Qualities of a Leader

A few weeks ago, my students asked me what I thought a good principal looked like. I’ve had my share of admin and I’ve observed others on social media. Here was my response.

Some leaders are very people oriented. If they asked, people would get in the car with them. But, they only drive circles in the parking lot because they have no direction. Other leaders have a well thought out plan to cross the country, but no one wants to get in the car with them. A great leader has a destination and people are willing to get in the car.

It’s one of those things that just came to me on the fly, much like my further explanations when a student isn’t understanding. I don’t always remember those nuggets of wisdom after the fact, but this one has stuck with me. As I reflect on my characteristics and my desire to become a building leader, I want this thought to be in the front of my mind. I think I lean towards the great plan and I need to make sure I have the people skills so others want to join my on the journey.

Here is an animation I drew to illustrate this thought. And that’s all this is, food for thought.

What do you think makes a great leader?


Education is Changing

I know I usually share resources and ideas, but every now and then I have a thought I want to share. Today is one such thought. Ok, it’s really some questions.

Someone posted on Twitter this week about how students don’t like school and asked the question, “What can be done to make it better?”. The suggestions ranged from student choice, less like prisons, to not requiring students to attend.

So how did we end up where we are?

History of Education

Compulsory education in the United States began in 1900 by 34 states, most in the north (Lingwall). By 1930, all states had a compulsory education law (Graham, 1974). The purpose of this compulsory education was not to learn to read, write, and do basic calculations but was deemed the best way to turn the nations unruly children into judicious, republican citizen (Groen, 2008). Horace Mann, in 1978, had already laid the foundation of grade level schools, having students progress through based on age regardless of skill level (Thomas, 2010).

In 1880, American high schools were primarily considered to be preparatory academies for students who were going to attend college. But by 1910 they had been transformed into core elements of the common school system and had broader goals of preparing many students for work after high school. The explosive growth brought the number of students from 200,000 in 1890 to 1,000,000 in 1910, to almost 2,000,000 by 1920; 7% of youths aged 14 to 17 were enrolled in 1890, rising to 32% in 1920. By 1940, 50% of the U.S. youth had earned a high school diploma (Church & Sedlak, 1976). Education in the United States: An Interpretive History) American post-elementary schooling was designed to be consistent with national needs. It stressed general and widely applicable skills not tied to particular occupations or geographic areas, in order that students would have flexible employment options. As the economy was dynamic, the emphasis was on portable skills that could be used in a variety of occupations, industries, and regions (“The History of Education in the United States: Secondary Schools”).

In the space of only a generation, public education had left behind a highly regimented and politicized system dedicated to training children in the basic skills of literacy and the special discipline required of urban citizens, and had replaced it with a largely apolitical, more highly organized and efficient structure specifically designed to teach students the many specialized skills demanded in a modern, industrial society. In terms of programs this entailed the introduction of vocational instruction, a doubling of the period of schooling, and a broader concern for the welfare of urban youth.

Selwyn K. Troen, The Public and the Schools: Shaping the St. Louis System 1838–1920 (1975) pp 151, 224–26, quoted in Ravitch, The Revisionists Revised, pp 55–56

Dewey, the father of the foundation for much of what we do in education today, believed that schools were not only a place for students to gain content knowledge, but also as a place for them to learn how to live. He said the purpose of education was to realize the student’s full potential and the ability to use those skills for the greater good. “Dewey insisted that education and schooling are instrumental in creating social change and reform. He noted that ‘education is a regulation of the process of coming to share in the social consciousness; and that the adjustment of individual activity on the basis of this social consciousness is the only sure method of social reconstruction’.” (John Dewey, My Pedagogic Creed (1897) PP. 6, 16).

The Great Depression set the precedent for moving funds away from education to other “necessary” areas of government.

In 1983, the National Commission on Excellence in Education released a report titled A Nation at Risk. Soon afterward, conservatives were calling for an increase in academic rigor including an increase in the number of school days per year, longer school days and higher testing standards. 

