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Originally posted at Curriculum21.com/blog
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Well, if you watched the Academy Awards last week, you witnessed the global impact that social media has in the world. Ellen DeGeneres was able to take a picture of a group of actors that, in the first half hour of it being posted, was re-tweeted 700,000 times, which temporarily knocked Twitter off the Internet. It has now become the number one tweet of all time. That is one example of the effect that social media is continuing to have in countries around the world. We should not lose sight of the fact that many, many people were following the Oscar show hashtag to share the experience of the program with others.
Many actors are using social media to connect with fans. The same fans, which a generation ago resorted to fan mail to connect with their idols, now have an opportunity to connect in real life through social media. This is not an opportunity that is ignored by the entertainment industry. TV fans are now being continually bombarded with hashtags to follow shows. The news business is also asking people to follow and exchange information through hashtags. This is creating more interactive involvement with TV. Not since Winky Dink and You, where Winky Dink, an animated character, had us draw with crayons on a plastic sheet placed over a TV screen in the 50’s, have we seen such interaction. We traced lines placed on the magic screen one at a time, until we had a bridge drawn for Winky Dink to cross and escape danger. It was way ahead of its time. It was however interactive and a definite attention-grabber.
What does any of this have to do with education? The idea that social media gives us a platform to send out information and have people interact with it, or just digest it, would seem to be an idea that would be snapped up and embraced by educators. They are the very people who make a living trying to get folks to get information and interact with it, or just digest it. We shouldn’t need a magical plastic screen to connect the lines in order to build a bridge for educators to reach this idea.
Ellen DeGeneres’s picture is small potatoes to what educators can put out. Educators have access to real sources. In addition to pictures they have: Websites, Documents, Blog posts, Videos, Podcasts, webinars, articles, interviews, and maybe even some sensible worksheets to share. To share with whom you may ask. To share with each other, I would answer. Imagine if every teacher shared just one of their best sources with other educators, who in turn could tweet them out to the tune of 700,000 tweets in a half hour. Everyone would benefit. The idea here is to get educators familiar with the concept of connectedness and its possibilities, so that getting comfortable with social media itself becomes less of an obstacle.
Social Media is here to stay. Its form may change, and certainly the applications we use will not remain the same, but the idea of openly exchanging information in whatever forms it is produced is not going away. As educators we can use it or lose it. If we don’t start to understand and use this technology soon, we will lose the opportunity to harness it, because we will be irrelevant. We don’t need social media to teach, as much as we need it to learn. It is a cornucopia of information. We can tailor that information to personalize our learning. This is the way of today’s world. For the scholar, the tomes are no longer stored in the monasteries, they reside on the Internet, and collectively, if we all share that which we know, we will all benefit. Collectively we are smarter than we are individually. That is the basis of collaborative learning. It is no longer a face-to-face endeavor limited in time and space. It happens anywhere, and anytime through the use of technology. Technology is the game-changer. As educated individuals, how can we ignore the possibilities?
Becoming a connected educator requires the use of 21st Century skills. This should not come as a surprise 14 years into that Century. Educators need to be digitally literate. We do not need educators who loudly proclaim to not get it when it comes to computers. We would not tolerate an educator in the 19th and 20th Centuries to loudly proclaim to not get it when it comes to reading books. This Century requires a new literacy and there is less and less room for illiterate educators to work alongside those who constantly strive to remain relevant. To better educate our kids we need to better educate their educators.
Maybe educators should do a Selfie with their class behind them in the picture. These are the faces of kids that this educator leaves an impression on each and every day. They are the educator’s charges. Are they the faces of kids who got from that teacher the best that that teacher had to offer. Does what that teacher offered meet the needs of what those kids will have to know in their world in order to live, thrive, and compete? What’s in a Selfie?
Many educational scholars and practitioners, including me, have written extensively about teaching students from underserved populations. The focus of this work has included has included students living in poverty, from diverse cultural and racial experiences, and who are English learners. These are made more relevant by an ever-increasing population of students and families living in poverty, the significant rate of school absenteeism among our nation’s poor, and an increase in racial, ethnic, and linguistic diversity among the nation’s populace. While it’s critical to understand underserved student populations, it is especially important to look at the type of language and literacy that are needed to perform successfully in school. Some students come to school with a deep foundation in the language system that is used in school while increasing numbers do not. These differences represent what many refer to as the achievement gap. We might think of it as an academic language gap between students who come to school with this foundational language and those who must learn it while simultaneously attending school.
In the United States, the federal definition of the abilities that an English learner must obtain to be considered proficient in English sheds some light on the type of language and literacy that is needed by ALL of the nation’s students. It includes the following:
(i) the ability to meet the State’s proficient level of achievement on State assessments;
(ii) the ability to successfully achieve in classrooms where the language of instruction is English; and
(iii) the opportunity to participate fully in society (U.S. Department of Education, 2004).
An important characteristic of the federal definition is that students must be highly fluent and competent in the language that is used in school and across all subject matters to be successful in it. To remedy the differences between students who carry academic language like a literacy suitcase wherever they go (in school, at home, and elsewhere) and students who are learning academic language while simultaneously attending school, we must intentionally transform the ways in which we build programming, policies and practices for the nation’s students (Zacarian, 2013).
To do this calls for a four-pronged literacy framework (Zacarian, 2013) in which we understand academic language learning as a
(1) a sociocultural process that must be grounded in our students and their families’ personal, social, cultural, and world experiences;
(2) a developmental process that calls for understanding the literacy levels of each of our students and targeting instruction a little bit beyond that level so that it is obtainable and reachable,
(3) an academic process that is built on our students’ prior learning experiences and where the learning goals are made explicit; and
(4) a cognitive process in which higher-order thinking skills are intentionally taught and practiced.
We also have to understand that each of the four prongs is akin to an electric outlet in which all of the prongs must be plugged in for learning to occur. When we do this, we have a much better chance for closing the achievement gap and better ensuring that our students can flourish in school and beyond (Zacarian, 2013).
This article should be referenced as: Zacarian, D. (2014). Understanding the achievement gap as an academic language gap. zacarianconsulting.com. It has been drawn from from Zacarian (2013) Mastering academic language: a framework for supporting student achievement.
We are discussing the history of education in one of my courses and thus exploring teaching philosophies (such as progressivism, essentialism, existentialism, etc.). As part of our discussion, I asked the students to identify advantages and disadvantages of each philosophy. A student shared that one drawback for using real world conflicts (the social reconstruction philosophy), was that it was “uncomfortable”. When probed further, it was determined that fear, anger, or sadness could result when discussing controversial current events and thus hinder the learning process for students. For instance, it may be frightening for students to discuss how the homicide rate for the first two months of 2014 (in some states) is slowly approaching the total homicide rate for the entire year 2013. Similarly it may be alarming for students to acknowledge the news story of how the “knock-out” game (an assault act that may end in death) targets unsuspecting pedestrians for no rhyme or reason.
I agree that discussing current events has its challenges, but I could not deny my discomfort with my student’s “uncomfortableness”. Maybe omitting real life events from classroom discussions is the best thing to do in terms of safeguarding student’s feelings?
I tend to think that it is within these “uncomfortable” topics that teachable moments are made. I wish to help students learn from the uncomfortable current events that surround them every day. For instance, the ‘Stand Your Ground’ law (the right to defend oneself during times of conflict) has been in the news after two separate conflicts resulted in the death of African American teen boys. In response to the two cases, strong emotions about racial relations and the legal system have ensued. The following curriculum ideas illustrate 9 classroom activities that may help students use the highly publicized law to reflect on themes such as effective communication, conflict resolution, and sensitivity to differences. Although the activities were developed with the ‘Stand your Ground’ law in mind, they can be adopted for use with any current event:
1. Discuss the term “threat”. Explore the different types of threats (physical and psychological) that students may hear. Debate various mechanisms to address threats such as bully awareness strategies. Websites such as bullyhelp.org and stopbullying.gov are great resources for this.
2. Ask students to journal about consequences that may ensue from defending oneself such as:
a. Physical consequences
b. Emotional consequences
c. Short-term consequences
d. Long-term consequences
3. Encourage the students to visit websites that focus on conflict resolution approaches and present their findings to the class. The National Crime Prevention Council offers great resources for this.
4. Invite the students to share funny videos (they can search online using Youtube or Vine) regarding problem solving strategies that are imaginative and outside of the box.
5. Hold a contest for students to find the best quote that illustrates reconciling differences.
6. Request students bring in song lyrics (or play a clean excerpt from the song) that emphasize themes in negotiation, compromise, or appropriately communication of differences.
7. Ask students to read, write, or respond to blogs that highlight uncomfortable conversations about conflict management. Invite teachers to share their experiences for how they learn (blogs, or professional development) to use current events within their curriculum.
8. Offer incentives for students to get involved in conflict resolution on a local level. Assist students in contacting the local police office or the local legislative office to gain further education regarding local rules and policies for those engaged in conflict.
9. Help students get involved in conflict resolution outside of their community. Assist students in a letter writing campaign to support the families of individuals that were unable to successfully defend themselves in times of conflict.
*Please note that this article was originally posted on teachersnet.gazette Vol. 11 No. 3
As an aspiring leader, I have thought often about who to look to for inspiration. I was told early on that an aspiring leader always has to have an example to emulate. There are many leadership examples that an educator can follow, but I have recently been following the leadership of Pope Francis. He has come into the position of Pope and helped to bring a new sense of excitement and possibility to an ancient institution.
As a leader in the public school system, an institution that is prone to tradition and slow to change, I am often frustrated by what I cannot seem to do. In looking for inspiration to overcome my frustration, Pope Francis provides a good example of what a leader can do within an organization. He has not made any radical changes since becoming pope, but his demeanor, his humility, and his willingness to embrace others has energized many Catholics. This is a good reminder of what a leader can do to bring change when dramatic action may not be possible.
In all of my reading about him, I found that there were three pieces of leadership advice that I think are especially applicable to any educational leader
This belief about leadership is especially important in the classroom. A leader must first know themself: what they can accept, what they must challenge, what they can are willing to risk everything for. It is only then that they can answer the situations that arise. In education, a leader is constantly asked to compromise, and if they do not know themself, they will struggle to know when to stop.
