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In October, across the state, educators have an opportunity to decide if they wish to engage in a process called “Collaborative Conferencing.”  In other industries they may refer to it as an “Interest-Based Collaborative Problem Solving,” which is an increasingly popular method of multiparty consensus-building.  In education that concept may not work, if one side chooses not to engage in consensus building and the other side decides to file unnecessary lawsuits.  Professional Educators of Tennessee fervently supports the right of educators to discuss working conditions and salary with their employers.

In 2011, the Tennessee General Assembly passed the Professional Educators Collaborative Conferencing Act (Public Chapter 378). So, it is not surprising that we are frequently asked about our position on Collaborative Conferencing.  Currently Collaborative Conferencing, also known as PECCA, only occurs in about 12 districts around the state.   Only certain subjects can be discussed.  And some subjects are completely prohibited.

Subjects that can be discussed include:  Salaries or wages; Grievance procedures; Insurance; Fringe benefits (not to include pensions or retirement programs of the Tennessee consolidated retirement system or locally authorized early retirement incentives); Working conditions, except those working conditions that are prescribed by federal law, state law, private act, municipal charter or rules and regulations of the State Board of Education, the Department of Education or any other department or agency of state or local government; Leave; and, Payroll deductions (except with respect to those funds going to political activities).

Subjects that are prohibited include:  Differentiated pay plans and other incentive compensation programs, including stipends, and associated benefits that are based on professional employee performance that exceeds expectations, or that aid in hiring and retaining highly qualified teachers for hard-to-staff schools and subject areas;   Expenditure of grants or awards from federal, state or local governments and foundations or other private organizations that are expressly designed for specific purposes; Evaluation of professional employees pursuant to federal or state law or State Board of Education policy; Staffing decisions and State Board of Education or local board of education policies relating to innovative educational programs under § 49-1-207; innovative high school programs under Title 49, chapter 15; virtual education programs under Title 49, chapter 16; and other programs for innovative schools or school districts that may be enacted by the general assembly; All personnel decisions concerning assignment of professional employees, including, but not limited to, filling of vacancies, assignments to specific schools, positions, professional duties, transfers within the system, layoffs, reductions in force, and recall. No agreement shall include provisions that require personnel decisions to be determined on the basis of tenure, seniority or length of service; and, Payroll deductions for political activities.

In a modern world, it doesn’t seem that placing limits or prohibitions helps local districts, educators, students or stakeholders on emerging topics.  However, we have been disappointed by PECCA, and think that we may want to discuss items outside the scope of Collaborative Conferencing, such as differentiated pay plans, expenditure of grants or awards, evaluation and staffing decisions or other issues like school safety, curriculum/materials and/or other rapidly emerging issues.  Although we can probably agree that banning payroll deductions for political activities is probably a good thing for public education.

Just as we do, many teachers see the flaw in the system:  you can discuss salary but you cannot discuss, differentiated pay plans and other incentive compensation programs, including stipends, and associated benefits that are based on professional employee performance that exceeds expectations, or that aid in hiring and retaining highly qualified teachers for hard-to-staff schools and subject areas.  Then why do we even discuss salary at all?  That decision is already set in a formula and largely determined with small room for debate or discussion.   It is probably why so few districts and educators choose to engage in Collaborative Conferencing.

Currently any school board in the state has the authority to address any terms and conditions through board policy. In other words, while the board is required to participate in conferencing if the professional employees vote to participate, nothing in the PECCA requires the board to agree on terms or conditions or enter into a memorandum of understanding if agreement has not been reached.  Which is why we must keep lines of communication open.

Are there other options?  We believe so and toward that end, Professional Educators of Tennessee has begun to establish Education Leaders Councils in some districts to accomplish more for teachers.  It will help us cultivate true consensus building and address more critical issues.

We know that some of our members oppose Collaborative Conferencing, which leads to less than optimal turnout in some districts.  In fact, in many districts those voting for Collaborative Conferencing is barely over 50% and still excludes people from the process.  That is simply not fair.

