26 June 2007

It's That Time Again

Yes, friends and neighbours...it's summer holiday. It's time for me to catch up on a few chores, do some reading, and spend time in the sun. It's time for some day trips and new scenery, laughter with friends, and long afternoon naps. Blogging will be set aside for the next few days while I "unplug" and enjoy some rest and relaxation. I'll catch up with you later in the week. :)

25 June 2007

The Unbirthday

For most of my life, I didn't really celebrate a birthday. Like most adoptees I know, birthdays are meaningless events. If you never know anyone who had to do anything with your actual birth---and there is no story to go with it---there's not much point in having a birthday. One is "hatched" more than born. My Sweetie asked me once if I did have a favourite day of the year instead of a birthday. I didn't have to think twice: the last day of school. There is nothing in the world like driving away from work on that final day and feeling like all of summer is stretched out at your feet. This is not to say that I don't enjoy my work or that I can't stand classroom life so much that I can't wait to get away. I wouldn't have made it in the business for 16 years if that had been the case. There's just a sense of accomplishment that comes with this last day. My unbirthday has arrived.

This day also held some significance for me in that it was my first day with the staff I'll be supporting next year. I had a wonderful time with them this morning and felt incredibly welcome. Several people cheered and more than one remarked that they had hoped it would be me who would be assigned to coach them. Teachers wanted me to see their classrooms, samples of student work, and talk about how much time I could spend with them next year. It really doesn't get much better than that. I left the building at lunch time with a big smile on my face. It is the way that one wants to leave a school year.

24 June 2007

More Skinny for Blogging N00b5

Several months ago, when there seemed to be an influx of new edubloggers, I posted some suggestions to help get established in the edusphere. I'm going to post a few more ideas, now that you've gotten your sea-legs. If you're not using blogger to publish and/or host your material, then not all of the information below will be applicable.

Whether or not you choose to share your true identity (my thoughts on doing so are here), you may want to make some choices about who can access and/or comment on your thoughts. Blogger does allow you to create permissions such that only people you invite can read and/or comment. This is highly restrictive, but might be useful if you're wanting to set up a discussion group where identities might be known or sensitive issues discussed. Nearly all edubloggers want a public forum. The trade-off here is that as long as you have blogger as your host, you will never be able to exclude certain individuals or groups. If you publish your blog via FTP to an outside host, you can use their IP filter (use StatCounter, for example, to track and identify visitors by IP so you know who is who) to screen your visitors.

A note here about the information you can get via StatCounter and other subscriptions. If you find yourself faced with a rogue visitor or commenter, you can get much more than the person's IP address, dates, and times of visits. These services will also provide you with more detailed and useful items, such as the type of browser used to access your site as well as the operating system (is the person a Mac user?). All of this information is valuable if you need to contact someone's ISP about their behavior. Most ISPs have a "Terms of Service" agreement with their users which prohibits stalking and harassment. Take screen shots of visit information and contact an ISP if you have any concerns. They do not want to find themselves in trouble and can be very helpful. Just document what you can and send it in.

Should you delete unwanted comments? Yes. When you have houseguests, do you not expect certain rules of conduct? Perhaps you don't allow smoking in your home...or maybe you want guests to remove their shoes while they're in the house. A blog may be a virtual space, but it is your space. You have the right to set the "house rules." I recommend using a verification to prevent spam comments (although highly dedicated spammers will still get through on occasion). I don't mind anonymous comments---I understand the value in protecting identity. But comments which are worded in a way that threatens or intimidates other commenters or is meant to just be ugly are deleted by me in a heartbeat. People who really want to say those things can get their own blogs in order to exercise their free speech rights. They don't have to say it on yours or mine. If necessary, you can either moderate comments or suspend them until life quiets down again.

Finally, you can "ask" via your template that Google and other search engines not cache your blog. "Robots" roam the range of the web taking snapshots of your content. Even if you delete your blog---which you may have a need to do someday---these shadows (the cache) will continue to live on. If you do not want this to happen, you can direct the robots. Keep in mind that your blog will still be listed by search engines, just the most current version. Immediately below your "head" tag, insert this line of code: meta name="ROBOTS" content="NOARCHIVE" (you will need <> brackets on the ends). You can also elect to just eliminate the Googlebot by replacing "robots" with "googlebot."

That's all for now. Perhaps later in the summer I'll post some more that is specific to FTP publishing (I have learned a ton in the last month or so), site management via Google and Yahoo!, and other bugs I'm learning to manage.

