Rock Stars of Education

At an Education Week Leadership Forum this week, I had the opportunity to meet two women who have influenced my thinking for many years. Diane Ravitch and Deborah Meier. Ms. Ravitch and Ms. Meier write a blog that I read regularly, Bridging Differences, in addition to having individually authored several books on education to include Meier’s In Schools We Trust and Ravitch’s The Death and Life of the Great American School System. Their straightforward advocacy for a free and equal public education and their perspectives on the issues we face in education greatly influence my thinking and leadership. I’m not someone who would pay $5 or take the time to walk down the hallway to meet 99% of the “famous” people out there—but I have to admit, I was thrilled. When they sat down at the table next to ours, I was positively star struck. Deborah MeierKimberly, Diane Ravitch, Jerry Mottern

I especially appreciated the thoughts they shared on high stakes testing and federal “reform”. When they spoke of policy makers and our political leaders expecting that the way to improve our schools is through “PUNISHING, CLOSING AND FIRING”, I wanted to stand up and cheer. Yes, I get that it’s our responsibility as administrators to hold all employees responsible for their performance on the job. I’m not reluctant to have crucial conversations with employees. What I do not agree with is the notion that people perform better from a position of fear.

How do we empower our teachers and encourage them to collaborate more with a sharing of ideas and an openness to the idea that they can learn from one another? How do we break down the walls surrounding each classroom that causes teachers to stay inside and keep what they do quiet? How do we encourage teachers to critically analyze their own practice in an effort to improve? NOT through fear and competition and threats. Fear doesn’t help anyone do a better job, including me. Fear doesn’t help teachers to teach more effectively and it doesn’t help our students to learn either. Or better put by Deborah and Diane, “Fear is not an incentivizing tool.” For anyone. Thanks Ladies, for leading and writing and inspiring educators just like me.

1:1 Laptop Research and Analysis

We’re thinking a lot about a 1:1 student laptop initiative for our district. In the research and analysis part of a major implementation like this one, we’re looking at every possible angle BEFORE we even think about actually moving forward.  We’re already past the “WHY?” and “IS IT WORTH IT?” parts of the analysis. I know first hand what’s happening with technology, our instructional methods and learning at RCS and we have definite pockets that are ready for it, while many of our other classrooms are right on the cusp. As we push forward, we know that putting the technology into the hands of our students on a 24/7 basis is necessary. The costs are  relatively low, with a device available at $99—(that’s the cost of one textbook), so it’s not hard to imagine how we’ll cover the costs.  Making this happen without impacting our community taxpayer will obviously be a must in this economic climate.

We’re looking at various options and considering the most cost effective and useful devices and options, including purchases through BOCES and eRate, of course. After researching it, we will put the information into the hands of our Tech Committee, which includes parent and student input.

We’re considering some questions now that I’m thinking may or may not be significant hurdles to a possible implementation.  I’m sure others of you have already been there.  The purpose of this post is to see what solutions may be out there to a couple of problems. Here’s what I’m wondering about:

1. What’s the most cost effective way to get kids in our rural community connected? Not every home has Internet access. Are we close enough with pilot projects to imagine the school becoming the Internet provider for every household that contains a student? Or do we look at an option like Verizon and the same kind of connection I use now at my own home (where we don’t even have cable available to us)?

2. How do we handle the inequity? Some of our kids already have what they need at home. In fact, they have better devices and access than we’ll put into the hands of our students. How do we say to one student, “here’s a device and an Internet connection because we know you don’t have it at home.” and to another student, “you’ve already got what you need, right?” That sounds reasonable but will we have families who say, “why does she get that when we don’t?” Yet it seems ridiculous to give every child a device and a connection just to be “fair” when we know many are already set. Or is that what we need to do?

3. What happens when a student damages or loses his device? What do we do if a family refuses to accept the responsibility of their child receiving a device?

We are in the very beginning planning stages, all advice is welcome!

Doctoral Degree?

I am completely undecided about something. Indecision isn’t common for me. If you’ve got a thought on this one, could you please consider helping me out with a comment or two?  Here’s the decision:

I’ve been seriously considering starting my doctoral work for almost a year. Where to do the work? I’ve researched a couple of options nearby and a few on-line opportunities. What? I’ve done some extensive research on the difference between PhD programs and the EdD programs. I think I’ve narrowed down the where, when and what of the decision. What I’m stuck on is the why and to what end?

