Wednesday, January 15, 2020

Students as Curriculum Designers? Why not ask the experts?

I was asked this week about some ways to empower students.  It seemed pretty simple at first, but upon reflection, I wondered if some of the traditional ways truly impact the learning environment and empower students they way we hope they would.  There are countless ways to give students a voice in the classroom and on the campus, but some thoughts I had on how students could impact themselves and future students is by getting them involved in the teaching and learning on the campus.

Great teachers empower students.  Period.  They do it in a variety of ways, and sometimes they can’t even describe how they did it, but great teachers and great schools empower students to own their own learning. This is the essences of empowerment.
The students of 2020 have perhaps the greatest experience in schools in history when compared to any previous generation.  The resources, thanks to technology, are almost limitless, and the emphasis on student-choice and social emotional learning have created classrooms and schools that are designed to engage students and make the learning experience meaningful to each individual child.   Is it working?  Yes and No.  There is no doubt that many classrooms around the nation have transformed from the traditional rows of desks and teacher lectures to a more inviting learning environment of flexible seating and student choice, but is it having a real impact on student learning?  Have the lessons and tasks really changed or have we just made the kids more comfortable?
I believe one of the best places to look for true empowerment of students is to solicit their feedback and reflections after the lessons have taken place.  As educators, we often spend precious hours of planning time to try and create lesson choices that will entice students and stimulate their minds so they will be interested and engaged.  Think about how much time could be saved if we had a few students around the table joining the teachers in a PLC to give feedback on previous lessons and input on upcoming units. Give your students, not just your top students, but the struggling ones as well, as chance to give you feedback on the tasks in your classroom or even your teaching style.  And here is a little secret, students do not hold back near as well as adults do.  You want to know the truth, ask a kid.   
As educators, formative assessment is something that is stressed at every level as the best way to monitor student progress, but what if we truly empowered students to formatively assess our curriculum and instruction?  We might not want to hear what they have to say!  As a middle school principal, I once had a group of students tell me, “If you want to LEARN you take this teacher, but if you want to have FUN you take this one.”  Originally, I was baffled by their candid answer, but I have used that example many times over years to make the point that “Kids Know”.  They know who pushes them and who lets them slide.  They know when they can turn in less than their best effort and when they must do their best.  If we want to get better, we should give them a seat at the table and make them a part of professional collaboration.  How in the world could that happen?  In a few easy steps:
1.       Individually- Create a system in your classroom where students give you regular feedback on your teaching and the tasks you assign them (you may or may not have control over the tasks you give).  If you keep a reflective learning journal, this is a great place to take notes to formatively improve the next lesson or change the task for next year.
2.       Campus or PLC- Invite a small, but diverse group of students to your grade level/department PLC.  Don’t put them on a stage as a panel, which is often fake and kids see through fake, but instead give them an equal seat at the table. You might have to train them a bit so they realize what lesson planning and curriculum mapping is all about, but they will catch on quickly.  Don’t do it a once.  Commit to making the group a regular part of the discussion for at least a six to nine-week grading period.  If they are with your PLC that long, they should experience lesson design, reflection of lessons/units, data dives, etc. Basically, a full learning cycle.  After that, switch to a different group.
3.       District- A larger commitment might be to invite a group of students that just completed an entire course to be part of a district level curriculum writing team.  Who better to share what was good and bad about Algebra than the students that just completed the course? Think of the power of hearing about the same lesson from three or four kids from different schools. It has the potential to help with curriculum alignment and calibration.  
I have five kids spanning from a kindergarten student to a junior in high school and everyone of them will tell you what they liked about school and what they didn’t.  When pressed, the older ones will tell you what lessons were challenging and which ones were “busy” work.  They will tell you what they remember from several years ago and what lessons had the biggest impact on their learning. KIDS KNOW.
Imagine the impact over time on the learning environment if we spent more time letting the kids help us design the lessons?  It is a different paradigm then simply differentiating a lesson and letting kids have “student choice” over a few activities all designed by adults. Its challenging but it is a way to truly have students own their learning in a way that adults cannot.  Be bold and give it a try!

Sunday, August 12, 2018

A - F rankings, Why I still don't agree with them, but now I feel guilty about it!

