Showing posts from 2011

Don't Fear the Website

A couple weeks ago, a reporter from KCRG-TV in Cedar Rapids asked me to comment on a new website aimed at helping students report bullying and harassment at school. The website is sponsored by the Eychaner Foundation, which sponsors Iowa's Matthew Shepard Scholarship, as well as a minority scholarship for high school students in DeKalb, Illinois. I wrote about the organization and its founder, Rich Eychaner, in The Principal's Challenge. In addition to contributing more than a million dollars for scholarships in the last ten-plus years, Eychaner and his foundation have contributed mightily to civil rights and tolerance in Iowa and beyond.

Before the interview, I needed to get familiar with how the website works. After a kid makes a report, the school receives an email and letter through the postal service with the report. The website also includes the foundation's privacy policy and how they handle the information.

As a former principal, I first thought about how the info…

Who's up for a little test?

The latest post on the Washington Post's Answer Sheet blog is a must read. In the post, longtime teacher, administrator, curriculum designer and author, Marion Brady describes a friend who did something bold. He volunteered to take the standardized tests his state requires of 10th graders and announce his score publicly.

His scores were unimpressive. He guessed 10 of 60 math questions correctly and had a 62% on the reading test. It might appear that our failing education system includes not only the slouching high school kids in your town, but also this guy, who is has a big house in a good part of town, a condo in the Caribbean, influential friends and lots of frequent flyer miles.  Two masters degrees. Somehow he has managed to overcome his stark deficits in mathematics and reading and still help oversee a company with 22,000 employees and a multi-billion dollar budget.

So what gives? Are the tests garbage? Probably. Did he forget some of the things that the tests measure? For …

Empathy, Impact & Perspective

A couple of years ago, we revised the curriculum in our principalship program. One of our many goals was to get our future leaders out of their comfort zones and broaden their perspective around issues like culture and poverty. We know many school people are "good at" school because it is a middle class endeavor. Among other things, requiring field-based internship experiences in a non-profit/social service setting seemed like a good way to begin broadening our future leaders' experiences.

Yesterday I read a reflection written by an excellent student, Tracy Kelly, an elementary teacher from Woodbine, IA  who had completed her non-profit internship experience at a food bank. She described how, the evening before, the furnace in their house had gone on the fritz and she had recently hit a deer (on the way home from class, of course). These frustrations added to the every day stress of a teacher, wife and mother.

She described a couple of teenage boys who seemed a little he…

Anything Goes: On Broadway...and Wall Street

I've shared my view that Michelle Bachmann is somewhere between a lightweight phony and a crazy woman with some degree of access to power. And I wouldn't walk ten yards to hear her misstate history, insult gay and lesbian people, or butcher science. But I ran across a story in The Des Moines Register  about some tough questions that were posed to her in northwest Iowa, which has become her political Alamo.

A fellow named Ken Barker, a retired teacher whom I've never met told her he has noticed "that every politician is owned by someone." He wondered who will own Bachmann in the increasingly unlikely event that she makes it to the White House. I don't know how much Mr. Barker and I would agree on, given his presence at a Bachmann rally, but his question is spot-on. Kudos to him for asking it. We ought to be asking the same of every candidate, especially since the United States Supreme Court ruled that corporations can flood political campaigns that support the…

Ten Steps, circa 1997, Revisited

Many years ago, my aunt, Kathy Sorbe gave me Pat Riley's book The Winner Within. I was an old school Celtics fan, so reading about Riles and the Lakers was a stretch for me. But there's a lot of good stuff in there, particularly The Disease of Me. Check it out and self-diagnose.

A few years later, I wasn't surprised when Rick Pitino came out with a book with an uncomfortably similar cover, entitled Success is a Choice. Jeez, Rick, do you have to pose on the cover just like Riles? Though I was never nor will I will be a Pitino fan (especially after the was-it-rape-or-consensual-sex-in-the-restaurant-train-wreck a couple years ago...) Nobody's perfect and let those who are cast the first stone, but seriously. And this guy is mentoring young college men. Big contract.

