Parent-Janitor conferences and the importance of school/home communication

For parents who really take the education of their child seriously…

The cartoon above is from Alexander Russo’s blog ‘This Week In Education.’

Some educators complain about the so-called “helicopter parents,” but I’d rather have an over-informed and over-involved parent than someone who has no knowledge whatsoever about how their child is doing at school. We have students for 7 hours a day at school. Mom and Dad (or other important people at home) are in charge for the other 17 hours. That bridge between home and school is so important, and there needs to be a strong link of communication between the two places to share all the news (the good, the bad, and the ugly) about the education of the child. To me that link needs to be primarily established and maintained by those of us at school. Parents and teachers should be in contact at least weekly, no matter the form of communication. A teacher should find out at the beginning of the year how to best contact each parent in their class, establish that method, and then follow through on a regular schedule so parents learn to expect these communiques.

As a parent, it’s not intimidating to receive the weekly update from your child’s teachers, but it can be very unnerving to only hear from the teacher when there are issues and problems with your child. I’m a parent of two young children myself and know that each day won’t be perfect for them. I learn a lot about my kids every day, and I learn even more when they have struggles and face obstacles. I greatly appreciate the times when their teachers have sent an email or note or picked up the phone to share one of those “I thought you’d want to know…” pieces of information. As a principal, I’ve never had a parent tell me, “You know, your staff tells me way too much about my child.” As long as we are truthful and sincere, I don’t think we ever will.

I’ve never had a meeting with the custodial staff of my kids’ schools, but maybe I’ll give them a call tomorrow… 😉

The Connected Principal: Classroom 2.0 Presentation | The Principal of Change

I love this post and presentation from George Couros.  Web 2.0 and technology is so much more than equipment. The real power is the connections and shared knowledge that occur because of technology. All of this connectedness gives you perspective and makes you challenge what you do within your own classroom, school, district, and community. We don’t need to reinvent all that we do. Just learn from the practice, successes, and mistakes of others.

Goodbye little one

Went to a funeral today for the daughter of some friends. She was only 8-years-old and passed after a three year battle with an unexpected genetic disorder. She was a totally normal adorable little girl heading into kindergarten in the fall of 2007. School started and she just didn’t seem like herself with some behavior and then coordination issues. Her parents thought school was too overwhelming for her and that was the root of the problems. Doctors told them otherwise with their diagnosis. A long-shot invasive medical procedure didn’t work and the parents opted to not try it again and just enjoy the time they had left. Many of her abilities left her in the past 3 years, but she continued to smile every day. Her little brother and sister enjoyed her quiet presence and would constantly play in her room.

We all knew the end could be any time, but when it did happen this last weekend, it was still painful. Little one will be perfect again in her new place, but there is an empty place now in her home and her family’s routines.

My kids came to the funeral with me and my wife. We had all been friends before, during, and now after the illness. My children knew this day would come, but we wondered how they would feel about it. We lost another little friend last year unexpectedly, so have been through this before. My son is 8 and has seen two of his friends leave too soon. Photos from previous play dates and events have two smiling faces we won’t get to see anymore. My guy will be OK, but I can’t imagine all that goes through his mind.

Watching little one’s dad at the end of the funeral was very emotional for me. Amazing Grace was the musical finale playing, and seeing him cry while comforting his other two kids was remarkable. He’s a great dad and husband and I hope and pray for healing and peace for them all.

Diane Ravitch is the Chuck Norris of Education

I love Diane Ravitch because of her passion for education and her belief in giving every kid in our country a chance to learn and be successful in their life. Adding a twist to the Chuck Norris meme, I present to you the following feats of Diane Ravitch. Please comment to add your own.

When Arne Duncan goes to bed at night. He doesn’t check the closet for the boogey man. He checks it for Diane Ravitch.

Diane Ravitch can score a 39 on the ACT.

Diane Ravitch was once upset with Canada. They renamed it “A Nation At Risk.”

When Diane Ravitch picks up a No. 2 pencil, it instantly becomes a No. 1.

Diane Ravitch can win a game of Scrabble using only numbers.

Diane Ravitch has counted to infinity, twice.

Diane Ravitch knows the other word for Thesaurus.

Diane Ravitch taught George to be curious.

Diane Ravitch uses the white crayon.

