The Principal's Principles

A Middle School Principal, striving to make the world a better place, one day at a time.

ACT College Readiness Scores: Asking the Wrong Questions

An article in today’s newspaper reports the decline in overall college readiness scores for current high school students in Michigan as reported by their ACT scores. The authors point out that nearly 200 schools in Michigan do not have a single student considered “college ready” by ACT. Be prepared, in the coming weeks, this, along with the number 17.8% (the percentage of students who are “college ready” by the ACT standard in Michigan) will be used by politicians statewide.

ACT has a long track record of developing, scoring and reporting valid test scores. Students at our school take the EXPLORE (a version of the ACT for middle schoolers, with important grade level benchmarks) test in seventh and eighth grade. The research, parent tools, and materials provided for schools to analyze results are first rate. Simply put, ACT is an exceptional non-profit organization who produces a valid, high quality test.

To be considered “college ready” by ACT standards, high school juniors need to score 18 in English, 22 in math, 22 in reading, and 23 in science. Considerable time and research has developed these standards, and they are a good predictor of a student’s ability to handle college level coursework. Research by ACT indicates that students who score above the benchmarks are likely to earn a “B” in respective freshman level courses.

While the metric is valid, the way the data is used is flawed. If a high school junior were to score a 27 in science, a 25 in math, but a 21 in reading and a 16 in English, that student would not be considered “college ready” by the benchmark. The fact is, a number of high school students fall into this trap where they meet or exceed college readiness benchmarks in one, two, or even three subjects, but not all four.

Students who meet, or exceed the ACT benchmark score in all four tests can certainly be seen as well rounded, and extremely college ready. However, I’m not interested in how well rounded my future doctor, lawyer, or engineer are. I’m more interested in knowing how my future cardiologist scored on the Science test, or how well the person designing the car I will drive in the future fared on the math test. The future lawyer that will draw up important documents for my family’s estate? I want someone that is college ready in reading and English, his science aptitude is secondary to me. The person who will prepare my income tax forms in the year 2030? He can score less than a “B” in his freshman biology course and still be considered suitable for the job.

17.8% is one number that a politician or reporter can point to for a quick statement about how schools are performing, but it’s not the correct number to use. I’m far more interested in knowing how students who declared an interest in medicine scored on their Science test. What about students who took the test and did not express an interest in any future coursework? Their results can have a huge impact on the conversation around education policy in Michigan.

It’s not sufficient to simply throw out a number here or there. Standardized test data can benefit everyone, but politicians and reporters must dig a little deeper when sharing information with citizens. It’s a strong metric, but weak analysis.

Good Schools Act Like Good Schools

Last Sunday, the Detroit Free Press began a series on Charter Schools in Michigan. Part of the rollout was an editorial by Stephen Henderson that was well worth reading. It included the quote:

“The point is I chose our school because it’s good, and it’s good because of the standards it embraces and upholds.”

Interested, I took to Twitter and asked for more information. I wasn’t disappointed, Mr. Henderson was more than generous with his time by responding to me. Our brief conversation can be seen here.

My takeaway from the editorial and our discussion is that good schools behave like good schools. Public, private or charter, good schools have a vision and core principles, can clearly articulate that vision and those principles to stakeholders, have high standards, and engage parents in a meaningful dialogue around student performance.

Good schools have strong assessments that inform instruction and give proper feedback to learners. Their measures are communicated in a user friendly way.

Good schools view parents as partners, students as a resource, and are focused on achievement.

State policy can guide standards, give a framework for local school boards to make curricular decisions, provide funding, set accountability measures, and create other mandates. However, no matter how strong state education policy is, good schools act like good schools.

Oakview’s 2014 Yearbook, the Principal’s Page Message

“Sometimes it just takes one.”

This line, taken from the children’s book One, by Kathryn Otoshi, illustrates the power of one person to make a big difference in the world. Standing up for someone, developing a new idea, or making a genuine effort to solve one of the world’s major problems requires creativity, character, and the courage to “color outside the lines.”

Many times, it’s easier to simply go along with what the majority of people seem to be doing. As one of my favorite authors, Seth Godin, writes “if you don’t stand up, you’ll never stand out.” Fitting in is easy and comfortable, however, very few great innovations or heroic moments that have changed lives have come from the safety of conformity.

My challenge to you goes beyond showing the creativity, character, and courage which is required to think differently and “color outside the lines.” It is also to use bright, bold markers and crayons when you are making a difference.

Stand up, and stand out.

