Continuing my series of posts related to my graduate school program, I thought I’d share the philosophy statement I was asked to write for my Introduction to Administration course. This was written using a template that was provided by the course instructor but, just as I stand by everything I wrote in my philosophy statement related to the UIUC Conceptual Framework, I also stand by everything in this updated philosophy statement. Read the rest of this page »
I started my graduate program in education administration this summer. One of my first assignments was to write an essay about why I want to be a school leader. Since others have asked me this before, I thought it would be worth sharing on my blog.
My interest in becoming a school leader, particularly a school principal, is rooted in a desire to have a greater impact on schools and policy than I currently have as a general education teacher in an self-contained classroom. I have watched closely the direction that education has shifted over the past many years, especially since the implementation of No Child Left Behind and now the Common Core State Standards and I want to be a part of the greater narrative. Additionally, I have been involved in leadership development programs in various settings for over half my lifetime and have an interest in further utilizing those skills to work to improve education. I believe the role of a school principal is to be the lead teacher in the building, setting the standard for others and serving as a resource to assist teachers and families educate students.
When I was in the fourth grade, I determined that I would become a fourth grade teacher. I was inspired by my own teacher and continued to pursue this dream over the next eighteen years. Along the way, I met many different principals, some who inspired me to continue to pursue a degree in education and someone who, while not discouraging me, seemed to just pass through without any real impact. For many years, I had expected that I would begin and end my career in the classroom. It wasn’t until I was living in southern California for a short while and met a man who was a part-time classroom teacher and a part-time school administrator in 2003 that I began to entertain the notion of pursuing administration. He told me that I had the personality and mental skills that would serve well as a principal. I began researching the idea further and discussing it with other friends and family members, including my mother who, while serving on a local school board, had had a role in hiring a new administrator. My work as a substitute teacher in Champaign, Mahomet, and Urbana exposed me to several other principals with many different leadership styles that further guided me in this decision. Shortly after being hired to teach fourth grade at Wiley Elementary in Urbana, I shared my interest with my building principal who enthusiastically supported this decision.
While all of these people had a role in influencing my desire to become a principal, the one who has had the greatest impact has been my mother. She has served on the school board for Washington District 52 for thirteen of the past fifteen years. As a school board member, she has worked as the board secretary and the board president. During the board’s candidate search for a new superintendent, she would share with me many of the traits she was looking for in a new administrator and encouraged me to develop those same traits in my life and my professional roles. She also worked closely with the board and the superintendent in hiring new principals at both the elementary and middle schools. As I shared my own experiences as a teacher, including non-classroom responsibilities and professional development, she observed that they could serve to help me be an effective administrator.
As a substitute teacher in three districts over the course of three years, I met dozens of school administrators. There was a principal at an elementary school who made a point of always visiting the classroom while I was preparing in the morning and again midway through the day to check on things and offer any assistance. He could frequently be found in the hallways, talking to students and teachers, making his presence known without being obtrusive. Visitors could always identify him by his dress and grooming, which set the standard for professionalism in his building. This, to me, set the standard for an effective positive school leader. By contrast, there was another elementary principal who did none of these things. I spent more time in this building than any other during my substituting career and yet the principal never once visited my classroom or spoke to me in the hall. The only time I saw her was when I was checking in at the front office and she could be seen in her office through the window. (Her door was always shut.) When I brought this up to some of the teachers who worked in the building full-time, I learned that the only time the principal was not in her office was when she was giving a tour of the building, overseeing a school-wide activity, or making a formal observation of a teacher. Guests who visited the school could not identify her as an administrator because they had never met her before and the principal often wore casual clothing to work.
