Ideas and Voice

As usual, Will Richardson got me thinking again about the long term usefulness of blogging in his post My Blogging Legacy. I have had a lot of false starts at returning to blogging this year and Will’s post reminded me that there’s a piece of a person that gets left in every post.

I’m so hung up on audience now that I think I’m forgetting that this whole process was about more than worrying about who was reading the message. When I write for the school newsletter or website, I think about the people in our community who will read, their learning needs, and how I can best communicate what’s happening in our school.

When I was blogging, I didn’t get so hung up on the audience and I was able to concentrate on the ideas.

Will writes about the loss of his own mother and he speaks to how his ideas will live on through the work he creates on-line, through his writing,

I think that dream brought to light another aspect of why I blog. Not just to reflect. Not just to learn. But in some small way to leave a trail for those who come after me. I certainly can’t predict to what extent those people might find any of this relevant or compelling or useful, but I know I would love to have the chance to dig through the work of my own mother, to learn about her more deeply, to understand who she was and what she stood for. If nothing else, my kids will have that opportunity.

I really get that. About a year ago, I asked my mom to fill a blank journal that I gave to her. I want her to put anything she thinks of in there. Recipes, memories of my grandparents and her own childhood, thoughts of my brother and me, my children and his. I want her words to read when I no longer have her. Her words have guided my life, they’ve shaped me and helped in every decision I’ve ever made. It’s her voice I seek when troubled or undecided. I never want to be without that voice. Her writing, even all of her stupid rules she’s always reciting to us, will help me hang on to her.

I remember thinking about this “legacy” when I was posting regularly. I pictured my own kids looking back at my work some day and it influenced my writing. What did I want to say that might have meaning to my own family if I were gone? What was important? I imagined my daughter, possibly as an educator of some sort, reading my words and finding something that I wrote long ago resonating. I imagined my husband missing me some day and being able to “hear” my voice through my posts. And I imagined my son as a parent, really hearing me through my writing, in ways that now at fifteen just sound like Charlie Brown’s teacher to him. You know, “WA, WA, WA, WA, WA”. 🙂

I would hate to think they reached the end of my posts and were left to wonder what I thought next. Maybe if I can remember that blogging is about ideas and voice first, and audience second, I won’t disappoint them.

You continue to inspire me Will, thank you.


DABA: deserves a bigger audience.

Well, I had actually developed an audience of readers when I was writing regularly, so this post by Dr. Scott McLeod at dangerously irrelevant should motivate me to include blogging as a regular practice again. This is perhaps the nicest welcome (back) I’ve ever received.

I am thrilled to announce the next recipient of the crimson megaphone: Kim Moritz, an associate superintendent in Gowanda, New York. Kim blogs at G-Town Talks and is most certainly someone that deserves a bigger audience (DABA). Kim’s writing has been profiled by Will Richardson in District Administration magazine and is a contributor to LeaderTalk. After a short hiatus, Kim has returned to the blogosphere. I know I speak for her many fans when I say that we’re all absolutely delighted.

Scott makes it his business to encourage and support educators in the blogosphere and I am grateful for his efforts.  I promise to get back to Leader Talk now too!

Blogging for Clarification

For any school administrator who has ever had something come back to her which wasn’t anything like what actually was said or happened, blogging is a solid communication tool. On my last two posts, readers can see where I received a comment from Nancy, a reader who was clearly ticked off about a change to the summer reading program, which had not actually occurred.

I had the opportunity to write a post which clarified my thinking a bit and I hope gave her the facts.  The other obvious benefit is that it also clarified my thinking for anyone else reading who had heard what Nancy had heard. I gained from the knowledge that this “rumor” was out there and could respond quickly. Would I have preferred that Nancy just come and ask me what was up with the summer reading program? Sure. A face to face conversation would have been great. But there isn’t always time for that, all members of our community aren’t always willing to say what they think F2F, and sometimes it just festers with no conversation at all. I love that I got to hear from Nancy. That I had the chance to respond, at least for those who read G-Town Talks.

Did Nancy’s comment that criticized me for not caring about the older students sting? Absolutely. I thought, “how can she possibly think that of me?” But it also gave me needed information. I now know that at least one member of our school community thinks I’ve abandoned our high school students. I’m not sure I can fix that misconception, but now I’m aware of it and I can try.

