Those Who Can…

I was just enrolled in my MEd. program at St. Lawrence and was sitting in my first class. This program would not only result in a Master’s degree in Educational Administration, it would also serve as the basis for my NYS certification as a building and/or district administrator. And like teaching, you need the certification to get an administrative job! The professor seemed to be a really nice guy, but like most college professors he had no practical experience as a building principal. I cannot be positive of that fact, but I’m pretty sure it’s accurate.

I don’t remember specifically what we were talking about but Dr. Williams (the name has been changed to protect the guilty) uttered the age old cliché in response to a colleague’s comments. He stated, “Well you know what they say. Those who can do, those who can’t teach.” And, of course, he snickered about it.

Well, me being me, I said, “You should finish the saying.”

He looked at me quizzically and asked what I was referring to. So, I said, “The full saying is those who can do, those who can’t teach, and those who can’t teach, teach teachers.”

I’m not really sure what he thought, the rest of the class loved it, and everybody had greater insight into who I was.

Needless to say I find the quote insulting and as far from the truth as most such sayings are.

I’ve worked with a multitude of professional educators over the course of 38 years in my career. For a good number of them education was a second career; they had started down a different career path and found that it wasn’t really what they wanted to do. The majority of educators I have known and interacted with knew from the beginning that they wanted to teach. They have committed themselves to educating children, a conscious decision on their part based on their thoughts, beliefs, dedication to learning, desire to influence children’s development, or any of a wide range of reasons. I can honestly say, believe it or not, I have not met any educator who went into education for the summers off. I realize that’s a common belief of the non-education populace, but it has not been my experience at all.

And, I have worked with many educators who could have pursued whatever career path was desired and done well. They had the abilities and personal characteristics that would have served them well in any line of work. Many easily could have gone on to own their own businesses, or rise to lofty positions in big industries, or developed products that became everyday items. The talents I have seen in people are as wide spread and as impressive as those you would observe in any field, any career path, any business.

And those people chose to teach. They didn’t move to education when their college science or math courses got too difficult. They didn’t suddenly realize that pursuing a career in business would be a long road, and ultimately one they didn’t want to spend time following. They didn’t pass on law or medical careers because there are no jobs in those fields. They wanted to teach.

It doesn’t matter what school you consider, the teaching staff is made up of very talented individuals, people who are committed to applying their thinking, creating, doing to educating kids. The individuals who comprise an school’s faculty and who are teaching your kids could have been working instead in any other field. It wasn’t because they couldn’t cut it in another profession, it wasn’t because they didn’t have the ability or skill set, it was because they wanted to teach. Indeed, those who can, teach.

And that’s my perspective.

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King Leaving SED

It was just announced this week that the NYS Education Commissioner, John King, is leaving this position for a new job in the US Department of Education. It seems he’s going to become a “senior advisor” to the DOE’s Secretary, Arne Duncan. Very interesting…

First, and foremost, I won’t miss him. He has shown that he’s not a supporter of public education in NY State. But then, his kids don’t even attend a public school in NY State, they’re enrolled in a private school in NY City. So how can someone who doesn’t believe in public schools enough to enroll your own children in one truly have the best interests of public schools as a priority? It’s not surprising that he is so detached from what public education is and needs.

Another obvious criticism is that he’s never taught. I believe that education is one of those professions that requires its leaders to know of what they speak and act. I don’t think that it’s necessary for the CEO of Ford to have worked an assembly line to understand the Ford organizations structures and needs. This is not the case with education, however. To have a thorough grasp of what teaching is, what schools are like, what it is to teach children, how it feels to have so many uninformed people criticize you, and to be made the scapegoat for any and all issues related to education, you need to spend time in a classroom. King is an ivory tower inhabitant, he doesn’t know the impact of his decisions, and he can’t recognize when advice he receives is just as detached from the realities of teaching and education as he is. As such he cannot counter the “often catering to the uninformed community so I can get re-elected” positions that politicians take. In fact, that’s what he is and has been, just another political suit playing political games.

