have had the opportunity to witness all of these things and many more throughout my career as a teacher, principal, and coach.  All of these events hold a special place in my heart, and continue to drive me to do what I do each day; however, none are the best thing that has happened to me as an educator...not even close.  The best thing that happened to me as an educator is the day I became a dad.


Something amazing happened after my first son was born in 2009.  I started thinking like a father within my teaching/coaching and my interactions with students were elevated to a whole new level.  I was opened up to a brand new perspective and found an increased appreciation for kids.  As I looked at students, I said to myself, "This is someone's daughter/son, their everything, just like my little guys are to me."  I have always prided myself on establishing positive relationships with all students and truly feel that this is one of my strengths, and the most important job of educators.  After becoming a father, I really started to see my students in a different light, like they were my own kids, and our relationships were pushed to a higher, deeper level, and I asked myself often, "What would I want for my son?"

As I think back to my first years as a teacher, I made a ton of mistakes and was simply out of touch with reality in a couple of different areas.  There are just too many mistakes to mention in this post, so I am going to limit it to two big things that stick out from my early years.
  • I expected perfection from all of my students and families regardless of the situation outside of school.  When I sent notes home that needed a response, I expected that I would receive every single one of them the next day with no questions asked.  I told students to take the note home and get it signed so they should accomplish the task (we all know that it is not this easy).  When this didn't happen, I would get upset and blame the kids or their parents.  I didn't consider that the mother and father both work second shift and the older brother takes care of the child at night while the parents labor to provide food and shelter for the family.  I didn't think about the student who left school at 3:30 to attend a 4:00 piano lesson, ate a Subway sandwich in the minivan on the way to soccer practice at 5:30, and finished up the night with a 7:30 baseball game.  This is the reality that we are living.  Our families and their kids are busy, whether it is participating in a number of extra-curricular activities or the parents are doing all that they can to provide.  I have come to the realization (and this became increasingly clear after becoming a dad) that all parents want the absolute best for their child and they do the best that they know how.  We must strive to understand where our students and their families are coming from and meet them where they are.
  • I believed that studying and delivering the content was the most important responsibility that I had.  Knowing your content and delivering it to students in a way that sticks is certainly a critical aspect of teaching and cannot be understated.  I used to spend hours studying curriculum, planning every detail of every lesson, even down to what the transitions would look like.  This was great until I noticed that my students were not responding to my approach, and again, I would become frustrated.  In the planning process, I did not take the time to consider the current group of students and how they would respond to the instruction that I had planned for them.  I was focusing all on the content and curriculum without considering the most important component of this equation: the students.  When I started to focus on my students and their needs, preferences, and different learning styles, I started to become more effective as an instructor.  My planning started taking care of itself and the lessons became much more real, deep, and rich.  When I became a father, this was brought to the surface even more, as I have to really listen to what my boys want before acting so quickly.   


Becoming a father has opened my eyes to a completely new perspective and allowed me to understand where families and their children are coming from.  Being a parent is hard; even on the good days.  Kids test our patience as they question almost everything in the world around them, and they push our energy levels to the extreme (sometimes almost to the point of exhaustion).  As I raise my almost five year-old and almost two year-old, I make decisions daily that are going to give them the best opportunity to succeed in life with the resources that I have.  It is no different with the parents of students in our schools; everyone wants the absolute best for their child and will do what they can with the skills and resources that they possess.  As school leaders and teachers, we have a unique opportunity to enhance these opportunities by working with parents and families to support the hopes and dreams that they have for their children.


The best thing that has happened to me as an educator is the day I became a father.  The next best thing will occur in three weeks when I am a parent of a school age student.  My oldest son will start preschool at one of the schools where I am principal.  I'm not sure who is more excited!  This has also opened up a new perspective as my wife and I receive information from school and the district communicating important information (some of which prepared by me).  We have had conversations about different events and my wife has asked a number of questions about what things mean, etc.  As a father and principal of a school age child, I have started to think, "Are we communicating as clearly as we need to, and are we providing a warm welcome to our families?"  I think we are; however, this must always be considered.  "Is it good enough for my kids?" is a question that often runs through my mind as we are talking about various items within the school day.  This question keeps my focus on where it needs to be: our students.
This will become a legitimate question officially beginning August 18 that I have thought about over and over as I have become a father.  I am  able to see things from a different lens which has only helped with my decision making as a school leader.

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