A Piece Full World

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Bullied By Your Principal? Start Here.
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Sunday, February 25, 2018

Sucked dry...

 There is no joy in public education.  No jubilance. No educator joy.  No student jubilance. Technology and testing have sucked the life out of public school education, public school teachers, and public school students. I had to see the "No joy" words written.  Had to acknowledge them.  

With sorrow, I acknowledge the lack of passion, yearning, or life in public education.  The bureaucrats have killed it all. The money grubbing private interest groups have picked public education's bones clean.

And teacher unions, school boards, and school districts have let them.

There is also little "Florida" fight left in me.  Tallahassee's almost won its battle against little old me and my little old A Piece Full World outrage. My battle to save public education's vibrancy feels lost.  My fight's become a puddle of darkness in my stomach. A dark sadness. An oozing from my heart. Sludge. And my mind.  The darkness there becomes dreams of guns and shooters and my ever present former principal.  All those manifested last night in Nikolaus Cruz taking a standardized computer test at my former school.  I was the "Test Administrator."  As he entered, I took Nikolaus' phone and his assault gun. "No electronic devices or weapons permitted..."

I recognized Nikolaus as he entered my testing lab. Strangely (because dreams are often strange) the lab was "my" lab (127) at my current school.  But I knew I was at my former school. That trepidation filled me.  I was more nervous about my former principal showing up than about having Nikolaus Cruz' AK 115 in my cell phone/weapon box top. 

Nikolaus and I had no time to ponder the horrors he'd committed. We had to get the test rolling.

"This standardized show must go on...!"

Oh yes, I had me a wild dream ride last night.  

"No absences during testing," my administration recently alerted us. Go to school sort of sick, really sick or almost dead. At our next faculty meeting we educators will sign the Florida Department of Education's (FLDOE) "contract" stating we will do NOTHING but watch children's backs for days on end.  We will swear not to look at the computer test screens over children's frail or plump and slumped shoulders.  We will never ever talk about anything inside the lab with children or outside the lab with each other.  We'll swear to do NOTHING for weeks on end.  

We'll also promise not to have our cell phones.  But (and this is a secret!) we use them because there are always problems.

We will soon practice getting children expeditiously to testing labs.  Drills.  Children will shuffle (or dance) through hallways instead of learning in classrooms.  My school is ever so close to the elusive "A".  Our principal--a wonderful smart, creative, loving man--uses his intelligence and creativity to most effectively plan how to most efficiently use computers in testing labs.  Because we don't have enough computers, he and his administrative team spend days planning this "testing strategy." 

My principal thinks of everything.  There is not a moment to be wasted. Even in the cafeteria my principal has large plastic trash bags ready for those of us spending the day with extended timed English learning or Special Education children. He does not want a "garbage bag delivery" to distract our darlings from their testing task of "A" achievement. Extended time children have a half hour lunch respite from the all day grind. They laugh and talk--but they DO NOT (I SWEAR!) talk about the test. They eat in their testing labs (their homes for days on end) and then easily dispose of their garbage.  My principal assured that!

"Text the AP when you need a bathroom break." Ergo one of the reasons we need our cell phones.  The other reason is frantic text pleas to help unravel the latest testing mess up.  

There's no life anymore in classrooms. Technology has taken over. There's little room to even write on a board.  Smartboards take up most of the space.  I remember, as an adult education Spanish teacher, 23 years ago, having competitions at the board.  Three or four teams would vie to win--one member at a time at the board. "¿Cómo se dice.... 'apple' en español? The first person to legibly write "manzana" AND say the word, won that point. The students loved the competition. Much debate and opposition was allowed....as long as it was in Spanish.  "¡No es bueno!" "¡Sí! ¡Sí es bueno!" the fervent reply.

That, dear readers, is how we learn.

Now there is no space to write on classroom boards.  No place for adults to stand for a "fruta" competition. No looking left. Then right. No expectant waiting. No chalk (1995) or marker (2007) in hand. 

I remember my Spanish students from 23 years ago stand and concentrate; review Spanish words--this time for fruits--in their minds. Perhaps theirs were exasperated and strained thoughts. "Damn, I forgot how to say orange! But, if she says banana, I sure as hell will remember the accent!" 

Hearts pounded. Oh the cheers of teammates!  Everybody sputtering Spanish!  "¡Muy bien! ¡Felicitaciónes!"

 "¡Buena suerte!" enthusiastically hollered as the next team members approached the board. My memories are colorful and bright.  Vibrant.

Now there are screens everywhere; lifeless Smartboards. Joyless iPad tablet technology.  And passionless. pale people.

It's all drab in public education.  Drab. Dull.  Lifeless.

