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I know this probably won’t be popular, but if I am going to continue to talk about “New Forms” in education, this needs to be on the table.
Why are teachers still doing daily lesson plans? What is the conceptual (current, 21st century) framework around this traditionally rigid process? What is encapsulated in these daily snapshots that would not be better to see in either a weekly format or perhaps something a little more open-ended? (Meaning that if the learning takes 3 days, it takes 3 days…if it takes 6, so be it. What’s more important, the learning, or the time in which we expect the learning to occur?)
I’m not saying get rid of all daily moments…assessment, anchors, general instructional arc…but the whole six point lesson plan thing seems to be a foot in the door of 1985. Or 1955.
Perhaps the terminology is dated. I often say in workshops that teachers should stop the creation of the lesson “plan” and instead create lesson “events.” That which is memorable will stick. That which is traditional and “the same as always” will almost certainly be forgotten. Yet, in many schools, the traditional is so well entrenched that anyone doing great things is suspicious and certainly shouldn’t be trusted with children. Seriously.
What do you remember about your school experiences?
The worksheets you did? The drill and skill cursive writing? No? No memory of those things?
What about those moments that weren’t the same “day in / day out” minutiae? What about the field trips you took? What about that time your teacher dressed up as Jon Bon Jovi and sang the Periodic Table to you to the tune of “You Give Love A Bad Name?” (Which you can still remember verbatim, including the atomic weight of Carbon.)
I think I’m opening several cans of worms here. For one, what does the hierarchy of lessons look like if we remove the daily lesson plan, and two, is anything singular even worth planning for?
Briefly, let me address both.
A lesson typically fits into an instructional arc or subunit, tied into an overall unit, which is housed in a year of learning. This plan seems to me to perpetuate encapsulated moments that define when learning can take place. It’s kind of like going to the doctor on a Monday morning with a broken arm and the doctor saying that he’s sorry, but broken limbs aren’t dealt with until Friday, or maybe February.
But WHAT IF (I like saying “What If…”) things weren’t so compartmentalized? What if the process for deconstructing curriculum, breaking apart standards, and precisely defining skills and methodologies was a little messier, and deleted the daily lesson plan in favor of “LESSONS” plans? We could still address common threads and connections through UNITS, but the plans themselves look at the whole neighborhood, instead of just one house. (Know what I mean?)
But then, that opens up the second can of worms. The singular content area lesson. One skill, one piece of content, one content area, one assessment…everything one at a time and separated from everything else. It’s all very neat and linear, but it seems very limiting. I have a hunch that sometime in the very near future, the definition of what a 21st Century educator is will include the total abandonment of singular content lessons. The future is in integration.
If you think about the “real world” that we’re preparing kids for, how often is the “real world” day broken up into science moments, math moments, writing moments, etc? We engage all of these things at all times. Also, it’s not like integrated units are anything innovative…there’s been tons of research and lots of books written specifically providing examples of how to do it. So why isn’t it happening? Kids don’t need a six-week unit on mastering quotation marks; they need to learn to master the quotation marks piece in the screenplay they write collaboratively about the people of Iceland solving problems around a catastrophic tectonic event that includes the gathering and analysis of quantitative data. (See what I did right there?)
There’s other cans of worms here…the reformation of assessment practices (Think Denmark! Think Japan!), the realignment of associated skills with differentiated instruction and backwards design models, the deep understanding of curriculum design – specifically prioritization and consensus anchor knowledge, the singular student / singular product mode, etc.
I’m thinking out loud here. If you’ve read this far, I hope it’s because you’ve either been inspired or angered. What are your thoughts? How do we innovate the “lesson plan?” How do we tear it down, build it up, upgrade it, dispose of it, or grow it? Or do we just keep the blinders on and hope for the best with what we’ve got?
“The leadership we need is available in all of us. We have only to make it manifest.”
