Monday, December 22, 2008

What they didn't teach me in my admin program

I'm nearly 1/2 of the way through my third year as a school administrator, and still love what I do. Lately, though, I've been thinking about the details of my job and wondering where I've learned how to do what I do.
For the uninitiated, becoming a school administrator is a similar process to becoming a teacher: a specialized training program where you are taught the theories and legal specifics of school leadership, and perform fieldwork to familiarize you with the day-to-day aspects of the job. Upon completion, you are certified by the state to work in an administrative capacity, deemed fully capable to manage a school.
I assume the majority of my readers have been through teacher credentialing programs, and direct this question towards them: How ready were you, your first day in the classroom, for actual teaching?
Yeah, that's what I thought. I hope you didn't spew coffee all over your monitor while you laughed at that.
Admin programs, at least the one I went through, do an admirable job of providing the theoretical foundation for school administration, but fall short of really getting one ready for the day-to-day dirty work, in much the same way that teaching programs fail to get teachers ready to actually run a classroom.
Some of the things I wish my program could have taught me:
1) How to interview a naughty kid
This sounds like it should be easy, but it isn't. Some kids will break down in tears at the first questions, others will look you right in the eyes and lie/blame others/deny knowledge of anything related to what you're asking about. To get to the bottom of things, you need to have a variety of questioning techniques at your disposal- the "I'm just here to help you out" technique, the "in-your-face-'you'd-better-come-clean-now'" approach, the "long, uncomfortable, staring silence" approach to name just a few. None of these were taught in my admin program- I had to learn them on-the-job.
2) When to give in to a parent demand and when to hold firm
This is a tough one, and it varies from situation to situation. There are easy ones, like "Little Timmy chose Home Ec as his preferred elective, but all his friends are in Band. I want you to switch his elective, even though it will whack out his entire schedule!" (No, sorry, but electives don't drive the master schedule. I'll be happy to make that change at the semester, though.) Some are much harder, like "Timmy is having trouble with one of his teachers. I don't want to talk to the teacher about the issue, but I want him moved to another class, and if you don't I'm going to the school board!"
3) When to give into a teacher demand and when to hold firm
Same as the situation above, but substitute "I'll go to the union!" for "I'm going to the school board!"
4) Student A is having a conflict with Student B, and Students C through R all have something to say about it.
Sometimes your office is just WAY too small for everyone you need to see.

These, among others, are the challenges of the job I don't feel were really addressed during my professional preparation, despite an otherwise excellent administrative credentialing program. Over the last 2 1/2 years I've developed some proficiency in dealing with these situations, but it would have been nice to have had some advance preparation before I started the job.

Other school administrators, what do you think? School admin wanna-bes, what do you think you need to know before you join the "dark side?"

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

It's not against the law to be old!

I'm pretty sure our students look at us like this sometimes...

School reform is... building airplanes in the sky!

Find more videos like this on The League Learning Network

I love this video, especially the orange juice part.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

What is our motivation?

I attended the California League of Middle Schools (CLMS) technology conference in Monterey, California this weekend. This was an awesome experience, an opportunity to learn and mingle with some really cool people, and I enjoyed myself enormously.
The conference, however, is not the subject of this post.
The real subject of this post is a realization I had on the flight home.
As the plane approached Los Angeles, I was looking out the window at the landscape below. I don't live in LA, but being a Southern Californian the scene was at least somewhat familiar- rows of orderly streets, houses neatly laid out in blocks, swimming pools in many of the yards.
As we flew over the LA River, however, I noticed something. Well, it's not completely accurate to say I "noticed" it at this time, because it's something I've seen hundreds of times in the past: graffiti painted on the concrete walls of the river channel. Nothing terribly offensive, true, but still my first thought was, "[Expletive] taggers! Why do they have to do this? Are they so arrogant that they think everyone needs to see their names?"
Then it hit me: taggers have the same motivation for what they do as bloggers!
"Wait a minute!" I can hear you say. "Taggers are vandals, they destroy public and private property! It's against the law! Bloggers don't do that!"
True, and I certainly didn't mean to imply that bloggers are equilivant to taggers. I only meant that they have the same fundamental motivation behind their actions- a belief that they have something worth while to say and a desire to let that voice be heard.
While we have decidedly different approaches to realizing this desire to be heard, the essential motivating factor is the same. I would much rather see taggers utilizing a less-criminal outlet for their expressive desires, but understand now what it is they are trying to accomplish, which is the same thing I am trying to accomplish right now; make my voice heard. I don't agree with (or, quite frankly, understand) most of what taggers "put up," but neither do I agree with, or understand, a lot of what other bloggers post, but I now believe that we are all engaged in the same basic activity, and I think, the next time I see tagging, I'll be less likely to respond the same way I did today. I'll understand the intention, and complain about the execution.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008


I had a training session today.
As part of my ongoing professional growth, I'm taking a series of classes known here in California as AB 430 training, in order to "clear" my administrative credential. These classes are at the the Los Angeles County office of Education, and the curriculum is mandated by the state legislature.
I have no objection to any of this- I'm a big fan of professional development, and realize that, as a professional in the employ of the state government, there are certain hoops through which I must jump.
But the point of this post is this: during one of my sessions today, I was provided with a list of resources in the area of educational technology, and on that list were the names Kathy Schrock, David Warlick, and Bernie Dodge.
Many of you are, no doubt, familiar with the work of these individuals. As a matter of fact, I've been followers of theirs since before I even considered going for an administrative credential.
When I finished my training for the day, I posted on Twitter that their names were included in the list of resources I'd received, and that, as I was a follower of theirs on Twitter and had even corresponded with them directly on occasion, I felt kind of special that they were already parts of my Personal Learning Network.
But the part that made me blush like a 12-year-old girl meeting the Jonas Brothers was the fact that within a few minutes of my Tweet, Bernie Dodge responded, with a direct message, that the honor was his.
I've said this before: the blogosphere, and by extension the twitterverse, is a place where the run-of-the-mill-Joe like me can rub shoulders with the celebrities of the educational technology universe.
Gotta say, that makes me feel pretty good.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

An Open Letter to my Teachers

I sent this as an email to my 6th grade team today.