The cost of the doctoral degree is significant. I’m looking at $38,000 to $70,000, depending upon the detail of the decision. Even given the lower number of $38,000, I won’t recoup that in career advancement. I’m in exactly the career and the district that I want to be in so I’m not looking to do this as a way to improve my employability and I don’t need it for certification or licensure.

Why am I considering it? A couple of reasons. It’s the next goal for me, the next thing to achieve and as a life long “climber”, I’m always looking for my next challenge. I also think that starting my doctoral degree will help me to remain in Randolph–that it will give me that challenge that I always seem to need, without moving to a larger, tougher, different district to get it. I love the idea of completing my degree via an on-line university so that I could experience on line learning first hand and better understand it. I also wonder if it will afford me a structure for my thinking as I work to accomplish another goal of writing that first book. I’m excited by the idea of the coursework, I love researching, analyzing and writing.

Why do I hesitate? That’s a huge chunk of change for something that’s not really going to take me anywhere in my career. I know, I know, it might some day, you never know where life will take you–but it might not. I’ve worked hard every step of the way, on my own, to accomplish what I have–and education has been one key component that opened those doors. But now I’m here, can’t I just be satisfied with where I am? What return will I get on this investment? Is it worth it?

Accepting Feedback

Did you listen to your mother when you were growing up? Did you do what she told you to do? If your father even looked at you sideways, did you straighten up? Or how about your grandparents or a teacher? If someone gave me feedback, either constructive or when I had a “smart mouth” to my mother and that feedback was a smack in that same mouth—I paid attention. I listened and learned. I didn’t necessarily like it, but I did whatever it was that I was supposed to do. And I got a LOT of feedback, no one in our family held back. If I had a serious mis-step, someone pointed it out to me. Thank goodness.

When I started working at fifteen, I listened to my boss. I followed instructions. I did what they wanted me to do as their employee and I tried my best. Every day. Every job. From sweeping the parking lots at 7/11 to unloading the truck at CVS to following the NYS learning standards and teaching my best lessons to completing assignments on time as an administrator–I did what was expected of me and then some. After all, that’s what my parents taught me to do in the world.

There’s got to be a direct correlation, and I know I’m generalizing, between how we’re parented and what kind of employees we become. If you have expectations for your children and you teach them how to act in the world and if you teach them responsibility and accountability, they will also make good employees one day—at every level of an organization.

If you teach them that they’re so special they don’t have to follow the same ‘rules’ as everyone else, if you fight every battle for them, if you give them a sense of entitlement, if you NEVER correct them—they will make for spoiled, entitled employees who don’t see that they have to meet the same expectations as everyone else. And I doubt they’ll make for good spouses or friends or parents either. And they’ll not even hear any constructive criticism or feedback or plan for how they can improve–because you’ve already taught them that they’re perfect so why should they have to change a thing about their privileged selves. Your children need you to parent them.

My mom always said, “no one is perfect and no one belongs on a pedestal”.  It’s a long way to fall when your kid eventually learns those lessons.

I am so grateful for our many, many employees who listen and who want to improve, who value the input of others, who are responsible and accountable. I’m grateful for all of you who work so hard, who already self reflect and research and analyze your practice. I’m grateful every time you listen to the feedback you’re given and then genuinely work to do what we’ve asked. And I’m most assuredly grateful to your parents for teaching you how to live successfully in the world!

Learning Outside the Zone

Our daughter Bryna is getting married in April. For this reason, she asked us to take dance lessons. Apparently, she doesn’t want the father-daughter dance to look like two kids at a Jr. High Dance. The junior high sway has been working for her father and me for 24+ years so I’m not sure what the problem is, but hey, we’re game.

I cannot tell you how far out of my comfort zone I have to go to take dance lessons. I remember going to dance at Miss Fletcher’s studio in the 2nd grade. Let me tell you, as a six year old I knew this was not my calling. The night of the recital they had a mother helping to get us ready and when she placed me in the front row, I assured her she had me confused with the petite Kim in the class. Sure enough, Miss Fletcher took one look and switched us.

Off we went last Friday night, to Guys and Dolls Dance Studio in Jamestown with this memory in my head and a glass of wine from dinner counter-acting the nervousness. When we met the instructor, Laura Cimino, I thought “this woman is OUT THERE.” She was hugely enthusiastic, used her mic to speak to six of us, and kind of goofy acting.

