Student Member on the Board

G-Town Board of Education gave the oath of office to it’s first student board member, Jeremiah Davis, last night. How cool is it that we have a superintendent and a school board who value what our students think so much that they’ve adopted policy to include a representative on the Board?

What’s Most Important?

My dear friend, Tina, lost her father this week and I attended the funeral today. The funeral was held about a mile from school and I was gone for about an hour and a half. I worried on the way over about being gone from school, if they would need me for something, if someone would criticize my attendance at the funeral. I rationalized all of this by thinking of all of the extra time I put in.

How dumb this was and what a waste of time and energy. By tomorrow, no one will even remember that I was gone, nor do they probably care. And my friend Tina will remember forever that I was there today, at her dad’s funeral, for her. That’s so much more important.

Somehow I’ve got to realize that my best is good enough. That I have to make the best decision I can, to do the right thing, and that work isn’t always my first priority. That the people we care about matter more than work. That we can balance it all, it just tips one way or the other from time to time. I’m learning, maybe I’ll get it right by the time I retire.

It’s Nice to Be Noticed

So I get this phone call this morning from my old friend and college roommate, Lisa. This is unprecedented for two reasons. One, we only call a couple of times per year and two, it was at work, during the workday. The purpose of her call? She wanted to be sure that I’m okay, that nothing tragic has happened, that all is well with our family. Why? Because I haven’t posted to my blog in a week!

As a relatively new blogger, blogging since July, this is the longest I’ve actually gone without a post. I also received an email from a parent with a similar inquiry this morning. While it’s nice to see that anyone noticed, it also drives home how much of a connection blogging can be professionally and personally. It’s just that, a connection that readers come to depend on, a way to stay connected to what’s happening in G-Town.

It was a typically busy week at G-Town with evaluations and meetings and Rachel’s Challenge assemblies on Friday. When I reflect on my absence, it’s actually not because it was any busier last week than other week.

Quite honestly, my husband and I have been remodeling our main living space since the end of October and last week brought the push to finish applying stain and poly-acrylic to the wood for the ceilings, painting the entire room, washing windows and carpets. Instead of the usual G-Town thoughts swimming through my head that result in a blog post, I had paint colors and wood swirling around in there. In other words, life got in the way. I was drop dead tired every night from remodeling and didn’t have the energy to read or write anything.

Which makes me realize I can’t really separate this blogging from my personal life, keeping it primarily G-Town centered. Do we owe our readership an explanation when we’re gone from the blog for a short time? I think so, as we develop those on-line relationships, it seems appropriate to also mention the personal occasionally. If we’re lucky, professional life and personal life can spill over into one another and it’s probably totally okay to share that here.

G-Town’s clicking along and I’ll make sure the readers of G-Town Talks know what’s what around here, even when my head shifts elsewhere. (Which probably isn’t a bad thing from time to time.)

My English 12 Blog Assignment

Mr. Goss, our English 12 teacher, posted an assignment on his class blog that asked each student in the class to read classmates’ posts, find a topic about which they’re interested, quote them, and write about it. Sounds like he’s teaching them how to read, reflect, and respond. Thought I’d help out by participating in the assignment here.

Meg writes, “So our next assignment was to read a letter from a Marine who’s over in Iraq. I feel so bad for this man and what he has to go through each and every day. I’ve read some war books before and I felt sorry for that person or persons but not as much as I do for this guy. I’m not sure why but maybe it’s because this war is going on right now and now that I’m older I can feel for the person more. The way he writes makes me never want to ever go to war and it makes me wonder how anyone can bear it because I know I would absolutely hate it and probably would go crazy. I wonder how this guy will be able to function in society when or if he comes home.”

I also wonder how the men and women serving in a war (that I find extremely difficult to believe in and to support) will function when they come home. Someone close to me served for many years and I realize how difficult it was for him to receive recognition and support from the branch he served. After seventeen years of service, the military found it difficult to assume responsibility for any post-traumatic stuff he was dealing with–as if it could possibly be from anything else after 17 years of service. Our young men and women, who don’t know the system or are too young to fight for their rights, deserve treatment and care when they return, not just a presidential pat on the back (if even).

