Tag Archives: teachers

The Continued Success of the Petal School District is not Luck!

Is the only constant in this world the success of the Petal School District?  I was blessed to serve twenty-five years as a teacher, coach, and administrator in the Petal School District, and it was a great school district before I arrived on the scene, it was a great school district while I was there, and it is a great school district today.  Recently, the state released school accountability scores and rankings, and the Petal School District was once again ranked in the top five school districts in the state (number one in mathematics).  No one was surprised because no one can remember when or if there was a time in its history that Petal was not ranked at the top.  The mark of a great school district, athletic team, or great business is the ability to sustain success over time regardless of who is at the helm or in the trenches, and the Petal Schools have done a remarkable job of maintaining success even when key personnel have changed.

In the past four years, the District has had two superintendents, changes in directorships, and multiple changes in school principals and assistant principals, yet, it has remained a top-rated school district.  That is amazing!  However, what is more amazing is the District has maintained its success even with the loss of some great teachers who have retired or moved elsewhere due to family and career decisions.  Common sense says for a school to be successful it must have great teachers in the classroom.  In fact, research supports a quality teacher in the classroom is the most crucial factor in the education of a child.  However, in an era of state and nation-wide teacher shortages, it is not easy to find quality teachers to replace outgoing quality teachers even for a school district, like Petal, with a strong discipline and academic reputation, so how does Petal do it?

Having worked in the school district, I am very familiar with the “movers and shakers” (great educators) among the teachers and administrators, but until recently, while browsing the District website I was unaware of the turnover that has occurred over the past four years.  The school websites are filled with new teacher and administrator faces at almost every school.  Most of the old guard is gone!  The people I always believed made the schools great were missing, but success marched on without them.  How could that be?  Maybe, there is truth to the adage, “One monkey does not stop the show.”

Before I retired, I often bragged, the key to my success at Petal High School was the quality of teachers that lifted me and the students on their shoulders and made what sometimes appeared impossible possible.  Although many of the administrators and teachers who carried me to success are now gone, Petal High School and the District continues to be successful.  That is not only a tribute to the recruiting efforts of the District, it is a tribute to the foundation on which the District is built.  Superintendents, directors, staff, teachers, principals, and school board members come and go, but the two constants, the two non-negotiables, that never change in the District are “everyone is accountable for learning” and an undying attitude that “ALL children can learn.”  These constants result in a successful school district year after year regardless who leads the way in or outside the classroom.

Faces change, but as the battle-scarred veteran teachers gradually move on to another phase in their lives, fresh faces arrive to grow into their shoes.  Like those before them, they pick up the banner of excellence, refuse to lower standards for themselves or their students, and rise above the crowd.  They do so because that is the PETAL WAY; the only WAY for a Petal educator!  Petal educators expect the impossible of themselves and the children they teach, they rise above their imperfections and the imperfections of their students and show them what may seem impossible is but a grain of sand in their shoe.  They lift kids – their own and the kids of others – on their shoulders and carry them – sometimes kicking and screaming – to heights they would never know unless their teacher sacrificed a piece of their life, their heart, and their soul to show them the way.

However, where does the district continue to find quality teachers who have the ability to pick up where the masters left off and walk in their shoes?  Contrary to widespread belief, good teachers are not a dime a dozen; they are few and far between.  They cannot be contracted through Amazon and arrive in the classroom in two days, so where are they found?  Maybe, there is a secret door hidden under a green moss laden bluff somewhere along the Tallahala Creek where teachers with iron nerves who do not know the meaning of “quit”, teachers with hearts of glass kids can look into and learn trust, and teachers with eyes that say, “I am here for you – take my hand” stand waiting patiently for their time to step forward and cultivate our tomorrow.  Or, maybe quality teachers are born somewhere off the Gulf Coast in emerald waters salted lightly with rock flour and wisps of dreams and hope.  More likely, there are no secret doors or emerald waters, only a one-time school boy or girl who grew up to be a teacher with dreams to save the world one child at a time, and was fortunate enough to find like-minded people in a place that has yet to give up on its children and their dreams – the Petal School District.

