Monday, January 26, 2015

Keeping it Real: Why I Send My Kids to Catholic Schools

Let's give a hand to ALL of our exceptional schools!

This week is Catholic Schools Week so naturally I want to promote the faith based education program my kids benefit from in the Catholic preschool and elementary schools they attend. However, I think it's an appropriate time to address some assumptions and generalizations often made about which schools parents decide to send their children to and which schools are the best.

I attended a public high school (Go Rolla Bulldogs!) and had a rich educational experience full of teachers I loved, friends who cared, and coaches who supported me. I sat in class with peers who, like me,  were trying to figure out their way through each day. We may have looked and acted different because we came from diverse backgrounds and family lives, but we were there for the same reason. Sure, there were disagreements, different groups of people who hung out, however when you're from a tight community there's always someone around to give you a hand and help you out.

I went to a public university (Go MU Tigers!)  I never once felt like just another number, even though that is what I heard happens when you go to a public university. Professors do know when you are not in class!  I experienced college life with old friends and met new friends while having some incredible times.There were endless opportunities at MU.  I was lucky enough to work with professors who pushed me outside my comfort zone. I made mistakes and learned from them to grow as a person.

I taught in a public school in St. Louis (Go Lindbergh Flyers!) where each day brought many gifts because the students in my classes came from the neighborhood and East St. Louis through the Voluntary Transfer Program.  Many of them were from low SES homes with parents who sent them on that bus everyday hoping for a better future. My wise principal told me the first week I began, "You have to believe that all parents want the best for their kids."  Even though I didn't have kids at the time, this really stuck with me. I had to remind myself of her message on days when parents wouldn't return my phone calls or my students came unprepared.  But I was humbled by the fact that these parents trusted me, day in and day out to do everything I could for their child. What were they thinking?!  The students were onto me. They challenged me, frustrated me, laughed with me (and probably at me), best of all they hugged me or gave me a high five at the end of each day. All of them taught me to work hard and they made me a better teacher. 

I was an administrator in a public school in a St. Louis suburb (Go Kehrs Mill Knights) where I worked alongside teachers who dedicated their lives to making a difference in each and every child's life. I watched them learn new teaching methods through differentiating instruction, skipping lunch to figure out their new technology tools or help students, staying after school to finish up lesson planning,  preparing for the next day and what that may bring.  Some teachers left, many stayed as there were trying days, but we grew into a family. Looking back, there was always support and love from kids, parents and educators.

Through all my public education involvement, I witnessed hardworking teachers, dedicated students, caring families, many amazing resources and community teamwork. So why do I send my kids to Catholic Schools?

Because it is the right fit for our family. Because Catholic schools offer the same loving, dedicated, caring, challenging and educational experiences I had in public schools.

I don't think I need to tell you more than that. I don't think anyone needs to explain why they send their kids to a particular school. I've learned through all my educational experiences the incredible importance of supporting what you feel is right for your kids AND supporting what your friends feel is right for their kids. 

Do I think my kids' schools are better than other schools out there? I'm going to keep it real and say, No. Not because I don't think my kids' schools are amazing, they are. However, we are fortunate to have many amazing schools we can be proud of in the KC metro area.  

Yes, we live in a city with a struggling school district. While we strive to solve that, we have to remain vigilant about keeping all our schools systems alive and thriving. I love that we have a variety of schools in KC: public, city, suburban, rural, catholic, private, charter,  home school, large and small which are committed in meeting the increasingly diverse needs of all our kids. Are there issues in each school? Yes. As parents, teachers and community members we have a civil and moral responsibility to creatively come together, research,  and support solutions that are in the best interest of the students.

Which school is the right choice for your family? Don't ask me, ask yourself. Keep it real. Send your kids to the school you feel is right for them and support the schools around your community. All schools need positive feedback. All schools need to give every student a high quality education. All schools can do this, if we stick together and do our own part, whatever that means for your family.  We need to keep all types of schools open and focus on the number one reason they are in existence: to educate the whole child in every child.

I'm proud of my kids' school (Go Vis Shamrocks!) and, you know what? I am proud of your kids' school too because we all want what is best for our children.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

New Semester + New Activities and Partnerships = New Excitement @ the STEAM Studio!

Einstein, who failed over and over and yet brought us so many new things.
His passion for social justice is one of my favorite things about him.

