Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Communicator Theme

It's funny that today I will examine my Communicator Theme. Sometime during my low level Senior class, I found myself scratching my head in frustration because after walking two students through the assignment three different times, they turned in a final draft that was nothing like what I thought I had communicated to them. So here I sit, another tall glass of Red Zinfandel in front of me, trying to figure out why I am not succeeding this year as a teacher.

You like to explain.-- the communicator enjoys hosting, speaking in public, and writing.

I love a good story, but I am not yet as good at it as I want to be. A former Army Ranger attended the university I graduated from. During his time at the school, he gained a reputation as a story teller. I heard many of his stories more than once, and every time the story was told, it received embellishment. He was a communicator.
On my best days, I can hold my students captive with my ability to speak and take a "...dry idea and enliven it with images and examples." That came in handy today as my low level Freshman asked to take on the reading of Beowulf. I couldn't deny them the opportunity even while I knew they would struggle with the modern translation we have. But I pulled it off, today.
My gift of gab often gets me off track well before my students have the opportunity to bring me down the "bunny trail." I can't help but laugh at myself when I discover I am telling a story that relates in only the slightest way.

Driven for the perfect phrase.-- I need to capture my students' attention because I know theirs is shorter than mine. Often, I catch myself stumbling over myself for a moment as I try to select the exact phrase that will "pique their interest, sharpen their world, and inspire them to act." Sometimes I feel like I preach at them too much as I try to convince these young men and women that there is power in words--even old ones. But I believe in the ability of "dramatic words and powerful word cominations" to change our lives. A few of my students over the last four years have picked that up and taken it to heart.

Ideas for Action: (suggestions for the Communicator)
1. Start a collection of stories or phrases that resonate with you. For example, cut out magazine articles that move you, or write down powerful word combinations. Practice telling these stories or saying these words out loud, by yourself. Listen to yourself actually saying the words. Refine.

Personal Response: I have always respected those individuals that have an anectode for nearly every point in life. I think of the Gospels and how Jesus used stories to make people think. We all love stories; it is part of our nature I think. And seeing as I've already used a religious reference, let me tell a quick story. I had an amazing professor at Northwest who once used the phrase--and I don't know if it was her own creation or not, but I'll give her credit--"the sheer lunacy of God" to describe how He keeps forgiving humanity. I will never forget that phrase.

2. Your Communication talents can be highly effective when your message has substance. Don't rely on your talents alone; take your communication to the level of strength by developing your knowlege and expertise in specific areas.

Personal Repsonse: A truth I need to take hold of. A lot of the time I just talk out of my ass.

3. You are gifted in fostering dialogue among peers and colleagues. Use your Communication talents to summarize the various points in a meeting and to build consensus by helping others see what they have in common.

Personal Response: Again, a truth I need to embrace. Currently, my school resides in a state of emergency. We are splintering in the storm of A.Y.P. I have a responsibility to reach out the factions and attempt to bring reconciliation. I can't say I have much hope for that, but I should be true to my talents.

I recognized long ago that I have command over my words which are powerful. The right word spoken at the wrong time can devastate someone. And that is my greatest fear as a teacher. To return to a Biblical reference, Proverbs warns against an unbridled tongue. At the moment, with these current students the least academic and least motivated I have ever taught, my tongue is struggling to break free from the bridle.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Activator Theme

Today I've chosen to look carefully at how my Activator Theme can affect me as a teacher.

When can we start?--the activator tends to be "impatient for action"

I love to get in front of the class and dive right into a discussion. Where I struggle is in the preparation. Once I have an idea, however vague that idea may be, I want to get started right away. My impatience can often be seen when my students don't come along as quickly as I believe they should.

I will be judged by what I get done.--the activator is not afraid to be judged by what he accomplishes.

I've always been a performance oriented person. I love competition, and thus action has precedence over thinking. Don't get me wrong, I value a thoughtful approach, but in the end, I would rather have something in front of me to react to. It is this judgement that nags me when I feel like I have failed, or even when my students fail. I equate the two. Even when I know that a students is simply lazy or not very intelligent, I equate his failure to a failure on my part. But, I don't fear this judgement, I seek it; because in the final analysis, I believe I get the job done.

