Sunday, December 14, 2008

Week 16: December 8-12, 2008

Enjoying the Gifts of the Season
The sound of children's laughter resounded down the hallway. I couldn't help but pause and enjoy it. I peek around the corner and see the teacher laughing with the kids. They are relaxed; they are all engaged in the conversation -- whatever it might be. For the moment at least, they are happy to be in school. I realized this scenario is happening more and more each day...

The Gift of Laughter
Our staff has made an enormous effort to bring the joy of the season of Christmas to the halls and classrooms of Benton High School. With the humorous Eyes Past Print, the attempt at asking (and remembering) the "Three Whys, Man!" as well as the Christmas decorating contest, I have heard comment after comment from the students about how fun our teachers are lately. I couldn't help but feel a thrill each time I saw the kids smile when they said this.

This is a tough time for all of us. As we gain ground on providing an excellent academic environment for our students, we are forced to confront some of the traditions of our past that were not necessarily student-centered. We are forced to reflect, sometimes together and sometimes alone, on what we do and why we do what we do in every aspect of our practice.
As we quickly approach the half way point of this school year (can you believe it?), I offer you all back a gift I realize you have so abundantly offered Jeff, Luke and me -- the JOY of working with each one of you.

Administrating Gifts
I know I have shared with many of you how strange it is for me to be considered, "the administrator." When a person enters the teaching profession with a love of teaching and enthusiasm of sharing your life with children, becoming an administrator does not look the same as when a teacher enters the profession to become the principal (or any other leadership position). It just doesn't. walk into a room and people become nervous. You share out loud a concern you have, and everyone around you thinks you are talking about them. You lose your cool over something relatively superficial, and it becomes a law of momentous proportions within the hour. Oh, I know. That's why you get paid the big bucks. People toss that line to me several times a week. Here's the funny thing -- money is NOT why teacher turned administrators do what they do. Nope. For me personally, I do what I do because I want to make the professional lives of all the teachers I have the honor to work with just a little bit better than they were before I entered them. I know, from too many perspectives, that probably doesn't seem possible. I guess I would ask you to consider this...what other reason is there?

The True Gift of Leadership
I don't think anyone will argue that gifts are more fun when they are wrapped in beautiful packages with great ribbons and bows adorning them. In leadership, those beautiful gifts are the relationships a leader gets to make with each teacher in the building. For me, relationships are the only thing I have to rely on at the end of the day. When I was teaching, those relationships were just there, sort of like a good pair of pajamas. I guess I just knew they would be. I still have a special bond with many of those teachers, but that bond is nothing compared to what I feel, and what I need, from the teachers (and admin boys) I work with now.

And so, I thank each one of you for the gift you bring to my life everyday as we work together. The work we do is hard, thankless, and abundant. We embrace change now like old pros. We march to the beat of the drummer even when it's not to celebrate the little drummer boy. We hold each other to high standards even when we are only treading water ourselves. We laugh, and we hug, and we eat M&m's with the best of them. The gift of our relationship is precious. Thank you for not giving up on each other or us.

Calendar Events for December 8-12, 2008
10 Dec -- BAR Meeting; 7:00, Room 103
10 Dec -- Open 4th Progress Reporting
11 Dec -- 8:00 to 11:30; Admin out of building
12 Dec -- 4th Progress Closed; verify by end of day
13 Dec -- ACT testing (encourage our testing students)

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Week 15: December 1-5, 2008

“And what to my wondering eyes do appear...”

In the midst of a crazy economy, it was obvious last Wednesday during our building professional development that the joy of the season abounds at Benton High School. The joy and merriment of our staff was contagious. In this review of the week, I want to share with you what my wondering eyes noticed…

Ornaments that Decorate our Hearts
Our staff embraced helping our most at-risk children by committing to two months of special attention to those who really need it the most. The reasons are not complex; most kids need an extra bit of attention from an adult who is instrumental in his or her life. Our staff just made a promise to be that person to one specific child and work harder at our other children. I wish you could have seen the enthusiasm and excitement that was overwhelmingly pervasive in the room at that moment. It was a wonderment…

National Ornaments
Friday afternoon, Kerry Shepherd brought me a copy of an article from US News & World Reports that stated Benton was on the list of America’s Best High Schools for 2009! I was a little hesitant when she showed it to me, honestly. I wondered if they meant “our” Benton High School or if they had us mixed up with someone else (been there before with another local high school). Nope, it was definitely our data. It was us! We had made a national list that said what we were doing was worth noting. Yahoo!

On Monday, the official letter from the editor of US News & World Reports landed on my desk. THAT was truly official! Within one day, the local media was all over the story. How wonderful it was to share with our community that our staff was committed to working with the students in our school who are the least advantaged. Our websites will proudly display our badge of honor. The ornament is ours to hang. Wear it proudly…we know what ornaments it really represents. The wonders never cease to amaze…
The Ornaments Among Us
We have so many treasures we hang on our educational tree. Each one represents a special moment, award or student. Each one is precious. As your department embraces the decorating contest that will soon transform our halls, I want you each to remember that your light shines brightly at Benton. Our tide is turning. Your hard work is paying off. The children have noticed the change in you. The light that you offer into their lives as their teacher in not just ornamental; it’s foundational. Like a string of lights on a Christmas tree, you are the underlying ornament that makes all the others shine brightly. Sometimes we blink, sometimes we need a new bulb, but we are always the light. Lights transform. Lights are my favorite. It’s the wonderment of Christmas that makes my heart soar…

Upcoming Events:
3 Dec -- Leadership Team Meeting; 7:30 a.m. Room 103
3 Dec -- Early Out; 12:40 dismissal
3 Dec -- Building Professional Development, Room A115/A116 (Apple Dumpling Day!)
4 Dec -- Rotary Meeting in Library; library closed during 7th hour
4 Dec - FAST (Faculty Addressing Stressful Times) Event: 3:00 p.m.
Candle Exchange hosted by Tracy Johnson in conference room
5 Dec -- Staff Lunch from FACS; Room 103 (odd day)

Week 14: November 24-26, 2008

Without question, the highlight of last week in our professional world was the FAST event at Barbosa's! Laughter was limitless. Friendships were fostered. The purity of the joy felt in that room last Tuesday night reminded me of how good it feels when you hear a child enjoy a really good belly laugh. It's just good.

