Saturday, March 31, 2007

Life's follies

Comfort Food
Originally uploaded by Seitti.
My interview this morning wasn’t really an interview. It was the meeting of two school people. We chatted for over an hour, discussing a range of school related topics. As usual, I bombed on a couple of direct questions. I think I’m not prepared for the standard questions about teaching and literature. What’s your style? Er, style? Eclectic? Er, ah, loose with a strict streak. What literature would you teach? Ah, books without pictures?

I’m reminded of the interview last year when I was asked what I’m reading these days. At the time, I was in the throes of my coursework for the doctorate I’m still working on. I wasn’t reading much literature, as in fiction and poetry, but was reading a great deal about organizational development and conflict resolution. I think I mumbled something about squeezing in lit rags such as Granta and the Virginia Quarterly. Not the swiftest answer, particularly for an English candidate.

I actually have a list of not-so-swift things I’ve done during interviews. They’re actually sort of humorous.
  • There was the time I dropped my keys down a storm drain and had to get help fishing them out
  • Or the time I stepped in dog poop before walking in to an interview; I was unable to get it all off, and 15 minutes into the conversation, I could smell it and my nose began to tickle. And, I’m sure the two people conducting the interview could smell it, too.
  • And there was the time I locked my keys in the rental mini-van; we had to get a small student so slip in the window in the back.
  • Or the time I went on the interview in the early spring in Connecticut, not realizing a late snow storm was headed to the area. I had no winter coat or proper shoes with me, and spent the time on campus trying to keep warm between traipsing between buildings.
  • Then there was the time I told the head of a school she’d made a mistake in selling some two hundred acres of school property to a developer. I think I said something about not thinking of the future.
  • Another time I was asked, out of the blue, about my “relationship with Jesus Christ, our savior.” I didn’t see that one coming, particularly since at most schools I’m familiar with, religious tolerance, not belief, is a prerequisite.
  • How about the time the head of the school asked me what I’d do in a particular instance of student misbehavior – I believe the scenario had to do with drug use – and, even though I knew the school policy, told him what I would do. My answer didn’t match the school’s policy.
  • On another occasion , I had an interview at a downtown office; the interview went longer than I expected, and when I returned, I discovered that the meter had run out… and I’d received a parking ticket.
  • I try and write thank you notes; one time I used the word phat. What the h*ll was I thinking?
Life’s follies, I guess you could say… the good news, at least from my perspective, is that not every one of these not-so-swift things, mini-catastrophes perhaps, resulted in not being offered a job. I guess it shows that some people in hiring positions realized they’re hiring people with human foibles. And, boy, do I have mine.

Trust and trustworthiness: Key for effective communities

Sitting this morning at the job fair, chatting with my former colleague, he expressed some slight surprise that I was looking for a teaching job. I guess having been out of the business for so long, and having such a decent job at the moment, I’m an anomaly. He said something like, “I’m surprised that you have such a yearning for boarding school. I didn’t realize it had such an impact on you.”

It’s interesting. What I strive for, first and foremost, is a community. I think that’s one of the reasons that I have honed in on small boarding schools that place an emphasis on the boarding program. I do, truly, want a place that I, and my family, can call home.

Now, certainly, every community has it’s faults, but I know that I can find a place to call home.

My former colleague (I guess I should give him a name, rather than just referring to him as my former colleague; I’ll call him Mr. Wotus) and I chatted about a multitude of things. One of those things was trust and trustworthiness. To be worthy of trust is to be trustworthy. How does one become trustworthy. I think the answer is that the work happens on the inside. I can be worthy of trust if I make and keep promises, if I don’t speak ill of the absent, if I do what I say and say what I do, if I give without regard to what I receive.

This is no easy task, mind you, but one which is required if a person is to live in a community. In too many organizations, and I’m not talking just about schools, trust is something which is in short supply. But, I believe that an organization can change from one where trust is in short supply to where everyone is worthy of trust. And, like trustworthiness on the individual level, that starts from the inside, building trust within an organization can start with a single person.

But it takes a long time; change like this, real change in an organization’s culture, takes years to take effect.

