The adventures of a fourth grade teacher in East Central Illinois.

Archive for July, 2014

Philosophy of Education, Take Two

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. (more…)

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Why I Want To Be a School Leader

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.


Tesla Motors

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.