Category Archives: Uncategorized

Setting goals – a return to the blogosphere

I haven’t written for a while, and with a new year and new position approaching I thought I should get started by setting goals. I will be a principal this fall for Southwest Valley High School in Corning, Iowa. This will be my first principal position following seventeen years of teaching instrumental music. I attended my first board meetings this week. Between the two school boards of whole-grade sharing Villisca and Corning, my second meeting did just that: set goals. So I am inspired to begin writing.

One of my band director colleagues, Pat Kearney (click his name to read his blog, it’s really good) has written extensively over the spring and early summer. Alan Feirer (another great mind and voice on leadership – click his name too!) has also inspired my work over the past four years. Others have as well, and I constantly see people on Twitter posting their latest musings. I have been a very reflective teacher the past few years, working to put everything I do under the microscope for evaluation and reassessment. I will definitely be looking to document, reflect, solicit advice, and hopefully improve my leadership skills through this process.

There will be many topics to cover: school funding, integrating technology, making sure grades are reflective of real learning, building relationships with adults and students, leadership and creating leaders, producing lifelong learners; the list is endless. Each week it will be difficult to pick just one thing to write about. I know I’m looking forward to the journey. I’m excited to grow, learn, build relationships, and help lead our school into prosperity.

Enjoy the rest of your summer!



Governor Terry Branstad recently released his proposed budget with an increase of between .8% and 1.25% in state supplemental aid (formerly allowable growth) for schools. This has understandably come under fire from the education community. But what does a veritable freeze in school budgets do to a school district?

A school that is already strapped in administration and teaching staff has to make even more personnel reductions to keep the lights on. Supervision becomes much less consistent, raising concerns for bullying and dangerous inappropriate student behavior. Students who have to attend kindergarten classes of up to 29 students do not get the differentiated instruction they need to discover their needs as a learner and grow socially. A school that already has a bare-bones curriculum cannot be innovative in class offerings and reduces sections of core classes to tie the hands of schedule-makers when attempting to help students into the arts and other elective classes.

The teacher leadership (TLC) grant money will help districts have more teacher leaders to help with instructional practice and collaboration. This is a good thing, however, this money does nothing to keep the school doors open. Freezing school budgets requires cuts in program costs, stretches out already maxed-out teachers, and reduces the quality of programming for students. You will end up with many great ideas, but not anywhere close to the manpower necessary to execute strategies or provide quality learning experiences. Teacher quality money has also boosted teacher salaries in the past few years, but again, does nothing to increase operational program funding.

Less manpower also means less supervision. One of the Governor’s main objectives is bullying prevention. You cannot have more eyes on the situation when there are less people watching. Requiring schools to make program cuts undermines the Governor’s own education goals, rendering them impossible to realize.

This conversation may come down to teacher salaries, but it really doesn’t have anything to do with how much teachers are paid, but how schools have to deal with $4.00 gas and diesel, increased heating costs, and the ridiculous cost of providing current curricular materials (including CORE curriculum) for students. You can’t even talk about what teachers are paid when you don’t have a full teaching staff or current materials to work with.

The Governor should promote giving schools the money they need to cover increased operational costs and stop calling TLC and teacher quality money increased budget support. The state supplemental aid formula may or may not need changed, but the Governor can’t seriously consider shooting himself in the foot by expecting better learning and bullying prevention with fewer adults on campus. It’s time to untie the hands of superintendents and allow them to fund a staff and provide materials that allow for proper supervision and innovative education opportunities for students.

How communication can get better

I read an article earlier this month about improving communication. Not just saturating the environment with more information, but providing methods of feedback to stakeholders.

I think about this as I read fellow teachers post about communicating with students, staff, administration, parents, community….am I asking the right questions to have two-way lines of communication with stakeholders? I have always said that I can work on communication skills, but my focus has always been on providing as much detail in as many forms possible. I really haven’t ever worked on creating avenues for parents to give information back to me.

Just this morning, I have sent a text message and email to two different sets of parents. As generally is the case, they respond to direct, personal messages. Our district is changing to standards-based education this year, and the information provided to parents will be much different than before. My band parents will know exactly what parts of playing in band their child is successful in and needs to work more on.

My new communication goal is to open up channels for stakeholders to provide feedback. I have put quite a bit of information out there; now it’s time to give folks a chance to respond.

Two weeks in; am I ready yet?

I haven’t written on my blog for a long time now, and it’s way past time to start reflecting again. Two weeks into my 17th year, I feel much more confident than I did my first year; I’m also (thankfully) just as nervous and excited as I was then. Am I prepared? Do I have all the instruments and music ready? Are my new rubrics going to be effective? Will we be ready to perform at homecoming next week (ALREADY!!!)?