23 June 2007

What I Learned at School This Year

Now that the school year is (more or less) completed, it's a good time to spend a few minutes pondering the lessons it had to offer. I always offer up some New Year's Resolutions in late August for the things I believe will take focus in the upcoming year. The only problem with that is that life as a Curriculum Specialist requires a bit more flexibility. I can look at the school year as going "pear-shaped" on me or perhaps I need to be more tenacious about my vision---both of which are true. But I also know that to strictly adhere to what I want is foolish. If my role is to support teachers, then I need to listen to and respond to their needs. Pushing through my own agenda isn't advisable. I can say that most of the things I wanted to focus on did have follow through.

But what about the broader issues at work here? What did the year have to teach me?

There were two big lessons from the year...things which will continue to help me in my professional life.

The first of these was simply to sit back and let group process happen. I am a very concrete sequential type of person, and I have to say that this mode is not a good fit for group work. Process just isn't a linear sort of thing. You have to take some birdwalks: side trips to explore other options. You need to have time to listen to every viewpoint present. You have to be willing to circle back. And, you often have to be able to let an outcome go. Not every meeting will end with some sort of resolution---which doesn't mean the time was wasted, it just means that you have to accept that life is messy. I have learned that in meetings where the randomness of things is starting to get under my skin, that it's a good idea to slip out for a couple of minutes. I take a short walk, get a drink, check my e-mail, or tend to a short task. When I go back to the meeting, I can breathe again. It's important to just be in the moment with things.

As teachers, we learn not to take comments too personally. There are kids, parents, and the occasional peer who don't like the way that we do things in the classroom. At a district level, this is greatly amplified and there are even more prospective stakeholders nipping at your heels. It is easy to feel like no one is really interested in learning what the real story is---that it's much more desirable to take a snippet of a rumor and run with it. I have to say that it doesn't drag me down as much as it used to. My usual gut check about things is "Is this good for kids?" If my answer is "yes," then I'm able to let negative comments roll off. It doesn't mean that the concerns of others aren't valid and shouldn't be heard---it's just that I don't bring that weight home with me anymore.

This is a transitional time for me. It usually takes me about a week to make the mental move from "all work all the time" mode to "just enjoy summer." Thoughts of school and work never completely go away, but they do take up less of my headspace. I was getting a little panicky earlier in the week when I saw how much is on my plate next year. For now, I need to just set that aside, as well as the lessons learned this year.

22 June 2007

Drawing the Line

Today was the last day of school for students. Most teachers still have one day of contracted time to make up, which a couple of schools are choosing to do tomorrow---but most will meet on Monday.

This has been the oddest finish to a school year that I have ever had. The entire month has been a non-stop freight train, with full-day meetings right up through Tuesday of this week...and hiring for department positions finishing late yesterday/early today. The fact of the matter is that there are still plenty of projects to work on, agendas to sort out, and days to plan, but you have to draw the line somewhere. It's an arbitrary thing, the place where one school year stops and another begins. And so today at noon, I left. I left from a meeting that was called at 11:20 about a new item we needed to talk about. I have crossed off all of the things from the "to do" list which were absolute musts, and I am desperately pressing myself against a door marked "Curriculum 2006 - 2007" that doesn't want to be shut.

I do have to attend the contract day on Monday, but will be doing so at the school where I will be coaching in the fall...just 6 work weeks away. For now, however, the line has been drawn. Summer holiday is here.

21 June 2007

Old Yeller

You know that scene at the end of Old Yeller? The one where the kid has to go outside and put down the pet he's nurtured and bonded with? Part of today reminded me of that as I watched the elementary math and science cadre bite the dust at a meeting today, because its greatest champion was the one who had to pull the plug.

Our elementary administrators are very much focused on promoting and developing writing skills, even though science scores lag far behind. At the district level, things don't vary much. The supe, understanding that there will be enough externally motivated change next year, has put the kibosh on any deviation from this course. Each of the Boss Ladies we've had in our department was also unwilling to take a stand for kids in the areas of elementary math and science. It was a bloody battle last year just to get a nod for a go-ahead on the cadre for this year. If you've been hanging out with me on this blog, you know that there was a very positive response from teachers this year and it made for some powerful professional learning.