Over the next four months, we will be reading about the topic of leadership. Owen’s quote summarizes our purpose in reflecting on leadership--we are ALL leaders; but are we utilizing our leadership skills everyday and in every way? Leadership is commonly defined as the ability to influence and mobilize others. Ask yourself: What have I done today to influence others? Good leaders set the tone, support others, foster collaboration and teamwork, set goals and celebrate success. As you read and reflect on leadership this month, consider:
Beginning November 15th and lasting through December 15th, we will read 'Book One:Leadership Every Day' from the Leading Every Day text. We will supplement that with chapter 4 of ASCD's School Leadership that Works, by Marzano, Waters, and McNulty.
Lori Stollar is the Program Specialist for Curriculum and Professional Development at the Lincoln Intermediate Unit, an educational service agency, in New Oxford, PA. This year she will be blogging on the topic of leadership, culminating in a presentation at the 2011 ASCD Annual Conference in San Francisco. Lori facilitates the Women's Leaderhip PIC and is serving as a 2011 Conference Scholar.
This past weekend I had the opportunity to attend ASCD’s L2L conference. It was simply amazing how much knowledge and experience could be packed into one hotel, and on a number of occasions, one conference room. As a member of the new class of Emerging Leaders, I had the opportunity to meet with other distinguished educators from all over the world to share thoughts, ideas, and educational theory. It was clear from the start that this conference would have a "Type A" personality and would lead to quite a few deep and rich discussions. This was clearly the case, so much so, that on a number of occasions I left sessions with my head hammering; not so much in pain, but rather in anticipation of how I might utilize all the excellent information shared.
The purpose of the conference was to help leaders throughout the education realm engage in capacity building, empower each other, and enthusiastically take the goals of ASCD back to our home regions. Along the way, we developed personal leadership goals that incorporated action steps for our involvement in the ASCD organization. Think of this as a leadership boot camp, if you will.
What made the conference work so well is that no one, and everyone, was an expert. Some knew the policies and legislation of their home states or countries, others were social media oracles, still others were outstanding classroom educators and admins. This infusion of strength and desire to strengthen weaknesses made each person's voice resonate to all conference attendees. It wasn’t enough to assume you knew. Instead, an underlying theme was that as leaders, we must realize that we still have much, and much more, to learn.
The conference had one overarching strand. . . to develop the leadership skills necessary to further ASCD’s vision and our own organizational goals. Sessions included opportunities to network, discuss educational policy and programs with regional cohorts, and build our own leadership purpose statement. In creating this statement, we were asked to think deeply about our leadership strengths and weaknesses. Over the course of the long weekend we shared successes, failures, and ate way too much.
The measure of a good professional retreat is when you continue to feel strongly about what you learned after you physically leave the conference venue. By building a hundred day plan, all attendees encouraged each other to hold true to their action steps. To keep me “in line” I’m incorporating my action steps into this blog, if for no other reason than to encourage all of you to force me to meet them. So, without further ado, here they are:
As I write this, an interesting idea is coalescing in my mind. What if affiliates organized their own mini-L2L's prior to the national one? For instance, New York leaders need the chance to discuss educational leadership throughout the state. We also must continue to build on the idea that leaders must be more than superintendents and administrators. Teachers who love policy, students who long for better school conditions, and curriculum developers who bring creative and relevant design to content and skills that need to change, should all be in attendance (whether at the state or national level).
A recurring theme throughout the conference was that while the challenges are mighty, with baby steps and reachable goals, much can be achieved. We just need to keep moving forward.
In the recently released film Race to Nowhere http://www.racetonowhere.com/ the case is made that schools are putting so much pressure on students to achieve these days that it is unhealthy and unproductive for everyone involved. Let me back up a bit and try that again…..parents are putting so much pressure on their children these days to achieve that they have lost focus on what is best for their kids. Well….actually….the government is putting so much pressure on schools these days to produce results that the phrase “healthy schools” may become an oxymoron. Wait….I think this is it….taxpaying-voters are putting demands on governments to account for spending on schools, which in turn puts schools in the position of putting pressure on parents and students to produce defensible achievement data that justifies the public-funding of American education as costs K-16 continue to grow. Yes I think that nails it….!
