30 May 2006

One Bad Apple Ruins It for the Rest of Us


Medical Equipment by Svadilfari CC-BY-ND

It's allergy season. So, I stopped by Walgreens last week to buy some Sudafed. Not only is the stuff sold from behind the pharmacy counter, but now you have to provide your driver's license in order to make the purchase. I haven't a clue where the records will be sent to or who will be tasked with keeping track of my two boxes. If you don't know, Sudafed (and its generics) can be used along with other ingredients to make meth. As a way to curb meth, sales on Sudafed are restricted. But this seems like a little much. How many people are out there cooking up meth compared to those with allergies, flu symptoms, or other inflammatory issues?

Did you have a chemistry set in your youth? Don't expect to get one now for younger family members. As an article in this month's Wired reports, even model rocketry enthusiasts are going on terrorist watch lists. Want to fertilize your garden? Don't count on having access to anything with ammonium nitrate anymore. "It is illegal in Texas, for example, to buy such basic labware as Erlenmeyer flasks or three-necked beakers without first registering with the state’s Department of Public Safety to declare that they will not be used to make drugs."

Doesn't this seem a little overdramatic?

28 May 2006

Getting the Message Out

There was an article in the local paper today about the district budget woes. Part of it alluded to looking at a school closure (or two) during the next year. I'm glad this idea has been made public. I noticed it on an August planning page for administrators someone had left beside our copy machine last week...and among notes on the white board in the room where my elementary group met. I covered the board with chart paper so that we could take notes, but I was also uncertain about whether or not I really wanted them to notice what all was on the board.

School closures are always contraversial and highly emotional affairs. I'm sure that discussions next year won't be pretty, but it is an alternative we will need to examine.

I have felt rather nervous about the speed with which we're doing the elementary science alignment. We took months to choose things for secondary---we have weeks to do k-5. But if we don't buy curriculum now, I don't think the money will be there in another year. We will have to make the best choices that we can and plan as best we can for sustainability. With science being one thing kids have to achieve proficiency with in order to get a diploma, I know that we will suffer the fewest cuts.

In the meantime, it should be interesting to hear reaction to the article in the paper and other thoughts from teachers as all of this begins to seep out. Maybe it's a good thing it's nearing the end of the school year and we can all escape the drama for awhile.

27 May 2006

Change Theory

I've been reading a lot about theories of change as they relate to education. We have a lot of changes staring at us in my district---some of our own initiation, like the new curriculum materials; others are imposed, such as getting every child to meet the standards. Regardless of the origins, my job is (in part) to support teachers in making transitions. Teachers are people, too, of course, and are often not all that excited about doing something different.

The Concerns Based Adoption Model (CBAM) was developed in the 1970's as a way of identifying different "stages" individuals might be in during a change. The idea is that staff development must be focused at whatever stage is current---until a person's questions and needs about the change are addressed at that level, they won't move to the next aspect of the change. The stages are organized from more personal concerns at the beginning ("What will happen to me?") to a more global viewpoint.
  • Stage 0 Awareness---I'm not concerned about the new thing (e.g. books, teaching strategy, power structure in the building).
  • Stage 1: Informational---I'd like to know more about it.
  • Stage 2: Personal---How will using it affect me?
  • Stage 3: Management---I seem to be spending all of my time getting materials ready.
  • Stage 4: Consequence---How is my use affecting learners? How can I refine it to have more impact?
  • Stage 5: Collaboration---How can I relate what I am doing to what others are doing?
  • Stage 6: Refocusing---I have some ideas about something that would work even better.

As I think about moving toward using a standards-based curriculum, I have teachers across all of these stages. One of the ones I work with is annoyingly stuck in Stage 3. But now that I recognize this, I know I just need to sit down with him and spend some time talking about organizing things for this new way of teaching. He knows there are different expectations---he meets regularly with other teachers to talk about them---but nothing changes in the classroom. So, I'm planning (plotting?) now to get him to Stage 4 by the end of September.

