Sunday, March 3, 2019

Love Affair with the Iron Part III

Accountability is important.  Not that a lot of folks read this, but I feel if I write it down here then I make myself more accountable.  So here goes!

Today, 3/3/19 my current PRs as a 38 year old man (not the young man years ago):
Bench:                 340 lbs      
Deadlift:              505 lbs
Overhead Press: 225 lbs

For the lifting folks all of the goals above were raw, with only a belt.

I will revisit this post next year (beauty of calendar invites on your outlook calendar).  I commit to the work needed to achieve the following goals by 3/3/2020:
Bench:                  360 lbs   6% increase
Deadlift:               550 lbs   9% increase
Overhead Press:  255 lbs   13% increase

My ultimate goals are as follows, and they are the “quest” goals:
Bench:                  405 lbs   20% increase 
Deadlift:               600 lbs   19% increase
Overhead Press:  300 lbs   33% increase

Reasonably if I can stay healthy and committed i'd like to hit the quest goals by age 40 (7/24/2020) but I also recognize that's a hike for the next 16 months an working 70+, doing a doctorate, and most importantly being a dad of 3.... might be an over-commitment.  

Now anyone who lifts heavy is going to ask the question “But what about squat?”.  Honestly at 38, having had a bulging disk, and jacked up knees I just don’t like squatting heavy anymore.  Squat has now relegated itself to a part of my workout for overall maintenance, and I don’t heavy squat on the regular.  I haven't gone over 405 since September 2017.  Maybe that changes in a couple years, but for now it’s just not in my wheelhouse.  Instead i'll commit to the following goal by 3/3/20:

Squat, 225 lbs for 39 reps.  Right now my reality is that I have pushed 225 for 31 reps once, and 29 on another occasion.  This is a reasonable goal.

The In between of Discipline: Trauma and Suspensions

This is from an email I sent out to my staff this year regarding a high profile behavior incident. I've changed and redacted a few things to give anonymity to anyone involved but I wanted to share it here for those in the field, so the core of it is as it happened. Think about how we do discipline.   The addendum to this story is right now the kids are doing fine, and life is moving forward.  I wrote it up the day it happened and sent it out because it was and will be one of the formative moments to clarify my thinking as a school administrator.


Words going to get that we had a nasty dustup in the cafeteria, odds are I'm going to end up on Instagram from those who videoed it, and you’ll hear I only did a 3 day suspension.   I guarantee someone is going to come with the “soft on these kids” line, and before that happens I want to state why I made this decision, and how it relates to our overall school.

I sent this out this morning and boy was I right:
Today will be a long day.  (2) Pep Rallies, some fields trips, basketball games, senior nights, (2) dances, many of us here past midnight.  While the temptation can be to lament it (trust me, sometimes I do) remember this:  days like today are when culture can be built, and that kids remember.  Today is a good day to immerse our school in some of the ‘fun’ of school.

We’ve had some fun, built some culture, and had some pain points today.  I want you to know why, clearly why I made this decision in this particular instance of discipline and I'd like to reflect on it as a staff and learn from the event.  I want to walk you through the fight, the restraint, and why I didn’t end up filing charges.   I think we can learn and reflect on this situation and I also think you can learn about my thought process as a school leader and why I make some of the decisions that I make.  Sometimes as educators we have those moments that really, really give us some clarity.  I had one an hour or so ago and before this adrenaline dump leaves my system I want to put it out to you as a staff to reflect on.

The fight was between a boy and a girl.  The fight was over something inconsequential and stupid.  The fight began with the boy talking, then escalating to the girl.  The girl escalated further, the boy escalated, the girl got in his face, the girl pushed him, the boy pushed her, hit her, she fell down, he yelled at her, she got up, they traded blows.  This was about 11 seconds until I came over a table, grabbed the boy from the side and behind (upper torso for the SCM trained people) and took him down to the floor with my on his back.  She kept hitting him, landed a few over top of me until another student got her off, and other personnel involved.  I stayed on top of him restraining him until our SRO arrived, and we took him to an APs office.

Let’s line out some additional information:
1.     They were brother and sister.

In the APs office it wasn’t much better.  He was amped up, bleeding.  She was being tended to in the lobby by our nurse and personnel.  She may have lost consciousness.  EMS was called.   I was ready to charge him with a variety of things.  I hit my head on the wall going down with him, had some cuts, and all of our adrenaline was flowing.  Nothing in that situation was pretty.  We reviewed the video.  It wasn’t pretty.  He initially claimed she started it.  She did upon review of the tape.  He claimed he never hit her, the tape said otherwise.  He didn’t remember trying to head-butt and bite me on the floor.  Adrenalin can be a heck of a thing.

Let’s line out some further information:
1.     Unbeknownst to me, they found out 2 days ago their dad, who has not been involved in awhile passed away over a month ago.

Hear me when I say I’m not saying this excuses anything.  It doesn’t.  But it’s a teenage boy, and points to part of why he is so angry.  That’s important information to have.  He’s not some 30 year old grown man accountable to the world.  He’s a kid, and he’s in pain.  We cannot begin to assume that he knows how to positively cope and process this information.

