Sunday, September 25, 2011

Treasure in Every Field

I grew up in Omaha, where corn comes from containers in the frozen food aisle. When we moved to Spirit Lake, I loved to watch the agricultural process. From barren fields to the long stretches of tall green corn standing upright even in the hot July winds—I counted the farmers to be among the most optimistic and productive people I had ever met. Who would have faith enough to pour money and time and energy into a project of such variable outcome? There are no guarantees in farming. A farmer might do everything “right”, and still lose a crop to hail or drought, frost or fire.
In fact, during all of our first seasons in Spirit Lake I noticed that the corn crop was lost to drought, year after year. I watched the corn go from gorgeous green to crispy, dried up, wasted brown and I would pray, “God, again? The corn crop is a complete loss, again?” One such September I expressed my sadness about the harvest to a farming friend. Dave thought for a minute and then asked, “Kari, would you like to ride in the combine with me sometime this week?” I accepted the invitation and soon found myself in the cab of an enormous John Deere. We drove the combine through the rows of drought-stricken, dead corn and I thought about the wasted crop—all that effort and time and money! “It’s really too bad, Dave,” I said. He replied, “Kari, turn around.” I twisted around in the seat, and gasped. An avalanche of golden corn kernels was pouring into the truck, already brimming with a growing corn mountain! The crop had not been lost! It was just hidden among shriveled brown husks and dying leaves. The treasure waits for the harvest.
Mid-term grades are due this Monday, and many of you have spent a busy week grading papers and recording scores. Already, we may be feeling like our efforts to plant seeds, to water, to nourish and to grow are being wasted. By the time our students reach the high school, they have been thru more than a decade of planting and harvesting, tilling and toiling. For some students, the soil is depleted, the ground is tired and the crop yield appears questionable. But, like farmers, teachers are the most optimistic and productive people that I know. There are no guarantees in teaching, yet we never lose hope in the harvest. Teachers don’t measure the abundance of a harvest by the way the crop looks on the outside. Teachers know that the treasure is often hidden, waiting for someone with enough energy to work on its growth and enough faith to wait for the right time to bring in the harvest.
Thanks for being teachers that hold on to hope, and find treasure in every field.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Homecoming Reflections, 2011

I imagine that the intent of Homecoming is reflecting, remembering, reuniting, and reconnecting. The week’s events build strong memories for our students that ultimately solidify as longstanding community celebrations. During Homecoming Week, the school and community intersect to bring the “We Are Spirit Lake” phrase to life.
We are Spirit Lake. We decorate lockers, we attend games, we bring treats, we cheer loudly. We are Spirit Lake. We honor retirees, we recognize alumni, we celebrate life’s seasons. We are Spirit Lake.We care for each other. We grieve with each other—in unexpected loss, we hold each other up. We bring meals, we attend funerals, we write sympathy cards, we listen. We are Spirit Lake. We look for the teachable moments, even during Friday Pep Rallies. We are Spirit Lake. We laugh with ourselves, at ourselves and despite ourselves.
We are Spirit Lake. We win football games!
It has been a good week. Each and every staff member went above and beyond: some front and center and others, quietly behind the scenes. Deep thanks to you all…
Next week will mark the half-way point of first quarter! As we help our students to settle into an academic routine, let’s remember that their first weeks of school have been a whirlwind. While we adults tend to focus our energies on a single extra-curricular area, many of our students participate across multiple venues: sports, music, drama, dance, work and (of course) academics, too! Sleep deprivation in teenagers is a well-documented cultural reality, impacting our student’s emotions, performance, and personality. I am glad that the kids will have Monday to rest!
Our Professional Development Monday will be filled with productivity and collaboration as we work together to create some of the most challenging, student-centered, academically rigorous and uniquely relevant courses ever offered at the high school level. No kidding, January LIVE is turning into something bold and transformative in the teacher’s hands. I can’t wait to see what we can build together on Monday!

