Tuesday, September 25, 2018

A Kid May Deserve An F, But Not a K.

My Facebook feed is blowing up with the story of the teacher who allegedly got fired because she refused to give a student a 50% for not turning in an assignment.   She was adamant that those students deserved a 0%.  And the people on Facebook are losing their minds.

Oh, where to begin?

There are many assumptions we must make when getting to the heart of this story.  I will assume she did, in fact, get fired because of this.  I'm also going to assume that the school in question was trying to implement a standards-based grading philosophy in a traditional grading world.  I will not make an assumption on the level of training the school provided this teacher on the concept.

Let me back up.  When I was a novice teacher, a neighboring district had implemented such a philosophy, and I thought it was a lousy one.  I didn't agree with it at the time because I believed the district was simply trying to reduce the number of kids receiving failing grades, so they were giving the kids something for nothing.

Then someone explained it to me.  And it made sense.

The reason schools do this is not to reduce the number of F's students receive.  The reason is that an F should hold the same weight as any other grade, (A, B, C, D).  Except for the letter E.  I'm not sure what the letter E did to be banished from academia.  Take a look at the traditional grading scale below.

A:  90-100
B:  80-89
C:  70-79
D:  60-69
F:  0-59

But what if we continued the 10-point scale, so that an F had the same amount of pull as any of the other letters?

A:  90-100
B:  80-89
C:  70-79
D:  60-69
F:  50-59
G:  40-49
H:  30-39
I:  20-29
J:  10-19
K:  0-9

If you look at it this way, does a kid really deserve a K?  I mean the NFL is protecting quarterbacks more than we are protecting the academic success of some students.  If we give a kid a K, we are just piling on (football pun intended).  A student does not recover from a K.  Did you ever have a D when you were in school and think, "Wow, it will be almost impossible to end up with an A in here"?  Now look at that scale above and imagine you are at a K or a J.  What is the likelihood you are going to recover?

Schools that implement this practice cut it off at 50 because that is what an F is.  There is no need to give a kid a K.

Anyways, just my two cents.

Ryan is the Director of Special Education in the West Muskingum Local School District and principal of West Muskingum Elementary School in Zanesville, Ohio.  He is also the co-author of the book Your School Rocks...So Tell People!

Friday, July 20, 2018

Still Looking For a Teaching Job? Here's 8 Tips.

We are about a month away from the start of the 2018-19 school year.  Parents cheer at that, kids groan, and educators are probably somewhere in the middle.

Finding a teaching job can be such a crapshoot.  Sometimes we receive hundreds of applications and resumes for a single position and unfortunately, we do not have the time to interview hundreds of people.  Obviously, we are missing out on some quality candidates if we don't bring them all in for an interview.

Whether you are a recent graduate, or you have relocated to another state, you may be stressed and/or disappointed you have not landed that teaching job yet.  Below are 8 tips for getting your foot in the door and landing that first job.

1.  It's not over yet.

In districts that are seeing growth in enrollment, especially at the elementary level, there is still a chance they will need to add a position to accommodate class sizes.  Some districts have specific class size agreements with the teachers' union that are addressed in the negotiated agreement, while others have aspirational size limits.  Regardless, there is still a chance for a late opening.  Be on the lookout and apply quickly.

If you are not currently employed as a teacher, that actually gives you an advantage at this time.  In Ohio, once July 10th passes, teachers currently employed by another school district must be released from their contract by their board of education.  Many schools who are adding a late teaching position do not want to deal with that red tape.

So keep your eye open for late postings, all the way up to the start of school.

2.  Apply for tutor positions within a school district.

Many large school districts will hire teachers as reading and math tutors.  But there is a catch (there's always a catch).  These positions are typically not full-time which will be reflected in the pay and benefits.  The positive of accepting a position like this is it is a one-year audition for you.  Do a great job and perhaps it could lead to a full-time position the following year.  

Ok, so let's say the school year has started and you did not land a spot.  Time to start your path as a substitute teacher.  While it is not the ideal situation, you have the opportunity to use it to your advantage.

Principals know who the good subs are and who are the ones we wouldn't hire.  I'll assume you are going to do a great job.  With that being said, here's what I would do.

3.  Get to know the office staff.  

I'm going to be blunt here.  There is a difference between being the needy or talkative person who is always in the office chatting with everyone and the person who stops by in the morning to check in and doesn't come back until checking out at the end of the day.  You don't want to be either one.  Find that balance in between.

4.  Get to know the principal.  

Again as previously mentioned, find that balance in getting to know him or her.  It could eventually lead to receiving feedback on what you can do to improve and to find out if you have a future with that school or district.

5.  If you are a regular sub, seek feedback from a building administrator.  

You need to take the time to build that relationship with the building administrator.  However, if you have been a semi-regular sub, it doesn't hurt to ask. I have observed lessons, provided feedback, and had honest conversations with some of our substitute teachers.  Honest doesn't always mean good, but at least you'll know where you stand.  This doesn't typically happen if you have only been in our building a handful of times throughout the year.

