Monday, April 30, 2012

Sustaining performance

I believe that most of us want to get better at what we do. The question is how?

An interesting article appeared last year in The New Yorker. The article talked about not just improving but sustaining your excellence.

The author, Dr. Atul Gawande, is a well known surgeon who has often spoken about improving the craft of medicine. I have tried to apply his work to my job as a Superintendent of schools.

I worry about teaching and learning. How do we reflect on what we do so that the children in our district have the best possible chance of learning?

This article talks about the importance of reflecting on what we do. How do we as professionals who are supposed to know our craft learn to think about what we do, ask others to help us improve, and still instill confidence in those we serve?

Novi's Teacher of the Year


Kerry Kowalczyk, 1st grade teacher at Parkview, was named Novi Teacher of the Year today. The Novi Educational Foundation sponsors this award. Congratulations Kerry!

Working in Clay


Mrs. Broderick teaches students about working in clay. Creating, scoring, using vinegar as glue - a complicated process.

Reading and Writing at Village Oaks


Kindergarten students in Ms. Eby's class read to each other. The writing is displayed on the Smart Board. The students then read their stories to each other.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Learning to love the teenage brain

A fascinating article in the National Geographic focuses on the teenage brain. As a school administrator it is easy to focus on the teenage behaviors that annoy and even anger me.

This article recasts the teenage brain as underdeveloped and instead presents a slightly contrasting view of the teenager as highly adaptive. The behaviors that I attribute to an underdeveloped, unfinished brain actually may be seen as the behaviors of a "highly adaptive creature wired almost perfectly for the job of moving from the safety of home into the complicated world outside."

My three (almost) grown sons, would have liked me to have this perspective when they were teenagers. It might have saved them from having to listen to me.

Authentic Writing in Kindergarten


What does authentic writing look like to a kindergarten student? It looks like this - a list about making a worm farm made after the class made a worm farm. Outstanding!

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Willy Wonka Visits Parkview


4th grade students at Parkview perform a "Willy Wonka" themed concert today. Candy for everyone!

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Catching Bugs


First grade students at Parkview catch bugs today. A great way to study!

Hello, my name is Mr. Brickey!


Mr. Brickey, principal at Meadows, talks with the 4th grade students at Parkview today. Mr. Brickey wanted to introduce himself and welcome these 4th grade students to Meadows.

The Iterative Process? What?

How do we get better?

It appears that looking for the "right" answer can actually hamper efforts to build the best system. What seems to be needed is a willingness to build prototypes, examine the outcomes, and refine. The "iterative process."

This "design process" approach is discussed in this brief video.

What does this teach me?

The "iterative process" is a process that focuses not on finding "the" answer but on cultivating a willingness to continually reflect on and improve what we are doing.

That willingness to reflect is hard to develop if I continually demand perfection. If I am unwilling to accept that we don't know all the answers then I paralyze people and make them focus on the "one" right answer. 

There is no one right answer. 

What there has to be is a willingness to get things right over time. Reflecting on what is happening, being willing to look at it honestly, and then being willing to improve are the attributes that will lead to success.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Legally Blonde


Waiting for the start of Novi High School's production of Legally Blonde. Pit band is warming up. Looking forward to a great show!

Friday, April 20, 2012

How can schools help students learn to create good ideas?

"Chance favors the connected mind." That's the conclusion of Steven Johnson, author of Where Good Ideas Come From.

He explains it in this short video.

What's the implication for schools? There are several.

We need to make sure that students get the opportunity to think. We can't focus on having students memorize information. We need to get them to think - deeply.

We need to help students learn to talk about their thinking. This is how I see things. This is what I believe. This is way I am seeing things right now.

We need them to listen to others. What is that person saying? How does it connect with what I think or believe?

Too often schools are places where adults talk and students listen. While that is important we need to create spaces for students to talk so that they can learn how to connect ideas to build better ideas. If we don't provide students with opportunities to learn how to make good ideas better when will they learn how to do that?

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Does the current system reflect our true values?

Values reflect our fundamental beliefs.

What are the fundamental beliefs of teachers, educators, principals, or Superintendents?

In my cynical moments, if I had to judge what our values are based on the educational system that we currently have, I could make a case that we value teacher isolation, sorting students into winners and losers, punishing those who fall short, and chasing grades instead of real learning.

As I said, that may sound very cynical. But, at times, a case could be made that those are our values. Look at the system we have. Teachers rarely get an opportunity to work together. Most of the day teachers work in isolation. We sort students whether it is through grading or cut scores on standardized tests. The new teacher evaluation system for teachers places a premium on student performance.

If our values focused on teamwork, success for all students, finding solutions, sharing good ideas then our school systems would be different. We would create opportunities for teachers to talk, to share ideas, to watch each other teach. We would have a system that would allow teachers and administrators time to talk with each other about what worked and what didn't work in our classrooms and schools. If these were our values we would find ways to identify those students who struggle early on so that we could get them help more quickly. If these were our values parents and teachers would focus on removing barriers to learning and work together to help students. If these were our values then that would lead us to work together to ensure that every student was successful all of time.  We would look at achievement data and ask hard questions about why certain students are performing well and other students are not performing well. We would not see the data as a condemnation of what we are doing but as an opportunity to help us understand where we need to change and how we can get better.

The values that we have would drive us to find solutions, to get the system working so that students would be successful.

I am encouraged that in our district we are trying to create a system that reflects values that I believe in. We are trying to give teachers and administrators time to talk. We are creating opportunities for teachers to observe one another and to honestly dialogue about what works in classrooms and what does not work in classrooms. I have hope that we are creating an evaluation system that will focus on improvement and give teachers opportunities to reflect on their professional practice. I believe that we are trying to build bridges between teachers and parents that allow us to focus on student success.

Some days I focus on what our system lacks. Other days I focus on what we are building.

My goal is to build a system that reflects our values.

Using Cellphones to Learn


Ms. Southworth has students use cellphones in Spanish class today to check their understanding. Students would text their answer which then would display on the Smartboard. Engaging students in learning!

How well do you hear?


Ms. Huyck leads a discussion with her 7th grade students about the functions and structure of the ear. Then she played a variety of sounds and pitches. Evidently 7th grade students hear much better than I do.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Sonnets in High School


Mr. McCord leads his 11th grade class through a discussion of sonnets. Do you remember iambic pentameter, quatrains, and couplets?

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Art class at Novi Woods


Students in Mrs. Sarnecki's art class worked on completing a watercolor version of a Tiffany stain glass window. Well done!

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Disabilities Awareness at Novi Woods


4th grade students at Novi Woods learned about physical disabilities today. Here a young man learns about visual disabilities with special googles.

Book talk at Deerfield


A student leads a book talk today at Deerfield. Scariest things in the planet!

Monday, April 9, 2012

Making a choice to be happy

Becoming positive in the present is not only a key to happiness but it helps us learn and be more effective and productive.

While I don't mean to simplify the problems we face in life to a simple equation, we are responsible for how we interact with the world. I choose to be positive.

This video makes a compelling case that happiness helps.