Voice & Choice

We have seen research over and over again that, when learners have a choice in identifying what to learn and how they want to learn it, it has produced academic success and allows creativity to flourish.

This is nothing new.  The way many teachers, schools, and districts are finally embracing it is.

About five years ago, I was introduced to the EdCamp professional development model, where educators not only choose what to attend, but they also teach it themselves and all have the ability to leave if they don’t like or understand what is being taught. Later, I blogged about the Northfield Community School and how Principal Glenn Robbins (now a superintendent) offered an elective-style period at the end of the day where middle schoolers (yes, students) were able to pick what class they wanted to attend.

Fast forward to today.  I recently observed arts teachers in one of my schools take part in the same model with students in grades 4 and 5. Students had the chance to choose from six different art-themed classes, in addition to the ones they already had during the week, ranging from musical theater to ballet.

While the school itself is unique in that it has been created to circulate around artistic infusion while students receive their elementary education, it also has embraced current, meaningful educational research that indeed shows that student voice and student choice are factors in obtaining an education that will serve students of today’s times, not the school that you and I went to.

Again, saying that we need to be cognizant of today’s times is nothing new and far from groundbreaking. It’s the fact that teachers and administrators not only understand but follow through and implement, so that our students have a chance to take part in today’s society, not be a product of the 70’s / 80’s / 90’s that just collects & completes piles of worksheets (that are all thrown out at the end of the year) and is known by a state testing identification number.

To all those who are embracing voice & choice in your classrooms, schools, and districts, thank you.

Onward!

 

Going Backwards?!?

They say that the old stuff is new again. Wood paneling on walls. Deviled eggs. One teacher for all subjects in middle school.

Just kidding…or am I?

About once every two months I’m fortunate enough to still meet at a local diner with stakeholders from a former district. Great food, wifi, and, yes, a room in the back where we can eat, drink, and be merry. Our “dinner club” consists of teachers, parents, retirees, employees, and even some current and former elected officials. We should really call ourselves the dirty dozen; our table is rather messy by the time we are done.

We do have one rule at this gathering; NO SHOP TALK. Meaning, I don’t want to get into current practices, gossip, or local politics. We’ve been good for almost a year, and then we slipped. A parent lashed out about a logistical change. A change back to something that was pretty cool to do between the inception of public school to about the 1960’s, lingered on until the late 80’s, and was all but dead when everyone realized how detrimental such a concept is given our world today.

When a parent brought it up, I choked on my food. Surely this couldn’t be. Yet it was. All I could do was shake my head and sigh. Those poor kids, being set up for failure. All of the hard work and buy-in, all of the long meetings, all of the anger, for what? All gone.

As disappointing as it was to hear and sad to see that students will go back into a pattern of remediation the following year to catch them up to where they are supposed to be, I was very quick to switch gears. “Oh, well,” I quipped.

“Oh, well?” the parent bit back. “That’s all that you can say?” She was legitimately annoyed and expressed to the table that her kid was getting screwed in the process. The parent felt this was being done not out of student benefit, but out of bitter political spite. “They are literally going through a checklist of accomplishments that were made under your watch and are undoing them. You changed this for the better and now we are going backwards in every way.”

I said, “Oh, well,” again.

She began to cry. I pulled her over to the side and said very simply that there is nothing I can do about it. The board of education sets the polices and philosophies, writes the paychecks, and has control over one person–the superintendent. If a board changes multiple times and new leadership is elected, the board goes on a different path; the board itself changes every time a person leaves or comes on. That’s how it’s supposed to work.

That being said, if the board directs the superintendent to go in a certain direction, the superintendent will most likely do it if he/she needs a job. It’s unfortunate, but it is what it is. Most people have families, mouths to feed, and bills to pay. Some superintendents can take the rogue and/or lazy route if they have other things lined up where their families are taken care of and so on. But if the Superintendent needs a job, well the Superintendent is most likely going to listen to the bosses. Thankfully, Superintendents don’t have tenure.

In the meantime, you can and are allowed to disagree.  That’s healthy and democratic, but please be supportive in a way so that your child can grow, learn, and move forward. Politicizing, witch hunts, and fishing expeditions don’t do anything but create stress amongst a myriad of stakeholders and waste money. There is no need to put you or your child through that. In all seriousness, if things were that bad, the teacher, leadership, or board member(s) wouldn’t be there; they’d be in jail.