More importantly, if a leader tries to be something they are not, it will come across as inauthentic. Many times we underestimate the abilities of others (especially our students) to see through our act and truly know who we are. The challenges of working in a school are real and if a leader does not lead from a place that is their own, they will not be able to sustain the energy needed to succeed. They will back down, they will doubt, and they will burn out. We must be first confident in who we are before we can be confident in what we believe and what we do.
To lead people, they need to know that you understand their situation and put their needs ahead of your own. They need to know that you are part of the struggle and that you will be there for them throughout. If people believe that you are selfish or do not understand where they are coming from, they will not follow you. They may do what you tell them to do, because you are an authority figure, but you will not have authority.
This further connects to how decisions about leadership should be made within our schools. Leaders should have applicable experience working closely with our communities. This is the most important way to build critical early support and credibility as we look to improve our schools. Leaders must be creditable along with being knowledgable.
When leading change, leaders wish to seem like they have all of the answers. In the classroom, having all of the answers is the way to quickly gain authority with students. The reality is that no leader or teacher knows everything, and to portray that to those that we lead will not support growth in our classroom or our schools. If students are to grow and schools are to change, people must see that learning is part of the process at all levels. Leaders must model the behaviors that they want. In the classroom, students must know that even the teacher has to look up an answer and that is acceptable and encouraged. By admitting frailties, but not allowing them to limit their actions, leader demonstrate that everyone can succeed in spite of their limitations.
Often what we want is revolutionary change. We want to remake an institution instantly to address the issues that we see. As with any institution, change is slow, reform is may be stifled and instantaneous revolutions might be anything but instant and revolutionary. Yet while revolution may be far off, revitalization can happen today. As I look at what Pope Francis has done, I see a leader that knows his limitations, but still moves forward, and that is often what we must recognize in our schools. While we may be limited, we are far from stopped.
Huppke, R. (2013, Nov 04). Lessons in leadership from pope francis. Chicago Tribune. Retrieved from http://articles.chicagotribune.com/2013-11-04/business/ct-biz-1104-work-advice-huppke-20131104_1_leadership-style-first-jesuit-pope-jorge-mario-bergoglio
After reading several of Rafe Esquith’s books, I have come to the conclusion that not only is he a very good teacher, but he is very wise. He is able to communicate many “truths” about educating children that only someone with lots of experience and thoughtfulness can do. And while you may not agree with everything he says, he will certain get you thinking about teaching, learning, children, schools, and the community at large.
His latest book, Real Talk for Real Teachers: Advice for Teachers from Rookies to Veterans: ‘No Retreat, No Surrender!’(2013: Penguin Books) contains a wealth of ideas, comments, and “wisdom” from a veteran teacher. The book is separated into sections for new teachers, teachers who have been teaching for several years, and even “master” teachers, but I think that everyone who is teaching at any level can profit from his insights in all three categories. He talks about things that mostly get ignored in the educational literature – bad days, first days, good routines, classroom management, classroom disasters, values to live by in the classroom, how to handle outside pressures and disagreeable people, testing and assessment, taking care of yourself, homework, the differences among kids and teachers, and many others.
Note that this book is not a how-to cookbook of ideas to improve teaching. While many of the thoughtful comments in the book may profoundly change teachers’ ways of thinking about their schools and classrooms, you will not find specific instructional strategies that work better than others, or even specific ideas about how to assess children. But many will come away with a better understanding of their own teaching, some guidance as to how to make teaching better for kids, and worthwhile ideas as to how to survive in a teaching environment.
In fact, everyone involved with education, including politicians and administrators who make laws and policy regarding education, should read the book.
The book is deep and rich, with many ideas, insights, and examples, and it is important to read it as a whole. But to give you a flavor of the Esquith’s views, below are a few short quotes from some of the chapters in the book. Note that some quotes might be out of a context, so you might find that they will read differently in the book.
I hope that they inspire you to read the book and consider his ideas for your classroom, school, or district.
Chapter 2: First things first
p. 42 …the truth is, in my class, Day 1 looks a lot like day 91. The kids will not grasp your program on Day 1. Introduce it and get to work.
[Note: This chapter has an excellent discussion of his philosophy of teaching and the rules and expectations he lays out for his students on the first day and beyond].
Chapter 4: An inside job:
p. 60-61 [In terms of classroom management and control]: My goal is to teach…children a set of values that they internalize. I want them to work hard in the class not because they fear a consequence but because they enjoy the work and also because they believe that good behavior is the right thing to do.
Chapter 8- Even the devil can quote scripture for his purpose
p. 106 –The reasonable desire to hold students and teachers accountable for what is being learned in school has snowballed into an avalanche of examinations that are hurting children and depriving them of a meaningful education…
p. 107 I have chosen a[n assessment] middle path. I consistently assess my students’ work and have no need for the exams being thrown at the kids by the school district and state. I fantasize about starting a bonfire with those infamous testing booklets that stimulate a groan from my students faster than the bell made Pavlov’s dog drool.
Chapter 11 – Keeping it real
p. 139 - Make sure the children make the connection between the lessons they are learning and how they will apply them in real life. Have the kids explain the connections rather than listen to you.
Chapter 14. Leave some children behind
p. 160 We have created situations where children do not understand that actions have consequences. School systems, under fire from all corners, have become desperate to please everyone. In doing so, they hurt the very children they are supposed to be helping.
Chapter 15 – Eyes wide open
p. 171 The unending problems and hurdles placed in front of a classroom teacher guarantee that you will not be able to help and reach every child to the degree you would like.
Chapter 18 Thomas Jefferson’s big mistake
p. 206 All students are not created equal, nor are they the same. When it is impossible to create individual assignments for the students, try to create assignments where one size does not fit all.
Chapter 21 One of a kind
p. 230 Pick something that you love to do and create a project with your students that will frame the entire year. Whether the students make quilts, become Scrabble experts or learn to surf, a special project will make all parts of your day better.
Chapter 22 All for one and one for all
p. 245 As you grow as a teacher, ask for lots of help…We can all use assistance.
Chapter 23 Getting better all the time
p. 252 Veteran teachers do not have to be stuck in a rut. Teaching the same lesson each year is not the same lesson if improvements are made.
Chapter 25 Stairway to heaven
This chapter deals with three ways for veteran teachers to stay “revved up and ready to go”: stay in physical shape (physical stamina); have a good social life (social stamina); deal with the emotional toll that the job takes (emotional rescue).
Elliott Seif is a long time educator, Understanding by Design trainer, author, consultant, and former Professor of Education at Temple University. Additional blogs can be found on ASCD Edge at http://bit.ly/1kPsxBx. If you are interested in further examining ways to improve teaching and learning and help to prepare students to live in a 21st century world, go to: www.era3learning.org
Much Ado About Nothing is a comedic play by William Shakespeare that chronicles two pairs of lovers: Benedick and Beatrice (the main couple), and Claudio and Hero (the secondary couple). By means of "nothing" (which sounds the same as "noting," and which is gossip, rumor, and overhearing), Benedick and Beatrice are tricked into confessing their love for each other, and Claudio is tricked into rejecting Hero at the altar on the erroneous belief that she has been unfaithful. At the end, Benedick and Beatrice join forces to set things right, and the others join in a dance celebrating the marriages of the two couples. (Much Ado About Nothing. Captured from Wikipedia. February 28, 2014.)
What is currently taking place across the United States regarding the Common Core State Standards (CCSS), Much Ado About Something, does not bring to mind a comedy; rather, it brings to mind a tragedy. Before I continue, I must state that my post is not an “I’m on this side or I’m on that side” commentary. It is simply a personal and professional reflection based on working intimately with the CCSS and scores of teachers K-12 across this country and overseas coupled with what I have observed regarding those who are making “much ado”. My hope is that I mirror Benedick and Beatrice’s desire to set things right.
Whether it be politicians, parents, or people in educational circles commenting, I most-often hear them not making comments about the standards themselves – the basic, no-frills standard statements that convey what students need to know and be able to do. For example, let’s take a Reading Literature standard for Grade 7:
CCSS.RL.7.7 Compare and contrast a written story, drama, or poem to its audio, filmed, staged, or multimedia version, analyzing the effects of techniques unique to each medium (e.g., lighting, sound, color, or camera focus and angles in a film).
This standard, here as it appears in the CCSS ELA Progressive Continuums App I created to aid teachers in collaboratively designing systemic curriculum that uses italic font to represent learning from a previous grade or grades and boldfaced text to indicate new learning in a grade, speaks directly to 21st-century (modern) learners needing to not only become literary literate, but media literate as well, as my colleague, Heidi Hayes Jacobs, promotes in her new book, Mastering Media Literacy (Solution Tree, 2013).
Before one can compare and contrast, one must know these two literacy forms as stand alones, which generates interesting conversations with teachers I work with as we develop content and skills because they were not taught media literacy when they were growing up (even younger teachers). Our conversations usually result in the seventh-grade teachers realizing they need to become deep learners themselves to best design content and skills associated with media literacy. And, as you can visually see represented in the standard above, comparing and contrasting written works to media is in italics, which means this process and learning about media-based versions has been learned in at least one previous grade (actually, starts in Grade 4 and is expanded on in Grades 5 and 6). Therefore, not only do seventh-grade teachers say they need media-literacy professional development, but fourth, fifth, and sixth grade teachers share they want to be included as well.
Common Core State Standard RL.7.7 is not saying specifically what must be read, what must be watched, or what the focus must be when read and watched, which is what I find many unhappy-with-the-CCSS commentators are up in arms over (excuse the film pun). While myriad companies and non-profits have developed recommended reading/media lists, units of study, and lesson plans that “are align to” the CCSS, these resources are not the standards. These aligned documents, programs, textbooks, etc., are how tos (instruction and assessments) based on someone or some group’s interpretation of the standards. For example, based on this standard, groups can have a wildly different take on what is an appropriate text versus movie/staged production for seventh graders – one group choosing a very liberal text and film and another group select a very conservative text and staged production.