The Southeast Educational Development Laboratory has lots of newly revised tools for using CBAM. I think that these could be very helpful as I continue to work with teachers, because until I can work with them on addressing their needs, the classroom needs of kids will also be wanting.

26 May 2006

Good Juju

Okay, so I'm not really superstitious. But I have to tell ya', whenever I wear a certain pair of earrings, it doesn't rain. There must be some good juju there. I'd take a picture and display them, but I don't want to cause any riots. Everybody would want a pair. Anyway, we needed something extra our our side today because it was supposed to be rather stormy most of the time.

I took my kiddos on a field trip to the zoo today. We had a good time and I learned some new things today. There was an elderly couple that I met while watching the Siamangs. One of the animals came up to the glass and put her hand against it to meet up with the palm of the woman. It was obvious the ape recognized her. A bit further down were the orangutans. Again, one of the females followed her along the glass and sat down while the woman showed her several different sparkly objects. The couple spends a lot of time at the zoo, apparently, and so the animals know them and enjoy the communication.

I watched fruit bats respond in a Pavlovian way to a light cue...and then have some territorial behaviour displays around the food.

I heard a 3-year old remark "Holy shit! That's a big bear!" to his mother...who was unfazed.

And I saw former students during each ferry ride. They were fun to chat with and catch up as to where their lives were leading. I'm always so proud of them.

It wasn't until the ride home that I realized that this was it: the last field trip I will organize and take with kids for awhile. And then I figured out that I have 17 days left in the classroom. Out of the 2700 (roughly) of my career, I will soon be down to single digits. Holy s..! Well, you get the idea. Thank goodness for all of the favourable juju over the last 15 years. I hope there's plenty more in the tank for the next 15.

25 May 2006

Stepford Teachers in the Open Space

I really like working with elementary teachers. I know I've talked about that here before, but I continue to be greatly impressed with the thoughtfulness and purposeful way they approach their craft.

Of course, it could also be that I have the "cream of the crop" working on developing and strengthening our elementary science program. Are there such things as "Stepford Teachers"? Really, I don't care, either way---it's just refreshing and energizing to be with them.

Today was the second day of our k-5 alignment work. I have a little anxiety over the plans we've made---not because they are bad, but because it means selling a whole lotta change to people. I know I've got excellent sales staff on hand with this group. I also know that not many people are interested in change and that most teachers are already overwhelmed. We're going to have to use a little bit of snake oil with this one. In addition to my heartburn, I also have a lot of excitement over this plan. It really seems to be the right thing for kids. It's hard to argue with that.

The Boss Lady sent out some information recently on "Open Space Meetings." I have had very little time or focus recently to read further about the topic. The principles did catch my eye:
  • Whoever comes are the right people.
  • Whatever happens is the only thing that could happen.
  • Whenever it starts is the right time.
  • When it's over, it's over.

I invited hundreds of elementary teachers. The five who came are the right five for this task. The direction we're headed seems to be the best choice for things that could happen. Timing is still unresolved. I will say that they started talking and planning before I'd even finished setting up and "officially" beginning facilitation---they aren't into breaks or lunch. They don't know what "over" means at this point. I didn't start out this process with an "Open Space" philosophy, but it seems to fit the way things are going. So, I'll take a Zantac and just go with the flow. Stepford doesn't seem like such a bad place to be.

24 May 2006

Oopsy-Daisy...

...or "How not to be graceful."

It's no secret to regular readers here that there are changes in the wind for my district. However, when I hear/read something that is not said to be confidential and involves another person (or department), my assumption is always that the other person already knows this information.

Wrong assumption this time.

On Saturday, the Boss Lady told me that it would be "prudent" if our library services were located in the same place as the science kits and media. After all, they will be in charge of circulation.

When I mentioned this yesterday after a meeting with one of the library people, it was all brand new to her. And let me tell ya', that staff ain't too happy right now.

