Teachers with strength are needed

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Photo Credit: AttributionShare Alike mikecogh

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Video killed the Teaching Star

The droids we're googling for
Creative Commons License Photo Credit: Stéfan via Compfight

Hey man, my schooldays insane
Hey man, my work’s down the drain – David Bowie

I recently was involved in a conversation on Twitter that grabbed my attention.  One of the people I follow was attending a conference and the session they were at involved using Youtube. I suppose the question was raised, “what do I do if Youtube is blocked by my school?”  To which there was a reply, 1. Complain (okay I agree with this), 2. Add an “S” (to the http) – hmmm I’m not so sure I agree with this.  I know what the teacher was attempting to do.. show a video that was relevant and maybe helped students learn the material better, but exploiting a security weakness in the schools filtering system seemed to be rather underhanded (I’m also not a fan of giving advice at conferences that has the potential to get many others in trouble with their admin or I.T. departments).

When I raised the specter that perhaps it was best to download the video and then show it (thus eliminating the need to circumvent in-house security protocols while also having the added benefit of having offline viewing for reliability during down Internet moments) it seemed that I was in the minority. Some felt that they would “do whatever was necessary to teach the students” or that the blocking of sites like youtube had nothing to do with protecting children but was mostly administrator or I.T. ignorance.

At one time, I’m sure I would have been in the same camp with these educators. Maybe its the administrator side of me that is finally beginning to say, “hey wait a minute… there are reasons for this.”  I have youtube open for use by my teachers, but there are other schools and administrators that do not.  I’ve heard their arguments and I have to say that they are erring on the side of caution (which isn’t necessarily a bad thing when it comes to children and potential exposure to inappropriate language in an annotated video, or an advertisement that runs counter to our Catholic values) – Note, my school is a Catholic school so this is a very big deal.

I guess what surprised me the most was that these educators felt it was their right to circumvent school or district policies to do their job.  My opinion is that one should work within those policies or work to actively change them to meet your needs. However, to do otherwise jeopardizes your job as you put yourself in direct violation of the policies set forth by those who are entrusted with making these types of decisions. You may not always agree with these decisions, but it is your duty to adhere to them or to find acceptable alternatives (such as downloading for offline viewing).

I wonder if those educators who “will do whatever it takes to teach their students” will still feel that way when they are removed from the teaching profession entirely because they refused to follow protocols put in place to protect children. Sure, it may be ignorance in some cases, but it is the ignorance of those who are held responsible for protecting children and they may need some education to help them understand how to safeguard children while maximizing learning opportunities. However, It isn’t the teacher’s call to willfully disregard these decisions… at least not without the possibility of negative consequences.

Its a tricky issue… so I welcome your feedback and comments… I’m open to dialogue, and as an administrator I can say that I’m not ignorant when it comes to technology… I see both sides of this issue… my main concern is that we may lose some great teachers because they decide they can do whatever they feel is in the best interest of learning even if it violates school policy.

I look forward to your comments. click the comment bubble at the beginning of this post to leave your mark, or click here to leave a comment, thought or question.

To Code or Not to Code: That is the If-Then-Else

Credit: Fox

Credit: Fox

 This is the key to a new order. This code disk means freedom. – Tron

There has been a lot of interest and talk lately in teaching children to code in school.  One only needs to look at the recent push from Computer Science Education Week and the “Hour of Code” to realize that the topic of coding is something that has garnered much interest in the education and business world. I’d like to examine the phenomenon in more detail.  First, I’d like to provide a little of my history to help you better understand where I’m coming from in this quandary.

Greetings, Programs!

It was 1982 (too bad it wasn’t 1984 or this would be an even bigger nerd post) and I had just witnessed  a cinematic work of genius called “Tron.”  I was immediately immersed into the world of computer programs, programming language, and imagery that inspired a lifelong love of computers and programming.  I was only six years old (a first grade student) but I was ready to learn more.  A lifetime of chronic asthma had already ensured that any sports were well out of the question for me.  My father loved computers and I remember having a Commodore 64 hooked up to our television.

