THE SOUND OF THE FOREST

5

Today I find myself reflecting on an old Asian parable:

Back in the third century A.D., King Ts’ao sent his son, Prince T’ai, to the temple to study under the great master Pan Ku. Because Prince T’ai was to succeed his father as king, Pan Ku was to teach the boy the basics of being a good ruler. When the prince arrived at the temple, the master sent him alone to the Ming-Li Forest.

After one year, the prince was to return to the temple to describe the sound of the forest. When Prince T’ai returned, Pan Ku asked the boy to describe all that he could hear. “Master,” replied the prince, “I could hear the cuckoos sing, the leaves rustle, the hummingbirds hum, the crickets chirp, the grass blow, the bees buzz, and the wind whisper and holler.” When the prince had finished, the master told him to go back to the forest to listen to what more he could hear. The prince was puzzled by the master’s request. Had he not discerned every sound already?

For days and nights on end, the young prince sat alone in the forest listening. But he heard no sounds other than those he had already heard. Then one morning, as the prince sat silently beneath the trees, he started to discern faint sounds unlike those he had ever heard before. The more acutely he listened, the clearer the sounds became. The feeling of enlightenment enveloped the boy. “These must be the sounds the master wished me to discern,” he reflected.

When Prince T’ai returned to the temple, the master asked him what more he had heard. “Master,” responded the prince reverently, “when I listened most closely, I could hear the unheard—the sound of flowers opening, the sound of the sun warming the earth, and the sound of the grass drinking the morning dew.” The master nodded approvingly. “To hear the unheard,” remarked Pan Ku, “is a necessary discipline to be a good ruler. For only when a ruler has learned to listen closely to the people’s hearts, hearing their feelings uncommunicated, pains unexpressed, and complaints not spoken of, can he hope to inspire confidence in his people, understand when something is wrong, and meet the true needs of his citizens.

The demise of states comes when leaders listen only to superficial words and do not penetrate deeply into the souls of the people to hear their true opinions, feelings, and desires.”

That parable should be mandatory reading for MNPS Director of Schools Shawn Joseph, his leadership team, and the MNPS school board. Upon his arrival from Prince George’s County in Maryland, Joseph, much like the Prince in the story, went into the forest via districtwide listening tours to listen, and like the young prince, he came out thinking that he had heard everything there was to hear. Unfortunately for us, there was nobody to send him back into forest to listen some more. This lack of deep listening is most recently evidenced by a meeting between district administrators and the staff at Antioch High School held this past week.

In case you are Dr. Joseph, Dr. Narcisse, Dr. Felder, Executive Officer of Organizational Development Mo Carrasco, or one of a handful of other people who haven’t been listening, you are probably aware that for the last 18 months, AHS has been a dumpster fire. I’m sorry if that offends anyone, and I don’t say that flippantly or as a slap in the face against the teachers at AHS, but merely as a stating of the facts.

Last year, AHS lost 67 teachers. By my unofficial count, they’ve probably lost another 10-15 this year. They are still at least 6 math teachers short, and kids are taking classes via computer. There was a student walkout last spring that has been framed as a protest over the release of a popular football coach, but if anybody took the time to read the student’s demands, they would see that it was about so much more. Most of it in relation to academics.

Recently there was a fight on the field between Antioch HS and Overton HS that was so bad, the football game was canceled with 9 minutes remaining. Where were the administrators on duty during that fight? Why were they indoors? Because they were concerned that their hair might get wet?

The current principal of Antioch HS has been absent, again by my unofficial count, 10 – 15 days this year. It’s only November. Two years ago, this school was a Level 5 school. Recently released TNReady results now show them as a Level 1 school. And then there’s Antioch’s AVID demonstration school status. I was corrected when I wrote several weeks ago that AHS had lost their demonstration school status. They have not yet lost that status, but it is hanging by a thread.

AVID is going to give a school every opportunity to correct issues before removing that status. It’s not good for either party when a school loses its demonstration school status. However, a big part of AVID’s success hinges on teacher training, and when you have the turnover that AHS has been generating, that becomes a hard challenge to meet. Losing its demonstration school status would be a huge blow to AHS and would undo years of sweat and tears that went into building a very prestigious program that is a huge benefit to students.

Any one of these problems taken individually would be cause for concern, but taken collectively, they should set off alarm bells. I suppose those bells were the preamble to the aforementioned meeting that took place this week. A meeting, that to the best I can tell, was created to try and quiet the alarms.  Before we go any further, I want to emphatically state that I do believe that Southeast Quadrant Community Superintendent Adrienne Battle had the best intentions when scheduling this meeting. I truly believe that she and Executive Officer of Student Services Tony Majors were looking to use the meeting to address and correct as many issues as possible. Unfortunately, you can only control what you can control, and this situation requires involvement from those higher up on the food chain.

