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?

Take this job and love it.

There are days in this job when seemingly nothing goes as planned. Student issues override everything and some nights I arrive home realizing I’ve just reacted to everything that was coming at me all day long. Not the best management style, not intended, and certainly not the kind of day that anyone wants to have. These are the days that leave me wondering if I’ve been effective at all, exhausted, and raiding my secretary’s desk for candy bars.

But the best part about the unpredictability of working with adolescents is that it works both ways. I had about four different tough student issues this week, the kind of stuff that I can’t solve. Those are the issues that take it out of me. Right when I’m feeling worn down, something always seems to happen to lift me out of it. And it’s always the kids—and I’m reminded of why I’m here, why I’m fighting the good fight, why I’m trying to make a difference. The problem is that we sometimes get tied up in the most extreme cases and we miss those other 98% of the students who are just coming to school, day in and day out, doing exactly what we ask of them.

Here’s how it went today. I was leaving a meeting at BOCES, where some of our students go for vocational education, and all of my G-Town kids were waiting with the other BOCES students for classes to start. They haven’t seen me there before and their reaction made me smile. They were friendly and excited and calling out to me. They wanted me to stop and talk and they wondered why I was there. I told them I was checking up on them and they said “we’re doing great, aren’t we?!” I felt proud that they were my kids and even prouder that they “owned up” to me in front of their friends from other schools.  I remembered why I’m a high school principal—it’s for each of them. It’s for the G-Town students who need me the least, those who just go about their business every day. I need to schedule time with them every day, for me, more than for them. Yep, I love this job.  

Why are we using blogging in the classroom?

This afternoon, I posted about two teachers in G-Town who are experimenting with blogging in the classroom. When I posted, I was thinking about the technology and the fact that the students are really being expected to do the same kinds of things as in a traditional classroom, just in a different medium. I was wondering how much valuable time will be spent on the technology and if it’s motivating our students to learn the content.

Will Richardson posted today and it was exactly what was on my mind about teachers using blogging in the classroom.

Will writes, “At some point, I’m hoping Jeff will scaffold up from “the same-old-report in a different format that has a big audience” work to more “critical analysis of the content that we’re producing to test our ideas” work. I mean that, at it’s core, is what is powerful about these technologies. They allow us to take risks with our ideas, to test them in authentic ways with real audiences, and learn from the process. (In many ways, this post is a risk.) Why shouldn’t we be asking students to do the same?”

I wonder what that could look like. I’ve only been blogging since July and I want students to feel that same motivation that I do to write. But I’m not following an assignment. I’m writing about the topic that’s most motivating to me and I’m writing for an audience who shares that interest. I’m excited to hear what they say about my ideas. I’m disappointed when what I write resonates with no one and I get no feedback. That’s what I want our students to have. A reason to write well with well thought out ideas for a real audience.  

Teachers giving it a go in G-Town

Two teachers in G-Town are giving blogs a try in the classroom. Crystal is using a classroom blog to post questions for students in her college level computing fundamentals course. I can see her students struggling to move beyond the level of commication they’re accustomed to on IM and myspace. Crystal remains dedicated to the content and is helping her students move over to a new technology, a new way to communicate, and at the same time, learning about her content through a connective tool. Crystal is an innovator, the kind of teacher who hears about a good idea, thinks it through and implements about five minutes later. We need more teachers like her.

Steven is using blogs in his English 12 class to post assignments on the “mother blog” to which students respond in posts on their own blogs. This has been interesting as students tackle content while linking to websites and then responding in writing. The writing remains the part of the task that many dislike. I’m anxious to see what happens when Steve moves over to allowing students to post on their blogs about content that’s exciting to them. He is one of our most creative educators so I’m sure his students will produce some terrific content. I’m looking forward to the day when students start to receive comments to their posts.

And as both teachers and the students they touch move forward, they routinely handle the “techie” stuff that comes up, no big deal. I’m glad they’re in G-Town, moving us forward.

High Schools Need Improvement

New York State listed the 228 High Schools Identified As Needing Improvement today. I’m happy to say we’re not on this list, but we are a high school in need of improvement. Our teachers and students can do better and we have too many dropouts. I can do better as their principal.