To Bobby and Tori for taking a chance on getting the game going. I will set out the vote to all those who participated. Expect to vote on how fun the FAST event was to you. It means a day out of school on us! You gotta love that! The game lasts until the end of the semester. You too can join the contest!

With Tammy Talbot on her achievement of National Board Certification! She would never be so bold as to run screaming down the hall with glee (although Tim probably would have)! Touch base with Tammy also about great things going on with Luke. You'll be glad you asked.

Dasta Celebration!
Celebrate with Frank and all our students for their scores on the last ACT test! Frank Dasta made the cut! Congratulate him when you see him in the hallway for earning National Merit Finalist status. I'd say we could give a big pat on the back to his mentor Mark Blakely for nurturing that young man in the pre-engineering track. Way to go Frank! Way to go Frank's teachers!

15 Days...
Until Christmas break. It's truly time to get down and dirty reaching and teaching our curriculum -- essential outcomes -- to our students. That totals eight ODD days and seven EVEN days. Add four more class periods to each one of those, and you've got a semester comprehensive final exam in your lap. Are you ready for this semester to be over? How far are you on those second quarter essential outcomes? You can do this because, laced with chocolate, this month is going to be fun, fun, fun! :)

Calendar Events:
25 Nov -- PBTE Meeting for New Teachers to SJSD
25 Nov -- FAST (Faculty Addressing Stressful Times) Event; 4:00 p.m. @ Barbosa's
Hosted by Bob Nash and Tori Grable: Turkey Trot
26 Nov -- BAR Meeting cancelled
26 Nov -- Early Out; 12:40 dismissal

Monday, November 17, 2008

Week 13: November 17 - 21, 2008

Upcoming Events:
17 Nov -- Fellowship of Christian Athletes Assembly; 10:30 - 11:15 a.m.
18 Nov -- Progress Reports Verified
19 Nov -- Leadership Team Meeting; 7:30 a.m., Room 103 (see agenda below)
19 Nov -- Pass out student progress reports during 5th hour
20 Nov -- Annette Lanham; Open Enrollment Insurance, Conference Room; All Day
20 Nov -- Technology Cohort 1 Meeting; 3:00 in Room 305 (yep, all the way up there)

LT Meeting Agenda:
EPP -- Align the Design; pg. 88 (by Nancy Mooney & An Mausbach)
Discussion on SIP; team meetings; yearly progress
Dance Assignment Rescheduling
PBTE -- Admin Assignments

"Change is a double-edged sword. Its relentless pace these days runs us off our feet. Yet when things are unsettled, we can find new ways to move ahead and to create breakthroughs not possible in stagnant societies" (Fullen, 2001).

The impending storm became more and more obvious...
I think I became mildly cognizant of the weariness and stress on the staff somewhere near the election of our 44th President. I suppose the excitement of the event distracted us for the moment, but the reality of our daily pressures returned with a vengeance. Benton High School is deep in the throes of dynamic change. We didn't start our journey this fall; no, we started it more than 16 months ago. As a matter of fact, as hard as it is to believe, we planned it.

In Michael Fullen's Leading in a Culture of Change, he reminded me that we are in the stage of "coherence making." He states, "You don't have to become Dr. Strangelove to realize that living on the edge means simultaneously letting go and reining in" (p. 107). Making our plan coherent often pushes us to the edge of chaos -- the tipping point -- and then we change and the dynamic is reclaimed only to be followed by an implementation dip. So, what is our plan? It's our SIP -- School Improvement Plan - with our FOUR specific and focused goals to achieve:
1. Close the achievement gap in our students improving our highest performing students while also increasing the performance in our students determined to be "at risk."
2. Increase the number of students who graduate (ie. reduce the number of dropouts)
3. Improve students' attendance to school/classes
4. Integrate technology as a system of technological, pedagogical and content knowledge into our classrooms using constructivism.

How Do We Re-establish our Moral Purpose?
Fullen goes on to explain that once we created our plan, we have to have the moral purpose -- commitment to betterment -- to accomplish it. We spent last year working through establishing our moral purpose. I guess I might confess that I presumed that once our moral purpose was set it stayed. I was wrong.

Relationships, Relationships, Relationships
Fullen says that creating and building relationships in an institution in change are second after moral purpose only because you can't have two firsts, and he states, " is actually the relationships that make the difference" (p. 51). I sort of thought we were doing well in the relationships department at Benton, but according to our "Mood Ring Survey" last week, we are not faring well. I tried to find team-building activities that would combine our teachers across departments -- allow us all to meet each other. Despite the complaints about time wasted on "stupid activities," I must say in hindsight, it probably worked. Now I am left to wonder what has changed? What are we missing that does not allow us to grow together in our common pursuit to become a cohesive team? I need more input than what you gave me on the survey in order to make it better. Feel free to help me out on this one. I am lost.

Knowledge Building
The next step in leading change is building, sharing, creating, and managing knowledge. This is a TOUGH, tough, tough step, and I really think we are excellent at it. I think it's this step that causes our stress. Think about it. Think about how much DYNAMIC change we are leading. It's collaboration. It's department meetings. It's our departmental professional development. It's creating, sharing, building and managing essential outcomes. It's our benchmarking. It's our ACT push. It's our BAR team. It's Core Lab. It's the word wall and the math passes. It's the technology cohort. It's tightening up the discipline without losing too many kids. It's the tardy policy. It's the cell phone policy. It's all TOUGH, tough stuff. And it carries with it a master than none of us like very much. Its name is "Accountability," and we all serve it. Accountability has middle name; it's Data.

