A Birdseye View

A Birdseye View


I encountered this robin on the way into work yesterday morning. His situation was quite bleak. The little guy was seemingly trapped by the 2’ x 3’ clear pane of glass in front of him. He couldn’t see any obstructions to freedom, but multiple bouts of serious wing flapping brought no progress. I tried my best to scare him from the other side. I thought that perhaps instincts would take over and cause him to turn and fly in the opposite direction. It didn’t work. The poor little guy simply chirped and squawked and flapped toward the direction of the glass all the more.

I checked on him a couple of times during the day. By lunchtime, he had made his way to the pane of glass to his right. Eight inches farther and he would have found nothing but air. But he sat imprisoned in front of that smaller pane of glass like he had earlier in the day.

By quitting time, he had made his way to the pane of glass to the left of where I found him in the morning. He was visibly stressed. His chest heaved rapidly, and he could barely move his wings. Eight more inches to his left and he would have been a free bird. I left work figuring that I’d find my little buddy belly up on the sidewalk when I arrived this morning.

But he was gone! Somehow, some way he was able to get a new perspective on his situation. Maybe another bird in the area was able to fly by and successfully deliver a “you’re not seeing the sky for the window” speech. Perhaps he fell asleep, fell off the ledge and accidentally flapped his way to freedom on the way down. It’s possible that a good friend caught wind of his predicament and paid him a visit. With his wing around his frustrated and dejected friend, perhaps the “Brother, I’ve been there” pep talk was just what was needed.

Actually, we’ve all been there. Concerns about work. The car won’t start. The roof leaks. The money is running out. The kids won’t behave. And a number of other real-life worries that creep up without notice.

This, too, shall pass is easy to say for the sparrow sitting on a tree branch ten feet away. But for that robin, the pane of glass was real. It hurt every time he flew into it. It might as well have measured 2000’ x 3000’. For the better part of a day, there was no way out.

I am grateful for the people in my life who have that perspective-changing gift. Some know it and do it intentionally, and I believe that others have no idea that they have pointed out the miles of blue sky behind me.

I wonder what that robin is doing today. I hope that he is appreciative of his new perspective on his current situation. I hope that he is also on the lookout for opportunities to lend a wing to a fellow bird stuck behind the wrong side of the window.

A Letter to the President of the United States of America

Dear Mr. President,

Today, Vice President Mike Pence cast his tie-breaking vote to affirm the nomination of Betsy DeVos as the Secretary of Education. As you are aware, her nomination and now confirmation have raised many concerns and questions about your administration’s plans for public education. Those senators who stood with you during this confirmation process have openly criticized failing public school systems. Vice President Pence today spoke of public schools that are satisfied with the status quo. In the past, my state’s own governor has gone out of his way to criticize public school teachers who do nothing but sit around all day and complain in the teachers’ lounge. I hear pundits in the media refer to the top-heavy bureaucracy of public school systems. A local radio talk show host often refers to public school teachers and administrators as “educrats” insinuating that there are more political and self-serving motives behind the work of public schools than the real work of educating children.

I am an elementary school principal in rural southwest Ohio. My school district’s “bureaucracy” consists of a superintendent, a special education coordinator, a curriculum/testing coordinator, and four building principals. We have a counselor at our high school and one at our middle school, but budget cuts took away the one counselor that the two elementary schools shared. The four buildings share one school nurse who is in the district just three days each week. The schools in my district and in our region are full of well-educated, hard-working men and women who want nothing more than to see all of our students achieve and succeed. Our students’ parents send us their very best, and we are honored to serve their families.

Throughout Secretary DeVos’s confirmation process, I have heard a lot about our nation’s broken schools. I agree. Our schools are broken. They are broken because our schools’ most precious and important resource, our families, are broken. The rural communities in my school’s region were ravaged by the loss of key businesses ten years ago. Their departure meant unemployment and financial crisis for our families. Law enforcement officials tell us that the heroin epidemic has terrorized our region as badly as any other area in the state. In my eight years at my school, I have seen referrals to child protective services multiply. Our state’s assessment data tells us that many of our students are coming to school with very little, if any, reading readiness skills. It is difficult to teach a five-year-old how to read when he knows no letters and has trouble speaking in intelligible phrases. Math is the farthest thing on a dirty and hungry third grader’s mind. Watching a parent take drugs every day and living in fear of physical abuse is not a conducive environment for a fifth grader to do her homework. While these situations exist in every school district, there is little doubt that families in our area and in areas who wrestle with these same issues experience much more than their fair share.

