Entries Tagged 'Book Thoughts' ↓

Capitalists and school administrators

Providers of educational training and materials sell products. I understand that. They are businesses.

What I don’t understand is how educational administrators know what to purchase without a definition of what it means to be educated? For example, here is an Education Week advertisement for “The Evolving Role of the School Leader” (a free webinar on March 19, 2015):

The role of the school leader has never been more important or more challenging . . . Successful principals embrace and fully understand the vision and direction of the system, empower staff to collaboratively raise the achievement of all students, and build the instructional focus at every level of the organization.

How do educators know if this webinar is worth their time, if they don’t have a clear definition of what it means to be educated? Without a clear definition, how does anyone know if the webinar is worth their time?

According to the first sentence, school leadership is important and difficult. According to the last sentence, it involves: (1) understanding the system’s mission, (2) empowering staff to raise student achievement (which really means test scores), (3) building an instructional focus into every level of the organization (which really means emphasizing higher test scores).

But there is more to be learned, so administrators should attend the webinar to discover the rest. Providers of training and  materials make money by convincing administrators that their work is difficult AND complicated. In this case, practicing administrators should hear the lessons learned by others who accomplished difficult things in their schools.

So, the advertisement goes on:

Join Phee Simpson, Mike Oliver, and Sue Gendron (moderator) in a discussion of successful school leadership and Q&A centered on the challenges they have faced and the solutions they have implemented in their schools.

I did not attend, but I know what they said. They described difficult situations created by ignorance, intellectual incompetence, weakness, fear of truth, pride and selfishness. Then they described how understanding, imagination, strength, courage, humility and generosity made things better.

In spite of what providers of goods and services tell administrators, leading schools is difficult, but it is not complicated or expensive.

The art of singing (and teaching)

Harrison Craig was a contestant on “The Voice”– Australia. Before his performance, he said,

What I feel that I have to do is pour my heart and soul into that song — make the coaches hear what I am feeling (2-minute mark on the video).

That is the best definition, ever, of the art of teaching.

But if you just want to hear something beautiful:


At the 5:03 mark, about Harrison’s voice, Seal said, “That is a gift, brother.”

I love irony.


Although I am right, I am irrelevant

Richard Elmore recently edited a book entitled, I used to think, and now I think. Twenty well known educators wrote essays on this topic. I was struck by the ridiculousness of what they used to think, and the common sense of what they now think. In other words, they used to think what they were taught within the social science paradigm for school improvement. Now they simply use common sense and experience, when they look at school improvement.

Here is my personal IUTTANIT:

Like many education professors, I used to believe:

  1. Good teaching cannot be defined, so we describe it in hundreds of ways, hoping aspiring teachers learn something from those descriptions.
  2. Good teaching produces test scores that are better than the ones students would have gotten with less “effective” teaching. (Teaching is an applied social science.)
  3. Teachers should be held accountable for the development of student knowledge and skill. Student test scores are the bottom line.
  4. Our beliefs about education should be based on “research-based” facts and reason because those are the “best” beliefs.

Now that I am wiser, I believe the opposite:

  1. Good teaching can be defined. A definition says what something always is and what it never is. Good teaching always involves understanding, imagination, strong character, courage, humility and generosity. It never involves ignorance, intellectual incompetence, weakness, fear of truth, pride, or selfishness. It is difficult to be a good teacher, but it is not complicated.
  2. Good teaching starts with teacher appreciation for the subject and students. It ends with student appreciation for the lessons and teacher. (Teaching is an art.)
  3. Knowledge and skills are not “measured” by standardized tests. Test results are not points on a ruler, they are like light switches that are either “on” or “off.” Therefore, teachers should be held accountable for modeling and teaching the six virtues that lead to knowledge and skills. They are easy to observe. No standardized tests needed.
  4. Beliefs are based on experiences, not facts and reason. All of us “just believe” many things. An example is those who just believe that “beliefs should be based on facts and reason.”

Nobody believes what I believe. So, although I am right, I am irrelevant.  I love irony.

Teacher and student surprise each other

Guest blog by Stephanie Shaw
Low Incidence Support Teacher, Wake County Public Schools

Last year our district enrolled an autistic student from another state. This student (who I will call John) arrived with an individual education plan (IEP) that described aggressive behaviors and a boy with no communication system. To be specific John would bite and latch on. He had injured staff and students in his previous school district. His program was so restrictive that they provided two behavior assistants. The staff who worked with John wore Kevlar sleeves to limit the damage if John did bite.

Developing a program for John required creativity on the part of our district. We needed to find a classroom and a teacher. We have a team of home/hospital teachers and it was determined that one of them would be John’s teacher. The selected teacher was unhappy and scared about her new assignment.

