I HATE when people make excuses! I have colleagues who start every conversation with a statement along the lines of, "You wouldn't believe how busy I've been..." or "I get to my office every morning at X O'Clock and still cannot get all my work done..." or "I work until 10 pm every night"....
It is reported that when John Adams first saw John Trumball's famous painting of the signing of the Declaration of Independence he remarked that the picture was not at all how things really looked. The painting makes it appear as though the process of writing the document was a rather routine and tranquil group effort. In fact, the process that led to the formation, writing, and acceptance of the Declaration was a partisan and contentious battle of arguments and clashing philosophies.
Yet somehow, from that crucible of mixed beliefs, disparate philosophies, and vested political interests a document of profound clarity of purpose and philosophy emerged that has withstood the challenges of time and politics for over 200 years and created what can arguably be called the greatest democracy in history.
A similar process has been repeating itself here in Texas. Granted, this process will not impact the world to the extent of the Declaration of Independence, but it certainly has the potential of giving birth to a meaningful revolution of a different sort.
Thirty-five superintendents have been gathering and debating the state of education in Texas. Calling themselves The Public Education Visioning Institute, they have engaged in what one participant called "truly courageous conversations". These leaders of districts - which combined represent over 1.2 million students - have met to discuss, argue, debate, challenge, and begin a push for changes of historical magnitude in the educational system of Texas.
The Visioning Institute was initially conceptualized by Keith Sockwell, past Superintendent of Northwest ISD and now with Plano ISD, just north of Dallas. The Institute eventually gathered support and co-sponsorships with the Texas Association of School Administrators, the Texas Leadership Center, and the SHW Group .
They have been meeting for nearly two years, but their work has not been widely heard about, published, or disseminated until very recently. They have now published what might best be termed a manifesto...a call to action which in some ways can be compared to a declaration of independence from over-regulation by state (and federal) entities. In fact, on page seven of the document they quote Thomas Jefferson's statement about the writing of the Declaration of Independence:
[A Moral Imperative: Why We as Public Education Leaders Must Speak and Act Now]..."not to find out new principles, or new arguments, never before thought of, not merely to say things which had never been said before; but to place before mankind the common sense of the subject, in terms so plain as to command their assent, and to justify ourselves in the independent stand we are compelled to take. Neither aiming at originality of principle or sentiment, nor yet copied from any particular and previous writing, it was intended to be an expression of the American mind, and to give that expression the proper tone and spirit called for by the occasion."
And setting the tone right from the beginning, immediately below the title you see:
"Respectfully Offered by Superintendent Participants in the Public Education Visioning Institute."
A free pdf download of the document is available from the TASA website or from www.tasanet.org/files/visioning/visioningfinal.pdf.
In many ways these thirty-five superintendents are not dissimilar from our country's forefathers in the courage they model by publishing their work. Superintendents work in a highly charged political arena and most go to great lengths to keep their personal opinions hidden from view and their politics close to their vests. There is nothing inflammatory within the forty-two pages, but there is also nothing safe about this document. It is a powerful statement from a group of educational leaders which may not sit well with certain power brokers. It is not unreasonable to say that this document could be a risk to the careers of each superintendent who signed-off on the final published product . But, as one superintendent told me, there is no longer any time to waste. The "moral imperative" of doing what is right for the children of Texas demands that changes be made at the highest levels of educational governance and influence.
Again, quoting from page seven:
"The framers of the Declaration of Independence provided inspiration for this monumental task we have felt compelled to undertake. While making no claim that this work is in any way comparable to their epic accomplishment, we have used what they did to inspire us, as a metaphor to frame our own efforts, and to reflect our deeply held belief in the assertion of Thomas Jefferson that learning is essential to liberty. So in that sense, we, like them, find that we can no longer keep quiet and to continue the injustices the present bureaucratic school system is imposing on our youth and their future."
The true beauty of the document is that it does not dodge, run from, or argue against the continued need for accountability and testing. The document does not call for an end to monitoring student achievement and holding staffs, schools, and districts accountable for results. It is how these results are defined and the means of accomplishing them which are the targets for change outlined in the forty-two page publication.
The Visioning Institute's "Declaration" consists of Six Articles. Under each Article, profound and positive changes to the educational system are outline and specific actions are recommended. Many of the objectives and actions will take significant effort and time to implement. Many will require a re-evaluation and new approach to issues at the upper levels of state governance.
The Six Articles are:
Some of the goals set within these Articles will conflict with vested interests. Others will run counter to traditional bureaucratic thinking. But each has been well-considered, debated, negotiated, mediated, and ultimately agreed to by group consensus.
The purpose of this post is simply to urge all educators (and other visitors to LeaderTalk) to read the document. Then ask yourself what you can do to promote the ideas (and ideals) outlined under the Six Articles. The thirty-five superintendents have done their job. While the Visioning Institute will continue meeting, the real responsibility for implementing their manifesto now shifts to the trenches.
