Cool Connections

So I’m at the NYSCATE(NYS Association for Computers and Technologies in Education) conference in Rochester and I’m making all kinds of connections. First, I’m connecting with my colleagues from Gowanda, hearing what they think in extended conversations that we seldom have time to have at home. Second, I’m connecting with my future Randolph colleagues who are at the conference. Third, I’m connecting ideas to those I arrived with and arriving at some new conclusions that all focus on my responsibilities and commitment as a leader in this whole technology destination.

Fourth is this weird kind of cool connection that I’ve not had much chance to experience–with other bloggers and readers. I sort of have an identity out here. Not a big presence, but a couple of people. Maybe it’s my fifteen minutes of fame when I meet people who say they know me because of G-Town Talks.  It’s not so cool that they know me as the blogger who quit blogging for the most part, but hey, I’m working on it. True examples: An educator approached me last night to tell me she reads my blog and loves it. At lunch today in small talk at our table, a woman asked, “what is your name?” and knew me through the blog. And the presenter I’ve been following through the conference, Peter Reilly, is a fellow LeaderTalk contributor. That was the coolest connection of all because I realized at his first presentation that I’ve been reading him and without ever having a face to face conversation, knew we shared some thinking. My knowledge of his thinking (through reading his posts) gave him real credibility with me. Instant cool connection and easy conversation. I’m diggin’ this blog gig again and most of all, remembering how much I learn through the connections.

Rocking the Classroom

Our Gowanda Blue Team for Thoughtful Classroom traveled to Randolph Central School today and joined our colleagues from Randolph and Ellicottville for a day of Teacher Rounds and Coaching. Three dynamic and courageous educators from Randolph taught wonderful lessons while about sixteen of us watched. The kids were, of course, fantastic, the lessons spot on, the teachers energetic, and the learning (at least for me) inspired.

After experiencing the three lessons, we “debriefed”. In small groups, we traveled to three stations where we wrote on huge chart paper about our observations and our suggestions. Imagine. Sixteen colleagues watch you teach and then talk about what they saw. Brave folks, huh?

That’s how we learn! From each other, talking about teaching. It’s how it should look—it’s how we should be talking. And we’re educators for crying out loud, the RCS teachers who taught today did a stellar job and we who watched made very positive observations followed by some straight forward suggestions. All very nice stuff. No judgment. As Susan Morris from Thoughtful Education said, “Most of us are internalizing while we’re observing. We’re not thinking about you so much as we’re thinking about our own practice, how we can incorporate what we see you doing.” (I’m paraphrasing here Susan–think I got it, more or less.)

The thing that struck me was the same thing that I was thinking about on our own two days of in-district training last week. As teachers, we’ve got no swagger. We never tout what we’re doing really well. Those teachers went right to the “suggestions” section of the de-brief, almost embarrassed to focus on the section that was more extensive, where we recorded all of our positive reflections on these dynamite lessons.

We’ve got to get beyond this if we’re going to have really meaningful discussions/debates about best practice. I’ve got to be able to say, “I rocked this lesson today! And here’s what I did and how it worked.” and we also have to be able to say to one another, “this tanked and here’s what I did and how it worked”, and then give meaningful feedback to one another.

This is a significant climate change, fostering a risk-free, non-competitive environment where we’re all working together toward the best possible teaching for our students instead of teaching quietly in isolation.

I’ll say it again, those teachers were fantastic today. Lauren, Shelly and Scap–making it work for kids. You rocked! Not perfect. Not better than anyone else. Not know-it-alls. Not brown nosers. Just fantastic teachers for their students. Just like every child deserves, in every class, every day. Let’s start to revel in our great practices and that will lead to better practices by everyone.

A public shout out to our dynamic GCS Blue Team–Andrea Geist, Lois Piscitelli, Kathryn Jordan, Kyle Steever, Kris Ruzycki–for your willingness to step out, take a risk, and learn more. Let’s start sharing it with everyone.

Are You Ready to Go Back to School?

Starting my tenth year as an administrator, I still love the question I inevitably hear over and over in the summer, “Are you ready to go back to school?” I usually explain that I’m a “regular joe (or jill)” just like everyone else in the work world, with 20 vacation days per year. The community members who ask the question never seem to know how to respond to that answer and I realize it’s because they’re thinking, “what the heck does she do all summer?”

We’ve actually had a tremendous summer at GCS, with three summer forums that included curriculum design for all core content teachers (encore teachers will begin in July 2009) and planning and implementation of our new reading program. We also had Thoughtful Classroom sessions for administrators and teacher leaders as well as my own attendance as a learner at the school law conference and High School’s New Face, a Western New York conference focused on 21st century skills. Most administrators I’ve known also take advantage of the summer to catch up on professional reading and for me, reading just for fun. It’s all about our own learning in July and August and that’s largely what revitalizes us to go from learner to teacher on September 3.

