5 Years...

Last month, my oldest son turned five, which just doesn't seem possible.  Over the past couple of days, I have reflected about the changes that have occurred within education, the world, and my life during this time.  In 2009, I was teaching fifth grade at Peosta Elementary School questioning two technology tools that I saw as utterly useless.  These tools were none other than the iPad and Twitter. Why in the world would someone want a touchscreen tablet when you could get everything on a laptop/desktop computer?  Who really cares about what Ashton Kutcher ate for breakfast or who the first person was to gain 1,000,000 followers?  Five years later, I could not function nearly as effectively without a tablet, as it has increased my mobility and dramatically improved my productivity.  Twitter is so much more than a silly social media application, as it has allowed me to connect with a global network of professional learners who continue to push my thinking.

Three generations of Butlers: my father, Dean and my oldest son, Mason
The development of the iPad and Twitter are just two examples that I have embraced over the past five years.  Our profession is constantly changing and there will certainly be better applications, improved technologies, new ways of doing business, and different frameworks constructed to improve our practice as educators.  I have conversations with teachers and administrators often about what the next piece of technology that will engage all students and make everything better.  The truth is, it doesn't really matter, because it is not about the device, technology, or program.  It is about the people behind these tools that make the difference.

The next five years will undoubtedly go faster than these first five which keeps me thinking about what's here to stay in education.  There will be a better application, a faster device, and new initiatives designed to "fix" everything, but they won't last.  In the following paragraphs, I will describe what's here to stay.

"I care about you," "You matter to us," "Your work with students is so very much appreciated," "Thank you," "I'm sorry," "I was wrong."  These are simple words that go a long way and are key to an optimal learning environment for students and staff members.  Positive, trusting relationships lay the foundation for the magic to happen day in and day out.  My default answer to just about every question that I have been asked related to education has been relationships.  I don't think this is a bad answer at all; however, one of my supervisors that I respect greatly questioned me about four years ago.  She asked, "How do you build relationships, I realize the importance, but how do you go about this, Dan?"  At the time I did not have an articulate answer, and said something along the lines of "I just do it."  After giving this question more thought, I am going to explain how I go about establishing positive, working relationships with everyone in the learning community.

  • When people come to our schools, I try make them feel welcome by greeting them at the door each morning and calling them by name.  Is it hard to remember the names of 450 students, 80 staff members plus their significant others, and more than 250 families between two buildings? You bet it is.  It it worth it?  Absolutely.  Every person within our system is important and they need to feel that way.
  • If I say that I am going to do something, I try like crazy to get it done.  My word is very important, and I have an obligation to deliver.  I try to under promise and over deliver.  When I keep my word, trust is built which leads to strong relationships.
  • When I am wrong (which is often), I admit my mistake and look for ways to improve the situation.  This also builds trust, and sends the message that perfection is not expected, but growth is.
  • I do all that I can to model the behavior that I expect in others.  This is the best strategy that I have in my bag of tricks.

High Expectations
"If you expect it, they will do it."  The teachers at Epworth and Farley Elementary Schools are probably sick of hearing this statement from me; however, it is true.  If we have clearly articulated what we would like students to accomplish and have provided the resource, they will do it.  Of course this is easier said than done, but with proper instruction, passion, and energy, anything is possible.  Whether it is 2009 or 2099, the most successful educators will have the highest expectations for their people and accept nothing less than personal bests.  "Great teachers have high expectations for students, but even higher expectations for themselves."  Todd Whitaker

Love What You Do
You must have passion in this profession and love what you do.  Teaching is hard every single day.  The stakes continue to rise with increased testing, accountability measures, more mandates, and less funding.  In order to survive and thrive in this profession, you must have a higher belief that you are making differences in the lives of people.  It is easy to be distracted by all of the negative, but we have a duty to give our absolute best each day.  If you do not have the drive and passion, you will not make it very long.  Love what you do because it truly matters.

I'll never forget that morning five years ago when Mason was born.  A great deal has changed in five years, and I cannot wait to see where we are in 2019 and beyond.  We will continue to see innovations, change efforts, and other "silver bullet" ideas.  I feel strongly that the three ideas mentioned above are here to stay and will continue to make a difference in our profession.


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