All the Time

26 March 2010

I will let you in on a secret: There are times when the project I am working on is overwhelming in scope and complexity. I don't get to reinvent a wheel, or more accurately, I remain so unimpressed by existing models that it is far preferable to start from scratch than to try making chicken salad from chicken s***. It is true that I do not have to engage in this work alone. I am very fortunate to have a phenomenal group of teachers to work with; however, it is on my shoulders to ferret out the path and provide them the tools to keep us moving forward.

The good news is that we are making progress. The exciting news is that when we are finished, this state will have something no other state does (but don't worry, we'll share). And even more exciting, is that we are slowly finding ways to measure the unmeasureable: organize ideas, generate creative solutions, and more. We are doing so in ways that build in best practices for instruction. I can hardly wait to see what happens next.

Facilitating this work has been a real test of my skills. At the beginning of this part of my career---about the same time I started blogging---I was fortunate enough to be provided with some staff development on working with adult learners and have a supportive environment for learning to actually do this kind of work with teachers. I didn't realize just how fortunate I was to have been provided this until the last couple of years. I am grateful that I know how to change my position in a room and regulate my body language depending upon what is happening with a discussion. I know when to let a discussion range and how to pull back gently on the reins and refocus when it's time. I am very good about wait time---I don't believe that there is such a thing as an awkward silence. I can push a group on a task, but I also know when it the point of diminishing returns has arrived and can decide what the next move is. All of those "old" skills are as useful as ever.

But I am learning a lot of new things while facilitating this current project. I am learning that in choosing a group, the more diversity of experience, the better. No one feels the need to outdo somebody else or get pissy over a piece of territory. Everybody has something unique to contribute and the collaboration is stronger. I am learning about the kinds of things that are okay for my office and me to decide ahead of time and which things are better suited for large group discussion. I was completely surprised at a recent meeting how putting a copy of the synthesis of their work to date in their hands totally removed a sense of anxiety in the room. I think that they have been feeling just as overwhelmed by the size of the project as I have been---and to hand them something concrete was like tossing a lifesaver to one swimming in a stormy sea. I am getting better at rearranging pieces of work during meetings. I plan as best I can ahead of time and then remind myself to be flexible once the group gets moving.

I like building these skills. I don't know when I'll need them again, but I am frequently surprised at what I need to pull out of my tool kit and use to facilitate during a project. It's still good to be learning all the time.

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What I Learned at Work Last Week

08 November 2009

Have I mentioned that I have a very odd job now? Not just the most recent incarnation of my state-level work, but just about everything over the past 15 months. (Guess I did do a short post on my Surreal Life a couple of weeks after embarking on this phase of my career.) As someone who has spent the vast majority of my adult life with the under-18 crowd in classrooms, working with adults all day is very different. Quite often, I wonder if I'm grown up enough to be doing this job. I'm probably not, but I keep trying anyway.

We don't do much out of state travel, mainly because of a "freeze" on such events. There are plenty of good things to attend on behalf of the state and reasons to connect with others across the nation. Some things don't cost the state any money (e.g. the feds pay), but the office paperwork to get permission to travel is so intensive and the process so nonsensical, most opportunities slip by. The recent trip to DC was almost one of these (the pic at left is as close as I ever got to seeing the sights as we were saddled with an unforgiving schedule). Here are a few things I learned last week while meeting with other educational technology folk from around the 50 states...
  • The observation that Educational Technology is not "T Enough" to participate in STEM discussions is not limited to our state. This appears to be a problem around the country. Like Doyle, I am not a fan of "STEM for the sake of STEM," that is to say preferring economic goals over student-oriented ones. However, for those programs which put the needs of students first, I believe that online environments should be part of the mix. It doesn't mean that they're better or more appropriate for every situation, but open source engineering or collaborative tools for solving math and science issues are a piece.
  • There are very few presenters in educational technology who can walk their talk. I find it depressing that the majority of my time in DC consisted of being talked at---not with. And not even about our more meaningful issues. I sat through several discussions about how to electronically collect and present educational data without a single person addressing what they were doing to support asking good questions about the data...let alone what to do with the information. Any number of presenters neglected to offer even one shred of evidence that their programs had a meaningful impact on students and/or teachers. Only one presenter (out of at least 30 I sat through) used any sort of good design for adult learners. Perhaps one of the reasons EdTech'ers aren't considered "T Enough" is simply because they're too wrapped up in the tools and have no understanding about what constitutes learning. If they want to be invited to the table with curriculum/instruction/assessment folks, then they need to show that they understand those pieces and not just the "Ooooo...shiny..." distractions.
  • The US Senate has its own paparazzi. The distinguished looking gentleman in the center of the picture below (and the object of attention) is the Director of the National Science Foundation, Ardent Bement, Jr. He had just been by our table and was now ensconced with a virtual frog dissection beside us. I have to say that it is a rather odd experience to be surrounded by Very Important People (including a senator from our own state who stopped by to chat). I'm just a smalltown girl. Never expected to go to the ball. Mind you, I learned this week that VIPs do not introduce themselves. They will shake your hand while you say your name---but they expect that you must already know who they are. For someone who doesn't run in those sorts of circles, this is an impossible task. You know they are important due to the slew of cameras flashing around them...but there is no way to know their position, let alone their names. Perhaps being immersed in that environment means that it's best to keep all of your cards close to the vest...to listen and not talk.
  • There are going to be a couple of big changes in terms of state leadership for science education in our state. As I noted back in May, I have been concerned that science education would be driven into the ground. While there are no guarantees that new leadership will equate to "better," I can say that there are a lot of sighs of relief happening. I never realized so many people were unhappy with the leadership. I have now heard many "survivor" stories from others who thought the path was the wrong one. Happy dances are ensuing. Personally, I feel like a huge weight has been lifted. There is a chance, now, that someone who puts the needs of students first will be leading. There is hope.
My odd job will no doubt bring other new things to learn this week. In spite of the time away from home (and working with students), I like this part of my job. I like being able to learn from all sorts of people and visit new places. My hope is that I can figure out how best to use it all for the classrooms depending on me.

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A Quick Aside

01 October 2009

Do you remember me mentioning that I was gaining six hours a week this year? The amount of time cited represented what I save by telecommuting two days per week; however, there are far more benefits than that.

I save 40% on gas, maintenance, and wear and tear on my car...40% on bridge tolls and parking fees. Those are the obvious personal benefits. But I also save 40% on makeup, pantyhose, wear and tear on workclothes/drycleaning costs. In a biennium where there will be no pay raises for state workers, these savings represent a bigger and better benefit than any raise I could have ever had. And the thing is, it doesn't cost the state any more to give it to me.

It's true, I recover that time that I would have spent driving. There are other time benefits. I am not ruled by an alarm clock every work day. This does not mean I can sleep in as late as I want, but when one's "office" is 20 steps from the bed, I can "sleep in" until 6 (I usually have to be up at 4:30) and still easily be to work on time. My work ebbs and flows with the day. I can spend the first few hours of the morning on projects while my mind is most alert and active...and when I'm ready for a mid-morning break, I have a shower and breakfast. There are now three "Fridays" a week, because the evening before a telecommute day, I feel like I can relax and destress. I can actually be wild and stay up until 10 p.m. without fearing I will be dead on my feet the next morning due to lack of sleep.

I'm better focused and more productive on the days when I can sit in my kitchen with the sunlight and fresh air streaming in and can rest my eyes now and then on watching the tide move in and out. The fact is, I probably put in more hours at home than the office simply because I can use the time and space to best suit the needs of the tasks at hand.

I also am getting to reconnect with personal friends and projects. Without the 90-minute drive at the end of the day, I can finish up at 4 p.m. (my scheduled time) and meet someone for a brew at 4:15. I feel like I can be creative again. I'm a real person---not just a worker bee.

So, on one of these "Friday" evenings, as I see the time on the clock is past ten (and I'm okay with that), it just seems right to have a quick aside here to say how much I'm looking forward to spending more time here.