Regardless of the selections, it is not the standard that is making a selection, human beings are. If studied closely, standard RL.7.7 is asking students to be critical thinkers and reason deeply regarding the nuances in a selected text and audio-visual representation, which is exactly what 21st-century students need to be doing – critically thinking and problem solving as well as reasoning and providing text and media evidence for their claims (e.g., requirements also found in standards RL._.1, RI._.1, W._.1). And, if we are truly trying to engage learners and wanting them to own their own learning, how about allowing students to select the text and film or staged production they will analyze?
What I often find interesting is that if you ask someone who is knocking the CCSS (let’s say in reference to a unit of study that is for some reason “inappropriate”) to tell you specifically what standard or standards he or she does not like (e.g., W.7.1a. Introduce claim(s), acknowledge alternate or opposing claims, and organize the reasons and evidence logically.), the person will hem and haw and can’t state the standard. And, when shown the aligned standard he or she most often comments that the standard is fine, it is the reading or film selection, the activity, or assessment item or task that is not liked. Evidence once again that it is not the standards themselves that is truly the concern.
With this said, I need to make one comment at this juncture: the CCSS are not perfect. There are definitely some flawed standard statements, but the flaws are minimal when compared to the total number of CCSS K-12.
The bashing or knocking of the CCSS, which is getting louder in some states with each passing month, is frustrating to me as a curriculum-design consultant who has worked extensively with the CCSS since they were in draft form and officially adopted in 2010. I know the standards inside and out from Kindergarten to Grade 12. I have spent hundreds of hours of meaningful conversations with teachers concerning the vertically articulated standards. These teachers care passionately about their students’ learning as they develop collaborative, systemic curriculum.
My passion and work has been, and will continue to be, dedicated to aiding teachers in designing curriculum maps with the students’ best interests in mind. The CCSS are our curriculum-design building “codes”, much as an architect uses codes to design blueprints, which Heidi Hayes Jacobs, Jay McTighe, and others have used as an analogy for many years. For the first time ever the largest number of independent United States have chosen to have the same building codes. This does not mean that each state, district, or school has to build the exact same home – one can choose to design a modern two-story, another a log cabin, another a green home, and another a ranch-style hacienda. The point here is that the infrastructure of the home design remains the same regardless of where the home is built. I grew up in the military and lived around the world before I was 15 years old. Today, given our ever-growing mobile society, chances of having a similar (and thankfully not exact) blueprint-based curriculum for a K-12 education is better than it ever was when I was in my formative years.
Academic standards are not the curriculum (Concept-based curriculum and instruction for the thinking classroom. Erickson. Sage, 2007. p.48). I whole-heartedly believe this is true. And while it absolutely takes time and commitment to develop a worthwhile systemic curriculum (oftentimes two to three years to fully develop and implement), I remind myself and others that curriculum mapping is a verb and the deep conversations and collaborations across grade levels immediately impact student in positive ways through teachers who are reconsidering the learning, teaching, and assessments while embracing what is new in the CCSS content and process standards. This immediate and on-going process validates why I have been involved in this specific field of work for over 15 years. Designing CCSS-based curriculum involves a two-phase process: studying and breaking apart the standards systemically to first develop learning based solely on what the standards (and critical ancillary documents, such as the CCSS Math Progressions) explicitly and implicitly require; and secondly, develop meaningful units of study that combine the learning, teaching, and assessment tasks based on a current program or encouraging teachers to create their own program.
Well, I may have not set things right, but hopefully a little bit right, in that it is not the CCSS themselves that are the problem; instead, it is CCSS-based interpretations made in the form of instructional choices and assessment practices, as well as one area I chose not to get into here: teacher evaluations.
As I previously mentioned, I will continue to work diligently with districts and schools who have a like passion – looking collaboratively and critically at the CCSS and systemically designing curriculum that aids their students in experiencing meaningful learning journeys K-12+.
(reprenting from Vicki's Rethinking Education blog)
APPR has created a tremendous amount of change in our districts and buildings. It has also increased the amount of work principals have to do on a daily basis, let alone the amount of stress. Staying positive is key to the success and survival of these demands. As a 13 year administrative veteran, here are some top tens I would like to share (In no particular order!)
1. Keep Your Door Open and Be Visible: Your staff, students and parents need to see you as the leader and you need to be accessible. Keep your door open, listen, listen, and listen even more. Give encouragement to your staff who are working hard to embrace a new curriculum and create engaging lessons for students. Be in their classroom, the hallways, the lunch room and the playground. Greet the buses and parents in the morning. Get on the announcements daily and say the pledge, your school pledge and your belief statement. It's powerful, it resonates, and starts the day on a positive note.
2. Use a Scheduler: If you don't write it down on your schedule to do a walk through, be visible, orthat observation, then it will not get done! I use Google Calendar and live by it. I have shared the calendar with my secretary who schedules my observations and meetings with staff when needed. Using an online calendar such as Google Calendar, iCal, or Outlook will help you organize YOU. The best part is that it notifies me of my schedule in the morning, and notifies me 10 minutes in advance.
3. Provide Mini-Observations: Teachers want feedback on how they are doing. When you do a walk through or mini-observation give them honest, constructive feedback. I like what Kim Marshall has listed in how to do mini-observations the right way: Unannounced, Frequent, Short, Face-to-face, Perceptive, Humble, Courageous, Systematic, Documented, Linked to Rethinking Teacher Supervision and Evaluation, 2nd Edition, 2013.) Marshall suggests to do 10 mini-observations on each teacher, throughout the school year.. That would be 1 mini-observation per month. In our district, we do 5 mini observations for tenured, 2 formal observations and 3 mini-observations for 1st year teachers, and 1 formal observation and 4 mini-observations for 2nd and 3rd year non-tenured teachers. What it has accomplished for me is having powerful, professional conversations about what is occurring in the classroom, asking questions of the staff, and coaching best practice. It is also building trust and it is so important to have those face-to-face conversations about what is working and what needs to be refined. It’s about growth and should not be about a “gotcha”.teamwork and improvement, Linked to end-of-year teacher evaluation, and Explained well. (Kim Marshall,
4. Share The Leadership: I am the sole administrator/lead learner at East Side, with a student population of 463 and about 60 staff members. There is no way I can do this job alone and I rely on the staff to help run the school. Give leadership roles to your teacher's. Give them opportunities to work together so they can manage the Common Core. They are the ones in the trenches and will help boost school morale and provide great education for our students.
5. Be the Lead Learner: Rather than being "the principal", be the Lead Learner. Joe Mazza, Lead Learner of Knapp Elementary School in the North Penn School District, PA, coined this term and it means to talk the talk and walk the walk. Say what you mean, mean what you say. Join your teachers in professional development. Share your learning and what you find. Get on Twitter people! (Social media networking is huge and you should be embracing this venue.) Gone are the days of the principal sitting in the office, managing discipline and minutia. We need to be visible, be a part of what is happening in our schools, and be in the classrooms.
6. Your Hour of Power: Tony Robbins says that we have to have a daily ritual of physical and emotional . This means having time for you. Are you experiencing an extraordinary life? He also says to put in some type of physical activity. I try to power walk the hallways of my school and examine student work displayed and in turn, see the pride in our students’ accomplishments. This also gives me an hour to reflect on the day and plan. Give yourself this hour to rejuvenate and reflect.
8. Climate and Culture: How is the climate of your building? Have you given a culture survey? Are you dealing with lots of discipline issues that boggle you down? Maybe it is time to implement a social and emotional curriculum such as Responsive Classroom or PBIS. If you don't address the social and emotional aspects of students and get to know your kids, forget about the academics. Programs such as these change the culture of your building not only for students, but for the adults. The social and emotional curriculum is just as important as the academic curriculum. Once you have the social and emotional curriculum in place, academics are a breeze. It is about the relationships we develop not only with our students, but also with adults.
9. Celebrate: Celebrate the joys of being a team, a school family. We just finished our Holiday stocking stuffing exchange and what amade for the staff. We also celebrate baby showers, weddings, birthdays, you name it. Again, as adults, it's about the relationships and working together to be the best we can be. I always say to the staff, "You are the best of the best." You say it often, and it starts to become a part of you, and we show our pride.
10. It's People, Not Programs: Todd Whitaker says it best that it’s about the teachers, the people, not the programs. “We can spend a great deal of time and energy looking for programs that will solve our problems. Too often, these programs do not bring the improvement or growth we need. Instead, we must focus on what really matters. It is never about’ programs; it is always about people.” (Todd Whitaker, What Great Principals Do Differently, 2003.) have new Common Core State Standards and those modules, but if you are not putting the time into your people, your staff and teachers, giving them time to plan, collaborate, reflect and giving them ownership, then it will be a tough road ahead. Empower your teachers and your staff, and you will have a better school. You know that if you have great teachers, you will have a great school. “The program itself is never the the problem.” (Todd Whitaker)
In the end, it is all about teamwork. As the lead learner, create those opportunities for collaboration, leadership, reflection and rejuvenation. You are the lead leaner and remember to remain positive!
I keep reading the “dreadful” news that American students don’t compare well to students in many other countries on test scores, that our scores are woefully behind students in other countries, and that our students are not being prepared for the future as compared with students in other countries!
I find this a strange way to think about America’s educational system. In other spheres, we rarely compare ourselves to others. Is our medical system as good as others? Of course! We think of ourselves as unique and the best in the world in developing and using technology! We tend to think of ourselves as “special” and “different” in most areas, and make very few comparisons to other countries. We generally look at our own strengths and problems as a way of making judgments about how well we are doing. We most often find our own unique solutions to the problems that we face.
In this context, how should teachers, educational leaders, parents, and the general public think about American education? Should we all use a single set of standardized tests to compare ourselves to others at home and throughout the world? Or should we develop a unique concept of American education focused around American ideas, values and strengths? If we were to consider the “specialness” of America, its unique qualities, and build an educational system around those areas, what would it look like? How do we make our educational system “fit” with our unique qualities? What would we expect from teachers and our leaders? How would we know if we were succeeding?
Let’s take a stab at it. Here is my list of many of the unique qualities of American society and what I think are the implications of these strengths for building a strong American education system:
The importance of knowledge and “understanding”. From its beginnings, knowledge and understanding have been a critical part of American society. Benjamin Franklin set a high standard in developing, disseminating, and searching for knowledge and understanding. The American system of mass education for all Americans assumed that it was important for everyone to become literate and build a basic knowledge base. Andrew Carnegie promoted the development of public libraries so all could have access to knowledge and information.