6.  Don't put all of your eggs in one basket.

Don't just sub in one building or one district.  Unless you know you are a shoe-in for a job, don't put all of your eggs in one basket.  Whether you realize it or not, every time you sub is an audition.  By taking substitute positions in multiple buildings and districts, you are putting yourself on the radar of multiple people who will be hiring for the 2019-20 school year.  

7.  Don't spread yourself too thin.

Again, balance is the key.  If you are taking substitute positions in too many districts and too many different buildings, you risk people not getting to know you, which makes it difficult to build those relationships and give yourself the opportunity to get your foot in the door.

8.  Long-term sub.

There are many benefits and risks to taking a long-term sub position.  The stability, pay and benefits, and practical experience are obviously huge positives of the position.  However, the potential negative is you are putting all of your eggs in one basket.

Am I saying you shouldn't take a long-term sub position?  Not at all.  Just know it will be the biggest and best audition you will have for a full-time position.  Do a great job and it could lead to a job within that district.  At the very least, you will come away with a great recommendation and some practical experience as you go through the interview process next year.

Ryan is the Director of Special Education in the West Muskingum Local School District and principal of West Muskingum Elementary School in Zanesville, Ohio.  He is also the co-author of the book Your School Rocks...So Tell People!

Monday, July 16, 2018

Using Instagram to Hook Your Students.

How can you use Instagram to build anticipation?  How about using the platform to hook students.  It can lead to kids running TO your classroom.

A team of teachers I previously worked with used Instagram in this way very effectively.  The lesson and activities were pretty engaging, but what took it to the next level was the anticipation they built with their students using Instagram.  You can see a photo below of how they hooked their students.  The teachers posted this on Instagram the day before the lesson.

Did you look at the comment section?  The first comment was from a current student who was curious about the activity.  The next two comments were from former students.  Not only are they still connected to those teachers, but they are helping to build excitement by their comments.

It was always fun to be in the halls on a day like this because kids were hustling TO class.  No one was late.  The kids were the ones bugging the teachers by saying "Let's go, let's go."

Ryan is the Director of Special Education in the West Muskingum Local School District and principal of West Muskingum Elementary School in Zanesville, Ohio.  He is also the co-author of the book Your School Rocks...So Tell People!

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Luck of the Irish

Ryan Patrick McLane.  You could say my parents went all-in with our family's Irish heritage.

About a week and a half ago, my family and I were heading home to Ohio from a weekend trip to a NASCAR event in Chicago (my first one ever, from the pits, probably a future post) and stopped in South Bend, Indiana.  I am a huge Notre Dame fan.  My dad went there, as did my younger brother. I would like to say the reason I didn't attend school there was because it did not have an education program, but in reality, it had more to do with my SAT scores and unimpressive class rank. Anyways, I never held a grudge and always appreciated what the university stood for.

As we checked into our hotel a little after 10 PM, everyone was tired and ready to go to bed.  Everyone except for me.  I was like a kid on Christmas Eve.  I told my wife I was going to drive over to the campus and walk around.  I really wanted to see the Grotto at night.  I'd be back by 11:30 PM (although they would all be asleep, so it wouldn't matter).

I hit most of the typical spots, Touchdown Jesus, the stadium, the Golden Dome, and the Grotto.  It was really nice being there, at night, in the summer, on a non-football weekend.  Pretty quiet and peaceful. 

I walked back to my car, hopped in and started to drive away.  Thump, thump, thump.  I got out, looked around, and sure enough, my rear passenger tire was as flat as a pancake.  Now when I say car, I really mean van. I also know my limitations and changing a tire at 11:41 PM on a Saturday night in South Bend would meet those limitations.

My initial (and very brief) reaction about the whole situation was like "You've got to be kidding me." I mean who really wants to deal with a flat tire, let alone while coming back from a vacation?

I hopped back into the van, got out my wallet and phone and called AAA.  As I gave the nice lady my information I noticed my membership expired in exactly 19 minutes.

As a principal, I talk with kids and adults about having a positive attitude.  Our positive behavior program is based on the equation E + R = O.  The Event plus our Response will greatly influence the eventual Outcome.  Time to put my money where my mouth is.

I said to myself, "This could be worse."  Yes, I was stranded, but I was stranded in a parking lot on the campus of the University of Notre Dame. I was not on the side of a highway.  The weather was perfect.  My family was not stuck in this situation, as they were fast asleep in our hotel room.  And my AAA membership was still valid for a few more minutes.  I was also a block away from the Gug (athletic complex).  Again, there could be worse places to kill an hour.

Robert from the local towing company showed up at about 12:45 AM, changed my tire, and I was on my way.  Instead of being miserable and upset for an hour, I just smiled at how lucky I was.  Like we tell the kids, we are going to experience adversity in life, how are we going to handle it?  In the grand scheme of things, I cannot even consider this event adversity. Just a little inconvenience.

Ryan is the Director of Special Education in the West Muskingum Local School District and principal of West Muskingum Elementary School in Zanesville, Ohio.  He is also the co-author of the book Your School Rocks...So Tell People!

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Take Your Time, You Won't Get A Pass.

More and more schools are using social media to share their stories with their community stakeholders.  When Eric Lowe and I wrote Your School Rocks, part of our purpose was propose a compelling argument for why schools should use social media, and ways they could do it.