Ideas for Action: (suggestions for the Activator)

1. At work, make sure that your manager judges you on measurable outcomes rather than your process. Your process is not always pretty.

Personal Response: Right now, I am struggling to conform to my manger's demand of daily lesson plans that require objectives, goals, initiations, activities, and assessments. It doesn't fit my style. I feel that if you were to talk with my previous employer, and the students I've taught, you would find that my end results are quality. I'm not perfect, but I can teach Literature and Writing to my students.

2. Remember that although your tenacity is powerful, it may intimidate some. Your Activator talents will be most effective when you have first earned others' trust and loyalty.

Personal Response: I had to take this idea to heart. I have a terrible habit of expecting people to trust me before I've earned that right. This flaw has created problems for me in almost all of my jobs. I have such confidence in my ability that I forget I haven't earned the right with everyone to be myself.


Getting tasks done is essential, but I have to be careful to not forget the importance of the process. It is easy for me to dive into the water without knowing everything that lurks below. I can't forget that my colleagues may not be ready to move forward. But, I can utilize this talent to get my colleagues beyond discussion and philosophy. In the end, we have to act; can I bring my colleagues to action and still allow them their time to process?

I need to earn the trust of my administration. Unfortunately though, I don't have confidence in the Education world. Meaning, the business world is ripe with appropriate mentor and protege relationships. Too few high schools have anything quite like that. Because of the dangers, I often avoid seeking out the "higher ups" to share my opinions for action.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Who am I?

I sat down this evening with a glass of Rancho Zabaco: Dancing Bull Red Zinfandel to help me through discovering My Top 5. This sounds like an endeavor related to Myspace, but it is not. My older brother recommended a book to me, and this afternoon I stopped at Barnes and Noble to purchase the book, Strengths Finder 2.0.

The book can be found in the Business Management section. The purpose of the read was to discover what my natural instincts indicate my top five themes of strength are in relation to the career I have chosen. This year, more than any, I have felt underutilized. The result of feeling underutilized is that I am restless and wanting more from my job. Rath lists six results from when "you're not able to use your strengths at work..."

1. dread going to work.

2. have more negative than positive interactions with your colleagues

3. treat customers poorly

4. tell your friends what a miserable company you work for

5. achieve less on a daily basis

6. have fewer positive and creative moments

All six of these thoughts and realities have expressed themselves this year. Some of the culpability certainly rests on my outlook of the situation, but much of it stems from a drastic change in the way I am able to perform as a teacher. I never gave my previous principal credit for creating an environment for me that allowed me to grow as a teacher and to succeed as a teacher.

After taking the online quiz, which is only available with a unique code from the book, I discovered my top five strengths. The descriptions and warnings have already begun to influence me. Here are my top five with their brief "Shared Theme Description:"

1. Activator--people who are especially talented in the Activator theme can make things happen by turning thoughts into action. They are often impatient.

2. Communication--people who are especially talented in the Communication theme generally find it easy to put their thoughts into words. They are good conversationalists and presenters.

3. Adaptability--people who are espcially talented in the Adaptability theme prefer to "go with the flow." They tend to be "now" people who take things as they come and discover the future one day at a time.

4. Command--people who are especially talented in the Command theme have presence. They can take control of a situation and make decisions.

5. Self-Assurance--people who are especially talented in the Self-Assurance theme feel confident in their ability to manage their own lives. They posses an inner compass that gives them the confidence that their decisions are right.

I want to follow up with more posts relating this book to teaching. But first, let me just thank my previous principal, Mr. Dean, for allowing me to operate according to my strengths. Even when I took risks within my strengths, Mr. Dean never hindered my growth. I didn't necessarily appreciate it fully in the moment, but I do now.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Happy Day of Mourning

I woke up excited to give thanks for all of the many blessings in my life. I wanted to be thankful that I have a house to keep me warm, a wife to share my ups and downs with; I wanted to be thankful for my beautiful daughter who continues to grow and increase in knowledge. But instead, I woke up to a reminder that it is more important for me to feel shame.
So, Happy Day of Mourning from Seattle Public Schools.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Policy Vs. Philosophy

