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Leadership Rerun

Last Wednesday, our superintendent summoned all of his administrators (along with us lazy, evil central office folks) to assemble in the fine arts theater at a local college for the Leadership Conference here in the overly-large school district.

This was the setting for our annual kickoff to the new school year, part inspirational talk, part self-congratulatory presentations, plus a keynote from an expensive high-profile author selling a new book. Although the venue has changed over the years, very little about this event does. And this post will probably not differ much from my past rants on the topic.

Our keynote speaker was Tony Wagner, addressing the themes in his book “Creating Innovators”, and the same person we heard from three years ago. He gave a pretty good presentation, discussing his research into the factors that make people innovative. Once again he told us how our students have changed, how the world is different, and how we need to change our practice.

The problem with Wagner’s talk, and really with most of the inspirational talk from the other speakers, is that what is said is very much disconnected from what everyone in the audience understands is expected of them once school starts.

All of this is very familiar to those of us who have sat through the conference over the years. We are told that schools must help students learn how to collaborate on projects, communicate on a global scale, be creative, and acquire all those other attributes that go way beyond memorizing facts.

However, once the year begins, the emphasis returns to collecting and analyzing data, and increasing student achievement, all based on the same clichéd themes recycled from the past two years. In other words, giving lots and lots of practice tests in order to get every student to pass their spring standardized tests.

I’d like to think that this will be the year that things start changing, now that the state has its wavers from the provisions of NCLB and the superintendent has told us to stop using AYP in our vocabulary.*

But I doubt it.

I’m afraid that schools are already way too addicted to test scores (or am I supposed to call it “data”) to substantially change, and it’s likely to get worse since the state is “recommending” that 40% of teachers’ evaluations under their new system be based on “student academic progress”.

Anyway, that’s how we start the school year around here. What’s it like in your part of the world?

* Interesting… that little piece didn’t appear in the official transcript of his remarks.


  1. Commuting_Teacher

    This is exactly what we say year after year. We sit through inspirational and motivating talks about being creative, getting our innovative spirit soaring, and how to inspire our students toward real learning… only to leave the theater to go to workshops that are completely contrary to the message. Why don’t our administrators see this disconnect?! It’s beyond frustrating and for some a yearly heart break as we’re reminded of the greatness we are not permitted to achieve in the name of data. All this is doing is creating a huge cohort of teachers that are becoming more bitter and cynical by the year; good people who are having an increasingly hard time swallowing that standard bitter pill.

  2. Dave

    We have a 1.5-day leadership conference, too, but it sounds like we’ve got it a little more polished. There’s a quick talk from the school board president, a talk from the superintendent (including a recap of recent test results), and usually a presentation from a local business/organization that has won a major efficiency award our district is aiming at. The rest of the time is set aside for working within our department to develop our goals and plan for the year. We groan every year, but I know it sounds better than what I hear many other districts describe.

    As far as PD for teachers, I’ve heard some really great things about Irving ISD in Texas: they scheduled several days of simultaneous conference-style workshops. Teachers could come and go and choose whatever sessions they wanted to go to on any topic they wanted, as long as they got enough total hours. Brilliant! I’m hearing it even boosted morale because they trusted teachers like the professionals they are.

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