Patience is More Than a Virtue

I do believe that patience is a virtue; however, in some areas of my life, I can be very impatient. One place where I find little patience is the mall. I walk so fast through the mall to get from one location to another that I imagine a security person watching me on their monitors and saying: “Joe, check this guy out. Do you think he just stole something?” I walk with purpose because I need to get on to other more important jobs! Patience does nothing for my shopping plan.

Conversely, patience is necessary when building anything of value. I remember from my teaching days when I would dig into content at a very deep and detailed level during a lesson and then expect students perform at a high level. It didn’t always work that way. Even though I taught my content very…thoroughly…, sometimes students just wouldn’t get to where I needed them to be. I learned that breaking up content into smaller parts and teaching those parts one at a time, always spiraling back and practicing those concepts, helped my students to perform at a much higher level. I learned that there were very few, if any, quick fixes for anything of significance no matter how hard I worked and how well I planned.

As an administrator, I have learned that the best programs come from ideas that grow over time. We work with people, not machines which make the tenet articulated in my title even more important. When working with a team of people, patience is much more than a virtue, it is essential to the success of everyone. Taking time and moving slowly through the team building and norm building processes will allow you to move much quicker in the future. Not only is it important to get everyone on the same page, it is important to develop a common understanding of the topic at hand. Taking the time to study together and develop that common knowledge makes all future conversations much more productive. It is not passé to develop the beliefs, vision and mission of the group. Remember, most success comes from how decisions are made, not from what was decided. Process is at least as important as content.

Like a train, big ideas start slowly as they build speed and power. Once they have gotten up to speed, they are very difficult to stop and are more easily sustained. Lay groundwork for your endeavors and continue to work toward excellence with a team. Be patient without being idle and you’ll find success down the track!

Help Me Understand – A Case for Common Core Sanity

Please help me understand…I seriously want your help.

I will make assertions based on what I have heard and begun to understand. I’ll admit that my assertions may be wrong and I would greatly welcome your challenge and explanation of why I’m wrong. Here I go…

We are not doing Common Core in Indiana because we are better than other states.
– Really? I’m proud of Indiana and our work, but humility over arrogance seems a better way to model change for our children. Are we going to spend time and money to creating something that is already created and paid for just because we want to do it ourselves?

We are not doing Common Core in Indiana because we want our sovereignty from the federal government.
– I agree that education should be led by states. I wouldn’t mind if the federal DoE was dissolved; however, does the federal government have a duty to ensure that all states are equally preparing students? I don’t know.
– Is something wrong just because it is from the federal government?

We are going to write our own standards in Indiana.
– We must have College and Career Readiness standards… Are we going to spend three years creating an item bank of questions when that work has essentially already been completed by those who wrote CC&R standards?

We are going to create our own assessment in Indiana.
– We are going to spend $20,000,000 to $40,000,000 to write a test that has already been written and paid for by the federal government.
– We’ll contract with a company who has already written questions aligned to Common Core. They are going to use the same questions that are being used in the Common Core assessment. These companies will get to charge Indiana for work that they have already done…they will just put a different name on it.

Indiana has NO plan for formative assessments aligned to the future state assessments.
– Where is the money coming from to do this?
– Again, the federal government has already done this.

Help me understand folks!

The Process of Change Doesn’t HAVE to be Stressful

Thanks to Twitter, I came across an article from the Business Insider dated November 15 titled: The 14 Most Stressful Jobs in America. In a comparison study of 747 different occupations, it was found that education administrators had the 3rd most stressful job right behind first line supervisors of police and mental health counselors. Surgeons rated 9th!

Anyone who has worked in the field of education knows that the job of an education administrator is stressful. Budget cuts, broad demand, high expectations, long days, sleepless nights, mandates and ambiguous laws are just a part of what school administrators experience in a day. I am not complaining, it’s a wonderfully rewarding job and the kids and teachers really make it worth the while.

