Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Quit your whining, Stinson

Okay, so I was whining a bit this morning. I need to remember this is much like finding a mate; it just takes time... and luck.

In today's email:
My name is Lisa Mullen and I am the Chair of the Search Committee for St. Chelsea-by-the Sea's Assistant Head/Academic Dean position. I have received your materials and would like to speak with you on the phone about your experiences, philosophy, and goals in administration. If you are interested, please let me know when you are available in the next week to speak with me.
Dottie, thank you for passing along my name.

Lost my breath for a bit; sorry.

For Love of Books 2
Originally uploaded by Sol Lang.
I’m a loss for words; and, usually that is certainly not the case.

A bit ago, I followed up my recent interviews at St. Smithwin's-on-the-Hill (okay, St. Smithwin's-on-the-Hill is not really the name of the school, but we all know I’m not going to throw everything in the open... and St. Smithwin's-on-the-Hill knows who they are, if that matters... And, yes, I have changed certain identifying details) with this:
How are things in Buckley Village? I'm finding life hectic here in the Commonwealth and, in terms of my call to return to independent schools, stressful. At least this weekend's snow missed us here in SE Virginia; people here don't know how to cope with more than about a 1/4 inch of snow.

I know how to cope with snow, however, and am looking to returning to the land north of the Mason-Dixon Line.

Have you progressed any further with your search for a counselor and/or director of student support services? I've thought long and hard about the opportunities at St. Smithwin's-on-the-Hill and would like to continue the conversation, if you're still agreeable. St. Smithwin's-on-the-Hill is at the top of my list of possibilities; I believe the roles and responsibilities we discussed play most solidly to my strengths.

I certainly believe the last decade -- helping the Coast Guard create institute cutting-edge leadership & management systems -- provides me the skills & experience to help you, Paul, and the rest of the senior leadership team intentionally create a world-class educational community for students who are "performance oriented." My counseling background is perhaps more important in the near-term.

I am very interested in the bringing my counseling & crisis intervention skills & experiences to St. Smithwin's-on-the-Hill to counsel students on personal & social issues and to create & provide programs to help students lead balanced and safe lives led with healthy coping mechanisms. I'm not sure we talked much about my recent crisis intervention experiences as the clinical director for the regional "critical incident stress management" team here in southern Virginia.

And, I'm not sure we talked about my work within the last several years with psychodrama and community-building. More to discuss, anyway...

In thinking about what I saw as the school's current state with regard to counseling & support programming, I was struck by a couple of thoughts...

-- Appears to be a genuine concern by adults for the health (including mental health) of SSH students.

-- Current counseling services don't likely engage anywhere near all the students who could benefit from such services.

-- Someone on campus & skilled in counseling/crisis intervention would be a huge benefit in early intervention & de-escalation of crises...

-- The current system is not comprehensive in nature; school would be served well in the creation of an overarching system of student support, ensuring linkages which may not be present yet providing a holistic campaign of support services.

-- There might be benefit in informal CBWA (counseling by walking around) during evening study hall period during the week.

-- With the ubiquitous use of technology on the SSH, there is the possibility of using computers & the network for tracking student issues and communicating with students using IM/email. Some schools are using a secure back-end system to ensure adults -- teachers, administrators, staff -- who need to know things about students do know about students; also a way for observations to be passed to appropriate personnel from all adults in the community. In terms of communicating with students, some institutions are finding IM to be a good method of allowing students to initiate conversations with adults.

Well, that's it for random thoughts tonight. I do hope all is well at St. Smithwin's-on-the-Hill... and I do hope we can continue to discuss the possibility of my becoming a part of your team.

I'm not sure if I provided a resume to you before my visit to campus. You can find a current resume here.

I look forward to hearing from you. If you have any questions or concerns, please don't hesitate to drop me a line. And, you can continue to find posts about my journey to be called at; feel free to lurk...


Have a wonderful week; remember, we're nearly half-way through the longest month of the year...


/s/ Peter
A current colleague of mine later noted this was “a well crafted follow-up with skills and style.”

I thought it was okay.

And this is what stole my breath away:
Dear Peter,

It is very good to hear from you -- and as always, enjoying your accurate and concise insights and observations. I am currently attending a conference in Boston, so I had a front-row seat for the recent Nor-Easter...a fantastic show of snow and wind. Today I'll walk the streets taking in the glittering streets and warm (relatively!) sunshine.

As we have gotten further into our planning for next year, we have changed course slightly with the counselor search. We have decided that the credential emphasis must be more on clinical/residential counseling experience rather than system organization. I am sorry there is not room at this point for both -- I think you have a keen eye for organizational behavior and developing systems.

