Sunday, December 14, 2014

How does being a PLC affect student exam week?

If you are like most high school principals as I am this time of year, your students are very likely to either be taking exams this week or soon after Winter Break.

For us, Tuesday - Friday is exam time, with Periods 1-2 on Tuesday, periods 3-4 on Wednesday, periods 5-6 on  Thursday and period 7 on Friday.  Students take two exams per day, and preceding each exam is a preparation period with their teachers.

If you are a professional learning community as we are, does your exam week look different then for students and staff within this schedule?

Yes.  For our students who have tiered privileges and incentives based on their grade level and their earned letter grades, only junior and seniors who have A's, B's and C's cumulatively for their first semester have earned the privilege of coming and going during exam week.  All juniors and seniors who have a D or F cumulatively are required to attend exam week in its entirety.  When they are not taking an exam the students report to the cafeteria where content lab teachers have duties based on the teacher exam schedule. Students are required to choose a subject area, most likely the area of their D and F, and teachers provide targeted academic help and support.

Freshmen and sophomores have not yet established a successful history of exam success, and they are also required to attend exam week in its entirety.  These students are also able to receive academic support from content area teachers when they are not scheduled for an exam.

What about the impact on staff?  Staff members value requiring students to receive extra time and support for learning during exam week and they turn in these students' names to our Attendance Office so that the students required to be here stay.  They also inform the students of who has lost the privilege of coming and going.

What else is different during exam week for us?  All exams are common exams except those singletons, and since our district has three high schools, some of the exams are district-common and some are building-common.

What does your analysis for your exam data tell you?  We carefully track the percentage of students who receive D's and F's on exams, as we do at Interim and Quarterly.  We have found that our quarterly grades are historically higher than exam grades and looked at various reasons.

When we engaged our students in these discussions, we found that even on same-subject teams that gave common exams were engaging in different exam preparation strategies.  In other words, some students all in English I or Biology, for example, were getting different review practices depending on their teachers.  We also examined post-exam practices, and found that teachers who developed common exams were also employing very different follow-up strategies with our students.  While some teachers utilized exams as formative for the second semester, some barely followed up at all with students on their performance.

In addition, we also looking this year at how each same-subject team is utilizing the class period prior to each exam, as we believe the teacher and student usage of this time also affects our exam data. We are continuing to work every day to not only improve our common assessments, but also to improve our exam preparation and follow-up, so that every student has an opportunity to do his/her best on assessments every day, and during exam week.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

PLC: Systemic Response to a Learning Emergency

In many high schools, this week is Interim Week, the week where students and parents are informed about student progress halfway through the grading period.

At Dublin Jerome High School, a National Model Professional Learning Community at Work School and National Blue Ribbon School, not only do we communicate student progress, we act on it.

Do you carefully monitor student progress regularly?  We do-- at the middle and end of four quarterly grading periods per year.  More importantly, do you act on the D's and F's that individual students receive?  For us, it is a learning emergency.  And emergencies need immediate attention.

Here are the series of steps that we take as a Professional Learning Community to provide mandated intervention for students who need additional academic support to be successful:

1. We run a D and F report by grade level, by individual student and by individual teacher.  This allows for data analysis for academic trends as well as identifying individual academic concerns. Both the grade level data and individual student data is provided to every staff member.

2, Teachers submit grades electronically and then determine which students with D's or F's receive a Gold Card ( named after one of our school colors). A Gold Card outlines mandated intervention procedures for students.  Teachers meet with each of their Gold Card students and explain the procedures, which include a student getting 8 signatures that verify the extra academic support the student seeks and receives.  The responsibility then lies with the student. The teacher issuing the card is the first signature and the last signature, signifying it is complete within 4.5 weeks.  Students who receive a Gold Card but seek no assistance meet with an administrator and receive school discipline for insubordination.

3. Teachers send the names, grade level, subject and letter grade to a guidance secretary.  Guidance Counselors, with case loads by alphabet, individually meet with every Gold Card student and also initial the card, ensuring students understand how to get academic intervention according to our pyramid of interventions. Counselors also inform students with a Gold Card of a loss of privileges.

4. Students who receive a Gold Card are  subject to a loss of privileges.  For examples, seniors with early release or late arrival forfeit that privilege with a Gold Card for at least 4.5 weeks.  A section of study hall is built by our registrar so that the period 1 and period 7 study halls account for these new study hall students with attendance.

5. Students with Gold Cards must make arrangements either with their teachers before or after school or during planning time or lunch, or with academic content lab duty teachers to get extra academic intervention with the goal of achieving learning goals, including raising their grades to all A's, B's and C's.

In addition, students with all A's. B's and C's at Interim receive a sticker on their ID every interim and end of the grading period denoting that they have earned special privileges such as being able to leave study hall and go to a number of specially designated comfortable seating areas around the building.

Student success drives every decision we make and a D or F signals a learning emergency that necessitates a systemic response by a number of staff members.  Intervention by invitation doesn't work.  How do you respond when a student is not learning?

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Want more student involvement? Try student leadership

As educators we all know that research states that student involvement increases the likelihood of student success and achievement.  If you are a principal as I am,  you have probably spent time communicating to your staff, your parents, and more importantly, your students, about the importance of becoming involved and staying involved in extracurricular activities.

Why? Because students can list it on their resumes for college applications? Hardly. We know that we want students to become involved in clubs or organizations because students can practice forming strong relationships with other students and adults, develop important organizational and leadership skills, and yes, become better people,  And isn't that our larger goal?  If we develop academic success data but fail to create better people who can change other lives is that really an education?  No.

As Aristotle said, "Educating the mind without educating the heart is no education at all."

But having principals or teachers make announcements encouraging students to "become involved" is largely ineffective.  We can encourage, but student voice and encouragement is much more powerful.  We have found this out through trial and error and many other tries at encouraging student involvement, most of which were barely effective at best.

That is why today was another amazing day at Dublin Jerome.  Why?  Because our student leaders organized a Club Fair attended by hundreds of students during all three of our lunch periods.

Students at the Club Fair can even try out their skills, such as taking on other students in Chess Club.

These student leaders are our Celtic Advisory Program (CAP) mentors, part of our freshman transition program leaders, who first notify teachers via their advisers' school email the date and location of the Club Fair.

As part of the email, they sent out a template for the adviser to pass along to their club or organization's officers or student leaders.  The template serves as a model for a half-page handout each organization distributes at the club fair to interested students.  It lists the club name, adviser, basic purpose of the club, meeting information etc.

Advertised to all parents and students through social media, enewsletters and announcements, the Club Fair is open to every students during his/her lunch period.  Students leaders also make announcements in the cafeteria during all three lunches.  Although the CAP mentors specifically work with freshmen in freshman advisory periods, all students can enter the gym which is completely rimmed by tables and various club displays manned by enthusiastic student leaders.

Smiles abound as students pore over club and organization exhibits. 

Official clubs and unofficial interest clubs have sign-up sheets and exhort students using baked goods, interactive displays, and candy to sign up for their clubs.  Good-natured competition and fun embody the Club Fair culture and climate, with smiles all around.

Students leading students, students helping students.  And in doing so, student grow into better people,  And in the end, that is really what education is really about.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Joy in the Congo . . . and everywhere there is a dream

This is my 29th year as an educator, including almost nine years teaching high school English in two districts, five years teaching middle school, six years as a high school assistant at two high schools and now eight years as a high school principal.

My passion has always, always been on engaging others in an unrelenting focus on learning.  My life has been an unrelenting focus on learning.

I grew up in a lower class household where no one had attended college.  There were no books to speak of in my southern Ohio Appalachian home, no games except for two board games, Monopoly and Video Village, lots of decks of cards and poker chips, and no homemade cookies or bedtime stories.

No one I knew read, and no one talked about the importance of learning or school.  Life was hard,  money was short, and survival overtook all else.

But in second grade I received a certificate from my teacher for winning the class reading contest and a whole new world was opened to me.  I could read, and I loved the worlds it opened to me.  I got a library card and spent endless hours reading everything I could get my hands on.  I found a drug store a few blocks away with a kind store manager who would let a poor kid read Superman comic books at no charge and in school excelled at reading and writing.

