Welcome to my ramblings!

Welcome to my Blog. Here you can find the ramblings of a old high school principal. I've created a number of blogs over the years for a variety of reasons. A large number of them I use with my staff which are password protected from the outside world. This blog is for my fellow educators and anyone else who wants to read the ramblings. I guess my target would be building administrators, future administrators, teachers and educators in general.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

"They Don't Get It" Part 1

I attended a conference this past weekend with a focus on technology in the classroom. Most in attendance were teachers with a few tech folks and even fewer administrators. Most of the presenters were also teachers who demonstrated how they used technology in the classroom.

During the two days, I made a few observations I feel I need to share. While this blog is open to anyone, it's main target will be my fellow administrators. In addition, it's going to involve some research on my part so I've labeled this blog entry "part 1" since I believe there will be more to share in the months ahead.

I also believe that almost all my fellow administrators understand the impact of technology on today's generation. Or at least I "think" this to be true. As I attended the conference, I heard something that I've heard before, but really didn't register until now. I heard "They don't get it". The "they" are administrators according to these high power technology users in the classroom.

As I drove home, I reflected on the conference. This statement just kept haunting me as I drove. So even before I got home, I pulled out my iPhone and Plurked a question to my fellow educators in Plurk world. (For those who do not know about Plurk, it's the same as Twitter but has a wealth of educators. You can find more by joining the land of Plurk at http://www.plurk.com.) I asked my fellow teachers what they meant by "They don't get it". Below was the first set of answers and I bulleted each teacher's answer without editing.

  • Many of "them" don't take a leadership role in tech integration; don't allow those who are interested to experiment. Too reactive to parents. So afraid of lawsuits that they lock down the Internet via heavy filtering. Forget, if they ever knew, what the daily classroom experience is like.
  • or don't give time to teachers to 'play' and learn themselves with the tech
  • admin. I think are trying but they themselves need more information & then demand that their teachers integrate. It cannot be optional. time to learn, network with others, good support is critical in addition to having the actual hardware/apps/high speed Internet to integrate
  • they don't understand the power of technology in a classroom and think it is something that should happen after the learning. Don't use and model proper technology for meetings and presentations. OK for teachers but many principals I have come in contact with do not know how to integrate the technology. Some actually don't know much about email. You are an exception.
  • I think admins should be more active in getting overly restrictive blocking lifted!
  • too focused on test scores to allow teachers to try new technology for fear of taking time away from "learning"
  • The issue I see most often from those teachers who weren't at Podstock is training issues. Admins put cool tech in their hands and then walk away and expect the teacher to take care of the rest and some just can't take that next step on their own so the tech goes to waste. The tech looks great to prospective parents and on a building report "We all have interactive whiteboards!" but frustrates some teachers.
 From the first set of answers, I pulled out the following issues: 
     1) Filtering or blocking the Internet. 
     2) Giving staff time to explore, experiment and learn the technology (training).
     3) Too concerned about Parent/community reaction.
     4) Don't understand the impact of technology in the classroom.
     5) They (admin) aren't good at technology and aren't leaders within the world of technology.

I then took these 5 points and re-plurked (asked the question again to see what follow up I would get).

After the re-plurk I only got two additional responses:

  • Some admin don't feel comfortable empowering their staff but want staff to empower kids. Empowerment is  2 -way street.
  • Some admin want technolgy in their hands (not really knowing what to do with it) but don't want kids to have it
because they just break it.

Clearly, the responses are from all grade levels and from various schools. I did get couple that said their admin did get it.

So to my fellow admin ... what does this say to you?

Monday, July 19, 2010

Podstock Observation

P.S. I haven't had time to get this proofread. I'm trying to work with another on the research. 

Before I start I want to remind everyone that my viewpoint does come from an administrator's angle. That said, I really enjoyed the sessions I attended. The presenters had tons of energy and the audience was quick to become involved in the action.

