Below are pasted posts of mine from over the last two years or so. I changed where I was hosting my blog, but wanted to preserve some of my writings, so this is how I choose to do it.
Yesterday, Tony Baldasaro, @baldy7, blogged “Why I Unfollowed 5000 People”, http://www.tonybaldasaro.com. Considering he has almost 7000 followers (of which I am one – full disclosure here), this information has taken to the “twitterverse” by storm (no pun intended – #FrankenstormSandy). And in fact, Tony did stop following all 5000 people and is rebuilding, from zero. Why would someone do that? Well as he stated in his blog:
“…Something had changed. Instead of seeing Twitter as a place to build relationships, I saw it as a place to collect more followers. I began to follow people so they would follow me. I started paying attention how many people were following me, not who was following me. I would purge those that I would follow, then refollow in hopes that they would eventually follow me. Worst of all, I neglected those relationships that meant so much to me when I first joined twitter. Twitter was less about connections, and more about additions….”
I encourage you to read it, as it is very insightful, and not surprising (considering that he is a self-affirmed introvert), reflective. As Tony points out, the professional sharing that was the starting point for him became as much about building a network of followers as anything else; and it had to stop. I salute him, and while he may now envy the meager 350 or so folks I follow, somehow I feel he will surpass me soon enough, if he wants. As for me, I love to be connected. I like the fact that I can reach out to a number of supportive colleagues, reconnect with old friends, and share professionally what I do and think. I also love Twitter connections for how they are different from me and how they challenge my thinking. I enjoy the “conversations” on Twitter that help me see things differently and stretch my thinking just as much as the reaffirming ones.
Now there is nothing wrong with networking or wanting to be followed and follow others on Twitter. As many of the comments stated on Tony’s blog, “Twitter is what you make of it”, and you can make it be what you want it to be. Dean Shareski lets you know when you follow him that he posts not only about professional topics but his life as well (bit.ly/sjlUCA). I follow him because I like what he writes, and sometimes I glance by it and other times I read intently. I follow others who do the same, frankly, most of the folks I follow share bits and pieces of themselves along with their professional contributions. I have shared some things about my life too; pictures of my kids, a cold and frosty morning, a beautiful sunset, etc. For me the insights into my colleagues personal lives helps me see who they are as professionals, or rather as people, and that gives their posts more meaning for me.
It is however, easy to get caught up in the “networking” aspect of Twitter, so it is important to recognize when you reduce those connections, those followers, those people, into mere numbers, that you lose sight of the true strength of connectedness. And after all, it is this connectedness that is the power of Twitter. So thank you Tony for bringing this to the forefront of our minds, and computers. It has been nice to reflect on my connections, and why I follow who I do. I wish you the best as you rebuild your connections. If you choose to follow me, I will feel honored, if not, I will be okay too. After all, it is what you make of it.
I recently viewed this video about Project Based Learning (PBL). While it is a little simplistic, it is a pretty good overview of what PBL is and how it can help students be successful in our classes. However what really got my attention was the comments from the students about the video. I was surprised that most of them were negative, then I thought back to when I started doing this and many of the projects didn’t contain the checks and balances to account for the disparity of abilities, and the students sentiments made sense. Differentiating your assessments and lessons can help. My current students love this type of work. Of course, I mix it up so as not to burn them out on any one style.
PBL is worthwhile, but so is the cautious tale these students tell. Check them out. We can learn a lot if we listen, learn, and adapt. Hmm, sounds like something I would tell my students…teacher educate thy-self?
- Ok, from 5th grade I’ve had this kind of way of learning and it ONLY works if everyone wants to learn, it does improve learning but also makes it possible to do nothing at all. The work of a group is always the average of their work, ergo if one does nothing, the others are forced to work harder.
My opinion is that this does NOT work until children gets into their late teens OR when the class has a very specific type of education.
ZaQen 9 months ago 2
- (part two) No matter how shallow and stupid it is, social status and friends in the group WILL come into play on who has the “best” idea. 3) People will automaticly be draw to the assembly line method, each researching one thing without learning everything about the topic. 4) It’s important that we get experiance, but teachers today spend about one week per topic/unit. There’s not enough time to work in these projects. 5) its more productive to do projets with 1-2 people who will EACH understand
iPokePixels 9 months ago
- As a kid who is actually in high school with a few teachers who do this stuff, I actually rather have the memorization. Here are some of the issues I’ve experianced with group projects. 1) It’s in a teen’s nature to procrastinate. If we have groups, those who don’t procrastinate will end up doing all the work, otherwise everyone will procrastinate and not do the amount of research and colaboration the teacher wanted. 2) No matter how great an idea is, majority vote comes into play. (cont part 2)
iPokePixels 9 months ago
- I go to a new tech school which is project based learning and we all haves macs but NOOO ONE LIKES It! It sucks like really bad lol the idea of project based learning is good but it just doesn’t work. LIke MrZeck98 said not everyone works at the same pace and i hate carrying my group because it causes a lot of stress and gives them an easy A. I also find myself distracted by things in the project rather than actually focusing on learning the material we are making a project about… Sucks!
Therealstuff6 9 months ago 4
- I wish my last school had at least 1/10 of the technology that’s shown in this.
nesli 9 months ago
- The really big problem about this is; Not everyone are able to work in groups, either because they just don’t like working with others, or because of social problems.
TheJoakimProductions 9 months ago 2
- I’m a student, The thing that gets student like me motivated is the fact that you make the topic of your project interesting, not make it seem like something we should be extremely excited about (not overdoing it), and allow humor.
- In short, hands on learning is better than being lectured.
SaviorSixtySix 9 months ago
Recently I spoke with a journalist from Reader’s Digest, who is writing an article on “What your Principal won’t tell you”, due out in September ‘12. It is a lighthearted look at what a principal would like parents to know. Not long after that conversation I received an email from a colleague with a link to an article written by Ron Clark (an educator who started his own academy in Atlanta and has been touted by celebrities). His article is entitled, “What teachers really want to tell parents” and can be found at http://bit.ly/Jj98bI. While his article raises some very good points, I found it to be a bit harsh. As a parent (and an educator) I take issue with some of what he points out, and much of the manner in which he does it in, and while that may be the topic of another post, I thought that since these two occurrences happened so close to one another, it must have been fate telling me to write down some of my thoughts on what I would like parents to know.
