Friday, May 26, 2017

When the Principal Can't Quite Get it Together...

Students leave our school after fourth grade and go on to intermediate school. We don't have a graduation, but instead have an end of the year program. Students are recognized for perfect attendance, good grades, the usual school stuff. They sing a couple of songs, and then their principal says something inspirational. After that the fourth graders do a "farewell parade" through the halls with music, dancing, and pom poms. It's great fun.

Unless the principal can't handle the inspirational speech part. Which, in my case, is the case. Two years in a row.

This year I made it through the whole program without the hint of a tear, but then I had to talk. I looked at those faces, those kids I've seen every school day for two years now. High fives. Stories about weekends and spring breaks. School projects. Leaders in assembly. Lunch on Tuesdays. I looked at them, and I realized they were leaving us. And I just couldn't do it. The inspirational speech went something like this:

"Students, *deep breath* you will always *blubber* be a part of our *sob sob* school family *blubber blubber*. Gosh, I'm really not good at this part. *crying and tears* *something mostly inaudible and strongly dumb-sounding* leadership, character, blah blah blah *more tears and crying*"

Y'all. It was bad

So here is what I would like to say to them if I could speak instead of being a mess:

Parents, thank you. Thank you for loving your kids enough to send them to school every day and encourage them in any way you can. Thank you for sharing them with us. It's truly a gift.

Students, we see you. We know you're not perfect, but it doesn't matter to us. We look at you and see what you are and all that you can be. We see people who are capable and smart and kind and unique. When growing up gets hard, and it will, I hope you'll be able to see yourself the way your parents and your school sees you -- full of promise. 

No matter where you go or what you do in life, you will always be a part of this school family. We love each and every one of you just as you are, and we can't wait to see you change the world. Thanks for letting us be a small part of your lives. 

Maybe next year I'll just write something down and have someone else read it. It sounds MUCH better without embarrassing sobs!

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Something I want to remember

One of Keaton's teachers and his wife had twins very prematurely last week. One of the babies passed away, and the other must have a long road ahead of her. Tonight some students organized a prayer vigil for this family at the park near our home. Keaton read a scripture in front of the crowd.

Psalm 119:50 "My comfort in my suffering is this: Your promise preserved my life."

He chose it himself.

A local pastor led a beautiful prayer. In it has asked God to light the way, and if not the whole way simply just light the next step on our paths. I want to remember that.

Sunday, May 7, 2017

On Being Methodist

I have not blogged in 2017. I think it's mostly because I'm busy. I'm not super special or anything so I don't think anyone should really care too much about my opinion on most things. That's not self-deprecating. I get tired of other people's (often uninformed) opinions about things, and anything I have to say just seems like more noise. Alas, I find myself back on the ol' blog.

I think about religion a lot lately. I'm sorry to say that often it's because "society" or "social media" or "those people" make Christians out to be crazy, judgmental zealots who think everyone who isn't Christian would like to see them punished. That's just not true.

I think about my Methodism.

I was born and raised a good Baptist girl with strong Bible knowledge, an "of course I believe" attitude about faith, and a (borderline unhealthy) amount of guilt for my sin. I can still recite the books of the Bible in order and plenty of verses that are appropriate for occasions of joy and sadness. I never missed church on Sunday morning, evening, or Wednesday night. Never.

Then I went to college and stopped going to church. I visited one or two, but it was just weird going to a place where I didn't know anyone after being the daughter of the matriarch of First Baptist Church (you know it's true, Mom😊). So I didn't go.

Then I met Trey, who went to church regularly with his family. When we were secretly dating (if you don't know that story I'll fill you in sometime), I started going to church with him. It was the only place we went out in public together without other friends. I had never been to a Methodist church before, but the basics were like my church back home.

I learned that Methodists recite stuff and the preachers wear robes. Baptists don't do that. I learned that John Wesley has a whole bunch to do with being Methodist. Baptists pretty much only give credence to Jesus (and maybe Billy Graham), so adding in another guy was odd to me. The people at Trey's church were kind to me and made me welcome, and they taught the Bible.

On the first Sunday of 2000, I joined. Trey didn't even know I was doing it until he saw me walk forward at the end of the service (not an invitation like my Baptist church, but similar). I wanted it to be about me and God, not about my relationship with Trey.

It's 17 1/2 years later, and sometimes I'm still fascinated that I'm a Methodist. Keaton just went through confirmation, which is like Christian basic training that you do when you're in sixth grade followed by a public profession of faith. A little part of me feels like it's too scripted - learn this, do this, get Jesus; but another part of me is happy that he had this experience of learning the tenets of his church.

