Tag Archives: transformation

What Really Makes a Great School

So, I talk a great deal about my amazing students, my incredible staff. All true. Today I am grateful for my unbelievable parents. Last night, I shared a situation at our PTA Meeting and 5th-grade performance, I shared a situation with them and asked for their support. Their commitment to our school and community is unbelievable. This might be a given if you were talking about a roomful of people from the same backgrounds. I have families from all walks of life, all different viewpoints. One thing is undeniable-they love our school. I had a situation where an outsider made some judgments based on paper scores and a school rating website. I asked them to be more vocal about Degan and they stepped up to the plate.

And just as a public service announcement, STAAR is only as good at telling you about a school as you compare apples to apples. It doesn’t tell you that my current fifth graders entered 1st grade with only half knowing their letters and sounds. (Because some of these kiddos just didn’t have the opportunity to have quality learning experience before coming to school and not because their parents didn’t love them with all their hearts. It’s all about access to resources!!). I can tell you that these same students were only about 61% passing STAAR on math as third graders. These same kids were over 70% passing in math last year and after our first district benchmark was over 90% and ABOVE the district average.

Before you judge a book by its STAAR scores you might want to dig a little deeper to see the untold story. Does the TEA accountability report tell you that? Does it tell you how my diverse students wrote their own performance? Does it tell you how they “circle” and as a group work through their issues with each other and show value? Does it tell you about how innovative they are and how they use technology to create products to show their thinking or that one of my students is creating a documentary on being an NEU school and how that has affected her? I mean really, if kids could pass the test when they walked in the door does that prove a school is good versus one who grew kids like I described?

Oh, don’t worry. We are taking care of STAAR too. Not with test prep or drill and kill. But rather by deep learning. My students will accomplish whatever they dream of because they are amazing, they have incredible teachers, and because of our parents….they are the best in the world and support their school. They aren’t afraid of diversity and are willing to do whatever it takes, too.

Game On- Level UP!

As I prepared for the 2017-18  school year, I had lots to consider:  my learning the past year as a part of the Texas Principal’s Visioning Institute, the feedback that I received from my students, staff, and parents through various data points, the past that had resulted in the path Degan was on, and the aspirations that we had for our students. The question that kept ringing in my head was “How in the world do I create a vision to help us move forward with all of this to consider?”

My campus had been fortunate to experience lots of success and recognition for the accomplishments we have made with transformation.  At the same time, we have also experienced some pretty big hits to culture. It’s hard to put this much energy into getting our flywheel moving. I think we all thought after three years, it would be starting to have its own momentum.   It’s not very comforting to hear that real change takes three to five years when you are in year four.  How would we keep moving forward? What would be our rallying cry for this next push to transform learning in meaningful ways so that our students could be successful?

The answer was actually in the data.  It was clear that as a campus we had made great strides in understanding what it was students were to learn and proven strategies to ensure that learning.  We understood our changing demographics and could relate to them and build meaningful relationships.  Yet, we were still short of the goal.  What our data showed was that we needed to evolve in how we were having teachers use technology and that teachers wanting to design more engaging, innovative work, but they needed time and practice to make this happen.

Then it hit me.  It was time to get our “game on”, literally, and level up learning for our students.

I love the mental image this theme created.  It acknowledges that first, our work, like games should be fun!  It should be challenging enough to keep our interest, while still being attainable.  We should receive feedback that adds value and helps us shape our decision-making to improve our processes.  We need to feel a part of a network in achieving the goal.

I am so excited about this year.  Today, we had our first professional learning and we made connections to the work of Jane McGonigal and her book Reality is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World.  While not everything in learning has to be digital, it recognizes that games release some of the control to the gamer and allow them to test out theories to achieve the goals.  My teachers had the chance to explore how to incorporate some of these concepts into their learning design today.  Today teachers created and shared some cool new ideas.  I can’t wait to see the impact in the classrooms with students!

For my afternoon learning, I got to reconnect with the Texas Principal’s Visioning Institute.  Listening to Alan November just reinforced my belief that my campus is on the right path.  When we only focus on testing, we don’t have fun.

