Sunday, March 23, 2014

Grooming Student Leadership

I recently had the opportunity to participate in the school district's long-term Vision and Mission planning initiative, and this involved coming together with twenty-eight individuals representing the school board, business, educators, students, and concerned citizens in order to identify core strategic objectives. Over the course of eight weeks it was a first-class affair, and after some guided discussion everyone came to a general consensus for areas which the administration and board will concentrate their efforts in months to come.

One objective was directed at student growth and achievement throughout the school district, calling for "the improved growth and achievement for each student, each year through personalized learning, continual data, reflection, fluid delivery of services/supports, and leadership development."  Those last two words caught my immediate attention as I believe that all schools, not just those of my employment, have issues which can be directly tied to lack of student leadership.
Grooming future leaders is not any easy, but I credit those people who recognize this as a serious issue. While students might aspire to be a leader, what vehicle is in place (or could be put into place) which will best cultivate this practice. When we say the word "leader", do our students construct an image of a well-known politician, athlete, movie-star or best-selling rap artist?

Good leadership does not happen overnight and there are a multitude of organizations already attempting to address that issue, including National Honor Society, Student Council, Link Crew and many more. Grooming student leaders should not involve the manipulation of students whereby staff is making the decisions and students are asked to 'rubberstamp' their decisions. I also tend to shy away from programs that simply inform students and then little is done to stimulate discussion for the expression of personal opinion. Traditional schools often take satisfaction in finding one student who will serve as leader for their class, and although a leader can have their ideas, change cannot be adopted through the actions of only one person.

In my journey as Class Advisor to the Freshmen Class this past year, I see those individuals with the potential to lead. I often refer to them as the quiet leaders within their groups of friends...those who know right from wrong and are looked up to by others. These individuals are diamonds in the rough. With the right nurturing they could exert influence for positive change throughout the school and community. I look forward to seeing how the district's new initiative is addressed from this point forward, and I'll gladly contribute my time and effort in empowering students so they are actively involved in the decision-making process. Peter Parker (a/k/a Spiderman) noted it well, "With great power comes great responsibility."

Thursday, February 27, 2014

GOAL PLANNING 101 with My Freshmen

This year's class of freshmen students is a one-of-a-kind group and I sensed their potential from the first day of school. While some teachers are impressed with intelligence, athleticism and demeanor, I consider camaraderie and personal regard for one another as key ingredients to the long-term success as individuals and the overall collective. I doubt they were ever made aware of it before, but they exhibit a rare quality which is genuine and very true. There is something "there" which other classes lack in social interaction, and they have the opportunity to achieve things which is sometimes recognized as greatness.

They enjoy competition, but keep it in perspective. They take learning serious, but enjoy moments when they can kick back and just be themselves. They aspire to be good and are just beginning to learn what it will take to become "the best" in every sense of the word. As one of their teachers I look for any opportunity to introduce new concepts which brings the real world into my classroom. It doesn't necessarily need to be one of my past experiences in the workplace (although it sometimes help)...just as long as I am genuine in my approach. Kids can see a phony coming from any direction, but when you show your human side you get their attention.

Today I introduced GOAL PLANNING 101 and my opening question was "What does it take to accomplish a goal?" They came up with some pretty good answers, but the most important response was left unheard. I waited until they exhausted their list, and then added what I felt was most important...'You have to write it down on paper.' I shared moments when salespeople told me they were going to do this and that- and then neglected to write it in their daily planners in order to insure that it was something they were REALLY going to attempt to accomplish. I spoke of my friend James and how he worked diligently over many hours to construct an outline which spelled out his road map for success. Finally, I reminded them how a group of aspiring patriots came together during the summer of 1776 to construct a paper which one day became our Declaration of Independence. "Imagine what our country might have turned into had they NOT written everything down on paper? Do you really think they would have succeeded?"

Not every student in my room heard and understood 100% of the words I spoke today, but they know I'll revisit the concept again in the days ahead. There will be some who shrug it off as meaningless and sublime, but I willing to bet that most of this group will "get it" and begin working on their individual goals. They know my door is always open, Mr. D is there to help, and that success is something worth pursuing. This is a group which will eventually leave their mark of achievement as others had only hoped to do...count on it!