Overall, I have to say that as an educator, I have had great experiences with parents. Some of whom I have become friends with and most of whom I respect greatly. It is no easy job being a parent, and I was always fond of telling those parents who apologized for calling me to “complain/discuss” their child, that they should not apologize for being their child’s advocate, even if they are doing it in an emotional manner. Frankly, I am more concerned with the parents who don’t advocate for their kids, or who are not emotional about their child’s education and well-being. While we do agree on a few things, I am not sure Mr. Clark gets that.
Some things I would like parents to understand are:
The child we see is not the same child they see. Kids act differently at home than they do in “their” environment at school. It is not necessarily better or worse, but different. In this way, teachers and parents get to see a different side of our kids, and with proper and positive communication, can share these perspectives and gain powerful insights into who our students and children are.
All kids make mistakes. As both a teacher and a principal, I have had countless experiences with students who I have caught lying to me, their parents, teachers, and peers. In the end, most times, the truth comes out and the fact is; kids make mistakes. Please don’t call and say, “that my child would never lie to me”, and that “I know they are not an angel, but this time….” Kids are kids, and sometimes they make mistakes, and yes even lie or mislead their parents, teachers, principals, etc. We want to work with you, not against you, but please be realistic. We are not here to make stuff up about your kids, we love your kids.
Communication works best when it goes both ways. As teachers, we often take for granted that our students are talking to their parents about school, and while we provide constant feedback to our students, the major methods of communication home are the progress reports and report cards that go out every few weeks. Please consider those reports as a strong part of our overall communication. If there is something that is not understood or concerning, email or call. With so many children to keep track of, most times we don’t call or email home when a student fails a test or drops a letter grade. If the signs are there on the progress report, and you never called in to check on it, then please don’t call after the report card goes home asking why we didn’t notify you they were in trouble. Rather, call to talk about how we can work from that point on to ensure learning.
Education does not function well with the top-down business model that many parents work in. Principal’s just don’t “tell” their teachers what to do, even if they think their suggestions are valid. Our goal is to influence teachers, to bring them to an understanding, and assist them in broadening their thinking in order to stretch their boundaries. Most times this results in teachers, parents, and principals being on the same page, but it takes time, communication, and understanding that we all have each other’s best interests at heart. Let’s assume best intentions.
Please know that some of my time as a Principal was spent defending poor choices made by good teachers. Everyone makes mistakes and while parents and students can comment, often in-depth, about how you feel about the situation, I cannot. My hands are usually somewhat tied by contract agreements, state laws, and respect for all parties. My overarching goal is to listen to your concerns and hopefully reassure you that I understand, and will do something about it. However, I need to do it on my own terms in a way that brings about meaningful results that we can all learn from and puts the student’s success first.
As a Principal, I cannot count how many times I have fielded calls from parents and families about concerns over specific lessons or teachers. While I was always pleased that they felt comfortable calling me, the outcome was usually the same; I can do nothing without talking to the teacher first. As a matter of fact, my first question was always, “have you spoken with the teacher?” The answer was almost always, no. I can speculate on the reasons that parents call the Principal first, but in the end, if you really want to help your child, call the teacher first. Ninety-nine percent of the time, it will solve the problem, clear up the issue, and help the child, parent, and teacher.
Overall, schools work best if we all assume best intentions and increase communication. If I had one thing to offer to parents (and teachers) it is that positive communication, early and often, is key creating a strong partnership between home and school. Take time to think about all the positives we experience with regards to our children’s education, and then highlight some of them with a note or phone call. I assure you, you’ll make someone’s day, and you’ll be glad you did.
Everything I learned about change, I learned from a lobster. It takes seven years for a lobster to reach legal size. In order for it to grow it must shed its shell then re-form another. During this molting it is vulnerable to the elements. It can be tossed against the rocks, attacked by predators, or contract a disease; but this is the only way it can grow. I learned this while living in Newport RI, sharing a two bedroom apartment with four other guys. We were all scuba divers with lobster licenses and little else, so we spent the summer trading lobsters for bread and milk, needless to say I don’t eat lobster anymore. Life has changed a lot since then. I moved to NH, then to VT, and then back to NH, this last time with a wife and two kids. Change has been a good thing though, each time bringing both professional and personal growth.
When my wife and I decided to move back to NH we knew it would be a leap of faith. We were leaving our comfort zone, taking a risk, and it certainly presented challenges. Just prior to moving back to NH, my son was born, a tree fell on our house, our home buying plans didn’t go as planned, and there were many more challenges. Looking back now, taking those risks, shedding our “shell”, allowed us to grow. We learned that each time we took a risk, stepped outside our comfort zone, we grew. In fact it was the only thing that really helped us to grow. I never thought that the lesson on lobster diving years earlier would be a metaphor for my life.
I was once told that time is the currency of education. I believe this to be true. We need time to teach our students, to allow them to reach goals, and be creative in their approaches to learning; and this time must be fluid and flexible in order to support the varied learners in our schools. Recently, it occurred to me that if time is the currency, experience is the bank, and what we bank matters. There have been recent conversations about our education system and how we are experiencing a lack of innovation and creativity, and that we must teach students to think creatively. I agree, and the standardized, over scheduled, lock step programs we have our schools’ operating by does not serve this goal. If we want to increase innovation and creativity in our students, and if time is the currency and experience the bank, then it is just as important to bank creativity, to experience it, as it is to find the time to practice it.
Let me explain. During a recent lesson I asked students to take historically significant speeches and transcribe them using a different vernacular, and perform them. We looked at vernaculars, both past and present, and yes, humor, props, and costumes were absolutely encouraged. In the end we had some great performances of famous speeches done in “valley girl”, “hip-hop”, and “1960’s hippie” lingo. It was fun and it allowed the students to use concrete tools and analyze, evaluate, and create, and while the level of difficulty was not high, I was hoping that the creativity would be.
