Friday, January 17, 2014

WE are nothing without RELATIONSHIPS

For those who consistently read my blog, this post might seem a little different.  And that is a good thing!  Usually I write about specific educational issues; trying to provide my readers with information and an explanation of what is happening.  This post, however, will be more philosophical:  We are nothing without RELATIONSHIPS!

I believe I have always been a relational educator.  I, as a young classroom teacher, tried to get to KNOW my students. I felt if I knew them, I would be better equipped to know how to TEACH them; if I got to know them, I couldn't help but CARE for them.  I just knew that a child who KNEW they were CARED for couldn't help but want to LEARN.  Maybe it was my small town upbringing, maybe it was because my parents made sure I learned how to develop quality relationships with EVERYONE in my life; whatever, the reason, I just KNEW being a relational educator was not the best way to be a teacher: it was the only way I could be an effective teacher.

Not much has changed for me as an administrator. I was reminded this week how vital relationships are in education.  Today about 80 people (teachers, principals, board members, parents, news editors, legislators, and administrators) held a "What's Great in Our Schools" summit at the Frisco Center in downtown Clinton, OK.  These people are extremely dedicated to serving the children of our communities to ensure they have access to the best schools possible.  Everyone who spoke had example after example of great things they do for their students and communities to make a difference in the lives of their students. I think everyone came to the meeting with 2 or 3 things they do great, but left with 30 or 40 great ideas they might want to implement at their school.  I was sitting there thinking how amazing it was this group had come together to share with each other these awesome ideas.  Then Micky Lively, Superintendent of Mangum PS, said something that I couldn't shake for the rest of the day; he commented on how everyone in the room had made a positive impact on him which was reflected in the way he leads his school.  He specifically wanted to tell Bob Haggard and Mike Maddox, 2 long time Western Oklahoma Superintendents who are retiring this year after a combined 80 years in education, how much they had meant to him as an educator.  I was stunned - I was left speechless (for those who know me know, that might be a personal first). I just sat and looked around the room and realized Micky was absolutely right. The sum total of my life is equal to all the influences by all the people I have a relationship with.  This realization got me to thinking about the total state of Oklahoma education.

I believe restoring our relationships should be our first priority in transforming our public schools into effective educational organizations of the 21st century. I say transform our schools because transform has a connotation of "building upon": like building upon what we already to do well.  I don't like reform because reform has the connotation of "destroy to rebuild". I don't think we should destroy our public education because we do have some really great things going on in our schools.  Reformers seek to destroy our relationships. Transformers should be about strengthening them.  Ever notice the current reforms do nothing but pit parents vs. teachers, teachers, vs. administrators, schools vs. communities, and communities vs. educational associations? However, we have to do better in our relationships.  There is such a negative relationship between our state department of education and well, just about everybody.  Our legislators don't want to talk to us because we are always pointing out the things we don't like instead of pointing out all the things we do like.  It seems educators are too busy being against the ideas we think will not work instead of working to improve those ideas using our professional experience.  

I'm going to take a cue from Micky and thank people who have impacted my life.  You know who you are; you're parents, teachers, executive directors, principals, cafeteria workers, secretaries, bus drivers, bosses, mentors, friends, and students. There are way too many of them to mention them all, but here are a few.  The Bob family from Cyril who acted like an extended family, Jerry Slawson & Lilla Higdon who taught me life lessons as well as subject knowledge, Dr. Jeff Mills, Steven Crawford, & Ryan Owens who gave me confidence in myself, Donnie Meason who taught me to value hard work & discipline, all the women at the Board Office in Clinton, Paula Squires, Jim Conger, & Kevin Hime who all taught me about leadership, Robert Trammell & Jeff Colclasure who continue to mentor me today, and friends like Chad, Jeff, & Micky. If we want to improve our school system, we have to improve our relationships. Let's allow our teachers to get back to getting to KNOW their students.  Let's allow our students to KNOW they are CARED for.  These are the things that matter in our schools. Relationships are the gateway to student learning.