When the mother arrived she was distraught.  Who wouldn’t be?  She was mad at her son, fearful for her daughter being tended to via EMS, and had to leave one of her 2 jobs early.  The entirety of the interaction between mom and the boy was mostly yelling back and forth.  Just pain, and anger, frustration, shouting at each other regardless of whether me, or others who were in the room.  Their emotions were as raw as it comes.  In the midst of their yelling all I could hear was a boy who loved his mom and said he was tired of never seeing her, and a mom who loved her son and was working all the time to provide for them.  I’m not to lie, the situation, and call me tender hearted if you want, really dug into the core of my soul.  I have kids.  I love them fiercely.  I can’t imagine being in a situation where one of them sent the other to the hospital.  I can’t imagine having to broker and negotiate through that or repair the damage that can cause.  At one point I told them both to stop talking and I asked the mom if she loved her son.  She said she did through tears, and I asked the boy the same.  He showed me his arm with her name tattooed on it (save your judgement and recognize it for what it is) and said of course he did.  We talked some more and tried to get them to begin something from this common ground.  It ended with all of them going with the ambulance to take care of the sister.  As of now, I'm not sure the outcome but will follow up.

I get it.  There is a lot to say that he needed to go downtown.  He beat up his sister.  He wouldn’t stop and had to be restrained.   A staff member got banged up in the process.   It took a grown man to sit on his 220+ self to get him to get calm, and his rage barely even let him do that.  Even when cuffed there was very little of anything but anger.   I get and I understand the need for accountability, consequences and a safe, orderly school.

Let me explain why I didn’t do a 6-10 day suspension to the board, recommend alternative placement, and send him away in cuffs.

1.     This involved me.  No one else, so no other people to ‘appease’ to feel like they are supported.  Yes, I write that with a little bit of venom because many times in my career I reflect back and I’m not sure if how I handled “discipline” was the best for the kid, or the best for the adult.  That part of my job I absolutely dislike, having to negotiate that balance.  I want so much to always do right by the kid, and I'm free to admit there have been times I've been more heavy handed because I decided to do right by the adult.  So this one was mine, and I get to decide the outcome with no other attachments.
2.     I don’t think sending him out in cuffs would have done anything other than tie him up in the system, and further complicate a messy home life.
3.     That family needs counseling and support, not more problems.
4.     Sending him to alternative school wouldn’t change anything, would just remove a problem from our midst.
5.     At the end of the day we educate whatever walks through those doors, and whatever baggage them may bring into our school.

That family needs counseling.  That family needs support.  That family is A LOT of our families.  That family needs repairing, needs help, needs their community to support them.  At the end of the day that boy wants a mom who loves him, the mom wants a boy who does right, and they want a ‘normal’ family.  We talk a lot about community here.  Being the place kids want to be, you want to work at, and parents want to send their kids.  Community is easy when everyone is happy.  The true test of a community is how it recovers from being fractured.  I’m writing this to reflect on my own, because I’m going to be honest it shook me up.  It shook me up because in my heart I feel for that boy, his sister, and his mom.  We deal with a lot in our roles, and sometimes events hit us harder than others.  I am good about keeping an even keel and a level head, but this instance in particular has caused a significant amount of reflection on my part.

We can’t begin to pretend the situation will get better overnight.  It won’t, and the odds are stacked against the family.  Even here when they return the spiral will continue because plenty of kids in that cafeteria want to beat him up because all they saw was a big boy beating on a girl.  They won’t understand the dynamics.  I’ve seen this play out the same way, far too often. It’s never as black and white as the bystander thinks it is, especially not in our hyper information saturated world, where we snap to judgement within a second.

So let’s reflect on the nature of trauma informed care.

I got worn out with “We’re not consistent on hoodies!”  our “tardy policy has no teeth”  while these things have their place, they’re lower on the totem pole of importance when we talk about really reaching the needs of our students.  Yes, we should have high expectations, but we should also recognize that in many instances the coping mechanisms or the toolbox our students bring to school is not the same as our own and we cannot take for granted they will process or react in the same manner we have been trained or brought up to react.  In many instances reaction is their default, and their reactions often times are not what we would consider appropriate.  Yet walking around all of us is this, every single day.  We’ve placed mental health in our school 4 deep.  We’re adding more, but this issue is just getting bigger.  I don’t have the answer, but I know that the classic suspend, refer to alternative school, hit them with the book….it doesn’t work like we think it should.  It doesn’t work like we assume it does.  None of those things would have helped in this situation, not a bit.

I’ve lost some of you at this point because “he’s not holding the kid to account”  fine.  Go somewhere else.  Plenty of schools in the district.  Take that as you will, but I mean it.  I won’t run a school that just churns kids out the door for some mythical accountability that doesn’t exist, or the ‘real world’ that no one can seem to define.  If that’s not your cup of tea, then go get your tea elsewhere.  Here, we’re going to do our best to serve our kid’s needs, even when it’s messy, frustrating, and difficult.  I get it, that can be hard to hear.  I want you to hear it with my truest, clearest intention behind it:  we must serve the needs of our kids first, even when it’s inconvenient for us.  This is the core of the mission, and I hear all the time the platitude “keep kids first” but I’ve often noticed when the chips are down, that platitude goes to the wayside.

