Doctor, doctor, give me the news.

Think about this post from Theresa G. on Grand Rounds. Theresa is a staff development specialist working with area schools. She has created this blog as “A space for educators and professional developers to share research in education, discuss what they are reading and doing in school districts, and enhance their knowledge.” 

In the post Theresa quotes Jenny D., in comparing the teaching profession to the medical field. Jenny D. says something that’s really sticking with me.  

“For example, physicians worry about process first. The correct process leads to the best outcome, so process is first.” 

This really reminds me that our forced obsession with results and scores and rankings should never over shadow the process or in our case, the teaching strategies/methods/pedagogy. Further think about this point made by Jenny D., 

“Doctors who work with the sickest patients are often the most skilled doctors, and their outcomes are probably not as good as doctors who work with less sick patients. So measuring a doctor’s skill might not be best done using outcomes.” 

I’m not sure we do this adequately either. How often is the rookie teacher given the toughest classes because the more experienced teachers have “paid their dues”? Like the best doctors working with the sickest patients, we need the best teachers working with the neediest kids. 

Theresa G. also goes on to reflect on her professional development practices with teachers and principals. 

“but working in professional development – we try to integrate these “process” pieces into everything we do. In fact, at our regional curriculum meetings, we have begun to use a tuning protocol to guide our discussions of district and regional issues. Our hope is that something like “pay it forward” will happen – folks who work with and learn the protocol will then use it back in the district as part of their process, who will then use it in their buildings, where it might eventually translate into the classroom.” 

I say, yes!, that’s exactly what Theresa G. should be doing. I was at the regional curriculum meeting where we used the tuning protocol. I’m looking forward to practicing it again, until I own it. Then I can return to my building, model it in staff meetings and hope the same thing: that it translates into the classroom. We must be instructional leaders in our buildings and it has to be something we continually focus on. It becomes too easy to just end up managing the building, the 100+ little jobs every day that come over the desk. It’s a constant effort to stay focused on the instruction, the curriculum, and the students. It’s also the most important thing we do, the reason we’re here, the process. I’m going to remember that the next time I find myself immersed in data for too long. I’m going to go sit in a classroom instead. 


Who, me? Not me.

Why is it that disciplinary meetings with parents and students so often go the same way, with parents focusing on everything but the student’s bad behavior? I understand the importance of listening to students and parents so that they’re heard. I understand that we make some mistakes at school too and that we’re not perfect, none of us, not the kids and not me. And I do listen, it’s important.

But I also understand that taking the focus off of the child’s mistake, especially when it’s big enough to land in a hearing, does nothing to help that child learn something productive from the experience. It does nothing to help the child change. Assigning blame and responsibility everywhere else just teaches children that they have an external locus of control. If they do not control their own lives, how do they possibly function as a successful, productive adult? I’m truly not complaining here, I’m trying to express concern for the children who grow up with this perception about the world. I think this may be the single most important lesson we teach our children.

Our students who have parents who say to their children, “I don’t care why you did it, it was wrong and it will not happen again.“, are the parents and students whom I never have to meet with in a disciplinary hearing.

In my experience working with students of all kinds for seventeen years, those who are accountable for their actions, without excuses, are the most successful. We must teach our children personal responsibility instead of assigning blame elsewhere. It is, honest to goodness, in their best interest as future spouses, employees, and parents. It’s too important to mess up.

I don’t mean we never cut a kid some slack. They’re kids, not adults, and most of the adults I work with (including me) need some slack every now and then too. I mean teaching kids that when they do fall short, and we all do, that they stand up and be accountable.

I realize now, at 42 years old, that I’m grateful to my parents. I’m glad they expected good grades, told me I’d be punished at home if I ever dared receive detention, accepted no excuses, taught me how to say “I’m sorry”, expected me to fight my own battles and to stand on my own two feet. I’m grateful to my mother for telling me she wasn’t there to entertain me and therefore go find something to do. And I’m especially grateful that I have that model in my head as I raise my own two children.

I wish I could figure out a curriculum to teach this. I wish I could find a way to change the family climate and to change the model for children growing up this way.