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Their Turn to Share

Many times students think the course is over once they finish their final exam. However, with 15 minutes of time remaining until dismissal, Mr. D had one last assignment for his freshmen students. This idea is one that I latched on to during my time at UW-Stevens Point, and I vowed to use it once I found my comfort zone in the classroom. After providing them all with a clean piece of line paper, I asked them to write a personal letter to the next class of incoming students. "You have my permission to be brutally honest with them, and I will not initiate recourse against anyone for what you may say or imply in your note. But I do want you to share some insight on what they need to be aware of when they come into my classroom."   The next 10-12 minutes found absolute silence as pencils hit the papers and stories were shared. Each of them offered up irreplaceable tidbits and their insight is priceless. Here's a small sampling of their letters.....

"Mr. Duesterbeck is a really helpful teacher. He stays after school almost everyday to help with U.S. History, homework, go over tests, or just to offer his room for a quiet study area. You should always do your homework, it will be really helpful in the long run. Most of the questions on your homework are usually on the test. Taking notes can be very beneficial, especially for studying for tests."

"Be prepared for the best class of all time. You will take a decent amount of notes but nothing too crazy. If you pay attention and do your homework, you should be able to succeed in this class. Mr. D will teach you many new things and in doing so, he'll make it fun."

"Pay attention and take notes. Then when you have a test, study. Also, do the homework and you will get a good grade in the class. There's not a ton of notes. The teacher is awesome and will do anything to help the students have success. If you're having trouble just ask for help."

"Enjoy Mr. D. He is awesome and makes learning super fun. Make sure you keep up with the pink sheets so you know what's going on. Also, make sure to not let all the time you have on your history project get to you. Make sure you start it right away! Just enjoy the class and Mr. D & you will be fine."

"Mr. D is a cool teacher and likes to have fun, but you need to stay focused on your homework. Take good notes for quizzes and tests. Make sure you aren't talkative or you'll get him on his bad side."

"For your History Day project, choose a partner who you know will do work and choose a topic that interests you. Also, save all the unit tests for finals because they're helpful and he makes sure you have them. Another thing, if you actually pay attention, you'll pretty much get an A in the class."

"If you're in Mr. D's class then you're a beast. So, I'm going to give you some advice. First of all, write good notes! Only write what you need to and leave the little details out. Second, don't take your second/third/fourth/52nd chance for granted. In this class you're not allowed to fail, but you can succeed. Mr. Duesterbeck lets some things slide, but if you continue with your bad habits...well. Overall, just be good!"

"It is important to have the max amount of swag in this class. I was Mr. D's favorite student so beat that! On a serious note, be respectful and don't make eye contact with Mr. D or he WILL call on you. Be ready to take notes and listen because it will help you later on in tests."

"As soon as you get assignments, start on them- next thing you know they'll be due if you put them off. Pay attention or you'll get lost and behind. Mr. D's class is fun, but you have to work with him and do your best. No lackin'. It's not the easiest class, but it doesn't have to be hard."

"The thing you have to know about U.S. History is Mr. D is not only a teacher but a friend. He can tell when you're having a bad day and he pushes you to do your best. He's a fun loving guy and he makes every day exciting. A few rules to follow are: don't sleep, don't get behind in work, and use class time to get things done."

"Mr. D's History class is a great class, but listen to what I have to say. Studying is very important. Mr. D does show a slide of notes, but he does not show everything that is on the tests and quizzes. Make sure to take notes from the book because it will help you overall. Make sure to keep in mind both of these things because they are crucial to surviving Mr. D's class."

"U.S. History is a great time and Mr. Duesterbeck is a fantastic teacher. Just make sure you show him respect and he will respect you. Make sure you take notes! It will burn them in your mind. Make sure you keep up with homework. You will really enjoy everything about the class and Mr. D if you follow these easy and simple rules."

