Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Blocked is a Good Thing?

To quote the late, great John Lennon, "Life is what happens when you're busy making other plans." And so has been my life lately. Personally, Dad was diagnosed with stage 3 bladder cancer in November and, that being said, blogging about my professional life has taken a back seat. Family has been the focus. But now that we have a clearer picture of the future and we've weathered a massive round of radiation and have clearance from his team here to go ahead and go back to FLA (yes, they are snowbirds) we are sitting more comfortably. But that's just us and our family. And, as my mom has said from the beginning, which has been a great deal of inspiration for me, "And that's where we are today." In other words, one day at a time. You can't think about the future and what might be and fret about it.

I'd like to introduce you to another family, whom I know won't mind me sharing their story as they are very transparent both in their current stuggle and in their teaching practices. Meet Mike and Liz Fisher or as you may know them @fisher1000 and @elizabethfisher on twitter. They are living the nightmare of having their 3 and half year old undergoing brain surgery. So far the prognosis is good. She's speaking and walking, and "That's where we are today."

So, no more excuses. Blogging weekly is my pledge to you, the www. I am back. And I am back thanks to a prominent twitter poster, an educator who shares a great deal, for contacting me because my blog was disabled due to a commenter post that had a virus.

Thank you to @nashworld for alerting me to the fact that my blog was down, giving me the inspiration to write again, and helping me to focus on my mom's mantra "and that's where we are today." I think that mindset has a great deal of potential to drive teachers and districts forward. We must be realistic and set achievable goals for our kids and we must take time to honestly identify where are today. From there we can work together to create a plan that inspires all learners, both students and teachers.

And that's all I have to say about that.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Interviewing for a Teaching Position: Some Top 5s of Landing a Job

As a former teacher of 12 years, an administrative intern for 1, a Teacher on Special Assignment (TOSA) as an administrator at both the building and district level for over a year, an administrative candidate for six different building and district level positions and a finalist for four, and finally landing my dream job as the Director of Curriculum and Instruction for a small city school district, I have quite a unique perspective on the interviewing process at multiple levels. My experience runs the gamut from calling and scheduling candidates and reviewing applications, resumes, recommendations, and verifying certifications to choosing interview questions, creating interview documents, and designing performance tasks, such as lessons or presentations, along with aligning scoring rubrics for evaluation for all levels of educational employment from classroom teacher to building administrator to district level administrator, including superintendency positions. YES, I said it...PERFORMANCE TASKS...be prepared to be ON and be evaluated, folks!

Today, I spent 4 hours interviewing nine candidates for an open UPK (Universal Pre-K) position in my district in a building where I also serve as supervisor or administrator in charge. It was a very exciting day. Please understand that administrators must be extremely selective in choosing candidates to interview; experience and "fit" in their building culture are prime considerations. Of 134 potential candidates, I had to choose 8-10 to interview. Therefore, prior experience in a particular grade level, especially in regards to UPK (4 yr. olds) was very important to me. I also looked for multiple certifications for important areas at the elementary level such as literacy and special education. Multiple certifications is not a requirement, mind you, but it certainly adds depth to the candidate's experience.

Enough background already! As promised, below are two lists: TOP 5 TIPS for LANDING the INTERVIEW and TOP 5 TIPS for A PERSONAL INTERVIEW for a teaching position...drum roll, please....


