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The Day My Student Asked “Are YOU Proud?”

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As I remember, I was just getting back home after a long day of teaching and coaching. It was around 2005 and I had been teaching and coaching for almost 10 years at this point. Every day I loved that my life was filled with a passion to teach, a classroom of passionate learners, a passion to coach, and players who were passionate to learn. Very few people understand how fulfilling life can be when you have these things. I believed that I had it all, and that I was emotionally “on top of the world”!

That is, until this day. Upon entering my house, my wife greeted me with a message that would end up driving my passion for teaching further than I ever thought it could. It was a very simple message that started it all, “You need to call- Mrs. Stone. Here is her number.”

“Mrs. Stone? Who is that?” I remember stating. My wife gave me little information, other than it was important to call back, it had something to do with a past student. Stone? Could only be David Stone, and exactly like a parent getting a phone call about their child, the thoughts rolled into my mind- Is he ok? Does he need my help? Has something tragic happened to him? Why would his mother be calling me? What had happened? …… You see, David was a 5th grade student of mine at Anastasia ES in Long Branch. He wasn’t a struggling student. He was one of my top students. One of those students with great parents and a solid foundation to be successful. But that was 5 or six years prior and by my calculations he would be a Sophomore or Junior in HS. What could have happened? I had moved to another district shortly after he graduated from my class and I was in the midsts of stamping my footprints at VMES in Brick, NJ. While I always thought (and continue to do so) of past students and how they are doing…. getting a call like this was troubling.

As soon as I was able to make contact with Mrs. Stone, my fears were put aside when she assured me that everything was alright. We had a couple minutes of updating conversation, followed by the reason for the call. She would have rather had David personally call me, but he was busy and since time was of the essence, she was making the call on behalf of him. David was doing extremely well both academically and athletically, and he wanted to ask for my attendance during his induction into the National Honor Society. Each inductee was to choose the person they felt was most influential in their academic career, and ask for their attendance. While the choice to be in attendance was an easy one, I did not know the impact it would have on me!

I don’t remember how many days went by before I was to attend the ceremony, but I do remember feeling on cloud nine just for the fact that a student chose me, out of all his teachers, parents, coaches, and role models, as the one who most influenced him! That knowledge, in itself, is what makes it all worthwhile! It was great to be able to talk with colleagues about these recent events. It was a great drive back into Long Branch, and it was great to walk into an auditorium and see colleagues and parents that I hadn’t seen in years, but nothing prepared me for the moment that David stepped up to the microphone, not just to be inducted, but to make a speech about his “Person Who Influenced Them”.

David started his speech with a simple question to the audience- “Are You Proud?”  He paused and waited……when he continued, he spoke of how I had asked these three simple words every time he handed something in when he was in 5th Grade. He spoke of the power of having to look me in the eyes and answer this one simple question. He spoke about how these three simple words began to impact everything he did. He spoke of hearing these three simple words constantly being asked of himself for anything he did. He spoke of the impact academically these three simple words had for every homework assignment, school project, or paper he had to write. He spoke of taking these three simple words into his athletic pursuits, workouts, and daily practices to make himself better. He spoke of the impact these three simple words had in leading him to the place he currently stood. He spoke of how these three simple words were going to take him down the path of success in life. It was moving, it was powerful, and it was inspiring!  Then he turned, looked in my direction, and simply asked…….

“Mr. Lowe……..Are YOU Proud?”

(Yes, Mr. Stone……..I am!)

As teachers, we always talk about  inspiring students, providing safe learning environments, and being positive role models, but what Mr. Stone taught me was that even 3 simple words could change the world for my students. It is not about a special project or a well developed lesson. It is not about the homework, classwork, or the ten page paper. It is not about a passing grade, benchmark tests, or standardized tests. It is about THE STUDENTS! I learned that I had to be cognizant of EVERYTHING I said and did around my kids. Mr. Stone inspired me to be a better teacher not just everyday, but every second of every day in the classroom!

While there were many factors in education that were out of my control as a teacher, when students entered my class, they became my kids. I had control of this, and my expectations of them. I believe that when teachers have high expectations, treat students fairly, and support them as individuals- the students will have the same for you as a teacher! Inspiration is a two way street in a well designed classroom!

I thank you, Mr. Stone. It was my passion to touch every life that became a part of my class. It was a privilege to have touched yours. It was inspiring for you, my student, to have touched mine!

- Edward Lowe

Please Feel Free to Share, Like, or Comment!!

I am looking for submissions from anyone willing to share your stories of inspiration in Education!!

