Sunday, April 6, 2014

Leadership vs The Blind Leading The Blind

What makes a good leader?  This has been a question I have been exploring since I accepted a new position outside of the classroom.  I have held leadership roles throughout the school, but this takes it to the next level.  So begins my journey to identify good leadership qualities and to develop my own.

This list of leadership qualities stems from my reading, grad school discussions, and personal experience.  Please add qualities you appreciate in a good leader!

* Visionary
* Clarity & Coherence (communication)
* Patience
* Empathetic
* Distributed Leadership
* Visible/Proactive (i.e. visit classes daily)
* Humor
* Available/Approachable
* Follow-through (timely)
* Calm
* Analytical
* Courageous (stick up for beliefs)
* Human: willing to admit mistakes
* Model: walks the walk

The Factory of Education

This VIDEO was shared by my Administration and Leadership professor.

You may have some "Mmmhhh.  I agree.  Already knew that." moments.  You may also have some "Aha" moments. 

The video covers research on ADHD throughout the U.S. regions, divergent thinking and longitudinal studies,  and the U.S.'s "factory" model on education.

I am not  offering my review, interpretation, or opinions.  I feel strongly enough to share this video with you and allow you to develop your own thoughts first.  Please share them!

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Diane Ravitch & John Stewart

Dianve vs Finland, both teams win.
Video courtesy of Google Images
For years, we looked at Finland and wondered what they do that makes them so successful.  We used to do the same with China.  Years ago I watched a video about Chinese education (I wish I remembered the title).  China does not encompass the vast diversity which makes the US a melting pot.  China predominantly has less Chinese-learning students as the US does for ELL's.  China is also not known to address special education.  Their system appears to be a survival of the fittest experience. 
Now enter Finland.  Finland has a high educational success rate, and values professionals in the field.  So, what are they doing that makes them successful?  I repeat; they value professionals in the education field.  Education is supported, not spit upon by society.  Supports and resources are in place, not removed by politicians who have never been an educator themselves.  Teaching is a hard job, and Finland recognizes that.  What I have not heard discussed is another vast difference between Finland and the US-poverty.
Finland does not have a high poverty rate.  (See my past post on the effects of poverty on education).  In a study of 35 countries (HERE), the US had the second-highest poverty rate, whereas Finland was the second-lowest.  Poverty impacts education drastically.  Children attend school lacking nutrition, thus focus.  Children come in never having been read to, putting them years behind grade-level.  Children miss school due to transience.  Children are coerced into gang-relations for survival.  The list of effects goes on and on.  Poverty is a virus, nothing good comes of it and it needs to be contained, or it spreads and festers.  

The US can dream about being Finland in regards to education, but as long as we have a wealth of diversity and ELL's, it is comparing apples to oranges.  While diversity is an exciting melting pot, the immensity of poverty affecting education cannot be ignored, and once again is comparing apples to oranges.  In the mean time, we can still look at what Finland is doing right, and improve upon those areas.
I recently watched an interview of Diane Ravitch (Author of The Death and the Life of the Great American School System) on the Jon Stewart show.  It gave me such pride to see a public support of education by Jon Steward.  Other than Matt Damen, I have not seen many celebrities take such a strong stand to publicly support education.  These two have parents who were in education, thus appreciate the challenges educators face against the perception of their impact.  Not that it is their responsibility, but the gesture of support is appreciated and noted. 

Below are points by Diane Ravitch which rang true with what I know to be best practice.  For those of you not familiar with her, Diane used to work for the Bush administration and was initially in support of the No Child Left Behind Act.  After becoming deeply familiar with the Act, Diane reversed her supporting campaign, and has been a proponent of different types of reform (best practices), as illustrated below.

"Everybody is looking at Finland, but they don't do standardized tests.  The teachers create the assessments then look at what students need."  Success of such practice is illustrated in the DuFour's books on Professional Learning Communities (PLC's).  The practice of teacher-created assessments is the foundation of a PLC and "data-informed" instruction, but I ask: what about those schools/districts not creating rigorous common assessments?   When teachers create the assessments, they must ensure they are rigorous and aligned with Common Core Standards.  This data can be used to provide additional instruction and support.  These frequent assessments are much more useful data-points than a 1x/year standardized test.