Yes, year after year, it amazes me how superintendents, directors, staff, principals, teachers, and even school board members can change, yet, the school district continues to not only be successful but thrive.  Working hard and smart with kids as the bottom line while plugging in a sincere love for them and passion for learning is a surefire formula for success, and that success becomes even more sustainable when everyone from the superintendent to the custodian understands everything a school district does is about kids.  “Doing what is best for kids” is what ensures success for the District regardless of who the superintendent or the teachers in the classroom may be.  When a school district asks, “What is best for the kids?” prior to every decision it makes, it cannot not help but be successful year after year.  That single question puts every decision and every action in the proper perspective for a school district.  It enables a small, underfunded (by the state) school district like Petal to succeed where others fail.  My hat is off to those who laid the foundation, to the old guard who remain as models of commitment and excellence, and to those brave new faces that are carrying on the tradition of Petal excellence.  My hat is off to the Petal School District for always putting kids first.  By doing so, the District will always be a success!  Congratulations, Petal educators for another successful school year! You deserve every accolade laid upon you!  Your success is not luck!  You work hard for your success, so take a few minutes to enjoy a job well done, then get back to work – the kids need you.

JL

©Jack Linton, August 24, 2017

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Cashing in on Fear:  The Catalyst Behind the Trump/Devos Education Budget?

The current focus on public school improvement is flawed.  Politicians, the public, and even some educators are caught up in a oversimplified mindset that lumps all public schools into one huge cesspool of incompetence.  It is dangerous to generalize anything, and public schools are no different.  It is not public schools in general we need to fix, but what is happening within each individual public school that needs our attention.  Many public schools are doing an excellent job educating children, but unfortunately, they are being dragged down the rabbit hole with those that are doing a poor job.

To say all public schools are bad and in need of improvement is a generalization that is simply not true.  According to education researcher John Hattie, the single biggest variance between a good school and a bad school is the quality of the teacher in the classroom.  Dismantling public schools in favor of charter schools and creating an open-door policy for parents to send their child to the school of their choice will not resolve inconsistent quality issues in the classroom.  Due to the human element, classroom quality issues are as likely to show up in charter schools as they are in public schools.  It is not a public school or charter school that makes the difference in a child’s education.  As Hattie points out, it is the quality of what transpires in the classroom that makes a difference.  Simply being hired by a charter school will not make a person a better teacher.  Enrolling a child in a charter school is not a guarantee of academic success or teacher competence in the classroom.  With the future of public schools in jeopardy and a shrinking teacher pool, it stands to reason today’s public school teachers will be tomorrow’s charter and private school teachers, so unless we resolve the quality issue we are doing little more than transferring the problem from one school to another.   Proponents of charters will argue charter schools will only hire the best teachers and cull the weaker ones.  They may try, but I am afraid they may find as the public schools have found, there are not a lot of master teachers walking around looking for a job.  Pile that problem on top of current hiring practices in many charter schools such as hiring unlicensed and inexperienced teachers and you have a recipe for disaster waiting in the wings.  Unless, charter schools can find the magic teacher formula that has eluded public schools, their savior status will quickly fade.  Unfortunately, at that point, we will have to sleep in the bed we have made due to a misplaced focus.

Some will say I am putting the blame on teachers, and yes, I am, but there is enough blame to go around for everyone including school administrators, school boards, politicians, parents, the public, and the students.  Everyone must share in the blame when students do not learn, but in rank order, teachers, students, parents, and school administrators are the most responsible.  Sorry, educators, but that is the bottom line truth in a nutshell.  Sorry, parents and politicians, but charter schools and private schools will not resolve the issue, especially since those schools have the same problem of finding quality teachers as the public schools.  At least, public schools have minimum standards teachers must meet to teach while most charters and privates schools can and often do hire almost anyone off the street.  Therefore, being called a charter school does not make a school better.  Regardless of what politicians say, and many parents believe, parent choice is nothing more than a distraction that takes away from the real education focus needed to fix schools and ensure students learn.  For any school to be successful – public, charter, or private –  the focus must be on quality, attitudes, and commitment. Promoting dismantling public schools shows a lack of commitment in any of these areas, and that lack of commitment has escalated over the past 16 years mainly for one reason – fear.

