Wednesday, March 6, 2013

5 Things


I was recently in New York City to do a little project with the Pearson Foundation. Part of it was to do some writing about 5 Things I Know. My five are listed below and you can check the original site for a few of my friend’s lists. They also did a video based on one of our “five”.



1 - Kids are humans…and therefore should be treated as such.

Kids are naturally curious and creative. This is an inherent skill that kids have and do not need to be taught. Watch the way a young child explores the backyard or colors a picture on the sidewalk. Through these seemingly irrelevant actions kids are making sense of the world around them and constantly learning. This is natural and intuitive learning and expands their learning potential. When students come to school we slowly take away creativity and curiosity and replace it with bubble sheets and rubrics. Rather than removing these natural parts of kids, we need to honor and cherish them to promote creative and curious learners. Learning happens in its truest form when students are learning through a genuine sense of curiosity rather than a forced sense of duty.

2 - Creativity and curiosity are crucial in learning.

Too often we change the way we work with kids under the assumption they don’t operate under the same human emotions and motivations that we all share. We talk about what motivates adults in the workplace without thinking that the same beliefs hold true for kids. We know that a group of highly inspired adults can and do achieve great work and yet we often don’t allow kids to work this way in schools. I know that the moment we start recognizing kids as more than a student but as a person we unlock their truly unlimited and too often untapped potential

3 - We are all on a journey.

Every one of us is on a learning journey in the same way that all of our students are. Some of us have progressed far on this journey and have experienced tremendous growth and success. Others of us are farther behind due to a whole host of reasons that may or may not be in our control. However, we are all on that journey together and with that understanding comes with it some obligations. Those that are behind have an obligation to learn and seek the advice from those further ahead. We have to be able to ask for help and recognize where we need to grow. For those that are further ahead, we have an even bigger obligation to reach out and bring those behind us along for the ride through support and compassion. Recognizing where you are on the journey is key but does you little good if you are not moving yourself forward or helping someone else do the same.

4 - Change doesn’t happen when we are comfortable.

When we are comfortable we are complacent and when we are complacent change cannot happen or be sustained. Being outside of our comfort zone allows us to experience new things and be open and susceptible to new ideas. It is through these new ideas that change and evolution happens. Stagnation and failure to evolve is the death of any industry and this holds true in education. Educational institutions that fail to adapt and recognize a need for change will fail. I know that I improve and become a better teacher when I am challenged and uncomfortable. As a teacher I know I need to challenge my students to be on the edge of their comfort zone and therefore continuously changing.

5 - Growth happens through failure.

Whether you are falling off your bike and getting back up or flunking a test and coming back to learn more, all failures are opportunities for growth. It is through these failures that we learn about our own limitations and set new expectations. The key is to recognize when we fail and how to go about learning from that failure.

As a teacher we have an obligation to provide a learning environment that not only allows, but also encourages growth through failure. No learner has achieved success without failing at some level or at some point during their journey. I’ve learned those that fail are those with the greatest potential for continued improvement and lifelong growth.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Common Core - This Too Shall Pass


Everywhere you look in education you see the words Common Core. It is plastered on the covers of textbook and workbooks being pushed by publishers. You see it infecting conference session titles and keynote speeches. It has literally taken over the conversation in education and every facet of it. Yet, nobody really knows what it means or what it will look like when it fully takes over public education in the states that have chosen to toss their eggs into that basket.

I have my reservations about Common Core in terms of what it may or may not do in by way of lasting impacts on public education. In many cases the standards are better than existing ones that states have been using. On the other hand, it has yet to be tested and proven to be any more effective than current practice. A lot remains to be seen but the one thing I do know for sure is the Common Core will come and it will go. As with any other initiative in education, just wait long enough and it will run it’s course and be replaced by something new. In many cases that “new” is just something old in a new package where someone other than a teacher will make millions off it.

With that being said, I am not getting worked up about Common Core and how it may or may not transform teaching and learning in our country. One of the big pushes is the notion that we will have a core set of standards that will be common. Yet anyone that has ever worked in a school knows there is no such thing as common. Every school and every classroom has its own nuances and contextual pieces that make it anything but common. 

It is this very reason that I chose not to focus on Common Core and obsess over every new textbook, conference session or CCSS aligned resource. Rather, I would like to focus on the true core pieces of teaching that should be common regardless of the standards. Let’s encourage teachers to look at effective questioning skills rather than teaching to a bubble sheet test? Can we move away from obsessing over the right textbook but show teachers how to use the infinite resources available at our fingertips in the technology rich world our kids live in? Instead of ballrooms filled full of conference attendees looking for the top ten iPad apps for CCSS, let’s promote discussions about what learning looks like and how many of us are getting it wrong?

I have been in education a relatively short amount of time yet I have been around long enough to know that things like Common Core will come and go. What should really matter is the dialogue we have about teaching and learning and the core beliefs we hold to be true. Programs such as Common Core will always be around in some form or fashion but the people in the classroom will be the only constant and therefore should be our focus.  It is time we shifted the conversation away from inevitable top down programs and started talking about bottom up beliefs about what is best for the learning of kids in our classrooms.