Tag Archives: management

There is an old adage: The apple does not fall far from the tree.  When a parent comes in for a conference or when we talk on the phone, I can see how true this statement is.  For example, I had a parent arrive late for a conference to discuss the child’s frequent tardiness to class.  During another conference, I was subjugated to excuses why work was not completed; many were similar to the ones the teenager gave me in class.  I am not heartless and understand that feces occurs once or twice a year, and these occurrences prevent an assignment from being completed on time.  However, some folks make it a habit to create the excuse prior to doing the work.

I could sit on my throne, look upon all students and their parents and judge their shortcomings, for I am perfect.  Just ask my wife.  On second thought, don’t do that.

The truth is I watched one of my little  apples waste away his evening last night, and I never realized I was doing something similar.  It was a free night for our family except for the wife; she had to work.  However, the kids were free:  no swim practice, no soccer training, no basketball practice, and no Tae Kwon Do.

There was a catch though.  My daughter, who has missed school due to illness, had to complete her assignments.   My oldest son, who is having a birthday party soon, had to clean the basement.  His younger brothers were going to help him and the chore would take about 30 minutes.

‘We will start at 4:30, Dad” promised the apples.

At 4:35, I asked, “What time is it?”

“It is 4:35!” yelled my first grader.

“Hey Apples,  it’s time to clean” I reminded them.  With a few grumbles, the trio went to the basement to pick up toys.  Within two minutes, the younger two came upstairs.  The birthday boy decided it would be fun to throw toys at them.  When confronted with this poor behavior choice, the oldest reminded me, “Dad, you always tell us to try to make a chore into a game I was just having fun.”

“Nice try” I tell him.  “Only one-third was having fun.  Now two-thirds are not going to help you clean.  Way to increase your fun, son.”

Instead of writing from 4:40 until 8:00 like I should have done, I watched my son avoid cleaning the basement.  I wish I could blame him for preventing me from writing, but he was not the cause.  I chose to empty the dishwasher, run to the post office and the grocery store for milk … again, read my emails, go on Facebook, clean up the patio from yesterday’s storm, fix the grill, and do anything to put off writing.  I was waiting for a topic to hit me, like an apple falling on my head.

Fortunately for the soon-to-be-twelve-year-old, he realized if he was nice to his siblings, they would help him.  The basement was clean by 8:20, a new record!  The boys realized Together Everyone Achieves More.  I sure wish I had someone to help me brainstorm a topic or even write for me.  The only family member willing to hang out with me at this point was one of our dogs, Feces.

I sat down and read other blogs and websites for ideas on education or business ideas.  I found a few, and started to write.  However, the words did not flow from my brain to my fingers with great velocity.  In fact, they dripped like a leaky faucet and then disappeared down the drain.  At 11 p.m., I called it a night.  I had several ideas but no finished product.

When I awoke at 5:30 a.m. feeling semi-refreshed, I stumbled into the shower.  Today’s idea splashed into my face, and I  had to laugh at the irony of last night.  My son is just like me.   When we have too much time on our hands, we are our own worst enemies.

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School is like a Business?

At the start of this school year, I wrote about Jamie Vollmer who shared with our district personnel his great story about how schools are not a business.  I have always agreed with that idea; nonetheless, I do see similarities in the philosophies and methods of running schools and businesses.

Look at what is happening in the country.  The education system is perceived as bad.  The economy is bad.  Some teachers and business people might throw up their hands and give up.  However, most of the educators and business owners I know are not giving up.  I see the smartest ones looking for new ideas, finding ways to keep clients happy, and learning better ways to lead their schools and companies.

Recently, the teachers at our school took inventory of the strengths within our curriculum and the challenges we are facing as we implement the Nation’s Core Curriculum.  We are asking ourselves, “What areas are we weakest in?  Do we need a better understanding of the data we get from standardized tests and our own assessments?  Do our current teaching methods work?  How can we refine our current methods to challenge more students?  What problems might be encountered?  What resources are available to help us solve any problems, teach struggling students, or push students to new heights?”

Business people I know reflect on similar ideas.  They examine their strengths to learn if they are strongest in customer service, customer satisfaction, quality of product, etc.  They ask themselves if they need a better understanding of their numbers or data?  They look at their sales techniques to see if they need some work.   Business owners search for available resources that will aid them in increasing productivity, increasing customer satisfaction, increasing sales, and increasing profits.