He’s makin’ a list and checkin’ it twice. . .

I have a great idea for motivating our students! We can publish a list of those students most in need of improvement. By raising their level of anxiety, it will encourage these students to do much better. Without that, they won’t work hard, won’t look at the research, and won’t endeavor to improve. But I think with the implementation of this list, everything will change and all children will succeed. 

Better yet, let’s also test our neediest children, those who are new to English or have special needs beyond consultant teacher and resource room. And when those students can’t meet our standards, can’t succeed on the same Regents exams as all other children, we’ll put their names on a list too. That will motivate them to do better, I’m sure of it. 

And while I’m thinking of it, let’s issue a list for parents in need of improvement. And principals. And teachers. I’m sure that soon all of our successful corporations will follow suit, publishing lists with the names of employees who are in need of improvement. This may be the most revolutionary method of motivation ever, change is guaranteed. Companies who have wasted time, energy and money on employee incentives, on corporate climate, on strategic planning, can just use the list motivator! 

Think of it, we’ll just test the living daylights out of everyone–maybe even the President of the United States. We could even have a list of Presidents in Need of Improvement. Now there’s an idea.

So tell me who are you?

When you meet someone new, do you take the time to get to know them? I’m thinking of the way a conversation goes, where each person takes turns asking and answering questions, sort of an even exchange of information or ideas.

In many ways, blogging isn’t like that at all. I realized this at a meeting of about 30 area educators on Thursday morning. An area staff developer, Theresa Grey, formerly known to me only through email, mentioned that she reads my blog regularly. I have to tell you that this felt really strange. Here’s someone new about whom I know nothing  and she has real insight into my thinking (if I’m doing a good job at all) through my blog posts.

It made me wonder if she has preconceived notions of me through my writing. And what are they? And what does she think about similar issues?  It made me think again about audience. It reminded me of the risk I take sharing my ideas with others in such an honest, open way. It also reminded me that there are others who would never consider doing just that, revealing themselves in a public way and probably think I’ve got no business keeping this blog. I thought of a conversation I had with Will Richardson when I started this blogging gig where we talked of an audience that I didn’t expect. And what will future BOE members think should they read “me” someday when I apply for superintendent positions?

Clearly, writing honestly in a public manner takes some guts. But hey, that’s what the rest of this job takes too, so let’s get on with it. What do you think?

Take this job and love it.

There are days in this job when seemingly nothing goes as planned. Student issues override everything and some nights I arrive home realizing I’ve just reacted to everything that was coming at me all day long. Not the best management style, not intended, and certainly not the kind of day that anyone wants to have. These are the days that leave me wondering if I’ve been effective at all, exhausted, and raiding my secretary’s desk for candy bars.

But the best part about the unpredictability of working with adolescents is that it works both ways. I had about four different tough student issues this week, the kind of stuff that I can’t solve. Those are the issues that take it out of me. Right when I’m feeling worn down, something always seems to happen to lift me out of it. And it’s always the kids—and I’m reminded of why I’m here, why I’m fighting the good fight, why I’m trying to make a difference. The problem is that we sometimes get tied up in the most extreme cases and we miss those other 98% of the students who are just coming to school, day in and day out, doing exactly what we ask of them.

Here’s how it went today. I was leaving a meeting at BOCES, where some of our students go for vocational education, and all of my G-Town kids were waiting with the other BOCES students for classes to start. They haven’t seen me there before and their reaction made me smile. They were friendly and excited and calling out to me. They wanted me to stop and talk and they wondered why I was there. I told them I was checking up on them and they said “we’re doing great, aren’t we?!” I felt proud that they were my kids and even prouder that they “owned up” to me in front of their friends from other schools.  I remembered why I’m a high school principal—it’s for each of them. It’s for the G-Town students who need me the least, those who just go about their business every day. I need to schedule time with them every day, for me, more than for them. Yep, I love this job.  

Why are we using blogging in the classroom?

This afternoon, I posted about two teachers in G-Town who are experimenting with blogging in the classroom. When I posted, I was thinking about the technology and the fact that the students are really being expected to do the same kinds of things as in a traditional classroom, just in a different medium. I was wondering how much valuable time will be spent on the technology and if it’s motivating our students to learn the content.

