Take It All!

This past Saturday, I had a garage sale. And, like every garage sale you’ve seen, I had junk. Lots of it. Add to the mix that I have twins, so two of every toy, clothes, and every baby gadget known to man. After weeks of gathering it all together, I placed it all in the driveway and went in with the mentality of “take it all”. As long as you take it and give me my two garages & shed back, I’ll make any deal that you want. After placing all of the stuff out, I could not believe all of the stuff I acquired over the past couple of years; most of it I did not even remember I even had.

I didn’t price anything. I didn’t set high expectations of making tons of cash either. I had one goal and one goal only: expunge. Whatever wasn’t was going to get donated; the cash I made goes right to our feeding kid fund (I should really just buy a cow at this point; I buy 4 gallons of milk a week!).

After 4 hours, and subpar weather, I was actually impressed with how much I got rid of. What was “junk” to me was treasure to others. Some purchases were for those in need; others were those looking to flip some furniture; some were collectors, and some were for sheer fun. Every person had a different background. All had one common goal: to acquire new items. 

My favorite person of the day was a gentleman who was just poking around and he came across one of my old work briefcases. The bag retailed for about $400.00; I asked 5 bucks for it. He was ecstatic. He said he was looking for something just like this to put his books in for his night class. He also wanted some new ties for some upcoming interviews; he found a boatload of them as well. His infectious smile combined with what his intentions were enough for me.

So, how does this fit into education?

It’s the time of year where we are about to end the school year. Over the year (or years), we have collected stuff; either things we have used or things we think we will use. It’s time to purge. Don’t remember that you had it? Get rid of it. Switching grades? Get rid of it. Don’t know what it is because you “inherited” items from a retired teacher? Toss it. 

Keeping some of this stuff is cumbersome and could even be dangerous. I had a purge in one of my districts a few years back; they tossed 3 TONS of stuff in 4 days; everything from encyclopedias from the 70s to textbooks that were beyond outdated. I remember another time when a science teacher retired and we had to call a hazmat company in to get rid of the jars of formaldehyde and his secret stash of chemicals! 

Are you retiring? Have a garage sale of your own; offer stuff to your colleagues. What ever isn’t taken, throw it out. No, not textbooks or school issued equipment; all of the stuff you collected. Don’t just leave it for the next person to toss. We as educators are all hoarders by trade; let the next person start fresh and acquire their own.

And please, whatever you do, don’t just take free stuff just to take it. If you have 100 rolls of masking tape, you don’t need 101. 

I hope everyone has a great end of their school year. You worked hard; now go relax! And relaxing does not mean hitting up garage sales to buy more stuff for your classroom! 

The Tech Conductor

Below is a post that was written by Jeffrey Bradbury.  I have been very proud to call Jeff a colleague and great friend since we met at the first EdCampNJ in 2012.  Since then, Jeff has helped me navigate the educational seas on a myriad of levels, ranging from creating a new district website to offering in-person professional development to support staff. Read his great post below:

The other day, I had a technology coach from a neighboring school district visit my school and shadow me for the day.  It was a fantastic experience and something that I hope to be able to do with other districts this year and beyond.  The teacher and I had a great day of learning from one another, but I couldn’t help but use the day to reflect on many of our common conversation topics.  One of the deep conversations we had was around the simple question: “What is a Tech Coach?

Rather than use this post as an opportunity to dive into what a Tech Coach is, and what a Technology Integration Specialist is, I would like to propose a question to my readers that might shed some light on how I have approached these titles and my current position for the last two years.  The question is one that might sound strange, but those knowing my background might find quite interesting.  Should I consider myself a Tech Coach … or a Tech Conductor?

Let’s dive into this topic …

Everything I Know … I learned From The Podium

It’s no secret that my background is in Music Education.  I have countless memories of rehearsal sessions, and amazing performances of the worlds greatest pieces of music.  About 10 years ago (or more) I decided that I wanted to get up and instead of sitting in the orchestra, I wanted to start down a path that allowed me to stand in front of the orchestra and work along side them to perform sonata’s, symphonies, and operas.

It was during that time that I started taking formal conducting lessons from several amazing teachers.  From there, I learned how to physically stand and present myself to not only an orchestra, but a paying audience, and of course work along side a board of directors to help promote my vision, the orchestras vision, and most importantly, the composers visions.

