Reflections on School and Life in the Midst of COVID-19 – (#7, Flow, April 10, 2020)

I’m a big fan of reading. But I have found that reading various news feeds on my iPad, computer or iPhone, while informative, does absolutely nothing to calm my soul. In fact, as I get pulled into the various rabbit holes courtesy of social media, I find myself actually feeling more stress – it’s not relaxing! But books – that’s a whole other matter. Books I can get lost in. And sometimes, especially in times like these, it’s nice to get lost.

I remember when I got my first iPad back in 2010. I downloaded the Kindle app, and I was re-reading one of my favorite books, The Power of Now, by Eckhart Tolle. I remember coming across a passage describing the concept of “flow.” I looked up the concept using the web browser on the iPad, and saw that the book most people referred to about flow was Mihaly Czikszentmihalyi’s Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience. So, I bought it right then and there, read it, then came back to The Power of Now. I felt like I was living inside of a library, but I never had to leave my house. Besides the fact that the books weren’t free like they are in our marvelous public libraries, it was amazing!

I remember back in college I had a job doing research for Dr. Alexander George, one of the preeminent Soviet Union scholars in the world. He would ask me to get books from the Hoover Library, which was a giant tower located at the heart of the campus, filled with papers and books. For a lowlife student like me, there was no wandering of the halls in the Hoover Library. You went in, politely requested the book from the people on the bottom floor, and came back later to pick it up. Just 26 years later, the Kindle was changing all of that, where the even most obscure books are usually at our fingertips. Amazing.

Anyway, back to flow. Czikszentmihalyi (click here to see how to pronounce) wrote, “I developed a theory of optimal experience based on the concept of flow—the state in which people are so involved in an activity that nothing else seems to matter; the experience itself is so enjoyable that people will do it even at great cost, for the sheer sake of doing it.” What a concept. He believes that humans are highly distractible as a modern species. “Contrary to what we tend to assume, the normal state of the mind is chaos.” As someone who can be distracted (squirrel!), it feels good that I’m maybe not that different from most people. Czikszentmihalyi believes that flow is not easily achieved. “Anyone who has experienced flow knows that the deep enjoyment it provides requires an equal degree of disciplined concentration.” If you’d rather hear him than read the book, he gave a great Ted Talk where he goes into detail about the kinds of experiences that can create flow for different individuals. These intrinsically rewarding flow experiences present a high level of challenge, for which we must have the requisite level of skill.  It’s yet another Ted Talk worth listening to.

My friend Ali from Beach Cities Health District (BCHD) was one of the first subscribers to this blog feed. She recently suggested that one of my next blogs should be on this concept of flow. I spoke about flow at a BCHD event, and she and I have had many conversations about it since then. We do a lot of work together on how we can promote happier, less stressed, and more fulfilled students and adults in our community. That work, and the concept of flow seem particularly relevant now, in a time when chaos seems to be all around us.

There is a big difference between downtime and flow. Downtime is time spent tuning out, pulling back, or turning off. There’s nothing wrong with downtime! Highly enjoyable downtime for me is time spent watching sports on TV, watching West Wing or Ugly Delicious on Netflix, playing Catan, Cribbage or Mah Johngg with Jill, or other casual events that are highly enjoyable, but require neither advanced skills nor full concentration. My mind can wander during these downtime activities, and sometimes I even multi-task (don’t tell Jill!).

But to achieve flow, you have to concentrate. You have to focus. It is temporary and can be fleeting. I think a lot about my pursuit of experiences where I can achieve flow. All of us have different ways of getting there. Other than reading, which I described above, here are some of my favorite flow-inspiring activities:

  • Problem solving. Anything at work where I am truly problem-solving can get me into a state of flow. This can be researching on my own, but more often it is putting heads together (or these days, Zooming together) with my colleagues, spending time fully devoted to moving towards a solution.
  • I still love teaching. I occasionally teach graduate level courses as an adjunct professor with Cal State Long Beach. I will walk into a 6 PM course that will last over three hours, saying to myself, “Why did I ever agree to do this? I’m exhausted, I want to get home, and I have a zillion things that need to get done.” When I walk out at 9:30, I am saying to myself, “That was spectacular! I loved every minute, I’m energized, and I can’t believe the time flew that quickly!” That is flow.
  • I lose myself in cooking whenever I can. I cook for my family, and I have catered for over 100. I cook in my indoor kitchen and my outdoor kitchen. I love learning and talking about cooking with friends who are amazing cooks, and time flies when I’m in the kitchen. I keep my recipes on a website to share with friends and family. Cooking is not downtime. It requires concentration, planning, organization, and (bonus) it can be done well with a glass of wine in your hand.
img_0449
Getting ready to smoke a turkey on the Big Green Egg!
  • Three days a week at 5:30 AM (maybe 5:33), I jump into the beautiful LMU pool and swim hard for one hour alongside swimmers who swim at a similar pace to me. Coach Bonnie or Clay gives us organized workouts and push us. When I swim on my own, I’ll swim 1500 yards at a decent pace and get out. My mind is wandering and I enjoy it, but it’s not flow. When I’m coached, I swim at least two miles, I am pushed to move faster, and I’m competing with Wayne, Cat, Karl, Nader, Kelly, Shauna, or whomever is in the lane next to me. While we swim, there is no time to let my mind wander. This is a battle. There is strategy. There are winners and losers. And when it’s over or between swims, there’s good natured banter to be had. I love it, and in normal times, I lose myself in it for one hour three days a week.
img_5588
OK – So this was from a pool in Hawaii – Not LMU. A-flow-ha!

Flow sometimes comes in many other forms for me – bicycling, golf, hiking, playing music, and – I hate to admit it – in channeling Marie Kondo and decluttering my life. I do love those activities, but I’m not as skilled in them as I am cooking and swimming, so the state of flow can be a little more difficult to attain.

One of the most difficult things for me in this COVID-19 time is that many of my favorite flow-inducing activities are now unavailable. Channeling Adam Ant, “Can’t swim, can’t golf, what do you do?” Well, I’m biking more, cooking A LOT (though only for my family), and, in this very new and still mostly unknown world of distance learning, doing a whole lot of problem-solving at work.

img_7141
Jill and I biking the Malibu Coast last weekend.

The state of flow is worth seeking every day, or at least several times a week. Sometimes, we think we are too tired to do the work, but the reward is worth it. We can’t spend our lives in it, but we can make the effort to make sure it is a part of our lives. The key is finding a few experiences that you love, and committing to improving and becoming skilled enough to perform at flow-attaining levels. Regularly experiencing life where you are so immersed in what you are doing that time ceases to exist is a spectacular way to relieve stress and feel like we are making the most of our brief time on this planet.