My staff works hard to make sure that our students are fed and clothed. We have a part-time family advocate who tries to connect families to county resources so that they can get their light bills paid and gas in their cars so that they can get their kids to medical appointments. Yet somehow we are viewed as lazy and indifferent toward the low achievement scores that our students earn on state tests. We are far from lazy and we are certainly not indifferent when it comes to the success of our students. We strive to provide the very best instruction so that our students can become their very best. It is absurd, disheartening, and insulting to hear that many of our country’s elected officials believe that our students are not performing well academically because our system is broken and we’re okay with it.

I hope that you, Vice President Pence, and Secretary DeVos will spend some time with us and schools like us so that you can see firsthand the great things that are happening in our country’s public schools…in spite of what our annual state report card might tell you. It would be my honor and privilege to host a visit by you and members of your team so that you can also see firsthand how important our mission is to us and the 600-plus districts in our great state. I hope that you will listen to us and our families and hear what is right and good with our public schools. Most of all, I hope that you will commit energy and resources to the real root of the problem- our broken families and their real struggles.

Many Ohioans hoped that Senator Rob Portman would cast a dissenting vote against Secretary DeVos. In his defense, he posted on his Facebook that Secretary DeVos’s comments supporting state and local control, Career and Tech Education, and students with disabilities resonated with him. Those same themes are important to many families and public educators. I hope that this is the common ground on which we can all work together for our students.

My school district is filled with families who proudly displayed Trump and Pence signs and flags in their yards during this past election season. Many still have not taken them down. They have grown weary of government that doesn’t seem to listen to them or understand their needs. So they, along with millions of other Americans, tore up the blueprint for politics and elected you to represent them. I understand that education is one of many, many bullet points on your agenda. However, I hope that you will not forget how important it is to the families who send their students to our country’s tremendous public schools.

Please know that I pray for you and our country’s leaders every day, and I wish you nothing but success. Your successes as President are our successes as Americans.

Respectfully,
Jason Jones

My Name Is Jason Jones and I Approve This Message

Let me begin with some simple universal truths that I clearly understand. It is a free country, so:

  • You are free to post anything about any topic you like on your social media outlets.
  • If I am tired of pics of your pets, your favorite recipes, and faces of grumpy and under-caffeinated cats who hate Monday mornings, then it is my responsibility to scroll past, unfollow, or unfriend.
  • I have no editorial rights to your social media content…and I don’t want any.

I believe, however, that we social media-loving educators have begun navigating through dangerous waters on the eve of this year’s United States presidential election. It seems that many of us educators have forgotten that not everybody in our field thinks and believes as we do as individuals. One of my biggest frustrations each election involves trying to find candidates who think like I do in regard to social and financial issues AND who can be a good friend to education. In my home state of Ohio, both major political parties at the state level have either put schools on the back burner or have overreacted and passed legislation full of unreasonable, unfunded, and unfair mandates. Candidate A may think like I do on the majority of pressing social issues, but he may also complain about how overpaid educators turn out under-performing kids. Candidate B may say great things about teachers and schools, but hearing him speak on the fiscal and social issues makes me want to check out real estate in the Arctic Circle. Finding a candidate who resonates with me shouldn’t be so difficult!

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Yet there are a large number of us, champions of education that we are, who use our social media platforms to unabashedly rally support for one presidential candidate or the other. Not only that, but the endorsements are usually followed by cartoons, video clips, and memes that throw everybody who does not support the poster’s candidate into a pile of America-hating fools. And I believe that is detrimental to our profession.

Regardless of who wins the election on November 8, I am going to go to work and do my best to support teachers, students, and families on November 9.

I have had to unfollow and unfriend both nationally-known educators and people like me- teachers and administrators who simply love education and enjoy its ever-growing presence on social media. I grew weary of them equating my potential vote in November to my IQ or level of patriotism.

Sometimes it seems that dogging schools is about the only thing that can unify lawmakers and our detractors in our communities and  businesses. Why would we broadcast division in the camp by publicly swearing allegiance to one candidate and posting images of supporters of the other candidate as barely standing erect with knuckles still dragging the ground?

