Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Feeling Rejuvenated

Why?  I just spent Monday and Tuesday of this week at a state department of education conference for schools that are in formal school improvement who have applied for and won money to use for school improvement coaching.  The money is awesome, they are letting us use it in a way that makes sense for our school.  We just have to attend some dry meetings.  Two days in a huge ballroom sitting in round tables with water pitchers in the middle and fake chandeliers on the ceiling.  Yes, I think you get the picture.  I actually think that I am going to dedicate the rest of my career in education to avoiding "learning situations" that in ballrooms in generic hotels across this great land of ours.  It is a pretty hateful place to try and learn something.  Especially when the learning is looking at a powerpoint and flipping through a notebook.  Page by page.  You get the picture.  Except that the state is empowering us as schools to figure our own ways through the school improvement process which is awesome for me as a leader who definitely has strong views on how to do this.  But I guess that you are not feeling the rejuvenation part yet.

Across town this week, twenty five of our teachers are attending a Responsive Classroom week long training with twenty five other teachers from various division schools.  I finally was freed up to today to attend and I immediately remembered why this is so important.  The social aspect of learning is as important as the academic aspect.  Responsive classroom gets that.  It really does.  The day ended up with our staff in a circle on the floor singing a song and playing a game.  Our assistant superintendent and chief information officer happened to drop by at that very moment and were goaded into joining on the floor.  That is why it is important.  There is a point to all of this and building a community in a school or a school division takes work but it also takes fun and play as well.  

Sunday, July 26, 2009

One thought from EduStat University

I attended Edustat University last week in my hometown of Charlottesville, Virginia right down the road from my home at Monticello High School.  Often times, I will attend a big conference and come away with just a few random thoughts.  Well, one thought I came away with is how teachers' professional lives are structured here in our country.  In Tony Wagner's keynote, he spent a bit of time on international comparisons.  America, as we are well aware, is well behind many or most of the industrialized world in terms of student achievement in all academic areas.  We are also well behind in another factor, according to Wagner: teacher planning time.  In Finland, the top performing education nation in the world, allows teachers to meet and plan for about 40% of their paid time.  Now, I am sure that time is well focused and well used, or Finland would not be the best in the world.  But, they can't use the time if it is not there.  In our country, I would hazard to guess based on my limited knowledge that teachers teach (meaning responsible for many children) about 80% of their day have 20% left to plan, meet, and reflect both individually and collaboratively.  We never talk about this issue in this country.  In fact, we tend to highlight successful charter schools where teachers teach at the same 80/20 ratio for even longer days (and have high percentages of burnout).  What about schools that focus on teacher learning as much as it does student learning but holds teachers and administrators to high levels of accountability.  Wouldn't this be "innovation" as well or just another bone thrown to "lazy" teachers who already have two months off in the summer and have those darn unions over protecting them.  Why are we so afraid to learn from more successful structures and innovations in other countries?