Over the next 10 + years I didn’t really go for any of the typical things that young boys are supposed to go for, instead I logged onto BBS systems, had handles, worked as a sysop, squelched users, went to GWBASIC classes with my dad, taught myself HTML and designed my own web pages, Learned Joomla, WordPress, and PHP, became a Technology Coordinator and teacher, lets just say that I’m a huge proponent and user of technology and that most of what I’ve learned has been self taught. You would think that I’d be a huge proponent of this Coding movement… but I have a confession… I’m on the fence.

There is a difference between knowing the path and walking the path.

Okay, so just about everyone I know is talking about the merits of learning coding. Bill Gates, Code Academy, veteran teachers, hipster teachers (cringe), parents etc. But I have to wonder is Coding as they have attempted to introduce it worth its salt?

Here is the major problem I have with this initiative.  We have a bunch of students, we participate in Computer Science Education Week, and we have our students participate in the hour of code.  Okay, this is great, right? Kids have been shown the backdoor to the underpinnings of the internet, computer programs, iPad apps, etc.   They now have exposure to the “real world” in which they live. But where is the continuation of this initiative in the classroom?  I’m sure Hamlet would identify this as the rub. For all of you teachers that have participated in the Hour of Code, how many of you have continued to teach coding? Has it found its way into your daily conversations, lessons, or other learning opportunities?  I’m willing to bet that for most it has not.

If you are one who has managed to continue, I highly applaud you and I want to hear from you! Please share with the rest of the educational community how you have done this.  What I have observed from school to school is that there was a lot of hype about it and now it is woefully forgotten.  If this is the case, then it was a waste of an hour. It took time away from instructional minutes to help these students master the skills they will need in the future.  I’m not so blind as to say coding isn’t a necessary skill, I just think an hour of introduction is a waste and that we should dedicate more time to coding.

When I was a technology coordinator the term had very loose definitions.  Some were nothing more than glorified babysitters that taught typing.  I actually developed a curriculum of and about technology.  I taught coding as a yearlong course.  We used Scratch to develop our own programs.  My 8th grade students created their own webpages using only a text editor (no dreamweaver here).  I believed in the fact that they could learn but also understood that they needed to consistently hone this skill.  An hour is not enough time to help these students do much other than develop an awareness of coding. If this is the mission, fine. Mission accomplished. But I’d rather spend that hour helping a student that is reading below grade level work toward better fluency.

I’d like an honest response from the community.  How many of you that took part in the Hour of Code and are still teaching coding? Lets hold up the mirror and say, was this worth it, and if so, why?

I great article by Sean Blanda is on 99u.com and can be found here:You Don’t need to learn to code + other truths about the future of careers.  My take away is that “The smartest workers will be able to leverage technology to their advantage and be able to recognize the big-picture ways to utilize it.” But what does that mean? Well, let me try to put this into perspective.  I have no idea what takes place to really make most of my automobile operational. However, I know how to use it.  Should I learn how to be a mechanic? No. I only need to know how to effectively utilize the technology to get what I need from it.  I need to leverage this knowledge to the best of my ability.  I know a little about autos, but not enough to fix them. Should I take an hour of auto repair and expect to be better off?  Maybe, but I’d much rather have a year of instruction that is interwoven throughout my ELA, Math, Science, SS, etc. How much better off would I be if I had actually spent this amount of time on the topic.

I know I’m usually the one to push for change.  After all, this is Revogogy right? But I think that the change that we have witnessed is too little to amount to much good. I don’t want an hour of code; I want a year of code or more. Lets step up and make this a reality. Lets make it work within our Common Core curriculum. Why start small? Lets dream big and make a real difference.

End of Line

So that’s it. Its my rant, my angry shaking fist to the universe.  Let us do more than just an hour of something.  Lets stop falling for these novelty movements. I’m sure I’ll get some hate mail on this. There will be pushback. But honestly, lets do more. Even if you don’t agree with my statements I think you would agree that we should do more than we currently are doing.