They found Diane Ravitch’s diary once. They now call it the Encyclopedia Britannica.

Diane Ravitch knows where Carmen San Diego is.

Diane Ravitch leaves no child behind. She’s created her own system of educational gravity and pulls them all with her.

For Diane Ravitch, AYP = Astronomical Yearly Progress

Diane Ravitch doesn’t Race to the Top. The Top races to her.

Be a healthier educator TOMORROW!

Do a web search right now about the state of the education profession and you’ll find a lot of doom and gloom about demoralization, slashed compensation, larger class sizes, fewer resources, lack of parent support, etc. The list literally goes on and on (with good reason). However, our students keep coming to school every day and they need the most effective teachers now more than ever. I’m not talking about recruting these new mythical teachers that will come out of the woodwork once we have performance pay in place. I’m talking about every single one of us who are already in the profession just being a little bit better tomorrow than we were today. From now until tomorrow, there isn’t enough time to become gurus on 21st century learning skills, or become experts on the latest research on motivation, or by learning some new silver bullet curriculum to transform every kid. I’m talking about making changes to ourselves to make sure we are in the right frame of mind and physical state to be a positive change agent for our students. How you take care of yourself today will make a difference to you and your students tomorrow.

The following tips come from my intelligent and talented wife who is an associate professor of health education (Tweeple, follow her). I’m not the greatest client when it comes to taking health advice, but she’s kept me sane, healthy, and alive for our 20 years together, so I’m a strong believer in what she says. So here is Dr. Rees’s advice with my interpretation:

1) Clear your mind before bed and get adequate sleep. Don’t stare at your computer screen for 90 minutes stewing about lesson plans or parent emails and then try to drift off to peaceful sleep. Shut down that computer, read a book, or write in your journal. Do the same for TV. Those same stories about world wars, natural tragedies, Charlie Sheen, union strife, and poor PISA scores aren’t going anywhere and you can quickly catch up on them the next day with a quick 3 minute scan through Google News. Get at least 8 hours of sleep (9 would be better, but let’s be realistic). Get into the 8 hour sleep habit and you’ll find yourself becoming very productive so that you’ll have extra time to get all those errands and tasks done to allow you to get to bed on time.

2) Eat right, drink right, and be merry. Eat a decent breakfast. My wife would give you all sorts of facts and figures about what makes for a healthy breakfast, but you don’t have all day/night to read this post, so have a slice of toast or small bowl of oatmeal, maybe an egg, and a piece of fruit (or juice if you’d prefer). Have a great cup of coffee in the morning, but don’t overdo it on the caffeine during the day. Have a good lunch and avoid unhealthy snacks. You can easily do a search to define “good lunch,” but a great tip for snacking is to keep a container of trail mix on your desk for those times when you need something to munch on. Make your own healthy trail mix by hitting the bulk food aisle at the grocery store. Try a mix of roasted almonds, dried cranberries, and dried pineapple. Drink 64 ounces of water in a day. Fill up one of those big nalgene bottles and make sure it’s gone by the end of the day. You’ll end up making more trips to the bathroom, but that will just force you to do a little more walking. Eat a balanced supper at least 2-3 hours before going to bed.

3) Engage in vigorous exercise at least 3 times per week in 30 minute sessions. I’ve tried P90X and I know it is a great program, but I don’t have 80 minutes each day to stick with a regimen like that during the school year. Check out some of the advice from JJ Virgin on “burst exercise.” Doing 6-7 rounds of 3 minute bursts will do your body and mind wonders. If you’re breathing hard and you’re sweaty, you’re doing it right. On your “non sweaty exercise” days, make sure you take a walk or bike ride.

4) Keep your mind healthy as well. Trying to make your problems and stressors go away might only make you feel worse. Instead, go do something that benefits others. Serve a meal at a local charity center. Cut/rake your neighbor’s lawn without them asking. Teach Sunday school. Send flowers to your partner for no reason other than for putting up with you. Stop at the book store and buy a new book for your child. Doing something for another person with no reciprocation expected will do wonders for your mind and soul. More tonic for the mind is laughter. Ask a kindergartener to tell you a knock knock joke. Usually they don’t make any sense, which makes it all the funnier. My best chuckles come from comedians Jim Gaffigan and Brian Regan. They are hysterical, fairly clean, and readily available on YouTube. (Take the Brian Regan challenge right now. Listen to the link above, and if you don’t at least snort or spit, I’ll send you a bag of trail mix.)