By the end of the first day I did have a thought running through my head that I actually sat down and visited with Mike Cook about on Saturday. I wondered about the presenters and most of the audience. What were their Kolbes? For those who don't know about Kolbe, it's a self survey that helps identify how a person problem-solves. It's broken down into four modes. 1) Fact Finder - the instinctive way we gather and share information (this person has a strong need for a lot of information). 2) Follow Thru - the instinctive way we arrange and design (this person needs to see the whole picture). 3) Quick Start - the instinctive way we deal with risk and uncertainty (this person tends to think outside the box). 4) Implementor - the instinctive way we handle space and tangibles (this person has the need to have physical contact). There's a lot more that goes with Kolbe including creating productive teams, learning how to work with individuals of other modes, etc. You can find more at http://www.kolbe.com. You can even take the Kolbe for a fee.

My goal here isn't to get people to take the Kolbe, but I do think it explains a lot about how many of the folks at podstock have a common connection. I believe many of those who attended would most likely be considered "Quick Starts". Think back to many of the presentations over the two days. How did they present? Yes, with passion, but many of them were what I would call shot gunning (this is NOT a bad thing). There was so much to share that presenters tended to bounce around as they presented. They had a clear order in which they presented yet if you really stepped back and thought about it you would realize they seemed to jump around. Another observation was how presenters handled a technical problem. When something didn't go as planned they simply took a deep breath, adjusted and moved on. These are characteristics of a Quick Start. Most teachers we know would have panicked when the technology failed to do what was expected.

    My Kolbe.....4       3      8      4 ...........................

Why is this an issue? According to research we are finding that most who work in education are either "Fact Finders" or "Follow Thru" individuals. (This too is NOT a bad thing either). We need all modes to make the world go around. Truthfully, if we only had Quick Starts we would struggle to get things done as there would always be another great idea to think about.

The real problem is Fact Finders and Follow Thru folks tend to drive us Quick Starts crazy (yes, I scored an 8 out of 10 on Quick Start). We throw out our ideas but the Fact Finders always want more information or data and the Follow Thrus want to know what this will look like when we are done, as well as what every step needs to be taken to get there.  Plus, we (Quick Starts) drive Fact Finders and Follow Thru folks crazy. We tend to jump around on them. We don't provide all the information needed before they can move. We tend to have a lot of ideas, way too many ideas and can't seem to land on one. In some cases we actually can make them mad because we don't seem to be focused.

This may explain a few things:

A) For those of you who are Quick Starts and try to work with fellow teachers in your home districts, you may have noticed how much step by step procedures are needed for your fellow staff to do anything. They can't seem to fill in the blanks on their own. They may even drive you a little nuts because it seems they can't grasp what you are saying or what you see as the simplest procedures. They can't seem to adapt quickly to changes.

B) For a few people at Podstock I did see some frustration on their faces as they watched presentations which seemed to bounce around. This indicated to me that they were most likely a Fact Finder or Follow Thru individual. The presentation was most likely confusing to them or it was hard to keep up. But the fact that they were there tells me that Fact Finders and Follow Thru folks want change and they are willing to implement technology in their classrooms. They just need a way to grasp it without becoming so frustrated when they learn from us Quick Starts.

C) You probably heard a ton of comments about how Podstock was like a family. The feeling is that since it's such a small conference this creates the family feeling. That's probably true, but if I am correct and most of us are Quick Starts, this may also be a reason why we bonded so quickly.

D) THE BIG ISSUE as I see it .. we (the Quick Starts) need to realize how different we are in the educational world. It does appear we are the minority. If we truly want to get our message out there and bring change to education we need to understand our audience. Since most in education are Fact Finders and Follow Thrus we need to figure out ways to deliver our message in a way that they can embrace.

Let me give an example: Kevin Honeycutt made a comment during Kay Tibbs

I became very focused on this after changing my job last year. I realized over half way into the school year that I was freaking out many of my staff. That both my message and how I delivered it was causing problems. My choices were to continue to push my message my way or figure out ways to deliver my message in a way that would sell most of my staff.

