Challenge: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5

My boss indirectly challenged me, and I haven’t blogged in a while…

What has been your ONE biggest struggle during this school year?

Switching roles from teacher to principal has been fantastic. I have loved (most of) the challenges and changes, but the biggest struggle has been feeling helpless when teachers are struggling. I don’t mean struggling with classroom management, instruction, or technology. I’m talking about all of the things that I can’t control: overcrowded classrooms, uninvolved parents, excessive testing, etc.

Taking a step out of the classroom has given me new perspective on helping my peers. I had to work hard at listening to what people actually need, instead of assuming what I think they need. Sometimes I help the situation by covering a class so that a teacher can actually pee, or write IEP’s, or take their daughter to the doctor, or just cry for a little bit. Other times, it’s as simple as providing them a cup of coffee, a donut, a handwritten note, or just taking time to hang out with them during their plan. I’ve had to realize that I can’t fix everything in a huge way, but I can let them know that I’m standing with them against the garbage mandates that fill our state.

Share TWO accomplishments that you are proud of from this school year.

#Ourschool had a large amount of staff turnover last year. One of my goals was to make Jarman a fun place to serve. We serve a diverse community, which has experienced considerable trauma. The teachers that have endured through the years deserve a safe and fun place to teach. We started a program called “Rocket Raves”. Any staff member can complete raves about any adult in the school. The principals read the raves at the monthly faculty meeting, and we get to celebrate each other. The majority of the folks on Lincoln Blvd attempt to demoralize us; we choose to encourage each other. Whether it’s the spirit days, Thanksgiving potluck, sixth grade Friday hallway hangouts, or seventh grade’s hilarious weekly team meetings, we make the choice to have fun.

I feel that I have gained the trust of the staff. I work with amazing people.

What are THREE things that you wish to accomplish before the end of the school year?

I want teachers to choose to stay at Jarman.

I want to help the public understand what it’s like to be a teacher. I wish our Legislature understood that our wrap-around services should be integrated services. I wish our elected officials walked our halls, attended our parent conferences, participated in team meetings, helped us find resources for our families, or tried to educate nearly 50,000 additional students with funding that is less than what we received in 2009.

To become a dad to a healthy baby.

Give FOUR reasons why you remain in education in today’s rough culture.

I love the kids.

Schools are the center of the community. A strong school can change a community. I also love the community that the staff can create…it’s fun to work with your friends.

I’ve always had a “damn the man” mentality, and I just can’t give it up. There are people determined to destroy #oklaed, and I can’t let that happen to the kids.

I love learning and watching people teach. I covered a (special ed) math teacher’s class last month. In the middle of whole-group practice, the kids were able to explain the concept. Their teacher walked in and witnessed that her students had grasped the skill. The pride that I saw on her face was priceless. I love watching people succeed, even when it may be difficult at first.

Which FIVE people do you hope will take the challenge of answering these questions?

I would love to hear five people that are involved in higher #oklaed education. Whether it’s a professor, adjunct, or a pre-service teacher, I would love to hear your perspective.

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#OurSchool

In case you missed it, the infamous A-F Report Cards were recently released by the OSDE. As expected, these cards do not provide an accurate or valid depiction of the schools in Oklahoma. Luckily, we finally have a leader at the OSDE that is working with us, instead of against us.

As Rob Miller discussed:

The editors were certainly aware that earlier in the day Superintendent Hofmeister and the state school board essentially proclaimed the A-F grades “too flawed to have any real meaning.” In fact, board member Lee Baxter was so reluctant to approve the grades he asked, “So we are compelled to report these even though we are apologizing for them?” Superintendent Hofmeister was forced to spend considerable time to persuade the board that it was their statutory requirement to certify and release the grade cards, even if “they are recognized as not valid.” Not what you would call a ringing endorsement.

I can’t stand the thought that our schools are reduced down to a letter…a letter that clearly does not show the heart, soul, and dedication that truly allows a school to reach students in a positive way. I’m not trying to argue that schools should not have transparency or accountability. However, the accountability must show the entire picture of the school. Last year, Rick Cobb wrote an exceptional post, “A Gentle Reminder: Poverty Matters”, which discussed how A-F cards have a strong correlation to poverty levels. But, instead of trying to explain why the current A-F system is deeply flawed, I will explain why the school that I am a member of, “our school”, is more than a single letter grade.