Go for it.

 

 

 

 

Reflections on School and Life in the Midst of COVID-19 – (#6, Counselors, April 7, 2020)

I did not have any counselors in my high school. We had an English teacher, Mr. Bersey, who offered to help students in the college application process, but that was about it. Overnight, he went from being my sophomore year English teacher who taught me words like zephyr and zenith and who also gave me many days of Saturday school for my smart aleck comments, to the person I went to for advice when I had questions about college application process. It wasn’t much, but having someone who knew something, as opposed to relying only on the heavily dogeared college application books I was reading, was helpful.

With the exception of what seemed like 37 years in middle school, I led a pretty charmed life through high school and never had anything close to a need for counseling. My parents divorced immediately after I left for college, and the 2000 miles of distance spared me from having that pain in my face every day. My younger brothers and sister were not so fortunate. But life has a way of eventually bringing its share of pain to all of us. The longer you live and the more you listen, the more you know that. I’ve had my share of pain since my twenties, and counseling helped me get through the hardest times. Having someone to talk with, to listen objectively, to question and push, and to call me on the carpet on some of my thinking has helped me tremendously at key points in my life.

As a high school principal, I got to work closely with school counselors. I considered our counselors to be a vital part of my leadership team. In many cases, counselors know students better than anyone, and their insight is often essential to making high quality instruction possible. I spoke last week with the counseling teams that support the students at Mira Costa High School and Manhattan Beach Middle School. I am grateful for the time they shared with me and loved being able to spend an hour with each team, hearing about how they are transitioning to “distance counseling.” I continue to love how Zoom connects us during this crazy time. I have spoken with our counselors many times, but seeing them working from their homes, talking with the group while also attending to the needs of their sometimes very young children, and balancing work and life in this new environment made me feel even more connected with this team of very caring people. All of us smiled when we heard that one of our counselors just witnessed her oldest son take his first steps.

MBMSCounselors
The MBMS Counseling Team
MCHSCounselors
The Mira Costa HS Counseling Team

What a critical thing it is to have people in an organization who are solely devoted to helping students make good decisions and helping them get through difficult times. I wanted to speak with our counselors to learn how they are able to do this without the in-person connections and day to day interactions of regular school.

One of their top priorities has been supporting students who were already in crisis while they were in school prior to March 13, our last day of normal school. Stress and anxiety are real in our high-pressure community. Expectations are high. Some students seemingly thrive on that, but it can be too much for others. It’s often hidden, but many of our students, and students across the country, are in a lot of pain. It made the cover of Time Magazine a few years ago. All of our counselors see students who are in crisis, and this move to distance learning creates an even less connected world that could be even tougher on students. Our counselors recognize this, and when we moved to our distance learning model they immediately began reaching out to these students to try to maintain the connections they have already built and to provide a familiar touchpoint for students who need one. Their conversations are often about school, but they are more about emotions, mindsets, and the tools that students can use to process and cope with self-doubts and sometimes giant challenges in their lives. It is reassuring and comforting to know that our counselors are taking the initiative and maintaining relationships with students during this COVID-19 time.

Our College and Career Counselors have been busy as well. Mira Costa seniors have heard from colleges and are making decisions on where to attend, without the ability to visit their prospective colleges, on where to attend. Counselors have been having telephone or Zoom meetings with the families of our junior students, who are starting the college application process now. It is a crazy time for them, too. Our college and career counselors recently sent out the April edition of the CCC Newsletter as another way of keeping our students and families informed. My son Dawson is a junior. He took the SAT back in January, and now we are not even sure if schools will be accepting SATs. I’m not certain my older son Ryan would have gotten into any competitive university without his SATs. He was not a big believer in turning in homework, and his GPA reflected a stubborn adherence to that lack of belief. But he was born to take tests, and that helped him. As he still tells me regularly when we reflect on those high school days, “It all worked out, didn’t it Dad?”

LawSchoolGrad
Our family celebrating Ryan’s law school graduation. Yes, Ryan, it all worked out!

It worked out for Ryan, but for Dawson, and for all of our juniors, the college application process has never been more uncertain. Our counselors are trying to guide students and families, meeting with them and their families through Zoom to help them navigate a process that none of us yet understands and that is changing as we go. To me, the main point we need to remember is the point that Frank Bruni repeatedly makes in Where You Go Is Not Who You’ll Be. Successful people are not successful because of the college they attended. It’s about their desire to learn, to improve, to take chances, and to work hard through all of it. Bruni writes, “What drives earnings isn’t the luster of the diploma but the type of person in possession of it…A good student can get a good education just about anywhere, and a student who’s not that serious about learning isn’t going to get much benefit.” Channeling Frank Bruni to all of our high school students, our middle school students, and parents – it’s going to be OK.

Our counselors reminded me that life goes on even in this time of social distancing, and that sometimes brings hardship and pain. As they learn about new and sometimes very heavy circumstances that our students are facing, our counselors are reaching out to support them as well. One of our students just learned that his mother has cancer. Other students have witnessed a parent or grandparent go through COVID-19. We have students whose parents are on the front lines in the medical profession, risking their health every day. Financial stresses are straining our families. The health, the emotions, and the lives of the ones we love matter more than anything. Having a trusted adult to talk with outside of the small circle of people with whom we are sheltering in place is sometimes critical to being able to get through difficult situations. Our counselors are working to provide this for students as they go through these real challenges, and I know that it helps.

I’m also grateful that our counselors are not alone in this work. We have so many teachers, instructional assistants, school staff, and administrators who have connections with our students, who love and care for them, and who are still connecting and listening. I know that these trusted adults are providing important and much-needed support, sometimes explicitly and sometimes just by letting students know they are still here. I have often said that teaching is not solely based on traditional content and that the best teaching happens when teachers focus on growth – and not just on academic growth but also on students’ growth as people. My wife used to be an AP Calculus teacher, and now she’s a 5th grade teacher. She talks about how people ask her, “What do you teach?” and for many years her answer was, “Math!” Now when people ask, “What do you teach?” she says, “It’s not a ‘what,’ it’s a ‘who’….I teach 30 individual students.” Meeting each student where they are, knowing what makes them tick, and helping them to grow into the people they will become is way more important than making sure that they remember every single fact and figure that we teach. As Paul Simon sang, “When I think back on all that crap I learned in high school. It’s a wonder I can think at all.” I’m a big fan of the idea that as many adults in the school as possible should teach students to think, to be creative, and to solve problems (that is not the crap that Paul Simon was talking about), help students to grow into good and caring human beings, and support students so that they know without a doubt that adults in their school care about their success a person.