Our current generation of students has never lived without technology in their lives.  They spend 2-3 hours a day “gaming”.  According to McGonigal, over the course of their school years from fifth grade to graduation, they will likely spend as much time on games as they do in school.  We have to prepare these new learners for a new future.  That may mean that as adults, we have to “learn” how they learn and incorporate it into the knowledge we want them to gain.  It’s time to level up and do things differently than we have always done. GAME ON!

 

A Time to Rest

Screen Shot 2017-08-09 at 9.42.45 AM

This year I will enter my 26th year as an educator.  It is hard to believe.  I remember as a new educator looking at teachers with 20+ years of experience and being in awe of their talent and stamina.

I love teaching.  I love school.  While I love summer, I can never seem to wait to get back and always have found myself creeping back into the building long before my contract began.  Whether it was to teach summer school, set up my classroom, or plan for the upcoming year, I couldn’t seem to stay away. Screen Shot 2017-08-09 at 9.35.31 AM

This past summer was a little different.  My feelings and passion hadn’t changed, but I was just so tired.  Every time I thought about going to school or planning, I just felt a deep exhaustion that seemed to be back behind my eye sockets.  I couldn’t focus and get started.  It led to some deep guilt.  Who was I letting down?

Ultimately, I had to come to the realization that twenty-five years of non-stop “going” had finally caught up with me.  I had to give myself permission that taking care of myself WAS taking care of my people.  My body and my mind needed rest for me to continue to be able to give my best to my students, staff, and community. I’m now almost two weeks back in, and I am realizing the world did not come crashing down.  We are off to a great start and everything will get done.

Of course, it helps that this is my fifth year in the principalship and fifth year at this campus.  I was fortunate that no emergencies that needed to be taken care of while I was do a good joboff-contract. I feel certain that if something urgent had come up, my adrenaline would have kicked back in. What I also realized once my exhaustion started to wane was that maybe, if I did a little more self-care during the year, I might not reach that level physical and mental fatigue.

I think sometimes as educators, our passion creates an adrenaline that allows us to keep going at superhuman rates.  Our sense of urgency drives us through the “tired” when most would say “enough”.   However, I think we have to find that place where we recognize that rest is critical.   Pushing ourselves to this point is not healthy and can certainly lead to bigger issues. Filling our own cups and allowing time for rejuvenation is necessary if we intend to fully pour ourselves into others. Sometimes grit and growth mindset is about finding balance and giving ourselves the grace we so easily give to others. There is a time for work.  There is a time for a sense of urgency.  But, there is also a time to rest.

I wish all the educators out there the best school year possible as we ready for the return of our students. Just remember: There is a time for work.  There is a time for a sense of urgency.  But, there is also a time to rest.

Symptoms and Bigger Issues Related to Physical and Metal Exhaustion

No Excuses (Especially on Saturday)

Two years ago, my campus learned about No Excuses University. It happened accidentally when a visitor to our campus said, “Oh, you’re an NEU Campus.” I had no idea what it the world NEU was, so I looked it up. Basically, it is the implementation of best practices for instruction, combined with a passion for the learning of all students. It is a fierce commitment to adults not making excuses about why a child cannot succeed in school, but rather doing whatever it takes to overcome barriers and ensure that all children (no matter their background, ethnicity, socio-economic status, or disability) are proficient or advanced in Reading, Writing, and Mathematics so that they can go to college if they choose.

In trying to be aligned to this belief, my campus has looked at the students who we believed were not quite ready to hit that “proficient or advanced” expectation and created what we call NEU Saturday. This is a time where selected students come to school on Saturday for two hours so that they have a little extra time to learn. I need to be clear. This has absolutely NOTHING to do with our state assessment. My commitment is not to a test, but to these children’s being prepared for their future. If we do that right, they’ll be fine on a test, but the test isn’t the driving force.

I love this! Learning isn’t about worksheets! It’s about relationships, relevance to life, and things that can connect with the learner!
Because we aren’t bound by constraints of tutoring for a test, we serve all grades. YES, all grades, pre-kindergarten through fifth grade. They come and a band of teachers welcome these children with open arms and celebrate the child’s commitment to his education. So many of my students are still learning that things don’t just happen to them, but through the choices they make, they have the power to change the direction of their lives. I tell each one of the students that they are the “chosen” ones. That their teachers specifically chose them to come to this special time because of the grit, growth mindset and commitment to no excuses they make every day.

