Don’t stop believing

The Seneca Nation of Indians sponsored a family carnival this evening. The three contract schools participated with JOM faculty, Seneca Nation employees, faculty, staff and administration volunteering. I think they planned for 500 people to attend and we ran out of tickets. It didn’t matter though, because the kids all played whatever games they wanted to and there was food enough for everyone.

Each district sponsored a welcome booth and each school within the districts sponsored a game booth. A friendly competition was waged among the three schools where carnival-goers voted for the best welcome booth.

The thing that struck me about the evening was the reaction to the Gowanda pride shown by all of us. As we signed in participants, we encouraged them to go to the ballot box and to vote Gowanda the best booth/best school. There is almost a reluctance to say, “yes, Gowanda rocks!” and not just at tonight’s event. But you know what I noticed? The more pride we showed in our school, the more comfortable our students were. I hope at least a couple of parents and kids left thinking, “I’m glad to be a part of that school.”

I’m still, in my third year, combating the “it’s Gowanda, what do you expect?” attitude. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. I expect the best, that’s what we’ve got and that’s what we will continue to be. I love Gowanda and I’m very proud to be the high school principal here. Not anywhere else–not the #1 ranked school in football or Lacrosse or Math or English–Gowanda. We’ll get there. I’m in it for the long haul, G-Town, and you’re worth it. Believe it. I do.

You’ve got 30 minutes to explain

I was sitting at my son’s hockey practice today with a terrific gentleman who I’ve known for several years talking about our kids. He’s of a slightly older generation than I am, yet he’s very clear minded about technology and also very practical.

As we were talking about the kids, he said he always leaves the newspaper open to the editorials and asks the kids to read at least that part every day. He feels that’s the most important part of the newspaper. I had been describing blogging to him and realized that this was a great way to get my point across.

My blog is my own editorial page. Only better. When I read the newspaper, I can’t respond to the writers, at least not instantly. This way people can read my post and share their response immediately. I can do the same, accessing information I would never be able to consume in print. At least not in a timely manner. 

I’m planning a presentation to our board of education and I have been struggling with how to succinctly describe the blogging experience. Now I know I can use this example.

Can anyone think of similar explanations that they’ve used? I hope to go with a couple of teachers and students who are giving it a go. I’m planning to show the BOE members what we’re doing, but worry that someone will leave still wondering why. I’m hopeful that hearing from our students and teachers will make it clear, but am conscious of the time constraints. We’ll probably have about 15-30 minutes. Any suggestions, friends?

Get off the bench and blog

I just read two insightful, well written and thoughtful comments from Lisa and Amy, two contributors who have previously submitted to my posts. I’m left thinking, learning, and reflecting. Again, I’m considering the power of this medium.

So my challenge to Lisa and Amy is to get off the bench and blog. Thank you for your contribution to G-Town talks, but you’re always left just responding to what I initiate. It seems to me that each of you, and most other readers, have so much more to offer. Plus, I spend an enourmous amount of time looking for new blogs to read that connect with what I need to learn most. We need more players in the game, my bench warming friends. Join me.

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.