Crossing the Stage

Reflections from the principal of an online high school

University of Missouri High School 2018, On-Site Graduation Ceremony

The sky is stratified with shadows and light, an imminent thunderstorm that doesn’t break. This strange magic light saturates the red brick and white stone paths across campus. More than two hundred people are driving in from five different states.  I arrive early, an excited bundle of nervous energy, balancing on beige high heels.

As the principal of an online and blended high school, these face-to-face moments are significant. Our school has held an on-site commencement ceremony for the past 19 years. It is an opportunity for students who have studied at a distance to gather with family and friends, meet teachers and school staff, toss their mortarboards high in the air, and mark this moment in time.

Throughout their high school career, we’ve been flexible about space, place, time, and community. Today we trade being flexible for being synchronous.  We line up in alphabetical order, march in to a live band playing “pomp and circumstance,” and pose for photographs. We notice everything.

The narratives of our graduating class are rich and varied. We celebrate athletes, international students, students with disabilities, gifted students, medically fragile students, adult students, and many more.

Being a part of this global learning community has taught me important lessons as both an educator and a human being. During the ceremony, I look out from the podium at each of the graduates in their matching caps and gowns. Behind them is a swelling crowd of family, friends, and colleagues.

I offer, “Our most important lessons happen in the convergence of content: when we remember a dialogue, a concept, or a skill from class and then see that at play in a new way in our communities.  

The distances between people and communities keep getting smaller.  You have classmates in over 100 countries. Your AP teachers have scheduled chats across multiple time-zones and thousands of miles. Our students are logging in from an island off the coast of Honduras, a learning center in Vietnam, and a bedroom in Lawrence, Kansas — all to chat together about AP Calculus.

You have both an opportunity to make a significant impact and also an obligation to care for the shrinking web that holds us all together.”  

After the ceremony, we linger. We pose for more photographs. We visit. We eat cake.  Two different families tell me that finding our school changed their lives.  As both a parent and a teacher, I get it. I know what is like to take a non-linear path. I listen to stories about why a student (or a family) needed more flexibility with time, space, or place.

We need schools that think differently. We need classrooms that recognize that the world is small, deeply connected, and full of potential. I am thinking about these things when I spot Jessica, one of our graduates, sitting alone.

She is 30 years old. Earlier, when she received her diploma on stage, she asked if she could give me a hug. Over the past 13 years, she’s started, paused, and restarted her high school education. And now she has completed her degree. Next, she plans to study peace and conflict studies.  

Jessica has flown here by herself and after the ceremony wants to take some pictures on campus. A colleague and I ask if she would like some company. The storm clouds have cleared, and we spend the next hour taking pictures and hearing more about Jessica’s story. She is beaming, pausing every so often to text pictures to her husband and mother.

“You know,” she tells us when we say goodbye, “I choked up when the closing performer sang, All your life, you were only waiting for this moment to arise.”

My colleague and I look at each other and smile. “Us, too.”

Best wishes to all of the members of the graduating classes of 2018 and especially to those whose journeys to cross that stage are marked by courage and the faith that so long as we keep trying, eventually we’ll get there.

Enthusiastically,

Dr. KFW

 

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The University of Missouri High School’s 2018 graduating class included 671 students who earned high school diplomas during the 2017-2018 school year. These students were from 11 different countries: the United States, Brazil, Cambodia, China, Egypt, Honduras, Indonesia, Israel, Japan, Paraguay, and Vietnam.  Many of our international students complete dual high school diplomas and celebrate their graduations at their brick-and-mortar schools. Our on-site ceremony is most-utilized by domestic students who study independently through online classes.

Nurturing Courage in Schools

What does it look like to teach and lead for courage? What does it look like to practice courage personally and professionally? How can we nurture courage in schools? These are some of the questions our school district has explored over the past 18 months.

When we make the difficult and right choice we see great rewards including new solutions, deeper connections, and safer schools. Watch the following video to learn more about cultivating courage in schools.

 

We made this video when Ana invited me to give a lecture to students and families at Colégio Damas (Recife, PE, Brazil). Thank you to the Damas community for the opportunity to reflect on some of the lessons we have learned about courage. Enthusiastic thanks also to Dale Hargis for his video talents.

How are you cultivating courage in your schools? Leave a comment to join the conversation.