One way I did this was turn to my fellow administrators who were Fact Finders, Follow Thrus and Implemenators. I sat with them (smaller audience) and we worked out the message that needed to be delivered (yes, this took some time and is still an ongoing process). Either they provided me with ways to present to the staff or they delivered my message for me in their own words/actions. Slowly, I believe, the message is getting out there.

I also had my whole staff take Kolbe and started training them on what it means. Of course the Fact Finders need more information before they are going to embrace this concept. My Follow Thurs are still working to see how this fits into the bigger picture. My Implemenators have a quicker understanding since they can identify how much they love to use their hands but are still adjusting. Last, the Quick Starts jumped on the bandwagon quickly and are trying to figure out how to use it. I would also say that we are doing Kolbe Y with our students as well. Hoping that when the staff grasps the concept, they can incorporate and use this knowledge of their students to improve learning. We've found that many At-Risk students tend to be Quick Starts and Implemenators. They don't fit a normal classroom where the teacher is teaching from the Fact Finder or Follow Thru viewpoint. But that's another topic for another day.

Is this observation a good one? I don't know. One way would be to find out the Kolbes of all the presenters and attendees. Unfortunately, that may not be possible if Podcast attendees haven't take the Kolbe. (The cost to take an individual Kolbe is about 50.00) I do plan on Plurking and asking Podcast attendees to submit their Kolbe if they have it. Once I do I will add the results to this blog.

In conclusion ... if you are a Quick Start and are trying to bring change to your district, take a moment and study the Kolbe. Learn what works with Fact Finders and Follow Thrus so that you can successfully deliver your message. Believe me, most of your fellow teachers fall into those two modes.

(If you have thoughts, ideas on this please share.)
Shawnee Heights Crew @ Podstock

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Mircoblogging ... Plurk vs Twitter

I created both a Twitter and Plurk account years ago but just couldn't get into it. Then one day Kevin Honeycutt came to town and we sat down to discuss the pros & cons of Plurk. Well, from that moment on I've become a big time Plurker! I post almost daily and try to answer others plurks every other day. 

The advantage to Plurk is when I have a training or presentation to give I can turn to hundreds of educators to give me feedback before I do my presentation. I've found hundreds of useful websites and software programs to use thanks to Plurk.

I now, have my Plurk so it post on my blog site and my Twitter site. I did have it posting on Facebook but I didn't think it fit well with the Facebook model.

I strongly urge everyone to explore the benefits of mircoblogging

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Social Bookmarking

I've been a user of social bookmarking for some time. The disappointing factor is I really don't do much with them. I truly see the benefits of having a network who you share your bookmarks with. But for some reason I just can't get into them.  Maybe if I found someone who was very active with their bookmarks I'd catch the fever.

Monday, February 8, 2010

RSS Feeds

23ThingsKansas (Week 5: Assignment)

I've been using Google Reader for some time now. I subscribe to a number of newspapers (CJ Online most used), several ad sources, favorite NFL team and a number of educational blogs. 

Listing of my RSS feeds:

  • Capital Journal
  • PrincipalsPage
  • Digital Education
  • Larry Ferlazzo
  • Techlearning
  • TechCrunch
  • Wired: Top Stories
  • 2 cent Worth
  • Education Week: Leadership
  • Education Week: Technology
  • Lead Teach Learn
  • Leader Talk
  • Making Teachers Nerdy
  • My Superintendent Blog
  • Moving at the Speed of Creativity
  • Parent's Principal (My Newsletter to parents)
  • So You Want To Teach?
  • Successful Teaching
  • Teacher Beat
  • Teaching the Civil War
  • World War 2 Pictures
  • The Totem (Our school newspaper)
  • Daily Steals
  • Kansas City: Chiefs
  • Principal World (My Blog)
  • Techbargains
  • Legendary Collection (My hobby)

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Essential Questions

Here at Shawnee Heights we have started a discussion on the "Answers" to our Essential Questions. In truth, only a few courses have good Essential Questions. But instead of spending time writing pretty Essential Questions, we are going to use backward design. Start by looking at the "Answers" - what is it we want ALL our students to know when they walk out of our classrooms.