Today, as we Curriculum Specialists sat down with Boss Lady 2.0 in order to begin to calendar events for next year, three dates for cadre meetings were in place. The elementary math specialist was fervent about keeping them on there...but I could tell the jig was up. Without any administrative backup, there was no way to win. Everyone there had to engage in some give and take. There are so many ways in which we would like to support teachers, but the reality is that it can't all be done. My math counterpart was strong enough to get everyone else to admit that they didn't consider the cadre to be a district commitment or initiative...and then she had to get up and remove all of the requests from the calendar. Ouch.

I have some mixed feelings about all of this. I hate to see a good thing be put down, but I am already overwhelmed with commitments for next year. I feel like I can breathe again now that those dates are off of the radar...and my guess is that there are teachers out there who will, too. It's possible that some of the cadre might make a return. The state has set aside some monies for professional development in math and science for teachers of grades 4 - 12. (There go my weekends next year.) In the meantime, I hate having to watch the elementary math specialist suffer the death of a particular dream. RIP, Old Yeller Cadre.

20 June 2007

Education Carnival #124: Back to the Beach

“I’m telling you. That sand gets everywhere,” said Ms Cornelius.

“Don’t I know it. I thought it was just this thong bikini bottom that was chafing. Whose idea was it to have the Carnival at the beach, anyway?” asked Mamacita.

The Science Goddess looked amused. “It was me. I thought that after a year in a stuffy classroom that we needed to get out and about. What did you bring as a beach read?”

“Well, I was just reading up on the amount of Ritalin prescribed to children these days. Some of it might be warranted, but I’m not so sure every prescription is necessary. How much is enough?"

Me-Ander peeked over her sunglasses. “I know just what you’re talking about. We didn’t need that in my day in order to pay attention in class."

“We used to have junior high kids who would arrive at school and then get a cup of coffee in the office. Their parents asked us to do that in lieu of Ritalin...and it worked like a charm,” said the Science Goddess. “Of course, I’m not so sure about an admin building in the area that just dropped fifteen large on an espresso machine.”

Mamacita finished...fishing. “Perhaps if kids had more attention at home—especially from their dads, they would feel more secure at school. Where are all of the dads these days?”

“I don’t know,” said Darren, “but I was thinking about home visits by teachers. I’m not so sure that these are really necessary, but I do think that they would help build a partnership between home and school. I’m going to head over and see how the grill is shaping up.”

A group of men were congregated around the barbecue. Frosty beverages abounded.

“...what I’m saying is,” said Dave, “that we need to have better accountability measures for failing schools.” He poked at the coals.

“But would that include smaller class sizes?” asked Matt.

“It certainly could.”

“Well, I think that smaller class sizes would mean lower quality physical plants for kids. Imagine all of the portable buildings that would have to be brought in,” Matt replied.

“Meanwhile,” added Mark, “I think that NCLB is emphasizing mediocrity over excellence. Has anyone thought about the impact of all of these reforms on gifted and highly capable students?”

Joanne wandered by on her way to the volleyball court. “Regardless of all these things, people will still blame the teachers. It seems like popular culture likes to ridicule public education...or maybe they just undervalue it.”

“Would you look at that?” said Scott as some teens walked by. “What is the deal with the clothes some kids are wearing? The slogans on them don’t always reflect the most positive things. Ready to go play, Joanne?”

The Repairman was serving. “I’m saying that the way that we calculate grades might have been based on what was easy...but with software, teachers can use better measures.”

Mrs. Chili received the serve. “Oof. I’ve been thinking a lot about grading, too. Maybe we should chat after the game.”

Change is difficult thing to effect,” said Scott, joining the game. “I’ve been blogging all week about that. Stop by and read my wrap-up.”

Dana spiked the ball over the net and high fived Learn Me Good. “I’ve been trying to learn about Understanding by Design...and epic saga of change in and of itself. Not to mention trying to find a way to impact graduation rates.”

Learn Me Good looked at his hand. “You know, high fives are being banned by one district.” He looked over his shoulder. "Darn it. I think I'm getting a sunburn!"

“I do wonder about the Dearth of Common Sense these days,” said the Science Goddess. “What is it with all of these zero tolerance policies?” She walked over to help Mike get the s’more ingredients ready.

“How’s your summer?” she asked.

“You know, it didn’t start off well. Did you see that terrible news about the tragedy in Baytown where four young teens were killed or seriously injured? And you know that somehow, teachers will be blamed for their poor performance in school.”

“I saw that,” said Scenes from the Battleground, opening a package of graham crackers. “There really does seem to be some poor student quality these days.”

Hakim looked over. “This is why I think character education is so important in the schools.”

“It is,” said Frumteacher. “It really surprises me how much my view of ‘difficult’ kids has changed over the course of this year. It makes for a bittersweet good-bye at the end of this school year.”

