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11 posts from August 2011

Annie Diaz | Current Affairs, Education, Parent Involvment | August 31, 2011

Customer Service in Schools


We’ve all experienced it… The grouchy cafeteria worker, the angry bus driver, and even the scary teacher. It’s a sad truth that most of us adults can probably remember an encounter with an unpleasant and unfriendly teacher or school worker from our childhood.  Well, times they are a changing…. In my school district we kicked off our initial staff development this year by inviting every district employee to embark on an important district initiative. Our district mission this school year is “Mission Believe” and customer service is our focus. We started off by watching a popular School Tube video, with fifth grader Dalton Sherman giving a motivational speech to 20,000 school workers of Texas public schools. It was inspirational to come together as an entire district…teachers, office staff, bus drivers custodians, food service workers, and administration. We all confirmed that we believe in one another and are committed to serving our customers who happen to be our students. We agreed that every member of a school team is an influential contributor to each child‘s success, from bus drivers, front office staff, teacher’s aides, cafeteria workers, administration and classroom teachers.

            Each member of our school faculty has an opportunity to implement “Mission Believe.”  An example of “Mission Believe” is when classroom teachers commit to engage in professional learning communities, thoughtful collaboration, and implementation of best practices in the classroom; while bus drivers recognize that they are the first and last person a child sees at the beginning and end of the school day.  Bus drivers provide the first and last impressions with our children. When students walk through the hallways they may encounter custodians or office administrators. We recognize that we need to model positivity and friendliness by smiling and saying hello to our customers and one another. There’s nothing worse than when I see an adult pass a child in the hallway without even smiling or saying hi. In meetings and professional development we set the tone by our body language, choice of words, and active participation. We need to believe in each other and presume positive intentions. Our mission is purposeful and our customers are our students and their families. Everything we do we do for our students. A school should be a warm, friendly, and positive environment for the students that we serve and for all of the professionals that work in the building including, cafeteria workers, custodians, classroom teachers, front office staff and administration. Its time to choose our attitudes and BELIEVE.  

            When I think about customer service at its finest, I think about prestigious models of customer service in the business world such as Ritz Carlton, Nordstrom, Zappos, Starbucks and Safeway. I love the way I am greeted when I walk into a grocery store and I know when I look like I’m lost that within a few seconds an employee will approach me and ask me if I need help finding anything. At fancy four-star hotels the employees smile in the hallways and greet their guests by name while doing whatever it takes to ensure their guests have memorable and enjoyable experiences. Whether I am being welcomed at my favorite restaurant, provided coffee at my local coffee shop or treating myself to a vacation at a resort I always appreciate fine customer service and walk away wanting to come back.

            I believe that we can make our schools memorable and enjoyable for our colleagues and our students and make them feel like they want to come back. An emphasis on customer service is a business model practice that I happen to agree with. I recognize that implementing business models in schools is a controversial notion.  However, when it comes to customer service and treating parents, colleagues and students with a smile and serving them with the best intentions, it just feels right. I would encourage all educators and school employees to ask themselves: Do you serve your colleagues, your students and your families with a smile each and every day? Do you choose your attitude and presume positive intentions when you go to work everyday? And finally, how do you show that you believe in yourself, your colleagues and your students? 


Kelly Leehey | Life in the Classroom | August 30, 2011

Seven Words



The bond between a teacher and her students runs deep.  Students treasure their teacher, every piece of her presence.  They prize her quirks, her expectations, her hugs, and her voice.  Students believe in their teachers. 

Other adults may be flawed, but a teacher is a rarity, a perfect being.  I do not know this from being a teacher.  I know this from being a substitute.

 In the end of April my mentor teacher was blessed with a perfect baby girl.  I was blessed with her class.  My transition from student teacher to substitute was smooth but far from seamless.  We all felt the absence of Molly in the room. 

 Math work time was a buzz of voices.  I assume they are talking about math.  Really, I am just relieved that they all appear to be working.  They love measurement.  Thank goodness. 