Contrasting these two principals has helped set the foundation for my personal philosophy of leadership, particularly in a school setting, and why I want to go into administration. A leader must always set the example for others. When I owned and operated a small custodial business, I had a policy that I would never ask my employees to do anything I myself would not be willing to do. Because we were a small business, I was often working on the job with my crews, scrubbing toilets, taking out the trash, vacuuming, and carrying out any of the other duties clients had asked us to do. During the day I would be visiting clients and preparing bids for new contracts and learned the value of dressing the part. As simple as it seems, I believe that how I dress impacts the way I lead because it impacts the way others think about me as a leader. A school leader should be one who adopts the famous “Fish Philosophy” of Seattle’s Pike Place Fish Market: play, be there, make their day, and choose your attitude. I believe that school administrators need to spend more of their time out of the office than in, that they need to set a positive tone for the building, the teachers, and themselves, encouraging open communication, trust, and innovation and that they need to find ways to have fun, whether it is riding a unicycle during school assemblies, getting duct-taped to a wall, or shaving his head after students reach a goal. In considering all of this, my main reason for wanting to be a school leader is to have a bigger positive impact on students, families, teachers, and education in general than I currently have as a classroom teacher.
One of my tasks as a fourth grade teacher is to teach my students how to write persuasive essays. I also teach them how to write responses to questions they are given. It is with this in mind that I have decided to use this platform to express my disappointment at the official response to a petition that was submitted to the White House via the We The People site.
First, some background: The petition was in regards to what many, including myself, consider to be unfair automobile industry regulations that limit opportunities for new car manufacturers to reach a wide consumer base and compete with the more established manufacturers, such as Ford, General Motors, Chrysler, Honda, Hyundai, etc. More specifically, the petition was written in regards to making it easier for consumers to purchase the revolutionary all-electric vehicles produced by Tesla Motors. Those who know me well know that I am a big fan of the name for whom this company is named, Nikola Tesla. I am also a big fan of the Tesla Motors company and their CEO, Elon Musk. I am also a big fan of automobiles that run on alternative fuel sources such as electric batteries which have zero emissions and do not contribute directly to air pollution. Since I was in fourth grade, I have had an interest in renewable energy resources and have advocated for an expansion of them. (That being said, after a lengthy period of time of not having a car at all, my wife and I did recently purchase a traditional gasoline-powered car, but we try to limit our use in order to limit our impact on the environment.)
What does all this have to do with this petition then? Well, right now, most, if not all, states require automobile manufacturers to sell their vehicles through a licensed car dealership. This means that I cannot just go to the car maker and directly purchase the car. Car dealers are licensed by car manufacturers to sell specific vehicles, which is why you won’t find a Ford dealer who also sells Chevrolet vehicles. Since Tesla Motors is a small, independent car manufacturer, the only way to sell their cars to most consumers would be to have an established dealership. But this presents a problem, since you aren’t going to find a dealer who is going to exclusively sell just Tesla automobiles, no matter how amazing you may think they are.
So someone created a petition using We The People. It was simple and to the point:
States should not be allowed to prevent Tesla Motors from selling cars directly to customers. The state legislators are trying to unfairly protect automobile dealers in their states from competition. Tesla is providing competition, which is good for consumers.
138,468 people signed this petition (including me). The official policy with the White House is that there will for a formal response from a member of the Executive Branch (which includes hundreds of people, not just the President, Vice President, and Cabinet members) if a petition receives a minimum of 100,000 signatures within 30 days. The petition met this threshold but the response did not come until just today. I read the response and was incredibly disappointed by the fact that the author, Dan Utech, who serves as the Special Assistant to the President for Energy and Climate Change, did not actually respond to the point of the petition itself. I have linked the response above, but here is part of the response:
Thanks for your We the People petition. We’re excited about the next generation of transportation choices, including the kind of electric vehicles that Tesla and others have developed. These companies are taking steps to help spur innovation in the promising area of advanced batteries and electric automobiles. Vehicle electrification and other advanced technologies are vital components of President Obama’s Climate Action Plan, and his commitment to addressing climate change and reducing carbon pollution, in addition to reducing our dependence on oil.
But as you know, laws regulating auto sales are issues that have traditionally sat with lawmakers at the state level.
We believe in the goal of improving consumer choice for American families, including more vehicles that provide savings at the pump for consumers. However, we understand that pre-empting current state laws on direct-to-consumer auto sales would require an act of Congress.