We hope we can work to address critical issues for educators and our members through our Education Leaders Council.  This may require future legislation, but any district can choose to meet with their employees at any time.   Our desire and intent are simple:  if you vote for Collaborative Conferencing or if you vote against Collaborative Conferencing, always choose Professional Educators of Tennessee as your representative, and we will work with our local leaders to promote the interest of educators in the local district, not an agenda pushed by a national organization.   We must work together, and it is clear that Collaborative Conferencing limits educators.

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JC Bowman is the Executive Director of Professional Educators of Tennessee, a non-partisan teacher association headquartered in Nashville, Tennessee. Permission to reprint in whole or in part is hereby granted, provided that the author and the association are properly cited. For more information on this subject or any education issue please contact Professional Educators of Tennessee.

 

Reducing school violence is a national imperative. Yet, despite increasing instances of school violence, little progress has been made in creating safe places for students to learn and for their educators to instruct. What is needed are new ideas, informed conversations and a readiness to break through the rhetorical stalemate toward a new understanding of school safety.

To advance productive efforts, on October 24, 2018, the University of Southern California (USC) is presenting the National Safe Schools Digital Summit. This event is being offered exclusively online and is free to view. No advance registration is required.

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I hope you can join in….Thanks, JC Bowman

 

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“To compel a man to furnish contributions of money for the propagation of opinions which he disbelieves and abhors, is sinful and tyrannical” is a quote usually attributed to Thomas Jefferson, which surfaced in the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom. James Madison and George Wythe also championed the statute. Wythe was a signer of the Declaration of Independence. Madison later played a critical role in drafting the U.S. Constitution and our Bill of Rights. No doubt that concept was prevalent among our founders.

That position has been one of my guiding principles, as both a classroom teacher in public schools here in Tennessee, and now as the CEO of Professional Educators of Tennessee. Our members continually reiterate to us they do not want their dues money going to political candidates or parties, nor do they want us in the endorsement business. We respect that position. We work with legislators regardless of their political affiliation, and that has helped us build bridges in addressing key education issues.

This election cycle we have already seen an influx of unaccountable cash, known as dark money, which pours into our state. The Nashville Scene’s Steve Cavendish did an excellent article on the subject of dark money in politics. Frank Daniels III, formerly of the Tennessean, also did a terrific analysis. Daniel’s conclusion: outside money hurts more than it helps. Daniels wrote: “Tennessee voters were not swayed by big spending outsiders.” It is worth noting the message the outsiders bring is almost always negative. The point raised by Cavendish was: “If you don’t think this is an erosion of democracy, you’re not thinking about it hard enough.” Cavendish referenced Walmart and Microsoft billionaires, as well as unions, as the main culprits. We agree.  The formula is simple:  Dark Money + Union Money = Corrupt Politics

Our commitment to our members is simple. We are completely funded by the dues of our members. Our members are educators from the state of Tennessee. No other teachers’ association in this state is as well-respected in the legislature as Professional Educators of Tennessee for what we stand for, and how we go about our business on our member’s behalf.

When we take our message to policymakers, they understand this: we fight for public schools, because we understand the historical and philosophical basis of why public education exists. If public education is to continue to be successful, it will take all the policymakers and stakeholders working together. And we want to be the educators voice in Tennessee.  We are not a state chapter of a national organization.  We are created by, and for, Tennessee educators.  Our focus is on Tennessee.

We encourage our members to register to vote. We encourage them to vote. We encourage them to campaign for the candidates that reflect their values or beliefs. What we will not do is tell them who to vote for in this or any other election. A strong public education system is a key to our state, a foundation to build our economy, and the means by which we can help all Tennessee children achieve their dreams.

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JC Bowman is the Executive Director of Professional Educators of Tennessee, a non-partisan teacher association headquartered in Nashville, Tennessee. Follow him on Twitter @jcbowman. Permission to reprint in whole or in part is hereby granted, provided that the author and the association are properly cited.

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Perhaps the foremost expert on changing school culture in Tennessee is Dr. Ryan Jackson. People from across the country have taken notice of the amazing turn around he has done at Mt. Pleasant PreK-12 School in Mt. Pleasant, Tennessee. Ryan Jackson is beginning his 3rd year at Mt. Pleasant School in Maury County, and the culture shift that he has instigated is nothing short of amazing. We wanted a deeper probe of what he was doing, so his methods could be replicated.