After all, if you apply actual coding to the picture above of the Home Sweet Home, you’ll notice its an infinite loop. Its not accurate. If it were in basic it is missing some key components.  “print” should be in the code lines. I’m a major nerd but if you’ve only had an hour of learning would you catch that? Or is the gist that it means home sweet home (non-infinite loop) enough for the average person to know?

Please share your thoughts on this topic. I’d love to hear the pros and cons (just be civil okay?) I admire intellectual discourse to a heated tear down.  Also, I’m beginning at times to feel that I’m talking to myself on this blog. I value comments and others can learn from your insight. So, please leave a comment. I welcome your thoughts and the I/O it will create on this blog.

Stepping into the Future (one change at a time)

Why does he leave Reality?
Photo Credit: Hartwig HKD via Compfight

I thought it would be a good idea to document some of the changes that we have implemented at my school over the last few months.  There’s one thing that I cannot stand in education, and that is the almost complacent attitude many educators have in keeping things as they have “always been.”  My faculty learned early on that the phrase “But we’ve always done it this way” carried little weight with me. As such, I love to challenge conventional thinking so that we may examine our practices with a  critical lens in order to help students learn.

Change your grade level – Change your worldview – Help students learn

One of the major shifts I implemented this year was that faculty members are expected to change the grade level they teach every 3-5 years.  I’m not so cruel as to make an 8th grade teacher suddenly teach kindergarten or vice versa. Some people are simply better at handling the younger or tween age groups.  However, I do ask that they be ready and willing to change within a 3 year window of grade levels. For example K-2, 3-5, 6-8.  The developmental stages are close enough that there should still be some familiarity and comfort with these students.  If a teacher wants a major change I’ll help them but it is at their request.

Benefits: This almost eliminates the practice where teachers atrophy into their usual routines e.g. “I’ve taught this lesson for the past 10 years so I’ll continue to do so.” It also has created an organic PLC as teachers have realized that their comrades are actually there to help them.

Homework is now Practice and even that is on the way out

I had a huge battle on my hands when I took this one on.  I raised the question of why we even have homework [personal note my dissertation is on the topic].  So I made the declaration that homework would be worth 0% of a student’s grade.  You would have thought I dropped a bomb in the faculty lounge.  Some argued that it was their right to grade as they saw fit, others that it was necessary.  I reminded them that a principal is there to helm the ship toward a goal and navigate in a particular direction. Otherwise the school would be disjointed.

It was only when I removed homework from their grades as an example and demonstrated to them how it was impacting grades.  I removed homework from the subject “Spelling” and suddenly a student went from an F to an A.  They hadn’t completed the homework but they aced every test… I asked “what are we really assessing here?”  On the other side of the coin, a student with a B suddenly went to a D when we took homework out of their subject.  It was only when I demonstrated this data analysis that they all began to understand the gross injustice that teachers have done to their students over the years.  So how does it work now?

Homework is worth 0% of a grade. Students do not have to complete homework (which we now call practice).  They take an assessment. If they fail the assessment they may re-take it after they have completed any missing practice.  Its a middle ground… but eventually I’d like to see it removed entirely especially because there are no studies that demonstrate that homework is beneficial in the elementary grades.

Benefit: we are actually measuring student learning rather than student compliance.

Faculty Uniforms

Okay, I thought I’d have a bigger push back on this but I really didn’t get one (outside of a few who thought that female Oxfords (shirts) weren’t flattering). But I stand with The Fresh Prince on this one “You go to school to learn, not for a fashion show.”  I work at a Catholic school so the students are already in uniforms.  The faculty uniforms help us to look professional while showing the students that teachers are not above the same rules that govern students. What do we say to our students when we place them under arbitrary dress rules and we don’t adhere to them ourselves?

Benefits: We look professional. Students bond with the teachers easier. We send a clear message that we are unified.

