They Hate the Test

Simple title to a big issue.

Yesterday we held our spring pep assembly to honor excellence in academic and athletic accomplishments from the first quarter of 2015. It was your typical assembly with cheers for our students of the month, presentations of plaques from basketball, volleyball, winter guard, and then recognizing our current sports of girls soccer and track & field as well as our 2015 – 2016 cheer squad. We wrapped up the assembly with a fun game involving students from each grade level and cheer leaders.

What came next caught me off guard, but as I reflect not so much.

Prior to dismissing students back to class for end of the day I reminded them we were beginning our MAP (Missouri Assessment Program) testing on Monday and we would have students from our site testing through April 22.

Then came the resounding Boos!!

I stood there and allowed it to happen. The boos continued for what seemed like several minutes, but in reality was probably 20 seconds.

Why would our students boo? These are the same students which 70-75% score at the proficient or advanced level.

As I reflected on why so many of our almost 800 students would boo I have a few ideas:

1) our students know while taking a summative test our state uses to ‘measure’ us all learning stops. Our students are missing out on learning. The fun, engaging, deep learning they enjoy throughout the year.

2) our students know this summative test doesn’t truly measure them, their teachers, or our school.

3) our students get that a true measurement of what they know doesn’t happen from one snapshot or moment in time, but it is throughout the course of the year. It is about where they started and where they end and everything they accomplished in between. Not what they show on one day on one test.

Our students get it!

When will the talking heads and politicos get it?

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Embrace the Change

Recently my family received notice our fitness center is closing at the end of March after being in business since the 80’s. I’ve been a member of our gym since moving to Springfield in 2006 so my first thought was ‘what will we do?’

I soon got over my concern when I went in the gym the same day we received the letter and saw the shock and fear on the faces of several workers who had just learned they would no longer have jobs. This is when my thought changed from ‘what will we do?’ to ‘what will they do?’

As I visited with the ladies at the front desk I told one “this stinks” to which one replied, “I’m sorry.”

At first I was taken back by her apology. Why would she apologize? There are plenty of fitness centers in town for us to join, but what about the employees losing their jobs? It’s not like they can just sign up and get a job at any gym. They are soon to be unemployed with few options for work, but she was apologizing to me.

This got me to thinking about the changes in which we go through in the world of education and how we react to these changes. For some of us we think of how the change will affect what we do. For others they think about how this change will affect those around them. In this situation I was concerned about me at first and then my concern became the employees who lost their jobs. However, one gym employee was openly concerned for the gym members who had lost their gym rather than showing personal concern for what would she be doing in less than a month when the gym closes.

She embraced the change.

Maybe she saw this coming. Maybe she’s at a point in life where she knows this is the end of her career. Or maybe she lives life in the moment and trusts it will all work out. Regardless she was composed and consoling the members coming in who were upset, shocked, and asking questions of why. She was also providing support to her colleagues who were not in the same state of mind.

All this reminded me of our role as leaders during times of change. We must embrace the change as well.

With new leadership we can assume change will come. The leadership structure will change. People will leave and others will take on new roles. Expectations will change, things will speed up, and the way ‘we do business’ will change. All of this leads to chatter, speculation, and fear.

As leaders we must embrace the change and lead our staff with the same attitude as the fitness center worker. We must embrace the change, answer the questions, provide support for staff and colleagues, stay composed and ensure our staffs the necessity for change is ultimately what’s best for our students.

We must embrace the change for our STUDENTS to ensure they are prepared for their future.

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Get Out of the Way

In my youth I believed leading by example was the right model for leadership. In order to get everyone on board you must set the example. I don’t ask people to do that which I am not willing to do myself. I still believe this to be true. However, I have also found if I just Get Out of the Way people will take an idea, a project, a mission and do an outstanding job.

It was no different with two events we’ve held this month at Cherokee (@CherokeeSPS).

The first was our 16th Annual Job Shadow event, held on Groundhog Day, for our 8th grade students. Our counselors do an outstanding job with this every year as it is no easy task to get 300+ 8th graders to complete all the requirements leading up to the event, but once the big day arrives, boy oh boy is it amazing.

What’s my role in Job Shadow? Get Out of the Way and let the students, parents, and counselor take it and run. I am a support role and cheerleader all along the way. Check out this Storify, #CMSjobshadow, to see some of the tweets and pictures from a few of our students while they were on the job.

Just last week we held our first Genius Hour showcase and it was amazing! We’ve had 3 – 5 teachers dabble with Genius Hour/20% Time over the last few years. However, this is the first time the students stepped outside the classroom to showcase their passions to someone besides the other 25 – 30 students in their own classroom.

What role did I play in this project? I said yes to the teacher when she brought up the idea of sharing with the school and our community. All I had to do from that point on was Get Out of the Way!

The 7th grade students participating did an excellent job presenting to students, staff, families, and other guests. Check out this Storify, #CMSgeniushour, to see some of the tweets and pictures to get a grasp of the variety of projects the students worked on during the past several weeks. You can tell by the looks on their faces they truly loved the work they did and they were especially proud of ‘showing off’ their hard work.

