Searching for Sanity? Turn Off Your Technology.


It is my hope that through this blog someone at some point actually learns something.Take One Day Off. The World Will Survive.

I know it’s not likely, but hope is all I’ve got.

Many times, I know the advice I’m giving is directed squarely at me.

So lets hope today, someone learns something. 

This is my plan.

Technology is great.

It’s also suffocating.

When you are a new principal or superintendent, you are constantly told to communicate, be active in the community, be seen at school, and respond to questions and concerns as quickly as possible.

In this day and age, you can literally be "at" work 24 hours a day.

You can receive and send messages/information all day, every day.

You can check your email while eating, mowing, walking, and seconds before you fall asleep or within moments of waking up.

It’s great.

And it can literally suck the life out of you (I apologize for the language, but sometimes it’s nice to work blue).

That’s why I have this new plan.

No technology.

At least one day a week.  Or more likely, at least part of one day during the week.

I’m thinking Sundays may work best for me.

No emails.  No blogs.  No Facebook.  No Twitter.  No phone calls.

No school.

I’m going underground.  Off the radar.  Incognito.

Surely these same school buildings that have been standing for 100 years will survive one more day if I turn off my phone.

And if they don’t, there probably won’t be school on Monday anyway.

It’s easy to be needed. 

It’s much harder to realize everyone else will be just fine without you.

I’m officially copyrighting "No Technology Day for Administrators."  From now on, my speeches in front of literally thousands and thousands of people will include not only a push for administrators using technology, but also a push not to use technolgy.

At least one day a week.

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Once School Administrators Lose This, They Never Get It Back.


 

We live in a society where everyone wants their fifteen minutes of fame.

This can’t be good.Anonymous

We are raising an entire batch of kids who believe fame is more important than accomplishment.

Plus, all of this lust for fame has made for some really bad reality TV (I’m so old, I remember when MTV and VH1 played music).

I never wanted to be famous.

In fact, I can’t recall one second where being famous even crossed my mind.

Maybe, that’s because I was the student who sat in the back of class and repeated the same phrase over and over.

“Please don’t call on me.” 

“Please don’t call on me.” 

“Please don’t call on me.” 

“Please don’t call on me.”

In was my mantra (at least I think it was… I’m not 100% sure what the word mantra means).

Being famous always seemed like a hassle to me.

Who wants to go the grocery store and be recognized?  Actually, who wants to go to the grocery store at all?

I couldn’t imagine going for a jog and having people honk at you (please stop doing this… it never fails to startle me).

Total strangers knowing your name.  That’s just weird.

I wouldn’t mind being rich, but I’ll pass on being famous (maybe this explains my love of the lottery).

But like so many things in life, what you want and what you get are two very different things (as the Evil Spawn says, “You get what you get and you don’t throw a fit!”).

I’m not rich (truth be told… I have a love/hate relationship with the lottery… it’s a complicated mistress).

But I am famous.

Really famous.

Not a bad TV show type of famous.

Or being followed around by paparazzi famous.

I’m more famous in a 3rd graders kind of know my name sort of way (they know I work at school, they’re just not sure what I do).

I have the kind of fame that makes high school kids look at me with shock, horror, and a touch of sadness when they see me out in public wearing jeans (I do have a private life people…).

My particular kind of fame makes me leery of using my real name when I call and order a pizza (you never know if the kid you just suspended might be the same one about to spit in your food).

I’m famous in a way that makes kids toilet paper my house around Halloween (nice job, Buddy the Dog, of sleeping through this little event on Saturday night).

I have the type of fame that always surprises me.

And by always, I mean every single time.

Students and families sometimes recognize me before I recognize them.

In my very small part of the world, I’ve lost my anonymity.  And I must admit I miss it on a certain level.

It’s nice to be known, but it’s also nice to be unknown.

Buddy the Dog is in the preverbal doghouse until he tracks down the menacing 12-year old gang of hoodlums who wrapped my house in 87 rolls of toilet paper while I was at a football game.

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Facebook is Bad News for Schools.


no-facebook1

If you are employed by a school you probably have some challenges.

The goofy kids.

Test scores.

Finances.

More goofy kids.

Parents.

Parents of goofy kids.

Goofy parents of goofy kids (although personally, I’ve never had any of these).