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Snapshots

13 September 2009

It's been a very busy couple of weeks. I started my new job and am very excited about a couple of the projects I'm gearing up to do. For the first time in a long time, I don't feel like I'm trying to make a silk purse out of a sow's ear. Stay tuned for details. Here are some other snapshots.

Sprinkled amongst the work have been some other efforts. I did go to visit my mother---making the 18-hour roundtrip one last time while she is still with us. She continues to decline (both physically and mentally), but is not in any pain. In fact, the fantasy world that she continues to build around herself is very much a happy place. When I left the rest home last Sunday, there was this beautiful (double) rainbow waiting for me.


My new job arrangement permits me to telecommute one - two days per week. Friday was the first day doing this. Below is a picture of my new co-worker.



She was quite happy to snuggle behind the laptop...then check now and then to see if I was ready for a coffee break.

And yesterday, my aunt (birthmother's youngest sister) married. It is the only big event with the family I've ever been to. I went primarily because my mother cannot. My aunt (who is only 5 years older than I) has been especially devastated by my mother's illness. So, I went to the wedding not so much for myself, but rather as proxy for my mother. It was a bittersweet day, to be sure. It was also a bit odd---a variation on P.D. Eastman's Are You My Mother? as I tried to determine who I was actually related to. I met two cousins, one of them a blonde version of me, for the very first time. To be an adult adoptee can make one a stranger in a strange land when birthfamily is involved. I get stared at a lot as relatives look to find traces of my mother and others in the family. This is not to say that I am unwelcome or excluded. All evidence to the contrary as I sit with the rest of the bride's family at dinner and am asked to be in family photos. Whether or not I had the benefit of growing up in that environment, the end result is the same: I belong.


Today, I plan to get out and enjoy some sunshine...catch up on my reading...and hopefully get a few new posts added to the blog queue. Perhaps the random snapshots that have been making up my days can be stitched together to make sense of a bigger picture.

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What It's Like on the Outside

06 September 2009

Most of my friends are back in the classroom---summer vacation over and the frenzy of another school year beginning. My archives here hold some glimpses into my own first days of 2005, 2006, and 2007, as well as their impacts. I do remember sore feet and a sore throat from exercising my "teacher voice" after a summer of rest. I recall sleepy teens in the first couple of classes...and starving ones starting about 10 in the morning, their sense of time and energy jetlagged by the demands of a new school year.

There are things I miss about being in the classroom. Most of all, I miss working with the kids---in all of their adolescent glory. I no longer have any ebbs and flows to my year which are driven by the calendar: no "Winter Break," no counting down the days until summer holiday, no Homecoming Assembly, AP test weeks, or final exams. I have no more grading and reporting frenzies. However, there are things that I don't miss, such as fire/earthquake/emergency drills. I have yet to pine for the interruptions of the intercom and endless student passes from the office, along with every other aggravation known to administration and counseling. And I especially don't miss the pathetic union masquerading as professionalism and collective action.

However, for those of you who have looked longingly at the grass on the other side of the fence and wondered how nice it would be to actually have a lunch every day and/or use the restroom whenever you needed...well, I don't mean to burst your bubble, but it is not necessarily good times on the outside. You know that industrial toilet paper used in schools? It's ever present in government agencies, too. Being able to sneak off to the restroom is really not that much of a gift in that case. Lunch? Sure, I can choose to eat whenever I get hungry, but you don't always get a guaranteed space between meetings for that. And, oh, the meetings...and administrivia...and games played by anyone with a special interest to promote (which is pretty much everyone in my circles these days). Let me assure you that incompetent leadership can be found nearly everywhere outside of the schools.

All this being said, there are some nice things about being on the outside. I might not get the month of July off, but I can take a holiday nearly any time of year. Although I've had to travel a bit too much for my tastes in the past year, I do get to be out and about. I've gone all sorts of new places and met hundreds of new people. I get to work from home a couple of days a week. Those few parents who would make my teaching life miserable? Don't deal with them anymore (or the rare bad apple kid who caused night after night of insomnia). I have the opportunity to think about different things than I did in the classroom, which after all these years, is really a nice change.

I don't know that I can stay away from classroom life forever. And really, I don't know that I should. To do this job for an extended time and not walk the talk I'm putting out is hypocritical, at best. I can't support who/what I don't understand. But for the next year or so, I'm going to see if I can enjoy life on the outside.

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Looking Back and Forth

11 August 2009

On Friday, it will be a year since I officially began the part of my career which exists outside of a school district. There have been a lot of changes and lessons learned during that time.
  • I've actually had my job position changed three times in the past year. Twice was due to my original assignment being reduced/eliminated. This most recent time is by choice. The newest job has a start date---and an end date, because of the funding. I have twenty-one months to figure out what my next move is. I think I know the destination, but need to figure out the path.
  • My successes this past year? Oddly enough, they were tangential to my job assignment(s). I poked people about grading practices as often as possible. The people tended to be science teachers (more often than not). If the feedback is any indication, there is going to be a lot of experimentation and rollout of standards-based grading in secondary science classrooms around the state. I may have been blocked in my position from providing a direct impact on the science part of science education, but I believe the seeds I've planted will be longer-lived and more important.
  • I have learned a lot about considering the motivations of others before accepting certain tasks and offers. I am sure that I should have learned this a long time ago, but the kind of politics I'm up against are not found in the classroom---they wouldn't have come up for any school assignment I've been in. Now I understand that I was originally hired not as an assistant (and certainly not for any expertise in education that I have), but instead to run interference for someone that nobody---including the supervisor---wants to work with. It has been a sterling example of The Peter Principle...on steroids...to observe. As for the job I was gradually moved into (and am leaving)...I don't know what to say. I've learned a lot about the sausage-making factory that is state testing: everything from how items are developed to how tests are built to how student responses are scored. I loved the work, but the job is terrible and, in my opinion, the leadership has some major problems with its priorities. (Case in point: they are so against telecommuting that they would rather pay me to do nothing at home today than work from home.) The new job will have its own issues and hair-pulling opportunities, but at least my co-workers are competent.
  • I have also learned that I am not so much a "science" person as I am an "instructional" person. I just changed offices in preparation for my new job and decided to take the science specific items I had home. It turned out to only be a box---while several carts of other items will transition with me to my new job. Having always identified myself as a science teacher, the realization that I am more about instruction than science itself is a very big thing.
  • As for my failures over the past year, they are numerous. Some of them are due to my refusal to play The Game---a necessity at the state level. I'm sorry, but I think the ego trips and vanity projects need to be set aside and the focus of the work be on students and teachers. I can't give that up...and because I won't, I won't be allowed to have much of an impact. I should have fought harder to get resources to teachers. I was stifled at every turn by a boss who was too threatened by having someone competent around and therefore directed not to provide support and ideas. I was told "Next year..." Now it is next year and no one is better off.
We'll see what Year Two brings. I have a job that exists on the edges of my comfort zone, and I think that's a good thing. It will require me to be open to new thinking and opportunities...to grow in knowledge...to be humble as I serve. It is going to be a year of many personal changes, too. But I have always looked forward to this time of year. For educators, it is our time of beginnings and renewed hopes---not for looking back.

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The Marathon

01 August 2009

Life since early May has been a bit of a whirlwind. I was on the road for nearly six weeks from May to late June...had a week or so to catch my breath...and was present in the office for only 6 days in July. The rest of my time (3+ weeks, including two Sundays) was spent working off-site. The work was relatively local and I was home each evening---but planning and executing several events in a row with no time to plan/regroup in between has been a real marathon.

Not to mention the record heat in western Washington this week. Sure, I have a southwest US pedigree, but five days of 95 - 103 degrees temps here (where air conditioning is a rarity) is miserable, at best. I dutifully watered my plants each morning and told them "Good luck!" while I drove away. At least the tomatoes are finally starting to ripen.

These past few days have also meant seeing many of my new friends for the last time. Now that I am changing jobs, I will no longer be with those who wish to nurture me to death or our other contractors, who have their own charms. I will miss working with them, but am looking forward to being able to socialize without the work entanglements.

