Sunday, June 27, 2010

Quick Hit: World Cup

Go, USA England Mexico!

Edited 90 minutes later:

Go, USA England Mexico Paraguay!

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Quick Hit: NDR 1 JPN 0 (73 min)

I’ve got a few minutes while the World Cup game is finishing (yes, I’ve watched every single one) and everyone is getting ready to head out the door to touch base with the blogosphere. I’m still here. I’m very tired. Physically tired. Emotionally tired. Spiritually tired. It’s the end of the school year, and it’s just like that for me. I have one week to go.

Next week starts with Judgement Day -- the day my books close and the students who are working either show me that they’re ready to move on or have the conversation with me about trying again. There’s professional development for 3 days next week, and then we meet as a staff to talk about what needs to be done for the fall. I’ll be able to totally separate from school on June 29th.

I’ve entered talks to return to coaching. I walked away from athletics at my school last year as a result of chronic conflict with my administration, but the entire administrative picture has changed, and the climate stands to be much more supportive of athletics. I won’t reprise my work as Athletic Director no matter what happens; the discussions we’re having only revolve around coaching. That’s just fine with me. It’s what I love most!

I’m biking 35 miles to NH tomorrow, the first real work I’ve done in three weeks. It’s going to hurt. I need it to hurt a little, to remind me that it is time to focus on training again. I have a triathlon in six weeks and a 250 mile ride just a week after. My body is going to have to gear up quickly.

OK. Everyone is leaving for a fair, so it’s time to get started with the to-do list. I’m looking forward to a quiet day of domestica. And the World Cup.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

To my school's Board to Trustees

I came to this meeting at the cost of a babysitter to speak about the upcoming vote on the Governance Committee’s recommendation. I’ll sell something on eBay to get the babysitter to come back next Tuesday, but since I’ve paid for it, I don’t want to waste the chance to share the essence of some conversations I’ve been part of the last little while. I’ve been writing this during the meeting, so some of what follows has already been said by members of the Board, and it was wonderful to hear. That I’ve written this largely in the first person, then, does not mean that these thoughts are mine alone.

The Governance Committee, after some prodding, sat down with the individuals involved as potential members of its proposed interim leadership team, and they’re now seeking broader participation in the process. This is exciting news, and it is my hope that it represents an understanding of all the members of the Board about the importance of discussion in the community’s decision-making process.

I’ve been a member of this community for 8 years and I have seen that the process of soliciting the voice of our students, staff, parents and administration before a decision is made is time-consuming, and can lead to a messy brand of democracy. But for as long as I’ve been here, it has been part of the cultural fabric of the school for decision-makers to encourage those voices, to listen to them and act on the trends that come out of such dialog. One of the quiet complaints the staff in my presence in the last couple of years is that, in an effort to improve the efficiency and efficacy of decision-making, the longstanding attitude of collaboration is giving way to a hierarchical model that leaves the rank-and-file community to give voice only after the fact.

I’m excited that there has been some restoration of dialog to the decision-making process. In particular, the efforts of Jay and the many others who moderated the recent listening sessions have given the community a breath of fresh air. There are other examples, as well. I’m here to say thank you for taking the time to allow those voices to be heard, and to communicate to you that, however haphazard and boisterous such protocols may seem, they are not just the key to the best governance the Board can provide, but they serve as a comforting example for the community as a whole that the Board is truly acting on its general consensus, not simply seeking its approval for unilateral verdicts.

It is clearly understood by all of you on the Board that within this community there is a vast amount of collective wisdom and experience. Its members, together, hold a deep understanding of the unwritten rules, routines and values of this place. That we all do not all sit at these meetings should not be construed as a sign of either ignorance or indifference, and it should not lead to governance that ignores our insight. (My school) was founded on a principle of inclusion, including in its governance. We are unique in the way we have traditionally included everyone in the great conversations. It is, believe it or not, one of our strengths as an institution. When we voice our discontent, we are not complaining. We are not, as was written in the previously-discussed public minutes, simply giving the Board--problems. We are reminding you of what we recognize to be a fundamental tenet of the way (my school) should be governed. Please take the time to listen to us, not just as a group, but as individuals. And don’t just listen to us, use our voices to guide your decisions. Don’t rely on us to come to you. We’re busy doing all the little things for the school, and babysitters are expensive. Simply saying, “anyone can be part of a committee,” is not enough. Ways must be found to actively invite participation. Lao Tzu wrote once that leaders are best when people barely know they exist, when their work is done, their aims fulfilled, the people will say: we did it ourselves. This is what we, as a community, are hoping of you.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Phasing out...

