Tags, memes, what?

Apparently, I have been “tagged” by Will Richardson and Chris Lehmann to answer a question posed for bloggers. I saw this once before when I was tagged for a “book meme” to which I didn’t respond. But I really respect Will and Chris and figure I ought to play along.

Hmmm. This is new jargon for me. I learned the following from a post by Carolyn Foote explaining, 

  A meme is sort of a thematic internet project.  From Blogjargon, it’s defined as “an idea, project, statement or even a question that is posted by one blog and responded to by other blogs.”

In any case, the tagg-ee (me) has to share five things about themselves that readers of the blog might not know, and then tag five other blogs. 

Interesting. Okay, I’m game. Problem is the topic. Five things about me that readers might not know isn’t tough, but to make it interesting? Geez. Here goes (with help from my husband who thinks all kinds of great things about me and NO help from my kids who say I’m the most boring woman alive).

1. One of the best jobs I’ve ever had was as a 7/11 girl when my two best friends and I lived in Daytona Beach every summer while in college. We worked the night shift so we could sleep on the beach all day next to the most gorgeous sky blue Dart.

2. I am an integral member of the competitive synchronized swim team, “North’s Synchro Sailfish”. You should see us in our matching suits and bathing caps! Well, maybe not. But this water aerobics class is the highlight of my entire week and the one thing I do for myself. :–)

3. I would honestly prefer to be alone in my house with a great book or magazine to being at any party, anywhere.

4. I’ve driven standard sports cars since 1987 and if I’m really careful, I can almost get 10,000 miles on one set of tires–well, the front ones, at least. Consequently, my family affectionately refers to me as Mario Andretti. I also have a dark talent for avoiding speeding tickets.

5. Twenty years of marriage to the only guy I ever loved, and I still can’t wait to see him at the end of the day.

Okay now I tag five others, so here you go HR Manager Lisa Monfre, GHS teacher Crystal Furman, Iroquois’ The Super Neil Rochelle, fellow administrator Steve Poling, and think:lab’s Christian Long. Your turn.

On Common Ground

I woke up this morning, earlier than I wanted to, thinking about those 30 students who stayed after school to form a GSA, or Common Ground, or Acceptance and Tolerance, or whatever else they decide to call themselves group. I began to imagine a conversation with those who believe strongly that this group is wrong, or that if we pray enough we can change them, or whatever other arguments they may bring to the table.

Toward those who may stand on the outside and point their fingers, I began to feel angry and defensive about my G-Town students who are moving forward saying that everyone deserves to be treated well, that we need to accept everyone for who they are, that we must respect one another, support one another and protect one another. I feel protective of them, proud of their self-advocacy, and inspired by their desire to stand up for one another.

I know there will be those who judge them, and me for my support. And those who judge will most likely be those who rely on teachings that should inspire them to do anything but that. It’s ironic that those who may judge the most harshly won’t see beyond their own beliefs to the beauty of teenagers looking for acceptance and respect for every child. I will be there loving each child for himself, in all her differences, on W.K.’s “common ground”. I will remember that we live in a country where every man, woman, and child has the right to say what he or she believes, without prosecution. And on my watch in G-Town, without condemnation or fear.

Time to Stop Everything

It’s late on the last day before the Winter break and I’m so grateful that it’s late on the last day before break! There is something that happens to our buildings just before a break, and we seem to shift into a different mode. My first administrative job was as an assistant principal and my colleague, a seasoned veteran and great guy, Gary Cerne, told me “let’s just keep the lid on the place.” I’ve thought of his words right before every break we’ve ever had since then.

It’s tough for kids to make those transitions, which is why I’ll never be in favor of the “split break”, as we call it in New York. We have a week off in February and another in April and it’s too much. We just get rolling after the start of the new semester on February 1, and then we hit another break. I’ve never worked with small children, but I have to believe it’s even harder at the elementary level.

So here I sit, still a project left uncompleted, and I’m not starting it now. I’m taking next week off, vacation days, and I’m not thinking about G-Town, I swear! Well, other than dropping my son off for practice and attending a wrestling meet in a neighboring school all day on Friday.

I’m going to concentrate on my family, reading, and doing nothing. I hope I have days where I’m still in my pj’s at noon. I have to write this all down here, because I’ll have to force myself to stop. So this is my commitment to do so. Stop, that is.

A sincere happy holidays to all G-Town readers. You’ve helped me to learn and to grow in 2006–see you for more in 2007. Thank you.