Our forefathers wrote the Declaration of Independence, but it was the average colonial citizen who fought for its ultimate acceptance, defense, and application. Parents, school staffs, PTAs, Lions Clubs, Rotary Clubs, Chambers of Commerce, churches, educational associations...as much of the public as possible must now learn of the publication and become familiar with the Visioning Institute's work and begin spreading the word and lobbying for its implementation.
There are FOUR ACTIONS we can take at this point:
To the extent which each individual can, we should assist in meeting the challenge issued by the Institute's authors on page one of the document:
"Educators and parents have vital contributions to make and their insights and commitments should be utilized. We knew it was time to begin a new and different kind of dialog. We also felt that the only meaningful way to address the issues and challenge underlying assumptions was to define and express a vision, based on relevant beliefs, principles, and premises.
Our urgent desire is that this document be used to begin disciplined dialog, stimulate questions, identify problems, and frame issues that will eventually lead to strategic actions at the local level and in governmental capitols."
The collective talent and experience pool of the readers of LeaderTalk is tremendous. The input that each of you could provide to this "disciplined dialog" would be invaluable to the Visioning Institute's effort. For the best way to participate, do not leave comments here, rather, follow the suggestions provided within the document itself. As noted at the front of the publication:
"This edition reflects a revised document format from the initial printing, specifically including space for reader reflections, questions and recommended revisions or additions. Comments may be submitted to any of the contacts listed on the acknowledgment page."
I know the majority of us agree that the time has come to challenge the status quo and the arbitrary mandates (funded and unfunded), laws, policies, and practices which have blurred the vision and derailed the mission of American Education. This may be the opportunity many of us have been waiting for...
"Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed people can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has." -- Margaret Mead
 Disclosure: The SHW Group continues to provide financial support of the Visioning Institute, but they neither seek - nor have - any input or influence regarding the content of any work products coming forward from the Institute.
 Disclosure: I have had professional working relationships with four members of the Institute, including one which is a personal friendship of over thirty years.
There are gorillas in the mist, and there are experts in your midst.
Has anyone taken a close look at the talent WITHIN your district? So much is made of "outside" experts being brought in, and yet there are some damn creative leaders doing some outstanding work right under the noses of those who should notice.
One of the best mini-inservices we had in this district was led by one of the high school principals. Dr. Jim Vaszauskas received a standing ovation. He was good! Now he's gone - hired away by another district.
Hmmmmmmmmm, Our loss...their gain...
Something tells me we have lots of gorillas in our midst - excellent leaders who should be allowed to conduct in-house inservices. I'm curious, does it happen much in your district?
When you solicit input from staff and then receive it, just ignore it. Toss it in the trash. Make SURE you do not even acknowledge it. The creativity level of your staff will start to dry up. The morale will drop. Future requests for input will be met with derision and a noticeable lack of response.
When consultants take on the role of judge and jury on all curriculum items and give the attitude that they want to hear from you, but then act as if the input they receive is below their superior level of knowledge, a wall is built.
Weary becomes wary and most staffs quickly grow tired of trying to climb that wall.
When any district's central office takes on an air of WE KNOW WHAT'S BEST FOR ALL, there is nothing good that come of it.
Who is making all the decisions? Small committees? How often are the instructional leaders of your district polled...or better yet, called together as a whole to discuss major curriculum initiatives?
And is their input really heard?
Beware the "help" that comes in the guise of initiatives which you are told have have been universally agreed to and you were never consulted about. Beware the consultants to won't make eye-contact, merely nod, and then proceeds as if you never spoke.
A good C&I department can be the most benficial component in helping campus instructional leaders improve their campus. A lousy C&I department is just in the way and is a waste of money.
Which do you have? Consultants that roll up their sleeves, jump in the trenches with you, and get dirty? Or do you have the type that sits on the mountain top and dispenses advice based on the latest workshop they attended?
This is a tough one. Tracy Rosen's post over on Leadertalk deserves some serious thought.
The Toronto District School Board voted this week to create a "black-focused school". According to CBC News, the trustees have approved the creation of an alternative campus environment built on a curriculum of black history and culture. The creation of such an "Africentric" school, according to the Board Chairman John Campbell, is "just one option" meant to help address Toronto's problems "facing young blacks in their school system". He also said, "It should not be viewed as the sole solution to a problem, but should instead be seen as a response to a community request for action."
One of the driving considerations behind the decision is a 40% drop out rate of black students from Toronto high schools. For more direct source information on this issue, visit the Board's website.
For many of us, our first reaction to this news is probably, "What? Wait a minute...This cannot be right." In a pluralistic society which has fought segregation and sought legislation since Brown versus Board of Education, talk of an Africentric school probably should elicit a gut-level-first-reaction that is negative.
Thoughts spring quickly to mind: Gains made will be lost. This is a slippery slope. Voluntary segregation is still segregation. Is this a throwback to the old separate but equal argument?
But what if this is a old concept from the 1950's that might actually work in the year 2009? An old-but-reborn revolutionary concept that might work in the 21st Century? We all know the current system fails many students, especially various sub-populations. Attempts at grouping everyone together have historically led to mixed results. If creating any Ethnocentric School is really nothing more than an attempt to preserve a cultural history and heritage that is perceived as being lost, and building on top of that an educational system more sensitive than the current systems, is that wrong? And if the preservation and promotion of culturally individualistic practices creates an environment that promotes educational success and achievement, doesn't it deserve a chance to be tried?
