Saturday, August 27, 2011

And they're off....

As I live in the Albany, NY area, this has been an interesting weekend.  Today is the running of the Travers, the biggest horse race in the Saratoga meet. Millions on the line, so to speak. Also, this afternoon we are awaiting the arrival of Irene, the hurricane.

Why should I be writing about this activity in my blog on 21st Century learning for school leaders? Because it hearkens to the children's story about "Chicken Little" and the errant warnings that the 'sky is falling'.

 For anyone that has ever attended a horse race or has attempted to handicap horses, they will note an entire culture and database system with more information on horses than one could ever digest in a lifetime. For example, here is a sample of a horse racing entry found in the program of a race:


Notice how much information is offered on this one horse named Duca. From this 2" block of newsprint you know everything there is to understand if this horse has the potential to win a race; height, weight, jockey, trainer, past performances on other races, speed records at each turn of each race, whether the horse won, lost, pooped out, or retired. To the trained eye there is probably much more that can be gleaned, as well as information so well coded about the horse, you would think a person has to work for the CIA to crack the code. And this is just for one horse! Every horse in a race has information available like this.

When I consider this method of data analysis on horses, and the extent people go to interpret and become experts at using this information, I ask myself if this is the ultimate goal for the mania our education system has evolved into. Are we attempting to test, assess, and evaluate every aspect of the learning experience for children so that someday we can tatoo information like the image above on a child's arm and summarize their educational potential in 2" of print? Just imagine how useful this information becomes in a job interview? Before any questions are asked, candidates are requested to roll up their sleeves so that we can read or scan the information from a QR code or UPC label permanently affixed on Johnnie or Suzie's arm.

But, this is the mandate of the federal and state government to assess the begeebies out of children and to place them into educational castes and to categorize their potential into 2". Imagine going through life feeling that because you scored such and such on the grade 3-8 NYS ELA exam, you will never be able to rise to your potential?

Diane Ravitch summarizes this mania into an interesting comment, that testing is not the most important thing we do in education. Testing is nothing more than a thermometer, like the one on your car's water pump. Testing is not the last thing or the most important thing. I hope our teachers rise to the challenge of moving their students to greater heights than what an assessment indicates.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Chasing Our Tails!

I have a wonderful, little dog-a Maltese, named Samme. He is small, portable, playful and quite amusing. He’s my best friend. He has a curious habit of chasing his tail and working himself into a dizzying quandary, which is funny to watch. There is a lot to be learned about issues going on in education today, by watching my dog in this frustrating effort.
This morning (8/25/2011) New York State educators were greeted with the news that an Albany County Supreme Court Judge overturned part of the new regulations for the Teacher-Principal Evaluation process, mandated to begin September 1, 2011. The New York State United Teachers successfully waged a battle stating that teachers cannot be deemed ineffective with student achievement scores that are failing or not improving.  

So much for addressing mediocrity in our public schools.

There is some speculation that the presiding judge may not have read the argument correctly- if he read it it, at all-, but nevertheless, the appeals process will check this court’s ruling.

This experience has created many questions and as school leaders are wrestling with what all of this means, we seem to be chasing our own tails, so to speak.

In an excellent leadership blog by Shawn Murphy[1], he poses a similar question for educators to be concerned about. “Are we too busy chasing big?” exemplifies the frustrating act of looking for things that are so exceptional that we miss the everyday achievements that we need to take pride in.

“Are you looking for something big while missing the small that happens around you each day? Does big equate to great?

Thanks to the Federal enticement for funding, which the US government does not have, Race to the Top is forcing our schools to hold student achievement as the priority and this will be completed by testing and assessing the “begeebies” out of kids until school is nothing more than teaching to a test.

So, again, we offer the supposition, “are we chasing our tails”? “Are we chasing ‘big’”? Have we ignored the creative potential of children to learn, and the creative teacher to try any means that works to reach students of differing abilities and needs?

My dog, Samme, eventually catches his tail, and after biting down hard on it, learns a valuable lesson on futility. I predict the USDOE, NYSED, and NYSUT, will learn that lesson down the road!

[1] Murphy, S. (August 22, 2011). Are we too busy chasing big? Retrieved August 22, 2011 at

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Taboo of Social Media in Schools!!?!

