Friday, October 13, 2017

Find the Good Points on the Way to Yes

As school leaders, we often have those around us approach us with requests that are difficult to meet. Many times, the first instinctive response we reach for in those difficult situations brought to us by a student, parent, or colleague is: “no.” That answer is safe, easy, and doesn’t require us to extend beyond our comfort zone. I heard once that the secret to helping others is by trying to get to “yes.” That doesn’t mean that the answer will be “yes,” but the trick is to figure out what it would take to get there and be open to walking down that path. Once you open the conversation up, you must listen carefully and find the good points. In nearly every difficult conversation, even those where you strongly disagree, there is usually some good idea. Looking for good points could get you closer to “yes.” It might not be what was asked for at the start, but working to “yes” gets you further than ending with “no.”

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Summer is the Time to Grow - By Using a Rubber Duck

Almost everyone is done for the summer, or soon will be, and I believe this is your best time to grow through reflection because you actually have some time you can dedicate to the process. I have long practiced “Currere” as a method for structured reflection on a project or a school year. Here is a quick way to break down a school year using Currere by asking four simple questions:

  1. What was my experience last year?
  2. What do I want to do next year?
  3. How am I feeling about current abilities and skills?
  4. What is my path forward to a successful year next year?
The trick to taking action on what you learn from reflection is verbalizing what you are going to do next year. Speak your plans out loud and listen to what you are saying. As told in the recent “Rationally Speaking” podcast, you don’t have to explain your plans to anyone but yourself, but you do have to say them out loud - even if you just speak to a rubber duck. You will then help yourself build a better plan. The roadmap to having a great next school year is already inside of you. Now is the time to discover the path through some structured reflection and a little rubber ducking.

Cross Posted to the Tech&Learning Newsletter

Monday, May 01, 2017

The Actual Cost of Cursive in Illinois

Last week the Illinois House passed new legislation that would mandate that cursive is taught in schools across Illinois. This comes during the same time that they cannot pass a budget, for two years running. This got me thinking of the question "at what cost does cursive come at?" So I have attempted to estimate and cost it out.

The two major variables for hard costs are materials and professional development. Handwritten cursive requires consumable workbooks. A common set of materials for teaching cursive, which typically occurs in 3rd grade, is the Zaner-Bloser Handwriting series, which comes at a cost of $11.69 per student. According to the Illinois Report Card we have averaged 152,545 third graders each year over the past five years. This gives you a cost of student materials of $1,783,246 for the first year, and for every year after that.

Many schools haven't been teaching cursive for a while, so we would have to coach up our teachers, modify daily schedules for 15 minutes of cursive per day, ensure that we have methods for assessing student progress, and ways to intervene when students don't succeed. I estimate that we will need a day for each third grade teacher to re-train on their cursive skills and build out the curriculum. Using Illinois Report Card Data again, With 152,545 third grade students, with the average class size across Illinois in elementary schools at 19.1, and the average hourly rate for teachers in Illinois at $45.19 per hour we come out with a cost of $2,887,052 to retrain our third grade teachers.

Teachers need materials too, and we will get them one set ever, just to keep costs down. So the 7987 third grade teachers across the State also get $11.69 worth of teacher materials at a total cost of $93,364.

Total cost of year one in $4,763.662, which is only %0.43 of what Illinois owes schools in back bills from this year, because they haven't paid any school funding yet and owe schools $1,106,085,191 as of today. It is also enough to fully fund many small school districts across the state for a year.

The total cost after 5 years is $11,896,648. That is more than the annual budget in my child's elementary school district and a little more than 1% of what the State currently owes schools.

When working through this exercise I am not even factoring in the cost of the time for administrators and support staff to organize all of this, order materials, inventory orders, and cut checks for these changes - we will consider that a throw in as part of doing business. We also won;t factor in what we are not doing while we are teaching and preparing for cursive. Or the tissue we will need for all of the kids that are in tears as a result of forcing them to master a skill that has gone the way of ink wells, television tube repairs, and filmstrips. Really, tears must be a thing, because there is a whole curriculum called "Handwriting Without Tears".

So before legislators start passing mandates, maybe they should pass a budget. 

Visit #PassILBudget to see the peas from educators across the State of Illinois, including more than 413 Superintendents, to get this done.

Check my math here