One last point I told the mom to consider–wait until the standardized scores come out. When you look at one set of data of what was good for kids versus implementing something that isn’t, you’ll see it, clear as day, guaranteed. You’ll compare it to other state reports, and you’ll be able to make a clear path and argument that what was in place versus going backwards for future years will explode in the board’s face. Surely, they will try to spin it and place blame on something or someone (one time I was even blamed for potholes, on public record!), but the real truth will get out, and now you have a case to run for the board yourself.

I’m looking forward to our next gathering. Diner food is…well…a Jersey thing!

Onward!

I’m Pushing Boundaries

Below is my guest blog post from the Pushing Boundaries educational consulting website. You can see my post below and why I’m so excited to be working with this fantastic group of educators!

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Meet Superintendent Jay Eitner

September 5, 2017

Rick Jetter & Rebecca Coda

This Superintendent of Schools is passionate about every learner growing, learning, and moving forward.  ALL-IN-EVERY-DAY!  Everything Jay does pushes boundaries.  Whether he is at the U.S. Capitol advocating, talking with national leaders, promoting change in our system, or running leadership podcasts from the Hot Tub, he is ALL IN!  Superintedent Eitner is the founder, blogger (The Sup’s Scoop), consultant, and host of Eitner Education (www.jayeitner.com) He settles for nothing less than his personal best because our students are counting on us! 

We approached Jay Eitner because of his contribution to educational excellence and his unstoppable force of influence and passion to always do what’s right even adversity is inevitable. He isn’t afraid to knock over the apple cart to gain traction for kids.  This is who we are and Jay is the epitome of what a “boundary pusher” is in his own right!

Here’s what Jay had to say about his role in pushing boundaries:

For my entire educational career, I’ve been pushing boundaries. As a student, I recall a few incidents where I challenged the status quo and  even went rogue. Some key incidents include:

Leaving my 5th grade class (without telling my teacher) so I can go to the GT class and speak to the zoning official about the building that was being constructed next to our school (my teacher, Mrs. Donatello, did not take kindly when I told her I was doing it because I thought her class was boring);

Giving a student council speech in 7th grade calling out two of my teachers in front of the whole school  because they were so disconnected from today’s times (my principal, Mr. Malles, didn’t take it too kindly, and I got some time off for it);

Writing a letter and reading it to the Board of Education as a senior in high school and copying all of my physical education teachers stating the program was “completely useless” and I’m failing because I couldn’t run a mile in 12 minutes (not only was my Principal, Mr. Fortunato, pretty steamed, the entire phys ed department gave me some extra attention in class).

I pushed the boundaries. I bucked the system. I called people out and I pleaded for the person who was not meant for cookie-cutter education: me.  It was the entire reason I went into education.

As an educator, I’ve taught everything from kindergarten to second semester seniors. I pushed the boundaries with my kids, always encouraging them to think and act outside of the box. I’ve been an Assistant Principal, K-12 Supervisor, Superintendent of Schools in rural, suburban, and urban environments. I pushed the boundaries in all of those arenas.  I rose to the top and gained statewide, national, and international attention because I’ve pushed boundaries.

For years, I have sought out people who think like me; leaders who don’t care what people say, who have no problem adapting to change and making it work for their districts, schools, and students, who speak up against the old boys club and status quo, and most importantly, who make every single decision based on their students, because our students are counting on us.

I have found a group of dedicated, inspirational, and progressive educators who have no problem pushing boundaries. The #pushboundedu team has stood up to complacency, speaks and acts when necessary, and have no qualms with upsetting the educational applecart.

September 13 marks a new day in education across this country; we are Pushing Boundaries, and we are doing it for one and only one reason; because our kids are counting on us to do it.

Please join us on September 13 for a chat focusing on how all of us can push boundaries so we can grow, learn, and move onward in new and amazing ways.  We look forward to changing the educational game with you under the hashtag #pushboundEDU.

Onward.

You can find Jay everywhere on social media and at many national conferences. He will be co-presenting on Prevailing Leadership at the AASA National Superintendent’s Conference in February in Nashville and travels the nation influencing our profession.

We are honored that Jay is one of “us” and willing to break the glass ceiling together. Check out his blogs and podcasts!  He is a contagion for sure!