Race to Nowhere creates a sense of loss….of childhood….of innocence….of perspective and proportion. It shares the implications for high stakes societal expectations at very personal levels and poses the question: “What is all this supposed to get us as people, as families, as a nation?” The answer, of course, is “nowhere.” We have lost our way. The film explains how a century ago child labor laws created parameters for childhood, redefining it as a more carefree time in which to grow up. This ideal lasted into the 1950s, until the launch of Sputnik instigated a push to have children learn more, earlier in schools. The impetus was no longer what’s appropriate for children, but a concern for national security….and superiority. We’ve been racing ever since. There were arrogant declarations of “What Works” followed by deep pedagogical rifts about the single best way to teach basic skills. This created a climate ripe for the accountability movement, reasoning that if you can’t observe it and you can’t measure it, you shouldn’t value it. Then new economic powers began to emerge, along with a recent deep recession and 24/7 social media hammering away at our eroding confidence. Over time forces have aligned to create the perfect storm. The perfect storm for a classic roof-rattling Nor’easter? No….wait for it….wait for it….the perfect storm for the selling out of American education.
Peel back all the layers of this drama, and at its core is the hunger for profit. Taxpayers don’t want to pay a penny more than what is justified. Governments look to defend existing expenditures and make the case for new programs. Schools want to protect their existing government funding and implement new programs. Families want to raise children who are successful contributors to society. And those children grow up to become….taxpayers. Everyone is locked in this continuous cycle….not of improvement….but of the status quo. No one is satisfied, and private money entering into the equation creates a dangerous new potential for exploitation of free public education. There is no start or finish….no clear lanes or rules of sportsmanship….how is anyone ever supposed to win?
Stay with me here, because the plot thickens: a collection of varied stakeholders, each with a conflicting agenda and little chance to realize success on their own terms, leaves everyone jockeying for political advantage as they anticipate what’s next. Is this sounding much like a race anymore? After so-many hundred laps, even NASCAR drivers eventually cross a finish line. But just as there is no place called “nowhere,” there is no finish line.
For fifty years we have been running to reach an elusive horizon. Why keep running? In reality, we exist in the here and now, not in 1957 and not at some point in the future. It’s not about going nowhere….it’s about being “now here.” Race to Nowhere shares how we got here. So now what? Looking back fifty years, what seemed to have been precipitated by panic may have actually been induced by feeling inadequate in the face of a perceived threat: the possibility of losing the space race. In reality, history shows us that as a people we are always up to the challenge when we are at our best. History also shows us time and again that we are not at our best when our national will is weakened by uninformed, short-sighted, politicized, emotionally-charged hyperbole.
I walk away from the film thinking it is very well-written and makes many valid points, not just about education and our students but about our society and our politics. As the film demonstrates, families are capable of making good decisions for their kids, even if after some initial lapse in priorities and judgment. Here is the more difficult challenge for all of us to embrace: extracting ourselves from the current politically-charged climate to successfully transform public education.
I don’t know if this film will get the national attention it deserves, coming on the heels of recent sensationalized media events. It will be unfortunate if the message of Race to Nowhere is lost in the current ed reform discussion, because it gets to the heart of that dialogue. The onus is ours to end fifty-years of reactionary management of public education and move forward with what is good and right and best about who we are today and who our children will be tomorrow.
It’s six months into the academic year, and I’m here for your mid-year review. Think of it as a guided self-reflection on your year thus far. Not an assessment. We wouldn’t want anyone feeling all put-on-the-spot or being-made-accountable or anything…
So, where was I? Oh yes…the review. OK, so you’ve been working away since September…how’s it going? Yes I know you’re a professional. Yes I understand your budget has been cut and your salary has been frozen for the third year in a row. No I’m not aware of the rumors about RIFs coming before Spring break. Yes I do like the Sox' chances this year.
