My new favorite video.
My new favorite video.
A few days ago I received an email requesting a blog about moving a reluctant staff forward.
I like the idea of not having to come up with ideas (at least good ones… I’ve always got some mediocre ones in my back pocket, just in case).
So here we go.
Changing the attitude of a reluctant group of teachers (who may have tenure… just a guess) is simple.
It may be the easiest part of being an administrator.
And by easy, I mean a monumental nearly impossible task that would take 16 men, 7 women, 4 brain surgeons, duct tape, and a miracle to accomplish (less women than men because they are smarter… and duct tape always comes in handy).
This is my way of saying you’ve got no shot.
It’s not going to happen.
If the staff doesn’t want to change, they win.
Thanks for playing. Game over.
Any administrators in this situation should just punt (football reference for coaches in the audience).
Get on with your life (as sad and tragic as it may be).
Possibly consider joining the circus. Or taking up residence in a convent.
You can’t change the attitude of an entire staff.
They were there when you arrived, and they believe they will be there when you leave.
Pick a battle you can win.
Like the Middle East. Or world hunger. Or getting Guns N’ Roses back together (this would make me and by brethren from the 80’s very happy).
Just stay away from changing staff attitudes. At least as a group.
Now individually, that’s another story.
If you feel like addressing this issue one by one, you have a chance.
It’s tricky, but possible.
All it takes is time and patience (and in this economy, thankfully both are free).
If you have a staff of 50, only half can be miserable and resistant to change (it’s in the Constitution… if you don’t believe me ask Ben Franklin).
This means you have to focus on the other half. You will recognize them because they are usually the quiet half.
Encourage them. Focus on them. Give them technology, praise, and recognition (many careers have been made by compliments).
Make them the shining stars.
Over time this 50% will become 60%, then 70%. And if you’re great, maybe 100%.
While an individual administrator doesn’t have the power to change an entire staff’s attitude, the other teachers do.
So get out there and promote your best and brightest.
I’ve written several versions of this blog over the last 25 years (time flies when you are cranking out mediocre content) and I’ve decided I’m going until I get a response.
Response from whom? I’m not sure, but I’m not giving up.
Vocational education is getting the shaft (hey, I think I just came up the title of my new country music song).
In the last 40 years colleges and universities have done a wonderful job of marketing themselves as the solution to society’s problems.
Too often, I think we forget colleges are not only a place to educate, but they are businesses. They exist to make money (and lots of it).
To survive they need customers (and lots of them… who coincidently have parents who pay a lot of money)
Higher education has done quite well by advertising (radio, tv, shirts, athletics, alumni and more athletics). They’ve convinced several generations of high school students/parents they are the answer to all of our problems.
If you want to make money, go to college.
If you want to be successful, go to college.
If you want to have a better life than your parents, go to college.
This is fine by me. I like money. I’m pro success.
And who doesn’t want to have a bigger house with more stuff than their parents (unless you’re Bill Gates’ kids… then it’s okay if your take home pay is 50% of what the old man makes)?
Then there’s the reason to attend college people don’t talk about. If you want to stay out of the military (war), go to college.
While these are all good reasons, there is a problem with making a four-year degree the only path to success.
Higher education has promoted itself not only as the solution, but at the expense of other career paths.
Our country was built on hard work.
On skilled labor.
On middle class families who were proud they worked hard for a living.
But in 2010, students are considered failures if they want to be carpenters, welders, or pipefitters (even though they could make a lot more money than a white collar goofball like me).
If they don’t go to a four year college they’ve underachieved.
We even have levels of educational success.
How many times have you heard a teacher or guidance counselor say, “Well, at least get a two-year degree.”
It’s like saying if you can’t cut it at a four year college, at least be less dumb than kids who don’t go at all.
College is the answer for some, just not for everyone.
It also works the other way. Skilled trades are the answer for some, but not all.
I think we our failing our younger generations by having unrealistic expectations.
What would happen if a guidance counselor told the valedictorian they will be a failure if they didn’t learn to weld.
That would be crazy. Their parents would be appalled.
But we do exactly the same thing to other students when we say they “need” to go to college and it’s considered okay.
