Wednesday, June 3, 2020

Change Begins with Me - June 3, 2020

Change Begins with Me

June 3, 2020

By, Michael Earnshaw

@EduChefEarnshaw



As an educator and father, I have always believed that I did a good job of teaching my own children about our world, the issues we face, and how to treat others. In the wake of tragic murder of George Floyd, the peaceful protests to bring awareness to the racism that still plagues our country, and the looting and destroying of local businesses, I realize I have not done a good job. Not even close. For this I am ashamed and feel I have let my children down. I need to smash the own distorted window that I have been trying to gaze through these last 40 years.

My window was finally shattered on Sunday, May 30, 2020. My wife and I were watching the 5:00 pm news. We sat close on the couch, phone screens locked and focused all of our attention to the scenes being reported. Some were peaceful protests full of chants, signs, and a message that America must come together to bring an end to racism. These scenes were scarce in the big picture. Many of what was being shown were storefront windows being shattered, vehicles pulling up right to the now open space created by a pipe dancing with the glass window, only to be filled with goods and products that were not paid for. We also saw buildings being set on fire, local family owned businesses being destroyed and ransacked. Many of these scenes were not even three miles from where we were sitting. “Dad, why are they doing that? Why are they breaking into stores and stealing and destroying?” my daughter whispered. I knew that she was not only curious, but overcome with fear. We’ve always kept our children away from many of the scenes the news plays. We don’t hide them from the truth, but there are many images and stories we feel they can be taught about from us and not how the media displays it for adult eyes. I looked at, grabbed her hand, and told her, “Babe, there’s just something going on in the world and people are upset. They are letting our government know that changes need to be made.” This wasn’t the time for me to go into details with my 8 year old daughter on why there was a mix of peaceful protests and looting. Why we needed justice for not only George Floyd, but all of the African Americans being subjected to racism still in 2020 solely because of the color of their skin. For those that lost their lives at the hands of a racist clothed in blue and a badge. Without hesitation my daughter responded. “Is it because that white police officer kneeled on George Floyd’s neck and killed him? Because George Floyd said he couldn’t breathe and the white police just kept doing it? That’s what people are saying on Tik Tok. I know it’s not right, why would he do that?” My heart was shattered. My innocent 8 year old daughter knew more about the horrific situation from her social media platforms than I thought. This was her news. These were her questions. And it is time that I follow the mission I lead by.
I knew in that moment that it was time to no longer hide the true realities of our world from my children. They already know what is going on, whether I share the information with them or not. As an educator, as a father, it is my responsibility to inform them, teach them, and empower them. This all begins with me. I have finally opened my eyes. I have self-reflected on these issues and I must learn, alongside my country, my neighbor, my children, how to be a force, a voice, to bring an end to racism in our country. It is my responsibility, as a white male, to be honest about my faults, my mistakes, my wrongs not only with those I serve but my children and most importantly, myself. I truly believe in my heart that my children, your children, OUR children, are the catalyst that will bring about true change in our world. There is no way this is going to happen if we are not honest with them about the racism that still infects so much of our country. It is our duty to learn ourselves first and then teach them so they are that force empowered and determined to change this world. That is never going to happen if we don’t begin with ourselves.

Wednesday, April 29, 2020

Prison Break Pie - April 29, 2020

Prison Break Pie
From the upcoming book: The EduCulture Cookbook: Recipes to Transform School & Classroom Culture
By, Michael Earnshaw
@EduChefEarnshaw


Prison sentences are never that bad at first. Like any new situation we’re thrown into, whether it’s of our own accord or not, there’s that awkwardness that permeates throughout our air. The glares from every set of eyes as you enter your new “home” for whatever period of time you’ve been sentenced, heckles from others who have already taken up residence, believing that you don’t have what it takes to make it in the “joint”, taunts and threats shouted and echoed as you slumber through the bland, cold, gray halls for the first time to remind you that no matter what status you believe you hold, you’re at the bottom of the food chain. Others have been residents long before you, and many will remain after you make it out, if you make it out. After you make it through this initiation though, it’s actually kind of pleasant.