I was taught a new mantra recently ("Not My Problem") and have been trying to take it to heart as I move on to new adventures. I realized this week as I sat in a meeting and listened to all the politics and personalities, that I am so glad I won't have this position anymore. I really didn't care about the discussion. I do care about doing good work and giving things my best effort while I am still in that position---but all the drama, diplomacy, and things that get in the way of doing what's best for kids (and only serve to make adults feel important): I'm SO over that. I have loved the work. The job, not so much. The teachers I've met recently have said that they can tell something is wrong with the job---five different people have left it within the last year. I can make little comment about what exactly is wrong with it. Not my problem.

In the meantime, I have been daydreaming about the future. I am looking forward to having a life again. I was told this week that my proposal to present at the 2010 ASCD National Conference was accepted (come get your grading on with me in March). I'm going to have some time off in August and hopefully some headspace to think about all sorts of things other than work.

The marathon is (nearly) over.

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Time Is On My Side

16 July 2009

Yes, it is.

I gained six hours this week. Well, not yet...but I will. And when I do, I will have six extra hours every week.

You see, I accepted a new job which will start on September 1: a job which will allow me to telecommute two days a week (meaning 6 fewer hours of commute time). Six hours might not sound like a significant change to you. For me, it will change my whole world.

The change means six more hours a week to work in my garden...or write my book...or spend with friends. It means that on Friday mornings, I can once again meet my elementary teacher peeps for breakfast and still be to work on time. It means 14,500 fewer miles on my car each year (and lots of money on gas and service). This change enables me to not have to take a vacation day so I can meet the plumber to fix my toilet (after 5 months of not working properly). I don't have to wait weeks to pick up my birthday gifts at the post office because I can now get there before 5 p.m. I can tell local schools that I am available to volunteer at after school events (or be there for early morning tutoring). For two days each week, I don't have to come home with a tension headache and completely fatigued from dealing with traffic. I won't have to pay bridge tolls or parking.

Some of the change is sad. For the first time in my career, I won't be working in the sciences. My role will be tangential to them---as well as every other k-12 content area. I will greatly miss the people I've been working with for years. I will also miss my current job---I really do love the work I'm doing, but the supervisor will not entertain my need for six more hours to have a life. When faced with a choice between an amazingly wonderful job (and no life) and a job I hope to grow to love (and have something of a life)...I picked having a balance. It's not a happy choice for me, but I feel like it is the only one I could make.

If the housing market was different...if the economy and job opportunities were different...if I had a spouse at home to take care of all the other of life's duties while I was away...then I might have other solutions to the 6-hour issue. But I can't operate under those uncertainties any more than I can in a job environment that insists I live an unhealthy lifestyle. I have to respect myself more than that. And with six more hours a week, I will.

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Welcome to Summer 2009

21 June 2009

After being away for six weeks, I have enjoyed much of the last one at home. I am working some each day (no summer off anymore). July is shaping up to be another crush of busy-ness, so I am doing what I can to use my overtime and recharge myself.

One of the things I've enjoyed seeing around the edusphere is all of the energy of teachers on holiday: their plans for next year...their ideas for professional development over the summer...how their learning is continuing.

I have to admit that I haven't been very good about such things this year. I used to do far more professional reading and participating in learning circles. It is odd to me to work in a place devoted to education...and have no learning happening within its walls. It's all management. I don't think this is good. I can't change the workplace. I can change my own habits; or, rather, I can re-adopt my old ones and make a better effort to stay current with my reading.

As for learning circles? My in-person options are limited (at best), so I will probably look to more on-line conversations...or perhaps challenge myself to do more posting here. I think that my lack of posting this year hasn't been due to lack of experiences to share, but rather that my learning has been stunted in the workplace. I have allowed that to happen...but no more.

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Just Wondering

14 June 2009

I was reading Batman Villains and Cooperation: A Utility Analysis and this idea stuck out at me:
The theory is that as you add villains, working together will prove more difficult and planning more arduous. Therefore, the probability of getting Batman will increase, but by a marginally smaller amount with each villain added.
I had to stop at this point and wonder if this unusual application of economics might also apply to schools. Suppose we made a couple of substitutions:
The theory is that as you add [teachers], working together will prove more difficult and planning more arduous. Therefore, the probability of getting [student achievement] will increase, but by a marginally smaller amount with each [teacher] added.
or
The theory is that as you add [students], working together will prove more difficult and planning more arduous. Therefore, the probability of getting [group project completed] will increase, but by a marginally smaller amount with each [student] added.
Does the Law of Diminishing Returns have application to workplace dynamics? In this age where collaboration and shared decision-making are valued above individual work ethic---are we better off with a "divide and conquer" strategy for moving initiatives forward? One could argue that since education is not producing widgets, that the Law shouldn't apply where schools are concerned.

And yet, I can't help but think about whether the end product matters where diminishing returns are concerned. I remember a quote from the Seattle news coverage of schools that "Kumbaya consensus isn't leadership at all -- it's death by a gazillion selfish interests." Are those selfish interests any different (or more real) than expecting the Joker and Penguin to work in concert to off Batman?

For every cook we allow to stir the pot of student achievement, we gain communal support and buy-in to a common goal. These are worthwhile ends---but now, I am just wondering about what may be lost in the process.

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What a Way to Go

07 June 2009

I've been in Cincinnati for a couple of weeks, shepherding the state science assessment through its scoring. Those pesky confidentiality agreements prohibit me from sharing the most important things I've learned during my time here, but there are some lessons learned that don't come with any legal ramifications.

For one, I am slowly being nurtured to death by the staff at the scoring center. This is not the worst way to leave the world---so I'm not really complaining. I just find it amusing. My understanding is that other states rarely send staff to the scoring centers...and those who do come are unwilling to interact with the scoring staff. Now that the 300 or so readers have figured out who I am and what I'm doing here, I am being regularly quizzed on my interactions with Cincinnati. Have I eaten at Skyline Chili? Graeter's Ice Cream? Did I visit Jungle Jim's? Had barbecue at Montgomery Inn and pizza from Dewey's? (Check. Check. Check. Check. and Check.) I was grilled about my cultural explorations. Yes, I've been to the museums at Union Station. I checked out that Krohn Conservatory and hung out at SummerFair. Sure, I'd go to the opera (if the season had started). Now that I've passed the Cincinnati sniff test, I am being brought all sorts of things: a box of Esther Price candies...a weekend planning guide...invitations to lunch at the Grand Finale...and so forth. If they're taking good care of me, then I think I can be confident that they will take good care of student responses, too.

I've learned that requiring high school students to write some summary statements about a rod involved in an experiment is not a good idea. The term "rod" is just too much of a temptation to digress...and doodle. Ahem.

I've learned that no matter what parameters you use to build a rubric, there will be thousands of kids who dance along its edges and cause you both amusement and lack of sleep.

I've learned that drivers in Ohio are incredibly impatient.

And finally, I've learned that as much as I am looking forward to the job change which lies ahead in the coming weeks, I will miss this part of my duties. It's been a great way to go out.

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Crossroads

23 May 2009

This week there were different contractors to work with...and they were delightful. I have to say that I haven't laughed as much in the last several months as I did this past week. It was nice to have a collaborative and supportive environment---it reestablished my belief that there really are people working on the fringes of the educational world who actually make their decisions on what is best for kids. And it shed a very pale and unflattering light on the other environment in which I often work. The very same environment that reached out to me by phone this week to blithely remark that I'm being RIF'ed from it.

I suppose I should be upset, if not by the news than from the graceful way in which this whole event the past few months was handled. Instead, I'm rather ambivalent.

There are no easy truths here. What I can say is that I'll miss about a couple of programs I will not be moving forward with. I'm sad that teachers and kids aren't going to have someone reminding other leaders that we serve them---not the other way around. What's left will likely drive science education to very selfish ends. I find that heartbreaking. However, I am also a bit relieved that I don't have to be dragged down with it. No more waking up in the morning and wondering if I can call in sick rather than have to deal with certain individuals one. more. time. I will be free to speak my mind on any number of topics I have had to mute this year. This can only help teachers and schools make better informed choices. I can once again do what's best for kids, not best for someone else.

