When Connected Educators Break Connections

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“To one who has faith, no explanation is necessary.

To one without faith, no explanation is possible.”

-St. Thomas Aquinas

Yesterday an old blog post of mine: Someone to Carry you seemed to strike a rather exposed nerve with a Kindergarten teacher.  I went to lunch and returned to 30+ twitter notifications about the post from colleagues that I respect as well as from this individual who happened to take issue with the post.   I am a huge supporter of debate and discourse when it is intelligent, based on fact, and has a modicum of decorum which purports mutual respect between parties with dichotomous views.  Yet what I returned to (after my lunch) was blatant slanderous statements toward myself based on nothing more than conjecture.

Had this been any random internet troll, I could probably look the other way and move on, however this person is a teacher. Not only is she a teacher, but she is a “connected educator” and founder of a wonderful group of early childhood education teachers who get together and have their own #kinderchat.  Furthermore, she’s also a Catholic school teacher.   All of these facts regarding someone who is an educational leader means that my expectations for her digital footprint and behavior are high.

Perhaps that is my mistake, after all even the best person in the world is still just a person. I’m rather sad to say that my first experience with a connected educator of this caliber left much to be desired. Apparently Heidi Enderchat (@hechternacht) seems to have lost some of the very Catholic values I would expect from a Catholic school teacher.

When I returned from my very much needed lunch, I found that she had called my post condescending.  Okay, I can handle that. It wasn’t meant to be condescending but to each his or her own.  What troubled me more was that rather than modeling for other connected educators and students around the world what good practice would be, she jumped to wildly slanderous conclusions about me on a personal level.

The large cause of this being that the post I wrote was against teachers who leave the profession and write incendiary resignation letters on their way out.  These teachers basically douse the ship with gasoline light a match and drop it on the deck as the leave their colleagues to try to put out the fire they have caused while simultaneously working to fix the issues that were already present.  It adds little to the dialogue of helping to fix the problems in education.

Apparently, Heidi took issue with the fact that I am no longer a school administrator and therefore I embody the very thing I wrote about (in her minds eye).  What she failed to realize, even after repeated statements to inform her, is that I did not quit the profession.  Not only that, but I did not quit and write a letter about how bad the school system is and how good teachers are forced to leave the profession.  As a matter of fact, I left a position at my school (without writing hateful letters) and I went to work for a corporation (something that her comments indicate is distasteful).

But here is the reality… When I was a teacher, I could help roughly 30 students a year… after 10 years I will have helped approximately 300 students.  I have always wanted to help the most students I possibly can.  Therefore, I became an administrator.  As an administrator within 10 years I could help on average 3000 students or more per year.  In my current role at a startup company that believes in childhood education I can help tens of thousands of students worldwide in the course of ten years.   I’d like to be clear, I did not leave the profession of education, I didn’t quit, I didn’t write a letter saying how bad education was… I think education has a lot of work that needs to be done with it but its still pretty good compared to some other areas in the world.

The direct statements from Heidi levied at me with absolutely no proof or even asking me what happened were:

“Quitting yourself (me) out of ambition is pretty arrogant.”

I asked where I ever said I quit out of ambition and her rather snide response was:

“Maybe it was an inability then? I don’t know, I just know you quit.”

– Wow. Really, so without ever asking me about the situation or fully comprehending what I do now in the field of education I was called either arrogant and ambitious or I was labeled by her as having an inability to be a school administrator.  The only true statement she made was that she “didn’t know”.  I was a rather successful school administrator. I started and founded the Cathedral school at the heart of our diocese under the direct leadership of the Bishop.  It saddens me that Heidi, a Catholic school teacher at Stuart Country Day School of the Sacred Heart (@StuartCDSchool),would treat another human (let alone another Catholic educator) with such disrespect, simply for having a difference of opinion.  I honestly worry for the students in her class who are just forming their views of the world. If they learn anything from modeling or watching what adults do around them, they may learn that if you disagree with someone… attack them personally. How sad.

It was then that I found out that this connected educator had a rather myopic and 19th-20th century view of what it means to be a teacher. She blatantly tweeted at me:

“Sorry, working for a corporation is not a teacher. You aren’t dealing w the stresses of kids day in, out.”

– Really? In order to be a teacher one must deal with the “stresses” of kids day in and out? Don’t get me wrong, I’ve had stressful days with my students but I would never define my role as a teacher as being based upon having stress with kids.  As a matter of fact, very few days were stressful when I was in the classroom.  I enjoyed my experiences.  In her interview for Connectededucators.org it becomes apparent that she may be feeling the stress of the kids and the weight of her profession. The interview is peppered with remarks, such as:

“by the end of the day my energy is generally running below zero!… I would say that teachers, as exhausted and stretched as we are… The frustrations, loneliness, and isolation of a teacher are real things.”