“I’ve had some ambivalent feelings about the end of the year, too,” said Teaching in the 408. We just had a ‘graduation,’ but it was really more of a promotion from 8th grade.”

“Do your students do course or teacher evaluations?” asked Mr. McNamar. He had just come in from surfing. His wetsuit dripped and made the fire hiss. “Mine do, and there were some very interesting comments. I’m not sure that the students know me as well as they think they do.”

“I know just what you’re talking about,” said the Reflections Project. “I’ve been doing some thinking about the recent set of course evaluations I received from students.”

The Education Wonks grabbed a few marshmallows to toast. “I wonder if those would have any impact on merit pay? Or will it just be student achievement, like they’re considering in Minneapolis?”

“Maybe that wouldn’t be so bad,” said Bogusia. “I think that a higher teacher salary might lead to better education in the classroom.”

“Could be,” said Aquiram. “Or maybe it’s just a reflection of community affluence. Meanwhile, do teachers really practice what they preach in order to effect better education? We need more people using best practices...not just talking about them.”

Mike nodded his head. “I agree. I think the best way to learn about teaching is to get in there and do it.”

A group wandered over to a log that had washed up on the beach. They were getting ready to watch the sunset.

“Technology is definitely an issue,” said Dan. “We really need to help educators with how they design their graphic communications. I have some great ideas to share.”

“I’ll have to take a look at that,” remarked Matthew. “I’ve been looking at whether or not there is racial discrimination in educational technology. As long as groups aren’t excluded, does it matter if this area is dominated by one population?”

“Technology can be misused, though,” said Jill. “Have you seen the cheating methods students are devising these days? I wonder how we can help kids make better choices.”

“Maybe it’s all of the tests. It seems to me,” said the 13th floor, “that we need some sort of test for all of these standardized tests. What the states measure is certainly not equivalent to the NAEP...or one another.”

The sun was setting on another Carnival. The Science Goddess started helping the others pack up their materials. “Thank you, everyone, for helping make this such a success...and for helping me celebrate my 800th post! Please be sure to join in the ‘Sesquicen-Carnival’ over at Education in Texas next week. Get your posts to Mike (mikea3_98[at]yahoo[dot]com) or use this handy submission form no later than 10 p.m. CST on Tuesday, June 26. Have a restful and rejuvenating summer!”

19 June 2007

Time to Hand in Your Homework

Tomorrow is Carnival Day. Once again, I am proud to host this weekly review of the best thoughts on education from around the web. It's going to be a great party. So, if you haven't done so already, please send your permalink to me (the_science_goddess[at]yahoo[dot]com) or use the BlogCarnival submission form. Entries are due by 6 p.m. PT this evening. Assuming that there are no unforseen incidents, the Carnival should be in this space by early tomorrow morning. Please join us!

18 June 2007

Mainlining

Image Credit Unknown

I was amazed when I moved here and discovered that the high school had an espresso cart. Kids bought and sold coffee, for crying out loud---something you would never have seen in the southwest US. Sure, we gave some of our more hyper kids a cup of coffee from the staff lounge in the morning (in lieu of Ritalin---and with parent blessing)...but lattes and mochas?

There is definitely a coffee culture here in the northwest. Don't let the cliches fool you. And if you need any more evidence, take a look at this article about how the district administration offices in the Edmonds School District have a new $15K espresso machine, even as jobs are being cut. The machine will eventually generate some revenue for the district, but in the meantime, this seems a bit of a PR slip. School districts all over the area are having significant budget issues. Somehow, enabling our caffeine habit via tax dollars seems like a sure way to mainline some trouble.

17 June 2007

Worst Jobs in Science: 2007 Edition

Popular Science has been publishing an annual list of The Worst Jobs in Science. They refer to it as their "annual bottom-10 list, in which we salute the men and women to do what no salary can adequately reward." So, without further adieu, here's the 2007 edition:


10: Whale Feces Researcher (they use sniffer dogs to help)
9: Forensic Entomologist (not sure I agree with this one...I think it might be cool)
8: Olympic Drug Tester (4000 cups of pee in 21 days)
7: Gravity Research Subject (which doesn't involve being dropped off the top of tall buildings)
6: Microsoft Security Grunt ('nuff said)
5: Coursework Carcass Preparer (hey, all those dissection specimens have to come from somewhere)
4: Garbologist ("Think Indiana Jones...in a dumpster")
3: Elephant Vasectomist (somehow "snip snip" doesn't quite work here)
2: Oceanographer (depressing)

and...