In a Moment of Lucidity...
I have always felt like information I need is delivered to me when I need it. I pray for wisdom and grace every day as I learn to lead our school to be the best that it can be. I am never disappointed on either front. My heart and mind was opened to the clarity of the moment this morning sitting in the 8:15 a.m. service, and it was solidified at the Jazz Express Concert I attended with Kurt tonight at the Missouri Theater. It comes by realizing how thankful I am for what I have in my life -- and the problems are really just the bottom half of a glass of opportunities. I am thankful that I start each day of my life full of joy and enthusiasm for the work I get to do with you all every Monday through Friday (and then some). In this day of economic distress -- I have a great, albeit extraordinarily difficult, job. I work with great, albiet sometimes arduous, allies. I deal with great, albeit troubled, children who deserve much more than I can ever offer them. I am thankful for my own family who allows me to spend colossal amounts of time on my Benton family. I am thankful for your tolerance of my learning. And I want you to know that I hear you. If you only knew how much I want to make things easier for you all -- to make everything work right. I guess you do now. And for that I am thankful.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Week 12: November 10 - 14, 2008

Upcoming Events:
10 Nov -- HS Principals' Meeting; 8-10 a.m., PBL Tour
10 Nov -- Board Meeting; 5:30 p.m. Benton School Profile
11 Nov -- Early Out (2 hours) for Veteran's Day
12 Nov -- BAR Meeting; 7:00 a.m., Room 103
12 Nov -- Nov Birthday Lunch
12 Nov -- Coach of Year Round Up, 7:30p.m., Holiday Inn
13 Nov -- Full Moon
14 Nov -- Fall Play "Sweeney Todd" (final weekend)

I guess I hadn't realized how much I was looking forward to taking the trip. I mean, really. Most adults would consider a 3 hour drive and a weekend surrounded by high school cheerleaders going to state competition to be one akin to the scraping of fingernails on a chalkboard -- unless, of course, you're a cheer mom or a hormonal male (and not that those two groups have much more else in common, actually). Honestly, I was so ready to relax -- yes, relax -- with the fourteen most high strung teens from Benton High School (unless you count Jordan Bolton and his cronies). It made me think seriously about what it was that I enjoyed so much about the trip. It didn't take me long to start constructing the blog for this week. And boy did it tie the last week together better than any other event could have...

Problem? Based [on...] Learning!
Monday, November 10th we started the day with all the high school principals from across the district visiting Benton for our monthly high school business meeting. There's nothing like having guests to make you look in the mirror (metaphorically speaking for those who are tired while reading this) a million times. The admin crew was coming to Benton to observe PBL from Bobby Nash and Jeff Carter. Now, for one, you know how we administrators are -- competitive states it politely. Secondly, we are protective of our own. Momma tiger images are now racing through my mind (Go MU!). And finally, we are careful but critical instructional leaders. The future of our city lands at our feet daily -- if kids don't learn, St. Joseph is in trouble. It's a mighty cross to carry. Bobby and Jeff were great. The feedback was careful (due to reasons #1 & #2) and intense (#3). The other principals did not share where their teachers were in the process. Collaboration was stilled. No one was truly honest with ways to be the best for our kids. We were all very careful.

Monday NIGHT at the school board meeting was a BLAST! Jeff, Luke and I were able to share a profile with the school board about Benton. We pushed our technology way out there for all to see. We flaunted it. We taunted with it. The entire board meeting was about technology. The school board dipped its collective toe into the technology pond. They liked the feeling. They took a sip of the Kool-Aid; they liked the taste. I even sensed they wanted to ask for more to drink, but they were not sure what to ask for. I saw MR School Board with a twinkle in his eye. He has been sippin' on that Kool-Aid, and he knows where to get more. But he didn't ask either. No one risked plunging in or asking for more. I know I must levy my expectations for the future implication. Patience is a virtue. Ancora Imparo.

Tuesday, Luke and I went to the Legal Academy for Principals. What we learned was grounding, scary, and heavily suggested more work to stay legal than we decided to share with everyone. There's enough stress at Benton. Wednesday proved it. The EVEN day department professional development for the first quarter took on much of the same tone as the ODD day did. Sadly, the frustration came out. The work load was stated and noted. The reflection was -- well, filled with angst. But in all the time that was spent -- it seemed very careful. The power of trust that leads to collaborative conflict was absent. I was reminded exactly three times that Rome wasn't built in a day. Three times. I know about things in threes. I read the book too.

Jump forward (or in the cheerleader world, a round off to a back handspring ) to Friday. I looked forward to this trip, and I figured out why. On this trip, I was with honesty. I mean they're cheerleaders. They live to be happy. They don't mean harm. And you know the saying, "From the mouths of babes..." In the case of our cheerleaders, it is three solid hours locked in a car giving me the closest thing to pure honest feedback about our school. Oh how I long for it! These kids don't really have an agenda -- well, beyond making others happy and cheerful! These kids shared their joy for learning with me for three straight hours. They told me what we do right at Benton (and boy is it a LOT of stuff!). They told me what they think we could do better. Here's what I know; they're right. They're honest, and as much as it's hard for anyone to believe -- that honesty is the vitamin that makes administrators STRONG!!!!