Aside from the obvious - and many - benefits gained from multicultural exposure, the mixing together of all ethnic cultures in the schoolhouse may have clear SOCIAL benefits, but does it provide the EDUCATIONAL benefits necessary for full maximization of achievement?
Are some commonplace practices that are so ingrained within our schools too white to be effective with a culturally varied population? We might never know unless we allow for Africentric schools to be tried.
Honestly, what drove integration was not so much the fact that ethnic groups were separated, it was the fact that the groups were funded so unfairly. It was separate but far from equal. I daresay that if ALL school buildings, material availability, access to quality teachers had been equal, Brown vs BoE, might have been delayed indefinitely.
If care is taken to build an environment which promotes a segregation based on learning styles but an open integration of social inclusion and acceptance of all races, religions, and cultural variations, then I would say let's take a passive observer's seat to Toronto's efforts and see what happens.
Who knows? If done with sensitivity and proper motivations, allowing students to learn in a segregated environment that allows for cultural variables within the learning process, perhaps the drop out rate will improve, achievement gaps will be closed, and in the end understanding, acceptance, tolerance, and a fuller integrated society can be built. It won't be how we get there, it will just be the fact that one way or another we all did arrive at the same point of equal academic opportunity and achievement.
The ends may justify the means. We won't know until we try.
So I say, Good Luck, Toronto. Congratulations on having the courage to admit that the status quo is not working and maybe a true re-invention of the system from the bottom up is called for. Many of us will be watching with hopes that all paricipants will benefit.
An Open Fan Letter to the Best Weather Team in Texas:
You gotta love the way Texans react to weather - especially cold weather when there's any moisture in the air.
I followed Tracey Rowlett over to Channel 11, the CBS affiliate here in the Fort Worth area, when he left a competing network. I've been watching ever since. And I will continue watching what I feel is the best news coverage in the area. [Full disclosure: yes, another reason I watch is that I admit to having a tiny crush on Julie Balogna and Kristine Kahanek.]
Usually, the large weather staff at Channel 11 has a great batting average. Especially considering this is Texas Weather we're talking about here.
But this last round was...well, a weather non-event. With special dramatic music and graphics announcing Storm Watch! I was expecting some pretty rough weather. I mean, I had to laugh this morning when they started their "special" coverage at 4:30 am. My poor friends at Channel 11 had obviously all been told to be up and rolling by 2 or 3 am in order to be spread from one end of the Metroplex area to the other. So there they were at 4:30 A.M. trying to look chipper, while speaking intently into the cameras and reporting on...absolutely nothing.
Nothing was happening. One camera shot showed a few falling drops in the camera crew's floodlight. 1,2,3,4...there! 5...5 drops of rain? ice? sleet? Which was it?? I don't know...but damn! it was exciting TV!
And poor Jeff Jamison. Gotta love my Aggie meteorologist! There he was out in the boonies pointing his laser thermometer at the grass and asphalt and showing us viewers that it was...guess what? cold. Hahahahahaha...I knew that without the high tech gadget - Jeff looked like he was freezing. But as a loyal viewer I felt it was my duty to nod my head and gravely think to myself, "Wow, the grass is 31.8 degrees. Thanks Jeff."
Meanwhile back in the studio two, not one, but two meteorologists were on duty to discuss the impending weather crisis. Too bad there wasn't one.
I chuckled as I dressed, had my coffee, left at the usual time, drove my 20 minutes from Dallas County to Tarrant County, using two major highways, a feeder road, and finally a city street without incident, arriving at my office at the usual time.
But what-the-heck. I guess I should be reassured that HAD there been any bad weather, Channel 11 was all over it! And so they missed this one. So what? The weather is always making news. And if Kristine, Mike, Julie, Jeff, Larry, and Gary are looking for opportunities to take their toys outside to play, just wait. Afterall, according to them, today was in the 30's and next Tuesday is supposed to hit 75 degrees. The point being that Texas weather is wildly variable and we all know other opportunties to "chase a storm", stare down a tornado, or, yes point lasers and tell us how cold the grass is are just a few days apart.
Seriously Channel 11, thanks for the dedication, but next time your computers mention ice, snow, or sleet...remember this: Don't feel bad about missing a few...No one has ever been able to accurately forecast winter weather in Texas except for the late, GREAT, and very-much-missed Harold Taft. Harold had a rule of thumb that worked then and works now...Channel 11, take heed to this Taft-Tip:
When the "low pressure" letter L was sitting directly on top of El Paso on Harold's weather map, we would have winter conditions in the Metroplex. If the L was anywhere else - a little to the left or right - but not RIGHT ON TOP of El Paso, the winter weather would miss us. Check it out.
