Summer School Starts

Anyone who thinks “kids today just don’t care about anything” should come to our summer school. It’s our first time offering summer school and I met with each class as it began today. Eight classes, six different teachers, 47 students enrolled in the morning session and 66 enrolled in the PM session. 92 degrees with 2.5 hour sessions. 20 days out of their summer vacations. Not a kid there looked happy to be sitting in one of those classrooms.

But they showed up. They came when they didn’t have to come. Why? Because they want to succeed. They want to keep moving toward graduation. They want to get to the next grade level or to graduate in August. They may not have the best academic skills, or “soft skills”, or social skills but they want to succeed. I’m glad to say we’re going to help them do just that this summer.

Senior Pranks, Part 3

Amazing as it may sound, there are some things about this week’s senior pranks that made me very happy.

Partially because we have good relationships with our students and partially because the seniors really want to have a picnic on Monday, we know who pulled the pranks and they are receiving consequences. How do we know?

Students told me. In the case of the gunk on the lockers, seniors gave me the student’s name. I saw her and said, “There was a prank that caused two good, hard working women two extra hours of work this week. It ticks me off and I’m cancelling the picnic unless the student who did it comes forward, admits what she did wrong, and takes responsibility for it.” After she thought about it for a couple of periods, she and her friend came in to tell me what they did. These two seniors will not attend Monday’s picnic and better yet, they’ll be meeting our cleaners at 6:00 am on Monday to clean for them for two hours. I hope Carol and Maggie give them whatever cleaning job they most hate.

With the smoke bomb that went off twenty minutes before the end of the day, students approached me and gave me a name before they got on the bus. Mr. Cassidy interviewed that student and had another name before all the buses were gone.

I called that student at home and told him it was in his best interest to get back to the school immediately. Mr. Cassidy did the same with another student. Finally, the third student was revealed and he answered my call at a friend’s house to get back to school immediately. All three students came back to school and admitted what they’d done wrong. The matter was resolved with the police. In this type of incident, school consequences include five days OSS with loss of participation in commencement exercises. Monday’s picnic is the least of their worries.

Because of the relationships we’ve built with students, those who reported what they knew and those who’d made a mistake, we had the whole thing resolved within two hours. I’m proud of that fact. I’m also happy about  the teamwork our faculty and staff exhibited.

I know there are schools where no one would tell the administration anything. I’m really proud that we’re not one of them. I’m also proud that ultimately our kids know the difference between right and wrong and they step up to answer for their mistakes.

And while I love our students and will fight to do what’s right for them, I will also support strong consequences when they mess up, especially when the action endangers the health and safety of others in the building.That’s good parenting and it’s also good administration.

Senior Pranks, Part 2

Yesterday, I wrote about senior pranks, how I feel about them, and two that we endured this week. There’s more to this story.

I’ve been around the block a couple of time with senior classes. Both as a teacher who advised seniors and as a high school principal of five years. 99% of the time I still opt to think the best of our students. If I didn’t I’d be less of a leader.

When our students came to me and said, “we want to do a senior prank, but we know how you feel about them, and we want it to be harmless”, I listened. Students said, “we want to wear bathing suits to school tomorrow and at 12:15 all get up and go jump in the pool. We’ve asked the PE teacher to lifeguard. We promise there won’t be any other pranks.” I explained that several of their classmates had significant hurdles to graduation and that those students had to be in class. They listened, we agreed, my dean of students (who’s been around the block a few more times than me) said you’re nuts, there will still be more pranks and now you’ve agreed to this disruption.

He was right about more pranks and in fact, one of the students who met with me about the harmless prank was one who later disappointed me. My teachers were upset because they hear me harping about higher expectations and getting ready for the Regents. I believed it was a relatively benign way for students to feel they’d left their mark and rebelled a bit. I lost face with my teachers.

For all but five or six of our students, it was a good agreement. I work to promote a positive climate where our students feel valued and celebrated. My teachers and staff are definitely not feeling valued and celebrated this week and that’s my responsibility too.

In addition, early in May, students came to me and asked if we could have a senior picnic on Monday, after school, with all of their teachers invited. They’re planning, cooking, and paying for it. Without pranks or problems on this weekend’s senior trip, I agreed to it. I’m looking forward to it. I’m hoping there are no additional pranks and no problems on the trip. Because we know who pulled this week’s pranks and because they are receiving consequences, we will continue with our plans for the picnic.

But I’m left wondering what I’ll find at school next. I totally agree with David and other G-town readers, seniors could be thinking about something creative and funny that will make us miss them.

Senior Pranks

I hate senior pranks. Because I take personal responsibility for everything that happens in our school, I also take senior pranks personally. And as a person who’s dedicated the last seventeen years of my life to making schools better for kids, I find senior pranks to be disrespectful and ungrateful, selfish acts.

The single thing about senior pranks that ticks me off to no end is that it’s almost always a prank that results in additional work for our hard working cleaning and custodial crew. This infuriates me– that the women and men who tirelessly and quietly clean up after us day in and day out should be “thanked” in this way.