I've also thought more than once lately that I might like being Catholic. I'm not converting or anything, but when there are times I'm not sure what to pray I sometimes think "Catholics probably have a prayer for this." When thinking about friends and acquaintances who are struggling, I've thought, "I wish I could light a candle for them." I don't think there are magic candles or anything, but having something to physically do seems comforting when life is dark for a friend.

My reflection on Methodism came to the forefront of my mind this morning during our communion service. We Methodists have communion the first Sunday of every month. Just before we were invited to the table, our pastor, Tommy, said something that especially struck me today. I know we have open communion (all Christians can participate no matter the denomination), and I'm certain that I've heard this before, but today it warmed my soul.

I'll paraphrase part of what he said to explain that all believers could participate. He said that we believe this table belongs to Jesus. So we don't get to invite you - Jesus does. And Jesus invites everyone he loves. And you know what else? Jesus loves everyone. Everyone. He invites us all.

And I remembered at that moment one more reason why this church is my church.

To bring this all full circle, I want to say this: I believe in Jesus. I know and love lots of people who don't, and those people are not less than me. They are not scary. They are kind and have big hearts and love their families. And Jesus loves them, too. We should all do our best to act like it.

Monday, December 12, 2016

So that one time I ran a marathon...

My 2015 goal was to become a runner. I looked back at some old posts and was reminded that on April 15, 2015, I could not run more than half a mile. I was frustrated and felt ridiculous.

One year, six months, and 26 days later I ran a marathon.

What follows are random thoughts about that.

1) I was persistent that people who run marathons are crazy, and I had no desire to run one. Then I ran three half marathons, and I got the urge to push myself a little farther. This is how the impossible happens - small steps of possible push you a little further until suddenly a ridiculous thing happens. Pretty cool.

2) A friend who also ran her first marathon immediately said she wanted to do another. She got a blister that caused her to overcompensate on one side and threw off her stride for much of the race. I got the feeling that she wants to do better. I have mad respect for that. But I'm all good. My marathon was not fast (5 hours and 43 minutes), but I feel like it's exactly what I trained for. I currently have no desire to do that again. Those half marathons sure are fun, though!

3) Throughout the week leading up to the marathon, I worried about several things. What if I fell off a curb, broke my ankle, and couldn't run? What if I got a stomach bug? What if it was 90 degrees on race day? What if I did my very best and was (gasp!) last? What if I physically couldn't finish? I literally prepared for months for those 5-6 hours of my life, and I had one shot. I don't experience that often. It was a real mental effort to stop worrying about factors out of my control, and probably something I need to practice.

4) Marathons are boring. For real. There are water stations with nice people and other runners for a while, but once everyone spreads out it's just you, your running partner (more on that later), and one foot in front of the other. We decided to make it to 20 miles before putting in headphones because we knew we'd need a distraction.

I had downloaded two podcasts from TED radio hour. Wouldn't you know it! The first guest that I listened to was a researcher who believes that outside our brains the only adaptation that gives us an advantage over animals is our ability to run with endurance! That's what helped ancient people survive! Humans weren't faster or stronger that animals, but they could endure without tiring out. I laughed out loud as I listened.

The second podcast (which I didn't quite finish) was about parenting, specifically over parenting vs. letting your kids learn how to navigate the dangers of the world. I spent some time thinking about my own parents and how they raised a person who thinks she can do any absurd thing like run a marathon. I hope I'm doing that for my own kids.

5) I ran as part of Team Mercy Project, committed to raising money for the organization that works to free child slaves in Ghana. It gave a little more meaning to the time I was spending on training and obsessing. At the end of the race, giant posters lined the road with the faces of the 80 children who have already been freed. I was overwhelmed with emotion, but quickly realized that if I started crying I would stop breathing! I was fresh out of energy and air and everything else in that last stretch. Those smiling faces are a great sight after running 26.2 miles.

6) My school family is amazing. Not only did they hold a bake sale to raise money for Mercy Project and my race, but they presented me with this amazing book with photos of the kids and words of encouragement - even a poster that Trey brought to me during the race. It's overwhelming how thoughtful these people are. I made a crazy decision to run a marathon, and for months they've listened to me talk about it, plan for it, and obsess about it. Honestly, I'm sure I was a little annoying with my obsession, but rather than making me feel that way they went out of their way to send me off with well wishes and mementos. Several people even texted me during the race. I learn so much from them every day.

Also, I really had to finish knowing that 600 kids and 70 staff members would be asking me about it on Tuesday!  Ha!

