Money for Nothing and your Tuition for Free

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Image Credit: DrRandomFactor (Modified by John Wick ) [CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

“A thought, even a possibility, can shatter and transform us.” – Friedrich Nietzsche

Sprechen sie Deutsch?

I was already aware that Germany had one of the lowest tuition rates in the world for its students, however today I learned that they have abolished tuition for University students.  This includes foreign students from the United States as well as other countries.   As a product of the US University system and a member of Generation X, I am among the typical American who has gathered quite a substantial student loan debt in order to further my professional career.  Any news about alternatives that exist in other countries is always interesting.

What is most interesting to me is the philosophical outlook that Germany has taken with regard to university education.  According to CBS News a Hamburg Senator, Dorothee Staplefeldt, commented that tuition is “Unjust” and that the fees “… discourage young people who do not have a traditional academic family background from taking up study. It is a core task of politics to ensure that young women and men can study with a high quality standard free of charge in Germany.”

Did you catch that? It was an acknowledgment that the fees universities charge can put education out of the reach of students who need it the most.  It was a politician actually standing up and saying that one of the roles of politics is to serve the people!

Writer Lynn O’Shaugnessy (@CollegeBlogs) Brings up some excellent points.  She stated, “It’s too bad that politicians in the U.S. don’t feel that a college education is worth supporting appropriately.”  She also brought up the continued quarter century decline of state aid to public universities in the United States.

Fear of an Educated Planet

It seems that much of the discussion regarding education in the United States, currently, is centered around Common Core State Standards, Federal Funding to schools, Assessment, Value Added Evaluations, etc.  Some talk has come up, from time to time, about reducing student loan debt etc. However at the heart of the issue is a philosophical belief that we should charge (and charge heavily) for an education.  This fear of an educated planet only pushes us further into debt (students and government alike) and hinders our ability to compete in the global market.

It seems we (The United States) likes to compare our education systems to other education systems only when we are being self deprecating.  Its far easier to say that others are better than us and to find ourselves in the quagmire of political debate rather than attempting to solve the root of our issues.

Our system is not broken.  Our philosophy simply needs changing and we need people to take a stand so that we can offer education to all those who truly desire to be educated.  Instead of focusing on our cultural currency that demands “Money for Nothing and our Chicks for Free” (as Dire Straits once sang) why not focus on eliminating the need for student currency to attend university. Educated students entering our workforce will be better equipped to tackle the issues that face our nation on a daily basis.  If we want to compete in our own nation, let alone on a global scale, its time we demand Money for Nothing and our Tuition for Free.

 

 

#weirded is for Educators

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Photo Credit: liz west via Compfight

“You tell me to hold on, but innocence is gone and what was right is wrong.” – Imagine Dragons

Recently a well respected internet site: Engadget made a very poor decision.  I’d like to start by saying that I frequent Engadget and respect the work that they perform.  However, this recent decision has left a bad taste in my mouth.   Engadget has corrupted and essentially taken the intellectual property of one of my close friends and colleagues.  They have decided to create a web series and name it Weirded.  I’m fine with that, however the disappointing aspect of this is that they have decided to utilize a hashtag that has been in use for quite some time by the education community #weirded.

Engadget describes themselves as “The definitive guide to this connected life.”  Yet it failed to perform a simple search of a hashtag to determine if it is in use before launching their new project.  I’ve lost a bit of faith in Engadget to be the definitive guide, because being a guide means providing good advice in online ethics and responsibility (two things that did not take place in this decision).

My friend, colleague, and talented author Doug Robertson (@theweirdteacher) wrote a book for educators.  It is fun, relevant, and helps those of us who are in the classrooms every day to improve our teaching so that children can benefit from teachers who care about them.  Doug’s vision for education is one in which the magic of creativity and endless wonder infuse every aspect of the classroom so that children love to come to school and learn every day.

Doug’s Book, He’s the Weird Teacher is full of great ideas and wonderful advice (if you haven’t read it yet please buy a copy now you can get it here: http://www.amazon.com/Hes-Weird-Teacher-Doug-Robertson/dp/1492193836 ).

It has helped struggling teachers and those who have had doubts about their abilities to strengthen their resolve and become better teachers.  Yet, this book is limited by the medium in which it is written (the printed word).  Because Doug Robertson realizes that the book is a first step, he went beyond himself to create an online movement to continue the ideas and discussions that began in He’s the Weird Teacher.  Every week, educators from around the world come to his chat #weirded to share their love for education and to expand their love for teaching.  It became so popular that #weirdede even grew out of it so that those on the east coast ofthe US could have the same experience at a decent time of night.

I’m amazed that Engadget did not research this.  My name is John Wick and there is a movie called “John Wick” coming out next month. The movie studio did its homework and created @johnwickmovie for use… they did not just step in and start using @johnwick (my twitter name).  They did use the hashtag #johnwick but I cannot fault them for that and I support it because it was an unused hashtag.  Engadget could have performed a search that took less than a few seconds and failed in their responsibility.

I’m more than slightly disheartened that Engadget didn’t do their homework.  Yes, I’m a principal and, yes, Engadget is not only on my list but on the list of many educators for needing a call home to a parent to discuss the lack of homework on its part.

That is why I have written an email to the Editor in Chief of Engadget, Michael Gorman (michael.gorman@engadget.com) asking that this be corrected.  I ask that each of you reading this also write a letter to fix this poor decision.  Below is my letter to the Editor in Chief, Mr. Gorman. I ask that you please be courteous in your writings, but also be firm that this was completely bad form on their part.

