Friday, January 18, 2013

Networking Outside the Field of Education

There is a tendency among educators, at all levels, to surround ourselves with other educators. Clearly, this takes place at work but also in our personal lives as well. We also attend conferences with other educators and it is very likely that our significant other is an educator.

I believe that we should expand our horizons a bit and make a concerted effort to network with business and community leaders outside of our field. In doing so I believe we can reap several benefits. Networking outside our field provides opportunities to promote our programs with members of the business and political community. This might result in internship opportunities for our students. Networking also gives use the opportunity to promote our latest successes in our schools. This might result in donations of supplies and equipment. Networking outside our field also gives us a chance to hear how we are perceived by the general public outside of our nuclear community.

Networking outside of the field of education should seriously be considered when planning your interactions outsides of the school setting.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

The State of Public Education in America Today - A Link

Happy New Year to you all. As you well know, I've been away from this blog for quite some time and for that I apologize. Getting used to retirement is a job in itself. When you've been used to 10 - 15 hour workdays, filling up your day in retirement is no easy task. Somehow I think I have gotten the hang of it.

While I think of a few thoughts to share with you, I thought you might enjoy reading a 3 part interview series which was conducted during March 2012 and published in the Huffington Post. The topic was the current state of public education in America and suggestions for changes in the future. The interviews were conducted by Dr. Mark Goulston, a well know contributor to the Huffington Post.
The educator who was the subject of these interviews was none other than myself, Dr. Harry Chertok.

So if you are interested, go to the Huffington Post website, and search either my name or Dr. Goulston's name and see what you think. I tried to set up a link to these articles, but with no success.
Anyway, read the articles and let me know what you think.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

5 Things They Didn't Teach Me In Principal School

As a recently retired High School Principal, I've had some time to reflect on my career. I've come to the conclusion that there were a few items that my professors in graduate school left out of my preparation to become a principal. Had they included these items, my first couple of years as a principal might have gone a little better. I've selected 5 items that come to mind.

1. Treat School Board Politics like Poison Ivy - Getting involved in School Board politics is a no win situation. It may be very flattering to have a board member ask your opinion. They may even seek out your advice. But sooner or later this will get back to your Superintendent and that won't be good. Remember, your superintendent works at the pleasure of the school board. He or she should be the person that the board member seeks out for educational matters. You never want to be perceived as undercutting your boss. Any interactions between yourself and a board member should be reported to your immediate supervisor as soon as possible.

2. Home Court Advantage - Sooner rather than later your going to have to speak to a surly parent, a difficult student, or a problematic teacher. These meetings will generally take place in your office and here in lies the home court advantage. Think about the last time you were in your doctors office. What items were on the wall? Diplomas and professional certificates of accomplishment. Were there reference books and professional journals? What about a family picture or two? Your office should be a reflection of your accomplishments and successes, both professional and personal. You can be certain that visitors to your office will inspect these items in an effort to size up whom they are dealing with. I have disarmed many a reluctant visitor to my office long before the conversation began.

3. Paperwork, Friend or Foe - With little effort you can drown in paperwork or keep it at a manageable level. To the extent possible paperwork should be handled before or after the regular school day. That way you can concentrate on the instructional activities in school and not be trapped in your office under a pile of paper. Memos and directives from central office should be looked at once and then handed back to your secretary for followup or filing. Your secretary should preview your mail and remove extraneous material. If possible set aside a period of time during your school day to handle correspondence with your secretary. If you are fortuneate enough to have a secretary who takes dictation or the technology to have someone else type up your correspondence, make use of it. Keep a collection of model correspondence. There is little reason to start from scratch every time you have to write a letter of recommendation or a grant proposal.

4. Keep your Parents Association Closer - Parents can be a source of support for your school or a constant thorn in your side. It all depends on how your approach the situation. When I was appointed to head one of the largest high schools in NYC one of the first things I did was to create a small office for my parents association (P.T.A.) adjacent to the main office in the school. It was furnished with a small desk, a few chairs, a telephone and most importantly, a small sign identifying the room as the P.T.A. office. My only requests to my P.T.A. President was that the office be manned as much as possible and that no parent wander through the school without an escort. The changes that occurred was nothing short of a miracle. If I needed to get information out to my community in a hurry, all I had to do was walk down the hall and speak to one of my P.T.A. representatives. If parents new to my community came to visit our school I directed them to the P.T.A. representative who took them on a tour of our school. Students knowing that parents were in the building behaved much better on a daily basis. If we were having difficulty reaching out to one of our families, our P.T.A. helped out.

5. Intrinsic Rewards are Better than Cash - When you think about it, what type of extra incentives do we have as Principals to maximize the performance of our faculty and staff. Given the rigid contracts and union work rules, we really have very little in our arsenal to reward those who have gone the extra mile. Following a very heavy mid week snow storm I arrived at my school after spending several hours in transit. Half of my teachers had called in sick and many others were coming in late. The students that arrived were ushered into the auditorium and cafeteria until we could work out an adequate schedule. As my brave staff continued to arrive I greeted each and everyone of them and thanked them for braving the elements and coming to work. After we got the school day organized I proceeded to create a paper "Snowbird Award" for my staff and hand signed each and every copy. By the end of the day the awards were in the mailboxes of the staff members who had come to work on that snowy day. I heard many positve comments from my staff regarding this recognition of their dedication

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Doing More With Less - Are We Our Own Worst Enemy

Many years ago when I was a novice Assistant Principal in New York City, I attended a city wide meeting prior to the start of another school year. The Deputy Chancellor greeted us and wished us well on the upcoming school year. Once again our school budgets had been cut, our teaching staffs reduced, and our mandates increased. After a collective groan from my collegues, myself included, the Deputy Chancellor commented almost as an after thought, " You know, you guys could be your own worst enemies!"

