The Intensity of Excellence

The excellency of every art at its intensity, capable of making all disagreeable evaporate, from their being in close relationship with beauty and truth. ~John Keats

Reflecting on Week 35

EOC testing.  AP and Fine Arts Exhibition. Baseball.  Mousse.  The excellency of every art.  The hope that comes from reaching a major checkpoint in our journey toward excellence is indescribable.  Not to land in a cliché, but from hard work comes great reward.  I love seeing the reward come to fruition in so many venues.  I am certain that we are only beginning to look into the face of success.  As we raise intensity of our journey, we will continue to see the fruits of our labors.

John Keats claimed a theory of negative capability.  The theory allows for individuals to transcend a traditional, social context and innovate beyond what was imagined.  I imagine it’s much like positive efficacy – for Benton it is believing and claiming the excellence we know we have the ability to be.  But much like a hard fought sporting contest, we often don’t believe we are the better team until the score tells us so.   It’s time to set that record straight.

Week 36 – A Look Ahead

EOC testing continues this week with Biology and Algebra 1 along with make up sessions for English 2 and Government.  Please continue to follow testing protocols with our students.  Also, this is an important time to work with students to focus on their grades to ensure success.  There are 13 school days left in this year.  Help them make the most of every minute they have left.  It is the intensity of excellence that earns the greatest rewards.

~Excellence is a journey, not a destination.~

Images available in CC on Flickr:  “Strength” by R.O Mania♥.

Reading Into Excellence

The illiterate of the 21st Century will not be those who cannot read or write, it will be those who cannot learn, unlearn and relearn. ~Alvin Toffler

Reflecting on Week 34

As we move to finalize our Comprehensive School Improvement Plan (CSIP) for Benton for next year, my research into the areas we have chosen to focus brought me to two scholarly works that changed my thinking years ago when I first was introduced to them.  The first is with systems change.  When we as a school focus on what needs to be accomplished to reach excellence on our journey, questions arise when CHANGE is proposed to the system – in this case, how we offer “school” to our students.  This RSA Animation from Sir Ken Robinson about Changing Education Paradigms continues to challenge me as to why we must never cease to embrace change in our organization.  As the world changes, we must adapt for it.  It is not only our professional obligation to prepare students for the changing world, but our lively hood demands it.  The changes we are considering — from CAMP reorganization to creating strong interventions to help our students successfully navigate our courses — though not nearly as universal as what Sir Robinson are certainly creating significant change to our organization.  At least we hope it does change our outcomes in a significantly positive direction.  Identifying the need for change, implementing change, sustaining change in order for our students at Benton High School to continue to grow in their excellence is one area that I feel defines us as a staff and as an organization.  We have grown literate in what it means to be a 21st Century learner – we are not afraid to learn, unlearn, and relearn.

The second area that I feel we have achieved significant growth in is that of building teacher leaders.  Dr. Michael Fullan states in The Change Leader that, “Also crucial to sustained improvement is the effective succession of leaders. Leadership succession is more likely if there are many leaders at many levels. Organizations must set their sights on continual improvement at all levels, and for that they must nurture, cultivate, and appoint successive leaders who are moving in a sustained direction.”

Growing leaders in our building is a priority for me.  It takes building voice and reflection in a staff.  It takes maturity for decision-making and understanding the power of consensus. It especially takes putting the goals of the unit over the goals of the “silos.”  But most of all, growing leaders takes time.  In that time, as we change from directive, top-down decision-making of old, we must grow capacity for innovation, input, and ownership.  Building the climate of leadership is what will improve our grades, learning and results.  Fullan shares that, “Literacy and mathematics improvements are only the beginning. To ensure deeper learning – to encourage problem solving and thinking skills and to develop and nurture highly motivated and engaged learners, for example – requires mobilizing the energy and capacities of teachers.”  Please take time to watch and read the two links.  I think you will agree; your leadership will make all the difference in our school.

Week 35 – A Look Ahead

We host our 8th graders from Spring Garden Middle School on Tuesday.  It will be an exciting day for our incoming freshmen.  The only teachers who will be working with the 8th graders during the day are those who are assigned to them next year.  That information will be delivered after school (2:45 in Room 104) at the day visit meeting.  On Tuesday night, our staff will host parents at the 8th Grade Parent Orientation.  Any staff member who teaches or could possibly teach freshmen or have a freshman CAMP next year is expected to attend this event.   Show time is 5:45 p.m. in Springer Gym.

