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Thursday, December 22, 2011

Soccer Goals And School Goals

Sports competition yields immediate results. There's no waiting to find out who won and who didn't. The scoreboard provides a public account of the efforts of those participating. Academic progress is measured at a far different pace. The "season" is longer in the classrooms and schools and the outcome may not be realized until long after each learner leaves the school. The results aren't truly known until the graduates depart school and enter the workplace with the expectation of applying the knowledge and skills they acquired in their education.

While we have long been aware of the success our girls varsity soccer team encountered on the playing field, we were only recently notified of the official confirmation of their achievements in the classroom. The members of the squad repeated their performance of last year when they were cited by the New York State Public High School Athletic Association as a Scholar-Athlete Team. This distinction acknowledges that the team's collective grade point average exceeded 90.

Scoring goals on the soccer field and meeting lofty goals in the classroom.  That's been a hallmark of this great group of young ladies. They have consistently represented our community with pride and determination. Their experience generates considerable promise and prospect for the future, when they will be tested in the job market.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

The Stress Mess

Our school is in the second year of systematically promoting relationship building between staff members and learners through a mentor program that periodically connects individual staff members with small groups of learners. We had our regular 40 minute mentor meeting today.

There is a curriculum available for staff members to use as an instructional guide throughout these interactions. The curriculum provides topics and activities on a variety of experiences, such as safety, health tips, and much more. The objective isn't solely focused on developing relationships, but also on imparting knowledge as well.

Today's theme was timely and perhaps a reflective of the state of our society in general. The issue was stress. I certainly didn't know or understand the word when I was in elementary school. The world was very different then. I remember bomb drills in third grade when there was a threat of Russian missiles striking the U.S. from Cuba during the famous Cuban Missile Crisis of the Kennedy presidency. That fear aside, I believe that I am not acquiescing to nostalgia when I claim that there were far fewer sources of anxiety and worry back then than there is now.

The shrinking economy has certainly seemed suffocating and produces a sizeable amount of stress to families and, in turn, children. Those learners nearing graduation with hopes for the future face the immense pressure of a challenging job market. Social media, despite offering communication benefits, also allows for some to exploit the technology by expressing vicious vitriol from a distance safe to the bully sender and too close to the receiving victim. There are a myriad number of stressors that litter the path of people. While it's appropriate for the school to discuss stress and its effect and how to deal with it, it's nonetheless a sad commentary on our society that it is a subject that merits consideration for young children.

Here's to a collective New Year's resolution that 2012 will bring hope and good fortune to all.

Monday, December 19, 2011

The Whole Is Greater Than The Sum Of The Parts

Last Friday marked a day long workshop of our District Leadership Team (DLT). This shared decision making group represents parents, learners, staff and administration. The members served their constituents by expressing interests and discussing issues that impact the learning community.

It's a reaffirming exercise in that each individual can volunteer opinions and suggest ideas designed to advance the progress of the school district. The integration of multiple perspectives lends credence to our efforts at improving Green Island Union Free School District. Perhaps, most importantly, is the vantage point of the high school learners present at the meeting. It's fairly easy for well intentioned adults to act on what they perceive to be meaningful and relevant within the school environment and otherwise presumptuously overlook what really matters to the learners. Losing sight of the orientation of those we serve is a dangerous prospect. That's why it's vital to extend an opportunity for the learners to voice their views on the issues at hand.

We examined the mission of the district to determine whether that remained an appropriate compass. Then we reviewed data previously collected from a survey administered to staff, learners, and parents a few years ago. That offered a baseline to measure any progress since that point. The decision was made to solicit opinions on the school district once again to maintain an awareness of how people feel toward our performance. In preparation for that, we revised survey questions to elicit specific feedback in the form of values and beliefs regarding areas that now warrant closer attention.

The general discussions were beneficial. The various contributions made for a rich exchange of ideas that helped prevent any blind spots for the group. I appreciated the willingness of parents and learners to present their thoughts. As the superintendent of the school district I welcome the active participation of these stakeholder groups. The staff members were respectfully accommodating and did not discount the opinions of constituent groups that are often marginalized in the school improvement process. Together, we will propel the system toward greater achievements. We will meet again on January 10th as we pursue a path of progress..

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Will The Grinch Steal The Arts?

Tonight marked the second of our two Christmas concerts. This well attended event offered children in grades 3-6 an opportunity to showcase their musical skills to an appreciative audience. In addition, evidence of art work created by learners decorated the stage and added to the festivity. Every school traditionally boasts similar programs throughout the country. But how much longer will the arts be featured in our schools?

Fiscal problems continue to negatively impact education. The opposing forces of increased performance expectations and decreased revenues available to support education have often placed the arts programs in the cross-hairs of those thirsting for budget cuts. The state mandated assessments in Reading, Language, and Math prompt schools to disproportionately allocate ever scarce resources of money and time in those areas to prepare learners for the tests. Failure of the schools to meet projected standards of performance in these tested subjects results in public humiliation in the form of headlines broadcasting the school's status as a School In Need of Improvement - or worse.

The absence of statewide tests in the arts renders them less valuable in the minds of too many people. After all, a layperson could conclude that if a subject was truly important then it would be tested. That alone could contribute to a painful misconception among those that impact annual budget approvals.

However, tonight's concert offers several reasons why the arts are a vital part of school and an essential element in the learning dynamic. The experience of performing in public, while it causes anxiety to some, is a great platform upon which one may build self-confidence. Our society leans heavily toward verbal skills as an indicator of success. What better way to develop an orientation toward communicating in public than singing in a group before an audience? The songs in this evening's program involved several from other cultures in other languages. The arts are universal in their appeal across borders and politics. The arts have long served civilization by reflecting, interpreting, and transmitting the history,customs, and beliefs of mankind. The arts represent a significant indicator of our quality of life.

Furthermore, the arts engage learners in creative experiences that promote expanded boundaries of thought. The ability to express oneself in various mediums and explore possibilities through innovation allows us to stretch outside the conventional parameters that confine other learning disciplines. New and puzzling dilemmas are often solved with alternative interventions rather than time honored responses.

Here's an appropriate reference, an excerpt from Why Arts Education is Crucial, and Who's Doing it Best, by Fran Smith.

"Involvement in the arts is associated with gains in math, reading, cognitive ability, critical thinking, and verbal skill. Arts learning can also improve motivation, concentration, confidence, and teamwork. A 2005 report by the Rand Corporation about the visual arts argues that the intrinsic pleasures and stimulation of the art experience do more than sweeten an individual's life -- according to the report, they "can connect people more deeply to the world and open them to new ways of seeing," creating the foundation to forge social bonds and community cohesion. And strong arts programming in schools helps close a gap that has left many a child behind: From Mozart for babies to tutus for toddlers to family trips to the museum, the children of affluent, aspiring parents generally get exposed to the arts whether or not public schools provide them. Low-income children, often, do not. "Arts education enables those children from a financially challenged background to have a more level playing field with children who have had those enrichment experiences,'' says Eric Cooper, president and founder of the National Urban Alliance for Effective Education.
It has become a mantra in education that No Child Left Behind, with its pressure to raise test scores, has reduced classroom time devoted to the arts (and science, social studies, and everything else besides reading and math). Evidence supports this contention but the reality is more complex. Arts education has been slipping for more than three decades, the result of tight budgets, an ever-growing list of state mandates that have crammed the classroom curriculum, and a public sense that the arts are lovely but not essential."

