Friday, December 31, 2010

You say you want a resolution?

Here we stand on the precipice of another new year. Not only a new year but a brand new decade. No worries about a Y2K bug this time around. A lot of folks use this as a time to make resolutions about things they want to do, not do, or change about themselves in the new year. It is a time of promise and possibilities. For all of you that have made such resolutions I wish you the best in making them a reality.

I have always struggled with resolutions. The root of resolution is resolve. It is hard for me to tell myself I am going to resolve to do something. It seems to me the only group that should be resolving things should be constitutional conventions but I guess that's just me. I do, however, have some things in my professional life that I would like to pledge to myself (and somewhat publicly obviously) to do over the next 365 days that I believe will make me a more effective educational leader and thereby improve the educational environment for all employees, students, and stakeholders of OHS. Here are a few:

1. I pledge to read more. Reading the works of great educational minds and staying current on educational research is a great way to sharpen my own saw. I heard a story about a lumberjack competition in which two men were racing to cut down large trees. One started in feverishly cutting away while the other spent the first several minutes sharpening his saw. Although the first man got out to an early lead, the second man, the one who took the time to make sure he was cutting with a very sharp saw, soon overtook him and won the race. It is a reminder to me as a leader that I must take the time to sharpen my own saw by studying the voices of people like Sir Ken Robinson, Alfie Kohn, and countless others. We have so many great minds discussing such important aspects of educational reform these days. With a growing family making time for professional reading can be a struggle. For me it will mean a few less reruns of The Office and a bit more quality time spent with my Kindle.

2. I pledge to work with each teacher to assist them in their journey toward continual improvement. This will take many forms. It starts with having a good foundation in what is happening in each and every classroom. The administrative team in our district has made this a commitment. My goal is to do brief (10-15 minute) Walkthroughs of every classroom once every two weeks. I have set up an observation feedback system through Google Docs through which I can provide immediate feedback to each teacher as soon as the observation is complete. It also enables them to give input and thereby create an ongoing conversation between us that encourages reflection and collaboration and focuses on continual improvement.

3. I pledge to do all I can to ensure that student failure at OHS is not an option. We are currently working on a system of academic tutoring within the school day for struggling students. Students will be identified through grade reports and those students who are in need of assistance will receive it in a small group guided environment with assistance from a staff member as well as student volunteer tutors. In this environment students will receive extra focus on subjects in which they are struggling as well as the opportunity to learn and develop strong academic skills that will help them achieve success in all areas.

4. I pledge to celebrate our successes. We have a top-notch school. We have outstanding teachers, dedicated and skilled support and maintenance staffs, outstanding students, involved parents, and a supportive community. The Okoboji School District takes a backseat to no one and we need to celebrate all the great things happening in our schools. Is there room for improvement? Heck yes there is. My entire goal as a principal is to find ways to make our school and district better and I love working toward that goal every day. It is also true, however that we have so many amazing people doing so many amazing things with and for our kids. We need to celebrate those successes as we work to multiply them even more.

5. I pledge to be a voice of unity and collaboration. Every school has its "hot button" issues that seem to cause division and discord. As anyone associated with our school knows, right now athletic participation is one of ours. Numbers in many of our programs are down. This concerns us all. We all know that involvement in extracurricular activities is shown to increase positive indicators of success (school attendance, homework completion, a feeling of belonging to a team) and decrease negative indicators (apathy, drug use, disengagement with school). There are many different views on what we need to do in order to turn this recent trend in a positive direction. This is an issue we all feel passionately about. We all know the great lessons our kids learn from being a part of a team and we all want to ensure a thriving extracurricular program in all areas including music, fine arts, and sports. Sometimes our passion can turn to words and actions that can become divisive. I want to be a voice of unity and use my words and actions to bring all of our various stakeholder groups together to create and realize a common vision for the sustained success of our extracurricular programs. Together Everyone Achieves More is not just a cute acronym for TEAM, it is true and we can make it happen.

So there you have it. My professional resolutions pledges for 2011.  I ask you to hold me accountable to these ideals as we go through the year.  I look forward to December 31, 2011 when I can look back on a successful year and forward to an even brighter future for Okoboji High School. 

Happy New Year!

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Gearing up for the Stretch Run...

I hope everyone associated with OHS had an enjoyable and restful Thanksgiving.  Our family was busy with dinner, traditions that include decorating for Christmas, watching the first Christmas movie of the season, and lighting the Christmas lights we hung outside the house back when the weather was still warm.  [In case you hadn't noticed, we are kind of into Christmas at our house.  :-)]  A trip to the Winter Wonderland at Falls Park and watching the Festival of Light Parade, both in Sioux Falls, were highlights for us as well.  If you have never been I highly recommend it! 

The break was enjoyable and restful. Transitioning back from a break is always a challenge for students and staff alike.  I like to call this time between Thanksgiving and Christmas "The Stretch Run."  It is easy to overlook this next 3 1/2 weeks.  They go very fast.  A wide variety of winter athletics and activities, coupled with Christmas concerts at all levels make these 18 days of school go by in a blink.  Many students would say that is just fine with them.  They got a little taste of break and it has whetted their appetite for the granddaddy of breaks - the coveted Christmas vacation. 

There is just one problem with trying to close your eyes, shut off your brain, and wish away the time between now and December 23rd - a lot of teaching, learning, and assessing happens in this short time.  We are in the heart of 2nd quarter.  In fact our midterm is coming up in just a few days.  Courses that have been building sequentially from the first unit are well into their curriculum and the work has become more and more rigorous.  Due to the small number of days in 1st semester after Christmas break, a lot of courses focus heavily on these next few weeks.  Most teachers are only able to complete one small unit and then begin preparing and administering semester exams in January. 

All of this means that the next 3 1/2 weeks are very important.  Students; do not attempt to disengage your brains between now and December 23rd!  Your grades and more importantly, your education, will suffer for it.  I promise Christmas Break will come...that is for certain.  What is up to you is how well you apply yourselves between now and then.  Parents, encourage your sons and daughters through this busy time.  Help keep them focused on the goal and try to keep healthy routines established. 

This is a great time of year with lots of school events and family traditions to keep us all busy.  Thank you for all you do to keep a focus on priorities so all of these wonderful events don't become a stumbling block on the road to academic success for all students.  

Sunday, November 14, 2010

We Can

Last night my oldest daughter and I attended "The Music Man" as performed by the Okoboji High School Drama Department.  It was a wonderful show and both of us enjoyed it very much.  From the great songs (sung by some amazing singers I might add), to the wacky antics of the mayor, his wife, and of course Professor Harold Hill, it was fun from beginning to end.  Any show that can hold the attention of a 6 year old for two hours has to be good! 

As we watched I was once again reminded why I love small schools.  My daughter only saw actors and actresses on the stage but I saw them as something more.  I watched the wrestler share the stage with the debate champion, the student council representative sing a duet with a fifth grade student, and some students who I have yet to hear say more than 10 words this year, make the audience roll with laughter.  At several points during the show there were over 30 students sharing the stage for some of the larger choral arrangements.  This number isn't even including all of the backstage and behind the scenes help needed to put on a show.  This is what is great about a small school.  At Okoboji High School anybody can be involved in anything they chose.  There are no cuts, no one needs to specialize in just one activity all year in order to make the team, and kids from all different backgrounds and interests can come together to make something great.  In fact, to take it a step farther, in a small school kids from all different backgrounds MUST come together in order to make something great.  We are not a 4A school, where students are split into different factions depending on their activity of interest and rarely get involved outside of their circle - nor do we want to be.  Students at Okoboji are encouraged to play sports, sing, participate in the band, debate, and get involved in clubs like FFA, DECA, and many more, all at the same time. 

