Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Not Always Rosy, Turning It Around.

As many people know, my car got stolen last Thursday from the school parking lot ironically while getting a pep speech in the auditorium from the Superintendent of JPS.

Now, I won't go into the transaction of events, because in reality it doesn't matter how it happened just that it happened.

The hardest part was keeping calm in front of the students. Maintaining composure as I realize, hmmm, my car isn't parked where I thought I parked it... maybe the students weren't kidding... my car really is stolen.

The day that the events transpired, I was fine. I was the happy Mr. Wright that everyone knows. My students in my third period were actually confused by how happy I seemed despite the circumstances.

I'd like to say the rosy picture continues, joking about the student not stealing my lunch or leaving me an 18 track rap CD to listen to in my car... but it's been hard... fo'realz.

The tipping point of anger, frustration and sadness came when I had to go to the detention center where the student is detained and press charges.

Most teachers and administrators told me to "Hell yes, press those charges. Teach all the students a lesson that they can not do that." And in reality, the boy broke the law and should be given a punishment.

The reason the frustration set in was because it takes a lot of emotions out when you feel violated. To have someone steal your phone, laptop and car just to sell the former and leave the latter behind a gas station in the middle of nowhere.

What bothers me most is the frustation that is transpiring into my teaching. Yes, I'm angry but for some reason my students are getting the brunt. Understandably, they shouldn't press my buttons right now, but I used to happily help a student when they needed help. The last two days, I don't care to help... it's an attitude of "what don't you understand, I taught you and you should have learned."

I know this isn't the right attitude and nobody can convince me that it's okay. I can be bitter, but my innocent students should not receive the negativity of my situation.

Luckily, I have some students that have tried to correct my attitude... "Mr. Wright, you need your own negativity jar, because you're making us lose our positivity points." My students realize that I am angry, which isn't good, but they're also trying to help me make it through. Our system of focusing on positivity has helped my students put me back on track.

I'm far from the right track. I'm far from where I normally would be. I have no desire to laugh, I have no desire to talk to people. But I know that as my students help me move forward and as I see the changes that need to be made in my own attitude, things will get better.

I hope that tomorrow will be a better day in my attitude so that my students can continue to succeed. They have worked too hard for me to tell them to give up. They now want to learn. To squash their desire would perhaps ruin it for the rest of their lives... I don't want to be blamed for that.

You were probably expecting some rosy picture as I always paint, but this week is not where I want it to be. There hasn't been much to paint a rosy picture of except my students pushing me to have a better attitude. Thank God I have taught my students something, that a positive attitude matters more than anything else.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Commitment Complex - An Emotional Burden

Something that has interested me since arriving in Cleveland, MS to begin my teacher training back in June, 2012 is my commitment to the "mission."

I've always wondered how committed I was to reforming education and how I was going to do this. I felt like I knew nothing about education's faults and that there was little I could do to actually change them.

Now, nearly 7 months since the start of my journey, I'm teaching my heart out. I love teaching and I love growing my students in character and intellect. I see the changes that need to be made, I identify the holes in our school system and I make the changes I can in my classroom to correct the injustice.

The hardest part though is what I call the commitment complex, that I'm not committed enough. Granted, I tutor at my students' houses weekly, I build literacy initiatives into Algebra I, insert "positivity and respect" character building in the classroom and the list goes on... but it's not enough.

It's an emotional burden to feel the need to stay up all night, to work at all hours to end the injustices but to physically not be able to. At the same time, I'm building my own Jackson community. Perhaps this is all on the path to creating the most change, but I'm impatient.

I want to be that person that in year one has accomplished far more than most teachers accomplish in their entire time. I don't want to be the "best teacher" but rather the "most transformative teacher". I'm not talking Teach For America speak. I'm not talking about being the transformational teacher, I said "transformative."

I want to see the change in Jackson, as a whole. I think that it goes beyond my classroom and spreads throughout my school. There is so much potential and so much passion to back up the initiatives, but it's just never enough.

I want to build a connection and influence those I meet to help me build this momentum but the power to influence takes time, especially in Jackson. I have many connections and networks now, but the ability to use them will take a bit more time as they get to know me and I them.

I don't know how to change this emotional burden into a forward thrust of action, as I am constantly pushing forward already. It's only up and forward with my students, school and district, but I want to see it all happen.

I guess this commitment complex is a blessing in disguise. As Pastor Rhodes said today, "We are all missionaries that must go and teach. We're all destined for greatness."

I'm just waiting for the never-ending desire to do more to turn into something great, something wild that has lasting impacts. Chances are, my time is being spent wisely but the changes are piling up silently. This way, I will forever keep pushing since it will truly never be enough until all is equal.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Are you the CEO of your classroom?

CEO - Chief Executive Officer.

We think of a high-paid corporate person. They make the last decisions that either make a successful business or one that fails like Enron.

But, aren't you a CEO?

The Chief Executive Officer of your own classroom. A leader with a vision for the success of those whom follow.

That's you, that's me.

How do CEOs lead?

Let's think.

They have:

A Vision
Clear Expectations

The most effective CEO has:


Now, reflect... what do you have? If you're Teach For America I know you have a vision... don't lie.

What you must also have is charisma to some degree, otherwise TFA wouldn't have put their trust in you to "sell" their idea.

How can we all grow? Let's focus on our leadership style, not our teaching style.

"Leadership [is] the use of power and influence to direct the activities of followers toward great achievement"

Isn't that what you want?

Students (your followers) that are influenced (by you) with super high-level thinking?


We need to realize that we can and we have to LEAD by influencing and not by assuming our followers will follow.

My students, if left to their own devices, would just wreck havoc in the classroom. I have to give them the opportunity to see their ability to grow. I, the CEO, the leader, must leverage my influence (by building relationships) to show my students that they can.

It's not as easy as it sounds. Business is easy to read, but hard to implement since it takes time to see effects. I assure you, there are ways to ensure that your students see you as a CEO.

For example, try being patient. A student that throws their pencil isn't your enemy. The enemy is the negative energy. Encourage that student with positive words because you are trying to lead him/her toward success.

Try seeing yourself as the CEO, as the leader. Don't let your students lead, but also don't let the "power" go to your head.

DO NOT be that teacher that stops teaching and says "I'm getting my paycheck regardless." or the teacher that screams at their students (another topic to be discussed later as "abusive supervision").

Put yourself in the students' seats just as an effective leader puts themselves in the seats of their followers. See what they see... a screaming adult. Something they might see regularly at home (as you may hear) But if they're getting it at home, maybe YOU should be the person that leads them to better actions. Yelling will not push them to do better long term, it will push them to look for a reaction in the short-term.

Reflect on whether you are an effective leader. Would you follow your vision if you were the student? Would you understand where you were going if you were looking at the goal or expectations? And if you, as the student, understand the vision, goals and expectations because you have an amazing teacher (since you're still in the student mindset) then you must look at if the teacher's actions are effective in manner.

Does he/she react harshly to situations? Does s/he show that s/he cares in some way through positive actions? Does s/he stand yelling at me throughout the day? How does s/he motivate me (perhaps through long-term INTRINSIC motivators of growth, or maybe one-time-only ways of candy/chip rewards)

Seriously, I don't expect you as a first/second year teacher to want to sit and ponder this for long. But take at least the two questions that are highlighted and reflect... and then if your answers say yes to intrinsic motivators and patience in heated situations, you're doing something right. If you're answering in the negative from the point of view of a student, then you may need to change your LEADERSHIP style... not your teaching style. Remember, an ineffective screaming manager spends 25% of their time on conflict. How nice would it be to have 95-100% of your time dedicated to teaching?