I am not sure why this struck a chord with me but it did. Is she right? Will this issue never be solved? I hope for her sake and for the sake of all children she is wrong but I have to wonder how many kids feel the same way...
Monday, May 13, 2013
This week in class we have been discussing Martin Luther's Reformation as part of our study of the Renaissance time period. Our focus is on how Luther went about spreading his message and the passion he had for his beliefs. As a kind of closure activity today, I asked the students to write a little bit about what they would be passionate enough about to start a revolution over. Students wrote about varying things and hefty majority wrote about bullying. One student's writing stuck out to me and I am sharing it below.
Wednesday, May 8, 2013
There are lots of people that are beginning to flirt with the notion that we don’t need teachers. Now as a teacher, I typically would have a problem with that belief. However, I'm beginning to think that maybe they are onto something.
I had an experience this past weekend that kind of flipped on a light bulb for me about teachers and teaching and even about learning. When I got home from work this past Friday my car started acting funny. It wasn't starting properly and all sorts of engine lights and whatnot where flashing on. Now if you know me, you know that I can put gas in my car and change the tires... if I really need to. Beyond that, I am completely useless as a mechanic in any capacity. With this in mind, as my car was having troubles, I drove it over to a friend’s house because I knew he had way more mechanical knowledge than I. When I got there, both of us looked at the car and what it was doing, scratching our heads, unable to figure out what was wrong. Now the check engine light was on and he had a code reader so we plugged into the car and got the engine code. Using the code and “the Google” we figured out that the camshaft position sensor had gone bad in my car. Now I've seen Tommy Boy and I know about the rotary girders and frankly a camshaft position sensor sounded completely fictional. So, I began to complain and whine about how much this was going to cost me at the mechanic or a dealer to get this problem fixed.
Now, fast-forward to five minutes later when we decided to watch a YouTube video on how to replace the sensor. This led me to the auto parts store where I bought the sensor and within 20 minutes we had it replaced in my garage with the help of my iPad and a few wrenches. This obviously saved me money, but it made me think about the nature of learning and the role of teachers. Now, I have written before about the idea of information parity and how we live in a day and age where we can find out how to do just about anything. Yes, I understand there will be times where I will not be able to look up on YouTube sophisticated mechanical procedures to perform on my vehicles. However, for basic skills and simple fixes, I will certainly seek out the answers online in the innumerable resources available to me. I don’t need to know how to do something if I at least know where to go to find out how.
What does this have to do with teachers or education? Well, I see education in many of our schools like the issue with my car. We are teaching kids how to make simple fixes to simple problems and spending all of our time on that. As I have said before, most kids could pass tests in their classes using their smart phone. What does this say about our tests and about our teaching? Should we be teaching kids answers to questions or showing them where to find the answers? If a teacher’s role is focused on filling kids heads with answers in preparation for tests, then frankly we don’t need them. Teachers in that setting are obsolete and should be replaced with a video a packet or even textbook. Yet, if the goal of school is to not just fill our students’ heads full of basic facts and knowledge but in addition to create learners, thinkers, developers, creators and inventors, then maybe a teacher is needed. So, the question still remains, “do we need teachers?” I think the answer all depends on what you value about school, about education and about learning.
Saturday, April 20, 2013
Whether fair or not, I have been cast as the anti-administrator teacher. It is a role I accept; yet my perspective on things is always changing. I stand by my original posts on the matter and truly don’t think we need administrators as they currently function in most schools. It has been my experience with administrators I have worked for and with that there are two kinds of administrators. There are those that are administrators and those that are leaders. There is a clear distinction between the two and they both have a profoundly different impact on their schools.
Leaders inspire rather than require
A true leader inspires the teachers in their building to do great things. They know how to motivate and that motivation often comes from building trust and a sense of community within a school. The truly effective leaders know the role culture plays in inspiring growth and improvement in a school. They do not speak in terms of requirements and forced initiatives. While there is an element of required pieces within a public school system, a true leader inspires their staff beyond just putting their feet to the fire of mandates.