We met again today, and even though the Boss Lady is out of town, it turns out that the meeting planned for today was to talk to the library people about moving. So, they would have heard it anyway...and not from the Boss Lady (which is where it should have come from, I believe). Anyway, I feel bad about disrupting their little world, even if that wasn't my intention. I just couldn't imagine that the Boss Lady would say that they could be moving without at least discussing it with them first.

The Boss Lady's Gal Friday said that the Boss Lady had tried to have the conversation in her own way, but the library people didn't pick up on things. I guess she should have been more obvious with her thinking.

Too late now. The cat's outa the bag...and not in the most hospitable fashion. But we'll all have to make the most of things as they are. There are going to be changes for all of us. We can either be proactive and help with the planning or just let it roll over us.

Where is that cheese, anyhow?

23 May 2006

The Collective Wisdom

I had not one...not two...but three command performances today at the weekly gathering of admins.

The first was to deliver some news about elementary science. Before I spoke to them, I watched in both horror and awe as the admins went on and on about the district plans for writing. It was lovely to see a group so focused and single-minded about something---but terrifying that they didn't see it as the "wrong" thing. Have they seen their school and district data...and picked up on the fact that math and science are at the bottom and need attention? Have they heard about NCLB and AYP...and noticed that "writing" is not part of those?

These meetings are always running behind, which means that agenda items like me get squished. So, here was the one and only chance I've ever had to talk with elementary admins...and I ended up with 3 minutes to do it. I did my best and moved over to the other side of the partition, where the secondary admins awaited.

First up, an update on summer school information. Admins do love to get caught up in the details, so by the time we waded through that, I only -5 minutes (they were already 10 minutes past their scheduled ending time) to update them on all the wonderful things that we've done with junior high science this spring. And when they saw it, they loved it...and we had no time to talk about it.

There has to be a better way to manage communications in a district this size. We think we're small, but we aren't. We believe that buy-in and stakeholders and input gathering is crucial, but decisions never get made and courses remain clouded. We think that quality staff will wait around out of the goodness of their hearts for the district to listen to them and use their talents, but in the meantime, they find jobs elsewhere. I do have my doubts about the collective wisdom at times.

22 May 2006

Another Reason for a Strong Math and Science Program

Donald Rumsfeld is briefing George Bush in the Oval Office. "Oh and finally, sir, three Brazilian soldiers were killed in Iraq today."

Bush goes pale, his jaw hanging open in stunned disbelief. He buries his face in his hands, muttering, "My God...My God."

"Mr. President," says Rumsfeld, "we lose soldiers all the time, and it's terrible. But I've never seen you so upset. What's the matter?"

Bush looks up and says..."How many is a 'Brazilian'?"

20 May 2006

Other Duties, As Assigned

Ah...the phrase most educators dread: "...other duties, as assigned." It's kind of the escape clause in the contract for the employer, although it certainly doesn't give them free rein on your role.

It is Saturday, but the Boss Lady is at work and her e-mails have me scratching my head a bit. Will I be doing the mentor program...or not? Will I be running the science kit center? And apparently I'm being moved to another part of the building...instead of up to the center. It's all sounding a bit odd. That coupled with the other various bombshells dropped yesterday should make for an interesting week of gossip while the Boss Lady is on holiday next week.

Considering that I don't have an official job description now, "other duties, as assigned" is looking like it's going to be my main thing next year.

19 May 2006

Anarchy in Curriculum

This week, the Reading Specialist was offered a job teaching kindergarten in a nearby district. She had applied for it, feeling ineffective in Curriculum and missing the work with little kids.

Yesterday, the person I've been working wth on getting the new science kit center up and running interviewed for an elementary principal position in our district. If she doesn't get that one, she will be looking at another in the same district as the Reading Specialist.

The Math Specialist was recruited by the nearby district yesterday. There is a specific job they want her to apply for---actually at the same school where the admin position will be for the other gal. We also found out today that there will be no money to support math and science curriculum at the elementary level, which means that this very gifted teacher will no longer have access to classrooms. Seems like a no-brainer that she'll go elsewhere.

