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Many school districts in America have a Service Learning requirement. An idea well-intentioned but poorly implemented in most schools. Teachers and Administrators who have never even done volunteer work now demand that their students do what they have never done. Needless to say these administrators offer nothing but lip service to the cause. We set the requirement but then we back off, we want nothing to do with these service learning requirements. "That's your problem kiddo" go get it done. And by the way stop whining about it, just go do it. The teenager is now left to fend for themselves with little help from the adults in their world. Oh, sure we offer the opportunity for the students to meet after school with their counselor or the service learning coordinator to discuss upcoming opportunities but what about the adults who stand in front of them every day? Where are they? They are nowhere to be found.
Let's be honest we forced this requirement upon our students because we believed it's so damned important but the truth is we do not walk the walk and talk the talk. If teachers and administrators truly believe that service learning is so damned important (and even if they do not) it is about time educators began to support the service learning agenda. It is about time educators stopped hiding behind empty rhetoric and began including service learning into the curriculum.
Every single requirement for students is supported at school except service learning. Driver’s education is supported with classes and books, so is physical education, the constitution exam, health, sex education and the arts. But when it comes to service learning we kick the kids to the curb and wish them luck. Then we blame them when the appropriate number of hours is not met in the given time frame. If schools are going to make service learning mandatory then it's about time these educators began supporting this requirement with more than slogans and suggestions.
The solution is simple. Every teacher at school must include two service learning projects into their unit plans every year. If the subject you are teaching is relevant then there must be some practical way to integrate this into your instruction. If you cannot do this then your subject is not worth teaching.
Schools exist to prepare our young to be productive members of society. How is this possible if we do not demonstrate how the topic presented in class each day applies to a real world situation? Service Learning is the only graduation requirement we throw at students with little or no support. If we really believe in the value of service learning then let's start supporting that requirement in deeds not just with words. Let’s bring service learning into the curriculum front and center. Let’s give everybody a stake in the responsibility to complete and implement the service learning requirement
Recently, I worked with some secondary educators who were interested in developing behavioral strategies for their more difficult students, particular as it pertained to students’ disrespect of the teachers. I observed several classes over the span of a semester, and I noticed that many teachers would state the obvious in an attempt to gain control of their classes. They would say things like, “I am the teacher, and this is my class. You cannot talk to me that way.”
This approach didn’t stop students’ disrespectful behavior; if anything, the interruptions, talking back, mocking, and mumbling escalated. Further, those teachers struggling the most with student behavior made these statements more often than their counterparts who were having less trouble. So, why did they resort to stating the obvious? Why does a teacher feel the need to proclaim that he or she is the teacher when responding to student disrespect?
These statements (coined as authority statements by Laitin, 1977) seem to be offered as a justification for making the corrective statement that follows. The underlying thinking seems to be — Because I’m the teacher and you are the student, you need to stop doing X and/or start doing Y— an overt reminder that one of you is a subordinate.
However, the use of explicit authority statements is ineffective. They work a lot like “but” statements: I love you, but you’re too impulsive. The listener only hears you’re too impulsive; the but negates the I love you. Similarly, explicitly stating your obvious and inherently authoritative role negates the more important information that follows it: I am the teacher. I am trying to teach. You keep interrupting me. Adolescent students probably don’t hear the important part (you keep interrupting me) over the sound of their eyes rolling.
Imagine your principal telling you: I am the principal, and I want everyone on board for the roll-out of this new system. Wouldn’t you kind of get stuck on the idea of the principal making a hoopla about being the principal?
The use of this phrasing comes across as weak and ineffectual. No wonder students just smirk or yawn when they hear it. If you’ve reached that level of frustration and start spouting out the obvious, consider that what you’re really doing (most likely) is reminding yourself that you’re in charge.
Stop saying you’re the teacher and go for the nub.
What do you want the student to do or not do?
Teachers using explicit authority statements may not realize the greater effectiveness of simply implying them. Harmin and Toth (2006) define authority statements as “making a simple direct statement of our authority as teachers” (p. 439). The following are some examples in their Inspiring Active Learning handbook for educators:
I do not want even minor distractions or disruptions in our lessons.
I need you to stop talking to your neighbors. It’s time to control that.
We do not do that here. (Harmin & Toth, 2006, pp. 111-112)
These examples differ from explicit authority statements in that no explicit mention of the role of teacher is made. Though Harmin and Toth’s (2006) definition states that the statement is of our authority, these examples more aptly reflect a statement from our authority. This distinction is important. We don't have to say it. We just have to be it. Implying authority carries more weight, and though decidedly unspoken in the examples above, “I am the teacher” is nonetheless clearly asserted.
Words matter, and what we say conveys how we feel about ourselves and our role in the classroom. You don’t have to say you’re the teacher. You are.
Harmin, M., & Toth, M. (2006). Inspiring active learning: A complete handbook for today's teachers (2nd ed.). Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision & Curriculum Development.
Laitin, D. D. (1977). Politics, language, and thought: The Somali experience. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.
Time is the Thief or the Savior.
There is one element of education that we all control – TIME! You cannot get more of it but you can manage what you have.
We cannot demand more time from taxpayers or politicians. Time is an extremely finite resource. I suppose we couldmake the school day a bit longer. But what's the point when we waste so much time either on administrative duties or testing? How much time do we spend composing or reading email as opposed to designing better unit plans or assessments? How long are our passing periods? Do kids really need a whole class period to eat lunch?
How much time are you wasting exactly? In 2014 keep an hourly log of your daily activities. Many of you would be quite surprised at the data. If we truly want to engage all learners, if we sincerely want our kids to increase their learning, then lets examine our use of time. Our most precious resource cannot be squandered on trivial tasks.
