A School Year of Blessings

Summer is officially right around the corner with State FFA Convention coming this week. As I look back through the year, I am humbled by the blessings and experiences of the year! 
First and foremost; I’m continually blessed by the hand of the Lord in providing for Annelle and I. As Annelle begins a new journey farming with her family he has given us firm clarity and assurance that this is the right direction for our family. 
Next, I cannot think and feel lovingly enough of Annelle. Her patience and love is such a source of constant encouragement, but what I value even more is her straightforwardness and honesty when I am in need of correction…which is more often than I would like to grant. 🙂
I’ve started graduate school and found great blessings from our course’s Teaching Assistant this year, Carlos. His willingness and eagerness to visit with me on the phone, provide feedback on my writing, and offer critiques of my paradigms have been invaluable as I grow as a researcher and educator. 
School has also offered its many blessings! The greatest blessings have been from my peers. They are so passionate about growth for themselves and their students that it is contagious. I’m honored to be counted a part of this group that is pursing excellence. 
We have been honored and blessed by our community who believe in our school to have passed a $4.1 million dollar bond to enhance our school district. Construction has already started and we are ahead of schedule. Our new Ag Ed Center is slated to be completed by December 18th, 2018.  
Then, I’m blessed to be blogging. In the past I have tried three times to maintain a blog. All times I’ve stopped after about ten posts. Currently, I’m working on blog post #37. I have found blogging to be a great outlet for my mind and reflections. A great source of encouragement has come from the #CompelledTribe blogging community and I look forward to continue my blogging journey through the summer and beyond!
Finally, thank you to all my students. From you do I find the inspiration and courage to learn and grow. The blessings and lessons each of you have passed on to me this year have been abundant beyond all I could imagine. Thank you and may you each have a blessed summer! 
I could never possibly list all the blessings of this year that has been poured out upon my family. To all those who I may have forgotten, thank you for a tremendous year and I’m looking forward to another remarkable year of growth! 

Lessons from Shop Camp

We have just wrapped up another great week of Shop Camp for our Middle School students! It was our largest year thus far with 16 students compared with four the year before! I always find it a fun way to start the summer break! As I reflect on the week and think to the cool learning that happened two lessons struck me as crucial to remember as I prepare for another year of formal instruction:
1. Students need the space and permission to fail…and then the opportunity to succeed.
2. The world is our classroom. 
The first lesson struck me when I was working with one of our 5th grade participants. He had welded his bike rack and had a working plan that he modified at the end because he wanted to force enough room for seven total bikes. As we looked over his finished bike rack and tested it out he quickly realized that not only would it not work, but he couldn’t even get the minimum of three bikes to fit on his current rack. 
As we spoke we started to brainstorm options that could make a redesign work better for his needs. We visited about the process to help square his design and layout the bike placers more evenly. His next project was able to hold ten bikes running on either side, he tried another welding process that he was able to get proper heat penetration, and above all he approached the layout of his design with greater accuracy. All these together on the second try allowed him to build a project he could take pride in even though it required him to completely take a part his initial design. 
Thinking to my own classes for next year, I am reminded that I too need to allow for failure by my students. A fear of failure paralyzes many students who are concerned too much by the effect on their grade besides the actual learning. My challenge is to consider how I can maintain the balance between risking boldly and robust accountability that replicates the real world? 
The second lesson hit home when I took our camp students out on their tour day. We lined up tours that took them to a community college, a large scale custom cabinet manufacturer, and a stock trailer manufacturer. You can tell that the tours were effective when you have an even amount of students declare one of the tours as their favorites. The best conversations I had though were from the students who looked at me and said, “Mr. Meals, I’m confused…I thought I knew what I wanted to do and now I don’t.” The students saw careers and opportunities that expanded their horizons beyond what is narrowly advertised by our greater society.
We must never forget that the world is our classroom. The classroom alone is in many respects a poor substitute for the experience found outside its four-walled confines. The body of student experience must be filled with opportunities to see the world that is all around us. Whether that is taking a history class to an important historical site or taking a Horticulture class to local greenhouses. These will be the experiences if strategically acted upon will be the anchors of learning that stick with a student their entire life. Our communities are living laboratories for learning and we must immerse our students into their waters. The challenge for me to ponder is how can I both bring the greater world into my classroom and also ensure students the opportunity to learn in the world beyond the classroom?

School’s Concern Should Be Community

Dr. Mara Tieken challenges us in her article, “Only Hope: Why Rural Schools Matter”, about our understanding of the true value that public schooling plays in our communities.

“As currently conceived, “school” is considered an institution for children not their parents and families…Only when we acknowledge the many roles that schools play can we fully recognize the promise of public schooling for all of our communities” (Tieken, 2013 p. 7).

In many places, particularly rural contexts, schools play an outsized role in the development of community. Yet, should that not be the case for every school? What other public institution brings together such a broad range of individuals across the social spectrum?

The chief concern for school’s should be creating community. Without community there can be no hope for learning. I’m not speaking about the surface level community, where we come out to show support for our school’s sports teams. That’s easy…I’m speaking to a deeper community built on mutual trust and shared partnership between stakeholders.

The first step for such community building is the acknowledgement among us educators that our schools serve well beyond the students immediately in front if us. When we embrace the role of community-building the outcomes of education become clearer because they are then defined by the needs directly relevant to those we serve.

Below is an excerpt from the book, The Choice: In Teaching and Education by the Arbinger Institute:

“Education is the lifeblood of a community’s continued existence. We have an obligation one to another. 

There are many in every community who feel this call.

They should be involved in the educational endeavor.

As mentors, as tutors, as men and women to be admired — there are so many roles that need filling.

Every school and every classroom should be community space, for it is the community’s future that is learning” (Arbinger, 2001 p. 68).

Doing education together is crucial for the future of our schools and community. This will require changes in perspective about how we evaluate the true gains of schooling. What would happen if schools were evaluated more by their attempt to involve community stakeholders in the educating of our youth? Let us not be found wanting!

Symbiotic Learning

Learning cannot be a one-way relationship. Learning by its nature is symbiotic.

Take heed of a newly planted fruit tree. If left dependent only upon the water found in the soil, it will fail to root out and grow fruitfully. It must receive intentional watering and fertilizer to flourish and survive through its first winter.

We as teachers must also be cautious in only being dependent upon the content we find and keep. In quick time this will become stale and dry to those we are called to teach. Co-production of knowledge is the lifeline of great teaching and learning. Students engaged in the process of discovery and inquiry into the content we teach is the cascading of water and the addition of precious fertilizer to the tree of learning.

Surrendering the thought of us as THE teacher is critical in this process. We are only the teacher as much as we are the learner.