Friday, June 29, 2007

A change in blogging strategy?

Approaching the Altar
Originally uploaded by Stuck in Customs
First, let me share an email discussion with you:
Peter (me): Do the leaders of the schools you're applying to know you have a blog and, if yes, have they dropped by to visit

California Teacher Guy: Why do you ask about administrators visiting my blog? To my knowledge, no one knows about it--and I'd like to keep it that way!

Me: I asked because my blog is written in the clear, and I'm wondering if I'm losing interviews and/or offers because of my online presence, both at A School to Call Home and my other blogging/writing endeavors. Not sure if it is a plus or a minus.

California Teacher Guy: Honestly, Peter, I have heard so many horror stories about teachers being reprimanded (or worse) by administrators for blogging openly that I think it's the height of wisdom to maintain anonymity. I read probably three dozen teacher blogs a day, and only ONE of them (well, TWO, with yours) is not anonymous. You might, IMHO, want to rethink your blogging strategy, especially for A School to Call Home.
I'm interested in Mr. Guy's response as it touches on two important issues.

First, it assumes that I have, or need, a blogging strategy. This isn't just writing; this is automatic publishing to the world and available in nearly every home and office in America, if the residents of those homes and the workers in the offices decide they want to read what I've written.

I do have a strategy, mind you... more on that to follow.

The second issue is somewhat more problamatic, albeit just as important. What's the issue? The issue is the question of anonymity.

Actually, I think the first issue and the second issue are tied together. The question of being anonymous or not is a strategic question.

There is a third important issue which raises its ugly form in Mr. Guy's notes: Do I really want to work at a place where my blogging -- my comments and commentary on the world around me -- are going to be a problem?

The issue of anonymity has been a large one in the Virginia political blogosphere.

While I'm going to address some of these issues over the next several days, I'd be interested to hear some readers' thoughts. What are your thoughts?

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Wednesday ramblings from a seeker

Christchurch Prep School
Originally uploaded by Florence3
I'm about to violate a cardinal rule about blogging: Focus your post on one thing only. This post, at least in my mind's eye, is shaping up to be all over the map.

About my current employment situation: Unlike some teachers still in the hunt for a job, I'm not about to be unemployed. I have a federal civil servant job at a mid-grade (albeit a senior mid-grade) level. My job is, flat out, the bomb. Phat, totally. I'm an organizational performance consultant with the Coast Guard. Basically, I do leadership & management consulting, teaching, and facilitating. I choose my own clients. I choose my own work. I choose my travel. I choose my work hours. In many ways, it is the perfect job.

"Why leave, then?" you ask. Simple. The thrill is gone; I'm not making a difference; I'm not excited about the work. However, that being said, if I don't get an offer that fits the bill, I'm not going hungry and I'm not loosing my home. Would I rather be at an independent school? Yes. Am I going to retire-on-duty as a civil servant; not on your life. I'm a professional, and happiness is a choice.

About my job search: Several people have either commented on the blog or sent me email to provide counsel about how to conduct an independent school search. Said one person:
I have been reading your blog for awhile. I have worked at 3 independent boarding schools. I got all my jobs through Educational Resources Group or Carney Sandoe. I know many schools use those organizations to "filter" candidates.
Another person wrote,
I'm happy to add you to my network. If you are looking for a faculty position, you should contact Carney Sandoe. For a Dean of Faculty/Students position Independent Thinking is a great bet.
Career services are great, but in my experience they don't want to deal with me. I'm only looking at small, boarding schools. The entire population of schools I'd consider number less than a hundred schools. I've made contact with most of them. Services, at least from what they have told me, can't really help me. Although, yes, that information is slightly old.

About the current situation: I have two active prospects, figuring that if I haven't heard from someone in two weeks, the prospect isn't really active.

Prospect #1 is looking for an English teacher who can coach crew and lacrosse. I visited this school last year for an interview. When I saw the opening posted, I wrote the dean:
I do hope the summer is going well for you. I saw on the NAIS job site that your are still, or perhaps again, looking for an English teacher. I'm still engaged in my search and would welcome being considered.

