The Principals' Office Blog

Obama Nominates Next U.S. Education Secretary

President-elect Barack Obama has tapped Chicago Public Schools executive Arne Duncan as the next U.S. education secretary. For the past seven years, Duncan has served as superintendent of the nation’s third largest school system. Before that, he was the deputy chief of staff for the Chicago public school system.
Duncan’s stances on education transformation suggest that at the federal policy level America’s schools are in for much-needed change over the coming months and years. How do you feel about having a former superintendent as the next head of the U.S. Department of Education? What are your hopes for this next era in education?

Share Your Best Advice

The My Two Cents question for this month is: What’s the best piece of professional advice you’ve received from a peer or mentor, and how have you applied it in your career?
In addition to the responses published in the January/February issue of Principal, here’s what some of your colleagues have shared with us:
When someone makes a quick request in the hall or while you are walking with someone, your response should be “Let me think about that and I will get back to you.” With that response each time, I found I thought about what was our mission, did this align with our goals, and did we need to make a quick decision that was not an emergency. Interestingly, my staff appreciated the time I took and respected my decision when we discussed the rationale!
Nancy S. FrenettePrincipal Braintree Elementary SchoolBraintree, Vermont
Every principal should allocate a certain amount of time—whether it’s 8, 12, or 15 hours a day—that they will normally spend doing their work. And when that time is up, leave and enjoy home, family, or other activities. If you do, you will find that you tend to be more energetic, prioritize your work flow, minimize your distractions, and accomplish more over time. I have followed this principle every day of my life as a principal. 
Jim BaldwinPrincipalCentre Ridge Elementary SchoolCentreville, Virginia
Add to the conversation by offering your best advice with fellow principals.

Stop Making Assumptions!

In the latest edition of Speaking Out, the author argues that educators should not disenfranchise their students—even those labeled “at-risk.” Take a look at the article and let us know what you think.
Do you agree that many educators’ assumptions about, and the labels given to, young students impede their ability to be effective in the classroom?

Do You Wiki?

I recently attended a technology conference that may have been one of the most valuable conferences I have ever attended. It opened my eyes to the trends and the future of technology in education. At my school, we are contemplating the innovative use of technology and even the idea of computers for each of our students.
I am interested in knowing what other middle-level principals are doing to prepare for the future of technology in their schools. Are you or your teachers using blogs, wikis, or podcasts? Are you using cell phones, PDAs, or other personal technology devices in class? Do you provide one-to-one computers (laptops)? Are you seeing improvements in engagement and achievement, or just in engagement?
How are principals using technology for professional development?  Scott Schiller is assistant principal of Powell Middle School in Powell, Wyoming. 

Middle-Level Series

For the next few weeks, the Principals’ Office will feature a middle-level blog series, focusing on issues that especially impact students at the middle level, but that are also significant to all K-8 leaders. The first issue is bullying. 

When Is It Teasing and When Is It Bullying?

If you lead a middle school that is similar to the one in which I am principal, you may often hear a student in your office say, “I was only teasing/kidding/playing!” Sometimes the statement may be true, but more often than not the student really has been participating in the age-old activity of bullying.

Parents defend their bullying child by saying that he or she could never bully, that the other child may be jealous, or they may say, “boys will be boys.” Some of these parents were bullies as children.

But, what exactly is bullying? Is it a one-time event? Is it only physical? Or can it include verbal and social actions?

At our school, we continue to deal with kids who are bullies and we are taking a schoolwide approach to attacking the problem. First, we advertise our “no tolerance of bullying” policy to our kids and parents. Second, our character education program (Schools of FISH!) is taught each day with emphasis on treatment of others. Third, we have initiated a video-vignette program called Stories of Us that graphically records a long-term bullying scenario. Our counselor shows clips of the progressively intense bully episode and then follows with classroom discussions. Finally, we come down aggressively on violators.

Despite our best intentions, we continue to have problems with bullies because some parents cannot tell us who is bullying their child, other parents will do anything to deflect the blame toward their child, and bullying works for bullies!

What are you doing with your students? I’d love to know. 

Mark Terry is principal of Eubanks Intermediate School in Southlake, Texas, and is the Middle-Level Foundation Member on NAESP’s Board of Directors.

What Does Election Day Look Like in Your School?

