Tuesday, December 31, 2013

My New Year's Challenge

Happy New Year to all!  In the new year I'm embarking on a number of challenges. . . in fact, I've chosen to take on challenges this year, rather than form resolutions.  The problem with resolutions I've found is that they either tend to be problematic from a time perspective or a specificity one.  

For example, "I'm going to lose five pounds" can be problematic from a time perspective as one could lose five pounds in the course of a month, and then what?  

"I want to become a better person" suffers from lack of specificity.  What does that mean?  How would a person measure it?

To that end, rather than make resolutions, I'm providing myself with a challenge, one that I think that will be fun and quite difficult.

Like many others, I'm on a never-ending quest to continue learning, and part of that quest is to put myself into situations that aren't entirely comfortable.  I'm a user and lover of quotes, and I often use the written words of others to help me get my point across.

This year, I'm going to pay thanks to all those who have penned quotes before me by writing one new inspirational (I hope) quote each day over the course of the year.  In addition, I plan to put together a quick post each day here, detailing where the quote came from.

Here are the rules I'm setting for myself:
  • I need to create one new quote a day, for 365 days.
  • The quotes must be original, and tied to life experience.
  • I may incorporate pre-existing quotes or parts of them, but the quote as a whole must be original.
  • Quotes must be 140 characters or less (Twitter will be my main means of sharing).
  • No quote stacking allowed (each quote needs to be made on a separate day).
Your role?  Provide thoughts, and share feedback on those you enjoy and those you don't.  If you feel any are particularly worthy, please share them.  I'll be tweeting them with the #QuoteADay hashtag.  Most importantly, don't let me give up.   Even the smallest encouragement will prove helpful, of that I have no doubt.  Goodness knows I'll need it.

Good luck to you in whatever challenges you choose to undertake this year, and look for my first quote attempt tomorrow. :)

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Where's the Love?

In a perfect world (or at least my perfect world), teacher effectiveness would be measured with a simple rubric.  The rubric would have a four letter title, and three simple check boxes.  It would look a little something like this:
Pillars of Effectiveness
Whole Lotta Love!
Where’s the Love?
Working with Others

Belief in Oneself

Ideals of Education

The rubric would be completed by all educators (whether teacher, teacher-leader, building leader, or other educational staff).  An educator who could not honestly check “Whole Lotta Love” for each category would leave the profession and use their strengths somewhere else.

Simple?  Sure. 

Accurate?  Likely. 

Realistic?  Unfortunately, not in today’s world. 

With the emphasis on in-depth evaluations and constant collection of data, we rarely take the time to truly ask, “What, in its simplest form, does an effective educator do?  What values must an effective educator have?”  After reading this week’s Forum topic (and a recent article in the New York Times), I can’t help but think these three “loves” are at the epitome of effective education.  After all, if you ask an effective educator if they feel deeply passionate about these three areas, all will say, “Yes.”  At the same time, if an educator doesn’t exhibit a true love for these strands, then chances are, that educator is not effective. 
So, what makes these three areas so imperative when talking about effective education?  Here are my thoughts; feel free to add yours in the comments section
           Education is, at its heart, a profession about people.  If you don’t want to work with people, you shouldn’t be an educator.  Effectively educating today’s youth requires an ability to relate to students of all ages and stakeholder positions.  Whether it is interacting with a class of twenty eighth graders in a science classroom, engaging in a critical friends meeting with other building educators, cheering on the field hockey team with parents on the sports field, or reaching out to area businesses to build school partnerships, an effective educator not only “plays well with others,” but truly gains pleasure from being in the presence of, and interacting with, all people.

·         Educators must believe in themselves to continue to learn and improve.  Education is not a profession for the faint of heart.  We have all experienced “horror stories” throughout our careers.  But, effective educators realize that those negative situations are truly learning opportunities that are bumps in the road placed there to allow time to slow down and reflect.  In addition, these “down times” lend even more worth to our successes.  After all, if one was successful in every endeavor, then where is the path that leads to future greatness?  Truly effective educators welcome hardship as an opportunity to dig deep, prove their mettle, and exhibit an important mantra of education: Everyone can be successful. 