As all the glitches and kinks get worked out, this is no different than any other year. Students show up on the first day ready to learn and discover new things. I am excited to share my love of music with the kids and help them discover their own joy in playing instruments. Some students didn’t have their instruments the first day. I had forgotten to make an extra copy of the music or pass out the right equipment. I just found the last pair of cymbals for the high school drumline, right where they were all along.

Supplies are coming in, the students have their instruments, and we are already moving through the year like Clark Griswold on his sledding saucer. The first couple of weeks always feel like holding on for dear life, but now I can slow down, thoughtfully prepare, and be ready to meet the students’ needs each day. Today feels good. I’m never ready until it’s time to go; that’s why the first game is still a week away and the first concert is 6 weeks away. I’m ready at game time; until then, we work hard, dig out the notes, fix the broken drumhead, and continue learning. I’m sure at some point I’ll need a little of Clark’s special grease, but until then, here’s the next lesson.

Have a great year!

2013 Quick Summary

Wow, what a year it’s been! I have grown as an educator, husband, father, and person. What do I have to be proud of?

– I am now 83 pounds lighter than I was at my heaviest weight 5 years ago.
– I have accepted that my wife will do what it takes for me to do my job to the best of my ability.
– I have worked more efficiently and effectively as a teacher with the reward of more family time.
– I have joined several school committees and engaged in more conversation outside my classroom.
– I have become more active on Twitter and used the chats to grow, learn, and collaborate with great minds from around the world.
– I have watched my girls grow this year in school and at home, and played with them more.
– Far less catches me by surprise now as I have returned to seeing issues before they arise, something that used to be a strength of mine and is again.

So what do I still have to work on in 2014?

– I need to continue losing weight, with the goal of 50 more pounds by May.
– I need to continue to respect what my wife does for our family and the sacrifices she makes to help us have a quality life.
– I need to continue to include new projects and technology into my curriculum, especially composition and music creation.
– I need to do more reading and research to support my continued involvement on school committees.
– I need to blog more often and continue expanding my social media and professional learning network.
– I need to play with the girls even more and simultaneously be more involved in their education.
– I need to get my leadership hat on and develop recruitment this semester.

I think I’ve had a pretty good year and still have plenty to work on. I hope you have a lot to be proud of, a list to work on, and a great new year!

What I want for Christmas

Today’s #sunchat with @mssackstein and @barbarawmadden focused on wish lists for teachers. It was a great conversation with educators across the Twitterverse about what teachers and students need to be successful. I think @Principal_El made a great point:

@Principal_EL: Following #sunchat today and learning that we can’t continue to admire the problems in education! We need to find solutions/be innovative!

While I agree that we have to continue to innovate, I also think of the old adage about blood and turnips. I wish that schools had the resources they needed to provide for all students and teachers without having to make difficult choices. We, as a body of teachers, parents, and administrators need to continue to press state government to provide for ALL students, not just some.

In the meantime, here are my wishes for my students and me in my school:

– I wish that students didn’t have to worry about how to get to school, and that more students and parents would work together to support each other.

– I wish that all school programs had equitable access to technology instead of access based on arbitrary ranking. If it’s offered in the curriculum, it deserves access instead of excuses.

– I wish I had a command center in the front of my room. This would include a mounted projector, mount for iPad or laptop, sound system, document projector, and an office chair. This one is pretty selfish on my part.

– I wish more folks had @jimmycasas’s outlook on life. I would like to think I’m getting there, but for some it’s a journey to a belief and not a natural way of being. Check out his blog from today.

I told my kids the other day that after a kinda crappy day, they were a great way to end the day. Listening to them play, work hard, and just have a great time in class with them. I wish that everyone could have the experience I have with my kids in their classroom. It truly is a joy to teach and be with the leaders of tomorrow!

Gamification newest version of intrinsic/extrinsic motivation

I read an article today that talked about the psychology of gamification in the classroom. Read it here: as a band director, I’m used to providing stars for completed assignments, varsity letter points for extracurricular participation, and other extrinsic rewards. I also work the intrinsic pride of accomplishment angle with students.

I work in a 1:1 laptop school; all of my band students in grades 7-12 have @SmartMusic. The article talks about all the benefits of gamification and how it provides the intrinsic and extrinsic motivation students need to do their best on class work. The other night in the grocery store checkout line, a current parent of a band student and alumni of the program was telling me about pizza parties for learning scales. I think this would be a great idea to build on with SmartMusic and required assignments for a quarter.

I believe I could divide the band into sections and use SmartMusic results to determine the strongest group each month. Any groups tied would receive the party with no tiebreakers. This would also motivate me to update grades more regularly so I could provide weekly updates on group progress.

I think there are a great deal of elements from the above article in what we’re already doing; I just need to tie them together with a little friendly competition in the name of higher achievement and an increased level of performance from the entire class.