In the Heart of Harvey: Destruction Creates Hope

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As of the last measurement, Friendswood, Texas has received 49.23 inches of rain during the deluge of Hurricane Harvey.  As many of your are aware, this has caused massive flooding in the Friendswood area and throughout Houston.  The creeks, our natural drainage system in Friendswood, are all at record flood stage.  Over 30% of the city’s homes are under water, and that number could continue to rise.  Parts of the city are totally cut off from emergency services.  It is the definition of a disaster.

Many other parts of Houston and the surrounding areas have lost everything.  As we speak, there are several communities going through mandatory evacuations.  There are concerns over rising rivers, structural levees, and continued release of waters from Houston’s reservoirs.

We have seen rescues by air, water, and boat.  We have seen total strangers come from hundreds of miles away just to give a helping hand.  We have seen communities come together even in the midst of the storm.

I’ve had the privilege of serving in Friendswood, Texas as a principal and teacher for the last 14 years of my life.  God led me to Friendswood to serve at Lord of Life Lutheran School.  I long for the days of being back in the classroom teaching a history lesson.

However, through these last few days one thing has become evident to me.  Through all of the devastation, destruction, and chaos, our God reigns!

There is this truly proud, American mindset that we will pick ourselves up and that we will rebuild and we will come together as a community to move forward.  It is an American thing.  It is a Texan thing.  But it is also a God thing.

The underlying knowledge that we have something that is more powerful than the awe-inspiring nature that has been on display for nearly a week.  The knowledge that God is watching over and caring for us on an individual basis.

It is one thing to say that God cares about people.  It is all the more humbling to think that God cares about _____________ (fill in that blank with your name).  Through this storm, He knew every worry, every struggle, and every situation.

Watching the news reports on television, how can we not come out of this with a sense of hope?  Seeing stranger help stranger.  Seeing boat after boat lined up on the street to go help.  Seeing a convention center full of food, clothing, and volunteers.

Hope overcomes all.  God overcomes all.  God is the source of all of our hope.

Continued prayers for all who are affected by the devastation in Houston.  For many, the worst is yet to come.  The rivers are rising, the bayous are rising, the reservoirs are backing up.

Our hope is there, our hope is unchanging.  Our hope rests in Him.

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An Encouragement for the Month of May

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It’s May!  How did that happen 🙂  It often surprises me how quick the end of the school year comes up as we prepare for the last month of school and into summer.

Often, the month of May is the most challenging month of the school year.  Typically, this has nothing to do with the material covered.  It is more to do with the temptations that come along with the last month of the school year.  The temptation, as a student, to slack off, to rush through assignments, or to simply give up.

These challenges remind me of the following quote…

“The important thing in life is not the triumph but the struggle.”

There have been many triumphs through the course of this school year.  I see triumphs in individual students with their progress through material, relationships, and responsibility.  I see triumphs in how supportive many parents are of the education that Lord of Life offers.  I see triumphs in our teaching staff who works tirelessly every night in preparing for classes.  I see triumphs through the smiles on the faces of our students as they hear about their Savior, and what he has done for them.

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God Made You

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As teachers, every day we wear so many different hats.  Often times those hats may be tattered and heavy, and it may seem as we are making no progress in the lives of these children and their families.

The following story is a small encouragement for all of us that we are making a difference for His Kingdom each and every day.

 

A friend of ours was walking down a deserted Mexican beach at sunset. As he walked along, he began to see another man in the distance. As he grew nearer, he noticed that the local native kept leaning down, picking something up and throwing it out into the water. Time and again he kept hurling things out into the ocean. 

As our friend approached even closer, he noticed that the man was picking up starfish that had been washed up on the beach and, one at a time, he was throwing them back into the water. 

Our friend was puzzled. He approached the man and said, “Good evening, friend. I was wondering what you are doing.” 

“I’m throwing these starfish back into the ocean. You see, it’s low tide right now and all of these starfish have been washed up onto the shore. 

If I don’t throw them back into the sea, they’ll die up here from lack of oxygen.” 

“I understand,” my friend replied, “but there must be thousands of starfish on this beach. You can’t possibly get to all of them. There are simply too many. And don’t you realize this is probably happening on hundreds of beaches all up and down this coast. Can’t you see that 

you can’t possibly make a difference?” 

The local native smiled, bent down and picked up yet another starfish, and as he threw it back into the sea, he replied, “Made a difference to that one!”

Is History Dead in Your Classroom?

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“History is philosophy teaching by examples.”