Overall it was a nice lesson, but what was interesting to me was not the students who excelled, but rather the students who struggled creatively with the assignment. As I thought more on it, and discussed it with my colleagues, it became evident (at least in a totally nonscientific way) that those students who struggled with creativity may not have had much of a bank of creative experiences to draw from. We saw a common thread in those who struggled with the lesson; their educational independence, along with their creativity, had been limited due to a variety of suspected reasons (a hyper-focus on test achievement, parenting styles, school/class rankings, peer pressure, etc).
I recalled what I had learned at the Learning and Brain conference this past fall; that everyone can be creative and that creativity is built on prior learning. Robert W. Weisberg, PhD references this in his recent work; Out-of-the-box thinking in creativity (2009). Dr. Weisberg uses many examples that cite creativity is most often based on prior learning. “Creative” people adapt what they have learned to a new scenario, twist what they have experienced to fit into a new reality, and borrow from past achievements to create the building blocks of new ideas. This makes sense, and following this line of thinking means that we must fill our children with meaningful “out of the box” experiences so that they can draw from them in order to be creative in life and learning.
Now there are certainly some people among us who have a propensity for outstanding creativity, giving way to the Picasso’s in life. And while everyone cannot be a Picasso, everyone to some degree can exhibit Picasso-like creativity. However, it is not enough to only have the prior knowledge in which to build on. The propensity for creativity is also tied to the manner in which that knowledge is acquired. Students who are risk takers, who are not afraid to think independently, who are more willing to “think outside the box” have had that skill fostered. Risk taking has become part of their learning. Our current educational environment is not always conducive to this, and with outside influences that tend to put our children in boxes and label them, teaching students to push their boundaries and take educational risks is more important than ever. To foster creativity we must allow and create opportunities for children to take risks, acquire knowledge, and be available to build, creatively, on their learning.
I recently replied to a blog in the Washington Post. I was made aware of it through my PLN on Twitter. While I agree with the article as a whole, what struck me was that it kicked off its criticism of public education by indicting principals. It’s not really that what was written was outrageously wrong, although I am not convinced of the entire premise, its more that it begins by understating poor teaching then seems to indict all administrators.
Education has changed much in the past decade. Other then returning to the classroom this year, I have spent my last ten years as an administrator and watched as that role changed, both in scope and authority, and not for the better in my humble opinion. And while the roles of teachers and superintendents have also changed, it seems that what has been consistent is the role of the media, school boards, and state and federal boards. Ronald Willett’s article illustrates this. Here is the site of Willett’s post and my reply is below. What are your thoughts?
Fourteen reasons schools are troubled (and no, it’s not all about teachers)
This was written by Ronald Willett, a former university professor, researcher and administrator, and former corporate executive, entrepreneur and CEO. For the last decade, as an avocation, he has tracked and researched U.S. K-12, and advocated its legitimate reform and pursuit of innovation.
By Ronald Willett
9:57 AM EDT
I agree with your points, however I find the indictment of building principals to be too strong. Frankly you need to really understand the nature of a position that has been relegated to total middle management, caught being pulled by a board, a union, a superintendent, and parents, all while trying to do what is best for kids. There is also little shelter for today’s admins; a lack of autonomy, short term contracts, a press that is eager to name names, and no unions often strip them of their courage as they try to deflect the “slings and arrows” of head hunting groups that surround them. One merely needs to compare the average years spent at one school of a principal vs a teacher to recognize some inherent problems.
Like you, I have worked in the private sector and if I treated my managers like we treat principals, my business would fail, period. Studies have shown that the most influential factor in a child’s education is their teacher, the second; their principal.
Even as a young teacher I recall my admins (and fellow teachers) having so much more autonomy and influence over the meaningful aspects of my school. If you look at schools that are achieving, such as private and independent schools, or other countries such as Finland, you will see examples of this working. As I stated earlier I agree with your points, mostly because they illustrate why this has changed.
My only other criticism or insight would be why did it take you ten years to come to this?
What are your thoughts?
Vacations are great, time off is wonderful, and time spent with family and friends is special. We went skiing in North Conway NH, and for the most part we were “unplugged”, the only exception was using my iphone to “Instagram” and post some pics for family and friends. It was nice being “unplugged”. Kind of refreshing. I think everyone should take a week off, and while it was odd at first, I got used to it. Of course it meant that I had to talk more to my wife and kids, oh well.
My son, TJ
Me and Liv on the lift
Break time view – Attitash Mt, NH
Better view, better break time.
I was talking with a colleague the other day, he is a middle school principal in a great district, but like many districts, they have their struggles, and often these struggles become fodder for the press and public debate. Recently he was asked by a reporter to comment a particular struggle and he gave a somewhat in-depth, positive account of his district’s stand on the issue. While we spoke about how careful he had to be, and how much “baloney” he had to churn out in order to stick with the “party line”, he commented that it was nothing compared with the politics of running a building. I had to agree. Navigating through the interpersonal/political relationships of a school is intimidating. I have to admit, even after 11 years as a teacher, when I became a principal I was woefully unprepared for the political whirlwind that waited for me.
It wasn’t just the reporters, the public, and the board, (each one of those could be the subject of a whole new post) what was most striking, was the politics of how teachers treat each other and how administrators need to walk the political tightrope to address it. While I have not perfected navigating this (not by a long stretch), I have learned plenty as an administrator, and returning to the classroom has given me further insights on how I might deal with things now. To that end I have solidified some interesting perceptions on how schools, teachers, and administrators can operate with regard to politics. In a nutshell, here’s what I came up with.
1 – If there’s an elephant in the room, ride it. All too often administrators and teachers dance around the elephant in the room. Unfortunately, behind closed doors, in the lunch room, at department meetings, out at the local brewery, everyone is talking about Dumbo, and he is getting bigger. I say make him take flight. Address him with relevant staff, individually first, (keeping in mind that those who are directly related to an issue should not be surprised or feel ambushed), then as a whole staff. It is important to get the issue out in the open; it is easier to carve up an elephant sized problem if everyone is taking a turn with the carving knife.