It says, "Thank you, Mrs. Hickman, for showing us perseverance. From your Cardinal art students."

7) In case you didn't know, Trey Hickman is a saint. I decide to do crazy things that take up lots of time and he helps me find a way to make it happen. This goes way back to teacher certification, masters degree, that year I spent working in Austin on the weekends being an online teacher, and now a marathon. I got up too early every weekend and left to run. I woke him up, ran for hours and left him to take care of whatever was going on at home. He never once complained. He believes I can do anything and supports me no matter what I take on. He's the best.

It's been an interesting experience with my kids. As I increased mileage, they would give me a hard time and tell me they could totally do that, too. Then I hit about 20 miles and they changed their tune to decide I was nuts. When Tucker looked at the race map the night before, he said, "That's a long way. Are you sure you can do this?" (Thanks for the support, man.) After the race, Keaton said, "Wow. I was a little concerned but you did it!"

And I love that. I love that they can look back at their mom who is probably old and uncool to them and see that I can run a marathon. And if I can do that, they can do anything. Anything!

8) Finally, Erin. Erin is strong and athletic and has run eight marathons (now nine). When Erin learned a year and a half ago I wanted to run, she ran with me. She helped me train for my first half, then my second. She told me that I could run a marathon, and then she signed up with me. She sent me a training plan on August 25th, and we stuck with it. There's something about knowing that another person is waiting for you at 5:30 on a Saturday morning that makes you get out of bed. Without her, I would have given up long ago.

We ran through good days and bad days, talked every week about life and work and kids, and just persevered. We even tried to run ten miles when it was 103 degrees, but that's a story for another day!

How I feel about the fact that a person would unselfishly give up the time to help me reach this goal is hard to explain. She could have trained harder and finished faster, but instead she stayed next to me. It's kind of unremarkable for her - it's just who she is. And I am honored to be her friend. During the marathon a couple stopped us and asked if we were sisters. I told them that we've been friends long enough that we might as well be. Love you, Erin!

And that's a wrap. I ran a marathon. For real.
Tradition says that you finish your first marathon and you ring the gong!

Sunday, August 7, 2016

Summer Olympics and Equity

I've been thinking a lot lately about equity. After my experiences this summer I feel even more committed to make sure that every student has the opportunity to reach his or her full potential, no matter what prior knowledge or skills they have when they walk through the door on the first day. My head is full of ideas with varying levels of possibility.

And now a little background information that I'll tie in later...

My younger son, Keaton, is a gymnast. This is not news to anyone who knows me because I am unabashedly proud of him. He's competed for two years, and he can do things that I don't think the human body should be able to do. He is ridiculously strong. When I watch him work out it makes my stomach hurt. He's at the gym three times a week for three hours at a time, all year long. He loves to practice and compete. He loves when he does well, and he's even more excited when his teammates do well. I know I'm biased, but he's a great kid. 

Enter the Summer Olympics. It occurred to me for the first time that people all over the world are watching Keaton's sport and that this is unique - something that happens only every four years. These incredible athletes are getting worldwide attention as I post this. Occasionally you can see women gymnasts competing on an obscure channel on a Saturday afternoon, but I don't know that I've ever stumbled upon men's gymnastics while flipping channels. 

In contrast, my basketball and football-playing older son watches his sports played on television constantly. These sports are always on (even if in the summer it's Canadian football). I bet you can name multiple basketball and football players off the top of your head. Can you name any male gymnasts? Could you before last week? 

And so I've found a new love and appreciation for the Olympics. The excitement and joy on Keaton's face when he watches gymnastics on prime time television is such a beautiful thing. I imagine he feels part of something bigger. More significant. Important. Like the collective gymnastics community has fans!

Back to equity (here's the connection I promised). Do our students see themselves in the examples we show them? Do we celebrate scientists and authors and historians who represent all of our students? Women and men? People of all races and religions? Can you call them by name like a true "fan"?

I've always known this is important, but tonight in my living room I experienced why. Chances are that my son won't compete in the Olympics, but he sees these athletes and his eyes sparkle. In the world of sports, he belongs. 

It's possibility. It's seeing yourself as whatever you can dream of and are willing to work hard for. That's a gift we must give our students. 

Friday, July 22, 2016

Harvard Day 7: Dr. Samuel Betances

Dr. Samuel Betances. Look him up. If you want to be inspired, follow him, watch videos of him speaking, think about his words. He was our final speaker of the Art of Leadership 2016.