About a year and a half ago, somewhat out of frustration, I posted the blog below about my own kids' experience at schools that somehow didn't make the grade in the Texas accountability system.  The post must have struck a nerve with some people because it got over a half-million views!  That was pretty big stuff for someone whose normal posts reach about 400!  I was interviewed by several publications and the State Commissioner for Education, Mike Morath, even gave me a call to congratulate me.  The response was almost universally positive, save for a few comments from those that classify educators as whiners.  Unfortunately, the discussion was short lived and we all went about our business. Our schools and students kept doing great things, parents kept supporting our schools, and it seems there remains a group committed to showing our schools are not doing a very good job.  Some things never change.

Fast forward to present day.  In the past couple weeks, perhaps in preparation for districts' A-F ratings to go public, a number of high ranking school administrators, many of whom I call friends,  have come out against the rankings and are pleading for a better system.

TASA Issues Statement on Accountability

Educators Don't Agree With A-F

While I could not agree more with the countless educators sharing their views on the accountability system, I can no longer solely blame our Commissioner or even our Legislature without also looking in the mirror at wasted opportunities.  The State has given us small glimpses of hope that it would be willing to offer changes, but I do not think we have taken full advantage of the opportunities.  That is where my own guilt comes from.  We don't need the State system to certify the quality of our schools.  What we need is to place value on the multiple measures for which we advocate.  It is not enough to say the system is unfair.  We have to commit to offering a better solution.

Wasted Opportunities:

In 2011, House Bill 1157 called for districts to apply to be part of the Texas High-Performing Schools Consortium.  My own district was 1 of 22 accepted and the group began to work together to share lessons learned and forge a new path for education.  At the premise of these discussions was the concept of Community Based-Accountability.  Many of us worked with our own stakeholders to create multiple measures to assess our schools.  Here lies the hurdle that many of us can't seem to get past: We are still receiving an annual ranking from the state and while the belief in the locally controlled, multiple measures was strong, so was the pull of having to perform well on a one-day, one test accountability system. The information and desire is still strong as witnessed by the Future Ready Schools website, but we have yet to gain the kind of traction needed for true public acceptance.

Student Centered Schools

Next came House Bill 5 in 2013.  This well publicized bill generated lots of discussion and feedback around the five student endorsement plans designed to have students college and career ready, a far less discussed portion of the bill actually gave the opportunity for schools and districts to finally rate themselves on something other than test scores.  It outlined eight domains that would allow for multiple measures and, yes this is the amazing part, districts would be allowed to set their own system for evaluation!!

·      Fine Arts
·      Wellness & Physical Education
·       Community & Parent Involvement
·       21st Century Workforce Development Program
·       Second Language Acquisition Program
·       Digital Learning Environment
·       Dropout Prevention Strategies
·       Educational Programs for Gifted & Talented Students

It was finally here, locally controlled accountability over multiple measures. 2013-2014 was the first year the system was reported to PEIMS and districts not only were able to create their own measurements, they only had to pick three of the eight.  What happened next might could have been predicted, but it was very unfortunate.  We, as educational leaders, did not take full advantage of this opportunity.  Well over 90% of the districts gave themselves perfect scores.  Little time was put into the development of true measures and when the student achievement didn't match the exemplary ratings, who could blame the State for deeming the experiment a failure.  While HB5 was not perfect, the state did it did open the door for some local control over accountability, but we failed as a profession to truly take advantage of it. And again, I feel guilty about that.

I am ready to call the next piece a missed opportunity as well, although the jury may still be out.  In 2015, House Bill 1842 introduced Districts of Innovation (DOI) as a concept that would allow school districts the opportunity to create their own plans to free themselves from Texas Education Agency mandates. It was praised as a way to honor schools eager to transform with new and innovative ideas, however something just doesn't translate.  You can ask for anything you want but you can't get out of the accountability system. Basically, the state challenged you to find a better way to do "old school".  Here is a link to TEA's information on DOI:

