15 May 2011

the end of the beginning

Yesterday, there were two commencement exercises at dear old SNU. In one of them, I was able to walk with the faculty and be the proud parent of the Class of 2011 of SNU as they received their undergraduate degrees. In the other, I was walking as a student participating in the act of finishing my Master's degree. I say the act of finishing it only because I have 6 sessions of class left standing between me and the coveted piece of paper saying I have completed all the assignments, passed all the tests, created all the projects, and jumped through the inevitable hoops.

I cannot say it has been an entirely unpleasant experience. I certainly can see that I have grown over the past two years. I've written more regularly on this blog as a part of the reflection piece of the program, although not as regularly as I'd like. I've certainly learned to multi-task a lot better than in the past (if you know me you know that I have difficulty focusing on more than one task at a time, plus there is a bit of OCD mixed in just to make life interesting). I have made some connections with people who believe in education and that every student can learn (although some more than others, see? there is this thing called genetics and we don't all have the same ones). I have changed the direction of my career goals and feel that I may in some ways be able to affect change with more students if I am not in a High School Physics class for the rest of my life (it's kind of that whole give a man a fish vs. teach a man to fish).

I have learned a tremendous amount of information, strategies, a skills to work in the field of curriculum design and technology integration. Much of that information came as the result of research projects for class which piqued my interest and caused me to go deeper or even in a different direction to find the nuggets of information which really were worthy of my attention. I think I have been a positive influence on many teachers and I KNOW my colleagues have been a positive influence on me.

I've learned that I have abilities which surpass those I previously felt did not exist in my toolbox. My confidence in myself has increased exponentially (check out a class on quantitative analysis if you don't know what an exponential increase looks like on a graph) :-). It seems that the more I lear, the more desire I have to learn. It's almost as if I have begun to realize that there is so much more I need to learn to affect the kind of change in education I am looking to implement.

The most important thing I have learned is that I like to help other people. I am a fixer. A technical kind of guy. I have creativity, just not in the sense that I could take a blank canvas and create something someone might call art. I had the chance to see some of the senior graphic design students from SNU display their work. Yeah, not THAT kind of creativity. Those folks are amazing. (just like all of the rest of the faculty at that University). I am creative in the sense that if you can help me catch your vision, I can make that show up somewhere else. I did a group project with in my previous class and I got a chance to build a website for a fictitious bond issue. Now, that is by no means my best work, but I learned, through that project that with some input from others I can create something of which we can all be proud.

I have learned that getting to know your students and building relationships is more important than any content I could ever teach. Students won't be willing to buy what you are selling if you don't build some trust with them, first. Taking the time to invest in students OUTSIDE of the classroom is far more rewarding than anything we do inside the walls of learning. For the biggest part of this degree program I was (along with my lovely wife) the class sponsor for the Class of 2011 at SNU.

We attended Senior Celebration this past Friday night. The theme of this event was "Why Not?" I was privileged to speak during the event and there has been a defining moment in my life and educational career and that was becoming the class sponsor for these guys. We had so many parents come up to us and tell us how much they appreciated our involvement with their students but honestly when you lose yourself in building relationships, its so easy. And honestly, like any really good investment, you get so much more out of it than what you put into it. Michelle and I were so blessed to be a part of those lives (and will continue to be). That has really impacted the way I view relationships with my own students. It helps me realize that we have to meet students at their point of need (just like Christ does for us) and find out what they are going through before they/we can focus on what they need to get out of our classes. Now, I mentioned Jesus Christ there, so if you are uncomfortable, you can check out the writings of Abraham Maslow for the education perspective of that idea. (FYI, I'm somewhere right around the top of esteem, moving into self-actualization.)

I was visiting with Michelle (as we do often) about the things I've learned through this program and recent events in my life. I am truly beginning to see that if we focus on something other than ourselves and beginning to look around us for the needs of others, our faults/deficiencies/problems begin to pale in comparison to the problems being dealt with by others.

As much as I'd like to wrap this up with a bow and call it "done", the truth is I'm not done. I one class left (starting this next week) and it is with one of my favorite educators, my (soon to be former) principal. I wish I had a trite saying or quote from some great author or educational philosopher to summarize the events of the past 2 school years, but sadly I do not. I do have a quote that will hopefully help you realize where I am in my journey (I've used it before)
"There is a difference between knowing something and knowing the name of something" - Richard Feynman

I think I am finally at the point in my educational journey to know enough to know that there is a lot I don't know, but that I want to know more. That is what I got out of 36 hours of Master's level Educational Curriculum classes. It was expensive, but I suspect the payoff will be far richer than the (itty-bitty) raise in pay I'll get from the degree.

Thanks SNU for a great program. Now its time to take the first step towards a terminal degree; one that isn't in a very small, very conservative, christian University. Oklahoma State, here we come, see you in the fall!