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.

A hard day

The Candle
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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.

 

Rebels in the Classroom

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In order to exist, man must rebel, but rebellion must respect the limits that it discovers in itself – limits where minds meet, and in meeting, begin to exist – Albert Camus

I had the recent pleasure of watching an edcampHome session called the “Concept and Practice of Rebellion”.  If you’d like to watch the broadcast (it is only 25 minutes) of that session you can click here to view it or copy and paste the full URL: http://www.youtube.com/embed/XYfNg4d3Dto.

This was a wonderful conversation in which Samantha Bates (@sjsbates), Chris Thinnes (@curtisCFEE), Laura Robertson (@Mamarobertson4), Eric (@ericdemore), and Urbie (@urbie) met to discuss the concept and practice of rebellion as it relates to students in the classroom.

The session participants were very well spoken and provided an excellent discussion on the topic. Three main themes emerged that merit review and further discussion.

  1. Negative connotations associated with the word “rebellion”
  2. Teachers’ response to rebellion
  3. Constructive Rebellion.

I’d like to provide a brief viewpoint of each of these and would love to hear your thoughts on the topic.

Negative Connotations

“Rebellion”  – The word almost instantly generates images of those who are rising up against something and taking action (often in violent ways).  The origin of the word is situated from the Latin “Bellum” which means “War”. Chris Thinnes  beautifully illuminated this when he stated that rebellion is a “pejorative, insubordination, trespass against cultural norms.”  However, he also states that rebellion is necessary to give voices to our students to ask critical questions.  Therefore, rebellion is not always reviewed as negative; after all, if it were, I hardly believe we would celebrate our own rebellion from the British Crown.

As is often the case, perspective plays a central role in understanding rebellion. I’m reminded of an Addams Family quote, which in part states “…What is normal for the spider is chaos for the fly”.  Without going into an axiological tirade of postmodern thought, I think it is safe to say that rebellion is a perception.  It is the perception of the student committing the act of rebellion and the perception of those in authority that makes the act a “rebellion.” Urbie brings up a good point that what we may be discussing as rebellion is actually asking students to think critically and always doubt what they’re being told.

Laura Robertson asks the important question: “How do we put rebellion into a more positive light?” Eric responded that one way would be to “stop calling it rebellion.” Maybe it’s the rebel in me, but I’m more inclined to continue calling it rebellion.  Only through using the word continuously to describe the acts we perceive as rebellion will the term become one that we own and that precisely describes the rebellious actions our students take. After all as Paulo Freire stated “language is never neutral.” With this in mind we need to examine the response of those in authority (teachers) to rebellion.

Teachers’ Response to Rebellion

During the conversation Eric hit on one of the major issues that arise from student rebellion: teachers’ responses to rebellion.  Often times when a student questions authority or the status quo they are met with an immediate shutdown tactic. Often, the teacher usually develops a negative view of the student and tells the student to simply follow the directions or rules. As Laura stated, our educational colleagues often view rebellion as insubordination that is to be avoided. I think Eric beautifully explained this point when he stated the professional quandary that educators face in these situations when he asked, “Are we [educators] going to try to stop rebellion in its tracks, or are we going to try to yield some type of teachable moment from it?”

Samantha Bates brought up a good point in that often times disruptive students are labeled as rebellious when they are often just confused.  Teachers need to really understand what the student is going through; they should be supportive of active inquiry rather than shutting it down in a totalitarian display of authority. Once more I am drawn to Freire’s line of thinking: “Any situation in which some men [teachers] prevent others [students] from engaging in the process of inquiry is one of violence;… to alienate humans [students] from their own decision making is to change them into objects.”  Our goal is to help our students become critical thinkers and to have the ability to give voice to their opinions.

Samantha Bates expresses one of the greatest fears of teachers when she stated that “The Boston Tea Party was a rebellion, but I don’t want my students going on a rampage in my classroom.” I think this describes most teachers… there’s a natural fear of losing control, of admitting that we do not have all the answers, however in admitting that we do not have all the answers we become co-constructors of knowledge with the students.  I’ve found some of my most positive teaching moments took place when the students and I worked together to find the answer to a question.

