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