Keep it simple. Keep it short. I work in an awesome environment. I want to applaud the teachers and support staff so they can see how much the administration, students, parents, and community appreciate them. Easiest way to do that? Keep it simple. Keep it short. Twitter limits myself and the inspiration behind this, AnnaLisa Rodano, to 140 characters. Keep it simple. Keep it short. We have 180 days of school in NJ, so we will use each day to sing praise for our staff. Each tweet will include our hashtag, #180brags. Please follow @MrFlexon, @annalisa_rodano, and @HTWPSchools for the amazing things our teachers are doing in Harrison Twp. #keepitsimple #keepitshort #180brags #pvslearns #htslearning
I’m sitting here, 2:14pm on a Sunday while at Bethany Beach, DE. We take our vacations at the end of August to make starting school and going back to work feel extra painful. I said I wasn’t going to work digitally this week. Luckily for me, I don’t find my website or blog as work. It’s become part of my life.
I packed along a few books, Brick by Brick and Wonder, to educate and entertain myself. While sitting alone under my massive tent (my kids are crashing at the house and I’m manning the beach plot till their return), I quickly realized that I like writing when I’m inspired. I sometimes chastise too much social media usage, like who needs to see every meal I eat on vacation….BUT, maybe that is how someone expresses their enjoyment. It just happens and they are motivated to create a memory. I don’t want to Tweet this week, but I liked a few things my colleagues shared. I retweeted something, and thought about deleting it as if I compromised my vacation. Then, I realized, this is who I am now. I’m “always learning” and it’s okay to unplug for 24 hours and then post a pic on Instagram if you want. I scan the beach and I see kids playing, grandparents smiling, and mostly everyone engaged in a conversation. I also see tons of readers! I don’t see too many people on their phones, but those that are on their devices are capturing moments. Moments that when I was a kid were rarely photographed. Technology has its pros and cons, but blogging from my phone right now to share perspective is certainly one I couldn’t have imagined a few years ago. I likely won’t have a moment to write again on this trip and I’m happy to say I hope I won’t. Writing/blogging should come from the heart and saying that makes me think of our students and how much work we ask them to produce. So, think about that when you assign that piece or written response. If the kids aren’t inspired or choosing when and what to write, how great of a product can you expect?
This summer (what summer) has flown by like we typically say, especially those who are preparing for a new round of students. This is my second summer without the joy of anxiously awaiting a class list. Yet, the amount of fun I am having in my position makes it all worth it. There is never enough time, but as an administrator, I have been working either in our transforming buildings or from home. Pepper in some awesome time with my family, and you find yourself staring down 15 days till your son begins Kindergarten. My post today is nothing special, rather an update on a few things happening at work and home.
- I ripped apart a former library, dubbed the TRC (The Resource Center). A visitor last year called it the graveyard, and I agreed. Books and binders went there to die. Why are we keeping this stuff!? So, I took matters into my own hands (and arms) (thankfully not my back) and took apart the view-blocking bookcases. Our awesome VP, ELA Coordinator, and a fearless 2nd grade teacher helped me clean out the space. A dozen trash cans later and we had a nice foundation to start with. We stocked the space with some awesome materials and my partner in crime and I moved our “desks” there to be present and available. We are hoping to be awarded some grant money like we were in our other building.
- That other building, known as PVS, is getting painted tomorrow by another team of administrators (and some of their children). We received a $5,000 grant from Lowes to transform our Design Studio. With September approaching, we are pitching in to assist our busy custodial staff to assure the space looks completely different, inviting, and downright awesome. I am excited for some of the features we are adding and there will certainly be a separate blog post about the obstacles we faced to get the job done.
- As the title of the post states, I am blogging from the basement of my in-laws. It is going great. The hardest part is waking up in the morning as the darkness (abyss) of our bedroom plays tricks on the mind. My kids love that they get to share a room and I couldn’t be more grateful for the accommodations my in-laws have made for us. We moved for our children, mostly so my son could begin Kindergarten in the community we hope to stay in when we find the “forever home”. I cannot believe he is heading to school. I am excited to see what he experiences and hope to continue to see him overcome some of the difficulties he faces. He truly is the sweetest boy and loves to learn and use his imagination. His tough as nails, drama driven sister will also begin preschool this fall. I cannot wait for her to get a dose of reality! She is as sharp as a tack and quick as a whip, but authority isn’t something she quite grasps yet as a 3 year old.
- The upcoming few weeks will be gone before I know it. We take a vacation next week, and then it is go time. I have a few great things to look forward to. First, I am awaiting a date for publication about our work with Student Edcamps. Next, I told my wife today we need to get new passports (mine expired). The reason? Well, hopefully so I can take her on a vacation sooner than later without the kids. But, also, I aim to apply to become a Google Innovator and the upcoming academy locations are in Sweden or Brazil. I need to narrow down my many ideas to create an innovation project. Hopefully, I can apply what I learned through my Master’s program (diploma in the mail) to the situation.