Here’s another free leadership tip: When you don’t have strong relationships with people and you haven’t been really listening, don’t stand in front of them and tell them to “get their shit together and fix the problem.” Now I don’t think that’s the message Executive Officer of Organizational Development Mo Carrasco, who comes with his own baggage, intended to deliver, but communication is as much about what is heard as it is about what is said. And that is what many of those teachers heard. Intentional or unintentional, blame for the current situation was placed squarely on their shoulders, and they were charged with fixing it.

Several teachers walked out after hearing those remarks. Others remained to talk with district administrators and tried to be as forthcoming as possible about the situation, and I have no doubt they appreciated the efforts of Battle and Majors. In the end, nothing was resolved, and the situation was perhaps made even worse. Reports are that Principal Kiva Wiley was not pleased with the outcome herself. There is a limit to the amount of talk sans action that can be tolerated, and I would argue that the end of the rope has been reached in this case. My favorite quote from the meeting is the one where a teacher accused central office of just trying to spray perfume around the house. It’s time to stop spraying perfume and actually clean up the mess.

Things will get really interesting next month when Dr. Battle goes out on maternity leave and Dr. Narcisse takes over her schools. Will he become just one more person who is aware of the crisis and fails to act, or will he actually take action? Right now things just fall into the category of gross negligence but they are fast heading to an immoral state. When as many people know and recognize the problems of a school like Antioch HS and fail to address the problems head on it’s inexcusable. These are years that these kid’s will never get back and those who have failed to take action, or made excuses, should be ashamed of themselves. The students of Antioch High School deserve better and I can’t help but think that if this situation was happening in a Nashville charter school certain MNPS school board members would be more fully engaged.

I believe that effective management is a lot like maintaining a checking account. Everybody comes to the position with a certain balance in their account and your actions increase or decrease that balance. Sometimes circumstances require a leader to make a large withdrawal from their account. When writing one of these checks, it’s important that a) you have enough in your account to cover it, and b) that eventually the check will lead to a growth in your account.

This week, Dr. Battle and Dr. Majors wrote some pretty big checks, metaphorically speaking. They were probably the only ones in this case who had the ability to do so, as everybody else’s accounts are running a little low. How much these checks deplete their accounts remains unclear. Hopefully, at the very least, they bought the attention of those who can solve the problem, and we should commend them for being willing to write those checks.

What is clear, is that someone needs to go back into the forest and spend a little more time listening. A recent article in the Harvard Business Review offers some insights into leadership that MNPS leaders would be wise to listen to. Since their arrival, the primary focus has been focused on strategy, while execution has not received the required focus. Writer Rosabeth Moss Cantor advises leaders to “encourage innovation, begin with execution, and name the strategy later.” MNPS has the formula backwards, and because of that, we are all writing checks.

QUICK HITS

Last week DGW had a poll on whether or not fights were up or down in MNPS schools. In light of that poll, I had conversations with several district leaders about the situation and one of the takeaways is that fighting is more of a societal problem than a school issue. We have a current generation that believes that violence is an acceptable way to resolve conflict. We also have a generation that, due to cuts in after school programs, has less opportunities to develop alternative forms of conflict resolution.

Kids need more activities outside of schools. As parents, we recognize that. We sign our kids up for dance, soccer, baseball, music lessons, etc. However, not all families have the resources to do provide these activities to their children. We are failing those children. The argument is made that maintaining after school programs and sports leagues are expensive propositions, yet somehow we as a city find a way to fund a new soccer stadium. Wouldn’t it be amazing if we focused as much on developing after school programs for kids as we did for professional sports teams?

The Overton Cluster Parent Advisory Committee has unofficially reconvened this year and has been meeting every two months. This week was our second meeting. A big thank you to the principals of Overton, Croft, Oliver, Crieve Hall, Tusculum, Granbery, Shayne, and Norman Binkley for making sure that they had representation at these meetings. We look forward to seeing reps from McMurray and Haywood at January’s meeting. Also, a big shout out to Croft and Overton parent Abby Trotter for facilitating this getting off the ground.

One of the interesting things that I learned at this month’s meeting was that students taking advanced academics did not count towards a school’s TNReady score. Which led me to ask, if it’s Dr. Joseph’s intention to increase student participation in advanced academics, how will that translate to a school’s state grade, which is partially based on TNReady scores?

McKissack Middle Prep held a ProjectLit meeting this week that had an amazing turnout. Huge props to them! If you are wanting to attend a ProjectLit Book Club meeting, but aren’t sure when they take place, check out the calendar and make plans.

