With a myriad of opportunities, expectations, and results, your high school experience and graduation can stir many different emotions and feelings.
At the University of Nebraska High School (UNHS), we look forward to honoring and celebrating our graduates. Here I want share some of my random thoughts on high school graduation and specifically graduating from UNHS.
Graduating from high school is a part of the transition of becoming an adult. It is an important milestone to celebrate and also a good time to . . . .
Reflect on your high school experience and recall the good, and not so good, times. However, whatever you have for past memories it is soon time to get on to the next step, which could be . . .
Attending a two or four year college. Since UNHS is a college preparatory high school, this is the path for most of our students, but not for everyone. Some students . . .
Do something else. Whether it is joining the workforce, the military, taking a gap year, or another route, for their life path. This happens because . . .
Unique individuals make up a graduation class. Isn’t it great that students are distinctive and do not all have the same interests? In fact, at UNHS our graduation class is made up of . . .
Athletes, visual and fine art students, homeschoolers, students from public and private schools, students with health conditions, highly gifted, and don’t forget we serve . . .
Traditional and non-traditional students. Many UNHS students complete their high school program in the typical four years or less, but some graduate later in life. Also, not all are U.S. students . . .
International Students are an essential part of UNHS. At least half of our UNHS graduates are located outside the United States. No matter where our graduates are from, they have this in common . . .
Online courses with the University of Nebraska High School. The state of Nebraska currently has a tourism slogan of “Honestly, it is . . .
Not for everyone.” This statement may also be true for some students who may be considering UNHS, but UNHS is an integral pathway for our honored graduates.
So back to my initial question . . . What does high school graduation mean to you?
Do you agree with the idiom that seeing is believing?
Although it may not be true in every situation, sometimes you do need to see something to accept that it really exists or determine what just occurred. It is particularly important in the athletic realm.
I had the pleasure of playing and coaching football for about four decades. An essential and very valuable tool was the study of practice and game film. I have heard more than one coach or athlete remark, “Let’s not make a decision or judgement until we see what the film shows.”
With the advances of technology, being able to critique an athlete’s performance has greatly improved over the years. My initial study as a player was with 16 mm film in which the game film had to be processed and a projector would be used play back the game as a teaching tool. I specifically remember my coaches running a play over and over again to emphasize a particular point. New advancements soon came via video tapes and DVDs. Today, we have video review and performance analysis tools available for athletes and coaches that far surpass previous methods. Besides the game competitions, many coaches can now video record practice situations and use that as a teaching tool with the athletes.
For example, this allows football coaches to not only see a play from the sideline view, but also from an end zone view to see spacing and blocking angles. This added detail can give players and coaches a fresh look at the same play from a different perspective.
Just like seeing is believing in sports analysis, the University of Nebraska High School (UNHS) has passed the eye test for almost 90 years. UNHS was established in 1929 and was first a paper-based correspondence study. Since UNHS became online in 2001, it has become one of most reliable, respected, and recommended online accredited high schools in the United States.
UNHS has a well-constructed curriculum of over 100 courses for students to enroll in. If you are interested in earning additional credits, want to get ahead for next school year, or just learn something new, the courses at UNHS are available to our students any time of day and any day of the year.
Recently I have been asked by friends and family what I see for the future of education given changes in technology, changes in society and changes in the political environment. I think people approach me with this question because of my years in education and because I am making a formal study of education. But the short answer is: No one knows.
In the future, education will look completely different. Also, in the future, education will look exactly like it always has. How can both be true? If you think of education as policy, technology and funding, then education in the future will look wildly different. If however, you think of education as the very human endeavor of sharing and acquiring knowledge, then it will look just like it always has.
Trends in Education
I am not a futurist. I admire people who attempt to thoroughly explore the possibilities of the future and how these possibilities may arise from the present. But I am a bit cynical on what can be predicted. When people look to the future, they often start with current trends. This is flawed in my opinion. Trends are indicators, but they are superficial. Just as I cannot tell you what kind of pie I’m sampling by tasting only the meringue, I cannot tell you what the future of education holds by looking at trends.
Additionally, the trends which bubble up to the general public’s awareness are often driven by technology and money. A trend in education may arise because technology makes something possible and money is available to promote it. If there is no real need for the trend or no real problem that it solves, it is likely to fizzle as a fad rather than continue as a sustainable part of education. More than a decade ago, when technology made online course delivery possible, the trend suggested that classrooms of students would create personas to learn in virtual environments as avatars with knowledge “gamified” and levels of learning achieved by characters which they would direct. Um… Not so much.