If you are a teacher, do you know your answers? Are they aligned with state indicators? Do your students understand the answers you seek when you start a lesson? Do you understand that the answers we seek here are the minimum of what we want our students to know - that we need to be prepared to take many of our students to a higher level.

Back to Education


Last week was a busy one and I didn't spend much time blogging. So to kick-start this week, let's just list some of the topics/discussions of the week as it relates to education. (Note: I'm not including behavioral challenges, and there were a lot this past week.)

 What does someone write in and educational blog?
 What is the benefit of College Course vs. AP Courses? What are the drawbacks of doing a College Course instead of AP Courses?
 How can we use computers to watch television? How can we capture what we see on TV? and use in the classroom?
 Do teachers know the answers to the Essential Questions, which they have developed for their courses? If not, how do we go about discussing this?
 How do we deal with students whose parents are ready to drop them from school because they can't get them to come to school? 
 Discussing the use of handheld devices in the classroom.
 What does student engagement look like in a high school classroom?

Tuesday, February 2, 2010


Originally uploaded by Alan Beam2009
This photo was taken after the family helped me move into my new office at Shawnee Heights H.S. in July 2009. I'm also posting this blog entry from the flickr site to show it can be done.

Week 4 - Flickr

Was very quiet last week. It was a busy one and just didn't have time to post to the blog. Last week (Week 3) we were to write about Webinars. I've done a number of Webinars over the years related to technology, educational training and even people trying to sell me something.

This is about photos on the web. I know there are a number of websites but I've had a Flickr account for a long time. But I really haven't done much with it. So here it is http://www.flickr.com/photos/abeam22. I only have a couple of pictures but will do a better job soon.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Day One

Weighed in .. 298 (OUCH). Fruit for breakfast, Pears for lunch and a little chinese for supper. Walking meter says 7,200 (sad .. had 5,800 at noon - then work really set in). No snack last night, now to make it through  night two. 

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Hamburger Dog

Tried something different. Hamburger, egg, onions, seasoning and then cheese in the middle. From there I created a Hamburger Dog. Place it in a normal hot dog bun and served.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Dirty Bird

Been a little busy to get much posted the last few days. So thought I'd share a picture of my birthday cake given to me by my office staff. Love the cake .. but this damn bird keeps showing up everywhere! Thanks to a great office staff!

Wednesday, January 20, 2010


Truman "If you can't stand the heat get out of the kitchen (Topeka)"

Warning ... the following ramblings are just that, ramblings about the Ks. Legislatures in 2010.

Stand up ... develop a back bone! That's how I feel right now when it comes to most of the current legislators that have arrived in Topeka. They  ran on tickets telling their voters that "THEY" are the ones who should be elected because of their qualficiations. "THEY" are the ones that can make a difference.

Well, here we are faced with one of the most difficult situations in history. Instead of standing up and taking action, many of our legislators are running behind the power brokers (other legislators who control money and political power). Yes, decisions are going to be tough ... but make them on your own! Don't let some political boss tell you how you should think or vote. Don't vote one way because you want to be re-elected. Hell, if your doing what's right and it costs you the next election, so be it, but the odds are things will be better and you'll be safe. Of course we won't know what is right or wrong for awhile so maybe by doing nothing you can blame someone else when the next election rolls around. It's a  lot easier pointing fingers at others who at least try vs. individuals who do nothing!

