#FF

I find that more and more my professional development comes via Twitter. The professional educators I follow (as well as some folks not technically in the education business, but who write about thinking and doing) are amazing identifiers of meaningful content. From their feeds I see links to articles and blogs that provide me insight, inspiration, and ideas. Among those I follow, there are a few whose blog posts I always look forward to reading. My top three include a teacher in my district, a ToSA just up the road, and a daring librarian across the country.

karneyDiegueño Middle School teacher Jacquelyn Karney’s blog http://mrskarneysenglishblog.blogspot.com/ never ceases to make me smile. A great example of a passionate teacher’s foray into online communication, it is part celebration, part confessional, and part handbook for new teachers. My favorite line of all time came from a post on school projects, when she said “What really gets my goat is that teachers say to use things you have around the house for the aforementioned projects.  We have lots of dog hair, leftover lasagna, and dirty laundry around the house.  We do not have a Costco sized case of sugar cubes, we do not have pipe cleaners, we do not have clay, we do not have lion figurines.” Wit and wisdom in equal measure.

kfWit, wisdom, and technology find a home at http://sduhsdtech.blogspot.com/ my district’s edtech blog, managed by Teacher on Special Assignment Kevin Fairchild. Collected here are smart posts on everything from “Cell Phones in the Classroom” to the folly of “Locking Down the Browser” during tests. Go back a bit on this blog and you’ll find some thoughtful entries from teachers from around our district. Keep up with it, and you’re sure to come away with something you can use.

For inspiration and good humor, I turn to http://www.thedaringlibrarian.com/ whose blog is consistantly delightful and provides me with both hope and perspecitve. Writing from a middle school in Maryland, her take on schools and schooling pushes me as a principal to think, see others’ points of view, and celebrate the great things happening on my own campus.

daringI wish I could make two of her posts required reading: “How to Train Your (New) Principal” captures the spirit of a new principal coming to a school. As a fellow who has done this twice in the past two years, I can say from experience that I’ve always been thankful for the teachers and staff who have brought to life the advice she provides.

Her post “The Art of the Follow” is a marvelous primer for any educator thinking about her digital footprint. It’s one I wish I’d happened upon earlier in my Twittering life, but things happen as they should, so maybe it’s simply my job to spread the word that this is a great resource for up and coming Twitterbugs out there!

Taken together, these three bloggers provide a great example of what’s right in education today. Honest, passionate, and clever too, these voices for hope make my professional life richer every week and inspire me to add my voice to the greater conversation.

#thefuture

photo 1 (1)The topic this week from the always inspirational #YourEdustory blog challenge was to write a letter to my students that captures what I hope for them in the future.

Wow, I thought, nobody writes letters! Would that they did.

I struggled with the topic for more than a few days. I hope peace and happiness, challenges and rewards, successes and adventures for the students at my school. I also hope that they will learn resilience, practice kindness, and never let go of optimism. I hope they will find love and friendship, passion for life and purpose. I hope all these things and more, and yet capturing them in a letter that found the right tone eluded me. My first try was maudlin. My second too breezy.

So I put the topic away for a spell. I thought about it. I engaged in a busy week with students, talking about everything from homecoming to social media. I met with athletes, actors, student journalists, and elected student body officers. I sat down at lunch and talked with 9th graders, visited an AVID class, spent time in the auto shop, and watched a brilliant AP World History lesson.

I saw that the students at my school have all the tools they need to be successful and to have the kind of life I hope for them. I saw the profound impact our teachers have in these students’ lives, and how much their work now can help to influence each students’ future. And I saw that they didn’t really need a letter from a sentimental fool like me, maybe just a text.

So, my thoughts about what I want to say to my students…

photo

 

I wish the world to our students. My hope for them is as great as my belief in what they can accomplish and who they can become. I’m optimistic about our world because I have a catbird seat to the students who will help to shape it.

