Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Gaining perspective in life

We talk a lot about goal setting in our district. 

We have district goals.

I have Superintendent goals.

We encourage our teachers to establish learning goals.

Another way to look at goals is captured by Candy Chang in her talk about "Before i die I want to . . ."

I like goals.

Goals help me focus.

This TED talk gives me an important perspective on goals. Perspective is important in life. Focusing on things that matter, things that make a difference, things that will bring joy to my life will in turn provide others the opportunity to gain perspective as well. 

Friday, January 25, 2013

Stop bashing tests and talk honestly about student achievement

Many people criticize standardized testing.

Just this week the Washington Post ran a story about the revolt in Texas over funding standardized testing.

The Seattle Times ran an editorial about teachers who boycotted giving a standardized test.

I would think that we would have come to agreement on whether standardized tests should be part of the school culture by now. After all, we have been giving standardized tests for a long time.

Yet the conversation keeps going. Kind of like Bill Murray's movie "Groundhog Day" - the same thing over and over again.

I believe that it is important for us - the school community - to be able to identify clearly for a student and a parent the skills of that student. Students come to school to learn. We should be able to identify what a student has learned by being in our school. If we can't do that - if we can't say with confidence that our teachers and our school has helped in these ways - then why should a community support the schools.

I understand that there is a lot more to educating a child than just what goes on in school. Poverty, parental expectations, opportunities to learn, experiences outside of school, student desire - the reasons for the differences in student performance is long and complicated.

But we should be able to identify for ourselves and for our students and parents what students learn when they are in our schools.

Should we rely only on a standardized test to do that? Of course not.

Should we rely only on the grades that a student earns to do that? Of course not.

Should we rely only on the in class teacher assessments to do that? Of course not.

We need to have multiple measures that communicate a complete picture of the strengths and weaknesses of a student. Each different measure gives us a perspective. We need to take each of the perspectives and mold a complete picture of student performance.

We owe it to ourselves and to our students to find a way to use the multiple and varied tools that we have to help students know their strengths and weaknesses.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Is it easier to be a successful football coach or a successful teacher?

Teaching is hard work.

There is no other way to say it.

But why?

I found a glimpse of why it is so hard when I read this in a Sports Illustrated article on college football:

(Coach Jimbo) Fisher explained that since taking over (as head coach at Florida State), he had hired a nutritionist to monitor what players ate. He had contracted a mental-conditioning coach to change how players thought. He had inherited two strength-and-conditioning- assistants, then hired six more and was on the verge of bringing on a seventh to ensure that players received more individual attention in the weight room. Fisher then asked the boosters to dig deep because he needed more. He wanted better dorms for the players and an indoor practice facility.

In my district, the expectation is that teachers will do all of those things. I don't have the luxury of hiring a nutritionist or a mental-conditioning coach or a strength coach.

I hire first grade and third grade and math and Spanish and Japanese and history teachers and expect them to attend to all of the variety of issues that a first or third or eighth or eleventh grader has.

If a student needs to learn to focus, I expect my teacher to help them do that.

If a student has to get organized, I expect my teacher to help them learn to do that.

If a student needs work on the basics, I expect my teacher to help them with that.

College football coaches have it easy. They get to hire strength coaches and nutritionists and tutors. The coach needs to have a vision but they get to hire people to help execute it.

Teachers, on the other hand, have to have the vision and the ability to execute.

So, Jimbo Fisher and Nic Saban can be acclaimed as great coaches, and they are, but to really see a successful person find a teacher!

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Can Nick Saban teach me anything?

I'm a football fan.

My dad, from Oklahoma, instilled in me a respect and love for the game.

Bud Wilkinson and the University of Oklahoma's 47 game winning streak were part of the lore and legend that surrounded the house I grew up in.

So football is part of me. Which leads me to respect what Nick Saban has done at Alabama over the past 6 seasons.

This past Monday, Nick Saban and his Alabama Crimson tide won their 3rd national championship in four years.

The question is how can Nick Saban be that good?

A glimpse of why Alabama and Nick Saban are that good is captured in this article by Michael Weinrib. The author suggests that it is Saban's drive to be the best that propels him toward excellence. At one point, the author explains, Saban was asked why he continued to do what he does.

And Saban sort of stared down the questioner for a second, and then he said this: "Why do you do what you do? Are you driven to be the best at what you do?"

The author goes on to connect Saban's drive to an example that Martin Luther King Jr. used when he was encouraging people, students in particular, to strive for excellence. In an article in the Seattle Times that captures Dr. King's words to a group of junior high school students in 1967, Dr. King is asking, "What is your life's blueprint.?"

Dr. King says to these students:

If it falls your lot to be a street sweeper, sweep streets like Michelangelo painted pictures, sweep streets like Beethoven composed music, sweep streets like Leontyne Price sings before the Metropolitan Opera. Sweep streets like Shakespeare wrote poetry. Sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven and earth will have to pause and say: Here lived a great street sweeper who swept his job well.

So what can I learn from Nick Saban? I can learn the lesson that he learned from Dr. King and from his father. Be the best at whatever you are!

Sunday, January 6, 2013

It's a new year - Make a difference!

Here's a short video on making a difference.

Perhaps, as this new year starts, we can all commit to making a positive difference everyday.

It's a simple goal - but one that we can achieve.