Since 9/11/2001, America has been at the mercy of fear.  Fear is the root of our current state of dysfunction in all areas of our lives including education.  We are currently in a state of dysfunction that is more dangerous than maybe anything this country has ever faced; we fear terrorists, we fear immigrants, we fear the Republicans, we fear the Democrats, we fear conservatives, we fear liberals, we fear any belief outside our own, and we fear and mistrust the color of a man’s skin.  This is not the first time in our history we have been in such a state of distress, but it is one of the few times in our history we have allowed fear to rule our lives and distract our focus.   In the 1960s, we feared thermonuclear warfare with the Soviet Union, but instead of allowing that fear to distract us, we used it to sharpen our focus.  Out of that fear, we put a man on the moon, built a national highway system second to none in the world, put greater focus on math and science in our public schools, and created the Internet as part of national defense.  Fear created a constructive response rather than the unconstructive response we are seeing today.  Since 2001, we have used fear as an excuse to fight two wars against terrorism with little to show for the loss of blood of the brave men and women who served our country, used fear to turn our political system and nation upside down, used fear to turn citizen against citizen, used fear to isolate ourselves from the world, and used fear to create a dysfunctional education dialogue that threatens to destroy an institution that helped make America great – our public school system.  In the 1960s, we turned fear into productive action while today we have allowed fear to drag us into uncooperative thinking and inaction.

Over the last 16 years, fear has ruled our lives and governed how we respond to events and issues.  Our answer to just about everything today is to lash out negatively, cast blame, and think in short term solutions.  The current dysfunctional focus on public schools is an excellent example.  In the 1960s, when we were caught up in an arms race with the Soviet Union, we did not scrap our education system or try to improve it with our heads in the sand.  Of course, back then, there was an “us versus them” mentality in America and not the present “us versus us” mentality.  Today, there is a political venom flowing through the veins of our country that no amount of antidote is likely to cure.  We are trapped in pockets of group think where outside views are considered a threat and too often solutions are reactions to distractions rather than the real issues.  Charter schools and vouchers are prime examples of such distractions.  These vehicles of parent choice distract from issues such as teacher quality and child poverty.  Such distractions can easily be seen in the education cuts proposed by President Trump and Secretary of Education Betsy Devos in their 2018 education budget.  Instead of cutting vital education programs that support millions of public school children across the nation, they could have easily used a portion of the $21 trillion saved by dropping out of the Paris Climate Accord to fund their pet charter school and voucher projects, yet they chose to cut public education by over 9 billion dollars or roughly 14 percent.  Why?  Could it be they understand the best time to push a personal agenda is during times of fear?

Any budget is a statement of values, and the Trump/Devos education budget is no exception.  Anyone who looks closely at the suggested budget cuts and to the areas the cuts are redirected can see the ultimate goal is to dismantle public education in favor of parent choice options.  If passed, the Trump/Devos budget will cut the United States Department of Education funding by $9 billion and redirect $1.4 billion of that money to school choice.  The cuts will eliminate at least 22 programs including $1.2 billion for after school programs which will have a negative impact on 1.6 million, primarily poor, children; $2.1 billion for teacher training which is a vital component for developing quality classroom teachers in both charter and public schools; $27 million for arts education; $72 million dollars for international and foreign language programs; and $12 million dollars for Special Olympics programs.

President Trump and Betsy Devos say the federal government does not need to be involved in these programs.  According to them, the programs being cut can be more effectively handled and funded at the state and local level.  Maybe, they can be handled more effectively at the state level, but how can a poor state such as Mississippi fund these programs when it cannot afford to adequately fund the state public school programs it has?  Mississippi can’t, so where does that leave after school programs, arts education, foreign language programs, and the Special Olympics in the state?  It means either the citizens of Mississippi will pay higher taxes to foot the bill, or those programs will be discontinued.  Likely, the programs will be dropped or phased out.

Most people in Mississippi will feel some concern for losing after school programs, arts education, and especially the Special Olympics, but in a state where so many believe English is the only language needed in America, the loss of foreign language will barely be given a passing thought.  That is a shame.  I have a PhD, but by global standards I am illiterate.  I regret to say I speak one language, English, and although that has been good enough for me, it most likely will not be good enough for my grandchildren and especially my great grandchildren.

I recently read over 80% of the world’s population has access to a cell phone or mobile device, and within a year – a couple at the most – that number will grow to 90%.  According to David Rothkopf, author of The Great Questions of Tomorrow, we are possibly only a couple of years from every man, woman, and child in the world being connected for the first time in history through a man-made system.  Companies like Amazon have already gone global, and others will soon follow.  I am not talking about moving companies overseas; I am talking about Internet presence.  Amazon can touch anyone in the world whenever they please.  That is the future for all of us.  Our kids better be able to communicate with the world when that happens.  They will not only need the latest and the greatest technology tools, but they will also need a second language and preferably a third language if they hope to compete in the world market.  Speaking only one language will no longer be good enough even for Mississippi, yet, we have a President and Secretary of Education who want to cut foreign language programs.  Why?  How does that make any sense at all unless we are in such fear of the world that we plan to remain isolated indefinitely.