1: Hazmat Diver (swim in sewage, toxic waste, and other...things)

Maybe a hard day in Curriculum isn't so bad. :) Want to know about more jobs that are likely worse than yours? Check out the 2005, 2004, and/or 2003 lists.

16 June 2007

Get a Grip

Many of us in the district have realized what an out of control union exists in our midst. It doesn't take much contact with other districts to discover that they don't have nearly the same issues in trying to effect positive change for children. Some cases in point just from this week...

An elementary teacher was telling others in a group how some at her school went to their union rep because the policy around field trips was changing. Um, what exactly does that have to do with your working conditions? Does it change your benefits or pay? Perhaps not being able to access a bus on certain days interferes with how your administrator supervises or evaluates you? I don't get it. What do the procedures for student field trips have to do with a teacher's contract? There was a look of puzzlement on the faces of a few others in the room (along with some rolled eyes). The Union is there to watch the contract, not go "there, there" whenever anything comes up that a teacher doesn't like or think is fair about the world.

Meanwhile, The Union negotiator asked that I not attend a presentation happening in the near future. This is the same one who takes great joy in rubbing the nose of one of my co-workers into the fact that there is a "fees payer in the office." Horrors! Run! There is someone who doesn't buy her line. Who knows what she's after this time, but the impact of this news on those who had requested my presence only serves to give more reason to distrust The Union. There are things that they must wish to hide.

I could go on about the excited salivation by one teacher this week about the "emergency phone tree" being developed around contract news for the summer.

Or perhaps how I listened to teacher after teacher beg to pilot the new math materials next year but because The Union is complaining about teacher workload, these teachers can't have what they want and what kids need.

I don't know what it will take for people to get a grip. I only hope that someone can tame The Union beast before any more damage is done.

15 June 2007

The Dea(r)th of Common Sense

There is a small group of teachers here who travel to Africa in the summer to support a school. They travel with as many supplies as they can carry, working hard throughout the year to communicate with their partner school to obtain what they need most. One of the teachers e-mailed an invitation to district staff to donate to this cause. Another teacher from the group was a bit mystified by the response of one of the district administrators: she gave the teacher who sent the e-mail a slap on the wrist for not getting that sort of full-scale communication approved before it went out...and then the same admin sent bunches of 1-gallon baggies (one of the items on the list) to help with the cause.

I offered an explanation. There are policies that we have to follow---and admins are there to enforce. It doesn't mean that the admins agree or like all of the policies, but it is part of their jobs to make sure everyone follows the rules. In sending a note that the use of e-mail for this purpose without prior approval, the admin was doing what she is paid to do by the district. As a person, however, she could react differently. The baggies were a message that she supports what they do. The teacher thought about this and agreed that it was a likely reason for what happened.

I was reminded of this conversation when I read this article about the backlash against zero tolerance policies in schools. It is admirable that schools take a stand on having no drugs/alcohol or weapons on the campus---children and staff deserve a safe place to learn. It's the lack of common sense in applying the rules which is becoming bothersome. They are sometimes applied without consideration as to intent. Just like a teacher whose intent is to help an impoverished school (not violate policy by sending an unapproved e-mail), might it be possible that a kindergartner really did bring a plastic knife to cut cookies rather than a classmate? If, as the article implies, the tolerance pendulum is swinging back, perhaps common sense really can be resuscitated.

Breakfast On The Hoof

Breakfast is the most important meal of the day...or so I've been told. The past two days have had me out the door early to get to breakfast meetings before 7. I got to kick it with the junior high principals yesterday. Boss Lady 2.0 isn't always forthcoming with information, so this event was a bit of a mystery from beginning to end. I remember the office manager trying to schedule it and, assuming I knew what was happening, looked to me to help with time and place. This was about as useful as me assuming that the purpose of the meeting was to talk about the differentiation work seventh grade had done. Wednesday morning, as I was scurrying out the door to cadre, I remembered why one shouldn't assume. BL 2.0 mentioned that she should have thought to meet with me about why we were having the meeting. Um, okay...that meant that I wasn't going to be prepared for whatever lay ahead and there was not going to be any time or help to do so. In spite of all of this, things turned out well. I just updated them on initiatives and made them as happy as I could manage. I'm still not 100% sure why I was involved with all of this, but at least the toast was good.