·         Educators may dislike policy, but they have to have passion for the profession.  Even if you enjoy working with others and truly believe in your own abilities, you still need to believe in the mission of education.  While it is okay to naysay policy that you believe is detrimental to your district, students, and/or livelihood, effective educators only do this when they have other options to try, and/or other ideas to discuss.  The most effective practitioners of education don’t just call attention to a problem, they attempt to solve it, believing that the benefit of a strong educational system far outweighs any risks that would come from being the first to step into uncharted waters.

Imagine if. . .
. . .rating teacher effectiveness was this simple.
. . .a process like this was used across the country.
. . .rating systems were built on “love” and not “punishment.”
. . .our educational system truly wore its heart on its sleeve.

If you’re proud to be an educator now, imagine how filled with pride you would be then.

Anderson, Jenny.  (2013, March 30).  Curious Grade for Teachers: Nearly All Pass.  The New York Times.  Retrieved from:  http://www.nytimes.com/2013/03/31/education/curious-grade-for-teachers-nearly-all-pass.html?pagewanted=1&_r=1&

Monday, February 4, 2013

Keepin’ It Real: Preparation Pathways that “Work”

Despite my alma mater’s best intentions, I was not ready to be a teacher upon graduation.  Sure I completed all my methods courses, and found my student-teaching experiences to be excellent learning opportunities.  Yes, I was lucky enough to get a job in the subject area I had been “trained” for, and for all intents and purposes, I was ready to “start” my life.

Unfortunately for me, I had no clue what I was doing.  Seriously.  I still recall a conversation I had with a colleague (who would later become a trusted friend and co-worker).  It went a little something like this:

Ray:  Hey Fred.  How was your first day?  You’re packed up and ready to go?  What, do you have an appointment or something? (Note: It was about 2:30 in the afternoon)

Me: Oh, hey Ray.  It was great.  I can’t believe how easy it was.  No appointment, I just got everything done I needed to do.

Ray: Oh.  Huh. (staring at me with one eyebrow raised)

Needless to say, from Day 2 on, it was rare for me to ever leave before 4:00 (and those were often good days).  I just didn’t get it, and while a scenario like this might be very common, the fact that I thought I understood the time commitments of my new career and yet was so off-base means that there was (and still is) a major disconnect between teacher preparation programs and the “real” world of education.  There are a number of issues we need to consider in order to make sure that folks new to the profession aren’t left picking their jaws up off the floor when they realize all that teaching involves.

Let’s prepare specialists, not generalists.  Educators new to the profession can no longer afford to be generalists (in fact, I would offer the challenge that this has always been the case).  Teacher preparation programs are often woefully short on subject matter deep-dives (particularly for elementary pathways).  When I was a middle school science teacher, there were times when I would provide misinformation because I believed I knew something that I didn’t.  But, I was secure enough in my knowledge base to write the wrong after I did further research.  Plus, I was never afraid to say, “I don’t know.  Let’s figure it out together.”  Unfortunately, it can be tough to teach a subject with little content background.  We can teach our students how to write essays, but if they have no content to write about, the process is pointless.  Preparing prospective teachers with methodology without the subject-area skeleton is much the same.  As an added bonus, this adds rigor and an air of “the serious” to the preparation program.  We all know how challenging teaching is.  We can’t afford to have those who aren’t serious about the profession enter it.

Provide certification blueprints.  I went to a university in a state I did not plan to teach in.  Yet, I never knew to ask what I would need to do to become certified to teach in the state I DID want to teach in.  Maybe that was just naïveté on my part, but I don’t think so.  It would have been nice if I knew what I would have to do to transfer my certification before I graduated, and without me having to try and navigate not just one state education department, but two (my head still hurts).  While times may have changed since I graduated college, it would be great if prospective teachers were given this information ahead of time and had the opportunity to ask the important questions about what they need to do, and why they need to do it.  While this might not have changed anything in my career progression, I will never be sure.  I ended up paying for and sitting through multiple certification exams in multiple states.  Needless to say, my initial certification in my first awarding state has long since expired.  And guess what?  It was never used.

