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Principal's Blog - "The Monday STEMO"
It was the best of times.Posted by Jonathon Wetherington on 3/22/2020 9:00:00 PM
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way--in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.” - Paragraph 1 from Chapter 1 of A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens
I hope everyone had a wonderful weekend, and you are finding your new rhythm with digital teaching and the personal balance, space, and health. Let’s be honest, it’s been a long couple of weeks for everyone. We are all tired, stressed, and uncertain about the future. As I was reflecting about the uncertainty we face, I was reminded of the lines above from a Tale of Two Cities, which reminded me that at times like these, it is good to remember that there have always been trying times like these. So what do we do? The best advice I can give is that we need to keep moving forward.
During difficult times it can be helpful to have a focus…...a clearly defined purpose around helping others that allows us to put our energy and talents towards. A clearly defined purpose helps us focus downstream on the people who are depending on us instead of looking upstream at what is coming our way.
This is my encouragement to each member of the Paul Duke STEM Community: Look to those in our school community we can help. How do we do that?
As a faculty and staff, I feel like our purpose during these Digital Learning Days (DLD) is clear. We all need to do just two things on a consistent and constant basis. What two things you ask? These two things:
- First, we need to help our students make academic progress and not regress. Essentially, all external accountability is gone, except for AP classes. For most of our classes and students, the goal is NOT about keeping up with other schools or test scores or grades. Our goal is moving our students forward. I estimate that around 25% of our students have true barriers to digital learning, and we have to keep this in mind while we work toward our goal of moving ALL OUR students forward.
- Second, we need to take care of our students and each other. Our students did not ask for this, and we have to figure out how to ensure this does not hurt our students and their grades long-term.
I am so proud of what our school did last week! I am so proud of how each of member of our community stepped up and worked tirelessly to help our students get off the ground with DLD. Getting through this crisis, for both teachers and students, is going to require resilience, compassion, innovation, human connection, and learning together like never before. It’s also going to require a generous and understanding mindset from everyone. If we focus on students’ growth and progress and taking care of each other, we will look back on this time as one of our greatest both individually and collectively.
Do not focus on keeping up with others. Focus on keep moving forward!
Spring ForwardPosted by Jonathon Wetherington on 3/8/2020 6:00:00 PM
Spring Forward! As a way to save energy during World War I, Germany, England, and almost every other country that fought in World War I adopted Daylight Savings Time. The United States followed suit: On March 9, 1918, Congress enacted its first daylight saving law—and it was a two-fer: In addition to saving daylight, the Standard Time Act defined time zones in the U.S. In those days, coal power was king, so people really did save energy
(and thus contribute to the war effort) by changing their clocks. Through common sense innovation, a solution was created and lives on today.
Spring Forward is a strong symbol of innovation and optimism. Every year, we give up an hour of sleep for a daily benefit: more afternoon daylight. Yet, innovation is not always easy. In fact, it rarely is as easy as we hoped. When we jump into new situations and innovations, we enter into something known as the Dunning-Kruger Effect (See figure below). This journey of innovation, adoption, learning, and growth leads us through the ups and downs where we grow in our wisdom and confidence. However, it is not easy to journey from Mt. Stupid to sustainability.
Think about any student or teacher and project-based learning. For this case, the Dunning-Kruger effect indicates how the individual’s knowledge of that pedagogy will evolve over time, and there is the reality that the school, classroom, and pedagogy itself evolves over time. Hence, early in that evolution it is really difficult to have realistic expectations of what PBL might mean for a teacher. It is easy early on to underestimate what PBL really is, which of course adds to the height of Mt. Stupid.
