Main | Subscribe to LeaderTalk »


Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

Glenn E. Malone

Should be fun!

Kelly Christopherson

Looking forward to this forum for discussion. Great idea Scott!

Greg Farr

This is a great opportunity you are making available to us. I look forward to being up-dated, challenged, and entertained by my peers. Thank You for all your hardwork and the invitation to participate!

brian saxton

I am excited to be part of this project. With your permission I would like to plug my own local version of this idea. What do you think?

Scott McLeod

Well, sure, Brian. The more the merrier!

Stephanie Sandifer

Yay! I'm really looking forward to this :)

By the way, Scott -- I love the banner image at the top of the page. Very nice idea!



I'm privilaged to have the opportunity to be in the same network as such progressive, forward thinking leaders in education. A Huge thanks to Scott for the invitation. This is just the forum I've been looking for. I can't wait to share and learn about how leaders around the country are facilitating change in an environment that is often resistant and generally slow to change. This certainly has the potential to be an exciting and stimulating journey.....Here's to the journey!

Neil Rochelle

I'm going to get us started with a rant that I posted to my blog. It covers several topics and by selecting any one of them, perhaps this group can begin the conversation.

First, I must say that I am extremely proud of the changes happening at Iroquois. While I a would like to see change happen in several areas, I realize this post is an idealistic view of the world.....I believe that in daily practice I force myself to be "reaslistic", but deep down, I am idealistic and these thoughts are a reflection 'inner self'.

I address you all frustrated. Frustrated with our system, tired of hearing rhetoric but seeing no action, and disappointed that as leaders of education in New York State we have taken so long to come to this point.

We have made an impact over the past 10 years. We have been successful in doing what has been expected of us. All students are provided a public education. Children that are white, children of color, rich, poor, abled and physically challenged, all have access to school. We have our students meeting “the standards” based on what can be measured as well as what we have been asked to measure. Students are performing better on subject specific assessments. In New York State, more students are obtaining a Regents Diploma and more students are graduating than ever before. We were criticized for a lack of accountability, now we are accountable.

Educational change has largely been a result of a political agenda and national reports that received much attention. First there was “A Nation at Risk” in 1989 which resulted in the COMPACT for Learning in New York State, now by “The Commission on Education and the Economy”. All this information has been made public by the media, become political platforms and tied together with a price tag. Each year the expectation is that we “measure better”…..and we do. I applaud our efforts. We have a job to do- one that we have been hired to do and we work day after day to accomplish that job.

As educational leaders we are all life-long learners and high achievers. We want to do the best and we navigate the obstacles and challenges in order to achieve. However, one perspective may be that what we have allowed ourselves to achieve what we believe (or have become convinced) is “our job”. I have to ask though, are we happy at “the job” we are doing? Do we do what we do because we believe it is the right thing? Or, have we become just like the student that is at least moderately motivated, wants to please his parents or a respected teacher and has figured out the system…. to play the game and produce results that satisfy the requirements? I am increasingly coming to the realization that I may be one of “those” students. I have “figured out the system”.

As a superintendent I am fortunate to have the resources to make sure that my teachers are presented with best practices for reading and math which are essential to build the foundation for other learning, that my teachers are provided the necessary training to instruct in best practices, that my teachers are given the opportunity to align their curriculum to the NYS standards, that my teachers are given the opportunity to map out their curriculum and that my teachers are given the time to create parallel assessments to assess the progress our students are making so that those who struggle may receive extra help so that they learn the material that will help them perform better on our state assessments.

A mouthful isn’t it? Am I cynical? Generally, that is the last characteristic people would use to describe me. Until very recently, I believed that this was the right approach and that I am working in ideal conditions.

Not all of my colleagues can say that. Not because they don’t know how to do any of these things but because there isn’t equity in the system. Because we’re so persistent in “making the grade” we don’t have time to breathe. Not everyone has the resources (money) to do these things and so do the best they can with what they have.

