Classroom Visits

After over a year in this superintendency, I’m achieving one of the most important goals I set in my entry plan. When I started the job, I made a commitment to visit every classroom. It probably goes without saying that I’ll be more effective as a leader and make better decisions as I come to know our district well. One of the ways I can do this is by spending time in our classrooms.

However, that’s been easier said than done for me. After starting in December of 2008, there was definitely a transition period when I was learning 1000+ things at once while making decisions, developing relationships and trying to do a good job of it all. But even after this year started, I still struggled to make the time to leave all of the office work behind and head to the classrooms. There’s just so much in this position that I never even imagined existed when working in other capacities within a school system.

Problem solved now. I asked my secretary extraordinaire, Maureen Pitts, to help me be a better superintendent. Since she has access to my calendar, she agreed to schedule me for “unscheduled” classroom visits. By doing so, it’s a part of my daily routine and I don’t decide to work on something else instead. She’ll schedule me for two or three teachers at a time, all in close proximity to each other.  I get the chance to see what our kids are learning, come to know our teachers a little bit better and to show that what happens in our classrooms is the most important thing that happens in our district every day. I’m focused on learning. (Thanks Mrs. Pitts!)

It’s especially important as we set forth to follow our BOE vision for the district of “Learning with Passion, Innovation and Leadership”. If we say that learning with passion, innovation and leadership is what’s most important to us as an organization, then I need to walk it, not just talk it.

And the learning I’m seeing in our classrooms every day? As varied as the teachers and students in them with wonderful opportunities for learning at every level. Once again I’m reminded that Randolph Central is exactly the district where we can move forward as our learning opportunities become more and more filled with passion, innovation and leadership—–we’re well on our way already!

Student Teaching

Our daughter, Bryna, is currently student teaching in a small neighboring district. She’s majoring in childhood education, grades 1-6. When it was time to sign up for student teaching, Bryna left her placement up to chance. She didn’t want to be encumbered or helped by my potential relationship with anyone in her placement districts. I respect that, the kid wants to make her way on her own.

As you might expect, I’ve been very interested in what she has to say about her experiences. Education has been my passion for 20+ years so having my daughter in the field is exciting to me. I also know she’s got a talent for it from watching her teach karate to large groups of children since she was about fifteen. Her dad and her brother would add here that she’s the best teacher in the family, especially when working with their less “focused” students. Let’s just say that we saw her potential and talent long before she did, back when she was focused on becoming an attorney.

So she’s been sharing her experiences, everything from how nervous she gets around the principal (“he could potentially hire me if I show him what I can do!”) to how much she adores and respects her cooperating teacher to her positive observations by her SUNY Fredonia professor. I’m glad to hear about her thoughts and her planned projects and her hopes for the future.

But you know what makes me the most proud? When she talks about her kids.When she makes them more than a name in a grade book, a statistic on a NYS assessment report or a count for state aid. When she’s spitting mad because one little boy NEVER has lunch money and his mother won’t fill out the free and reduced lunch form and ‘how is it fair that he has to grow up like this?!’ And when she’s passionate about all that “her” kids can do and the communities project she’s planning and ‘would I come and watch them for the rehearsal day because they really need an audience?’

When I hear my kid advocate for those second graders and plan for them and dream with them, I know she’s got the heart of a teacher. And when she wonders how she can make it better and ‘why can’t I give one little boy 25 cents for ice cream because his mother never will’–that’s when I know she’ll do her very best every day for each of those kids. And I tell her what I know so well to be true from my own experiences, “you’ll have those kids who get a raw deal each and every year. All you can do is love them more.”

In my experience there are lots of kids who will be successful despite us, it’s those who need us to love them because they’re not sure anyone else does who have motivated me in this life long career. If I can show a child that  she matters to me, that I see him, that I expect the best of her because I know it’s in her–well, if you ask me that’s the most valuable thing I can do in the entire course of my lifetime.

I am so thankful that my daughter begins that same work now, for every kid she encounters who needs her. Nothing could possibly make me happier. Who needs an attorney in the family when I’ve got a daughter setting out to change the world, one kid at a time? Go get ’em kid.

RCS Learning Clubs

I’ve written here frequently about Thoughtful Classroom and the instructional strategies I’ve learned.  I’m extremely excited about the 30 teachers who have signed on for our Randolph Learning Clubs! Teams of two teachers will lead learning clubs for two hours per month after school in which other teachers participate. The teachers in the Learning Clubs will be learning new strategies, trying them out, observing and helping one another to implement best practice. We will be building capacity within our own staff in an on-going meaningful way, not just one stop workshops that may or may not take hold in the classroom.

Investing in our collective knowledge as educators, talking about what’s working and asking for suggestions with what’s not–we’re so much better together than apart. And  I’m delighted that 30 of our 82 teachers signed on for this learning opportunity. That’s a great response right out of the gate. It’s not the way teachers have typically done business with one another. There’s a risk in sticking your neck out and saying “hey, I did this and it was wonderful” and an even bigger risk in saying, “this lesson totally bombed, how could I have made it better?” and I’m loving that 30 RCS teachers are on board. Thank you Randolph faculty, I can’t wait to see what you learn together and from each other.

P.S. –thanks to our dynamic curriculum coordinator, Tiffany Giannicchi, for helping to put it all together and working with our Teacher Leaders to make it happen. Thanks in advance to our Teacher Leaders for your willingness to learn and share–you inspire me to keep implementing new ways of learning here.