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Pass on Passion

February 6, 2011

Family  Feuds

Families are often microcosms of the general population. Any family gathering I attend shares the same spectrum of political and religious views that any poll seeks to quantify. My family also has an unusually high number of educators in it ranging from classroom teachers …to professors…to consultants. So when someone who is not an educator brings up the topic of “what’s wrong with our schools” the “discussions” are always interesting and often heated by the passion of belief. Too often though the results are confirmation of everyone’s personal beliefs and a deepening of the divide that threatens to shatter our schools and our nation.  Such was the climate of a recent family gathering.

Now I am a strong advocate of following one’s passions. Such passion is the energy that fuels my 36 years in the classroom. However when that passion stops fueling positive results and is instead used to build filters so we process only those ideas that fit our own paradigm passion becomes an accelerator for destruction rather than the a fuel for growth.

The fundamentalist who shuts out or hates the person who calls God by a different name is one example. Whether that person is the Egyptian Muslim being interviewed by Christiane Amanpour or a fundamentalist Christian protesting a burial, the message is the same. I unconditionally can not hear you because your ideas do not meet my passion filter. When this happens respect vanishes and without respect no growth can occur. Stalemate or destruction are the only options available.

The same is true lately of discussions about education. So too will be the results. The casualties will be our children. As a person who believes in the power of positive passion I have been recently contemplating and reevaluating my own personal perspectives. I have considered steps I can take to ensure that I at least do not add more accelerator to the bonfire of public discussion on the state of our schools. I know that I can only change certain things, but that even a pebble can have a widening effect.

Here are some of my thoughts as of now…what are yours?

  1. There are poor and excellent schools in all systems from public to private to charter to home schools.
  2. There is room for improvement in all systems of education.
  3. There are effective and ineffective educators in all these systems.
  4. The beauty of educating everyone through high school is also our greatest challenge.
  5. Unions vs school districts …we need to lessen the vs.
  6. If we as educators want to be considered professionals, what are our responsibilities?
  7. Data is needed, but is only a piece of the puzzle.
  8. We must stop using data bites to fuel the debate on education…whether that is a case of inappropriate instruction or an improper use of a test.
  9.  Listen as Socrates would and question to learn, not to defend.
  10. Be open to acknowledging a viewpoint that differs from yours. There may be more than one road to excellence.
  11. If it doesn’t benefit the students it doesn’t belong in education.
  12. Get used to change…it is an affirmation of life.

I am not quite sure where my ruminations will end up, but I know that I do not want to have my passion for learning transformed into a fuel that will in the end destroy that about which I am passionate.


Lessons from camp

August 7, 2010

I recently spent a weekend at a camp on what will remain an unnamed lake about a 90 minute drive north of New York City. It was a beautiful setting composed of rustic cabins set on a tranquil lake. Turtles and geese skimmed the surface of the water and fireflies punctuated the night sky. However my time there was anything but tranquil. Why? Because the group I was with dared to dip our toes in the lake water.  Immediately a camp employee appeared as if out of a mist and warned us that there was no swimming He further informed us that the next time he saw us enter the water the cops would be called and we would be “out of there.” Now be aware that we were not swimming we were ankle-deep at the edge of the water. The hackles of the ranger were further riled when we dared to ask why swimming was not allowed. We were brusquely told “that’s the rule” and shooed away. From that moment on my group was watched and repeatedly stopped and questioned by the “powers that be”.  My favorite was when one of the rangers came down from a second story patio as I and another member of my party were taking a stroll. He hurried up to us and asked about the stainless steel cup my companion was carrying commenting that he “just wanted to make sure we weren’t carrying a beer can.”  These “I just want to make sure” comments were inserted at several of the drive by inspections of our cabin as well. We nicknamed these camp rangers the camp nazis. The next day our group hiked for several hours where we discovered  another more secluded lake .Here we swam and dove to our hearts content…ranger free at  no detriment to the environment or ourselves.  We actually got to touch and experience the nature that had been dangling out of range the day before. On the final day we went kayaking on the first lake. Once again we were informed that there is no swimming (I guess these kayaks are guaranteed not to tip over). OK so we did not dare to try any maneuvers that would lead to any suspicions of swimming. But the camp nazis were not satisfied.  We were the recipients of one last chastisement as we prepared to leave. With a pointed finger wag they accused us of …illegal picnicking! Actually we were rearranging some items that had gotten wet and organizing snacks for the return drive….and had dared to taste a tortilla chip! We shook our heads and gratefully headed out of the back country.