In 2016, when Ryan Jackson first came to Mt. Pleasant School, it had a negative stigma attached to it. He immediately realized that the school lacked an identity. Being a firm believer in Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, he realized he needed to create a sense of belonging. The first thing he did was create ‘The Mount.’ More specifically, #TheMount which was strategic for a couple of reasons. Jackson relays, “One, it side-stepped the stigma. This was new. Some people thought it was like putting lipstick on a pig. But it did create a psychological shift. ‘We are The Mount’, not the old Mt. Pleasant and everything you thought about Mt. Pleasant before July 2016 has just changed including how we identify ourselves.” He continued, “It was more than just a rally cry; it was the beginning of this new identity and getting people to see Mt. Pleasant differently so we could one by one, person by person, student by student, teacher by teacher, community member by community member get them to come on board and feel like they belong.” It was not an overnight process but through repetition, constant branding, constant messaging, it was successful.

We have learned, as educators, that if you don’t tell your own story, someone else will tell it for you. Ryan Jackson made social media an integral part of the culture shift. He stated, “Social media is a high yield strategy that costs absolutely nothing financially, just a time investment. It gives everyone, but specifically the immediate community, the windows of insight into what’s going on at the school. It gives them a proud thing to hang their hat on that they didn’t have in the past. I wanted them to see the fact that we had seven different CTE programs. We had multiple forms of art being represented. I wanted the community to see some of the cool project-based learning experiences that we had for kids…things that they would not know if they weren’t here on a day to day basis. I wanted the community members to have access into the school day via the social media platform. By doing so, we are getting the attention of more than just the community, but also the state and the nation as well.”

Jackson sees the social media posts as sort of a mini-commercial for his school. The community now sees them as a positive influence and thinks, “Wow, things really are changing [at Mt. Pleasant].” He reiterates, “Not only that, social media gives you the opportunity to highlight teachers, students and programs while reinforcing the belonging. When people have emotional connections to something, they will share it with others. You are literally evangelizing your message, your school.”

The rebranding, done primarily via social media, has also led to grants/partnerships from the community. Jackson attributes the Theater Renovation Grant for $67,000 that they got from Lowe’s to social media branding. These organizations vet the recipients of their grants, and when they google Mt. Pleasant High School, they start to see everything that they’ve done. Jackson reminds us, “No school is perfect, but you want to make sure that daily you are putting in enough credit that when something bad does happen, your credit is so high that there isn’t a negative impact.” They also got a $500,000 grant from Parker Hannifin Corporation with which they built an Innovation Lab. “Any school that is not leveraging social media power is missing an incredible opportunity,” Jackson emphasized.

Jackson admits that grants have assisted in the cultural turn-around by being financial affirmations. “Organizations see their money going to a school as investment which they believe they will see a return on. Those grants help to foster a shift from momentum to inertia. And now we are a school that cannot be stopped.”

Working with educators, we know there are a few who are resistant to change. When asking Jackson how he dealt with those who did not buy into his vision, he stated, “In any organization, there is always going to be the ‘toxic 2%.’ Annually, you’ve got to get rid of the toxic 2% because if you don’t, it can be like cancer and it will spread. Teachers/staff must grow or go. You will have that core group of people who will buy into your vision immediately.”

Ryan describes himself as a strength-finder leader. “We focus on our strengths and talents while managing our weaknesses. We devoted the first year entirely to changing the culture. We didn’t start on changing the curriculum until year two. We lifted people up, building capacity, building, supporting the teacher leaders. Then they took their network and influence to bring over the early majority. We showed wins in grants, school discipline, attendance etc. When you see your school logo on T-shirts at Walmart and RiteAid, the late majority is starting to look at it like ‘Wow, I want to be a part of this thing.’ Now we have buy-in from the early and late majority.”

Changing the school culture has not just changed the school, but it has transformed the community. Mt. Pleasant is a community of about 5200 people. Mt. Pleasant School is sort of a mini school system. Jackson explains, “[The school] has been a catalyst for everything. We have been positioned as the lighthouse for rural development and that starts with education. People are only going to move back to Main Street, America if they think their children have a great shot at an excellent education.”