When I arrived at school earlier this week, Carol and Maggie had been working since 6:00 am to clean up the gunk that was on an entire hallway of lockers. It took them two hours to clean every locker. Who did those students prank? Just Carol and Maggie and they don’t deserve it.

Yesterday a military smoke bomb was set off in the girls’ lav near my front entrance. The school was evacuated, Regents reviews were disrupted, police were sent to the school. And the smoke was incredibly strong so I worried about every student and staff member who filed by with asthma or allergies. The police reacted strongly because in today’s climate they have to consider that something like this could be a diversion for worse behavior elsewhere in the school.

In my next post, I’ll write about how we handled both incidents and how they were resolved.

Trust Isn’t Given Away Freely

I recently attended a planning session at our local BOCES for alternative education. I was invited by the Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum and Instruction. She had challenged her alternative ed principal, faculty and staff to create a new program. They were given model programs to consider and evaluate and then began the arduous task of deciding what is needed and where they’re headed.

Enter me, the suit in the room. The person no one really knows and who none have a reason to trust. Now the Asst. Supt. knew why I was there and regular readers of G-Town will understand. I’m passionate about the fact that we need another way for about 20-25 G-Town students, those who are dropping out. I went because I have an intense desire to design a program that will work for our students and/or become involved in one that’s happening elsewhere.

I was invited to participate but quickly realized that my involvement was not helpful. I was reminded through this experience that trust has to be built. My school community knows they can trust what I say and that trust empowers me to say what I think, to plan, to envision our future. This community of educators had no reason to trust me.

I wish they could have trusted me when I said, “I’m here because I’m excited about what you’re creating, I need this for some of my students, and I appreciate the hard work you already do in alternative education with the students for whom public school doesn’t work.” I remembered again that it takes time to build credibility and trust, it’s not given away easily.

So for the record, I can’t wait to see what the BOCES alternative education experts create. I hope it’s different from what’s already not working with this group of kids and offers a real option to dropping out. I’m very glad that there is a leadership initiative to head down this road and I trust you to make it happen.

Let’s Ban Students Too

I absolutely cannot believe that a kid in my class would have been able to use an MP3 player during a test to cheat. Maybe in the schools where cheating is happening with electronic devices they have much larger classes than I ever did.

So here we go again. Instead of doing our due diligence, teaching our kids appropriate uses and giving consequences for those who are ill intended, we ban electronic devices.

Does anyone remember that prohibition didn’t work?

Mama Said There’d Be Days Like This

It’s nearing the end of a long day in the midst of a longer week. Thank goodness my mother in law is preparing dinner for us at 7:00. I can look forward to a nice meal with my family. I have no explanation for those weeks when we walk around saying, “when it rains, it pours” or for the repeat lyrics in my head of, “Mama said there’d be days like this. . . ” I’m pretty sure much of it has to do with the pressure of the end of the year coming and graduation and grade advancement.

I’m sure every administrator has experienced the days when your spouse looks at you and says “how was your day?” and you can’t even remember/articulate everything that happened. It’s literally going from one phone call to another impromptu meeting to yet one more kid melting down.

If there’s one thing I know for sure, it’s that every person who comes to see me or calls deserves a “refreshed screen” without me dumping whatever just walked out of my door onto them. I like to think I managed that well today but can also say how much I appreciate those people like Sue R., my secretary, who can see through it and give me some support. On this Administrative Professionals’ Day, I appreciate a gazillion things about our office staff, but nothing more than when I can close the door and say to Sue, Lori, or Carol, “HOLY CATS, what was that?!”

Once again today, I realize that remaining calm, despite how upset the parent or student may be, is the only way for me to effectively listen to the problem and then attempt to solve it. And when we consider that 98% of the time parents only become upset because they are advocating for their children, the people most important in the world to them, it makes it a whole lot easier to be quiet, to listen, to respond effectively. To understand. That’s when we need to remember, this isn’t about me and my response to your behavior, it’s about truly listening and solving the problem.  

He who yells loudest doesn’t win.

Wait A Minute Please

Cross Posted On LeaderTalk

Largely because it’s the last week of school before spring break which can be a bit crazy, I signed on to bloglines for the first time in days and found 20 posts to LeaderTalk that I haven’t read. Consequently, I missed the whole April Fool’s Day joke on Chris’ post. This turned out to be an advantage, because I got to see the answer right along with the problem.

One of the things I’ve learned as an administrator is that waiting can be a very good thing. Not when it comes to returning parent phone calls. And not when a student or a teacher requests a meeting with me. Those are things better attended to immediately.

But “wait time” can be just as effective as an administrator as it is in the classroom. When it comes to problem solving, sometimes waiting can be the best solution of all. Just like with Chris’ post, the answer presents itself along with the question.

If our school community comes to know us as efficient problem solvers, they may not take the time and the initiative to solve a problem on their own. And sometimes, their solutions turn out to be better than ours. In a practical way, this “wait time” can help too. Earlier this year I became so excited that we were finally getting new desks for our classrooms that I conducted a walk through to estimate the number, told everyone the news, then found later that the funding wasn’t going to be available after all.