Many times I know I am the reason an initiative or innovation may not take off or flourish. I failed to find the right drivers to led the push and I tried to rally the group and cheer them along. But it failed due to no one taking ownership of the idea. This occurred when I was a teacher and when I became a building leader. I’ve learned from these errors and now know sometimes I am my worst enemy. So, although it took some time to learn I now know to just Get Out of the Way to let the staff and students shine!

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Life & Leadership

Recently I’ve been disconnected from the building even when present.

Even my thoughts below seem disconnected as I read them. Forgive my rambling. . .seems to be a theme with my posts recently!

The week before our winter break I had the flu, when we returned from break I had several meetings and felt as I was always playing catchup. Then, GG passed away. (GG, great-grandma, is my wife’s grandmother, but named GG by our almost 6 year-old Seely).

GG passed suddenly and it has been very hard on us all. During this time away and since my return to school I have struggled to be a leader. I’ve struggled to reconnect and I’ve been a bit on edge and disconnected.

To say the least I haven’t been much of a leader at school. Upon my return I have been treading water as I had even more meetings and preparing for more meetings I am to lead this coming week.

School will be, and has been, fine because we have great teachers, students/families, and our office staff, counselors, and assistant principal are amazing! I am so thankful for such a supportive group of people!

So, my focus has been on being a supportive husband and father.

I’d be lying if I said it was easy. It never is easy under ‘normal’ circumstances. The hardest part was explaining to Seely his GG was gone. We would see her one more time, but she wouldn’t be able to speak with us. However, we can talk to her any time and she will ALWAYS be in our hearts and memories.

So, as our family returns to our routines and create a new normal without GG we know time will heal. We also know we will always have the fond memories of Saturday visits, Thanksgiving dinners, and birthday parties to help us smile.

Thank you to the support we have received from so many at our schools and to the members of my PLN who reached out after I posted the following tweet:

I couldn’t ask for a better family, better school community, and you all reading this post. Thank you for your kind words and continued support.

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Random rambling

I recently shared the article Reinventing School and the video Transforming Education with our Leadership Team and asked them consider what we can do moving forward. It has generated a great dialogue and this is an edited version of one of my responses.

When it comes to change we all have a bit of frustration. Myself included and it may show in what I write below.

I’m not in anyway trying to offend anyone and say that anyone is doing a bad job. All I’m saying is we need to evaluate how we “do school.”

I agree on Googling. My philosophy is if a student can Google the answer then it isn’t a good question to begin with.

The term “smartest person in the room” is referring to expanding how and who we learn with. We are all going to see how we collaborate change. We have isolated ourselves over the years and it is about to change. We are going to start collaborating with districts outside our own. I also encourage you all to collaborate via Twitter, Pinterest, Facebook or whatever medium you prefer, if you aren’t. We don’t always have to reinvent the wheel, but we can make the wheel much better if we learn from those already doing “it.”

Do we know what students need to know? Does our curriculum match what students need to know?

Every job I’ve had I have learned “on the job” because the curriculum and what I was taught was not current with what was happening “in the real world.”

I’m not saying we “break the rules” and not follow the curriculum, but we have to match it to what students need by allowing students to follow their “passions.” When we allow students to communicate, collaborate, create, critical think, compute, and connect then we are on to something. These 6 C’s are what make the world go ’round.

When I state “if we fail, what’s the harm?” I mean this: We are fortunate here to have students coming prepared and they learn despite us sometimes. They have great families who provide them opportunities and resources to learn at and outside of the school setting. Not all, but most. We are one of a few schools in our area with this “luxury.” What I’m saying is we can do school in a different way and our students won’t suffer, in my opinion. I’m not saying we go away from the basics, but not all of our students need “the basics.”

We have to find ways to personalize learning for students. Visit a classroom where students are working on Genius Hour/20% time projects. . . it can be messy, loud, and look like students aren’t learning sometimes, but they are engaged, focused, and learning – sometimes not even realizing it because they are so focused on a subject matter they are passionate about they get lost in the moment.

I learn so much from watching how Seely learns. He has access to so much information as a kindergartner it is amazing the knowledge he has in the subject matters he is passionate about and he is learning the ‘basics’ as well. However, he is also being held back in some ‘school’ subjects. For example, the math goal last week was to say/write numbers from 0 – 30. He’s been able to do this for almost 2 years! Don’t get me wrong, he has an amazing teacher and she is pushing him further, but what if she didn’t. He would be disengaged and bored. We have many students like this in our classrooms.

So, what are we doing for those students who have the content we are teaching mastered?

Are we assessing students and teaching to all in the room/team or are we personalizing and providing students the extra push they need to move forward as they pursue their passion?

I understand preparing students for high school or whatever may be next for them, but again we can’t allow that to confine what we do. . . and we can’t allow a test to confine or paralyze us and what we do or don’t do.

I hear what you all are saying about “old school” or “traditional” not being bad. It’s not, but our students are different than us, just like the generations before us was different.