Students at Hunters Lane High School recently used virtual reality to communicate with students in Africa. The African students had never seen that kind of technology before, so it was an exciting experience for everyone. The experience was filmed for a show “Good All Over” that will air on PBS.

Rumor has it that former MNPS Number 2 man Jay Steele was in town last week.

Please join NOAH next week for a continuation of their conversation centered around restorative practices. I can’t decide if I’m going to make Monday’s or Thursday’s meeting. This is an extremely important conversation and I urge everybody to try to make time for it. The NW and NE meetings were well attended.

MNEA wil be holding a Formal Observation Webinar for New Educators on Monday, Nov. 13 at 6 pm. If you’re a new teacher and would like to learn more about our teacher evaluation system, you should try to attend.

Sponsored by Alignment Nashville, more than 6,000 MNPS high school freshmen will participate in the annual My Future, My Way Career Exploration Fair at the Music City Center. Students from all public and charter schools will attend the event, where they’ll learn first hand about career opportunities from more than 140 area businesses and nonprofits – many of which will setup hands-on demonstrations of the work they do. The Fair will take place on Tuesday November 14th from 8 AM to 1pm at the Music City Center.

There is a MNPS school board meeting coming Tuesday. Looking at the agenda and it appears like there will be a lot of data made available and deciphered.

(Nashville Rise Parents and Nashville Teacher Residency)

This past week, Nashville Rise and Nashville Teacher Residency held a parents night out to discuss how to build a win-win relationship with incoming teachers. Sorry I missed it, but reports were that it was extremely informative.

The Tennessee Performing Arts Center (TPAC) is pleased to announce the five new Metro Nashville Public Schools that have been selected to participate in the 2017-18 Disney Musicals in Schools program. The program is an initiative developed by Disney Theatrical Productions to create sustainable theater programs in economically disadvantaged elementary schools.

The newly selected schools are Alex Green Elementary School, Glencliff Elementary School, Shayne Elementary School, Thomas A. Edison Elementary School, and Tusculum Elementary Elementary School. This is the seventh year of the partnership between Disney Theatrical Productions, Metro Nashville Public Schools, and TPAC’s education program. Kudos to my peeps!

At Westmeade ES, teachers across the building are inspiring students to have a growth mindset. Positive outlooks rule.

Tonight, Cane Ridge HS squares off against Brentwood HS in a State 6A football playoff game. Game time is 7 pm at Cane Ridge. Let’s go, Cane Ridge!

I just want to say that the record by former Oasis frontman Liam Gallagher is a fantastic slab of vinyl. That’s all.

Also the newest Margo Price ain’t bad either. Consider this a public service announcement.

Don’t forget about the 3rd Annual Colts Care Gift Drive. If you want to sponsor a neighborhood student(s)/family(ies) in need by purchasing a few winter holiday gifts for them, then please fill out the form.

Before I forget, remember the MNPS transition team and former Baltimore Superintendent Dallas Dance? You’ll want to read about the ongoing investigation into Dr. Joseph’s close friend.

POLL QUESTIONS

Is it Friday already? Hmmm… better come up with some questions, huh?

I’m always trying to find out more about DGW readers, so let’s start off by asking which MNPS quadrant you all live in or if you are outside of Nashville. I know I have to do a better job of getting more widespread coverage, so this will give me areas to target.

Second question, are you planning to attend an upcoming ProjectLit Book Club meeting, and if not, why? I make no secret of it, I think ProjectLit is doing a better job of promoting literacy in this district than any other entity, and if I can help drive more people to their book clubs, I’m going to do it.

Last question is about teacher retention. Winter break is just around the corner and I’m curious as to whether or not you think MNPS will lose a significant amount of teachers this year or not. Let me know what your spidey sense tells you.

That does it for the week. If you need to contact me, you can do so at Norinrad10@yahoo.com. I try to promote as many of the things sent me as possible, but I do apologize if I fall short. I have started using Patreon. If you think what I do has monetary value, you can go there and make a donation/pledge. Trust me, I know I ain’t going to get rich, but at the end of the day I’m just a Dad trying to get by. Thanks to the Cautious Pessimist for kicking things off with a $5 pledge. Check out the Dad Gone Wild Facebook page as well.

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5 comments on “THE SOUND OF THE FOREST

  1. xiousgeonz says:

    I grew up in Prince George’s County, MD. School folks? Not known for their competence. Yes, likely to be indoors during a game. Keep fighting.

  2. xiousgeonz says:

    LOL forgot to say what the whole real point of commenting — Friedaybrain — thanks for the parable!! I need to remember those things, too… (I support students, mostly tutoring — but yes, other listening is necessary!)

