Posted Oct 2013 of 2013
Recently accepted for publication in Edweek (Oct 23.2013 pub. Date)
When I hear someone complain about the public school system I feel like a parent listening to a fifteen year old rant. They tell me that I am terrible at my job and that I don’t listen. In angry frustration I am told that I don’t understand the problems and that I care about the wrong things; that I should be doing more.
As a parent and as a teacher I sit and listen, trying not to provoke.
These rebukes are not news and they are not right, but they do offend.
I don’t really understand the psychology that makes teachers and parents the scapegoat of so many problems; but in both cases I know the truth. We stand and face the challenges daily. We have become the faces associated with the struggle.
I am not a perfect parent; far from it. But my kids are happy and successful. I see evidence of their growth constantly, even when they are blind to it.
The Public Education system is also far from perfect. But our kids are doing better every year. I see evidence of that too, even when those complaining don’t.
- 88.7% of the kids in the U.S. go through the public school system.
- The dropout rate has dropped consistently over the last 40 years.
- The literacy rate in the US is 99% for those 15 years old and above.
- More students than ever before (21.6 million or 68%) will be going on to some kind of secondary education this September.
- 79% of the physicians practicing in the U.S. today went to public schools.
- 9 of the last 12 presidents have been gone through the public school system.
- Since 1901, 555 Nobel Prizes have been awarded. 338 of those prizes have been garnered by the U.S; more than a third of those were students from our public school system.
- This year, 2013, 5 Americans won a Noble Prize, more individuals than any other country. Four of the five came through the public school system.
- Wynton Marsalis, Carlos Santana, Maya Angelou, Andy Warhol, Steven Spielberg, Alvin Ailey, and Annie Liebovitz all graduated from the public school system.
- Six of our Supreme Court justices are products of a public school education.
The public school system is not broken; it is simply in need of readjustments and improvements. Just like the parents of most 15 year olds, it is overwhelmed and over worked. It is underrated and underfunded. But still our school system is pushing the world forward. We are as responsible for our successes as for our failures.
So when I read that we are not competitive, or when they tell us that our students will not be prepared to lead us into the future. When I hear that our students have no critical thinking skills and that they are weak in science, and are not creative. I choose to ignore the insults.
I respond the same why I would to my fifteen year old.
After they rant has ended I tell them that I care, and because of that, I will continue to work every day to create the best possible outcome.
Some of that work will mean fixing the problems I helped to create. More of that work will require taking the situation that has been handed to us and making it work. Either way I will continue to be the very best teacher I can possibly be.
I am not trying to keep up with the pace of change in the world.
I am trying to prepare students for a world of change
I will continue to change the world one student at a time.
Posted Aug. of 2013
Recently accepted for publication is ASCD Express (Oct. 2013 pub.)
I am a teacher leader, in an elementary school, I have taught different grades, written grants, coached peers, worked as a mentor, presented at conferences, and offered PD classes. I have also been on countless committees. I am passionate about education, learning, and making a difference in the world. I am also looking for a new profession.
I am not burnt out; I am just not fired up. I wake up 5 days a week eager to get to work… (Okay…usually only 4 days a week)
The truth is, teacher leaders excel in a profession with a horizontal growth model. New challenges come in every September and the litany of learning targets is always increasing but those are not opportunities for growth.
It’s not just me; there is a cluster of us at school. We talk about pedagogy; our ideas for the school, ways we think we could help change things, new ideas we have read about, grants we want to apply for, learning theories we want to test. But there is no conduit for those topics, no path that leads us from talk to action
Our principal knows about us, He recognizes our skill in the classroom and knows that we have sway in our little community. He knows how many parents request our classrooms every year. He has never had to put effort into our evaluations. He appreciates the calm support he gets from us. But he has not come close, or even really tried to tap our potential. How could he? The reality of the hectic world of public education is that you do not focus on what is not broken.
I don’t know if our principal read the Gates Foundation Report on Teacher Leaderships but it will not surprise him to hear that I have. He knows the basics of what it says: that he will need my support to make meaningful change in the school. Studies out of Memphis, Israel, and The Brookings Institute back all that up with research that points out that if they want to keep teacher leaders as a larger group of stakeholders, districts need to provide us support in two areas: Professional Commitment and Organizational Citizenship. ()
· Professional Commitment (PC), is our connection to education as a profession our access to peers, development opportunities, conferences, that kind of thing. Without strong PC we are 70% more likely than our non-academic peers to leave the profession. ()
· Organizational Citizenship (OC), is how strongly we identify with our particular district or school. The higher our level of OC the better our students perform. 34% of teacher that move to teach in other district do so to find the qualities that define OC ()
Our principal and the district we work for will need to come up with ways to honor teacher leaders if they want to keep us in the profession and become an exemplary system that produces, rather than exports excellence.
None of that should be news. Identifying the problem is not typically the sticking point in public education. In my experience there is generally no shortage of solutions either. The progression seems to always jam up in the funding phase of projects.