Will Richardson posted today and it was exactly what was on my mind about teachers using blogging in the classroom.

Will writes, “At some point, I’m hoping Jeff will scaffold up from “the same-old-report in a different format that has a big audience” work to more “critical analysis of the content that we’re producing to test our ideas” work. I mean that, at it’s core, is what is powerful about these technologies. They allow us to take risks with our ideas, to test them in authentic ways with real audiences, and learn from the process. (In many ways, this post is a risk.) Why shouldn’t we be asking students to do the same?”

I wonder what that could look like. I’ve only been blogging since July and I want students to feel that same motivation that I do to write. But I’m not following an assignment. I’m writing about the topic that’s most motivating to me and I’m writing for an audience who shares that interest. I’m excited to hear what they say about my ideas. I’m disappointed when what I write resonates with no one and I get no feedback. That’s what I want our students to have. A reason to write well with well thought out ideas for a real audience.  

Teachers giving it a go in G-Town

Two teachers in G-Town are giving blogs a try in the classroom. Crystal is using a classroom blog to post questions for students in her college level computing fundamentals course. I can see her students struggling to move beyond the level of commication they’re accustomed to on IM and myspace. Crystal remains dedicated to the content and is helping her students move over to a new technology, a new way to communicate, and at the same time, learning about her content through a connective tool. Crystal is an innovator, the kind of teacher who hears about a good idea, thinks it through and implements about five minutes later. We need more teachers like her.

Steven is using blogs in his English 12 class to post assignments on the “mother blog” to which students respond in posts on their own blogs. This has been interesting as students tackle content while linking to websites and then responding in writing. The writing remains the part of the task that many dislike. I’m anxious to see what happens when Steve moves over to allowing students to post on their blogs about content that’s exciting to them. He is one of our most creative educators so I’m sure his students will produce some terrific content. I’m looking forward to the day when students start to receive comments to their posts.

And as both teachers and the students they touch move forward, they routinely handle the “techie” stuff that comes up, no big deal. I’m glad they’re in G-Town, moving us forward.

High Schools Need Improvement

New York State listed the 228 High Schools Identified As Needing Improvement today. I’m happy to say we’re not on this list, but we are a high school in need of improvement. Our teachers and students can do better and we have too many dropouts. I can do better as their principal.

Every good teacher and administrator knows that we can always do better. In addition to the day to day management of our building and all that it encompasses, I spend a tremendous amount of time researching and problem solving to increase our achievement and graduation rate. We look at the test results, teaching practices, curriculum, literacy, professional development opportunities, culture, drop out prevention plans, school climate, and especially, at our students.  And thank goodness, we had gains in June’s Regents results that helped us make AYP (adequate yearly progress) and keeps us as a school in good standing.

I live in dread that we won’t continue to improve, despite our best efforts, and we’ll end up “on the list”. Defined as a failure.

But hey, New York State is happy to help as they’ve outlined corrective action. That’s great because I’ll take any good idea I can get, anything that’s scientifically research based anyway. And I’d like to spend more money and time on high quality professional development.  I provide written notification to parents on our results. We already have a teacher mentoring program. And hell, I’ve no idea how to promote more parent involvement. They’re either really involved or never involved. Our building improvement team sponsors six or seven major events per year to improve climate and to bring in our families, so we can do more there. Maybe being on the “list” won’t be so bad anyway. I just hope if G-Town lands on the list, they give us more direction than that ’cause I’m already there.

And still I wonder.

Why is it that some teachers wonder and worry about their students, thinking about what they can do to help them succeed while others just wish they had different students who would do whatever they say?

Why is it that some parents listen to their children complain about the school and tell them to deal with it while other parents agree with the kids and tell them it’s the school’s fault?

Why is it that some principals look at a school and wonder how they can make things better for everyone while others try not to change a thing to make it better for themselves?

Why is it that some of our kids couldn’t care less about drugs and alcohol while others couldn’t care less about school?

I wonder why personal responsibility to make something happen is so much harder than pointing at everyone else. I wonder why that makes people feel better at all.