We have a trauma problem.  We know this.  We’ve committed resources to it, but it's not enough .  I’m not going to pretend to know the answers to this, nor that a silver bullet exists.  I just want to think about how we approach what we do, and how we interpret and understand what will move our students to being safe, healthy adults.   Often I, the APs, and you the frontline teacher are tasked with discipline and passing judgement on offenses committed in our school.  We have a code of conduct with some leeway and area for judgement.  It is in this nuance we try to do right by the student, the staff, and the families involved.  I recognize that we can’t save them all, and I recognize that we can’t fix all the baggage that our students bring into the building.  That doesn’t mean it’s not our moral imperative to try.  I understand we’re here to educate, but in 2019 if we think that ends with reading and math we are firmly deluding ourselves.  It’s not always as simple as suspend them and suddenly the problem is fixed.  Let’s be honest, suspension really doesn’t work, does it?  Not in the sense it did a decade or two ago.  Don’t take that as I suddenly won’t support suspensions, that’s not what I’m saying.  Really though, if we want to change behavior and change the trajectory of our kids we must dig into our consequences, and we must increase the wraparound support for our students.  If we don’t, we’re paying lip service to the idea that we fulfill our mission.

Again, don’t take it as me saying I suddenly won’t support suspensions.  That’s not the case.  But if we really want to change behaviors, we’ve got to spend time and effort understanding and rethinking the antecedents that lead to suspension.  

One of our teachers correctly pointed out to me once that my writing to say is often to process and clarify my thoughts in relation to our school.  Entirely correct.  In this instance, with this incident I wanted you to know my thought process around it, and how I think it relates to how we approach our work.  We’ve made so much headway as a staff.  We’ve come a long way in three years.  We have a long way to go.  We’ve got many, many fragile students that require more resources and more support to answer Maslow's hierarchy of needs before they can truly learn reading and math.  We can do better.  I can do better.  This mission we have is real, and the work we do matters.  Even in instances such as that we can reflect and find meaning to move our school forward.  I’ll be here until late tonight with ball games and a dance, and I’m going to focus on the positive that we have going on.

Have a good weekend and enjoy your Friday.

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Love Affair with the Iron Part II

Back in July of 2017 I posted Since then my lifting has been:

July-Early September 2017-
Consistent, felt good.

Early September- November 2017-
Back was spent.  My own advice was pretty dumb, I’ll own it.  Went back to the doc, aggravated the previous injury.  Take some time off.  Life gets busy, and working long weeks, doing PhD work, and most importantly being a dad takes time.  Lifting was on hold.

Late November- March 2018-
Focused a lot on diet, and cardio.  Cut off a little weight, started getting eating habits better in line.  Barely lifted anything heavy.  Did mostly bodyweight work and cardio.  Gave the back a good solid rest.

March- May 2018-
Started back lifting more.  Focused mainly on bench and deadlift as I’m hesitant to work on my back during this time.  Honestly scared about the bulging disk and reinjuring it.  Went back to the doc in May and got cleared, everything looked good.  Got the green light this time from a professional to work back into heavier weight.

May- Now (October) 2018-
Feel really good.  Bench is back to 260+ for reps, deadlift 4 plates+ for reps.  Squat is a work in progress and I haven’t gone over 405 since September 2017.  Mental block of reinjuring that disk.  Focusing more on reps for squat, but the bulk of my time has been spent on deadlift and bench.  Couple that with minimum 10k steps a day, and doing cardio 3 times a week has been really good.  Down some weight but more importantly I feel pretty good.  As I write this in the last 10 days I’ve been in the weight room 8 times.  Tomorrow is rest day, so I’ve happy for that.

I’ve found that my eating habits are of course the hardest part.  I like food.  Sadly, like many people, I like bad food.  I’ve had to re-wire how I think about food, and what I use food for in my life.  I’ve taken to a very high protein diet.  No fads, I just consume somewhere between 200-400 grams a protein a day, watch my carbs, and try to keep my calories under 2,000.  Some days this is a breeze, some days it’s a Sisyphean task.  What I’ve found works for me protein wise is HumaPro tablets/ and Isolate low carb protein, keeps the calories down.  I’ve got to the point now that consistently for a month my only breakfast is protein.  Dinner is usually pretty easy as my wife is a healthy cook, but where we struggle are the nights with tons of ballgames, dance class, my doctoral class, my night events at work, etc etc.  my next logical step will be meal prep, I think.  Where I struggle the most is lunch.  There can be four days I week I do great, eat little or sensibly, but then there is that day when someone gets pizza, a business lunch, or something and off the rails.  I’m also a stress eater, and I’m under stress, constantly.

So like any other problem I can admire it, or find a solution.  What I’ve found that’s having success is consistently reminding myself of my goals, and having others know what I’m trying to accomplish to help hold myself accountable.  Outside of my wife, I have a couple friends and an AP who remind me to keep right.  Second to that I have to mentally tell myself that most of what i like to eat I just can’t because I’m 38, and that crap will add up to a heart attack.  Just as an aside, and I know I sound naïve but really: our society has some screwed up conceptions of what’s healthy.  When you really look at food offerings, we love some garbage.  For quick offerings I’ve learned to like Chick Fila grilled chicken nuggets, Qdoba bowls with no rice or beans, and Panera salads.  Don’t make the mistake though, I’m no picture of fine eating.  I still have work to do.

