Sunday, December 28, 2008

Back to work . . .

Sunday already, meaning tomorrow is back to work day for another short week. We still have our room so some of the family will be staying in the hotel and I will commute for a couple of days. Hopefully, the weather will continue to cooperate so the driving will be easier than getting here. On the last post I shared a picture of my grand kids swimming so today how about one sledding. Both were great times. They bring such joy to our lives.
One of the big tasks for this week will be trying to make some sense of all the reading material that has accumulated on my office table. I have not been able to keep up with all the great books and articles that seem to find there way to that work area. As always, it includes books and articles about leadership in our profession as I see this as essential for us to create and sustain learning communities focused on Classroom 10 learning. Another area of reading focus is on sustainability, one of the most difficult challenges we currently face and a necessary topic for study by students in all grade levels. I also have one pile devoted entirely to technology as it relates to our work and another on our latest thinking around Classroom 10, our instructional units being written by teachers, and the questions that need answering.
It will be fun to bring some order to my multiple piles. It is something that I usually end up doing two to three times each school year. I'll share some of the books and articles that end up influencing my thinking and that seem to find a way into my vocabulary and teaching. I'm actually getting a little energized thinking about the time I'll have for this work.
I just previewed the post and see again that there is no space between paragraphs like the last post. They show in the work space, but not the post. I don't know how to fix and I don't want to waste more time going back and forth. Any help out there?

Friday, December 26, 2008

Wet feet . . .

I returned home late last night to find more snow than I can ever recall at our house. Now, I know that I'm not very tall, but the snow came up to the top of my barn boots and those go up to my knees. I went home to check on the house, the horses, and the other animals. It didn't look like much new snow had fallen in Maple Valley, but Ravensdale was dumped upon. They even plowed and sanded our entry road; something that I don't ever recall being done.

We have taken the grand kids to a place where they can swim and we can use the hot tub and sauna and that is where I have returned. What a difference. The pictures tell the story. Now my feet will only be wet from warm water, not from snow in my boots. That is if I wear boots in the hotel parking lot that is ankle deep in slush and ice.
I have been taking some time away from work related thinking, but the budget issue seems to never be far from my thoughts. It angers me that all school systems in the state are faced with these problems at the same time that we face new challenges with NCLB, changing standards, and the unknowns of new OSPI leadership.
I realize and appreciate the major challenges that the Governor and legislators face and the many challenges that families are experiencing in these difficult times. I also have come to accept that public education will not be spared as budgets at the state level are built. I don't like it, but I don't see how a compromise budget will emerge without some cuts. We have made the decision to use the Governor's proposed budget as our target. As I shared in an earlier post, I thought with the democrats in control of both houses that this would be a good benchmark. But, with republicans speaking positively about it, with the threat of a lawsuit by state workers, and with talk of raising taxes I no longer believe that it will survive without changes. Where and how many I don't pretend to know, we can only hope that they don't result in cuts that make balancing our budgets more difficult.
There is also a renewed initiative to raise the levy lid. The initiative emerges every year at legislative time as many of the larger Puget Sound districts lobby to raise the lid. With the proposed and expected cuts, this may be the year that it happens as legislators may see it as a way for districts to make up for the cuts. We have not and continue to not be in favor of this as we believe that it results in more disparity and relieves the state from their responsibility to fund public education. We are currently at about 24% of our revenue from local levy and believe that our community would not want the district to be able to increase this through local funds. What are your thoughts about raising the local levy lid? Many east side districts are supportive of this as they are able to easily pass their operating levy.
I guess that what is bothering me most is that these challenges are creating additional stress and anxiety for many of our staff members concerned for their jobs. Unfortunately, these are real concerns that for the first time in my experience may become a reality as we look at more closely aligning what we do with the statutory requirements of a public education in the state of Washington. Next week we will be continuing this process as we begin to identify all the services that we are currently providing our students, parent, and community.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Snow balls and victory . . .

Yes, it was a great game. We stayed to the very end and enjoyed seeing Holmgren do his farewell walk around the field. A patchwork offensive line that gave up zero sacks and over 100 yards rushing and a defense that intercepted him twice . Wow! It was like our championship year except for the snow.

Did you see all the snow balls? I couldn't believe it. The refs and Jets were really getting pelted after the game not just in the last couple minutes. It was both funny and upsetting as I believe it was disrupting to a great game and not necessary as the Hawks stopped them on fourth down. After the game though it was just funny even though I barely escaped being on the receiving end of at least two power shots. Even with the snow and long, slow drive home it was a great experience.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Snow and the Governor's semi-soft landing . . .

Well, we already made the call to close for tomorrow. It became easier to do when Jeff at KC Public Works told us his crews would not be able to grade and sand the emergency routes as they were struggling just to keep the main roads safe. With the 20 degree temperatures, continued snowfall, and without that sand it will not be safe for buses to be on the roads in the morning. It would have also been very difficult for many staff to get to work from the surrounding communities. Not a very good weather week for school and learning.

The big news of the day was Governor Gregoire's proposed budget. Based upon what we had been hearing for the last couple of weeks the actual proposal was almost a relief. Instead of cutting all of I-728 the budget cuts 21% in year one and 23% in year two. This means a cut of approximately $800,000 instead of $3.3 million and makes the balancing job more manageable. It doesn't, however, mean that we will not need to make cuts because we do. Though we don't have all the numbers yet from the proposed budget, we know that we still must find $2.5 to $3 million in order to have a balanced 2009-10 budget. This is new ground for us as we have not had to make changes of this magnitude to balance prior budgets.

Overall, K-12 was cut 5.6% with another of the other major cuts being I-732, the Cost of Living initiative. Though this is not something that any of us wanted to see happen, it actually saves us money because we will not have to use local dollars to cover this potential salary increase for non-formula unit positions.

We are now moving forward using the Governor's proposed budget to identify how much to cut. This could change when the House and Senate propose budgets in March, but we can't wait that long to bring closure to this process. As I shared in yesterday's post, we will provide periodic updates on our web page.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Can't predict Mother Nature . . .

Don't like to keep sharing the travails of a superintendent making weather-related school closure calls, but it would look like ducking since today's call turned out so poorly if I didn't. Getting to school this morning would have been safe with the two hour late start, but we were very concerned with getting students home if the weather forecast was accurate. Late snow, cold temperatures, commuters leaving early, and our youngest students on the road last is not a good combination. I have been there and it was one of the most difficult situations I can recall for all of us. Unfortunately, we did not receive the anticipated snowfall so I do look foolish to some for the call.

As I look outside now, it appears like the snow is here. At least it is in my little section of Ravensdale. Just in time to make tomorrow and Friday another opportunity to second guess the weather and practice our analysis and synthesis skills as we evaluate the conditions and make a decision. I'm still waiting for the no-brainer decision, but don't expect that it will show this week. Lori, Susie, Bonnie, and Bridget are putting in long, stressful hours checking roads, answering my questions, and fielding calls from upset parents this week. They deserve a big thanks and appreciation for their commitment in difficult and anxious situations. Though the call in hindsight can certainly be questioned, we made it based upon the best information available at the time.

On another topic, we are anxiously awaiting the Governor's budget. It is the first budget to be submitted and we expect it to be out tomorrow. It will give us an indication of how difficult it will be to develop a balanced budget as I don't think a democratically controlled house and senate will make major shifts in the education portions of their budgets that come out after the session begins in January. We will soon be starting a budget development section on our web site to share information as we go through this process. We know there is a need for staff to have accurate and timely information as these difficult decisions are made. The addition to the web is one vehicle for dissemination of this information.