In conclusion, a narrow emphasis on a limited instructional menu will likely produce narrow minded learners. In the long run, how will that process help us as we encounter unforeseen problems that require solutions unlike those that have worked before?

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Forward! Charge!

Public schools have been much maligned on a conceptual level across all media outlets, with ample displays of charts, facts, and figures painting a grim picture of achievement. In addition, there have been public forums with emotionally charged language decrying the efforts of educators to increase the performance of learners.

Public schools have been subjected to harsh budget cuts sweeping across a land dominated by fiscal retrenchment and recession. Thousands of educators have lost their jobs and class sizes have increased dramatically. Resources have virtually dried up in many schools after already slashing programs and practices.

Public schools have been too quick to retreat and sulk away to a darkened corner to hide and wait out the storms with hopes of sunnier days sometime in the future.

That's not a reaction that is constructive or positive. That's why our Board of Education held a "Board Advance" in August 2010 rather than a "Board Retreat." Haven't we retreated enough in public education? Acting defensively and surrendering to reality will not serve our children and their hopes and dreams. We need to stop focusing on "what is" and start planning "what will or can be."

The purpose of our advance was to review the past, examine data, and invent our future. We needed to develop a commitment to look ahead and adopt a proactive perspective, unfettered by the skepticism and defeatism that has plagued school districts that have accepted limitations resulting from the collision of decreased funding and conventional practices. It's time to discover alternatives and seek creative solutions. Maintaining the same direction when confronted by significant changes doesn't bode well.

For example, we face competition from charter schools, private schools, and parochial schools. Anytime we lose a learner who opts to enroll in one of these schools as opposed to attending Heatly, we lose state aid. In addition, we have to pay for transportation and textbooks to private and parochial schools. Beyond that, we pay tuition to charter schools (approximately $14,000 for each learner). That, on top of declining state aid exacerbates our fiscal problems.

What to do? Improve customer service and show staff members how we are all impacted by a loss in enrollment. A loss of revenue means a loss of jobs.Investing in communication, marketing, and relationship management was a start. Expanding the breadth of our curriculum at the high school level was essential to thwart further abandonment by learners leaving for the enriched course selection unavailable in small schools. Supplementing our regular classes with a menu of on-line learning classes exceeding 100 courses proved to be an alluring opportunity. In fact, we were able to cite this feature as a reason one learner decided to remain at Heatly rather than depart for an alternative placement. That single retention allowed us to save an amount of money nearly equal to the cost of the on-line programming. That's an investment, not an expenditure!

There's more to do - perhaps college courses during high school, maybe a school to work internship program. We're moving ahead, looking around corners and peering over horizons. We're not standing still and our strategy isn't "wait and see."

We'll provide periodic updates in this Blog as we chronicle our progress. Until then, we're working on inventing the future, not predicting it.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011


The nature of schools is learning. That focal point drives our purpose and meaning. Budgets represent the means to propel the teaching and learning dynamic. Despite our commitment to instruction, the reality is that money is an absolutely necessary fuel for the engine of education. The process involved at arriving at the budget is the subject of this evening's brief Blog entry.

While the end product of budget deliberations are unyielding numbers born of lengthy analysis and computation, there is so much more that is involved in bringing the total figures to the public for consideration.

John M. Bryson, author of Strategic Planning for Public and Nonprofit Organizations, refers to the Harvard Policy Model as a template for developing budgets. There are two different acronyms that form parameters for the discussions that flow during the process.

The first is: SWOT = Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats. If the budget is the vehicle by which schools pursue their goals and invent the future, then it's necessary for leaders to start preparing the budget by carefully viewing the realities of the school environment and organization. Before we can extend our horizons and look around corners, we must identify sources of success, deficiencies that may thwart growth and drain resources, possibilities to reach our potential, and hazards that could imperil progress.

Next, we look outside of the school at the PEST = Political, Economic, Social, and Technological issues that impact the school. This observation requires us to evaluate the prospective influence of legislation and policy at the state and federal levels (i.e No Child Left Behind and Race To The Top). We have to be alert for economic forecasts (i.e. the significant effect the stock market has on revenues available to New York state and thus, state aid to schools). Emerging social trends can often reach into the school in terms of community expectations and perceptions that might shape financial decisions on programming and policy. Clearly, the constant advances in technology (computers, data management software systems,...) also must be incorporated into creating the budget.

We will be unwrapping the shape and form of our budget in the coming months, after reviewing all of the factors related to SWOT and PEST. The resulting document will offer the district a platform for building the future and meeting the needs of our learners as they pursue their dreams and hopes.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Twittering Away

I love to read and write. I have a deep appreciation for the written word. There's beauty in well crafted, lyrical writing that stimulates your thinking. The library has always been a sanctuary for me. Over the years I have collected a personal library of well over 1,000 hardcover books. With all of that in mind, you can imagine how I feel about how our society has evolved (devolved?) into one in which the currency of expression is often spent in bumper sticker philosophies, sound bites, social media posts, and newspapers sporting large headlines, big graphics and small amounts of text.

Are we too busy to invest the time in engaging with books and essays? Have we become afflicted by a waning attention span that precludes us from committing the energy and effort to embrace anything beyond five minutes worth of reading? Is that why a rapidly growing number of people are a twitter about "twitter" expressions that top out at a brief 140 characters?

I have reluctantly opened a twitter account and begun spouting these short statements out into the world well beyond my computer keyboard. It's been a challenge. Brevity has not been a companion of mine but the self-discipline required of condensing thoughts has offered some benefits. It reminds me of the process whereby fractions are methodically reduced to their lowest terms in a process which shrinks the values at each step. The confines of 140 characters has prompted me to carefully examine what I want to convey to others - though I confess to occasionally linking a tweet to a lengthier extension of the point rendered in the actual tweet.

Although the twitter account was started to provide yet another venue for communicating with the public in an expansive strategy that also includes our district website, traditional hard copy newsletters, facebook, a mass "blast" of the School News Notifier that is instantly pushed through lists of email addresses and phones calls, I suspect that I signed on to twitter a bit out of a fear of being perceived as old fashioned. But, I am old experienced - with distant memories of the world before the Internet. I recall mimeograph machine produced newsletters without any color except a purplish blue(Google mimeograph since I imagine that few of you might know what it is); tangled telephone cords of real landlines; and unpacking Radio Shack's TRS 80 computers as well as Commodore VIC 20 computers (with all of 5K of RAM memory).