That’s what it is though isn’t it?  The love affair with the iron, with fitness, with goals in general.  It’s what level of progress you want, and what level of progress you are willing to settle for.  I feel good, but I’m not happy.  I want more progress.  I feel like for the first time in a long time I approach the iron not as drudgery, but as a means of progress.  I want to do more.  I’m consistent about logging my work sessions, my calories, and setting goals.  By the next time I sit down and write out some thoughts here on the iron my hope is that I have some real progress to lay out.  I want to be able to say my bench is repping over 300.  Not max, but for solid reps.  That would be some solid progress.  I want to say that I feel comfortable enough to be at the pool and not wonder if folks are like look at that old fat dad.  I want to be able to maybe tackle actually running a 10k or something similar (I hate running, a lot, but I want to bucket list a race over a 5k).  I want to show some real progress, consistently.  God love the iron, it forces to face the fact that if you aren’t putting in the work, you won’t see the progress.

So far it’s working.  I’m down some weight, I feel much better, and my work sessions in the room are more productive.  I’m back to being able to do respectable sets of pushups, situps, and can go a mile without being a total trainwreck.  Not where I want to be, but progress.

The love affair with the iron continues. 

JCPS Backpack: Unpacking the Backpack

Been slacking this blog (family, long long work weeks, and doctoral program!) so I wanted to post some things on here from the work world.  As with anything, if there is something that catches your eye or you need more information on please reach out.   

This one is a internal staff post about our Backpack of Skills, a quite frankly revolutionary shift in mindset for our entire district. It's a BIG lift, and one that I think will pay off greatly for our kids.  Here I condense and try and unpack the initiative for our staff.


Below are the last 5 Backpack entries into one format to review.

9/6/18: Backpack 5 and With Growth, Comes Discomfort

Time for a brief (sic) reflection.

For the past four weeks I’ve been talking about the Success Skills of our Backpack in my weekly instructional focus.  This next Monday I’m going to have a repeat of all 5 in one condensed form so they’re all in one spot.  To that end below is my last entry on the success skills.  I wanted to pull it out and put it in a dissertation email because:

A) I haven’t done one this year
B) I want to reflect a moment on our first 16 days
C) I want to address all the things we have going on

Backpack Success Skill 5- Productive Collaborator
  • Works effectively with diverse groups to accomplish a common goal
  • Gives and receives meaningful feedback
  • Assumes personal responsibility for team outcomes.
  • Actively listens to understand others’ ideas and perspectives

Let’s look at some examples of ‘Backpack Worthy’ ideas for productive collaborator.  Is it group work for the sake of group work?  No.  An example would be a collaborative design project like Bush and Duthie are doing in Engineering/Drama where they are mapping and modeling our theatre to have later on as a design template.  Backpack worthy in this is the final product sure, but more importantly is the process.  The actual dynamic of working in the group, receiving feedback on the iterations, the roles of the design teams, and the process of listening to each other’s ideas.  In that work alone there is a wealth of backpack ideas that Bush and Duthie can point to for their students to toss into their backpack and eventually defend.

As we grow in our understanding of the Backpack I want to think of it this week in the lens of the collaborative work on campus.  Let’s look specifically at designing the defense process.  By my calculation we have 627 students (8th and 12th) that will require a defense this year.  If at a bare minimum each of them had 15 minutes, that's 393 hours of defenses.  Daunting, right?  Drowning, right?

No.  We’ve established we go hard at Moore and that when we tackle something we do it well.  We are tasked with building a meaningful, real defense process for our students.

Where they stand in front of a panel and in brief talk about:
1.     Their academic readiness (Success Skill 1)  This will be their MAP and ACT scores.
2.     Their goals in regards to MAP or ACT.
3.     An artifact connected to 8th or 12th grade Literacy and numeracy showing their mastery, or progress towards grade level skills.
4.     Defense (with artifacts) of 2-3 more of the Success skills, they pick.
5.     Evidence of a plan.  Showing they’ve met graduation requirements AND CCR benchmarks, an acceptance letter, scholarships, internships, certifications, at the end of the day a clear PLAN for what their next step is.

That’s what 270 seniors will do at the end of the year, and on a smaller scale 355 8th graders.

Every.  Single.  One.  Of.  Them.

I’ve said it before but just want to be crystal clear:  every single one of them.  From the brightest kids (Claudia comes to mind) to the ones we all hate to see in the hall.  Every single one of them.

Let’s make sure we get a real grasp of the magnitude both in terms of what it will mean for our students, and what it will mean in terms of logistics for this to happen.  Yes, we may have some defend earlier in the year, but wrap your head around that most of them will be in April and May, our already busiest time of year.  Our Backpack team is working on this.  Our Admin team is working on this.  Our grade level and academy teams are working on this.  It will require adjustment, and I will be frank and say we won’t do what we’ve done in the past, which is dumping it on 12th grade English teachers to make it happen. That would be easy, hateful, and wouldn’t make this process the genuine process it must be for all of us, and all of our students.  It will require adjustment in the way we do business to make this happen.  Expect a conversation soon about having Backpack advisory time built into the schedule.  I don’t know if it will be once a month, every two weeks, or what, but I don’t see facilitating this work without some dedicated set aside time to do it.  I just don’t see how we can make it meaningful without it.  So yes, that’s coming, and when we can figure out a good way to do it, we’ll make some recommendations and roll forth.