Setting Meaningful Goals

When I first became a superintendent, I wrote down two goals I wanted to reach by the end of my 5th year. Those goals were:

  • To get back to the North / Central NJ area
  • To gain experience in rural, suburban, and urban districts

I’m proud to say that I’ve reached those goals–surely not the way I planned to, but I did it.

In our first NJASA Superintendents’ Academy meeting, Dr. Bozza had us take a leadership style assessment and set goals. Just as we all do when we read “set goals,” I balked and assumed it was a waste of time. What was cool, though, was that it was also the first year of Student Growth Objectives (SGOs) in New Jersey, where all teachers had to also set goals that were in alignment with their classes. Since we, as leaders, were being indoctrinated in this new practice as well, it was the perfect time to set them. SGO’s should exhibit three characteristics:

  • Be achievable
  • Be measurable
  • Be attainable

I wanted to choose my superintendent goals with the mindset of SGO goal-making. I wanted to emulate the experience that all of my teachers and principals would have to go through. I initially started with two goals that were a joke–all fluff. Then I circled back and really thought about them. Are these goals which I can share with my board? Are these goals I can actually achieve? Can these goals be measured? Can I attain these goals by doing my job and not creating a myriad of extra work?  I then rewrote my goals, and I recall rewriting them several times that day. I finally worked it down to the two goals and felt that they were achievable, measurable, and attainable.

When the offer to become a superintendent at the age of 34 was presented, I took it. My taking the position required me to move to a new home, be submerged in a new culture (that of South Jersey), and transition from working in powerhouse, wealthy, progressive districts to the complete opposite. I was way outside of my comfort zone but knew I could do it; I was made to do this.

I’m proud to say that I’ve successfully turned around two districts and am now beginning my third. I’m not saying it simply because it believe it; I’m saying it because every single state report with every single piece of data shows it. Test scores? Up. Technology integration? Accomplished. More meaningful and effective PD’s? Check. Financial stability? Done. Again, not my saying so.  The state reports show it, and that data can’t be manipulated or fabricated in any way.  The first two districts were in the land of the “856,” and now I’m back in the “908.”

My second goal was a personal one. While I feel that my background has served all walks of life, I wanted to gain experiences on all socioeconomic levels in all geographical areas. It’s my personal goal to take my skill set and apply it on a statewide or federal level. While my business experiences and aspects of my job have allowed me to meddle in some statewide initiatives and federal projects, having the data to back up my accomplishments would be paramount in ascertaining the position.

As so many school years are getting ready to commence, I hope you take some time and write down two attainable, meaningful, achievable goals that you can shoot for this year. I wish all of you a wonderful 2017-18 school year!

Onward!

Blockbuster, Redbox, Netflix, & __________

The AASA Digital Consortium met in the last week of July in Roseland, Illinois (right outside of Chicago). The group consists of superintendents from around the country who are looking to continue to expand on services provided for our students while seeing true innovation and leadership by example. We were in Chicago last year and had our socks knocked off; this year did the same.IMG_0248We jumped right in and began to review the ISTE standards for administrators from 2009.  While we were all impressed that the standards did apply to today’s times, I had a fascinating conversation with Dr. Nick Polyak, superintendent from nearby Leyden, IL. Nick and I were talking about the above slide and how, while some things change, there will always be folks looking back to the past and wanting to use what was comfortable to them before. Nick used the great analogy of how we had once had thisdownload-1 and then this download-2

and now many do this,download-3 and in the future we’ll be doing something I can’t list because it’s not in existence yet.

Now, Blockbuster isn’t entirely dead.  There are still stores in Alaska (a great story done by CBS Sunday Morning if you haven’t seen it) and there’s a great video from The Onion as well.

But…

The moral of the story is that we in education need to adapt, just as the rest of the world has. Education is one of the few (if not only) professions where the times have changed, but we are still implementing a system that was designed by a group of rich white guys from the 19th century, placed in facilities that are largely from the 20th century, and occupied with students who are in the 21st century.

