A Different Graduation Message
May 21, 2021
If you have a graduate in your house, you have probably spent some time picking out a new outfit: a dress, a suit, new shoes. Something special for your graduate to wear on their special day. You may have planned a celebration with family and friends. You may have put together a video or scrapbook to remember your graduate from the first day of kindergarten until this moment. The focus is on the graduate - their accomplishments and their future.
But I want to take a few moments to focus on the parents, guardians, grandparents, and all those who have raised our seniors. This message is for you!
While graduation and moving on to the next phase of life for your graduate is exciting, and what you have looked forward to, it can be difficult too. Whether you are celebrating your first graduate, your second, or your last, graduation changes the lives of those of us who raised them as much as it changes life for the graduate.
If you are facing an empty nest come August, know that it is understandable to feel both sad and excited at the same time. You will miss your graduate if they are leaving for the military, additional education, or moving out and into their own place. But you will also have time that you previously gave to your student - time that you can “gift” to yourself. Read a good book. Take time to meditate. Pick up a new hobby or resume an old one. If you still have children at home, this may be the perfect time to establish new activities with them, even if it is just time to talk a little more often.
Whatever your specific circumstances, the graduation of a child brings changes and opportunities for them and for you. So celebrate your graduate and all that they have accomplished. But take time to celebrate yourself too. Look forward with anticipation to see what your graduate will do next, AND enjoy some time for yourself. You deserve it!
Thanking Our 'Educators'
May 6, 2021
This week is nationally recognized as Teacher Appreciation Week. And that recognition is important. Teachers are critical people in our lives from the time we begin formal schooling until we graduate or complete coursework. We should always take time to appreciate those who taught us to read, to calculate, to solve problems. And perhaps this year, more than any, we should be thanking our teachers for their creativity, innovation, flexibility, and concern for students. The pandemic has been difficult for everyone, but engaging students via a computer or with a mask or while maintaining distance has been especially challenging for teachers.
And so, thank you to our teachers! You are appreciated!
But I would like to expand this week of appreciation to everyone who works in our schools. Like teachers, every school staff member has put in long hours and extra effort to make educating our students possible. From our IT staff to our custodians; from our building secretaries to our central office teams, this year has put everyone to the test. Our staff has provided meals to students when they were remote learning. They have put in additional time to clean and sanitize our buildings to an even higher standard than before. They have created plexiglass barriers so that we could work in person. They have greeted students, been empathetic listeners, fielded calls from concerned parents, and supported all of us in even greater ways than before.
I have often said that every person who works in a school district is an educator. While everyone doesn’t hold a teaching license and teach students in the classroom, everyone in a school district is making a positive difference in the lives of the students we serve. And for that, I am grateful.
If ever there was a time that the notion of “being in this together” was evident, it was front and center this past year. The African proverb states that it takes a village to raise a child. I would suggest that it takes a village of educators - teachers, secretaries, custodians, counselors, administrators, food service staff, maintenance professionals, IT staff - to educate a child. In our district we have collaborated and worked together, keeping our students at the center of our work. So take time to thank your teachers, but let’s also thank each and every staff member who comes to work each day to enrich the lives of the students we serve. It’s not just Teacher Appreciation Week on my calendar. It is ‘Educator' Appreciation Week - this week and every week.
April 22, 2021
As we near the end of another school year, I think it is clear that it has been anything but “another school year.” I recently shared with my team that this has been the most difficult year of my 32 year career in public education. The pandemic, social injustice, and divisiveness in our nation have made leadership even more challenging than ever. There are days when it seems we will never be through the pandemic. And if you watch the news, you can feel suffocated by the steady reporting of violence and hardship in our communities and our nation. Leading in such a time is challenging both professionally and personally.
And yet, I have hope.
I have observed and talked with our students who feel overwhelmed by all that is going on in our world. And why wouldn’t they? It is tough to process as an adult. But after a year of isolation and distance, processing and making sense of so much turmoil for a teenager or young adult while asking them to maintain a focus on their learning is a tall order.