There was one other problem with the comment though. I’m not sure who Nancy is and for the purpose of the blog, it probably doesn’t matter. The comment came so quickly (within 12 hours) to any conversations about the summer reading program that it had to be from someone in the district or very close to someone in the district. We only have one Nancy who works here who would have been privy to the information. And this Nancy did not write the comment. I know this because the Nancy in district has commented before and I know her address but I also know it because we spoke directly about it. The problem is that our Nancy can’t really say, “hey! That wasn’t me–on the blog, for every reader who thought it was her.” Well, she could, but why should she have to? The relative anonymity that’s available in a blog comment can sometimes present these types of problems. When people aren’t clear on who they are, sometimes we assume it’s someone else–a case of mistaken identity. That’s why my comments are always left with my full name and address, so I can own them.  

I’m still glad Nancy commented–since it’s all about sharing information and learning from one another. We’ve certainly learned that we can’t say things once and assume everyone gets it. The more opportunities we have to communicate more effectively with our students, teachers, parents, and community, the better. Just like good teaching, that needs to take different forms for different folks.

Dial-Up Only Access

Believe it or not, a significant portion of our school community accesses the Internet through dial-up. This includes our house and it’s not necessarily through choice but through a total lack of options. We can’t even get cable where I live and when I call the company to ask “when”, they’ve gone from laughing when I asked the question in 1989 to vague answers about rural areas today.

This dial-up only access isn’t only annoying because of speed, or lack thereof, but it limits options for our families. We plan to go live with the parent portal of our gradebook/attendance product  in September.

As I understand it now, families who live in Dayton, Cottage, Perrysburg, the Cattaraugus Territory, and other rural areas of our district will be excluded from access. I figured that just meant it would be extremely slow for me at home, like many sites, but then I learned that we won’t even be able to open it. This means that families in those areas will have to access our parent portal through their work sites or the public library or our school computer labs.

It’s frustrating and it’s an inhibitor to stronger communication with our parents. I know, I know, they can still get the information through our guidance department, teacher email, progress reports, report cards, etc.–the “old fashioned” way. But I’ve been looking forward to September, 2008 when we take it a giant step forward and allow parents and students to see where they stand with grades and daily attendance, well, daily.

This dial up only access affected the decision for my new presentation on this blog. Through the design of our school website, I was reminded of download times for everyone at home when we add lots of pictures and graphics. So while they’re cool, the pictures and graphics found on other presentations/blogs are not necessary for G-Town Talks, not if they prevent some community members from accessing the information.

 I’ll keep it as simple as possible until we’re all “up to speed”.

Let’s Give This Another Go

Found myself writing for our school website this morning and thought, “This sounds like, looks like, and feels like a blog post” and figured I’d better get back to it here at G-Town Talks. The transition I underwent from high school principal to assistant superintendent was downright painful. Readers saw it here. My friends heard about it and those already in similar positions kept offering encouragement that I forcefully shot down. And thank goodness my boss learned to let everything I said go in one ear and out the other. (Unfortunately one of the ways I work out what’s in my head is by letting it come out of my mouth–seems to be how I think it through–I’m lucky I didn’t drive the guy nuts in the last seven months.)

And so here we are today. A graduate asked me last night at the local pizza shop, “so how do you like your new job?” and I found myself answering differently than I had over the past few months. Instead of saying, “I really want my school, my teachers, my kids back”, I heard myself answering, “It’s good; I really believe that the work I’m doing now is what’s going to make our school one of the best in Western New York.”

I do. Think that. Just didn’t realize until I said it to Kristin that I am over the “looking back, what’s happening with my high school kids, need to know everything that’s going on, let me make the decisions” part of the transition. And you know what? I’m pretty sure I went through a similar transition when I went from teacher at Pine Valley to administrator at Frontier. Maybe that’s what happens when you are fortunate enough to work in a profession where you truly love every job you have?

But think about that statement I made. What an incredibly powerful opportunity I have here to do important work. Who could ask for more than that? Of course, many of the G-Town readers said exactly that in the encouraging comments that I received when signing off in October. So I’m a bit slower than all of you. 🙂

I’ve had some incredible experiences in the past seven months and I’ve learned a lot. Most important, I’ve gone from a building perspective to a district one. I honestly see things differently, on more of a continuum, and that’s where every one of us working in a district should be. A child’s experience as she travels through our K-12 system shouldn’t be random. It should be specifically designed to give him the best possible learning experience. We have incredible teachers and administrators, including a superintendent and board of education that have taken our district and put us in an excellent financial position; so that we can do all of the things we need to do, to improve learning.