Finally, I'm pleased to say that we have spent considerable time discussing the comments to my post on our curriculum. On the January 5th waiver day we will be sharing with all High School and Junior High staff information on our curriculum development work and Classroom 10. Nancy will be with Terry and teacher leaders at the High School and I will be with Rob at the Junior High. I am looking forward to this opportunity for sharing information, identifying additional needs, and answering questions that resulted from your comments.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Day two, another choice . . .

Day two of weather related school closures and it isn't getting any easier. We decided last night to close today. This gave more planning time for families and staff and we were comfortable that there would not be any improvement in conditions from last night to this morning. We would again like to make the call this evening for tomorrow, but more time is needed before we can decide so we will wait until the morning.

We closed for today because there were too many emergency routes that were not safe for our buses and because of the potential for kids to be waiting in poor conditions for extended periods at bus stops. King County public works staff shared with us today that they believe that we made the correct choice. Though the main roads are free of ice, the side roads in many areas are not and they have not been sanded or salted enough to make a difference. This includes one of the main roads to the high school, the junior high, Lake Webster area, the Maple Valley Heights area, and . . .

So, what is different for tomorrow and why with little change in the weather are we thinking about holding classes? First, the weather today did result in evaporation of some of the moisture that results in ice. We also today shared with Jeff from public works our emergency routes and where we were seeing the major problems. He is great, always listening and asking where they can help. He believes that late this evening and with the midnight shift they will be able to sand all of those areas. They wanted to wait until it was colder to ensure the sand would be over the ice. We were also able to spend additional time on the parking areas to make them safe.

The people who drive the district will be out early in the morning to provide us with guidance as we make this difficult decision. Some of us will spend a restless evening wondering and worrying what this guidance will result in around 5:00 am tomorrow.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

What to do?

Well, it's that dreaded time of year for superintendents - the time to make the school closure call. I just got off the phone a few minutes ago with the first report and, like most times, it will not be an easy call. Yes, there is ice in many places, but the main roads are in pretty good shape and if we go with emergency stops we may be able to go two hours late. We may, it could, main roads ok, - all those words that bring choice with them. Now the questions start.

  • How bad is the road to the high school since we know kids will still drive?
  • Are the parking lots safe?
  • If we believe the weather won't change between now and the morning when should we make the call?
  • What are the conditions in the surrounding communities since those will impact staff travel?
  • Are all emergency route stops on the main roads?
  • How many people can we get out on the roads now in the areas we know are the hardest areas to call?
  • If we go, should we go two hours late so it will be light and less traffic even though it probably won't change road conditions appreciably?
  • And, . . .

It will be another of those restless nights until we make a decision then a different stress after the decision as many second guess what we decided. These are obviously very difficult decisions to make that are made more difficult because of the diversity of our community as it relates to elevation and impact of the foothills on snowfall and temperatures. None of us individually has the context to make the decision. As with most things, it takes a collaborative effort to make the best decision.

One of these times if we have to alter the schedule it would be nice for it to be an obvious call. You know, one of those no brainers because of the number of inches on the ground. I wonder even then if all would agree?

Thursday, December 11, 2008

The dreaded word . . .

There are any number of topics that make sense for me to blog about, but since the thing I seem to be struggling the most with currently is the financial future of our school system, I believe it is important for me to begin sharing it with you. We can't get away from the fact that the current fiscal situation on a local, state, regional, national, and international level is not good. It has become very clear with recent news stories and editorials that the governor and legislators are looking at somewhere in the range of a six billion dollar deficit as they begin the budget process. It has also become clear that public schools, regardless of what the state constitution says, will not be immune from the cuts necessary to reach a budget resolution.

What we don't know is the depth and breadth of what those cuts will be. The two that seem to be of most interest are Initiatives 728 and 732. I-728 is the class size initiative that we and most other systems have come to rely upon as basic education dollars not enhancements. In our district this is approximately 3.2 million dollars that we use to hire 33 teachers, support summer school, student interventions, and staff development. If this were to be cut it would have a very significant impact on the culture of our school system.

I-732 is the COLA initiative that currently would be providing an approximately 4% cost of living raise for staff. Historically, this initiative has not been funded at it's mandated level when state revenues have been short so this is again a potential cut. What makes these attractive as cuts is that together they would save about 1.45 billion dollars, approximately 25% of the deficit. If I were a legislator it would be difficult to ignore these potential cost saving measures. It will be important for us, however, to find vehicles to convey the negative impact this would have on public education across the state.

The potential of state cuts is compounded by the fact that we are already in the process of finding ways to balance our projected 2009-10 budget. Beginning this process, we knew that we would need to make cuts to meet our contractual obligations with our employee units and to make up the difference between inflationary increases and formula driven revenues. That process will be ongoing as we plan for the potential of even greater cuts.
The rumors and stories in our system have already begun though we have made no decisions and have only recently initiated the budget process. I will periodically provide updates as we learn more about the revenue for next year and begin to identify where savings are possible.
It is unfortunate that we must now also face these issues while continuing to build upon the learning communities we are developing. Our vision and mission to prepare young people for success after graduation will continue to be the driver for what we do and I thank you for your efforts and commitment.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Sorry, football one more time . . .

I think I may have promised four weeks or so ago to not blog about football again this season, but today we finally saw a good game. Unfortunately, the Seahawks lost again in the last couple of minutes so the outcome was similar to all but the two wins of the season. But, the crowd was into it and we stayed for the entire game, even the fumble on the last drive. The loss, however, seemed harder to take than some that we were never in. Why is that? Do I want us to be so bad we lose early and I don't have to then get involved in the outcome? I never have this feeling at a Bears game.

What I have learned this year is that the demeanor of the crowd seems to change with the record. With the success of the last few years I didn't notice some of the behavior we are now experiencing. There has always been the drinking and I have annually had beer spilled on me at least one time partly because I have an aisle seat. It is the language and surliness that is increasing. The "F" word seems to flow like water from the mouths of those behind us and to one side. Fans of the other team have always been subjected to some good natured ribbing as they walk by that has now turned into yelling and profanity. It is a different environment now that we are losing.

We have one more home game this season with the Jets. I am looking forward to seeing Favre quarterback for a different team, but I am not looking forward to the changes in behavior that we have experienced these last few games. Winning next year will be welcomed for more than just the record. Can they make the changes next year that are necessary to again become winners?

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Fixing America's schools . . .

I just got around to reading the Time magazine cover story on Michelle Rhee, DC Chancellor of Schools. She has certainly been in the news over the past year for the changes she has made, attempted to make, and continues to work towards in that school system. In a relatively short period of time there have been school closures and the letting go of many teachers and administrators that do not meet the standards that she is creating.

Time will tell if her vision and methods prove successful. Being a superintendent is not always an easy job and being one in a large urban setting must be extremely difficult. I can't even imagine what it would be like considering the expectations and media coverage in Washington DC. The one positive may be that the performance is so poor that the changes will result in immediate gains. These short term successes will be important for her to sustain the journey.