A teacher friend of mine asked a tough question the other day. What should a teacher do when he objects to a Board of Education Policy?
Let me give you the scenario. The school is underperforming and has been for a quite a few years. Many students are not on track to graduate on time because they choose to not attend school, not turn in assignments, and not behave appropriately in the classroom.
So, the Board of Education, many years ago, decided that the lowest grade a student can earn for the first quarter of a semester (1st and 3rd quarters) is a 45%. This would allow them to earn a 75% during the second quarter of the semester and a minimum of a 60% on their final (worth 20% of the grade) and still pass the course.
Philisophically, the Board of Education views this as a way to give students a chance. Even that student who turns in zero assignments or shows up twice during that first quarter of a semester. Philisiphically, the teacher views this as a way to provide students with grades they haven't earned.
I told him he should put an asterisk next to the 45 on the grade change forms he's recieved from the guidance office because he put their actual scores down instead of the 45's.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Adults Ruin Everything

Misguided? Reactive? Tunnel-visioned? What is the right adjective to describe the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association's recent enforcement of a zero tolerance policy?
Arch Bishop Murphy High School in Everett, Washington dominated their football season only to have it erased because a player was playing with an expired physical. The WIAA believes that this gave Arch Bishop an unfair advantage over its competition. The WIAA then booted Arch Bishop from its 2A Tournament.
Twice in my driving experience, I have been fined for driving my vehicle with expired registration. It was an oversight on my part, and I paid a few hundred dollars to make it right. The DMV didn't impound my car or revoke my driver's license. Instead, they punished me according to the severity of my infraction.
In this case, Arch Bishop got shafted, hosed, screwed, or worse. To punish those players, and that is what the WIAA has done, defeats the purpose of high school athletics. The WIAA's Goal 2.2.1 is meant to "Recognize that the primary responsibility of secondary schools is to educate youth;" The lesson learned by those students, a clerical mistake, not cheating, can take what you have earned and throw it all away. Goal 2.2.9 is meant to "Recognize excellence in performance as a result of training and practice in the competitive process;" Or to recognize mistakes in secretarial skills as a result of oversight and humanity in the clerical process.
One excuse you won't hear from Arch Bishop, mostly because it is beneath them, is the atmosphere surrounding their football season. Earlier this season Arch Bishop's Coach Terry Ennis passed away after a fight with cancer. I can't say I knew the man, but I definitely knew of him because I worked at his previous school. He was almost mythical in the area. The Seattle Time's Sideline Smitty, however, feels that the WIAA really screwed this one up.
In the end, the crux of the matter is that the WIAA simply failed to match the punishment with the infraction. In trying to set rules and regulations that prevent teams from cheating, they have failed to see that the mistake of an adult should not affect the accomplishment of the team. Don't get me wrong, we need rules to protect against unfair adavantages like recruiting and failing to maintain academic standards. But stripping a team of its wins because of a missed physical? it's down right mean.
The WIAA should feel terrible for ruining a football season for those boys. Once again, though, adults ruin what should be fun.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007


AA meetings have made the first part of Reinhold Niebuhr's prayer quite famous; but for the sake of this post, here's the entire prayer:

God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can;and wisdom to know the difference.
Living one day at a time; Enjoying one moment at a time; Accepting hardships as the pathway to peace; Taking, as He did, this sinful worldas it is, not as I would have it; Trusting that He will make all things rightif I surrender to His Will;That I may be reasonably happy in this life and supremely happy with HimForever in the next.Amen.

As my wife and I drove home this afternoon, she confessed to not enjoying her new school. At one point, she exclaimed, "It's unfair." She was venting, and I've learned reasonably well to just let that happen. But that statement can be taken in so many ways.

First, it's unfair to her fourth grade students that no one has truly held them accountable for not learning basic skills. The fact that a student can enter fourth grade without knowing how to read at the first grade level is a tragedy. It is unfair to that student.

Second, it's unfair to her fourth grade students that no one has truly taught them academic skills like organization and perseverance. Neither the students' previous teachers nor their parents have succeeded at teaching those skills. It is unfair to current teacher.