I'm still pretty new at my school, and we're in the "getting to know you" stage of our professional relationship. During one of the goal-setting conferences I conducted this year, one teacher mentioned some concerns/confusion she had regarding the discipline I'd handed out to a student she'd referred to me, and said it would be a good idea if I spoke to the grade level to bring them into the loop, as it were, with regards to how I planned to handle things. I couldn't make it to their meeting today, but still wanted to address this teacher's concerns, realizing that they were likely shared by others in the grade level.

Here's what I came up with, my disciplinary philosophy in a nutshell. I'm still going to meet with them, but I wanted to get this out there sooner rather than later.

What do all y'all think?


I don’t have a behavior/consequence checklist to follow, where “If student exhibits behavior A, he/she is issued consequence B.” In each student contact, I take into account several things, in no particular order:

  • What is the student’s past disciplinary history?
  • How much information has the referring teacher provided me?
  • How has the referring teacher dealt with this student’s behavior in the past?
  • Has this particular behavior been an issue in the past?
  • Was the behavior provoked by another student?
  • What was the motivation for the behavior?
  • Is the student one with a disability?
  • Does that disability have an impact on their behavior?
  • Does the student seem honest?
  • Are they remorseful for their behavior?
  • What impact has the behavior had on the others in the classroom, including the teacher?

Balanced with these, among other factors, are my overall goals in any student disciplinary situation: to assist students in stopping an undesired behavior and to support teachers as they perform their jobs. While attempting to reach these interrelated goals, I have to decide:

  • Does the behavior require a consequence?
  • How much of a consequence is appropriate?
  • What does the teacher who referred this student want to see happen?
  • Will this consequence have the desired impact on the student’s behavior?

Obviously, many of these require a judgment call on my part, and while I feel confident in my abilities and my experience with middle school kids, I will, on occasion, make an error. I may misjudge the impact of a particular behavior on your classroom, or I may be unaware of a student’s behavioral history in your class. These errors or misjudgments on my part may leave you feeling that I’m “too soft on the bad kids,” or “taking their side against us.”

I believe you will agree that allowing this sort of feeling to go unresolved is poisonous for the working relationship we need, but I have a cure to suggest: Come talk to me. Ask me why I responded to the situation the way I did, and I will be happy to tell you. Let me know when you think I dropped the ball, and I will either tell you why I don’t think I dropped it, or I will correct the situation. Either way, I want you to bring your concerns to me before you start trashing me in the lounge (There will be plenty of time for trashing me in the lounge after!) I don’t guarantee that you’ll like my response, any more than I promise I’ll like what you have to say, but open communication is vital.

Thanks very much for what you do for kids, and for allowing me the opportunity to support you while you do it.

It's a great day for teachin', Bob!

I was watching the Red Sox get pounded by the Rays yesterday, and at the end of the game the usual expert panel post-game show came on. Cal Ripkin was one of the commentators, and I was reminded of all the retired pro athletes who do the color commentary and post-event analysis of sporting events.
Then the thought struck me: Wouldn't it be cool if retired teachers did running commentary and post-lesson analysis for current teachers? Imagine this scenario:
"We're joined in the studio by Mrs. Johnson, former 4th grade teacher at Jefferson Elementary School, to help us analyze Mr. Simmons' math lesson for today. Welcome, Mrs. Johnson."
"Thanks, Bob, I'm glad to be here. Mr. Simmons did an admirable job today in the math trenches. Let's go to the tape... Here we can see him introducing 2 column multiplication to his students. Watch as he goes to the whiteboard..."
"But what about here, Mrs. Johnson, when Simmons obviously missed little Timmy sneaking a peek at the answers in the back of the book before he raised his hand to answer?"
"Well, Bob, Mr. Simmons is only a 2nd year teacher, and Timmy's been pulling that same trick since 1st grade. Fortunately, Simmons has Suzie in his class, and we all know what a great undercover agent she is. Watch here, she's raising her hand and pointing at Timmy and his book! He's totally caught!"
You get the idea.
ESPN, I'm waiting for your call offering me the executive producer job for this one.

Monday, September 08, 2008

First one of the year

I suspended my first student of the year today, in fact the first student at our school to be suspended this year.
I report this with no particular happiness- I take no joy in suspending kids, but simply as a fact. It happened.
Now, do I think suspending this particular student is going to have any positive impact on him or his desire to reform his behavior? Not particularly. But I'm not sure how many other options I had available to me.
Allow me to explain:
After school on Friday, this young man made, in front of me, a teacher, and a parent, what appeared to me to be an obscene gesture towards another student. I asked him to come over to me to discuss the issue, and was met with typical early-teen attitude and denial. My intention at the time was to give a brief "don't-do-that-here-again" lecture, but he continued with the attitude and started to walk away. I followed and told him to come back, but he continued to walk off. I said, "I'm not going to chase you, but I will see you on Monday," giving him a last chance to return without any serious consequence, but to no avail. I tracked the student down through a little detective work and found he had a history last year of similar behaviors.
Now, the question is, did I do the right thing to suspend him from school? (1 day, for those who are wondering).
My situation, I feel, limited me a bit:
1) I'm new at the school this year, so I am establishing my credibility with students, teachers, and parents alike at this point.
2) This incident took place in public, in front of parents and other students.
3) The student had a history of similar behaviors.