So to my Favorite Weather Team at Channel 11: forecast and prognosticate North Texas winter weather all you want. Read your computer printouts and make your predictions. But all you really need to see is where that low pressure "L" ends up. Next time, if it's not sitting DIRECTLY ON TOP of El Paso - sleep in.
In the meantime, keep up the good work!
I mentioned Henry Rollins in an earlier post. I have had several inquiries asking me who he is.
Imagine a Frankenstein-hybrid created from parts of Dennis Leary minus the Yankee Attitude, plus some of Dennis Miller minus the Smart Ass Attitude, plus a chunk of Bill Maher minus the Superior Attitude, throw in a big dose of George Carlin's wit, Mort Sahl's social awareness, and all of Lenny Bruce's dictionary, add in just a healthy touch of that feeling you get when you look at Charles Manson and you have Henry Rollins.
He's an intellectual punk rocker, actor, game show host, political commentator I'd love to sit and talk with for hours, but would not want to meet in a dark alley. He is hands-down one of the most articulate representatives of the...the...
guys like me, I guess.
He's impossible to describe. And that's his attraction. He doesn't fit any size or shape slot you try to force him into, so don't even try. He loves the troops and hates the war. He's the most vitriolic, expletive-using-anger-filled opponent of the war in Iraq you will find, yet he's one of the most requested and loved celebrities on the USO Tour. You try and figure that out!
I regularly record his talk show, "The Henry Rollins Show". It airs every Friday night on IFC (Independent Film Channel). But to see the real Henry Rollins you MUST see his Shock and Awe DVD.
Take note my friends who are Republican and conservative or easily offended by in-your-face political incorrectness - you won't like this guy, actually, you will more than likely hate this guy, so don't waste your time. If you prefer to hide under the blanket of the status quo and pretend all is well in the world, you need to run...run as fast and as far as you can away from this man --- he WILL offend you!
But if you like to be challenged, provoked, and forced to clarify your opinions on hot button issues and current affairs, you will want to become familiar with Henry Rollins. I predict you will soon be a fan.
Here's some sampling to get you started:
Ember of Rage Henry Rollins speaking to an audience in Israel.
Thoughts on Evolution From his TV show - the opening segment called Teeing Off
Germs From his TV show - the opening segment called Teeing Off
As we approach Martin Luther King Day I am struck by the current vacuum of strong leadership in the world. Where are the leaders who provide a clear moral compass and stand on their convictions despite the winds of political opinion and ramblings of 24 hour news pundits?
I miss the style, grit, and "realness" of those who led us through the difficult years of the Civil Rights Movement. Martin Luther King was a leader of courage and a man of conviction. His motivation was never one of self-gratification or personal ego. Martin Luther King sacrificed himself for a cause. Regretably, Dr. King was one of the last great leaders our nation has had for generations now.
Think about the courage it took to stand up to the systems which institutionalized racism. Danger and threats of violence always hovered in the background. There was no material upside - no material gain - to be had from taking the stance that Dr. King took. There was no inner-motivation to achieve power. Dr. King's life clearly illustrates the selfless nature it takes to be a true LEADER of others.
Where are the truly selfless leaders who don't give a damn about polls or opinions of others - who only care about doing what is RIGHT? Where is the voice of moral outrage about Iraq? Why are we only hearing about national tragedies such as Darfur from actors? Who is daring to stand on the stump and point out the still-present inequalities between social and economic levels right here in the United States? When the best we have to look to for any type of righteous leadership are Don Cheadle, Angelina Jolie, Bill Cosby, Henry Rollins, and Bono...well, I respect each of them highly, but something is clearly amiss.
Don't hold your breath hoping the future will reveal a strong national leader any time soon. None of the current candidates hold a moment of my attention. Or an ounce of my respect for their current campaigns. It was sickening how they each tried to use the assassination of Benazir Bhutto to position themselves for personal political gain. A disgrace - all of them. The alligator tears, the outrage-of-the-moment, the whole tell-the-voters-anything-to-get-their-vote phenomenon leaves me feeling empty and as though in a vacuum. Go back and listen to any of Dr. King's speeches. The raw emotional truth of the man's beliefs are as clear as the purest crystal. If you don't FEEL his passion, his outrage, his sense of universal truth in Man's Equality, you are emotionally dead. Dr. King's strength came from his fundamental "rightness".
He was right. Period. And he spoke to that truth - despite the hatred, the danger, and the self-sacrifice it took. He was right. History proves it. His legacy was earned through his message and his ultimate sacrifice - his life itself. Courage. Sacrifice.
Who today comes even close to this degree of leadership?
I need a hero.
I am begging for a hero, a leader who challenges us, provokes us, evokes us, and inspires us to act and find our proper place and role in the Grand Order of the World.
This Martin Luther King Day, spend a few minutes reflecting on his work. Consider that there are no leaders with his sense of moral outrage, his moral compass, or his self-sacrificing motivations on the scene today.
We should all be reminded of Dr. King's greatness and truly concerned about the current absence of any genuine leadership at the helm of our nation today.
Congratulations to Dangerously Irrelevant for flipping everything upsidedown and proving that it is in fact HIGHLY RELEVANT.