That quote is attributed to the great Athenian general and historian, Thucydides.  We all know the old saying, “those who do not know history are doomed to repeat it.”  While true, the quote from Thucydides gives that saying true gravity.  History not only teaches us about the past, it teaches us about ourselves.  It teaches us the principle that everything throughout history has a grand purpose and plan laid out by our Creator.

So this bears the question, do you find yourself in a history teaching rut?  Do you find yourself repeating endless lessons without flavor and life?  Do you spend too many days assigning text without context or meaning?

Don’t feel ashamed, we’ve all been there.

I’ve got good news, you can bring history to life immediately.  Allow me to share just a few ideas and a little background on myself.

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10 Ways to Thank a Student

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#3: Sticky Note Smile

10)  Tell Them

Nothing beats the ol’ fashion look ‘em in the eye and “thank you.”

9)  Stickers anyone?

Not as a reward, but as a quick and easy thank you.  Everyone loves stickers.

8)  Write Them a Personal Note

Stick it in their desk or backpack.  Better yet, if you are really proud of their work in a certain subject, tell them.  Slip it into the next lesson of their textbook so they can have the pleasant surprise all to their own.

7)  Tell the Parents

Trickle-down thankanomics?

6)  Display Their Work

Place their art work or strong assignment in a prominent place by your desk.  Perhaps, on the wall for a few weeks or in a frame right on your desk.

5)   Down Time

Encourage them when they are down.  Be specific and tell them how much you appreciate them.  This one can get emotional, especially if they are really down about something.  The more personal feedback the better.

4)  Have Lunch with Them

Make it a point to sit with them at a lunch hour, and have a conversation with them.  Try not to focus on school.  Focus on their life outside of school.

3)  Sticky Note Smile

Walk by their desk and put a sticky note on top of their desk while they are working.  It is unexpected and it is personal.  That is a rare combination in a classroom.  And seriously, does that take all of 30 seconds?

2)  Extra-Curricular Support

Show up to one of their events outside of school.  The ideas are endless.  Their basketball game, soccer match, football game, dance competition, singing recital, and gymnastics event are all examples in which you can show you really care and appreciate them.

1)  Hug it Out

If you don’t like a hug, then you need a hug.  This is especially important for male teachers who have male students who really look up to them.  They crave that affirmation.  They need to see that male example of care and kindness.  Remember, many of them may not receive any male affirmation outside of school.  The lack of a father in the life of a boy has reached an epidemic in this country.

Have another way to say thank you?  Share it in the comment section.

High Stakes Testing: It’s Broke, yet We keep doing It

There is an old adage, “If it is broke, don’t fix it.”  Unfortunately, education in America is broke, yet we aren’t fixing it.

Extensive research has reached the conclusion that high stakes testing is a net negative and does not aid in student achievement.  

I have had the fortune of discussing testing with numerous public school educators.  They share these sentiments.  I often hear how they would love to focus on learning and the curriculum rather than teach in an environment of high stakes testing.

I feel for those educators.  Ultimately, we all want the same thing.  We all want our students to succeed.  

The following was published by NCTE and gives a summary of the research that has been accomplished regarding high stakes testing.  I have found it as a good resource in talking with other educators, parents, and policy makers on education reform.

•Afflerbach, P. (2005). High stakes testing and reading assessment: National reading conference policy brief. Journal of Literacy Research, 37(2), 151-162.

This reading brief describes the liabilities associated with high-stakes testing, including lack of research supporting a link between testing with reading achievement.EndFragment.

•Amrein, A.L. & Berliner, D.C. (2003). The effects of high-stakes testing on student motivation and learning. Educational Leadership, 60(5), 32- 38.

Research suggests that high-stakes testing creates less intrinsic student motivation and alienates students from self-directed learning. Topics include how high-stakes testing has impacted the rate of high school dropouts and student retention.

 

•Huempfner, L. (2004).  Can one size fit all?  The imperfect assumptions of parallel achievement tests for bilingual students.  Bilingual Research Journal, 28, 379-399.

This article focuses on some of the faulty assumptions that are made in the development of large-scale assessments for Spanish-speaking English language learners and argues that new measures need to be taken to assure that these tests reflect the best interests of the populations to whom they are administered.

•Neill, M. (2003). The dangers of testing. Educational Leadership. 60(5), 43-46.

The author suggests that high-stakes testing often impedes higher-level learning and skilled teaching because of the one-sided focus on test results. Data reveals that standardized testing has not led to an improvement in academic achievement.
•Triplett, C. (2005). Third through Sixth Graders’ Perceptions of High-Stakes Testing. Journal of Literacy Research 37(2), 237-260.