I admire her commitment and share her belief that outstanding teachers and principals are the answer to the quality of learning in a school and wanting to pay teachers more. I don't share many of her methods and I remain concerned about using only test scores and bargained evaluation models to determine which teachers should be paid more. I also wonder what the system is doing to ensure that the high demand being placed on teachers and principals is balanced by high support over time.

I appreciate the fact that her actions are resulting in a focus on public education, but I am concerned with what it will result in over time. Will our new President and others see her beliefs and methods as a model for others? Will this quest for merit compensation based on achievement find its way into the Education Department and the distribution of federal revenue? Are those of us that see PLC's, consensus, and collaboration as the answer to improving learning for all students simply holding on to outdated beliefs that won't sustain over time?

You may want to read the article as this system and her efforts were touted by both presidential candidates so both the Democrats and Republicans are watching closely. Who knows what the future holds with the unprecedented budget shortfalls and accelerating demand for improvement in our profession. Will the Washington DC journey become the model for the rest of us?

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Lazy afternoon with LIFE . . .

Over the last couple of weeks I have run across many blog entries sharing the partnership between LIFE and Google to share thousands of photos. I didn't pay much attention to them, but this afternoon after the grand kids left I ran across another post and started to take a look at some of the photos. I am glad that I did as they bring back memories of my youth and growing up. They age me, but I am 60 and there is no hiding it.

Pick a topic and spend some time reliving the past through these photos. That's Willie Mays, the Say Hey Kid in the photo. I spent many afternoons watching him make basket catches and leading off in the all star game. What a player, always smiling and you could tell he just loved the game. You don't see that often enough in today's game; great players, but the passion seems to be missing.
In any case, you may be able to make use of some of these photos in your classrooms.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Honoring the teacher voice . . .

I very much enjoyed the many comments to my most resent post about a mandated curriculum. As expected, there are varying views about the importance of a common curriculum that includes daily lessons. It is interesting that the responses were I believe all from secondary teachers representing various content areas. Interesting, because we have had an integrated curriculum in place for many years at the elementary level that was received with mixed emotions when first introduced, but is now simply what we do. And, there were no comments from teachers at this level. I wonder what the future will be related to the units being developed in these secondary classrooms?

As always, the comments provided me and others with much to think about. We have not done an effective job of articulating the rationale and process for a common curriculum. The research is clear, but we have not found the vehicle to make all staff aware of this need to influence academic success for all students. It is also true that the process and parameters vary by content level with those like math that are textbook based and elective programs engaging in different work than other content areas. Even within the other content areas there are different processes in place. We will be discussing this and following up with a written response and opportunity for conversation.

I think it is important to understand that the work is partly in response to concerns from building administrators wanting to focus on instructional process, but struggling to do so in the absence of a common curriculum. Amy shared this in her comment that does a good job of bringing some clarity to the need. We will continue our work with a focus on improved communication of the need and process and increased understanding of who is doing what and why as it relates to implementing a common curriculum. We need to find a place for the teacher voice beyond those actually engaged in the writing.

Though I don't often respond to negative comments I will say that those of Anonymous are both interesting and disconcerting.

"If what teachers in the district lack is the wherewithal to integrate thinking skills and habits of mind into content lessons, why are our professional development hours spent listening to bland presentations about Classroom 10, grading CBAs and core assessments, or listening to expensive guest speakers? Wouldn't it make more sense to train teachers how to integrate thinking skills and habits of mind into lessons and units? It seems like this would all be moot and unnecessary if teachers were trained to do this work themselves.If what teachers in the district lack is the wherewithal to integrate thinking skills and habits of mind into content lessons, why are our professional development hours spent listening to bland presentations about Classroom 10, grading CBAs and core assessments, or listening to expensive guest speakers? Wouldn't it make more sense to train teachers how to integrate thinking skills and habits of mind into lessons and units? It seems like this would all be moot and unnecessary if teachers were trained to do this work themselves."
  • I have been superintendent for many years and I can only recall one time in all those years paying for an "expensive guest speaker" and that was Ian Jukes.

  • Understanding Classroom 10 is necessary before successfully implementing it.

  • Grading CBA's and core assessments in a scoring conference format the research would suggest is one of the most effective ways to influence and support quality learning and teaching when followed by conversations about instruction.

  • Yes, it does make sense to support integrating thinking skills and habits of mind into lessons and units. This is what the curriculum is doing and with it the focus can shift to instructional practice aligned with Classroom 10.

  • In regards to the "bland presentation" I think it would be important for you to give this feedback to your building leadership team since they are planning the presentations.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Mandated curriculum, continued . . .

The two comments from my most recent post have me reflecting on our curriculum work; the intent, the process, the response, and the impact on student learning. I have asked a few people directly involved in the work to share their thinking with me that I will in turn share in my next post. Is there a right and wrong as it relates to a mandated curriculum? How much guidance is enough to guarantee consistency for all students?

Thanks to Crystal and Kevin for sharing their feelings that are similar to some I received from an earlier post. I look forward to others and am open to being influenced as we make these critical decisions.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

With "FIDELITY" . . .

Today, I was part of a conversation with administrators about what it means to implement a curriculum with "fidelity". We use the term and read about it, but what does it look and sound like when it is being done? Many questions surfaced in our conversation as we began to realize the importance of engaging teachers during initial implementation in this conversation. The parallel question also surfaced; What does it mean when teachers are provided the opportunity to "personalize" the curriculum?

These are important questions because of the work we are doing with curriculum development and because of what we are asking teachers to do. The units we are writing are not always openly embraced by all teachers, especially those that have had autonomy for many years with the content of units and lessons. It is a significant change of practice that emphasizes the need for us to focus on what we know about the change process as we balance high demand with high support.

We must find ways for all staff to make the connection between Classroom 10 learning and the units that are being developed. The units are not being done because we are on a curriculum cycle, because our data suggest poor student achievement, or because our observations suggest poor instructional practice. They are being done to ensure that young people are given the opportunity in all classrooms to acquire the knowledge and skills embedded in our Classroom 10 initiative. Consistency is critical as we begin this initiative as is the need for collaborative work environments as we implement and refine the vehicles we use that enable young people to gain the knowledge and skills necessary for success in the world they find post high school. Over time, we may find that the definitions of "fidelity" and "personalize" may change, but initially it means teaching the lessons as written with a focus on skill acquisition through process based learning opportunities.

Any thoughts on how to support making this connection and creating a sense of urgency for all as we make this change over time?

Monday, November 17, 2008

One way to slowly kill your blog . . .

I made a big mistake by not acknowledging some comments to my November 9th post on process and product balance. I don't get so many that I can afford to not respond. As usual, those that did comment provided me with thoughts for reflection and questions to consider. I've shared some below in red with my comments in black.

Ethan asks: What steps will you and Connie be taking to make sure that the participants ALL agree to at least keep an open mind, to at least humor you? I think we will continue to share our belief in the importance of the process, the impact on the product when quality time is given to Wagner's questions, and cash in some of the balance of our credibility index with those that struggle with too much process. What steps will you and Connie be taking to make sure that the participants keep the big picture goal at the front of their brain at every minute of the day? We will revisit Wagner's questions at each meeting always with a focus on the problem to be solved, the goal to be reached, and the strategies identified to reach the goal.