My classes have what I refer to as a “phased withdrawal” at the end of each term. Essentially, this means that assignments for the class are not due all at once. Instead, they have a series of deadlines for when particular work needs to be completed and to credit standard (earlier work is due earlier, later work is due later, for example). This is so that the end-of-year routine is manageable for the students, many of whom are balancing the needs of many classes all at once, and for their beloved teacher, who has learned that it lessens the stress of the students who aren’t going to make it if I can talk to them earlier rather than later about their need to repeat the course.

We passed the first of the deadlines last Friday. Currently (and with two weeks remaining), 18% of my current enrollment will not earn credit. This is an astonishing number compared to years past, when the average was under 15% at the end of the term. The number of students who are not ready to move on could, quite reasonably, top 25% in what time is left. That is truly alarming to me, especially given the amount of support I give my students.

I have to be honest in saying I’m not entirely certain what the problem is. Some of the total is a standard number of students who simply didn’t put the time, effort and attention into the course that they knew they needed to, but this is not a sizeable percentage -- roughly only a third of those not advancing. The other 2/3, I discovered today, is composed in large part of students who gave good effort in class, but did not have the foundational skills to support daily practice outside the classroom. Simply put, they didn’t have the study habits, time management skills or organizational routines they needed to do what I was asking them to do.

Is this year’s situation an aberration? In its sheer volume, perhaps, but not in terms of the basic underlying problem -- a problem that many high school teachers are faced with. We expect students to come into our classes with certain fundamental skills in place and, when they don’t, often the only thing we can do is say, “they don’t know what they need to,” and fail them. I am convinced of the need to support students of all levels in my classes, but the matter of fundamental skills remains one that is not easily resolved by in-class differentiation.

I decided today that, in retooling for next year, I’m going to invest some time in researching how to solve this problem. It just seems like one that is thoroughly preventable, and I cannot help but believe that a solution is there to be found. Before the end of the school year, I’m going to talk to my students to get their thoughts; they are often wonderfully astute and insightful about such things. I also hope to get some time to sit with my colleagues, who understand the particular flavor of the problem as it exists in my school. Finally, I’m curious to know what you, the blogging public, think. How can teachers better support students who need the basics, but not sacrifice the other stuff? I’d love to hear what you have to say!

Sunday, June 6, 2010

And after this, the laundry...

For the next ten minutes, I’m in an eddy in the otherwise swiftly moving current of my weekend, and I wanted to just say that, although there is much going on in my world, all is well and things are generally doing as they should.

The end of the school year is always a frenetic time professionally: Students panicking about whether they’ll pass, graduation rehearsals (I may not have told you this but, at my school, the graduating class puts on a show as part of the event -- it’s the kick-assin’est graduation going), meetings to deconstruct the current year, meetings to set up for the upcoming year and, in all of that, time to give some closure to my classes so there’s that nice sense of completion about what they’ve accomplished -- and they have accomplished so very much.

All this leaves the not-school parts of my world rather in limbo. I have done absolutely frick-all for training in the last three weeks (tree removal notwithstanding), the list of home maintenance projects grows daily and, in the category of things I reserve for leisure time, I have some 3,216 blog posts waiting for me to finish. In short, I have a lot that I would like to be doing, and most of it will just have to wait until school is out.

I haven’t even been keeping up on my quotes! Even so, I can leave you one that illustrates just how everyone’s brains are working at school of late:

¿Cómo se dice “now” en français? Maeve, who is destined to be my padawan learner in multilingual studies.

Happy weekend!