Not all students have the same skills.
The truth is we aren’t all equal and that’s okay.
If we continue down this path our country is going to pay a heavy price.
Just think what would happen if every high school graduate attended college and got a four-year degree.
In no time, you would be paying a plumber $1500 an hour (and trust me, if you need a plumber you will pay whatever they’re charging).
It’s all about supply and demand.
We need white collar professionals with college educations, but we also need ditch diggers.
And we shouldn’t label one career path more successful than another.
Our purpose as K-12 educators should be to get students on THEIR paths to success. It’s not to judge them when they take a different one that doesn’t involve a four year college degree.
We need to be less concerned about hurting a high school student’s feelings (and their families) and more concerned about getting them pointed in the right direction.
I want it noted I’m not going over to the dark side (not that I’m implying teacher’s unions are the dark side, they’re just the opposite side… and everyone needs a villain).
If I can sum up Ms. Weingarten’s position (and I think I can since this is my blog): teachers shouldn’t be the only ones who are held accountable for student achievement.
Bravo! (sorry, I just went a little Broadway on you…consider yourself lucky I didn’t throw in some jazz hands).
She believes responsibility for underperforming schools should also be placed on superintendents (and others, but superintendents made their way into the title of the article).
I couldn’t agree more.
Everyone has a role in schools being successful: parents, teachers, communities, school board members, coaches, custodians, aides, secretaries and most importantly… lunch ladies (if you don’t believe me… try being great on an empty stomach).
Superintendents need to lead this charge. They are in a position to demand excellence and accountability from others, but also ensure that teachers have the resources to help their students succeed (her words… not mine… because I’m not an attorney or president of anything).
I hate to take a hard line union position, but she’s right (I’m morphing into Jimmy Hoffa right before your eyes).
Superintendents need to have higher expectations. They also need to put their students and teachers in a position to be successful.
She also points out we need to do a better job at collaboration and innovation.
Again, I agree.
I’m losing… power… to control… my… anti-union… thoughts.
Is it possible Ms. Weingarten is my kryptonite (superhero reference… always good for blog traffic). Is it possible I’ve been miscast? Could it be I’m not cut out for the role of superintendent?
Maybe I need to send the AFT several thousand dollars to catch up on my union dues.
I would if I could, but I can’t. I don’t completely agree with her and I just can’t (you almost had me under your spell Madame President).
She’s left out one fundamental fact.
Getting rid of bad teachers is too complicated.
It’s too easy to get in a classroom and it’s way too hard to remove bad teachers once they are there. Our tenured system is overprotective of bad teachers. The union is only as good as their worst teacher. This is unfortunate. Unfortunate for students who sit in these classrooms.
Unions like to focus on their best and brightest teachers (as they should).
Superintendents are put in a position where they have to deal with the not best and brightest (somebody has to do it).
We need a system that will allow us to quickly address (i.e. remove) the teachers who aren’t helping students learn.
And I think the same type of plan should go for administrators.
If you’re bad, get out.
If you aren’t getting the job done you need to be gone today. Not tomorrow. Not next year. Not after two or three years of remediation. Not when you decide to retire.
I’ve heard the arguments about this not being fair. Evil administrators will get rid of great teachers (why would they do this?) People need time to improve.
I’m not buying this.
Students don’t have time.
Their education is on the clock (tick, tick, tick).
We are in the business of helping students learn aren’t we?
If a child has one terrible teacher during their 13 years of education, they’ve lost 7.7% of a quality education.
It only gets worse if they have 2, or 5, or 9 bad teachers (if you don’t believe me, ask a math teacher).
I wish teachers didn’t get so much blame when it comes to failing schools. I wish it was spread around.
But teachers get blamed because they’re 99.9% of the reason students succeed.
The Evil Spawn is lazy.
She’s so lazy she doesn’t dry off after her shower.
When she walks out of the bathroom she’s beaded up with water like a freshly waxed car.
Who exactly is that lazy?
I get “too lazy to clean her room”. I even get the kind of lazy when she puts more effort into avoiding chores than actually just doing them.
But so lazy she can’t even wipe a towel across her body.
This is my legacy?