Amy shared: The leadership institute is valuable for both its training of processes and the time for product. While active learning strategies support the training in the morning, I am not sure a specific product needs to be a result of the morning. The freedom to practice the skills learned that morning or in previous institutes is valuable as we work towards a product in the afternoon. With this comment, Amy has captured the intent of the Leadership Training Model. Connie and I attempt to provide learning opportunities and skill focus in the mornings with the afternoons being the opportunity to practice new skills in a safe environment. To use our language, we introduce mental models that support process and product work. This year we are differentiating between the mental models and the skills and tools that allow the mental models to influence our work.

Jerry shared: Finally, though our team had some struggles and will reflect on them, there is no question that growth occurred on many fronts. (the point of the day, right?) Yes, Jerry, that is a goal that Connie and I have for each meeting. I spent time with Jerry's team giving them feedback on multiple occasions. The feedback was direct and based on the non-verbals and partial verbal sparring later in the meeting in response to the feedback it did raise some dissonance for some. I touched base the next day with some team members asking for feedback and found that some of my assumptions were not accurate and that Connie and I could have done a better job in establishing the process for the afternoon. It was good learning and a reminder for me to watch more closely for the lens that I have on as I observe the afternoon discussions.

Crystal offers: But in the interest of being completely honest, I think that if I were asked to trust in listening I would of course do it, but I still probably wouldn't like it. I am a very goal-oriented person and if I can't see/touch/feel the progress I'm making towards a goal then I feel like I'm wasting my time. My original post was partly in response to a posting on her blog, maybecrystal. Crystal's comment supports what Ethan and Jerry say about students and teachers and what I call cashing in on an earned credibility index. But, it still concerns me that there are multiple people in the room feeling as Crystal does when progress seems to be difficult to reach.

Connie and I will continue to seek balance, but we will not lose sight of the need to provide time for learning new skills and tools that identify and reach goals that influence learning in all our classrooms. Teachers attending these learning opportunities are critical components of the support side of our high demand/high support culture. If we can effectively get each of them to feel this and see the importance of the role it may help when it becomes difficult to persevere. Knowing that there is a larger goal and responsibility can sometimes influence our commitment that will in turn influence our behavior.

In any case, keep up the comments. I will do better in the future.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Generation WE . . .

I saw this video on the Blue Skunk Blog and thought I'd share it. He got it from our friend Ian Jukes who helped us set the stage for Classroom 10. A powerful message from young people about their views on the world of today and of tomorrow. What also struck me was the differential in age. For some reason my mental model was one of high school to college age young people. Seeing it visually had more of an impression on me than the many times I have read about the millennials. Check out their web page that is referred to in the video, Project FREE was of particular interest to me as it is aligned with our new focus on sustainability.

Check out this new version of Bloom's Taxonomy that I found on Darren Kuropatwa's blog. I like the change in order and the addition of creating. What are your thoughts? Do our units provide opportunities for this learning?

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Where have my teaching skills gone?

Well, today was the second day of leadership training this week and I am not feeling good about my teaching. Connie carried the load both days and did her usual admirable work. She truly is gifted and it is an honor for me to work and learn from her. I think today was a little better as far as my presentation, but yesterday my contribution was of poor quality. I believe the content is appropriate and adds to the quality of the work, but my delivery is not. Too much talk on my part and too little engagement by the learners. It is a good thing I am not being rated on the Classroom 1, 5, and 10 scale; it might be embarrassing.

This thing called teaching is not easy. These experiences for me are both humbling and confirming. They confirm my belief that it takes hard work and commitment to become a good teacher and working with these leadership teams also confirms for me the high quality of teacher that we have in our schools. They persevere through my speeches and still have the energy to engage in the given tasks. They also appear to put up with my questions and feedback though I wonder what the parking lot talk is like after a session like today where I spent quite a bit of time with one group trying to bring clarity to their goal.

This evening Dawn and I had the opportunity to share with the Rock Creek PTSA our Classroom 10 focus. I feel much better about this, probably because it was a presentation and it is expected of the presenter to stand and deliver. A long time ago I was a good teacher, but now I think I have become a good presenter and have lost much of my teaching skill. Presenting is far easier even when trying to use the presentation zen model. It still takes hours to plan, but the skill level necessary to deliver with fidelity is far less than that required of a teacher.

In the morning I present again this time to our Rotary Club. These people are a wonderful support to our schools and to our students and families. I am proud to be a member of this organization. I'll try to represent you well. I think I have a good shot because again, it is a presentation, something I think I can do when I give it quality preparation and planning time.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Process - Product Balance . . .

An 0 for 4 weekend means there is no need to say much about football. The Bears played well enough to win as did the Seahawks, but couldn't score touchdowns when they both had multiple red zone chances. The college teams scored for once, but neither made it a game.

This is a short week with Veteran's Day on Tuesday, but it is filled with teacher leadership training for me on both Wednesday and Thursday. I also have the opportunity to share something from the district at Friday morning's Rotary meeting. Planning for one of the leadership days is complete as it is a repeat of an earlier day with a different group. Connie and I have made changes following the first day experience to create a heightened focus on the need for a "meaty" goal to guide the teams' efforts.

I haven't been able, however, to finish my contribution to day 2. As always, there is too much to share in the time available and we are struggling with the need to balance process and product. The mornings are designed for learning with the afternoons set aside for the teams to work on their goal. Both sessions are predominately discussion so there is not enough product work for some in the room.

Connie and I have a deep belief in the need to develop a communication and facilitation knowledge base and skill set to influence the quality of the product and problem solving work, but we need to create a better balance during our morning activities. We believe that we may be talking at the participants too much and need them to engage more often with us and with each other. If you are part of one of the leadership teams, please share your thoughts about this dilemma.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

A tough week . . .

My Aunt Dora suffered a massive stroke on Sunday and passed away this afternoon. It has been a difficult week seeing her in this situation and watching my cousins make the difficult choices associated with the aftermath of this event. Over the last year she has had a series of minor strokes that she endured with some loss of mobility, but nothing like this last one.

She and my cousins were a big part of my childhood. We lived a mile from each other and because of this proximity and being just a few years apart in ages we spent many happy and carefree days together. She was there when I needed help and support and she never hesitated to give me good advice. In reflection, she is one of the few people I know who never hesitated to share her private thoughts.

She lived a simple life devoted to raising her children including my cousin Mike who has Down's Syndrome. Her husband died when two of the four kids were in their early teens and Mike was not yet ten so it wasn't always easy. She worked hard to provide for the family. Her and my Mom were "Bingo Queens" for many years. I think I'm probably beginning to ramble with all these memories popping into my mind so I best just close for now.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Keep the dim sum running . . .

I shouldn't do this for fear that I might lose what few readers I have, but I can't help myself. Yes, another terrible football weekend. Once again, I give thanks to the BEARS for making it bearable. They have more wins than the Huskies, Cougars, and Seahawks combined. There are no words to describe the depths to which the two college teams have fallen so I will only subject you to a few about our professional team. It is probably a good thing that the Sonics left so we will have some time to recover between the Seahawks and Mariners.

The first quarter was a good ball game with the Seahawks 90 yard touchdown on their first play from scrimmage and the defense forcing three and outs on the Eagles. It felt like maybe we had turned a corner and had returned to previous year's when we won more than we lost. Oh, what I would give for a .500 record. Sadly, it was down hill for the next three quarters. No rush leaving a vulnerable secondary more vulnerable and no offense. We couldn't even get 11 guys on the field to punt on two occasions. Oh yeah, have you ever seen a quarterback ground the ball on third down to force a fourth and ten. The best part of the afternoon was watching Holmgren fume on multiple occasions. I wonder how he can sound so controlled and not point blame in the post game news conference?