OK so seriously...we're half-way through the current school year...what have you accomplished thus far? Yes I know there’s a state prescribed set of standards. Yes I have seen the district curriculum and strategic plan. Good, I’m glad you have all that covered. But what have YOU accomplished YOURSELF as we head towards March?
Sorry…I seem to have caught you off-guard this morning! No worries. We can reschedule when you feel you are ready. I’ll work with your schedule...so…when might that be?
The time is now for Leadership 2.0. It’s not enough to be willing to lead. We need leaders with vision, with genuine insight into where we are headed. We need leaders with the innate tools and resources to lead by example and show the way. We need leaders with the empathy and emotional capacity to stay the course and help us realize new destinations. We need an entirely new kind of leadership: Leadership 2.0.
Just as it’s true that we tend to teach the way we were taught, so it is that we tend to lead the way we have been led. Products of an age where standardization and replicablity, our current leaders have inherited the legacy of being effective managers of staff and resources. They identify milestones, measure progress, and hold staff accountable. This makes sense looking behind us, but flies in the face of what lies ahead. Leadership 2.0 goes beyond being effective management. The leaders we need moving forward must lead by:
Sustaining the status quo and relying on technological innovation to transform society is inadequate and irresponsible. Leadership must evolve to reflect the changes happening in society so that education can remain vital and relevant moving forward; the only way private interests can co-opt public education is if our profession fails in providing leadership that successfully completes this transformation.
Society is still transitioning, and there is still time for successful twentieth-century institutions to transform themselves to address the demands of Information Age teaching, learning, living and working. But it’s going to take more than a profession of dedicated practitioners. It’s going to require Leadership 2.0.
What do you think? What kind of Twitter PD worked for you? What kind didn't? Leave some thoughts below.
As many times as I have talked to folks, done workshops for and even preached about Twitter, there are some that just won't (for whatever reason) jump in. When I first started I didn't understand. How could someone not want to just ride the rapids like me, soak in all the information they could? There was so much out there to discover, why not engage, react, comment, all the time? It took me a while to realize that maybe, for some, the best way to use Twitter was not to use Twitter.
Yep. I have taken a radically different approach to teaching educators about Twitter.
Take a step back and think about PD done about Twitter. Many will start with a basic example of its use (if the participants are lucky) or how the presenter started with Twitter or maybe a shoutout, asking their followers to tell where they are from and why they should Twitter. All good stuff. It's great to see how someone actually uses it but most times I find folks who take the time to come to PD on Twitter already know or have heard of the benefits from others or they just don't get that stuff to begin with so why start with it?
After the example comes the registration process. This can be a battle. Twitter has a limit as to the number of accounts that can be created from the same IP address. Many school networks are set up so that no matter what machine you are on it appears to the outside world every machine has the same IP. So if you are all trying to create accounts you could get bogged down in the process.
Then comes the terminology. What is a RT? Hashtag? Mention? Direct Message? At this point the folks who were super excited to learn might be feeling frustrated or overwhelmed even. Lots of information has been covered up to this point. Maybe an hours worth all ready.
And there is still so much more to cover...
Now comes the first Tweet. Then looking at chats or search or lists. The resources could go on and on and on and on and on...
When someone leaves this session one of twothings will happen.
They will be super excited about it all. They were engaged and soaked it all in. They are pumped and are going forth to the world to tweet to their hearts content.
Then there are the others. Those that might have been excited at one point but now are overwhelmed because of the amount of information covered. They may try to give it a shot but ultimately will walk away because it was simply too much for them to take in.
I used to teach PD like that. Exactly like that. Then one day I went back and looked at the number of people who actually stuck with Twitter. I talked to them, asked them if they were tweeting or even checking in now and then. For the vast majority of them, the answer was no. It was just too much for them.
So I had to do something different..
I developed a new method of teaching folks about Twitter where I don't actually teach them how to use Twitter. How you might ask. Well, sir, it's actually pretty easy to use Twitter without using it.