Our challenge is in front of us. . .it is being driven by the direction from our leadership and if we don’t change we (school) will become the Kodak of the film industry and our students and families will find a different product to use (i.e. school).

I’m not saying I’m right, but I’m saying I am reading the ‘writing on the wall’ and it is very clear to me. I see what ‘innovative’ schools are doing.

It won’t be easy. It will be messy. We will have roadblocks. We will stumble along the way. We will question and wonder if we are making a difference. But honestly, isn’t that already the case?

We have the toughest jobs in the world – educating the future – and many times it can be thankless and without reward, but there is nothing more I’d rather do :-) and do with you ALL!

We have the talent in this building to do amazing things and transform how we do school. . .

You all are amazing teachers and can make this happen. . .I know it and believe it!

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Imagine

“The future is already here – it is just not evenly distribute.” – William Gibson (2003)

We know this to be true in our own buildings, districts, and states when we think of innovative teaching and learning. We have pockets of innovation occurring at each of these levels. The future is NOT evenly distributed for a variety of reasons. It could be for the lack of funds, lack of knowledge, or is it simply because we fear failure?

Earlier in the week I was able to participate in the first of three meetings to ImagineSPS (check out #ImagineSPS or @ImagineSPS1 to follow or join the conversation). This group of about 50 educators, students, and business community heard from Michael Maness (@michaelmaness), Innovator-in-Residence at Harvard Business School. One of the first questions Michael posed to the group was “Why do smart people, armed with logical information, fail over and over again to make strategic shifts despite the overwhelming case for change?”

The fear of uncertainty! The fear of failure! The human brain fears uncertainty and we tend to do everything we can to avoid uncertainty and stay in the comfort of the certain. I like to refer to this as status quo.

Maness also stated, “Intellectual curiosity is essential for innovation.”

Do we as educators stifle intellectual curiosity because of uncertainty?

Do we look at our test scores, in those schools/district who are high performing, and state we don’t need to change because we are “doing well?”

Regardless of the answer we owe it to our future, to our children, grandchildren, and future generations to come to invite curiosity, creativity, and failure. In order to be different, to innovate, we must be uncomfortable with ambiguity and this will help lead to creativity and divergent thinking.

Divergent thinking in itself leads to “thinking outside the box.” We often say we encourage this, but do we really? Do we allow this? Many times we, knowingly or not, shut down because we fear we will be wrong or do the wrong thing. Thus we continue with convergent thinking so as to be ‘right’ and follow along with the group.

It is an exciting time now with this new idea of ImagineSPS. Our district administration has given educators “permission” to fail, innovate, and be creative in how we do school. How exciting! Our organization is now providing us with the flexibility to “fight cognitive entrenchment – our most powerful foe,” according to Maness, and be divergent and allow our educators and students to explore the creativity they had as toddlers and preschoolers. Somewhere along the way we lost this or it was taken away from us. Now it has been given back.

So, as we move forward we know the future is impossible to predict. We know the jobs we are preparing our current students for most likely do not exist. So, we must provide our students and staff time to think and the space to create. We need divergent thinkers to begin to create, explore, and fail.

As Joi Ito, Director of MIT Media Lab, said “The most important jobs in the future will be the artists, designers, scientist, and engineers – hopefully all working together.”

In the end how do we redesign our schools to prepare our students for this era?

How do we as leaders prepare our staff and empower them for this change in how school works?

I’d love to hear your thoughts.

ImaginingSPS,

Bill

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One Word – Patience

Over the years I have made my share of resolutions – exercise more, eat healthy, and on and on and on. Each year I maintain the focus for several weeks and then it wains off and I slip back in to the old normal habits of the past. I’m guessing most of you reading this are now nodding your head as many of us are guilty of breaking our resolutions.

This year I’m jumping on the #OneWord bandwagon. I came across it in 2014 through Jon Gordon (@JonGordon11) and his work across the country with college sports teams. Teams would tweet out pictures of their team and individual One Word written on their arms, poster board, and other items. I didn’t give it much thought until my wife asked me on New Year’s Eve what my resolution for 2015 would be. I thought for a few seconds and then told her it would be One Word this year. She almost immediately told me it should be Patience.

Patience (noun) – the capacity to accept or tolerate delay, trouble, or suffering without getting angry or upset.

Yep, she nailed it and me in one swift statement.

So, here I am on January 3, 2015 working very patiently to improve each minute, hour, day, and week to be a more patient person. A more patient father, husband, son, brother, friend, colleague, and leader.

I’ve known this is a weakness for years. It causes some to stay away and others to dislike as my lack of patience can grate on some people. Others have chosen to ignore it.

I am not ignoring it any longer. I am owning it and working. So, friends, please be patient with me as I work on improving my skill set. I’m sure I will have a setback along the way. I may even stumble and fall. It will be hard, but I know I have the support of my family, friends, and PLN to keep me steady

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If you would like to learn more about One Word you can follow them on Twitter @GetOneWord or visit their website Get One Word for many more resources.

Patiently,

Bill

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