Leaders are visible
Another aspect of a leader is their physical presence in the building. How often do teachers see them in the halls and in their classrooms? How often do the students see them in school and after school events? Regardless of if it is just a drop in to say good morning, leaders understand that they need to be seen by their staff and students daily and in some cases more than once a day. A leader does not hole up in their office for days on end. If students or parents would have trouble picking the building administrators out in lineup they are not an effective building leader.
Leaders focus on kids not adults
This should come as a no brainer, but clearly is not for many. A leader makes building decisions based on what is best for the kids not for the adults. Yes, the needs of the adults in the building are crucial for creating a positive school culture. However, those needs should come secondary to those of the children we are entrusted to teach. Leaders need to have their decisions guided by the best learning outcomes for students rather than being guided by a pack staff members angling for self-interests.
Leaders are transparent
There are no secrets and no hidden agendas in the office of a leader. They involve every member of their staff in the decision making process not just a select privileged few. While small group or teams may be selected to represent the staff by way of department heads or team leaders, the entire staff is aware and informed about all building decisions. Leaders honor confidentiality but don’t allow secrecy to breed division and distrust among their staff.
Leaders are teachers
Leaders should be teachers within the building at every chance they can get. This can be teaching a class when a sub doesn’t get called in or supervising a club for students. School leaders that teach are the best models for the teachers in their buildings. They are the most credible and are able to stay grounded in the classroom and with the most important part of the school, which are the students.
Leaders love their school
Some of the most effective school leaders I have ever encountered speak with such passion and love for their schools. By school I mean they love everything from the building itself to the people inside and the surrounding community. They care that their building looks great and take pride in having people visit. Rather than rushing home after the last bell, they stay to watch the students perform, play and compete and stand there proudly watching and celebrating. True leaders feel like the parent of a tremendous family and their unconditional love is obvious and contagious.
In full disclosure, I am not administrator nor do I play one on television. However, I have worked with and discussed this idea of the building administrator’s role with literally thousands of people around the country. There are great school leaders out there in schools but I fear they might be in the minority. I still believe we do not need traditional administrators but desperately need school leaders. If you find yourself working for a great administrator be sure to tell them you appreciate them. If you don’t…send them this post…but leave my name off. J
Sunday, April 14, 2013
Last week I had the pleasure of attending a Discovery Education event in Silver Spring, Maryland. The event was titled “Future@Now” and had a host of people sharing stories about how to push some important conversations in education and technology. Many of the conversations were fantastic and I know I will be unpacking and reflecting for many weeks to come. However, I wanted to put down some of my initial three takeaways and three questions from the action packed day.
Takeaway One: Kids are the best voices we have in our battle for education reform.
Our first speaker of the day was Mary Moss Wirt, a 3rd grade student from Cary Elementary School in North Carolina. First of all, I give her all the credit in the world for standing up and speaking in front of a room full of adults. Wow. Her message was short and to the point. She wants teachers to be teaching her the way she learns best…not the way in which her teachers learned best. This is simple yet important to remember.
Takeaway Two: Textbook companies have a stranglehold on school budgets.
Roberto Carvalho spoke passionately about changes in education and many things he was doing in his home school district. However, one of the most poignant things that stuck out to me was how he quite simply called out the textbook publishing companies for the monopoly they have on school resources. So many of our school districts are literally sinking millions of dollars into textbooks that are mostly outdated by the time they hit a student’s desk. In this economic climate, this makes no sense and needs to change.
Takeaway Three: Corporations can be our friends.
This is not going to be the most popular takeaway but it is a reality. There are companies and non-profits out there that want to invest in our students and in public education. Yes, we can argue that they have a selfish interest. They want to create future employees. How is that a bad thing though? One example was the company Siemens who was represented on the corporate panel at the event. The individual that spoke addressed that his company invests money in STEM education in schools and hosts events and provides grants for classes/schools. Now, he freely admitted there is some hope that these students would come and work for his company. However, if they don’t he was ok with it because it will increase the quality of STEM-minded people in the world. Sure we can question their motives but if the end result is better resources and access for our kids, how is that all bad?