All of this leaves me in wonder of what the present five year old kindergarten learners will encounter on their journey into the future.

Sorry, there was no way for me to fit this reflection into a mere 140 characters.

You can follow me on twitter -

Friday, December 9, 2011

Service Orientation In Education

Our school district will soon begin preparations for an operating budget for the 2012/13 school year. Investments will be analyzed and revenue will be examined. The resulting figures will seek a balance between the needs of learners and the financial capacity of taxpayers. The community will consider the merits and value of the subsequent funding strategy at the annual budget vote in May.

We actually work at promoting the budget each and every day of school. It's ultimately about perceptions and beliefs constructed around the ongoing dynamics of interactions between and among members of the school staff and learners, as viewed by voters. People may vote on numbers as a product but budgets pass on relationships as a service. Few people are inspired by graphs and charts. It's the stream of narratives that reflect care, compassion, commitment and constancy of purpose which prompt feelings that really matter.

Think of education and consider how Harry Beckwith, author of Selling the Invisible, points out the significant differences between selling a product and selling a service. At Green Island we focus on selling the service.

Beckwith states:"A product is tangible. You can see it and touch it. A service, by contrast, is intangible. In fact, a service does not even exist when you buy one. A service is a promise. You’re selling the promise that you will do something at a future date. This means that what you are really selling is your honesty.

The products we buy are built miles away by people we have never met. So we rarely take product failures personally. The services we use, by contrast, are usually provided by people we have met or at least spoken to. When that person fails to do what he/she promised, we often take it personally.

In most professional services you are not really selling expertise – because your expertise is assumed, and because your prospects cannot intelligently evaluate your expertise anyway. Instead, you are selling a relationship. And, in most cases, that is where you need the most work. Doctors too often believe that they are selling technical proficiency as the measure of their worth, but patients more often view the relationship side as more critical. How many times have you heard someone describe a doctor with reference to his/her bedside manner as opposed to their perceived technical proficiency?
When many prospects choose a service firm, they are not buying the firm’s credentials. These prospects buy the firms personality. Most people describe their experience of interaction with a service firm on the basis of feelings. Service businesses are about relationships. Relationships are about feelings. In service marketing and selling, the logical reasons you should win the business – your competence, your excellence, your talent, - just pay the entry fees. Winning is a matter of feelings, and feelings are about personalities."
"Above all," Beckwith concludes, "sell hope."

We are presenting a case at the Heatly School that our staff can work cooperatively to advance opportunities for learners and craft the conditions and means for them to pursue their dreams, whatever direction they take. Isn't that what our stakeholders invest in? Not the achievement levels, but what these achievement levels can do. It's not what education "is," it's what education "does." In the end, education is a service, not a product.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Remember: It's About Caring

The following is the philosophy of Charles Schulz, the creator of the 'Peanuts' comic strip.
You don't have to actually answer the questions.
Just think about them and reflect.

Read the e-mail straight through and you'll get the point.

1. Name the five wealthiest people in the world.

2. Name the last five Heisman trophy winners.

3. Name the last five winners of the Miss America pageant.

4 Name ten people who have won the Nobel or Pulitzer Prize.

5. Name the last half dozen Academy Award winners for best actor and actress.

6. Name the last decade's worth of
World Series winners.
How did you do?

The point is, none of us remember the headliners of yesterday.

These are not second-rate achievers.

They are the best in their fields.

But the applause dies.

Awards tarnish.

Achievements are forgotten.

Accolades and certificates are buried with their owners.
Here's another quiz. See how you do on this one:

1. List two teachers who aided your journey through school.

2. Name three friends who have helped you through a difficult time.

3. Name five people who have taught you something worthwhile.

4. Think of a few people who have made you feel appreciated and special

5. Think of five people you enjoy spending time with.
Easier? The lesson:

The people who make a difference in your life are not the ones with the
most credentials
the most money or the most awards.

They simply are the ones who care the most.
Remember: People don’t care how much you know, until they know how much you care.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011


The advent of greater and more efficient technology has changed the way in which we interact with data. Let's take a look at what Theodore Levitt said about data in his book, The Marketing Imagination.

"The difference between data and information is that while data are crudely aggregated collections of raw facts, information represents the selective organization and imaginative interpretation of those facts. Information represents the imposition of order, categories, and ideas on the collected data."

We can now easily collect, store, and retrieve incredible amounts of data. Schools are immersed in data. Personal data is acquired upon enrollment. From that point on there is a steady stream flowing from telephone numbers, height and weight, medical reference points, test scores - virtually anything and everything that can possibly be measured. While the continuous improvement in technology places data at our fingertips - it's still data. It's inert and almost useless until and unless it is converted into information that can be strategically applied to make a difference and leverage progress. In other words, schools can suffer from being DRIP: Data Rich, Information Poor.

I recently joined several teachers from Heatly at a regional workshop to learn about taking advantage of the new testing program we have acquired from the Northwest Evaluation Association (NWEA). Our school has already experienced the first of three different assessment periods. The first round of tests serve as a baseline, a platform to use to project and measure progress of each individual.

We were able to review test data and begin converting it into information that can be incorporated into instructional strategies. The figures reveal where each learner is on a spectrum of skills within the curriculum. From that point, we can determine what specific skills the learner is now prepared to engage. The information enables teachers to form temporary learning groups predicated on skills rather than the average of their overall achievement.

Too often when learning groups are formed they are ability grouped based on the grade equivalent measure of a subject. For example, two different fifth grade learners may receive the same achievement level on a test in reading. Let's say that they score a 5.6, or 5th grade sixth month. On that basis they would be perceived as similar learners and organized into a group with other learners of approximately the same score. However, when you examine the separate elements that comprise the overall reading test you might discover that one learner was high in comprehension but low in vocabulary, while the other is just the opposite, low in comprehension and high in vocabulary. On the whole, they register identical scores but in reality they have vastly different needs. Furthermore, such grouping is often static rather than dynamic. That is, once they are assigned a group they remain at that level. So, the one who needs help in vocabulary is in the same group with someone who excels in vocabulary.

Skill grouping is predicated on specific skill deficiencies. Learners are arranged and rearranged according to needs, receiving instruction in common areas of need. Once that skill is mastered they exit the group and become assigned to the next skill in the scope and sequence of the curriculum.

This constant diagnosis, prescription, intervention, and assessment represents a complicated juggling act for the teacher. Coordination of the logistics can be taxing, but opportunities for success abound.

In addition, we also obtain projections for progress that are predicated on the achievement levels and skill attainment of the learners resulting from their tests this fall. The projections point toward where the individual is expected to score when they are administered a similar test (the questions are all different) this coming spring. This metric allows us to set goals and monitor progress toward reaching the goals.

Collecting purposeful data and converting it into meaningful strategies that inform instruction will move us away from the paralysis of DRIP, DRIP, DRIP Data Rich, Information Poor.


