Wednesday, November 30, 2011

What keeps you up at night?

If your in the profession of school leadership stress is a byproduct of your job. This is no secret, I am still trying to find ways to manage it and find a balance.  Bill Carozza mentioned about his Sunday night butterflies in his thankful post.  I have found it is not just Sunday that keeps me awake at night where I analyze the days crucial conversations, conflicts and question if I am doing the right thing.

Here are some that come to mind;

Am I pushing my teachers too hard or not hard enough?

Are we going the right direction?

How can I get all my teachers on the same page?  How can I influence mediocre teachers to have the same drive and passion as the high fliers?  Is this even possible?

When am I going to have that crucial conversation with that staff member?

I do know that I will keep getting up and doing what I feel is right, and that is all I have control over.  We need to keep fighting the battle everyday keeping students at the forefront of everything we do.  If I can do that everyday I find myself not worrying about some of the items above.

What keeps you up at night?

Using Google Forms to create a teacher observation walkthrough to be used on the iPad

Something I have been working on lately.  It may be tough to see in full screen view.  Let me know if you need help in making this work.  I highly recommend getting this to work for you.  I am able to give quick feedback and make use of the iPad for observations and also keep them organized.    

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Weapons of Mass Instruction

I just wrapped up reading John Gatto's book, Weapons of Mass Instruction - This book really challenged my thoughts.  I am an advocate of public schools. It got to the point where I almost stopped reading it a few times.  I felt it was attacking everything that I stood for, but in the end I am glad I finished.  As leaders/educators we need to be able to see both sides of an argument. It is interesting that Gatto taught in the very system he is so critical of for 30 years. He received multiple teacher of the year awards in New York public school.

We just wrapped up our book chat on Seth Godin's Linchpin on #edfocus last week. Gatto is a linchpin - he is every part of the definition.  The following are some of the "Weapons of Mass Instruction" that we do need to look at and think about as we go forward with school reform.

Throughout the book Gatto references several well known people that have either dropped out of high school, dropped out of college, or did not attend college.  Each of them are very successful.  He makes the argument that our bureaucratic education system is set up to kill creativity and train mindless individuals.  I think many of us agree with this including myself. Gatto defines compulsory education as, "The new forced schooling octopus taught anyone unable to escape its tentacles that inert knowledge - memorizing the dots - is the gold standard of intellectual achievement.  Not connecting those dots.  It set out to create a reflexive obedience to official directions as opposed to accepting responsibility for one's own learning." (p. 16)

He makes a compelling argument regarding people that have made it without any sort of education, but we also need to think about the millions of others that are living in poverty that have little to no education.  Were these people in the right place at the right time or is it the system?

Are we a system of the don't?

Gatto talks about how we teach at a very young age the word, "don't" - "DON'T run, climb trees, talk, play rough, talk unless you raise your hand, fidget, get out of your seat, stare out the window, take your shoes off, eat or drink in class, laugh, take too long, read ahead, go off the path, say I'm bored, mix with older kids, complain, bring toys... Don't have your own ideas, don't show initiative, don't be independent, don't make your own choices, don't take responsibility for your own learning." (p. 127)

Does this kill creativity in the future and limit problem solving abilities? I find myself doing this to my own children, part of that is disciplining them when they are doing something wrong.  It is a valid point and something to think about.

TIME - The ever present issue in schools.  Gatto pleads for uninterrupted time in schools.

"When time is tightly scheduled, we are compelled to attend more to appearances of attention and concern than to the reality of those qualities; without uninterrupted time you haven't a prayer of synthesizing fact bits thrown at you." (p. 143)

"Schools are a rat's maze of frantic activity: bells, loud-speakers, messengers pounding at the doors, shrieks from the playground, official visitors, unofficial visitors, toilet interruptions, coming and going, catcalls, bullying and flirting's."

He has a point here, how do you limit interruptions in your schools?  How can we use our time that we have with students better?

Gatto calls for major structural, symbolic, political changes to our schools.  Many are radical reforms, but I believe he does generate good points.  It is important that we hear arguments from people we may not agree with, often times they do have points we can learn from.  

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Career Fair!

Velva Public School will be hosting a career fair for Velva students on November 30th beginning at 1:00PM in the Velva Gym.  A special thanks to Maria Effertz Hanson and Joyce James our school counselor for setting this great event up! Also another big thank you to the businesses for taking time to show our students possible careers!  There will be a total of 18 booths which is an increase from last year.  This is such a great opportunity to have something like this in our school and we look forward to the event.  Thank you!

