Who’s going to own the responsibility of technology integration?

After a long weekend, I thought I would sign on tonight and just read through everything on my Bloglines. No time to write, just read what everyone else is thinking about as school begins. And of course there was a Will Richardson post on Weblogg-ed.com that got me thinking and then responding.

Will writes about technology integration, “I agree that there is a de facto irrelevance (whether we say we see the need for technology or not) if the people in leadership positions aren’t walking the walk and using technology as a part of their practice. I think of Tim Lauer and Tim Tyson who lead by example, and how rare that is when it comes to technology in schools. But is that only going to be solved when new, younger, technology facile leaders emerge?”

As one of those school leaders, I’m trying to walk the walk. I’m learning as I go and trying to stay relevant and in tune with everything new. I’m frustrated by spam,time constraints on my own ability to manage blogging, and by my inexperience with a lot of the techie “stuff”. I can’t even get the stinking link tool that Will showed me to work so that I can link his name to his site. But I’m trying, I’m out there, and I’m working at it.

This is much the same way as when I tried new strategies and worked at my teaching, experimenting with new ideas to determine if they engaged my students and helped them to own content. My “leaders” didn’t necessarily model it, they didn’t try it first, they may not have even heard about it. What did they do? My principals and superintendent supported me in my efforts. They trusted me to work hard, to have the best interest of my students at heart, to do my best and to get good results. They provided me with professional growth opportunities, listened to my ideas, and told me to “go for it“.

That’s the role of principals as leaders in technology integration too. If teachers want to try something, if they learn of a new idea, if they want to blog with their students, whatever, they darn sure better not sit around and wait for a leader to model it. That’s a cop out. If teachers have good ideas and work hard and have the best interest of their students at heart, their principals will most likely support them. Teachers need to step up and take the initiative and own the responsibility of technology integration.

It’s much easier for teachers to get support for a good idea from a principal than for a principal to move a building of teachers. Guess what else? Other teachers will be much more likely to follow the lead of the best teachers than to follow the directive of a principal. Teachers need to lead by example and principals need to support good ideas, get out of the way, and watch them work. And yeah, we need to keep learning and growing and leading too. It takes both to make it work. But hey, I’ve never been very good at waiting around for anyone else to take the responsibility for my growth. That’s my responsibility. 

I’m really tired of managing spam!

Someone please tell me what I can do about spam! I tried the auto-close plug-in, better yet one of our terrific tech support people tried to set it up for me, and it didn’t work. I’m realizing that as school starts, I’m going to be more irritated by the spam that I have to manage on this blog. Is there anything I can do to stop this?

Blogging as I present it to teachers

I read a great article in the September 2006 issue of Classroom Connect’s Newsletter by Bud Hunt entitled “Blogging for Professional Development”. I’ve been thinking about my opening day meeting with teachers and wondering how I can succinctly describe blogging to a varied audience.  A very few of my teachers are still struggling with email. So I’m excited to find Bud’s excellent article which is in a more traditional format that everyone can understand. Thanks Bud!

 

Student apathy? Not today.

This is the second August that we’ve offered the Regents exams to our students, free of charge. For those outside of New York State, these are the state exams that our students must pass to graduate. Also, the scores achieved and Regents courses/exams taken indicate the diploma type for graduation. The exams include Comprehensive English, Math B, Living Environment, Chemistry, Global Studies and Geography, and others. 

Our teachers come in for five days of review prior to the exam and work with students for a couple of hours each day. It’s a completely voluntary testing opportunity, just our way to give students another chance at the Regents exams.

We’re a small grade 9-12 high school, about 500 students, and we had 161 students “register” to take one or more Regents exams. And on the past two beautiful days in August, we had 120 students show up to re-take a Regents exam. Our guidance director and teachers had a lot to do with it, as our guidance director, Beth, called just about every student to encourage participation. And teachers did their best to encourage students to come to the review and to prepare for the exam.