Tuesday, December 6, 2011

A Grain Of Sand

There are various metaphors that seek to describe the impact of teachers. Often, these expressions speak of the ripples that spread from a pebble tossed in the pond, or blossoming flowers, or trees with expansive reach into the sky. However, there are innumerable pebbles and ponds, countless fields of flowers, and many thick forests of trees, while the public considers the ranks of truly great teachers as far less in number, easier to count, and much thinner in breadth.

Actually, remarkable teachers are more numerous than one can calculate. The difference in perception may be attributed to the rather lengthy period of time between the act of teaching and the impact of teaching. That is, we are not likely to experience the effect of the greatly skilled teacher in a sudden and immediate sense, moments after the lesson is finished. Instead, we will more probably realize the benefit when confronted with a challenge or new experience long after the textbooks close and the classroom door is shut. It's when we stretch ourselves in some form or fashion and achieve success that we reflect on the words or acts of a teacher that provided the leverage needed to reach our objectives and solve our problems.

Think of sand. There are untold billions and billions of grains of sand here, there, and virtually everywhere. In fact, there's so much sand we take it for granted and overlook any benefits that might accrue from sand - in a manner much like many people view teachers.

Now think of pearls. Natural pearls, not cultured pearls. These exquisite items are valued for their beauty and may fetch a considerable amount of money. Like most anything else, supply and demand determine pricing. The fewer there is of a product or service, the more it generally costs.

What a contrast, sand and pearls. Sand is ubiquitous, while natural pearls are relatively rare.

Now, let's compare the two with a different perspective. How is a pearl created? ­"The formation of a natural pearl begins when a foreign substance slips into the oyster between the mantle and the shell, which irritate­s the mantle. It's kind of like the oyster getting a splinter. The oyster's natural reaction is to cover up that irritant to protect itself. The man­tle covers the irritant with layers of the same nacre substance that is used to create the shell. This eventually forms a pearl."

That source of the irritation that eventually results in the pearl is often a grain of sand. Substitute the word "teacher" for "leader" in the following quote by Ronald Heifitz and Riley Sinder in The Josey-Bass Reader on Educational Leadership, and you may see the influence of teachers in a much better light. “A leader’s vision is the grain of sand in the oyster, not the pearl.” (Ronald Heifitz and Riley Sinder)

Teachers, though nearly as plentiful as grains of sand, and I suspect viewed by many learners at some point as irritants, provide the stimulation that significantly contributes to producing future successes - we just don't understand the potential impact at the point we receive the service. Each child has the possibility of making a future as valuable as the pearl. It is the child who can make the pearl, it is the teacher who advances the process. 


Monday, December 5, 2011

Lesson Plans And Dreams

Eric Clark, author of The Want Makers, quotes Charles Revlon, founder of Revlon Cosmetics, as saying, “In the laboratory I make cosmetics, in the store I sell dreams.”

David Bangs and Andi Axman, who collaborated on, A Crash Course in Marketing, offer the following perception; "Recognize that people don’t buy products and services. They buy solutions to their problems or seek satisfaction of their wants and needs." Furthermore, the authors continue to explain the difference between product development and consumer motives with the following explanations:
"You don’t buy oil or natural gas – you buy heat;
You don’t buy circus tickets – you buy thrills;
You don’t buy paper – you buy the news;
You don’t buy glasses – you buy vision."
Mike Mugits claims that great teachers think, "When I design the lesson plan I create an instructional path, but when I teach I help learners grow and invent their future."

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Dignity For All

I attended a conference yesterday that focused on the upcoming Dignity for All Students Act. This state legislation, which takes effect on July 1, 2012, is intended to reduce harassment and discrimination through a systemic approach that promotes an understanding of diversity, tolerance, respect, and acceptance.
The legislation (called DASA) protects against all forms of harassment, particularly those based on a student’s actual or perceived race, color, weight, national origin, ethnic group, religion, religious practice, disability, sexual orientation, gender or sex.
This challenge grows more difficult each day that students are exposed to the uncivil behaviors evidenced by adults in the form of some radio and TV talk shows that spew anger and hate. It appears that unbridled contempt between adversaries plays out in the media in all too frequent news stories.
The virtual anonymity of social media, emails, texting, and instant messaging has spawned negative exchanges among students that would often not happen in face-to-face interactions. We are experiencing disagreements in school that have been fueled by nasty arguments occurring through social media off school hours and out of school. 
Our school will certainly and sincerely address this growing concern, but this is not a problem confined to the educational arena. This sad commentary is ultimately a reflection on our society and we must all contribute to a solution.
Finally, I can't help but see the irony in the fact that well intended bills like DASA are often crafted by some politicians who themselves fall short of setting constructive examples of civility, courtesy, tolerance, and respect. I suspect the upcoming presidential campaign will unfortunately serve as an illustration of this dilemma in action.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Who, What, When And Where Versus How And Why

Our school has recently been engaged in a number of productive experiences that speak to qualities that contribute to success in virtually any workplace our graduates may encounter in the future. Activities like anti-bullying assemblies, volunteering to serve and clean up at senior citizen dinners, fire safety essays and poster contests... all promote cooperation,commitment, and a sense of community. These experiences offer the participants an opportunity to see why their efforts are important and how they make a difference. Yet, these characteristics are not cultivated in the state mandated assessments that solely cultivate academic progress as a measurement of the success of a school in the state of New York.

I certainly don't question the need to promote academic success and measure achievement. These are accomplishments necessary to encounter future success. However, among the challenges of such tests, and the criticism of these assessments, is the emphasis on answering questions asking - what? That is, there is a tendency to solicit knowledge based largely on recall and comprehension level questions.

Just as teachers are encouraged to stretch learners by advancing up a taxonomy (see Bloom's Taxonomy) that begins with questions requiring knowledge, then comprehension, with application next, followed by analysis, synthesis and finally, evaluation; tests should also engender higher order thinking skills. Paper and pencil, fill in the bubble oriented large scale tests often require responses that are short (true/false or multiple choice) and black and white (universally accepted answers instead of essays that can result in different "correct" answers). This likely precludes the use of many questions that require analysis, synthesis, or evaluation.

In other words, there is a tendency to ask "who, what, when, and where" type questions of the test takers. For example, who was the first European explorer in America? what were the name of his boats? where did he land? and, when did he set sail? Answers to these tests are much easier to assess than answers to questions like, how did he create and sustain his course of direction, or how did he maintain the focus of his crew when dangerously exploring beyond the boundaries of the known world? or, why did he decide to colonize the new world in the manner he chose?

The "what" is fairly easy to see and describe. For example - "this is what I do," or "this is what it is." Just like answering the question, What is the capital of New York? Let's step out of tests for a moment and enter the real everyday world. Let's move away from test questions and examine meaning and purpose.

The future belongs to those people who can consistently extend themselves beyond the obvious "what" and progress toward the "how" and "why."

