About Me

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I've been an educator since 1995 where I've served as both a teacher and administrator. I believe that serving others is the key to success and make it my goal to be a servant leader for students, teachers, parents, and the community. 

Monday, November 25, 2013

WatchD.O.G.S. - Dads of Great Students

To Student:  How was your day today?
Student:  It was great. My Dad was here all day!

This school year, we have restarted WatchD.O.G.S. on our campus.  WatchD.O.G.S. is a program from the National Center for Fathering that focuses on getting fathers and father-figures involved in the school by having them serve for one entire day on their child's campus.  While on campus, these men serve in various capacities including tutoring, mentoring, assisting teachers in their classes, and generally being an "extra set of eyes" on the campus.  Since mid-October, we have had 10 men who have given one day to serve as a WatchD.O.G. and many more are on the calendar.  A couple have already served for two days and are signed up for more. 

As an administrator, what I like most about WatchD.O.G.S. is that is a turnkey initiative that doesn't require a lot of set up or follow through.  In fact, when done properly, several key men from the among the ranks, known as Top Dogs, can do most of the leg work after the initial start up.  As the campus coordinator, I simply make the men's daily schedule and make sure their day goes well. 

Last year, there were a few active WatchD.O.G.S. on the campus, but not as many as this year.  Part of that had to do with the recruitment process.  In order to be successful, the kickoff really needs to have food.  As I've proved many times, when you feed a man, he will come.  We went through 300 slices of pizza in 20 minutes during our kickoff event and had 55 men sign an interest form.  About 15 signed up for a day on the calendar during that event.  Of those who put their names on the calendar, only two did not show.  One was because of work commitments;  we haven't been able to reach the other one.  The second part of the equation was follow up.  Myself and the three Top Dogs made a call to all of the men who signed up that first night. 

A typical WatchD.O.G.S. day starts with morning duty, followed by an orientation and signing an agreement on each visit. Then, an announcement of the WatchD.O.G. is made and a picture is taken with their student.  (If they are a community volunteer, I always get several random students, usually those who don't have active fathers, to take a picture with them.)  After this, they are given their schedules for the day, have a building tour, and then go to the first class.  Lunch is on us and they are encouraged to sit with their child at the class table.  The end of the day involves a survey on the Fathers.com website followed by afternoon duty.  Their final task is to call the next day's WatchD.O.G. and remind them of their commitment. 

As a former classroom teacher, principal, and Dad myself, I see the value of having positive male role models in the school.  On our campus of 740 students, there are only 12 full-time adult males including the custodians.   These men all work to be positive role models to our children, but we can use all the help we can get.  I won't go into the statistics of the impact of Dads in children's lives.  Many of these are available on the www.fathers.com website.  I have noticed that, very often, the kids will respond differently to the WatchD.O.G.S. than to the men who work on the campus.  In fact, many act completely different when these men are around.  Some even seem to struggle with the fact that a man who may be a family friend, church member, or other relationship is on the campus.  It is as though the disconnect some have developed between school and community behavior is suddenly challenged.  It is enlightening and often amusing to watch.  

It may sound as though I am a paid advocate for WatchD.O.G.S., but really I am only a school leader looking to do whatever it takes to positively impact the education and social lives of each child who walks through the doors of our building.  This program is one part of that challenge.  In the short time I have been actively involved, I have seen the benefits of having men on campus who care about kids (their own and others) and are willing to take of their time to serve the children and staff of the school.  I've also seen the benefit to both the Dad and the student.  Dad's get to be a part of the world their child lives in 180 days a year and children get to have Dad in that world for a day.  As the 5th grade child who is quoted at the beginning of this post, it is great to have Dad around all day. 

While I don't have quantifiable evidence of the positive effects of the program (I'm currently doing action research on WatchD.O.G.S. and discipline referrals), I do know that I've seen positive effects on both students and teachers.  If you are a school leader looking to increase parental involvement in your school, I strongly encourage looking at the WatchD.O.G.S. as one alternative.  More info can be found at www.fathers.com. Click on the WatchD.O.G.S. link at the top.  I would also be happy to share more of my own experiences if anyone is interested.

As a final note, my own son is on the campus with me.  I plan to take a day off myself and serve as WatchD.O.G.  Why?  Because he asked me to and I want to be a great Dad and role model. 

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Tag Team Teaching (Pedagogy and classroom management)

I admit it! I'm a wrestling fan. Not greco-roman, but the sports entertainment version.  I enjoy watching it on TV, but what I really enjoy is a good live show.  Every time a local promotion comes through our small town, you can guarantee I will be there and most likely at ringside.  One of the most exciting matches on any card is a tag team bout.  Pairs of wrestlers on each team work together in order to win the match and pin their opponent(s) to the floor. When done well, the winning team works like clockwork and makes the whole match appear easy.  However, when they don't work together or one gets knocked out of action, a tag team can quickly fall apart and a loss is certain.