Hopefully you are all aware of the community meeting being held on Thursday at 7:00pm in the OHS Auditorium to discuss the status and future of our football program.  In recent years our numbers have dwindled leaving us with a dangerously low number of players. We are meeting on Thursday night as a community to discuss the problem, the possible outcomes if the situation does not change, and then we will be breaking into smaller groups to brainstorm what we can do within our groups (parents, staff members, community members, students, etc) to turn this situation around. 

Some have asked why we are focusing on the football program.  To be honest we have seen numbers in many of our sports programs decline and we are concerned.  The reason we are meeting regarding football is that in football, unlike other sports, you cannot make up for a lack of upperclassmen by regularly playing freshmen at the varsity level.  In basketball if you start freshmen against seniors you will probably get beat.  In football if you repeatedly start freshmen against larger, more developed seniors, they are probably going to get hurt.  Also, it takes a large number of players to field a football team.  Frankly our participation rates have reached a level where we need to increase our numbers or our program won't survive. 

I haven't been here long but I can tell you this is a community that will not back down from a challenge.  We are proud to be Pioneers and together we can do things none of us can do alone.  I believe we can reverse this trend in football and all of our athletic programs.  I believe we can rebuild a team in which our biggest concern will be ordering enough uniforms for all of our players, rather than if we will have enough to field a team.  This meeting is about so much more than football.  It is about the pride of a school and our continued commitment to excellence in all areas.  Please join us on Thursday night as we meet together to listen, discuss, and tackle this issue head on as a school district and community.  With all of us working together, I know we can. 

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Moving Beyond Textbooks...

Recently a challenge was issued to interested Iowa educators on the 1 to 1 Schools Blog sponsored by the CASTLE group we discussed last week.  The original challenge was issued by Scott McLeod and can be found HERE.  The basic idea was to spend at least one week teaching without a textbook as the source of information for students.  Two Okoboji teachers took the challenge and wrote blog posts on their experiences.  The teachers were Justin Bouse, 5th grade teacher, and Sue Hillsabeck who is in her first year of teaching 8th grade social studies.  Their reflections were published on the 1 to 1 Schools Blog and can be found HERE. (They are the first two posts at the top of the page) 

Please take a minute to read through their reflections and learn about the great things going on in their classrooms!

Have a great week!

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Did You Know?

It has been a very busy weekend around the Downing household.  With three little girls to get ready for trick-or-treating, Halloween can be a hectic time!  It was still a ton of fun and the girls had a marvelous time trick-or-treating in Milford.  Between the Sugar Shack house, the garage full of toys, and all of the other wonderful houses that so generously filled our little beggars buckets, our girls are set for quite some time!

This week I am going to keep my writing short and (hopefully) sweet - rather appropriate for the biggest candy night of the year. :-)

In the past two weeks we have discussed two different aspects of technology integration in schools.  First we discussed the idea of exponential change and what it has meant in terms of computing power.  Last week I shared a story that outlined the power of technology to be used as a tool to increase engagement.  Thank you to all of you who took the time to fill out Grace's survey by the way.  She sits at 112 responses right now and I can't tell you how many times we have reviewed her data.  This week I want to share with you two videos that really made an impression on me when I first saw them and I think they will with you as well.

They are two videos in a series called "Did You Know?"  They are produced by a team of researchers that includes a professor from Iowa State named Scott McLeod.  Scott is the leader of CASTLE (Center for the Advanced Study of Technology Leadership in Education)  Scott is also a well known speaker and blogger.  He often discusses the need to increase technology integration in education and you can find his blog HERE

The Did You Know videos are filled with facts about technology and the changing nature of our world.  There have been four official releases of the video series.  The two that I will share with you are Did You Know 2.0 which was produced in 2008 and Did You Know 4.0 which was released in 2009.

It is quite possible that you have already seen the videos since quite a few people have seen them on YouTube alone (11,631,097 for DYK 2.0 and 1,970,730 for DYK 4.0 or there abouts.)  Check the videos out and I encourage you to leave a comment about the facts or statistics that surprised you the most.  Some of the information is hard to believe but you can check the bibliographies at the end of each video to see where the research is coming from.  I think you will see that these videos really do present some startling information that makes you think and makes a strong case that we are truly living in exponential times.

Have a great week!


Sunday, October 24, 2010

Moving from Compliance to Engagement...

Note: This is the second in a series which, over the next few weeks, will hopefully help everyone understand the reasons behind the 1:1 learning initiative in the Okoboji School District.  Today we will talk about the power of student engagement...

Our oldest daughter entered kindergarten this year.  She loves school.  She loves her teacher and all of her classmates.  She loves sharing with us what she is doing each day in school.  She is very compliant by nature.  If the teacher says we are doing "X" today, she will do it with a smile on her face and she will enjoy doing it.  If for no other reason than that's what the teacher said we're doing.  I believe a lot of students are this way.  Even in high school I see a lot of students who will slug their way through hours of homework and have a smile on their faces when they turn it in.  Compliance is often a good thing in education.  It is the idea that the "teacher knows best" that keeps kids going even when they don't necessarily find the assignment intrinsically motivating or relevant.  I am glad we have compliant students. 

I have however, long believed there is something much more powerful than compliance.  The level of student-buy-in that is several steps beyond compliance is engagement.  A compliant student will work hard to please the teacher, an engaged student will work hard because they are intrinsically motivated to do so.  Student engagement can be an ambiguous concept until you see it.  I had a great chance to see it this week. 

Earlier this week my daughter mentioned that she had been learning about surveys and graphs in class.  I asked her if she would like to make a survey on the computer.  She was excited about the idea and wanted to start right away.  We used Google Apps (which many Okoboji teachers are already using and we are offering training on for all staff members) to make her survey.  It took about 3 minutes with her creating the questions and me typing.  The longest part was her picking the picture to go on the survey.  She thought that was great, then I asked her if she wanted some people to answer her survey.  She was very excited about that idea so I shared her survey on Twitter, included the link, and asked people to take a minute to fill it out.  As soon as I sent it out I filled out her survey.  By the time I hit "submit" and returned to the spreadsheet that is automatically created when you make a Google Survey, 4 other people had already responded.  That was the light bulb moment (or moment of engagement) for Grace.  Throughout the evening she watched as more and more people responded to her survey.  As the responses poured in we analyzed the bar and pie graphs that Google was creating for us out of the data.  She took pride in telling us which season most people were saying was their favorite and how many brothers and sisters her respondents had. 

