Thursday, March 30, 2006


Imagine being in water fifteen feet deep, your arms are getting tired, and your feet can no longer help you maintain buoyancy. You begin to panic; your heart races; you desperately grasp for air. Nothing must be more frightening than those first moments a person realizes they are drowning. Those moments just before panic sets in. Those moments when you begin to question all the decisions that brought you to this place in time. Panicked you grasp for someone, something, anything to hold you above water, if you could just have one more second of footing, something solid to sustain you. Just then a Good Samaritan shows up to attempt to help, desperately you lunge you grab, you pull, you will do anything to get out of your current situation. The Samaritan has to make a choice back off and wait for a trained lifeguard, or attempt rescue and risk becoming a second victim.

While training for lifeguard certification my senior year in HS I admittedly do not remember much (except for maybe the school issued Speedos the entire gym class was mandated to wear). One thing I do remember though is “drowning people panic.” Panicking people do not think. They do not recognize help. Rescuing a flailing victim is almost impossible.

Being in a school that does not seem to embrace the same educational philosophy as you do must be similar to drowning, First you are swimming thinking you can ride out the progressive thought in the school, then you realize you are slowly being left behind. You grow tired. Occasionally you lash out (outwardly criticize colleague for “buying into” the philosophy or as some say, "drinking the Kool Aid"or playing around at "Camp Quest") , you begin to grab and grasp at things you thought were solid non-negotiable educational standards (tracking, the “teacher vs. student mentality, departments, mixed cohort classes, homogeneous ability level classes for certain subjects). Others will attempt to throw out lines (Professional Development, Critical Friends Groups, and open Small Learning Community discussions) however you fight them off. You acuse “them”(people who seem to be swimming) of not understanding you. You claim your needs outweigh anything “they” have to offer. You reach and grab for something. If I could just get this one tracked class, if I could just have that one class without so many students that need my help. I was a good teacher. You start to think, “These people are just doing this wrong. This progressive crap will eventually pass. Come on guys lets face it we are really just a department. Eventually this community stuff will just pass. Soon we will be just like every other school. Just wait until they see my regents grades.”

Victims must realize when they are drowning and stop flailing their arms and let Samaritans help . Swimmers must listen for those who are already panicking, and spouting negativity and avoid being pulled down by their desperate grasping. Above all else we must remember these are our colleagues both swimmer and non-swimmer. The panicking victims and the trained lifeguards are both trying. We are all in the same small school, we all have so much more to learn.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006


"Caring community people do not steal from each other and the trust bond is
broken when they do. No faculty member should have to face thefts." (P.I.S. Week

The smallness of our school is being "robbed." Robbed by the lack of stewardship in the building; Robbed by the lack of respect for peoples property; Robbed by the inherent tracking of specialized classes; Robbed loss of trust amongst some of the staff toward the students; Robbed by the negative remarks teachers make behind closed doors.

"Who is the victim here? The teachers who had the phones stolen are the
immediate victims. Of course they will, in time, get over it. They will replace
the phone and, slowly, rebuild the trust. . . . Who is the other victim? QHST. "
(P.I.S. Week 27)

We cannot sit around and be victims. We must act. These students would not steal from their own family. We must ask ourselves why then are they stealing from us and each other? Why are the students not feeling the same love and respect for the community here as the staff and administration feel? Have our Advisories failed? Do the students feel a lack of respect from the staff? Why is this happening?Please do not let these select students "steal" our sense of family.
Let us use these incidents to raise awareness just how tight of a family we are. Let’s take our community back through advisory before it slips too far away. I believe the deans are working with some volunteers to address school wide values and make a School Wide Value Week. This should be the event the school looks back on as memorable, don't let anyone steal our sense of purpose.In our SLC we suggested walking through the hall and cleaning the garbage. The garbage problem, sounds separate, however it all stem from the same root. It's a sense of responsibility an individual has to the whole group.
Montessori sophomores have been talking about the individual’s responsibility to the group. We need to take the next step. How can we let the students take authentic ownership of the hallways and classrooms? Maybe each advisory should be responsible for a different section...kind of like those highway signs you see explaining who cleans that section.It sounds crazy but it would open up the conversation. Let them have some responsibility and possibly be the way to regain stewardship in the building.

