Archive for category Leadership

Are You a Hem, a Haw, a Sniff, or a Scurry?


These past few weeks have been a whirlwind in our neck of the woods.  To say change has come to our building and district is an understatement.  Sometimes, I have a hard time keeping up with it, but what we are doing is really going to be great for our kids and our future.

We are in a process of changing the configuration of our district to consolidate our elementary building to one building, move our middle school to another building, and have our high school as a one high school, not a combined Jr.-Sr High.  This has been the vision of our Board of Education and our superintendent, to consolidate our needs, work together in tandem as grade levels, to bring the best for our students of our district.

As we all know, with any type of change, it gets scary.  To make this vision happen, we had to be creative and adjust our buildings next year so we can get the project started.  With delays at the NYSED department, (are you surprised?) and finally getting our project approved, we had to change our configuration so that the building I serve will house all the PreK-2 student populations.

As we all know, lots of speculation and angst can occur during any type of change.  Usually, it is harder for the adults to process the change than it is our children.  They always seem to have no problem with it.  But, in moving forward with this project, it has always brought me back to Spencer Johnson’s great book, Who Moved My Cheese?

With the announcement of movements in our elementary buildings, a flurry of emotions came forward from the adults.  Although the staff knew that a change was occurring, they did not have the details because we were and are literally at the mercy of the State Education Department and a timeline.  What was announced was not predicted, and even may change with a construction timeline that may change too.

With that, some of my staff that I have worked with for over 12 years will be moved.  Some were fine with it because they knew they had jobs.  Some were a bit shocked, but overcame it because again, they knew they had jobs.  Some lined up to ask for transfers in open positions for change.  Some are fine to stay put.

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Yet again, it brought me back to Who Moved My Cheese?  The book is a fable about Hem and Haw (terms for indecisiveness) who live in a maze and look for cheese.  They stumble on Cheese Station C along with another pair, Sniff and Scurry.  What happens is that Hem and Haw are satisfied with Cheese Station C and start to become arrogant in the process of finding cheese and stop and become complacent, thinking that the cheese in Cheese Station C will last forever.  In the end, Haw finds his way out of a situation, but Hem is complacent with his old ways of not changing to find new cheese.  (You can read a synopsis here.)

In the End:

Change happens, and for this change, it is happening for what is best for our kids.  In the book, the character, Haw, writes “The Handwriting on the Wall” of his thinking and “aha” moments.  Here they are:

Change Happens:  They Keep Moving The Cheese

Anticipate Change:  Get Ready For The Cheese To Move

Monitor Change:  Smell The Cheese Often So You Know When It Is Getting Old

Adapt To Change Quickly:  The Quicker You Let Go Of Old Cheese, The Sooner You Can Enjoy New Cheese

Change:  Move With The Cheese

Enjoy Change! :  Savor The Adventure And Enjoy The Tase Of New Cheese

Be Ready To Change Quickly And Enjoy It Again:  They Keep Moving The Cheese

So, which one are you?


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I have been blessed with a wonderful PLN who challenge me and push me every single day.  If you don’t know what a PLN is, it stands for a Personal / Professional Learning Network.  For me, it formed about 4 to 5 years ago when I started to use social media and the platform, Twitter, to engage in powerful professional dialogue about education.  Being an educator for the past 27 years, I have been in the presence of some great people in the business, first as a music educator and then as a leader of a public school.  Once I started using a social media platform such as Twitter, I haven’t looked back.  

One of the first tweeps that I followed and who I consider a mentor is my friend Joe Mazza.  Though he may not know this, I call him a mentor because he has pushed me to realize the potential that I have within myself.  This past weekend, he did a powerful TedxYouth talk in Boston about 10 assumptions he had while growing up and becoming an adult.  As noted by my best buddy, friend, mentor and colleague, Lisa Meade, he as well as all of us are on that bumpy journey, that I call life.  So in the spirit of Joe, here are some assumptions that I am going to list, in no particular order, other than my number #1!.

1.  I thought being diagnosed with breast cancer was a death sentence,  It actually woke me up to what is important in life.

2.  Crying is a sign of weakness.  That’s not true. In my 1/2 hundred years, it is a sign of life, of happiness, of joy, pain and empathy. (And hormones.  LOL)

3.  I’m not smart enough.  That is for sure, but I work my butt off to make good for kids and humans! My mom taught me to look for the good in everyone.  (Memory Eternal Flossie!)

4.  Friends are the only thing.  Nope, have to take my mom’s advice, that friends come and go but my family stays.  That’s for sure.  My family is #1!

5.  Having the next best thing or gadget will give me happiness.  My happiness – relationships with humans, my husband (who is my love of life), my family, friends, PLN!  They are my happiness!

6.  Getting it done FAST is the only way.  I am more of a hedgehog.  Slow and steady wins the race!

7.  That failure is grave and I will be dammed, fired, hurt someone, poor performance.  I am learning to overcome this more and more.  I found out by sissy, this may be a Vissar trait but the confidence is sure in my sissy #1!

