Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Happy Thanksgiving

Over the past several weeks, I have seen story after story and show after show recounting November 22, 1963 when President Kennedy was assassinated in Dealey Plaza in Dallas, Texas. While I was not yet born, like many Americans I have always been somewhat fascinated by John F. Kennedy, the Kennedy family and their legacy in American politics.

However, this week it isn't the 50th anniversary of his assassination that I found myself focused upon, rather it was a quote by JFK that I stumbled upon that struck a chord with me. Kennedy said, "As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them."

As you celebrate Thanksgiving this year, please take a moment to reflect upon President Kennedy's quote and remember that actions speak louder than words.

Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours!

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

You Are Going to Get Wet...

If you grew up in the Great Lakes State, chances are at one point or another you took swimming lessons. In my case, I've been involved in the process of learning to swim twice in my life - first as a youngster and then later in life as a parent.  As a child, I can remember my dad taking me for my first lessons at the local YMCA pool. While I was never fearful of the water, sometime during my development from a Polliwog to a Guppy to a Minnow I do vividly recall feeling like a sinking rock when I first jumped off the diving board in the deep end of the pool at Bentley HS. Many years later, my wife and I enrolled our own kids in swim lessons here at the Rec Center. Fortunately, they were not fearful of the water either, but both struggled at times to learn new water skills such as laying on their backs or putting their faces in the water for the first time.

Obviously my perspective as a child was much different than it was as a parent. As a child, I was intent on keeping my head above the water and learning new skills, and I placed an enormous amount of trust in my dad to provide support and encouragement. As a parent, I had no concern about my ability to keep my head above water and I knew my wife and I would support and encourage our kids. The instructor's role was and is to provide the information and expertise necessary for all parties to be successful. However, I am keenly aware that in both situations, everyone involved in the process gets wet! The kids get wet. The parents who are there to provide support and encouragement get wet and even the instructor, the expert with all the information gets wet in the process. For most if not all, learning to swim is an experiential process. No amount of reading, studying, talking, watching videos, etc. can replace time spent in the water.

I think about this process when I see a new concept or idea struggling to get off the ground. The natural inclination is often to read, study and discuss an issue from all angles before taking action. Said another way, there is an effort to create the ability to swim before ever hitting the water. However, implementing a new idea or concept is much like learning to swim - the participants must understand the need and be willing to learn, people need to provide support and encouragement and instructors and experts need to be present to provide the information and guidance necessary for success. And, perhaps most importantly, everyone involved needs to be willing to get wet!

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Rules To Live By

Here in Saline, the students at each of our K-3 elementary schools are given rules to live by.

At Woodland Meadows they have the 3 Bee's:

  • Be respectful
  • Be responsible
  • Be safe
At Pleasant Ridge, the students abide by the Pleasant Ridge High Five:
  • Be polite
  • Be prepared
  • Be safe
  • Be respectful
  • Respond when spoken to
Finally, the students at Harvest live by the Harvest Four. The students are responsible for:
  • What they say
  • What they do
  • How they help
  • How they listen
As adults deal with the stress and pressure that challenges us, it is good to reflect upon the very rules we teach our youngest students. There are some valuable lessons there that apply regardless of age or issue. 

Friday, November 1, 2013

The Phenomenon of Relative Age

In his book Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell explores the concept of relative age using the 2007 Medicine Hat Ice Hockey Team to illustrate the point. In youth hockey, players are grouped by birth year. On that team, the overwhelming majority of players were born in January, February and March, In fact, in Canadian Junior Hockey, 40% of players will have been born between January and March, 30% between April and June, 20% between July and September and only 10% between October and December. Why is this? In layman's terms, the theory is because they were born shortly after the cutoff date those boys were a bit older, mature and physically developed when they initially tried out for hockey. Over time, this initial advantage creates a situation where those players get placed on better teams, receive better coaching, more practice time, etc. and the initial competitive advantage is multiplied over time.

What does a team from Alberta competing in a Canadian Junior Hockey League have to do with schools? Well, the phenomenon of relative age exists in education as well. While the dates differ slightly from state to state, each state has a minimum age requirement. In Michigan for the 13-14 school year, a child must be 5 years of age on November 1, 2013 to enroll in school. Therefore, children whose birthdays occur in November, December and January will, relative to their peers, be a bit older, more mature and physically developed than a classmate born in September or October.

Why does this matter? Simple. Regardless of what the cutoff date is, (for school or sport) there will always be someone born shortly after the cutoff date who will be older, more mature and physically developed than a classmate / teammate born just before the cutoff date. The challenge for educators is to ensure that all students have the opportunity to succeed, regardless of what month they are born in. We cannot allow the initial advantages of maturity and development to create a perpetual cycle of more attention, more opportunity and therefore more success through the years. It is our responsibility to ensure that each student achieves his or her maximum potential, regardless of their relative age!