An example of the changes teachers and business people are making would be using Twitter.  I know Cold Stone Creamery in our home town tweets sales and coupon deals.  I, and several other teachers, tweet assignments.  Our clients use twitter, and teachers and businesses want to reach those clients in many ways.  We desire to make improvements to be successful.  The difference between the two is the definition of success.  As Jamie Vollmer tells it, teachers can’t throw out the less-than-perfect blueberries.

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How to Have A Productive Meeting

“I can’t wait until our in service meeting today!  It is going to be awesome to learn more about the CORE curriculum we will be using.” exclaimed Bob.

“Like, OMG, it is going to be totally Swag!!!” squealed Robin.

“I concur,”  Tim stated in his big-man-on-campus collegiate voice as he ran to the meeting.

Melissa’s eyes lit up as if she were told she was having triplets, and she shouted, “whoopee!”  

And, young Ben, the new guy in the hall, shouted “Yippie!” as he skipped to the meeting. 

“Wake up Dave!  Dave, wake up!” Sam repeated as he nudged me in the arm.  “You fell asleep during the principal’s introduction and overview on what we would be doing today.”

“Did I miss anything, Sam?” I asked as I wiped the drool from my chin.

“No.”  She basically told us why we were having meetings.

So, That brings me to Rule #1 to a productive meeting.  Attend well rested.  Research has shown taking naps is better than drinking a cup of coffee, and this must be true because I read it on the Internet.

It also demonstrates Rule #2: do not have a meeting to explain why you will be having a meeting.  

These two rules seem like common sense, but we all know that common sense is not so common.  Face it, common sense should have told me that having children would cause me to spend money on toys I don’t play with, go to more doctor appointments for illnesses I don’t have, and  be more responsible by not eating candy for breakfast, ice cream for lunch, and pop tarts for dinner.  But, no, I did not listen to common sense.  Of course, I eventually figured it out, after the fourth child.

Luckily, today, we did not have four meetings to tell us what we were meeting about.  We stopped at two.  So, Rule #3: Never have a second meeting to explain why there was a first meeting that explained what the purpose of the meetings will be.   After all, redundancies can be boring.  Let me repeat myself, don’t keep restating the same information over and over again.

After our second meeting, we moved to smaller groups to concentrate on one grade level.  These smaller groups were then broken down further into twos or threes to work on one standard of the curriculum.  For example, my partner and I examined the standard on informational text, three others looked at the literature standard, and another group analyzed writing.  Why was this part of the meeting productive?  One element would have to be the fact that we had one of our own teachers as a facilitator, and she did not try to be a know-it-all.  She took notes to allow others the time to research the answers.  Therefore, Rule #4 is to break tasks into smaller chunks.  Feeling overwhelmed tends to cause some folks to shut down.  In addition, Rule #5 is to utilize your own people, someone who is respected by coworkers.  

Once we completed our analysis of the changes we would need to implement, we were ready for lunch.  Rule #6, of course, is to never try to be productive on an empty stomach.   Public schools provide the opportunity for breakfast and lunch for students because research has shown kids learn better when they are not thinking about eating.  At least, that is what I read in some text-book in college.  I know I work better without a “rumbly” in my tummy.

After a filling lunch of pizza and salad, we returned to our meeting room to share our thoughts.  Rule #7 has to be to allow people to share ideas.  Instead of all of us doing the same work, we outsourced parts to each other, then shared our evaluations.  All of our sharing was completed quickly.  Therefore, Rule #8 is to make sure participants keep it brief.  Do not be afraid to allow the facilitator to thank a person for sharing while telling him or her to sit down and shut up.  Even though the bruise under my eye will heal soon, throwing a book at someone is not an acceptable way to stop him from sharing important information.

Of course, Rule #9 is to end the meeting when the work is completed, not when the time you allotted is over.  By giving the participants the opportunity to work efficiently and expeditiously, they will be more productive in the completion of other tasks, like creating new lesson plans.

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Study Buddy Time and Staying on Task

*Today’s names have been changed to protect the innocent.”

“OK class, I want you to answer these five discussion questions based on the story you were to read yesterday.  The answers must be written in complete sentences and are due by the end of the class period.  You may work with a study buddy, and each one of you must write your own answers on your own paper.” Thus, with these directions we begin the mini-social hour in English class, and I enjoy the entertainment of having students work in small groups.

Why is it entertainment?  As soon as I say the words “study buddy” or “partner work,” faces light up as if it is Christmas morning or walking into the Magic Kingdom for the first time.  This day, I let the kids pick their partners.  Some students look around for someone who is smart or consistently does his/her homework.   Some students only look for their friend, even if they know he/she never does the work.  After all, socializing is sometimes more important than good grades.

