Principal Reflections

Kids, Baseball, and Schools

It’s 8 PM during an April vacation week evening and I can actually find a few minutes to reflect and write. Above the glow of my laptop is the brighter glow of my TV displaying the Boston Red Sox playing about an hour and a half south of here at Fenway Park. Baseball has been a significant part of my life from my attending the 1967 World Series in St. Louis (against the Sox), to a great childhood playing baseball, and the joy of sharing three Sox World Championships with my family since 2004.

It’s against this backdrop that I read an article this week entitled Why Are Kids Leaving Baseball written by Darren Gurney, a longtime baseball coach and advocate for the sport. It’s been clear to me that baseball no longer holds the same allure for kids that it did when I was playing in the 60s and 70s. Gurney articulately describes the shift in baseball popularity, perhaps reflecting a societal adjustment too. Here are some of Gurney’s ideas and my parallel to schools:

Lack of Stimulation
In this era of digital entertainment, baseball is just too slow for many kids. They are used to being entertained. Often teachers feel a similar challenge – that the knowledge we impart is not always good enough to motivate students. We search for “hooks” that force us to find creative ways to invest students in their own learning.

Too Much Failure
The best players in the game only get a hit one out of three times they are at bat. Our generation of students is used to winning more often than that. Of course, a real baseball fan or player knows that a walk can be as valuable as a hit and an out can result in moving along a runner on base or even drive them in. A sacrifice fly can drive in a run as well. In the modern game, there’s even a “good out”, one that creates long counts, numerous foul balls and forces the pitcher to throw 10 or more pitches.

Failure is not an all or nothing proposition and there’s so much literature on this subject in 2016. We have to teach kids that a failed math problem can yield understanding on process. Failing allows us the potential to learn from our mistakes and adopt a safe trial and error perspective on life.

Not Everyone is a Winner
Coach Belichick’s oft-repeated phrase Do Your Job relates well to the world of education. The secret to many championship seasons is the commitment on the part of players to know their role and do it well. When players try too hard to be the star instead of laying down the sacrifice bunt at the right time, losing is generally the result, at least in the long term.

Yes, we have to encourage our students to explore every avenue of interest in order to find their talents. But it’s reasonable for students to learn that talent in every arena is not necessary or even plausible. Every team has specialists.

Old, not cool
Alas, baseball is just not chic. It’s fans are mostly white, male, and graying fast. I’m not suggesting that schools need to adopt “chic-ness” as part of a long range district plan. But, the classrooms of the 2010’s don’t look so different from the classrooms of the 1950’s in some ways. We don’t change to be cool – we change to meet the needs of our students as they are.

Busy Parents
Baseball was the sport you worked on in the backyard with your Dad or Mom. There really is less time for that with parents working more hours. A Gallup survey recently showed that the average full time employee week was 47 hours, essentially a six-day work week. We now depend more on coaches to be the sole teachers of our young athletes. The demise of the 9 to 5 workday (I’m one to talk) results in our schools carrying a greater burden for educating all aspects of a child’s life.

Metaphors are potentially dangerous and one can draw too much from the transference of one segment of our existence to another. But it is fascinating to observe these inevitable societal changes and how they both reflect and impact the world of education.

2016 ASCD Annual Conference Notes

One of the highlights and blessings of my year is my attendance at the ASCD National Conference. As such, I love to give back when I can and so I took notes in various workshops and shared them via Twitter (@wcarozza). Here are the links to these notes with brief explanations for each workshop:

Principal Baruti Kafele did not impart any new research or unusual perspectives but he is a good cheerleader. He does shares some big picture questions that are worth examining in his workshop Critical Leadership Questions for Inspiring Schoolwide Excellence.

Alan Blankstein and Pedro Noguera speak on the issue of of equity and cultural responsiveness in their keynote presentation Excellence Through Equity: 5 Principles of Courageous Leadership.

My Heidi Hayes Jacob influence began in the late 90s with her impressive work on curriculum mapping. Her partner in this workshop, Jay Mctighe, is the co-author of Understanding By Design along with the late Grant Wiggins. Sure enough, curriculum mapping is about to receive its third iteration and you can read a bit about it from the workshop Are You Ready for Curriculum Mapping 3.0?.

As I interview for an Assistant Principal over the last week, a theme that comes up often fro the candidates is the need for a Growth Mindset. Carol Dweck delivered a keynote with some new insights on the Growth vs. Fixed Mindset. The keynote was entitled The Journey to a Growth Mindset .

