27 August 2012

Why I'd Rather be a Leader than a Boss

Having the last name Boss brings a fair share of name jokes about who’s the boss.  I take it all in stride because it just comes with the name, but when it comes to thinking about what a boss does and what a leader does, I’d rather be considered a leader than a boss.
Today was my last day with the state department of education, and when I blogged about my final thoughts of working at the DOE, I neglected to reference my most recent work as the academic core branch manager.   It was not a complete oversight nor did I plan not to mention it; I just wasn’t ready to put my thoughts about that experience in writing.  The people in this incredible branch are well-rounded, intelligent, and hardworking individuals, and I am thankful for the opportunity to work with them and to learn from them over the past year.  My knowledge of standards, instruction, and assessment for mathematics, social studies, science, world language, and arts & humanities increased enormously because of conversations, shared readings, and shared experiences. 

Our vision for the academic core was that we become a cohesive unit, working across disciplines on projects and models that would help educators in the field see the same possibilities.  We made progress on this work, but still had room to grow, and I hope my colleagues will carry on with this vision so examples of best practice for integrated learning can be shared with teachers in the field and students can experience learning in more authentic and engaging ways.

Tonight as I reflect on the day and the gifts bestowed upon me by the members of our branch, I am thinking about what a privilege it was to serve as the leader.  I specifically mention leader here, not boss, because I think I’m better at being a leader than I am at being a boss.  I’m capable of and have done both (in this job and in jobs while I was in college), but I am most happy when I’m the visionary, encourager, learner, and colleague, not when I’m the task master approving leave, signing paperwork, and conducting performance evaluations.   It’s not that I mind doing those things and they came with my job, but it’s just not what I prefer.  When you work in middle management for state government, you’re more a task master just because of the bureaucratic nature of the system.
Lest this post become a negative diatribe about bureaucracies, let me share some of the reasons I see myself as a leader and not a boss.   

·          Leaders see colleagues as professionals

·         Leaders establish a team approach with everyone working alongside one another

·         Leaders admit mistakes and admit to not knowing everything

·         Leaders listen first and talk last

·         Leaders give advice rather than offer criticism

·         Leaders earn respect by giving respect

·         Leaders are teachers not assignment givers
I worked with other leaders who were also former teachers.  Any one of my colleagues could have served as our branch manager because they are all leaders and they all have my utmost respect.

25 August 2012

Rewards and Challenges of Working for the State Department of Education

When I left the classroom for a position as a state literacy consultant with the department of education, a mentor advised me to pay attention, to listen, to learn, and to reflect.  And, that’s exactly what I've been doing for the last 3 ½ years.  Monday is my last day at the state department of education, so I thought it appropriate to share my musings here at Learning to Muse, the blog I started to encourage myself to continue reflecting on teaching, learning, literacy, life, and public education. 

Working for the state certainly does not bring monetary rewards of any sort, so it’s a good thing I entered the position with a teacher mentality of being willing to learn and give of myself.   The professional learning opportunities were my biggest reward; they were job embedded, ongoing and collaborative.

Washington, D.C December 2010
Working in a collaborative setting was a highlight for me.  We had a rocking literacy branch led by a literacy leader known for her work nationally.  We contributed to the writing of grants for literacy work, developed models for adolescent literacy intervention, presented at state and national conferences, delivered webinars, met with nationally known literacy researchers, developed a state literacy plan,  updated a literacy effectiveness review system, collaborated with the Kentucky Writing Project network, interacted with the Bread Loaf Teacher Network, supported speaking and listening programs through forensics, encouraged multi-modal literacies to be taught in Kentucky schools, facilitated content leadership networks, collaborated with faculty in higher education, facilitated cross-disciplinary workgroups to develop units of study aligned to the CCSS for Literacy in content areas, provided input on the review of items for the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), provided content consultation for Kentucky’s new assessment system which assesses the Common Core State Standards, provided feedback and representation at national assessment convenings (Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers PARCC), contributed to the best practices applications for work with the Partnership for 21st Century Skills, collaborated with other states at the SCASS groups and probably more that I’m not even remembering.

Whew!  We accomplished much in 3 ½ years, and I am grateful for the opportunities to learn, to lead, and to contribute to public education.

Even with all the accomplishments of our office, there were also challenges in working for the state department of education.  Challenges I faced included: representing the agency not myself or my own professional expertise, adhering to the strict rules and procedures in state government, accepting decisions which were not always congruent with my professional judgment , not getting to interact regularly with schools, teachers & students, and listening to people complain about the state department being out of touch and unrealistic. 

It’s not a perfect system by any means, but what I’d like others to know about the state department of education is that there are competent, intelligent, and committed people toiling to improve public education for students in our state.  

19 August 2012

College or Career Ready Reaches Back to the Days of Opie Taylor

Our family loves The Andy Griffith Show and with the recent passing of Andy Griffith, all the episodes are available through Netflix right now.  Each evening for the past several weeks, the four of us have enjoyed re-watching an episode or two.  Last night we watched Opie Flunks Arithmetic.  I was struck by the conversation about Opie going either to college or to vocational school, depending upon how well he performed in arithmetic. 

