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Posted by on in Leadership


I've been hearing geese honking all day. It seemed last night that they were louder than usual. Since moving by the river, I expected to hear the rapids, but I certainly didn't think I would be sitting reading, hearing geese honking. I'm never sure whether they are flying back and forth to the duck ponds across the road, or going home. Wonder where their home is? Are they local geese, Oregon geese, or are they from somewhere else? Do they look the same as the other geese? Do they speak the same goose language?

The other day I read geese fly home each year. I have that instinct too, since moving to Eugene. I wonder where these geese are going? I was used to seeing geese at home in Northern California. I lived forty five minutes from Lake Tahoe, in the middle of nowhere. Mountain life was so different than Eugene. But geese in both places were comforting as my life shifted dramatically.

Have you  ever looked up and simply watched flocks of geese gliding above? We used to have a couple Canadian honkers vacationing on our property from January to May each year. Our 'snowbirds'. We named them Edgar and Matilda. It was really funny. I didn't know geese had a personality and noisy voices. I had never been around that close, before. I knew they had a funny, nasty hiss when they were waiting for the corn bucket, or not getting their way. Just like couples everywhere, pretty much. And teams resolving conflicts, which are inevitable in transforming organizations and schools.

My husband and I put out cracked corn every day, a very big enticement for company and sure enough, all of a sudden, like clockwork we'd hear the pair fly overhead, land gracefully, skimming on our pond. Never was sure how they could spot that the corn was out, then circle back around. They came for their daily visit, creatures of habit, so to speak, in rain, snow, ice, never mattered. Except for us, gingerly wading through snow to get their treat out. 

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Posted by on in Education Leadership

principals office door

For seven weeks, I was an interim, elementary principal in one of my district's elementary schools. It was an opportunity and experience that was invaluable. When I began I was nervous and full of anxiety, but when I ended, I had wonderful memories, great new relationships, and a very real and meaningful learning experience. 

So as I look back on my seven weeks as an elementary principal, and try to put things into perspective, these are my top ten things I have learned.  

Be Visible

From my very first day, I knew I had to be out of my office and in the halls, classrooms, cafeteria, and out on bus duty. I needed to show students, parents, teachers, and staff I was there for them. I could not do that from staying in my office trying to sort through all the emails and paperwork. While those needed attention, being visible was more important. 

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Posted by on in Assessment

Teachers use the end of the year as a time for reflection and evaluation. What worked well in my class this past year? What didn’t? What lessons need to be tweaked? What progress did my students make? These are all great questions to ask and play an important role in the growth process of educators; however, most educators fall short by failing to assess their personal capacity in order to determine patterns of personal behavior and these effects on teaching. Reflect on the year by asking these personal questions:

When did I feel the most stress?  For example, many people feel stressed during December and May due to holiday parties and end of year celebrations. In the past, student research papers would typically be due in the two months because they mark the end of the semester. Now I realize that these are the worst possible months for papers that require extra time to grade. By scheduling papers to come in during November and April, I eliminate a lot of stress in my home and family life.

When did I feel the most tired during the year? I feel the most tired at the end of the first month of school and during the month of March every year. Seeing this as a pattern in my life, I am now more conscious to get extra rest during this time and not add extra activities to my calendar.

When does my family need me the most? What teachers do outside of school has an effect on what happens in the classroom. Identifying busy days and aligning classroom activities that require lower energy projects or planning ahead in order to alleviate prep work on the busy days outside of school keeps my energy up and attitude good during when I could easily be stressed.

What things brought energy to me personally this year? Seeing students grow in their writing and taking ownership of their learning gives me energy. The way that I most often observe this is through mini-conferences with students where we discuss their overall progress for the year and work through writing issues. Recognizing how much these mini-conferences fuel me is important because I can now plan these for times of the year when I am tired or feeling discouraged. Running also gives me energy, and while I am not a naturally talented athelete, spending time outdoors by myself after a long day at work gives me energy.

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Posted by on in Assessment



The focus in education is typically on student learning, but I learn and grow each year just as much if not more than my students. Here are my top five take aways this year:

School has taken a lot of fun out of learning. Have you ever watched a young child when he or she is outside? She can study a bug for a long time or pick a flower and make all kinds of observations about it.  Children are naturally curious and inquisitive; kids like to learn. But when they get to school, teachers hear complaints about work as learning is often reduced to sitting in a desk looking at a book. My seniors started an anti-annotating movement because almost everything they read in school must now be annotated. They want to read and enjoy without having to have a pen in hand making notes on every page. I get this; I certainly don’t want to have a pen in hand marking every allusion and metaphor when I read. Next year I plan to balance marking books to pleasure reading, analytical writing to creative writing, and teacher-assigned learning to student-generated learning. The goal is not only to teach my content area but also to produce life-long learners who enjoy learning.

