Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Summer Refresh & Learn

At this point, it has been summer for several weeks.  For many, summer vacation starts in mid-May, others not until mid-June, and some of you, depending on your position or district, may still be in session.  Whenever you may have started your break (if you are yet to start), summer vacation is a time of resting, relaxing, traveling, and many other things that may not necessarily directly relate to improving yourself professionally.  However, summer is also a great time to become a better educator, with opportunities galore for conferences, engaging online (ex. Twitter chats), and catching up on some reading.  As of this writing, my time is running out, with only about 4 weeks left until it is back to the grindstone on August 1.  

A quick side note: I knew that going into administration would mean reporting back to school earlier than teachers.  My contract is a 10-month contract, whereas teachers work a 9-month contract.  Other administrators work an 11-month contract, and some never get the glorious summer vacation, working a 12-month contract.  To constrict my time off this summer more is the shifting of the calendar for my school district.  In the past, the district always let out for winter break in late December, with two weeks of the first semester to complete upon return after New Years.  My district shifted the calendar to make sure that the semester and grading periods are complete BEFORE going on winter break, thus starting a new semester after the New Year and eliminating that tedious time of getting students back into the routine, only to have semester exams.  To make it even better, now the school year will end prior to Memorial Day at the end of May.  I am definitely in favor of a short summer this year to be done with the year early in the future!

Since I finished my school year on June 14, my summer has been both business and pleasure, but it is definitely leaned more toward the pleasure side.  Immediately after my year ended, I attended a leadership institute offered by my district.  The institute consisted of two parts: the first session was on building school culture, something that I have been reading more about in George Couros' book The Innovative Mindset (more on that later), with the second session on student learning goals.  As a newish administrator, I have a lot of things that will be coming at me this fall that I simply did not have the experience within the few short months at the end of this past year.  My administrative team showed me the ropes on a lot of things and I learned a great deal, but next year I will be expected to jump off of the high dive and swim around the deep end, not just simply float around the shallow end.  The school culture and student learning goals session in the leadership institute not only gave me the opportunity to learn more about what will be expected of me this fall, but it gave me an opportunity to meet other administrators in my district, interact in a professional setting, ask questions of those with more experience, and make connections in which to refer to colleagues in the future.  My biggest takeaway: school culture starts with good intentions, but does not go anywhere without action and buy in.  

I also had the opportunity to provide professional development for administrators in my district, along with some good friends in Lucas Leavitt, Margie Zamora, Heidi Carr, Keith Thomsen, Jody Myers, and got to meet a great dude in Nick de Buyl, who flew from Kansas City to represent Pear Deck.  Together, we presented a variety of technology tools for administrators.  Some tools were presented as ones that would directly affect administrators' daily work grind, whereas others were presented as tools to share with the staff of their school to implement in the classroom.  Over the course of two days, over 100 administrators attended two of the two events, with a lot of positive feedback and hope for future opportunities.  CUE-NV is already excited to plan the next event, but first, the Silver State Technology Conference on September 29-30 (sign up for this event for numerous edtech sessions, two keynote speakers in Ari Flewelling and Ben Cogswell, vendors, lunch, and so much more!  If you'd like to present, submit a proposal!).  

As for the pleasure side of my summer, I have experienced several things that I have never done before.  The best was the trip that my wife and I took to Seattle for our 9th anniversary.  We had never been to Seattle before, my mother flew into Las Vegas to take care of our kids, and we spent 4 days experiencing an amazing city.  It also happened that the Detroit Tigers were there playing the Seattle Mariners, so we took in a couple of games at Safeco Field (the Tigers lost both, they're in freefall mode, tough to watch this year, but Safeco is amazing).  We ate some great seafood, saw some cool sites like the Space Needle and took a harbor cruise, got to see Michael Che perform comedy that was nothing like his Weekend Update sketches on Saturday Night Live, samples some great beers from Elysian Brewing and Pike Brewing, and experienced coffee on a whole new level at several places, especially the Starbucks Reserve Roastery and Tasting Room (didn't go to the original Starbucks in Pike Market, hotel concierge told us to skip that for the roastery).  I made a short video with a few pictures, but there were way too many pictures to choose from, and as I am not much of a picture guy (I am more for experiencing the moment rather than trying to take pictures), my wife has a lot of pictures that I did not have access too, and at the time of this writing, she is in Mexico (more on that in a moment too).  