From the "it's a small world" department

This morning I was sitting in the lobby of the Hamilton Crowne Plaza here in the nation's capital waiting for my 7AM breakfast interview. I'd positioned myself off in the corner so I could see both the elevators and the front door. I spent a few minutes admiring the craftsmanship of the room; the ceiling was beautiful with gold leaf and a strong memory of the Roaring Twenties.

A couple minutes before 7, the elevator doors opened and I caught the glance of a man getting off the elevator. He reminded me of a former teaching colleague, but in my mind I quickly decided it was my mind playing tricks on me. Often, I'll see someone who reminds me of someone else. This former colleague, a math teacher, had been teaching at the same school for more than two decades; he'd never leave.

When the head of the school arrived, we walked into the hotel restaurant for some upscale vittles. As we entered, I looked over at the man I'd seen earlier. He was looking at my funny, and I was thinking he had a remarkable resemblance to my former colleague.

Well, of course, it turns out it was my former colleague, and he is indeed moving on to a different school after more than two decades in northeast Pennsylvania.

We shook hands, and I told him I'd find him at the job fair after my breakfast.

After breakfast, we wandered over to the job fair; actually, the head hunter/placement firm running it, Carney Sandoe & Associates, calls it a conference. To my mind, a conference is a thing we go to hear people speak and pick up new ideas to take back to work. This was a job fair, with candidates looking to have 20 minute interviews and school administrators looking to meet candidates to make decisions on who to bring to campus for further interviews.

I call it a meet market. And, I was crashing, since I'm not a Carney Sandoe candidate. I'm managing my own search, through and through.

Well, I found my former colleague and we traded stories and I was able to get caught up on the goings on at the old school and he was able to hear about my ever-growing family.

Nice to see a familiar face, particularly of someone who I respected as a teacher and as a colleague. Makes the process of the search slightly more palatable.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Design in schools

I've been giving thought recently to the design of our schools. Design is more than just throwing up and few walls and deciding what color to paint them. Design covers a gamut of interrelated issues. It is form and function.

Check out this picture which was originally posted at Creating Passionate Users. Kathy Sierra used the picture in a post about helping customers get over fear. I think it tells us something about design, about how to have a space make a statement.

While I'd not equate schools with dentists' offices, there are some parallels. Which office provides a more welcoming space for a student, for parents, for a teacher?

Thankfully, many people are thinking about design as they go about building schools.

Over at School Design Research Studio, Jeff Lackney posted this picture of a school in Minneapolis. The school uses project based work for students. I'm particularly intrigued that the design of the room promotes collaboration, but still gives each student their own, full workspace.

Perhaps we ought to give more thought to design in schools. Dr. Lackney has a great essay on 33 Principles of Educational Design. I encourage all teachers and educators to read it.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Created another resume

Originally uploaded by Tidewater Muse.
After my interview this past week, I decided I needed a counselor-focussed, counselor-specific resume. I've posted my first take here.

Your thoughts?

I'm still not sure it's specific enough in terms of the benefits that I would bring to a school as a counselor, and I'm not sure I've identified enough experience beyond crisis intervention and traumatic stress work.

Again, your thoughts?

Friday, March 23, 2007

Hoping for a seat on the bus

Originally uploaded by Tidewater Muse.
A quick note: To everyone I met yesterday, thanks so much for making me feel at home. I look forward to continuing the conversation.

I took a few pictures during my stay; you can find them here.

For my regular readers, more to follow... a few more pressing needs right now.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

The new phone books are here! The new phone books are here!

county fair 002.jpg
Originally uploaded by swardraws.
Okay, I'm not Steve Martin, and the new phone books are not here, but I did make the 111th Carnival of Education! Blog carnivals are highlights of the "best of" blog postings in a given topic. Well, maybe not best of but perhaps "pretty good."
Peter Stinson of A School to Call Home once taught in a boarding school. He is looking to return that type of close-knit environment. Meanwhile, he gives us something to chew on with this post aptly titled, Miscellany and leftover thoughts.
Update on the job search: I'm on campus for the first interview of the season. I don't want to speak too early, but if this is also the last interview, I'd be satisfied.

I mentioned yesterday that I was looking at five roles here. My contact here at the school wrote me today:
Also, we have decided that the college counselor and School counselor position will be our primary positions of interest for you. Please come with those hats.
Hats? Hats! Now they want me to wear hats? What's a counselor hat; is it the black fedora or is it the "Sugar Daddy" ball cap, complete with manufactured rips and weathering?