2 – Don’t take sides. I have to admit that I have learned this the hard way, both at school and at my home. Repeatedly my son would come to see me about something his sister did, and I quickly came to his aid only to find out that he took her toy first. After a while, and after dealing with two crying misjudged kids, I figured out not to jump to one side first. The same goes for schools. When two teachers, departments, or groups, disagree and one comes to you; listen, reassure, and explain that you need to find out more. Then when you do, get them together to work on the issue, your job is not to fix it, but to get them to fix it.
3 – Along those lines…let them work it out. I knew a principal, whom I adored, who told me that when one teacher came to him to complain about another, he immediately got them together so they could work it out. He said his job was to referee. I tend to agree, taking on a role as mediator, or negotiator is tricky. Stick to district, building, and professional/personal goals and boundaries and focus on them working it out to meet those ideals.
4 – Don’t pass the buck. Educational leaders make hundreds of decisions every day, and when faced with difficult political decisions, don’t pass it along to another group. Ask for help if needed, share the responsibility with others, and empower them to help you, but don’t just pass the buck. You must be part of the solution for it to stick.
5 – Don’t take anyone’s monkey. Sometimes when issues arise you are asked to solve someone else’s problem, remember not to take on someone else’s issues as your own. You can act as the facilitator but they need to be part of the solution, only they can address the monkey on their back. Help them to get along, see the better path, make the best decision possible, and work together, but don’t take the problem on as your own. Taking the monkey off their back makes them feel better perhaps, but it also allows them to walk away from a situation they helped create, it leaves you frustrated and resentful, and often leaves a very angry monkey.
6 – Don’t let folks get your goat. In the grand scheme of things, much of what we do, perhaps all of what we do, pales by comparison to the really important things in our lives. Don’t get me wrong, I loved being a principal, and I love being an educator, but more importantly, I love being a dad, husband, son, brother, and decent human being. The very first superintendent I had as a new principal, Jack Kaldy, was fond of saying, “don’t sweat the small stuff and it’s all small stuff”. His 30+ years in administration taught him, and subsequently me, not to take what goes on in schools as a personal attack. People will try to get your goat at times, he’d say, but don’t let them. Protect your goat and don’t let them get to you. Be calm, relax, be thoughtful, and wait at least 24 hours before responding. While I have made mistakes on that front, his advice has always served me well when I employed it.
7 – It’s okay to say no. This one is simple, but hard to do. Sometimes you have to say no, and you will be the bad guy, but that is okay. You will be the hero to someone else soon enough. Have courage, seek counsel, wait 24 hours, but if you have to say no, say it.
8 – Be upfront about how you will handle issues between staff. Don’t wait until the first “elephant or monkey” appears for you to explain how you will handle staff issues and building politics. Letting folks know right up front that when they come to you with a concern about another staff member, you intend on getting them together to address it. You will be surprised how letting them know up front how you will deal with things, encourages them to deal with it themselves.
9 – Private candor, public support. There are times as an administrator, especially when your support for a department head, assistant principal, superintendent, or board, is questioned, that you need to go out and salute the flag. Your role is to be steady and positive as captain of the ship, and you need to be supportive of the other leaders in your building, and then in private you can explain how you feel about icebergs. Understand that just being quiet is not enough, you need to be supportive and confident, people will look to you as a leader and what you don’t say is just as important as what you do say.
10 – Be consistent. Take notes, remember what you say and what you do, have a theme and guidelines, and follow them. Dealing with school politics is like washing hair, lather, rinse, repeat.
11 – Be proactive. If you can head anything off at the pass, do so. That old saying, “a stitch in time..” is an old saying because it’s true.
12 – Respond to Central Office quickly, especially if there is an emergency or crisis. Central office staff does not like to be caught off guard. If you can’t call, have someone else call. It will avoid the political nightmare of why didn’t they know, etc. It is always a nice idea to ask for input as well. It makes them feel needed, and more often than not, their advice is pretty good.
13 – Have a litmus test, mine was, “is this good for kids” and say it, ask it, apply it, often. It is important for staff to know that when they come to you with an issue or idea, that you will look at it through a predictable lens. One that puts your core values on display. Politically everyone will know where you stand, and when your choices are questioned, and they will be, you can always look to your litmus test.
14 – Have an open door policy. As difficult as it is, I feel that this is a must; for kids, parents, and staff. Knowing that you are accessible is the starting off point to averting political issues in your building.
15 – Wait 24 hours. I mentioned this one earlier. It was advice given to me by my old superintendent, Jack Kaldy. Whenever possible, don’t make a big decision without waiting 24 hours. Think on it, relax, gather all the facts you can, talk to whoever you need to, but wait to act. Cause once you do, you can’t take it back.
This list is not meant to be all encompassing, but rather a nice place to start. Perhaps it will foster some conversations around some tables, whether agreeing or disagreeing, at least folks will be talking. And talking about things is the best advice.
After watching a video of Alan Lishness (who designs middle school science programing for the Gulf of Maine Research Institute) talking about his visit to Finland and his reflections on their educational system, I delved a little deeper. While I am still learning more as it has peaked my interest, and while I do believe deeply in the American public education system, it seems there is much to be said about Finland’s system, and how it compares with ours. I know there is more to uncover than just educational policy, such as how economics plays into education, but there certainly are some interesting philosophical differences.
One of the differences that got me thinking was the point made about teacher autonomy. I can recall starting out teaching at a small middle school in mid-Vermont, and having discussions with my team about what topics, standards, and assessments we were going to use to teach our kids. Those conversations changed every year, as did our students. While there were state frameworks to examine and use as a guidelines, we were allowed much more freedom to assess our students abilities, readiness, and interests, and plan lessons accordingly. This was also before NCLB and just before newspapers printed school rankings based on some type of state assessment.
In Finland it seems that teachers are given that same level of autonomy over their classrooms and curriculum. There are guidelines, but the teachers are very well trained and they are allowed the freedom to explore with their students. They are encouraged to take chances and mold their curriculum around their students, rather then their students around their curriculum. This seems to be a key factor in Finland’s success.
What struck me most about this is that while it is completely the opposite direction American education is going in, it is precisely what many independent and private schools do with much success. So I wonder, if Finland can do this, and American independent schools can do this, why can’t public schools?