Follow Up on GSA

Previously, I posted about a student group in G-Town who is interested in starting a Gay/Straight Alliance. At that time, I had a lot of questions and I was looking for some clarity in my own thinking. Blogging about it brought several comments, and G-Town Readers helped me process the whole thing.  

Our students interested in starting the Gay/Straight Alliance met again today and I would guess there were about 30 students present, along with three adults. They were a great group of kids, positive in nature–the kind of kids you want to be around on a regular basis.

We are proceeding as we would with any other new group. The kids have two options. One, they can petition the board to be a school club just like Student Council, NHS, or the Spanish Club. Along with that option will come school rules, rights and responsibilities. Two, they can use the school under open access and meet without becoming a GHS Club. This option only affords them the use of the building for their meetings, nothing more. It’s really up to the students to determine their purpose and identify what will help them get there.

Me? I’ll support the kids either way. It’s just not a question of understanding for me any more. It’s something our students are showing up for and we’ll see how committed they are. I already admire the way they are supporting one another and moving forward. I can approach it just like any other endeavor our students are involved in, due largely to the on-line conversations here that helped me process the whole thing. We can even conclude that this blog and the connections made here, made me a better principal on this one. Thanks to the G-Town readers who took the time to comment.

Free, Equal Access to Excellence in Public Education

I’m not sure how I missed it, but I’m very glad I caught Will Richardson’s post from early November. Will writes a letter to his two children about a future college education and in it he says,

For most of your young lives, you’ve heard your mom and I occasionally talk about your futures by saying that someday you’ll travel off to college and get this thing called a degree that will show everyone that you are an expert in something and that will lead you to getting a good job that will make you happy and make you able to raise a family of your own someday. At least, that’s what your mom and I have in our heads when we talk about it. But, and I haven’t told your mom this yet, I’ve changed my mind. I want you to know that you don’t have to go to college if you don’t want to, and that there are other avenues to achieving that future that may be more instructive, more meaningful, and more relevant than getting a degree.

One of the reasons I love to read Will’s posts, is that he is constantly and deliberately challenging my thinking about education and about learning. That’s very good for me and works well, because I truly want to have the best school we can have for all kids.  A huge part of that means I have to think about how we do business now and consider how it’s working and how it’s not. Also, how can we do it better?

The comments that ensued in response to Will’s post are interesting. Dean Shareski comments,

I keep telling everyone that in 3 years many of our students will choose not to attend high school. They’ll instead find a way to “play school”, get their diploma and pursue other interests. My question lately to teachers/administrators is “What will your school offer students that will make the choose to come?”
What you are describing to your kids is they have a choice about how they’ll learn. As Karl said previously, they won’t have to wait till college to make this decision.

I think about the changing landscape of education, as Dean does, and I realize we have to really think about re-inventing ourselves. But my passion lies in re-inventing public schools for all children. I can’t possibly support the idea that was threaded through some of the comments Will received that challenged him to consider an alternative to public education for his children now. While I understand and support the families who consider this option, there are far more children who don’t have this option. For whom public school has to be the best option, not their only option.

Let’s please keep this conversation focused on change for all children. For many children in this country, public educators have to be their strongest advocate because they haven’t got anyone else.

Court Consequences

How did we reach the point where a student smoking marijuana in school is merely an appearance ticket in family court? We have the strictest of school consequences, a Superintendent’s Hearing, and the NYS Troopers do all the right things with us–only to result in a barely felt slap on the wrist.

Yeah, that’ll keep my kids off drugs. We only have about four or five of these incidents per year (that we catch and we’re diligent in our efforts), but any school who believes they don’t have a drug problem better wake up. We need stricter penalties in our court rooms–school intervention isn’t getting it done alone.

G-Town Wrestlers Rock

For the last ten hours of this beautiful Saturday, I sat in the gym at Iroquois High School for a wrestling tournament and it was worth every minute of it. Wrestling is, by far, my favorite school sport. Granted, I went to school in Pennsylvania where every boy worth his salt at that time wrestled and carried a can of snuff in his back pocket, so it’s sort of ingrained in my subconscious. Our neighbor, Wayne German, was the wrestling coach at Plum High School and he used to drag me along to the meets. Anyone ever coached by Mr. German knows what the meaning of “heart” is.