STEAM Studio Clubs and Activities start back up next week. As we continue on with the projects we developed for the STEAM Studio this past semester, I'm thrilled to share our new partnerships, new activities, and the overall new exciting things taking place in our STEAM Studio this new semester!

This week's spotlight is on...

  • Brightergy- One exciting addition to our curriculum comes from the company Brightergy. Locally owned, their headquarters are in Kansas City which they have successfully expanded to other states. I learned about them from my children's school as the school facility has taken measures to be more environmentally and economically efficient. I was impressed by their vision and looked them up only to find one of my former students, Alizabeth Reynolds, is the Brighterschools Program Manager. We will start partnering with them this semester. Ali has this to say about the curriculum:

    • BrighterClassroom is a hands-on, inquiry-based, energy education program that brings energy alive in the classroom! This curriculum is designed to educate students on topics ranging from understanding energy efficiency to discovering how a photovoltaic cell works. BrighterClassroom takes advantage of the environmental changes happening around us by turning them into learning opportunities with real, direct applicability to students’ lives. 
    • BrighterClassroom has been implemented in over 400 schools across Missouri. Our goal is to take this program beyond Brightergy clients to a national audience. We know technology is going to continue to advance in the classroom; we also know our environment is going to continue to evolve. Students need be exposed to up-to-date, enriching material and in support of that we have a vision for BrighterClassroom. We will be expanding and revamping this program into an interactive, web-based curriculum that will be engaging and exciting for all grade levels. Throughout this process our objective will stay the same: to empower teachers and students with the knowledge, tools, resources, and strategies they need to create a greener, healthier climate for years to come.

Coming up...
  • Manufacturing Education- Michele Nash-Hoff, president of ElectroFab Sales, a manufacturers' sales rep firm wrote: "The American people have a choice to make. We can either accept the continued destruction of America's industrial base and allow all the gains achieved by America's industrial workers to be wiped out to compete with Third-World labor. Or, we can choose to secure a future for American industry and our industrial workers."   Our kids are constantly consuming something, what better way to build their confidence and build a better nation by giving them opportunities to build something which will have a positive impact on our society. Emphasis will be placed on developing their manufacturing skills. Learning by doing builds confidence and connects different pathways of knowledge.

Getting dirty is fun, just ask one of my favorite men Mike Rowe!
Let's teach our kids the joy of building more and consuming less

 while using some elbow grease and grit.

  • 3D Printing- Thanks to numerous donations from private donors will be able to purchase our first 3D printer this spring.  Offering kids the opportunity to design and develop products to print out then put to use in their daily lives and the lives of others is a team effort which will be taught and facilitated in the STEAM Studio.

My man Pablo, the definition of experimentation and innovation in art... and beyond.

  • Inviting local artists in- Through the Art Department at Rockhurst University and connections through the community, local artists will be selected and invited in to share the math, science, engineering and incredibly interesting ways art can bring out not only expression, but intelligence, failure, success and creativity in many ways.

  • Robotics- We applied and have been awarded a grant from VML to purchase our first robotics kit this spring to offer an unique First Robotics program which was founded here in KC. We are extremely grateful to VML and the Rockhurst University Engineering students who will be volunteering to help facilitate this program.

Wonder woman Marie Curie.
Rejected by a university because she was a woman, first woman to win a Nobel prize in chemistry.
First person to win a Nobel prizes in chemistry and physics

  • Getting more girls into STEAM- We will begin next week by launching a STEAM Club for Girls for the first five week session. We also have formed a partnership with St. Teresa's Academy. STA girls will be coming over to volunteer and STEAM Studio will be an option for juniors and seniors to complete their capstone service project.

None of this would be possible without the support of the Rockhurst University students and faculty. Rockhurst University students volunteer their talent and time to the STEAM Studio through service learning projects. This offers real-world application and stimulating community connections to the lives of the STEAM Studio participants and to RU students.

Find some time to do something you love. If you know of a company who would love to support the STEAM Studio, or know of someone who would love to volunteer their time, please contact me. This video captures the amount of time we have to do just that.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Animal House? Not Quite: What Teaching College Students Teaches Me

I have to go to class?