So, it is a time of opportunity. I have half a job after June 30 (and full benefits). It looks like I can expand that half into a whole either through the department who still owns half of me...or through another department which has some interests in another area of my skillset. I might also be able to work full-time for a completely different department, moving away from science and into data use and educational technology. Or, perhaps I keep my half-position and beat the bushes for consulting and/or contract work. Maybe now is the time to hit the road with the standards-based grading show.

I am looking for balance at this point---work that fires my passion and time for my home, friends, and self. This is not much different than what other educators are continually seeking. And I am more fortunate than many these days---losing all of their job and benefits. I have choices and options at this crossroads.

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Pros and Cons

16 May 2009

I'm not a paid consultant (nor do I play one on tv); however, I do get asked by schools and districts to support their efforts. I see part of my work as listening carefully to teacher and student needs and then tailoring my message for those targets. The work teachers do is most important. I see my role as doing whatever I can to help things along.

I worked with a professional consultant this past week who did not see his role as one of support. It was an ugly experience...and if I ever make a foray into consulting, I will take the lesson from this week as one of what not to do. I'm not sure what was most offensive. Maybe it was the fact that the earnest questions of teachers (who had given up a week of time with students) were either ignored or responded to with cutesy platitudes. Or perhaps being talked down to was the worst part. Could have been the fact that I was looked upon as his personal slave: retrieving a soft drink for his lunch. But it might have been the third time in three hours that he asked me to check three rooms to see if anything was left on the walls. I'm not sure what he thought had magically sprouted there after the first time. Overall, for someone who came well recommended for the job, there was very little professional about the work...few pros at all to the situation. Just a big ole Con.

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Stand Back...She's Gonna Blow

21 March 2009

It isn't that I haven't wanted to blog...or had relatively blogworthy events and ideas to probe as of late...but rather that I can't seem to get things to coalesce into anything resembling a real post. Longtime readers here will argue that this lack has not stopped me from writing before. Fair enough.

Some snapshots from the week, in no particular order...
  • Finally met Jim from 5/17. We've each been blogging for several years. You'd think that with all the events for educators (and the fact that we live relatively close to one another) that we would have stumbled across one another before now. But, better late than never. It was fun to get to know him a bit better. Other than Dr. Pezz, I've now had the pleasure of hanging with most of the other Washington edubloggers. Dude, you're up!
  • There seems to be a lot of bad news in the air. I enjoyed some time this week with a wonderful group of educators who will likely have to take different jobs next year. I also had to tell members of another enthusiastic group "No." to a lot of their ideas. This was due to budgetary restrictions, and it made me nauseated to have to deliver the message. When people are focused on what's best for kids and teachers, it makes no sense to put up roadblocks to this mission.
  • I did another intro to grading presentation at an area conference. At the end, a teacher in the front row said, "I think my head is going to explode." Interestingly enough, this is not the first time I have gotten that type of feedback, along with variations such as "You're making my head hurt." or "My brain is really fighting with itself." as a result of this presentation. I'm not sure what it is that engenders these comments. Is the cognitive dissonance that jarring? It would be kinda cool if it was, but I suspect it's due to more of a confluence of events rather than the presentation itself. In other words, the presentation is just the proverbial straw and thoughts about classroom performance are the camel's back. Anyway, I'm still amused when I hear it.
  • Today, however, was the first time anyone asked me if someone was out there blogging about grading practices. Another person said, "I tried to for awhile." I found it intriguing that (more) teachers are open to using blogs for information on classroom practices. I think this is a very positive step to see this sort of communication going more mainstream.
I do want to have some time to catch my breath and blog a bit about some resources I've run across, grades as predictors of college success, and a couple of other ideas that have recently been kicked my way. Because this long time between posting? It blows.

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The Great Divide

07 March 2009

I watched a clash this week. It was a butting of the heads between those who have daily contact with kids and teachers...and those who do not (but think they know what's best for schools). As you can imagine, this wasn't a particularly pretty thing.

I don't know many teachers who aren't suspicious of higher ed and/or other "experts" in the field of education. Most of us have had the experience of how disconnected education courses are from the real work of teaching. While it would be unfair to expect that we would spring like Athena, fully formed from the heads of ed school, it would have been nice to have had a better connection between theory and practice.

I've more or less made my peace with this...or, to be honest, I've resigned myself to having a quiet standoff: I can't take them seriously because they can't walk their talk about best practices...and they don't listen to me because I'm "just" a teacher. So be it. I can't do anything about that situation, but I can go out to schools and work side-by-side with teachers and principals to do the best we can for kids.

But it's different when teachers new to this situation are in the room. It's also very hard to watch as classroom educators realize that schools are at the mercy of "experts." As one vented his frustration at this situation, I thanked him. Usually I'm the only one in the room speaking for teachers and reminding people that our conversations should end in action that is best for kids. It was good not to be alone in this voice, shouting across the great divide.

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Firefighting

31 January 2009

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Negotiations and Navigations

27 December 2008

Being in the classroom comes with a variety of blessings and curses. On one hand, you are shielded from most of the politics and intrigue that happen at the school, district, and/or state level in education. Ignorance in many of these particular instances can indeed be blissful. You also have the luxury of just shutting the classroom door and doing your very best for the students sitting in front of you. You are the most influential factor and have the most direct power for what happens in the classroom. But, on the other hand, the fact that you are left out of the conversations means that you often have very little say in many of the policies and practices which shape most of the other aspects of classroom life. These include everything from how much prep time you get, to the number of students in a class, to the money spent on supplies. In that sense, it feels like everyone but you has a say in how you do your job.

What I am seeing from my current vantage point is that we all need to be better negotiators. By "we," I mean anyone who is sticking their fingers into the education pie: legislators, teachers, policy people, budget-makers, etc.

For example, there has been a lot of talk about "opportunity to learn" in several meetings I've recently attended. The idea here is that unless students get to engage in science lessons, they won't learn science (and scores on tests won't improve). So the answer is just to do something to mandate/encourage more time on science, especially in the k-8 levels, right? I'm not so sure. I do think that more practice with scientific skills and content may very well result in better student performance---but just telling teachers to teach more isn't a magic bullet. If we do this, then we also need to make an offer. In other words, what will we take off of their plates? Are we willing to work with schools to identify how to make more pockets of time for science in their schedules? Are we willing to say "teach reading and math less"? Are we willing to provide more prep time---or pay for a longer school day? What support will we provide so that teachers can be successful with the "do more science" thing? Where is the spoonful of sugar that will make the medicine go down?

I don't mean to trivialize things---but I do think that we need to be mindful that when we ask for something, it should come with an offer of benefit as part of the negotiation. Imagine how much differently NCLB would have played out by now if the feds had taken that tact.

If you're not reading Organized Chaos, you should. It's written by one of the best edubloggers out there, in my opinion. She's passionate, committed, and as adverse to capitalization as e.e. cummings. Her school was recently targeted for some changes, all in the name of district budget cuts. I could understand all of the amazing reasons she and others don't want these changes to take place---the reasons are entirely student-centered. The unfortunate thing is that such reasons aren't enough anymore. They should be. What's best for kids should be the very bottom line of every decision made in schools, in my opinion. The reality is that budgets must be balanced---schools aren't allowed to operate like the federal government. I suggested to her that her school will have to negotiate. To just offer the "right" reasons not to cut won't solve the problem for the money people. They have an ugly job to do. Instead, offer them alternatives: "If you don't cut x at our school, we could do without y." Help them achieve their goal---which in its own weird way, will get you to yours, too.

I realize that union leaders might negotiate for benefits and working conditions, but that's not where most teachers need help these days. Teachers need to be able to navigate the other systems which impact the classroom---those factors which often make them feel impotent, overwhelmed, and uncared for. It means that we all need to be respectful and aware of our power to negotiate---to give, as well as expect a return.

