Sunday, November 25, 2012

Packing For Prague

After a two hour panic during which I couldn't locate my Green Card, I find myself at 11p.m. still packing to leave for Prague tomorrow, to attend the Microsoft Partners in Learning Global Forum. I don’t mind. I don’t think I will sleep anyway because I so am excited. Excited to be back in Europe, my home continent, for the first time in four years, but mostly excited to be attending the best professional development event of the year!

I am in the enviable position of finding myself attending for the second year in a row, this year in a double capacity. I am representing TeamU.S having achieved first place in the Extended Learning Beyond the Classroom category for a project I conducted with my teaching partner, Rick Joseph. Doing Business in Birmingham evolved as a result of student interest in sustainability in business and has been a wonderful experience. After learning about sustainable practices our students took to the streets of Downtown Birmingham armed with flyers and brochures they had created to educate local small business owners about sustainability. They created an Honor Roll to celebrate businesses that were already sustainable and to encourage those that weren't to adopt some simple steps to set them on the path towards sustainability. Competition from the U.S. team is fierce and I have already learned so much from my team mates so I look forward to seeing and learning about the projects that will presented from all around the globe.

I am also attending to represent my school, Birmingham Covington School, which achieved Pathfinder status this year. Microsoft Innovative Pathfinder Schools are identified as schools that help to transform education in a scalable, replicable way by influencing other schools within their own community, country, and around the world. By becoming a Pathfinder school, we hope to benefit from deeper engagement with similar schools, gain more in-depth access to global experts, and experience mentoring opportunities from education experts. It’s incredibly exciting to be invited to join a community of school leaders from around the world who work closely together to develop a culture of innovation.

I am sad to be leaving my students behind but I know that I will learn so much and form relationships with amazing educational experts who will help me on my journey as an innovator educator and ultimately have a positive and lasting impact on my students as a result. Talking of my students, I must finish packing so I can be at my best for them tomorrow before heading off to the airport after school!

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Picking a New Principal

I love being in my classroom, it’s one of my favorite places to be. When I’m asked to be out of my classroom it has to be for a really good reason and last week I was invited to take part in an interview panel for candidates applying to be the new principal of my school. I consider this an honor so I accepted and explained to my students where I was going and why I felt it was important for me to go. I had no idea that I would learn so much about myself, my school and my community!

This was my first time in this country being involved in an interview where I wasn't the one in the hot seat, so I was very curious about the procedure. The first thing that struck me on arrival was how the entire community was represented on the panel. There were teachers, parents, a student, other principals from the district and representatives from central administration. The first hour together was spent reviewing the process and the norms and I felt totally confident about my roles and responsibilities when the first candidate arrived. After the fifth candidate left my head was buzzing, trying to make sense of all the wonderful responses and I couldn't imagine how we could move forward. I was amazed at the process that followed.

Everybody had an opportunity to share and discuss their observations and this was translated into data, which I didn't think possible. Having data to look at, instead of just personal opinions, patterns became immediately apparent. These patterns were discussed and it was a really smooth and reliable way to identify two candidates to move forward. Last night the two candidates visited with staff, parents and administrators to answer their questions and move one step closer towards the goal of being principal of BCS.

The most amazing part of the process for me was being able to hear all of the different stakeholders in our community speak about the key competencies they are looking for in a new principal and how different they all are. I am so grateful that I work in a district that invites this kind of community input into making such an important decision and that value and balances the many different perspectives. It was a fabulous process to be involved in and I have a much greater appreciation for the fact that we all have different needs and valid opinions. I realize that I am also fortunate to work in a community that is passionate about education and with and for people who care so much about our kids and our school. BCS is a great place to be!

I asked my students to tell me what they would look for in a new principal and this is what they came up with:

Honest, trusting, good communicator, not too strict, patient, sense of humor, caring smart, problem solver, serious, someone who makes student safety a priority, physically fit, entertaining, fun.

Because of the great process that was used to determine their new principal, I am sure that they will not be disappointed!

Friday, November 2, 2012

Political Literacy

I am currently in Washington presenting and learning at the 2012National Forum on Character Education. I’ve attended wonderful breakout sessions, heard amazing keynote speakers, met passionate and committed educators from all over the world and recurring themes seem to be honesty, integrity, and service. With the Capitol building in sight and presidential campaigns reaching their peak, it is refreshing to be reminded of these notions.
As an aspiring citizen I am not yet able to vote, but I have been trying to follow along and learn about the process in the hope that one day I can also participate in the electoral process. After being bombarded for weeks with contradictory T.V advertisements, literature, phone calls and newspaper articles I am beginning to understand what a huge responsibility it truly is. Before casting a vote one must put forth great effort trying to uncover the truth about candidates, proposals, platforms, and policies. I’ve realized that if I want to become a responsible voting citizen, I need to develop a whole new set of skills. I need to take a class on political literacy. It makes me consider the role educators have to play in creating a politically literate society.
My 5th and 6th Grade L.A and Social Studies colleagues at BCS do a phenomenal job of helping students prepare for their civic responsibilities, spending weeks hosting an election simulation. Students are invited to apply for various roles that make up a campaign committee: candidate, campaign manager, publicity manager and speech writer. They are designated a political party which they diligently research, learning about the history of the party, political philosophy and where the party stands on key issues before they launch a full blown campaign.
The student candidate studies and adopts realistic qualities and attributes of the party candidate. The speech writers research major issues, write speeches, and assist on writing media presentations. Publicity managers oversee the development of media presentations such as websites, flyers and posters. The campaign managers organize the schedules, set daily agendas, oversee completion of tasks, and assist in developing all campaign materials. There has been a definite shift in the atmosphere in school in the last few weeks as students have been becoming more involved in the election process. It’s been fun to overhear their conversations in the hallways about the various candidates and their positions. Locker bays have become debating stations and the bathrooms places to lobby. I can only imagine the dinner table conversations that have may have taken place in homes where students were designated to a political party that their parents may not support!
On Election Day students show up in suits and formal wear and it is wonderful to see how seriously they approach the big day. The speeches I have heard student candidates make in the last few days have made more sense to me than any other political ponderings I have been subjected to. Credit must be given to the whole campaign committee and in turn, their teachers for helping these students do something that I have found impossible to do: they have managed to get beyond the massaged facts, the inflated figures, the unsubstantiated contradictory claims and made some sense of a confusing political landscape. I wonder how many adult voters will be able to do the same next Tuesday.
Standing at my hotel window,Washington, D.C.  lies ahead of me and the CEP Conference behind me. I can only hope that what lies ahead shares a similar mission to what lies behind: providing the vision, leadership and resources for schools, families and communities to develop ethical citizens committed to building a just and caring world. I am off to enjoy my last few sessions at the Conference which is appropriately titled, Developing Leaders of Integrity.