Gotta wonder what The Boss Lady is thinking.

18 May 2006

Short-timers' Syndrome

I admit that I had been dreading today for some time. This was my day to work with eighth grade teachers on their curriculum maps. During the last few years, eighth grade teachers have been the group I've struggled to engage with any of our district initiatives. I did have one along for the ride today---he brought a bit of grading to do while we started our meeting and had precious little insight to share along the way. But then, why should he buy in? He only has one more year and will then retire.

How do we get more teachers at the end of their careers to make a significant effort? It's not that I don't understand the temptation of staying in one's comfort zone...if there's a bunch of changes about to start happening around you and you only have one more year, why not just do what you've always done?

I (foolishly) hope that they'll take a long-range view from the standpoint of the kids. Not only are they held accountable for the information, but they deserve to have a rich experience.

Whose class would you rather be in: Mr. Nearly-Retired's who provides you with a report to write about a volcano or Mr. Other-Teacher's, who asks you to write a real estate ad "spinning" the info on an area with volcanic activity in order to get people to move there? Would you rather whip out the clay and make a representation of Mt. St. Helens---or would you prefer to use materials to model lava flow and make predictions?

We have a saying in Curriculum: "Students can do no better than the assignment they're given." I have a distinct feeling that kids in Mr. N-R's class are not only bored out of their minds, but haven't any high expectations to meet. Will I figure out how to change this next year? I hope so. Gotta try, anyway.

17 May 2006

Just Say "No," to Recess

With all of the recent accountability issues and other changes to the American eduscape, recess is taking a beating. There's no more time to let kids be kids...there's too much math and science and reading and writing to learn. Kids will have to learn and practice their social skills some other opportunity.

Want to get involved in making sure that kids have time to play? Check out the resources at Rescuing Recess for some ideas on how to give your support.

16 May 2006

Juggling

One of the things I miss about teaching junior high is that the school year would gently roll to a close. High school---and now Curriculum---are not like that at all. It's a scramble to the finish line. Between elementary science, secondary science, as summer seminar commitments, my plate feels a little full these days.

I did spend a couple of hours this morning with our current mentor program coordinator. I have a much broader sense of what those duties will entail---and how that will be one more ball to keep in the air next year. Here is what is already going to be juggled:
  • New science kit center to set up and maintain for grades k - 6
  • Provide two 8-week rotations of science kits to grades k - 5, including some new materials
  • Implement curriculum mapping for grades 6 - 9
  • Develop "cadre" model of staff development in math and science (3 meetings per year; 1 rep per grade level per school)
  • Full year science for grades 7 - 9 at all schools for all students
  • New curriculum materials for grades 6 - 9
  • New facilities for science at two junior highs
  • Professional development offerings for k - 6 teachers
  • Science notebook development and integration for grades k - 6
  • Trimester grade level meetings for grade 7 - 9 alignment work
  • Development of common assessments for grades 7 - 9
  • Program revision for alternative schools
  • Investigate remediation opportunities for high school students who don't meet the standards in science

The mentor responsibilities will include

  • Weekly 30-minute observations of new teachers during the first quarter of the year
  • Weekly e-mail communication to new teachers and their mentors
  • Monthly meetings with all new teachers
  • Summer training for the induction program

And more goodies. I won't be bored next year.

14 May 2006

Advice from the Boss Lady

I talked with the Boss Lady on Friday about my continuing struggle to help teachers focus on student learning. Right or wrong, I think this is the most essential component to making change happen in the classroom for all students. I don't really care if teachers ascribe to a constructivist model or adopt an inquiry stance or consistently use brain-based strategies. There are lots of things out there that can help students learn and I know that teachers need to find models that work best for both their students and them. The problem right now is that most of the teachers I work with---especially at the secondary level---are only considering what model supports teaching alone.