I hope that those of you who read this blog and support #weirded reblog this post and get the message out to the world.


Letter to Editor in Chief: Michael Gorman,

Hello Mr. Gorman,

I am writing to you to voice my disappointment and shock that those working at Endgadget did not perform a simple search that would have taken only seconds to learn that a hashtag #weirded is an active hashtag used daily by educators internationally.  I Love Endgadget.  It is one of the places online that I visit frequently.  Yet the lack of any type of research into the take-over of a hashtag is very disheartening.  I can think that there are two scenarios.  1. someone did not do their homework (in which case I have lost some faith in the abilities of those who work for Endgadget).  2. The research was done and an unethical decision was made to move forward anyway.

Doug Robertson, @theweirdteacher, is an excellent author, colleague, and friend. He is well respected in the education community and has worked hard to have his book come alive on twitter so that the conversations and ideas that began in his book can grow and flourish for the betterment of children (students) worldwide. His book, He’s the Weird Teacher, is outstanding and I hate the idea that it is being shadowed by Endgadget’s poor decision.

I ask that you take a moment and give serious consideration  to changing the use of this hashtag and that Endgadget sets an example of Internet ethics and responsibility. Please respect the hard work of a colleague who has devoted his time and efforts to helping educators around the world improve their pedagogical practices and prove that Endgadget can be an example of ethical Internet business practices.

I thank you for your time.

John E. Wick, Cand. Ed.D.
Principal, Endgadget reader, and #weirded supporter

P.S. I also hope that the fact that I called the website “Endgadget” was not lost on you.  The reason why I chose this was because continuing practices like this… will help to ensure that those who follow Engadget lose faith and it just might bring an End to Engadget.

I hope that does not happen.

Evolution of the Digital Immigrant

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Photo Credit: Kevin Dooley 

“Sometimes when I take a peek outside of my little cage, everyone looks so asleep. Will they die before they wake?” – Oingo Boingo

It used to be said that there were (and I say this with much ire) Digital Natives and Digital Immigrants. For many years, those teachers and administrators who actively resisted technology were handed a Get Out of Jail Free card. They could, and often would; state “I’m a Digital Immigrant.” This passport to slow down integration of technology did more harm than good for the students that we are duty bound to educate.

Some people are simply uncomfortable using technology (yes even those that grew up with it).

Some are afraid of what may happen when the technology fails (yes at some point it will fail).

Some do not want to admit that students in their class might know more about how to use the technology than the teacher (yes quite often they will).

The reasons are many and varied. And the passport of the so-called “Digital Immigrant” offered over a decade ago by Prensky has allowed these educators to willingly retard the development of necessary skills, processes, and product creation that is necessary for today’s world and for the world in which the students will enter as adults.

Papers Please

Luckily, the terms Digital Native and Digital Immigrant are going out of fashion, though there are still some die-hard fans (and not the Bruce Willis, Yipee-Ki-Yay ones) who still have a rigor mortis death grip upon the terms. I’ve walked by a few presenters who still champion the term but the time is nigh for each of us ask for their papers and to tear up the passport that allows educators to effectively hinder student’s progress toward a successful adult life.

Develop an Excuse

I’ve also heard the argument made by these educators that they need more Professional Development. It is classic. “I can’t use these tools because I haven’t had enough PD.” On the surface, this seems like a logical argument. However, I’ve never heard a child say they couldn’t use a piece of technology in the classroom because they lack PD. They embrace their natural curiosity. They explore, they use their curiosity to learn and are not afraid of breaking a device or admitting that they don’t know how to do something. If only our colleagues who are gripping onto the sides of the ship would pull themselves up out of the icy water and start learning how to set sail with their students.

Basic Training

The new cry that I have heard coming from these Digital Divisives is that we need to get “Back to Basics.” I’ve actually heard a teacher say with all due sincerity “ We need to teach them (the students) the basics before we teach them with technology.” What a dangerous philosophy. This is worse than the PD or Immigrant argument, because it subversively indicates that technology is little more than a fad that will not be used later in life.

Long after these educators have retired their students will find themselves attempting to use new technologies of the future, having been deprived of the “Basic” foundation of the technology of the present. We know that decades ago Lev Vygotsky demonstrated the importance of scaffolding and helping students push through their Zones of Proximal Development. Many adhere to this tiered learning, but the Digital Divisive fails to implement this approach and expects the students to jump into an adult life without the benefit of having learned to productively use technology for learning.

Furthermore, the statement is erroneous. We do not have to teach children the basics before they use technology. Technology should be used to help teach children the basics. We are witnessing the evolution of the Digital Immigrant. As with all things in evolution, they’ve adapted and grown stronger in their methods of survival.

Extinction Level Event Required

Digital Immigrants claimed ignorance, as that became a weak means of survival, they evolved into Development Demanders, until finally we have their current form, the Digital Divisive. As with the dinosaurs, it will take an Extinction Level Event to halt the evolution of the Techno-phobes and Techno-odios that have brought our students one more minute closer to midnight on the digital clock of their futures.

This will take a concerted effort of parents, other teachers, and administrators to demand and ensure that our students no longer are hindered in their growth and development. We’ve listened to the excuses for decades and allowed ourselves to be dragged into the tar pits where only the adept Digital Divisives are flying over the morass of our dying initiatives. Its time we halt this evolution and bring forth, to the light, the real harm that is being done to the future of our students and our world by those who fail or choose not to understand the important role that technology plays in our present and most certainly will play in our future.

 Your DNA

So, what are your thoughts.  What Dynamic Nuanced Approaches do you have to offer in halting the evolution of a dangerous paradigm? I’d love to hear your thoughts. Leave a comment and lets start an evolution debate that is actually worth having.

