Garden Party

29 May 2008

I was pondering the idea of integrity where leadership is concerned. I suppose that at this point in my career, administrators shouldn't hold any surprises for me---and yet I still get an eye-opener now and then.

What I'm coming to realize is that integrity is a matter of perspective. The administrators I respect the most approach integrity as being true to their personal vision and convictions. Whether or not I might agree with those views is a different matter, but I respect that their actions match their words. And at the other end of the spectrum are those who are true to the job. That is to say that they are there to push the papers, play the political game, and pick-up a paycheck at the end of the month. They may talk the talk of school improvement or a focus on kids, but it is not their first love. Somewhere along the way, they've lost enthusiasm and intellectual curiosity. Whatever reasons originally drew them to admin have not been adapted as times have changed. They do the job as it is with no thoughts of what it could be.

Should we, as Ricky Nelson suggested, learn our lesson well? Since we can't please everyone, should we learn to please ourselves? At the garden party of education, does having integrity also mean having a bit of selfishness about one's ideals?

I understand how easy it is to become disillusioned with working in education. If you care, it's hard work to be in a classroom...and even harder to steer a school. What variety of integrity is the right one?

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Stone Supe

07 April 2008

So I was thinking some more about the Rock Star Superintendent idea---and how many of these are coming from fields outside of education. I'm wondering if some sort of career experience within a school system should be a prerequisite for a leadership position. Or, perhaps leadership skills are exclusive of venue?

I realize that it would not be possible to expect any principal or higher up to have held multiple positions within the school system, but I can't think of a single admin who has been a bus driver, lunch lady, security guard, paraeducator, or administrative assistant. Some have coached sports or worked with co-curricular activities and clubs. Most have been classroom teachers. Is it more important for an administrator to know how to work a system...or to have a personal understanding of its constituents? How do we as teachers trust and respect a school or district leader who has no personal knowledge of what the daily work with children is actually like?

Several of the elementary principals in my morning district may give a nod to the supe in public, but otherwise there are consistent---and perhaps quite valid---grumblings about his lack of experience with both teaching and administration. (He's a military "retread," and this is his first job.) None of us are really sure if he has an interest in doing what is best for kids. There is little sense of true leadership---and much more reactionary thinking and doing. So, is he doing a poor job because of he doesn't have a deep understanding of public education...or because he doesn't know how to be a leader? If you can talk the talk, but can't walk the walk, maybe it's a bit of both.


Pale Rider

31 March 2008

  • $275K salary? Check
  • $2M consulting budget? Check
  • Lincoln Town Car with driver? Check
  • Bodyguard? Check

If you have these things, you too, can be the superintendent of Clayton County schools in Georgia.

From the Christian Science Monitor:

Fewer qualified candidates, rising expectations, and a near-impossible job description are creating a new breed of superintendents: Call them central office rock stars. These candidates say that, for the right price, they're willing to do an unpopular job that can take a heavy personal and professional toll to whip underperforming districts into shape.

The trend is exacerbated in struggling minority districts – many in the South – the very ones feeling the greatest pinch from new federal and state accountability laws.

"This group of superstars who are acting as basically consultants and doing all the dirty work, that's becoming more common, unfortunately," says Jim Harvey, a senior fellow at the Center for Reinventing Public Education in Seattle.

Dirty work? Hey, it's not like these people are actually facing the daily rigors of the classroom.

Some aren't concerned because they see hiring such superstars as a stop-gap measure while compensation and skill requirements adjust to new expectations for school leadership.

Others say it is forcing school boards to pay high premiums for short-lived tenures – and gains. "To come in and ask for that kind of money knowing they won't last more than a year and a half, it's nothing but a big scam – almost racketeering," says John Trotter, head of the Metro Association of Classroom Educators, a for-profit Georgia teachers union.

The pipeline is drying up even as the number of US school districts, because of consolidation, has dropped from 35,000 in 1965 to 13,000 today. Some 20 percent of school districts are actively looking for a superintendent, according to the American Association of School Administrators (AASA).

That's because principals and central office staff who would typically fill the superintendent job say accountability standards and politicized school boards mean it's not worth the hassle.

Now, I would agree with that. The superintendency is much more of a political role than an educational leadership role these days. But huge salaries and perks just to be the school board's punch bag?

For school boards, the search for a competent bureaucrat has turned into a quest for a savior. "A lot of districts are looking for a person on a white horse, which is unfortunate because most people don't ride white horses," says former superintendent Paul Houston, director of the AASA in Arlington, Va. "The odds of getting the right fit has gone way down.... Competition is fierce for these people."

In 1990, a typical opening for a superintendent would bring in about 250 applications, says Richard Greene, a former superintendent leading the search in Clayton County. "Today, if you get 30 or 40 it's phenomenal," he says.

As a result, average salaries have increased from about $110,000 10 years ago to more than $200,000 a year today. Total compensation packages for larger districts are in the $325,000 range. Today, big-city superintendents stay an average of 18 months, says Dr. Greene of the search firm Hazard, Young, Attea and Associates in Glenview, Ill. For suburban districts, average tenure hovers around three years, he says.

Superintendents often work 80-hour weeks and routinely have to juggle politics, policy, and management without generating negative headlines. With many capable bureaucrats choosing not to apply, short-term turnaround specialists are finding a niche, experts say.

In other words, if you're willing to be the most hated person in a school district---and go in like a junkyard dog for a year or so to shake things up, there's a lot of money to be had. Anyone out there willing to saddle up?

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It's A Shallow Pool

26 March 2008

The new principal hire was announced today. The district had promised a nationwide search to fill the position. The school is, after all, on Newsweek's Top 500 list. I'm not sure what happened to all of the promises, but the school has ended up with one of the assistants moving into the job. I taught with this man at one time...and I've seen him in (in)action as an admin for the last few years. He's not the sharpest tool in the shed, if you know what I mean. And now, he's going to be in charge. Oy.

A friend in another school called me yesterday to ask how the hiring process would lean. Since the committee was stacked with people who just wanted the status quo, would district admin have enough vision to select someone who would be interested in the 1000 of our kids who are not enrolled in AP? Would they have the courage to select someone who has a strong interest in doing what's best for kids? Would they see all of the changes on the horizon with possible school closures and restructuring...budget cuts and program alterations...redistricting and more...and pick someone to lead the school into a new age and open possibilities for students?

Um, apparently not.

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Getting What Is Deserved

12 March 2008

My morning school is on the hunt for a new principal---and the staff attitude is rather disheartening. They were asked to develop a list of qualities the new admin should have. Instead of considering a vision of the future and what the school could become, the answers were entrenched in the past and present. The number one thing they want is someone who won't change anything about the school. The number two thing is a principal who stays in his/her office and doesn't venture into classrooms. I could list a few others, but they all have the same bent. Hey, they all run perfect and engaging classrooms where all students learn, right? Who needs instructional leadership?

Not a single one of their ideas has anything to do with kids.

I wish that the school district would recognize this and hire based on what's best for all students at the school. At some point, you'd think someone would put the smackdown on the narcissistic scree emitted from the place. For once, shouldn't the kids get what they deserve?

