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Sunday, May 14, 2017

We Won State!


Best in State and Best in Region is what five of our OCA students received in the Verizon Wireless Application Challenge.

Screen Shot 2017-05-02 at 2.26.36 PM.pngThe app challenge, part of Verizon Innovative Learning, is a nationwide contest in which high school students are challenged to develop concepts for mobile apps that solve a problem in their community.  It’s a unique, hands-on activity that teaches collaboration, critical thinking, problem solving, and entrepreneurship, as well as STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) skills and coding.  It builds on students’ excitement about technology and aims to equip them with skills they need to succeed in the jobs of the future.  The team that wins a National Championship gets the opportunity to work with MIT on developing the app.

Our students developed a concept for an app called, HandycAPP. In summary, their concept allows for a person to pull up an app on a mobile device from anywhere in the world and be able to see all of the ADA accomodations in that area.  For example, if someone was in a building they could pull up the app and find ramps, elevators, restrooms, and other ADA requirements.   

I am proud of our students, not because we won a championship, but because they utilized each of our 21st Century Kingdom Skills in the process.  These are six-skills that OCA desires to foster in each of our students.  Winning these awards are great, but as we talk about time and time again we are here for something bigger, deeper, and more fulfilling.  In this instance their success was a by-product of how they utilized and mastered each of these skills.

We asked these State and Regional Champions how they saw themselves using each of these skills, and here are some of their thoughts:

Information Technology, and Media Literacy: 1 Timothy 4: 11-14
“While competing in the Verizon App Challenge, it was up to all of us to find information on the things to be included in the HandycAPP, such as learning about people with physical disabilities everyday lives, how the HandycAPP would help them, the kind of technology the HandycAPP would use to achieve our goal, and so much more.  After the app challenge, we have since started learning how to program using HTML, Binary, Java Script, etc. to better ourselves for next year’s competition.  As a person of youth, I take the Bible verse, 1 Timothy 4: 11-14, to heart to succeed in my life whether it’s the Verizon App Challenge, sports, school, church, or work.” - Hunter

Critical Thinking & Problem Solving: Colossians 2:8
“One of the biggest problems we faced in the Verizon App Challenge was first figuring out what app we should create.  After many failed ideas, and with the help of Coach Corley, we decided to create the HandycAPP to help people with disabilities.  We came up with this idea because of Matthew 25:40 “ The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.” - Brooks

Faithfulness: Joshua 24:14
Doing this project made us all have faith in God that he would bring us as far as we could go so we could help everyone that needed it.” - Landon

Collaboration: Ephesians 4:2
All of us had to stop, collaborate, and listen to each other’s opinions in order to effectively create useful ideas to put into the HandycAPP. - Sam

Responsibility: Galatians 6:5
“I've shown responsibility during this contest by finishing what jobs I had been assigned proficiently and on time.” - Joseph

Self Motivation: Hebrews 12:1
“During the Verizon App Challenge, we were all motivated by the lack of software for helping people with disabilities.  We felt it was up to us to help these people be independent.” -Joseph

We are certainly proud of the honor our students have received on behalf of our school, and the accomplishment is certainly one that brings pride to us as educators.  But it’s important that we recognize our students in a way that celebrates their character rather than just their achievement. Our students and your children may not always win the championship, but they can always honor God with their actions, and that's what ALWAYS matters.

We work hard to educate our students in every way, but nothing will take them further than a heart molded by our Heavenly Father.

Thank you Hunter Engle, Sam Nash, Landon Wilson, Brooks Reynolds, Joseph Pitzer, and Eli Patton for representing our school, your families, and our God well.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Kindness Assessment for Parents

Do you value kindness and compassion in your children?  Do you hope your children will be kind to their peers?  We all want this for our kids, but it’s worth looking deeper into the why.

In education we commonly use terms like hard skills and soft skills.  If you have followed my blog you’ve seen me use this terminology before.  Hard skills are things that produce a visible result. Soft skills usually involve characteristics that are formed within us and are more difficult to see, teach, and assess.  This conversation has been going on among educators for a while because schools tend to be really good and focused on the hard skills while we are less effective in teaching the soft skills.

