Ding Dong

25 March 2008

The *itch is gone. Well, almost.

I have no doubt that a small cheer went up in Curriculum when the news was announced...and I'm sure that there is joy in Mudville and Who-ville...and all over the district.

Boss Lady 2.0 will be starting a new job on July 1. She's off to a neighbouring district to share her special brand of poor leadership with them.

Join me in a glass of champagne? It's time for this district to get its party on.


Preaching to the Choir

06 December 2007

Some highlights and other points of interest from the first day of the Sound Grading Practices Conference in Portland...

  • Breakfast with The Repairman. Yes, he's just as convivial in person as he is on his blog. I didn't watch him present today (too many good things to choose from on the program...and I knew he'd be preaching to the choir if I were in the audience), but I'm sure that he has even more fans now. There was a lovely contingent of people from his district that let me crash at their table for the keynote. It definitely seems like a district with its collective head on straight.
  • The keynote this morning was delivered by Ken O'Connor, who I've seen/met before. This presentation was on his latest book (Repair Kit: 15 Fixes for Broken Grades). He is the loudest voice in the standards-based wilderness. I certainly agree with the philosophy he promotes---however, two thoughts were provoked in me this morning. One is simply that I wish he would reword his 15 ideas. They are all negatively phrased, e.g. "Don't include student behaviors (effort, participation, adherence to class rules, etc.) in grades; include only achievement." Okay, so the end is a little more upbeat; but, I think people generally respond better to things that aren't worded as a "Thou shalt not..." It makes things seem doable because there is a positive course of action. If we're talking about repairs here, then let's talk about how we fix things. I know it's a matter of semantics---like the difference between telling my kids "Be on time." vs. "Don't be late." It just makes things simpler to directly tell people what you want. My second thought is that teachers would likely benefit from clearer information on what to do, rather than examples of what not to do. I realize that a step-by-step guide wouldn't be appropriate because there is no "one size fits all" in education; however, time is our most precious commodity...and we're asking teachers/schools/districts to take this information and individually translate it. There has to be a better scaffold.
  • After making a comment in one of the sessions, teachers from Texas asked where I was in the room at the end of the presentation so they could find out more about how I track marks and handle report card grades. We had a very fun chat.
  • Listening to a group of teachers from Canada talk about their first reactions to standards-based grading---something which was brand new to them as of this morning. They were...typical...in their comments, but it was good to remember how change has to happen. I was asked by them why my district didn't send more people. (For the record, they didn't send me---I'm paying for all of this out of pocket and using personal leave.) I mentioned that Boss Lady 2.0 is the only one here. I didn't mention that she is likely the least useful representative. Before I even got here I had heard some general murmuring that she was not the desired choice of someone to send. I didn't have a good answer for the question at the table. "Money," I said. "Poor choice in priorities" is what the real answer is.
  • Some of my district's materials are being used at the conference. At one session, people at the table noticed that I was from the same place as the source of the handouts and asked me why we only have standards-based grading and reporting for elementary. "Because The Union leadership doesn't feel like supporting it." When I mentioned that the prez and the Little Dictator don't even work in the classroom---and haven't for years (but don't tell the Little Dictator that she's not a teacher or she'll cry...again)---the consensus at the table is that The Union must be totally out of it. Several people there were very happy that they don't have to deal with union weirdness in their districts/states. No kidding. It is also worth noting that BL2.0 won't even support conversations about grading for secondary. (Good thing she was here, eh?) I noticed that both the presenter (who was in our district at one point) and her hubby (who was in charge of Curriculum before my original Boss Lady) mention which district in Washington they worked for. They seem to be much happier away from the culture and union games there.
This evening, I am enjoying a quiet time of things. Portland is a beautiful city and having time to walk and explore has been wonderful. It should be another great day at the conference tomorrow.

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And Then There Were None

03 June 2007

By my count, there are 15 teachers in the district assigned (full-time) to Curriculum. At this time, four have already left or are in the process of leaving...and five others have requested a transfer out of the department.