Some may say, “Well, it’s about time” but I’ve learned that things generally happen when we’re ready for them. Four years ago this district wasn’t ready, culturally or financially, to go where we’re going now. The best part is now we have a plan to get there, we know what we need to do, and every bit of research I read confirms the plan at hand. How much better can it be than that? And when I’m ready to make the next transition to retirement, I’ll know that I never took the easy way and that I made a difference for our kids in Gowanda Central Schools.

And by the way, I still have my kids, they just include every student K-12, not just 9-12, and I’m responsible in some way for every one of them.

G-Town Stops Talking

This blogging practice has disappeared for me. G-Town Talks has been languishing out here, waiting for my return and I just don’t see it coming. I’ve thought a lot and can’t honestly say why I’m blocked from a practice that was so positively rewarding for me.

I feel as though I should just take all the posts and readers’ comments and put them together in a book titled “High School: A Principal’s Perspective” and call it a day. I loved blogging and everything about it. Writing down my thoughts about our students, learning, school management, and G-Town was absolutely ingrained in my day. Reading other blogs, looking forward to the comments left on this one, and thinking out loud were incredible for me. Heck, we even got some national attention with a couple of articles and interest from CBS Evening News that never panned out. And now it’s all gone.

The reason I’m stuck seems easy to trace to my movement from high school principal to assistant superintendent. I could write that I’m too busy now or that the things I’m involved in aren’t “blog worthy”. But none of that is true.

The truth is that this blog and the writing I did was focused on our kids. Our experiences together, our growth, our change, our learning. It was about my experiences as a principal and that wasn’t just a job for me. It was the biggest and best part of me. It was the one thing in my entire life that I’ve been really good at–and I underestimated how much I enjoyed the day to day management of the school. I blogged because I had much to say about a job, about a school life, that I couldn’t get out of my head.

I didn’t know myself well enough to realize that the reason I was a good principal is that I took it all personally–the relationship building with kids and teachers and parents, the problem solving, the success and failure. I wanted our kids to succeed as much as or more than anyone else there and I wasn’t afraid to show that to anyone. I simply loved going to work every day, loved the people I was with all day and gained enormously from our kidsin my school.

My brother claims that loving your job like that is unusual and not something I should take for granted. He doesn’t know many people who feel that way and says it’s worth a lot more than money or status or more responsibility. Maybe I was doing exactly the thing I was meant to do in this world.

My new job is focused on teachers, on curriculum and instruction. On improving things for kids, meeting the standards set for adequate yearly progress and beyond, staff development, and on important components like reading, formative assessments, and curriculum design. I’m in the classrooms and at meetings and attending conferences. The work is important and offers an opportunity to make real change. It’s a challenging job focused on improvement that stands to have a powerful impact on our kids. Most administrators would jump at the chance to focus sustained attention on these efforts, without the worries of the day to day operations of the school. I should be deliriously happy. Trouble is that it turns out the day to day operations are exactly what I wrote about here and are exactly what I was most passionate about in my job.

I’m glad I had the chance to learn here and I’m grateful for every comment left–thanks for sharing your thoughts with me Readers!

Maybe when I find my way back to the kids I’ll find my voice again. Until then, G-Town Talks will be keeping quiet.

Thank You

So the incredible readers who responded to my last post remind me why I blog as a professional practice. Each person who commented gave encouragement either in pointing to resources, saying “I get that!”, or the best by Jonathan, by taking the pressure off.

G-Town Readers said eloquently what I needed most, thank you. And I probably needed a little of what my mother said too which was, “quit your crying about it and get to work.”

Still Struggling

Okay, here’s the deal. Several readers have emailed to encourage me to keep writing. You’ve said we need your voice out here, especially now, as an assistant superintendent.  On the contrary, my friend David, who does a job similar to my new job in another district, called today and said, “see, that’s why I was struggling to blog when as a principal, you were writing away.” And readers know my own superintendent has tried and struggled to find a place for a superintendent’s voice on the blog. So if I’m going to write at this point, it’s going to be about the transition because that’s what’s on my mind, as I drive home and when I wake up.

About transitions, I’ve been through them before. From teacher to dean of students in Pine Valley. To Assistant Principal at Frontier Middle. To High School Principal at Randolph. To High School Principal at Gowanda. I like change. The transitions went well.