The 8th grade ceremony, my speech

As I started to prepare for tonight, I had a few selfish moments. While I have been a school administrator for a while, this group is a first for me. Before this year, I have never been with a group of students from the first moment of 6th grade until the last moment of 8th grade. It’s a honor I won’t soon forget, and you’re beyond the best possible group I could have asked to share this personal milestone with.

When I considered what to say, I wanted to offer one last piece of advice, from me to you, this evening. In three years, I’ve shared several tips, and I wanted to offer just one more. It comes from a story, one my parents read to me and that I read to my daughter from time to time, titled Green Eggs and Ham by Dr. Seuss.

While many focus on the character without a name who, after relenting, finally eats his green eggs and ham, I want to talk tonight for a moment about Sam. Sam has a quality I hope you will take with you from your time at Oakview, persistence. He hears “I do not like that Sam I am,” “I would not eat them here or there, I would not eat them anywhere.” In the story, he is denied 12 times. But, on number 13, he finally gets what he wants. Persistence is the ability to carry on, to keep going, and to stay focused on your goals when they are distant or when things don’t go your way.

After you leave Oakview, you will face instances where you don’t get the grade you want, or are not hired for the job you apply for. At one time or another, you’ll come up short for an award, you won’t get the part or the solo, or your team will lose a big game. These challenges are all opportunities. When they arise, you can stop and quit, or you can persevere.

Sam gets knocked down 12 times, but gets up 13. Like him, each of you has the ability to persevere. Each of you will face challenges. My advice to you is to never stop chasing your goals. Persevere.

The 6th and 7th grade Honors Assembly, my speech(es)

Opening Remarks and Welcome

Good Evening

Welcome to the 2014 Sixth and Seventh Grade Honors Assembly.

To the parents, grandparents, family members and friends that are gathered here this evening, I thank you for coming and commend you on your commitment to not only your child’s schooling, but their overall education.

If you were with us last week for our NJHS induction, you know that one of my favorite things to do while I am not at work is to read to my daughter Averie. A book that we frequently spend time reading is “Polar Bear, Polar Bear, What Do You Hear?” You might be more familiar with another title from the series “Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?” This one is just as exciting, it features an elephant, a walrus, and Averie’s favorite, a lion.

The reason this book is so important for my child (and really for everyone) is that it highlights what I believe to be one of the most key components of success.

Early in your education, your teachers taught you about your 5 senses. While each is important, I believe there is one that is most critical to success. Commonly called “hearing,” I prefer the term “listening.” “Hearing” identifies a sound. “Listening” is what we do when we actually take a sound or what someone says and process it.

If you want to learn, if you want to build friendships that last for a lifetime, if you want to avoid common mistakes, or, if it is important to you that people feel valued whenever they are with you, listen. Ask yourself “what did I hear?” This skill will take you far.

I congratulate you on a strong academic year, and I look forward to seeing you build upon your success next year.

Closing Remarks

If you knew your Assistant Principal was going to be missing and, at the last minute, you’d need to make two speeches, would use the prepared “good one” first or second? In a few minutes, you’ll know my answer.

4.1 miles. That’s the exact distance from the front doors at Oakview to 409 Miller Cove in the Hidden Lakes Estates mobile home community near here. That is the exact distance you would travel to get to 409 Miller Cove, which was my address for the first ten years of my life. I’m here this evening as your principal because in the country we live in, education can be transformational.

I wasn’t a perfect student, but more often than not, I came to school every day and did every assignment to the best of my abilities. I focused on being able to read, write good sentences, and to participate in all of my classes, even the ones I struggled through.

I had parents that were invested in my education, you have that.

I had teachers that gave me opportunities, you have that.

When you start to wonder “is the work I am doing going to matter,” consider for a moment that we live in a country where you can travel 4.1 miles from Hidden Lakes to be the principal of Oakview.

Take ownership of your education, show up every day, and work as hard as you can. You’ve done that successfully this year, don’t stop now.

Thank you for coming.

Remarks – NJHS Induction, June 2014

Remarks – NJHS Induction – June 3, 2014

Good Evening and welcome to our 2014 NJHS induction.

To open, a word to the parents, grandparents, friends and extended family members who are here this evening. I offer my sincere congratulations to you on the accomplishment of your inductee, it is clear that you value and are committed to your child’s education.

And now, a word to our inductees.

Some nights, before she goes to bed, I read a book titled “Goodnight Moon” to my daughter Averie. When I first read it to her, I didn’t see much. The entire book is about a rabbit taking stock of what is in his room, then saying goodnight to each item.

Having read the book a few (hundred) times now, I realize there’s an important message to this story, and one worth sharing as you are inducted into an important service organization at our school.

Be sure to take stock of what is around you, and to show appreciation for everything with your words and actions.