I’m thinking a lot about how we continue the energy and enthusiasm teachers committed to our school improvement efforts started this summer. I realize that means lots of support from me and the rest of our admin team. As leaders, we have to maintain our expectations because there’s nothing worse than leaving teachers with the feeling that they started something in the summer that no one really cared about or looked at once they finished. We also have to offer on-going opportunities for teachers to work together and to take refresher classes after school or even just to say, “how was I supposed to do this again?” SUSTAINED initiatives aren’t something we always do well in education and that honestly comes down to our responsibility and commitment as leaders. I’m also thinking about LIMITED initiatives as I’m very conscious that while I’m ready to move on to the next project, our K-8 math program, my teachers aren’t even 30% through our current initiative implementations.

While everyone else is “back to school” today and lamenting the end of summer, it’s just another work day for us, albeit much more interesting with our 1500 students and 150 teachers in the “house”! And it sure still looks like summer to me, I’m planning to maintain some of those summer time practices, like reading for fun and swimming. Yeah, I know, wish me luck on that one. But hey, it’s the beginning of a new year, I’m as hopeful and optimistic as ever.

cross posted at Leader Talk

Congratulations GHS Panthers Baseball!

Our boys’ baseball team is now the Section VI champion for 2008. But wait, they are also the Far West Regional Champions now. And wait again, because they are headed to

THE STATE FINALS THIS SATURDAY!

Bring us back a State Championship boys, WIN IT BIG!

Absolutely proud of you already, looking forward to the next steps. Thank you for the wins.

Teachers Learning in the Summer

Our teachers and administrators are embarking on curriculum design this summer and I am so excited about the 63 teachers who are coming to concentrate on their own learning in July! That’s 75% of our teachers, with the other 25% completing the work in September. I’ve said it before and I’ll keep saying it, “the way to improve is to invest in our teachers.” If we continue to work together, to teach them new/additional ways to look at curriculum and instructional strategies, it’s the only way we’ll ever get better.

We’re also implementing our new K-6 reading program and we have an August 3 day forum planned for learning/collaborating. For this session, 39 of our K-6 ELA/Reading teachers have enrolled, that’s 85% of our teachers in this area.

Thank you to our teachers for enrolling during their summers and for working on their own learning. Thank you to the principals and special education director who will lead these critical initiatives and are going to be learning along side our teachers. And thank you to our superintendent and BOE members for approving the expenditures necessary to make it all happen.

The Great Green Sixth Grade

Okay, I have a deep dark secret to confess in these “green” times. We don’t recycle. I live in a rural area where we have no garbage pick up unless we pay for it. Which we do, we pay quarterly, and the disposal truck picks up our garbage once a week. He takes anything, in any container. I could leave my 15 year old by the cans and I swear Dave would throw him in the back of the truck. (Not that he’d go, but hey.)

I’ve been reading a ton about going green, I watch HGTV from time to time and see the buzz there, but I’ve not done anything about it.

Until now. Two of our educators, Candy Phillips and Debby Jolls, are teaching their sixth graders about recycling and land fills. Deb first contacted me about the unit to tell me the students wanted to know what they could do about the Styrofoam trays (I learned that Styrofoam is like kryptonite to my “save the environment” friends) that we use in the cafeteria. Candy and Debby had a speaker coming in from the DEC and they invited me, along with our superintendent, cafeteria manager, and BOE to come in to learn more.

So there I was, a 44 year old educator, learning from our sixth grade students and thinking about all of the questions I still had. Realizing that I am shirking my responsibilities at home and in thinking about what we can do better here at school.

Then the DEC speaker said something that rang so true it’s worth repeating here. She said that by working with our students, by helping them to learn and understand why this is important, they can influence everyone. She reminded us that when the seat belt law began, it was every child who got in every vehicle and chimed, “Mom and Dad–put your seat belt on!“, that changed our behavior.

So I say, “turn up the heat sixth grade!” We can learn more, we can change behavior, and this is your chance to learn that you can change the world. I’m proud of you and of your teachers for taking a stand and for learning to advocate for that which you believe is most important.

Now about all of those questions I still have, like should I buy the paper cartons of milk instead of plastic, maybe you could publish recycling tips on your wiki from which we can all learn? Or maybe a place where we can post questions that you could research and answer? Think about it and lead the way.

 

Ain’t No Stopping Us Now. . .

I think that I am literally smarter when things are really cooking around here. Wonder if that’s possible? I’m sharper in problem solving discussions, more productive and happier. When I go right from one meeting and project to another with several deadlines to meet, I’m stoked. The worst thing for me to see is an open day on my calendar–I’m not nearly at the top of my game on those days. Honestly.

