Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Week Four: Leadership ~ Teachers are Leaders

The prompt for this post is "reflect on leadership role models whom you respect and whose example you would want to follow. Look at individuals or organizations that you admire and spell out what it is that attracts you and how you might incorporate this into your own leadership style."

In a school setting, few people in the public think of the teacher as a leader.  If asked who leads the school, almost every parent, school board member, and citizen will say automatically "the principal".  Many teachers themselves will reply the same two words as the answer to that question.  I am the exception to the rule as I disagree.  I don't feel that the principal leads most schools.  Teachers do.  That is not to say that there are not some amazing principals that develop a great relationship with parents and their staff who work hard to make their school a great learning environment.  But teachers are the ones who have a direct, personal relationship with students.  Teachers are the ones who know their students' strengths and weaknesses, and what motivates each of them personally.  Teachers are the ones who make a difference to individual students every day.  

I have been recommended each year for the past five years for an administrator cohort in my district.  The district will pay for an administration degree for the few recommended teachers, and these teachers are then expected to go into administration for a minimum of 5 years in our district.  While it is an honor to be invited, it is something I have no interest in.  A principal has to see the forest, teachers see the trees.  A principal must make decisions that benefit the school as a whole. A teacher has to make each individual student in front of him or her feel Important.  Priceless. Powerful.  Smart. Valuable.  No tree in my classroom is ignored or sacrificed for the better of the forest.  I would much rather be a leader in my classroom and have a direct impact on each student daily, than a leader in a more general setting and make decisions that trickle down to students, yet don't impact them on a personal level.

With that said, role models to me are teachers I have had in the past and teachers I have worked with.  Teachers like my high school Latin teacher Mrs. Pawlowski who taught me life lessons.  Dr. DeBruin who taught me as an undergrad to make Science hands-on.  Mr. Birr who taught me how an intervention teacher and classroom teacher can work together to make the most powerful learning environment possible.  Mrs. Rusgo who taught me that kindness is as important than knowledge.  Teachers are Leaders! Even if I eventually decide to leave the classroom after Full Sail, I will never forget the impact teachers have.

Week 4: Comments to Golda's Post

Golda's Post:

marriageTelling the WE story has me reflecting on my marriage. We have been together for 15+ years. Part of our success is the ability to communicate. We talk about everything including small talk. Topics will vary and sometimes we will argue. Even though we may argue about things, we tend to in the end come up with the possibility of agreeing to disagree. It is because of this philosophy, we find that we cannot stay angry at one another. Agreeing to disagree allows for mutual respect. It is this mutual respect that gives us our inner strength within our relationship. Another thing that made us stronger is that we were friends first and later to become best friends. Best friends do everything together and support one another in their endeavors. I truly believe that I would not have reached my goal of obtaining a second Masters degree if we did not go through it together. It was the support network that we had that enabled me to achieve this goal. Now we will go through the process of working toward me gaining employment once my goal of this degree is obtained.

Comments to Golda's Post:

The chapter about the WE story is something that many people take for granted but is so important to the nature of human beings. We need to have someone to connect with ~ and we need to be able to accept how our actions are related to the world around us. That is something that our young (and sometimes older) students can not grasp, they can feel like the center of their universe yet can not see the bigger picture.
Congrats on having a successful marriage where you can communicate so well. Agreeing to disagree ~ isn’t that the key sometimes? Best of luck after Full Sail, we certainly have the tools now for new and different employment opportunities!

Week Four: Comments to Alyson's post

Alyson's Post:

This month has gotten me thinking a lot about my future and where I want to go, both in my personal and professional life. There has been a lot going on for me, the possibility of my school district closing, looking to purchase a house with my Fiance, our wedding next winter, and finishing my degree at Full Sail. The reading we’ve been doing in The Art of Possibility has really got me thinking about how I view the world in all areas of my life. It’s easy with my school district facing difficulties and the prospect of no job to think negatively, like there is no possibility. However, if you think about it, it opens up a whole world of opportunities for me. I could get a job teaching music in a different district or try to get a technology teaching position or even make a transition to the corporate world.
My Family, Christmas 2010
pictured from left to right
Mom, Alyson (me), Sydney (dog), Mallory, Baxter Bigglesworth (orange cat), Dad, Mr. Milo Quibbles (gray/black cat)
With all these options and new experiences open to me I need to start thinking about what path I want, what will make me happy. I think I’d like to try my hand in the corporate world. I have past experience as an administrative assistant working in the tax, IT, billing and HR departments. I would have the resume needed to be part of or lead new product training for a company. My role model for this possible transition would be my mom. She took her work experiences and went from a pharmacy clerk to a pharmaceutical software company tester to a project manager, to the Director of an IT department at a gas company. She wasn’t afraid of becoming part of a new industry, and proved that her experiences, though not from that industry, could help her be a great asset to every company she worked for. She was even willing to move to a new state for her current job, leaving every part of her comfort zone to do it. What makes me most proud of my mom is that she has done all of this without a college degree. If she can do this without a degree I (with my 2 degrees) better be willing to take a leap towards my dreams without letting fear stop me.