The best hours of my life then were the hours I spent at school, and I lingered longingly after school rather than go home.

I decided to be an English teacher not only because I could get lost in The Old Man and the Sea, Hamlet and the English Romantic poets, but because I wanted to create a classroom as my favorite teachers did, a classroom where students who didn't want to go home could learn that school and English class could be the best hours of their day.

A class where if students could learn to love learning, it would take them to any world they wanted to go.

I still believe that.  I believe that our greatest job as an educator is to love learning so much that we can create a a class, a school and a world where people will want to love to learn, thereby changing their lives as my life has been changed.  After all, I have spent my whole life in school.  And I have spent my whole life learning.  And it has made all the difference in my life.

So what does that have to do with the title of this blog, Joy in the Congo.

Everything.  I urge, encourage, cajole, and impart to you a video that sums up everything I believe about learning and life itself.

This video, Joy in the Congo, was shown on 60 minutes Sunday night.  It is the story of an orchestra in a slum in the Congo, an orchestra started by a dream and culminating in the creation of this special orchestra and the joy of learning it has created in the hearts, minds and lives of everyone in the orchestra, but also in all of us who can listen to this orchestra.

The joy of looking in the eyes of people who have learned to sing and play classical music for the pure joy of learning.  The joy of learning and the difference it has made to their lives and the lives of the audience who live in a slum in the Congo.

And more importantly, the recognition in the minds of those of us who have also been forever changed by learning in our lives that we have also embarked on a life's mission of the importance of learning.  Why? Because it awakens in our souls the impact of learning in our own lives, the spark and fire that it has lit in our souls, and we hope, in the souls of the teachers and students in our buildings and in our lives.

For if there can be Joy in the Congo, there is surely the potential of joy in every student, every day, in every classroom, in every school, in this world.

Watch the Joy in the Congo, and carry its message to others.

Monday, March 31, 2014

I used to . . ., but now I . . .

I used to be afraid of blogging, but now I feel I am sharing with friends.

I used to think that I could never write days in a row, but now I know I can do it.

I used to think that I could never make a friend through writing, but now I know, thanks to Carol, I can.

I used to think I would write nearly all of my Slice of Life posts about my work as a principal, but now I know I can cultivate many other ideas.

I used to think I could never find time to write, but now I know that I can, should and must.

I used to think that no one would ever take the time to comment on my writing, but now I know that that are caring and thoughtful people from all the world who really care about what I try to say.

I used to think that being a high school principal would inhibit me sharing truly personal feelings about life and family, but I know it has made me a better person to do so.

I used to think that writing blog post was just like writing on paper, just digital, but now I have learned about digital literacy, inserting links, inserting photos, and important photo and intellectual attribution.

I used to think that I really knew everything about my daughter, but now I have so much more to know, love and learn,

I used to be afraid of reading and commenting on other's writings publicly, but now I have learned that I, too, am an important part of this wonderful experience.

I used to think that I could not connect emotionally to a stranger's writing, but now I know I can and I must.

I used to be unaware of the connected lives of a community of readers and writers, but now I have learned that I have been missing a significant part of life and the lives of others.

I used to be afraid, but now I am brave.

I used to feel alone, but now I am connected.

I used to miss the details and beauty in the everyday lives of others, but now I have a deeper understanding of life itself and our daily stories and journeys.

I used to write and respond as an individual, but now I am a slice-of-lifer.

I used to lack full appreciation for the details and observations of others and their lives, but now I have experienced a metamorphosis of my own life by experiencing a slice of theirs.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Can we go home again?

You can't go home again.  We have all heard that phrase.  And for those of us whose parents are no longer alive it sometimes rings as loud as a fire alarm and as bright as a spotlight on a dark night.

On Thursday my daughter, now almost 30, and I took one of our many return trips to Marietta, OH, my hometown.

The place where I have memories of every stage of my life.  Born in Marietta, living first in a small white clapboard house across the street from Mound Cemetery, one of the most historical cemeteries in the United States.

You see, Marietta is a proud small river town with one of the richest histories of any other USA small town.  It was the first established settlement in the Northwest Territory, established in 1788.

In this month's issue, Smithsonian magazine ranks America's Best Small Towns, the Greatest Little Places to Visit This Year, and Marietta is listed 6th.

Highlights that the magazine lists include the watching the coal barges still passing through on the river, the Sternwheeler races in September, and the 19th century working dams and locks that open while riders take pleasure cruises on the Valley Gem, a historic sternwheeler.  The downtown is marked by historic buildings with unique shops such as Twisted Sisters, a West Side completely restored that can be accessed by an old railroad trestle crossing the Muskingum River and now a footbridge to yesterday, and a Sweet Corn festival in July.

Situated in the unglaciated part of Ohio, Marietta is built on a series of hills that only locals are comfortable navigating, with narrow streets, frequent road closings due to hill slippages, and sweeping overlooks of both the Ohio and Muskingum River Valleys.

For for me, the 130 miles to Marietta via I-270 to I-70 East. I-70 East to I-77 South, to Exit 1, Marietta, is a trip from a busy and sometimes stressful lifestyle as a high school principal to my childhood, my memories, and a piece of me that no one else knows.

By Zanesville, the world starts to change.  And by Cambridge the stress starts to leave my shoulders.  By Dexter City, the hills become so familiar and by Lower Salem I know we are only six miles from the exit.

I make the right turn on to Exit 1, merge onto Pike Street, and my head floods with memories.  Past my Dad's VFW where he went to "sign the book" every day.  Pike turns into Greene Street and rather than turn down 7th Street to my parents home, or former home, Jennifer and I head to the Hotel Lafayette, one of America's finest and oldest hotels.  I surprise her with the Captain's Room, the largest room in the hotel, with a wraparound balcony that overlooks the Ohio River dramatically, just a few steps from the levee.

In this present Marietta, Jennifer and I visit all of our favorite restaurants and shops, the Coca-Cola Museum and old diner on the West Side, with the jukebox where 25 cents still gets you two plays and one of the few places real Broughton's ice cream is still served.  Teri Ann's boutique also beckons  on Front Street and we slowly make our way into all of the quaint shops in buildings that date to the late 1800's and early 1900's.

When we enter Schafer's Leather, open since 1867, I am surprisingly greeted by Becky, one of my high school classmates, and we catch up where locals still buy cowboy boots and pick up repaired ones.

Time to walk along the levee, where my Dad's voice laughingly echoes in my head every time with "When you are down by the river, drop in."  He always loved the irony in the advertising slogan of the Lafayette.

Time for the tough part of the trip, a visit to Mound Cemetery, yes, that first cemetery I lived across from as a toddler, now the site of Mom and Dad's resting place.  We carefully remove the now red and brown grave blanket and brush the dead leaves from the grave stone. I remember all of the times I had walked downtown to visit my mother in her job at the Washington County Health Department from home, walking past the beautiful cemetery with the large conical Moundbuilders Indian Mound in the center, and never dreaming that now, every trip to Marietta would include a visit to place where it is now their final rest.

The cemetery, rimmed by uneven brick streets, is also unique in that many founders of Marietta and former Revolutionary War Soldiers are buried here with a map of the cemetery indicating their names and locations.  But for me, the names are the names of my classmates and friends' families. Col William Stacy, Col Buell, Rufus Putnam, Whipple, Bartlett, may be the names on the historic grave markers from the 1700's, but the last names are those the rolls of Washington Elementary School, Marietta Junior High and Marietta High School.  I recall being in their homes, working with them at the Marietta Pool, and being in English class with them.

From the cemetery, we park at the corner of 7th and Wooster Streets, my home, or what I will always consider my home.  The current owners have left it unchanged now for the past 12 years, the last time my parents lived there, and I am conflicted on whether that is good or bad.