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It Just Keeps Going and Going

21 December 2008

The picture on the left shows the scene on the mat by my front door this morning. Can you tell I left a bit of food out last night?

We had about 5 inches of new snow overnight, and it has continued to snow all day today (so far). This has really been the energizer bunny of storms. I notice that the Hedgetoad, who lives west of here, is also having her own weather saga. The governor is asking people to stay off the roads today---what that means for tomorrow remains to be seen. However, at least one of us who is snowbound here appears to be wondering if I will ever go back to the office.

I do have several exciting projects to work on. No, really. I'm supporting a few islands of teachers who are trying to implement best practices in grading---and I have some presentations coming up and some data manipulations I want to share. I am sure to steal some of Bill Ferriter's pivot table ideas to add to my bag of tricks. I am cogitating on ways to help these various islands of practice connect. They are sprinkled all over the state and are lonely in their own ways. Perhaps a Ning for them? I'm also working on my book proposal. I finished up my outline and have chunked out the introductory chapter. If I can finish that piece and write another sample chapter, I will be ready to test the publishing waters to see if I can snake a deal for the rest of the book. And there is always dissertation drama. I also have new things to think about as my job responsibilities start to lean more toward the area of assessment. Frankly, I'd rather work from home (and am more productive without the myriad of distractions offered by the agency) than make the long trek to the office. If the weather continues like this, I may just get my wish for Monday and Tuesday.

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The Resume Gap

15 December 2008

A colleague and I were chatting about resume-building the other day. What we noticed was that the generation made of 50+ year olds puts a premium on specialization. They appreciate that their own resumes show that they have a very finely honed skillset. The rest of us? We're interested in appearing well-rounded. We like to show that we've been successful in more than one environment, integrate different content areas, and have a broad base of knowledge to draw from. A singular focus is not for us.

For example, I have a healthy high school science background...but my Master's is in gifted ed and my doctoral work in motivation and grading. I've taught junior high and coached in elementary. I'm techie, so to speak. I have a lot of experience in designing and implementing professional learning experiences.

I'm not interested in being pigeon-holed, but older colleagues are. We have a resume gap.

Is that a function of all aging, I wonder? The more you experience, the more you hone in on what you like? Or, is it a matter of opportunity---and I've had a chance to learn from a variety of experiences which were previously unavailable? Do employers have a greater interest in one or the other? I can certainly see benefits and drawbacks for each.

What do you think? Would you rather work with a specialist or a renaissance educator?

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Cliquing Around

03 December 2008

I've mentioned before that I'm not much of a kool-aid drinker. I respect and am thankful for every group that is making positive efforts on behalf of science education. I can't help but think that all of this collective action could make a difference for kids. My big but in all of this is that there are a few groups which get the lion's share of attention and voice---although they do not represent the majority of school districts. This same representation is present at every. single. planning meeting. I am really starting to chafe against this.

One person who is also new this group recently mentioned the alienation and frustration by many school districts who feel left out of the discussions. This is a dangerous observation. We cannot claim that we are interested in effecting change when just the same small clique makes all the decisions---and has been doing so for years and years. I understand the need to honor their commitment (and, in some cases, their economics and power base). I just think that continually tapping the same "expertise" is not the way to go. They've had a strong voice for several years---long enough to show some effects one way or another---and there is not much of an impact. Perhaps it is time for new minds and new alliances to be brought to the table. Perhaps people who have a direct line to the classroom need to be the ones with the greatest voice.

It's time to do some clique-busting.

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The Long and Short of It

26 November 2008

For the first time in several months, I have a bit of a break. Since I worked on Saturday, I was allowed to take today off in exchange. Since tomorrow and Friday are state holidays, I have a mini-vacation to enjoy. I have to say that for a short work week, the two days at the office were long.
  • State budget cuts claimed three people from our department...and our boss will be gone in two weeks. I understand the financial bottom line, but the human element makes my heart hurt.
  • I was more or less next in line to lose my job...and am still not 100% safe. However, I made a proposition to split my position with another department in the agency. I am now the state test queen (as half my job). I understand that this looks a bit crazy from the outside, but I've been pondering this for several weeks now. I could read the writing on the budget wall and knew that I had to make my own destiny. There are aspects of this deal that bring a smile to everyone who is involved and once I broached the topic, it went through in a week. What this means that the part of my "old" position that was funded with soft money will go away (breathe a sigh of relief) but the new part is "exempt," meaning that the new boss can decide to just fire the 160 of us in that position on a whim. All that being said, I'm still less likely to be standing in the soup line come Christmas. How long before the budget cuts get me is anyone's guess. If I'm still hanging in there by the end of June, I think I'll be okay for the next year or two.
  • Someone from NSTA read the previous posts and contacted me about writing a book for them. We'll see if I'm ready.
  • Several of my major projects were put to rest this week (all two days of it). I'm always glad to get loose ends wrapped up.
That's about the long and short of things at the moment. Best wishes to you and yours, should be celebrating American Thanksgiving this week. I am ready to snack, watch football, and ponder the Black Friday circulars.

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Every Kid. Every Day.

24 October 2008

My basic philosophy of education is pretty simple: What happens in a classroom should be about every kid, every day. The needs of children should be at the center of every decision made at every level of the spectrum.

The thing I am discovering (or perhaps confirming) is that all too often, the farther removed someone is from the classroom, the more likely it is that they want to make decisions based on the needs of adults, rather than students. I realize that as adults, we are responsible for making decisions on behalf of kids. I also realize that there are any number of viewpoints out there about what qualifies as "good" educational practice and so there will always be opinions to debate and satisfy during a decision-making process. I'm okay with that as long as people make their point on behalf of what they believe is best for kids and not themselves.

I am finding that I am starting to be more up front with my philosophy. There is a lot happening with science education reform in this state. A lot of people want my ear. And what I am saying at the beginning of nearly every conversation is that statement of my philosophy: Every kid. Every day. I want them to know that if they're coming to me talking about personal/adult concerns, I an appreciate that, and am very willing to listen to whatever they have to share. I feel like it is fair, however, to be clear that unless they frame their comments around the needs of students, they will not carry much weight with me.

I'm not sure this is the right thing to do. From a personal standpoint, it is. It is as true to myself as I can be. As for my professional role---should I be harder to read? Is it better to just take in all of the information and quietly make judgments later? Do we need leaders who appear centrist...or ones who are direct (even if you disagree with their viewpoint)?

At some point, I will have to resolve this issue for myself. Whether or not I am overt in expressing my philosophy, it doesn't change that lens I'm using (or my frustrations with the selfish adults I meet along the way). And it doesn't change the need for every kid to have a positive learning experience in their classrooms every single day.

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Office Space

16 October 2008


I hate to say it, but this could just about be my cubicle at work. There's been a lot of shuffling of offices and other things...and each day, when I come in, there are even more boxes piled up around me. Not to mention that my large table space for working was taken away...and I'm supposed to remove my resource materials from the shelves and take them home.

In other words, I can't work at work.

And with state-wide budget issues, I don't think I'm ever going to be provided with a stapler (much less a red Swingline) so Milton here is one up on me.

It is times like these that I long for a classroom again with space to use my tools of the trade. I do like the work I'm doing and the world I'm moving in---so perhaps all of this is a sign that I need to push further into the digital realm and get to a point where I just need my trusty laptop and an aircard to be able to work.

What about you? How's your office space these days?

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All Growed Up

03 October 2008

I was at a workshop earlier this week. It was held in a hotel with several other events and groups engaged in their own work. At various moments, I found myself charged with watching our registration table. This was the perfect opportunity to people watch some of the other groups. Two particular men caught my attention---mainly because their behavior reminded me so much of some of the teens I used to work with. I had no trouble envisioning these guys as their student selves.

The first man I ended up seeing several times. Sure enough, as soon as lunch or break was over, he could be found wandering around in the halls...sometimes talking on a cell phone, but more often than not, just hanging out. I talked to him a couple of times, finally shooing him "back to class." I couldn't help but think that this was the kid who would always ask if he could go to the bathroom/locker/nurse/office to call mom every time there was work to be done in the classroom. This was the "frequent flyer"---the kid who tried to wrangle a hall pass every class period---and knew the longest route to every bathroom in the school. There he was, all growed up.

