2014-2015: Your Personal Tabula Rasa

Tabula rasa

Put quite simply, a “tabula rasa” is a clean slate. I always love the start of the school year because it represents exactly that, a chance to start anew. Last year is in the past and what’s important now is the here and now and the undefined future that lies before us.

Last year, you didn’t do as well as you wanted in your classes. Guess what? This year, you can study a bit more, try getting help at Hawktime or after school, and make Honor Roll. Maybe you regret not getting more involved last year? Well, this year you have an opportunity to do things differently. You can join FBLA. You can try out for indoor track. You can even start the club you talked about last year.

Think “tablua rasa” applies only to students? Nope, we adults can have a fresh start too. Teachers have an opportunity to try lesson plans again after making adjustments over the summer. Parents can reflect on what worked and what didn’t work in supporting/raising your kid last year and try a different approach for 2014-2015. Administrators can start school with a different mindset and attitude and try new initiatives.

The 2014-2015 school year is a blank slate, whose story is unwritten, a blank canvas waiting for paint. What will you put on it? Tell us your plans in the comments below!

 

The 21st Century Back to School Shopping List

I remember back in the day getting so excited to go back to school shopping because it meant some new Trapper Keeper binders, a Transformers or GI Joe book cover, filler paper, and a variety of other school supplies to get me through the year. I should have known then that I was destined for a career in education–I mean, who else geeks out over school supplies? (It’s not nice to call someone a geek, but it’s okay when you call yourself one…especially if it’s true!)

Anyway, fast forward to 2014 and the Trapper Keeper is back, but that’s not really the point of my post. As great as all those school supplies are, there is one item I’m advocating for you to buy your student this year–a Chromebook or a laptop. Still reading?  Good. I feared that you may have scoffed: “Mr. Novak expects me to buy what?” And, indeed, you may have had that reaction, but hear me out. These days it’s fairly typical for a high school graduate to receive  a new computer. So, little Johnny heads off to college with a brand new Macbook Pro, but has little to no experience actually using it in an educational setting. Sure, he’s had access at home, but working on an essay while simultaneously playing video games, catching up on TV shows online, connecting with friends on social media, downloading the new Kanye album, etc is a little different than bringing the laptop to class. Before he heads off to college, why not provide a learning experience in how to use technology responsibly?

The new Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) program has opened up that possibility for all students. Smartphones were the most popular device for students last year, but many students, especially juniors or seniors, began bringing in their laptops to complete their class assignments. I think this is a trend that will continue and is definitely something I support. Students enjoy using devices they know how to use and like the convenience of being able to work on an assignment and save it without having to email it to themselves or use cloud-based storage.

Need some more convincing? Which device would you rather your child have out during class–his iPhone or a Chromebook? Yes, he can access his English teacher’s Edmodo page on his 5S (or maybe the 6 coming out in September), but there’s a greater temptation to be Snapchatting, Instagramming, and using other apps that don’t necessarily have an educational purpose. That’s not to say that the Chromebook doesn’t offer a similar allure of off-task programming, but I think the degree is slightly lower and it’s a little easier for teachers to notice what’s happening on a 11+inch screen than on a 4 or 5 inch one.

Here are some deals going on right now you might want to check out:

Acer2  http://www.bestbuy.com/site/acer-c720-11-6-chromebook-intel-celeron-2gb-memory-16gb-solid-state-drive-granite-gray/2746011.p?id=1219077152618&skuId=2746011&st=categoryid$pcmcat244900050010&cp=1&lp=2

Toshiba

 

http://www.amazon.com/Toshiba-Satellite-C55-B5298-15-6-Inch-Laptop/dp/B00KF4980Y/ref=sr_1_4?s=pc&ie=UTF8&qid=1407861234&sr=1-4&keywords=laptop

 

Think I’m crazy? Let me know. Feel like I may be onto something here? Say that in the comments too!

Welcome Back!!!