So, what does tag-team wrestling have to with teaching?   There are two components that must be in place and work together before any real learning takes place.  These are pedagogy and classroom management.  I once had a principal tell me that, if the lesson was engaging enough, the students would not act up.  I believed him, but I was young and very impressionable then.  Now, after 17 years, I know that great lessons are combinations of effective teaching strategies and classroom management procedures.  These two must work together to ensure the desired learning occurs. In an out of control classroom, little learning will take place even when the best teaching strategies are in place. 

Now, I'll admit I have rarely seen an out of control or even a poorly managed classroom where great pedogogy was being used.  But, I have seen teachers who had a good grasp of academic strategies but could not effectively teach because the classroom was poorly managed.  I have also seen well managed classrooms (quiet, procedures in place, kids actively engaged) where little real learning was occuring.  Without both components, the other team (ignorance and behavior problems) always wins. 

Great teachers are adapt at both pedagogy and management. And they have more than one or two strategies.  Watch an entertaining wrestler and you'll see a variety of moves depending on the situation they are in.  Teachers must have multiple teaching and management strategies in their toolbag before they step into the classroom and they must be prepared to alter these strategies (especially classroom management techniques) if the situation warrants.  Preparation is the key to success.  For the teacher, this means constantly learning through reading, observing, asking questions, attending staff development and then putting new approaches into place. Administrators and lead teachers must also be prepared to help teachers develop the necessary pedogological and management techniques they need to be successful.  The administrator/lead teacher is like the coach (or manager in wrestling) who is always there to help the teacher improve. 

While the analogy used in this post may be stretching it a bit, the reality is that there are new teachers entering the field (and veterans as well) who lack either the knowledge of pedagogy or the classroom management skills to be effective the moment they hit the ground.  This doesn't mean they won't be good (or even excellent) teachers.  It does mean that they need the support, training, and encouragement to develop their skills and become better at employing this winning tag team combination. 

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

First Twitter Chat #savmp

What have I been missing all this time?  Just finished my first Twitter chat (#sbgchat) and it feels like I am on an adrenaline rush.  Probably am.  The ideas were flowing so quickly that it was impossible to keep up.  My finite little world expanded as I read and added to the conversation, in this case, about standards based grading.  Now, I am no expert on this topic.  In fact, I am a novice, but this post isn't about the topic.  Instead, it's about the learning that took place as so many great minds got together in one place to discuss positive educational practices.  Practitioners and academics alike added to the discussion as each shared their unique insight and perspectives.  As a result, the topic (in the form of short questions from the moderators) could be hashed out extensively.  Ideas and action steps were left open for the world to see with very little off-task chatter.  This is what professional development should look like.

For weeks now, I 've been trying to build up a PLN (Personal Learning Network) using Twitter and tonight that network grew by leaps and bounds.  While I will likely never meet most of the people I follow, their ideas are always there for me to learn from and many have been open to inquiries and comments as I seek to grow professionally while building my own presence online.  As this presence expands, I hope to add to the professional learning of others while continuing to grow myself.  The give and take is what makes this network so inspiring. 

BTW, I noticed today that a post from this blog was tweeted. It caught me by surprise and was a great end to a long day.  It's good to know someone is reading these posts.  I hope they are helpful. 

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Lessons from the first four weeks #SAVMP

Four weeks on the job..... So, what have I learned? 

First off, time is a precious commodity.  Administrators have more to do than time allows and many on the campus want and need some of that time.  Therefore, a balance has to be struck so that staff feel supported, but important administrative duties are also completed in a timely manner.  I am still working on this balance.  I'm getting better, but I'm still spending too much time after school finishing up daily agenda items and planning.

Student discipline can make or break a beginning administrator.  One of my major roles as Assistant Principal over Student Management is discipline.  In this role, I have to investigate discipline referrals, listen to students tell their side of the story, and then determine consequences based on evidence.  In some cases, this is very simple as the student simply tells what they did. At other times, however, a deeper investigation is needed in order to get to the truth.  In some of these cases, there is more involved than was initially reported and extra time is required to sort through the details and come to a fair, but effective conclusion.  All of this can be time consuming and take time away from other important matters.  It is of the utmost importance that discipline management be addressed in a proactive, not a reactive manner if it is to be successful.  I am finding that, the more proactive I am, the less discipline problems I have to deal with.  At present, I am working on several projects with various committees to focus on positive behavior as well as get more parents involved on the campus.  Through this process along with continual relationship building, positive reinforcement, monitoring, training, and enforcement, I expect the number of discipline referrals to be reduced as the year continues.

