Thursday, September 22, 2016

While I am very proud of the focus on instruction that we have in the district, and while it is always rewarding to be in classrooms and see our teaching staff truly working in new and engaging ways with kids, it is always worth remembering what the truly fundamentally important things are.

First, like all people, kids want to know that you care about them as a person. There's an old adage about teaching that goes "I don't care what you know until I know that you care". While education has progressed a great deal in the last few years through great research, people--including students-- by and large remain the same. We simply cannot get anything done with our students until we adopt a positive, welcoming and engaging approach to dealing with students. Parents often talk about the "feel" of a building. While it's not scientific, I agree that it is a real thing. It is the many small messages that people send that signals their attitude, their beliefs, that we all can read and decipher.

The only approach or response to this reality is to make the choice to send positive messages and trust it will pay off. The bamboo plant is a great example. Seeds are watered for over a year, with no growth seen above ground. Then, sudddenly, the plant will sprout and grow many feet in a day. Often  in my career I have stated to teachers that positive relationships must have positive actions and statements, and that it is always the teacher who must make the first step. Teachers, like all people, have absolute control over what comes out of our mouths and the actions we take. We can choose to engage students.  One of our principals once greeted a student every morning for three weeks as they came to school, and got no response from the student. Then the student had an issue and needed help. Who did that student come to? Of course, the student came to the principal.  Sometimes it takes time, but we lose nothing by our positive actions;  it's truly watering the bamboo.

Monday, September 19, 2016

Home Construction and Pathways

Some of the most difficult work we have going right now is the sustaining of our Career-Related Pathways. I guess if it were easy, everyone would just snap their fingers and do it. The work is of course made easier by our very willing and motivated partners, such as Santiam Hospital, Emery and Sons and HP Civil. They help in every way they can. Probably the greatest challenge for  SHS Principal Alan Kirby and myself is the myriad of requirements in each industry's workplace. When we work with home construction, we must labor through all of the challenges of that industry, and then mesh it with our school system requirements. The health care world is literally that; a whole new world with different systems yet again. It is dizzying, to say the least.

And yet it's fun. The idea that we can create in our high schools systems that allow students to learn about careers and actually have experiences in them is a concept that adds great value to our high school students' experience. I can't say enough about our partners.  Bill Martinak in particular is always ready, and gets on the next task immediately. A great person to work with.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

The first week of school is always an exciting time for staff, students and families. For me, it always begins with a fast-paced and busy week, as minor adjustments--and some major adjustments--are dealt with in order to get schools into a smooth routine. By the second week, teachers know their students much better, students know their own routine, and we truly get down to learning.

The administrators also now get into their own rhythm, just like teachers and students. That daily routine has changed in the last two years, as we have shifted to a greater focus on classrooms. In the NSSD, we want principals to observe in every teacher's classroom at least once every two weeks. In addition, Assistant Superintendent David Bolin and myself observe classes with all principals at least every two weeks. Last year, when we began this routine, we struggled to keep other needs from intruding on this work, but this year we are now in the second year, and it feels like everyone is more prepared for it.

The work is supported by educational research that says that when it comes to student learning, there are two critical elements that have an impact. The first is the teacher, by far the most important factor. The second and only other significant factor  that impacts students is the administrator. There are many, many aspects of school and building leadership, but we know that to have an impact on student learning, we must be present in classrooms and engage with staff. So, we have made it our number one priority.  By the way, it's not a difficult or unwanted task; once we began to do it last year, we came to realize early on that it was perhaps the most enjoyable part of our week. We got to watch our great teachers, and they were always welcoming to us; perhaps most important is that we regularly were able to be present in the very heart of our work.

Today was the first day of the year when I visited a school. I probably chose to write about this today because of how much I enjoyed it. I observed with Mr. Proctor and Mr. Olson at Stayton Middle and Intermediate, and got to see great teaching and super students in a great school climate.  A very enjoyable visit!