Friday, November 27, 2009

November 27

The day after Thanksgiving and so far I have done a mile on the treadmill, walked another mile with Louie (our English Mastiff... we really don't walk with him; usually, its behind him) outside, read parts of two books, fiddled around on the computer, and played Wii with Ty for about 45 minutes. Not much of anything, really, but sometimes that feels good, and it’s okay. Too often, I tend to get bamboozled into thinking that I have to be accomplishing something 100% of the time (I'm sure you do too... tell the truth now). I’m afraid that’s what happens to too many parents - mine included -and what they’re left with are feelings of regret for not having done the stuff in life that truly matters when you look back on it.

So excuse me for awhile. I think I'm going to go channel surf. I'll be back later, and hopefully will have found some inspiration, some mind-shattering piece of wisdom that will transform our lives - both yours and mine. I hear the couch calling...

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Thanks For Giving

While I can't believe the length of time that has passed between this post and the last, here it is nonetheless, and it has nothing to do with Thanksgiving (although I am extremely thankful for many things, at the top of my list being family, health, and employment in a career that I am passionate about). And so, to get to the point, I want to take a minute to say thanks for giving me the ammunition necessary to keep going in the direction I have been headed for the last 13 years. That was the time I got into the education field, and although I didn't realize it then, my reasons for staying in this field would change over time. I came to education because of two beautiful little girls and their mother who, through their concerted efforts and brainwashing capabilities, made me realize how much I had to give back to kids. I certainly never could have come to this conclusion on my own, nor did anyone seem to think I could give back to my community up to this point. The reasons I have stayed move beyond this simple and exceptionally pure rationale, and progress into the deeper psyche of my inner self. Deep, huh?

So let me say thank you, once again, to those who have given me the ammunition to carry forward. It is because of you, in your elementary, middle and high schools, with your rules for how kids should behave and talk and look and act and sit and walk and eat and smell and breathe, that I can walk as loudly as I like into classrooms and cafeterias and down hallways, that I can talk to kids of all creed and color and let them know that they belong, and have a place in this world, and a purpose for being here. I have learned life's rules by studying the people that I would never want to emulate. I have learned to be the teacher I am today by making sure I don't do things the way my teachers did them. I have learned to be the principal I am today by vowing never to scream at the kids who weren't walking on the correct side of the hallway, the way one principal from my past did to me and a group of kids at our elementary school. We were nine.

Thanks for giving, and for teaching me how to be the leader and mentor I am today. I still have a lot to learn, and I am still looking for a mentor myself, because I realize how cynical this all sounds. I really do understand that the way I look at things is, perhaps, not the healthiest way to look at things, but it is what I know how to do. Thank you for giving me the greatest gift I possess - that which I can give back tenfold to those who deserve it the most.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Forward Thinking

Sunday, April 26. It has been raining non-stop since the middle of the night, my son's first baseball game of the year has been cancelled, I am pondering the bad play of the Cubs over their last four games, and also contemplating how to balance the duties of my life. I know I must finish my homework, for example, before class Tuesday night; I also have work to complete for the four committees and task forces I am on in the district; there are several home improvement projects we have started that need finishing (why do I start plumbing jobs that I know will end with pieces everywhere and a phone call to the plumber to come and bail me out?); and then there are the hobbies and things I like to do for enjoyment... okay, never mind all of that stuff. There will not be time until, perhaps, the end of June.

There is a book, for instance, that one of my teachers recommended - Three Cups of Tea. I started this book and can hardly put it down. If you have it, please finish it for me and tell me about it, because if I don't get to my studies and concentrate on work, I will fail my classes and lose my job. And then I won't get to hear the stories of the students I love so dearly, which was really to be the central purpose of this posting. Ramblings, however, are perfectly acceptable on blog sites. In fact, we were made for rambling, we humans. And this is the perfect space for that. So read on, if you will, and I will continue rambling, only on a more defined level.

