Saturday, February 25, 2012

Winter Vacation

This is the time of year that bears down on teachers souls. It is the end of the winter vacation break for students and teachers across the country. For schools brought to bear with winter's wrath and fury, and those that did not catch much winter, the February break is certainly the most coveted week of the year. Just seven weeks from the Christmas break, and seven away from an Easter break, it is a welcome relief of stress-less existence we can ask for.

But what awaits our teachers and students reentering the school on Monday morning?

1) The knowledge that they have to work seven weeks more to have another break.
2)The pressures of financial issues and potential reductions for the next school year, as government lawmakers seek to pare down the aid to schools even more.
3)The looming preparation for the annual assessments and tests to prove teacher effectiveness, and student accountability.
4) And let's not forget the work of attempting to teach a few experiences that are positive, enriching, inspiring, and possibly cathartic, just the same,

It's tough to be a teacher and to be a student, nowadays. There are too many external pressures and mandates created for political maneuvering. What used to be the excitement of teaching and learning, has been wrestled away by political extremists that detract from the real issues and pick on the educational rights of others. And for the that reason, winter, spring, and summer vacations are sought after relentlessly to escape the insanity of it all.

My advice to teachers is to stay the course proudly, and humbly. Fight the good fight and provide quality learning experiences that enhance every child's ability to succeed.

So, let's preserve the vacations and days off as sacred time to rejuvenate the minds of our teachers and students, in order to protect them from the brainless assaults and political maneuvering of our "leaders".

Spring break is around the corner.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Leadership Requirements for School Leaders

Recently in an excellent Harvard Business Review article by Susan Peters entitled How GE is Retaining, Recruiting and Developing Global Talent, it was made made clear that the way we educate students for tomorrow's opportunities is crucial for us to consider.

"The generation entering the workforce today is uniquely connected digitally and socially attuned to the forces of change and common purpose. But what's the best way to unleash their potential? Anticipating their needs is one of the great tasks of leadership development and an area of sustained inquiry at GE. At Crotonville, our corporate university, we're addressing this challenge through an evolutionary leadership curriculum, breakthrough learning experiences, and a transformational environment. We're essentially reimagining a vision for the global nexus of ideas. And we're always looking to broaden the dialogue."

Are we, as educators, and especially those politicos making education policy working on "expanding the dialogue" ? 

Are we, as educators, and especially those politicos making education policy anticipating the needs of the future and making changes to the established curriculum to prepare students for the future?

Chances are, very few school leaders are, in fact, engaging their staffs with this discussion, because they don't have the time, and they are busy managing the mandates and demands of politicos overly involved in 19th century education needs. 

In the Peters article she outlined the kind of leaders this new global workforce would need to transform the world of work.

1.  Tomorrow's global leaders possess an exemplary external focus — they collaborate not only with customers but with a wide range of stakeholders including governments, regulators, NGOs, and community groups.
2. Leaders are adaptive and agile, clear thinkers who are not only decisive but able to connect strategy to purpose in a way that fosters commitment.
3.  Leaders possess both the imagination to innovate and the courage to implement — they're willing to take risks to champion ideas.
4.  Leaders are inclusive — it's the only way to build great teams.
5. Leaders constantly seek to deepen their expertise and motivate others to do the same.

In the world of schools the same kind of leaders will be needed. School Leaders that know how to collaborate with many different kinds of stakeholders. Leaders that understand strategy and are clear thinking despite the frustrations of running poor budgets and overly mandated situations. 

Schools need leaders that are imaginative and willing to risk a few things to make innovations occur. They need to build cohesive faculty teams that can brainstorm the future, and they need to be able to motivate others.

I think it is possible to push into this new paradigm. I hope you will also.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Advantages of Online Learning

I have a wonderful young neighbor that lives near me in Florida. She participates in a home-school virtual education program that is part of the local county public school system. She has completed all of MS and is currently in 9th grade in this program.

She takes all of the required state exams, and is enrolled to take AP and IB courses within the same program. The State of Florida, as well as other states have figured out how to do this without any problems. But, NYS is still investigating whether it's worthwhile.

I simply have to look at the model provided by educators in Florida and marvel at their forward thinking model.

Heather Wolpert-Gawron had an excellent blog today in Edutopia on the same idea. While her take was on the qualities of successful online learning students I would like to suggest that these points could also be as a result of a student participating in such programs. I've listed them for you to review.

"1)You have to have a sense of self. Successful learners online have an awareness of metacognition -- self-motivation, self-starting, and ownership of one’s actions. In other words, they reflect on how they learn as well as what they learn.