Maybe I was able to write as a principal because I was confident in that position.  It served as a great reflective practice for me. Often, comments received were about how transparent and authentic I was. Risky. Some colleagues questioned the wisdom of my honesty, my putting it all out there. I was so passionate about my topic, my job, and my kids that I wrote fearlessly, secure in the knowledge that I always had everyone’s best interest in mind.

What do I write now? Do you really want to read about our upcoming staff development? Or my need and search for training in grant writing?  Do I write about my research on annual professional performance reviews? How about gradebook training or the decision about who’s getting the 18 interactive whiteboards and why? I’m not sure anyone really wants to read all that. And if I’m as transparent and honest as I was when writing for the past 14 months, I’m not sure I’m ever going to be as passionate about those responsibilities as I was about my principal responsibilities.

A little perspective. My friend with the same job says it will get better. We’re only seven days of school into it and next week I’m planning to spend time in the classrooms at the middle school and elementary school. That should be very good for me. Problem is, they’ll be someone else’s kids in someone else’s classrooms in someone else’s school. Does that problem make sense to anyone? Maybe I just need to get my butt in gear and make this job what I want it to be, what it should be to drive our district forward. Or maybe I just gave up the best job of my life.

See why I’m not writing?

“You Can’t Always Get What You Want. . .”

I’m still struggling to resume my blog practice. I’m scarcely reading online or writing. I just went into my bloglines account and seriously limited the number of feeds I’m reading, down from 24 to 10. Maybe that will help because I won’t skim so quickly with the idea that I’ve got to get through it all. Maybe if I can take the time to read fewer blogs I’ll give each more serious consideration.

Everyone I come into contact with in school or our community asks me how I like my new job. Since I’ll NEVER be a poker player, I answer honestly with, “I really like my new responsibilities, I just seriously miss my old ones.” I can’t stand it when a kid comes into the office with a problem or a parent calls because she’s ticked off about something and it’s no longer my primary responsibility to respond. In fact, I should be asking the parent to talk to our new principal. A mom called me this week and asked me to talk to her son about his schedule, transition to high school, and possible honors/non-honors course work. I was so delighted that I promised to see her son and told our new principal, “I know this is stepping on your toes a bit, but I really want to do this. I’ll step away, but let me take baby steps.”

We had to solve a busing to vocational problem that’s interfering with lunch or lunch is interfering with the busing. I was stoked when our principal and dean of students discussed it with me, because I realize I LOVE that kind of problem solving.

I do like the new job, the planning and coordinating of staff development. When our superintendent let me take the lead on the second day of staff development, it was awesome. There’s lots of new learning for me too.  For example, I’m reading books like Charlotte Danielson’s “Enhancing Professional Practice” and determining how we can incorporate this into our current APPR plan. I also need to learn much more (since I know nothing now) about grant writing and I’m looking for training in this area. I have plenty of new responsibilities to occupy my mind, like an articulated K-12 curriculum with planned assessment, community education, the mentor teacher program, and after school programs.

I just miss the action. The right this minute, listen to this problem or situation and solve it stuff. I love watching an irate parent or upset kid or frustrated teacher walk out the door feeling listened to and helped –that’s the part of my job I think I was best at and I miss it. I like my new job but I really wish I still had that other piece of the old job too. I want it all. Is that so much to ask for?

Blogging Blocked

Blogging has been a professional practice for me for over a year now. As I’ve been transitioning into a new position this summer, somehow I’ve lost that practice. I’m not really sure why, if it’s that I just haven’t gotten into the groove of the new job or if superintendents (and assistants, in my case) have different responsibilities that just don’t lend themselves to blogging. Maybe this is why our own superintendent has struggled with writing on his blog. I’m definitely experiencing some sort of “blogger’s block”.

I have more new territory to consider than before so the practice of blogging to define my thoughts would be helpful. Maybe it’s that I’m actually mourning the loss of my principal position. It bothers me that I won’t be opening school for “my” teachers and kids this year. At the same time that I’m working on new initiatives and learning this new job, I’m conscious of my old duties too and my brain keeps drifting back to them.

I’m confident that my replacement will do as well or better than I did. I have known that the responsibility for our 9-12 building, and every person in it,  ultimately rests squarely on my shoulders. That’s a big job to give up. And heck, the guy just started a week ago. As he picks up steam and assumes those duties that I’m concerned about, I’ll be able to mentally leave the job to him.