So what does this cautionary tale have to do with education?  My first thought…am I a camp nazi in my classroom? Do I enforce protocols for the sake of the protocol even when it makes no sense or I have no reason for the enforcement or implementation of a rule or a procedure. How do I respond to the uncomfortable questions of my students? Am I an authoritarian? Am I unable to explain the purpose of a rule to the students? Am I robbing my students of an opportunity to explore the wilderness of learning and therefore stifling their love of learning?

If knowledge represents the nature my group sought to relish, I fear for many students the camp we stayed in is a metaphor for too many of the schools they attend. If I expand this metaphor some who run the schools are the rangers we encountered …busily enforcing rules that served no one’s interest (except the campground’s ability to reduce law suits).  

We need to remember there is no risk free learning just as any encounter with nature holds risks.  Our role as teachers is not to keep kids intellectually safe…but to guide them to explore new regions and ideas in their mind’s landscape.  Our role is not to enforce mindless rules, but to nourish students as they develop the skills needed to weigh evidence, consider various perspectives.

LA and Denver a tale of two cities?*

March 7, 2010

This was a most interesting week. I got to work with two groups of teachers…one a large group of mixed content areas in LA and the other an intimate group of 6 content alike teachers in Denver. The LA workshop was a brief one hour and the Denver was day long. One was in a middle school setting and the other was at a high school. Both however revolved around the idea of increasing rigor. (Scroll down and read the definition of rigor we worked with then click on the link to the voicethread discussion. It is a free registration and a new technology tool that can be used  in a myriad of ways.)  Just as the timeless story by Dickens was meant to warn England of the dire consequences it would face if  factory workers were not treated fairly (remember the industrial revolution was the new technology of the time) so did our discussions revolve around increasing the rigor of what we do with students and how we would support the growth of that rigor. The work that took place in both schools had different content …Cornell notes in LA and visual literacy in Denver…but both were about giving our students the critical thinking skills they need to survive in a 21st century world. For me both showed me that despite the challenges of the current economy many teachers are still focused on making it the  “best of times” for those whose lives they touch.
Porter teachers…See Carol for the handouts and powerpoint.

Cherry Creek attendees. VISUALS primary source strategies Pre-AP visuals 3-7-10 I AM POEM directions Costa’s Three Story Intell avidAnticipation Guidewriting supportwriting support If there is something else you need just leave a comment and I will get back to you:)

*This metaphoric commentary was inspired by Rick Wormeli’s new book entitled Metaphors & Analogies. Check it out at Stenhouse Publishing.

How do you define rigor?

March 7, 2010

Join me in a voicethread discussion on this topic. Here is the definition we will be using as a foundation.

“Rigor is the goal of helping students develop the capacity to understand content that is complex, ambiguous, provocative, and personally or emotionally challenging.“

Source: Teaching What Matters Most; Standards and Strategies for Raising Student Achievement by Strong, Silver and Perini, ASCD, 2001.

What do you think? How would you define rigor? Does your classroom reflect rigor?

Here is the link to the discussion. I look forward to hearing your thoughts.  Voicethread Rigor Thread

If you have never visited voicethread do so! How do you see it being used in your classroom?

3-2 SGUSD Board Meeting

March 3, 2010

Board meeting last night was grim…about 52 out of about 290 staff will recieve pink slips…that is a little over 1/6…talk of eliminating our librarian…this as we open a brand new library and media center next year…ironic? …and things could get worse. If you live in Cali write/call the people in Sacramento…ask them why 60% of the cuts are in education even though it accounts for 40% of the budget…ask them if they are pink slipping 1/6 of their staff? Who else has a fact based question to ask them?

Should we allow students to retest?