Let me give you one example that jumped out at me today. On the way home I heard on the radio that employers' unemployment insurance taxes are automatically going up. This is caused by the increase in the number of people on unemployment. If the tax isn't raised, unemployment funds will run out by late February. So  the legislators can argue they didn't raise taxes - this was something that others had passed years ago and went into effect automatically. So ... "I didn't raise your taxes" can be the battle cry. But wait ... if we continue to cut, cut, cut at the state level, it leads to more and more people without jobs. They, in turn, have to get unemployment benefits which puts more pressure on the system which in turn creates another automatical increase in the future. Legislatures can say "Not my fault"! Seems to be a cycle developing.

We hear that things are slowly turning around, but instead of taking action that might help keep that turn around moving forward, let's cut state spending which will lead to more layoffs and in turn reduce the amount of money being spent in the state. Less money being spent means less tax dollars, so lets cut more state spending.  Another cycle begins. STOP THE MADNESS!

Then I learn today, a number of my local legislators have raised so much money for their next campaign run that they have 2 or 3 times more funds than the total amount spent in their last campaign. Why ... why do you need that much money? Where did that money come from? Stop campaigning for more money and do your job!

I've also heard the talk about how the legislators need to take action that causes them a little pain by cutting the number of days they work. Of course once this was introduced, folks began to back peddle because it would cause others to lose days of work. DUH... that's what's been happening in education and other areas already. WELCOME TO OUR WORLD! Then add expense cuts ... don't even get me started on a daily allowance of $116.00. POOR FOLKS ... maybe they need to eat at McDonalds a few times. Hell, I'll give you a raise IF YOU JUST STAND UP AND DO YOUR JOB! Make a difference that's why you chose to run for your position in the first place. That was your attitude before the political system took over your mind and stopped you from thinking for yourself. STAND UP! STAND UP!

In President Truman's famous words ... "If you can't stand the heat get out of the kitchen (Topeka)!" or  "The buck stops here!"  JUST STAND UP AND DO THE JOB WE ELECTED YOU TO DO NOW not after the next election!

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Week 2 .. 23 Things Kansas "Social Network" Assignment

This week we were asked to create our own social network or share what we already have. Let me start with what I already have.

First, I have a Classroom 2.0 site which I don't use a lot. I believe it has the opportunity to be very powerful, but at this point I haven't really been able to tap into that power. I have used it a little for a conversation on how handheld devices can be used in school.

Second, I created a ning site several years ago as part of a course I taught for Highland Community College. I asked my students to do something similar to what we are being asked to do for 23 Things Kansas. Outside of that I really haven't done much with the site, but I have a collection of former students.

Third, I did do a Linkedin site (My site) but it's not been used for over a year.  I really never did anything with this one even after I created it.

Last, I finally broke down and created a Facebook account. Actually, I had one for a long time that was totally blank, which was used to monitor students use of Facebook when I HAD TO look. I never looked at a student's Facebook account until there was some type of problem and I had to do it. Then, finally after my children and wife got their accounts going I broke down and started my account. I do use the Facebook account to talk with former classmates, family, and former students. Not a big user, I probably visit the site once at week at best. I post even less. But I do understand the draw to the site.

If nothing else, I believe we in education need to become familiar with the tools our kids use. Facebook is one of those tools..... Well right now, I've started hearing some students say they don't like Facebook because too many adults use it. So who knows what's next.

Fears ... Schools block Facebook. As a building principal I support this block, but maybe for a reason others really don't see. I do it only for political reasons. Parents hear about the horrors of sites like Facebook. Unfortunately, I can't guarantee them what they want when they express their concerns. So, to be able to do the many other things with technology, I just don't open this issue. To open this issue I feel would create a situation that would lead to other pressures to shut down other technology in school. Things like handheld devices, emails, even the use of the Internet. Now, all that said, because this is a powerful tool for our kids today, we (schools) need to be doing a better job teaching kids how to use it. Starting with an understanding about Privacy (more on privacy later). It is hard to do this when we block it.