A contributing factor to fear is the unknown, and since 2001, as a nation we have been grappling with fear of the unknown:  fear of unseen and often unknown terrorists, fear for our livelihoods amid fluctuating markets, fear of leaders who so often put their personal agendas above the good of the people, fear of losing our guaranteed rights as citizens, fear of changing attitudes and values, and fear our public schools are no longer in capable hands.  We have seen our leaders grasp at straws for solutions, and turn against each other in the process.  We have witnessed politicians wage war on science somehow ignorant to the facts that throughout history governments who denounced science often lost.  We have watched as our leaders and our people have grown closed minded to the diversity that made us the greatest country in the world.  And, now rather than focus on the real issues, of teacher quality, academic support systems, and poverty, we are watching helplessly as our leaders slowly dismantle a once proud education system that produced Americans who revolutionized land and air transportation for the world, turned simple farmers into a skilled labor force for industry, and lay the knowledge foundation that led to the world’s first heart transplant, harnessing of nuclear energy, put the first man on the moon, and produced some of the world’s greatest literary giants.  Unfortunately, our leadership is in the market for a new vehicle, and they will not be satisfied until that vehicle is sitting in the garage with or without wheels.  It is sad, they do not understand there is no need to reinvent the wheel; all that is needed is to fix a spoke or two in the old wheel, so we can focus on what really matters – our children’s future.

JL

©Jack Linton, June 18, 2017

Ten Teachers Schools Need to Fire Immediately

I am a firm believer there are many more good, even outstanding, teachers than bad teachers.  However, I sadly admit there are teachers who need to be chased out the school house door as far from teaching as possible.  They are not necessarily bad people, but they lack the “want to,” the “get up and go,” and in some cases the “content knowledge” to be a good classroom teacher.  Their lack of capacity to be a good teacher, their lack of passion for their profession, and for some, their lack of compassion for their students shows in their poor preparation for class, wasting student time showing movies and assigning busy work, and their disregard for school policies and procedures.  Such teachers are a black eye to the teaching profession and fodder for those who badmouth the profession.

As much as I hate to speak negatively about teachers, there are a few nauseating rotten apples that give all teachers a bad name.  The good teachers know who they are, but they won’t say anything, and the students know who they are, but no one in the schools will listen to them.  However, being retired, I can say who they are and even call them by name!  With all the negatives floating around about public schools,  it is imperative these deadbeats, these non-professionals, these blights on the good name of teachers be sought out and identified.  It is time someone told these poor excuses for teachers they are paid to be prepared for class, they are paid to teach and not show movies, and they are paid to enforce and follow school policy.  If being prepared is too difficult, if teaching takes too much effort, or if they don’t like the policies of the school district paying them, they need to find employment elsewhere – preferably outside teaching.  It is time the bad apples were called on the carpet to either put their classroom in order or pack their bags!

Ten Teachers Schools Need to Fire

Schools Need to Get Rid of these teachers . The teacher who . . . WHY?
MOVIE DIRECTOR uses class time to show movies from beginning to end under the pretense of teaching, but all they are really doing is wasting valuable instruction time. This person does not understand how to utilize movies as a teaching aid and needs to be trained, this person is lazy and looking for ways to kill time, or this person is incompetent in his/her content area.  The bottom line is either train this person or show him/her the door.
SLOTH regularly comes to class unprepared to teach. This person is lazy, has too many irons in the fire to prepare properly, or has other priorities over teaching.  Not replacing this person is an injustice to students.
 LOST DUCK hates his/her job as a teacher. This person is in the wrong profession and needs help finding something he/she will like better.  Take care to steer this person as far as possible from teaching.
DREAMER doesn’t hate teaching, but would rather be somewhere else teaching. Rather than cultivating green pastures where he/she is, this person is looking elsewhere for greener pastures.  Help this person locate that pasture – quickly!
BABYSITTER regularly gives busy-work assignments to keep students occupied rather than teach. This person doesn’t know how to teach or doesn’t want to teach.  Schools need teachers, not babysitters!  Get rid of this person and hire someone who wants to teach!
PLACE HOLDER teaches for a paycheck until something better comes along; It would be cheaper and the kids would be better off with a substitute teacher than this dud.
WARM FUZZY does not support or enforce the school rules and policies. This person makes things harder for everybody – themselves, colleagues, students, parents, and administrators.  Part of a teacher’s job is to support and enforce school rules and policies.  If a teacher cannot do that, the teacher should be assisted in finding another profession.
SCROOGE does not like kids. A person who does not like kids should not be a teacher.  This person needs a one-way ticket on the first train out!
BORN PERFECTION  

does not see a need to read or study professionally to become a better teacher – knows it all.