Since there have been schools, there have been administrators.  Which means there have been challenges for administrators at school.

It’s part of the job (Note to new principals:  not everyone is going to love you… sorry you had to hear it here first).

And the truth is, without problems, most of us would be without jobs.

This is why I consider the challenges at school to be job security (most days, I have a LOT of security).

But as I grow older (and I seem to every day), I’m starting to see changes for school administrators.

Yes, I’m turning into that person who pines for the good old days of 2006.

The biggest 3 changes I’ve seen since I started in this profession are:  mandated testing, finances, and decaying of good will towards teachers.

None of these are good.

The worst one is probably how our country feels about teachers (it’s sad really).

But even with these tough hills to climb, there is something I see as possibly an even bigger pain in the caboose (I think I just dated myself with my reference to train cars that no longer exist).

It’s Facebook.

I hate Facebook.

And I know less about Facebook than I do about trains. 

And I don’t really hate Facebook because we’ve never officially met.

I’m sure Facebook has good qualities.  Just like the goofy kids (they do grow out of it… eventually).

The challenge I see for school administrators isn’t with students and Facebook.  It’s with rumors and Facebook.

People like excitement.

People like rumors.

And people really like exciting rumors.

Facebook makes it easy.

When I first started working in schools, if people didn’t like you or a decision you made they had to express themselves in person.

In your office.

Or on the phone.

Maybe an angry letter in the newspaper (again… the good old days).

Now they can do it on the interweb using Facebook.

And the worst part, it doesn’t have to be true. 

People can say anything.  Or worse, they can type anything.

The more exciting and untrue, the more interesting  for others.

This isn’t good.  Especially when people are typing at 2:30 in the morning (never good…never ever good).

In fact, it’s bad for school administrators.

It makes a difficult job almost impossible.

Maybe I will see the day where people type nice things on Facebook in the middle of the night.

But I’m not holding my breath.

Because the goofy kids of today will probably be the Facebookers of tomorrow.

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Principal Leadership Magazine. I Have a Column.


PL_0911_0001

Someone thinks I’m qualified to write a monthly column for school administrators (is it a column or a blurb?).

I wonder if they know what they’re doing (don’t answer that).

But, who am I to question the suits in their big fancy offices out East.

Check out the magazine.

Better yet, check out the digital version.

I’m on page 6.

At least for this month.

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School Administrators Need to Limit Access. Huh?


Embrace Technology or Get Left Behind.

At the District Administration Magazine conference this week in Phoenix (yes, I said Phoenix), there was a discussion on social media and its use in schools.

I’m never shocked when school administrators talk about limiting access for students (I’m not happy, but not shocked).

I was surprised when several superintendents talked about why they don’t personally use it.

Their reason?  They don’t want to give parents and community members any more access to school business than they already have.

Huh?

Color me dumbfounded.  And tan (yes, I said Phoenix).

I assumed everyone knew it was 2011 (although I know what happens when I assume).

Everything is accessible.

The world’s a big place and it’s getting smaller.

Parents are demanding schools be more open.  They want to know and see what their children (and teachers) are doing.  They want information, and they want it immediately.

If you don’t believe me, Google it.

Our lives are no longer just our lives.

People have access to us whether we like it or not.

I think we have two choices:  use and understand social media or stick our head in the sand and hope it goes away.

And I’m pretty sure it’s not going away.

If you don’t believe me, Google it.

Just so you know, I’m typing this on my resort balcony.  Sure it sounds fun, but there is a slight glare on my computer screen as I enjoy the 94 degree sunshine.  And if that wasn’t enough, the ice cubes in my drink are melting ever so slightly.

It’s not easy being me.

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Conference Speakers: I Can Read. Now Make Me Laugh.


When I was a teacher, I often found myself wondering what superintendents did for a living (of course, this happened only after I had completed my lesson plans).

I was pretty sure they worked in education, but the specifics of the job were lost on me.  They looked busy, but I noticed they spent a lot of time out of the school district.

How could they run a school and not be in school?He Seems Like He's Enjoying the Conference.

Where did they go?

What were they doing?

Then I became a principal.  I assumed this would allow me to understand the inner sanctum of a superintendent (this sentence just sounds weird and borderline obscene… mainly because it is).

But no.  After a few years as principal, I still wasn’t 100% sure what superintendents did for a living.