Have thick skin.  At times, people will say and do things that don't make sense or are meant to be hurtful.  This is even more so the higher up you go.  So far, I have been called or at least insinuated to be a number of things I won't mention.  If I let it bother me, I wouldn't sleep at night.  But, I've determined that, when people say things that are hurtful, I will either listen and let them vent or stop the conversation and pick it up at another time when emotions have calmed down.  Either way, I have to stay in control of myself and recognize that most of the venom is not really directed at me.  I just happen to be the one who is there when it starts.  In addition, I would rather be the brunt of it than someone on staff. 

The more time you spend among kids, the less discipline problems you have.  On the days when I can be in the hallways and the classrooms, whether to observe or to simply interact, I've discovered that the number of referrals go down.  By being out and about, I am able to stop a lot of issues before they begin. Of course, my ultimate goal is to help students learn to self correct and take care of their problems before they escalate, in the meantime, this strategy works.

Listening is a key function of the position.  When I am out and about, I make time to stop and talk to students and staff as much as possible.  Often this is only cursory conversation, but every once in a while someone will open up and share their thoughts and concerns.  In  doing so, I am able to encourage them or maybe lead them in the direction of a solution.  I might also be able to stop a fight before it starts or get a new perspective on a problem.  In the office, I have to listen carefully to students, especially those who are in for discipline referrals.  Most times, they know that they have done wrong, but they just want someone to listen to them.  In doing so, we can often work together to develop a solution to problem behavior instead of simply apply a punishment.  Parents also need someone to listen to them.  They may be having the same problems with the kids that we are and are at their wits end.  In this case, providing a nonjudgmental listening ear may be just what they need.  As a classroom teacher, I didn't feel as though I had as much time to listen as I would have liked.  I had lessons to deliver and results to achieve.  Now that I'm in the office, I realize that, had I listened more, I might have been even more successful. 

Education is the greatest job on Earth.  Of course, I knew this already, but it is even more vivid now that I can see things from a broader perspective. As an administrator and leader, I get to influence the lives of hundreds of people both for now and potentially for years to come. How many other professions can make that claim?  At the same time, I realize the great responsibility that has been placed on me and my colleagues.  I must be prepared to do what is right for every child every day and ensure that each is able to be as successful as possible while under my watch.  What a great responsibility and privilege!!!!

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Do's and don'ts for educators (from 1997)

I found what follows while going through some old file folders.  It was written in 1997, but with the exception of a few minor additions and changes, my thinking has not changed much in 16 years. I still remember writing this in a feverish pitch while thinking, if I didn't get this on paper it will be lost forever. The following is word for word from the original except that the conclusion is written at the beginning. 

"I wrote this list on Radisson hotel stationary while at a PTA convention in Fort Worth.  I am glad my list of do's is longer than my list of don'ts.  This list came from numerous workshops, books, and speakers, etc. that I've heard over the three years that I've been teaching.  What surprises me is that the list deals more with relationships with students than with teaching methodology.  This shouldn't surprise me, though, because I don't teach a subject, I teach kids."

Do's and Don'ts for Teachers

-Expect your students to:
1) Behave
2) Achieve
3) Treat each other with respect
- Try to be their buddy
-Teach your students to respect each other.-Be disrespectful to your students.

Hang out in the teacher lounge.
Treat your students as you would want to be treated. Model correct behavior. Say "please," "thank you," "Yes, Ma'am," "No, Sir."Yell.
Greet students as they enter your room.Talk derogatorily about any student to anyone including:
- teachers
- parents
- administrators
- other students (especially)
(If Johnny has been running around the room, tell their parent, "Johnny has been running around the room." Don't say, "Johnny is a bad child. He is always running around the room."
Learn each student's name.
Call your students by their names.
Be their teacher instead of their friend. (You must be the responsible adult in the classroom)
Love them just as they are, not as you want them to be. (You may be the only person who shows that child love that day)Sit at your desk between classes.
Tell them you love them. (You can say "I love you" nonverbally in the way you treat a child.)
Set limits and consequences for exceeding those limits.Threaten! If you do, you had better be prepared to follow through.
Be consistent.
Think before you speak.
Remember that effective discipline is a form of love.
Develop a signal for getting the entire classes attention.
Remember that what you don't say (eye movements, gestures, posture, etc) is as or more important than what you do say.
Allow your students to make mistakes. This is how they learn.Criticize when a student makes a mistake.
Set students up to succeed.Knock them down when they don't succeed (especially when they've tried hard to please you.)
Encourage more than praise. (Too much or poorly given praise can sound false very quickly.)
Be yourself. Be as transparent as you can. (Kids know when you are putting on a show.)
Develop procedures for most routine tasks.
Practice procedures until they become second nature.Expect kids to learn procedures in one day.
Teach procedures to your students. (You can stand in front of the class with your hand raised all day, but if kids don't know what that means, you are only getting a sore arm.)
Teach the skills necessary to complete a task successfully.Assume your students have the skills necessary to be successful. Review the skills and find out.
Attend student special events such as sports games, concerts, dances, academic games and awards, etc. (Kids may not acknowledge it, but they know you are there.)
Develop positive relationships with your students. Talk with them one-on-one when appropriate.
Listen! Listen! Listen! When a child talks to you, give them your complete attention.
Give kids a chance to tell their side of the story before you pass judgement. (Often, students know they are wrong, but they want to tell you why they did what they did. Listen to them.)
Do what you say you are going to do.
Be prepared for each day.
Set daily routines and follow them.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Teachers as entrepreneurs