Sunday, March 26, 2006

Size Matters

Being small isn’t easy. Just ask Joanne Jacobs author of Our School : The Inspiring Story of Two Teachers, One Big Idea, and the School That Beat the Odds. Last summer, in an article published on she began to point out the problems of structure that small schools face. She points out that schools that concentrate on structure as their focus for the first 4 years are plagued with the dilemma of placing academic rigor as a secondary priority. Teachers feel disheartened, and parents opt not to send their children to them. She makes these claims while looking at large schools that recently became restructured. They know the former traditional model and some of its benefits, and wonder why small schools cannot offer the same.
QHST is different. Recently, we have been asking ourselves where we are headed. Many of the staff here at QHST are looking for the next challenge to tackle (Fine Arts Track, AP Math Classes, advanced English or History classes) while a few are not yet satisfied we’ve successfully handled the problems of structure (teaming, programming, comp-time) and hiring. Might this be a problem of philosophy? Are we trying to fit Big School ideas into a Small School setting? Square pegs and round holes never work.

This got me to thinking about things we will never do well (being a small school) and things we should always do well here at QHST. I know the list isn’t complete and I would love feedback.

Things small schools will never do well:
Have catalogs of highly specialized electives (Fine Art, Music, Math, English, AP History.)
Let students slip through the cracks of NYC.
Allow teachers to sit passively without having input into structural decisions.
Offer specialized positions for teachers.
Offer specialized classes for students
Allow teachers to wear one hat.
Put teacher needs ahead of student needs.
Allow school wide values to be disregarded
Whole School Events
Cross Community Classes

What is it that we at a small NYC School should do well?
Know our students
Expect everyone of all abilities to critically think (including other teachers)
Create a program that reflects the school’s philosophical goals
Meet as teams
Share Ideas
Plan Interdisciplinary around Essential Questions
Provide a physically and emotionally safe learning environment
Foster a
culture of reading
Exhibitions of critical thinking
Hear our students
Know our colleagues
Learn from our colleagues
Have a high attendance rate
Students and teachers get involved in the learning community
Create a positive academic school culture
Community wide events
Know our students (I know its on the list twice…we do it that really well)
Allow students to develop their life long learning skills

"Learning will be personalized with students assigned to one of three multi-grade
small learning communities, each with its dedicated faculty that will grow to a
maximum of 350 students in four years. Each student will have a faculty-advisor who meets with them in an advisory of no more than 18 students. These small learning communities will foster an intimate learning environment where students will know peers and adults well, and have their individual learning styles acknowledged.

The roles of students, teachers and administration will be more demanding, varied and complex than in traditional schools."
(Concept Paper Queens High School of Teaching)

We need to concentrate on the things we could do better. DEAR, Advisory, Teaching Institute, and making sure each student is known. We are not just a big school with fewer students. We are three small schools under one roof, and we must embrace the culture of a small school.
Sound familiar? This is exactly what Dr. Pedro Noguera, nationally renowned educator, urban sociologist and professor at NYU’s Steinhardt School of Education explained to us this summer at the ISA Institute. Just because a school is small doesn’t mean achievement increases. “We must change the culture,” Noguera insisted, and enumerated suggestions for transitioning to SLCs (small learning communities). These included the need for shared vision and mission (organic, not mechanical), the need for planning time, the need for time for professional development, and the need to think carefully about administrative duties.
This online journal seems to be a real eye opener.

