We Are Better Than This!

I was caught off guard the other day by a Facebook post adamantly stating that an incident had occurred at school and nothing had been done about it.  An investigation found there was never a complaint filed, there were no witnesses that could verify the occurrence, in fact everyone contacted about it seemed very perplexed about any such issue having happened.  I am puzzled.  Why do people make such public pronouncements about things they have not substantiated with evidence? I partially blame our infotainment obsession.  The reality media has blurred the line between what is real and what is simply entertainment.  Public attacks on others is the norm.  Our politicians do it, the media does it, AND we do it to each other.  It seems as though we have become polarized over such small differences, like the name of our political party, that we forget we have so much more in common than we have differences.  The lure of “likes”, “retweets”, and sympathetic comments have pushed people to believe in a false sense of security and popularity where the most outlandish statement, true or not, garners self esteem boosting notoriety despite negative affect it may have on someone or group.  The adults have to set a better example!  The children are always watching us and WILL imitate our behavior!  As we watch the horrible calamity unfold in Texas, please realize we all have blue blood flowing through our veins and our tears are all the same.  Observe the amazing capacity we humans have to show compassion towards each other in times of need.  We need to capture this spirit and make it a part of our everyday lives.   WE ARE BETTER THAN THIS!

Photo courtesy of SynergyByDesign’s Flickr Photostream

Problem Solving- There is no Formula for Some Situations!

8289305455_c0d1b1db22_o (1)Some problems do not have an immediate answer.  Some problems may not ever have an understood formula, but circumstances will dictate a reasoned solution, and a life may be depending on it.  My son’s medical condition defied conventional thinking, at least from my perspective.  The syndrome never quite fit any typical pathology.  It took some unconventional thinking and a team of experienced doctors to figure out how to attack the problem that was causing our son’s health crisis.  The immunologist that headed his bone marrow transplant team, who has done hundreds of bone marrow transplants, said that he had never done one on a patient with this type of immune deficiency.  What is the lesson in all this? Obviously I have had plenty of time to frame this situation in terms of how does public education contribute to our ability to creatively problem solve.  I know that students spend time solving problems, but do they really develop deep problem solving experience when we concentrate on getting them ready for the PARCC exam or whatever the next accountability measure is?  If we are teaching them and requiring them to problem solve in formulaic ways, will they be prepared to solve the “real” problems that come their way in a non-school environment? Schools need to be implementing programs and curriculum that have students using integrated skills, working in teams, to problem solve and create new content.  Our current practice of assessment and focus on teacher accountability has forced the focus of the education system away from engaging students in way in which they practice these crucial problem solving skills.


(From out of the past) A Note in the Bottle

Recently a note in a bottle washed in upon my shore as if by magic (thanks magic!) Inside was the following quote:

A ship in the harbor is safe – but that’s not what ships are for.

– John A. Shedd (yes he is going nautical again!)

After considering this quote for a while I found that it had many meanings for me as an educator and the instructional leader at PHS. The following are a few of the things that came to mind:

  1. RiskOf course it is always easiest to stay with what is known. Staying within one’s comfort zone, not attempting to try new things, is easy (until the hull rots and the ship sinks) for there is no challenge. But if we choose to set sail, risk the unknown, we learn a lot about ourself during the journey and could possibly find a whole new world at the end! Whether it is trying a new strategy in class, attempting a new schedule for classes, taking on a new responsiblity, or cutting ties and moving on, we will certainly gain (if only experience) for making the attempt.
  2. DestinationSometimes it is not the destination that matters at all. It is the richness of the journey that is most important. O.K. so getting there is only half the fun. I think that as I gather more experience as an educator, the more I am moved to believe that there has got to be a better way to prepare high schoolers for the real world. Maybe the destination should be, if we’re willing to take the risk, a remodeled high school where students collaborate with each other, with teachers(as facilitators) and professionals from the real world of work to prepare for their life’s vocation.
  3. DoldrumsDefined as period with no wind to catch the sails, leaving a ship “stranded” in place on the ocean. If we are not making progress or we see hard work having no effect, we are like a ship stuck in the doldrums. Although not technically anchored in the harbor, sometimes we feel no progress is being made despite all of our effort. We must maintain our effort to make the journey happen even though it seems like we have lost all momentum. We must not let those who would take the wind away from us stop us from making progress!
  4. Discovery–The reward for leaving the comfort zone. The satisfaction of conquering the unknown. The feeling of accomplishment after reaching a goal. So many times I have found that it is the risk takers who are the ones who enjoy their tasks and make the most progress. Even though I doubted I could ever run 13 miles at one time, I found that not only could I do it, but I could enjoy it and feel better about myself for having attempted it. The same is true in our profession. I know several teachers who were afraid of using technology until they tried and now they are pioneering new things in their classrooms for the benefit of their students.