She may have called me arrogant, condescending, ambitious, possessing an inability to be a teacher, a quitter (all of these things untrue once facts are looked upon) But her own statements seem to highlight a teacher who is very much frustrated, lonely, isolated, tired, exhausted, etc. These conclusions I come to are based on her own words and not, as she unceremoniously used upon me, upon assumptions.  I have afforded her the courtesy of actually checking my facts and having evidence to support them.

When a noted education author refuted her statement that I quit by saying “He didn’t quit, you’re assuming.”  there was a rather childish response and need to be right when she said “Is he doing it now? No. That’s quitting, Leaving. Moving on. Doing something else. Not doing it. Stopped. QUIT.”

I personally think its a vocabulary issue on the definition of quitting and some connotative differences between quitting, resigning, and moving to a new position with the same field or profession. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to explain to her how moving to a new position where I develop lessons for tens of thousands of students in various methodologies and with an eye toward teacher assessment, parent use, and student engagement is still very much teaching.  In the 21st century Teaching is so much more than the old image of the schoolmarm in the classroom at the podium lecturing to students.  Teachers come in all shapes and sizes.  A very small informal survey I conducted returned 100% results that a teacher did not in fact have to have the stress of kids or a classroom to be considered a teacher.

Again, had this been an average user or teacher I would have probably paid this little attention. However this is a person who purports to be a connected educator, running international edchats for teachers… she is a leader who should be influencing educators for the positive.  We all get tired from time to time.  We all get frustrated and have stress with our students. But we shouldn’t let that overwhelm common sense and we certainly shouldn’t openly lay slanderous statements against others.

To state that I quit: False.

To state that I left for ambition: False.

To state that I a have an inability to be in the classroom: False.

To state that I am not a teacher: False.

For the record, I moved to a new position, one that has the potential to help tens of thousands of students on a global level.  I did not quit.  Also upon my change in position, I refused to write an incendiary letter and send it to Huffington post or any other public newspaper.  Why? Because I stand by my original post (Someone to Carry You)  I will not light a match and watch the ship burn as I move on to continue helping students.  I believe in education. We are doing great things. And it is true… I still have little respect for those who leave and write these letters to the paper.  I no longer consider them colleagues as they have truly left the profession and done so in a manner that is poor in taste and practice and actually does more harm to those who remain in education than it should.

Bullies exist in all ages and throughout all professions.  They exist in the classroom and they exist in cyberspace among our own peers.  There is a moral obligation as an educational leader and as a Catholic school teacher to make sure your statements are true before launching accusations without any proof. I hold these leaders to a higher standard than I probably should. However, if she is a connected educator(as she claims to be)… I think her connection might be a little broken.


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What can we take away from this encounter? That is the question I ask myself whenever something like this happens.  After all, great teachers are often lifelong learners.    For me, it would be, check your facts and don’t assume anything.  Take the time to get to know the person you disagree with.   I’m sure there are many more lessons throughout.

What strikes me most is the statement that in order to be a teacher you have to have the “stress” of kids day in and out.  I wholeheartedly disagree.  It seems some of my other professional colleagues also disagree with that statement.

I’m interested to know… what are your thoughts on this? Does one have to have the stress of kids to be considered a teacher? Is this just one person’s limited view of education and teaching? Please share your thoughts.

Also, if you decide to Quit (genuinely quit) teaching… please don’t set our ship on fire and write one of those letters saying how horrible education is…. we get it… you weren’t happy… but you left and did little to help solve the problem. I’m still working on the problems… Together we journey and together we will make wonderful things happen for our students and colleagues.

Deleting Diagrams

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“These walls that they put up to hold us back will fall down
It’s a revolution, the time will come
For us to finally win.” – Taylor Swift

As the title of this blog indicates my posts are about revolutionizing teaching and pedagogy. I’m still quite amazed to find that the practice of diagraming sentences is still very much in practice across the United States.  My family members teach in schools where it is taught. I’ve worked at schools where it is taught.  I also have a global network of educators with whom I speak that have indicated quite clearly to me that the practice is alive and well… even though research has clearly indicated its poor ability to actually teach grammar.  A recent article in The Atlantic: “The Wrong Way to Teach Grammar” highlights some of these research findings.

As early as 1985, the National Council of Teachers of English declared that “repetitive grammar drills and exercises” — like diagramming sentences — are “a deterrent to the improvement of students’ speaking and writing.”  Yet the practice persists in classrooms throughout the nation.  Furthermore a careful study of the Common Core State Standards makes no mention of Diagraming Sentences.  Why then is this antiquated practice allowed to continue? When research clearly indicates that it is ineffective at best why is it allowed to swallow valuable instructional minutes in an already cramped work day?  a recent NPR article also talks about the debate regarding diagraming sentences.