TEA: Districts of Innovation

Why, in my opinion, is the jury still out?  We could start with the fact that the top 4 exemptions asked for as part of DOI are as follows:
  1. School Start Date (I get it. If you start earlier you can finish the first semester before Christmas and start the summer earlier.  All for it)
  2. Teacher Certifications (Again, in some cases, especially in CTE fields where industry experience may be paramount, a person without a teacher certification may be the best person to teach the course. But are we ready as a profession to ask permission not to be certified?)
  3. Class Size (Currently K-4 grades are capped at 22, but I guess the innovative idea is to make the classes bigger?  Again, I understand the proposal but let's be careful what we ask for.)
  4. Class Size Part 2 (This one I love.  In the age of transparency, this exemption allows districts to go over the class size cap and not have to tell parents about it?  Seriously.)
I would suggest that three of the four have everything to do with saving a district time and money and nothing to do with innovative teaching and learning. That is not to say that districts haven't tried to be innovative, but the combination of the rules surrounding DOI applications don't truly call for school transformation.  I am guilty on this one too.  Other than changing our calendar, I am still working with others to find innovative ideas that fit our districts needs.  To read more about DOI's implementation:

Texas Classroom Teachers Association - Districts of Innovation: The Reality

Top Twenty Exemptions for Districts of Innovation

So why did I write this tonight, especially at the risk of alienating some of my educator friends? Because I want us to do better and I think we can.  I am tired of waiting for the legislature to send a miracle that will save our public schools.  I am tired of trying to explain/defend an A-F system that really doesn't make sense as a comprehensive tool to measure schools (On a side note, the state delayed A-F for campus ratings.  Two years wasn't long enough to figure it out.).  But I am also tired of feeling guilty that we haven't done enough to show what our schools really can do.  In my district we have developed 12 indicators and rubrics to measure what we think is important (the eight indicators from the original HB5 plus four locally developed academic goals).  They are designed to be difficult to achieve, but more importantly, they were developed by our district stakeholders (students, parents, teachers, administrators, and community members) to show what we value in our community.  I choose not to be frustrated anymore about an accountability system that does nothing for us.  Instead I pledge to focus on what is important to our schools and the community we serve and I commit to sharing the results that matter most.  Schools deserve it.

To see our Community Based Accountability rubrics:



Thursday, January 5, 2017

What my kids have learned from going to an “F” school!

3rd grade Biography Day
Tonight, just for fun, I asked my youngest daughter (4th grade) if she had to give her school a grade what would she give it.   “An A+!” she said enthusiastically!!  When I asked her why, she said, “The teachers are awesome and we get to do lots of cool stuff!”  Then I told her some people think her school is an F!  “Those people are dumb. Have they even been there?” she replied.  Unfortunately, the answer is probably not.

Several years ago, my kids switched schools away from a wonderful campus and began a new experience in a much different, yet equally wonderful school environment.  We had moved and I wanted them in the same school district in which I worked.  At the time my oldest daughter was in third grade and my son was in first.  Now, I will admit, they were coming to a school that was quite different than the one they left.  For one thing, over half the students at their new school were what our state labels “economically disadvantaged”.  This was a new experience because my kids had been quite sheltered and quite frankly, never been around kids that didn’t have just about everything they wanted.  I will never forget my son coming home the first week and telling us about his new friend.  “He doesn’t speak English, but he is really good at math and building stuff” he excitedly told us. 
Making Friends from Around the World
I remember telling him to learn all the Spanish you can from him because one day you may need it.  My son is in middle school this year, and more often than not when I ask him who he sat with at lunch, that same first grade friend is one of the kids he mentions. 

PTA District Reflections - Literature
The truth is, I couldn’t have asked for a better school experience for my kids despite the fact that my 6th and 8th graders go to a middle school that got a “D” on the just released “rough draft” accountability ratings from the state and my 4th grade daughter’s school got an “F” in one of the categories.  They have had some of the best teachers I have seen anywhere, and I should know, I have spent the last 22 years of my life in schools of all shapes and sizes.  They have been challenged and they have grown and learned more than I could ever imagine.  

It is hard for me to believe that those with very limited knowledge of schools could have the audacity to create a system that they can’t even explain and give grades without providing promised support. If a teacher did that to his/her class we would consider it poor instruction at best and gross negligence at worst.  If you think I am being overly dramatic, you didn’t spend the last two days like I did talking to principals and educators and trying to explain that places they put their heart and souls into were deemed not good enough.

