Sunday, May 17, 2015

An Opportunity To Bully

Two weeks ago, we, as a school staff, had one of our most challenging weeks of the year. Nothing was out of the ordinary, but the culmination of a few activities proved the breaking point for a few.

-Our students and parents were gearing up for the annual school play.
-Disneyland for our band and choir squads was upcoming.
-Mid Quarter Reports came due.
-It was the third week of block scheduling and SBAC testing.
-And many many more events that just added to the collective stress.

Our parent community, based on the increased number of emails I received, seemed to have their own concerns. I suspect their frustrations were passed along to their kids and thus back into the classroom each and every day for our teachers to progress through. And while our staff is well versed in maintaining the calm, it is inevitable, as human beings, that some of the frustration is passed back to the students and thus our parents. In speaking with our staff, we discussed the opportunity we have to "break the chain" and not allow the stress to fester. They did a great job and this past week was much improved.

Until Friday.

Friday was actually a really neat day. Our students were able to use their cell phones during brunch and lunch, a school first. Our parent community was very supportive of the idea, especially and even if they didn't necessarily agree with the concept. I'm excited to see where the conversation leads and how we can get ahead of the inevitable flood of technology our students will have and use regularly.

The bad news came in the form of an anonymous post from the previous Saturday on the website "greatschools" and it was just mean. Here it is in its entirety. Be warned, it's not nice:

Teachers here are very uninspiring. They aren't there to teach, they're there to supervise. Students are handed an assignment and they figure out how to complete it on their own. As for learned curriculum, students read a printed-out powerpoint or a textbook all by themselves. If they have a question that the teacher can't answer, the teacher shrugs it off and leaves the student to their own resources. Also, I'm going to specifically target the ELA Department. In 6th grade, the way students are taught to write is very rigid, structured, and it doesn't offer any room for creativity and flow. 7th grade - well, they don't teach anything remotely RELATED to English! They observe rotting french fries, party like Victorians, and create videos. But never, ever are they taught to write. And yet they are TESTED on writing skills at the end of each quarter! Overall, I'm shocked at what Union Middle School considers education. It doesn't prepare students for their future, and really, everything students do at school they could do at home, by themselves. I would be very careful if you plan on attending this school. 


Here's the truth. Our teachers are amazing. They are, as a collective group, one of the best staffs I'll ever be a part of. They're the opposite of uninspiring. When I'm in a down mood, I specifically visit a few UMS classrooms because I know I'll see top-notch teaching, kids loving to learn, and just inspiring learning leadership. Rare is the class session where kids are just reading a powerpoint or a textbook all by themselves. We have kids creating peer-lessons, leading their own learning, and becoming experts on tons of topics. I'm not saying that we have the "perfect" staff but I think we have a collection of adults who truly care about kids and are working toward enriching their learning experiences during their days in middle school

One of my former superintendents once said to me:
"Don't pay any mind to those who shoot out the back window as they drive away." 

From the sound of the post, it reads like a family who may not be returning for 8th grade and is unhappy with how their child's year has gone. As a site principal, I want to hear their concerns and address them as a staff. I would invite them into my office and give them as much time as they needed during their quasi-exit interview. However, this parent decided to broadcast their feelings to the world. The beauty of the Internet.

And they have a right to be upset and to leave a bad review. I wish they would rather want to discuss their concerns and see if we can make things better for their student and future students. I also want to acknowledge that we may just have to disagree about the Union Middle teaching staff. Where this parent crossed the line is their attack of our 7th grade ELA department and their curriculum.

Currently, in 7th grade, we have three fantastic teachers leading the charge. One of these teachers was the recent Emerging Educator for CUE. Another one of these teachers was a recent district-wide Teacher of the Year. The third teacher, just starting out in their teaching career, has also done a fantastic job with her students, using the same curriculum as her 7th grade ELA peers. As I've said publicly to anyone who will listen, I'll put our 7th and 8th grade ELA department up against any other 7th and 8th grade department in the entire state of California; I can guarantee that we've got the most innovative, most common core, most engaging curriculum and teacher-led instruction through student-led learning.

That's what makes their post so perplexing. They talked about the rotting french fries, a lesson that stems out of Chew on This and is perfectly overlapping with the Science 7 curriculum. They mentioned the Victorian party, an opportunity for students to dress in Victorian outfits and progress through various stations of self-directed learning. Video creation stems through the iMovies our students made through their Fierce Wonderings, a series of projects and lessons that is lauded by the edu-community as ground breaking and 21st century. Essentially, this parent pointed out amazing Common Core projects that our 7th grade ELA teachers have spent countless hours, evenings, and summer days perfecting. I'm very proud of the work they've done. And for those of you who care about test scores, our 7th grade ELA CST results had over 90% of our students in the proficient and advanced range. Simply put, these are some of the best teachers I'll ever meet.

I should also point out that I give many opportunities for feedback from our parent community. I send surveys, texts, emails, phone calls, and even entertain the occasional conversation during parking lot duty. I don't think any parent feels "unheard" at our school. And while there are times we may have to agree to disagree, I always value a community member's input on how to improve the work we do with our students.

That said, in the end, all you need is a dial-up connection and an ax to grind in today's digital age to post venomous comments about the hard work of today's educators. I appreciate what such websites like "greatschools" can bring to a school community, but giving individuals an opportunity to "type angry" and bully teachers seems unfair and unproductive. It's a shame how this parent chose to bully our staff with their anonymous, yet public comments. There are tons of opportunities in our daily practices to bully others; I just hope that frustrated community members can find a different way to share their concerns and comments. We wouldn't approve of our students acting this way; why does this website not only turn a blind eye to (but even encourage) adults and their bullying behaviors?


  1. Oh, Todd. I don't even work in your district or school and I felt it like an arrow to the heart. I am really glad you took the time, effort, and deep thought you did into responding this way.

    I've visited your school for events held there, and I've met a number of your teachers. I hope to visit during a school day as well. You folks are doing SO MANY things right. Of course, not everyone will always love every part of it, but you're so open to hearing from any of the stakeholders involved, that there is no excuse for a parent with such concerns not to come to you.

    I feel a strong need to call this anonymous online posting exactly what it is: cowardice.

    Your only recourse is to encourage parents who disagree to post their own "reviews" and to identify themselves, at least as their role if not by name. (e.g. "proud and extremely satisfied parent of a UMS 7th grader")

    But it should NOT have to be that way. Greatschools, Ratemyteachers, Ratemyprofessors, and such sites are really just the education-themed versions of and Formspring. What role do these sites truly serve? They're just a license to bully and hide in the shadows.

    I am glad you're standing up to it. Perhaps the parent who posted this comment will have a change of heart and come talk to you in person.

  2. Thank you for taking the time to reply to the unfounded generalizations in the posting. My son just completed seventh grade, and I try to give him the freedom to complete his studies without my interference as long as his grades and assignments are up to par. At the end of the year however, I did see some samples of his writing, including his "20 Percent Project" presentation, and I could not believe the progress he had made. His writing was no longer rigid and bland. He had a richer vocabulary and an understanding of literary devices - in short his writing was interesting! I'll give your teaching staff the credit because there really is nowhere else he could have learned to write like that.

    One thing I'll disagree with is that I don't think the original poster was a bully. He/she stated an opinion with respect to a bad experience, and then you gave a powerful rebuttal, and I like to consider that kind of exchange to be a debate. I like to save the term bullying for name calling, threats, insults and the like, and those are not present here. Either way, don't take it to heart. UMS has wildly exceeded my expectations, and you, sir, are a big part of the reason.


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