But they seemed happy.

They seemed to enjoy their jobs.

So I became one (not the only reason, so easy on the angry emails).  And I found out what they already knew.

The superintendent’s position is the odd duck of a school district (insert your joke here). 

The job is as different from a teacher’s position, as a custodian’s or a coach’s.

The superintendent is in education, but just barely.  The primary focus of the job is no primary focus at all.

It’s people.  Students. Staff.  Money (or lack thereof).  Insurance.  Architects.  And meetings.

Lots and lots of meetings.

Meetings about stuff.  Meetings about nothing.  Meetings about meetings.

Most aren’t earth shattering.  If the truth be told one meeting isn’t much different than the previous 174 (but my anger at wasting time causes me to digress).

Another item on the superintendent’s to-do list is attending conferences. 

They are meetings on steroids.

I’ve found conferences always mean the same things.

Uncomfortable chairs.

Bad carpet.

People who want to shake your hand.

Rooms that are too hot.  Or too cold.  And dry.  Like desert dry (why is that?).

There are overheads.  PowerPoint slides.   And handouts. 

And more podiums than I can count.  Is it a law that you have to stand behind a big wooden box with the hotel logo on it when you speak?

And for every podium there are 5 people with giant name tags.

Each conference has at least 100 people listed as presenters.  Which means, by the law of averages, one will be great and one will be good.

That leaves 98 other presenters (check my math).

98 people who want to have a conference presentation on their resume.  Why they want this, I will never know.

As far as resumes go, is speaking at a conference a deal breaker on getting a new job?

Does it boost your income?

Provide better health insurance?

Increase your retirement package?

Whatever benefits presenting provides, I have a simple request (I’ve made it before and I’ll make it again).

Is it too much to ask when I (or a school district) pay hundreds of dollars in conference fees that someone with a microphone makes me smile.

I’m not asking for Carrot Top quality entertainment here, just a giggle.  Or a grin.  Or a split-second of happiness.

Anything, but someone standing behind the sacred podium reading a PowerPoint in a monotone voice (I know this comes as a shock, but I can read).

Why do I have to be held captive just so they can improve their job prospects?

The best conference speakers aren’t the ones with a ground-breaking message.

The ones you remember are funny.

It might be a joke.  Could be a video (YouTube has them for free you know).  Maybe even a self-deprecating story.

There are parts of being a superintendent that continue to be a mystery, but after 8,000 meetings/conferences I think I’ve discovered the formula for a memorable presentation.

A simple message + at least one laugh.

Try it. Your audience will like it.

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A Good School Administrator Can Smell Trouble.


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.

You (and by you, I mean me) get so used to having your guard up, you sometimes assume there’s trouble where there isn’t.Moist is Not Good.

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.

Fifteen years ago, my child bride and I went to the movies.

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.

It was…

…still time to bail out people.

It was urine.

Yes, I said urine.

My own?

No.

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!

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Principal Preparation Program.


Try and say Principal Preparation Program fast 3 times (I will wait while you complete this task…).

This blog is not just a tongue twister.  It goes way deeper than that.  It’s also a well-thought out review of a new Illinois Law called the School Leader Reform Act.

Actually, that’s a lie.Be Careful... You Don't Want to Crash on the First Day.

The blog is actually a thrown together half-baked commentary on what is wrong with the programs that supposedly prepare school administrators to lead their teachers and students.

The School Leader Reform Act is an attempt by the untrustworthy crooked politicians of Illinois to fix the way principals are selected and trained.

I’m okay with that.

The article from which I stole this blog says the two most important factors that influence student success are quality teaching and quality school leadership.

Fair enough.

I say let’s get rid of tenure and work on improving principals.

What?

The crooked politicians won’t address tenure?

Okay, color me not surprised (after all, the next election is always just around the corner… and the next one… and so on… and on…).

Then let’s fix the principals (like they are all broken).

The new law wants to prepare principals to be instructional leaders.  Great idea.

It also wants colleges to make their school administration programs to be more challenging.  As opposed to revenue sources for their education departments.  Again, great idea.

Another aspect of the law is to allow an alternative pathway to principal endorsement through nonprofit entities.  Okay, this might just work.   As always, there is more than one way to skin a cat (although why you would want to I’ll never know).

Let’s start cranking out new and improved principals.