The best part for me is knowing that 120 students cared enough to show up, when it wasn’t required, to try to improve a test score. And that’s what about 35% of our students came for specifically. They’d already passed and just wanted a better score. That’s pretty cool, if you ask me.

And the other great thing about it? The students who passed on this August administration can now have schedule changes made for September 5, moving forward in their course work toward graduation and saving valuable time that otherwise must be devoted to repeated courses or to academic intervention. This should keep students moving toward the goal of a diploma as it’s much easier to convince students to stay in school when they’re on track and making progress.

So for every teacher and administrator who grumbles during the school year that “these kids won’t do anything and they just don’t care”, please think of the 120 students who showed up in G-town on August 16-17, just to improve and move forward.  I’m glad our School BOE and Superintendent recognized the value in showing our students that we care enough to offer the opportunity. When we don’t care enough to offer opportunities, students don’t have the chance to show us what they’re made of, which looks like pretty strong stuff.  

How many students may I leave behind?

So how many dropouts does it take to deem a school a failure? Really. I get the NCLB requirements and the close focus New York State has on graduation rate. I pay close attention to our data, but more important, to our students. We all spend a great deal of our time and energy keeping kids in school. Why? Because it’s the reason we’re here and it’s important that every child has at least a high school diploma. I know with certainty that every student who leaves G-Town with a diploma is stronger and more capable in the world and for the children that they in turn will raise. I know all this and still, I wonder, how many dropouts are acceptable?

The school year signals a beginning, another fresh start, new school supplies. It’s a chance to make new friends and spend time with old friends, a chance to make a good impression, improve a GPA, attend school more often, learn new subjects and meet new teachers. We spend most of July and August planning for the return of our teachers and students and hoping that this year will be even better than the last.

But September also brings back those students who weren’t successful last year, or the year before, or the year before that one. Students who aren’t here to learn anything, they’re here because probation told them they have to be, or because they can’t or won’t get a job and the parent says you have to do something, or because they see this as a place to socialize, or as their “marketplace” for whatever it is they are peddling, or because they haven’t got anything else to do.

Let me further describe him or her. A typical student in this position is 18 years old or turning 18 this year, with only three or four credits earned of the 22 needed for graduation, so he’ll be 21 when he graduates if he does everything right from here out. This student has repeatedly been absent, suspended, disruptive, truant, and sometimes preying on the rest of our students. This is the student who teachers cringe at the sight of that name on a roster and the other students are either afraid of or poorly influenced by him.

And you know what? I must “leave this child behind”. I know he needs a diploma just like every other kid. But I also know that it’s not what she’s here for, it’s not going to happen no matter how helpful, hopeful and optimistic I am. And I must consider the impact this child has on the other 500 students in the building. I must consider that this young man will sit in class next to my incoming 13 and 14-year-old freshmen. How is that fair or appropriate or conducive to their learning?

I know that some dropouts are acceptable because despite our best efforts, and I sincerely tell you we make them, we can’t do anything to change the course of their lives. I hate to put that in writing, but it’s true. And every school has those students who return every September for no good reason.

But still I struggle. I think of each of these students when I should be enjoying my own family at home. I worry about the future and wonder what they do all day. And I hate that I don’t have any good alternatives for them and I can’t “fix” them now. I know what some will say, that they have lousy homes and parents, that they could have been identified ten years ago, maybe even in kindergarten, that it’s too late, that there’s nothing we can do. And it makes me angry because inside the mess that they present to the world and their bad behavior, is still a child. A child who wasn’t loved enough or taught enough or guided enough or smart enough or helped enough. And I can’t do a damn thing about it. I can only commit to spend the time to be certain there’s no other way within our setting. I can connect the child with the right and caring people here at school and from outside agencies to be certain we’ve done our best. But sometimes it is too late for us to change a young man or woman and I have to leave this child behind.

If the answer is in the elementary years and then in the middle school years, we better get busy fast. Because I turned one away yesterday, I know it was the right thing to do, and every time it breaks my heart.

