Staying hungry, staying foolish? Not quite.

Awhile back, I wrote that I would be exploring the 21st century student and how such a student differs from those that preceded him or her. So, let’s get this conversation started. 

Many years ago, the late Apple CEO Steve Jobs delivered a commencement address at Stanford University, during which he told the students to, “Stay hungry, stay foolish” when it came to choosing a career path and entering the real world. While some people may have misinterpreted his use of the word “foolish” and thought of its negative denotation, what he meant was that sometimes, one has to be foolish and take risks – as he did with Apple – in the search for fulfillment. The mere thought of risk-taking does not sound appealing to many people, but Jobs didn’t let that stop him from forming one of the most powerful companies in the entire world. He was foolish for even considering he could build a personal computer, but look what his foolishness did? 

The reason I bring that story up: as I think about today’s students, I truly wonder how “foolish” (as in Steve Jobs foolish) they truly are. Are they risk takers? Do they put themselves in situations where failure could make them look unwise but where success could elevate them to the status of genius? I don’t know about the first question, but from what I’ve seen over the past few years, I would have to answer, rather unequivocally, “NO” to the second question. 

Today’s typical student does not want to look foolish in any way, shape, or form. Foolishness, for most students, always results in failure, and that simply is not an option. To take the Jobs idea even further, students want full bellies and loathe the idea of any sort of “hunger” in life. A full belly guarantees *something* will always be present, hence no need for hunger or for foolishness. Where yesterday’s students were willing to step out on the ledge and take calculated risks in the name of success, I am willing to be that most 21st century students would rather have the path laid out in front of them and, to counter Robert Frost, take the road MOST traveled. While that path may not lead to a unique result, it is taken so often because it’s safe and lacks any sort of foolishness. I have had students tell me that they fear failure and that they make decisions to avoid failure (and foolishness) altogether. Can anything totally be avoided? Of course not – but for them, there’s a clear safe route that makes the most sense.  

And that’s a crying shame.

The worst part, however, is that most students know they lack the foolishness and the hunger, and that’s just fine with them. Somehow, some way, they have learned that to be hungry and to be foolish is to be a failure, and to them, the world spits on failure (it doesn’t, by the way). Did these students learn this in school? Perhaps…and that’s another blog entry for another time. Did they pick this up at home? Again, another entry for another time. In any case, the chances are not great that that they will heed the words of Steve Jobs. 

I hope that as this new breed of students enters college and the work world, they find out how foolishness and hunger can help them soar. Sadly, I don’t think that will be the case, but I guess I can’t blame them when they’re constantly reminded that they shouldn’t do anything on an empty stomach because, well, that’s just foolish. 

Tell that to the next Steve Jobs. 

Dusting off the cobwebs…yet again.

Ahem…good morning! As is obvious, I have done a stellar job of ignoring my blog and, in the process, failing to write about many significant educational moments in one way or another. For that, I am sorry. If you know anything about teachers (and if you're reading this, you do), you know that we get into those long stretches where all we can think about is our job and the many responsibilities that come with it. Needless to say, I fell into that trap and am not afraid to admit that I became a little lazy when it came to writing even a short blog post. I'm one of those people who feels the need to write substantially, but I do myself in when I don't have enough to fill three paragraphs. It's funny: I teach timed writing and constantly tell students that they need to condense their thoughts and that they can write solid essays without a ton of quotations or references. Maybe I should follow my own advice! Starting today, I will. Whether I post a few thoughts on a personal experience or share an article or commentary I have read, I will write more. In the words of the venerable band Whitenake, “Here I go again on my own.”

I have so many thoughts that I could post here, but I want to share an experience I had a couple of weeks ago when I served on a Visiting Team for a school evaluation. (For privacy reasons, I will not share the name of the school, except to say it is a beautiful prep school in New Jersey.) Teachers rarely get to see colleagues from other schools in action, so I jumped at the chance to do just that. As I migrated my way through the school's hallways and observed the different learning experiences taking place, I also noticed something that, until that point, I had ignored in all of the school's I previously had seen: classroom design. The classrooms in this school seemed more like learning centers, very student-focused and designed to appeal to all sorts of learners. Even though the school was built in the 1960s, I could tell that the school's architect planned not only for those present-day students but also for students that would fill the halls in subsequent decades. In other words, future planning became a key part of the school's construction. Of course, it cannot be assumed that today's building is an exact duplicate of the original structure; after all, technology alone has grown by leaps and bounds since that time. Still, it seems that while many schools built in the 1960s and later now show their age, this one does not.

When we think about the 21st century classroom, we not only need to consider the content and the learning taking place within the room, but also the physical space itself. Many schools have very little wiggle room with respect to redesigning classroom spaces; cost, location, and even building materials (the dreaded cinder block) make it difficult to convert yesterday's classroom to tomorrow's learning center. However, if a school wants to ensure its own survival, it must at least give thought to the types of learning that will occur in the next decade or so. Then, it becomes a matter of future-proofing classrooms and school buildings to stay ahead of the curve. Such changes also can reinvigorate and re-energize school communities that might feel stuck in a time warp.

This future-proofing will become a reality for me very soon, as my classroom is scheduled to receive a significant upgrade over the Christmas break. I know for a fact that the remodel will allow me to refine and to expand my teaching methods in very positive ways, and I'm looking forward to showing my students how a new space can enhance their learning and their appreciation for literature and writing.

New school year, new tech!