February 22, 2010

I once had the opportunity to hear Rick DuFour speak on this topic and the analogy he gave really hit home with me. He simply asked what happened when someone failed their driving test. Of course the audience responded they got to retake it…several times if necessary. He then asked, “Which one counted? Did you get an average of your scores?” Of course the response was the last test mattered;that was the score your received. I began to rethink my position on testing and revised my practice so that my focus was on mastery. I think we need to remember that when students fail it is not always just their fault. What role did I have in their not understanding? What challenges do they face at home…especially in the strained economic conditions many families face today Students who do not demonstrate mastery on my assessments (both tests and projects) are allowed to retake the test or revise their project after completing some time of support session. This could be a lunch review or study time verified by a n adult in their life.It will usually include a metcognitive reflection on why they think they did poorly. I am pleased to note that when my students take the district assessment as well as the state assessment they always score on average 10% and someitmes more above the average for my site. Therefore I think that retesting is an effective learning tool that is reflected in the “real” world. After all how many of us would have our jobs if we were never allowed the luxury of learning from our failures. As posted in an Edutopia discussion. If you have not yet checked out this site, you need to do so. Look for my colleague Heather otherwise  known as tweenteacher🙂

Check out the recent Activities Page!

February 21, 2010

Recently I spent a morning working with the staff at my school site. This is usually my most challenging audience. Add on to that I was given a topic from the District Office and my alloted time was almost cut in half about a week prior to the presentation! Find out what happened in my February 2010 entry under Recent Activities. Could your site use this rubric on Expectations and Rigor continuum?

Bored Board…or…when good men(and women) do nothing evil will prevail.

February 17, 2010

This weekend all the teachers in our union were alerted that job cuts would be on the school board agenda and enjoined us to attend the meeting, scheduled to begin at 7 pm, to present a united front. A familiar scenario I am sure in these tough times. Although the room was packed, SRO at some points, about half were parents. Many of them were familiar faces. I only saw one face from my school whose job is in danger.

Now I know we all have busy schedules and I am certain some teachers whose jobs are at risk have legitimate reasons for not attending, but I found it concerning  that more were not there.  In total about 10% of the teachers at  my site attended. I also found it concerning that two board members had absolutely NOTHING to say! One even got up and left the room several times…cell phone perhaps? (How much does this person really care about the students?) Finally at 10pm the topic we were all here for came up…the three board members who seemed to have voices (one seemed simply to be making talking points for  a future campaign run for higher office)…talked about hotlines for savings ideas, tie breaking mechanisms for firing, increasing class size, etc…all familiar territory. Nothing new was garnered, except  a proposal to make one of the ways the district would break a tie (2 people with the same amount of senioritiy) is how well the teachers incorporate technology in their rooms. Does this mean I will be getting that Smart Board I have been asking for? Why do I doubt this? Is it fair to decide someone’s fate on something not everyone in this district has equal access to? Who will be the determiner of effective use of technology integration? What is their experience with technology as  an effective instructional tool…hmmm… the digital divide expands  into teacher practice.

No one acknowledged the proverbial elephant in the room. Why is seniority the only inviolate indicator of keeping a teacher? Why are ineffective teachers going to be retained while those who have consistently demonstrated their effectiveness being let go? What would it take to revisit this age old tenet that allows for rubber rooms in NYC and teachers whose repeated missteps cost the district tens of thousands (probably more) in lawyers fees to fire? Tenure needs to be modified…not abandoned, but modified. The current economic crisis in schools underscores this. The economic crisis in my district is only further evidence that the tenure system is broken. Our students would be better served if the 5 teachers at my site whose jobs are most at risk are kept and 5 less effective teachers who shun any PD or research based approach are released. This is the elephant. Will we continue to ignore it and thereby feed it until it crushes the children and profession we so believe in?

I write this as I listen to a talking head on the morning news tell us how the stimulus package has saved jobs, especially those in education I wonder which disticts have benefited? I do not know of many…hmmm…I am reminded of the “Emperors New Clothes”

Maui and More

February 16, 2010

I recently  had the opportunity to revisit a group of teachers in Maui who I had previously worked with. What a rewarding experience to facilitate these professionals as they refined and refocused their practice through peer collaboration! Teachers like these are the reason Hawaii may survive its risky educational furlough days. They came in on a Saturday following a furlough day at the beginning of a long weekend. That’s what I call dedication!

Updated Recent Acitivities…

January 4, 2010

Check this page out every so often to learn about my presentationconsultant activities. These first 4 months are busy ones!