An Open Letter to Dream Crushers (and other lessons from #ISTE2015)

A tweet from yesterday at ISTE:
Jack Gallegher, Keynote at #ISTE2015reminds us that our kids deserve the right to dream whatever they want to dream! Don’t crush dreams!-@latoyadixon5
Dear Dream Crushers (myself included),
So often we spend too much time trying to be realistic and as educators we almost become missionaries in helping students develop realistic goals. My experience at ISTE 2015 has stirred my thinking on this quite a bit. Mostly, it’s made me question myself-which is a good practice for all of us. It means we reflect on what we do and why we do it.
Listening to Jack Gallegher, the keynote speaker on Tuesday at #ISTE2015 really pushed my thinking. We (yes-I am assuming you do this too for two reasons-1. You probably do, 2. It makes me feel better) are good at telling our students to be realistic about what they want for their future. Jack spoke extensively about his son, a child with autism, not  his autistic child-I loved the distinction he made. He spoke to us about how labels are limiting and why he made the distinction. He spoke personally and passionately about how much time he wasted trying to help his son fit in and how once he stopped trying to make him into what he thought he ought to be, his son really blossomed.
It leads me to think, who are we to say what is realistic for our students? We don’t know if the next scientist who will find the cure for cancer is sitting right in our classrooms. Or if the next computer scientists who will revolutionize the way we work, live, and play is walking the halls in our school. You’d think with experience we would get better at being open to the fact that although our students are the future, we certainly don’t know and can’t say with certainty what their future holds.  When I think about growing up with my two older sisters in poverty, raised by my single mother, in the projects, I am so glad we were not realistic. We were crazy enough to believe that we were smart enough to do whatever we wanted to do…and we did. If we had been realistic we wouldn’t have had the power to defy every statistic connected to kids of poverty.
Perhaps there is a kid who we perceive as having a non-impact on the future, or an otherwise negative one, who is just waiting for us to stop being dream crushers to blossom. Instead of telling our kids “well, I’d like for you to make a practical goal. Choose something realistic that you can accomplish,” why aren’t we saying-Your dream is too small. Dream big. Why can’t you be the scientist who finds the cure for cancer? Sure you can.
Conversely, it leads me to think or question: Why is it that we think we know that the future of some our students are bright based on their parents or SES status? We still operate under the assumption “You come from a good family so you’ll be fine”. After years of experience, I have seen this theory disproven over and over again. What I am sure of, is that we limit the dreams of our kids, when our own dreams are limited by our thinking.
Success is not a birthright and neither is failure.  Your parents’ success has nothing to do with yours. Who our students’ parents are, their family values, etc. does not guarantee success as student or learner. The sooner we confront how often we make this assumption and how blind we are, the better off we will be. All of our students need to be developed and guided to dream and dream big. Don’t sell your kids short just because you have your own set of issues believing in things you’ve not seen or experienced.
So to all you dream crushers-stop it!
Until next time-be you, be true, and be a hope builder,

Why ISTE Made me Apologize (to my former students)

A tweet from me earlier this morning: Embrace the differences. Quit trying to make kids the same. Allow students to be who they are & embrace their uniqueness!-@latoyadixon5
I am often in awe of how much time we spend trying to press our kids into conformity. We unintentionally tell kids they need to be the same, not different. We instruct them of how the “real world” expects them to talk, walk, look, dress, and act. We fail to embrace their uniqueness and differences and often if we do extend a bit of consideration to their individuality, we remind them of when and where it is o.k. to be their authentic selves. Often we overlook the fact that those who have changed the world have only one thing similar about them, which is that they were different from everyone else. Take a look at some of the greatest leaders of our world-Malala Yousafzai, the young Pakistani girl who advocates for girls to be educated in her country and continues to do so. Dr. Martin Luther King who fought for equal rights for African-Americans. Steve Jobs who changed our lives by creating tech tools that help us connect and live in ways we never have before.
I am reminded by all three of the aforementioned that they embraced being and doing something different. The didn’t make the world a better place by being like everyone else. They did it by being courageous enough to be different. My colleague, co-principal, and friend Mike Waiksnis (@mwaiksnis-follow him on twitter) often tells students, “Be courageous enough to be yourself.” This is valuable and awesome advice and I often remind myself to do just this even when he is not speaking directly to me.
But what moves me most, is when I remind myself to be courageous enough to accept my students for who they are-accept their differences, their quirkiness, their likes, their dislikes, their interests, their hopes and their dreams. Let us not assume that kids like what we like, that kids are interested in what we are interested in, and that kids are passionate about what we are passionate about. How about we ask them-What interest you? What are you passionate about What do you like? And then…we listen. Listen and be open. This takes practice.