If you're the supe, what does it say to you that within less than a year of new leadership of a department, the majority of the staff in there would prefer to work elsewhere?

Not everyone will get their transfer request fulfilled, to be sure...but there is nothing to stop the two retirements next year or additional requests for reassignment. Is anyone going to notice?

The spaces being created are a bit of a conundrum on my part. Do you encourage certain people who are ready for that kind of teacher leadership role to apply...knowing who they will have to work for (and that the chances of getting back to a classroom if your mind changes are minimal)? I don't know quite how to resolve this. On one hand, we really need high-quality teachers in Curriculum who can make a difference for kids through their support of other teachers. On the other, kids need those teachers in their classrooms.

A principal mentioned this week that she had once been told that if you're going to grow people in your building, you need to be prepared for them to move on. There is truth in that, but I also think it's sad that we can't create the kinds of opportunities for these "growers" to apply their skills in ways which keep them a part of their buildings (and/or districts). The implication there is that people will always need to look elsewhere.

As our district continues to shrink in number, I can't help but wonder what will happen to Curriculum. Good teachers will look for opportunities there...and finding the reality of what lies within, may then need to find another district who will value them. Either that or someone may be able to find us a new chief.

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Reaping What You Sow, Part II

26 May 2007

We in Curriculum made a good effort this spring to get more closely connected with our secondary schools. Our agendas don't mesh well, which is rather silly when we're all after the same thing: improving student achievement. This disconnection has resulted in individual issues (like the one described in Part I) but also serves to create more of an antagonistic atmosphere. So, we surveyed, we looked, we listened, we made overtures, and we responded. Out we went to the secondary schools to share the plans that their principals had helped craft in order to support them. Everything was going swimmingly...until the very last school.

The one principal who had pushed to have an "in-building expert"...the same one who had pushed for a math only focus...let members of his staff slam Boss Lady 2.0's (BL2) presentation. They want an allocation based on FTE. They don't think anyone in the math department will actually do the job. And their principal couldn't be bothered to say that this is what he'd asked for and then agreed to support with the other principals. Only this person could ask for something, get it, and then make Curriculum look bad for giving him what he wanted. More than any other secondary school, this principal is a firm believer that there is nothing that his staff can learn that they don't already know.

Where is the "reap what you sow" in all of this? Ah, I'm saving that for BL2. We specialists in Curriculum have been trying to tell her all year that this school is an issue and that they dump on things whenever possible. But she hasn't wanted to deal with that. As long as things look pretty on the surface, she doesn't pay attention to what's bubbling up underneath. Now there are a lot of different items coming to a head...and it's not going to come out well for her. Meanwhile, a lot of people are in the process of leaving the department within the next year...and precious few others want to come into the environment she's allowed to develop. I have already tried to tell her that she needs to be thinking long range, not minute-by-minute. It's just not her strong suit...and it is going to drive the district into the ground. Unfortunately, we're all going to have to reap the benefits of that.


Falling for Anything

01 May 2007

As you can probably tell, I'm an -ism fan...-isms in the sense of traditional words of wisdom. Colloquialisms. I have long had a love affair with the written word and the different ideas it can convey. I like the hokey nature of -isms, how most of them appear pithy and purile on the surface but have another layer if you're willing to read between the words. -isms tell a story---and who doesn't enjoy that? They are a one-line "in joke."

Some people embody certain -isms for me. Right now Boss Lady 2.0 is of the "If you stand for nothing, you'll fall for anything" variety. It's in the same family as taking a stand, drawing a line in the sand, picking your battles, growing a pair, and I hope they bought you dinner first. You can't be a Director of any department and not be a political animal. The job is an orgy of partners---everybody wants a piece and you have to be particular about how things work. There has to be a bit of give and take all based upon a well-grounded educational philosophy. In short, you need to know what you stand for.