One positive we did see today was the west coast offense. Unfortunately it was when the Eagles were on offense. I think today the stands emptied earlier than at any time since 2002, the first season at QWest Field. It started with about eight minutes left and by about the five minute mark it was well over half empty. The only good thing that happened was the walk out of the stadium was uncrowded and quick compared to a game where we win or are at least competitive. If the season ended today I think the only thing that I would miss is dim sum at the House of Hong. I'll probably keep going knowing the dim sum carts will get more yardage than our running backs.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Skillful conversations . . .

I had the good fortune to be in four meetings over the last two days that I would label as skillful conversations. Two were with principals and Teaching and Learning staff, one was with colleagues at the central office to begin planning the process for budget cuts, and one was with our Technology Fusion team. In each, people were using paraphrases to ensure understanding, asking clarifying questions, and attempting to balance advocacy with inquiry. SPACE skills were alive and well.

I was particularly pleased with the willingness of some staff to openly share private thoughts with difficult content. In each case it enhanced the conversation allowing us to explore issues at a deeper level. In the Fusion meeting, we were able to openly discuss the loss of TRUST some are feeling because of a recent process that did not include all parties in meaningful roles. We were able to sustain through the sharing without some going to fight or flight, or falling into group practices that bring the meeting back to safe conversations. Though it will not be easy, we now have an opportunity to mature as a team as we process this issue.

Once again it is energizing to be able to engage with my colleagues when we use the skills we are learning. It validates our leadership training program and reinforces my belief in the need to distribute leadership throughout our school system. The work we are doing demands dialogue and skillful conversations around important content. These are not possible in the absence of a solid foundation of communication knowledge and skills and skillful facilitation to take advantage of this foundation. We are beginning to hit the mark in our system.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Should we recruit teachers from the private sector?

I found this poll on Edutopia about recruiting teachers from the private sector without the undergraduate training that most of us have had. The poll allows you to say, Yes, No, or Maybe to the question. You can also see the status of the poll and read posted comments. When I took it 69% were saying that yes, we should be recruiting these people for teaching positions.

I wonder how many of the respondents, 105, are from parts of the country struggling to find teachers and not just for math and science positions? I believe that the tendency to see this as a necessary and positive move would be greater in these situations. When you are struggling just to find people for positions it makes sense to look for those that have content expertise.

I still believe that both the content knowledge and learning experience are important preparation for being responsible for the learning of young people. There is an art to our profession that can be acquired through actual experience, but given a preference, I prefer that this learning start prior to assuming the responsibility of a classroom. Not everyone can be successful in this work and the preparation programs are necessary for prospective teachers to make decisions about the commitment that they can bring to this difficult work.

Do I think that some could move from the private sector straight to a classroom and experience success? Yes, in a collaborative culture with quality support from experienced professionals and a shared commitment for the learning of all young people in a school. Unfortunately, this does not describe the majority of schools where these people are being asked to fill difficult teaching positions.

What do you think, should we be recruiting teachers from the private sector without any undergraduate teaching experience? Check out the poll at Edutopia.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Glacier Park Elementary, 2008 School of Distinction

Yesterday, I had the privilege of accompanying three staff members from Glacier Park Elementary, representatives of the PTA, a board member, and our public information officer to Garfield High School where they received an award for being a 2008 School of Distinction. This is the second year of the award begun in our state to honor schools that perform above the state average on the WASL and achieve growth over a six year period. Glacier Park is one of only 53 elementary schools in the state that received this honor.

It truly was an honor for me to share in this ceremony and see Emilie, Ruth, and Renae on the stage to accept the award from Terry. Their commitment to all students is evident in their success as measured by the WASL, in the leadership from Emilie and the leadership team, and in their focus on instruction. It has been a pleasure to watch and in some small way support this school on their professional learning community journey.

Did anyone notice that I didn't include football scores in my last Sunday blog entry? All I can say is thanks for the BEARS or it would have been another sweep in the wrong column. Looking to this weekend the best thing going is that the Cougars have a bye and the Seahawk's opponent fired their coach this week. Maybe that will help them find a passing game and the ability to stop someone on third down.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

21st Century Literacy - What is it?

I ran across this short video on Free Technology for Teachers that in two minutes describes 21st century literacy. Once again, it validates our Classroom 10 focus to prepare young people for the world they enter following their K-12 experience. It begins to create an image of what it means to be literate in the world we live in today. Since we live in it now, there is a heightened sense of urgency to begin this work in our classrooms as we are doing with our curriculum writing institute.

In the student's world outside of school, one way communication of the printed text has been replaced with interactive communication through the hardware and software readily available to most of them. The question becomes, how quickly can we effectively and efficiently replicate that in our classrooms? The world we live in today and the one that we face tomorrow requires a different knowledge base and skill set for success. It is our responsibility to create and support classrooms where these interactions and the learning that follows occur each day.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Education, is it a priority?

I like to read the blog of Scott Adams creator of Dilbert. Early in September, at his own expense, he commissioned a survey of 500 economists to determine which candidate has the best plans for the economy. The results were interesting, but the most interesting for me was the fact that the number one economic priority was education with 71% rating it an eight or higher on a scale of 1-10. These are economists representing democratic, republican, and independent political perspectives. The survey was completed before the events of the last month, but that is not my purpose for this post.

Why this post considering I try to stay away from political conversations? Because finally the candidates talked about education in last night's debate. Not long, but long enough for Obama to say "that education has more to do with our economic future than anything . . ". That sounds like education is really important though the questions didn't provide for much time or a better understanding of their positions. It was mostly about vouchers, waivers, early childhood interventions, and teacher salary; things that we hear much about and that lend themselves to sound bites.

If it is so "important', then why do we not hear more about it? Why is the majority of information about our profession negative news about what we are not doing or accomplishing? Why is it so easy for politicians to say it is a high priority and then to lose sight of the priority once in office? Why would a diverse group of economists suggest it is the number one economic priority?

What would it look, sound, and feel like if someone with the authority and commitment actually aligned their behavior with their stated beliefs that education is in fact the number one priority or I'd even settle for a top five?

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Can it get worse?

Another terrible football weekend. I left the Seahawk game before they scored their final, meaningless touchdown. It was late in the fourth quarter and they had less than 100 yards in total offense. They entered the game last in passing offense in the league and I am sure maintained that position today. What actually started to wear on me was the defensive players waving their arms to get the crowd into the game as the Packers made third down plays and marched down the field. Maybe if they flapped their arms less and made more plays we would be more into the game and stay until it was over.

The Bears and the Cougars also lost, that's two in a row for our Bears. The Huskies had another bye or it would probably have been another clean sweep for my teams. Not doing well this year and no expectations for changing in the short term except for the Bears.

On top of this grief, I aggravated both my back and knee yesterday mowing the lawn, going to the dump, and unloading stall and stove pellets. I'm getting too old for all this physical labor. Thank goodness tomorrow is work where I can stress my mind not my aging body and bruised feelings.

Friday, October 10, 2008

New learning for me . . .

Well, another day with Peter Senge and others has left me both energized and tired at the same time. I am also feeling more cognitive dissonance while seeing many opportunities. A world of contradictions, but that seems to be the way it is when I am given the opportunity to meet with Peter and the others engaged in conversations around sustainability and system dynamics.

