Blogging Gig

Here are a few interesting things coming out of this blogging gig. . .

1. One of our BOE members reads the blog and was kind enough to tell me at last night’s Board meeting that we are getting our desks after all–it’s a planned expenditure for this budget year. WOO HOO! I’m glad he read the blog post from the other day and shared the great news.

2. There’s an article by Will Richardson in the April, 2007 DistrictAdministration magazine, p. 89, called “Administrators Who Blog”, in which Will talks about G-Town Talks–feels very cool.

3. I mentioned in a post the other day that Jeff Archer is writing an article about blogging for Education Week. He’s reviewing my stats with his tech expert, Jeanne, and I’m hoping to really understand what my “referers” information, my daily hits, means. In edublogs, there’s a referers list and this is where I’ve seen my counts grow over the past nine months. For example, so far today my referers hit number is at 1217. What does that mean? Is it that my blog has been accessed 1217 times today? My high number was 1800+ and I’ve hit it twice. How does that differ from page views? Techie friends, an explanation please. . .

Challenging Thinking Meets Current Thinking

Earlier today, I spent about an hour talking to a writer named Jeff Archer from Education Week about my blogging experience. From my point of view, it was a great conversation because it forced me to think about where I’ve been over the past nine months. As we talked, I thought about my purpose in writing. How it helps me to organize my thoughts about G-Town for the blog post and also allows me to try to influence or challenge some thinking.

What’s really most important about the blogging process though, is how it challenges and influences my own thinking which in turn guides my leadership, and well, influences teachers, staff, students, parents, and community members. As my thinking evolves, I still struggle with the entire School 2.0 discussion that I keep reading on many different blogs and in print. My struggle lies in my core belief that the majority of our constituency will be extremely reluctant to, and may never, consider an entire reinvention of school. While I can sit at my computer in the evening hours and dream about ideal, I often find it hard to reconcile what I’m learning on-line with what I live every day. And the people who I know don’t exactly embrace change, generally like things the way they are, and figure “if it was good enough for me, it’s good enough for them”.

So imagine my connection when I read Will Richardson’s post about reinvisioning schools where Will, who by the way is someone who greatly influences my thinking, says,

but what I’m realizing in this process is that for now, we have to work within the frame of what schools can become in the current environment, not necessarily some vague idea of what we think they should be.

Thank you Will, because that comment makes me feel as if we can actually get there in my professional lifetime. While I’m all in to embrace new ideas and approaches, certainly new ways to help our students find success, I need to find a way to make it happen within what we already live–our school walls.

I’m completely ready to view the plans for a remodel, just can’t imagine a demolition and rebuild.

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”.

G-Town Goes Bald

MAJOR PROPS to the G-Town students, teachers, staff and community members who fund-raised in our first annual Bald for Bucks. We watched 35+ caring individuals go bald on stage this morning, after raising money for Roswell. It was wonderful to watch everyone come together to raise $7426.01 through pledges and our dress down day.

Nice job from the Student Council who put it together especially emcee Aaron B. and advisors Margaret K. and Brian H. And that Mr. S. who raised $1000—NICE.

I actually think they all look better bald. And props to our eight participants who donated their beautiful hair to Locks of Love–another worthy cause. Once again, it’s good to work and live in G-Town.

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”.

Hamburg Hawks Last Hurrah

I’m thinking about parenting tonight and I’m feeling sort of melancholy. Our son started playing hockey in the Hamburg Hawks house league when he was in the second grade. He played his final game for the league tonight. Eight years on the ice, eight winters of driving 30 miles to the rink every Saturday and Sunday, once for practice and once for the game. Eight years of 6:00 am practices, for which we had to leave the house at 4:45 am.

And I wouldn’t trade a minute of it for anything. We’ve literally watched him grow up on that ice, from a tough little second grader, through the years when it seemed he spent more time in the penalty box than in the game, to the young man I saw tonight. He played with heart, especially tonight, and it was bittersweet because we all knew that this time in our lives was ending.

Through eight years, the boys in this house league have played with and against each other countless times. They’ve learned sportsmanship, how to take and give a hit, how to listen to a coach, how to work together on the ice, and how to rib each other in the locker room. Their coaches have given of their time, energy and hearts, with no pay in return. The experience has helped shape who my son becomes as a man.

As parents we’ve all cheered for our kids, becoming friends along the way. It was a toss up who would go for the Tim Hortons on a given 6:00 am practice, but someone always did. I’ll miss seeing them from week to week, but most of all I’ll miss watching their sons continue on their way to becoming men.

