Oh snap! 

Does anyone remember the book series “Snaps”? If you didn’t, I feel somewhat sorry for you. These books were a series of joke books, many in poor taste or inappropriate,  but geared towards a certain age bracket… or so I thought.  Recently, I came across my collection.

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image credit: amazon.com

I opened the first book up, and immediately exploded with laughter.  The books  are stupid. They are funny. They reminded me something I tend to forget from time to time:  I’ll forever be a middle school teacher. I taught 8th-grade social studies for eight years and loved every minute of it.  Sure, you had bad days like everyone else, but if I was asked to go back in a classroom, it would be with 8th graders. Saturated in sarcasm, dipped in goofiness, sprinkled with drama, and in the end, kids, this grade level was a rare breed to like.  You love it or hate it; and if you hate it, 8th graders know and they will take advantage of it. I started thinking about all of the great times and laughs (yes, laughs) I had when I was in 8th grade and taught 8th grade. It’s as if we all knew it was the time to be a clown before you mustered up for high school. I could not be more thankful for having the chance to work with this age group. And yes, I was just as goofy (some might say I still am).

 

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image credit: schooldesigns.com
Besides loving every minute of it, I worked with an amazing staff and a principal who, to this day, I would walk on hot coals for.  I still refer to them as my  second family. When I left to become an assistant principal, I was somewhat sad for a bit. I missed my crew. When I told my Superintendent this, he told me “There’s nothing wrong with missing them. Your first school will always be your home.” Churchill Junior High School was, and is still, my home. I’m thankful for them.

 

 

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image credit: newjerseyrealestatefinder.com
Being an assistant principal in a middle school was jut as fun. Sure, I was the ‘bad cop’ who dealt  with the ‘frequent flyers’ to the  office, but those special snowflakes and I created special relationships.  We laughed, we joked around, and we promised each other we would be better.  And we were. It was also nice to work with a staff that gets the middle school mind.  You need to be flexible, roll with the punches, and laugh every single day. If you don’t, you’ll get dragged into the black hole of ineffectiveness. I am thankful for my experiences there as well.

 

 

While the majority of my experiences have not been dealing with 8th graders directly as a K-12 Supervisor and as a Superintendent, I still use my middle school level of thinking every day. I still find a way to laugh, I still use my sarcasm and wit, and yes, I still laugh at a good ‘snap’.

I’m thankful for all of it, as all of it has put me in the place where I am today.

Now, go read something else before I think of a snap for you.

 

 

On Slow Bus Ride to China: 3 Initial Takeaways

Ella, please don’t be upset that I procured your song title, but for those that didn’t know, there’s a lot of traffic in China. A whole lot.

I can’t even begin to summarize how amazing my trip to China was. Surrounded by fellow Administrators, Superintendents, and BOE members, we had superb conversations and saw things in ways our educational eyes are trained to.  

So much to share, and most of my pictures will do the talking. Here my big three initial takeaways:

the ELL class had about 60 students in the room!

1. Nobody cares about your party planning. I’m into details when planning an event in school. I want everything to look perfect / reflect education, feel comfortable, yet professional, and if I am having several people in for a meeting, I want decent food and coffee. All of that in China does not apply at all. Sure, we ate food, but never at the schools. Most buildings were dilapidated at best, and cleanliness was not the priority. Why?

 Because the focus is on learning. 

What does a coat of paint have to do with teaching? You’re cold? Wear a coat. Hungry? Bring a snack; it’s not the set of Iron Chef. These are my interpretations of what I saw. 

one of the arenas where PE classes were held

2. Some of those “elite” private schools that wealthy US folks pay to get in? They’re hogwash in China too.  Educators know when they see good lessons and gobbledygook. To quote one person from the trip, “Every teacher we saw in this Private school was on the B-Squad.” By far, some of the poorest instruction and class management I’ve seen. These “educators” wouldn’t be on the B-Squad; they would have been on the unemployment squad. The worst part? I’m pretty sure that the parents that have them in the school think some mind blowing education is taking place. Nope. I truly felt bad for these high school students. We all know that some of this malarchy is happening in US schools, but I can’t imagine the hoodwinking is that bad.
  3. Kids are kids…anywhere. This may sound a bit offbeat, but I was under the assumption that we’d see all seriousness and silence from sunrise to sunset. We saw smiling and laughing, some bored and “playing school”, and even saw kids just being kids. Thousands of miles apart,  compiled with a very different culture, and kids are still kids.

More to come on this with collaborators for an EPUB from Glenn Robbins and Spike Cook later on. Until then, I’ll be drinking my coffee, watching scads of awful television, and working on this whole Ed.D thing. 

Onward! 

