Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Be the Light in Somebody's Tunnel

I've gone back and forth about writing this post about what's gone on in my personal life since last November. So, if I am publishing this post, let me first tell you what the purpose of the post and the message I hope to get across in this post.

The purpose of this post is to remind all of us that no matter how dark or grim our circumstances may be, there are people who will be there to prop us up and get us through even the most unimaginable things.


Here is the "too long didn't read" version of this story. My wife began getting sick towards the end of last year. On January 29 the doctors at University of Louisville performed life-saving surgery. After spending a combined 11 weeks in the hospital and a physical rehab center, Ruth was finally able to come home. She still has a road of recovery ahead of her but she will recover. Every day is getting more and more normal. Today, May 27, we are celebrating 15 years of marriage!

The deciding factor for me on if I would write this post or not is when several people began saying to me these past couple weeks, "well, I bet it's nice to see the light at the end of the tunnel." Now this is a phrase that we have all heard our entire lives. However, I'm here to tell you today, that for me and my family, the light was not at the end of the tunnel but because of our strong support system of faith, family, friends, and co-workers, our tunnel was well lit the entire time.

The Beginning

I will do my best to keep this as short as possible. My wife has dealt with Crohn's disease since she was a teenager. She's had her ups and downs with it over the years but prior to the beginning of this story, she had gone over 2 years symptom free. 

Toward the middle of October, 2014, she began to get sick. By the first of November she was having a colonoscopy and I thought she was going to get admitted to the hospital that day. The treating physician decided not to admit her and gave her some pretty aggressive medications for her to take a home. She continued to deteriorate throughout the month of November and the beginning of December. On December 11 I came home and she couldn't explain to me what day it was, what medicine she had taken, and was in need of immediate care. This was the beginning of her first hospital stay. 

After a couple days in the hospital we found out the medicine she was prescribed played a large factor in her hospitalization. Her white blood count was 0.5 (10-15 is normal). Over 95% of her WBC had been wiped out. They stopped her medications, gave her blood and platelet transfusions, and numerous prescriptions while her WBC slowly climbed back up. 

On December 23, Ruth came home from the hospital. Her WBC was much better but her Crohn's disease still raged on. By the time she was released from the hospital she had lost the ability to get out of bed or a chair on her own. She walked with a walker and we used a wheelchair as well. This was all due to how long she had been bedridden. 

For the next month she did physical therapy at home 3 times a week, began another treatment for her Crohn's disease and I thought we had seen the worse of it. She was still weak and sick but I was hopeful and encouraged by the small progress she was making. 

The week of EduCon she began to take a turn backward in her health. I was scheduled to speak and after discussing it with Ruth, decided to go ahead and go to EduCon. Her sister was staying with her and I knew she was in good care. Sunday morning at EduCon my sister-in-law called me and Ruth was going back to the hospital. She was having hallucinations and was once again in dire need of medical attention. 

I changed my flight time, made it home as fast as I could, and went straight to the hospital. She was dehydrated, her blood sugar was low, and she continued to have hallucinations. Things began to move quickly that week. On Monday I noticed severe bruising on her thighs and abdomen. By Tuesday the bruising was from the top of her feet, up to her chest. Tuesday night with our boys in the room, she suddenly screamed out in pain. I rushed the boys out and got help. They gave her pain medicine, got her pain under control, and said the doctor would see her in the morning. 

The next day we found out the pain was from a perforated colon and air was being released into her stomach wall, along with what passes through the colon. She was in need of surgery and would need to be transferred to the University of Louisville Hospital. Around midnight she was transferred and once again we would wait until the morning for doctors to come evaluate the situation. 

The next day, 1/29/15, was the longest day of my life. 

The colon team was the first team to come see Ruth. Didn't learn much more than we already knew but more doctors were on the way. The hematology team was next. Ruth had contracted C. Diff and Disseminated Intravascular Coagulation (DIC). The DIC is what was causing the bruising. Ruth's blood wasn't clotting anymore and was literally seeping out of her veins.  It was then the doctor told us that Ruth was in a dangerous situation. Not really wrapping my mind around what he was saying, I asked him what he meant by that. He said, "She is in a life-threatening situation."  

The problem was the combination of her perforated colon, C. Diff, and DIC was going to kill her and only way to get it under control was to remove the colon. The DIC was preventing her blood from clotting and that made surgery very dangerous but if they didn't do surgery, then she was surely going to pass away. 