Please stay in touch -- you never know when an opportunity might come up.

Safe travels,

What my colleague really wrote was this:
Damn...I know that hurt...Peter, that was a well crafted follow-up with skills and style like that...don't worry about it. If they aren't interested expand your search...start will find a home...I am sure of it...
I’m usually pretty confident, perhaps (some would say) overly so. I thought the interview went well; I thought I was a pretty good match. I have the counseling skills & background.

Oh, wait, maybe I didn’t emphasize those enough? Another colleague at work is also looking for a new job; he’s had similar issues. He suggested that sometimes hiring managers are looking for someone who has done the job before. He’s suggested that perhaps we have “a failure to communicate.”

As a former headhunter notes,
The other thing that amazed me and frustrated me about being a recruiter was how rigid and myopic many employers were about their job requirements. Many skills and experiences could be learned on the job within several weeks of repeated exposure but many a time I had the ideal candidate didn’t have the required experience listed on his resume despite the fact that his previous history was relevant enough for him to do the job in a very competent fashion.
Now, I don’t want to hang too much on this headhunter’s comments (note his website; I don’t agree with his belief that we should all fluff our resumes; I’d rather be truthful and unemployed, than an employed liar) but I do agree that sometimes employers want demonstration of having done the job before.

I’m not sure that’s the issue with St. Smithwin's-on-the-Hill. Both the head and the associate head struck me as more than reasonable people with solid, demonstrated leadership skills; I know they know people can grow into a job, sometimes in very little time.

Perhaps, in my current case, I have a “failure to communicate.” I’m a little scattered sometimes (I don’t want to admit I’m like Dory – from Finding Nemo – and that bright lights will move my attention from one thing to another); perhaps I should have focused more on the straight counseling & crisis intervention skills and experiences: my nearly-a-decade work as the clinical director for a volunteer crisis intervention team serving six cities and four counties in southeastern Virginia, my service as a counselor and mediator for the Coast Guard’s civil rights programs, my experience as a lay chaplain at Boy Scout camp... Instead, during the interview, I guess I focused on systems issues.

So, here’s where I am right now: my breath was stolen and I’m not sure how to respond. I guess, in part, I already have, since Pam from St. Smithwin's-on-the-Hill is likely lurking here. If that’s the case, I guess I have, sort’a, responded... and now all my self-doubt is in the open... Along with a slew of other baggage, eh?

Here are words of wisdom received from a wise and seasoned independent school person who wrote me earlier this week:
It's still really early, so I wouldn't worry if things feel like they are slowing. There are often schools still searching to fill positions in June, so you have some time.
Time? Time! Sometimes, I feel as if the clock is spinning out of control, the hands spiraling around at the speed of light, becoming nothing more than a blur.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Philosophy of education, take one

Done and uploaded. And another item to cross off my to-do list.

This morning, I've finished my "philosophy of educatation" (at least the first take). You can find it here. I've also placed a link over to the right along with the other "stuff."

For those who are wondering how the search progresses... well, no news to pass at the moment. Nothing new. Here's to hoping today brings news that propels the call forward.

Monday, February 13, 2006

"Calling" or "profession"?

While surfing around, I came across a blog by a junior high school teacher. The post says, in part,
By thinking of teaching as a "calling" rather than a profession, we are more put into the ranks of nuns and missionaries, rather than highly trained professionals.
Needless to say, I don't quite agree. Perhaps I don't agree because I am focused on residential learning communities; I'm solely focused on landing in a college-prep, secondary, independent, boarding school. And, yes, being a faculty member in this type of school is like being a monk or a nun. And, I take issue with JHS Teacher that calling and profession are mutually exclusive. Tell that to the slew of Jesuits who are both... and to the many others who are professionals and yet called to do some particular work.

Perhaps, when the "job" is only 8 to 3, it's easy to see the role of teacher not as a calling. Try living the life 24x7 and not seeing it as a calling. You'll likely not last too long.

So, I know I'm called. But the journey to get there is not easy. What journey of worth is, right? Received today following one of my not-so-recent interviews: As we have gotten further into our planning for next year, we have changed course slightly... I want to scream out, "I still meet your needs, even your new needs! Me! Me! Look over here again."

Too desperate, don't you think? Perhaps I ought to take a subtler approach...

Sunday, February 12, 2006

The light at the end of the tunnel

Originally uploaded by Liberté, Égalité, Safari.
I'd like to say I see the blinding light at the end of the tunnel.

But, I don't see the light. Perhaps I'm not looking in the right direction.

I've moved past the enthusiasm of the early part of the search, and seem to dread the long haul that's in front of me. Or, perhaps I'm just blinded by the snow. ;-)

So, if you gathered, we seem to be at something of a stand still, at least on my end. I haven't heard a thing from anyone in days; there's a part of me that is thinking David Rath's recent dissertation on faculty turnover at independent schools was too much on the mark; his research indicated stability in most faculties with a dearth of openings this recruiting season.

I've continued thinking about my philosophy of education and, particularly, the role of adults in an independent, secondary, boarding school.

I view all adults in the school community as "teachers," but I don't see teachers as people who serve up facts and tidbits. I see teachers as coaches and facilitators. I buy into the notion that teenagers learn best when they are engaged and actively involved. Some schools base their curriculums on "experiential learning" or "five senses learning." (See Leelanau or Baylor or Scattergood for example) In truth, there should likely be some aspect of experience in every school.

Years ago, while suffering through an education course in graduate school, I learned about pedagogy; pedagogy, we learn, is "the art and science of educating children" and is often used as a "synonym for teaching. Today, pedagogy is the term which more accurately "embodies teacher-focused education." The teacher is the expert. Students receive; teachers send out the message. When most of us think of teacher this is the model we likely think about: the teacher standing in front of the class, all the students in their chairs in neat rows & paying close attention, and the teacher presenting the information.

Recently, while actively engaged in another education class, I learned about andragogy, which some have taken to mean "the art and science of helping adults learn," but more aptly refers to "learner-focused education for people of all ages." When a teacher comes at learning from an andragogic perspective, things look much different. There's more hands on, there's more group work, there's more student presentations, there's more chaos, there's more active learning.

"It is the supreme art of the teacher to awaken joy in creative expression and knowledge." Attributed to Einstein, this sums up what I see as the role of a teacher. We excite; we guide.

Perhaps most important is the notion that learning is not preparation for life or some aspect of life (for instance, preparation for college), but, rather, learning is life.

All of us are learners; some of us just happen to have the title of teacher.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

While the wind hasn't shifted...

... I do seem to have a found a lull in the breeze.

I'm hoping the lull is because schools are beginning to nail down their faculty and administrative needs for next year... rather than, well, something else...

It's like when the boss calls you in to the office, you always expect the worst; and, nine times out of ten, you're wrong.

I'm working on an educational philosophy, or guiding principles, statement. At the moment, all I have are scribbles in a well-worn composition notebook.
  • College prep does not mean the school prepares students for freshman year at college. Rather, I see it as a mission to (1) prepare students for four-years of success and (2) turn them into life-long learners. We need to turn each student on to something, whether it's history or architecture or dance or fiction or plants or sailing.

  • One role of adults in a boarding school is to balance support with challenge. For those that remember their developmental psychology, yes, this looks a lot like Chickering's psychosocial theory of student development. Hmmm. Maybe I was paying attention during the course work for the first master's degree.

  • Good secondary, independent schools are not about regurgitation of facts. As a teacher -- and all adults in a boarding school are teachers -- I want students to learn to think, to use facts in new situations, to get beyond dates and plot summaries. I like the idea of exhibition and defense as proposed by Sizer and the Coalition of Essential Schools. And, yes, I've read their Common Principles. Hopefully, I haven't plagiarized; they make sense to me, however. In many ways, they seem like common sense. And, yes, as you can tell, these principles have had an impact on my own thinking.

  • We want students to see themselves as citizens of the school community, of the United States, and of the earth. They have an obligation to themselves, their heirs, and their neighbors -- even those "neighbors" who live in the jungles of Brazil or the mountains of Tibet.

  • Learning happens everywhere in a boarding school, in the classroom, on the playing fields, on the deck of a boat, in the dining hall, in a dormitory room, and in a faculty home. And, learning happens when it is least expected... for the teacher. Students learn when we, as the adult, don't think it is a learning moment. Surprise! Every moment, particularly the unscripted, is a learning moment.

  • Small is good. While Gladwell might suggest schools should be no larger than 150 people, I'm not sure that is possible. Certainly, 600 students is too large. Maybe 450 is, too; I'm not sure. I don't think it is possible for a school to be too small, at least from a learning (not fiscal) perspective.

  • Key stakeholders -- administrators, faculty, board members, students, parents, alumni -- all need to be intentional in their creation of a school. A school is a system, and a systems perspective is necessary; and, a school is something that ought to be created first in the minds eye and in the lives of the stakeholders.

  • Transparency is a good thing; transparency is a great thing; transparency is a necessary thing. I believe in transparency in decision making, budgeting, policy creation and implementation, grading rubrics, expectations, and other things I can't even remember to list here.
Now, if I could just craft these ramblings into something coherent...