From Coach Klumpp who told each boy “you’re a champion young man, you’ll always be a champion” after they won that year to Coach Cislo who called my kid when he sat in Children’s Hospital to dedicate the game to him, and every coach in between–we say thank you. In every possible way our experiences at the NIKE base, watching our son play in this house hockey league, have been extraordinary.

I’m conscious of the fact that these changes bring with them new experiences and Tallon plays lots of sports so it’s not that I’m worried about missing his games. More so I realize that this has been a big part of our family experience and as our kid rushes toward graduation, I just want to slow him down. To slow it all down and make it last a bit longer. I wish I could keep life as it is right now, it just doesn’t seem like it could possibly be any better than this.

Wanted: Teachers

Maybe it’s because we’re getting ready to post and advertise our teaching positions that are open for next year, but Will Richardson hit a nerve with me in his post The Next Generation of Teachers.

Will talks about a conversation on educational technologies that he had with a group of graduate students in education. Will writes,

The general sense from the group was “yeah, but” once again. Yeah, but we have these kids who are going to abuse these technologies if we open them up. Yeah, but we’re going to be out there on our own if we decide to use these technologies. Yeah, but I don’t have enough time to make this a part of my own practice. Yeah, but, etc. (And please, if any of those in attendance are reading this, feel free to chime in.) At one point I said something along the lines of “you know, there’s a lot of pressure on you in my circles because many people think nothing is going to change until the old guard retires out and you guys take over.” Well, that didn’t float very well. I got the sense that most didn’t want to accept that challenge or felt it was just too daunting. And at another point, after going through a list of reasons why using these ideas were going to be difficult, I said “yes, but you know there is nothing stopping you from changing the way you learn.” Not sure how well that went over, eith

In considering graduate students in education, Will’s post made me really stop and think about the interview process. When I search for a new teacher, do I have a preconceived model of a teacher in my mind? Of course I do, we all do. Is it an outdated model?  I’m going to seriously reconsider what that model is from now on. Like everyone, I look for content expertise, experience, a practical knowledge of pedagogy, technology skills, and a sense that the person will connect with our kids, among other things.

From this point forward, I’m going to seek out candidates who have done something with their lives outside of going to high school, getting a teaching degree, and returning to school. I want teachers who have lived a little, who have shown a deep passion and curiosity for something, heck, for anything. As I commented on Will’s post,

I’m completely exasperated by the collective resistance to change in every arena. Why is it so incredibly hard? Why are so many people completely comfortable residing in the status quo? I agree with Dan, the current teacher candidates probably became teachers because they’re comfortable in the system as it is. I should start trying to hire teachers who weren’t successful in school. I’ll add interview questions that ask, “what did you hate when you were in school and why?” “What do you want to do differently?” “What do you think and what are you curious about?”

I know our teacher candidates aren’t any farther ahead than we are–it takes curiosity, guts, and determination–and that’s available at any age.

Yep, just added those questions to my interview list. So listen up, teacher candidates, I just revealed three interview questions that you can prepare for in advance. But oh yeah, you had to be interested enough in our school and smart enough to use technology to your advantage in order to get here and read this post.  And if you’re too “traditional” to even understand a blog, better luck next time.

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.

Just Four Minutes Per Period

If you’ve ever wondered if small schedule changes can add up to a significant impact on student learning, consider the following proposed changes to our 38 minute instructional periods.

Currently our students enter our building at 7:23, yet we don’t start first period until 7:50. Next year, we propose to begin homeroom in first period at 7:35, with just five extra minutes tacked on to first period. We will only take three minutes to pass between classes instead of four minutes. We will conclude our last period at 2:07 instead of at 2:04. We will go from six 20 minute lunches with six twenty minute (useless) study halls to four 30 minute lunches.  We will utilize all current staff without any increase to FTE’s.

What do we gain? Our eight instructional periods increase from 38 to 42 minutes. Four minutes, doesn’t sound like that much does it?

Four minutes per period. It equals 32 minutes of additional instruction per day. 720 minutes of additional instructional time per period/38 minute periods we have currently = 18.9 additional periods of current instruction per class

OR more simply put: 32 minutes per day; 96 hours per year; 18.9 days of instruction added.

With four more minutes per period. Within the teachers’ contractual day, without additional expense. Gains all the way. Students even gain a longer lunch period. And this building isn’t so big, our kids are just conditioned (or have conditioned us) to take four minutes to get there.

Thanks to a great planning team for working out the details, we’re making some progress. Now it’s up to our cracker jack instructional team to put those four minutes per period to good use. And I haven’t even mentioned the potential blocking for Science and English teachers every other day. . .