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.