Reflection

Reflection on the Master of Art in Education

Past

When I was six years old, using a thick black pencil on giant grey lined paper, I wrote that I wanted to be a teacher when I grew up. I spent the next seventeen years thinking about my teachers, their strengths, weaknesses, strategies, attitudes, actions, and even outfit and hair changes. I analyzed each teacher thoroughly with my mom, a professional educator and principal. It was easy to do. I observed then carefully every day, reflected on the causes and effects of their actions, and either cared greatly about their classes, or bemoaned my wasted time. The classes I most cared about offered a challenge and personally interesting curriculum. For instance, although I hated memorizing, I took four years of high school Latin, because the teacher set such high standards for us, her tiny group of geeky Latin scholars. We were a little community of learners who supported each other through harrowing translations of The Aeneid, and who withstood the judgment of other high schoolers that admitted we were smart, but also insane.

So when I became a teacher, I had a vision for my class and my position in that class. I became greatly involved in gifted and talented education. I love the idea that “a rising tide lifts all ships”. I believe that we should teach to the most advanced students and differentiate to support the other levels. I attended many conferences and workshops, where ideas were being presented out of the University of California and the University of Connecticut. These ideas are wonderful, but never set in a very practical format. So I began to apply these ideas in my classroom, and make them practical for the unique situations at our school and within our district.

This is when my district, Rincon Valley Union School District, began to take notice of my leadership potential. I was invited to more professional development trainings, to mentor new teachers and a student teacher, to give district workshops, and to join district committees. Three years ago, my principal asked me to be vice principal. At this point I was a product of the professional development that leaders and mentors in my district set before me. At the time I did not realize that I was operating from a limited perspective.

After a few months, I decided to apply to Sonoma State University to earn my Preliminary Administrative Services Credential. I had formed a lot of questions about management and leadership as vice principal. I wanted to understand some practicalities such as the laws addressing suspensions, hiring and firing procedures, and issues surrounding supervision of students. At an even deeper level, I wanted to understand how to influence change at my school site. Entering the Sonoma State University PASC I program helped me to see education and my district from a broader perspective.

Present

The introductory course for the PASC I program was highly motivating. During this course I learned a leadership framework that helped me to understand that school administrators should operate on a continuum, depending on the willingness and ability of staff members. This helped me to evaluate the styles and attitudes of administrators I have observed.  At this time, I was introduced to many of my cohort members, who would become my learning community over the next year. These people were amazingly talented and intelligent. I feel that my cohort helped me to grow and learn just as much as the lectures, literature, and assignments in the PASC I program.

The Educational Curriculum, Instruction, and Assessment course gave me the opportunity to read the work of different researchers, delve into one curriculum, apply these theories, and formally evaluate programs. I was also introduced to the idea that people do not agree on the purpose of schooling. I have used this theme throughout the masters courses.

The Management of Educational Personnel course gave me practical experiences in interviewing and firing procedures. This course also helped me to make connections between the mentoring training and experiences I gained as a Beginning Teacher Support Provider in the BTSA program and the school administrator’s role as a curriculum leader in supporting the professional growth of teachers.

The Leadership with Diverse Population course helped me reflect deeply about my identity as a middle-class, educated, white woman, and how I need to take into account my innate privileges in life. Many families at my school are minorities and from diverse backgrounds with diverse interests. Although this course was deeply personal, it was also extremely practical. On numerous occasions I have drawn upon that course to communicate with families and to help other teachers be more open-minded. However, this is one particular area in which I need to continually grow.

The School Law class did answer most of the practical questions I had concerning laws upon entering the program. It was a rigorous course, but well worth it for the information and confidence that I gained.  I have already pointed out some discrepancies at my school site, and used my new knowledge and resources in this area.