Of all the things that I learned in the world of conducting, these lessons stand out:

  • The conductor is the only one on stage that doesn’t make noise, yet his actions are what tie the group together
  • The musicians don’t need a conductor to know what to do. A conductors job is simply to start everyone and guide them through transitions.
  • Treat every musician with respect, but understand that different instruments require different needs.

It has been through these lessons that I approach every day as a Tech Coach.  It is through these lessons that I find myself more becoming a Tech Conductor.  Let me try and explain how these lessons can be applied in a school system.

From Podium To Classroom … and Back Again

When you break down everything that happens on the podium, it starts and stops with the simple concept of Respect.  I can honestly say that I have my good days and I have had my bad days as I learn how to be a Tech Coach to over 400 staff members.  As a conductor, you have your good days and bad days too.  You have your rehearsals where everything goes well, and you have those times where someone puts you on the spot in a rehearsal and you simply don’t know the answer.  This happens in the classroom all the time.

What is important is that you come prepared to every rehearsal, meeting, classroom, as prepared as possible.  If you don’t know the answer to a question, you always make sure you have a resource (your PLN) that can help you find the answer quickly.

From early on in my conductor training, I learned that the word Maestro is one that gets placed upon you from day one, but the concept of Maestro, a word that literally translates into Teacher, (or coach) is one that is earned day after day, rehearsal after rehearsal and is earned only through respect.  This is extremely true for Technology Coaches who not only work with everyone in a district at all levels, but must also be walking talking resource centers of technology and pedagogy that are essentially on call 24/7.

You Are The Only One Who Doesn’t Make Any Sound

In an orchestra setting, the violin players, play the violin, the tuba players play the tuba, and the bass players play the bass.  Each of these musicians or groups of musicians has an instrument that they can pick up anytime and practice.  A Conductor on the other hand has the orchestra.  There is no try way to practice late at night with an imaginary group of 50 people.  The preparation for Conductors is mostly mental and requires you to study scores of music and practice “gestures” in the air, sometimes in front of mirrors to make sure that the one single time you are in front of a group you get it right.

As a Tech Coach, it is very much the same.  Teachers have the opportunity to learn from their students every day.  They learn how their classrooms work, act, and interact with each other.  As a Tech Coach, you have just one moment to walk into a classroom and nail your lesson.  When you are given an opportunity to present in front of a building, you are given an opportunity to showcase your self in front of 150 (or more) strangers who are all there to learn from, and support you. They know you are in front of them to help them become better educators, but there might not be the same friendly connection that a teacher and a group of students has, or a principal and a faculty have.

Walking into a building to give PD is very much like bring asked to come into a new orchestra and guest conduct a rehearsal or performance without ever getting to meet the musicians.

Your Teachers … They Don’t Need You

Let’s face the fact that teachers have been teaching for hundreds of years without the need for a “Technology Integration Specialist.”  They don’t need “Tech Coaching.”  But … do they?

One of the first rules of conducting is … Show Up When Needed, and Get Out Of The Way …

There are times when you can simply tell a musician how to play something, times when you can describe a sound, and times where you have to grab an instrument from the violin section and demonstrate for a group.

This couldn’t be more truer as a Tech Coach.  There are times where I have worked with a teacher and my role was simply to answer a question or two and back away.  Other situations have lead me to helping them create a co-teaching lesson where together, we worked with the students on an innovative lesson.

In the classroom, the role of a Tech Coach is to quickly enter and assess a situation and provide whatever the teacher needs when they need it.  Perhaps it’s by simply answering a question and other times it’s by picking up the instrument to demonstrate how something should look or sound.

If you choose the right method of support, the group/teacher will appreciate your help and together the rehearsal/lesson will move forward.  If you choose the wrong method at the wrong time, you are libel to insult someone and create a situation you never intended to have started. As a Conductor and as a Tech Coach, it’s always important to know the personalities you are working with so you can quickly make the right decisions and choices.

Some Teachers Are Section Players … Some Are Soloists

If you really think about it, a school district is very much like an orchestra. To conceptualize this, lets break down the different parts of each.

The Orchestra

Violin SectionThe Strings

In the front of a symphony orchestra lies a massive section known as the Strings.  All together, their instruments are in the “violin family.” Their instruments look similar, they play with a bow, and there could be as many as 24 of the same instrument in each of the 5 distinct sections.  Together, they can be broken down into string quartets, trios, and often, composers write for them as either a full section, or as soli sections. Each of the subsections (violins, viola, cells, bass) are seated by rank (ability level) and there is a section leader who is for conversation sake, “the boss” of that section.