The positive is that it floods our thoughts with so many good memories. My Dad warming up my car in the driveway for me during high school, building the garage door himself, and building the deck with my husband when we were first married.  His squirrel feeder that so delighted him is now broken but still there and the eagle is still above the front door.  For so long his proud Marine 4th Division insignia was still on the garage door window.  It is eerie and beckoning to us as if to say, come in. Mom will be in the kitchen and Dad will be in his chair in the living room, and they will be so thrilled to see us.

But that quickly fades, as the sun does on a cloudy day, and we disappointedly pull away from the curb, knowing that Mom and Dad no longer wait at the window, looking forward to our visit, ready to call my sister and nieces and nephews to get the entire family together as only the bedlam of family time can cause.

Trips to Marietta are still special, for every trip with my daughter is special.  Just as she was a little girl, and now a young woman, I am still seeing Marietta through her eyes, and she has always loved these trips, and so have I.

Can we go home again?  Yes.  Of course we can.  But it is different.  The sights, sounds, and smells of Marietta in many ways are the same.  Sun glistening off the river while small waves lap on the old brick levee.

In the middle of the night, as we slept in the Captain's Room, the night was split by a sound only those who live on the river know, the blaring whistle from the Pilot's house of a barge, rounding the curve at the mouth of the Muskingum as the barge slowly traverses toward the Williamstown Bridge.

At our home on 7th Street, as I lay in my bed, we were often lucky enough to hear those loud whistles as the Delta Queen, the Mississippi Queen, and the American Queen would announce to  the entire town that they were docking at the levee. The calliope and Dixieland band played River Boat favorites, and we would rush downtown to the levee to see the travelers disembark and gaze in awe at the magnificence of these Mark Twain era paddle boats

In the Hotel Lafayette this trip, as the barge continues to blast its large whistle to warn all other river travelers, I wake again, and for a short time, I am home.  On the river.  Where I belong, and where generations of my family have lived, and will live always in my mind.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Dancing for Sales May Make the Difference

I was never a Girl Scout.  I remember asking about it, but apparently my older sister had wanted to be a Girl Scout, begged to be a Girl Scout, and my parents relented.

Money was very short in my family and neither of my parents had any experience with Girl Scouting.  Apparently a hard sell ensued by both the Girl Scout leader to my parents and by my sister, cherub-faced, blonde-haired and blue-eyed.   Surely they could not let their first child ruined for life by missing out on the Girl Scout experience in our small town of Marietta.

I am not sure what happened, but I get the feeling that after purchases of uniform, uniform accessories, patches, dues, outings, supplying treats for meetings, and etc. my sister lost interest in being a Girl Scout, most likely affirming my parents initial fears.

And so, I was never a Girl Scout.

However, I did become a Girl Scout Leader when my daughter expressed interest in being a Girl Scout, right from the beginning as a Daisy.  Her Preschool teacher had planted the seed, she remembered that she had to be in kindergarten to be one, and in kindergarten we excitedly traveled to her elementary school to the initial Girl Scout troop organization meeting.

Since I had zero experience in scouting, thanks to my big sister being a Girl Scout dropout, I assumed we would go to the meeting, I would sign her up for the troop, and I would be a Girl Scout Mom.

That was not the case.  In fact, there was no troop leader.  If you wanted to have a troop, you had to start the troop.  Mary, our neighbor, and her daughter Lizzie, one of Jennifer's best friends on the street, had also come to the meeting.  We had two smiling, excited desperately want-to-be Daisies.  She looked at me and said, "I can do crafts."  And I, the former teacher turned Mom at that point, looked at her and said, "I can do kids." And the troop and co-leaders were born.

In fact, it was the start of an amazing Girl Scout mother-daughter journey.  Daisies grew into Brownies, who grew into Juniors, who grew into Cadets. We camped, made crafts, baked, and earned hundreds of try-its and badges.  The girls even served as ushers at OSU football games and participated in a halftime show with The Ohio State University Marching Band.  Who would have thought that only about 6 years later, our daughter would be in The Best Damn Band In The Land.

We bridged every level and largely kept the same 10-12 girls in the troop all of those years.  Lifelong friendships for both the parents and the girls.  And yes, we sold cookies, thousands of boxes as a troop, earning money for troop outings and activities, and we thought we were pretty good.  Until today.

photo credit: Marit & Toomas Hinnosaar via photopin cc
Today I read that that Girl Scout Katie Francis of Oklahoma City sold 18,017 cookies.  Whoa!  One girl?  When I first hear the story on TV, I was mentally disqualifying Katie as someone who used social media or the internet to sell.

Nope.  According to the paper, Katie canvasses neighborhoods pulling cookies through snow-covered streets and "breaks into song and dance if necessary."

So that's the key.  Dancing and singing to sell cookies-- who would have thought it?  Katie broke the old 30-year record for cookies of 18,000 and has a goal of selling 20,000 boxes by the end of March.

I couldn't help but think how many moves does Katie know.  I mean-- she is only 11-years-old.  And so, I wanted to send her, or anyone else out to break the national cookie-selling record a link to the best-ever dance video.  The Evolution of Dance is sure to provide enough moves to anyone, whether you are selling Girl Scout cookies or anything else.  So put your dancing shoes on and start selling.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

And miles to go before I sleep

On the way to pick up my husband today from his work, I drove through a driving snow squall.  Didn't spring officially start on March 20?  After one of the coldest and snowiest winters in Central Ohio history, I could hardly believe it.

Dark clouds loomed on the horizon, and I became nervous because I rarely drive the 40 miles to my husband's work.  He had given me specific landmarks to see in the last two miles to get ready to make the right turn, and blowing snow obliterated my view of anything beyond the berm.

White-knuckled I slowed to 35 MPH to go the last mile and finally spot the barely visible Rt. 347 sign to take me to TRC Dr.  I breathed a huge sigh of relief as I entered the gates of his work to pick him up for his doctor's appointment.

Once we drove about 10 miles to the east, the snow dissipated to a few blowing flurries and we made it back the 40 miles still on time for the appointment.  I kept thinking that this was no weather for spring break, how tired we all were of the white stuff and the cold that came with it.  Even 50 degrees would seem like summer at this point, and I wanted to be done with snow and winter.

Until we arrived back home, opened the back drapes and gasped.  There it was, the beautiful winter wonderland that always takes our breath away all winter long.  Undisturbed and unfettered snow, coating our yard and the woods behind it.  Stunningly beautiful as afternoon sunlight reflected in glittering snowflakes.

We just stared.  Soon a Cooper's hawk came swooping in, balancing on a branch and frightening the squirrels and songbirds away, only visible because of the snowfall.  All winter we have enjoyed a family of five deer who venture into our woods, bedding down sometimes and browsing on the ends of small branches.  Without the snow that fills our woods, the deer would go unseen, camouflaged as nature intended.

And suddenly in my mind our daughter Jennifer is a small child again, and we are gazing at a different woods with snow. The words of the Robert Frost poem "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening" starts spilling out from our mouths as my husband stares at us, grinning as always.  I have always loved poetry, and so does Jennifer, and we recited many poems orally rotating lines from one to the other, mother to daughter, and back again.

This poem was one of our winter favorites, and we recited it often.  Tonight it came off my lips, and although the little girl is grown and has a home of her own, I can still see her smiling face and hear her little voice as the snow falls.

And now today's snow is no longer an unwanted visitor, but a warm recollection of the past.

How lucky we are to live in Ohio, where the change of the seasons reminds of the seasons of our lives with our loved ones, just as the poem paints a picture of scenes and voices from the past.

Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening

Whose woods these are I think I know.   
His house is in the village though;   
He will not see me stopping here   
To watch his woods fill up with snow.   

My little horse must think it queer   
To stop without a farmhouse near   
Between the woods and frozen lake   
The darkest evening of the year.   

He gives his harness bells a shake   
To ask if there is some mistake.   
The only other sound’s the sweep   
Of easy wind and downy flake.   

The woods are lovely, dark and deep,   
But I have promises to keep,   
And miles to go before I sleep,   
And miles to go before I sleep.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Does your face shine with sunbeams?

Roald Dahl wrote, "If you have good thoughts, they will shine out of your face like sunbeams and you will always look lovely."