Our journey…..your journey with PBL and interdisciplinary instructional models is no different, and our journeys are following the Dunning-Kruger model, which is no surprise. However, despite what thousands of psychologists know, the journey of wisdom acquisition is not always fun and challenges us as professionals as we grapple with the realities of what innovative teaching and learning can be. As we continue to “STEMIfy” our instructional practices, I knew most of us had little experience with STEM pedagogies, such as problem-based, project-based, case study-based, and inquiry learning, but I hired good teachers that could grow into great STEMmy teachers. As we close out this school year and prepare for next year, I am committed to continue to support the development of our teachers implementation of problem-based and project-based learning because I know that deep learning takes time. Sometimes, it takes an extra two hours of daylight to help us change our ways, so I hope that Spring Forward can remind us that enlightenment and sustainability are right on the other side of the valley of despair.
Obstacles and TrailblazersPosted by Jonathon Wetherington on 2/9/2020 7:00:00 PM
Three Months to go! Where has the time gone? It is amazing how fast the years and months go while the days seem so slow. Time really does fly when you are having fun!
This year has been an amazing sophomore year for our school, but not without its fair share of challenges. Yet, with every challenge and obstacle, our faculty, staff, and students seem to rise to the occasion. We have seen growth in almost every course and content area this year. In the last two weeks, our students have performed well in Vex robotics, FBLA, DECA, Mock trial, and in opportunities to serve the community such as STEM Night, the Career Expo, and in the LITTLE Libraries project. It is fantastic to see our school maturing so quickly and so well.
As we move forward, I am hopeful and excited about the work ahead. We are TRAILBLAZERS, and our school continues to press and stretch the possibilities for our students. The great teaching we will do this week will have an impact on our students. Every minute of engaging instruction and feedback that we provide helps our students. I am proud of our current work, especially the engaging and powerful work in your classrooms. Also, I am proud of the teacher leadership that has helped determine the direction we are heading as a school. Henry Ford once said that “Obstacles are those frightful things you see when you take your eyes off your goal.” I am so proud of the obstacles that we have overcome as we work toward the goals we have for our students, and we will continue to blaze new trails in the months ahead.
Every day, we have the choice to focus on our obstacles or goals. I encourage each of you to set a powerful goal this week regarding an obstacle you face and intently focus on the goal instead of the obstacle. Remember - A Trailblazer is a person who makes, does, or discovers something new and makes it acceptable or popular. What will you make, do, or discover this week, month, or year?
Feedback? Who said?Posted by Jonathon Wetherington on 1/26/2020 5:00:00 PM
I hope everyone enjoyed their weekend full of exactly what you wanted to be doing. I was able to spend the weekend working, resting, and connecting with those most dear to me, which was pretty awesome. On last Monday morning, I went to the dentist for the first time in about three years. (Turns out opening a new school is not a valid dental excuse according to my dentist.) Can you imagine what the dentist and hygienist had to say? Once we got past the coffee stains, we were able to have a meaningful conversation, and guess what??? They had lots of feedback for me regarding my teeth, gums, and overall oral health. Can you believe that? They had feedback on MY TEETH!!! The nerve of some professionals who have had years of training. How dare they tell me about my teeth? I have been brushing my teeth since before my dentist was even born!
Have you ever felt that way? I know I have and did this morning. My dentist had feedback that I knew was coming, but yet, I did not want to hear. Why? Is it because I do not care or trust her? Was I not ready? I mean I made the appointment. No, my frustration around her feedback was that it hurt my feelings, and it painfully reminded me that I could indeed be better in my oral care. (I am being honest here, so stop mocking me Bob!) Feedback has a way of doing just that, whether from a dentist or supervisor or friend. However, when we step back, take the feedback, and act on it, we are closer to being our best self. I hope you will take the opportunity to engage in the #ObserveMe opportunities, provide effective to your students, and reflect on the feedback that your administrator gives you. Feedback makes us all better partly because it allows us to (wait for it) Learn Together.
Here is a link to more information about effective feedback - https://www.visiblelearningplus.com/strands/effective-feedback Turns out it is a power lever at all levels.
Thank you for innovating and leading!