The other man was once a gifted boy, too smart to be left to his own devices. Not that he would do anything malicious, but so creative in his thinking that you know that when he starts getting quiet, trouble is brewing. Meanwhile, he likes to say things to test the boundaries---to see if you'll call him on the bull he occasionally spouts. He wants to know whether or not you're paying attention. And now? His behaviors are mature, but there is that gleam of mischief in his eyes. It made me laugh to see him---I didn't laugh at him, mind you. It was just the remembrance of students I had like this and being delighted that they might have turned into this type of grown-up.

When I've worked with adults in the past, I have rarely (if ever) thought about what their high school selves might have been like. Most of the time, the person I see in front of me has worked hard to mask earlier versions of the self. But these cases this week make me smile. I can't help but think that these men have known who they are for a long time, are comfortable with that, and happy with how they fit with the world. Perhaps we should all strive for that kind of security thoughout our lives.

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Satan's Little Helper

20 September 2008

While I can jump to a conclusion as good as anyone, I'd rather spend some time speculating and pondering possibilities. Occam's Razor suggests that "All things being equal, the simplest solution is the best." But I don't feel like I can identify the answer with the fewest assumptions until I've considered a variety of options. Just call me The Devil's Advocate...or, if you like, Satan's Little Helper.

If nothing else, I am able to get people to take a time out before making a final decision. I feel like at the level I work at, this is critical. Policies and practices have the potential to affect thousands of stakeholders. I think they deserve to have us step back from a rush to judgment and think through things one. more. time. I would rather take the full allotment of time and do things right, rather than hurry through a process simply because five other issues are also breathing down our necks.

Call me what you will. I prefer to think of myself as a lateral thinker.

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Can't We All Just Get Along?

06 September 2008

My job includes mediation between a lot of different stakeholders---all of whom think they know what's best for kids. And while their passion is welcome, the truth about "what's best" lies somewhere in the midst of all the various ideas. I have to try and tease out just what that might be and be the peacemaker.

I find that I can't keep things at an impersonal level. You see, I have my own ideas about what's best for kids. I admit that I have certain biases. I am far more likely to listen to a classroom teacher who is working with children every day than I am to a college prof who has never taught a single day in a public school in her life. There are those who are all about the science, and not about the realities of life in the classroom---and others who are entirely focused on instruction, but differ on content. As for me? I think I'm more of the latter. Make no mistake---my job is about science education; however, I feel like I am being naive if I don't consider the pre-k through 12 spectrum, connections with ed tech, literacy, and so on. I am more interested in talking about practical applications and realities and people who understand them than I am about the theory behind science standards. I think it's good to be able to state these various proclivities. I'd prefer to be up front with people and let them know that when they come to the table with me, they're far more likely to have my attention and support if they have their thoughts organized, and are ready to focus on what will make as immediate and positive difference as possible for teachers and students.

The reality is, of course, that what I want and what I often get are different things. I am learning to adapt. For those who are random thinkers (or the occasional Big Picture type of person who can't deal with details), I let them ramble. The jumbled course of conversation grates on me, but I channel my energy into taking lots of notes. I organize the information in a way which lets me take some control of it. Then, I take a break. (This job means I am doing an awful lot of walking at lunchtime. LOL) I make a series of very specific questions to ask the person based on the "holes" in the conversation. Then, I go back and get the clarification I need. This strategy is working very well.

What about pushy people whose egos barely fit into the room? The ones who are legends in their own minds? I have run across only a handful of them...and am grateful that they are a rarity. I can respect their opinions without catering to their whims. But making it clear that I am not going to kow-tow to certain demands requires a certain type of skill I've never had to exercise. My district position was such that I had all of the responsibility and none of the authority for the projects I was charged with. Now, I have both. That is not reason for me to abuse the level of authority that I have (any more than it is okay for the Ego Brigade), but it is comforting to know that I do not have to negotiate everything. I am good at give and take on a lot of things, but those rare few that I am willing to go to the mattresses for? My ace in the hole is to just be able to say "No." If the egotists want to have a hissy fit, so be it---nothing will change their view that everything in life is an all or none proposition. So far, I've only had to exercise my right to say "No." once, and there is nothing on the horizon which suggests that another similar situation is coming soon. I'd much rather compromise, and most other personalities would, too.

I'm learning to delegate, another skill which most teachers don't have to develop. We don't get secretarial support for our classrooms. There aren't people who take care of our travel, mail, copies, supply orders, and so on. With the new job, it's hard for the control freak in me to let go enough to trust someone with some of the tasks on my plate...and yet, there is no way I could possibly do them all. I need someone who understands how to navigate all of the bureaucracy and chase down the details. Fortunately, there is wonderful support in this area, and I am teachable. I'm getting the hang of having partners with the efforts. My problem, however, is I'm much more interested in getting in and getting my hands dirty. I want to do the professional development with teachers. I want to get out and work with coaches in classrooms. I want to participate with various groups. But my new role is one that is more heavy on the idea side---that I should come up with these things and then find people (and trust them) to properly carry out the work. I'm not ready to do that, yet. And, frankly, I'm not sure it's desirable. If I don't keep my feet in classrooms somehow, how will I ever know the changing needs of teachers and schools?

After three weeks on the job, the training wheels are starting to come off and I am being expected to manage the load given to me. It is a staggering amount of work and the scale is enormous. Slowly, but surely, I'm learning to balance the needs of competing stakeholders, job expectations, and my own vision for the work. I'd like to think that all of that can fit neatly with the rest of my life...that it will all just get along.

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The Surreal Life

30 August 2008

Now that I've been on the job for a couple of weeks, I'm getting a lot of questions about it. As in, "What is your job?" I'm still figuring that out, but am starting to get my mind wrapped around some pieces of it. When I'm asked about what I think of my new role and work, the best answer I can give is that "It's surreal."

You know those ed policymakers you see or read about in the news? These people are now at the table when I go to meetings. I might have heard Mr. Such-and-So's name hundreds of times during the years I've been in Washington; but until now, I never moved in the kinds of circles which would have provided contact with him...much less talked strategy and science. Teleconference with a well-known scientist? One you have to get a bit toe-to-toe with over some upcoming professional development? Um, yeah, I can do that. (And did.)

The days are a string of events like this, all wrapped up in the greatest amount of bureaucracy that I've ever encountered. I was warned that it would take two weeks to get a pencil. I fear that person may be right. Knowledge is assigned in very discrete units---no two support staff know the same things...and to get some information updated or changed nearly requires a legislative mandate. But, it's all good. I have no interest in fighting the system. As it is, I'm just marveling at the machinations. What a challenge it is to navigate, let alone, understand them.

While I can't speak to any specific examples, I will say that I am very impressed with the quality of people who work in the agency. That's not to say that everyone gets along---and make no mistake, starting a new job like this is akin to marrying into a very large family with both favourites and black sheep---but everyone is passionate about doing what is best for kids. This singular focus on students is a positive one. We might disagree now and then about what this will look like...or squabble over the limited resources to achieve the goal...but you can't fault people for keeping kids at heart. I respect that. If I could change anything about how people do business there, it would be to encourage them to step outside the "echo chamber," and network more. If I just stay in the science circle, then I've limited what I can learn and apply. I think teachers and kids deserve more from me than that.

I keep thinking that this job will sink in at some point. As teachers, we are often too humble about our profession. "I'm just a teacher." And while that is not the best approach to take, it does become part of our self-image. I am still a teacher, but I am also one in a very different kind of role now. As surreal as it may seem, I get to sit at the same table as some of the people who have had a hand in setting the course for classrooms around the state all these years...the "them" we sometimes shake our tiny fists at. I have to overcome the "just a teacher" mentality on behalf of my peers and do what I can to improve their classroom realities.

