What Do People Want From Their School 127:365

On either side of my home, there are teachers.  To one side, a middle school teacher in a district near by, to the other, an elementary teacher in our local district.  While talking to my neighbors at different times I have some interesting questions, at some point, perhaps I will feel comfortable asking them.

One of my neighbors asked me about my future move to administration, and talked about the opening that was filled recently in our local district.  They talked about the school and how much they like the district.  I wonder what it is that makes people like my town’s district.  We moved here in part to start a family because the town had a reputation for having “good schools,” but what makes them good?  To be honest I don’t know.

What makes people think of schools as being good?  What do most people want from their schools? How do we help the rest of the public understand what we value as education so that we are judging good schools by the same criteria?

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When the Well Runs Dry 126:365

Where do we go when the well runs dry?

For must of who are connected educators, it is to our PLN.  When inspiration is lacking, or we have hit a snag, we turn to those people who can always find way to create in us a flood.  Over the past few days I have found writing to be more difficult.  As the summer winds down and I get ready for school (I know most of you have already started by this point) I am finding less and less to write about and I need to find more inspiration.

Because of a very hectic end of summer schedule where I am juggling a heavy workload with my summer job, getting ready for school to start, and the demands of the end of my MSA Program requirements, my twitter, voxer, google+ time is very low.  It has made me realize how much I miss those things when I cannot dedicate much time to them.  Before the start of last school year, I had none of these things.  This year, I am starting from a much better place.  I have the support of amazing people both inside and outside of my building, I am involved in many great projects, and I feel as though someone has taken the blinders off and I can see the world around me for the first time.

I am excited for everything this coming year brings, and I look forward to sharing my reflections and ideas as life and my PLN inspire me to learn and grow!

Taking the First Step 125:365

Taking the first step in change is scary!  I have seen many people that pause before that step.  It can be even harder when the change is one that people are not going to like, but is a necessary one.  Sometimes we find ourselves needing to adjust to these changes because we are forced into them.

When things like this happen, it is a huge deal to see the school’s leaders stepping up and taking a role in the change.  No matter what the difficult situation, when you ask people to band together, work harder, do more, it is the responsibility of the leader to be the first one signing up to do more!  That, is what sharing in the sacrifice is all about.

Any culture where a leader asks others to make concessions or changes but does not include themselves, is one that will turn toxic quickly if it has not already.  While a school leader cannot make all of the important changes to meet a school’s needs, they can have a great impact on the learning that is kids do every day.

The Value of Symbolic Connection 124:365

I was thinking today about my first school, the school where I learned to teach while working as an aide. I love where I teach now, but I also know there are very few administrative opportunities where I am. While a part of me is excited potential for new adventures in my future, another part of me nostalgically thinks about the district where I first started in education.

Not only is there a connection to the concept of that school, but, we all did something that physically allowed me to leave my mark on the school.

Every student and staff member at the school leaves a handprint on the wall with their name and the year. No matter where I go, or what I do, I will have a comnection to that first school in so many ways.

It got me thinking about the connections we make in the virtual world. Our connections grow stronger through more interaction, but when we can have some physical interaction that matches the virtual interactions, the connections can get even stronger!

Are You Listening? 123:365

Listening is such an important skill for leaders.  Being able to listen to your staff, learn what they are really saying, and then how you can help them.  One of the biggest challenges for a leader is to identify what others need.

The best way to do that is to listen to people.  Not to hear them, not waiting for your turn to speak, but to listen.

Leaders need to surrender the floor the same way teachers need to do it.  By giving the focus over to others it allows you to really begin listening to their needs.  By listening, you allow yourself to answer the needs of others.

Using Great Quotes from Leaders 122:365

I see lots of people sharing great quotes by leaders.  It is important to share these ideas, to use them for inspiring others.  There is an incredible value in passing on learning, concepts, and ideas that are useful for other leaders.

