Wednesday, June 29, 2011

It's summer vacation time, strawberry jam making, working in the garden, baking, cleaning.... all those things that I never seem to get done during the school year. All those things take me back to my growing up days, way back when. Both sets of my grandparents lived a 2 hour drive away. While I didn't spend tons of time with either pair growing up, I do have fond memories of being at both their homes.

My dad's parents lived in town, on the quintessential tree lined Southern street, complete with huge azalea bushes flanking the sweeping front porch where we sat in the evenings in big white rocking chairs nodding to neighbors strolling by, listening to crickets chirp, and dripping sweat in the Mississippi summer heat.

My mother's family lived in the 'country'. In reality, they lived on a huge farm, a commercial farm where I remember long chicken/turkey houses of terrifying and smelly poultry, catfish ponds, pastures of beef cattle, and gardens of epic proportions. Summer days there were fun, filled with work and play, whether it was shelling butterbeans on the porch or playing baseball in the cow dung filled pasture, there was always something to do. When I make jam or my other 'farm' chores, I am transported back to those days.

In today's educational arena, I wonder if we aren't ready to go back to those same days. When I was growing up in Mississippi, school days were filled with work and play, just as days on the farm were. My memories of school don't include computers or air conditioned classrooms. They don't include teachers who coddled us, or parents who came in to school to criticize those teachers for disciplining us when we were disruptive or insubordinate.

Way back then, we went to school, we did the work, we didn't ask why or when we'd ever need to know this. The teacher said we needed to do the work; we did it. We learned, we memorized, we practiced, we failed, we were challenged, we learned. There was never even a thought of being disobedient. We knew any thought of that would be a trip to the office, followed quickly by a phone call home, followed by a swift paddling to the rear.

But school wasn't something we dreaded, or were stressed out about, or tried to avoid. We loved going to school. It was where we met our friends, where we laughed and played at recess, where lunch time was spent eating homemade food made by the lunch ladies who dished out those meals with a smile and a hug when needed. In our classes, we worked hard, but we did fun things as well. OK, to us, they were fun! We made posters; we made models out of clay; we played games to review for tests; we challenged each other in debates; we wrote poetry; we recited poetry and lines of Chaucer and Shakespeare; we dissected frogs and cats; we dressed up to celebrate learning about Mexico, eating spicy food and dancing the Mexican hat dance. Everyday was something new and exciting.

When we got home from school, we did our homework. There were no video games or even much on TV to distract us. There were no computers. If we wanted to talk to friends, we had to call on the phone. But those phone calls were AFTER homework and chores were done.

If we didn't do the work, we failed. Period. End of discussion. We didn't go onto the next grade. In high school when the credits became an issue, failing a class meant summer school..... so in reality, most of us didn't fail. The penalty was too severe. We did what was expected of us, at school and at home.

It seems simplistic I know.....

but what if.....

  • we could turn society around so that EDUCATION was the important factor for children again.......

  • if we could push video games and Facebook and American Idol and texting to the background.....

  • if we could have teachers who knew they were in control of their classrooms, with support of parents and society.....

  • if teachers taught what was supposed to be taught, because those expectations were black and white......

  • if students came to school excited, instead of distracted.....

  • if moving up a grade meant you'd mastered the skills for that level....

  • if school was exciting and interesting, and students WANTED to be there....

  • if...............

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

After much thought, debate, denial and out and out refusal, I have decided to throw my hat into the ring for the middle/high school principal position at my school.

, I said no way.. absolutely not, no way… too much uncertainty, too much baloney, too much too much…. Not for me…

However, we all have our weak moments, our back pedaling, our think it through again moments, and come to different conclusions, even on such heavy topics.

I’ve spent some time talking to others from my district, thinking about the criteria for this position. What WOULD the perfect candidate look like? What philosophical beliefs would s/he need?

As the conversations continued, I became more and more intrigued with thought of accepting such a role. I argued with myself. I argued with others. And in the end, I completed the application and hit SUBMIT.

Am I the most qualified? In some ways... probably so.

I have a unique perspective on the teachers in our district, their strengths, their weaknesses, their abilities to change and adjust. My own children graduated from here with a strong background that has prepared them for the next steps in their life journeys. I've seen the school as a parent, and through the eyes of students. I've seen it all, the good, and there is plenty of good... I've seen the bad... and there is bad to be fixed, as in any school.

I've had the pleasure and honor of working with several administrators, all of whom had different leadership styles- and I've learned from them all. What is that Jimmy Buffett song... "read dozens of books about heroes and crooks, and I've learned much from both of their styles..." Each and every administrator and teacher I've ever worked with taught me much about how TO do things, and how NOT to do things. I like to think I can combine all this information and create a persona all my own in that position.

I know the people, the rules, and what changes must be implemented if our district is to move forward. I know the games, the opposition, and who will be on my side.

In other ways, I wonder if someone from outside our district might be a better candidate, someone who would come in with a clean slate, with no preconceived notions about how it has been and ought to be. But then, I wonder how long would it take that orientation process to take place. It seems we go through administrators awfully quickly. Do we need just one more on the roster? Or would it be better to have someone rooted in this community, who will stick it out no matter how rough the waters get?

I don't have all the answers.. all I have is an excitement.. thinking of the possibilities... of being able to implement a true SHARED LEADERSHIP model of administration... of being able to be an instructional leader to those I admire and value most.... of learning with others as we move forward down the path.

Part of why I hesitate to leave the classroom is the students. They are and always have been, the BEST part of my job. But as principal, maybe I can continue to help them learn, grow and become the responsible adults, contributing members of society I know they can be...Maybe I can reach more students this way?

