Monthly Archives: July 2012

Lovely Blog Award Thank You

A big thanks to Stephanie DiMartino at The Joy of Teaching for honoring me with the One Lovely Blog Award! I enjoy writing and sharing my ideas with others, and this is a nice surprise.

The rules for the award are as follows:

1. Follow the person who gave you the award

2. Link back to the person that gave you the award

3. Pass the award on to 15 new bloggers.

I’m relatively new to blogging, so my list of favorite bloggers is small:

  1. Tools for the Common Core Standards
  2. Turn On Your Brain
  3. Michael Wood, CSCS
  4. Granted, but…




Good Public Schools are “What’s Best for the Children”

I pulled the title for this blog from an archive site I learned about from my new friend and colleague, Tim Hartnett, who is the Associate Librarian at the SUNY Plattsburgh Feinberg Library. With a nearly full slate of classes to teach this fall (I can’t wait), I hooked up with Tim for resource ideas and guidance on maneuvering through the library search engines. His enthusiasm and competence were such I spent more time than I probably should have surfing Internet sites, particularly the Internet Archive, but the end products made the effort all worthwhile. Two videos in particular inspired me, The Children Must Learn, and School House in Red.

Videos entertain and engage audiences, and I use them often. Since one of my fall classes is on School Culture, Settings, and Systems in the 21st Century, I wanted to find some films which captured the enduring essence and purpose of schools and learning in this country. When I met Tim, I shared my interest in videos, and he directed me to the 1940 clip “The Children Must Learn” (, a 13-minute video from the Prelinger Archives collection.  Wow!!!  Set in Appalachia, the video struck a powerful cord on why we do compulsory education in this county as it followed the life of a poor, impoverished family over the course of one school day. Life was so different in the 40s, particularly in the Kentucky hills! Good food was scarce, people subsided off the land, and the one-room school-house was where children of all ages convened for the three R’s. It was a place that offered hope and possibilities for a better life.

Okay. So I hit pay dirt with The Children Must Learn, but I dug deeper and found another gem: School House in the Red. Produced by the Kellogg Foundation, this 1945 video on school restructuring and merging could have been written and produced today! The video follows the concerns and thoughtful discussions within a small community as they grapple with the idea of merging their small school-house with a neighboring school. Comments from senior citizens, business officials, parents, and board members are priceless and ring true in the halls and forums of present-day board rooms. I’m paraphrasing here with some of the more memorable comments: “This school was good enough for me when I was a child, why isn’t it good enough now?”, “How are we ever going to afford it?'”, “I don’t want my child sitting on a bus all day.”, and “What is best for the children?”.

When you cut out the dramatic, and I mean DRAMATIC, differences in lifestyles between the 1940s and present times, one is left with a keen sense of the enduring themes of why we do public education in this country and why there will always be change pressures on communities. Public schools provide the knowledge and skills necessary for children to grow up and contribute to a democratic way of life, and they offer hope for the younger generation to live a better life than the parent generation. Schooling stirs the curiosity and emotions of the young mind, inspiring some to travel far and wide to stations in life their parents could only dream of. For others, schooling provides the foundational understandings that ensure continuity and vibrancy within the local community.

Our finest schools will always seek to do what is “Best for the Children,” even when that means making difficult decisions that seemingly fly in the face of history, comfortability, and conformity. We are in an era of significant school reform, but when you get right down to it, have we not always faced change pressures in education? iPads may have replaced filmstrips, and interactive whiteboards now cover slate chalk boards, but haven’t schools always tried to do their best for the children? The question is, do all schools have the necessary resources, community support, and will to do better?

Reforming an Ed Leadership Program

This week a steering committee meets for the first time to plan for the complete revision of the SUNY Plattsburgh Ed Leadership Program. Their charge is to help update the existing program to best reflect the changing face of education and school leadership. With the New York State Regents Reform Agenda and the growing gaps in student achievement relative to those of other students around the world, there is an urgency to raise the bar for all practicing and future administrators. Where there’s a will, there’s a way.