More China:

   
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
   

Winners, Losers, and Cowards: #njsbaconf205

  This past week was my third NJSBA-NJASA convention. It’s three days of workshops, booths, food, festivities, and networking. It’s typically the who’s who of school admin; toss in BOE members, vendors (some wanna be hipster, some way out of touch, some just right), and some lobbying action and you have quite the soirée. I’ve evaluated the last two on here; third time is a charm I suppose. Let’s get to it:

  The winners: major points for the districts that brought students down to highlight their accomplishments. I saw amazing things happening in the iSTEM center (shout out to Northfield for bringing their students AND samples of their Digital Shop), heard choral performances from Salem High School, and even saw a Robotics Team showing off their creations.

  More points go to the very special collaborations that took place. You saw it everywhere; day and night, at tables or over cups of coffee; we Superintendents are tight, and we talk. A lot. While it was nice for me to catch up with many of my former coworkers, one of JE best conversations took place between Dr. Scott Ripley, Dr. Robert Zywycki, and myself. It turns out that Salem County (my former Superintendency) and Sussex county have a whole lot in common. They couldn’t be any farther apart, but the similarities are somewhat insane. Amongst other things:

  • They are sparsely populated
  • The tax situation is way lighter compared to the rest of the state, but many residents compare it to living in a highly populated area
  • There are a handful of locals who are very adamant about keeping things like they were 100 years ago
  • Some pedagogy and instruction is completely  antiquated to the point where the “education” that is given out is completely useless in today’s society
  • There are adamant, passionate administrators who have accepted the challenge of getting all stakeholders to see why education is essential for today’s world.

  Finally, points  go to the Clark Public Schools and to NJM insurance.  Tom Misiak, Supervisor of  Curriculum & Instruction in Clark,NJ gave an amazing presentation on NextGen Science and rollouts for grades K-12. I was floored on his rollout; concise, persistent, and easy to understand. The second part goes to New Jersey Manufactuers Insurance company for offering the driver simulator for high school students. The simulator offers a myriad of interactive driving scenarios. I participated in the texting and driving simulation, where you actually use your phone and text while driving. In a seven minute drive, I committed five violations, including striking two cars. The simulator is available for all high schools in NJ.

  The Losers: In my opinionnothing this year was really that bad. My only issue was the marketing company who had their employees dress as hipsters and crash another evening reception. I thought it was tacky and sad that someone thought it was a good idea to crash someone else’s event. Have your own event; don’t crash someone else’s to push a competitors product! And hiring actors to portray  (as one performer put it) “obnoxious hipsters”. What were you thinking??? I’m not a marketing person, but something is telling me that trying to thwart someone else’s event is going to make you lose business, not gain it.

  The Cowards: It should be clear at this point that some love me and some loathe me. I understand; I can come across as very strong, but I don’t care.  I’m very passionate and I will do anything and everything to ensure that  we are meeting students where they are, getting teachers what they need, and are learning with today’s tools. I came across a former supervisor. He hired me; I had the utmost respect for him and, in turn, made me who I am, including a national Superintendent of the Year. We did have a falling out, but over the course of a few years I thought water would have been under the bridge and we could be professional.  I went to say hello and thank you, but the supervisor saw me, turned white, and made a B-line to the door, taking his board member.  I had to snicker.  Why run?  What are you afraid of??  I saw the BA too, who also turned white and tried to fade into the crowd.  Are you both really that surprised that I was there? Did you not know I am a Superintendent of Schools?  Again, why hide?  Are you mad that I stayed social in the town? Are you annoyed that residents still talk to me and that residents frequently stay in touch?   Are you irked that I have respect, something that you still can’t get after all of these years?  Are you afraid that I’m going to discuss what we did as administrators? Or spill the beans over something?   Why would I do any of that??? The behaviors that these ‘leaders’ demonstrated  have contributed to me becoming a better leader, because now I know what NOT to do.

The conference is also full of social activities, and during one event, I walked passed my old supervisor again. The supervisor smiled at his friends and flew the coop  (Note that I didn’t say hi, I didn’t attempt to communicate, or any of that).  After to running into colleagues from all over the state, I bump into good friends from my hometown.  They happen to be sitting right behind the supervisor, BA and two BOE members.  I didn’t notice it until the table got up and moved.  When they moved, two kept on looking over and had that fake smile of panic on their faces. I didn’t notice it until my friends pointed it out to me, asking me why do they keep looking over. Again, I had to laugh and just shake my head.  Petty?  Pathetic? Immature? Is this a conference for Superintendents and officials or the middle school cafeteria? You ran away when you saw me. Cowards!  All of the interactions are baffling, and the fact that you act this way in places like this makes me think twice about who you are and how I respected you. I recall this supervisor stepping into drama on occasion; clearly all of the drama you’ve had was self-induced.

Oh, that Board Member he tried scurrying me away from?  We had a great breakfast.  And we talked. A lot (the best question – “Why didn’t you take the job that surrounded our town?  That would have been amazing!”).  We talked because that’s what real leaders do.  We put children first, not theatrics.  We lead, not run.  We control the message, not react to it. We listen, we act, and yes, we collaborate with others.

Overall, a great conference filled with winners, losers, and yes, cowards. Until next year… and yes, I’ll be present next year too.