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The Big Cheese

08 October 2007

From what I can tell, most staff members at the school love the principal. The reason why is a complete mystery to me, other than he seems to let them do whatever they want. I've seen him click through only one of the 21 powerpoints shown at staff meetings (so far) and present/facilitate nothing. The Big Cheese is content to sit back and let the ass't admin (a post unto himself) and the interns handle things. There is no clue as to his vision or ability to be an instructional leader. It frightens me to hear teachers at the school say they want to find a principal just like him when this one retires at the end of the year. It reminds me of bad parenting, in a way. What kid doesn't like the cool permissive parent on the block? Maybe the ones who understand what supportive parenting can look like.

Anyway, I'll meet with this person at some point in the near future about my evaluation process for the year. Since the Big Cheese is not very forthcoming about his motives or expectations, I am wondering what to expect this year. He doesn't care that his staff isn't intellectually curious. He doesn't support collaboration or active inquiry about what happens in the classroom. He isn't interested in accountability for supporting the learning of all students. During the first six weeks of school, I have seen him exactly one time...for 2 0r 3 minutes as he wandered through a classroom. Neither he nor the other admins are ever in the hallways or otherwise visible.

As far as I have come in my 16+ years in the classroom, I know that I can always be better and do more for kids. But how will the evaluative process this year help me grow as a professional when there is no modeling by administration, no plan for staff development, and no expectations for engaging in any sort of improvement? Do I dare ask the Big Cheese how he plans to support my goals in implementing best practices in grading and looking for ways to get some interventions going in my classroom for kids who are in danger of not meeting the standards? I have a feeling that his plan will just to be invisible and let me do my thing. Is that really good enough?


Run Away! Run Away!

01 September 2007

I think I frightened a bouncing baby admin this week. Since then, I have had visions of him reacting in a Monty Pythonesque "Run away!" mode.

Out of the umpty dozen PowerPoint presentations tossed our way this week was one that was supposed to be about cyberbullying. The admin started off by talking about how "freaky" MySpace is and how if you've never visited it, you would be shocked at how weird everything is and all of the terrible things found there.

This set my teeth on edge. To be sure, I do not have a MySpace page, but I immediately recalled one of the beginning teachers I mentored last year who did. How would she have felt, sitting there in one of the first faculty meetings of her brand new career, only to be told that what she did in her personal life was "freaky" and see so many nodding heads? I know that there are lots of MySpace pages out there that have posted features that are in no way appropriate for the school setting. But I can also say that I know grandparents who have pages just as a means for keeping up with their children and grandchildren who live far away. How many people sitting in that meeting might be harboring a MySpace or Facebook page, a blog, or maintain some other form of on-line presence?

Then the PowerPoint started---full of the most frightening (and likely overblown, considering this more recent study) statistics about on-line predators and so forth. He clicked through the some of the slides and stopped the presentation about halfway through. There was quite the buzz in the room, but no discussion was allowed. The end result was a group of stunned faculty, the majority of whom are now convinced that the internet is no good whatsoever. And none of it actually had any connection to cyberbullying...which was supposed to be the topic at hand. It really made me sad.

I sent the admin a note later. I rambled about my frustration. I told him that I hoped that as someone just entering that role, he would consider being more forward thinking about the future...and reaching kids where they live (which for most of them includes MySpace). Happy Chyck had a marvelous post not all that long ago about a similar discussion in her school. I think that we can all agree that cyberbullying is a serious issue---and one schools need to effectively deal with. We can also agree that not everything that is available on the internet needs to be seen at school...and that kids should be engaged during class time (and not hanging out on MySpace). But to be blanket in our agreement that social networking is for "freaks" is not okay. We need to be supportive of our students as they learn to navigate the real and virtual worlds---not stick our heads in the sand. We also need to be conscious of one another and what might be included with the cultures we bring to our workplaces---and make everyone welcome. I hate to think about how many teachers are going to want to "Run away!" from the profession when they hear others consider their on-line behaviour to be deviant.

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Making Chicken Salad

09 August 2007

There's an old saying that "You can't make chicken salad out of chicken s--t." I pull out that time honoured chestnut because it was what came to mind after listening to a recent conversation between some admins.

A question was posed to a more experienced admin about why a district's leadership doesn't often take the step of getting rid of an ineffective principal. After all, those in administration don't have protection in the same way teachers might through their unions: contracts are a year-by-year affair. On the surface, it seems simple enough for a district to tell a consistently underperforming principal "buh-bye."

The answer to this question was two-fold. One part was simply avoiding the embarrassment of admitting that the district made a poor hiring decision. (Although another person in the conversation pointed out that with a district's central office administration regularly turning over, there should be less of that sense---after all, they didn't do the hiring.) The main crux of the response, however, is that education is a "helping profession." We are not programmed as educators to view anyone as a lost cause. We are not willing to admit defeat. A person higher up in the administration may well look at a struggling principal in the same way a teacher looks at a struggling student with the knowledge that everyone has value: there has to be something to help the person shine. They think they know the right recipe for making chicken salad.

Long ago and far away on this blog, I wrote that one of the hardest lessons I learned as a new teacher was that I couldn't save all of my students. This didn't mean that every child didn't have worth...or that there wasn't someone out there who would make all of the difference in a particular kid's life...just that I, personally, was not going to be able to be the change in 100% of my students. I continued to try to do just that, because you can't ever predict what it will be that lights a fire in a person, but for the ones I didn't do that for, I always hoped that they found that connection with another teacher or adult.

Is there ever a time, however, that with adults we just agree that no matter what we add, chicken salad just ain't gonna happen? How many cooks does it take to give things a try---is there a limit? How do we way the needs of children against the investment in an experienced administrator? Do we ever give up on a principal?


If You Give a Mouse a Cookie

27 April 2007

You know the story, right? The one where the mouse gets a cookie and then wants a glass of milk...and then more and more? It's a variation on the old adage about looking at the business end of a gift horse.

Our high school principals were quite mouse-like earlier this week. In an effort to build a stronger connection between their schools and Curriculum, we had surveyed their teachers and then spent some time looking at the results with the principals and talking about possible ways to better meet the indicated needs. Principals wanted to focus completely on math needs and helping low-performing students meet the graduation requirements. The outcome of all of these discusions was to convert .6 of our Curriculum staff allocation to provide a .2 math coach for each high school. We shared this plan with the high school principals on Tuesday. We gave them a cookie, and wouldn't you know it, they started whining about needing milk to go with it.

The high school principals don't quite seem to get that for every new piece we support from our resources (such as the coaches), something else has to go away. They can have cake or eat cake...but not both. This really surprised me, but not another specialist who was there. She figured that they would just look at the process as a negotiation. I don't see that they have much to counter with. If they want even more support from us, what are they prepared to do in return?

Frankly, they're screaming for the wrong things. If they really feel the pressure about getting kids diplomas, then they need to start worrying about the math education kids are getting long before 11th grade. Their elementary counter parts are only focusing on writing---and have done away with additional math support (and continue to have no science support). I don't think the high school principals have considered this---that an ounce of prevention would be worth a pound of the cure. Instead, they want a feelgood staff development program which is showing no visible change in the classroom and a teacher with an extra planning period to work with math interventions. I wonder what these three blind mice will ask for next.