"Get ready to have fun in this class. Mr. D is the greatest and he makes learning fun. Mr. D is the best teacher ever! He makes history come to life."

These are only thirteen of the 58 (maybe even more) reasons as to why I enjoyed teaching so much over the last five months. Their willingness to share gives me great hope for what may lay ahead.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Success is Near

Aside from a couple of days for review and another for semester exams, my time with two classes of freshmen in U.S. History is drawing to a rapid close. These groups have been a enjoyable experience, and they have grown in their learning and understanding of history overall. I sense a savvy sort of self-confidence in their ability to grasp concepts for the who, what, where, when and why of American history. This doesn't mean that they will fully engage in an ongoing study of our heritage, but many will be able to take their new-found knowledge to a higher level. The seeds of learning have been planted and I, as nurturer of developing minds, now take a step back and watch what unfolds in the years to come.

From the first day of school it became obvious that some students were ill-prepared for writing assignments, either by personal dislike for reflecting on their life or unfamiliarity of the total impact literacy will play in their future. Over the past five months they've become better listeners, higher thinkers and improved writers in their approach to learning....at least in my classroom. They acknowledge this in their attitude towards me as well as their fellow students. Time after time they've responded to my challenges, knowing that I was carefully examining their progress.

But just as the student grows, so does the teacher. By spending time in personal reflection, I have a better understanding of how a young mind develops. I always remind my classes of how I, a young man of sixty years, am still learning in life. Their input, be it positive or negative, inspires me to improve upon my performance with both lesson planning and the development of assessments. What did you like about this class? How could you have been more engaged? What topic was most interesting to you? Which topic was most boring or hard to understand? If you could change 1-2 things about this class, what would they be? What new skills have you learned over the past five months? What did you learn about yourself? This feedback will allow further improvement in my performance in years to come, making learning all the more meaningful...be it with my students in the classroom or in my ongoing pursuit of higher education.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Witness to a Grand Event

One of the benefits of teaching is witnessing one-of-a-kind events in the lives of my students. This semester I have the privilege of including Casey in my first-hour US History class, and he has been a true treasure to watch as his progression takes place in learning. He's a typical teenager with the exception of being totally deaf, and he continues to amaze me with his ongoing work ethic in school. Sometimes my 'normal' students lose sight of the difficulty associated with not having all of our senses, and we discuss ways which we can be more sensitive to the needs of those throughout society. They do not seek pity, only equal opportunity to interact with all aspects of our society. On a recent trip to the Wisconsin Historical Society (WHS) in Madison, I witnessed a day that I will forever remember as it teaches one of those lessons about inclusion and how it impacts everyone around us.

My freshmen students are once again working on their National History Day projects, and just as I did last year, I provided an opportunity for those who wanted to dig for information in the second largest library in North America. Casey was one of the first who jumped at the opportunity to make the Saturday trip, but I was unable to secure the services of the school's translator. I assured him that I would work with him closely to assure that information was found on Laurent Clerc, his chosen topic for NHD. (Note: Clerc is often referred to as "The Apostle of the Deaf in America" for his work in the early 1800s when he founded the first school for the deaf in Hartford, Connecticut) If we needed to communicate, we would simply write notes back and forth to one another, but as much as I was comfortable telling him this, there was the ultimate uncertainty of whether it would really work as we both expected it to.

When we boarded the van that morning, I discovered that one of my students was learning sign and offered to serve as the go-between throughout the day. This was a gift from heaven in so many ways, and as I drove the group to Madison, I witnessed an ongoing conversation between Casey and Amelia in the back of the van. Like any teenager, he was enjoying an open dialogue with his new friend, which put all my fears to rest. Inside the WHS I was amazed to see how Amelia had taken ownership of translating information from the curators to Casey. He was totally at ease with the process, understood what he needed to do, and instantly jumped into his research.