To me, it is a badge of honor to shake rattle and roll the establishment to the point that they attempt to shut you up. My experience is that the SYSTEM only gets nervous when we strike too close to home and threaten the status quo. And is there ANY institution more in need of change than our educational system?
"Educational Issue Bloggers" are the peas under the mattresses that are barely perceptible but whose presence cannot be ignored. Effective bloggers (or at least the ones I consider worth reading) raise nettlesome issues and say things in a public forum that might seem a little unusual coming from members of the club itself.
If honesty and transparency are concepts that bother you, you shouldn't blog. In fact, you probably shouldn't even read blogs.
Among other purposes that it serves well, Dangerously Irrelevant leads the way in confronting the ignorant and arbitrary rules and policies that some districts (read that as superintendents and technology directors) impose in a misguided and ineffective effort to control access to the web.
Prior to reading the book, I took a few minutes and looked up my district's testing calendar for this year. I simply counted the days on which some type of testing is noted on the calendar. From "left-over" TAAS tests, to TAKS, to TEKS Checks, to TELPAS and ASVAB...and all the others...
Out of 175 days of instruction, my district has some form of testing scheduled on 132 of those days. That's means there are only 43 days when no student anywhere in our district is being tested.
So, of course a book about testing is going to be relevant...but will it be worth the time to read?
In the case of TESTED, absolutely!
Be warned: it will make you laugh, it will make you cry, it will make you so mad you'll want to throw the book across the room, it will make you want to hug Tina McKnight (the principal featured in the book), and it might just wake some folks up about what really happens in the Real World of High Stakes Testing. For the uninitiated, this will be an informative read. For anyone working in a public school, Stephen King hasn't come close in writing a book that will remind you of what a terrifying environment our politicians and bureaucrats have created. The author quotes one business tycoon as stating, "schools are...constantly mauled by a howling horde of disparate, competing customer groups that would send the best CEO screaming into the night."
As the book opens, it's June, 2005, and Principal Tina McKnight of Tyler Heights Elementary School in Annapolis, Maryland is waiting for her school's test results from the states high stakes Maryland School Assessment (MSA).
When McKnight first started at Tyler Elementary, 17% of the mostly poor, mostly minority students were performing satisfactorily on the MSA. By June 2005 their scores were exceptional (ie 90% of third grade passed reading). The staff holds a celebration in the library. They are reminded of the $1500 bonus each will receive. But for many, the excitement of that day's celebration is tainted with thought of what happens next. Perlstein ends Chapter One with:
"No amount of relief could erase the fact that the clock had restarted that day. The staff of Tyler Heights felt the pressure. They had exactly one year to prove that this was not a fluke."
...and this says so much about the current state of affairs in our schools. Celebrations of successful learning are tenuous at best. Doubts about the validity of it all continue to haunt the staff. What would possess professional educators to even think for a minute that student success might be a "fluke"?
If the system is intact, if the lesson designs are properly structured, if student engagement is consistently taken to authentic and meaningful levels, if expectations are maintained, if higher level thinking skills are demanded by the teachers and the lesson content...WHY IS IT A FLUKE THAT SUCCESSFULL LEARNING HAPPENS?
As you continue to read Perlstein's book, you are taken through the next year at Tyler. Do the teachers really believe the scores can be duplicated? Can the previous year's success be continued? Did the success happen accidentally or was it true that purposeful goal setting and deliberate lesson designs really worked?
Who really needs to be convinced that higher expectations work and that scores will continue to rise...the students...or the staff?
The book is actually fun to read because it is so real without being overly slanted toward one opinion or another.
And it's human.
Every principal will relate to Tina McKnight as she struggles with issue that only another principal can appreciate...unused vacation time, late hours, missed meals, school uniforms not delivered in time for the start of school, and beer bottles left on the playground after weekend ballgames.
Teachers will certainly appreciate the inner dilemma of Alia who wants to be nice again but can't seem to stop feeling like a bitch. Anyone who's sat through a student assembly will cringe along with the staff as the kids dance to music with "questionable" lyrics.
And how can you not chuckle and roll your eyes when in the midst of everything else going on in her school, McKnight is told she needs to be sure and answer her phone before the third ring and return messages within 24 hours. Afterall, we have to feed the bureaucrats something along the way.
Oh, but wait...like any good story, all of the above are merely sub-plots that run through the book. What every educator reading this book is going to understand is that the real story is gradually developing around the mysterious character lurking in the shadows - AYP.
Annual Yearly Progress - that fly-in-the-ointment-devil-in-the-details-potential-spoiler becomes the on-going mystery. It isn't the gains made in a single year that matters. It's gains made from one year to the next. So now that Tyler has had a successful year, they have also raised their own bar and must now show progress even beyond that.
Picture the pole vaulter who jumps 12 feet his first year. The next year he jumps 14. That 2 foot gain is remarkable. The next year he jumps 14'3". While he's maintained and improved, it's only a 3" gain for the year versus a 2'3" compared to two years ago. But you can't compare to two years ago. Does that diminish the accomplishment?