It’s easy to ignore the “little things” around our school. A crumbled piece of paper on the floor to be recycled, the teacher who stays up late to perfect a lesson plan, or the countless contributions of support staff members to serve food, give medicine, or transport you to school or home. Over the next year, as you step into a leadership role and focus on gaining service hours, pay attention to the people around you, volunteer for opportunities to help others, and be the kind of leader that says “thank you” when people at our school do important work that makes Oakview the place that it is.

The items in the rabbit’s room, a telephone, a red balloon, and a picture of the cow jumping over the moon, are seemingly unimportant. By saying “goodnight” to each, the rabbit shows his appreciation to each of them. My challenge to you over the next year is to show your appreciation for the school we’re lucky enough to call our own through your words and actions as members of the National Junior Honor Society.

Congratulations to each of you.

Where are you?

As leaders, it is vital that we are crystal clear with ourselves and those in our organization who we are and what we are about. Your core values shape how you make decisions and how you set your priorities. Articulating your clear answer to the question “who are you,” is a critical first step in any leadership journey.

Just as important is your ability to talk about your vision. Setting clear goals and making them known to every stakeholder in your organization is often the difference between success and failure for a leader. If you cannot answer the question “where are you (or where are we) going?” you will struggle to get support.

An often overlooked question is “where do you spend your time?” Our actions communicate more than our words, and must compliment the statements leaders make about their values and vision. As leaders, we have to reflect on the “where.”

If our core product is instruction, and your role is to guarantee quality, you have to be in classrooms where teaching and learning take place.

If you are about building relationships, be present in hallways and the school cafeteria, showing an interest in staff and students. This may mean leaving your phone behind and taking time away from email.

If you are driven to build a culture where every staff member matters, you have to make time to be throughout your building, and need to be intentional of not having a “typical” pattern when you move around.

Chances are, you are very aware of who you are and where you want to go. This week, take some time to focus on “the third leg of the leadership table,” where you spend your time. Your presence should match your priorities.

Stick with your game plan

Here in Michigan, we’ve had our share of winter. Record snow, coupled with dangerously low temperatures have made school days impossible. I’m confident many are like me and feeling stressed over the time lost, and wishing for a return to the comfortable “rhythm” of a school year. In these moments, when perceptions of “I am so behind” sets in, it’s typical to want to press harder or feel driven to work faster.

While we have to make up some ground, remember, fast work is often sloppy work. Remember the words of John Wooden, “be quick, but don’t hurry.”

Focus on planning quality educational experiences for your students. Make it clear that you are focused on quality and maintaining high expectations. One very strong lesson will always be better than taking two days of content and jamming them into one class period.

Fight the urge to work faster. Quality work takes time and patience.

A Lesson From My Mentor: Be Direct

One of my mentors is currently a successful building principal. In my experience work with and talking to him, my biggest takeaway is:

Be direct.

There are moments that call for poetry or for an inspirational call to action. However, most employee frustration comes from an overuse of charisma, and communication that is too vague. My mentor never fails to use simple language that is clear and candid. He knows how he feels, what his views are, and he truly believes in what he sees as good education. This knowledge of himself allows him to be open, honest, and to always “tell it like it is.”

Note: This post is one in a series about key leadership lessons I have learned from my mentors. As I took time over the holidays to reflect on my work, the key relationships I have built and those who have made time to help me in my leadership journey were central to so much of what I do as a principal. My goal in publishing these lessons is to share my own reflections, celebrate my mentors (who will remain anonymous), and to encourage readers to thank their own mentors, or find new people to help them in their own professional journey. By no means am I a finished product, to those who mentor me, I thank you and ask that you continue to help me grow.

A Lesson From My Mentor: Put People First

One of my mentors retired after a very successful career as a building administrator and continues to work with a state organization. From my experiences working with her, my biggest takeaway is:

Care about the people before focusing on the policy

So often, in the pressure of a given workday, we lose sight of the fact that we lead people. My mentor never failed to think about the feelings, needs, and emotions of others. This focus never stopped her from the hard decisions she was faced with, or the need to sometimes deliver bad news. However, her belief in “people first,” gave her a perspective on how to best deliver tough news, and always reminded her to praise and support the good work people were doing.

Note: This post is one in a series about key leadership lessons I have learned from my mentors. As I took time over the holidays to reflect on my work, the key relationships I have built and those who have made time to help me in my leadership journey were central to so much of what I do as a principal. My goal in publishing these lessons is to share my own reflections, celebrate my mentors (who will remain anonymous), and to encourage readers to thank their own mentors, or find new people to help them in their own professional journey. By no means am I a finished product, to those who mentor me, I thank you and ask that you continue to help me grow.

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