Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Education is our best hope

Education is our best hope for the future of our world. Therefore, it is immeasurably important that all of our students feel welcome in our schools. Every. Single. One. Of. Our. Students.

This post is from Twitter a few days ago:

And this photo was taken of a classroom door at Maple Grove Elementary in West Des Moines posted on Facebook several months ago:

Education is our best hope for the future of the world, students, and you are most welcome here.

All of you.

Monday, November 7, 2016

Patriotism and Love

Tomorrow we go to the polls and cast our ballots during the most divisive political climate of my lifetime. I have strong feelings about who should be elected as I hope you do, too. The people in charge of our government are important, and everyone should analyze the issues and decide what's best for our country and VOTE.

This isn't a political blog post, though. This is a post about patriotism and love. Some of us are going to be heartbroken when this is all over. Some of us are going to be angry. Some of us are going to be disillusioned. And, while all of these emotions are valid, here is my cautionary advice:

We must support the word of the people. Then if we think the system could be better, we must work together to change it. We must be willing to compromise to solve our problems. We must put love of country above politics. We must remember that democracy is messy and scary and mean sometimes, but when it comes down to it, it's the best system in the world.

I don't know where you stand on the issues or the candidates, and I wouldn't hold that against you if I did. What I will hold against you, though, is refusing to come together and work together once the people have spoken. We are all in this together, and we will have only ourselves to blame if we don't walk away from the "us and them" mentality of the election and move towards the middle to "we."

If we all love our country, and I think we do, then we better learn to love our fellow Americans, even those we adamantly disagree with.

American flag heart

Friday, October 28, 2016

Winning at Sports and Powerful Educational Experiences

As the Storm Lake Tornado football team prepares to play their first ever football playoff game tonight, and as Dylan Cavanaugh prepares to run in the state cross country meet tomorrow, I can't help but ponder the importance of these experiences to our students' education. We spend far too much time trying to quantify and analyze learning through tests and grading when what we should really be working on are the learning experiences we create for our students.

As our community members, parents, and students decorate their houses, write their thoughts, and create videos of this magical football season, I think about how we could make sure all of our students have amazing experiences like these. Winning sports seasons are intrinsically memorable learning experiences - for the whole community. However, there are so many ways to create other, although less dramatic, memories for our students. Memories that coincidentally teach valuable lessons and increase learning.

Two books talk about the importance of innovative new learning experiences for our students: Teach Like a Pirate by Dave Burgess and Kids Deserve It by Todd Nesloney and Adam Welcome. I recommend you take a look at them. They veer away from curriculum, standards, and assessments and talk instead about instructional strategies and relationships.

Think about what our athletes have gained this fall. Perhaps we need to consider how we can provide that for everyone.

Our students need to feel special. They need to feel like a part of a community. They need to experience things in life that touch their hearts. They deserve an education that emphasizes the whole life learning experience, not just math reasoning, historical facts, and reading fluency. In fact, if we really want our students to learn curricular things, we better work harder at creating an environment that makes being absent unthinkable because of the amazing experiences students know they will miss if they are gone.

Wouldn't it be great if we could create exciting highlight videos for each and every one of our classrooms each year?

Good luck, tonight and tomorrow, Storm Lake athletes. These are precious moments in time, and none of us want to miss a second of the experience.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Reluctant to bring up politics

I became politically active long before I was old enough to vote. In the beginning, my views were based on what my parents believed, but as I progressed in my education and became a debater in high school, I discovered that rarely is anything in life clear-cut and easy. I learned to research both sides of an issue and present a compelling, substantiated argument for either side. I learned to weigh pros and cons. I learned to read and listen to opinions that differed from my own without getting angry. I found politics fascinating and often hard to discern. Sometimes, if you thought about it, choosing who to vote for was hard.

This has been a strange election cycle, though. This is the first time in my whole life when I have been reluctant to bring politics up. Somewhere along the line, the norm is no longer the give and take of information, it has become agreement or dismissal. It is to label people as “good or evil,” “us or them,” “intelligent or ignorant,” and even “American or un-American.” The norm is to agree and mutually deride the other side or to disagree and dismiss, scoff, yell, spew vitriol, unfriend, stomp off mad, and avoid.

This has got to stop. We are a country of vast differences and vastly different needs. Surely, though, we can agree to try to understand one another, to care for one another, and to work together for solutions. Standing firm on principle is your right, but it is not democracy in action. Compromise is.