We feed them a full breakfast. While I know it is big talk in Washington D.C. that breakfast doesn’t make a difference in education, that is just plain malarky. When people are hungry, they can’t think about anything, but their stomach growling and “hangry” is a reality. Many of my children rely on the food from school as their primary source of nutrition. It’s just a sack breakfast with cereal or a muffin, string cheese, juice, and milk, but knowing my students are getting one extra meal over the weekend makes a huge difference.

Then for the next two hours, I have an incredible staff that pours into these children. They talk with them, hug them, and provide them with meaningful learning. They do cool activities with Versa-tiles, read, and play games with higher-level thinking and strategy. There’s not one test prep material. Only opportunities for the students to think, discuss and problem solve in meaningful situations. The best part is that these students say this is the best day of the week and and ask to come back on Sunday, too!


There’s lots of criticism about public schools and their effectiveness. I haven’t seen that. Public education is the heart of our society’s future. It takes ensuring that all children have access to a quality education to ensure they have the tools to become productive citizens in the future. It is when we take off the constraints off and allow educators to do what they love and teach that this happens. They do whatever it takes because this is why we get into teaching: to see all children succeed. No excuses.

Why I Won’t Have a STAAR Pep Rally at My School

Pep Rallies before a standardized test have become a common occurrence in schools. A campus principal’s email can be flooded with people who want to get paid to be a part of these “pep rallies”.   I have been a part of this practice in the past, but since becoming a principal, I have been against this type of practice.  Why, because a ” STAAR Pep Rally” makes the important thing the test.  It sends the message to those people outside education that “the test” is what is important.  I am here to say a standardized test is the LEAST important thing that happens during a school year.

A test is what happens on one single day to measure all the learning that takes place in the course of a school year.  For it to be an accurate measure, all the variables for that would have to be absolutely perfect.  Students would have to have a great night’s’ sleep,  a well-balanced breakfast, a supportive emotional environment before school, and all the supports they need to be successful.

Let’s face it.  Some students have trauma at home. Many don’t have basic needs met.   They don’t always have the nutrition they need.  They may not get adequate sleep. Even our students with disabilities don’t have access to all their IEP interventions because of the rules of the test.  The variables are not the best case scenario for some kids.  How in the world could we expect the test to accurately reflect all they have mastered?

Here is what I am willing to rally over:  students, teachers, grit, growth mindset and all they have accomplished over the ENTIRE year.  At my school, we do this every Friday. Today, on the eve of our standardized test, my students did come to the cafeteria to meet with me.  The rest of the building lined the hallway to applaud their hard work and let them know we stand with them. It was not a STAAR Pep Rally.  It was a celebration of people who work hard to grow in their learning. It was caring about the people enough to let them know they were loved, supported, prepared, and in control of their destiny.

When students arrived, I shared with them my story of having to retake the GRE to get into graduate school to work on my doctorate.  As I sat down to take this test, I felt angry and frustrated.  I felt like there were some words that no one used, so impossibly worded questions, and I just felt there was no way that that test could accurately encompass who I was as a principal or a learner.  It hit me that this was how some of my students felt.

I told my students that there was no way that tomorrow’s test could define them either.  There was no way that this test could fully share with legislators or the public how much they had learned this past year. What I did tell these students was that they were in control, that they had the power to control their destiny. I shared with my fifth graders that sometimes, working hard at a test can give you a benefit.  That while my test couldn’t define me, it could gain me access to a program I wanted to be a part of to improve my life.

For them, working hard to “show what they know” could prevent them from retaking this test in a few weeks, but it would be their choice.  I told my fourth graders that while they weren’t facing a retest, the evidence does show that every time they pass a test like this,  it increases their chances of passing the next one.  No matter what, I told them they were in control.  I wanted them to know they were prepared and had everything they needed.  If they wanted it, they could achieve it.