Number 3, more than the other 2, made up my mind for me. Had this been a first-time kind of thing, I would have chosen another consequence, but didn't feel like I could under the circumstances.

What would you have done?

Friday, September 05, 2008

Where to find the time?

It isn't that I haven't had anything to say for a while, it's more that I haven't had the time, or the energy, or the time when I've had the energy, or the energy when I've had the time.

Yeah, that makes sense.

Now, though, I've got both energy and time, but no coherent thoughts to put down. That, however, is no obstacle to an intrepid blogger, so I shall press onward and upward, like Sir Edmund and his Sherpa.

Good Lord, what am I talking about? "Sir Edmund and his Sherpa?" Did I really say that? God, I am such a dork.

So here, then, are a few random thoughts from the last few weeks:
Geez, now I've abandoned the whole grand literary style for an Andy Rooney-type thing? Do I have an original thought left in my head? And speaking of Rooney, what's the deal with this external-italicized-internal-dialogue crap I'm doing here? I must have completely lost it.
  • The RNC. One word: Scary. Republicans have run out of ideas on how to improve the country, so they are reduced to attacking others. Nothing original, just bash the other guy.
  • Gas prices. Lower, which is good. Still way too high, and likely never to return to the $2 range (which, coincidentally, seemed outrageously high not too long ago.) We're used to paying more, and the oil companies will NEVER drop them that low again.
  • Cub Scouts. I spent 4 days with my 8-year-old son on Catalina Island at Scout camp. We had a lot of fun, but the best part was building the next phase of our relationship, one that's open and sharing. That's not easy for me, but I liked it.
  • My new job. I like it. A lot! I liked my old job, too, and I don't want to disparage my old district at all, but I'm really enjoying my new assignment. Especially now the kids are back at school. For a while I was spinning my wheels without much to really do. Lots to learn, but little to do. That's all changed now!
OK, better now, but still kind of weird. I mean, is this blog about education, politics, economics, or parenthood? What is the audience you're trying to reach here, anyway. And, seriously, this dialogue thing is getting old. Knock it off.

  • Blogging/blog reading. Haven't done much of either lately. I've spent some time on Twitter, mainly reading other's tweets and posting my own occasional update, but I have not spent much time reading other blogs or working on this one. I skim the titles in the RSS feeds occasionally, but don't do much reading beyond that. And unfortunately, I don't think that's going to change much soon.
  • I'm considering EdD programs in my area. Suggestions? I'd love to do USC or UCLA, but I don't want to drive into LA every week for the next three years. CSUF, APU, UCI, maybe even an online program. I want one with a good reputation that provides a vaild experience, but at the same time respects my time as someone with a demanding full-time job.
That's about all for now- I think that takes care of most of the mini-ideas that have been floating around in my head.
Hope you've enjoyed reading!

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Still around...

Been busy lately, and no time to blog. I'll be back soon, I promise!
If you truly miss me, follow me on Twitter (see the sidebar).

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Club Two-Oh

I'm in!
Classroom visits are, without a doubt, one of the key responsibilities of a school site administrator. Why, then, is it that we make them so infrequently?
Yeah, it's easy to say, "Oh, I had to do [trivial BS-du-jour], and didn't have time!" but let's face it: if you're not in classrooms, you're not doing your job. Simple as that.
I'm as guilty as any other busy AP of relegating this critical, but easily postponed, aspect of my job to the bottom of my to-do list, but no longer. I am, here before God and the Blogosphere, committing myself to visiting 20 classrooms per week, thanks to Scott Elias' example.
I'll post updates here and via Tweets as the school year progresses. I make no promises of success, but certainly promise to try!

Sunday, August 03, 2008


I have recently learned that my new school district has iPhone 3Gs for issue to administrators. Cool, no?
When the iPhone first came out last year, and with all the hype of the 3G's release in July, my initial reaction was, "Nah, I'm happy with my Palm and my current cell provider." Yeah, the iPhone did a lot of really cool things, and its "WOW!" factor is undeniable, but I really didn't feel the need for one. I even took pride that my usual "Gotta-have-the-bitchin'-new-toy" reaction was supressed. After all, my Palm was still new and functioning just fine, I didn't need access to the 'Net while out-and-about all the time, and I had no problems with Verizon, so I really couldn't justify to myself (let alone the Mrs.!) spending $400 on a new cell phone.
Then, last week, I heard about the iPhones from the district. Other administrators had already received theirs, and took great pleasure in flashing them around at a meeting we attended. My covetous urges started to emerge, and, all of a sudden, I WANTED ONE! My fellow AP and I felt left out, excluded from the party all the cool kids got to go to, and we wanted in.
That particular feeling hasn't gone away yet, and I'm really looking forward to getting my hands on one of these things, but I'm starting to ask myself, "What's the big deal? How is this going to change my day-to-day existence as a middle school administrator?" I realize that potential exists with this tool, but I need some guidance and direction. How do I use the iPhone to make my life easier? Why do I need this, above and beyond wanting it?