Jon Stewart recognizes how mind-blowing it is that teachers are blamed.  His mom was/still is an educator, and believes the haters have no idea what it's like to do the job.  There is a consensus amongst waiters that every customer should work the profession before dining out.  The same is for education-walk a mile in their shoes before you judge.

"America is not overwhelmed by too many bad teachers, America is overrun by too much poverty...we should be talking about how do we make sure our children have adequate health care & do we have PreK education..." ~Diane Ravitch

To see the full interview, click the link below.
 Video courtesy of Google Images

Monday, August 5, 2013


What makes a good leader?   This has been a question I have been exploring since I accepted a new position outside of the classroom.  I have held leadership roles throughout the school, but this takes it to the next level.  So begins my journey to identify good leadership qualities and to develop my own.  

Self-Improvement is a large part of my professional career.  Accepting a position as a Literacy Coach meant I needed to model leadership qualities.  To prepare for my new role, I spent the past four seasons reading as many texts about leadership that I could get my hands on.  Although each text had its own ideals to offer, the biggest take-away, and repeated message I observed was the importance of being a good listener
There is a plethora of research on what makes a strong educational leader/administrator.  This is not the topic of today's blog.  That is a topic for another discussion-stay tuned!

Below are the texts that I committed to reading as I began the new chapter in my career as a leader.  They are not in any particular order, and not all stand-out texts.  Hopefully one or two will benefit you.

1.  Coaching Conversations: Transforming Your School One Conversation At A Time by Linda M. Gross Cheliotes & Marceta A. Reilly
2.  Instructional Coaching by Jim Knight
3.  The 5 Dysfunctions of a Team by Patrick Lencioni
4.  Difficult Conversations by Douglas Stone
5.  Reading People by Mark Mazarrella
6.  The Leadership Engine by Noel Tichy
7.  Strengths Based Leadership by Tom Rath & Barry Conchie
8.  Leadership Mastery: How To Challenge Yourself and Others To Greatness by Dale Carnegie
9.  The 5 Essential People Skills by Dale Carnegie
10. The Quick and Easy Way To Effective Speaking by Dale Carnegie
11. Raising The Bar and Closing The Gap by Richard and Rebecca DuFour
12. The 5 Levels of Leadership by John Maxwell
13. Quiet Leadership by David Rock
14. Training Camp: What the Best Do Better Than Everyone Else by Jon Gordon

15.  The Personality Code by Travis Bradberry
16. Unsinkable:  how to bounce back quickly when life knocks you down by Sonia Ricotti  
17.  Driven by Data :  A Practical Guide to Improve instruction by Paul Bambrick-Santoyo
18.  Leverage Leadership:  A Practical Guide to Building Exceptional School by Paul Bambrick-Santoyo

Research: Impact of Parent Involvement

Children spend 70% of their time outside of school. (Michigan Dept. of Edu)

86% of the general public believes that support
from parents is the most important way to
improve the schools.  (Rose, Gallup, & Elam, 1997)

Decades of research show that when parents are
involved students have:

Higher grades, test scores, and graduation rates
Type of Involvement
Better school attendance
Increased motivation, better self-esteem �� Although most parents do not know how to help
their children with their education, with guidance
and support, they may become increasingly
Lower rates of suspension
Decreased use of drugs and alcohol (Parent Teacher Association)

When schools encourage children to practice
reading at home with parents, the children make
significant gains in reading achievement
compared to those who only practice at school.14
 Tizard, J.; Schofield, W.N.; & Hewison, J. (1982).  
But what needs to be taken into consideration is "The strongest and most consistent predictors of
parent involvement at school and at home are the
specific school programs and teacher practices
that encourage parent involvement at school and
guide parents in how to help their children at
home." (Dauber and Epstein (11:61)

Thursday, May 2, 2013

The Grass Is Always Greener?

Is the grass always greener on the other side?  Often, the case is not so.  Yet, that is not to say there are more patches of green on the other side.