This is who will get 100% of my inheritance?
What becomes of these teenagers when they grow up?
Is it my destiny she’ll be living in my house at the age of 30 because she’s in year 12 of junior college?
Actually any amount of time in junior college doesn’t sound too bad at this point.
Will I be the grandparent who has to raise my daughter’s children because I’m afraid she won’t dry them off and they will drown in their sleep?
When I get on her about her lack of effort it’s always the same response.
“Dad, I’m only 9.”
At what age will she kick in and stop being a burden on society (actually I don’t care about society as much as I could use her help emptying the trash)?
Is this just a phase or my future?
When should I start getting concerned the Evil Spawn is not the person to trust in administering my medication as I struggle through my Senior Years?
I’m going to need help. Those adult diapers don’t change themselves.
I’ve tried (to no avail) to convince her of my theory on success.
You don’t have to be great at anything, you just have to do it consistently and then add 1 repetition.
She wants to play basketball. I tell her all she has to do is dribble everyday and practice 1 more minute than everyone else.
Over the next few years this will add up. It will be hours and days more than other girls are practicing.
Spelling test? Review the words 1 more time.
She will see the results in her grade.
Want to earn more accelerated reading points? Read one more book than her classmates.
It’s not difficult. It’s not brain surgery.
It’s just Plus 1.
This also works for adults. People constantly tell me they don’t have time to blog.
I don’t either.
I just do it consistently (remember quantity, not quality). And then each month I try to write (?) just 1 more.
Sure, the last one each month stinks, but that’s not the point.
People also say they don’t have any more time in their busy days.
They can’t possibly work one more thing into their schedules.
They can’t read a book. They can’t take a walk. They can’t start a classroom website.
I don’t buy it. Get up 10 minutes earlier each day. That’s over an hour a week of extra time (70 minutes if you’re a math teacher).
This is certainly enough time to accomplish 1 more thing.
I’m telling you this advice is pure gold.
The Plus 1 Theory.
It takes intelligence and talent right out of the picture (lucky for me).
It’s just effort.
And who doesn’t have a free endless supply of effort at their disposal?
Although, maybe you shouldn’t take my advice.
I am the parent who is perplexed because I can’t get my daughter to dry off after a shower.
Maybe I should have had 1 more kid.
Everyone likes money.
Schools aren’t any different.
Well, maybe they’re a little different.
Schools don’t just like money, they love money.
Love, love, love it (my point here is they love it).
They have an insatiable appetite for cash. And more cash. And even more cash.
It’s not unlike when I eat ice cream while watching The Biggest Loser.
I can’t get enough. Of ice cream, not the show.
You would think my judgment would be better, but no.
You would think I would have some self-discipline, but no.
You might think my big behind might even end up on the show if I don’t back off the ice cream trough. That would be a yes.
Before you judge me, realize I’ve simply combined my two great loves: ice cream and watching other people exercise.
It’s an added thrill to watch them getting screamed at by trainers who weigh 98 pounds.
Schools are much the same.
They also have two great loves (although one of theirs doesn’t involve chocolate syrup… and I may or may not be talking about ice cream).
First and foremost, schools like and need money. Secondly, they like complaining about not having enough money (actually, this may be their first love).
A bad economy has allowed schools all over America to combine their two great loves.
You would like to believe schools have good financial judgment and self-discipline, but I hate to tell you… not so much.
At least not always.
There are well run schools.
There are also people who do sit-ups while watching The Biggest Loser (I have no idea who these freaks are, but I know I’m not one of them).
The fact is there are schools that don’t do a good job managing the money given to them by taxpayers and the government.
The idea education would be better if schools had more money is hogwash (Yes!… I can mark hogwash off the list of words I want to use in a blog… now if I can just find a place for lollygag… oh, I just did!).
To continue throwing money at schools is foolish.
It’s like throwing rocks into the ocean and expecting them to make an island (my point… it’s not going to work).
An example of this is the federal government sending school districts $26 billion dollars in aid during September. This was done for the sole purpose of rehiring staff. Much to their (the feds’) surprise schools didn’t rehire teachers with the money.
All of the schools, that’s who.