We met first at South Seattle Community College's Duwamish-Georgetown campus where a green expo was being held. This was followed up by a meeting in one of Boeing's Renton sites. It was here that the emotions kicked in. I found myself in a conference room with ten Boeing representatives, mostly program managers, with a couple of VP's thrown in. Our group was composed of two representatives from OSPI, a prof from Western, the Director of Indian Education from Toppenish School District, and Abby Ruskey, Executive Director of EEAW. Abby and Peter facilitated these meetings that were hosted by Boeing.

Those that know me know that I do not network often and the above environment would be one that I try to avoid. I don't like representing superintendents or public schools other than those in our system. Being the only public school administrator in the room was difficult for me because much of the conversation was around the relationship between business and public schools and what must be done to embed sustainability and system thinking in schools with teachers and students on a larger scale.

In a short period of time, however, I found myself immersed in the dialogue and seeing both tremendous opportunities and concerns for lack of focus in areas where I have missed the boat. The opportunities are around the relationships that are being formed that have potential for bringing people resources from the business sector to our Classroom 10 work. It also became clear to me that in my reading of Senge's Fifth Discipline and in the work of his organization, SOL, I have only touched the surface of the potential for system dynamic tools to support our work. The Boeing people demonstrated some of what they are doing to adapt their business practices using these tools that are resulting in significant changes in short periods of time. I was impressed with their skill level at understanding their organization and where the leverage is at to influence and support necessary change.

I have read all three of Peter's Fifth Discipline related books and see that for me, understanding these difficult concepts and then translating them into practice is difficult without the support of others that know more and have prior experience with the tools. I have asked Peter for support and guidance as we move forward. I see a place for system dynamics beyond the communication foundation that we have put in place and especially see a need for actively engaging young people in learning about and using these tools. Causal loop diagrams are one of the tools. Believe me, they become much more complex as I saw today than this simple model, but they provide so much insight. I need to become more knowledgeable and proficient in the work of these tools.

I am also excited because Peter said that in December he would provide us with an opportunity to video him for our Classroom 10 video. I also have three Boeing staff that will do the same. They said things today that validate the focus of our work at preparing young people for options and success following graduation. They can do this through the experiences they are going through while keeping Boeing at the fore front of the aerospace industry world wide.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

An energizing day . . .

We had our first teacher leadership training day of the year with four of our buildings and visiting teams from Carnation Elementary in Riverview and a TOSA team from the Snoqualmie Valley School District. Connie and I really look forward to these learning and sharing opportunities and today didn't disappoint us. Our focus for the year is on change and the role of leadership in supporting change initiatives at the building and district level while increasing our individual and collective facilitation capacities.

Today, we spent time reflecting on previously introduced mental models and skills, the focus of last year's team goal, and beginning the process of bringing clarity to a "meaty" goal for this year. We shared some new learning around the difference between mental models and skills and discussed the mental model of creative tension in a new way. We asked the teams to think about the potential that creative tension brings for supporting learning and change and the need to create emotional ties to this effort.

We use Tony Wagner's five rigorous questions to focus skillful discussion in the afternoon for each team as they work to support the PLC journey that each site is on. We didn't get an opportunity for much feedback today so if you are reading please consider sharing your thoughts in a comment. Connie and I will appreciate it and the readers will have a more objective opinion of the usefulness of what we do in this work. Speaking of Connie, she is so gifted and an invaluable support to me and to our school system over time. I am blessed to have her as a colleague and a teaching partner.

Tomorrow is our first waiver day and I had planned on attending some of the learning opportunities, but I have been invited to spend the day with Peter Senge. This is an opportunity I couldn't refuse as so much of what I do has been influenced by his work and his writing. I'll share my day in a later post.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Football - losing hope . . .

Not a good weekend of football for any of my teams. The Bears, Huskies, Cougars, and Seahawks all lost. Not only did they lose, but none of them were able to even make it close. I'm rapidly losing hope with all but the Bears. They played a very good team in Federal Way as did the Seahawks in getting trounced by the Giants. The college teams can't say the same, losing to two Pac 10 teams that should have been beatable or at least ones that could be scored against.

If the Huskies don't change soon the stadium might look like this on game day.

An affirming video . . .

Chris Lehman made this presentation on Ignite Philly. It is an interesting format, you get five minutes -- you prepare twenty slides, and you get fifteen seconds a slide. I have never met Chris and he doesn't know about our Classroom 10 initiative, but this video should be on our web page because it captures the essence of the focus of our work. If you have five minutes and are interested in school reform, this short video is both thought provoking and affirming.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Social studies curriculum institute . . .

Our social studies curriculum writing institute began today. I was able to attend for a couple of hours this morning and was given an opportunity to share some of my thinking on the importance of sustainability and engaging our young people in this work. We have a wonderful opportunity to bring Classroom 10 learning alive with this content, to bring authenticity to classroom work, and to provide opportunities for problem solving and creative thinking to flourish.

The institute brings together teachers from our system with support from our Teaching and Learning Department, Gilda Wheeler from OSPI, and Kayleen Pritchard from PEI. This morning Gilda shared information on what sustainability is to create a common understanding of this fairly new and critical concept. Both Gilda and Kayleen will continue to support our work during the continuing institute days and bring a wealth of knowledge and experience with them. We are fortunate to have these resources and we are fortunate to have teachers that are committed to writing the units and supporting the work of their colleagues.

Nancy and Kristen have created this writing model as an adaptive solution to bringing the curriculum into our classrooms on an accelerated time line. It is a new model that will require further adaptations as the teachers and others continue this work. I am excited about the potential as is Gilda who sees it as a model that she may be able to use across the state. She complemented our T&L Department and our teachers for being on the cutting edge of not only sustainability curriculum, but other curriculum work we have done.

I shared two books that I may have shared in earlier posts, but will share with you again on sustainability and the importance of changing our behavior while we can. If we don't, the world that these young people will inherit will be significantly different than the one we live in today. The first is Peter Senge's, The Necessary Revolution. The second is Thomas Friedman's, Hot, Flat, and Crowded a follow up to his The World Is Flat. Both books, in different ways, create a picture of current reality and what will happen if we cannot create a vision of a better place that influences our behavior and releases our creativity. Today's youth will become significant contributors to the creative solutions that are required in the revolution that each author says is required.

It would be great to hear from anyone that attended today's institute. If you are reading, please take a moment to post a comment.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Curriculum development . . .

A couple people gave me some feedback about my thoughts related to unit development. They both disagreed with my basic premise and believe that teachers enjoy and should be engaged in lesson creation. It was fun to actually experience sharing of comments.

I don't know that two comments have changed my thinking, but they have confirmed for me that finding a balance will be important as we continue our unit development work. I am convinced that for new staff these units are critical and that for all staff they provide examples of what Classroom 10 looks and sounds like. But, over time we must allow teachers to personalize this curriculum and adapt lessons to make them their own. The unit outcomes, thinking skills, and habits of mind are not negotiable, but the vehicles used to provide opportunities to learn can and should be over time.

It will be interesting to see how we monitor and adjust our thinking and behaviors over time.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Teachers want to teach . . .

One of my favorite blogs is Scott McLeod's Dangerously Irrelevant because he talks a lot about leadership and purpose, two topics of interest to me. In a recent post he references three questions from Rodney Trice. They are:
  • How do you intend to bring the global community into your classroom?
  • How will you prepare students for a future that is relatively unknown?
  • How you will eliminate the racial predictability of achievement outcomes in your classroom?