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Digitally fluent, but I still have an accent.

I was reading through my blogroll recently and saw a title that piqued my interest, David Warlick’s 2-cents worth post, “r u Reading Across a Generation Gap?” It was an interesting look at the current debate over what really constitutes literacy in the digital age, but what I noticed most was the title, specifically the “r u” part of it.

I’m sure everyone immediately identifies this as text messaging shorthand, ubiquitous among teens and young adults as they txt, IM, even comment on one another’s MySpace pages. Now, I’m not getting involved in the debate over the decline in the adherence to grammatical conventions by students or the value of this type of communication; I’m just acknowledging its prevalence and confessing that I can’t bring myself to use it. Maybe I’m old-fashioned with regards to my written expression, but I have to use capital letters, correct punctuation, and spell complete words when I text or Tweet. I know, it sets me apart from many others using this technology, but I can’t lose my digital “accent,” at least not without conscious effort. Oh, I may drop in a “where r u” or a “do u want me 2” every now and then, but to me it feels, I don’t know, just wrong.
Fortunately for me, I don’t correspond with students over txt or IM too frequently, so my awkwardness with this new language isn’t too apparent. (It has been commented on, though. “Wow, Mr. C, you write so formally! Yes, child, I know.) And, while it may take me a few extra seconds to send a message, I don’t feel like this malady has really impacted me in any negative way. Hey, maybe it’s not a bad thing, after all. Maybe I can be the spearhead of a new, Luddite-esque linguistic movement, in the same vein as an older family member of mine who refuses to surrender her rotary telephone!
Seriously, I don’t think my digital accent is really a bad thing. What would be a bad thing is if I didn’t use these tools, if I refused to make the attempt to learn this new language, even if I never learn to speak like a native.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Now for something completely different.

A teacher asks her students if they're Yankees fans. All of the hands go up except for one student.
"Okay, Bobby. What team are you a fan of?"
"The Red Sox."
"Why's that?"
"Well, my parents are both Red Sox fans, so I'm a Red Sox fan too."
"That's not a good answer, Bobby. If your parents were both morons, would you be a moron too?"
"No, that would make me a Yankees fan!"

Monday, July 14, 2008

An Existential Crisis (Sort Of)

I had an interesting conversation with my wife the other day about "THE FUTURE."
Now, it wasn't the kind of conversation you might be thinking, where she confronts me, a la Twisted-Sister-video-adult-"what-do-you-want-to-do-with-your-life?" This was more of a, "So, what's next?"-type of thing, and it raised some questions within myself.
First, a little background: I was a classroom teacher for 9 years, and while my colleagues and administrators might have described me as excellent or outstanding, I never really felt like I was that great. Sure, I knew my subject matter, I like kids, and didn't have huge classroom management problems, but I always felt like I could do better. I don't know if that's a result of insecurity with my abilities, low self-esteem, or an awareness that one can always improve, but I never fully felt comfortable with the praise of others.
During my teaching career, I earned a master of arts degree in educational technology (from a school where I really felt like I worked for the degree and deserved it, not a pay-for-advancement-on the pay-scale kind of place), and started providing tech support and some staff development at my school site. I received a stipend for this service, as well as spots on school- and district-level leadership committees. I felt comfortable doing this, and thought this might be the direction in which my future lay, a "tech guy" at a district, or even county, office.
A few years passed, and my classroom teaching experience began to decline. I was getting burned out, and didn't have the mental energy to devote to innovation in my teaching. Fortunately, I recognized this condition before it was too late, and knew I had to make a change, to get out before I became toxic to the kids and to the school as a whole. I went back to school again, and earned a masters in educational leadership and administrative credential. I felt that I could still make a positive impact on the lives of kids without grinding myself down in the classroom, a place I was no longer happy. I hadn't given up on the idea of a "tech guy" position, and in fact felt I was becoming more qualified be getting site administrative experience.
The doubts began to creep in, though, as I followed edubloggers, people like Bud Hunt, Kathy Schrock, Eric Langhorst, and others, who were really doing ed tech, who were innovating in the classroom and teaching others how to do it. "Do I belong with these people?" I asked myself. "Is this something I am really capable of doing?"

"Is it where I belong?"

What do I really have to offer as a leader in educational technology? Well:
  • I have a familiarity with what's "out there" because I keep up with trends and developments.
  • I understand how schools work and what teachers need, because I've been there.
  • I have a "big picture" point of view from my experience as an adminstrator (not to mention my experience as the husband of one!)
  • I have, according to my wife, anyway, an ability to explain technology to non-tech-y people.
But, I haven't really done a lot of the things that are big in ed tech now. Web 2.0 wasn't really in existence when I got my first MA, and by the time it was around I was in the throes of burnout. I used a classroom blog as a communication tool for students and parents, and tried to teach some information literacy along with the social studies curriculum, but never wiki'd, moodle'd, or podcast'd. I know about these things, but can't talk about them first-hand, can't say, "Well, in my class..." I believe these are things that are good for kids, good for schools, good for education, but I don't know that I have the "street cred" necessary for the "tech guy" job.