Generally Satisfied

12 April 2007

Years ago, when my Sweetie and I were still getting to know one another, I saw an on-line article reporting on sex lives across the globe. The part we joked about was the percentage reflecting the number of people who were "generally satisfied" in this area, as the study made it out to be a wonderful thing. We were left wondering why that would be good enough for anyone. We tried imagining some pillow talk. "How was it for you?" "Oh, you know, I'm generally satisfied." Being generally satisfied seemed like only a slight improvement over "un-," but certainly not as desirable as "very." Shouldn't that be the goal? Since then, we've used the phrase to apply to most anything: meals, movies, museums, and other things which don't start with an "m." I was thinking about this phrase today because when a meeting with admins was finished and the Boss Lady asked how I thought things went, the first thing that came to mind was that I was generally satisfied.

A couple of weeks ago, I talked about romancing the admins (the secondary school ones) in terms of finding a way for Curriculum to be more integrated with their staffs and goals. I have to say that the late March meeting was unsatisfactory in some ways. I don't know that the principals really took us seriously. We asked for some genuine dialogue and tried very hard to engage them, but things didn't gel. In spite of that, we took what little they offered and worked to create some support models to share with them on Thursday afternoon. Surprisingly enough, they started to buy in and give us some good feedback. The junior high admins are more clear about what they want (support in the form of instructional coaches) while high schools are closer to identifying some things. For once, being generally satisfied felt good.

This conversation is a step in the right direction, but we have further to go. Their needs for coaches can only be fulfilled by cutting other positions in order to redirect funds. We (Curriculum) would not only have to work out the financial details, but support with human resources and other take care of other issues. I don't know that we can make it all work for next fall. Perhaps we can start with some schools and find ways to move things along the continuum to everyone being "very satisfied."

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We Never Talk Anymore

29 March 2007

I spent some time the last two days at an assessment conference. I learned some valuable things, but not just from the presenters. Some of the things admins from my district did (or in one case, didn't) say gave me a lot of pause for thought. If anything, it really highlighted for me all of the disconnect in the district.

  • Principals don't seem to think that they have the power or ability to get rid of bad (i.e. ineffectual) teachers. My assumption has always been that they do, but that taking this on is more work than it's worth. It means a ton of documentation, ongoing Union hassles, and as one put it, political suicide. I'm not thinking that swinging the pendulum over to the "hire and fire at will" power for principals, but if admins can't help kids by getting the worst teachers out of the classrooms, who can? One of the admins thought that peer observation protocols would be the avenue for this. I don't see that happening. Teachers are not evaluators of other teachers (at least not publickly). There's no authority there. Meanwhile, why would an admin ask a great teacher to throw herself under the bus when he's already admitted that such things are political suicide?
  • There are too many expectations of admins (including my own). Time is a precious commodity. We in Curriculum would do well to keep the words of Cardinal Thomas Wolsey (1471-1530) more in the forefront of our minds: Be very very careful what you put into that head, because you will never ever get it out. In particular, if we share tools and strategies with admins, we need to remember that at least some of them will latch onto these ideas like lifesavers. Not all of these ideas are good...and not all of the people who convey them understand the power of their role. Ouch.
  • While we understand that in the classroom that only a small fraction of kids are going to get what we're teaching the first or second time around, we don't apply that concept to working with adults. There is an underlying assumption that because an e-mail was sent, a mention of something occurred at a meeting, or information was presented in another format, that everyone retains every morsel of this. Beyond that, there is this indignation (I'm definitely including myself with all of this, by the way) when all of the parties involved don't remember things in an identical manner. An admin was saying today that Curriculum has no idea what his staff needs...we never ask. And yet, we just completed a major survey to find out and have several groups of teachers providing feedback to us on an ongoing basis. Was the survey completely forgotten, I wondered? Or was it that the information was returned in a way that he didn't recognize---perhaps things didn't look like he thought they should?
There are other examples I could give from the last two days, but the heart of the matter is that we're all misunderstood in one way or another. I don't know how to fix it other than many more opportunities to cuss and discuss the issues---which takes a lot of time that no one seems to have. Yet, until we each all have some level of common understanding about what is happening in our schools, no meaningful change is going to occur. It feels overwhelming in the face of the continued expectations placed on schools, but we have to figure out a way to make it happen.

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Romancing the Admins

26 March 2007

One of the problems with working in Curriculum is the view that you're an interloper...a nuisance...within the schools. Some of this is likely a misunderstanding about what it is that we do. We are often told by teachers that they like each of us individually, but as a collective noun, there are few things that bring out the angry-villagers-with-torches-and-pitchforks response than talking about Curriculum. We do make for easy targets. We're visible---out and about in the schools---and are housed at the Head Shed. When teachers want to blame The District, their quivvers are loaded with arrows to launch in Curriculum's direction.

A larger part of our image problem, however, has to do with how we are or are not sponsored by administrators. Sponsorship? It's the idea that an admin should recognize that all of us are after the same thing (doing what's good for kids) and treat support for teachers (in the form of Curriculum) as worthwhile in meeting the goals of School Improvement. A Curriculum Department is just a means to the end. The admin sets the tone in the building. He or she can say a lot about the value of staff development and the expectations for teachers to continually grow in their professional experiences by how Curriculum is integrated with the school. Right now, this district has an ongoing love-hate relationship with the elementary schools and no relationship with the secondary. An early morning meeting tomorrow is meant to be the first step in addressing this.

We have to schmooze them a little...romance them. We need to put in our most demure outfits and bat our eyelashes, perhaps throw in a little bit of playing "hard to get." We need them to realize how much they really need us. Why? Because there's an awful lot of kids who aren't being successful in school. Curriculum doesn't have all the answers, but neither does the school itself. We can be greater than the sum of our parts and do something meaningful for the children who show up each day; but, it takes the right attitude about things. It means that all of us have to be accountable for our actions in this partnership. I'm hoping that what we start tomorrow won't turn out to be a one-night stand.

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Hanging 10 on the Estrogen Tsunami

20 March 2007

The field of education is rife with X chromosomes. My office is no exception. There is one rooster in the henhouse---with three others loosely affiliated with Curriculum, but only present at random moments. Next year, the presence of testosterone will be even more diluted with the two female directors of Teaching and Learning (the principals' overseers) moving into our clutch. The thought of a bevy of Boss Ladies in one office is a bit daunting. A few of us are wondering if there might be some occasions to sell tickets for a cage match next year.

This district is particularly robust in terms of having women on top. Apart from the Supe, the directors are all women. Females run the union and occupy more than half of the school administration positions. Why are we not encouraging more men to take a leadership role? We could use a few more role models who have (more?) hair on their chest than our current regime. As it is now, we'll definitely be riding the estrogen tsunami next year. Surf's up!

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Decoding the Message

27 February 2007

The district I work for is in the midst of some major changes---changes not only for next year, but in succeeding years as we continue to lose at least $2.5M each year due to declining enrollment and other financial support issues. Last week, there was the great principal mambo---lots of dancing around to new buildings as the supe reassigned them to new partners.