This study examined attitudes towards high-stakes testing by asking 225 elementary students to draw a picture and write a description that reflected their recent testing experiences.  Results indicate students’ negativity toward and anxiety concerning high-stakes tests.

Are You Reaching for the Sky in Your Classroom?

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I often tell my teachers that it is never too late in the school year to change something.  While there are a few major items, like curriculum, that deserve our full attention during the summer months, most aspects of classroom instruction can be changed at any time throughout the school year.

If something is not working, why would we continue with mediocrity just because there are a only a few months of school left?  That makes no sense.  Teachers should continually be striving for the best, even with limited time remaining.

So how do we continue reaching for the sky in our classrooms and attain the most out of the few time we have left remaining with our students?

Make sure we are setting and sharing learning goals

Are we giving our students goals for the instruction that they are being taught?  What is the point of this test?  What is the plan for this project?  How are we going to get to this end result?  It is important that we stay on task.  Are we holding ourselves and our students to task by articulating our learning goals for each new unit?

Continual Assessment 

I don’t mean drill and kill worksheets.  With so many months of school in the preverbal bag, we must ensure that we are continually changing up our assessment strategies.  Yes, at many levels tests are crucial to reinforce study skills, habits, and memorization skills.  However, are we also offering other varied avenues for assessment?  Skits, class videos, music videos, clay sculptures, real life math projects, group presentations, are all types of assessments that we can use to invigorate our classroom.  The list is endless, our creativity and drive are the only barriers.

Passion

Have you lost your passion in these winter months?  If students see teachers who are going through the motions, won’t they emulate the same?  How are you keeping your lessons engaging?  This is the time of year to put in that extra effort to make sure your lessons remain interesting and mentally challenging for your students.   If they see that passion and enthusiasm in your presentation, that same attitude is all the more likely to transpose into their work.

Relationships

Win their hearts, gain their minds.  I can’t write about achievement in the classroom without concluding with relationships.  Teaching, our calling, is all about relationships.  When students know we care, they care.  It is all the more important, as the school year closes, to make sure we are building those relationships with our students.  This is crucial with students whom are struggling.  This is the time of year in which they prefer to just throw in the towel.  That is if they know their teacher doesn’t care.  Students who struggle, strive for that relationship.  While many teachers may see that student as a student who doesn’t care or is lazy, the teacher who cares sees that student as another soul.  We never give up on a soul.  We never give up on a student.  Build those relationships, show your students that you care not only about teaching but about them.

So have you set that bar high?  Are you reaching for the sky?  If not, there is time to change.  Don’t wait.  Make that change, in your classroom, in yourself, and in your heart, now.

The Three Greatest Words Ever Spoken

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“It is finished.”

To understand the importance of these three, simple words, you must first understand their context.

The context is Jesus’ perfect life, led for us.  The events of Holy Week culminating with the most selfless act in the history of mankind.  The brutality and shame of Calvary.  The grim sight of the cross.  All of this, led us and Him to these three words.  The three words that would display love, grace, mercy, and our future.

Those words speak volumes.  His resurrection was the exclamation point.  The victory dance.  The ultimate celebration.

Those words tell us that there is nothing more that needs to be done.  He has done it all for us.  It truly is finished.  His redemptive work is complete, nothing that we do will earn His favor.

We are completely His, bought by His own blood.

Many of our Lutheran schools have resumed classes this week after Christmas break.  For many, it was a well-deserved and well-needed break from the rigor of school.  It also served as a time for us to reflect on the birth of our Savior, and the life that he was about to live for our sake that would culminate with those words, “It is finished.”

The second half of the school year will be filled with challenges, blessings, disagreements, and struggles that we cannot even imagine.  We live in a sinful world, and we will all have our failures.

When we have those failures, it is then we realize the power of Jesus’ statement on the cross.  It is then we understand the full scope of His love for us.  it is then we humbly fall at the foot of the cross, and realize that all we have is because of Him.

We have His treasured little ones in our presence every day of the week.  We have the opportunity to bring them up in the pages of God’s Word.  We have the fortune to proclaim to them every day, “It is finished!”

Look at the second half of this school year as an opportunity, an opportunity to share that pure Gospel message that is the completion of Calvary.  The knowledge that by grace alone, by faith alone we are saved.

It is finished!  Go forward this school year with the dedication, peace, and knowledge that is found only in Him.