Bell Helicopter Competition
7th Grade District Tennis Tournament
Enough politics.  My real point in writing is that I am thankful for some of the things my kids have learned in these so-called failing schools.  Our District and schools strive to provide a dynamic learning experience and that is exactly what they have done.  My kids learned to dance.  Yep.  No one in my family can dance a lick, but when your friends are part of the after school dance club that is so popular that they have one for every grade, you sign up and show your stuff!  They learned to read and
Texas ASCD STEM showcase

debate.   Have you ever seen a “Battle of the Books” competition? It is intense.  You have to read and work as a team to determine your answers as you
Representing Texas vs. the World!
compete against other teams. They have been in plays.  They have built robots. They have learned to solve a Rubik’s cube. Learned to play chess. My daughter was a magician in a talent show. My son and his friends traveled to a global problem solving completion for Destination Imagination. My oldest was part of a team that placed second in a STEM competition at Bell Helicopter and she writes her own blog. They have collected things for Angel Tree gifts and later realized it was for friends at their school. They have been so lucky to have the care and guidance of so many wonderful educators. This is not a bragging list about my kids, it is meant to point out that NONE of the things above (and countless others) would they have ever experienced without their schools.  What they have learned in school I couldn’t have taught them. 

Next year my oldest will start high school and all three of my kids will be at schools that received a “D” or worse from the state.  I wouldn’t have it any other way. 

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Why I Write....National Writing Day

Eight years ago the National Council of Teachers of English  (NCTE) began the National Day on Writing in an effort to promote one of the most critical components of literacy....and one that seems to be an increasing struggle in our schools.  The hashtag #WhyIWrite is being used today all across America to share the importance of writing so I thought I would play along. Here is the link: 

The truth is, I love to write.  I don't claim to be good at it, but I like the challenge of it and I like the feeling of looking at a finished product.  There is something that is satisfying in that...a conversation gets lost to memory, but the written word remains.  I write for three primary reasons:  Professional, Personal Communication, and Reflections.

Professionally, my days are spent with countless emails.  Some are informal answers to questions or requests, but others, depending on the audience take on a more formal approach. In addition to the email barrage,  I write a weekly blog/memo to my department and try to make it both informative with a touch of encouragement.  Other professional writing I do as part of my job include writing memorandums, school regulations, presentations for the public, etc.  The style of writing varies and it always satisfying to complete a written project.

Personal Communication takes on all sorts of formats as well.  Sometimes it is an email or through social media, but more importantly, I like to write hand written notes.  I don't do it as much as I should, so here is a written goal to try and improve it.  Recently, I was at my grandmother's and she gave me a shoebox full of cards and pictures that I had made for her over the years.  It was special.  She actually had every thank you note I had written for Christmas or Birthdays or other occasions, as well as letters and notes through the years.  I had no idea they meant so much to her!  In my own garage, I have several boxes of letters from former students or summer camps kids I have taught over the years, as well as a box of letters from my Dad. They all mean the world to me.  Handwritten, personal connections are not as common as they use to be, but they are no less significant.  

Reflections:  For much of my adult life I have kept a reflective journal.  It goes in spurts, sometimes I write on a regular basis for awhile and sometimes it sits idle.  It is generally a mixture of ideas, thoughts, and questions.  Some of them are personal and some are professional, but I have found that taking the time to do this helps me put things in perspective.  

So that is my answer to the "Why I Write" question.  I hope our students find reasons to write and that our teachers encourage them to do so. Our kids should be using both electronic and handwritten forms of writing.  Journals, blogs, research papers, personal narratives, etc. are all types of writing that our kids should experience regularly. Communication in the written form is truly an essential piece to literacy and overall  personal success!  It is truly an example of AUTHENTIC LEARNING.

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Why Destination Imagination is a lot like Mardi Gras.!!..You Had To Be There

Trading Pins from around the world is a big deal!

