Sunday, October 26, 2014

Just how good is Buster Posey and how does baseball connect to education?

Baseball. It’s considered by some to be the American pastime. For those of you that don’t follow the game, the grand finale has started and the World Series is underway. This afternoon I read, “Just how good is Buster Posey?”  an article by Ted Berg in the October 23, 2014 issue of USA Today Sports.

I was interested in the article because I have a personal connection to Buster Posey. His grandmother was my principal many years ago. I know the family and what great people they are. It’s exciting to see someone you know excelling.

Berg illuminated an interesting fact about baseball in this article. He wrote about Posey’s offensive numbers, how he’s the best hitter on a World Series team. Then he explained that this is only half of the story because Posey plays baseball’s most physically demanding position, he’s the catcher. Being behind the plate is totally different than being an outfielder. A catcher has to work with each pitcher on his team along with each hitter on the other team. He reads their hitters, their defenses, and learns everyone’s personality and game plans. 

Berg explains that it is nearly impossible to pare all the variables because there is so much anecdotal evidence that players hit better when they are moved from behind the plate. But Posey has been behind the plate for at least 110 games. According to Berg he’s caught every inning of the Giants’ postseason run this season.

Evaluating catchers can be difficult for baseball’s most dedicated statisticians. Berg states, “By its very nature, playing behind the plate requires a nebulous set of skills that are frequently discussed but impossible to measure, like calling pitches and negotiating a pitching staff’s various personalities.”

By the metrics that exist to try to measure catchers defensively, how does Posey look? He throws out base runners at an above average rate. He blocks wild pitches as well as anyone. He’s got a good arm and quite simply, he is a great catcher.

Berg concludes that Posey is extremely invaluable, even though it’s impossible to measure the full impact he has on his team. The point of baseball is winning, right? And Posey has already been the best player on two championship teams and now is only two wins from making it happen all over again.

At a time when baseball analysts are finding increasingly thorough ways to measure and assess players, educational analysts and politicians are doing the same thing in education.

The point of school is to educate students. It used to be enough to educate them to participate in the American democracy. But that is no longer enough. School must prepare students to participate and compete in a global environment. But just like baseball, there are many variables of school that cannot be measured. It simply is not possible to find a metric that will measure everything that a child learns in school.  It’s also not possible to find a metric that will measure everything that a teacher contributes to a child’s educational experience.

Posey comes out between innings and talks to the pitchers in the dug out. He tells them which pitches were good and which ones really weren’t good. He provides instant feedback that’s invaluable to the pitchers. Berg states that Posey is a dependable and consistent start on both sides of the ball. Posey has a unique collection of talents and quantifying each of his talents is impossible.

Teachers are like catchers. They provide instant feedback to their students, telling them what they are doing right, what needs to be improved, what they are doing that’s working or not. Teachers talk to parents during the day, at night, in the grocery stores, in the car pick up line and on weekends. Not only do they teach academic skills, they teach social and emotional skills. They teach skills about being healthy, making good choices and becoming contributing citizens of the world. They are invaluable to parents, students, and administrators.

Teachers each possess a unique collection of talents and quantifying each of them is just as impossible as it is to quantify Buster Posey’s assets and contributions to the San Francisco Giants.

I wish there was a way we could simply “accept” that everything in teaching can not be quantifiable, just like in baseball. After all, we all know what greatness looks like when we see it, but when we try to put it into words and numbers, it becomes impossible. Posey says that he likes baseball and enjoys playing the game. There isn’t a teacher that I know that became a teacher because of the money. They became teachers because they like teaching and love children.

Friday, August 22, 2014

CREATE the SPACE Together

It’s August. August = Back to School. Countless amounts of time and money are spent by teachers decorating classrooms in preparation for the new school year.

Do you want to have a classroom that children love and cherish? One where the students know where everything is and how to use it? One that the students help keep in order? If you do, the secret to success of this kind of classroom is to let the students help “create their space”. Students will long remember the discussions around creating the alphabet chart and be able to make connections to the work, if they had a “hand” in the work. Design lessons at the beginning of the year that will allow the students time to create the important things used in the room.