What can become difficult, is what we do with those quotes.  Is there value in just sharing them with others?  While it is obvious how important it is to share great ideas, if we are only sharing them and not learning to incorporate them into our own leadership, what is the point?

When you hear something valuable, reflect and determine what that means for your leadership.  Then apply that, don’t just pass it on!

If It Isn’t Fun, You Are Doing It Wrong 118:365

I don’t go to work.  I go to school!  While I “work at a school” and it is my job, I rarely say I am going to work.  Something I hope to recall as an administrator (hopefully someday soon) is that I have the most amazing job in the world.  I get to go to school every day and inspire the incredible.  I get the chance to, as Kid President would say (and my theme for this year), BE MORE AWESOME!  I use the word awesome a lot, probably beyond its intended meaning, but if people can misuse rigor, then I can misuse awesome.

Not every moment of every day is fun.  I know that as a leader it will not be either.  But, I have to keep in mind, that if I am not having fun working at a school, working with teachers and children, it is not the job that isn’t right, it is me!

I am not sure how someone can work at a school and not be having fun more times than not.  If you are, it is not something wrong with the kids or school, it is in the way you are doing things.  I will probably not love filling out reports, (I already don’t love that) but as an administrator what I know I will love, is interacting with kids, watching great teaching, helping teachers who are not at the point where every day is great or fun, and seeing a school develop as a community.

Perhaps it is an optimism versus pessimism concept, though I have always considered myself a pragmatist.  When it comes to school as a teacher, I focus on the things I love, the parts that bring me joy.  That is not to say I don’t do the other things, but when I look back on my day/week/year, I won’t remember the forms and paper work, I will remember the awesome, and that is why “working” at a school is incredible.

Why I Find Value in Tenure 121:365

A few nights ago, I threw my two cents into a twitter conversation between a parent that was anti-tenure, and an educator that was strongly in favor of tenure.  My comments apparently struck a chord, because I was answered by Michelle Rhee.

I am not a “two feet in the mud” anti-change minded person.  Anyone who has either communicated with me, read my blog, or been in my classroom can attest.  I am also not the kind of person who will reduce a discussion to mud-slinging, it is part of my job as an educator to model respectful disagreements and argue my points responsibly.  I am not sure if many take that approach to disagreements with Michelle Rhee based on what I have heard in the media.

That being said, I found myself having far too much to say about the topic than would really be appropriate for twitter, so I feel compelled to expand through a blog post.

Her argument was straight forward and made sense. “We don’t need tenure.  Principals are held accountable for school student achievement, so they have no incentive to let go of higher paid teachers if they are performing well.” (paraphrased)  In an ideal world, where we can isolate decisions down to a single factor, this makes perfect sense.  In think tanks, theoretical practice, and with the most virtuous of people perhaps, it may just work.

Unfortunately, this is not the world we live in today (or possibly ever.) Human beings are complicated, social-emotional creatures that incorporate multiple streams of information into every decision we make.  Something as simple as, “Do I want to stop writing this and go get some water?” requires me to process a number of different factors before deciding.  (If you are wondering, no I did not stop.)

So, in deciding which educators to keep in a situation where reduction is required, a leader will need to take into account how good of a teacher is this person with MANY other factors, including money.  Perhaps the situation becomes one where a good teacher that is more expensive is let go to keep two newer, slightly less good, but significantly less expensive teachers.  This is just a very simplified example of a much more complicated decision process.

In addition to this, it also assumes that human beings are making decisions in a vacuum that is devoid of emotional feeling.  Nobody does this, ever.  Yes it may be the case that you have an amazing administrator that is making decisions based on what is best for kids all the time, but even the best people in the business make mistakes.  People’s judgment is sometimes clouded by their perceptions.  Sometimes that cloud provides negatives, other times positives.  Yes, there are quality controls on most observation methods, but we cannot take the human element out of them, nor would we want to do that.