"When you teach a man to hate and fear his brother, when you teach that he is a lesser man because of his color or his beliefs or the policies he pursues, when you teach that those who differ from you threaten your freedom or your job or your family, then you also learn to confront others not as fellow citizens but as enemies...

"We must admit the vanity of our false distinctions among men and learn to find our own advancement in the search for the advancement of all. We must admit in ourselves that our own children's future cannot be built on the misfortunes of others. We must recognize that this short life can neither be ennobled or enriched by hatred or revenge.

"... we can perhaps remember - even if only for a time - that those who live with us are our brothers, that they share with us the same short movement of life, that they seek - as we do - nothing but the chance to live out their lives in purpose and happiness, winning what satisfaction and fulfillment they can.

"...Surely we can learn, at least, to look at those around us as fellow men and surely we can begin to work a little harder to bind up the wounds among us and to become in our hearts brothers and countrymen once again."

--Robert F. Kennedy, 1968

Friday, October 14, 2016

The key is to notice

The man I bought my coffee from greeted me when I drove up; and when he handed me my change, he told me to have a blessed day. Love.

The woman who handed me my coffee held it out the drive up window - as if we could negotiate a handoff without my stopping. Laughter.

The sunrise as I pulled up to work was a beautiful masterpiece of promise and color. Awe.

Sometimes my world just feels right.

The key to life is to notice these moments, isn't it? Mindfulness.

Have a great Friday, everyone!

Friday, October 7, 2016

Winning has brought us together

The Storm Lake football team heads to Spirit Lake tonight with a 6-0 record, determined to make it 7-0. Packed pep buses will bring students and staff members. Parents, families, and friends will be there. The various news media will cover the action, and many at home will tune into news and social media to stay on top of the game.

SLHSTornadoes Football Crowd

The truth is a winning team has brought us closer together. It has reinforced our pride in the green and white and our love for one another. Winning teams do that, and we should all be savoring every moment of joy.

Good luck tonight, Tornado football players. Our hearts will be beating as one as you take that field.

Heart in hands

Monday, September 26, 2016

Putting Students First

Yesterday we dedicated the new high school auditorium, auxiliary gym, and other various building renovations. It was a joyous music-filled afternoon with students, staff, and community members, as well as some of the people who designed and accomplished the work all in attendance together.

new auditorium

It was heartwarming to see our students performing for the first time in the beautiful new facility. I can't thank them enough for their dedication to their school and their commitment to giving back to the community by sharing their talents. I'm always puzzled by those who don't attend such events - It was such a special time in our school's history.

Proud to be a Tornado.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

We're All in This Together

Here's the deal:

If we refuse to share our intellectual, educational, experiential, and yes, financial resources to solve the problems that affect others, then we sacrifice the greater good for our own personal goals whatever they may be.


The day we protect our own little corner of the world and refuse to listen to the point of view of others to figure out how to protect their worlds is the day we lose our humanity.

Monday, May 23, 2016

Summer Meals Available for Kids in Storm Lake

This summer the Storm Lake Community School District will continue to expand its summer meal program. As in the past during summer school (June 13–June 30), breakfast and lunch will be served at the Elementary School. Meals will be moved to the High School from July 6–July 29 with only lunch being served from 11:00 to 1:00 PM. On August 1st meals will return to the Elementary with breakfast and lunch served until Friday, August 12th. The summer meal program allows anyone 18 years of age or younger to eat free. Adults may also eat at a cost of $3.35 for lunch and $1.95 for breakfast. --

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Weigh the Arguments before Deciding

There are few things in life that are simply black or white, right or wrong, or true or false. Mel Fisher's fourth graders provided a very good example of this concept today when they debated the topic Smartphones for Fourth Graders. The students decided which side they wanted to represent and then worked as pro and con teams to develop arguments supporting fourth graders having smartphones and arguments against fourth graders having smartphones.

Both sides did a very nice job of presenting their arguments. The group for smartphones provided the four person adult panel of judges with a handout outlining their reasons. The group against smartphones displayed a poster that they had created. The pro group presented their information like a choral reading. The con group took turns presenting their arguments. It was fun to see students working together so closely, to see them so engaged in their learning, and to see them evaluate a topic that really interested them.