My first Parent Teacher Conference…as a parent.
The other night I went to my first parent conference as a parent. It was for my daughter, Olivia. She is in first grade, and while we have gone to open houses and parent nights when she was in kindergarten, this was different, this was more like school. There were appointments, examples of student work, behavior charts, and of course, a report card. This was her, my, first report card. To tell the truth, I don’t even know if she was aware of it, as far as she was concerned life and school is good. She has a good time, has friends, and seems to really enjoy the things she learns. For me, staring down at a standards based report card with about 30 lines/categories, each one having its own letter grade and behavior grade (S, 1 for instance), was a little daunting, and very emotional.
Anyone who knows me will tell you that my daughter is gifted, well, they’ll tell you I believe she is gifted, well, they’ll tell you that no matter what all I see is a bright, happy, loving, gifted child. Okay, I admit that I have blinders on when it comes to my daughter, and I also admit that after years of being principal and always finding the middle road and being the voice of compromise and consideration, I as a parent, want to be a little blinded, and at times pleasantly unreasonable. That being said, I was totally unprepared for how I would feel staring down at what another person thinks of my daughters academic abilities. While I wanted to be unreasonable, and cry out, “Hey, she is most certainly not satisfactory in math”, I refrained myself, well a little. I did mention it. After all looking down at all of those “S’s” I wondered if anyone thought she was excellent at anything. I know I did, and I enjoyed working on her homework with her, especially math. And from my teacher/parent eyes, blinders and all, I thought she was an “E, 1” in math (and other things of course). I was also a bit bummed that there was no grade for music or art (which my daughter loves, loves, loves), only for the traditional academic classes. So while I was able to ask a couple of probing questions I found myself in unfamiliar territory; I was at a loss for educational words. All I wanted to do was leave and go be with my daughter.
Please understand that intellectually I know her report card was fine, and that she is making progress on an appropriate developmental scale and cognitively I am sure she will be just fine. However, emotionally I was unprepared to deal with the judging of my first grader through someone else’s eyes, so much so that I couldn’t even ask all the questions I knew I should ask, such as; how she was being taught and assessed, what did the formative assessments say about her learning, did she have any behaviors that came into play, and of course, what are we going to do to ensure her success. You also have to understand that I am not a big fan of conventional grading, and if while this report card in many ways was progressive (using standards) it also used very conventional labels.
Overall it was a good conference and I really like and trust her teachers. There was a genuine sense of caring and understanding that emanated from them and I know that is important to my daughter too. I think next time I will be better prepared emotionally, and perhaps even take a few note cards to keep me focused. Grades can be good tools if they are used as benchmarks and jumping off points, but all too often they are limiting and used to put a period when a comma would be best. We’ll see how the year, my daughter, her teacher, and more importantly my emotional stability progresses.
Professional Development: Can’t we all get along?
The other night we had a great conversation at #edchat about professional development. There were great insights, encouragements, and ideas. However, many of the posts also vented frustrations, and I found myself at times on both sides of the fence. As a teacher I totally get that our PD should reflect our current assignment and be personally meaningful, and as a principal, I understand that school-wide professional development builds collegiality and moves buildings and districts in a way that nothing else can. Upon reflection, I don’t see these ideas as being diametrically opposed to each other, so why do they seem so far apart in practice?
When I started out as an assistant principal in a middle school in northern Vermont, the PD was organized by a committee of teachers led by an admin (me at the time). Being a new administrator and fresh out of the classroom, I welcomed teacher input, and together we articulated what was needed for systemic growth. It was great because we could tie in personal goals with district and building goals, have team/grade representation in our discussions, and because teachers often led the work, we increased the investment our staff had in our PD days. Since then, I have seen that model take on a whole new look or disappear altogether.
I don’t know if it is due to the high stakes testing and misguided accountability programs, but it seems that district administrators (and at times principals) have taken over PD, and while they may gather input from a committee, inevitability they do what they feel is best. Similarly, I have known teachers who have taken an easier road when left to their own devices around PD. Now I do feel strongly, and I wish all teachers and administrators internalized this, that the best of intentions are there. Everyone wants to move themselves, staff, and their school, forward. The reality is however, that for a variety of reasons, the disconnect between meaningful learning and PD occurs frequently. Starting a change in this practice means not throwing blame and pointing fingers; we must all accept and embrace that we all are coming from a place of best intentions.
However, change needs to occur, and to get the most “bang for the PD buck”, both teachers and administrators must be willing to cooperate and see both sides of the coin. Jumping back into the classroom after being an administrator for ten years has given me great insights into what teachers do every day and what they need to continue their good work. Furthermore, I empathize with the role my Principal plays in guiding my school. I don’t expect that every administrator or teacher will be able to “walk a mile…” as they say, but if teachers and administrators could find enough common ground, if Principal’s could find the courage to share the responsibility and authority around teacher PD, if teachers could see the value in systemic PD, then I know they would see great things happen. It does not mean that principals can’t have a strong hand in setting building goals, and they certainly can set parameters that would require PD to link to building and/or district goals, and it doesn’t mean that teachers can’t hone areas that are important to them, but a well-run committee of teachers and administrators, all equally given responsibility and authority to carry out their role, could do so much to engage all educators in continued professional learning.
Have we lost the ability to celebrate?
In the local news this past week has been the story of a high school football playoff game. From all accounts it was a great game, on a great day, between two great teams. That is until late in the game when the QB of one of the teams raised his hand in triumph as he ran the ball in for a touch-down that would have surely won the game, and a flag was thrown. The official called his action “intentional celebration/taunting” and marked the ball back at the spot where the offense took place. The final result of the game was a loss for that team.
The newspapers and radio talk shows were all over this, and opinions varied, but unfortunately the conversation missed the middle ground altogether. Yes, the athlete who, according to his mother, has moved on from the event and is looking forward to basketball season, did raise his arm in celebration. And yes, this was the second time he had done so in the game, and so, yes, the official was well within the Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association’s scope to enforce the rule. For the most part, this should be the end of it, done deal, the team lost on a penalty, it happens, and it is a life lesson for the whole team, no matter how difficult it is. This is, however, not the middle ground I speak of. I congratulate both teams on a hard-fought game, and I believe that we live with rules and it is our obligation when playing sports, or any organized activity, that we follow not only the rules, but the spirit that the rule was intended to support. The latter is where the middle ground comes in.