Sucked dry.
6:02 pm est          Comments

Monday, February 19, 2018


Thrumming. Inside.  "Oh my God, oh my God, oh my God." Outside. Pop!  Pop!  Pop!  Pop!  Pop!  

I imagine.  The teacher there in that classroom. "What's that?"  Confusion.  It's the end of the day.  Homework is being assigned and the fire drill has already been conducted that morning.  Why would the principal do another one so late?  Right before dismissal? Why is the fire alarm ding-ding-dinging?"  

Moments.  Slow motion moments. Onslaughts of terror. "QUICK!" as a shadow passes. Whispers hissed.  "GET DOWN! COME HERE!"  Is that the way it was for the teacher?

A girl on TV.  Interviewed.  About a boy.  "Please, someone let me in" he begged as he knocked on locked and darkened classroom doors.  He'd left when the fire alarm sounded.  Now he turns.  Another moment.  His.  His last alive. 

Her moment too.  She will live that pleading--now silence--the rest of her life.  

Resilience.  And what is that in the face of this kind of tragedy?  How will she find it? Where will we find it?  How can we use it--this resilience? This, through this pain.  Through this.

At a seminar, Dr. Robert Brooks, a psychologist and international presenter, spoke of his parents' resilience and its manifestation following the unexpected death of his younger brother.  Seeing his parents remove pictures of his brother from the walls of their home astounded Dr. Brooks.  "That's not the thing to do!", he, a young mourning man, had wanted to yell.  "We must memorialize him!  Put pictures up!  More and more and more pictures!  We must never forget!"  

Years later, in front of his rapt audience, Dr. Brooks spoke of resilience--his parents and his own in this case--in the face of tragedy.  He spoke to us of his years' long learning that his parents and he mourned differently; that neither he nor his parents were "right."  

At that seminar, at that moment, Dr. Brooks seemed to speak directly to me.  His words chased away years of judgement.  His words chagrined.  They embarrassed.  Me.  For I
had not understood the familial silence following my husband's brother's death.  It felt as if no one spoke of it.  "We must talk!   About him! That's the only way to heal!" I'd inwardly screamed.  But I stayed silent and watched.  Watched my mother and father in law figure out this raw pain for themselves.  "Lorene, did you make the cole slaw?  You know how much I like it." A grim smile as his eyes briefly meet hers.  "I did.  You know I did."

Both of my in-laws are gone now.  They lived out their grieving new normal together. He with TV and a Bible.  His spot on the blue couch. Left corner near the overhead lamp for reading. She with plants, cooking, and joining him for evening TV watching. A Bible study group for her. Both with their muted sorrow ever present.

Parkland resilience.  Candle light vigils.  School walkouts.  Coming together.  Organizing. Marching on Tallahassee.. Putting up pictures of beloveds or taking them down.  For now.  Remembering words.  The flick of her hair as she glanced over her shoulder.  A distracted smile, for a group of friends impatiently waited for her.

Is the feeling of grief the same for everyone?  True raw grief?  The Mayo Clinic says that grief is universal. It's something we share, particularly with the loss of loved ones. Grief, then, is love turned inside out; tied into knots. Tied intimately. Grief knots feel sometimes impossible to untie.  Like childhood shoe laces, we pick and pick at our grief knots.  For some of us, they fray, yet remain obstinately bound.  For others, they loosen.  Our knots of grief loosen through community, through meditation, through prayer.  

Grief has no cultural or race differences.  We love.  We lose.  We grieve.

But grief is also personal.  So very personal.  So intimately personal. For each of us is bound to love our loves and grieve the loss of our loves.  And share with the world--perhaps--our outrage.  

But maybe not. Maybe we turn.  To each other.  To God.  To Jesus.  For our solace.  

Silently and quietly we live our knotted grief.
5:38 pm est          Comments

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

My VAM score reeks...

 My VAM score is based on--let me see here, I want to get this outrage exactly right--seventeen eighth grade students' science scores and 23 students' FSA Math scores.  My outcome for the math students is -3.541 with a standard error of 1.319.  

Ironic humor:  I don't know what the hell that mathematical equation means...except a lower salary.  Maybe that's why "my (23) students" did so crappy.

I am a school counselor.  My school has close to 1,100 students....and my evaluation reflects 40 of those students' math and science test scores.  That is so outrageously wrong. Clearly wrong.  Wrong in the purest sense.  Laughable.  Pathetic, really.  Sad.  Depressing.  Uninspiring....  In my FACE wrong!  Make me ANGRY! Exasperated! WRONG!  

What is wrong with YOU, state legislators and board members and "Education Advisory Committee" members?  Peekin' from around the "Bush" (policies) that this wonderful state of Florida allowed? How will you defend affecting a hard working school counselor's salary with 40 science and math scores?!  Cough up my "highly effective" 750 dollars!  