I'm here. I've had a night tour of the campus. The dorms were full of mostly studious students. I didn't see much cutting up at all, which is a good sign. It was, perhaps, a little noisier than I'm used to, but in talking to my contact during the tour, it's not meant to be a lock-down sort of time. They get two hours of "quiet" to work in their rooms without disturbing their roommate.

One interesting thing about the dormitories. Most boarding schools, at least the ones I'm familiar with, segregate students by class. I've never visited a school that didn't ensure all the students are in a single class, or perhaps two classes (freshman & sophomores, sophomores & juniors, juniors & seniors). Here, students from each class are on each hall.

I think this is a great idea as it allows the younger students to associate with, and be led, by the older students. Older students get a chance to actually lead. And, I think that it would cut down on hazing in that the us vs. them by floor or dormitory can't manifest itself.

More to follow, I'm sure.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Am I a Hedgehog?

Originally uploaded by stonefaction.
I was looking at my last two posts and realized that perhaps some people might think I'm not abiding by my own counsel.

I am.

Here's my thinking: Yes, I'm wide open to the job responsibilities. And, yes, there's a difference between teaching English and serving in admissions. What I bring is excellence in a small, residential, educational community. My hedgehog existence is serving as a faculty members in a small boarding school that seeks to be a real community.

I hope that's hedgehog enough.

Your thoughts?

Job interview -- First of the season

"Job Interview" on flickr
Originally uploaded by Tidewater Muse.
I have an on-campus interview on Thursday. Tomorrow, I drive to the school, spend the night, and meet people all day on Thursday. At the end of it, I'll likely have been interviewed, formally, by 8 to 12 people, and have met with a dozen or two more.

This is bound to be an interesting day, as I'm not interviewing for a single job. The school has a number of openings, and I'm applying for 5 positions. Yes, I know i can only have one job... There's an English/ Social Studies Teacher - New Position position, an ESL teaching position, an admissions job, a job in residential life, and a college counselor job.

I think this is in keeping with my philosophy that it is the school that matters, not the job.

I can only imagine the types of questions I'll get... everything from literature to college admissions to residential living. Am I truly prepared? We'll know in less than 48 hours, I guess.

As to the photo with this post, I was amazed at all the pictures on flickr with a tag of "job interview." There are a slew of self-portraits with candidates showing off their attire. Perhaps I'll have to add my own.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

The Hedgehog Concept and the Iron Chef

Last week I mentioned the Hedgehog Concept. The concept was popularized by Jim Collins in his book From Good to Great. The notion is simple, at least in concept. The hedgehog is good at one thing, one big thing. From an old parable, "The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing."

One big thing. That's so hard for us, because we have this sense we need to know much about much. I think it's human nature. There's an independent school in Michigan, Interlochen Arts Academy, that focuses on one thing: the arts. That's it: the arts. Granted, all sorts of arts, but it's still the arts. Even their summer camp is arts.

In Minnesota, there's a fine independent school, Shattuck-St. Mary's School, that has an arts "Center of Excellence." They also have five other centers of excellence including a soccer developmental program and a kick-ass ice hockey program.

Interlochen is a hedgehog. Shattuck-St. Mary's is a fox. And there are plenty of other foxes and hedgehogs out there in the school community. And, I'm not even going to walk down the path about public schools and the multiplicity of things many of them attempt to do.

Now, I've been to both schools, and I'd love to serve on the faculty of either, even the fox (maybe more so the fox, because it is a fox; more on that in a future post).

I'd note that Shattuck-St. Mary's has chosen to be a fox, at least with the centers of excellence, and they've chosen the model for a number of solid reasons. But will they ever be excellent, all the way around? That's the question that Jim Collins would ask.

What's this have to do with the Iron Chef? Not much.

Just kidding. Actually, it is related. Are schools best at cooking food? No. Schools are for education. There are organizations that are best at cooking food, but they're not generally schools.

