Friday, April 27, 2012

A Mr. Slinger Kind of Day

I didn't want to run this morning, but I always feel better if i do. So I did. That was good.

Arrived at my office with the intention of spending some time on a book project that is now due much sooner than it once was. As is often the case, the day played out differently than my Google Calendar indicated it would.

The first order of business was to help get some doctoral students situated for writing their comprehensive exams. They started at 9 am and it is after 3 pm now. Several are still applying what they know to some challenging questions. Reminded me of what an important step this is on their personal and professional journeys. That's cool.

Then I started digging into some end of the semester things. Made some comments and notes on a final chapter in a book that my excellent future principals from Iowa's Urban Education Network have been reading. Emailed that to them, as class time in our final meeting next Monday will be devoted to them sharing action research projects they've tackled with real kids in real schools. Looking forward to that.

Next I moved on to a wiki based on their reactions to Diane Ravitch's Death and Life of the Great American School. Anyone who says we are not producing the kind of school leaders we need today has not met the folks with whom I spend my Monday nights. They are passionate, creative, determined, and realistic. Tenacious.

Reading through their insightful and deep comments on the wiki led me to a YouTube video posted by one of the students who works in an alternative high school. The video, created by a couple of her students was so striking I had to call her. Caught her at her desk and asked if she would be up for a guest blog that tells how it came to be. She is. That's something to look forward to on TBV. Asked for the contact information for the students. She's sending it. Said I made her day by calling. Told her she made mine by sharing. Stay tuned.

Then it was time to give feedback to students taking a course aimed at future Activities Directors. The course, which is new at UNI, is aimed not at teaching them how to schedule buses and referees, but at how Activities Directors can effectively lead the entire activities program, not just athletics. As an extensive and culminating activity, they had to dig into action research around a number of things in their schools, like participation rates, reasons some kids are involved, and what barriers exist to getting more kids engaged. If students who are engaged in activities tend to be more successful in school, is that because they're engaged or are they kids who simply have the tools and supports and were likely to do well anyway?

One student's project promoted a school wide survey around engagement in the activities program. Another began breaking out  different participation rates along ethic and socioeconomic lines and asking how to open doors to kids who are currently not walking through them. Another wondered why his school doesn't do a better job of getting the high school kids to serve as role models in the elementary school.

These people are monster talents. No need to worry about the quality of leadership that our schools will have. Likewise, no need to turn school leadership over to business or military experts. They've got this.

Reminds me of one of my kids' favorite childhood books, Lilly's Purple Plastic Purse. When Lilly's excellent teacher, Mr. Slinger was blown away by his students' work, he'd say, "Wow. That's just about all I can say."

Mr. Slinger was right. And he'd like my students.