Thank you to our counselors for caring for our students, particularly in this time of social distancing. Thank you to everyone in our schools who is reaching out to do the same. And let’s all remind ourselves that we are in the midst of a brutal time, and that kindness and love are more important than ever.

 

 

 

Reflections on School and Life in the Midst of COVID-19 – (#5, Student Life, March 30, 2020)

“I haven’t been bored once. Not one bit.” That’s what my 17-year-old high school junior son Dawson told Jill and me after two weeks of isolation. I believe him. He has been training for this scenario for years. He certainly likes the outdoors. He’s OK with hiking, enjoys playing golf (he breaks 100 and has the famous line, “Golf is more fun when you don’t suck.”), is happy to seek out the perfect hamburger joint (that’s a quest we are on together – #1 so far? The Apple Pan in West LA), and likes going to movies. But without question, he is happiest when he is home. He loves meals in our home and would rather eat what he calls the “RQ” food (restaurant quality) that I make than go out to any restaurant. But his true passion, and a giant reason for him loving being at home, is that our home is his base for online gaming with his friends.

Online gaming creates a world where friends can hang out together, laugh together, and compete together, without ever leaving the home. It’s like a Zoom with a view. He uses a computer that he saved for and built himself. He and his friends strategize, practice, then compete against teams that could be from South Pasadena or South Korea. He and his friends can all watch a movie together, talking and laughing together as they are watching. He has outstanding, smart, and funny friends who care about each other, but outside of school, they rarely see each other in the real world. So really, in his world, not much is different as we shelter at home.

Of course, school is different, but so far for Dawson, that’s not a bad thing. In his pre-COVID-19 school days, he would leave the house around 7:20 and get home around 5:00. By the time he got home, he had done most of his homework, so let’s call it a 10-hour day. Now, between some online classes and getting the work done, he still sees his teachers, but his day is only about five or six hours long. He thinks that’s WAY more efficient! So for him, so far so good. In fact, for Dawson, in a weird way that I’m not quite comfortable with, it may be better.

But it’s not the same for everybody. I had the opportunity to Zoom for an hour with five seniors from Mira Costa High School. I feel for our senior students right now. Everything they have been looking forward to – senioritis, prom, and graduation, is now at risk. I wanted to hear directly from them, so I set up the Zoom call and spent an hour with these five students. It was well worth my time.

We went all kinds of places in the conversation, but perhaps the most poignant point I heard was them lamenting the loss of the seemingly mundane parts of high school. One of the seniors said, “I think it’s interesting that one of the things you don’t realize you miss about school is the random people you see in the hallways. Walking between 1st and 2nd period … I would never Zoom call them up, even though I value seeing them every day. I’m FaceTiming my friends, but it’s not the same. I think we’re all now realizing that the minutes and hours we spend at school, both in and out of class, are such a big part of our social life, even though we might not have thought about it that way before.” Our society should listen to high school students more than we do. Brené Brown, who gave us an outstanding TED talk and a spectacular Netflix show, has thought about this. “I get so busy sometimes chasing the extraordinary that I don’t pay attention to the ordinary moments. The moments that, if taken away, I would miss more than anything.” These students, and I think all of us, are beginning to appreciate the ordinary moments more than ever. “Yeah, everyone was happy to leave because it sounded awesome,” said one of the students, “and now everyone’s like . . . we just wish we were back.”

Senioritis is real. None of these students are slackers, but they at least liked the idea of senioritis. I bored these students (nothing like being trapped in a Zoom meeting with the Superintendent!) with one of my senioritis stories, where my physics teacher read aloud, with gusto, to my entire class a letter he had drafted about my lackluster performance in his class, written to the college admissions department at the college where I had been accepted and planned to attend, advising them that they had made a terrible mistake. I improved my performance and the letter did not go out. Though I did not find the draft letter to be not even mildly funny at the time, my classmates thought it was hilarious. (My classmates were right.) I had been enjoying my senioritis, but it was short-lived. These seniors are missing out on even the opportunity, and for many it would have been the first time in their lives where they could give themselves permission to do maybe just a little bit less than they are supposed to do.

As for these students’ distance learning experiences, it was clear that it all depends on the teacher. They were so appreciative of the teachers who are successfully teaching and connecting. Several commented that their government teacher is their main connecting force. He is holding classes on Zoom, expecting students to turn in work, and providing students with feedback. For these students, it creates a part of the day with purpose and connection. Even so, they lamented that they felt cheated by our new isolation. One of the students said, “I feel like my time in my government class was cut short. He’s one of the great teachers.” The students pointed to other their teachers who are working to provide similar opportunities. For some of them, most of their teachers are providing content and structure that successfully engages them. For one student, it was just one teacher. I have every reason to believe that this is a function of our quick transition. We will get better.

Two weeks into distance learning, our principals are working to develop ways to ensure that they know enough about what each teacher is doing so that several things can happen.

  • We want to show appreciation for the teachers who are killing it. These teachers are already successfully connecting and teaching, trying new methods, failing, and then trying again.
  • We want to see what is working best, and make sure we share those techniques, strategies, and technology uses with all of our teachers.
  • We want to see which teachers needs assistance and find ways to support them. This is a new world, and not everyone was ready for it. There’s a hilarious song that teacher Michael Bruening sings about wishing he’d paid more attention to the technology professional development and all of the frustrations that come with figuring out how to teach in a brand new way. Necessity can also be the mother of motivation.
  • And we need to provide time for our teachers to learn on their own and to learn through collaboration. As Michael Bruening sings,

“You gave me two days to adjust
to move everything online
Did you think I’d crumble?
Did you think I’d lay down and die?
Oh no not I,
I will survive . . .”

The paltry two days he mentions for professional development are two more days than we gave our teachers in MBUSD. I sent out an email last week saying that from now on, we will be building one half day each week into the school day for our teachers to learn and collaborate. I should have done that earlier, but I’m learning through all of this too.

I’ll end this entry by sharing a few final nice thoughts from our seniors. We spend a lot of time worrying about, talking about, and trying to address the massive amount of social and emotional stress our seniors face. I wrote a blog entry about some of our efforts back in 2017. Well it seems our students are certainly feeling a little less stress in this new world.

  • One of the students said, “I feel way less stressed out. And I’m in a better mood. I’ve slept so much – more than I ever have.”
  • Another said, “Every day I would have an hour, maybe, of time when I wasn’t doing anything and could just relax. But now that number’s jumped to 8 hours a day of doing whatever I want. That’s nice.”
  • And another, “Before this happened I was REALLY busy. I was about to quit my job. I couldn’t work out, I couldn’t really do anything. Now I’m picking up shifts again , I have the time to go work out, I actually have free time.”