I always break my Twitter PD into several sessions. In the first, depending on who I am talking to, we look at the reason why they should use it. We have to make that personal connection to them so they see how valuable this tool can be.
So let's look at Administrators. They are usually the toughest folks to convince. We would start by talking about Twitter Search. We could brainstorm some common search terms for administrators and plug them into Twitter search and see what comes up. We may find stuff, we may not. (That's the beauty of search.) That then opens up the conversation to hashtags. What are they, and how are they used? So we would look at common hashtags Administrators use (like #cpchat or #edchat) and plug those into search. That's when the eyes light up. They see specific resources and people, right off, related to their area. (If you don't know a hashtag to search for with your specific group, check out this page from my good friend Jerry "Cybraryman" Blumengarten).
Now, it used to be we could save that search very easy with RSS (Twitter has since removed that feature but you can still add that search to Google Reader using these instructions.). Since it isn't quite as easy, a simple collaborative Google Doc with the link to Twitter Search and common searches works just fine. That way, after our time together, folks can add what they are finding and searching. The doc also serves the purpose to show how powerful things can be when we share. Then when we actually talk about how to use Twitter, they are used to it. The idea of sharing like that isn't foreign to them. So transitioning to the Twitter medium isn't that much of a jump.
Before they leave that first session, I give them my Twitter Livebinder. In it they will find loads of information. Videos on how to sign up, dictionaries, examples of use and best practices. They have it because they might decide to go ahead and sign up before the next time we meet. And if that's the case, it's one less thing we have to spend time on. And they will use it as a resource through out their learning and their journey.
The next time we meet we will go over all those basics about signing up, tweeting, etc. But we will spend most of our time on the other 2 things that drive educators away from Twitter; the Twitter Website and organizing information.
First the Twitter Website. We visit it one time. Then from there on out. They know not to return there. The web interface is the most unfriendly way to look at Twitter. We look at 3rd party clients like Tweetdeck or Hootsuite to help begin organizing our streams. They can take some of those searches they want quick access to and add them here. (Don't get me wrong, for some, the web interface works. For most, they need to get away from there as quickly as possible.)
One of the last things we look at is what to do with all the information they have gathered and will gather. Users need to feel like like they don't have to evaluate every resource that comes to them right then. Thank goodness they don't. I teach my participants about ReadItLater (hands down my favorite tool.). And I show them how to use Diigo too. And guess what? Learning about both of these are in the Twitter Livebinder so they have a way to go back and brush up their skills when they leave me.
So that is 2 days and about 4 hours worth of time learning about educators should use Twitter. We can then go further looking at setting up class/school/district accounts, or hashtags or anything else really. But I have found that this is pretty effective way for educators to learn about Twitter. They have got to see the value in. They have to see the resources first, before they even sign up in order to see why they should stick with it.
With a premiere Technology-in-Education Conference, ISTE11, coming in a matter of days, I find myself comparing the Education conferences of old to the social media-influenced Education conferences of today. There is a world of differences, but, unfortunately, many of these differences have yet to be discovered by educators who have failed to recognize the juggernaut of social media. For many years I was a board member of NYSCATE, an educational technology group for New York educators. A primary purpose of this group is to conduct an annual conference that draws thousands of educators in order to discuss technology in education. In addition to my participation in this conference, I have over the years presented in many others, both large and small.
A huge difference about today’s conferences is the connectedness of the participants. Educators through social media have been able to connect with other educators without regard to geographical boundaries. Many productive online relationships have continued over a period of time without actual face to face meetings. These conferences are an opportunity for face to face connections. That translates to more time for socialization for the participants. Plans and discussions have taken place weeks before the conference about who to see and what to do. The conference provides a place for people, who have never met face to face, to meet as long-lost best friends would meet after a long separation. Places for social gatherings need to at least be considered, and at most be expanded. These personal connections of connected people may be misinterpreted as cliques, but this is often a perspective of educators not yet involved with social media. The unfortunate result may be a perception of a class distinction between the connected and the disconnected (or not yet connected).
