Thursday, May 29, 2008

Heroes Night

I had the honor this evening of being a part of "Heroes Night" at our high school. It was an opportunity to honor fifteen adults in our school system who were nominated by fifteen high school seniors for being a positive influence on their lives. The stories brought goose bumps, tears, and laughter to those in attendance. It truly was an enjoyable evening and the beginning of what I believe will be a continuing tradition for our school system.

While the majority of those honored were high school teachers, there were two elementary teachers, and one bus driver who were also identified for this honor. What was reinforced for us was the importance of relationship in our work and that when we demonstrate that we care for kids they are open to influence, respect, and a focus on learning.

We don't honor ourselves very well in our profession, with many not wanting to be singled out for honors over their colleagues. When there are opportunities for us to nominate our peers we usually experience very few nominations. This seemed different because the honor came from student nominations. It made me proud to be a part of this important work and that I knew these adults who had such a powerful influence in the lives of these young people.

To bring closure to my previous post I am obviously back at work and my son is doing well. The antibiotics worked and we were able to bring him home on Tuesday. He visited the hand surgeon on Wednesday and found that the tendons were attached and that surgery would not be necessary. Thanks to all of you who asked about him.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Almost ready for home . . .

Well, I'm still in Ellensburg, but things are looking better. If he improves as much overnight as he did last night we'll be on our way home by noon tomorrow. This has been a pretty stressful weekend, but in the big scheme of things there are many others dealing with so much more. We have so much to be thankful for; our thoughts and prayers go out to those impacted by the storms and tornadoes and to all who have given their lives so that we might enjoy our freedoms.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

A not so restful holiday . . .

I always try to blog at least twice a week and usually one of those is on a Sunday evening from home. Tonight, however, I find myself blogging from Ellensburg. We were planning on spending a restful holiday with our granddaughter when we got a call from the Kittitas County Hospital. It seems our son, who was on his annual wake boarding trip to Banks Lake with his buddies, had broken a finger.

No big deal one would think, but not with our son who has broken many bones during his 23 years. It happened late Friday night while wrestling with a buddy. The bone ended up sticking out of the skin so the girlfriend of one of the guys, a nurse, "reset" it for him and then wrapped it. Early today when they took off the wrap it became clear that there was a problem with odor, color, and swelling. It had become infected and he had blood poisoning. Hence, the call from the hospital wanting to know if they should fly him over to Harborview or begin treatment. We said the latter and so here we are.

He is doing OK and hopefully the antibiotics will do their magic quickly. What was very genuine stress over loss of the hand or worse is now simply worry. We can take him home when the blood poisoning clears up. I'm hoping that will be tomorrow, but we'll know more in the morning. He has quite the ordeal in front of him with surgery to really reset the bone and then rehab. Oh, the benefit of youth.

So here we are in the last two rooms we could find. The rooms are in two different motels. I'm in one with my grandson and the ladies are in the other. My daughter insisted on coming for her brother so we even drove two cars not knowing how many days we might be here. I just got Kobe out of the tub and he fussed around about fifteen minutes before going out like a light. Now, it's my turn.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Are you a "Natural User"?

Below, is a comment shared by someone from my last post on interactive white boards. I like the language that describes the difficulty that some "good teachers" have in adjusting to the use of technology that is beginning to be embedded into our curriculum. This is not a condemnation like I often read, but a description from this person's context. Teachers aren't good or bad because they are or are not currently comfortable with the use of technology. We must, however, discover what the "plate" needs to consist of because our curriculum will continue to embed these tools into the required learning.

It doesn't need to be given to them on a silver platter but it does need to be on a plate so it doesn't spill through our fingers. Some staff can adjust to this new teaching with out too much difficulty. I call them natural users. They aren't intimidated by technology and how things can change from the last time you use to the next. Unfortunately, not all good teachers are natural users.

Are people "natural users" as described or are they somehow predisposed to the use of the technology? What do you think? If you could share one thing with the "decision makers" concerning the support necessary for ALL teachers to become effective and efficient with technology tools to influence learning what would it be?

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Should it be a no-brainer decision?

I've been thinking about sharing on this topic for awhile, but I have hesitated because I've already upset some in our system and sharing might actually bring some responses that I may not be ready for. Over the last few weeks I have found myself in multiple situations where the topic of interactive white boards has surfaced and specifically the desire to purchase more.

This is our first year using them in some secondary math classes. We are supposed to be collecting data on their use, changes to instructional practice, influence on learning, and the staff development necessary for teachers to use them effectively and efficiently. We have not been very effective at collecting this information though there is anecdotal information that suggests significant differences in use by individual teachers. This isn't surprising considering the complexity of the tool and the scope of support we have provided teachers.