This week we start EOC Testing.  Starting on Wednesday, April 25th through May 4th, our building will begin ASSESSMENT PROTOCOLS.  No classes should be using YouTube or streaming video without requesting permission.  Please monitor and prohibit students from streaming music.  We do not want to compromise bandwidth access during testing.  No students should be given passes during classes unless they are emergencies.  Students are not allowed to use cell phones during testing at all.  Testing rooms must be sanitized and signs will be posted showing testing rooms.  Please advise students of these protocols.

More than anything, I can never thank each of you enough for what you do for our school and for our students and parents each day.  Unless you work in this profession, you will never understand the nature of what is expected each day.  Please know, your administrative team is proud to lead and serve you each day.

~Excellence is a journey, not a destination.~

All images are available in CC from Flickr:  “Rectangular” by jronaldlee; “Lego Family” by the great 8; “Lego old skool desktop wallpaper” by Tinker*Tailor loves Lalka

Leading Excellence

Anybody who accepts mediocrity — in school, on the job, in life — is a person who compromises, and when the leader compromises, the whole organization compromises. ~ Charles Knight

Reflecting on Week 33

It’s no secret that at Benton High School our journey to achieve excellence includes growing in leadership.  Our Benton Leadership Team (BLT) is just one example of growing teacher leaders within our building to make decisions and policy to guide and direct our actions daily.  Leadership, however, is certainly not defined by positional power.  Teacher leaders – individuals who are leaders irrespective of a position – are the bread and butter of a good school environment.  Have you ever wondered if you have “leadership capacity?”

In, “What does Leadership Capacity Really Mean?” Linda Lambert states that leaders in education must be skilled in problem solving, working collaboratively, and guiding values, focus and momentum in order to “develop lasting and respectful relationships.” You should click on the link to the article to get the full details, but she states that schools function in either low, moderate, and high leadership capacity status.  After you read the criteria, at what status is Benton?  What is it that earns us that rating?  Is there opportunity for us to improve?  What would that take?

Several years ago, I came across a TED talk by Tony Robbins that has resonated with me in my leadership and in understanding why others around me do what they do.  The title of the talk is, “Tony Robbins asks why we do what we do?”  The video clip calls us to examine what motivates or inspires us in our actions – whether selfless or selfish – and what we can do with the invisible forces that shape our ability to contribute beyond ourselves..

This week your BLT made tough decisions about policies and procedures that impact us all.  They decided as a team what goals and issues to focus on, what actions were needed to achieve that focus and those goals, and how they would grow consensus from their departments to work toward and achieve our goals.  They were amazingly unified in their decisions and will be sharing with you not only their ownership, but also our accountability measures and goals.

Research often claims that the greatest contributing factor to success in leadership is the ability to grow.  No matter what you are involved in, if you are not growing, you will not going to stay excited in achieving nor will you be successful.  Growing in a high leadership capacity school requires one of the six critical factors for success to be teacher leaders accepting and owning responsibility for leadership of the school. Your leadership team made monumental steps of growth on Friday during the retreat.  This IS our journey toward excellence.

Week 34 – A Look Ahead

This week we will have our student leadership elections.  Please look and listen for announcements on information about the candidates.  This Friday is the Lion’s Luncheon for our top 10% of the senior class.  In addition, it’s our Faculty Lunch day.  It’s time to celebrate and break bread together.  It’s going to be a great week.

~Excellence is a journey, not a destination.~

All images available CC on Flickr:  “3D Team Leadesrship Arrow Concept” by or; “Leadership” by  pedrosimoes7; “Leadership” by Dunechaser.

Odyssey of Excellence

Dreams surely are difficult, confusing, and not everything in them is brought to pass for mankind.  For fleeting dreams have two gates: one is fashioned of horn and one of ivory.  Those which pass through the one of sawn ivory are deceptive, bringing tidings which come to nought, but those which issue from the one of polished horn bring true results when a mortal sees them.  ~Homer

Reflecting on Week 32

The victory of last week’s election still sings sweetly as I pause to reflect on the week.  It’s a great opportunity for the St. Joseph School District to know that the tide of our journey has taken us through the gates of polished horn.  It’s also great for Benton to know our part in it.  I thank each of you who voted, walked delivering flyers, posted signs in your yards, and attended our rally to show our support.  It is easy to forget that it is an amalgamation of the little things that seem to make all the difference.  In this event, the difference was a dream come true.