Educational Implications. Access to and a focus on broad-based knowledge and understanding for all Americans should be an overall goal of American education. In today’s “knowledge explosion” world, a significant knowledge base should be coupled with the lifelong learning skills that will enable all Americans to continually learn and grow in their knowledge, information, and understanding.
Constitutional government around democratic values. The development of American democratic values – separation of powers, the Bill of Rights, one man, one vote – are one of the most unique characteristics of American society. We take these rights seriously and have over many years developed strengthened and improved them.
Educational Implications: A primary educational goal in today’s world is to insure that all our students understand the Constitution, its development, and its role in American society. All students should understand the conflicts that developed around it, changes and adaptations that have been made, related court cases, and its primary role in American society today.
Active Citizenship. A corollary to Constitutional government and democratic values is the role Americans play in the American political system. Americans today rarely sit back and accept government’s role in American society at any level. We tend to keep up with issues and problems and form strong opinions about what should be done (or not done) to solve them. We join a variety of groups and organizations dedicated to actively pursuing what we believe in – from environmental protection laws to a strong military. We actively engage in improving government, and expect a certain amount of honesty and competence among our government officials. We also expect basic services – safety, road repairs, security, and the like – to be provided efficiently.
Educational Implications: When studying American history, students should learn how in all eras a variety of individuals, groups and organizations promoted different causes and advocated for governmental policies to support them. Through a strong current events program, students should have the opportunity to continually examine and analyze the many issues that confront us today. Students in their high school years should be encouraged to become involved in causes that they believe in, discuss and write about their diverse views, debate issues that face us, and listen to, read about, and analyze the varied views and arguments of others.
Pragmatic problem solving. America has always been a land that has prided itself on pragmatic, practical problem solving. This “roll up your sleeves” characteristic began with the Colonists, was demonstrated when the Constitution was written, and is an important value throughout American history. Today it can be seen in the way businesses collect data and solve problems[i]. While our National government today is more ideological and less pragmatic, pragmatic government has always been an important thread running through governmental policies. Even FDR’s New Deal consisted of a lot of very pragmatic efforts by government to solve the problems of the Depression!
Educational Implications: Students should practice pragmatic problem solving in order to develop alternative solutions to the issues that face us. Developing classroom rules is one way. Conducting interviews to collect data is another. Conducting scientific experiments and building scientific problem solving skills is another. Providing students with authentic performance tasks that require hands on problem solving is also an excellent way to promote these skills.
Upward mobility, success, a better life. The Declaration of Independence focused on “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” as an ideal for all Americans. Millions of Americans came to America’s shores to search for a new life free from persecution and filled with opportunity. Education has always been one of the most significant vehicles for reaching the “American dream” and for upward mobility.
Educational Implications: “Equal opportunity” education as a route to “success” and achievement has played and today plays a very important role in American society. Schools are asked to create a culture of high and challenging expectations, share knowledge and information, and develop skills and attitudes that will help to improve the lives of Americans and develop individual talents and interests.
This means that we should commit ourselves to insuring that ALL schools – urban, suburban, rural – should provide quality services that include a full and complete curriculum in all subject areas, small class sizes, up to date technology, strong extra curricular programs, quality professional and curricular development, counselors and libraries, and so on. Additional services should also be available in those areas with high poverty levels and strong needs.
Individual development, growth and responsibility
America values individuals who take personal responsibility for their lives! We admire individuals who overcome obstacles, work hard, continue to improve and learn, don’t give up on themselves. We expect people to persist, show “grit” and determination, and overcome failure. We support the idea that everyone should have the opportunity to develop individual talents and strengths, and encourage difference among students.
Educational Implications: Schools should figure out ways to help students develop individual personal responsibility over time. Helping students learn to be persistent, learn from failure, stay on track, and see effort as important for success should be an important part of the curriculum at all levels, especially in those areas where children need this type of help and support. Students should have the opportunity to participate in multiple types of experiences that enable them to discover and develop their interests and talents.
Invention and creativity
America has always been a society that supported new ideas, innovation, and creative thinking. Americans invented a whole new way of thinking about government in the formation of its Constitution. Consider just the latest manifestations of this thinking – social media options, the desktop computer, mp3 players, tablets, search engines, hybrid and electric cars, solar energy, just name a few.
Educational Implications: Schools should be places where students learn to think creatively, come up with original solutions to problems, invent. Special elective courses might be developed that examine the role that invention, innovation, and creativity played and plays in American society. Students at all levels might learn creative problem solving strategies and techniques. Project based learning strategies might be used to encourage students to solve problems creatively.
The promise of science and technology
Throughout American history, science and technology have been thought of as a way to improve people’s lives. Science and technology achievements have dramatically changed our lives for the better, and will probably continue to do so in the future. Agricultural science thrived in rural America and paved the way for huge increases in crop yields, better water management, and so on. Inventions such as the cotton gin, the electric light bulb, the steam engine, and mass production techniques were critical to the prosperity and improvements in American society. Nobel prizes are regularly bestowed on America’s scientists.
Educational Implications: Science and technology should play a much greater role in educating American students. Strong high quality programs in these areas should begin in pre-school and include an understanding of the scientific method, core concepts and theories in science and the evidence that supports them, involvement in science competitions, and opportunities to creatively think about scientific and technical achievements. A big push should be to integrate science and technology with math and engineering throughout the curriculum, as in the STEM subjects
American artisans, from individual craftsmen to the design and building of the Model-T ford, have been a stalwart factor in American society.
Educational Implications: “Craftsmanship” should be emphasized in American schools. Craftsmanship is not doing well on tests – rather, it is focused on high performance levels, whether it be for writing an essay, participating in a discussion, creating a mural, doing a presentation, or acting in a play. [ii]
Tolerance for diversity, difference, pluralism.
One of America’s unique strengths is its continuous movement towards greater tolerance, diversity and respect for difference. Hard work and effort by many courageous Americans has resulted in the collapse of slavery, the significant reduction of anti-semitic, ethnic and racial prejudice, increased civil rights, and the movement for gay and lesbian rights.
Educational Implications: With the world’s boundaries shrinking through instant worldwide communication, global travel, global trade and multicultural corporations, educational programs that explore cultural diversity and tolerance both within and outside of America are important for living in a multicultural world. Student self-development programs that promote tolerance and reduce prejudice towards others should also be a critical part of the educational experience.
Competition and Collaboration
Both competition and collaboration are important values in American society. Competition is at the heart of the American capitalist system, and our competitive economic system has created products of excellence at relatively low cost. Collaboration is also important, especially within corporations and businesses, in order to bring together the best minds to maintain and develop economic success.
Educational implications: Our educational culture should support both competition among students to be the best, as well as cooperative ways to learn and grow together.
Voluntary service to others.
CNN has created a process to discover and share information about “heroes” that provide voluntary service to others; this yearlong process, culminating in a two hour program rewarding the ten best “heroes” for their work, correlates closely with American values. Many Americans freely give both their money and their services to help others – this is part of the great American tradition.
Educational implications: Schools should promote this American value by organizing opportunities for students to provide community service to others, and to learn from their service. Many schools already have community service opportunities for their students.
What teachers, schools and districts can do…
When education is based on America’s unique qualities, values and strengths, a paradigm very different from one based on improving standardized test scores emerges. Based on these qualities, here are some things that teachers, schools and districts can do:
We need to begin to measure our success in educating our young by how well we implement educational practices and programs based on America’s unique qualities and strengths, not by comparing American student’s standardized tests scores against other country’s scores. Teachers, schools and the outside community can judge success by how well students “understand” and apply content, read widely, write and communicate well, learn how to do research and problem solve, develop an understanding of American democracy and what it means to be a good citizen, learn about current American and world-wide issues and challenges, become interested and engaged in STEM subjects, think creatively, develop an interest in many activities and their talents through participation in both core and extra-curricular programs, complete high quality work, develop individual responsibility traits, volunteer for community service, and so on.
These criteria suggest that individual schools, teachers, and educational leaders might want to think differently about what makes for successful educational experiences, and build alternative activities and programs into classrooms and schools to support American excellence. They also suggest that governmental policies, built around standardized test scores, are currently headed us in a very limiting and wrong direction as we try to improve education and prepare our students for living a 21st century world. Unfortunately, we have a long way to go in creating an educational system that builds on what is unique about and important to American society, and in using appropriate assessments to judge when education is successful.
[i] For example, see a recent article in the New York Times, February 15, 2014, Intel’s Sharp-Eyed Social Scientist, that examines how Intel fosters research and collects data for improving product development.
[ii] For further insights into the role of craftsmanship in American education, see Ron Berger (2003), An Ethic of Excellence: Building a Culture of Craftsmanship with Students. Portsmouth, New Hampshire: Heinemann publishers.
Elliott Seif is a long time educator, Understanding by Design trainer, author, consultant, and former Professor of Education at Temple University. Many of his commentaries can be found on ASCD Edge. If you are interested in further examining ways to improve teaching and learning and help to prepare students to live in a 21st century world, go to his website: www.era3learning.org
I was having a great week. I had returned from ECET2, a convening celebrating effective teachers and teaching. It was hosted by the Gates Foundation (@gatesed), and all 350 attendees were nominated from major educational organizations. From that experience, I gained new friendships and possible opportunities for future collaboration. Our NJASCD North Region had a successful weekday PD event with Eric Sheninger (@NMHS_Principal) on Digital Learning and Leading. Eric even stayed 45 minutes after his presentation ended to ask me, and my North Region Co-Director, Billy J. Krakower (@wkrakower), how we were doing personally and professionally. Life was good. But all I could think about was some offhand comment someone had made to me a few days earlier.
It was an innocuous comment made to me by someone I don’t know. And, it’s so silly it doesn’t even bear repeating. Yet, I stayed in my car for almost ten minutes before reversing my car out of my parking spot.
In prior posts I’ve written about the importance of treating each other well and modeling it daily, the importance of honesty in our relationships with students, parents, and peers, and staying true to our core values as educators. I pride myself in finding the good in others, in our field, and myself, which is why as I reflected on this moment, I wondered where my unwavering positivity went. Why would I let someone I don’t know, who doesn’t know me and will never see me again, have a lasting effect on me? Why would I allow someone to take away my excellence?