What about you? Are you willing to take some risks….step out of your comfort zone? Start by clicking on the comment link below a start a discussion on change!

Photo courtesy of Alejandro Groenewold’s Flickr photostream

Alejandro Groen

Examining My Core Values


(Editors note: I write in this space primarily for me. Putting down my thoughts for others to read…or not, allows me to own my words and makes me more transparent….for what that is worth)

I sometimes become frustrated about administrating in a public school. I guess it is especially easy to be frustrated at the end of a school year. The students are burnt out. The teachers are ready for some time off to recharge. People get testy at the end of a school year. In these austere times, school personnel wonder about next year as it looms on the horizon. There are openings to fill, school program changes to be made, and assignments to be given. The end of this year is different though. Not only are there positions to fill, and life changing decisions to be made, along with those, Board members and administration are being forced to make tough decisions about our new school building as our budget is not big enough to cover everything we want. A quote that runs through my mind in times like these comes from John Kennedy when he examined his authorization of the failed Bay of Pigs invasion, “Victory has a thousand fathers but defeat is an orphan.” When things go well and there are not tough messages to give to people, it is easy to take credit. When it comes to explaining things people do not want to hear, well let’s just say the rats jump ship and you can feel all alone pretty quick. Situations such as these challenge school leaders. There are easy(ier) ways to navigate problem laden times. One can make politically correct decisions and try to keep as many people happy as possible (an approach that usually fails based on experience.) Oh, on a short term basis doing things this way works, but if one’s core values are based on what is best for the students and the general direction of the institution, doing things the easy way usually falls short of fulfilling the most important mission….KIDS FIRST! It is hard to keep the focus where it needs to be. Many times it is easier to find ways to deflect blame and take credit in the name of self preservation, but more often than not, doing so goes against the core values that make a school good for kids. So….back to the beginning of the rambling post, I am frustrated, and I know why. When faced with situations that challenge the core values established by the self and the institution, a leader knows what must be done but is tempted to take the easy road and shirk responsibility. The further school leaders allow themselves to drift away from the classroom and the daily ups and downs of leading the learning process, the easier it is to move away from the core values that matter and gravitate to decisions that are based on political expediency. I think sometimes I have allowed myself to drift dangerously far away from what is important in the school and that I must re-dedicate myself to staying close to the learning processes and students as well as challenge myself to stay true to the core values that make school a great place for students.

Photo courtesy of sheeshoo’s photostream on Flickr.

Giving the Greatest Gifts

This is one of the toughest times of the year for our high school staff. They are trying hard to finish up the final unit of the semester, preparing final exams as well as trying to catch up on the mountains grading. There is so much to do it can be downright overwhelming! Throw on top of all that the fact that all of the students are anticipating being away from school for two weeks and the effect of the Christmas rush and I believe that the faculty can feel as though it’s burden is unbearable. I, like all of the other staff, get immersed in my job and what I consider important and sometimes miss opportunities to help where help is needed. As Director of Paris High School I am very focused on our new building, data and PSAE results, school safety issues, staff evaluation, our interest based academy agenda, staff development, budget development and problem solving what seems like a million day to day questions from students, staff and parents. I spend a lot of my time thinking about how to integrate technology into instruction, how to motivate students and how involve the community in improving our program. I am always looking toward the future and trying to learn new things.

…..But it never fails, a situation will occur or a conversation will happen that causes me to take a step back and consider what is really important. Several years ago, around Christmas time, a student came into the office and asked for withdrawal papers and informed me she was going to drop and get a job. As always, whether it is me or the assistant principal, we try to take the time to discuss this decision with the student and try to reason them into considering all options rather than dropping out. At first the student did not want to discuss her decision with me. Her mind was made up. She was of the age that she did not have to have parental consent and she seemed determined to carry out a plan that did not include finishing high school. I knew this student fairly well because I had been her elementary principal and had developed a rapport with her to where we would talk to one another when we saw each other and tease each other about our favorite sports teams. On this day, however, she was not in any mood to talk to me and refused to tell me the reasoning that had led her to this decision. I knew this student had developed a good professional relationship with a teacher on staff, and as a last ditch effort I called this teacher in to talk with the student. What unfolded, as I witnessed it, was a remarkable conversation between a teacher who cared for her students and a student who both liked a respected her teacher. I could tell that their relationship had become one in which the teacher had a vested interest in the student and that the student felt cared for in her presence. I will not divulge the content of their conversation, but suffice it to say, the student remained enrolled, graduated, and went on to a two year technical school. Last I heard, she was married raising a child and gainfully employed in a good job!