Here are a few things that #ourschool has accomplished recently:

  • #ourschool examined referral data that focused on student demographics, which allows us to individualize positive behavior supports for students.
  • #ourschool provided a huge basket of goodness for a teacher that recently endured a heart attack.
  • #ourschool supported a student through the death of his brother, which is a former student of our school.
  • #ourschool effectively provides remediation and enrichment activities for all students, multiple times a week. The activities are relevant and speak to students.
  • #ourschool had school-wide team competitions to help build unity within our grade-level teams.
  • #ourschool had a grade-level that discussed all 200 students individually, which allowed them to determine what they need, how they are progressing, and how we can better serve and support them.
  • #ourschool gave food to families that do not have any.
  • #ourschool has met continuously on “our own time”.
  • #ourschool has competed in sports, academic teams, and other amazing extracurricular activities.
  • #ourschool teaches with integrity, even when we feel that we aren’t appreciated.
  • #ourschool has worked with amazing parents.
  • #ourschool has been parents to those that need it.
  • #ourschool has helped homeless families.
  • #ourschool has engaged students in hands-on and relevant instruction and discovery.
  • #ourschool has challenged our kids in the best ways.
  • #ourschool has grown as a family.

This list is the bare minimum that has been accomplished this year, but it is incredible to see the positive changes that are occurring in such a small amount of time. We need to step back and realize that there are so many different and important aspects of #ourschool. Do we need to continually improve? Absolutely. Do we need accountability? Absolutely. However, the best type of accountability is when our teachers, leaders, students, parents, community members, and lawmakers come together to help. We need #ourschool to be owned by all members of the community.

So, I would love to hear the #oklaed schools tell our state about the positive things that we are accomplishing in #ourschool.

Here are other great blogs about A-F, both written by Rob Miller:

Who Exactly Does A-F Help?

Just Do What They Did? Really Jay Cronley!?!

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How much is a teacher worth?

I’ve blogged previously about the importance of positive teacher relationships. As I move into an administrative role, it’s important for me to remember to help young teachers develop their skills in building positive student/teacher relationships, instead of just building content delivery experts. Once a relationship is built, we will better understand what we can provide our students and their families.

My brother was in his late twenties when he died over five years ago. Whenever someone dies, especially so young, people tend to show up in droves. They want to help, but honestly, it’s difficult to find the right words to give a family that is in such deep grief. A couple of weeks ago, my mom sent me a picture of a card that someone had sent my family after his funeral. This card always meant more than all of the other cards. It’s literally the only one that I can remember.

Card

If you can’t see the image from your device, the card states:

I was so sorry to hear about Jake. He was like a son to me and I will miss him. I can always see his smile and remember how he loved to have a good time. He was always so honest and open with me. I am sorry that I was not at the funeral, but I had been out of town and did not learn about his death until Friday night of the funeral. I had not seen Jake in awhile and I now regret that. The world has lost a person who made you smile and enjoy yourself. I guess he is our gift to God and I am sure he is putting a smile on everyone’s face there. Thanks for letting me be a small part of his life.  -Mike

The person who wrote this card was my brother’s high school calculus teacher, Mr. Shultz. He taught two of my brothers. Two weeks ago, my mother, other brother, and myself saw Mr. Shultz at a funeral. We had not seen him since before Jake died. As he embraced my mom, he echoed the sentiments from his card and let her know, “He was like a son to me”. That encounter was moving to me, because it showed the importance of student-teacher relationships. Too many times we just think about how the teacher affects the student, but we often don’t talk about how the students affect the teacher.

We have to do something about the teacher shortage. We have to help our society, lawmakers, and younger generations realize the importance of the profession. It scares me that there have been 182 emergency certificates approved this summer. I have nothing against these individuals that want to teach. As a site-level administrator, once these teachers enter our schools and interact with our students, it’s on me to assist in developing them into the relationship-builders and instructional innovators. I just worry that we’re moving in a direction that will take years to reverse. We need educators that have shown competency in practice, and have had longterm experience witnessing high quality teaching.

We constantly say that an increase in teacher pay will help, and I agree. But, I don’t have a magic bullet for the teacher shortage to be turned around. It will help if we continue to advocate for education, and encourage parents and students to tell their stories. We must show our lawmakers what is important to us, and then hold them accountable if they don’t support public education. If we can’t keep standard certified teachers in the classroom for the long haul, how can we possibly expect to keep emergency certified teachers in the classroom? If we continue to have hundreds of emergency certificates each year, then we will constantly have a revolving door of teachers in our students’ lives. When will our students get to experience those positive student-teacher relationships?

So, I really can’t put a monetary figure on how much a teacher is worth, but I know that they’re worth more than what they are getting. For now, I’ll focus on how much Mr. Shultz was worth to my brother, and how much my brother was worth to one of his teachers.