I think that is what it is all about:  empowering students to know that they have control over their education.  The focus should never be on a test, but the people taking the test and continual reminders that even as children, they get to choose, they get to decide how to define themselves.

 We put tremendous pressure on students to “pass.”  The truth is our actions should support our beliefs.  At my campus we don’t have a test pep rally, we have a “hope rally” every single week where we celebrate teachers, students, and the power of education together as a campus.  While today I did bring students down to meet with me before they take their test tomorrow, it was never about the test.  It was ALWAYS about the people.  Whatever happens, tomorrow doesn’t really change anything.  Don’t get me wrong.  I want all of my students to do well because I know it makes their life easier in the long wrong. However, I know what my students have learned, how they have grown, and how much they have overcome and it far exceeds the constraints of a multiple choice test!

Unchartered Waters

I have certainly been blessed in my career.  I have had some amazing professional opportunities that have prepared me for the campus leadership position I hold now.  Even though I changed positions on a regular basis, I gained some extensive knowledge in from a variety of aspects in education.  I am tremendously grateful for the districts I have served and their immersion into the Visioning Document to guide my leadership principles.  I am most blessed to serve an amazing campus with precious children, supportive families, a great community, and an incredible staff of committed educators who are willing to be risk-takers and do whatever it takes to do what is right for our students.

In year four of my principalship, I am fortunate to see much of the initial five-year vision I set upon my arrival coming to fruition.  Our students are becoming strong readers, writers, thinkers, and problem-solvers.  We have re-established relationships with our parents and are beginning to have some connections with our community at large. We have received recognition for strong practices of  transformation. We have gone from a campus with declining results, to a campus on the verge of an explosion of greatness.

I should feel great, right?  However, in the past few months, my major emotion has been that of anxiety.

Don’t get me wrong. I have great pride in my students and staff.  It is because of my deep commitment to them that I have anxiety of how to proceed as we accomplish the last of these goals.  My passion for being the very best for them has created my stress.  I started my leadership journey with a clear vision.  The path has been very clear and the results have come.  My worry rises from as we see our initial destination in view I am plagued with the questions:  “What next? Where do we go from here?”

That’s what happens when you create a learning organization.  You create people with a growth mindset who are intent on getting better every day.  My work as a part of the Principal’s Visioning Institute has resulted  in my own deep self-reflection.  I absolutely believe in the Visioning Document. It has framed our initial transformation.  But I have reached the point where I am standing on the horizon looking at an unclear path.  My past “self” would have said I’ve done what I’m good at, time to move on.  But that is not what I want for my future “self”.  I have more goals, higher vision, than just what has been accomplished so far.  I’ve just not been at this stage of transformation and simply “rinsing and repeating” will not help us to continue to up our game.

Part of my anxiety that because I have such great people, I am fearful of not having a clear plan.  These wonderful educators have worked so tirelessly to achieve our goals thus far, I want to continue to ensure their success.  However, since I am headed into unchartered territory, it is hard to know what to expect.  I just don’t want to lead them down the wrong path. I want to make sure we are prepared with the right tools and that my navigation equipment is state of the art.

These past two days at the Principal’s Visioning Institute have been much needed to face my leadership fears.  I’ve been more quiet than usual, but soaking up every word and putting into my current context to prepare for the next stage of our journey.  It has helped me to see that while I may not be familiar with the next stage of my journey, others around me are and they are ready to help.  I have a great map with the Visioning Document and its related tools.  I have a fleet of other leaders navigating the same course of redesigning education to meet the needs of 21st-Century Learners. Most importantly, I have a fantastic, fearless crew of educators at my side. Any perils of the unknown we face, we will face together.

Ultimately, these past two days, I have realized that it’s okay for leaders to be unsure, but you can’t dwell there.  You have to find your tools, your supports, and make a plan, even if

it’s unfamiliar. You can still see the horizon.  It’s just time to start planning for the next stop in my campus’ journey. It’s time to harness my grit, my growth mindset, and God’s grace

and move forward because a current destination that is currently great won’t remain great as time moves on.  It’s all about the journey, not the destination. It’s time to set sail. Our next port is waiting.