I'm okay with the fact that she can't always take my side. I'm just not okay knowing that she doesn't take anyone's side. She'll fall one way or the other depending on who's in the room and how a particular perspective will make her look. I think kids in this district deserve better than that. They need someone who stands for something and falls for nothing when it comes to their experiences in the classroom. We need a new -ism to lead us.

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Dancing with the Devil

25 April 2007

Someone in the office likes to say that the Devil wears glass beads...not Prada. We've had quite a ride with Boss Lady 2.0 this year. Actually, it's been a bit longer of a relationship than that. She was in charge of herding the secondary principals the past two years---and starting last year, she started to nose in on Curriculum territory. We could tell that our Boss Lady wasn't happy with this, but we were "politically ignorant" about things...and frankly, didn't want to know all of the behind the scenes action. I will say that many of us would have paid good money (and still would) to see a cage match with these two.

I bring this up only because the new Boss Lady and I talked about it a bit on Monday.

BL2.0: With the diminishing resources of the district, it doesn't really make sense for us to be a separate department from Teaching and Learning.

SG: I can see where it is hard to tell where one department could stop and the other begin.

BL2.0: But we operate as silos...very protective of our territory.

SG: Or jealous. It seems to me last year that many of us in this office felt we were being squabbled over in a custody battle. Mommy and Daddy seemed to disagree a lot.

BL2.0: Mommy and Daddy still fight now and then.

SG: No. Mommy left and went to OSPI.

BL2.0: And Daddy got custody. (said gleefully)

Ouch. I knew she was determined last year to steal things away from Curriculum (until it became hers...now she fights to keep what she has), but this was definitely a revelation that she meant full well to play dirty with the former Boss Lady. I admit there were decisions made by her that I wasn't entirely happy with...and yet I can't say that I thought she ever lost sight of trying to do the best possible things for kids. The new one is cold, sneaky, and cunning---a very different sort of animal than I have ever seen in education. I'm not entirely equipped to relate to this. I don't know the steps...but I'd better learn them quickly.

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20 February 2007

Girl, I must warn ya'
I sense something strange in my mind
Yeah yo situation is serious
And it looks like we're running out of time...

If I were you I'd take precaution
Before I start to leave fly girl
You know 'cause in some portions
You'll think she's the best thing in the world...

That girl is poison
Never trust a big butt and smile
That girl is poison poison

I don't know how else to describe my boss at the moment.

She has undermined most of the work that the teachers in Curriculum have tried to do this year. We all have multiple sets of treadmarks on us from being thrown under the bus by her time after time, but today was a completely new twist. Imagine a meeting that has been talked about for weeks...that people spent all holiday weekend planning...only to find out this morning that, oops, she forgot to send out the invitation on Outlook and so none of the principals put it on their calendars. We had foolishly thought that this time, our plans were Boss Lady proof.

I have more to think about, but for now I'm rather speechless. All I can think about is the poison that will be sitting down the hall from me in the morning.

Update: It turns out that she didn't "forget" to put the meeting on her calendar. Her daughter is visiting, and after not being at work in the morning, she brought the girl with her to parade her through the offices. Not cool.

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22 January 2007

The word of the moment in the office appears to be "transparency." In this case, the term is meant to imply that there are no cigar-filled back rooms making decisions or that information will be otherwise hidden from the masses. The idea is that we all have equal access and input; but, let's face it: there is no such animal. Someone always has an agenda that they're not quite willing to make public. The whole notion of a power structure is such that one person has much more information than the others. A school district is not "flat."

I've worked in the south. I've been the underling in a good ol' boy network. There are some undesirable features of that system, but on the upside, you always know where you stand and there is a party who is responsible for making decisions. The buck does have a place to stop. What I don't like is being in a situation which claims it's more egalitarian...but isn't. Don't say that you're transparent and then surprise everyone in a meeting with a pre-determined decision.

The original Boss Lady had a great tactic. She, too, was not always transparent, but she had such a knack for asking questions and prompting thinking that led people to an idea (which happened to be the same as theirs). It made people feel like they had ownership in things, even though they were doing what the Boss Lady had originally intended. She coached people through issues.