Just as not as every teacher is a whizbang in the classroom, neither is every administrator. There were rumors last week that the reorganization was going to be the chance to take care of the downer admins...put them out of everyone's misery. There are two or three principals which are either encountering great struggles at their building due to a toxic environment they've managed to cultivate or just lack all of the skills necessary to be a principal in today's schools. This is not to say that the job is easy---I know that I certainly couldn't do the best at it---but there's too many expectations on kids and teachers these days not to have the best possible leadership.

But the district didn't send any principals out to pasture. Two buildings, however, ended up with principals that they really don't want. They've seen what these principals did at their other buildings...they've talked with their peers who've worked there over the years...they know they're getting the fuzzy end of the lollipop. Is there more to this message, I wonder? If "the district" is unwilling to end a relationship with a poor building leader (and one without a union behind it making it a simple matter to terminate a contract), what does that tell our teachers about their own jobs? Does it mean that no matter how terribly you do your job, no one is going to touch you? Does it give an excuse for teachers not to engage in reform initiatives---initiatives students are held accountable for even if teachers are not---because they know they'll be able to keep their job for as long as they want it? I can't quite decipher this most recent message from the district...but the silent unspoken nature of it is almost deafening.



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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The Fly on the Wall

08 February 2007

I get to be a fly on the wall at a very important meeting this afternoon. There are two significant items up for discussion and recommendation by the elementary principals and it will be good for me to be able to sit in. Previous practice has been that only literacy coaches were invited to these meetings, meaning that science and math never had a voice at the elementary table. At a time where science scores lag behind writing by as much as 40 points in some schools, it has been frustrating for me to see principal support thrown fully behind writing instruction.

Now that the district has significant budget shortfalls, we need to look at how we use the resources we have in a different way. This includes the coaching model. It's a great idea, but its current incarnation is burning out staff and is too narrow in its goals. Today is the chance to get principals to really look at their data, think about the results of the staff development survey last month on which science was identified by elementary teachers as their number one priority, and perhaps suggest some changes.

If that isn't enough of a shift for them to consider, the "new" standards-based progress report will also be on the table. Four elementaries have been piloting and using the revised format for either one or two years. The question is whether or not we should push this out to all elementaries next year (in the face of other changes happening in the district)...or if we should just try to expand the pilot a little. Boss Lady 2.0 seems to think that they will recommend going for it. Doing so will definitely create a bit of panic on our (Curriculum's) end of things this year. I don't know that we have the ability to get the support needed in place by August.

I don't know how much participation with these discussions that I'll be allowed to have today, but at this point, I'm just glad to be allowed in the room...even if I'm the lone voice in the wilderness for science education for our kiddos.


If You've Got It, Flaunt It

04 February 2007

A friend in Curriculum is on her journey to the true Dark Side: administration. She's getting ready to do her internship next year and then will seek out a permanent position as a principal. I have a strong sense that she will be a great admin...just as I have seen interns over the years who I knew didn't have a chance. I simply couldn't imagine that anyone in their right mind would hire them. This doesn't mean that they are bad teachers. I didn't think they had the right stuff to lead a school.

This brings up a question: What exactly is the "right stuff"? The "it" you can detect in those who seem so obviously suited to life in the classroom or life in the front office?

Jenny D. has been having some interesting posts and comments about expertise in the classroom. All of it makes me wonder if you bring out those qualities in teachers, once they have entered the classroom. Is the "magic" something you just either have or don't have? Something that can't be taught? On one level, I can easily reject this. I don't see teaching (or any other profession) as a "calling." What would be the point of education then, if every kid is just waiting for their special moment to tell them what to do with their lives? Why do so many people change careers during a lifetime? We can't say that there is some mystery about the paths we make and take. But on the other hand, I have known some teachers who truly have a gift for what they do...and I don't think it was something they were taught. They appear to have some instinct for teaching. They've got "it," and penicillin ain't gonna take it away.

I have been asking myself how I know that my friend will make a great principal. It's more than her high boiling point (she rarely gets flustered) and genuine love of being around kids. She has a lot of patience with bad situations and often knows the right things to say to diffuse tension and build some common ground. She knows the ins and outs of district diplomacy and can navigate the politics. She knows which battles to pick and the strategies to win them. There is a passion and drive within her to do what's best for kids. She understands teachers and good teaching. I don't know if there's anything that I've listed there which couldn't be developed in anyone, so maybe it's all about the balance of those things. I asked her this week if they were people in her cohort of wannabes that she thought weren't going to make it. She thought she could tell that a couple didn't have "it." But for those that do, I hope that they flaunt it...whatever it is.

P.S. Go and welcome Will Work for Chocolate, one of the few admin blogs out there.


He's a Brick...Wall (with apologies to The Commodores)

12 January 2007

One of the good things that's being attempted this year is that Curriculum and principals are spending more time together. It seems so odd to me that each principal helps to set his or her school's improvement plan for the year and that those goals are often separated from district initiatives. It makes more sense to me for schools to chart their course and include staff development as a piece---which is where my homies fit into the picture. There will always be some district-wide goals, of course, but like toddlers engaging in parallel play, we are often on separate paths. January 25 will be our next chance to try to merge.

Mighty White Boy is in charge of pulling together some plans, although all of us will be contributing members. He's all hot and bothered to do something about differentiation. This is because it was strongly identified on our recent survey as a need by teachers for their own learning. The way Curriculum responds to this will need to be in partnership with principals, and we do need to talk about things with them...but the audience is really teachers.

Another specialist and I tried to talk with MWB about this point. Shouldn't time on the 25th be provided for principals to look at building responses to surveys? Don't we need their input on our delivery model...before we talk about what we're going to do? We won't know until February how many staff members we'll have---and it will be even later in the school year before we know where teachers are moving and how many classrooms we'll have to serve. It doesn't seem like this is really the right moment to get concrete about differentiation. We were also concerned that doing this would result in a training that was more "sit and get," which also feels like the wrong road to be travelling.

The man was a complete brick wall. We were unable to sway him, but we at least got him to consider delaying intense discussion about differentiation until the following meeting in April. It was so odd to have this conversation and walk out feeling like you had been in a room where no actual dialogue had taken place. I kept wanting to ask, "Can you hear me now?"

I've been told that MWB is using the position this year as a springboard to getting an administrative position somewhere. I already feel sorry for teachers that will have to beat their heads against this particular brick wall.


Damned If You Do...Damned If You Don't

28 November 2006

We don't get a lot of snow or ice out in this part of the world. Rain? Certainly. But temperatures tend to stay, well, temperate for most of the year. But Sunday brought us a bit of snow. Clear skies yesterday followed by more snow and unseasonably cold temperatures brought us a lot of ice on the roads.

School was cancelled yesterday, but the supe opted for the late start option this morning. There were lots of angry phone calls from parents today. Didn't he see the news claiming that if you didn't need to drive, you shouldn't? (True, but that was for Seattle metro...which we arent'.) Our district does cover a lot of geographical territory, so some places can have clean and dry roads while others are dealing with several inches of snow. It doesn't always make sense to parents as to why schools are closed or aren't closed, depending upon where a family lives.