Several years ago, my husband and I went to see Saving Private Ryan. I found it excrutiating to watch because I was teaching young men and women who in a different day would have been involved in that war instead of celebrating their latest basketball victory.

Every statistic and soldier mentioned in the news, so briefly and without enough pause, is someone’s student, son, sister, friend, grandchild, spouse, or parent. Our decision makers MUST NOT take those lives for granted, or de-humanize them. Those men and women are working hard, every day, to do their best–we must do the same for them.

Thanks for adding your honest thoughts for our consideration, Meg!

The Moral Imperative

Melvina Phillips also said that it’s our moral imperative to teach every student the literacy skills needed to succeed in school and beyond. The moral imperative. That makes sense to me.

Not just, “I teach, the kid either gets it or not–it’s his problem, not mine. They should have the skills they need before they get to me.”

When Melvina said that we have a moral imperative to teach every child, it made perfect sense to me, but not to everyone in that auditorium. I wanted to stand up, face our faculty and say kindly, “Every teacher who doesn’t believe he has a moral imperative to teach all students these literacy strategies, kindly exit the building and find a new career.”  

I wonder who should have walked out the door?

Creating a Culture of Literacy

Today was a superintendent’s conference day and our entire faculty focused on literacy. It was our privilege to welcome Melvina Phillips, who authored the book, Creating a Culture of Literacy, for the National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP) , as our teacher today.

We talked about literacy across the content areas and focused on literacy strategies that content area teachers can employ immediately. Melvina taught the strategies to us through modeling and practice. I walked away with several strategies I know will help our students in the classroom.

I gave every teacher an exit ticket out the door on which they could reflect on something they learned, something they needed to successfully implement, something that worries them or affects them from today’s learning, and anything else they needed us to know.

It was interesting how many of our teachers expressed concern about two major points. One, they worry that our administration won’t see it through and two, that their colleagues won’t participate.

I learned clearly today that it’s my role as the principal to help teach strategies by providing peer coaching time and staff development, to allow opportunities to practice, and then to encourage (read: require) all teachers to help our students by applying these literacy strategies in the classroom. Regularly. Melvina said that all students need the opportunity to read, listen, write, discuss, and investigate in every lesson. It’s my job to help teachers learn and practice, then expect it to be done, regularly and well.

The fact that so many teachers were worried about their colleagues didn’t really surprise me. But if I don’t move forward and set high expectations for all faculty because of those teachers who don’t want to learn, to change, to make things better for our students, then I’m just leading to the least common denominator. Just like teachers who expect little of themselves and their students because of those kids who aren’t motivated and won’t work.

I’m a better leader than that, I refuse to allow those teachers firmly entrenched in status quo to dictate what happens for our kids. I expect our teachers to do better than that and I expect more from myself. For all of the wonderful teachers in our building who were willing to LEARN what Melvina taught today, I won’t let you down.

Who keeps students safe at school?

Our superintendent’s conference days were yesterday and today. Yesterday, Superintendent Rinaldi put together a panel of law enforcement experts, along with school personnel and counselors. Our entire district staff was in attendance for discussion about keeping our students safe, what law enforcement has learned about school shootings and how to respond, and what can we do better as a district.

The conversations were meaningful, the expert advice prudent and right on the money, and the staff feedback helpful. The message that I kept getting was that prevention will be much more effective than anything we can do should someone enter our school.

I’m not talking about metal detectors, armed guards, and security cameras. I’m talking about the one-to-one knowledge of every student. The concerted efforts to connect every kid with some adult in the building. A teacher, staff member, SRO, counselor, coach, bus driver, cafeteria worker, or principal. Helping our students to feel so comfortable and valued in our building that they share the responsibility of safety.