 

Real gold does not glitter

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Creative Commons License Photo Credit: 黒忍者 via Compfight

“Take heart and come on! I will not fly away.” – St. Joan of Arc

Being a principal it is sometimes hard to admit that you’re human. It was pointed out to me during a very intense meeting that the position of principal within a school is a lonely one. We walk a hard path with little gratitude or recognition. In truth, we do not seek either. When things go well everyone is happy. When challenges arise it is upon the shoulders of the principal that they fall. This not only includes what is happening within the school but within the administrator’s personal life. There is a very firm line that is drawn between what the principal should and should not disclose with his or her faculty (both personal and professional information).

We are the stoic walls that are expected to hold our ground against tsunamis and tempests that batter us in a maelstrom of activity. I know that many would say that they don’t expect administrators to be super human, and that’s good because we are not. Yet we face a challenging path of remaining confident, steadfast, and as a fixed point upon which the whole school can rely upon. It is a lonely road.

When personal strife hits, I am usually the first one to make the rounds to the early elementary grades. The students bring hope to me. They are the embodiment of potential, joy, and curiosity. Yet there are times (when the weight of events is so heavy) that I leave happy for the students but on the brink of tears because the joy they feel is ever longed for by those who endure some of life’s more difficult challenges.

Its important that the school community sees the administrator as ever vigilant and strong in his or her resolve to ensure that every student receives the best and most caring education available. We sally forth with a façade of armor that glimmers and shines. Beneath this façade lays the true armor, dented, cut open, and held together through the battle-weary days and nights. To the outside world, as Led Zeppelin once said “all that glitters is gold.” However beneath that glitter is the true warrior, sometimes smiling, sometimes hurting, sometimes laughing, sometimes crying. It may be just me and my own philosophy of leadership, but I feel the need to always be the one to set the example for my faculty and families. I know that I am not the only administrator to experience this phenomenon.

How do other administrators cope with the need to lead their crews to new destinations while maintaining their strength in the face of personal grief? I do not know. If you have any answers, I (and I’m sure others in similar situations) would love to hear them.

The next time you pass your principal or VP or any admin in the hallway or anywhere else, give them a smile. The one they are giving you may sometimes be masking pain that cuts to the core but your smile may help him or her to recapture glimmers of hope.

Thank you all for reading this. I hope it somehow helps others to get through their day.

 

 

A guide through the dark forest

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“It used to be, everyone was entitled to their own opinion, but not their own facts. But that’s not the case anymore. Facts matter not at all. Perception is everything.” – Stephen Colbert

I’ve been reflecting on our modern western society lately.  What I’m about to write isn’t anything new; it isn’t anything we haven’t encountered before. However, I’ve faced some of these characteristics of our society and witnessed many friends and colleagues face these characteristics at great distress to their emotional and mental state.  Today I am writing about the tendency to ignore facts and instead to trust perception.   Colbert’s quote at the beginning of this post is right on the money. “Facts matter not at all. Perception is everything.”

In education, teachers and administrators are usually the type of people who live and die by facts.  After all, one of our main duties is to teach students facts and to help them use these facts to influence the world in which they live.  This is why it is difficult for those of us in education to face criticism from others that are based on nothing more than perception.  The educator inside of us wants to shout out with a thunderous cry: “But here are the facts!” Yet these cries are often perceived (yes, that ‘perception’ word is sneaking its way in with a different permutation) as defensive, dismissive, or they are completely disregarded.

I have had to help my fellow educators with this, when a parent perceives that the teacher is “mean” or that they are not teaching standards based lessons.  The reality/fact is that the teacher is not mean, and that they are doing their job in an exemplary manner. The teacher knows this, as the administrator I know this, however the parent perceives this to not be the case despite the facts that provide evidence.

Over the years I have had teachers in my office in near tears when I have to share with them what the perceptions are of some of the parents about them.  Its biting to have someone criticize you.  Its even more biting when that criticism comes about something you are deeply passionate about and to which you give your heart and devoted time.

They are not alone in this. I too have faced similar crisis of perception from time to time. It stings. Yet the fact that I have faced similar situations or situations that are much heavier often helps in our discussion.  I am able to share my experiences, my pain, my frustrations that no matter how much I give there will always be some who wish to see darkness in the forest rather than light and hope. I believe it helps the teacher understand that they are not alone. I try to bolster their self image and devise strategies to help improve the perception so that it more closely resembles reality.

One of the hardest things I have to say and explain is that while perception is not reality, the perception of the parent is the parent’s reality.  We have to address it and cannot ignore it hoping that they will change their mind.  We will not always be successful; some people have their mind set and they do not want to leave the darkness of the forest.  However, sometimes people are looking for a guide to help walk them through the darkness and to lead them to the sunny brooks and glens that warm the heart and mind. Its difficult to be the guide when you are perceived as something in the darkness. Yet, this is exactly what we must attempt to accomplish.

I do not write this post to complain.  Instead, I write it for my colleagues so that they know that they are not alone.  Hamlet said it best, “For there is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.”  We are in the profession of thinking.  As much as it pains us, lets work through our hurt feelings and help change the thinking so that all understand the good that we are constantly doing in our classrooms and schools.

I’m interested in your thoughts on this.  What strategies have you used to help change a misplaced negative perception? What advice do you have for those of us in the trenches pushing ever forward to help our students?

