Category Archives: Creating & Sustaining a Culture of High Expectations

Before the data

Many times this year, we’ve talked about data. As grade level teams, we’ve explored local assessment data to ensure appropriate interventions are provided. As a school intervention team, we’ve collected data on behaviors and their antecedents to ensure we set students up for success and support their areas of need. As a principal team, we’ve talked about the kind of data that might come from the new PARCC assessment versus what we’ve experienced in the past. As part of the weekly #ILEdchat on Twitter, we’ve discussed using data to guide instruction and the type of data we could glean from portfolios or summative assessments or formative assessments. I will agree that data is important to guide objective, well-thought-out decision making. I can’t, however, stress the importance of what comes before the data enough.

They are all ‘our’ kids

Relationships are key. If we want to build relationships, we have to know our students before and beyond the data we collect. Our experience may not be their experience. Their experience may be different than their neighbors’ experience. We have to know that, to honor that, and to support one another as we seek to support our students. Sometimes this means considering that a child’s school experience is greatly impacted by home stressors. Sometimes it means contemplating that another student who ‘shouldn’t’ feel picked on really, truly does. And if we think crunching numbers and analyzing data makes our heads hurt, we have to be even more ready for the heavy weight that comes with really knowing students, the challenges they face, and the compelling urge to be part of their support and solution.

This story below is one of my favorites in highlighting the need to support one another as we farm our corn, or in this case support our students. It highlights the theme that every member of our learning community has to be all in.

photoAs the time of year is upon us where we’re making class lists and making decisions about the learning environment and supports a student might need in the year ahead, I’ll be sharing this story with my staff again. All kids are ‘our’ kids and we have to work together. Remember what comes before the data.

What will I learn, Mom?

My husband and I have four kids between the ages of 7 and 11, and we live in a neighborhood with many more. As we’d hoped, our house is a place where our kids and their friends congregate quite a bit. This weekend, my soon-to-be-sixth-grade son and a neighborhood girl were chatting about junior high. Both of them started summer band this past week and are loving it.

As I used to be a junior high school administrator in our district, they asked me a few questions about schedules, electives, and lunch. I was able to weigh in based on my experience, while noting that things are different from school to school and changes have likely happened in recent years. Then he asked, “What will I learn in junior high that I can’t look up on my phone?” He then noted that I’d been using my own phone’s calculator to figure out my monthly expenses when we started this conversation. I talked about mathematical thinking I still had to know to figure that out. My husband, a former math teacher, chimed in and agreed, but none of us were totally satisfied. We talked more about our experiences as students and educators, and we talked about what we hoped our son’s experiences might be. I especially love his question because we’ve spent some time talking about respectfully asking questions when you have them and not staying quiet and compliant.

And a good question it was, son. To be honest, I’m still thinking about it. What do you want to tell him? Are you happy with your honest answer? What should we be able to tell our kids?

Myths & basketball teams

Today marks the end of #draftweek in which I finished and published the 5 posts from my draft folder one day at a time. I initially started this post in April following a particularly heated conversation in my doctoral course. I wrote the italicized portion that day, as follows:

For the last three years, I’ve been part of a doctoral cohort in Educational Administration. During that time, I’ve been fortunate to learn with a group of really funny, hard working, supportive school leaders from the greater Chicago area. Many of us are nearing the point of having less than a month of coursework and our dissertation ahead of us. (When did I ever think I’d be saying I ‘only’ had a dissertation left?!)  We’ve been enrolled in a policy course this term that includes graduate students from other programs, mostly still related to education. Recently we’ve read and discussed Learning to Labor: How Working Class Kids Get Working Class Jobs, an ethnography written by Paul Willis in 1977 about working class boys in school and preparing for the factory floor.

Last Saturday afternoon, we engaged in some discussion with our peers, our professor and a guest professor with some expertise in Willis’s work. Our guest referenced the myth he believes our schools perpetuate by telling all students that they can succeed, go to college, and find a job. He further suggested there are a finite number of jobs and we simply don’t have a place for everyone.

He said we tell kids to work hard and they’ll succeed, and question the ethics of selling this to kids when he doesn’t believe it to be true. Essentially, he went on to liken this to a basketball team in which not everyone that wants a spot on the team gets a spot on the team. He said it doesn’t make sense to prepare all kids to be on the team because only the best kids will make it. This didn’t go over so well (and there is some speculation that he was just stirring the pot). Going back to the make-up of the class, it specifically included my doctoral cohort from Educational Administration, some Master’s level students working toward administrative certification, and doctoral students in other education programs. Many of my cohort members didn’t care for his stance, especially as we could all think of ‘that kid’ who didn’t exhibit the profile of someone who ‘makes the team’ who DID end up being successful with intervention and collaboration. These are students that may have had a different path if we selected it for them based on the early traits we saw.

One of my classmates is a principal at a high school with a fairly large Hispanic population, and his dissertation research relates to Hispanic student success in college. His question to the professor (which went unanswered) was simply, “What is our message then?” Should we be encouraging students and telling them that, with hard work, they can go to college and be what they want to be? As my colleague also questioned, “How is telling students to try their best not the truth?” How does hard work not pay off, even if the payoff is sometimes delayed. How could this be a myth? Your thoughts? What should our message be?

These blank walls

2012-12-29 12.20.00
Today marks Day #4 of #draftweek. Basically, after Jesse McLean Tweeted about his plan to complete some lingering drafts, I decided to join him and complete 5 drafts of my own. I started writing this post in January of 2013. I didn’t get too far, as you’ll see by the italicized start to my thoughts. I also snapped the picture to the left right around that same time to use for this post:

 

See that track? That’s where I spent some time between Thanksgiving and Christmas as I embarked on the challenge to complete the Runner’s World Holiday Running Streak for the second year in a row.