Of course, someone reading this right now is thinking “That’s more time from instruction.  Lord knows we lost time today for pictures, and for WLKY team of the week, and when will I….”  I get it.  You’re also thinking “7 periods already we don’t have enough time.”  I get it.  I’m not going to pacify you with some bleating statement about how we’ll figure it out.  No, I’m going to be frank and upfront: this requires us to think differently, do differently, and look at how we spent our time differently.  This is going to be hard, meaningful work.  Same thing I said back in February, March, April, and May of last year; this will require more work, and more importantly, re-working how we look at some of our work.  This isn’t negotiable nor something we can put off.  It is the district’s focus fully supported by our Superintendent, our Board, JCTA, and this principal.  We will make it a meaningful process.

Circling back to productive collaboration, let’s take a moment and 16 days in take stock of all this work we are doing.  We’re going to be rolling out materials to make this work happen, videos, documents, protocols, but most importantly it will require thinking, meeting, and time to devise how WE will have these 627 students defend at the end of the year.  Put this on the front, because it is something we will have to be outstanding in our execution.   Yes, it will require time in class to implement.  Yes, it will have its pain points.  MAP is evidence of pain points this week.  Why is it worth it?  Because MAP should give us a clear standard to look at our student’s needs, build better schedules, build better interventions, and ultimately build better instruction.  Because face it folks if we’re churning our 40% novice students, we need to look at things differently.  Honestly if we are OK with 40% not getting it, then by all means, business as usual.  But I don’t think we’re OK with that.  That requires change, and when we change, it’s uncomfortable and often requires more/different work on the front end.  That’s the unvarnished truth.

In that same vein here we are rolling hard on our Equity Plan.  Why?  Because outcomes for students of color, especially black men and women in our building are terrible.  Again, the unvarnished truth.  I stood in front of you my first time as a Principal years back and said “If you are a black boy in this building 7 out of 10 times you can’t read on grade level.  If you are black boy who is special ed, 10 out of 10 times you can’t read on grade level.”  The logical response as educators to that statement is NOT to keep doing things the same way is it?  If you think it is, I’m happy to hear the argument as to why.  No,  it requires we do things differently, think differently about the work, and systemize how we will approach the work differently.  It’s one thing to say “I think we need to change that.”  It’s another thing to systemize it, which is the work we are doing now.  It’s going to continue to be uncomfortable, especially when we do implicit bias training which will require ALL of us, me to you, to everyone to critically look at our practice working with students of color.  Frankly, we need it.  We’re not getting the outcomes we promise students when we say we will educate you.

Same with the Backpack of Skills.  It will be hard to log every kid on it.  It will be hard to collect every kids artifacts.  It will be hard to make 627 defend a year.  But, so what?  This is work, and we know, I mean absolutely KNOW we can’t concretely answer the question we posed: “What does a diploma mean from Moore” unless we have our students stand up and SHOW us.  How can we productively move that work forward?  By honestly looking in our teams, units, academies at how we can leverage all these things as intended: to better the outcomes for our students.  I ask you as we devise opportunities for our students to showcase this work in their Backpack, we dig deep and model it as a staff in our work leading up. 

We have a lot to do this year.  Backpack.  Equity Plan.  MAP.  A metric ton of Walkthroughs.  Work diving exceptionally deep into the 6 systems of the district, and every process we do as a school.  I am wearing my Assistant Principals.  I am wearing out our counselors and support staff.  I can tell you these folks are putting in their time and I’m proud of them. My expectations to them have gone through the roof and thus far, they are rising to the occasion.   I know that we’re moving a mile a minute with this work, and it can be frustrating and seem overwhelming, and that wearing out will filter down to you.  I can say from the principals perspective it’s daunting, overwhelming, and the temptation to step back from it and say “To much.  To fast.” is real.  I’ve had to do some soul searching rectifying what is required now.  Where I land is that I believe in all of those things above.  I believe they will improve the outcomes for our students, will improve the outcomes for our school, and will improve the outcomes for our city.

What it comes down to is this: we are at a critical juncture as a school, and a district.  We must be as Dr. Pollio has said: Better than we have ever been before.  Men and women- we’ve spent the last two years preparing our culture, getting the right people on the bus, and making an environment where folks want to be.  That’s happened, and we’re here.  Our culture is strong.  We will have kids beating down the door to get here, and staff from other schools trying to get in. We said year 3 would be the hardcore focus on instruction and improved outcomes that our students deserve.  It’s here.  I stand behind the idea we will graduate 100% of our kids, we will get 100% of them college or career ready, and we will have 100% of those 627 successfully defend their backpack.  We have no other choice.  This is the work, and we must do it.

In the vein of productive collaboration, I say we’ve had a good opening with a few kinks here and there, but otherwise it feels good.    We are 16 days in, with a lot of school left to go.  See where you fit in and can add a hand, we’ll need it as we move forward.   If you’re feeling overwhelmed, good.  That means we’re doing the work as we intended to do.  That feeling will subside as we line out this systems and make them work in the manner we are accustomed to here at Moore.  Remember this as I’ve said before and at the end of every email: with growth, comes discomfort.

16 in, 159 to go.  It’s going to be worth it come May.