To this end, I believe that we need to open up our classrooms and schools to become environments in which we are open to this type of dialogue. I would love to see this take place as a bottom-up initiative where teachers begin to form this type of environment, yet there will always be those who actively resist such environments.  In such cases it becomes necessary to have a top-down model.

The school, as an institution, must create the environment and hold teachers accountable for their support, or lack of support for the practice of encouraging student inquiry. Chris Thinnes explains that “when the institution has created a space (schoolwide) in its vision to hear students’ concerns… teachers tend to feel either empowered or obligated to create that space (ability for students to rebel).  As Freire stated, “If the structure [classroom or school] does not permit dialogue the structure must be changed.”

Constructive Rebellion

Our goal must then be to foster the spirit of rebellion within our students and to provide the environment in which they may actively voice such rebellion.  Samantha Bates expertly observed that that “rebellion stems from change – it is recognizing something amiss and wanting to change it; our job as educators is to teach students how to constructively rebel.”  Eric described a time when his students rebelled with the guidance of teachers as an act that was focused, organized, and controlled rebellion.

Controlled Rebellion?  Isn’t that a contradictory phrase?  I believe that Camus quote at the beginning of this post adequately answers this question:

“In order to exist, man must rebel, but rebellion must respect the limits that it discovers in itself – limits where minds meet, and in meeting, begin to exist.”

Camus hit on an epistemological foundation in realizing that where minds meet, the dialogue between individuals and sharing of concepts is of paramount importance to the human condition and very act of rebellion. To ignore this limit and forgo the respect of these limits creates a situation contrary to the natural state of human existence.

We must therefore help our students to find and express their voices.  This doesn’t mean that we acquiesce to their every rebellious action or inquiry (after all there are many examples of rebellions that have not been successful), rather it is our duty to help students begin to actively participate in the act of their own existence.  We learn as much from our successes as well as those times in which we do not succeed.

Laura Robertson stated that, “We want to create students that are actively engaged citizens.” Eric describes this type of rebellion as “the difference between being active and being passive.”  We should be encouraging our students to become more active in their daily experiences.  Only through action can they begin to understand and authentically connect the lessons they learn in school to the reality in which they live.

Samantha Bates stated, “I feel like I am rebellious and I enjoy rebellious students.”  I couldn’t agree more; we are duty bound to inspire the rebellious spirit of critical inquiry and action within our students. Our future will be defined by the actions and voices of our students, as they become adults. Let us give them the experiences and tools necessary to expertly wield their causes; otherwise, we risk creating a generation of what Tom Petty termed rebels without a clue.

As always I welcome your conversation. What are your experiences with rebellion in the classroom? How do you deal with students who challenge the status quo? I’d love to hear your thoughts on the matter.

Click on the comment bubble at the top of this post, or click here to leave a comment.

Libraries and Tech Labs: Oh My!

New York Public Library

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Moving backwards through time; Never learn, never mind – Soul Asylum

I’ve been reflecting on the nostalgic urge that seems to have a stranglehold on most adults. We tend to cling to those artifacts that we have learned to use and we resist changes that may make our lives easier.  One of the greatest challenges that I faced when we were building a new school was to decide what to do with the library.

For centuries a library has been the hallmark of knowledge and research.  Having a large school library made a statement that the school had the tools to teach students.  Yet, every book in the library we had could easily fit on an iPad and still have room left over. I remember the looks and comments I received when I said we were not going to have a traditional library.  Many simply couldn’t fathom how or why we would take this course of action.

I’m not one to just remove something without a reason.  A quick review of the records for books checked-out from the library revealed that over 80% hadn’t been taken from the library in several years.  A closer review of the inventory also revealed that many of the books were well out of date and no longer reflected accurate information.  The reality is that the library had become an antiquated showpiece that resonated well with adults and parents who had grown up with the library in school, but it received little effective use by the students.

I had a recent visit from a librarian who asked me why there was no library.  I gave my usual answer, which includes: “students use devices that have all the books and materials (updated in real time) on modern devices, the library wasn’t a room that was used effectively for the type of learning that once took place within its walls, we were able to create smaller classroom libraries that were designed to be able to change rapidly based on student interest and changing world conditions, etc.”  The only response I received was a nostalgic sigh and a statement that “… But there’s just something about a book, opening it, turning the pages.”

I can relate. I too grew up with libraries, but I wonder if this “something” about a book is our desire to hold onto our old ways of thinking and learning.  Are we forcing students to learn using an outdated method simply because we are most comfortable with the resources we used as children?

Many know that my background was in educational technology. So the common response is often “well then you must have put in a computer lab.” Once more, I had to reflect on this method of teaching.  Is an artificial lab experience really the way in which students interact with technology on a daily basis in their everyday lives? Therefore, we also do not have a computer lab.  Instead, we are focusing on using the technology that students work with in their everyday experiences.  We do not create artificial learning environments, but strive to create authentic learning opportunities for our students.

I know that this is a very divisive issue.  After all there are librarians and tech coordinators that still hold to the nostalgic way of thinking.  I think libraries and technology are  important for schools, but not in the nostalgic ways we’ve been implementing them. We have to change.  Administrators, Teachers, Librarians and tech coordinators need to reenvision their roles and responsibilities and take a leading role in creating environments that will better serve students.

I’m happy that I have made the bold choice to bring my school into the current century.  I believe that we need to use the technology of today to help prepare students to use the tools of tomorrow for a successful life.  Far too often we are using the technology of the past and this technology doesn’t even begin to prepare the students for the jobs of the present.

As always, I welcome your comments and thoughts on this very active and changing issue in modern education.  What ideas do you have for libraries and technology labs? How do you envision the future of these resources?

Click on the comment bubble at the top of this post or click here to leave a comment.

Wish you were Here

What's on my [Crazy] Desk?
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Can you tell a green field from a cold steel rail… How I wish you were here –Pink Floyd

Today’s post is largely about the hidden world of administration.  Its about the things that go on behind the scenes to ensure that schools stay open, teachers continue to have jobs, and students can continue to learn.  I often hear educators lament that they wish they could “just teach”, yet frequently there is a lack of understanding of what must transpire to allow educators to “just teach”.  One of the greatest complaints I often hear from teachers is that they wish that their principal could be in their classrooms more often.  As a principal, I share this frustration.

All principals began as teachers, they hold their teaching credential and I believe most (not all) still find that the classroom is where their heart truly feels at home.  Yet, the awesome responsibility of helming the ship that is the school and steering it on a particular course often means that we have to judiciously choose when, where, and how we can interact with the classroom environment.  In self-contained classrooms, it is very easy for teachers to develop a myopic view in which their classroom becomes the only world in which they live.  The principal understands this world, but also has the worlds of every other classroom in mind when charting the course for a school.   To help breach the event horizon of the classroom walls and principal’s office, I’d like to share a typical day of a principal with those of you who are reading this.  Perhaps a better understanding of what principals do and what keeps us from being in the classrooms every moment of the day will help to illuminate what is often a teacher’s complaint and a principal’s greatest frustration.

6:30-7:00AM – Arrive at school, start up office machines so that teachers can make copies without waiting 8 minutes for the machine to warm up, check voicemails, emails, calendars, lesson plans for the day.

7:00 -7:45AM – Greet parents, and students as they arrive to the school, listen to parent concerns and ideas about the direction of the school, speak with teachers about how they are doing, monitor traffic safety, direct security assignments for the remainder of the day.

7:45-8:15AM – Close down entryways to the school, secure perimeter, and begin working with those who are arriving tardy to school, escort late arrivals to their classrooms.

8:15-8:30AM – Re-check emails, respond to emails, review attendance reports, respond to voicemails, morning meeting with office and administrative staff.

8:30-9:00AM- Meeting with major shareholder of the school and campus grounds, issues dealing with property management, non-school time room assignments, safety issues.

9:00-10:00AM – Scheduled meetings with parents, business leaders, parish employees, etc.

10:00AM-10:40AM – Supervise recess with students, meet with students and teachers, at conclusion of recess observe a classroom.

10:40-11:00AM – Conduct walkthrough of entire building, informal observations of teaching and learning.

11:00-11:30AM – Check and respond to emails, voicemails, issues as they have arisen throughout the day.

11:30-12:00PM – Administrative meeting

12:00-1:00PM – Supervise lunch (if lucky eat lunch while supervising) meet with teachers and students

1:00-3:00PM – This time usually varies but it is often booked with diocesan/school district meetings, Consultative School Board Meetings, Meetings with the local public school district, Meetings with parents, Meetings with business manager regarding budget, etc. Largely this time period is very booked and many of the meetings take place off-campus.

3:00-4:30PM – Meet with teachers that have requested appointments, meet with parents who could not take time off from work to be present during normal school day hours, review financial situations of families and help design payment plans to assist families in need.

4:30-5:00PM – Review lesson plans, review grades and assignments teachers have submitted for students, review events of the day, check and return emails, phone calls, and other important matters, attend school events (choir, art, athletics).

5:00-6:00PM – Meet with administrative team (If lucky get something quickly to eat), prepare for next meeting.

6:00-7:00PM – Parent Guild meeting, then return home.

(Though this is off-time often we are constantly checking emails and reviewing education issues for the rest of the night)

It is quite a busy schedule and one that I have only begun to scratch the surface of in terms of describing all that goes on to keep the school running.  There are many days with alternative meetings or responsibilities.  Days in which a budget must be constructed, reviewed, and invoices and reimbursements paid out. Days in which a parent reveals that they have just lost a job and that he or she does not know how to keep his or her children in the school. Days when a medical emergency takes place, or an important teacher review takes place.  These all occur, ebb and flow as the school is in operation.

Believe me when I say, that the best place to be and the place most principals desire to be is in your classrooms. However, also know that we are steadily charting the waters of education through a sea of obstacles.  We steer a course that takes us from your classrooms so that you have the ability to teach children.  We have faith in you as educators to do what is best and to make smart decisions to help every child succeed.  To that end, we are constantly checking lesson plans, grades, summative assessments, and conducting informal observations as we sail through the tumultuous seas of teaching.

There are times that we schedule more formal observations, however we cherish and take any chance we get to see what is happening within the walls of your classrooms.  It may look like we are simply moving from one emergency to the next, but in those few brief moments we are walking through or by your room, we are present.  We are observing. We watch, classroom management, pedagogical practice, student interaction, methodology, and a myriad of other important factors that relate to your teaching of students.  Just as you are trained experts in teaching (as are principals) we are trained experts in observing and leading. It’s a daunting task to get to know your classroom of 30 children, but remember the principal is charged with the wonderful duty of learning every child within the school (often some 200-600 students).

Again, I share this so that a greater understanding of what transpires for a principal can be shared with teachers.  I am often amazed that the one greatest complaint from teachers to principals is often also the one greatest frustration of principals.  Yet, there are duties that must be followed if the school is to remain open and students are to be able to learn.

As always, I welcome your thoughts and comments.

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Ushering in the New Renaissance in Catholic Education

SJSA Grade Six -  The Year I Rebelled
Photo Credit: Michael 1952 via Compfight

Catholic education once stood as the bastion of Catholic faith formation and academic vigor. In 1965 there were approximately 12,000 Catholic schools serving nearly five million students. According to a recent NCEA report there are now 6,685 Catholic schools serving nearly two million students. If we liken this to historical events, I would argue that it is safe to say that Catholic education has been, and is continuing to go progress through its own “Dark Ages”. I believe that it will take a New Renaissance in Catholic education to bring our schools out of these dark times. What does this mean? First it will be important to identify just what makes this the “Dark Ages” for our current system.

Logically, the decline of enrollment and the closure of schools is the first indication that things are not well for our Catholic school systems. Like most large institutions the Catholic school system has been slow to change and to adapt to the modern world. Prior to Vatican II, Catholic education had a very easy way of being self-sustaining. The pastors would compel the parishioners to send their children to the parish Catholic school. Religious, keeping the costs of operating such schools to a minimum largely operated the school.