Back to my simple truths. I keep my personal social media accounts separate from my professional accounts. Some of us do not. Who am I to suggest that one way is better than the other? And I am the first to say that who I am as an elementary school principal is because of who I am as a person…it’s impossible to separate. But I contend that mixing our politics with our profession can be bad news. At the very least, we run the risk of turning off a large number of fellow educators who will never hear our ideas about literacy and leadership. If we are not more guarded with our rhetoric, we could potentially alienate the parents of our students who will not vote like us. And you better believe that they are finding our social media contributions. To our skeptics, we can give the dangerous perception that we are divided because of our political views and professionally intolerant of those who won’t vote like us. As if they need more fodder…

I had a hot water heater installed recently. I did not vet the guy who did the work to make sure that his views on immigration and taxes matched mine. I have hot water. He gets my vote! But I don’t send my two kids to the hot water heater guy for seven hours a day. His influence on my kids is zero. I realize that many of my kids’ teachers and principals and bus drivers will not vote like I will in November. But I want them to have the decency to respect the values of my family by staying neutral.

Mostly through social media, I’ve seen anger, frustration, and even sadness among some educators that can be blamed on the political climate in our country. I challenge all of us, local educators and well-known all-stars alike, to leave these emotions behind the curtain and to be mindful of the influence that we have on our students and their families. When used respectfully and responsibly, this influence can change the world!

My name is Jason Jones and I approve this message.

New School Year’s Resolutions

happy new year

For educators, there are two New Year’s Day observations each year. There is the one in January where we ring in the new calendar year and swear off the gluttony of the past holiday season. Then there is the New Year that comes around this time of year- the new school year.

Much like I do for the January event, I started making my new school year resolutions a few years ago. Here’s the 2016 edition:

  1. Relationships. Cultivate and nurture the ones I have including those with students, parents, staff, and district and regional colleagues. This is done by fueling these relationships with honesty, mutual respect, and a genuine concern for human beings. My school is only as healthy and strong as the relationships between the various participants. I need to make sure that I bear the standard by which professional relationships are established and maintained.
  2. Stay Connected. Thanks to encouragement from colleagues, I immersed myself into the Twitterverse…and nearly drowned! Thanks to the book 140 Twitter Tips for Educators by by Brad Currie (@bradmcurrie), Billy Krakower (@wkrakower), and Scott Rocco (@ScottRRocco), I was able to see the use for this social community. I was also given a boatload of tips and suggestions for navigating these waters that were new to me. I have enjoyed following all-stars of the education community and participating in Twitter chats. I resolve to use social media to get the word out about all of the great things that are going on at my school. I also want to continue to add to my own professional digital footprint. Facebook, Twitter, LinkdIn, Instagram, and Vine are all part of my arsenal.My ten-year-old son has challenged me to start a video blog, or vlog as he pointed out. We’ll see how things go before we take things to the next level!
  3. Clear Lenses. Much of my job involves decision-making. It is easy to bring factors to this process that do nothing but cloud the judgment. Even though this policy is much-needed, will this decision bring out more complaints from the chief complainers on staff? Should we continue with this instructional method that has not borne fruit in the form of high student achievement…even though we sank a ton of money in it? The formula has to be simple: If it helps our students be more successful, then we need to consider it. If it makes us better educators, then we need to consider it.
  4. Have More Fun. Some of my most memorable moments of my career involve dressing up like a rock star, wearing a gorilla suit at the busiest intersection in town, and rewarding students by taking them to a major league baseball game. I did less of that last year, and I need to do more. Students love those things, and teachers see the example that I will do almost anything to motivate students. But does a gorilla suit have a direct connection to student achievement? I believe that the answer is a resounding “Yes!”
  5. Go Low-tech More Often. Please don’t tell anybody, but I’m a professional educator and I don’t always enjoy reading professional books or journals. Many times, I’d much rather read a biography about a favorite athlete or an article about the 10 most influential rock guitarists. But I almost always come away with encouragement and fresh ideas when I make time to read what the experts in the field have to say. Some of my favorite authors on school matters are Todd Whitaker (@ToddWhitaker), Dave Burgess (@burgessdave) and anybody else that is a part of Dave Burgess’s network (Dave Burgess Consulting, Inc.).

So what about you? Do you have any new school year resolutions for your school or for your house?