What’s on your walls? An ABC chart? A birthday chart? Color words? Number words? Labels? The new year is a blank slate. The story hasn’t been written yet.

I love the freshness that a new year brings. How many other professions are given a “do over” each year? A chance for a fresh start, for the students, parents, teachers, and administrators. Beginning the year, with most of the walls blank, allows the children to help create the wall art and the charts that they will use as references all year. It allows the students to “own” the space.

Here’s how it might begin….

Have a large collection of alphabet books, they are an invaluable part of a classroom (especially kindergarten). As I read the alphabet books to my class, I learn my students. I notice which references the children “react” to. As they respond to the pictures and words, I learn if they like alligators or apples. If they are more interested in balls or butterflies. If they enjoy cars or cats.

I give the students a chance to help “create” our classroom resources by asking their opinions, garnering their input. For example, the alphabet chart is a staple for most elementary classrooms. I let the “class” decide the picture that will accompany each letter of the alphabet. It takes some time, to do this. Actually it takes a few minutes of class each day, spread over the first month (or thereabouts) of school. Taking a letter a day (not to be confused with teaching a letter a day/week) I let one child paint the picture we have a agreed upon, until everyone has at least one turn. I like to lightly sketch the picture for the child because, although I greatly value the child “doing the work”, I also want this work to be an example that everyone can easily “connect” to and remember. If the child draws and paints the picture, and no one can recognize it, the whole idea and a lot of time has been wasted. If I lightly sketch the picture, I provide a scaffold for the budding artist. My goal is not for the child to be able to paint a beautiful picture. My goal is for the child to have a helping hand in creating the literate environment for our classroom.

Many other resources can be created in this same manner. Creating an alphabet big book, modeled after The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s ABC book would be an outstanding example for the students to learn a few sight words along with other pictures. First and second graders may be fully capable of illustrating, coloring, or painting the pictures for the book.

Here are a few of my favorite ABC read alouds. Do you have favorites too? I’d love to add them to my collection. Let me know your thoughts on this blog and leave the title in the comment section.

A is for Apple, by Tiger Tales
Alphabet Animals, by Charles Sullivan
Alpha Oops! The Day Z Went First, Alethea Kontis
Arthur’s Really Helpful Word Book, by Marc Brown
Eric Carle’s ABC by Eric Carle
Geography from A to Z, by Jack Knowlton
I Spy, An Alphabet in Art, Devised and Selected by Lucy Micklethwait
LMNO Peas by Keith Baker
Museum ABC, The Metropolitan Museum of Art
P is for Palmetto, By Carol Crane
The Alphabet Family, by Eva Montanari
The Alphabet Tree by Leo Lionni
The Apple Pie ABC by Alison Murray
The Construction Alphabet Book, by Jerry Pallotto

Here’s what the finished product might look like. A BIG THANK YOU  to Marisa Whittington, Kindergarten teacher for sharing pictures from her classroom. 

ABC Chart in Kindergarten Classroom, Thanks, Marisa!
Reading Alphabet books and creating a big book that is similar is so much fun!


Saturday, July 19, 2014

A Day in the Life: Leading and Monitoring School Improvement Plans

A Day in the Life: Leading and Monitoring School Improvement Plans: As a Superintendent and an Assistant Superintendent, I have enjoyed working with school leaders in various parts of the state of Georgia. I...

Leading and Monitoring School Improvement Plans

As a Superintendent and an Assistant Superintendent, I have enjoyed working with school leaders in various parts of the state of Georgia. I have observed that the day-to-day operational issues of running a school often bombard school leaders. Very little, if any, time remains in the school day for principals to be the instructional leaders of the schools. Many principals feel tired, confused, and fragmented.

How can a principal effectively lead and monitor the school improvement plan in the midst of so many challenges? The answer is easier said than done. Nevertheless, by creating a short term 30/45 or 60 day action plan and monitoring the implementation of the plan, positive headway towards closing existing gaps will be made.

Here’s a sample of an action plan template:

Person Responsible