During the past few months, if not the past year, elementary and middle schools across the country have discussed the 2008 presidential election to various degrees. We’ve received e-mails about the different ways in which the election process has been taught in a number schools. For example, last spring a principal in Pennsylvania tied in NAESP’s 2008 Principals Read Aloud Award with primary election day by having her students vote for their favorite book.

And in Atlanta, a debate class at Ron Clark Academy came up with this get-out-the-vote song whose lyrics include the issues discussed by both presidential candidates.

What has your school done to teach students about the election process? What creative activities have your students participated in leading up to this historic Election Day?

Good Teachers Don’t Need Research-based Programs

Have you read the latest Speaking Out article in Principal magazine? Author Carolyn Bunting argues that principals should rely less on the use of research-based programs in the classroom and instead allow good teachers to simply teach. “Good teaching is too diverse to be captured in prescribed programs, no matter what the research may say,” Bunting writes. “A better alternative is to give teachers the time and resources to find their own way.”

She adds: “The process begins with principals trusting their teachers and themselves. Then begins the slow and careful work of giving teachers the breathing room they need to develop independently.”

Do you agree with Bunting? Are your teachers locked in to research-based programs? Do you believe classroom instruction would improve if teachers were allowed to use their own methods?

Curl Up With a Good Book

In the November/December 2008 issue of Principal magazine, we asked principals to let us know what book should be on every principal’s bookshelf. Responses to the My Two Cents question included such titles as The 21 Indispensable Qualities of a Leader: Becoming the Person Others Will Want to Follow by John C. Maxwell, Bringing Out the Best in Teachers: What Effective Principals Do by Joseph Blasé and Peggy C. Kirby, and Who Moved My Cheese? by Spencer Johnson.

What do you think of these suggestions? What is your go-to book and why do you think every principal should read it?

Would You Pay Your Students?

According the October Communicator article titled “A Twist to Pay for Performance: Cash for Students,” schools in New York City and Washington, D.C., are using cash as a motivator for students to perform well in school. For example, middle schoolers in the District of Columbia can earn up to $1,500 a year for such accomplishments as good test scores, solid attendance, and completing homework.

Although the New York City program, which distributed $1.1 million to the 5,889 participating students last school year, is fully funded by private monies, the District of Columbia will pay for nearly half the $2.7 million set aside for its program. The remaining funds will come from private grant monies.

What do you think about the idea of paying students for good grades and test scores, as well as for solid attendance records—can it work? If you had the option of implementing such a program in your school, would you?

Here’s what one principal said: Money is a motivator. However, I am very concerned that to proceed with such a path is futile ... To implement such a plan will increase taxes and stipulate that every child must be paid to do what he or she must do as a member of society ... If I were given the option to implement such a program, I would not comply. If directed to implement such a program, I would resign my position.

National Distinguished Principals on Professional Development

For the next couple of days, the Principals’ Office will feature reflections from the 2007 National Distinguished Principals, as they respond to the question: What skill or concept did you learn through professional development in the past year that you plan to implement this year?

This is what NDP Richard R. Alix, principal of Spangdahlem Elementary School in Spangdahlem, Germany, had to say:

I was recently reassigned to a new school in a U.S. Department of Defense Educational Activity overseas school. My focus this year is actually a continuation of active school improvement. In my last assignment, I worked closely with the school improvement leadership team in developing collaborative approaches to promote assessment driven instruction to address areas in the student performance profiles that needed to show greater growth.

The value of formative and summative assessment and the processes involved in identifying key skills for focused attention in each grade level’s performance and curricular standards highlight the positive outcome when assessment data is used to guide instruction.

In this new school, I plan on working with the school improvement leadership team in designing staff development programs that will equip the instructional staff with the skills necessary to promote collaboration in identifying grade level focus on highest student achievement, as identified by the student performance data.

As I work in collaboration with the teachers at this new school, staff development in each of these areas will be necessary to build capacity. Specifically, we need to identify the curricular and performance standards that we are going to teach and when we are going to teach them. Through staff development on benchmarking, teachers will be able to clearly assess if the students learned the necessary skills. By learning how to differentiate instruction, the staff will be equipped to teach each child as he or she needs to learn. This is a path to excellence, and it is a process that will evolve over the years of my tenure in this new school.

How have you approached working with a school improvement leadership team?

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