Why does this matter?
I wonder if this same struggle plays out in parenting.  Are we as parents really good at focusing on hard skills and less intentional when it comes to the soft skills.  Here.  Give these questions some self-reflection.

  1. Do I intentionally praise my child for being kind and compassionate?
  2. Do I directly talk to my child about kindness and compassion and what these traits look like?
  3. Go check your Facebook feed.  When is the last time you praised your child on a social media platform for a soft skill like kindness and/or compassion?
  4. Do you find in your Facebook feed a significant amount of praise for hard skills? ie: sports, academics, etc.
  5. When you have the opportunity to publicly praise your child, do you focus on hard or soft skills?

In my experience we spend a lot of time praising our kids for sports and events they participate in and a lot less time praising them for character traits like kindness and compassion.  We tend to praise scoring points over helping an opponent up on the court after they had fallen. If we are not careful we will raise up some very talented kids who are lacking some very important character traits.  Not because we wanted to, but because we didn’t even realize what we were doing.

Recently an old blog post has resurfaced on Facebook called, The Day I Decided My Daughter Will Not Choose Her Own Friends by Leslie Blanchard.  She has some great advice for all of us as parents,

“We would serve our children well, in my opinion, if we had a frank conversation with them about what motivates human beings to accept and reject others.” Leslie goes on to say, “It’s simply not enough to instruct your children to “Be Nice!” You’ve got to be more specific than that.  Kids think if they aren’t being outright unkind, they are being nice.  We know better.  Connect the ugly dots.  Explain the social survival instinct that’s often motivating and guiding their impulses.  I promise you, they can handle it.  They already see it on some level anyway.  They just need YOU to give it a voice and re-direction.”

So, what does this look like?
Here are examples of a few friends who I believe do this well.

Each morning on the way to school my friend, Michael Mitchell, and author of  Life Lessons for Dad: Tea Parties, Tutus and All Things Pink has this conversation with his daughter.  Sometimes it varies a bit, but it's basically the same from day to day.

You are worthy.
You are loved.
You are sanctified.
You are a daughter of the king.
I’m proud of you.
I’m glad you’re in my family.
Do you know who made you?”
And how did He make you?
What does Jesus want you to do today?
Be an ambassador of grace and mercy.
Who are you going to be kind to today?
Someone who needs a friend.
You can always come home. No matter what.

Similarly, one of our amazing pre-school aides has a tradition with her son. Every morning on their way to school, she and her son say a little pep talk to encourage each other about our day. His goes like this:

I am a great kid.
I go to a great school.
I will listen and obey the first time asked.
I will be kind.
I will love others the way they are.
I am smart, funny and sweet.
I am special because God made me.
Today will be a great day!

They have been saying it since the first day of school. He now has it memorized and likes to yell the last line!

Another friend of mine, Stephen Colwell, has a special Saturday morning ritual with his four-year old daughter. They have coffee together.  Stephen drinks real coffee while June gets warm milk with a spritz of coffee for flavor, but the conversation is the important part.  Throughout the week they both gather important topics they want to discuss.  Sometimes it’s “how do you play a trombone?”, and sometimes it’s “why does our friend have cancer?” Last Saturday they discussed how to use your eyes to see how people are feeling instead of what they look like.  It’s a time where her mind is captive and engaged, so Stephen makes the most of it by talking about important things.
These are just a few examples of parents being very intentional with the soft skills.

We are in this together.

As a school we are your partners on this journey! Let’s us help you teach soft skills through Bible, chapel, faith-formative adult relationships/mentors, spiritual enrichment moments/days and events like kindness costs nothing, eagle beat character words, off-site retreats, and so much more.
Let’s be partners on this journey of raising children to be kind and compassionate.  I will end with the parting words of Leslie Blanchard,

“Parents—your kids are going to eventually develop the good sense to wear a jacket and eat vegetables, invest your energy in how they interact within society. If we insist on being the hovering Helicopter Parent Generation, let’s at least hover over the right areas.

Friday, February 10, 2017

Four Things All Boys Need to Learn Early On

What do you want your kids to be when they are 30 years old?  More importantly, WHO do you want your kids to be when they are 30?

