Let Me Ask “Why?”

I want to share an absolutely fascinating thing that just happened with Harvey and Susan at Thoughtful Classroom. As adult learners, we took the learning styles test last evening and we haven’t looked at it yet today. After lunch, Harvey and Susan ask us to look at Guernica, by Pablo Picasso and then jot down whatever occurs to us, what we see, thoughts or ideas. We are asked to write 5-7 things that we think.

During my couple of minutes I write:

  • What’s wrong with that poor man on the right?
  • What horrible thing is occurring to cause this depth of despair in the world?
  • Is the light at the top causing their pain or is it a way out of the pain and suffering?
  • What is the significance of the handheld light, like a candle?

Lois writes:

  1. Anger
  2. Deformed
  3. Death
  4. Black/white
  5. Humans/animals
  6. War

Here’s the super cool thing about this activity. Lois is primarily a mastery learner, meaning that her learning style is good at working with and remembering facts and details. I am primarily an understanding learner, meaning that my learning style is curious about ideas, has a high tolerance for theory and abstraction. The Thoughtful Classroom learning style inventory says that my learning style is constantly asking “Why?” and that the questions tend to be provocative and probing.

Without any idea where the activity was going, Lois and I were completely true to our learning styles! Imagine how much less I would have liked this activity if I was forced to answer according to Lois’ learning style or Lois to mine. The note making activity described next allows us to take our students to another level, one on which they can make their notes more meaningful.

This is so powerful in its implications for reaching more students because it allows us to teach them the strategies they need to learn that are unknown to so many of them.

The Thoughtful Classroom

I’m at Thoughtful Classroom in Salamanca, learning with David Smith, our Middle School Principal, and three terrific teachers, Lois Piscitelli, Andrea Geist, and Kris Ruzycki. We are learning from Harvey Silver and Susan Morris and it is an incredible learning opportunity for me, providing a framework about many of the things I’ve known for seventeen years in education and other things that I haven’t ever heard before. One of the best parts is that Harvey and Susan are modeling all of the best strategies with us–we’re learning about learning in a practical, meaningful way.

Teachers are learning about creating thoughtful classrooms and I’m constantly translating that to my role in creating thoughtful schools in a thoughtful district. What more important goal could I have as assistant superintendent? What better gain could our district garner from this new administrative position?

This is different from other professional development opportunities I’ve been involved in because we five have agreed to embark on three years of sustained learning, experimenting and sharing. We are learning strategies for engagement, making students the center of our learning. I keep following two perspectives: one as a teacher and one as an administrator. I don’t think that’s a bad thing because as an administrator I should definitely do a better job of planning meetings with teachers as learners, remembering that they need the same things that our kids need.

I’m totally stoked about the opportunities I have before me as an assistant superintendent. If I had to choose a theme for my leadership I would steal the idea presented by Harvey and Susan regarding meaningful professional development of “Teachers Talking to Teachers About Teaching”. I love that I can really focus on learning, creating a climate and culture K-12 where we all share our ideas and learning with one another, visiting each other’s classrooms and talking about our strengths, our best ideas, and brainstorming. I’m excited about this shift and my part in it.

I would love to take care of the first year teacher training. I think it should be all about this Thoughtful Classroom learning, including responsibility for teaching strategies at the sessions with the mentors and the new teachers. And extending this for the next two years, focusing on learning with our probationary teachers. Thoughtful Classroom with Harvey and Susan includes sustained learning for our five and building learning clubs beyond our five to other teachers. I’m just thinking I’ll have the ability and the responsibility to take it beyond to other teachers. Can’t imagine that there’s anything more important for new teachers than what I’m learning right here, right now.

Please Give Me Something To Learn About

Cross posted at LeaderTalk

When we ask the interview question of “what are your thoughts on the uses of technology in education?”, I have a preconceived notion of what I want to hear that is never met. I’m happy if the candidate even talks about it from a general point of view on the uses in instruction or adding to the curriculum. I’m unhappy when they say they like technology, or power point, or palm pilots and that it’s the wave of the future. Tell me what you’re going to use, where and how, and let it be something new, maybe even something I’ve never heard of before. It’s not the wave of the future, unless of course, I’ve regressed and it’s actually 1985 again. It’s today.

Which leads me to this post by Will Richardson about twitter. I don’t get it, I’m trying to get it, and I doubt I’ll actually go give it a try. I’m clueless about twitter, but NOT completely clueless because of Will’s post and the other tidbits I’ve been reading through my RSS feeds. What I’m loving is that I can read about something entirely foreign and new to me and that I can begin to ponder the implications it may have for my own learning and for education. This is what I need my teachers to be doing–reading the ideas of others and challenging their own ideas–LEARNING.

High School’s New Face Kicks It Off Tomorrow

I’m at High School’s New Face this week, a cutting edge conference in Ellicottville, New York. I’ll be blogging about it all week from the perspective of a conference participant in the Personalizing Learning strand with Monte Selby and Tony Limoges. If you are interested in the vision of education in Western New York, you can check back here for the blog posts or better yet, go to the HSNF website to catch the streaming video. Today is a set up day for all of the BOCES staff development and tech experts and I’m lucky to be here helping with set up.