The current path of education in Indiana certainly is not helping to make our jobs any less stressful. While our state’s standards of the past were always rigorous, they were also too numerous to clearly test. We have long been saddled with determining each year what the ISTEP+ test was going assess as it couldn’t possibly cover all of the standards evenly. It was a bit of an educated guessing game. Now, due to the pause and other squabbles, we don’t even know what standards we should be focusing on. Do we focus on current Indiana standards or Common Core? A guessing game seems to be a bit of an understatement for primary teachers who have had students studying Common Core for K-2 and the third grade ISTEP+ test is looming in their future.

With recent issues surrounding the state board, governor and state superintendent, pundits in Indiana have even talked about creating new Indiana-only standards that meet College and Career Readiness goals. Don’t get me wrong, I want to get this whole thing just as “right” as the rest of us does, but deciding what standards should be taught while students are being prepared to take a high stakes assessment that may or may not test what teachers taught them is hurting our schools, teachers, administrators and students. We have put teachers in a dark room, blindfolded them, and now we are talking about spinning them around and telling them they have to hit the target. That is stressful for teachers.

Teachers are looking to their administrators for leadership. We need to be able to say to them that if you do X, your results will be Y. We know what Y looks like…it’s measured by the IDoE. We just have much less of an idea what the future of X is and it is hurting our schools. Yes, it is much more complex than that, but at this point, teachers can perform their instruction at a very high level and have no assurance that their students will succeed on the high stakes ISTEP+ test. We need to help our teachers…they need us more than they ever have. That is stressful for administrators.

We need to set a direction and stick with it. Any significant change must be well planned in advance…years in advance. If we set off on a path, and part-way through our journey decide to sit for a year, and then look for a different path, not only will we arrive at our destination much later, we will find our energy depleted when we need it most.

I’m a proponent for change. Education is change, so I see leading that as the natural role of a school administrator. While change in itself doesn’t bother me, the process of poorly managed change can be horrible. We know that process is just as important as content as they go hand in hand. A good process can’t make a bad change good just like a poor process can’t make a good change successful. I don’t care how it is going to happen, but we all need to get on the same page. Indiana needs to choose College and Career Readiness able standards that are most akin to what we were expecting. We’ve already swallowed the pill and we survived. Let’s move forward as closely as we can in the direction that we had planned. It’s best for children.

I Guess You’ll Have to Teach!

In my teaching days, I attended an annual music conference where I enjoyed finding new gems in middle school music literature.  It was December of 1994 and I’ll never forget the lesson that I learned while not attending a speaker’s session.  I enjoyed frequenting the displays and speaking with publishers and composers about their new music.  This was very helpful.  One day while speaking with Ann McGinty, (a very popular composer) I shared a problem with my band’s trumpet section because Yuki, my 1st chair trumpet player, had just moved back to Japan and she was my rock.  Without her, my trumpet section’s ability was depleted to a degree that they were my weakest section.  I was in a spot.  I had the students for only one more semester and state contest season was upon us!

In speaking with Ms. McGinty, I expressed that I was searching for a composition that met certain criteria, but didn’t feature the trumpet section much because mine was rather weak.  After lamenting the loss of Yuki and sharing my desire to find an arrangement that would “hide” the less than stellar section, Ms. McGinty said something to me that I’ll never forget.  She said:  “I guess you’ll have to teach.”

After I picked my ego up off of the floor and stumbled through a few excuses, she kindly directed me to some great music; however, her assertion has haunted me ever since.  That is when I learned that I had power in every situation.  That is when I understood that I could make a difference.  Ms. McGinty taught me that where there were weaknesses, there were opportunities.  She reminded me that I needed to roll up my sleeves and get to work on my “problem” because I already had the answer…I had the power… I could teach.