We are already making significant progress in promoting vehicle efficiency: new vehicle fuel economy has increased by 12% since 2008 and consumers now can choose from five times more car models with a combined city/highway fuel economy of 30 mpg or more, compared to just five years ago. In December 2013, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced that model year 2012 vehicles achieved an all-time high fuel economy, after increasing seven of the last eight years.
Mr. Utech begins his response in a way that I, as a fourth grade teacher, heartily support. He acknowledges the question and shares relevant information about Tesla Motors and how the White House supports the innovations that Mr. Musk and others have brought about. Then he goes off track, and this is where I am disappointed in this response. He states that laws have traditionally left the regulation of automobile sales up to individual states. This is what the petition points out and asks to be changed at a federal level. After talking about the value of “improving consumer choice” he states that “pre-empting current state laws on direct-to-consumer auto sales would require an act of Congress.” Again, that is the point of the petition. There is no reason to submit a petition to leaders at the federal level of government if you don’t want the leaders at the federal level of government to act on the petition. Instead of explaining why the Obama Administration will not propose legislation or stating that such legislation will be proposed, Mr. Utech goes on to describe all the changes in regulations through the Environmental Protection Agency and other regulatory boards to reduce carbon emissions in gasoline-powered automobiles.
Mr. Utech, you did not answer the question. You did restate the question, but you did not answer, you did not explain your answer, and you did not provide details that support your answer. This was not an acceptable response to the petition at hand. This was akin to the time a student was asked to write about whether or not she believed she could handle the responsibility of owning a dog and instead wrote a three-page story about a time someone brought a puppy to summer camp. I am sorely disappointed in this response, not because the answer was no, but because the answer was non-existent. I like to use authentic writing as exemplars for my students to follow. I was hoping to use this response because my students in the coming year will be learning about electricity and the innovations and inventions of scientists like Thomas Edison, Guglielmo Marconi, and, yes, Nikola Tesla. I am sad that this response can only serve as an example of what not to do.
And while I realise that my blog is small and insignificant, with only 20-30 visitors on a typical day, I am going to ask that, on the off-chance you see this, Mr. Utech, you consider reframing your response to answer the petition, rather than using it as a platform to talk about reforms that, while worthy of praise, have nothing to do with the question asked of you.
I have had the wonderful opportunity to participate in the Moveable Feast education technology conference in Bloomington, Illinois, this week. The Feast got its name from an Ernest Hemingway quote:
If you are lucky enough to have lived in Paris as a young man, then wherever you go for the rest of your life, it stays with you, for Paris is a moveable feast.
The idea here is that teachers who are trained to use educational technology well will have access to that training throughout their lives and will be able to integrate technology wherever they go. My interest in attending the conference this year was two-fold: one, I am the instructional technology cadre member for my school, so I am responsible for training other teachers in using the digital technology resources we have in the building and two, my school district is one of the 35 Race to the Top districts in Illinois and there was going to be special training for RttT teachers to learn about new online resources that the state is developing.
On Monday and Wednesday of the Feast, I attended training for the RttT schools. I learned about the Illinois Shared Learning Environment (ISLE), which is being developed to be an aggregator of the many assessment tools schools use to track student growth and progress, on Monday. This software is still in development but it has a lot of potential to make it easier for teachers to find student data and plan for differentiated instruction for students, either individually or in groups. True, great teachers are differentiating already; ISLE is intended to streamline the process and help teachers use their time more effectively. On Wednesday, I was introduced to the Thinkgate platform which serves to guide teachers in creating learning maps based on student assessment data. I am looking forward to having a way to easily track all of the skills that students are expected to learn throughout the year and to know how well my students are doing in achieving mastery while saving me time.