The transparency trend is already wearing a bit thin. It looks like "capacity" is the up and coming buzz word for the coming year. Maybe I'll try it on for size. :)

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Let Me Hear Your Body Talk

19 January 2007

At some point during a meeting, I like to sit back and watch the action. I pretend I'm a fly on the wall...not part of nor directly involved with what's happening...and just people watch for a few minutes. This is sometimes more difficult to do if I'm leading a meeting as it requires more intuitive and ongoing assessment of things; but as a participant, it's a good mental activity. My goal is really to become more self aware. What are unspoken messages I might be sending through my posture or where I focus my eyes?

I sometimes share my observations with people after the meeting. Not that long ago, I noticed that two of my colleagues (who happened to be sitting side by side) would sit back and cross their arms over their chests each time a particular group member spoke up. Did that person catch on, too---was she conscious of what the unconscious signals were saying to her? I told my two colleagues because I knew that they would laugh at themselves and wouldn't be offended...and also because I know that they don't mean to be ugly, even if they are frustrated with another team member.

Boss Lady 2.0 has a body language all her own, but I am constantly surprised that one of the specialists in our midst is so clueless about picking up on it. Each time this specialist speaks, Boss Lady checks her cell phone, rifles through papers, or gets up. It is very clear to me (and others) that Boss Lady doesn't particularly like or respect this person---but there is no one in the office who sings higher praises of the Boss Lady than this specialist. It is likely a kindness that she is so oblivious. The eye rolls, the shifting in the seat, the side conversations, and other signals Boss Lady 2.0 sends out to us tell such a story. It is part of what is so hard about working for her, but also explains why she so readily throws us under the bus if it will help her look good. She has made up her mind about things and is just waiting around for others to catch on...and heaven help you should you not agree/like the track she's on.

Body language isn't something that anyone can be cognizant of all of the time. I know that there are things I communicate without wanting to, but I am working on being more self-aware. These exercises at meetings help me reflect on my own posture, gestures, and connection with people. I want what I say to be congruent with the unspoken messages of my body talk.

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Court of Intrigue

24 November 2006

Now that it's Thankgiving Break, I've been trying to catch up on my reading. My book club picks three at a time and then we meet over the next three months to talk about things. The book for November is The Other Boleyn Girl by Phillipa Gregory. Historical fiction is really not my first choice when I'm reaching for something fun to read, but the author did a decent job with the characters. There couldn't be much in the way of suspense. It's like Titanic. You know how it's all going to end before you even start reading.

The interesting part of the process of reading the book was how much the court of Henry the Eighth reminded me of working in Curriculum. Okay, so Boss Lady 2.0 does not physically resemble that monarch, but we specialists are courtiers in one way or another. The elementary literacy person, with her ladies in waiting (a/k/a instructional coaches), is pretty darned close to Catherine of Aragon. She might have been the first to gain the king's favor, but his eye is wandering elsewhere. He is looking to the Pope (a/k/a superintendent) to find a way to divorce her somewhat gracefully.

We may not be living and working in an early 16th century English court, but all of the intrigue is still the same. Who will curry the king's favor next? Who can capture his attention...and who will lose her head in the budgetary beheadings this spring?

Boss Lady 2.0 has been out among the people...traveling from building to building getting some input about the state of the monarchy. Some bow deeply while others have clumps of manure in their hands, ready to throw at her. On the surface of things, she seems a popular choice: a person who can solve problems with a magical phone call. But this cavalier approach (as another courtier described it) only serves to backfire on those of us who have a more global view of things. There is never any pause for reflection or weighing of evidence. It is no danger to her---no one would dare to displeasure the king---only to we courtiers, striving to make get our families (subject areas) into better favor.

Somehow, I doubt that the next pick for our Book Club, Funny in Farsi, will have anywhere near the parallels with life in the Court of Curriculum. It's nice when books take you to a different place rather than striking so close to home.