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Posted by on in Education Policy

Just me and him.  Alone in an elevator on a long ride to the top floor.  I’ve dreamed of this for quite some time, but even so, my hands are sticky and my mouth is dry.  Will I have the guts to say what I’ve rehearsed in my mind so many times?  I remind myself that I’m wearing my big girl panties, and I urge my brain to speak, but it doesn’t sound like my voice coming out.  

“Hi, I’m Jennifer, a Mom from Tennessee,” I say.  He looks up from his gadget that looks like it came from a Star Trek episode.  It will probably be the hot item for next Christmas season with people camping-out in front of Best Buy weeks before it is released to get it.  “Hi,” he says and looks back at his device which starts blinking a bright red.

I figure I’ll break the ice by telling him about my kids.  “I am a Mom of two children who both love school and want to be teachers someday when they grow up.”  That sounds lame, but it really isn’t to me.  My children are one of the most important things to me in my life.

He looks up from his device to look at which floor the elevator is now at, then looks back at the device.

I take a deep breath.  “I know you are Bill Gates, and I just want to say that, um… I just want to say that you are wrong about public schools.”  There, I said it.  He looks up from his device but doesn't say anything.  I let it all gush out, “You are misinformed.  You are listening to the wrong people.  Public schools are not failing.  America is not in an education crisis.”

Suddenly, the lights flicker, the elevator makes a strange groaning sound, shudders, and stops.  We are both holding on to the elevator handrail with shocked looks on our faces.  The elevator is strangely still.  Bill pushes the button for his penthouse office, but nothing happens.  He pushes it again.  Then he frantically pushes other buttons.  Every single one of them.  Twice.  Nothing happens.  He pulls on the little red alarm button.  (From personal experience when my children were younger and quicker than me, I know that red button is supposed to make a very loud alarm sound).  There is only silence as Bill pulls frantically at the red knob.  At least the lights are still on.  It sure would be creepy to be stuck in here in the dark with him.

Bill looks at me.  I shrug my shoulders, what do I know about elevators?  After all, I’m just a Mom.  Bill looks at his device which is still blinking.  He puts it in his pocket and takes out another device that looks like a cell phone.  He starts pushing buttons on it, but nothing happens.  He says a mild curse word under his breath, and then he says, “The battery is dead on my cell.  I knew I should have gone with an iphone.”  I’m not sure if he is kidding or not.  I say something lame about how much I love my android phone, but wish the batteries lasted longer, too.

We are stuck.  In an elevator.  Between floors.  Just Bill Gates and a little old Mom from Tennessee.  Awkward is a good word to describe it.  

Maybe he didn’t hear me before the elevator stopped.  I’ll try again.  “So, I know I’m just a Mom from Tennessee and you’re the richest person in the world, but I want to let you know you’re listening to the wrong people about public education.”  

Bill interrupts me and asks how much money I want.  

“No, no, no,” I say, “you don’t understand.  I don’t want your money.  I just want you to hear me.”  Bill’s expression clearly shows he doesn’t believe me.  

I continue, “I’m a stay-at-home Mom who volunteers in my children’s schools.  I see what is going on with this awful emphasis on standardized testing and the inappropriateness of Common Core.  I hear from teachers who are frustrated, but unable to speak up.  I see how public schools are being given to charter investors to make huge profits from. This is all so wrong.  Please hear me when I say you are listening to the wrong people.  You’re giving your money to the wrong people.”

Bill takes out the red flashy gadget again.  It is still flashing.  He pushes some buttons and it projects an elaborate bar graph of bright colors on the wall of the elevator.  I’m amazed that such a tiny gadget can do that!  He says, “My advisors and fellow billionaires tell me that children are in failing schools, that their schools have low standards, that their teachers have low expectations and are lazy, that the teacher’s unions are corrupt and causing all of this, that America’s public schools caused the global stockmarket crash, and that schools need to be run like businesses to succeed.”  He points to the graph illuminated on the wall, but it looks foreign to me.  It shows USA compared to other countries with a zig-zag line across it in red.  It looks bloody important, but what do I know, I’m just a Mom.

He points at the wall and says, “Look at the data.  See those test scores?  You can’t argue with data.”  No, I can’t.  I don’t understand what that chart means or even what test it is showing.  But I do know someone who does!  I pull out my android smartphone and pull up “The Assessment Landscape” on Youtube.   https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1r9_ZpNbU6A 




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