“No Child Left Behind” was a major national law passed by a bipartisan coalition in Congress in 2002, marked a new direction. In exchange for more federal aid, the states were required to measure progress and punish schools that were not meeting the goals as measured by standardized state exams in math and language skills. We have had many reauthorizations of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act but most have the same goals as No Child Left Behind.

Where do we go?

Is is time for education to change again? Do we still want students to learn content or do we want them to think and be able to solve problems based on the information available to them? Those require two very different approaches to education. Learning content requires rigorous testing to “prove” the content is being learned according to the government. And what content is needed? But on the flip side, how do we “show” students are solving problems based on information they find? Do we need “proof” that this is occurring?

Do we need to only educate students through the 8th grade and then share career paths and opportunities, including college, vocational, technical, and work force? What would that look like? What if a student wants to change paths?

What about funding? How to we make funding for public schools more equitable without sending money to private and charter schools?

I haven’t answered any questions in this post. I have simply put information and questions on my blog for future consideration. Education is on the edge of another major change. As educators, we need to decide what we think needs to happen and then we need speak up and let those in power know what we think. Will they listen? Some, maybe. Will we make a difference? Maybe. Will we make a difference if we remain silent? No.

Education is changing. What do you want it to become?


Is Education Broken?

I’ve been teaching for over 20 years. I’ve seen education change, A LOT! But the pandemic has highlighted the parts of education that is not working. How much more will the system take before it implodes? I’ve been saying for at least 8 years now that we are headed for change. We are now at a point that if we don’t change we are going to fail.

I am all about building relationships with students. I write about it in my book, I model it in my classroom, and I talk to others about it. Do we still have some teachers on a power trip? Yes! Are there fewer teachers on a power trip? Yes! Do the teachers who want compliance of behavior over relationship still have the most issues? Usually. But what I have been seeing lately is a systemic issue of general lack of respect which makes relationship building more difficult. Students are pushing the societal boundaries of acceptable behavior. Maybe some of these boundaries need to change, like our view on dress code which is historically sexist. But what is acceptable? How much of the human body should be exposed in school? What does our society say is acceptable? What are some boundaries that shouldn’t be pushed?

Some behaviors disrupt what our government and court systems have told us is the pubic schools responsibility to deal with: students refusing to be in class, hiding in bathrooms, vandalizing, fighting (like a lot of fighting), and using illegal substances (not just vaping). I know some of you are thinking, relationships will fix this. In a theoretical world where we have unlimited time, yes, relationships and programs like Restorative Justice will fix the issues. We don’t have unlimited time. We don’t have ENOUGH time, period. Behavior issues keep increasing and the number of people able to build relationships and deal with the issues keep decreasing.

My husband is an administrator and I see the amount of time it takes to deal with issues. A minor infraction like a student saying “F#*K” in class takes about 40 minutes from talking with the student to writing up the report. He has 550 students he is responsible for each day. Now imagine in a day he has a fight, a report of bullying, 3 students sent to him for using inappropriate language, a student refusing to stay off their phone during class, 5 students vaping in the bathroom, and 4 parent emails or phone calls. A bullying report takes 2-3 days to investigate, fights take about 2 hours to complete the investigation, make calls, and complete paperwork, and phones and vaping taking 30-40 minutes. Also during the day he is responsible for bussing, all standardized testing (our school has A LOT of “required” testing throughout the year), lunch shifts, supervising and evaluating about 20 teachers, and IEP meetings for his own students. He is also supposed to look at the grades for all of his students and call in students who are not doing well. Now last I checked, we are in school from 7-3, not even close to the amount of time needed to deal with these issues. He supervises an athletic even 2-3 nights a week so he has to leave right after school. THERE IS NOT ENOUGH TIME! The number of behavior issues is insane and administrators are being told to spend MORE TIME building relationships. Where? Where does this time come from? They want to, but they don’t have time. When they ask for more help, more administrators, counselors, and teachers, they are told we don’t have the money. They, just like teachers, are told to FIGURE IT OUT!

