And the beat goes on.

Our school is trying to build up it’s marching band program. Actually, our terrific band directors Jill Ryan and Deb Lippa are trying to do that with the support of their department leader, Robin Smith. These are an energetic trio and I wouldn’t trade them for any other music teachers in the country.

I’m struggling a bit with one aspect of the transition. Our band directors began last school year. Previously our long standing band director was very laid back with our students, as many didn’t attend lessons and his expectations were just different from mine. We had a lot of complaints from the community, students and parents about our poor performances.

Jill started with very high expectations for students and most important, for herself. She has the drive and the  desire to take our music students to another level. That’s exactly what we were looking for and what I thought our students really wanted. But now we’re experiencing some growing pains where students don’t all want a more rigorous program and several key members have dropped. This has been bothering me, sort of that, “geez, nothing we do makes these people happy feeling.” 

But then there we were at a parade today on the Seneca Nation territory, which is partially in our school district. This is a parade our school hasn’t marched in before and one that we should be in–Jill easily agreed to give it a go. Four days into school and she’s got about 30 students showing up on a Saturday morning, in the pouring rain, to march in a parade. Our students looked terrific, they played the best they knew how with only four days in, and some even stepped into positions they’d never assumed before. And there was our band director, right next to them, smiling and directing and just making us look great.

Made me realize again we’ve got to keep moving forward, keep raising our expectations, keep showing our kids that we believe in them and think they are so much more than some have been shown before. Yep, I was proud to be there with Jill and our students today. We may not have been the best marching band around, but we were the best we could be at that moment, on this beautiful day. And for those who aren’t coming along with us, I say “SOOO LONG”.

Girl Interrupted

Our students, staff, and faculty have started the 2006-2007 school year with a smooth opening, a positive climate and a lot of hope for everything from our academic achievement to our undefeated football team (so what if it’s only been one game).

I’m back to my school year life of constant interruptions. Actually my workday is one long series of interruptions with the ability to complete a project coming at about 3:30 after most are long gone. I guess I just realize that’s the nature of my job and that working with people is the reason I’m in it. It’s also the reason that my outside of school life is devoid of as much social interaction as I can arrange. As someone who talks to people all day, every day, I kind of like my evenings or weekends at home, alone with my family. Yep, I’m the girl who says “look, we’re WORK friends, I don’t want to see you outside of school.” It’s not that I don’t enjoy the people at G-Town, it’s just that I need to refuel from time to time.


Any principal’s kids out there?

So my son enters ninth grade this year, in my building. Hmmm. Any ideas on what we can do to make this work? We have a great relationship and I’d pretty much like that to continue.

In the scope of what my some of my students have to deal with, being the principal’s kid hardly compares. I’m just not sure it’ll always feel that way to the one who lives in my house.

Has anyone experienced this, either as the kid or as the parent? Any advice?

Who’s going to own the responsibility of technology integration?

After a long weekend, I thought I would sign on tonight and just read through everything on my Bloglines. No time to write, just read what everyone else is thinking about as school begins. And of course there was a Will Richardson post on that got me thinking and then responding.

Will writes about technology integration, “I agree that there is a de facto irrelevance (whether we say we see the need for technology or not) if the people in leadership positions aren’t walking the walk and using technology as a part of their practice. I think of Tim Lauer and Tim Tyson who lead by example, and how rare that is when it comes to technology in schools. But is that only going to be solved when new, younger, technology facile leaders emerge?”

As one of those school leaders, I’m trying to walk the walk. I’m learning as I go and trying to stay relevant and in tune with everything new. I’m frustrated by spam,time constraints on my own ability to manage blogging, and by my inexperience with a lot of the techie “stuff”. I can’t even get the stinking link tool that Will showed me to work so that I can link his name to his site. But I’m trying, I’m out there, and I’m working at it.

This is much the same way as when I tried new strategies and worked at my teaching, experimenting with new ideas to determine if they engaged my students and helped them to own content. My “leaders” didn’t necessarily model it, they didn’t try it first, they may not have even heard about it. What did they do? My principals and superintendent supported me in my efforts. They trusted me to work hard, to have the best interest of my students at heart, to do my best and to get good results. They provided me with professional growth opportunities, listened to my ideas, and told me to “go for it“.

That’s the role of principals as leaders in technology integration too. If teachers want to try something, if they learn of a new idea, if they want to blog with their students, whatever, they darn sure better not sit around and wait for a leader to model it. That’s a cop out. If teachers have good ideas and work hard and have the best interest of their students at heart, their principals will most likely support them. Teachers need to step up and take the initiative and own the responsibility of technology integration.