Back to the Future
So, I am not a futurist. In reality, I am more of a historian. I have written a history of a school and I am currently working on biographical pieces about educators at that school. It is instructive to look at educational trends in the historical sense.
Education became formalized because societies became increasingly complex. The oral tradition of ancient cultures was no longer sufficient to preserve knowledge and heritage. So writing and reading came into being and as these were not daily life skills, they were taught in a separate environment which came to be known as school. Thank you ancient civilizations! Since then, education has been a swinging pendulum of forces.
“We educate only certain classes who will lead society!” “No, we educate all!”
“Education is the responsibility of the family.” “No, Education is the responsibility of the state.”
“Education should be standardized and taught in a factory model.” “No, education should be individualized and taught in a progressive manner.”
Education is to prepare citizens for basic life functioning.” “No! Education is to inspire youth to transcend daily life.”
You can probably hear these arguments echoing from ancient Babylonia all the way to today’s current education debates. Along the way, students continued to learn, teachers developed and shared ways of teaching, and societies made practical decisions about structuring and funding education. We will continue to do this.
But aren’t you worried?
So, we find ourselves today and my friends express concern regarding the current state of education and the technological, society and political forces at work. Am I not kept awake at night by what I see in Education?
No. I am not fretful. I am energized by current discussions around education. When my neighbor who farms is as interested in the discussion of education as the professionals at my state department of education, I am a happy person! There is a recognition that education is too important to be left up to politicians and professionals only. Even though it is a challenge to sort through all of the rhetoric and argument, the pendulum of forces has been swinging back and forth long enough that we can see certain truths stand fast.
Education is the transmission of culture. We may disagree as to what cultural lessons are shared and in which ways. But “We, The People” will ensure that education serves this need to bring our human heritage along with us as we move forward.
Standards are for packaging, not people. We use the device of educational standards as a practical way to package up information and set guidelines. We are packaging up knowledge for the development of people. We should not believe that we can package up people in a standard way. We The People will always need to address human differences even as we create guidelines and goals.
Learning is a human endeavor. No app, no technology can open your heart and mind to learning. Even a skilled teacher needs a student willing to learn. A teacher without a willing student is a performance artist. Education is something We The People do together.
The view from my desk
A current trend that is being noticed in education is the trend toward personalized learning. This is an extension from competency-based learning and stems from the idea that students are individuals whose educational progress will vary. Various groups will descend upon this idea to either promote it or decry it for political purposes. Any number of for-profit enterprises are already seeking ways to monetize this idea.
Clint Eastwood’s popular character in many of his movies was Dirty Harry (Detective Harry Callahan). A tough law enforcer, Harry was well known for the catchphrase, “Go ahead, make my day”. This phrase usually came out at a pivotal time in the film where Dirty Harry was ready to dispatch a bad guy if they drew their weapon or did not back down.
In direct contrast to this well-known quote, we do have the opportunity each day to encourage people in a positive way with kindness.
Have you recently benefited from someone else’s acts of kindness?
I know I have. Whether it is someone who allows me to merge in traffic, flashes an accepting smile or shares an encouraging word, I daily reap the rewards from others’ kind gestures.
The size of the act really does not matter. It is important to remember that something you may consider as a very small deed might mean a lot to someone who needed that boost—even if it is just a warm smile.
What are the qualifications for being kind?
Good news! Kindness has no requirements at all, including age. You do not have to have a degree in kindness or have unlimited resources to be kind. It is simply being friendly, generous, considerate and putting that concern for others into action.
It can also improve your health! Did you know that engaging in acts of kindness benefits not only the person who receives, but also the giver? Researchers have found that helping others actually reduces stress, lowers blood pressure and decreases anxiety. The by-product of improving the day of another can also make yours better!
I am fascinated by the technology and its prevalence among our youth. I am envious as I watch many students and some adults type away so easily on their hand held devices, their thumbs are moving over these screens like expert typists! I, on the other hand, struggle with texting on my iPhone. Ten minutes after I have finally completed my six to ten words, I am proud to hit send.
When I am in public, I look around and can see that the majority of the people around me are usually on their cell phones. There are times I’ve wondered, should we be worried about this mesmerizing kind of obsession on these devices? Is this fixation really good for all of us? Isn’t this a wasted opportunity for human to human interaction? Should we be worried?
Will we raise a generation of students who have never really seen the sky because they don’t look up from their screens as they stumble along on the streets and sidewalks? Even as students walk in packs, they are all focusing on their own devices and in many instances, are actually texting and communicating to the person right next to them, instead of using the verbal language. Thus, I am sometimes concerned that students aren’t practicing much in the way of verbal and conversational skills that often come with more richness and quality of exchanges. Should we be worried?