Ideapaint is the best

We put ideapaint in every classroom taking up one wall.  Nothing has been more transformative or amazing than having an entire wall surface as a creative whiteboard.  Students, teachers, and all other shareholders are always amazed when they see this in use. We will be adding this to every wall in the near future.

Benefit: Creativity. Students are not locked into a small dry erase board to let their ideas fly.

There are other major changes that I’ve implemented, but I want to keep this post short. I’ll write another post about other changes later.

In the meantime, I’d love to hear your thoughts on these changes as well as any changes you see as being beneficial at your school.

I welcome your comments.

The Times (and the Classrooms) are a-Changin’

Photo Credit: John Wick

you better start swimmin’
Or you’ll sink like a stone – Bob Dylan

I recently had the pleasure of giving a presentation (though it was really more of a discussion) about the removal of textbooks from the classroom.  At the beginning of the presentation, I demonstrated how classroom environments have changed little over the last several centuries.  Think back to your childhood classrooms and more likely than not you’ll picture a square room with rows of desks all facing forward in a straight line. Its the tried and true lecture style of teaching.  We have grown to expect that teachers will be the lone keepers of knowledge, safe in their ivory towers of isolation, doling out bits of wisdom from their state approved tomes of power. The problem is that this line of thinking is woefully outdated and does not accurately reflect the world in which we live.

I cannot remember the last time I ever held a job, or within my career, when I was asked to sit with 30-40 other people in straight rows to complete a task.  Our world has become one that values collaboration.  The ability to quickly adapt to changing circumstances is one of the most vital skills any person can learn.  Yet, we force our students into these artificial rows and accept this as the normal setup for any classroom environment.  What a shame that we automatically think of these environments as necessary.  It’s teacher centered, and diminishes the ability of the students to collaborate.

The picture at the beginning of this blog post [blurred and cartoonified to protect students’ identities] is taken from one of the classrooms at my school.  I had one brave teacher who was willing to take up my challenge and change the way her classroom worked.  I posed the audacious question: “Why do we need student desks?”  Together we pushed the desks out of the classroom and asked the students how they would like to learn.  The results were amazing.

Students brought in bean-bag chars, bouncing chairs, folding chairs, and seating devices I had never seen before.  Parents raised an eyebrow but knew we were trying to do something different, something that would help their children.  Every student in this class has an iPad and we have a projector with an AppleTV that allows the teachers and students to instantly interact with each other on the subject they are learning. We put Ideapaint on the wall and now the entire wall is a creative work surface. We have a few students who like the feel of a desk and they use it at their discretion.  This setup has been a huge success.  Students are engaged and excited to come to school.  Students in other grades are talking about how they also want to have the same setup.

There are difficulties associated with this.  The teacher has to give up decades of indoctrination into the rows and lecture style of teaching.  The teacher has to become a facilitator, a mentor, a collaborator in knowledge making.  The teacher has to be brave enough to sometimes say “I don’t know, lets see if we can find out together.”  It is time we stop blindly walking into our classrooms and accepting what is there simply because it has always been there.

I challenge each of you with a classroom, or you administrators in charge of a school, to walk into  your rooms and look at them with new eyes. See it as a big empty square box and try to remember what the childhood version of you wishes he or she could have as a classroom.  Ask your students to help you.  There is no reason why we have to adhere to models that were designed for lecture halls and Industrial Age societies.  We are all experts in our field of study.  Lets show the world that students come first and that we can help them succeed by giving them the environments they deserve.

If you do nothing else, make one major change to your classroom this week and try it out, the results may surprise you!

As Always I welcome your thoughts and comments on this.  What do you see as the benefits of changing classroom environments? What do you see as the challenges?

Click the comment bubble at the beginning of this post to leave a message or you may also click here to leave a comment.

Rebels in the Classroom

standing alone
Creative Commons License Photo Credit: Paul Nicholson via Compfight

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

Creative Commons License Photo Credit: Thomas Hawk via Compfight

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?

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Wish you were Here

What's on my [Crazy] Desk?
Creative Commons License Photo Credit: Andy Woo via Compfight

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.