Signing off from the basement.
A few weeks ago I earned my (1st) Master’s Degree in Digital Learning and Leading. It brought my blog some serious reflections. That being said, there is never time to celebrate and feel like things will just fall into your lap. A part of me is always on, always thinking. It is a blessing and a curse being a workaholic, but I am thankful I have so much work to be done. I have also written about the process of putting my house up for sale. That came and went incredibly quick! My family moved out of our (1st) home and are currently residing with my in-laws, yup, for the (1st) time. The move went relatively smoothly, but I am a bit exhausted from the storage unit trips, late nights calming the kids down, and the early mornings with the dog in a new home. I guess I picked a great time to organize and run the (1st) STEM Camp for my school district last week!
With the assistance of two phenomenal 2nd grade teachers, we welcomed 27 rising 3rd and 4th graders. Please note, they got me the shirt! They were so excited about camp that it gave me some faith in my plan. I am ambitious, maybe crazy, and I handed the kids a robotics kit with a few hundred parts that needed to be assembled from the ground up. DISCLAIMER! When I ordered the kits I deemed it age appropriate, but when the kits arrived the boxes said 13 & up! Luckily for us, the kids embraced this. My most recent teaching style was about student discovery with limited help from me. I wanted to find their “breaking point”. Both teachers thanked me for showing them this style, something they would have never done, but you’ll find out why it was worth it.
It took my 5 year old son and myself about 2 hours to complete the robot, so I thought we would certainly get it done over 4 days at camp. Enter reality, at the end of the camp, one kit was fully assembled by a 4th grader, but she had not wired it to work properly and another student had his completely operational, but the controller was not finished entirely. Let’s split the difference and call it 1 out of 27. So, my camp was a failure….Right? If these were PARCC scores or any state assessment that you may deal with, 1/27 would be grounds for removal from the classroom. Some were incredibly close to finishing and refused to give up, some decided they would tackle it at home and went on to have tons of fun in our Design Studio using Bloxels and other materials. Others, I could tell they gave up and maybe this just wasn’t their cup of tea. Sounds about right, school/camp was fun for most, not for all, but we still failed the TEST. Still seems like we failed in our first camp, doesn’t it?
Or did we? Here are a few words from kids.
“I am going home today and finishing this!”
“I am visiting family in Pittsburgh today, and I am going to show my grandfather this once I see him.”
“If it doesn’t work, I guess I will take it apart and start over.”
“I wish I paid more attention in the beginning, losing that one part is holding me back!”
“I don’t care if it works or not, I learned how not to quit.”
“This was one of the hardest things I have ever done. Why didn’t you do more for us?”
The last quote hits you like a ton of breaks. To give perspective, each one of the teachers was probably called by name a few hundred times at camp for help. Half of those occurrences, the learners had not even tried to do what they were asking. They wanted results over the experience, but they soon learned that we were not giving them what they wanted. Kids say what is on their mind, especially during a camp in the summer. Their unfiltered feedback left myself and my two colleagues (certainly friends now) smiling and realizing we did more than expose these learners to STEM. We acted as CHANGE agents and I hope I influenced these teachers to break the molds come September.
“Why didn’t you do more for us?”
If a student or multiple students are saying this, don’t blame them. Blame the sage on the stage spoon-feeding answers, but don’t blame that teacher like it is their fault. They are doing what they were told to do. They are probably working extremely hard to learn all those answers. I was that guy spitting out knowledge once. I increased my background knowledge as much as possible to always help my learners. Yet, I wasn’t helping them. Today, I still answer questions, but only when they push kids beyond their personal boundaries. I answered that student at camp about why I did not help them more. I told them that I did a lot for them. I gave them the feeling of failure. I gave them a reason to figure something out on their own. Together, we gave each other an experience that was amazing.
The 3rd grade student who had to disassemble his robot with 1.5 hours left in camp and managed to operate it sold one of the teachers to the method behind our madness. I wish I had her enthusiasm on video, but I am glad she grabbed a picture of the finished robot!
“This makes it all worth it!”
One student accomplished the ultimate goal. 1 out of 27, remember that?. Failure for sure, right? I felt that way to be honest. However, the high-fives, hugs, and cards from parents made me realize we made the impact we hoped for. In the real world, if you threw 27 thinkers in a room, and one came out with a billion dollar idea, I bet the facilitator would be more than pleased. For us, our company is not netting billions of dollars, but these kids are priceless!