I love this vivid metaphoric image.  For all of my life, I have been told I have a telegraphic face.  I think that is most likely good and bad.

I think it is good because I try very hard each day to exude positivity.  I make a point to smile at our high school students from when they enter in the morning and throughout the day.  I am cognizant that for some students we may be the only positive interaction in the day, the only sunbeam they will see.  I think the same way about our interactions with staff and parents.  Even on days where we may not be having a "good" day, we are creating first and lasting impressions with just our faces.  If we shine like sunbeams, we can often turn a possibly negative situation into a positive one.

But try as I may, there are times both at work and at home when my sunbeams do not shine and my face shows the stress or discomfort of the moment.

I think that is why I love the beauty of this quote.  I keep it on my desk to remind me to let my good thoughts shine in my face.

I also appreciate those people that I encounter during my day at school who also let their good thoughts shine in their faces for all of us to enjoy.  Those people who never seem to let a cloud block their sunbeams, who never let negativity or negative people change their positive countenance.  I love being around these people and appreciate the sunshine they bring to life with their faces.

In my family, I am blessed to have a daughter, husband, and son-in-law who are all known by others for the good thoughts in their hearts and the sunbeams on their faces.  There is rarely a day that goes by that someone does not mention their great smiles to me.

During this spring break week, I carry good thoughts of  things that I know will make sunbeams shine on my face:

1. Looking into my husband's eyes.  I cherish each time and have for the last 36 years.

2. Taking time to play my piano.  It is the same one that I have had since my childhood when we got it free and brought it home from New Lexington in the back of a pickup truck, nearly losing the load.  I am certain that the person who got rid of a piano they likely no longer needed would never guess the joy and goodness it has brought to my life of having it for over 50 years in every home I have known. Playing the old songs brings back memories of the favorite songs that my grandma, my Dad, and my boyfriend-turned-husband loved hearing over and over again.

3. Traveling back "home" to Marietta with my daughter.  Though we only visit Mom and Dad in the cemetery now, seeing life and home again through my daughter's eyes is a joy that will surely make my face shine.  We will stay at the Hotel Lafayette, walk the levee along the mighty Ohio River, cross the footbridge across the Muskingum River to our favorite old diner, and browse the Front Street shops.  It always brings tears to our eyes, but reinforces the love in our hearts.

4. Down time.  Spring break brings time to linger over some poetry to inspire my heart, time in the evenings to curl up on the couch, time to clean that which never gets done -- or not.  Time to write notes to those I know deserve them so much but I rarely take the time to let know.

5. The gift of time.  To generate good thoughts so that sunbeams will shine on my face.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

March Madness: Do you have it?

It seems that everywhere we go we see people in college team sweatshirts these days.  We just left Giant Eagle and the cashier was wearing his Kentucky blue sweatshirt. Not surprisingly, UK is playing vs Wichita State right now in March Madness.

Why madness? This year mostly because the underdogs seem to be breaking most brackets.  After Thursday's Day 1 of the tournament had finished, Yahoo reported that by Friday morning only 1% of the brackets still had a chance of picking each game perfectly.

Did you know that Warren Buffett  put up a $1 Billion prize for the person who picked every winner correctly?  Although 16 people were still in the running Friday morning by Saturday the number was 0. Yes, Mr. Buffett's money is safe for another year thanks to Dayton, Harvard, Mercer and Stanford to name a few. Mercer defeating Duke-- unbelievable.

We love college basketball and come from a family of Ohio State graduates so the Buckeyes are our team.  Unfortunately they lost their first game to Dayton this year and I can tell you there is a big difference watching the tournament when your team is out from when your team is still in.

We have been lucky enough in some years to follow the Bucks during the tourney to Cleveland OH, Pittsburgh, PA, Detroit, MI, and Lexington, KY.  The tourney sites are so much fun with rival fans staking out a bar/restaurant with flags in school colors near the arena.  The local Alumni Association usually arranges for the school's pep band and cheerleaders to visit the bar before the contest and hearing the fight song in a small space is always invigorating.  My daughter and son-in-law both played in Ohio State pep bands at rallies in Cleveland and Pittsburgh and it was a thrill both for the fans and the family-- great memories we will always cherish.

But this year, despite the Buckeyes being out, we are still intently watching the games.  Did you fill out a bracket?  I didn't this year, but we do watch at least parts of most of the games mostly because we enjoy college basketball so much.  And yes, I still find myself rooting for certain teams although I have no affiliation at all with that team or school.  And I will root for ANY team playing Michigan.  You have to be a true Buckeye to understand.

I always have questions that pop in my head during the game about the teams, none of which is related at all to basketball.  For example, where is Creighton?  I googled it out of curiosity?  Omaha, NE.
How about Mercer?

What about those mascots?  We know the Buckeyes and all of the other Big Ten schools but after that I struggle.  How about you?  Can you name the mascot of Virginia? How about Stephen Austin? Villanova?

I have a very good friend in California with whom we would always play a challenging March Madness game.  Let's see how good you are with it.

Most mascots end in -S.  For example, Buckeyes, Hawkeyes, Volunteers, Cardinals, Jayhawks, and so on.

How many Div I teams can you name whose mascot does not end in -S?  What about teams in March Madness?

I'll get you started: The Cardinal of Stanford.  Now you are on your own.  Good luck. After all, when your team is not playing, there is lots of other ways to still enjoy March Madness!

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Der Dutchman: A trip back in time

Plain City is a small town community located at the intersection of Routes 42 and 161 in Central Ohio.  As most small Ohio towns, it has a main drag with its only funeral home, Ferguson Funeral Home, on the main drag, two pizza parlors, and one mom and pop ice cream store, still closed because our winter this year is doing its best to obliterate spring.

As I turn from 161 onto 42, I pass the closed down gas station on the left and the McDonald's on the right, advertising two fish sandwiches for 99 cents on the lit sign.  Passing Plain City Lanes on the left, the town's only bowling alley known for  aging lanes and shoes and great pizza, we see the building we have made the roughly 15-mile trek from Dublin: Der Dutchman.

Here on Route 42, at the edge of the sleepy town of Plain City and before the 42 interchange with I-70 is one of the best restaurants in America, Der Dutchman, a mammoth respite for hundreds of people who flock to it each day to enjoy Amish cooking.

If you live in an area without Amish or Amish cooking, you are missing one of life's treasures.  The Amish live primarily in Ohio, Indiana and Pennsylvania and live a "plain" or simple life.  One of the strict Mennonite groups, the Amish are noted for farming with horse-drawn machinery, houses without electricity, and using horse-drawn buggies for transportation.  The men and women wear homemade clothing of dark colors with no belts and often no buttons.  Although the Amish local community usually defines the strictness of the local Amish, there are parts of Ohio where you can still drive down a country road and see a farmer plowing his field with a work horse and see Amish families traveling to town in their buggies.

Der Dutchman advertises Amish cooking, and tonight there was a wait in the mammoth restaurant with over a couple of hundred tables of well over an hour.  And everyone waited in anticipation of the scrumptious homemade cooking, with their wait buzzer in hand.

To pass the time, the building also houses a giant gift store of quaint, handmade furnishings, Vera Bradley bags, Ohio State memorabilia and unique scarves, shawls, jewelry, and kids books.  We move from the gift shoppe to another huge draw of Der Dutchman, Amish desserts and homemade cheeses. 

We walk down the aisles of the bakery, past the pie cooler with home-baked chocolate-cream pies and strawberry pies, past the just baked peanut-butter cookies, over to pick out our favorite Amish cheese, lacey Swiss, and past the irresistible pecan rolls.  We pay for our blueberry pie, cheese, peanut butter cookies, and pecan rolls for Sunday breakfast, get our two shopping bags, and carry them to the car before we are called to our table.  Is there something wrong wearing a FitBit to track steps when the steps are going to and from the Amish bakery to the car?

Soon after we return to the restaurant our buzzer lets us know and table is ready, and we can't wait for the Amish dinner.