This is the same conference I attended last year where I learned about and started blogging with Will Richardson. It was the best learning experience I’ve had in many years so these guys have some big shoes to fill.

My hope is that blogging about the conference will help share the learning with others who are interested in improvement in education. We have 48 high school teams attending, four people on each team. Our Gowanda team arrives tomorrow–hope they’re ready for a week of learning, including an opportunity to challenge their thinking.  Looking forward to seeing you–Joe, Barb, Beth, and Amy from G-Town and all of our participants from across Western New York.

What Are We Meant To Do?

I’m really bothered by the idea of leaving behind the principalship. I love this job, my relationships with students, staff and parents. I look forward to coming to school every day. Heck, walking into the building today, I thought “I love school, everything about it, the activity, the buildings, the safe atmosphere, the PEOPLE.” I belong here.

I’m not worried about the new job. I know I’ll work hard, learn what I need to do, make a difference there. I’m just worried about leaving the old one. I honestly think it’s because I’ve been good at it. Now I’m not saying that in a boastful way. I’m saying it because there are so many things I really stink at. Most things actually. I’m anything but an athlete, I can’t carry a tune, can’t cook or sew or do anything artistic. I don’t care for TV and I don’t find professional sports even slightly interesting. I don’t have any serious interests other than work. This is what I like to do. I’m not even a very good friend because I’d usually rather be at work than doing anything else. And I’m definitely not winning the mother of the year award any time soon.

I do like to go camping and boating. You know why? It provides me with lots of quiet time with my family and to read, think, reflect. Half the time I’m reading educational journals and books so that I can be better at my job.

So what if I’ve just given up the one thing I’m best at in life? What if I spend the next 13 years of my career saying, “geez, I was a great principal.”

Dr. Lloyd Elm was our graduation speaker two years ago. Dr. Elm said that we should find that one true thing we were sent here to do and that if we do that it will mean everything. Dr. Elm went on to say, “And if you do everything but miss that one true thing, it will be as if you’ve done nothing.” He mentioned me during his talk and said “your principal is doing that one thing.” What if I’m walking away from that one thing I’m meant to do?

Is my one true thing being a principal or serving our students, faculty and community as an educational leader? Will this provide me with a way to do my “one true thing” even better?

Spinning Wheels Got to Go Round

What if all of our efforts in the area of school improvement only make things better for the kids who would have stayed with us anyway? Maybe our mastery level of 85-100 is improving while our drop out rate remains consistent because we just keep doing what already doesn’t work for our drop outs, only we’re doing it better?

I’m serious. We’ve made improvements in G-Town. Maybe none of them changed anything for our drop-outs.

  • 1. Implementation of nine additional electives
  • 2. Implementation of Honors classes in English, Biology, and Social Studies
  • 3. Elimination of Pre-Regents classes (which basically said to kids “we think you’re too stupid to handle Regents” and wasted a year)
  • 4. Implementation of college courses, taught here by my teachers for no charge to our students, seven classes total
  • 5. Restructuring of our Academic Intervention Services (AIS), which kids were getting one period out of six in help–now it’s subject specific every other day, with Regents review courses AND brought back remedial reading and math, which targets kids with more severe problems and had been eliminated when AIS came in.
  • 6. New bell schedule for next year that adds four minutes to every class period, the equivalent of 19 more days of instruction per year.
  • 7. Weighted grades to encourage those students most concerned about class rank to take more challenging classes.
  • 8. The Panther Power program, with the G-Town Show Down, the best day of school all year, ask any kid–a positive schoolwide behavior management program.
  • 9. The Taste of Gowanda, a cooking contest to bring our community members into our school for something positive and fun.
  • 10. The Generosity Drive, kids and faculty raising money for local families at Christmas.
  • 11. A huge K-12 literacy initiative
  • 12. Native Voices, our year long, tri-district study of Native American children and drop outs
  • 13. Implementation of August regents review and administration.
  • 14. Summer School 2007 for credit recovery to keep kids moving on grade level. (Speaks to the retention question)
  • 15. An All School Awards Picnic
  • 16. Changing schedule next year to do English and Science on the block

Maybe all of those things just made it better for all of our kids who will graduate anyway. A worthy endeavor, I know, resulting in a better school, a great climate, happy faculty, staff, and students. Still losing 25 kids per year. Despite us. What factors indicate that we’re going to lose them, when are they known, and how do we break the path for each of these kids? Is it already determined for many when they get to me? Different interventions, sooner? Again, need a different set of wheels for these kids. Not sure what they look like yet. But we’ll get there.

Focused On Learning. . . Please

Here’s the thing about working with kids. It’s not like managing employees where we can talk about separating one’s personal life from one’s professional life. It’s all mixed in together and sometimes it’s messy.

Take today for example. It’s only Monday and I spent a good portion of the day talking to students and parents about everything but academics. We have relationship issues, kids who were living at home when they left for the weekend and now are not, ex-boyfriend/ex-girlfriend disasters, Prom ticket sales, and kids expressing their individuality a bit too much. I swear I don’t solicit it and sometimes I wish I weren’t so approachable.