This was the question Dr. Knowles asked last week during the first session of our third-annual OCA Family Institute.  (You should have seen various emails from Dr. Knowles inviting you to participate in this 5-week parenting series hosted on Wednesday evenings.)  This is the question that she asked us to ponder.

Have you ever thought about it?

I wrote down four attributes that I want to see in my son.  I stole these from a book called Raising a Modern Day Knight by Robert Lewis, but they are attributes that I think every parent should be intentionally instilling in their sons.

  1. I want my son to Lead Courageously.
  2. I want my son to learn to Accept Responsibility.
  3. I want my son to Reject Passivity.
  4. I want my son to Expect a Greater Reward.

These four attributes may seem simple to some or bizarre to others, but I think they represent the characteristics of a godly man.  

In September I took a group of OCA dad’s to Wheeler Peak in New Mexico and we summited two of the tallest mountains in New Mexico.  On this trip I created cards for each dad with these attributes on them and handed them out one evening on the mountain.  We discussed the value of each of these items and the challenges we face on a daily basis trying to impart these qualities.  (If you want to go on a similar trip next year let me know. I plan on this being an annual trip, September 1-4.)

Since our trip, two of the fathers have taken their children on a summit of their own.  One of the dad’s took his kids to a different mountain range in New Mexico and they went on a treasure hunt.  There's an old legend of a plane crash on one of the New Mexico mountain ranges.  They went with maps, treasure hunting tools, and clues to find the hidden treasure!  I thought it was a great and creative way to take his elementary children on a trip they will always remember.  The kids thought the trip was about a hidden treasure, but this dad had far greater intentions for the trip.

Screen Shot 2017-02-03 at 1.15.31 PM.png

Surprising, I know, they did not find the treasure.  But dad had something else in store.  He brought his kids together and said, “I know you’re disappointed that we didn’t find the treasure, but I want you to know that we don’t need that treasure.  Yes, it would have been cool to find it and fun to have, but we really don’t need it.  There is a treasure that we do need though, and I brought it for you.  The treasure that we need is found in God’s word and I want you to have this.”  At this point he handed them each their first “big kid” leather-bound bible.  “This is the most important treasure you will ever have.”

Wow!  What an awesome way to create an experience for his kids that was meaningful and intentionally driven by the qualities he wants to see in his children.  One of the many joys of my job is the opportunity I have to witness firsthand examples of fatherhood like this.

Many of you are beginning to start planning your summer.  I want to encourage you to take time and reflect on how you can be intentional this summer with your family.  What things do you need to begin or continue teaching, and how can you create opportunities to foster these things?

Here are four questions I have created to help me self-reflect on whether or not I’m doing my part instilling those four traits in my son:

  1. Am I setting an example to my son of what a courageous leader looks like?
  2. Am I letting my son fail, and do I view these failures as a necessary part of his development?
  3. Am I guiding him to do hard things?
  4. Am I a godly influence on my son and can he see that I believe in a higher power through my words and actions? Can he see that my trust is not in man but in God?

Parenting can often seem like a very long survival course, just making it through from one day to the next.  But adding this kind of intentionality to your relationship with your child will bring a depth that they will notice, and it will help you recognize just how important your role is.  We’re not just survival guides for life.  We’re here to lead our children through a tough world.  It’s a much less difficult job to do when you’ve chosen specific tools and mapped out your route.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Home Depot Employee of the Year

Did you know the best Home Depot employee in the country lives in Edmond, Oklahoma? More on that in a second...

Our faculty and staff begin every spring semester at OCA with an in-service day.  This provides us a chance to finish up loose ends from the previous semester and creates an opportunity for us to get together and kick-off the new year with excitement and positive motivation.  This year I opened up our inservice by highlighting a recent shopping experience I had at Home Depot.

It was the day before Christmas Eve, the store was packed, and everyone was busy.  Let me be totally honest, I begrudge retail shopping during the Christmas season.  It seems there is a direct correlation between how grouchy a retail employee is and how close it is to Christmas. I’ve shopped at Home Depot a lot over the years and have had many pleasant experiences, but this trip to get paint turned out to be quite special.

