After the interview

I went to a 50th birthday party last night for a terrific woman who works in our tech department. It was a local party, I work in the district in which I live.

I’ve lived in G-Town for 22 years and I’ve worked in four different school districts in my 18 years in education. I mention this because I have to admit that there are times when I see someone whom I can’t place. This happened last night at the party. Eventually, I realized why I knew this young woman, even though I couldn’t remember her name.

I interviewed her for a position at our school. And she didn’t get the job. And here we were at a party together. Awkward. I felt bad because I’m sure she knew who I was long before I realized. It’s too bad there isn’t a way that we can help candidates understand what they need to do differently. Or that we can’t say, “look, the candidate we hired just had much more experience.” Or some words of encouragement. Maybe it’s the teacher in me fighting with the administrator who understands hiring practices and liabilities. But who’s going to tell these kids what they need to do to get hired?

Be not afraid

Once again, I’ve had a post banging around in my head for a couple of days now. I’m thinking about school safety and the emails I’ve received from the people closest to me, asking if I’m safe, if our schools are safe, are we taking precautions. I’m thinking about the tragic events in the news, the real people left to pick up the pieces, and the horror of it all. Most of all, I wonder when and where it entered our collective consciousness that someone who’s disturbed, or hurting, or mentally ill takes innocent children out with them as a solution. Or when children learned they could kill someone who offers an answer they don’t like. For any parent, this strikes us where we’re most vulnerable.

As someone charged with the safety of 491 most precious people in parents’ lives, I think about what’s happening nationally and what is happening in G-Town. Are we secure enough with locked doors and our current system of security and safety plans? Are we talking to and more important, listening to, our students enough? Does every child feel connected with some adult in the building? Are our students comfortable enough with us as adults to tell us if something’s wrong with them or with someone they know? Does our staff know enough to really listen and then report? Am I responding appropriately? Is our Dean of Students? Are our counselors? Do parents feel that when they talk to us, we respond? Are we doing enough? We’re reevaluating, asking those questions, issuing reminders.

And yet, I don’t feel afraid in our school, ever.  We all still go about the business of education. That’s what we do. Day in and day out. What we’re doing is that important. I’m compelled to be here in G-Town, trying to make a difference, no matter what the consequences. In many ways, our schools are safer and more secure than they’ve ever been before. Children simply cannot be afraid to come here, nor can we. It’s our job to make good decisions, to keep our children safe, to safeguard against tragedy. We do the best we can, every single day and we go about our business, educating our children.

 

Why support school sports?

As a part of my job, I attend a lot of sporting events. I try to attend at least a couple of home competitions for every sports team we have in G-Town. I have some sports that I enjoy more than others. I honestly have some difficulty focusing on the details of many of them, but it’s important that I be there to support our students and coaches. Honestly, I spend most of the time talking to parents and students in the stands.

I’ve worked for schools where teams have won state championships. I’ve seen the excitement in a small community when that happens. We’ve got only a couple of possibilities for big wins right now in G-Town. But our students work hard, we hope, and we support our kids, win or lose.

At tonight’s cross country match, I was reminded of the real reason for after school sports programs. Our modified, boys, and girls cross country teams all supported one another. They got some great exercise and competed against some terrific teams. But the best part came after the boys’ race, when the boys’ varsity team slid through the mud, came up completely caked in it, and then cheered on the girls’ team. Why was this a defining moment in high school sports for me? Because they were just kids, having fun, together as a team.

It was good-natured, fun loving, and spontaneous. The coaches and parents laughed about it and everyone left happily, from the fastest kid to the slowest. Once again, it was a group of G-Town students, coaches, and parents that I am proud to call my own. No state championship needed.

Note to Will Richardson and WNY BOCES Leaders

Just think, everything I’m writing about, all the great stuff starting to happen for real students in G-Town is thanks to you. Because you empowered a principal, who in turn empowered teachers, our students are benefiting. Ever wonder if what you’re all doing makes a difference for kids? I’m here to tell you it does.

A huge public thank you from this principal in G-Town.

We don’t need no thought control.

I’ve been paying attention to this blog, JCC CSC 1590 Computing Fundamentals I, created for our college level course that’s taught here, to our students, by our math teacher for Jamestown Community College credit. If Mrs. Furman keeps this up, her students will be owning the content in no time. As Jordan and Courtney have shown in their comments, they are responding to the reading in the textbook by posting summary notes, with examples, for their classmates to consider.

I’m sure this caused Jordan and Courtney a considerable amount of anxiety, which led to a meaningful study of the text–how much more meaningful than a traditional reading of the text, only they can comment on. The other students in the class have the ability to post questions and to try to find the chink in the summaries. They have to read the summaries with a discerning eye so that they can turn around and comment intelligently.

Watch out, Mrs. Furman, your students are actually thinking about your text, responding purposefully, and just maybe, learning something unexpected along the way. And all this without you dictating it to them, without you telling them specifically what to regurgitate. This is teaching and learning at its best. You make me proud to be in G-Town, where the most innovative process is happening right now. Thank you, G-Town students and teacher, the best in the biz.

Doctor, doctor, give me the news.

Think about this post from Theresa G. on Grand Rounds. Theresa is a staff development specialist working with area schools. She has created this blog as “A space for educators and professional developers to share research in education, discuss what they are reading and doing in school districts, and enhance their knowledge.” 

In the post Theresa quotes Jenny D., in comparing the teaching profession to the medical field. Jenny D. says something that’s really sticking with me.  

“For example, physicians worry about process first. The correct process leads to the best outcome, so process is first.” 