There were a ton of wrestlers today and only a handful of parents (not too many want to sit there for 10 hours), but what a terrific day for sportsmanship. Wrestling is an interesting sport because a kid can win individually, even if the team loses. Still, I watched kid after kid run from one mat to the next to watch his teammate’s match. They’re polite and easy to be around. They look out for each other. Real athletes pushing it to the max. Heck, a kid can lose, show a ton of heart and still come off the mat feeling good about himself because he fought hard and gave it 100% until the end.

The moment worth the price of admission came when one of our rookies got his first pin. The grin on the kid’s face when he came up from the mat and the reaction of his teammates were fantastic–brought tears to my eyes. The coach ran himself ragged running from bout to bout, but he never stopped coaching and supporting every kid.

Yeah it was a great way to spend a Saturday, in a smelly gym filled with adolescent boys all treating each other with respect. Win or lose, those kids were as good as it gets today.

Acceptance & Tolerance/GSA?

At the beginning of this year, three students met with me about starting a group for gay students. We talked a lot about what they wanted out of the group, what they thought the purpose of the group would be, and what they needed from us. They weren’t really clear on all of those questions and neither was I. So we moved forward with a caring counselor as the volunteer adult in the room, the three kids met after school with her, and we called it the “Acceptance and Tolerance” group. Kids had to get permission to stay after school and Jen facilitated.

Next, we hosted “Rachel’s Challenge”, an assembly program which talks about treating everyone with kindness and compassion. The next week’s “Acceptance and Tolerance” group met and 46 students showed up.  46 out of 500! The students talked about being the GSA, Gay-Straight Alliance, and about why each person was there. Most were straight kids who wanted to show support for their friends.

Now I have even more questions. Is it the role of the school to run a club that’s basically about sexuality or is this beyond our school’s purpose? Or is the purpose of the club really something else? Is it really about acceptance and tolerance and treating everyone fairly, with respect? Does it limit the group if it’s focused on the differences we have sexually? Wouldn’t it be more inclusive if it was about diversity and included all of the ways we differ, but more important, all of the ways we’re the same? I need to attend the next meeting, so I can ask the students those questions.

Is it a case of an open forum, with the students meeting on their own and using the building the same way other organizations would ask to use our building? What do they really hope to accomplish as a “club”? How do I support all students within our academic setting, and by support I mean protect, listen to, understand, and create an environment that’s so safe and caring that every child can achieve to his fullest? And again, what do they hope to accomplish–what will they actually do as a school group?

How do I say “yes, we hear you”, but now can we get back to the issues of your homework, attendance, class performance? How do I say, “yes, I accept all of you, now get to work”?

And the personal question I keep coming back to, the Kim question that’s unrelated to the professional person, wonders why anyone would want to be defined by this one part of who they are? I try so hard to see people for ALL that they are, not judging them for one piece, that it’s hard for me to understand why anyone would want to be DEFINED by one thing. I want to say, yes, you’re gay, so what? You’re a lot of things and I see them all. I support you simply because you are ours, a G-Town student.

Pass It On

Our Building Improvement Team is made up of teachers, support staff, parents, community members, students, and me. We have a generosity drive each year, where our students and staff raise money to help make the holidays better for a few area families.

I received the coolest phone call ever from one of our families from last December. Seems they went shopping, bought about five bags of toys, and want us to distribute them to a needy family this year. As it turns out, they’re having a much better year this holiday season and they want to give back. That’s the best example of generosity I could possibly hope for—not a phone call asking if we can help them out again–but one that says “it’s our turn to help someone else”.

Spit It Out or Think and Defend?

We have a recurring theme here in G-Town surrounding our students and academic achievement. As our teachers analyze data and discuss new literacy strategies, I keep hearing the same thing. Our students don’t want to think.

It seems that they really prefer assignments that are specifically spelled out and require only regurgitation of facts. When we ask them to really think about something, to investigate, to reflect, and to respond, they are reluctant. Our kids continually ask the teacher for the answer or for reassurance that they’re on the right track, that the answer is what the teacher is looking for.

Our graduates struggle with this same analysis and reflection, this same critical thought, when they hit college. It leaves me wondering how we got to this point. I graduated from high school 26 years ago and I have strong recall of numerous projects and position papers/speeches, including one from sixth grade. I felt well prepared to analyze and to think critically, it’s obviously a way of thinking on which I rely in my current profession.

So when did we stop asking students to really think and learn? Did our focus on the students at the bottom cause this shift? Did we start spoon feeding students and continue to the point where we are now? I’m curious how this shift occurred and certain that it’s time to make a change.