Additionally, you have other complicating scenarios where a teacher may have had a difficult year based on factors beyond their control.  Family issues, undiagnosed special needs, student migration, poorly grouped classes, illnesses and more are all little things that greatly change a teacher’s and children’s years.

Finally, teachers need to feel comfortable that they can do what is best for kids.  While schools are ideally serving this purpose, sometimes the aim gets muddled along the way.  Organizations often change slower than individuals.  If a teacher has learned something new, found new supporting research for a practice, or makes a professional determination that the learners in the room need something different, they should have the confidence to step outside the lines and work to make a classroom better for kids.  In many cases that is not acceptable.

While administrators should take these things into account as part of being a quality school leader, the day when the value of tenure is depleted has not arrived yet.

I am not advocating for the type of tenure law that was overturned in California, but rather one that requires a teacher have time to become a great teacher. Also, one that allows administrators the time to give a teacher a chance, but to make a change before tenure is awarded if they determine that teacher is not a good fit.  Tenure should include streamlined processes for eliminating teachers that are not doing their job well, and cost efficient ways for due process to occur.  Essentially this accomplishes the goals of those concerned with tenure protecting “bad” teachers, while also protecting the hard working professionals that will continue to flourish under tenure laws.

I am sure there is so much more to the conversation, but this is a start.  I am willing to continue discussing this, so long as we discuss and not disgust!

Good is not Good Enough! 120:365

During the recent EdCamp in Tennessee, a friend tweeted a question about why teachers would look to make changes if they are judged based on test scores and the test scores were good.  I quickly replied, “Good is not Good Enough!” but I feel I need to elaborate as I have thought more about this over the past few days.

When my new CSA took over our district, he ended his personal introduction by saying (and I am paraphrasing) “After spending the last month getting to know the school, it seems obvious that this is a good school.  I want to be part of making it a great school, and I hope you are ready to do that with me.”

Good is not a bad thing.  There is nothing wrong with being good as a school, as a teacher, or as anything.  But, when you decide as a school or as a teacher, that being “good” is enough for you and you are no longer willing to try new things, being good is going to slip away very quickly.  Before long, you will find yourself struggling to recapture good!

Great schools are great, not because they have found something they do well and stick with it forever, they are great because they have found something they do well, and work to improve it constantly.  Sometimes that means making small adjustments, other times, major changes.  If good test scores are what motivates you (you are in the wrong profession in my opinion) then you need to constantly be focussed on improving your craft, finding better or more refined methods and improving your work overall.

If good is good enough, we have a big problem!

Supporting Risk Takers 119:365

As leaders, there is an incredible value in supporting both teachers and students that take risks in the classroom.  After talks with many teachers as they begin in schools all around the country, I find that I am far luckier as a teacher than I ever truly realized.

Requirements are part of teaching.  They are part of school.  We are required to help kids learn certain things.  Many teachers are required to do it in a very specific way.  When I started at my school I would consider the culture for risk taking to be one of approval by neglect.  My kids were learning, their indicators were showing positive growth, and parents and kids were happy.  Because of those facts, nobody stopped me from making minor changes, and occasionally major ones.  I brought with me strategies and ideas that I had learned under some remarkable teachers.  I would not say I was supported, but I was at least allowed some professional freedom.

Now, working in the school I am in now, there are times when I still feel like people think I am slightly crazy in some ways, but I have the ability to try more to improve my classroom for my kids.

As I work to become a school leader, I want to be the kind of leader that offers support. “Would you like me to come and watch what you are doing to see if I can help?” or “What types of things do you need to make this successful?” are the kinds of questions supportive leaders ask.  They also include statements like, “I don’t think this works because…” or “I see what you are trying to do, but have you considered….”

Supporting risk takers is not just good for inspiring professionals, it is good for improving practices and learning as a whole.  If you want to have a good school, play it safe.  If you want to have a great school, support taking professional risks, even if they don’t work out as planned.