  1. I should note that in many states, NY included, we have gone to on-line applicant screening so it is of utmost importance to be sure to attach EVERYTHING you can. Admins who do the initial screening look for an updated resume, a letter of interest SPECIFIC to the district or position (this is KEY for many districts; they won't look at it you if you have not expressed direct interest in their district), 3 letters of reference (minimum), and copies (usually scanned) of certifications and/or submissions/notifications that certs are pending. In other words, keep your on-line application up to date!
  2. Not only should you write letters of interest specific to each particular district that highlight your talents and what you can offer to that district, your resume should reflect the same thing. Have a core resume ready that you can tweak to highlight a particular district's needs and showcase your talents!
  3. Highlight specialized training, areas that you have provided turn-key training, and ways in which you have collaborated with others. Taking the initiative to prove that you are a life-long learner, are open to constructive criticism, and willing to learn from others and contribute to building culture are extremely important. Operating as an island, behind closed doors is a mentality of the past. You must show that you are open and willing to work with others to provide the BEST POSSIBLE LEARNING EXPERIENCE FOR KIDS.
  4. Make sure your references are up to date and are accurate. It's quite frustrating to call a listed reference that hardly remembers the candidate or has had very little interaction or experience of observing the candidate in the classroom. We, as potential employers, totally rely on the feedback of your references. That being said, INVITE MULTIPLE PEOPLE INTO YOUR CLASSROOM WHOM YOU CAN COUNT ON TO WRITE LETTERS OF REFERENCE OR PROVIDE FEEDBACK OF YOUR PERFORMANCE. This includes building principals, department coordinators, grade level leaders, consultant teachers (special ed. teachers and directors, support personnel, volunteers, and directors of curriculum and instruction, to name a few). Invite varied people from all areas into your classroom; make an effort to schedule their presence and ask for their feedback in writing.
  5. Attach any award or special recognitions to your application. This feature gives us, the evaluator of whether you are a good fit for the position, an opportunity to see if, at first glance, on paper, if you are truly a good fit and qualified for the position in question. Please remember that, at all times, you are your own salesperson, per se, and are responsible for selling your best qualities to the district and the position.


  1. Appear confident; but also be sure not to appear too haughty. This is a FINE line to walk. Do your best to not allow your nervousness or eagerness for the position to overpower your skills and abilities at a particular grade level or in a particular subject area. Also, be sure to highlight your abilities in a particular program or area that lend itself to the builidng vision, the building initiatiaves, the particular needs of the students in that building. Student achievement and evidence thereof should be your foremost focus.
  2. Your ability to highlilght your willingness to work and collaborate with others in the building to promote student achievement is of the utmost importance. Maintaining or enhancing a building culture is very important information for building leaders. We need to know that you can easily transition into a position and/or team and can be an integral player in promoting student achievement. We also like to see people who are multi-talented and multi-certed, especially at the elementary level. It does happen that we hire a singly certed individual, but in these days of dwindling enrollment in WNY, it is a plus to have a candidate who has certification in multiple areas as well as experience in key areas such as literacy, RtI, and Special Ed.
  3. SPECIFICS, SPECIFICS, SPECIFICS! Just as we ask students to rely on their experiences and text based details, we expect to interview candidates who are able able to provide specific examples of how they have implemented specific strategies, programs, and philosophies in their classroom (NAME THEM AND DESCRIBE HOW YOU HAVE IMPLEMENTED THEM). Having those specific examples readily available is also a bonus, BUT...knowing how and when to navigate those strategies and highlight them in an interview is another story. See number 4 below.
  4. Yes, I appreciate your portfolio and all the work you have put into it; really, I do. The key to referrring to your portfolio in the interview is to indexing it properly, so that when a particular question is asked, you are able to reference a specific example with ease. Yes, we really do want to see examples of your work, but we rarely have time to review your portfolios afterward. Therefore, IT IS YOUR JOB TO HIGHLIGHT WHAT YOU HAVE TO OFFER THROUGH EXAMPLES IN YOUR PORTFOLIO...and don't be so dismissive as to say, "I can leave this with you." Rather, be proactive and show us examples and things you can highlight by providing us with memorable experiences that do not ask us to invest additional time.
  5. Most, if not all, interviews will end by asking what questions you have for us. Here is where you NEED to show, through your questions, that you have done some research on the district. DO IT! Talk to anyone and everyone you can about the district and what it has to offer...learn all you can before the interview. And, if, for example, a district's website is outdated and under construction, TAKE THE INITIATIVE TO LEARN ALL YOU CAN ABOUT THE DISTRICT, ITS PROGRAMS, ITS INITITIAVES, ITS EXCTRACURRICULARS, etc. Make phone calls, send emails, talk to others who may know someone in the district. In other words, DO YOUR HOMEWORK!

Finally, be yourself in an interview; be excited and showcase what you have to offer. If you are your true self... a child advocate, someone who is dedicated to the profession, and willing to work collaboratively in the best interest of the child...I assure you that you will find your perfect fit in this extremely rewarding yet often frustrating profession sooner or later. And, with God Speed, I trust that it will be sooner rather than later.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Everything I Need to Know I Learned From My Browndog

It’s funny how life works out sometimes. I grew up in wonderful family and was blessed with two loving parents and three fantastic siblings. I am the youngest of four and have a sister for a best friend and two great brothers. For as far back as I can remember, we always had dogs in our family. My dad, a hunter and fisher extraordinaire, had a saying about dogs: "If it can't hunt, it can't stay." As a result, we usually had a retriever or a setter. So when I grew up, got a teaching job, and bought my own house, I also bought my best friend...my browndog; a wonderfully friendly and spirited chocolate lab named Bailey (officially named Kate's Mudsplash Bailey Girl).

As I reflect on my life as an educator, as I often do, I can say that everything I ever needed to know about life I learned from my browndog. Here are some lasting life lessons that I've learned from my furry and brown best friend:

1. Greet everyone enthusiastically, be happy to see them, and show them how much you care about what they do. In other words, build lasting relationships. Dogs have this wonderful connection to people and, as an administrator, I can't say enough about how important it is to build relationships with those with whom you live and work closely. There is always a common goal to strive toward in education and there's no better way to get people to follow you as a leader but through building relationships and appreciating what they do every day. Take time to appreciate those important people in your life and show them how much you care about them and what they do. It is the single most important thing you can do for your teachers, who do the most important work in the world...inspiring the next generation to do great things.

2. Work hard and play hard. My browndog will be turning ten in a few weeks and she is still all puppy. She loves to work hard and please me, her leader, and she loves to play even more. We need to take time to do the same things. Being an educator or an educational leader is hard work; we face obstacles every day and do our best to inspire and motivate others to do their best work as well. But the job can be taxing, both physically and emotionally; so it is ever so important that after working hard we reward ourselves with a little bit of fun. This is true not only for us, but for our students as well. We need to remember to reward hard work with some fun. It will pay dividends that are everlasting. Kids and teachers alike will become more connected to their schools and they will become leaders in their own right.

3. Take a walk every day. In other words, take time out to get some physical activity every day. I have a teacher in my UPK program that is seeing the rewards of this idea in real time. Each day, after her normal routine of calendar, weather, the pledge, etc., she has the kids count to 100 doing combinations of ten reps of some sort of physical activity...jumping, push-ups, squatting, jumping jacks...anything she can think of. The kids love it and are building strength and so are she and her aide. I visit each classroom every day and I can see the kids making progress! But what I really love is that the kids make me join in too. It's fun, we see progress in others and praise each other, and we expend some energy which helps us to focus on our work afterward.

4. Rest as needed. My browndog is a power napper. As she is approaching her ten year mark, she naps more frequently and tuckers out more easily. However, she recuperates quickly because she rests as needed throughout the day. As adults, we need to remember to do the same. Of course, we cannot nap while on the job but we can be proactive by planning accordingly so that we are able to organize and manage our work in meaningful and effective ways. Teachers need to learn be ever-mindful of their weekly and report card deadlines so that they are not spending their personal family or home time grading papers or projects to calculate grades. There must be a clearly defined line of work and life. Educational leaders need to find and share strategies and tools to help teachers monitor their time more effectively.