At our monthly Spirit Day Assembly on Friday, which featured 1st Grade and was, perhaps, the cutest and most entertaining performance we have had thus far this year (although the 5th Grade Variety Show is coming up yet, and this always promises to offer wonderful fresh talent), a teacher pulled me aside to tell me of the disappointment of one of her 3rd grade students. As it turns out, he was upset because we have 1/2 days on Spirit Days, which are also School Improvement days for staff. He didn't know what he was going to do with the rest of his day (which happened to be close to 85 degrees), and told me he would rather be in school.

Gotta love this kid. He would rather be in school. He would rather be in the place that offers him the only consistency he receives during the day. Only he makes me sorrowful to think that the end of the year is coming up. Which makes me think of all of the students who, for close to 3 months, will be at home with not much to do, minimal adult supervision, and with little interest in reading a book for pleasure. He makes me think forward to August and kids are complaining that they have to be back at school when it is still nice outside. Only I know what they are really thinking. They are thinking how nice it is to be back, thankful for some consistency.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Finding the Time

Funny thing, this blog, but it has forced me to stay away from writing for over a month.... okay, really it has nothing to do with the blog, but I didn't have a better excuse. I've actually been so busy that I have not had the energy, and even that sounds to me like a poor excuse, but it is the only one, and it is the truth. We do this to ourselves all the time, those of us in education; we get up in the morning and the first things on our minds are - in no particular order: students that always need something other than what you're giving them and, depending on if you are a teacher or you are in administration (sometimes it doesn't matter which), lesson plans that need to be tweaked, and grading that you didn't get finished, and parents that wanted to meet with you today, and that darn Board presentation that seems like it will never be good enough but you only have two more days before you stand before them... you get the idea.

We do this to ourselves. We run ourselves ragged. And we sometimes don't have anything left to give.
So this Spring Break, which starts today for me, I will take it easy so that I can give my time and energy to my family. They are the ones who wait for me to come home, sometimes three and four nights a week, so that they can kiss me good night and hopefully get a few words in with me before it's off to bed. That's not how I want them to remember me.

We have to find the balance in our lives. While it is important to give 110% to the work of our schools, it is even more important to find this much time and energy for your loved ones. Hard to do, I know. But it must be done. For everyone's sake. You will be a better, healthier person for it.

Saturday, February 28, 2009

The Reality of State Testing

Today I think about testing and kids and teachers and real learning and what these state tests really measure anyway... Because we have to, being in the public school system, there is nothing to be said about it. We can complain about it all we want, argue with legislators, state and federal officials, and this will not make much of a difference. I am just curious what it does to people in a school. I can tell you that, since coming back from Winter Break, the talk has been all about state testing: what to focus on, test-taking strategies to use, short and extended responses in math and reading, test preparation, and on and on and on...

Question: Has state-mandated testing forced us to cover material for the sake of coverage, or are we covering material for depth, for the sake of learning itself? When we panic to make sure that certain items are covered before the test, to make sure that kids are at least exposed to material, I can tell you that the answer to the above question is certainly not learning for the sake of learning.
There is a better way. If we want to get back to learning for the sake of learning, for the sake of creating in kids a desire to learn more, we must change the way we do things. We must offer kids opportunities to do projects, to read and write and think and talk, to play; we must offer students the opportunity to become more than just great test-takers. We must offer our students a shot at being prepared for a future that will contain jobs that have not even been created yet.
A teacher commented the other day that even he was bored.

Certainly, there is a better way.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Leaning on One Another

I work with one of the greatest groups of people you could possibly want. They are truly amazing, and yet I don't tell them this enough. We held a "parent information" meeting just the other night to discuss the state test (ISAT) that is coming up all too soon. In my infinite wisdom, and being so typical of myself, I waited until the afternoon of the event before I really started doing any of the legwork for the event. Everything else was ready - I met with a group of teachers beforehand, spent time thinking about the pertinent facts and information we would share with them, and discussed the logistics of the event as well. Not to mention, this is the 4th year holding one of these nights! Everything should have gone off without a hitch. Should have.