Harvey McKay pens a weekly syndicated business column that appears in the Albany Times Union. His latest installment was entitled - Why you should ask 'why' to be successful. It's an essay worth reading. He describes the difference in the workplace among people who are limited to knowing what, versus workers who can explain how, and others who can tell why.

McKay begins his summary of the essay with a quote from Diane Ravitch: "The person who knows "how" will always have a job. The person who knows "why" will always be his boss." Finally, he concludes by advising - "It's not enough to know how to do things - you must know why you do them."

How will we ever encourage the acquisition of higher order thinking skills if we are forever expected to prepare learners for state tests that ask who, what, where, and when instead of challenging them to answer the all important how and why?

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Searching For Gold

Tonight's Blog post centers on a thought provoking statement that I've discovered during the course of reading books on business and leadership.

It's a quote from Nuts!The Story of Southwest Airlines, co-written by Kevin Freiberg and Jackie Freiberg:  "People who work in gold mines will tell you that tons and tons of dirt must be removed before the miners hit a vein of gold. They focus on the search for the gold rather than the dirt."
I believe that this reference offers an interesting suggestion on how we view our goals, objectives and personal visions. It seems that many people are too often distracted or overwhelmed by the dirt and lose sight of the gold. I guess it can be summarized and reduced to a parallel of the old question, "is the glass half empty or half full?"

In this case, you could substitute several different words or terms for "dirt." Think of misrepresented facts, or high volume vitriol that contribute to obscuring what's right, muting optimism, or draining desire. It's not about who is right - it's about what is right.

Public school education is afflicted by the impact of people who choose to maintain a focus on the dirt rather than the pursuit of gold. That's much easier and requires far less energy than removing tons and tons of dirt in the quest for gold. Horrendous headlines and blaring broadcasts spout oft-stated criticism of schools that generally lack sufficiently supported facts.

Meanwhile, dedicated and industrious educators continue to labor at creating and sustaining the efforts that will eventually uncover gold. It's a dirty job.


Monday, November 28, 2011

A Bad Taste

I can't help but ponder the impact of the various state and federal mandates imposed upon public schools. More is expected of us at a time that less is offered to us in the form of material and monetary resources. The image comes to mind of the "pushmi-pullyu" animal from the story, Dr. Doolittle. The pushmi-pullyu (pronounced "push-me—pull-you") is a "gazelle-unicorn cross" which has two heads (one of each) at opposite ends of its body. When it tries to move, both heads try to go in opposite directions. (Wikipedia)

I will paraphrase an excerpt from the book Making It Happen, by Alan Weiss to explain how this process of mandates ultimately filters down to the individual classroom.
A dog food company launched its new approach to 'lifetime canine nutrition' with great fanfare, using innovative techniques in its promotion, packaging, and dealer incentives. However, after a brief sales surge, the company was horrified to see their market share decline by 15%, with prospects of continued decrease. In an effort to find who to blame the crusty CEO convened a meeting and pursued this question with each of his vice presidents. "All right," he bellowed, "who blew it! Each executive exhibited a great deal of anxiety and sweated as they explained how they used the latest, most sophisticated techniques in customer surveys, packaging displays, rebate offers, dealer discounts, etc...

This did not satisfy the angry CEO. "Well, if everything followed the strategy so precisely," screamed the president, "then why isn't the stuff selling?" Finally, a raised hand appeared at the rear of the room. It belonged to a lowly management trainee. "I think I know what the problem is, sir."

"You do! Well tell me what is it, since all of these highly paid department heads can't seem to explain the reason!"
"The dogs," reported the trainee matter of factly, "just don't like the stuff".

Ah, after all of the regulations from Washington and Albany, the end product eventually produces a poor taste. I believe the process is actually the reason for resistance more than the proposed product. In particular, these requirements may be disdained by those who decry the loss of local control of public education. Boards of education and school leaders are deprived of opportunities to exercise policies and practices preferred by the community they serve - from curriculum to evaluation, from resource allocation to assessment standards.

It just doesn't seem practical to levy uniform requirements across such a disparate array of schools. A plan like this appears to ignore the vast differences inherent in a diverse population across the state with respect to values and beliefs and the ability to generate revenue juxtapositioned with the needs of each community.

There are plenty of examples of two school districts equal in the number of learners they serve yet widely different in the amount of funding available to them to respond to the needs of their learners. Equal in this case is not equitable. The gap between rich and poor schools is widening. The concern is not unlike the issue playing out in headlines across the country whereby a greater share of wealth is distributed a tiny minority of our population.

In sum, there are many schools struggling to meet basic instructional needs while a similar number have the capacity to go well beyond needs and address instructional wants. That scenario leaves a bad taste.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

I Am Thankful For ...

I became an educator because I wanted to make a positive and constructive difference in the lives of others, just like the high school teacher who voluntarily exercised a caring, compassionate intervention at a difficult time in my life. His consideration, sensitivity and responsiveness encouraged me when I felt hopeless and helpless. His guidance leveraged future success. I continue to pursue that goal as a moral compass point that guides me as a school leader during my interactions with learners, staff and parents.

However, an interesting by-product emerged while I invested my energy and effort toward a commitment of making a difference in the lives of others. I discovered that these same people were also making a difference in my life. I derive great satisfaction from my attempts to nurture the dreams and sustain the hope of those I work for. It's an example of reciprocal benefits. By pledging to support others you receive reinforcement from their smiles, their progress, and their personal growth. The process proves to be reaffirming. I have grown from the insight and experiences of others. It's also greatly enriching. Those feelings in turn maintain the momentum that allows me to endure the challenges I face. It is not an easy task. There has been frustration and exasperating circumstances along the path. But that sincere smile, a simple thank you, or a contact years later from someone who has not forgotten your help, all contribute toward replenishing my reservoir.

I am thankful for all of the help I have received as I have endeavored to help others.

Ask yourself this question - "What am I thankful for?" - and reflect on your answer throughout the year, not simply on Thanksgiving Day.

I hope that everyone enjoys a safe and pleasant Thanksgiving.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Calling All Parents

It's difficult being a parent. The economic climate is anxiety producing. The threat of downsizing and layoffs has bred insecurity in the workplace. Costs are increasing, salary and benefits are stable at best, decreasing at worse. Time is also endangered by a fast paced, stressful daily routine. There doesn't seem to be enough time to do everything that a parent needs or wants to do regarding the tremendous responsibility of helping their children invent and build the future. There's no instructional manual accompanying the birth of a baby.

Monitoring and assisting a child along the path of their education is among the tasks that fall upon a parent. So much to do, so little time to do it. Efficiency can improve effectiveness. That is, if there are just a few things you can direct your attention and time toward in the role of guiding your child through school, then the key leverage points you need to exercise are featured in the article by New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman (linked below)

Friedman references a study conducted by the National School Board Association's Center for Public Education. A critical quote from the study - "Parent involvement can take many forms, but only a few of them relate to higher student achievement." The author of the study, Patte Barth, continues by identifying these positive parental actions - "Monitoring homework, making sure children get to school, rewarding their efforts and talking up the idea of going to college. These parent actions are linked to better attendance, grades, test scores, and preparation for college."