Back Channeling is another big difference between old and new. This is when participants in a workshop or presentation tweet out on Twitter, or Facebook the points that the presenter is making in real-time. Not only are the facts of the presentation, but editorial comments as well tweeted out. This may have a great effect on presentations moving forward. I remember a recent conference having a keynote speaker using a data heavy PowerPoint presentation, and not being very aware of back channeling. After a few Tweets came out about the quality of the presentation, there was an avalanche of negatives flying out from that presentation. Needless to say these tweets were global messages going public to thousands of educators. On the other hand, a great presentation has the potential for going out beyond the limited audience in the presentation. Ustreaming is being done more and more as well. Presentations limited to small audiences are broadcast globally to any educator with a connection. Local conferences have the ability to gain global recognition.
The social media hierarchy is now replacing the superstars of higher education and industry at these conferences. Keynote speakers of the past were often professors from Higher Education or Captains of industry from the world of Technology in Education. Today, social media has chosen its own superstars, people who continue to contribute and influence education through Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, online Webinars, Podcasts, and Blog Posts. Some of the best have feet in both worlds. The conference of today is an opportunity for participants to meet those whom they consider to be social media Gurus.
I think an underestimated influence on conference participants is the effect of free online Professional Development. More and more free symposiums are being offered through social Media. Webinars and online interviews are becoming daily occurrences. The conference participants are becoming more aware of trends and issues prior to attending the conference. Presenters need to at least be where their audience is in their knowledge of the subject. Relevance means more to connected educators than it ever has before.
Another influence is the effect that the growing “Unconference” movement is having. Born from Social Media, “Teachmeets”, and “Unconferences” are changing what educators expect from a conference. These are self-directed-learning format conferences. They give most, if not all, of the control for learning to the learner. The learners direct the conference from the beginning until the end forcing the conference to be flexible and adaptive.
Blogging is another Social Media-influenced activity which has a lasting touch on conferencing. On the very first day of any conference, there will be at least one blogger who will publish a post on his or her experience. First impressions last a lifetime. Bloggers will continue to post their experiences and impressions throughout and beyond the time that the conference takes place. Once it took weeks for the word to get out about the success of a conference. On the spot blog posts have changed that dynamic. Micro blogs (Twitter) and Blog posts determine and create conference “BUZZ”. It may determine whether individuals with limited funds may or may not attend a specific conference in the future.
If Education Conferences are to benefit the educators that they hope to have participate, now and in the future, all of these new influences must be considered. Just like education as a system, conferences are dealing with participants who are becoming self- learning aware. The days of content being controlled by a few and the need to seek those few out to obtain it, are gone. Free access to almost endless information and the ability to select only information which is needed by the learner is changing the game.
If you are a person who questions the need for Mobile Learning Devices in education, look around you at your next conference. Take note of the Laptops, Smart Phones, iPads, and Tablets. Watch how long it takes people to scope out an electrical outlet to power up, or recharge. See what happens if people don’t have passwords to access WiFi.
What would happen if we forced those educators to leave their mobile learning devices at the door? What would happen if we singled out and punished individuals for texting during a presentation? What would happen after you informed educators that the filtering will limit their access? What would happen if we required participants to agree to an Acceptable Use Policy before they could connect? Participants at these conferences are learners. Let us keep that in mind when we return to the learners in our own schools.
All in all, this isn’t your father’s Education Conference!
Other education Posts may be viewed at My Island View
I am becoming more and more distressed by the conversations I am seeing in the national media that blame "bad" teachers for all the ills in society. Not only do these messages misappropriate blame and over-simplify the very complex problems we face in schools, they unintentially kill good teaching.
Case in point. The other day I was helping a teacher rethink how she planned her lessons. We were working on creating more engaging, rigorous learning experiences for students. After I explained how to create spaces in the classroom to allow her students to learn how to deal with the messiness of learning, she said, "This is great Robyn, but what do I do when my principal walks in and sees all this messiness going on. I could lose my job!" Unfortunately, I hear the same lament time and time again. I would love to teach this way, but ...my principal, the state tests, the curriculum, my district mandate, the parents, etc.
