Excellence can be Scary!

We seek excellence by constant trial and error.  ~Master Kwon

The sad truth is that excellence makes people nervous.                                               ~Shana Alexander

Week 11 in Review

With Parent/Teacher Conferences in our rear-view mirror, it’s a little bit frightening what we learn when we contact parents.  We learn to be simultaneously pragmatic and empathetic.  “Persistence” and “Pursuit” become our last names.   But one week later, with our parents having heard “the news” and given us their feedback, we have excelled in our personal communication reaching over 90% of parents or guardians to share grades and ask them if they have any questions.  It’s such a tremendous improvement from the industrial, less personal, Parent/Teacher Conferences of old.  I realize it takes so much of your time, and it is often a nerve-racking event, but we get incredible feedback from our families. I promise you, they appreciate it more than you can imagine.  Thank you again for your time and effort in reaching our parents.

Week 11 was filled with pride and prejudice for me – just so you know.  I tried to explain it in my “Celebration Announcement Speech” last Friday morning.  Turns out everyone just thought I was sad, and the crazy thing is that I was so far from that!  So, that little soliloquy you heard was me getting choked up with pride in my staff.  I can’t begin to delineate every area of creation, innovation, extra effort, teamwork or personal growth I have witnessed so far this year.  It is overwhelming when the memories of things each of you do come crashing into my brain.  I never meant to leave anyone out – it’s the price paid for listing events or people – but I truly could have spent all day celebrating how far we’ve come and how amazing you all are.  I shared with a few people this week that I finally feel we are righting the path – controlling the world we should control so that creation and innovation can burgeon where it should.  So again, I thank you all for the incredibly hard work you do daily.  It’s working.  Look inside the eye of that pumpkin…there’s a glow in there that hasn’t been there for a long time.

Week 12 – A Look Ahead

Boo.  Monday is going to be fun.  Keep your cool and enjoy the day.  No masks are allowed.  That’s the hard and fast rule of the day.  And don’t forget to DONATE TO BACKPACK BUDDIES this week.  As soon as we reach our goal of $250 as a staff, you can wear blue jeans for the rest of the week.  Seriously – even starting Tuesday. I’m starting with my $10.  Join me in a great cause.  And you will look “maah-velous wearing jeans, daah-ling”

Speaking of Tuesday, we are ready.  We are absolutely, categorically, unequivocally ready for our District Data Consult.  Your data teams work has been phenomenal. It really has.  Remember, our process in itself is about growth in data teams.  It is also an incredible exercise in differentiation of learning – a lot of trial and error approaches.  We’ve had some very serious, extremely hard conversations about teaching and learning this last few months.  I know for a fact that I have learned more than I could have imagined when we started this venture. I feel confident I can say that about our staff as well.  Without question, the front line implementation of the data teams process as a whole school looks very different than anything we have ever seen.  We have worked hard not to allow this to become the next “hoop jump,” and I am dedicated to ensuring it never does.  This is about growing as professionals.  It’s hard, but it will be worth it if we stay the course.  I heard from many of you how important that aspect is of our work.  I whole-heartedly agree with you.

Wednesday we have Leadership Team at 0700 in Room 106.  Then at 10:00 a.m., Dr. Smith and Dr. Curry, a visiting Superintendent, will be in our school touring the library facilities.  Please introduce yourself if we are in your area of the school.

On Friday we have a Pep Assembly at 2:10 p.m. for Phantom of the Opera, choir, and JROTC.  We will also announce any fall sports accolades that have been awarded thus far.  On Friday night, from 7-9, the administration and support staff are hosting a Sadie Hawkins Dance for the students.  This fundraiser is for our staff so you are not expected to work the dance (in case you wondered).  Miss Carlene and Miss Debby really wanted to provide some nice things for each of you this year for school, so they brainstormed this idea to raise the funds.  Please, please encourage your students to attend this dance.  It’s for a VERY good cause – YOU!

Finally, Saturday is EdCamp KC.  If you are in ANY way nervous about your laptop skills or instructional ideas going 1:1, or you just want to learn some new crazy skills from some new crazy friends, you should attend this FREE, LOCAL event.  EdCamp was a huge hit with many of our staff members last year.  Again this year, it will be held at Lee’s Summit North High School starting at 8:00 a.m.  We could and should car-pool and ride together.  It will be more fun that way.  Let me know if you want a ride or are willing to drive.  Make sure you hit go to the site to register.   Remember, only 37 school days until we roll computers out to our kids.  Are you ready?