Jackson continues, “We understood that fundamentally and made sure the city had something they were proud to hang their hat on in terms of their schools. Once we gave them a taste that this could turn out to be something incredible, we saw parental involvement go up. We started to see the community come out for football games and other events. Every 30 days we are showcasing something new and different such as the ‘Tiny House’ project we are working on or a mid-town barbeque festival with the community. Now we have the cooperation with the city government to raise $155,000 to build a Splash Pad for the community. It’s a multitude of things such as building an authentic partnership with city government and its schools so we can do things together that will improve the quality of life. It’s showcasing the programs in such a way that you can get parents and business owners excited about their local schools.”

Not only that, when you create a high-profile buzz with the rest of the country looking at you, it becomes infectious. Jackson proudly brags, “When the folks in Mt. Pleasant, Tennessee hear that people from Palm Beach County, Florida, the 11th largest school district in the nation, are coming to visit to see what we are doing, they can’t argue with success. That is the attitude you have to adopt. The city is starting to feel like a winner again and it is long overdue.” He reiterates, “After you feel like you belong, then you will start feeling efficacious and capable. Then and only then can you transfer to self-actualization, just being your best. Mt. Pleasant’s new business owners are feeling capable. Now let’s give this thing a go because we all feel like we belong.”

When Ryan Jackson was asked what advice he would give to struggling administrators, he said, “First and foremost, be a leader, not a figure-head. You have to be present. People want to see their shepherd – ten toes down leadership. You are in the halls, in the classrooms. You’re engaging the students with fist-bumps, high-fives, ‘how you doing?’ You need to have mini conversations with kids and identify their passions. Get to know your staff on a personal level. For far too long leadership programs have emphasized that being a good manager is where you draw a firm line. I think things have just changed. [As administrators], we have to be smart, we have to be savvy and we have to be professional, but most importantly, we have to be present.”

With all that being said, part of partaking in a cultural shift is to change things. Jackson declares, “Sometimes, you’ve got to disrupt the norm. Be comfortable in being a stimulus for change. Great leaders are comfortable with dissent. You have got to understand that not everybody is going to see things as they should right away. But it is our job as a leader to influence them. Leadership is the art of influencing and you cannot influence people from behind a computer screen. If you are sending emails that are fear-based, that may last for a little bit, but everything is built on relationships. You have to establish those kinds of ground level relationships first.”

Jackson concludes, “It is your job as an administrator to become your biggest evangelist. Share your story. Highlight your success. Don’t be afraid to share some of your struggles or setbacks, because we are all human and fallible. We are looking to learn from our networks. So, you share within your networks- ideas, struggles and celebrations- in an effort to get better together.”

His biggest piece of advice is to “get out of the office, get in the hallways, in the classrooms, in the community. Be present at games and events. Get to know your students on a first name basis. Kids get excited when they know you know who they are and what they are passionate about. That stuff is life-changing; it’s psychological solutions. You can’t put a dollar amount on that.” No school in Tennessee has changed its culture more than ‘The Mount’. This school culture is an example of a strategy that other schools and districts can duplicate.

Bethany Bowman is the Director of Professional Learning for Educators of Tennessee, a non-partisan teacher association headquartered in Nashville, Tennessee. Permission to reprint in whole or in part is hereby granted, provided that the author and the association are properly cited.

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“We are making progress in education in Tennessee according to every data point, but we also have challenges,” acknowledged Tennessee Commissioner of Education Candice McQueen. Dr. McQueen has been at the forefront of public education the last four years, since she replaced the unpopular and non-communicative Kevin Huffman.

Huffman, the proverbial outsider from Washington DC, was his own worst enemy. A known Democrat, he was never embraced by the newly elected Republican majority that governed the Tennessee General Assembly. His popularity and likability never extended outside the recruits he brought into the state with him, the Governor’s Office or the State Collaborative on Reforming Education (SCORE). Huffman perfected the art of rubbing people the wrong way. After Governor Bill Haslam won a second term, he must have decided it was time for one of the most divisive figures in Tennessee politics to exit the stage. Enter McQueen.