You know what else she was? A genius. Just like Todd Whitaker advised in the tapes we watched with our new teachers yesterday afternoon, this dance instructor made it ‘cool to care’. She was fun and bubbly and I got over myself quickly. Had she been a “Black Swan” kind of perfect dancer in a tight little leotard, I would have felt like a big klutz and my insecurity would have over-shadowed everything else, making it much harder for me to learn.

We go back tonight and I’m really looking forward to it. I know (at least she made me believe) that I didn’t completely stink at it, so I’m confident I can learn something. I’m game to try. She’s so enthusiastic and ‘out there’ about her topic, that she’s got me buying in.

Which is exactly what our best classroom teachers do every day! They make it cool to care about school, they make kids feel safe, they act goofy and fun and empower their kids who may be feeling just as insecure and inept in the classroom as I felt entering that dance studio. They help kids get over themselves and discover the joy of learning. Pure genius.

Excluding the Drop Outs

It’s the story of a girl. A girl who drops out of high school.  For what reason, I’m not sure. Does it matter? Our fault, hers, life got in the way, not enough support–either way she left us without a diploma.

What happens to a drop out ten years after high school? What opportunities does he find, what obstacles? Does he find gainful employment? Can she get hired anywhere?

What about here? Do we hire one of our own former students who never graduated? One who’s raising a family in our community and trying to make it, one who wants to work and provide a life for her kids? Do we hire that boy who carries the stigma of drop out his whole life? Do we hire him to work in the cafeteria or as a grounds keeper helper or to clean our buildings?

It’s honest, hard work. People to work cleaning up after the 1000+ kids and 200+ adults who course through our buildings every day. . . there isn’t a long line of people looking for this work. The cleaners and custodians we have now work hard to get it done and it’s a thankless job most of the time. I treasure them for cleaning up after the rest of us. Substitute cleaners? Even harder to find.

So as an institution dedicated to learning with an end game of graduation, do we exclude people from work who don’t hold that diploma? Because that’s what our procedure states and it’s just not feeling right to me.

I get that it’s us saying, “a diploma is so important to us that we’re going to require everyone who works here to have one”. I struggle with the idea that we’re kicking someone in the teeth who as an adult must feel every day the consequences of the decision to drop out. I’m not sure what that’s accomplishing?

Using Technology in the Classrooms

About the use of technology in classrooms. . . sometimes there are lessons that are just quicker and more effective without technology. If you can accomplish your learning goal with a quick paper/pencil activity, go for it.

So when is it a good idea to use technology? When it affords students opportunities they can’t otherwise obtain, or when it allows them to create, collaborate, research, and communicate. Or when you recognize that the tech tools are often integral in students’ lives and you want the learning to meet them where they live and breathe.

And sometimes it’s also a completely cool and appropriate use of the technology when it looks like this. . . check out this video of two of our stupendous Kindergarten students learning in Lisa Burris’ class. One more option, one more way to connect. Now you tell me, are our two students excited about making words; are they learning with passion and innovation?

Public School Bashing?

Perhaps Oprah Winfrey and Bill Gates would like to come to Randolph? If you didn’t see her show yesterday, it was a general indictment of public education, teachers and administrators in part as a response to the new movie “Waiting for Superman”. I’m naturally sensitive to an assault on public education because I’ve dedicated 21 years of my life to it, to improving it for all of our kids. I’m also sensitive to the pervasive negativity that ignores all of the good work being done every day by teachers, administrators and support staff.

At least 1000 things go right every week for our kids and those things go unnoticed. It’s okay that they go unnoticed because our parents and community SHOULD expect us to do our jobs, take care of our kids and to lead learning for them. Do we need to change the public school system so that kids are learning differently? Absolutely. But that doesn’t mean that all of the hard working teachers who ARE getting it right every day, need to be expunged so that others can do the job better. We can do it better ourselves and we are.

In my experience, teachers give their best each and every day. And when we ask them to do something differently, when we lead them to change the system in ways that give our students the opportunities to learn with passion, innovation and technology. . . they’re right there with us. We’re doing that right now in Randolph, learning will not look the same here three years from now that it does today. BUT that doesn’t mean that what we’re doing now is wrong or bad or harmful. . . our kids are learning and excelling in many ways, they’re positive participants in this entire system of schooling.

Come and see what our teachers are doing with our students, every day. Come and see where we are  teaching kids to communicate,  to problem solve, to analyze and create, to take initiative and to lead.  And where we can do better, we will.