As the teaching and administrative positions in schools were filled by the laity, and parents were no longer compelled to send their children to Catholic schools, a natural decline in enrollment took place. Unfortunately, many administrators and teachers falsely believed that enrollment would hold steady or increase simply because it always had in the past. Despite decades of decline, I find that some still hold this perspective. This is a sure recipe for the complete collapse of the system. So what are we to do?

It is at times like these that we stand on a defining point. It is our perspective and willingness to take action that will determine if we fail or succeed.

If we take the traditional view, we will be doomed to failure. This view makes the point at which we stand a precipice that falls to a bottomless pit. Taking no action and simply expecting parents to show up will not work. Relying on strategies and implementations that have not yielded results over the last few decades with the expectation that they will somehow suddenly reverse the tide is foolhardy at best. In the words of St. Joan of Arc, “Act and God will act, work and he will work.” Ladies and gentlemen, it is time for bold action and bold change.

Rather than see our current status as a precipice, I see it as the base of a steep incline toward growth and rebirth. We have an opportunity to redefine Catholic education, while still holding strong to our faith, Catholic Values, and teachings. For so long, we have been complacent to teach using traditional pedagogical approaches. We have held fast to the rows of desks facing the front of the classroom and surprisingly…. we STILL have schools with the green slate boards and chalk! We have held onto antiquated designs and methods simply because it is the easiest road to take; it requires the least amount of work. Parents are less likely to argue if you keep the system the way it has always been, yet the system has been ill for quite some time. We, as professional educators and administrators, have a duty to become the penicillin for our ailing school system before it becomes terminal.

As we stand at the beginning of a climb to greatness, we must be bold and strategic. My motto has been, “Business as usual is not how we conduct business”. This means that there will be conflict. Teachers will be asked to work harder in ways that they have not worked for the last few decades. Administrators will need to acknowledge that some will resist these changes, even from those that have been their most ardent supporters. And in the words of DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince, sometimes, “Parents just don’t understand”. I am not saying that this road will be easy. On the contrary, those willing to take up the noble goal of breathing new life into Catholic education will often feel as though they are standing in an empty field taking on the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune. It is important to remember in these times that our mission is to provide the best possible Catholic education to families who desire to receive this type of education.

Those who take up arms against this change do so largely from an innocent ignorance. It is important to remember that parents assume that their children will be taught in the same manner in which they were taught. Often, this means that parents came from a time before state standards, academic standardized testing, and differentiated instruction. The modern classroom is perceived as alien to many parents. Likewise, many seasoned administrators and teachers have similar perceptions. If we are to change the course of this ship, it will take bold action on the part of administrators and teachers. Some administrators will need to face a faculty and parent community that does not understand the change. Some educators will have to face administrators who do not see the benefits of implementing a new program that will cause dissonance among other faculty members and parents. Some parents may desire this change and face a school environment that is content to keep business as usual, as the faculty and administration watch enrollment ever decrease.

Ladies and gentlemen, whether you are a parent, administrator, or teacher, if you wish to ensure that Catholic education not only survives (something which many perceive as the goal) but THRIVES (what the real goal should be) then we must make the difficult decisions. We must admit that we need to work harder. We must join the current century and prepare children to enter the adult world prepared, not for the present, but for the future. You will face opposition. You will encounter resistance. The battle will not be easy. But the faith formation and academic preparedness of our students is of paramount importance. I challenge each of you to take on the goal of implementing at least one small change this year. Step by step we can usher in the New Renaissance of Catholic Education.  We can not only match the enrollment that occurred in the mid 1960s, but we can surpass it. Join me in this journey and let us walk together in prayer and thanksgiving for the success we are sure to experience with our faith in God and our hard work at his disposal.

Some ideas for change:

– Alternate classroom arrangements / environments

– Implementing a 1:1 technology program

– Changing grading practices (IE. Homework worth 0% of grade or elimination of HW)

– Removal of textbooks and other primary sources used in their place

– Strengthening the schools Charism throughout all programs

These are just a few ideas; I’d love to hear yours. Please leave a comment below and lets build a bright future for our students and Catholic schools!

