Wednesday, January 26, 2011

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're making?

Look at test scores and how we compare to Sri Lanka? Or note the number of international students and parents who want their kids to experience an American-style education?

Would we talk about collaboration and working together, regardless of our differences? Or draw a line in the media center (or wherever the speech was being delivered) sand?

Or would we forgo all of those issues in favor of calling attention to more local, immediate issues? Talk about the elephant in the corner? Or share some feel good stories from kindergarten and the basketball team?

Regardless of direction, I think it might be a good idea. Get us talking. Debating. Mix up the seating arrangement like Congress did last night. Some feel good with some substance. Some accolades with some challenges.

Maybe we should be doing this...A State of the School address.

What's the state of yours? Principals, what would you want to say? Others, what would you want to hear?

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

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 his least favorite. From that initial day in August when he announced his plan, the goal was simple: Qualify for one of the advanced sections in order to avoid a particular teacher. He'd heard his older sibling and wanted no part of it.

So that's got me thinking about a lot of things, including what motivates different people, the state of professional development for teachers, instructional leadership from administrators, not to mention how some teachers and their performance (for better or worse) become legendary (or infamous). I guess it's more than a little bit bass ackwards for all of this work to be for the sole purpose of avoiding a particular teacher, but hey, he got what he wanted. And he also prevented his parents from scheduling that dreaded meeting in which they  firmly but politely announce that they do not intend for their child to be in that class. And that got me thinking back to sitting on the principal's side of the desk when parents made the same firm but polite announcement to me.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

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 NCAA can fairly be called cynical and calculating and just plain stupid, but the latest of this year's many scandals primarily shows that big-time college football just doesn't work any longer with a model developed for a 19th century culture." He goes on to point out the abject hypocrisy, posing, posturing, and absurd hair splitting the NCAA has shown in its attempts to "handle" the Cam Newton/Auburn-gate and Ohio State football players who sold some of their gear.

I haven't followed either that closely, and am not a college football expert. For that, please contact my friend and colleague Dr. David Else. But let's get real. Does anyone really think that Heisman Trophy Winner and stratospheric athlete Cam Newton didn't know that his dad was soliciting money for him to go to Mississippi State? Call me crazy but I've argued lots of times that "kids know more than we give them credit for." If the average third grader can sense that mom and dad are having money troubles or may be getting a divorce or that he's getting an X-Box for Christmas, it seems to me that Cam might have had some inkling of what was up. Hello.

Of course, pay for play is against the rules and we could have a long discussion about whether Newton and his family are entitled to a share of the millions of dollars that have and will flow to Auburn University as a result of his talent. But for now, it is illegal and up to the NCAA to enforce... the rules. Or something like that. Ah-hem.

And then there's the Buckeyes hocking some jerseys and a ring or two. We can and should seriously question their business sense if their stuff really went for tatoos. I'm pretty sure I could have negotiated for something better than a tat, but then I don't recall my Converse Weapons being that hot back in the day. Hell, my college teammates and I didn't even like them.

Is the NCAA saying that the stuff is theirs unless they decide to sell it, at which point it is no longer theirs? And if they choose to sell the sort-of-theirs property they'll be in trouble, but not so much trouble as to miss the Sugar Bowl? Naw, just a few games next year, including the first two against Akron and Toledo.

Near the end of his commentary, Deford throws the NCAA in with the Soviet Union, writing "You know what the NCAA looks like now? Like the Soviet Union as it struggled to maintain communism in a changing world that wouldn't tolerate its outdated nonsense any longer." And it's hard to disagree.

By God, maybe The Boz was right back in '87. The dude was ahead of his time.