At the end of the conversation, I said I hoped I could check back in with them (I loved our hour together!), and I promised them that if we miss out on holding graduation on June 11, the planned date, we will have a graduation ceremony. I don’t know when it will be. It could be in August or December. But we will hold it, and when we do, it will be the most wonderful socially non-distant gathering and celebration I can possibly imagine.

I can’t wait.

 

Reflections on School and Life in the Midst of COVID-19 – (#4, Distance Learning, March 28, 2020)

I am writing this entry on Saturday, March 28, 2020 – after two weeks of distance learning. When I first started visualizing what teaching using distance learning would look like, I mistakenly imagined it would be very similar to classroom teaching. I pictured students spending the day from 8:00 to 3:00 either listening to their teacher providing direct instruction, interacting with their teacher and their classmates, reading, or working on skills or materials. I pictured teachers prepping as usual, giving directions, and being available during their normal work hours. I did not take in all of the complexities that being home due to an epidemic brings. It is remarkably complicated.

And it’s not one size fits all. Not one bit. We have students whose families have stresses that prevent them from being available. We have teachers in the same situation. We have teachers who now have to learn a whole new way of teaching, with entirely different uses of technology. In general, the teachers who are doing their best are spending far more hours than they were spending in the normal jobs. There are long hours of learning, preparation, trial and error, collaboration, research, and more. It’s tough on everyone.

Two weeks in, people are seeking to know the expectations and objectives this new distance learning paradigm. I drafted a set of objectives for our district, then received feedback from a number of teachers and instructional leaders, and together we have developed version one of the MBUSD Objectives for Distance Learning. We will be using this as an overall framework for the teaching and learning we want to see with distance learning. It is clear in its objectives, but leaves the “how” up to the teacher. I already have seen plenty of highly effective strategies and uses of technology that teachers are using to achieve these objectives, and I look forward to seeing more. We will learn together.

MBUSD DISTANCE LEARNING OBJECTIVES

 

Students will continue to learn. This is the message from the Governor of California, and it remains our primary objective in MBUSD. Our teachers have made spectacular efforts to be a source of strength, normalcy, care, and connection in our students’ lives. Teaching and learning will continue in MBUSD through distance learning. 

Teachers will be streamlining the curriculum and focusing on what is most critical for students to learn. Our commitment is to utilize distance learning to prepare students for next year while understanding the evolving challenges that all of us face in the circumstances in which we find ourselves today. We will seek ways to focus our content on our essential standards, so we can better keep all of our learners engaged, and in order to have more opportunities to support students who are not meeting the standards. When we begin the 2020-21 school year, teachers will need to keep this unique year in mind and will teach or review critical concepts as needed before moving to new concepts.

Teachers will strive to help students regularly connect with their classmates and their teacher. The amount of isolation we are all experiencing during this epidemic presents a major challenge to our social and emotional well-being. Our students need opportunities to remain connected with their classmates and their teachers. Teachers will be using a variety of methods to achieve this.


Students will receive feedback on their assignments. We are continuing to communicate with other local districts, the county, and the state regarding report cards, final grades, and, for high school, grades on transcripts. This is an evolving discussion, and one that will place at its center the best way to reflect student learning in circumstances that are far from normal. Unless students are failing multiple courses or are notified that they are not meeting standards or are at risk of failure/retention, they will be progressing to the next level in 2020-21.


Teachers will receive additional time each week to collaborate with colleagues, discuss curriculum, and to share and learn best distance learning practices. Our teachers have done an amazing job in moving to online instruction. But there is still so much to learn, so we will build in one half day of time during one school day each week for additional learning, as this remains an extraordinarily new and evolving world of teaching. MBUSD supports each school in developing its own schedule to provide this time. Each school site will be in touch with its families once that is done.


Everyone needs to be patient and flexible with themselves and each other. Our teachers are working to adjust to a whole new method of instructional delivery and are learning as they plan, often while dealing with the same challenges that all of us face as we adjust to working from home and caring for ourselves and our families in this new reality. We will all work together to help provide students with the ability to plan, manage, and structure their day to the best of our ability. We understand that lessons and assignments may take a little longer or turn out differently than we expect. We know that flexibility is important – for students as well as teachers – and we will seek to provide that flexibility when it is needed.


We will strive to provide assignments and directions to students and families in a timely and consistent manner. Our community has many working parents, including teachers, who appreciate having the lesson plans ahead of time so they can prepare their students for the day/week, which is particularly helpful to students who may need more support from their parents to plan their day. As everyone begins to settle into this new structure, teachers will be more and more able to establish a routine for posting assignments and schedules for upcoming activities so that students (and their parents, when needed) can plan ahead. 


These Distance Learning Objectives will evolve. As we receive feedback from teachers, employees, students, and families, we will learn more about effective and meaningful practices for teaching and learning through distance learning, as well as ways to maintain strong connections within our classroom and school communities. This will be a living document that evolves as we learn.


We will get through this together. With kindness, compassion, creativity, support from the MBUSD community, and a commitment to teach and learn in a sea of change, our teachers and our students will prevail through this epidemic, and our community will emerge stronger and more together than ever.

 

Reflections on School and Life in the Midst of COVID-19 – (#3, Teams, March 23, 2020)

As I have made these COVID-19 posts on Facebook, and I as tentatively enter the world of “social distance media,” I have heard from so many people from different chapters of my life. I have been fortunate in my 58 years of existence to have been a member of many amazing and magical teams. Sometimes the situation and the people just gel to create magical moments during a lifetime. I’ve had so many. My family, which has grown and changed over the years, has always been an amazing team. As my very funny and lovely mother-in-law says, my family “puts the fun in dysfunctional.” My 6th grade basketball team. My graduating class of 1980 at Catholic High School in Little Rock, Arkansas, which still has amazing bonds. My freshman dorm-mates at Stanford. My small eclectic group of friends from my year in West Berlin in 1982-83. My first teaching job in San Lorenzo. My vice principal experience at Lodi High School. My principal experience at Malibu High School. My close-knit neighbors who are an incredible part of my life. My wacky 5:30 AM masters swimming group at LMU. And my colleagues in my current job as Superintendent in Manhattan Beach. That’s a lot! All of those were amazing teams who added magical, supportive, fun-filled, and meaningful elements to my life.