I recently made a heavy decision to leave the school setting that I know and love.  I have moved to the suburbs and, according to my teachers’ contract, could no longer teach in the city.  I had to live in the city in order to teach in the city.  I saw this as a new adventure in my career and was eager to embark on it.

Leaving what one has done for a decade can be both intimidating and enticing.  I found myself eager and energized.  I was moving to a district where parents read to their children, children saw a dentist before their baby teeth rotted out, gang symbols and needles did not litter the playground, and funds were allocated smartly.  On the other hand, these are the challenges that have inspired me to wake up every morning.  These are the children who, more than ever, need an adult to show them a moral compass, or to give just a few words each day of encouragement and belief.  What I found in my new job, was not much different.

Although I do not witness the lack of concern and care for children at the degree that I did while working in the inner-city, I still work with children who have less involved parents, or children who have other emotional needs.  Luckily for me, I am able to continue to work with the most struggling readers, as that it what has always driven me in my career.

When I left my city career I worried that I would leave a part of me in it.  I now realize that I hope this is the case.  I pray that some of those children on the streets hear my voice and make a right decision when put in a tough situation, or more importantly, hear me telling them that they can achieve anything they put their mind to.  It has been an honor to have the opportunity to work in schools, struggles and all, because those are the experiences that build character.   I left a piece of me in each of the 250+ students I taught over 9 years.  More so, those children have become a piece of the teacher that I am today. 

Monday, May 14, 2012

For those of you who have read Tuesdays With Morrie, you understand the impact a teacher can have in the life of a person.  You also understand how a student can impact the life of a teacher.

So, let's take Teacher Appreciation Week to a new level; let's appreciate teachers for who they are and what they do.  As students, parents, and community members, let's understand the value of appreciation.  We all know it, crave it, and share it. 

I appreciate Cohen's insight into teacher appreciation.  It's more than getting a mug, a chocolate flower, or a card.  It's about the child's hug that comes with that mug, the love that was involved in picking out the right flower, and the parent's heartfelt message in the card thanking the teacher for taking such care with their child.

Let's make this expression of appreciation a commonality.  Not only will we foster happier teachers, but we'll grow our own hearts.  Studies of high performing countries shows that they value their teachers more than any other profession.  They foster their growth, development, and confidence by supporting them.  Cohen offers simple suggestions of showing ongoing teacher appreciation.  In case you don't read the entire article, I'm putting his words below.  Try it out today with a teacher in your life.  Until then, be kind to one another.  Appreciate one another.

The following is taken from:
Unpacking the Meaning of Appreciation
May 9, 2012
  • No more jokes about finishing our work at 3:00 and having summers off.  We work more hours per year than most people, and for less pay than similarly educated and trained professionals.  Over the years, my second shift of teaching-related work typically has started at 9:00 p.m., and it’s not unusual to send work-related emails close to midnight and get a response from a colleague that night, or before 8:00 a.m.  (Note – I actually think that’s a weakness rather than a virtue, but I’m looking for appreciation in the sense of understanding, not gratitude).
  • No more missionary or martyr complexes.  Yes, we care about the future and the children.  But if accountability is a term that means anything in education, it must be reciprocated.  If teachers are accountable, so is the public.  Give us the resources to do the job you expect (or maybe you already do – which would be a rather inconvenient truth).  Appreciate that we cannot build and sustain the profession, or the education system, if we demand excessive sacrifices of our dedicated and energetic teachers, young or old or in between.  It makes a great narrative for a while, until the teacher burns out, moves on, or ends up divorced.
  • No more generalizations about our failing schools.  Appreciate the complexity of the situation: while there’s much work to be done in modernizing and improving schools, simplifications make our work harder.  Failing schools are not so easy to recognize, especially from the outside.  To the extent that we attach labels and then begin ranking schools, we fail to appreciate the differences among schools, the strengths of “failing” schools and the weaknesses of our “best” schools.  The label “failing” is becoming increasingly empty of meaning as No Child Left Behind limps onwards despite its flaws.  Teachers who work in “failing” schools are unfairly stigmatized for problems mostly beyond their control, and teacher turnover becomes a cycle that harms students and is hard to break.

Read Cohen's article HERE.