Back at it this week! Rockhurst University classes start today. Every semester, I look forward to getting back in the swing of things; partly because I am a creature of habit who enjoys a daily routine, but mostly because I get to meet new students in my courses. They all come with their own personalities, needs, attitudes, talents and spirits. This blog post is specifically about the undergrad college students I teach as two of the three courses I am teaching this semester are undergrad sections. Naturally, I have been reflecting more about this particular group and realize they have taught me quite a bit over the last seven years.

They motivate me to be a better teacher: First and foremost, this is one of my goals as a life long educator, to continuously become better. Each generation of students bring their own uniqueness and eccentric outlooks on life and learning. As a college professor, in my opinion, nothing is more humbling then your course evaluations. This is the point in the semester, right before finals, when your students can anonymously write and critique all the areas about you as a professor. There are multiple choice questions which cover questions asking how rigorous the class was, were the readings tied to the objectives, did the instructor assess you fairly then onto open ended questions about your organization, delivery of content and overall performance...just to name a few. Over the semesters, I have been appreciative and work hard to earn high ratings, but there are always students who blatantly see the areas I need to improve on, and they are as right as they feel. Who am I to judge what they say? I try hard to think about their written feedback and figure out how I can improve the course and my teaching. That's my job.

I have to be in tune with their emotions and thoughts: They are adults, but just beginning. Sometimes they come to class, tired, overwhelmed, stressed and disconnected. Other times they bounce in with energy, motivated to tackle the world and happy to share their intellectual thoughts related to the course content. I learned quickly the importance of getting to know them through small and individual discussions, their reflections about their past experiences and where they see themselves as future teachers. I am fortunate to teach at a university where my class sizes typically range between 15-25 students, so I can get to know them and they can get to know me. This does impact the way I teach. If I notice that they are losing interest in a particular topic, I need to switch gears and teach it differently. If one or more of them are crabby, I leave them alone. If I can see others are excited to share and teach their peers, then I give them that opportunity. It's not always easy, but it's taught me to be more flexible and the incredible importance of having a pulse on each student.

If you want to play hard (whatever that means to you), you have to work harder.

It's not Toga, Toga: If you are a college grad, it seems typical that you remember the good times and the parties, but that is not the case.  Very rarely do I have a student fail my class. I like to think it is because I care and help them along, but in the end they are required to do the work, no matter what they did the night before or what they have coming up over the weekend. The students I have taught at RU are huge volunteers, provide more service then ever expected. They study hard and I assume they play hard in their own individual way. They tend to be dedicated and choose not to miss class.This past semester, I ended up teaching on two of the nights we were in the World Series, not one student missed! I am impressed by how they put their studies first, even though it is expected, as there are also a variety of distractions in college!

I am their mentor, not their friend:  WOW, that's a big hat to wear. I'm not even sure I have this whole life thing figured out, but I do take my professional career seriously. I feel my experiences in and out of the classroom as a teacher and an administrator  were meant to be shared with other future teachers. The good, the bad and the ugly. I explain why I loved and continue to love teaching, but the challenges and sacrifices which occur when you are a teacher. I remember appreciating my college professors being honest about ways they reached kids, when they made mistakes and how they learned from those mistakes. These preservice teachers are no different.   They have plenty of friends, they don't need me to pal around with.  They need me to guide them into experiences which will set them up for success as an educator and to become a mentor to others.

They are like onions:  Not stinky. Well, not usually. They come with layers and sometimes they can bring you tears when you least expect it. I seek to challenge them and push them to learn more and to be more. They can be very tricky at times and if you try to peel away a layer too quickly, they can fall apart. They can become aloof and their trust in you as a professor can be damaged.  I have learned to slow down. To take my time and encourage them to take their time over the semester to really let the content and their teaching experiences sink in, reflect on them and figure out how we can all learn from them. From time to time, tears of joy, tears of struggle and tears of relief are seen. These are few and far between, but when it happens I realize they are more delicate than I assume.

Don't forget your sharpened pencils and your charged iPad.
I have to remind them: I do struggle with this one. Do I really need to remind them to turn off their cell phones EVERY class. YES. Do I have to remind them that an assignment, which has been posted all semester, is due next class. YES. It's a "given" that that they need to come to class on time and do the readings prior to class, do I still need to remind them? YES.  Hyperlinking additional resources, offering extra help, checking in with each one frequently to make sure they are where they need to be? YES.  I give them reminders, not a grade. They have to earn that!