Let’s Talk.  Considering the emphasis on college and career readiness, why aren’t colleges and universities regularly meeting with K-12 teachers (by the way, this isn’t meant to be a dig on post-secondary staff, those of us in the K-12 world can be reaching out to colleges and universities too)?  In the ten years that I taught middle school science, never once was there talk about seeing what was taking place in our area colleges and universities to prepare future science teachers.  It was almost like the two relatives in everyone’s family that refuse to acknowledge each other.  It seems to me that better preparation pathways could be designed by engaging in regional symposia that would bring K-12 and postsecondary educators together to share curricula and discuss methodology.  If nothing else, it would be a great start to opening discussion and would help provide pre-service educators with a clearer horizon to head towards.

Involve all Stakeholders.  Wouldn’t it have been helpful if one (or a few) of the courses you took in your preparation had parents and students from the area actually attend?  Stakeholders could share their thoughts and feelings about current education, and prospective teachers could role-play the types of parental and student scenarios that can be demoralizing for new teachers.  Imagine how helpful these types of interactions could be towards helping future educators meet parents and students where they are and to always move towards positive resolution. 

Begin Teacher Prep in High School.  It isn’t appropriate for post-secondary faculty to find out that a student isn’t ready to become an educator during a junior level methodology class.  Unfortunately, by this point, students have already progressed through two years of college, and in these days, have already amassed debt and are simply trying to graduate.  This may force some to enter a career that they don’t find themselves interested in, simply because they can’t spend another year or two in college with a new major.  It stands to reason, then, that we should be providing students with coursework in education earlier on in their academic careers.  Why not provide child study courses at high schools across the country?  Or, why not give juniors and seniors at the high school level the chance to pair up with teachers in their own school (or other district schools) and get a brief intro to student teaching?  This could would strengthen the prospective teacher pool by providing experience and much needed perspective, and perspective can be everything.

The future of education depends on the next generation of teachers.  They can’t be faulted for being ill-prepared.  In fact, I would even suggest that our manner of “evaluating” new teachers shouldn’t put blame on them for not necessarily knowing what to do.  In those situations, the blame should be put on the collective “us.”  If we expect new educators to become effective master teachers and learners, then we need to provide them with the path to do that, and just as importantly, join them as they progress down that road.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Preschool Pedagogy: What Toddlers Can Teach Us About Leadership

I’ve been thinking a lot about the importance of real-life lessons for educational leaders, unfortunately many times separate from what we receive in methodology courses or workshops.  As I was dropping my daughter off at preschool last week, I started reflecting on how just much of what is experienced during a normal day of life for toddlers is extraordinarily relevant for the work we do as adults.  With that in mind, here are four lessons that we should readily learn from our youngest leaders:

  • Share.  Regularly and Often. Just because we’re in leadership positions, doesn’t mean we’re actually leaders.  We might be seen as enforces, pushovers, or simply figureheads.  To truly lead, we need to build collaborative ownership, where all stakeholders feel that their voices can help chart a course  This ownership can only come from sharing; whether it be of decision-making, responsibilities, or ideas.  Toddlers learn early on that a directive approach will only go so far, and that there are only so many times that they can say, “No, it’s my ball!” before nobody wants to play with them.  The same goes for leaders.  It can’t always be our ball, all the time.  By building an invested community we can keep the ball up longer than if we were simply tossing it around ourselves.