McDaniel College recently held an Iron Chef competition for chefs from schools and colleges in the Baltimore area. The chef from my high school alma mater, Saint James School, was there and she placed second. She is not an employee of Saint James. She is an employee of Sodexho; Sodexho is in the business of feeding students:
From nursery schools to universities, Sodexho serves its young guests healthy, balanced and imaginative meals in functional, pleasant environments. From its customized interiors to the training of restaurant staff, Sodexho sets the benchmark for quality. Sodexho caters for all tastes and offers something to delight everyone.
And, indeed, they showed their stuff at the Iron Chef competition.

From Cassandra A. Fortin and the Baltimore Sun:
Amy Stouffer, a chef at St. James School, placed second with 109 votes for her arugula salad with orange fennel vinaigrette, grilled flank steak with a chimichurri sauce, grit cake with bacon and artichokes, tomato compote, and a chocolate bread pudding.
For less than $2.25 a serving. Beat that.
Emica Boutilier held her plate out for a serving of arugula salad topped with orange fennel vinaigrette.

"The salad is wonderful," said Boutilier, as she rustled through the arugula leaves with a fork. "I'm so excited. It wasn't made with iceberg lettuce." ...

"We usually get dried chicken and iceberg lettuce," she said. "We have been filling out surveys about dining hall food and asking for variety and better meat. The food we are having today is more like what we want."

Boutilier also said that students are selecting healthier food.

"We don't want pizza and hot dogs every day," she said. "Colleges underestimate how important it is to have a good dining hall."

Boutilier cited the cafeteria at Harvard University as an example of an ideal dining hall. She was impressed with the Harvard menu that included filet mignon and fresh vegetables.

"They had a lot of healthy choices for the students," she said.

"The first thing you notice when you eat here is that the menu never really changes. They offer the same vegetables every day. And I think it would be easy enough to vary the vegetables or add to the stir-fry station, even if it's just a new vegetable in the mix."
Am I suggesting that schools need to dump all their programs but one? No. Should Shattuck-St. Mary's focus on one center of excellence? No. Should schools outsource the dining hall? Not necessarily. It's a series of questions that only the school leadership can answer.

I believe it starts with what the school is all about. What sets the school apart.

From Saint James:
The Mission of Saint James School is to prepare young men and women for academic success in college, and to challenge and inspire them to be leaders for good in the world. We seek to do this within a small and familial residential community which values the moral and spiritual development of our students.
From Shattuck-St. Mary's:
As a school community, Shattuck-St. Mary's guides young people to be strong in character, mind, body and spirit for a life of learning and service.

Living and learning within the context of a community cultivates one's character and expands one's potential. This belief is evident in our challenging curriculum, small class sizes, and, most importantly, our skillful teachers.
From Interlochen:
Interlochen Arts Academy visual and performing arts high school is a close-knit community of the world's most talented and motivated student artists. Students immerse themselves in music, theatre, dance, visual arts, creative writing, motion picture arts and rigorous academics in a college-like setting.

The Academy is a fast-paced, creative environment that challenges and inspires. Under the guidance of an exceptional faculty of artists and educators, the Academy offers students the resources they need to achieve the highest possible artistic, intellectual and ethical standards as individuals and as responsible members of a diverse community.
From Blue Ridge:
We specifically focus on helping boys reach their potential through personalized, structured, innovative learning practices in a college preparatory, all-boarding community.
Each of these schools has more verbiage about who they are and what they do and how they do it.

Here's my point, rambling as it is this morning: Schools, like all organizations, ought to figure out what they do well, and then focus in with laser-like intensity on that one thing.

As Bill Cosby (that would be William Cosby, Ed.D. from the University of Massachusetts) says:

I don't know the key to success, but the key to failure is trying to please everybody.

Let's all be hedgehogs.

Photo Credit: Chef Amy Stouffer of St. James College, serves arugula salad with orange fennel vinaigrette, grilled flank steak with a chimichurri sauce, grit cake with bacon and artichokes, and a chocolate bread pudding. She won second. (Sun photo by Elizabeth Malby) Mar 6, 2007

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Miscellany and leftover thoughts

She look's like grandma
Originally uploaded by Tin Green.
Since I did not win the Mega Millions last night, I've decided to post about a few odds and ends which have been hovering on the periphery for a while.

