Monday, April 17, 2017

Doing the Impossible for Kentucky Students

Spring is a time for new beginnings.  I hope that everyone has had a chance to get away or at least find a way to reenergize in preparation for the remainder of the school year. 
Over Easter weekend, I travelled to watch my son row for his university at a meet in Tennessee.  As I sat on the banks of the beautiful lake with incredible weather, my thoughts drifted to Kentucky’s next step in improving education for the Commonwealth’s students. 
Our new vision for Kentucky education is one that puts students at the center of our work, values the profession of education, and values the education of the whole child, not simply test scores.  Our vision values innovation, collaboration, and putting traditional academia and career technical education on equal footing as both prepare students for their futures. Our new vision values students’ ability to show evidence of proficiency in many ways. It values the growth of each student, the students’ readiness to transition from one level to the next, opportunity and access, and closure of the achievement gap. 
So by now you may be saying, “Oh here he goes again talking about the new accountability system.”  Yes, these values are built into the new system, and quite intentionally so. We approached the new system from a vision perspective, not compliance. If we are to move Kentucky education to a next level, we must think more broadly.
As we discuss our new vision for accountability, I have heard several say that people will focus only on what is tested or that accountability will make everything about compliance.  I acknowledge that many have grown into a compliance mentality. But, I simply cannot accept that we are doomed to continue in this way. 

Over the years, Walt Disney has served as an inspiration to me, and no doubt to many others.  One of his sayings is one of my favorite quotes of all time: “I love to do the impossible.” 

I have to believe that quality educators across the Commonwealth have been waiting for the chance to spread their wings and their minds and nurture their students’ futures. I believe that because I have seen Kentucky educators do this very thing for the past 25 years.  When presented with a new challenge, they rise to the occasion and so do their students.  Kentucky educators love to do the impossible!

The second thing Walt used to say was “Plus it!”  Whenever one of his “imagineers” would come to him with an idea that was already innovative, he would tell them to Plus it!  This would push them to think even bigger and work even harder.  They knew he valued them, they knew he counted on them.  I am saying that to all of our educators now.  We have a new vision, so Plus it! 

It is time for our students to experience innovation beyond what we have done before. It is time for our educators to know that I value them and their work.  It is time for our students to get more than they thought they needed.  It is time for us to know that if we work smart and not just hard, our students will fly to new heights.  It is time for the adults to get out of the way and use all our skill and tools solely for students.  It is time to Plus It and do the impossible for Kentucky students.

Monday, April 3, 2017

Expanding our world

I know many of you are on a well-deserved vacation this week.  I hope those of you who had spring break last week had a great week.  I got the chance to take a week off and spend it at the National Science Teachers Association meeting.  I know, that may not sound like much of a vacation, but it was.  My wife went with me and while I got to enjoy some time with science teachers, I also got some down time to spend with her.

While I was there, I tried to see every Kentucky science teacher I could who was presenting. Unfortunately, there were not a lot.  The ones I saw did a great job.  It was nice to see the examples of good science instruction that we have here in Kentucky showcased.

As I went through the program to find our Kentucky teachers, it dawned on me that we need to have more of our great teachers presenting and learning from other great teachers.  I then realized that this is most likely the same in most of our national organizations.  I know, as well as anyone, how tight funds are for professional development and certainly I know that attending a conference is never high on anyone’s list.

I also know that there is some well-deserved skepticism regarding teachers attending and fully maximizing the opportunity due to the poor choices of a few.  However, I would like to encourage all of us to find a way to present the work we do whether at the state or national level.  We can only improve if we are willing to make our world big enough to let others in.  Besides being an opportunity to connect to other professionals, conferences allow us to see ourselves as others do.
Kentucky has a lot of work to do in education.  There is no denying that.  However, we are still viewed as a leader in education in the country.  The only way to experience that is to get outside of the state.  I hope we will consider sharing our expertise.

On another topic, Sunday was Autism Awareness Day.  These children experience a disability that is not well understood by the general populace.  It is unfortunate we need a day to stop, recognize and raise awareness of this disease.  I say unfortunate because we should not need to raise awareness at this point in history.  These children are a special treasure in my opinion.  While they certainly have their challenges, they also tend to have hearts of gold and special talents as well.

I have recently had the opportunity to meet a twice-exceptional young man named Jack.  He is brilliant and probably has a better grasp on Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) than many adults.  I would like all of us to pause a few minutes today and celebrate students like Jack and do all we can to ensure EACH child gets the education he/she deserves.