Fortunately I am a teacher-leader. I excel in a profession that requires high expectation and offers low budgets. I have also learned a thing or two about finding meaningful data.
There are tools, options that can be used to support and promote teacher leaders that are either free or reasonably placed in a school budget.
1. Identify us: Not with platitudes and gold stars. We are teachers… we invented gold stars.
· Let the world know that you have specific teacher leaders, and that you are honored they work for you.
· Teacher know that praise needs to be specific to have an impact, administrators should know that too.
2. Encourage us:
· Ask us to take a student teacher rather than just see if anyone wants one.
· Send us to a conference and have us share what we learned.
· Have us choose and lead the next book study.
3. Let us help.
· We are not afraid of working “above and beyond” in fact that is what defines us.
· Delegate to us. You are still where the buck stops but that does not mean you have to carry it alone.
4. Push us.
· We want to grow as badly as the new teacher.
· We all want to hear where others envision us succeeding, tell us to present at a conference, or get another endorsement, or try a new position
5. Listen to us.
· Ask for our opinions, not in a collective mass, or bulk email, but personally.
· Shared decision making is an enormous part of teacher empowerment; it can be tricky to pull off but is also powerful.
These tools will not solve the problem, but they will move us forward. They will all require time and a personal stake on the part of administrators but as teacher leaders we offer a high rate of return on your investment, and on a more practical note, principals will have to become familiar with these tools soon; they are all embedded elements in most of the new evaluation systems.
To truly resolve this issue school districts and local unions will need to come up with ideas far more practical than merit pay, again this should not be considered newsworthy. Both Douglas Reeves and Charlotte Danielson have written and research the ideas surround teacher leadership extensively both without resorting to merit pay. In many ways the large scale solutions lay along the same path as those recommended for individual principals and schools. () ()
1 Identify us: Create a standard within your community that defines teacher leaders:
This is not as tricky as it may sound. It turns out the voice in Kevin Costners head was right in
Field of Dreams when it whispered “Build it and they will come.”
Columbia University’s Teachers College did a survey of classroom teacher leaders and found that 67% of us look for opportunities to “contribute to our profession beyond the classroom. Sadly that same survey suggests that barely 30% (32.2%) of us are able to find such opportunities within our districts.()
The researchers from Columbia did not draw a corollary between the 67% of us looking for opportunities… and idea that we are 70% more likely to leave our profession but I confess I did.
2.Encourage us: For a larger district this tool is used in a different modality. Meaningful encouragement is done on an individual basis. Motivation and inspiration however are kindred spirits of encouragement and educators are alway looking to be motivated.
3.Let us Help: The psychological profile of teacher leaders is neither complex nor mysterious. We have a passion not only to teach but also to lead. We want to make education better. Create a list of ideas you would like to test, grants you would like to pursue, and pedagogy you would like to explore, pass that list around and see if crowdsourcing works in education. According to Cathy Davidson of the MacArthur Foundation it does. ()
4. Push us: Good news. This too is a tool best suited to individualized work. The larger idea behind challenging Teacher leaders is creating the opportunity for us to grow.
5. Listen to us: Better news. If your district is working through the top of the list, then five is already done. listening is not a synonym for agreeing. I listen to my students without agreeing with them. I am often surprised at the insight they can offer.
Every leader will hear “I told you so.” It is only when you hear, “ I tried to tell you but you wouldn’t listen” that you need to worry.
There are plenty of reasons to worry about teachers, moral is at a its lowest point in the last 15 years. less than half of new teachers stay in the profession more than 7 years, Few students are majoring in education in colleges and less than 5% of education majors from elite universities will teach in public school.
Those are not issues I know how to tackle yet.
I am a teacher leader, I excel at a profession that requires us to choose our battles and..offers little acknowledgment of our success. I and have learned a thing or two about building on small successes.
Post date Aug. 25, 2012
Metaphors We Live By
The focus of the book is on the subconscious conceptual structures that govern the way we think, act, communicate and live. The authors’ premise is that these conceptual structures, although generally present only on a subconscious level, can be explored through the medium of language.
They use a lot of linguistic research evidence, which shows that most of the ordinary conceptual structures revealed in our language are metaphorical in nature. Lakoff and Johnson are not suggesting that these “ordinary” metaphors are simply devices of language. On the contrary, they propose that human thinking and sense-making relies on metaphor, which is then revealed in language.
A key section of the book describes the difference in the approach to definition and meaning taken by the authors, compared to the traditional (objectivist) one encountered in dictionaries. Lakoff and Johnson make it clear that they are most concerned with how human beings understand the world they live in. This means that rather than using definitions which describe only the inherent properties of a concept (such as love, or time) as a dictionary would, they describe how humans get a handle on that concept – how they use it, and relate to it.
