Category Archives: Training

Culture of Failure

Is it possible to create a culture of failure?

My school is currently being asked to discover why the Freshman failure rate is so high. 1/3 of the Freshmen failed a class during their first semester in high school, and statistically speaking 30% of Freshmen who fail a course in their first high school year do not graduate. That is frightening!

In my department alone 1/4 of the Freshmen failed their first high school English class. Because of this, these students will either have to take an online equivalent (though they really aren’t), take a credit retrieval course after school, or repeat the failed course the next year (taking away an elective and doubling up on a subject with which they struggle). Continue reading

Cleaning the Shelves

I decided to clean off the shelves in my room of older material, and I realized just how many conferences, trainings, and other professional development sessions I’ve attended. I must have put 20-25 thick binders into boxes and over 150 files into those boxes as well.

My second epiphany was that most of the trainings were the typical “flavors of the month” that one of the leaders in the district learned and then wanted everyone to learn. Because of this the trainings, as a whole, have been fragmented, lacking a systematic approach, and often repetitious.

It’s frustrating looking back at all of the time, energy, and effort simply placed on the shelf.

As an example, I recently attended a mandatory ELL session I had taken five years ago, and when I mentioned that most of us had already taken this course and asked about a next step in the ELL courses, I was told everyone takes this one. That’s it. No differentiation, but plenty of repetition. I missed an entire day of teaching to repeat a class.

While I know I have changed some of my personal habits and approaches, I don’t see the entire staff improving as whole because of our lack of a united focus. We are not united in our efforts to improve student capacity and teacher effectiveness.

I look forward to the district and individual building leaders identifying a focused approach.

Mad Dogging Me

In my high school the kids have a term called “mad dogging.” This is when someone stares across at another student with the intent to harass or bully, which often leads to a shouting match, bad blood, or even a fight.

I got mad dogged in a more figurative sense by an administrator (I will call this person Mad Dog).

At a staff meeting we were shown a chart detailing how the number of assigned detentions has risen for attendance infractions and another chart detailing how many absences are labeled excused and unexcused. These were presented to illustrate our increasing successes in “solving” the attendance problem.

At the beginning of the year we were told the measure of success would be the declining numbers of absences and tardies. However, this presentation did not show that data.

Two staff members before me asked questions which were not really answered, so I asked what our ultimate goal is with the new attendance policy (we had the same one last year, but this year we give double the detention time and only track tardies on a weekly basis rather than through a full semester). I stated the data shows parents are doing a better job of calling in and excusing absences and we are doing a better job of enforcing consequences for unexcused absences and tardies, but isn’t the number of absences and tardies our true goal? What are those numbers?

Mad Dog told me I was “focusing on the negative” and am being “negative” while M.D. was presenting. I had to calm myself as Mad Dog had just labeled me and my speech in front of my 80 colleagues while M.D. uses the microphone. Mad Dog made it quite clear mine was the final comment with a stern look at me and then ended the presentation. I got mad-dogged!

I see what M.D. is showing with his presentation, but “how are we doing?” is really what I want to know. Are absences and tardies decreasing across the building?

Well, I was upset and attempted to speak with Mad Dog during my prep (busy), and I didn’t want to speak about it at the staff party that afternoon, so I e-mailed M.D. my feelings and concerns about the attendance policy. M.D. called me unprofessional for sending my thoughts in an e-mail and said it’s “easy to complain” and not be “part of the solution.”

Again, I was offended since I have been on every committee in the school for the last four years and have even tried to help Mad Dog create an attendance policy which is not completely punitive. In fact, I warned M.D. four things would occur, and three have with the fourth debatable:
1. Students whose parents are late calling in would be punished for their parents’ failure, which would create animosity between students and staff.
2. The community would become confrontational and upset with a completely unyielding policy.
3. Absences and tardies will increase because they are only symptoms of the true problem: attitudes about attendance and tardies, which is where we should focus our efforts. I tested this theory by looking at my absences in my classes, which have increased from about 9 per student to 12 per student.
4. Any system with no reward and only punitive measures will fail.

I tried to get a hold of M.D. before school, who was again unavailable. I sent M.D. another note saying I’d like to resolve the issue and asked M.D. to come see me Thursday or Friday. Again, no response and no visit.

I have resolved myself to seeing that Mad Dog does not wish to resolve the issue and that M.D. does not value the power of relationship building with staff members (even though that very idea is written on the back of M.D.’s school shirt). This might sound like a bit of a stretch to assign these thoughts to M.D., but I have had five other staff members with similar complaints about Mad Dog, and now a group of teachers have approached me to set up some sort of meeting to help M.D. improve on people skills.

I’m not sure what I will do, but I do know that the adversarial air is thickening and teachers are feeling less willing to work with Mad Dog.

Teacher Created Failures

I went to the high school state football championships this last weekend and watched a coach lose the title game for his team. His inability to adapt and poor play calling at critical moments (really, it was greed leading to opponent points) took the victory from the kids; the leader decided the outcome rather than allowing the kids the opportunity to succeed.

The winning team’s coach did not put his team into positions likely to cause failure. He set his athletes up to succeed, and they did.

I see some of this same problem in my high school. While we have quite a number of wonderfully dedicated and industrious teachers, we also have a small few who refuse to collaborate and adapt.

One department in my school has been labeled the cause of our status as a failing school. While I don’t believe the teachers in the department are solely responsible, I do see a couple of them as part of the problem. And of course, this reflects on the entire school and impacts everyone.

Two teachers refused to attend the training for their department’s new approaches to teaching their content. This comes on the heels of their department being provided development opportunities from the state and district and on the heels of the department’s agreement to alter some older methods of teaching in favor of some new approaches. At a minimum some best practices would be shared, and the potential is present to revolutionize and revitalize the department.

The lack of collaboration, unwillingness to change, and outright lack of professionalism appalls me. For a group who is the focus of reform, I would expect that the teachers would at least listen to the suggestions even if they do not embrace them. This type of cancerous attitude needs to be cured and cured quickly.

I hope to see these staff members won over by the rest of the department in their efforts to improve and ultimately help kids succeed.

Additionally, I expect to see the administration step in and enforce the mandates of professionalism. Too often I hear complaints about the lack of professionalism with little done to rectify the behaviors. This is a definite opportunity to effect positive change.

Out of Class

One pet peeve I have is honesty. Another is being pulled out of my classes for trainings.

This week I have to leave my classroom to participate in a training. I don’t mind trainings, but I abhor missing classes for it because it’s twice as much work for me.

Last June my department was told we had to attend an assessment training, but it would only be a half day. Since we have great reading assessments, we knew there wasn’t much to discuss except for range finding and creating anchor sets of answers.

However, when we returned from the summer we were informed that the training had become a full day because the district wanted us to attend ELL training as well. This angered the department because we were assured we’d only be out of school for a half day. It’s why we agreed to attend. I understand the training is important, but I like to attend trainings after school or on weekends.

Well, half of the department (there are 20 of us in total) attended last week, and the ELL portion never occurred! It was an entire day of assessment training!

Now they have to attend another day of ELL training. We started at a half day out of the classroom and we are now at two days. We are not happy because the district office wants us to do this again next semester. My turn to attend is coming. Grrrr.