Help Wanted.

Our current Assistant Principal is retiring as is our Superintendent of schools.  Selection Committees, Blue Ribbon Panels, all are busy vetting candidates to find the best possible match for our school(s). So even though my own career days are numbered (and no one listens to the “old guy” anyway), I have a few thoughts.

One. A school leader, no matter the level, needs to have a strong background in teaching.  More than 5 years, although I know of several outstanding administrators with less teaching experience. Those people are exceptions and exceptional – grab them. But for most administrators, a wide-ranging experience as a teacher is needed. Think of it as a reality head slap.

Two. Don’t be afraid to hire someone who seems “smarter” than you. As a 30-year-old, I learned to play tennis recreationally. Want to know how I got better at it? I played with people who could whiz a serve right past me. It was terrifically humbling and made me want to do better. Never play your game down, play it up.

Three. Be a listener. If you don’t understand what someone may be telling you, ask them to re-explain it. As many times as it takes. Then make your decision.  Early in my career, I disagreed voraciously with my then-administrator. We eventually agreed to disagree – after all SHE was the one responsible for the decision’s impact. But I felt listened to. I felt I had a voice even if the ultimate decision was not what I would have wanted.

Four. Get in there and get dirty. One of my favorite administrators did that my first year in a new school. She led by example and modeled exactly what she expected of each of us.  Taking the time to work with even an experienced teacher was one of my all-time career favorite moments. I learned and continued to apply those techniques even after she retired.

Five. Research on practice is great, but be sure it has been judiciously applied. Not all research will be valuable to all students. Try. Reflect. Adjust. Be strong enough to tell the emperor he has no clothes on (that’s a tough one on an “at will” contract).

Six. Read your staff CVs. Who is it that is working in your building? What about that person’s strengths and background can be used to greatest value? You may come away surprised.

It is most difficult to be a school administrator. It’s difficult to be any level of educator. You end up holding the responsibility for lots of things and sometimes leading a staff is like herding cats.

But your students, parents, and teachers are all relying on your leadership to move us to reach higher than we thought possible.

Discuss Amongst Yourselves

Linda Richman was right. Throw out an open question and get the talk going.

Author collectionIn our fourth grade classroom we’ve taken accountable talk to another level. We use many of the prompts that programs like Making Meaning explicitly teach, so outside of insisting on speaking patterns that first use and then play off of these stems, there were just a few new talk moves to initiate.

So this year, I have taken myself out of the discussion leading role and thrown that back to students.  When we have a whole class discussion, we gather on the carpet and – this is important – face each other by sitting on the perimeter just like we do for Morning Meeting.  Why is this important? Because students can see each other and that is part of the active listening that is required in group discussions.

Students must talk to each other and not to me. I throw out the question. I sometimes have to be the traffic cop when discussions go off-topic or when students in their enthusiasm forget about talking over each other. But basically, I’m out. If someone has a follow-up point, it’s up to the person initiating to recognize them. And me? I get to observe students and their thought processes.

Oh we’ve used “talking sticks”, but mainly my students have gotten used to talking with each other using polite and focused discussion questions, perhaps challenging each other’s thinking. Wouldn’t it be awesome if the talking heads on TV could learn some of these same skills?

No one has to be the sage on the stage. The students can do this. And the benefits are endless for both of us.

To whom are you accountable?

We were asked that very question during a faculty meeting presentation yesterday.  Oh there are layers and layers of accountability in the education world in which we live: administrators, students, parents. Yes, we are all accountable to them. Family members, significant others? Those people too.

My answer? I am accountable to me.

I am accountable to me for what I do in my profession. And for acting to improve those things that need fixing in my own practice. If, on reflection, a lesson fails, it is on me to figure that out and fix it. If the students “don’t get” what I’m teaching, I am accountable for finding another way for them to access those skills or that knowledge.

If I disagree with how I am being told to teach or even what to teach, I am accountable to me. I need to read and research and seek out those who are expert so that I can persuade or disagree or (heavens!) go against the directive and do what is right. Even when it is lonely.DSC_0107

Oh there are some “experts” who have the bully pulpit these days who would tell me that my job is to follow directives. Like a sheep.

But sometimes I cannot do that.  I am accountable to me.

You are more than a number

We are at that time of the year when high stakes test prep is kicked into gear. I try to keep the required and inevitable test prep low-key and casual, if that’s even possible, because, for goodness sake — the kids are 10! 2014-11-25-lincoln-024

Here in my urban classroom, however, the tension and stress can be seen in my students’ actions and words. They have already endured round after round of mid-year assessment. Layering MCAS testing on top of that is like dousing your paper cut in hand sanitizer. Some kids are at the breaking point.

To O who wondered yesterday if he hadn’t been born, would the world (and I) be better off.  You are more than a number.

And to A, a kid with a tough exterior, but so hard on herself that tears rolled down her cheeks and dripped onto her desk because her reading score “wasn’t good.” You are more than a number.

To C who worries if she will “flunk the MCAS” and not go on to Middle School. You are more than a number.

To N who just wants to get a 4 on his report card. You are more than a number.

To all my sweet, hard-working students, who rise up to meet every challenge I throw at them in the best way that they know how. YOU ARE MORE THAN A NUMBER! And I apologize that you have to go through this.

Torn between not giving a rat’s behind and giving my students every strategy I can muster so they can get through this unfair and practically useless test is a non-stop debate I have in my head every day. MCAS tests our students on English Language Arts and Composition when we are barely three-quarters of the way through fourth grade. When my kids get their score – or number – how are they supposed to feel?

So for you, O and A and N and all of “my” kids, I apologize. You are so much more than a test score to me. You are funny, and enthusiastic, and curious, and talented and challenging, and I would never have wanted to miss out on knowing who you all are. You are more than a number, you are infinity.