Eric Bernstein (@bernsteinusc), in his race to write more than I do, wrote a beautiful piece about the importance of understanding who students are as people, and where they are as learners. (http://edge.ascd.org/_Lessons-From-the-Fonz-Part-1/blog/6562962/127586.html). His belief (and mine, too) is: the better we know our students, the more successful we can educate them. I think we can extend this concept: the better we know and are honest with ourselves, the better we can educate our students because we will be in a better place, too. And, it’s important for us to be honest with ourselves, acknowledge what irks us (like a throwaway comment by a stranger), and have a support system in place to assist us when we hear the negative whispers after a comment like that which feeds into our insecurities.
With the hope that this post supports other educators who hear and sometimes can’t block out the negative whispers, here is my advice to keep the faith:
1. Get Some Ed Therapy: Twitter has salvaged my day more than I like to admit. When I’m down, drained, or dejected, I click on my Tweetdeck shortcut and connect with my edufriends. They have become an extended family, one I share my thoughts, questions, concerns, and ruminations about life in and outside of education. I know they will always be my rock when I need them, and hope they know the same is true for me. My #ASCDL2L, #satchat, #njed, #arkedchat, #iaedchat, #edchat, and #ECET2 crew, I love you all. (Hashtag that).
2. Find Your Matt Hall: every person in education needs one person in their district who believes in them and shares of themselves, so we become better by learning from their experiences, instead of having to go through them ourselves. Matt Hall (@MHall_MST), the Science and Technology Supervisor in my district, is that person for me. Because he’s paid his dues, knows my driven nature and my end goals, listens to me when I speak, and guides me when my thinking needs redirection. And, he’s a vault. What goes on with Matt Hall, stays with Matt Hall.
3. Have a Phone Call with Someone from Iowa (or North Carolina, Minnesota, or New York): it was one year ago when I was at a crossroads professionally. I wasn’t sure where my path was leading, or if I could go further. Jimmy Casas (Casas_Jimmy), who I’d known briefly from a couple Twitter interactions, called me and spoke with me for an hour. We discussed me: who I was, who I wanted to be, what my long-term goals were, and why. Jimmy reminded me I couldn’t change my current situation, but I could change my mindset. And it was that conversation, followed by conversations with Steven Weber (@curriculumblog), Kimberly A. Hurd (@khurdhorst), and Maureen Connolly (http://goo.gl/RPN7DH) that prompted me to e-mail Marie Adair (@todayadair), the Executive Director of NJASCD, and ask what I could do to help the organization. Her response: “Whatever you are comfortable with. We’re just happy to have you join us.”
Like Eric Bernstein’s post, I tried to focus on three main points. Additionally, Eric mentioned his desire to keep his message short, but acknowledged the challenges inherent in that. With that being said, I wanted to list the 99 people who have mentored me on the anniversary of my mindset changing conversations. I am not a better person, father, husband, or teacher without them in my life. I have listed Eric Sheninger, Billy Krakower, Eric Bernstein, Matt Hall, Jimmy Casas, Steven Weber, Kim Hurd, Maureen Connolly, and Marie Adair already, so I will start at the number ten, in no order. Each one of them has helped shape and mold me in some way. To acknowledge that, I have included their Twitter handles if they have them. All are worthy of a follow, and will reciprocate sharing ideas with the goal that we all go further together. We may have 99 problems, but a mentor should not be one:
10. David Culberhouse (@dculberhouse)
11. Daisy Dyer-Duerr (@daisydyerduerr)
12. Scott Rocco (@scottrrocco)
13. Brad Currie (@bcurrie5)
14. John Fritzky (@johnfritzky)
15. Jay Eitner (@isupereit)
16. Anthony Fitzpatrick (@antfitz)
17. Diane Jacobs
18. Pam Lester (@njpam)
19. Mariann Helfant
20. MaryJean DiRoberto
21. Tom Tramaglini (@tomtramaglini)
22. Matt Mingle (@mmingle1)
23. Alina Davis (@alinadavis)
24. Fred Ende (@fredende)
25. Becki Kelly (@bekcikelly)
26. Kevin Kelly (@emammuskevink)
27. Tony Sinanis (@tonysinanis)
28. Ross LeBrun (@MrLeBrun)
29. Darren Vanishkian (@mrvteaches)
30. Glenn Robbins (@glennr1809)
31. Rebecca McLelland-Crawley
32. Bruce Arcurio (@principalarc)
33. Scott Totten (@4bettereducatio)
34. Kevin Connell (@WHS_Principal)
35. Krista Rundell (@klrundell)
36. Cory Radisch (@MAMS_Principal)
37. Meg (Simpson) Cohen (@megkcohen)
38. Tina Byland
39. Klea Scharberg
40. Suzy Brooks (@simplysuzy)
41. Eric Russo (@erusso78)
42. Walter McKenzie (@walterindc)
43. Kristen Olsen (@kristenbolsen)
44. Kevin Parr
45. Robert Zywicki (@zywickir)
46. Chris Giordano (@giordanohistory)
47. Jim Cordery (@jcordery)
48. Drew Frank (@ugafrank)
49. Jasper Fox, Sr. (@jsprfox)
50. Kate Baker (@ktbkr4)
51. Megan Stamer (@meganstamer)
52. John Falino (@johnfalino1)
53. Jon Harper (@johnharper70bd)
54. Grant Wiggins (@grantwiggins)
55. Kirsten Wilson (@teachkiwi)
56. Dan P. Butler (@danpbutler)
57. Tim Ito (@timito4)
58. Andre Meadows (@andre_meadows)
59. Tom Whitford (@twhitford)
60. Matt Renwick (@readbyexample)
61. Chris Bronke (@mrbronke)
62. Daniel Ryder (@wickeddecentlearning)
63. Emily Land (@eland1682)
64. Jessica (J-Wright) Wright (@jessicampitts)
65. Phil Griffins (@philgriffins)
66. Jennifer Orr (@jenorr)
67. Sophia Weissenborn (@srweissenborn)
68. Kristie Martorelli (@azstoykristie)
69. Michelle Lampinen (@michlampinen)
70. Manan Shah (@shahlock)
71. Tom Murray (@thomascmurray)
72. Rich Kiker (@rkiker)
73. Irvin Scott (@iscott4)
74. Vivett Hymens (@lotyssblossym)
75. Jon Spencer (@jonspencer4)
76. Jozette Martinez (jozi_is_awesome)
77. Peggy Stewart (@myglobalside)
78. Michael J. Dunlea (@michaeljdunlea)
79. Karen Arnold (@sanford475)
80. Ashleigh Ferguson (@ferg_ashleigh)
81. Jill Thompson (@edu_thompson)
82. Rick Hess (@rickhess99)
83. Maddie Fennell (@maddief)
84. Todd Whitaker (@toddwhitaker)
85. Jeff Zoul (@jeff_zoul)
86. Jen Audley (@jen_audley)
87. Kevin Scott (@edu_kevin_)
88. Kathryn Suk (@ksukeduc)
89. Baruti Kafele (@principalkafele)
90. Peter DeWitt (@petermdewitt)
91. Anthony McMichael (@a_mcmichael)
92. Natalie Franzi (@nataliefranzi)
93. Paul Bogush (@paulbogush)
94. Sam Morra (@sammorra)
95. Spike C. Cook (@drspokecook)
96. Colin Wikan (@colinwikan)
97. George Courous (@gcouros)
98. Scott Taylor (@tayloredlead)
99. Dave Burgess (@burgessdave)
The boxes arrived last week. Those boxes stacked high, full of Iowa Assessment test booklets, answer sheets, and directions for administration. They arrived and are sitting against the far wall of my office – not physically, but philosophically in the way. In two weeks, our students will take those tests. They will spend multiple hours over a course of a week filling in bubbles to demonstrate to the federal and state governments that they have grown academically in content areas like reading, math, science, and social studies. There will be no test on grit or perseverance – except their ability to complete the test without creating a pattern on the answer sheet. There will be no test on creativity – unless they do create a pattern on the answer sheet.
All of this will happen in the midst of a year where my district has truly pushed itself to know the learner better to grow the learner better. We have pushed hard to mold ourselves into what our students need, not mold the students into what we need. We have more teachers that ever using data to revise instruction, using standards-based learning, and thinking about competency-based education. We work toward a new goal of personalized learning in our district – and it is exciting, invigorating, daunting, and … the right work.
So, those boxes sit in my office while I have the pleasure of attending a convening hosted by the Nellie Mae Foundation and KnowledgeWork on the federal accountability framework in light of competency-based education. The convening was a great two days focused on assessment, core CBE principles, the role of the federal government in education, and the unintended consequences of building a new framework that is easy to understand (and which may do more harm to CBE than the current one).
The discussion on accountability traveled far and wide. Some of the main points and questions raised included:
I was excited by the opportunity to impact federal policy, yet realistic enough to know that it would not be done when the convening was complete. We must struggle with the enormous task of changing a federal mindset that accountability is one battery of tests once a year. This is completely antithetical to competency-based education and personalized learning. We must work to change this mindset and the system of accountability derived from it if we are truly to have an opportunity to meet every student where they are at and guide them to where they can be.
I know it will not be an easy fix, but it is the right work to do. We must persist, we must challenge, and we must ask the questions that change policy, challenge politics and improve the learning environments and experiences of our students. A student is not a series of data points. Each student is a complex combination of dreams, passions, fears, and possibilities. No test, or battery of tests, will ever fully measure all of that. But we can – and should – get a lot closer to it.
“All You Need to Do Is Keep That Child Buoyed”
The First of Three Lessons on How to Support Students with Learning Differences from the Fonz
One of my self-proclaimed areas of relative strength as a teacher educator is in helping regular education teachers understand learning disabilities and how to work with students who have special learning needs in the regular education classroom. I suspect that the earliest contributions to this strength had to do with my (as yet officially) undiagnosed ADHD. Having been that student who did not fit the traditional learner mold, but usually being a high achiever, I understood early on that every person did not learn the same way and that just because people do not learn the same way does not mean they do not learn well. After seeing Henry Winkler (@hwinkler4real) on a recent episode (February 12, 2014) of Morning Joe, I learned that Winkler is another (far more famous) example of my personal experience and understanding of learning differently. Listening to Winkler, I felt validated in the way I have approached discussions with pre-service and in-service teachers about teaching students with disabilities—reading disabilities, in particular—and was moved to write my next blog based on Winkler’s words in that interview.