As I watch two children work together to discover which parts of their body they can use to approximate an inch, a child walks toward me from across the room.  Actually, she didn’t really walk.  She marched with purpose, her face glowering at me. 

 Looking down her little nose at me, she put her hands on her hips and informed me that there was much too much talking for her and her partner to do their work.  I gently explained that the noise level was working for most of us, since collaboration was key to the project we were working on.  In an attempt to appease her, I told her that I would ring the chime and remind her classmates to use the quietest voices they could dig up. 

 She looked at me like I had just suggested that we all stand on our heads until recess, like I was an incompetent and rather silly, bug to be squashed.  As I tried to brush off her look and began to walk toward the chime, she charged after me and seven words exploded from her exasperated lips.  They were words that I was already, even after just two weeks, used to hearing. 

 “That is not how Molly does it.”  Bottled up in those seven words, I heard all the trust and the love that these students held in their hearts for their teacher.  I heard their frustration and their sadness that things had changed.  I heard their disappointment that they had been disconnected from a wonderful partnership. 

 These seven words, even though they discouraged and upset me, also gave me hope. 

 “That is not how Molly does it!” taught me that teachers have power.  Teachers can evoke change because of the love and trust of their students.  When teachers work to understand and truly know their students, the connection between teachers and students is one that lingers, one that lasts. 

 As I begin my first year of teaching, I look forward to forging my own bonds of mutual understanding with my students.  I also am working to remember that all of my actions, all of our interactions matter, that they are the building blocks in growing relationships.

 Perhaps one day I will be lucky and successful enough to have a substitute who, like I once did, longs to cover her ears to blot out the indignant cries of, “That is not how Kelly does it!” 


Julie Torres | | August 29, 2011

Cat Got Your Tongue


Cat Got Your Tongue

Recently, I had the opportunity to sit around a table with a group of educators.  As usual I really didn’t say much.  I have often felt as though what I had to say was irrelevant or my choice of words lacked the finesse of an English teacher.  My silence was not due to lack of engagement, I listened to every word, took notes and had many silent ah-has that could have only been detected by fellow diners as the raising of an eyebrow or a pursing of the lips. 

Ironically, my invitation to this dinner was also an invitation to share my voice as an educational blogger.  When I was first asked to join this group as a blogger I immediately felt fear.  My fears were intertwined with everything that I knew I didn’t know.  I was not “up” on the latest policy or the newest educational books.  More than that my biggest fear was that I would alienate others.  Teachers are supposed to be noble almost martyrs.  How could I write about what I was thinking when I felt that I knew so little?   

I felt a growing isolation as a professional; often lost, frustrated and always silent.  I was not a tired or angry teacher, just disconnected.  Disconnected from the conversation because I had been focused on what I thought I could control, my classroom.  The problem quickly became that many foreign voices to education were intruding in my classroom; their voices were louder than mine.  Those foreign voices started to decide what should happen in my classroom.  These were not the voices of the families I served or even fellow teachers, but outsiders that did not know what my students needed.  I still remained silent, I did not speak, and I did not make them aware of my thoughts.  They must have assumed that I agreed with them.

I chose to leave the conversation in favor of a peaceful retreat.  I avoided dialogue that I thought might have been too controversial or that may have led to disagreements.  I tried to keep the peace at all costs.  It has cost me a lot; I lost my way.  I began to question my purpose as a teacher and my role as an advocate.  I started thinking about the voice of education.  Who might be the voice of education?  This question eluded me for quite a while.  I thought it might possibly need to be parents or communities.  

Just before surrendering to the idea of communities needing to be the voice of education I heard, “ If not me then who?”, from a fellow teacher.  My head shifted as I quickly replayed those words in my head, what had I been waiting for?  Why had I devalued my voice?   I realized that this was not the time to remain silent.  I am an educator, an expert in my classroom, a colleague that fellow teachers go to for support and a member of a learning community that extends throughout the state.  If not me then who?  The time has come for me to use my own voice as an educator, put my own thoughts out there, and use my own face as the face of education for my students and myself.  Who is more qualified to speak on the topic of education than a teacher?