Heart and HopePosted by Jonathon Wetherington on 12/15/2019 4:00:00 PM
I hope everyone had a great weekend. When I left teaching at the college level in 2007, I was excited about working in a high school, and 12 years later, nothing has changed. Yet, I still enjoy the launch of a new semester, and the closure that comes 18 weeks later. I love to watch students learn and teachers teach, which is like poetry coming alive. In a high school, every day brings a new set of challenges and opportunities. Some of which you have foreseen and others which come right out of left field. Frequently, change is a constant in our world, but most of the time, these changes fail to deliver on the promise that they offered. Since so many things in education seem to never change or seem too difficult to change, such as students waiting until the last minute to apply themselves, we lose heart and hope.
Friday was a day in which I was reminded that change is difficult, and sometimes, yes sometimes, it fails to yield quick results. Last Thursday and Friday were two days that my heart and hope took a beating because despite several pieces of positive data over the last few weeks, we were reminded that opening a school is hard work. In spite of how we feel about the Awards, the Performance Based Awards are an amazing opportunity for teachers at all schools and for teachers at Paul Duke STEM. I left post-secondary education because the impact that K-12 education offers is so much greater, and the opportunities to impact students are so much larger. The truth is that the true promise of K-12 education lies in the power and effectiveness of its teachers, and I am thrilled to be in a school district that is willing to reward K-12 teachers and pilot innovative ideas such as digital learning and STEM for all students.
The Roman god Janus had two sets of eyes—one pair focusing on what lay behind, the other on what lay ahead. As we develop and implement our vision of excellence as an innovative STEM school, we, too, will need to focus on both what has worked in the past and the innovative opportunities our school offers. Therefore, as we close out this semester, I wanted you all to know how excited I am about our future. I am truly excited to see how our students do on their finals. I am excited about our first graduating class and graduation. I am excited about our 3rd consecutive recruiting class of more than 310 students from Summerour and Pinckneyville, and I am excited to support the amazing teachers here.
Here’s to an exciting end of the semester!
“To rid yourself of old patterns, focus all your energy not on struggling with the old, but on building the new.”
- “Way of the Peaceful Warrior: A Book that Changes Lives” by Dan Milleman
CyberMonday should be a National HolidayPosted by Jonathon Wetherington on 12/1/2019 8:00:00 PM
So, I feel like CyberMonday should be a national holiday! Sadly, it is not, and we are all getting back into the flow again instead of debating whether or not we need that really cool gadget from Amazon. On the bright side, I hope you had an amazing Thanksgiving Break, and you were able to make progress towards your life goals. After binge watching football and Jack Ryan, I feel whole!
Speaking of whole, we only have three whole weeks left in the semester. The next three weeks are going to fly by, and they are going to be great! I hope you never lose sight of how important teachers, parents, and family members are to our students. We all make a huge difference in the lives of our students, and that is a worthy goal! Over the break, I read a blog that tackled the idea of a worthy goal and how we may choose to pursue it (See the blog in blue below).
The uncomfortable combination of effort and acceptance
We have the opportunity to expend the maximum effort on behalf of a worthy goal. And we also have the choice to mindfully accept whatever happens next. Acceptance is a choice in the service of our happiness and the ability to try again tomorrow.
When we detach our emotional state from the results of our effort, we maximize the chances that our effort will be focused and effective. We’re not trying to control the outcome, simply putting our best effort into creating the conditions that lead to the desired outcome.
The opportunity is:
- to go all in, and
- to be okay with what happens after that.
The next three weeks offer us the opportunity to do just that….go all in and be okay with the results. Do not be afraid to go all in or give your max to our students because you worry what might not happen. Give it all you got and accept what happens next -- you might be surprised.
Thank you for trailblazing with us!