Email me at ojlowe@optonline.net

What Drives Success Stories in Today’s Classrooms?

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The first “Story of Success” comes from a former colleague of mine that brings up some great discussion points about what exactly is meant by success in the classroom. While not necessarily a story, I am choosing to lead with this because it sheds light on what is going on in today’s classrooms, and I couldn’t agree more, which supports my belief that this will be a great platform for teachers, students, and parents to share and discuss what they experienced as SUCCESS! She also discusses the increasing struggle to provide successful moments in today’s classrooms. While I would argue that teachers have the ability to control what and how things are done in their classrooms, I am also understanding of the demands and expectations that are put on teachers today that I was not exposed to prior to leaving the classroom only 3 years ago. I included a video at the end as an example to show how teachers are fearful of losing their jobs.

Below is her story:

“Success stories for teachers are an intangible thing. Intuitively, we know they happen, but because of our definition of success, we may rarely, if ever, truly witness it as it happens.

Many years ago, while seeking my first teaching job, I was crafting what I hoped would be the perfect resume. Right beneath my name was the most important line of text: Objective.

What was my objective? To obtain a job as an elementary school teacher? No, that’s plainly obvious because the only people reading my resume are screening teaching applicants.

I knew my objective had to reflect my perspective on teaching. I finally settled on something like this – To help develop and nurture a love of learning within my students that reaches beyond the classroom and affects all aspects of their lives.

A lofty goal? Perhaps. But if we’re being honest with our definition of success and our objectives as teachers, it fairly accurately sums up or hopes and aspirations.

So how do we know when it happens? There’s no fireworks, no confetti, and no applause. (Well, that last one’s not entirely true. Occasionally, something rare, unexpected, and surprising happens that causes the class to erupt into laughter and applause, often at my expense).

Teachers are intrinsically motivated. Our success is most commonly experienced internally. When I share a novel with my students that I loved as a child, and craft that experience so it includes opportunities for sharing, predicting, imagining, and experimenting with possibilities, the payoff is immeasurable.

When I help my students to see that history is all around them, pointing out the obscure and unnoticed people, places, and things that are hiding in plain sight, I feel like I’ve accomplished something important.

And when I get them to try something new, I’m a rock star. For some, it’s reading their first novel from cover to cover. For others, it’s completing a complex mathematical algorithm they thought impossible. And for a few, it’s simply raising their hand and taking a risk to answer a question in a room full of peers.

My success story happens every day when I get up and go to work because these things happen less frequently each and every day. My job has become highly scripted and incredibly inflexible. I have to prepare them to take a test rather than prepare them for life. Every day I ask them to do things I know they are not developmentally ready to do, all the while telling them that I know they can do this if they just try hard enough.

I spend my time looking through standardized test questions and selecting the lessons that are most likely to help them pass the test. I look for websites that practice the skills they need to be proficient. And I mine for data, trying to decipher which student would benefit from which prescriptive remedy.

So why do I do it day after day, year after year? Because, despite it all, there are still small moments of success that give me enough motivation to come back and do it all again.”

- Suzanne Flick Kurasz

While Suzanne and I were never “partner” teachers, we worked in the same building that felt like a second home, and I have witnessed her being successful in the classroom. For many years, under some great leadership, our family of teachers would constantly collaborate with each other, no matter what grade level you were engaged in. It saddens me to learn that for her and others in this same building- teaching has become a “Job” that “has become highly scripted and incredibly inflexible”. In the end, my former colleague offers the “Light at the End of the Tunnel” that student success and inspiration is the power behind her efforts every day in the classroom. Hopefully, one day, education will return to the days where inspiration and success of our students is the focus!

If you have a story of your own, please email me at ojlowe@optonline.net to be included in this ongoing discussion.

Thank you, Suzanne, for sharing your insight.

Please feel free to Share, Like, or Comment

Below, see a teacher choose not to defend himself from a student. Is it for fear of losing his job?

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Educational Reform- Let’s Start HERE!

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There are many thoughts and ideas about improving the educational system in the US, and with that, there have been many to take the podium on how to properly fix it. We have gone from individual state standards to the present day implementation (almost) of the Common Core State Standards. We went through No Child Left Behind, which, unfortunately, pushed every student ahead- whether they were ready or not. Sometimes the answer to a problem is so close that we actually look past it. We have made educating our kids much to complex- from standards, to Higher Order Thinking Skills- we have forgotten  that in its simplest terms, it needs to be ALL ABOUT OUR STUDENTS!