He went on to explain that every year schools are expected to do more with less resources. Every year somehow we manage to pull a rabbit out of the hat and provide a meaningful education for our students. Sometimes that means that our teachers use their own monies to make up for a lack of supplies and equipment. Sometimes we shuffle monies from one fund to another or put off needed repairs to the infrastructure.

The question arises - do we provide less for our students, when times are tough, in order to make the point with the general public or do we continue to pull rabbits out of the hat?

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Education - It Ain't What It Used To Be

I have been doing this long enough to see the latest and greatest trends in education come around 2 or 3 times. Always under a different name and always with the same fanfare. It's as if every year the powers that be get amnesia and forget every new trend that has been tried in the past to improve some aspect of the educational process. Enough already!!

Lets concentrate on what we know works. Get the best people possible in front of the classroom. Give them the supplies and equipment they need to get the job done and provide the support and encouragement needed when they try something new.

One of my all time pet peeves is the new directive which arrives on your desk on the first Monday morning in September from Central Office stating the following:

Effective immediately, forget everything you've done in the past regarding instruction and from now on you will apply process "X" to your teaching strategy. It makes no difference whether or not what you've been doing in the classroom for the past 25 years has worked! Just use this latest and greatest way of teaching and you will be successful. Oh yeah, you are on your own to figure out how to apply this new process and or course you evaluation will depend on how well you implement this new directive!!

Once and for all, educating children is not the same as manufacturing widgets. Unlike widgets, children bring a host of different attributes to the table and a "once size fits all" approach to teaching is never, ever, going to work. No matter what new directive is issued, some strategies will work for some children and not for others. It's the role of the professional educator in the classroom to differentiate their strategies so that every child learns in a way that is appropriate for them. More difficult for the teacher, yes, but always more successful for the student.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Where have you gone "Joe DiMaggio"

Well, I'm not Joe DiMaggio but I have been M.I.A. from this blog for some time now. The reason is very simple and something that many of you have experienced or will experience in the future. "Burnout" Years ago, as a new administrator I observed many of my senior colleagues experience this phenomenon. Individuals who always had a smile and a joke to share were now moody and short tempered. Administrators who were always present at extra curricular events were now nowhere to be found after the regular school day. Their attendance began to suffer and their attitude changed markedly.

As a neophyte, I couldn't understand how this was possible. Now I know first hand what this experience is like. About 2 years ago I began to notice that my patience with my fellow educators and parents was waining. I would get annoyed at things that I'd hardly noticed in the past. My blood pressure which was already controlled by medication was getting higher and it took me more time to relax once I finally got home. I explained all of these symptoms to my doctor on a regularly scheduled visit and this very learned man offered a simple explanation and solution. He told me I needed "asshole medicine". After my look of surprise I asked for an explanation. He very calmly explained that day after day people with no training in our profession feel an obligation to tell use how to do our job. For many years we are able to deflect these comments but after awhile they take their toll. I was clearly experiencing this condition.

So, after dealing with this situation for the past 2 years, successfully at times, and not so much at others, I have decided that I will retire shortly. As I have told my friends and fellow educators I thought that 35 years of doing anything was enough and it was time for a big change in my life. But don't worry. For those few readers who have enjoyed this blog, I will continue to write articles as I have much to share. Some of which could not be written while I'm still employed.

For the first time since I began Kindergarten as a student, over 50 years ago, I will not arise on the first day of the new school year this fall, eager for the experience to begin all over again. Instead, I will arise at my regular wake up time, look at my alarm clock, and go back to sleep.
Here's wishing each of you an outstanding new school year!

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

In Support of Vocational Education

Let me begin by saying that I am an advocate for a strong Vocational & Technology Education program as part of the overall high school experience. A very good friend of mine just retired from a very successful, 34 year career as a high school Social Studies teacher. He is also a graduate of the equally well respected Brooklyn Vocational and Technical High School. A highly selective, exam only, public high school in New York City.

The ability to excel academically and success in the multitude of vocational and technology courses offered in our schools isn't mutually exclusive! Many of my colleagues make the mistake of looking down their nose at vocational courses as not being of the same rigor as advanced course offerings in science and math. If you've ever tried to fix your own computer, upgrade an electrical panel in your house, or calculate the proper diameter of a waste pipe, you might think otherwise.

For many students, the opportunity to work in the area of technology is rewarding and challenging. Participation in a vocational program in no way means less than participation in a traditional advanced "academic" program. I also think we should end the distinction of academic vs. vocational. If you've ever looked at a computer science or an electrical theory textbook, you'll understand that the distinction is mute.

It is especially important to advocate for technology programs during these times of fiscal restraint. Often times, vocational and technical programs are the first to be cut. This would be a terrible mistake. When you prepare your budget recommendations for next year take a second look at your vocational and technology programs. They are a strong component of the overall school experience and not just ancillary to your core course offerings.