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Catching Up

23 August 2008

It's been a very busy first week at my new job. As with all fresh starts, it takes awhile to settle in. Most of my time has been spent studying up on various programs and initiatives, meeting people, and dealing with logistics (workspace set-up, meeting people, learning some "how to's"). The other major part of my day is my commute. By the time I get home in the evening, I have very little energy left, especially for blogging. My hope is to put some posts in the queue over the weekend so I can freshen things up around here.

I've been valiantly trying to keep up with my Google Reader feeds, a task made more difficult by Google. As you might know, they have a bit of the Amazon.com approach of "If you like this...you might like this one, too." I end up adding at least a couple of blogs each week, and I don't remove very many from my list. My recent discoveries include Secrets of a Middle School Secretary (about darned time we heard from their ranks, don't you think?) and two math teachers: f(t) and Teaching Statistics. Ms. Frizzle has re-emerged and is now blogging at Gotham Schools with another editor.

The edusphere theme of the week has seemed to be "Back to School." There are lots of posts on the horrifying ritual of meetings to start the year and pretty pictures of classrooms all ready for students. My favourite reads, however, have been those posts from new-to-the profession teachers. This is the first year I have seen them. Student teacher bloggers have finally graduated into the ranks of the profession...bringing their blogs with them. I admire the trailblazing they're doing, but I also like the documentation of the transition they are providing. Blog on, Full of Bees! and Not Quite Grown Up.

As for me, I'm still working on getting my sea legs in terms of my job and other changes. I hope to do a lot of catching up over the weekend.

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Eyes and Ears

15 August 2008

Do you remember that fantasy you had when you first decided to go into teaching? It comes right after you believe that you are the one who will save the world. It's the one where you just know that your kids will hang on your every word. You'll be up in the front of the room doing your thing and every functional eye and ear in the room will be enraptured by your teaching.

Then, you get into a real classroom with real students...and you don't live the dream life.

I have to tell you, though, that the biggest lesson I've learned so far in my new role is that one should be careful what one wishes for (or dreams about). Like E.F. Hutton, when I talk, people listen. I'm used to working with teens. I'm not used to seeing a whole table of people stop and turn to look at me and listen to every word when I'm just wanting to make a small contribution to the discussion. (My BFF mentioned that this is akin to an Alan Greenspan effect...or perhaps the papacy. Same thing, right?)

What this means is that I can't really participate with teachers the way that I like to. I just want to be a collaborative voice at the table. A font of wisdom, I ain't, but they view me as such. Any training I mention or resource I might have seen in the last 17 years is viewed as "The state is recommending...", when that certainly would not be my intention. It is an odd position to be in. I have ideas I'd love to share, but if I do, it may end up being like some version of The Telephone Game...so instead, I withhold information. I'm not thinking about work in progress or other information which shouldn't be shared freely. I'm thinking about a book that might support some work a district science person is doing. Do I share the book idea and risk the information being overblown...or do I keep quiet and hope the teacher figures it out on their own. I don't know how to balance all this yet, so I'm erring on the "quiet" side. I don't like that, but until I can find the middle ground, I also don't have to worry about getting myself (or the office) into trouble.

I don't have my head wrapped around this job yet. Am I expert enough to merit all the eyes and ears that are on me now...and make some dreams come true for teachers along the way?

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Time to Say Goodbye

20 June 2008

Yesterday was bittersweet. The elementary kids were a delight to watch---their pride in their school and enthusiasm for summer gave me nothing but smiles. Turning in my keys and saying good-bye to all my new friends and colleagues? Not so much fun. School budgets being what they are, there is no room for someone in my position.

Today is the last day for my morning school and my duties will be complete at 9:30. Grades, keys, and my parking tag have been turned in. I was fortunate to have great kids this year in my classes and I wish them all the best as they move onward with their lives. As for the adults who are only interested in doing what’s best for themselves and keeping the status quo, I don’t think I will be giving them a second thought.

It is time to say “Goodbye.” to the 2007 – 2008 school year. But more importantly, I’m ready to say “Hello!” to summer.

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Hello? OSHA?

09 June 2008

























This is the prep room at my school. Beauty, eh? This is its typical state---doors to the chemical cabinets flung wide open...drawers of supplies pulled out...and used materials just sitting around. It makes it incredibly difficult to find anything in order to put together a lab for my own students. If you're wondering why I don't do something about this mess, well, it's not mine. If no one else cares...should I?

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In Case You Were Wondering

29 March 2008

Thursday went very well. The various arenas of my life all seemed to meet up quite nicely, and I have to say I truly enjoyed the side-by-side comparison of the districts I work for.

But first, let me just say that Ryan is as thoughtful and amusing in person as he is on-line. We didn't get to have much in the way of conversation because he had laryngitis (poor man). I did way more talking than he did (again, poor man), but he did bring some really fun pictures of his near 2-year old daughter. What a cutie she is! He's going to be presenting at WERA next year, so get those meetings on your calendar now.

As for my presentation? I SO rocked it. I can't claim that it was well-attended (at least compared to the two sessions I sat in on), but I had a very enthusiastic audience. In fact, I had my own personal cheering section, composed of three people from my afternoon district (including the ass't. supe), excellent questions to discuss, and I only neglected to mention a few ideas from my notes. I have thought about using Slideshare to put a copy of my powerpoint here, but I don't know if it would make all that much sense. I'm not one of those Death by Powerpoint people. I have a brief outline present on the slides to guide discussion---as opposed to using the powerpoint as a text to read aloud to the group.

Anyhoo, as I mentioned mere sentences ago, the ass't. supe of my afternoon district was on hand, which meant that immediately following my presentation (which exceeded the standards), she went into the hallway to make some phone calls on my behalf. While my morning district took more than two months to think about my research proposal for my doctoral study before turning me down, the afternoon district only needed an hour to see what I have to say "Yes." I'm still not officially allowed to research (yet), but I just need to file the paperwork. Other phone calls which will be of help to me were also placed...but I can't talk about those right now. :)

Here are some other interesting things about the experience. My morning school district (where I have worked for 12 years) had about 15 people from various walks-of-education attending the conference. The number of people who came to support me in my session? One---who was really there out of curiosity about grading. (To be fair, I told one friend she didn't need to come to my presentation as she already knew what I would be saying.) The afternoon district (where I have worked for two months) had three people other than me attending. They all came to the presentation to support my efforts. My morning district paid no expenses for me (although they did for their other attendees). My afternoon district? They paid no expenses, either; however, they are going to have me do part of my presentation in some of their schools and will pay me for that in order to reimburse my personal costs for Thursday. When the day was done, the morning district peeps took off for their own devices. The afternooners? They invited me to join them for a frosty beverage and asked me to dinner.

I'd do a Venn for all of this, but there's really not much to compare...is there?

In total, it was a long, but very worthwhile, day. I got to shake myself out as an educational researcher. I got to know lots of fun new people. I got my project back on track. And I got to see who loves me, baby. In case you were wondering, I'm doing just fine.

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WASLus scientificus

28 March 2008

The science WASL will take place in about three weeks. After Spring Break, I've set aside a few days to do some targeted review with my kids. We'll look at some released items, along with good and bad student examples, scoring guides, and ideas for checking their work. I also break down the test so they know how many questions there are, how to answer them, and how many points they need to get to pass. Although my students don't need to pass the test to get a diploma, they can use good scores for free tuition at in-state universities and various scholarship opportunities. I want them to do well. I know that most of them can do it if they make the effort to apply themselves. I've been talking to kids about not closing doors. Maybe they're not sure about going to college right now, but who knows what they might want in a couple of years? If they make some good decisions now, they'll have lots more choices later---with or without college.

I was talking to the Bad Neighbour about this. He hasn't done any labs with students this year and doesn't teach any inquiry or application associated with science. The kids just answer questions out of the book (and the school wonders why science WASL scores lag). Anyway, he said that he wasn't going to bother do any prep with students because "they" are going to change the test in a few years.

I pointed out that even if the science WASL changes or goes away in the future, our current kids have to deal with the current version. Besides, at least some of them might qualify for support for college because of their scores.

"None of my students are going to college."