I've often said that teachers are like entrepreneurs. Their classroom is their business and on any given day they must sell, innovate, create, inspire, and improve their skills in order to succeed in their primary function, namely teaching knowledge and skills for today while developing life-long learners and problem solvers for tomorrow. They must individualize their product (instruction) to fit the needs of each child which means knowing their children well enough to recognize those individual needs. All the while, they are required to manage behaviors that range from angelic to outrageous. Failure in an area can bring less than stellar results. As an administrator, I must value this entrepreneurial spirit while recognizing that the rugged individualism that goes with it is no longer sufficient. Therefore, one of my roles is to foster collaboration. Fortunately, most teachers have already discovered this necessity and are willing to work with each other for the overall success of the school.  This makes my job easier as long as I provide the structure and environment to allow for true collaboration to occur.

My vison for school (Part 1) #SAVMP

With only four days on the job, I realize that campus leaders have more to accomplish than is humanly possible, but must do it anyway.  That reality is both overwhelming and exciting at the same time.  It reminds me that, as a leader, one of my roles is to tap into as well as help develop the leadership skills and abilities of those on my campus.  In this way, more is accomplished, the burden is shared, and everyone is able to have input into the success of the school. 

Before I can truly begin to say where I see my campus going in the future, I have to step back and take a hard look at where we are now.  At the moment, most of my days have been spent trying to prepare for the return of teachers while ensuring that general procedures and policies are in place to facilitate smooth operation of the school.  One of my major areas of reflection for the next few weeks will be the campus vision.  Where do we aim to be in the next year? five years? Ten years? This is a question that needs to be reflected on by all staff as we work to develop a cohesive vision for the school. In general, I know that the relationship between teachers and administrators must become more collaborative.  There has to be a "we" mentality instead of "us" and "them."  There must be an overall understanding that we are all here for children and every decision we make, whether individually or collectively, must be in their best interest, not our own.  If we ever lose sight of that reality, we will have failed in our calling. I am reminded of a quote from E. Don Brown, "If it is good for adults, it is probably not good for kids."

More to come on vision as the year begins and I can stop long enough to truly reflect on this most important matter.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Why I Lead #SAVMP

Over the summer, I logged several thousand miles and endured numerous interviews as I searched for that first "official" school leadership position.  During this process and amid the quiet hours of driving, I was almost forced to answer the question, "Why do I want to be a school leader?"  I know that the role brings long hours, difficult situations, and often the fruits of our labors are not seen immediately.  So, why do I choose to be a school leader? 

The two main reasons I kept coming back to are the ability to serve in a greater capacity as well as positively influence the lives of many more than was ever possible in the classroom. As a classroom teacher, I was able to serve and support a small group of people, usually one hundred or so students a year along with select parents and a few other teachers.  As a school leader, those numbers will increase.  The direct affect on students will likely decrease, however the indirect influence will grow as I serve teachers as an instructional leader.  By providing the structure, support, and assistance that they need, my overall influence will increase. Plus, I will be able to work closer with some of the students who need extra support, especially those who are struggling with behavioral issues, and spend the extra time needed to help them be successful.

As I reflect on my previous school leadership roles (department chair, committee head, academic coach, lead teacher), I realize that what brought me the most enjoyment was serving others and helping them be successful.  That makes sense as I realize that the leaders who I most admired and readily followed were those who made it their job to ensure that others achieved success.  They didn't always provide answers, but instead helped people to find out their own solutions.  They also provided opportunities for people to face challenging situations and then served as a guide to get them through the challenges and grow in the process.  As I enter into my first taste of school administration, I want to be the leader who does the same as I reach people where they are and bring to where they can be.

