Sharing Learning

This past Friday, our Thoughtful Classroom group at GCS met with teachers from three other school districts in our HS Library. They came to our district to carry on with our learning about Thoughtful Classroom strategies. I’ve written previously about Thoughtful Classroom, Harvey Silver and Susan Morris.

I join three high school teachers, a middle school teacher, and our middle school principal on this team. We started learning together last summer and the training, centered primarily on learning styles pedagogy, has been worthwhile and sustained.

Unlike some staff development, this is an ongoing, three year commitment to learning. It means we continue to be accountable for the content and for our own learning. We’re in year one and I’m really looking forward to year two, when we expand our current learning club of six by doubling our number.

Already you can imagine that this is a bit different than the one shot staff development so often offered. The amazing difference continues when you realize that two of our teachers, Ms. Geist and Mr. Ruzycki, put themselves out there in a way seldom of us ever do. They team taught a lesson to an English 9 class in front of about 18 educators and Dan Moirao, the expert who joined us from Thoughtful Classroom.

Andrea and Kris taught using a strategy from our training, a carousel. Afterwards, they sat quietly and listened as we offered our thoughts on the lesson. They then had the opportunity to reflect and a wonderful discussion about learning strategies ensued.

My hat is off to both teachers for having the courage to try the lesson and then listen intently for feedback. They model good teaching through their openness to learn and to improve.

It was a terrific lesson, granted, so 99% of what they heard from us was positive. But we could also reflect on how we’ve used the strategy and then ask questions and share with one another.

I wish I could go back and teach the students I had for ten years at Pine Valley all over again. I’ve learned so much by observing wonderful teachers that I know I would do a much better job now. Had I been a member of a learning club, I could have learned from my colleagues and applied the knowledge then, when my students would have directly benefited.

Administrators get to see the best of the best through evaluative visits and casual observations. We need to do more to encourage teachers to learn from one another. I’m excited about our learning club and how this change to our culture of learning as educators will improve GCS for our students.

DABA?

DABA: deserves a bigger audience.

Well, I had actually developed an audience of readers when I was writing regularly, so this post by Dr. Scott McLeod at dangerously irrelevant should motivate me to include blogging as a regular practice again. This is perhaps the nicest welcome (back) I’ve ever received.

I am thrilled to announce the next recipient of the crimson megaphone: Kim Moritz, an associate superintendent in Gowanda, New York. Kim blogs at G-Town Talks and is most certainly someone that deserves a bigger audience (DABA). Kim’s writing has been profiled by Will Richardson in District Administration magazine and is a contributor to LeaderTalk. After a short hiatus, Kim has returned to the blogosphere. I know I speak for her many fans when I say that we’re all absolutely delighted.

Scott makes it his business to encourage and support educators in the blogosphere and I am grateful for his efforts.  I promise to get back to Leader Talk now too!

Blogging for Clarification

For any school administrator who has ever had something come back to her which wasn’t anything like what actually was said or happened, blogging is a solid communication tool. On my last two posts, readers can see where I received a comment from Nancy, a reader who was clearly ticked off about a change to the summer reading program, which had not actually occurred.

I had the opportunity to write a post which clarified my thinking a bit and I hope gave her the facts.  The other obvious benefit is that it also clarified my thinking for anyone else reading who had heard what Nancy had heard. I gained from the knowledge that this “rumor” was out there and could respond quickly. Would I have preferred that Nancy just come and ask me what was up with the summer reading program? Sure. A face to face conversation would have been great. But there isn’t always time for that, all members of our community aren’t always willing to say what they think F2F, and sometimes it just festers with no conversation at all. I love that I got to hear from Nancy. That I had the chance to respond, at least for those who read G-Town Talks.

Did Nancy’s comment that criticized me for not caring about the older students sting? Absolutely. I thought, “how can she possibly think that of me?” But it also gave me needed information. I now know that at least one member of our school community thinks I’ve abandoned our high school students. I’m not sure I can fix that misconception, but now I’m aware of it and I can try.

There was one other problem with the comment though. I’m not sure who Nancy is and for the purpose of the blog, it probably doesn’t matter. The comment came so quickly (within 12 hours) to any conversations about the summer reading program that it had to be from someone in the district or very close to someone in the district. We only have one Nancy who works here who would have been privy to the information. And this Nancy did not write the comment. I know this because the Nancy in district has commented before and I know her address but I also know it because we spoke directly about it. The problem is that our Nancy can’t really say, “hey! That wasn’t me–on the blog, for every reader who thought it was her.” Well, she could, but why should she have to? The relative anonymity that’s available in a blog comment can sometimes present these types of problems. When people aren’t clear on who they are, sometimes we assume it’s someone else–a case of mistaken identity. That’s why my comments are always left with my full name and address, so I can own them.  