9/4/18: Backpack 4 and Walkthroughs

For the fourth monday Instructional Focus for the year i’m still unpacking the Backpack of Skills.  By my recollection i’ve talked about the Backpack specifically around a dozen times since last year when we decided as a district we would embark on this work.

I’d like to reference back to my Instructional Focus from 2/26/18 of last year:


You have heard alot about this lately from the district and specifically Dr. Pollio.  We started this work back in October with Dr Coleman coming out and discussing what a diploma from Moore means.  Recently we took a team to Envisions training (we were one of 12 schools selected by the district cause we’re awesome) and Monday our internal team meets to discuss the work we did at Envisions.

Internal team meets and works on the backpack.  Right now we’re starting with the following dispositions of a Moore student:  Innovator, Communicator, Achiever, and Citizen.  Why those?  We’ll explain more as we move forward.  This work remains in the beginning stages.

Once we get some basics settled, we’ll roll out to staff.

What you need to hear now:

Develop a backpack of skills and dispositions we want for OUR students and SPECIFIC benchmarks along the way.

Benchmarks? Like What? (below are some ideas)
Seniors- exit portfolio and presentation
Academies- benchmarks for readiness in their chosen pathway
8th grade readiness markers
9th grade academy elections

This is for us to determine.

Will it go away?
No, especially not while Dr. Pollio, JCTA, and our Board are united in thinking this is a good idea to pursue.

Is it more work?
Yes.  I won’t placate anyone and roll out the “It’s not more work, it's just repurposing work” old saw.  It will be more work, but it will also be moving work we already do into a way to track and demonstrate readiness grades 6-12.  I commit to finding work we do that is less essential, and removing that to make time for this.  At this point in our work together I hope you realize that i’ve kept my word when I say I will do something.

Our kids can’t do this?
If that is the mentality you come to work with, go somewhere else.

This work will answer “What does a diploma from Moore mean?” and will satisfy my quest for graduation rates to be highly increased, and meaningful to our students; walking out of here prepared with a plan.

Here we are on 9/4/18 and we’re moving into this work full force.  Kind of exciting to see where we have been, and where we are going.

Backpack Success Skill 4: Effective Communicator
  • Uses appropriate conventions and evidence to convey ideas clearly in writing, verbally, digitally, and visually.
  • Adapts message to purpose and needs of the audience
  • Uses discipline specific writing conventions, formats and vocabulary to communicate ideas
  • Uses technology effectively and responsibility

This is an area I think we do well in at Moore.  As we think about Backpack “worthy” artifacts we should have a wealth of material here.  I’d be remiss if I didn’t give a direct shout out to the work our HS ELA department does in this end.  Woodlee, Bush, Kaufmann have been leading a lot of work that exemplifies the effective communicator idea.  

Two more Backpack resources for you this week:

Shifting gears as I close out this week: you’ve probably had a lot of people coming through your classroom in this first couple of weeks.  By my count our administrative team and extended support staff have completed 422 3-5 minute long walkthroughs of classrooms.  Expect more.  As we build our instructional framework and get out into classrooms my target is around 170 walkthroughs a week by the team (not counting what Department Chairs and Team Leaders decide to do) totalling a little over 5,000 walkthroughs throughout the year.  After about 15-20 you should, as a teacher have a session with one of the team to discuss positive practice, look at trend data over the 15-20 walkthroughs of your classroom, and focus on instructional growth. 

This should happen at least 3 times a year, per teacher. That’s a big lift, but it will improve the outcomes that we desire for our students.  As we move into ILT this week, Ms. (Erica) McClure will discuss some of the trend data that we are seeing.  So far, i’m pleased with the level of engagement, targets and lesson frames we’re seeing.  We always have to work to improve upon, but as we dig deep into year 3 where we knew we would focus heavily on our instructional environment, we’re in a good place.

8/27/18: Backpack 3 and Instructional Efficacy

Backpack Success Skill 3: Emerging Innovator
  • Employs a sense of curiosity, seeks to learn
  • Asks questions to extend/ challenge/ clarify
  • Applies a design process to create new solutions, products, processes
  • Uses feedback to improve
  • Takes risks and adjusts based on success and failure

Hard to be curious if you stare at a worksheet.  Hard to be curious if you listen to a 50 minute lecture.  Hard to utilize a design process if all the work is done for you.  Hard to take risks if the culture doesn’t support multiple opportunities to succeed.  I’d ask this question: does a student have multiple opportunities to succeed in your class?  If they flunk a test, what do you do?  Is it a situation where the student’s grade is what it is, because we’re preparing them for “life”?

Exactly what life?

The Praxis
Drivers test
Industry certifications
CPR exams
Any instance, in any sport during practice of a skill
MOS test outs in the military
On the job certifications

^ off the top of my head those are all instances in ‘real life’ that we have multiple opportunities to succeed.  Does this reflect in your classroom practice?  If not, why not?  Simply a question for reflection.  I am 100% for every student getting an A if by the end of it, they have mastered the content before them.  Hard to master the content if it’s tested, and then done, never to be touched again.  Of course student personal accountability is a big factor, but i’m not talking about them, i’m talking about your practice as an educator.  If we’re going to teach them to be emerging innovators, and as part of that teach them to take risks, then we need a culture that supports risk.