A Small Victory

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Creative Commons License Photo Credit: Fernando Herrera via Compfight

“Today we face the monsters that are at our door and bring the fight to them!” – Stacker Pentecost

Today heralded a landmark tentative ruling from Judge Rolf M. Treu in the case of Vegara et al. V. State of California. This case involves nine plaintiffs who are public school students that are bringing a complaint against the State of California. These students are challenging five components of the rather encyclopedic California Education Code (specifically 44929.21(b); 44934, 44938 (b) (1), 44944 (2), and 44955. Okay… those are a lot of numbers so what do they mean?

These California Ed Codes deal with three separate issues. 1. The “Permanent Employment Statutes”, 2. “Dismissal Statutes”, 3. “Last-In-First-Out [LIFO] Statute”. At the heart of this matter is the question of whether or not these statutes, which deal almost exclusively with tenure and teacher retention within the state of California, violate the state constitution. In the tentative ruling it was found that they do.

I’ll be the first to admit that I do not usually go out of my way to read a legal ruling, they tend to be bland and really hold little interest for me. However, it is clear that Judge Treu did not have any ineffective teachers when he was in school. His ruling is sound and the language he chooses to use throughout is engaging and quite dynamic. I do not often encounter a ruling in which words such as “paradigmatized”, “Gainsaid”, “Preponderance”, “über”, or “illusory” are used with eloquence and precision.

Judge Treu also manages to make very clear that his ruling is based solely upon the law and that it is not his place to enter into the realm of politics or legislation, he even goes so far as to quote Alexander Hamilton in the Federalist Paper 78! If you are an educator (even if you aren’t one from the state of California) I highly recommend you read the entire 16-page ruling. You will not be disappointed you can find it by clicking here.

As legal precedent Judge Treu cites Brown v. Board of Education, Serrano v. Priest, and Butt v. State of California. Where this ruling takes an interesting turn is that these cases all dealt with a “lack of equality of education based on the discrete facts raised therein.” Yet the court was faced, in this case with applying “… these constitutional principles to the quality of the educational experience.” It is a strong statement in that quality is finally being considered as a factor that has a very real impact upon the lives of students.

The plaintiffs clearly state that these three statutes directly result in the retention of “grossly ineffective teachers obtaining and retaining employment” which violates “their fundamental rights to equality of education by adversely affecting the quality of education they are afforded by the state.” Ultimately the judge found that the plaintiffs met their burden of proof on all issues presented and the state as well as the California Teachers Association and the California Federation of Teachers did not offer any evidence that the state has a compelling interest that justified the statues or that the “distinctions drawn by the law[s] are necessary to further [their] purpose.”

What is truly interesting is that repeatedly throughout the case and in the ruling we find that the plaintiffs and the defendants agree on key issues that stand in direct opposition to continuing the current statutes as they exist. Lets examine what both sides agree with:

  1. Competent teachers are critical and are the most important “component of success of a child’s in-school educational experience.”
  2. “grossly ineffective teachers undermine the ability of [a] child to succeed in school.”
  3. The current process for dismissal of a grossly ineffective teacher is “torturous” expensive, and time consuming almost to the point of impossibility of removal of the tenured teacher

I would like to only offer some highlights of this case because I really want you to read the entire ruling. What follows are some gems from the legal document.

The judge stated that the evidence of specific effects of grossly ineffective teachers upon students is compelling… and shocks the conscience (I am inclined to agree).

Some basic facts supported by research:

  1. “A single year in a classroom with a grossly ineffective teacher costs students $1.4 million in lifetime earnings per classroom.
  2. “Students taught in LAUSD by a teacher in the bottom 5% of competence lose 9.54 months of learning in a single year compared to students with average teachers.”
  3. “The extrapolated number of grossly ineffective teachers ranges from 2,750 to 8,250” within the state of California.
  4. LAUSD alone had approximately 350 grossly ineffective teachers it wished to dismiss at the time of trial but no dismissal process had been initiated.

Lets take a look at the three main statutes…

Round I: Permanent Employment Statute

It should be clear to anyone who even remotely glances at the Permanent Employment Statute [PES] that it is completely ridiculous. Reading Judge Treu’s ruling would be amusing if it weren’t for the seriousness of the impact the current Ed Code has upon thousands of student lives! Half the time you’re reading the decision you feel like he is specifically saying “USE COMMON SENSE HERE!.”  let us examine some of the problems with the PES statute.

PES is more commonly known by the informal phrase: “two year” statute. Basically, as it is understood promoting a teacher to tenured/permanent status takes place at the end of two years. Judge Treu is very clear that even this is “misnomer” because teachers need to be told on or before March 15 which is a full 2 – 3 months prior to a two year term if they will be reelected… which means that administrators must make that decision long before that time. Yet, and here is just one piece of ludicrous logic, the formal induction programs for a new teacher takes a full two years to complete (the FULL two years). Therefore, administrators are forced to make a decision to grant teacher tenure before an official evaluation of the teacher’s competence and ability through the induction program is complete! The insanity in this is mind-boggling! As judge Treu states, “a teacher reelected in March may not be recommended for credentialing after the close of the induction program in May, leaving the applicable district with a non-credentialed teacher with tenure.” On the flip side, to ensure that districts do not end up in this situation, many administrators are forced to deny approval for teachers if they have even the slightest doubt about their ability… despite the fact that they may have been found to be completely competent at the end of the induction program! Why would the state even attempt to defend this statute? Luckily judge Treu found this statute to be unconstitutional under the equal protection clause of the Constitution of California!