Breakfast this morning was with my usual gaggle of elementary teachers. This meeting is another good reason to look forward to Fridays. It is so much fun to start the day with oatmeal and gossip. It's also a great way to stay connected with the teachers I support. There is always a lot of laughter.

The only drawback to these breakfast pow-wows this week was that I had another meeting immediately following each of them. There really hasn't been any time or headspace to digest the information received. I feel like this is becoming more and more of an issue---as there are lots of meetings, all of which seem to engender something to work or follow up on...but with no time to do so because there's another meeting. I'm not sure how to resolve this. Communication issues are something that I want to ponder over the summer. How do we have fewer breakfasts on the hoof and still improve our working relationships?

14 June 2007

Cookie Cutters

The math and science cadre is done for the year. Our goal was to provide some intensive professional development for one teacher per grade level for every elementary. There were some bumps along the way, as there always are when flying a new program, but overall, participating teachers were happy.

One of the most interesting things for the other specialist and I was to read the evaluation forms. There were some good notes, but the funny parts were the ones which were contradictory. "Pacing was too fast." vs. "Enjoyed the pace of things." and "Felt unsure when we watched a high school movie." (referring to Hemo the Magnificent) vs. "I loved being able to use the film with my kids this year!" All of this individual feedback really enforces the notion that while teachers understand that their students aren't all from the same cookie cutter, they don't always recognize that neither are their peers. In the meantime, differentiating staff development is a real challenge. Somewhere along the way, we have to find something that helps everyone connect.

At this time, it is looking like the meetings will continue next year. I admit a bit of ambivalence about this. It's good stuff and most teachers are enthusiastic about it. However, the other specialist and I don't get contact with every teacher...and now that the shape of the coaching model will shift a bit, there will be more room for math and science talk throughout the day. We might be able to better support teachers with just after school offerings...but then, teachers aren't pressed from the same cutter. We'll have to find a happy medium.

13 June 2007

As Easy As 1-2-3

The Education Wonks are hosting the 123rd edition of The Carnival of Education. For those of you who are already out for the summer, visiting the Carnival and reading through the posts is a great way to spend some lazy time. For the rest of us still-working gits, it's a way to keep focused until school is officially out.

Next week, Yours Truly will be hosting the Carnival. Get your posts ready to (g)rumble!

12 June 2007

Conversation of the Day

Fifth grade teachers were looking at some science content GLEs and talking about the systems concept as it applied to Sun, Moon, and stars. The goal was to create some descriptors representing performance levels of 1, 2, 3, 4.

"We could make a 4 represent a student who is able to explain why the appearance of the Moon changes over time."

"I can hear it now: 'God did it.'"

"No, honey. That would be a 1...not a 4."

11 June 2007

One Last Bite

This is my last jampacked week of the year. I had wall-to-wall meetings about various topics today...and I have full day meetings over the next four days. If I can just make it to Friday afternoon, I'm home free for the year. This is not to say that there won't be tasks a'plenty during the last week, but next Friday at noon, I walk away from Curriculum and haven't any plans to return before I absolutely have to do do.

Our official last day of work is a Monday: June 25. That will be my first day at my new school...the one where I am going to be an instructional coach next year. From what I'm hearing, a lot of people are not planning on coming. This has nothing to do with the fact that I'll be there. :) Rather, with the 6+ weather days this year, we're already getting out at a time when several people had already made travel reservations. As for others, I can well understand how unattractive it is to finish a school year with kids and mentally be done with things only to have to come back for a day of inservice. At this point, I'm very grateful that I don't have to present anything.

I've just gotta take this one last bite this week.

10 June 2007

Oh, The Humanity!

A couple of months ago, I suggested ripping off an idea from the science world for merit badges and applying them to classroom situations. I was thinking of this again recently when there was solicitation of ideas for a logo for Curriculum department communications. My first idea was this:

Target by wili_hybrid CC-BY-NC



It's simple and to the point. It acknowledges our role as frequent targets of anything teachers don't like. But then, I thought that this might be better:

Pinata by DJOtaku CC-BY-NC-SA

Again, it's pretty basic; but, it gets the message across. "Hey, staff, get your sticks and knock the stuffing out of us! You know you love it!" Unfortunately, we're not filled with treats. Maybe a pinata isn't the most appropriate graphic for the department. We then reflected upon the recent direction of the department. At that point, this seemed like the best idea:

Lifesaver by emdot CC-BY

Depressing, but authentic in reflecting the pall around the office. Maybe this was "the one." The sheer number of projects and initiatives to be completed in the next 10 days does feel a bit like drowning; however, not that many teachers view us as lifesavers...so back to the drawing board:

Hindenburg - 1937 by Marco Crupi CC-BY-NC-ND

Okay, so the Hindenburg doesn't translate all that well into a nice line drawing. But things are going down in spectacular flames and Nero is quite often off fiddling somewhere else...to mix in an anachronistic metaphor.

