Dream Me Success

Let me dream for a moment. I’ve written before about initiatives in G-Town and our efforts to improve. As a fiscally responsible principal, I’ve always tried to make those changes with little impact to our budget. But now, with our Governor’s proposed increase to foundation aid, I’m really starting to think about how we could improve. Like a full 9-12 summer school program, with transportation, offered to our students here for free. Most of our kids who drop out do so because they fall behind on credits earned, due to lack of attendance, or lack of effort, or intense needs that warrant a reduced course load each year. They most often can’t get to the neighboring summer school (30 miles away) and they sure can’t afford it.

The five year plan. Super Seniors. Most kids don’t stick around for that fifth year. I treasure every student who does stay for the long haul. And when they do stay, they still count as drop outs in our accountability rate with the State. More and more are sticking around. Too many are dropping out–about 24 per year.

But what if I could offer them the chance to gain credits in July and August, attendance and effort the only cost? Keep them on track to graduate in four years with kids their age? Make it a palatable schedule, so they’ll come? Would this be a significant improvement on the path to graduation in four years, enough to entice my reluctant learners to stay with me?

And I haven’t even talked about offering booster courses for kids on the fence. . . or enrichment. . . or more community college courses. . . or intensive academic intervention services. And fewer class periods in our school day, because those kids on track to graduation have plenty of time to get in their credits and then we could spend longer than our 38 minutes per period. 38 minutes is nothing. Fewer but longer class periods with summer school to help our reluctant learners stay on track. And hey, I’m just getting started, I’ve only been thinking about this since Thursday. What will happen when our entire faculty starts to dream like this?

A Message to Teachers Worth Reading

Chris Lehmann is the principal at the Science Leadership Academy in Philadelphia. Whenever he posts, I read. He is the kind of colleague who I wish was at the district next door, so that I could call him about common issues and see him at principals’ meetings. Instead, I get to consider ideas with him, through blogging, which is a very close second to the district next door.

This morning I read a post by him that is so thought provoking and is written with such passion, by both writers, that I have to share it with you here. Please read his whole post, it’s well worth your time, if you teach, have taught, or will ever teach.

The message Mr. Lehmann delivers in the end of the post is a must read for every teacher in our country. I couldn’t possibly say it better as Chris writes,

Dan, you’re bright and multi-talented, you could do any number of jobs really well, and I know someone will soon offer you a job to leave teaching. They’ll offer you more money and more societal prestige, and given that you still think about how you almost became a CPA, you’ll probably be tempted. So I’m going to tell you something that my boss Steve told me the first time someone offered to triple my salary to leave teaching and go work for them (hey, it was the dot.com 90s in NYC, what can you do?) He said, “If you want to go do something else, go do it. The offers won’t go away, but more importantly, you need to decide what you want from your life. If you want to be a teacher, teach. This is the life, this is the pay, and you’ve got to decide what you want. If this is what you want, do it, don’t apologize for it, and don’t spend your time second-guessing it.”

Buffalo News Begins Blogs

Despite the fact that I read the 23 feeds into my RSS aggregator, including CNN, on a daily basis, I still enjoy reading the Buffalo News and Dunkirk Observer, our local newspapers. For me, nothing signals the relaxed feel of a Sunday like a fresh pot of coffee and the Buffalo News. Yesterday, I read an editorial by Editor Margaret Sullivan that’s worth talking about on G-Town Talks.

Ms. Sullivan writes about the changes to the Buffalo News website in her article, “Web site will breathe new life into News”. Currently when I go to this website it’s not a source of daily news, nor is it even easy to get to someone who’s writing for the News if I’d like to comment about something that I’ve read. Margaret writes about the proposed changes with excitement and for good reason. The newspaper as we’ve always known it needs to evolve, to reinvent itself, or risk replacement by other means of information, namely the Internet.