I’m not sure how great teams get created. I’ve read a lot about it. If you read the annotated bibliography I’ve been keeping for the last 10 years, you’ll see a lot of books about creating and sustaining great teams. For me, part of it comes with not being afraid to start over. I’ve left many jobs that I absolutely loved to start a new job with different challenges. Part of creating a team comes from having a meaningful job to do, and surrounding myself with colleagues who are just as committed as I am to getting that job done right. Part of it comes from my love of laughter, and enjoying being around those who foster it. Finally, I think teams are created when people create spaces in the day, week, or year for downtime and an opportunity to breathe. Keith Urban, one of the hardest working entertainers in the world, sings a song called “Wasted Time,” where he has the line, “Ain’t it funny how the best days of my life was all that wasted time.” When I would spend a morning biking with my friend Will Carey, he would usually say he had, “Nothing to do, and all day to do it.” All you need is purpose, laughter, and time, and  . . . the right people.

I could write a blog post about each of the teams I mentioned above. None of them would do justice to the special nature of each, but it is nice to reflect. I’ll write today on my first teaching job, my five years of teaching History at San Lorenzo High School, where I was a part of two beautiful teams: my amazing, creative, and laughter-filled group of colleagues, and my spectacular and inspirational students.

San Lorenzo is a small suburb in Northern California, located at the intersection of the 880 and 238 freeways, just south of Oakland. (If you’re wondering why we Californians use freeway numbers and roads to describe where something is, watch the not-so-flattering series, The Californians, from Saturday Night Live). I was hired to work there two days before the school year started, as getting a job as a history teacher was not easy back in 1985. I taught four different courses in four different classrooms all over the campus. I asked for a lot of help with those four courses, and I met a lot of people as I pushed my cart around the campus between classes. And I started learning how to teach.

I look just the same today!

Let’s be clear. Teaching is hard. It’s awesome, but it is really, really difficult to be a good teacher. My first three years of teaching were some of the most challenging and most rewarding of my life. I had lesson plans that totally bombed, late nights trying to figure out what and how to teach the next day, stacks of grading that never seemed to get done, new classroom management challenges every day in class, and a wide variety of failures and successes. But it got better. And the main reason it improved was because of the afternoons I would spend with my fellow teachers and colleagues, lamenting our failures and telling stories that made us laugh. A few of us even started a band, The Underpaid, that performed at some union events and served as the pit band for that year’s San Lorenzo High School musical, Grease. We worked together, struggled to find ways to help our students, worked out together, played together, laughed together, and together accomplished great things for the students of San Lorenzo. This was an amazing team. The beauty, love, and laughter of this team has stayed with me to do this day, and I am still grateful for each person who contributed to that magical era in my life.

What we lacked in talent, we made up for in enthusiasm!

But it wasn’t just the teachers. I loved my students as well. They were patient with me (most of the time) as I learned how to teach. They put up with my crazy ideas for teaching, like when I taught the American Revolution from the perspective of the Vietnam War and the Apartheid Movement. They were talented and smart, and I enjoyed seeing all that they brought to the table. SLZHS did not send many students directly to four-year colleges. The main recruiters on campus were the local community college and the US military. Those can be great options for students, but one of my primary goals for my students was and continues to be maximizing their options for their futures. In an effort to get more students to feel ready for four-year college, I started the first-ever Advanced Placement course in our district, and I began teaching AP US History in 1988. Those next two years of teaching created one of my favorite teams in my life, as I moved up with the students the next year, teaching AP Government and Economics.

For me, AP US History has always been a course that uses US History to teach students how to think and write. And, boy, did those students write. Every Monday, they had to turn in five to six essays, each one of which took at least 30 minutes of writing, and much more time reading, researching, and thinking. By the time I finished teaching my last AP US History course in 2004, I had reduced that load by 50%, and it was still a lot. The students loved and hated the challenge. I gave out my home phone number for students to call me. Half the calls were just about dealing with stress. But as we learned together, we all fell in love with our hard-working group. The students supported each other. Our class days had a lot of lecturing (too much, now that I look back on it), but tons of time for laughter, support, and conversation. We had evening review sessions, and Saturday morning review sessions. We became a team.

This experience shaped what I believe teaching should be about. Teaching at its best is like coaching. When a player fails to do what a coach expects of him or her, a good coach does not simply cut the player from the team or put him or her on the bench for the rest of the season. The quality coach insists that it be done again, and offers different pieces of advice, refusing to rest until the job is done right. Because the team will not succeed unless each player can do their job successfully. Good teaching should be done the same way. My goal as a teacher was to coach students and help them continue improving until they reached their potential. And my goal was always to believe in my students and to have extraordinarily high expectations for them.

This team of students exceeded all of my expectations. Most passed the AP exam, and all of them were ready for college. They went to all kinds of colleges, from Cal State Hayward (now CSU East Bay) to UC Berkeley to Stanford, and so many of them are successful. They are teachers, IT professionals, high school principals, immigration attorneys, researchers, business owners, and successful parents, and so many of them are still very good friends with each other. One of the students even said nice things about me when I took the job here in MBUSD! They remain one of the most successful teams I have ever been a part of, and I love them all for what they added to my life.

So thank you to all of my friends, colleagues, and students from San Lorenzo High School. And thank you to all of my teammates from throughout my life. I hope that we all can keep building new teams as we go through life. During this incredible COVID-19 time, I already see, similar to what happened after 9/11, communities and neighborhoods bonding and teaming a little more closely. Maybe this can be one of the first ever crises that actually teams the entire planet a little more closely. Through pain and suffering, a greater good often emerges. Let’s all do what we can to build our own teams, be open to joining future and unknown teams, and see what joy and purpose it can bring us.

Reflections on School and Life in the Midst of COVID-19 – (#2, Connections, March 19, 2020)

March 19, 2020

Today was Day Four of online schooling in MBUSD. Yesterday, I sent out an email to our entire MBUSD community with an update. I praised our teachers and staff who are learning on the fly, acknowledged that parents have it pretty rough these days with their new world (though there is some nice humor as parents are playing the role of their children’s teacher at home), and asked everyone to be patient as we learn together. You can see my newsletter here.

One of the big game changers in this world of non-human contact has been Zoom, the online video conferencing tool. CEO Eric Yuan brilliantly gave Zoom accounts with no time restrictions to every educator who asked. We asked and now have accounts for all of our employees. In just four days, and it’s one of the platforms that’s already making a massive difference.

On Tuesday morning, I met via Zoom with the 25 members of our leadership team – principals, vice principals, directors, and my senior leadership team. The first thing we did was each get a chance to check in with thoughts of this new normal. (I’m normally not a big icebreaker/check-in fan – in fact, in most cases I’ll use any excuse to get out of it, but this was pretty special.) All of us on the MBUSD leadership team thrive on human interaction. Most of us were teachers, and all of us have a passion for knowing, caring for, and leading our teams. After just two days of school being out, it was clear that the human connection was already missing in our lives. We laughed, discussed serious topics, saw and heard each other, and connected. And though it was completely virtual – it absolutely filled a void. It was powerful.