Let’s just ignore the whole technology gig.

So I stopped in at one of Will Richardson’s sessions with teachers this morning and I was trying to imagine what those who were quiet were thinking. I imagine some were thinking there’s no way I’m ever going to use this in the classroom, it’s too much work without enough benefit. I imagine others were thinking this is really cool and wondering how to apply it to the teaching of Math. And some were probably wondering what’s for lunch. 

This led me to think about what I might say to teachers about giving it a go. The issue of teacher liability was being discussed and I heard a very cautious warning issued from one of the teachers. And believe it or not, this led me to think about sex. 

Now that I have your attention, and lest you think I’ve decided to vary from the usual content on this site, let me explain. I have a 14-year-old son who went through Project Know a year or two ago. So as any mom may do, I tried to talk to him about what he was learning and I got NOTHING in response. I finally said, “Look, I don’t want you learning about sex from Jacob and Cleo and Damen (his buddies). If you have questions, I want you to ask me, so I can give you good information that you can rely on AND we can talk about the implications.” 

That’s the same conversation we need to have with students about using the web appropriately and we’re NOT doing it. We’re ignoring or we’re just ignorant. And they’re out there creating and linking and talking on My Space. It’s our role as educators to give kids good information they can rely on and to talk about the implications. We have an opportunity to enter into discussions with our students about the practical applications of the web, blogging, and social connections with an educational purpose, wikis, and podcasts. We can also talk to them about the different types of writing, including a more appropriate and professional writing than the one they use on IM or My Space or texting. 

Or we can just ignore it and let them go their own way. I choose to become engaged in the conversations. But hey, lots of parents ignore the sex conversations too. Do you have any students engaging in sexual activity that you think might not be the best way to go? Ignoring it doesn’t help them decipher and make good decisions. Let’s step up, be courageous, and teach our students. Maybe we’ll actually engage them in our content at the same time. 

  

And more to the point. . .

In “On Board”, published by the New York State School Board Association, President Carl Onken writes in his commentary “Said the Education Trust’s Kati Haycock, ‘The research shows that kids who have two, three, four strong teachers in a row will eventually excel, no matter what their background, while kids who have even two weak teachers in a row will never recover.’ Mr. Onken goes on to write that ‘Any board member who is not paying close attention to teacher quality in the district is not paying close attention to student achievement.'”

I would suggest that more to the point would be to replace the words “board member” with “administrator”. Tenure doesn’t protect ineffective teachers; ineffective administrators do that for them. It is our responsibility to clearly and honestly discuss quality teaching individually and collectively. Administrators have to be brave enough to address the tough issues.

I often think of something Professor Janeil Rey said to me seven years ago in my administrative coursework, “you have to decide who you want to be angry with you, the good teachers or the bad teachers.” If I’m not addressing the behavior of the reluctant teachers, the good teachers are ticked. Not hard to figure that one out.

 

What do you expect of yourself?

I swear to you when my fourteen-year-old son hears me mentioning blogging, he covers his head with a pillow, his hands, anything he can get. Not that he’s adverse to the idea, he’s just sick of hearing about it.

This makes me think about fourteen year old children in general and the fact that I have 130 of them entering my building in another month. I wonder how often my son, and others just like him, will want to cover his head rather than hear something again and again in class. I wonder how much richer his learning experience would be if he had only those teachers who are passionate about learning and about students. And more important, teachers who fuel his passions and interests—those are the teachers our kids need.

I have mentioned before and continue to maintain that it is the teacher’s responsibility to make the class engaging in a meaningful way and more important, to make it relevant. I wonder why this is so difficult for some teachers to do. How is it that someone can stand in front of a room of disconnected learners, who are clearly and visibly disconnected, and keep doing the same things? If a teacher is dedicated enough to go to college and to achieve a Master’s degree in their chosen content, then they must be dedicated to teaching. Right? Or are some just dedicated to the content, to the idea of being a teacher, to the summers off and the ability to return home by 2:30 in the afternoon?