In Education Policy and Politics, I spoke with public officials. The first was also one of the instructors, Superintendent of Sonoma County, Carl Wong. I learned that he believes that teachers in Sonoma County are highly paid, gifted and talented education is not worthwhile, and all of the small districts in Sonoma County should be restructured into one district.  I learned a great deal from the interview I conducted with Cheryl Scholar, Windsor Town Council Member and former Winder School Board Trustee. I learned of her frustrations over the lack of communication with stakeholders in her town, which leads to their lack of participation in community decision-making. This helped me to put into perspective how my district handles its different groups of stakeholders, including communication, participation, debate, and decision-making. This course also helped me to see the politics surrounding education from a historical perspective.

The concluding course for PASC I helped me to create a tool box of practical school administrator strategies. I also obtained the StrengthsFinder 2.0 (Rath, 2007) book in this course. This book helped me to recognize and categorize my own strengths. For instance, I have a strength in connecting ideas and finding new concepts or ways of doing things. As a leader, this means that if I do not communicate clearly the steps involved in my ideas, people will lose interest in what I am suggesting. How often that has happened to me! I was very excited with this approach and shared the book with my family and grade-level teaching team at school. I also helped my mother create an in-service for the teachers at her school around the book.

Upon completion of the PASC I program, I decided to pursue my masters degree. The first course was called The Reflective Educator. This course helped me define my philosophy of education, and understand other philosophies. Again, I took a look at the historical development of schooling and a new look at perspectives on the purpose of schooling. When I interview for a principal position, I want to impart my philosophy so that the hiring team will clearly understand my views on education.

At this point I decided to focus on Educational Technology. My school had just beome a charter school with an emphasis on technology and their was an absolute lack of leadership in this area. Before this course, I had considered technology to be a tool that would automatically change students’ experiences in school. This course lead me to try new technologies in and educational setting, analyze and evaluate educational technologies, and recognize that technology is not simply a tool and certainly not an easy fix. Technology can be used to teach the same way people have always taught, or it can be used to promote a student-centered classroom. It all depends on the culture that the teacher has created.

During this course, I also took the Research Paradigms in Education course, where I learned wonderful new terms like “ethnography”, “quantitative”, and “pagination”. The assignments were open-ended, so I used the opportunity to read and analyze more literature on educational technology.

Currently, I am taking Technology and Society. This course is giving me the strategies to teach media analysis skills to my students, and consider cultural implications of different media and technology. Again, I am trying new technologies in an educational setting, like Twitter. This class is helping me to understand how technology is a product of our cultural norms and values.

Future

I am going to apply for a principal position in my district this month. I feel that I am very prepared for the job and I am excited for the challenge. I am concerned that it will be more difficult to continue to lead in the area of curriculum, since I have seen few school principals who are strong in that area.  I realize that the many other aspects of the position will keep me from staying current in curriculum. It is my goal to stay current, all the same.

Last week, my principal announced his retirement to the staff. He asked me to make the announcement to the students at a little ceremony on Monday morning. I knew that I wanted to involve the whole school, but it was Friday, the end of conference week, and my staff was exhausted. That weekend I devised a way to involve everyone, without troubling anyone.

Typically every Friday, teachers pull “fins”, which are slips of paper students have earned for doing something positive. If a student’s “fin” is pulled, she goes to the office to get a piece of licorice from the principal and share how great she is. So on Monday morning, as the students entered the gym they were handed a piece of red licorice. We practiced a licorice toast for our principal. Then they all hid the licorice behind their backs.  We called the prinicpal in from the office. I presented him with a giant “fin”, explaining that his “fin” had been pulled for kindness, compassion, and humor. I explained to the students all of the inventions that had been created during our principal’s thirty-seven years as and educator, including video games (gasp!). I explained that he was retiring after all of his wonderful years. Then we all pulled out the licorice and said in unison, “To Mr. Currie, the King of Fins”!

It felt wonderful to give my principal a fun and heartfelt retirement announcement. I enjoyed taking care of it for my colleagues who had worked so hard that week. I enjoyed including all of the students in a memorable way.  I felt comfortable and confident leading my school community in an act of appreciation. I believe I am ready for the next step.



Published on March 11, 2010 at 1:29 am  Leave a Comment  

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