That's the quandary - the mystery of the story, if you'll allow me to put it that way. The jump Tyler Elementary makes from 17% to 90% at the start of the book cannot be matched. So the plot of the book can only go one of two ways: the scores drop and the story ends as a tragedy. Or the scores rise to, say...92%. Does a 2 point rise meet AYP? Is it cause for the same level of celebration as last year?
Sorry, no Spoiler Alerts here. You'll have to read the book.
Parents, teachers, administrators, even students will find the book interesting from whatever perspective and political influences you bring to the table. There's something for everyone here. It would make a great discussion starter for a faculty book study. It's a great eye-opener for potential teachers. It's a peek behind the closed doors of classrooms full of very real teachers trying their best to help very real children. This is no whitewash or softball toss...this is an honest book.
To my colleagues, read this book. You will find it to be either an affirmation to hang in there or a challenge try something new.
It's the perfect book for Halloween. High Stakes Testing is scary! For some the book will be a challenging trick, for others it will be a real treat.
What are the top 10 inventions of history?
Take your pick…here’s Encyclopedia Britannica's Greatest Inventions.
It’s fun reading…I mean, afterall, WHO considers the bikini an “invention”? Anyway, we can always narrow down the lists by imposing some purely arbitrary classifications, ie Foods, Clothes, Transportation, Tools, Toys, Things-That-Just-Make-Sense-To-Have (cat litter and paper clips for example).
If you take a look down the list and pick out some really great inventions that are now commonly used, like, oh, say toilets, clocks, cars, telephones, and computers. And, of course, The World Wide Web, invented in 1989 by
Al Gore Tim Berners-Lee.
Here’s the thing to consider – every great invention and innovation down through history has had it detractors – – – naysayers who stood on the speech stumps and condemned one invention or another as evil, as a tool of the devil sent to destroy man’s work ethic or sense of moral righteousness. And somewhere along the way people questioned every device when it first emerged…
Who needs television? We have a radio.
Telephones are interruptions.
Wal-Mart will destroy the free market economy.
The railroads will destroy the environment.
Flush toilets waste water.
The internet is nothing but porn.
Innoculations will poison the children.
Microwaves will cause heart attacks.
Web 2.0, Classroom 2.0, School 2.0 is all a poorly defined, irrelevant bit of semantic-educationese.
Blogging is just a fad, electronic diary keeping.
Well, gosh darn, Nellie, get down off that four-wheel-contraption, you’re scaring the horse!
I say, let the naysayers say nay. Let critics criticize. In the meantime, time is a natural equalizer. (Darwin, anyone?) A new bit of technology, invention, or innovation will be gradually – and naturally – assimilated into everyday use, or it will wind up over in the corner next to the ChiaPets, SeaMonkeys, Sporks, or any of a thousand other great ideas.
So all the hub-bub going on about the “validity” and “usefullness” of the web, wikis, blogs, and AnyThing2.0 should be nothing more than a passing amusement. Time will filter out the superfluous from the meaningful…and in the meantime, I’m planning to sit in the stands and watch. I figure if something truly provocative comes along I’ll join in the fray. I mean what’s the worst that could happen?…it’ll be like joining in at a Nascar Race…if I get tired, and want to get out of it, all I have to do is turn right.
Since the beginning of man’s earliest attempts at communication, there have been MISSED-communications. Throughout the ages we have become excellent at making up excuses for our missed and mis-communications. Some have become so common, they have actually become clichés - such as “the check is in the mail.”
Here is a quick review of excuses over the ages :
1441 A.D., Peru Twunta apologizes for missing the meeting of hunters. His excuse was that the day the drummers sent out the invitation he was in a deep valley overgrown with vegetation and he did not hear the drumming.
1567 A.D. Shiprock, New Mexico Swift Eagle apologized to the elders for missing the Tribal Council meeting. “The mesa top where I hunted was fogged in and I could not read the smoke signals.”
1864 Georgia Sherman’s march on Atlanta was delayed when telegraph lines were repeatedly cut. Repair men became infamous for saying they’d show up between noon and sunset, requiring troops waste hours waiting for the cable guy to show up.
“Waiting on the Cable Guy”
1881 Tombstone, Arizona Marshall Dillon and Chester tried to convince the rest of the Earp’s that they’d missed the 12 noon shoot-out because the Pony Express message was delayed getting to them. The horse broke its leg somewhere outside of Tucson. This became, according to Louis L’Amour, “The ‘lame excuse’ excuse”.
1973 Washington DC The President proclaimed ignorance regarding an 18 minute gap in the electronic recordings subpoenaed from his Oval Office. While some reports have the quote as “I am not a crook”, digital tapes have revealed he actually said “I am not a geek, the tape recorder broke or something.”
2003 New York City John Doe tried desperately to explain why he stood his girlfriend up for dinner, leaving her sitting alone in a restaurant for over an hour. “There was no cell service. I only had one bar. Honest, I tried calling.” (The infamous “Dropped Service” excuse.)