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The Bottom Line

17 November 2006

One always expects a few changes when you're working for a new admin. Every boss is a little different in terms of his or her expectations and management style. Up until now, though, they have all had some things in common. The new Boss Lady, however, has been a bit of a puzzlement. And now that I'm starting to get things figured out, I'm not so sure I like what I see.

The previous Boss Lady had her quirks, but you could count on two things. First, she was always there to back you up when it counted. It didn't mean that the two of might not disagree in private, but she was always your champion in public. There was a sense of trust and safety...a feeling of mentorship. Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, you knew that her bottom line was "Is it good for kids?" That was the ultimate filter. Yes, you needed input from stakeholders. People who would be impacted deserved a voice in process. But at the end of the day, if something was a good thing for kids, then she was willing to take a few hits from unhappy adults.

The bottom line with the Boss Lady 2.0 is very different. Her filter is "Will this make me look good?" This is a little frightening in some ways. It means that all of us in Curriculum will be left hung out to dry. She might understand the issues and agree with the problems in private, but she is not going to publicly support you. It also means that our roles become something akin to popularity contests with the boss. In order to get ahead, you're going to have to make someone else look really bad. You'll have to shine...but not moreso than her. You'll need a posse at meetings in order to pushover another group, because there's no way the Boss Lady is going to mediate. She'll just smile upon the winner while jackals have at the loser.

There are already several examples of this afoot, but it's taken awhile to figure out just what the motivation is. The question then becomes "Do I (and do others in Curriculum) really want to work in that environment?" I have to think hard about my own bottom line.


New Sheriff in Town

20 October 2006

Boss Lady 2.0 has been in the office four months, but I haven't had a lot of contact with her until this week. I know it sounds odd---but her job is quite broad and mine has been more than I can juggle. There just haven't been a lot of points for intersection. In the last two days, however, I've been in 6 hours of meetings with her and I'm starting to get a better feel for how she is going to do business.

My first Boss Lady was more of a nurturing type...matronly in the sense of being a sort of den mother to us. She was very protective of the teachers in her charge. Her communication style was more subversive---she preferred to lead discussions in such a way that you came to the conclusion that she wanted so that it felt like your idea. She was not always an out front sort of leader---not that she stayed away from any challenge, but rather that she seemed more interested in coaching some leadership skills from the rest of us.

The new style of leadership in the department is definitely one where Boss Lady 2.0 isn't afraid to be blunt in voicing her ideas and having a strong hand in guiding conversations. She is interested in equity of resources (Huzzah!) and talking about the elephants which have been in the room for some time now. Her thought processes and goals are transparent. While this is definitely a big change in how our department operates, it's not all bad---and it certainly isn't being received favourably by all. Change is difficult.

The next few weeks should reveal a bit more about how things may move from now on. Right now, it looks like the new sheriff is ready to get her guns blazing and clear a path for us.


Jesus Is Coming...Look Busy

06 October 2006

Did you ever have a "Come to Jesus" meeting? These don't take place in a revival tent and they aren't run by fundies . They are when the boss is ready to straighten out a few crooked paths. The idiom refers to the epiphany the others should have (if they know what's good for them) while the boss redirects things.

I feel one of these meetings coming on in my office. One specialist has pushed things too far with everyone: teachers, principals, and definitely the rest of us in Curriculum. Not only is she getting major pushback from all of these parties, but Boss Lady 2.0 has a more balanced and practical outlook about things. What happens in the classroom---especially at the elementary level---should be about more than improving writing instruction.

Schools, departments, and districts are like families. Dysfunctional ones, perhaps, but still everyone has a role. There are golden children and black sheep, parents ready to take you to the woodshed, and nurturing ones who wish to spoil you. There is a lot of harumphing that things "aren't fair." Maybe life isn't meant to be, but schools are currently charged with establishing equity.