It was a little past noon. I began to alert family and friends of the situation. I told family that they might want to consider heading this way. The majority of our family lives 1-3 hours away. 

We prayed, we cried, I held her hand and couldn't take my eyes off of my wife. Our Bishop and his wife came and prayed with us. Time moved slower than it ever has in my life. I didn't know when/if they could do surgery. 

Around 4pm the surgeon came in and said they were prepping the operating room. Surgery would begin within the hour. A flurry of questions came to my mind and this conversation will be etched in my brain for a long time. 

How often do you do this surgery? "I removed a colon almost every day that I work. I've already removed one today. I've been doing this for 10 year." How often do you see cases like Ruth's? "I might see somebody as sick as your wife 3-5 times a year. What about the DIC? What about the blood-loss issue? "That does make it difficult but I have a plan. She'll be hooked up to blood and we will do our best to put it back in her as fast as it's coming out. I do know that if we don't do surgery soon the infection will get worse and we'll lose any control we have left of the situation." How long will surgery last? "It should only take 2 hours." What are her chances of making it? Do I get a percentage? "I honestly don't know and it wouldn't be fair for me to put a number on it." What about... "I know you have questions and I want to answer them, but she needs surgery now and I have to go prep for it. You need to go fill out paper work." 

And with that he turned and walked away. It wasn't rude, he had a confidence that was reassuring. I knew he understood the situation and he had the best possible plan to save her life. I did what I needed to do and began to fill out paperwork.

Within 30 minutes they were ready to take Ruth.

I can't put into words what it was like talking with her before they took her down. We expressed our love for each other, prayed, and shared a goodbye kiss. When they took her out, I didn't know if that was the last time I was every going to talk to my wife. 

I went down stairs and waited. 

My Bishop and a couple members of our church waited with me. Family was on their way. I talked excessively to pass the time. Halfway through we got a report that things were going as planned and she was doing great. Almost two hours on the nose after surgery started the surgeon came out to talk to us. I wanted a smile, a thumbs up, anything that told me that she was ok. What I got was, "lets step into here and talk." The consultation room couldn't have been more than 30 feet away or so but felt like a mile.

Once in the room, the surgeon quickly told us that Ruth was okay and the surgery went as well as could be expected. We'd be able to see her soon but they would keep her sedated throughout the night.

The next week showed me once again just how sick she was when she went in for surgery.

The next morning they took Ruth off of all sedation medication, but she didn't wake up. The weekend passed and she was still unresponsive. They'd try to wake her up and she might wiggle her toes when she was asked but she wouldn't give you a thumbs up or squeeze your hand. Spent hours just waiting and talking with her. Nothing changed.

On Tuesday she had a seizure with just a nurse and me in the room. They began to run more test on her and found out her liver was filtering her blood that it should've been. They decided to do dialysis to remove the toxins from her blood. The doctor would tell me later that at that point he just wasn't sure she would ever wake up.

My Bishop was one again by my side. The dialysis machine finished doing it's thing. My Bishop prayed with us and left. Not moments after he left, she squeezed my hand for the first time.

Another round of dialysis and prayer and she began to wake up.

The next few weeks are honestly a blur. Looking back on it now, it shocks me how little time actually passed because days felt like weeks and weeks felt like months. Her body took weeks to recover from the surgery. Her liver had been given the task of filtering all of the poison and medicine and it almost couldn't handle it.

The back half of her stay in the hospital consisted of monitoring her liver, waiting to see when it was going to bounce back from the surgery, and going through physical therapy. She had to relearn how to swallow food and drink. Speech therapist working with her on swallowing techniques and making her swallow dyed food and then looking at her throat with a camera to see how much went to where it was suppose to go.

Her muscles had developed atrophy during her stint in the hospital. It was literally like watching an infant develop. Learning how sit up on her own, trying to stand but not being able to, and working on gaining full motion of her feet and ankles.

Out of the hospital!

Finally, after five weeks in the hospital, she was released to a nursing home to complete her recovery. Here they taught her how to walk again. First it them holding her up while she learned how to put pressure on her legs again. Then she learned how to stand on her own while holding onto parallel bars. I remember the day she texted me and told me that she took her first steps on her own! She said she was just tired of standing and decided to give walking a try.