Tuesday and Thursday were both days for me to attend a wide variety of workshops throughout the day. I focused on learning about tools that I can use in my classroom. With my five Nook HD+ tablets and four iPads, I am in a unique position to integrate technology throughout the day. While many schools and districts have a 1:1 program that puts tablets in the hands of every student, I am content to have a 3:1 ratio. Some of the resources I learned about and look forward to using are:
- Edmodo – A way to communicate with students and parents online in a safe, secure environment, Edmodo creates an Internet platform for posting questions, polls, quizzes, communicating as a class, and networking with other teachers. I can have students work on different badges or just let them talk to one another about assignments. One thought for Edmodo is to use it for students to give short-answer responses to questions to check comprehension or to respond to exit slip queries.
- Keyword Challenge – Students almost always struggle with knowing how to perform Internet search queries. The Keyword Challenge guides students in learning what are keywords, what are intermediate words, what are words with little effect on the query, and what are words that search engines completely ignore.
- Big6 – The Big6 is not software; it is a research framework. Fourth graders are expected to conduct short, independent research projects throughout the year. The Big6 is a systematic approach to research that focuses on Task Definition, Information-Seeking Strategies, Location and Access, Use of Information, Synthesis, and Evaluation.
- S.O.S for Information Literacy – A free resource for thousands of lesson plans to guide student inquiry, S.O.S. for Information Literacy helps teachers guide students in processing information to increase understanding. One of the strengths that I discovered was that many of the lessons do not require specific texts, but rather give suggestions for how to ask meaningful questions with any text.
- instaGrok – One of the great challenges that students face is knowing where to start with their research. I consider my role to be one of guiding them to asking the right questions, rather than giving them the questions in the first place. Students are much more engaged with assignments and tasks when they are doing things of high interest to them. I may pick the topics, but I want my students to know how to ask. Using instaGrok, they will be able to select a specific topic and view a concept map that will lead them to relevant information, websites, videos, and other web-based resources.
- Kahoot! – I love games! We use games in my classroom, I play games at home and with friends, and I play games online. Kahoot! is a free site to create interactive quizzes that students can answer using computers, tablets, and other mobile devices. Similar to restaurant trivia games, Kahoot! has thousands of trivia games that I can use, along with an easy interface for creating my own. I am looking forward to using Kahoot! to quickly check students’ prior knowledge, to take brain breaks, to review material, and to seek out input from students in real time. I will also be using Kahoot! with family and friends!
- LiveBinders – Not all of the workshops I attended were for student sites. LiveBinders is a tool for storing information, websites, images, videos, and other content online. There are a lot of ways that they can be used. Teachers can upload lesson plans, schools can have handbooks and policies shared, or you can have a LiveBinder to bookmark a collection of websites for a specific unit. One of the ways I am hoping to use them, though, is to create digital ePortfolios for each of my students. I can easily upload copies of work and store online. Parents can be given an access code to their child’s binder and be able to view work samples. LiveBinders are not gradebooks but they are a great way to organise!
- Digedu – Similar to some of the other resources available for lesson plans and digital activities, Digedu was created by teachers for teachers to maximise the use of mobile technology in the classroom. Teachers can create lessons that integrate video, audio, images, and text and have students respond to multiple choice, short answer, or essay questions. Digedu will score responses immediately and give teachers real-time access to reports. Teachers can monitor what students are doing, control the mobile platform, and communicate with students via secure chats. Additionally, the software can communicate with Skyward, which is the student management system we use in our district, allowing assignments to be shared with our online gradebooks.
- Blendspace – As digital mobile technology grows in the classroom, so does the need for teachers to effectively use these tools. Blendspace is a resource for creating multimedia lessons for students, incorporating video, images, and text. Teachers can import content from YouTube, open ed resource sites, general websites, Gooru (see below), Google Drive, Dropbox, Flickr, Educreations, even bookmarks. There is an option for teachers to create quizzes but, unlike other resources, it is limited to multiple choice only. However, there is a comments section on each Blendspace lesson that teachers can use to get short responses from students. For example, if I were to post a lesson on the Revolutionary War with a video that explains that major events leading up to it, I could leave a comment asking students to share something they learned from the video.
