Students step up

We have five seniors coming to our BOE (Board of Education) meeting tonight to interview for a student seat on the BOE. I’m not sure what questions our BOE members will ask of them, but I’m pleased and proud to see that each student feels committed enough to G-Town to spend several hours twice a month talking about it. And hopefully, the student member will be listening and learning too.

To be completely honest, at first discussion I couldn’t really see why the BOE was looking for this input. After all, I’m at every meeting and I work hard to represent their needs and interests. I’m looking out for each student here. But hey, I’m an adult with my own slant on things and my own perspective. I talk about listening and learning and I give students a strong voice within the building, why not on the BOE? I’m glad the BOE members pushed on this one and I can’t wait to see what perspective a student member on the BOE brings to the discussions. I wonder what influence they’ll have? I wonder what I’ll learn.

What I’ve Learned On-Line

What’s the biggest thing I’ve learned from starting my bloglines account, reading others, entering the on-line world of professional discussion on education, and writing here at G-Town talks? It’s all about coming to school, no, to life,  willing to learn.

By participating.  As adults. With a hunger to learn, a curiosity, asking the big questions, acknowledging that I don’t have all of the answers, willing and eager to look for them. This is the future of education.

Knowing how to think, to research, to read and reflect and respond. Knowing how to find the information I need, when I need it, and to evaluate it so that I can use it productively.

For everyone who doesn’t have the time or the inclination to learn, do you really think you already have all of the information you need to: A. be the best educator you can be  and  B. to lead the best life you can lead? Do we really have educators who think they learned everything they need to know to do their job effectively in college? Five, or ten, or twenty, or thirty years ago. That’s mind-boggling to me. I don’t even remember what I learned then. It’s what I’m learning every day, RIGHT NOW, that changes the way I see the world and do business. How can anyone just stay inside their own head, spinning around in what they think is the source of all knowledge? The teacher? Or the textbook?

I simply don’t get that.

Dear Diary: This is not what blogging is about.

I was reading a post on Theresa’s blog, Grand Rounds, and after reflecting on her topic, I would like to respond in writing here.  I’m detailing the process because I’m reminded in her post that often times teachers, parents, and students don’t understand blogging and we’re not doing a good enough job of explaining it’s uses.

Theresa writes about her experience as a staff development specialist and the reluctance she encounters from her participants about the uses of blogs,

So why aren’t more teachers using them? Why aren’t they a part of each and every classroom across this globe?

Lots of reasons, or at least I am told. Here are some I have heard:
1. They are not safe – don’t you watch Dateline?
2. My school blocks all social networking sites.
3. Real life requires pen and pencil, not just a computer. Sure they can type – but they can’t type their state assessment.
4. I don’t have the time to have kids blog when I have content to cover.
5. I don’t have time to learn how to blog so I can teach my students.
6. I don’t blog because I don’t have anything to say – why should I have my kids blog? (Followed by – It’s just an on-line journal!)
7. Blogging doesn’t create real relationships – I want my students to discuss things in class.
8. Blogs are another fad in education– don’t you remember whole language and the damage THAT did?

So often when someone hears about blogging, they quickly categorize it as an on-line journal, or another MySpace, or a different way to IM. I guess it can be those things, but that’s not at all how I’m using it.  

I continue to spend about 85% of my on-line time READING what others have to say about education. I don’t walk around thinking about what I want to write about. It’s not the same as when I think about something that’s happened in our lives and then want to remember to tell my husband or my mom about it later.

It’s professional reading, reflecting, and responding. It’s thinking about my audience and what I want to say that potentially can influence thinking or serve a purpose to another educator, student, or parent. It’s about learning. My time spent “blogging”, and by “blogging” I mean reading on-line sources including blogs, writing, and reading comments left on my posts, is all about my own learning. It’s free, it’s accessible 24/7, and it’s what I choose.

That’s what we need to plug into with our students. Not the same old assignments posted on a blog.  We can add it to enhance learning or we can just keep doing the same old, same old. The reason I don’t worry about the educators who believe they are the source of all knowledge in the classroom is that our students already have it figured out. Any teacher, or principal for that matter, who thinks she knows everything  students need to know, is kidding herself. And no one else. I’m just hoping a few teachers will help guide our students to meaningful learning. When they leave G-Town, students are going to learn about what they choose, not what NYS tells them they have to learn. I hope we do an adequate job of showing them how to learn whatever it is they need to know, not how to receive information and then spit it back out. Who wants an employee who can only do that?

The Run-On Day

As the high school principal, I have the luxury of working with Dan Cassidy, our Dean of Students who handles 99% of the disciplinary issues in our building. I’ve worked as an assistant principal responsible for all discipline for 900 students in a middle school and I’ve been the principal responsible solely for a 7-12 building. In G-Town, I can be effective in all of the aspects of the job that I’ve written about here because I have a Dean of Students who takes care of discipline.

