Use of Emergency Days
Due to all the inclement weather this year many superintendents are now dealing with adjusting the calendar. In an earlier update article, I suggested that Boards of Education increase the number of emergency days in the school calendar from the normal five days that most districts use, to ten days. There is no limit on the number of emergency days a district can put into the calendar. Districts usually have to either talk to or negotiate the calendar with the teachers' union. However, if the district only has five emergency days and more than five emergency days are called then the student attendance days will probably not be made up. In effect, teachers and others will get paid for teaching 176 days even if they did not work that number of days.
A clean-up bill for the new Illinois funding formula eliminated the definition of a school day to be five clock hours of actual student seat time. It's unclear if this change in the definition of a school day was done on purpose, and legislation is being drafted to restore those clock hours. Conversations are underway about a possible compromise, so we'll wait and see what happens.
However, districts could be using some form of "e-learning" time as a substitute for an actual day of instruction. ISBE gave several school districts permission to trial e-learning days two years ago. These districts have reported positive results and many more school districts have implemented e-learning days this school year. IASA recorded a podcast episode with Ralph Grimm (you can listen to it here) that explains the position of ISBE in relation to the removal of the five hour clock day.
The reason the General Assembly will be discussing the definition of a school day is because some legislators feel that with the state providing more revenue to school districts due to the new funding formula there needs to be more accountability for how school districts are spending this money. E-learning and other alternatives to traditional school, such as work-study programs, are coming under more scrutiny for legislators. IASA has been advising school administrators for several months that the new funding needs to be tied to student growth and achievement as well as innovative new programs.
Being "Present" In Everything You Do
As I get older and closer to exiting the education field, I have been reflecting quite often when I run in the morning about my career and the possible positive impact I may have had on others. One of my reflections is the confession that I have not always been "present" in my conversations with others. What I mean about being "present" is that I have not always been a good "listener." As a matter of fact, I admit that often I was not listening to the real message that people were trying to communicate to me.
As I am doing some of the most personally satisfying professional development training in my entire career, actually coaching teacher evaluators in actual classrooms while they are doing the work, I am coaching these evaluators to listen better. They need to listen to what the students are saying and learning, they need to listen to the thoughts and actions of the teachers, and they need to listen to their inner selves to make sure they have the best interests of the students as the core of their work.
Recently when I was presenting to a large group of teachers, I mentioned that one of the most student-engaging sessions I had observed was related to a form of "flipped classroom" instruction. A teacher raised her hand and commented that the use of technology in education was causing more problems than helping. I quickly brushed off the comment in my own mind to the age and negative personality of the teacher making the comment. Upon further reflection, I concluded that I did not really listen to this teacher. I am sure she had some very good reasons behind her negative position on the use of technology and I am sure I could have gained insight from a discussion.
As educational leaders we need to listen to others first, then comment. I often reflect on the Covey "Indian Stick" metaphor. Covey teaches that the person speaking holds the Indian Stick and the listener cannot talk until the person speaking decides to give the Indian Stick to the listener. This only happens when the person listening says, to the satisfaction of the speaker, what the speaker is trying to communicate. After receiving the Indian Stick, the listener is now the speaker and has the same power over the Indian Stick. If we had to communicate back to the speaker, to the speaker's satisfaction, what the speaker is attempting to communicate, I believe we would have much better listening skills.
In addition to listening skills your role as a school administrator also demands that you be "present in person" in the buildings and classrooms in your school district. You need to schedule time out of your office on a daily basis to visit schools and classrooms. There is enough work to keep you in your office away from students and teachers, but if you fall into this trap you will not be "present" in your school district. Sometimes when I go into classrooms with the teacher evaluator, a student will point to the evaluator (not me) and say "who is that person." You do not want to be pointed at by students or parents in your school district because they do not recognize you.
Be "present" in everything you do, even when listening to your spouse or own children.
Tip of the Week
When you leave your present position for retirement or another education position, what will people say about you? Manage today like you will want to be remembered tomorrow.