Although you can order off of the menu, most of the hundreds of diners choose the dinner buffet.  Mmmmm.  It is hard to describe this made-from-scratch Amish cooking of mashed potatoes, egg noodles, fried chicken, gravies, bread and rolls, and more salads than I can list.  But I can tell you the potato salad and macaroni salad are unlike those I have had anywhere else.  Sweet and finely chopped.

All-you-can-eat is an understatement.  I go up twice and my husband three times, picking between servings of fried chicken and egg noodles, too good for words.

Yes, that really is my husband's second plate.  Again, I think of my FitBit.  I seriously doubt that it was meant to record steps to an from an Amish buffet.  Does it matter that I really did eat mainly fruits for my lunch?  I doubt it at this point.  

Finally it is time to decide-- dessert or no dessert.  There is no hesitation.  I order my all-time favorite pie, Chocolate cream, and my husband orders homemade blueberry with vanilla ice cream.

As always, I ask for a take-home container for the remaining chocolate pie.  It is a wondrous meal!

In today's world of sports bars with 20 blaring televisions and beer, wine and other alcoholic beverages punctuating noisy bar restaurants, Der Dutchman is truly worth the drive.  No televisions, no alcohol, no NCAA March Madness.  Just some of America's best food cooked and served by genuinely kind, small-town folks who really know how to work hard and serve others.  And we are lucky to live close enough to enjoy it!

Thursday, March 20, 2014

All kinds of friends

Today I said goodbye to a friend I have known for 28 years.  Michelle is not Kristyn, the friend that I meet for dinner at Matt the Miller's at least once a quarter.  And she is not Diane, my golf buddy, who by the way moved to North Carolina and I am not sure how I am going to recover from that loss either.

Michelle is not a work friend, the friends we love talking to at work but do not socialize with outside of work.  She is not a mother friend, the mother of one of my daughter's friends that we hang out with at the like activities that the girls share.

Michelle was my hairdresser for the last 28 years, and today was her last day of work.  I can still hardly believe it.  Her daughter graduates from high school in May and she and her husband John will move to Florida in the fall.

We have known each other and shared so many of life's most significant experiences.  I have seen more of her than I have of my own sister, who lives over 1000 miles away in Arizona.

How strange life is, to bring two extremely different people together to share so many common bonds in a hair salon for 28 years, every three weeks, for 28 years.

I met Michelle when we moved to Dublin.  Jennifer was 2-years-old, and we had only lived here a few months.  We wanted to become a part of the community and support it and Jennifer needed her first real hair trim. I also needed to find a hair stylist. I drove to Dublin's downtown, a wonderfully quaint area with historic-area business and large old tress.  I walked along a street, found a hair salon, was paired up with Michelle.  She was young and bouncy with blonde shoulder-length hair and fun eyes.  Jennifer loved her and so did I.

Michelle was ambitious and soon started her own salon in the downtown's old firehouse.  That's when I met her father, who did most of the conversion himself.  Jennifer was growing, and so was Dublin.  She started preschool and I became a preschool teacher at a preschool almost beside the hair salon.  We were settling in to the new community, and Michelle became a constant in our lives.

When Jennifer entered middle school, Michelle was pregnant with Brittany.  I knew her father and her mother at this point, and they, in turn, were watching Jennifer grow up through all of the visits to Michelle's. They lived in one of the older sections of Dublin, not far from the shop, and it turned out, two doors now from a new friend of Jennifer's.

Brittany was a beautiful baby and grew into a wonderfully cute little girl with tons of freckles.  Now we were watching each other's daughters grow up.  I had transitioned to a middle school teacher in Hilliard and Michelle decided to move to another new shop in Dublin.  Once again, her father did the renovation work, joined by her husband John, and we, of course,  followed Michelle to her new shop.

Jennifer graduated from high school and then to The Ohio State University and a member of The Best Damn Band in the Land.  Since preschool, through elementary, on to middle school and high school, and now college, Michelle accompanied Jennifer through every stage of her life and her life in hair.

And the same with me.  From a young mother, to a preschool teacher, to a middle school teacher to a high school assistant principal and then to a high school principal, Michelle also traveled through the many hairstyles of my life.  Every photo I have had taken in the last 28 years has reflected Michelle's work, as it is with Jennifer.

In all of life's significant events, Michelle has shared in it as a part in our family.  On Jennifer's wedding day, Michelle met us early morning in the shop, and completed the hairstyle that is forever immortalized in hundreds of photos.  What an emotional day, and Michelle was there with us.

My father's death, her father's death, my mother's death, her family crises and mine were all discussed over cutting, shampooing, drying and styling.

And although she had always told me that when Brittany graduated from high school that she and John would move to Florida I didn't really believe her.  But Brittany is indeed a senior, and about 3 weeks ago Michelle let me know that today would be her last.

Somehow it seemed very fitting that I would have my appointment toward the very end of her final day.  She gave me my "card" that listed my color numbers and combinations to give to my new stylist, and the large bottle of shampoo and conditioner that I had asked her to order for me, lest I run out of my favorites or the new stylist wouldn't carry them.

She had made arrangements for me to transition to another stylist at her shop, but I just don't have the heart to do it.  Walking in there wouldn't be the same without Michelle. And besides, I don't even know this person.  How would I have them do something so personal as wash and cut my hair.

Michelle was the best stylist I have ever had because she has been one of the few constants in my life.  When I was seeking a stylist 28 years ago I asked my sister had to choose one.  Paula is also a hair stylist and I wanted her advice.  She told me to find a small shop and always go to the owner because she will work the hardest to please her customers.

And that is exactly what Michelle did.  I have so admired her for all  these years.   She owned her own shop at a young age and stood on her feet serving others for all of these years.  Being a hair stylist is really hard work physically, and it has taken its toll on Michelle.

No one deserves to move to Florida to take it easier than Michelle.  With her goes a big chunk of my life.

In life, we have all kinds of friends in our lives, and I am lucky to have had Michelle.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

I'd like to buy a vowel

Every family has its favorite television shows.

It seems like only a few years ago that if you wanted to see a certain show, you had to be home to watch it.  My Dad and I used to watch The Andy Griffith Show with our dinners on TV trays in our living room.  I still love watching Andy Griffith, have much of the dialogue memorized, "Shazam!" and "Citizen's Arrest, Citizen's Arrest!"  I passed this love along to my daughter, and now we watch reruns and even have a DVD of the early shows.

I remember when Jennifer was little that she loved Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman, and the only way to see it was to be home Saturday night at 8 PM.  We loved all crowding on the couch together, hanging on every Western scene, and I still clearly recall the sparkling delight in her eyes when the show featured Native Americans, a particular passion of hers.  Happy family memories.

When Jeff and I were first married we loved watching one of American's first melodrama series, Dallas.  Again, we had to be home to watch it and made a special effort to return home from eating dinner out to see it.  No one wanted to miss JR's scheming against his own brother Bobby, and we and the whole world seemed to be home watching the gripping conclusion of the "Who Shot JR?" episode, only to find out it was all a dream.

These days no one has to be home to watch specific shows as we can all DVR our favorites which today include Hawaii 5-0 and Blue Bloods.  Since I work many Friday and Saturday nights as a high school principal, I love the ability and convenience of watching them when I am home.

Still, when I am home in that magical hour of 7-8 PM, my husband and I enjoy spirited competition watching Jeopardy and Wheel of Fortune.  He is crazy-good at the Geography and science categories of Jeopardy and I usually take all of the Lit ones.  The rest are hit and miss, though I like to think I edge him out most times.

Wheel of Fortune, though, I mostly own, or at least I should in this word contest between the husband engineer and the former English teacher-turned- principal.  Tonight I easily took "The pitter-patter of little feet" in Wheel of Fortune while he smoked me in Jeopardy with "What is hydrogen peroxide?"

Mostly we love being home together, at least for an hour, as we both wind down from our work days.  And who doesn't love a little friendly competition, especially with a spouse. :)

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

An Hour to Live, An Hour to Love

One of the most beautiful books I have ever read is An Hour to Live, an Hour to Love, by Richard Carlson and Kristine Carlson.

It is a short, poignant look at life and love, a reaffirming of the beauty and brevity of life and the importance of love, true, pure and lasting.