One of the questions she had asked was where everyone was from.  One of the early responses was from Utah to which she asked "where is that?"  We opened a Google map, named it "Graces Survey" and began marking the locations of her responses.  Grace spent the rest of the evening eagerly checking her spreadsheet (the reading of which was another new skill she was eager to learn) to see if any new responses had come in.  We had to force her to finish her dinner and her dessert because all she wanted to do was check on her survey.  This young lady was engaged.  A fire had been lit.  In the glow of that fire she had eagerly discovered and learned about subjects ranging from surveys to spreadsheets to graphs to geography.  It was truly an amazing thing to watch.  She took pride in telling her teacher all about what she had done and that real people from all over the place and answered her questions.  At last count she is up to 94 responses from 18 states and 4 countries including England and Sweden.  At 6 years old she has interacted in a very real way with a global audience.  That is real world engagement. 

Please understand, I am not claiming we must use technology in order to engage students.  We have a high level of student engagement going on in our classrooms every day.  We have teachers engaging students in real world, authentic, relevant learning both with an without technology.  The amazing thing about technology is its power to connect.  We could have used made up data on a just for practice survey to analyze canned data and make charts and graphs.  Had we done that, Grace would have listened politely and worked hard to follow my instructions because she is compliant.  The magic of our activity was the fact that it was real.  We used the power of technology to connect in real time with a real world audience.  The fire that was lit in that little girl's mind last Wednesday night was real and intense and it has led to a much deeper understanding of surveys, graphs, and geography than I had at her age.

One of the goals of the Okoboji 1:1 computing initiative is to put these kinds of tools in the hands of every teacher and every student.  We want to empower teachers to engage every student.  Not all students are compliant, but all students can be engaged.  If we are to accomplish our school's mission, student engagement is key.  Using real world technology to enable students to make real world connections allows us to build on the strong tradition of teaching and learning in the Okoboji School District.

By the way, if you would like to take a minute to view and fill out Grace's survey, she would love to get your input.  You can access the survey here: 

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Exponential growth is a funny thing...

Note: This is the first in a series which, over the next few weeks, will hopefully help everyone understand the reasons behind the 1:1 learning initiative in the Okoboji School District.  Today we will talk in general terms about the world we are preparing our children for....

There is a legend that is told about the invention of the chessboard.  It goes something like this;

When the games inventor brought his chessboard to the king, the king was so pleased that he asked the inventor to name his price for the game.  The king was surprised when the man asked simply for one grain of wheat for the first square on the board, two for the second, four on the third, and so forth, doubling the number of grains with each square.  Since the king did not have a great handle on arithmetic, he quickly accepted and ordered the treasurer to count out the wheat for the payment.  The image below illustrates how this accounting would go.

Much to the king's surprise, by the time he got to the 64th and last square he would have owed the inventor 2 to the 63rd power grains of wheat.  This equates to  9,223,372,036,854,775,808 grains of wheat.  That amount of wheat is approximately 80 times what would be produced in one harvest, at modern yields, if all of Earth's arable land could be devoted to wheat.  This type of growth, in which the amount of something doubles at each time interval, is known as exponential growth.  As you can see, on the first half of the chessboard, the number grew but it is the second half of the chessboard in which the number skyrockets.  When plotted on a graph, exponential growth looks like this:

At first, exponential growth is not that distinguishable from linear or geometric growth.  The funny thing about exponential growth, as you can see from the graph, is that by the time the rapid rate of growth is noticeable, it is about to take off at a rate you could not have imagined before.

Examples of exponential growth can be found in nature.  One example is the rate at which bacteria in a culture will grow until one of the essential nutrients is exhausted.  Another is the rate at which a virus can spread until there is a vaccine.  Population growth can also be exponential at certain times under certain conditions. 

By now you are probably wondering why I would devote so much time to explaining and discussing exponential growth.  The reason has to do with the rise of computing technology and specifically the processing power of computers - which is defined as the number of discreet calculations that can be completed per second.  Below is a graph that displays the increase in processing power over the past 100 years.

As you can see, the white line is the graph of an exponential curve.  The graph shows the number of calculations per second, per thousand dollars of computing investment.  In short it shows what $1,000 worth of computing power will get you in processing ability.  The red dots are actual data points showing, in that moment in time, the processing power, or calculations per second, that could be achieved for $1,000 of computing investment.  As you can also see, for the past 100 years, the increase in processing speed and ability has followed an exponential curve - exactly.  This is not an estimate, this is not a theory.  This is fact that has been documented over the past 100 years.  If the increase in computing speed has followed an exponential curve for the past 100 years, it stands to reason that it will most likely continue on this track.  

The dashed lines show specific benchmarks of computing speed.  The data points are a bit dated but the trend in the past 10 years has stayed the course.  The number of calculations per second accomplished by the average computer now exceeds the speed of a mouse brain.  Assuming the trend that has stayed constant for the past 100 years remains so, we can expect that a $1,000 computer will be able to conduct more calculations per second than a human brain sometime within the next 15 years.  Projecting out further, we would expect that $1,000 computer to have greater computational power than the entire human species somewhere around the year 2050.  Some of those reading this may not be around by then.  But this post isn't about us. It is about our children and grandchildren.  This year's kindergarten class will be 45 years old that year.  They will need to be able to live, work, and thrive in what can only be described as a "brave new world."  

When sharing this information recently, I was asked - do you think this advance in technology is a good thing?  My answer was and is - it isn't about good or bad.  It simply IS.  Barring some unforseen intervention or obstacle, this rate of technological advance will continue at an exponential rate.  We have two choices - do what we can to prepare our children for the future, or stick our heads in the sand.  Our job is to prepare them for their future, not our past.  

Have a great week!


Wednesday, October 13, 2010

OHS is now on Facebook

Hello Parents and Students!  Okoboji High School now has a page on Facebook.  You can find us here:

Be sure to click "Like" to receive daily updates and information about the school and activities.  The Facebook Page will be one more way for us to increase communication with students, parents, and all stakeholders. 

Make the day great!

Sunday, October 10, 2010

The kids got it right....

As a part of our homecoming festivities each year, it is the responsibility of the student council to select a Grand Marshall.  Often this person is someone who has given of themselves to make our school and community a better place.  Often times this is a difficult decision as so many wonderful people contribute of their time and resources to our school.   This year's student council selected Lynn Johnson as our 2010 Homecoming Grand Marshall. 

To give you a little background on Lynn, he has lived in the Milford area for 44 years.  Much of that time he has spent providing our town with the much needed service of groceries through Buy-Rite and Fareway. Lynn has given his time in many ways to Okoboji. In the community he has been involved in things such as Kiwanis, City Council, Mayor Pro-Tem, Church Boards, and he is the longest ever member of the Milford Volunteer Fire Department.

Besides all of Lynn’s community involvement, he has also helped out in many various ways in the school. Especially helping out in sport activities. For football Lynn ran the press box and the chain gang for many years and more recently has been a spotter in the press box.  For basketball he ran the scorer’s table and also worked track meets.  As you can see, Lynn has always been a huge supporter and actively involved in so many activities and events associated with the Okoboji School District. 

Recently, however, this has become much more difficult for Lynn.  Not long ago he was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer.  Lynn has endured many painful treatments in his brave fight with the disease.  And although his condition, and his treatments, have limited his ability to be as active and involved as he has for so many years, it has not limited his enthusiasm, support, and spirit.  