Killer Mondays!Posted by Jonathon Wetherington on 11/17/2019 1:00:00 AM
Last Monday was a killer Monday for me. I woke up with a severe pain in my foot (plantar fasciitis), and my car broken down on the way to work (alternator). I could have walked to work from where my car broke down, but my foot hurt so bad I could not walk. Once I got to work, everything seemed off and felt wrong. Our admin meeting started late, and I was rushing to get everything together. Thankfully, ILT meeting was okay, and only one teacher noticed that I brought the wrong handout with me. Alas, the entire day was just frustrating, expensive, and exhausting. I ended up leaving work after ILT at 3 PM, which I never do, to go and get my car that was towed to the repair shop we use. Since I was leaving work early, I decided to call and see if my doc could do anything for the pain in my foot. I ended up being able to collect my car, burn through our emergency fund, deal with some other stuff, AND get a cortisone shot for my foot because I left work “early” for me.
The next day, I woke up feeling so much better, and I had a great Tuesday. My foot was better, my attitude was better, and I was in a completely better mental and emotional space. This reminded me of two things: 1. Mondays happen to all of us, and 2. Sometimes the best thing to do is to retreat and regroup. My Monday experience left me reeling, and I could have tried to double-down on my ”work” issues and power through. However, I ended up taking time to take care of my personal issues and get myself back on track. The investment into myself was well worth it, and it reminded me that we all have to take care of ourselves in order to be our best selves and help others.
My experience reminded me of the pre-flight safety spiel that is standard on every flight about putting your oxygen mask on first in the event of cabin pressure dropping. But have you ever wondered why flight attendants are so careful to hammer this information into our brain (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kUfF2MTnqAw&feature=youtu.be )?
It is because you are not able to help anyone if you die either literally or figuratively. Therefore, I hope you find some time this week to take care of yourself and invest into yourself because I am thankful for our entire your community.
Different does better!Posted by Jonathon Wetherington on 10/12/2019 5:00:00 PM
Congratulations on a great first half of the semester! As we move forward into the second half, I am excited about what the rest of this semester holds. My excitement is not born from perfection or a lack of adversity. My excitement is BECAUSE of the adversity, the challenges, and the difficulty. As Albert Einstein said, “Out of clutter find simplicity. From discord find harmony. In the middle of difficulty lies opportunity.”
Today’s learning experiences are tomorrow’s leadership opportunities. Our school was not created to simply do school the same way as schools all over Gwinnett or the state do school. We were created to make STEM accessible to all students and provide a different experience for our students, which means we are more than great test scores. Being different is in the DNA of a Trailblazer. We see different as better, but different is not better unless different does better. Now is the time for us to continue to do better for ourselves and our community. So, what does doing better mean?
Doing Better means:
- It is time to help our students connect with the relevancy in their learning.
- It is time to reteach AKS for students that need it in order to do better.
- It is time to connect students’ learning with service projects.
- It is time to have your club or team engage with Gwinnett’s Great Days of Service or raise money for United Way.
- It is time to continue to focus on literacy, problem solving, and technology.
- It is time to build new partnerships and recruit more students.
Different is only better if different does better, so let’s do better together!
Excellence or Mediocrity - The Choice is SimplePosted by Jonathon Wetherington on 9/8/2019 6:30:00 AM
One of my favorite quotes is also one that is a bit unnerving. It is a quote from Jim Collins in his book “Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap... and Others Don't” and it appears below.
“Good is the enemy of great. And that is one of the key reasons why we have so little that becomes great. We don't have great schools, principally because we have good schools. We don't have great government, principally because we have good government. Few people attain great lives, in large part because it is just so easy to settle for a good life.” - Jim Collins, Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap... and Others Don't
The quote states plainly that we fail to reach greatness because we are satisfied with good enough or fine or okay. This satisfaction with “good” is not evil or wrong, but it is an open acceptance of mediocrity. Personally, I am okay with some mediocrity in my life, and most people actually are as well. I am okay with good or mediocre weather, commute times, paper clips, and copy paper quality. In the case of each of these items, it is acceptable to me to trade excellence or perfection for a normal quality experience because of the other decisions or constraints in my life. However, I am not okay with our students’ learning experience just being good. I expect our teaching and learning to be full of greatness that includes meaningful, engaging, and relevant learning experiences. Experiences that transform the student experience and prepare our students for an innovative and creative future. This pursuit of greatness is why we engage in digital and project based learning, and it is the reason that Paul Duke STEM was created. It is why we embrace a vision of excellence at Paul Duke STEM, and it is why we are working constantly to improve our instructional practices. Most of all, this dissatisfaction with good enough is makes me proud to be principal of our school and inspires me to be my best for the faculty at staff at Paul Duke STEM. Thank you for making the leap to greatness and refusing to accept mediocrity.