Dreams surely are difficult.  It has been over a year since we began dreaming and talking about the idea of a hybrid high school – a school that incorporates the best of brick & mortar and on-line learning.  It is certainly a 21st Century educational opportunity that, sadly, was not chosen in the High Schools That Work Grant application a year ago.  But that does not mean we haven’t been taking steps to align ourselves for that dream.  Each innovation and school improvement step gets us closer.  As a staff, we are working on ways to improve student performance and success.  Our PE department was innovative in looking for a way to offer freshman hope and purpose in taking high school classes.  We will soon have all our 9th graders visit Missouri Western State University who will partner with us to offer opportunity to our students and make sure they know what is available to them right here in St. Joseph.  New innovative approaches to the educational process that help our students succeed are necessary.  We often quote Albert Einstein in his definition of, “Insanity:  doing the same thing over and over again expecting different results.”  I’d say the idea, if anything, makes a great case for innovation and change.   

Week 33 – A Look Ahead

There are a few important dates on our calendar this week:  EOC training will be held Wednesday in my office five minutes after the start of each period.  If you are giving the EOC test this year, you must attend this training.  There is no JEPD on Wednesday.  Thursday is the fourth and final ACT Academy for the April test.  Please take the time to check with your students who are in the academy to make sure they are supported.  The small things make all the difference.

~Excellence is a journey, not a destination.~

SJSD_logo_Icon at; All other images available in CC on Flickr: “Tiny Ducks Fall Asleep on a Dock” by kugel; “where bubbles go” by circulating.

Rumors on an Excellent Journey

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I I took the one less traveled by,  And that has made all the difference. ~Robert Frost

Week 31 in Review

It’s April Fool’s Day.  What an excellent day to talk about rumors.  Actually, one could almost say this is the season for rumors.  Rumors about Prom.  Rumors about people we work with.  Rumors about rules.  Rumors about elections.  After hearing too many rumors and reading several interesting quotes about rumors, I guess I can see that rumors are timeless.  Some actually really are, but what I am referring to here is rumor telling.  I think Benjamin Franklin said it best when he said, “I resolve to speak ill of no man whatever, not even in a matter of truth; but rather by some means excuse the faults I hear charged upon others, and upon proper occasions speak all the good I know of everybody.”  Mr. Franklin was a wise man.  We should take heed.  I know that when I hold others up, I feel better.  Imagine what would happen if we joined together to hold each other up during this crazy season?  It’s definitely the road less traveled by.  I’ve heard it can make all the difference. 

And so, rumors and fool’s day aside, I feel this is the “proper occasion” to share with you feedback from the UMKC consultants who were at Benton on Friday to complete a pre-assessment of our school.  It’s always interesting to hear what outsiders see and say about us when they visit our classrooms and with our staff.  Some of what they shared was what I think we already knew  – our data teams work is solid, but we have areas we can focus on to improve for next year.  But what really grabbed them by surprise was how incredibly polite and friendly our school was. From teachers to students, they were amazed at our climate.  And they felt it from the moment they entered the building and were greeted by our student at the tech help desk.  They said everyone was kind and welcoming, no matter where they went.  I guess I acted surprised by their comments, because they said I should tell our staff that very few schools they have worked with were like us. They said our kids were really amazing – going to class, greeting visitors, working on their studies. They said our staff was happy, joked with each other, and spoke so positively about our school.  Talk about spreading the word!  We have worked on improving climate for years.

It’s great to have an outside source voice what we would probably not know in our own trench.  Our relationships are good, but we all know on our journey toward excellence that we can and should be better.  I think Benjamin Franklin may just have the shocking key in his words of wisdom.  It’s a short week this week.  What positive difference will you make?

Week 32 – A Look Ahead
Hold onto your kites, friends.  Short week or not, it’s a powerful time. Monday – Benton staff election rally, 3:00-5:00 p.m. at Hoof & Horn.  Please drop in to rally and snack on hors d’oeuvres provided by your ever-grateful administration and our dear friend Roy, owner of the Hoof.  It’s a great time to take a minute and bond.  This election is for us. Tuesday – Make sure you remember to send kids to CAMP Congress,  support students in ACT Academy and vote (please).Wednesday – Early Out – CAMP lunch (please send in your order)

~Excellence is a journey, not a destination.~

Images available in CC from Flickr:  “Enchanted Wood” by Skinnyde; “Key 3” by ~Brenda-Starr~; “Draken-Kite” by Gertrud K.