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:

National Governors Association.  (2012).  ELA-Students Who are College and Career Ready.  Retrieved from: