Wednesday, May 20, 2015

President Griffiths Message to the Class of 2015

Good afternoon.  I am Jerry Griffith, and on behalf of the Board of Directors of Hudson Community Schools, I would like to extend our congratulations and welcome to the students, parents, guardians, family members, faculty, and friends of the class of 2015!

Thirteen years ago, all you soon to be graduates, were all kindergarten students.  Maybe you can relate to this next story.
It was the kindergarten teacher’s birthday and the students decided that they would each bring their teacher a gift. 
The first student, whose parents own a flower shop, gave her a present. She held it and said, "I guess that it is flowers". "How did you guess?" asked the little boy. She laughed and thanked him. 
The second student, whose parents own a candy store, gave her a present. She held it and said, "I guess that is some candy." 
"How did you guess?" asked the little boy. She again laughed and thanked him also.The third student, whose parents own the local diner, gave her a box, which was leaking. The teacher touched the liquid with her finger and tasted it. "Mmmmm is it lemonade?" she asked. 
"No," said the little girl. 
So she tasted it again. "Is it Mountain Dew?" she asked. 
"Noooo," replied the little girl, "It's a puppy."
(take oilcan & place it on podium)

This looks like an ordinary oilcan, but just like the box the teacher was given as a gift, it is not quite what it seems.

It is inscribed as ….


About 34 years ago, when the UNI-Dome was just one year old and the legendary Stan Sheriff was the head football coach, I played defensive end for the UNI Panthers.  During my playing time I was lucky enough to be chosen captain of the football team, named to all-conference teams, and was an academic All-American.  But at the end of the year football banquet, I received, what in my opinion was my most coveted award by the coaching staff, this Oil Can Award.

The coaches gave this award to one team member who helped the team run smoother.  Being one of the first at practice, staying late to study film, mentoring and tutoring younger players.  These were just a few things Coach listed why I got the award, but the truth is, I didn’t know anyone was paying attention to what I was doing. I was truly just trying to make my team successful. I just wanted us to be winners.

So how does an oilcan work?

For those of you that may not be mechanically inclined, you put oil in the body of the can, squeeze this trigger, and from this end comes a small amount of oil that you apply to something to make it run better.
The oilcan is a simple tool, but if you think about it, in the Wizard of Oz, where would the Tin Man be if Dorothy had not found and used the oilcan.  …  He never would have made it to see the Wizard to receive the heart he so longed for. 
Now, graduates, this oilcan is a good metaphor for your life ahead. First, you have to put the correct stuff into the body of the can.  For example, if I used Kool-Aid in my oilcan and tried to oil my bike chain, it wouldn’t do anything to help my bike run better.
Like the oilcan, you have to fill your body and mind with the right stuff. Since you are all sitting here today, I know you have filled your mind with the best knowledge Hudson Schools has to offer.

Now you are filled with potential, but just like the oilcan, if you just sit there and don’t use what you have been filled with, nothing will happen, you just stay in the same place and eventually, like the Tin Man, you will rust.  But, if you pull the trigger and give of yourself to help others you make not only your life, but also the whole world around you, run smoother.

Here is some advice for you, Class of 2015. Get to class or work early and stay late. Do just a little bit more than the next person, and be a willing volunteer for the causes you believe in. Your team may be a fellow classmate or worker, or someday your own family, but the small things you do when you think no one is noticing, will come back to you as the biggest rewards.

I want you to be successful. I want you to be leaders. I want you to be winners. I want you…. to be the oilcan. 

Congratulations Class of 2015!  And Good Luck!

Superintendents Message to the Class of 2015: Don't be Afraid to Ask for Help!

I am honored to be among the first to congratulate you on reaching this important milestone! What an exciting time this is for all of us! We have experienced enormous joy watching you grow and shine the last several years. No doubt the future holds a great deal of promise as you prepare to stretch out and move on to the next phase of your lives. I’m sure you are all eager to get out on your own, and in fact may be growing tired of listening to us tell you what to do. For your entire life, teachers and parents have told you how and where to stand, to pick up your rooms, finish your homework, and whether or not you have permission to go to the bathroom.

Indeed the days of us telling you what to do and how to do it are now coming to an end. Very soon, the curfews will also be over and you will be on your own. This is what you have all been waiting for! A world where parents and teachers no longer make the rules and the freedom to make your own decisions is just around the corner. I can vaguely remember thinking those things at my high school graduation—which was quite a long time ago by the way. All I really wanted was to move on with my life—to be on my own and not have to answer to anyone. Here is a newsflash though: You will always have to answer to someone

Or perhaps, with that excited anticipation comes a little bit of fright. If not, then it should. Think about it. For the last thirteen years, your entire life has been scripted! This newfound freedom might be a little bit scary. Whenever you strayed a bit left of center we were there to help you regain your focus. We have been here to give you that gentle nudge whenever it was needed. In just a little while you are going to be working without a net!