~ Excellence is a journey not a destination ~

Photos available CC in Flikr:  “2011 Jack o lanterns”” by pat o rama; “Halloween – Pumpkins”  by YAXZONE; “Carving Pumpkins for Halloween” by adem80; “The whole famdamily” by John Carleton; “oooOOOOOoo…” by M. Christian; Twenty eight by nigel@hornchurch.


Excellence in the Red Zone

We do not do well except when we know where the best is and when we are assured that we have touched it and hold its power within us. ~Joseph Joubert

 Week 10 – A Week in Review

My football friends tell me that when a team is in the Red Zone that means they are in the last 20 yards of a scoring drive toward the goal line.  The pressure is high.  Scoring is expected.  Defense is intense.  Statistics are kept.  Teams practice red zone plays – both offensive and defensive.  These plays are critical to success, and it doesn’t matter what side of the ball you are playing. The metaphorical applications to Benton being in the red zone this year are immense.

We ended the first quarter of the 2011-2012 school year last week.  It was an intense week that included conversations about statistics, goals, and our overall plan of action to score well.  From job-embedded professional development for our laptop pilot to data teams, it feels like we are living life in the red zone.  We are.  And like all good strategies, some things work well the first time, and some we have to take back to the drawing board to adjust our plan of action. Your department chairs did a great job talking through data teams.  Each week we get smarter and smarter as we adjust our plans to meet power standards.  Our plan for report cards in CAMP – setting goals and writing letters – worked well overall.  I heard from several students how they realized they needed to think about what to do next to get the grades they wanted.  I was impressed with their honest reflection and desire to improve.

Week 11 – A Look Ahead

It’s Parent/Teacher Conference week.  Again, we find ourselves in the red zone of communication.  The importance of your connection with our parents about students’ grades cannot be overstated.  It’s really, really important.  During the conference, you should ask parents if they have their Parent Portal log-in.  Ask if they need information about how to contact any teachers their student may have.  Be sure to remind the parents of who their child’s counselor is if they need to reach them for any reason.  Tell them how much you care about the success of their child.  Just those four statements alone go a long way in comforting parents that you know their child and you care.  Make sure you document your contact.  Mr. McCoy will be sending out the data collection form immediately.  This information must be compiled and turned in to the district office so you must turn in the data form to the Assistant Principals’ office before you leave on Friday (the 3 hour early out in compensation for your time spent with parent conferences).

This week also brings our first full department data team session with administration.  The expectation for the meeting is to present your Power Standards, the year calendar for addressing your established Power Standards, and the data used to reach the decision about your Power Standards choices.  Additionally, you should bring a copy of your common assessment, the data from the common assessment, any lesson plans used to teach lessons aligned to the addressed Power Standard, and if you have given the post-test common assessment – bring that test and data.  This department data team session will be as intense as any play in the red zone.  There is a lot riding on this drive.  I will send out the meeting dates and times to department chairs on email.

And if there wasn’t enough red zone talk for you, Thursday is a big day for Benton High School actual football.  It’s our final season game, and it’s against Lafayette.  We will have a pep assembly on Thursday, so make sure you include that in your plans.  And know that this is a time when we teach our students what it means to believe.

Believe we can succeed when it feels impossible.  Believe in the kids when they may not believe in themselves.  Believe that our journey of excellence DOES have a pay-off, and all the hard work is worth it when you can reach that goal.  Know that sometimes when you believe, it is the small difference that makes ALL the difference.  I believe in the Power of RED.

And with that – it’s a perfect week for us.  It’s RED RIBBON WEEK.  This week we celebrate keeping our kids drug-free for life.  Join in teaching our kids the advantages of living such a life.  Check your email sent last week from our counseling department for the events they have planned for this week.  Sometimes in small comments we make to our students, we influence their thinking in big ways.  This is a week to make that difference with them.