 

Teaching is a life time commitment to personal and professional learning.  Over time, those teachers who think they are above such a commitment, refuse to make such a commitment, or do not have the capacity to commit to personal and professional growth become a liability to the school learning environment and should be replaced.
LOUNGE JOCKEY is negative about kids, colleagues, parents, and the administration. This person is a cancer.  Cut this person before he/she sours everybody.  The Lounge Jockey loves to ride gossip, talk about everyone, and meddle negatively in everyone’s business.  Over time, this person’s negativity can ruin a school.

If you recognize a teacher on this list, try to talk to them, but be careful.  Confronting such an individual could be like telling a mama one of her babies comes from bad seed.  No matter how true or how nice you try to say it, you better be ready for fireworks and heavy duty explosives.  Therefore, it might be wiser to discreetly share this list with a bad apple teacher by circling one of the ten names in the chart and placing it in the teacher’s mailbox or leaving it on the teacher’s desk.  Will such action make the teacher change for the better?  Probably not, but it might encourage them to move to a charter school (Just joking – bad teachers don’t belong in any school).  The bottom line is that either colleagues or administrators need to get the attention of these people and help them change or move on.

JL

©Jack Linton, March 30, 2017

Copy Machines are Responsible for the Demise of Public Schools

Since the beginning of civilization there have been schools to educate citizens with the knowledge and skills needed to be productive in the community.  Most early schools were available only to a select few, but as time passed, the concept of educating everyone became more acceptable, specifically for religious reasons.  For example, in the United States, the first schools were decreed by the General Court of the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1647.  Those early schools were intended to teach all Puritan children to read the Bible and receive basic information about the Calvinist religion.  Since that decree to establish elementary and Latin schools in every town, schools have grown from the one room school houses of the early Colonial days to the mega multi grade complexes of the present day.  Today, there are fancy boarding schools for the affluent, religious schools to ensure the propagation of spiritual doctrine, private academies for those with societal peculiarities, and free public schools intended to provide all citizens an equal opportunity for a quality education.  All have their place, but none more so than free public schools.

Regardless of what some may say, public schools have been the educational mainstay of the United States.  Although under attack lately for a grocery list of ills that encompass about every evil known to man, public schools have nevertheless been an integral force behind the success of the United States.  Few nations provide all citizens the education opportunities the United States provides its citizens, and regardless what the haters say, overall, public schools have been a tremendous success though at times they struggle with change.  However, in fairness, the inability to change has not always entirely been the fault of public schools.  Quite often shortcomings are due to outside forces beyond their control such as politics, an obtuse culture, or an ill-informed public.  Nevertheless, sometimes public schools are to blame.  That is especially true when a good school idea such as copy machines morphs into a bad idea.

Copy machines are ingrained in public schools to the point that the odds of doing anything to jeopardize their existence are slim at best.  Tinkering with them can get a person strung up by his thumbs even though these machines are an example of a logical, well intended solution to a school problem that has mutated into a monster.  Copiers often masquerade as essentials when in reality schools would most likely fare much better without them.  Due to the aura of innocence that surrounds these machines, few people in or outside education recognize the serious negative impact they have on America’s public schools.  However, it is time to expose the monster for what it truly is!

What would you say if I said copy machines are responsible for the demise of public education in the United States and should be outlawed in public schools?  If you are a teacher who is dependent on the copier for copying worksheets and tests, you might think I am crazy!  If you are Joe Public burdened with ever increasing taxes to pay for such 21st Century playthings, you might cry “Hallelujah!”  Whereas, if you are a parent who too often is confronted with volumes of handouts crammed in the bottom of their child’s backpack or inch thick packets of handouts sent home as homework, you might sigh with relief, “It’s about time.”  On the other hand, if you are a politician committed to a never ending war against public education, you might feel a tinge of excitement.

Unfortunately, copy machines are indeed responsible for the demise of public education.  It’s not simply passing out endless homework and busywork packets that canonize copiers as a lethal schoolhouse disease slowly sucking the life blood from public schools, but the fact that copiers directly lead to other school related cancers such as state testing.  From the mimeograph machines of the late 19th century to the super-fast, high efficiency digital duplicators used today, a direct line of decline in public education can be tracked.  From the beginning, copiers generated an unnatural gluttonous need for paper, which in turn created a strain on the timber industry to provide pulp to paper manufacturers at a reasonable cost.  When paper manufacturing costs rise, textbook prices escalate, and as a result, school districts can no longer afford to maintain up to date textbooks .  Without the latest textbooks, teachers are more likely to use copy machines more frequently to provide current materials to their students.