Yes, we are gearing up for the start of another school year.

No, Mr. Kotter does not work at River Hill.

Maybe the Sweathogs will be in your child’s class (not by name, but there always seems to be a few Vinnie Barbarinos or Arnold Horshacks in every school).

 

If you’re new to River Hill, welcome to my blog. If you’re a returning parent, welcome back. In some ways, the site is like a webpage. There are several sections worth exploring that may or may not give you some helpful information; however, the main focus is the weekly post I put out (every Wednesday if I can, but being principal can get pretty busy, so I hope you’ll excuse me if I’m late a day or skip a week every now and then).

You should have received the summer mailing this week with your child’s schedule, a letter from me, info about joining Boosters and PTSA, and some other materials from the student services office. I can’t provide all of those electronically, but my letter can be downloaded below and you can join the Boosters and PTSA online at riverhill.org, just click on the “Join Now” links on the right-hand side of the page.

Parent Schedule Letter 2014

As I indicated in the letter, be sure to make any elective schedule changes now before school begins on the 25th. Once classes start, it won’t be possible to switch from AP Chemistry to Accounting II just because. That’s what the seventh months since course registration is for. Unfortunately, we can’t do an add/drop period like in college. Our funding for staffing doesn’t work that way. If you have a question about your child’s schedule, give his/her counselor a call before August 25th!

Check back next week when I discuss back to school shopping!

Summer Reading Bingo

Earlier this year, English Instructional Team Leader Diane Curry led the One Book, One River Hill initiative to promote literacy, encourage lifelong learning, and develop a sense of community. Students, staff, and parents read I Am Malala and engaged in online and face-to-face discussion of the memoir. As we close out the school year, she and the English department are continuing those efforts with a new approach to summer reading–a Bingo game!

Typically, students receive a summer reading list before the last day of school and the choice of books is dictated by the English course they are enrolled in for the following year. As a former English teacher, I used to do this too. It was always nice to hit the ground running by starting off discussing the work students had read over the summer. The problem was (yes, you know where this is going) not everybody read the book.

Some students diligently set about reading the assigned text once they got the reading list. They not only read all of the books the teacher suggested, but additional ones by authors they fell in love with after reading other works. Most students had the best intentions to read the book, but the vacation to the beach got in the way and then one thing led to another and there they were the weekend before school starts scrambling to skim over the book, find a Sparknotes version, or asking their friends for a quick synopsis of the novel and any themes or symbolism that stood out. And, of course, there are those students who never had any plans to do the reading and flat out refused to do the assignment.

The beauty of the summer reading bingo game is that it gives students (and all participants–staff and parents are welcome to join in too!) complete control over what they choose to read. So Pride and Prejudice isn’t really your cup of tea (I’m not a fan either), so what is?  Are you into Fantasy? Check that off on your bingo board. Need to occupy your time on the car ride to Myrtle Beach? You can choose the audiobook square. There are some challenging choices, but enough options to allow every reader an opportunity to complete their Bingo board.

English teachers will be offering extra credit for students who complete and submit their bingo boards at the beginning of next year. In addition, there will be drawings for prizes in the 2014-2015 school year. As I mentioned before, it’s not just for students. Staff and parents are encouraged to participate. It’s a fun way to approach what you’re going to read this summer and you might just find a book you never would have read otherwise. I’m already contemplating books by an author who shares my first name. I don’t want to read anything by Nicholas Sparks–too sappy! Feel free to use the bingo cards below (they come from a random generator website done by Frank Ledo), get one from your English teacher, or find one online. Happy Reading!!!

 

Graduation 2014

We made it! Our seniors have graduated and they are off to bigger and better things in the years to come. Graduation was a blast–in case you missed it, here’s my speech and the graduation selfie!

