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.

Blinking Lights

Lipstick!! - (Explored)
Photo Credit: www.GlynLowe.com 

“Ain’t no rainbow in the sky in the middle of the night But the signal’s coming through. One day I will be alright again” – Eels

If there is one thing I should know about myself it is that I do not give up. There are times that I may feel on the edge… pushed to the verge of just throwing my hands up in the air, however something deep within my spirit lets loose a Billy Idolesque Rebel Yell and I always regroup. I always find myself when pushed to the verge of giving up, redoubling my efforts. There are times that this happens on its own, but often it is because of a very few close friends who remind me of who I am in times of tribulation. I am deeply honored to have them with me and they all know who they are.

I write about this because I’m reflecting on the last Christmas season and my adventures in hanging holiday lights on my house. It was the first time I had ever had a house and the first time I had ever put up holiday lights. One caveat… my house is 112 years old (not an exaggeration) and anything involving standing on the roof or leaning a ladder against it is a frightening prospect. Anyway, I vowed last year that I would never again hang holiday lights… I came away bruised and battered but the house looked great. I managed to hold out this year until Mid December but I felt the call. I felt that little voice that said, “you can’t give up.” So I went to the garage, pulled out the yards upon yards of lights and in one morning, with determination, put up the lights in a new way that brought joy to my heart. Seeing the lights made me remember the sense of accomplishment, the joy in looking upon them, and the joy I hope it brings to others who pass by the house. It is a dim reflection of the Joy that we celebrate as we remember the anticipation of the birth of Christ. I was so filled with Joy that I went out and purchased more lights yesterday… Not only did I hang lights once more, but I redoubled my efforts and came away stronger for it, while hopefully bringing some cheer and goodwill to those who pass by my house.

So, why write about hanging my Christmas lights? Because it is a small example of how I do everything in life. It is a small example of what I think most of us in education face every day. We try, with determination, to help all children learn. We attempt to please the parents, our principals, our other various supervisors and … sometimes with that determination … we feel like we are falling short. There becomes a wave of doubt that attempts to overshadow all that we wish to accomplish. Don Miguel Ruiz (in his book the Mastery of Love) calls this wave of self-doubt “The Parasite” which steals vital energy and robs us of joy. However, it is important to remember that we are the masters of our own reality. It is our perception that drives us forward or sends us into a self-destructive wave of actions. At times, It is possible to pull yourself out of these moments, at others you may need the help of friends.

Every small victory I have over this “parasite” rejuvenates me and gives me the energy necessary to move forward fortified and strengthened. It gives me the ability to redouble my efforts. In the world of teaching, we face failure many times a day. Yet, it is the soul of the true teacher that is able to regroup and charge forward once more unto the breech. If you find yourself feeling pushed to the edge, remember that you are someone special. Remember that you make a difference in the lives of students every day. You cannot be in the classroom a single day and not have an affect upon the lives of each child that is within those four walls with you. Stand strong, my friends and know that you are not alone and that your colleagues around the world are here to help you through those dark times of self-doubt. I believe some of the best teachers can be the most critical of themselves or have the most doubt because they are always looking for ways to improve. They are never satisfied with the status quo.

This Christmas, I have a whole new set of bruises, cuts, rashes (from strange plants that grow around my house) etc. But I also have been able to produce a beautiful scene for others to enjoy.

Take time this Christmas season to recoup, redouble your efforts, and charge forward knowing that you are an instrument for good in this world.


What are the Christmas lights in you life? The difficulties that produce beautiful outcomes? I’d love to hear your thoughts and questions.

If no one has said it to you, I personally thank you for your dedication in helping children become knowledgeable, happy, and productive adults.

God bless you this holiday season.

 

Money for Nothing and your Tuition for Free

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

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

Sprechen sie Deutsch?

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

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

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

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

Fear of an Educated Planet

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

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

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

 

 

#weirded is for Educators

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Photo Credit: liz west via Compfight

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Letter to Editor in Chief: Michael Gorman,

Hello Mr. Gorman,

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

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

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

I thank you for your time.

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

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

I hope that does not happen.

Evolution of the Digital Immigrant

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Photo Credit: Kevin Dooley 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Papers Please

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

Develop an Excuse

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

Basic Training

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

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

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

Extinction Level Event Required

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

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

 Your DNA

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

 

Real gold does not glitter

Knight in Shining Armor
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?

Stand for the Impossible

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Buttercup: “We’ll never survive.”

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

-The Princess Bride

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

 

Teaching Dreams of Sushi

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

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

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

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

Dedication

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

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

Our own regard

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

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

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

Love your profession

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

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

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

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