It was a pleasure to see these students process their thinking and to see them realize that those who would pretend to live in a world of absolutes are going to struggle. Life is more like a spreadsheet with multiple columns. Weighing the arguments in the various columns and then making a decision is what day to day living is all about. Thanks, Mel Fisher, for inviting me!

Monday, May 2, 2016

Guilt Paralyzes

Even as an adult I get totally stuck sometimes
With something I don't particularly want to do
With something that's easy to put off
And put off
And put off

And then I start to worry about it
And worry about it
And worry about it
And lose sleep over it

And then I truly don't want to do it

And then comes the guilt
The guilt
The guilt

And the guilt
Portends recriminations from others, so I . . .

Put the task off even longer
And longer
And longer

What's the last thing I need when I reach this point and feel this way?
More guilt?
Recriminations from others?

I don't think so

A little love and support maybe
A little empathy and understanding

Funny how that works
Isn't it

Let's remember this when we deal with our students

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Access Access Access

What I advocate for
is not
all day
every day

I advocate for
access to
all day
every day

That's a big distinction

Friday, April 22, 2016

Let's look at the evidence

I saw strange sights on my way back from a Google meeting in Des Moines a few days ago. The first thing I saw was a school bus being dragged from its rear axle. As I was contemplating what that evidence suggested to me, I saw this sight - Another school bus being dragged by it's rear axle. The two buses did not have the same school names on them. Suddenly, the scenarios that I had spinning around in my head as to why that first school bus was being towed changed on the basis of the second school bus I saw.

A couple of days ago I presented to the School Board the list of quotes and my recommendations for purchase of tech equipment. I explained how I solicited quotes, how I analyzed them, and how I made my decision for my recommendation.

I also presented the financial Tech Plan for next school year. I explained the process that went into creating that plan - the work of the EdTech Committee, the spreadsheet to make requests that was available to teachers all year, the input from the building principals, and the process of prioritizing.

My thought for the day is that our world view on all things will be based on the evidence that we are personally exposed to. Therefore, it's exceedingly important that we expose ourselves to all the lines of evidence that we can. It's important to systematically gather data and then make our decisions. It's important that all the players are invited to the table to make sure we aren't making decisions based on too little data or flawed data.

Our students are depending on us.

And, really, why do you think there were two school buses within a few miles of each other being towed by their back axles?

Thursday, April 7, 2016

We are a little island of happiness

Joyland by Stephen King is a coming of age novel set in an amusement park in 1973. When the owner of the park addresses the employees at the beginning of the summer season, he says this:

"Children will go home and dream of what they saw here and what they did here. I hope you will remember that when the work is hard, as it sometimes will be, or when people are rude, as they often will be, or when you feel your best efforts have gone unappreciated."

And all I can envision are our classrooms.......

For all their years of school, many of our children spend more time with us than they do with anyone else in their lives. We are their guides, their mentors, their friends, their guardians, and their fellow learners. What are we filling their dreams with? What are we imprinting on their memories? Are we sharing our joy for learning? Are we a welcoming place where it doesn't matter who you are, what you know, where you come from, or how you got here?

Stephen King goes on to say this:

The influence we have on making or breaking our students can't be overstated. May we foster in them a love for learning and pure joy for each new day. May the dreams and memories we provide be sweet ones.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Diversity Day

I spent the Storm Lake High School Diversity Day last week with goosebumps as I watched the photos being shared all over social media. This is who we are - a diverse family of individuals who have come together in this place at this time to learn. It is in our uniqueness that we find our strength. Although we come from all over the world, we are one now, and we all bleed green.

A huge thank you to all of you who shared your pictures with me!

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Love one another

It's been a tough week, but some lessons remain universal and everlasting.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Hard Work, Whispers, and Giggles

I lost a treasured colleague to cancer yesterday. Pat Fisher and I spent years as the odd women out at administrative team meetings - Directors who appeared briefly at the table and then disappeared when our business was done - Quietly whispering and giggling in the entryway on our way back to our offices. I know that no one will ever eclipse the love Pat had for our community and our schools. She spent every moment she could advocating for the rights of all of our students and their families. While the rest of us were exhausted and sleeping, she and her family did the hard work that goes into making our community and our world a better place.

In a society full of controversy and vitriol, Pat lived a life of hard work, relationship building, and love. She was a role model for our children and ourselves. I am thankful that her legacy will live on in the quiet whispers and giggles of the children of Storm Lake.

