Sunday, January 31, 2016

More Money for More Time with Professional Development

Time is an ongoing challenge in 21st Century education. Despite all that has changed in schools, we remain tied to a 19th Century agrarian calendar. As as a result, time becomes an opponent in our quest to improve education.

Time may be at its most precious in relation to modern teacher professional development. Our school calendars, established generations ago, often provide scant time for teacher training, sometimes only four or five days.

Yet teacher professional development has never been more crucial as schools seek ways to alter and improve classroom instruction. In pursuit of more time for this activity, we shorten school days, having late starts, early dismissals, sometimes even entire days with no students. However, we do so with extreme reservations because we know one of the Correlates of the Effective Schools Research is to carefully guard student time on task (Lezotte, 1991).

As our local economies and our state tax bases slowly improve in the wake of the devastating recession of 2008 to 2015, we may be on the verge of an opportunity to improve education by creating more time for professional development. Most schools in the United States have been cash-strapped for nine years. As a result, teacher salaries have fallen behind, teachers have suffered, and the teacher shortage has approached critical levels in many instructional areas.

Now is the time to put more money toward teacher pay and include additional days as part of the package. This can be done at a local level by re-prioritizing our budgets, but it should also be a state initiative.

Some state legislators believe that fully funding their state's education formula does little to attract attention to themselves, advance their political clout, or garner votes in the next election. However, tying new dollars for teachers to additional time for professional development could be a stirring idea. We know teacher training has the potential to enhance student achievement. This would be using tax money directly for the purpose of  improving classroom instruction.

This will be an idea most teachers will support. Most teachers have never been afraid to put in additional time, and many are actively seeking ways to improve. Linking additional pay to time for school improvement could be a winning combination.

I urge us all to talk to our legislators about putting more money into education with the intent of purchasing additional days and ultimately improving education in the United States.

Image Credit: The Persistence of Memory by Salvador DalĂ­, 1931, Museum of Modern Art, New York City

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Digital Citizenship, the Newest Curriculum

A decade and a half into the 21st Century, computers are everywhere. Most people carry in their pockets a smart phone that has more computer power than all of NASA had at its disposal in 1969 when it landed a man on the moon. Today’s mobile devices are more powerful than the desktop computers of the 1990’s.

This is only going to increase. Today we carry our mobile devices in our pockets. Tomorrow we will be wearing them and putting them on each morning as we do our clothing. The education of today’s students must include how to effectively use modern technologies. It is right and appropriate that our schools modernize so that technology is integrated into instruction as it will be in the workplace of the future for our students. 

Schools planning for a digital learning initiative have some parents who naturally express apprehension about whether or not students are responsible enough to care for such powerful and expensive digital learning devices. Certainly responsible behavior often matures with age. However, this is exactly one of the reasons we needed computers in the hands of the kids—that we need to teach them how to use their computers responsibly.

With this new movement of digital learning devices in schools, a new curriculum is emerging. The whole world is now accessible to any student with a digital device, and schools need to teach digital citizenship. All schools need a K-12 curriculum in this area, and teachers need training in how to instruct digital citizenship skills.

October 18 – 24 this year was National Digital Citizenship Week. A growing number of schools each year are engaging in learning activities at all grade levels with lessons designed to teach students the responsible use of technology tools.

I endorse the work of Common Sense Media ( They have an appropriate K-12 curriculum with a coordinated scope and sequence and age-appropriate lessons that address digital literacy and citizenship topics. Their curriculum includes professional development materials, student interactives, assessments, and family outreach materials. What is more, their curriculum is free and it is turnkey so schools can use immediately. This is welcome and refreshing news for the many public schools across this nation that have been bludgeoned by repeated budget cuts over the past decade.

Digital literacy and citizenship skills are skills that students can use for the rest of their lives. New devices and systems will come and go, but responsible use of technologies will be timeless. A brave new world is emerging, characterized by anytime, anywhere connections for everyone. This age is coming with new challenges and new trials for our children. However, schools can play an important role in educating students for how to use technology responsibly.

Friday, October 23, 2015

6 Simple Ways Teachers Can Help Promote Their Schools

An African Kikuyu proverb states, “When elephants fight, it is the grass that suffers.” Unfortunately, our schools have become battlegrounds over political issues. Politicians vow not to fund public schools until they provide a quality education, yet schools have to reduce the quality of their services as they receive inadequate funding each year.

In response, educators feel undervalued. Morale is damaged. School employees begin to feel down on their profession and their local school system. And ultimately it is the students who pay the price.