As he typically does, Barney meddles in the affairs of Andy, Opie and Aunt Bee and even alarms Aunt Bee by suggesting Opie might drop out of school if he doesn’t improve his arithmetic, and because he can’t let the issue go, Barney drops by the Taylor house to share an “…article about the next generation…some pretty frightening statistics…Kids who drops out. That’s how fast things are changing in this country.”

Does this discussion sound familiar to you?  I feel like this is similar to conversations we are having in the United States to this day.  Think about it.  This episode of Andy Griffith first aired the same year (1965) the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), was enacted, providing legal authority for the U.S. government’s financial support of K-12 education.

Though the initial goal of ESEA was to provide federal resources to states and districts for services that would improve the achievement of low income students, this legislation also changed the way educators and policymakers viewed and talked about public education.  Since 1965 there have been periodic re-authorizations of ESEA which have provided occasion to rethink, enhance, and alter the federal investment in public schools.  In fact, in the course of my travels and work with the state department of education, I have engaged in conversations and work surrounding ESEA.  Since new ESEA legislation has not been passed in the United States, many states, including mine, have applied for and have been granted waivers.  You can read my thoughts about Kentucky’s waiver here.

I’d like to hope we’ve learned something about college and/or career readiness since 1965.  Have we?  How will we encourage students to be prepared for the world which awaits them?  Will we encourage them to be well rounded young people? Consider Helen Crump’s comments to Andy when they are discussing Ms. Crump’s decision to tell Opie he could play football after school “if you push a child too hard it can do a lot more harm than a poor grade.  Anyway, I don’t think your way has been too successful.”  In typical Andy fashion, he thinks about the situation and decides to believe in Opie and, in this case, his abilities to improve his arithmetic performance and maybe even go to college.

As the conversations around college and career readiness continue, let’s remember to believe in our students as Andy believed in Opie.  With carefulness and thoughtfulness in our endeavors and decisions, students can succeed and can be well-rounded, well-prepared citizens who enjoy life-long learning for many generations to come.
 This placard was a gift from my parents to my husband because they know he started the Andy Griffith craze at our house.  Though the image here doesn't depict the episode referenced in this blog, it does represent a fun item in the Boss household.

16 August 2012

What if: Thoughts on Middle School

A few nights ago my oldest child and I were discussing his venture into middle school—I asked if he was nervous.  He replied by asking questions which he answered before launching into a long story about how his favorite thing to do at school is to ask questions, especially what if questions.

Here’s how he replied to my question if he was nervous about going to middle school:
What would I have to be nervous about?  Going to the building?  I’m not nervous about that—I’ve been going there for the past two weeks for cross country practice.  Meeting my teachers?  I already met my teachers at Camp Beaumont.  Using a locker?  I already have that down.

His responses with questions caused me to probe deeper into his thinking about what middle school would be like, and they also caused me to start asking my own what if questions.  Since I like to think and to blog about education and the possibilities for making learning experiences positive for students, I decided to utilize Ethan’s what if approach to rethink some thoughts about how traditional middle school operates in the United States.  When I told Ethan what I was doing, he came up with a better suggestion:  posting the what ifs on the blog and asking readers to respond.  So, reader, check out the what if scenarios here and respond to those which interest you. 

  • What if I woke up and middle school was over?
  • What if teachers turned into monkeys so we could do whatever we want?
  • What if summer reading meant you could read any book you wanted at your level?
  • What if desks quit the job?
  • What if instead of recess there were only tests?
  • What if when you did your homework--the papers walked away?
  • What if whenever you wrote with a pencil it bit your finger?
  • What if books flew away into the sunset?
  • What if schools had no electric power?
  • We didn’t have roofs on schools?
  • What if we had more adventurous hands-on activities?

 In a future post, Ethan and I will revisit your suggestions and offer our own responses.  You will notice that some of these what if questions are more serious and some more silly.  That’s what makes the mind of a curious eleven year old boy so much fun.  He’s certainly unafraid to think outside the typical box.

10 August 2012

Back to School Organization for Learning

As we gear up for back to school, we have multiple changes coming in our household…more on that in a later post.  For now, however, my youngest son has been waiting all summer to be a guest blogger at Learning to Muse because he is keen on organization and order and wants to share his tips with everyone.   In fact, he likes to remind the rest of the family--“when something is messy—clean it up so you can find the things you need more easily.

Title above & post & picture below by guest blogger, Isaac, fourth grader
When you are organized it can help you learn because if you know order you will find items more easily and you will be able to be prepared.
  • purchase items from the back to school supply list and check them off
  • put the biggest items on the bottom, and put the smaller items on top (see picture)
  • use folders for storing all homework and important papers
  • use composition notebooks for writing how-to pieces, stories and spelling words
  • use spiral notebooks because of the lined paper which helps you keep papers together so you won’t lose them, and you can even write letters to your teacher about what you are reading
  • use Ticonderoga pencils so when you write a lot in your composition notebook, your hands will not hurt
  • use a ruler to help measure in math
  • read books all summer so you can be a better reader
 So--get organized and have a great school year.