Needing a Hero

3895Last night my seven year old asked me to read a 1977 Invaders comic book with him at bedtime. Wearing his coonskin cap (faux raccoon tail in our liberal, vegetarian household), he joined me in reading the dialogue bubbles, alternately playing Captain America and the ridiculously vintage Scarlet Scarab, who transformed from a fez wearing archaeologist to lead a band of bad guys against our heroes.

My son has been off the superhero train for a while now, Star Wars and Legos captivating the bulk of his attention, but spotting the comic he’d found at his grandparents’ house, heroes battling a villain in glorious 1970s style, it was hard not to be captivated.

I think that for a lot of kids the notion of being a hero resonates well beyond the Disney Channel years. It’s something I see even at SDA, where graphic novels sit alongside more lit’ry fare in our media center. The students certainly read Ken Kesey and Toni Morrison, but our copies of Ultimate Spider-Man are well thumbed, and I see superhero t-shirts from Batman to Deadpool every week.

As a fellow who taught English for more than a dozen years, I think I get it. In an increasingly complex world, and adolescence is certainly that, it is reassuring to be able to identify the hero.

photo 3 (1)Part of our job as educators is to help students recognize and understand the complicated world in which we live. We see this happen in history classes, where students discuss the biases and points of view of the authors of primary sources, and in English, where teachers help students see the world through the eyes of diverse characters.

As students gain this perspective they are increasingly better able to navigate their own lives, treat others with empathy, and contribute to the world kindness and compassion.

In a very real way, education helps them have the tools to be good citizens, good neighbors, and good humans. At the risk of sounding melodramatic, education helps students have the capacity to be heroes.

More than a Paper Moon

photo (2)The band swung like a gate. Robots circulated through the crowd. Musicians sold popcorn. Artists, actors, and the Japanese Honor Society roamed around the stage. Parents talked with teachers, students, and each other. It was an evening that captured the spirit of San Dieguito High School Academy, and left me whistling “Paper Moon.”

In more than two decades as an educator, I’ve been a part of more than my fair share of Back to School Nights, but last night was something special. With a dash of nuttiness and a little syncopation, the evening captured the flavor of what it’s like to be at SDA, and as principal, I had one of the best seats in the house to watch the show.

Long before I stepped on stage to welcome families to campus, my assistant had put in hours organizing the night. As with so much of what we do at our school, her work, the work of our custodial staff, and the excited preparation of our ASB students, who were on hand to give parents schedules and show them where rooms are, made the event feel easy. Easy only happens with lots of preparatory hard work.

CPJlELEVAAESU3rAlong with hard work comes generosity, which manifested itself in the big sandwiches our Parent Foundation provided for staff before the night began. I’ve always been a fan of providing dinner for teachers before Back to School Night; I think it helps everyone to break bread before the hustle and bustle of presenting to parents. New teachers seeing veterans’ calm and veterans seeing new teachers’ energy helps us all be our best. That our parents provided the meal made it even better.

The song and dance of the Principal’s Welcome came after sandwiches, and this year I did my best to make it more song and less dance. Our jazz band performed three tunes, including one they threw in for me (mastered in an incredibly short time), Harold Arlen’s “Paper Moon.” For those who notice such things, I play the song in the mix I have going  before many of my big meetings. It captures the spirit of being a principal, when a part of my job is making sense out of our Barnam and Bailey World. That our band director and his cats could, and did, pick up the tune brought me a quiet joy.

BTSN 2015-16 066What followed was the good stuff, parents in classrooms, seeing first hand the folks who bring the magic to education. I did my best to move around campus all night, poking my head into classrooms, seeing teachers smiling and talking with moms and dads, grandparents and guardians. The energy these teachers brought to their work, after a full day of teaching, was astounding. Knowing the quality of our faculty, it was not surprising.