Enthusiastically, Dr. KFW

Somos todos mães. (We are all mothers.)

This is a story about a group of eighth grade students, a woman named Marina, a nine-year-old boy, and the power of our shared humanity.

Photo from our visit:  Learn more about La Casa MHP 

Last Wednesday, we had the privilege of visiting La Casa Maria Helena Paulina in São Paulo. The afternoon was organized by the Grade 8 Middle School Global Leaders at Pio XII. Our Grade 8 class focuses on human rights. To bring the curriculum to life, the students at Pio XII had spent several weeks collecting food, toys, and other items for La Casa MHP and they invited us to help deliver them. We weren’t sure exactly what to expect. We picked up a few extra bags of rice, pasta, and flour and arrived ready to help.

La Casa MHP is a free home for families to stay while their children are receiving treatment for cancer. The children’s hospital in São Paulo is nationally renowned and families come from all over Brazil and even South America for treatment. The home was started when Maria Helena Paulina was receiving treatment herself and saw families sleeping under a bridge near the hospital because they had no place to stay.

A nine-year-old boy who had been receiving treatment for five-years met us and gave us a tour.  He is small, has an amazing sense of humor, and took us through every room of the house telling great stories along the way.

During our visit to La Casa MHP I met mothers, children, students, teachers, and volunteers all showing up for each other.  A mother and I joked together about our teenage sons who live in different realities and yet are still very much both teenage boys.  My friend who works at Pio XII overheard us and said, “Somos todos mães./We are all mothers.”

After the tour, we pulled chairs and couches into a makeshift circle and sat together in the living room. Several residents, a few volunteers, and the house psychologist came to join us. I looked around and was struck by this sudden community we had formed. Marina (Maria Helena’s cousin who still manages La Casa MHP) facilitated the conversation. Our students asked questions, heard stories, and shared laughs. It was warm–literally and figuratively. We closed with a giant group hug.

Just before leaving I had a few minutes to speak alone with Marina. I knew what I wanted to say and even how to say it in Portuguese. I got about two sentences in and started crying. We hugged for a long time. Love is universal.

I am thankful that there are so many places across the globe doing important work with great love. Like La Casa MHP you can find these organizations in your cities, just off the sidewalk and around the corner. And what amazing classrooms these are for young people to learn about social inequality, generosity of spirit, and the power of human connection. There are countless people like Marina and the volunteers at La Casa MHP who are making a difference in their communities. And what important teachers these people are for our young people as models of leadership, empathy, and compassion. These are the kinds of lessons you have to learn in the context of community. These are also the kinds of lessons you have to revisit over and over again. I am grateful I had the chance to re-learn them myself last Wednesday.

May we all, always remember to take care of one another. If you are interested in learning more about La Casa Maria Helena Paulina, please click here.

Appreciatively, Dr. KFW

 

Culturally Responsive Teacher Education

Reflections from my semester working with pre-service teachers; plus an invitation to view our open access journal, which will restore your faith in our future classrooms.

Dr. KFW and Mr. Pinto with some of the 2040 Scholars who presented their community-based work to the College of Education

The Classroom

We meet in 133 Mumford Hall on Tuesday and Thursday afternoons. Mumford Hall is tucked away behind Memorial Union. It is a 10-minute walk from the College of Education and a big breath away from downtown. Mumford Hall is home to the Department of Agricultural and Applied Economics. The faculty that calls this building their home sometimes seemed surprised by our constructivist teacher-ed antics. Maybe it has something to do with the marching band instruments we integrated into our lessons on more than one occasion. In short, we made ourselves at home and we piqued some interest along the way.

We know this building now; we know the conference rooms and sunny corners perfect for gathering to host book club discussions or work out presentations on school equity. More importantly, in this building, we found a home for our class community. Here we leaned in to moments of hope, concern, vulnerability, and courage.

The path to becoming a culturally responsive teacher is marked by countless moments, big and small, of connection and learning. We processed these together n 133 Mumford. Yet our classroom extended beyond this building.  The community was our classroom as well. In fact, thinking about teacher education as a community project is consistent with the thesis of this journal.

The Class

LTC 2040,  Inquiring into Schools, Community and Society I, is a required foundation course for all teacher education students in the College of Education at the University of Missouri. This course serves two important functions.  First, 2040 lays a foundation for understanding some of the structure, history, and issues surrounding schools and teaching. Second, it investigates the complicated and challenging nature of what it means to teach in a diverse society. The course addresses the importance of being a culturally competent advocate for all students in our classrooms.