The Boss Lady suggested that I put the issue back to teachers in the form of "What would you like me to look for when I visit your classroom?" Keep in mind that this is not meant as an evaluative situation, but rather as a way of coaching instruction. Will teachers say the "right" answers but not internalize them? In visiting their classes and seeing the disconnect between what they say and what they do, will we then be able to have the kinds of conversations that might lead to change?

Most of what I'm reading these days seems to support the idea that there has to be a change in practice prior to a change in beliefs. Maybe I just need to pick a few instructional strategies and convince them to give them a whirl...have them collect some student work...and then look at it with them. Whatever happens, I need to find some way to move their thinking into the "student learning" realm. I'll give the Boss Lady's advice a try.

13 May 2006

Mentoring n00bs

Part of my job three months from now will be organizing a program to mentor teachers new to the profession...that is, if we hire any. I'm doing a bit of reading and came across this quote from Fran McDonal's Study of Induction Programs for Beginning Teachers:
"It is a truism among teachers and especially teacher educators that within the first six months of the first experience of teaching, the teacher will have adopted his or her basic teaching style. Experience indicates that once a teacher's basic teaching style has stabilized, it remains in that form until some other event causes a change, and at the present time, there are not many such events producing change. If the style adapted is a highly effective one and is the source of stimulation and continuous growth, there would be no probem. But if teachers abandon their ideals and become cynical, see management at any price as essential, constrict the range of instruction
alternatives they will try or use; if they become mediocre teachers or minimally competent, then the effect of the transition period on this is a major concern and a problem that needs direct attention."

This quote generates a lot of questions for me. Are there any data to support these "truisms"? Does a strong teacher induction program (i.e. mentoring) really have that strong of an influence on what happens during the first six months? What sorts of "changes" help those who are set in their ways adopt a new style of classroom teaching?

When I think about my time at my current school, there haven't been many brand new teachers. It's been a really long time since I've had any conversations with newbies or thought about what tools teacher education programs are putting in their hands. Are today's teachers any better to prepared the challenges of standards-based education for all students than I was fresh out of college? I really hope the answer is "yes," but I also feel like most of what you learn about teaching happens when you finally have a classroom of your own. It's on-the-job training and somehow, I have to find my own way to support that.

Of course, most of our new teachers these days are not new to adulthood. Many of them have chosen teaching as a second career and will have a wealth of life experience to bring to the table.

I meet with the current coordinator of the mentor program on Tuesday. I know she'll have a lot to share and we'll see what I can do to make things my own. Hopefully, I'll be able to model some flexibility and "continuous growth" in this new role.

12 May 2006

Obstetricians in Training

Several years ago, I had a kid tell me how his mom had to go see the obstetrician at Costco. And while I don't doubt that big box stores may someday get around to making those sorts of services available, what the kid really meant to say was that his mom had seen the optician. That's a whole different ball game, honey. We got it straightened out.

My AP kids are now done with the Curriculum and we have some room in our schedule for other pursuits. For several years now, that has included a "naughty bits lab," which consists of dissecting uteri from pregnant cows. The kids were so excited (and silly) yesterday, that they just had to get out their camera phones once the "babies" had been delivered. Awwww...aren't they cute?


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11 May 2006

How the Other Half Works

Have I mentioned how much I like working with elementary teachers? Every experience I've had doing so this year has been extremely positive and energizing. Today was no exception.

I had five brave souls start the process of our k-5 science alignment today. It is going to be a mammoth task. The biggest realization for my group today is that if we use the same curriculum (FOSS kits) in coming years, that it won't help kids meet standards in grades 4 or 5. With the changes in kit delivery happening in a few short months, we don't have a lot of time to make recommendations. This group is committed to doing the job right, be as considerate as possible of other district initiatives and build the best possible program for our students.

There are lots of big questions that go around all of this. How will we best communicate changes to teachers? What would happen if we don't have very much science taught next year while we make changes? We're going to need to do a significant amount of professional development---what will that look like?

