Choosing the right route

I always have a pile of professional reading to attend to; in addition to the reading I do every day through my bloglines account and the daily papers. Currently, I have three journals and two professional books in the pile. I can’t ever seem to get to all of it, so I try to choose wisely.

Lately, I’ve been realizing how important those choices are in our future. During the 2005 winter break, I read Creating a Culture of Literacy: A Guide for Middle and High School Principals. This was sent to principals free of charge by the National Association of Secondary School Principals and is authored by Melvina Phillips.  For me, this book completely framed a major problem for our district, adolescent literacy. It was a catalyst for change, as I was able to articulate this to our superintendent, Charles Rinaldi, who totally supported and planned the literacy initiative that is ongoing in our district. I believe that the work our experts (our teachers) are doing right now will lead to great things for our students as we evaluate and change the course of reading in G-Town.  The best thing is that others, those most involved and able to support change, own the initiative.

Here’s the thing that’s on my mind. What if I hadn’t read that book? True, I already had reading on my mind because my high school teachers were telling me that our students don’t comprehend the Regents questions on their exams. I also nearly lost a student to graduation because of reading difficulties. So I was on the trail of the reading problem already. But I’m more convinced than ever that our planning for improvement must be purposeful. It must be data driven. More important, it must be kid driven. We have to continuously ask hard questions. We can never be content with the way things are, even when they’re going well, we have to ask, “but how can it be better?”

Our newly formed Curriculum Council, made up of the administrative team and the school leaders, both grade level and department, are taking on this task right now. We are evaluating what’s most important in teaching and learning, what’s happening in G-Town, how it’s supported now, and how it needs to be supported in the future. If there are any elephants in the corner, we’re bringing them into the middle of the room, looking at them from every angle, asking questions, and making them better.


Blog strokes/pats/props

Blogging is professional development through reading and on-line conversation. It’s my place to write about a difficult issue and then put it away in my head. It’s my space to solicit ideas from other professionals. It’s a vehicle by which I may influence thinking or clarify my position. It’s a public relations tool. It’s a connection to people near and far. And now, I realize it’s positive reinforcement.

How often do you suppose a high school principal gets a pat on the back? Much of the time, we’re called on to solve problems big and small and to listen to complaints about things we have little control over like the lack of toner in the lab (which was ordered 3 weeks ago). We get to make decisions that make life better at school and we get to help students/parents/faculty out with problems too. We’re involved in planning the big picture, which I love. Helping the kids is the best part and sometimes it feels like we actually make a difference. Often, we are managing the day to day stuff and a great secretary like mine makes that part much easier.

But it’s not like teaching where I could see the difference on a daily basis, when I knew my students really well and could gauge my success by their engagement and success. Being a principal is challenging and non stop and just the pace I need, but I can’t always measure how I’m doing.

So how is blogging helping me to measure my performance? When I read the comments and see the links. When I realize that my thoughts are of some small value to others and that I’m not completely off base. When one of my colleagues writes and says, “Yes!” When an old friend or a stranger posts a comment that says, “hey, you get me, that’s just what I’m thinking about.” Most of all, when I follow a comment to a post and find a blog created in Florida to teach blogging with me listed as the first homework assignment. Me. My blog.  On the days that I come home exhausted, feeling like I’ve accomplished little and there’s still no toner, that feels pretty darned good. It elevates me. Thank you, EGHS!

Don’t stop believing

The Seneca Nation of Indians sponsored a family carnival this evening. The three contract schools participated with JOM faculty, Seneca Nation employees, faculty, staff and administration volunteering. I think they planned for 500 people to attend and we ran out of tickets. It didn’t matter though, because the kids all played whatever games they wanted to and there was food enough for everyone.

Each district sponsored a welcome booth and each school within the districts sponsored a game booth. A friendly competition was waged among the three schools where carnival-goers voted for the best welcome booth.

The thing that struck me about the evening was the reaction to the Gowanda pride shown by all of us. As we signed in participants, we encouraged them to go to the ballot box and to vote Gowanda the best booth/best school. There is almost a reluctance to say, “yes, Gowanda rocks!” and not just at tonight’s event. But you know what I noticed? The more pride we showed in our school, the more comfortable our students were. I hope at least a couple of parents and kids left thinking, “I’m glad to be a part of that school.”

I’m still, in my third year, combating the “it’s Gowanda, what do you expect?” attitude. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. I expect the best, that’s what we’ve got and that’s what we will continue to be. I love Gowanda and I’m very proud to be the high school principal here. Not anywhere else–not the #1 ranked school in football or Lacrosse or Math or English–Gowanda. We’ll get there. I’m in it for the long haul, G-Town, and you’re worth it. Believe it. I do.

You’ve got 30 minutes to explain

I was sitting at my son’s hockey practice today with a terrific gentleman who I’ve known for several years talking about our kids. He’s of a slightly older generation than I am, yet he’s very clear minded about technology and also very practical.

As we were talking about the kids, he said he always leaves the newspaper open to the editorials and asks the kids to read at least that part every day. He feels that’s the most important part of the newspaper. I had been describing blogging to him and realized that this was a great way to get my point across.

My blog is my own editorial page. Only better. When I read the newspaper, I can’t respond to the writers, at least not instantly. This way people can read my post and share their response immediately. I can do the same, accessing information I would never be able to consume in print. At least not in a timely manner. 

I’m planning a presentation to our board of education and I have been struggling with how to succinctly describe the blogging experience. Now I know I can use this example.

Can anyone think of similar explanations that they’ve used? I hope to go with a couple of teachers and students who are giving it a go. I’m planning to show the BOE members what we’re doing, but worry that someone will leave still wondering why. I’m hopeful that hearing from our students and teachers will make it clear, but am conscious of the time constraints. We’ll probably have about 15-30 minutes. Any suggestions, friends?

