Wednesday, September 8, 2010

New Scene, New Challenges, Renewed Passion

Nearly a month ago I started my newest chapter as an educator, High School Social Science Teacher at Indianola High School. The change of scenery has been a good one for me, but one that has had its own set of stressors. Entering a 4A school (largest classification in the state of Iowa - Indy has approximately 1000 9-12 graders) was a change for me, having worked in two smaller districts (Van Meter & Baxter), and one that was intimidating. But, as I've quickly surmised Kids are Kids and the students at Indianola have done nothing but reaffirm my belief that young people thirst to learn.

In addition to adapting to the students at Indianola, perhaps the bigger challenge has been adapting to the bureaucracy of a larger district. Don't get me wrong, I have come to appreciate the processes and protocols that IHS has in place, but I can already see road blocks to the change process. I found this quite evident at the District Leadership Team meeting I attended on Tuesday in which there were nearly 25 administrators and teachers present; a far cry from the same such meetings at VM and Baxter. Yet I take comfort in the depth of discussions held at the DLT meeting, and I am excited about the number of quality colleagues who are members of this team. I now appreciate Dr. Bill Wright's (Drake University) quote: "The strength of any organization is in its people, and the strength of any team is in the diversity of its members." I look forward to working with this team as we endeavor to "lead" Indianola Community Schools towards the "Unlimited Possibilities" available to students, teachers, and community members apart of our learning community.

Yet, more than anything else, I've felt that pep in my step again - indeed, a renewed passion for teaching and learning. Maybe it's the challenge of teaching that one section of AP Psych, or the opportunity to get to know new students and teachers, but one thing is for sure, 5:00 AM isn't as hard to face as it once was.

Please share your thoughts about the beginning of your school year and the challenges and renewed passions that you have noticed as the year has kicked-off.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Education: A Flattener?

Currently, my 9th grade Geography students are reading Thomas L. Friedman's The World is Flat, and their first assignment in conjunction with reading the first chapter is to blog about whether they believe "Education is a Flattener." For the past month they have been introduced to terms such as outsourcing, insourcing, offshoring, and uploading; but now they have been tasked to connect these terms to their education and determine (for themselves) whether or not their education is preparing them for their life outside of school. I'm very intrigued to learn more about their opinions and get them to think deeper about their school experience.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Isn't It Time For Year Round School

"Enjoying" my 6th SNOW DAY of the year and had some time to think. And I kept coming back to the same idea, wouldn't it be nice if we had the months of December, January & February of instead of June, July & August. Don't get me wrong, I love the summer; and would much rather have that time "off" instead of Dec-Feb; but it leads me to the bigger question of, why do students and teachers have three continuous months off anyway?

It's amazing that in the year 2010 most schools in the US are still operating in a 1910 (or maybe better yet, 1950) paradigm in regards to how they approach scheduling. Whether it is the scheduling of classes (check out my earlier blog, Let's Do What Is Best For Kids) or the scheduling of the school year. I mean, haven’t we moved beyond the agrarian calendar? Living in Iowa I appreciate the hard work farmers subject themselves and their families to, but really, how many students are required by their parents to milk cows daily, contribute to the planting and harvesting of crops, or maintenance of the farm in general. Aren’t we far past due for a revision in the school calendar?

To me it makes sense to change. Change to some sort of system in which students are in school year round. Detracters might say: you’ll burn students out . . . you’re going to have to pay teachers more . . . it costs more to cool than heat (really?!?) . . . what about family vacations . . . how will you conduct sports/extra curriculars when school’s not in session . . . and on and on and on.

I’m with Sec. of Ed. Arnie Duncan, I think it’s time we start to evaluate the school calendar. Almost a year ago he was quoted: "It doesn't matter how poor, how tough the family background, socioeconomic challenges," Duncan said. "Where students have longer days, longer weeks, longer years -- that's making a difference." Additionally, in the globalized world that we live in, students around the world are coming to school earlier and staying later, and this “extra time” has translated to better scores, better colleges, and better jobs. It’s time Americas schools do something about this.

In addition wouldn't year-round schooling change the negative perceptions some parents/community members have of teachers and the teaching profession in general. I mean, even my dad thinks that I'm robbing my community of its tax dollars because I only work 9 months out of the year. I think year round schooling would go a long way towards rebuilding the lack of professionalism wrap many teachers face nation wide.

So, whether it is transforming the 180 day/9 month school calendar into a 180 day/12 month calendar or trashing the 180/9 calendar and instituting a 210/12 to increase teaching and learning for students and teachers, the time is now.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Let’s Do What Is Best For Kids

I recently finished a passionate discussion with our Building Leadership Team regarding the Master Schedule for next year’s school year. Our group is currently “scattered” on the direction for next year’s schedule, but one thing is for certain, we all have ideas on what “might” work.

Undoubtedly there will be push back from members of the BLT, staff, students, and parents; but I think we need to do things differently. So this time, Let’s Do What Is Best For Kids, not what’s best for us (the adults). And yes, this is going to mean tough decisions, especially in these economic times, because this could mean some of my colleagues might not be back next year. In a small district, many of us think that since we only have one high school math teacher and one junior high math teacher that “our” job is “safe.” But the reality is, none of our positions are safe from the cutting block. But back to my original thought, Let’s Do What Is Best For Kids!

Let’s get the students involved in the process, let’s invite them to the table, empower them to share what works best for them. Then, let’s build the schedule.

Once we’ve done that let’s think about starting earlier or staying later or both. Let’s let teachers come in at 7:00 and go home at 3:00, or roll in at 10:00 but stay until 6:00. Let’s ask teachers if they would like to double their class size and teach a class with a peer from another department. I can see it now, math and science teachers teaching a group of 60 freshmen, with the help of a skilled special education or talented and gifted teacher to help deliver the content, modify assignments, and assess learning in order to stretch the learning of all students.

Let’s get rid of study halls and implement a mentorship program in which students teach one another. Where high school students work with junior high students, and junior high students work with elementary students. Where teammates on the basketball floor help one another to stay eligible because it not only helps them win games, but helps build a sense of community that improves the learning of all.

So if you have any ideas, suggestions, or are currently working in a place that does some of these things, please let me know, because by March 1 our team will have decided what 2010-11 will look like at Van Meter, and one thing is for certain, it’s going to be different. But I want to make sure it is “What Is Best For Kids!”