Mike Schmoker was likely the most impassioned speaker I had a chance to hear at ASCD. He spent his brief time distilling the education mission for al of us in his keynote Leading With Focus-How Leaders Can Accomplish More by Doing Less.

Perhaps the most immediately useful workshop came from the very popular Indiana State University professor Todd Whitaker who is best known for his motivational and comedic talks. He partnered with ISU professor Steve Gruenert for Rewiring your School Culture.

Do you have any thoughts or notes from #ascd16 that you’d like to share?

Blogging/Tweeting from #ascd16

I am a blessed man. For nearly 20 years I have been able to attend the annual ASCD Conference from cities all over the country such as LA, Anaheim, San Francisco, New Orleans, Chicago, Boston, Houston, Orlando, and this year in the warm city of Atlanta.

Many of the major initiatives I’ve been able to bring to my schools and a whole lot of my philosophy was formed at these comprehensive national conferences. My only regret is that I can’t bring my entire staff to the event. But I will be taking notes all weekend and tweeting them out (@wcarozza) as best as I can.

Here are some links to notable workshops thus far:

Critical Leadership Questions for Inspiring Schoolwide Excellence, Principal Baruti Kafele

Excellence Through Equity: 5 Principles of Courageous Leadership to Guide Achievement, Alan Blankstein and Pedro Noguera

One theme I remind myself is that one person, one conversation, or one workshop can make a significant difference for an educator. We have to be ready for that moment of inspiration that can change our thinking.

On the lookout for inspiration, always.

Does Grit Matter?

The deepest conversations I have with my Harold Martin School colleagues revolve around helping children be successful. The complexity level of many students is stunning and therefore it takes a much deeper level of professional collaboration and parental partnership then ever before in our role as educators. The words anxiety, depression, autism, and opposition are part of our vernacular on a daily basis.

Into this conversation arrives the theory of grit, perhaps espoused best by Angela Lee Duckworth, an American psychologist and consultant who has also spent time in the classroom. Her TED Talk has been seen nearly a million and half times, and it is a compelling case for a simple concept that what makes a person successful is hard work and determination.

Conversely, we have an argument from James Delisle, a retired professor of education at Kent State University and also the author of the book Dumbing Down America: The War on Our Nation’s Brightest Young Minds (Prufrock Press, 2014). In a recent article in Education Today Why I’m Tired of “Grit”, Delisle immediately captures my interest with a story of two Liverpool Bands – The Beatles and an scarcely known group named Rory Storm and the Hurricanes. Both bands playedthe same German club for months with only one emerging as a legend and the other with no charting singles and a sparse but interesting Wikipedia entry.

Why did one succeed and the other fail? Delisle surmises that it wasn’t hard work and grit that produced success for the Fab Four but rather musical genius that was enhanced by practice…not determined by it. I suspect that Delisle is primarily motivated by anger for those who ignore the best and brightest. Just check out the aggressive title of his book.

We do want simple answers to our quandaries. The urgent conversations I have with teachers, counselors, reading and math specialists, instructional assistants, parents, therapists, and outside consultants would be more easily solved by a single algorithm or flow chart with a simple conclusion. The reality is that it all matters. Are some students graced with particular talents that others don’t possess? Of course, but we know that without perseverance, goals aren’t met and the world isn’t changed. Do we spend a larger percentage of our time assisting those students with disabilities? Certainly, but the reality is that they need more attention to reach “grade level” than those students that are developing typically.

We also have to give all students what they need. The complexity of our student population cannot allow us to instructionally ignore those who are blessed enough with all of the advantages in life nor those who scream for our attention. It is a lofty but worthy goal to promote the vision to include all in our charge.

As educational leaders, we must work tirelessly, for our own grit is essential to get the job done.

Undeniable Parental Power

The power of our parents is undeniable. My own father Vic was part of my thoughts quite a bit last weekend.

Saturday morning I read former Principal and well known speaker/writer Eric Sheniger’s post regarding the enormous role his own parents had in his perspective on leadership. Eric has achieved great success as an educator and he rightly recognizes his parents’ role in that.

While my wife was trimming my beard Saturday, she commented how powerful my iPhone is (in playing Vince Gill’s latest on Spotify and providing a flashlight for trimming) and how much Victor Carozza would have loved the iPhone had he been alive. Vic was an electrical engineer and an early adopter of “packet radio” as an Amateur Radio operator, a forerunner of the Internet. When I grew my meager goatee nearly two years ago, I was probably doing it to commemorate my father who always had some sort of facial hair since he served in World War II.