Here’s to a great start to the 2016-2017 school year!

 

140 Twitter Tips for Educators

twitter book“I don’t get it.”

That was me regarding Twitter. Picture the squinty-eyed kid in the back of the classroom with a confounded look and hand half-raised. I had heard someone explain the awesomeness of Twitter to me at least a dozen times. The outcome was always the same.

“I don’t get it.”

But I desperately wanted to get it. The instant connections to my favorite athletes, entertainers, and rock stars of my profession sounded appealing. I even opened an account and experimented. But 140 characters? I can’t greet a stranger on the street in 140 characters. And what’s with these number signs (hashtags)? Twitter chats? I’d have better luck with Morse Code.

My curiosity still piqued, I recently ran across 140 Twitter Tips for Educators by Brad Currie (@bradmcurrie), Billy Krakower (@wkrakower), and Scott Rocco (@ScottRRocco) at a Teach Like a Pirate Presentation by Dave Burgess. I flipped through the book during a break and immediately saw that the format was right up my ally. The 140 tips were arranged in almost bullet point fashion. I could read through a few tips, try them out at my pace and move on to the next few points. I bought the book, but I was honestly not convinced that it would change my attitude about Twitter. I was wrong!

The book is divided into three sections. Section 1 is certainly for novices like me. The tips are practical and somewhat liberating. During my initial experimentation period with Twitter, I became frustrated when I tweeted the most poignant 140 characters ever, and no one even noticed. Tip # 16 assures readers that it’s okay if nobody notices. But there is reassurance that every tweet is a step in establishing a presence in the Twitter world. Tip #24 also encourages users to tweet every day. It’s easy for me to scroll through the tweets of others, but I don’t always have something beneficial to add to the discussion…or so I thought.

Section 2 instructs users on taking their Twitter use to the next level. I joined the Teach Like a Pirate Twitter chat (#tlap) that very evening, and I soon found that I had a lot to offer. I loved the likes, retweets, and mentions some of my contributions had. The number of those following me grew from 21 (mostly friends and coworkers) to 30 as a result of that one-hour chat. I now have 48 followers…and growing! I participate in three or four chats each week. There is a great menu of chats to help get started in tip #49. Other useful tips in this section include building your own personal Twitter stamina, using Twitter at the school building level, and using your Twitter statistics to your advantage.

I am eager to try some of the Jedi Tweeting techniques in section 3. I added some apps to my phone that will help me better manage all of my social network platforms. I am particularly interested in using Vine. Vine works with Twitter to add six-second videos to Tweets. Imagine how many great examples of kids learning and adults teaching I can push out to the Twitter universe!

You may already be a Twitter expert capable of adding your own Section 4 to this book should there ever be a sequel. For me, however, this book is exactly what I needed to get me on the road to using Twitter to help me get the great things about my school to parents and community members. I strongly recommend 140 Twitter Tips for Educators for a quick summer read and personal tech PD.

To order your copy: click here!

 

Happy Father’s Day

10550081_1940444512762919_8984793242681399568_oHappy Father’s Day! For you dads, may your day be filled with control of the TV remote and the thermostat. May the grass cease to grow for at least one day. May the fish bite more, and may your drives find fairways.

Countless studies over the years have documented the benefits for kids who have fathers who are present and active in their lives. It has been proven that children with dads at home are less likely to:

  • perform poorly in school
  • abuse drugs
  • become incarcerated
  • become sexually promiscuous
  • live in poverty
  • suffer from social and emotional problems

I am an elementary school principal. Very few of my students with chronic behavior concerns have dads who are a regular part of their lives. In fact, some of my most challenging kids have extreme behaviors that are directly connected to their frustration over their flimsy or non-existent relationship with their dads.

Much of who I am, physical traits and personality characteristics, can be attributed to my dad. I don’t ever remember taking notes and intentionally rehearsing dadisms, but my sense of humor, gift of sarcasm, and affinity for good bluegrass music didn’t just happen by chance.

I don’t think that there is any question that I analyze the life events of my kids differently than my wife. For her, there may have been a tinge of sadness on the first day of kindergarten. I was eager to see how they handled year one of their school careers. I was certain that it would provide insight on their employability with Fortune 500 companies. For her, a Lego-covered floor is a symptom of having little kids in the house. I somehow connect it to their ability to live on their own as adults.