At this point, I was done with the conversation. What do you say to a teacher who has already ruled out any sort of opportunities for the kids sitting in his classroom---both in terms of teaching to the standards and preparing kids for life beyond high school? I'm sure that not all of them will go to college, but I'd bet that at least a few are thinking about it. After all, he apparently managed to earn a degree. The students probably could, too, if he cared enough to give them a chance.

As teachers, we might not like the standards. We might even disagree with the testing and how the results are used. But we owe it to our kids to do the right thing by them and help them learn what we're asked to teach. I really wish that those who are just showing up to pick up a paycheck and surf the internet while kids fill out another worksheet would get out of field and make room for other teachers who care about students.

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Meeting in the Middle

27 March 2008

Wish me good fortune. I'm off to WERA this morning and the various worlds I move in will be in one place at the same time for the first time ever:

  • co-workers and friends from my morning school district
  • co-workers from my afternoon school district
  • Ryan from the Edusphere
  • and me, presenting my doctoral study and some classroom info
I'm sure it will all be a bit surreal. I feel like the missing link between all of the pieces. I'm hoping that we can meet somewhere in the middle and have a great conference.

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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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Of Ring Rust and Good Instincts

22 March 2008

This week, I organized and presented my first staff meeting in nearly a year. While classroom teaching is its own form of presenting, I had to shake off a bit of ring rust where working with adults is concerned. This is still very much a new-to-me staff and we are learning how to play well together. I did the kinds of things I would normally do---made sure that treats were available, set out some supplies (highlighters, sticky notes, pencils...) within reach at every table, and constructed a short powerpoint using a pretty template. There was some music playing as people wandered in. We had some opportunities to vent about some things and laugh about others. I don't know that I hit a home run, but I think we all learned a lot about working together along the way.

I learned that I planned one too many activities, but at least I know where the line is now. I learned which person on the staff is the barometer---when that person starts to show stress, it's time to pull back and wrap things up. I now know who The Paper Grader is and have identified those who are going to hang in there with things every step of the way. I know where people expect to sit. Those are all good things for me in my presenter/facilitator role to keep in mind. But I also learned more about what a dedicated group of teachers they are. This is not a group to make excuses about why kids might not be learning---this is a group who looks for solutions.

In the meantime, I'm pleased to be finding out that I have very good instincts for this coaching gig. There's a lot that I don't know---it is, after all, an elementary school and I have been in secondary for my whole career. It's a different district with its own unique demographics and approach to supporting student learning. But the issues which are getting tossed my way seem to have simple solutions---which I find later to have been the right choices to make. This includes everything from how to work with kindergartners on their abilities to distinguish which quantity is larger/smaller to helping second graders recognize when it's okay to play with the math manipulatives and when it is time for math business to developing some talking points so one teacher has the confidence to work with another on testing decisions. I am sure to make some wrong choices here and there, but overall, I'm not as afraid that I'm going to be a total screw-up.

There is a lot of fun to be had along the way, too. I got to watch a gym full of second graders do The Chicken Dance this week. I saw some first graders get their very first Easter baskets. I laughed with my principal and met many of our families at this week's Math Night festivities. I helped a kindergartner tie his shoe while he excitedly told me all about his new Spiderman shirt. I think once my staff development ring rust is finally gone and my instincts for elementary honed more finely, there will be even more joy to find in the job.

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Spring: When a School's Thoughts Turn to Fall

19 March 2008

As I write this, I can hear the first frog of spring croaking outside the window. He has apparently awakened from his long winter's nap and is looking for a little action. The songbirds have returned, the bulb plants are blooming. Renewal is the theme of the moment. Spring has sprung.

In the schools, there is a different sense of purpose. It is time to think about next year. No, the current year isn't over yet. (We're somewhere around 70% complete.) Budgets, hiring, and "I wish we would have..."'s from this year need to be contemplated before schools go into their summer estivation mode. It is as if we reach a point in the current year where it is too late to make any significant changes in course, so we just have to plan to do things better the next time around.

Working for two districts---and in two different roles and school types---has given me a different look at these processes. In one district, it's every teacher/program for itself. The goal is to be as cutthroat as possible in order to preserve yourself. It's not very pretty and while I don't think that anyone feels good about it, I haven't seen any leadership to make things change. The other district is more interested in instruction. There are budget issues there, too, but it is not the only thing that is talked about. The discussion begins with "What's good for kids?" and then goes from there. That makes a lot more sense to me.

I have always liked the "do over" aspect in education. I like knowing that there is another chance just a few months away...that someone else will take your kids and move them to the next level while you work your own magic with a new batch. We get to try, try again.

To celebrate spring, why don't you head over to this week's Carnival of Education at So You Want to Teach? You might also visit the Students 2.0 blog. Here is the description: We are students: the ones who come to school every day, raise our hands with safe questions, and keep our heads down. Except, now we have a voice—a strong voice—to share our ideas through a global network. What an awesome and powerful thing to have a group of students join the dialog, adding in their classroom perspectives. Go have a look!

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It's Official: I'm a Tool

13 March 2008

During winter break, I was chatting with someone about my role of instructional coach. The person I was talking to does not work in education and I did my best to talk about the purpose behind this role within a school---the idea that coaches work to support teachers in their classrooms. She then said, "Oh, I get it. You're a tool."

Usually when one is referred to as a "tool," it is not meant to be complimentary. I admit that I was caught off guard, but I also have to admit that she was right. I'm such a tool in my afternoon school.

For now, being a tool isn't so bad. I get to work with great teachers and an awesome admin. Eventually, however, I'd like to work myself up to "fairy godmother" status. While I certainly do what I can to promote good instruction and serve teachers, the ultimate goal (for me) is to keep their passion for the classroom alive and make all of their profession-related dreams come true.

I wonder, do tools ever get to say "Bibbity Bobbity Boo"?

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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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Whiplash

08 March 2008

I had someone ask me this week how I was handling the very diverse halves of my day. By morning, I'm a high school science teacher...and in the afternoons, an instructional coach for an elementary in another district. It's a short drive between the two jobs and is the time I make a bit of a mental shift. You see, this week I spent a good chunk of my mornings talking about the evolutionary biology of sex. It makes for great conversation with the 16-year olds and helps build our understanding of the mechanisms of evolution. But I have to go from talking about why homosexuality could be adaptive and how having a child with your cousin might not have as many negative consequences as you think to chatting with a fourth grader about why they predicted that a penny would hold 3 drops of water while their partner thought it would be 10 drops. Whiplash can ensue, but I have to say that it's really not that bad. I like the diversity of the tasks and conversations. My afternoons are full of incredible learning opportunities. I come home absolutely exhausted---but smiling. How am I handling the parts of my working days? Very well, thank you.

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Rubber and Road

22 February 2008

One of the most precious commodities teachers talk about is time. We want and need time to plan lessons...time to mark student work and provide feedback...time to contact parents and deal with administrative tasks...time to collaborate with peers. The reality is that teaching is usually a private and solitary profession: it's just you and the kids. And while we understand how to do our planning, marking, phone calling, and paperwork on our own---not very many teachers have a protocol in mind for working together.

This district, like several others in the state, has one-day per week where students are released early in order to give teachers some common planning time. There is always a pull between administration and teachers about this time. Teachers would like to self-direct and admin would like some accountability. I'm quite sure I'm in the minority about this, but I don't think admin's request is unwarranted. There are hundreds of thousands of dollars wrapped up in salary and benefits for non-student time. If teachers truly think they need this time for something, it's not too much to ask that it be tied to professional goals.

We support teacher collaboration in terms of time---but not in terms of professional development. In other words, we don't provide training in the structures surrounding collaboration. How do we have productive discussion around student work? Standards-based lesson planning? Interventions for struggling students? Best practices in literacy and/or content instruction? There is an assumption that teachers naturally know what to do when they meet to make these discussions happen. In my years here, however, I've rarely seen rubber meet road during these common planning time sessions. We need to take the time to train and support teachers in the culture we expect them to adopt before we expect them to be able to have meaningful collaborative conversations.

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