Any other suggestions out there to add a little hydrogen to the fire?

09 June 2007

Whose Job Is It Anyway? Redux

I spent most of late Friday afternoon with a friend and colleague who's one of the most dynamic teachers in the district. Just like there are various yins and yangs of being at the district level, a building and department has its own set of dramas being played out. I got caught up on the wheelings and dealings about class assignments for next year, but one thing in particular really stuck out at me. One of the original reasons for a particular teacher getting an assignment was because of his lack of classroom management skills. The idea was that if you gave him only kids who didn't need much managing, this would solve things.

This logic works up until you think about the kids themselves. "We're going to give you a crappy teacher because he'll be able to do the least damage with you in his class." Then things make no sense at all. Instead of actually doing something about the problem (bad teaching and classroom management), we enable the status quo.

But what to do? I've pondered this a few times in the history of this blog, wondering Whose Job Is It Anyway? how to Tiptoe Through the Minefield and remarking that Kids Are Not Teaching Tools. I don't know that I have any more answers now than I did then; however, I did propose a beginning course of action: it's really time to talk with an administrator. I said I would go with him, if that would help. Or if the department head was willing to do the task, fine. But until someone sets an expectation that this person engage in some learning and professional growth, nothing will change. It is a tacit agreement that it's okay to do a poor job in the classroom. Let's face it, no one likes to be unsuccessful. It doesn't feel good and I know this person isn't very happy. Shouldn't an admin step in and help?

In the past, I would have thought it unlikely that the particular admin who's associated would do so, but now I'm not so sure. There might be a ray of hope. The rumblings I heard this week is that the accountability level for secondary admins is going to be amped up beginning next year. Perhaps that will be a bit of an incentive to make positive change happen. It is time for us to give the same level and quality of attention to what is happening in secondary classrooms that we have in elementary classrooms.

08 June 2007

The Union Goon

Some of us here marvel at The-Thing-That-Is-The-Union. I hear more and more of my colleagues tempted to just be "fees payers," as they believe that The Union does not truly represent what they value...and yet in "leaving" its official membership, it only gives a stronger voice to the minority in the district. A minority which could never be satisfied. So, you either stay and try to effect change from within, or you just keep quiet, or you do like me and make a statement with your fees. I have enough on my plate trying to change things for kids from the inner workings of the district. I don't have the energy or capacity to deal with Union Goons, too.

This is a year where the entire contract is up for negotiations. I know this and yet I was caught completely off-guard when one of the Goons showed up at my desk on Tuesday afternoon.

"Hi! I'm Tracy, and I'm from The Union."

I eyed Tracy suspiciously. I was prepared for a science kit onslaught.

She continued. "I'm supposed to work with you and two of the principals on rewriting the Mentor Program portion of the contract."

Say what?

Participation for beginning teachers (a/k/a "noobs") is part of the contract and there are some parameters around the selection of mentors. But frankly, it's not something that would seem contentious. In a year of school closures, concerns about RIFs in coming years, program changes, etc...we're going to focus on noobs as part of the contract reopener? Whose idiotic idea was it to make this a big fish to fry?

I redirected her and handed her off to the person who will be supporting that group (if we have any) in the fall. After all, that person will have to live with whatever is negotiated. Later, after I'd had some time to recover, I got kinda indignant about the whole thing. Is it assumed that I must participate in this folly? What made Miss Tracy think I would be on the side of The Union? Is there no such thing as courtesy in giving me a "heads up" about this or perhaps making something invitational? The assumption seemed to be that I would drop to my knees in rapture over the idea. Her leadership must know better than that. I did have thoughts about meeting with Tracy and the admins and just telling the admins there and then that whatever they wanted, I would agree should go into the revision. Maybe I should contact her and tell her I've changed my mind and would love to work with her on this.

07 June 2007

On the Move

It's time to update those bookmarks, dear readers. Ye Olde Blog is on the move to a new home: (http://whatitslikeontheinside.com). You should have been automatically redirected to the new locale.

I'm excited about the change and the capability to offer a bit more to the world than my paltry blog. With my growth in my own learning and interests on the job, I like the idea of a place where I can share some pieces of my research and classroom tools without the confines of the blogspot walls.