For all of these reasons and more, our school was proud to have Lynn as our 2010 Homecoming Grand Marshall.  He played the part perfectly.  He attended our pep rally where he was introduced and given a standing ovation.  He presided over the parade in fine fashion on a beautiful fall day.  Lynn ended the night, as he has for so many years, cheering on the Pioneers and helping in the press box at the football game.  After the game was over we chatted about what a great first half it was and how, except for a couple mistakes we would have had them.  We also agreed we would get them next time.  It truly was a great day for Lynn and for all of us.  

Life is a lot of things.  Unpredictable, sometimes difficult, and often times ironic.  All of those things came true this Friday when we got the news that Lynn had passed away.  It seemed inconceivable that a man that was so full of life one week prior - a man that had literally spent the afternoon soaking in the sun and receiving the thanks of an entire community, could so quickly be gone.  Hearing of his passing on Friday and thinking back to the decision to ask him to be our Grand Marshall is one of the experiences I will never forget.  Throughout the week several people close to Lynn commented to me what a highlight it was for him.  

So often in life, those who are most important to us slip away before we have a chance to tell them exactly how thankful we are for them.  We are often left with regrets wishing for the opportunity to have that one last conversation to tell them how we feel.  That did not happen with Lynn.  He spent one of his last days on top of the world, as the entire Okoboji Community got the chance to show him what he has meant to us.  Even today as I write, it gives me the chills and warms my heart at the same time. 

Thank you.  Thank you to Lynn and his family for all you have done for our school and community.  Thank you for the energy and time you have poured into generations of Okoboji students.  Thank you to our student council for your foresight.  One of the reasons Lynn was nominated was that students were concerned about his health.  They wanted to make sure they got the chance to thank him before it was too late.  They had no idea how right they were.  Without a doubt, the kids got it right this time. 

Happy trails Mr. Johnson.  I know you're smiling down right now with your Pioneer cap, cheering on the students of OHS as you have for so many years.  

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Turning over a new leaf...

Homecoming 2010 has come and gone and was, by all accounts, extremely successful.  OHS students enjoyed dressing like cavemen, rennaisance lords and ladies, robots, and more.  Our cheerleaders and student council carried out a very entertaining pep rally complete with a whip cream pie fight and Mr. Paulsen in a dress (don't ask).  The evening featured the crowning of our 2010 Homecoming King and Queen - Mr. Kelly Kaufman and Miss Jenna Tschetter.  Congratulations to Kelly, Jenna, and all of our spectacular court.  The football game was a hard fought contest and although the final outcome was not in our favor, we had a lot to cheer about as our boys showed a lot of heart and made us all proud.  The dance was well attended and a lot of fun was had by all. 

Now we turn the page and refocus on the mission of our school - academic success for all and the mission of creating productive citizens in a changing world.  Academically speaking we are just past the midway point of first quarter - or approximately 1/8 of the way through the school year.  Midterm grades were recently sent out which is our first official measuring stick of progress for students.  The staff members of OHS are committed to success for all and, like many schools, we have a system of interventions to assist those students who are struggling to realize that success.  One of those interventions is called Academic Tutoring. 

Academic tutoring is a program aimed at freshman and sophomore students.  Many studies show a direct correlation between success during the transition years into high school, and other variables like graduation and post-secondary success.  We work for the success of all students, but we focus especially intently on the 9th and 10th grade years.  Research and past history show that if students are given extra support in these years, it helps them develop the habits and traits necessary for future success.  If you would like to read some of the research that supports this position you can find a great article here:

If you have a son or daughter in 9th or 10th grade who received a D or F grade on their first midterm you should have received a letter about Academic Tutoring.  Here is a brief explanation of the program:

Academic tutoring is a program for 9th and 10th grade students who are struggling academically as evidenced by grade reports.  Any student who received a D or F midterm report will be enrolled in the program.  Academic Tutoring takes place from 3:15-4:00pm Monday through Thursday afternoons.  Students who are in a school activity and therefore are expected at practice during this time may report for Academic Tutoring before school Monday-Thursday at 7:30am.  Academic Tutoring is NOT designed as a punishment.  It is an organized program focused on giving students time to work on the subjects in which they are struggling at a time when teachers are available for help.  Many of the students work under the supervision and with the assistance of Mrs. Derner, although often times they will have the opportunity to work directly with the teachers in whose classes they are struggling. 

Every two weeks we re-check grades.  Any student who is passing all courses with a grade of C or better at grade-check time may choose not to continue attending tutoring.  Any student who is still at a D or F level at grade check will continue in tutoring until they are passing all classes with a C or better at a subsequent grade check. 

Again, I want to stress that although many students are not crazy about being placed into Academic Tutoring, it is NOT designed as a punishment.  It is a structured time and way to give additional support to students with a demonstrated need for that support.  It is NOT a form of detention.  The focus of the program is to provide assistance and academic support. 

If you have a son/daughter who is being placed in Academic Tutoring, I encourage you to have a discussion with them.  Share with them your concern for their success.  Find ways to help and support them at home.  Encourage them to see this intervention for what it is - an intervention designed to support their success. 

If you have any questions about the Academic Tutoring program, please contact me at your convenience. 

Make the week great!

Monday, September 27, 2010

Homecoming 2010

The leaves are beginning to change, the corn is turning crisp and brown, and we have all begun digging our jackets out of the closet.  These are all sure signs of fall.  Another dear fall tradition is about to take place at OHS.  Homecoming week is being celebrated during the week of September 27-October 1.  We have a number of homecoming activities this year for students, alumni, parents, and community members to enjoy.

The theme for homecoming 2010 at OHS is "Traveling Through Time: Past, Present, and Future." Click HERE to see a document with all of the important information regarding events, places, and times for the week.  One change has been made in the schedule and that is the date and time of coronation.  With this being a redistricting year in football we did not find out our football schedule until after our other fall sports schedules were set.  Due to away athletic events on Monday, Tuesday and Thursday, we have moved coronation to Friday evening.  The crowning of this year's homecoming king and queen will take place beginning at 6:30 on the track in front of the home-side bleachers. The coronation will be followed immediately by a performance from the middle and high school bands and the opening kickoff vs Spirit Lake.

Homecoming is meant to be an event for all.  We hope to see lots of OHS alums as well as parents and community members!  It is a great time to show our Pioneer Pride.  Parents, please take the opportunity to remind your son/daughter about the importance of enjoying homecoming responsibly and of course displaying the high character that we expect from OHS students at all times.

Thank you for your continued support of our high school and GO PIONEERS!!

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Character really does Count at Okoboji High School...

Hello again!

First of all, thank you to all of you who took the time to fill out my survey last week.  I got a lot of great information from it and will certainly be applying what I learned as I go forward in this venture.  I learned the vast majority of respondents are parents with children in the Okoboji district.  I also learned that 52% of those who responded visit the blog weekly.  63% first learned of the blog from the school website and a vast majority want to see either specific discussion of issues and events affecting our school district or discussion of how global, national, or regional shifts and trends in education impact our school.  The responses were great and reaffirmed my thoughts and rational for starting this blog in the first place.

Several weeks ago I learned the administrative team would be giving a presentation to the Iowa Great Lakes Rotary on the Character Counts program in our district.  Before I joined the Okoboji team I knew Character Counts was an important program in our district.  Banners featuring the six pillars of character are in every building and the district was chosen as the very first Iowa District of Character in 2007.  I did not have much personal experience with Character Counts and had not been in a school that implemented the program at the secondary level.  I believe with all of my heart in the importance of instilling the importance of good character in students - I just hadn't really ever seen Character Counts in action.