Good evening students and staff and tonight we add family, friends, and distinguished guests. Today is Wednesday May 28th-it’s graduation day and for the last time in your high school career, it’s a great day to be a Hawk and an even greater day to be a senior because today you leave the hallowed halls of River Hill behind and enter the “real world” we’ve been preparing you for all these years. It’s time to show that you are college and career ready students who can achieve 21st century success by thinking critically, fostering leadership, responsibility, and diversity and promoting integrity, humility, and balance. (You’re going to miss those morning announcements, huh?)

Class of 2014-this was a big year for you. You excelled in the classroom. ¾ of the senior class graduates with a 3.0 or higher cumulative GPA and 12 of you graduate with straight A’s for all of high school.  Your average SAT score of 1820 was well above the Maryland mean score and the National mean score. 98.4% of you are attending a 2 or 4 year college with more than $8 million offered in scholarships and more than $2 million accepted.

You excelled in the athletic arena. The class of 2014 helped add a state championship for Girl’s Soccer as well as three individual champions in Wrestling and one in Outdoor Track. And that was just this year. In the four years you’ve been at River Hill, you have been a part of 18 county championship teams, 19 regional championship teams, and 6 state championship teams.

You also excelled in your extracurricular endeavors. FBLA earned its 11th consecutive state championship. NHS grew in size becoming the largest student organization at River Hill.  Audiences were treated to stellar performances by the cast of Peter Pan and the Drowsy Chaperone. Many of our seniors were selected to All-State ensembles in band, orchestra, and choir. New clubs like Delta Scholars and Active Minds were formed and the class of 2014 participated in fundraising thousands of dollars for charity. You continued to impress us with your achievements and we know you’re not done yet. In fact, the best is yet to come.

You are definitely an exceptional class, but you’ll always be special to me because you were the first class I saw through as principal from your freshman year to graduation. As you may know, I have a four-year old son named Justin. When people ask me if I have any kids, I tell them I have one of my own and almost 1400 more at River Hill. In a lot of ways, it often feels like you are my kids. I worry about you when you leave school dances or other events and hope that you’ll make good decisions over the weekend. When you don’t always make good decisions, you get grounded (or in my case detention, Saturday School, or suspension). But most of all, I work hard to support your efforts and beam with pride at all your accolades and achievements.

My facebook account may be filled with pics of my son, but my twitter account highlights my “other kids”—you. This was my first year on Twitter and I started an account so I could send out news about the school and celebrate the various accomplishments of our students and staff. What I discovered was it was another way to engage with the student body. I would be at a sporting event and take a picture of the fans and hear the chant “Tweet it, tweet it.” I would be getting ready for bed and I would get a tweet asking if I thought we would have school the next day because snow was in the forecast. Some of you even lobbied me to add an extra Hawktime to the week or let you drop a class you didn’t want to be in.

I’ve been tweeting all year and I’m at 999 tweets (yeah, I don’t tweet like you guys do—a thousand tweets is a week or even a day for some of you). I’ve been planning something big for the thousandth tweet, so I hope you’ll indulge me here for a minute.  After watching Ellen’s selfie at the Oscars and thinking about doing something special with the class of 2014, I got the idea of a graduation selfie. So we may not get millions of retweets, but it will still be fun. Dr. Foose, want to join me here?

[Go to front row and take selfie with students. Return to stage and tweet pic.]

Selfie

(And if you’re wondering—no, there won’t be any pizza delivery during the ceremony.)

Class of 2014—keep up your “Twitter-worthy” activities as you take the next step in your lives. Keep achieving, keep succeeding, keep striving to be the best you possibly can. We want to stay connected with you as you become proud and distinguished alumni of River Hill and continue the success you have shown thus far, so stay in touch and never lose your #hawkpride. Congratulations and good luck!

Give a Man a Fish

Chinese Proverb

This past weekend I actually had the chance to go fishing (for real, not just in the metaphorical sense). For the 2nd year in a row, a group of RHHS staff members got together to go rock fishing out on the Chesapeake Bay.  Some pics from our trip appear at the bottom of the post, but first, let me tell you a bit about fishing and teaching.