I do not think that this story is really newsworthy all by itself, despite the Mayor of Boston inviting the losing team to come in for lunch and give them “their due”. But it does raise the question; have we lost sight of who kids are? In our world of high stakes testing, “adequate yearly progress”, SINI and DINI labels, and where recess is reduced and homework is increased; have we lost sight of allowing students to celebrate who they are? Is a hand raised in accomplishment taunting? As a long time coach, athlete, teacher, and school administrator, I understand that excessive celebration and taunting has no place in children’s sports or in education, but I also believe that we need to celebrate student successes, whether on the field of play or in the classroom.
In this case perhaps it is time for someone to ask the MIAA to examine their rule and to make changes that take into account the true nature of who adolescents are. Perhaps instead of shouting at the MIAA, what folks need to do is to discuss what is a normal level of expression of joy when we accomplish something we set out to do. Today in educational there are states, districts, and schools, maybe yours or your neighbors, that have seriously restricted our ability to celebrate who students are, what they accomplish, and who they want to be.
My concern is that if we don’t start recognizing the extreme measures we are taking in the name of progress and reform, we will forget about what makes us great; what makes our students want to come to school and learn. Imagine if we did not allow teachers to “high five” kids who did well on assessments, or learned something really well, accomplished a goal, won a robotics tournament, or played a great game. Imagine if we did not allow school celebrations for honor roll, art shows, or citizenship. What if we did not have student actors and musicians come out for a bow at the end of a performance? How close are we really to being there, what lessons are we teaching our kids? Where is the middle ground?
Happy New Year
Typically New Year’s starts out with a resolution and my family is no different. My wife has already vowed to make me healthier (and happier?) so I know that no matter what I do, I will get off to a good start (she will be tenacious for the next few months at least). While I will of course try to exercise more, eat well, and stay in touch with family and friends more often, I have to say that creating a new year resolution seems a bit redundant to me. As an educator, regardless if I worked year round as a principal or have summers off as a teacher, the new year always seems to begin in September.
This past year was no exception and my resolutions were simple but challenging. First off, with a change in job came the renewed focus on family, and I have certainly been more involved in their lives. It has been a pleasure watching soccer games, going to my daughter’s concerts, doing homework, and generally playing with them more. I have seen the benefits of spending more time with family, not just “quality time” as was my past excuse, and this is one resolution that I will remain resolute on.
I have always enjoyed physical activity (at least as much as a good movie, pizza, and beer) and I started out my summer being much more physically active. I found a new interest in road biking (vs. my enjoyment of mountain biking) and overall I really liked working out regularly during the week. My goal was to remain that regimented during the school year, but a knee injury derailed that me. I hope to work more on this as I believe for us to be our best, we must feel our best, and that means exercise. It is a great method of stress inoculation and relief for other job related ailments. I will work on that.
Technology use was another big resolution for me. I wanted to increase my technology footprint; expose myself to Twitter, use Facebook a little more, and start a blog. So far, while I could stand to write a little more often, those things are going well. I have been inspired on several occasions from things I have read on Twitter, and have used what I have learned in my classroom. I find it to be an incredible professional tool. It is unfortunate that too many folks look at it as a way to find out what their favorite media star had for breakfast, as it is so much more. Originally I thought I would blog twice a week, but I think a weekly goal is more reasonable, with daily (or so) tweets mixed in. I will work on writing more.
Finding time of course is the big “R” factor in this entire Resolution business. Perhaps I can find time in the morning to help in accomplishing more. I am sure I can count on my wife, who can be very inspiring when it comes to diving into a goal, as she can help by incorporating things I am working on, with the goals she has for me. Overall I am doing pretty well with my September New Year’s goals; check plus on the more time with the family, check minus on the exercise, check with regards to technology. So perhaps my one New Year’s resolution this January will be to work on the time issue, and I am sure that between vitamins, vegetables, and yoga, my wife will allow me time on tech.
PD of the Future: Teachers and Students learning together
What is the purpose of professional development? Let’s say that at the very least, we want our staff to develop additional tools to enhance their teaching. Over the years much of the professional development I have been subjected to (deliberate choice of words) has focused on district initiatives and has been delivered in such a manner that if I were to teach that way, I would not score any points with my students. That is not to say that many of these “stand and deliver” workshops haven’t been interesting, and because I have been conditioned to sit, listen, and learn from many years of Catholic school, I usually get something out of them.
But is there a better way? While certainly bringing in experts to offer enlightenment and current research has its place (and I am not being sarcastic), what if we could tie together relevance, accessibility, cost effectiveness, and the ability to assess its impact all in one? What if we could embed our PD into our weekly routines? To do this we would still need to enlist experts in learning; our students. And instead of taking place in a lecture hall, auditorium, cafeteria, or other venue, we would use our classrooms. As a matter fact, we’ll do this while we are teaching and call it “on the job” or “embedded” professional development.
Now learning on the job is not new. All teachers learn on the job. No matter what unit or topic or skill we are covering, we always learn, change, and develop. But school sanctioned “on the job” PD is not common, as a matter of fact in two districts I worked in I was told that “professional development had to occur outside your contracted hours”. But what if we could “develop professionally” in the classroom, with the students, as we try new things, and uncover different avenues to teach and learn ourselves? Imagine if we could try something in our classes, be observed trying it, get genuine feedback from our students, and get continuing credits for it? Wouldn’t this encourage teachers to try more things; wouldn’t this make the PD more authentic? Wouldn’t this assist in producing better student outcomes and build stronger student teacher relationships as they begin to see the teacher not only as a mentor/coach, but as a partner invested in their own learning as much as theirs? Then, perhaps we can use our staff meetings, or early release days, to collaborate and share what cool things our students have taught us. Could this work, what “sacred cows” do we need to BBQ, and how does technology play into this? Just my thoughts, what are yours?