Don’t misunderstand my message. It is great to have standards, it is great to provide Higher Order Thinking Skills, and it is great to even have Bloom’s Taxonomy. However, none of these items will be the constant that provides success to our students in today’s classroom and the future educational system. These are all tools to build upon in delivering an environment in which a child can be successful in, but we have lost sight of the true foundation it must be built upon. So while we are implementing these policies, the foundation upon which we build continues to crumble.

AThe foundation to learning for any individual is to have them inspired and passionate to learn. If we were able to create the perfect environment where the CCSS were implemented with properly trained teachers who had the best of the best content materials, both digital and in print, there would still be no guarantee that a student will learn. What has been forgotten is the power and influence a teacher can have on a student. While most say that teachers do a lot more than babysit, there is no denying that it is all teachers are given credit for. With that being said, I will be dedicating my blog to tell stories from fellow teachers and myself regarding some of the most inspirational and uplifting stories of how they personally touched the lives of their students and how students touched their lives. While each and every person can name the teacher or teachers that most influenced us in our lives, how many of us can do the same for a textbook, standard, politician, or trending reform project? The truth is that teachers are the backbone to our educational system, and we have to get back to focusing on supporting the power within each teacher to inspire the students they educate!

If you are a teacher or a student with an inspiring story that you would like me to include in the series: Please send me your story along with a picture to ojlowe@optonline.net

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Thank you- and as always, please Share, Like, and Comment.

3 Issues of “Age Appropriate” when it comes to Technology?

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A close friend and colleague posted the following which led to an interesting conversation and plenty of eye-opening feedback:

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In today’s ever-evolving world of technology, with the ability to bring information and knowledge to its user- What is Age Appropriate when it comes to Technology? The following are 3 issues to contemplate when providing technology into the hands of your kids.

Identify The Benefit of Use

“I give it to them to keep them busy and out of my hair,” is NOT an acceptable reason in terms of good parenting. Sorry-but there must be a purpose for your child to have a tablet or smartphone. Anytime you put technology, or anything new, into the hands of a child, they will be engaged. Something as simple as a new pen can be just as engaging as a tablet. Granted, the tablet is visually much more stimulating. However, depending on the situation, the pen may offer more engagement to a child with the simple addition of your attention coupled with a stack of blank paper. An iPad may offer apps, but you must make sure that the apps are specific to challenge and engage your child. Make sure it is meaningful to them- If they love music, make sure music and instrument apps are available. If they like to build, make sure they are engaged in something that will expand their interest, like MineCraft!

Simply handing them, or getting them, a phone or tablet does not guarantee engagement or a pleasurable experience. The tools should not be used just to occupy the interest and time of your children so you can “relax”. Social media has opened the door to a paradox of social engagement that we must keep a close eye on. A high number of teenagers admit that they feel more accepted online than in real life, but an even higher percentage say they have seen or been a part of cyberbullying someone online! It is a tool that can provide powerful information and knowledge, or deadly sadness and regret to your kids. Make sure technology is not used as a replacement of you- as true interaction between parent and child can NEVER be replaced!

Changing the “When I Grew Up…..” Mind-frame.

Does the image below bring you back to the era when cell phones were first introduced?


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“If someone needs to contact me, they will find a way or they can wait till I get home!” sound familiar?  Making decisions on whether or not technology will have a true use in the future is difficult to understand when we have no past scenario or use case to make decisions from. It didn’t take long to understand the necessity of a cell phone if you were involved in the business world where deals take place at a moments notice and millions can be lost if you failed to stay in contact. Many parents today say “Who does my son/daughter need to communicate with at 8, 10, or 12?”- Sound Familiar? “There is no reason for my child to have a $200, $300, $400+ toy to play with.”- or is there?

Think about yourself- Why did you end up with a cell/smart phone? It wasn’t because they became smaller in size. It helped to solve a need in your life, or more importantly, a need created by a society moving to mobile technology. For all, it is a simple need to stay in touch- with family, with friends, with news, with business. Most of us, as adults, do not truly use the full power that can be utilized with technology. We talk about what it can deliver in terms of knowledge, information, and education- but always about delivering to the younger generations. Why, though, don’t adults of all ages also take advantage of the knowledge and information it can deliver? Adults become silo-ed into relying on what worked for them growing up. Unfortunately, the younger generations are growing up in a world that is unlike anything in history. If we try to raise our children by the same standards that we were raised, the younger generation will be competing globally at a huge disadvantage. If you choose to withhold technology from your children- It will be like sending your children with a bicycle to race against those who own a motorcycle!