Even the context of the book is mesmerizing, with its truth leaving a longing to live as long as we can with those we love.

Many of you know Richard Carlson as the author of the Don't Sweat the Small Stuff series.  You may not know that Richard Carlson died in his sleep suddenly from an embolism while on a business trip, leaving behind his wife Kristine and his daughters, Kenna and Jazzy.  And this book is an affirmation that the Small Stuff series writings were not simply words on paper to Carlson, but a way of life.

On the Carlsons' 18th wedding anniversary, while on their private bench overlooking the Pacific Ocean at sunset, Richard presented Kristine a love letter which became the heart of this book, published by Kristine after his premature death.

In some of the most beautiful love verbiage I have read, Carlson titled the love letter to her:

An Hour to Live:

Who would you call, and why are you waiting?

To Kris, the love of my life,

on our eighteenth wedding anniversary.

Love, Richard

Kristine includes this love letter as the centerpiece of the book, and he starts the letter with, "If you had an hour to live and could make just one phone call, who would it be to, what would you say . . .and why are you waiting?

He goes on to exquisitely answer his questions-- that he would call her, of course, then espousing all that he would say to her, and in doing so, doesn't wait.

It is the letter we all hope to write, but don't, and the letter we all hope to get, but probably won't.  

The book then includes Kristine's response, the one that she wrote after Richard's death, the one that she didn't write and that he didn't see.  But still, he letter is an unbelievable testament to the special love and life that they shared, cut short by a sudden and unexpected loss.

The book closes with a copy of Carlson's favorite poem "Tomorrow Never Comes," an ironic reinforcement of the shortness of the breaths we take.

This love story of 60 pages not only reinforces the beauty of true, deep, selfless love, but the brevity of life.

And so, if you had only an hour to live, whom would you call, what would you say, and why are you waiting?

Monday, March 17, 2014

Is there an App for that?

Is there an App for that?  Chances are you have asked that question recently.  

It is hard to believe that we haven't always had apps on our phone, but truly applications, or apps, are a fairly recent phenomenon.  It was in 2008 that this news was released:

iPhone App Store Downloads Top 10 Million in First Weekend

CUPERTINO, California—July 14, 2008—Apple® today announced that iPhone™ and iPod® touch users have already downloaded more than 10 million applications from its groundbreaking new App Store since its launch late last week. Developers have created a wide array of innovative mobile applications ranging from games to location-based social networking to medical applications to enterprise productivity tools. Users can wirelessly download applications directly onto their iPhone or iPod touch* and start using them immediately. More than 800 native applications are now available on the App Store, with more than 200 offered for free and more than 90 percent priced at less than $10.
Imagine-- 10 million downloads in the first three days.  And in almost six years phone apps are intrinsic to our personal and professional lives.

Angry Birds.  Who hasn't grabbed a quick, or long game of Angry Birds or Candy Crush while suffering through a delayed or cancelled flight or an interminable wait for a late appointment.

And by the way, that canceled flight or delayed flight.  You can use an App to contact your airline or Flight View to see exactly where your plane actually is and whether it is on its way or stuck on the ground.

Want to make a reservation?  Open Table can allow you to browse nearby restaurants, access menus and book a table or search your favorite restaurant for a table time.

Checking email?  Your Google app can help with that.  Need to check your meeting time.  Go on your Calendar app.

Use Messages to send direct messages to family and friends without having to waste important time calling each one on the phone.  Need to let your entire admin team knowan updated score or important school closing info.  Use GroupMe.

Want to browse hot new apps.  Go to the App store, of course.  Love music? How about the iTunes app?  Love videos.  They are there also.  Movies? Yep!

Is it going to rain this afternoon?  Do I need my boots?  Any number of weather apps exist.

If you have my sense of direction of lack thereof?  I can't live without Google Maps anymore.  It is amazing in its ability to talk to you any destination and you don't even need the address.  Just fill in the name of the school or hotel and choose any number of routes.  Sure beats the old paper maps (yes-- we really did actually use paper maps.  And yes-- you had to pull off the side of the road and keep reading them.)

Want to read newspapers. Yes-- just download your favorite.  Digital books-- yes. Youtube videos. Ted Talks. 

Have you downloaded the NCAA March Madness app to join the fever?  Better get to it this week.  You don't want to miss how your bracket is doing.  And did you use an app for that too?

Need a way to store documents?  Evernote and Overdrive will work. 

Visiting another country soon?  Try SayHi translator. Need a flashlight to get your key in the door- Yes-- that is a great app.

Can't stand to miss your favorite TV shows?  You don't have to with an app. How about keeping up on your stocks and bonds?  Yes-- you can celebrate and get heartbroken with that app too.

Communicate with the world through Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and others.  You know there are apps for that and many of us use them to post these very blogs and read others.

Apps have made life so much easier that it is hard to imagine life without them.  What did we do before we had apps for almost every phase of our lives?

And the great news?  Most of them are free and the really expensive ones are about $10, less than a pizza and they last a lot longer.

So think about something you really want to do or find and ask yourself. "Is there an app for that?"  Chances are the answer is yes!

Sunday, March 16, 2014

The Butterfly Effect

In 1963, Edward Lorenz to a hypothesis to the New York Academy of Science.  His theory stated that a butterfly could flap its wings and set molecules of air in motion, moving other molecules of air, and then other molecules of air, eventually capable of starting a hurricane on the other side of the world.

None of the other scientists took it seriously, leading to a term called "The Butterfly Effect" that was ridiculed and demoted to science fiction instead of science.

While people were intrigued by the concept, they largely thought it was preposterous.

And then it happened, Nearly 30 years later, physics professors declared the butterfly effect accurate, changing it to the Law of Sensitive Dependence Upon Initial Conditions.

So why, is a high school principal fascinated by The Butterfly Effect?  A couple of summers ago a dear friend of mine recommended an Andy Andrews book to me entitled The Traveler's Gift.  It is still one of my all-time favorite readings.

As I often do, I started reading other books by the author, and read Andrews' book The Butterfly Effect, How Your Life Matters.

I couldn't put this short narrative down and devoured it in one sitting. Andy Andrews does an exceptional job of relating The Butterfly Effect to our personal lives.

You see, Andy relates that science has shown that the butterfly effect of physics engages with the first movement of any form of matter, including people.

Imagine that, every move we make affects someone else.

Andy Andrews then gives a detailed account of Joshua Chamberlain, a former schoolteacher, in charge of the 20th Maine division at the Battle of Gettysburg.The 20th Maine was the end of the line for the Union Army.  His superior officer had ordered him to hold the line and to not retreat under any circumstance, for if the Rebels took Chamberlain and his men they would then flank the Union Army's position on Little Round Top, winning the higher ground and most certainly the battle.

Despite 5 assaults, Chamberlain and his men did not retreat, even though they were out of ammunition. How did they do it? Chamberlain gave a shocking order to fix bayonets and charge down the hill at the Confederates, surprising the weary enemy and forcing their surrender to men who had no ammo.

How?  By the actions of one person, Joshua Chamberlain.  That one man, as Andrews relates, had a profound effect not only on the battle but also on the United States as we know it today.

And that is why as a principal and as a person I am deeply moved by Andy Andrews book, for it is his subtitle that intrigues me the most.  The title is The Butterfly Effect, but the subtitle is How Your Life Matters.

How does our life matter? Andrews describes in astonishing fashion how much little known people from history have affected billions of lives.  Their names? Norman Borlaug, Henry Wallace, a slave named Moses.  Never heard of them? That's the point.  But their lives were remarkable in affecting billions of lives positively because of the lives they lived every day.

What better gift we can give our young people than the gift of sharing the Butterfly Effect?  Every chance we get we need to remind them of this scientific principle and its power to change the lives of millions.

Our students lives matter, and our lives matter, and do the lives of every human being.

How we can we give that gift to our students? That every decision they make, every step they take, every encounter they have with another human being, every action they take and every day that they live, they have the power to affect someone's life, and perhaps that effect will move someone else, and someone else, and so on, to affect someone today, tomorrow and perhaps for generations to come.

