Friday, October 26, 2012

Words matter

To begin, I would like to wish all Illinois Principals (and principals and school leaders everywhere) a Happy Principal Appreciation Day! This is a video from the Illinois Principal Association which is a great organization for any school administrator.

After attending the ISTE Leadership Forum, I had the opportunity to drive from Indianapolis, IN to Springfield, IL for the "first annual" Race to the Top (RT3) state meeting. During the meeting, I had the opportunity to reconnect with some central IL colleagues from the early part of my teaching career and meet other educators whose districts are participating in this initiative. When you look at the 4 main goals of the state for RT3 they all seem to sound good:
  • Adopting more rigorous standards and assessments
  • Recruiting, evaluating, and retaining highly effective teachers and principals
  • Building data systems that measure student success
  • Building state capacity for support
During the meeting, the state had asked a few administrators from around the state the discuss their district's progress in meeting the deadlines. One administrator from central Illinois got up and spoke very candidly about his district's process.

He said, "The name Race to the Top is horrible. If a program is meant to increase the rigor and quality of instruction for all students to increase student achievement, the philosophy of a 'race' indicates that districts are in direct competition with one another and there will be some winners and some losers". He went on to say that words matter, in naming an initiative and in the directions for implementation.

I completely agree with him in his message and feel embarrassed that I did not make this connection before. The focus of this initiative should promote equity.

I had made a similar comment concerning NCLB in the state of Illinois. In Illinois, our test for high school students includes the ACT...a test designed to leave children behind.

In a separate issue, I had received a request today to provide words of insight to new department chairs. I looked back on my time as a DC and thought about my mistakes that I made and the thought of 'words matter' really rings true. The advice I ended up providing was:

As a DC try to make all of your actions fit within these two lenses: Is it good for kids and will this enable the department to encourage all students to succeed.

If that is your direction, it is hard to go wrong.

With so many initiatives, policy changes, and mandates, I think that some people opt for the path of least resisitance as opposed to what is best for kids and encouraging ALL students to succeed.

In this day of immediate feedback, many people speaking in only bullet points, and a sometimes a speak first-think later mentality, we need to remember that our words do matter.

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