Tomorrow, I will officially walk into my new position.  I'm sure that as the days proceed, I will add many more reasons I lead (I already have, but don't have room to flesh them out) as well as some days questioning why I chose this career path.  Overall, however, I expect to continue as an educational leader for years to come and expect that my service and influence will only increase over time. 

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Interviews-from the other side

All summer long, I've been interviewing for administrative positions.  Now that I have accepted a position, I get to be on the other side of the table.  Yesterday, I participated in two interviews for teaching positions at my new campus.  It was different being the interviewer.  For one thing, the pressure was off (in a way).  It was more relaxing simply asking and listening.  However, at the same time, there was the pressure to ensure that the right person was hired.  I also noticed that, inside, I was rooting for the person to do well.  During my time in the "hot seat," I got that same impression from my interviewers.  Yesterday, I hope that the candidates could tell that I wanted them to succeed.  

Looking at candidates from an administrative perspective allows for a different viewpoint.  Just as those who interviewed me had to predict my future success for their district, I had to do the same thing.  One of my mantras is that if the best are hired up front, it will mean much less work on my part in the future and much less frustration for the recruit.  In addition, it's important to determine if the candidate is "highly qualified" based on NCLB requirements.  If not, they will have to jump through a few hoops to get that qualification, which, in turn means more work ensuring that this occurs.  

I am realizing that there is an art and a science to the interview. Picking the best candidates based on just a few points (interview, paperwork, references, portfolio) is not a simple process. I also realize that the results of the interview could be either extraordinary or detrimental to the school.  This is not a task to be taken lightly.  

Ultimately, outside of ability, which is important, I am looking for someone who cares deeply about kids and is determined to do whatever is necessary to ensure their success.  If this quality is present, then many other deficiencies can be overcome.  Without it, there is little hope for success. 

Thursday, July 18, 2013

After 2000 miles and 7 interviews

As the title says, I've traveled over 2000 miles this summer and been through 7 interviews.  Each one was a growth process for me and helped to clarify my leadership style as well as my commitment to this profession and being a leader in it.  Now, after all that, I've been offered a position within 10 miles of my front door in my own school district.  Would I trade the time I spent filling out applications, updating my résumé, rewriting my cover letters, traveling, and spending time in the hot seat during interviews?  Not in a million years.  

I related to my wife recently that for most of my previous interviews (for teaching positions) the process has been very straightforward.  In most cases, the interview was a formality as my qualifications and experience were more than what was expected for the position.  This was different.  Districts have to know that their leaders are going to be able to do the job and bring the school forward from where it is now.  I don't have the track record, just the qualifications. Therefore, the interview process has been both challenging and refreshing.  I've learned something new at each interview and, through reflection, been able to identify areas of weakness that I need to improve in.  In fact, I think it would be helpful to have an interview every week just to stay focused on improvement.  I can do that through reflective questioning on a weekly basis and use my responses as a tool for improvement. 

Now that I am moving into this new position, the time for working and showing what I am made of is here.  Yes, I still need lots of work.  That will never change.  But, each day, I must show consistent growth until I become the  very best I can be at this position and am able to move up.  Constant improvement is the goal.  I am up to the challenge.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

2nd Interviews

2nd interview #1 is over.  I didn't get the position, but the experience was priceless.  It is honor to sit in the presence of fellow educators and be able to speak openly with them.  #2 is supposed to be tomorrow.  However, in the meantime, an opportunity has opened closer to home and it looks promising.  So now I have a dilemma.  Do I focus my time on the one closer to home or do I o ahead with tomorrow's interview knowing that I probably won't take it?  Tough choices. 

During this process, I've also learned the value of mentors.  Prior to Monday's interview, I contacted a mentor and he was able to help me clarify some of my responses as well as model good coaching strategies.  I've learned that, when I'm in the presence of a great leader, I need to take the time to learn as much as possible.  

Right now, I'm hoping that I'm offered the position closer to home because it would mean not moving as well as continuing to make an impact in the district.  I can see lots of value in staying there as I already have relationships in the community and I can continue the work I've already started.  I will still trust that I am going to end up in the right place in the end.  In any case, all of the interviewing I've done this summer has been valuable as I've made contacts, clarified leadership strengths and weaknesses, and am better prepared for the task at hand.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Interview 5 and 6

Over the last 4 days, I've had two interviews.  Both, in my opinion, did not go as well as I had hoped.  I felt as though I was stumbling in several areas, but apparently the committees did not have the same view.  I've been called for second interviews on both.  At this point, I can see several possible reasons.  One, the schools are getting desperate to get someone on board. Two, there were very few applicants. Or, three (and I hope this is the correct one), the committee was truly impressed with me.  I went into these interviews recognizing that, unlike other interviews where I was selling my skills, I needed to sell me.  The committee is not buying a bill of goods ( or a skill set), they are instead buying into a person.  Skills are necessary, but it is more important to have the right person in place. I hope that I can be that person and display the skills, temperament, and work habits necessary to be beneficial to the success of the school and every student in it.  If not, it is still an opportunity to get to round two and see what happens next.  This, in of itself, is an honor and a privilege. 