They remind me that I'm glad my college days are over:  I loved college, all of it. Could have I have studied more, yes. Where there things I would go back and change, maybe. But, overall, I love looking at old pics and reminiscing with the best of them. However, I am glad that chapter is over. Even more, I'm glad that my undergraduate students are in it. They get to write their own chapter, they get to live their own college experience. They get to tell me about it...and I get to watch them and smile.

Know a college student? Give them a big hug, tell them to work hard and be nice to their professors!

Enjoy my favorite song from Animal House...

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Here's a Solution...Forget Those 2015 Resolutions!

Keep it simple and attainable...don't forget the fun!

EVERY year, millions of people make new year's resolutions. I don't know about you, but after a week or two, I've usually dropped the ball. Who wants to wait another year? Or another week to start over? What are your resolutions? Ones you have had before?

Here are the usual 10 Ten New Years Resolutions:
  1. Lose weight
  2. Volunteer
  3. Quit smoking
  4. Get a better education
  5. Get a better job
  6. Save money
  7. Get fit
  8. Eat healthy food
  9. Manage stress
  10. Manage debt
Look familiar? What resolutions have your already made and broken? It's inevitable...and research shows it's impossible to maintain a year long resolution.

Here's why and what you can do.
  • Goals are more successful (than resolutions)- In the 1960s, Dr. Edwin Locke was the pioneer of research in goal setting. He developed his research with Dr. Gary Latham and uncovered that to set goals, there must be certain elements. They identified these as: 
    • Clarity--do you know clearly what your goal is? Often times we make our goals so complicated, Superman couldn't achieve them.
    • Challenge--does the challenge motivate and excite you? This is key. Don't set a boring goal, set one that inspires you.
    • Commitment--how will you stay true to the end prize? What roadblocks do you predict, how will you get past those?
    • Feedback--HUGE piece. How will you know you are on track, off key? Technology can help you keep on target. There are all kinds of apps out there to help you manage your goal; from health, fitness logs to money managing forms and food diaries...just as examples.
    • Task complexity--this is probably the most important. What to do when you think your goal is too hard or stressful. If it really is too complex, go back and re-work your goal, create a new or similar one. Maybe in stead of trying to get to the gym everyday, you shoot for 3 times a week. Instead of trying save 1/2 your paycheck, you save 25% to start. 
What treadmills tend to look like by the end of January.

  • Keep your goals to yourself- According to research, once you verbalize what your goals/resolutions are, you are less likely to achieve them. People tend to get a thrill from saying something like, "Hey everyone, I am going to loose 25 pounds this year!"  It's called social reality where your mind is actually tricked into thinking it has been done. Participants in the study who did not share their goals spent more time on task and when time ran out they still felt like they work to do. Therefore, keep it to yourself!

  • Dig deep- What is it that YOU really want to accomplish? Take a step back from what you think others want, what is it that will keep you centered and moving forward to be the best you can be for yourself, which will then have a positive impact on those are affected by who are you and what you do. So many times, we worry about what others want for us, or want us to do. We need to dig deep and find out what will keep us happy and healthy.

  • Rely on a little help from your friends- Including your friends on meeting up to workout with you, or to give you advice on how to manage your goals in general, can be incredibly helpful. You don't have to tell them what your goal(s) is/are, but just ask how they have achieved something they worked for in their own lives. We all have friends with different types of talents who can give insight on how they get things done. Friends have helpful tips, habits, websites, apps that they use and do which they can share their firsthand experience. If you need to be directed to some helpful apps and websites, please ask me, I'll be your friend.
It's ok to make mistakes, just don't reward yourself with a donut or Duff beer.
  • Keep a journal- Even if you don't enjoy writing, keeping a journal can change your life. A psychiatric study showed that spending 15-20 minutes on 3-5 occasions expressively writing can have profound physical and psychological benefits. Even better, no one is grading it! Experts suggest keeping your writing as simple as you wish, as you begin. From there, you can get more detailed and lengthy as time goes on. Journal writing also has other benefits such as inspiring creativity (yes, everyone is creative in some way, shape or form), increasing your writing skills, and keeps a record of your own mistakes and successes. Why would you want to document your mistakes? So you can learn from them. Nothing wrong with making mistakes, they help you discover who you are and teach you valuable lessons.

Listen to The Script break it down: "don't wait for luck...dedicate yourself and go find yourself"