 Over the past few weeks there has been much news about policies being developed to curb the social media experience between teachers and students. It poses many ethical and moral questions to a significant part of the population, especially the mainline purists and puritans controlling the media throughout the country, but the reality is still there; social media is a significant tool for educational purposes. To avoid it, encourages the movement, to understand it and facilitate it for constructive educational purposes is to be part of the 21st Century.

Case in point is the new law that has recently been promulgated in Missouri banning social media interactions between teachers and students. Specifically, #SB54 of the Missouri legislature forbids teachers from communicating privately with a student using a non-work social media account or website. Any discussion between a teacher and student online must be completely public and transparent.[1]

The inference is quite clear, though. There are bad people in the world that do nasty things in perverting the welfare of children. But, they are in every corner of society, not just on the Internet. They are in the community, in churches, in movie theaters, and malls, as well as online. The issue is how to support the creative act of working through social media to express one’s ideas and to write in a constructive manner. The key reference to the law above is to find a way to do so that is “public and transparent”. [2]

But, first, let’s rationalize and define the barriers of good and bad social media practice. These are bad uses of social media experiences:

• Barrow County, Ga.: an English teacher sued to get her job back after being fired when someone anonymously told school officials that a student accessed the teacher's page and viewed photos of her drinking alcohol. The district couldn't prove a student ever viewed the page.

• Brooklyn, N.Y.: a fifth-grade teacher, faces termination after saying she hated her students and that a trip to the beach would be good for them, a day after a 12-year-old student drowned there on a school trip.

• Brownsville, Pa.: a high school Spanish teacher, was suspended (but later reinstated) over a photo taken at a bachelorette party that showed her posing with a stripper.

• Cohasset, Mass.: a high school math and science teacher, resigned after parents saw Facebook posts, which the teacher thought were private, where she called district residents "arrogant and snobby."[3]

Here is an outstanding and positive use of social media:

Bethany Fenyus, an eighth-grade language arts teacher at Steel Valley Middle School, said she decided to create a class Twitter page for its potential educational benefits. Steel Valley doesn't have a policy regarding social media use, but Fenyus got permission from her superintendent and principal to set up the account. She had parents sign an informational sheet acknowledging that she intended the page to be used for educational purposes and that she wasn't personally responsible for how students used it.
She said she's never had a problem with any tweets.

"I've told them that I'm getting everything you're tweeting so remember to keep it appropriate," Fenyus said.
Fenyus said she'll send tweets from a vacation spot in hopes that students might go online and learn more about the place. She'll also let students know about education shows on the History Channel.
"I'll tweet something that I think they'd find interesting or is educational," she said.[4]

A big difference between the top examples and the one from the enterprising and constructive leader of 21st Century learning at Steel Valley Middle School, right?

Kudos to the administrators from Bethany’s school district for having the fortitude to allow this young teacher to use the social media tool to interact with students, and continue to write and express their thoughts and ideas. Kudos to the teacher for being so skillful in considering all of the dangers and pitfalls for something like this, and then designing a format to allow an open, transparent communication process through the media.

This is an example of 21st Century thinking and learning. I sincerely hope others will be daring enough.

[1] Heaton, B. (2011, August 3). Social media between students and teachers restricted. Retrieved from

[2] Ibid.
[3] Weigand, J. (2011, August 18). Pitfalls await teachers who publicize lives on social media. Pittsburgh Tribune Review, Retrieved from
[4] Ibid.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Custodian Responsible for Putting Man On The Moon

"Of the many stories that came out of NASA’s Apollo space program, one of my favourites is the story about the janitor who upon being asked by a reporter what his job was in the organization replied “I’m helping to put a man on the Moon”. Now, whether this story is true or not doesn’t really matter as it exemplifies the general sentiment shared by everyone involved in that project; that regardless of how large or visible their contribution was, they all felt a genuine and direct connection between the work they did and that moment when Neil Armstrong took that first step on the Moon."

Being part of something greater than one's self or one's position! 

As a school superintendent, I would hope everyone in my school district feels that way about the purpose of the organization. Everyone in this district is responsible for influencing and creating a quality educational experience for every student that attends school each day. It is the job of the 21st Century School Leader to do just that; inspire people in the school district to engage their work faithfully and constructively each and every day, week, month and year.

Leadership in our schools is the challenge that we all face each and every day. Whether it is managing the day-to-day operational issues of providing a safe and appropriate environment for a quality education, to wrestling with the impossible demands coming from government leaders interested on making an issue where there is none, or creating the vision and strategy for the future. Leadership is really about making a difference for people, and in the schools it is for children and their preparation to meet the future. 