I’m still glad Nancy commented–since it’s all about sharing information and learning from one another. We’ve certainly learned that we can’t say things once and assume everyone gets it. The more opportunities we have to communicate more effectively with our students, teachers, parents, and community, the better. Just like good teaching, that needs to take different forms for different folks.

Some Clarification of Summer Reading

In a comment to my last blog post Nancy writes,

Nancy Says:
February 6th, 2008 at 7:38 pm

So let me get this straight. You will finally have a comprehensive reading program in grades K-6 AND this week a decision was made to discontinue the mandatory summer reading program – making it optional for students. They won’t be assessed or held accountable. I was told the decision was made because students were failing the first quarter, they refused to do the assignment attached to the reading. You might be helping the smallest of our community but you’re giving up on the older students. Maybe your pose of administrators should ensure that EVERYONE is cared about, in the correct way.

This is an interesting comment. I was part of a brief conversation just this morning (maybe five minutes, if that) in which our ELA department chairperson was looking for a decision on summer reading. I specifically heard our building principal state that there wasn’t a need to make a decision now, but that he did believe the summer reading assignment should have a “neutral or positive effect” on student grades. I would hope that our encouragement of summer reading could have a positive effect on our students. The last thing I would want is for our students to associate reading with something negative or punitive.

The New York Statewide Summer Reading Program  is a wonderful program that supports the importance and academic gains for students who read over the summer. This is an incredible partnership with local libraries to encourage all children to read. Recently, I met with representatives of both of our local libraries as we are very interested in working together to benefit all children. This is a terrific start.

In addition, NYSED posted guidance on locally required summer reading assignments in April, 2006. Some of their suggestions include,

The State Education Department also suggests that:

  • Any locally required summer reading assignments should be integral to the school district’s existing curriculum.
  • Parents(s)/guardians should be encouraged to review the reading list to be aware of the titles and authors and to encourage and help guide their children’s reading.
  • Students should have a choice among one or more required readings.
  • Options should be provided to students for demonstrating completion of the assignment (e.g., a book report, an oral presentation, or a media or electronic presentation).
  • For students who will be away on vacation, all the necessary materials for their summer reading assignment should be provided to them before school ends in June.
  • If assignments are given to determine placement in Advanced Placement (AP) courses or as part of the body of work required for the AP course, the district/school should have appropriately trained teachers available to the students for guidance and assistance over the summer, in addition to making all necessary materials available.

Any efforts made by our administrative team, in conjunction with our teachers and teacher leaders, will be with the above guidelines in mind. There certainly was no district decision to discontinue the summer reading program.   If at any time Nancy, or any other member of our school community for that matter, would like to meet in person to more fully discuss the summer reading program or my involvement with our older students, I would be most happy to do so.

Age As An Advantage

I don’t know how anyone reads the fine print on a pill bottle or a CD insert or our budget sheets. I know how I read them a year ago, but they are suddenly making the print much smaller. I finally broke down and purchased a $17.99 pair of reading glasses at Rite Aid. Actually, they were 50% off and I bought +1.25 because the +1.00 glasses that I probably should have started with were ugly. So now I feel like I have vertigo whenever I’m reading something at my desk and I look up to see someone who walks into the office. Is this just the beginning? Honestly.

I mention all this because I find myself in a curious position. As an administrator, I was often one of the youngest people in the room (other than our middle school principal, but he started at a freakishly young age). Now I’m older than the middle school and high school principals and a large portion of our staff. And I like it. There’s a certain amount of credibility that comes with being older.

An article in the February, 2008 issue of District Administration, State of the Superintendency, “examines the stress and satisfaction in a changing profession”. The author, Angela Pascopella, states:

A big surprise for some district leaders is that today’s superintendents are older. The mean age is the highest in history, at nearly 55 years. In years past, superintendents started their positions at around age 40, after about five years as a classroom teacher, another five to seven years as a building-level administrator, and another five years in district administration.

Pascopella goes on to reason that,

One reason for the increase in age among superintendents might be the reluctance of central office administrators to move from a “safe” position to one that may require a move to another district or state. . . . Some good news is that nearly 22 percent of superintendents are female, a better representation considering the majority of females in teaching and other positions.

What does this mean for me, a female central office administrator?  I’m not sure this position feels any “safer” than a superintendency would feel. The position of school administrator requires a variety of skills and abilities AND there is also an enormous amount of content to the job. Every administrator with whom I’ve ever worked is expert on part of that content and strong on other parts, but none has ever been expert in every area. The longer I stay in this position, the more opportunity I have to learn the content of the superintendency, a very complicated role. That doesn’t sound like playing it safe, it sounds like playing it smart.