ROUND II: Dismissal Statutes

The plaintiffs argue that the process of removing a grossly ineffective teacher from the teaching profession is overly time consuming and expensive resulting in many teachers’ districts retaining these poorly performing teachers. How time consuming and expensive is this? Apparently the figures indicate that “It could take anywhere from two to almost ten years and cost $50,000 to $450,000 or more to bring these cases to conclusion under the current statutes.” This is nearly half a million dollars! For schools that are already facing sever budget constraints, one need not wonder why they haven’t pursued the removal of these teachers.

What I love most is that judge Treu does not state that teachers should be denied due process. He is very clear that they deserver a process. However the current state of affairs is what he terms “über due process.” I couldn’t agree more!

Judge Treu’s own words really bring home this issue: “There is no question that teachers should be afforded reasonable due process when their dismissals are sought. However… the current system… [is] so complex, time consuming and expensive as to make an effective, efficient yet fair dismissal of a grossly ineffective teacher illusory.” – I couldn’t have said this better myself.

Based on these common-sense facts the court found the Dismissal Statutes unconstitutional under the equal protection clause of the Constitution of California.

Round III: LIFO (Last-In-First-Out)

I would like to start this section by stating I’d love to meet the genius who came up with this to ask what they could have possibly been thinking when they wrote this statute? Apparently this had some traction (thankfully not a majority) as ten states currently require seniority to be the sole factor in determining who is let go. It is shocking to think that this is indeed the reality. Completely compelling, effective teachers may be let go simply because they are newer than some who may be grossly ineffective. Don’t get me wrong, I know there are also grossly ineffective new teachers, but the current California statute does not even allow for a teacher’s ability to be considered! This statute basically states that the last-hired teacher is the “first statutorily-mandated first-fired one when lay-offs occur.”

I’m not even sure why the State would want to try to defend this practice. To do so would mean that the State would have to prove that there is a good reason to remove students from the best teachers and leave them with those who are not capable of being effective! Judge Treu is very clear that “The logic of this position is unfathomable and therefore constitutionally unsupportable.”

In the Legislatures Hands

I applaud Judge Treu for being extremely explicit in the role of the court throughout his entire decision. He was clear from the beginning that the court’s only job is to measure the statutes against the constitution. He closes by making some excellent points. Here is Judge Treu in his own words:

“… it is not the function of this court to dictate or even to advise the legislature as to how to replace the challenged statutes. All this court may do is apply constitutional principles of law to the challenged statutes as it has done here, and trust the legislature to fulfill its mandated duty to enact legislation on the issues herein discussed that passes constitutional muster, thus providing each child in this state with a basically equal opportunity to achieve a quality education.”

It is in your hands now Legislature. Its my hope that the State would take this decision and use it as a wake up call to begin real reform in getting and retaining quality educators in the field and removing those who have proven ineffective or unwilling to make necessary changes to help children learn and be successful in life. However, I sense that this will find its way to an appeal and the process will be further drawn out. How many more children must suffer because the adults in charge are unwilling to look at the harm that is being done to children on a daily basis all in the name of protecting entrenched, ineffective educators at the cost of those who would actually help students thrive?

Your Thoughts

As you can probably tell, I am a huge fan of this ruling! I also love the restrained biting criticism that can be read between the lines of Judge Treu’s decision. Sign me up… I am a fan of making changes to the current statutes of the California Ed Code. However, I know I’m not the only one with an opinion. You may have an opposite opinion. You may think I’m crazy for holding my view. I’d love to hear your thoughts. Maybe you live in one of the majority of states where statutes such as these do not exist…. Please share your unique perspective.

I look forward to reading your responses and having a wonderful open dialogue on the topic. You may click here to leave a comment if you so desire.

 

Stand for the Impossible

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Buttercup: “We’ll never survive.”

Westley: “Nonsense. You’re only saying that because no one ever has.”

-The Princess Bride

It is now June.  Students, teachers, and administrators are all feeling the weight of a full year of intellectual, spiritual, and emotional growth.  The visceral experience is often one of fatigue and pessimism, which tends to cloud our judgment and make us long for the highly anticipated summer break.  This is a time when we are called upon to complete the heaviest of workloads (graduations, grades, test scores, cleaning classrooms, evaluations, annual reports, the usual day-to-day… ad nauseam).    It is easy to get lost in the morass of routine and drudgery; it is easy to forget how to take a moment to recharge your internal power core.

This is my moment of self-reflection, one I find necessary to undertake in order to help re-focus my attention on the mission at hand: supporting my teachers and helping all students grow so that they may be successful in life. I am sharing this reflection with you in the hopes that you may find some benefit from my thoughts.  Recent events have caused me to take a serious pause to examine who I am as a person, what my purpose is within education, and (on a grander scale) in life.

Let me be frank; in this pause I have come to no set conclusion for personal aspirations that have been, continue, and may always be out of reach.  However, I have never been one to settle for outright negativity.  The impossible is something that I strive for every day, because it is only through our attempts to achieve the impossible that it may come to pass. I do not believe we should pursue foolish goals.  However, when a goal is noble and desire outweighs logic and reason, then even the most daunting of obstacles should be challenged.   These juggernauts of jabberwockian jeopardy challenge the will and make us sometimes accept the current reality as all that will ever exist.  We cling to the comfort of our own self-imposed prisons of monotony and misery because the fear of facing the unknown, as Hamlet once said, “puzzles the will, and makes us rather bear those ills we have than fly to others that we know not of.”  This is where I find myself.

