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.

Agenda Item #4

At this month’s faculty meeting, I finally explained to my teachers what I’m doing with blogging. I talked about my own professional learning through reading, reflecting, and writing. I did my best to explain succinctly how it’s influencing me professionally and what I think it can do for teachers. I talked briefly about a couple of teachers in our school who’ve been using it. I told my faculty that I believe our best teachers are those who are curious and who never stop wanting to learn.

I offered to hold a session after school for teachers who are interested in learning how to give it a try and asked that anyone who’s interested just email me to let me know. That was Wednesday. Today, I have seven teachers who have volunteered to stay after school to learn more about how to learn more.

Seven plus the three in the building already blogging. I’ll take it.

Back to the Beginning

I’ve been playing around with the presentation of my blog, but I’m now returning to the original so that my friends on the Macs can read the posts. Hope this works better for everyone.

I usually keep the posts on this blog to G-Town, seldom mixing in much that’s personal and only when it relates to the topic of the post as it relates to school. But today our border collie, Reggie, was hit by a car and he didn’t survive. He was the greatest dog, relentless with playing catch, good natured, and beautiful. I obviously didn’t do a good enough job of taking care of him. Our cairn terrier is going to be so lonely.

The worst part is telling my kids. We talked to our son and are waiting for our daughter to get home from work to tell her.

It makes me think about the times I’ve delivered bad news to students, along with whatever family member has come in to tell the student. It occurs to me that I have no idea what the “right” way is to do this, especially now that it’s my own two kids who I hate to see hurting more than anything. Factor in my own sadness and it just really stinks.

I understand that helping a child with the grief of losing a pet isn’t anything like the grief over losing a loved one, but how do you handle it in any case? Is there anything good that I can read that offers advice?

Rachel’s Challenge at G-Town

We have only one or two major assemblies per year, because I really try to guard instructional time. I receive requests for assemblies and meetings and pictures–interruptions–weekly. One of our assemblies is the “G-Town Show Down”, an annual program that is the culminating event for our positive schoolwide behavior management program. We feature student and teacher acts and it’s a blast.

For our other assembly this year, I’m pleased to welcome Rachel’s Challenge to our schools on December 1. We will host a middle school assembly in the morning, a meeting for student leaders mid-day, a high school assembly in the afternoon, and a free to the public community presentation at 7:00 that evening.

I have written about Rachel’s Challenge previously, as I attended the assembly at Silver Creek Central to check it out. If you’re an educator please go to the Rachel’s Challenge website and consider it for your school.  If you are a member of our Gowanda community, please join us at 7:00 pm on December 1 in our auditorium. I left this assembly at Silver Creek Central feeling like everything we do makes a difference and I can’t wait for our students to learn that too.

G-Town Salutes the Armed Forces

Our Fall Band Concert was tonight for grades 5-12. As always, it was wonderful–everything from fifth graders who have been playing for three months to a terrific jazz band that includes three of our teachers. The auditorium was packed and everyone seemed to enjoy the concert. Our music programs have always helped G-Town shine the brightest.

I’ve worked in four districts over my eighteen years in education and we have something that happens at our Fall concert that I think is unique to G-Town. At the beginning of our concerts, our concert choir performs the National Anthem and the members of our local American Legion and VFW participate with a presentation of Colors. The concert concludes with the Armed Forces Salute and as our 9-12 Band plays, each flag is presented. Members of our audience who have served stand as their flag is presented. It is unusual and inspiring.

It’s unusual because it takes our 5-12 concert and turns it into a community event. It’s inspiring because it teaches every child in attendance that our veterans, our country, and our flag are meant to be honored and respected. The presentation and removal of Colors is a formal and serious part of our concert, and it teaches our students something important about service and about patriotism.

It also teaches each of us that we’re part of something much bigger than our school community, and that’s a good place to be.