I am sure I have three more in me.  But I am procrastinating on other things that I need to get done and there are a few who nudge me to post this, so here it is in all it’s glory.  

Thank you Joe Mazza.  You are an inspiration and you have touched many with your honesty, empathy and compassion.  We are that much better to have you in our midst and in our world.  Humbled and honored to know you my friend!

What are your assumptions?

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APPR Gone Astray

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I have been challenged by my buddy, Lisa Meade, to write about the new APPR direction in New York State.  Another good buddy, Christina Luce, wrote about APPR too, so the pressure is on! I have been rather quiet about this, due to the fact that first, I am a little miffed with what is happening in our state with public education.  I guess you would say, SHOCKED is a better word.  The other is that yes, I am a little “gun shy” in that I will get my hands slapped, but I know that I need to do this for our children and for our future.  Let’s face it, our kids need to be productive citizens, not widgets and autobots taking bubble tests.  It’s killing innovation and creativity.

Where did we lose it?  I have been in education for 27 years, 15 of them as a building leader, and I haven’t experienced anything like we are experiencing not only in New York, but within the nation.  Heck, Diane Ravitch called for a national teacher strike last week at the NPE conference in Chicago.  That will go over well.  I totally remember the teacher strike at the Centennial School District in Warminster PA in 1976.  I was in 6th grade and we missed 3 months of prime instruction.  NOT good for a 6th grader who had reading difficulties.  Educators are angry, and boy, so are the parents.  A rally call has been put out to parents, students and retired teachers to not give up and continue the civil disobedience because they are the ones that can really change the landscape because they won’t be fired!  Only in America can we do this and that is the beauty of this wonderful nation. (Check out Yong Zhao’s funny speech at the NPE conference in Chicago here.  It’s worth the time!)

The legislation of our new APPR system has gone astray.  What has happened is that we have lost our compass, what truly matters in education, and that is creating a society of children, who will not be creative and innovative, who will have the opportunity to be entrepreneurial, and who will not have a moral compass.  Bubble tests do not do this AND only focusing on Math and ELA will not be the end all be all.  What about the arts, science, civic curriculum, and social and emotional curriculum?

Before I go on, let me be very clear.  I believe in an APPR system that is what it is, an Annual Professional Performance Review that is fair and that will be a coaching model for our teachers and principals.  New York State has had this regulation in place for a long time, but what happened with Race To The Top initiatives has driven New York State education on a spiral path of FAILURE!  It’s time to listen to the wake up call! (Wakey, wakey!!)

So how can we improve this system?  Here are a few suggestions:

  1. Make the test available to teachers, administrators and parents.  Why such a secret?  Do we really think that the ELA and Math 3-8 tests are driving instruction?   Not when we get results back so late.  Even a July 1st release will be worthless because we had so many opt outs, let alone ONLY releasing 50% of the test..  Stop with the insanity of using these high stakes tests for teacher evaluations.  It was NEVER designed for this purpose.  What it is doing now is sorting our kids and schools.  Keep doing the same thing over and over again, and you create insanity.  Oh, and why so tricky and high levels of reading? I would like to see some Regents and State legislatures take a 5th grade Math and ELA test, see if they could pass it, let alone a 3rd grade test.  Why are we tricking our kids?  Give back the test design to our teachers.  We had a system in place, but maybe special interests got in the way. (AKA – Pearson and the $$! Cha-ching!)
  2. Let principals lead their schools.  As a building principal, I am burning out from evaluations and compliance.  Don’t get me wrong, I love walk through’s and the ability to have conversations and coach.  That is my job  as a lead learner, to spark conversation and reflections with my teachers and help them grow.  But we are burning out with the evaluation process.  Like Fullan stated, carrots and sticks don’t work.  The gotchya’s aren’t the answer – teacher capital and capacity is the answer.  Build the core and the group and develop leadership with our professionals!  What we are doing now is wasting time to  hurry up and meet the compliance deadline.  I do it, but I am wondering if it is meaningful for my staff.  They say it is, but I have been doing this for 10 years.  How are my colleagues fairing?
  3. Bring back trust and listen to the “experts”.  The Board of Regents asked to bring in “experts” to their May 7th forum.  What about teachers and principals who are in the trenches?  I love Linda Darling-Hammond and heard she was asked to be on “the panel,” but had declined. (That’s a shame or a sham?)  Why not ask those educators who are recognized as the Middle School principal of the year (Lisa Meade) or teacher of the year?  What about their voices?  Bring trust back – we are educators and we are professionals!
  4. Bringing in independent evaluators is cause for concern, and personally, a slap in the face of a building leader.  Basically, we are feeling that we are not trustworthy in leading our schools, so bring someone in who doesn’t work with the teachers, the kids, the students, the parents, and evaluate.  This is NOT a great coaching model for our teachers.
  5. And then, within all of this craziness and anger with the education system, we truly are having a big problem with the teacher education system and not being able to recruit aspiring educators to the profession.  We want the best of the best in education.  The cream of the crop should be applying for teacher education programs in colleges, but who wants to go into teaching with so much disrespect and such a big morale problem, let alone trying to pass the edTPA that costs $1,000.00.  The profession isn’t really enticing, and this sure isn’t the way to recruit the top students, when they can make much more in the private sector or industry and get much more respect.  I think it’s time to listen and hear the wake up call!