Rajeev Peshwaria provides an excellent view into the true leadership soul of being impactful leaders in education. His q&a in the Smart Blog on Leadership [Cox, D. (August 15, 2011). Q&A with Rajeev Peshawaria: Stop bossing and start leading..  Smart Blog on Leadership. [Internet]. Retrieved August 17, 2011 from] is phenomenal, and truly resonates with all educational leaders, from, principals, subject supervisors, directors, coordinators to school superintendents and to the school custodian.

 "Leadership is about having the lasting energy to create a better future." 

What a magnificent statement that hopefully inspires all of our  21st Century School Leaders to make a lasting difference. The better future we seek is to provide that optimal educational experience that will move our students into an educated future. 

Like the NASA custodian, if you work in our school district, everyone is a keyplayer for the purpose of the organization.

Friday, August 12, 2011

3 R's Need to Expand

We've come a long way from calling a public education the 3 R's. The modicum of 19th Century learning that really was the basis for 20th and 21st Century teachers needs to change. Do you have what it takes to do that?

In a continuing discussion of the model for 21st Century Learning I am writing today to encourage people to read the most recent post by Meris Stansbury, Associate Editor of the eSchool News. Her article was entitled the "Top Ten Skills Every Student should Learn", and it resonates with the 21st Century learning context so well. She outlines ten reasonable and supported skills that should be a part of the total instructional learning experience for all children. (

1)   Read
2)   Type
3)   Write
4)   Communicate
5)   Question
6)   Resourcefulness
7)   Accountability
8)   Learning
9)   Critical thinking
10)  Happiness

While some may debate that reducing the instructional experiences of children to 10 skills is an oversimplification, I would contend that to avoid addressing these skills is forfeiting one's career commitment. More so, than ever before we need  children to step up to the future well-prepared and well-versed in this skill set of learning outcomes. And there won't be a state created assessment that will be used to justify not doing it in the future.

Randy Turner, an English Teacher from California, was quoted in the Huffington Post in March as saying that if teachers did their jobs years ago we would have been able to affect a better outcome with our current politicians. As teachers we did not do enough to teach the things that really matter such as decency, respect, moral fortitude to make constructive arguments in leading for the welfare of people that elect them to positions of authority.

Skill sets such as reading, writing, and computer fluency are a given. But working harder to teach effective communication, respectful interactions, encouraging inquiry, and critical thinking are also a premium. But, now that we are all racing to the bottom together, another generation of warped politicos will be a certainty.

Be the difference for the future. Read this excellent article in eSchool News.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

A Model for 21st Century Instruction

What do we mean by 21st Century Learning?

For many years we have bandied about the term 21st Century Learning, and while there have been attempts to define and establish an understanding of it, confusion remains. I heard a teacher say to me this week, "Oh, you mean how we use technology?"

Believe it or not, it's not all about technology. I would prefer to think of it as a frame of reference for changing, molding and directing education. In an Edutopia article by Eric Sheninger an interesting model for 21st Century Pedagogy is displayed with strategies for school leaders:

(Sheninger, E. (August 8, 2011). An Open Letter to Principals: Five Leadership Strategies for the New Year. Edutopia. Retrieved August 9, 2011 at

This article is a must read! The focus that school leaders need to be the model and the example for their staff makes the difference when echoing empty phrases, such as 21st Century Learning. In fact, it is more than just "learning". It's instruction and collaborative planning with a healthy dose of assessment to verify if learning actually occurred. Oh yes, there might be some technology. But, technology does not solely mean for the teacher to use. It's also for the students to actively engage with.

Learning in the 21st century must be three dimensional, experiential and constructivist to be real learning. Model this for your teachers this year and accept the new thinking soon,

Monday, August 8, 2011

AAA to AA? Grades don't tell the whole story

Everyone loves grades. It's the reason children go to school, isn't it? Here an A, there a B...fall in line and avoid a C. Parents love to know that their off-spring are "A" students, and teachers don't think twice about awarding an A- for a child, for in this day and age teachers and administrators may confront complaints, arguing, clamoring and lawyers. Yes, grades are a wonderful thing, aren't they?