To quote Seth Godin in his latest book Linchpin, "Great teachers are wonderful. They change lves. We need them. The problem is that most schools don't like great teachers. They're organized to stamp them out, bore them, bureaucratize them, and make them average."
There are several reasons why schools don't work, but firing the bad teachers won't fix them, especially when the same systems that prevent really great teaching remain firmly in place.
So what do we do? For starters, we have to stop teaching scared. We have to stop letting fear keep us from doing what's right and take the risk for the sake of our kids. We have to do what master teachers have been doing for years -- ignore the distracting noise outside, close your door, and teach extraordinarily. We have to stop conforming and doing what is safe. Instead, we must dare to be good, really good, not at our jobs, but at our calling to help students become great learners. And most of all, we have to fight every day to get better at what we do, not because of some mandate or because we are afraid of being labeled a "bad teacher" and end up on the cover of Newsweek, but because it is the right and best thing to do. We owe it to our kids. We owe it to ourselves.
This post is a part of the ASCD Forum conversation “how do we define and measure teacher and principal effectiveness?” To learn more about the ASCD Forum, go to www.ascd.org/ascdforum.
As my classroom door opened, I looked up to see my colleague – my friend – close to tears. She hurried towards me with a sheet of paper clutched in her hand.
“Look at this,” she stated with a look that screamed anger, frustration, and hopelessness. “Look at this and tell me what this means.”
I glanced at the slightly crumpled paper and examined the data report printed across the top of the page. It was her teacher evaluation report – a report containing her classroom evaluation score alongside a “value-added” number – a number based on a mathematical computation far beyond my graduate level foundational statistics knowledge.
“What does it mean?” she asked again. “Does this mean I’m a ‘D’ teacher? Is that what this says? That if I were given a letter grade, I’d be assigned a ‘D’?!”
I gazed at the report, quickly ran the numbers in my head, and looked up to meet her tired eyes.
“I’m sure it doesn’t read as a letter grade. Don’t let it get to you,” I stated with all the sincerity I could muster. “Seriously. Don’t let this dictate your worth as a teacher. You’re better than this and you know it. Don’t let the numbers on a sheet of paper define you.”
My words fell on deaf ears. I could feel her frustration. I knew she was an amazing teacher. As a friend and colleague, I witnessed the relentless effort she put forth daily in her instruction. She spent weekends grading papers and crafting lessons that would engage and prepare her students to meet expectations set by district, state, and national guidelines. She made every effort to instill a community of care in which her students – often identified as struggling readers or low-level performers – would feel accepted, respected, and develop a strong sense of self-efficacy.
Now, here she stood – a report in her hand claiming she simply wasn’t living up to the expectations of an “effective” teacher.
“Thanks,” she muttered as she turned to leave the classroom.
School districts across the country have turned a keen eye towards the topic of teacher effectiveness. Many researchers agree the key to an effective classroom, is an effective teacher. However, I often question the manner in which policy tends to define what it means to be “effective.”
After all, how can someone – a stranger - who observes my classroom instruction for less than four hours a school year, someone who knows nothing regarding the lives, minds, and hearts of my students, develop an accurate image of my capabilities as an instructor? How can a single standardized assessment gauge how much learning has taken place within my classroom? How can a statistical computation take into account the vast array of extraneous factors that enter my classroom on a daily basis? How can it account for the student who suffers from sleep deprivation after a night of listening to his mother and father battle it out in the next room? Or, the student who can't seem to get her mind off of the fight she had with her boyfriend in the hallway right before the big test? Or, perhaps the student whose stomach growls with hunger from repeated evenings without a home-cooked meal?