Saturday, March 25, 2006

Meet the Parents

Parent Teacher Conferences are quickly becoming my favorite hours of professional development. Yes my favorite. I'm assuming most teachers would be shocked at that. In the past I sat alone in a room, met with the parents of my excelling students, said the same thing 60 times a night and rarely gained insight into the student. Parent teacher night meant “a dreaded 14 hour work day culminating with the understanding that tomorrow would be even worse and nothing substantial was accomplished.”

This year our team decided to change our approach. We sat together around a table and conversed as a team. Sitting with another professional discussing the academic and social performance of each student while the parent is present was enlightening. Mayo(English) and myself (Global Studies) sat together in room 203 to meet the parents. Needles to say, the experience was unique. The parent quickly was reassured that their student is known in the building. The parent (and student in most cases) genuinely began to see how each teacher is not only concerned with the students performance in a particular content area, but the student.

Many parents were happy that their time waiting to meet teachers was reduced. This is not surprising as Jeanne Belovitch, president of a Boston, Massachusetts Urban Parents Association said recently in a article on :

"In the majority of cases, they (teachers) will be talking to single parents who lead very complex lives. Those teachers need to understand that just because parents can't spend much time at school, it doesn't mean they aren't interested in their children's education."

Our team walked away from parent teacher conferences understanding each student in a more holistic manner. The parents and students easily saw the links between content areas and skills being taught. There was no downtime in the conversation. One teacher shared their view, the parent responded, the other teacher listened, pointed out similar skill level difficulties and shared possible solutions. (many parents seemed excited about the possibility of a writing center) . Between parents if anytime was available the professional conversation between colleagues continued. Actually many meetings included the phrase, "Ms. Mayo and I were just talking about this very thing..."

During a post conference debrief with a respected colleague I wondered why all teachers are not doing this. Enthusiastically I explained that, parents appreciated the conversation, students were more apt to be demystified concerning their strengths and weaknesses, and the experience was generally time well spent. The colleague explained to me that some teachers might be intimidated with the comfort level that experienced teachers or teachers that looped with the students. This was a new insight previously not considered. We as a team need to work on this.

We need to meet as a team, create a protocol that would make it comfortable for all teachers to share their observations with each other and parents without feeling uncomfortable. (the PTA could even help us with the creation of this protocol).

Could someone present this over the summer? In hindsight we should have video-taped the process. (besides the fact that some of the conversations were quite humorous, seeing the connections being made by parents, students and teachers would be convincing enough) We could really use some feedback from parents on this too.

ISA is into grade level teaming (principle #3), and bringing parents into the mix are essential to student achievement. Could this be something that could be looked at further during an ISA Summer Institute?

*** After reading this blog you might ask yourself why parent teacher conferences typically look like the one depicted in the photo above. I asked myslef the same thing. I think it is easier for the teacher and gives them a sense of power.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Perpetuating Inequality?

When I first heard of the idea of tracking Math classes in the Junior Year within Montessori, here at the school that is philosophically opposed to tracking; I chuckled. I was wondering how QHST would allow such a blatant disregard of the tenants that Jeanie Oaks back in 1992 said “tracking… had a particularly negative impact on the opportunities of low-income, African- American, and Latino students." Tracking is the cause of so much of the inequality in our school system.

A study done in Canada does claim that “untracking” math failed in the Ontario Schools system. The research showed that teachers unwilling to change their approach to teaching math, who were not given enough professional development to affect the change, and who were unwilling to implement the pedagogical changes that were offered were to blame for the failure. It does not claim that tracking math works better simply that math teachers work better when math is tracked. (very student centered ?)

I then continued my search with all my free time. I came across a progressive educational radio show that aired in Michigan and found the transcript. The on-air personalities clearly showed the benefits of tracking math, but still could not jump the hurdle of inequity created by tracking.

Why are we teaching? Are we not molding the next generation? We need to be cognizant of our acceptance of the practices of inequality. Turning a blind eye here to inequality is a dangerous slippery slope.

Finally, I began to ask my friends what they thought (this is a lie, as Mayo knows all to well, I have no friends, I work too much).