A library researcher provided Casey with a listing of potential resources, and together he and I made our way to the top floor of stacks to see what we could find. He lead the way much like an excited prospector in search of hidden treasure. Weaving in and out of a multitude of shelves, the ultimate find occurred when not one, but five racks of books were located...all on the subject of deaf individuals. It was as if Casey had found the holy grail and I took a step back to savor the moment for what it was. He was in his element like never before! Books were found on not only Laurent Clerc, but the first deaf community in Martha's Vineyard. Deaf poetry, deaf athletes, the history behind sign language, and so much more. I scanned books in an effort to help him locate information on Clerc, but he was totally able to grasp the situation at hand. We left the stacks with not only a handful of books for his project, but a hearty helping of new-found self-confidence for Casey as well.

When we drove away from the UW campus that afternoon, I saw a new side to Casey that I had yet to realize before. This was his potential for life and the impact he had on those around him. Rather than wallowing in self-pity, he was actively engaged in the process of learning. He aspired to be more than just another student and took true ownership in his education. While I have yet to see his final project, I imagine it will spark interest in his fellow students. He has raised the bar of standards in my classroom and inspires me to work all the more harder in what I do everyday. Thank-you Casey...for being you!

Friday, November 29, 2013

Daring to be Different

On a scale of 1-10, how daring are you?  (1= I play it safe   10= I’m WAY out there!)
Thursday morning's THINKING PROMPT was meant to serve several purposes. First, it provided me with a feeling of who was willing to take a chance when challenged to something new. Second, it split the classroom into factions I had yet to experience. I assured my students that there was no correct answer to their response and no one would be in any trouble. Once I qualified everyone in the class, I introduced the day's lesson on Lewis & Clark's Exhibition into the Oregon Territory. As a result of the Louisiana Purchase made by President Thomas Jefferson in 1803, the size of the United States doubled...and there was a wealth of new territory which now needed exploring. Think of the personality types this investigation required, not to neglect the high risk taking involved with this adventure.

But BEFORE we explored that trip, I wanted to circle-back to the concept of 'risky behavior' as it was making a daily appearance via the "knockout game" on national news. Before I showed the 2-minute video, I asked my class how many of them were aware of this latest teen fad. About one-third raised their hands, although they didn't know much about it. I forewarned them that the video might result in some laughter, but it was NOT to be laughed at. As they watched the newscast, they were dumbfounded as to why anyone would want to engage in such behavior. The video included interviews with teens claiming it was just for fun and how they did it on a dare from friends.

This was my chance to inject a thoughtful comparison on doing something destructive on a dare versus something positive such as exploring unknown lands in honor of your country. America was built by people who were willing to take chances, but they never did it by taking destructive measures. I included insight on using caution when friends dare you to try something which will put your life (or that of someone else) at risk. It's one thing to be brave when daring to be different, another to be stupid and insincere for others.

At a time when teens are searching for answers by investigating the unknown, this was one message which struck close to home. The tie-in to a pertinent historical perspective was well-received, and we continued with Lewis & Clark's adventure into the Great Northwest. It truly is a magnificent time in American history and led to way for another new concept, Manifest Destiny.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Instigating Influence

Whether teachers realize it or not, they impact their students in ways they never thought possible. My classroom is always open to students in the morning, and many swing by to drop their books off before meeting up with friends to walk the halls of the high school. This is nothing new as I remember those days all too well from Craig High. I have one specific group of freshman boys who are not only excellent students, but epitomize everything good about today's teens. They scream respect in everything they do and I see nothing but good things in front of them for many years to come. However, one of my teaching comrades from the other end of the building chose to make an example of one of them, selecting them out of a crowd for "taking up too much space in the hallway." This individual then escorted the young man to the Dean of Students office and asked that he be disciplined accordingly.

When I caught wind of this from the kids I found myself in a quiet rage, knowing full-well that this is NOT what teaching is all about. With nine weeks of the school year behind us, I am one of a select handful of teachers who yet to experience any discipline problems, and I have the ability to deal with any situation through simple and sincere conversations with young people. I'm beside myself thinking that some educators are looking for the tiniest opportunities to seek punishment for someone, rather than using a calm approach of one-to-one conversation. These are the times when I wish teachers could view the replay of themselves and realize the harm they do to this profession, much less the student who fell victim to their error in judgement.