I’m here, and I hear you

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Student artwork sale at the High School of Language and Innovation

I remember my first interview for a teaching position in August 2000, part of the first cohort of New York City Teaching Fellows.  I was standing in line at a hiring fair at the Brooklyn Marriott Hotel.

When I got to the front of the line, a harried-looking man introduced himself as a district representative hiring for a position teaching 8th grade in a middle school in Brooklyn. Continue reading

Meeting Michael

Subway pictureI live in the Bronx only a 15 minute walk from my school.  One advantage of living close to school is that I have a beautiful, easy commute, and another advantage is that I sometimes see my students outside of school.

I saw one of my students the other day at the supermarket standing in one of the checkout lines.  Usually, I’m happy to see a student, but I wondered if this student, Michael,* would be happy to see me.  The last time I saw him, he had gotten extremely angry and physically shoved furniture in our school offices.  This wasn’t his first nor his last outburst.  Michael’s family had decided to send him to live with relatives in another school district to give him a restart.  We all knew Michael was a brilliant young man with lots of potential, but it seemed hard for him to control his anger.  Continue reading

Undercover Boss

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Trees on Pelham Parkway that greet our new students and families.

One of my favorite TV shows is “Undercover Boss.”  In the show, the CEO or president of a large company is given a disguise and goes undercover as an entry-level employee in their own company for several days.  From that vantage point, the CEOs are able to see the inner-workings of their company from the ground-up: the good, the bad, the perplexing.

I often create what I call “undercover boss” moments in my work.  Of course, I don’t wear a disguise, but when opportunities appear where I can quickly do a task that I normally wouldn’t do, or briefly fill in for an employee, I take it.  I gain invaluable insights into my school and a deeper appreciation of the work my staff does on a daily basis. Continue reading

My partners in the “demo”

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At the High School of Language and Innovation, part of our teacher hiring process is having the candidate deliver a 15-minute demonstration lesson (a “demo”) in front of one of our classes. A candidate can nail an interview but the demo is often the most telling part of the process because we see what the person would be like in front of real students.

I wrote in an earlier blog about the comparatively low number of Latino boys in my school who are graduating on time. When I expressed this concern to my leadership consultants Ariel and Shya Kane, they suggested that in every demo lesson, we include a significant number of Latino boys and take special note of how the teacher engages those boys. This suggestion has been invaluable– rather than looking narrowly for a certain “type” of candidate, we’ve shifted to simply seeing who our students become in front of that candidate.

Since summer school classes are smaller, we have sometimes needed to add boys from other classes.

Continue reading

Sitting alone in the cafeteria

20180406_181850.jpgNothing makes me sadder than a kid sitting alone in the cafeteria.  Sometimes, a student is sitting alone by choice—he or she simply prefers to be alone, perhaps reading a book, or taking a break from interaction.

Other times, a student sits alone because he or she is new, and is the only person who speaks his or her own language.  The High School of Language and Innovation is a school for newcomer English Language Learners.  Most new students that have a large same-language, same-culture group—Spanish, Arabic, Bengali, Albanian, French—will be quickly adopted into the group.  If a student speaks a language like Vietnamese or Chinese, which are both small populations in our school, they might be alone if their 1-2 compatriots are absent.   Continue reading

Slowing down in summer

20180601_073647.jpgAs a teacher, I used to look forward to summer vacation. As a principal, summer is precious work time. While I have a few weeks of vacation that I take here and there, I work for most of the summer. There’s a lot to do: supervising summer school, planning for the following year, hiring teachers.

There’s also a magic to summer school. While long-term planning for the year is intense, things also slow down. I have a tiny staff of 5 teachers and 3 support staff, and I get to work closely with them in a way that would be impossible during the school year with a much larger staff of 40 people.

The best part about summer school: some of the boys who struggled the most during the school year have transformed into fantastic students. Continue reading

I like you just the way you are

20170222_120237.jpgA friend was recently telling me about his experience when he was a child in the 5th grade.  “I used to get in trouble before the 5th grade.  But my 5th grade teacher, she liked me.  It was like, she never expected me to do anything bad.  So I didn’t.”

I recently saw the excellent documentary Won’t You Be My Neighbor about Fred Rogers and his children’s television program Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood.  One of the extraordinary things about Mr. Rogers was his obvious, unconditional love of children.  Like millions of others, I watched his program as a young child and I remember him saying, “I like you just the way you are.”

I realized what an unusual idea it is to be “liked” just the way one is.   Continue reading