As you know, I have 9 years of lacrosse coaching experience, and I'd love to get back in the coach's box to help young men learn lacrosse and practice sportsmanship. As to crew, I never rowed, but I (a) went to Trinity College and (b) know my way around boats. Sadly, I've never spent the night at a Holiday Inn Express.

Anyway, I'm still interested in being a part of the St. Swithins' team and would love to be considered for the English faculty position.

May you have the time to enjoy summer along the Big River.
Okay, the thing about the Holiday Inn Express probably didn't do me any favors, nor did the misspelling in the second sentence.

Prospect #2 is looking for an assistant dean of admissions. The reply I received back today:
I enjoyed reading your resume, story, anecdotes, etc. When is a convenient time for you to talk further regarding your interest in our Admissions position at West Saint Swithins?

Let me know when you are able.
24 by 7; 24 by 7.

About settling for something else: I don't need to. I guess that's the bottom line. I am very keen on what I am looking for in terms of a school community. If I can't land a place in a small, boarding school community, where I am is plenty good. I don't think that taking a job at a school that doesn't meet my criteria would help me in the long run any more than staying as an internal consultant will. In many respects, I'm in the driver's seat.

However, contrary to reports, I'm not being courted like the prettiest girl at the ball. I may be in the driver's seat, but the engine has fallen to the ground and this car isn't going anywhere right now.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

So now what?

final exam
Originally uploaded by dcJohn
June is almost spent-out. I'm anxious. If I'm going to be on an independent school campus this coming fall, I'd likely have an offer-in-hand already. I don't have an offer-in-hand.

And I am without understanding. I can teach. I'm bright. I'm personable. I'm educated. What's keeping me from landing something?

Am I not focused enough in terms of a specific job or discipline?

Am I too old to be getting back into the classroom?

Do I have too large a family?

Do school leaders think I'm going to be too expensive?

In desperation, I've written to the head of a school for counsel. I've never met the head I've written to, but I am a habitual reader of his blog, and I like his style. And I'm hoping that he'll give me some solid feedback.

Here's what I wrote:
Dear Malcom,

I am an avid RSS reader of your blog. Great stuff; I don't understand why every head doesn't blog.

Anyway, I'm wondering if you could do a huge favor. I am looking to return to an independent school faculty. This is my second go-round, and I have no offer. I was wondering if you might review my candidacy package and critique it. I'm thinking there's something that is submarining my candidacy; likely, there are several. But I can't see them, and need an outside, professional eye. Since your school is not hiring at the moment, I thought you could give it a no-holds-barred review.

I'll attach below my usual "broadcast letter." When I'm applying for an advertised job, I tweak it for the specific position. Overall, however, the bulk of the letter is the same.

Any thoughts, insight, or counsel you could provide would be most helpful.

If you don't have time, think this is bogus, or are just overtaken by events, I'll understand. I'm shooting blind here.


/s/ Peter
The broadcast letter was basically the same one I posted here many months ago.

Dear reader, what counsel can you provide?

Perhaps I need to start honing my rejection letter to reject rejection letters.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Thoughts about institutional use of Web 2.0 tools

LOGO2.0 part I
Originally uploaded by Stabilo Boss
I've seen plenty of posts in the blogosphere about using Web 2.0 tools in the classroom. But, I've never seen anything about how schools can use Web 2.0 tools outside the classroom; how can we harness the Web 2.0 tools for institutional advantage.

I've been thinking a fair amount recently, particularly since the jobs which will generally be open over the next several months are admissions or development positions. It is the admissions, and development, and alumni offices which have the most involvement with external stakeholders; Web 2.0 offers a slew of opportunities for involvement of external stakeholders.