I had the good fortune to sit with a team of educators from our district in a two hour meeting with Regent Ouderkirk.  (A side note – Regent Ouderkirk had my position as East Side Principal in the early 80’s.  Kind of neat I thought.)  She impressed me with traveling her area on a listening tour to get feedback from the trenches –  parents, teachers, administrators, tax payers, you name it.  She heard what I listed above from this team and much more, and I assume, will get the same thoughts while she makes her rounds.  I applaud her for making the time to “listen to her constituents”.  A common theme during our conversation was this – we may have gone in the wrong direction and now, it’s time for a refresh or restart button.  Let’s take what we have in place and make it better!  Adjust and correct.  We know what doesn’t work and let’s improve on what is working.  

I am optimistic that something good can come from the “civil disobedience” from our parents and “friends of public education”.  I know these folks won’t let it go because they believe in public education and believe that our kids are more than a score.  Let’s stop the madness, move back to our moral obligation of teaching our kids, and get back to trusting the professionals who are in the trenches.  They know what our kids need to be the best they can be.  Stop the insanity and let’s get back to teaching our kids!

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Look For The Good in Everyone

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(A post to for our parents at East Side.)

David Brooks, a New York Times columnists, recently wrote a book titled The Road to Character. In the beginning, the book gives examples of two characters, Adam I and Adam II.  Adam I lives by the “career” characters – he makes it for himself in his career, works hard to move forward and up the ladder of success for his career.  Adam II is about moral character.  These folks live by what they want to be remembered by.  It is basically what would be said at your eulogy when you die.  He lists it as the “resume virtues” or as the “eulogy virtues”.  Brooks also wrote an opinion article in the New York Times about this titled The More Bucket List.

Why do I share this with you?  As you know, I recently lost my mother.  What was really interesting me and my family is how she touched various people throughout her life.  Her motto was always, “Look for the good in people”.  She always told me this as a young adult, prior to college and going out on my own.  It is one of those moral lessons that lives with me every day, look for the good in everything.  As you know, my parents were hard working, WWII veterans who did not go to college, but worked hard to support the family.  They always wanted something better for their children, but they also wanted to live a life where they could give back and make a difference in our young adults, now “my generation”.  (I may be older than some you!  Showing my age!).

We always are concerned about the “academic” curriculum, but what about the social and emotional curriculum and our moral character in our students?  How as adults are we modeling this for our kids?  Is it always about the “external achievement”, or is it about the moral and character achievements?  How do you want to be remembered and eulogized?  This is what life is about!  Something to think about.

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The 7 C’s: Kay Toliver’s Principles of Effective Teaching

I am going back in time here, to the 2006 ASCD Conference on Teaching and Learning.  I think it was in Orlando, Florida.  Kay Toliver was th keynote speaker, and what she said has resonated with me for years.  Here are my notes:

7 C’s:  Principles of Effective Teaching

Kay Toliver

  1. Caring:  The foundation of good teaching.  Students will do their best when they have a teacher who really cares about them.
  2. Connecting to Students:  Establishing positive relationships with students.  Respect their diversity and learn where they come from.
  3. Communication:  Have to be able to communicate positive messages to students.  Never underestimate what children know.  It is our job to tap into what they know, they have prior knowledge.  Words can be hateful.  Also, non-verbal action can be even worse.  Let children know that “I believe.”  Know your information and content to be able to communicate to teach.  Powerful teachers know how children learn.  You better know how to teach.  When you communicate to kind you’re interactive, not passive.  Children need to understand the literacy.  It is our job to make them understand.  I they can hold it in their hand; they can hold it in their mind.  If they can hold in their mind, they can write it down.  If they can write it down, they can talk about it
  4. Compassion:  When you have compassion, you can get to know your students.  Teachers, we are all servants of children.
  5. Courage:  Have to be courageous and be a risk taker.  Step out of the box.  Be crazy, you want to hear that you are crazy.  You want to have courageous students.  We don’t want to have students who are fearful.  Have the courage to open the doors to education for children.  Be a little different.
  6. Conviction:  Faith, blind faith.  Faith in student’s ability to do the best.  Have to believe they are doing their best.  We have to expect mastery, we can’t settle for anything less.  We need to build upon student success.  If you believe they can’t achieve, they won’t.
  7. Commitment:  You have to be committed to this job.  Commitment to be a powerful teacher.  When children didn’t get it, don’t blame them. The bottom line they come to school to learn.  All children come to school with big dreams.  Something happens along the way.  Never give up.  Never let students give up on themselves.

Use this as a reminder, daily, every day, when you work with children!

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