Wish you were Here

What's on my [Crazy] Desk?
Creative Commons License Photo Credit: Andy Woo via Compfight

Can you tell a green field from a cold steel rail… How I wish you were here –Pink Floyd

Today’s post is largely about the hidden world of administration.  Its about the things that go on behind the scenes to ensure that schools stay open, teachers continue to have jobs, and students can continue to learn.  I often hear educators lament that they wish they could “just teach”, yet frequently there is a lack of understanding of what must transpire to allow educators to “just teach”.  One of the greatest complaints I often hear from teachers is that they wish that their principal could be in their classrooms more often.  As a principal, I share this frustration.

All principals began as teachers, they hold their teaching credential and I believe most (not all) still find that the classroom is where their heart truly feels at home.  Yet, the awesome responsibility of helming the ship that is the school and steering it on a particular course often means that we have to judiciously choose when, where, and how we can interact with the classroom environment.  In self-contained classrooms, it is very easy for teachers to develop a myopic view in which their classroom becomes the only world in which they live.  The principal understands this world, but also has the worlds of every other classroom in mind when charting the course for a school.   To help breach the event horizon of the classroom walls and principal’s office, I’d like to share a typical day of a principal with those of you who are reading this.  Perhaps a better understanding of what principals do and what keeps us from being in the classrooms every moment of the day will help to illuminate what is often a teacher’s complaint and a principal’s greatest frustration.

6:30-7:00AM – Arrive at school, start up office machines so that teachers can make copies without waiting 8 minutes for the machine to warm up, check voicemails, emails, calendars, lesson plans for the day.

7:00 -7:45AM – Greet parents, and students as they arrive to the school, listen to parent concerns and ideas about the direction of the school, speak with teachers about how they are doing, monitor traffic safety, direct security assignments for the remainder of the day.

7:45-8:15AM – Close down entryways to the school, secure perimeter, and begin working with those who are arriving tardy to school, escort late arrivals to their classrooms.

8:15-8:30AM – Re-check emails, respond to emails, review attendance reports, respond to voicemails, morning meeting with office and administrative staff.

8:30-9:00AM- Meeting with major shareholder of the school and campus grounds, issues dealing with property management, non-school time room assignments, safety issues.

9:00-10:00AM – Scheduled meetings with parents, business leaders, parish employees, etc.

10:00AM-10:40AM – Supervise recess with students, meet with students and teachers, at conclusion of recess observe a classroom.

10:40-11:00AM – Conduct walkthrough of entire building, informal observations of teaching and learning.

11:00-11:30AM – Check and respond to emails, voicemails, issues as they have arisen throughout the day.

11:30-12:00PM – Administrative meeting

12:00-1:00PM – Supervise lunch (if lucky eat lunch while supervising) meet with teachers and students

1:00-3:00PM – This time usually varies but it is often booked with diocesan/school district meetings, Consultative School Board Meetings, Meetings with the local public school district, Meetings with parents, Meetings with business manager regarding budget, etc. Largely this time period is very booked and many of the meetings take place off-campus.

3:00-4:30PM – Meet with teachers that have requested appointments, meet with parents who could not take time off from work to be present during normal school day hours, review financial situations of families and help design payment plans to assist families in need.

4:30-5:00PM – Review lesson plans, review grades and assignments teachers have submitted for students, review events of the day, check and return emails, phone calls, and other important matters, attend school events (choir, art, athletics).

5:00-6:00PM – Meet with administrative team (If lucky get something quickly to eat), prepare for next meeting.

6:00-7:00PM – Parent Guild meeting, then return home.

(Though this is off-time often we are constantly checking emails and reviewing education issues for the rest of the night)

It is quite a busy schedule and one that I have only begun to scratch the surface of in terms of describing all that goes on to keep the school running.  There are many days with alternative meetings or responsibilities.  Days in which a budget must be constructed, reviewed, and invoices and reimbursements paid out. Days in which a parent reveals that they have just lost a job and that he or she does not know how to keep his or her children in the school. Days when a medical emergency takes place, or an important teacher review takes place.  These all occur, ebb and flow as the school is in operation.

Believe me when I say, that the best place to be and the place most principals desire to be is in your classrooms. However, also know that we are steadily charting the waters of education through a sea of obstacles.  We steer a course that takes us from your classrooms so that you have the ability to teach children.  We have faith in you as educators to do what is best and to make smart decisions to help every child succeed.  To that end, we are constantly checking lesson plans, grades, summative assessments, and conducting informal observations as we sail through the tumultuous seas of teaching.