Many school administrators would fare well, and actually enjoy time in the “clink”. It is a very structured facility, where your daily routines run like clockwork. Every morning your cell door, as well as every other in the prison, unlock and open at the same time in unison. You step out, greet everyone within your vicinity with a smile and nod, and then head to breakfast. Here, you get your coffee, spend some time socializing with the same individuals you do every morning. Each day the conversation is different, but it’s the same. Basically, you’re just biding time until you’re back in your small four walls.

After your coffee break you make it back to your cell. The door is open, but you don’t have the freedom to just leave, or at least that’s what you believe. You spend the next few hours reading, writing, and doing what you have convinced yourself that you are supposed to be doing during these morning hours. You’re spending time with yourself “catching up” on what you think needs to get done.

Before lunch hits is when you get to make your rounds. A brief stroll to get another cup of watered down Joe, a step outside in the courtyard to get a little bit of sunshine. Maybe a quick workout or pickup game of basketball. Within the blink of an eye, you’re back in your cell, acting as if the reading and writing has built up to catastrophic proportions while you were out.

You get in another hour or so, thinking you’ve made some headway, and then return to the Mess Hall. Lunch is quick, bland, and unsatisfying. Some days you’ll completely skip the meals because they not only look, but smell worse than any meme you could find on public school meals served to kids from the 80’s.

After lunch there’s more down time reading and writing. It never seems to end. No matter how many hours you dedicate to these time consuming tasks there’s always more. In all honesty, it’s been self-created. This is what you feel you need to do with your new role. It’s what we’ve seen portrayed in television shows and movies. You’ll share some of your pieces with others, but many times they don’t want to take the time, or they feel as if they are drowning in work themselves. You’ll get a reply from some, others you need to hunt down and ask a few times face to face. At the end of the day you can put away your journal and books and relax a little.

During the later hours of the day you have some dinner with friends, watch some meaningless shows on television, and wind down for the night. Before “Light’s Out” you may read a little bit for pleasure, dreaming of better days. Then you’ll close your eyes just to wake up and do it all over again tomorrow. Like clockwork.

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I lost three years doing this after I was sentenced. Like everyone inside, it wasn’t my fault. This wasn’t how it was supposed to end for me. Each day that passed I began to get inside of my own head. That was the worst part, knowing that this would be my life for the next 20 or so years...unless I broke out. I told myself that was my only option for clarity, for sanity.

The funny thing about prisons is not that you are locked inside with a strict structure and routine. That’s fine. The true prison is your own mind, your own thoughts. That’s where the agony and anguish lies. Thinking how tomorrow, and the tomorrow after that will be the same as today. Our minds are the prisons that we cannot escape. I needed to break out, it was the only solution if I was going to make it where my actions had brought me.

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The prison I described above was one which I had chosen for myself. It was my goal to become a building principal. Since I had begun coursework for my Master’s in Educational Administration I fell in love with leading and inspiring a staff. When I began the program I was only doing it for the credentials and to get a bump on the teaching salary schedule. Quickly I realized the much larger impact I could have in education and touch many more lives of students by leading a building.

I was fortunate to earn the title of Assistant Principal for a two year run. This wasn’t much different than my time as a classroom teacher. I was in classrooms daily, building relationships with staff and students. I was able to work hand in hand with others and positively change the lives of over 300 students, which was much more than the 90 I had as a middle-school ELA teacher.

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The principalship is a different monster. Nothing could have prepared me for all of the behind the scenes paperwork and minutiae that accompanies the leader of a school. At first I did my best to get out and build relationships. Since I was a child I have always known the key to changing the world is meaningful, trusting, and sincere relationships. But as my first year as an elementary building principal began to unfold into the later months I was finding myself spending more time in my prison cell.

The paperwork was overwhelming. There always seemed to be something else that needed to be completed and submitted to my supervisors. I also saw the amount of emails that my fellow principals were sending to their staff on a daily basis. They were all much more seasoned than I was, and I believed that to be effective I needed to follow their suit.