My last criticism of King is that he is now showing his true colors. I believe all of us know that the most effective leaders are committed to their vision and want to see their objectives realized. King is leaving with most of his vision unrealized. Like his vision or not (and I do not) he is not committed to it. A nice opportunity comes along and he’s off for a nebulous position that somehow fits his personal agenda. He’s doing on a larger scale what he did with the public forums he held regarding the Common Core. Most of you, especially if you’re an educator, remember him leaving one such public forum downstate when the comments from parents and teachers got a little “hot.” He bolted…he stopped responding to questions and the concerns expressed by attendees and left the building, cancelling all the other scheduled open meetings.

He’s also receiving heat from legislators based upon a ground swell of opinion about the Common Core. (Keep in mind that the legislators have no idea what they’re opposed to, they just see the opportunity to secure votes by aligning themselves with a vocal backlash.) The governor, himself as much a non-public school politician as King is, has also expressed his concerns about King’s decisions. (Talk about the pot calling the kettle black! Cuomo, of course, is just pandering to those political entities whose support he needs, such as NYSUT, for his own personal goal, national office…) Regardless, King is so attached to his reform agenda for NY State education that’s he’s decided to leave for greener pastures. I think part of this could be his reading of the handwriting on NY State’s wall.

So I will not miss him, and the focus now switches to his replacement. King has become superfluous; hopefully he won’t be allowed to hurt public education any more before he leaves his position, and the search process for a successor will be carefully watched. Another hope I have is that the search will be done in the open, but I have sincere doubts about that. Cuomo will want to make the choice, behind the scenes of course, because he wants the next commissioner beholding to him. And that would be continued bad news for public education. We can always hold out hope…

And that’s my perspective.


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Professional Capital at SJHS

I just had an article published in Vanguard, the journal of the School Administrators Association of NYS. The title of the article was “Professional Capital Indeed” and detailed initiatives that we have implemented at Shaker Junior High School designed to tap into the collective expertise of our faculty. In effect, I explained the five approaches we have put in place as a result of reading and discussing the book Professional Capital, by Fullan and Hargreaves, at our summer district administrators workshop.

Reading this book led my two hall principals and me to discuss how we could develop the professional capital of our school, a concept introduced by the two authors in their book. The essence of doing so depends on the regular sharing of expertise, and putting your instructional experts, i.e. your teachers, in the position of instructional leaders. This leadership role is not a comfortable one for most teachers; while they may realize that they can effectively teach their students, they are reluctant to present themselves as an “expert” to peers, not wanting their colleagues to think they’re trying to tell them how they should teach.

But professionals need to share their craft. I’ve written about this before in my blog. Any member of a profession learns best from colleagues within the same profession. People who want to be plumbers learn from other, more skilled plumbers. This is true for any profession. But it is generally not the practice in education. Fullan and Hargreaves are stating the obvious, in my mind, but the obvious is not always what’s done.

I’m proud of what we’re doing to broaden the professional sharing by the educators in our school. I am also in the process of creating short videos detailing these five initiatives implemented here. The first video, in which I discuss two of the initiatives, individual sharing at department meetings and department sharing at faculty meetings, can be viewed with this link:

I would be interested in your thoughts. Please view it, it’s only a little more than six minutes, and send comments to my blog. You won’t hurt my feelings if you have a criticism, I have a couple about it as well. Also share the video with colleagues or friends, especially educators who may have some thoughts about the content as well.

I will be posting two more short videos in the near future detailing the other three initiatives we have in place. Thanks for reading, and thinks for viewing if you do so.

And, as always, that’s my perspective.

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Education: Everyone’s An Expert

How many times have you had something go wrong with your car, something that you know needs attention? If you’re like me, it happens occasionally. And, if you’re even more like me you don’t attempt to fix it. There are people who are experts at fixing cars, in my case a Jeep, people who have a lot of experience and expertise fixing Jeeps. I always defer to the experts, because I know they know a lot more about it than I do.