As the number of schools that use these powerful tools increases, we want to make sure we continue to give you tips so that it can continue to be a positive experience and you can be as successful as possible.

Tweets from the U.S. Department of Education began to flood my timeline this morning, and I could only wonder what happened.  It did not take too long to notice not one, but two facepalm moments (DeBois and apologizes).


Whether you are sending a tweet, Facebook update, or posting on Instagram, if it is coming from your school or district account, spelling matters.  Do typos happen?  Absolutely.  Especially when you are using a smartphone.  However, it is important to make sure you catch them before you publish those posts or tweets because they are coming from your school and people will not give you a pass.

  1. You have to proofread.  Yes it will take you a few more minutes, but it will save you from some major embarrassment.
  2. Autocorrect is not always your friend.  This is probably where I catch most of my mistakes.  I am not suggesting you disable this feature, but be aware this can change some things you didn't want changed.
  3. Don't hit send/post/tweet right away.  You will see or capture a moment in a classroom that is truly amazing and you will immediately want to share it with your community.  That's great, but just slow down before you hit the button.  This is where many errors occur.
  4. If you make a mistake, own it.   Just don't misspell your apology.
Ryan is the principal of Big Walnut Intermediate School in Sunbury, Ohio and co-author of Your School Rocks...So Tell People!  Dave Burgess Consulting.

Monday, November 28, 2016

We've Gotten Ourselves Into This Mess, It's About Time We Get Ourselves Out

I've intentionally given myself a few days before I commented on Donald Trump's selection of a new Secretary of Education.  Many people, especially those associated with public schools, were very concerned when he met with Michelle Rhee before Thanksgiving to presumably discuss the position.  What many of us in education did not expect is that he would actually bypass Rhee, and select Betsy Devos, a staunch supporter of vouchers and school choice, and someone, if you were to question their experience as an educator, you would actually struggle to come up with what question to ask.

Whether we want to admit it or not, we as public schools got ourselves into this mess.  For years, we were the only show in town.  Play by our rules and if you didn't like it you could pay tuition somewhere else.  If not, too bad.  There was virtually no competition, thus no real reason to go out of our way to promote the positive things happening in our schools or to have acceptable customer service.  Then that all changed.  Charter schools, vouchers, and open enrollment brought a capitalistic mentality into education, a real life survival of the fittest. 

Here's the thing.  It's up to us to get ourselves out of this mess, and I hate to break it to you, but it is not going to be a quick fix.  I am not just talking about public schools either.  Charters schools have been branded by many as a waste of taxpayer money with little to show in terms of student growth.  I'm talking to you too.  Your school doesn't fit the stereotype of being a bad school?  THEN IT IS TIME TO CHANGE THE NARRATIVE. We need to change our actions as well as our stories.  We cannot neglect customer service in our schools.  It is actually an easy thing to correct.  We need to improve what we are doing instructionally.  Finally, we need to change the perception of our schools by sharing the positive stories.  Not bragging about our school.  Brag about the accomplishments of your students and staff.  It is time to share those stories.

Our President-elect, Donald Trump said the following when talking about school choice:
"Their parents will choose the finest school.  They will attend that school."
Is that your school?  Is your school the best choice available?  Many people aren't sure.  It's time to change the narrative and let them know.

Ryan McLane is a principal in Ohio and the co-author of Your School Rocks...So Tell People.

Monday, September 19, 2016

The Barge and Jet Ski of Education

Our district was fortunate enough to have Matt Miller, author of Ditch that Textbook, come and talk to and work with our teachers today.  Any time I attend a conference or PD day like this, it is my goal to come away with one thing.  If I can come away with one thing that is going to have a positive impact on kids, it made the day or training worth attending. 

Matt shared many things, some of which I did not know existed (Gone Google Story Builder).  Earlier in his address, he talked about how change in education was like a barge that needs to change direction.  Once a barge gets going, it is very difficult and very time consuming to change its course.  I would say that is a perfect analogy for education as a whole.

But it was something he closed his keynote address with that really stuck with me.  He said the best part of teaching is that your classroom is like a jet ski.  Just as a jet ski can turn on a dime, so can you, whether you are a teacher or a principal.

I fall into this trap all too often.  I see the many things that are wrong with education as a whole and become frustrated when the "barge" takes too long to change course.  I needed to be reminded of this:

Control what I can control.

As educators, we still have a great amount of control over what happens in our classroom.  If we want to personalize and engage students in an innovative way, we can begin working on that tomorrow.  As a building principal I cannot lose sight of this.  I have a great deal of control over what happens in our school regardless of how slow a state or federal agency is.  I have the ability to share the great and innovative things that our kids get to experience in our school thanks to our staff members who are willing to be innovative and to take risks.  We share photos and videos on Facebook, we do a weekly video newsletter, we engage and inspire our kids on Instagram, all in addition to engaging them with learning experiences in school.  It is easy to become frustrated with education as a whole but we need to remember that we still have a great deal of control, and we are much more like a jet ski, than we are the barge when it comes to education.  

Ryan McLane is a principal in Ohio and co-author of Your School Rocks...So Tell People.