Monday, July 1, 2013

Interview 2

Okay, interview #2 (and, technically, #3) took place today.  Number two was supposed to be tomorrow, but the school called and wanted to schedule it over the phone.  This was a first for me, but a good experience.  I realized that, when you are talking to people with the same goals, it is easy to talk and share while not worrying about having the "right" answers. In this case, our goal is the effective education of children as we prepare them to be lifelong learners and contributing citizens to this great nation.

Interview #3 was live and long.  Eight interviewers were there and each presented a series of questions, a few of which I was not prepared for.  That was okay because it made me think on my feet.  This was a district that I would like to work for and one that was moving in the right direction.  I was refreshing.  At the end, when it was my turn to ask questions, I think I surprised them with my questions.  The questions were geared towards finding out their perception of the district and to give me an idea if these were people I would want to work with.  Some of the questions included five year plans (which the principal was we'll prepared to answer), what the district motto meant to each member of team, and how the school was perceived by the community.  At the end, I was pleasantly surprised when I was thanked for asking probing questions that made them reflect on their own performance.  I was the last interview of the day and one member said that it was refreshing to end on this note.  

So, from my perspective, whether I am offered the positions or not, it is always refreshing to spend time in the company of other leaders, getting to share my own passion in response to their questions, and then to challenge them to reflect on their on practice.  That's what learning is all about, isn't it.

Now, I head out of town tomorrow to drop in on the phone interview school (see paragraph 1) and then it's on to a hotel several hours down the road in order to be rested for interview #4.  As I've said in previous posts, I know that God has a place for us and I am open to wherever it might be.  

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Interview 1 (part 2)

In my last post, I shared that I was having my first interview.  After a 6 hour drive on Thursday, I was surprisingly awake and focused.  The interview was a blur, but I realized the importance of doing homework. I had my questions ready to go and learned a lot from them.  I also realized that I wasn't prepared for some questions.  This was a wake up call for more preparation on my part.  Overall, while I didn't get the job, I was able to get some feedback from the principal.  She recommended getting more leadership experience and actual teacher evaluations if I didn't get a job this summer.  

While I was somewhat let down by not getting the job, I have three more interviews scheduled next week.  One is only 16 miles from the last location.  Another 6 hour drive ahead.  

Getting the first job is supposed to be tough according to most people. I will just stick it out and trust that the right position will work out.  

One of the things that I realize I need is a network of leader that I can work with, bounce questions off of, and share resources.  I also need to start using social media more as a tool to learn and grow as I follow those who have been there before.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Interview 1

For the past few months, I've been applying for 3 to 5 positions a day. I've called principals and superintendents to follow up with no strong responses.  The normal response has been, "We've already got someone recommended for the position."  On Tuesday, I was completing a couple of applications and happened to return to an opportunity I had passed over several times.  That little voice in my head said, "you need to apply for this one."  The kicker is that it is six hours away from my current home.  Listening to the voice, I went ahead and filled out the application including sending a letter and resume directly to the principal.  I then reviewed the AEIS data before moving on to other things.  About 4:30 that afternoon, the district called and scheduled an interview.  So, tomorrow, I'll be driving six hours for an interview.  Looking back, I've allowed myself to get somewhat depressed at the lack of responses, but now I am encouraged to keep going.  This first interview may be the right one or it may be a practice for future opportunities.  Only time will tell. What I do know is that, with continued experience, I will be a great administrator who helps shape the lives of students for years to come. 

As I said in a previous post, looking for that first position has been a challenge.  Fortunately, I've had several administrators who have been supportive and encouraging and helped me with references and contacts.  I did make one blunder in that I failed to fill out the proper form with Lamar to get my certification.  This has held up the process and may be a reason there have been fewer responses.  As it is, I am simply going forward, trusting that wherever we need to be will be the right place. 