I know there are some people who do not work in a garage who can fix much of what goes wrong with their cars. I have a level of respect for them, no desire to emulate them, however, and say “good for them.” Those people are the very rare exceptions.

Now I’ve driven a car since I could drive, and I’ve driven a Jeep specifically for the past 27 years or so. But, I don’t try to fool myself, or others, into thinking that I know everything there is to know about my Jeep. I especially don’t attempt to fix my Jeep when something’s amiss with it. I leave that to the experts. So why don’t people look at education the same way?

I’ve mentioned in previous posts an excellent book I read this past summer, Professional Capital: Transforming Teaching in Every School by Andy Hargreaves and Michael Fullan. The administrators in my district were tasked with reading this book for our summer professional development workshop. It’s made an impact on me and we’re using the book to change some of our practices at Shaker JHS, but how we’re doing that is a subject for other posts.

In this book Fullan and Hargreaves write:

“What is teaching? Most of us think we know. After all, we were taught by teachers…Teachers were a big part of our lives, and many made a big impression on us…These memories and feelings profoundly influence people’s views about teaching today and what they want from it…They affect how people vote and the reforms that politicians feel they have to pitch to them to stay in office…Memories of teaching, then, often become stereotypes of teaching that profoundly influence how people want to change teaching and teachers.”

My point exactly. It amazes me, and other educators, when non-educators think they know education, how to “fix” its flaws, how to “fix” teachers, how to improve student results, you name it. It is because John Q. Public spent time, a lot of time, in school that anyone and everyone has firmly held opinions on schools and on educators. And it irks me as well.

I wouldn’t think to tell my doctor how she should treat an ailment or an illness, other than a common one such as a cold, even when it’s my ailment or illness. I’ve never suggested to my dentist how he should attend to a cavity in one of my teeth. I don’t attempt to tell my garage mechanic how to fix my Jeep. I ask my financial planner how best to maximize the money in my 401k. I respect experts and their knowledge and, more importantly, their advice and expertise.

People, educational lay people, should do the same. Having gone through school, even a lot of school, is nowhere near the same as running a classroom, or managing a school, or being responsible for a district. Your neighbor, who has never taught anyone a day in her/his life, thinks they know how classrooms should be run. The local store owner believes she knows how to improve student test results. The parent of a current student who sells insurance thinks he knows how we should discipline kids for misbehaviors. Executives of non-profits have clear ideas of how my district, a one hundred million dollar business, should be managed. And the list goes on.

Do you think these same people ever wonder why their opinions aren’t solicited by the Center for Disease Control regarding specific illnesses? Do you think they’re upset that the CDC is informed by doctors? Yet whenever an educational issue arises, and educators express opinions, the response is always “Well, of course you think that, you’re an educator, you’re not objective.”

We are educators, and we are objective about specific and general education issues, and our objectivity is based on our experience and developed expertise. Does anyone really think that any educator doesn’t want his/her kids to be successful? Don’t people realize that if there was a magic bullet that would insure any student’s success it would be used? Politicians really don’t believe we have students’ best interests at heart and that we have excellent insight on how to approach providing for these best interests? Give me a break. Trust those teachers who you respected and maybe even admired during your schooling…they’re still here, in classrooms just like the ones you were in as a kid.

And that’s my perspective.



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Retiring: Not For Me…

It’s inevitable, I guess, that when you’ve been in a career for as long as I have, and I realize that I don’t look like I’m in my 30’s, people will assume you’re near retirement age and, thus, are thinking about retiring. I would assume that everybody thinks about retiring at one time or another, regardless of age, and it probably runs through my mind more now than it did twenty years ago. But retirement is one of those life-changing, life-redefining decisions that you can’t take back…you want to be absolutely certain it’s the right time to pull that trigger.

I look at retirement from many different angles, try to consider the multiple facets of such a change in my life. I realize that there are few certainties in life and that one can’t predict with 100% accuracy what a retired life would look like. I can’t thoroughly plan that phase of my life from where I am at this point. So is it a good idea to take the plunge and then manage what I can and let the rest happen as it will?