Still, even a broken clock and a morally bankrupt multimillionaire coach are right two times a day. Pitino's Steps to Success got me thinking. I was coaching at the time, adapted them a bit and added so…

Looking Forward Feels Good

I spent a couple hours at my son's junior high mini-school night. Parents are invited to spend ten minutes in each of their child's classes. A couple (ok, a few) times before, I've complained that these opportunities often miss the mark because they often focus on things like the classroom rules, how many kids are out for what sport, what day Pizza Hut comes, and what's "covered" rather than the bigger picture things like what the teacher wants my kid to learn this year.

Last night was refreshing, and not just because the building is nearing the completion of a major and much-needed face lift. It was refreshing because a number of the teachers talked about things like:

How some professional development opportunities have helped the math teacher reflect on the emphasis she was putting on points and that perhaps more of her attention needed to go to what the students are actually learning;How the famous (or infamous, depending upon whom you ask) bug collection u…


A recurring thought here, revisiting an earlier post.

 In the Winter of 2007 I listen to then-presidential candidate Joe Biden on our campus. Actually, I showed up a little late and ran in to the Senator, who was looking for the men's room in Lang Hall. I like to say that we're down.

Even with his enthusiastically-reported gaffes and misstatements, I've always liked the VP's unvarnished style. I dig that, bluster and all. I could probably benefit from being more direct. Reading Jules Whitcover's excellent biography of the VP gave quite a bit of insight into his scrappy, Scranton, working class demeanor, not to mention rebuilding his life after the death of his wife and daughter in a traffic accident.

Thought it is not original to him and lots of others have said it too, he said, "Don't tell me what your priorities are. Show me your budget and I'll figure it out for myself." Love that. We could adapt that statement in many ways...Show me your calen…

Frank Diskin: As Good As They Come

In the spring of 1993, I was a year out of college and trying to come up with a suitable answer to "What do you want to do with your life?" I was a new husband and college graduate with the ever-marketable sociology degree working for the Missouri Department of Mental Health in Kansas City. A few months ago, I described here how I knew I needed a change.

I had some work to do in order to become a teacher and coach. First and foremost, I needed to complete a number of classes to earn my certification to teach. One spring day, I walked into Mason-Halpin Fieldhouse on the campus of Rockhurst College (now University). I asked the secretary if Frank Diskin, the Director of Athletics and men's basketball coach was available. He was.

I sat down in Coach Diskin's office and explained a bit of my history and that I now wanted to teach and coach. Told a bit about my good fortune of having played for Eldon Miller at UNI. Talked a bit about my new wife and growing up in Winterse…

Prisons, Priorities & Power

On some of my more cynical days (there are plenty of them), I have remarked that some factory workers have more freedom and control over their time than a lot of teachers. Similarly, many schools feel more like ultra-controlled environments than places of learning. For example, what's with the heavy handed prohibition of snacks or water bottles at school. I'm willing to bet just about all of the adults in the building have a Diet Mountain Dew and bag of M and M's in their desk drawer. I know, I know, someone will put some Smirnoff in the Aquafina bottle...But in my experience, they're probably going to make a run at that anyway. I digress.

My buddy confirmed that I am not alone in this view, after he attended his son's freshman orientation in suburban St. Louis last fall. After languishing through an extensive and all-encompassing presentation of the school's rules, policies, procedures and penalties for infractions, he asked me if most opening meetings for new …

Compromise, Paul Simon, Great Students and Good Movies

The frequency of my blogging has really suffered in the last few months. That doesn't mean I'm without thoughts. Among them:

What is a reasonable next step with the legislators I had asked about their views on recalling Iowa Supreme Court Justices? I've blogged about it a couple of times (see Nadasuals and An Email I Sent...). Disappointing, but I guess there never was much of a chance of hearing from them.

Next, a Facebook friend asked today if I am a habitual political poster. I suspect he would like to have a political free Facebook zone. I had shared a link to GOP presidential hopeful and former pizza executive Herman Cain's assertion that compromise is ruining the country. I posted, "The latest act in the GOP Presidential Comedy Hour, Herman Cain, says compromise is killing the country. Actually, it is rigidity and lack of compromise, That, and Godfather's Pizza."

Come on, the  Godfather's thing is funny. Besides, it's my page. Block me.