Every good teacher and administrator knows that we can always do better. In addition to the day to day management of our building and all that it encompasses, I spend a tremendous amount of time researching and problem solving to increase our achievement and graduation rate. We look at the test results, teaching practices, curriculum, literacy, professional development opportunities, culture, drop out prevention plans, school climate, and especially, at our students.  And thank goodness, we had gains in June’s Regents results that helped us make AYP (adequate yearly progress) and keeps us as a school in good standing.

I live in dread that we won’t continue to improve, despite our best efforts, and we’ll end up “on the list”. Defined as a failure.

But hey, New York State is happy to help as they’ve outlined corrective action. That’s great because I’ll take any good idea I can get, anything that’s scientifically research based anyway. And I’d like to spend more money and time on high quality professional development.  I provide written notification to parents on our results. We already have a teacher mentoring program. And hell, I’ve no idea how to promote more parent involvement. They’re either really involved or never involved. Our building improvement team sponsors six or seven major events per year to improve climate and to bring in our families, so we can do more there. Maybe being on the “list” won’t be so bad anyway. I just hope if G-Town lands on the list, they give us more direction than that ’cause I’m already there.

And still I wonder.

Why is it that some teachers wonder and worry about their students, thinking about what they can do to help them succeed while others just wish they had different students who would do whatever they say?

Why is it that some parents listen to their children complain about the school and tell them to deal with it while other parents agree with the kids and tell them it’s the school’s fault?

Why is it that some principals look at a school and wonder how they can make things better for everyone while others try not to change a thing to make it better for themselves?

Why is it that some of our kids couldn’t care less about drugs and alcohol while others couldn’t care less about school?

I wonder why personal responsibility to make something happen is so much harder than pointing at everyone else. I wonder why that makes people feel better at all.

And the beat goes on.

Our school is trying to build up it’s marching band program. Actually, our terrific band directors Jill Ryan and Deb Lippa are trying to do that with the support of their department leader, Robin Smith. These are an energetic trio and I wouldn’t trade them for any other music teachers in the country.

I’m struggling a bit with one aspect of the transition. Our band directors began last school year. Previously our long standing band director was very laid back with our students, as many didn’t attend lessons and his expectations were just different from mine. We had a lot of complaints from the community, students and parents about our poor performances.

Jill started with very high expectations for students and most important, for herself. She has the drive and the  desire to take our music students to another level. That’s exactly what we were looking for and what I thought our students really wanted. But now we’re experiencing some growing pains where students don’t all want a more rigorous program and several key members have dropped. This has been bothering me, sort of that, “geez, nothing we do makes these people happy feeling.” 

But then there we were at a parade today on the Seneca Nation territory, which is partially in our school district. This is a parade our school hasn’t marched in before and one that we should be in–Jill easily agreed to give it a go. Four days into school and she’s got about 30 students showing up on a Saturday morning, in the pouring rain, to march in a parade. Our students looked terrific, they played the best they knew how with only four days in, and some even stepped into positions they’d never assumed before. And there was our band director, right next to them, smiling and directing and just making us look great.

Made me realize again we’ve got to keep moving forward, keep raising our expectations, keep showing our kids that we believe in them and think they are so much more than some have been shown before. Yep, I was proud to be there with Jill and our students today. We may not have been the best marching band around, but we were the best we could be at that moment, on this beautiful day. And for those who aren’t coming along with us, I say “SOOO LONG”.

Girl Interrupted

Our students, staff, and faculty have started the 2006-2007 school year with a smooth opening, a positive climate and a lot of hope for everything from our academic achievement to our undefeated football team (so what if it’s only been one game).

I’m back to my school year life of constant interruptions. Actually my workday is one long series of interruptions with the ability to complete a project coming at about 3:30 after most are long gone. I guess I just realize that’s the nature of my job and that working with people is the reason I’m in it. It’s also the reason that my outside of school life is devoid of as much social interaction as I can arrange. As someone who talks to people all day, every day, I kind of like my evenings or weekends at home, alone with my family. Yep, I’m the girl who says “look, we’re WORK friends, I don’t want to see you outside of school.” It’s not that I don’t enjoy the people at G-Town, it’s just that I need to refuel from time to time.