But, what did I learn from Mom and Dad in preparation for my role as a school leader?

  • I learned the ethic of hard work. I should be tired at the end of my work day, I often say to pre-service teachers and new employees. It’s a privilege to work in schools and serve the students and families of my community. 
  • I learned that showing compassion and care for all really trumps our own goals and success. If we’re not willing to put others first than any glory we achieve individually is meaningless. 
  • Never stop learning. My father was a voracious learner. In addition to all he absorbed within the engineering field, he took on numerous hobbies just for the joy of learning. He learned how to make wine, he developed into a decent woodworker (we still have some of his furniture in our house), and even received a certificate to practice tax preparation but never used it professionally.

If you’re a new parent, don’t underestimate the power you have to mold your little ones. Your influence has potency.
If you’re a new school leader, be aware that your values will not always line up with what your students embody from their folks. It’s OK. Don’t stop working with parents, make your case, but do so with understanding.

5 Parenting Tips from a Principal and a Dad

A question I am asked regularly from parents is: “What can I do at home to support my child’s learning”? At that moment I may suggest child-specific tasks such as reviewing math facts or checking out a specific educational app for your tablet. But here are some better suggestions that might just make the very difficult job of parenting a bit more effective and peaceful for your family:

1. Engage your child
Yes, the amount of time you are able to spend with your clan is an important factor and “quality time” is crucial as well. But the key here is building activities where you are engaged together. Going to the movies or watching TV is fine, but following up with a discussion about what you just watched is much more effective and builds a strong relationship between you and your child. Even better, get outside and go hiking or skiing. Be active and not passive. Lean toward activities that allow you to talk and listen to your child.

2. Get away
Find at least a week a year to travel somewhere where your children can learn about new lands and ideas and encounter diverse people. When I was first married and a young teacher, my wife and I camped all over the country. There are ways of traveling that are not expensive. Research is clear that successful students are those that build a larger vocabulary over time. You have to have experiences to build vocabulary.

3. Utilize the dinner table
Speaking of vocabulary, Harvard Professor Catherine Snow states that rare or more sophisticated words provide the foundation of strong vocabulary development in children. Psychologist Anne Fishel says that this type of vocabulary shows up more at the dinner table than anywhere else. In fact, Fishel just published the book Home for Dinner: Mixing Food, Fun, and Conversation for a Happier Family and Healthier Kids.

4. Respect your child
As adults we have to manage our own stress. Perhaps the most important piece of advice I have for parents is: Don’t ever yell at your children. Sure, hold your kids accountable, don’t try to be their best friend, and set strict guidelines on their behavior, but don’t yell. It doesn’t work. It wears you and the family out, and it damages the trust you have with your child.

5. Read with your child and model literacy routinely
Model your own learning with your children by creating a literature rich home environment. You’ve heard this before. Read with your kids and talk about what you’re reading about. As the kids get older, have a family book club so you can share your experiences and challenge their thinking. If you’re a student yourself, share your own learning with them. Given the nature of our transforming economy, we should never cease learning in any career that we choose to pursue.

Parenting is really hard. When I first became Principal at HMS (and it feels like yesterday) I had three elementary aged children. Now my kids are all in their 20s. The journey is fast but it will go much smoother if you engage, respect, and listen.

Schools and the State of the Union 2016

The President spoke tonight of education in his State of the Union Address and highlighted the reform of No Child Left Behind:

We agree that real opportunity requires every American to get the education and training they need to land a good-paying job. The bipartisan reform of No Child Left Behind was an important start, and together, we’ve increased early childhood education, lifted high school graduation rates to new highs, and boosted graduates in fields like engineering. In the coming years, we should build on that progress, by providing Pre-K for all, offering every student the hands-on computer science and math classes that make them job-ready on day one, and we should recruit and support more great teachers for our kids.

This is clearly a small portion of a long speech, but the President is saying a fair amount in a few words:

  • He’s extolling the virtue of the new ESSA as a replacement to NCLB.
  • Obama is throwing out the gauntlet to ensure the funding of preschool for all American children.
  • Without stating details, the President is supporting STEM education.
  • And, he wants to improve our crop of teachers, both current and future.

Just as interesting was Obama’s comment in his seventh sentence of the Address:

But tonight, I want to go easy on the traditional list of proposals for the year ahead. Don’t worry, I’ve got plenty, from helping students learn to write computer code…

The President has made it a point to promote the wisdom of teaching coding to our students.

Which of these proposals/ideas will bear fruit in the President’s last year?