It isn't fair or equitable that six writing coaches received $30K of conference monies and $12K of professional books over the summer while the rest of Curriculum (math, science, reading) received about $5K total...and are not allowed to make any book purchases this year. While the majority of kids are not able to meet the standards in math and science while 90% do in reading and 86% do in writing, the writing program gets coaches, 6 subs a day (for 159 days)---math and science get no coaches and 6 subs a day for a combined total of 21 days (which we fought bitterly to get). It's not fair that there are seven people whose jobs are completely devoted to k-6 writing...and a single .8 person allotted for all of k-12 science.

I don't have any illusions about the upcoming shakeup. I know that I will be asked to give and make adjustments, too. It's only fair that we all do what we can to support teachers and kids...but I have to say that the rest of us in Curriculum are already shouting "Hallelujah!" at the idea of this meeting. It's about time everyone came to Jesus.

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Boss Lady 2.0

12 July 2006

In all of the hullabaloo regarding getting the Summer Seminars up and running, I've neglected to share much about Boss Lady 2.0. The first one got a job at the state head shed mid-June and departed about 6 days later. "2.0" was serving another role in the district and was appointed to be the Big Cheese of Curriculum.

It doesn't appear the Boss Lady 2.0 is going to represent something terribly different for our department. She has been jealous of the resources this department has and now that she has them, I think she'll manage them well. Some of these resources are people, to be sure, but she isn't interested in micro-management any more than the previous jefe. Meanwhile, any projects that were lined up for next year are still lined up. She isn't going to alter any plans that have already been set into action. This is a real relief.

There will be a few changes. We are actually going to have department meetings, something each of us asked for in our individual meetings with her. Communications might actually be improved. Boss Lady 2.0 isn't wrapped around the finger of our literacy specialist---so all of the coaches and subs that are currently apportioned for writing will likely be reassigned after this year. Everyone in the office (except for the literacy specialist) is happy about this.

Welcome to the new Overlady. The Queen is dead...long live the Queen. Or, whatever's appropriate to greeting the new boss. Long may she reign. (And I hope I don't have to eat these words.)


We're Safe

16 June 2006

By yesterday evening, I had figured out who the new Boss Lady would be. There was only one logical choice...and the fact that my current Boss cc'ed me on two e-mails to the new One pretty much made things clear.

Those of us who work in Curriculum could do far worse than who has been assigned to ride herd on us. She gets rave reviews from the secondary principals (over whom she currently supervises) and seems capable and friendly enough. The principals were worried about who would be their boss now, and although we've all heard the answer to that question, I haven't seen any admins to get their reaction. My guess is that they won't be jumping for joy, but will also be relieved that it's someone they know and have worked with in the past.

My goal this weekend is to write up something about what my job is and describe the various irons I have in the fire. Considering the scope of the job she's been assigned to, there's going to be an intense learning curve and I think I would do well to help her know how to help me.

There will be one person in our office who is going to be very unhappy with this new change, as our current Boss Lady has given her quite the gravy train. I don't think our new supervisor will change anything that has already been set in motion for next year, but I think that math, science, and secondary ed are going to get a lot more (and balanced) attention in very short order.

So, welcome to Boss Lady 2.0.


You Dropped a Bomb on Me

15 June 2006

The last two days have been amazing...much more than I can capture here at the moment.

Yesterday, the Boss Lady announced in front of the Union and everybody that we would have a different science kit curriculum for elementary next year. And while I'm thrilled that the recommendations will move forward, it was also a little weird to have her say all that when she and I hadn't ever gotten to talk about it. But, okay.

And today? Today the Boss Lady told us that she'd resigned...and that tomorrow, the Supe is going to appoint someone to her position.

If I thought the last 24 hours were interesting, my guess is that the next 24 will be even moreso.


Other Duties, As Assigned

20 May 2006

Ah...the phrase most educators dread: "...other duties, as assigned." It's kind of the escape clause in the contract for the employer, although it certainly doesn't give them free rein on your role.