Some places define, redefine, and alibi how their grading system is unique, blended, and eulogized. In one suburban school I worked in the furor of the letter grade concept of A, B, C, D and F needed to be refined and opened larger in range and in scope. They created a grade higher than an A and called it an H that became the coveted prize of the elite, the wanton, and the frustrated that felt the A was too accessible, further confirming the state of classism that exists in our country today.

Unfortunately, the world is abuzz over the US being downgraded from AAA to AA by a private company that makes a living doing this for their jollies. While the world is abuzz today over everything terrible about this economic grading crisis reality does not change...grades do not tell the whole story.

President Obama confirmed this in his morning briefing, that regardless of what this downgrade signifies, the US is a AAA nation that is hardworking, financially sound, founded on values and committed to the highest ideals of freedom, liberty and justice for all.

I wonder if I could use that same logic with parents in NYS today that are clamoring over the release of the ELA and Math results for students in grade 4-8? Let me see:

" Regardless of what these test scores reveal, your child is an important human being that comes to school each day to learn, and to experience all the life has to offer. That your children are wonderfully capable of learning everything and anything that they are willing to do. And, these assessments are nothing more than a snapshot of one day in the life of your child. They do not tell the whole story."

Beautiful speech, but will it convince anyone? Probably not. But, I meant it with as much furor and confidence as the President.

Grades do not tell the whole story.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

To Tweet or Not To Tweet.

Jack Dorsey is a person that every 21st Century School Leader should honor and memorialize. Mr. Dorsey created the most important evaluation tool for administrators in evaluating teachers in this 21st Century...Twitter. Specifically, the concept of the 140 character message for use among truck drivers for reporting in to their central dispatcher.

This concept has mushroomed and grown into the most phenomenal social media tool since Facebook, eMail, and the Pony Express. With over 200 million users in 2011 with 1.6 billion search inquiries per day, Twitter is a phenomenon that educators cannot avoid noticing.

Imagine using the twitter tweet of 140 characters as an observation feedback statement, not for publicizing on the Internet!

One of the three most important things we do as educational leaders is to hire, mentor, and tenure the faculty that works with students in our schools. Assuming we have hired the right people for the teaching jobs, the next most crucial step is to mentor the teacher-probies and guide them along the way.

Evaluating teachers requires the paper-laden tome of written formal observations, with all of it's pre-ob, ob, and post-ob symmetry that Madeline Hunter, Charlotte Danielson and Robert Marzano and many others would be proud of. But, I contend that another tool for measuring and assessing teacher effectiveness is the informal observation, or the "drive by" observation as I like to refer to it. It's a great technique for on the spot observation and a look-see of how the teacher really manages the challenge of daily instructional routines.
This is where being able to "tweet" feedback in 140 to 280 character comments might be beneficial for the things going on with the teacher. And if you have ever tried Twitter, than you know the challenge of the 140 character tweet.

I have experimented with this technique this past year as a school superintendent. My goal is to visit faculty at all of our schools at least twice a year, and the "drive by" informal evaluation is a way that I find convenient to stay in touch with the instructional program and to know our faculty.

140 to 280 character comments force evaluators to be succinct, focused and provide feedback that is more direct and more assistive in getting the teacher information. Writing short tweets is a challenge, though. Unless an evaluator develops a style for tweeting feedback that is helpful, it can become most frustrating.
Using the counter will assist your training for the 140 character tweet, while the app will do the same thing with a range of 280 characters.

Here are some samples:

Example #1- 140 Feedback Tweet
This was a very good lesson. The students were motivated and following your instruction. Try varying your questions more. Nice job overall.

Example #2- 280 Feedback Tweet
This was a very good lesson. The students were motivated and following your instruction. Try varying your questions more. Challenge other students with ideas. Careful not to jump too quickly from one idea to the next. Nice job overall. Follow up with me later and we can discuss.

Example #3- 140 Feedback Tweet
Stopped by to see how things were going. I have some concerns about the lesson. Class seems very unfocused. I think we need to talk. Call.

Example #4- 280 Feedback Tweet
Stopped by to see how things were going. I have some concerns about the lesson. Class seems very unfocused. Your plan may be the problem. Activities were not varied enough, or the objective was too vague. Let's get together and discuss this soon. Call me on your free period.

Obviously, the 280 Feedback Tweet allows room to expound, but the direct message it conveys gets to the point and takes the temperature of the classroom situation.

Tweets are also portable and can be emailed to faculty immediately.

Explore the beauty of tweeting and mentoring.