Precious time is spent fighting over limited resources, convincing boards of education and parents that we need those resources to help our teachers help our students succeed. We lobby legislators to give more money to schools with the sincere belief that more resources will make a difference. I too have spent years doing the same thing. Does money help? Of course it does but it is not the only factor that will make a difference in student achievement. In fact, statisticians have time and again demonstrated that schools that spend the most money do not necessarily have the best results in terms of academic achievement.

So, what is my frustration?

1. I do believe we have wasted millions of dollars. While we all know of collaboration and we do collaborate to a point, over 700 districts (an approximate number of school districts in New York State) spent money to unveil the standards to our teachers. Over 700 districts spent time and money revising the curriculum to meet the standards. Over 700 districts attempted to find districts doing better than them in order to discover the “best practice” in hopes that they can adopt similar practices so their students could perform as well as their neighboring district. We are in the job of educating students. I dream of a system that could have done the work for school districts and allow the practitioners to spend time on developing creative, motivating and differentiated lessons to teach our students. It is almost as though as are all having to invent the wheel and we have succeeded. Most of us have that ‘wheel’ now and most of them look pretty much the same.
2. I am disappointed in myself and I’m disappointed in our system. We have yet again allowed a political agenda to dictate what it is we do on a daily basis. NCLB and IDEA are good ideas. What their intentions are in principle, none of us would argue. However, it is in the detail of the legislation that has been allowed to overshadow those great ideas (developed in many cases by people with very little experience in education demanding proof of results and justification for giving funds) and the fact that we have allowed a system that not only doesn’t reinforce our work, but punishes us if we fail to follow the pack. We are educators. We are leaders. We know better. If it is all about ‘playing the game’, why don’t we teach our students what it is they need to learn and just give “the tests” to fulfill the mandates? I often wonder how students would perform on the assessments if we took such an approach. The problem? While we have “standards” depending upon your personal beliefs, your position in society, or an economist or CEO of a major business, we would all struggle with agreement on what it is that students need to learn. It is just now after Tom Friedman’s “The World is Flat” and years of criticism by the business community that we are ready to have those conversations. Did it take a book with a doom and gloom perspective on the slow disintegration of the strongest country in the world because our students will be unequipped to work in a global economy to get people to act?
3. We talk about content. We talk about performance. We talk about “best practices”. What about learning? What about what ‘it’ is we want children to learn? Do we want them to know that Columbus discovered America in 1492? Do we want them to know that water freezes at O degrees Celsius? Do we want them to know that the square root of 36 is 6? Maybe. Why? Is life a jeopardy game? Before we put an ice tray in our freezer do we take the temperature to make sure it is 0 degrees or lower? Has anyone every interviewed for a job and been asked what year Columbus discovered America? When we’re at the mall and there’s a sale, are their signs that read, “The sale price is the square root of price marked”? We may very well want our children to know these facts but when was the last time we had a conversation about why we teach these facts. Do all teachers know why we teach these facts? Right…..because it’s in the curriculum! When are we going to have a real conversation about what it is our children need to learn? What are we doing about it? We are told that one of the most important skills aside from reading and writing is critical thinking. How well are we teaching students to be critical thinkers? Do we really know? I say no. No, because we haven’t found a statistically reliable way to test critical thinking. Since we can’t measure it and because it is rarely if ever assessed, we don’t spend very much time on it. The real problem. Ask 20 people, even educators what critical thinking skills are and I would bet you would get as many answers. We are at a crossroads where we need to have a conversation, an initiative that takes a good hard look at what it is we want our students to know and what is this thing called “critical thinking”.
4. Reform. We all want to reform school. We want to create learning environments conducive to learning. We want to have more technology available to our students. We want to have more time on instruction. What are we reforming? How our buildings look? That each student has access to a computer in school? That we adopt block scheduling to increase the length of classes. Is that reform? Or are we just changing the side of the rubric cube that has all the green squares? What have we reformed? What is school reform? Is the goal of reform to get all schools to look the same? The movement and increasing popularity of Charter schools would validate the contrary. Oh, I forgot…. to perform equally as well on state assessments. We need to go beyond the desire to change schools and define what reform really is. What do we want or need to truly ‘reform’ our schools. At the risk of sounding cynical again, I certainly hope that as we look for the answer, we aren’t all working in another high-speed race to create that same wheel again!
5. Teaching, instruction, educating. All verbs and all by definition an act that one delivers to others. What of the other side? The learning side. Is it more important to ‘teach’ or more important ‘to learn’? Who should be doing most of the work, the teacher, or the learner? What about the value of self-discovery? Are we more likely to sustain learning after coming to conclusions on our own or if we are spoon-fed information? I truly believe that teaching is an art. A craft that one develops and refines over time. An artist creates and generally one person is the creator. The creator certainly appreciates their creation but what of ‘the work of art’. The ‘work of art’ can be appreciated by hundreds, thousands, even millions of people over generations and even millennia. What if our teachers were to change their focus? Yes, have goals but rather than give the information to students, have teachers become facilitators of learning. The students doing the discovery. Come to think of it, hasn’t this concept been used before? Hundreds of preschools and kindergartens actually swore by this concept. It was called the Montessori approach. I don’t think the intention was that the concept disappeared after kindergarten. However, I may be ignorant but I don’t ever recall a conversation about using the Montessori approach with high school students. My question? Why not?
6. Technology. The internet can be more effectively use, especially as a motivating vehicle for students to gain information, share information, create learning communities and in the end, have a more active role in their learning. Web 2.0 is what is now being referred to as ‘the next generation’ of the internet. The read/write web is by far taking the use of the internet to levels that not only we have not realized yet but will continue to evolve at rates beyond our comprehension. ABC, CNN, The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal have all gone to web-based applications. The information is presented in a webblog (commonly referred to as a blog) and are now syndicated and sent to on-line ‘subscribers’ everyday around the world. Information is relayed often times faster than what one would wait to see on the six o’clock news and most certainly faster than the next day’s newspaper. The web is active 24 hours/day, 7 days a week. News stations (once they hopefully validate their source) often obtain their information (news) via blogs. When the Tsunami hit, immediate images and information came to the world via blogs. Politicians running for office not only establish websites concurrently with announcing their candidacy, progressive politicians are communicating via blogs.