2007 AnyCity, USA The principal tried to explain to the Assistant Superintendent that he missed an important deadline because his Adobe Reader went down and he couldn’t get the PDF memo open.
I have been operating in my new “paperless environment” for over a week now.As I begin to chronicle my “adventures” in establishing a paperless office environment, it has already become clear that certain issues will need to be dealt with quickly. When information doesn’t really exist anywhere except in a digital format, its nebulous and ethereal nature makes for easy excuse-making. (Too-easy, methinks.)
Already I have learned four things…
#1 Don’t Assume That Just Because You Sent It, It Was Read:
First, I sent an important project to someone. If the project had been in the traditional paper format, it would have taken up several pages, contained color graphics, and been enclosed in a laminated folder. It would have been hard to miss. I have no doubt, if nothing else, the project would have been “in the way” and at least moved around or sent to another office for review. What actually happened is that the email containing the project (which was in a podcast format, btw), sat in the receiver’s Outlook Mailbox. It was not found until someone else asked where my project was. By then, the deadline had passed and my proposal could no longer be considered. Fortunately, the email and attached project was proof I had completed the task, but two days of work were down the drain because the project sat unopened.
#2 Not Everyone WANTS To Go Paperless:
Second, we received a two-page paper survey asking us for input about one of the district programs. Knowing the person who had sent out the survey and wanting to be both helpful as well as take advantage of a “teachable moment”, I converted the survey with Survey Monkey into an on-line format. I sent the address to the original source and explained that if she would simply email the address to everyone, the survey could be conducted on-line and - most helpfully - the results could be tabulated in a number of ways by the software, thus saving her department hours of hand-tabulating a paper survey. She responded with a polite “thanks-but-no-thanks-they-preferred-to-use-paper.” I couldn’t help but notice that weeks after the survey deadline, her department was still emailing district personnel to complete the survey and return it to her office. I truly believe she would have had the results sooner - and already tabulated - if she had used Survey Monkey. (Can anyone offer an explanation as to why someone would actually prefer the hassle of creating, printing, collating, mailing, receiving, and tabulating an extensive district-wide survey with paper instead using Survey Monkey?)
#3 Do Not Assume Everyone Is Techno-Literate:
Third, I had many people in the district ask to see my pictures from my summer trip. I posted them with comments on Flickr. I received a response from a colleague that he could view the pictures but couldn’t open any of the links. (This puzzles me since there are no links to open.)
#4 There Are Some Who Never Will Get It:
All of this simply illustrates that going paperless is going to involve some even-more-basic training of staff than I had originally thought.
Even as you read this, I am working on an inservice training plan for my staff. I’ll post it soon.
 Farr’s Fractured Fictional Fables, 2007, Blog O’Bull Publications
I love Greg Bicknell’s statement, “You can’t dogear computer screens.”
A simple sentence that communicates precisely why I sometimes feel stuck in the split-personality-netherlands between Techno-Geek and Complete-Luddite. While I push toward a paperless office / school environment, I am the first to admit that you will only see me give up a good made-with-real-paper book when you “pry it from my dead cold hands” (thankyou, Mr. Heston, for that mind-picture).
Like Mr. Bicknell, I appreciate a “real” book. There’s something about holding a book that seems alive. It’s not just the characters that live within the pages, it’s the fact that a real book was once a living thing. Imagine a tree that once stood tall in a forest somewhere but has now changed form into pages that carry the words of Hemingway. Somehow, I like to think the tree didn’t mind changing form and places.
Like Mr. Bicknell, I like the smell and feel of a real book. And I dogear the hound out of my books. I have my puppy-ear-bends…little, barely detectable folds. (I use them to hold my place in the book.) Then I have my giant Rottweiler-ear-bends…where I fold 1/2 the page over. (I use these to mark a page with a really great point or idea I want to reference again later.) I also comment in the margins. I stick Post-It notes in books all the time. About the only thing I NEVER do is bend the spine of a book until it breaks…that always seemed cruel to me. I still cringe when I see people in the airport or at the beach with the cover of their book bent all the way back. My rule is: you need to be able to see both pages…if you are bending the cover to a point where you’re looking at just one page, you’re hurting the book - stop it.
But let’s be honest. The true reason that computers will never replace books is that they are no fun to cuddle up with. You can’t fall asleep with an open laptop across your belly, chest, or face like you can with a paperback. And on those cold, rainy days when you’re sitting back in the recliner reading, you KNOW the shape of a real book fits your hands better than a laptop.
I’ll keep pushing for a paperless office, but this coming Sunday afternoon around 2:00, I guarantee I’ll be asleep with a REAL paper book with a fabric cover and cotton string binding open across my chest instead of a cold, plastic laptop.
Why are we duplicating efforts? I don't buy into the idea that some walk-throughs must be used as a "systems check" and others as an observation of teacher performance. I believe we may be over-analyzing the situation.
Trying to explain to staff that some walk-throughs will be used to evaluate the system rather than their individual techniques/methods is confusing, and I believe theoretically unsound. Trying to differentiate between individual performance and system effectiveness is misleading and serves no real purpose. I believe there is a synergy and synthesis within the process which prevents a clean separation of individual behaviors and their affect on the whole system.