Besides this brain-exploding moment I had, other highlights of this gathering included

  • Learning about all of the wonderful happenings in CCSD59 and how the focus in on employees, learners (who attend a year-round program in this school), and shifting from the traditional education system to learner-active classrooms (Pics below are from the year-round school’s media center / makerspace).
  • Exploring how Rolling Meadows High School offers its students design challenges The chair below was made with $20.00 worth of supplies and had to hold up to 40 lbs and how their physical education program will change the rest of the country. I firmly believe this.  Not only did they build an indoor track and gym under their main gym, but they are using technology to track everything from student recovery time to how students are using velocity to lift weights!
  • Speaking with recently graduated seniors from Wheeling High School‘s NANOTECHNOLOGY LAB to see how their studies have changed their lives.  Not kidding! This lab has millions of dollars worth of scientific equipment in it.
  • Examining future possibilities from the CoSN’s learning matrix.

In all, this was a superb gathering that showed everyone in attendance how education continues to evolve for the communities and learners we serve. I can’t wait to see what Seattle brings us in October!

Onward!

 

SuperCUE = Super Learning

IMG_0229.JPGA few months ago, I received a random message from Jon Corripo, one of the rock stars over at CUE.  CUE is a nonprofit educational corporation with the goal of inspiring innovative learners in all disciplines from preschool through college. CUE has thousands of educational professionals and supports many regional affiliates and learning networks in California and from around the country. It is the largest organization of its type in the West and one of the largest in the United States, so to receive an invite to attend a conference with 24 other superintendents from around the country is pretty cool to say the least.

The conference took place at the Asilomar Conference Grounds, located steps away from the world-famous Pebble Beach Golf Course. The campground and conference center are in the heart of California parks; we could not have had a better venue. I mention this because it’s the perfect balance of getting our heads together and really driving educational conversations and soaking in views that are nearly impossible to mirror.

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The majestic Pacific at sunset

 

All superintendents who attended had a presentation to make to others on how we are aligning to FutureReady standards and how we are impacting our learners.  I chose digital equity (you can find my presentation by clicking here). Other presentations ranged from how districts are embracing the digital credentials movement (f/k/a ‘badging’) to how others are meeting all learners where they are, so that education can succeed for everyone.

With all of that sharing also came a weaving in of national speakers spreading their good words.  We were fortunate enough to have Joe San Felippo (#GoCrickets) and Sarah Thomas (#EduMatch) with us talking about how they are changing the educational games in their districts. Joe has been a friend for years, and to see how he has taken an 800-student, K-12 district in Wisconsin to an international presence is amazing. Sarah is also a amazing.  Watching her grow, as well as watching her share all of the great things she is doing in education, is pretty cool. I’m very lucky to know her and call her a friend.

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The amazing @SarahDuhTeechur

 

We all know that Twitter has connected us on a whole new level. Getting to meet so many outstanding leaders in person (Barbara Nemko, Candace Singh, Jon Corrippo, and too many others to list) has been such a powerful tool for all of us to become better leaders and better serve our students, staff, and community. We are all in it to grow, learn, and move forward. SuperCUE has contributed to my doing that and so much more. I can’t wait to see what we can all share next year.

Onward.

 

Twenty Years Ago

I still can't believe that I graduated Union High School 20 years ago this year. 1997 was a fun year–a senior in high school, not a care in the world. Then again, it was a different world.

My superintendent, Dr. Jakubowski (with whom I still speak), made two prominent points at our graduation.

1. Don't get into a stranger's car.

2. Don't use the internet.

Today, I use the internet to get into a stranger's car.

Twenty years ago, I had to call Domino's Pizza and order a large pie and have cash on hand.

Today, I can tweet, use my watch, tell Alexa to order me one, text an emoji, and, yes, still call. Cash is discouraged.

Twenty years ago, I needed a travel agent to get to college and have a paper course guide in hand while being prepared to stand in line for hours to pick classes.

Today, it's all done in a matter of clicks.

Twenty years ago, most of my classes were heralded by teachers going right out of a textbook, with desks in rows and giving out so many worksheets that I probably had a tree's worth.

Today, in many classrooms, that practice still continues. Why hasn't that changed?

Many reasons. Some teachers don't know any better, some administrators refuse to budge on allowing other pedagogues besides the ones that worked for them, and some boards show defiance as well as their lack of knowledge and insight. Often, it's a combination of all three groups interchanging all three characteristics.