It is Saturday, but the Boss Lady is at work and her e-mails have me scratching my head a bit. Will I be doing the mentor program...or not? Will I be running the science kit center? And apparently I'm being moved to another part of the building...instead of up to the center. It's all sounding a bit odd. That coupled with the other various bombshells dropped yesterday should make for an interesting week of gossip while the Boss Lady is on holiday next week.

Considering that I don't have an official job description now, "other duties, as assigned" is looking like it's going to be my main thing next year.

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Advice from the Boss Lady

14 May 2006

I talked with the Boss Lady on Friday about my continuing struggle to help teachers focus on student learning. Right or wrong, I think this is the most essential component to making change happen in the classroom for all students. I don't really care if teachers ascribe to a constructivist model or adopt an inquiry stance or consistently use brain-based strategies. There are lots of things out there that can help students learn and I know that teachers need to find models that work best for both their students and them. The problem right now is that most of the teachers I work with---especially at the secondary level---are only considering what model supports teaching alone.

The Boss Lady suggested that I put the issue back to teachers in the form of "What would you like me to look for when I visit your classroom?" Keep in mind that this is not meant as an evaluative situation, but rather as a way of coaching instruction. Will teachers say the "right" answers but not internalize them? In visiting their classes and seeing the disconnect between what they say and what they do, will we then be able to have the kinds of conversations that might lead to change?

Most of what I'm reading these days seems to support the idea that there has to be a change in practice prior to a change in beliefs. Maybe I just need to pick a few instructional strategies and convince them to give them a whirl...have them collect some student work...and then look at it with them. Whatever happens, I need to find some way to move their thinking into the "student learning" realm. I'll give the Boss Lady's advice a try.

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Keeping It Real

20 March 2006

A lot of decisions about science in my district have been made during the last year. We have revisited our scope and sequence, will finish up our materials' adoption process tomorrow, and are in the midst of getting remodeling projects underway at two schools.

It isn't like any of these things have been a secret. You couldn't, even if you wanted to, in this sort of organization. But it only seems that now that people are taking notice.

Tonight, I've been asked to be available at one of two of the junior highs' registration nights. Parents are getting concerned about the impact on student schedules due to the full-year science requirement. So are the teachers of elective courses.

The Boss Lady and I are off to one of the high schools on Wednesday in order to meet with World (i.e. "foreign") Language teachers about the impact to their programs. That won't be a particularly pleasant sort of event, but I'm hoping that we can keep focused on student needs. The Boss Lady is always very eloquent and diplomatic---she's quite good at getting people to see things her way, all the while making them think it was their ideas they're spouting. It's quite the talent she has.

I'm not sure where everyone has been while we've been working through this process. Now that it's all very real to them, they seem to coming out of the woodwork...some armed with torches and pitchforks. Transitions are never as simple as we might like, especially those from the realm of possibility to reality.

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Things That Make You Go "Hmmm..."

09 March 2005

Today, I got to work at my usual bright and early time of 6. I took a few minutes to collect things my sub had left for me yesterday. I then sat down to write the Minutes from yesterday's Scope and Sequence meeting.

Before these meetings began, I met with my Boss at central office. I wanted to know the "boundaries" of our work---what was within our scope as a committee? She also has a much more global perspective on how things work in the district and it is good to have her ideas. At the time, she mentioned to me that I ought to publish the Minutes for all secondary science teachers in the district (not just those participating on the committee) and also the secondary administrators. The idea is to keep as many people as possible "in the loop" as far as what is happening with the process.

I followed her advice. After the first meeting, I typed up the Minutes and sent them to everyone. This morning, I did the same thing, but the reaction was different. I received a note from the Boss Lady: "Your notes are thorough and will help keep all informed of the committee's work. It sounds like you enjoyed a productive day. When possible, I would like to read minutes before they are sent to everyone. This will allow me to seek clarification on areas that may be unclear or to identify any areas where I may want to recommend other considerations."