On Monday I sent an email regarding day 4, and I discussed learning targets as a basic foundation for instruction.  I got six emails on why they weren’t posted.  Frankly, I don’t care why they aren’t posted.  Not to be flippant, but I don’t care for the rationale of why not, because that’s counterproductive to the why.  They need to be up, and a part of instruction because they’re sound practice.  Why are they sound practice?  A variety of reasons not limited to:
  • Structure of the classroom.  Our students need to know and be reminded of their purpose and direction in the classroom.
  • Student centered learning targets should live in the realm of what you intend to have the students be able to do.
  • When we look at how our students think and learn we know that we must chunk tasks down into smaller sections for deep cognition.  Learning targets assist in breaking down complex tasks into smaller chunks, to eventually be attached to the larger process.
  • 7 periods.  This is a lot of time for a student to keep track of, and they need to be kept on that pace as 50 some odd minutes moves fast.
  • A plethora of research, large, small, meta analysis and more conventional suggest a strong effect size to consistently referenced targets as a sound practice.  We like sound practice.
  • I’ll offer you a couple of articles that you can peruse on your own if you wish:

As we move forward with instructional efficacy I would encourage you- new, middle career, veteran to reach out to the bevy of instructional supports we have on campus.  Keep these folks busy, that's what we pay them for, to help you become better at your craft.  If you sat down with me at year end last year and said something to the effect of “I really want to grow in my practice” and you’re not in a coaching cycle, I have to ask: why not?  Was it a neat thing to say when you met with me, or are you about taking steps to improve that practice?  On the same note information about CTEPS is about to come out.  I think it’s great work.  If you want to know more ask Ms Harris, Ms. Cait McClure, or Ms Whelan.  They can give you great insight.  

Seems like we’re moving at breakneck speed, right?  I have that feeling.  I also have heard, unsolicited from many staff members they feel like this year is starting off really, really well.  I’ll call out Lagroon, Kaufmann, Davis, Becker, McKune, and Harris.  Each one commented they feel like we started off strong out of the gate.  That’s good, and I hope that feeling is the consensus of our staff.  If we can keep our vision clear, and impassioned through the entire year we’re going to do some great things for our students.

8/20/18: Backpack 2 and Equity

Backpack Success Skill 2: Globally and Culturally Competent Citizen
  • Explores community and global issues from those most impacted and creates actionable solutions.
  • Employs democratic processes to come to decisions
  • Exhibits compassion and empathy towards others.
  • Promotes a sense of belonging for others
  • Respects different cultures, perspectives, and beliefs.

I’ll point you next to our SBDM policy that I have updated (update in yellow) for our 8-27-18 meeting.  This will be subject to SBDM discussion and potential ratification.  Our committee will meet Monday after school. Equity and Diversity Policy (Updated for 8-27-18).

Being blunt- Some of the temptation whenever diving into equity work is to think:
1.       We’ll stop suspending kids if they are black to make our numbers better.
2.       We’ll create policies that tie our hands in the name of ‘sensitivity’.

What will actually happen?
1.     We will engage in training and development that may be uncomfortable.  Implicit bias is an example.  Implicit bias is the unconscious attribution of particular qualities to a member of a certain social group.  This doesn’t mean just African American students.  This can be implicit bias towards white, gay, rich, poor, Latino, or any social group.  Implicit stereotypes are influenced by experience and are based on learned associations between qualities and social norms.  Breaking it down to brass tacks: we can approach, and look at folks that are not from our “group” based on implicit bias.  In the public school we must be both mindful of this, and proactive in providing an equitable experience for our students.
2.     We’ll take a continued, hard look at Opportunity Gaps.  Opportunity gaps manifest in allowance of students into “special” programs.  If you walk into an AP classroom in a school that is diverse, but the classroom is predominantly white, we need to ask why.  At Moore, we’re getting a lot better about this, but we still have a history and tendency to create barriers and hoops for students to jump through for our specialized programs.  Why?
3.     We’ll realistically dig into our data on the ‘why’ behind disparities.  For example we suspended 25 students over 10 days on the High School side last year.  16 of them were African American students.  On the middle school side we suspended 15 students over 10 days, and 7 were African American students.  Let me be crystal clear:  I’m not interested in reducing suspensions to balance numbers.  But it is wholly reasonable to have a group of our professionals look at our numbers such as these and ask: why?  Were we consistent between students?  If two students did the same offense, were we consistent in our application of consequences?  These are reasonable questions and ones we need to dive into.
4.     We’ll look at the hard data that tells us that while poverty is an extremely cross cutting issue, we still have racial disparities in our work between both free and reduced lunch, and paid lunch.  So we know by virtue of this that while poverty is a huge enemy to combat, we’re still creating gaps between students of color and white students.  So the question must be analyzed: if we believe poverty is the main issue, why do we have further gaps among the impoverished?

Why is this work necessary?  If you’re asking that question you haven’t been paying attention.  Not to be flippant about the issue, but we have real gaps that are only getting worse.  If you come to the job with the outlook: “This is a community issue, not a school issue.” I’m not sure what to tell you either.  It’s a school issue if we have gaps.  We can control what we can control.   We have auspice over 175 days of instruction, and a little over 1,100 hours of instruction plus any sports/activities a student is involved.  While the home/ community may have more time, let’s take ownership and accountability of what we are paid to do.  It’s unconscionable, and abhorrent to the profession to wash our hands of a glaring issue staring us in the face because we think it’s only our job to teach math 7:40-2:20.  We are expected to by virtue of our contracts, district policy, and the data driven needs of our students to do more than just subject matter instruction.  When we look at the Backpack of Success Skills the cross cutting skills we are to embed into our work are so much more than just academic skills.