Here's the link to the column.

It's important to note Friedman's concluding paragraph:

"To be sure, there is no substitute for a good teacher. There is nothing more valuable than great classroom instruction. But let's stop putting the while burden on teachers. We also need better parents. Better parents can make every teacher more effective."

We held parent and teacher conferences at the elementary school level last week. Report cards will soon be distributed. How would you grade yourself as a parent? Please read and reflect on the column linked in this Blog entry.

I call on the parents of learners in Green Island to accept responsibility for partnering with the school staff to cooperatively construct a better future for our children. I also encourage parents to assist us in the effort by maintaining high standards of performance and accountability for staff and parents regarding achievement.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Going To College

Mention the word "college" and a typical 9th or 10th grader will either respond by echoing the desire of their parents for them to attend college, or listing their favorite college sports teams.

Unless a learner at that age has parents, older siblings, or relatives who have attended college their view is rather limited and their understanding is abstract. By the time they reach that age level they have doubtlessly been encouraged to go to college innumerable times by various adults. They have a sense that a college education will likely offer the prospects for a higher income than if they terminated their formal education at the conclusion of high school. They have heard or read about Notre Dame football, Duke basketball, and other distinguishing college athletic programs.

However, what do they really know about the college experience that they have been urged to pursue? How many 9th and 10th graders have gone beyond an internet college visit and actually toured a college campus, walked through a dorm, listened to professors, engaged in a question/answer session with college students on admissions procedures and financial aid, participated in a video project in the communications department, or eaten at a college cafeteria? Well, twenty-three of our 9th and 10th graders did exactly that today.

Thanks to a local pastor who also happens to serve as the Director of Community Service at a nearby, private four year college located in Albany, our group can now create their dreams for the future with more concrete and meaningful images based on this excursion. Now they have mental pictures to fuel their personal visions of college. Now they have a better understanding of what they need to do to prepare for college during their remaining two or three years of high school.

It was reassuring to observe how interested and excited the high school learners were throughout the visit. That was our objective. Fill in the blanks by providing an experience to gain insight and whet appetites. Stimulate thoughts and reinforce hopes. Clear up a fuzzy picture. We weren't promoting this particular college and the school's representatives understood that we simply wanted the teenagers to see what a college is like and how it operates. We expect to offer another tour of a different four year college in the capital region later this school year.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Which Way Did They Go?

Yesterday's Blog post discussed the dangers of blind obsession in developing and pursuing goals, particularly when the stated goal may not be the "right" goal. Today's Blog entry uses an excerpt from The Eighth Habit, a book by Steven Covey, to examine the need for goal clarity.

The author references a poll of 2,300 employees drawn from a number of companies and industries as a starting point on the importance of relevant goals within a context of shared meanings and the common good. He examines the difference between alignment and compliance, and contrasts the commitment of those who willingly enlist in the quest of a common and understandable goal and those who are merely expected or required to follow the goals of others. Covey explains the level of interest and the rate of commitment by projecting the statistics on an athletic team.
First, the data produced from the research study involving 2,300 workers.

1.  Only 37% said they had a clear understanding of what their organization is trying to achieve, and why.

2.  Only 20% were enthusiastic about their team’s and organization’s goals.

3.  Only 20% said they had a clear “line of sight” between their tasks and their team’s/organization’s goals.

4.  Only 15% felt their organization fully enables them to execute key goals.

5.  Only 20% fully trusted the organization they work for.

Covey breathes life into the statistics using the following example for illustration:

If a soccer team had these same scores (rate of interest, trust, and understanding), only 4 of the 11 players on the field would know which goal is theirs. Only 2 of the 11 would care. Only 2 of the 11 would know what position they play and exactly what they are supposed to do. And all but 2 players would, in some way, be competing against their own team members rather than the opponent.”

The findings of this study provide an important message for all organizations, including schools. This is especially true for those organizations that try to "grow" staff members like people grow mushrooms - keep them in the dark and pile fertilizer on them.

Information can be enlightening and empowering. The mission of a school must be credible, believable, and inspiring. Strategic goals should not be secrets developed by a select few people sequestered in a big conference room. Objectives should be relevant and meaningful, collaboratively crafted, discussed publicly, and clearly communicated in varied forms. Encouraging all staff members to become situational leaders lends credence to the saying that, "power is the only thing that multiplies when it is divided." Looking ahead through the telescope of an inspiring vision is critical. You can't move forward if all you're doing is looking behind yourself to cover your rear end. Transparent, transformational, servant leadership can leverage progress through people. Investing in people as human capital is more likely to prompt their enlistment in contributing to goals of the school than coercive, top-down directives that produce compliance at most, resistance at least.


Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Great Commitment, Wrong Target

An article in Fast Company, a monthly business magazine, attracted my interest a few years back. The author, Marshall Goldsmith, wrote a brief essay about goal obsession in the August 2004 edition. He discussed a 1973 study conducted at Princeton by researchers Darley and Batson.

 In this widely referenced study, a group of theology students was told that they were to go across campus to deliver a sermon on the topic of the Good Samaritan. As part of the research, some of these students were told that they were late and needed to hurry up. Along their route across campus, Darley and Batson had hired an actor to play the role of a victim who was coughing and suffering.

Ninety percent of the “late” students in Princeton Theology Seminary ignored the needs of the suffering person in their haste to get across campus. As the study reports, ‘Indeed, on several occasions, a seminary student going to give his talk on the parable of the Good Samaritan literally stepped over the victim as he hurried on his way!’

Goldsmith concluded that this was a case of people with goal obsession clouding their judgment. They were well intentioned but committed to the wrong target. I imagine that school improvement is not wanting for either energy and effort. Most schools charge forth with good intentions – but end up shooting at the wrong target. I am worried that the spate of federal and state legislation passed to shape the form and direction of education is narrowing the view of public schools. Add in the enticing financial incentives (i.e the federally sponsored competitive grants available to states through "Race To The Top.") during a time of economic crisis and scarce resources, and you have the potential for a perfect storm that begins with a thick fog enveloping schools and obstructing their vision.

There is no right way to do the wrong thing. The fact that 90% of the theology students who were told they were late simply neglected the person in need along the path to deliver a sermon on the parable of the Good Samaritan reveals the dangers of a goal orientation bordering on fixation. The current attention and demands on state mandated tests and scores threaten to distort priorities and produce a myopic view. Sir George Pickering, English clinical researcher and professor of medicine, once declared, "Not everything that counts, can be counted; not everything that can be counted, counts." That's an important piece of advice for schools to heed as they develop strategic goals that promote success.

When you think of education, what really counts?    