Let me tell you a little about me and how that ugly score--and its standard error of 1.319 and its VAM Ratio of -2.6846--makes me feel.  It makes me mad.  It also makes me laugh.  Are you such a pompous lot that you believe this bs?  Do you know what it all means? Well then, EXPLAIN IT TO ME! Give it to me straight, my man/men!  Give it to me without deviations and standard errors and ratios.  I want to know, baby!  How did you choose those 17+23 children? How are they tied to me, a school counselor and my salary?

 I know this "mathematical equation": "My salary - 750 dollars for earning "highly effective" = less money in my pocket.  I know this too: Poor scores (wherever the hell they come from) + below average evaluations from devious principals= NO JOB for wonderful, upstanding, honest, hardworking educators. 

And here's what it indirectly means for me too:  Going to work anyway.  Doing my best anyway.  Loving children.  Being creative, kind and patient ANYWAY!  For it is hard for some, my clueless state leaders. It is hard for wonderful educators who sacrifice hours and hours to you and your tests and test prep--iReady and the likes--to receive indecipherable VAM scores and not have an inkling what they mean.

And no one's been able to help me understand.  No one.

Because no one really understands it.
6:25 pm est          Comments

Sunday, February 4, 2018

A letter of hope....

 Honorable Members of the School Board:

I want to help end bullying in our district's schools.  I am an Olweus Bullying Prevention Program (OBPP) trainer.  In 2009, I was selected by the Florida Association of School Administrators as one of ten consultants to assist with the statewide implementation of the Florida Bullying Prevention Initiative. I believe it was my association with the OBPP that led to my being interviewed by the Broad Foundation. I spoke then of my hope that all feeder patterns would be trained as OBPP schools.

 I am also a Workplace Bullying Prevention Program trainer and an Anti-Defamation League "World of Difference" trainer.  And I work for you as a school counselor.  

A part of the truth of maintaining a positive school culture, over time, is to address the issue of bullying head on. We are not doing that in our schools. We document bullying events.  We give consequences, but we do not do everything we can to prevent bullying.

A critical component to preventing bullying is simply to talk about it.  All the time.  Teachers must "'circle up" students and talk about bullying, its prevention, and all related topics.  A school counselor's role would then be to assist with weekly topics and mentor those teachers who may be uncomfortable at first with this weekly conversation.  I can, however, guarantee that even reluctant teachers will see the benefits of this activity over time.  Their classrooms will be more manageable.  Their students will be more at ease; more likely to learn.

Imagine this: All teachers in all schools in every one of our district's classrooms each week saying something like this:  "Hey everybody!  Gather up!  Let's continue our conversation on how it feels to see others being treated unkindly. Susan?"

"I feel sad."

"Anyone else feel as Susan does?  Oh my!  Look how many hands!  Let's talk about why we don't help when inside we really want to...?"

This is a missing proactive piece.  If Values truly Matter in Miami-Dade County Public Schools, then the answer is not money (probably lots and lots of money.....) spent on more technology.  Nearpod, for example, requires counselors to enter classrooms or auditoriums with codes and also requires children to type on cell phones.  Children draw pictures on their phones.  They answer questions on their phones. They look down at their rectangular "windows to the world" and type.  Fingers and thumbs fly. There is much "downtown desired data" created.  But it is not, in my opinion, effective.  Children have too much technology in their lives.  They crave:


That's the answer.  And technology will never fill the void. It, in fact, creates an even greater paucity of that which we all crave most: Connection. Human connection. Connection through safety.  Connection through patience.  Connection through love and kindness.  Respect.

Workplace bullying must also be addressed.  My website A Piece Full World, created after experiencing administrative harassment, violence, and bullying, had more than 10,000 pages read by almost 2,000 visitors in January.  My "Bullied by Your Principal? Start Here..." page trends each month and leads my pages read.  

I also have a plan to address the critical component of preventing workplace bullying in schools. I'd like to share it with you.

I have learned through my experience that I am a "half glass full" living individual.  I look for solutions.  I look for answers.  

But I do not hide from truth.  And the truth is that bullying--both school and workplace--is dire.

We are, more than ever in our state, at a critical juncture in regards to preventing bullying.  I'd like to help make Miami-Dade County Public Schools a national leader in courageously putting together a bullying prevention program that works.

Thank you,

Kim Werner
Creator, A Piece Full World
Olweus Bullying Prevention Program Trainer
Workplace Bullying Prevention Trainer
Anti-Defamation League "World of Difference" trainer.
11:51 am est          Comments

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Click here for my district's bullying and harassment policy. You will see I have made comments....