Redmond High School: Proficiency-based learning – making time the variable
This is a very cool article. The idea that proficiency should dictate time on task has been widely accepted in schools, but using proficiency to determine time in schools is a bit more challenging for many folks to get around. New Hampshire uses a “competency” approach for students to achieve credit and graduate, and traditionally high schools, to some extent, created flexibility in time by measuring student’s class status with credits as students self-selected what courses to take. But Redmond High School takes it to another level. Ask yourself, “what if time is the variable and learning is the constant?” Please read on.
Wittgenstein and my friends…
It may be a little late for a “New Year’s” post about 2011, but I came by this article from a while back and thought it was an interesting enough read to share here. I love the philosopher Wittgenstein and I believe that words are extremely powerful, and this article created some debate amongst my peers as we read and discussed the significance and usefulness of these words. My suggestion to you is to share this with your colleagues and talk about what these words, and others, have meant to your organization, school, or peer group.
The 11 Words for 2011 by Frank Luntz
Huffington Post, 2011 http://huff.to/AlMWzL
Words matter. The most powerful words have helped launch social movements and cultural revolutions. The most effective words have instigated great change in public policy. The right words at the right time can literally change history.
Most of you know me as a wordsmith. From time to time my memos and language guides have appeared on these pages — sometimes with my blessings and sometimes against my will. I realize that my work is often controversial, and often you like to attack the messenger, but it’s the message that matters.
For those who care about words, I’m going to make it easy for you. No need to dig through my trash or shuffle through my papers. I will voluntarily open up my computer files to give you the “11 for 11″… the 11 most powerful words and phrases for 2011. This comes straight from my new book, Win: The Principles That Take Your Business From Ordinary to Extraordinary. These are the phrases that you should or would be hearing if the political leaders were listening and communicating effectively. These are the words that matter most in business, politics, the media and culture:
“Imagine” is still the most powerful word in the English language because it is inspiring, motivating, and has a unique definition for each person. When you want to inspire, imagine is the language vehicle.
“No excuses.” Of all the messages used by America’s business and political elite, no phrase better conveys accountability, responsibility and transparency. This phrase generates immediate respect and appreciation.
“I get it.” This explains not only a complete understanding of the situation but also a willingness to solve or resolve the situation. It’s short, sweet and effective — and too few leaders use it.
“If you remember only one thing…” is the surest way to guarantee that voters will remember the one point that matters most to you. This is essential in complicated situations like the upcoming debt ceiling vote.
“Uncompromising integrity.” Of all the truthiness words, none is as powerful as “integrity,” but in today’s cynical environment, even that’s not enough. People also need to feel that your integrity is absolute.
“The simple truth” comes straight from billionaire businessman Steve Wynn, and it sets the context for a straightforward discussion that might otherwise be confusing or contentious. It’s the perfect phrase to begin and end the budget-deficit-debt debate.
“Believe in better” comes from BSKYB, the satellite television provider owned in part by Rupert Murdoch’s Newscorp empire. Of all the corporate mission statements of the Fortune 100, “believe in better” is the second-most popular — and it applies to politics as well. People don’t want quantity. They want quality.
“Real-time.” This is not a pitch for Bill Maher. Many American were furious that they couldn’t get the details of the health-care legislation in a timely fashion. “Real-time” communicates receiving information at the speed of life.
“You decide.” No, this is not paying homage to Fox News. The lesson of 2010 is that Americans want control of their lives back, and they don’t want Washington or Wall Street making their decisions for them. So add the phrase “you’re in control” and you’ve said exactly what Americans want to hear.
“You deserve.” This comes from DNC Chairman Tim Kaine and it was first employed by him in his highly praised 2006 SOTU response. It tells voters precisely what they should expect from their politicians and their government.
“Let’s get to work” was employed by Florida Governor Rick Scott in his successful campaign. No other end-of-speech rallying cry is more motivational to voters.
These are 11 phrases that will be shaping the public discourse over the coming year. You won’t find a similar list from a liberal wordsmith — there aren’t any — so you might as well use these. And if you want the other 89 words and phrases that really matter, you’ll just have to buy the book.
Dr. Frank Luntz is the author of Win: The Principles That Take Your Business From Ordinary to Extraordinary. His two previous books have been New York Times Bestsellers.
This post takes the long way to get to the places we’ll go….
I love Dr. Seuss. My favorite story is “The Lorax”. I don’t know if it is the message, the rhymes, or the characters, but it has always made me smile and think. I would guess that many folks, perhaps everyone, has a favorite Dr. Seuss story.
Recently I have found new ways to enjoy those stories all over again, as being a father of two young kids allows me to read them as bed time stories and we just love them. The story, words, and rhymes make them spectacular to a young child, and what delights me even more is explaining and exploring their underlying messages.
In 1937 the Theodore Geisel book, “And to Think I Saw it On Mulberry Street” was published. It is a story of a boy who begins his day in ordinary fashion and on his way home from school he thinks of what to tell his Dad about his walk home on Mulberry Street. As he ponders the wondrous possibilities stretching his imagination, he finds himself home again telling his father what he really did see; a broken down cart pulled by an old horse. While there are some who take this as commentary on the stifling of imagination and the relationship between adults and children, I know it to be an uplifting story of exaggeration, wonder, and the power of a child’s mind. If you follow up “Mulberry Street” with another one of Dr. Seuss’ books, “Oh the Places You’ll Go”, you get what could perhaps be a cryptic look at what schools could be like if we all had a little more “Seuss” in us.