I have to consider first and foremost if I think retirement can provide for me what I know my current job does. Will I be able to achieve a level of satisfaction from whatever I do in retirement anywhere near the level of satisfaction that I still receive from my work? That’s difficult to say, which tells me it’s a question that I can’t satisfactorily answer. Yes, some days I wake up feeling nothing like going to work, but I’ve had that feeling many times, even early in my career. The difference is that today I can say to myself that I don’t have to do this if I don’t want to. That’s a comforting thought to have, but staying home and relaxing with a couple of cups of coffee is a short term benefit, especially compared to the long-term finality presented by retirement. It would become run-of-the-mill sooner rather than later.

People will say to me that I could travel. True, and that would be enjoyable. There are many places I would like to see, but most of them I could visit on my breaks via the use of vacation days now, while working, if I really wanted to. And how much can you travel? The key question for me, again, is whether travelling would provide for me what I know I would be losing if I wasn’t working? I don’t think so.

I periodically run into retired former colleagues, and it surprises me to learn of those who have found “smaller” jobs to occupy their time. They like making a little extra cash and they don’t have enough to keep themselves sufficiently busy. I realize that such a position expects of them nothing like what their previous position did, but really, working to fill time? Then why retire? I don’t get this mindset, and I realize that’s my perspective, but maybe these former colleagues weren’t really ready to retire?
I’ll need to have something to occupy not just my time, but my mind as well. I need to be emotionally and mentally engaged in a worthwhile activity. There could be part time jobs that would do this, there could be a whole different area of work to explore that would do this. I just don’t know what that would be. What I do now meets all of my requirements and needs, and that’s written with the full realization that some days I just don’t feel like going to work.

My pet peeve about retirement, however, is having people ask me when I’m going to retire. I think that’s akin to asking a woman when she’s going to get pregnant, asking a person when he’s going to get married, or asking a bald guy when he’s going to get hair transplants. It’s a personal question, will be a personal decision by and for me, and it’s no one’s business, except for those people I decide to include in my thoughts about it. People just seem to assume that it’s a question that’s ok to ask. It rankles me. Don’t assume that because I’m “older”, retirement is on the horizon. And don’t assume you can ask a personal question…you shouldn’t. Ask me about my work instead…

And that’s my perspective.

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GSA: The Need Persists, As Expected

The Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network (GLSEN) recently conducted their biennial National School Climate Survey. This survey was introduced in 1999 and it serves as a reminder, to some it’s a wake-up call, that we all have segments of our populations that continue to be targeted.

Quoting from the GLSEN email:
The latest edition of GLSEN’s National School Climate Survey…includes four major findings:
-schools nationwide are hostile environments for a distressing number of LGBT
-a hostile school climate affects students’ academic success and mental health
-students with LGBT-related resources and supports report better
school experience and academic success
-school climate for LGBT students has improved somewhat over the years, but
remains quite hostile for many.

The report from GLSEN included some specific survey data regarding New York.
-Almost all LGB T students (90%) heard “gay” used in a negative way, and more
than eight in ten (83%) heard other homophobic remarks at school regularly
-The majority experienced verbal harassment: 70% based on their sexual
orientation and 53% based on the way they expressed their gender
-Students also reported high levels of other types of harassment at
school: 58% were sexually harassed while 51% experienced “cyberbullying.”
-Only 30% were taught positive representations of LGBT people, history and
events, and nearly half (49%) could not access information about LGBT
communities on school Internet.

It’s disappointing to read, and I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised, but I keep hoping that we’re making inroads. Perhaps we are, but it doesn’t bear out in the survey.

Our GSA is up and running and, like our inaugural year last year, we’re encouraged by the support we have for it from students and adults. This week is Transgender Awareness Week and we will have a representative of the transgender community present at our scheduled meeting to talk to our kids. Our objective hasn’t changed: provide a supportive environment for students who are dealing with LGBT issues and to educate our school wide population to develop a cadre of supporters for these students.