2)You need to be able to manage your time wisely. They must be able to lay out their tasks with a critical eye, plan them accordingly, and follow them through to fruition -- many times without someone looking over their shoulder.

3) You have GOT to know how to collaborate. This is a biggie. More than an understanding of technology, more than a perfection of writing skills, the ability to collaborate is one that must be used comfortably online.

4) You need to be able to set goals for yourself. Being able to see the target and backwards plan towards that target is vital.

5) You need to communicate well in writing. The entire online community is based on the language of words and how to communicate them effectively. One cannot use texting language and expect to be heard. A student needs to use their best level of writing.

6) You must follow the community norms. Just like a classroom has a set of rules, so does an online class. A student must function within the norms and rules of netiquette set up by the instructor (or, better yet, agreed upon by the class itself).

7) You must be your own advocate. As slam poet Taylor Mali once wrote when asked if they would be tested on the material, “If not you, then who?” So does it go with being one’s own advocate. If you won’t ask the questions, take control, and make sure your voice is heard in a positive way…then who will?"


I think there is a place for every student in 21st Century learning. Everyone can find their niche and succeed.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

What matters most to a leader?

I'll never forget the first meeting I had with Jon Hunter, then Principal of Bethlehem Central High School, Delmar, NY. Jon had this effusive personality that made you matter as a teacher in his school. He was inspiring in everything he did, and the model of leadership he provided to his community was outstanding. But, the manner he made others feel important in a simple conversation was truly worth following.

   He earnestly listened to each and every individual in any and all conversations. He took an active interest in your work, issues, or other challenges, and he would make you feel that he was invested in you as a person for what he remembered about you.

   You matter most when you make others matter.

   Some ideas that School Leaders can consider in developing this important trait to support the learning experience for  school community.

1)    Visit classrooms on an informal basis and send a note of appreciation to the teacher for allowing you to be a part of the class.

2)      Send birthday notes to all of your employees, no matter how many there are in the organization.

3)    Never interrupt someone that talks to you about a concern. Practice active listening skills.

4)    When you ask someone how they are, listen and hold a meaningful conversation with them.

5)    Follow up with people.

6)    When meeting people the first time, remember their names.

   To strengthen and support your organization, build a network of supportive relationships within the work environment and change may be an easier thing to implement.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

What does it mean to be a responsible leader?

It's the day after the Florida Republican Primary and the newspapers are abuzz with the analysis of the win Mitt Romney had in this preliminary contest for the presidential election. While I am not endorsing any candidate at this time, watching and reading the verbiage about leadership has been quite interesting for this 21st Century School Leader.

The opening article in the Daily News-Journal (Daytona Beach, FL) was an interesting quote that was meant to be a direct attack on President Obama by Mr. Romney: "Leadership is about taking responsibility, not making excuses." (January 31, 2011)

In considering that point it is important to analyze that idea. Is leadership about taking responsibility or not?

Maj. Jim Annexstad, USAF, writing a position paper on the manner the military was correcting issues with America's nuclear program stated something similar : "True leadership is taking ownership and accepting responsibility. " I like that definition, much better; ownership and responsibility are key factors in making a significant difference in moving an organization forward.

In school organizations, we are usually in the position of attacking the decision makers for the complicated decisions and mandates that are foisted upon our schools. The political wanna-be's are quite numerous in criticizing quality teaching and interfering in the learning process. So, what are true leaders to do?

How can 21st Century School Leaders take a few steps above the blame game and get to the real issue of helping students achieve?

Carole Nicolaides, a leadership consultant and writer created a great model for business organizations to use in training leaders to be more\ responsible and effective ("Taking Responsibility- A Step Toward Progressive Leadership" at I think it is an excellent model or school leaders to adopt as well.
1) Be Aware: paying attention to how we respond when questioned about our actions or performance.
2) Respond responsibly: We have a choice of responding impulsively or reacting cautiously to a situation.
3) Be honest: Who else is paying the price for your irresponsible actions?
4) Don't burn bridges: What happens to relationships when you place blame?
5) Be a good role model: When others see you accepting responsibility for your actions you become a role model for others encouraging responsible behavior.
6) Have a positive and grateful attitude: being a highly effective leader means accepting nothing less than excellence from yourself and others.

In the words of Lou Holtz, (Retired NY Jets Football Coach, 1976): "The man that complains about the way the ball bounces is likely to have been the one that dropped it."

Leaders are all among us, and we need to all step up and carry the torch for quality change in our schools.