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!

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