Why do I know that waiting can be effective? Because I’ve learned it the hard way time and time again. In planning and problem solving for the next school year. In addressing student concerns. In working out a problem between two staff members. In responding to a complaint. And the riskiest area of all? When I’m asked what I think on an issue or a concern before I’ve spent the proper time thinking about my response or asking questions or gathering details. I have learned the lesson well over the last seven years–to wait before answering. I’m still working on it though, trying to remember to answer carefully, buy time, exercise caution, and to be prudent with my response.

Because our jobs so often entail problem solving, big and small, I often rush to answer the question or to solve the problem. I do this because I realize the next problem to be solved is probably standing on line right outside my office, just waiting to be told to me. If I don’t attend to everything right now, when will I be able to? What I’ve learned is that few things require my immediate response and most are better off “settling for a bit” before I rush in to “settle them”.

Potential New Hires

I spent this evening at a local university speaking with graduate students in education on the topic of the Gay Straight Alliance (GSA) at Gowanda. I had the privilege of joining Marvin L. Henchbarger, Executive Director of the Gay & Lesbian Youth Services of Western New York.

Readers may remember earlier posts on G-Town Talks about the evolution of this group, and more specifically, the evolution of my thoughts on the subject. Some might say it’s curious that I spoke with any authority on this topic when a few short months ago I was saying “I’m not sure what we’re going to do, but here’s a way that our students say they need us.” Marvin and I presented our ideas, we answered a few questions, and we talked to students at the end of the session.

What struck me tonight was the importance of the subject versus the relevance to the audience. I’m remembering Will Richardson’s recent post,The Next Generation of Teachers,  that generated a terrific comment conversation concerning graduate students and the hope that they’ll take the lead with technology. As Marvin and I shared our experiences and thoughts on the GSA, I kept looking at our audience and thinking “they just want to get jobs, they’re not worried about the GSA or the use of technology or taking any risks. These kids just want to get hired somewhere and earn a living and they don’t want to do anything to screw that up.”

Again, I go back to the model of a teacher that we all have in our minds. I’m more convinced than ever that teaching requires risk takers, people with passion about something outside of the classroom, like their hockey team, the band they’ve been playing in for years, or fish. Teachers who want to challenge thinking in their students, who want them to think deeply. Teachers who ask hard questions and better yet, help students find the answers to questions none in the room can answer.

I just heard a collective gasp. What’s she thinking? Risk takers, challenging thinking? What if these new hires push kids to think differently than we do? What if they disagree? What if they find an answer that differs from mine? What if they’re inappropriate? And for my friends to the very near north, what if they do something just plain wrong? What if they lead kids astray, in the wrong direction?

Who decided what the right direction was anyway? 

A few questions came, more out of kindness to the speakers than anything else. One young man, an English teacher in the making, asked what to do as the student teacher, in the cooperating teacher’s classroom, to stop “hurt comments”. I told him to step up, take the initiative, develop a presence, tell them you won’t have them talking like that on your watch. Others suggested he play it safe, don’t make waves. I understand why this was suggested, I truly do, but I still hate it. I just heard the collective gasp give way to the sound of those new teachers falling into line.

So there I stood in a room full of potential hires, waiting for the questions, the curiosity, the initiative, the spark. Those who didn’t have it need not apply in G-Town, because that’s what I’m hiring. Those who only want to play it safe, to keep their heads down, to do things the same way we’ve done them for the past 100 years, apply elsewhere. The teachers I have in G-Town are as willing as I’ve ever seen to at least “give it a go”, I can’t afford to hire new teachers who say “leave me in the status quo”.

Faculty Meeting Excitement, “Not”

Why is it that my teachers say so little at our faculty meetings? I try to keep them to 30 minutes max and limit agenda items to discussion items, taking care of the smaller, informational items via email.

Today’s agenda had what I thought were some pretty hefty items: 

  1. Student Presentation on suggested alternatives to “That’s so gay!”, an expression used too often in our classrooms which teachers can help stop.
  2. Proposed New Summer School 2007
  3. Additional School Improvement Initiatives as decided at a recent School Retreat
  4. Proposed New Bell Schedule
  5. Schedule/Personnel changes to include additional sections of Social Studies
  6. Blocking Science/English Class for 2007-2008
  7. Review of New Cell Phone Procedure
  8. Attendance  Improvements
  9. Signs Need Prior Approval
  10. Do we want to use a student agenda pass system?

I thought there were some significant changes there, a new bell schedule, adding summer school, blocking two subjects. Still, very little discussion other than about 8% of the faculty. Why? Is it because they don’t think I’ll consider what they have to say? Because I’m so boring there’s music playing in their heads and they only hear ‘wah, wah, wah, wah, wah”? Because it’s too intimidating to speak in front of their colleagues or to me? Is it because I work hard to meet with individuals affected by changes prior to general meetings like this one?

Or is it because the more teachers have to say, the longer it will be before they can get out of there and go home? I really care what they have to say, but feel that urgency from them to take off. I wonder how I can better initiate conversation–which is two way, not just me disseminating information, but which will take much longer.