Maybe principals become adrenaline junkies. After all, that job can be non-stop action. Or maybe it’s genetic. My dad is a total pain in the neck if he doesn’t have enough to do. On the rare occasions when he comes for a visit, we plan a project for him to complete. Otherwise, he’s liable to turn around and drive the 200 miles home the same day. I’d quite honestly purchase a new grill or picnic table just to give the guy something to put together when he comes to my house. He’s happier and easier to get along with when he’s busy.

I absolutely love the planning/big idea part of this job. We’ve got three summer forums planned and our teachers are signing up in droves. We’re developing a Thoughtful Education year long professional development plan focused on meaningful instructional strategies and understanding learning–sustained and fully supported teacher learning. We’re revising our APPR plan, assessing our Wellness plan, concluding one mentoring year and planning for the next while hiring our new faculty and staff. We’re setting up our TechPaths, curriculum design software and planning an implementation for 91 educators in our district. We’re installing another 28 smartboards (bringing us to 58) and teaching those teachers the basics so that they can start designing lessons. We’ve got a Gifted and Talented Program to get off the ground and a Reading Teacher on Special Assignment to hire. Oh yeah, and then there’s that little K-6 Reading program to implement. Teachers will be going live with parent portal in September and many are creating content on their own web pages.

How’s that for progress G-Town?

 

 

One Vote

Ever hear someone say that they don’t bother participating in elections because one vote doesn’t make a difference? Tell them this.

We are fortunate enough to have had four excellent candidates running for three BOE seats this year. Our vote was yesterday and the number of votes per candidate were as follows:
Candidate #1–347 votes, Candidate #2–285 votes, Candidate #3–286 votes, Candidate #4–323 votes.

Yep. The difference in winning the BOE seat between candidates #2 and #3 was one vote. One vote, one resident, one voice. Show up to vote, you’re worth it.

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.

School Improvement

School Improvement. What does that really mean? Through our capital projects we improve our school buildings and grounds. Under the leadership of our superintendent, BOE and a strong business executive, our financial picture just keeps getting stronger and stronger. Our climates have improved dramatically. And our students’ state scores just earned us NYSED status as  “High Performing” schools for our elementary and high school. This is a distinction our middle school has earned previously. Our teachers are working extremely hard and we’re making progress, one step at a time.

School improvement efforts certainly look very different depending upon which district you look at and/or where in the district you look.

Our current school improvement efforts include our researched, piloted, and planned K-6 reading program. We are fully implementing this program in September 2008, with some efforts underway now.

Improvement efforts here also include our massive curriculum design project that will result in teachers talking to teachers about what our state test results show us about our strengths and weaknesses tied to the NYS standards and including the big ideas we want our kids to walk away with on graduation. Sounds like a lot? It is. But it will also allow us to intentionally plan what we’re teaching when and to whom, with cross class and cross grade conversations. Plus we’ll be using an electronic tool to house it all so that it’s sustainable and meaningful to teachers, not something they do just to satisfy an administrative request and then store on the shelf. I’m honestly sorry to tell you we’re “starting” this now because it’s so obvious that it’s what we should have been doing all along.

So what are we left with in considering our school improvement efforts with two major implementations next year? Instructional strategies.

I’ve written here before about Thoughtful Education, the work of Harvey Silver and Richard Strong. We have a team of five teachers in the middle school and high school who have been learning together with other educators for a year now. I can see our five teachers growing and adding tools that keep kids active, attentive and involved. What I can’t see is how we’ll get our learning clubs moving quickly enough to influence the other 157 educators in the district who would benefit from learning those same tools to keep their kids active, attentive and involved.

From my perspective, there’s no better way to improve a school than  to invest in the teachers who in turn invest in our students. We need to invest those CFE dollars we’re receiving in more and more professional development, sustained and supported (not one shot stuff), for our teachers. Thoughtful Ed for all 157 educators, on our superintendent’s conference days and at our faculty meetings.We have to change our climate, in a supportive way, and get teachers away from isolation and learning from each other.

We have to nail the curriculum down and ratchet up the instructional strategies. We have to transform our schools with technology and our teachers have got to be the primary learners to make that happen. And we shouldn’t take the next ten years to do it.

Are we getting into areas where teachers previously have been left to their own devices? Heck yeah. Again, I’m sorry it’s such a big deal because they should have been expecting this kind of collaboration and involvement all along. Do I realize some people like things just fine the way that they are? Sure I do. Do I also acknowledge that some of those teachers are doing just fine that way too? Okay, I can go there, but then they have something to offer the rest of us and I’m pretty sure no matter how good they are, that there’s something to be learned from their colleague down the hall.

All I know is this, we’re better together than we are apart. I realize it every time I learn from our teachers, every time they help me on a project like our APPR plan and it ends up about 100% better than it would have been if I would have done it alone.

We’re moving, sometimes it feels way too slow for me, but I was reminded again today that we’re figuring it out and we’re going to be better tomorrow than we are today.