More to come after tomorrow.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Graduation tomorrow

It's finally here.  Tomorrow is graduation day.  This is the culmination of 18 months of hard work.  Now, the challenge is getting that first position.  Sometimes, I think the coursework was easier than the job search.  One of the things I know is that simply having a degree does not make one a strong school administrator.  So, my question is, as always, do I have what it takes?  That is the question that I am certain is asked by many when they are at this crucial turning point.  In reflection, I know that I could have done more during my internship.  I'm not sure I really understood what it entailed.  In retrospect, I would have sought out more opportunities for direct service.  Still, it was a learning experience and I am grateful for that.  I know, however, that being in the office will require adjusting to a very steep learning curve.  That being said, though, I am happy to finally graduate and get my degree.  I'm also thankful for all of the family who are here with me.  It's going to be a good day.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

STAAR (Pre-Test)

It's 6:40 am on the first day of the second round of STAAR testing.  For me, this round is personal as my 8th graders will be taking the Science test tomorrow.  After five years away from the testing milieu, I now realize again the stress that is placed on teachers and students.  For me, most of that stress is from within because I know that the results of my students affects the school, the students, and ultimately me.  The knowledge that the results of my students could mean the difference between acceptable and low-performing is a huge load to carry.  I have a feeling that I am not the only teacher having these same emotions today. 

Fortunately, the real stress is now transferred fully to the students.  I have done everything that I can and it is in their hands.  Now, I just have to trust that they will be able to recall what they learned this year and, more importantly, be able to apply it on paper. 

Quite honestly, I am tired of the testing culture that has been created. Much of the real fun of teaching has been diminished in the race for the testing crown.  While I believe that accountability is necessary, I also realize that we are dealing with individuals who possess different strengths and weaknesses.  Many simply do not do well on standardized tests for a variety of reasons.  These same children, however, shine in other areas and as educators, we need to be providing opportunities for this to occur.  A much better system, in my opinion, would be a measure of overall growth on an individual basis.  Start the year with a benchmark and then see how far the students progress.  Measure overall skills at  the beginning, middle, and end of the year and use this as an indicator of whether real learning has occurred.  Until we take the time to look at each child as an individual, we will not be able to overcome this testing nightmare that we have created.  That is my opinion anyway.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Is being a teacher really getting harder?

A few weeks back, a veteran teacher commented that she felt that teaching was becoming harder every year.  I hate to say it, but I have to agree.  Still, the question that needs to be answered is "Why?"  What is it that is making teaching seem more difficult year after year even though the skill sets of veteran teachers (at least mine and the teacher in question) are increasing.  Is it the students?  I don't think so.  Kids are kids.  Yes, they do seem harder to engage than when I first started 17 years ago, but they are still kids and they  have a natural bent for learning.  At the same time, I have seen an overall increase in general disrespect, but that is simply a reflection of society in general.  Plus, with training that can be overcome.  Could it be the general apathy that students seem to demonstrate?  Maybe, but again, that can be overcome with differentiated lessons geared toward the students.  Ok, then what about the parents?  As many educators would agree, sometimes parents are harder to deal with than others, especially those who have a grudge against schools in general.  Fortunately, those parents are rare and most are willing to work with us as long as we stay in contact with them and treat their students fairly.  Well, then maybe administration is to blame?  As an aspiring principal, I have to say that I never realized all of the balls that administrators are required to juggle.  The pressure for results is huge (as it should be), and this pressure is definitely filtered down to the faculty.  But, again, I have rarely met an administrator who was not willing to work with those who were putting out their best effort and possess the skills to be effective.  So, what about the new standards and testing?  Could they be to blame?  I won't lie and say that this is not a factor.  We are definitely teaching more content at a higher cognitive level with much more critical thinking involved. I teach content at 7th and 8th grade that I didn't really understand until I was in college.  Testing has also created a level of stress that was heretofore unknown.  I have to agree with the pundits who are calling for a reduction in high stakes testing in lieu of other performance and growth indicators. 

So, is teaching really getting harder?  Yes, I think it is.  But, in many cases, it is getting harder because we understand that new strategies and methods must be employed to reach kids and help them succeed.  This is not an easy task.  In other cases, we are having to act as parents to some kids due to broken families.  This is not anything that we can readily change, but it does increase the work load.  At the same time, if it means that a student succeeds where they might not have before, it is worth it.  Stakes are definitely getting higher.  As a nation, we got lax in our education system and now we are paying the price for it.  I don't think high stakes testing is necessarily the answer, but there must be a fundamental change in how we teach and assess.  Finally, as Bob Dylan sang, "The times they are a changin'."  Therefore, so must our education system as well as our classroom methods.  Again, this is not an easy task as it may require a change in the way we as teachers  think.  The days of "sage on the stage" are fundamentally over.  We are entering the era of the "guide on the side" where instead of the teacher delivering content from the front of the room, they are instead coaching kids on how to use knowledge and skills effectively, especially as it related to their own experiences.  For me, this has not been as difficult a change as I thought it might be.  As a Science teacher, it may not be as hard because I have been facilitating learning for quite some time through labs and other interactive lessons.  But, it still takes continuous reflection and changes in methods to be effective. 