Privacy ...  While visiting with a student, I was once told, "I know I posted this on the web and I have no problem with people reading it, except my parents and you!" So, while we think our students don't want privacy they do. The real problem, in my opinion, is their understanding of what the lack of privacy will mean to them. No matter what I say or how often I say it, students can not see the dangers of their posts (words, photos, videos). They are convinced that Facebook can't be broken into, that whatever they post is safe from the outside world. Even giving example after example of others who have lost jobs and scholarships because of what they posted, the attitude "It won't happen to me" wins out.

Other uses of Facebook that I have seen ... Sports Teams sites for photos, videos and other information, recruiting tool for school districts, ways to promote oneself for a job, employers search Facebook on current and future employees, political cause groups, alumni sites and more.

P.S. ... I did join 23 Things Kansas Facebook group.


Today was "Spirit Day/Night." I'm sure other schools have this type of event, but it was the first time in my 25 plus years. Leading up to the big day, the Booster Club and parents worked with students in developing a theme for each grade level. Once the theme was developed costumes had to be decided on and ordered by students. Large posters had to be created as each class prepared for the big evening where everything would be judged.

The big night came and the student section went from one end of the gym floor to the other. At least there wasn't a huge adult crowd or we might have had problems with seating. Let me set the gym for you. To your right is the freshmen group, all dressed in black, wearing Zorro outfits, including hats. Next to them (moving right to left) you find the seniors. They are dressed up as the Incredibles. Yes, you heard me. Red leggings, red shirts, black shorts, right down to the emblem. Next to them you will find the junior class all dressed in blue. Their theme was the Blue Clues. I should note there are two students dressed differently. One in green with a name tag "Steve" and another in a pink outfit (sure you Blue Clue fans know the characters). Last, dressed in white are the sophomores. Because they were stuck with white their theme was the future. Behind them was a big poster with a rocket and a picture of yours truly behind computer screens making it appear that I was working at NASA.

The cheers begin and throughout the evening the students have a blast. I'm very impressed with our kids and  have been all year. They demonstrate sportmanship no matter what sport or game. Unfortunately, that's not true for everyone else and this is the reason for this post.

To my fellow administrators I have a question ... why don't we all do our job? We talk about how we prepare our kids for the future. We talk about the importance of character, yet we allow our students to show all but character. We talk about how our schools are safe as we do everything we can to stop bullying in our schools, yet we allow a student section to be bullies to our teenage athletes.

Let me give an example (for some of you I'm sure you will be shocked this is allowed in high school). One of our girl basketball players shoots an air ball. From that point on, every time this 15 year old girl touches the ball the student section of 400 students cheers "air ball". I know this is a common practice in college, but we are talking about high school kids. When speaking to the administration, I'm told they once fought this but have given up because other schools do it. Before going on, I should state this was one of a handful of examples done by this same group of students.

I won't share my conversation with this administrator,  but I will say I spoke my mind. Come on ... just because someone else does it! If you truly believe the behavior is incorrect, then stand up! As administrators, everything that goes on under our watch is representative of who we are. I know it's not easy and for that matter, it's not popular with many parents who just don't get it either (until it's their child on the receving end).

Thankfully, I work in a school where my students understand that when they come to the game it's because they want to have fun. They are there to support their team. When they cheer they want to cheer to support their classmates as they perform to the best of their ability.

Before closing I should say it's not all perfect, you always have a handful of students who forget from time to time. But when we do our job, it's amazing how their classmates will quickly tell them to stop!

So again to my fellow administrators ... stand up and do the job!

Thursday, January 14, 2010


Another day another dime. I should be happy, sounds like next year a better phrase would be "another day another penny." Anyway, there were a number of conversations involving educational issues today in my world.

Hmmm...let's see, do I write about 1) the importance of staff working together as professionals, 2) how can we go about getting students more involved in using rubrics correctly, 3) cooperative learning, or 4) the role of grades as it relates to students doing work. There were more but you get the idea of my day.

