Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Multiple Opportunities to Participate at Hudson

I have been very excited about the success of our students so far this year, and we are only in the second quarter! We are so proud of our students and there is no doubt they have left an imprint on the 2015-2016 school year that will not easily be matched. As I said, we are not halfway through the school year and we have so much to celebrate already. I can't wait to see what these youngsters are able to accomplish next!

Winkies on the march in the lair of the
Wicked Witch of the West
For starters, how about that musical? In my opinion, there is no activity in a high school that brings so many people and departments together for what is undoubtedly the ultimate project based authentic learning experience! If you didn't get a chance to see this amazing show then you sure missed out! I took my grand daughter Allie Louise on opening night and she was absolutely enthralled! Her highlight was the special effects, and of course she thought the Wicked Witch of the West was awesome. A big 'Wizard of Oz' fan, Allie dressed up as Dorothy for Halloween last year so, as an expert in this show she was blown away! I couldn't agree more! I was also very happy to see the large number of students participating that have never participated before. From athletes to musicians and everyone in between; it was great! Please remember that no matter what your role, the show would not have been the same without you. Bravo to the cast and crew of 'The Wizard of Oz'!

The talent on display during our musical was very apparent! These musicians have been very busy with numerous other activities, including putting on a fall concert, and finishing preparations for the show choir competition season that will begin soon. Let's not forget that jazz band is also right around the corner! But, on top off all these music events, many of our students took on the additional challenge of auditioning for the prestigious All-State choir and band. Being selected as an all-state musician is one of the most challenging endeavors a high school musician can accomplish. All-State selection is not based on class, in other words there are not quotas for a certain number of students from each size of school. This means that our students were competing against all schools in our geographic location. This year, we had four students who were selected for the Iowa All-State Chorus, I couldn't even tell you the last time that happened!

Football team in action in Sigourney on October 28,
 winning first playoff victory since 1994.
In spite of this enormous time demand, these students found time to participate in the musical. Of course, these weren't the only students who found time to squeeze in rehearsals while participating in other activities this fall. And at the same time reaching milestones in their own right! How about that football team? I'm not sure about you, but I had a lot of fun watching these student athletes compete this season! They kept right on winning week after week, ultimately leading Hudson to an 8-3 season overall. There were a lot of what I would call 'nail-biters'. One moment that I think was probably most thrilling was the decision to go for 2 at the end of the game against Sumner-Fredricksburg. Instead of kicking the extra-point to tie the game and send it into overtime, we just decided to win it right there! Yet, I am sure the highlight of the year was our teams first playoff win since the state championship season in 1994.

Our volleyball team was very entertaining to watch as well. I don't know about you, but the speed and power some of these athletes have is utterly astounding. I for one would not like to be on the receiving end of some of these serves, or worse yet, trying to defend one of the powerful spikes that was delivered by one of these ladies! The team had a great season, earning a bye in the first round of the tournament before being matched up with perennial power Dike-New Hartford. DNH always proves to be a tough opponent for us, but our team played with a lot of spirit. I thought for sure they would be able to steal one from this match up. An exciting game, we came up a little short. But they made us so proud!

Volleyball team in tournament action at
Dike-New Hartford, October 27
How about that cross country team? They sure were inspiring in competition this season! Our boys team did awesome, qualifying for the state meet in Fort Dodge and ultimately finishing in sixth place overall! I'll tell you what, those guys are fast! I am quite confident that I would not be able to keep up with them! But let's not forget about that girls team. While they didn't qualify as a team, we had three girls who qualified as individuals for the meet. It just happened to work well into my schedule to attend the regional final meet up in Cedar Falls, and as we were watching the runners from the distance, we realized that we had a runner in the lead. When they made the second loop, we could see that our runner had extended her lead. I was so excited to see Grace win that race, finishing a full 26 seconds in front of her nearest competitor!

Boys Cross Country Team following a 6th place
finish at the State Cross Country Meet.
Hopefully you can all agree that we had a great fall season of student activities at Hudson. From music to athletics, our students shined in everything they did. One of the best parts for me is that I was able to see many of these students participating in multiple activities. While they may have been a member of the volleyball team, they also participated in the musical. Students who played in the band also found time to participate on the football team. The athletes who are in chorus also ran cross country. And the best of all--these students were there to support one another in whatever it was they chose to do. Yes, one of the best parts of a small school, of Hudson High School, is the ability for our students to participate, and I mean REALLY participate! They don't have to choose one activity--they can choose many. And they will find success in a vast array of options.

So here's to the fall! We now can look forward with eager anticipation to the winter season and the multitude of student activities that will now take center stage. I wonder, how many all conference basketball players will we have that are in the band? How many members of the chorus might qualify for the state wrestling tournament? I can't wait to find out!