From there things seemed to move quickly. Well, at least it felt that way to me. Every day she was telling me how much further she walked, or how much stronger her legs felt. The boys and I spent as much time there as we could. It was always so cute as our youngest always wanted to lay in the bed with his mom.

Even though the time went by much faster and the progress was amazing, she still ended up spending six weeks at the nursing home.

Between her hospital and nursing home stay 11 weeks passed, we celebrated birthdays for two of our three kids, she lost close to 100 lbs, I think I gained about 30 lbs, and our lives were forever altered.

Time to go home

Then it was time to go home. Since coming home she just continues to make great progress. She's gone from traveling by wheelchair, to walker, to just a cane. She's gone from hardly being able to get up a single step, to being able to get up multiple steps, to being able to go down into our finished basement.

She still has a road ahead of her and may even have a followup surgery but every day gets more and more normal.                                                      

I wish I had more to say here. I wish I could adequately explain how much joy it is to have my wife home with us. I even smile just listening to her trying to get our boys to complete the simplest chores.

The truth is, I'm not a master of the English language, and I don't have the right words. Everything I have thought about typing just falls short. If I could sum up how I feel in one word, it would be the word complete. I feel whole, I feel happy, and I feel beyond blessed to have my wife of 15 years home with us.

The Light

As I said above, the purpose of this post is to remind all of us that no matter how dark or grim our circumstances may be, there are people who will be there to prop us up and get us through even the most unimaginable things.

People really did say to me at different times throughout this trial, "it must be nice see the light at the end of the tunnel." Now don't get me wrong, I know what they were saying, and it's true that as my life has gotten more and more normal, I have thought the same thing.

That being said, I can tell you that even though this was easily the darkest moment in my life, my tunnel was well lit the entire time. That's due to Jesus Christ, my amazing family, church, friends, colleagues, and total strangers.

I know I won't capture everything that people did, and please know that I appreciate everything people did for us and are continuing to do for us. So, if I don't mention you by name, please accept my apology.

Here is a short list of how my tunnel was lit throughout the journey.

  • Prayer - I can't even begin to tell you the number of people from around the globe who told me that Ruth, the boys, and I were in their thoughts and prayers. 
  • Family - Even though our family lives 1-2 hours away, they were there at the hospital the day of her surgery as fast as they could get there. Ruth's sister and her family drove down from Wisconsin the next day and stayed for a week to help. My dad came and stayed with us. He of course picked the week we had a snow storm and my boys were out of school all week. I think about everyone on Ruth's side stayed with us at some point during all of this. Of course, all of the phone calls and text messages kept me going and my mind occupied during the darkest times.
  • Christmas - My church stepped up in a huge way in December. They decorated our house, took our kids' Christmas list, went shopping, and wrapped their presents. My kids wouldn't have had the great Christmas we had if it wasn't for my church family.  
  • Speaking of my church...prayers, phone calls, visits, food, and childcare.  Honestly, there were times when people asked me who had the boys, and I didn't know for sure because so many people from the church were stepping up to make sure they were taken care of when family wasn't in town. 
  • Friends - I could mention a lot of people, and I will, but I have to give special thanks to Bill Ferriter. If you don't already know, the guy is a special kind of awesome. The day after I got back from Philly he called me and wanted to know what was going on. He offered to be my contact for all of education friends. I would keep him the loop and he'd make sure people knew what was going on. He gave people my address and the next thing I knew people were mailing me cards with words of encouragement. I can't tell you the number of tears I shed reading those cards. Everyone of them touched my heart.  Bill even set up a GoFundMe that has helped lessen the blow of our medical bills. I can honestly tell you that I love Bill like family. He's like my big brother and I'm forever grateful for his friendship.
  • Tom Murray is right up there with Bill. This guy was relentless with his text messages to me. He just wanted me to know that he's thinking of us and praying for us. I wouldn't hardly go a couple of days without hearing from Tom. 
  • Tom Whitby, Amber Teamann, John Spencer, Erin Klein, Philip Cummings, Paul Cancellieri, everyone in SportsVoxRadio land, and everyone else who I met on twitter or at conference that has reached out to us, I say thank you! I'm sorry I couldn't name everyone. 
  • Chris Lehmann - When I was in EduCon, as I stated above, I had to change my flight and get home as quickly as possible. Well, I found Chris, told him what was happening and that I couldn't lead my conversation with Erin Klein. He sprung into action and grabbed three students. One of them put a note on the door to announce the change in schedule, one changed my flight for me, and one got me a cab. I got home quicker to my wife because of Chris and his amazing students! 
  • Evansville - We lived in Evansville, IN for almost 8 years of our marriage. We had ladies from the church where Ruth and I were the youth pastors that came and cleaned our house from top to bottom. The pastor sent a basket full of snack and games. One of the highlights of the hospital stay was when a group of them surprised us at the hospital. Thank you Abundant Faith Family!
  • Colleagues - First of all, I have the best boss ever. Amy is somebody who will never seek the spotlight but she is just amazing. Her and my Superintendent gave me the freedom to care for my family and never one time put any pressure on me to return to work. I wouldn't have wanted to have gone through this under any other leadership I've worked for besides this one. Just amazing people, who love people, and are true leaders.
  • My team - We are leading a large 1:1 initiative and it's a hard job. My team didn't miss a beat! From our eLearning Coaches, to our managers, building level techs, and the best administrative assistant a guy could ask for! It's almost scary how well things went while I was out.  Thank you team for carrying the load, providing support, and caring for my family!
  • Our Boys - Micah, Nathan, and Levi aren't perfect but they are amazing kids. They all stepped up and probably grew up a couple of years in just a short amount of time. I have never actually sat them down and explained to them just how close they were to losing their mom. I'm not sure if/when I ever will. Their hugs, kisses, and smiles are more precious to me than almost anything. Some of my most fondest memories of this trial will be the joy and excitement they expressed every time Ruth made some sort of accomplishment. "Oh mom! You're standing! Good job mom! You're walking without the walker! That's great mom!"   
I'm sure I'm missing something. There's no way that this is it, but I think you get the point. This was the worse thing I've ever lived through. People have told me time and time again, "I don't know how you made it through all of this. I'm impressed with how well you've handled everything." Well, I hope this post serves as an answer.

