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Education Opinion

The Job, Popular Media, and USAir 1549

By LeaderTalk Contributor — January 19, 2009 3 min read

While watching the NFL playoffs, I noticed a new commercial for the Blackberry Curve. The premise is that a high school is run by a shipping company (like FedEx or UPS). A student is absent. The Blackberry call goes out among staff until “the ditcher”, a plump lad stuffing his face with junk food, is quickly discovered ambling along a neighborhood sidewalk. He is effectively corralled into a panel truck and assigned detention.

Would that the school personnel in the commercial were using their smartphones to progress-monitor the student’s up-to-the-minute formative assessments rather than his whereabouts.

While flipping channels, I happened upon “The Principal’s Office” on schlocky TruTV. This show chronicles administrators in high schools as they dole out consequences for discipline.

At first I was intrigued. I evaluated the styles of the featured administrators. Then I recognized the students and parents, not in the physical sense but in the story sense. It seems I have heard every one of their “stories” before.

As the show went on, I grew weary of it. The stories, doling out discipline, trying to correct the paths of those adrift. Confiscating cellphones. The endless stream of excuses and lies. Suspension, detention, even paddling. Interesting at first, but it gets old fast.

Popular media upholds this image of our esteemed profession: a hard-line manager of student discipline and attendance. The high concept and high value stuff of instructional leadership is left unattended.

But let’s face it: instructional leadership is the hardest part of our job. PLCs, lesson study, distributed governance, data-driven decision-making, continuous improvement, and curriculum redesign are easier said than done.

We often come to work with the best intentions of instructional leadership that get quickly shelved by the tyranny of the urgent--which is mostly discipline, mad mama drama, and bus breakdowns.

But I’m confident our little rural school is getting a lot of things right, as evidenced in this recent thoughtful morning e-mail to staff from our principal. Beth Lanning writes:

A moment of pondering about the US Airways plane ditching in the Hudson
River yesterday. I spent a great deal of time last night pondering the
heroic efforts of the captain of that plane as he used everything he
had ever learned to save 150+ lives. He kept his focus
and accomplished a miracle.

BUT, he did not do it alone. His co-pilot
was sitting next to him calling out altitudes, air speed, and a million
other details to keep the plane leveled and under control. The ground
crews worked together as a team to organize rescue in the water and to
make land arrangements for those folks that may need medical attention.
The flight crew stepped up to the plate to prepare the passengers for
a landing in water, to keep them calm and focused, and then took charge
to make sure everyone was evaculated from the plane. A massive team
effort.

Everyone kept their eyes on the goal and accomplished a
(seemingly) impossible task. I am in awe of this whole situation and
know full well that this was not an “accident”. This team effort did
not just happen. This miracle filled me, once again, with
encouragement and belief in what can be accomplished when we share a common focus and believe in the direction we travel
together.

Taking a look at the SRI growth scores I saw yesterday from
Ms. Florence’s 3rd grade class is just one example of the results of
common vision, focus, and teamwork. We are working our own miracle
here at NES and I am extremely proud of everyone who has welcomed the
opportunity to strive together towards a common mission. .

And so it goes. Lexile growth may be gold to us, but unfortunately it would never make a playoff commercial or a reality TV show.

Joe Poletti, co-pilot
Newport Elementary School
Newport, North Carolina

The opinions expressed in LeaderTalk are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.