Positive promotion helps kids. Below are some simple suggestions for sending forth messages about all the good that is taking place in classrooms on a daily basis.

1. First, get the message out, and do it quickly. In this day and age when everyone carries a smart phone that has a still camera, a video camera, and multiple social media connections, news is instantaneous. A message that goes out first has the advantage in swaying public opinion.

There may have been a time when newsbytes needed to be routed up through the channels of communication to the building principal and then to the district office. Nowadays that is lost time and a lost advantage.

2. Second, start with the Parents. The best technique for a good public relations program is a successful classroom teaching experience. Connect with the parents. Returns calls and e-mails promptly. Above all, take time to make connections on positive issues. Make a point of calling each parent at least once each year to talk about something good his/her child has done.

3. Third, utilize your district’s messaging system. Maintain the relationships you are developing with your parents by keeping them informed and connected to what is happening in your classroom.

4. Fourth, connect through social media. The world is online. Facebook is now bigger than the largest country on earth. As of 2015, 1.39 billion people log into Facebook each month, and that is more than the entire population of China. Your kids, parents, and community are online. Post all the good work you are already doing.

5. Fifth, use the power of photography. Social media started with text messages of 140 to 160 characters. Yet, a picture is worth a thousand words. Now the new impetus in social media is to attach a visual image to any message to grab greater attention and make it more powerful.

6. Sixth, retweet and share. Think about the power afforded to a school system where 500 employees all share a Facebook post of something positive that is happening in school or retweet a positive message promoting your school. Imagine how exponentially the message could travel. And it is so simple. All a person has to do is recognize that something positive could help your school if more people knew about it. Then simply click on the Share link.

If something as trivial as a silly cat video can go viral, why can’t an important message about the good work of your school at least go out to your community?

Positive promotion helps a school system. And if it helps the school, ultimately it helps the kids. Let us all do our part to promote our individual schools and American education by extension.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Parents Know Better that American Schools are Strong

There is a paradox present in the public perceptions of the schools in the United States. For years I have seen this same result in the annual Gallup poll on American public K-12 education. A paraphrase of one question reads, “Overall, how satisfied are you with the quality of K-12 education in the U.S. today?”

In the latest poll (which is very similar to poll results for each of the last ten years), only 45 percent of those polled expressed some level of satisfaction with the quality of America’s public schools. The majority, or 54 percent, indicated dissatisfaction.

At the same time for each of the last 17 years, people were polled with a similar question, but one with a distinct difference. Parents were asked, “How satisfied are you with the quality of education your oldest child is receiving?”

Overwhelmingly, parents expressed satisfaction with the quality of the local school system their child is attending. A dominant 76 percent of parents said they were either completely satisfied or somewhat satisfied with the educational quality of their child’s K-12 school. Only 18 percent expressed dissatisfaction.

And these results were very similar to the results recorded fifteen years earlier in 2000 and with little deviation throughout the intervening years.

If this polling truly represents the length and breadth of our great nation, then the two numbers should be similar and not polar opposites. Gallup is among the best in the business. I trust their poll numbers. On a school-by-school basis, our American public is pleased with public school quality. The difference in the polling tells me there is a perception problem.

People know their local schools from first-hand experience. However, the only way the average person can know our nation’s schools is by what they read and hear from national news, politicians, and pundits.

Let us cut through the phony criticism. Americans like their schools. They regard the schools as providing quality education to their children.

This is an opportunity to celebrate and demonstrate our optimism for public schools. In business the customer is always right. For America’s schools, their customers support the work they are doing.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Restoring Optimism for Public Education

Public education is in a state of crisis. It is vilified by uninformed media, greedy business people, and opportunistic politicians who decry it as a failed institution and a waste of tax dollars. As a result, political leaders, policy makers, and legislators decide to limit further investment in this otherwise essential public service. 

The result of this condemnation is ongoing underfunding, dwindling resources, discouragement, and a teacher shortage now in drought conditions. Perhaps the greatest casualty of this onslaught is the erosion of public confidence in its schools. This is indeed a sad and unjustified loss.

An essential part of the job of every public educator must be advocacy for the profession. This is hard for many of us. It does not fit in our wheelhouse. We were never trained with any sense that public relations was a key essential among our job skills. As a result, some shrink from this duty. I have heard it said, “I just want to go into my classroom and teach.” Unfortunately, the ostrich approach is one of the limitations we must overcome.

However, we have those champions among us who step forward and lead. Understandably, when an institution is under attack, supporters often respond emotionally to the attacks. This sometimes results in acrimonious replies and accusations laced with vitriol. For all of us who have become disgusted with politicians, we cringe at their affronts and hate-instilling rhetoric.