Being on a boat with six other educators, I couldn’t help but think of the quote above. Someone definitely taught these guys to teach because they were reeling in some monster rockfish (I ended up pulling up two fish on one line, but that’s another story).  Anyway, in that metaphor of teaching and fishing, there is a basic truth that forms the foundation of what we strive to do every day at River Hill.  We aim not just to fill students’ minds with knowledge, but to help them develop the desire and ability to do so for themselves.  We strive to instill in students the value of being a lifelong learner.

As we celebrate teacher appreciation week this week, I praise and celebrate all of the outstanding and dedicated educators at River Hill who help students realize their potential, achieve their dreams, and inspire students to find their potential and dreams when they don’t think they have any.  Since it’s not really appropriate to mention any specific RHHS teachers by name (wouldn’t want to play favorites), I’ll give a few shout outs to teachers from my own educational journey–the folks who taught me how to “fish:”

* Thanks to my parents, my first teachers, who taught me more than I realized at the time. It’s only now that I have a son of my own the foundation they gave me in speaking, listening, reading, writing, etc.

* Thanks to Mrs. Rick at Fort Washington Forest Elementary School for being my first teacher in the United States.  Although I went to school for a year or two in England, I have to admit I don’t remember it much. Mrs. Rick made me feel so welcome as the new kid (it didn’t hurt that everyone loved hearing my English accent–where did I go? Yes, I, too, wish I still had it).

* Thanks to Ms. Smalls, perhaps the hardest social studies teacher at G. Gardner Shugart Middle School. She made me realize how important it was to study for tests and quizzes and just when you think you know it—study some more!

* Thanks to all of my science teachers at Oxon Hill High School–Mr. Tschirhart who taught me AP Chemistry, Mr. Belanger who taught me AP Biology, Mrs. Jones who instructed my Research Practicum in Biology course, and Mr. Creveling who taught Anatomy and Physiology. They all did an excellent job preparing me to do pre-med at St. Mary’s College of Maryland.

* Thanks to all the English and History teachers at St. Mary’s who gave me such a warm welcome when I realized that I didn’t want to major in biology/pre-med.  As I stood in the lab pipetting chemicals into beakers, I couldn’t help but be jealous of all the students playing frisbee and having fun outside.  Those folks, I learned were the English and History majors. I ended up double majoring and benefitted from the great instruction of Professors Jing Li, Herb Winnick, and Christine Adams in history and Robin Bates, Michael Glaser, Donna Richardson, Jeff Hammond, and Andrea Hammer in English.

* Finally, thanks to the great professors at UMCP where I earned my Masters in Education. They were all outstanding, but the two that stand out are Dr. Joseph McCaleb and Dr. Jeremy Price. Through that program, I student taught at River Hill High School and the rest is history.

So who are the teachers that made a difference in your life? Let me know in the comments (and enjoy the slideshow)!

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A Teacher Affects Eternity

Adams Quote

Sometimes my blog posts are about things happening at school like the school play, our BYOD initiative, foreign exchange students, etc.  Other times I get a little introspective and focus a bit more on myself and how I’m feeling.  This post is little of the latter, but it’s not so much about me as it is about Jack Dibler.

For those of you who don’t know, Jack Dibler was a chemistry teacher at River Hill from 2006 until 2012 when he had to retire after being diagnosed with cancer. His battle (and the incredible outpouring support he received from friends and family) are well-documented on the Facebook page his family set up shortly after the diagnosis.  Unfortunately, that battle ended last night when Jack succumbed to the illness he had fought off for so long.

With a heavy heart, I shared the news with the staff at a meeting this morning, having just heard it last night myself.  I choked back the tears that the moment compelled and pulled myself together enough to give the speech I’ve either delivered or heard too many times at River Hill after the passing of a student or staff member.  Only minutes before the meeting I read the latest post by Jack’s family that gave me the lump in the throat that made speaking forced and painful. However, it was the response from friends, family, and loved ones that lifted me up throughout the day and reminded me that as we mourn the loss of a life ended too soon, we also celebrate the amazing gift that Jack was to all those who knew him.