Thank you, Mr. Shultz.

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Recession Proof Does Not Mean Poverty Proof- Get Out and VOTE!

Once I decided that I was going to become a teacher, I pursued jobs that I thought could prepare me for my future career. I worked for The Children’s Center Rehabilitation Hospital. I was an education assistant and rehabilitation aide for student’s that were considered medically fragile. I also spent time working as a teacher’s assistant, in a public elementary school, serving Pre-K students with developmental disabilities.

The most perspective-shifting experience that I had, was while I worked at a local non-profit youth and family agency, as a Youth Development Specialist/Job Coach. I was oblivious to poverty until I worked at this agency. My team and I helped provide holistic counseling, job placement, independent living programs, emergency shelters, diploma and GED recovery services, and anything else that was needed. I was a young college kid trying to understand, counsel, and teach students that were not much younger than me, but had generational wounds that were extremely deep.

I currently teach at a school that is of low SES. I am grateful that I had these previous job experiences, because I feel that I can better meet the needs of my students. I feel that my job is extremely difficult, but these past experiences have made it easier to create relationships with my students.

Our extremely polarized political parties try to pit us against each other when we talk about poverty. We have two choices and that’s it…1)A far right-winged Republican that doesn’t care about the poor. 2) A liberal Democrat that enables those in poverty. We must move away from this divisive rhetoric.

Just because we are “recession proof”, does not mean that we are poverty proof.

We live in this, “just have some grit and pull up your bootstraps, kid” society. As a society, we must admit that poverty is a real thing. Poverty isn’t a villain created from folklore. It’s a generational factor, which impacts all of us. Nearly every student is a member of our future workforce, so we should be trying everything imaginable to provide early, intentional, and long-lasting interventions. Many of our current elected officials have not developed policy that helps this demographic of our population. They have chosen to further the rhetoric that high standards, accountability, and increased punitive mandates will automatically help all of our students. They are wrong. They must be voted out.

High standards and accountability are extremely important, but these aspects have to be implemented with meaning and relevance. We need to elect people that will decrease our unfunded mandates, and fund meaningful programs that will benefit all students. We need to decrease the money, time, and energy spent on standardized testing, and increase the amount of meaningful professional development and collaboration for teachers. Schools need to become the center of the community, where more than just standardized learning occurs. It needs to be the epicenter of positivity, and the safest physical and emotional place for our students. Administrators need to have less time with these accountability requirements, and more time being able to be instructional leaders that develop their staff. Teachers need less time worrying about VAM and test-spec items, and more time focusing on instruction. As Parker J. Palmer would describe it: we must “grow” children, instead of “make” children.

For all of these reasons and more, I will be voting for Joe Dorman for governor. He has proven that he will work as a bipartisan public servant, and that he will put the needs of the people above his own. He has been collaborative throughout his campaign, and has sought advice from people of numerous industries…including education.

Both candidates for State Superintendent have been extremely visible with their campaigns. I had the opportunity to be panelist at one of their debates, and I was impressed by both candidates. With that being said, I will be voting for Dr. John Cox for State Superintendent of Public Instruction. I believe that Dr. Cox has devoted his career to serving Oklahoma’s students, and I believe that he will be extremely collaborative at the state and local levels. I don’t have any ill feelings about Joy Hofmeister, and I believe that she has shown a level of collaboration through #oklaed chats and #edcamp participation.  I believe that she has unique experiences that would benefit the office as well. If she wins the position, I will support her as our state’s education leader, unless she gives me a reason otherwise.

My ballot usually consists of votes for Republicans and Democrats, so let me make it clear: this is not a straight party vote. I have supported both of these candidates after a lot of research.

Regardless of the winners of these two political races, we must continue to keep #oklaed momentum moving forward. Parents, educators, PLAC’s, and citizens must continue to work together and keep our elected officials accountable. We can disagree on our favorite candidates, but we must continue to agree on reducing standardized testing, increasing education funding, and developing and retaining high quality educators in Oklahoma.

I have read several outstanding blog posts during the past week. They are the usual suspects of outstanding #oklaed blogging: Brett Dickerson, Claudia SwisherOkeducationtruths, and Rob Miller. I highly suggest that you read the each of the following posts from these bloggers. We don’t all have the same opinions, but I think that we all respect one another’s opinions.

Brett Dickerson: Campaign Attack Blog Reveals Ugly Attitudes Toward Educating the Poor and Why We Will Need to Defend the Office of State Superintendent.

