Sunday, September 26, 2010

The Twelve Hour Day

At Chets Creek we do Standard Based Bulletin Boards which means that we present bulletin boards that follow a certain criteria. Each board includes a title, a task that describes what the lesson or string of lessons was about, the standard and four pieces of student work with commentary. The board is a window into instruction. The boards are not "fluff and stuff" so they take time and thought. Not only do you have to make sure that you have work ready for when the seven bulletin boards come due, but you have to design the aesthetics and write about the work which means you have to reflect on your practice. I had been working with my partner on our board for about a week - reading all of the writing folders in the class, helping students select their best work, having writing conferences with all the students (because even though only four papers will be on the board, all 22 will have their work displayed around the board for Open House), thinking about how to display the work, and writing the task and commentaries, but on the due day, everything had to come together. We started very early in the morning, but it took hours to get it right. As I was walking out of the building around 7 pm, the custodian passed me and said, "Yea, you can always tell when it's bulletin board day." Her reference, of course, was that teachers are always in the building late on that day. As I thought about how much my feet hurt after being on them all day, I couldn't help but wonder, is it worth it?

I have been a teacher for well over 30 years and yes, I think it is worth it. If we don't think about what we are doing and how the children are responding - if don't continually think about how to do it better - if we don't take the time to reflect and then act, then how can we continue to improve in our practice? How can we make a difference? Standard-based bulletin boards are just one of the ways that forces us to stop every now and then and reflect on our practice. It also forces us to look at student work. Below is my bulletin board and one of the amazing pieces of work that was completed during our four weeks of pattern books.

Moo-st Wonderful Writing

Who has big fat shoes?Daddy does! He has flip flop shoes.Who has pretty high heels?Mommy does. Her high heels make her look high.Who has click clack shoes?Sister does! Her shoes click and clack.Who has playing shoes?Me! Yes yes! Me!!!!! My shoes are just right!!!!

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

How the Mighty Fall

One of the books that our Principal Susan Phillips read over the summer and discussed the first day of school was a Jim Collins' book, How the Mighty Fall and Why Some Companies Never Give In. I've been a real Jim Collins' fan every since our Leadership Team studied Good to Great several years ago. Even though the book is a study of great companies, so much of the work seems applicable to a school setting. I think of all the books that our Leadership Team has studied, Good to Great is the one that we quote the most often. I couldn't wait to get my hands on How the Mighty Fall. While it is certainly a darker book than Good to Great, it gave me plenty of ideas to ponder.

One of the things that struck me about this book is how great companies began to fall when they moved away from their core values. That is not to say that companies didn't need to change with the times but it was those core values - for us returning again and again to risks, relationships and results - that have to remain at the center of decisions even when success floods the air we breath. I was amazed at how Collins described great companies that began to believe that they were too great and to become undisciplined. Even in the face of data that would indicate they were in trouble, they stood steadfast in their denial. They had the "we're just too great for that to be true" attitude. When I look at the success that we have had at Chets Creek I understand how that can happen. It would be easy to begin to believe that we are invincible and can do no wrong but it is at the cusp of that attitude that a fall can begin. We must always be willing to be brutally honest with ourselves and to listen openly to the criticism. It's too easy to ignore the criticism and just say that our teachers are spoiled and they just don't know what it's like in other places. That is an excuse. That is denial. That can be the beginning of a fall.

The other part of this book that grabbed me was Collin's discussion of the type of leaders that made the real difference. It was not the charismatic, dynamic innovator that comes in on the white horse to rescue the fall, but it was the home grown successor that had the company's DNA in his bones that was the hero. It was the humble leader that listened and did not get defensive that was able to make a difference. It was the one that wanted to create a company where workers could retire and be proud and encourage their children to follow them in their work, instead of the one that was looking for a step up to the next great job that made the difference - the kind of self-sacrificing leader that was willing to lay it all on the line simply to make a better place. When I think of Chets Creek from its charismatic founder, followed by a creative manager, I have to wonder how our next successor will be chosen. In the most successful companies, who were able to turn around adversity, that person came from within the company and was nurtured and trained for the job much like our founder groomed her replacement. Are we doing that now at Chets Creek? Do we have the next wave of leadership working to be ready when the time comes? And even if we have that next Leadership Team ready, will our District, who has the final decision, have the wisdom to value our forethought and planning? I guess... only time will tell...

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

The Assessment Period

This is our second week in school. We are busy assessing our first graders. In my classroom we have just finished giving the DRA2 so that we have a reading level for each child. The children chose books today for their individual reading bins - 6 that are "just right" books, 2 that are challenge bocks and 2 that are "easy cheesy" and will begin Monday taking one of the books home to read each night for homework. Tomorrow we will begin the state's F.A.I.R. testing that is on-line and will also begin some of our "home grown" assessment that includes additional testing in fluency, phonics and vocabulary. We have also completed our "home grown" Math Diagnostic which took several days of Math time. All this assessment will help us work with children exactly where they are so that we don't loose valuable instructional time.

As a school we are doing the same kind of assessment. Our Leadership Team has met each week and today our Curriculum Leadership Council (picture to the left) met for the first time this year, which includes a teacher representing each grade level in each academic discipline. We discussed roles and responsibilities and reviewed data from last year. We discussed the work to be done as we decide on our goals for our School Improvement Plan. It's a year full of hope and excitement. Looks like a good crop this year!