With the decline of textbook sales, textbook publishers were forced to find a viable educational alternative or go out of business.  Therefore, they turned their attention to the test producing business, which required less paper per unit to produce while escalating overall paper volume usage exponentially.  With the help of their lobbyists in Washington, they were able to finagle policies that required all students to take their tests.  Since testing mandates are virtually free of testing exceptions, the publishers basically found a lucrative never ending market for their number one new paper product – state tests!  As a result, today, states divert billions of education dollars each year from public schools to the test publishers, which more than makes up for lost textbook revenue, and they ultimately owe it all to the copy machine.

Copy machines are the catalyst for this cycle, and consequently must shoulder the blame for the current state of public education in the United States.  This cycle greatly benefits paper manufacturers, test publishers, lobbyists, and politicians, but does little for public education in return.  The bottom line is that public schools now spend more money on copiers, paper, and testing than they ever did for textbooks.  So, should there be any question as to why there is not enough money to hire quality teachers or properly maintain school facilities?  As long as there are copy machines in schools, paper manufacturers, test/textbook publishers, lobbyists, and politicians will continue to get richer while public schools fiscally slowly spin down the drain.

When these costs are coupled with the diversion of public tax dollars from public schools to support special interest projects such as charter schools, private schools, and vouchers, it is easy to see why public schools are gasping for life.  Unfortunately, little can be done to keep public school funds from being diverted to such special interest projects, but there is something educators can do to facilitate some relief.  They can GET RID OF COPY MACHINES!  Schools have little control over funding, but they can remove copy machines and hopefully, over time, minimize the damage these monsters cause.  Chain them up, haul them to the dump, or convert them to garden sculptures, but get them out of the school house.  Parents and politicians are always talking about the “good old days” when they were in school, so why not go back to ink wells, mimeograph machines, and numbering a sheet of notebook paper from one to ten before taking a test?  Since apparently no one is to blame for under-funding education or testing the life out of education, why not put the blame where it belongs – on copy machines?  With copy machines, we have a scapegoat everybody can live with at least for now!

JL

©Jack Linton, December 12, 2016

Riding Tall in the Saddle

As a young principal, I wish someone had sat me down, unscrewed the top of my hard head, and poured some common sense into my empty skull.  I would have been a much better leader if they had.  I learned about leading through trial and error with, unfortunately, more error than I would like to admit.  I now realize what many of my colleagues and staff could have told me years ago if I had been more inclined to listen – I blew it as often as I got it right.  Looking back at those early years, I thank the good Lord in heaven for having a sense of humor and allowing me to continue to learn and grow – heaven knows I didn’t always deserve it.   However, leadership is a journey, and learning from your mistakes is as much a part of the journey as getting it right – maybe even more so.

I learned the hard way that leading people is basically the same whether you are motivating a class full of middle school or high school students, coaching an athletic team, or involved in leading an organization with hundreds of employees.  Leadership is about being prepared to lead, establishing and building a foundation or platform from which to lead, and sustaining a clear focus on the cornerstones that lead to success.  Leadership is about knowing when to build fences and when to tear them down.  Leadership is about leading, not controlling, and most of all, it is about understanding THERE IS NOTHING SACRED ABOUT LEADERSHIP.  It is a people thing that will and should change to some degree as often as the people may change.  However, this takes time to learn, and although I wish I could say otherwise, I was a slow learner.

Being a leader is hard sometimes rewarding work, but more often frustrating and tedious work.  It is never ending, and it is all consuming.  It is unfortunate, but when you take a leadership role, such as principal, more often than not everything else takes a secondary role in your life.  That is why it is so important to have a spouse and family who understand the commitment and sacrifices leadership demands.  A supportive spouse and family are a must, especially if they understand the rank order of family and work are more often blurred than concise.  Family should always take precedence over work, but there are times when for a leader to function effectively, his job may briefly take priority.  The leader, on the other hand, must guard against such moments of necessity becoming the norm; he must always remember relationships are about balance, and he must do whatever it takes to maintain the balance between work and family.