Monday, November 14, 2011

Good Is A Perception - Tests Are A Reality

Let me begin this Blog entry by stating that I do not feel that tests cores alone are sufficient and appropriate measures of the value of a school. There are many additional factors that influence the overall quality of any school. However, this Blog post will reflect on one such metric used by the state and reported by the local media, and use it as a platform for discussion.

The Albany Times Union just reported on the release of the most recent data evolving from the annual state mandated assessments of learners. Interestingly, the headline proclaimed, "Rules net 'good' schools." 

As superintendent of a school district that had been acknowledged as a school that qualified for the burdensome and embarrassing label of a SINI school prior to my arrival (School In Need of Improvement) I found it alarming that the newspaper now appears disturbed that school districts perceived as "good" have schools within their systems that display under performing levels of achievement. It's as if the media's concern about performance levels is now heightened because the reach of the state's ability to designate schools for poor test scores has extended into the suburbs.

The State Department of Education presented a list that showed 1,325 of the 4,685 public schools across the Empire State are now considered Schools In Need of Improvement - SINI schools. Despite the inclusion of more affluent suburban schools perceived and assumed as "good" according to the newspaper, Green Island Union Free School District is not on the list of under performing schools that now includes over one fourth of all of the schools in the state.

Although I find it a bit disconcerting that there is something implicit in the headline "New rules net 'good' schools," which infers that perhaps the new rules are to blame for the incongruous juxtaposition of 'good schools' and a negative designation by the state department of education. It sounds like the heresy that leaves good schools exposed on a list of shame. The newspaper lists several schools in the capital district region - many from suburban districts that had been, up until now, immune from the fears and anxieties that constantly shadow the less affluent and financially challenged schools.

Nearly all of the area schools identified in the news article were cited for deficient scores among subgroups comprising the general population of learners. It means at least one subgroup (i.e. gender, special education learners, race,...) failed to meet adequate yearly progress levels. While that may statistically be less significant than if the entire learner population was under performing, it does reveal the underbelly of a school that might otherwise have been free of the scar in the past. Not that long ago, schools were usually assessed by the general public on the bottom line of percentage of high school graduates, percentage of graduates attending college, scores on Regents exams and other statewide tests. In schools that have small numbers of racial minorities, special needs learners, or economically disadvantaged learners (as measured by the percentage of children eligible for the federally sponsored free and reduced meal program) it was possible for these low numbers in subgroups to be statistically overwhelmed and obscured by the sheer numbers of white, non-special needs, and economically advantaged learners in the school who were meeting academic expectations.

Now however, a school is evaluated on all of its component parts and subsequently held accountable for all learners. So, no matter how well the largest group of learners perform on the tests, the school may not escape the clutches of the state department of education if a single identified group falls short of making appropriate rates of progress. For example, even if 95% of the learner population reach a perfect score on the state test the school may still be considered a School In Need of Improvement as long as a single group (i.e. racial minorities) representing 5% of the learners does not meet adequate standards of performance. And that's how it should be. I think that there have been districts throughout the country that overlooked the achievement gap among learners as long as the overall scores of the school were acceptable. There are legions of 'good' schools born when the success of the majority masked the deficiencies of the minority.

We can't tolerate any child left behind, and we certainly can't exclude an identifiable group of learners from moving forward. I believe all children are entitled to a free and equal education, with equal defined in the form of opportunity. We can't guarantee that everyone will achieve at the same level, but we should assure everyone of the opportunities and conditions that promote success. If we continually experience insufficient levels of achievement among the economically disadvantaged, the special needs learners, or racial minorities our society will eventually suffer from the accumulated deficit emerging from disparity and inequity. 

The Heatly instructional team pursued a goal of reducing the deficit among subgroups within the learner population and the data from the most recent state tests indicates evidence of progress as the performance between males and females narrowed, as did the gap between those eligible for free/reduced lunch and those not eligible. Special needs learners also achieved at higher rates of success. The benefit of this focus on specific subgroups is that the same techniques and practices designed and delivered to improve the performance of the subgroup usually precipitates an increase in the instructional skills of the teacher for all learners.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Tell Me A Story

We often think of fiction when someone refers to a story. The term conjures up memories of myths, legends, and fables, or bed-time stories, or your uncle's long-winded tall tales he will share once again this Thanksgiving to a captive audience around the table.

However, story telling served as the primary means of transmitting information for the majority of the years that actually span the history of our civilization. When you examine our human time-line you will discover that written communication is a relatively recent concept, and shared widely among the populace only after Gutenberg created the printing press in 1450.

Written communication, in the form of an alphabet, was virtually absent among the varied groups of indigenous people of North America. Verbal narratives were used to pass morals, traditions, values, and beliefs from one generation to another and another and... Stories represented the strand that linked and sustained cultures. Look how long Aesop's fables were repeated and repeated before becoming enshrined in print and widely distributed.

It's interesting to note that despite the proliferation of technological forms of collecting, storing, retrieving and transferring information that threatens to almost eliminate personal exchanges of communication, story telling still matters. Here's an excerpt from Encouraging the Heart, by James Kouzes and Barry Posner that illustrates the point.

"Stanford University organizational sociologists Joanne Martin and Melanie Powers studied the impact of stories on students enrolled in a Masters of Business Administration program, an often numbers-driven, highly competitive, skeptical audience. Martin and Powers compared the persuasiveness of four methods of convincing the students that a particular company truly practiced a policy of avoiding layoffs. In one situation, Martin and Powers used only a story to persuade people. In the second, they presented statistical data that showed that the company had significantly less involuntary turnover than its competitors. In the third, they used the statistics and the story. In the fourth, they used a straightforward policy statement made by the executive of the company.
The students in the groups that were given only the story believed the claim about the policy more than any of the other groups and remembered it better several months later when tested." (p. 101)

Later, in the same book, the authors report that, "Research clearly demonstrates that information is more quickly and accurately remembered when it is first presented in the form of an example or story." (p. 102)

What's the point I wish to make in this Blog entry?

Even with the continuous introduction of incredibly sophisticated technology that delivers information at lightning speeds, and the tremendous pressure teachers face from ever increasing demands that compress the time they have to present information - story-telling still matters, regardless of the time required to convey the story, or the lack of flash and splash that might accompany the story. Let's not lose sight of this very important element of our culture and the abundant research that supports the use of story-telling.

That's the end of my story today.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Building The Future

Staff development days are rare opportunities for all staff members to invest common time toward pursuing collective goals of the school district. Generally, people don't seem to comprehend why schools have these Superintendent Conference Days or staff training sessions. The activities appear to be misunderstood by much of the public as unnecessary events that cause childcare problems for learners displaced from the school to accommodate the need for staff members to receive information and instruction attendant to promoting professional growth.

