Wednesday, June 29, 2005

An idea that is not dangerous is unworthy of being called an idea at all.

Oscar Wilde

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Inbetween Opportunities

My cell phone works just fine everywhere, except in Cleveland Heights. In order for me to hold a conversation at home without the call getting dropped, I have to go upstairs or outdoors. This morning I sat on the swing in my back yard and talked to my friend Ed Morrison, who just lost his job at Case.

"What can I do to help you Ed?"
"You blog. You can help create a stir."

The blogging community is developing a powerful voice. We tell the stories behind the stories. We share our opinions. We are being read.

Ed Morrison, through his promotion of Open Source Economic Development and the REI Tuesday discussions, gave Greater Clevelanders - anyone who wanted to participate, an opportunity to listen, and an opportunity to be heard. By providing a regular space and a format for discussion, he provided the fertile ground for the seeds of innovation to take root.
Ed believes in communication and grassroots involvement.
He recognizes the stifling dangers of hierarchal control, black-box discussion, and backroom deals. He is not afraid to speak his mind and he doesn't wait to get permission.

Cleveland's hierarchy was threatened.

Open Source development works.

In his short tenure as the director of REI, a number of groups have organized, beginning to implement the changes we felt would improve our community.
Ed sees himself as a consultant, an Economic Development professional.
I see him as a visionary, as a mentor, as a teacher.

I am anxious to see where his vision takes him next.

Monday, June 27, 2005

Summer is the season when it's too hot to do the job that it was too cold to do last winter.


Tuesday, June 21, 2005

The Power and Responsibility of Impacting Lives

Several educators were gathered around a patio table yesterday evening, and the discussion turned to the opportunity teachers have to save lives. A couple of the men were in their twenties, filled with enthusiasm, eager to change the world. As the educational veteran, I was asked to relate stories of students whose lives I may have influenced.

This got me to thinking.
A student will occasionally return to tell a favorite teacher thank you, and remind them of something that was said or done that helped smooth the way, or even changed the course of their life.
As teachers we like that. Those are the props that make our job worthwhile.

What we don't like to think about are the students lives we may have impacted negatively.
The angry tone, the mean-spirited criticism, a thoughtless remark taken to heart. All of these things can turn a child off. Make them hate school.
Rarely will a kid who was a promising athlete return to tell a coach that his name-calling made the student leave the sport. Less likely will a student seek out the English teacher whose harsh critique of a poem discouraged her from ever writing poetry again. I have numerous friends who will not sing, because an elementary music teacher told them to just mouth the words to a song during a school concert.
Most of us can recall a teacher who made us want to quit.

As teachers we are in a position to change lives. We need to take our responsibilities very seriously. We must always remember that as much as we are in a position to help, we are also in a position to hurt.

Thursday, June 09, 2005

How Do They Expect to Run a Business?

"The driver's on his way."

At 8:30 I called the ABC rental company to check on the status of an electric generator that was scheduled to have been delivered to the Soap Box Derby construction site at 8:00. The man answering the phone said he thought the delivery was for 10:00. No, yesterday we specified 8 AM as the delivery time.
"Okay, the driver's on his way."
Between us, over the next four hours, Lane Cooper and I made this phone call six times. Six times we were told the driver was on his way
The guys from the Bricklayer's Union couldn't do any more work without their power tools. I had three men sitting in the hot 93 degree sun for five hours waiting for a generator that was "on it's way -we'll be there in 20 minutes".
When I called at 1:00 I was told that the generator would be delivered in half-an-hour. Steaming, I told the man on the phone to cancel the order. My crew was leaving.
So did I get an apology?...No! I got a smart-aleck "Fine" and he hung up on me.
How does a company stay in business when they treat people this way? If they didn't have a generator available when we needed it, why lie? If the truck wasn't on it's way, why lie? I could have rented a generator from another company. Their lies are going to cost me money whem I have to bring the crew back again to finish the job.

So today I am using my blog to vent my frustrations.
Don't use ABC Rental.

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Common Sense Solutions

"You want to know how to begin solving the problems in the schools? Ask the folks on the front lines of education. The teachers and the students."
That has been my contention all along. The real education experts are the people on the front lines doing the work in the classrooms, and the student/consumer.

Saturday I was finally asked, at a public forum, what I need to do my job better.
My on-the-spot answer was: Materials, better administrative support, and improved security.

The conversation this sparked on George Nemeth's site Brewed Fresh Daily got me thinking about the last two topics in a bit more depth.

Since we need more support from administrators, it is probable they need help developing leadership skills. One of the weakest links in the field of education has been identified as the graduate degree programs in Educational Administration; specifically, the principal training programs. Right here in Cleveland we have a wonderful resource in Jack Ricchiuto, corporate coach and author. His latest book, Appreciative Leadership, invites organizations to replace deficiency based leadership styles (dysleadership)that focus on what is wrong, with appreciative leadership which uses self-organization to build upon the things that are working.

I have participated in several Open Space discussions facilitated by Jack, and found them to be the most meaningful and productive sessions I ever engaged in. A principal's Appreciative Leadership retreat would be a great start toward addressing some of the building leadership problems the district faces. Teacher professional development in A.L. would be great too.