The Winds

The next group of musicians behind the strings is the Woodwinds. This section is composed of your Flutes, Oboes, Clarinets, and Bassoons.  They are your mid range, mid level instruments who are put in the awkward position of sitting behind the massive string section, yet they sit in front of the might brass and percussion sections so it’s often possible that while playing loud and proud they don’t get heard when the entire group is playing together.

Winds and BrassThe Brass, Percussion, etc …

Composed of the Trumpets, Trombones, and Tubas, Drums, Marimbas, Cymbals and all other instruments these musicians are highly specialized and are only in your group because, like the winds, they passed an audition based on their ability to be leaders and soloists.  When addressing these musicians a conductor should simply be able to describe in as few words as possible the sound or quality they wish to hear and it should happen with as little retakes as possible.  These are HIGHLY skilled and trained musicians who spend hours in a practice room learning what is known as “excerpts” or very tiny solo passages just to have the opportunity to audition for the group.

A School District

Elementary Teachers

Elementary Teachers, should be approached as a group. In any building, for example, you have several 4th grade teachers all teaching their own class, but teaching a common curriculum to the classroom next door.  They meet in departments to plan common activities but they often do their lesson plans on their own.  When you work with one and not the others, it is often not looked highly on. Sometimes it’s best to talk about concepts such as blended learning, or SAMR models, but they are also the first to allow a Tech Coach to pick up their instrument (classroom) and come in to demonstrate something new and amazing in the world of Technology.

Elementary teachers often have degrees in general elementary education rather than a specialized degree in a subject area and for that reason it’s often best to show a wide variety of examples and build lessons together.  Elementary Teachers and Buildings should be approached the same way a string section is approached.  It’s always best when you are able to demonstrate the concept as well as describe.

Middle School

Much like the proud woodwinds, Middle School teachers are caught between elementary and high school teachers. They have the hardest job because without them students don’t have a solid direction when they get into the older grades.  Also much like the Woodwinds, Middle School teachers are soloists who often times are remembered the most when a student looks back at their favorite years in school  Their hardest job is that they often have to work with a group of students who came from multiple elementary schools and haven’t yet jelled together as individuals yet … and oh, did we mention those wonderful puberty years.

High School

Much like a conductor should never (unless specialized themselves in the instrument) tell a brass player how to play the trumpet, a good Tech Coach should never (or hardly ever) approach a high school teacher and tell them how to teach their subject. . . Trust me …

High School Teachers are HIGHLY talented, and HIGHLY Specialized educators who command the respect of teenagers every day and for those reasons I love popping my head into classrooms each day, asking if they need anything and moving on.  Often, I find myself sitting down with high school teachers to plan out lessons the same way I would sit down with a soloist to plan out a solo passage in a symphony.  If you show them respect, they will reciprocate and come back time and time again because their only goal each year is to produce the best students and pass them on to college.

Broadband for 25 Cents!

Technology always moves at the speed of exhaustion, but the Obama administration recently authorized the LifeLine Modernization Act of 2016. The super short version: the 226-page act provides those families that live in poverty to qualify for a $9.75 internet grant for each home.

So what?

Well…the same exact families are also qualified for reduced rates at all national cable companies for $10.00 a month.

So…

Those families can get broadband internet for 25 cents a month!

Awesome, right?

The essential problem: how many families living in poverty are actually made aware of such an offer?  Few.  Why?  Cable companies are not advertising this (nor do they have to), and most schools are unaware of it. Those folks have to call the cable company and provide proof that they are in poverty. They also have to mention the landline grant to get the service. The cable companies are responsible for everything else.

Sounds easy enough, but for a family in poverty, it’s not the easiest thing to do. We need to spread the word.  All schools and all public entities should know about this. Spread the word!

A teacher doing what she does best… educating others.

There are bloggers, and there are those who speak from the heart.  Kelly Grotrian (pronounced Grow-tree-an, not Grow-train) is one of those advocates.  I had the privilege to work with Kelly for a few years teaching 8th-grade history; she’s passionate, she pushes her kids to work, and she is fearless.  Read about her struggles below, but more importantly, read about what she’s doing about it.

