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Showing posts from 2010

Friends and Tough Questions

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I tweeted Friday night that I enjoyed having dinner with members of the 2008 All-Iowa Cohort. This tight-knit group of school leaders had again gathered to celebrate their graduation.


I learned a few things that I didn't know while I had them in class, which is probably a good thing for everyone. I also learned that in one of my earlier posts I unintentionally spilled the beans about a pregnancy in the group. This apparently caused a little disappointment among some who expected to hear this great news from a source other than The Balcony View. Hmmm. And I thought no one was reading.

As I listened to them banter and tease each other, I remembered how they challenged and pushed each other as students. After just a few weeks together, it became easy to anticipate the positions certain members of the cohort were going to take on particular issues. Exploring, unpacking, questioning, and reevaluating those strongly held beliefs became an important part of the experience.

And that got m…

Passion-Driven Leadership

It was a treat when Amy Sandvold, a former student in the UNI Principalship Program program, asked me to guest blog about being a passion-driven leader. I’ve been called a lot of things, I suppose, even today. But I welcome the label and am grateful for the opportunity. This is cross-posted at her new blog on passion-driven leadership. I remember as a college basketball player hearing my African American teammates talk about leaving their Starter jackets in the locker room when they went home for the weekend. Some of their jackets were the wrong color for the gangs that roamed their neighborhoods. As a kid from small town Iowa, that got me thinking. My first “real” job after college was with the Missouri Department of Mental Health in Kansas City. Though Sarah Palin would probably dismiss it in the same way she mocked President Obama’s work as a “community organizer,” my job as a “Clinical Casework Assistant 1” was to help individuals with serious, chronic mental illnesses navigate life…

Teaching, Coaching, Leading, Learning

This semester as I have done before, I invited UNI men's basketball coach Ben Jacobson to speak to my class of aspiring school principals, and not just because Panther Basketball is in my blood. The reason is there are so many parallels between teaching and coaching and leading a team and leading a school. Listening to Jake talk with my students for the fifth semester, I was struck by several things. Chief among them is how much leaders in other fields can learn from some, but not all, coaches. I'd be the first to say that one couldn't and shouldn't drop just any college or professional level coach into a graduate class and expect it to work. But Jake's message always does.

Since reading Reframing Organizations by Bolman and Deal, I've believed their assertion that, over time organizations take on the personality of their leaders, for better or worse. Jake's teams are as good of an example of that as I can think of. Focused, methodical, not prone to knee je…

Man, I've got a Great Job.

I've been on the road lately for our principalship students' portfolio presentations. At the end of their program, we ask them to deliver a formal presentation highlighting the internship work they've done around the Iowa Standards for School Leaders. We pitch the experience as one that will prepare them to introduce themselves to school districts and communities in interview settings. We also encourage them to invite mentors, family members, friends and everyone who has contributed to their success in our demanding, two year program. We hope the event feels like a cross between a formal presentation and a celebration.

On Friday, one of our excellent soon-to-be-grads who already serves in the principal's role was discussing the challenges of balancing professional and family life when she shared that she is pregnant. Some family members and friends in the room already knew, but not everyone. Several were moved to tears as the the presentation/celebration swirled togeth…

See the Irony?

My kids are busy taking standardized tests at school this week. I know how the scores are misused to "show" things that the tests are not designed to measure. As a former principal, I also know the pressure that schools feel to post good scores and trend lines. Something my 12 year old said caught me this week at breakfast and it connects to so many things that are wrong in education now, from the way we overuse tests, to the way we report data, to the way we evaluate (or not) teachers, to the way we try to motivate students to do their best on the tests that are often far removed from what they experience daily in the classroom.

So he's talking about how he wants to score really well on a certain test and is really geared up for it. "That's great," I said. "What's got you so focused?"

"Well, if I can do really well, I'll be moved into the higher ____ group and won't get stuck with Mrs. X next year," he said.

Ufda. Love the m…

Happy Homecoming (?)

We've been discussing the third of the Iowa Standards for School Leaders (ISSL) in class. Last night we revisited some of the vandalism and pranks that come with homecoming in a lot of places. After looking at some news video of last year's events in Knoxville, Iowa, I asked the group to envision themselves as a principal and me as a school board member who thought it best to pull the plug on the whole thing. Devil's Advocate, sort of...

I told them I felt it was a distraction to the learning environment. I told them it was ridiculous to spend time and money cleaning up the buildings and grounds after students were specifically told not to cross the line. Wearing my hypothetical board member's hat, I told them that with all of the focus on student achievement, many outdated traditions like this reinforce a nasty high school caste system and popularity contest on their best day and open the door to destruction of property and vandalism on their worst. I told them that, …

Living the Mission

I facilitated a panel discussion Monday afternoon entitled "Safety and Learning: Optimal School Environments for LGBT Students" in conjunction with the series of events related to The Laramie Project and Judy Shepard's visit to campus. Although there were several other events going on at the same time, we had a good turnout and great discussion. Despite the world's obsession with numbers and stats, we really learn from stories, and the five panelists shared some meaningful ones.

One student told the poignant story of how her mother struggled with her daughter's sexual orientation so much that it seemed to override everything else about the bright, social, athletic. 3.5 GPA student. It got so tough at home that she moved to a teacher's house for a month or so. Another student told about how she knew coming out didn't feel like an option in her suburban school and that only at college has she been able to hit her stride as a young woman. A third student tol…

Get Out of the Wake

I had the good fortune to hear the 2010 National Teacher of the Year, Sarah Brown Wessling speak on campus last night. That I babysat for Sarah and her younger siblings back in the day is a nice bit of trivia, though it is entirely possible (perhaps quite likely) that I benefited more from the experience than she did. Sarah delivered a superbly sincere and uncomplicated message to the audience of current and future educators last night. Two thoughts stand out.