To build a brighter future for public education, we need to frame our narrative with positive messages. Let us tell our public what is still right about our school, how they are making a difference, and how much more we can accomplish if we have adequate resources. This builds alliances and supporters. People want to be part of a positive and hopeful cause.

Eschew the urge to fight back. We appear small as a result. Confrontation intimidates many. Fill the message with the many wonderful things happening in education today.

If you think about it, this can be really easy. Our work in service to humankind writes a million positive stories every day. The time is now to bring forth all the good there is in our profession. We need to emphasize the benefits to civilization as well as the rewards we reap as career educators.

People want to hear the positive messages. In a world where the nightly news is inundated with stories of sadness, suffering, and sometimes horror, we have the opportunity to be the shining star that guides our culture. People want to hear what is right with the world. So let us all start and end our conversations with all that is good in public education. When we all do this, our public support will return.

So sing it with me: “The sun’ll come out tomorrow. Bet your bottom dollar, . . .”

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Change in Communication for School Leaders

This is my second installment in a series of blog posts on the changing nature of school administration and school leadership. This post speaks to how expectations for communication have changed.

As I write this, we are approaching the two-year anniversary since the Boston Marathon bombings on April 15, 2013. Our nation was anxious for the apprehension of those responsible. As the manhunt built to its crescendo, I followed along simultaneously on television, news apps, and Twitter. On Twitter, I witnessed the emotions shared by individuals from far away and right in Boston. Our combined energies surged as our brave law officers closed the net, and we collectively cheered the outcome.

Afterward, it struck me that this was a new moment in our culture where we not only witnessed the news instantaneously but also, in some very small way, participated in it.

Much has changed in the last 100 years in the public's expectations for news and information. A century ago, news sometimes took weeks to reach its audience. In the 1930's, radio set a new standard for the immediacy of news. Television later competed and hastened the pace. But it was the modern Internet that made news instantaneous.

For years schools were largely oblivious of the need to communicate openly with their public. As the competition for students opened up between districts, schools polished their game. The usual result was a monthly newsletter. Later schools added web pages, but even this has not yet been fully supported.

However, our public is not waiting for us to catch up with modern standards for sharing information. They expect modern web sites with up-to-date news and the ability to find the information they seek. They want instant text messaging for important issues, and they want school information to come through multiple sources.

Most importantly they expect to hear the most important news immediately. Moreover, they want the news explained to them in a way that refers to them personally.

We were all shocked and saddened by the tragic news from Newtown, Connecticut, in December of 2012. But what surprised me afterwards was the way our public wanted our local school to respond to them in some way with assurances of what we were doing to keep their children safe.

This is the modern world. News is instant, and people can interact with it. If a school truly seeks to reach its public, it must share news the way the public expects it.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Change and School Leadership

This is my first installment in a series of blog posts on the changing nature of school administration and school leadership.

Conformity was the job of schools when I started as a school administrator. It was not all that long ago, but it was long enough that much has changed from the work I was trained to do to the work of school administration I now perform. Conformity was what society wanted for our graduates so they could fit into the workforce and society. Conformity was the expectation for schools, that they would fit our public vision for what a school should look like.

I remember my first job as an assistant principal in a large suburban middle school. I was in charge of writing our building's annual accreditation report for the North Central Association. One of my tasks was to count the number of chairs in the school library. Schools were expected to conform with the standard that in a quality school a certain percentage of the student population had to be accommodated within the school library at any given time. Accommodation was defined by the number of chairs in the room. We did not have enough chairs, so I was instructed to find more chairs and count again before I deposited the report in the U.S. mail.

The paradigm of the time was such that a school should look, feel, and act in a certain way, and much of that was quantifiable.

That same year, I succeeded in persuading my head principal that I needed a desktop computer to help me do my job. He was very skeptical but finally relented, and I was one of the first principals in the district to use a computer in the performance of my duties.

That was just one of the many changes to come in the field of school administration.

President Franklin D. Roosevelt once warned our nation that our only real fear should be fear itself.

As I reflect on the changing nature of schools, administration, and leadership, it strikes me that the greatest change of all is change itself. We must recognize change when it is occurring. We must explain why schools must change to meet the challenges of a new world. We must be prepared to manage change, and we must be change leaders. Change has replaced conformity as the model for education.

We can no longer seek a conformity model for a school, one that can be measured and quantified. In  fact, it is one of the things holding us back now from providing quality instruction to our students when we look at models from the past rather than seeking a vision for the future.

Change is the world in which we now reside. It is how we adapt to that change that determines how successful we will be.