Dan wasn’t in school today, he left before lunch yesterday. I’m not at all reluctant to do discipline, but today I remembered why I need someone else doing the job. On a day like today, a day that makes it impossible to plan, to evaluate, to think, to read and reflect, to complete a coherent thought, to problem solve or to analyze, I realize how ineffective a leader I would be if I tried to lead G-Town at the same time that I had to do the triage, crowd control, reactionary, “holy cats, what next?”, kinds of things that discipline can become. It’s exhausting and draining and leaves no time for forward thinking and planning.

The following exerpt of my day is written the same way it happened, in run-on and fragmented sentences– where I can’t even complete a thought before the next thing comes along.

Let’s start at 7:25 with the parents who were in to see me before homeroom because of a complaint about a grade. At 7:45, three girls squaring off in the hallway over a long standing disagreement, ending in a screaming match, an hour conflict resolution and another hour with parents and each girl separately. (Thank goodness for excellent guidance counselors.) Try to catch up with discipline referrals, phone calls to parents of the alternative ed kids who were swearing at the transportation supervisor, see the kids for throwing slushie in the hallway, going late to class, skipping class, coming late to school without a note, going late to class, calling someone a pig, hitting someone with a baseball hat, and going late to class. Meeting with a teacher. Debrief from the conflict resolution. Two bus referrals with alternative education kids that result in suspension and a bus video to watch. (Thank goodness for the middle school principal for going to watch the tape.) A cell phone is stolen, a locker to search, a kid to search, NO, I won’t search the kid again–you don’t know she stole it, I’m not harassing her and you shouldn’t have left it in the locker room, THAT’S WHY WE GIVE YOU A LOCK FOR YOUR LOCKER. It’s 1:50 and time for A send off with the local newspapers for our Sensational Senior who’s off to States for Cross Country where we form a human tunnel with all 494 students through the hallways as the coach and team members walk first, followed by our Super Fast Runner in a wagon while music blares through the PA system and the Press takes pictures as he throws candy to the crowd. BEST part of the day, by far. Must have planned this when I wasn’t inundated with discipline.

Readers are given a look into G-Town as often as I write. This is a part of G-Town and every school in the country. What’s the key to managing it? Dedicate staff to take care of it, support them, and get about the business of leading the school. (Thank goodness for Dan Cassidy, Dean of Students.)

Come Together

At G-Town, we have a high school Literacy Leadership Team. We’re a group of teachers who meet once per month to LEARN what we can about reading and comprehension. In turn, we hope to help our students to read and understand in the content.

The unique thing about this group of 11 or 12 teachers who stay with me for about an hour after school, once or twice per month,  is that it really is about learning. We formed last year as a result of some item analysis on the Regents exams that led us to really look at literacy issues for our students. Every teacher in G-Town is invited to participate and no one has to come. I admire this group of educators because they’re staying on their own time to advance their own learning.

Hopefully, it will remain a learning group. I don’t want it to ever become a group who feels as if they’re just meeting to follow my agenda. For the next meeting on November 27, each member of the group will return with one source we’ve found that speaks to our topic in a meaningful way. We’ll share what we’ve learned individually, reflect on each other’s input, and determine our next steps together.

This is the shape professional growth and learning should take, one that’s meaningful for the participants because they get to decide everything from the content to the format to the follow through. Teachers are in charge of their own learning rather than having a “canned” program delivered to them in a one size fits all pattern.

I’m energized by this group and think we should consider the format for additional learning groups in G-Town. I wonder what our topics could be?

Curiosity Killed the Cat

Let’s just say that my fourteen-year-old son isn’t all that excited about blogging, podcasts, on-line learning, or technology. He loves his ipod and xbox. He’s  great at managing the TV/stereo system.  The computer and going on-line just isn’t very interesting to him.

The plus to that is he’s not on IM or any other social networking site when I want to use the computer. The minus is that I spend a lot of time thinking and talking about the learning that’s available to us and my own son is completely uninterested. I’ve tried to suck him in by searching for others who have read the Mario Puzo novels he loves or about any of his other interests. Nothing. So I’m leaving it alone and hoping he’ll eventually be curious enough about something to go looking for more information.

Until this weekend. I was reading one of his teacher’s posts and I read it to him. He listened, he reflected on the post, and he asked to respond. (!) I played it cool, I typed it for him as he dictated (because typing wouldn’t have been worth the effort to him), and I waited. Yesterday he wondered aloud if Ms. Geist had read his comment. Then he wondered if I could check while I was reading my bloglines. (!) She had not responded, but someone else had so he read that comment. I’m thinking if she continues to post topics that grab his interest, he might return again. And hey, I told him he had to at least open a blog if he wanted to comment. (It’s a start!)

I’m excited about his interest because I know he’s not always all that excited about what’s being taught in his classes. I never want him to “turn off” to learning. And I’d just about drive to the end of the earth to fuel his interest or passion in any subject. Knowing that I don’t have to drive there, that it’s available on-line if I can just lead him down that road, yeah, that makes me very happy.

Curiosity might have killed the cat, but in my world, it makes the kid.