I’m hearing the same thing from teachers and parents. At home, my wife Jill has been utilizing Zoom and Google Classroom with her 5th grade class. Her students love it. My 11th grade son Dawson has been participating in Zoom and Google Classroom lessons in his classes as well. Dawson actually likes the fact that this new version of  high school is so much more “efficient.” He said that he can now get through his whole school day and all of his homework in four to six hours. In a normal day, he spends at least 10 hours attending school or doing homework. The kid never complains, but in a weird way, he thinks this new normal may actually be better for him than traditional school. So far. (Dad note: I get what he’s feeling, but . . . he’s wrong.) I am hearing from so many parents that the Zoom lessons are a great part of the day in the homes, as their children are craving seeing and interacting with their teacher and their classmates. And I think that all of us running a Zoom meeting secretly like the fact that when necessary, the organizer can just click the “mute all” button. Where is that button in real life! We are improving in our use of Zoom, Google Classroom and other methods we can use to make these connections with students.  Patience, Grasshopper. We will get there.

In four days, my overwhelming lesson from our experience so far reinforces what I already know: The primary role of teachers is helping students make connections. My friend Mary Helen Immordino-Yang has been writing about that for years. It’s not about the content. As a high school history teacher, I don’t care whether or not you know what year the War of 1812 was in. (Though I bet you know at least one of the years!) I do care that you are able to read, think, write, and see the meaning of key events. Those skills are critical to learn. But the key ingredients that allow students to successfully learn, and Dr. Immordino-Yang has brain research to prove it, is students’ confidence that their teachers know them, care for them, and believe in them. It’s all about the connections.

So thank you, Eric Yuan. You are going to make a gazillion more dollars from this and you are connecting us in a time when we have never needed it more. And thanks to our teachers, students, parents, and employees who are making those connections in a whole new way.

Stay connected and stay healthy,

Mike

Reflections on School and Life in the Midst of COVID-19 (#1, Beginnings, March 17, 2020)

March 17, 2020

Last week was one of the craziest weeks I’ve had as an educator and perhaps as a human being. Whether or not to close schools was a huge debate for our area and for the country. Many parents and medical professionals were saying that the sooner all schools closed, the more quickly the nation could slow down the spread of COVID-19. But it was also a debate on child care, as closing the schools meant that working professionals, including first responders and medical professionals, might not be able to go to work if schools were closed. I heard from parents and medical professionals about that as well. It was a week where the news was changing every hour, rumors were flying, and emotion was high. For the first time in my life, even more than 9/11, a sense of panic has been evident throughout the nation in terms of making sure people felt that they had the supplies they needed to survive. I heard from employees and I heard from parents, and it truly was a 50/50 split on what was the best tactic to take. And, by the way, it was a highly emotional 50/50 split. I was in regular communication with individual board members, with the Department of Public Health, with other superintendents, with the County Superintendent, with employees, and with district leaders. In the end, we made the decision to close our schools about a day before the County and the rest of the world did. And now, there are only a few schools in the nation, if not the world, that remain open. We have entered a new and hopefully unique phase in our lives.

As we begin this week without students in our schools, there are many important items to work out. We have to address how we are going to effectively and lovingly teach our students, how we are going to best utilize all of our employees, how we are going to keep our employees and our students safe, and how we are going to continue to get the necessary work of the District done. Our teachers began planning for this possibility well before our decision to close, but they are learning a whole new world of online instruction. We are already hearing amazing stories about how our teachers are interacting with our students. One of our kindergarten teachers is already legendary in my mind because I had the chance to see her first video for her kindergarten students, where she was wonderful, but her outstanding performance was truly hijacked by Coco the cat. Her cat made several appearances in the video, and if my kindergarten student had seen that, he would have been head-over-heels for Coco the cat. Even I can’t get enough. I can’t wait to see Coco the cat again! I look forward to seeing many more examples of our teachers working with our students. I am hoping that our parents, when something great happens, will let me know about it. Our teachers are often too humble to share the great things they are doing. That being said, I hope everyone is patient with our teachers, because again, this is a whole new world. Our schools are closed for four weeks at this point, but I know many professionals are saying it will be at least eight before schools across the country re-open, and tonight, the Governor said we may not re-open before the end of the school year. Nothing is certain at this point, and we will continue to learn.

I have many different perspectives on this remarkable time period, which has only just begun. Of course, I am superintendent of our schools here in Manhattan Beach, so I have that perspective. I am married to a 5th grade teacher at a Malibu elementary school, and I have Jill’s perspective as she learns her way through this. And I have the perspective of my two sons. My younger son Dawson is a junior at Malibu High School. He was out of school last year for six weeks because of the Woolsey fire, and now it’s happening again. What a crazy experience for him. And my older son, Ryan, is an attorney living up in Sacramento, so I have his perspective as well. I am thinking that maybe I can share glimpses of all these perspectives in the upcoming blogs. I think it will be a good record of a unique time in our lives, and I hope that it can provide something – I don’t even know what that might be – for others as we work our way through this time. I will be doing my best to make several blog entries a week as we live through this unprecedented time. Even if it is read by only a few, I hope it can be supportive to those, and I know I will benefit by taking the time to reflect, write, and share.

Wishing you all good health,

Mike

Lawnmowers and Snowplows

When I was a high school principal, a parent of a senior came up to me and asked, “Did you really tell my son he should turn down his college admission offers and go be a professional musician instead?” I smiled and said that yes, that was my advice to him. She shook her head and said she had not believed her son when he told her. Part of my advice may have been because in my next life I’d love to be a professional musician, but most of it was based on my knowledge of him, his abilities, and his dreams. We both laugh about it now, as that choice has worked out pretty well for him. Phew!

My point is, there are many paths to a successful adulthood, and college, particularly the name of the college, is not the only determinant of our children’s future success. Two of my friends who I would call extraordinarily successful did not go to college at all. And there is ample evidence that, for people who go to college, the name of the college they attend has little to nothing to do with their future success (see Frank Bruni’s – Where You Go is Not Who You’ll Be; Challenge Success White Paper – Why College Engagement Matters More that Selectivity). As Jason Gay stated in a recent Wall Street Journal article, “College is college – some schools have more to offer than others, but in your life, you’re going to meet plenty of useless dingbats who went to the most distinguished colleges in the country. You’ll also encounter wizards who barely went to school at all.”