Who would think it wise to seek medical help from a physician who hasn't maintained his/her knowledge or skill based on the latest research and techniques? Why would we accept anything less from the school staff members who are responsible for our children? I'm not aware of any company that expects their workers to receive specific and necessary job related training outside of their normal work hours without compensation. Yet, public schools routinely have to defend their practice of providing growth opportunities to employees during normal work hours.

There was a great deal accomplished at today's staff development. Most notably, there were presentations on the Common Core Learning Standards newly adopted by the state of New York, as well as the Measures of Academic Progress assessments introduced at school by the Northwest Evaluation Association. The combination of these two factors will positively impact the learning program at Heatly.

Perhaps the best summary of the experience of sustaining our pursuit of progress and improvement while simultaneously integrating new programs and practices is represented in the brief video provided in the link below.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Fast Food vs. Slow Food. Fast Education vs. Slow Education

I've been working on my weight with a heightened degree of resolve recently. It seems that I've gradually gained weight while I either lost focus or looked the other way. Perhaps I allowed time constraints to lead me toward the convenience of "fast food" more than I should have. Maybe it was the perception that it might also be less expensive too. At any rate, I made a conscious effort to address my concern by examining what I eat in terms of content, how often I eat in terms of intent, and the quantity that I eat in terms of extent. That's it - content, intent, and extent. I've lost twelve pounds since August 1st.

Along the way I also paid more attention to the origin of the food I consume. In this case, I became a frequent visitor to the Troy Farmer's Market each Saturday morning. This weekly event offered an opportunity to support local farmers by purchasing food grown in the area. Organic foods began to represent a higher percentage of my diet.

Now, I'm not here to preach to you about your weight, or promote what you should eat or avoid. Instead, I want you to consider the slow food movement versus fast foods as a parallel to a similar contrast in education. Let me explain by first displaying the definition of the slow food movement as related in Wikipedia, along with an explanation of fast food from the same source:

Slow Food is an international movement founded by Carlo Petreni in 1986. Promoted as an alternative to fast food, it strives to preserve traditional and regional cuisine and encourages farming of plants, seeds and livestock characteristic of the local ecosystem. It was the first established part of the broader Slow movement. The movement has since expanded globally to over 100,000 members in 132 countries. Its goals of sustainable foods and promotion of local small businesses are paralleled by a political agenda directed against globalization of agricultural products.

Fast food is the term given to food that can be prepared and served very quickly. While any meal with low preparation time can be considered to be fast food, typically the term refers to food sold in a restaurant or store with preheated or precooked ingredients, and served to the customer in a packaged form for take-out/take-away.

Now that you've been able to compare the two terms you can more easily apply them to two very different forms of education. I contend that the steady stream of state and federal mandates (No Child Left Behind is a perfect example) have left schools across the nation more homogeneous. These mandates likewise present a curriculum of conformity that is already prepared and preheated and served in a packaged form. This process of imposition creates a uniform taste of standardization that lacks the nuances of regional interests and flavors and virtually eliminates unique differences that emerge from variations in farming techniques, climate adaptations, ecological characteristics and seeds. The consumer grabs a package from a fast food place that all look the same no matter what state they're in, and taste the same no matter what state they're in, and provided by people in the same uniform no matter what state they're in. Uniqueness is sacrificed for regulatory requirements that insure commonality. This results in fast education.

Slow education, on the other hand, allows each farmer and cook to adapt their element in the overall process to meet the desires of those consumers they serve. Local beliefs and values are central to this process. Differences matter and unique properties are respected. Taste is paramount and reflects the peculiarities of different regions and locales. Care and time are both considered viable investments that contribute to something flavorful worth waiting for and enjoying.The relationship between the farmer, the cook, and the consumer is valuable and personal in slow food, and so it should be with slow education.

What's happened to local input that evolves from the interests, values, and beliefs of a community? As we standardize and nationalize our educational systems we lose intimate involvement and direct accountability. Who selects and plants the seeds? Who nurtures the growth? Where's the connection and pride in providing a service to others in the community? Where's the nutrition in all this?

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Working Together

As stressors of various types and forms confront us on a daily basis we must understand the benefit of collaboration and cooperation as a viable means of thwarting threats.

Here's a very brief and entertaining video designed by a Belgian advertising firm that demonstrates the impact a collective and concerted effort can have in response to a menacing danger that imperils a group.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Facilitator Of Growth

I have always appreciated irony. Here's a definition extracted from


noun, plural -nies.
the use of words to convey a meaning that is the opposite of its literal meaning: the irony of her reply, “How nice!” when I said I had to work all weekend.
a technique of indicating, as through character or plot development, an intention or attitude opposite to that which is actually or ostensibly stated.
(especially in contemporary writing) a manner of organizing a work so as to give full expression to contradictory or complementary impulses, attitudes, etc., especially as a means of indicating detachment from a subject, theme, or emotion.
an outcome of events contrary to what was, or might have been, expected.
Now, a personal example of irony.

I have served in a number of different leadership positions over the years. During that time I have been involved with innumerable tasks, requiring me to exercise a wide variety of skills addressing countless issues that produced such an expansive array of responsibilities that it was difficult to explain everything underneath the simple title of "principal." There are certainly times when it would appear that I was a jack-of-all trades and master of none.

I was invited to present a convocation address and act as a week-long visiting lecturer at a university out west. Soon after, I was contacted by the president of the student senate (the sponsoring agency of the school) for an interview to provide information for purposes of generating advance publicity. In the course of responding to the inquiries about my work it became apparent that my role extended well beyond one that could be summarized by a traditional title. It was a pleasant and accommodating conversation that increased my enthusiasm for the trip and the unfolding experience.

The time came to fly to Utah and go to work. I had invested a lot of time in preparing my speech for the 1,000 people expected to attend the convocation series. I had also devoted a considerable amount of energy and effort in the information I planned to deliver in the week of lectures and the additional role of consulting on a proposed partnership between the university and the local public school system. The flight itself was uneventful but the scenery available to those flying over the Great Plains and the Rockies was fantastic. The views acted to ward off some of the mounting anxiety related to the expectations I held for the presentation.

Soon after I arrived at the university I noticed posters on poles and doors all over the campus advertising my speech. There was a picture of me and a brief professional biography. All well and good. But then I read the title listed below the photograph identifying Michael Mugits, not as a principal, or school leader, or educator, but Facilitator of Growth. I was immediately impressed with the moniker since my primary responsibility is directed at growing people of all ages and all stages by extending their reach toward their potential. It was more fitting in many respects than simply using the traditional and formal title attached to my office door - principal.

Nonetheless, you can imagine the explaining I felt compelled to provide following the introduction that the Dean of the College of Education gave me prior to my appearance on stage. Here I was, Facilitator of Growth, standing before the audience at a mere five feet five inches tall...  Had I truly been a facilitator of growth I believe I would have been six feet two inches. Actually, that contrast allowed me to begin my speech with a humorous exchange and led to a productive presentation that I was very proud of and it seemed to elicit great appreciation by those in attendance.