  • Stay in Your Seat during Lunchtime.  Rules and expectations play an important role in society, and sometimes different scenarios call for different responses.  Toddlers learn that they should sit during lunchtime and interact with their peers in appropriate ways (saying “please” and “thank you,” not making a mess, etc.).  The big idea here is that our behavior must fit the role and situation we find ourselves in.  So, when in a leadership role, we must always act as a leader.  This goes above and beyond the walls of our school or boundaries of our district.  Why?  Simply because we never know who will be listening and learning.  Of course, that doesn’t mean we can’t keep our personalities intact.  In fact, if we’ve learned anything, it is that we shouldn’t have to sacrifice who we are to be who we want to be.  Toddlers understand that their behavior during lunch doesn’t mean they can’t be the silly 3 year old they want to be later.  It isn’t a conflict of interest to be a leader while still being you.

  • Be Curious.  Toddlers are naturally curious, and that desire to learn more is cultivated in daycare and nursery school.  Ample opportunities to explore, exposure to new materials, books, toys, etc. all help to build a love for learning.  In fact, while I don’t have the data to back this up, I would be willing to confidently state that almost all students leave preschool with a love of learning.  Yet, as we have all seen, that changes for some as they get older. While there are many reasons for this, sometimes it is due solely to the environment of the school or district they attend.  As leaders, we must make sure that curiosity is a trait that is cherished in our buildings.  We must make the desire to learn more a pillar of our vision and show we are positive risk-takers.  When we hire, curiosity should be at the top of our “needed traits” list.  Evaluations for our staff should factor in curiosity and a desire to encourage students to seek just as many questions as answers.  What our society-at-large needs most is a constant influx of people who don’t just want to be receivers of information.  We can help cultivate the next generation of doers by emphasizing learning as a life-long experience.

  • Nap.  Or at Least Rest.  Preschools know that their charges need time to rest.  So, naps, or rest periods for older children, are not only encouraged, but required.  Even those who don’t want to nap are taught that they must at least lay down on their cots.  Why?  So their minds can reflect on recent activities, and their bodies can recharge for new explorations.  As we age, that rest time seems to disappear.  Even some five and six year olds are so hyper-scheduled that they don’t even have time to think.  We know this is wrong both scientifically and philosophically.  The greatest ideas often come when people have the chance to ponder.  We must make sure that we embrace reflective time as important to our work with students and teachers.  While mandates may make it hard to incorporate this thinking time, there is no reason why twenty to thirty minutes a day can’t be devoted to refreshing the mind.  Whether this means silently contemplating, doodling, writing a reflection, or taking a walk outside, nothing works to recharge the batteries like a change of pace.  Regardless of what this looks like, as leaders, we must make sure that we find time for peace as well.  Spending quality time with family, pursuing hobbies, getting a good night’s sleep, and exercising and eating right all can help us feel better both in mind and in body.

We can’t learn everything from nursery school, but we can learn quite a bit.  We must remember that for most of our students, they are closer in age to these toddlers than in many times, to ourselves.  It stands to reason that what prepares our students for the microcosm of schooling can just as easily prepare them for the great big world out there.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Gleason's Food Review

Another food review up, this time of Gleason's in Peekskill.  This place is a "Do Not Miss!"


Monday, January 7, 2013

“College and Career Ready” Clearly Isn’t Enough

Thirty years ago, there was a 31 percentage point difference between the share of prosperous and poor Americans earning bachelor’s degrees.  Today, that gap is 45 points.
                -M. Bailey and S. Dynarski, University of Michigan (taken from article by Jason DeParle)

This past weekend I had the opportunity to read a heartbreaking and gut-wrenching piece written by Jason DeParle in the New York Times.  This article depicts the rise, and subsequent fall, of three promising students from Galveston, Texas.  These three young women, all excellent students, seemed to have overcome the challenges brought on by their financially poor background.  They were in excellent standing within their school, had earned high marks both academically and socially from their teachers and school staff, and, by all accounts, were “college and career ready.”  Yet, as DeParle goes on to describe, this designation did not, in fact, prepare them for college and their future careers.