While it has been some time since my last post, I hope that all teachers out there have enjoyed smooth beginnings to the school year. Can you believe that we just finished Thanksgiving and are on our way to Christmas? I don’t know about you, but I’m already itching for that next break. The life of a spoiled teacher, right? 😄

In any case, I am always on the lookout for innovative technology to enhance my instruction and/or classroom management. For example, one struggle that many teachers face involves students failing to check homework sites for their daily assignments. Our school currently uses Moodle as its course management system; while I appreciate the ability to post assignments and other important information, I have noticed that Moodle has become a bit too big for its britches, so to speak. The result: students (especially when they are absent) do not log on to ensure they have completed the necessary work. Rather, they email their teachers to find out the status of missed classes and assignments. That said, they often do not check email for important information. Indeed, email slowly is going the way of the dinosaur. However, I read about a relatively new app called Remind (formerly known as Remind 101) that allows students to subscribe to text alerts sent by teachers. In my case, I use the app to remind students of upcoming large-scale assignments (essays, projects, etc.) as well as last-minute changes to coursework. Parents also can subscribe to get the alerts so that they know some of the major work being done by their children. The beauty of this app is that no phone numbers are exchanged! This ensures privacy for all parties and no hint of impropriety. I highly recommend Remind for anyone who works in a group setting and who wants to remind people of events without having to send out a mass email.

Awhile back, I wrote a post about how Google inconceivably broke apart Google Drive and spun off Docs, Slides, and Sheets into separate apps. In doing so, the company did not include basic folder access in the new apps, thus resulting in a great deal of app switching between Drive and Docs, for instance. For me, the grading process became more difficult, and I had thought about going to Office for iPad for the handling of all student work. After some time with Microsoft’s product (and a bevy of enhancements to it), I safely can say that Microsoft’s iPad suite officially is my favorite productivity bundle to use on my tablet. Microsoft has managed to take its full-blown Office suite and make it extremely tablet-friendly; this past Fall, it also made Office available for iPhone. Productivity fans rejoiced! Okay, that might be a stretch, but after it took the Seattle-based company some time to arrive at the party, Microsoft made great strides with its mobile products in a short amount of time. The most recent announcement involved allowing non-Office 365 users to create and edit documents on their iPads and iPhones, essentially rendering the apps free. I slowly am weaning my students off Google Docs and plan on embracing Office from hereon out. You should, too. Kudos to Microsoft for listening to their consumers!

My last tech note is somewhat of a plea: a plea for more teacher-centric apps, apps that make our job easier. For example, if there’s one app most teachers would want, it would be a calendar/attendance/lesson planning app. In all fairness, such an app already exists – it’s called iTeacherBook. I used it to help me track attendance for one of my sports teams but quickly found the app too buggy and lacking in updates. As you can see, the developers have not updated the app in over a year, instead spending their time on the student version (called iStudiezPro). While I understand the need to push the student app (a larger clientele means more money), teachers deserve just as much assistance with their daily tasks. While many corporate task managers are present in the App Store, how about one for teachers that hasn’t turned into a pumpkin?

Keeping on that same theme, I also have to take Blackbaud to task for its mishandling of an app for which I consulted. Our school uses Netclassroom and FAWeb, two products part of Blackbaud’s grading platform. While the web versions function pretty well, other companies have mobile apps that allow teachers and students to input information on the go. For example, if I was at a function and quickly wanted to input grades without turning on my computer, I theoretically could do so with other products, but not FAWeb. Last year, Blackbaud reached out to several individuals (I was one) and asked us to help them develop a mobile app, set to be released this year. Then, just as the app was taking shape, the company shelved it with no explanation or updates. In this day and age, every major educational company should have a mobile presence or run the risk of becoming yesterday’s news. Time to step up, Blackbaud!

Let the Christmas countdown commence…now!

What’s your pleasure?

“So much to do, so little time.”

 

If ever there was a motto for today's average student, the above might be it. Let's face it: most high school students are overcommitted when it comes to classes, extracurricular activities, after-school employment, and…oh yes, schoolwork. We can place the blame on multiple parties, but the fact remains that students are spending most of their days attempting to juggle multiple responsibilities. In doing so, they fail to realize that something has to lose – and that “something” might be their sense of direction and purpose.

 

Ask the typical student what he or she seeks to accomplish, and you'll probably get a laundry list of goals and achievements. Academically speaking, students desire to take as many advanced classes as they can fit into their schedule. Or do they? I recently overheard one of my students complaining about her AP Biology class, to which I inquired, “Why are you taking it in the first place?” She responded that she did not know but that she was recommended for it, so she took it. Did she seek a career in the life sciences? Not a chance. In essence, she added hours of studying to her weekly workload because she qualified for the course. Sadly, she is not alone, as many students continue to enroll in upper-level courses not because they want the challenge, but because they feel obligated to take on extra responsibility. They feel pressure from parents, guidance counselors, and their own peers in selecting courses that may not interest them but look good on a transcript. One has to wonder if they regret their decisions once they arrive at college and are forced to make choices.


Heavy course loads (yet another future blog post) can have detrimental effects on student wellness, especially when combined with a rigorous activity schedule and lack of sleep. I remember one year when a student of mine declared that she only slept for two hours the previous evening. Of course, she was taking five AP courses and participated in several high-demand extracurricular activities, so naturally her schedule left her little time to sleep. She did work very hard and ended up attending a great college (and law school), but I still wonder (and would love to ask her) – did you take on that schedule because you enjoyed sleeping two hours? Or because you felt obligated to overcommit yourself? More importantly, did you manage to find YOUR path? I hope yes, but I believe no.

 

Students need to challenge themselves – I firmly believe that. However, they also need to discover their true passions in learning, whether it be studying classical languages or pursuing a career in engineering. They cannot do that if they spent every waking hour…awake. In short, educators at every level must ensure that students love what they do and do what they love.