Tuesday, October 30, 2012


One of my passions is learning about organizations that achieve success by focusing on something other than what the success is traditionally measured by.  Examples:
  • De La Salle Football, winningest high school football program in the history of the universe.  They focus non-stop on commitment to and love for one's teammates.  The traditional measure would be victories/championships.
  • North Carolina Basketball (under Dean Smith).  He focused on three things: Playing Hard, Playing Smart, Playing Together.  Again, traditional measure would have been victories/championships.
  • Apple.  Focus on creating the most innovative, user-friendly technology.  Traditional measure would be company profits and sales numbers.
Schools are measured against so many different parameters: test scores, average cumulative GPA of graduating classes, number of graduates attending 4-year universities, etc.  But ultimately my belief is that a school, like the organizations I mentioned above, could and would achieve any traditionally measured success if they'd just focus relentlessly on deeper underlying principles.  I just can't figure out what the heck they are.  Until now.  The other day, one finally hit me.

High Expectations.

May not seem like much, but it's a philosophy, a belief.  Something that we can all control no matter what the circumstances.  Doesn't matter if a kid has personal issues, comes from a crappy background, if our classroom has too many kids, if our projector isn't working.  We can focus relentlessly on holding ourselves and our students to high expectations.  And we can define what high expectations means to us.  What do high expectations look like in my classroom?  In yours?  In our collaboration?  On our sports fields?  In our weekly admin meetings?

But that's only one.  I need a few more.  Thoughts?

Thursday, October 25, 2012


This past Sunday through Wednesday I spent time at a high school on a WASC visit.  WASC stands for Western Association of Schools and Colleges and it is one of six regional accrediting associations in the United States.  My role was to serve on a team that read and discussed a school's self-study, verified that what was stated in the report was actually happening on the campus, and offered feedback.  My team recommended to WASC a term for accreditation and WASC makes the final decision.  

A few of the teachers at the school asked me why I do it and my answer is simple.  I do it because I want to learn.  The WASC organization says that serving on a visiting committee is one of the best professional development opportunities around and I completely agree.  A few years back an assistant principal suggested I serve on a visiting committee and now I've been on three: two full visits and one that was a one-day revisit.  

It's an amazing process.  The school being visited goes through an extensive reflection period, thoroughly looking at its entire program.  A report is compiled, the previously mentioned self-study.  The WASC visiting team then reads the self-study and meets for the first time on Sunday afternoon to discuss, share thoughts, and develop a schedule.  Beginning later Sunday afternoon and continuing throughout Wednesday the visiting team:
  • visits classrooms
  • meets with parent groups
  • meets with site leadership (department heads, administrative team)
  • visits classrooms
  • meets with focus area groups (school governance, curriculum, instruction, assessment, and school culture)
  • meets with student groups (leadership, an "ad-hoc" group where the visiting team selects students to get a decent snapshot of the student population as a whole)
  • meets the support staff
  • meets the counselors
  • visits classrooms
  • meets district folks and board members
...all the while discussing, reflecting, asking questions, answering questions.  It's awesome.

As a full-time educator, and when I say full-time I'm not just referring to my contracted time but implying that for the most part I live and breathe my work, it's tough to find the time to step back reflect on my practice.  WASC affords me the time away from work to do this, but to do it in an action-research setting.  I'm reflecting on my work and my school and our progress by thoroughly examining another institution.  By no means does that entail comparison.  It's not at all about comparing the school I'm visiting with the school I'm at or any other school I've been to or worked for.  It just helps, when reflecting on my work, to be immersed in the environment of work but not at my site.  In those three days I see and hear and discuss so much.  It would be impossible not to learn from that.

Additionally I get to spend time with other passionate educators.  On this visit there were eight of us: a retired principal, an assistant superintendent of HR, two high school principals, two teachers, one counselor, and myself.  Get that many inspired educators together examining an institution and some serious learning is bound to happen!

All in all it's a fantastic experience and I recommend any educator who is interested in improving join a WASC team.