Over the first couple weeks of school I had visited many classrooms and kept waiting to see one of these "Character Counts" lessons in action.  I wondered what it would look like at the high school level.  As I visited classrooms I never did walk in on one of those lessons.  The day of the presentation grew near and I didn't feel very much more enlightened about Character Counts than I had been on day one.  The idea of standing in front of a group and speaking about how we implement the program and what it means to our school seemed very daunting.  So I did what I knew I had to do - I asked for help!  I grabbed one of our flip video cameras and hit the hallways in search of teachers and students who had experienced the program for themselves and could certainly tell me how it is "done" at OHS.

What came out of my morning of taping (which, in the interest of full disclosure, came on the same day as the presentation - kids, don't try this at school) was more than just a four minute long video about Character Counts.  I learned quite a bit about our school and the power of instilling the importance of character in a generation of students last Wednesday.  Over and over I got the same message from both students and staff.

Character Counts is not something we do, it is what we are.  Wow.  The high school seniors who have been in our district throughout their school years started with Character Counts in 6th grade.  The others started even younger.  What they were telling me, each in their own way, was that the lessons of trustworthiness, respect, responsibility, fairness, caring, and citizenship, had been so developed within our students so deeply that they had become ingrained in who they are.  In educational terms this level of learning is sometimes called "transfer."  The importance of good character had been taught and learned to such a level that they had ceased being lessons and become a part of who these kids are.  I have since learned more about how the program works in our elementary and middle schools.  In the elementary a lot of direct instruction is done in what each pillar of character means. Students are given awards when staff members catch them doing good things.  Students get to eat lunch with the principal after a monthly assembly totally focused on recognizing good character.  The reason each student was nominated is read aloud to everyone.  In the middle school the pillars of character are embedded in discussions on how to be a good friend, how to succeed in school, etc.  Less direct instruction is done as the students begin to transfer what they have learned and continue to make it part of their personalities.  One of the staff members I spoke with said that the high school reaps the benefits of the work done at the lower levels.  I would have to agree with that.  By the time the students get to us we get the luxury of expecting good character and a vast majority of the time, that is exactly what we get. 

Below you will find the video that was created and shown at the Rotary meeting.  I am very happy with the way it came out.  I recently shared it via Twitter with the Character Counts Iowa program and they sent it out to all of their followers and put it on their Facebook page.  I don't think there is a higher compliment I could pay the Character Counts program and those in the Okoboji School District who have worked so hard to implement it than to hear student after student say "It's not what we do, it's what we are."  Since the first day I stepped into Okoboji High School for my interview last spring, I knew there was something different about OHS students.  After learning about the importance everyone in the district places on strong character, now I understand why.  Character really does count in the Okoboji School District.

Make the week great!


Monday, September 6, 2010

Taking a Step Back, Finding my Audience...

I am no language arts teacher.  I never was.  That being said, I have taken my share of composition courses and as any good teacher of writing will tell you one of the most important things is to know your audience.  The content, tone, and style of your writing has to be appropriate for your audience.  I have been blogging for almost a year now.  I started this particular blog a couple of months ago mainly as a way to stay connected with stakeholders of the Okoboji School District. I had hoped it would become a place where parents, students, teachers, and others could find information relevant to our district and also discuss these issues in an online forum.  As I mark two full months on the "From the Hallways" blog I have decided I need to take stock of what I am doing here.  What is my purpose?  Who is my audience? Have these changed since the inception of this blog?  I have been surprised at the large number of visitors this blog has seen but for the most part, I know almost nothing about my audience.  That is where I am in desperate need of some audience participation.  I know some of you are parents in the Okoboji District.  Some of you are educators in our district as well.  I also know that some of you are educators who have never even been to Okoboji, much less inside the halls of our school buildings.  I am glad all of you are here.  I am humbled that you have decided to take time out of your busy days to visit and examine what I have to say. I would like to get a better idea of who my audience is.  I believe it will help guide the course of the subjects and style that this blog takes going forward. 

Please take just a moment to complete my Google survey.  You can get to the survey by clicking this link: FROM THE HALLWAYS SURVEY  It will not ask for your name, just some information to help me better understand who is reading and participating in this blog.  I promise it will only take a minute but please do it right now.  If you get onto something else with the idea of coming back to fill it out later, chances are you won't.  I am so thankful for your time and once again I am honored that you have taken the time to listen, think about, and participate in this discussion. 

Make the week great!

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Education is not the filling of a pail...

You don't have to know me very long to find out that I am a quote guy.  What I mean by that is that I love quotes.  I think their allure for me is some combination of my fascination with history and my drive toward efficiency.  I love learning from the past.  I enjoy gaining wisdom from those who have gone before me.  That being said, I don't want to read volume after volume of classic works to gain that knowledge.  That is where quotes come in...they are like the Cliffs Notes of knowledge...just the facts, none of the filler.

One of my favorite educationally related quotes is this: "Education is not the filling of a pail, but rather the lighting of a fire."  It is not a new concept, William Buckner Yates is credited with saying it in the early 1900's.  But the simple truth in this quote has the power, if applied correctly, to shake much of our educational system to the core.  If we asked many American students which educational analogy seemed most accurate to them...the filling of a pail or the lighting of a fire, I would venture that many of them would liken it to the filling of the pail.  I know much of my life as a student was spent by teachers trying to fill my pail.  They poured in multiplication tables and sentence structure and verb conjugations and the stages of photosynthesis and the list goes on.  I figured out early that the teacher was the smart one and they would dispense knowledge to me.  I learned that I was blessed with a pretty good pail.  It had plenty of room and it didn't seem to leak much.  The teacher would pour the knowledge in, and come test time, most of it was still there for me to pour back out.  Every kid had a different pail.  Some were better than mine, a lot were worse.  We eventually figured out that the ones who could learn, remember, and regurgitate knowledge were the "smart kids"  the ones who couldn't, were not.  Kids figure this out quick, and it is one of the most dangerous lessons they learn.  Most kids are their own worst critics.  By the time they reach upper elementary they know exactly what kind of pail they have and if theirs makes it difficult to memorize and regurgitate, they have labeled themselves as poor students and have already begun to check out.    What they don't realize is that they are not poor students, they are poor memorizers.  In my opinion, there should be a difference. 

Now would be a good time to issue a disclaimer.  I am not trying to say that we should abandon all facts and that kids should not memorize 4x4 is 16.  There are basic facts and mental procedures that we all need to know and be able to do.  What I am suggesting however, is that, especially at the high school level, we need to take the time to put down the pail and light the fire.

By the time kids get to 9th grade they have built up nine years of experience with their current employer.  They know the ropes.  They have a pretty good idea where they fit in the educational hierarchy.  Some of them have had water thrown on their fire for years.  Many of them have reached the point where they are putting out their own fire.  So that is our challenge.  We need to start rebuilding that flame.