It was 4:00 and the After-School Bus was late, five people stopped me in the hallway or caught me in the office with problems that needed solving right then and there, a parent called looking for her child, who was supposed to have been home 30 minutes earlier (the young man,a 2nd grader, ended up being right next door...), and 8 teachers were going to be out the following day. In elementary-school-land, this last piece tranlastes into both copiers being jammed for an hour at the end of the day! Not only did I still have to copy, make transparencies, and make sure we had enough sharpened pencils for our guests, I still had to run out and get the refreshments we had promised in all of our fliers advertising the event! It was 5:30. When I looked out the front door for the first time that day, another surprise awaited me. It was snowing. Blizzard-Style.

In most cases, I would have gone into a frenzied state of panic. I would, perhaps, have used a few choice words, stomped around as if in a temper-tantrum, and begun blaming everything else under the sun except for the fact that I tend to procrastinate at the very worst moments. And so I did just that. I panicked... until I remembered that I have the very best staff in the whole world. A quick call into the classrooms of a few very dedicated teachers, and they began putting everything together while I drove through the snowstorm to get refreshments.

I was reminded later that night by one of those remarkable teachers that I need to do a better job of delegating. Delegate? What's that? But she was exactly right. As leaders, we tend to have this thing where we think we should have all the answers, be able to do everything and do it the right way, be everything for everybody. And yet this is so far from the way schools are actually set up to run. If we want to get it right the first time, if we want to be all things to all people, we need all people. We need not only to delegate, but to do a better job of making this thing called schooling a community effort. Doesn't it take a village to raise a child?

By the way, that's the singular form. Child. Meaning one. It takes a village to raise a child. This implies that every child requires multiple adults pulling together to get it right for that child. And with multiple adults come multiple ideas, lots of perspective. And if we still don't get it right, at least there will be more than one person to blame.

We need to count on each other, lean on each other, depend on each other, rely on each other. I was reminded of this again tonight, when a teacher called apologizing. She was going to have to be out for at least two weeks. She had broken a bone in the most unfortunate of places, and yet she was apologizing to me. She would be on crutches upon her return, and yet she was dreading the feeling of putting her colleagues out, felt that she would be a burden to them. I was able to use my experience of the night before with her in this case. I told her that this was the last thing she should be worrying about, because this is what we do for each other. It may not be a classic case of being able to delegate some responsibility, and certainly not the most ideal situation, but this is what we do for each other because it is what we do for kids.

Friday, February 6, 2009

What we Influence

I was thinking today, after meeting with a group of teachers, about something I had recently read by Doug Reeves in his book, Daily Disciplines of Leadership. In the book, Reeves talks about the concept of leaders, if they wish to be effective, needing to influence behavior, not attitude or beliefs. No matter how impassioned our beliefs may be, they do not persist if not accompanied by successful behavior. He goes on to say that all this talk about creating "buy-in," the stuff that causes people to get on board, is not even necessary if we cannot first influence behavior.

He has a point. Acceptance comes only after successful experience. We have to go through some turbulent times, including reluctance and opposition, before we can expect to change deep-seated belief. Think about the student sitting in the back of a classroom, working the math problem that is just not clicking in her brain. Her eyes are glazed and she scoots lower in her seat, hoping against all hope that her teacher will not notice her. The great teacher will notice her, however, but this is a topic for another post...

This student might have a deep-seated belief that she cannot "do math." This belief probably pervades her every thought when she hears the word math. Her parents probably tell her that we weren't good in math either, honey.

This pattern can only be broken when the great teacher takes the time to show her just how easy it can be, maybe showing her that there are more ways than one to get to the same answer.

This pattern will only be broken when this student experiences success.

As with the teacher who has taught the same way year after year, and therefore does not believe there is another way, so, too, the way with the student.

Acceptance comes only after successful experience.

Saturday, January 31, 2009

100th Day and Culture

100th Day Celebration!

Wow, it's here, and so quickly! I've really got to get in to my office and clear a spot for our little ones to come marching through! This is a cherished event, and I just love seeing the whole 1st grade parading into the office.

I was speaking to a couple of middle and high school people in my Tuesday night class, and they had no idea what the significance of 100th Day was! I just thought, "Aaahh, to be in elementary school." They really have no idea what they are missing - the traditions, the culture, the little things that make our elementary school life special.