Even with all of the headaches which will ensue with this project, it's still incredible to have this elementary group be so enthusiastic. They worked hard today---didn't even want to take a lunch break and I could hardly get them to leave at the end of the day. This is such a difference from Tuesday and the "me, me, me" group I had. I have to say that I have great admiration for how the other half (the one I had today) works.

10 May 2006

Trend-setting Subterfuge

I don't know if you've read or otherwise noticed this, but math and science scores for students around the United States aren't so hot. There are still way too many Johnnys out there who can't read, but far more of them can't use numbers or think scientifically about problems. My distict is not an exception to this.

For four years now, we have had "coaches" for most of our elementary schools. The model is based on Cognitive Coaching and really has been a powerful form of staff development for teachers who have taken advantage of having a coach in their building. Scores have seen a dramatic increase. The only problem is that all but one of the coaches has been designated for literacy goals. The math specialist and I are further mystified by the actions of our Boss Lady...who has not only asked the one and only math coach to move to literacy, but who has bought into the idea that coaches should work only in the area of writing.

Writing? That's something not required for schools to test in (let alone make AYP) under NCLB. Why are we spending our precious (and ever shrinking) resources on an area that doesn't "count"? Don't get me wrong, writing is an extremely important skill to have...but we're not hurting too badly in that area. It seems odd that in a "data-driven" organization...one which reads "The Tipping Point" and "The World is Flat"...that math and science instruction are not a primary concern. We have asked the Boss Lady about this and haven't received much in the way of answers, except for an indication that principals want the coaches to be used for writing.

So when the district sent out an invitation to participate in a web-based survey about how our resources are used (the district is receiving some additional grant money from the state for next year), you can imagine what I wrote in the "comments." I mentioned this to the math specialist, who passed it along to the math coach whose job will be no more. I talked with the other science person. When the group of teachers I was working with yesterday asked me why we have no science specialists for elementary, I suggested they provide that feedback when they take the survey.

Will our comments make any difference? Probably not. But at least we will have used another forum to voice them. Perhaps the accumulation over time will turn things toward our direction and get kids the support where they need it most. We'll just keep asking.

09 May 2006

Guess what? It's about them.

I worked with ninth grade teachers today to develop the map of their standards. There was a volunteer to represent each school. It was a bit of a motley crew. One is a "short-timer." He's only working one more year and will retire. He was completely suspicious of the whole process today---assuming that this was some sort of district directive and that nothing they did would matter. I have no doubt that he experienced something like that in the past, but he just couldn't hear that we were meeting at the request of science teachers across the district to develop some common language and documents. My second teacher doesn't teach regular physical science (he does have the "honors" version). The third does lots of flashy demos for kids (which they love), but develops no concepts or connects the demos to content. And the last is a high power teacher who is also focused on his bag of tricks.

I repeatedly beat my head against the wall today...trying to get them to understand one thing: what happens in the classroom is not about you. It's about kids.

I don't mean to make that sound as if they are unprofessional or uncaring. They enjoy teaching. They just don't put much of any thought into whether or not the kids have learned anything. When I would ask, "What will you see if students have learned this standard?" they looked at me like I'd just spoken something in Swahili. And it wasn't just the educationese. They had genuinely never thought about things in those terms. "Why would anyone care about looking for evidence of learning? I covered the material. If they didn't get it, it must not be my fault."

By the end of the day, we'd at least accomplished some things. They had laid out the year and identified what would be important to communicate to teachers about one standard (there are 7 or 8 more that I'll have to drag them through). They liked the work. They agreed it's important and that we should continue. But how will I ever get them to stay focused on student learning?

From that perspective, I guess it really is about them (the teachers). If it is my task to coach them to proficiency with standards-based curriculum, then I am going to have to keep working on additional ways to help them make the shift. Because even from my viewpoint, it really is about the kids.