Is There Such a Thing as a PERFECT STAFF MEMBER?
The other thing I noticed on this trip was the adult participation. The troupe that traveled with the cheerleaders is a mixed bunch. The coach Tracy Allen (teacher; FACS), her loyal hubby Ron, (teacher, IT), the assistant coach Tammy Davis (para-clerk; SpEd), the frosh coach Bryan Allen (para, SpEd -- and former MU cheerleader), Deb Sherard (she arrived later due to professional obligations; teacher; SocStud) and me. There were also a variety of stakeholders present (parents, significant others, besties) who showed up in varying stages during the weekend. These people share the good and the bad with me. Maybe it's because we are away from school that they think they can be honest. Maybe, like the cheerleaders they are just happy people (yes, even you Ron!). Or maybe, maybe they represent what I think might encapsulate the perfect staff member. They tell me the truth about what is happening. They have an agenda, but they make it crystal clear. They put it out there where I can deal with it. They don't mind the honest responses I give. They also know that agree with them or not; I want the best for our school and our kids.

These are people who are honest with me; if for no other reason than so well stated in the Educational Leadership article by Steven Wolk:
Schools need to find ways for students, teachers, and administrators to take a break from the sometimes emotional, tense, and serious school day and have some fun together. Sporting events, outdoor field days, movie nights, school sleep-ins, potluck meals, visits to restaurants, schoolwide T-shirt days, and talent shows can help everyone get to know one another better, tear down the personal walls that often get built inside schools, form more caring relationships, and simply have a wonderful time together.
I this possible for our staff? Is there a way to build such a trust that when we come together every day, five days a week, for eight hours, that we trust each other enough to be honest? Can we be that honest? I think we can. But I also think it starts with two MAJOR things...1) Can you be a part of a team of people and form true caring relationships with each other and simply has a wonderful time together, and 2) Can you be honest with yourself first so that you can be honest with each other? I think we have to do this. I think we can do this. I think we do this for the children of Benton. Years of graduates will reap the results if this challenge is won! And so I set forth a challenge to the Benton Staff: Can we become the perfect staff members for the success of our students? It's time to come together!

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Week 11: November 3 - 7, 2008

Upcoming Events:
Nov. 4 -- Election Day!
Nov. 5 -- Leadership Team Meeting; 7:30; Room 103
Nov. 6 -- Job Fair, 5th Hour, Modis Gym
Nov. 7 -- FACS Staff Lunch, Room 103
Nov. 7 -- Fall Play "Sweeney Todd", 7:00p.m., Auditorium

Invigoration is easy to notice once it happens, but to notice the actual moment of inception requires a very sensitive palate. I think my revitalization started on Sunday with the end of Daylight Savings Time. That extra hour of sleep just does a super-psycho number on my brain, and I feel empowered to accomplish great things after stealing an extra hour of snooze time.

An Historical, Invigorating Moment
And as CNN, Fox, and the networks each celebrated Obama's status as President-Elect, I sat alone in a hotel room in Omaha, Nebraska. I started my day with a meeting with the superintendent and significant others discussing the Benton School Profile to be delivered at the School Board Meeting on November 11th. The energy of the meeting was contagious as our supreme instructional leader listened to our thoughts and ideas patiently and with deep, rigorous questions and reflection. The excitement of the future of Benton 2.0 was given a powershot that only an approving nod from the head honcho can award.

I left that meeting full of joy and drove two hours north to meet Nash and Rusty Schneeflock. They were already one hour into experiencing a most invigorating Apple 1 to 1 professional development event at Westside High School in Omaha. The learning I gained from that institute galvanized me even further in my quest to revitalize pedagogy and learning at Benton -- it's just NOT about the stuff (laptops) -- the change (and our hope for change) is about what you DO WITH THE STUFF!

And so, after spending an hour or more on iChat (I am still amazed that we live in the day and age when one can talk and see the person we are talking to "in the live") with Kurt (F16Pilot), we logged off as the networks called the victory for the man who brings so much invigorating energy to our country. It was not all that hard to reflect about what this means to our future; the power of hope is beyond measure. I tweeted to my followers as my soul was touched by the moment and power of the moment. Sean would say it was my true blue self coming through. Orange-ya glad I didn't know better! Exhilaration in collective wisdom -- that's what history is all about.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Week 10: October 27 - 31, 2008

Upcoming Events:
Oct. 27 -- Grades due NLT 10:00
Collect BAR data; due to team member today
Book Fair continues all week in Library
Oct. 28 -- Benton At Risk (BAR) Team Retreat @ 7:45 @ TMC
Oct. 29 -- Leadership Team Meeting 7:00 a.m. in Room 103
Parent/Teacher Conferences in Classrooms 3-6 p.m.
Oct. 30 -- ASVAB Test 8:00 - 12:00
Personal Finance Field Trip (see student attend list)
Academic Pep Assembly 5th Hour (MAP, Attendance & FB/Soccer)
Oct. 31 -- EARLY OUT (11:30 a.m.) (candy day!)

It was the best of times. It always is when powerful learning is accomplished! I must say that this was one totally powerful week. This is one week I have to call it day by day...

Monday -- Building Bridges to ACT on our Future!
The six leadership team members attended this incredibly informative ACT conference at the Empower Plant. The speaker was a nationally renowned researcher on ACT. He shared how we must continue to encourage all our students to approach rigor in education vigorously. He shared astounding statistics -- my favorite being that over 90% of 8th graders surveyed stated they intended on going to college. Shazaam! We need to prepare them for that possibility. It comes from integrated curriculum of college readiness standards. I think we are moving toward that very scenario at Benton. It takes time and commitment from our staff, but I know we will get there. One thing I truly believe is that we all want our students to succeed at the highest level possible.

Tuesday -- Setting the BAR Lower!
The Benton At-Risk Team met at TMC to find out who our at-risk students were and what we are going to do for them. It was an amazing day! I was proud of the work the team accomplished -- it wasn't easy setting the criteria for at risk. Tough conversations and determination framed the day. By 3:30 p.m. with our brains totally fried, we succeeded in creating the system interventions in three critical areas (discipline, attendance and academics) for our students. We also were able to drill down to the lists of students who met the criteria for most at risk. The team's homework assignment was to narrow the lists even further in order for us to create individual plans for our most critical students. Check with your team member for more details! A huge thanks to LaVell for heading up this powerful team!