Does this strike anyone else as a little odd? They're just Minutes---there were no decisions or recommendations made yesterday. Why does she need to proof the record of our meeting? What if, in the future, she doesn't like a topic that came up for discussion. Is it ethical for me just to delete it at her request?

Perhaps I'm reading too much into this. It may be that she just wants to be prepared in case principals or others have questions. Maybe she's just trying to watch my back. But something makes me suspicious. I didn't reply to her e-mail today. I think I'll just stew on it overnight and see if there is a tactful way for me to find out why she has requested future "previews."

Tonight, I have more work to do for Friday's big event at my school. Over 500 people have dropped by today to read about it...and no one's left me any advice. Maybe they know I'm as doomed as this guy does. :) Place your bets, people. Just don't forget to let me in on the pool, too.


Let's Get It On

18 February 2005

Now, before you go cuing Marvin Gaye, I was thinking of "getting it on" as in "fisticuffs," not as in something else I'd rather be doing on a Friday afternoon. Sigh.

Today, I had a brief meeting with our Ass't. Superintendent in charge of Curriculum. She is my "boss" in terms of the district portion of my contract. The topic of the moment: the "e" word. Come closer and I'll whisper it in your ear.


My gosh. Do we teach it? I assumed that she wasn't using the royal we, but rather just a plain old plural pronoun. Do science teachers in this district teach evolution? All of the ones teaching life sciences? Do we have teachers who refuse to teach it? Do we have staff who also bring in elements of Creationism and/or Intelligent Design (which are the same, as far as I'm concerned)? What about origins of life, as opposed to change over time?

I didn't know the answers to all of these questions. It does appear that our junior high teachers are afraid of the topic, although I have helped one school obtain curriculum materials. High school teachers don't shy away from evolution. Yes, I do know one teacher who is adamantly opposed to the theory of evolution...but he doesn't teach biology anymore.

The standards for Washington state are pretty basic in terms of evolution---and there is nothing about the origins of life. And while I know that we are bound to have some objections from members of the public at some point, there really isn't a lot for them to fuss about. I have been tasked with surveying what is happening at various schools and then drafting a statement that all teachers can use if they are prodded about this issue. I think that this is a very wise idea. I'd much rather be proactive...be prepared in case members of the public come with their questions and objections.

The other thing I had to clarify for my boss is what it means for something to be a scientific theory. I have all too often heard people toss off evolution as being "just a theory." You know, so is gravity. And the Earth orbiting the Sun? It's only a theory. Atomic bonding? Same thing. Just a little ole theory about what holds things together. Now, all of these concepts are built upon repeated observations and valid experimentation---some even have mathematical formulas used to describe and support them. In other words, they are based upon facts. A common interpretation of a collection of facts becomes a theory. No one has ever sat at a fixed point out in space to watch and see if the Earth really does orbit the Sun. We're pretty sure that it works this way, but no one has seen it...only evidence for it.

Here are some other facts for you to consider. They are taken from an article entitled "How Well Do Biology Teachers Understand the Legal Issues Associated with the Teaching of Evolution?" by Randy Moore. It is from the September 2004 issue of Bioscience.
  • Teachers are not required or permitted to give equal time to creationism if they teach evolution.
  • They do not have to modify their teaching of evolution to appease students who claim that evolution offends and is incompatible with their religious views. In other words, if a kid refuses to participate in an assignment for such a unit, then s/he doesn't get a grade.
  • The government can use tax money to promote the teaching of evolution but cannot use tax money to promote creationism, creationism-based books, or creationism-based exhibits.
  • The First Amendment does not entitle a science teacher to teach creationism.
  • A school can force a teacher to teach evolution and to stop teaching creationism.

The other thing that has to be considered in all of this is that it is not the school board, the Curriculum office/director for the district, and not even the teacher who determines the "what" that occurs within a classroom. The state has set the curriculum. In our state, it includes evolution.

Should be interesting to see what happens, don't you think?

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