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

 

5 Suggestions for New Teachers

The Waterford School

Photo Credit: Rob Shenk

“Anyone with gumption and a sharp mind will take the measure of two things: what’s said and what’s done.”

–Beowulf

There are few things in the world that are as full of energy and enthusiasm as new teachers.  I’m often impressed by their willingness to jump into the fray and take on new challenges.  This is one of their greatest strengths; it is also one of the greatest challenges.  So often, neophyte teachers jump before they look.

Our current culture has resulted in teachers who demand instant results and immediate impact in the larger workings of a school system.  Often, this results in frustration on the part of the new teacher and it has the potential to hinder their voice within that school system in the future.  It is an interesting challenge administrators face in helping new teachers when they must contend with something that is equally a great strength as well as a weakness.  While we face this challenge on a daily basis I offer these five suggestions to new teachers eager to make their mark:

1. Remember our purpose

First and foremost we are here to educate children and to help them become successful in life.  A desire to do something on a larger scale must always have this maxim in mind.  So often, this one simple truth is lost in the desire to make an impact.  Many fledgling educators mistakenly believe that the only way to enact real change is to immediately jump into district or diocesan level committees in order to create a name for themselves. The truth is, many of those that serve on those committees have spent long hours in the classroom, clear on their purpose in education. If you focus on the purpose of educating children, your work will eventually be noticed and your expertise sought.

2. Be willing to Sacrifice

You may have a great idea and firmly believe that it is the best way to go forward only to be told that the school, district, or diocese, is moving in a different direction.  This is not the time to argue or assert that your way is the right way. I’ve been there and felt that desire to assert my ideas.  However, the ability to take a step back and realize that others have equally valid ideas is a strength.  Should the initiative fall through, you can always resurrect your idea for possible implementation.

3. You will not always be given a reason

One error I often witness new teachers making is that they believe they deserve to know the reasons behind every decision.  The truth is that there are many decisions that are made based upon very complicated realities, interactions between schools and other diocese, and more often than not many of these complicated situations involve the inability for comment due to confidentiality or legal reasons.  There is also the reality that, often times, explaining the reasons would take an inordinate amount of time and this time would be better spent moving forward.  I believe in offering reasons (as often as I can) however there are many times when I and other administrators cannot offer a reason other than to say that we must move forward.  Have faith in the leadership within your school, diocese, or district and understand that they may have a global view that is beyond your current understanding.

4. Network, but do so carefully

There is a desire amongst novice teachers to make as many contacts as they possibly can.  While this is often a great strategy, it is one that must be enacted carefully.  Those new to the profession or to a school or diocese often do not have a full understanding of the political structures found within those systems.  Quickly associating yourself with one person or another may hinder your ability to help you enact suggestion #1 (remember our purpose).  Do not be quick to “jump on the bandwagon” just because someone makes a statement that aligns with your current worldview. Step back, be nice, and as Polonius said: “To thine own self be true”.

5. Teamwork is key

I’ll be the first to admit that in school, I hate working in teams. However, the real world is full of instances when teams are necessary.  The power of the group and collective intelligence is greater than any one member of the group.  I’ve learned to work in teams.  I’ve worked as a leader as well as a worker in a team.  Both are rewarding roles.  Do not be eager to always be the leader.  Leadership is a skill that is honed over time.  Take the experience of being a worker and learn from it.  Then, when you are in a leadership position, you will remember what it was like to be a worker and will be better equipped to offer support and advice.   When the team goes in a direction counter to your desires, do not fight against it, rather give it your full support.  We owe it to each other to always support the bold mission of educating children so that they may have a successful future.

I hope that these five suggestions help new teachers as they begin their exciting and rewarding journey in education.  If you have to boil it all down, always remember suggestion number 1.

If you remember your purpose then helping even one child is more rewarding than any accolades that may later be bestowed upon you.

I’d love to hear some of your thoughts or suggestions for new teachers. Please leave a comment below.