Student Blogs: Colleges are using student bloggers to provide an unvarnished perspective about colleges. Back in April, Marcella Bombardieri of the Boston Globe wrote an article, College blogs tell it like it is: Schools ask students to give applicants a real account of campus life, about this phenomenon:
Eager to forge stronger connections with prospective students and parents, MIT and other universities in the last two years have been starting blogs and recruiting undergraduate bloggers. Blogging has become one of the hottest trends in college admissions.
There's no reason this couldn't work at an independent school, too. Ms. Bombardieri notes,
The message from student bloggers isn't always pretty, yet college officials say the blogs are worth the risk. High school students can get unvarnished views of any colleges from Facebook, MySpace, or unsanctioned student blogs. They may be more inclined to trust a school they think is willing to show them real campus life, officials say. Plus, the technology gives colleges another tool to help applicants make the best decision, especially if they cannot afford to fly in for an overnight stay.
School leaders would have to choose the student bloggers carefully and provide a reasonable set of guidelines.

Administrator/Leader Blogs: Similar to the idea of students blogging, another idea is to get administrators blogging. This example is from higher education, but I think it's a good example that you don't even need to be the senior person responsible for a particular area. Chris D'Orso, Assistant Director of Undergraduate Admissions at Stony Brook University publishes "an inside look at the Stony Brook University undergraduate admissions process and the transition into the first year of college."

Malcolm Gauld at the Hyde Schools blogs regularly. Mr. Gauld's blog, Malcolm's Blog, is even available through an RSS feed. The school has made it easy to get information out through a variety of means. Mr. Gauld writes about a variety of topics including popular culture, parenting, the Hyde Schools, alumni and student successes.

Web Cams: No, I'm not talking about the advertised "co-ed house cams." No, rather, I mean having one or more web cams at various venues on campus. A school could have a webcam shot of their front view; a military school could have the webcam pointed toward the parade deck. A school could webcam the gym or a field house (having it on during games only, or at least not during official team practices; no need to give the opponents an easy way to scout players and teams). Ideally, a school would think about what makes them special and put that on a webcam. Christchurch might focus on their waterfront along the Rappahannock River; Blue Ridge might point their webcam on the climbing tower; Millbrook would have wild animals from their own zoo fill the picture. A school could even sign on with Weather Underground and participate in their Weather Web WunderCam program.

Photosharing tools, such as flickr: I know there are some schools which already use some tools, but they are usually clunky and are a profit center for the school. Parents love to have pictures of their children. But, I haven't seen anything as graceful as flickr, and I haven't seen any schools with "official" photostreams. But I have seen a couple of "official" institutional photostreams. The best stream? The United States Army. That's right, the U.S. Army uses Yahoo's flickr. If it's good enough for the Army, it's definitely good enough for a school.

Many independent schools have entries in Wikipedia. I'd wager that most of them are started by alumni or students or parents. My alma mater has an entry; I started it, but it was just a stub. The entry is much fuller now, and I had nothing to do with it. I did write to the development office and suggest they have someone work on the entry.

One reason to be involved in the creation, development, and maintenance of the Wikepedia is that sometimes the entry will be changed or vandalized. Last year, I interviewed at a school in the mid-west whose Wikipedia entry said something like "the school was founded as a place of education for wayward girls and delinquent boys." If that's true, great, but in this case it was just someone mucking about. I figured it was a current or previous student.

MySpace and other social network sites: While some schools have banned MySpace and other social network sites (I know one school that forbids students from even having an account), I think -- in terms of connections with alumni, parents, faculty (current, past, future) -- the use of these network sites would be a huge boon.

Issue of "push" vs. "pull": I know there are schools that post frequent e-newsletters. I saw a school recently that had weekly e-newsletters for each grade-level and another that had a weekly dean of students e-newsletter. One issue I have with these is that they are generally pull vs. push. What do I mean? An RSS feed is push (the content is "pushed" to the customer); a website or blog is pull (the reader has to go to the specific site and "pull" the information off the Internet. Schools need to have push & pull technology for all information, particularly information that changes frequently. The other issue I have is that there is a host of free tools available that a school can use. Many school web sites which are all-in-one are clunky and school. The Army was able to latch on to flickr as a photo distribution center; they're a "pro" user so the total cost is only $25. That's a bargain. I could see the federal government spending hundreds of thousands of dollars building a photo distribution center software... and having it not work on deployment.