  3. Same as it ever was.... says:

    The situation at Antioch HS seems to be emblematic of the problems throughout MNPS, and it is proof that the continued free pass that Dr. Joseph and Co. are receiving is ruining our school district. They continue to hire and/or put into the “pipeline” people who have absolutely zero business leading a school, and the idea that the community has any real say in the selection of Principals is laughable. School level issues are just the tip of the iceberg, because at the district level, those that are in charge are making decisions that are completely detrimental to student and teacher success.

    Let me say this about a large majority of the teachers that I know in Nashville: They genuinely care about the students and families in MNPS, and they work each day to serve their interests. They don’t do things because they are easy or because they garner attention. They don’t want to be involved in political back and forth. They just want to be able to do their jobs.

    For a teacher who works at a school with a pretty good representation of our district, from both a demographic and a socioeconomic standpoint, this is the environment that is being created by the current administration:

    Teachers are diligently meeting to plan, but they are struggling with the new Scope and Sequence. The texts that they’re told to use as anchor texts are creating several big issues: they don’t all have them, and they aren’t always appropriate or engaging for their students. They also don’t always adequately cover the state standards laid out for that period of time. Teachers at other schools are being told that they aren’t a mandate, but for others they are–this is very confusing. This week, the Anchor and “Suggested” texts for the third quarter were released, and in one grade level where they are learning about seasons, two of the suggested texts are about autumn (and yes, the third quarter begins in January). The IFL (Institute for Learning) units are ridiculously scripted, and they are most definitely not what’s best for students. For 3rd and 4th grade, there are no pictures in the text. For second grade, there is one picture in the text on the first page. I’ve been told that one of the texts for second grade was originally written for students in fourth grade. The activities that are designed around them are not conducive to student engagement, and while focusing on writing in and of itself is a great idea, this particular “program” has little to no value. They are also using a phonics program that is based on whole group teaching, even though their students’ abilities in that area differ wildly. In short, the methods and programming being used by the district go against everything that has ever been taught about teaching reading to children, both from a research and a practical perspective.

    Their idea of “rigor” is not only ineffective, but it’s an insult to teachers throughout the district, because it presumes that they all have low expectations for their students. Why would you give a student at a second grade level something at a fourth grade level just to prove a point? Using difficult texts for certain things is great (Read Alouds, etc..), but when the text that is being used for the core instruction (Shared Reading) is not meeting students where they are in any way whatsoever, what point is it proving? To me, it only illustrates what happens when you put people in charge who have made a career out of being consultants. Over the next couple of years, I think that those both inside and outside the school district will begin to see one thing: their current framework is succeeding only in driving effective teachers and leaders away. By the time people in power decide to really speak up, it’s going to be too late.

    And when it comes to literacy, everyone is tired of hearing people talk out of both sides of their mouth. You can’t downplay test results when talking about how they didn’t go up during your first year as a district team, but then use those same results as a way to make it sound as though our education system is the only element of society responsible for the welfare of our children. I am tired of hearing about how only 1 in 3 children read on grade level, when that information is based on a single test. It is at least worth asking, once and for all, what these tests are telling us about students’ true abilities? If I have a student in my class who is–by every other measure–either at grade level or approaching grade level, am I still doing him/her a disservice by not ensuring that he/she performs as proficient on the test? I know that’s as much a state issue as anything else, but again, to hear our leadership selectively reference it when it supports their political platitudes is ridiculous.

    Teachers are taking the panorama survey, but based on most experiences, the survey results from the spring have never been discussed. And based on my conversations with other teachers they couldn’t have been very good. The only changes made at my school over the summer have actually made things worse, and the suggestions made by the staff as a whole were completely ignored. Teachers are leaving in droves, either to other counties or to schools that apparently have less drama. Because of the unicorn-like nature of those schools, each opening they have draws hundreds of applicants, which obviously doesn’t bode well for those who would like to remain in MNPS.

    Discipline continues to be an issue, and while most teachers I know agree that suspension is not always going to be an appropriate response, they all agree that a response of some sort is necessary. Students act in ways that endanger themselves and other students, and even after every intervention, motivator, and clear show of compassion is implemented, those students are still not given a real consequence for their actions. This can make for awkward conversation with concerned parents, but there don’t seem to be any district pointers for that.

    All this comes as people like Mo Carrasco drive to schools in BMWs with the Maryland plates still attached, and our school board members only tacitly admit that there may be some issues with leadership. Is there a tipping point? What happens when they can’t hide behind the idea that there is only a year’s worth of data around their practices? Will they be packing up to go on to the next district by then? As I’ve said before when I’ve commented here, the old guard was not the best, but at least they still gave school leaders and teachers some discretion when it came to instruction. Now teachers are not only being judged based on their results, they’re not even given a real option as to how they will go about getting those results.

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