Given this situation am I wrong in not wanting to scale up this tool to other classrooms and in other content areas? Many teachers and administrators see it as a no-brainer and are probably using descriptive words in the parking lot to describe my behavior. They see other districts purchasing them for all classrooms as we have with the document camera, projector, and laptop. When I am asked why we made these purchases without data I struggle to articulate a convincing rationale and reason for treating the board differently.

I say that my position isn't about the board it is about the process used to make scale up decisions and that I would be taking the same position for scale up of any tool. But, it is difficult to separate the relatively high cost of the tool's impact on the remaining tech levy revenue from the impact of other potential purchases.

Well, what do you think, am I wrong? Should we be purchasing more without data about their use and effectiveness in our system? Do we need to know if we have the capacity to support teacher's learning and use of the tool or is the potential to make learning more visual enough to make the decision a no-brainer? Is there a need for the tool in all content areas or is it better suited for some over others? I'd like to hear from you about this situation as we struggle to make these important decisions.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Are we that far behind?

I found this video on David Warlick's blog. He does a much better job than I would of asking questions and sharing the creative tension that this video can cause. Please be sure to check out some of the comments that go deeper into the data. A good learning experience as we think about sources and what young people and adults need to know about them. It would be interesting to know the rank today, I would hope we would be better than 55th.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Our need to feel valued . . .

I had an opportunity to meet this evening with board members, sixteen of our high school students, their ASB advisor, and their principal. We asked for the meeting, the first of what we want to be an annual opportunity to engage with high school students around important topics. The topic this evening was the stress being felt by these young people, where it comes from, and how they manage it.

We learned some things, had some assumptions verified, and like many conversations also ended up hearing much about other topics. One of these that I found particularly interesting was how teachers demonstrate to students that they care, that the student is respected as a person by the adult in the classroom. The comment that sparked this part of the conversation was one student sharing that he felt teachers showed more respect during the WASL administration then at any other time in the year. Below, are the behaviors that they shared that they believe have this impact on them. Please know that this was not a representative sample of our high school population as most were connected to the leadership class and/or student government. There was also not complete agreement on the place for this behavior in school or the need for all students to have this connection.
  • When adults give compliments and recognition for work well done.
  • When adults provide feedback including constructive criticism.
  • When adults inquire about the individual student's life both at school and outside of school. When there are observable signs of distress the adult will inquire and ask if they can be of help.
  • When adults are willing to extend time lines for work when there are extenuating circumstances.
  • When teachers regularly update grades on Skyward so parents have accurate information.
  • When adults make a connection and see them as people not numbers.

I am sharing this not because I am asking anyone to reflect on their practice or change behavior, but because what struck me was that isn't this what all of us want? We want to be recognized for our efforts, appreciated for our commitment, and be with people that show interest in who we are. I ask myself what would I hear if this had been sixteen teachers sharing the behaviors that students, parents, administrators or their colleagues exhibit that demonstrate caring and appreciation. I suggest that the list would be very similar.

It is especially troubling to me because this is the week set aside each year for teacher appreciation. I try each year to do an e-mail sharing my appreciation with our teachers, seldom knowing if it has any impact or serves a useful purpose. Most don't know me and may see it as something that I have to do as part of my job. Others may even think that I have Kevin write it for me. It won't stop me from doing it, but it just seems like such a small gesture to people who deserve so much more.

It makes me think about this society that we live in where if asked most people do not hesitate to say that they value education and especially the work of teachers. Yet, how often do they hear this from us? Why do they have to fight for a wage that aligns with what we say is such important work? Why do they have to hear the you only work nine months a year argument for why they are already paid enough? Why is it we need to have a week set aside for appreciation? Shouldn't we be doing this every day not just with words, but through our behavior, through support structures that position them for success with all young people, and by celebrating more of our successes as opposed to the bashing that is so much more prevalent in the media.

What can we do to create a culture where teachers feel valued and supported? What should I be doing as one of the leaders in this school system to shape this culture?

This evening was fun and informative, but it also created dissonance and tension around my own behavior and that of our society as we search for ways to align our behavior with our words about the importance of public education in these troubling times.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Technology Decisions Are Difficult

I spent the better part of today in meetings almost entirely devoted to technology. When we passed the tech levy two years ago I would never have guessed the amount of time I and others in our office would personally spend on this topic. Why? I struggle to answer, but know that it has much to do with the fact that we have more revenue then ever before, that we want this revenue stream to continue in the future, that technology has the potential to support implementation of Classroom 10 learning, and that we must find ways to bring the student's personal environment into our school environments.

I believe it also has a great deal to do with the need to integrate the work of what has historically been two silos, those that create and operate the back end and those that support teachers in classrooms. When we had little revenue the need for collaboration was not great. Today, the need is essential. These changes are not easy, but we have made much positive movement through our Tech Fusion work by creating the need for collaboration and through the informal conversations necessary to support implementation of the various projects in the district. These fusion meetings have been both productive and at times difficult, but the two groups are committed and the traditional attributes of a silo are being replaced by the attributes of a team.