We're scheduled for more ugly weather today and tomorrow. I'm hoping for some patience on the part of families. It's one of those things where whether or not we have school, somebody will call and let us know our mistake.



05 November 2006

I don't know about you, but I'm ready for the election to happen and all of the political ads and signs to go away. There is enough diplomacy year-long in my job.

A friend asked me on Friday if I'd consider a job in administration. "You could make such a difference there." The bottom line is that I just don't have the stomach for all of the politics involved with that role as it is today. Being a principal is not focused on teachers and kids as it needs to be. It would be all too easy to blame the administrators themselves for that, but I don't think it's quite that simple. Schools aren't autonomous units anymore. A principal isn't in charge of hiring and setting the agenda. Instead, s/he is charged with various federal, state, and district mandates to meet. Various parent and community groups require participation. Is there time to be an instructional leader? I don't see that, and that would be the part I'd find interesting.

Another friend is starting on her path to principalhood. After a few years in Curriculum, she's decided that if she's going to be responsible for the kinds of things we're asked to do, she might as well be paid accordingly. I told her that I envision her like Shawn Alexander last year. He was hoping for to renogotiate his contract and make more money...and on his way to the NFL rushing title last year, his mantra was "Cut the checks. Cut the checks." as he'd sprint down the sideline. She will be successful as an administrator. She is a good global thinker and while she doesn't enjoy all of the politics of the job, she can negotiate and make things work well. I tip my hat to her as we need more administrators like that.

When I look at all of the special interest groups, teachers, students, parents, and so on that make up a school, an administrator's job is daunting. Everyone is so focused on their slice of the pie that they often don't step back to take a broader view of the school. I think that modern schools are going to have to let go of old-fashioned notions of what a principal is. I think we're going to have to develop teacher leaders to take on the instructional piece of the principal's job and find ways to promote communication and understanding between the various components of a school. I'd really like to see if there's a model out there to examine. I know that we aren't the only ones struggling with how to get past the politics and make a difference where it counts: kids.


Admins Aplenty

19 October 2006

Admins are beleaguered here in the edusphere, slightly less so than The District, but they still take their fare share of beatings. Being a teacher who works in the central office, I experience both sides of things. I completely understand the perceptions and comments of teachers...but I also know why certain decisions are made. I am expected to spout the party line, and there are very few times that I choke on it because I do get to see the full spectrum of information. Recently, I've felt more like the teachers who shake their fists at the admins. A couple of them have been very difficult for me to work with.

One is a former science teacher who is a new admin. You'd think she'd have a broader view of things...or at least support her teachers...but this isn't turning out to be the case. She was the one threatening the secretary and I last month when there weren't extra books sent for classroom sets. We did get CD-ROM versions of the texts for her to look at, but she didn't. She instead sent us an assessment of them by reading the back of the packaging. The teachers told us that she didn't use the discs. The teachers also told me today that they have had no complaints from students about the on-line versions that each of them has. In other words, the admin is making up quite a lot of information. We've now caught her in a couple of lies (Boss Lady 2.0 wasn't terribly happy) and are leaving her out of further discussions.

The other is the principal of the Not-So-Pretty-High School whose antics last month only served to alienate many teachers in other schools. I was told by our delivery personnel that they were having trouble at the science kit center finding room to move the trucks and were about to file a grievance against the principal. They have been trying for a long time to get his help regarding the student parking that is keeping the drivers from being able to safely do their jobs. I was asked to help, so I e'd the principal explaining the issues and asking for ideas. What I got in return was a snotty e-mail musing about when parking attendant got added to my job description...and asking that if any illegal parking was going on, to e-mail him and he'd get it taken care of. The next day, I did just that---sent the license plate info for the cars that were at issue. This time, an expletive laden phone call was provided in return. Sheesh.

I think that part of my job relates to knowing which battles to fight. I see some admins that don't possess this ability and others which seem to do it quite gracefully. I'm still trying to navigate the landmines, but in all of it, I keep thinking about my general approach to working with junior high kids: don't make a rule I wouldn't enforce---and pay attention to the small things. If kids know you're looking at the details, they will rarely attempt to get away with something grand. I have a sneaking suspicion that very few in administration here---either those who supervise teachers or those who supervise other administrators---pay attention to the small things. As a result, there are people getting away with all sorts of slams against the system...and I am left wondering if and when personal responsibility will make a reappearance in the way we operate here.


Thanks for Nothing

09 September 2006

We're a fairly large district. Even with our declining enrollment, we have about 12, 500 students, k -12. There is a single position devoted to ordering, purchasing, and managing all of the instructional materials (primarily textbooks) for all of the associated programs and students in our district. This also includes teachers' resources. As you might imagine, this is not a simple task, especially at the beginning of the school year. We have a new person in this role for the first time in many years---and she is doing amazingly well.

When our junior high teachers had training on the software associated with the new materials' adoption, the information about getting students access to the on-line versions of their texts and other resources was not available. Two days later, however, those pieces arrived and the textbook secretary sent them out. Teachers had them by the first day of school.

We have had one school administrator, however, that has spent the better part of the week claiming that her teachers absolutely had to have classroom sets of books because the on-line versions of the books would not be available until December. The secretary and I ended up devoting a lot of time and phone calls reassuring her that this wasn't so. The admin told the secretary that she'd better have an answer for her by Thursday...or else. I asked the secretary, "Or what?" Was the admin threatening us because we'd done all we'd could do and she was unable to figure things out on her end?

Things finally concluded yesterday around lunch---after I'd lost most of the morning double checking with the publisher's rep and tech support that there was no reason for the school not to be able to access the on-line versions of the texts. I even opened the spare set of codes we had and was able to set up a fake class with students and the necessary information within a few minutes. I sent a rather curt e-mail to the admin about all of this...and a couple of hours later, the secretary and I got a message that gee, the admin had everything working now.

No apologies for our time that she wasted. No comments about her threats of the secretary or that we'd been right the whole time---she and her teachers had exactly what they'd needed for days. Nope. Instead, she said that they needed extra books for each grade to have in the library as resource materials.


I do plan to bend Boss Lady 2.0's ear about all of this. I know the admin and while her behavior was annoying, I can let it go. But there is no call for her to harass the secretary and I don't want her to think that this will be acceptable in the future. If nothing else, a simple "thank you" for the help and patience would suffice.


Going Gray

07 September 2006

Working in Curriculum is a bit of gray area. We are teachers working under the same contractual obligations as other certificated staff, but we are often not viewed that way by peers. We are more likely to be seen as administrators...or worse yet, one of the nameless "them" so often blamed for whatever is perceived as wrong with the district.

I'm thinking about being in this nebulous zone because of a conversation I had with a principal this morning. She wants some professional development around science instruction. She hopes to learn what she's looking at when she watches what's going on in a science classroom. She'd like to have the same confidence that she has when trying to help math, English, and social studies teachers---and I admire her for trying to seek out some support. In one sense, good instruction is good instruction, regardless of grade or content---but on the other hand, there are a few science specific strategies she could learn to recognize. I agreed to do a few "walkthroughs" with her.