In 2014 let us all examine the use of time at the district level, school level and classroom level. How much is being spent on tasks that do not impact the instructional environment. This is my New Years Resolution. Happy New Year!
A lot has happened this year across the country in education. Our profession is being decimated, teachers are being trampled, and no one is focusing on the real issues: equity, poverty, and access. And children. Politics and bureaucracies and figure-heads and anyone else who knows very little about how to teach are setting rules and impossible challenges for those of us who do.
When I started writing my end of year message this year, my initial drafts were about how awful things have gotten and the subversive things we could do to put the heat on the decision makers. I wrote about what next steps we should take and provocated for global actions with a posse of guerilla educators who were ready to kick butt and take names.
But I realized that I still wasn’t hitting the mark of the profundity and simplicity of what I was intending to impart. So here I am at my latest draft and I think I’ve narrowed it down to a better end of year message--the one step you need to take for a great 2014:
All of the things I wrote about in my first few drafts were rooted in the negative and they were not a place I wanted to begin the New Year. In spite of the negativity in education this past year, there were a lot of bright and shining lights. These bright spots are more worthy of my time than the continued analysis and dwelling on all that went wrong.
The things that I found joy in were what kept me going; they were my emotional fuel--my inspiration for continuing to do what I do. Those moments included kids that I live-skyped with from Niagara Falls. They included a tweet-up in Chicago where I got to see a lot of my network live and in person! (I’m talking to you Paula White and Becky Fisher and Crista Anderson and Tom Whitby and Steven Anderson and everyone else that came to the party!)
They included teachers who met challenges head on with positive attitudes and a can-do spirit. They included my grandfather, A. L. McDaniel, who gave my brother and me some tools over the summer that belonged to my great-grandfather. It was just the metaphor I needed as I wrote about tools and tasks for my newest book. I was planning on giving the book to my grandfather for Christmas and surprising him with how he influenced my ideas and shaped the eventual book. He passed away unexpectedly a couple of weeks ago, a week before the book was published. This was a turning point for me, though, in terms of joy, both finding it and holding on to it.
Unknowingly, my grandfather had inspired me again. It was all the sadness of the past couple of weeks that revealed a pattern of wallowing in the negative, ultimately getting stuck there. I realized that the negativity and the sadness are things to identify but are hard to set a course of action around. I don’t want to plan around the barriers. I want to plan around the bright spots, around the joys that working in education brings. We’re supposed to be lighting fires, right?
There’s a lot of joy to be found in the wonderful things that have happened in schools this year, despite the obstacles. There’s a lot of joy in students discovering incredible things outside of prescribed curricula. There’s a lot of joy in knowing that educators are the primary influencers of the future of this world. There’s a lot of joy in knowing how we shape and influence and inspire and teach, teach, teach.
There’s a lot of joy in remembering the 42 wonderful years of inspiration from my grandfather and the impact that he’s had on my life, my career, and my family.
So my challenge to you is to go and find it. Find JOY. Find it wherever it might live. Find the bright spots in what you do this coming year. Let those joyous moments sustain you and feed you and motivate you. Seek out JOY. Create JOY. Identify it and celebrate it.
Cheers to you all for a wonderfully joyous 2014--here’s to our best year yet!
New Rule # 11
A principal asked me recently about some of the things I do to enhance the culture of learning in my classroom. The question originates from the Danielson instructional mode, domain 2 which concerns the class environment. It is fair enough to ask me about the strategies I use to uphold the culture of learning in my classroom, but I cannot help but feel the whole argument is slanted to find fault with the teacher. The Danielson model seems to consider the teacher as an isolated cog in a great big world. A very mechanistic view of education.
Most educational scholars today view schools from the systemic framework, school is a vibrant, organic system. As in any system, what happens in one area affects all of the other areas. Teaching has got to be looked at in this context. So when you ask me to articulate some of the things I do maintain a culture of learning, I will ask you Mr. Principal, what are YOU doing to create a culture of learning in this school? The culture of learning should permeate the entire school. When a student walks in the front door of school what do they see? How are teachers and other staff members speaking to them? What attributes or indicators are present in this school that communicate high expectations for all learners?
Let's have this conversation first, then we can examine my classroom practice. I am not saying that teachers have no responsibility in this area, I am just saying that the classroom needs to be looked at in the context of the whole school. I propose that there should be a series of rubrics, similar to the Danielson model whereby the whole school is evaluated in the same domains. Let’s evaluate the whole school first – then we will examine classroom practice.
New Rules for teachers (1-10)
New Rule # 1
You cannot just walk into the classroom every day and distribute handouts. This is not teaching.
New Rule # 2
If the first period class begins at 8 AM it is not okay for teachers to walk in the front door at 7:57 AM.
New Rule # 3
If the faculty meeting starts at 3:15 it is not okay for teachers to walk in the door at 3:20. This is wrong !
New Rule # 4
If the faculty meeting starts at 3:15 and the teacher walks in at 3:25 please do NOT expect everybody who came to the meeting on time to fill you in on what you missed. Dumb and Dumber!
New Rule # 5
When you walk into to school 20 minutes late please don't tell everybody that it's not your fault. You knew there was ten feet of snow on the ground. Did you bother to leave a bit earlier?
New Rule # 6
Please do not HOG meetings with all of your personal vendettas. We do not want to hear it!
New Rule # 7
Please do not HOG meeting with all of your incredible ideas. Let others speak!
New Rule # 8
If you are in charge of a faculty meeting PLEASE have the guts to not allow miscreants to break the agreed upon rules of engagement.
New Rule # 9
Screaming at kids is NOT classroom MANAGEMENT!!! Please get help ASAP!
New Rule # 10
When you are confused and your whole class is MESSED UP! This is NOT funny. Please find a different way to amuse yourself.