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Constitutional Rights in Public Schools

The first ten amendments of the Constitution are referred to as the Bill of Rights. First proposed in 1789, they  ultimately became ratified by three-fourths of the state legislatures in 1791. Constitutional rights are a big deal in the United States, as they should be! Sometimes events in our country force us to re-examine these rights and wonder if everyone has the same protection. We wonder, can they be taken away? Under what circumstances? Lately there have been questions about the first amendment and what that means. The first amendment tells us that:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of their grievances.
In many countries around the world, people do not have the right to Freedom of Speech. Citizens are subjected to censorship, told half-truths about what their government is doing, or are not permitted to practice the religion of their choosing. In the United States, we have fought wars defending this right. Our service members have sacrificed their lives standing up for those who are oppressed. The United States stands for those who cannot stand for themselves.

This is undoubtedly a double edged sword. After all, this freedom that we all enjoy as citizens can make us uncomfortable, and we are appalled at the way some choose to express themselves. The examples are countless of citizens exercising their Freedom of Speech in ways that many find repulsive and offensive on multiple levels. Consider the protests of the Westboro Baptist Church at funerals of soldiers who have died protecting these very freedoms. Distasteful, offensive, and appalling? Many agree they are. But yet, these protests continue! Why? Freedom of Speech.

So what about students in a public school? Do they have the same constitutional rights as adults? Can they be censored? While students and minors don't enjoy the same freedoms and privileges as adults, they 'don't shed their constitutional rights at the schoolhouse gate'.

This was put to the test in the 1969 Tinker v. Board of Education case. This landmark Supreme Court ruling became the test for student freedom of expression in public schools. The case originated in Des Moines, Iowa when a group of students, wishing to protest America's involvement in the Vietnam War began wearing black armbands as a form of protest. The school suspended the students for violating school policy. The students sued, arguing for their Freedom of Speech at the U.S. Supreme Court.

In the end, the students won. Now, we can argue the presence of a black arm band seems plain enough as to not be offensive, but remember the context of the time period those students lived. This was at the height of our engagement in Vietnam. Nevertheless, that wasn't the point.

The Court ruled that in order for the school to take disciplinary action, they must show the action causes a 'substantial disruption of the school'. The ruling went further to state that schools cannot act or censor speech out of a desire to avoid the discomfort that accompanies an unpopular viewpoint. That last sentence in the Tinker ruling is a key point in the application of this law. Yes, I certainly don't agree with how some students choose to express themselves. That fact is, the administration finds some recent displays inappropriate and not at all representative of the Hudson Community School District, however we walk a fine line when balancing constitutional rights with censorship.

So what is a school to do? Well, for starters we have to follow the law as uncomfortable as it might make us.  Then we have to do our diligence in the education of our youth. That could very well start with a conversation about the Constitution. Indeed we are lucky to live in a country that affords us the Freedom of Speech. It is a wonderful thing--but what if we choose to do so in a way that offends, and is not operating within the norms of a civilized society? Well, it would be wise for them to look around the corner into the future; there just might be unknown consequences for proclaiming such things.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

What I Have Learned From Todd Whitaker

Earlier in the week I read Todd Whitaker's book: What Great Teachers Do Differently: 17 Things That Matter Most. Dr. Whitaker is a professor of educational leadership at Indiana State University and a sought after guest speaker at school districts around the country. Back in the middle of October, I had the privilege of joining a group of our model teachers to hear Todd speak at Dunkerton High School. Normally I am not a big fan of the 'shotgun' approach to professional development (you know, the day long 'sit and get' model), but the opportunity to hear his message coupled with a deeper implementation of these ideas in Hudson was one that was well worth the time investment. When we returned to Hudson, one of our Model Teachers (I'll go ahead and give a shout out to Mrs. Puls here) shared some of her key takeaways from that day at an inservice for the 7-12 faculty. Thankfully, the grassroots leadership provided by Mrs. Puls made me realize that this particular workshop had some staying power. I'll credit both Dr. Whitaker and Mrs. Puls for these efforts. Clearly, Todd's message resonated enough for Mrs. Puls to see value in bringing it back to her colleagues at Hudson. As I sat and listened to Mrs. Puls recall her experience, I thought, 'Boy, I wish everyone in our district heard this message'. Perhaps that is why I picked up the book and read it.

While the intended audience of Dr. Whitaker's work is teacher and staff development, I would argue that it has a much broader appeal. The subtitle of the book suggests ''17 Things That Matter Most'. Oh, they are so applicable beyond the classroom! For example, an important concept that Todd reminds us of is that 'teachers establish clear expectations at the start of the year and follow them consistently as the year progresses'. Please allow me to explain!

Clear expectations certainly shouldn't be limited to how we go about managing a classroom! It is critically important to have clear expectations for our children at home, our employees at work, and even those we call friends. If our children are aware of our expectations and we are unwavering in those expectations, it is much easier for them to understand and meet those expectations. Likewise, it is important for our children to know that fair and consistent consequences are a critical variable in the equation. It does little good to not follow through on a consequence. Have you ever heard of a parent or a teacher saying 'if you do that one more time, then you will miss your entire recess for a week/or miss the neighbors birthday party'? The point is: say what you mean and mean what you say. Another critical point to remember about consequences is that they should never be about punishment! Whitaker uses the analogy of penalties in competitive sports. 'Rules just don't point out rule violations; they assign penalties' (p. 15). Hopefully they also teach the appropriate and correct behavior. We don't want to punish kids to hurt them, we want to administer consequences in a way that they learn from their mistake. Our real goal is to avoid a repeat of the behavior, not to 'exact revenge', as Whitaker so eloquently reminds us. 