So, where does that leave me? As I see it, I have a couple of options:
  • Stick with site administration, and support my teachers as they use these tools in their classrooms. Encourage them to innovate where I did/could not. Hold them up as examples to others, and effect change that way.
  • Personal professional development. Attend workshops, NECCs, CUE conferences, whatever I can in order to fill in the gaps I perceive in my knowledge base, then go after that "tech guy" job. Instead of "This worked for me," say, "I've seen this work in other classrooms."
  • Become the leading Luddite in Southern California, fight against all technology in classrooms, and make sure my schools return to blackboards and paper-only assignments.
Honestly, I think some combination of the first 2 options is the way to go. I love what I'm doing now, and can see myself as a principal of a school in the next 3-5 years, but I don't think that's where I am destined to spend the remainder of my career. I still have 20-25 years or so left before retirement, after all, so it's way too early to settle in.
The question remains, though, "What next?" Right now, the answer is, "I'm not sure."
What do YOU think? I welcome your input.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

New Job

So, I started my new job last week, and, so far, things are going very well. The summer school principal element is really not that big a deal, particularly since the school principal is still around (at least until tomorrow, then she goes on vacation), and summer school kids, while not necessarily the best and the brightest representatives of the student body, are pretty well-behaved.
I've only had to deal with 2 disciplinary situations so far, one an ADHD 7th grader who poked another kid with a pointy piece of plastic he found on the ground (he got a 20-minute detention and a lecture to behave himself), and an 8th grade girl who socked a boy sitting next to her in the groin, then lied to my face about what had happened (she's done for the summer). Pretty typical middle school stuff, and nothing I haven't done before.
I've spent some time getting to know the campus and some of the staff, and have enjoyed going out to lunch with the principal and the other AP as we begin the process of bonding our admin team, but otherwise haven't really had much to do. That, I know, will change, but I am taking advantage of the slower pace for now!
I will, gentle reader, keep you posted as things develop.
Assuming, that is, that there are any readers of this blog. Could you comment, just once? Say something like, "Hi!" or "Hey there!" just to let me know I'm not blathering off into Cyberspace for no good reason. Please?

Sunday, June 29, 2008


A few odds and ends...
* Got the new MacBooks (had a neighbor sign for them since they arrived the day we went on vacation, despite the expedited shipping. See earlier rant here.) So far, very happy with them. Still adjusting to the differences between them and the PCs we're used to, but nothing too difficult.
* Speaking of vacation, the Grand Canyon was, well, grand! (That's our tour guide, Oscar.) If you are interested in visiting, I recommend the Grand Canyon Adventure through the Auto Club. We drove from SoCal to Williams, Arizona, stayed overnight at the Grand Canyon Resort, then took the Grand Canyon Railway to the Canyon (about 2 1/2 hours away), stayed at the Maswik Lodge, then back to Williams. GCR works with the resorts, so we didn't have to worry about any luggage on the train; it was waiting in our rooms when we arrived at the Canyon and again back in Williams.
The staff on the train was great; we upgraded to a first-class coach (air conditioned, nicer seats, complimentary soft drinks and snacks), and the hostesses in our coach were full of personality. There was Southwestern-themed entertainment on both trips, and complimentary sparkling wine or apple cider on the way back, not to mention a train robbery!
If you do take this trip, some advice: 1) Upgrade your seats on the train- More room, more comfortable, and a nice experience. 2) Skip the included meals at Max and Thelma's buffet in Williams (this is a Grand Canyon trip, not a culinary adventure, and the food included isn't great.) Instead, walk 5 minutes into town and have your meals there. This is small-town America at its finest, right there on Route 66. And the Pale Ale at the Grand Canyon Brewery is pretty good! 3) Bring money for tips- the coach hostesses, entertainers, and train robbers all have a hand out.
We travelled with our own kids (boys aged 5 and 8) and another couple and their son (8 years old). The boys had a great time, and the adults enjoyed themselves, too!
* I start the new job on Tuesday. Looking forward to it, but would have liked a little more time between this one and the last. Oh, well!

Monday, June 23, 2008


I just came back from a presentation by Dr. Anthony Muhammad, a Professional Learning Community consultant, and WOW!
I've been through PLC presentations before, and think it's a fantastic model. I've even seen the DuFours themselves, twice, and find them to be engaging and motivating speakers. Dr. Muhammad is a DuFour disciple and presents many of the same concepts, but specifically from a middle school point of view, and is just as engaging and motivating as his mentors.
The reason for the title of this post, though, is the concept of the developmental stage of middle schoolers that he presented.
(In fairness, he did not present this as his own work, but I don't remember the researcher he credited with it. My apologies for the sloppy scholarship, but it was a very compelling piece of information and I focused more on the concept than the name of who came up with it. Sue me!) The gist of it is this:
When children are born, they are defenseless and totally dependent on others for their basic needs. At the age of 1 or so, they become what we call Toddlers, and begin to explore their world by walking, touching, grabbing, etc, and being talking. During this process, they are trying to find out what their socially-appropriate limits are in terms of their behavior, and take their cues for what is and is not appropriate from the adults around them. For example, a 2-year-old may tell his or her mother "NO!" when directed to stop playing with a particular toy, and in doing so is not being defiant, but is trying to find out what he/she is able to get away with. They test the limits we impose on them physically- ever see a toddler shaking a gate at the top of a staircase? After a few years, toddlers develop into children, and we send them off to school where they continue to learn the limits society has imposed on them, and generally, they accept them.
At the onset of puberty, kids effectively revert to toddler-hood; they are once again searching for their place in society and testing their limits, only at this point, we define that "NO!" as defiant behavior and refer them to the office. We don't put up gates at the top of staircases, we tell them, "You should probably stay away from that." Try that approach with a 2-year-old, and you can expect a visit from Child Protective Services. Yet, at 12 or 13, we turn kids out of our classrooms with an admonition to "behave" themselves, but don't supervise them as they move from class to class, and then wonder why we have problems with behavior.
I am not coming close to the succinct way in which Dr. Muhammad presented this concept, but I hope you get the idea; middle school kids, like toddlers, need adults to guide them, to put up appropriate boundaries to protect their safety, while allowing them the opportunity to explore their world and develop their independence.
I don't think this is all that revolutionary a concept, but I think too many of us at the middle school level have forgotten that the students we deal with are, in effect, just tall, potty-trained toddlers.
I repeat, "WOW!"