After my last blog post theme, connecting teacher professional learning to Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure (http://edge.ascd.org/_Meaningful-Learning-An-Excellent-Adventure/blog/6562392/127586.html), I thought that maybe I could write about lessons in education or learning from Henry Winkler’s famed Happy Days character, “The Fonz!” I searched the web for quotes from Happy Days in hopes of finding ways the Fonz’s wisdom could be connected to teaching and learning. Sure enough, I found a pearl in Season One of Happy Days, the episode “Fonzie Drops In,” which (just as surely) proved that this approach was probably not my best brainchild ever:
Richie [speaking to the Fonz]: You make school sound like good fun.
Fonzie: Well, school's got good points. I mean, smoking in the bathroom, cutting classes, showing my tattoo to the chicks.
So...I decided that pop culture would NOT form the theme for this blog post! Ultimately, though, I hope that Henry Winkler has actually created a new pop cultural icon, Hank Zipzer. Winkler has created this series of chapter books together with co-author Lin Oliver (@linoliver) based on many of Winkler’s own experiences. The Hank Zipzer series (www.hankzipzer.com, @hankzipzertv) follows the adventures and misadventures of this bright fourth grade (then fifth and sixth, and soon second grade in an anticipated prequel series) student with the same learning challenges Winkler experiences. My third grade son (who is learning to master some of his own differences in learning style) has just started reading the first book in the series and it has been great to see him relate to the story and character and be motivated past some of his own reluctance to read.
After re-watching that interview on Morning Joe, I realized that I didn’t need the Fonz for this blog post. I realized that I could address several important points from the words of the Fonz’s self-proclaimed alter-ego, Winkler, himself. I decided to focus on understanding the experience of being a student with a learning difference and how educators (and parents) can better support those (and ALL) students. Three things that Winkler said in the Morning Joe interview anchor some salient points from my thinking about supporting students:
1) “I covered my shame and humiliation for not being able to figure out what was going on, with humor...” (MSNBC, 2014)
2) “...we have to start teaching children the way they CAN learn and not what we think they SHOULD learn....” (MSNBC, 2014)
3) “...all you need to do is keep that child buoyed...” (MSNBC, 2014)
Mostly in an effort to keep up with the blogging pace of Barry Saide (@BarryKid1), I have decided to break this into three different blog posts (perhaps also to save you from a single 5000+ word blog post—which I think probably violates some rule of blogging! I know @Joe_Mazza, there are no rules...nonetheless, 5000 words seems excessive for one post). Each post will address one of the three key points highlighted by Henry Winkler’s words from that Morning Joe interview.
“I covered my shame and humiliation for not being able to figure out what was going on, with humor”
One of the most powerful professional learning experiences I ever had with respect to understanding the experiences of students with disabilities was watching the film F.A.T. City Workshop (Lavoie, et. al, 2004). The shame and humiliation that Winkler describes lead to the “F,” “A,” and “T” in Lavoie’s F.A.T. City: Frustration, Anxiety, and Tension.
Children who struggle with different learning needs experience increasing frustration that they just can’t “get it.” There are many things that we tell students who are struggling, especially to read. Lavoie notes three of the most common in F.A.T. City:
As Winkler explained in a different interview, “I was called lazy. I was called stupid. I was told I was not living up to my potential.” Yet, he went on to explain that all the time inside he was thinking “I don’t think I’m stupid. I don’t want to be stupid. I’m trying as hard as I can. I really am” (Yale, n.d.). Students who are struggling already know they are not getting it and our typical responses only compound the frustration—as they really do WANT to get it.
The persistent experience of “not getting it” results in anxiety about being called on in class or looking stupid in front of peers. Winkler described being called, in 1999, to read for a new Neil Simon play—ostensibly, a significant career opportunity—and he explained how he very easily initially reacted to himself “you can’t do this, you’ll be out of the business, you’ll be out of your life. Aside from this, you’ll be embarrassing yourself into oblivion” (Yale, n.d.). Winkler had that anxiety after already being an established, successful, and even revered actor. Imagine the anxiety that is experienced by the student with learning differences every time the teacher is cold calling, or as the ping pong reading comes ever closer to her or him. Lavoie explains, and I have seen in my own classrooms, the cognitive demand of the anxiety that those students are experiencing when thinking about what or when they will be called on and how their “not getting it” may make them look in front of the teacher or, worse, their peers.
The cognitive load of the anxiety leaves little space for focus on things that those students would otherwise be able to learn and understand. We need to come up with strategies to reduce that anxiety for our students. One simple change would be to have a silent cue that only you and the specific student know—when you give them that cue, they know they are the next person to be called on. This will likely not reduce the anxiety the student experiences at the time you actually call on her or him. What it will do, though, is relieve the cognitive load of worrying if they will be next—allowing room for them to engage with and learn the content that is being delivered in the mean time.
Winkler describes covering his shame “with humor.” The acting-out behaviors that generate the laughs create the third aspect of Lavoie’s F.A.T. trifecta, tension between teacher (or parent) and the young person. Winkler aptly notes that “A child doesn't wake up in the morning saying 'Wow, I'm gonna be an idiot today, I'm gonna cause trouble,' ” yet, causing trouble is often the only way that young people who are struggling with learning can “save face” or avoid feeling ashamed by their lack of understanding. Those who don’t act-out, often exhibit another protective behavior, hiding—making themselves small and hoping no one notices they are even there. In either event, there is always a reason why young people behave in an apparently asocial manner. That reason is almost always for self-protection or self-preservation. Research by Walker, Colvin, and Ramsey (1995) resulted in the construction of a cycle of acting-out behavior and explain that even maladaptive behaviors typically serve an adaptive purpose.
Most often, educators and parents focus on punishing the asocial behaviors of young people. Winkler describes his experience with his own parents growing up: “My parents were determined to find the punishment that was going to force me to get better grades” (Murfitt, 2008). However, as Walker, Colvin, and Ramsey (1995) explain, punishments for the acting-out behavior tend not to be effective or long-term behavior changers. Actually, they note, punishing the acting-out behavior often reinforces the behavior by fulfilling the need (e.g., avoidance of the originating situation). Rather, they explain that the underlying behavioral contingency (the if-then construct—e.g., if I act out and can get in trouble, then the teacher will focus on punishing me and will not make me answer the question I don’t understand and I won’t be embarrassed by giving a wrong answer or if I refuse to read my book and, instead, argue about it with my parents, then I will get sent to my room and not end up having to do the reading) must be identified and the needs that lead to the behavior are what, in fact, should be addressed.
The bottom line: We should use our energies to seek an understanding of what motivates student behavior and ask ourselves why this young person feels compelled to act-out (or hide). This lesson is absolutely one that will benefit all of our students, regardless of learning styles and disability—and will support a positive, safe learning climate in all of our classrooms.
Thank you for taking the time to read this far and I do hope that you will be on the lookout for part two of this blog post—“...we have to start teaching children the way they CAN learn and not what we think they SHOULD learn....”
Lavoie, R. D., Rosen, P., Eagle Hill School Outreach., Peter Rosen Productions., & PBS Video. (2004). How difficult can this be?: Understanding learning disabilities: frustration, anxiety, tension, the F.A.T. city workshop. Alexandria, VA: PBS.
MSNBC. (2014, Feb12). Morning Joe: Henry Winkler’s kids book tackles dyslexia. Video retrieved February 18, 2014, from http://www.msnbc.com/morning-joe/watch/henry-winklers-kids-book-tackles-dyslexia-148785731602.
Murfitt, N. (2008, Dec 8). 'I was called Dumb Dog': Henry Winkler's happy days as The Fonz were blighted by condition undiagnosed for 35 years. Daily Mail. Retrieved February 20, 2014, from http://www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-1092477/I-called-Dumb-Dog-Henry-Winklers-happy-days-The-Fonz-blighted-condition-undiagnosed-35-years.html.
Walker, H. M., Colvin, G., & Ramsey, E. (1995). Antisocial behavior in school: Strategies and best practices. Pacific Grove, Calif: Brooks/Cole Pub. Co.
Yale Center for Dyslexia and Creativity. (n.d.). Henry Winkler, Actor, Producer, Author. Retrieved February 20, 2014, from http://dyslexia.yale.edu/Winkler.html.
After five decades of being an educator, I am growing weary of the constant discussion over the divide between education and technology. When will we reach a point where we will discuss Education, teaching and learning without having to debate technology? The idea of learning hasn’t changed since the beginning of time. We learn to survive and improve. Much like breathing, it is what we do naturally. Unlike breathing, some learn better than others, but the concept is the same for everyone. It is the degree of learning that is the variable.
Education addresses learning and teaching for specific goals. Of course what those specific goals are, is a point of contention among many people, both educators and non-educators alike. I think we can agree that education teaches many skills, which people can use to exist, thrive, compete, and create in society. This should hold true for whatever skills are taught in whatever society they are taught in, be it primitive, or advanced. Obviously, the more complicated the society is, the more sophisticated the skills that must be taught.
If we analyze and list all the skills that we deem essential to teach, I think there would be a great deal of commonality without regard to any country. The languages may vary, but the skills would be the same. Discussions of education in these terms would sound similar no matter what country in which these discussions took place. For the sake of this discussion, we could break down all education to its basic elements of reading, writing, and speaking. I am sure that there are some educators who remember education being just as simple as that from back in their day. Actually, it wasn’t all that long ago.
What has changed in education since the late seventies is not the specific skills we teach, but how they will be used. Technology has crept into our society in both obvious, and subtle ways. It has changed the way many of us do things, but for our children it is the only way they can or ever knew how do things. We old folks grew up watching TV. It was part of our culture. Kids today do not view it the same way. We used to dress up as an occasion to travel on a plane. Today, never a second thought is given to jumping on a plane dressed in any manner to get anywhere. A second phone in a household was once a luxury, and today each member of a family carries their own phone. The world has changed and continues to do so at a frightening pace. It is not something we control. IT has become part of the infrastructure. It is as important as roads, rails, planes and power grids.