Walkthroughs are a recent trend in education. They're not specifically meant to be evaluative, but rather tools that give administrators a chance to do short visits and then share with teachers what they saw and guide some reflection about the event. The walkthrough provides a 5 - 10 minute snapshot of a classroom over several different days during the year, rather than one or two extended sessions.

When I got back to my desk, I realized that doing the walkthroughs together to help the principal get started is a great idea. What's not a great idea is doing it with her least not together. I am not their evaluator and I really don't want to be viewed that way. Since the principal and I can't help but talk about what we see in the classrooms, then I'm not sure teachers will clearly separate that we would be doing this to help the principal learn about science...and not that we're making judgments together about things. I think it's too big of an opportunity to set up some real mistrust---and this is a science staff it looks like I'll be spending a lot of time with this year.

I sent a note to the principal and asked that we go to another school together to do a few walkthroughs. I think this might be the best way to get her the help she wants without putting a strain on her staff. I haven't heard back yet as to whether or not she'll go for that. This is one of those times where I'd prefer to stay in the gray.

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The Dark Side

02 August 2006

It always interests me as to how many teacher-bloggers out there are always ready to bash Central Office. The place is an evil entity, viewed as being antithetical---or at minimum, a hindrance or obstacle---to the work of a classroom teacher. I suppose that before I moved over to the Dark Side, I harboured some similar views. Now I just think they're misplaced.

For starters, the vast majority of people who work at the Head Shed are classified personnel. Do you like your paycheck? Benefits? Teaching supplies, copy machines, computers? These people make it all happen for you. I'm not saying that they don't make mistakes or that some of them aren't awkward to work with, but if you're blaming them because you don't like what you're supposed to be doing in the classroom, you might want to look elsewhere when you're pointing your finger.

Some of us (like me) are teachers just like you. We get paid the same but have different responsibilities. It's true---I don't have to grade many papers or deal with daily classroom issues. But you know what? Your kids are my kids, too. I don't cart around 150 of them in my head as I did when I taught. Now I get to think about what's happening with 12,000 of them. You know all of those mandates being handed to us from the feds and state lawmakers? We do what we can to help translate them for classroom use. Instead of every single teacher having to make this happen, we're there so that you have more time to focus on your kids and your instruction---not the alignments.

Perhaps the finger should be aimed at the admins in Central Office? There are some inept ones around---and others who have completely lost touch with what happens in a real classroom. Bad decisions are made. And then, I think that more teachers should cut the district admins some slack. The admins can't be as myopic as we are in our own classrooms---they have so much more information to consider, weigh, and respond. I don't always like what happens with the admins with whom I work, but I always start from the belief that they are doing the best that they can for everyone under current conditions and expectations.

If teachers are unhappy with the way things are going in their schools, Central Office quickly becomes an easy target. But I hope that at least some will stop to think about who it is they're really irritated with---do you really want to blame the secretary in HR because you have to teach to the standards? Is the tech guy at fault because there's a state test? Did the supe come up with the graduation requirements? I understand teachers' frustrations, but directing all of them onto the people viewed as on the Dark Side is likely misplaced. Everyone has to do what they can and are expected to do in order to make sure that kids get what they need...even those of us working alongside teachers in the trenches.

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Because I Said So

29 July 2006

My school district, like many others in the area, has spent a lot of money with the BERC group. The Baker Evaluation, Research, and Consulting (BERC) group is run by Duane Baker---a former teacher in this district who now has his own little piece of the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation in order to help with school improvement issues. Baker is a dynamic guy and his firm has done a lot of research in classrooms and worked to develop some tools for schools.

The administration here is very excited about Baker, as are some of the teachers. I'm supposed to be on this bandwagon, but there are a few things that bother me. If he's such hot stuff, how come he doesn't publish? There aren't any citations in the professional literature that refer to him. It seems odd that he has not engaged in any peer review of his ideas. In addition to that, he offers no independent support for his ideas. We are supposed to think they're grand simply because he says so...and I'm afraid that reason is not quite good enough for me. Where is your data for us to examine? What other professional researchers can corroborate your work? Whose work has influenced yours?

I don't think I'm the only skeptic in the district, but that's a difficult thing to gauge. Administrators are pumped up and there are some good conversations about effective instruction (finally) taking place. I just hate to think that in a time where budgets are growing ever tighter that we might be spending our precious monies on a prophet for profit.

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Whose Job Is It Anyway?

22 July 2006

Can you think of a teacher who isn't very effective in the classroom? Maybe it's a colleague...or someone your child had...or one from your own experiences as a student. Ineffective teachers not only make a negative impact during the time students sit in their classrooms, but some research suggests that there is a residual impact in following years. What can we do to change this situation?

It seems easy to place the responsibility on the principal. She or he is, after all, the instructional leader and evaluator. If hiring staff falls onto the shoulders of the principal, shouldn't firing? Of course, you'd hope that some sort of "intervention" might happen first, but my guess is that most teachers avoid this if it is suggested. Once you have been on an improvement plan, it becomes part of every job application you fill out in following years. This allows a lot of bad teachers to simply resign and get a job elsewhere---but doesn't really address the problem. Meanwhile, many principals are unwilling to take on The Union, even though there are provisions in the contract for removing ineffectual teachers from the classroom.

Perhaps it is the role of teacher leaders in the building to work with others to improve what happens in the classroom. As much as I like this idea (I am working toward a degree in Teacher Leadership, after all), this also poses some awkward issues. If teachers are working as peer coaches, this format could probably work. My experience, however, is that ineffective teachers are also those who are least likely to open their classrooms to others or seek out professional support. Is it possible that a principal could set an expectation that everyone participate in professional learning communities that include peer observation? Sure. Buy-in to such a program would be an issue, but perhaps it would remove the burden from teachers. Maybe some staff discussion about evaluation vs. observation would be useful.

What about the teacher who's not performing well? Shouldn't s/he recognize that the work being done in the classroom is not providing kids with the education they need? I have known a few teachers who do, but stay in the classroom because they are concerned about losing their retirement or because they only have a few more years until they retire. In the first case, they have felt trapped. They know they should leave, but the financial risk is too great. A valid concern---is there a way around that? The other general teacher type I run across is one who firmly believes that what happens in the classroom is about whatever the teacher wants, and not what kids need. This can be a fairly entrenched personal philosophy---it may even be what drew someone to the profession. Is it possible for them to shift their thinking and reframe their talents and abilities?

Parents and kids know very well which teachers are "good" at a certain school. They do get a voice in terms of classroom assignments, but other than that, they have no input into preventing other students from having a year of poor instruction. Should they be given a voice in the process? Could it be framed in such a way that keeps it from being personal...when we're talking about the needs of kids?

At a time when finding highly-qualified teachers is already difficult, the prospect of exiting teachers from the profession isn't necessarily welcome. Whose job is it to first point out that someone needs to make more of an effort in the classroom? Who provides the support to make the changes? And who monitors things and/or provides a graceful exit from teaching, if needed? How do we as an educational community give kids the best experience possible?