Our district provided comparable services — 2 extra adult assistants and Kevlar sleeves for all staff. Surprisingly, John made a successful transition. He tried to bite on a few occasions but the staff was prepared and no one was injured. The teacher ably taught John to use a visual communication system, which alleviated some of his frustrations. After 3 months the district was able to remove one of the assistants.

Another surprise was that the teacher became fond of John. She discovered and talked often of his sense of humor and intelligence. Now that he was learning to communicate, he was also able to participate in more academic activities. The teacher enjoyed teaching John far more than she ever thought she would.

This is a good example of a teacher’s courage. Although she was afraid and did not want to teach John she put on her Kevlar sleeves, did what was right and taught him. Along the way she grew to like him, and she successfully taught him to communicate.

At the end of the school year she called me and told me I was right when she didn’t want to teach John and I had said to her, “This is an opportunity for professional growth.”

“Hat days” are more than fund raisers

Guest blog by Sandra McMahan

Cullowhee Valley ES, Jackson County, NC

In the small, rural area where I teach, it is a big deal for young people to wear “hats.” Especially in the upper grades of our K-8 school, teachers are constantly reminding students to remove their hats during class time.

Five years ago one of our fifth grade students was diagnosed with an aggressive form of cancer.  Her mother struggled to afford the doctor visits and treatments.

A team of teachers and the student council brainstormed ideas to raise money to help the family. The idea came about to have a “hat day.”  Each student, teacher or staff member, who wanted to wear a hat, had to donate a dollar to the cause.

I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many hats in one place.  There were all kinds of stories about kids that had emptied piggy banks into the collection bin and teachers who donated more than one dollar. We held three “hat days” to help the girl’s family.

Since then, anytime a need arises, or there is a charitable organization in need, we have “hat day.”  And “hat day” has inspired other ideas to raise funds for good causes. It is inspiring to see a whole school come together in support of each other.

Teacher earns respect, leads others

Guest Blog by Nathan Kottlowski

Computer Lab Teacher, Cash Elementary School, Kernersville, NC

During the 2008-2009 school year we used Accelerated Reader (AR) to monitor student reading in Grades 1 – 5. In the fall of 2009, however, we discontinued AR because it was out of step with our reading goals. Whole reading became our focus, so reading quizzes were less desirable than assessments of fluency and vocabulary.

Maureen Patti was hired as a third grade teacher in 2008. She had taught 15 years in the private setting and she was very enthusiastic about reading. She was very disappointed that we dropped AR without an alternative. We looked at several replacement programs, but nothing was within our budget and in line with our reading goals.

Ms. Patti’s former school used Reading Naturally, a comprehensive reading program incorporating reading fluency, vocabulary, retell, comprehension, and assessments. She had seen it work in a small, Catholic school, and she felt it could supplement our online computer reading program.

Because I am the technology facilitator, she approached me in the fall of 2009. She wanted me to help her receive permission to purchase a Reading Naturally classroom license for her students. We had to talk to the principal, work through a grant proposal for funds, and get permission from the district office.

In spring, 2010, Read Naturally was installed on four of her classroom computers. In the fall of 2010, it was clear that her students were improving, and the other third grade teachers noticed. With the leadership of Ms. Patti and the support of the principal, we eventually got a school license. But this did not happen until she had grant money in hand and district approval.

In fall, 2011, third and fourth grade students used Read Naturally in both their classrooms and computer labs. All the teachers found that the program improved student reading.

I admire Ms. Patti’s leadership in this endeavor. It took a lot of courage as a new teacher in our school to persist and make this happen for our students. She put in a lot of time and energy to make sure all the paperwork and protocols were properly approved. Her attitude never wavered during the whole process, even when barriers and red tape seemed to get in the way.

I also admire Ms. Patti’s tenacity. She often finds things to help her students grow academically and emotionally. Her students respect her for her caring, but also for her expectations of them. She holds them accountable and they respond. Finally, her work in our school has influenced others, too. The new norm is for teachers to continually search for strategies that will benefit our students.

Math student has courage and others’ respect

Guest Blog by Misty Self

Math Teacher, Mitchell High School, Bakersville, NC

A few years ago I had a freshman student who struggled to understand math. To make matters worse, he wasn’t completing assignments or participating in class to get better.  He failed Math 1 that year.

Since then he has passed Math 1 and 2, and he seems to be a different student in my class this year. He has completed every assignment and he talks (about math) every day in class.  One of my favorite things is that he uses math language, but he mispronounces many of the terms. He now tries his best in class, even though he knows his future won’t be full of logarithmic functions, quadratic formulas, synthetic division, etc.

