Sometimes I get an idea in my head that will not go away. Not all of these ideas are good ones but they make me feel like Richard Dreyfuss’ character in the Close Encounters of the Third Kind, (most of you will have to Google it), where he had to keep trying to shape things into Devil’s Tower. The following idea is one that continues to take shape in my mind and I am not sure where it is going (and like the linked clip, folks are probably looking at me kind of funny). Using some funds from our vending machines, I bought a college pennant for every member of our staff. The pennant represents either where the staff member went to school themselves or where their children attended college. People are usually proud of their alma mater and are proud to talk about it. I bought pennants with the idea that they would be talking points for teachers and students alike as the discuss education, both in the future tense and in the past tense. A few weeks after the pennants showed up I got the idea about each faculty member telling their story in a short video. This idea crystallized during a meeting I attended about community mentoring in schools. We were discussing how hard it was to get people to come in during the school day and I mentioned the video idea to the group. How adults could share their stories via video with the local students and they could connect using social media. The idea morphed as I talked about it. It came to me as I was speaking, that since the goal was to get students to contemplate their future, why not have students also make videos about their plans for the future and the action steps they need to do to get there. The adult videos will be grouped into a genre called the “Road Followed” and the students’ work will be grouped together in a collection called “The Road Forward”. Not sure if I know where this is going yet? Or if I even am sure I want to pursue it? But, in order to get others to think about the possibilities, I made a sample video about my “Road Followed” The challenge was to try to make it informative yet short. It may seem self serving, (and maybe it is) but I want to know if my idea has any merit….so, here is the video. Any thoughts, ideas, or criticisms would be appreciated in the comments section! If the video does not work, follow this link: http://youtu.be/zxyDf7U2wkg
Last year we created a late work policy for our freshman class. We asked teachers to let them have two weeks past the due date to turn work in, and if they did so, as long as the work was satisfactory, the work would receive a passing grade. The idea was not to allow these students to take an F on an assignment. If a student had missing work, the assistant principal would literally hunt them down….well call them in, and design a plan to for them to get the work finished. This plan usually included a call home and assignment to stay after school and attend our teacher led study tables. This did not cure all of our freshmen, but it made a very big impact on a group of these students. It did make some more work for the staff, and I commend each and every one of those teachers for taking the extra time to make sure that students had their missing work and for grading those assignments. There are students who literally owe those staff members and Mr. Cox, our assistant principal, a huge debt of gratitude for saving them credits and possibly giving them a chance to graduate with their class. Okay. So that is the story about last year. It was semi-successful. So what should we do about it? We (admin team) decided that we should expand it school-wide. All students should be given extra time to complete work for passing credit. No student should be allowed to simply take a zero and not turn things in. I asked my staff what it is we are measuring? Are we measuring the behavior of turning things in on time? Or, are we measuring growth and learning? If we allow students to take zeros, we are saying that the learning is not important…..in my opinion. If assessing progress on a particular skill is important enough to assess it and make it a part of a student’s grade, then we should make sure they do it right? If we don’t, how do we know they can do it? How do we know if we successfully taught the skill or concept? Some of my staff and I do not see eye to eye on this and that is alright. What is not alright though is to continue to do things the way they have always been done and expect different results. I am malleable on this issue. If someone has a better idea than me, so be it. Last week I caught part of a chat on Twitter that was exploring about late policies and exchanged in a dialogue with a fellow administrator:
— Reed Gillespie (@rggillespie) October 10, 2013
I think Reed has some good reasoning in the linked policy above. What do you think? I realize that I may have made this top down decision without making all the considerations I should have. Maybe I should have spent more time with staff thinking about it out loud and addressing their concerns. In my mind, education is a practice much like medicine. Sometimes we find out what we have been doing was the exact opposite what we should have been doing. We (I) need to be smart enough to assess what we are doing, gather the evidence, do a little research, and try things to address the “what do I do to get kids to turn things in” question. I want your thoughts and opinions here! To be continued…..(are we just putting a band aid on a symptom here? Is the real issue the fact that we are asking our students to do things that are completely irrelevant to them? Tune in next week…..)