Two more quick notes on making a difference – First, we are in our final push to sign up for UNITED WAY.  Please see Tracy Allen if you have not yet completed your donation form. If you are interested in wearing jeans on Thursday and Friday, you can do so for a small donation to United Way.  See Tracy to make your donation and don’t forget to wear a Benton shirt with your jeans.  Please join us all in making a UNITED fashion statement.

Secondly, Saturday is the district PACT Walk-A-Thon.

This event is important.  I know Dr. Smith has asked for your help, PACT has

asked, and on behalf of Benton, we have asked.  It’s only a short amount of time.  You would need to be at Central at 8:00 a.m.  Bring your friends and family.  Bring your teams or student groups.  And more than anything…wear RED.

Have a great week in the RED ZONE. Because we are… Southside!  And they all shouted in unison, “Go BIG RED!”

 Excellence is a journey not a destination.

Football Field available with some rights reserved by juggernautco (Daniel X. O’Neil) http://www.derivativeworks.com/  on Flickr; Bentley by me; Southside Schools by PJ; Red Ribbon by Prevention Partners Together @ http://www.preventionpartners.com/shop/view_details.cfm?item=drr109.


Hope in the Discovery of Excellence

Just make up your mind at the very outset that your work is going to stand for quality…that you are going to stamp a superior quality upon everything that goes out of your hands, that whatever you do shall bear the hall-mark of excellence. ~ Orison Swett Marden

Week 9 in Review

Well, last week was a crazy, busy week as predicted.  You know you are on the right track when out of chaos comes order.  Sitting with the department chairs and working through each team’s data teamwork was a discovery of excellence.  It was amazing hearing about the conversations each team had about data, power standards, common assessments and just instructional practices overall.  In the action of discovery, we all reached our own level of clarity on a variety of issues concerning data teams.  We learned how to focus on specific objectives, how to identify process verbs to focus instructional practice, and how to collect and apply the data from common assessment to differentiate instruction.  I was very impressed with the dedication each team had made to their work on improving instruction.  I am filled with hope for the next level of discovery as each team presents its work on October 25th and 26th.  I will send out a reminder list of expectations for the data team discussion this week.

Week 10 – A Look Ahead

Grades close on Tuesday night.  Don’t forget you must post grades no later than 9:00 a.m. on Wednesday.  If you make any grade changes AFTER Wednessday morning then you must notify Kim or the changes will not take effect.

This Wednesday during Job-embedded PD, we will fishbowl the data teams process in hopes of helping teams become more and more comfortable with what the process looks like.   We meet on a White day, so Amy will touch base with FACS/Science (1W), Comm Arts/ SpEd (2W), Fine Arts (3W), and hopefully Business (4W) to see if we can work through the modeling together.  Remember, the whole reason for this practice is to practice.  There is no expectation of being experts.  We are learning…together.

Thursday and Friday will be important CAMP days.  We will help our students set goals for the second half this semester as well as craft a letter to send to parents or guardians (or someone significant in the student’s life if parents are not guardians).  Please make sure the students’ letters are appropriate.  All letters are due in the sealed envelopes to Kim by Friday before you leave. If at all possible, please send them at the end of CAMP on Friday. And Kim – thank you from all of us for taking care of us this week.  You truly are amazing.

The Spaceshuttle Discovery from  http://www.nasa.gov/centers/kennedy/shuttleoperations/orbiters/orbitersdis.html; Discovery logo from taweel.com.

Continuing the Journey to Excellence

Excellence is a journey not a destination.

Week 8 in Review

Week Eight and Nine in the world of a public high school is much like the fall television rollout for the networks.  Much of the schedule is new, but not all of it is gripping or as interesting to view couched inside of our old favorites that we have already fit into our routine.  Last week during our professional development time together, we introduced Common Core State Standards.  Looking at the CCSS was like a preview trailer for an upcoming, much anticipated movie, which is scheduled to change our lives in 2014-2015.  It makes us all sit back in silence as we consider the excellence in which it will allow us to focus for our students, but the implications of change it has on our current practice. 

And it was only the week before last that we had set up our “educational DVR” to commit ourselves to many seasons of a hopeful top hit in the new show Data Teams.  Data teams will take a big commitment from all of us.  One very honest teacher shared with me this week a similar analogy that inferred if we are going to fill our DVRs with new shows, then something needs to come off the old schedule.  I completely agreed.