We get that public education is an antiquated system that was designed to sort kids, house them while parents worked factory jobs and prepare the children to comply in that setting. BUT if you think that’s all that we are, you are seriously mistaken.

Jamie Vollmer over at AASA discusses the topic much more eloquently than me, go read Public School Bashing: A Dangerous Game and see what you think.

Let’s Get it Started

In the history of “first days back to school” (at least my personal history), this is by far the best start to the school year yet. I have thoroughly enjoyed seeing our teachers, staff and students return, our new students and teachers settle in and our pre-K children adapt to school life. Even the tears for our littlest ones as they leave Mom or Dad for the first time are a part of September and a fresh beginning.

I was coming back up the entrance drive after dinner on Friday night  for the Randolph/Pine Valley football game and I was struck once again by how beautiful our campus is and how proud I am to be the Randolph Central School Superintendent. We have the most amazing students, a supportive community with involved parents, a spectacular staff, a dedicated faculty, a hard working administrative team, and a caring, responsive Board of Education.

I cannot imagine a more ideal group with whom to talk about learning with passion, innovation and leadership. We are embarking on a mission to reshape learning, to bring along all of the good things everyone is already doing and to learn more together about best teaching practices.

Teachers are working together in Professional Learning Communities, groups of 2-6 teachers who study different practices that will improve their own teaching and impact students in positive ways. We are examining questions like “why we do what we do and how do we know it’s working?”.

We’re thinking about the opportunities we give students and about providing them with learning experiences that allow them to create, to problem solve, to collaborate, communicate and explore those things about which they’re curious. As an administrative team, we’re supporting teachers in the classroom, paying more attention to learning than to facility request forms, and continuing to learn together about best leadership practices.

I’ve visited most of our classrooms in these first two days, just to say hello and welcome back. I’m already seeing wonderful things from our teachers as they implement best practices, use new technology, and challenge our kids in interesting and meaningful ways. And we’re just getting started!

If you’re interested in our Admin Team’s welcome back message and reading more about where Randolph is headed this year, you can check out our opening day slides here. And if you want to ask questions or talk about your ideas, please comment or drop me an email—-I’d love the chance to talk with you!

Possibilities for PLC

Ideas for our teachers as you form your Professional Learning Communities and choose topics? Tiffany and I did a little brain storming this morning and here are a few possibilities. Dream BIG about what you want to learn about that will ultimately impact your students in learning with passion, innovation and leadership and will impact student achievement in some way. I know you’ll have even better ideas of your own. 😉

Smart board learning for students
Senteo clickers-creating quick formative assessments to check students
Smart notebook software- using the smartboard beyond power point
Reading in the content areas
Math and literacy integration
Science/social studies and literacy integration
Project-based learning
Transitioning though middle grades
Motivating students
website design-making it a learning tool for students and parents
(incorporating blogging, podcasting, glogsters, etc.)
District wide guidance plan
Digital storytelling
District wide PE plan
PE management software
Differentiated Instruction- what it is and what it is not
Response to Intervention- Tier II interventions
Guided reading- using a 90 minute reading block effectively
Step-Up to writing
6 Traits of Writing
Vocabulary strategies
Questioning strategies
Creating formative assessments -informal and formal
Learning Centers
Curriculum -Based Measurements (CBM)
  • Smart board learning for students: put the technology into their hands
  • Senteo clickers-creating quick formative assessments to check students–and what do I do with the information?
  • Smart notebook software- using the smartboard beyond power point
  • Reading in the content areas–reading for understanding, really!
  • Math and literacy integration
  • Science/social studies and literacy integration
  • Project-based learning–YES!
  • Transitioning though middle grades–not you, them!
  • Motivating students, (not ‘how do I get kids to comply?’ but “what can I do to get kids excited about learning?”)
  • website design-making it a learning tool for students and parents (incorporating blogging, podcasting, glogsters, etc.)
  • District wide guidance plan
  • Digital storytelling
  • District wide PE plan
  • PE management software
  • Differentiated Instruction- what it is and what it is not
  • Response to Intervention- Tier II interventions
  • Guided reading- using a 90 minute reading block effectively
  • Step-Up to writing
  • 6 Traits of Writing
  • Vocabulary strategies
  • Questioning strategies
  • Voicethreads
  • Creating formative assessments -informal and formal
  • Learning Centers and Creativity
  • Curriculum -Based Measurements (CBM)
  • Photostory
  • Podcasting
  • Designing lessons that push students in their thinking, problem solving, and curiosity

Just to get you started thinking. . .