That’s it buckaroos. Go make somebody’s day tomorrow with a laugh, smile, and a hug.

Making the move from the classroom to Administration

As spring officially begins within a week, so begins the hiring season for many schools. Budgets are being put in place, and staffing plans for 2011-12 are being organized. For many teachers, this is also the time when they consider making the move from the classroom to a position in school administration. Please read on for insights from current school principals on what to keep in mind when deciding whether or not to leave the classroom and what to look for in that first administrative position.

Rarely does an educator go straight to an administrative position without spending time working directly with students as a teacher. Teaching is a challenging and rewarding profession, and it’s not usually an easy decision to step away from the classroom to take an administrative position. For some people, it is part of a career plan. For others, like Jay Posick, an intermediate school principal in Merton, WI, becoming an admin was a gradual move.

“I wanted to be a teacher first and foremost. I had aspirations of being an athletic director and went into a Masters program for an administrative degree. While taking admin classes I was asked to fill in for the building administrators if they were out of the building. I got to know students and staff in different ways because of these opportunities. I saw an opportunity to reach more than just those students in my classes, as well as an opportunity to work with staff to improve instruction and classroom management.”

While becoming a school administrator was part of Jay’s eventual plan, Jessica Johnson, elementary principal in Juneau, WI, didn’t initially plan on being a principal.

“I actually had no intentions of moving into administration. I wanted to get my masters and joined some colleagues that were going into admin. During this time my principal convinced me to become an instructional coach. I enjoyed my role as an instructional coach, because I was able to impact learning for more than just the 30 students in my class.”

Curt Rees, elementary principal in Onalaska, WI, always enjoyed the challenges of problem solving and leadership, and saw his principals deal with some interesting and important issues frequently.

“I started my Master’s program in my mid 20’s, hoping to eventually move into a building admin job within 10 years. Things happened quicker than I planned due to a few retirements and resignations, so I found myself teaching 6th grade in the mornings and then taking care of associate principal duties in the afternoon. It was a great job to get a feel for the world of a school administrator.”

No matter your reason for wanting to move on from full-time teaching duties, landing that first admin job is not necessarily an easy task. There are many administrative jobs posted each year, and potential candidates should look for the right fit between the needs of the schools and the skills and interests of the candidates. Being a school administrator is not an easy job, so make sure what you can provide meets the needs of the school. Find our whether your disposition, experience, passion, and goals line up with what the school needs. They will certainly interview you, but be sure to interview them at the same time. All three of these authors began their administrative careers as associate principals. They were good situations in which to get started, but all have since moved on to positions that better match their professional skills, family life, and current philosophies.

Once you move full-time into the world of administration, there are experiences from the classroom that you might miss. It is not as easy to see that daily progress that students make and you aren’t a part of that close-knit atmosphere that develops among students and their teacher.
Rees describes it this way:

“It is like a family and you all really get to know one another quite well. There is good and bad to it, but that intimacy is more positive than negative. You see a lot in the course of a day. A kid might be driving you nuts at 9 a.m., but by 2:30, they’ve done so many other great things that you hardly remember what irked you earlier. As a teacher you really notice the relationships that develop among the students. As an admin, you certainly notice (or are informed of) the negative relationships, but don’t often have the opportunity to see those healthy interactions among kids.”

But as an admin, it’s crucial to stay connected to the learning of students. Johnson still works with a 3rd grade math intervention group, and Posick makes time to be a tutor, yearbook advisor, and dissection assistant among other things for his students.

On the plus side of the responsibilities of being an administrator, the schedule can be more flexible to allow you to go into several classrooms each day to see the great work of teachers and students. You can talk about learning with the kids during their classes and then have even better discussions with teachers after watching them interact with their students. These conversations with teachers serve as reflection and positive analysis for both the administrator and teacher. Spending time in classrooms with master teachers will enlighten you more about quality instruction than you could imagine. While you might miss out on the daily successes of kids in the classroom, you have the opportunity to develop relationships that span the several years a student and their family are in your school. It is enjoyable to see all the positive changes that happen in those years and you develop a great sense of trust and understanding with the family, especially if they have multiple children in the school.