It may take a day or two for the DNS servers across the 'net to get the information on the redirect. If you're reading this after getting stalled by a blue screen telling you things were under construction, welcome back! I'm glad to have you along for Phase II of "What It's Like on the Inside."

06 June 2007

So There's This Carnival...

You know---the one that's always on Wednesdays? It features education related posts from all over the edusphere? Yep, it's time to head over and check out this week's Carnival of Education.

Here are my picks 'o the week:

What are you waiting for?

05 June 2007

Stirring Passions

Today was the first of our last four math/science cadre meetings of the year. The math specialist is not excited about the prospect of the events so late in the year---it just doesn't seem to make sense. She's right in one way: we're not going to in-service these teachers on much of anything that they can apply in their classrooms tomorrow. I also know that many teachers out there are summer planners. They like the time to mull ideas and gain some enthusiasm for new things. Now is the perfect time to plant those seeds, albeit in tired minds.

I admit that when I woke up this morning and thought about these meetings, I wasn't feeling very enthralled with the prospect. My mind is tired, too. I then reminded myself that it is my job to arouse the curiosity of teachers...to stir their classroom passions and help them dream a bit. I have a role to play and I needed to do the very best with it that I could. And you know what? It was a wonderful day of learning with teachers. The best reward in all of it was a comment from one of them stating that "this was the best committee/cadre I've ever been a part of in 20+ years of teaching."

The school year isn't over. It's close...I can smell it from here. But between now and then I need to keep my head in the game and make a little magic for teachers.

04 June 2007

The Summer of SAT

USA Today has an Op Ed piece about SAT prep courses. The author, a former instructor for such a review course, advises against spending a chunk of change on such things. She offers some free and inexpensive alternatives...but nothing seems to take the place of motivation on the part of the student. That is likely no surprise to any teacher out there. No matter how bright or capable a kid might be, they have to make some effort to engage and learn. My guess is that it's as difficult for them to do so in the summer as it is for me. :)

03 June 2007

And Then There Were None

By my count, there are 15 teachers in the district assigned (full-time) to Curriculum. At this time, four have already left or are in the process of leaving...and five others have requested a transfer out of the department.

If you're the supe, what does it say to you that within less than a year of new leadership of a department, the majority of the staff in there would prefer to work elsewhere?

Not everyone will get their transfer request fulfilled, to be sure...but there is nothing to stop the two retirements next year or additional requests for reassignment. Is anyone going to notice?

The spaces being created are a bit of a conundrum on my part. Do you encourage certain people who are ready for that kind of teacher leadership role to apply...knowing who they will have to work for (and that the chances of getting back to a classroom if your mind changes are minimal)? I don't know quite how to resolve this. On one hand, we really need high-quality teachers in Curriculum who can make a difference for kids through their support of other teachers. On the other, kids need those teachers in their classrooms.

A principal mentioned this week that she had once been told that if you're going to grow people in your building, you need to be prepared for them to move on. There is truth in that, but I also think it's sad that we can't create the kinds of opportunities for these "growers" to apply their skills in ways which keep them a part of their buildings (and/or districts). The implication there is that people will always need to look elsewhere.

As our district continues to shrink in number, I can't help but wonder what will happen to Curriculum. Good teachers will look for opportunities there...and finding the reality of what lies within, may then need to find another district who will value them. Either that or someone may be able to find us a new chief.

02 June 2007

Note to Self: End of Year Activities

There are 16 workdays left in the year. Between now and then, I have 4 full-day cadre meetings, 2.5 days of benchmark meetings, 1 full day with my 7th grade teachers, and a full-day with the staff at my new school. There are other sundry meetings and activities on my calendar, too. And I have to ask who was the idiot who scheduled all of these things? Ah, yes. Me.

So this is a note to self: next year...don't plan anything for June. Do yourself a favour and leave time for all of the end of year reports due to the state and other agencies...all the budgets that must be submitted for the upcoming year...the wrap-up of sundry district programs. There will be plenty else on your calendar without you filling it up, too.

At least next year I won't be taking a class at this time. My current grad class is going well. I finished all of the homework assignments last weekend---now I can trickle in one a week until things end mid-August. I have felt very successful with this course so far. I even found a mistake in the stats text that none of the profs had seen. Perhaps I don't have as much "ring rust" as I'd feared. Next year, I hope to be furiously working away on my dissertation...from a comfy seat in the yard. I'm going to make a note of that idea, too.