One day I talked to him about his new attitude towards school.  He said his dad told him he would be the proudest of him the day he graduated from high school. From that day forward it was his goal to make his dad proud.  And his dad promised him the farm if he graduated.

Those words changed this student’s life. He went from a student who didn’t see the benefit of school to a person who was working toward a bigger goal. Later I learned that although he appreciated the family farm, he was making plans to leave the county to pursue other goals in life. He wants to be a mechanic.

This student has the courage to use math terminology, even if he sometimes says things wrong. Because of this courage, his math skills have grown.

In his personal life, he has also shown courage. He is part of a very close family, but he wants to pursue his own interests. I know it will be hard for them to understand why he wants to leave home, but he has the courage to do what is best for him and his future.

This student has developed courage in a way that will benefit him the rest of his life. What seemed impossible three years ago is now within reach.

Community rallies with strength & generosity

Guest blog by Mick Galloway

Assistant Principal, Brevard High School

In 2008 I was asked to chair the Relay for Life fundraiser at our school. Being a coach, father of 3, husband and teacher I was reluctant to commit to another duty. But this cause was personal to me. My mother lost her life to ovarian cancer a couple years before.

Teaching at a small, K-5 school in a rural community, during tough economic times, I knew it would be a challenge to raise funds. I had to engage my students for this event to take-off. Therefore, I allowed the students to come up with an idea of what they would like to see me do if we met our goal for the fundraiser, which I set at $10,000.00.

The students tossed around several ideas and came up with the idea that I had to sleep on the roof of the school, if the $10,000 goal was met. This idea was published throughout the school community.

As funds started rolling in and people became involved, a local business agreed to match what the school raised. Amazingly, this small community rallied behind this cause and we surpassed our goal. We raised the most of any business or organization in our county despite being the smallest of nine schools.

I was humbled by the generosity and compassion of our students, staff and community. True to my word on the night of our May Day festival, I slept on the roof of the school. My principal even agreed to stay with me due to the overwhelming response by our community. We spent all night on that roof talking about education issues, politics and of course sports. We even had parents coming by at 2 am to check on us and bring coffee.

This was one of the most rewarding experiences during my 20 years in education. I learned to never lower my expectations and always aim high no matter what situation we are in.

Student inspires virtue in classmates

Guest Blog by Laura Garrigus

Biology Teacher, Cumberland International Early College, Fayetteville, NC.

Last year I taught a very bright young lady. I will call her Katie. At the end of the school year, Katie became very sick and was out of school a lot. Nobody knew what was wrong, but through the testing, pain, nausea and hospital stays, Katie kept a positive attitude and a strong work ethic. She is truly remarkable.

But my post isn’t about Katie. It’s about her classmates.

At the beginning of this school year, after all her treatments, Katie was completely wheel chair bound. She no longer could use her cane or walker. As she sat in my first period biology class, other students witnessed her dizzy spells, her vomiting, her falling asleep due to her medication, and also her determination.

My students have grown because of being in class with Katie. Specifically, based on my observations, students have become more virtuous. They are being understanding, courageous, humble and generous in ways I did not notice, before.

They are understanding of people in situations different from theirs. They are understanding when I have to leave the classroom and carry her to the office.

They are courageous as they become their own person, not needing to conform. They are available to Katie, even if it isn’t “cool.”

They are humbled by being a friend to a person who has gone through what Katie has gone through.

And they are generous. They give to her and to others without expecting anything in return.

I am humbled by what I have seen happening in my classroom. I will never forget Katie, and the impact she has had on me, my student’s, my classroom, and my school.

Humility is the key virtue

Guest blog by John McDaris

Assistant Principal

Like others enrolled in the WCU MSA program, I am pursuing school administration because I want to impact the education of young people beyond my classroom. My classmates’ sharings have given me insights into how I should be growing into this next stage of my educational career.

That said, one of the resources that has had the most profound impact on me is The Six Virtues of the Educated Person. This text offers an alternative model of education that is based on the idea that we ought to emphasize virtue development in schools. And it seems to me that the key virtue is humility.

Lately I have been thinking about this every day. I realize there are many humble administrators, and I am fortunate to work with two of them. They always go above and beyond the call of duty to do whatever it takes for our school to be excellent. They pick up trash, organize events, and perform countless other tasks because they know everything about the school reflects on our students, faculty, staff, and community. Humble administrators do it, not for the glory, but for the benefit of everyone.

The humility I see in my colleagues inspires me every day to do all I can for the school. I would not be able to look at all of this the same way without recognizing the role that humility plays within the framework of the six virtues.

I am grateful to Dr. Hurley for having the courage to write such a different kind of book on education and to share it with us. Every day I see that people who demonstrate these virtues make their schools better. These are the virtues we all should be modeling.