Upon returning from Seattle, my wife and I had a few days to relax before we both went out separate ways... in traveling that is!  Mary is currently in Guadalajara, Jalisco, Mexico working with orphaned kids.  As a speech pathologist, she gets to work with non-verbal and delayed children for 10 days as a volunteer.  Not only does she get to experience the joys of volunteering and serving an amazing cause, but she gets to experience a culture and a country in which she has never experienced before;  I couldn't be more proud of her!  As for me, I packed up the Durango and the camper and hauled our kids to my parents' place in Northern California.  While Mary was flying to Mexico and settling into her hotel in Guadalajara, I drove 650 miles through rural Nevada to Reno, then three more hours to my parents' place near Redding, CA.  Grand total, after stops, it took us about 11 and a half hours.  For the past few days, I have been a single parent, but having a ton of fun with my kids that would be a lot different if my wife was here.  We will be spending a few more days in CA before we head over to Reno for the weekend.  My parents will bring the kids back to CA while I spend one more day in Reno.  My wife will be flying back from Mexico to Las Vegas, spend a day to get her things in order before getting onto another plane to Reno where I will pick her up and reunite her with our kids after being away for 11 days.  The kids will certainly be surprised! 

So what does my summer have left prior to heading back to work?  I am almost done with The Innovator's Mindset by George Couros, which is a great read and a must for anybody looking to improve their teaching and leadership skills.  Once I finish that, I am going to read Teach Like a Pirate by Dave Burgess with the goal of taking some of the lessons highlighted by the book and presenting it to the teachers in which I get to work with this fall.  I will also be heading out on a couple of different camping excursions.  One of which will be a couple of nights in Lassen Volcanic National Park, about an hour from my parents' house.  Another will be a few nights near Monterey, which I planned out to coincide with CUE LDI (Leadership Development Institute), a great opportunity to improve my leadership skills and network with so many that I look up to and call friends.  On the way back home, there may be a quick stop in Sequoia National Park, just depends on how fast the family wants to get home.  

Regardless of what lies ahead in the remaining weeks of summer, I can ascertain that it will be relaxing, but with a great deal of learning at the same time.  I look forward to what will pan out and what the coming school year is going to bring.  

Until next time... 

Thursday, May 18, 2017

The Time is Now!

In the description of my blog, I describe it as a place where I will share tips, tricks, rants, and wisecracks about life, education, politics, and everything in between.  Typically, I stick to the educational aspect of that description.  However, there have been a few occasions in which I have strayed from education to address something else that I am passionate about.  This post will be one of the latter.  If you are expecting a post dealing strictly with education, you may stop reading now, but I encourage you to keep going, as I believe that this is something that is of the utmost importance and can have a very strong impact on our lives as professional educators and for our students, colleagues, families, and communities.  

 On September 22, 1981, my mother, after hours of excruciating pain and suffering, gave birth to me (I've never asked her what her labor for me was like, so that may be a stretch, but after watching my wife give birth to our two children, I think I have a pretty good idea).  I was born in the 1980s, so technically I could be referred to as an 80s baby, but I definitely identify more as a 90s kid.  The 1990s is when I completed the bulk of my schooling, grew to my current height of 6'2" by the age of 14, and eventually graduated from high school in 2000.  Some of my biggest influences during this time came from the music of the era.  My mother has always listened to country, my father turned me on to classic rock.  To this day, I still listen to classic rock, much preferring it to most of the "music" of today.  I still appreciate a lot of the older country and what I grew up listening to with my mom (Garth Brooks, John Michael Montgomery, and Alan Jackson are still some of my favorites), but most of what is considered country music today does not appeal to me. By the time I had reached about 5th grade, I began to explore other types of music and really was turned on to harder rock and metal, especially the "Seattle sound", the grunge movement.  