Seeing the future: I think it's possible to see the future: look around. The future is here. Now. Institutions, including independent schools, can either embrace the tools or be left in the dust of change.

With any luck, in the fall, I'll be practicing what I preach.

More questions to ask as a candidate during an interview

I don't think it's going to happen. I know. I know. That's negative talk, and it doesn't do anyone any good. However, the fact is that Little School on the Prairie is looking for a director of studies and an admissions director... both new people to start in less than two weeks. If I'd made the cut for an interview, I'd at least have had a phone interview by now.

If I'd had an interview, in addition to the questions I outlined below, I'd offer up a few of these in order to get a sense of the school, at least from an organizational leadership & management position:
  • What is your competitive position?

  • How does the school conduct its strategic planning?

  • What are the school's key strategic objectives and timetable for accomplishing them?

  • How do you identify the student and market segments your educational programs will address?

  • How do you build relationships to attract and retain students, to enhance student performance, to satisfy stakeholders, and to foster new & continuing interactions & positive referrals?

  • How do you determine student and stakeholder satisfaction, dissatisfaction, and loyalty?

  • How do you select, collect, align, and integrate data and information for tracking daily operations and for tracking overall organizational performance?

  • How do you review organizational performance and capabilities?

  • How do you make needed data and information available? How do you make them accessible to your workforce, students, stakeholders, suppliers, partners, and collaborators, as appropriate?

  • How do you foster an organizational culture conducive to high performance and a motivated workforce?

  • How do you manage and organize your workforce to accomplish the work of your organization?

  • How do you ensure and improve workplace health, safety, and security?

  • What are your organization's core competencies and how do they relate to your mission, competitive environment, and action plans?

  • How do you ensure work system and workplace preparedness for disasters or emergencies? How does your disaster and emergency preparedness system consider prevention, management, continuity of operations, and recover?

  • What are your current levels and trends in key measures or indicators of student learning and improvement in student learning?

  • What are your current levels and trends in key measures or indicators of students' and stakeholders' satisfaction and dissatisfaction?

  • What are your current levels and trends in key measures or indicators of student- and stakeholder-perceived value, student persistence, positive referral, and other aspects of building relationships?

  • What are your current levels and trends in key measures or indicators of budgetary and financial performance, including measures of cost containment and financial viability.

  • What are your current levels and trends in key measures of workforce capability and capacity, including staffing levels, retention, and appropriate skills?

  • What are your results for key measures or indicators of accomplishment or your organizational strategy and action plans?
And, if those all sound somewhat familiar, they ought to.

Sadly, it doesn't look like I'll even have the chance to ask some of these questions.

Your thoughts?

Friday, June 15, 2007

Unintended consequences

When I teach Coast Guard personnel about organizational measurement, I always tell the story of "chicken efficiency" and the possibility of unintended consequences.

What is chicken efficiency? Years ago, a national fast-food chicken restaurant was losing money due to waste. You know how when you go into a fast-food restaurant, there's food in the bin under heat lamps. That food is there so that the restaurant provides fast food. If the food is already cooked, it can be given to customers quickly.

Food in the bin can't stay there forever. Most restaurants, particularly national chains, have rules on how long food can stay under the heat lamps. The chicken restaurant might have a 30-minute limit for fried chicken under the lamps. After 30-minutes, the food is supposed to be thrown away, rather than sold.

Make too much food, and the food ends up getting tossed. And that's waste.

So, the chain-in-question implemented a "chicken efficiency" measure; store managers were rated on, and given bonuses on, their chicken efficiency. The message: reduce the amount of chicken tossed out.

That's easy: Cook to order.

If I cook to order, then I will have 100% chicken efficiency.

So, now we have the following situation. Josephine Customer walks in for a bucket of extra-crispy chicken and a couple of sides. She places her order, pays her money, and the cashier yells back, "Drop a crispy bucket, please." And twenty-five minutes later Ms. Customer walks out of the restaurant with her bucket o'chicken. And, yes, she's not happy.