The first two questions raise concerns for me because Scott goes on to say - We should be asking teachers and principals that question more often (and just that directly). Yes, we should, but is it the responsibility of teachers and principals at the building level to identify what students need to learn and how to make this happen in classrooms? Do teachers have the time, knowledge, and skill to create the units and lessons that are aligned with state standards, that are process and skill focused, that provide problem solving opportunities, that include collaborative projects, that provide for information literacy and technology fluency learning opportunities, that . . .?

More simply, do teachers want to write curriculum or do they want to focus on teaching? In our district we have been at both extremes of this continuum and I have come to believe that it is best for teachers and students if the primary responsibility for this is in the district's Teaching and Learning Department. I have also come to understand how difficult this work is, how fortunate we are to have Nancy, and that teachers must be directly involved in the development and review of this work.

I believe that teachers want to teach and not have to always be responsible for determining what content and skills will I cover tomorrow, next week, and next month. Over the course of a year this takes tremendous energy and time and does not result in consistency between classrooms and buildings.

It was interesting to follow the recent Bellevue strike where autonomy over lessons was one of the issues. I don't have much detail about this, but I know it has led to conversations in our system about the model we are using. Do are teachers have similar concerns?

Do you agree or disagree with my belief that teachers do not want to be curriculum writers, they want to focus on teaching?

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Improving the capacity to support . . .

Well, it was a good football weekend, the Bears beat Kentwood on Thursday and the Seahawks got a win today. I was actually able to leave a little early from the game without fear of the outcome while walking to the car. That is not always the case. The Cougars also got their first win yesterday so that only leaves the Huskies to make it the perfect football weekend. I think I'll enjoy this one for a little while, because I may have to wait awhile for that outcome.

I'm looking forward to tomorrow's opportunity to complete planning for our first teaching and learning meeting with our administrative team, the Educational Leadership Team or ELT. Our focus is on improving our individual and collective capacity to influence the Classroom 10 journey for an individual teacher and for a group of teachers. Much of this work for the year will be in math as we search for the strategies that support teacher understanding and capacity to create learning environments focused on process, Habits of Mind, thinking skills, and our Outcomes and Indicators.

We are asking each administrator to video a planning or feedback conference with a teacher for sharing with the ELT. Prior to sharing the video the administrator will share his/her personal goal for improving their ability to support teacher growth over time. The intent is to provide feedback to support individual and group reflection on the strategies that work for us in Tahoma. I'm sure this will bring its fair share of anxiety because we haven't done a video where the focus is on the administrator not the teacher. It only seems fair since that is what we are asking of teachers, to make their work transparent, to share with others, and to make the shift to Classroom 10.

In a sense, we are doing what winning coaches do; improving our coaching and consulting skills to support the work of each of us and all of us. It is going to be energizing and informative as we use interdependence to support a worthy learning goal.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Post 100!

This is my 100th post - it seems like I should celebrate this milestone with something extra special, but I would simply like to say thank you for reading and occasionally responding with a comment. Ethan, thanks for making me reflect on how what I say is related to the work we are doing in Tahoma. Your reading and comments are especially appreciated.

When I started last year I don't know that I believed I would sustain this long and though I don't post often, with this many over the course of about thirteen months. As I have shared before, however, I have come to enjoy and look forward to the opportunity to share. It makes me think systemically as I reflect on what might be of importance to people in our system. Like all bloggers, comments are like finding treasure because they validate the intent of the blog, creating conversations, and because they make me think. I will truly become a blogger when I can say something that results in multiple people building off of other's comments. That will be a celebration.

Some of you may know that we are creating a Classroom 10 video to capture for our community our 21st Century learning journey. I am excited about this new venture for our system and encouraged by the commitment that many are bringing to it. I have also been spending time on moving forward and You Tube looking at videos for ideas. I ran across this one on Scott McLeod's blog (a real successful blogger) and thought you might enjoy it.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Tech support around the corner . . .

Tomorrow and Tuesday are the first meetings of the year for our new 10Tech teacher leaders. These are the teachers that have been identified in each of our buildings to support the use of technology by their colleagues. One from each building will become part of our Technology Summit, the staff committee that will support implementation of our Technology Plan and guide us into the future. I am excited about the potential of this model to support teacher use of technology to influence learning and by the enthusiasm that I see from Kimberly who will be guiding their work. The model is possible because of funding from the technology levy.

As the team starts the year, what would you tell them they must do if they are to be successful in supporting you? What one thing should they consider that would have the greatest influence on your capacity to use technology to support learning?

Thursday, September 11, 2008

21st Century Skills and global competitveness . . .

I saw this publication from the Partnership for 21st Century Skills referenced in an article yesterday and thought I would share it. We have used other documents they produced as we were reviewing our Outcomes and Indicators that influenced the changes that we made. This short resource and policy guide is focused on what we must do as a nation to ensure our continued competitiveness in a changing world.

It is another document that affirms the direction that we have taken with our focus on Classroom 10. This focus is well aligned with the skills identified on page 10 of the document. The words used to describe the skills differ, but the intended outcomes are the same.

  • Thinking critically and making judgments
  • Solving complex, multidisciplinary, open-ended problems
  • Creativity and entrepreneurial thinking
  • Communicating and collaborating
  • Making innovative use of knowledge, information and opportunities
  • Taking charge of financial, health and civic responsibilities

We are updating the information on our website to create a common understanding of the why and what of Classroom 10 in our community. This publication will become one of the resources that will be added to this site. Check it out and give us some feedback

Sunday, September 7, 2008

The need for innovation . . .

I found this piece by Friedman both interesting and confirming. The interesting part is the question why are we going to spend $1 billion dollars to fix Georgia's roads and schools? Seems to me we have schools and roads that could use an influx of cash a lot closer to home than Tbilisi. The confirming part is the discussion of the importance of innovation.

"That focus needs to be on strengthening our capacity for innovation — our most important competitive advantage. If we can’t remain the most innovative country in the world, we are not going to have $1 billion to toss at either the country Georgia or the state of Georgia."

The focus we are creating for our young people promotes innovative thinking, problem solving, and working collaboratively on issues of importance to students and our global community. Though the article also includes the usual swipe at public K-12 schools falling behind, I don't think we are deserving of this label. I don't know much about other public schools, but I think we are focused and moving in a direction to support what this article is identifying as important to the future of our country's ability to maintain its place in the world. I get tired of the public school bashing knowing how committed our teachers and staff are to learning and teaching. Is the bashing deserved? Are we that different than others that result in this bashing? It would sure be nice to read something positive about our work that didn't come internally or from another educator.

Friday, September 5, 2008

ELT meetings and change . . .

It has been a busy first week with many issues that make it difficult at times to maintain energy and focus. It always helps to go to a BEARS football game that results in a win. We left in the fourth quarter leading 54 to 14 so I'm sure we won. I think we'll have to wait another week to see how good we really are.

We have our first administrator (ELT) business meeting of the year next Tuesday. These are not meetings that my colleagues all like to attend and over the last couple of years I have found myself cancelling about half of them. I rationalize to myself that it is because the potential items don't warrant a meeting. There is some truth to this, but I know I am also influenced by the non verbals and lack of engagement in the room during the meetings. I am committed to improving these meetings this year and that needs to start with my own mental model and ladders that I bring into the room. It will be interesting to watch how this unfolds and how well I do at improving the quality of these meetings.