5. Praise good deeds. I will admit that the browndog was not always the best pet. As a pup, she chewed every rung on my dining room chairs until they were toothpicks, she ate my favorite and original Birkenstocks my sister brought me from Germany, and she often shredded magazines or books for me to find when I got home from work. Rather than spanking or punishing her, I found that a much more effective way of stopping the bad behaviors occurred when simply praising her for being a good girl each day. Although she has not done anything like that since she was a pup, I still greet her each day upon my return home from work by asking if she was a good girl. Each day, she takes me through every room in the house to show me what a good girl she was or to "brag" in her own way about what she had done that day. As a result, I take time to shower her with praise for her deeds (or lack thereof) and she is so receptive to that praise that she is inspired to do good work each and every time I leave her. People, or students and teachers, are no different. Taking time to praise them for the work that they do each day goes a long way.

6. Play well with others. Dogs and people are social beings, so why aren't teachers? Many teachers operate as islands; they close their doors, plan their own things, and rarely collaborate unless required to do so by their leaders. A teacher can do wonderful things, but teachers, together, can do AWESOME things. Teachers need time to work together to plan meaningful learning experiences for children. In addition, teachers must be granted time together to ensure that what they are teaching is aligned to state standards. Further, teachers need time together to discuss the different strategies and ways they implemented their content and instruction in order to compare with one another which ways were more effective for kids. This is the most powerful conversation that is worth having in our field.

7. Take time to smell (the roses). Dogs, especially my labbie, are led by their noses. Those of us dedicated to the profession of educating kids need to take time out to appreciate the good things we do and the progress that we reap. We must make time to reflect on the things in life and work that we do well in order to find inspiration and motivation to continue to grow as people and professionals. Reflection is the key to inspiring growth and ensuring that we do not enter into a "rut." We cannot continue to do things the way we've always done them. Our students and teachers deserve much more than that. We must be open and willing to grow professionally and continually in order to inspire the best in others.

So take time to look for life lessons in the little things that we take for granted. My browndog has certainly inspired me to do so. Your teachers and your students deserve the same.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Building a Professional Learning Community

In my current situation as the Director of Curriculum and Instruction, I am charged with ensuring quality programs and learning experiences for all students, Pre-K-12. My biggest challenge right now is that the teachers in my district have not had stability in my position for nearly two years. They are jaded; they have heard that great things would be taking place and were willing to invest time and energy into things that were promised, but have not seen any follow through. In addition, they are starved; they are dying for some professional development that is meaningful, will enhance their daily classroom practice, is seamless in its implementation into the classroom, and will engage and motivate the unique students in classrooms today.

To add to the pool of frustration, my teachers are in their second year without a contract and negotiations have gone into arbitration. To put it simply, it's ugly out there. Teachers are disgruntled and feeling under appreciated and overworked. In addition, as in many other districts out there, there is a huge disconnect and feelings of inequality between buildings and levels (elementary, middle school, and high school). To complicate the matter further, there are feelings of animosity not only between buildings, but within buildings as well.

So...my biggest hurdle right now is building collegiality. Thank God for my PLN and my DLN to help me in this momentous task. I've recently begun the process of joining Communities for Learning and I am so excited to have this support to help me on my quest of building collegiality and establishing an atmosphere of supportive collaboration throughout my district. I long to create a learning community "in which participants embrace the privilege and responsibility of learning individually and collectively. " I want to inspire teachers to increase their expertise and share that success with other teachers in an atmosphere where they feel safe and inspired to do so. I believe that, only through building collegiality and fostering an atmosphere of sharing experiences, teachers can come to understand teaching and learning to a point that transcends the limitations of their unique individual perspectives.

How do I go about building this collegiality among teachers, departments, and individual schools in my district? I have some ideas and I'm hoping that my membership in Communities for Learning will direct me and support me in bringing those ideas to fruition. But I would appreciate any suggestions you might have to help me as well. How do you attempt to bring people, who have a history of not working together, to join in conversations to move your building or district forward for the sake of the children you serve?