Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Days to Cherish!

Yep, that is me in the photo above. This picture was taken on September 7, 1982 on my first day of kindergarten. By the crossed arms one might assume that I didn't want to go to school, didn't want my photo taken, didn't want to carry that goofy looking bag or was upset that my mom made me wear that awful shirt. However, if my memory serves me right, I didn't want to start "growing up" and wanted to stay home to play in the yard. Thankfully, I went to a school that embraced childhood, cherished me deeply, and fostered my growth academically, socially and emotionally. Those caring adults made the start to my new adventure memorable.

In about two weeks we'll welcome several students back to school. Each of these students bring a unique background and story through the schoolhouse gate. Parents, we want you to know that we strive each and every day to provide your students with an experience of a lifetime. Students, we want you to know that we cherish every moment with you and work hard to ensure you receive a "top notch" education. Community members, we want you to know that we appreciate your support and trust in doing the work we love to do. We are committed to all students regardless of background or story.

Having children in this district provides another vantage point to the beginning of the school year. This year I will have a senior, 7th grader, 2nd grader and 1st grader attending school. I can remember my mom telling me that the older you get the faster time goes by. Obviously, growing up, I didn't believe her. I just wanted to be 16, 18, 21, etc... and it seemed like forever to reach each milestone. Throughout time, mom was proven right again. Time does go by faster and faster as I age. Quite frankly, I don't like it!

So, why the title Days to Cherish? Here is why...
  1. We get one opportunity to educate each child in each stage of their educational journey.
  2. We get one opportunity to raise our children.
  3. We get one opportunity to see our children off to their very first day of school.
  4. We get one opportunity to see our children participate in athletics, fine arts and other ventures.
  5. We get one opportunity to help our children on their educational journey.
  6. We get one opportunity to guide our children throughout their junior high and senior high years.
  7. We get one opportunity to help our children through childhood conflicts.
  8. We get one opportunity to steer our children through the complexities of adolescence.
  9. We get one opportunity to see our children through high school graduation.
  10. We get one opportunity to live this life.
(you can insert your own)

Days to Cherish...you betcha!

Monday, August 22, 2016

Disrupting Learning at #ISD2835

For years people have been talking about reforming education and changing the way we do business. There have been legislative talks at both the federal and state levels, however, there is typically little reform supported. Instead, those legislative conversations turn to accountability and sanctions. This year, instead of waiting for legislative reform, the Janesville-Waldorf-Pemberton School District will embark on local conversations of disrupting learning to positively impact our students for a lifetime.

Over the past school year the Janesville-Waldorf-Pemberton School District engaged in several discussions around personalized learning. Questions posed were:

What does this look like for our school district?
Who will be involved in this work?
How will it impact our students?
What financial resources may be needed for such an endeavor?
What action steps are needed?

Truth be told, we did not have the answers to any of those questions. In a personalized learning environment those questions are answered in development. This can be scary for many. I, like many others, prefer to see what is ahead and have a clear understanding of what is needed to be done. Personalized learning is developed with each individual student in mind in the development of learning plans.

This is in stark contrast to traditional methods that include teaching to the middle. In that setting, students that struggle with content can be left behind. In a similar vein, those that are accelerated learners are not often challenged enough. I am happy to state that our staff have worked relentlessly to ensure those things did not happen. However, "the system" did not provide our staff with a solid foundation in which to work from.

The conversations over the next year in our school district will develop a framework in which all students are provided with what they need and when they need it along their learning journey. This is sure to be a challenging process, yet, excellence is not something that happens over night or attained easily. We have to make this happen. We will make this happen. For our kids!

Monday, August 15, 2016

The Faults of a Headline

On Tuesday, August 9, 2016 the Waseca County News released the article, JWP Handbook changes involve less emphasis on winning. Unfortunately, many individuals admittedly did not read the article but developed their own insinuations about the content. I felt it was the right time and opportunity to write a blog about the real intent of the change.

Let's make it very clear now, the Janesville-Waldorf-Pemberton School District does value winning and believes it is important. However, we also understand that there is much more to winning than the final outcome. Let's explore one example...

A wrestler starts out their career in junior high with no prior experience. This individual begins the sport with the intent to build friendships and become an improved wrestler. At this point, there is no long term goal of winning a state championship or making the varsity. However, like all other young competitors, this individual latched on to an upperclassman that was having success. This junior high wrestler decides that he too wants to be successful. He begins watching the upperclassman and talking to his coaches. The wrestler is shown what it takes to become the upperclassman and is coached the fundamentals and practices of becoming a successful wrestler. In this wrestler's freshman year, he wins a spot on the varsity and finishes the season 8-14. There are two ways to look at this.
  1. This wrestler lost and did not win which defines the year as unsuccessful.
  2. This wrestler made some gains from his 6th grade year of wrestling and secured a spot on the varsity in three short years. In addition, he had earned eight more wins than anticipated. This wrestler is developing and with continued work, will experience future success.
The coaches work with the wrestler asking these questions. What did you do that helped you progress to where you are at today? What may you need to do to continue your growth and development? Ultimately, the coaches help the wrestler understand what it takes to get better and to clearly understand that, "champions are made when no one is watching." We continue to follow this wrestler and after each loss, this same conversation takes place. In addition to each loss, comes a learning experience. In the sophomore campaign the wrestler ends up with a 23-9 record and third place in the section tournament just missing qualifying for the state tournament. The two wrestlers that placed ahead of him in the section tournament go on to place 2nd and 4th in the state tournament. Again, we can look at this in one of two ways.
  1. This wrestler lost and did not win which defines the year as unsuccessful.
  2. This wrestler made some great gains from last season and nearly made the state tournament. This wrestler is making progress and understands what it takes to win. The year was a success.

In an effort to save time, this wrestler continues his work and does more when no one else is watching. His junior year ends at 32-6 with a 4th place finish in the state tournament. Again, not a state champion, but continued growth and progress occurs. This wrestler's senior year campaign ended at 38-1 with the only loss coming in the state championship match. Again, one could look at this as a failed season. Because I did, I was devastated. That is right, this is my story. However, I had a great coach that approached me in my state of misery and said, "Bill there are things in life that will happen to you that you will not like, but you need to find a positive way to deal with them. How are you going to choose to respond to this?" Those words were powerful and were the key to my development as a human being.

Although I did not win the state championship, I clearly understood what it took to be successful in the sport of wrestling and in life. As a district, we want to place an emphasis on the value of competition and the process to be successful.  This will instill lifelong skills in our students to use for the rest of their lives. If we focus only on winning, we are missing the point and failing our students. I hope this clears things up a bit. Reading beyond the headline is important!