Businesses/Colleges in attendance:
1. SRT
2. ADM
3. Verendrye Electric
4. Souris Valley Care Center
5. Small Business Development Center
6. Trinity Health Services
7. Agrotech
8. Gooseneck
9. Klein Chiropractic
10. Velva Drug
11. Velva Education Association
12. Ackerman Estvold Engineering and Consulting
13. MSU
15. Bottineau College
16. BSC
17. Mayville State
18. Williston State

Sunday, November 20, 2011

What is a PLC? Part 1

Some of you may have heard that our school has began operating as a PLC also known as a Professional Learning Community.  I am going to explain as simple as possible as to what exactly our teachers are doing during these collaboration times.  Research has shown that PLC's have impressive results in student achievement.

PLC's are guided by these four critical questions:
1. What is it we want our students to know and be able to do? 
2. How will we know when they learned it?
3.What are we going to do if the student isn't learning the information?
4. What if a student already knows the information?

Currently we are deciding what we want our students to know and be able to do.  Leading researchers in education have calculated that for our teachers to cover all standards, we would have to extend our schools from K-12 to K-22.  Which has caused most of our teachers to cover all standards while just scratching the surface.  Using collaboration and time within the school day - teachers will merge and select important standards to create what we call 'Powerstandards.'  Each standard will get reviewed asking some basic questions.

Is it a skill needed for the next class?
Is it something they need to know and be able to do for life?
Is it important to know for the state assessment?

Each benchmark under the standard will get rated by the teachers.
1) Must know, 2) Important to know, and 3)Nice to know.

Must knows become a part of a Powerstandard, important to know and nice to know will still be taught, but teachers may devote less time to it.  I hope that this will help in your understanding of what we are doing. I will be making a few posts over the course of the year as we continue in this process.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Lessons from Linchpin

If you haven't had a chance to read Seth Godin's "Linchpin", I highly recommend it!  There are many lessons to be learned in the book.  I have chosen a few that have most impacted my thinking.  

"The person who leans forward the most wins the race" 

Our posture is important.  Leaders lean forward, we need to take risks and lean forward.  The linchpin sticks their chest out, whereas the cog sits and waits for instructions.  Cogs are easy to deal with, we want linchpins! - people who are unafraid of taking risks and at times challenge our thinking.  What holds us back from taking risks?  ...FAILURE?  Godin says, "Doesn't matter if you're always right, it matters that you're always moving." - We need to put ourselves out there even if you are unsure about the end product.  SHIP! Take the risk, write blogs, be uncomfortable, challenge others thinking!  Contribute!

Godin tells us the lizard brain and the resistance (negative self talk) hold us back.  They hold us prisoner, and keep us from taking risky steps.  They want us to maintain the status quo!    

"The lizard brain only wants to eat and be safe." 

"The lizard brain cares what everyone else thinks, because status in the tribe is essential to its survival." 

"The lizard brain is the reason you're afraid, the reason you don't do all the art you can, the reason you don't ship when you can.  The lizard brain is the source of the resistance."

Worrying about what people think and the possibility of failure hold us back.  Risk taking always has the possibility of bringing failure along with it.  We need to subdue the lizard brain and hold back the resistance to move forward in education.  We need to model to our teachers and students that failure can be an option if you are taking risks, and yes it is okay to fail.

"Fit in or Fail"  Are we training our students and staff to fit in or encouraging them to take risks?  Godin says, "schools should only teach two things; solve interesting problems and leadership."

How do you encourage your staff or students to take risks and accept failure?

How do you subdue the lizard brain and resistance?

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Traditional grading and PLC's

There has been a lot of discussion recently on grading lately.  In the latest issue of Educational Leadership there is a good article generating the "grading discussion."  If we believe in the work of professional learning communities, then we must also begin the discussion of grading in our schools.  How can we continue to use the traditional grading system if we are developing powerstandards and common assessments?  The further we get down the bumpy road of PLC work, the more I see the need to look at our grading system.  .

If our goal is to create common assessments on each powerstandard to identify learning deficiencies, then doesn't it just make sense to develop a standard based report card?  How often do we have students that receive A's and B's in all classes but are not proficient on their state assessment?  This is a major problem to me, students and parents must see the connection between the grading at our school and how we are assessed. 

We are beginning the discussion on grading, are you?