Sunday, October 31, 2010

The Man, the Boy, and the Donkey

Was Aesop a school principal? Who knows? (See Wikipedia for mythical bio of Aesop.) Whatever the truth about him may be, he certainly has something to teach us.
I found proof that he knew something of what it means to be a principal. During one of our typically bizarre dinner conversations, my wife mentioned this fable to prove her point. Since I didn’t know the fable and my wife is always right, I looked it up. I can no longer remember the discussion that night, but this simple story has a tough lesson for all of us principals.
You can see a great performance of this fable: Mendota 2nd Graders on YouTube

The Man, the Boy, and the Donkey, from Aesop’s Fables
A Man and his son were once going with their Donkey to market. As they were walking along by its side a countryman passed them and said: “You fools, what is a Donkey for but to ride upon?”

So the Man put the Boy on the Donkey and they went on their way. But soon they passed a group of men, one of whom said: “See that lazy youngster, he lets his father walk while he rides.”

So the Man ordered his Boy to get off, and got on himself. But they hadn’t gone far when they passed two women, one of whom said to the other: “Shame on that lazy lout to let his poor little son trudge along.”

Well, the Man didn’t know what to do, but at last he took his Boy up before him on the Donkey. By this time they had come to the town, and the passers-by began to jeer and point at them. The Man stopped and asked what they were scoffing at. The men said:
“Aren’t you ashamed of yourself for overloading that poor donkey of yours and your hulking son?”

The Man and Boy got off and tried to think what to do. They thought and they thought, till at last they cut down a pole, tied the donkey’s feet to it, and raised the pole and the donkey to their shoulders. They went along amid the laughter of all who met them till they came to Market Bridge, when the Donkey, getting one of his feet loose, kicked out and caused the Boy to drop his end of the pole. In the struggle the Donkey fell over the bridge, and his fore-feet being tied together he was drowned.

“That will teach you,” said an old man who had followed them,
Please all, and you will please none.”
Please all, and you will please none. Many principals that I know really like to please; they really like to make people happy. Many principals I know fell into a trap at the beginning of their admin career of trying to avoid confrontation and keep people happy. Sounds like a good idea except that it isn’t.
Principals often have to make decisions that have multiple, opposing factors to weigh. We make some really tough decisions that we know will make some people unhappy. Principals are not there to make everyone happy.
In the end, most principals that I know fall back on what they value most whether it pleases everyone or not: we do what is best for the children. If that does not please some folks, so be it.
If only the Man knew what he valued most.
Originally posted at Connected Principals.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

School Pride. Where's the villain?

I watched the first episode of NBC's School Pride: Soaring Eagles just the other day. I guess that I shouldn't have been surprised to see a reality show filled with villains. The Eagles soaring are the students at Compton's Enterprise Middle School. The school is in horrible condition, apparently rotten underneath and within. Who is the villain responsible for this? The School Pride Team will solve the school's problem and ferret out that villain.

BTW, There is a pretty good review of the show by Carol Scott from called On NBC, Reality TV Plays Fairy Godmother To Cinderella Schools. I found that review while I was preparing to write my own. 

Since Carol is a better write than I, I will just make a few points:
  • To get the students outside for the opening rally, they PULL THE FIRE ALARM! Isn't that illegal in California? Don't we want children to know that the fire alarm is ONLY for real emergencies. Oh, I get it...
  • The show takes place over ten days. My thought early on was what would happen once NBC leaves.
  • I was pleased that they used a local contractor for some of the work. 
  • Unlike most of the national discussion right now, School Pride made no effort to blame the teachers. In fact, the two teachers shown most are clearly all-stars. Heroes even.
  • The district director of facilities is portrayed as a kind and overwhelmed man. A good guy, but no hero.
  • The first mention of the principal comes at about 23 minutes. "Even the principal is helping" was how they introduced him. Only later in the show, do they reveal the principal as the enemy. They wonder at the state of the school, "How he's allowed this to happen?" Sure, the problems of Enterprise Middle School and the Compton Schools lay squarely on this principal. He may have hoarded supplies (although most of that story is untold). Our first villain.
  • Fortunately, the team leader got the principal to give out construction paper to any teacher that wants it. That will solve a lot. 
  • "Who is accountable?" They go straight to the top in California, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. Arnold has few answers, but lots of platitudes. Maybe he will be another villain.
  • English teacher Ms. Mason is thrilled with her new classroom, especially the bookshelves. I hope that the minute the cameras left, Ms. Mason filled the walls once again with student work so that it looks like a live classroom.
  • While it is great for large corporations to donate goods to a needy public school, I am left uncomfortable with the "Microsoft Science and Technology Center," the "People Magazine Reading Room," and the "Starter Athletic Complex." I am left thinking about Education Nation and the drive for privatization favored by so many involved in today's education reform. A public school should not have to give out naming rights to get what its kids deserve.
  • The students, teachers and the facilities director are shown in a good light. Governor Schwarzenegger is redeemed by coming to the school to say "Pump you up" and "I'll be back." 
  • The students are told it is, "Up to you to maintain your school. Maintain your pride." Thankfully, NBC was there to give them their pride in the first place.
  • That leaves only the principal as villain. I  guess all good reality shows need a villain.
  • In the epilogue, we are told that six months later test scores go up 115 points to be the best middle school in Compton. The villainous principal is replaced.
  • Not mentioned is that, according to the Reuters article listed below, last week "the school board fired the superintendent for making $14,000 in personal charges on her district credit card." Ooh, another villain.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Tell Them What YOU Think About Testing #elev8ed #cpchat

On October 4, there was a once in a lifetime, online gathering of progressive education reform thinkers called, Elevating the Education Reform Dialog. I missed it. Fortunately, several participants live-tweeted the event and Shelly Terrell gathered sounds bites on her blog. This and my last post are devoted to this event.