So we – YOU – must determine what that something needs to be.  I suggested to several teachers, in one example, that data teams should become the lesson planning and assessment process of the past.  A teacher suggested we use our benchmarks as our common pre and post assessments for the Power Standard we are addressing.  I immediately knew that was right!  Yes, I thought,  and realized it begs the question – is that test what it needs to be? If not, what can we and should we do about that?  I looked at the laundry list of requirements and expectations that this teacher had in front of him and knew he was right.  We needed to sync, align, cut and replace many of our current practices with the better ones in order to be really good at the important parts of teaching.  We need to be good at a few things and not mediocre at such a wide variety.

With that said, what can you align?  What is holding you back?  What activities and actions are you taking that you know are good and can prove long lasting results?  What programs should you keep or take off your DVR?  If you need help with these decisions, you have a ton of resources…your collaborative team, your department chair, your instructional coach, and your administration.  Use us.  You are the power brokers of our school.  Use your influence and let’s really put the right priorities forward.  Some require change and some are just required, but mostly, it just requires you giving yourself permission to stop repeating a practice because we’ve always done it that way.

One of the requests I asked of everyone last week was to give me feedback on how to offer our future professional development events.  I heard from many department chairs.  As it turns out, each department is at a very different place, so I think a small adjustment to our current plan is all that is needed.  You are focused on data teams right now and should be.  We will stick to that and do it well.  October 19th will be a share and workday in JEPD for data teams in order to prepare for the Oct 25 & 26 department discussion with administration about their data teams work.  In our work toward the January student laptops pilot, we will start that work during November and December when you will work with Melissa Corey and Ryan Johnson on your SchoolWires pages.  I received the expectations from the district last Friday.  Trust me, you will not need more than one session with either of our trainers to have your page(s) up and running.  It’s so easy a caveman can do it.  Finally, Sean Nash promised me that our work on Synergy and EduBlogs will be able to be done in short order nearer the time we bring on the student computers.  He believes scheduling him to work with your department by department will allow you to personalize what you need to teach your content, and he will be available to work with you!  Promise.

Week 9 – A Look Ahead

It’s going to be a crazy week…again.  Tuesday we have our FCA Assembly from 1:40 to 240. We will dismiss to CAMP and then to the Springer Gymnasium.  This is always a great assembly for our students.  Sorry for the last minute notification.  Wednesday we have our 10th graders all attending the My Success Event at the Civic Auditorium.  Also that day we are giving the PSAT to interested sophomores and juniors.  After school is our Benton Leadership Team meeting at 2:45 in Room 103.  Please make certain a member of your department attends.  Thursday is our next CAMP Congress meeting.  The students are making excellent decisions.  We will begin trying meetings before and after school, as it seems we need more time to make bigger and bigger decisions.  Also Thursday and Friday we will meet with department chairs during their plan/collaboration times to work through the data teams work you have completed that is due to prepare for our walkthrough.  Like I said, it’s just another normal, crazy week.

Hang in there everyone.  It is mid-October, and this is the peak of the fall season for our push to get things up and running.  Remember it always feels like this.  What you need to understand it that this IS our new normal and just getting it all in your fall line-up is a part of our journey to excellence.   When you are looking at all the expectations and prioritize and align those with good classroom practice – you ARE EXCELLENT.  To be more efficient at your excellence, it’s time for you to decide what shows you are about to take off your DVR.


Logos for abc by marketingshift.com; nbc by deskala.com; cbs by sae.edu. 

Excellence is Change

“Whosoever desires constant success must change his conduct with the times.”  — Niccolo Machiavelli

Week 7 in Review

Data Teams.  I am guessing you are already tired of talking about them.  I want to urge every department not to get discouraged.  This is a part of the work we do as educators to improve our practice, our school, and our students’ learning.   The learning process stretches us out of our comfort zone and causes us to endure growing pains.  Our students understand this feeling; it’s common to them.  If you  find you need support, advice, ideas or just someone to listen – do not hesitate to contact Luke, Jeremy or me… or your instructional coach Amy.  We are very seriously invested in the work you are doing.  The success of our students and ultimate success of our school is counting on it.  Don’t be sad or frustrated.  Tackle this like you would any process of constant improvement and change – with a great attitude and a commitment to be better tomorrow than you are today.  These are the times that try men’s souls  (Thomas Paine, 1776).