My Comments:

This month has me thinking about role models as well, and like you I am drawn to personal role models rather than presidents, business owners, or celebrities.  It is wonderful that your mom has been so successful and is a chance taker.  She will be very helpful with your future in your school district uncertain.  I think I still have some more work to do next year in my school, but after that I want to see what other doors open after our degree from Full Sail.  I think we have many tools to affect and motivate students without being a classroom teacher.  It is very exciting to think what the future may bring for us!

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Week Four: Vision

Creating Frameworks for Possibility

While the last chapters of this month’s reading were all valuable, the one that resonated with me was the eleventh practice.  The school that I teach at was completely overhauled with an entirely new staff, students, and grade levels this past school year.  This whole year has been a work in progress, as the staff was hired only 2 weeks before school started (and in fact is not entirely complete now, and I came at the end of October), the administration was only assigned then as well, and our contract language is changed entirely for this building in the district alone.   Teachers had never worked together before, and none had worked in this neighborhood or had any connections to the families in our school.

I say this because while we have been hired as “the best lead teachers in the city”, we have been operating without a clear vision.  We have been thrown together with the task of “turning this failing school around”.  A gargantuan task with no support from central administration to do so.  At our last staff meeting, we discussed the need for a vision statement.  I was a bit dismayed when we all contributed ideas and ended up with a vision the length of an essay with points encompassing all things we want to accomplish:  lifelong learners, safe environment, parental education, engaged students, fostering curiosity, attending to health needs, community support, giving opportunities, 21st century technology, ending the cycle of poverty… the list went on and on.  I felt that we were missing the mark on our vision statement. Of course we want all of these things for our students, but our vision could encompass all of these ideals without being an essay.   It was simply a list of all the things that overwhelm us everyday and frankly, it was depressing to me to read it all and see all we have to accomplish.

According to The Art of Possibility, a vision articulates a possibility.  It fulfills a desire fundamental to humankind.  It is free-standing ~ it points to neither a rosier future, nor to a past in need of improvement.  It is a long line of possibility radiating outward.   I think that our vision for my school started during that staff meeting by looking at all that is wrong with our students’ lives, and what we want to do to fix it.  That may be the worst way we can look at our vision.  Why not the same vision as HP – “Robinson Elementary School For the World”?  Not “Robinson Elementary School where we hope to erase poverty, drugs, gangs, parents who don’t know how to help their kids, kids who have no love of learning, atrocious behavior problems, pathetic attendance, government dependent citizens, violence....”  Instead of looking at what we want to get rid of, we should be looking at where we strive to be.

Do we approach our vision by looking in the rear view mirror and addressing things that need to be changed?  Or do we look forward at where we want to be as a school community?  I will be sharing this chapter at our next staff meeting when we meet again to hammer out our vision statement.  
photo from geekphilosopher.com

Week Three: Wimba

This week has been a blur with teaching, family, and Full Sail. I realize that everyone is very busy this time of year, but I admit that I am drowning in commitments and trying to keep up.  I had already made arrangements to get my two younger boys to their baseball games and saxophone practice the night of Wimba so I could participate in the sharing session, but when my oldest then informed me that he was being honored at his high school that night at a ceremony, I knew that family comes first and I could not miss it.  So….. I had to rely on the archive and my amazing peers Amanda and David to meet with me in Google+ hangout and leaving feedback on my Google doc. 

The feedback they provided to me was very valuable.  My draft was very rough, and I was having a hard time wrapping my head around how to include the five required sections into my article.  Amanda helped me to see how I could include lit review information.  My problem was that my lit review was written before I changed teaching assignments and I ended up having to overhaul my entire Action Research project since it was no longer relevant with my new school.  So my lit review was no longer about my AR cycles.  They helped me to piece sources together from my lit review to be valid in my article.  David suggested I keep the images of the comics used in my Action Research.   Help with APA formatting and overall flow was given. 

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Week Three: Leadership Post

 For my Leadership Project, my goal is to publish an article based on my Action Research in Mathematics Teaching in the Middle School.  This publication is seeking submissions for articles written to "entice and invite classroom teachers to learn about aspects of research that are closely related to their classroom practice."