Sometimes you will never know the affect you have had in the way that you deal with your students. Sometimes, just giving your time and caring is the greatest gift you can give. Even though this time of year can be very tough for us, it can be even tougher for our students for various reasons. Our staff does a great job of doing what is important….and that is keeping students our number one priority!

Photo courtesy of HaniAlYousif’s photostream of Flickr

#Leadership Day 2012

To All Who Lead by Design, by Proxy, or by Accident,

Dare to take risks, dare to put yourself out there, dare to fail, most of all be a transparent learner. Write to yourself in a public place, like a blog. Make videos. Put them online for students, teachers and parents to view and learn with and about you. Use technology to engage your staff. If you are not willing to be the change you want to see to make education better for students, maybe it is time to sell insurance or take up some other noble profession. You need to connect with resources outside of your local networks. Be bold enough to try connecting using Twitter, LinkedIn or Facebook. Better yet, try all three. Be the person your staff, colleagues, and students can look to and say, “See, she/he was able to do that, I should be able to as well.” Most of  all, push the envelope enough to make it comfortable for people around you to try something new. Schools need to be places where innovation, creativity, and risk taking are valued. If you as a leader show that you value those qualities and actions by being a doer, your learning community will likely follow! Most of all be bold!

Do What Matters!

Yesterday I was watching the news and a story came on about how crowded the amusement resorts were in Orlando, Florida this past week.  The story made the presumption that people were tired of putting off vacations and being frugal because of the  (now easing?) recession and are ready to live a little.  That story was followed by a quick blurb on how stocks were up because of good news on job creation and orders for durable goods.  I actually said aloud to myself, “People just maybe sick of living in the economic and political malaise that we have endured for the past three or so years.” I started thinking to myself that maybe people are willing to quit listening to how bad things are, think for themselves a little and try to quit living in fear of tomorrow.  As I contemplated this I rephrased the previous thought into this: I have to quit listening to how bad things are in my profession!  I need to think for myself a little more and not let the popular media create a cloud to darken my day.  I have to quit living in fear of what is coming next, control the factors that I can, and do the best I can for the students in my charge.  This was a fleeting moment, the thought of writing a blog about my reasoning came and went, and I was on to my next task.  This morning though, as I was browsing though the new titles in my reader I came across and read, Chris Lehmann’s latest post and the same thoughts from yesterday came flooding back to me.  His words crystallized my problem.  I spend way too much time in crisis mode and allow too many things to become a crisis.  I have a hard time shutting down the “Mr. Meister” school persona and just living in the moment and enjoying the wonderful things that go on around me every day, both in and out of school.

Being in a constant state of crisis is so counterproductive.  How many opportunities do I miss to have positive interactions with staff and students while worrying about the current “big” issue.  The “real” problems are going to find me whether I have worried about them or not.  Good problem solvers solve problems. They don’t let problems define what they do or who they are.  They don’t let themselves become part of the problem because the daily routines keep them from focusing the important vision and mission of the school.  I need to consistently discipline myself to stay out crisis mode…except of course, when there is a crisis.  The fact that current popular education reformers have no clue what they are talking about does not make everyday a crisis for me…they are not my problem to solve.  My job is to educate my school community about what is in the best interests of our kids.  I have to communicate with the stakeholders that I serve and consistently link our school actions to the mission we have built for ourselves.

My daily mantra will include the following somehow:

  • The vision or direction needs to be the priority.
  • Do something today to inform stakeholders about learning activities and accomplishments in our school
  • Problems happen.  Take the direct steps to ameliorate the situation and let it go.  Is it going to matter five days from now?  Five hours from now?  Five minutes?  Make sure the response matches the situation.
  • Talk with students everyday
  • Talk with at least one teacher about instruction every day
  • Exercise
  • Play more golf….(a guy has to have goals right?)
  • Start racing again
  • Try not to be such a Troll Dad (my kids know what that means)

Making a Difference, One Student at a Time

I love the bits and pieces of knowledge that are shared via my online learning network!  Yesterday somebody tweeted a link to Seth Godin’s latest blog about preparing for the next great breakthrough /calamity which started me thinking about one of our ongoing agendas here a PCHS.  Like any school we have a group of students that are very hard to motivate.  We are in constant discussions about how to get these students to care.  We are changing our program to interest based academies to tap into students’ wants and needs.  We have implemented a school wide mentoring program.  We have created multiple ways for students to get extra help, yet we rub our foreheads and bemoan the fact that there are just too many students that are not motivated.  We have to quit worrying about those students as a group and address them one at a time.  We can win some students over by giving them extra attention and showing that we care.  It is analogous to the starfish story in which the hero knows he cannot throw all the stranded starfish back in the ocean, but can throw in as many as he can.  By caring for them, by pushing and pulling them, as well as enticing and cajoling them, we will make a difference, one student at a time.

