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

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

Graduating the boys

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My school, the High School of Language and Innovation, is a school for newcomer immigrant English Language Learners that was founded in 2011. We had our first graduating class in 2015. This week, we graduated our fourth class, the class of 2018.

As I listened to the students’ speeches at graduation, I was struck by how many of the students had experienced our intended vision for the school: “We learned to work together as a team in order to learn English,” “We got to make friends with people from diverse cultures.”

However, even as I enjoyed the graduation, something was on my mind: 90% of our girls graduated. 51% of our boys graduated.*

Continue reading

Why do you want to work in this school?

20180608_064202.jpgMy school is in the process of interviewing prospective teachers for the next school year.  Last week I wrote about a question we ask prospective teachers about feedback.

There is another important question we ask at the end of each interview:

“Why do you want to work in this school?”

This question tells us a lot about a teacher’s commitment to teaching our population of newcomer English Language Learners, as well as how much they’ve researched our school and what they like about it.

I’ve recently been considering my answer to this question.  Why do I want to work in my school?  Continue reading

I want that Mister to see me in Social Studies class

20180503_085219.jpgLast week, I saw my school through new eyes.

We had a visit of 11 first-year teachers from other high schools, part of a new teacher support initiative in the Bronx. My school was one of 15 schools chosen for the visit with a focus on teaching methods for English Language Learners, as the majority of our students are newcomer immigrants who are learning English.

I told my leadership consultants, Ariel and Shya Kane, about the visit. “First-year teachers? They’re going to compare themselves if they feel insecure,” said Ariel. “Set them up to not compare, and look at your school with a beginner’s mind so they can learn.” Continue reading

Career Day

I remember my school having a Career Day when I was in 10th grade. I eagerly signed up for journalism, picturing an exciting, glamorous session around undercover reporting. At the end of the day, I was clear that I didn’t want to be a journalist. Getting clearer on what I didn’t love got me interested in other careers. The experience was invaluable.

This past Friday, my school held its first-ever Career Day.

I walked into the auto mechanic presentation. Joe, a friend of mine, had brought a huge bag of tools from his auto shop and laid them out on a table.  A student, Yonas, who immigrated from Eritrea last year, looked fascinated. * Continue reading