Level of Responsibility

Understand that simply buying an expensive device for your child does NOT make you a responsible parent. However, a level of responsibility is needed for parents to understand when a child may borrow a device from the parent, or when the parent may actually purchase a device for the child! Every child is different, and when to place technology into their hands will be different for each child, even in the same family. Age is a factor, but should not be a deterrent. Can a 7-year-old have a new iPhone? If there is an identified benefit and he or she shows the maturity to care for a device properly, then why not? However, if your child is willing to run out onto a basketball court with their new $500 iPhone in hand, does it matter what age they are? What they are showing you is a lack of responsibility, and thus should not have an expensive device purchased for them.

Once you recognize that there are huge benefits for your child’s future in putting technology into their hands, and change your mindset to be open to providing it, it only leaves you to decide what, when, and how to provide it. This is about providing support for your child’s future, not providing for your child’s happiness. This is about providing better education options for your child, not providing for your child what you did not have yourself.

Conclusion

Once you understand the true benefits to your child’s future using technology and change your mind-frame to what the world will be through your child’s eyes, you will only need to determine what level of responsibility your child can handle. Parents must stop trying to be their child’s “Best Friend” and focus on being their “Best Parent”. It can be this simple. Your focus, as a best friend, is to provide happiness. Developing responsibility is recognized to be an adult to child teaching- parents, teachers, coaches, etc.- and becomes foggy when parents are more interested in being their best friends. Being a parent means more than being a friend- and with it, comes great responsibility. Use the situation to teach about responsibility if needed. There is nothing wrong with telling your child “NO, you will have to borrow mine”, but it is better for their future to tell them “Yes, but only when you display the level of responsibility to own one.” Your child will either rise to the challenge and develop the maturity, or they will confirm the lack of responsibility by simply displaying it.

What are your thoughts?

Please feel free to Share, Like, and Comment Below!

2014 in review

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The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2014 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

The Louvre Museum has 8.5 million visitors per year. This blog was viewed about 140,000 times in 2014. If it were an exhibit at the Louvre Museum, it would take about 6 days for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

Focus- A New Concept Saving Education?

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It has been almost 3 years since I personally left my classroom. In that time, I have learned that the disconnect between the educational classroom and the real world is much bigger than I ever thought possible. The influential experts in the real-world, most who have little to no experience in the classroom itself, are truly on their own agenda and have lost complete focus. Between the political government and the educational agenda influencers, there exists a public relations nightmare for each and every one of our classrooms and each and every one of our students. The propaganda of failing schools and the decline of the American Educational System has spread like the plague from sea to shining sea. Our focus has been diverted to testing and data that is irrelevant and skewed rather than solving and providing the proper solutions for the needs of our teachers and students.  Below are just a few thoughts I have had in the past 3 years:

1. International Comparisons- China has ranked #1 for the last two PISA reports, so shouldn’t we then copy what they do to be successful? Well, if you understood that China selects a targeted group who are then taught simply to be successful test takers of the PISA- then you would understand how idiotic that would be. I’m not saying we shouldn’t pay attention to PISA testing, but to use it to say we are failing because we are not #1 is ludicrous. We never were #1, and as a matter of fact, we have fluctuated around the same number every year on average: Math=30th, Reading=19th, Science=23rd. It is a measuring stick for us to use, but what we should be doing is learning from other successful nations and look to incorporate ideas that help to make them successful into our system. Hmmm, simply allowing COLLABORATION of different but successful educational systems?

2. Common Core- If you knew that students in New Jersey were given an advantage for post secondary acceptance that would lead to better job opportunities over the students from say Alabama, what would you say? What if you lived in Alabama and learned that your adopted State Standards simply weren’t as rigorous as those in NJ? This inequality exists today. The Common Core State Standards have been blurred by negative propaganda that clouds what the initial goal was to be: National Standards for every student across the board to level the playing field. It also brought a better system of less standards for deeper mastery, or in learning terms, spending more time in areas of need to allow true knowledge, thinking, and understanding rather than memorization. Hmmm, provide students the opportunity to not just learn, but truly understand concepts with multiple ways of thinking- while leveling the playing field for all students in the US?