What's for Sale, Part Two

The dad emailed the teacher to see if the information, as presented to him, was correct. It was. He then raised his concerns as politely as he could in an email: that the transaction seemed to take the focus off of learning and put it onto a purchase; that he knew from experience that teaching high school is tough, especially with 160 students a day, and that timely feedback and reteaching were essential; and that it was unwise and unfair to ask kids who could not afford the markers to self identify.

The teacher responded with an equally polite email that thanked the dad for being comfortable enough to raise his concerns. He appreciated the teacher acknowledging this, because several years before with a different child, the dad experienced firsthand the level of trust a parent must have in a teacher to raise an issue while being fully confident that doing so would not somehow negatively impact his child(ren). In that situation, sadly, the dad lacked such trust, felt as though he sold …

What's for Sale?

Daughter: Dad, you remember that test we took in my (second language) class?
Dad: Yeah, I think so. Which one?

Daughter:  Right before break.
Dad: Oh, that one. Well, kinda, but it was quite a while ago.

Daughter: Yeah, well, we just got them back last week. And nobody did very well and because it was so long ago, it's going on this semester's grade. So we were all asking if we could do some extra credit but we know (the teacher) doesn't do that.
Dad: Yes, well, how bad did you do?

Daughter (ignoring the question about the test grade): Well, (the teacher) said we can bring in some magic markers for extra credit. One point per marker, with a max of twenty.
Dad: (sigh) So, you bombed the test that was six or seven weeks ago and have moved on. Now the solution is to buy markers for the class. No reviewing or figuring out what you did wrong?

Daughter: Um, well, not really I guess. I don't remember a lot of it now anyway. But mom and I are going to run some errands and pick them up…

State of the School Address

Most who know me are aware that I'm a political junkie. That means I'm often wanting to watch Meet the Press (or whatever) when someone else in the house would rather see a rerun of Glee or the DVR of Ellen. Or anything.

Catching part of last night's State of the Union address by POTUS and the accompanying flood of interpretation, assessment, response, spin, and commentary could keep a guy busy for days. Mark Penn said POTUS came up short. Howard Fineman said it was like the 70's song "Love Train." Regardless of your political leanings, there is a review and interpretation that suits you.

That got me thinking: What if principals regularly gave the same kind of address? Perhaps the dog days of January and February would be a good time. I wonder what messages they would try to convey?

Would we sound the alarm that we're failing? Or point to the things that are right with our system?

Would we lament the kids we're losing? Or highlight the differences we&…

Avoiding a Teacher: Great Motivation?

I've had quite a few discussions over the years with parents, armchair coaches (and real ones), and other people about motivation, and specifically how fear and avoidance are or are not effective motivators. And it seems everyone has a different opinion on whether motivation from something like fear or avoidance is a good or bad thing.

At the beginning of the year, my sixth grader announced that he was going to work like crazy so he could have the opportunity to take a test the district uses to make placements in a seventh grade core subject area. I didn't think much of it at the time, because, well, he's a sixth grader and thus says lots of things. Earlier this week, he crowed that the teacher told him he had indeed qualified for the test. He would be placed in one of the more advanced classes. The only remaining question was which one. Mission accomplished (though we refrained from hanging a banner).

Interesting point: the subject area for which he did all this work is h…

The Boz: 25 years Ahead of His Time?

I was a kid in the 1980s watching a ton of college sports on tv.  Oklahoma football seemed unstoppable. I attended an Iowa State vs. Oklahoma game in Ames once. Though I don't remember the score, I can say with certainty that the Sooner Schooner was on the field way more than the inept Cyclone offense. Even today, I can name the Boomer Sooner Fight Song in four notes because I heard it so many times that day.

I remember OU's Brian Bosworth strutting around  t-shirt that read "National Communists Against Athletes" at the '87 Orange Bowl. On one hand, I couldn't stop watching the guy. On the other, I was not the kind of high school athlete who was going to upset convention or create a ruckus. Maybe that's why I was so drawn to watching to see what The Boz was going to do next.

Then this morning, I heard Sports Illustrated columnist Frank Deford's piece on NPR. Deford pulls no punches and gets right to it, starting off with the assertion that "The N…