During these formative years, you have learned many things. The concepts that you have grasped are too numerous to name here, but it is without a doubt impressive. Equally inspiring is that the level of knowledge you have attained pales in comparison to what most of us experienced in our formal K-12 educational experience. Further, I believe I would be accurate in stating that some of the most intelligent people in this room are those who are seated in the chairs directly in front of me today. You are ready, right? Let’s get on with it! Maybe you don’t need our help anymore?

Perhaps. But if you will indulge me a very brief trip down memory lane.

Many can remember that day in kindergarten when you ran up to your kindergarten teacher and asked for help tying your shoe. You kindergarten teacher gladly helped you tie that shoe, while also showing you (once again) how to do it for yourself.

Some parents in the audience will also recall staying up late to help you finish a project that was due the next day. You may have been too busy with other school activities and the time just got away from you—or you just put it off until the very end. It didn’t matter though; your parents were there to make sure you finished on time and without the penalty of After School Program.

Most recently, we were honored with writing letters of recommendation for your college applications, or giving you advice on the essay portion of the application, ensuring your answers were worded just right. We were also there with you as you waited in eager anticipation when the news came that you got the job, the program, or the college that you wanted. When you got the news you wanted, we rejoiced with you. When you didn’t, we shared your tears.

But now that it’s all over, maybe you don’t need our help anymore? The natural tendency for you right now is to flex those muscles of independence. You have achieved a major goal and will leave here momentarily with a diploma in hand to prove this very notable accomplishment.

Yet I hope you leave knowing that those who you have come to rely on for help will be here; when you need us to help lace your shoes, hold you accountable for the project deadline, write the letters of application, and be the shoulder to cry on when the going gets rough.

Throughout the course of my career I have come to understand that I most certainly do not have the answers to all the questions that arise throughout the course of my life. While it is true that many people may come to rely on me to have all these answers—from Board Members, and employees, to co-workers, colleagues, wife and family; my secret is this—I do not have all the answers! The truth is that no one in this room has all the answers to the problems that plague us. We must rely on one another for advice, friendship, and counsel to the questions that keep us awake at night.

You will be faced with the unknown. It may be just a few short months from now in a college course that is a bit more challenging than you expected it to be, or it may be twenty years from now when you are confronted with a life changing decision. You leave here with the skill set to meet those challenges. We are all very confident in your abilities to be Problem Solver. However, nowhere in our expectations are you expected to meet these challenges alone and without counsel.

My wish for you is that you don’t burden yourself with the unrealistic expectation that you have to know it all. Share in my secret! If the question is too hard, or you just don’t know the answer to the puzzle that you are faced with, please by all means ask for help. Your parents and teachers will be here for you, whether you think you us or not. You will always be a Pirate!


Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Once Upon a Time

I was a teacher. But it has been quite a long time ago. Truthfully, I have now been in school administration longer than I was a teacher in the classroom. Sometimes as administrators we lose perspective on what it is like to live in the classroom. Because of the passage of time it may be hard to remember what exactly got us in this profession in the first place. But I do remember that I became a teacher because I wanted to help kids in the same way that my teachers helped me.

As you know, for me it was music. The music teachers that I had in high school were phenomenal. They invested a lot of time and energy in me and never gave up; when frankly sometimes I was a typical high school kid that could be unmotivated. They always pushed me to be better, to never settle for second place and to always strive to reach the next level. When I left for college, I knew that is what I wanted to do. My dream was to have the same type of impact on young people those teachers had on me. Without those music teachers I would likely have chosen a different career. 

The question that I am sometime asked is if I miss it. Honestly, I don't miss it as much as you might think, but there are certain times that I do. I have written about those times here--for example, each fall when we have our musical I miss teaching. There was something about the musical that I really enjoyed. To see the growth in those students was incredibly inspiring!

For the past several years Mrs. Anderson has invited me to work with the high school choir the day before their large group contest. She has this idea that I am being 'helpful' and providing a different perspective for the choir. She allows me to listen and direct, hoping that I can perhaps give them a few 'tips' before the contest. The fact is I am pretty rusty and Mrs. Anderson doesn't need my help at all. She has this well in hand! Nevertheless, the students are incredibly gracious and attentive to my direction. I think they do this more for me than I do it for them. This has become one of the days that I look forward to each year!

That is the public side of teaching. Perhaps what we all think of when considering the profession. Indeed if all days looked like that! What I was honored to experience in my short time with the choir was in reality a finished product. The journey to get to there--now that is where the real magic happens. 

We are quickly closing in on the end of the school year. As we rush to put the bookends on 2014-2015 I think it is incredibly important to take a look at the journey we have experienced this year and see it for the miracle that it really was. Not only in music, but all across our district at all grade levels. 

