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3 and Out

Photo CC by Paul Keleher of flickr

I just finished the coursework for a Preliminary Administrative Credential at Teachers College of San Joaquin. In California prospective administrators have two options to become credentialed; take a test or take a year long series of courses. The test takes a Saturday and has a relatively small fee. The coursework option is several thousand dollars and is just shy of a masters degree. Seemed like a no brainer to me- I took the coursework!

One of the ideas that kept gnawing at me through all of the coursework was that it is a good thing to stay at a school for a short while and then move on. I was told that I should plan on being an Assistant Principal for three to five years and then move on to something else. And then repeat. It seems like the old football saying, “three and out.” The three and out thing is generally not a good one. Unless you are on defense. I don’t think schools should play defense.

One of the things that make good schools effective learning places is the environment. Effective schools have a positive climate where everyone feels included. Students, staff, teachers, parents and all the stakeholders feel they have an important role in the school. I think of that as a sense of ownership. It is our school. As an administrator I think it would be difficult to accomplish this climate when your tenure is shorter than the tenure of the students. Especially in high school.

I think if we truly want to transform schools we have to be a part of the learning community. We as educators have to be a part of the community as much as the students and their families. We really are in this together. You can’t do that if you are going three and out.

No More iPads

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Innovative uses of edtech.

The graduate school I attend has announced they are no longer providing iPads for their students. They gave two reasons; budget cuts, and they have observed students don’t use the iPads.

No one can deny the impact of budget cuts, the school is also no longer going to loan textbooks- students will have to buy their own books like most other schools. I get that choice, books are expensive and it is easy- and logical- to pass that cost on to the students.

The same is true with the iPad decision. They are expensive, and if there is no money in the budget, an expensive iPad would be a logical place to cut. But the observation that the students are not using the iPads is bothersome. I am one of those students who rarely uses the iPad. No one asked me why, but that has never stopped me from sharing before!

Part of the reason I chose this particular school is because they gave out iPads. Not that I needed or wanted another one. But I thought that if the school was progressive enough to provide an iPad they would be using technology in innovative ways, and I wanted to learn more innovative approaches. I was wrong, not much innovation here.

As a student I am expected to turn in papers in APA style. Using an iPad to type a several page APA formatted paper is not the most efficient use of tools or time. In one class  papers were required to be done in Microsoft Word! Why would I even look for the iPad if I am required to use Word?  

We were expected to create a portfolio to document our learning. I am a huge proponent of portfolios, I have required my students to have portfolios for years. But I was being required to use a binder for my portfolio. Not a Livebinder, a binder. A binder full of word processed, printed, two dimensional pages.

English: D-ring type 3 ring binder (opened)
English: D-ring type 3 ring binder (opened) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)binder full of word processed papers. I required my students to stop using three ring binders five years ago. But the school that gives you an iPad still requires a three ring binder.

I was required to make PowerPoint presentations. Not just any presentations, PowerPoints. And to print them out. Emailing assignments is frowned upon, they needed to be printed. Once, only once, was I expected to create a video. And I was told to not bother editing it, that was considered a waste of time.

So why did the iPad initiative fail? Because just giving out an innovative tool does not make an innovative program. If you really wanted me to use the iPad ask me, no LET me, do something the iPad is good at! And there is no shortage of things the iPad is good at. Don’t give me the same assignments colleges have been handing out for decades and expect to be innovative. Instead of asking me to make a PowerPoint presentation with handouts on flipped instruction, have me create a flipped staff meeting. The iPads would rock at that. Instead of asking me to make a three ring binder portfolio have me make a multimedia infused online digital portfolio. Again, iPads rock at that. Instead of an APA paper, why not a blog entry. Or a video. Or an animation. Or a Voicethread. Or you get the idea.

So I guess my point is that just handing out an innovative tool doesn’t make something innovative. You have to actually try something different for innovation to happen. But I guess that is not a very new idea either.

Back to School

About a year and a half ago I was notified by my school district that  269 of my fellow teachers and I were no longer needed. My district had to cut 28 million dollars from the budget, and layoffs were necessary. I am very grateful that I was among the first to be rehired and did not miss a single day of work. I was rehired before we went on summer break, so I was able to focus on doing my job, rather than finding a job.

Going through the whole process I realized that in a district of more than 1,600 teachers I am the only one with my particular credential. I learned that I can not sit back and rely on tenure to protect my job.  While I have a piece of paper that says I have tenure, it only matters if there are people below me on the seniority list who I can “bump” when layoffs come. There is no one below me, and there is not going to be anyone below me. I have no tenure. I have seen enough district politics to know that I my job security is only as strong as my relationship with district higher ups, and district higher ups come and go. Worse, there are very few jobs out there for a guy with my particular credential. Very few.

I realized a year ago that I need to do something to beef up my marketability. I love my job, and I love working where I work, but I need to be prepared for something else. After looking at a number of options I decided I should get an administrative credential. If I were to loose my job I reasoned I could always start that school I have been thinking about in the back of my head.

In California there are two options to obtain an administrative credential; pass a test, or take a series of classes. I have heard the test is fairly easy if you prepare, and it is comparatively inexpensive. The classes take a full year, cost a good deal of money, and are well, graduate level classes.

I opted for the classes.

So this fall I find myself sitting in a classroom three nights a week learning about school administration. On the upside, the school is only about 2 miles from my classroom. I have to stop at two stop signs on my way to class, and I don’t leave the neighborhood my students live in. On the downside, the school is over an hour from home, and it is a long drive after a full day at work plus a class on top. I think I see a lot of taco bell bean burritos in my future this year.

This time next year I should, if all goes as planned, have an administrators credential. I won’t have to worry nearly as much about loosing my job. Hopefully I will also have a better understanding of how to be a good administrator running a great school. Stay tuned.

Astonishing Kids




“If you’re not astonishing the kids, they won’t be astonishing you back!” -Stephen Heppell


I came across this quote a few weeks ago on Twitter. It made me think about which of my kids are doing astonishing things, and which are not. The picture with this post is of my students giving a presentation to the school board. In the summer. After grades were turned in. They were finishing their project. I think that was astonishing. I have a bunch of kids doing astonishing things. 

But I have also been counting the number of kids who I am clearly not astonishing. Lets just say I do not have enough fingers to count that high. Even if I use my toes I come up far short. So I guess I need to, as my students would say, step up my game.

I teach a technology class, and am fortunate that I have a very wide range of curricular choices. I can really take the class in directions that most teachers can not. I do not have a district mandated pacing guide. I do not have an end of year standardized test. So I really have no excuses, no road blocks. I have a very supportive site and district administration- they will allow me to do what I think best. They trust my judgement. But still, looking across my room I see kids who are not doing astonishing things. 

I guess that means I have room for improvement. I need to be more astonishing.