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Sunday
Feb242019

BFTP: 7 tips for making your principal your ally - for teachers

Teachers, you cannot afford to have an adversarial relationship with your principal. You cannot even afford a principal who is an "agent of benevolent neglect." You need an administrator who actively supports you, your projects, and your students.

Your principal needs you as well - as a cheer-leader and co-conspirator for change efforts. As a willing participant, even guinea pig, for new programs. As an educator who can positively affect the learning environment of the whole school. As a researcher for best practices information. How exactly does your principal rely on you? Are you important enough to be listened to?

Principals and teachers need to be firm allies in helping their schools change in positive ways.

And it may well be up to you, not your principal, to create this alliance. Here are some concrete ways you can do so...

1.    Report regularly and formally. We should all be sending out a written (emailed) quarterly principal’s report. These should be upbeat, useful, and short. Send digital photos of happy kids participating in activities in your classroom to your principal and information to include in the school parent newsletter. Administrators HATE surprises - good and bad. Keep yours in the loop.

2.    Know you principal’s goals and interests. Can you rattle off right now the three or four things your principal considers important in your school, your building goals? Test scores? Climate? Meaningful technology use? For what is your principal being held accountable by her boss? Where do your professional passions and your principal’s goals overlap?

3.    Be seen outside the classroom. If your principal sees you on committees, attending school events, and even in the teacher’s lounge, not only can you chat informally about classroom matters, but you send a powerful non-verbal message as well: I am full, committed member of the school staff. 

4.    Disagree with your principal - when necessary. You may think that some ideas of your principal may not be in the best interests of your students. If that’s the case, you have an ethical duty to give your reasons to your principal. But this is important: do so in private. Always voice your support in public; always voice your differences in private.

5.    Do not whine. What is whining and how does it differ from constructive communication efforts? Robert Moran in his book Never Confuse a Memo with Reality says it best: “Never go to your boss with a problem without a solution. You are paid to think, not to whine.” I know it feels good to just let it all out sometimes about things that really can’t be changed. But listening to that sort of venting is what your spouse, your mom or your cat is there for.

6.    Do NOT advocate for yourself. Advocate for your students. Advocating for your classroom sounds, and usually is, self-serving. When you talk to your principal whether proposing a plan, asking for funds, or suggesting a solution to a problem, make sure it clear the underlying reason is “It’s a change that will be good for my kids.”

7.    Be a leader as well as a follower. Our communication efforts can and should not just inform, but persuade others, guide the directions of our organization, and improve our effectiveness. If we don’t create the positive changes in our schools that improve kids lives, just who the heck will? Clear articulation of our values and beliefs helps create strong relationships.

Be the teacher principals seek out, not the one they avoid. It's not hard, but it requires mindfulness. 

BTW, all the Blue Skunk posts are in Creative Commons, so anyone can use and adapt anything found here.

 Original post 12-28-13

Friday
Feb222019

Growing recognition of the need for Information Jungle skills

In the wake of mass confusion caused by the internet and social media, there have been calls for a renewed commitment to teaching civics and instructing students in the foundations of democracy. But if we think this challenge is only about civics, we’re deluding ourselves. Bringing education into the 21st century demands that we rethink how we teach every subject in the curriculum. ...

A new course in media literacy or a half-day presentation by the librarian is a Band-Aid. Ushering education into the digital age will demand the educational equivalent of the human genome project ... Sam Wineburg, The internet is sowing mass confusion. We must rethink how we teach kids every subject. USA Today, Feburary 12, 2019.

I am always happy to read editorals like the one above. (Thanks, Larry Cuban, for sharing it.) Many educators, librarians especially, have recognize this need for a new set of information literacy skills for a rather long time, and have been helping others (Band-Aid solution or not) gain those skills.

Way, way back at the turn of the century, I published Survival Skills for the Information Jungle: Problem-Solving Activities Are More Important Than Ever in the September 2001 issue of Creative Classroom magazine. In it I wrote, in part:

Most jungles ...can be confusing and even dangerous to the inexperienced traveler. The sheer abundance of resources and multitude of paths in them demand explorers have special skills if they are to be used in constructive ways. Find below six Information Jungle Survival Tips for teachers and students.

Information jungle survival skill 1: Know where you are going and make sure the trip’s worthwhile.

Information jungle survival skill 2: Learn to stay on the main trail to avoid the quicksand of irrelevant information.

Information jungle survival skill 3: Learn to tell the good berries from the bad berries.

Information jungle survival skill 4: Don’t just gather sticks. Make something with them.

Information jungle survival skill 5: Learn to play the jungle drums (and remember, others are listening)

Information jungle survival skill 6: Prepare for the next journey by learning from the last.

Teachers who help students formulate and answer meaningful questions and solve real problems take chances. Critical thinking often leads to messy solutions, information literacy activities are tough to time, and higher-level thinking by students often leads to genuine intellectual challenge for the teacher. To be successful, teachers may need to collaborate with technologists, library media specialists, and assessment experts in order to design effective projects. And the results of such projects can be both spectacularly good and spectacularly bad.

 But these teachers have the satisfaction of knowing that their students are using technology as a real world application; that basic skills are being reinforced through their application, that they are providing meaningful, motivational experiences for their students. And as one media specialist puts it, “The activities that require originality and creativity and the use of technology in order to solve a problem are just plan fun for both students and teachers.” Getting students excited about learning powerful skills is the best reason of all for trekking in the Information Jungle.

I don't know in the past nearly 20 years how many teachers have helped their students explore and wisely use the resources of the Internet, including now social media. I don't know that if an effort to re-shape education on the scale of the genome project is even feasible.
But I do know that librarians and technology folks need to continue to do what they can as individuals to help others navigate the ever more challenging Information Jungle.
Wednesday
Feb202019

New appreciation for the EL learner's challenges

What if English Were Phonetically Consistent? 

I've always liked this old riddle:

  • What do you call someone who can speak many languages: Multilingual
  • What do you call someone who can speak two languages? Bilingual
  • What do you call someone who can only speak one language? An American

Despite having had a couple years of Spanish in high school and a week every couple years to practice Spanish when traveling, I really can't consider myself truly bilingual.* So I truly admire those children in our schools and immigrants to our country who are learning English.

Although it makes few lists of "world's most difficult languages," English is tricky to read, even for those who grow up speaking it. The inconsistencies demonstrated by the clever video above are just the beginning of trying to decipher a language that seems to have as many exceptions to rules as it has rules -both in pronunciation and spelling.

One of the reasons I'm excited about ebooks is that many come with a read-aloud feature. Students of any age can follow the printed text while that text is read to them. While such an experience pales in comparison to learning to read while sitting on a parent's lap with a beloved picture book, it certainly can be effective. I'm proud to have helped establish in our district collections of ebooks (MyOnReader, Macking Via, Tumblebooks, etc.) that can be accessed from students' homes and classrooms.

We can, of course, always do more in helping parents and teachers be aware that these resources exist. (I've always said that an e-book no more jumps onto a kid's computer screen than a print book jumps off a shelf into a kid's hands.) This role of the librarian is absolutely critical, especially if we want to genuinely serve our immigrant families in which every member may be undertaking the daunting task of mastering English. The resources without the teaching and promotion and reminding are pretty much a waste of taxpayer dollars.

Next time you see an English Language Learner, think of the little video above. And respect the challenge she faces.

*Last time I ordered my meal in Spanish at a local Mexican restaurant, I was kindly asked to "just speak English."