Sunday, September 27, 2009

POV's "The Principal"

This blog is usually about technology, but this post is about good public education. Technology is my usual "soapbox," but back it up a little and it is good public education. Public education is a great equalizing force in America. It allows all students to learn, pull themselves up and do better, which public education has done for generations. An educated public is necessary for a democracy to survive. We need adults who think for themselves, not someone who is always fed information and follows along. When you hear or read a news story, do you question it? Do you ask (in your head) the unasked questions? Can you read opposing view points and decide for yourself? These skills are important for determining your own path in life; for keeping our democracy strong.

What is good public education? Where does it begin? How do we replicate it? It begins with good principals, good leadership, and good teaching. If you missed seeing it, check out the PBS website and search for POV or "The Principal." We are so lucky that we have so many of these characteristics in our county and schools. One thing I have been hearing locally for several years is "data driven" decisions. We are certainly doing that. Walk-throughs by principals, assistant-principals, & curriculum coordinators; K-2 assessments; and of course, the EOG's (end of grade tests for grades 3-5). All of these are tools to see that we are on task as professionals doing the best we can for our students. But the main ingredient at the base is emotional -- do you have "heart?" Do you love children and do you have patience to teach them social behaviors, manners, kindness, using words rather than fists, pushing, etc. Can you give a child a pat on the back, give a hug; do you believe that he/she can succeed? Do you believe that all children can learn and be successful? Some say teaching is a "calling" like being a minister or priest.  Could be, but it does take that special extra caring ingredient, that if you don't have, you are only helping others to process information, not grow into caring, responsible human beings.

Watching these two principals in this documentary deal with the many problems of public schools (remember, we accept everyone, no entrance exams), and surviving, improving, making tough decisions, all come to play, but having the heart to stay strong, give help where needed, and be willing to change strategies, actions, make new plans for success and just work very hard--this is what I identify with and fortunately, see at my school. Our staff cares and has a community of learning and giving to students. Parents and community support our school. Teachers work on committees and stay after-school hours to communicate and plan for changes and improvements. Each day is an opportunity to do better than the day before. Each day is a fresh start for students to learn and show good behavior. Teachers volunteer their hours to have after-school clubs or activities to extend and expand learning. (We've had Math Club, Computer Club, Junior Master Gardeners, Quest Atlantis.) Some teachers do stay and tutor after-school for pay, but we all have the good-will and success of our students at heart.

Education is one entity that I have a problem with using the "business" model. Students are not widgets and are all different. Students need an individual approach. Students need cooperation, love, patience, and continued, constant support from the teachers and school community to succeed. All of this is directed by the principal. Without a good principal who is willing to give his/her heart and much of his/her life to the job, making those tough decisions, and trying to continually improve and help the staff to continually improve, you have mediocrity. We can do better than mediocre. This documentary shows two principals who do have these characteristics and demonstrate success in their schools. Watch it online if you missed it.  It shows what is "right" about good public schools.

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