Despite what we think as educators, most Americans think we SHOULD be testing / measuring kids #elev8ed (tweet by Scott McLeod)

I would argue that most Americans think this is the case because we have not done a very good job speaking up. As educators we need to grab ahold of the message and start shouting it every day.

Earlier, during the noon (EST) #edchat, someone mentioned that many teachers do not like the spotlight. I always found it strange that teachers can stand in front of children for 6 hours a day, but hate to speak to adults. Strange or not, I know many teachers who truly hate any attention other than in class.

To all of those limelight hating teachers, I say that you have to speak up. If you do not take the spotlight on your own terms, then you will have to stand back and watch as the LA Times turns the spotlight on you. If you do not speak up now, your "performance rating" will be public.* The spotlight will be on you completely on their terms.

If you are not sure how to speak up, here are just a few suggestions. First, read Chris Lehmann's post in Huffington Post. Then leave a comment. Next share your views with your community members; make sure they know that the current brand of ed reform is not good for children and learning. Then, write letters, send emails, tweet, or carrier pigeon (for crying out loud).

Testing by itself is not evil. We just need to let everyone know that using those tests for the wrong purpose and relying on them is not in the best interest of our children.

*Please note that the quotes there are meant to show great disdain for using test results, etc. to rate teachers.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Learning Before Schooling #elev8ed #cpchat

On October 4, there was a once in a lifetime, online gathering of progressive education reform thinkers called, Elevating the Education Reform Dialog. I missed it. Fortunately, several participants live-tweeted the event and Shelly Terrell gathered sounds bites on her blog. My next few blog posts will be devoted to some of the gems.

Will Richardson said, "We can't talk about what SCHOOLING should look like without talking about LEARNING first" (emphasis and tweet by Scott McLeod)

So many people focus their education thinking on the teacher, the principal, the program, the school, or the community. All of those things are important, but what really matters is the learning. Are the students learning? Are the students learning what we think they are learning?

The schooling, or teaching/program, must be reflective of the answer to those questions. If the students are not learning enough or the right things, then we need to change the schooling. We need to look at each student's progress and adjust what we do. I guess I would call this Differentiated Instruction (has that been used already? Darn.).

I would argue that schooling that really focuses on learning will look like many different things each day. The program that we choose to use will work for some, while others will need that program bridged for them. Still others will need a totally different approach. The teacher and the structure, the schooling, needs to be flexible and adaptive.

If we are always looking at the Learning, the Schooling should fall right into place.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Principal-at-large Or, The Once and Future Principal

Two great questions: Where's Larry been? Where's Larry going? CC
Where I've Been
For the last two months, I have been mostly underground (not literally): no blogging, few tweets (other than RTs), and lots of time at home. I've been reluctant to do much.

You see, I am no longer a principal. I left Spofford Pond School at the end of June and have been looking for a principalship since the spring. I've applied and interviewed throughout the area, but did get any job offers. In fact, the final principal position that I came across in New England is now gone for me. So, after three years as a principal, four years as an assistant principal, and seven years as a Social Studies and English teacher, I spent September at home - not in school.

There have been wonderful benefits to being at home. Most benefits revolve around my children who are 18 months and 5 years (doesn't everything seem to revolve around children? Shouldn't it?). I have spent so many hours with both children that it just might make up for all of the time I used to spend focusing on school. I have also been able to give my wife the gift of time to pursue her interests in ways that were tough while caring for the little ones without me around so much. In the last few months, my wife has grown her business and become a fantastic bread baker.

Although I haven't been very productive in the world of education recently, I have been giving many loaves time to rise and bake (metaphorically speaking, of course). In other words, this has been a time of introspection and planning.

Where I'm going
Being the list making, plan devising guy that I am. I have created a plan full of lists. The main idea is that have appointed myself to be the Principal-at-large for the region. Since this is an entirely made-up position, I get to set the parameters for myself:

  • Read dozens of education blogs each day
  • Comment on and/or retweet as many things as possible
  • Participate in edchat and ntchat
  • Participate in various other online learning opportunities
  • Read my back log of education titles
  • Blog about my reading of my backlog of education titles
  • Blog for Connected Principals
  • Get involved in "The Education Debate" going on in the US
  • Volunteer at the local elementary school
  • Attend edcamps and other unconferences (I am currently working on a plan to get to Kansas City in November)
  • Clean the kitchen, put away the laundry, and cook dinner (my wife added this)
  • Play with my children (my children added this)
  • Get paid $1,000,000,000 (maybe not)

Since I have not given up on being a principal (after all I am the Once and Future Principal), I will keep my eyes and ears open for a principal position for this year. I have applied to take a longterm middle school social studies position in the winter. And, of course, I will work to secure a principal position for the 2011-2012 school year.

So, that's my story. I would love to hear ideas, suggestions, job opening tips, dinner ideas - whatever. Please leave a comment below.