It’s much easier for teachers to get support for a good idea from a principal than for a principal to move a building of teachers. Guess what else? Other teachers will be much more likely to follow the lead of the best teachers than to follow the directive of a principal. Teachers need to lead by example and principals need to support good ideas, get out of the way, and watch them work. And yeah, we need to keep learning and growing and leading too. It takes both to make it work. But hey, I’ve never been very good at waiting around for anyone else to take the responsibility for my growth. That’s my responsibility. 

I’m really tired of managing spam!

Someone please tell me what I can do about spam! I tried the auto-close plug-in, better yet one of our terrific tech support people tried to set it up for me, and it didn’t work. I’m realizing that as school starts, I’m going to be more irritated by the spam that I have to manage on this blog. Is there anything I can do to stop this?

Blogging as I present it to teachers

I read a great article in the September 2006 issue of Classroom Connect’s Newsletter by Bud Hunt entitled “Blogging for Professional Development”. I’ve been thinking about my opening day meeting with teachers and wondering how I can succinctly describe blogging to a varied audience.  A very few of my teachers are still struggling with email. So I’m excited to find Bud’s excellent article which is in a more traditional format that everyone can understand. Thanks Bud!


Student apathy? Not today.

This is the second August that we’ve offered the Regents exams to our students, free of charge. For those outside of New York State, these are the state exams that our students must pass to graduate. Also, the scores achieved and Regents courses/exams taken indicate the diploma type for graduation. The exams include Comprehensive English, Math B, Living Environment, Chemistry, Global Studies and Geography, and others. 

Our teachers come in for five days of review prior to the exam and work with students for a couple of hours each day. It’s a completely voluntary testing opportunity, just our way to give students another chance at the Regents exams.

We’re a small grade 9-12 high school, about 500 students, and we had 161 students “register” to take one or more Regents exams. And on the past two beautiful days in August, we had 120 students show up to re-take a Regents exam. Our guidance director and teachers had a lot to do with it, as our guidance director, Beth, called just about every student to encourage participation. And teachers did their best to encourage students to come to the review and to prepare for the exam.

The best part for me is knowing that 120 students cared enough to show up, when it wasn’t required, to try to improve a test score. And that’s what about 35% of our students came for specifically. They’d already passed and just wanted a better score. That’s pretty cool, if you ask me.

And the other great thing about it? The students who passed on this August administration can now have schedule changes made for September 5, moving forward in their course work toward graduation and saving valuable time that otherwise must be devoted to repeated courses or to academic intervention. This should keep students moving toward the goal of a diploma as it’s much easier to convince students to stay in school when they’re on track and making progress.

So for every teacher and administrator who grumbles during the school year that “these kids won’t do anything and they just don’t care”, please think of the 120 students who showed up in G-town on August 16-17, just to improve and move forward.  I’m glad our School BOE and Superintendent recognized the value in showing our students that we care enough to offer the opportunity. When we don’t care enough to offer opportunities, students don’t have the chance to show us what they’re made of, which looks like pretty strong stuff.  

How many students may I leave behind?

So how many dropouts does it take to deem a school a failure? Really. I get the NCLB requirements and the close focus New York State has on graduation rate. I pay close attention to our data, but more important, to our students. We all spend a great deal of our time and energy keeping kids in school. Why? Because it’s the reason we’re here and it’s important that every child has at least a high school diploma. I know with certainty that every student who leaves G-Town with a diploma is stronger and more capable in the world and for the children that they in turn will raise. I know all this and still, I wonder, how many dropouts are acceptable?

The school year signals a beginning, another fresh start, new school supplies. It’s a chance to make new friends and spend time with old friends, a chance to make a good impression, improve a GPA, attend school more often, learn new subjects and meet new teachers. We spend most of July and August planning for the return of our teachers and students and hoping that this year will be even better than the last.

But September also brings back those students who weren’t successful last year, or the year before, or the year before that one. Students who aren’t here to learn anything, they’re here because probation told them they have to be, or because they can’t or won’t get a job and the parent says you have to do something, or because they see this as a place to socialize, or as their “marketplace” for whatever it is they are peddling, or because they haven’t got anything else to do.

Let me further describe him or her. A typical student in this position is 18 years old or turning 18 this year, with only three or four credits earned of the 22 needed for graduation, so he’ll be 21 when he graduates if he does everything right from here out. This student has repeatedly been absent, suspended, disruptive, truant, and sometimes preying on the rest of our students. This is the student who teachers cringe at the sight of that name on a roster and the other students are either afraid of or poorly influenced by him.