This is just downright sad. There are establishments and cultures in place where mediocrity is encouraged and heaven forbid someone goes rogue and tries meeting learners where they are today. There are school districts in place (from the BOE down to the staff) where the same ol' same ol' is practiced, hence producing he same ol' same ol' student. Towns and people who accept this are going to get what they've always had, but we now have students who are ready to change the world in 2017 instead of 1997. Is this fair for the future students who will eventually be taking care of us?

An education union representative once told me that "education has changed more in the past 6 years than the past 60." If everyone is cognizant of it, why fight the inevitable?

We all get it; change sucks. People love to say "change" but don't want to change, especially if it affects them. However, in today's times where today's students have had internet access and have been exposed to social media & apps for their entire scholarly lives, how can those in the educational field continually maintain past practice damn well knowing it's going to hurt our future?

Twenty years ago, I didn't know my career path, let alone knew that the path I chose has a broken system that is still frequently embraced. Today, I'm well aware of it and refuse to stop advocating for those who don't know any better.

I'm here for our future. Are you?

Onward.

You’re Not Mental

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image credit: https://media3.giphy.com/media/4Ya8UtZz4PEuk/200_s.gif

I hope everyone knows the above quote.  If not, you need to stop reading this and Netflix this movie!

I’ve done it, you’ve done it, and everyone you’ve worked with has done it.  At some point, you’ve taken a day off, but you didn’t use a vacation day, you weren’t sick, and you did things just for yourself with it. Shopped. Went out to eat. Got a massage or had a spa day. Watched a movie. Saw a baseball game. Binge-watched a series. Slept in. You get the idea. The phrase “mental-health day” has circulated in the workplace for years, yet many shy away from saying that’s what they’re taking.

NBC Nightly News recently aired a story about an employee who emailed her boss saying she was taking a mental-health day. Her boss replied, supporting her.

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image credit: http://www.boredpanda.com/woman-email-mental-health-day-ceo-response-madalyn-parker/

So…why is this important, and how does this relate to the field of education?

In our line of work, we need to be at the top of our game every single day. We need to be all-in.  We need to be cognizant that giving any less effort only hurts us. Taking time for ourselves in order to decompress and partake in wellness activities is paramount for us to succeed. We are not confined to a cubicle or in a monotonous job. We are taking care of the future who will eventually be taking care of us.

While the summer is a great time to recharge and relax, we need to be doing this during the school year as well. We need to eat right, exercise, and partake in wellness. We all need mental-health days. Don’t shy away from it; be proud of it.

Drunk Drivers Are Stupid

Today, I had the opportunity to sit in on a final meeting before the annual Project Graduation project that I have helped run for a number of years. If you aren’t familiar with the program, Project Gradutation is a program offered by many high schools in the United States, in which organized, adult-supervised and alcohol-free activities are offered as part of a post-graduation party, as an alternative to student-run events involving alcoholic beverages or other drugs. Most run the program the night of graduation; some choose that weekend. The theme for this year was a simple one: drunk drivers are stupid. 

The program is a great and often is a final way to celebrate the entire graduating class together. There are often lots of carnival-like games, tons of food (often ending with a breakfast buffet around 6 AM) and of course a DJ. The event is typically sponsored by the parent-teacher arm of the school and local businesses. 

I can imagine what you’re thinking at this point; many of the kids are just going to go and drink another night. That very well could be the case, and truthfully, we as a school are not going to stop students from experimenting with drugs, alcohol, or other dangerous decisions that they will come across. We can, however, offer all of the resources that we have as a community to deter students from making terrible decisions that can result in the destruction of life.

In the past, I have found visual deterrents to be very impactful. I previously blogged about what Hopewell Central High School did; a full blown mock fatal car accident, with the student council president dying in the wreck. Everything from the blood and crime scene markers to the funeral home showing up. It was full of lights, sirens, and sadness. It was painful to watch. That’s the point. 

I have also arranged for a car that was involved with a DWI / DUI to be “donated” to a high school and display it prominently by the main entrance or where my seniors parked their cars. Again, the image is gruesome, but it’s suppose to be.

There are also lessons that health / PE teachers complete, but as an administrator, I tried to get as many teachers involved. At HVRSD, supervisors also taught one class to keep us in the loop (I loved it). I had second semester seniors. We did a whole unit on why driving under the influence is stupid. We talked about the process, and how everyone can see this because it’s a public record. My favorite lesson was pulling up three different articles on high school party busts; the first two with descriptions & pictures, but the third one had an article with the names of every student who was arrested. That article was the game changer for many. In a matter of hours, your life can change, and not for the better.