Just like for teachers and other school staff members, the future for school administration looks to be a time of uncertainty. Funding for schools across the country is being cut (drastically in many states), but expectations for student success never get any lower. Administrators need to be creative to be able to do more with less, just like their staff members. There is no opportunity to coast in the principal’s office. Positive leadership and creativity will be key in order to meet the needs of students in these frequently turbulent and unpredictable times. All of that being said, it’s an exciting time to be a school administrator. Public schooling will have to change to meet all of these realities, and administrators will (and should be!) be right in the middle of all it.

A question that curious candidates frequently ask is, “When is the time right to make the move from my classroom?” If you are already taking on leadership roles in your school (committees, mentoring, leading staff development, etc.) and you enjoy seeing the positive impact it has on the staff and students, you might be ready. Take advantage of opportunities your school/district might have for you in an admin internship program or as a substitute for admins away from the building. Take advantage of any “aspiring administrator” programs your state administrators association may offer. Don’t try to make the decision on your own and be sure to discuss your thoughts, questions, and concerns with your friends, colleagues, and mentors. Also be sure to think about how the new job, complete with additional time and stressors, might impact your spouse and children.

Great school administrators are retiring every year and they need to be replaced by equally skilled leaders. Will you be one of them?

Jessica Johnson is an elementary school principal in Juneau, WI. This is her 3rd year as a principal. She began her teaching career in Minnesota, but then moved to Arizona where she continued to teach in the classroom, moved into the instructional coach role and then as a middle school Assistant Principal for one year.

Jay Posick is an intermediate principal in Merton, WI. This is his 9th year as an administrator. He began his teaching career in Waukesha, WI before becoming an assistant principal in the Elmbrook School District for five years. He is completing his 4th year as principal in Merton.

Curt Rees is an elementary school principal in Onalaska, WI. This is his 10th year as an administrator after being an elementary classroom teacher in New Mexico and Illinois.

Professional presentation as a powerful form of reflection

This past week I was part of a team from my elementary school who presented at the Wisconsin RtI (Response to Intervention) Summit in Green Bay. In our presentation we talked about the importance of the use of student learning data and more importantly how constant collaboration among educators makes that learning data come to life. I won’t get into any more details of the presentation content, but the point I want to make in this post is how you, the presenter, can greatly benefit from the experience.

To me, reflection is such an effective practice for educators to improve what we do. You purposefully and mindfully think back on what you’ve done to find what went well, what didn’t, and then what you might do about each of those. I have a 30 minute drive to/from school each day, so find myself thinking about work a lot, but to really make it effective I should record more of my main discoveries from that thinking. This blog is one of the ways I do that. I know I get a few readers, but I simply enjoy sitting down, corralling some of the million thoughts that go in and out of my head each day, and then putting them into a few paragraphs.

Preparing and sharing a presentation for colleagues in your field is another way to do this. Knowing that you will be “on the stage” in front of people who have expertise in your topic certainly makes you take a lot of time to analyze your subject and then find a way to creatively and accurately share what you know and what you’ve done. That certainly was the case for my team last week. We reflected back on 5 years of work and then had to condense that into a 60 minute presentation. From the comments, compliments, and questions we heard from our audience, I know we shared information that will help those in attendance, but even more important was what we learned about our own practice.

So fellow educator, you go do the same. What is your story? Go share it for the sake of those in your audience and also for yourself.

Quick addendum: I knew my topic quite well for this presentation, but spent a lot of time on presentation and slide show design. Found some great links on presentations from Brian Berry (aka Nunavut_Teacher on Twitter). Another great resource is I used Keynote instead of PowerPoint, as I find it much easier to add media and I love the simplicity of the designs.

Jon Stewart comes to the rescue again

Love this bit comparing the compensation of teachers to those of Wall Street and banking executives who received tax-paid government bail out money. Is this all about “balancing the budget” or is it about catering to the wealthy? I don’t want Wall Street executive money, I just don’t want unfair blame on educators and other public employees for the economic problems in our country. Seriously, did the cost of my custodian’s dental insurance cause Lehman Brothers to go under? Was it teacher pensions or ignorant greed of the sub-prime mortgage fiasco that kick started our recession?

The Daily Show With Jon Stewart Mon – Thurs 11p / 10c
Crisis in Dairyland – For Richer and Poorer – Teachers and Wall Street
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