I continue to try to deal with and learn the newer technology, feeling that I’m just getting further behind with all the new advances. I’ve noticed that my students are like sponges with this stuff, as they pick up the newest apps and latest devices with ease. I do love to see their quick ability to adapt to all these changes that push and tug at me constantly. So, should we be worried?
I am not going to worry. I have faith that when each student needs to discover the sky and the world around them, they’ll look up.
I have confidence that they will continue to learn, perhaps learn more than one thinks, and be able to communicate with these devices so that others understand them. We are more connected today with others all over the world because of these devices, but I hope we’ll also learn and understand that there is relevance and importance in speaking directly to others, conversing and expressing yourself verbally. And for those of us that came into this world slightly later than the devices, we’ll continue to be able to observe, listen, talk, and discuss how these devices are helping, hindering and stretching our own growth and learning.
And to parents with kids and even to teachers alike, this request: please, please reflect on when and where you and your children are using these devices so that you don’t lose opportunities to connect in the most human of ways with your kids/students—through daily conversation with them!
I read a brief article from the publication The Master Teacher (Volume 48, No. 24), a series of professional development brochures that administrators and teachers can sign up to receive throughout the school year. This particular brochure talked about the importance of teaching listening skills. The article titled, Teaching Students a Neglected Life and Literacy Skill, had me reflecting on my own listening skills. Yes, we often teach the importance of reading, writing and speaking, but the listening skills are often taken for granted—and we can do something about that.
There are a number of strategies that we can use with students on a daily basis to improve our listening skills and make our teaching more effective for them.
Stop and make time to listen. You may have heard the expression, “be fully present”. This is particularly important in listening to others. It’s necessary to block out all the distractions and the noise around you. People can tell when you are fully present.
Make eye contact. You don’t need to stare at the person every minute, however strong eye contact shows you are paying attention and care about what the other person is talking about.
Practice empathy. Taking another’s position or point of view is difficult for us sometimes. By simply putting yourself in their shoes for a while, you can get a feel for what they are expressing and more importantly, why they feel this way. This is missing in lots of the political debates going on right now.
Ask questions. By asking questions, the listener is gathering more detail to better understand what the other party is saying. Ask questions that are inquisitive, insightful and intelligent—ones that truly help you understand the other person.
Listening has become an even more critical skill in our daily life these days as we are forced to make hundreds of decisions and many times, with little data or little time. Think about your daily conversations with the people around you—do you really use these strategies?
If you focus on being a better listener, good things happen—good luck!
Other resources: Leadership For Teenagers by Carol Carter and Maureen Breeze, 2011, p.125.”
For many high school students, August seems to be the favored month for the start of back-to-school. For students involved in sports, many have actually been training and working out even before the traditional pre-season of the school year officially began, and August means the start of when they can demonstrate their hard work. For others, the start of school means the reduction or the stopping of work for summer jobs as they begin to focus on their studies.
As a high school principal, my previous talks to students at the start of the school year focused on these four rules—applicable to all whether you’re an athlete, have a part-time job or anyone else.
Show up. Attendance is critical to your success—you have to be there to get the instruction offered by your teachers. For online students, you have to open up your coursework and you have to submit assignments frequently so that there is evidence of your involvement and participation on a frequent basis. Ask questions of your online teachers [email@example.com]—this lets them know you’re engaged in the process.
Do your work. Not only is it critical that you do the assignments and work assigned to you by your teachers, but you should do quality work. Remember, everything you turn in has your name on it. Your name should mean something—it is who you are and stands for the integrity of your good character. Be proud of each and every assignment you submit because it represents (or should), your very best efforts.
Practice civility. Students who really care about their education demonstrate great amounts of civility toward others—even folks they don’t know. Your words and actions matter, whether it is how you speak and act towards members of your community, others are forming an impression of how you manage yourself as a human being. Keep your words and actions positive and reflective of your dedication to yourself. Your words matter to your teachers as they grade your work and your projects. Use them wisely and carefully. Online teachers can quickly pick up the “tone” of your comments in your writing. Make it a point to practice your civility online!
School comes first. If you continue to work during the school year, which is perfectly fine (and more power to you!), just remember that your schoolwork should be your priority.
If you follow these simple rules, you are more likely to enjoy the learning experience this year.
I hope that what you will take away from this is experience is a life-long love of learning that will guide you along a very productive life. Have a great start to your year!