The book, Motivating Students Who Don’t Care by Allen Mendler, contains many great pearls of wisdom and practical strategies for teachers.  One bit of wisdom is found on page 28. “Although we cannot make it impossible for students to fail, good teaching requires that we make it extremely difficult for students to fail.  This attitude enables us to emphasize success while maintaining high expectations.”  Before we can motivate students who don’t care, we as teachers must be motivated to help them.  I know that it is very frustrating as many have tried every trick in their bag and sometimes success just seems to be elusive.  What we sometimes forget is that we are only willing to implement strategies that are within our personal comfort zone.  If we have tried and failed with all of the strategies that we are comfortable trying, perhaps it’s time to try some other ideas.  This premise has application to many situations.

Teaching difficult/struggling learners is a challenge, but it is also an opportunity.  Perhaps those teachers who find their own learning easy have the most difficulty understanding this concept.  Wouldn’t it be nice to teach only students that had great families and were already set up for success?  Wow, think of what I could have done back in 1994 if my students’ previous teacher would have just taught them better when they started out in trumpet class.  I could have done some even cooler stuff if the students were stellar before they came to me.  Think of all of the great performances we could have had if I didn’t have to do any teaching!  (Oops…I forgot that I didn’t conduct the Boston Philharmonic…)

I firmly believe that there are two characteristics that set the very best teachers apart from the good to mediocre teachers.  One of those is that the very best teachers have an undying sense of hope.  That hope is transferred to a belief that as a teacher, one has the power to affect any student’s life that they choose.  The most powerful teachers will continually try different tactics and will never give up…even if he/she doesn’t see success during that school year.  Will you be one of these teachers?

There are no “bad kids,” but there are kids that we may not have reached yet.  You don’t know the impact you have on students until they have had a few years and other adult advocates in their lives to put a few things together.  Learning is as much about timing and prior knowledge as it is about anything else.  Perhaps your job is to simply create that prior knowledge about character and effort.  Maybe the experience of having SOME success will stick with a child and s/he will subconsciously remember that with effort comes success.

Teaching is a process, not a product.  We will not and we cannot expect students to fail; however, some students will.  My question to you is: what impact will you have on that student’s life in 3, 7, or 9 years?  I promise that you do have an impact on that student.  I learned from Ms. McGinty that teaching wasn’t always fun, but teaching is a must.  If I am unhappy with a situation involving students, I have the power to teach.  I am a teacher.  In the end how much impact you have on each student, especially those who are less served by their families or your colleagues, is really up to you.  You have great powerYouare a teacher.

R and D = Research and Development (a.k.a. Rip off and Duplicate)

I have just finished a day visiting three members of IPLI’s group 7 and we are about to meet as a full group for dinner at Northview High School compliments of Ernie Simpson. Plans to visit the other three members of our group have been made for tomorrow and next week.

In visiting the three schools today, one middle, one elementary, and one high school, I found excellent exemplar leaders. I am impressed that each have embraced the Friday Focus concept and are excited to move forward with the 10 Minute Inservice that was presented at the July session of the Indiana Principal Leadership Institute. Way to go gang!

As I reflect on my visits today, I am thinking of all of the wonderful opportunities I have had to learn from these great leaders. They are committed and passionate about their school and shared many practices that they do that are simply wonderful. I ask myself, why don’t more school leaders visit colleagues more often?

While it is probable that my school corporation will not duplicate programs that I’ve hear about today, it is safe to say that much of what I was exposed to has further developed my thinking to a degree that I can’t help but include some of these great ideas when we formulate our own in the future. My only fear is that I’ll forget something…thank God for OneNote!

Networking…networking…networking…can’t seem to get enough of it!

Praise Is Simply the Best Motivator

Circle of Success

How many teachers would like to know the secret to motivating students?  Certainly many teachers are gifted in this area; however it seems difficult to reach every kid.  Most teachers can catch students when they are not meeting expectations and work with students to let them know that they need to work harder, but is that truly motivational?  What would you give for all students to be intrinsically motivated to learn YOUR SUBJECT to the best of their ability?