Now begins my fun!  I give each pair of students a set of questions, and I walk around the room to observe.  Soon, one pair of students has trouble with a question, so they ask someone from another pair for the answer.   It takes the kids a couple of minutes to realize I gave each pair different questions.  Unfortunately for Bo and Mo, the two who never read, they never do catch on.  They just copy from someone else and think they have gotten away with something.  (I really think one of them will move to Florida and make the news for trying to use an alligator to rob the donut shop next to the police station.)

Another pair, Dotty and Marie, chooses to work together because they are best friends.  They know everything about each other; for example, what the other had for dinner last night, who was texting whom, their latest Facebook status, and what time they arrived at school.  What they have not figured out is that they have a combined class average of 47%.    Even the worst weather forecaster could predict what happens next: they begin to struggle with the questions.  Before their brains fry with too much thinking, they move on to a discussion on boys, clothes, and, of course, the behavior of other girls.  If they are lucky these two ladies will have a gossip radio show or be on some reality show that promotes drama.

I noticed Zeke and Chloe whispering and writing responses furiously.  I moved closer and listened in.  This pair had read the assignment, was discussing possible answers (the questions were open-ended and allowed for opinions and no right or wrong answer), and writing their own responses.  It was terrific to see intelligent conversation taking place.

I could have given this assignment as a quiz or open book writing assignment.  However, part of our curriculum requires class participation.  Like I do for all assignments, I began with the question: “How am I evaluating this?”  So, for this assignment, I decided that I would be grading the responses as one grade and the class participation as another grade.

As I walked around the room, I kept notes on the pairs of kids.  Of course, whenever I was next to a pair, the kids would be on task.  I knew this would happen, so I would focus on listening and reading lips of the kids who were across the room.  After all, no one is ever off task when the boss is around.  Since a few of my students read this blog, they will be on to my trick.  Oh well.

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Refreshing Lemonade

Today was presentation day!   The assignment was for students to create a visual and a speech that could be chosen to be presented at our school’s Veteran’s Day Choir Concert.  Despite computer problems throughout the creation process, the first round has been awesome. One student chose to honor our veterans who served in Iraq and Afghanistan after reading Sunrise Over Fallujah by Walter Dean Myers:

As is always the case on the due date of an essay or project, several students swarmed me as if I was wearing dog biscuit clothes, and they were a pack of puppies.  One had to meet his mom at the office because he forgot his flash drive at home and she was bringing it in.  One had trouble emailing it to herself.  One girl’s computer crashed last night leaving her unable to complete the project, and one young man had Internet trouble.  Whatever happened to, “My dog ate my homework, or my brother lit it on fire in the garage?”

After 23 years of teaching, I am prepared for the onslaught of questions and excuses.  Furthermore, I truly understand the computer problems since I have encountered all of them myself.  I assuaged the fear of losing points and assured them that we would get through this together.  True, one or two kids may have been lazy or procrastinated too long, and this behavior will catch up to them eventually.  After all, I do have to move on with our next assignment on Monday.

Whenever one of the kids encountered a problem, several kids offered good solutions.   These kids were earning participation points because they were being problem solvers.  I saw teamwork like the kind our soldiers demonstrate.  The students were watching, listening, helping, and learning.  I believe a few kids are spending tonight redoing their projects because they want them to be better.  Competition can be good.  This is good for business.  The best products or services get the business.

Nonetheless, school is not a business.  This assignment is not completely about the final project.  Yes, the best presentation becomes part of the choir concert.  However, all of the kids enjoy the opportunity to learn, to be creative, and to assist classmates.  This is what makes a school a little different from a business. The school’s product is learning.

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One Thing That Is Always On My To Do List

Grading always seems to be on my list of things to do.  I can be very good at finding other tasks to do.  I can design new lessons, create handouts, photocopy quizzes, research ideas, or talk to students or coworkers.  The teacher in the room next door to me calls it “workcrastinating.”   She is very good at it, too.

I am even doing it right now.  I have essays to grade.  Long essays.  Some with many errors.  Some that will have enough red pen marks to make the paper look like I sacrificed a farm animal on it.   I am using hyperbole, of course; most of the essays will be well written.  I have graded half of them already and have been very pleased with the creativity and writing abilities of the students.  Their previous teachers had done a great job.  Now, if I can keep from messing it up…

I grade essays the same way the students write them – we break it into chunks.  They will write an introduction one day, a body paragraph another day, another body paragraph another day, etc.  Similarly, I will grade a class of essays, then do some chores. Grade some more; eat.  Grade some more; sleep.  Grade some more; play ball tag with a bowling ball with my children.  It may take me a few days or weeks, but I have always managed to have them graded by the time they graduate.

