Thursday, October 22, 2009

Principal Skeleton

Wow. I have not posted here in a long time. I think I'm still looking for an identity to this blog.

Here's a film by Graham Annable which was originally posted here and shared by my friend Ben.


Thursday, June 18, 2009

Reading Online as Revolution

Will Richardson makes me think sometimes. I don't know how revolutionary he is, but some of the things he shares on Delicious, Twitter, or his blog cause the little Che or Freire inside of me dance.

In his latest post, Richardson mentions a couple of quotes that got him thinking about how reading is changing. The basic idea is that students read to write and/or write to read when online. It's the interactivity of Web 2.0 that makes this possible. The learning is active and creative as opposed to passive. Kids aren't just sponges anymore. They are water pistols. Watch your eye!

The idea that students are creating their own knowledge is still a pretty revolutionary one. This scares a lot of teachers, causing them to limit or stifle progression. This just makes a stronger case for constructivism and inquiry in the classroom.

Consider the turmoil over the election in Iran. Instead of waiting to hear from the media or protest organizers, the people of Iran have made their own revolution via Twitter and other Web 2.0 tools. The repressive government has even been forced to block Twitter in order to limit protester organizing.

The problems in Iran may be a stretch, but it does demonstrate the revolution user-created content can inspire. Imagine our students gathering knowledge with the intent of creating their own as opposed to just regurgitating what we already know.

Illustration Source: Wikimedia Commons

Friday, June 12, 2009

Perspectives on District Organization

The following is just a reflection on a reading for my superintendent course. It's not very formal or cited. Actually, I couldn't read the source information on my copy of the piece. Like I said, it's just a reflection, but I think there's some good stuff in there I want to remember...

The chapter we read titled “Clarifying Assumptions: Three Perspectives” divides approaches to school district structures into three perspectives, viewing schools as: bureaucracy, community, and learning organization. Distinctions are made in areas of human nature as well as critical aspects of organization in order to define these perspectives. The school district as bureaucracy is generally traditional, authoritarian, and hierarchical in its approach. A school district as community is somewhat informal, democratic or laissez-faire, and personable. The district as learning organization seems to borrow from the other two to create a sort of hybrid. The learning organization is active, constructivist-based, and collaborative. There is even an idea of using all three perspectives as a fourth option that adjusts to the needs of a district as they arise.

As a superintendent, I would advocate for the school district as learning organization. This perspective combines the best aspects of both the bureaucracy and community views while not falling victim to their shortcomings. Also, by committing to the learning organization, one is able to have a clear and consistent approach as opposed to using multiple perspectives.

The school as bureaucracy is flawed in several ways as one studies the assumptions about human nature and critical aspects of organizations. Emphasizing extrinsic motivation and seeing the learning process as passive and one-sided would require a significant amount of micromanaging. The instructors and learners of a school district would wait for motivation to arrive or promised as opposed to taking initiative and accepting responsibility in the learning process. The assumptions of organization are not much better. District goals are limiting and finite. The bureaucracy is impersonal and creates a culture of competitiveness instead of one of collaboration. The school district as bureaucracy has a sense of tradition and conservatism in a time when schools need to be moving forward into the 21st century. This perspective of managing a school district is safe at best and stagnant at worst.

On the other hand, seeing the school as a community is open and free of structure. This can be a dangerous approach to a superintendency as well. A lot is left to chance as the perspective on motivation is thought to be solely intrinsic and the learner depends on stimulating environments. These are both the ideal, but they lack reality as many learners and teachers need some extrinsic motivation or a variety of stimulating environments. While the approach to organization seems all-inclusive, it lacks the accountability necessary in addressing the increased scrutiny of government and community. Additionally, the informal nature of this sort of organization can lead to inconsistency and mistrust down the road. The school as community lacks structure that helps insure success.

A school district viewed as a learning organization combines the two previous perspectives to create an approach that is adaptable and accountable. The assumptions of human nature in a learning organization emphasize both intrinsic and extrinsic motivations. Also, the individual is actively involved in the learning process in creating knowledge as opposed to be talked at or dependent on their environment. The assumptions concerning organization are incredibly more adaptable and collaborative than the bureaucracy. Conversely, this perspective provides structure and purpose that the laissez-faire approach of the community lacks. The school district as learning environment is accountable for itself as well as adaptable to the constant changes in education and the community at large.

The authors briefly mention using multiple perspectives as a way to address different issues or situations as they arise. While this may seem ideal, it is problematic in two ways. First, ignoring the effectiveness of a learning organization could lead to either extremes in decision-making. A superintendent might respond in an authoritarian way to one situation while taking a laissez-faire approach in another. Lost is the potential for collaboration present in the learning organization model. This leads into the second point which is a perception of inconsistency. The kiss of death for any leadership position is the perception that the leader is inconsistent. Trust is lost. Subordinates do not know where they stand and often limit risk-taking or innovation. Using multiple perspectives to run a school district lacks a clear vision forward.

