The Carozza Homestead in the midst of snow-blowing a foot of snow
Today is a snow day. The Valentine’s Parties have to put be put off until Monday.
Valentine’s Day, like Thanksgiving, is one of those holidays that is nearly perfect. It’s free from the controversy of religious holidays, it doesn’t celebrate an historical figure who may not be universally respected, and it gives each of us a chance to care for one another. It can be overdone through overspending or reliance on material gifts, but generally…who doesn’t like love?
I see lots of love every day in my school. We don’t always call it that, afraid of entering into the creepy zone, but I’m in favor of using that word more often. I tell my New England College students that to be an effective teacher you really need to love your students. It’s not enough to be nice. Somewhere in the semantics we must cross over to realize that love is not an emotion or a feeling – love is a verb.
It is a balance of course. I’ve seen teachers become too attached to students and forget the line that is hard to define but mostly understood. But this is the exception.
The current mission of our District is Above All, Care. These three words, written and promoted by our Superintendent, is clear (in my words-not the District) that to truly meet this mission we must care enough to:
- Hold students accountable for their actions, behaviorally and academically, for to do otherwise is not caring.
- Educate the whole child and realize that each student comes to us with a variety of strengths, weaknesses, genetics, and experiences.
- Listen to each child’s story and be willing to give them the gift of time.
This is also the spirit of Valentine’s Day.
During my time in education, our focus in schools has changed dramatically. While our main wheelhouse has always been academics, the laser focus on teaching and learning has never been sharper. In the “old way” we focused largely on intuition to figure out if kids were learning. Now we utilize data to ascertain if a student is not only reaching “grade level” but also where on the continuum he is landing. We take that data from numerous sources and plan for our next stage of instruction. Our teaching doesn’t drop in the middle anymore; it lands at numerous instructional points so that we differentiate instruction, (defined by educator Carol Ann Tomlinson), by varying content, process, product, and the learning environment.
However, this shift is not without its consequences – to shift one’s teaching in this way is difficult. The importance of utilizing regular, natural formative assessment to guide our practice is crucial in knowing our students and understanding the next step of instruction. No longer is our expertise only grounded in content knowledge. We need to be experts at pedagogy.
We are also asking teachers to make the shift while opening their classroom doors and student rosters so that their colleagues can share the load. This is a cultural adjustment that can be large even for the very effective teachers I work with daily. We are trying to shift from professionals with friendly, caring, and supportive relationships to teachers who also share best practice with each other and at times, even the responsibility for teaching each others’ students.
I feel the stress in my building as we shift a bit faster and a bit harder. Am I doing what I can as a leader to soften the blow a bit?
The 50-ish staff members at Harold Martin are essentially my classroom. I can confidently say I care about them more than any administrator could but sometimes that’s not enough. Pressures from the Common Core, a new math program and approach, technology expectations, more challenging students, and a fresh approach to reaching students who are struggling, via RTI (Response to Instruction)…that’s a full boat. It’s not just the number of initiatives – it’s the ability to see how they are interrelated and relevant to each other. It’s communicating the vision and finding the message that will ring true to the staff that the effort they are putting in makes a difference. It’s finding victories to celebrate and opportunities to laugh. It’s the leader convincing the teachers that he too is struggling with them and the “juice is worth the squeeze”.
Do you have practical suggestions on how to support the shifts in your life?
NHASCD had the pleasure of hosting Lucy Calkins, one of education’s leading voices on literacy and the Common Core, on January 10 in Concord, New Hampshire. In fact, we had our largest gathering of participants in our organization’s history, with over 450 educators in attendance.
As part of registration, we also gave out a copy of her book Pathways to the Common Core, which landed at number 7 on the New York Times Best-Selling Education Books of 2013.
Here are some relatively cryptic notes from the event.
- Due to the rise of the Internet, overall knowledge has risen exponentially.
- Writing has the power to change the way people think, due to the ability to publish so easily.
- Schools that used basel programs through the years showed flat academic progress.
- Private companies are taking over much of education.
- Cost can be a problem if the CCSS assessments take too much money from other instructional needs.
- The problem is not the standards themselves. The problem is the way CCSS is being implemented.
- It’s important that educators maintain a healthy optimism.
- CCSS is asking for greater comprehension and deeper meaning.
- We can’t do it alone. We need to have a coordinated approach to literacy-text complexity matters. Reading is about assessing children in their reading and moving them up in terms of text complexity.
- Reading will be assessed by writing.
- Michael Fullan says that the problem with education is the fragmentation of too many innovations that are uncoordinated with ongoing work. Only innovations that have high fidelity lead to academic achievement.
- The anchor standards are the most important.
- A standard is a covenant between teacher and student.
- Close reading: teachers have to spend more time on text. While there has to be balance here, it is no longer sufficient for students to simply give their impression of how the story “makes them feel” or how they are connected to the text. Students have to engage in close reading in order to comprehend the text itself. This video from Lucy’s Teacher’s College Reading and Writing Project is a nice elementary view of this.
- The number of minutes that children actually read is quite important.
- Curriculum dilemma…What’s the promise that we make to kids regarding writing? Other areas (such as math) are more curriculum centered.
- should be a separate subject
- should be taught explicitly
- should have expectations for volume
- is full of genres such as Narratives (personal realistic fiction, science fiction, narrative memoir), Informational (Fact sheets, brochures, reports, lab reports, research projects), Opinion (persuasive letters, speeches, petitions, editorials, personal essays, debate, argument).
- is so important that writers must have an audience-be sure we celebrate and publish writing.
Feedback on Lucy and her work? Please comment.