My two year old son was with me to pick up our paint.  Taking a two-year old to the store can make for a hazardous shopping experience.  I often end up forgetting something I need because I'm so focused on not losing him or keeping him from breaking something.  As we approached the paint department, it was immediately evident that this day would be different.  

First, the store employee drew a smiley face on a piece of blue painters tape and handed it to my son. He then said, "would you like to see how paint is made?"  Sawyer was immediately engaged, so we walked around to watch.  The employee then said, "Could you be a helper and help me make the paint?" Sawyer responded immediately, "Sure!" From this point forward, Sawyer got to scan the paint code, hit the enter button on the computer to start the mixing, helped hammer down the lid, assisted in walking the paint over to the shaking machine, then pressed the power button, and finalized the project by checking the color.

This entire experience reminded me what it takes to be a great employee within any profession or field. Great employees are selfless and are concerned with creating experiences for the customer. Customers return when they have had an awesome experience.  

FISH, a book written in 2000 by Lundin, Paul, & Christensen, highlights multiple qualities of great employees by taking a look at the world famous Pike Place Fish Market in Seattle.

  1. Employees can CHOOSE their attitudes everyday.  Fortunately, Home Depot has an employee that chose an attitude of kindness and selflessness.
  2. Great employees are looking to MAKE YOUR DAY.  How great would work be if you could go home every day knowing you made someone's day?
  3. Great employees are PRESENT.  They don’t have their cell phone tucked behind the register and they aren’t checking email while talking to you.  They are present in the moment.  Let this be a reminder to all of us.  Put down what you are doing and be present in the moment because people matter more than the task at hand.

So, what kind of employee will you be this year?  This was the central question I proposed to my teachers during in-service when I shared my Home Depot experience, and I believe it’s an important question for each of us to ask ourselves.  Whether you are in retail or not, each of your interactions with another human being is an opportunity to make someone’s day, and we do that by choosing a positive attitude and being present in the moment. These guidelines apply to parents as we serve our children, to teachers as we lead by example for our students, and for anyone else who interacts with people.

Too many people use social media to promote negativity. Share this post and help me spread something positive to start the new year!

Monday, December 12, 2016

Teach Them to Read

One of my nightly dad duties is bath and bedtime.  I enjoy this time.  It allows me to turn the busyness of life off and pay full attention to Sawyer.  Each night before bed we do the same routine of reading stories and singing a song.  

As of late, Sawyer wants to always sing Jesus Loves Me, or as he calls it, Jesus Bible.  The books he has been most interested in for the past couple months are related to the alphabet.  You remember what these books are like, every page has a letter on it and that letter is connected to a word.  “A” is for apple.  It’s pretty amazing to see his knowledge grow in regards to identifying letters and make their corresponding sound.  At some point he will learn to take this basic knowledge and will begin reading these books to me.

Reading is one of the most important, fundamental skills our children learn in their early education.  Once a child learns to read, their capacity for learning is almost limitless.  They can teach themselves almost anything they want to learn.  Because of this, I’m convinced the most important thing we do at Oklahoma Christian Academy is teaching students to read.

Dr. Chris King, president of a Christian school in Texas, is a close friend of mine.  This summer we discussed this topic and the fact that literacy is the beginning of all knowledge.  I will take this a step further and argue that in Christian education we teach our students to read something far greater than words. We teach our students to read culture and faith.  

Being intentional about this is more important now than ever.

Here’s why:

Speed, accumulation, instant gratification, and technology are just a few words that sum up the American culture in which our children are being raised.  None of these things are inherently bad, but we must remember that it’s our job to not let the hearts of our children be taken by the things of this world.

Country music group Lady Antebellum sings a song called Compass (2013) which highlights a interesting perspective of our culture.

“So let your heart sweetheart be your compass when you're lost
And you should follow it wherever it may go.
When it's all said and done you can walk instead of run
'Cause no matter what you'll never be alone”

The most significant deception our culture tells our children is to let their heart be their compass for life.

Whether we want to admit it or not, at a foundational level we are all driven by our emotions, feelings, and desires.  This is why many of us continue to do things we know we shouldn’t do.  I know I should never eat the Chicka Chicka Boom Boom from Chuy’s Tex Mex because I KNOW it is bad for me, but I love it too much!  We all have these things we know we ought not do but we do them anyways. Right? At a basic level this is okay, but if not kept in check it can create devastating consequences.

