Monday, February 22, 2016

Changing a Tire: So Easy a Child Could Do It

Last week, as I was driving home from work, I smelled burning rubber and wondered if I had engine problems. Then I noticed that the car in front of me had a flat, shredded tire. I followed the car into a parking lot and got out to ask the driver if she needed help. She responded that she didn't know if she even had a spare tire in her car (note: almost every car has a spare tire of some sort up until the 2015 model year. Finding yourself stranded is the worst time to try to figure out how your spare tire works or if you have one. If you do not know where your spare tire is, go right now to find it, as well as the instructions for how to replace it. Go now. I'll wait to write more until you get back).

Now that you're back, I can continue my story. While I was changing Kris's tire, she said numerous times, "I'm so glad that there was a guy around who knows how to fix a tire. This just isn't something that is easy for a woman to do." Any of my former Self Reliance students know not only how to fix a tire, but also how important it is for any driver to know how to do it. Some women may feel that it is hard to change a tire, but we can all do hard things.

I was glad that I was there to help Kris, but I want my kids to know how to change a tire. I had a student last year who said that his dad never wanted him to have to change a tire. While it would be great, in principle, if we never had an emergency on the road, I want to make sure that my kids don't have to rely on a complete stranger for help and hope that he is a good guy. 

Let's back up a couple of months. I got a call that my wife, with all three kids in the car, had a flat tire and needed help. Now before you jump on her and say that a Renaissance Mom should know how to fix a tire, she absolutely does. But this flat tire happened in our neighborhood. And it was 110. And she had all three kids. So I ran over and had a teaching moment with my kids. They helped with every step of the process. And in case you need a refresher on changing a tire, here are the 10 steps to changing a tire, ala Renaissance Dad.

1. Move to a flat, safe location. Parking lots are great. If you are on a road, move as far to the side as you safely can. If you cannot safely change a tire, call a tow truck to help out.

2. Get out the tools and the donut (small tire) or spare tire.These are usually found in the trunk of the car, the cargo area, or under the back seat. Of course you already know where they are because you looked for them after reading the first paragraph above.

3. Loosen the lug nuts. This is important to do while the tire is on the ground (otherwise the tire will spin as you try to loosen them). Loosen in a star pattern. If the lug nuts are tight, thank your mechanic or tire person for keeping you safe. Then put the lug wrench on the nut and stand on it. Even my kids with their 40 pounds have enough weight to loosen lug nuts by bouncing a little.

Big A raising the car like a boss
4. Following the car manual directions, raise the car using the jack. Most cars jacks have two pieces to the handle, allowing you to spin the handle more easily. The jack should be placed on the car frame. Remember that your flat tire has no air, so you'll need to raise the car until the tire is completely off the ground.

5. Remove the lug nuts in a star pattern, leaving the top lug nut for last. Make sure that if your kid is holding the lug nuts in the hubcap that you do not accidentally knock the hubcap into the air, thereby losing all of the lug nuts and causing your kid to say, "Fuuuuuuuuudddddggggge."

6. Place the spare onto the wheel and hand-tighten the lug nuts, beginning with the top one and moving in a star pattern.

7. Slowly lower the car to the ground. Slowly. 

8. Tighten the lug nuts, again in a star pattern. You can again use your weight to make sure that they are tight enough.

9. Stow your tools and flat tire, and go straight to a tire shop to get a replacement.

10. If you have a donut, please DO NOT drive on the highway. Donuts typically have a speed limit of 50 mph, and a typical distance of 50 miles. If you drive for a couple of days, you will need a new tire AND a new donut.

My good friend Stan once told me that the two most important things on a car were tires and brakes. And the two most neglected things on a car are tires and brakes. Keep your tires safe, and keep your family safe.

Saturday, February 13, 2016

My Test Scores Don't Define Me

Spring is a time when most educators start to feel a little panic. In the education world, springtime is test-taking time. It's the time when most standardized tests take place. Whether they are state mandated, national, or school specific, tests are a normal part of the education world. And educators are often more nervous during these tests than the students are. Some of that pressure is what we put on ourselves, and often much of the pressure comes from outside.

Beyond nerves, many of us feel angry or disillusioned. We think, "The stakes are too high", "The results are skewed", "Too much class time is taken up", and "The test results don't tell the whole story". Depending on your district or state, the tests may be more or less frustrating and flawed. I get that.

I'm going to let you in on a little secret that most administrators know: there is no such thing as a perfect test. Even the ones you write yourself aren't perfect. And the standardized tests come with their own set of challenges. When I was a teacher, I quickly realized that our Arizona state-wide test was seriously flawed (it has since been replaced by an even more questionable test). It did not cover material that I felt was relevant to my class, and I found some questions to be confusing or poorly worded. How could I possibly hope for good results based on a flawed test?

But then I decided that even a flawed test could help me be a better teacher. I looked at my results each year and came up with a game plan for how I would improve the next year, even though my scores were initially pretty good. I could improve from pretty good to great, and then great to outstanding. There were setbacks and years when I had difficult students, but what teacher doesn't have those? My goal was not perfection. My goal was improvement.

In the school I now lead, teachers put a lot of pressure on themselves at test time. We are a highly competitive district, and some teachers, comparing their scores to others, end up feeling they don't measure up. After a recent round of testing, one of my teachers said the following. "I allow my scores to inform my instruction in order to improve my teaching - NOT define me." I feel like this sums up the whole point of testing. As educators, we should take the results of testing, diagnose areas for improvement, and look for ways to improve our instruction in order to better educate our students.

However, we often do the exact opposite. We look at our scores and equate that to our value as a teacher. Our students average a 75% on an exam, so I am 75% of a good teacher. Instead of looking at the data and figuring out how we can enhance our instruction, we beat ourselves up when the results are less than what we hope for.

Now, as an administrator, I don't look for perfect results. I look for progress. I look for teachers who take their test results and come up with strategies to gain ground. Not miracles, just successes.

So as we go into the end of the school year, let's make a conscious effort to allow our test data to inform us in how we can improve. Let's look at the results of each test and determine the best way to better reach individual students and classes as a whole. And let's stop placing a self-value on our teaching based on an exam, but rather look at improvements that we can make year after year.