School reform often seems to be about mundane changes or radical “school-ectomies”. Whether you call it reform, revolution, development, or simply change; American public education could use a dose of “Seussical perspective”. Let me explain what I mean by explaining a bit more of my life. I have a 6 year old daughter who is in first grade and let me state that I am happy with her teacher and the school she is in, I am impressed by her principal, and all of the folks I have met to date. However, one day my daughter was given a “red” card (a warning that we take very seriously in first grade and at home) for singing in line while she waited to get a drink at the water fountain. Now am not advocating for anarchy at the water fountains, and I might have done the same thing (although I would like to think not) but you must understand that my daughter sings all the time, really, all the time, for her everything is a song and frankly I love it. I know that I have asked students to be quiet in the hallway, but there is a difference between the voices of middle and high school kids singing/talking and first grade students. I do not wish to point a finger at the teacher who gave her this as I am sure it is within the correct guidelines, and probably rightly so, and I am sure that if all 15 or so first grade students were singing it would be an issue, but still it gave me pause. Rightly so or not, it reminded me of a line from one of my favorite movies, “Uncle Buck” starring the late and great John Candy. In one scene he is talking to the principal of his niece’s school commenting on the fact that the Principal noted she doesn’t take her schooling seriously enough and is a dreamer;
“I don’t think I want to know a six-year-old who isn’t a dreamer, or a sillyheart. And I sure don’t want to know one who takes their student career seriously. I don’t have a college degree. I don’t even have a job. But I know a good kid when I see one. Because they’re ALL good kids…” – Buck Russell”
And this got me to think of “the places we’ll go” if school’s not only allowed for students to sing as part of their regular day, but encouraged it, if we harnessed their imagination to support their determination and presented it in a celebration (sorry, I may have been channeling Dr. Seuss). I do feel that schools all too often restrict students’ natural curiosity by prescribing curriculum and test driven content over skill acquisition and learning how to learn. I am not suggesting that we give up all structure and content, but rather flex the boundaries of our “curricula” and allow for more student choice as we guide them on the journey of exploration. Let’s see ourselves as coaches who are building a team of super Seuss-heroes, and our job is to hone and encourage each of our students “powers” and celebrate them as they take on the world. Let’s channel Dr. Seuss and strive to inspire curiosity and wonderment, to create dreamers and “sillyhearts”.
Today is your day!
You’re off to great places!
You’re off and away!
You have brains in your head.
You have feet in your shoes.
You can steer yourself
any direction you choose.’
You’re on your own.
And you know what you know.
And YOU are the one who’ll decide where to go.
– Oh, the Places You’ll Go! (Dr. Seuss, 1990)
Academic Vigor and Meeting the Learning Needs of Middle Level Students
Dr. Robert Spear and I originally wrote this as a journal entry for the New England League of Middle Schools, and I thought I would share it here. Dr. Spear is the former Executive Director of NELMS.
Middle level schools are unique places largely due to their unique student population. Students ages 10 – 14 undergo vast social, intellectual, emotional and physical changes. It is the role of middle level schools to provide an academically vigorous curriculum and instruction while assisting them to become knowledgeable about themselves and the world around them. This knowledge, their experiences, and their education will assist students to make better decisions about their personal and educational lives in order to form a strong foundation as they enter adulthood. Increasingly, more has been written about the difficulties for schools to find the balance between providing academic vigor as compared to meeting the developmental needs of young adolescent students.
Academically, middle level schools work to provide students with a vigorous curriculum that will move them through their own brain development from predominantly concrete thinkers to primarily abstract thinkers. This needs to be done by specifically trained educators who are not only experts in their specific disciplines but are artisans in the area of teaching early adolescent children. Studies suggest that successful students are taught by teachers who are not only proficient in their discipline (history, math, art, science, etc) but also have a high level of understanding and training while working with middle level students specifically. The same is true about middle level administrators.
Middle level educators have always embraced the importance of academic vigor; they have used the mantra of learning, relevance, and relationships to guide developmentally appropriate practices in the classroom. (These practices are outlined in the Carnegie Corporation’s Turning Points 2000 and the National Middle School Association’s This We Believe.) It is these practices that are sometimes maligned, that form the foundation upon which appropriate academic expectations are built to provide vigorous academic challenges. These practices also help students better understand their unique learning process and style and they also encourage students to take educational risks and to learn from their mistakes
Educators, who know and understand young adolescents, can create developmentally appropriate curricula that builds upon basic skills and broadens the information base to provide opportunities for mastery. These results are achieved by an assortment of methods to properly assess the variety of thinkers in any middle level school group. One common practice that middle level educators use are the interdisciplinary links that provide opportunities for authentic learning that fits better with the natural curiosity of young adolescents.
Academic vigor cannot be measured accurately for middle level students by traditional standardized testing alone. Educators must asses and provide frequent feedback in many forms such as classroom discussions, essays, reports, tests, projects, and performances. Authentic assessments based on portfolio review and service learning is often overlooked by traditional testing measures.
Middle level schools can also support academic vigor by supporting the learning that occurs outside the classroom setting; encouraging faculty and students to take advantage of field trips, extra curricular activities, and social events. Participation in these activities can be risky for some young adolescents, but they are often successful when they are supported by a deliberate program of student advocacy. This advocacy/advisory can serve to encourage students to stretch the boundaries of their thinking and feelings. Middle level academics will benefit when students are open to seeing risks as opportunities for growth and challenges as obstacles to overcome.
When examining academic vigor in middle level schools, it is important to look at the entirety of programs, much like middle level teachers look at the whole student. Middle level educators have always embraced the importance of academic vigor; in fact, it is a founding philosophy. They have infused high academic standards and state standards with a clear focus on understanding the whole child.
Developmentally appropriate education is not a “buzz word”, it is a necessity! As we look toward the challenge of providing educational programs that truly meet the developmental needs of our students, perhaps providing an overall vigorous educational experience should be our goal.
Turning Points: Preparing American Youth for the 21st Century. The Report of the Task Force on Education of Young Adolescents (New York: Carnegie Corporation, 1989)
This We Believe: Successful Schools for Young Adolescents. A position Paper of National Middle School Association (Westerville, Ohio. 2003)
We have purposely used the word vigor as opposed to rigor. Rigor is defined by the Merriam-Webster Dictionary as “…harsh inflexibility in opinion, temper, or judgment… the quality of being unyielding or inflexible…” It is preceded in the dictionary by the words ridged and rigmarole and followed by the word rigormortis. These are hardly the words we want to use to describe the learning experience for young adolescents. Vigor is defined as, “…active bodily or mental strength or force…active healthy well-balanced growth…intensity of action or effect…” therefore, this is the word purposely chosen for this article.