I’ve gone back and forth about whether I wanted to write this post and I decided that I will share what I’m comfortable sharing and hope that my story may help someone else “out there.” I am living with a variety of mental disorders for which I seek treatment and I wanted to tell “everyone” […]

via A Post Not About Teaching… But About a Teacher — Kelly Grotrian

Which guy?

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image credit: newgrounds.com
So… here we are again…another summer that flies by, another school year ready to kick off, and another few weeks of thoughts swirling in my head about what exactly to say to the hundreds of staff members who wait for my every last breathYou know the last sentence was sarcasm, right?  I used to despise listening to administrators giving speeches to begin the school year.  As a teacher, I already had so much to do, a classroom to set up, curriculum and IEP’s to look over, etc. The last thing I wanted to do was be herded in like cattle to sit and listen to some know-it-all administrator tell me how I’m going to do my job and how wonderful I am, even though he had never met me.

 

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image credit: shamelessmag.com

And now I am “that guy.”   I don’t like being “that guy.”  You know… “That guy” who cuts in front of you in the lunch line, “’that guy” who just has to have the last word, “that guy”’ who has been the gift to education since he stepped into a classroom and knows absolutely everything.

I don’t like the labels “good guy” or “bad guy” either.  My job isn’t a movie plot or a professional wrestling storyline.  However, some will correlate good guy and bad guy, because that’s what was always done.

Some people will call me a good guy, some a bad guy, or, even worse, “that guy.”  While I don’t think I fit any of these personas, I’ll tell you what I think I am. I am the guy.

  • I’m the guy who was appointed by the Board of Education to lead a school district down numerous avenues, sometimes even trailblazing.
  • I’m the guy who is charged with leading principals, supervisors, managers, teachers, and all employees in any and all school interactions, as I have oversight of, either directly or indirectly, every district employee, all school programs, and all facilities.
  • I’m the guy who signs the checks, approves the bills, and makes sure we are getting the best that money can buy.
  • I’m the guy who serves as the Chief Executive Officer of the Board of Education and am responsible for the administration and supervision of the school district in accordance with Board policies and New Jersey Statutes.
  • I’m the guy who will inspire, lead, guide and direct every member of the administrative, instructional, and support services team in setting and achieving the highest standards of excellence, so that each individual student enrolled in our district may be provided with a completely valuable, meaningful and personally rewarding education.
  • I’m the guy who is an ex-officio member of the Board of Education and serves on every committee, like it or not.
  • I’m the guy who advises the Board on the need for new or revised policy and prepares drafts for Policy Committee review.
  • I’m the guy who supervises the effective implementation of all constitutional or statutory laws, state regulations, and Board policies. Some love that, and some loathe it.
  •  I’m the guy who recommends for promotion, appointment, or employment all employees of the Board and assigns, transfers and recommends for dismissal any and all employees of the Board.
  • I’m the guy who assumes ultimate administrative responsibility for the health, safety, welfare, discipline, assignment, promotion and retention of all students.
  • I’m the guy who will report to the Board of Education on the conditions and needs of the school system and effectiveness of the policies and regulations under which the system is operating.
  • I’m the guy who supervises the physical operation of the school plant and its facilities and makes appropriate recommendations.
  • I’m the guy who is responsible for the general supervision of the instructional programs as well as the one who supervises research essential to the efficient operation of the school system and the improvement of instruction.
  • I’m the guy who makes recommendations to the Board of Education for its adoption of all courses for students as well as the purchase of textbooks, instructional supplies, and equipment.
  • I’m the guy who schedules meetings and professional development for school staff as necessary for the improvement and welfare of the school district.
  • I’m the guy who makes the call for the opening or closing of school during emergency situations.
  • I’m the guy who has to enforce Board policies and implement Board goals whether I like them or not.

I could go on and on for another 8 gazillion bullets, but, hopefully, you get the point.  Bottom line: If it has to deal with school, from a broken pipe to a broken link on the website, I have something to do with it at some point.

You can love me, you can loathe me, or anything in between and outside of the scope of that, but know that this guy is here for your kids.  Kids first! Always!

I think I just finished by back-to-school address.  Here goes nothing.  If it hits home to one person, awesome.  If not, I have Dave Burgess to fall back on this year! 😉

Here’s to all having a great back-to-school year!

Second Hand News

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Summer is a time for relaxation, recharging, and for some, regrouping. I’m a big fan of just zoning out on the beach to some tunes. One of my favorite bands, Fleetwood Mac, was just on with their hit “Second Hand News”. I know the song has nothing to do with school, but the title sure does.