Moon Shot - Credit to Friday ForwardPosted by Jonathon Wetherington on 8/4/2019 6:00:00 AM
For this week's Blog, I am going to post a blog from Robert Glazer's Friday Forward. In his blog on July 25th, Robert Glazer captured a collection of thoughts so near and dear to my heart that I thought I was reading my own mind. In addition, I could not say it this well, so I offer his post below as an encouraging reminder at the beginning of this school year. Enjoy! I know I did.
In his acclaimed book Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies, Jim Collins coined the term BHAG, which stands for Big Hairy Audacious Goal.
In studying companies with a remarkable, decades-long track record of success and high-performance, Collins found that each had a consistent presence of a BHAG. In each of these organizations, their BHAG served as a North Star for employees and changed the very nature of their business.
“A BHAG engages people – it reaches out and grabs them in the gut. It is tangible, energizing, highly focused. People “get it” right away; it takes little or no explanation.”
From a historical perspective, one of the greatest examples of a BHAG is President John F. Kennedy’s declaration in 1962 that the United States would put a man on the surface of the moon before the end of the decade. At the time, this goal seemed unfathomable to most.
This week marked the 50th anniversary of that BHAG coming to fruition: the spaceflight Apollo 11 landing humans on the Moon on July 20, 1969 and allowing Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin to be the first humans to step foot on another planetary body. The third astronaut, Michael Collins, remained in the command module to ensure their safety.
The media coverage commemorating this incredible event has provided insight into the extensive planning, financial commitment, vision and teamwork that was required to make this extraordinary achievement possible. It’s also shed light on three important takeaways that any organization can learn from.
1.Where There Is A Will, There Is A Way
One fact that I’m personally astounded by is that the processing power of an iPhone has 100,000 times more processing power than the computer onboard the Apollo 11. To put this in context, this means that an iPhone today could handle 120 million moon missions at once. So, clearly, it’s not always about having the best technology, or the right tools or the smartest people; it’s about having the individual and collective will.
2. Specific & Measurable Goals
BHAGs are a combination of boldness and specificity. Had Kennedy said that the U.S. should “enhance its space capabilities,” by the end of the decade, it is very unlikely that humans would have landed on the moon. Similar to the “painted picture” exercise I wrote about in a recent Friday Forward and our own Vivid Vision creation experience at Acceleration Partners, the more inspiring and time-sensitive something is, the more likely others will rally together toward achieving it.
3. Dream Team
To achieve those first lunar footsteps, everyone needed to understand that they were part of one team with one goal, regardless of their expertise or success in the marketplace.
For example, the hundreds of private vendors who were awarded the contracts to handle key elements of the Apollo 11 technology were competitors outside of the program. However, inside the program, they were part of one team. This was a remarkable example of industry competitors coming together to create an all-star team for a bigger purpose.
What was also apparent from the Apollo 11 anniversary media coverage is that experts from all over the world– from mathematicians, engineers, scientists, mechanics, technicians, pilots and thousands of others who worked tirelessly behind the scenes– all set aside their egos in pursuit of that common goal.
As we celebrate the anniversary of one of the greatest BHAGs in history, it’s worth taking a few minutes to think about our own personal and professional ambitions and what we could accomplish with the right mindset, a clear endpoint and true team effort. The Apollo 11 program proves that, when we don’t allow ourselves or our teams to put personal or team-centered needs above the needs of the organization as a whole, we can accomplish amazing feats.