Bullying and the aftermath

It’s been hard to make sense of what happened in our neighboring South Hadley where it appears now (after our district attorney levied criminal charges) that a group of popular high school kids targeted a girl from Ireland to the point where she took her own life a few months ago.

It’s sad all around, really. Sad that the girl had no concept of where to turn to for help. Sad that any kids could act that way towards another (verbal, emotional, physical abuse). Sad that this went on too long in a school where teachers should have seen the signs (I’ll withhold judgment since we really don’t know that whole story). Sad that online sites like Facebook and others were used as part of the bullying. Just sad all around.

The headlines on our local paper were blaring about the criminal charges against the high school bullies whose actions led to the death of a classmate. The charges include some counts of rape. It’s one of the only days that I consciously hid the front page of the newspaper from my own children. We’ve talked about the situation in that neighboring town, and we’ve talked about bullying (we’ve had our share of both sides of that coin here), and we’ve talked about an appropriate response. I am not putting my head in the sand, but I am not ready to talk about rape charges, either.

I noticed on Twitter that Kathy Schrock had started to compile some resources for dealing with bullying and cyberbullying issues, and I appreciated that and I wanted to share it out, too. I do talk to my students about this issue and we have some pretty far-ranging talks about how words have power, for good or bad.

This resource by Kathy comes as our state is moving towards enacting a law against bullying which is far-reaching in scope. (Kathy works on the other side of the state). I’m not sure if the law will be effective. The way to stop such action is at the moment it happens, but it may spur administrators to be more pro-active in education around the issues of bullying. Certainly the death of this girl has opened up a lot of eyes.

Cyberbulling Resources from Kathy Schrock

I hope I never see headlines like the ones I have been seeing, ever again.

Peace (please),
Kevin

The Reflective Principal

I don’t often give enough credit to my principal for allowing me a lot of freedom for many of the projects that I do with my students, but I should. Over the years, as I have had my students blog about the Darfur Crisis, or podcast with other students from around the world, or publish stopmotion movies, or use wikis, or Glogster, or whatever, he has been totally supportive.

This topic came up in a conversation the other day with some folks who are planning an inquiry research project around technology and media in the classroom, and we were talking about the constraints that many teachers have in integrating technology. I noted that I have been lucky in this regard, in that I have a principal who supports technology.

He “gets” that technology and multimedia is part of the changing landscape of learning, but he also knows that much of our staff is not quite there yet (example: our website is full of completely blank pages for teachers, even though there are volunteers willing and ready to post things for teachers, if they just give the volunteers a newsletter or note or whatever.)

We all (including him) like to joke that his use of Survey Monkey for gathering data from us is close to an addiction, but I like that he trying to use the technology himself and not just talking about it.

This morning, we received an email from the principal, in which he explains that he is going through his own reflective process as an administrator, and it occurred to him that he should gather input from us, the staff. Of course, he turned to Survey Monkey, but I think the very act of asking the staff — even if he is not required to do so — for an evaluation of his performance as our principal is admirable.

He ended his note with this: “I  will use the results to reflect and improve my
practice.”

How many of us teachers ask our students to do the same kind of evaluation for us? And what would that show, do you suppose?

Peace (in the support),
Kevin

Losing the Jabberwock

Yesterday, I took my older kids to see Alice in Wonderland in 3D, and while I continue to be impressed by the vision of Tim Burton, I wondered about the concept of using the poem “Jabberwocky” as the main narrative device for this retelling of Alice.

This is a spoiler alert, by the way. I won’t tell too much, but still, if you have not seen the movie, you may want to skip me right now.

Each year, I read Jabberwocky out loud to my sixth graders and we have a very interesting discussion about what is going on and what the bandersnatch might be and just who is the hero and why are they after the jabberwock, and how gross or cool is it to come home with the head of your foe (this usually comes down to gender).

Normally, my reading of the poem by Lewis Carroll is the first time they have encountered it, although it surely will not be the last. No more. Now, they will have Alice in their heads and come to the discussion with Tim Burton’s ideas of the poems dancing around, and I am sort of frustrated about that. It’s one last bit of imagination drained away by mass media.

I know that the poem was originally part of the Alice books, so I guess it makes some sense.

It just seems strange to have the Alice movie (by the way, I was smitten by the actress playing Alice — Mia Wasikowska) center around her discovering the vorpal sword, befriending the bandersnatch, and then slaying the jabberwock to save the white queen on what is known as Frabjous Day. I’m all for girls being the heroes, and understand Burton’s desire to make the story fresh and new, but this seemed odd to me.

Maybe I am just too critical and want to keep the possibilities of discovery of the poem to myself and my students.

Peace (in the poems),
Kevin

Learning on a String

The front page of our local newspaper the other day had this wonderful column by Bob Flaherty about a local high school kid who has taken his skills in yo-yo-ing to new levels. Now, you might think, yo-yo? But yo-yo is pretty big around a certain set in our area, thanks in part to the most fantastic science store in the region (A-Z Science) where they hold classes on how to do tricks and compete with a yo-yo. I know, because a friend of my son’s has gone to compete in New York City and in Florida and other places.