How do we do that?  It starts by engaging them.  Some schools seem to believe that it is the students job to be engaged.  That is like the producers of a show that no one is watching saying "We made a great show, people should be watching!  It is not our fault they aren't, its theirs!"  It is not their job to be engaged, it is our job to engage them.  We have to find ways to light their fire and get them excited about true learning.  Here's the good my first few observations I have already seen this happening in classrooms throughout  Okoboji High School.  The faculty of our school know that it is part of the job description of a teacher to engage their students.  They do this by approaching each class and each day with enthusiasm.  They do this by giving each student individual attention and monitoring their progress.  They also do this by confronting their students with rigorous and relevant learning opportunities that challenge them to communicate, collaborate, and create.

Make no mistake, every kid has a fire.  Every kid can be engaged.  Some kids spend hours upon hours riding on a skateboard or talking with their friends.  Others will sit motionless for amazing periods of time trying to conquer the next level of their favorite video game.  Our challenge is to keep that going when kids walk through our doors.  To engage them with the types of learning that will prepare them to be successful in whatever life holds for them.  When we stoke the passion and creativity that exists within each student the results can be amazing. 

I will leave you with an example of what can happen when young people are engaged. The young men that created this video are passionate about basketball.  The number of hours spent by this group to create this clip must have been staggering.  Imagine if we could harness this type of energy and fire in a classroom filled with 25 students...that would truly be amazing.

Have a great week!

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Ready or Not...Here They Come!!

The signs are all around us...the crowds are growing smaller, it is getting easier to drive down highway 71, and sandals are on clearance at WalMart.  That's right, summer is coming to an end.  My family and I visited Arnold's Park this weekend and you could almost feel the end of summer in the air.  Another sure sign of the changing of the seasons occurred throughout the Okoboji School District last week, teachers and support staff reported back for the beginning of the 2010-2011 school year. 

I often get asked by students, "What exactly do you guys do when we aren't there?"  My usual response with a hint of sarcasm is "mainly sit around and talk about you."  This answer of course is a JOKE and completely NOT TRUE (but it does make for an interesting reaction before I tell them I am kidding :-) )  In truth the days before students arrive are spent busily preparing as a staff and individually for the oncoming year.  The staff of OHS have been hard at work preparing to make the 2010-2011 school year our best one yet. 

I love the rhythm of a school year.  There is a true ebb and flow to it and I always liken a school year to a good book.  There is a definite beginning and end and usually a lot of twists and turns along the way.  We all have a pretty good idea where we are going to end up but the details that fill in along the way are always what sets each year apart from another.  We will have our good times, our rough times, and a whole lot in between.

One of the things I always like to do this time of year is try to inspire my staff and motivate them to get the year off to a great start.  I remind them how important their jobs are and how enthusiasm is infectious.  If we are excited to be here and excited to work with our students, the students will be excited as well.  I also try to challenge them.  One of the things I shared with them this year was an blog entry that found its way to me through Twitter.  It is an open letter to teachers on the start of the school year and it encapsulates much of what I have encouraged my teachers to do this year.  You can read the original post here:

Here are a few highlights....
  • Take lots of risks for the sake of learning
  • Make a concentrated effort to learn something new that has little to do with your classroom and share it with your students - be a model of lifelong learning
  • Don't work all of the time - education is a job that can chew up A LOT of time.  Keep your priorities straight.  Don't cheat your family to spend more time working...if you do, no one wins.  A good teacher is a balanced teacher, not a workaholic.
  • Model the behaviors and habits you want to see in your students.  Students are always watching and they are the first to spot when your words and actions don't line up.  Lead by example.  If we want optimistic students, show them optimism.  If we want determined students, show them determination.  If we want problem solvers, let them see you overcoming obstacles and the work it takes to do so.  This also goes for learning to be good citizens.  One of my favorite educational quotes comes from former Secretary of Education Bill Bennett.  It says:
   “For children to take morality seriously they must be in the presence of adults who take morality seriously. And with their own eyes they must see adults take morality seriously.”
  •   Have fun
  • Work on your "crap detector" and teach your students to develop theirs.  We are bombarded with information constantly and much of it just is not accurate.  Teaching students how to discern the truth from the lies and the important from the unimportant will serve them well.  
And the last point in the post may be my says "Do good stuff."  If we all committed to doing that as much as we could in all walks of life, what a wonderful world it would be!

Enjoy these first days of school.  Whatever your involvement with our great district, lets make 2010-2011 Okoboji's best year yet! 

Have a great week!

Sunday, August 15, 2010

The Power of Communication

My little countdown clock to the beginning of the first day of school seems to be moving faster and faster.  In just over a week the hallways of OHS will once again resonate with the sounds of young minds being challenged and expanded.  This week I eagerly anticipate Thursday as our entire faculty returns to once again roll up our sleeves and take on the challenge embodied in the Okoboji Community Schools mission statement.

Over the course of my career I have learned many things.  One of the foremost of these is the power of communication.  The ability to communicate is critical to success in any position of leadership.  Good communication can keep people moving in the same direction, create and sustain a common vision of the future, and prevent or minimize misunderstandings and other problems along the way.  A lack of communication can create confusion, resentment, and resistance.  As I prepared for my transition into this new role I set several goals for myself in terms of communication.  A couple of my goals in the area of communication are:

  • To meet with each stakeholder that works in the building individually to see our school through their eyes.  What they see as strengths, where they see potential for improvement, and what they view as their role in accomplishing our mission.
  • To regularly communicate with stakeholders outside of the building through a variety of means.  This includes mass and individual emails, meetings, phone calls, and blogging. 
I started my Okoboji High School blog at 10:05pm on June 25th with a post introducing myself and our family to anyone who might be listening.  At first I was sure that number would be very small.  In fact one of the lines in my first post was

"Since this is my first post and it is not yet the first of July, right now I am certainly writing to an audience of one...myself.  However, in the future I hope that this becomes a place for stakeholders of the Okoboji High School to gain information and insights regarding our school."

I hoped that awareness and interest in this method of communication would grow over time and eventually the time I was investing would pay some dividend in terms of increasing communication between myself and the stakeholders of OHS.  And it did...much faster than I had anticipated.  As I sit here, less than two months later, writing my 7th post I am amazed to see the hit counter at the bottom of my blog topping 900 views.  I have been impressed before at the power of social media but once again it has surprised me.  At this rate, by the time I actually get to meet most students for the first time, on the first day of school, this blog will have been visited over 1000 times.  Those are 1000 opportunities to communicate with people integral to the mission of our school that would not have happened without this medium.  Throughout the summer and especially last week at registration I had a number of people introduce themselves.  I was very surprised by how often, "nice to meet you" was followed by "I've been following your blog all summer!"  I have even had students mention that they have been reading.  What an awesome way to get to know each other and share ideas.

So as I celebrate the climb toward 1000 hits I feel the need to raise the stakes and kick it up a notch.  Although many have come here to read, few have come here to participate.  Only on rare occasions have people left comments.  Most of those came last week after my post on making homework, schoolwork and the comments were wonderful!  Blog communication is great but it can be even more powerful if it is not one-directional.  So I challenge you.  If I say something that sparks thought in your head, let me know!  If I say something with which you whole-heartedly agree, let me know!  If I say something that you think is ridiculous hogwash, let me know that too!  (politely of course :-))  Challenge my thinking as I hope I am challenging yours.

Thank you for being a part of this journey so far and I look forward to see where it and the year before us take us all!

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Should Homework be Schoolwork?