Those that know me, know that I am quite stubborn once I decide on a course of action.  I’ve decided to join this educational blog and am going to keep writing and coming back because this once quiet teacher has a lot more to say.

Cat got your tongue?






Daniela A. Robles | | August 25, 2011



When my daughter began preschool I vowed to never be "that parent" who tells the teacher what and how to teach. Or to be "that parent" that demands to meet with the principal on a whim to tell him/her how to lead a school. I made this vow even under the pretense that due to my life's work as an educator, it may be highly plausible that if I did tell a teacher what and how to teach-it might be beneficial for that teacher. Personally coaching a principal on how to lead a school might prove helpful as well.  

Then this school year began, and I became "that parent." The first day of school I requested a meeting with my daughter's principal to request a placement change. Yes, the first day. Evidence? Minimal. Nonetheless, my husband and I sat across from the principal and pleaded our case. My hands shook, my heart raced, and my voice quivered. This request was met with a tone of annoyance and an air of complete disregard. Seventeen minutes later, I was back in my car driving home. As I drove home, I wondered if the meeting would have been different if I had stated that I am an Instructional Coach, that I can spot effectiveness quickly, that frankly- I know good teaching. I realized that the real essence that needed to be considered wasn't the fact that I'm an educator, but the fact that I am a parent. 

Two days later, we met again, but this time we had been upgraded to the conference room. This time my voice was strong. This time I spoke about teacher effectiveness, respectful relationships, an environment that promotes my daughter to excel, and a teacher that "inspires confidence." Sixty- seven minutes later, I was driving home with the knowledge that Maya would be moved to another classroom. During that drive home I also realized that I had become a hypocrite.

How is it possible that when my blood, sweat, and tears are devoted to improving teachers, I did not want to give this teacher another day? I have fought for struggling teachers to be given a chance. And yet, with this teacher, I couldn't be bothered. I have been at school sites where teachers do not "inspire confidence" but I state that they deserve the opportunity to improve. I toss and turn at night thinking about how I can better support teachers who need to get better-quickly. 

This school year I am beginning with an internal conflict. What I say and do is good enough for other teachers, but not for my child's teacher. This hypocrisy has me rattled. I am questioning my identity as an educator. Beginning the year in this manner has me rather concerned about what might come next...

What internal conflicts are you struggling with this school year? 



Cheryl Redfield | | August 24, 2011

Balance the Cart


Cart.aspx Have you ever tried to push a shopping cart with only one working wheel? The noisy, cumbersome, thing attracts unwanted attention and requires too much energy to maneuver! We secretly abandon the cart in the middle of the store and search for another, only to discover that it too, is no better!

Just like those carts, our approach to education has been lop-sided, and cumbersome. We take up one reform du jour, and then ditch it to adopt another. We expend so much time, and energy for short-lived results; and every year our children suffer the bumps of each trendy educational reform.

Through the media and the WEB, our children exhibit a global awareness as well as digital literacies we can only envy. And while we try to expand their world, they lack the necessary skills of human interaction and survival: how to think critically and communicate their ideas effectively.

Partnership for 21st Century Skills, a leading advocate for redefining “rigor” in education, recently reported that more that 40% of all high school graduates who enter college must take remedial courses. Also, over 70% of employers, in their survey found high school graduates deficient in critical thinking/problem solving and in the ability to clearly communicate their ideas--both written and oral.

The meaning we should glean from this research is not that our children are unable to perform, but rather that they’ve not been adequately prepared to pursue college nor a career. If we reflect on the young people we know, we find this difficult to believe. Many are socially conscious and intelligent. As an educator, I have the greatest privilege to spend the better part of my day with such individuals.

Our problem goes beyond intelligence, to equipping our children with the skills they need to be successful. Many are admitted to college but unprepared for the rigor, responsibility, and rapport required to graduate. Or, they apply for jobs, only to be disillusioned because employers are not looking for just knowledgeable applicants, they need people who possess the seven survival skills for the 21st century. 