- Gooru – One of the workshops I had hoped to attend earlier in the week was on another digital lesson planning site, Gooru. Fortunately, the presenter for Gooru was also the presenter for Blendspace and he graciously allowed me to ask questions and walked me through the tutorial and setting up a classroom account. Gooru is, in many ways, similar to Blendspace. The biggest difference is that content from Gooru must come from Gooru itself. The benefit of this is that content is teacher-created and teacher-vetted. I can be sure that the material I will get via Gooru will be appropriate for the classroom. With Blendspace, all sorts of content can be imported, so teachers must be even more careful with verifying the relevance and appropriateness of the materials be added.
- Educreations – Speaking of Educreations, this is an easy-to-use tool for teachers to create original content for tablets or computers. There were not any actual workshops offered on using Educreations, but I took time to lean about them while I was learning about Blendspace and Gooru. Educreations allow teachers to turn their tablets into interactive whiteboards. I can record audio while demonstrating work or showing images. Students can create content and it is stored privately, with access granted only to teachers and those with a code. It is actually quite similar to another app I have, Ask3, but with more functionality. I include this in the list of things I learned about this week as a reference for other who may be looking for digital technology tools for the classroom.
After a week of being bombarded by a ton of information about a wide variety of digital technologies, we had time on Friday to work and apply. All of the trainers were available in different work rooms. The rooms were organised to general categories including developing a web presence (working on blogs or class websites), classroom management systems (developing accounts with Edmodo, Schoology, etc), multimedia (YouTube, Audacity, other video and/or audio technologies), presentation tools (Google Presentations, Prezi, etc), and a general “potpourri” room for anything else. I spent most of my morning working on creating a class page on Google Sites, but since it is still under construction, it won’t be going live for a while. There were also presentations at the end of the day by teachers who wanted to share what they had been working on or had developed in the past.
The day ended with raffle drawings for several prizes, such as accessories for tablets, gift cards, DVD/Blu-Ray, games, etc. Participants entered the raffles by using “Feast Bucks” which had been handed out all week long for attending sessions, participating, arriving on time, and just being here. (I earned over one hundred Feast Bucks this week!) I got the DVD/Blu-Ray bundle of Disney’s Frozen! And with that the week ended!
We are fortunate to have a large supply of iPads available in our building. I have four iPads and five Nook tablets in my room, but the Nooks do not have cameras on them, which only becomes an issue when I want my students to do something with pictures. This was the case today but, luckily, our first grade partner class was going to lunch when I wanted my students to use tablets, so we were able to increase our tablet count from four to nine. (It would have been ten but one of the tablets needed to be charged.)
The goal with the tablets was simple: go outside and find examples of patterns. They could be in nature or man-made. The students were able to work in groups of two or three and take pictures all around the school property. After twenty minutes we came in and talked about what we had seen. Then I showed the students numeric patterns and I asked them to try to figure out the rule.
I started with a simple one:
1 0 1 0 1 0 1 0 1 0 1 0
They easily identified the AB pattern, so I gave them another one:
2 4 6 8 10
Again, they quickly saw that the pattern was counting by twos. Then I gave a more challenging pattern:
1 4 9 16
It took a few minutes longer, but someone suggested the next number was 25, then 36, and then they recognised the pattern as square numbers. One student noticed that the numbers increased by sequential odd numbers, especially if you started the sequence with 0: 0+1=1, 1+3=4, 4+5=9, 9+7=16, 16+9=25, and so on. I thought that was a pretty cool observation. Then I gave them this one:
1 1 2 3 5 8 13
The students guessed several numbers, mostly random, then someone shouted out, “Oh! I know! It is 21!” Then I asked if anyone could name the next number and another student offered 34. A few recognised the pattern as adding the previous two numbers together. I explained that this is known as the Fibonacci sequence. The last pattern of the day was this:
2 3 5 7 11 13 17
After several minutes, a few students started offering other numbers, such as 19, 23, and 29. Then someone explained that they were all prime numbers.
It was a really fun way to wrap up an exploration of patterns in math and in the real world! And if you want to see the photos they took today, just visit the album I made here!