Saturday, June 21, 2008

The year has ended

...And I am now 2 days away from my last day in my current position, and will spend one of those 2 days at an all-day meeting in my new district.
I'm feeling kind of conflicted at this point. On the one hand, the new position pays more and carries the title of Assistant Principal, as opposed to my current position which, while the job is that of an assistant principal, carries a title that makes everyone think I'm a guidance counselor. On the other hand, I didn't ask to leave this job (it was eliminated due to budget cutbacks, and I'm the new guy on campus), it's in the county I've spent my entire career, and where I have a good reputation. Not to mention, the school where I work now is only 3 miles from my home. That's about 15 minutes including the stop at my kids' school for drop-offs in the morning.
I've struggled a bit with this change, mainly, I think, because I wasn't really ready to make it, but instead had it thrust upon me.
I've come to terms with it, though; my new principal seems great, the new district has a good reputation in the area, and they tend to promote from within so advancement opportunities are there. My commute will be only 10 miles, which isn't bad at all by Southern California standards, and did I mention the money? That comes with an extension of my school year of 15 days, cutting my summer vacation to 2 weeks from 7.
All in all, I'm ok with the way things have worked out. Silver lining, and all that. Now I'll just make the most of it.

I'll try to keep you posted!

Monday, June 16, 2008

Dear Steve,

[An Open Letter To Steve Jobs]

I have to admit, I'm a little annoyed at you. Well, more accurately, at the Apple Store.
Let me explain.
First of all, I'm no zealot in the Great OS Debates. I believe that there's plenty of room for Windows, Linux, and OSX(+) in the world of computing, each with its pros and cons. I don't believe that either you or Bill G. are supermen come to save the world of the home computer user, but instead are extremely talented businessmen who have enlisted the support of dedicated followers. I'm fine with that. You make your pile of cash, Bill makes his, and the rest of us just live with what you decide to give us. Again, no problem.
But, here's why I'm annoyed: I've decided to make the switch from Windows to Mac. It's no religious conversion, and should Bill come out with something new and super-cool I could very well switch back, but for now I'm going over to the other side.
Steve, I want to give you some money. Not just for my computer, but for my wife's as well. That's two new MacBooks I'm looking to acquire.
Now, perhaps I'm naive, but I figured if I went to the Apple Store, I'd be able to get my new machines quicker than ordering online. I wanted to upgrade from the 2 gig memory to the 4 gig, and from the 160 gig hd to the 250 gig. That's an upgrade cost of $300/machine I'm talking about.
I didn't expect that the store would have these machines lying around, retail floor rents being what they are, but I thought that I'd be able to order in the store and pick them up there in a few days. This works for me, because the Mrs. and I both work so there's no one at home to sign for new computers being delivered. I could have them sent to work, but it's the end of the school year, and I don't know for sure when they'll arrive and if either of us will still be in the office to get them, so that's not a great option either.
Turns out, you can't order at the store and pick them up later.
I told the nice young man working for you, Steve, what I wanted. He told me to order online. Even offered to show me how. "Thanks," I said, "but I've already been on the web site. That's how it is that I know I wanted to upgrade the memory and hard drives."
I know how to use a stinking web site, Steve. I've done it hundreds of times. Even to order computers, much like the Windows machine I am using RIGHT NOW to type this. If I'd wanted to order online, I would have done it and avoided spending the time and gasoline to visit your retail establishment.
Steve, I'm still going to give you my money, because I think the product you are offering is the best to fit my needs at this point in time. But you are not winning a convert; you are temporarily gaining a customer. If you want to keep me, you've got to impress me, and so far...
...that ain't happening.


Mr. C.

Monday, June 09, 2008

It's official

I had the honor of being introduced to the governing board of my new school district this evening. I say that without sarcasm, honestly. I heard some very nice things said about me, which is always good, and met some nice folks. While I don't particularly want to go somewhere else, the decision was made for me by the state of the economy here in southern California, so off I go, and it's up to me to make the best of it.
Found out tonight, also, that I'll be the summer school principal at my new school. That should be an interesting experience. Never done that before, and wasn't really planning on it, but it an AP's job description it usually says something to the effect of "Other duties as assigned."
Guess this falls into that category!
You know, the part that makes me feel sorriest for myself (not a major part of my psychological makeup, but something I feel obliged to acknowledge) is the fact that my summer break has gone from something like 12 weeks as a teacher, to 7 weeks in my current job, to about 3 weeks at the most. I suppose it's time for me to grow up and have a big-boy job now.

Monday, June 02, 2008


Don't want to gloat here, but...
Signed the contract at my new district today. Yeah, I'm obligated to work 15 more days each year than in my previous one, but they're paying me, get this, $11,000 more.

That, I am OK with!

Sunday, June 01, 2008

Job-seeking update, #2

(#2 for this weekend, anyway!)