A funny story. Steven W. Simpson recently wrote about an instance when he subbed for a colleague and didn't quite have the lesson plan fully worked out. He improvised, which in this case let him down a primrose path to show his students a clip of a man getting naked. Too funny a story and a must read. I was reminded of the power preparation, my own over-reliance sometimes on seat-of-the-pants and intuition, and the always present world of unintended consequences.

Art is in the eyes of vocal parents.Following Dr. Simpson's tale of accidentally showing a man surviving in the wilderness, there's this tale, brought to us from Ralph Blumenthal and the New York Times, of Sydney McGee, a teacher outside of Dallas, TX, who took her fifth grade students to the Dallas Museum of Art where, alas, they saw nudes. That's right: there in the museum they had nude studies, and these students saw them! Of course there were and of course they did; it's art. But here's the kicker: "One of her students saw nude art in the museum, and after the child’s parent complained, the teacher was suspended." I hate to think what sort of a school would can a teacher for taking her students to the Dallas Museum of Art.

I'm reminded of my first year of teaching; I had a sophomore class and at some point I introduced them to Philip Larkin and his poem "High Windows." If you don't know Larkin's "High Windows" do read it; for a slew of reasons, I love this poem. But, yes, there is some controversy, and, I'd say, more controversy than a field trip to the DMA. After dinner one night I was talking with one of my student's mother; she was a teacher at the lower school and her husband was a long-time senior administrator at the upper school. Their son was in my class; later I learned he was in my class because they'd requested he be in my class.

Anyway, Mrs. E says to me, "John was talking about class and told me you had read him a poem by an English poet."

"Oh, boy," I thought. "Here it comes. I'm going to get reamed by Mrs. E and then I'm going to find myself in the dean's office... again."

Not so. We had a great talk about the poem, the imagery, the use of language, the meaning, the decisions the poet made, and everything else. We were the last ones out of the dining room.

Being stuck. Will Richardson notes he's stuck, blog stuck. He wrote,
what if we just stop focusing so much on school and just focus on learning? What if the mere term “school” limits our thinking as to what’s best for learning? What if School 2.0 whatever that is is nothing more than a short term transition to a better system for learning that has nothing to do with physical space it the ways we are familiar with it?
Now there's a paradigm shift.

Motivating students, motivating people. David Shenk points us to a recent essay reminding us we ought to praise not for ability, but for effort.. Praising ability, Mr. Shenk notes, "discourages effort by creating a mindset that equates effort with inferiority, discourages risk-taking, removes kids' sense of control over their own lives, and leads to worse study habits and lower grades" while praising effort "imbues kids with a greater sense of control over their lives and leads to improved study habits and grades."

The Internet may be forever.Well, if not forever, for a long time. In a recent piece in the Washington Post, Ellen Nakashima reminds us that Harsh Words Die Hard on the Web. She writes specifically about law school students suffering the consequences of anonymous postings about character and background on an Internet message board. The consequences are many and sometimes severe as prospective employees conduct due diligence using the Internet. In this case, the reputation-maligning came from people other than the prospective employee, but we've certainly seen cases where the evidence is self-incriminating; think YouTube and MySpace.

And that clears this morning's leftovers. I do hope you found something satisfying munch on and fill your hunger.

Monday, March 05, 2007

As noted in the MSM

Interesting article published by the Associated Press about college professors living in student dormitories:
Research shows that increased attention from faculty leads to higher academic achievement among students and a greater sense of belonging, said Karen Inkelas, a University of Maryland professor who studies programs that seek to integrate the in- and out-of-classroom experience. In return, more contact with students energizes faculty, she said.
People who know independent boarding schools could have told us this years ago.

Dear Parents: A letter misaddressed

Originally uploaded by grapefruitmoon.
This morning I received a letter from the headmaster of where I went to high school, Saint James School in western Maryland. The letter was a generic letter, and I'm not sure I was really one of the intended recipients. It was addressed "Dear Parents," and while I am a parent, I'm not a parent of a current student at St. James. The letter did, however, provide good reading, and it reminded me of why I want to return to serve in a boarding school.

