Friday, May 12, 2017

Visiting the Capital #KidsDeserveIt

*This post was originally posted to the Kids Deserve It blog on March 9, 2017.

My name is Lucy Nolte.  I am in 4th grade at Van Allen Elementary.  My school for the day on February 15th, 2017 was the Iowa State Capitol.   

When you first walk into the building a feeling of amazement surrounds you! It’s like you’re in a palace or a castle. I’ve been to the Captiol a few times before to visit my great-aunt Mary Mascher, a State Representative.  Today the Captiol was busier.  I was in the company of nursing students and people involved in education who were there to express their concerns about changes to the collective bargaining law.

I was surprised by the number of people that came to the Capitol to talk to legislators.  My Nana, Chris Rohret, was one of them.  Together, we attended two education meetings, and spoke to the legislator who represents her district.  

And I am Eric Ewald. I am the Principal at Van Allen Elementary. Coincidentally, I joined Lucy at the Capitol on February 15th.

This was my first time visiting the Capitol as a lobbyist. And Lucy is right, it is an amazing place. Then when you think about the far-reaching implications of what transpires, the sense of astonishment is heightened.

Here we are with State Representatives Vicki Lensing and Mary Mascher
This is so important. In reality very few people vote, and even fewer people reach-out to their elected officials to advocate for what they want. We can’t be silent. We have to make sure that our voices are heard.

“If you’re not at the table, you’re on the menu.” David Lyons

I, Lucy, learned that making laws takes time, effort, and patience.

This is a process. Change doesn’t always occur instantaneously. Don’t get frustrated. That won’t help. Don’t give-up. That won’t solve anything. Don’t think that your voice and/or vote doesn’t matter. It does!

“When nothing seems to help, I go and look at a stonecutter hammering away at his rock perhaps a hundred times without as much as a crack showing in it. Yet at the hundred and first blow it will split in two, and I know it was not the blow that did it - but all that had gone before.” Jacob August Riis

That’s politics. And that’s life.

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” Margaret Mead

One of the concerns I, Lucy, had about education was that teachers might not have as much input about their jobs (like salary and health care through collective bargaining). Well, not anymore, the only thing that they can possibly talk about, in terms of bargaining, is their salary.  These laws affect education, teachers, and students. We want teachers to be the best they can be.  

The topics on this day’s agenda are far-reaching, and they have a direct impact on me as an educator, as a boss, and as a father. They have a direct impact on Lucy as a student, as a learner, and who knows maybe as a future educator, too. These are some scary things that are being discussed regarding public education. A lack of school funding, striping public workers of their collective bargaining rights, and the possibility of issuing school vouchers are a sampling of the issues that have us, educators, feeling a little uneasy.

I, Lucy, want to be a teacher (grades 2nd-5th)  because I like helping people and I love kids.  I’m most excited to teach kids about writing, reading and acting with empathy towards one another no matter what color your skin is.  

Nobody goes into education for the money or the benefits. We go into education because we love kids. We go into education because we want to make a difference. And we do make a difference. We make a difference in the lives of kids each and every day. But that’s no longer enough. We’re at a crossroads, where it has become critical for us to step outside of our comfort zones. We have to advocate for ourselves. We have to advocate for our profession. We have to advocate for our kids.

Spending a day with legislators at the state Capitol was a fun way to learn about making laws.  
Some of the laws that are made have to do with teachers and education. Some laws do different things to harm or help education. We want our teachers to be the best they can be.

The day reinforced the fact that we, as educators, need to advocate on our behalf. Pick-up the phone. Share a post or a Tweet. Write a blog or a letter. We all have a voice. And we have an innumerable amount of tools at our disposal to ensure that our voices are heard. There are no excuses for remaining silent. Too much is at stake. #KidsDeserveIt

Friday, April 14, 2017

Parent Camp Reflection

Recently our school hosted a brand new event. It was our version of a Parent Camp, which is an event modeled after EdCamp professional developments for educators. I introduced the idea to our staff as an opportunity to do something new, something different, something better than what we’ve always done.

Schools need to continuously evolve in regards to how we communicate and engage with our parent communities. This is something that I am passionate about. I know the value of people’s time. From a parent’s perspective, especially, I understand. As a result, when the parents of our students are giving us their time, it should be our obligation to find ways to make that time as meaningful as possible.

Our intention was to have different conversations with our parent community once we had them within our school walls. We didn't want to talk at them; we wanted to talk with them. We didn’t want a monologue; we wanted a dialogue. We didn't want everyone to hear the exact same thing because not everyone needs and/or wants to hear the exact same thing. We wanted to differentiate for our parents like we know we need to differentiate for our teachers and differentiate for our students.

We’re a school of over 500 students. Assuming that the majority of our students have two parents, that is approximately 1,000 parents within our school community. Prior to our event, I’d thought about what number I’d be pleased with in regards to attendance. 150 parents. That was my goal.  A head count during the evening totaled 28 parents. I was dejected. At the conclusion of the evening, I was visibly dejected.

I know better. Rarely do I wear my emotions on my sleeves. But I’m human. I slipped-up. It took me a good night’s sleep and a multi-mile run in the morning, but within ten-hours I had re-embraced the positive attitude that I preach. Choose your attitude. My bad.

I'm a leader, and if I want staff and students to exhibit a positive attitude and a growth mindset then I need to model what I expect. Always. To F.A.I.L. is simply the First Attempt in Learning. Failure is a requirement when we’re talking about the process of learning. It’s NOT a reason to be ashamed.

During the Parent Camp, the conversations that I had with parents were amazing! Upon further reflection, I realize that if our Parent Camp was beneficial for one parent (and/or teacher) then it was a success. We solicited feedback from those that attended (and those that did not attend) our Parent Camp. Our feedback was positive. We received some really good ideas about the advertising, content, and timing of any future Parent Camp that we’ll host.

We’re going to try again. The positive impact that this event has the potential to produce is too great. It wouldn’t be fair to throw in the towel after just our first attempt.

“Try something new. It's OKAY to fail.” Oskar Cymerman via Educators Lead Podcast

Sunday, April 2, 2017

I Don't Like Making People Unhappy

It's hiring season.

Recently, I was in-on an interview where the candidate was asked a typical question about what do you do when a colleague, parent, etc. is unhappy with a decision you've made/something that you’ve done?

The candidate started to answer: (Pause…Smile…) “I don't like making people unhappy.” (...Awkward laughter)

Some people might not like this response. This candidate lacks the backbone needed for this job. They've got to be tough. They've got to be able to confront difficult situations. Those are some of the things that they might be thinking.

Maybe, but...maybe not. Who wants to make people unhappy? Do we want to hire someone that enjoys making people unhappy? NO!

There are certain things that must be addressed. Some of these things require fierce conversations, and sometimes they result in making other people unhappy. But that doesn't mean that we have to enjoy that process. In fact, I would be extremely uncomfortable working with someone who took satisfaction from making other people unhappy. That’s not what we should be about as educators, and that’s not what we should be about as people.

“Don't mistake my kindness for weakness.” Morgan Wright

So this hiring season (and every hiring season), let’s make sure that we are filling our vacant positions with kind people. Let’s make sure that our schools are filled with kind people. #kidsdeserveit