Success! At 5:20PM, Pacific Time, the superintendent of the district I've interviewed with 3 times called to offer me a position!
While it's not exactly where I want to be, it'll do, and I'm glad to have the uncertainty put to rest before the end of this school year.
I'm sad to be leaving my current school district, and somewhat apprehensive to be leaving the county where I've spent my entire career to this point and established what I hope is a good reputation, but I know things like this happen for a reason. I'm looking forward to the new challenges things to learn.

I'll keep you posted on developments!

Saturday, May 31, 2008

The Tally So Far

Here's where I am at this point, job hunt-wise:
Applied: 8 districts (plus 4 more I'm in the process of working on)
Interviewed: 3 districts
Call backs: 1 district, 2 times (didn't get first opening, but called again to go after another one)
Paper-screened out: 2 that I know about for sure; may be 2 others that just aren't telling me about it.
Out-right rejections: 1 so far, but one of the jobs I interviewed for is flying again. That is NOT a good sign!
Jobs pulled by district: 1
On the current position: I spoke with the Superintendent on Thursday. He was very sympathetic, said nice things about the district's opinion of me, and that he hoped I would have a spot with them next year. Also offered to call a friend in another district and put my name in for openings they may have. I said, "Yes, that would be great!" He is waiting on some direction from the Governing Board as to how they want to see the slightly-improved budget for next year used, so I still have a chance at a my job existing next year. (Sidenote: I wonder if organizing a "Contact the Board" campaign to keep my job would work? I've heard from several sympathetic parents... Nah, probably not a good idea.)

Like I've said before, I understand the situation. It's not personal, it's personnel.But that understanding does not make this uncertainty any easier to take. I'm not freaking out over the situation, at least not yet. I figure more jobs will open as districts get a clearer picture of who's going to be where in what capacity next year due to promotions and other attrition, and I don't think I'll be too nervous until later in the summer.
My wife, on the other hand, wants to see ink on a contract before the end of this school year. I can understand that, too.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

No child left behind...

Except the one who really shouldn't go to college.
Something that's left out of our educational system is preparation for those careers that do not require college, that leave out those students who are not, and never will be, college bound.

Why do we think it's bad if a kid doesn't go to college? We still need carpenters, mechanics, other skilled tradesmen/tradeswomen, don't we? Can everyone be in management? Do we need 35 million stockbrokers? Why don't we offer something for those kids who would be happy to learn a trade?

What's wrong with the system?

Still have some options...

Well, I guess if I don't get an administrative job, I can always fall go back into the classroom: I suspect there may be an opening coming up in this neighboring district!

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Still workin' it

Had interview number 4 today: 3 firsts and a second. Got a call from the district where I had the second; didn't get the job I was applying for, but they want to interview me again for an opening at another school.
I have to admit, it's good for my ego that they want to try me out for another opening... I completely understand that choosing an assistant principal is kind of like choosing a pair of shoes; it's really important that the fit is right. I'm not egotistical enough to believe that my skills automatically make me fit with any principal, but I'm confident enough to think that I'll be a good fit somewhere, and the fact that they want to "try me on" with another team is a good sign.
Still, I am exhausted by this process, the uncertainty of my situation for next year, the stress of the interview process. It's hard to put my fate, over and over, into the hands of others.
I know will all work out, and I'm taking to heart the message within a book I read this year and finding the power of losing control of my situation.
I must be very powerful; I've lost lots of control!

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

The times, they are a changin'

Years ago, this sort of thing would have required a darkroom, a Xerox machine, and several hours of work. Now, what, 15 minutes?
And kids are still surprised when it happens.


Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Anybody out there?

I suppose it's my own fault. I went away for a long time, and was kind of hit-and-miss for a while before that, so it's understandable that the folks who used to read/comment here have moved on.


Would it be too much to ask for a comment every now and then? Someone to follow my Twitter updates (besides Senator Obama, anyway, as much as I appreciate that!)?

Not complaining, just askin'.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Oy Vey!

Yesterday was tough.
I rode the rollercoaster of emotion. First, my colleague texted me to say that he wouldn't be in due to a sick kid. There are 3 of us assistant principal-types on campus, so normally one being out isn't that big a deal, but the other has been in state-mandated testing seclusion for the last 3 weeks and wouldn't be much help. I knew supervision was going to be my job for the day. The worst part of that was that it was Wednesday, and our schedule is all jacked up on Wednesdays for collaboration time. This is before I even set foot on campus, remember.
Then, the first thing I did upon arrival at school was sign to indicate I'd received my notice that my job had, so sorry, been officially eliminated by the school board. Not unexpected, but still, it sucked. Things improved briefly when I was able to arrange for some substitute teachers to help out with supervision, but went downhill again when I saw the pile of discipline referrals on my desk (teachers and kids both go a little nuts during testing!).
Back up: I got a call from a district I interviewed with 2 weeks ago, scheduling a second interview!
Back down: lunch duty. We normally have 2 lunch periods, 30 minutes each, with about 15 minutes in between, enough time for us to grab a bite to eat. Wednesdays, it's 2 lunch periods of 35 minutes with about 8 minutes in between. I wound up skipping lunch, thinking I'd grab a sandwich after the lunch periods ended.
Way down: call from a teacher: "Student X is under the influence of alcohol!" Pull Student X from class, talk to her, she's in full denial mode. I asked another person to come in and observe her, but still inconclusive.
Back up: I go back to the teacher, ask for more details, and talk to another student in the class (Student X's good friend) and say, "Do you know why I pulled her out?" He answers, "Because she had alcohol!" Call the police, they send an officer out, she blows a .007 b.a.c on the breathalizer. (By the way: this is "up" because I was able to get the answer, not because I'm glad she was drinking. Student X is a sweet kid, but very troubled.)
Down again: Student X names another kid in connection with the booze, who in turn rolls on another, but neither of those really pan out.
Up once more: another district I applied with called to set up an interview- scheduled it for 90 minutes after the other one (district offices are only 10 minutes away from one another).
Down again: Cleared out Student X and her friends, talked to parents, and headed out the door, only to find one of our kids waiting for a ride home. By this time, it's 5:30, and school gets out at 3. 10 minutes later, mom rolls up and I'm on my way to pick up kids and get ready for a cub scout meeting. Still no lunch. Teacher observation writeups/evaluations need to be signed the next day. Only one is written yet. Still need to observe one teacher. Did I mention they are due next day?
Up, finally to stay: Beautiful and patient wife says she'll take the boy to the scout meeting. I get to eat, sit down, veg out for a few minutes before I start writing evals.