It seems there’s so much “stuff” coming through the door that I wonder how we teach kids anything. Better said, I wonder how they retain anything we teach. How do they even notice us?

I honestly would like to just stop everything and say “I don’t want to hear one more word about what he said/she said or what color your hair is today—let’s talk about your social studies class or what you’re learning in Science!”

But then I know it’s about connecting with every kid. Helping them as a whole child to deal with growing up. I know that kids are sometimes self-centered and that how they express themselves is the most important thing to them, now.

I just want to maintain focus. I want to remind every kid who’s hung up on whatever of our purpose, our mission, our academic goals. It’s my job to maintain this focus for everyone, to keep our eyes on the prize. I just don’t have it figured out yet, how to be supportive and at the same time, say “okay, enough support, let’s get focused on learning now!” Maybe I say just that more often?

G-Town students, someone, anyone, please have a meaningful conversation with me tomorrow about something that you’re learning. . . any subject will do.

Teachers Gain by Blogging First

Here’s another thing that  struck me about Will Richardson’s post the other day. I guess it was Will’s last question that led me again down a road I’ve been traveling for a few weeks. Will was talking about the emotional side of online learning and he says,

And why we need to teach our kids how to build networks of trusted sources they can turn to themselves for intellectual and emotional support in the process. But how can we do that if we ourselves don’t?

I’m more convinced than ever that it’s a mistake when we ask teachers to blog with students when they haven’t blogged professionally themselves. Therein lies the answer–if teachers see how much they gain through the on-line learning available in this community, they’ll want their students to experience the same thing. However, when our teachers employ blogging as another strategy without “owning it”, they end up using it much as pen and paper activities, just on the blog. And who has it figured out that we’re missing the boat?–our high school students. Teachers who jump into using the blog as a place for students to respond only to them miss the depth and social connections available, BEYOND the teacher. Our kids end up seeing blogging as another teacher thing, not even equating it with what they’re currently doing on their own. Teachers need to blog for their own learning first, then they will fully understand the opportunities available to their students. And they won’t miss a great opportunity.

Are We There Yet?

Yesterday I posted about invitations that are coming my way based on my work on this blog. Miguel, Brian, Chris and Rick all comment in ways that show they get my question. Miguel and Brian mentioned the possibility that this could lead to something else, something bigger, something beyond principal or superintendent.

I don’t think there is anything bigger. For the 25-30 students who we lose as drop outs every year, there’s no job more important than mine (well, there is, but it’s being a supportive parent to them and so far that’s not a paid gig). For all students who continue to struggle with any number of things and need the best possible teachers in the most productive environment, I’m their girl. It’s my responsibility to make our school the best place it can be and I get a huge kick out of the problem solving part of this job. I LOVE to hit on something that could impact our kids–like the scheduling changes and literacy initiative. I love even more to read in the research about a school who’s turned it around and then realize we’re already on the path to doing everything in the articles. And I’m lucky enough to have a terrific faculty and staff who are game for just about anything, because they want our kids to do better too.

I’m learning patience as it takes too long to make a real impact. And I’m learning to stick around, to NOT look at those other opportunities. And the administrative opportunities are abundant in our area, like the superintendency in the nearby school district where I taught for ten years and still bleed a little purple for–didn’t apply. It was a painful decision personally, but if I go in another direction now (and I really like changing it up) G-Town goes through a couple of years of transition which can delay progress even more. And remember the march of another 25-30 kids walking out our doors without diplomas continues every year.

The only other direction I can imagine traveling is one that can impact even greater numbers of kids. But I don’t know what that would be and maybe that’s back to the readers’ comments on the previous post. Perhaps accepting invitations outside of my normal, comfortable work life leads in those directions. Right now I only want to accept those invitations, like working at High School’s New Face next summer, that help me learn new ways to improve me and to improve G-Town. I’m just not sure I should head elsewhere when we haven’t reached our destination–better achievement through a better experience and graduation for every kid in our district.  It just takes so dang long to get there.

Don’t Blog With Students

It’s a mistake to ask teachers to blog with their students. It causes anxiety and worry about too many things. Teachers may worry that their own writing will be judged. They worry about inappropriate comments and linking to undesirable places and people. They also figure they don’t have anything to say.

That’s why I say “forget blogging with your kids.” Blog for you, for your own learning. Read what everyone out there has to say about education, about students, about NCLB, about techie stuff, about learning. Worry about your own growth first. Look for ideas you can use in your classroom. Learn. When you learn and grow, your students benefit.

Then blog with your kids. But don’t do it just to blog. Do it when a question in the class inspires you. Do it on a topic that inspires your students. Blog with your kids when someone wants to dig deeper. Don’t take a simple, well done pen and paper assignment and turn it into a blog project.

Blog with your kids for the right reasons. Don’t do it poorly just to say you’re blogging as an instructional tool. That’ll just turn all of you off to blogging. Do it for yourself first. Get it right for you. Then you’ll get it right for kids.