A school teacher named Joshua Chamberlain did it. Norman Borlaug did it, and so can our young people. Today. Right now--for positive actions should not be delayed or saved for later.

If a butterfly can, then I can do it, and so can you.

So flap your wings and start something remarkable. Today. Right now. Start the chain effect.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

The luck of the Irish

How do you celebrate St. Patrick's Day?  Do you ignore the holiday altogether?  Wear a little green on March 17?  Go all out because you are Irish and wear a kelly green T-shirt, shamrock socks, a shamrock tattoo on your face, and green antenna shamrocks on top of your head.

You mean you've never seen anyone go all out for St. Patrick's Day?  Well, if you live in Dublin, OH you see it  all over town, especially today!

Today is Dublin's St. Patrick's Day parade, and it seems the entire city is green!  We have lived in Dublin for about 29 years and look forward to the pre-parade pancake breakfast and parade every year.

The parade starts at 11 AM but people start setting out chairs to claim spots by 8 AM.  We found a great spot near the pre-parade performance stage and set out our 4 Buckeye chairs.

At the breakfast, Irish music plays in the background, the Sells Middle School cafeteria is teaming with all things green, and the local Lion's Club sells raffle tickets, 20 for $10.

But the main draw?  The opportunity to eat green pancakes with green syrup!

After the savory and fun breakfast we go out to the main street, stroll through some of the quaint downtown stores, like the genuine Irish store Ha'Penny, before making our way to the stage area to listen to the Hooligans, a fun Irish band who play crowd Celtic favorites such as Danny Boy to pass the time waiting for the parade to start.

Soon, we hear the police car sirens to kick off the parade, make our way to our parade seats and settle in for 90 minutes of marching bands, tiny majorettes, police motorcycles, fire trucks and politicians, as many parades have.

But this is a St. Patrick's Day parade, and so we also look forward to seeing green, green and more GREEN.  What makes this parade special?

Giant Shamrock balloons! And . . .

Irish Wolfhounds

and . . .

giant stilt walkers with Shamrock pants and green banners!


in Dublin, Ohio we LOVE St. Patrick's Day!!

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Do What the Team Needs

Whether you are a teacher, principal, engineer, manager, attorney or nurse, you are part of a team today.  Communication and collaboration are integral to every school and organization and we ask or are requested to be a team player.

For the most part, we strive to be a great team member and team leader.  Certainly we recognize the advantages of being part of a family and a team.  If you are an educator, you have most likely been a part of Professional Learning Community work, which mandates teachers working in collaborative teams to develop and implement common assessments, look at data collaboratively to inform instruction, and enact collaborative intervention and enrichment.  Certainly the new Ohio Teacher and Principal Evaluation Systems also mandates educators to engage in collaborative practices to improve student learning.

In addition, much motivational and educational literature has been published on the importance of team, cooperation and collaboration.  Indeed, most recently, author and speaker Jon Gordon has worked with many college athletic teams, organizations and schools on implementing his main principles of The Energy Bus.

This allegorical story of George, unhappy in life and work, and his transformation as a result of riding a bus that initially he hated the thought of riding, is a bestseller that reveal ten rules for approaching challenges.

We started out our year adopting the ten rules and receive short and great motivational email updates from Jon Gordon that reinforce how to overcome negativity and adversity to create success.  One of my favorites is Rule #6, No Energy Vampires Allowed, a visual and positive way to discuss the paralyzing effects of negative people on a team.

And yet, from time to time, we all become energy vampires, some just choose to do so for longer times than others.  One of the things I have noticed is that it is so easy to say that we want to be part of a team.  It is easy also to state we want to be positive team members, and when everything is going well for us, we are, especially if decisions are made that we disagree with but that don't really affect us.

But when a decision is made with which we disagree and directly affects us, it is much easier to forget the TEAM.

Today was a great example of that.  We have had six calamity days used this year, one over the limit.  The school board had previously denoted June 2 as a make-up day and the district announced today that we would use that day as designated.  The negative effect of that is that June 2 is on a Monday, and our exams were scheduled to end on the previous Friday.  We have now moved our last exam to that Monday, and it seemed today that no one liked the decision for varying reasons, not students, not parents, and not staff.

In essence, everyone became a victim, an Energy Vampire, sucking the positive energy out of the team.  Don't you know someone like that?  Every time something doesn't go their way, they play the victim.  Don't we all do that at some point?  Sure.  That is being human.

That is why that from time to time, we need to have those reminders that whether we want to be or not, we are always a part of a team.  Whether that team is our family, our church, our school, our organization, or our company, as a team member, as Mr. Spock once said, "The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few."

How appropriate then today, that on Twitter, Jon Gordon posted a video entitled Do What the Team Needs.  Please watch this extremely short video, for it is a great reminder to all of us how fortunate we truly are to be a part of a team, whether we all like the decisions or not.  No matter what, we need to do what the team needs.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Take a Seat, Make a Friend

I recently watched the most remarkable video, "Take a Seat, Make a Friend." If  you have time, please watch it as it will be the best 5 minutes you have spent in a while.

In short, this video shows a ball pit on a city street, with a sign on it that states Take a Seat, Make a Friend.

The 3-4-ft. deep ball pit has room for 2 people, and I first wondered when I watched it if I saw a ball pit in a public area would I even climb in.  Aren't ball pits for children?  Wouldn't it be filthy dirty? Almost too much to bear for this germ-phobe. But clearly, this was no ordinary ball pit.

The video features excerpts of random pairs of strangers who had the courage to climb in the ball pit.  Once they climb in, the ball pit contains random larger colored balls that prompt each one to share something about themselves.  Examples include: What are three things on your Bucket List? Do you play sports? Describe the first time you fell in love. Talk about someone who inspires you.

The depth of the conversation in that the two complete strangers engage is amazing.  They articulate personal crises, such as divorce, discover commonalities that amaze, and by the end of their short time in the ball pit, forge a connection with another human being.

Amazing.  All in a ball pit for adults.

I showed this video to my Principal's Advisory Committee, a wonderfully diverse group of about 60 young people, who immediately were enthralled by the idea of a ball pit in our school.  I did not show it to foster the idea of a ball pit.  Instead, it was because the students had engaged in an ongoing discussion  in several meetings in wanting to make our school as inclusive as possible, even fostering a lunchtime activity in which students would somehow rotate with different students at lunch.

This has been a fascinating idea, and one that we have not yet come to consensus on a plan.  The ball pit friendship video, though, helped drive different ideas on how we can bring together random students at Jerome in some of our student seating areas.  Is there a way, for instance, to have random signs or cards that also foster conversation and connection with someone the student may not previously know?

And what about us as adults?  Chances are we are not going to encounter public adult ball pits.  But in those instances in which are on a bus, train, subway or sitting in a reception area at a bank or dentist office, can we "Take a Seat, and Make a Friend?"  Would the world be a better place if we did?

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

The Funnies

The Funnies.  The Funny Papers.  That's what my Dad used to call them.  At some point, and I do not know when, I developed a love for what many devoted readers call Comic Strips.

While I still carry in my mind the colloquialisms of growing up in southeastern Ohio, I certainly comprehend others when they talk about what Comic Strips they read.

How important are The Funnies to a newspaper's circulation?  When the Columbus Dispatch redesigned their entire newspaper into a magazine format, they wrote a column in particular stating the specifics of The Funnies.  It is the only item in the Sunday Dispatch that remained the large newspaper page size.  In addition, in the daily Dispatch, in order to keep the size of Funnies the same size, the Funnies are now one-half of five separate pages.  Obviously, the paper spent a lot of time considering the effect of reducing the page size and placement of the Funnies to the effect on readership.

I do not have the slightest idea why I developed an affinity for certain Funnies as well as the complete rejection others.

My never miss Funnies: Blondie, Zits, Hi and Lois, Peanuts, Beetle Bailey, Garfield, Sherman's Lagoon, and Family Circus.

I also wonder what digital news media apps have done to reading the Funnies. I know we are one of the few families on our street who still get a daily newspaper delivered to our driveway every morning, no matter if it is raining, snowing or sunny.

