Getting The Picture

Sometimes it's difficult to illustrate in this space just how big our overly-large school district really is. Maybe a picture will help.

That's a meeting of all our school principals. No APs, no central office folks (other than our outgoing superintendent addressing the crowd for the last time). All 200+ of them in one room.

Minus a few who managed to skip the mob scene for some reason.


Imperfect is What You Want

The Blog Herald has some advice for bloggers: How to Make Sure Your Blog Post is Ready for Publication.

Stuff like check for broken links and “have someone else review your draft” are certainly all good suggestions.

However, blogging really isn’t the same thing as “publication” and few of us have editors, much less time for rewrites.

So suggestion number 3 on their list for me encapsulates the concept of the read/write web.

Make sure the post is imperfect. This one may strike you as odd, but let me explain. There is always something you can improve about a blog post. Always. Add a paragraph, go with a different image, change a word choice, tweak the headline … the list goes on and on. But if you actually consciously take a moment to consider the fact that your about-to-be-broadcast post is not practically perfect in every way, and if you take an additional moment to choose to be okay with that fact, you’ll conquer that perennial stumbling block that so many bloggers trip over — the double-edged sword of perfectionism/procrastination.

This is a point I’ve been trying to get across to one of our principals here in the overly-large school district.

He started back in September and I had high hopes for his blog since he is a very smart guy who I thought had a good understanding of the fundamentals.

It turns out he’s also the type who needs to make sure everything is perfect before pushing the publish button. To him, every post must be a fully-formed essay, with themes of high importance.

But that’s not the point and it probably reflects, at least in part, his conception of publications that come from an age (quickly disappearing) of limited media.

When you assemble a newspaper or educational journal (or even a school newsletter) that is scheduled to be distributed on a regular schedule, the inclination is to make everything as close to perfect as possible before you commit it to paper.

When you control an instantaneous publishing system that is available 24/7, perfection is not only unnecessary, it’s also detrimental.

Please don’t assume I’m saying bloggers don’t need to think before they post. A good entry is far more than just a random collection of subconscious ramblings.

However, the power of these tools means that we have the freedom to toss out incomplete thoughts and less than perfect prose, since tomorrow (or even an hour from now) we have another chance to rethink an idea or even completely reverse ourselves, ideally based on feedback from the original post.

Creating content for a web audience is as much a process as it is a product, possibly even more so.

And that’s a lesson that teachers and their students need to be learning as much as my friend the principal.

Image: Hall of Imperfect Pixels by Juria Yoshikawa.

Teach Them to Respect the Power

An elementary school principal relates a sad, and unfortunately all too common, story of students harrassing a girl on the bus.

Camera-equipped cell phones were among the tools of choice.

The pre-adolescent teasing took a turn for the worse when the boys yanked out their cell phones and started taking pictures of the “couple.”

The boys were adding graphics such as hearts to the pictures on their phones, and they were threatening to send the pictures to other fifth graders’ cell phones. The girl was covering her face and telling the boys to stop. They continued with their taunting, taking pictures and teasing the two kids, even as she pleaded for them to stop. It ended when the bus arrived at school a few minutes later.

Too many administrators would blame the cell phones and be further encouraged to ban students from carrying them in school (or on the bus).

This one, however, understood that the technology was not the cause of the problem.

Instead, use these examples of poor behavior to teach children to use their phones (and other technologies) responsibly and appropriately. Teach children the positive uses of technology so that they respect the power they hold in their hands. Instead of eliminating cell phone use in school, use cell phones more in school.

He also realizes that changing the behavior of the boys involved requires an educational approach that has nothing to do with technology.

We need more principals who think like this.

Part-Time Principal?

My home town newspaper asks an interesting question about principals: Do schools need them full time?

The question arises because the large local school district in Tucson, Arizona is considering cutting back on administrative positions as one way to cope with their budget problems.

Some are poised to scale back on vice principals. Others are looking at half-time principals.

But that freedom to choose also means choosing no principal, if they can come up with a way to ensure duties typically carried out by principals are still completed.

On the layoff list the Governing Board approved Tuesday were seven principals; their site councils are still analyzing their options.

Could a school be successful without a full-time principal?

For that matter, would a teacher-run, completely principal-less school really be such a far-fetched idea?

After all, the original concept for the head of a school was for that person to be the “principal teacher”.

Their primary job was teaching students and being an instructional leader. Management of the school itself was a job shared with a small group of other teachers.

In our overly-large school district, however, the principals of most middle and high schools have no time for teaching these days.

With more than 1500 students, 100+ staff members, and a multi-million dollar physical plant, they are too busy being building and personnel managers to have much involvement with instruction.

So, we come back to the question of whether a school needs a full-time principal.

I’m not sure it does.

I think most people would agree that a successful school always has a talented leader. Usually that’s the principal but sometimes it’s not.

But they always have a leader who’s a full-time educator.

Sometimes It Seems Like Standing Still

Today my partner at work dug up from her digital archives a quick reference card we created almost ten years ago to help principals understand and evaluate how technology should be used in their classrooms.

With just a few minor tweaks, it is totally applicable today.

Were we that forward thinking a decade ago or have we just made so little progress in that time?

I’d like to think it’s the former and very much afraid that it’s the later.