And as far as being female goes, I’m pleased to see that 22% of superintendents are female, but I’ve always believed that I would be hired on the merit of my work and ideas, gender being irrelevant. That’s been my belief since entering the work force at 15 and it’s proven true throughout my career path. My female colleagues, who are well qualified for the administrative track but unwilling, often choose to remain in the classroom due to a lack of time and energy because of conflicting family demands, not due to a lack of confidence or ambition for the position.

Dial-Up Only Access

Believe it or not, a significant portion of our school community accesses the Internet through dial-up. This includes our house and it’s not necessarily through choice but through a total lack of options. We can’t even get cable where I live and when I call the company to ask “when”, they’ve gone from laughing when I asked the question in 1989 to vague answers about rural areas today.

This dial-up only access isn’t only annoying because of speed, or lack thereof, but it limits options for our families. We plan to go live with the parent portal of our gradebook/attendance product  in September.

As I understand it now, families who live in Dayton, Cottage, Perrysburg, the Cattaraugus Territory, and other rural areas of our district will be excluded from access. I figured that just meant it would be extremely slow for me at home, like many sites, but then I learned that we won’t even be able to open it. This means that families in those areas will have to access our parent portal through their work sites or the public library or our school computer labs.

It’s frustrating and it’s an inhibitor to stronger communication with our parents. I know, I know, they can still get the information through our guidance department, teacher email, progress reports, report cards, etc.–the “old fashioned” way. But I’ve been looking forward to September, 2008 when we take it a giant step forward and allow parents and students to see where they stand with grades and daily attendance, well, daily.

This dial up only access affected the decision for my new presentation on this blog. Through the design of our school website, I was reminded of download times for everyone at home when we add lots of pictures and graphics. So while they’re cool, the pictures and graphics found on other presentations/blogs are not necessary for G-Town Talks, not if they prevent some community members from accessing the information.

 I’ll keep it as simple as possible until we’re all “up to speed”.

Let’s Give This Another Go

Found myself writing for our school website this morning and thought, “This sounds like, looks like, and feels like a blog post” and figured I’d better get back to it here at G-Town Talks. The transition I underwent from high school principal to assistant superintendent was downright painful. Readers saw it here. My friends heard about it and those already in similar positions kept offering encouragement that I forcefully shot down. And thank goodness my boss learned to let everything I said go in one ear and out the other. (Unfortunately one of the ways I work out what’s in my head is by letting it come out of my mouth–seems to be how I think it through–I’m lucky I didn’t drive the guy nuts in the last seven months.)

And so here we are today. A graduate asked me last night at the local pizza shop, “so how do you like your new job?” and I found myself answering differently than I had over the past few months. Instead of saying, “I really want my school, my teachers, my kids back”, I heard myself answering, “It’s good; I really believe that the work I’m doing now is what’s going to make our school one of the best in Western New York.”

I do. Think that. Just didn’t realize until I said it to Kristin that I am over the “looking back, what’s happening with my high school kids, need to know everything that’s going on, let me make the decisions” part of the transition. And you know what? I’m pretty sure I went through a similar transition when I went from teacher at Pine Valley to administrator at Frontier. Maybe that’s what happens when you are fortunate enough to work in a profession where you truly love every job you have?

But think about that statement I made. What an incredibly powerful opportunity I have here to do important work. Who could ask for more than that? Of course, many of the G-Town readers said exactly that in the encouraging comments that I received when signing off in October. So I’m a bit slower than all of you. 🙂

I’ve had some incredible experiences in the past seven months and I’ve learned a lot. Most important, I’ve gone from a building perspective to a district one. I honestly see things differently, on more of a continuum, and that’s where every one of us working in a district should be. A child’s experience as she travels through our K-12 system shouldn’t be random. It should be specifically designed to give him the best possible learning experience. We have incredible teachers and administrators, including a superintendent and board of education that have taken our district and put us in an excellent financial position; so that we can do all of the things we need to do, to improve learning.

Some may say, “Well, it’s about time” but I’ve learned that things generally happen when we’re ready for them. Four years ago this district wasn’t ready, culturally or financially, to go where we’re going now. The best part is now we have a plan to get there, we know what we need to do, and every bit of research I read confirms the plan at hand. How much better can it be than that? And when I’m ready to make the next transition to retirement, I’ll know that I never took the easy way and that I made a difference for our kids in Gowanda Central Schools.

And by the way, I still have my kids, they just include every student K-12, not just 9-12, and I’m responsible in some way for every one of them.

G-Town Stops Talking

This blogging practice has disappeared for me. G-Town Talks has been languishing out here, waiting for my return and I just don’t see it coming. I’ve thought a lot and can’t honestly say why I’m blocked from a practice that was so positively rewarding for me.