Although I never did it well, I learned balancing relationships is crucial to successful leadership.  It is difficult to move an organization forward if relationships are rocky at work or at home.  Leadership is the art of moving people toward a common goal, and that cannot be accomplished effectively without strong relationships both at home and on the job.  Although there may be nothing sacred about leadership, relationships are the glue that holds everyone and everything together and enables the leader to focus on leading.  Relationships are critical and must be nurtured and cared for carefully as well as tenderly.

Relationships can be scary, especially for a first-time leader.  Relationships take trust, and at first, trusting anyone other than yourself is hard to do.  Therefore, the young inexperienced leader tends to read, research, and pray – pray a lot – for a secret formula or magical spell that makes his job easy.  In the beginning, I knew such formulas and magic had to exist.  Everywhere I turned, I saw people in leadership roles that carried themselves with such confidence that I knew there was something I was missing.  They possessed a confidence to ride tall in the saddle that was magical almost majestic.   I wanted what they had!  Fortunately, after years of trial and error, I finally discovered that great leadership is the result of an uncompromising work ethic, perseverance, getting up when you are knocked down, and luck as well as maintaining relationships that cushion the falls and brush you off when you climb back to your feet.  It wasn’t magical at all!

As my experiences grew, I learned through osmosis and hard-knocks when it was okay to bend and break the rules, when to stand alone, how to pick my battles, and when to challenge and cross over established boundaries.  It probably took too long, but I finally learned the secret to leadership lies in the ability of people in leadership roles to do whatever it takes to make positive things happen around them.  Leaders make things happen even when it is not popular, and they do not compromise success by taking a wait and see approach; they are proactive.  In other words, leaders learn to do two things: they learn to build relationships with others and they learn to build a relationship with themselves.  They do that by developing an inner confidence and trust as well as confidence and trust in others.  It is that trust that gives a leader the courage and confidence to ride tall in the saddle.

JL

©Jack Linton, October 23, 2016

Twenty Tips for New Teachers (or Veteran Teachers)

Over the years, I have been asked numerous times for advice or tips I would offer new teachers or veteran teachers.  I always respond by saying the little I know is the result of professional reading (at least thirty minutes daily) and mistakes I made as a teacher and a school administrator.  I think the biggest mistake most teachers make is looking for perfection.  This mistake can cost them their joy as a teacher.  It causes them to lose sight of what teaching is about and why they signed on to teach in the first place.  Sometimes teachers become so blinded by the pursuit of perfection, they lose sight of the good they do, and as a consequence they drum themselves out of the profession.  No matter how badly they want it, there is no such thing as the perfect student, the perfect parent, or the perfect teacher, so my advice to teachers is to STOP looking for perfection, and replace it with an expectation of always “putting forth the best you can do.”  That is the highest expectation, teachers can ever hope to achieve from their students; it is the highest expectation they can ever expect of themselves.  Next, I would advise teachers to MAKE TEACHING A COMMITMENT:  commitment to the teaching journey, commitment to learning from mistakes, commitment to professional learning, and commitment to NEVER giving up on students or themselves.  After that, I would offer the following advice and tips:

  1. You WILL make mistakes – learn not to repeat them – learn to apologize and move on! Making a mistake is not a sign of weakness, it is a sign you are not sitting still;
  2. It’s okay to have fun! Good teachers figure out how to make learning fun!
  3. Use handouts as a teaching tool, not a “keep them busy” tool. Remember, teachers teach and subs give handouts!   Which are you?
  4. Use pre-test to assess your student’s existing knowledge. Pre-assessments will help you make your teaching more relevant and their learning more meaningful;
  5. Communicate with parents often! Nothing can be more unsettling to a teacher’s day than a surprised or angry parent who has been kept in the dark about their child’s progress;
  6. Greet students at the door like you are happy to see them – not like they are the plague;
  7. Be on time for duty! The safety of students and your career is on the line.  Monitoring duty in the cafeteria, in the hall between classes, before school, or after school is a necessity!  It is not a useless punishment your uncaring principal has placed on you;
  8. Make note of teachers who always complain and are unhappy – be nice to them, but stay away, unless you want to be like them;
  9. Be proud to be a teacher! You have the most important job in the world.  You influence young lives every day, so decide every morning if it will be a positive influence or a negative influence;
  10. Assign seats! Especially until you get to know your students.  Assigning seats also makes it easier and faster to take roll;
  11. If you do not plan to discuss and review homework in class the next day, DO NOT assign homework! Homework is only effective if it is used as a formative tool with timely feedback to students;
  12. DO NOT assign work in class that will not be discussed, reviewed, or graded. Like the teacher, students DO NOT need busy work;
  13. Never make an online assignment without first checking the websites, including links to other websites. Ask these questions – Is it active?  Like most everything, websites do not last forever.  Is it blocked by the school filter?  If blocked, seek help from the school technology person to unblock it.  Is it appropriate?  Make sure the content is appropriate for the student age level you teach as well as for the community the school serves;
  14. Always, always, always preview movies to be shown in class. Movies should be used sparingly in class and then only in small clips to support discussion of the lesson.  Showing a movie that takes up one to three days of class time is poor practice and a waste of instructional time.  Showing a movie in its entirety is lazy teaching;
  15. If you assign a book or website that may be controversial to students, their families, or the community do the following: (1) meet with the principal and seek his/her support by explaining why you have chosen the material and its value to the learning process; (2) Send home a notice to parents/guardians that some content may be offensive and explain why you believe it is necessary to use the material in class; (3) offer an alternative assignment for students and/or parents who object to the content (use of offensive language, use of graphic sex, etc.);
  16. Never argue with a student in class! You are the authority in the classroom!  If a student wants to challenge authority let him/her challenge the authority of the assistant principal or the principal;
  17. Teaching for student success:
    1. Pre-assess (pre-test) knowledge;
    2. Provide students learning targets based on pre-assessment needs;
    3. Teach what you want them to know;
    4. Use on-going assessment (formative) throughout the lesson. Check frequently for understanding;
    5. STOP and re-teach if and when necessary;
    6. Assess what you want them to know (summative);
    7. Use summative assessment as a formative tool (feedback) for student learning; and
    8. Re-teach if and when necessary.
  18. Being a TEACHER is NOT about teaching; it is about LEARNING! You may be the greatest presenter of content of all time, but if your students don’t learn, you have failed as a teacher;
  19. Remember, it’s okay to breathe! Teaching is a monstrous responsibility, but if you teach with the same passion and compassion you expect from your children’s teachers, you will be okay; and
  20. Enjoy the teaching journey! You are a part of an awesome group of people.  You are a teacher because you care.

These tips are basic, but if followed, they can serve the new teacher or the veteran teacher well.  Teachers must always maintain high expectations, accept nothing but the best from their students, and never give up on the least of them or themselves.  A tall order, no doubt, but kids will tell you – GOOD TEACHERS CAN DO ANYTHING!

JL

©Jack Linton, August 24, 2016

It’s The First Day of School, Teachers Don’t Worry

It’s the first day of school, teachers don’t worry

            About low pay – they can’t afford what you are worth;

It’s the first day of school, teachers don’t worry

            About long hours – artists never see the clock;

It’s the first day of school, teachers don’t worry

            About politicians – they’ve never had your back;

It’s the first day of school, teachers don’t worry

            About public opinion – they haven’t a clue what you do;

It’s the first day of school, teachers don’t worry

            About evaluations – they need you more than you need them;

It’s the first day of school, teachers don’t worry

            About teaching – make compassion your passion;

It’s the first day of school, teachers don’t worry

            About state tests – teach their content with your heart;

It’s the first day of school, teachers don’t worry

            About personal breaks – teachers have big hearts and bladders;

It’s the first day of school, teachers don’t worry

            About not being good enough – your best is all anyone can ask;

It’s the first day of school, teachers don’t worry

            That America’s kids are behind the world – you know that’s B.S.;

It’s the first day of school, teachers don’t worry

            That parents don’t like you – sometimes they don’t like themselves;

It’s the first day of school, teachers don’t worry –

            Smile – Feed a young soul with your light;

It’s the first day of school, teachers don’t worry –

            Pray – Stay humbled by the lives you help shape;

It’s the first day of school, teachers don’t worry –

            Play – Laugh, dance, and celebrate the day;

It’s the first day of school, teachers don’t worry –

            Stand tall – Not many have the courage to do what you do;

It’s the first day of school, teachers don’t worry –

            Seize the moment – Be ready to make a difference;

It’s the first day of school, teachers don’t worry –

            Give – Your best gift is that you care;

It’s the first day of school, teachers don’t worry –

            Love – You teach because you love kids;

It’s the first day of school, teachers don’t worry –

            You have the most important job in the world;

It’s the first day of school, teachers don’t worry –

            Take a deep breath and enjoy the ride!

 

Remember the three most important influences in a child’s life are  . . .

  1. God
  2. Family
  3. Teachers

Everyone else is gravy or sour milk.

 

JL

©Jack Linton,  August 3, 2016