Wednesday -- Leaders and Teachers and Parents, Oh My!
The morning started with a Leadership Team meeting. As we perused the PD calendar for the 1st semester, I think we were all surprised to see the rigorous and continual professional development that we participate in. Really, if you look at the calendar -- you will be amazed with how often we come together as professionals to learn. It's impressive! From our learning on LT and BAR, to continual focused common course collaboration, to job-embedded department/building learning, to our tech cohort, the teachers at Benton are dedicated learners. It was fun to share that learning with our parents during the Parent/Teacher conferences. We heard great reports from our parents! We received overwhelming praise for our use of technology -- from AlertNow connections to emails to our new web interactive classrooms! Our parents had great things to say about all of you! Good work staff!

Thursday -- Celebrate Good Times, Come On!
What a day! We had an exciting ACADEMIC PEP ASSEMBLY that was out of this world ! High fives to Mrs. Rucker and Mrs. Zillner for their work on the Character Points, and a double high five to Mr. McCoy for all the awards and incentives he found for our students. The greatest hurrah goes to our students -- for their work and dedication to their learning, testing and attendance! And when the good times inside were not enough -- we headed to Sparks Field and Lafayette's Alumni Stadium to mix it up with the Irish in futbol and football. Outcomes aside -- our kids worked hard and delivered the goods. We celebrate our kids for all their efforts! Come On!

Friday -- The Seasons They Are A-Changin'
The weather could not have been more beautiful. The cool autumn morning yawned into a warming midday sun kept perfect by the cool breezes flowing over the school yard. The students were on best behavior. An early release from school is like the best chocolate dessert you've ever eaten -- sweet beyond imagination and ever so tasty! It was the Boo! day, costumes and candies awaited the young at heart, but a gentle nap in the warm sun was the true treat of the day! (photo thanks to Flickr An Autumn hedgerow.EXPLORE #407 - 3rd October 2008)

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Week 9: October 20-24, 2008

Upcoming Events:
Oct 20 -- Staff Pizza Party 7th hour in room 103
Oct 22 -- BAR Team meets @ 7:00 in room 103
Oct 22 -- FMP trash clean-up during 5th hour
Oct 23 -- 1st Quarter Grades Open
Staff meeting with Superintendent @ 2:45 in Room A115/116
Oct 24 -- ALL STAFF BAR data collection starts (continued to 10/27 only)

I am not sure I have ever started a week thinking it will be a good week to get a lot accomplished, and ended a week knowing what it felt like to get run over by a steam roller! This was one of those weeks!

It started so nicely with a pizza order. Lunch for the staff for an excellent data walkthrough. Carbs for the team to get them prepared for the long run ahead. Junk food for my friends for holding hands with us during the tough times. And happened. Ironically, it all started with a cell phone call from Jake Kelly. He called with problems in his classroom. I was perplexed that he called my cell phone from his cell phone. As a former English teacher, if I was teaching this "novel" event, it would reek of foreshadowing.

Funny thing about text messages, unlike a cell phone call, you can't really refuse one. Hence the problems that occurred this week in Mr. Kelly's class. Cyberthreats heavily slipped through Benton's cyberspace. Students and parents alike feared for school safety. Late nights with parents resulted in validating our school security yet meting out heavy consequences to the students involved. In a day and age where we measure a school's success by the students who make it to school and through school, we lost that battle even as we carried home a banner of victory for safe schools.

All while this drama played out, another storyline and character emerged. Phone usage at Benton was more and more often being seen by students as an entitlement. Refusal to turn over a cell phone and subsequent disorderly conduct in the refusal has more than once ended a student's school day with handcuffs. I cry every time a student leaves our building that way. Students in various venues were abusing our very forward thinking policy which allowed cell phone use at any time instructional programs were not being offered at Benton. After too much instructional time was lost to students refusing to comply with the policy, a new approach was taken -- inform the students clearly as to the continued policy and established steps to resolve the conflict. The process was simple. Create a plan. Run it past the instructional staff. Run it past a student group. Inform parents. Wait and see.

The plan starts tomorrow (Monday). We lost at least five students and numerous instructional days last week to cell phones. I pray we do not lose any next week. I've heard rumors the students will resist. I wonder if they realize we are trying to be advanced; their resistance could possibly send us flying backwards.

After talking with Mikey tonight, I began to reflect on cell phone usage. Mike told me that text messages drop the walls of a classroom (isn't that what we hope to do with School 2.0?). If a student was talking in class, he would be told to stop. Text messaging should be the same. If a student doesn't stop, then he gets in trouble. Text messaging should be the same. You could move the student away from his conversation partner. You could remove the phone away from the student.

He also brought up another interesting point. If a student got out a book after instruction (and homework completed), no teacher would complain. Why is reading a phone so much worse? (I gave several reasons, but we weren't really talking about that). If a student got out a computer and did the same thing Mike would do on his cell phone, the student would not get into trouble. I am not sure I fully agree with Mike, but he did make me think. Does it make you think?

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Week 8: October 13-17, 2008

October is NATIONAL BOOK MONTH! How will you celebrate???
(click on "Week 8" for a book ideas link!)

Upcoming Events:
Oct. 13 -- Search & Rescue Training (specific staff)
Oct. 14 -- Wellness Clinic & Flu Shots
AlertNow Training (specific staff)
Search & Rescue Training (specific staff)
Oct. 15 -- Leadership Team Meeting @ 7:00 a.m. in Room 103
2 Hour Early Out -- Content Prof Dev (information from coordinators)
Admin Business Meeting 8-11:30 @ TMC
Oct. 16 -- JROTC Review @ Lafayette; 5:00 p.m.
Oct. 17 -- Data Walkthrough @ 8:00 a.m.
Oct. 18 -- PSAT

This week brought me through the most diverse range of feelings I think I have lived with in some time. From my fear that I had pushed our staff too hard in my expectations for the data walkthrough to my meltdown for not being able to open a door in the building. I have never been one to feel overwhelmed -- it just doesn't happen to me that often -- but emotionally, I was extraordinarily fragile this week.