What did surprise me was a handful of unexpected (and “very SDA”) moments lurking just off stage. I saw our counselors talking with parents, not because they had to, but because they had a few moments after their own presentations and parents wanted to talk. I saw ASB students walk parents to classrooms, pointing the way with flashlights, and talking with them as they went. I saw a warmth in the parents who came up to me to tell me how their students’ years were going so far.

CPJ3rRZUYAAam3JAnd toward the end of the night, as the sun set over the ocean just west of campus, I saw something that captured my heart and attention and struck me as a synecdoche for student life at SDA. Beneath the sliver of a crescent moon, a dozen or so students who were there to provide direction to the parents took advantage of the parents being in classrooms to play catch on the lawn next to our Mosaic Cafe. They laughed, threw, ran, and engaged in the exuberant play we adults have too little of in our own lives. Some wore headlamps, others simply used the light of the setting sun. They were uninhibited, joyful, and truly part of a special community. They were, in a nutshell, SDA.

All this would have been enough to tell me that our school is a special place, but the students had one more surprise. The next morning, as teachers arrived after a late night, the students organized a breakfast, complete with coffee and a solo violinist. With smiles and words of thanks, the students offered a “Teacher Java” to say thank you to us.

Choice

photo 3 (20)I knew I’d go to North Salem High School, though truth be told I didn’t give it all that much thought. Before that I knew I’d attend Parrish Junior High, though that too was edged out in my sixth grade mind by my concerns about how well the Dodgers were doing in the pennant race.

All of us from Mary Eyre Elementary went to Parrish and all of us from Parrish literally crossed the railroad tracks to get to NHS. Choice wasn’t part of the picture; things just happened as they always had.

During the first half of my career in education, school choice didn’t enter my mind. I taught in single high school towns and worked with kids who’d known each other since at least middle school, often longer.

It all felt familiar to me. Comfortable. Something not really to pay much attention to at all.

Things changed when I moved to a new district a little more than a dozen years ago and to a high school in the Bay Area that needed to put on a bit of a campaign to compete with the private schools that dotted our affluent county. We had a good school with a dynamic principal, and we did well for ourselves by simply articulating the programs we had and the opportunities our school gave to kids. We didn’t get everybody, but we did get enough to keep anxiety at bay.

Existing programs aren’t necessarily enough any more, as a changing world ups expectations for innovation and relevancy. That school where I worked has added, since I left, an environmental program as a magnet for students. Put simply, it got stronger as a school because of the pressures put on it by choice.

I’m in a district now that grants families a great deal of choice, both at the middle school and the high school level. This isn’t because of struggling schools, as in some other districts; schools in our district are impressive academically and culturally across the board. Instead, it’s a commitment to giving families the opportunity to decide what offers the best fit for their students.

This leads to a perception of competition, competition itself not a dirty word.

At its best, a healthy competition can prompt schools to think as dynamic teachers do all the time, giving new ideas a chance and finding ways to help students take their on campus learning to a broader world. At its worst, high pressure competition leads to anxiety, jealousy, and diminished returns.

What then is the right recipe for school choice? If we seek to avoid the thoughtlessness of predestination (North Salem High never got better because it worried it would lose students to South Salem), and we hope to tip the scale of choice toward promoting improvement, not angst, then we need three things: a collegial spirit, a level playing field, and a way to tell our schools’ stories.

Programmatic equity allows schools to focus not on imitating one another, but on being their own best selves and developing cultures where students can to the same. Difference is beautiful and creates legitimate choice which can put students on campuses where they can flourish. Having an amazing arts program at one school and an dynamic environmental science program at another is good for kids, as long as students have music and science at both, and if students have an opportunity to attend either.

Along with opportunity, it’s also important for students and families to experience the positive promotion of all schools, free from tearing down the competition. Phrases like “there isn’t a bad choice” (providing that phrase is true, as in my district it is) go a long way in acknowledging that the differences between schools are the proverbial frosting; the cake is equally delicious. It’s up to site administrators and teachers to tell the truth, and all of us to make sure that we’re working together to ensure that analogy stays true.