 

Truthfully, in the three months leading up to the streak I’ve been pretty inconsistent with any exercise.

I’ve been pretty inconsistent in the months since then, too. Running on that track, which is 5 laps to a mile, gave me plenty of time to think. Looking down, I’d see the track that’s pictured. Looking around, I saw a yellow wall to one side and the dark green tarps surrounding the tennis courts to the other side. I’m a very visual person, and images spilled from my thoughts to that yellow wall as I ran. I’d see successful scenes play out at school, completed projects, and such. Sometimes I’d simply space out and enjoy my music. Regardless, I ran on the track or outside every day for 42 days. I Tweeted or posted to Facebook as I ticked off the days. Sometimes, i was sneaking in right before my gym closed to get in the quick mile minimum, and other times I was I had all the time I needed. Once I publicly shared my goal of finishing the streak, it was going to take a lot to compromise that. I knew the running was good for me, too, both physically and mentally.

That’s also the case with #draftweek. Even though it is only 5 days, once I committed to joining Jesse I made sure these posts got done. I didn’t want to be the one to say, ‘Hey, couldn’t make this happen. I’ll try again tomorrow.’ I’ve wanted to blog more, but I hadn’t been successful in making that time a part of my daily schedule.

LIkewise, I haven’t had pop in a month, either, because I decided to cut that out of my day. It was too easy to grab a Coke when I was out, and I knew it wasn’t good for me. I finished the Warrior Dash, even though I was undertrained, because I’d signed up and didn’t want to back down from what I told my friends I’d do.

So as I approach my next birthday this weekend, my husband asked me about my goals for the upcoming year. He always drafts some goals on his birthday, and he is one of the most self-disciplined people I know; I admire that about him. As I finished this post and thought back to those runs and such I realize that I am very good at keeping promises to others and following through on my public commitments. I’m also great at pushing my promises to myself to the side, like keeping my running active after I built that streak. My goals for this next year will tie to that thinking, as I consider:

  • Reintroducing consistent exercise and maintain the writing time I’ve managed to find this week.  In measurable terms, I’d like to be able to run 5 miles.
  • Writing more, as measured by no longer than a week between blog posts.
  • Completing some organizational work in our master bedroom by ensuring everything has a place.
  • Leaving receipts or sending texts to my husband so he can continue to manage our family finances.
  • Defending my doctoral dissertation proposal and conducting the research associated with my study.

Maybe I make each one an event or a hashtag, as I attain success when I bring others in to the fold. Maybe I just need to be able to reach these goals simply because they ARE my goals. What do you think? How can you relate? How do I paint these blank walls with those images of success? I don’t think this is where I initially intended this post to land, but it has sure given me something to think about now.

Writing time

Last Friday I noticed the following Tweet:

I have 9 “draft” posts that I started and never finished, thinking of picking the 5 best and finishing them Monday-Friday next week.

— Jesse P. McLean (@jmclean77) July 5, 2013

This got me thinking about the unfinished drafts that were sitting in my own folder and the general lack of attention I’ve given my blog. Within the next day or so I responded to another of Jesse’s Tweets, noting that I’d been thinking about joining him in this challenge of sorts. Upon a quick count, I had 5 posts started to varying degrees along with many cases of “I really should write about that” floating around in my head. Jesse asked why those posts most often ended up in the draft folder, and I’d attribute that to two main reasons:

  • I simply wasn’t taking the time I needed to write and reflect.
  • I’d struggled (and still do to an extent) to write a simple point-in-time post, instead striving for an authentic, thoughtful reflection…that was comprehensive, polished and ‘finished’.

Have those same reasons impacted your writing? What are other challenges that impede your writing time? Logically, I know taking this time is important to my own learning and the modeling of learning I hope to do for others. I also know a blog post is only ‘finished’ until you think more, read more, reflect more, share more, and experience more. In other words, it isn’t finished. Learning isn’t finished. When I look back at previous posts, I see many instances where I could expand and add on based on things I simply hadn’t known or done at that point. I have to move past those reasons, and, with that, I joined Jesse in #draftweek where we’re each completing 5 posts that previously sat ‘unfinished’ and unshared. (I’m also throwing in a Goo Goo Dolls/Matchbox 20 concert tomorrow to add to the excitement.) Be sure to check out Jesse’s blog over here for some good reads, too.

Back to my own draft posts, last night I wrote about #iledchat, and tonight I find myself here in “Writing Time.” The excerpt below was all I had written the first weekend in May.

Today I completed my last required doctoral course. Having also passed my comprehensive candidacy exams this spring, ‘only’ my dissertation remains. Just before the semester started, I wrote this about my choices and experiences.

And that’s where I stopped this particular post (Must have been really tired…., right?). My intent was to write further about putting a structure in place to formalize my dissertation process and continue the accountability that came with weekly class sessions. With that, a special shout-out to Brent Anderson who patiently talks me through my study as I work to formalize the initial stages. Brent has a dissertation in progress, too, and  writes on his blog; you should check out his messages to his school community here.

The truth is I have a lot of work to do to be sure I honor writing time, both in my personal/professional reflection and to actualize my doctoral goal. As you make time to write and recognize that learning never stops, make sure you also encourage a colleague or friend so they have the support they need to both move forward and encourage someone else. I know that, after the fact, I never feel like writing time is time wasted.