A prime example of this can also be seen in kindergarten. Consider those warm August days that seem so long ago. Our kindergarten students spent some time at the beginning of the school year simply learning to go to school. Lining up for recess, going to lunch, remembering to take turns, raising our hands, or remembering to wash our hands. Today? Well today they can do all of those things and then some. Today they can read, write, add, and subtract.

We can apply this type of growth across the spectrum, at every grade level in every discipline. Where we started in August is a long way from where we are right now. The growth and learning that has taken place is staggering when your really stop to think about it. In many of our students, this year a light bulb came on. They were struggling with an important concept and just couldn't get it quite right. No matter how hard they tried to understand, or how much they practiced--it just wasn't there. Until one day a magician appeared and cleared the fog.

One upon a time we had a school full of children. Multitudes of children with all sorts of different needs, strategies, and attention. A target, or goal of where we wanted them to be at the end of the year was established. 

A teachers was assigned and then the magic began to happen. 

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Trials and Tribulation of Year One in a Teacher Leadership System

We are quickly closing in on the end of the school year. It seems like only yesterday that faculty and staff were returning to the district and we were preparing to be one of the first school districts in Iowa to launch a teacher leadership system. Additionally we were preparing for the second year of our math curriculum implementation. This curriculum adoption was one of our primary drivers for being so aggressive in our pursuit of a teacher leadership system: we knew that a major curriculum adoption would require the expertise of a math instructional coach in order to ensure that curriculum was aligned to the Iowa Core Academic Standards and implemented with fidelity. 

Since we were deep into our math adoption by the end of the 2013-2014 school year and teacher leadership was 'Coming to a School Near You', it seemed like an appropriate time to revamp our antiquated literacy and language arts suite of resources for the 2014-2015 school year. Because of that and the new statewide emphasis on early literacy, we determined a literacy coach made a lot of sense for our leadership system. While we are now almost a full year into the literacy adoption, we have also taken time to implement the FAST system in order to give us good diagnostic data for our early readers. By the way, the growth of many of our readers is quite impressive!

Not to be outdone, the high school was a mere six months into a Connected Learning Initiative. Please take special notice of the language that is being used to describe a learning environment that most other schools refer to as a 1:1 Initiative. The distinction is very important because here at Hudson, it is not at all about the device or the fact that every high school student has one. It should be about what we can do with that device. So our efforts have focused on implementing technology at the highest level of instruction, where teachers are not merely substituting a computer for the same type of activity they had always done (filling in a worksheet on a computer screen for example). Rather , they are redefining instruction with the types of activities students are engaged--in and out of the classroom--with things we could not even dream about five years ago (like designing and printing projects on a 3D printer).

The question that now begs to be answered, almost a full year in, is what have we learned? First, and perhaps most important is the expertise that teacher leaders bring to the table. We have created a sense of urgency in our district and have unlocked some very powerful linkages that tie these initiatives together with our PLC process in a way that we didn't fully appreciate. This would not have happened without teacher leaders who are experts in their field. Our instructional coaches have been able to identify and rectify problems of practice through a collaborative network of teaching faculty right here in our own buildings. In some cases they have been able to leverage the expertise of their colleagues in the district in new and innovative ways.

Another key takeaway this first year is the critical role the building principal plays in the process. In schools where teacher leadership systems are doomed to fail, it can sometimes be traced back to resistance from the building principal. If building principals feel that roles of teacher leaders are ill defined, or they have a sense that their authority is somehow diminished, it can cause systems to stumble. We have taken deliberate steps at Hudson to ensure this is not the case. The roles of instructional coaches are clearly defined and these teachers meet and collaborate frequently with building principals. The fact is they meet a minimum of weekly and often times more than that. An often heard misnomer as it relates to the building principal is the idea that teacher leadership will somehow lighten the load, or take some 'bricks of the pile'. We have found that to be absolutely false. What is true in fact, is that it actually adds to the scope of responsibilities for the building principal. But this is not a bad outcome nor should it be cause for alarm! I can say with great confidence that our building principals are better instructional leaders now than they were one year ago! Indeed, this system has sharpened the skill set of everyone in the school district.

While our system is functioning as designed and we are pleased with the overall progress, we do not claim our system represents a panacea. For starters, we must recruit more teachers into the ranks of leadership in our system! Many of our practitioners have leadership skills and expertise that we are anxious to tap! I do hope our recruitment efforts are more successful in the future than they have been in the past. As our system was being launched, much effort and energy was devoted to ensuring the anchor roles in our system were clearly articulated and set up for early success. Because of this, I feel that not enough attention was devoted to the functioning of those who serve as model teachers. As we move into year two, we will have to explore how the intersection of theory and practice come together, particularly as it relates to the relationship between the instructional coach and model teacher.

So as we close out our first year of teacher leadership, I am excited for what we have learned and anxiously look forward to strengthening our system in year two!