In order to reverse public education’s disdain, Haslam needed the antithesis of Mr. Huffman, and Candice McQueen clearly provided that to the Commissioner of Education position. McQueen was a senior vice president and dean of the college of education at Lipscomb University. McQueen had an intricate task ahead of her. She inherited many personnel who were ill-fitted to the state. Many lacked requisite experience in leadership, in the state, or in the field in which they were being relied on to provide expertise. She had to restore relationships with Legislators, Superintendents, School Boards, Educators and parents. She understood the nuances of working with the scores of special interest groups that populate the K-12 landscape. She became one of the best communicators in state government. She had to do this while providing management to arguably the most important agency in state government. It was truly an example of flying the plane while they attempt to build it.

However, the Achilles heal of her term in office has been standardized test administration. This failure is well-documented. Whether or not that is a fair accusation is debatable. She inherited some of the baggage. Nonetheless, Commissioner McQueen concedes the problems with standardized testing, including online implementation and delivery challenges. She apologized, on behalf of the Tennessee Department of Education, for the challenges and frustrations of the test administration. In addition, the state has taken specific steps to address the concerns as the state moves into the 2018-19 testing cycle. Governor Haslam and Commissioner McQueen recently engaged in a statewide listening tour to get educator input. It is yet to be determined if that effort will have any bearing on the next Governor.

Here is what is certain, the next Governor of Tennessee will either be Republican Bill Lee or Democrat Karl Dean. Both men, for better or worse, will inherit the responsibility of building on Haslam’s record in public education. The choice of Commissioner of Education will assume the overwhelming burden of ensuring that every child in Tennessee graduates from high school prepared for college or the workforce. The success or failure, of the next Commissioner of Education will largely determine the success or failure of the next Governor. It will be a difficult job to fill and it may be a job that nobody wants.

The next Governor will want to select someone who understands public education, understands the state of Tennessee, and is capable of running the most visible agency in the state. For all the local school superintendents who wake up thinking they are up to the task, they should be reminded that the lights of Nashville burn bright and they will be living in a fishbowl. The next Governor cannot afford to go outside the state to recruit a Commissioner of Education as Haslam did, after the Huffman fiasco.

The next Commissioner of Education must have a vision that aligns with the new Governor. They must understand the commitment they will be asked to make. Their evaluation will occur every single day by policymakers and stakeholders across the state, and often in the media. Their success only occurs when every person at a bureaucracy is working in the same direction, understanding and buying into the mission. The obstacles may seem insurmountable, and may keep you from reaching your objectives and not even be under your control. Items like contracts with vendors may be impediments to success, or a bureaucracy which stymies your objectives.

For a Commissioner, the risk is having a Governor who does not support your vision, which will hinder support for your management. Your resources will certainly be limited. Failure will almost certainly be associated with you personally. Financially, many school superintendents are already paid more than the Commissioner of Education, and their headaches are much smaller. Those people who have the skills to perform the task are more limited than the short list of people who think they are up to the challenge.

A disruption in January for 70,000 educators and 1,000,000 students, created by a new agenda for the state, might generate many unexpected issues and unnecessary anxiety during a transition. It is something that a candidate running for office cannot readily discuss, but something that a candidate elected to office must rapidly address. It must be someone who understands our unique language in public education, our stakeholders and policymakers in K-12, and the challenges facing our state.

The question asked by many educators, would either Bill Lee or Karl Dean consider retaining Commissioner McQueen? That has to be a consideration, if she would stay. What happens when you have a job that nobody wants and few are qualified for? We are about to find out.

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JC Bowman is the Executive Director of Professional Educators of Tennessee, a non-partisan teacher association headquartered in Nashville, Tennessee. Permission to reprint in whole or in part is hereby granted, provided that the author and the association are properly cited.

Signs of child abuse are all around us.  We need to know where to look.  #TNEdu

 

Eighty-thousand Tennessee teachers can do everything right at their school and in their classes, and one teacher can do something horrendous and give the other 79,999 a bad name. It takes just one teacher to cause irreparable damage.  In 2018 we saw legislative changes directed at helping curb inappropriate student-teacher activity. One teacher can create problems for the family of the student, his own family, his community, his school, and his peers.