A manager with a Fortune 500 company explained how he wades through the hundreds of applications he receives on a weekly basis. “I simply scan the applications and set aside those with expansive answers. That brings the number down by 85 percent. In the remaining 15 percent, I look for well-written, clearly expressed ideas. I usually end up with a handful to call for interviews.”

Who’s to blame for this deficiency? Well, some policy makers behave as if teachers are the culprits. As a National Board Certified teacher, I understand the significant role an accomplished teacher plays in students’ learning. But I believe that similar to shopping with a balanced cart, we can go farther with an approach that values four wheels working in conjunction with each other.

The four wheels, or stakeholders, who need to share equally in education reform, are: business/community leaders, parents, educators, and students. Not necessarily in that order. But the important thing to understand is that it takes all four, not just one, to create the kind of rich educational experience we truly want for our children.

In order for this occur, here are some dispositions and behaviors we need to consider:

• Business & Community Leaders- value educators, give them room to be creative and reward their efforts; view testing as part of the process instead of the product of education; establish partnerships with your local school district(s)

• Educators- promote and pursue rigorous professional learning such as National Board certification; model and foster the habits of advocacy, collaboration, and professionalism; engage students’ families in their education

• Students- develop your particular talent(s); embrace the most rigorous courses you can handle- those that make you think deeply, creatively and communicate effectively; learn to self-advocate; engage in community service

• Parents- participate in deep, thoughtful conversation with your children; encourage their emerging self-advocacy; support a course of study that expands their thinking and communication skills; let them dream big!

New processes and programs may come and go; we may even achieve short-lived improvements. But for sustainable growth and development that empowers our children to compete in a global economy, we need the collaborative efforts of all four stakeholders. For our children’s sake, let’s balance the cart of education.

Jen Robinson | |

Losing Hope


This year presents many challenges for educators. Budget cuts have left our district asking teachers to do more with less. Teachers are covering two and three duties each day. Some teachers barely have time to eat their lunch because their additional duty requires covering the lunchroom or lunch recess for their grade level.

Planning and prep at the elementary schools is nearly non-existent. Our PE and music teachers are now split between two schools, visiting our school two days each week. So yes, teachers do have two 35-minute planning periods each week. However, grade levels with three or more teachers do not have common planning time. Librarians were also eliminated with budget cuts, so the library stands empty with shelves of books being unused, gathering dust. I know we should be thankful that we have jobs, right?

When I walk through classrooms and around campus, it is obvious that the teachers are exhausted. They do the best they can with what they have, but they are fading. As an instructional coach, I make myself visible and do my best to support teachers, but is that enough? I try to express my appreciation, thanking teachers for what they do and leaving notes, but it doesn’t change the fact that they are tired.

This year my job has also been restructured. Instead of supporting teachers at one school, I now work at the district office and share the responsibility of supporting teachers at several schools, as well as, other curriculum responsibilities. Today I spent most of the day at the district office uploading data and making changes to class lists, adding and deleting kids, checking user names and passwords and preparing for district wide benchmark assessments. I find myself losing motivation, losing hope. I know this is important work that needs to be done. I am just feeling overwhelmed. I am struggling with how to stay true to my beliefs and also being open to examine things from a different perspective, the district perspective.

“We are all faced with a series of great opportunities brilliantly

disguised as impossible situations.” - Charles Swindell

Molly | Teacher Leadership | August 22, 2011

Even If It's Hard


After reading Teacher in a Strange Land's recent blog, I felt compelled to reflect on lessons learned from contributing to Stories from School as a female blogger. Reading through the "Boys Town" comments,  David Cohen's question grabbed my attention. "What can we do to encourage more women to engage and lead here and now?" The opportunity to write for SFS has been my encouragement. Is it really as simple as providing women the platform to write?

Previously, if I was asked anything about working with students or the classroom, I easily shared my opinion. But when asked about my take on educational policy hot topics, I changed the subject. If I was to grow as a professional, I knew I had to change. Even if it was...hard.