As I tried to get to grips with these ideas it helped me to have lots of examples, such as:
THEORIES ARE BUILDINGS“…this is a shaky argument”, “what’s the foundation for that idea?”
IDEAS ARE FOOD“… I can’t digest your ideas when you say them that quickly”, “that’s food for thought”
LOVE IS A PHYSICAL FORCE“… I can feel the magnetism between us”, “I’m really attracted to you”
LIFE IS A CONTAINER…“I’ve led a full life”, “there’s no room for you in my life”
FORCED MOTION TO A NEW LOCATION … “Scientific developments have propelled us into the Digital Age.”
THE GIVING AND TAKING OF OBJECTS …“These vitamins will give you energy”
MOTION ALONG A PATH… “China is on the road to democracy, having taken the path of capitalism”
MWLB is not light reading. The ideas are complex and the authors take them on with a very serious rigor. I would often find that I needed to put down the book and think on the last chapter before I was able to successfully read on.
The result is that I now find myself listening more carefully to the language people use. I no doubt now over think each metaphor. But then over thinking is what I do.
Filtering internet content:
Technology, especially internet technology, strikes a cord of fear in schools. The younger the students in that school, the more resonance that cord has. We all know that google will answer any question a kid asks, which is great. But what if the kid asks the “wrong” question? What if the ask an in appropriate question?
We all work with kids. We know without any question, if you give google to kids, someone will ask at least one of “those questions”.
No Image searches, the words are bad enough.
No Youtube, Really a video answer to “those questions”
Filter them all out.
I imagine back in 1460, little Leo’s teachers were sitting around Florence having similar worries…
” I am telling you if you give kid pen and ink, someone will draw something “wrong”. and I will bet you a florin that DaVinci boy is the first to do it.
No pen and ink.
No Paint, the picture is bad enough in black and white.
No Clay, Really a 3D version.
November 7, 2011
Education, like all other parts of human nature, goes to extremes. We swing on a pendulum from one pedagogical idea to another. The current obsession has us looking at standards, targets, scores, assessments, and data.
I have learned important professional skills from that focus:
- I believe in setting higher standards for education.
- I think teaching to specific targets ought to be a universal expectation.
- I understand the importance of using rigorous and meaningful assessments.
- I know that to improve we need to look at the data we are generating.
- I realize the importance of being a lifelong learner.
When I was in college, some 20 years ago the focus was on teaching to the whole child, cultural connections, learning styles and the craft of teaching.
I learned important professional skills from that approach:
- I believe to make a difference you need to make a connection with kids.
- I think the ability to inspire, enlighten, and empower are beyond measure.
- I understand that impact comes from educators that have mastered the art of teaching.
- I know that if you want to teach, you need to care about the students.
- I realize how many different ways we can and do process the same information.
I have also come to my own conclusion and developed other important professional tools. Among my observations I have noticed that no matter where the pedagogical pendulum is great teachers are still doing the same thing. Great teachers work hard every single day. They know all about the unquantifiable magic that is learning. It happens with 5 year olds learning letter sounds and 15 year olds learning Shakespeare. They know that the creation of that “ah-ha” moment is secretly the culmination of hours of hard work, focused effort, and strategically supplied support, from the teacher.
- Great teachers have been pushing us to a higher standard long before anyone worried about no child left behind.
- Master teachers, know both the science of pedagogy and the art of teaching.
- Great teachers, Empower by mining the data for every one of their students, to help them find both their successes and their next challenge.
- Master teachers are the ones that have taught the same lesson 100 different ways until everyone get it.
- Great teachers, never stop learning because they never stop caring and there is always more to know.
—–Great teachers know that what keeps a pendulum swinging is its carefully constructed balance.
September 28, 2011
I am stuck in my professional development.
It is as though I have built a house.
I live in and enjoy every aspect of this house, I am proud of the work that went into its construction and I continue to play around with the design and colors of it, perhaps even doing a remodel on one part or another every couple of years. But the house is built. I am not learning anything more, or being challenged by my house.
As a person that has honestly embraces the idea of lifelong learning I am always on the lookout for lessons, the next match that will spark a fire in my brain. This house is fire free.
My current career path is that house. I am a teacher, and have been for more than 20 years. I love what I do. I am good at it. What I am not, is challenged by it. I went back to school and got a Masters in administration to fuel that brain fire. But while I am now older and wiser than I was as a rookie teacher I am also less mobile. My wife, my kids, and my real house are all rooted in our community so moving to find a principal-ship is not a good option. In short I cannot start building another house right now.
My story is not unique. The career ladder in education is more of a stepping stool. Learn to manage a classroom, (no small feat I admit) and you’re done. That may explain why 67% of us leave by the 7th year.
As educators, ours is a career path that promotes learning and growth but has not found a way to foster that within itself. The people at www.teacherleaders.org believe this is one of the biggest problems facing our profession. The Gates foundation lists professional stagnation as a “primary” issue facing education.
I am still working on what to do about it but I will let you know….