I am headed home from five days at the Global Finals for Destination Imagination and I have to say that although I have been in education for over twenty years now, I have never seen anything quite like it.  In fact, until last year I didn’t even know this world existed.  The best comparison I have for Globals is Mardi Gras in New Orleans….not for the debauchery, but because when you tell stories about what happened, you will inevitably get two types of reactions:  If someone has been there, they understand; if they haven’t, don’t bother trying to explain it because they won’t believe you anyway.  We saw costumes that would rival anything you might see at Mardi Gras, but one of the big differences is they were made by hand from kids all over the world. 
Some of the NISD students at the "Duct Tape" Ball
This guy could fit in at Mardi Gras

When I started this blog a couple of years ago, I entitled it “Exploring Authentic Learning” because I believe that our students need as many avenues as possible to get hands-on, real-world learning experiences as they go through school.  As educators, we have to be intentional about planning for these types of activities to happen and I believe in NISD, we do about as well as anyone, in finding ways for kids to express and share all sorts of talents. In fact, while our group was gone, approximately 1,000 students shared and displayed their work at our District’s annual “Night of No Limits”. Where else do you see that many K-12 students come together on one night to celebrate their learning?
As we make the trek home today, I can’t help but reflect on what our team experienced this week. And when I say team, there are twenty-three of us in a caravan (the team, parents, and siblings) driving from Knoxville, Tennessee to our home in Newark, Texas.  We are all exhausted, maybe a little grumpy, but also feeling very fortunate to have been supported by so many friends and family through prayers, thoughts, and finances. 
William and some friends from China
The father in me is very proud of my son and his team, but the professional educator in me cannot help but see the endless possibilities a program such as this can provide for students around the world.  As I mentioned, I didn’t really know much about Destination Imagination two years ago.  For me, it was like countless other programs (and there are many other good ones out there), but that all changed because of one teacher and one parent.  Two years ago at my kids’ elementary school, we had a teacher new to the campus that really pushed to try and get the DI program going.
Hanging out with friends!

She made calls and sent letters to try and get a few parents interested.  She held a parent meeting that was sparsley attended, but she did what so many of educators talk about doing, she connected with one parent and convinced him that it would be a great opportunity for our students.  We talk a lot in schools about how we need our parents to volunteer and help, but often they do not know how, or, gasp, they are not really as welcomed or encouraged as we would like to believe we make them.  One teacher didn’t give up and for that, I am grateful.  (On a side note, many of the schools in our District have been competing for years and I have had other teachers approach me in my role about expanding the program. NISD sent over 100 teams to the Regional competition this year…duly noted).
Tidwell Middle School 

So our little team started last year with one dad meeting weekly with the kids in his garage (almost a prerequisite for sponsoring DI).  They built and rebuilt props, wrote a script to solve what DI calls a “Technical Challenge”, designed costumes and by the Spring they were ready to compete for the first time in the local competition.  Much to our delight, they placed high enough to qualify for the State competition!  This was exciting!  You could tell they had caught the fever and in an age when we struggle to get kids excited about school, competing in problem solving and being successful is a great way to get them to stretch their minds.  At the State competition we learned a lot last year.  We learned that working together and collaboration are essential to success, but the exciting part is they walked away determined to do better next time!

Stepping away from the parent part for a moment, and going back to my role as an educator, what happened next really excites me.  At our school we went from one team, to three.  Okay, maybe that is meager progress, but rather than 6 kids experiencing the process, we are up to 18 (including my daughters third grade team)!!  Who knows what next year will bring, but I am an advocate for more kids and parents getting involved.  Our own team stayed together.  Two members “graduated” to middle school, and were replaced, but we also added two more coaches.  One of the parents scheduled permitted her to eat lunch with the kids once a week and work on “instant challenges”. Again, parents working with students and the school to help provide dynamic learning experience!  In fact, my middle school daughter now competes on a team in which the mom coaches SEVEN teams!!! You might say we are hooked.

Recently, in a meeting with principals from our District, I asked them to think about how their campus plans for ALL students to share, reflect, and publish their work.  This is very important to authentic learning.  We should feel morally obligated to provide cultures in our buildings where students have real-world experiences.  If we do not, how can we say we are preparing them for their future?  Don’t “allow” it to happen, encourage and foster a setting in the classroom and the campus where it “has” to happen.

This week was a wonderful experience for my son and his team.  One that they will never forget.  They reached their goal of qualifying for Globals and they now have that fever again to come back and compete against the best in the world.  However, competing was just one fraction of the learning experience.  Our kids worked to fundraise, they learned to write letters to both request and thank people and businesses for funds, they even spoke at a Board of Directors meeting to receive a grant to support their trip.  All of these life skills and experiences forced them to do things they would not have learned any other way.  While at the competition, I watch in amazement as they interacted, bartered, and traded with kids from all over the world.  Who knows, someday, one of them may end up negotiating with China over something much more important than a decorated pin.