I Can’t Drive 55

If by some odd chance you’re reading me and you’re not reading Will Richardson at weblogg-ed, you’re missing the writing that most challenges me to do more, to move faster, to make a bigger difference. In this latest post, Will talks about the change that’s necessary,

We go back and forth in this community about whether teachers who use blogs should blog, or podcast or read RSS feeds. I’ve always hesitated to come down on one side or the other in that debate for a variety of reasons. But it’s become clear to me that the answer has to be yes. If you are an educator, I think you have little choice but to choose option 3 in the Marco Torres mantra: “You can complain, quit or innovate.” I know in many ways it stinks to have to be an educator at a moment in history when things are changing on a glacial scale. But what you signed up for is preparing kids for their futures. You have little choice but to deal.

Why won’t our kids be as well served if we don’t change ourselves? I mean we’re all products of the system, right? We all did ok. Things were changing when we went through school, right? Um, no. Not like this.

I don’t think it stinks to be an educator at this time. I think it’s the most empowering, exciting and energizing place we could possibly be for anyone who wants to make a real difference for kids, to do something important, to change for the better. Will Richardson keeps me from ever becoming complacent and that’s needed for all of us to keep moving forward.

Even if we’re racing, we’ll never go fast enough to keep up with the Web. In this race, some are home watching, some are buying tickets and showing up, and others are on the track. (Yeah, yeah, some don’t even know there’s a race on.) Me? I’d like to be on the track in an AC Cobra, with a 427 side-oiler–that ought to get G-Town there. Honestly though, I’m just moving up from the cheap seats. You’re driving now Will, but you won’t have to stay in the driver’s seat forever, we’ll get there.

Who’s blog is it, anyway?

I had an interesting request this week. What do you think of guest authors on G-Town talks? I have colleagues who aren’t willing to start a blog because they don’t think they have enough to say. But they do think they have enough to say in a post or two.

I think they can bring something valuable to G-Town talks because I’m the only person who currently generates the topic of each post. I’m learning from all that I’m reading on bloglines and from the readers who post here, but I think we might be able to take it a step further if we allow others to generate the topics too.

This is something I’ve seen done in a couple of places and I generally don’t like it as well as when I clearly know who’s authoring the entire blog. I wonder about continuity of themes and ideas–generally, readers know what to expect when they come to G-Town talks. If they like it, they return and if not, they turn elsewhere. Still, it seems like a way to bring more to the conversation.

As you can see, I’m undecided on this one. Keep it just me or invite others to generate posts too?

What’s love got to do with it?

I’ve been thinking about disagreements this week. Arguments, fights, misunderstandings. I realize something that I’m not sure I’ve ever fully understood before now. Whenever my husband and I have had disagreements over our twenty years of marriage, I’ve always known that I was more important to him than the argument.

Think about that idea. Because I’m not sure I could always say the same thing. Sometimes I think the fight became more important to me than he was. Not ultimately, obviously, but in the moment. Yet somehow I always knew with Derek, I was more important than the fight. That shouldn’t be interpreted that he didn’t hold his ground in an argument or articulate his point of view. But through any disagreement, I knew I was more important to him than anything we were discussing.

I consider the mediation that occurs in our offices. Guidance, the county’s social worker, our Dean of Students, me–we’re often trying to help two parties work something out. Dan, our Dean of Students, and I spent about five hours on one ridiculous disagreement between students this week and I know he spends countless hours more with other disagreements. It’s almost always a stupid fight between kids who “used to be” friends. What would happen if everyone could approach arguments valuing each other more than the fight?

This seems particularly important with people who are close, especially in the same family. That’s where the passion in a fight often explodes. And that’s where we should most value each other, more than whatever argument is at hand. I don’t know about you, but when I reflect on the arguments and disagreements I’ve had with the people I love most, they almost always seem absurd in hindsight.

So I’m going to give it a try. The next time I feel angry with someone, or frustrated, or hurt, I’m going to look at the person, see why I care about her, and realize that she is more important than the issue about which we’re angry. I hope my children can learn their father’s approach: that the person standing on the other side is much more important than the fight in between.

Fringe benefits

So I’m realizing this blogging gig has some fringe benefits that I didn’t expect. One of G-Town’s readers and a frequent commenter is Lisa, who happens to be my college roommate. Lisa and I graduated over twenty years ago. We’ve remained friends through a lot of life’s changes, seeing each other every couple of years. We are both busy working moms and we talk only once in a while. Blogging has given us a new way to connect.

Here’s the interesting thing about this blogging connection. Lisa isn’t an educator; she’s a human resource manager. Often she has commented about how similar a topic in one of my posts is to something she’s been thinking about. That makes sense because we both manage, and hopefully motivate, employees. The best part is that it’s inspired Lisa to create her own human resources blog, and now I get to go and read what’s on Lisa’s mind.

I’ve always thought of my audience as those in the school community, other principals, teachers, students, and community members. Now I realize it may also include other professionals, connecting us to a much broader audience, one with an important voice. I hope that what I’m writing reflects positively on public education.

Imagine if it actually could influence thinking about who we are as educators, what public school is really like, and what a tremendous profession it can be for young people making career choices. And if it can influence thinking in the private sector. Thanks for adding your voice to the conversation Lisa. I can’t wait to read you and see what I can learn.