All of us dads want our kids to be safe and happy- while they are little and when they are 30. There are, however, very specific things that I want to instill in my son and daughter.

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Hard Work. My dad oozed with pride when he told people that I had held some kind of job every day since I was 14. I want my kids to work hard in school. I want them to find a career that they love that pays all of the bills with a little left over.

Discernment. I want them to be kind to everyone that they meet, but I want them to realize that there are people in the world who are not nice. I want them to learn how to identify and avoid these people. Unfortunately, much of this has to come from experience. Please, Lord, don’t let these lessons be too painful.

Marriage and Family. I want my son to marry the love of his life. I want him to treat her like a queen. I hope my little girl learns that there is something inherently wrong with a man who hits or screams at women. I want her to marry Prince Charming. I hope she wants my approval (because I can make him go away if I don’t approve). I hope that they both have two kids who mess up their houses, leave candy to melt in their cars, and ask 4 gazillion questions a day.

Faith. I hope that they learn to see that there is more to this life than what this life has to offer. I pray that they learn soon that their heavenly Father is wiser than their earthly father. I hope that they learn about grace and mercy and that they extend this to others. I hope that all of their life decisions are rooted in this faith.

Thank you, dads! You probably don’t realize it, but I watch you carefully. I am inspired by your six hours in the blazing sun during Saturday sports tournaments. I learn from the gentleness that you have when you interact with your kids. I am touched that your bride still takes your breath away after 10, 20, and 50 years of marriage. Many of you set the bar for me, and I appreciate how high that bar is. Happy Father’s Day…keep up the great work!

Recharging

Recharging

By the end of May, my personal battery life indicator is deep into red territory. As the school year hurtles itself toward Memorial Day, I have had more than my fill of student discipline referrals, questions about next year’s budget, staffing concerns, the completely packed end-of-the-year special events calendar, state assessments, and other things that make the end of the school year nearly unbearable.

Like my mobile devices, my battery indicator doesn’t magically expand from low red to fully green just because the demands for my energy cease. I must reconnect myself to some familiar power sources if I expect to be fully charged by August.

Here are some of my go-to sources for power:

1. Motivational sources. I recently saw Dave Burgess’ (@burgessdave) Teach Like a Pirate presentation. I was reminded why I chose this noble profession and what keeps me coming back each fall. I left his presentation with an armload of books that will surely rekindle the passion that I have for making a difference in the lives of the students and adults that I see every day during the school year. The works of Todd Whitaker (@ToddWhitaker)  focus on the greatness that is demanded from teachers and principals. I picked up Ohio State football coach Urban Meyer’s (@OSUCoachMeyer) Above the Line and realized that winning, championship football did not just fall out of the sky for Coach Meyer. His insistence on his champions on the field being champions in the community resonates with me.

2. Re-connections. I love the ease and instantaneous nature of social media. In under a minute, I can get a dozen or more updates from friends and family. But nothing takes the place of a long conversation with a friend over dinner or a ballgame. My blood pressure drops a point or two with each throw of a baseball I make to my son. Reading a picture book with my little girl is therapeutic. I’m looking forward to dinner with my wife…JUST my wife. We might even go someplace that has silverware…where they bring the food to you on plates. Sadly, even these simple pleasures of life don’t come easy during the school year.

3. Travel. For me, getting away is an automatic reboot for me. It might be a  weekend trip to a state park a less that a hundred miles from home or a three-week adventure three time zones away. Either way, new places and new adventures are just what my low battery needs. This summer, my family is visiting the state of California for the first time. My baseball-loving son and I can hardly wait to visit three major league ballparks!

4. Bodywork. I rebel against this one like a toddler rebels against taking his medicine. But I know that I feel better when I eat good, quality food (aka fruits and vegetables) and move a little more. Necessary 365 days a year, but definitely more attainable once school is out for summer.

5. Inspiration. My faith is the reason that I do what I do. I am compelled to do my part to bring light to a world that can be full of darkness. If the only goal of my employment was to earn a paycheck, then I would have chosen a more lucrative career path…closer to home…with more favorable hours! It is easy for me to lose sight of this, so I try to immerse myself more in prayer and Bible reading. Just like #3, essential all of the time, but easier for me in June and July.

What about you? Any plans for reconnecting, regrouping and recharging this summer?