Photo courtesy of Lara Warman’s Photostream on Flickr

Ensuring our Own Obsolescence

(This post started as a comment on Will Richardson’s “My Teacher is an App”.

How do we make changes in public education that will transcend the model of education that is so entrenched in many of our schools? There are no easy answers.  Many people outside of the education profession believe we need to do more of the same, for more hours, using the efficiencies that technology affords that process to somehow make it better.  Instruct, measure, adjust….repeat—Simple formula.  The ed-reform story made popular today is centered on what is measured in American schools and how it does not equal what is measured elsewhere.  Current reform-minded-thinking espouses that those who staff our institutions are the problem.  Teachers cannot (or will not) instruct, students do not get what they need, measurement results are comparatively poor.  As a result, pop-reformers want to take the obsolete transaction of teacher gives knowledge-student takes knowledge-school measures knowledge gained model and make it work #morebetterharder, in a standardized way. In a time before the ubiquitous availability of information, this type of transaction for learning was worth the cost for students, teachers and our economy.  The conditions have changed.  Technology can make that kind of education more efficient.  SO WHAT!  Kids today can access any information they want when it is wanted.  BUT, can they effectively learn to share, co-create, explore, and make new meaning as well as have meaningful experiential learning via on-line modes only?  Where do those skills and experiences fit into the model of education that is being pushed today?  Environments that are conducive to a learning experience that is deeper and more meaningful, that go beyond simple instruction and regurgitation are not so simple. Public education needs to embrace those aspects of a learning culture that can’t be made more efficient by a bunch of computers that programmatically measure a century’s old pedagogy’s affect on student knowledge acquisition.   There is certainly a richness that can occur in a live classroom, or at least a class that blends live instruction with online instruction, that cannot be matched by a Kahn Academy-styled program based on century’s old learning models.  What I do know is this; we have to offer an alternative change model that contrasts with those being offered by the politician-corporate reformers.  We need to talk about learning and define those skills which today’s students need to construct the world that they choose to build.  The initiative may be daunting, but if we do not under take it, who will?  If we continue to do instruction as it has been done for the past 100 years, we are ensuring our own obsolescence.

Picture made available via bupowski’s photostream on Flickr


Looking Though a Different Lens

I have again been searching for the lost voice that allows me to write here.  Writers block is something that comes and goes for me.  Generally, I find trouble writing when an issue troubles me and I cannot find an angle from which to attack it. Eventually I usually find an inspiration by going about my daily duties as the lead learner at PCHS or by reading an article or blog post by a fellow educator.

Yesterday I found myself greatly troubled by the revelations of child exploitation within the Penn State football program.  I find it unconscionable that adults could lose focus so badly and allow such abhorrent crimes against children in the name of program and personalities.  Being a football fan, Joe PA has always been an iconic figure in a game I love to follow.  I won’t claim to know what the high ground is here, but in looking for answers, I found myself reading Ira Socol’s blog about the subject and the following line framed the issue perfectly for me:

 (They were) looking after their brand and their profits instead of looking out for children.

The complete story has not been told, but it certainly seems that there was an end justifies the means attitude in the Penn State administration’s, as well as the football program’s handling of the situation.  We will eventually get to the bottom of this story and hopefully some sort of justice will be served.  In the end we must ask ourselves what can we do to make sure we focus always on our motives and ask ourselves before we act “what is in it for the kids?”

Does looking after reputation, influence and profit blur our focus on what is important in the education profession?  You don’t have to look very far to see big examples where the adults in charge ignored the needs of the students in test cheating scandals the have been revealed across the country.  What drives our incessant need to test our students at every turn?  To tie those scores to teacher and administrator evaluations?  Accountability is important.  The students of this country deserve the best we can offer.  BUT when teachers in Tennessee and Michigan who teach subjects that are not tested by the state test have to pick one of the tested areas to tie to their evaluation are the people in charge asking the question, “what is in this for the students?”

Using this point of view, or lens, if you will, to look at issues closer to home, I start to ask myself a lot of questions…

We have mapped our curriculum to the Common Core Standards and are doing our best to incorporate the new expectations where we can, but I ask myself, what is in it for our students?  Are we doing it this in such a way to keep our programs relevant to today’s learner in my community?

From a personal standpoint I have written 311 blogs, acquired 3,263 followers on Twitter, and tweeted some 8,824 tweets, and today I asked myself, what is in it for our students?

I know that all the above items can improve the education for the students in my building, but they can also become a mere distraction if my focus is not on what is in it for our students.

Do you ask yourself  “what is in it for the students?” when considering your actions as an educator?
Photo courtesy of MuntyPix’s Photostream on Flickr