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The Art and Necessity of Resting

牧草原上鋪了葱豔床單,
Creative Commons License Photo Credit: eliot via Compfight

“By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work” – Genesis 2:2

One should never underestimate the importance of rest. It is easy to delve deep into the swirling waters of self-sacrifice in the education profession.  After all, most good educators understand that what they do has the potential to positively or negatively impact the lives of roughly 30 children or more a year.  If you’re an administrator, then you realize that every year the future of hundreds of children’s lives can be impacted by the decisions you make.  Understanding this noble responsibility is important, however it can also consume a person.

We all wish to have those teachers and administrators who have that special spark and fire that helps bring education to life for the students.  However, the flame must be carefully tended, or it may turn to a raging inferno that consumes its fuel leaving nothing more than the charred remains of a once bright light.  I speak of course of teacher burn-out. Its something that happens for many reasons.  Today, I’d like to talk about of the need for rest. Down-time should not be something that is put on the backburner and ignored. I learned this lesson a long time ago as a manager for a retail establishment. I would work 80 + hour workweeks and I burned out fast.  It cost me a great deal and I learned that you absolutely must ensure that you have time to rest and reset yourself.  After all, if God decided to take a rest on the seventh day, what makes us think we don’t need even more rest than he does?  The question though is, “how do we rest?”

 

Resting is necessary

 

I find it interesting that there are so many teachers and administrators who are shocked when I tell them I try to leave the school site by 3:30PM.  Now that’s not to say that it always happens, but more often than not it is possible.  There are always exceptions.  Sometimes there are situations that absolutely must be dealt with that will keep you tethered to your office until the daylight has long left this side of the world.  There are also the requisite meetings, sports games, and special events for which you are expected to be present.  However these should not overwhelm a person to the extent that they arrive home exhausted, have not family life, and lack enough sleep to be effective the next day.  It is important to remember that we are humans.  If you’re a Catholic school teacher, we often speak of the need to be a whole person and part of that is having time to be yourself.  Often times, I find that teachers and administrators let their passion and fire for education burn so far out of control that they are spent and exhausted.  Some have asked me what my method is and how I manage to find time for myself (Now, even I think I can improve upon this, but others certainly are burning the midnight oil).  I’d like to share just a little of my philosophy and methods for remaining a whole person.

 

Problem solving  Situation Solutions

 

It is going to happen.  Problems will arise, though I like to call them “situations” or “opportunities”, “Problems” has a negative connotation that puts you in the wrong mindset for finding unique solutions to the situation (besides, the alliteration alone makes “Situation Solutions” so much more appealing).  So how do I handle situations?  Like most, I prioritize the situation.  I assess if it is critical and needs to be solved immediately.  If it is, then that’s what I work on until it is resolved (these should be far and few between).  If not, then I place it in my to do list.

The next question I often ask as the email comes across my screen after the school day has ended is Can this be solved tomorrow?  Often times, the answer is “Yes”. Now I know that there are many people who want to find the solution right away so that they are not thinking about it throughout the night.  I used to be one of these people, but I found that it drastically impacted my personal family time. That’s when I came to the realization:  Even if I solve the situation right now… no one will know it was solved until after the beginning of the school day tomorrow.  More often than not, this is the case. Once I made this realization, I began to reclaim my personal life. Solving situations has become something that I enjoy, but it is not something that consumes my daily living.   Situations are fluid and there are times when one must be sure to act immediately if it is necessary. As teachers and administrators we often put more pressure on ourselves than is fair for any one human to burden.

 

Vacations are just that

 

I’ll be the first to admit this… I am not the best at this piece of advice though I am trying to improve.  A vacation should be exactly what the name says: a vacation.  Its important to disconnect yourself from work emails, work cell phone calls, IM, etc.  We need time to rest, to recharge our batteries so that we can approach our work renewed and re-energized.  After all, our students are returning renewed and if we are not at least somewhat rested, its difficult to meet their level of energy.  Often wonder why the students seem so excited and energized when they return from vacation, yet the teachers seem tired… it just might be that the teachers haven’t truly rested.  I can do better in this area (I like to answer and check emails as often as possible) and it is something upon which I am actively working toward improvement.