We need teachers who are dedicated to the students, each and every one of them. Teachers who realize they aren’t teaching Math, Science, English, Social Studies, or the encore subjects. They’re teaching children. All 130 students entering our ninth grade are different, with interests, passions, hopes and dreams. They also come to us from very different parents, backgrounds, and histories. I want teachers who care about every student who walks through the door, who understand it’s their responsibility to connect with each student, to give them their absolute best each and every day. You know what? Our kids zero in on those teachers who don’t care or don’t know what they’re doing faster than we do. And our kids don’t want to do anything for those teachers. So listen at your faculty meetings this year because those teachers complaining the most about students not doing anything often lack the ability to connect with all students and they therefore lack the ability to motivate. Kids won’t do anything for a teacher they hate and they generally hate a teacher more than anyone else who disrespects them or belittles them. Pay attention to the teachers who keep quiet during those discussions, because they’ve most likely figured out ways to engage and connect with students. In seventeen years in education, one thing I know for sure is that children will do anything in the classroom for a teacher who they know cares about them and expects the best of them.

I don’t want to hear about how hard the job is or how difficult it is to get everything done. Every job is hard in different ways. If this one is too hard, go find something else to do. Our kids deserve the very best, the most passionate teachers, and adults who care. I believe with all my heart that there is no job more important or more rewarding. How hard is it to love our kids and give them 100% each and every day? I plan to do just that on September 1 and throughout the school year and I can’t wait to see my teachers return, ready to do the same.

DOPA and education

I’ve been reading Will Richardson’s posts on DOPA at weblogg-ed.com and thinking about the role of education for the public and the community at large. Generally, people don’t support what they don’t understand. It seems few ask questions and research before making a decision, thinking of the old adage “better safe than sorry”.  It’s disturbing to me, but not surprising, to think that our leaders would vote overwhelmingly to deny access to students without considering all of the ramifications.

So who is in the ear of the legislators? In the political game, we have to know what the rules are and to play by them to get things done. Who has a powerful voice and understands the political game?

As more teachers learn about the meaningful applications for students and professional growth, word of their success will reach the unions. The unfortunate point is that so few teachers, at least in our area, really know about blogging and social networking other than myspace. I think our teachers’ unions, nationally and locally, are a resource we should include in the discussion. Any ideas on their standpoint or involvement? I’ve tried to stay abreast of the issues through NYSUT and AFT publications, but can’t recall this as a discussion point.

If teachers contact their unions and if there’s enough interest, they may be an invaluable resource to protecting this access. I hope it’s an issue they are already aware of and working on. I also hope it won’t be too late.

Talking about connections. . .

If you’ve read any of my previous posts, it’s clear that I’m appreciating the new blogging world as I’ve found it, especially the blogs and comments from other educators. I’m reading my CNN RSS feeds every day and staying better connected to the world news, something I’m apt to miss as I become immersed in the world of education.

Nothing prepared me for the connection made through a comment left on one of my posts today. Looks like my new friend Ilana and I will be emailing each other, as unfortunately, I can’t read the Hebrew that her blog is written in from Israel.

She writes “Hello,I am a new Israeli blogger & I must admit that I feel exactly like you.I wish you could read my blog…it is written in Hebrew.
I am responsible of an information center in a public library.
My 40 volunteers + me help citizens & try to solve their problems. Sometimes those problems follow me home…
My new blog is sort of therapy…especially now, that we struggle for our existence in Israel. It helps me share my thoughts, feelings & also is a working tool..I use it in order to empower the information center.
Thanks for your time. Ilana”

I’m blown away by this connection. Ilana just took the headlines from CNN, Mideast talks fail to reach cease-fire agreement and reminded me of the individuals living, working and blogging through the chaos in countries much more like my own than the headlines sometimes indicate.