My Week One and Week Two leadership blog posts can be found here:

Week One Leadership Post

Week Two Leadership Post

My leadership document can be found here:

Leadership Project

Week Three: Comments to Kim's Post

Kim's Post:

Image from Clipart Mojo

I was very happy to find that Benjamin Zander revisits his notion of the “silent conductor” in the earlier part of this reading. (I say revisits because we were first exposed to this idea during his TED Talk on music and passion.) During the TED Talk, I was struck by his comment that a powerful conductor is one who can inspire greatness in his musicians; that the conductor’s success is not so much measure by what he does, but by what others do under his leadership. This idea extends easily to the profession of teaching. The most successful teacher is the one who inspires the greatest work from his students. And, I see the connection between conducting and teaching even more prominently, in fact, in my action research project that focuses on the flipped classroom. The overarching goal of flipping is to make the classroom more student-centered than teacher-centered. Zander describes how implementing small changes like allowing the orchestra members to contribute their insights to his musical interpretations made them feel empowered and valued. In the same way, I hope that flipping my classroom will enable me to work with and hear from more of my students, so that they see the material as more approachable and relatable than they might otherwise feel in a lecture-based class.

My Comments:

I too was "struck by his comment that a powerful conductor is one who can inspire greatness in his musicians; that the conductor's success is not so much measured by what he does, but by what others do under his leadership."

When I read that, I thought of the long-running Music Under the Stars summer concerts put on by the Toledo Symphony in the Toledo Zoo amphitheater. The same conductor had been leading this tradition for 59 years, until last summer when they announced a hiatus due to Maestro Szor's health. The first song the symphony always played (after the Star Spangled Banner) was a march that was "conducted" by a corporate sponsor. I always thought it was interesting that the musicians could play this piece without the conductor leading them (the guest conductor never seemed to know what he was doing!), but his is only because Maestro Szor had led them to be able to perform without him.

Maybe this is the ultimate goal of educators ~ to empower our students to perform without us at all.
Music Under the Stars 2009 toledo blade.com

Week Three: Comments to Amanda's Post

Amanda's Post:

As I read the next four chapters in The Art of Possibility this week, I couldn't help but reflect upon the discussion board topic that we were also give for this week.  I'm pretty sure Dr. Joe knew what he was doing this week.  Our discussion this week had to do with the barriers to integrating technology in the classroom.  We were supposed to discuss, from our experience, what it is that keeps teachers from embracing new technology.  Our answers varied from time commitment to fear of failure, lack of PD to lack of support from Admin. Since most of us are classroom teachers, we hit probably the top ten roadblocks, easily.  But after the reading this week, my eyes are open to some new possibilities!

In the chapter, The Way Things Are, the authors discuss our tendency to see the negative in a bad situation, instead of seeing it for what it really is...just another situation.  They also discuss the tendency to express problems as a downward spiral, I hear this all the time in the Teacher's Lounge!!  The same teachers who balk at integrating new technology are typically the same people who express their frustration with "these" students, who are always the worst students ever, and Oh! Just wait! The class coming up is the worst EVER!! It's so frustrating, and disheartening, if you buy into all that talk.  Why would anyone ever want to dedicate their lives to teaching? It's much more encouraging to think of these kids as being different from previous generations, not better or worse, and to think of ways to reach them that weren't available in previous generations.

My Comments:

Isn't it interesting how different school settings (and different teacher's lounges) can take on a life of their own? I have taught at a school where almost every single staff member expressed problems as opportunities. Students were valued, challenges were discussed, and solutions were found. Sure, at that school we had "those parents" and stinker students. But the staff never whined about this these issues, but instead found ways to work together and make good things happen.

I have also been at a school (it will remain anonymous) where the teachers' lounge is a horrible place to visit, and I avoid it at all costs. I actually shook my head when I read your post that said "The same teachers who balk at integrating new technology are typically the same people who express their frustration with "these" students, who are always the worst students ever, and Oh! Just wait! The class coming up is the worst EVER!! " I heard those EXACT sentiments recently. "Oh my gosh these kids are just awful. This year can't end fast enough. But I've heard that next year's group is even worse. Not looking forward to August to come..." If that is your mind set, why come back in August at all?

Week Three Reading: TRY

In this week’s reading of The Art of Possibility, there were some quotes that really stood out to me. 

When told by a violinist that a difficult passage in the violin concerto was virtually unplayable, Stravinsky is supposed to have said: “I don’t want the sound of someone playing the passage, I want the sound of someone trying to play it!”

That quote makes so much sense to me based on the environment where I teach and the students who are placed in front of me every day.  According to the state department of education, my students are “failures”.  Their test scores are and always have been abysmal.  Older students from this neighborhood do not graduate high school, let alone go to college.  Many of my students have police records and are involved in gangs.  My students know their school has the lowest rating possible and that they are behind grade level. 