My colleagues who presently run the program and I have given much though to this important endeavor, and together we’ve organized a most impressive group of regional thinkers and leaders in the education field. Our committee includes two practicing superintendents, one principal, two recently retired superintendents, one national consultant, a technology director/educator, and three others who have helped craft ed leadership programs in their career. It’s an exciting and high-powered team that will help steer the important work that lies ahead. As one Steering Committee member commented to me, this transformation work is Theory U!  After all, if we hope to break out of the schema of 20th Century Ed Leadership program models, we must be willing to be open-minded, open-hearted, and open-willed about what is possible.

To help inform our work and push us to the razor’s edge, we’ve surveyed the region’s superintendents for feedback on the quality of recent graduates from the program and for ideas and strategies for embedding ISLLC and ISTE-NETS standards-based projects into the program. Survey data may help provide the impetus for creative reform as we acknowledge the gaps in our existing program.

At our meeting, we will present an exemplar of the course outlines we will ultimately use for submission for New York State Ed Dept approval. The outlines will include learning objectives aligned with standards, rigorous and relevant assessments associated with the objectives, and a bibliography. With steering committee feedback, we will then update the course outline exemplar and share it with other professors teaching in the program. Our goal is to have every proposed course outline aligned to the standards and evaluated through embedded authentic assessments. In addition, our committee will learn of the current research in the field of ed leadership and then break out in sub committees to brainstorm potential cornerstone projects/studies and the clinically rich internship experiences. There are innumerable directions our program could go, including executive coaches, journals, portfolios, podcasts, and much, much more. All in all, this is timely and very exciting work!

Readying Ed Leadership Programs for Race to the Top and School Reform

And so ended another five-day marathon Race to the Top Network Team Institute in Albany, New York. As with previous events, it was long, hard, and filled with practical exercises and activities. I loved it. Ken Slentz, John King, and Kate Gerson got us started on Monday with their standard, “Good morning” and, after the audience’s Pavlovian mumbled response, followed up with,”Let’s try that again. Good Morning.” Monday mornings are challenging for most, particularly when they launch the hard work of school reform training. However, when you go from the top brass at NYSED to presenters and practitioners such as Duffy Miller and Paul Bambrick-Santoyo, how can you miss??

Though I no longer conduct Race to the Top training sessions, I do work in a university that offers degrees in teaching and education administration. Consequently, the work of school reform is as relevant as ever–particularly during this Network Team Institute which focused on teacher and principal evaluation. We know the research on time use by principals, and Paul Bambrick-Santoyo showed us how it is indeed possible to schedule a principal’s week and increase the number of observations and teacher meetings 20-fold (I kid you not. Check out his new book, Leveraged Leadership). The same rule was applied to scheduling a superintendent’s week to evaluate principals. We also practiced principal-teacher coaching sessions, superintendent-principal coaching sessions, analyzed case studies, and action planned for the work that lies ahead. Duffy Miller then took us through the detailed work of principal evaluation using the ISLLC Standards, NYSED-approved principal evaluation rubrics, and a 15-artifact case study. We used evidence tables aligned with the ISLLC Standards to organize our information, and then selected a rubric to rate the principal’s performance. The work was rigorous, relevant, and perfect for a principal preparation program.

If you are an education administrator, you may have recent or faded memories of your own ed leadership program. Did the program prepare you well for the work you do now? My guess is probably not given the pace of school reform in recent years. With Race to the Top sweeping across P-12 education, the impacts of reform are now starting to lap up on the shores of every teacher and principal college in the country. Common Core College and Career Ready Standards, Evidence-based Observations, Principal Evaluation, Data-Driven Instruction, Student Learning Objectives, Rubrics, and other concepts now part of the P-12 lexicon are pushing fast into college and university classrooms. And that’s a good thing. After-all, there’s a sense of urgency to the school reform agenda which rightfully expects graduates of teacher and principal education programs to be ready to hit the ground running. Too much is at stake to do otherwise.