It seems that ancient practices are like vampires… hard to kill unless brought into the bright light of public scrutiny.  Yet that is difficult to do when teachers who cling to ancient pedagogical techniques continue to shroud the truth in a cloak of shadows.  The argument is usually “I learned this in school it was good we should still teach it”.  Wow, research be damned.  No wonder there is so little respect for the teaching profession as it continues to pick and choose those research articles that it likes and just ignore data if it goes against tradition.  One only need to look at the phenomenon of Homework… largely expected in every grade level yet the research findings are clear… In the elementary grades Homework has clearly been demonstrated to have no effect on student learning or even worse, a negative affect.  Positive gains do not appear in the research for elementary students… if they do they are the minority of articles, yet teachers continue to extol its merits…. simply because we’ve grown accustomed to its ineffectual presence.

If you’re a teacher, and administrator, a parent, a student, a human being somehow impacted by school and education I implore you…. start taking a critical look at what is being taught in our schools.  What practices take place.  Don’t take for granted that just because you experienced it as a child it has value today.  Remember there was a time when a person who had a headache would have his or her skull cracked open to let the bad spirits escape… I’m glad medical science actually uses data and grows in its practices or else we’d all have holes in our heads by now.

Take a step back, look at the data, make a good decision.  The future of our students depends upon you.

Demand High Quality

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“Believin’ all the lies that they’re tellin’ ya
Buyin’ all the products that they’re sellin’ ya
They say jump and ya say how high” – RATM

Today I received some troubling news.  I even wrote a short tweet on twitter about it, but I took it down because I felt it deserved an entire post instead of just a short 140 character shout out.  It is that time of year when administrators are getting ready to hire teachers (if they haven’t already).  This is a sacred process that is of the most critical nature.  A principal is tasked with finding and selecting the most qualified and best suited individual to help at least 30 lives learn and improve for an entire academic year. This is a task that should not be taken lightly and one that should have the strongest of criteria to fulfill.

I was speaking with a colleague on the east coast.  I respect her well and know that she always strives to do what is best for her students as well as for her school.  She mentioned that she was upset because of the new teacher that was being hired at her school.  When I asked “why” she gave me an answer I wasn’t expecting and I must say it also had me quite upset because I realize the practice doesn’t just take place at her school but is something that happens across the nation on a regular basis.  The teacher that they were hiring isn’t qualified for the position.  This could mean a lot of things so let me be specific.  The teacher does not hold a teaching credential, has served as a substitute teacher (which has very minimal requirements in most states) and has been selected instead of increasing the search for a more qualified individual.  I feel bad for a lot of people in this situation.  I feel bad for the new teacher… its not going to be an easy road, I feel bad for the students who are going to receive a sub-standard teacher instead of at least a teacher with basic qualifications, and I feel bad for the school that has an administrator too lazy to roll up her sleeves and conduct a thorough search.

I know they’ve been looking for a while and not found any candidates.  My colleague tells me one teacher was offered the position but found another job due to the slow nature of her administrator to actually select and notify the candidate.  However, if traditional search methods aren’t working then there should be something outside the box.  Look out of state, go online and post the position with video interviews. Find the ideal QUALIFIED candidate.  Right now this administrator is gambling with the education of her students and its just not right.  It is her decision to make but in my opinion it makes for a very weak administrator.  I was once faced with similar difficulties in locating an ideal candidate for a position.  However I was prepared to step into the classroom if necessary with my teaching credential to ensure that the students received the education they deserved.

I had a set policy when I ran my school.  EVERY teacher had to be credentialed. That even included substitute teachers.  I know that many schools do not have that policy.  I also know that one school had a substitute come in with minimum qualifications (basically a BA degree, no teaching credential, not even a course taken in teaching or pedagogy) and at the end of the day multiple students emailed the actual teacher saying how nice the substitute was, but that they needed help because they couldn’t understand the assignment or what he taught them.

Education has, for too long, stagnated and floated upon the river of poor education brought on by the deluge of unqualified candidates.  The current minimum qualifications are horrible but at least they exist and should be met.  Any administrator that ignores this really does a discredit to the profession of teaching.  Only the most overwhelming emergency should excuse them from making this horrible choice.

Stand up parents, teachers, and administrators.  DEMAND  that your children receive education from at least MINIMALLY qualified teachers (I SAY DEMAND EVEN MORE) and if you find that your school has hired a teacher who doesn’t even have a credential… move your child or demand your administrator be held accountable.

For too long the system has said “JUMP” and we’ve responded “HOW HIGH”.  It is time we respond with “HOW, WHY, and it better be high quality.”

This happened to my friend on the east coast, but I am certain its happening in just about every state out there.  I’d love to hear your opinion on this and ideas about how we can stop this practice from continuing.

Waivers are not the answer.

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.