There are times that we schedule more formal observations, however we cherish and take any chance we get to see what is happening within the walls of your classrooms.  It may look like we are simply moving from one emergency to the next, but in those few brief moments we are walking through or by your room, we are present.  We are observing. We watch, classroom management, pedagogical practice, student interaction, methodology, and a myriad of other important factors that relate to your teaching of students.  Just as you are trained experts in teaching (as are principals) we are trained experts in observing and leading. It’s a daunting task to get to know your classroom of 30 children, but remember the principal is charged with the wonderful duty of learning every child within the school (often some 200-600 students).

Again, I share this so that a greater understanding of what transpires for a principal can be shared with teachers.  I am often amazed that the one greatest complaint from teachers to principals is often also the one greatest frustration of principals.  Yet, there are duties that must be followed if the school is to remain open and students are to be able to learn.

As always, I welcome your thoughts and comments.

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Gen X in Education: Don’t be Late

Generation X

Creative Commons License Photo Credit: Chrisinplymouth from Flickr

Our little group has always been and always will until the end – Nirvana

I’ve been mulling over what it means to be a member of a generation that is smaller than the generation that came before it and the generations that have followed. You see, I’m a member of that “forgotten” generation known as Gen X. Ive been reading “X Saves the World” and finding it entertaining and informative. Because this generation is a minority sandwiched between the Baby Boomers, Y gen, and Mellennials, I’ll fully understand if you skip reading this post and move on to other compositions that appeal to the masses. However, if you are compelled to read further, then I welcome you to this reflective piece of writing.

At the beginning of this school year I sat in a room with other administrators to hear a presenter give a speech on generational differences. He asked those in attendance to raise a hand if they were born between certain years. As he did this a vast majority went up for the Baby Boomer generation. Then he came to my range. I sat in the front row and raised my hand when he asked who was born between 1965-1980. I saw an interesting look cross his face as he noted me then scanned the room and stated “just you?” I glanced around the room and apparently it was true; I was the only administrator who was a member of Generation X. I thoroughly enjoyed his speech, however it was tailored to the Boomer principals dealing with Mellennials. I found myself in the unique position of reversing a great deal of what he said to help me work with my Boomer-Mellennial faculty.

Many of the traits associated with Gen X are vital to pushing education in new directions that have the potential to help improve student learning. Here are just a few traits associated with my compatriots:

  • Expects immediate and ongoing feedback & is comfortable giving feedback to others
  • Independent
  • Resilient
  • Highly adaptable
  • Dislike authority & rigid work environments
  • Eager to learn new skills
  • Works to live does not live to work
  • Not impressed by titles
  • Technically competent

The list goes on and on. As I read through the list above, I find that there is a need for each of these qualities in order to make significant changes to education. It would seem that built into the very fiber of my generation is a need to ask “why” something is done rather than to blindly accept what has always been. This is a valuable asset when taking up arms to challenge educational practices that have been in place for more than a century.

I’m under no delusion, we also have our weaknesses. Gen Xers can be overly confident. We can sometimes push forward and think, in our own naïveté that we know best. It’s a double edged sword. Sometimes that confidence is necessary to ignite real change and to weather the maelstroms that threaten to sink our initiatives. Other times, our disdain for authority hinders our ability to change course when the rockets come at us sideways. However, more often than not, it’s a benefit rather than a weakness.

Being a member of the minority generation perhaps means that even as more and more people become administrators, the number of Gen X administrators will always be small. However this should in no way hinder our ability to affect real, significant change in education. We may be a small group when it comes to generation population numbers, but we are also innovative thinkers who desire new methods of solving old problems.

I am the first Gen X principal in my diocese; an honor and a pressure that I embrace. I consider myself the first shot fired across the bow by Generation X to herald innovative, revolutionary change in Catholic education in my diocese. However, I cannot do it alone. It will be with the help of my Boomer, Y, and Mellennial colleagues that we truly improve student learning. I may be at the helm of the ship I call my school, but it is the crew that must trust in the direction in which I steer our course. Conversely, I must trust to the strengths and skills of the other generations that sail with me.

Gen X may be a small generation, however we have the potential to enact real, significant change. I call upon my brothers and sisters of my generation to stand up and apply for leadership positions in education. The time to make our voices heard is now. In the words of Nirvana (a symbol of Gen X):

“Take your time, hurry up, the choice is yours. Don’t be late”.