And yet, I have hope.
Bishop, civil rights advocate, and Nobel Peace Prize recipient (1984), Desmond Tutu said, “Hope is being able to see that there is light despite all the darkness.” Timely words for our current reality.
Of all the skills, mindsets, and knowledge that we strive to impart to our students, perhaps hope is the most important of all especially living in difficult times and when facing the difficult circumstances that come with life. The ability to see light and to move toward it is a powerful tool for those who thrive. In her book, Rising Strong, author and researcher Brene Brown refers to the research of C.R. Snyder on the topic of hope. “Hope is not an emotion: It’s a powerful cognitive process - a thought process made up of ‘goals, pathways, and agency.’” The best part: Hope can be learned.
It would be easy for us to look back on the past year and just wish for it to end. But if we can see the future, a future in which we and our students take actions that make our world more safe, more welcoming, and more loving, than we have hope. As educators, parents, and advocates for young people, we have an awesome opportunity to hear their feelings and acknowledge the legitimacy of those feelings. But we also have an obligation to impart hope and to empower our students to be the change they want to see in the world.
Because I have hope, I believe we can do that.
Let’s not forget that the world is not all bad, and there is much to celebrate from this past year. Our students and our staff have risen to the challenges of this past year over and over again. Students are learning, earning credentials, and preparing for their futures. Kindness and compassion have been shared with one another. New lives have come into the world.
And there is much to anticipate as well. New students will join us and begin their journeys toward a future of their choosing. New staff will become part of our team. New supports and programs will be implemented to make us better and stronger.
Yes, it has been a year like no other. Yes, it has been challenging. But if we have hope, we can see past the darkness to the light. My wish is that you may see the light. I do...because I have hope!
Oh, The Places You'll Go!
April 8, 2021
A number of years ago I began writing a blog. At the time I was the assistant superintendent of Loveland City Schools just outside of Cincinnati. The district’s public information officer suggested that I start a blog about the topic about which I am very passionate: developing students. I wasn’t sure how much I would have to say, but eight years later, I am still finding ways to share my thoughts.
Since coming to Eastland-Fairfield Career and Technical Schools, I have put my blog on hold. But after three months as the superintendent/CEO and with the addition of our new coordinator of communications and marketing, Mr. Ryan Gasser, we are ready to launch a bi-weekly newsletter. That means I am ready to get back to blogging about education and helping students find their “what’s next.”
One of the things that I have noticed more and more over the course of my career is that increasing focus on destinations.
What do you want to be when you grow up? Where are you going after high school?
Those are not inherently bad questions, but I wonder if they put too much pressure on kids to have it all figured out. I have watched students squirm when asked some of those questions because they think they are to have the right answer or an impressive answer. In my conversations with high school students over the past few years, they have expressed the pressure they feel to have answers that are prestigious, impressive, or noteworthy. That makes me sad because students should be guided to find the path that makes them happy, not the path that makes someone else happy. But also, that focus on destination gives students a sense that life is linear and that they will “arrive” at some place at some point in the future and that will make them happy.
The reality is that life is a journey with stops and starts. We don’t stay at the same place. We grow. We learn. We develop. And when our kids understand that they make decisions for the next step and then will make more, there is less pressure to have it all figured out when they are still just kids. I know that my own journey has taken me to multiple cities and roles and has allowed me to develop new relationships along the way. And now my journey has brought me to be the superintendent/CEO of Eastland-Fairfield, a role and a place that I had no idea were part of my future when I was 17 and trying to answer, “What do you want to be?” and “Where are you going?” But I am sure glad that my journey has brought me here.
So, let’s encourage our kids to think about their futures and make good choices. But let’s also remind them that each decision is just one step of many. Life and happiness come when we embrace the journey - the winding road, the hills, the valleys, the tears, and the laughter.
Today is your day.
You’re off to Great Places!
You’re off and away!"
Oh the Places You’ll Go, Dr. Seuss