Lakeview Elementary

Medlin Middle School

Tidwell Middle School- Instant Challenge Champions

As I mentioned, in NISD, we put an emphasis on authentic learning.  Our Academies at the high school level provide all sorts of real-world experiences.  Many of our schools have joined the “makers space” movement to foster student creativity, and our teachers continue to develop problem-based learning lessons for students.  Our students build their own e-portfolios and some even tell stories of using them to get jobs! My challenge for NISD teachers and administrators, and really educators everywhere, is what can we do to ensure that ALL of our students experience learning like the four teams from NISD that competed at Globals this year? Or the STEM kids from NHS that built rockets and competed with schools around the state? Or the robotics club at Clara Love Elementary that qualified and competed at the state level.  Truly, the list of opportunities and successes in NISD is endless, but let’s not be satisfied until ALL students are Ready for College, Ready for the Global Workplace, and Ready for Personal Success.

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Shadow a Student Challenge!!

Since I graduated from Lewis-Palmer High School, Monument, CO in 1989, my visits to high school have tended to be limited to brief classroom visits, an occasional walk through the halls, or an athletic or fine art event.  I remember really liking high school…especially the social part.  I don’t really remember too much about most of my classes but I remember my friends and many of my teachers.  Today I decided to take the “Shadow a Student” challenge and spent the day attending classes at Northwest High School in my District. I can tell you I learned a lot and walk away with more questions than answers.
"The Meeting"
I had asked Principal Jason Childress to find me a student and he paired me with Josh.  Josh is a sophomore football player and within the first few minutes, I knew I would like him.  Everybody likes “Big Josh”.  He was a great tour guide today and didn’t seem to mind too much having me tag along with him all day.  I will keep some of our conversations private, but I do believe he gave me an honest and authentic look into the life of one of our student athletes.
Our day started with 1st period athletics.  We dressed out and offseason football workouts and I was amazed with how organized and efficient the workouts and drills were.  There was very little “direct” teach, but the coaches encouraged and motivated the team as the students worked with each other through drills they had obviously practiced before.  Josh was one of the vocal leaders and even tried to get me on the bench press.  I resisted, but did participate in some of the workout.  Best of all, I got a NHS football t-shirt to wear the rest of the day.
Tapping Out!
The juniors were taking the SAT test today and many of the teachers were being used to help with coverage.  Because Josh took Spanish I is an 8th grader, he is already in Spanish 3 (typically a junior level course) his teacher was helping with the SAT.  Therefore our 2nd period was more of a study hall.  I was a little relieved I didn’t have to practice my Spanish, plus it gave me a chance to talk to Josh about his typical day.  He shared that after school he will workout (again) and generally doesn’t get home until about 6:30-7:00 on most days. He also has a part-time landscaping job, likes old cars, and does a little homework.  I must admit we discussed making a Sonic run during second period, but thought better of it.

World Geography
Third period found us in World Geography.  Students grappled with the work of Ghandi and what social injustices are still present today.  The variety of thought in the room was substantial. Because of the room arrangement, I didn’t get to sit by my new friend Josh.  The group I was with struggled a bit making connections, but we worked through it.  It was also an Advisory period day so we stayed in 3rd period a little longer and had a lesson on cyber safety and got to watch announcements created by the AMAT academy.  It was all very good information and seems like a great way to get the message to all the student.

Back when I was in high school, my favorite period of the day was lunch!  We use to drive to Dairy Queen or one of the other fast food restaurants and hope we go back to school in time.  Nowadays, the students don’t get to leave, but the food court in the cafeteria rivals any medium sized mall.  Josh and I had Pizza Hut and nachos. The students were able to socialize and I even asked Josh if there were teachers on duty because it just seemed like everything was running smoothly on its own.  We sat at a table by ourselves as I tried to convince Josh that Texas Tech would be a great place to aspire to play football.  He was polite, but I could tell he has his sights set on Oklahoma State.  He mentioned that he needed to focus more in the classroom so that his grades are not an issue, but I was so impressed with his focus and his perspective of his future.