Josephine is so not happy that she tells everyone about her negative experience and doesn't return, taking her quest for a chicken fix elsewhere.

Unintended consequence: customer satisfaction sinks; repeat business goes in the toilet; sales plummet; profits deflate.

What's this have to do with my search for a job? Not sure, but it does have something to do with education and teaching.

From Debra Viadero at Education Week we learn Teachers Say NCLB Has Changed Classroom Practice. While some of the news is good, with teachers
making positive changes in the classroom by focusing on their states’ academic standards or searching for better teaching methods,
other news is not so good:
sizable percentages of educators are also spending more time teaching test-taking strategies, focusing more narrowly on the topics covered on state tests, and tailoring teaching to the “bubble kids”—the students who fall just below the proficiency cutoffs on state tests.
I'm sure this is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to unintended consequences with the federal No Child Left Behind initiative.

Thankfully, the schools I'm interested in, including the Little School on the Prairie, don't follow NCLB. This is more in line with my beliefs and practice:
Our classes focus on helping students develop the knowledge, values, and skills that they will need to be successful in all areas of life... We help students learn strategies for test taking in a low-stakes environment throughout their years at Little School on the Prairie. While we do not place much emphasis on the tests for ninth and tenth graders, it is important for students to become familiar with the format of standardized tests since they do not encounter such bubble tests in their Little School on the Prairie classes. Ninth and tenth graders take a grade-appropriate test designed by ACT to help them see areas in which they may want to focus their efforts as they begin to think about college admission tests. Throughout this process we stress to students that while these tests are important for the college admissions process and that they should therefore work on the necessary strategies and level of comfort that will help them perform to the best of their ability, these tests do not measure their intelligence or worth. Instead, the ACT and/or SAT will provide only one element of their college application and will be supplemented by their essays, activities, teacher recommendations, and transcript.
I guess the factory-style public schools can't take this tack; too bad. And too bad that NCLB is like a chicken efficiency measure: well intended, but with too many unintended consequences.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Football? Nope, I can't help you there.

Originally uploaded by Tommyboy74
I'd mentioned about the school that was looking for a football coach who could teach history. I didn't share the note I received from the head of school. It's worth sharing:
Thank you for your fascinating email. Your web site is also very interesting. I applaud your passion for teaching.

We are currently searching for a history faculty who can coach football.

Still, I will pass on your resume to our Dean of Studies and our Associate Head of School.

Good luck in your search.
Well, that was a nice & uplifting email, nonetheless.

I responded back with this:
Thanks for the note back. I'd seen one posting that listed both football and history, as well as another on the NAIS site that had just history. I was hoping you were looking for two history teachers. ;-)

Alas, football is not my strong suite. I could serve as an assistant, but it would likely be a season or two until I'm competent for more than taping ankles and making sure the ball bag makes it to practice. If that's what you seek for this fall, I'm your man... but I suspect you're looking for someone a bit more qualified.

Best of luck filling the position. I'm reminded of the school which, by this point in the year had filled all but one faculty position... and found themselves looking for a Latin teacher who could coach wrestling and track and advise the photography club.

If your needs change and you think I might be a fit, please get in touch with me.

I wish you a wonderful and rejuvenating summer.

Okay, the story about the school looking for a Latin teacher who could coach wrestling is apocryphal, but true nonetheless. Independent schools, particularly boarding schools, find themselves at the tail end of the season with odd needs, sometimes.

Now I just need to find the school that needs an English & history teacher who can coach lacrosse and direct theatre while serving as the director of admissions and the director of studies while living in the boys' dorm.

Okay, right: not all of those. And, frankly, it's not that odd.

But football? Nope; can't help there.

I have a cheering squad

My daddy is great!
Originally uploaded by Tidewater Muse
Well, actually, Elliot doesn't care one way or the other. I asked him if he was willing to move to the prairie; he said, "Okay."

