Site Meter Josh's Blog: August 2007

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

August 28th PD

I visited a bunch of PD sessions on Tuesday and was very impressed. I started with Steve Linewand (sp?), who was with HS math teachers. His message was powerful and somewhat radical. Essentially, he says that we need to push the limits of what's acceptable in mathematics instruction since the traditional way has only worked for about 30% of students. He noted that those 30% of students have powerful and vocal parents, not all of whom believe that a different approach to math instruction is necessary. I spent almost 2 hours at that session, I wish I could have been there all day.

I then popped in to Mari Muri's "math games" session with 3rd grade teachers. I've seen Mari before and we're very fortunate to have her with us for 50 days this year. The teachers seemed very engaged, and I'm not surprised, having been through one of her workshops at an administrator's meeting back in June.

After that I went to AITE and RIPP, where I had a chance to talk to teachers about the PD. I heard mixed reviews, mostly positive. I told the teachers that if there's something specific that worked or did not work, let us know; email Joanna Nicholson, Mona Hanna or Mary Jennings and give us some feedback. We need to hear whether it's effective. I ended the day at Westover with Janet Allen, who was working with the secondary English teachers, and Nancy Brett, who was with the instructional media specialists. I heard good things, although I know people don't like sitting for that long.

All in all, it seemed like a very worthwhile day.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Opening Day

Thank you to everyone who came to opening day. I felt great energy and excitement from those of you who I had a chance to talk to during breakfast. I was also struck by the fact that each of the speakers struck similar themes. Marty, Tom, Lori and Jan each talked about the need to work together in our pursuit of excellence, and everyone brought their own perspective to it. It was also great that so many community members attended to show their support for our work. Thanks to Camille Figulizzi, Reginald Roberts and the WHS team for hosting us.

I don't know about anyone else, but I could listen to Neil DeGrasse Tyson all day. His ideas about the importance of scientific and mathematical literacy are important for all of us to consider - it's not just for the "science and math people." We all must be scientists and mathematicians. Unfortunately, some people left before we announced the raffle winners. Dr. Tyson ended up signing books and chatting with people for another 2 hours after his presentation. I hope we'll have opportunities to interact with him again as we go forward in becoming a district that embraces 21st Century learning.

I'm looking forward to a great year.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Leadership Retreat, Day 2 - PLC's

Today was Day 2 of the Leadership Retreat. We spent most of the day talking about Professional Learning Communities (PLC's), and spent some of the day discussing legal issues regarding labor. We were joined today by two of our partners - Michael Fullan's team to work with us on PLC's, and the Panasonic Foundation and Ct. Center for School Change who are working with us on systemic reform issues.

Winnie Hamilton and Eileen Swerdlick facilitated the session on PLC's. They were amazing. We worked in mixed groups of 8 comprised of elementary, central office, middle and high school, with no one from the same school in a group. We discussed the research on PLC's so that we can have a consistent and common understanding of what they are. We then reflected on and assessed our own school or unit's level of implementation of PLC's. We also watched a wonderful video of a school that has had great success in increasing student achievement through a PLC approach.

What struck me the most about today was how excited and engaged everyone was around this idea of creating communities of learners who have a single-minded focus on student achievement. This year is going to be an incredible experience for us as we learn together about how to improve instruction for each and every child. I also appreciated the fact that everyone realized that we can't do it alone - no one has all the answers. We have to think like scientists who stick to a rigorous process, constantly look at the data, try different approaches and work together until they get it right. I'm thrilled by the committment that the administrators have to making this work. I'm also looking forward to the opportunity we have to work with Michael Fullan on PLC's.

Leadership Retreat, Day 1, Math curriculum

We kicked off our three day leadership retreat on Tuesday, attended by all school and district administrators. The focus of the day was mathematics. Phil Daro, a national expert on mathematics, spoke to us for about 45 minutes, then the Elementary folk worked on Everyday Math while Secondary people worked on America's Choice. The day went well, although we didn't move around enough and the presentations could have been a little more varied. The critical message that I walked away with is that problem-solving is the most important area of development for our children (and us for that matter). Knowing procedures is no longer enough; we need to learn how to use math to solve problems.

The conversation between principals, assistant principals and central office administrators was the most powerful part of the day. There was, of course, tons to talk about. I was left with the following thoughts and questions, many of which we grappled with during the day and will continue to discuss throughout the year:

If any of us educators were told in school that we weren't "math people," how will we prepare to learn the mathematics involved in EM and AC, and how will we not convey that message to any of our children?

What's our theory of intelligence? Do we believe that smart is something you are, or something you become?

How do we create a consistent comprehensive system of supports that intensifies according to student needs? Phil Daro shared a great system with us that we may be able to adapt.

How do we make math a presence across the whole school and infused throughout all curriculum areas?

How do we give up our ideologies and focus on what works?

How do we create consistent and common mathematics across the district?

How do we differentiate between motion and movement, or activity and productivity?

What's the appropriate rate of change?

How do we assess our progress and know when to re-adjust?

These are just some of the questions I have. There are no easy answers. However, I walked away from the day knowing that the leaders in the Stamford Public Schools are fully prepared to begin to address these questions.

Thursday, August 9, 2007

Getting Ready for the School Year

I'm back from vacation, we had a great time in the Cape. My kids (Eliza 5, Harrison 4) took swimming lessons and it was wonderful to see their confidence in the water grow every day. This week I've been focused on next week's Administrator's retreat and Opening day. At the Administrator's retreat we'll be talking about PLC's, Mathematics, and leading the Change Process, in addition to dealing with "administrivia." I'm excited about the fact that we have some great partners that will be working with us next year. In addition to GE, Michael Fullan and his team will be helping us with PLC's; the Panasonic Foundation and the Connecticut Center for School Change will be working with us on systemic issues around collaboration and the development of a standards-based K-12 curriculum framework. These partners won't be imposing their models; rather, they'll be serving as critical friends who ask us tough questions to help us improve.

I'm also excited about having an intern from the Harvard Urban Superintendents program with us next year. Rebecca Thessin will be arriving in the district on Monday and will be spending the next 6 months with us. She'll be shadowing me for the first 8 weeks and then working on different projects in the district. I know she'll learn a lot from folks throughout Stamford.

Finally, if you have a chance, be sure to Google our opening day speaker Neil DeGrasse Tyson. You should also check out his Daily Show appearances, which can be found on YouTube. I know you're going to be inspired by what he has to say.