We are told, don’t suspend as many students. Ok, are we supposed to say, “Hey friend, next time you are angry, instead of taking someone to the ground and kicking them repeatedly in the kidney because they said your girlfriend is hot, maybe try a different approach. I’ll let you off with a warning this time.” Or “Next time someone calls you messy (this means a promiscuous person with STDs), don’t grab her by the hair and bash her head into the wall and pull her hair out, just say those words are hurtful. Now go back to class and do better.” If it was outside of school they would be arrested for assault and it should be the same in schools. You can’t harm another person and say it’s ok. Do we need to talk to them about their actions and help them make better choices? YES! Do they need to experience consequences for the actions? ABSOLUTELY!!!

On top of the behavioral issues that are getting worse, we have all of the non-academic things schools now have to deal with according to cases adjudicated by the courts and laws passed by the government. We have to teach students how to spot a sexual predator, teach about and deal with bullying, keep students in the school and know where they are at all times but give them more freedom, educate them on suicide, teach about sexual health without promoting an agenda, teach about history without promoting an agenda, and create an inclusive environment for all students without promoting an agenda.

Then we have the issue of academics. We are still operating under an antiquated system from over 100 years ago. Standardized testing started with the first authorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. It was an attempt to remedy inequity in education. I DOESN’T fit our society now and actually increases inequity. We are encouraged to differentiate education for our students but then we measure it with a standardized test. Then, we base the limited funding for our schools on these tests results. We know students are in different places, we know they don’t all learn at the same pace. We say it’s ok to learn at different paces, BUT WE TEST THEM ALL THE SAME!!!! And then we shame students, teachers, and schools because on this one measure we didn’t do well.

Most teachers give their heart and soul to help their students be successful. But just like administrators, they simply do not have enough time in the day to do all that is asked of us. The “programs” that are purchased to “fix” the issues actually create more issues and take more time away from students. We take teachers out of the classroom to learn about this new program, to discuss our findings for that new program, and we leave students in the classroom with a substitute and a lesson plan to learn on their own, which by the way, took that teacher more time to prepare than if they had stayed in the classroom with a better lesson. We tell teachers to not take work home and care for themselves and then we tell them to create better lessons, find better resources, spend more time evaluating data, spend more time remediating students, but make sure you teach all of the standards and make sure all of our students are successful. Oh, and that list of non-academic things from earlier, make sure you are addressing all of that too.

I call it the hamster wheel. We keep running and chasing the goals and we just don’t get anywhere.

Is education broken? We are at a point where the requirements and expectations of public schools are more than can be accomplished. We know teachers don’t get paid enough. Yes, administrators get paid more, but what they deal with is unbelievable and they don’t get paid for what they deal with. Educators are going to continue to leave the profession and fewer and fewer students are going to choose education as a career because they see the stress teachers are under and the bullshit they deal with daily.

It’s time to stop the hamster wheel and reevaluate what education looks like in the United States. If we don’t, the system is going to implode, it’s going to FAIL in a miserable way leaving the US wondering what happened.

How do we fix it? I don’t know. Since government dictates a lot of what we do and government is also broken, we may not be able to find a solution. We are so divided as a nation on EVERY ISSUE, why should education be different? I don’t have a solution but I’m the type of person that wants to find a solution. This is why I’m frustrated and standing on my soapbox today! You have to talk about the issues to start fixing the issues.

As I step off my soapbox I want to say to my fellow educators, thank you for showing up every day and giving more of yourself than you have to give. And don’t feel bad if it gets to the point that you can’t do it anymore. Encourage each other and keep doing what you are doing until you can’t do it anymore. I’m not going to tell teachers to stay because students need you. I want to fix the situation so you want to stay! You are making a difference, even if the system is broken. If your test scores aren’t what they should be, ask yourself, “Did my students leave as better people than when they entered?” That should be our goal!

At the end of the day, we teach students, not subject matter. Take care of yourself, take care of your students, and let’s find a way to make our education system better. If you have a solution, I’m ready to talk about it!