Perhaps it’s that last line that means the most. We (Gen Xers) do things the way we want, but we are rapidly approaching the point where we may be too late to affect change. So don’t be late my fellow X colleagues. We need principals with your unique qualities.

I found this to be an interesting reflection on my generation and value your feedback and thoughts. I would love it if you would share with me a comment or two on this topic.

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Teaching an Egg to Fly

“It may be hard for an egg to turn into a bird: it would be a jolly sight harder for it to learn how to fly while remaining an egg.  We are like eggs at present.  And you cannot go on indefinitely being just an ordinary, decent egg.  We must be hatched or go bad.” – C.S. Lewis

I start this post with the above quote from C.S. Lewis.  We have been eggs for too long my friends and we face the prospect of going bad.  In this regard, I speak about our failure (yes, if we are being honest it is failure) to have every teacher use technology effectively in the classroom.  We’ve been told that we need to teach 21st century skills, yet we are over a decade into the 21st century.  Must we believe that our teaching should encompass 100 years as an acceptable learning timeframe for technology?  Technology changes too quickly.  In the latter part of the 21st century will we really want to know how to operate an iPod or post a video to YouTube? Instead we need to teach this year’s skills and look toward the future. Yet we have failed. There are many schools in which teachers have resisted technology in their classrooms and they are still resisting it to this day.

Far too often I find that administrators focus on what makes their teachers the most comfortable and not on what the students need in the classroom to thrive in our current and future society.  This is the year 2013 and there are still teachers who rarely, if ever, use technology to help teach a lesson in the classroom, let alone providing the students with technology to use in their actual lessons.  I was in elementary school when the Apple IIe was being introduced to schools.  These computers were being placed in schools twenty years ago, yet we still have teachers who refuse to use the technology.  I say refuse, because at this point there really is no excuse for not learning how to use technology and implement it with students.

I think part of the problem emerged with Prensky’s “Digital Native – Digital Immigrant” labels.  At one point these labels may have been true, however I believe the labels have crippled any real progress toward teachers integrating technology.  It is far too easy for teachers who don’t want to use technology to say, “I’m a digital immigrant”.  Once that label is used there’s a sense of entitlement the supposed digital immigrant believes is his or hers.  They need help and we have to take it slow with them. – This is their belief and, unfortunately, the belief of many of their principals.  I’m sorry, but Prensky’s article was written in 2001 and for the term to still be in use over a decade later makes me want to laugh, cry, or both. Think of all the changes that have taken place in the last twelve years with technology, iPhones, iPads, Surface, etc. Technology has moved forward at an exponential rate (Moore’s Law anyone?) yet we have been taking microscopic steps toward holding teachers accountable for integrating these technologies.

Our students live in a world where they go home, use a computer, use a tablet, use a cell phone, video chat, etc. For 16 hours of their day they are surrounded by technology.  The true crime is that for 8 hours of the day we put them in an artificial reality (one devoid of technology) hand them books and pencils and we tell them to learn using almost none of the technology they use on a daily basis. If we think we are doing students any real favors we are deluded. How do we expect our students to be successful in a world that demands the competent use of technology if we hardly ever let them use it in their formative learning years?

I believe its time we stop holding the hands of those who are holding our children back. I cannot sit idly by and allow students to be hindered because an adult feels uncomfortable with technology. It is important that we remember that we are there for the children and not for the adults. The only way that we are going to help the children succeed in their future lives is to have strong administrators and teachers who are ready and willing to stand up for children.

We have to ensure that all teachers are using the tools of today so that our students will be ready to handle the realities of tomorrow.  I ask that you take a look at your own schools and teachers.  I’m sure you will find at least one individual who is fighting the rising tide of technological innovation. We have to get through to these people that the time for change is not now… it was yesterday.

I welcome your thoughts and comments on developing methods of helping students receive the quality education they deserve.  C.S. Lewis was right, we must grow or we face going bad; unfortunately resisting technology doesn’t just cause the teachers to go bad, it also threatens to cripple our students’ future lives.  We should already be learning to fly, but so many of our colleagues are still in their shells.  Its time administrators and fellow teachers make a stand to crack a few bad eggs.

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Image: Artwork and permission to use image granted by Terry Border  http://bentobjects.blogspot.com