If you were to go by the Common Core State Standards Initiative’s designation of what “college and career ready” truly means (at least for ELA) you would likely find that these three young women were quite qualified to earn this title.  In their school lives, they exhibited all of the tenets necessary.  Yet, as their stories exhibit, it was what was happening outside of their school (and what occurred once they entered post-secondary education) that truly put them at a disadvantage.

This article, along with an in-depth discussion with my Superintendent (my thanks to Dr. Langlois for helping to turn my reactions to the article into a blog post) helped me come to the realization that college and career readiness is all but meaningless if it is seen as an endpoint, and not a benchmark along a much longer road.  The story of these three promising young ladies shows that currently, a “college and career ready” designation is as much edubabble and jargon as it is truly beneficial to students.  To truly help students ready themselves for college and be prepared for the challenges once they enter the workforce, much is left to be done.  Here are three steps that I believe must be taken to put us on the right path:
  •            Provide smoother transitions for students.  Most elementary schools and middle schools have excellent transition programs in place.  Students spend time visiting their new schools and often start the year with a modified schedule that allows for them to slowly acclimate to the different world they’ve entered.  Quite a large number of schools also have transition plans in place for middle to high school moves.  Yet, this type of transition is all but nonexistent for seniors in high school.  Why?  While it is true that every college and university is different, and many attempt to welcome freshman with open arms and some sort of “intro to college” program, not all schools are as “beginner focused” as they could or should be.  Why don’t high schools, in conjunction with local colleges and/or universities design transition plans?  So what if students may not attend that college/university?  Wouldn’t the benefit to both parties and the assistance provided to students in getting a sense of what post-secondary education is like be worth it?  Certainly the PR, in itself, would do wonders for education in the US.  In the article, none of the three women truly had any clue what college would be like, despite the best intentions of busy guidance counselors and staff members from Upward Bound.
  •       Understand that “college and career readiness” can’t only be about what happens in school.  Family and social dynamics and needs greatly influence student lives.  Why then do we not provide juniors and seniors with required courses on how to deal with these pressures in relation to post-secondary education?  One of the students profiled in the article had a challenging relationship with her mother and an intense relationship with her boyfriend, both of which played a role in her fall.  Another was worried about whether her grandfather, who was a main caregiver, would survive his fight with cancer.  As educators we know the challenges of professional and personal pushes and pulls.  Life experience has helped us deal with these tough times.  For seventeen and eighteen year-olds, however, and particularly those with fewer familial and social connections, these pushes and pulls may be enough to topple even the loftiest potential accomplishments.
  •       Push higher education (as a whole) to be more of an interactive learning establishment, and less of a passive informational one.  I understand that there are many colleges and universities where staff members do more than just talk about their subjects; they truly engage students and serve as master learners (rather than information spouters).  That being said, I also know that not all institutions of higher learning are designed to truly treat students as individuals.  Many times funding plays a role.  In other cases, the structure of the university or college itself may be the reason.  Regardless of the case, the three students discussed in this piece could have used more assistance at the college level to deal with the challenges they were facing.  Whether being about money, family, or specific academic courses, these young ladies all faced situations where their difficulties were not eased by their institution (as they should have been), but were instead exacerbated.  We can’t allow that.

If we truly believe that students must be “college and career ready” to succeed in life, our education system must prove it.  We can’t assume that it is only the responsibility of K-12 institutions to do this, nor can we truly state that college and career readiness is only built in the classroom.  Let’s stop adding to educational jargon, and put meaning behind the terms we use.  I encourage you to read DeParle’s piece and see how it makes you feel, and then think about how you would view education as a whole if you were these students or if they were your children.

Works Cited

DeParle, Jason.  (2012, December 22).  For Poor, Leap to College Often Ends in a Hard Fall.  The New York Times.  Retrieved from: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/12/23/education/poor-students-struggle-as-class-plays-a-greater-role-in-success.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0

National Governors Association.  (2012).  ELA-Students Who are College and Career Ready.  Retrieved from: http://www.corestandards.org/ELA-Literacy/introduction/students-who-are-college-and-career-ready-in-reading-writing-speaking-listening-language