What was hard about it? I doubted my experience. I was not a policy expert, so who would care about my opinion? What power did I have? Worse yet, what if people disagreed with me? I also blamed lack of time. Give up my precious Facebook for reading ed policy blogs and tweets?

It was after I met the bloggers featured on SFS that a fire was lit. The more I read their blogs, the more connected I felt. After reading blogs they recommended through links, I felt my sense of awareness grow. They served as policy teachers. The impact was not as evident in my writing, but my thinking expanded. 

Ah, I was transformed. I realized I could continue to share my classroom moments, but I also needed to show how those moments were affected by educational policies in play. I reconciled myself with the fact that there were people who wouldn't care about my ideas or might disagree and focused on you who I would strike a cord with and possible inspire.

But, really, the focus is not about you. It's about the students who greet you each August. Demanding a quality education for them begins by informing others of the policies that control what happens in schools.

What is it we say to kids? Be risk takers. Give us your best guess. What makes you think that? Sharing what makes us think certain beliefs is the only way to learn about what is going on in education.

Here is the biggest influence in change for me. I am now a mom. I want my daughter to feel confident in sharing her voice with the world. I must lead by example for her and the rest of the future female blogger world.

If we want education and the teaching profession to be examined differently, female teachers must take time to increase awareness and share their opinions. You have to start somewhere. Reading this blog is a step. Then take the next step...Read a post, think about how it pertains to your role in education, and then post a comment either as a reflection or question.

Mike Lee | Education, Elementary, Teacher Leadership | August 19, 2011

Long Overdue



I often think that it’s time to start openly recognizing excellence in teaching.  There are few professions that struggle to compensate, honor, and support each person equally, in spite of obvious performance differences. It’s time to get over jealousy and hurt feelings. Dare I say that it’s time to more eagerly point out the best teachers, identify them as exemplars, and allow others to learn from watching them work?

It’s time we own our progress.  Celebrate it.  Or, recognize our areas for growth and own them, as well.

But, as we start this new school year, I know we are not there yet, and that topic is fodder for an entirely different post.  Today, I offer a raise of the proverbial glass and propose a moment to honor a special group of educators.  You know who they are; you can see their faces.  Maybe you see one of them when you look in the mirror. 

For your students’ sake, I hope you do.

Here’s to those who may find themselves regularly working weekends, serving snow cones at a school event, tutoring on their own time because a child really needs it, attending a sporting event to show support, or eating lunch in the cafeteria with their class, just because.

Here’s to those who put in the time, teach from the heart, value children as people first, represent the profession, are lifelong learners and thus role models for their students, work collaboratively, greet students with an unwavering smile and high expectations, are flexible, challenge the status quo, refuse to accept failure from themselves or from their students, make personal connections, create lasting and permanent impressions, and teach with such a burning passion that the inherent curiosity of their class is ignited.

Here’s to the ones who never settle.  To the ones that refuse to lower the bar, yet ensure that every student gets over.

Here’s to the ones that go to the home, when the home won’t come to them.

Here’s to the best of the best: talent that we don’t deserve, but that our children do.

To you, and on behalf of the children who are fortunate enough to experience your dedication and talent, I say Happy New Year and thank you.  

And, I do so quite openly.  It’s a recognition you deserve and one that is long overdue.


Delyssa Begay | | August 17, 2011

Teacher Thoughts on the Start of a New Year


I "Happy New Year-ed" a group of teachers at my niece's elementary school last week. It slipped - those near started laughing, repeating the phrase "Happy New Year. Hahahaha."

I like a new beginning. It is filled with the hopes that whatever resolutions or goals I make seem possible. Now granted, even with the emphasis on data, data, data, and accountability measures to report whether me or my students are teaching or learning does not distinguish my joy for the new school year. I know teaching is more than test scores and homework assignments or subject content. It's getting to know the students and their strengths and "areas of improvement."