As a Superintendent, I am constantly addressing the rumor mill and second-hand news.  There’s not a day that does not go by where I don’t hear “well I heard that…” or “someone told me that…” or “is it true that…” To be clear almost every administrator goes through this. In no way, shape, or form is this unique to me.

Once you think you hear it all, something else comes along.  It’s constant, but almost expected.

Why would I waste time blogging about this? Simple; others folks in my position need to know it’s not just you, your district, or location. It’s everywhere. What you need to do is simply laugh it off and keep moving along. The only time I address rumors is when someone is personally being scrutinized for something.

Will rumors ever stop? Never. Will they dictate my life or my leadership. Absolutely not. Rumors are rumors, and peddling, laughing, and rolling with them is just as much a apart of school culture as snacks in the faculty room.

Some resources for dealing with Orlando

Dealing with grief in schools is tough.  Very tough.  Some schools are out already; some are just wrapping up, but regardless — questions will be had. Below is a simple letter I sent to my staff and included some resources to help your students deal with tragedy. 

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All:

It is with great sadness that I find myself writing another email addressing gun violence and terrorism.  With the shooting of a pop star that grew up down the road, and the deadliest mass shooting in American history taking place last evening, we are all in a state of pondering how such senseless acts could take place. 

With seven school days left, we are still charged with the well-being and educating our students.  While I know you will be teaching, packing, and partaking in end of year activities, I am assuming that at some point that questions will be had by students.  I know that you are the professionals who will address any issues appropriately and accordingly.

School Counselors  and social workers will clear their schedules to be available tomorrow; if anyone is in need of additional resources, please contact your supervisor and we will get them to you.

Below are some links and resources you can use if you need them.  A kind reminder that if you do address Orlando, please use your discretion when sharing any images or any news clips. 

Disney & Grief: http://efuneral.com/Articles/Top_10_Kids_Movies_Dealing_with_Loss_Death__Grief/375

Sesame Street and dealing with grief: http://www.sesamestreet.org/parents/topicsandactivities/topics/grief

Edutopia – Dealing with Grief in schools: http://www.edutopia.org/blog/tips-grief-at-school-2-chris-park

Talking to students about tragedy: http://www.fosterparents.com/articles/borba3.htm

Jerry Blumengarten’s  grief webpage: http://cybraryman.com/guidance.html

Even in the wake of tragedy, schools continue to be one of the safest places for children to be on a daily basis. Below are some conversational tips from Dr. Michele Borba personally shared on her Twitter feed today. I trust Michele with my own child’s well-being and consider her a personal friend and colleague. I hope you find her thoughts helpful.

· Turn off the TV and media when kids are present. Image can negatively impact children regardless of your zip code.
· Talk to the kids if they have questions. Open with “What have you heard?” Kids need the right facts. YOU not their peers provide the best source.
· Kids need to know it’s OK to share their feelings. It’s normal to be upset. Be calm and give only age appropriate information.
· Don’t give more information than the kid is ready to hear. More importantly, let your students know you’re there to listen.
· Don’t expect to help alleviate a student’s  anxiety unless you keep your own in check. Kids are calmer if we are calmer.
· Please don’t think because a student isn’t talking about the events that he/she didn’t hear about it.
· Give the information in small doses. Listen. Watch their response. Kids need processing time. Kids don’t need to know all the details and numbers. End with “I’m here for any questions you may have at anytime.”
· Here’s a great way to curb anxieties: Find proactive ways to alleviate fears about the tragedy.
· Stick to classroom routines. This soothes the stress and helps kids know that despite tragedy, that the world goes on. The sun will come up tomorrow.
· Draw kids’ attention to heroism in the tragedy. Use police, doctors, etc so kids see the goodness in the heartbreak.
· Kids respond to tragic news differently. Let your students know their feelings are normal. Help he/she express them. Follow his/her lead.
· Keep ongoing dialogue. Don’t explain more than they are ready to hear. Kids process and will want more later.
· T.A.L.K.

o Talk to the kid about the tragedy in an age-appropriate way

o Assess kid coping skills

o Listen, give some information and listen some more

o Kindle hope that the world goes on


· Plan what you’ll say to your students about the tragedy to boost their confidence and calmness. It’s OK to say “I don’t know” or “Good question. Let me find out.”