So why in the world do so many of us care so much, stress so much, and do all sorts of things to get our children into the most prestigious college possible? Why would parents risk their integrity, and their children’s integrity, by cheating in the college admissions process? Most of us would never even consider something that extreme, but it does represent the anxiety that plagues many parents and students, especially in a community that values education so highly and that is populated by so many highly successful college educated adults. In the wake of recent events, I have heard several stories of college students and graduates who called their parents and asked them if they pulled strings to get them into college. That’s a heartbreaking question on many levels, and it speaks to the culture that we live in, the pressure we put on ourselves and our children, and our perceptions about the whimsical nature of the college admission process, especially at the most “elite” schools – based not on substance but on luck, or fate, or a thumb on a scale. We have to do something about this. I hope this recent cheating and admissions scandal can be a catalyst and help pull us back from this insanity.

Our message to ourselves and to our kids about college should be simple: It’s going to be OK.

There are a lot of things in parenting that matter way more than where our children go to college. Are we raising children who are hard workers, who can overcome adversity, who are kind, who are passionate about something, who will be good parents and partners and friends, who strive to improve, who are confident in their own self-worth, who are ethical, who are healthy, and who know they are loved?

Julie Lythcott-Haims, who will be speaking at Mira Costa this Sunday afternoon and Monday night (sign up here), writes in her book How to Raise an Adult, “Why did parenting change from preparing our kids for life to protecting them from life, which means they’re not prepared to live life on their own?” I’ve heard this parenting technique called lawnmower parenting – blazing a path in front of our kids so that not a single blade of grass gets in their way. (In the north they call it snowplow parenting. I love southern California!)

And as we have seen, this approach is dangerous not only to children but to their parents as well. Lythcott-Haims adds, “Not only does overparenting hurt our children; it harms us, too. Parents today are scared, not to mention exhausted, anxious, and depressed.” I’ve seen it. It’s real. It doesn’t need to be this way. But it’s not just something we can flip a switch and change.

My youngest son is a sophomore in high school. I find it hard not to ask about his grades, and I don’t like it when his grades are lower than they I think they should be. But I’m working on it. Maybe I write these blog entries to remind myself to practice what I preach. BUT IT’S NOT EASY! I try to focus even more on what he loves to do, his friends, his challenges, and what he’s trying to get better at. Or just to talk about what he loves – movies, food, golf, video games, e-sports, or good things happening in this world.

What’s especially challenging for our parents is that many of us are talking the right talk, but our kids don’t believe it. They have accepted the false elite college premise, and they work each other up about it relentlessly. That’s why cheating is an epidemic in schools today. The cheating in today’s high schools isn’t from the Bluto Blutarsky’s of the world who are trying to improve their 0.00 GPA. They are A and B students wanting all A’s. Challenge Success has written a White Paper on that too – Cheat or Be Cheated – which examines the culture of cheating. Jason Gay adds in his article, “Not everyone cheats. Not everyone cuts corners. There isn’t a diploma in the world more valuable than your integrity – and you can’t buy your integrity back.”

I write this for parents because it starts with us. Although we shake our head when we hear about the parents who paid big money, lied, or cheated to get their children into college, the factors that led to those behaviors are all around us every day. I encourage you to listen to Julie Lythcott-Haims and/or read her book, then talk about it all with your friends and fellow parents. Let’s shut down the lawnmowers and let our children fend more for themselves, practice self-advocacy, overcome problems, and even experience failure.

As for us, you know that we here in MBUSD are working on this too. We are striving to make our schools healthier places for our students. We are making changes to the amount and types of homework we are assigning; we now end the first semester in high school before winter break, allowing for a true break; we have Link Crew and WEB programs, both designed to welcome new students to a school; we cap AP classes for students at four; we have the “office hours” schedule at Mira Costa, making Wednesdays a unique day at the high school; and we are encouraging our students to be mindful in a variety of ways. And we’re still working on it.

We are all in this together.

– Mike Matthews

LiveWell Magazine Interview with Dr. Matthews and area superintendents

BCHD sat down with the heads of the three Beach Cities school districts to discuss the challenges and opportunities facing students today – and how they are tackling it all together.
There’s so much happening in our schools and the lives of today’s students – from stressful academic demands to social-emotional well-being. So, we thought it would be a perfect time to have a discussion with the superintendents who are guiding Beach Cities’ school districts:
  • Patricia Escalante (Hermosa Beach City School District)
  • Dr. Michael Matthews (Manhattan Beach Unified School District)
  • Dr. Steven Keller (Redondo Beach Unified School District).

Here are highlights of the roundtable conversation.