The very skills that we as educators are charged to teach our kids will be used in a technology-driven society. The skills remain the same, but their application has drastically changed over the last decades. We can discuss education as education without technology, but at some point we must address how kids will be using that which they have learned. If the application of their learned skills will be technology driven than the very tools they should be learning with should also be technology-driven.
The biggest problem with technology is the pace at which it evolves. It moves faster than folks can catch up to it. Because of that, it becomes a burden on educators to learn what they need to know in order to teach skills in an environment close to what kids will be expected to live in. Many educators are running as fast as they can to catch up, but too many others are reluctant.
Some believe that just teaching the skills is enough. They feel kids will adapt, after all they are digital natives. I don’t feel that way. I have come to see that kids are great at exploring the Internet, Google searching, downloading music and movies, and texting at lightening speed with two thumbs. Beyond that, kids need to be shown how the skills that they have learned fit into the world in which they will live. This requires using tech in education as a tool and not a skill. We need not teach tech, to use it. It should be a tool for curating data, collaborating, communicating, and creating. This requires an application of their learned skills to produce and create stuff in a format that society recognizes as relevant.
I think the point that I am painstakingly trying to make is that technology needs not to be in discussions of education, but rather in how will the education of any kid be applied in an ever-evolving, technology-driven world in which tour kids will be required to live. We need to recognize what it is we are educating kids for. Where will they apply their education? If it is a world void of technology, than technology is less important in education. If not, than we need to better prepare them for what they will need.
In order to accomplish that, we need to better prepare ourselves as educators to deal with that. Educators need to be digitally literate and that doesn’t happen on its own. It takes effort. The excuse of “too much on the plate already” doesn’t hold up against the argument of professional responsibility. The argument of education for the sake of education and the hell with technology doesn’t hold up in light of the technological world in which these kids will live. Yes, we need to do more, and it isn’t always easy. If we are to better educate our children, we need to better educate our educators. It is not an easy job. Isn’t that what we tell people all the time?
Teacher Appreciation Week Comes Early to Snowbird at #ECET2
During the closing address of the Gates Education Foundation’s (@gatesed) Elevating and Celebrating Effective Teachers and Teaching (#ECET2) Convening, participants were asked to share one word with an elbow partner that summed up their feelings about the conference. I struggled to convey the thoughts in my head using the words “expanded” or “broadened.” I needed a lot of explanation to go along with my response, all the while getting further and further away from the one word challenge. With time to reflect, what I really was trying to get at was the idea that this experience, and the teachers that I had the privilege of coming in touch with, truly opened my mind. Without knowing it, I came to the table with narrow definitions of the idea of teacher leader, of how to reach all learners, and of the implications of common core. Furthermore, I came with a limited view of my own place within the context of this amazing group of teachers and the impact I might have. I was nominated to attend through my work with ASCD and the Whole Child Network, which as many of my peers have stated, seems like being recognized for simply doing what our job requires, but it is never that simple.
When it came time to share out with the whole group, Dr. Irvin Scott (@iscott4) asked people to stand and call out their words. A common theme quickly emerged from the chorus of responses: refreshed - inspired –invigorated – energized - and an array of synonyms that expressed similar sentiments. As I sat there listening, the inadequateness of the word I came up with during the turn and talk became apparent, and a new one came to mind . . . appreciated. I shouted it out just in time to make the final cutoff for sharing, and quickly leaned over to my partner telling her not to give away the secret of my switch.
Appreciation is such a simple sentiment, and one that I’m sure most teachers will agree we often don’t feel. Much of the press likes to embellish the negative connotations that are associated with our profession. Education as a system has a pass-the-buck type of mentality, and usually that buck stops at the head of the class. I am always critical at the beginning of the year, when our district special education department calls us together to say what a great job we are doing before following with a laundry list of all of the things we aren’t doing well. There are endless examples any teacher can give you. By the very nature of the youth we serve, and through no fault of their own, a thank you is not something I here every day (Although I dream of the students that come to me to say, “Hey Mr. Russo, thanks for teaching me the elements of plot. That was mind-blowing!”) And it was clear, through discussions with other attendees, that being a teacher leader, especially an unofficial one, doesn’t always come along with an eager group of followers hanging on your every word. In fact, it can be quite the opposite.
Having said all that, the name of this incredible event gets lost in the simplicity of the acronym. It truly served to elevate and celebrate the work that we do. For the first time in a long time, I feel appreciated, and in turn want to show some of my appreciation. I am appreciative to ASCD and the group from the Whole Child Network for thinking that I am worth it. I am appreciative to my co-presenters, Kristen Tolsen Cons, Barry Saide (@barrykid1), and Suzy Brooks (@SimplySuzy), for considering me an equal when in fact they are miles ahead of me (and again to Barry and Suzy for inadvertently inspiring me to write this post). I am appreciative to my colleague circles, especially those in the “Reaching All Learners” circle, who reminded me that it’s not just about the high flyers and the strugglers, but it’s about boys and girls, about race, about special education, about socioeconomic status, and it’s about the kids in other people’s classes that do not have the privilege of sitting in our classrooms on a daily basis. I am appreciative to my principal (especially after hearing some horror stories) because she has fostered my growth from the moment I stepped in the building as a first year teacher four years ago. I am appreciative for everyone that shared with me and listened to what I had to share. I am appreciative for all of the comments and links and hash tags on the social network surrounding this conference (#ECET2). I am appreciative of the Gates Education Foundation for holding this convening and living up to it’s promise. I am appreciative of my family, who often take the backseat to grading, planning, or IEP writing on the weekends. But most of all, I am appreciative of my students, who push me to be better daily, who, upon my return, showed that they missed me in a variety of different ways, but most simply when one student, Paulina, said “Welcome home, Mr. Russo.” I am truly at home in the classroom. I am where I belong, and I am appreciative of the opportunity to serve kids through all of the highs and lows that come with the responsibility.
AS I type this Congress has not reauthorized ESEA. Our state has given away most growth revenue to businesses in the form of tax credits and lowered corporate taxes on horizontal drilling. As a result, our state government is facing a revenue shortfall created by this corporate welfare! While causing this fiscal crisis by their actions, these same legislators have enacted pages of reform proposals for education without providing any funding to accomplish those reforms! At the same time, our state is experiencing growth in population and serving some 40,000 more students than were served in 2009 when the Great Recession occurred and now we are expected to serve them with some $270 million less dollars!
Wouldn't it be refreshing if the rhetoric we all hear about education being a priority was backed by actions that proved it? I don't think I will hold my breath waiting for that to happen!
If we live in a society in America where our representatives are supposed to work on our behalf my only conclusion is we have the policies and budget priorities that the majority of Americans want! It is obvious there is no outcry when corporations buy politicians to the point they receive massive amounts of tax credits and tax reductions that serve to enrich their bottom lines but simply rape budgets for state funded services like public education. Since this is reality in the U.S., then I have one question for parents of the students we are serving. Who will buy the politicians for school children since they can't do that for themselves?
Education costs money and to provide services to children that need additional attention costs money too. Schools are subject to inflationary costs so if their budgets decline, they can provide less services and attention to those students they serve. Why is this reality not understood by the parents of these students and why are they comfortable with it?
The old saying "you get what you pay for" implies that today's parents are more than willing to allow politicians to provide less services for their children by the funding policies they allow our lawmakers to enact! Does this reflect education as a true priority? I think not!
This post is a part of the ASCD Forum conversation “how do we cultivate and support teacher leaders?” To learn more about the ASCD Forum, go to www.ascd.org/ascdforum.
My February vacation was unlike any other I’ve experienced. With two trips planned - I had it set in my mind that one would be about Education, and the other would be about Family. I would spend 3 nights in Snowbird Utah, as a guest of the Gates Foundation. Their Elevating and Celebrating Effective Teachers and Teaching Convening (#ECET2) was a chance for teacher leaders from all over the country to talk about the challenges we are facing in education. I was expecting to be immersed in all-things Education for those 3 days - and I was. For the next 3 nights, I would be with my family in the midwest, where we would be visiting my daughter’s #1 college choice: The University of Minnesota. There would be lots of laughs, meals shared, and stories to bring home. I was expecting to be immersed in all-things Family for those 3 days - and I was.
What I wasn’t expecting? Was the amount of overlap between Family and Education during my 6 day, 6 flight adventure. This week has had a profound effect on me as an educator, and as a individual. I couldn't help but re-think some of my goals, priorities and beliefs by the time I arrived back to Cape Cod.
BOS - SLC: Am I a leader?
In a recent post on ASCD’s Edge, I reflected on this question… Flying to Salt Lake City, I thought long and hard about it. I believe all teachers are leaders in their own way - some just take it beyond the classroom. My leadership extends beyond my classroom by way of the Internet. It is online where i am able to shine as a leader. Online, I offer an opinion without fear. I have time to formulate my thoughts before typing. I share what I’m doing in my classroom without shyness. I connect with others I wouldn’t have the courage to offline. It is the “face-to-face” leader I am reluctant to become. ECET2 brought me out of my shell through cooperative opportunities designed for meaningful interaction. I worked closely with teacher leaders from all over the US, and in the process, I began to see my skills mirrored in theirs. There were soft-spoken, shy, thoughtful teachers. They are working hard to bring teaching and learning to the next level. I saw them as leaders, and in doing so, I started to believe in myself as well.
PLAN: Connect with teacher leaders, and recognize my role as such.
SLC - BOS: Where’s the balance?
Flying home from Snowbird, my thoughts were consumed with the concept of Balance. Every conversation I heard touched upon the struggles teachers face when it comes to finding balance in their lives… How do we balance our role as teacher with that of teacher leader? How do we find time for our family? How do we find time for ourselves? Unfortunately, I came away with far more questions than answers. I am always amazed at the number of teachers who face the challenges of anxiety and depression. The more I tell people about my diagnosed, unmedicated anxiety, the more stories I hear. Too many teachers I connect with are having to rely on medication, exercise, diet and counseling to help them cope with anxiety and depression. In a profession where working at home is necessary, what strategies do teachers use to make everything fit? And, when it doesn’t fit, what is the price we pay? Do we leave the profession? Do we leave our family? What is conventionally billed as an excellent fit for families, a career in teaching doesn’t quite deliver. Balance is one of the biggest struggles I face in life. I have yet to figure out how to teach, lead and connect in effective, consistent ways. Because of this, I live a distracted life - trying to juggle everything well, knowing I’m dropping balls left and right. Though I was surrounded by passionate overachievers at #ECET2, I left wondering where my answers would come from.
