Monday, February 13, 2017

SASHET and the Human Spirit

This is a blog I must write. And yet, it is one of those blogs where I am neither smart enough to know exactly what is best to say, or naive enough to think I am the only one that feels the way I do.

And honesty I am feeling all of the human emotions of the moment. You know, like the acronym SASHET: Sad, Angry, Scared, Happy, Excited, Tender. I have been feeling them all for the past week. I suspect you are too. It is just what happens to us when someone we love is no longer directly in our lives. 

Last Wednesday our friend, colleague, mentor, and inspirational educational thought leader died. Age 69, and after a two and half year battle with an unexplainable Stage IV lung cancer for a career athlete and non-smoker. Far too young. And far too courageous to become a footnote.

Rick DuFour was one of those rare humans whose being made our profession significantly better. He uplifted the lives of thousands of educators like you and me, and never did he think it was about him. It was always about the mission. 

Like some, I had the benefit of growing up with him as our professional journey unfolded, and perhaps the most fascinating and fundamental aspect of his human being, was how surprised he always was by his success. And, how much he delighted in the success and growth of others.

There was this larger than life aura about him and then you met him, and you thought, "Gosh he’s just a normal guy." Only he wasn’t. There was not a lot about Rick that was normal. Being around him elevated us. He called us to act as professionals, and to be "above and beyond normal" every day. 

Because in his words:

The very lives of the students we teach depend upon us

He had a way to make you think about your work within the profession with increased clarity and reason, without being judgmental. Other than being incredibly competitive no matter the game played (like catch-phrase) he had a down to earth openness and interest in you. You felt as if your being, when with him, was one of those experiences to embrace. Your work and effort mattered to him. 

During the early 90’s at Stevenson, the faculty and staff were starting to rock the house. We are on fire and pursuing what would eventually become known as the PLC At Work culture Rick pioneered with Bob Eaker. Rick was intense and driven toward the pursuit of excellence, and had several job offers to leave Stevenson, as you might imagine. And in a quiet breakfast moment with him, on a Saturday morning in Evanston, IL he had to make his choice. To stay or to leave? 

I never forgot his answer.

“I can't leave Stevenson”. “It is not so much the place as it is the people. I love the commitment of our faculty and staff, our community and the Board; and our experiences together to figure out how to educate our students in unprecedented ways. How do you replace our people?”

Well, that explains this mish mash of emotions we are going through right now. We don’t replace them… especially the good ones, like Rick. But we can extend the spirit of his life’s work and always remember how he experienced life with us. Our professional experiences with him, can and should  be passed on to the next generation's experiences with us.  

In 2013, USC Professor Dallas Willard stated:  

The human spirit is an inescapable, fundamental aspect of every human being; and it takes on whichever character it has from the experiences and the choices we have lived through or made in our past. A person is essentially a collection of conscious experiences. Far more than just bodies or just appetites, we are our experiences. That is why we treasure the good ones.

Rick was far more than just his body, thoughts, and words. His spirit is in each of us because when we had experiences with him, he noticed us. Like so many, I am grateful that my lifetime "collection of experiences" included Rick. Despite the the gauntlet of SASHET emotions I feel today. 
Rick’s heartprint is on all of us that experienced his path – directly or indirectly, brief or otherwise. May we cherish it, and carry on his work, in the service of our profession and the learning of children. 

It will be his legacy and become ours; and I suspect it would both delight and surprise him.

In the words of renown philosopher Dr. Suess, Rick would be the first one to tell us: Don't cry because it is over; smile because it happened.  

In memoriam and with love, may we smile today. 

Monday, February 6, 2017

Finding the Niche of Your Technology Voice in 2017!

I had a great phone call with Eric Twadell this morning. Eric is the current School Superintendent at Adlai E. Stevenson HSD 125: A public high school district in the state of Illinois and the place I became more fully formed as a professional for 22 years. It had occurred to me over the weekend that this coming June, I will be gone from the district for 10 years. A decade has passed!

We laughed about how it seemed both a short and a long time ago. In some ways, I was just the placeholder (5 years as superintendent) between two great leaders - Rick DuFour of PLC At Work fame  (ten years) and now Eric for ten too. For a brief time, in the late 90's, we all three had the privilege of working together.

What Eric, and the entire faculty and staff at Stevenson have been able to do in the past decade is simply short of amazing. They have raised the roof on the learning for each and every student that graces the halls of the school. Recently, Stevenson was rated the 2017 #1 best public high schoolin America by Niche.

One of the more silent features of that success is the willingness of the faculty and staff to embrace technology in the service of learning. They speak with a voice of wisdom that recognizes their responsibility to learn about technology as an expected aspect of professional growth, and as a student right to learn issue.

When I wrote HEART! I realized I must address the idea of our "voice' as teachers. When we speak, whose voice is it speaking? And, is it a voice filled with deep thought and wisdom?

In part 5 of the book (Ch. 30 to be exact), I reveal five critical elements for our voice of wisdom. The fourth element of wisdom is a lesson I learned very early during my time at Stevenson:

Each and every student has the right to learn with technology…

We viewed the use of technology as just as a way of life at Stevenson. We decided early on that student learning with technology, should not be happenstance. We believed so much in the technology serving student learning voice for our professional work, that it became an integrated and intentional aspect of each teacher and leaders’ professional development plan.  

As adults teaching and leading in the school, we asked the equity voice question: How is it acceptable that students in the same grade level or course could receive an incredible learning experience with technology, while students in the room next store received none? 

Today there is this explosion of technology choices. The impact of social media, from blogs to Snapchat, Facebook to Twitter, Instagram to Periscope, and so much more... technology swims like a shark all around us.

And we have three choices: Ignore it, embrace it or understand the technology within the service of learning - moving forward together.

So, at first glimpse, I may seem as a bit of an odd character to be the opening keynote address speaker for the upcoming Teachers Teaching with Technology conference- TI3C in Chicago onMarch 10th.

Sure my background is in mathematics, and yes, I was an early advocate of graphing calculator technology with TI, but maybe what drew the most attention was a claim I made about our failure to teach without technology. I simply stated in 2007:  “To teach without technology in this modern era, should be considered educational malpractice.”

And yet, the whole point of a commitment to technology is to understand its value and its limits. No responsible professional would ignore teaching with technology. Wise professionals understand technology is not an  “OR” proposition.

Technology, according to my middle school teacher colleague and tech guru Bill Ferriter, is one of those “Genius of AND” issues: How can I use of technology and ensure it serves student learning?

Thus the point of the T3IC conference, I suppose. 

Also, no responsible professional would embrace everything about technology. In the best schools there is a healthy skepticism about how to use the technology in a way that serves the reflect, refine and act cycle of student learning, while at the same time ensuring every member of the teacher team understands how to use the technology well, in order to ensure the standards for learning are achieved.

To that end, this Thursday- February 9th at 8 p.m. Eastern, I will address a few elements of my keynote address at the TI3C international conference in our Reaching your potential as an educator and leader webinar for TI. You can register for the webinar here and follow us at the #t3learns twitter hashtag as we get ready for the conference launch on March 10th!

During the webinar I define a word I describe in Heart! I indicate, “Your heartprint is the distinctive impression and marked impact your heart leaves on others —your students and your colleagues, as your career and your school seasons unfold.”

You and I are leaving a technology heartprint too. One way or the other. Which technology choice are you making, today? Ignoring it? Embracing it? Or using it with purpose?

What indeed is the niche of your technology voice?  

Know this, technology runs deep in the voice of wisdom for the teachers at Stevenson. They know no other way.