For now, I have my fingers crossed I get called for an interview... wish me luck.... or think me crazy....

Tuesday, June 07, 2011

Technology is great when it works right but it seems more often than not, little gremlins are sneaking around, doing their evil to make anything and everything go wrong!

Today is our first half day of a three day stint for exams. A teacher called in sick. There were no substitutes available so I said I would rearrange my schedule and sub for him. (Being an inclusion teacher for much of the day, means my time is somewhat flexible, depending on what is going on in the classrooms I co-teach in.) I popped in the missing teacher's classroom to see what he had planned for the 100 minute block of time ahead. NOTHING... NOTHING!!! No lesson plans. NO NOTHING!! (We will assume with good will he was too sick to leave something??)

Class starting in just a few minutes, with 20 6th graders.... Most of my stuff is already packed and put away, and my brain is on last week fried overdrive. Think Pooh, think. A movie... that would be the easiest option. Not educational. Not curriculum linked. Guilty as charged. But honestly, it was all I could fathom at this last minute juncture.

Toy Story 3 is still relatively new, and such a fun movie. I quickly called my husband to run in to me. Projector hooked up, speakers going, movie in and queued up ready to go just as the little darlings walk in the door. They are excited! A movie!! That just doesn't happen and they think it is a wonderful way to end the year.

Movie is underway. All is well. *breathe* Then, the projector overheats and shuts off. Plan B. I quickly race to another classroom and steal back my projector and DVD player which another teacher had borrowed. In the process, I manage to disrupt a class of 8th graders taking their final exam as I drop the speakers on the floor. Race back to the other classroom. Try to get it going. Power issues.. what IS WRONG??? OK, that cord is loose. Fix that. Wiggle another cord, and another. Finally, we have picture. NO SOUND though. hmmm.... When I drop the speakers, that cord must have come loose. Click... SOUND!!! 15 minutes lost, but finally.. we are back in business.

End of class. Stop movie to get ready for next class. What's wrong now??? Oh good grief, somehow the DVD slipped out of tray loose into player. Shake it upside down vigorously until it falls out, but now the tray won't close. Oh for crying out loud.... Grab the teacher's laptop, hook it to projector. Racing against time. Nothing works. NOTHING WORKS. Oh... I forgot to hook the cord from projector to laptop. DUH. Hook up cord. STILL NOTHING WORKS. Starting to panic now.... function, F8. function, F8. NOTHING WORKS. NOTHING WORKS. I officially give up. I call the tech person who gathers from my panicked 2 second explanation of the last hour and half of events that I need her NOW. She races upstairs. Thank goodness, it didn't work for her either... that is USUALLY my luck. She uninstalls, reinstalls, works her magic. Has to restart computer. And then.. success :) We are up and running, just as the bell rings and the next group walks in the door.

WHEEEEEWWWW.... Gremlins. I swear. GREMLINS.

Monday, June 06, 2011

One more of the idiocies of school is final exams. Who decided that giving a test over 'everything you've learned' is necessary. In theory, if students HAVE learned the material, the teacher should know without a doubt the material has been 'asborbed' and doesn't need further validation of that fact. On the other hand, if the teacher isn't sure if they've really learned the material, does trying to convince students to cram all that junk into their brains at the last minute make sense anyway? Good students worry, cram and try to squeeze every last detail into their brains to fill in the bubbles on that exam. Once they put pencil to paper, the minute details dissolve from their long term memory, leaving behind on the real LEARNING that took place over the course of the school year. Less successful students don't bother with studying because they've found their niche in the process and are certain that last minute studying is futile at best. Final exams are a waste... a waste of class time which COULD be spent doing something exciting, engaging and worthwhile those last days of school.

Thursday, June 02, 2011

The netbooks are here, the long awaited netbooks ARE HERE. Woohoo... woohoo.... woohoo...

In some ways, this grant is a blessing. Now, *all* students 7-12 have a netbook in hand. No more worrying about signing up for the lab or computer cart. No fighting to scrounge up the missing laptops off the cart.

Of course, all students did not actually receive a netbook. Those with fines, without a parent consent, or those who choose not to, are netbook-less. Today, the first day for most students, some came without them already.

In other ways, this entire grant is a nightmare. While the grant's name (Broadband Technology Opportunities Program) suggests it will increase broadband availability in our region, in reality, it has nothing to do with that goal, even remotely. The grant has simply put netbooks into the hands of students, grades 7-12. That in itself is a lofty goal, and a potentially worthwhile one as well. Unfortunately, the students I know who have broadband at home, have a computer. The ones who did not have broadband before the grant handed them a netbook, will not have it now either.

Having netbooks at school will be great for many things. Incorporating technology regularly into the curriculum will become much easier. Hopefully, teachers will take advantage of this opportunity to find new ways to engage students in non-traditional ways. Unfortunately, no teaching training in technology integration was part of the program so for many teachers, the netbooks will not change instruction long-term.

For the immediate impact, students are so excited and busy surfing on Facebook, playing games, and Skype-ing with each other, they can barely contain themselves to be bothered with completing assignments. In particular, for students without broadband at home, this is a magical opportunity to catch up with friends who always get to play online.

We've jumped in head first without first testing the waters. We didn't take the time to teach appropriate computer usage, or acceptable classroom rules. Our filter system is yet to be upgraded so it is basically a free for all for students. As the school year winds down, and the netbooks are new and exciting, most teachers are just giving students free reign thinking by fall, the new will have worn off and we can start the school year fresh with a different approach.

I am excited to try and incorporate more technology next year. I just am skeptical until I see all the netbooks come back, in working order. Only time will tell.....