It started on Monday with a push for every "i" to be dotted and every "t" crossed. I will never forget my first walkthrough at Benton which set my schema for each event and it made me very nervous. It was ugly. I have been on pins and needles about walkthroughs every since. It had never been about what we had done well; it was always about what was wrong or must be better. I never felt justified, only defensive. All week all I prayed for was that our walkthrough showed the work I knew we were doing. Oh, I don't profess that we're perfect or that every staff member is on board with our school improvement. But I really felt like we have a very strong, vocal majority that believes. Teachers can go a long way on a little taste of hope. I am and will always be, no matter what my title states, a teacher. I had hope.

I experienced great trepidation on Tuesday and Wednesday pitching our School 2.0 Initiative and Library 2.0 work. I just want someone to believe in the power. Oh gosh, I know you believe Cohort 1 (and our newest converted members), but I mean I wish the power people believed in the power of TPACK. To really invest in this process, you have to know it. That takes time. Their time is as precious as ours; so it's hard to get them to give it to us.

Thursday brought an incredibly exciting breakthrough with our new ALERTNOW! system that we have accessed. Danielle Silvey is now the QUEEN of AlertNow. The system is a calling system that reaches students at home with auto-calling. It's such a powerful tool. On the first day, we had so many absent students contact us or send students to school. It was pretty impressive. Next week we will use it to invite our parents to our parent-teacher conferences. We can use it for so many wonderful things that are great for our students!

And then there was Friday. We were able to make it into so many great classes. Our debrief was fantastic. Mrs. Patterson and Dr. Dial were incredibly pleased with what they saw in their walkthrough. It felt more like a collaboration for Benton improvement. We had so many things we had done well, that all we worked on was how to refine or find ways to make that process more efficient or see greater gains. It was an amazing feeling, and I was so excited to tell the staff.

And with that, my week of extreme highs and lows closed. I can't imagine what is next...

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Week 7: October 6-10, 2008

Upcoming Events:
Oct. 6 -- Benton At Risk (BAR) begins pilot data collection
Oct. 7 -- Passing out 2nd Progress Reports
Medicaid Meetings (You already know if you need to go)
Oct. 8 -- BAR Meeting @ 7:00 in Room 103
Sophomores to MY SUCCESS EVENT at Civic Arena
Oct. 10 -- 5th Hour Be Smart Assembly (5th hour seating)
9th Hour Pep Assembly @ 2:10 (Intro the rest of the Fall sports)

After meeting with the core department chairs, it was comforting to find them asking for responsibility for our school improvement. That move was one of the most significant moves in showing everyone's responsibility in our journey to making Benton a better place for the students we serve every day. I can honestly tell you, I was blown away by the request.

We had an exciting, if conjectural, meeting with district personnel about our move toward embracing constructivism in our classrooms in a technological, pedagogical content knowledge approach. To make a long story short, people are asking questions. Good ones. And that means they are primed for an answer. It's time to learn. I am excited to think about what this looks like in 12 months from now when our entire staff is in the GINORMOUS learning curve. Wow. I can't imagine.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Week 6: Sep 29 - Oct 3, 2008

Upcoming Events:
Oct. 1 -- Leadership Team Meeting: Room 103 @ 7:00 a.m.
Oct. 2 -- 2nd Progress Report Window Opens

The weeks are passing so quickly, it's hard to believe we are ready to post the second progress grades. As we begin this third grading period, I want to suggest you spend time in your collaboration and departmental meetings looking at your grades. Make certain you are measuring your essential outcomes. Make sure each common course has the same common assessment(s) recorded. As you look at your grades, you should review what frames the basis of your students' passing and failing? Is it soundly based on what the students have learned or does it find its foundation on accountability? Was the majority of what you graded completed in your presence or away from you? What are the positive or negative connotations to that? Do the grades on your students' practice assignments (homework) parallel their assessment scores? Have you done any reteaching? Have you needed to? How does that learning measure look? What implications will you deal with if you do or do not reach your learning goals with your students?

School Improvement
This next week starts our push toward the analysis of several measures of our School Improvement Plan. We will begin our at risk pilot data collection to see how easy or difficult it is to determine who our at-risk students are. The core department chairs will retreat next Monday to analyze their Explore, PLAN and ACT data. This information is used not only to help meet our school improvement goals, but to evaluate our current action steps. This information will be delivered at the next leadership team meeting and reach you in one week.

Cell Phone Usage & Discipline in General
We started to notice an interesting trend last week in student referrals. Our students claim, and eventually you support the fact, that you all apply the school rules in your classrooms very differently from each other. As it turns out, you often apply your own rules differently without clear lines of demarcation establishing the change. This is really difficult for our kids! They don't understand why one teacher allows a shirt with foul language but another doesn't. They don't understand why they can wear hats in one classroom, but they get detention for that in another.

And those are the small battles. The big battles typically involve cell phones or iPods. One minute it's okay that they use a cell phone in class (to listen to music while they are doing their homework), but then they accidentally text message on it too many times or a teacher begins to explain something and "Bam." Before the student can get that crazy phone put away, the teacher is losing it. Now obviously, we are aware of the misrepresentation of these events, but we are hearing even from you all that phones are being allowed in classrooms with your permission. We walk in or by your rooms, and we see it for ourselves. We really need to land on one place on this. If your department has not submitted someone for the technology rules committee, join now. We are going to have our first meeting after school next Thursday in Jeanette's office. Help us get this code of conduct written to meet all our needs.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Week 5: September 22 - 26, 2008

Upcoming Events:
Sept. 24 -- BAR Meeting at 7:00 in room 103
Sept. 24 -- Bus Evacuation Drill
Sept. 24 -- Department Collaboration (Odd Day)
Sept. 25 -- Tech Cohort Meeting 1 (Even Day Plan)

This week seemed, for lack of a better verbiage, strange to me. It seemed like the kids were on the edge of a precipice, deciding one or two at time whether to leap or not into poor choices. Sometimes they were lemming-like in how they jumped; other times it was just one errant lemming at a time. Like I said, strange. I am sure Jeff, Luke and Ken as well as the secretaries (Debby, Connie & Danielle for sure) we tell you the same.