This respite of reflection culminates in my reaffirmation of my desire to seek out a world in which we are all better for taking on the challenges that face us on a daily basis. I will not stand idly by and wait for fate to dole out the meager parcels of paltry pratfalls that it believes is our destiny.  Instead, I am going to do the one thing, I have always done when faced with what seems to be an insurmountable obstacle; I am going to pick up these broken bones of mine and face the challenge of obtaining what I want with renewed vigor. It may take more than a lifetime, but that will not stop me, because the goal is noble, the cause worth sacrifice.  The realization of the goal leads us on a path toward a better life and prosperity for all.  It is time we face our fears and leave the comforts of a system that was not designed for us or for our century.

If you, like me, find yourself facing the doldrums either personally or professionally, I ask all of you who read this blog to take a moment during this tumultuous time of year and pause to power the core of your Jaeger so that in tandem we can face the kaijus that stand in the way of happiness (watch Pacific Rim if you do not get this reference). Remember, “Fortune favors the brave, dude.”

It is easy to feel like Buttercup in the opening quote of this post: “We’ll never survive.”   It is much more difficult to develop the overwhelming love and optimism that Westley espouses: “Nonsense.  You’re only saying that because no one ever has.”  Ladies and gentlemen, I’m going to try to be a little more like Westley. I know that, beginning today, I am going to do my best to develop his optimism. Just because everyone else has died before us, doesn’t mean that we will suffer the same fate.  It is our dedication and perseverance that will result in our obtaining that which we desire most.  It is our willingness to give everything that we are, that helps us to achieve the impossible.  And, as Captain Malcolm Reynolds once pointed out… doing the impossible “makes us mighty.”

So pick up your broken bones with me.  If you’re facing the challenge of pedagogical practices that are antiquated, you can change them.  If you are forced to give assessments that do not make sense, you can help those who take them feel better about their actual roles in life.  If you are reaching for anything that is beyond your grasp, you can eventually find it within your hand.  Let us make real change on the landscape of education.  Let us stand together and create an educational environment that reflects the needs of our future and not the realities of our past.

If we stand together, there may be hope after all.


Take a moment right now to reflect. What is that one impossible goal that is out of reach? What can you do to begin making it a reality? Can any of us here help you to stand and make that difference? I look forward to your comments.

Click here to leave a comment or on the comment bubble at the top of the page.

 

Teaching Dreams of Sushi

Sake And Tekka Maki
Creative Commons License Photo Credit: drp via Compfight

Konnichiwa, I know that this title probably has you a bit perplexed, a bit hungry, or perhaps a bit of both.  I’m sure you’re wondering what Sushi has to do with education.  I promise you This will make sense.  Like the Oracle said in the Matrix after giving Neo a cookie, “by the time you’re done eating it, you’ll feel right as rain.”

Recently, I had the pleasure of visiting Japan.  It was a country that was filled with many wonderful features.  The culture was rich and far more ancient than anything we have here in the United States.  I appreciate that.  While there, I of course had to go to get some sushi.  You see, I love sushi in the US and I had heard that it is even better in Japan.  Let me assure you that what you hear is correct! It was amazing, fresh, and prepared with a certain care that I haven’t seen elsewhere in all my travels.

This reminded me of a film I saw a while back called Jiro Dreams of Sushi.  If you haven’t seen this film, I highly recommend that you do.  It’s the story of Jiro and his lifelong dedication to truly mastering his craft (making sushi) and the very rigorous process he goes through to train and mentor those under him.  He’s mastered his craft for over 75 years and has earned 3 Michelen Stars all while operating a small sushi restaurant at the bottom of a Tokyo subway station.   I think that if we developed an understanding and a demand for excellence the way that Jiro has for our teachers, our children would be some of the best educated in the world.

Dedication

“Once you decide on your occupation… you must immerse yourself in your work. You have to fall in love with your work. Never complain about your job. You must dedicate your life to mastering your skill. That’s the secret of success and is the key to being regarded honorably.” – Jiro

I think that far too often teachers fool themselves into believing that they are dedicated to their work.  Jiro’s statement is bold. Sure teachers may feel immersed in their work but often I hear this as a complaint.  Too much to do, too little time, filling out reports, assessments, etc.  But these are part of the job.  What if teachers, willingly immersed themselves in their work, with a goal of not complaining about the job, but mastering it?  There are plenty of good teachers that do this, but there are also quite a few who do not.  I often wonder if it might be better that to become a teacher you must undergo 7-8 years of formal university work and internship. This would help to ensure that those who remain are truly dedicated.  I know this is extreme by our standards, but lets face it… right now our standards are pretty low. I’m discouraged that more universities do not encourage those who would obviously make poor teachers to choose another path.  Instead they seem focused on the money. It’s a sad commentary but one I think we can fix.

Our own regard

“If your sense of taste is lower than that of the customers how will you impress them?”- Jiro

Its well known that the opinion of teaching in the US can, at times, be pretty low.  Feeding into this is the fact that a lot of teachers have bought this, hook-line-and sinker. They perpetuate the low image of the teacher as one who is under the weight of standardized tests, an oppressive educational system, or that they must bend to every parent’s desire.  They fail to stand up and believe in themselves as a professional.  I don’t know about you, but I went to university for quite a long while.  I studied, I interned, I was mentored.  I became an expert in my field and as such I will gladly debate the merits of any educational decision I make with anyone while having the confidence to do it as an expert in my field.  All of you are experts as well!

Jiro is right. If our sense of ourselves is lower than that of the parents or politicians, then how can we ever expect them to take us seriously? It is time we began to strengthen our belief in ourselves.

Love your profession

“I don’t like days away from what I love.” –Jiro

Jiro’s statement of self-reflection in which he recounts that he doesn’t like days away from what he loves should be at the heart of every teacher.  Does this mean that I think teachers should work weekends, and holidays? No. What it means is that even when you’re not with your students you should be expanding your knowledge, enjoying the learning experience, conversing with friends and colleagues.