Anyway, let's ramble about #4 ... grades and work. Teachers feel the pressures from parents, students and yes, even people like me (administrators) to get their grades done so a student can GET a grade. Many of our students, especially our better students, want to know what they need to do to get the grade. Notice they don't ask what do I need to learn to get an A. I recall a conversation years ago with a really good student. She told me I drove her nuts. She was never sure what she had to do or say to get an A. I would tell her all the time, she just needed to demonstrate to me that she understood the concepts at the level she was capable. She would reply "Just tell me what I have to do!" She ended up making an A in the class but I know she never got it.

So the question is how do we get our students to focus on what they learn instead of the grade when we have parents and for that matter, a society that wants to know what the grade is? I'm not going to pretend I have the answer ... truthfully - far from it. I know we have a lot of work at the whole game.

1. Do we really know as educators what we want our students to know? Really, do we know?

2. Our methods of instruction ... do they serve our students purpose or ours? This includes the use of homework (do we know why we assign the work and what we want to accomplish),  classroom activities, projects, lectures, etc.

3. The assessment we use .. does it assess what we wanted our students to know or just a way to try and determine some form of grade? What about the dip sticking assessment .... are our homework and activities a way to determine what our students know or,again, to create a grade? Better yet, what do we do along the path of teaching our students when our dip sticking tells us the student doesn't know it ... give a grade and move on or actually stop and work with the student?

4. All this leads us to "THE GRADE" ... bottom line, all this work we do with our students leads us to the grade. Yet, we can take the same student, the same set of assignments, the same assessments but different methods, different teachers choose to figure a grade and end up with different results. So if that's the case ... what does the grade really tell us about student learning?

Ok ... as you can tell I had some interesting conversations today which wore me down a bit so it's time to call it a night.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010


My thought for today involves "De-Tracking". This year as a book study we are reading the book "Detracking for Excellence and Equity". The general point is that schools track kids in their elementary years and then students are stuck in that track throughout high school.

For example ... a student is determined in 7th grade to do poorly in math. This may be done through state assessments, teacher observations, MAP scores, & amp; Grades. Now if we are honest, there are really only two true data assessments listed. Teacher observation and grades can be impacted by a ton of other factors. The point here is a student then gets assigned to a lower math track. They enter high school taking the lower level math or the math courses that spread out the course work over a longer period of time. When all is said and done, this student is always behind other students because they were tracked early on.

If you even look at data of your lower tracked kids, you will find some with higher scores than those who are tracked in the higher level courses who have low scores. Why wouldn't we have that low track student, who has higher scores, in the upper level courses? Is it fair that student will always be behind? Why is that lower scorer in the higher level track? I could go on and on.

But ... yes there is a but! There are multiple reasons why a student is place in a lower track. In many cases it revolves around student behavior. Most likely this student has issues that creates other challenges. If we place this student in the higher level course do we seem to be setting them up for failure?

Ok, I'm rambling but here's the key point as I see it .... It's not the tracking that's the issue. I've been in education for over 25 years and believe (will always believe) the key to the success of any student is the teacher. The relationship a teacher has with a student can not be overrated. This struggling student who performs well on assessments but struggles in class needs a teacher that has a relationship with him/her that will motivate the student. If a teacher has that relationship and the student is happy in their environment I believe the teacher has an opportunity to ask from that student a little more then what a student would normally give.

So ... while on paper de-tracking is the right step, I believe we have a lot of work with teachers to develop a classroom that can handle all students in a higher level track. Until we take the time to work with teachers and really ... convince teachers that they need to build the foundation (relationship) first. De-tracking will only lead to student frustration and failure.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Are We Using the Right Motivation?

Today our superintendent showed the following video from Ted Talks.