Teaching has definitely become difficult. I agree with that wholeheartedly.  But, as the difficulty increases, the reward increases as well.  The great teacher who is called to this profession will rise to the occasion, make necessary changes and adjustments, and, no matter the difficulty, keep their focus on the kids.  They are the reason we do what we do.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Reflections on AP Workshop 2

In my last post, I started reflecting on the recent TASSP Assistant Principal's Workshop.  This is a continuation of that post.

As I mentioned last time, one of my major goals is to improve in the area of instructional leadership.  Sean Cain and John Crain's workshops provided the impetus to get that improvement started.  I was also able to learn how to use systems to help manage a school system.  BJ Paris (www.bjparis.com) gave some great ideas about developing staff development using Google Docs, responding to bullying incidents, school and community communication, and incident command.  Her five step processes for each were invaluable and easily adapted to a new school setting. 

Carrie Jackson of Timberview Middle School in Keller ISD taught attendees the value of using social media.  Although I don't often use Twitter, I plan on beginning now.  Her weekly talks using Twitter and Storify were a great idea for communicating with parents and building community.  She also presented some ideas for how to start becoming more adept at social media including developing norms for school related media to maintain safety, scheduling time to blog and using walk-throughs as opporunities to record and the great things happening at the school, and bringing others along.  On this last point, her ideas included never ever mandating SM use, recognizing risk taking (even when it doesn't always work out), modeling expectations, pointing out the benefits, making it advantageous, and using SM in addition to the standard lines of communication. 

As a future administrator, I hope to be able to use what I learned at this workshop to positively affect schools and bring learning to new levels.  Honestly, the more I learn, the more I want to get started applying it to my practice. 

Sunday, February 24, 2013

TASSP Assistant Principal's Workshop

Last weekend, I went to the Texas Association of Secondary School Principals AP Workshop.  This was the first time I have been to an administrators event and it felt like a good fit.  While I am still in the classroom, I took back a number of ideas that I can apply as my preparation for the move up continues.  In fact, it never hurts to gain as much practical experience as possible.

One of my professional development goals for this year is to become better at instructional leadership as well as what to do with teachers who are not positively serving kids. Several of the sessions helped me to work toward this goal.  First of all, I forked over the cash and went to John Crain's Documentation Training.  Crain's philosophy is that the instructional leader needs to help their teachers improve or, if they choose not to want this or are incapable of doing so, to help them "get gone."  As a leader, I know that this will not be an easy task. Fortunately, the session not only presented solid advice in how to work with teachers, but also provided the forms to help document when poor performance is leading towards non-renewal. 

Sean Cain's session "How to be an effective instructional leader in three easy steps" provided a simple (but not necessarily easy) plan for improvement.  The three steps are simply, Teach (which all administrators should have already done), Observe lots of classes and instructional methods, and Coach.  Cain also pointed out ways to schedule time for lots of classroom observations as well as side benefits of being out in the building, such as fewer office referrals.  While I can't necessarily use Crain's training right away, I can quickly put this session into practice by using my conference time to visit classes and observe teachers.  The good ones should be flattered and I believe that I will learn a lot more in the visits than any book could possibly teach. 

More reflections to come in the next couple of days.

Friday, February 8, 2013

PDAS Training

I spent this week at PDAS Training in Kilgore.  I am now a Certified evaluator.  Going in, I didn't think it would be too difficult to evaluate teachers on their performance.  Coming out, I realize that it is much more difficult than I first thought.  For one, I am dealing with people and lives.  That should never be taken lightly.  At the same time, I have to remember that every evaluation needs to be focused on helping the teacher improve as well as increasing student success.  Less than that is not acceptable. 

One area that I have to work on is wearing my heart on my sleeve.  It can no longer matter what anyone thinks about my performance as long as what I do is in the best interest of students.  As a school leader, student success must be first and foremost and no excuses can be accepted for letting a student fall through the cracks.  Every effort must be made to serve that student.  In hiring teachers, I must find those who have that same heart and are willing to do whatever it takes.  I certainly hope that I fall into that category myself. 

In viewing case studies of teachers, it was exciting to see some great teaching going on at different levels.  It was also disheartening to see some poor excuses for a lesson.  I hope the bad ones were acting.  As a school leader, I have to be able to recognize effective teaching and help those who are not meeting the standard.  This will take some work on my part, especially since I have not spent much time outside of science. 

Finally, Proficient is good teaching.  That is key, especially as I tend to be a person who wants others to look good.  Telling staff upfront what to expect will make that much easier in the long.

Overall, I have a long way to go to be a truly effective evaluator.  I will make some mistakes along the way, but at least I have now taken the first step.