3. Technology- Today’s students are “Digital Natives” who must learn on technology in order to be successful for future jobs that will be created, right? If this statement is true, then how is it the my generation is able to be successful in a technology infused world when we did not learn on technology? The main objective for any teacher is to best support their students to be self thinkers who are motivated to be successful and think outside the box. From the textbook to the TV, there have been many examples of innovations that were going to provide a better education to our students, yet many fail to realize that these are simply tools to support education, not the answer to. Technology, whether tablets, laptops, or data analytics, should also be looked at in the same fashion. They will support learning in the classroom for both the teacher and the student. However, it has more potential and possibilities in supporting our teachers and students. One that can supply individualized learning with adaptive software that can meet each student with work that will challenge and support exactly where and when the student needs. It is not the use of technology in the classroom that can provide a better education, but rather the data from the use that can be collected and analyzed on a student and teacher that can help. Hmmm, use technology to collect data, analyze, and report correlations to standards and learning per individual student and teacher to provide both with relevant information and path to improve from?

4. Focus- International Comparisons, Common Core, and Technology seems to be the focus of everyone to improve the American Education System, and were the first three concerns here. If our focus to improve our system are on these “outside factors”, then we will never be successful through any lens. The media and politicians have allowed the focus to be drawn to data that truly has no bearing on student success or failure.  The focus should be on the students. This truly is a simple concept of which the research has backed up consistently. Students who come from stable homes with good socio-economic environments are more likely to be successful in school. Students attending properly funded schools who feel supported by teachers, staff, administration, parents, and surrounding community are more likely to be successful in school. Students who are properly cared for with three nutritious meals a day, proper grooming, appropriate physical activities, and a safe home to sleep in are more likely to be successful in school. Students who feel safe in their school environment, especially in their classroom are more likely to be successful in school. Hmmm, focusing on supplying supportive environments at home and a safe environment where students feel supported in schools can help student achievement?

Education has always been about the Student. Education needs to focus on what counts and what truly matters. If we lose focus on the student, it is they who become lost! While the PISA scores are important to track for comparison, focusing on raising the scores will not result in positive gains. While the implementation of Common Core State Standards can provide better guidelines and a better baseline for comparisons, focusing on standards will not raise scores either. While technology has the potential to change the classroom as we know it with exciting and engaging possibilities, it is worthless without a student who is inspired and supported to use it.  Should we focus on developing the best educational environments, both inside and outside the brick walls, focus on providing the supportive environments at home, and focus on supporting the student mind to think freely and engage in learning- We will deliver students who are successful in life! Hmmm, focusing on students so that they can be successful in life……….Is this a new concept?

The Educational Gap No One Wants You To Know About!

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For all of my years teaching, there were always worries about the educational gap that exists between race and wealth. While the general public recognizes and admits the existence of the educational gap between the wealthy and the poor, most of the focus in education has been to decrease the gap between races over the last 40-50 years. Recently, however, while the gap between races continues to decline, the gap between the wealthy and the poor has grown at an alarming rate! If this trend continues, we will continue to see disparaging gap grow between the wealthy and the poor, not only in education, but in the loss of the middle class. In an article published by The New York Times, Sabrina Tavernise discusses research studies at both Stanford and Michigan that show the gap of standardized reading scores, and college completion nearly doubling between the wealthy and the poor. Even scarier is that the data collected was prior to 2008 which means these numbers do not account for the recent recession and its effects. The question remains about why the gap concerning wealth continues to rise while the gap concerning the races continues to fall? I believe there is one easy answer……..Technology. While “Middle-Class America” begins to boast about the technology that is now becoming a part of everyday life for its school kids, it is “Upper-Class America” that has quietly had access to fully functional technology for the past 20 years in their classrooms. Let us also not forget that “Lower-Class America” continues to simply dream of getting working technology into its classrooms. While many people will not think this a big deal- an education is an education, whether from a book or a computer- consider the fact that the job market has been flooded with technology and will continue to.

Technology Gap

I love the headline mantra that “Our Educational System is not preparing our students for the jobs of the future…”, yet in the same breath these same individuals know “we don’t even know what those jobs will be or look like in 20 years.” One thing we do know is that computers will be a part of the future and future jobs. If we all agree on this one point, then why is it only upper-class students who are provided with a technology rich environment? Why are we missing the boat that this inequality possesses the potential to create a devastating gap that can bring an end to the Middle Class? Even though it has been 60 years since the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka ruling to desegregate Public Schools, the African-American population continues to overcome the educational gap between races today. The ramifications of the Technology Gap and its effects on the educational gap between classes will be staggering. The gap between the Have and the Have Nots will become a combination of both wealth and education. This is a deadly combination that could eliminate the Middle Class, which already shows signs of expiration with the growing gap in wealth. The path to recovery must be taken quickly, or there will be an unattainable mountain climb in the near future. In 60 years, we have not overcome the educational gap with students getting equal textbook materials, how long will it take to overcome a Technology Gap that continues to grow? Please Like, Share, or Comment below!

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