Days when I am away from what I love are difficult.  I love helping children learn.  I love learning more about the art of good pedagogy. I love talking with other teacher friends who strive to make a difference every day in their students’ lives. I love that sanguine person who can speak with me on my hardest days and still remind me that what we do is for the good of so many.  It’s that sanguine person who becomes your foundation, without him or her it may as well all be lost; I know I would be useless. Perhaps it is in this regard that I begin to understand Jiro so much more than before because I also don’t like days away from what I love.

If you haven’t seen the film, I recommend it! It’s great to watch.  As you watch it, consider how much stronger we would all be if more universities put in even half the dedication that he speaks about into producing excellent teachers.  We have them out there, but we need to grow stronger. Dedicate yourself further today than you did yesterday and tomorrow further still! Remember what you love and never let go.

 

A hard day

The Candle
Creative Commons License Photo Credit: Riccardo Cuppini via Compfight

Today was a hard day.

You know that you’ll face a lot of challenges as a leader of a school.  There are issues of bullying, custody battles, teacher morale, curriculum creation and analysis; community building… the list goes on and on.

No one can really prepare you for all of that, but somehow those of us who are crazy enough to take on this leadership role manage to find innovative ways of coping with all of these challenges.  We become the glue that holds everything together.  Actually, that’s not true, the teachers are the glue, admins are the ones planning on where the glue needs to be to keep it all together… Alright I’m beginning to sound a lot like a glue salesman and I shouldn’t.

Today was difficult because one of our colleagues passed away last Sunday.  I work at a Catholic school and this was a time when I was called upon to be a true spiritual leader for my community.  It wasn’t easy and I only got through it by the grace of another spirit, “The Holy Spirit.” I know I don’t have the strength to do it on my own.

I really dislike going to funerals… there’s something about them that really impacts me.  I’m happy for the soul that can now move on with the Lord, but there’s finality in the physical sense and being faced with that reality has a deep and lasting effect upon me; it always has. For that reason, I rarely attend funeral services.  Yet, I found myself in the position of being the school leader who arranged grief counselors, kept the community informed, cancelled a school day for the services, coordinated the necessary events, and spoke at the service.

It was hard.

We lost a friend and a colleague.  We lost someone dedicated to children and the Lord. We lost someone just like ourselves. It is during times like these that you truly learn what servant leadership is all about.  It’s not about you.  The services weren’t about my discomfort or me; it was about a life that was to be celebrated.  It was about the needs of my students, faculty, and the family. Its during times like these that one must reach deep within and pull upon the strength of the Holy Spirit as well as the strength of friends.

I put on a strong face all week.  I pushed through various challenges that face a school on a day-to-day basis as well as the crisis at hand. But today I broke one of my personal rules.

I cried in the presence of my faculty. Generally, I do all I can to not let emotion show, but I think this is a special circumstance. Maybe it’s a good thing. Maybe they’ll realize I’m a little more human than they once thought. But there’s only so much a person can take before that silent wave of emotion washes over you and spills out.

The children at the service made it better, their smiles and their laughter.  They reminded me why my colleague and myself were in teaching in the first place.

I know this post isn’t as well written as it could be, but I’m a bit spent after today.

I guess the whole point of this post is to help myself come to grips with the gravity of the situation.

I just want to thank those of you who have been with me and helped me as I tried my best to be the leader my community needed, you know who you are.  I may not have done everything right, but I’m trying, every day. Something as serious as death reminds me that we have limited time on this planet. Let’s make the best of it and let’s make it a better place for our children to learn.

My thoughts and prayers are with you all and I know that my colleague watches over us as we continue to help our children learn.

Make a difference today. For we do not know the hour when we may be called to greater things.

 

Someone to Carry You…

crawl

We see the letters posted on the Internet from educators who are disgruntled or dissatisfied with their positions as teachers within our current education system (for example this letter from Huff Post Education).

However, I do wonder about the stories not being told about educators who make a difference every day and choose to continue in the profession.  The message I see, time and again in the media, from educators is that they are dissatisfied with the way education works, the system is broken, they don’t like the policies so their answer is to resign.

That’s a great lesson for our students<insert sarcasm here>… when things don’t work the way you want… just quit.   The more difficult challenge of working with the system and systemically striving for positive change is an act that almost never makes the papers.   For that reason, I’d like to share why I am in education and why I will continue to be in education without an incendiary resignation letter.

This is my open response, as an educator, to the above-mentioned letter:

Dear Administrators, Superintendents, Teachers, et al.,

This is my official letter declaring my dedication to the students and children that we serve every day in our classrooms and schools.

I am exceedingly happy to have the privilege to serve children who are just beginning to understand the very complex world in which we live.  There is nothing more rewarding than sharing a learning experience with a student and building a relationship of trust in which both the student and the teacher form new knowledge together.  We believe that the parents are the primary educators of their children and as such we form a partnership that always strives to provide children with the resources and learning experiences they need in life. We are an extension of the home family unit and that is a sacred honor that I hold close to my heart.

You see… there are very few professions as noble as that of educator.  We are tasked with helping a child grow their knowledge and mind so that they can be successful and happy in their adult lives while providing for the betterment of society.  Why wouldn’t someone want to be involved in a profession such as this?

I did not enter the field of education with grand notions that I would make a six-figure salary, be understood by parents who do not yet recognize the professional degrees and credentials I hold, face the reality that teachers tend to be looked down upon as failing by our society, or that I would have to face policies and practices that were designed for a factory-era society rather than one that should be looking to the 22nd century.