With that being said, I do have a couple of concerns with the law.

One is they want each principal candidate to participate in a month long residency program.  My complaint… a month isn’t long enough.

But neither is a year or five years.

Nothing, and I mean nothing, completely prepares you to be a school principal.

The closest thing might be Marine boot camp, but that’s about it.

Admittedly, a month is better than nothing… but not by much.

The other thing that bothers me is the law requires that no more than one-third of coursework in a preparation program can be taught by part-time adjunct faculty.

I think this is idiotic.

I know the politicians want full-time faculty members to be teaching the courses, but I think it should be just the opposite.

Most (if not all) courses should be taught by practicing principals and superintendents.

Or at the very least retirees who have worked in administration within the last 5 years.

I can make the argument that I can learn more from a well-versed administrator in an hour than I can from a professor in a classroom in a semester (no offense professors).

But at least the politicians seem to be heading in the right direction.

Which is nice.

And unusual for Illinois.

I wonder when they will pass a law call Political Leader Reform Act?

Now that’s legislation I could really support.

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Believing You Are Great Leaves Very Little Room for Improvement.


The idea for this blog came to me after reading a comment left on an entry called “Perception”.

It got me thinking why educators and schools are sometimes the last to know they may not be as perfect as they want to believe.I Need This Poster.

I’m not judging, I’m just saying. 

This is an easy trap.

It can happen to administrators, teachers, custodians, cooks, school boards, parents, athletes, students and entire school districts (is there anyone I didn’t insult???).

Most of us like to believe we are self-motivated (if this was true, I wouldn’t need an alarm clock… or a scale).

And most of us are motivated.

Up to a point.

Then not so much.

The point our self-motivation fails us is when things get really hard.

It’s difficult to do things that are uncomfortable (or new).

I think this is one of the reasons it’s taken so long for technology to be taught by classroom teachers.

It can be hard (ie: new).  And confusing.  Even worse, it opens up the possibility the teacher may not be the smartest person in the classroom.

Many of us also believe the organization in which we are members is far greater than it actually is.

If you are involved with a group of people who are consistently telling each other they are great, you start to believe it.

None of us want to think we need to continually improve, but we do.

We all need help to accomplish great things.  To do our best.  To do things we could have never imagined.

It’s impossible to push ourselves to our limits (if that was the case the Marines wouldn’t need Sergeants).

Most of us think we are working as hard as possible.

We believe we are improving on a daily basis and giving at least a 110% effort (except on Fridays and days before holidays… those don’t count).

The truth is we probably aren’t.

That’s where we need help.

Other people (or outsiders) can recognize areas in which we need to improve.

That’s why we need coaches, bosses, mentors, and professional development.

We may not want people telling us we aren’t as great as we think we are, but it’s definitely what we need.

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Perception.


It seems the entire educational system is based on perception.

No one seems to know the truth, so we all rely on how we want to perceive the truth.

Show people test scores, financial documents, or statistics and they will try to rationalize or explain them away (excuses are like… well, never mind).

How You See Yourself and How Others See You Is Two Different Things.

Think about it.

Most parents believe they live in a good school district.

This can’t be true for all of us, can it?

Some of us must live in an average or even below average district.

Many parents seem to believe their child is easily one of the best athletes in school (if not the state… if the coach would just put them in the game).

This goes hand in hand with parents thinking every coach needs to be fired (there has to be some kid who is less than a great athlete… isn’t there?).

Most teachers feel like they do a wonderful job every day.

They can’t all be great 100% of the time, can they?

Most administrators think they are working harder than all the other principals and superintendents combined (surely one of us isn’t as great as we think we are…).

How is this possible?

Isn’t at least one of us the lazy one (don’t answer this if you have even a smidge of anger towards administrators… and if you’re honest, many of you do)?

Most school boards think they only hire the best and brightest.

Isn’t this a statistical impossibility?

Communities believe they can do a better job making school decisions at a local level than the state or federal government.

The federal government believes they can do a better job making decisions at the local level than the states.

States are just confused (and sadly broke).

Everyone believes their school is safe.  And clean.  And structured.  And financially conservative.  And providing a great learning environment for all of their students.

How can this be true?

Or do we just want it to be true?

People say Perception is Reality.  Isn’t Reality… Reality?

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Disclaimer

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.