Thursday, July 20, 2006

BLC '06 Sustainable Leadership and All Things Otherwise

Sustainable leadership.
Schools run out of tricks. Must be careful.
As someone teaching a school charged with improving not only the test scores of a historically underperforming population, but its own school grade as well, I take to heart the caution of unsustainable leadership.
When Andy was talking today about the three types of school cultures - veteran, novice and blended - I began to think of where Phoenix fits in that spectrum. By some accounts, we are so novice that we would make Maria from the Sound of Music proud. Look closer, though, and I think one will find we are not as wet behind the ears as it would appear from first glance. Granted, the majority of us have only a few years of classroom experience under our belts. This does not mean we are unseasoned in other ways. Many of our staff have been highly successful in other careers and are bringing those experiences to the classroom.
Still, I would imagine we must be cautious with our expectations and our energies. Ours is a population that stays with you when you head home. They are on your mind when you wake in the morning. The ease of burnout is not to be mistaken. Luckily, we are infused with enough of a veteran faculty and administration that those "tricks" Andy mentioned are readily available. Also, though we all have horrible days when the sky appears to be falling, there exists someone who is not having a horrible day who can be counted on to listen and counsel where needed.
The thought of plateau-ing is a jarring one. The formula for state-mandated improvement and thereby success is not one that meshes well with the work we are doing at Phoenix.
I can't help wondering whether the work we are doing is to prepare our students to so growth or competency on a test or to learn in such a way that they develop a taste for it.
Yes, my students met with success when it came to the FCAT Writing exam last year, but are they up to par with what I would expect an 8th grade student to be able to do in written work? It's a daunting question.
If there is a message I have heard from speaker to speaker in the many conferences and trainings I've attended this year, it's the call for meaning and authenticity.
Year, align it. Yes, make it rigorous. But, make it engaging or no one will care. Plus, from what I've seen, if I provide the relevance, the students will provide the rigor.
One thing I would like to have seen more of in the last two days is more of a how-to or a showing of what each of these technological elements looks like in the classroom. I've heard presenter after presenter talk about blogging with students from other schools and countries. How did that happen? What are the nuts and bolts? What does a typical week look like in these classrooms? What's the best way to introduce blogging?
I get that I should start with a class blog before the students get individual blogs, but how does that work? Do I type? Do the students?
So many questions are left unanswered. This brings a piece of frustration, but it does not overshadow the excitement I have for the world, literally, awaiting my students in the coming year. Gladly, I meet with a network of qualified teachers who have gone this way or a similar way before.
A thought on myspace. Why have we not a session on appropriating myspace for the classroom? Will Richardson said today he thought each of the educators in the room should have a myspace profile so that we understood how it works. I'd like to take that a step further and make myspace work for my classroom. I've heard a great deal about blogging and podcasting. The students owned these tools before. They knew they existed and utilized them for socialization. Teachers are quickly appropriating them for classroom use. Let us find a way to do the same with myspace. Surely, we must be an ingenious enough bunch to find a way to tame the beast.

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