The second issue, regarding security, is easier to fix.
Many security positions were eliminated, due to budget cuts. New security cameras have been installed in the schools to provide extra eyes. Problem is; nobody monitors the monitors. The monitor is mounted in the main office where the clerks can see it. We now have fewer secretaries; again, due to budget cuts. The secretaries are busy with their duties. Nobody is watching the screen.
If a monitor was also placed by the main entrance where the security guard sits, like they do in many businesses, security would be aware of problems immediately. This is common sense and common practice. Why don't we do it in the schools?
The students talked about the reasons some kids vandalize the building.
They said vandalism was a crime of opportunity. They don't go to class, instead they wander the halls when no one is around to stop them. They know, when the security guards are hanging out in the cafeteria, or sitting on the first floor, they can bust out windows in the second floor stairwell, and not get caught. They hang out in groups and show off to their's fun.
What would keep kids from destroying school property? They said, matter of factly:

"If the security guards were walking around the building, if someone was watching us, it wouldn't happen. When the security cameras were first installed we thought we wouldn't be able to get away with stuff. Now we know nobody watches them."

Two security guards. One at the door watching the monitor, the other patrolling the building. The money the school would save on window replacement would cover the cost of the security station.

There are many people who would call my ideas band-aid solutions. It's true. They are. However, I don't see the Public School messiah coming over the horizon with a plan to reinvent education or rescue the district. While we wait for major school reform, we should not sit idly by. We need to find solutions to our day to day problems. Common sense practices that will make teaching and learning easier today. These are just two of the ideas I've had...I've got more. Perhaps I will do a series.
"I could call it "Common Sense Solutions to Front-Line Issues in Cleveland's Schools"

Monday, June 06, 2005

Conversations in the Blogospere

My last post hasn't elicited much response here on my blog, but if you check George Nemeth's Brewed Fresh Daily site....Whoa!! Katie-bar-the-door!
George quoted most of my post and linked to the page. Lot's of good discussion going on there. Folks certainly do have a lot to say when it comes to the schools. If you aren't familiar with BFD, please check it out. Let's keep these conversations going.

Sunday, June 05, 2005

Who are the Experts?

I sat down in a folding chair close to the door, like I always do, in case I needed to make a quick escape.
The topic of discussion in the break-out session at yesterday's Action Cleveland forum, sponsored by Cleveland industrialist Dan Moore, was education. The purpose of the event was to glean topics of concern, from Clevelanders, for candidates in Cleveland's next mayoral election to address during their campaigns. Panelists answered written questions submitted by participants.
I looked at the pamphlet listing the panelists and their backgrounds. Professors from Cleveland State and Kent State, a retired Cleveland School Board Member, and a retired elementary school principal now working as a CMSD administrator.
The questions from the audience were predictable. "How can we fix the problems in the Cleveland public schools?" The answers were also predictable. "We don't know."

I was beginning to seethe. Why would anyone set up a panel of "experts' who couldn't answer the questions? Most of them didn't even understand the problems. Only one had ever worked in a Cleveland school. No wonder things are such a mess. If the people who have the ability (influence, money, connections) to effect change don't consider the folks working on the front lines as the experts, they will never discover the real roots of the problems.

I walked out.

Frank Mills, who coordinated the event was standing in the lobby. I began to vent my frustrations.
Frank walked into the discussion room and asked the moderator to take questions from the floor. As I stood up to speak, I could see my friend Ed Morrison, sitting in the back of the room, shaking his head. He has seen that look on my face before.

I didn't speak to the panel, I spoke to the audience.
I began to tell them about the problems we face daily as teachers, and the steps we need to start taking to address them. I concluded saying,
"If you want to fix the problems in the schools, ask the teachers. Ask us what we need to do our jobs better. We will tell you."
Mr. Moore was sitting in the audience. He turned to me and asked,
"What do you need?"
"Besides money for basic supplies, we need good leadership. Teachers need administrative support. The principals of a building set the tone... Oh yeah, and more security."

When the discussion group concluded Mr Moore approached me. "Building administrative leadership will be a topic we will ask the mayoral candates to address this year in their campaigns. The schools need top-notch principals. It makes sense. We follow that model in business. When a division or a department fails you fire the manager."

Thanks for asking.

Thursday, June 02, 2005

Artists who seek perfection in everything are those who cannot attain it in anything.

Eugene Delacroix
French Romantic painter (1798 - 1863)

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Wet Dream

In my dream, I was standing on the roof of the school, watching the water of Lake Erie rising, covering the Flats and the salt mines. I wasn't afraid, just annoyed. I wouldn't be able to get my work done.
I dream about water often when my life gets very busy. The busier it gets, the higher the water. Mostly I watch it, sometimes I wade through it, occasionally I drown in my dreams. They are my brain's metaphor for feeling overwhelmed.

June 1st brings with it the exited anticipation of summer. The students get restless. Many start their vacation early, and just stop coming to school. I dread this time of year. Every thing comes due, all at once. Grant reports, inventories, grades, and departmental reports. To top it off, I have to clean the studio and pack things up. Today, I am supposed to deliver some artwork for an exhibition, deliver a grant, attend a retirement party for four of our staff, oh yeah...and teach five classes. I then get to go home to my kids, make dinner, do laundry, pay the bills, blah, blah, blah...

June 9th is the last day of school for Cleveland teachers, the last of the paperwork, and hopefully the end of my "wet dreams".