Firefighting

31 January 2009

This was a smashmouth kind of week. Monday through Wednesday consisted of 14-hour workdays (including travel around the state), while Thursday and Friday were full of crises to solve. There have been times with this new job this year that I have been terribly bored. This week was not like that---and for that, I am grateful.

I got to spend one day this week with an amazing group of teachers. I don't think I've met another department (and a large one at that with 15 people) who have the level of trust and collaboration that this group had. These were teachers who truly felt comfortable talking about anything related to professional practice---everything from true confessions, to feelings of despair, to thinking about loud concerning what they do in the classroom and why. What a wonderful experience. The focus of the conversation was on their grading practices. They have been working to implement standards-based grading and were experiencing some growing pains (along with their students). The day's conversation ranged quite a bit, but my hope was that we were being responsive to their needs.

One of the most interesting pieces was in talking about the feedback provided to students. Teachers aren't seeing the kinds of responses that they would like. In other words, the teacher takes time to craft feedback and communicate it...and then the student either never looks at it or does nothing with the information. We talked about the idea of teaching students to use that information---had anyone spent time with the class on this? There is an assumption that kids would just automatically know what to do. I don't think they necessarily do. Many teachers do not give meaningful feedback. Notes to students consist of "Great job!" or "See me." or something else that is non-descriptive. If the students finally encounter something narrative and supportive, that's a whole new ball game. The conversation reminded me of the one about "studying." How many of us have lectured students about the need to study more without actually explaining how to do that?

The remainder of the week was a flurry of meetings, questions about grants, response to legislative action, and Herculean efforts to stop the domino effects set forth by new leadership. Firefighting opportunities arrived in all sorts of shapes and sizes and it will be interesting to see how well I can keep up with the demand.

Next week, I am sneaking off to do some staff development at two schools. I am only "sneaking" in the sense that doing staff development is frowned upon; however, I see the direct support to teachers and schools as the most important thing I can do. Their needs should be placed above anything else we do as an agency. The fires I keep having to stamp out are more about what adults outside of education want as opposed to what the students within our schools need. I may not be able to change that view, but I can quietly travel to where I'm needed and do the very best I can for educators. As long as I take care of business back at the office, no one is likely to complain.

For now, I'm going to take off my asbestos undergarments, lounge on my sofa, and enjoy the sunlight streaming in through the windows. Monday, with all it's smoldering issues, will be here soon enough.

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