Monday, May 23, 2016

Week of 5/23/16: Vision & Mission

My intent with this blog is to publish a new post on Mondays, which typically equals four posts a month. As I look back on my blogging output in 2016, I notice a bit of decline. Three posts in March, two in April, and this one being the second in May. It remains an important professional and personal goal to blog on a weekly basis; however, it's evident I need to make some changes, certainly to my own process and perhaps to the content or structure of the blog as well.

So, with change in mind, what would you like to see in the SPB in the future? As always, I appreciate and value insight and feedback from interested readers. Okay, onward to this week's post...

In the early spring, it became clear to me as a principal that the time had come for our school to take a step back and examine some of the core, foundational elements of our school--climate, culture, operational policies and practices, our vision as well as our fundamental mission, often articulated as school-wide goals, which should be (I think) very clear, measurable objectives toward the attainment of said vision. I also think it is important that these things be developed distributively and collectively rather than in a vacuum.

Our departmental leadership team began this work by examining our current vision as a school. While Sentinel does not have a vision statement per se, there does exist the following "statement of purpose," which I came across in the opening pages of the Faculty Handbook.

The faculty of Sentinel High School recognizes that our beliefs are the driving force behind the education offered to students at Sentinel.  We also recognize that beliefs, which are shared by the faculty, have the most dynamic impact on our school.  As a faculty we share the following philosophy:

First, we recognize that we share the responsibility for advancing the school’s mission with parents and community at large, that these groups have a powerful impact on the school’s success.

Secondly, we believe that students’ social, emotional, and intellectual needs are unique to the individual and that the individual is affected by the time spent in school.  Consequently, we believe that the school must be a safe and physically comfortable environment in order for students to develop essential skills and knowledge, to learn problem solving, and to apply their learning.  We also believe that an atmosphere of positive relationships and mutual respect throughout the school community enhances the learning environment.

Finally, we believe in keeping abreast of the latest educational research, including in-house studies of such things as the following:
  • The impact of out-of-school jobs on student achievement.
  • The effect of co-curricular activities on academic success and student self-confidence.
  • The effect of evolving school efforts to reduce dropouts, absenteeism, and failure rates.
  • The effect of parental and community involvement in promoting academic success, improving the school climate, and promoting safety in the schools.

I was not the principal of Sentinel High School when this was created, so cannot speak to the thinking that girds it nor the process by which it was created. It reads to me as a sort of hybrid vision and mission mashed together. If charged with developing a strategic and systemic plan for executing this purpose, I would be dubious about the task as there is simply a lot here that's going in a variety of different directions.

Our current school wide goals are as follows:
  • Implement professional learning communities.
  • Improve assessment design and application.
  • Implement Google Apps for Education, operationally in phase one and pedagogically in phase two.
  • Implement MBI tier one.
These goals were developed in the spring of 2015 and all represent evidence-based, best practices in secondary education and reflect the MCPS district goals, twenty-first century model of education, and Achievement for All Plan. However, once again, if charged with articulating precisely how these goals are measurable objectives toward the Sentinel "Statement of Purpose," it would be tricky as our school's current "purpose" and goals were not created together nor with one another in mind for that matter.

Without a sound vision and mission, any organization is in jeopardy of becoming like Lewis Carroll's Alice who must ask the Cat, "Would you tell me please which way I ought to go from here?" adding, "I don't much care long as I get SOMEWHERE." Of course, as the cat famously responds, "then it doesn't matter which way you go."

I believe there is an important need to create a new vision for Sentinel High School and with it a mission for achieving that vision comprised of clear, measurable goals. I also believe the process of creating a vision and mission will be a tremendously beneficial process for our school to go through collectively in order for each person, if not necessarily to agree entirely, to feel a sense of ownership of our direction as a school.

A great vision for any organization must be clear, relevant, directional, and inspirational. It must be future-focused, attainable yet challenging. I also strongly believe a school's vision must be value-based, undeniably rooted in the school's core beliefs about the "why" of the work we do as educators. When an effective and shared vision is in place in a school, it becomes relatively easy to make decisions. The question of whether or not to take a certain action is instinctively answered by whether or not the action furthers our vision as a school. A sound vision then functions as an unambiguous map by which to chart a course through the often turbulent waters of school improvement and evolution.