This week was BIG for Benton in terms of student count. We had our September membership day on Sept 24th. That's the day that DESE officially "counts" our students. Every enrolled member, whether they attend or not, counts for us. If a student actually transfers somewhere, and we can document that transfer, then the student is not counted against us. As you can imagine, we have way too many on the list of those who are counted who are not attending. Jeff has a notebook with all the students' names. It's called the Book of Lost Souls. The reason why this is such a big deal for Benton is because our attendance rate and graduation rate are TWO major deciding factors in setting determining whether we make AYP (Adequate Yearly Progress) with our actual test scores or by the "confidence interval." These are VERY important numbers, Wednesday was the day. I know we owe Debby, Sheila and Danielle a huge thanks for sticking to this to get our enrollment as accurate as possible.

The three of us (admin) attended our K-12 Administrators' Meeting on Thursday where we learned how our Data/Walkthrough Review on October 17th is supposed to look. It helped me realize that we are ready if everyone follows through with what we discussed during our professional development last week. Our SIP is strong, and our staff is fully committed to completing the action steps. We really appreciate everyone's dedication to our school improvement plan. When we all pull togther, we can really accomplish great things.

That brings me to this story I heard twice this week. It's about how MD Anderson (the cancer research hospital in Houston) has worked with everyone on staff to really focus on reaching the mission of the hospital, which is to cure cancer. When researchers went to the hospital to find out how they were so successful, they realized it upon entering the facility. When they asked the maintenance worker what he did for his job, he replied, "I cure cancer." When they asked a secretary, he responded, "I cure cancer. See, just because my name doesn't have M.D. (Medical Doctor) after it, doesn't mean what I do is any less important. In order for this place to reach it's mission, they need me to be the best I can be. That is how I cure cancer!"

You don't have to think very long to begin to apply this to our workplace. I've thought about it for a long time. I've looked at our vision and our mission statements. What I really see in all that can be boiled down to one really interesting statement that can apply to every staff member at Benton: "What do I do that impacts student achievement?" "What evidence of that can I show?"

We don't cure cancer, but I think our goals are of equal importance. We are really the final nesting place for our newest St. Joseph and Southside community members before they "fly off" to join the world as adults. Do we prepare them to be the best that they can be? Do we challenge them as often as possible so that when they are away from us, they are prepared to navigate the challenges without us? With this in mind, what could we all do to better impact their achievement?

The funny thing is, I believe the we all approach every assignment, disciplinary action, fee payment, and reaction to their requests, teaches them how to prioritize or problem solve through a situation. How often do we think we are doing a student a favor by not following up or holding them accountable? It's not that the accountability has to be detrimental -- that's definitely old school thinking -- but what if it was about the accomplishment? The library now has students serve community service for late books instead of paying a fine. The counseling center is keeping students in the class they are failing (instead of allowing a transfer to a different class) and getting them help/tutoring in order to enable the students to pass. This will impact student achievement! This will teach students how to stick with something -- even when the going gets tough -- and hopefully, with everyone working toward the same mission, we will have less and less bailing out on at least the one possession we want them all the earn -- a high school diploma!

Week 4: September 15 - 20, 2008

Upcoming Events:
Sept. 15 -- Verify Progress Report #1
Sept. 15 -- MTV Interviews Students @ 2:45 Auditorium
Sept. 16 -- Homecoming Assembly 5th Hour
Sept. 17 -- Leadership Team Meeting @ 7:00 in Room 103
Sept. 17 -- Building Professional Development: 40 Developmental Assets Training & More
Sept. 19 -- Homecoming Benton Olympics during 8th Hour @ Sparks Field
Sept. 19 -- Southside Festival Starts: Band and Saber Guard open ceremonies @ 6:00
Sept. 19 -- Homecoming Football Game vs. Cameron @ 7:00
Sept. 20 -- Southside Parade @ 9:00 (starts @ Kovac's): Join us!

What a great week it was for Benton High School. Major kudos go to several staff members for performing duties above and beyond the daily expectations. First, a round of applause to RickR for bringing us a fun and exciting homecoming week chock full of activities and culminating in an afternoon of laughs and comaraderie and an evening of royalty, competition and winners! Good job Rick! Along with Rick, a special thanks to DebS and DebbyF for putting everything together behind the scenes. The students were very blessed by your thoughtfulness.

Our PD day on Wednesday was a day of the cup runneth over. A great big hug to our Counselor of the Year NancyN for arranging the training and bringing us such an excellent event. Also thanks to SeanN for teaching us how to reach the VSS, CCblog, and to Twitter. Our steps toward Web 2.0 learning is very exciting for all of us. Good job to CrystalB for jumping in with both feet! I am also thrilled to see several staff members eager to learn Mac tactics by checking out student machines. We will dedicate one cart to staff checkout so long as everyone knows we still need to have them available daily for student usage. Applause goes to the library staff (LindaT, DonaMc, and Shaybaby), secretaries (DebF and DanielleS) and our ESOL teacher Adrienne for stepping up to the plate to learn. Make sure you ask SeanN for assignments to keep your progressing in your learning. Also remember that VSS (Virtual Southside) is open to all staff members at this time. Feel free to join and meet with us in Ningworld. You might even be thrilled to know that our own Assistant Superintendent of Schools (CheriP) is now a member of VSS and drops in to blog with us every now and again. Exciting times to be a Cardinal staff member!