 I once read a book titled Whale Done! by Ken Blanchard, which shares the training techniques for killer whales.  The book advocates that there are only four responses to any behavior.  One can simply ignore a behavior, they can respond negatively, they can re-direct the subject, or they can praise the behavior.  Realizing that the first three work very poorly for killer whales, trainers implement the “praise plan” when helping to teach the huge animals.  It is also easy to see that the negative response simply won’t work for an animal that can eat you.  I don’t know if the trainers at Sea World ever say “Bad killer whale!” while shaking their finger and scowling.

 Now understand, they don’t praise every behavior of the whale; they only praise the behaviors that they are trying to teach.  Not only that, they set the whale up for success initially.  In order to teach the whale to jump over a rope, they simply lay a rope across the bottom of the tank and praise it every time it swims over it.  Incrementally raising the rope and ALWAYS praising the whale eventually motivates the whale to jump very high out of the water and over the rope when it is presented to them.

 O.K., they praise the whale with fish….  I’m not sure that a whale can learn pride in a job well done so a simple verbal praise won’t work very well for them.  I think we can take a lot from that story and apply it to what we do with students every day.  I certainly don’t mind jump-starting some students with an extrinsic motivational technique (a.k.a. candy), but how will that fair for them when they are in the work place someday and their boss doesn’t give candy?  Eventually, we must work to help students become intrinsically motivated. 

 I believe in “the circle of success.”  You must initially set some students up for success.  Once they achieve success, PRAISE THEM.  When they are praised consistently (and fairly) they will be motivated to work just a little bit harder.  Working harder will foster more success, which we will PRAISE THEM for.  With constant and proper praise, students will be motivated to work harder.  We can only teach students to be responsible if we can teach them the power of hard work.  Students mostly want to please the caring adults in their lives.  You’ve already got the caring thing down.  Let’s all work on catching students doing the right thing.

Be Nice…Even if You Don’t Have Too!

Take a quick moment to think of two people who you believe are “nice.” I’ll wait…. You got them? Good.

What makes a person nice? I’m sure that we could all list nice things that people do. Sending Hallmark cards, doing favors for folks or even providing a good tip to a waiter would classify most people as nice…but doesn’t everyone do those things to some degree?

In one of my favorite movies, “Pay It Forward,” Haley Joel Osment portrays a boy whose class project ends up positively affecting the lives of countless individuals. If you have seen the movie you may remember that he had a vision of how one person could do something nice for two people and in turn those two would do something nice for two others. His vision (as drawn on the classroom chalkboard) was a simple pyramid diagram. His intention was to find two individuals that had a need that he could fulfill. The individuals he found didn’t do anything for the Haley Joel’s character in order to deserve such kindness, but that was the key to his plan. The plan was to pay it FORWARD…to give without expecting anything in return or as a responsive “thank you.”

We know that in order to teach appropriate behavior we need to catch students doing something right and praise, praise, praise. I don’t doubt that authentic praise will help to motivate students to behave properly. With continual chances to receive praise, challenging students will achieve the esteem that they so desperately need and may even learn to perpetuate kind behavior themselves. If that works (and we know that it generally does) I wonder what would happen for some students if they were treated nicely at a time when they deserved anything but being treated nicely.

Being nice when others are behaving badly is a tough concept for adults, let alone students. I ‘m not exactly sure how to teach “nice,” but I do know it when I see it. Think of the two people you first put in your mind at the top of this post. If yours are like mine, you chose people who would graciously let others cut in front of them at a fast food restaurant. You probably also chose people who run to hold a door open for another. I bet your “nice” people even greet the meekest (and meanest) individuals with warm words and a smile.

I remember a teacher (Bryan Turner) once said to me that he “over respects” difficult students. What an interesting way to think about the concept of managing students whom others seem to struggle with…

Who could you be over-nice too? Would it change their lives like the characters in “Pay it Forward”? Maybe it would…or maybe it would just be a part of many impacts made on that person which causes them to reflect and to think/behave differently… who knows?