Our tunnel was long but it wasn't dark. Yes, there were times when I was discouraged, scared, and frustrated but when I took a deep breath and looked at the whole picture, I knew we'd get through it. We all go through test and trials. We all get stuck in tunnels. We all know people who are in those places right now.

The biggest thing I've learned through all of this, is that you don't have to wait until the end to see the light. If we will be there for each other, then even in our darkest moments, the path will be well lit.    

Be the Light in Somebody's Tunnel    


Saturday, January 17, 2015

More Than a Music Teacher

I write this post with a heavy heart because I know no matter what I write in this post it will fail to adequately express how I feel. One of my all-time favorite people is battling cancer and is currently at home receiving hospice care. I am frantically typing these words in a hope that she will get to read them because I haven't expressed to her enough what an impact she had in my life.

With that being said, I dedicate this post to the amazing Mrs. Connie Meek.

Mrs. Meek taught choir at Crawfordsville High School. I first met her when my brother Jason was in high school and she was his teacher. I would go on to have Mrs. Meek as a teacher from the time I was in 8th grade choir, until the day I graduated high school. I had her for more classes than any other teacher in my educational career.

Now I love music. I love playing music and I love singing. However, there is no way I would have taken that many years of choir if I didn't have an amazing teacher. What made her so amazing? First of all, there is no doubt in my mind, or anyone's, that she loved teaching. I can not imagine all the hours she put into us as students between her full schedule of classes, musicals, Pride (which is a club about being drug free), and everything else that goes along with being a teacher. Most importantly, she loved us students. I can't tell you the number of times she pulled me aside when I was having problems and talked to me. She loved us and I loved her for it.

My mind is being flooded with memories. Even now I can see the smile on her at the end of a choir concert. The look of joy she would have because the way we sounded on day one of learning a song compared to where we were on concert day was always light years apart. It was never a look of pride in herself for taking this group of kids and making us sound wonderful. It was always, at least to me, a look that said, I'm so proud of you and look what you can accomplish when you work hard and believe. It's a look I've tried to express to my own students and children.

I remember all the times I got to sing the national anthem and even to this day I can't hear or sing it without going into my bass part. Well, I at least try to go into my bass part. Every time I hear somebody sing and the words say "don't you" but it sounds more like "don't chew" because they didn't enunciate properly, I think of her. Even though I'm not in any choir or part of any singing group, I will still find myself singing the warmups we did in choir. Every time I hear the Imperial Death March I don't just think of Star Wars. I also think, "uh oh, somebody just got caught chewing gum in choir." There are several songs we sang in choir that I will still break out into at random times. Peg Leg Pete, Every Time I Feel The Spirit, and Calendar Girls, just to name a few.