Apparently, Long Island High Schools have began to take the progressive leap toward untracking before us. Excited to hear this I began to look at the Rockville Center School District (upper middle class). EVERYONE MUST READ THIS ARTICLE.

Math teachers in our building will be sitting down to discuss this policy within the next week here at QHST. I think everyone should have a voice when equality and justice are at stake.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

What is your legacy?

Each of us will be remembered. We will be remembered by the 100 students we touch each year academically. We will be remembered by the 400 students with whom we are entrusted with by our society each day. We will be remembered by the 1200 minds we affect throughout QHST each year. For good or for bad we will be remembered. As teachers our legacies are part of our career. Creating a legacy is part of the job description.

The change we make here will resonate throughout the new small schools in this city for years to come. Our "different by the design" model is quickly becoming the "the model of design" for new New York City schools.

Science teachers moving away from paper labs and back to authentic hands-on critical thinking exercises that set student expectations high will be remembered. Administrators who support this by securing adequate funding are key to this success. Both teacher and administrator will be remembered.

Social Studies teachers who use "project base learning" and emphasize analytic research skills to create an inquiry based learning environment that is a norm rather than an exception will be remembered.

Math teachers who unlock and untrack math at all grade levels will be lauded then remembered as accomplishing what no educational ancestor could.

Our students are our legacy. How will we be remembered?

A colleague with whom I have a new found respect for reminded me today that not all teachers "buy into the philosophy" here at QHST. Rather than challenge or agree with the observation I asked,” What are we going to do about this?"

I can only speak for myself. I surround myself with positive people. I look for the good intentions in all my fellow professional’s actions. I seek out, at times in vain, solutions rather than habitually highlight problems.

I guess reflecting on my experiences here in this electronic format, publicly could be viewed by some as a waste of time. I need to do this. I use this time to clear up angst and search for solutions. Writing this public journal to share with my colleagues has definitely helped shape and strengthened my philosophy of education.

Saturday, March 18, 2006

Cohorts, Community, and Comp Time

On Friday roughly 30 union members from our school gathered in the auditorium, with the topic of "comp time" positions on the menu.* The creation of comp-time positions are major proposals that take experienced teachers out of the classroom and ask them to accept further responsibility.

Previous experience, shows us that "comp-time" positions are increased, grieved, and fought over ad nausea (Writing Center, Teaching Institute, Programmer, and Lead Teacher). Resentment of fellow colleagues comes out and unfortunately students and their needs get lost.

I felt like it was the anti-Union Meeting.

To steal a quote from James Carville during the 1992 Presidential Campaign, "Its the Economy Stupid." Teachers, even at union meetings, need to remember its the "students" stupid.

We are entrusted with an amazing task, "education". When F Swetten (Montessorian of the Year in my book) rejected additional "comp-time" in order to maintain the cohort model that all communities under the tutelage of ISA are striving for I was impressed. We need to use Frank's selfless act as a model.

Lets follow Frank's lead, keep students needs in mind, remember the philosophy of the school, and stay true to the task the community has entrusted us. We have the ability to set the example for the 100's of new small schools opening around the city. The choices we make at 30 person union meetings will be felt around the city.

* Cathy is working hard trying to have yet another union meeting during the mandated extended day time. She is looking at Monday the 3rd.... Please come with questions, suggestions, and the spirit that lead you into the profession.

Thursday, March 16, 2006


Often during meetings when addressing problems we all speak in the third person. For example, "some teachers are obviously struggling during DEAR", "some teachers are breaking the agreed upon practices for the advisory", "some teachers are not following the protocol set up for community issues."

I was told today that speaking indirectly about particular colleagues can be annoying. I wondered why people bring up problems in this manner. Why not just outright say to the particular person what problems we have with their professionalism or lack of professionalism? I think one reason might be the realization that we all need to learn from each other. Could it also be possible that the lack of professionalism described will transcend the immediate infraction, and elicit an unpredictable and irrational response? Teachers become defensive during SLC's when they feel embarrassed.