Monday, March 7, 2016

We Bloom When It's Time

My Christmas cactus bloomed over the weekend!

Blooming on the window sill next to one of my flying pigs, it reminds me that our students are all unique with their own trajectories of learning. May we provide the supports for our students individually to bloom when it's their time, and may we celebrate that learning without time constraint judgements.

A blooming Christmas cactus in March? Patience and tender loving care have paid off.

Thursday, March 3, 2016

May Our Hearts Leap

I was at a meeting at the hospital with our school nurses when I started hearing chimes that were quietly playing a lullaby. As I was wondering if it was a chiming clock in the maternity ward, one of the nurses leaned over to me and said, "They play that song when a baby is born."

 I am serious when I say that my heart leapt. I may have gasped. For some reason the joy that came over me was the same joy I felt when my own children were born. It was like going back in time.

As people who work with students every day, it's important to remember the joy families feel when their babies are born - The changes in day to day life that each new baby brings, the sense of love, and the dreams for the future. Let us never forget that every student is special and that it is in their uniqueness that they can change the world. May we develop relationships with each of our students - relationships that cause our hearts to leap with joy each time they walk through our doors.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Our students are people first

I've been doing a lot of reading and thinking about how to make schools better - how to prepare our students for a world that is much different than what it was like when I was their age. It's no secret if you've met me or followed me that I think there are better ways to educate than the traditional ways that we still see in most of our schools.

I believe in emphasizing our students' strengths rather than harping on their weaknesses. I believe that technology offers us a window on the world and that it is a moral imperative that we provide resources for our students to access that world and interact with it. I believe that standardized tests do not reliably measure what is really important when it comes to student learning. I believe that the lines should blur between subjects and age groups and that the best way to learn anything is to provide context, personal reference points, and authenticity. I believe that students can solve real world problems and are intrinsically driven to work very hard to do so.

What I believe first and foremost, though - The thing that I think will make any school and any classroom successful, despite instructional strategies or focus is this: I believe that our students are all unique individuals with individual passions and strengths and learning styles and thought processes and lives. I believe that the only way to improve education is:
  • to focus on our students as whole people
  • to get to know them in and out of school
  • to care about them and encourage them to be who they are
  • to provide for their needs no matter what those needs might be, and
  • to help them learn the most about what they care deeply about.
The teachers who cared about me in this way are the ones who motivated me to learn and to lead a life of service. They saw the good in me, and they loved me for that. They did not harp on my weaknesses and take away my self-confidence. They encouraged my strengths.

I am thankful for that.

This blogger gets it right:

Monday, February 15, 2016

Passion, Conversation, and Change

I had the privilege of attending Iowa EdCamp at BVU on Saturday.

If you've never heard of or attended an EdCamp, take a look at the link:

Passionate community members from around Iowa came together in five different venues across the state to talk about the educational issues that they as groups chose to focus on. There were no leaders, no "superior by virtue of one's title," and no thoughts not honored and contemplated. It was truly a place to think about and share about education and how we might make it better. I chose to spend the day contemplating poverty, teacher leadership, and innovation in classrooms.

At the end of the day, we viewed a film entitled Most Likely To Succeed that I'm sure was unnerving to some.

The film's premise is that education must change dramatically to keep up with an age where information is literally at the fingertips of anyone with an Internet connection, where jobs are becoming much less based on what you know and more dependent on:
  • What you can learn
  • What you can create
  • How well you can problem-solve
  • How well you work with others
Talk about thought-provoking!

As a boat-rocking, protesting, future-thinking visionary - Ha ha! I wish I wore that hat consistently - I drew great strength from spending a day with people who care so deeply about education that they are willing to give up their Saturday to both share their own questions and beliefs and also to listen to the questions and beliefs of people that might not echo their own.

I saw a picture on Facebook this weekend from a classroom door at Maple Grove Elementary in West Des Moines that I would like posted on every classroom door in our district:

Since I had also just attended Iowa EdCamp, though, I also thought it applied to how welcome I hope everyone felt on Saturday. A huge shout out to our own SLCSD Mikaela Fiedler, Abbey Green, Deb Mortensen, and Carl Turner who also chose to participate in this collaborative day. I hope they enjoyed it as much as I did. Together we can make a difference.