Take Some Time To Read About ESSA

Our school was honored last Monday to host Rep. Annie Kuster (D-NH) as part of her Holiday Cards for Heroes program. Yearly, Annie asks for local elementary school children in her district to make holiday cards for Veterans and she then presents the cards to local Vets at the V.A. Hospital in Manchester, NH and the NH Veterans Home in Tilton, NH.

Before she spoke to the students, we chatted briefly about the new ESSA. Annie, who voted for the bill, was surprised how smoothly the legislation flew through the House and Senate. In fact, I think the speed by which ESSA passed surprised many of us in the education field.

As I take a few days off during the holidays, I am catching up on some reading, specifically around ESSA. As such, here a brief list of links on the subject to familiarize ourselves as leaders in the new legislation:

All of these links and more are at my Diigo page and will be updated over time.

Happy Holidays!

Goals Are Better Than Resolutions

Our cat Ollie’s life goal is to achieve comfort…daily, hourly. As members of the human race, however, we appreciate routine and turning the page to reach familiar stops along the road. That’s why most of us still like the change of seasons. For example, kids love the start of summer vacation, but they’re usually ready to head back to see their friends and teachers in the fall. Generally, we like to see some snow in the winter, but we’re ready to say goodbye to it by the spring. 

After the crazed holiday season quiets a bit, many of us start thinking about a typical routine, forming resolutions. A Nielsen survey from a year ago showed that these were 2015’s Top 10 Resolutions:

1.) Stay fit and healthy
2.) Lose weight
3.) Enjoy life to the fullest
4.) Spend less, save more
5.) Spend more time with family and friends
6.) Get organized
7.) Will not make any resolutions
8.) Learn something new
9.) Travel more
10.) Read more 

(Source: http://bit.ly/1YpLQn9)

While all of these resolutions are laudable, most of them will never come to pass due to a variety of factors. First, families with young children in schools are the busiest people on earth. Everyone is trying to earn a living, maintain solid adult relationships, and all the while raising the kids, which is the hardest job imaginable. It’s simply hard to focus on creating new habits when the mandatory plate is pretty full. 

But look at that Top 10 list again. What is common to all 10, except perhaps #7? The answer is that they are all vague generalities and hard to measure. So, instead of “stay fit and healthy”, we’re better off setting a goal that we’ll “join a fitness center and go three times a week.” Instead of “lose weight”, we need to set weight goals per month, or invest in a particular plan. It’s also important to measure your gains over time. Success is a great motivator and when we celebrate our triumphs we increase our odds of meeting our goals. 

Life is too short to not set measurable, realistic goals and commit to them.

The Two Percent Assessment Rule

Students not taking a formal assessment.

 

The Obama Administration swayed to the force of public opinion and has announced, according to the New York Times, a “cap on assessment so that no child would spend more than 2 percent of classroom instruction time taking tests.” The immovable trek toward greater standardized testing began with the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (NCLB) and has been growing steadily ever since.

NCLB had its strengths. It certainly focused our educators on academic growth, at least the type that can be measured by tests. And for the first time, the assessment data from NCLB aligned tests was disaggregated into categories of students such as ELL or special education kiddos and required schools to not just meet “adequate yearly progress” overall but also AYP by these subgroups.

But the majority of parents and educators as well as politicians on both sides of the political spectrum felt that the insistence on high stake tests and the instructional time lost as a result, had gone too far. I’m not sure why it took the President and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan this many years to make a statement about over-testing.

How much is 2% of instructional time? In a typical elementary school’s day, we have a total of about 6 1/2 hours. Take an hour out of that day for lunch and recess and you’re left with 5 1/2 hours or about 330 minutes. Thus 2% of the day is about 7 minutes. Multiply that over a 180 day school year, and we have 21 hours of testing in a year.

Now the question is: what type of testing qualifies for the 2%? In a typical elementary setting, you might take three computer adaptive tests per year in literacy and numeracy (6 hours) plus the Smarter Balanced or PARCC State/Common Core assessment (7 hours). Add in curriculum based measures such as DIBELS or AIMSweb, One could also add in NEAP, the ACT, or the SAT, or even teacher designed tests and quizzes.

While it appears arbitrary to throw out “2%” as a guideline, the larger question is is the juice worth the squeeze? That is, given all of the assessment that takes time away from instruction…what’s left for instruction? Most formative assessment overlaps within instruction and often occurs without the student knowing he is being assessed.

I have no “a-ha’s” to share, only an essential question: what is the assessment sweet spot? Thoughts?