Question One: Why are our politicians incapable of anything more than rhetoric?
This question does speak for itself. However, we had the chance to listen to not only a congressman but also a member of the US Department of Education. Both individually spoke passionately about the need for change. Yet, still we sit with no action being taken to actually improve education in our country. Some might argue the Common Core standards would be evidence of that but if those are good remains to be seen… Where is truly thoughtful conversation about teaching and learning happening at the national or even state level, especially in the area of technology integration?
Question Two: Why are we obsessed with bringing everything to scale?
Several of the speakers over the course of the day were talking about bringing various classrooms and building initiatives to scale. The superintendent panel mentioned this notion several times and I am not sure I am comfortable with that. Yes, there are some basic fundamental beliefs that we need to bring to scale in public education. However, I am not sure the procedures put in place in Miami, FL are going to be relevant in rural IL. Too often we are trying to find a blanket program that will work in all contexts but I am not sure that is possible. Regional and local context is everything. What works in your school may not work in mine. Should we be so focused on bringing things to scale or worry more about scaling down to individual students?
Question Three: Why do we think we need to provide equality of technology in classrooms?
I see this in many schools and even in my own school district. When one teacher gets a Smartboard, we feel that we need to put one in every classroom. If we give the math department clickers we feel we need to get the other departments them as well so as not to make them feel left out. Many thousands and millions of budgetary resources are wasted putting technology into classrooms and with teachers that don’t need/want it. Why not have teachers who want the tech apply for it or at least have a conversation about how it will be used? Then at least you know the technology will be used and money can be saved for other projects and resources.
This is the first of many posts about this event as I continue to delve into my notes and reflect on the amazing lineup of speakers and panels.
Thursday, April 11, 2013
I recently had the opportunity to hear Daniel Pink speak at my Alma Mater, North Central College. He was doing some speaking engagements related to his newest book, To Sell is Human, and was brought in by the wonderful Anderson Bookshops. As someone who has spoken with Pink personally, he will be the first to tell you that he writes for business folks in mind but understands that some educators pull ideas and concepts from his work. As with Drive and A Whole New Mind, his newest book has some cross over into the world of education. I already mentioned the three characteristics Pink outlined for salesmen that I thought had cross over into education. In addition, Pink discussed the notion of information asymmetry and information parity, which I think, has huge implications for educators.
The story that Pink shared was that of an individual going to a car lot and looking to buy a car “back in the day”. The buyer had basically no information other than what the seller had to offer and possibly what they read in the newspaper about the car. The information and control was completely in the hands of the seller. This is what Pink called “information asymmetry.” Now fast forward to current day car buying experience. The buyer can hop online and access numerous resources to find out the exact same level of information that the seller themselves have. At this point we have “information parity” in which the buyer and the seller are on equal ground in terms of access to information.
Let’s take a look at classrooms and schools and how that notion plays out there. Twenty years ago the teacher and schools had the information and knowledge that students wanted and needed. A student had to come to a school in order to get that information. The information asymmetry existed and the teachers were at an advantage in that they were the key to accessing that information. Yet, is that the case anymore? I don’t think so. We are in an age of information parity in our schools as much as we are on the car lots. But what does that mean for educators?
First, we have to realize that in some cases our students come into our classes having more exposure and access to information than we can even offer them in our classes. In addition, the potential for a student to know more about a subject than we do is not only possible but also probable. Teachers are no longer the keepers of the information and frankly are not needed to access that information. Does this mean that teachers are no longer needed? Not at all…in fact they are needed now more than ever.
Teachers have to shift their thinking around what their role within the classroom is in this age of information parity. No longer are teachers needed to help students find information or even to deliver it to them. Rather, the role of the teacher shifts to making sense of that information and curate this overwhelming flood of information. Students rarely are in need of being told how to find information but rather need to be taught what to do with the information they have found.