These issues, however, don't seem to cause anywhere near the difficulty that we are experiencing in trying to put in place support and decision making structures. Each time we consider a model and share it we end up either starting over or making significant changes that again require reflection and thought. There seems to be a lot of the chicken and egg stuff that emerges in our conversations as well as questions such as these.
  • What level of support is needed for teachers to understand and use the purchased tools efficiently and effectively?
  • How do we coordinate the work of the multiple support layers that results in an efficient system of support?
  • What do we buy and why?
  • How do we become effective at making decisions that maximize our dollars to increase the level of technology use in all schools in our system?
  • Who needs to be engaged in these decisions on what to buy and the priority for implementation?
  • What is an appropriate balance between back end and classroom projects?
  • What data do we need before we make decisions to scale up current projects?
  • How much control do we need at the system level over access with district and with personal devices?

Finding answers to these questions has eluded us thus far, but we are being persistent and have one more model to unveil at our Technology Summit meeting on the 21st. We are looking forward to teacher feedback and guidance as we create structures to guide this work in the future. If you have answers to these questions please let us know as I and probably Dawn and Lori would welcome the opportunity to actually spend less time on this topic.

After all this, the thing that continues to be frustrating is knowing that however we answer these questions and make decisions there will be some who disagree and choose not to understand, agree with, and support them. The stakes are high because of the potential to support learning and the need for our community to see and value this potential for continued support. We must find ways to achieve our needs through our belief in consensus (at what level of engagement?) and placing these decisions in a system context. This work will take all of our PLC skills.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

The Anxiety of Balancing the Budget

Since we are spending so much time on it I thought it would be timely to share some thoughts about our process of aligning revenues and expenditures for next year's budget. It has been an anxiety producer in various parts of our school system and continues to be as we still find ourselves about $400,000 out of balance.

Every year we go through a similar process and always end up OK without really having to "cut" or go through what we are currently experiencing. We have meetings, create a level of concern for the board, and then find some way to increase revenue and remove requests, not cuts, to balance the projected budget. Because of a combination of factors this year is different. Slowing increases in enrollment and other factors have slowed down revenue increases at the same time that required expenditures for negotiated and state provided salary increases are increasing significantly. Trying to balance this and at the same time preserve a reasonable fund balance have proven very difficult for us.

We are engaging in true cuts having already made 15% cuts in building and some department NERC (non employee related cost) budgets. These are the budgets that are used for supplies and to cover costs for services and all other costs but salaries. This is only the beginning as we look at all programs where we have an imbalance between revenue and expenditures. Those currently being reviewed include the athletic/activity program, our intervention program, transportation, and substitutes for classified positions.

During this process I have again learned how very difficult it is to bring to the process a system perspective. Most people view this process through the eyes of equity and believe that fair means all experience similar cuts. If one budget is cut 15% so should all others. When viewing it from a system perspective I focus more on equitable, meaning that fairness is not necessarily equated with all being treated the same. For example, not all NERC budgets have the same flexibility as some are composed almost entirely of fixed costs such as insurance and utilities that make them more difficult to cut. Here a 5% cut may be felt more deeply than a 15% cut in a budget with more discretion.

Another issue that always surfaces in these discussions is the belief that the cuts should have as little impact as possible on students. Who can argue with this? The problem with this is that if we are truly focused on achievement and support for students and teachers and our budget is aligned with this support isn't any cut going to ultimately impact students? Yes, the public would expect cuts to be felt first in the Central Office, but the only reason we have one is to support those engaged more directly in the learning process. Change in one part of the system will be felt throughout the system. Balancing this issue is difficult without a system perspective because in it's absence it becomes easy to cut first in those places that most view as far removed from the classroom.

Perhaps the greatest anxiety is currently being felt at the board level as we ask them to make the difficult decisions of identifying where the cuts need to take place. We then make the cuts at the administrative level. So, they get to tell us where to cut, but they don't have the benefit of identifying what the actual cuts will be. Sort of like telling your spouse that we need to cut our food budget then letting him/her make the decisions and you find that they cut your favorite meal while there are other meals that cost more. This is a difficult position to be in when you care deeply about students, staff, and the support needs for both. We are asking for a great deal from them and we should be thankful for our board. Though this has and will continue to be difficult for them and for us, I am thankful for our board. Individually and collectively they are wonderful, caring people, who are learning through this experience.

I could go on with much more detail, but it would probably be overkill. The last thing I want to share is the need to have smart people engaged in this work. We have those throughout the system and in Lori and Bruce we have two of the best. They understand the funding system and use it to our advantage. They make the difficult and critical decisions knowing that someone will be upset. They balance competing needs with finite resources and they do all of this while maintaining a sense of humor. I am fortunate to have these system thinkers on my team.