Today? Much better!

Monday, May 12, 2008

Required Reading

Planning on being a teacher? Especially a secondary school teacher? Here's a brief reading list:

When Young Teacher Go Wild on the Web

Washington Post article about the impact of social networking sites on the careers of teachers. This poses an interesting question: do teachers (and by extension, other school employees) have to adhere to a higher standard of behavior in their private lives because of the public nature of their jobs? Considering the technological skills of our students, I'd say yes, at least in regards to what is posted on the Internet. Let's face it: 12-18 year-olds will Google their teachers, and share on campus anything "juicy" they find out!

Teacher Under Construction: Things I Wish I'd Known!: A Survival Handbook for New Middle School Teachers
This is an AWESOME overview of teaching in a junior high! Spend 2 days reading this, and you'll save yourself 5 years worth of trial-and-(lots of) error.
If you live in California, or want to work in California, this is the first stop: a listing of jobs, by county and school district. You can even apply on-line for many of them. Unfortunately, this is not exactly a great time to be entering the profession here in Sunny CA, unless you are a special education teacher or a speech and language pathologist... those folks are in huge demand!

California Education Code
Particularly section 48900. Here in Cali, this deals with the suspension/expulsion of students. Teachers should be familiar with it, so their expectations of student discipline are reasonable.

Obviously this list could go on and on, but this is all I have for right now. I'll add to it as I come up with more material.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Gripe session

My wife is an elementary school principal. I love her, and respect what she does, but, frankly, sometimes her job gets on my last nerve.
Take this weekend, for example. It's the time of year when teacher evaluations are coming due, so my sweetheart has spent the last two days at her computer working on them. I took the kids to swimming and karate, did the grocery shopping, 5 loads of laundry, entertained the kids, got them bathed and put to bed.
I know. Many readers will say, "But that's not just her job! What kind of sexist pig are you? Can't a woman have a demanding job outside the family?"
Let me make this clear: I do not resent having to do these things because I feel they are not gender appropriate; I resent it because I have to do them all the time!
My wife and I have a wonderful relationship. In the 12 years we've been together, 10 of which we've been married, we have never had a fight. We've disagreed, certainly, but never stood in the living room yelling at each other. Our relationship has been an equal division of labor since the beginning, each of us taking responsibility for the things we prefer to do. I like to cook, she doesn't like the way I do laundry, so those tasks are divided accordingly. Under normal circumstances, things run very smoothly.
But the point of this whole thing is that, for the 2 years she's been a principal (and to a lesser extent when she was an assistant principal), I've had to take on more of the household responsibilities, and from time to time it annoys me.
When our kids were first born, we would have a conversation in the morning about who was going to pick up whom from daycare. Not anymore. Now it's assumed that I will pick them up, get them home, and get dinner started. She'll call me from work and ask if I have them, but I don't know what she would do if I was to say, "Gosh, I thought YOU were going to get them! I've gone to happy hour with my friends!" (Actually, I think I know what she would say, but this is a family-friendly blog!)
Don't get me wrong: I am fully aware that this is a selfish point of view, and I don't think I would ever actually tell my wife any of this really annoyed me, because I know she feels conflicted about it already. But here, in the safe anonymity of the blogosphere, I'm willing to let it out.
Anyone else have similar stories to tell?

Saturday, May 10, 2008

I'm Back!

It's been about 1 1/2 years since I last set fingers to keyboard to post to this blog, and I'm not sure if I'll be sufficiently motivated to post regularly now, but for the moment, anyway, here I am.
It's been an interesting time since I've last posted: my wife has ridden a roller coaster of elation and frustration in her principal-ship, the boys have grown up, and I have learned a ton. A brief summary:
** Teachers are never satisfied with the discipline handed out by administrators. If you give a kid detention, they want more detention. Give her Saturday School, they want her suspended. Suspend him, they want him expelled.
** 13 is the new 16. Where not long ago kids would generally begin their experimentations with drugs, alcohol, and sex as 16- or 17-year-olds now start at 13 or 14. "Early bloomers" might start in 5th or 6th grade. Scary.
** Kids today are the "Communication Generation." (Feel free to use the term; I don't think I stole it from anyone.) Cell phones and text messaging are the modern equivalent of the notes we used to pass one another on sheets of notebook paper. Trying to ban phones from the classroom is an exercise in futility, so we need to find a way to manage them.
** It's all about relationships with people: kids, parents, teachers, community, school board, everyone. You get nothing done if you can't establish relationships with those around you.
** Junior high kids are nuts, but I love them.

I'll post again if I get inspired!