I got the chance to attend my first School Administrators of Iowa Conference last week.  This is my fifth year in administration but due to various conflicts I had never before been able to attend.  The conference is held annually in early August in Des Moines.  Hundreds of administrators from all over the state gather to learn, network, and discuss topics relevant to schools.  I must say it was an outstanding conference and really challenged the thinking of a lot of people including myself.  Our entire Okoboji administrative team was there and we had some really thought provoking conversations during and after many of the sessions. 

One of the presenters was especially memorable for his presentation style, research base, and truly challenging ideas.  His name is Alan November and he has an extensive resume.  Most recently he has developed a consulting service called November Learning.  Their website is  He has also authored two books based on his research in classrooms across the country.  Mr. November presented two sessions at SAI and all members of our team attended one or both.  Mr. November presented many concepts and ideas that challenge many of the common educational assumptions we tend to hold.  He also gave many practical examples of ways educators across the country are working to improve the educational process for all students. 

Like many of this year's presenters, Mr. November believes strongly in the ability of educators using technology to alter the educational process for the better.  When used correctly, technology can empower students and enable teachers to individualize and differentiate learning to ensure all students learn and to make learning more relevant and applicable to the future we are preparing our students for. 

One of his most challenging assertions is that the model that has been used for years in school; one in which students receive group instruction in school and are sent home to practice what they have learned by doing homework, is backward.  This can be a hard idea to wrestle with.  It goes against the basic process of the American educational system for more than 100 years.  I can certainly remember being taught a lesson in school and then going home to complete "1-53 odd".  This model says the teaching of new material or concepts should be done in the large group (in class) and the students should practice individually at home.  Makes sense right? 

The problem with this method is that an overwhelming amount of research shows that when we practice something like math for example, and make a mistake, our brain remembers the mistake.  The student who is doing homework at home often does not find out they have made a mistake until the next day when they check the homework in class.  By then the mistake becomes so ingrained and the mistaken process becomes so difficult to unlearn that we are very likely to repeat the mistake.    Couple this research finding with the fact that homework is often a repetitive process - after all, practice makes perfect - and you have a recipe for disaster.  If a student makes a mistake in the process and then repeats that mistake over 10 or 20 problems, the brain will have a very well learned mistake.

If students did their "practicing" at school and were able to receive immediate feedback, the mistakes could be caught and corrected early, before the brain memorizes the mistake.Athletic practice makes a good analogy.  Lets say you are practicing basketball.  If you shot 50 free-throws but were blindfolded and were not told how many you made until you met with the coach the next day, do you think you would be able to improve? In order to improve you need immediate feedback.  You need to see which shots went in and which did not and have a coach there to give you tips on how to improve.  Mr. November says the same should be done for learning.  Practicing should be done at school. 

So where does that leave time for instruction?  How can students practice something they have not been taught?  We do not have unlimited time.  If we make homework into schoolwork when, where, and how do we "teach"?  That is what we will discuss next week...this post has gotten long enough! 
Have a great week!

Saturday, July 31, 2010

What is our mission?

Almost all schools, businesses, and organizations have mission statements.  According to Wikipedia a mission statement is "...a formal, short, written statement of the purpose of a company or organization." The purpose of a mission statement is to " the actions of the organization, spell out its overall goal, provide a sense of direction, and guide decision-making."  The degree to which a mission statement carries any real importance or value depends on the organization.  Some organizations align everything they do to their overarching mission.  It is the basis for decisions in all areas.  In others the mission statement hangs on the wall collecting dust but not having any real impact on the organization. 

In preparing for this post I spent some time researching mission statements of various companies and organizations.  Many of them are fairly standard.  They talk of leading the industry in service and sales.  There are however several well known companies and organizations that have more creative mission statements.  A few examples include:

  • Google whose mission is "to organize the world's information and make it universally accessible and useful."
  • Nike whose mission is "To Bring Inspiration and innovation to every athlete in the world." 
 and of course 
  • Disney whose mission is simply "To Make People Happy"
As you think about these companies you can see the direct connection between the decisions they have made and their mission statements.  The connection between the activities of these organizations and their mission statements is clear and strong.  

Have you ever read the mission statement of the Okoboji School District?  Do you know it by heart?  If you don't have it memorized (which I am sure is most all of you) here it is...

"We will prepare each learner with the knowledge and skills necessary for a productive life in a changing world. "

There are some key phrases in there that should guide our decisions, programming, and where we commit our resources (time, money, and energy.)
  • Prepare Each Learner - we must reach every student...this is an underlying theme of public education
  • Knowledge and Skills - it is not just about what they know, it is about what they can do with it.  Knowledge without action is useless.  We must equip our learners with both knowledge and skills.  
  • In a Changing World - as discussed last week...the world we are equiping our learners with knowledge and skills for is changing....we must change as well to ensure we can accomplish this mission. 
Mission statements are important things.  If we base our daily actions and decisions on them we can end each day knowing we have gotten one step closer to accomplishing the mission.  

One final note on mission statements...the thing that got the ball rolling on on this thought process happened earlier this week when I visited Pizza Ranch in Spencer.  Just inside the door hangs a poster I had never noticed before.  It displays the mission of the entire Pizza Ranch corporation.  Surprisingly it mentions nothing about sales, service, or even pizza.  The mission statement of Pizza Ranch Inc is "To glorify God by positively impacting the world we live in."  An interesting mission statement to say the least...

Have a great week!


Saturday, July 24, 2010

Teaching for what's next...

First of all my apologies for missing my post last week. We moved into our new house last weekend so I was up to my eyes in boxes, paint, etc.  I had a post rolling around in my head but ran out of the time (and energy) needed to write it down.  After a week of hard work our family is feeling much more settled.  We even had the chance to attend the Pioneer Days Parade today.  What a great time and what a great event for our community.  Our kids should be stocked up in the candy department for at least 18 months!

This week I would like to discuss the issue of teaching for what is next.  I feel strongly that one of the most important things a high school does is to prepare young people for their future.  This has long been one of the primary tasks of schools.  For several generations that future was fairly predictable.  It often went something like this....schools were used to sort students into groups.  A small group of students were college bound.  They would become the next generation of doctors, lawyers, architects, and so on.  The larger group were being prepared for jobs at the local factory or the family farm.  These were great jobs.  The proud men and women that worked in these factories or ran family farms built and fed this country.  A high school graduate could comfortably expect to get a job in manufacturing, make a living, raise a family, and enjoy the American Dream. Several generations prospered in this environment. 

This "20th century" model of schooling worked very effectively for the purpose for which it was designed.  Schools did  a great job of preparing students for what was next in their lives.  Now you knew there was a "but" coming, and here it is....

The problem is that the world around us is changing.  It has been changing for some time but the symptoms of this change have only recently become blatantly obvious.  We are no longer preparing students for the same world we once were.  The 20th century models of economy, employment, even national security no longer apply.  We all know that the small town family farm has become more and more rare as farms are forced to grow larger and larger to survive.  Manufacturing jobs have decreased dramatically all over the United States, including here in Milford.  One of the most startling examples of this can be found in a brief video called "Did You Know"  It was produced by a professor at Iowa State University named Dr. Scott Mcleod among others.  The video can be found here  Before you read on, take a couple of minutes to watch the video if you haven't already.