This is just another example of government thinking money will solve a problem.
More money doesn’t mean students will receive a better education.
It’s much more complicated than that.
It has to be the right money used in the correct way.
One of the worst things about being a school administrator is you become jaded.
After a few years (or hours) on the job you begin to get a sense of the people you are dealing with.
Your senses are heighted to the point you can easily recognize an upset person/fan/parent/employee/total stranger from at least 457 yards away.
My 457 yard figure isn’t a guesstimate. It’s from a scientific study (Google it… actually, don’t).
It’s like playing Where’s Waldo. Give a seasoned administrator a gym full of people and they can instantly spot the one person who is about to walk up and say…
“I don’t mean to complain, BUT…”
Just once, I want someone to walk up and say “I always complain and I always will. So sit back and enjoy the colossal reaming you are about to receive!”
What a breath of fresh air that would be (call me a dreamer).
Since this is never going to happen, I want to focus on the downside of having the ability to recognize a complicated situation before it happens.
And we all know what happens when you assume (if you don’t… Google it… really).
Not being able to properly diagnose a situation can make your life even more sad and tragic than it already is.
As I was researching this blog (not) it made me think of the most horrific moment of my life.
No, not the day the Evil Spawn assumed control of the TV remote (although that’s definitely top 3).
The day in question was so terrible I encourage all of you to stop reading this blog immediately (yes, I know… there’s no way you can stop reading now, but you’ve been warned).
I found myself in the middle of a situation and I didn’t have the ability to pinpoint where my troubles were coming from.
This can be the death of a school administrator (not literally).
Lucky for me, fifteen years later I’m older and wiser.
Okay, just older.
Seriously, this is your last chance to bail out (save yourself, I’m begging you).
No? So you are all in? Alright, here we go.
From the moment we walked in I knew something was wrong.
What was it?
Did the movie stink? Probably, but that wasn’t it.
Were there creepy teenagers making out in the balcony? No. There wasn’t a balcony.
Was the popcorn burnt and overpriced? Negative. It’ wasn’t burnt.
What was it?
There was a certain smell I couldn’t quite put my finger on.
A sort of stale moist haze lingered in the air.
It was almost pungent.
What was it?
I wasn’t sure, but I knew it was unpleasant.
Even back then I prided myself on the ability to diagnose a situation.
I can remember thinking I should be able to figure this out.
What is that smell?
I was a college graduate with nearly a year of teaching experience under my belt. This shouldn’t have been a riddle wrapped in a mystery.
As the movie hit the halfway mark, I began to get frustrated.
What is that smell? I couldn’t focus on anything but figuring out the strange odor.
Then it hit me.
My pants (or slacks for you older blog readers) were a little wet.
Actually, they were a lot wet.
Had I spilled my soda? No, that wasn’t it.
What was it?
Had I had an “accident”. No. That will likely come in my later years.
Then I figured it out.
…still time to bail out people.
It was urine.
Yes, I said urine.
Unfortunately, I had not wet myself. I have never in my life wished I had less bowel control than in that very moment.
It was urine alright.
The person who “used” my seat during the previous movie had been kind enough to leave me a little present.
They had used the movie seat as a giant urine sponge.
And I sat in it.
For over an hour.
There’s a lesson to be learned here for every man, woman, and child who is considering become a principal or superintendent.
One, always and I mean always make sure your tetanus shot is up to date.
And two, never ever assume where your problems are coming from. They may not be 457 yards away.
They just might be right underneath you.
Sometimes you are better off focusing inward instead of outward.
Or at least underward.
Let it be known, you will never go to the movies without thinking about me…and checking the seat for unexpected moisture.
PS…I tried to warn you!
This blog is another sure sign I’m getting old (as if the mirror and the night sweats weren’t proof enough).
I’m starting to feel sorry for the poor guy who will be in the room next to me at the nursing home (roughly 6 months from now). For his sake I hope he’s not bedridden.
Things are changing and at the exact same time I’m slowing down.
Even my complaining is becoming less frequent.
I’m starting to appreciate “the good old days”. Sure, I know they were crappier than I want to admit, but they’re all I got.