I encourage you to explore the comments on the Facebook page or do a Twitter search for “Mr. Dibler.” You will see for yourself just what kind of an influence Jack Dibler had on his students, their parents, and the colleagues who he worked with every day. Here’s a sampling of what folks had to say:

- “I will always remember Mr. Dibler for showing me the kind of person that I want to be, and for instilling in me a love of chemistry that I will carry with me for the rest of my life.”

- “A good heart and kind spirit make a true difference in this world. Mr. Dibler was such a man.”

- “ Mr. Dibler was a fantastic teacher that always had a smile on his face that was contagious to others.”

- “To me, he embodied the phrase ‘Love what you do and you’ll never work a day in your life.’”

-“The world would be a better place if each of us had the love, passion, kindness, and generosity that Mr. Dibler shared with everyone he met.”

-“He was a role model to all he encountered. Oh to be in a world where we are all more like Jack.”

 

Mr. Dibler affected eternity and it is clear that his inspiration will be eternal.  For as long as we remember the gifts he gave us every day with his smile, his kind words, his positivity, and his immense love of teaching, he will not be forgotten.  Be like Jack Dibler.  Teach like Jack Dibler.  Live your life like Jack Dibler. As we celebrate River Hill staff this week and next, we celebrate Mr. Dibler and the impact he has had on all of us. He will be missed!

Dibler

Simplicity! Simplicity! Simplicity!

Thoreau

Still we live meanly, like ants; though the fable tells us that we were long ago changed into men; like pygmies we fight with cranes; it is error upon error, and clout upon clout, and our best virtue has for its occasion a superfluous and evitable wretchedness. Our life is frittered away by detail. An honest man has hardly need to count more than his ten fingers, or in extreme cases he may add his ten toes, and lump the rest. Simplicity, simplicity, simplicity! I say, let your affairs be as two or three, and not a hundred or a thousand; instead of a million count half a dozen, and keep your accounts on your thumb-nail. In the midst of this chopping sea of civilized life, such are the clouds and storms and quicksands and thousand-and-one items to be allowed for, that a man has to live, if he would not founder and go to the bottom and not make his port at all, by dead reckoning, and he must be a great calculator indeed who succeeds. Simplify, simplify. Instead of three meals a day, if it be necessary eat but one; instead of a hundred dishes, five; and reduce other things in proportion. Our life is like a German Confederacy, made up of petty states, with its boundary forever fluctuating, so that even a German cannot tell you how it is bounded at any moment. The nation itself, with all its so-called internal improvements, which, by the way are all external and superficial, is just such an unwieldy and overgrown establishment, cluttered with furniture and tripped up by its own traps, ruined by luxury and heedless expense, by want of calculation and a worthy aim, as the million households in the land; and the only cure for it, as for them, is in a rigid economy, a stern and more than Spartan simplicity of life and elevation of purpose. It lives too fast. Men think that it is essential that the Nation have commerce, and export ice, and talk through a telegraph, and ride thirty miles an hour, without a doubt, whether they do or not; but whether we should live like baboons or like men, is a little uncertain.

–Henry David Thoreau, Walden

 

When I was an English teacher, I always enjoyed teaching the unit on Transcendentalism and especially the works of Henry David Thoreau.  I pretty much idolized him when I was a teenager, but, admittedly, he kind of lost his appeal the older I got and the more I found out about the truth of his sojourn in the woods.  Nevertheless, his words were always amazing to me and still today seem to capture the essence of how I often seem to feel.