08 May 2006

Whew...We Made It

The Exam was today. The big one that's for all the marbles: the 2006 AP Biology Exam, brought to you by the College Board.

I met the kids starting about 6:45 in our cafeteria to get them a bit of breakfast, deal with some last minute questions, and get them on the bus to the testing site. The bus was supposed to pick them up at 7. It was late, which worked out well since two of my charges had yet to arrive.

The last kid didn't arrive quite late enough. She showed up in the cafeteria about 7:10 to tell me that she didn't think she wanted to take the test. I don't think this was really true---although I have no doubt she had some nerves to deal with. If you don't want to take the test, you show up for class later in the day or not at all. You don't show up just before the bus leaves and claim you've changed your mind. The other kids and I reminded her that she had nothing to lose by trying---just go and do it. And she did.

I next saw them at noon. We had arranged to meet for lunch and pat ourselves on the back for a job well done. As always, they looked like they'd been hit by a bus, but they were otherwise doing all right. We had accurately predicted which lab would be the source of one of the free response questions, so they felt really good about that. It'll be a long wait until August to see the scores.

The next AP Bio teacher is already making plans and I am ready to hand off the program. Last year, I really had a lot of ambivalence over the reduction in my teaching day. This year, I am comfortable with the elimination of it. There are wonderful opportunities for me in Curriculum and I know that it will serve future AP students well to have a teacher who can give them more attention. We'll all come out ahead.

07 May 2006

Why Have One When You Can Have Seventy-five?

The Oregonian is reporting that a high school in Beaverton has 75 Valedictorians this year. Apparently the school district gave each school a lot of latitude in applying a new grading system for selecting valedictorians. One school has a singleton...another has 75.

Some say that the idea of recognizing an outstanding academic student is outmoded. In today's world of over-emphasizing self-esteem, some claim that it hurts the feelings of other graduates when they don't get that level of attention at the ceremony. Others claim that excellence deserves to be lauded...rewards for modeling high achievement in any form should be available.

It sounds like the Beaverton school district is going to continue to have valedictorians. But next year, there will be a single district policy for the identification of the top grad.

06 May 2006

They Came...They Saw...They Studied

My students stopped by this afternoon for a few hours of comaraderie, copious amounts of Wheat Thins, and some last minute biology.

I will miss working with students of my own next year, no matter how many classrooms I visit. Their energy and positive outlook is always refreshing---especially when I can think of adults I know who have nothing but hate and misery in their hearts. It's so good to see kids...the future...that has hope and possibility.

How will they do on Monday? It's a guessing game. Six of the eight have a very good shot at a three or better. But I have known students who could have easily done well on the test and just didn't perform well...and others I was sure wouldn't "pass," and did.

We are looking forward to our celebratory lunch on Monday. We all deserve a reward.

Preparing for the Onslaught

The AP Bio Exam is bright and early Monday morning. My kids are (finally) starting to get a little panicky about taking it, so I'm having an open study session at my place this afternoon to calm their nerves and see what final pieces of advice I can dispense.

In previous years, I did a much more intensive review session, but I hadn't planned on one for this year because my students are very independent and introverted. The idea of a "group" event didn't seem to be one they would cotton to; however, earlier this week, the kids were asking if we could do something over the weekend, and I have hastily made some invitations.

This morning, I need to arrange for some snacks and get the place straightened up a bit. I hope I remembered to bring home the "right" sorts of materials for the review. If not, it should still be all right. Today is more about building up confidence than learning. Better to have them here together than stewing alone at their homes.

04 May 2006

Reality Can Be a Bummer

My district is starting to have to face a lot of hard budget issues. The Supe sent out his letter last week and things haven't gotten any rosier since then.

So what do you choose: have a fine arts program or librarians? School nurses or secretaries? Do you buy books for students or athletic equipment? Who gets the fun job of suggesting that a school (or two) be closed?

