Saturday, February 28, 2015

Power of Relationships - Part I

Exceptional building and district leaders understand that leadership is larger than themselves. They recognize that one of their greatest responsibilities is to build upon, and develop the leadership qualities of others in the organization. To do this requires an understanding of the strengths, passions, and interests of the faculty or staff. This understanding can only come if the leader is willing to engage, develop and cultivate relationships. It is important and critical work.

So, how does a building or district leader go about forging relationships within the organization? Here are some starting points:
  • Be friendly. Being friendly and approachable, and greeting staff and students each day is a small way that you can have a positive impact. The golden rule works well here, treat others the way that you would like to be treated. It is also worthwhile to remember that you can catch more flies with honey, than with vinegar.
  • Be present. Take an interest in the work and learning of others. Actively listen to those around you, and when possible lift their voice. Be visible by spending as much time outside of the office as possible, and be approachable by having an open door policy. 
  • Be vulnerable. Vulnerability is not a sign of weakness, but one of strength, and it will encourage others to do the same.
  • Have concern. Leaders must demonstrate their capacity to care and show true empathy and compassion for others.
  • Acknowledge the contributions of others. Whenever possible (and it is always possible), find novel ways to acknowledge the contributions of others. Build up the organization's capacity by recognizing the good that is already there.
When leaders take the time to invest in others, the result is trust and a shared understanding. The meaningful relationships that develop, ultimately increases a leader's sphere of influence.  

Sunday, February 8, 2015

What Do We Do About Academic Dishonesty?

Earlier this week I found myself reading a post from an educator, in an online forum, that was looking for "tips/tricks/advice/defenses" to use against cheating in an online environment (Edmodo). This educator clearly was looking for an IT solution that would be used in the future in conjunction with the consequence/deterrent that this particular educator labeled "the big fat zero." Lots of IT tips and tricks were provided. As I read through the posted solutions I couldn't help but wonder about what led up to this incident, and what would ultimately be learned from it. I didn't offer up a tech solution to this educator, instead I pushed back a bit. You can probably imagine how well my comment was received.

I haven't always felt this way, but I have come to the realization that we are at least partly responsible for the cheating student. We need to acknowledge the role that we play. Do I condone academic dishonesty? Certainly not! But I do recognize if there is a student in my class that is cheating, I am at least part of the reason why. Firstly, the student was not able to answer the question on their own, or clearly did not have confidence in their abilities to answer the question correctly. Secondly, the climate of integrity in the classroom was lacking. Perhaps the student did not put forth extra effort preparing prior to the assessment, but did I do all that I could to ensure that they would be able to successfully complete the task? Did I motivate the student to put forth extra effort? What is my relationship with this particular student? If the student was struggling, did they see me as someone that would be approachable and willing to help? Did I provide feedback along the way to help the student gauge their ability to meet the standard? I recently was introduced to some research that indicated that the most powerful feedback was comments. Not grades, not grades and comments, but comments written and verbal. Did I take the time to provide meaningful feedback? Is my content accessible and engaging? Do my students believe that I believe in them, and their ability to meet high expectations? How could I change my practices? So, in short I would first start with myself, and my teaching practices. I am not excusing the student's behavior, and certainly there should be consequences for unethical behavior, but I see this as a teachable moment for both of us.

Academic dishonesty is a big deal. Quite frankly, dishonesty in general is a big deal. But, for the purposes of this blog we'll keep it tied to academics. By assigning a grade of zero alone, to this assessment have we have actually impacted the student in a significant enough way as to ultimately change their behavior. Will this encourage the student to work harder, spend more time engaging with the content and deepen their understanding? Will it leave a lasting impression so that the student doesn't make this regrettable choice again? I have my doubts. We need to see these situations as teachable moments. We are in fact, teachers after all. We are not called to teach content in isolation, we teach students (and hopefully learn from them, but that's a blog for another day). One of the aspects of teaching students has to be ethical behavior, how many school missions have you read that include the words "to grow into productive citizens" or something along those lines? This is not some magical process. We need to model, and in some cases explicitly teach ethical behavior.

Friday, February 6, 2015

Standing Up For Our Schools

The Honorable Andrew M. Cuomo
Governor of New York State
NYS State Capitol Building
Albany, NY 12224
February 6th, 2015

Dear Governor Cuomo,

I am writing to you with the intention of inviting you to visit our classroom. You see sir, I feel that there is much that our third graders could teach you, and share with you. Our students are truly inspiring, and I have no doubt that you would find the visit rewarding.

Governor, spending some time in our classroom you would learn the importance we place on developing the well being of the whole child. You would notice how we encourage empathy and understanding. You would see that we value collaboration, and working together to solve problems. And, that in spite of significant challenges we persevere. Our students would tell you that building each other up and helping one another is important. That our mutual agreements of being respectful, responsible and safe help to create an environment that is conducive to learning and growing. You might even be surprised to learn about the diversity in the background, circumstances, and abilities of our students and how we differentiate instruction in order to meet their unique academic needs, and how we also provide support for their physical and emotional needs.  We are a community of learners: students, teachers, and families working together.

We look forward to the opportunity to have you as our special guest at your earliest convenience.

Respectfully yours,

Christina Luce
3rd Grade Teacher
Nate Perry Elementary
Liverpool, NY

P.S. Here are some photos of our learning community. We hope you enjoy them!