I felt like I was Bill Murray in Groundhog Day. Three years had passed, three years I would never get back. Three years that I don’t feel I was the best leader for my staff, or more importantly, our students. I was miserable. I was depressed. I began contemplating my choices and if there was any other career field I could enter with the credentials and skill sets I had. This was not why I had entered education. This was not why I had worked so hard to become a building principal. I told myself that I could not spend any more years trapped inside my cell, making phone calls, replying to emails, and creating and submitting meaningless documents. I declared I had two choices:

End it all and leave the field of education.
Break out of my cell and lead how I had always believed in my heart.

Year three ended and I had taken a lot of vacation days during the months of June and July to self-reflect, find myself, and plan my escape. My heart was telling me that I was destined to change the lives of many, and that serving as a principal was what I needed to do. I wasn’t done yet.

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I realized that many of the paperwork tasks I thought I needed to complete daily were just enemies I created in my mind. I knew that in order for me to be free and live out my vision of changing the world I needed to get back to forming relationships. I needed to get out of my front office and spend as much time as I could in the hallways and classrooms amongst our amazing staff and inspiring students. Many ideas were formulated in my brain, but there was only one that I knew would be the perfect solution. Once she entered my mind I knew there was no other path to take to break out of my prison. Adina would be my savior!

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Close your eyes and imagine being the only one in your school. It’s silent, no noise is polluting the clean air of the hallways. Then, with the snap of your fingers, you hear plastic wheels rolling over the tiles of the hallway. It’s loud, the “thud, thud, thud” takes over and pushes out whatever peaceful thoughts were dancing in your head.

“Uuummm...what is that? It’s so loud!” was what everyone had asked the first time they met Adina.

A smile always grew across my face before I answered. “This is Adina, my mobile desk!”

“That’s cool, but what about your office?” questioned many.

“The school is my office,” was the only explanation they needed.

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I know I may sound like a broken Rancid record, but to me, relationships are everything. To truly make a difference in the lives of others, and the bigger picture of changing the world, we must have relationships. I’ve spent my entire career, sans the first three years as a principal, putting relationships first. It served me well and many lives were transformed. It’s time to do that again.

After many plans and ideas, it hit me that the best way to get back into the hallways and classrooms, and still get all of my work done, was to get a mobile desk. She’s nothing fancy, a section to place my laptop, a little cabinet for pens and pencils, #KINDNESS bands to pass out to students, and jeans passes for staff. There’s also a section to place my skateboard and display what books I’m currently reading for all to see.

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The first few weeks that Adina was with me was a learning curve for some. Classes would exit their room for a bathroom break or a Special’s class and there we were, working at an intersection of hallways. When I needed to satisfy that hunger of the excitement that fills a classroom we could easily roll into any of our choosing and spend time working and being visible and part of the learning.

“I need to talk to you...uuummm...are you in your office? asked a teacher as I was in the middle of the hallway.

“Yeah, this is my office. What’s up?” was my response.

She then took a step forward, breaking through the invisible threshold to have a conversation.

As time went on staff and students understood my new concept and became comfortable talking and working together with me anywhere in the school. Of course if there was a confidential conversation that needed to be had we would step inside a closed door room, but these were few and far between.

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Besides connecting with others and building relationships, I noticed many positive changes that came with the addition of Adina, many that I hadn’t even imagined when we began our dance together.

My inbox had significantly  less emails. I was no longer receiving small fires that were requesting my extinguishing. Being available and visible I was able to take care of these flames well before they erupted into a full blown blaze.
Student behavior improved. With being nearby at all times I could hear if there was a disruption brewing inside of a classroom. A student walking out of a classroom in anger or frustration, no problem. I was right there.
I knew what was happening in our classrooms. I knew the lessons and content being taught, and I was invited to be a participant of these lessons much more frequently. If something amazing was taking place and I wasn’t invited, I just crashed it!

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It’s been nearly two years and Adina and I are still together. Students love her and have given us personalized decorations to clothe her in. If it wasn’t for her I’d either be miserable, locked inside of my prison of an office or have left education completely. Had that happened I would  still be miserable and just  contained in a cubicle.

You don’t have to serve a life sentence stuck inside of your office. Find someone, or something, that will break you out and show you the beauty of the landscape freedom that lays before you. For me, that was Adina, and I am forever grateful.