Early in his letter, Father Dunnan notes he has just returned from the Winter Varsity Sports Banquet, and he was impressed with the students. He wrote, "But most of all, I was impressed by their journeys: goofy boys becoming responsible young men and silly girls becoming impressive young ladies." He went on to say, "They were interested again not just in themselves or even their teammates; they were interested in the whole company of the school, that greater 'team' which we call Saint James."

One of the things I am looking for in a school is a sense of community. Well, truthfully, I'm looking for more than "a sense." I'm looking for a place that is a community.

Father Dunnan notes that he is privileged to watch students continue on their journey, a journey which has multiple facets: "academically, athletically, artistically, musically, but most of all morally and socially in this remarkable place." These are words, but I know that for the community of Saint James, these are not just words, but rather a statement of truth and a call to action. "We do this, of course, in community, so that all of us, teachers and students together, are challenged to live and learn in relationship with each other, respecting and helping each other, bridging our differences and finding our similarities, just as real community requires us to do."


And, further, Father Dunnan notes that the parents of students have given the faculty a gift, "the gift of helping on the journey, challenging and insisting, caring and encouraging, instructing and explaining in all the wonderful ways which happen in this place."

Saint James, like many small boarding schools, has a strong sense of self and place and purpose, and this is where I am called to serve: a school that is community, that has a sense of self and place and purpose, a community that values learning not just of the academic variety, a place that actively works to be a community.

The festivities in Denver are over...

Walker Building
Originally uploaded by Arkridge.
Let the hurlyburly begin.

The NAIS job board has been popping a bit the last couple of days, and I couldn't figure out why... and then I remembered today that the annual conference of the National Association of Independent Schools was this week out in Denver. Aside from great speakers (this year Jim Collins was one of the featured speakers) and awesome learning, it's a chance for school leaders to interview teaching candidates, and it's a chance for candidates to meet school leaders. I suspect at least one or two of the jobs which have caught my eye in the last two or three days are openings which were caused by the incumbent receiving a job offer.

Good. Now, if an offer would just fly my way.

Shifting slightly on topic, or perhaps returning to an earlier topic: Jim Collins. I wish I'd had the chance to hear him. His monograph, Good to Great and the Social Sectors: A Monograph to Accompany Good to Great, is an awesome read for anyone in a leadership role at a school, particularly independent schools. I was so taken by his writing that last year I sent copies to senior administrators of the three schools at which I interviewed.

Perhaps I came on too strong, at least that's what my dear wife would say, but I'm passionate about excellence and organizations.

Some independent school leaders get it. David A. Bouton, head of Blue Ridge School, gets it. I was pleasantly surprised to find references to both Jim Collins and Ted Sizer in Dr. Bouton's musings. As to the teachings of Mr. Collins, Dr. Bouton has a short paper about the Hedgehog Concept as it applied to Blue Ridge School. He writes,
Greatness comes about by a series of good decisions consistent with a simple, coherent concept – the Hedgehog Concept.

This concept is an operating model that reflects understanding of three intersecting circles:
  • What we can be the best in the world at. BRS can be the best in the world at implementing a progressive learning model that optimizes individual learning by understanding and learning to love learning.
  • What we are deeply passionate about. We are passionate about guiding boys who need direction, confidence, and affirmation to be their best and to do their best. We accomplish this in a structured, caring environment by staff who are strong role models.
  • What best drives our economic/resource engine. We believe in our mission and we deliver on our mission. We develop in our young men habits of mind, body, and spirit that will sustain them throughout their adult lives. Such success breeds support and commitment. Thus the power and speed of the flywheel builds and the process repeats itself.
I get the sense these are not just words. I was talking to a thirty-plus year veteran of the faculty, and his enthusiasm was bubbling. I could feel it over the phone line; he couldn't say enough about the school, the faculty, the students. It was, I thought, the flywheel spinning.

Let me land in a place the flywheel spins.

Friday, March 02, 2007

The expert wasn't quite correct

Old School
Originally uploaded by 21mickrange.
I'd noted recently that Robert Kennedy suggested that by now most of the independent school jobs would be filled. Thankfully, he was wrong.

Just in the last several days there have been four or five jobs posted at the NAIS website which match, more or less, what I'm looking for. As I was reminded yesterday, I only need one offer from the right place. Several offers, all from less than satisfactory matches against my planning criteria, don't do me any good at all. All I need is one offer from a school to call home.