The Sky is Not Falling!

If you spend too much time watching the news, you might begin to believe that the world is soon coming to an end.  Whether it is regarding the politicians in charge or the faith in the public education, the media, is trying to convince the public that the sky is indeed falling.  However, just like the fable, buying into this belief is more likely to result in the dangerous behaviors that bring about the danger.

In the story, Chicken Little is hit by an acorn falling from a tree. She draws the wrong conclusions and rallies others into her erroneous reasoning.  As they all seek a solution to the false doom, they become careless, and trust the sly Foxy Loxy, who is the real source of their undoing.  There wasn’t any real danger, until they created it for themselves due to unfounded fear. The fox leads them down the wrong path and gains a nice dinner for himself.

The same thing is happening today.   A few people have had some negative experiences with public school.  WIth an institution this large built to serve all people from all backgrounds, I am not sure why we are surprised by this.  Perfection does not exist. However, those people have loudly cried, “The sky is falling!” when it comes to public education.  They go to their friends and build a following, a following of people who have simply believed what they are told, rather than seeking information to substantiate the claim for themselves and simply continue to spread the paranoia.

So enter Foxy Loxy.  Foxy Loxy sees an opportunity to capitalize on the fear and paranoia of others.  Foxy Loxy doesn’t really care about education, be it public or private, but only sees the opportunity to serve his own needs.  He says, “you’re right, the sky is falling and I can help you. Come down this path and we can provide you with school choice vouchers and you will be saved.” Foxy Loxy doesn’t really care about your future, but sees the opportunity to manipulate you and take money from public education, monies that in the past, he has never been able to touch. He doesn’t care if creates soft segregation, leaving segments of the population feeling alienated and disenfranchised.  In his mind, if the public education system fails, it will just require everyone to pay for a product that was once free to all.  In the end of this fable, the only one who wins is Foxy Loxy.

Public education is not failing.  More students than ever before are receiving a high quality education.  Graduation rates are on the rise. Public schools are fighting to become producers of students with higher-level thinking, strong communication and collaboration, problem-solving and technology skills to improve our society. All of this is happening despite  antiquated accountability systems based on “one-size fits all” standardized testing systems that can’t even begin to measure the depth of these 21st Century Skills.

If we hope to create a better society for our future, we must teach diverse populations to co-exist and value our differences.  We must be brave and unite, rather than divide our cultures and run in fear.  We must fight for our schools so that they can evolve to be the institutions we need them to be, rather than continue to drain their resources and pretend that “school choice” is available to all.  The research doesn’t support the success of school choice.  Historically, school choice just enables those who could already afford private school a discount.  Those with fewer resources still cannot afford the private school and are left with schools that were already stretched beyond their means with even less.

The Foxy Loxy’s of the world are hard at work to undermine your faith.  They create tests with continually changing rules that they finalize AFTER tests are given.  They appoint leaders who are experts in undermining rather than advocating for public education. They pass laws to ensure schools cannot hold families accountable for coming to school so that children and be taught, paint schools in a negative light, and they encourage the Chicken Little’s saying, “yes, the sky is falling!”

However, the truth is the sky is not falling.  Teachers are better and more equipped than they have ever been before.  A good education is still the most proven way to overcome poverty.  Public education is the place that we can learn to live and thrive side by side. Can public education improve? Certainly.  Just don’t succumb to the paranoia of the Chicken LIttles or be tricked by the self-serving Foxy Loxys of this world.  Our brains are wired to see what we believe.  My challenge to society is to see the greatness of public schools.  If something needs to be improved, get involved to create a better system rather than running in fear, or worse, being a sideline critic with no personal knowledge of the situation. Your neighborhood public school will welcome your collaboration.  

Be brave and stand up for public schools.  Public education is our best choice to make sure that everyone has the opportunities they deserve and create a better future.

