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PPE Journal: Clyde Cole

Journal of Clyde Cole, principal of Academy for Business and Community Development, Brooklyn, N.Y.

I very much liked the opening of the institute, which included different kinds of "roll calls." The first was by state and, being a New Yorker, I was ready to see how many more of us there were than everyone else. California was well represented, but N.Y. blew them out of the water. But my victory was short-lived when the Texans stood up.

The rest of the categories really showed me the wealth of experience in the room. Who attended public schools? Who had parents that were teachers? Who had ever been to another country? Two others? Five others? More than five? It certainly brought a sense that everyone there was very, very special. I was honored to be part of such a group.

The first presenter was Professor [Jerome] Murphy, former dean of HGSE. He led us through the Hammond Community College case. Here was a first-year school leader given the charge to turn a school around in just one year.  It was a case of choices she made between showing short-term success and building long-term success.

There were two questions we had to ponder: (1) Would we have made the same choices she made to get the praise of her supervisors? (2) How would we have handled the resulting discontent of our staff?

Murphy had some great quotes:

  • "This is not a Jug and Mug session, where I have a jug full of knowledge and you hold out your empty mug for me to fill. I want this to be a dialogue."
  • "Leadership is the most observed and least understood human phenomenon."
  • "If you can create a sense of momentum, you can create a sense of hope."
  • "Not only can't you do everything you want to do, but there will certainly be things you cannot do that you have to do."
  • "When you most feel like explaining yourself is most probably when you should simply listen."
  • "Resistance is often a sign of integrity. Assume that good will is behind it."
  • "Every organization needs troublemakers, as long as they also care about the organization."

This was a great presentation to use as our starting point. It put the third USL Guiding Principle, Be Open to Ideas and Outcomes, at the forefront.

Next was Malachi Pancoast, [president of] Breakthrough Coach. I have heard his presentation many times before. His major message: The best way you [as principal] can make dramatic, sustained improvement in student achievement and teacher performance is by drastically increasing [your] time spent in classrooms.

While this is not a new concept, his approach certainly is. Organize your week into three kinds of days: coaching days (two days), office days (three days), and rest days (Saturday and Sunday). By designated these days ahead of time, they become sacred, you'll protect them, and, somehow, your productivity and your observations will both increase.

Here are some of his quotes:

  • "In order to do this you need to make two shifts: a shift in action (how you do things) and a shift in perspective (how you see things)."
  • "You're not in the education business; you're in the training and development business."
  • "You have to change your priorities from paperwork to people-work."
  • "Do not take your work home with you at night. For the most part, all you're doing is giving it a ride."

A big part of his system is to create and maintain an impeccably clean office. He uses my favorite quote of his to drive the importance of this home: "From nothing, you can create anything. From something, you can only edit."

Today, we benefited from a happy accident!  The morning was scheduled as two concurrent sessions with Irma Tyler-Wood talking about the paradoxes of leading change at the same time as Norman Kunc talking about inclusive education. Inclement weather delayed Kunc's arrival, so everyone heard both!

Tyler-Wood was an inspirational speaker. Her passion for people and relationships was evident in what she said and the way she said it. It was as if she had a unique insight into the essence of humanity, of what connects us all. What I took from her was, for educators, understanding how we work together should not only be the means, but also the end.

Her session resonated with me and the situation waiting for me in Brooklyn. I am growing a 6-12 school one grade per year. This coming fall, in Year Four, I will have grades 6 through 9. In many ways, I will feel like I am starting a brand new high school while stabilizing a middle school at the same time. All my high school staff will be new, most of my ninth-graders will be new, and we will be on a different floor than the middle school. So, while I may not have a "classic" example of change, many of Tyler-Wood's lessons certainly apply:

  • "'The Gap' is the difference between what's real and what's ideal."
  • "Be cognizant that your intent often differs from your impact."
  • "Decide which you want more: agreement or understanding."

Professor Ronald Ferguson of the Harvard Kennedy School shared his work with the Achievement Gap Initiative and the Tripod Project. He has done extensive work on what schools with high levels of student engagement look and feel like. He talked about school-wide and the classroom-level indicators.

This was one of the reasons I wanted to attend USL. In my first 3 years as principal, I have always struggled with what motivates students, particularly boys of color, to do well in school. I have been trying to figure out how I can help students give their best effort academically. Often, I feel like "Good enough is good enough" is my biggest enemy.

Ferguson stated that encouragement is a key element in getting students to work as hard as they can in their studies. So, I began to ask myself how we encourage students at my school. Since it's an all-boys school, we have tried activities connected to competition, teamwork, and brotherhood. But, even with those approaches, we can do better.

Ferguson says that to encourage means to communicate very specific things:

  • "You can do it!"
  • "I will help you!"
  • "I care!  (I will do things for you that I do not have to do and I will not let you give up!)"

I often talk about my favorite teachers as a child being like sports coaches. A coach is someone who is always talking his sport, dressing like his sport, used to play his sport, sometimes still plays his sport, is a huge fan of his sport, and is a great motivator of people. Though it doesn't sound like it as first, there is a lot of Ferguson's encouragement in this model. I think we need to do more of that at my school.

The day ended with Norman Kunc's presentation. What he had to say was strongly connected both to Tyler-Wood and to Ferguson in that he spoke about having schools that provided all students with a sense of belonging so that they can excel. He spoke explicitly about belonging instead of allegiance.

This was fascinating to me. In my work, I have been searching for a way to create a sense of brotherhood by citing and co-creating a common history and experience. However, that has been difficult to do without the idea of a common enemy.  A common enemy both reminds children of and represents exclusion, which is not what we want at all.

The day started with the Urban School Leaders Panel: [Professor] Bob Peterkin, director of HGSE's Urban Superintendents Program; Barbara Adams, chief academic officer of Boston Public Schools; and Tom Payzant, former superintendent of Boston Public Schools and current professor at HGSE.

With decades of experience on the dais, they had the greatest quotes so far:

  • "Be of the team, not just the leader of the team."
  • "Lead by example."
  • "Know who you are, separate from your role/what you do."
  • "Be a continuous learner: learn what is happening in your classrooms and learn how to make it better."

Almost more than a question-and-answer session, I think I would love to be a fly on the wall and listen to these three experts talk about any number of topics. Their uninhibited commentary in a coffee shop or diner would produce different kinds of pearls of wisdom than we received this day.

The [subsequent] presentation was on Children/Family School Identities by [Associate Professor] Wendy Luttrell. The pictures and videos of her students and her homes were revealing, especially those involving their principal.

Watching something like this, I wonder what my students would have to say about me. I think they would say that I'm smart, I'm fair, and that I'm really, really busy. But, who knows what else they would say. Do I really want to know? Am I ready to hear it? Once I did hear it, what would I do with it?

The presentation posed a great question: "If children are experts, why can't discovering their expertise be the expertise of teachers?"

Jeff Howard presented on his work with the Efficacy Institute. I loved his story about growing up in Chicago, being a student at a gifted high school, and getting accepted to Harvard in the 1960s. As a first-generation African-American, my experience mirrored his.

My final thought: How do I make my school more efficacious?

Carol Muse, principal of John F. Kennedy Elementary School in Santa Ana, Calif.