I feel as though I should just take all the posts and readers’ comments and put them together in a book titled “High School: A Principal’s Perspective” and call it a day. I loved blogging and everything about it. Writing down my thoughts about our students, learning, school management, and G-Town was absolutely ingrained in my day. Reading other blogs, looking forward to the comments left on this one, and thinking out loud were incredible for me. Heck, we even got some national attention with a couple of articles and interest from CBS Evening News that never panned out. And now it’s all gone.

The reason I’m stuck seems easy to trace to my movement from high school principal to assistant superintendent. I could write that I’m too busy now or that the things I’m involved in aren’t “blog worthy”. But none of that is true.

The truth is that this blog and the writing I did was focused on our kids. Our experiences together, our growth, our change, our learning. It was about my experiences as a principal and that wasn’t just a job for me. It was the biggest and best part of me. It was the one thing in my entire life that I’ve been really good at–and I underestimated how much I enjoyed the day to day management of the school. I blogged because I had much to say about a job, about a school life, that I couldn’t get out of my head.

I didn’t know myself well enough to realize that the reason I was a good principal is that I took it all personally–the relationship building with kids and teachers and parents, the problem solving, the success and failure. I wanted our kids to succeed as much as or more than anyone else there and I wasn’t afraid to show that to anyone. I simply loved going to work every day, loved the people I was with all day and gained enormously from our kidsin my school.

My brother claims that loving your job like that is unusual and not something I should take for granted. He doesn’t know many people who feel that way and says it’s worth a lot more than money or status or more responsibility. Maybe I was doing exactly the thing I was meant to do in this world.

My new job is focused on teachers, on curriculum and instruction. On improving things for kids, meeting the standards set for adequate yearly progress and beyond, staff development, and on important components like reading, formative assessments, and curriculum design. I’m in the classrooms and at meetings and attending conferences. The work is important and offers an opportunity to make real change. It’s a challenging job focused on improvement that stands to have a powerful impact on our kids. Most administrators would jump at the chance to focus sustained attention on these efforts, without the worries of the day to day operations of the school. I should be deliriously happy. Trouble is that it turns out the day to day operations are exactly what I wrote about here and are exactly what I was most passionate about in my job.

I’m glad I had the chance to learn here and I’m grateful for every comment left–thanks for sharing your thoughts with me Readers!

Maybe when I find my way back to the kids I’ll find my voice again. Until then, G-Town Talks will be keeping quiet.

Thank You

So the incredible readers who responded to my last post remind me why I blog as a professional practice. Each person who commented gave encouragement either in pointing to resources, saying “I get that!”, or the best by Jonathan, by taking the pressure off.

G-Town Readers said eloquently what I needed most, thank you. And I probably needed a little of what my mother said too which was, “quit your crying about it and get to work.”

Still Struggling

Okay, here’s the deal. Several readers have emailed to encourage me to keep writing. You’ve said we need your voice out here, especially now, as an assistant superintendent.  On the contrary, my friend David, who does a job similar to my new job in another district, called today and said, “see, that’s why I was struggling to blog when as a principal, you were writing away.” And readers know my own superintendent has tried and struggled to find a place for a superintendent’s voice on the blog. So if I’m going to write at this point, it’s going to be about the transition because that’s what’s on my mind, as I drive home and when I wake up.

About transitions, I’ve been through them before. From teacher to dean of students in Pine Valley. To Assistant Principal at Frontier Middle. To High School Principal at Randolph. To High School Principal at Gowanda. I like change. The transitions went well.

Maybe I was able to write as a principal because I was confident in that position.  It served as a great reflective practice for me. Often, comments received were about how transparent and authentic I was. Risky. Some colleagues questioned the wisdom of my honesty, my putting it all out there. I was so passionate about my topic, my job, and my kids that I wrote fearlessly, secure in the knowledge that I always had everyone’s best interest in mind.

What do I write now? Do you really want to read about our upcoming staff development? Or my need and search for training in grant writing?  Do I write about my research on annual professional performance reviews? How about gradebook training or the decision about who’s getting the 18 interactive whiteboards and why? I’m not sure anyone really wants to read all that. And if I’m as transparent and honest as I was when writing for the past 14 months, I’m not sure I’m ever going to be as passionate about those responsibilities as I was about my principal responsibilities.

A little perspective. My friend with the same job says it will get better. We’re only seven days of school into it and next week I’m planning to spend time in the classrooms at the middle school and elementary school. That should be very good for me. Problem is, they’ll be someone else’s kids in someone else’s classrooms in someone else’s school. Does that problem make sense to anyone? Maybe I just need to get my butt in gear and make this job what I want it to be, what it should be to drive our district forward. Or maybe I just gave up the best job of my life.

See why I’m not writing?