 

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

Teachers with strength are needed

learning ipads

Photo Credit: AttributionShare Alike mikecogh

“Now I did a job. I got nothing but trouble since I did it, not to mention more than a few unkind words as regard to my character…” -Mal, Firefly

I recently read a blog post that really got me fired up, Randy Turner’s thoughts on discouraging young people from becoming educators. While I was ready to run a full rebuttal to his post, I decided to do a little more research and found that at a later date he had written another article that does encourage young people to become educators.  My initial fire calmed a bit and I think I understand his point of view.  However, in reading both articles I found myself at odds with several viewpoints.

First I need to be clear that I come from a different world. I’m an administrator in a private school where every teacher, and myself, are at-will employees. We have no union representation, we have no tenure, we live on a single year-to-year contract and a large factor of whether or not we return is based upon our performance in the classroom or in running a school.  I know this is the polar opposite of what public schools have in place. If I have read his articles correctly, it seems that the idea of eliminating these benefits would send a message that we don’t want excellent teachers in the classroom. On this account, I must respectfully disagree.

Many private schools without these benefits often have outstanding educators.  If the private school happens to be a Catholic school, then the teachers are often paid less than their public school counterparts and they often produce learning experiences for students that are amazing. The absence of the red-tape benefits found in public education allows administrators and teachers to make necessary changes in the best interest of the students. I do not think that the absence of tenure, union membership, etc. is to be feared, rather its is a liberating experience to work in an environment in which everyone understands that our performance and dedication to helping students succeed is what keeps us employed.

Mr. Turner does make several good points that I completely agree with. I do believe that public schools are far too focused on standardized testing.  This has reached such a fever pitch that even parents are beginning to demand standardized testing.  Again, I come from a different world. In our school system we do have a standardized test, but it is only a part of the evaluation of a students’ learning. It is largely used to assess areas of needed growth and areas of strength so that teachers can focus and work in concert with parents to help the students receive outstanding learning opportunities.  Just the other week, a parent asked me what our API scores were.  I explained that we do not have such scores as we have a different philosophy of education than our public school counterparts.   We focus on the individual growth and education of the whole person and standardized testing does not drive the entire educational program.  Therefore, I completely agree that Mr. Turner is right to demand that pressure should be placed upon reducing the importance of such tests in public education.

When I read both articles, it seems to me that Mr. Turner may have had several bad experiences with administrators.  While he is quick in his second post to state that there are some good administrators, the overwhelming mood expressed seems to be distaste for administrators.  As an administrator, I of course take some objection to what has been written.  There are good and bad administrators just as there are good and bad teachers. Having been a teacher who has taught every grade level from Kindergarten through 8th grade I understand the necessity of having classroom experience. It is such a blessing to meet with teachers and parents and be able to relate with them because I have taught students at that developmental level. I think every principal should do this. However, I also feel that it is easy for teachers to criticize administrators when they do not have any exposure to what administrators face on a daily basis.  I’m not interested in padding my resume but I am interested in trying new approaches that may help students learn.  That doesn’t mean that I enjoy never-ending paperwork etc. However, if we are being responsible in our duties, we must have data that demonstrates we are not just enacting programs and hoping for the best. We need evidence so that we know if what we are doing is actually making a difference.

I agree with Mr. Turner that we must make sure that teachers know that they are wanted and valued. I value each of my teachers and I see the great potential in each of them.  I hope to be able to mentor them in their growth to become even stronger educators. I think its time we boldly take on some of the challenges that face education.  I think its time that we encourage people to become educators, be they younger or older.

In the closing paragraph of his article, Mr. Turner states, “It is time that the only ones who are treated like children in our schools are the children.”  I know that he was making a point that the teachers deserve respect. However, I feel it’s a little condescending to the students.  I’m very careful to rarely use the term “children” when talking about my students, scholars, and young men and women who attend my school. Yes they are young, yes they are children, but I try to confer upon each student a level of the respect that adults also receive.  I’ve found that, in doing this, many of the discipline problems begin to be mitigated or removed.

I think its time for change in education (public and private). We should not be afraid of new initiatives that challenge the way teachers have taught for the past half century, rather we should look to the future with a healthy optimism.  Lets work for change and let go of archaic teaching practices, policies, and so-called benefits that really have proven to do very little in the way of helping the modern student learn. When we put students first, while supporting our teachers, amazing things can happen.

 ” I got people with me, people who trust each other, who do for each other and ain’t always looking for the advantage.” -Mal, Firefly

I know I’m on the minority when it comes to a lot of the views regarding benefits and education. However, I’d still love to hear your thoughts. I respect Mr. Turner and his opinions. He makes some very valid points and I encourage you to read both of his articles. What are your thoughts on this topic? Please feel free to leave a comment by clicking on the “chat/dialogue” bubble at the beginning of this post or by clicking here to leave your thoughts.