First, he has cred. He told us he’s buried six brothers, citing drugs and violence as part of the environment he knew. He grew up in poverty, English wasn’t his first language, and he dropped out of high school. He was working at a hospital when a direct, kind woman started holding him accountable for his future. He speaks of her in this video:

My notes from his presentation are full of these clips of wisdom that should be on posters all over my office. And your office. And the world.

“You can't teach anybody until they give you permission to teach them; you can school them, but they may not give you permission to educate them”

“Never assume malice. Even when harmful things are done.”

“We have to stop failing students for not knowing what they haven’t been taught.”

“We don’t have students at risk. We have students with untapped potential.”

“Learn to reject rejection. The best revenge is success.”

“Words are noises that at pregnant with meaning.”

“You can’t be mad at parents for not giving what they don’t have.”

“To go from poverty to the professions, you must first cross a bridge called books."

“Every kid needs an adult that he doesn't want to disappoint with school failure.”

“Not all students in schools are  middle class, but all assessment tools are.”

“If you think you're a leader and you look back and no one is following, then maybe you're just taking a walk.”

Seriously. I’m having a hard time even summarizing all that I was inspired to think and to do after his talk. He talks about diversity and equity in a way that leaves no excuses for not educating every child in every school to the fullest.

He talks about words. I think I already wrote this in another post from another speaker, but kids need words! Think of all of the academic vocabulary we use. It can be like another language for some kids. It’s easy to say that parents need to talk to their kids more and have deeper conversations, but “You can’t be mad at parents for not giving what they don’t have.” Is it possible that the first step in breaking cycles of poverty is giving people words? Is it that simple?

I’m going to order this book, 30 Million Words: Building a Child’s Brain, on his recommendation. And I’m going to read more memoirs so I can learn from them and recommend them to others who can learn from them. And I’m going to ask kids to “authorize me to get into their business.” He advocates giving reading options as an alternative for disciplinary actions. I might even try that. I am inspired.

By far the most poignant thing he stated, and so incredibly appropriate in weeks full of racial conflicts and inequity and police murders, is this: “We have decided that some people are flags and some people are handkerchiefs. When really we are all made of cloth.”

So powerful.

He’s a diversity training consultant. He’s worked with Oprah. He’s a big deal, as he should be. I’m a little fangirl about the fact that he gave us all his email address. I wish that every educator I know could hear Dr. Betances speak, so I’m going to link a couple of the shorter videos here. You should totally watch them. I’ve watched many of them more than once. There are also keynote speeches on YouTube that are longer. Some of them are 80s and 90s, but it doesn’t matter.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Harvard Day 6, Part 2: Consultancy Protocol

My small group at AOL was the best one (Group 9 Forever!).

We met each day to review and discuss what we learned. It was always a powerful debrief, and it always deepened my understanding of the day’s topics. My group members included leaders from private, public, charter, and religious schools from all over the US and even China.

As pre-work for the institute, each participant completed a reflection on a current problem of practice and possible steps to improve the issue.

On the afternoon of day six, we met in our small groups and completed a consultancy protocol focusing individually on each person’s problem of practice. We each got 20 minutes of time directed specifically to something we were committed to work on, and the collective brain power of Group Nine was more than I could have ever hoped for in my twenty minutes.

The protocol we used is adapted from the Tuning and Consultancy Protocols and published by the Great Schools Partnership. The copy I have says I can copy it with attribution, but I do not have permission to post it online. If you’re a CSISD person, come see me.

We allocated time for an initial presentation by the focus person, clarifying and probing questions, group discussion, and then presenter response. I appreciated the ability of our group to focus on the problem at hand and to offer ideas, thoughts, and possible solutions. Many years ago I participated in a similar protocol through the Schlechty Center regarding lesson planning. I enjoyed that very much, but found that this process opens itself to a wider variety of problem solving topics.

This is another of those things I can’t wait to use with staff and colleagues. What if we used our staff development time or faculty meetings to dive deeply into problems of practice and truly focus on one issue or challenge? What if our data team meetings (which often become quick problem-solution conversations rather than true deep thinking meetings) followed an abbreviated protocol that helped us maintain focus and productivity? I think it would help all involved parties to see these meetings as more valuable and applicable.

Finally, I want to mention that we didn’t do the consultancy on the first day that we met each other. While we had only known each other five days, they were intense, powerful days of collaboration. I was incredibly comfortable sharing with my group, and I believe they would all say the same.

Earlier in the week we heard Liz City talk briefly about Meeting Wise. It just occurred to me at this moment that the protocol meets many of the guidelines for good meetings! 

It all comes together, doesn’t it!