Friends of Texas Public Schools: http://fotps.org/cool/

Stand Up 4 Public Schools:  https://www.standup4publicschools.org/

 

 

Not Just a Building

This past week, I attended the Texas Association of School Administrators Midwinter Conference and had the opportunity to hear Shanna Peeples, 2015 National Teacher of the Year, speak. She had so much to say about advocating for public schools, but the thing that has resonated with me most was this quote:

“Public school is not a building. It’s a promise that a community makes to itself.” Shanna Peeples, TASA Midwinter Conference 2017

I’ve thought a lot about what she said, but I would take this statement a little further. A public school is not just a building; it is a promise that the community makes to itself to inspire hope for a better future.

We live in a tough world. We have people feeling entitled to rewards without work. People who cannot communicate effectively with words, so they use violence. People who are angry because they feel invisible, and other people who are afraid of the people they don’t understand so they put up the barriers that make angry people feel even more

disenfranchised. Instead of fixing the systems we have and contributing to a better world, people want to take their toys and go home resulting in soft segregation. This is only going to create a continuous cycle of decline.

But here is what I have to say-public schools are the hope for a better future. Public schools are the embodiment of our forefather’s vision, and capture in the words of Emma Lazarus inscribed on The Statue of Liberty.

In my school that promise is:

  • to a young girl that there will be someone there to care for her, despite her mother suffering from stage 4 cancer and having no extended family.
  • taking a moment to talk about what went wrong when a boy lost his cool and threatened a peer and to develop a different plan while helping him let go of his angry past.
  • a letter waiting for you at your new school when your family moved away and a teacher worried about your transition because you have moved so often.
  • a teacher braiding your hair because you are staying in a homeless shelter and mom couldn’t fix your hair before you came to school.
  • knowing that we will exhaust every option before we label you in a way that may limit your future opportunities.
  • the nurse recognizing a rash as a bigger problem to alert you to the need to seek immediate, life-saving medical attention.
  • a concerned teacher taking money from her own pocket to ensure the electricity is on so a child with asthma can have nebulizer treatments.
  • teaching peers to show compassion to a student with low cognitive ability and them applying that compassion by looking after her when she is outside the classroom.
  • designing work with incubating germs that help you learn “school stuff” but make you feel like a grown up in the real world.
  • setting goals and celebrating achievement and talking about how to regroup when the goal falls short so that all children, no matter of their ability, are coached and guided for growth.
  • talks of college embodied in grade level cheers and the dreams that a college degree can hold for your future.
  • songs of education and being “world changers” with the entire school every Friday.
  • the adults not making excuses that prevent children from achieving the best future, no matter where they started.
  • diversity and the opportunity to be around all kinds of people and learn that there is no need for fear, just value of multiple perspectives and willingness to use words to discuss differences.

Public schools are the place that we value every individual. It doesn’t matter your ethnicity, your native language, your religion, whether or not you have a disability or giftedness. You may come from an average background or one fraught with trauma. You may be wealthy, poor, or just middle-class. You may be the child who tries to please or the child who is continually demonstrating your displeasure with the world by spinning things into chaos. In a public school, we love you, we value you and try to earn your trust. We stretch you and grow you. We teach you to collaborate and communicate with those that are nothing like you. We teach you to think critically and set goals. We teach you to read, write and problem-solve using multiple strategies. We prepare you for the ability to thrive in a diverse world with the confidence that you can not only achieve your goals, but make the world a better place.

The things that public schools do to prepare our world for a better future are not easily measured by standardized tests or accountability systems and high performance on a test doesn’t guarantee your success if you cannot relate to the 21st century world.  Many would have society believe that paying for an education is a better option, but the don’t tell you what opportunities you miss because of a separate, homogenous education

Just remember, public schools are not just a building, we are people who ensure the promise that the community makes to itself, who love all and accept all, to inspire hope for a better society and future for all.

 

What If?

We seem to be at a crossroads in education.  If we go one direction, we will continue to judge schools and their success by a single test without giving consideration to the growth that has occurred. Teachers will feel it necessary to resort to test preparation as that is how they are judged. Our best teachers will avoid the demanding classrooms so as not to put themselves at risk of judgment, mandates, and additional paperwork. Students will be limited in what they learn because what is assessed on a test is only a fraction of what they need to know to be successful in life. Parents will become disillusioned with the progress and those with means will move them to other options. District will put pressure on school leaders and will, in turn, pass this on to teachers with more paperwork and documentation. In the meantime, our society becomes more and more segregated. The ones left behind become angry and the ones who left become fearful of them because they can no longer relate to each other. What if this approach results in more violence in the future than what we see even today?

what-if

But what if we choose a different future?