I spoke with one of my colleagues today; she was at a conference last week and heard Richard Bolles, long-time author of the infamous What Color is Your Parachute, speak. I asked her what counsel she had for me with my search. What tidbits did she pick up from the master?

1. The Internet isn't all it's cracked up to be. Don't rely on it.

2. Know yourself. Write 7 stories, and then underline all the verbs. Use these stories, and highlighted verbs, to help figure out talents and skills.

Meanwhile, my wife says I need to lay low until Friday about the most recent opportunity. If they don't call by Friday, she said I can get back in touch with them.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Could this be it?

Perhaps this is the school to call home? I'm ever hopeful, but it is still very early in the search process for this position. My bride tells me I need to cool my jets.

I've been thinking that I need to focus on less about my experience, and more about how my skills and experiences can help the school. I need to state what I think is the obvious.

Now I just need to come up with that list... Instead of daydreaming...

In the mean time, I know they hope to have someone in place by the first of July. Unless they already have someone in mind, and I somehow doubt it since the job advert is all over the place, they're going to be moving quickly. And silence from them to me doesn't bode well. "Patience," the little man on my shoulder says. "Patience."

Good counsel. I've played my hand; now I wait.

Copyright: The image with this post is a screenshot from Google Maps, my favorite online mapping product and tool. The image is copyrighted by Google and is used here for educational, and non-profit, purposes. Google and/or its licensors retain all ownership rights to the imagery.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Any school still looking... might be challenged to find what they're looking for.

Originally uploaded by laurencehorton
I'm still available...

On Friday I saw a new posting from a school I hadn't yet had any contact with. I looked back at the stats for the school, and am wondering why I didn't send them a letter earlier. Whatever. The school is looking for a director of admissions. I went to their website and discovered they're also looking for a director of studies.

I'm thinking that's a double... and perhaps I can hit one home.

I sent my letter in this morning. By this afternoon, I'd heard back that they would consider my candidacy.

That's better news than the response I received from a letter to a different school: turns out they're looking for a football coach who can teach history.

Academics first?

My dear wife tells me that I shouldn't yet get excited, but I've already started planning out my questions for the interview and thoughts on my first six months in job.

Perhaps I'm jumping the gun here.

Anyway, I've been thinking about the possibility of the interview. Invariably, I don't have decent questions to ask at an interview. That's not going to be the case if this time I get called for an interview.

** What is the ideal number of students?
** What is the ideal mix of day students and boarding students?
** What sets the school apart from other schools, including other schools sponsored by the same religious denomination?
** What is the school's strategy or strategic initiatives? Goals? Objectives?
** What are the current strategies, etc., for the admissions office?

** What are the school's current and projected marketing initiatives?
** What of public affairs initiatives?

** What is the school's overall budget? What is the income breakdown (tuition, annual fund, endowment, business profits, other)
** Is the budget balanced? For how many years has the budget been balanced?
** How much is the school's endowment?

** What is the current admissions picture for this coming academic year?
** What is the projected count for the student body? How many of those will be returning students?

** What is the school's target for retention of students?
** Who is has programmatic oversight of retention?
** Who on the staff handles financial aid?
** What sort of financial aid is offered at the school? How much financial aid in grants is offered each year?
** How much are the grants each year? (high, low, mean, mode, median amounts)

** Is there a target or cap for non-native English speakers?
** What countries are represented in the student body?
** What is the school's ESL program?

** What associations does the school belong to? Which is the school active in?

** Has the school used Web 2.0 tools either in the classroom or for admissions or marketing?
** What results has the school seen with Web 2.0 tools?

** Is there a school leadership team? Who's a part of it?
** How are decisions made and business conducted within the school?

** Who makes admissions decisions?
** How much is the annual admissions office budget (less salaries)?
** What is the current admissions process?
** What is the usual travel for the admissions staff?
** What are the feeder schools, institutions, and neighborhoods?
** What is the profile of the "typical" student?

I'm certainly not lacking in questions... Now, if they'd just call for an interview.