I still love the feel of the newsprint in my hands and turning pages, browsing sections, and yes, reading  the Funnies. Every day, especially on Sundays.  My husband and I share time every Sunday morning reading the newspaper together, carefully sorting sections, referring each other to articles of interest, and yes, even to our favorite Funnies of that morning.

"Have you seen Zits today-- that's just like you."

For me the attraction of the Funnies is remembering which ones my Dad loves, sharing Funnies with my husband and daughter, and yes, even enjoying the longevity and familiarity of the ones I enjoy.

For me the experience would not be the same without a hard copy, and although I do have the digital app for the Columbus Dispatch, I completely only use it to browse for recent news, and I never read the Funnies.

Although I enjoy reading other diverse reading materials, including motivational books, novels, and poetry, my Funnies remain constant, an everyday friend where the characters never age and the humor is always just right.

What are your favorite Funnies?

Monday, March 10, 2014

Take your work seriously but not yourself

Today is a big day, the first day of the Ohio Graduation Test, the Reading section.  Certainly a day for high school principals to take seriously.

Tomorrow we have an A-Team, a meeting led by our superintendent with every administrator in the district, certainly a meeting we take seriously.

Tonight at our Ohio Capital Conference meeting, an athletic league of 32 high schools in Central Ohio, we discussed a possible realignment of the league for football.  The discussion of high school principals and athletic directors certainly indicated that many of us took this proposed change very seriously.

It seems that at times our days are filled with serious topics.  Throw in the new Ohio teacher evaluation system, growth measures, AP testing, IB testing, new State report cards, the New Gen assessments, and other weighty topics and our work days are serious.

Our meeting tonight lasted until 9 PM and I have a 30-minute drive back to my home.  To be honest, I was worried about still posting a blog for tonight and yes, had other serious or potentially serious topics on my mind.  A long day.  And only Monday, I thought.

Thank goodness, before I left, I glanced at my Twitter account and found this, posted by my student leaders.

I had to laugh out loud.  I love it!  Thank goodness-- it reminded me that although we take our work seriously, we do not have to take ourselves seriously.  It made my day!  And thank goodness for student humor and social media!

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Testing: Putting faces on the data

This week is Ohio Graduation Test Week, where all over the  state all sophomores will be taking this required test for graduation.  Students must pass all 5 sections in order to graduate from high school: Reading, Math, Science, Social Studies and Science, one section each day with a testing window of 2.5 hours.

Soon these tests will be replaced by the New Generation assessments that eventually students will be required to pass, consisting of  9 end-of-course assessments and accruing a certain number of quality points in order to graduation from high school.  Since these tests will be phased in, some teachers are currently preparing students for two different assessments.

For those of us directly involved in education at any level, we are aware of the amount of testing and accountability facing schools today.  This spring, our high school will be administering the OGT, Advanced Placement tests, International Baccalaureate assessments, ACT (we are a pilot school for the new online) and also a pilot school for two of the Next Generation assessments.

As a school,  welcome the new accountability standards and will work our best, as we always have, to do the very best we can every day to prepare students for any and all assessments mandated by our district, state or nation.

Still, I hope we never lose sight of the stress level these assessments place on students, parents, staff and schools.

Rick Stiggins, educational reformist, reminds us to "put the faces on the data," as a way of reminding us that every test score represents a student.  Testing, both classroom and state and national mandates, is personal, and we know as educators that many students are trying to overcome insurmountable obstacles in order to pass assessments.

But do the legislators and public, particularly those who have no current students or who has never had students in school, know and understand that?

What about the senior who does not have English as their primary language who is down to their last try before graduation to pass?  And that this senior has a two-year-old child and works two jobs outside of the school day in order to support her and her family.  While we would hope that she is devoting all of her time this week to preparing for the Ohio Graduation Test, the reality is that life supersedes testing.  This student works very hard at her school work and is determined to pass, and yet her score will be impacted by obstacles that perhaps the mandates cannot figure into her score.

What about the other sophomore who has missed over 30 days of school this year due to medical issues?  Not only is it difficult for a 15-year-old  to spend high school at numerous medical and surgical appointments while enduring uncomfortable medical procedures, but he is still responsible for passing all 5 sections of the OGT.  If the student even attends all 5 days this week, it will be the first complete week of school attended this school year.

Students with drug and alcohol abuse problems, mental health issues, language barriers, test anxiety, attendance problems, legal issues, and so on, permeate high schools today.  We have worked extremely hard this year preparing students for the OGT, holding parent information meetings, adding extra preparation sessions after school, aligning curriculum and modeling our assessments in the same format as students will find on this important test.  Still, we will have students test who are facing battles of which we are aware and battles of which we have no knowledge.

And yet when our scores and building report card becomes public, few will know the stories -- and faces-- behind the data.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Still looking down; still finding rainbows

As some of you know, my husband has undergone two detached retina surgeries in the last month.  As part of each surgery, a gas bubble was inserted in the his eye, and the recovery regimen requires that he looks down for 45 minutes out of every hour.

While after the first surgery, he did not have to sleep looking down, because of the difficulty and size of the gas bubble after the second surgery, he has also had to sleep looking directly down for the last 10 days.  If you have ever tried sleeping looking directly down, you will see the obvious difficulty.

In an earlier blog, I noted the irony of Charlie Chaplain's quote, "You will never find rainbows if you are looking down" while noting the many rainbows we have found in this difficult month with the kindnesses of so many friends, neighbors, co-workers and even complete strangers.

One of my co-workers and good friends, Bob, came over to the house to put together a medical ergonomic chair that we rented after the second surgery.  Jeff desperately needed assistance in holding his head downward without continuing to strain the muscles in his neck and back. What a rainbow this chair has been!

While it looks awkward, this chair has enabled him to come downstairs and watch TV.  As he looks down, a double mirror on the small desk below his eyes reflects the TV image perfectly up to his eyes.  I asked him what career invents such a wondrous device.  He can also put his Sports Illustrated or other magazine on the desk while the padded face holder carefully cradles and securely holds his face downward in the correct angle so that the gas bubble in his eye floats up to smooth out his retina.  (We hope). Ingenious.

Yes, Bob created a rainbow of this wondrous chair, as did our neighbor Mike. Mike saw me struggling to shovel our fresh 5" snowfall and came across the street with his huge snowblower to finish our driveway.  Thank goodness Mike moved to Ohio from Minnesota!

And the rainbows continued all week.  My special education department filled bags of my favorite snack foods such as cranberrry drinks, pistachios, dark chocolate, apples, oranges, bananas and mixed nuts snack mix. So so thoughtful.  Even more, they also filled a card with gift cards from a number of our favorite restaurants including Rusty Bucket and Max and Erma's.    Every intervention specialist, parapro, and related arts teacher had signed this card, including even those who are not even in our building full-time.  An avalanche of rainbows!!

More cards came from Jeff's work, and numerous text messages containing prayer messages and prayer chains flooded in this week.  My secretary and her husband delivered two full dinners from Olive Garden, and Girl Scout cookies Thin Mints were donated and placed on my desk.  Our athletic trainer even delivered a special angled pillow to a school in which I had a meeting so that I could take it home to Jeff to improve his likelihood of sleep.  (And yes, it has helped!)

It is hard to put into words what all this has meant to us.  After about 23 consecutive days of Jeff spending hours on end looking downward, without being able to drive or work and after two retinal detachment surgeries, our lives have largely revolved around surgical appointments, eye drops four times per day, and restless attempts at sleeping.

Can you find rainbows looking down?  You bet you can.  Williams Wordsworth wrote, "My heart leaps up when I behold a rainbow in the sky."  Every single one of these kindnesses have made our hearts leap up too!

And to my dear sweet husband, who reads every one of my blogs (yes-- even using the double mirror or by looking straight downwards), I end with what I hope is a rainbow of my own:

As Anne Bradstreet wrote in her poem To my dear and loving husband, "If ever two were one, then surely we." We recited this quote at our wedding ceremony, and it is still true today. You have always been my pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.