What if federal and state governments quit trying to define student success with a test? What if they quit trying to quantify complex human development by a test score?  What if they encouraged schools to use these assessments to improve their instruction and meet needs of students, but left the true definitions of school success to the communities where those schools reside? What if special interest groups took “special interest” in our schools and pledged support rather than trying to find out ways to take the public funds that they haven’t yet been able to touch?

What if communities stand behind their schools?  What if when they feel the school is struggling, they step up to help, provide support for students, staff, and families? What if those with criticisms couldn’t sling mud at public education without having direct
knowledge of the situations with which they are passing judgment?  What if wanted to speak about a school and it’s performance, you must first spend time there with the people volunteering?  What if you couldn’t lump schools all together but had to speak specifically about situations in which you had personal experience? What if our media spent as much time talking about all the accomplishments of public schools and didn’t just highlight the isolated negative examples?

What if school administrators don’t have to worry about spending funds to survive, but can use dollars in practices that promote thriving such as professional learning for teachers?  What if they felt free to restructure schedules to provide teachers with ongoing collaboration and professional learning so that they could be sure that teachers were always at the forefront of their profession, masters of the learning standards and best practice in instructional techniques? What if when they saw a teacher in need, they could provide that teacher with the support they needed to grow and improve rather than feeling pressure to get them out?

What if because schools feel supported, teachers feel less stressed and feel they have the time to stop and build strong relationships with students and their families? What if teachers feel they can develop innovative, meaningful lessons that actually apply to the future that our what-if-4-300x175students will live in because they aren’t scared about test outcomes? What if they could collaborate and share without the pressure to hold back so that they could ensure they weren’t the bottom performer?  What if we valued teachers as the creators of all other professions and compensated them as such?

What if parents didn’t abandon schools for homeschooling, private and charter schools in an effort to isolate their children from those with experiences that may be very different from their own?  What if they were adamant to model that when something isn’t what we want it to be, they stick with it and become a part of the solution?

What if we had children from all different backgrounds that learned to value each other and learned to live together without fear and without anger? What if these students were able to learn the skills needed in reading, writing, math along with skills like collaboration, grit, growth mindset, technology, and problem-solving?

What if?

I can say I am fortunate to be a part of a district where our school board fights for local control.  I work in a district where our district leaders don’t point fingers, but rather ask “what can we do to support you?” and give campuses the freedom to do what they need to let-be-what-ifdo to make a difference with their students.  I have parents walking my halls taking care of all students, willing to take part in conversations when they have concerns, rather than resorting to silence and abandonment.  I have teachers that are the epitome of lifelong
learners. They have become masters of state standards and design meaningful learning that is resulting in stronger students with each passing year.  I have students that are learning the value of diversity.  They are learning to work things out together and hold themselves accountable for high levels of learning and growth. My campus has gone from plummeting scores and declining enrollment to scores and enrollment on the rise.  I am one of the fortunate principals who has had the freedom not to be defined by a test and the feel the support of my district and community.

What if all schools had this?

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No, Your Child Shouldn’t Attend a Failing School

There is lots of propaganda these days about vouchers and school choice.  A favorite line to stir the masses on the topic is to say how children shouldn’t have to attend failing schools.