Get off the bench and blog

I just read two insightful, well written and thoughtful comments from Lisa and Amy, two contributors who have previously submitted to my posts. I’m left thinking, learning, and reflecting. Again, I’m considering the power of this medium.

So my challenge to Lisa and Amy is to get off the bench and blog. Thank you for your contribution to G-Town talks, but you’re always left just responding to what I initiate. It seems to me that each of you, and most other readers, have so much more to offer. Plus, I spend an enourmous amount of time looking for new blogs to read that connect with what I need to learn most. We need more players in the game, my bench warming friends. Join me.

After the interview

I went to a 50th birthday party last night for a terrific woman who works in our tech department. It was a local party, I work in the district in which I live.

I’ve lived in G-Town for 22 years and I’ve worked in four different school districts in my 18 years in education. I mention this because I have to admit that there are times when I see someone whom I can’t place. This happened last night at the party. Eventually, I realized why I knew this young woman, even though I couldn’t remember her name.

I interviewed her for a position at our school. And she didn’t get the job. And here we were at a party together. Awkward. I felt bad because I’m sure she knew who I was long before I realized. It’s too bad there isn’t a way that we can help candidates understand what they need to do differently. Or that we can’t say, “look, the candidate we hired just had much more experience.” Or some words of encouragement. Maybe it’s the teacher in me fighting with the administrator who understands hiring practices and liabilities. But who’s going to tell these kids what they need to do to get hired?

Be not afraid

Once again, I’ve had a post banging around in my head for a couple of days now. I’m thinking about school safety and the emails I’ve received from the people closest to me, asking if I’m safe, if our schools are safe, are we taking precautions. I’m thinking about the tragic events in the news, the real people left to pick up the pieces, and the horror of it all. Most of all, I wonder when and where it entered our collective consciousness that someone who’s disturbed, or hurting, or mentally ill takes innocent children out with them as a solution. Or when children learned they could kill someone who offers an answer they don’t like. For any parent, this strikes us where we’re most vulnerable.

As someone charged with the safety of 491 most precious people in parents’ lives, I think about what’s happening nationally and what is happening in G-Town. Are we secure enough with locked doors and our current system of security and safety plans? Are we talking to and more important, listening to, our students enough? Does every child feel connected with some adult in the building? Are our students comfortable enough with us as adults to tell us if something’s wrong with them or with someone they know? Does our staff know enough to really listen and then report? Am I responding appropriately? Is our Dean of Students? Are our counselors? Do parents feel that when they talk to us, we respond? Are we doing enough? We’re reevaluating, asking those questions, issuing reminders.

And yet, I don’t feel afraid in our school, ever.  We all still go about the business of education. That’s what we do. Day in and day out. What we’re doing is that important. I’m compelled to be here in G-Town, trying to make a difference, no matter what the consequences. In many ways, our schools are safer and more secure than they’ve ever been before. Children simply cannot be afraid to come here, nor can we. It’s our job to make good decisions, to keep our children safe, to safeguard against tragedy. We do the best we can, every single day and we go about our business, educating our children.


Why support school sports?

As a part of my job, I attend a lot of sporting events. I try to attend at least a couple of home competitions for every sports team we have in G-Town. I have some sports that I enjoy more than others. I honestly have some difficulty focusing on the details of many of them, but it’s important that I be there to support our students and coaches. Honestly, I spend most of the time talking to parents and students in the stands.

I’ve worked for schools where teams have won state championships. I’ve seen the excitement in a small community when that happens. We’ve got only a couple of possibilities for big wins right now in G-Town. But our students work hard, we hope, and we support our kids, win or lose.

At tonight’s cross country match, I was reminded of the real reason for after school sports programs. Our modified, boys, and girls cross country teams all supported one another. They got some great exercise and competed against some terrific teams. But the best part came after the boys’ race, when the boys’ varsity team slid through the mud, came up completely caked in it, and then cheered on the girls’ team. Why was this a defining moment in high school sports for me? Because they were just kids, having fun, together as a team.

It was good-natured, fun loving, and spontaneous. The coaches and parents laughed about it and everyone left happily, from the fastest kid to the slowest. Once again, it was a group of G-Town students, coaches, and parents that I am proud to call my own. No state championship needed.

Note to Will Richardson and WNY BOCES Leaders

Just think, everything I’m writing about, all the great stuff starting to happen for real students in G-Town is thanks to you. Because you empowered a principal, who in turn empowered teachers, our students are benefiting. Ever wonder if what you’re all doing makes a difference for kids? I’m here to tell you it does.

A huge public thank you from this principal in G-Town.

We don’t need no thought control.

I’ve been paying attention to this blog, JCC CSC 1590 Computing Fundamentals I, created for our college level course that’s taught here, to our students, by our math teacher for Jamestown Community College credit. If Mrs. Furman keeps this up, her students will be owning the content in no time. As Jordan and Courtney have shown in their comments, they are responding to the reading in the textbook by posting summary notes, with examples, for their classmates to consider.

I’m sure this caused Jordan and Courtney a considerable amount of anxiety, which led to a meaningful study of the text–how much more meaningful than a traditional reading of the text, only they can comment on. The other students in the class have the ability to post questions and to try to find the chink in the summaries. They have to read the summaries with a discerning eye so that they can turn around and comment intelligently.

Watch out, Mrs. Furman, your students are actually thinking about your text, responding purposefully, and just maybe, learning something unexpected along the way. And all this without you dictating it to them, without you telling them specifically what to regurgitate. This is teaching and learning at its best. You make me proud to be in G-Town, where the most innovative process is happening right now. Thank you, G-Town students and teacher, the best in the biz.