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Friday, September 9, 2011

Here We Go - A Summary of the Opening Day Speech To The Staff

Dear Staff Members,

Here’s a written summary of the presentation delivered Tuesday as a welcoming address.

The exercise involving the sand and rocks was intended to explain how difficult it can be to effectively engage with the essential leverage points in an organization when it is distracted by issues that are important but not urgent, and issues that are urgent but not important. The theme is related to the subject of our last session together in June – The Valley and the Ambulance – which expressed the potential waste of time and resources spent on responding to a problem with treatments by calling forth ambulances instead of initiating preventative measures like building a fence that prevents people from going over the cliff in the first place. It’s a matter of focus and strategy.

Each of the six rocks used in the demonstration represented a critical - urgent and important - focal point for us as we move forward.

1. Clarity: Defining our meaning and purpose is a necessary first step in promoting success. Our mission is, “Every student will graduate prepared for college, career and citizenship.” Central to that pursuit is the path of fostering dreams and sustaining hope.
2. Communication: Communication often connects people in the same way that mortar links bricks to form a firm foundation to support structures. Communication between and among stakeholders is critical to success in any human service enterprise. If we do not communicate with parents we are not valuing their contribution as a partner in education. We need to make regular, accurate, and timely use of EdLine as a vehicle to offer progress oriented data to parents. We need to make Open House a profitable experience by articulating the goals, expectations, and opportunities for our area of responsibility. This will allow parents to better understand and support our efforts. We must also recognize that academic success is dependent on communication between staff members if we expect to have an operational curriculum with effective scope, sequence, and integration for our curriculum.
3. Collaboration: Collaboration emerges from communication. In order to cooperate we must be able to interact constructively with each other. Our mission must be clear to form common goals and shared meaning. The sand we used in our demonstration with the rocks is a substance that slips through your hands with ease yet, when packed together inside a bag sand is strong enough to prevent flood waters from pouring inside the building and damaging the school. People banding together can project the same effect – strength and resolve.
4. Compassion: Teaching and learning is inherently an intensive human dynamic. As such, relationships usually form the fulcrum point separating success and failure. While we can “know” a learner on the basis of objective data and measurements, we really don’t “know” the individual until we care about them and imagine walking in their shoes for a while. Empathy and understanding are related to the degree of genuine interest we extend to others. We should always treat our learners as we would want our own sons and daughters to be treated. Why should our expectations be any different? The Golden Rule comes to mind.
5. Commitment: We are all, directly or indirectly, experiencing the frustration borne of political gridlock in Washington D.C. The virtual refusal of either party to extend accommodations has ground progress and solutions to a halt. No one really wins in an environment where parties are fundamentally retrenched and inflexible. There is a strong possibility that everyone loses when people become more vested in their side “winning” than in arriving at an elegant solution of mutual benefit and best alternatives. Regardless of what our individual roles are here, we must all pledge ourselves to creating and sustaining a positive learning community that fosters dreams and sustains hope.
6. Consistency: The conceptual distance between what we say and what we do is very revealing to others. Longfellow’s famous quote applies – “What you are stands over you the while, and thunders so that I cannot hear what you say to the contrary.” Our policies and practices must be consistent in operation. While differentiated instruction that accommodates learner variability is an appropriate response to the needs of learners, variance between teachers in classrooms responsible for the same learners (policies on homework, grading,…) can lead to confusion and frustration among learners struggling to meet guidelines that differ from class to class.

The state’s education law embedded in the APPR regulations has taken the high stakes pressure that has hovered over the learners and plunked it down on the desks of the teachers as well. If nothing else, we can now feel the impact from a different perspective regarding assessment, weights of measurement, and the potential consequences of not meeting rigid requirements.

We have evidenced measures of Adequate Yearly Progress at all areas. That’s a significant improvement from being designated as a School In Need of Improvement. By incorporating the 6 C’s referenced above in the operation of our school, and by adopting a position of being pro-active instead of defensive and reactive (i.e. the Valley and the Ambulance) we can remain a small school with BIG ideas and meet with increased performance levels.



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