Finally, it’s vital to tell our own school’s story. Each campus where I’ve worked has had its own personality and specific opportunities for students. At each school the students who thrived the most understood and contributed to that unique school culture. As we tell the story of our school in honest and real ways, students can make informed decisions about where they want to be.

photo 1The end result? If programatically equitable schools, comfortable enough with themselves to speak positively about each other, use the reality of school choice to reflect, innovate, and improve, then all students benefit.

More than just being swept in the tide toward one harbor or another, informed students can chart their own course, entering the school of their choice informed and excited about their own education.

This isn’t to say that the whole process doesn’t raise one’s heart rate a bit, but done right, school choice has the potential for great good for kids.

21st Century Instruction <100 words

21st Century instruction would make Socrates smile. Focused on solutions and bold in process, at its best it means many minds pressed together to solve, fail, and persevere …not unlike the academy Plato once described.

21st Century instruction gives more choice and responsibility to students and pushes those students to take academic risks, find relevance, and look forward. Unafraid of technology, it uses every means to connect, collaborate, and create.

21st Century instruction isn’t robots, but it’s building them if we need to.

Space


photo 2All teachers know there is no joy comparable to setting up your own classroom. Walls to be covered, furniture to be arranged, and the perfect environment to be created book by book and brick by brick. The experience of thoughtfully designing the space you’ll share with students brings a dizzying happiness ripe with possibility.

I don’t have a classroom anymore; I’m a principal now with a desk and conference table in the office where I hang my proverbial hat. On my best days I’m not in it much, an hour or so before students begin to arrive on campus and a couple of hours after the last bell has rung. This isn’t to say that it’s not an important space. I know that some of the conversations that take place here are critical and when someone finds him or herself “in the principal’s office” I want the experience to be as productive as it can and the atmosphere to speak of kindness.

photo 3This year is my first in a new office, new to me anyway; the walls went up in 1937. While I’ve certainly done my best to help if feel like home, one of the (temporary) defining elements of the space is a pile of boxes against my desk. Moving into a new job midway through the summer meant putting the priority on getting about the business of preparing for school, not interior decorating.

As a result, and a result I’m comfortable with (at least until I get a few days off to take care of it), some files to be put away and books still waiting for a shelf are part of my office decor. These boxes remind me daily to keep my focus on what happens outside my office; there will be time later this fall to straighten the furniture.

photo 1One bit of furniture yet to be straightened, and one that fits my priorities and approach, isn’t yet in my office. It’s important to me as a site administrator to look forward and make plans for events months ahead, keeping the big picture of the year in mind. Patience can sometimes yield great results, and while I have a stack of books and frames tucked under an end table right now, I can picture how great they’ll look on a bookshelf my great grandfather built in 1937.

Logistics mean I need to wait a bit to get that bookshelf in my office, but like the new tennis courts that will open in October or the new science and math building that will be ready in the fall of 2017, I see the benefits of waiting for something wonderful, not settling for something easier now.

What is in my office now is the accumulation of more than two decades in education. I keep the model sailing ship given to me by a student on a shelf filled with familiar volumes. Nearby is a squid mug I’ve blogged about, and on one wall is a pirate plaque made for me by an amazing secretary.

photo 3 (1)I have San Dieguito HS Academy memorabilia throughout the room as well. This is my school, and a place where I’m excited to make new memories.

And because principals are humans too, I have a few special pieces to help ground me and remind me of who I am when I’m not wearing a tie: an oil painting by my wife, creativity incarnate; two framed prints from a book by Dickens, acknowledgement of my sometimes wordy and antiquated soul; and a ferocious clay tiger made for me by my niece.

Scattered throughout are photographs, pictures of my family that smile back at me no matter how my day is going.

The environments we create say much about who we are, and I hope that if someone were to come into my office when I wasn’t there she would think me worth getting to know.