One of my favorite high school moments happened because of Mrs. Meek. I was not nearly as outgoing as I wanted to be in high school. If I'm being honest, I had a very low self-esteem. I never thought I was good enough. My senior year was a down year in the men section in concert choir. A few seniors opted out for whatever reason and I was the only male singer who had any concert choir experience. We had a bunch of freshmen and their ever-changing voices, plus a few upperclassmen who might have been in choir before but this was their first time in concert choir. I actually had a scheduling conflict because I was a calculus student and it was only offered at the same time as concert choir. I convinced my school to let me drive a few miles down the road to the next high school and take calculus there at the end of each day so I could still be in choir. It was a great year, with lots of great memories. At the end of the year we always had awards. Mrs. Meek was handing out the top award for the year. I couldn't believe it when she called my name. I wasn't the choir president, I didn't consider myself to be a popular kid, and I certainly wasn't the best singer in choir. She later told that she gave me the award because I stuck with her and worked so hard with all the guys all year long. I've never forgotten that feeling. It was a feeling that very few teachers ever made me have but it was one that I had frequently around Mrs. Meek. It was a feeling of pride in my work self. It was the feeling that if I could master this, what else could I master?

Hardly anything can match the feeling of somebody believing in you and how it causes you to believe in yourself. She never gave up on me. She never gave up on us. It's a feeling I tried my hardest to pass on to my students. It's a feeling I do everything I can to make sure my own children have.

These words are not enough. I read over them and I know I've fallen short. How do you put this much appreciation for an individual into words? I hope some of Mrs. Meek's former students read this and help me out here. I hope others share their thoughts.

Thank you Mrs. Meek! You did more than teach me how to sing. You taught me more than notes and lyrics. You taught me how to love what you're doing. You taught me how to love students as if they were your own kids. You taught me how to work hard and to never give up on something or someone you love. It has been almost 17 years since you were my teacher but I'm still learning from you today.

Thank you Mrs. Meek.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Four Ps to a Fantastic Following

I originally posted this blog on my school district's technology website.

If nobody is following you, then you're not leading.


It's a phrase that anyone in leadership has heard over and over again. I was recently in a leadership class at my church being led by a person from Kineo Resources. During the session as he was discussing the four reasons people will follow you, I reflected on what I had learned that night I thought about how it applies to education. Whatever your role is in education, you are a leader. However, the true mark of leaders isn't how great their ideas are; it's the number of people they can get to follow, plan, improve, and execute those ideas. There are four levels of followers each leader has and each level of follow is a reflection of the relationship between the leader and the follower.


Some people will just follow you because of your position. They do what you say because they are the student and you are the teacher, or they are the teacher and you are the administrator. It's a level of compliance based on the position you hold over them or because of your ability to "get them in trouble" if they don't listen to you. This is the lowest level of followers and the lowest level of relationship. If you constantly have to remind somebody that you're in charge, you're the adult, or you're the boss, and they're the student, they're the child, or they're the teacher, then you only have position followers. These followers might be compliant at best. They will do what you say when you're but might talk about you behind your back. This is also the entry level of following. We follow people because of their position and test the waters to see if we can build that relationship to the next level. When you realize you have a position level follower, it is your role as a leader to cultivate that relationship. The follower wants to see that you have a vision and a mission. They want to see that you have a plan and a purpose. Most of all, they want to see that there is a benefit to being your follower. If they can't see your vision and mission, they'll never buy into you. If they don't see a benefit of being a follower, then they'll never get to the next level of following.  


Permission is the next level of following. This level says, I give you permission to lead me. Ultimately, position followers are not true followers at all. True followers are followers not out of obligation, but because they give you permission to lead them. They are followers out of choice. They have begun to buy into you as a leader, therefore they are buying into your vision and your mission. They haven't seen the results of following you yet, but they believe the results are coming. This is the student who came into your class not liking your subject, but because they like you they give it a shot. They don't think they'll be good at math but because they have begun to trust you, they follow your instructions. This is the teacher who has bought into the vision of the principal and the district. They haven't seen the results in the classroom yet, but they trust the instructional leaders and therefore are implementing the plan to the best of their ability. There is only one way to continue to move the followers up to the next level of following, and that is through results. If a leader's vision and mission fails to produce results, then those who followed you out of permission are going to revoke that permission. You see it all the time is sports. A new coach comes in, builds a relationship with his or her team, they implement the new system, maybe have some immediate success but then things go south. They start losing games and the new system doesn't appear to be working any longer. What happens? The coach loses the locker room, loses permission, and then loses his job. The same thing happens in our schools. At some point, your leadership has to begin to consistently produce results in order to move to that next level of followers.  