Choosing the perspective of a school district as learning organization is helping me shape my own philosophies of instruction and administration. It has provided a label and meaning for what I want to establish in a district. It is a comprehensive approach to school leadership that should help me fill in some of the holes of my own philosophies. Collaboration and accountability seem to be at the core of this perspective. These values work together to create an environment of change and prosperity that are the ideal in every school district.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Questions for Superintendents

For my course on superintendents as instructional leaders, we have to devise a set of questions to ask a superintendent or other central office administration. I thought I'd brainstorm a few questions here before picking my five for class. (Keep in mind that any yes/no questions would require an explanation.)
  • Describe a superintendent's role in instruction.
  • What is a superintendent's responsibility when providing professional development for teachers?
  • What decision made by administration has the greatest effect on instruction?
  • If you could rebuild schools from scratch, what would change? What would stay the same?
  • Is there room for social networks in classroom instruction?
  • How do you define instructional leadership?
  • What are the different ways to be an instructional leader?
  • What's the most difficult obstacle in shaping instruction across a district?
  • What are the greatest challenges schools face to effective instruction?
  • What are the best practices for instructional leadership?
  • Are current instructional practices in your district preparing students for 21st century skills?
  • Others?
(Photo Source - Creative Commons on Flickr)

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Summer School: Week 1

I am not teaching summer school. Rather, I am taking classes toward my specialist degree in administration. The summer session was underway this past Friday with a class on superintendents as instructional leaders.

A last second change moved the class two hours away in St. Louis and forced my instructor to scramble for materials. We didn't even get a syllabus until the second meeting on Saturday and even that was missing a schedule of activities. I don't blame the instructor, but it was not an easy two days last weekend.

The group spent a lot of time discussing what it is that superintendents do. We compared districts, organizational charts, and our own perspectives. Little theory was suggested. This was as student centered a class as I have ever experienced.

While philosophically I'm OK with this, it does make me uncomfortable. Should we really learn each other's opinions or should we know what the literature says about superintendents and other central office types?

I don't know.

For now, the course hasn't given me much insight into my work as an instructional specialist, but I'm hopeful that it will.

I have some articles to read this week. Also, we will continually consider our philosophy of administering and instruction. My final draft will make it on this blog for sure. I also have to come up with five questions for central office administrators focusing on instructional leadership. That's another post to come. Be on the lookout for my summer school posts. I have two other courses that will provide plenty of topics.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

The Will Richardson Project: From MySpace to SchoolSpace

For my professional development goals as an instructional specialist and future school administrator, I am reading a few articles by Will Richardson and posting my thoughts here. Feel free to join the conversation in the comments. From MySpace to SchoolSpace: teaching kids the social networking skills they need. District Administration - September 1, 2007

Summary: Seattle Public Schools have been using their own network to help students and teachers utilize the many benefits of social networking within a safe, controlled environment. Besides teaching students responsible and safe networking skills, the tool has allowed teachers to consider different pedagogies that are more student-centered and inquiry-based.

What I Think: I am a huge advocate for allowing social networks in schools. Sure, some will point to the risks, but that's just a bigger reason for why they should be addressed in schools. The best way to protect students from harm is to facilitate that learning. Why not provide a safe space for them to explore the virtues of social networking?

How does this help me with my work? The Seattle project is a great example of how a school district has adopted social networks to work for their purpose of educating their students. I can point to this example as a success story. Schools wouldn't have to create their own networks. They could utilize MySpace, Facebook, or Twitter as well as create their own networks on Moodle or Ning.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

The Will Richardson Project: Administrators Who Blog

For my professional development goals as an instructional specialist and future school administrator, I am reading a few articles by Will Richardson and posting my thoughts here. Feel free to join the conversation in the comments. Administrators who blog: give administrators in your district online voices. District Administration - April 1, 2007

Summary: School administrators, particularly building principals, are faced with a growing number of issues. Blogging can help them process these issues and open their thinking to multiple perspectives. An audience of other administrators as well as students, teachers, and the community can help an administrator see solutions not normally found on one's own. Additionally, blogging can add to an aura of transparency not often found in schools. Despite these benefits and the growing use of blogs, too few administrators are utilizing this tool.

What I Think: As I work in various schools, it worries me that so many administrators are not participating in the learning process aside from running their respective buildings. Students and teachers are blogging, opening their discussions to outside perspectives. Principals should be doing the same.

I understand why this happens. Principals are bombarded with issues concerning building maintenance, personnel, curriculum, etc. Who has time for blogging with so many issues requiring their attention? That is specifically why they should blog. Draw from other administrators' experiences or consider the perspectives of staff, students, and families.

How does this help me with my work? This fits in with my work and professional development in two ways. First, I am always looking for angles in selling administration on the educational benefits of technology and the Internet. Second, my studies in earning an administrative certification fits with this sort of topic well. This idea of administrators blogging bridges my current work with my future work seamlessly.