I think we have to consider what a failing school in NOT:

  • A Title I school-“Title I” is just a designation that states a certain portion of the school’s population is economically disadvantaged.  Because of this, the school receives additional funds to train teachers and provide additional resources so that students who may have entered school behind because of lack of opportunity.  If a Title I school is considered “school-wide” than even those children who are not economically disadvantaged benefit.  It is actually a huge benefit to attending a Title I school because these teachers are highly skilled in making a difference with all students, not just the students who learn easily. I took my own child to a Title I screen-shot-2016-09-25-at-1-33-31-pmschool rather than his affluent neighborhood school because I knew they would grow him, wherever he started from.  Being economically disadvantaged is not contagious.  You can’t catch it by attending a Title I school.  Children in Title I schools learn the value of diversity and are more likely to learn to know how to function with others who are different than themselves in the real world.
  • A school whose state test scores are below ninety percent –Just because a school appears to have high passing rates doesn’t mean they are a great school. It may simply mean that the students walked into the school with a good amount of skills learned from home. Right now on the Texas accountability test, passing rates are fairly low.  The test has changed to reflect higher-level thinking, and they are gradually building the passing rate as schools make the shift from “strategies” to “thinking.”   The score in and of itself doesn’t show you for sure if a student is performing higher than they were when they arrived.  Sometimes when a student enters school with large gaps, the score may not yet be passing, but it is showing astounding growth.  An overall passing rate doesn’t tell you if a school can make a difference with all students.  
  • A school with diverse ethnicities, cultures, religions, and backgrounds- Our world is changing and becoming more and more diverse.  Groups that were once majority are finding that is no longer the case.  To prepare children for the 21st-century world, they need to develop the skills to value and collaborate with others from all backgrounds, including those that are significantly different from their own.  Students who attend “homogenous” schools are more likely to struggle in college and beyond because the haven’t developed the skill set to work with others besides those who are most like themselves.

Here is what I think a failing school IS:

  • A school that doesn’t put children first – Schools should filter every decision they make through what is best for their students.  If it isn’t making a difference for children in a school, it shouldn’t matter.
  • A school that doesn’t value partnerships with their families –Schools should always be working to invite their parents in, ask their opinions and build relationships so that they can partner in the child’s education. Does your school provide opportunities to be involved other than fundraisers? Does it have a parent involvement policy?  If not, it should.
  • A school that doesn’t grow EVERY student – It’s easy to appear to be a good school if all the students are the same and performing on high levels.  However, if a child walks in the door with lots of skills, a school should be able to grow the student from that point, not rest on their laurels A failing school is one that takes advantage of the fact that students may already be able to perform skills and doesn’t attempt to grow them more.  They may also not be able to grow students that have more difficulty learning.  They resort to labels and excuses of why it is the child that is the problem, rather than accepting the challenge and ensuring learning happens.

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  • A school that doesn’t seek to teach problem-solving, higher level thinking, and 21st-century skills necessary to survive in a future that we cannot yet fully define – Our world has changed drastically, just since I was in school.  There are jobs and technology we couldn’t have even dreamed of at the time I was in elementary school.  We have to intentionally think about this world that doesn’t exist.  We have to make sure that our students are proficient readers, writers, and mathematicians, but we also have to make sure they are thinkers, problem-solvers, collaborators, and have skills to persist when things get challenging, while also being willing to grow.  Students can no longer live in a world of “perfection” because learning is messy and they don’t need to waste time memorizing things that they can access easily through technology.
  • A school using technology in learning only to consume information –To often schools have lots of technology available, but they are only using it to access programs that allow for practice of skills or looking up information.  Truly great schools are teaching students the programs that not only allow access to information but applications that allow them to create and demonstrate their understanding of concepts.  Research is showing that this type of creativity is critical for the future.
  • A school driven by high stakes testing and preparation –Too many schools these days are trying to prove their worth through high scores on high stakes tests.  The problem is that these schools are abandoning real learning for test preparation and cartoon5_2_13drills of skills rather than relevant learning grounded in real-life application.  Before you assume a good score means a good school, you may need to look deeper to find out exactly how those scores are being achieved and what may be sacrificed for the performance on a single day.
  • A school that doesn’t function as a learning organization –  A successful school is one where everyone grows and learns: leaders, teachers, students, parents, and community.  Administration and teachers should constantly be learning and evolving to meet the needs of the students and an ever-changing future.  They ways students are learning shouldn’t look like the ways we taught them 20, 10, or even five years ago.  There should be opportunities for parents and the community to participate in the learning as well. If the only learning is that of the students, there is definitely a problem.

Yes, no child should have to attend a failing school.  We just need to be careful to make sure we really know what a “failing school” really is.