Friday, June 22, 2012

The Week that Was

It has been a busy week.  The UVa situation has continued to spin and one parallel that haunts the future of K-12 Education is how decision makers and those affected by those decisions often see the world through a different lens.  The disconnect too often leads to frustration, confusion, even anger from both groups of people.  Maybe the higher ed folks could benefit and learn from a look down into the same schools that provide them with most of their clientele.  We are more often forced to bridge that gap and work together.  As we all travel forward and reshape education of the future we must remember that we are all actually here for the same thing. 

What should and often does unite everyone in K-12 is the mission of serving all our children.  This road usually gets bumpy and some people even get run over.  But we are in it together and we forget this at our own peril.  Our sometimes conflicting views should be a source of strength.  One difference that does exist is that division wide employees usually work 12 months and teachers 10.  Consequently decision makers might focus on ideas and developing long term improvement goals but doing so in a degree of isolation.  While most teachers spend summer throttled down recovering from the past year allowing time to energize for the one that is approaching.    Many teachers use this time to retool and better equip themselves as professionals.  Some take classes, some plan units and I have spent the past the three days at a division-wide conference.  Curriculum Assessment and Instruction(CAI) brings county teachers from all levels and schools together and tasks them make long term visions a reality.

The last time I attended CAI 4? years ago these conversations were cenetered around talk of SOLs and AYP in an effort to define quality instruction.   SOL talk was noticeably absent this year and we were developing different things.  The goal this summer was to create and polish Performance Assessents to measure a range of the county's "Lifelong Learning Standards. "  These then provide additional and more balanced ways to see where kids are with skills and content and how they are progressing, beyond objective quarterly assessments and the SOLs.
That was where our efforts were focused for three days and I had the privilege of spending time  working closely with teachers and leaders from other schools, something that is rarely afforded during the busy school year.   There we all were trying to turn theoretical ideas into tangible things.  At times it was frustrating, confusing, difficult but also rewarding,worthwhile and even funny.  We  voiced differences and concerns and navigated in a positive direction.   Some of the products no doubt will exceed expectations and other may fall short. But for 3 days there was a unity often lacking in the us vs them world. 

Make a large donation, name a building.
This bring us back to the situation at UVa where us vs them might not go far enough in describing the polemical debate taking place over Teresa Sullivan's ouster.  We touched on the money and online education trail that are potential aspects and this week also saw major UVa donor Paul Tudor Jones weigh in supporting her removal.  Then the interim President stated he does not support the boards removal of Sullivan This was followed by a lengthy and long overdue public response by Board of Visitors rector Helen Dragas that included the Pseudo apology "we did the right thing, the wrong way.  For this, I sincerely apologize."  Bloggers were quick to link this to a PR firm now working with Dragas and the Board have been working with.  Meanwhile no sign of stabilizing of the states portion of funding which is now around a meager 5-6%.  So what is really at the core of any disagreements?

 And now news that the Board will be meeting on Tuesday to potentially "reconsider" its decision and re-instate Sullivan, assuming she would accept.  Like I said, busy week. 

These are not so much symptoms of change or a failure of leadership.  They are side effects of the tensions among the players that shape the world of education.  What appears to be missing t UVa and often across our nation is common and collegial conversations about what is good for students and then moving forward.  Those lower down can suffer from short sightedness from focus on the real work of education.  Those higher up often farther removed and lack understanding of what things mean on the ground.  In defense of teachers and those lower down any missteps there are far less disruptive and damaging.

The CAI conference closed with some reflection on and discussion of leadership, charges as we move start the year,  door prizes(thanks!) and even some dancing.  We now break for the summer before moving the challenge will be moving everyone that did not attend forward.  I will steal a quote from the closing presentation at the conference which I think is fitting.  In the meantime we'll keep an eye as things across town continue to unfold.

Jennifer Walker 2008 Ohio Teacher of the Year.


  1. The individual components of a whole are not the same as their combined aggregate. It’s important to take this into consideration when attempting to gain the perspective of executives and policy, decision makers. The leftist commentariat expects we enact a 100 per cent success rate policy as opposed to the reality of finding a policy that works best. For even a 94 per cent successful decision has a failure percentage of 6—a failure rate that is magnified to 60 when viewed through the lens of mainstream media and proletarian protest.

    Keep this in mind, all ye hoi polloi, when you all too quickly blame upper level administration for enacting policy you haven’t yet attempted to make successful. We are not as dependent on you as you us, as demonstrated by the BoV’s handling of the outrage following Terry’s ousting. In spite of this, we make significant efforts to bridge the gap that has regrettably formed between the higher ups and the lower downs. You have the success of your charges, your children that you teach, at heart. We are tasked with keeping the success of those childrens’ children in mind as well. Establishing and improving a system on a macro level is exponentially harder than mending the inevitable, minor cracks that form upon its creation.

    A new road with minimal imperfection is not replaced with a new road. The imperfections are fixed individually, one by one. The onus for doing that, however, is not on us. It is on YOU.

  2. I think I understand your comment maybe...I only have a BA... Your tone is a bit paternalistic I do wash least during the school year, in the crick.
    Demosthenes was great man and provided tremendous service to his state. But he also took his own life in failure resulting from his inability to unite and motivate his fellow citizens against the Macedonians. He would not have been a great orator without people to listen, which is where he fell short when it mattered most A great principled man none the less whose name I suspect you take after much consideration.
    I could not agree more when you say "individual components of a whole are not the same as their combined aggregate." Call me leftist if you want(I am a proud moderate) but we have way too much dominating authoritarian leadership. Create an idea(or more often hear it from someone you think is on the right track) and ram it through. I am American after all and maybe I lean a bit more towards a democratic participatory model. If you want to hold people responsible, give them the power. When that doesn't happen a gap occurs I see it as often a failure of leadership. Either too much or not enough. The best leaders in my life struck a just knew how to balance these and further they just blended into the woodwork in any group of people.

    In my experience "buy in" really increases the likelihood that policy will be successful. I tend not to buy and protest when my Pauper's wisdom says ideas are dumb. I have been wrong, but I have more often been right. People are much more willing to invest time and energy if they feel a part of something. That is why two way collegial communication and opportunities for genuine feedback provides better results. The devil is in the details after all. All approach has good and bad sides and that's why you to have seek balance.
    I disagree that macro repairs are harder. I'd like to think leaders don't think that way. They embrace it. As leaders don't really "do" anything. Too often they seem to only want to keep people busy or maintain appearance of movement for movements sake and look to take credit paying lip service to others who play a role. "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, concerned citizens can change the world. Indeed it is the only thing that ever has"...M Moss As for fixing the road, that's all I ever want to do. But as I mature in my career it seems many haughty people get in my way or prefer to show me how to do that.
    Just sayin'

    Turner will eventually weigh in and no doubt in a far more eloquent and articulate manner.