As with anything on the internet there are positive web sites and those that are less savory. We can educate and address the concerns about students viewing information on the internet but we cannot, nor should we ignore it. Billions of dollars in business is conducted over the internet each day. Products are purchased and sold on E-Bay or Amazon.Com. Video today such as video-Conferencing is used to bring together businessmen, entrepreneurs and bankers from all corners of the world. What if students were brought together in the same manner? In some schools they are. It has been announced that MIT within the next year will have every course offered at the university available on-line, for free! Whether you will earn a degree for free is unlikely but in terms of personal or professional growth the potential by just having a computer with internet connection is incredible. Technology can no longer be ignored and if used to its potential, those with access will most certainly have an edge for learning and success in a global economy versus those that do not.

7. The deterioration of family. This is not going to be a perspective of why things were better in “Mayberry” or when “June and Ward Cleaver” were mirror depictions of the American family. This will not even be an argument about the divorce rate and the need for 2 parent households. I don’t care if a child comes from a family a single parent home or a family with same-sex parents. What I care about is that we do make every effort to communicate and expect parents to parent. Monitor the amount of television watching, ask everyday what they learned in school, read in front of their children and tell them to read. Finally, take responsibility for their child’s behavior. Appropriate and inappropriate behavior. Most times, school personnel spend more time dealing with discipline than any other issue. While I won’t make assumptions regarding the percentage of parents that support school officials but it seems there is an increasing number of parents that blame the school for how they handled a situation and the child’s behavior becomes secondary.