Mr. Knight is an example; he is now very happy.  He completed yet another StuCo Homecoming Week.  And what a great week it was!  Thank you StuCo for your hard work and feisty spirit.  Thanks for the great candidate slideshow and pep assembly.  Thanks Coach Tabor and football staff for a great game – win or lose – those young men always leave it all out on the field.  They never gave in, and they never gave up.  That is the Cardinal spirit.  I saw it this week in our softball games, cross country races, and tennis matches.  We never once gave in.  I saw it this weekend as our cheerleaders competed flawlessly.  When struck by a technical casualty, the girls did not let that hold them down.  They completed their routine with grace and solid will.  They were true Cardinals.


Week 8:  A Look Ahead

We are in the season where there isn’t a day or week that goes by where we are not all extraordinarily busy.  This week Luke, Jeremy, Karen and I will present at the Missouri Association of Principals (MASSP) Conference.  We were one of only eight presentations chosen to present at the state level.  Additionally, Luke will be presented his NWMASSP Assistant Principal of the Year Award by the state governing board.  I hope you know we are honored to represent Benton as we share with the state’s principals about our CAMP program and the successes we have seen in the last three years.

Also this week our PE Department, under Annie Roseberry’s innovative leadership, has launched the Pound Plunge at Benton.  I was excited to hear how many participants we had, students and staff alike!  I am proud to celebrate everyone who dedicates himself to something so difficult to accomplish.  It takes great dedication and spirit to get fit.  Thank you PE/JROTC department for taking us all under your wing and making us leaner learners.

This Wednesday we will have a two hour early out for building professional development.  We will focus on Common Core State Standards (CCSS) looking at them and getting a foundational feel for what’s about to come our way.   I will share with you an idea I had about increasing our parent communication during our parent/teacher week.  I think you will really love the ideas for our students to reach out to their parents.  We will also talk through information I have recently learned about our upcoming laptop roll out in January.  And with the time left in the session, departments will be able to work on their data teams plans.  Bob Dylan was right, “Times, they are a changin’.”

Thursday, October 6th, we will have our next session of CAMP Congress.  Please send your student representative after you have taken roll.  This week, please have a conversation with your CAMPs about this question:  “What do students need or need more of to be successful at Benton High School”  (academically, athletically, and in preparing for life after high school)?  Please have your representative bring the thoughts and comments from your CAMP to the meeting.  They also need to remember to bring paper and a writing utensil to bring back information to their CAMPs.

Before we close, I do have two very cool opportunities to share with you in preparation of our laptop pilot program roll out.  Opportunity number one is an exciting chance to travel to an exceptional one to one laptop school – Science Leadership Academy – where you will see an inquiry driven, project based high school focused on 21st Century learning.  Mike Dial actually gave me the idea that there might be teachers in our building who were willing to travel somewhere to learn about going one to one and would be willing to pay for their own trip.  So here’s the deal — click “EduCon 2.4” and see if you might be one of those interested people.  Airfare to Philadelphia right now is  $300 round trip.  Registration for EduCon is $150.  A hotel room (for 1-4 people) at the Embassy Suites is $215 per night.  The trip is from 26 Jan – 30 Jan, although you could return on Sunday to save a night’s hotel fee.  So, here’s the deal…if you want to go and are willing to pay your way – Benton will cover your sub cost for Thursday, Friday and Monday.  Last year, Melissa and Luke went from Benton, and Melissa presented at the conference.  So, if you are interested and willing to fund your travel, let me know as soon as possible.

And if you are interested but tapped out on funds right now, there is another crazy fun opportunity — “EdCamp KC” is just around the corner.  The one-day, powerfully intense “unconference” is held at Lee’s Summit North High School and is TOTALLY FREE!  We sent a rather large contingent of teachers last year all whom claimed amazing learning at the conference.  I would love to arrange car pools and team travel for the November 5th event.  Let me know if you will be going.  It’s going to be a great day!  I missed it last year.  I won’t miss it again!

So, as it turns out…we are good at change.  I guess you get better at something that you practice often.  It’s a good thing, because in our profession in this day and age – it’s standard practice.  I hope you know that I thank you for being professionals day in and day out.  And for being darn good at it!

Excellence is a journey not a destination