In final reflection, I have to tell you this has been a proud week for the Cardinals. It makes my heart soar when I see our students support community activities like I did when the Cardinal JROTC Saber Guard provided a saber arch for the opening ceremonies at the Southside Fall Festival. It was especially touching when our pep band, under the direction of none other than maestro JeffS, accompanied a singer to our National Anthem for the Southside crowd. And then...when so many Benton students and staff joined us in the Southside Parade on Saturday morning - band, poms, cheerleaders, football players, futball players, softball players, and alumni pep band -- it was so exciting! How fun it was when Hyde, Hosea & Lake Elementary Schools joined Spring Garden Middle School and filled into the parade! The SJSD was well represented! We were definitely Southside Proud!

With the win of the football game (Yahoo! Coach Tabor et al) and a fun homecoming dance -- it was a great week for Benton High School!

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Week 3: September 8-12, 2008

Upcoming Events:
Sept. 8 -- Library staff to MORENET training -- staff training upcoming!
Sept. 9 -- New(ish) teacher Breakfast (by invitation); room 305 @ 7:00 a.m.
Sept. 10 -- Department Meetings (EVEN)
Senior Orientation with counselors; 5th hour
Sept. 11 -- 1st Progress Report window opens
Sept. 11 -- Research team to Olathe NW to view their digital library
Sept. 13 -- ACT Test (encourage your testing students!)

What a great week to learn! I am excited by the energy of our library staff as they attended MORENET training and realized that there are numerous offerings for technology training available right here in our own state. The visit to the Olathe NW media center turned into gold at the end of the rainbow. Not only did they show us exciting technology similar to what we offer, but it showed us (the visiting team included Luke, SeanN, LindaT, Jeanette as well as JenniferH, the district library coordinator) how forward thinking we are in the instructional usage in our own technology plan. Additionally, the librarians at ONW shared so many programs and ideas that we don't yet offer in our library that we finally just had to take their phone number and promise to come back to learn more. Linda is on that and will be bringing us new and exciting programs and web offerings just as soon as the library reopens.

Without question, the world is spinning faster and faster as the first progress report period opened this week. We will soon need to analyze the data of our grades and begin our analysis of information pointing us to our students who need the most attention. LaVellR is going to lead our team to determine what students are most needing our attention and the team will determine the interventions to be used in this process. Every department should be represented on this team. Please check with your person.

And so ends week three.

Week 2: September 2-5, 2008

Upcoming Events:
Sept. 3 -- Leadership Team Meeting, Room 107 @ 7:00 a.m.
Sept. 3 -- Department Meetings (ODD again)
Sept. 5 -- Staff Lunch; room 103 provided by the FACS teachers
Sept. 5 -- 1st Pep Assembly; Highlight football, cheerleaders, poms, band & flags
2:10 dismissal for all students

It's nice to have a four day week. Personally, I am still tired from the first week. Jeff, Luke and I worked all week locating our students who were enrolled at Benton but not attending. It took a tremendous amount of time to find them and either get them here or attending at the alternative schools. We are responsible for them one way or another, and we have set a goal this year to really ensure they attend.

Our 7th day enrollment numbers were released Friday in the News-Press. It states we were up 21 students. The number is important to the press, but it's the September membership that is taken at the end of September (for some reason I think it's the 25th). I think we are feeling the increase in numbers. We still have a few classes that are over 30. The counselors are working hard to get them in control. I hope everyone can be hang on for a few more days.

We have a couple of issues that are forefront in operations. First and foremost is our library closure. It looks like they will have the floor finished in a week or so. We researched this summer on what a 21st Century library might look like. Jeff Carter found this incredible youTube video on a library transformation lab in Europe that tests cool library ideas. We took the decor ideas from that. It's a great watch if you have a 7 minutes. For now, here's the plan -- contractors are grinding the floor to remove the paint stains, they will then fill the cracks with a black flexible caulk and then seal the floor with a shiny epoxy. It will give it a clear, thick, hard coat that looks very art-deco. (check the floor in the youTube video) The contractors are also painting the entire library. It will be white. The trim will all be black and the accent colors will be red. I have a neat idea about lighting to add to the look, but I haven't found out how to make it happen yet. The picture is on my cellphone if you're interested. Finally, we will order furniture to outfit the place. We will have flatscreens for the kids to view breaking news and sports. We will also have an internet cafe, classroom, and "chill zone" reading area. It will be amazing with food (sold by our food service) that offers a wider, exciting selection.

For our staff, we will soon have a professional library/meeting spot. The location will house our professional journals, books and coffee for your enjoyment.

Things at Benton are changing. We are making a giant step toward constructing our own learning as we learn to teach our children through constructivism. As we make our transformation to the technology school, we have to prepare our space to accommodate the change. The library is a primary symbol in our transformation. I just want everyone to remember, we are still here for one service -- educating the children of the Southside!

Monday, September 1, 2008

Week 1: August 25-29, 2008

Upcoming Events:
August 25
-Freshmen Only 7:45 - 10:45 (get schedules from your department chairs)
-All school assembly: 10:45 (dismiss to Hillyards)
-Regular Odd day schedule starts at 11:11 -- all students report to 7th to receive ID cards
August 28
-First day for students to change classes by appointment with the counselors

The first week felt like a five Mondays in a row. We had a tremendous number of new students enter -- 25 on Monday alone. I think our student count is close to 950 at this point. With the exception of a few room changes, it seems the students found their classes.

The first week of department meetings went fairly well. It's going to be a repeat next week since I realized we are odd on Wednesday again. We will have to adjust to a Tuesday or Thursday depending on your schedules.

All in all, it was a great first week. I'm really excited about our potential this year!