This video is full of verified statistics that demonstrate the changing nature of the world around us.  Some of the strongest points for me in the video were:
  • The Department of Labor estimates that today's students will have an average of 10-14 jobs by the age of 38.
  • The top 25% of the students in India outnumbers all of the students in the United States.
  • The top 10 in demand jobs in 2010 did not exist in 2004
The glory days of getting a factory job right out of high school and working there 40 years and then retiring are, for the most part, behind us.  Since 2003 only 15% of all jobs in the state of Iowa have been in manufacturing while over 53% of jobs LOST since 2008 have been manufacturing jobs.  The jobs of tomorrow require a new skill set.  Preparing students for these jobs of the future requires us to change much of what and how we teach and learn.  I once heard someone say "if your job can be done cheaper or faster by a computer or someone overseas who is willing to work for less money, it will be.  We are all familiar with outsourcing.  Our challenge is to make our students un-outsource-able. 

Therein lies the problem...our job is to prepare students for their future, but that future is changing so fast we don't know what it will look like.  One thing we do won't look like the past.  The American public education system is great at preparing students for the past.  It has been said that no generation will be more beautifully prepared for the 20th century.  The problem of course, is that the 20th century is over.  It has been for 10 years now.  We need to turn our attention to the future.  That will take a new way of teaching, and a new way of learning.  More on this later...time to step down from my soapbox...I'm sure there are some more boxes to unpack! 

Saturday, July 10, 2010

You can be a resource...

I was re-reading some work by Ruby Payne this week.  Dr. Payne is a nationally recognized expert on children and adults who live in poverty.  She discusses the resources that all children need to be successful.  She defines poverty as the "extent to which an individual does without resources."  According to Dr. Payne those resource areas are:
  1. Financial - having the money to purchase goods and services
  2. Emotional - being able to choose and control emotional responses
  3. Mental - having the mental abilities and skills to deal with daily life
  4. Physical - having physical health and mobility
  5. Support Systems - having friends and family support to access in times of need
  6. Role Models - Having frequent access to appropriate adults who are nurturing and
    who do not engage in self-destructive behavior.
  7. Knowledge of Hidden Rules - knowing the unspoken cues and habits of a group
Dr. Payne's definition of poverty is certainly much different than that used by the U.S. Government.  According to Payne, even those with plenty of financial resources can be poor and those who lack adequate monetary wealth can make up for that with resources in other areas.  The problem becomes that too often certain children lack in many or all of these areas.  This cumulative effect creates true poverty of resources and can have a serious negative impact on that child's chances of success.  If you are reading this, chances are you are a stakeholder in the education of one or more Okoboji School District children.  Whether you are a parent, a teacher, or a student yourself; take a moment to analyze the resource levels of the children in your life.  Are there areas of surplus?  Are their areas of poverty?  Then ask yourself an even more important question - "What can I do about it?"  Maybe you cannot purchase the new laptop the student needs to complete their coursework (although with Okoboji's commitment to our 1:1 program universal computer access will be assured to all middle and high school students soon), but maybe you can supply resources in one of the other areas.  Much of the resources a student needs in terms of support systems and role models don't cost anything but time. 

We all must do our part to ensure that all students, regardless of financial status, have all of the resources they need for success. 

By the way, if you are interested in learning more about the work of Dr. Ruby Payne, you can get an overview of her poverty framework here and a link to her book "A Framework for Understanding Poverty" here.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

First Impressions

Well I am officially an employee of the Okoboji Community School District.  I picked up my keys on July 1st and today I finally had an opportunity to get into the school and my office for the first time since we got here this week.  Exploring this new environment has me filled with excitement and enthusiasm for what is to come.  I was given a tour of the school when I interviewed but this was my first opportunity to go on a self-guided tour.  It got me thinking about first impressions.  As we all know, first impressions are critical in any relationship.  As I explored my office and other parts of the building it seemed that I was getting a brand new first impression of the school I have been entrusted to lead.  I have been in my share of schools across this state and I can say this - our school makes quite a first impression.  Coming in the front door the first thing I noticed was how clean and well maintained the building is.  Even though things are always disheveled in a school in the summer it was amazing how the floors sparkled and the smell of clean filled the air.  Even though the lights were off natural light fills the entry and hallways around the gym and commons.  The new gymnasium is simply marvelous.  I know I am partial but the "O" and the Pioneer logo are two of the best examples of a school branding itself that I have ever seen.  As I continued through the school and office I was impressed that even in its empty summer state, this feels like a place full of learning. I can't wait to see it full of students!

To make a long story short, the school once again made quite a first impression on me.  I am sure that it does the same to new students and families as well as visitors that come in throughout the year.  It reminded me of the importance of my first impressions.  We can learn a lot from a situation or a new acquaintance in the first few times we meet them.  I look forward to the many first impressions to come.  I am eager to get the many important relationships that my family and I will develop here off on the right foot.  

Friday, June 25, 2010

A Time for Every Season...

Hello out there. This is my first post in my new blog as principal of Okoboji High School.  Since this is my first post and it is not yet the first of July, right now I am certainly writing to an audience of one...myself.  However, in the future I hope that this becomes a place for stakeholders of the Okoboji High School to gain information and insights regarding our school.  I plan to update the blog each week in order to keep the information relevant and timely.

I would like to use this first post as an opportunity to introduce myself and my family.  I was born and raised in Spirit Lake and graduated in 1996.  I received my undergraduate degree from THE Iowa State University and remain a loyal Cyclone fan.  I began my teaching career in Tama, Iowa in 2001 and was married the following summer to my high school sweetheart, Annie.  Soon after I began working on my masters in education in educational leadership at the University of Northern Iowa.  Our first daughter, Grace was born in 2004 while I was teaching and working on my graduate degree.   In the summer of 2006 I graduated and got my first administrative position as principal in Lisbon, Iowa.  Soon after we got settled in Lisbon our second daughter, Lydia was born.  For the past four years I have been 9-12 and then 7-12 principal at Lisbon.  My wife Annie has gained her masters degree in social work and has spent the last two years as School Community Liaison for the Lisbon District.  In March of 2009 we welcomed our third daughter, Ella into our family.

I am proud of the time my family and I spent in the Lisbon district.  We have been a part of increasing class offerings, changing both the daily schedule and yearly calendar, increasing opportunities for at-risk students, and most recently I led the charge for a 1:1 learning initiative in which each student in grades 6-12 will receive a school-issued laptop computer to use 24-7 throughout the school year.  I knew that it would take a special place and a special opportunity to draw us from a great situation in Lisbon.  That opportunity presented itself here in Okoboji.  My family and I are very excited to become a part of the Okoboji school and community.  Annie and I are excited that our girls will be able to attend one of the finest districts in the state and we are also excited that they will have the chance to grow up in the same area we were lucky enough to.  Professionally I am eager for the opportunity to be a part of making such a storied and successful district even better. Already in my brief time here I can tell you we have all of the pieces to create success for all students.  Committed and energetic faculty, forward thinking administrators, a solid board, involved parents and community, and outstanding students. 

I have gone from Spirit Lake, to Tama, to Lisbon and now to Okoboji.  I have been an Indian, a Trojan and a Lion but I am very excited to now call myself a Pioneer.  I look forward to working and learning with all of you in the coming weeks, months, and years.  My family looks forward to becoming a part of this vibrant community.  We can't wait to get started!