The Idea

On the very first day of class, we posed this question: How will I create an inclusive culture to support my students’ achievement? The future teachers in our class tackled this question though reading, dialoguing, and engaging in powerful community-based work. We were so struck by their projects and insights, that we wanted to create a platform where they could share their action research with others in the education community. For this reason, we are thrilled to launch “To be of Service” the first-ever 2040 Open Access Journal. This journal will be released at our Research Roundtable on Thursday, April 19, 2018.

The Journal Prompt

Dr. Fishman-Weaver has often said, “Relationships are the heart of great teaching.” This sentiment is shared by Mr. Pinto and has become a theme of many of our conversations. In a reflective essay, defend, refute, or qualify this claim. Use your cultural immersion project, service learning experience, and our dialogues and readings as evidence.

The Journal

As usual, the scholars in our class knocked this out of the park. We hope folks across the education community dive into this first volume and are reminded that our future classrooms are full of hope and promise. In the following pages, you will read about the lessons these scholars have learned about connection, difference, and the importance of relationships. The stories are honest, vulnerable, and make it clear that our future teachers and their future students will build inclusive classrooms filled with both connection and learning.

Curious about this journal? Click here to read.  You will be so glad you did.

Enthusiastically, Dr. KFW

 

On the Importance of Student Leadership

As an assignment for Mizzou K-12’s newest program, Middle School Global Leaders, sixth-grade students are asked to write open letters on topics that matter to their community. Kathryn Fishman-Weaver, a faculty member at the MU College of Education and director of academic affairs for Mizzou K-12, wrote this letter as an example for her students.

Dr. KFW’s article originally appeared in the Columbia Missourian

Dear Mid-Missouri Students—

While the world is not always as kind, accepting, and inclusive as it should be, young people usually are. In fact, I think your role as student leaders in our community is our most promising and positive force for change. Some of you reading this may say, “Hey, I am not a leader!” to which I smile and respectfully disagree. Perhaps we all need to think differently about leadership. A leader is someone who influences, motivates, and affects change. A leader isn’t always the loudest or most popular person in the room; sometimes, a leader is the quiet friend everyone counts on, or the person who is willing to do the right thing even when it is unpopular. Here are four ways I’ve noticed you and your classmates using your leadership to make the world a better place.

You volunteer. You help feed our community. You pack thousands of pounds of food at the Central Missouri Food Bank; you cook dinners for the Ronald McDonald House. You visit the elderly at nursing homes. You write holiday cards for children in the hospital and for soldiers serving overseas.

You organize. You plan food drives and clothing drives for children and families in our community. You established the Columbia Youth Advisory Council to advise our city on issues affecting young people. You start new clubs and organizations to change policies and to advocate for issues that matter to you. You serve as Kindness Ambassadors at your schools.

You include. You notice when someone is sitting alone at lunch, and you ask them to join your group.  Your friends have different identities, families, and backgrounds and you know they are cool and interesting just the way they are. You honor our Special Olympics athletes with rousing standing ovations.

You learn. Sometimes you make mistakes. It’s okay—you are human. Most importantly, you are willing to learning from those mistakes. I’ve heard you apologize. I’ve heard you admit that you shouldn’t have said something or that if you had it do again, you would make different choices. I’ve heard you ask for help. These humbling moments matter; learning is how we improve.

While the world might not yet be as compassionate as it should be, your leadership is helping us get there. Thank you for volunteering, organizing, including, and learning. Keep up the great work!

Encouragingly yours, Dr. Fishman-Weaver

A Note for Adults—Although students are welcome to read this as well

Are there counterexamples? Sure. However, I’ve spent enough time in schools to know that these counterexamples are few, isolated, and almost always the product of insecurity. Let’s (1) not let outliers determine our overall impression of young people, and (2) coach students who do need extra interpersonal support by modeling compassion, affirmation, and grace. Let’s also teach that quiet leadership matters. For inspiration on what this looks like, visit local classrooms, particularly the classrooms of young students. I’ve found that children tend to understand equity, inclusion, and friendship with more sophistication and far less agenda than their adult counterparts. This is the type of leadership that can inspire us all.