The Job, Popular Media, and USAir 1549

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

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3 Responses to The Job, Popular Media, and USAir 1549

  1. Melissa says:

    Hi Joe,
    The media works often works against those of us who are trying to shape our culture. The media wants it one way, we see our future in another. Because of that, they will never truly show what educators will do in a day. Besides, what we truly do doesn’t sell ads.

    Oh. Good luck with that tyranny of the urgent. Let me know if you conquer it’s power over us.

  2. Tracy Duzen Bradley says:

    Good Morning Mr. Poletti,
    I agree with what you said about educational leaders being seen as simply doling out disciple or taking care of busses. Reading your blog and the messages from Mrs. Lanning, I am awestruck. I can see as a parent and future administrator how very important it is to share a vision and a goal. High Expectations and Curriculum development do seem to get lost in the daily shuffle. Yet they are the reason we do what we do. Coming into Newport Elementary, I can only imagine how difficult your and Mrs. Lanning’s jobs have been this year. As a mom, THANK YOU!!! I get frustrated when asked for an explanation for an absence or tardy but COMPLETELY understand WHY you do what you do. I hope to learn from your example and, someday, lead my school towards the same lofty goals.

    In regards to the miracle of USAir 1549, it is true that the entire team had to pull together to make it happen. That unity is what it takes in every endeavour to become a success. We are impacting far more than 150+ individuals; as educators, we touch thousands during our careers. I think we lose sight of the impact we have as individuals but, even more importantly, the impact we have as a school team.

  3. lraines says:

    Joe! I just did some cruising around to see what people are up to and you haven’t written since January? Do you have another blog somewhere? I haven’t had much to say on Click o’ either but since I’ve gotten a job here in the Netherlands, I’ve gotten inspired again. I’m not sure where my blog will go though. Maybe I should start a different on. Good to read you again!

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