I can remember a student I taught several years ago. David was not into my English Language Arts class at all. It was a true struggle to get him to read and even more of a struggle to get him to write. But when he began writing about how much he enjoyed working on automotives and rebuilding engines, I came to know and to appreciate him. I thought to myself, if I had only known this earlier, what more we could have accomplished. I now realize, I didn’t know because I didn’t ask. And perhaps, he told me, but I didn’t listen. I was too busy trying to conform him and make him appreciate the things I loved and enjoyed. I did not embrace what made him different and what made him, quite frankly, him. ISTE helped me realize that I need to apologize to my former students and for that I am grateful.
I know better now. When you know better, you do better. 
Until next time…be you, be true, and be a hope builder!

What Every Principal Should Know About Trust

I recently decided to write again on my blog. After five years of working on my doctorate degree, my desire to write was relatively low. May 10 marks the one-year anniversary of my earning my PhD.  My desire to write is on the rebound and so I offer this blog post to you.
I think all the time. My thoughts are often unconnected to my current realities and distracting to what I am to be focusing on at the time. Some now call that off topic, random rambling, and attention deficit disorder. I call it enlightenment. This morning I recalled a conversation I had with a colleague earlier in the week. We discussed the difficulty of gaining trust as a principal. I reflected on my experiences as a leader and knew I had to write. One of the biggest misconceptions about trust is that trust is given initially and is not lost until one has done something to lose it. I believe just the opposite. As a leader, you begin with little trust. Positional power certainly doesn’t give you an automatic trust credit, nor does it give you power. Trust begins on a very low level. As a leader, people assess your trust credibility all the time. In the beginning, members of the organization are making observations and gathering information to decide if you deserve any of their trust at all. In short, trust is earned with repeated actions of doing what you say you will do. Trust is earned over time and is lost within a second. It is important that as principals we operate with a high level of emotional intelligence in order to earn and maintain trust. That’s the other thing.  Trust has to be maintained. As principals, we must understand that our every action, mannerism, and emotion is under a microscope. Like it or not, people watch everything we do and say, and based on their observations they decide to trust us…. or not.  We must be consciously aware of emotional intelligence daily.  In a recent series of tweets, I shared my thoughts on trust. Here they are:
1. Trust is not automatic. 
2. People don’t trust you until you break it. They don’t trust you until you earn it. 
3. Trust increases over time.
4. It can take years to earn trust & seconds to break it. Leaders w/ emotional intelligence are highly instinctive about how to handle issues.
5. Great principals understand that facts should drive us & feelings affect us. We make decisions with emotional intelligence-not facts alone.
6. Great principals are reflective. Impulsive decision-making often lacks thoughtfulness and strategy needed for sustainability. 
7. Great leaders understand the importance of listening and patience. The greater the trust, the higher the morale and the more positive the climate.
8. Great principals understand that trust is earned over time by repeatedly doing what you say you will do. Broken trust leads to low morale.
9. Trust is the cornerstone of leadership. 
10. Trust is not easily obtained, but easily lost. 
Being thoughtful earns trust. Making quick decisions cultivates acting without thinking.  There is a great book on this titled, Trust Matters  by Megan Tschannen-Moran  I still have my autographed copy I received the very first year I became a principal.  Every principal and school leader should read it.  My challenge to all my fellow principals, reflect on this question: How are you earning trust?
Be Brave!
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