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Adventures in Pseudo-Administration

30 June 2006

As soon as the Hedgetoad survives her AP training, she's heading back to her district to teach WASL support classes. Our state has identified students they think would most benefit from a bump in skills before the August retakes and then provided a targeted curriculum to do so. The state has also provided grants to districts (based on the number of kids who need help) in order to pay for these "extended learning opportunities."

And me? Getting this program off the ground for my district has been my task over the last couple of months. The Summer School Principal and I have worked closely as our programs are housed in the same building and run on similar dates and times (for the most part). We've hired staff for one another and have been busy taking care of issues of food, transportation and room assignments.

My program began yesterday for math. Thirty brave students are coming to take a 5-hour math class for 20 days. They now have two under their belts. For me, things are about to get really boring. I got the staff picked and trained. I made nearly 200 phone calls and enrolled kiddos...worked with parents...and coordinated with others. Things should run on their own from here on out.

But there are always going to be issues...and although there is an official admin for the summer, he's not going to be around very much. Summer programs are housed in three different buildings and the little tykes and SPEDs will need him present much more than the secondary program. So, I get to be the default for problems. It's already been...interesting: talking through transportation issues with bus drivers, dealing with a mess in the bathroom, and calling parents of students who have yet to show up (in case their parents think they've been coming here).

The early start with this math program is a great opportunity to get my feet wet. We have a couple more days of class next week before the "real summer school" hits. Should be quite the adventure from there on out.


The Collective Wisdom

23 May 2006

I had not one...not two...but three command performances today at the weekly gathering of admins.

The first was to deliver some news about elementary science. Before I spoke to them, I watched in both horror and awe as the admins went on and on about the district plans for writing. It was lovely to see a group so focused and single-minded about something---but terrifying that they didn't see it as the "wrong" thing. Have they seen their school and district data...and picked up on the fact that math and science are at the bottom and need attention? Have they heard about NCLB and AYP...and noticed that "writing" is not part of those?

These meetings are always running behind, which means that agenda items like me get squished. So, here was the one and only chance I've ever had to talk with elementary admins...and I ended up with 3 minutes to do it. I did my best and moved over to the other side of the partition, where the secondary admins awaited.

First up, an update on summer school information. Admins do love to get caught up in the details, so by the time we waded through that, I only -5 minutes (they were already 10 minutes past their scheduled ending time) to update them on all the wonderful things that we've done with junior high science this spring. And when they saw it, they loved it...and we had no time to talk about it.

There has to be a better way to manage communications in a district this size. We think we're small, but we aren't. We believe that buy-in and stakeholders and input gathering is crucial, but decisions never get made and courses remain clouded. We think that quality staff will wait around out of the goodness of their hearts for the district to listen to them and use their talents, but in the meantime, they find jobs elsewhere. I do have my doubts about the collective wisdom at times.


Just Wondering

30 April 2006

When teachers get together, it seems like the conversation eventually strays to how overworked and overwhelmed everyone is with their jobs. This includes administrators---another typical topic among of group of teachers. As these ideas came up on Friday, with people reminiscing about the good old days, I had to ask some questions. What did these teachers think was missing now? Why did they like the former admins better than the new ones?

The answers came down to one thing: intellectual curiosity.

They wanted principals who asked good questions and shared his/her thinking. They liked it when there were principals who saw problems and did something about them---even the tiny ones like paying attention to what kids were wearing. As teachers, they used to be asked about what they'd like to pursue within their classrooms---what answers were they seeking during the school year.

Maybe we just don't take the time to ask anymore. Or maybe no one is listening or caring about the questions. Perhaps education today is so focused on what the answers are that we've forgotten that there's joy in the journey, too.

How do we get back to that?

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Toddling Along

29 April 2006

I worked with three groups of teachers this week. All had different kinds of work they were pursuing and each group was at a different place in both their project and their ability to function as an entity. But I think I am beginning to recognize the various stages of group process and have more patience for the "crawl before walking" analogy, especially as it relates to using standards in the classroom.

First up were the grade seven teachers. They are all caring and talented professionals in the classroom---and nice people, to boot. Their only issue? They're still at the stage of covering material vs. student learning. They wanted to spend time talking about how they cover things, which is a good starting poing, but not the right ending point. I redirected them several times before their minds started to fry early in the afternoon. I think each of them is just going to have to individually wrestle with the move to evidence of student learning. It won't be easy, but the fact that they do care so much about the work they do will drive them forward. They're just going to have to crawl for awhile.

My next charges were the bio teachers from my school. This was our fourth meeting this year and each has been a little different. They see each other every day, but they rarely sit down and talk about student achievement and talk about instruction. This meeting didn't start out that way. We did get there and I think some good information was exchanged. People left feeling all right about things...which was not the case with earlier meetings. It has really been a struggle to keep the focus on student learning and not let them slide back into comfortable patterns. I think we've turned the corner now and perhaps they don't need me to hold their hands. I'm hopeful that they might like to move forward without me next year---or even at their final meeting this year.

And yesterday was an elementary group that has been revising one of the science kits for schools in the area. The difficult part of getting this gang up and walking has been the lack of good facilitation. Am I pointing the finger at myself? Yes, in part...although I'm not completely sure that I should. A woman from a local museum is funding all of the work through a grant. She arranges for subs, provides the materials, meeting space, and treats. I don't feel right being in charge when it isn't my party...and yet, she doesn't take the reins very often. I was a little more direct about things on Friday and I think we got a lot of good things done. I guess I just need to remember that for the next (and hopefully last) meeting in a month.

I was talking with another curriculum specialist earlier in the week. She's new and has had a tough year. In our jobs, we want to run with tasks and most of the people we are working with aren't even ready to crawl yet. I told her that it's taken me three years of attention to build the kinds of relationships and trust necessary to do my job (and even then there are a few teachers I haven't reached yet). She found that a bit depressing. It is when you think of all the time when "nothing" was happening. You just have to stay focused on the big picture.

I do wonder how many good principals, administrators, superintendents, and teacher leaders have quit because of that sort of frustration. What if they'd just stuck it out (or been allowed to stay) for even two or three more years? What would the system look like if ideas could be seen out of infancy? Will our instant gratification type of society ever allow for that in public education?

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The Principles of Principals

26 January 2006

The principals of our district junior high schools had a "retreat" today at the home of their boss. I was invited to stop by for a little while, as they knew they would have some questions about the upcoming changes in science. I had anticipated what they specifically wanted to talk about and felt good about being able to do that.

I had to leave to get to my next appointment, just when the conversation was really starting to get good. The principals had moved from thinking about science specifically to what they needed to do in order to have a consistent program throughout the district.
  • Staff are expected to use the adopted curriculum as the primary resource. It should be used as often as possible, although it is understood that some supplementation is expected.
  • Staff are also expected to teach to the standards.
  • Staff should obtain training on how to best implement the curriculum. The district will provide opportunities, but if a teacher chooses not to attend these, they will need to find their own training.
  • Staff should use common assessments. This could be just used at specific progress points during the year, such as the end of each semester.
  • Principals are responsible for monitoring these goals. If a staff member chooses not to use the program, this will be documented in their evaluation and could eventually lead to their dismissal.