And you know what? I must “leave this child behind”. I know he needs a diploma just like every other kid. But I also know that it’s not what she’s here for, it’s not going to happen no matter how helpful, hopeful and optimistic I am. And I must consider the impact this child has on the other 500 students in the building. I must consider that this young man will sit in class next to my incoming 13 and 14-year-old freshmen. How is that fair or appropriate or conducive to their learning?

I know that some dropouts are acceptable because despite our best efforts, and I sincerely tell you we make them, we can’t do anything to change the course of their lives. I hate to put that in writing, but it’s true. And every school has those students who return every September for no good reason.

But still I struggle. I think of each of these students when I should be enjoying my own family at home. I worry about the future and wonder what they do all day. And I hate that I don’t have any good alternatives for them and I can’t “fix” them now. I know what some will say, that they have lousy homes and parents, that they could have been identified ten years ago, maybe even in kindergarten, that it’s too late, that there’s nothing we can do. And it makes me angry because inside the mess that they present to the world and their bad behavior, is still a child. A child who wasn’t loved enough or taught enough or guided enough or smart enough or helped enough. And I can’t do a damn thing about it. I can only commit to spend the time to be certain there’s no other way within our setting. I can connect the child with the right and caring people here at school and from outside agencies to be certain we’ve done our best. But sometimes it is too late for us to change a young man or woman and I have to leave this child behind.

If the answer is in the elementary years and then in the middle school years, we better get busy fast. Because I turned one away yesterday, I know it was the right thing to do, and every time it breaks my heart.

Let’s just ignore the whole technology gig.

So I stopped in at one of Will Richardson’s sessions with teachers this morning and I was trying to imagine what those who were quiet were thinking. I imagine some were thinking there’s no way I’m ever going to use this in the classroom, it’s too much work without enough benefit. I imagine others were thinking this is really cool and wondering how to apply it to the teaching of Math. And some were probably wondering what’s for lunch. 

This led me to think about what I might say to teachers about giving it a go. The issue of teacher liability was being discussed and I heard a very cautious warning issued from one of the teachers. And believe it or not, this led me to think about sex. 

Now that I have your attention, and lest you think I’ve decided to vary from the usual content on this site, let me explain. I have a 14-year-old son who went through Project Know a year or two ago. So as any mom may do, I tried to talk to him about what he was learning and I got NOTHING in response. I finally said, “Look, I don’t want you learning about sex from Jacob and Cleo and Damen (his buddies). If you have questions, I want you to ask me, so I can give you good information that you can rely on AND we can talk about the implications.” 

That’s the same conversation we need to have with students about using the web appropriately and we’re NOT doing it. We’re ignoring or we’re just ignorant. And they’re out there creating and linking and talking on My Space. It’s our role as educators to give kids good information they can rely on and to talk about the implications. We have an opportunity to enter into discussions with our students about the practical applications of the web, blogging, and social connections with an educational purpose, wikis, and podcasts. We can also talk to them about the different types of writing, including a more appropriate and professional writing than the one they use on IM or My Space or texting. 

Or we can just ignore it and let them go their own way. I choose to become engaged in the conversations. But hey, lots of parents ignore the sex conversations too. Do you have any students engaging in sexual activity that you think might not be the best way to go? Ignoring it doesn’t help them decipher and make good decisions. Let’s step up, be courageous, and teach our students. Maybe we’ll actually engage them in our content at the same time. 


And more to the point. . .

In “On Board”, published by the New York State School Board Association, President Carl Onken writes in his commentary “Said the Education Trust’s Kati Haycock, ‘The research shows that kids who have two, three, four strong teachers in a row will eventually excel, no matter what their background, while kids who have even two weak teachers in a row will never recover.’ Mr. Onken goes on to write that ‘Any board member who is not paying close attention to teacher quality in the district is not paying close attention to student achievement.'”

I would suggest that more to the point would be to replace the words “board member” with “administrator”. Tenure doesn’t protect ineffective teachers; ineffective administrators do that for them. It is our responsibility to clearly and honestly discuss quality teaching individually and collectively. Administrators have to be brave enough to address the tough issues.

I often think of something Professor Janeil Rey said to me seven years ago in my administrative coursework, “you have to decide who you want to be angry with you, the good teachers or the bad teachers.” If I’m not addressing the behavior of the reluctant teachers, the good teachers are ticked. Not hard to figure that one out.