As written in the GLSEN email by Nicole Burjetka, a co-chair of GLSEN New York Capital Region, “There is no excuse for a hostile school climate. We all have a responsibility to ensure that our schools have the necessary resources, supports and training to create a safe and affirming environment for all students.”
I, and many of my colleagues at Shaker JHS, second the comment, and we understand the needed emphasis on ALL students. We have an obligation to each student who walks through our doors to provide a safe, supportive environment.

Recently I co-presented (with CJ Gannon, a GSA advisor) on the topic of forming and running a GSA at the NYS middle Schools Association annual conference. We were disappointed: four middle school teachers attended our presentation. Four! I know that every middle school has a need to support LGBT students, and I tend to think that these segments of their populations and not even being recognized, let alone supported. One of the attendees was very honest is saying he didn’t think his school or community would approve of creating a GSA, even given his perspective that a need existed.

It’s not surprising then that the survey results indicate what they do…there’s still a long way to go in a lot of communities, and schools. Let’s hope that more educators realize that steps need to be taken and more schools begin to provide for the support of ALL their students.

Here is a link to a great article, written by Don Gately, Principal of Jericho MS. He clearly expresses why Jericho MS has a GSA.

Middle school people out there would do well to take Gately’s comments to heart, to follow Shaker JH’s approach, to realize that every middle school has the same need. Stand up and provide for your kids!

And that’s my perspective.

Posted in Administrative Experiences, Bullying in Schools, Gay/Straight Alliances in Schools, School Climate | Leave a comment

Cuomo: Education As A Stepping Stone

Andrew Cuomo is no friend of public education. He’s not even a sometime acquaintance. Public education is Cuomo’s whipping boy, just an easily accessible target for him to take aim at as he builds a resume for national office.

Cuomo is a product of private education, and his daughters are also enrolled in private schools. He knows nothing about public school, has no experience either as a student or as a parent with public schools and, thus, has no attachment to them. As a complete outsider he has no personal knowledge of what public schools are like, instead his whole frame of reference is private biased. Yet he speaks as if he knows of which he talks. Nothing could be farther from the truth.

During his reelection campaign, Cuomo said his aim was to break up the “public education monopoly.” Huh? The bedrock of our society is public education, and he sees it as an entity that shouldn’t exist? He wishes to break it up? What does that even mean? Do away with it? Kind of do away with it? Push kids into private schools, like his daughters? Take money from public schools and give it to private schools? Wait, that could be.

Charter school development and funding has increased since Cuomo has become governor. It appears that’s what he would like to increase…charter schools. Charters aren’t the same as the expensive private schools his daughters attend, but that’s not his aim. Most charter schools don’t compare well to their area public schools, despite being able to cherry pick their students. Charter schools’ enrollments don’t mirror their public counterparts in demographics, especially when one considers students with disabilities. Yet they don’t outperform the publics. Yes, there are a few that do, but there are many more public schools that outperform the charters.

But again, Cuomo isn’t interested in providing the best education possible for students, he’s more concerned with resume building. It would look good on the national stage to say he’s pushed for greater options for students, that he’s taken on the powerful teachers unions and won, that he has gravitas when it comes to education. That would play well in Peoria.

Let’s be real and let’s not be fooled by his bait and switch. He says he wants to “improve” public education by implementing a meaningful evaluation system for teachers and by taking money away from public schools. Neither makes sense regarding improving education. The former would have no impact: it is based on the inaccurate belief that teachers aren’t effective, when the vast majority are. The second would just serve to further deteriorate already inadequate funding. Cuomo has yet to attempt to address the money that was taken from all schools by his predecessor, Patterson. School budgets were gutted by that mid-year take-away and Cuomo hasn’t yet felt it necessary to correct the intentional mistake.
See the emperor without his clothes…don’t be fooled by what he says, observe what he does. He’s a man who has his sights not on the education of New York children, but instead on himself. He is just attempting to use education to further his own personal agenda. What’s been particularly galling is that he says he’s attacking education for our children…

And that’s my perspective.

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