I started this blog seven years ago as a means of refection and communicating with my school community. Sometimes I have written to clarify my thinking, other times I have written with the sole purpose of being read. I have struggled lately to write here, to contribute to the discussions and resource sharing happening on Twitter, and I have struggled to reflect productively. I could blame it on the fact that I serve as principal/superintendent for a school that is building a new building and considering consolidation all at the same time. I could blame it on the fact that I have two teenage children who vie for my time. I could blame it on the fact that I was born under the Chinese Sign of the Horse and this just is not my year…… Those are all just excuses. I have time. I need motivation. I will admit that I have been somewhat disillusioned because my purpose for writing here was not always about improving myself or my school, sometimes it has been more about how many folks react to my posts or how many “hits” I could generate. For me, in order to make my participation in the “connected” world of educators valuable, there has to be a benefit to my building. Somewhere, somehow, I had lost awareness at just how much I have changed, and how much the school where I work has changed in the last seven years. After receiving a gentle nudge, and realizing that I have not been doing my part to mentor some fellow administrators, I took some time to think about reflecting publicly and leading in a transparent manner. After reading some of my post from the last seven years, I have become determined to double down on my efforts to reflect on my practice in a public way and most important of all, engage with other practitioners who lead in education. It is the only way I will grow….. To be continued……
(about the photo: My dog Chloe. I put that photo in because this is my blog and I wanted to)
How many chances do you get to make a difference? What is truly memorable? Is what you are doing today going to make a difference tomorrow? Things change. Let get on with it!
Wish I had this as an option when I went to school…..and I liked History!
Easy to define. Not so easy to achieve. Trust is built over many interactions and sometimes is lost instantaneously with one bad choice. Without trust a leader has little ability to build relationships or to motivate staff. A leader must realize that trust is not about being right. Trust is about being real. It is about being able to admit mistakes and say you are sorry. It is about listening and caring about other’s points of view. It is about seeking input and making real considerations of the input received. Ultimately, building trust is based on trusting others. My sixteen years of building leadership have humbled my pride and taught me that I what do not know greatly exceeds what I do know. I have to know my strengths, but even more important, I need to know my weaknesses and to be able reach for help when I need it. Trust requires transparency and open reflection. I must admit that I am not as good at building trust as I should be. I know experience has helped me grow, but I am not done growing yet. If fact, the moment I am done growing, it will be time for me to let someone else lead, because if I am unable to demonstrate my own growth, how can I expect staff and students to grow? If I do not have their trust, why would they accept my challenge in the first place?
My 25th school year as an educator started today, August 14, 2013. I woke up early, my daughter had her first high school cross country practice at 5:45, and found that I could not wait to get to school! Now mind you, I have been going to school all summer, but today was different. I knew my staff was going to be in the building all day and I wanted to create an inspiring environment for them. I want them to know that they are valued and trusted, and next to the students, the most important piece in this endeavor we call school. I really wanted to inspire today. I wanted to set the stage for our staff in such a way that they felt a desire to make a difference for as many students as they possibly could. I wanted them to feel the same fire in themselves that I did this morning. After 24 years, the first day still gives me goosebumps. I can’t wait until I see our students tomorrow for the first time. I want to make a difference for them and I want our staff to feel empowered to do the same. This is #WhyILead.
The media is rife with what to do to make schools better. Some of the ideas that have been proposed are downright ludicrous! Test students with high stakes tests MORE than we already do, publish teacher evaluations, have every student experience the exact same curriculum, and I could go on…. My question is where in the world (make that wordle) in this discussion are the students? Outside of doing something to them, like paying them or testing them, they are left out. Education reformers have moved the conversation away from talking about making meaningful, nurturing relationships with students. So many of our kids today do not care about what we say or what we want them to do until they know we care about them. In other words, rigor and relevance mean little without true nurturing, caring student-teacher relationships. The most successful teachers I have ever had the privilege to work with or be taught by were ones who took the time, and risk, to get to know their students and build a professional relationship with them. Good teaching is not just about high test scores, engaging kids with project based learning, using social media and technology to make learning relevant…etc. None of that means anything to the student who is looking for acceptance in their bewildering search of a self concept they are comfortable with. More students come to school today without a strong sense of self confidence and/or a feeling of belongingness. Poverty, family disruption, and other outside factors are derailing many students before they ever hit the school threshold. I have been in public education now for 20 plus years and have seen some amazing educators and how they build relationships. These teachers and administrators do little things every day to try to make kids feel good about themselves such as: greeting kids at the door, saying hello to students by name, going to see them participate in extra-curricular activities, or finding something special to do for kids that need a little boost. Above all, giving the gift of time to a student who needs it. We have to hold them accountable, we need to make their learning environments rigorous, but without a strong sense of belongingness to a caring learning community, many of our students simply will choose not to buy in.