When those following you begin to see the good results, then they move to that next level, production. This level says, I followed you because of your position, you built trust in me and I have you permission to lead me. Now I see the good results of following you, so I will follow you further. This is a great place to be. I think back to my high school algebra teacher, Ms. Rupar. She was a tough lady. She certainly taught through fear to a certain degree and I'm not sure her methods would work today but they worked back then. I remember listening to her because she was my teacher and she could put you in line if you didn't pay attention. Then I remember as the semester went on that I developed a good relationship with her. I learned that we could connect and she was actually very easy to talk to once you got over your fear of her. So I gave her permission to lead me. No longer was I doing things because I didn't want to get in trouble but because I didn't want to let her down. Finally, I found out I was pretty good at this algebra stuff and I had her to thank for it. I was getting consistently good results, so I kept following her. I don't care what your position is, how many degrees you have, or how many years you've been doing this, if you can't produce results, people will stop following you. This is where a lot of leaders falter because they realize they're not getting the results they want, but they aren't willing to change. They are not willing to adapt to a new way of thinking. Their plans become more important to them than their vision and mission. But if you, as a leader, can grow, change, and adapt throughout the process and produce results, then you have a chance to grow into the type of leader who leads people to that final stage of following.

Personal Development

We will all follow somebody who makes us a better version of ourselves. This level says, I will follow you because I am becoming the leader I want to become because of you. We reproduce after our own kind. Dogs breed dogs. Cats breed cats. Corn seeds are planted and corn grows out of the ground. Leaders produce leaders. I said it at the top of this post, if nobody is following you, then you're not leading. I also say, if you're not producing new leaders, then you're not leading. People will obey somebody because of their position. They will give permission to somebody they trust. They will follow somebody whose plans and leadership produce results. They will flock to somebody who helps them develop personally to the leader they want to be. This is the principal who changes schools and half the staff at their previous schools puts in for transfers to his or her new school. This is the teacher that every student in the school wants to have, like my high school Latin teacher Mr. Boone. Mr. Boone taught 11th grade ELA and Latin. By the time he retire, he taught five classes of Latin a day. He was such a great teacher who instilled within you confidence, a love for learning, and a passion to follow your dreams.  Every student signed up for Latin just to guarantee they had Mr. Boone as a teacher.


In the end we have to remember that there is more to life than producing good results. If you are just using people to get the results, you need them in spite of your results, you will lose your followers. We are in the people business. Our students need to know that we are interested in developing them as people and working with them so they will become the leaders they want to be. Our staffs need to know that we pour into them, not just to get results, but because they are worth pouring in to. It's all about relationship. Here, in just the start of second semester, let me challenge us to reflect on where we are as leaders. Are people following us just because of our position? Have people given us permission to lead them and are we honoring that permission by working with them to produce results? Are we doing more than producing by pouring into those who are following? Are we producing leaders?

Thursday, November 20, 2014

He's a Bad Kid

The best part of my mornings are getting to fix my three boys breakfast. Raising three boys you're just never sure what is going to happen while they are eating breakfast. My kids major in randomness. The other morning my youngest son started telling me about how he was missing a boy who was no longer in his kindergarten class. I told him that I was sorry that he missed him and asked him if they were his friends. He quickly responded, "No, he's not my friend. He's a bad kid. He gets on red every day."

I was taken back and honestly saddened by his comment about his classmate. You see, like many classrooms, my son starts his day on a certain color. If his behavior is defined as good behavior, then he gets to move up a color. If his behavior is defined as bad behavior, then he has to go down a color. Most days when I ask him how his day was he will reply, "I was on (fill in the color)." Here is what bothered me about this conversation at breakfast and what bothers me about frequent conversations after school.