Like always, the agenda is long because of the time of the year and because we meet for this business meeting only once a month so items build up. So, I need to model what I teach and begin to focus on my professional learning community. I am looking forward to the challenge. I wonder if my colleagues believe it can happen? My success will also be determined by my colleagues willingness to suspend their assumptions, something I have no control over, but must rely upon.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Correction! Correction!

I made an error when I said the word cloud came from Moodle, it comes from Wordle. They do different things. Give it a try, it provides you with an interesting context for reflection.

Thanks Dawn for letting me know. She is actually also in the office today, came before me and will probably be here after me.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

My word cloud . . .

Wow, a whole week between posts, I think that it is the longest I have gone. I should be able to get back to my normal two per week now that students will be back and I will have less presenting to do and "free time" with the family. Not much difference between one and two posts is there? Kind of embarrassing.

I think the sharing at the all-staff gathering on Wednesday went well. We were able to share our focus on Classroom 10 by reinforcing the why of the change and the goal this year for all staff to be able to articulate the why and what it looks and sounds like when in place in classrooms.

I came across Moodle in my reading and decided to see what my blog would look like in a word cloud. Kind of cool. I like the fact that teachers and learning are of importance in my posts.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Are my ladders in the way?

Two good comments from the last post that made me reflect on the data I am using to make assumptions about teacher leadership in our school system. Though we still have work to do, the comments lead me to believe that we have made more progress with teachers taking leadership roles than I have observed or accepted. It may be lack of feedback, a ladder that keeps me from seeing and hearing accurately, or some combination of both. Another opportunity for reflection, asking questions, and seeking support from a colleague.

I also experienced my first personal comment to a post. A teacher visited me Friday to ask some questions about some of what I said. I have observed in the teacher's classroom multiple times seeing much of what we describe as Classroom 10 on each occasion. I have much respect for the teacher and was pleased and honored by the surprise visit.

There was a concern that I was identifying a specific building in my comments about lack of success and specifically the teacher's building. He believes that much progress has been made in the building with leadership and is particularly pleased with our focus this year on instruction. At the time I said no I wasn't focused on a building, but in rereading the post I can see why the question was asked. The comments should have resulted in understanding that the model we were using for our secondary buildings did not work well for a variety of reasons. We believe this year that we have adapted to the current situation and that the model will be much more effective in supporting these teachers.

These comments and the visit again drive home to me the power of ladders of influence on my thinking that then influences my behavior. I strive to share my private thoughts and be a role model for the importance of suspending one's assumptions and always placing into the discussion what one is thinking, not just willing to say publicly. As I said previously, this has given me much to reflect upon.

More on leadership to follow with the issues of time and planning of concern. It would be wonderful to hear from teachers experiencing the learning opportunities and placing the knowledge and skill set into practice. What is different because of the learning and opportunity to influence your work with colleagues?

Thursday, August 21, 2008

A partial leadership knowledge base and skill set . . .

My questions in the previous post didn't generate much discussion, only one comment, but I will continue to share my thinking about the importance of distributing leadership in our schools.

Our school board has blessed us with both early release and waiver days to support adult learning opportunities as we continue our Classroom 10 journey. We must ensure that we make good use of this time for teachers to understand what 21st century learning looks and sounds like in the classroom. We need to provide opportunities for staff to learn, observe, practice, and receive feedback and reflection time as they engage in this work.

Who plans and facilitates these learning opportunities? There are not enough administrators to perform this function because of the numbers of teams that form on any given day. I also don't believe that building level administrators are always best positioned for success in this work. They may not have the content knowledge or understanding of the learning targets that are necessary to support the adult learning.

Since there are not enough administrators, we must utilize the expertise and experience of teachers to support the collaborative learning of their colleagues. In our system, this is one of the primary functions of teacher leaders; planning for and facilitating these learning opportunities. We have experienced varying degrees of success in this work. Some of what we have learned is that these teachers need:
  • Learning opportunities to acquire the knowledge and skills necessary to support effective communication. Learning to stay in skillful discussion and dialogue and to avoid debate and polite discussion. Learning how to balance advocacy and inquiry, how to make themselves and others aware of their mental models and ladders of inference, and how to bring private thoughts into the room instead of the parking lot are essential for sustaining a focus on this work.
  • They need to understand the stages of the change process because we are asking teachers to make significant changes to practice. Support over time is necessary to ensure that the changes sustain.
  • They also need support in creating the lesson plan for these meetings that aligns short and long term goals with active processing strategies with adult learners. Facilitating adult learners is not easy and is not something that we learn in college.

In our system, we provide opportunities for teachers to acquire this knowledge and skill set and we have observed success when they do. We have also seen a lack of success in the absence of this knowledge and skill set. Though there are many other variables that influence this work, this foundational set of knowledge and skills is essential.

Even with this work, however, we still have teachers that are uncomfortable in these roles and do not want to be perceived as a leader by their colleagues. At a time when we need to have the highest levels of support we can achieve it is not always possible because of teachers who are unwilling to assume these leadership positions.

What gets in the way? What do they believe will happen if they do assume these roles? Is it about more work and added stress? Is it about what they perceive their colleagues are thinking and saying about them? What do we do to create cultures where it is expected and appreciated when those best positioned for these roles perform them? After all, isn't this what professional learning communities do; commit to doing what is necessary to support colleagues, seeking support wherever possible, and holding each other to high standards?

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Distributing leadership . . .

Sunday evening has become one of those times that I have reserved for blogging, usually with the TV in the background. Tonight, Costas is interviewing Michael Phelps and his mother, a middle school principal in Baltimore. It is refreshing to hear the success story in their words and the respect and love that they have for each other.

A lot of potential blog topics have been swimming around in my mind as we approach the start of a new school year. We have a primary election on Tuesday with the State Superintendent of Instruction position on the ballot. This could become an interesting race as there are many in our profession upset with Terry who see Randy Dorn as a formidable and worthy opponent. I could share some thoughts about this race, but I usually stay away from politics.

This year in our state we will see schools and districts not meeting NCLB's adequate yearly progress in greater numbers. I know this is the situation for our school system. So, I could share some thoughts about this potential public relations issue.

Though either of these topics may be worthy of a blog post, I want to start a conversation about teacher leadership and why it is both so important and so difficult to achieve. I make no secret of my belief that we must distribute leadership throughout our system if we are going to realize our Classroom 10 goals. There are not enough administrators in any system to provide the direction and support over time that are necessary to develop and implement curriculum and instructional practices that place young people in situations to acquire the knowledge and skills necessary for success in post high school learning and work.

Some questions to consider in no particular order:
  • What are the attributes of successful teacher leaders?
  • Who becomes a teacher leader?
  • What do teacher leaders do?
  • Why is it difficult to sometimes be a teacher leader?
  • What knowledge and skills does one need to successfully perform the role of teacher leader?
  • What support do teacher leaders need from administrators?
  • Is being a teacher leader the same as performing administrative functions with out the pay?
  • Is this just for teachers or should we consider the same support for leaders in other classifications in our system?

What other questions do you have as you think about the need for distributing leadership beyond those with the title and positional authority? I'll share more of my thinking on some of these questions in upcoming posts.