 

Concluding thoughts

 

It is important that we actively seek out rest.  If the creator of the universe felt the need for rest, then we should learn by his example. I worry for my fellow teachers and administrators who burn so brightly and face the specter of extinguishing their flames.  Burning the candle at both ends is no way to ensure effective longevity in education (with the last name of “Wick” I’m wary of burning two ends of any candle).  Bad puns aside, the truth is that we need time to be ourselves, the problems that show up in our inbox at 7PM will still be solvable the next day at 7AM.  The benefit is that you can approach the situations refreshed with the benefit of sleep and rest on your side.  A tired person makes rash decisions, while a rested person can assess the situation more thoughtfully.

What are your methods of ensuring you get enough time to rest?  Do you rest? What questions do you have about making time for yourself? Do you have any advice for teachers who feel overworked?  We’d all like to hear from you.  Click on the comment link below and share your comments!

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Facing the fear of change for the benefit of students: Braving a change of grade level assignment

blindfold
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“…in our world everybody thinks of changing humanity, and nobody thinks of changing himself.” – Leo Tolstoy

The above quote from Tolstoy touches upon an almost universal truth.  Humans, more often than not, tend to look at how they can change the world without first examining how they can change themselves.  It is hard to turn the lens of critical analysis upon oneself and to embrace change as a key component to continued growth.  Humans, for the most part, tend to find their comfortable niches and stick to the routines that have proven manageable.  I say “manageable” because these routines may not always be the most effective; they simply have to suffice for the task at hand.  We get comfortable and begin, like Garth in Wayne’s World II, to “fear change”.  It would seem that the very nature of the universe is change and it is the one thing that can be counted upon time and again to strike the most fear into the hearts of humans.  Fearing change is like wearing a blindfold. It hinders you from seeing the bigger universe.  It is time we take off our blindfolds and venture forth into the world with our eyes wide open so that we may be able to help our students succeed in life.

You may be asking, why I’ve developed a sudden interest in change and the natural fear that seems to go along with it.

The truth is that next year I will be starting a new school and my vision is to have this school be the very essence of change. It will exist to improve student learning through the piloting of new programs and initiatives.  It will become a laboratory in which our goal is to help all students achieve mastery of their subject domains. I’ve long been, and continue to be, a supporter of using research to drive instructional and organizational decisions. However, I’ve found almost zero research for one of my initiatives that will be implemented next year. I’ve conducted research in a multitude of literature journals and educational databases from the university and I’ve still found little in the way of research.  That means that the initiative I am proposing is based upon anecdotal observations.  I propose the following:

Every three to five years, teachers should change the grade level in which they teach.

I know that some teachers are already pointing their slings and arrows in my direction, however I ask that, if you are one of these teachers, you hold back your attack and first listen to the reasoning behind this initiative so that you might understand why I have chosen this course of action.  Perhaps by the time you are done reading, you too may be swayed to take arms against a sea of troubles with me (Hopefully Shakespeare doesn’t mind me repurposing his words).

Let me preface this next section by stating that next year every teacher at my school is experiencing some type of change (be it grade level assignment, subject matter taught, or pedagogical methodology).  The response has been overwhelmingly positive from my faculty and many are excited to be a part of this initiative. With that being said, here are my observations (and these are taken not only from schools in which I have taught but in visiting many other schools and observing their operations).

Stagnation can lead to atrophy

 

As a reminder, these are all of my own anecdotal observances they are not based on any research.

I have witnessed teachers who teach one grade level for many years.  By many I mean 10 +.  Some would argue that this would make the teacher an expert in that grade level and I would agree.  This is certainly a possibility, however, more often than not, I have found that teachers in this situation tend to stick to the lessons they like the most, they don’t embrace new teaching methodologies, and they genuinely have a severe lack of understanding of what other grade level teachers do throughout the year.

In the process of remaining the same, they begin to whither in their effectiveness as educators.  I’ve witnessed teachers teaching lessons about butterflies, dinosaurs, family trees, etc. when these topics are not even part of the standards that are supposed to be taught to their grade levels. I’ve witnessed teachers who actively resist utilizing new technologies that have been proven by research to help improve student learning, teachers who are more happy using an overhead than actually having a student interact with the subject through using technology.