There used to exist an ultimate respect for teachers, schools and administrators. The opposite of what I see today was the norm. “They” were to be respected and “they” were right unless proven otherwise with unquestionable evidence. That rarely happens in American schools today. Now, it is the student that is right and the school that has the burden of proving that a child has broken the rules or been disrespectful or has disrupted the learning environment. Many colleagues will tell you that it is less than 5% of the students that engage in inappropriate behavior on a consistent basis but that it is the same 5% that consumes more than half of their day. If schools need to be lead and are often criticized for a lack of ‘leadership’ as it relates to teacher performance and student achievement, how can leaders lead if the window of opportunity to lead is automatically cut in half? Parents and their involvement are essential for student achievement. Research has proven it.

Whew! I finally got it out…..well, at least most of my frustrations as they relate to schools and where we are. One might be asking themselves why I bother to be involved in education if I am that frustrated on so many levels. The reasons are simple. I believe in education. I believe that in a free, democratic society the opportunity to be educated exists for every individual. I believe that the profession of teaching is one of the most rewarding professions one can be a part of next to saving a person’s life. I also believe that we know the most about teaching and learning that we have ever know before as a society. From how the brain functions (or doesn’t) to successful pedagogy. We also know about change and the human spirit and how difficult change can be. How long change can take. How resistive people can be to change. However, we also know about successful change and the climate, factors and conditions that help foster successful change. Talented business leaders have known and used this information for years. As educators we have read and learned how to bring about change. Why change may be perceived and handled differently in education than in business. Many leaders in education have actually made change using successful principles.

I’m constantly told by friends and colleagues when I talk about my beliefs, desires and frustrations that “change takes time”. We don’t have time to wait!! Every year that we wait for change is another class of students that graduate and are expected to be successful in post-secondary schooling or careers. Every year that we wait another group of excited kindergarteners enter our school systems held back in their potential by waiting for the change process to take hold. I’m tired of waiting! I want change and I want it now. Successful corporations would not continue to be successful if their supervisors awaited change. If the competition starts selling the same product, the corporation gathers its resources to either make their product faster, better and less expensive than their competitor or the corporation goes bankrupt. The alternative to bankruptcy is to move on. Find another product that is needed in the market and make ‘it’ the best that money can buy and start selling it. We wonder why Charter Schools are increasing. This is a free country and parents can now send their child to public school, charter school or the unthinkable………..home school. Those of us in public school have their competition. The question is, what are we going to do about it? Take another 10 years to change schools, what and how we teach? Or, do we institute substantial, research-based change now? In my opinion, the answer is obvious. We must change and for the sake of our children and our children’s children, we do it now! The only question that still exists is how??

Are you ready to have the serious conversations necessary to change? None of what I’ve written is new. I don’t pretend to have all the answers. I do believe that I have the ability to think out of the box and network with professionals from a variety of disciplines that can help make the change. In the words of Mahatma Gandhi, “Be the change you want to be”. Are you ready for change? I am.

Joe Poletti

I'm onboard, folks. Superintendent Rochelle has posited the view from 20,000 feet. Perhaps we can work with chunks of it over time.

I do believe that our obligation as leaders, however, may not rest in having all the answers but in creating opportunities that allow leaders at all levels---right to the students---to develop those answers. That creates ownership. Ownership gets results.

We probably can always do more to broker decision-making to communities of practice. The risk is a "site-based on steroids" model that blows out of control.

As leaders, do we create enough opportunities to broaden the power-base without losing control of the corporate mission?

Ideally, we can use RSS feeds and aggregators not only to keep our message "out there", but to connect messages within the organization.

Gary Kandel

Looking forward to corresponding with like minded individuals who share in the same day to day struggles and successes.
Take care

Jeremiah Patterson

Wow. This is the site I've been looking for, though -- unfortunately -- I haven't been looking all that long. Chris Lehman and Christian Long have served as my portals to this world. Can't wait to read what the rest of you have in mind.

The comments to this entry are closed.

About this blog