Third, it's unfair that down the road a little ways, students sit in nice new buildings and loads of technology. The State of Connecticut and the Federal Government have done the greatest disserivice to these students by claiming free public education as a virtue but failing to ensure that every student receives a fighting chance. It is unfair to society.

Fourth, it's unfair that a teacher lacks information on students because other staff members can't get their job done. No one is perfect, but when people fail to perform with regularity, they shouldn't have a job. It is unfair to the student.

Fifth, it's unfair that students can disrupt the school day with very few real consequences. True discipline, whatever that means, has been negated by a system that values self-esteem over functionality. It is unfair to the current teacher.

Sixth, it's unfair that students do not value education. How often do we hear, "this is boring," or "I hate this school?" These students are allowed to foster negativity. It is unfair to society.

Seventh, it's unfair that parents are more concerned with boyfriends, girlfriends, drugs, big houses, fast cars, alcohol, and all the other distractions than with their child and his or her education. It is unfair to the student.

So, enjoy my Serenity Pictures. They were taken at various times of the day this Autumn at the Lake I love and see when I wake up, when I get home from a day of grinding, and before I sleep. That Lake is my Serenity right now.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Grade Change

Connecticut's Attorney General, Richard Blumenthal has academic integrity on his mind these days. WTNH Team 8 Investigators have "uncovered" the possibility of a second school coercing teachers into changing student grades to suit the administrators' needs.
The article quotes one teacher and the Teacher's Union President. Hardly enough to build a solid case. However, I wonder what constitutes "asked to do something to get the grade change." If the adminstrator or counselor comes to a teacher and says, "Listen, Johnny here is at a 55% percent in your class, but without this credit, he doesn't graduate. Is there something you can do to help Johnny get to a passing score," is that pressure?

Or, if the administrator comes to a teacher and says, "Mr. McNamar, Liz is half a credit short of graduation. She has a 55% in your class. What kind of kid is she? Did she make improvement from first semester to second? Was she a hard working kid?" is that pressure?

I have never been pressured to change a grade, so I can't speak to what a techer might feel if pressed to pass an undeserving student. But here's what I can say. I don't think my academic integrity is any more questionable if I were to move a student from a 55% to a 60% than if I were to offer some lame "extra credit" opportunity to my students. It certainly comes down to professional judgement. In the end, I don't think I would mind if an administrator came on behalf of a student. But, I would mind if the grade was changed without my consent. That would be a whole different issue.

Thursday, November 08, 2007


Kids make stupid choices while at school. One of the consequences for seriously stupid choices is Out of School Suspension, though the current trends are moving away from this form of punishment.
While a student is assigned to O.S.S., the school is still responsible for providing an education. This means that the teacher has to provide the work to the student to work on at home. Last Wednesday, my e-mail's In-Box filled with four requests for work. I had four students, two from one of my 10th grade classes and two from my other 10th grade class, placed on O.S.S..
I wasn't sure what to do.
Because we don't have enough money to buy books, I don't have enough books for each student to take home. The solution--read the book in class. But, if all of my students show up, I still don't have enough books.
I e-mailed the secretary explaining the situation: no books to send home for these four students. "Figure it out." Okay, "have them return to our transition room when they return from O.S.S. and they'll be able to use the books during the periods I am not teaching. Or, better yet, have mom go the library and check the book out or go to the book store and buy it."
Not good enough. I got a little talking to about how it is my responsibility to provide the students with the work. I asked if the school would prefer that I give the students pointless busy work that doesn't relate to what is happening in class. Yes, apparently they would.

Monday, November 05, 2007

Things I Heard at Staff Meeting

In relation to improving student scores, "If we get that done, then it's done."
About the circular nature of Data Driven Decision making and common formative assessments--"these are cycular." I'm not sure if it spelled cyc or cic or syc, but it was used more than three times.
About formative assessments--"formative means, um, (pause) for the students."
Also regarding formative assessments, one teacher let us know that "I've been giving these types of assessments for years, you know, to inform my instruction."
After our Union President voiced his displeasure at having a staff meeting the day before a day off, which also preceeds the day our grades must be published, "Well, the building is open tomorrow."
I also learned that "It is what it is," and "We've been putting the cart before the horse."