My career in education is roughly half over (barring an “incident”… like it might not happen).
I have seen education change in the last 15 years.
Copiers have improved. Typewriters have disappeared. Male teachers no longer wear ties. And second hand smoke is no longer engulfing the teacher’s lounge.
And that’s okay.
Most of the changes I’ve experienced are for the better.
Most. Not all (if they were all for the better… I wouldn’t have a blog, now would I?).
One of the things I’ve noticed is students’ language has gotten worse.
And by worse, I mean a lot lot worse.
In particular, the F Bomb.
When I was a kid (the 1920’s seem just like yesterday), if you heard the F Word it was shocking.
It was an event.
It meant an adult was angry. Or insane. Or both.
Only convicted felons, gas station attendants, and drunks used this type of language.
Now it’s become commonplace.
You hear it at the movies (I’m talking about at the concession stand).
You hear it at high school games (in the bleachers by adults who should know better).
You hear it everywhere but church.
And now you are starting to hear it at school.
Fifteen years ago I might have been shocked if it came out of a high school student’s mouth.
Ten years ago a junior high student could have gotten my attention by dropping it.
Now? Any decent (or not) first grader can use it correctly in a sentence.
Or towards a classmate.
Or a friendly superintendent (not me, I’m not friendly).
Or even direct an F Bomb outburst towards a policeman.
And first graders aren’t just repeating it, they are USING it.
Loudly and in context.
By the time a first grader hits the playground they have heard the F Word a thousand times. I’m pretty sure we can thank cable TV and adults with bad judgment.
If I had to guess, I’d say most first graders don’t even know it’s a bad word.
It rolls off their tongue like Run Spot Run (I may have just dated myself with the Spot reference).
First graders seem to be getting less afraid of the consequences for their language.
I realize it’s only a word, but I think it says something about us and our society when it’s bandied about so easily and so publicly.
What really concerns me is what the future holds for these first graders.
If they don’t have limits now, what happens when they are 18?
What will they say or do to shock us then?
We may have to come up with a new word for them because they already use all of the bad ones I know.
Not this website. It doesn’t stink (I hope).
It has a cartoon family and Buddy Cam.
I’m talking about school websites.
Some of them stink.
Not all of them are bad.
Just the ones that aren’t good. And there are plenty.
If you don’t believe me Google your local school and see for yourself (you will know in the first 1.5 seconds).
One of an administrator’s primary jobs is to keep the school grounds looking neat and tidy.
Make sure the grass is cut. Get the trash picked up (all the great administrators pick up trash when walking around). And remove snow in a timely manner.
The front yard of any school is the first thing people notice when they drive by or visit.
A neat looking school means kids are probably getting a good education.
People expect their school to look good. They want to be proud of the facilities. They want to be assured their tax dollars are not being wasted.
What has changed is school grounds are no longer the only gateway to a district.
There’s also the school website.
School websites fall into two categories. Either award-winning or they haven’t been updated since 1982.
The interweb is here to stay people, it’s time to stop thinking about school websites as frivolous.
They aren’t something the Tech Person can update when they have time (and a good Tech Person never has time).
They aren’t something the 8th graders can work on in study hall.
The school website is a district’s biggest marketing tool.
When families are shopping for a new school, their first stop is the website.
Schools wouldn’t use tacky stationary or put on a half-hearted graduation ceremony.
They certainly wouldn’t let the grass go uncut for 18 months.
So why do they let students, parents, alumni, and total strangers access their sad and tired website?
We have to do better.
The parents of a 2nd grader has no concept of a world wide webless existence. They expect a school website to be updated more than once a year.
They want to email their child’s teacher. And they want to find the email address on the school website.
They also want pictures, the latest school news, announcements, schedules, and everything else associated with the school.
It’s time people.
Let’s get out there and make school websites better for kids.
I also think every teacher should have their own website, but that’s a rant for another day… and blog.
While this site operates with the knowledge and awareness of the Tuscola CUSD #301 School Board, Tuscola, Illinois, the content and opinions posted here may or may not represent their views personally or collectively, nor does it attempt to represent the official viewpoint of Tuscola CUSD #301 administrators or employees.