But the newspaper focused on a boy named Daniel Dietz, who is not only considered one of the premiere yo-yo artists in our region, but also, in the entire country. And he is using that fame for a good cause. Daniel has raised more than $15, 000 for a group called Smile Train, which helps address problems of cleft lip and palate issues in the world.

The article also came not long after my colleague, Gail Poulin, invited Daniel to come visit her kindergarten class. I remember the day because Daniel performed in the cafeteria, and we were taking a test, but many of the boys in my class “had to use the bathroom” and took their time coming back. I imagine they were transfixed by the yo-yo act going on not far from our classroom.

Gail connected with Daniel through the amazing work she does with her students around the Kids are Heroes website, which showcases young people making a difference in the world. Gail writes about the project here at her class blog. Her students write comments as a class, known as Shout-outs, to the heroes and connect with the world. It just so happened that Daniel lived not far from our school and was willing to come and meet with the kindergarten students. I bet that visit by Daniel, and the message he sends through his work and play, is something they won’t be forgetting anytime soon.

And it reminded me that we need to value the skills of our students in all of its forms. I bet most of us think — yo-yo is fun but not real learning — but you need to see these kids in action and watch them practice (I have) to know that the skills include motor coordination, thinking through elaborate design in steps, memory skills and more. And then, to use those non-traditional skills to make a difference in the world? That is priceless.

Here is Daniel in action:

Peace (on a string),
Kevin

The Most Beautiful Day of the Year?

Yesterday, after a night of fairly warm temperatures mixed with snow, the world was covered in white and as I drove to the University of Massachusetts for a meeting, I thought: this has to be the most beautiful day of the year. The sun was just starting to come up, and the snow was sticky on the trees, and it was just a breathtaking view of New England.

This picture is at the university — the library is in the distance. When I came out of the meeting hours later, the trees were trees again and the moment had passed.

Peace (in the world),
Kevin

When the Status Quo Isn’t Good Enough

I sat in on a bit of a firestorm meeting the 0ther night at my neighborhood school (where my children go, but where I do not teach). We have had an interim principal now for about 18 months and the school superintendent finally has decided to find a permanent principal. (The interim status is a complicated issue, stemming from a budget situation that may lead to the closing of one of our city’s elementary school, the unexpected departure of our last principal, and apparently, squabbles among the teaching staff at the school that required a calming, uniting presence).

We’ve had our own share of difficulties with the interim principal around the issue of discipline, but my wife and I know both know her, and she is a wonderful person. She has a huge heart, coming as she does as the head of the English Language Learners program. I just don’t think she has the right personality for a principal, although it was noted that she has been held back in many ways because of her interim status.

But I think the superintendent was taken aback by the level of concern that parents have about the interim principal and I was both relieved and concerned that many of the complaints echoed our own. (Relieved, because now I know it was not just me. Concerned, because the lack of real discipline is affecting the school climate). I sort of felt strange because the principal was not there to defend herself, and the superintendent had to keep deflecting issues for fear of stepping over the line of privacy and personnel issues.

The superintendent proposed three options for moving ahead:

  • an in-district posting, which means that our interim would surely get the job — something even the superintendent suggested;
  • a regional search in area newspapers;
  • or a national search, which would require hiring a consultant.

It seemed to me, and to others, that the superintendent was leaning towards an in-district search, which alarmed us, so I hope our superintendent heard us, loud and clear, that we need to at least do a local search, but even better, do a regional seach in New England. Sure, it costs money. But you want as wide a net as possible, we argued. I reminded the superintendent of all the online spaces where you can also advertise for free or for limited cost.

I used an opportunity to speak about what I want in a principal, I told the superintendent that I believe we need:

  • someone with a five-year vision for our school;
  • someone who can collaborate with staff and the community but can make decisions when that time comes;
  • someone who can create an identity for our school that we can be proud of;
  • someone who can prepare our children for the future that is still unknown, by harnessing technology to collaborate and connect with others around the world.

The school still has a computer lab, where teachers drop off the kids and have their prep period. I hate this model because the projects and activities that my fourth grader are doing are the same exact projects that students were doing at this school when I was a student teacher there nine years ago. It’s all “create a powerpoint about an animal with clip art” and “play games.” That is NOT technology integration!

All around our neighborhood, and at the YMCA, and other spaces, parents were still talking about the meeting and they were trying to decipher what the superintendent is going to do about a search. If she decides to do an internal search, then she better be ready for a  parent revolt because there were some pretty frustrated parents at the meeting who are not ready to settle for the status quo. I am one of them.

Peace (in our neck of the woods),
Kevin

A message from the kids (from the teachers)

At the Dublin Literacy Conference, I met Ann Marie Corgill, who wrote Of Primary Importance about literacy in the young grades. Corgill seems like a very nice and very thoughtful person — and her book that shows how to guide young writers forward into literacy in meaningful ways seems like it should have an important place in most schools. I was reading through some online reflections of folks who attended the conference and came across this video called Give Us Hope for Education that I believe Anne Marie made with her students (ie, the Corgill kids) as a message to Secretary of Education Arne Duncan in January 2009 as the new president began to take office.