English II
In the afternoon, the academics got a lot tougher.  We went from English II, to Chemistry, and then Geometry.  One thing I recognized in all the classes is that you better keep up.  They move fast and expect students to have their work and be ready to go.  There was support, both in class, and with tutorials but I sure wouldn’t call it hand holding.  In English we practice some revising and editing which I could do fairly well despite my tendency to misspell words and generally butcher many grammatical rules.  Chemistry might as well have been a forgien language.  I vaguely remembered some of the concepts from high school, but I was basically lost.  Josh left with homework…I was just glad I didn’t have to turn my work in tomorrow.  The Geometry class was a review for a test tomorrow.  The students all seem to grasp the concepts and were ready to go. As the teacher reviewed with the student, I heard what was my favorite quote of the day, “This class is designed for YOUR success, not mine.” He was trying to have the students reflect on what they needed help with and address their needs.  We ended our day in Josh’s Principles of Agriculture class.  I was disappointed when we went to a classroom instead of a barn, but I did learn a lot of vocabulary around dairy science that I did not know.

End of the Day
After that, my day was over, but not for Josh.  He headed back to athletics for after school workouts.  Based on what I saw in Chemistry, he will get home tonight sometime around 7:00 and have an hour or so of homework before returning for football practice tomorrow morning to do it all over again.
So what did I learn today?
·        I learned that high school hasn’t gotten any easier in the last 25 years. 
·        I learned that teachers and students work very hard (actually, I knew that, but I saw it in action).I learned that classes and lunch are quieter than they use to be…a lot of kids on phones and with headphones. 
·        I learned that almost all of the students are very agreeable and follow the rules.
·        I saw very few “excited” about what they were learning and that most adults (including myself) sound foolish when we attempt to determine what is relevant for all students.
·        The “average” high school student is a myth.  There is no such thing…they are all unique.
Someone asked me as I left if it was worth it.  Absolutely.  It was the best day I have spent at work in a long, long time and probably the best professional development I could have experienced. Students will help us transform our schools if we let them.  We just need to look and listen!

A special thank you to Josh, Principal Jason Childress, and the entire Northwest High School staff for letting me invade your space today.  It was a pleasure!

Sunday, January 31, 2016

Don't let your leadership cause a Head-On collision!

Every September in Sweden, the citizens remember H-Day, probably some more fondly than others.  "Högertrafikomläggningen" ("The right-hand traffic diversion") was the day in 1967 in which Sweden switched from driving on the left-side of the road to the right side. While it may seem a bit comical now, it was serious business at the time, if you stop and reflect on the amount of planning that would go into such a switch, it is easy to question why even bother.  The background of the decision included over 40 years of debate in the country and once the decision was made by the government in 1963, it took four years of planning despite an overwhelming opposition from the public.  In fact, over 80% of the Swedish population opposed the switch but the leaders pressed on. Why? To begin with, most of Europe drove on the right side, including Norway and Finland (Sweden’s immediate neighbors) and more and more vehicles were being made to drive on the right side of the road.  Also, numerous studies had sited safety concerns for left-sided driving.  There were many more head-on collisions in Sweden per capita that other countries. And so the leaders pressed on despite opposition they believed they were making a change that would ultimately be good for the country. 
How does this compare to our leadership in education?  What sacred cows do we hold on to because it is the way we have always done it? Do we resist change because it might be an inconvenience and does not seem worth the effort?   In Sweden, they basically shut down the roads for a day, had lights, traffic signs and paint ready to go for an immediate switch.  They even bought over 8,000 buses with doors on the correct side nationwide to accommodate the change. They spent several years training drivers and preparing them for the change so that when it happened, it was actually one of the safest Mondays on record in terms of accidents. People were focused on their driving, had been prepared, and implemented the plan almost flawlessly. 

What if Sweden had never had an “H-Day”?  Maybe nothing.  Maybe everything would have gone on just as it was and people would have been content. However, maybe things are safer now….maybe driving between countries is easier and more likely.  My point in telling the story is not about the driving.  It is more about the vision, the planning, and the courage it took to make such a switch.  One that literally effected everyone in the country.  It took communication, courage, money, and time.  A lesson we would all be well served to remember when we are leading/seeking change in our schools and our system.  Not everyone is going to like it, but if we have a good reason, stick to the plan, and communicate/prepare everyone well, the change is much more likely to be successful and not a head-on collision.