Parents, students and teachers talk to us every day about concerns. The follow through is just as important. And if the problem isn’t remedied when we’ve addressed it, that’s when we really need to hear back from parents, students, and teachers again. No one should ever think, “I told the principal and nothing happened.” Most likely something did happen and we assume the problem’s been taken care of unless we hear back from school community members again.

I hope the message is clear that communication and caring overwhelmingly trump metal detectors and armed guards. Anyone who thinks an SRO (school resource officer) alone can take care of school safety is wrong. It’s every member of the school community’s responsibility. We have to work together so that every child is noticed, supported, and safe.

Physical Education Teachers Get Wiki

Our physical education teachers worked with a staff development specialist from BOCES, Theresa Grey, on wikis, blogs, and YouTube today. They were excited about learning, engaged, and working together to figure out ways to use the technology. They developed a wiki together and overcame any technology snafus that came their way. I can imagine them using this for their own learning, to improve lesson planning, and with our students.

I’m most proud of their department leader, Amy Cassidy, for being the kind of leader who pushed me to teach them something new. It’s already a cracker jack department with fantastic participation rates and wonderful instruction. Encore subjects too often get left out in staff development and I’m delighted that Theresa offered them meaningful instruction that was all about their own learning, in their content. I’m hoping Theresa links in a comment to this post so that we can see what our physical education teachers created today (hint, hint). Thanks for being great learners.

Principal Disappointment

We had 89 of our seniors absent today, many for a “Senior Skip Day”. This is November. Not May or June when I might be able to look the other way. And it probably wouldn’t be as bad if report cards hadn’t just come out and 54 of them are failing one or more subjects.

Coincidentally, I’m working on the Senior Lounge applications. This is a privilege afforded our Seniors who have excellent attendance, complete homework, maintain at least a passing average in every class, and participate with a good attitude and behavior. I’m not really feeling the desire to provide my Seniors with any privileges when a large portion don’t assume the responsibility of coming to school. And the Senior Trip? That was designed as an incentive to eliminate Senior Skip Days. As you can tell, I’m disappointed in a group of students who I expect more from, every day in G-Town. Not every Senior, but those who “skipped” today. Did I mention it’s only November? And over 1/3 of them are failing?

From where I sit, I’m wondering where we get an atmosphere of entitlement that means we do everything we can for students and they take a Skip Day in NOVEMBER? Having a great school takes everyone and it’s not okay for me to care more about how each student does than he or she does–1/3 of the class failing one or more subjects?! Is it really that hard?

Woman to Woman

My daughter, Bryna, is nineteen years old. I’ve always been conscious of the need for positive role models in her life. I’ve encouraged her to form relationships with her grandmothers, her aunt, my very dear friend Tina, and other strong women in our lives.

The girls I know spend a lot of time imagining who they will become one day. As a teacher for eleven years, and now as a building principal for seven, I’m always aware of my role as a possible example of a healthy, happy, strong adult. Too many of the young women we work with don’t see a happy adult and value themselves too little. Maybe it’s being aware of this lack for other kids that’s caused me to look for role models for my own daughter.

I think the thing I’ve said most often to our young women who are considering dropping out of school is,

“You need to get a diploma so that you can be strong and take care of yourself and your kids. So that you never have to rely upon anyone else. You need to always be able to point to the door when your significant other treats you beyond reason and say ‘there’s the door’. You never want to have to stay in a bad situation because you can’t take care of yourself financially.”

Helping to raise strong young women in our community has been important to me for as long as I can remember. It’s part of what motivated me to enter the teaching profession in the first place.

I’m glad to see my daughter spend this week in Pittsburgh with the best role model I know.  My mom, Donna Lee, has always been my strongest supporter, the person who’s always believed in me and expected the best of me. She raised me to be independent, to make my own decisions, to make the most of every day. I’m happy for her influence and time with my other strong supporter, Bryna.

Whether related or not, we need to support each other. And we need to seek out those young women who are still deciding who they’ll be one day and help them to figure it out.