I recently saw one statistic that a drunk driver who gets arrested has driven as much as 430 separate times under the influence. How scary is that? 

It’s facts like that that our future needs to be aware of. Drunk driving, or driving under the influence of anything, it just downright stupid and dangerous. We see Celebrities getting busted daily and glorified in our pop culture, but we also see kids who just graduated go through the same thing. 

 Nothing is more painful that seeing someone who worked so hard only to have their lives ruined or taken away because of stupid decision making. I’ve seen it on all levels in schools, from students to administrators; on no level is it easier to deal with. As leaders, we have an onus the make sure that whomever this happens to gets the help they need. 

Here’s to hoping you or a student from your town does not have to go through this. In today’s times where we as a society seldomly agree on anything, we can all agree that drunk driving is stupid.

GO SMALL!

I have shared blog posts from Dave Burgess with you before, but this post is rather important.  Sometimes, changing the littlest thing will bring the biggest result. Read below on how to do it in a school. The original post can be found here: http://daveburgess.com/go-small/ )


Go BIG! Take a leap! Shoot for the moon! Jump in with both feet!

We hear this type of advice all the time, and quite frankly, I’m often somebody who gives it. It can be a motivational and inspirational message for some (hopefully!), and it may be just what they need to hear to make major breakthroughs in their lives and career.

For others, it is perhaps overwhelming.

It’s easy to look at all the amazing and innovative developments in education that have taken place over the last few years and to get a major case of “analysis paralysis.” Where do I start? What do I tackle first? How can I make all of these changes all at once? How can I possibly learn everything I need to know to do this? The year has already started, so how can I change course mid-stream? What if students flounder under all this new freedom and autonomy? Am I qualified to lead my students in this new direction?

The struggle is real! I get it…I really do. We see rockstar teachers on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook, and presenting at conferences who have created UNBELIEVABLY empowering classes for their students, and it is easy to feel as if what we are doing is less than adequate. It’s hard to live up to the Pinterest boards and still keep some sort of balance and sanity. How did they get this awesome?

The answer may surprise you, because they often fail to share the most critical part of the journey. The struggle. These classrooms are the product of what is usually a continuous search for new and better, for a mindset of being willing to make small shifts and adjustments in order to test out and experiment with innovative new practices. You are just looking at the end result and feeling overwhelmed but not seeing that each step along the way, when broken down, is very approachable. All of this stuff is doable!

Makeover shows are wildly popular because they show the before and after…PLUS  the journey to transformation. It is in that journey where the real fun and adventure lie. That’s the part that pulls us in. If only a teacher who has traveled this path of the classroom and pedagogical transformation would share the whole story and break it down and just be fully transparent…

It has happened!

Joy Kirr is an unbelievably amazing 7th-grade teacher from Illinois who has been prolifically sharing her ideas and resources for YEARS! Many people who have wanted to jump into the Genius Hour world, for example, have successfully done so using her curated resources. She has truly empowered her students and has designed a learning environment that is not only highly successful…it is flat-out inspirational to behold.

She is that rock-star teacher we were talking about earlier…except that wasn’t always the case. It was a process of making many very small and gradual shifts, all totally doable, over a period of time. We have convinced Joy to swing open the doors of her classroom…the doors of her career…and openly share these shifts and how they have changed her as an educator and, more importantly, changed the class experience for her kids. We have just released her long-awaited book project, Shift This: How to Implement Gradual Changes for MASSIVE Impact In Your Classroom. This is powerful stuff! Classroom set-up and environment, grading practices, homework, class work, student-directed learning, Genius Hour…it ‘s all here. You will be fascinated by her journey and also inspired to take your own.

You can check out Shift This on Amazon (34% off!) here:
https://goo.gl/B59V3Y

Or Barnes & Noble (34% off!) here:
https://goo.gl/gGmV23

When educators who are connected to Joy on social media found out this project was happening, the response was almost universal. “Yes! I want that! She has helped me many times and deserves more recognition for how long she has selflessly served the community.” I hope you will support this new project.  Follow Joy if you aren’t already and tap into the #ShiftThis hashtag on Twitter to continue the discussion.