I really like this united front that they want to have. The Union is very strong in this district, so the goal is to get them on board with these first...then explain them to the full district staff. There are definitely going to be teachers who don't like one or more of these ideas. The first two bullets are actually part of state law, it's just that the principals haven't monitored them in the classroom. The third one (training) could become part of board policy. It is believed that the one related to assessments could, too.

None of these principles relates to the "how" of the classroom. There are plenty of best practices to choose from and the new science curricula really provides a lot of various support. If assessments are at the semester, then teachers will still have a lot of flexibility in terms of organizing the curriculum. Academic freedom can remain uncompromised without sacrificing student progress toward the standards.

Next year is going to look a whole lot more principled.


We Never Talk Anymore

04 October 2005

I attended a meeting this morning. It was the weekly district meeting for all of the admins. I am not an admin, but I was invited by their boss to join in for part of the meeting. They will be doing a lit circle around Mike Schmoker's book: The Results Fieldbook. The idea is that the book will provide guidance toward using data more effectively within the school setting. And since I'm in a support role for all of the schools' improvement plans, it might be a good idea for me to know the basis for change this year. Mind you, my Boss Lady wasn't entirely clear about whether or not I was supposed to attend. I thought it couldn't hurt to spend 30 minutes checking things out.

I didn't have a lot to add to the conversation today. What struck me the most is just how little admins seemed to know about what was happening in other buildings. I had assumed (and I should know better than that) that there was some sort of regular communication about things. After all, they met every week. I posted a bit ago about noticing the same thing with teachers---but then we don't provide any opportunities for cross-district meetings.

So, what does it take to make communications happen in the 21st century? With all of the expectations placed on schools these days, we need to share more than ever. How come we can't figure out a (good) way to do that? It seems like such a shame that everyone has to make their own wheel.

I do wonder if technology is a help or a hindrance in all of this. E-mail and telephones in every room mean less "face time," even though more information can be shared. Would admins blog, perhaps? Or maybe we just need some good, old-fashioned bulletin boards for posting news. Are we too shy these days---afraid that the messages we give will offend or be taken as bad news? Is there just a lack of leadership---no one willing to make things happen?

If you're a regular here, then you know I don't have any good answers. But you can bet that I'll be thinking about this and trying to find some answers.

P.S. The "best" example of lack of communication today? Finding out I'm being sent to Denver for a training next month. Gee, didn't we tell you?

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11 March 2005

Today went very well, if I do say so myself. The admin---who was very concerned about the whole day falling apart---did a very good job delivering my/his speech and leading the small group discussion (I was in his group). I was actually rather proud of him. I think people were interested in thinking about the kinds of questions raised by the morning's survey of the standards.

The only weak spot in the day was when the ass't. admin got up to introduce the afternoon's agenda. She blew it big time. But, I think that people were still able to salvage the task (having professional conversation about standards in our own classrooms).

Anyway, I feel like celebrating a little. Even if I am just the (wo)man behind the curtain---if people believed in Oz the Admin, that may be good enough. Today we managed to get put together a coherent day of professional development that has the potential to form the strong basis for change.

I do have to ask myself how far I'm willing to go with this. How much time and effort am I willing to put in to get the admins to enact the kinds of changes we need? Do I want to spend several hours with them every quarter/semester ensuring that they make quality opportunities available for everyone? I do admit that I am enjoying this particular challenge and so perhaps I'll see how things go for awhile longer. If the end result is more effort from everyone to help kids achieve, then that seems like a worthwhile reason to keep playing puppetmistress.

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10 March 2005

I don't know if I've mentioned this, but on Thursdays our school has a different structure to the day. Each class is about 15 minutes shorter (except the one around lunch) so that we teachers have a 90 minute "common planning time" at the end of the day. In terms of the ways in which classes work, it's a lot like cramming 10-gallons of shit in a 5-gallon bag. (Thanks, Sweetie, for the euphemism.) Yes, I know, we could scale back on the content we deliver, but time always feels too precious. Anyway, this makes Thursdays feel rather hectic.

Meanwhile, my admin and his two assistants are still trying to figure out how to handle the LID tomorrow. Last Friday, I gave them my materials. On Monday, I was asked to proof the preliminary agenda and then sit in on a meeting about it most of the afternoon. Yesterday? I got to write the "guiding questions" for the morning's discussion, revamp a survey they wanted, and then structure the afternoon with them. And, lucky me, today I got to have more fun. I got to write the admin's big speech introducing the morning session, as well as frame out what to say for the afternoon. (I wonder if Bush's speech writer feels like this.)

We'll see what all happens tomorrow. I have done just about everything I can and it is up to the admin to carry it. Mind you, he did ask me today if I was sure that I didn't want to be involved in presenting any of this to staff. I told him that this type of information and work needs to come from him. Get on up there and be the instructional leader.

As for me, I have a presentation of my own tomorrow and my PowerPoint needs some polishing. Enjoy your Friday, gentle readers, and I'll be back to give you all the skinny that's fit to blog tomorrow afternoon.

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The Blind Leading the Blind

03 March 2005

The principal in our building is a nice guy. He's got a great sense of humor, has diverse interests, and has now invested several years in our school. I always enjoy chatting with him.

Here's my big but: the chief admin isn't strong in instructional leadership skills and (self-admittedly) avoids any sort of situation where there might be confrontation. These are not the best attributes to find in your school's leader.

We teachers know that the "emperor has no clothes," so it isn't as if I'm spilling any beans here. But the problem is that with all the issues schools are taking on these days, we really need strong instructional leadership.

Next Friday, we have a "Learning Improvement Day" (LID)---which is just a fancy term for a teachers' workday. It's been on the calendar for ages...and yet, the principal is just now getting around to thinking about what to do on that day. And if that isn't enough to worry anyone, just guess who he's called in to help him plan things: me.

It is true that I am called upon to deliver high quality content to a passle of people everyday. I am used to putting together presentations and leading discussions. However, this is not the same as delivering professional development to one's peers. I am working to acquire these skills in my role as district Science Goddess, but I am a novice, at best.

I have somehow convinced my admin to undertake a hefty program next Friday. We will finally start having some discussion in my building about standards-based education, our beliefs about change, and starting on the road of Powerful Teaching and Learning. This sort of conversation has been sorely lacking---and is very necessary if we're ever going to move forward as a school. How can we expect to help more of our students achieve if we just keep doing the same old, same old?

This is big stuff. And if you're my principal---it likely leaves brown marks in your tighty-whities. But it's time for him to step up, I think. I really believe that he can do a wonderful job. The kids who will land on our doorstep in September will be the first for whom the new graduation requirements are in effect. Those sophs will have to earn their credits; pass the state tests in reading, writing, and math (science will be a "must" for graduation 2 years beyond); complete a culminating project; and file a "year + plan," outlining their goals for the year after high school. If we don't find ways to work together as teachers, these kids will pay the penalties. They won't graduate, although we'll keep our jobs.

So, as small as my Professional Development knowledge bank is, I'm going to do what I can over the next week to help pull together the kind of workday that we should have been having for a long time. Which one of us is the "blind leader" in this scenario? I'll let you decide.