When I coach baseball and one player is having trouble hitting we all watch a batting video and we all become better hitters. Unless you are Barry could improve on your hitting.

Small groups need to function like this. Any problem a single teacher is having is a problem all of us are having. Teachers who decide to consistently break behavioral norms need our help. Just like the professional teachers we are, we continually need to welcome our struggling colleagues with open arms.

I will still speak in the third person during meetings. I personally could still use some work on DEAR, Advisory, and hitting a baseball. I'm sure I'm not the only one.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006


What is going on?

I really think we need remember what our school is about. I personally do not care what other schools do. However I have no interest in reinventing something that does not need fixing. On the other hand after our bout this afternoon I did some research. Many schools have moved away from naming a Valedictorian. Actually it could be quite costly to make a mistake in the process. Whomever wants to speak, Montessorian, Valedictorian, Lori Mayo should be able to make a speech. It is ultimately more important to remember it is not our day. I actually think our students will know by their senior year what we as educators value. These students will be ready on that day. Think of the parents, the students and the celebration of our final product going out to change the world.

I do think it would be nice to have someone who exemplifies the School Wide Values speak at graduation, but it isn't my graduation. Is Maria Montesssori available?

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Numerical Quantification of People

As you walk through my school one thing you will notice is that the common belief “that all students can learn” is evident. Our school is rich in extra curricular activities that spark and entice many students to remain well after the day is “over” and arrive back the next day before most of the teachers. All students can learn however not all students learn in the same way. In the Gould introduction to “The Mismeasure of Man” it struck me immediately when he referred to the work of Howard Gadener and multiple intelligences. Most educators in my school truly believe in multiple intelligences however most teachers still believe that ultimately you must teach for the test. Although Gould was obviously referring to the pitfalls and inherent flaws of IQ tests and quantifying a person to a number, we as NYC teachers fall under the pressure of quantifying our students both by state tests and end of the term grades.

Regents tests are never going to paint the holistic picture of a student. Wiggins suggests a project based learning approach. Are standardized test grades really that important? When we as adults look back at our own school days do we remember the great “four hour June heated exams”, or the teacher and lab partners who, through a hands on activity, together better understood the structures of a cell. Are we as purveyors of these numerically quantifying exams just repeating the myth that Socrates was clearly warning us against? (Socrates warns us of the dangers of creating a sense of urgency and importance around a class replicating factitious set of cultural literacy standards.)

We need to refocus education on what is important. I’m personally not sure how to break the cycle. I observed a gym class the other day and some of my more difficult students shined. Watching your “numerically quantified failures” participate in other classes, knowing the whole student, attending an after school event that your students’ planned, might be real good way to see that both Gould and Wiggins are trying to guide us in the same direction that Socrates first encouraged.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Bridge and Tunnel

I was extremely lucky to have the opportunity to attend the one woman Broadway show Bridge and Tunnel. By the end of the trip I came to the conclusion that teachers need to utilize the city more as the resource it is.

On the trip I once again was reminded that our students for the most part live up to the expectations we set for them. Galeno set the expectations quite high. Students broke the students into groups of three to get lunch on their own with the understanding that they would regroup in front of the theatre just before show time. They all made it back on time after they grabbed a light lunch. No one was late. Students were responsible for getting their own way home. I was admittedly being overly cautious and needed to be reassured about twenty times before we let them go home that they would be safe. Galeno turned to me and said I just had twelve students traipsing through London; Time Square is a piece of cake. I trusted Galeno's judgment and it was definitely a learning experience for me.

Today while talking to Nancy she was upset that she could not get busses for the juniors for a trip on March 15th. I suggested they just meet her on Queens Blvd. and Union Turnpike and take the subway together. I also suggested they just go with the understanding that they would be responsible for their own way home. I’m not sure of her reaction to this, but two days ago, I would have thought I was crazy for the suggestion.

Thank you Andrea.