You may call me crazy… but those are among the chief reasons I entered this profession. So that I may change them.

So many teachers become disillusioned with the education system and I have to ask “why?”  Did they enter this profession blindly? Did they (sorry for the pun) not do their homework and learn all they could about teaching and what it entailed in our society? I have to wonder when I read resignation letters that complain about low wages, following policies they might not agree with, etc.  If someone is out there speaking untruths to our pre-service teachers, please let me know so that we can stop them.  I’m going to break this down to the lowest common denominator:

Teaching is hard; it will be an uphill battle; you will not be paid what you are worth; people will judge you based on tests you do not take; it is not fair.

This is the state of most school systems within the United States.  Enter the profession knowing that the above statements are true and that this is the reality in a large portion of the schools that exist today.

Are you ready for the challenge?

Enter this profession, knowing what you know and fight for change.  If you quit the profession knowing all of the above from the beginning, you only have yourself to blame. Do not blame the administrators, parents, colleagues, policies, practices, etc. Only you have the power to enter a system that is struggling and to make it better.  Our society is so set on instant gratification that we believe if we haven’t brought about immediate change, then we are failing.  Take a deep breath for this one:

Failure is okay.

We learn from it and we rework our strategies.  Quitting, for the true educator, is never an option.

So many educators complain about policies that make them uncomfortable.  The standards movement had its detractors, NCLB had its critics, Race to the Top has been torn apart, Common Core State Standards have been openly attacked… some people will never be happy with change and that is okay.  But realize that our profession is built upon change.

The very nature of education should be change.

We are not supposed to teach children the same way we have been teaching for the last 100 years.  Technology, society, and the world move ahead with or without us.  I’m sorry to break the news to you but that worksheet or standard that you really love may have to disappear.  A worksheet and a standard do not make you a good educator.  What makes you a good educator is the ability to take a learning goal, objective, standard, etc. and to make that come alive for your students. Don’t like the new standards? Well, get involved in the politics of creating those standards. Don’t like the new policy, work to change it.  Can you change everything or affect everything? No. But demonstrate to the world that we can fight for it.  Quitting only demonstrates that the issue really wasn’t that important to you in the first place.

Let’s be honest, the message quitting sends isn’t that the system is broken.  The message it sends is that you are not happy about the condition of education and you do not value students enough to continue to fight for them. I understand the fatigue of the fight; I’m in it myself. So quit if you must, but don’t bash the administrators, colleagues, or policies because you couldn’t continue the fight. All that serves to do is lower the morale of those of us in the trenches and discourage those who are considering taking up arms to make this a better world for our students.

The following statement was made: “We feel defeated and helpless: If we speak out, we are reprimanded for not being team players; if we do as we are told, we are supporting a broken system.”  I have a couple of problems with this. If you speak out you may be reprimanded, but perhaps it has to do with the way you are speaking out.  Is it constructive or is it complaining? If you do as you are told you are not necessarily supporting a broken system.  You have to have a system to work with in order to make changes in the first place.  Is it the best system? No. But to say you won’t do what you are contracted and have agreed to do when you accepted the position only highlights that you truly did not know what you were getting into. Instead, work with the system, and use the procedures and policies put in place to make positive changes. And be prepared, people will criticize you for this.  Any change is met with resistance.

Some ask and argue, “Can I stand by and watch this [failed education] happen to our precious children?” and the response is to quit and fight from outside the system.  I’m sorry, you did something worse than stand by and watch, you left the field of battle. Your colleagues are still there attempting to make things better and you abandoned us.  You abandoned your students. You didn’t stand by… you sat down.

In her resignation letter Mrs. Hawkins asks: “Can the district do a better job of advocating for our children and become leaders in this educational system rather than followers? With my resignation, I hope to inspire change in the district I have come to love.”

A follower quits following.  A leader guides his or her ship through turbulent waters and fights to make the voyage to the desired destination.

I profess that we have leaders and that they are fighting every day to make a difference in the educational landscape. Leaders like @sjsbates@theweirdteacher, @tritonkory, @btcostello05, among many others.  We fight to bring about change and find the value in the current changes that are taking place.  Are the changes enough? No. But we all have to start somewhere.   I do not know how the resignation of an individual is supposed to inspire change.   Perhaps the resignation is a good thing, because we’ve lost someone who has given up the ghost in the battle for education reform.

I say to you teachers, educators, colleagues, brothers and sisters in arms… do not give up the fight. Become a leader.  Chart these tumultuous waters, brave the maelstrom of doubt and dissent, and stand with us as we make this a better world for our students. You are the good news in education and you are the stories that should be told to the world.  Let’s stop perpetuating incendiary resignation letters from teachers and, instead, support the great work educators perform every day to make a difference in the lives of their students and for the betterment of the education community in our great United States of America.  The best way to teach students that they matter and can make a difference is to show them that we matter and that we can make a difference.  That is hard to do if we simply quit and hope that it will somehow inspire change.

We are in this together. Do not let the fatigue get to you. Lean on each other.  Remember this great quote from Firefly:

“When you can’t run, you crawl, and when you can’t crawl – when you can’t do that- you find someone to carry you.”

Let’s carry each other and make this a better world for every child out there.

I invite your comments and I ask that you consider writing your own letter to continue our fight.  Let’s stop quitting and let’s start making a difference.

This is Captain Wick… ending transmission and awaiting your reply.

#revogogychat
#browncoateducators
#shinyedchat
#bcedchat
#revogogy