PLAN: - Define boundaries where my attention is not drawn away from what is important.
BOS - STL: Can my students Achieve the Core?
My family and I took off from Boston 6 hours after I landed from Utah. As we prepared to visit my daughter’s #1 choice for college, we talked about the university’s requirements for entering freshman. Common Core students should start arriving on the doorsteps of colleges nation-wide, well-prepared to think critically, work cooperatively and demonstrate understanding in multiple ways. Teachers all over the country are given the responsibility of delivering curriculum to fit these national standards, and we are essentially still at the ground level. Understanding the shifts of the Common Core takes extensive reading and reflection, and it cannot be done alone. Teachers must work together to better define what teaching and learning will look like in the classroom at all levels. With careful, thoughtful implementation, our students will be set up for success. Isn’t that what they deserve?
PLAN: Build capacity in my own Common Core understanding while continuing to offer PD for teachers.
STL - MSP: Who put me in a cage?
Before landing in the Twin Cities, I thought about the sessions I attended at #ECET2. After attending one particular session called the Cage Busting Teacher, facilitated by Rick Hess (@rickhess99), and Maddie Fennell (@maddief) I was empowered to think of myself as a leader who can have difficult conversations. My anxiety often gets in the way of my actions - but Rick and Maddie offered entry points to engage education stakeholders. While the premise of the workshop was based on the idea that teachers are stuck in cages created by our education system, I saw it a little differently. What holds me back, is myself. I am in a professional and personal cage because I allow myself to be there. I censor my responses, suppress my opinion, let others speak up because my fear gets in the way. Typing this paragraph is a challenge for me, because I know deep down it is a commitment for me to break free of what holds me back.
PLAN: Find inroads to necessary conversations as they relate to what is important to me.
MSP - MKE: How does the fate of our individual journey figure in?
After spending a few days on a college campus with my family, I couldn’t help but think about fate. How do our individual choices culminate in an life-long journey? Each of us have a story to tell - what makes us special; what life lessons we have learned. Each choice leads us in a particular direction - and when we multiply out dozens and dozens of decisions, we end up at a certain destination. My daughter is at a time in her life where her decisions are starting to shape her journey. I was emotional several times during our visit, as my Big Picture thinking made me realize how our journeys shape us as individuals. To have it to do all over again would result in a different path, a different destination. I’m not sure I’d be wiling to risk losing the good and the bad of where I am now, for that unknown. The teachers I met this week shared touching, inspiring stories as unique and special as they were. Honoring our decisions (good and bad) as part of who we are, is so very important.
PLAN: Recognize the importance of future decisions as being catalysts towards my ultimate fate.
MKE - BOS: This I do for me.
As I was in my final leg, and almost home, I took a break from reading a book and started thinking again… I am very thankful for where I am and what I am able to do. I am honored and grateful for the recognitions I have received, and I love going to school and coming home each day. I am very aware of the fact that my happiness comes from helping others. In that quest, I often forget about the happiness that comes from helping myself. Small messages came through to me throughout my trip… Slow down, Suzy. Pay attention, Suzy. Exercise, Suzy. Relax more, Suzy. Be brave, Suzy. Essentially, the more I do for Suzy, the more I am fueled to do more for others. So, as I wrap up this blog post, I am committed to a new plan. I want what is best for my family, students, friends and colleagues. I am more than any of the individual roles I define. I am more than a mother, a wife, a teacher, a leader. Yet, it is the sum of those parts that make me unique.
PLAN: Take better care of myself so I can better meet the needs of others.
It is with sincere gratitude that I thank ASCD for my nomination, the Gates Foundation for the invitation, my amazing #ECET2 peeps for their inspiration, my family for our conversation, and my students for the motivation. I’m a lucky girl.
What is family?
If you go by the dictionary definition, it’s people who are related to you by common blood and descendants. If you follow the lyrics of Sister Sledge, it’s based on friendship, commonalities, closeness. And, if you were at ECET2, you realize it’s the 350 people you laughed, cried, and shared stories with during a three day convening based on a common passion for being an educator.
ECET2 is an acronym for Elevating and Celebrating Effective Teachers and Teaching, a convening hosted and funded by the Gates Foundation (@gatesed). Each of the educators invited to attend were nominated by a professional organization to best represent them. These organizations put up their A-Team, their MacGyvers, their Shakespeares, believing within each nominated person’s DNA was a common trait: a desire to support the whole child and their families. These attendees were not superheroes. They were more than that: people whose only invincibility was their unwavering belief that all students had the power to learn, as long as we empowered them to do so.
I was one of those 350 edustars. I was nominated by ASCD. Surprised that they chose me, smart enough not to question it, just thankfully blessed, I humbly accepted. (Didn’t want them to reconsider). I would find out later that this “Why me?” question was another commonality my new edufamily shared, because in our minds just doing our jobs got us here.
Our role at home was to help raise and nurture the next group of societal leaders, using our classroom and subject matter as the forum to teach problem solving, questioning, active listening, collaboration, teamwork, and advocacy. As ECET2 attendees, we would model, rinse, and repeat these skills through three intensely thought provoking days, 8,000 feet above sea level, in Snowbird, Utah.
The elevation in the ECET2 acronym meant raising our edugame through guided discussions, interactive presentations, Ted-style talks, and social downtime. We met in small, colleague circles, discussing chosen focus topics. We shared resources, asked questions, and actively listened, all under the agreement that the first rule of colleague circles was you don’t talk about colleague circles. It was the law of Las Vegas: what goes on in the circle stays in the circle.
This respectful collegiality, this understanding that our takeaway from each colleague circle, presentation, and discussion was to learn from and with each other, signified the power of a phrase I learned from George Couros (@gcouros): the smartest person in the room is the room. Or, as my friend and ASCD co-presenter, Eric Russo (@erusso78) said during our presentation on EduCore, “Barry and I were geeking out before with our breakfast table. Talking growth mindset, special education, school culture, and problem of practice, sharing documents we created, all while eating bacon.”
We all geeked out with each other by alternately learning, teaching, and leading so each member of our ECET2 family got better. So they could celebrate their new knowledge within their district, school, and student families. And, so we could all feel a little more effective in the process.
Katie Novak (@katienovakudl) called ECET2 “a movement.” I love her thinking, but it runs deeper than that for me. Originally, I saw the nomination by ASCD and the invitation to ECET2 by the Gates Foundation as a sign that ‘I’d made it’. When I attended the convening, I realized the ‘it’ was just the beginning of the journey. The real test to see whether I was worthy of my invite and had learned from my experience was what I would do next. How would I show my appreciation for my experience with my ECET2 family? How would I pay it forward to my edufamily at home?
The underlying approach to learning at ECET2 was to challenge and provoke our thinking through honest dialogue. No one at the convening did this better than Rick Hess (@rickhess99), of American Enterprise Institute, and Maddie Fennell (@maddief) who co-presented on ‘Cage Busting Leadership’. I asked him if he was interested in collaborating on a weekly Twitter chat. I believe our extended education family needs to hear his voice, have an opportunity to interact with him, and grow from these discussions. Rick’s response: “Love the chat idea...will figure out a way to make this happen.”
Challenging and provoking thinking comes from teacher activism. I touched base with Jessica Wright (@jessicampitts), Suzy Brooks (@simplysuzy), Chris Bronke (@mrbronke), Jen Orr (@jenorr), Vivett Hemans (@lotyssblossym), Emily Land (@eland1682), Tamera Dixon (mstdixon), and Dan Ryder (@wickeddecent). They are my pre-ECET2 family. We’d organized and led a Twitter chat the night before the convening began (http://storify.com/barrykid1/pre-ecet2-twitter-chat-on-2-16-14). We’re going to continue that discussion with a bi-monthly Twitter chat for all past and present ECET2 attendees, as well as any educators interested in Elevating and Celebrating Effective Teaching and Teachers. We’ll expand and turnkey focus topics discussed in Utah, and globally extend our colleague circles. Maybe members of the Gates Foundation, like: Dr. Irvin Scott (@iscott4), Dr. Vicki Phillips (@drvickip), Nate Brown (@hnborown1), Amy Hodges Slamp (@amyslamp), and Isis Randolph-McCree (@isismccree) would guest moderate. (hint, hint).
Teacher activism needs to be local, too. I connected with the three other New Jersey attendees at the convening: Peggy Stewart (@myglobalside), Michael J, Dunlea (@michaeljdunlea), and Katherine Bassett. With the help of our new friends from Pittsburgh (@ecet2pgh) who’ve previously hosted a regional ECET2, we’re going to figure out a way to do one too, to elevate and celebrate our effective teachers and teaching family in New Jersey. We’d love to collaborate with others on this, so if others in our area would like to pay it forward with us, let us know.
I know Sister Sledge and the dictionary both have it right: family is bound by like DNA, commonalities, and a similar mindset. That is why we say our close friends are ‘like family,’ and certain friends are ‘my brother,’ or, ‘my sister.’ From my three days in Utah, my edufriends became edufamily. And with their help and support, who knows what we will achieve? Regardless of outcome, our journey will continue together as we elevate and celebrate each other, and make one another more effective in the process.
Author’s note: to honor all who influenced me and helped make me better, I noted people’s Twitter handles. They’re great teachers, and even better people. Give them a follow. They’ll make you better, like they did me. And, you won’t have to go to Utah to do it.
9. But this is Social Media. I'm afraid to post. Yes it is Social Media (SM) but a rule of thumb is this, anything you post whether it's on Twitter, Facebook or a blog or a comment on a blog is a footprint. Just think of it this way, do I want my parents of students, staff and my family reading this, then you will be safe. Also, be kind - it is okay to agree to disagree in chats, but we are here to learn. Be nice. Diane Ravitch has a great post about posting comments on her blog. Rules to follow! Edutopia has a great page about creating Social Media guidelines here: http://www.edutopia.org/how-to-create-social-media-guidelines-school