My goal this school year has been to motivate these students in ways they have never even considered.  So many of my kids have never truly tried to accomplish anything academic, by the time they reach 8th grade they have no desire to even try.  They have failed so many times, they have a “why bother” attitude.  My first month the words I heard most often from them were  “Shut up talking to me” and “That’s doing too much.”  I had to get across to them that I was not expecting perfection in solving algebraic equations, but I was expecting effort, and interest in how they work.  I was not expecting students to recite all of the phases of the moon, but I was expecting students to be curious about these events and try to hypothesize why the moon changes.  In a sense, “I don’t want the sound of someone playing the passage, I want the sound of someone trying to play it!”

Now, I realize that the quote from Stravinsky is stated in a different light.  He wanted the emotion, passion, and drive to come through in the music, rather than just the notes.  I want my students to actually know it is OK to TRY even if they fail, or only achieve a small success.  I want a classroom full of students who are willing to try.  We are not completely there, but I am proud of the progress we have made in just one year. 

Another concept in this week’s reading that stood out was the concept of the one-buttock player.  It goes along with the Stravinsky quote, in that passion is as important (if not more important) than just hitting the right notes. I wonder if the CEO from Ohio had success when he transformed his company into a one-buttock company.  Can I have a one-buttock classroom?  Not this year, but if progress continues at my school that could be in our future.  How exciting!

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Week Two: Comments to Rodolfo's post

Yesterday I finished reading the first four chapters of "The Art of Possibility" and it blew me away.  I learned to be open to looking at live with a positive perspective.  We must be open to possibility to us and those who are around us to do their best, to feel that we contribute to the bitterness of the people who are around us, to create a positive impact, and lasting impression to students, family, friends, etc.

It wouldn't be fair to write about each chapter, because they are linked to each other and it should be treated as a whole.  And these are the first four chapters, I can't imagine the rest of the book.  Every sentence that I read, every paragraph made me reflect and think about how I judge those who are around me, and those that judge me.  Did I received an A?  Did I give an A?  I was impressed how students attitude in the music class improved when they were told that they had an A, but, they have to justify why, by writing a letter saying how they changed to the better as a person after taking the class, and how they contribute to each others improvement.

Chapter 3 was like a hook to the jaw knocking me down, like the question of which musician or song touched me deeply.  Well, this chapter did.  I began to reflect on my life and those that are not around me and those who still are.  This chapter, and the rest of the book can be applied to school, work (for those nagging bosses), sports, everything.

I hope that this week's reading open a world of possibilities to you... Salud!!!!

When I think about classmates who certainly "make a contribution" and bring positive energy to every class, you are right at the top of the list! From Wimba sessions to group projects to hilarious Google+ hangouts (complete with reindeer antlers) you have given all of us an A and allowed us to let our guard down and get creative. I appreciate all of your reflective thinking and your thoughts on the reading sums The Art of Possibility up very clearly. I look forward to the other chapters in the book and hearing what you think about them.

Week Two: Comment on Golda's post

wk2 comment #1: Golda Lawson-Cohen

9 dot puzzelIt’s all invented and the 9 dot puzzle got me thinking how linear I sometimes get when trying to figure out a solution to a problem. This holds true when I am working on keeping motivated on something. It doesn’t matter what that something is but thinking outside the box helps in solving how to keep that motivation going even when I feel less motivated because I tell myself that the choice is to do it now and get it done or do it later and have it over my head.
Another story I would like to share is when I had the opportunity to teach small local college computer applications. With the start of each class, I would have students so worried about their GPAs that they would have a terrible time in focusing on the material that was being taught. At first, I would attempt to calm them down with saying, “you do the work, and you will get the A.” After reading the chapter about “Giving an A” I realized that if I just gave them the A that they wanted the course would have gone smoother. It is in retrospect that I realize that administration would not care for this idea. So starting out with the A and having points taken off would probably show the student that if they worked hard the A would still be there ev
en with a few points taken off and that they were human. Somehow

, it would be a win-win situation. Administration would get what they wanted and the student would have less stress knowing that they had the A to start with and it would be up to them to keep it. This is definitely a spinoff of what our book has to say. I found it a good compromise.


I like that you start your post with the 9 dot problem. I am sad to admit that I could not figure it out. I was doing exactly what he said, trying to use the dots without considering that I didn’t have to use them as a border. I tend to be linear like you when solving a problem. But I will say that Full Sail has me considering solutions that I would not have in the past.
I also enjoy how you came up with a “compromise” for the Easy A idea. When grades must be given, and administration is looking for a bell curve, not every students receiving an A, teachers are stuck in the middle of what may be best for our students’ learning and satisfying administration demands. Well done!