Like any good teacher, she knows that we learn through stories.  She recounted a nice tale of how her grandfather had always wanted to teach his grandkids to water ski, especially since he had not been able to afford a boat when his own kids were at home. So, every summer, there was a good deal of time spent learning to ski behind grandpa's boat. Sarah was a decent skier, but a little on the cautious side, preferring to stay directly behind the boat despite her grandpa's cajoling to get out of the wake.

For quite a while…

Calling All Slackers

This short piece by Robert Samuelson generated a lot of talk last week, at least around the places I hang out. My class of future principals will get into it on Monday. Samuelson notes some percentages about a couple of common suspects in the student learning investigation, namely teacher salaries and class size, noting that several years of political spin and rhetoric have failed to produce stunning changes. Those two ideas are worth continued discussion.

The bigger problem with his argument, however, is that it puts too much blame on the students and not enough responsibility on the rest of us. Yes, student motivation makes a big difference, but come on. We might nostalgically yearn for the "good old days" when we think students worked harder than they do now. Without question, there were some students in the 19-whenevers who were more motivated than some are now, but there were some loads, too.

Let's not confuse compliance with motivation.

Many of the students Samuels…

Peace in Italian

A few years ago a friend returned from vacation in Europe with a gift for me. It was a rainbow colored flag from Italy with the word "Pace" written across it. I learned that the flags had first appeared in the early 60s and had long been a symbol of the no nukes movement and that "pace" is the Italian word for "peace." Cool. When my friend was there, the flags were all the rage as a way to express concern over the impending war in Iraq.

I didn't know it at the time, but mine is actually different from the rainbow flag commonly used to show support for LGBT people. The timing was interesting, as I was in the midst of working on my dissertation which examined the school experiences of some gay and lesbian high school students, that later became the book I've offered as a free gift to Newt Gingrich (see my post Connected to Reality Sweepstakes). I'm also willing to provide one to Bob Vander Plaats, as I'm sure the topic would be of interest t…

...Know how Much you Care

I've always liked the old saying about teaching that goes, "they won't care how much you know until they know how much you care." Trite as it may be, it's a good reminder that this is, despite what all of those who grossly oversimplify education say, a people and relationship business. While the results of the latest  Iowa Youth Survey are generally positive, there are a few things that should concern us.

For example, many would be disappointed but perhaps not surprised to see that in 6th grade, 53% of students strongly agree that their teachers care about them. By 11th grade, the percentage has fallen to 19%, although the overall percentage is still positive. If you haven't seen it, take a look.

I drop my ninth grade daughter off at school on my way to campus. Though we should probably be riding our bikes instead of driving, it represents a few minutes each day that I have her captive and can get her talking, mostly about school. She said something the other…

Prude or Prudent?

My excellent colleague, Tim Gilson, shared this article on twitter earlier today http://www.usatoday.com/news/education/2010-09-01-bracelets01_ST_N.htm about the controversy that has boiled up at some schools over kids wearing bracelets and t-shirts in support of breast cancer research and those battling the disease. In some places, administrators have banned the shirts, while in others they've created no ruckus. 
This made for some interesting watercooler conversation for the Ed Leadership gang, to say the least. Wouild I be a prude to ban the shirts or would it be prudent?
Some took the position that tatas, boobies, rack, girls, guns, and all the rest are inappropriate terms that objectify the female body and even though some in the fight breast cancer movement have embraced the term, they're not cool for school. My wife has a pink t-shirt with these and a host of others.
Others said that this was really much ado about nothing, or at least much ado about nothing that the princi…

Questions to Ask

We had a conversation in my class of aspiring school principals after reading an article entitled The Principal's Priority 1, (Jean Johnson, 2008, Educational Leadership (66)1, 72-6). The article focused on principals' ability to serve as instructional leaders who can help teachers teach more effectively, rather than being consumed by all of the day to day stuff that gets in their way...leaky pipes, misbehaving kids, paperwork, the Pepsi man's here, and all the rest of things that everyone who's ever spent time in the office knows so well. Johnson framed the question this way: Are communities and districts willing to reorganize schools so principals have time for this work? Ask your board member.

That important question prompts a couple others. How much time is your principal spending in your child's classrooms? Ask your principal.
Is the principal in your child's school able to help teachers improve and grow? Ask your child's teacher at conferences.
If your …

First Shot

I was a little slow to adopt Facebook. Couldn't quite see the point for a while. Was a little thrown off by the whole concept of "friend" becoming a verb. I had a hard time getting my head around the idea of how my wife was officially becoming "friends" with people she really didn't know very well or had hardly known way back when. Maybe I had a hard time with friend being a verb. Whatever. Though I joined FB and enjoy it, I thought what made more sense was a blog, where I could throw my opinions and ideas around, especially since my wife tells me to keep those things off FB, "because that's not what it's for." So, here's my first foray into blogging. The title of the blog, The Balcony View, comes from one of the main points I try to emphasize with the people who I work with, who aspire to be leaders of schools.

Someone asked me the other day if I was fully ready to start the school year. Told them that I wasn't really, but I would…