In essence, teachers in this situation tend to get stuck in a feedback loop and never really develop beyond their first few years of lesson plans. The tragedy is that students suffer at the cost of keeping a teacher comfortable.

Lack of organizational understanding

 

The other observation I have made is that sometimes teachers who remain within one grade level tend to become an island unto themselves. They lack a clear understanding of what other teachers do for the school and only focus upon their single room. Imagine a teacher who never understands the pressures and responsibilities that an 8th grade teacher has in helping his or her students enter high school, the responsibility of teaching sacraments in 2nd grade Catholic school, or the difficulties in planning weeklong science camps in the middle school?

For some, it is difficult to develop a true respect for the roles and responsibilities of other grade levels until they have been asked to take on those responsibilities. In this regard, I seek a deeper understanding and mutual respect among fellow educators.

The god complex

 

I’ve witnessed this in at least two different schools with teachers that have held a single grade level position for more than 10 years.  Sometimes teachers begin to believe that they are the best individuals for the grade level and that no one can do the job better than they can.  I’ve heard these teachers actively throw near tantrums when a change to their curriculum is introduced or when a teacher is asked to take a portion of their class to teach because the class size is too large for one teacher. I am under no misconception. I know there is always someone in the world that can do the job better than I can. My job is to do the best I can with what I am assigned.

The danger is that these teachers develop such hubris that they begin to stop seeking better ways of teaching and actively derail new initiatives if they do not fit within their comfort zone. It is better to be humble than to build delusions of grandeur.

The plan

 

So, what then is my plan?  As an administrator of a Catholic school I have a global view of the teaching landscape within my site.  I am not hindered by thinking of only a single classroom or grade level, yet I also lack research to support the initiative. Does that mean I should do nothing and allow 200 + children to remain in a situation that I feel is not in their best interest? I think not. So here is my plan.

First of all, I need teacher buy-in.  For the most part I have it.  Any new teachers that are hired will be hired with a full understanding of this plan and that should help alleviate any anxiety about moving to another grade level (after all I will be upfront and discuss it during the hiring process).   Once I have teacher buy in, I need to develop the implementation.

I do not believe that switching grades every year is helpful (unless a teacher specifically requests it).  Rather, I believe that 3-5 years allows a teacher to develop a thorough understanding of the grade level they are teaching and to have confidence with their subject matter.

I also do not believe in drastic changes, such as moving an 8th grade teacher to teach Kindergarten.  It takes a special teacher to teach kindergarten and a special mindset to teach middle school. Drastic changes such as these would happen only at the request of the teacher and only with thorough analysis and review conducted by the administration.

What I propose is that teachers move within roughly a 3 grade level setting.  For example teachers moving from grades 1-3 would help develop a greater understanding of the responsibilities of these grade levels in developing literacy for students.  Grades 4-5 may wish to move up or down depending on their preference. Middle school is a bit tricky.

Middle school tends to be departmentalized and I do not believe in moving someone outside of his or her credentialed area of expertise. Therefore these changes would largely be between grade levels.  Most of these teachers teach grades 6-8 for their particular subject so their curriculum really doesn’t change that much.  However, changing homeroom grade levels does introduce them to the responsibilities that each grade level faces.

This is truly a pilot program that I am initiating in my school next year so I will be carefully assessing its effect upon student learning.  If it proves successful, then I will continue to adapt.  If it does not, then I will adjust as necessary.  The one thing I cannot stand doing is nothing.

As an administrator, it’s my duty to ensure that the students receive the best possible learning opportunities.  I know that there are teachers out there who will read this post and have an immediate negative reaction.  I also know there are some who would be excited by such an experience.   The nature of my school next year is innovation and change and if all faculty members believe in this, then I believe we can accomplish great things for our students.

Perhaps Tolstoy was correct and its time we look to changing ourselves in order to help change the world. After all, Socrates believed that “The unexamined life is not worth living”.  I agree. It is time we examine our practices, our lives, and start truly living in the realm of modern education.

I welcome your thoughts and comments on this topic.  What has been your experience with this? Would you like to try a program like this or does it cause anxiety? I look forward to your comments.

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