To be fair, of course, all schools are made up of rituals and celebrations, those things that make up the culture of our schools. For some, it is easy to see. Visitors can sense something special the moment they walk through the front door. It may not be in the rituals that a school has. It certainly should not be relegated to strictly rituals and traditions, for some of these, such as the old, "That's just the way we do things around here," may not be as healthy as you would like.

But for others, such as 100th Day, where all 1st graders decorate a t-shirt with 100 of something - Cheerios, stickers, buttons, macaroni - and come parading through the office to show off their 100 Day Pride, culture comes shining through in a significant way. Because it's not about 100th Day (really, are we celebrating that we made it through 100 days?), not really. It's about the cultural aspect of 100th Day, the anticipation of 100th Day, the looking back on school days and remembering the fun little breaks we took in the middle of a hectic, busy year filled with learning CVC words and how to blend and chunk, and how to go to the neighbor's house to borrow a cup of sugar (subrtraction with borrowing).

These are the things that make up our school days, the memories we are giving to children, the culture we are intentionally and purposefully creating.

100th Day. I can't wait.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Culture in Question

Roland Barth says, "Show me a school whose inhabitants constantly examine the school's culture and work to transform it into one hospitable to sustained human learning, and I'll show you students who graduate with both the capacity and the heart for lifelong learning."

In almost every school mission statement, you can find a line about lifelong learning and the culture of the school. Where, in this age of standardized testing, in an age where teachers feel an incredible, unbelievable, and riduculous amount of pressure to create students who can perform well on tests, is the lifelong learning? If you ask me, and I'm sure Roland Barth would agree, the price of short-term success is long-term failure.

Standardized tests are used to measure everything about everyone. Everything, that is, except the extent to which our teachers and students and classes and schools and communities are turning out lifelong learners.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Inauguration Day 2009

It was almost 11:00AM yesterday morning, the 20th of January. I had just put the public address phone up to the radio so that the entire school could hear our President be sworn in to Office. It was the only thing I could do. We don't have cable television, and to try to get a live stream off of the internet was proving to be impossible. Everyone in America must have been trying to access the internet at once. It was the best we could do, and I was afraid that it wouldn't be enough. In my eyes, the biggest, most important political event in our lifetime, and all we could do was listen.
A whole range of thoughts entered my mind - what if the teachers don't share my enthusiasm? What if the kids just don't care? What if they don't have the attention span to pay attention for that long? I was panicked, so I secured the receiver next to the radio speaker, bade my secretary goodbye, and went for a walk. I couldn't take it.
Stepping out into the hallway, an eerie feeling overtook me. It was a sound that is not familiar to schools; at least it shouldn't be, anyway! The place was silent. The only sound that of the speakers in classrooms, of a voice introducing Chief Justice Roberts for the swearing-in. I went from room to room. In one fourth grade classroom, all of the kids had gathered around the classroom speaker and were staring up at it, as if it were a television set they couldn't tear their eyes away from. Walking down the stairs and into the first grade hallway, I peeked into a classroom full of seven and eight year-olds. Sixty of them! Two classrooms packed into one, all of the desks and chairs pushed back and all of the kids sitting on the floor, intently listening to the broadcast! I was floored!
Down the third grade hall I went, not believing what was happening. It was like a ghost town! Not a soul was out in the hallway. Peeking into a third grade room, a sight that I will never forget. Her name is Jacqi. She was standing at the front of the room, as close as she could get to the classroom speaker. Her hands were folded and her eyes closed.
She was praying as hard as I have ever seen anyone pray and she didn't care who was watching her or if anyone was saying anything about her.
She didn't have to worry. They weren't.
I went in and was flocked by kids, third graders who wanted to share this moment with me. I put my arms around as many of them as I could get hold of and we listened to President Obama take the Oath of Office.
It was an incredible moment, an historic moment on so many levels. But the greatest pleasure for me that day, was the pleasure I took in hoping that this day was one these kids would never forget. It is these kinds of moments that kids remember about school, and I was thrilled to be able to share it with them.