  • He frequently defines the success or failure of his day strictly by what color he is on when the day ended. 
  • He judged a fellow classmate as a "bad kid" based on what color he perceived that student regularly ended his day on. 
Now let me say this as clearly as I can. This is not a complaint against his current teacher or school. My boys are having a great year. They have great teachers. They are all learning and happy. This post has been a long time coming. In fact, I spoke with my son's teacher today about it and got her permission to share the story about my son. Really made me even happier about her as a teacher. I love her openness and willingness to be a reflective educator. 

I was recently quoted in a piece about Class Dojo in the New York Times.  I was probably on the phone for over an hour with the reporter and it was a very pleasant conversation. The interview, a twitter conversation I got involved in, the subsequent NYT rebuttal from Class Dojo, a Skype session with somebody from Class Dojo, and then this conversation with my son all happened right on top of each other. All of this has my mind going and I had to blog about it. So here are some observations and things that I'm wondering about. 

Do tools like class dojo and using colors to track behavior build a positive classroom culture?

Culture is everything! Read Anthony Muhammad's books and you'll see what I mean.  Here is the thinking that I think public displays of rewards and punishments reinforces. 
  • Class favorites and class pets. "Oh Mr. Clark always gives Johnny Dojo points. He's his favorite." A lot of students already struggle with this mindset. Let's not reinforce it with bad classroom management practices.
  • This kid is a bad kid. As you know, I've seen this in my own son. He couldn't tell me anything else about that student except for his name and that he was a bad student. He based that on what somebody else in authority label that student. Inadvertently or not, it doesn't matter. 
  • Us vs Them. Is the way we handle classroom management bringing us closer together with our students or pushing us apart? Perception is reality. If our students view us as having it out for them or that "we never liked them", it doesn't matter how accurate or inaccurate it is, that's a hard mountain to climb. 
What message are we sending our students? 

One of my biggest complaints about Class Dojo is the imagery of little monsters being used to represent our students. I personally am not comfortable with it. I don't want my son to be depicted as a little monster. I don't want my students to be depicted as little monsters. 

My second biggest complaint with Class Dojo is that it's designed to be displayed. Now I know that teachers don't have to display it. Just like I know that teachers don't have to use the negative marks and the sound effects. However, the fact that those features exist promotes the public displaying of what should remain private information. 

Technology isn't neutral. You can take a piece of technology and use it differently than how it was designed but it was designed for a purpose. It's like the idea that guns aren't a part of the problem, just the people who misuse them. (My goodness, why am I putting this in here?) Give a group of kids a set of toy guns and see what game they'll play with them. Will they play "war" or will they play "peace". No kid says, "hey look at these toy guns we just got, lets go play peace with our friends." Yes, you can take almost any tool and use it in a beneficial way but that doesn't change how it was designed to be used. 

In a recent conversation I made the suggestion of removing the public and negative features from Class Dojo. The idea was rebuffed because half of the users would probably leave the platform. Now in all fairness, the ideas were written down. 

Ok, I'll get off of Class Dojo because I think they have good people working for them and they have been very open to conversations. You can use their product in a positive way.  Plus, I'd rather this conversation be more about the overall idea of classroom management, than just a single platform. 

Who owns the learning? 

If we as educators are defining what is good and bad behavior for them then when are we giving our students the chance to define their behavior themselves? More than just letting our students be involved in the creation of classroom expectations. We've got to get our students reflecting on their own actions and making their own course corrections as needed. 

Are we setting up our teachers and students for failure?

If you give out a reward or punishment for a certain behavior then you better be ready to give out that reward or punishment every single time that same event occurs again. That's an impossible task but the moment you stop, you've just sent a message to the student that the rules have changed. I do believe in the idea that we can punish by rewards.

Where do we go from here?

Ok, I've got to land this plane. Let me give you two easy suggestions on how I think we can all do a better job with classroom management. 

  1. Worry more about classroom engagement and less about classroom management. I've been saying for years that an active, engaging classroom and a mobile teacher are teachers' two best tools for classroom management. Be relevant, be engaging, be personable, and be empowering. 
  2. Keep discipline and rewards private. Especially discipline. If you see me pulled over on the side of the road, you can speculate all you want but you don't know why that cop pulled me over. Cops don't stop all of traffic just to deal with one violator. We shouldn't stop all learning just so we can deal with one student. If you're going to give rewards publicly then the rewards should be decided upon by the public for specific reasons to avoid the ideas of teachers having their favorites and popularity contest. 

Finally, let me leave you with two other great blog post. 

What do you think? How do you handle classroom management?  Am I completely off my rocker?