Hopefully you notice that I italicized the word aware in the paragraph above. This week I learned a valuable lesson myself about expectations and what happens when people aren't aware of expectations. Yes, I have certain expectations about how employees go about their work here in the district! I erroneously assumed that everyone knew the expectations. What I originally thought was a failure to meet expectations in actuality was an unfortunate set of circumstances, and a set of very unclear expectations. Luckily the problem was resolved without any lasting impact, and we uncovered a weakness in communicating those expectations. Thankfully this is a problem we can solve!

Well, I could go on and provide examples and affirmation of everything Todd mentions in his book. But to do so would cover more paragraphs in this blog than you are probably interested in reading right now. Yet I will leave you with this, and I do believe this is a key theme throughout the course of this book (I'll forward this on to Dr. Whitaker and if he disagrees hopefully he will let me know). 

Respect. Great teachers, great leaders, and great parents treat everyone with respect. If we all can do this one little thing, have a little empathy for one another then surely we will have something very special. I can't remember who said this, but people may not remember what you say, but they will certainly remember what you do. All it takes is one cutting remark, one blow up to annihilate a respectful relationship. Often times the damage is irreversible and can never be undone. 

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

The Most Thankless Job in Education

I was appreciative of Dianna Darold's comments in her column last week. You probably also noticed the letter to the editor from the Executive Director of the School Administrators of Iowa, Dr. Roark Horn. His and Dianna's comments reminded our community the value of the principalship and thanked them for their service. October was National Principal Recognition Month. Sadly, I didn't do a very good job of giving a shout out to our building principals this past month. My lame excuse is that I think they know I appreciate them and the work they are doing. Indeed my failure further emphasizes the point that our principals often go unnoticed. An often thankless job in education, principals are usually remembered for managerial skill rather than the profound impact they have on student achievement. Most principals will tell you they are hired to be instructional leaders, but they are fired for missteps when it comes to the management of the organization.  

There are no easy jobs in education and the role of building principal is no different. The fact is, I am not certain there is a job more difficult in the field. It is not uncommon for these jobs to be fraught with conflict from the time they walk through the door of their office in the morning until they go home at night. These conflicts often bleed over into home life and may be the last thing a principal thinks of before they go to sleep at night, and the first thing they think of when they wake up in the morning. Sometimes the conflict causes interruption to to normal sleep patterns leading to exhaustion and other health problems. You see, doing the right thing is almost never easy. Plus there are plenty of folks who believe the right thing is something different than the call the principal has made. Sorting out fact from fiction in one student or employee discipline issue can consume hours of a building principals time, detracting from the primary work of the building principal: ensuring quality instruction is occurring in their classrooms so that student achievement rises.

Although dealing with conflict is a large part of the role of building leadership, it is not the reason they became principals. Principals become school leaders because they want to have an impact beyond the walls of their classroom. They have been successful teachers and want to have the same impact on a much broader scale than the classroom they previously served. Once assuming that mantle of leadership, they have a more expansive view of education and the ability to impact student learning on a much grander scale. 

We know the classroom teacher is the most influential factor on student learning. This makes sense because of the direct contact that teachers have on students in the classroom. So where does the principal fit in the influence of student learning? In a 2008 study by Kenneth Leithwood, he found the vital role principals play is second only to classroom teaching as an impact on student learning. Indeed, their is much more to the principalship than management of the building and handling student discipline.

The fact is, the principalship has become more complex in this arena of high stakes accountability, advances in technology, implementation and measurement of core academic standards, rigorous and relevant professional development, and now teacher leadership. These positions have become more collaborative and distributive in nature, forcing principals to manage multiple projects at once, while keeping the building running smoothly and ensuring students are achieving at high levels.

Next week I will return to the concept of teacher leadership and the impact that is having on learning at Hudson. Before we go there, I think it is appropriate to share one of the key findings of my research into the implementation of teacher leadership systems: as teacher leaderships systems have begun to proliferate Iowa schools, the role of the principal has become even more complex. Indeed a misconception exists that these systems will somehow make the job of principals easier. Not so!

I would argue that our teacher leadership system is functioning at a very high level. Not to diminish the impact of those serving in those vital roles, we can attribute part of this success to the role the building principal plays. This success is not limited to teacher leadership! We can point to connected learning, implementation of new curriculum(s) and teaching strategies, robust professional development, and ensuring a positive learning environment.

A lot of great stuff is happening in Hudson, and there are many people who are responsible for the success that we are having. Many folks can share, celebrate, and take credit for that success. It would be a mistake to forget the valuable contributions of Mr. Schlatter and Mr. Dieken!