Courtesy of thepennyproject.wordpress.com
My daughter Abby and I were driving together this morning when we passed through the tolls heading onto Interstate 93 here in New Hampshire. We noticed an elderly gentleman manning the tolls, the same person who was present on Christmas Eve when we drove through. Abby conveyed some sympathy for the man but my selfish thoughts went to the relative mental ease his job requires compared to the complicated nature of a school administrator. To think that I wouldn’t bring work home or have to worry about filling my life with scores of projects provided me with a brief vision of serenity and simplicity. But after about 10 seconds of mental bliss, I realized, of course, that I have to embrace the larger vision as part of my life calling.
Ironically, my Superintendent sent me a post today from Bongani Sibeko entitled The 4 Common Habits of World Changers which reminded me of my responsibility to maximize my time, talent, and energy – for we pass through this life just once.
Sibeko has four simple habits he sees from those who changed the world, such as Mandela, Mother Teresa, JFK, and Lincoln:
1. Have a purpose
A purpose is what you were born to do here on this earth, only you were assigned this purpose, you do not share it with anyone and when you know it and live by it, you can’t help but transform your world.
If we have any sense of fate or destiny, we must recognize that we have a purpose in this world to serve others and make a positive difference.
2. Have a conviction
World changers have an unswerving sense of conviction.
What is it that drives you? Do you have passion for children with disabilities or the urban poor? Have you recently taking over the leadership of a school with a staff full of risk-takers? Perhaps you want to develop a flipped school with emerging technology? Do the members of your community feel disenfranchised and you feel convicted to change that impression?
3. Have a vision
Vision inspires passion and inspiration in these people and when they communicate their visions to the rest of the people, you can’t help but be inspired.
Vision is hard to grasp. For we administrators there’s times when it’s difficult to find the time to be a visionary when we are worried about keeping the “trains running on time.” Nonetheless, we must strive to carve out precious time to think and reflect.
4. Take action
World changers are action-driven; they act on their passion, purpose and dreams. To them merely talking about their dreams is never enough and acting on them is a prerequisite to creating a desired change in the world.
All of this is good advice as we head into 2014. Let’s live our lives with mission and passion knowing that we have been given the honor to improve the lives of children within our responsibility.
What do parents want in their schools? A new national study of K-12 parents reveals some interesting clusters of opinion.
The Fordham Institute completed the research via an online survey of over 2000 parents in August of 2012. The results were disaggregated by the authors into six categories of school parents:
These parents see the purpose of school as a passage to a career. College is not as important in their child’s future; they see school as a venue for their child (mostly boys) to gain the skills necessary to be successful.
Parents in this category want schools that “emphasize instruction in citizenship, democracy, and leadership”, the vision that Thomas Jefferson certainly had for public schools. What is interesting about this group is that these parents match the overall demographic of the survey.
Test-Score Hawks (23%)
The “Hawks” search for schools with the best test scores. They are not as concerned with school culture; they want their children to attend graduate school someday and achieve mightily. These parents are apt to change their child’s school if they are not satisfied.
These parents want their children to experience students of other nationalities, races, and religions. They are more likely to be African-American, politically liberal, and be from an urban area.
Parents in this category care most about the arts. They want a school that “emphasizes arts and music instruction”. They are less likely to be of the Christian faith and in fact they are three times more likely to be atheists. Charter schools might be an option for these parents too.
These parents appear similar to the “Test-Score Hawks” but they are more concerned with their child being accepted at a top-tier college regardless of the school’s test scores. African-Americas and Hispanics dominate in this category and these parents are not more likely to be college educated than the populace at large.
Knowledge of this study has implications for educational leaders:
1. Truthfully, even acknowledging that our “clients” (parents/students) may have different needs may be illuminating. In a world hyper-focused on standards and skills, we may not be stretching our perspective to include the parents that pay the taxes and allow our schools to exist.
2. As I read over the list, I naturally placed my own beliefs within a category or two. We must refrain from judging our parents and strive to treat each with equal value. I received a nice compliment last week when a family lauded a particular teacher team for treating that family with care, though they were poor and in great need of support. Obviously, our mission is to serve all students and families equally, but parents are curious and sometimes nervous about what we think.
3. As we read the categories, I am certain there are parents of which we are less comfortable. Since we all come out of college backgrounds, can we relate to the hopes and dreams of the pragmatists? We may abhor the current high-stakes test climate but shouldn’t we understand the perspective of those “hawk” parents who simply want the best for their high achieving children?
4. Is it legitimate to influence parents’ pedagogical point of view? For example, I have had conversations with parents about favoring differentiation over tracked classrooms. This may not have led to a whole-scale shift from “Test-Score Hawks” to “Jeffersonians” (nor would that necessarily be my preference) but in the process, we learned from each other.
In my 17 years as a Principal, I can easily conjure up parent faces for each of the six categories above. As much as I care about each of my students, every mother or father cares about their child more than I. Even if my vision doesn’t match each parent in my school, a respectful discourse nearly always leads to greater understanding between adults which is bound to have beneficial effects for children.
What are your thoughts? Do these categories line up with your experiences of working with parents?
My wife’s favorite holiday movie is It’s A Wonderful Life, produced and directed by Frank Capra in 1946, starring Jimmy Stewart. It was nominated for five Oscars and is considered by many as one of the greatest films of all time. The reason this movie is so beloved is due to our ability to identify with Stewart’s character George Bailey. George made the right choices all his life, sacrificing his own dreams for the sake of his family. However, when one of his relatives made a fateful mistake that put his business and existence into jeopardy, George felt his life was over. But through a supernatural reflection of his life, Mr. Bailey realized the blessings that he still held with friends and family trumped the grave nature of his troubles.