The video takes about 18 minutes to watch. The presenter, Dan Pink, is presenting data about how we are going about motivating people in the work place. All the data he has collected shows that what we believe to be obvious is totally wrong. If by offering bonuses we believe people will work harder, according to the data presented by Mr. Pink this is totally wrong. This type of motivation only leads to WORSE performance. I will let the video stand on its own merits. But after the video our superintendent asked several questions. 1) Would offering teachers bonuses or merit pay actually motivate them to be better educators? 2) How could we use Mr. Pink's information in our role as building administrators whether that is with staff or students? 3) What does this say about our approach in the classroom? There were more but you get the idea.

Let's take the first question ... looking in the schools we currently work at most of us know who the good teachers are and those who are not. (I will say I think teachers are surprisingly more clueless about their fellow educators than others in a school building, but for the most part they do have an idea.) Would paying them more money make them better teachers or just higher paid poor teachers? On the other end, the good teachers in our schools are already working at a pace that is making them successful. So would a bonus actually make them work harder or more importantly, "better"? Probably not, as I stated they are already doing their very best. Yes, it would be nice to reward their hard work, but the point here is offering bonuses to get people to perform better.

The second question did hit closer to home for me. I have always believed the steps to teacher success are to create a desire to do what it takes to make a difference in kids' lives and create an atmosphere where teachers feel appreciated for what they do. I have called this over the years the school culture of a building. In this case the culture of a staff. Are they happy to come to work? Do they enjoy what they do? Are they given enough latitude to do what they want, yet get the job done? Do they have a feeling they are making a difference? That is the job of a building administrator. Besides, I have never had control of the purse strings. I cannot offer the bonuses to motivate my staff, but I do have funds available that I can make them feel appreciated. If I am successful in helping develop the school culture in a positive way, then the success follows without the bonuses, teachers will perform at their best.

Part two of that second question relates to students. As a building administrator I have limited direct access to students, I do have a lot of indirect access. Working with staff as stated earlier, and creating the right attitude will only find its way to the classroom impacting students. Then, work with building policy that treats students as young adults (remember I work in a high school), gives students the feeling of respect, which in turn can lead to more student success. I have also said if you can make your students happy, in turn you can ask them to go a little farther then they normally would (same philosophy I had as a classroom teacher).

The last question I think I addressed in the previous paragraph. All this works its way from the top down. The right attitude will find its way to the classroom.  

One last thought that did come up (from yours truly) during our discussion today. The system ... part of the problem in education, when you try to step outside the box, the system is there to slap you back. Believe me, I've been slapped often. If you took the time to watch the video clip of Mr. Pinks you may have been like me ... just not sure I buy it, just not sure, because it goes against what seems natural. Therefore, if we take an approach that does not involve bonuses or for that matter awards (scholarships), our community will most likely fight back. A better example is ... "GRADES"... do grades really motivate our students? Wait, I know we do grades to show how well our students learn the subject, but honestly, do they? I can show you example after example how one figures the grades can bring different results? Do we know for a fact that our assessment tools are assessing what we really want or just filling space (ok, this topic for another day)? I do think many would agree that some students don't care about the grade (this number grows everyday). So if we are trying to motivate our students with grades, we shouldn't be surprised at those who choose to fail. This means a system change, so stand back and get ready to be slapped.

Enough ramblings for today ... off to basketball (where many parents get more excited about playing time than whether their child learned the capital of Maine).

Monday, January 11, 2010

Welcome to my blog site (Thoughts on 23 Things Kansas)

23 Things Kansas ... January 2010 I enrolled as a "Friend to Librarys" for a series of courses titled "23 Things Kansas".  My former librarian, Carol Braum, sent me an email about the course. Looking over the course offerings I was excited about the opportunity to learn more about tools our students use or will use in their world. It also helped to know Heather Braum, a former student, was involved in helping develop the courses.

What do I expect to learn from taking these courses? Not only do I expect to learn about various tools, but also learn from fellow educators how these tools can be used in today's school. I truly believe many of the tools we will work with are powerful tools we can use to help motivate today's student.