Here are five vision statements from well-known service-oriented organizations:

Special Olympics: To transform communities by inspiring people throughout the world to open their minds, accept and include people with intellectual disabilities and thereby anyone who is perceived as different. 
Oxfam: A just world without poverty.
National Public Radio: NPRwith its network of independent member stations, is America’s pre-eminent news institution.
Smithsonian: Shaping the future by preserving our heritage, discovering new knowledge, and sharing our resources with the world.
Teach for America: One day, all children in this nation will have the opportunity to attain an excellent education. 
Sentinel's department team leaders have developed the following draft of a proposed vision statement for Sentinel High School:
It is our vision at Sentinel High School to provide our students with a balanced, comprehensive high school experience and to adhere to the highest standards of excellence in all we do. Through a broad range of learning opportunities, including academic classes, career and technical education, and fine arts, we strive to support career and college readiness, develop life skills, foster creativity and cultural appreciation, and provide the knowledge and skills necessary to lead a healthy lifestyle.
Any vision will only be as great as the mission designed for its attainment. What are the measurable objectives for achieving our vision? This is the question that sharpens the focus for a school and inspires individual's daily efforts. 

How do you measure the success of a school? Consider any of the following:
  • Graduation rate
  • Dropout rate
  • Attendance rate
  • Grade distribution and pass rate
  • ACT scores
  • Enrollment in Advanced Placement courses
  • Behavior data
These are but a few of the ways a school might measure how well it is doing toward the fulfillment of its explicit vision. All are valid. Their power and impact are derived from a shared process in the creation of a clearly connected vision, mission, and goals.

What do you think? What is the right vision for Sentinel High School and why? What are the objectives and goals we must pursue toward the realization of that vision?

I hope to hear from you!

I hope you find the ideas and resources in this post valuable and interesting. Disagreement and dialogue are welcomed. Let's talk. Let me know what you think. I would love to hear from you. My door and mind are always open.

See you at Sentinel and GO SPARTANS!

Ted Fuller
Twitter: @MT_Fuller

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Week of 5/2/16: The Woman Card.

In June of 1990, at Madison Park High School in Roxbury, Massachusetts, Nelson Mandela urged, "Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world."

In April of 2016, Donald Trump accused Hillary Clinton of playing what he called "the woman card" stating, "If Hillary Clinton were a man, I don't think she'd get five percent of the vote." He went on to say the "woman card" is the only thing Clinton has going for her.

It shouldn't, but this surprised me. Not to worry, the SPB is not about to get all political (well maybe a little).

While I perhaps lack the credibility of someone with an entire binder full of them, I have been privileged to spend most of my life in the company of great women. I'm the son of a terrific Mom, brother to two amazing sisters, husband to a brilliant wife, father to two amazing daughters with a third on the way, and a principal in a school filled extraordinary women faculty and female students poised to change the world for the better. What's more, generally speaking, I have found most women to be smarter, tougher, and way more emotionally squared away than men.

Sorry, Donald, but I just can't let this teachable moment pass us by, especially during this week of Mothers Day.

Trump's statement and the beliefs girding it are so blatantly and obviously sexist as to encapsulate the very ideology responsible for the objectification, oppression, and disenfranchisement of women the world over and throughout human history. It is essentially to say women are so simple and baseless in their thinking as to cast a vote solely on the basis of gender.

Ray Bradbury fictionalized such a vacuous world in his timeless, Fahrenheit 451, in which Montag's wife Mildred and her friends prattle on about election results hinging on the candidates' height, weight, and the sound of their names.

Whether or not you support Clinton, it's hard to argue with the fact that she is a strong and successful woman. To name her gender as her sole compelling quality is to demean women everywhere. It is, in one sound bite, to reinforce every stereotype and prejudgement that has kept women marginalized and legions of men ignorant to their capabilities and potential.

I imagine explaining something like this to my daughter...even if I believed Hillary Clinton to have been totally inept in every position she's ever held and the consummate Washington insider.

"So you know how Hillary Clinton graduated from Wellesley College and Yale Law School; was a United States Senator and the Secretary of State; and it's entirely possible will be the first woman President? Yeah, well, I hate to be the one to point this out, but you need to realize the only reason any of that matters is because she's a woman."