As it stands now, teachers can be observed in three 15 minute formal observations, one 45 minute observation, formally appraised every year, formally appraised every third year, have 2-3 minute walk-throughs, and now we are adding a 7 minute walk-through which will be used for either a “teacher observation” or “system observation”. Trying to identify which, will only muddy the water. Do I somehow announce ahead of time that I will doing a “systems observation”, not a formative teacher observation? Will teachers really care? All they will know is that I’m in the room observing. I don’t see that the underlying reason is even relevant.
All observations can be used to gather observations and data on both individual teacher as well as system behaviors. There really is no purpose served in trying to explain to teachers that a given observation is: a) part of their PDAS, or b) an informal walk-through observation of their teaching, or c) an informal walk-through to evaluate school-wide implementation of a given practice. If I am performing walkthroughs to observe the “system” rather than individual teachers, and I observe a teacher sitting behind her desk, I will find it hard to consider that a negative against the system instead of against the individual teacher. My preference would be to track the data two ways: 1) is there a problem with several teachers sitting at their desks? (i.e. it’s a system problem and will be noted as such); but 2) it is also an individual teacher issue and my feedback will reflect that on an individual basis. If we try to separate these actions from each other (system vs individual) we end up with interesting data that still requires being addressed to both the group as well as the individuals. In other words, why do we need to collect separate data via separate walk-throughs? I recommend we use The Dana Center "Look For" form, but I also recommend we simply perform walkthroughs and make our observations without trying to explain to teachers which observations are being used for what purposes. EVERY observation we perform should result in a collection of data that can be used however we want. I see no reason to tell staff what the data for each walk-through will be used for. We have received very thorough training in how to perform walk-throughs. We can continue to practice and improve our techniques and consistency. We can all agree that data will be gathered and used for analyzing individual and system actions, but there is no reason to over-explain and complicate the process by introducing separate justifications and uses between walk-throughs.
All observations can be used to gather observations and data on both individual teacher as well as system behaviors. There really is no purpose served in trying to explain to teachers that a given observation is: a) part of their PDAS, or b) an informal walk-through observation of their teaching, or c) an informal walk-through to evaluate school-wide implementation of a given practice.
If I am performing walkthroughs to observe the “system” rather than individual teachers, and I observe a teacher sitting behind her desk, I will find it hard to consider that a negative against the system instead of against the individual teacher. My preference would be to track the data two ways: 1) is there a problem with several teachers sitting at their desks? (i.e. it’s a system problem and will be noted as such); but 2) it is also an individual teacher issue and my feedback will reflect that on an individual basis.
If we try to separate these actions from each other (system vs individual) we end up with interesting data that still requires being addressed to both the group as well as the individuals. In other words, why do we need to collect separate data via separate walk-throughs?
I recommend we use The Dana Center "Look For" form, but I also recommend we simply perform walkthroughs and make our observations without trying to explain to teachers which observations are being used for what purposes. EVERY observation we perform should result in a collection of data that can be used however we want. I see no reason to tell staff what the data for each walk-through will be used for.
We have received very thorough training in how to perform walk-throughs. We can continue to practice and improve our techniques and consistency. We can all agree that data will be gathered and used for analyzing individual and system actions, but there is no reason to over-explain and complicate the process by introducing separate justifications and uses between walk-throughs.
Wow! Freedom! This is great! Excuse me while I S -T -R -E -T -C -H ! ahhhhhhh
Ya know, the weird thing is, I could have - should have - done this all along...but honestly, as the worth of my last blog grew, as red dots were added to the Cluster Map, and my rating in Technorati rose, I became ego-invested and didn't want to walk away. The downside? I was increasingly frustrated by my self-imposed need to censor my posts. Two reasons: ONE, I was writing as THE SCHOOL PRINCIPAL <echo effect>, and TWO: it WAS a school district web site being promoted as such and being read by students. The problem is that my days as a Family-Friendly-House-Trained-Canine were rapidly growing stale and my Inner-Junk-Yard-Dog was threatening to break out and take a bite out of an innocent by-stander.
It's not that I'm going to say anything I'd regret. But there is a great deal I want to say that doesn't belong on a "school or district sponsored site"...such as my views on Iraq. Plus, I felt a need to be respectful toward my "family" and not trash-talk (too directly) my true feelings about certain work-related subjects. Now I won't feel bad about posting what I really think of walk-through evaluations, rude secretaries, and administrators who never...and I mean NEVER answer their phones or return messages. I'm not into rants, and I don't appreciate profanity, so don't worry about that. But I am straightforward in my opinions and won't feel it necessary to pull any punches.
This is MY site. I paid for it. I even have a brand new, non-school-related email address to accompany this blog:
I'm not hiding. I have made the blog "public", and it is certainly open to discovery by anyone who cares to go looking for me. But I won't be aggressively advertising it. In fact, I will be inviting only certain select friends to join me here initially for open, uncensored access to what I REALLY think about anything I wish to write about.
Thank God for Freedom of Speech.