I enjoy getting to know my students and we are on our best behaviors for the first couple of days, but eventually we falter. Today was that day for me. I pulled out my first student for being "disrespectful to the class." The student avoided my gaze and figided like a trapped deer. She wanted an argument, and it's difficult to get that rise out of me right at the start. Instead, I asked what bothered her, and she finally told me - she had taken that writing assessment in a different class and didn't want to do it again. I then asked her what we could do about it. She was a bit surprised, and said that if I'd write a hall pass for her see her former teacher, she'd request for the booklet. Problem solved. And that annoying teacher-parent voice came out, "See how things are different if you just tell me what is bothering you? I might understand and try to help, rather than argue and make a scene in class." (This is where I faltered.) She, of course, slightly glared at me for pointing it out, and then apologized to the class for the disruption.

I like teaching because it goes beyond content; it is learning about the student and working together to learn. I give several assessments to determine reading and writing levels and then project what our goals will be for the year (and they actually help in forming those goals). That's content, that's meeting standards, and along the way we have to work together and see the best and worst of each other. It is a daily ritual, coming together in the classroom and making sense of that time. I started class on the second day of school with a poem by Alice Walker, "Remember?" The last lines are, "I would give to the human race only hope. I am the woman offering a flower whose roots are twin - Justice and Hope. Let us begin."

Everything may fall apart after that day, but my kids know where I am coming from; they know I love language and all the parts that fall under it - reading, writing, poetry, stories, even graphic organizers. I love the challenge and I have to remember that they do too. As long as I focus on that, and not all the standardized measurements and policies, I can teach. And I know those icky policies are there, and I have to deal with them, but I'm not going to let it muddy up the hopeful beginning to a new school, let us begin.


Alaina Adams | Assessment, Books, Education, Education Policy, Life in the Classroom, Literacy, Mentoring, National Board Certification, Professional Development, Social Issues, Teacher Leadership, Web/Tech | August 16, 2011

What Do Teachers and Jersey Shore Have in Common?

GTL One exhausted night at the end of May 2011, I got sucked into a Jersey Shore marathon and began to wonder if teachers could "GTL" like the overly-tanned and overly-paid reality show MTV characters. According to the oh-so-charming Mike "The Situation" Sorrentino, the GTL acronym (Gym, Tan, Laundry) was designed to help "bros" everywhere understand that they must GTL everyday in order to look their best.

After a moment of self-pity at having survived the first wave of Common Core roll out and a variety of other new accountability initiatives (see past blogs), I embraced my inner mojo and decided to spend my summer doing nothing but going to the gym, working on my tan, and doing laundry (I translated "laundry" into doing anything else that made me happy).

And guess what? It worked! For exactly 7 days, I engaged with my long forgotten treadmill, lounged by the pool with a smutty vampire book, and took random trips to the local beauty mall.

And then . . . the workshops happened. [Because it's difficult to fit professional development into working with students full-time, most of us teachers schedule the bulk of our training during our summer vacations].

Then, after about 3 weeks of training, the extra jobs started. Not-so-news-flash: most teachers have to work 1-2 side-jobs to supplement their incomes - I'm no exception. I spent the next 5 weeks of my summer vacation deep in Common Core curriculum revision, created workshops and resources connected to new teaching standards, worked with National Board candidates as they geared up for their new school year, and worked with the Center for Teaching Quality to learn how to become a virtual mentor.

In short: I had no real summer vacation in which to "GTL."

Could I have said no to all of these side-jobs and professional growth opportunities? I suppose so. Could I have paid my bills or increased my intrinsic motivation to remain in the teaching profession? Nope.

In a recent blog post, Mike Lee wrote about the teaching profession being regarded as a 9-month seasonal gig. As someone who wants her profession to be regarded as more than woman’s work, I’d much rather be paid a professional wage to work through each summer to refine my craft - especially in times when the voices and contributions of teacher-leaders are so critical to education reform. . . and yet. . . school hallways are empty each summer.

Mike "The Situation" says, "if your shirt looks bad, it makes the whole product look bad.” Am I the only teacherpreneuer wondering if the summer shirts of our profession are looking bad right about now?

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