In terms of school principals, the Wallace Foundation provides a wealth of information on effective leadership, including education leadership programs and development. All significant change efforts are best informed by data, and so it goes with principal preparation programs. The Principal Preparation Program Assessment from the Wallace Foundation offers rubrics and guidelines to inform the work of assessing ed leadership courses and internships, and The Making of the Principal: Five Lessons in Leadership Training summarizes ways for to ensure effective school leadership.

Transformation of principal preparation programs is occurring in pockets throughout the country, and the very finest examples are included in the Wallace Foundation research. There are also organizations steeped in experiences with school leadership development, and when I inquired about effective leadership programs at this past week’s RttT Network Team Institute, I was urged to explore the good work being done by New Leaders. I was also encouraged to review the new New York State Teacher Certification Examinations for teachers and school building leaders scheduled to be rolled out in 2014. What gets measured gets done, and so a thorough review of the NYSTCE assessment designs and frameworks is a must-do for anyone associated with principal preparation programs (including the future principals).

As I transition to my new work in post-secondary education, I am conscious of the strengthening bridge between P-12 and institutions of higher education. With data systems on the horizon for tracking success of college graduates to find jobs, increase student achievement, and hold a tenure track position, the lessons learned from Race to the Top are highly relevant and appreciated. With an abundance of education leadership research and highly skilled and knowledgeable individuals eager to make a difference in this country, now is a leveraged moment to put those lessons to good use.

Seasons of Life, Climate Change, and School Reform

I’m chuckling as I read this week’s blog title thinking anyone who comes across this entry will wonder, “What in the world does this mean?”.  Well, here goes my best explanation. “Seasons of Life” represent the changes we all go as we progress through life events. As I mentioned last week, my daughter has completed a season of life as she leaves high school for college. I too, went through a season of life with my job change from UPK-12 administration to post-secondary teaching and administration. With Race to the Top, we are all undergoing a season of life (some might call it a “mid-life crisis”) as we move to a post-NCLB era which includes data-driven instruction, multiple measures of principal and teacher evaluation, Common Core Learning Standards, school turnaround models, and accountability protocols for all educators and administrators.

“Climate change” fits in as a topic near and dear to my heart, and with a background in Oceanography, I would be remiss in not pointing out the connection between increasingly common severe weather events and our changing atmospheric composition. A searing heat wave, or frontal passage that roars through states like a hurricane leaving millions without power are somewhat analogous to the reform efforts demanded by RttT. Just as with last month’s ferocious mid-Atlantic States weather, the rapidity and political leverage behind the Regents Reform Agenda and Race to the Top have caught many individuals by surprise, and nearly everyone is doing their best to get the job done right. Though the hardships of RttT pale in comparison to an extreme weather event, millions of people are being impacted, and each calls for flexibility and adaptation. In Darwinian terms, we might coin this response, “Survival of the fittest.” Surely that will be the case with so many schools as they grapple with the choppy waters of Annual Professional Performance Reviews, Interim Assessments, Student Learning Objectives, 6-12 Literacy in Content Areas…..

Lastly, “School Reform” is what all this work is about. We are changing the P-12 school system, and change is messy, difficult, frightening, and sometimes costly. School administrators, teachers, support staff, and boards of education are recognizing the difficulty in putting square pegs in round holes, particularly with growing fiscal constraints. The time demands alone on principals as they move to transformational instructional leaders warrant the present system obsolete. Teacher leadership, collaboration, professional learning communities, networking, technology, and shared ownership of results are critically important to getting this important work done. However, lasting school reform will occur only by engaging Institutes of Higher Ed in Race to the Top and School Reform. We have a golden opportunity to rewrite Teacher Education Programs, Education Leadership Programs, and Teacher and Principal Internships to best prepare principals, teachers, and other stakeholders for raising student achievement in a rigorous, relevant, and relationship-focused school environment. And that will be the focus on next week’s blog–Using Best Practices to Transform Ed Leadership Programs.