Ms. Sullivan talks about the need to “put breaking local news on the site” and to offer “much more interactivity with readers, and a number of staff written blogs”. She acknowledges the need for change further by stating, “with young people far more attuned to the Internet than to print, the viability of newspaper journalism is at risk.”

I’ve been reading my RSS aggregator and blogging since July and I can honestly say that it’s changed the way I read and the way I interact with information. For the first time, when I read the newspaper, it’s active. I want to follow through with the ideas generated by a piece, I want to add what I think to the conversation—but it isn’t a conversation, it’s a newspaper. Therein lies the need for change, we’re changing as readers and as learners, and that dictates a change for newspapers.

Yes, Margaret, you need blogs so that your reporters can enter the conversation. And as you and your reporters already know, the conversation will become much richer and much more valuable because of your connections. The feedback you receive will be immediate and more frequent as it’s much more likely that I’ll click on “comment” than remember an article and then send an email or a letter.

Ms. Sullivan writes,

I am convinced that newspapers provide something critically important that other media often do not: depth, thoughtfulness, investigative skills and an enterprising (rather than reactive) approach to news. It may sound melodramatic but I believe it’s true: If newspapers crumble, so does a cornerstone of American democracy.”

It’s a very good thing that the News is entering the blogosphere and adding Internet delivery. Through G-Town Talks and my Bloglines account, that same depth, thoughtfulness, and research have enriched my own reading and learning. The Buffalo News, with a wealth of experience, intellect, and investigative writing, has a tremendous amount to offer. The only question left is “how do they sustain revenue when so much of our intellectual property can be found for free online?”

Spit It Out or Think and Defend?

We have a recurring theme here in G-Town surrounding our students and academic achievement. As our teachers analyze data and discuss new literacy strategies, I keep hearing the same thing. Our students don’t want to think.

It seems that they really prefer assignments that are specifically spelled out and require only regurgitation of facts. When we ask them to really think about something, to investigate, to reflect, and to respond, they are reluctant. Our kids continually ask the teacher for the answer or for reassurance that they’re on the right track, that the answer is what the teacher is looking for.

Our graduates struggle with this same analysis and reflection, this same critical thought, when they hit college. It leaves me wondering how we got to this point. I graduated from high school 26 years ago and I have strong recall of numerous projects and position papers/speeches, including one from sixth grade. I felt well prepared to analyze and to think critically, it’s obviously a way of thinking on which I rely in my current profession.

So when did we stop asking students to really think and learn? Did our focus on the students at the bottom cause this shift? Did we start spoon feeding students and continue to the point where we are now? I’m curious how this shift occurred and certain that it’s time to make a change.

The Moral Imperative

Melvina Phillips also said that it’s our moral imperative to teach every student the literacy skills needed to succeed in school and beyond. The moral imperative. That makes sense to me.

Not just, “I teach, the kid either gets it or not–it’s his problem, not mine. They should have the skills they need before they get to me.”

When Melvina said that we have a moral imperative to teach every child, it made perfect sense to me, but not to everyone in that auditorium. I wanted to stand up, face our faculty and say kindly, “Every teacher who doesn’t believe he has a moral imperative to teach all students these literacy strategies, kindly exit the building and find a new career.”  

I wonder who should have walked out the door?

Physical Education Teachers Get Wiki

Our physical education teachers worked with a staff development specialist from BOCES, Theresa Grey, on wikis, blogs, and YouTube today. They were excited about learning, engaged, and working together to figure out ways to use the technology. They developed a wiki together and overcame any technology snafus that came their way. I can imagine them using this for their own learning, to improve lesson planning, and with our students.

I’m most proud of their department leader, Amy Cassidy, for being the kind of leader who pushed me to teach them something new. It’s already a cracker jack department with fantastic participation rates and wonderful instruction. Encore subjects too often get left out in staff development and I’m delighted that Theresa offered them meaningful instruction that was all about their own learning, in their content. I’m hoping Theresa links in a comment to this post so that we can see what our physical education teachers created today (hint, hint). Thanks for being great learners.