Little breaks or changing a task keeps my mind more alert and allows me to stay fresh.  Otherwise, I could fall asleep on the last few essays and drool all over them.  Nothing is more embarrassing than handing back an essay with red marks and dried drool on it.  Luckily, right now, I still have kids at home that I can blame the drool on.

We all get the feeling of being overwhelmed or whelmed. (Really, they have the same definition.  Whelmed was around first.)  Writing, reading, and planning lessons mitigate my stress, so I know I am in the right, or dare I say “write,” profession.  I hope your days will be relatively stress free.

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Ingratitude and Group Projects

Ingratitude.  A noun.  The state of being not grateful.

This was one of the vocabulary words today.  I thought I could count on the students to discuss for a few minutes what they were grateful for.  (Look!  I ended a sentence in a preposition!  see yesterday’s post).

Instead, I began the day with Mary asking, “What’s grateful mean?”  As I tried to hide my original feeling of surprise, which quickly turned to incredulousness, and ended with complete and utter angst that a student would not know the word grateful, another student nonchalantly came her rescue.

“It means thankful,” Scott interceded.

A student helping another student is not anything new.  When I was a student, I had one group project, and it was in my freshman English class.  We created a slide show of whales using a 35 mm camera and slide film.  Then, we found a song of whale sounds to accompany it.  This was our symbolic interpretation of Herman Melville’s Moby Dick.  I am not sure of my grade, but I doubt it was good since I am still in freshman English.  Of course, all of my other teachers made us work by ourselves.

Over the last twenty-three years of my career, teachers have tried to incorporate teamwork and collaboration into lessons.  As a freshmen teacher, I have had to deal with students being able to get to get together with classmates outside of school.  I have also had to deal with one kid being a slacker, one person doing all of the work , and, of course, the one who could only give orders or negative feedback.  Next, I had to explain my logic in the grades to the parents.  The group project usually ended up with the parent, the student, and myself unhappy and full of ingratitude for the lesson.

I have found the best collaborative lessons to be similar to the impromptu lesson this morning: a student helping a student.  I can expand on the lesson by having each student in a group create a clause to use in a sentence with a vocabulary word or individually revise a paragraph then team up with others to discuss the best revision ideas or have a small group create thoughtful questions for a socratic discussion.

All of these ideas do not require time outside of class, nor do they require a complicated rubric to make sure everyone does his or her share.  These lessons require me to listen and observe.  It is not a perfect system, but neither is the work place.  There are committees or work groups everywhere that have slackers or people trying to make others look bad.  The lack of productivity will catch up with the person.  If a person hardly does any work on his or her own, I would be skeptical that he or she suddenly becomes the model student or employee when in a group.

The best collaboration brings out ideas or leads to more questions.  It is not always about producing a project or product.

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Comma Quandary

This week, we began, like we usually do, with a handout, some review, and some notes on a certain little piece of punctuation, the comma.   A couple, of kids, overuse, them, because, they, don’t, want, to bother, learning the rules.  A few students write and read at a much faster pace so they prefer to avoid using commas for they fear the comma will slow them down and they would lose the race to complete a paragraph before the other students.

I remember a young lady, Eva, who struggled with using commas correctly.  At first Eva would never use a comma.  As we progressed through the comma rules, she began to use them to separate any two adjectives like “white, tennis shoes.”  Technically and grammatically speaking, tennis is an adjective describing the type of shoes.  They are not running, walking, or soccer shoes.  So, it looks like a comma should go between “white” and “tennis.”  However, our “rules” say tennis shoes are considered one noun or thing.  How do I explain this to the non-tennis playing student?  Do I say “tennis shoes” are special?  Who invented these rules?  I use to think it was Miss Kindleberger, my freshman English teacher.  She had to have been 105 years old when I sat in her class, and she taught for about twenty more years after I graduated.

Now there is a blog by someone who says English teachers lie to students.  I take umbrage to this blog.  As if we made up the crazy rules like never end a sentence with a preposition.  Winston Churchhill responded to this rule with, “That is something I will not up with put.”  The reason for the rule is based on Latin rules.  Well, the spoken language died, so why don’t we let the rule expire also?

The truth is language changes.  Forsooth, tis true.  Wherefore wouldst thou thinkst it doth not?

Now, I am left to explain to Eva and her classmates that a comma goes here but not there.  I get to tell her every grammar rule is not absolute.  There are always exceptions.