For whatever reason, today led me to think of this excerpt.  I never quoted it in my conversations with people, but I do recall saying something to the extent of “we need to eliminate all of the noise and just focus on what’s important.”  There’s a lot happening in education right now with changes to curriculum, new assessments being piloted, teachers being evaluated using a new system, and the list goes on and on.  Everyone connected with schools–students, teachers, parents, administrators–get caught up in the need to “export ice, talk through a telegraph, and ride thirty miles an hour” and we sometimes forget about why we are here–teaching and learning.

Everything really comes down to those two things.  It may seem more complex and that new initiatives or changes are just one more thing, but they are all just layers of the same cake so to speak.  What all of us need to do is filter out the distractions and focus on good teaching and learning for all students.  If you agree or disagree, let me know.  If you have any ideas on how we can simplify, let me know.  How can we calm the “chopping sea of civilized life?” Keep the boundaries of this “German Confederacy” from fluctuating?  As always, I appreciate your feedback and comments.

#greatdaytobeahawk

I’m sure it’s kind of a running joke among the student body since I say it every morning during the 7:15am announcements, but it is absolutely true–it is a great day to be a Hawk.  It may seem funny, it may sound a little cliche, but when you consider all the amazing things happening at River Hill, you start to realize that every day is a great day to be a Hawk.

I’m always amused when I hear students say that there’s nothing to do in Clarksville/Howard County.  Man, you don’t know how good you have it.  High school and college are pretty much the only times in your life where you have a vast array of social, cultural, and academic events happening pretty much all the time and there are a boatload of people to enjoy them with.  Things aren’t so easy when you get older.  Let me show you what I mean:

I was having a conversation with someone recently about how it’s tough to make friends as an adult and he told me that what many people do now is get on an online site called meetup.com.  So if I want to meet people in Howard County who share my interest in Doctor Who, I can find a group, join it, and then show up at their event and maybe hit it off with some folks who agree that Tom Baker is the best Doctor ever.  We could even bond over Jelly Babies (watch an episode, you’ll know what I’m talking about).

Meetup

If you want to hang out with people and watch Doctor Who at River Hill, just go to Mr. McCready’s room on Friday after school and you can meet likeminded people who share your love of Daleks and Cybermen and the Tardis.  Maybe you enjoy singing?  Well, in addition to courses offered during the school day, you can be a part of the Leading Ladies or the Talon Tones.  You can play pong with the ping pong club, chess with the chess club, solve the Rubik’s cube with the Rubik’s cube club, build a robot with the FIRST Robotics club.  The list goes on and on and if you don’t see a club you like, create one of your own.

The incredible opportunities that students have to get involved in extracurricular activities is just one of the many reasons why it’s a #greatdaytobeahawk.  There are probably thousands of reasons out there.  What’s yours?  Post it in the comments section or tweet me @RHHSPrincipal, use the hashtag #greatdaytobeahawk!

So What Would Your School Be Like?

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Either I was driving by the Board of Education and saw a sign for a hearing about high school #13 or I was watching Zoolander and thinking about the school that model Derek Zoolander founded (worth watching if you haven’t seen it–totally ridiculous), but somehow I was inspired this week to explore the idea of what school would be like if you created it.

Over the years, the Board of Education has established an extremely successful school system and, since it was established in 1996, River Hill has been a model school in many ways.  But that doesn’t mean that it always meets the needs of students, staff, or parents and it doesn’t mean that there’s not room for improvement.  So I’m curious–what would you change about River Hill or, if you prefer to think of it another way, if you started a school, what would you want to see?

You might want to consider the following questions:

* How long would the school year last?  How about the school day?

* How many classes would students study at any given time?

* How many students would be in the school?  In each class?

* Would there be any graduation requirements?  If so, what?

* What role would technology play in instruction?

* What facilities would you add/remove form the campus?

* What type of teachers would you want at the school?  How about administrators?

* What would the basic mission or purpose of the school be?

So what do you think?  Let me know by adding a comment in the section below!  Some ideas may not be possible, but others could be a definite possibility!