We know two things: (1) We know our emotions, feelings, and desires play a pivotal role in our actions. (2) We know we live in a culture that encourages our children to be led by their hearts.  So, instead of resisting this let’s use this to our advantage in helping our children read culture and faith.  Let’s provide our children with experiences that continue to mold who they are.

In last month’s blog I wrote about the value of experience creation in the lives of our children.  This is why I wrote that we as parents and educators are in the business of creating memories.  Our experiences form internal desires and creates a piggy bank of memories that we draw upon when making current decisions.  Through the experiences of life we can help form and shape the actions of tomorrow.  Let’s continue to work together to form and shape the hearts of our children into the likeness of Christ.

As educators, parents, grandparents, and friends we can raise children whose hearts do not fall in love with things of our culture, but rather use their hearts to navigate this culture through the lens of their faith. Can I get an AMEN?

I look forward to the day when Sawyer will be able to read a book to me at night, but I long for the day that Sawyer uses his heart as as compass to align his actions with those of Jesus.

Friday, November 11, 2016

The Power of a Memory

What memories do you have from going to school as a child?  I assume most of us have some wonderful memories of school, while at the same time having some negative memories that still linger in our minds.
I vividly remember a time in fifth grade when I did not bring my “current event” assignment to school.  On Friday’s we were to cut out a newspaper story and present it to our class.  I got to class and had that ‘uh oh’ moment...I forgot!  Luckily, my buddy, the over achiever, brought two newspaper articles to school that day.  He was kind enough to share one with me.  It worked perfectly and I got an A on the assignment.  

However, there was an issue.  My mom knew that it was current event day.  She knew I didn’t cut out an article.  So when I got home my mom asked, “So, how did your current event go?”  I didn't think about how "all-knowing" she is, so I responded, “Great, I got a 100!”  In her surprise she said, “How did that happen? I know you didn’t do it.”  I told her that I had used my buddies article and it worked out great.
What came next was the memory-making part of this story that sticks with me as an adult.  She said, “On Monday you will pull Mrs. Smith aside and you will tell her that you did not bring that article on your own, that you did not do your homework, and that you are sorry for deceiving her.”  I spent the rest of that weekend sick to my stomach about the conversation I would have to have with Mrs. Smith.  

Monday rolled around and I asked Mrs. Smith if we could talk in the hallway.  I hysterically cried my way through a pathetic apology, but I did it. I apologized to an adult and acknowledge that I tried to deceive her.  I learned an invaluable lesson that day that has formed a standard in my adult life.
It’s memories like this that can stick with us and may even drive our actions today.  It’s pretty amazing that something that happened so long ago can cultivate current thoughts, beliefs, and values for how we interact in our world.  Memories shape the soundtracks of our lives.
All through the Bible we see examples of the power of nostalgia.  In the Old Testament, Israel's national identity originated in their exodus from Egypt.  This event was so important that God instructed them to annually observe the Passover ceremony because He realized that a time would come when a generation would no longer remember the Exodus without a memory aide.  The Passover ceremony was important because it was a reminder of God's faithfulness.  

Practically, this created a great object lesson for parents to retell the story of God's faithfulness for generations.  Wrapped up in Passover is a memory that has the power to give hope.  What is interesting about nostalgia is that sometimes we are moved by the memories of others.  Our generation never experienced first hand what it must have been like to fight in World War II, and yet, we have a deep appreciation and honor for those that served in that world changing war.

Similarly, God’s people were instructed to raise an ebeneezer, a stone of remembrance, in important locations where God helped His people.  It was simply a physical marker to help them remember the important life-changing events.  Seeing these stones would remind them of God’s faithfulness, and help them make decisions with God’s faithfulness in mind.
I believe as educators, we are in the business of creating memories. In the conscious and unconscious, the intentional and unintentional, we are creating memories in our students that will last a lifetime.  I pray that as we parent and educate, we use every day circumstances to create memories that lead us to God and His Kingdom.