Unfortunately, we know that sexual abuse and exploitation of children is a growing problem in our society. We should not be shocked when sex offenders seek employment in jobs where they have contact with children such as churches, schools, youth groups, hospitals, and social services. We have to do a better job of screening applicants in those fields. Jennifer Fraser, an abuse survivor herself wrote: “If adults can’t recognize abusers, children are even less likely to realize that what’s happening is abuse and that it is doing damage of a kind they can’t see.”

We must carefully make sure that we are protecting all of our minor children in public education. However, we have seen many false claims made against a teacher, and once an accusation is made it is nearly impossible to restore a teacher’s reputation. It is a difficult balancing act. There will never be a perfect system.

ABC News reported that the “FBI and the Justice Department do not keep statistics on the frequency of sex-related assaults involving teachers and students.” However, the “most recent statistics from the Bureau of Justice on school violence show that students are more likely to be sexually assaulted outside school grounds.”

It is atypical for victims, especially children, to disclose sexual abuse at the time it is happening. They fear being blamed for their supposed consent to the abuse. In addition, they fear losing the “approval” of their abuser. They also do not want to disappoint their parents. Many victims wait years, if they report the abuse at all, to talk about what happened to them.

Dr. Kit Richert identified physical indicators of sexual abuse such as pain, itching, bleeding, swelling, or bruising in the genital or anal area; blood in the child’s underwear; frequent bladder infections; STDs; pregnancy in pre-teen girls; and complaints about headaches and sickness. The behavioral indicators of sexual abuse are: sudden change in the child’s normal behavior, starts acting differently; depression or suicidality; running away; regression to more childlike behavior; changes in relationships to adults, such as becoming more clingy or more avoidant; lower school engagement and lower achievement; exhibits sexually provocative behavior or becomes promiscuous; the child has or talks about friends that are unusually older; the child talks about having sex or being touched; and the child is extremely avoidant of undressing or physical contact at school.

The good news is that there are a number of resources available to empower stakeholders to prevent sexual misconduct and abuse in schools. One organization, Stop Educator Sexual Abuse, Misconduct and Exploitation (SESAME) is the national voice for the prevention of sexual exploitation, abuse, and harassment of students by teachers and other school staff. Their 5-point strategy includes:

  1. Increasing public awareness of educator sexual abuse by breaking the silence in a strong and united voice.
  2. Fostering recovery of survivors through mutual support and access to information.
  3. Encouraging survivors of educator sexual abuse to report their offenders to local law enforcement officials and state education department credentialing offices.
  4. Insisting upon implementation of and adherence to child-centered educator sexual abuse policies, regulations, and laws.
  5. Directing attention to the maintenance of proper boundaries between school staff and students by promoting annual training, the adoption of professional standards, and codes of ethics.

It takes one teacher to give all teachers a bad name, especially if it involves an adult sexually abusing a child. We all are victims when one teacher betrays the trust bestowed upon them by a community to educate our children. There are many survivors in our midst. We simply have to do a better job of protecting our children.

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JC Bowman is the Executive Director of Professional Educators of Tennessee, a non-partisan teacher association headquartered in Nashville, Tennessee. Permission to reprint in whole or in part is hereby granted, provided that the author and the association are properly cited. For more information on this subject or any education issue please contact Professional Educators of Tennessee. 

Christy Ballard is the long time General Counsel of Tennessee Department of Education.   Nobody in the state knows Education Law better than Christy Ballard.  And  she shares her vast knowledge.   She regularly assists in the implementation and enforcement of Tennessee’s education laws and regulations by providing legal technical assistance to local school board attorneys, other state agency staff, legislators, LEA officials, teachers and the general public by providing the TDOE’s position on school related laws and regulations.

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This Is Only A Test? (www.proedtn.org)  Are tests in our schools making the grade? JC Bowman from the Professional Educators of Tennessee joins us for an in- depth conversation about challenges with current grade assessment tests and Tennessee Ready. Interview.  Listen to iHeart Radio,  Tennessee Matters here.

Link:  https://www.iheart.com/podcast/1021-Tennessee-Matters-28732380/episode/tennessee-matters-29762167/