Now, I get that it's easy to roll our eyes, crack wise, and dismiss what politicians like Trump (and Clinton) say as political chafe. However, I believe that we, as educators, must quietly recognize the danger of this sort of rhetoric getting played on the national stage, and, in our unique role, work to send young women (and men) a more substantial counter-message concerning who they are and the difference their efforts stand to make in the world

High schools and their people are uniquely equipped to stem the tide of sexist ideology, and if you, like Nelson Mandela, see education as a vehicle for social justice, I'd argue it becomes our moral responsibility. As educators, it is up to us to instill in a generation of women the belief and conviction that the world desperately needs their unique talents, unwavering courage, and inherent drive to pay it forward and leave the world better than they found it.

How can we do it?

Consider three subtle yet powerful ideas our culture perpetuates about girls. High school educators have the power to blow them apart. I also want to share several unique and inspirational voices speaking out about the ways in which women are so so much more than their gender.

It's better to play it safe and be good than to risk failure and be great.

The world today needs brave girls far more than we need perfect ones!

Teachers are uniquely equipped to inspire their female students to take risks by making them leaders and encouraging them to reach. Because of generations of stereotyping, teachers must be overt about reframing ideas about risk for girls. We must expose the subliminal taboos we all have about girls and perilous learning.

If each and every day throughout the course of her student life, at least one teacher encourages a girl to tempt failure in the effort to go further than she thought possible, we will break apart the wall that threatens to limit the potential of the female learner.

This TED Talk on the subject from Reshma Saujani, founder of Girls Who Code, gives me chills.

As a Dad, A Mighty Girl, is another of my favorite resources for empowering courageous and adventurous young ladies.

Girls aren't as good as boys in the STEM fields.

This one is a ridiculous yet still strongly held belief, and male/female ratios in these courses, college majors, and professions bear it out. In education, a first step is to change the names in our conversations about who the Greats are in these fields. We must shine a white hot light on the achievements of women in STEM.

All it takes is one person to convince a girl she has talent in this realm. All it takes is one role model. All it takes is one person to believe in her and her ability. Be inspired to be that person in a young woman's life.

This is AWESOME. Nailed it, Microsoft!

Girls are caregivers; boys are problem solvers.

This idea is gender bias at its finest, but it still exists, and if you really pay attention, it's everywhere.

My daughter loves a cartoon called Go, Diego, Go. It's a series about this kid who lives at an animal shelter in the jungle and stages all sorts of daring animal rescues. He's a regular action sports God, Marlin Perkins, and MacGyver all rolled into one young hispanic lad. It's in fact a highly educational program, and I'm amazed by the encyclopedic knowledge she's developed about all sorts of rare, fascinating creatures.

I'm probably being way too critical here, but I can't help but notice his sister's role on the show. She tends to stay home and feed Diego information about animals via this way-ahead-of-its-time video watch. Occasionally, she gets in a jam herself, requiring Diego to rescue her. You see where I'm going with this. I must admit, however, she is a computer genius, which totally debunks my allegation that our culture perpetuates the idea that girls are weak in technology.

I digress. Onward to real people.

Annie Griffiths, the first ever female photographer for National Geographic, said, "Any country that disenfranchises 50% of its population has no shot at greatness."

Griffiths and her non-profit, Ripple Effect Images, are global leaders in helping other non-profits transform underrepresented women and girls into twenty-first century problem solvers in developing communities. Here is her amazing talk from ISTE 2015:

If Ripple Effect and its partners can do this work in remote and impoverished places, imagine what we can do for girls at Sentinel High School. By redefining time-honored roles, we can construct learning opportunities and shape reinforcement to encourage girls' talents as real-world problem solvers.

For generations, the messaging to female learners has been..."You're very good thinkers and communicators, but when it comes time to roll-up the sleeves and actually apply knowledge and solve problems, that's something boys do." I know this lens is dusty and antiquated, but I fear it's still out there in subliminal ways.

So it becomes a matter of awareness, the labels we use, and unearthing our unconscious biases. Like race, class, and other stratifying factors in our society, history threatens to make gender another divisive shackle, limiting the possibilities for half of our population. Public education simply cannot let this happen.

Annie Griffiths also said, "If we all bring what we do the world, there are profound changes to be made." She's right. We must all work together to make the "woman card" one of the best one in the deck. 

I hope you find the ideas and resources in this post valuable and interesting. Disagreement and dialogue are welcomed. Let's talk. Let me know what you think. I would love to hear from you. My door and mind are always open.

See you at Sentinel and GO SPARTANS!

Ted Fuller
Twitter: @MT_Fuller