Claudia Swisher: Our Kids Can’t Vote, So We MUST Vote and One Week, then the Hard Work Begins

Okeducationtruths: Why I’m Voting for Joe Dorman and A Time for Unity

Rob Miller: Why I Hope for Joy!

 

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State Superintendent Candidate Panel: 10/19/14

I was given the opportunity to be a panelist for a debate today. The debate featured the two candidates for State Superintendent of Public Instruction: Dr. John Cox and Joy Hofmeister. The panel was hosted by, The Norman Chapter of the Oklahoma Educational Studies Association.

I am extremely flattered and thankful that this association asked me to be a panelist. The other panel members included, a local parent and former educator, a professor of Educational Administration Curriculum and Supervision from OU, and a local school board member and current OU professor. Needless to say, I felt a little out of my league.

Each panelist was given the task of posing two questions. Dr. Cox and Ms. Hofmesiter, were given two minutes to answer each question. I wish that I would have recorded the discussion, but KGOU  will be re-airing the discussion tomorrow, October 20, from 10:00 AM- Noon.

I wanted to ask my questions from the voice of a teacher. I am not providing the answers verbatim, but rather from my opinion of what was communicated.

My first question was:

The current State Superintendent’s mission has been described by many educators as “punitive” and “divisive”. If elected, how would educators describe your administration, upon the end of your first term?

Both candidates stressed that they would place an emphasis on collaboration between the OSDE and the local school district. Dr. Cox was adamant that it would not take four years to see a difference, but that his impact would be immediate. Ms. Hofmeister also did a great job of stressing the importance of treating classroom teachers as professionals.

My second question was:

Recently there has been an elimination of modified state assessments, for some students receiving special services. Some of these assessments require a proficient score (or improvement) for the student to graduate. Many educators feel that these students are being forced to take assessments, which are not appropriate for the student’s cognitive levels. 1) Do you agree with the elimination of the modified assessments? 2) What is one short-term and long-term measure that you would implement to improve the way that standardized testing is affecting our students receiving special services?

One of Dr. Cox’s campaign platforms is, initiating a testing moratorium. His answer conveyed this platform. He repeatedly added that the OSDE needs to determine what our state standardized tests are measuring, and whether these tests are assessing skills that are important for our students. He communicated that special education assessment should be driven through each student’s progress towards their individual IEP goals.

Throughout the discussion, Ms. Hofmeister communicated that there must be “traction” with our movement. In other words, she believes that our initiatives must have purpose. Ms. Hofmeister discussed the importance of setting high expectations for our students receiving special services. She believes that we must not put a limit on the potential of these students.

Several more questions were posed, but without the transcript, I would be afraid that I’m putting words in the candidates’ mouths.

Overall, I thought that both candidates answered some questions very well, while other questions were answered with vagueness. As an educator, I felt that Dr. Cox answered the questions in ways that aligned with a school leader. I felt that some of Ms. Hofmeister’s answers did not convey the technical experience of being a school administrator, but I believe that she still has the potential to create collaboration at the OSDE.

I really wanted to ask some questions that fellow blogger Brett Dickerson has posed previously, but I thought that it was important that my voice was from the classroom. If you want to read the candidates answers to Brett’s questions, click: HERE for Cox and HERE for Hofmeister. I’m hoping that these questions will be addressed in greater depth at upcoming debates.

Regardless of my opinion, I am extremely encouraged that both of these candidates are actively engaging in debates across Oklahoma. I truly think that Oklahoma’s education leader will move from combative to collaborative, regardless of which of these candidates are elected. Oklahoma parents, educators, students, and voters have made it clear that we won’t stand for the continued actions of division and punishment, which has been a staple of the current administration.

The candidates will continue their discussion and debates this week. I encourage each of you to attend one of these events, and decide which of these candidates has the potential to impact Oklahoma education in the most positive way.

Monday, October 20: “The University of Central Oklahoma College of Education and Professional Studies, College of Liberal Arts and the American Democracy Project will host a public forum featuring Oklahoma State Superintendent candidates John Cox, Ed.D., and Joy Hofmeister from 5-6:15 p.m. Monday, Oct. 20, in the Nigh University Center’s Constitution Hall.  Both candidates will present a clear vision of his or her education agenda. Attendees will be able to submit questions when they arrive to potentially be asked during a question and answer session following opening statements and rebuttals”.

Tuesday, October 21st:  Westmoore High School Auditorium 12613 South Western, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. Hear the candidates discuss education issues such as funding, teacher shortage, standardized testing and more facing our children and educators.The forum will be moderated by Kelly Ogle, news anchor for NEWS 9.

If you know of any other debates, panels, and/or discussion, please post in the comment section!

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