How do I deal with this problem?  I allow the students to use their resources on quizzes, tests, and writing assignments.  Everything is open notes and open book.  After the millionth time looking up a rule, they will finally memorize it.   Or, they will learn to avoid that type of sentence construction when writing.  In addition, the tests are no longer an inhospitable and troublesome trepidation.  Instead, they become a way to show how well what has been learned can be applied.

The majority of workers have resources to help them do their jobs.  I do not work without resources.  Why should we handicap the students?

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Write Right

“”Why do we have to write this essay?”

“How long does it have to be?”

“When is it due?”

Teaching writing to ninth graders takes patience and perseverance because kids come to class with a range of abilities. Most of the students arrive already knowing how to write a five paragraph essay complete with an attention grabbing introduction, thesis statement, supporting body paragraphs, and a conclusion.  Meanwhile, some students show up not sure what a thesis statement is or how to begin in a manner that grabs the attention of the reader.  A few students still do not understand what a paragraph is.  And one or two still have not figured out how to bring a pen or pencil to class.

Nevertheless, I begin the writing process, which is a lot more complicated than when I was a freshman.  I remember using the most amazing gadget ever invented to write my essays – the erasable ink pen!  I could wake up at 5 a.m. and ink out a “B” paper in an hour and a half.  Now, I show examples of essays to the students, help them brainstorm ideas, give them time to write rough drafts, and then take them to a computer lab to type the essays.  Of course, the kids today run into the problems of not being able to log on to the school’s server, the keyboards having the letters in a different order because of someone’s idea of a joke, or even having the entire school’s server down.

This week we suffered through the problems in the computer lab with some students having to improvise and write in ink on notebook paper.  It felt so “old school,” without the erasable ink, though.  I wonder whatever happened to those kind of pens?  

Needless to say, most of the kids did a great job of adapting to the problems and coming up with solutions.  Some figured out how to log on using the generic “student” account.  Those who were able to log on emailed their work to themselves.  I was proud of the kids for their patience and perseverance.

As any manager or boss knows, some workers will show up knowing how to do the job, some will have an idea, and some will be clueless.  Some employees will have a problem and fix it themselves, some will seek your help, and one or two will not even notice there is a problem.

We encourage and compliment those who arrive prepared with knowledge and show initiative; we guide and lead those who need it; and we begin the firing (or flunking) process with the guy with the pencil up his nose.

This morning, I saw all of this.  Well, not the pencil up the nose, but one young man was trying to watch YouTube instead of writing.  Since I cannot fire him, he gets extra special time after school with me to make up his lost work time.  (See my earlier post “Detention Again.”)

According to statistics from the federal government, so they must be accurate, 85% of jobs require writing.  However, a more important lesson was how to deal with adversity and to be able to adapt, improvise, and overcome the obstacles thrown before them.

 

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Detention Again

I am the detention supervisor at school.  When kids are late to school or class, they serve a half hour with me after school.  In the business world, we would pretend to be Donald Trump and tell them, “You’re fired!”  However, we can’t fire students.  We can only try to help them change their behaviors.

I also monitor what the school calls Quiet Study Time or QST.  Basically, it is a 105 minute detention.   Imagine the movie Breakfast Club; kids receive QST for chronic tardiness or class disruptions.  The only difference with the movie is that I never leave the room.  Students have to work on school work or work I provide.  They do not eat, sleep, text, listen to ipods, talk, or exchange notes.  Last week I had to kick three guys out; two for sleeping/putting their heads down and one for eating candy.

I usually see students who serve once and learn to change their behaviors.  Nevertheless, I have also seen the same kids for the same reasons.  One young man even called me “Coach” as if this was his extracurricular activity.  It sounds funny, but when he was with me, he did complete his homework.  There were others like him who seemed to only do work when they were serving their detentions and QSTs.  Then, I invited them to come in to do their work even when they were not in trouble.  They laughed at first, but I told them that they would be allowed to go as soon as they finished their work.  After all, they were not in trouble.  I think they told their friends they were in trouble and got their work finished.  For some, getting in trouble, or looking like it is cool.

Another benefit is I am able to help students with their English and history homework.  Today, I had a young lady ask me for help in math.  I looked at the letters and numbers, and they did not spell any known word I have ever seen.  Since there were only three of us in the room, I escorted her to her math teacher.  She was able to get correct homework help and come back.  She was thrilled that she was able to finish her work.

So, should a person who makes a mistake be immediately terminated?  Or, should he or she be forgiven?  It is a difficult decision every boss asks.  My experience has been to get to know the person.  There may be something causing the attention-getting behavior.  So, we try a new approach to manage the person.  If the behavior does not change, then termination will have to happen.  Sometimes, we have to admit that a leopard does not change its spots.

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