Monday, September 12, 2011

January LIVE Premier: Huge Success!

We have much to celebrate at Spirit Lake High School
The attendance at our January LIVE Premier left me completely stunned. More than three hundred parents and students poured into the SAMI Center on a gorgeous September evening to hear about our Project Based Learning initiative. The overwhelming support and enthusiasm is a direct result of the remarkably engaging, rigorous and relevant classes that you have created. You can and should feel a sense of professional pride and accomplishment. Every student tells me the same thing: “There are so many good classes, I cannot choose just one!” And the most frequent comment from parents? “I wish that I was back in high school so that I could enroll in some of these classes!”
The next January LIVE challenge is Registration! Our new tech-geek, Ryan Friederich has created a Google Form for course enrollment. We will open registration to seniors first—and our hope/goal is that many will choose to complete an off-campus Internship experience. Please encourage senior students to “Dream Big!” This is an amazing opportunity to explore career aspirations, and to make connections having a lasting life-impact. My tentative schedule for January LIVE Registration: Sept 20-23 (Seniors), Sept 26-29 (Juniors), October 3-6 (Sophomores), and October 10-13 (Freshman).
Now, of course, the main event is HOMECOMING! This will be a fun week with dress-up days, coronation, sporting events, games, dances, and parades. We will celebrate the victories, the royalties, and the festivities. At the same time, please keep a compassionate eye out for the students that are on the outside, looking in. I was one of “those kids” during Homecoming at Omaha Westside High School. I wasn’t in sports. I did not cheer. I had no date for the dance and no plans to attend the football game. On any “normal” week at school I was fine—but Homecoming and Prom were tough times for the nerds like me. I imagine it is the same in 2011 as it was in 1982. As a staff, let’s take the time to look for the students that need an encouraging word—and perhaps even surprise a few with anonymous, random acts of kindness.
Remember, every student at SLHS is "royalty" in the sense that we are together working toward bringing out the very best that every student can be.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Sept 5: Week One is in the Books!

Let the learning begin!
I think most people have no idea how intense the first week of school is for teachers. We know, of course, that the students are adjusting, struggling and settling into a new routine. But few realize the monumental energy that is expended by teachers from the first morning bell ‘til the final release.
For teachers, perhaps the first week of school is a lot like the Brooks Cross Country Meet that I watched last Tuesday. The runners fly down the first hill at the starting gun, buoyed by the excitement of the cheering crowd and the hope of a great victory. They move in a pack for only a short while, and then find a comfortable pace. Some run alone, focused and intense in their race. Others run with teammates, pace-making for each other.
At the Brooks CC race, our top two varsity runners know the course well, and they sprinted up the final grueling hill like warriors. The cheering crowd was amazed by their strength and speed. I watched some teachers finish like those two front-runners on Friday—confident, strong, ready to run again. Other teachers ended the week more like a certain runner who finished deep in the pack. This young man moved up the last hill with dogged determination. He crossed the finished line and stumbled out of the chute gasping for air, having given the race every possible effort. His dad came to his side, held him upright, and spoke quiet words of praise and encouragement and a father’s pride. I witnessed a few SLHS teachers finish on Friday like that young runner—spent and breathless, yet triumphant!
Well done, friends! Your preparation paid off, and every teacher crossed the finish line, one way or another. J
Favorite Moments of Week One:
***Accidental amphibian escape (screaming students standing on chairs—gotta love it!)
***Freshman Follies and paper airplanes in the hallway. Free to fly.
***Testing the intercom (repeatedly) during 7th period. Nice.
***Second period: Senior antics—keep a sharp eye out, folks!
***Revolutionizing Video Production and Journalism. I cannot wait for Newsbreak!
***The Attack of The Cucumber (my personal favorite): nearly one hundred cucumbers mysteriously appeared in the workroom overnight, a shared abundance.
May the seeds we plant each day produce such a bountiful harvest.