This really reminds me that our forced obsession with results and scores and rankings should never over shadow the process or in our case, the teaching strategies/methods/pedagogy. Further think about this point made by Jenny D., 

“Doctors who work with the sickest patients are often the most skilled doctors, and their outcomes are probably not as good as doctors who work with less sick patients. So measuring a doctor’s skill might not be best done using outcomes.” 

I’m not sure we do this adequately either. How often is the rookie teacher given the toughest classes because the more experienced teachers have “paid their dues”? Like the best doctors working with the sickest patients, we need the best teachers working with the neediest kids. 

Theresa G. also goes on to reflect on her professional development practices with teachers and principals. 

“but working in professional development – we try to integrate these “process” pieces into everything we do. In fact, at our regional curriculum meetings, we have begun to use a tuning protocol to guide our discussions of district and regional issues. Our hope is that something like “pay it forward” will happen – folks who work with and learn the protocol will then use it back in the district as part of their process, who will then use it in their buildings, where it might eventually translate into the classroom.” 

I say, yes!, that’s exactly what Theresa G. should be doing. I was at the regional curriculum meeting where we used the tuning protocol. I’m looking forward to practicing it again, until I own it. Then I can return to my building, model it in staff meetings and hope the same thing: that it translates into the classroom. We must be instructional leaders in our buildings and it has to be something we continually focus on. It becomes too easy to just end up managing the building, the 100+ little jobs every day that come over the desk. It’s a constant effort to stay focused on the instruction, the curriculum, and the students. It’s also the most important thing we do, the reason we’re here, the process. I’m going to remember that the next time I find myself immersed in data for too long. I’m going to go sit in a classroom instead. 

  
 

Who, me? Not me.

Why is it that disciplinary meetings with parents and students so often go the same way, with parents focusing on everything but the student’s bad behavior? I understand the importance of listening to students and parents so that they’re heard. I understand that we make some mistakes at school too and that we’re not perfect, none of us, not the kids and not me. And I do listen, it’s important.

But I also understand that taking the focus off of the child’s mistake, especially when it’s big enough to land in a hearing, does nothing to help that child learn something productive from the experience. It does nothing to help the child change. Assigning blame and responsibility everywhere else just teaches children that they have an external locus of control. If they do not control their own lives, how do they possibly function as a successful, productive adult? I’m truly not complaining here, I’m trying to express concern for the children who grow up with this perception about the world. I think this may be the single most important lesson we teach our children.

Our students who have parents who say to their children, “I don’t care why you did it, it was wrong and it will not happen again.“, are the parents and students whom I never have to meet with in a disciplinary hearing.

In my experience working with students of all kinds for seventeen years, those who are accountable for their actions, without excuses, are the most successful. We must teach our children personal responsibility instead of assigning blame elsewhere. It is, honest to goodness, in their best interest as future spouses, employees, and parents. It’s too important to mess up.

I don’t mean we never cut a kid some slack. They’re kids, not adults, and most of the adults I work with (including me) need some slack every now and then too. I mean teaching kids that when they do fall short, and we all do, that they stand up and be accountable.

I realize now, at 42 years old, that I’m grateful to my parents. I’m glad they expected good grades, told me I’d be punished at home if I ever dared receive detention, accepted no excuses, taught me how to say “I’m sorry”, expected me to fight my own battles and to stand on my own two feet. I’m grateful to my mother for telling me she wasn’t there to entertain me and therefore go find something to do. And I’m especially grateful that I have that model in my head as I raise my own two children.

I wish I could figure out a curriculum to teach this. I wish I could find a way to change the family climate and to change the model for children growing up this way.

He’s makin’ a list and checkin’ it twice. . .

I have a great idea for motivating our students! We can publish a list of those students most in need of improvement. By raising their level of anxiety, it will encourage these students to do much better. Without that, they won’t work hard, won’t look at the research, and won’t endeavor to improve. But I think with the implementation of this list, everything will change and all children will succeed. 

Better yet, let’s also test our neediest children, those who are new to English or have special needs beyond consultant teacher and resource room. And when those students can’t meet our standards, can’t succeed on the same Regents exams as all other children, we’ll put their names on a list too. That will motivate them to do better, I’m sure of it. 

And while I’m thinking of it, let’s issue a list for parents in need of improvement. And principals. And teachers. I’m sure that soon all of our successful corporations will follow suit, publishing lists with the names of employees who are in need of improvement. This may be the most revolutionary method of motivation ever, change is guaranteed. Companies who have wasted time, energy and money on employee incentives, on corporate climate, on strategic planning, can just use the list motivator! 

Think of it, we’ll just test the living daylights out of everyone–maybe even the President of the United States. We could even have a list of Presidents in Need of Improvement. Now there’s an idea.

So tell me who are you?

When you meet someone new, do you take the time to get to know them? I’m thinking of the way a conversation goes, where each person takes turns asking and answering questions, sort of an even exchange of information or ideas.

In many ways, blogging isn’t like that at all. I realized this at a meeting of about 30 area educators on Thursday morning. An area staff developer, Theresa Grey, formerly known to me only through email, mentioned that she reads my blog regularly. I have to tell you that this felt really strange. Here’s someone new about whom I know nothing  and she has real insight into my thinking (if I’m doing a good job at all) through my blog posts.

It made me wonder if she has preconceived notions of me through my writing. And what are they? And what does she think about similar issues?  It made me think again about audience. It reminded me of the risk I take sharing my ideas with others in such an honest, open way. It also reminded me that there are others who would never consider doing just that, revealing themselves in a public way and probably think I’ve got no business keeping this blog. I thought of a conversation I had with Will Richardson when I started this blogging gig where we talked of an audience that I didn’t expect. And what will future BOE members think should they read “me” someday when I apply for superintendent positions?

Clearly, writing honestly in a public manner takes some guts. But hey, that’s what the rest of this job takes too, so let’s get on with it. What do you think?