The song is great, and the message is right on about formative assessment and moving beyond test scores to show knowledge of children. My only reservation is that we too often use kids to spread our message — to wrap up adult ideas about education in the cuteness of our kids. I love the posters that the kids have made here but the educational jargon that come out in the sound of young voices just sounds odd to me.

Still, again, I love the message.

Peace (in the hope of change),
Kevin

The World is full of High Fliers

I tried an interesting experiment this week within my various Professional Learning Communities. Inspired by a fascinating radio piece by John Hodgeman on This American Life about superheroes, I asked folks a fairly simple question: If you could have the power of flight or invisibility, which would you choose and what would you do with that power?

If you look at the graph above, you’ll see that most of the 30 respondents chose flight over invisibility. Hodgeman also found that a lot of folks chose flight (he went into bars and other social places to ask his question).

Hodgeman observed that, unlike the superheroes of comic books, most of the people he surveyed would not necessarily always use their powers for the good of the world, but instead, they would use it for themselves and family. I found some of the same in my survey. A few folks would fly to warmer climates (or, as one person put it: “I would get the hell out of the cold!”); or avoid airports for traveling the world (“Flight would make transportation easier and help me with time management as it would not take as long to get places!”; or save on some carbon fuels (I guess that is saving the world, right?).

Another interesting thing that Hodgeman found was that invisibility seemed to be chosen by people who see themselves more as introverts, who want to slip away unseen and be part of the background, while those choosing flight seem to be extroverts, impressing the world with their powers. Pretty fascinating.

And one person, explaining their choice of flight, noted:  “As a youngster growing up and for the first few years teaching and as a new wife, I spend far too much time trying to be invisible, to get along and not make waves, to accommodate, and to please — so “invisibility” has a rather negative connotation.

Here are the comments from folks who chose invisibility:

  • I would fade away at certain moments and then hear what the world says when I am not listening.
  • I would like to invisibly be where I should not be, hear what is not meant for my ears, see what is not meant for my eyes.
  • I would slip silently through the darkness, and blend in with the night.  I would sit in stillness in the woods.  I would disappear when a chronic complainer was seeking me out.  I would be a fly on the wall and listen to interesting conversations without feeling the need to but in.  I would hide in plain sight.  I would stand behind someone who needed the comfort of just knowing I was there.
  • I would spy and steal things gather information and sell it.
  • Among other things, I would “hide” when I got into a little trouble.  Also I have to admit, I always thought it would be cool to be a spy and what better power to have for that job.
  • Escape and observe.

And a few of the comments from those who chose flight:

  • I choose flight: fly, float, sail, soar. With that power I’d have the bird’s eye perspective, the really big picture, the true world view. Swoosh.
  • I would like the freedom that flight would give me. I could go wherever I wanted and get a bigger picture of my world. I could even fly back to the Caribbean to watch the sunset. Being invisible would bring me in closer to people, add stress to my life, and show me things I’d rather not see or know.
  • This would be my Star Trek Transporter. I could officially add the words “Beam me up” to my vocabulary and head anywhere I wish…and do so quickly. No more gas-guzzling vehicles, no more airport security or delayed flights. I would use my flight superpower for personal endeavors…and to save the random child falling from a tree or get down the cat stuck in it.
  • I am going to go with flying since my life would be markedly better if I could get places faster. But my true secret desire is to be invisible–that superpower just fits my personality better. I am very loud and easily excitable and would like the ability to slip in and out of places unnoticed.
  • I would fly. I know that sounds simple, but just imagine being able to do in real life what we occasionally get to do in our dream. In flight, I would be free. Invisible, I think I would be bound more than ever before.
  • I’m sure I’d be able to have more power over others with invisibility, but in the end I think flying would be more personally fun, which is more my thing.  What would I do with my flight power?  Why, I’d fly, silly!
  • Go on grand adventures, sometimes on my own and sometimes with my pet chickens (tucked under my arms and on my shoulder) as the poor darlings can hardly get airborne on their own.
    Life would be easier and more exciting!

Chickens?

Thanks to everyone who participated. I guess I will leave the survey open for anyone else who wants to join in. You can find it by going here.

Peace (in invisibility, my choice),
Kevin

Which would you choose? Invisibility or Flight?

I know this is a strange post, but I was recently listening to a fascinating radio piece by John Hodgeman for This American Life (the entire show was about superheroes). Hodgeman went around, asking people to choose between two superpowers: Invisibility or Flight. And then, he asked, what would you do with that power? It was so interesting what he discovered.
So, I figured, why not ask my friends the same question. Please take this two-question poll and pass it along your networks, too. I’ll share the results on another day.


Peace (in the powers),
Kevin

When a Whole School Blogs

(Note: this is cross-posted over at the NWP Walkabout site, too).

This is a podcast reflection of a conversation that I had with Tim Tyson after the Dublin Literacy Conference had ended and we were all at dinner. I asked Tyson about his old middle school, where he (as principal) had every teacher in the building reflecting on classroom practice and activities via blogs at least once a week. I was most interested in what he discovered and how he helped reluctant teachers along.

Listen to my podcast reflections

Peace,
Kevin