Which is exactly what those of us who are tired of bubble tests have been screaming to focus on, for years.

It’s here, so embrace it.

Circling all of this back to the Backpack Success Skill two: Globally and Culturally Competent Citizen we will be hard pressed as a staff to fill our students backpacks with this skill if we are not proficient in it as educators.  I think we do a fine job on our campus promoting a sense of belonging, respecting different cultures, perspectives, beliefs, and in many pockets we exhibit a fine sense of compassion and empathy.  We still need work in exploring community and global issues from those most impacted, and having a concrete understanding of beyond our differences how diversity plays into the education of all of our students.

As of Friday we have 2,270 students on campus.  To put that in perspective (October 1 counts):
                                   Total                         High                          Middle                      (Year ending)
Today                       2270                          1195                          1069                          ?
17-18                        2154                          1150                          1004                          2168
16-17                        2024                          1092                          932                            2027
15-16                        2000                          1080                          920                            2004
14-15                        1895                          1031                          864                            1890

Our demographics remain relatively constant.  As of today:
Whole School                     High                          Middle
Black                                    35%                                      37%                           33%
White                                  36%                                      34%                           38%
Hispanic                              22%                                      23%                           22%
Asian                                    3%                                        3%                             3%
2 or more Races                4%                                        3%                             4%

We remain the largest school in the city, and our diversity is robust.  On Monday assuming trends hold true, we anticipate more students.  I continue to work with the district for solutions.  Now, we can complain about it, be nervous about our size, or we can do what we’ve done for the past three years: be professional educators and do the best with what we have, in the moment we need to.  Trust me when I say I will continue to work on available solutions, and support for our large student body.  Change doesn’t happen overnight.  Be mindful of what being packed as a building entails:
1.     We must be present and vigilant on supervision.  
2.     We must be extra kind and understanding of our 18 teachers without a classroom.  Please go out of your way to help them, find them resources, and don’t beat them up if they use your room and it’s not perfect after they are done.  Odds are, they’re going to 5 different rooms in a day.  Cut them some slack.
3.     Go out of your way to get to know students.  It will be easy to fall through the cracks if you’re a quiet kid who fades into the background.

Week 2 will be better than the first.  We’re going to have an outstanding year.

8/15/18: Backpack 1 and Day 1

How excited are you to begin a new year?  I don’t ask that question rhetorically.  Really take a moment away from your desk, your spouse, your family, all other worldly considerations and ask yourself: How excited are you to begin a new year?  Are you nervous?  Are you passionate?  Are you tired?  Do you dread another year of this job?  Are you more excited this year than any previous year?  As you focus on your why coming into the 18-19 school year i’ve found it always helps to begin with This Video.  I’ve shared it every year i’ve been an administrator, and I think Dr. Pierson’s words are among the truest in our profession.  Every kid deserves a champion.  Every kid deserves a collection of educators that stand for them, with them, and beside them.  Be that kid’s champion.

We have exciting work in front of us.  We are school that refuses to allow mediocrity and low expectations be our environment.  We are a school that has made tremendous progress over the last couple of years.  We are viewed now as a place that turnaround is happening, and we are setting pace for other schools to follow.  What is equally exciting is that our district is poised to make the same gains.  The old way of doing business in JCPS is over.  Reference The New Normal for an indepth dive into the Backpack of Skills, which I firmly believe will answer for us the question “What does a diploma from THE Marion C. Moore mean?” I continue to encourage you to read this when you have time.  In future writings here i’m going to both attempt to in some cases simplify, and expound on subjects regarding our Backpack.  Reference back here to our Opening Day work on the backpack.

Backpack Success Skill 1: Prepared and Resilient Learner:
  • Demonstrates knowledge of content and skills
  • Applies knowledge to real world contacts
  • Reflects on successes and challenges, makes adjust to goals
  • Can manage a process, or project
  • Sets goals for their next step

We have spent a fair amount of time talking about our students #FutureSelf, where we want every student to graduate from Moore with a plan, and the skills necessary to implement their plan.  For the Prepared and Resilient learner in a nutshell we want a student who knows things, applies things, can manage a process, and has goals that they reflect upon and adjust.  We are teaching a fair amount of executive function with this Success Skill.  When you boil it down to brass tacks- we want every kid to have a plan, and while this becomes critically important in their senior year we must adopt the mentality with the 6th grade on up that this planning process is integral to their future success.  This is, in essence why we will defend their readiness at 8th grade, and perhaps at other transition points in their future.

A foundational aspect of teaching our students to be Prepared and Resilient Learners is modeling it for them.  I’d like you to look at the graphic below and think about it as you prepare for tomorrow.  We have done a tremendous amount of work on our culture.  We can say by any metric our culture is a strong one.  We can say our culture is focused on becoming the school we can become.  As we move forward be mindful that if we want to teach our students to be Prepared and Resilient, we must model it within our own classrooms, teams, grade levels, academies, and as a whole staff.

Love Affair with the Iron Part III