Over the years, lots of things have been trimmed from the budget. We've protected as many programs as we can, but they are starting to realize that moved up on the list of cuts due to the loss of so many others.

Things look bleaker in years to come. There's declining enrollment, more demands from the government, and we have to make some ugly choices. The current one deals with instructional materials. We found out today that there will only be $300K for k-12 materials. The new science adoption for grades 6 - 9 will be $225K. Will we get the needed books for next year? Will math? What about other grades and subject areas?

Not everything will be a loss. It appears that I will be gaining two more Boss Ladies next year. I don't know if I like this idea yet. I suppose I need some time to get to know them and see what their values and plans are.

Next year's gonna be a whole lot different. There's no escaping that reality.

03 May 2006

A Man and His Tapeworm

For the love of Mike and a great laugh, go read this.

Nothing to See Here...Move Along

I went to another school district yesterday to serve on an accreditation team. Every six years, schools go through a process of renewing their seal of approval. It probably doesn't mean much except for those students who are off to colleges and universities, but it can also be important for schools in the sense that it causes them to engage in some reflection about what's happening.

The team I was assigned to was to evaluate the focus on education/instruction happening in the school. I have to tell you, there wasn't much of that going on.

I checked in on a geometry class. The teacher was at the front of the room, orating directly from the text. The kids? Maybe one or two were paying attention. The rest were chatting, tossing around some hand lotion, or doing other things. But the teacher droned on...every letter, symbol, and nuance of the formulas. I talked with some of the kids---each day was the same: teacher talks, they (supposedly) do homework the remainder of the period. I talked with the teacher, too. He recently retired from another school district where he had taught social studies. He was hired to teach two periods of geometry...and the last time he'd encountered the material was when he was in high school. I asked if he'd received some professional development or support to make the big change to math. "Oh, no---I just stay an hour after class each day and read up on the textbook." And the kicker? He's hoping for a full time contract for next year.

In a science class for special needs students, the teacher was busy doing his own thing with some equipment while two aides assisted the kids with a terrible assignment. They were to find pictures of "diplopoda." One kid asked "Why are we doing this?" which I thought was a fabulous question. The answer was, "So you'll know it later."

During the entire day, I saw only two classes (PE and Carpentry) where kids were actively engaged in doing things. In fact, some of the kids I talked to in other classes observed that they'd really like to "do something" in their classes. Meanwhile, there were no learning targets to be seen anywhere. Everyone was an independent contractor---independent of one another and of a rigorous curriculum and expectations.

The school has had some discipline issues with its current group of freshmen. I really have to wonder how much of that is kids getting into trouble out of sheer boredom.

Is there any hope for the school? Lots. The school climate is very good---kids and staff are pretty happy there and there is a great deal of trust and respect for the administration. If they can harness all of that positive energy and put it into instruction, the school could be a real winner. I really hope they find a way to do that.

01 May 2006

The Pawns and the King

A select few of us from Curriculum made the trek down the hall and into the Supe's office last week. If we are, indeed, part of union negotiations (as in, the union getting rid our jobs), then we thought it best to be proactive. This meant not only providing some clarity around our roles with the district, but also to gauge where the Supe sits with all of this.

The reality is that with the budget projections being what they are, no one can really claim immunity. And even if our positions stay "safe," I get the impression that they could look quite different at some point in the near future. The Supe is already drafting out a new "management plan." In some ways, this is good. It will more clearly define the roles of administrators. What will it mean for us in Curriculum? We are "resources," so we will be assigned to whatever supervisor fits the Supe's new plan.

This is a little nerve-wracking. I have felt like I've been in a custody battle at various meetings this year when my Boss Lady and another mucky-muck were both present. Now I understand that I really am being fought over---as well as the other "specialists." Do we belong to our Curriculum...or are we an arm of "Teaching and Learning" (who directly supervise principals)?

I didn't get the impression that the Supe will make any major changes for next year, but I won't be surprised to discover that next year introduces several shifts in the power structure. And for the pawns.