Q: Since each of you were in school, how has life changed for K-12 students?
A: Escalante: “Social media is the obvious (difference), but kids in my day still got feelings hurt. It was maybe more passive-aggressive because people would talk behind your back or send notes about you. With social media, everything is so instant. We only had CBS, NBC and ABC. No cable TV, no 24-hour news cycle.”
Matthews: “When I went to high school there was actually little pressure about which college to go to. None of my friends talked about it, my parents didn’t talk about it. But that is one million degrees different right now. (Life) was much lower key when I was in high school. No social media, so I didn’t know what I was missing out on. I’m sure it was a lot, but I didn’t have social media to remind me about all that.”
Keller: “Technology obviously is ubiquitous now, in every shape, matter and form. Computer labs were just starting when I was in high school; now everyone’s got a device. It’s a different game. Access to information is real-time, and that has its pros and cons. If you are a great parent, though, it can actually serve you well.”
Q: Are Beach Cities kids under more pressure to get into the best colleges?
A: Escalante: “Short answer: yes. But, I think our kids are hungry for a deeper understanding about themselves. They are no longer thinking that they’re just born a certain way – they are learning they have control. But they are under a lot of pressure. The pressure to go to the “sweatshirt colleges” is real in our community and it’s a lot to put on kids, especially the ones who don’t fit into that pigeonhole. Those kids need to know it’s okay to take a different pathway to success; it’s beneficial to think outside of the box and be creative. These are the conversations we need to be having as parents and teachers with our children.”
Matthews: “To Pat’s point, a key piece of research is set to be released from Stanford in the next week that essentially shows the lifetime income differential between the top 200 colleges in the country is marginally different. That means whether you’re going to Harvard, Princeton, Stanford, Yale or the University of Arkansas, your income isn’t going to vary much, on average. Assuming that’s what the research shows, I can’t wait to share that with the community.” (To read the report from Challenge Success, click here)
Keller: “Rather than base the whole college process off the question of: How much money will I make when I graduate?, I urge our kids to focus on becoming better, more informed citizens. Make a better use of your time on earth; try to make the world a better place. And if money follows and capitalism thrives, then great. That’s the honest conversation I’m having with our kids and the community – and I think our community understands the importance of it.”
Q: How has the relationship between health and school evolved over the years?
A: Matthews: “We don’t need to do a lot of pushing to have our students striving to be the very best academically. They’re already doing that on their own. Our job has transformed into turning this quest for excellence into a quest for student wellness. It’s a push we’re making with teachers, counselors, parents and students. And Beach Cities Health District is a big partner for us. I’d say we now focus as much on student wellness as we do on academic excellence. It’s a giant change.”
Escalante: “The conversations between the three districts have become more frequent, richer and more focused on the wellness for kids. We are operating with like minds and have support from each of our boards. It’s more powerful when we can work together and have common frames of reference and language around wellness for kids and expectations. And I agree with Mike about BCHD…We truly see the health district as an absolute working partnership to support total well-being. I’m sure all three districts feel that way.”
Keller: “I totally agree with Pat and Mike. The whole focus on social emotional well-being – our kids being physically fit, having great nutrition and academics – are all pieces and values we believe in and transfer to the 20,000 South Bay kids that we serve. It’s just who we are as people. The heavy lift is for the teachers and staff and Beach Cities Health District to systematize and implement. But that’s a good place to come from, where you believe in it before you even start.”
Q: How would you describe your district’s relationship with Beach Cities Health District?
A: Matthews:“BCHD has been a great partner for us, but they’ve also pushed us. The health district is singular in its focus, so they always come to us with programs to support areas of need, like social-emotional wellness. They push us to be better and it makes us healthier.”
Keller: “Our staff, kids and parents benefit from the longevity of the synergy we’ve had with BCHD. Kindergarteners come in and are, for lack of a better word, indoctrinated into our well-established culture of physical and social-emotional health. It’s not all about test scores; it’s also about their health and their family’s health. So, I think that our relationship over the last decade has been very helpful. People move here expecting this relationship, expecting BCHD to be involved. I think parents are well aware of it, and, hence, our enrollment has increased over the last 12 years. I think it’s partially because of our relationship with Beach Cities Health District.”
Escalante: “In 2012, BCHD came to me in my first year as superintendent with MindUP, a program designed to teach children how to regulate negative emotions and their internal decisions by teaching them mindfulness practices and how their brains work. Initially, we were worried about appearing too new age, but we ended up launching it, having success with it and are now a California Distinguished School because of it. MindUP is a great example of how BCHD has given us a lot of different tools to approach our students’ health more holistically.”
Q: You seem to be in sync philosophically; do you have strong working relationships with one another?
A: All: “We do, yeah.”
Keller: “I’ve been here the longest (since 2006) and for me (collaboration) started when Mike became superintendent (in 2010) … I never really connected with Hermosa until Pat came along (in 2012). It’s reached the point where we all even know each other’s kids.”
Matthews: “Steven invited me to lunch right when I came in, and then we both met with Pat when she came in. (We now) call each other, text each other, meet together and do some planning. Also, whenever there’s a question or an issue, we respond to each other immediately, and I’m grateful for that.”
Q: Here’s a fun one: Which is the best high school in the Beach Cities?
A: Escalante: “I’m staying out of this one … (laughing).”
Matthews: “Here’s what I’ll say, we’ve got great school districts. You can’t go wrong. That’s all I’m going to say.”
Keller: “Ten years ago, I would’ve said it depends on what you are looking for in a high school, and I’d have described two different schools – one more focused on academics and ours more focused on the whole child. But that’s no longer the case. Mike changed that when he was hired because he understands the value of the whole child approach. So, I agree completely with what Mike said. You really can’t go wrong.”
Q: The three of you wound-up in the South Bay, but where did each of you go to high school?”
A: Keller: “I went to South Torrance High School.”
Escalante: “I went to Palos Verdes High School.”
Matthews: “I went to high school in Little Rock, Arkansas. So, we’re all pretty local.”
Read more in the latest edition of our LiveWell Magazine.

 

Reach for the Stars: My Promotion Address to the Manhattan Beach Middle School Class of 2018

Congratulations to the MBMS 8th Grade Class of 2018.

Your class has chosen the theme, “Reach for the Stars” for this ceremony. And why not?

It’s way better than themes that Eeyore from Winnie the Pooh might have chosen:

  • What’s the use?
  • I shouldn’t even try.
  • Nothing’s going to change.

Reach for the Stars is way better.

Everyone knows that if you want to become a better athlete or a better artist or musician, you need to practice, work, and learn from a good teacher or coach.

But for some reason, most people don’t believe that we can become smarter. People think that we were born with a certain amount of smarts, and that’s just not going to change.

Brain research has proven that is just not true. Just as you can reach for the stars and become a better athlete or a better artist, you can become smarter. Scientists and researchers call this a “Growth Mindset.”

MBMSPromotion2018

Many brain researchers have shown proof of Growth Mindset, but some students and teachers still don’t believe it. We have to convince students, parents, AND teachers that the growth mindset is real and needs to be utilized.

So how do you get smarter? How does this growth mindset thing work?

  1. Challenge yourself. Try hard stuff. Find interesting problems and try to solve them. Push yourself. Don’t take the easy way.
  2. Fail. Learn from your failures. When you challenge yourself, you will fail. Brain researchers are saying that nothing promotes growth as much as learning from failure. We have teachers and students who define F-A-I-L as First Attempt in Learning.  I love it.
  3. Explore new ideas through reading, Care about something! Learn about it! Do you know how you become a better reader? By reading more. Fall in love with reading and you’ll have something to enjoy your whole life and your brain will grow.
  4. Be careful with social media: There are two big evils in social media: The first is FOMO – The Fear of Missing Out – because you focus on the cool things others are posting. Believe me, no one’s life is super-duper awesome every minute. The real-life stuff we deal with is not what you see on social media. The second evil is the unfortunate propensity of some people to be mean and try to bring people down. Be careful.
  5. Take care of your brain. Again, let’s look at brain research and science. If you want your brain to grow, there are two most important habits you can develop: (1) get enough sleep. You need more than you think. Do everything you can to get that sleep. (2) Don’t use drugs and alcohol. Your brain is growing and developing, and nothing can slow down that growth more than drugs and alcohol.

Most of all, believe that your best and smartest days are ahead of you. Brain research is on your side. Don’t let others define your story. Set big fat hairy goals for yourself. Be OK when you fail, and try again. Never stop growing. Never stop reaching for the stars.

Congratulations again to the MBMS 8th Grade Class of 2018, to your parents, and to all of your great teachers who have made a difference in your lives.