The Job, Popular Media, and USAir 1549

January 31, 2009

My latest at LeaderTalk:

While watching the NFL playoffs, I noticed a new commercial for the Blackberry Curve. The premise is that a high school is run by a shipping company (like FedEx or UPS). A student is absent. The Blackberry call goes out among staff until “the ditcher”, a plump lad stuffing his face with junk food, is quickly discovered ambling along a neighborhood sidewalk. He is effectively corralled into a panel truck and assigned detention.

Would that the school personnel in the commercial were using their smartphones to progress-monitor the student’s up-to-the-minute formative assessments rather than his whereabouts.

While flipping channels, I happened upon “The Principal’s Office” on schlocky TruTV. This show chronicles administrators in high schools as they dole out consequences for discipline.

At first I was intrigued. I evaluated the styles of the featured administrators. Then I recognized the students and parents, not in the physical sense but in the story sense. It seems I have heard every one of their “stories” before.

As the show went on, I grew weary of it. The stories, doling out discipline, trying to correct the paths of those adrift. Confiscating cellphones. The endless stream of excuses and lies. Suspension, detention, even paddling. Interesting at first, but it gets old fast.

Popular media upholds this image of our esteemed profession: a hard-line manager of student discipline and attendance. The high concept and high value stuff of instructional leadership is left unattended.

But let’s face it: instructional leadership is the hardest part of our job. PLCs, lesson study, distributed governance, data-driven decision-making, continuous improvement, and curriculum redesign are easier said than done.

We often come to work with the best intentions of instructional leadership that get quickly shelved by the tyranny of the urgent–which is mostly discipline, mad mama drama, and bus breakdowns.

But I’m confident our little rural school is getting a lot of things right, as evidenced in this recent thoughtful morning e-mail to staff from our principal, Beth Lanning:

A moment of pondering about the US Airways plane ditching in the Hudson River yesterday. I spent a great deal of time last night pondering the heroic efforts of the captain of that plane as he used everything he had ever learned to save 150+ lives. He kept his focus and accomplished a miracle.

BUT, he did not do it alone. His co-pilot was sitting next to him calling out altitudes, air speed, and a million other details to keep the plane leveled and under control. The ground crews worked together as a team to organize rescue in the water and to make land arrangements for those folks that may need medical attention. The flight crew stepped up to the plate to prepare the passengers for a landing in water, to keep them calm and focused, and then took charge to make sure everyone was evaculated from the plane. A massive team effort.

Everyone kept their eyes on the goal and accomplished a (seemingly) impossible task. I am in awe of this whole situation and know full well that this was not an “accident”. This team effort did not just happen. This miracle filled me, once again, with encouragement and belief in what can be accomplished when we share a common focus and believe in the direction we travel together.

Taking a look at the SRI growth scores I saw yesterday from Ms. Florence’s 3rd grade class is just one example of the results of common vision, focus, and teamwork. We are working our own miracle here at NES and I am extremely proud of everyone who has welcomed the opportunity to strive together towards a common mission. .

And so it goes. Lexile growth may be gold to us, but unfortunately it would never make a playoff commercial or a reality TV show.

Joe Poletti, co-pilot
Newport Elementary School
Newport, North Carolina


NQF: Second Question for the Book Study

January 16, 2009

The authors say the following six beliefs (conventional wisdom) impede change in literacy programs:

  • Not all children can become literate with their peers.
  • We can measure children’s literacy aptitude.
  • Children learn best in homogeneous groups.
  • Reading is a hierarchy of  increasingly complex skills.
  • Some children need slowed-down and more concrete instruction.
  • We should use special teachers to meet the needs of some children.

Which do you consider the easiest to let go?  Which do you consider the hardest to let go?  Why?

NFQ Reading Group: Question One

January 9, 2009

From Joy, our  book study leader—

Our second grade teachers, administrators, school psychologist, special education teacher, and reading specialist are about to begin a book study of  No Quick Fix:  Rethinking Literacy Programs in America’s Elementary Schools, The RTI Edition.

The first three words of the title  “No Quick Fix” coupled with the last three words “The RTI Edition” make the title sound like a warning.  RTI is a new concept our school (and state) is wrestling with, and the promoters want it to have a positive spin.  Maybe this book is dangerous territory.

Add in the center words “Rethinking Literacy Programs in America’s Elementary Schools” and one may think we have gone completely off our rockers. Don’t we have enough to think about without taking on the task of “rethinking about America’s schools”?

Rethink” implies that we have already had a thought. We are going to start with that assumption and pose the first question to get us going in the direction of rethinking.

Even before you open the book (the answer is in your head),  rethink about the following question and respond:

What should a literacy program hope to accomplish?