Grunge had everything that I wanted as a preadolescent and teenager: it was loud, it was aggressive, it was something that my mom hated.  Bands like Pearl Jam, Alice in Chains, Nirvana, and Soundgarden kicked out album after album of tunes that I still listen to almost daily (Lithium on SiriusXM plays all of the 90s grunge and alternative, without commercials, and my car radio rarely strays).  Many songs spoke to me musically, others spoke to me lyrically ("You, my friend, I will defend, and if we change, I'll love you anyway."  -No Excuses by Alice in Chains).  Because of my love for the music that I grew up with, you can only imagine the shock when, as driving to work, I learned of the death of Soundgarden and Audioslave frontman Chris Cornell's death.  

Chris Cornell's final tweet, just hours before his death
Upon learning of Cornell's death, instantly I was overcome with shock, grief, and disbelief.  How can a man so young, after playing a show before a sold-out crowd at the Fox Theater in Detroit, only hours before tweeting out how excited he was to be back in Detroit for a show, have passed away so suddenly and unexpectedly?  Unfortunately, after a few seconds of letting the news settle in, I had some ideas of what could have happened.  My first thought was a drug overdose.  It wasn't a secret that Chris Cornell had struggled with addiction throughout most of his life.  And sadly, way too many artists, musicians, and others that live their life in the limelight have their lives snuffed out way before their time because of addiction.  My second thought was that it was suicide.  Cornell also struggled with depression, which probably was partially why he had also struggled with drug addiction.  My thoughts were confirmed later in the day when multiple sources had confirmed that medical examiners had indeed ruled his death a suicide.  

I cannot even begin to pretend I know what had happened, why it happened, etc.  What I do know is that too many people struggle with addiction and depression in our world, and there aren't nearly enough resources to help people.  There is also the stigma of addiction and depression.  I recall listening to a recent episode of the Eagle Nation Podcast (the podcast for Team RWB, an amazing veterans' organization that seeks to bring veterans and their communities together through physical and social activity) where the guest on the episode talked about the difference between physical illness/injury and mental illness.  If you broke your arm, there would be no question whatsoever that you would visit a doctor, get your arm set and cast, be prescribed medication to prevent pain and infection, and you would follow up with a doctor to make sure that your arm healed properly.  Mental illness is different; those with mental illness were treated like criminals, housed in horrific prisons, for hundreds of years.  The stigma of mental illness still exists today where people are judged, people are afraid to talk about it, and most won't seek help, hoping they can "deal with it."  

Again, I can't say I know anything about Chris Cornell's circumstances.  Maybe he was seeking help, maybe he wasn't.  Maybe he was sober, fighting his addiction, maybe he had fallen off of the wagon.  As someone that deals with depression (see my previous post, Highs & Lows), I can definitely identify with bouts of sadness, feelings of worthlessness, and other symptoms that are common with depression.  With the help of a therapist and people that I love and care about, I have been doing much better. 

The whole idea of writing this post was to outline how important it is to do these three things:
  • Tell the people that you care about that you care.  Make an effort every day to tell somebody that you appreciate them and that you are glad to have them in your life.  
  • Encourage those people to never be afraid to talk to you if something is bothering them or they are struggling (I struggle sharing my own feelings at times, it's a work in progress).  This is especially important as educators to show our students that we care about them.  
  • Celebrate the accomplishments of those in your life and encourage during times of struggle.  
The time to remove the stigma of addiction and mental illness was a long time ago, but since we cannot jump into a Delorean with Doc and Marty to change things then, the time for change is now!  And while we are at it, we can celebrate the contributions that Chris Cornell made to society through his music and philanthropy.  And I know that for all of us, he took the moment to "say hello to heaven."  Until next time...