After my friend left, I considered, How much ‘value’ do I add to my classroom? I don’t think it’s something one can equate to a statistical figure or numerical data point. When a student shares how she has discovered a love for literature – I have added value. When a student expresses gratitude for helping him find the guidance and support he needs to deal with a personal crisis – I have added value. When a student emails to say how much she misses my class now that she has moved on to high school – I have added value. When a student discovers his talent for writing and swears to one day publish a novel – I have added value.
We are in the business of changing and shaping lives. We add value each and every day to a vast array of students who cross the threshold of our classroom community. And so, I invite my fellow teachers to share their own stories of “effectiveness.” How have you added value to the lives of your students?
NBC's Education Nation confirmed their list of panelists for the upcoming education summit -- none of whom are teachers and all of whom seem to take snaps from the same ed reform playbook. All except for the lone Randi Weingarten. She will play the role of Dissenting Voice in an ed reform narrative that is being ballyhooed across the nation. (Except where it's not.)
It was important for event organizers to give Randi a place on the panel. The basic ed reform thesis, chronicled in the upcoming "Waiting for Superman," begins with the idea that the school system & schools are broken, and that unionized teachers are where the faulty rubber meets the road. The trouble is, if the powers-that-be were to directly cast teachers as Lex Luthor their plan might backfire. Who's willing to place the failure of the American Education System on little old Mrs. Newton, teaching 2nd grade to generations of tots that loved her? That won't sell well or bring in votes.
Enter unions stage left. Randi, as president of the American Federation of Teachers, has been a vocal critic of NCLB, RTTT, & the Fire-(Teachers)-At-Will squad of trigger happy reformers. As a teacher representative, she's become the de facto Lightning Rod in the plot line that pits unions (as antagonists) against the great teachers the ed reformers (as protagonists) would deliver if only meddling teacher advocates would step aside.
For the NBC organizers, she needs to be a panelist in order to give the Gates' League the whipping boy (girl) it requires.
The story goes like this: the unions enable the hordes of bad teachers who are responsible for keeping students from achieving. All the while the benevolent market forces of goodness & quality do their darnedest to right this wrong through superhero feats of privatizing, hiring & firing, and incentivizing teaching to the tests.
We are asked to buy into this plot-line and then jump to reformers' same conclusions. Effectively, we are asked to leap these tall buildings, each in a single bound of reasoning:
These unproven assumptions need more than super breath to blow me over. I'm just not convinced that these measures will lead to more professional educators & greater access to quality learning environments for all students.
But what if they are wrong?
What if the fear mongering and hyperbolized "broken" metaphors that the media outlets have bought-into & hyped are the machinations of private stakes and bottom lines, rather than deep insights into poverty, parenting & learning? (That's not to say there are not deeply rooted problems that need transforming. But "broken"?! That seems a slap in the face to the thousands who work in our nation's schools.)
On his site, How the University Works, Marc Bousquet brings this point to light:
I’d like to see a few more of us start to question the objectivity of The New York Times and Washington Post, both corporations with increasingly large hopes that profits from their education ventures will prop up sagging journalism revenues. The Post, which owns Kaplan and shocked readers by blatantly pushing Kaplan’s legislative agenda in print and in person is already an education corporation that owns a newspaper as a sideline.
What is curious is that even Fox & Friends has discovered what the Chamber of Commerce and the Washington Post knew a long time ago: The Obama/Duncan algorithm for improving our nations' schools has a hidden variable -- profitability.
Standardizing content across the country simplifies what all teachers teach, making it easier to . . .
Increase class size and save moola on teachers (especially the union-free teachers in charter schools who get paid less & have fewer benefits), which frees up money for . . .
Buying tests designed specifically for those prepackaged curricula, which will be justified because it will help prepare students for . . .
Super-sized multiple-choice assessments to determine if teachers are teaching, which will . . .
Earn testing companies stacks of benjamins for administrating & scoring those tests, and has the added benefit of . . .
Determining which teachers should be fired, so newer, cheaper teachers can be hired, and more curricula can be bought to raise scores.
The private sector's opportunity to profit handsomely from this brand of standardization has stockholders salivating & lobbyists scheming. The Chamber of Commerce, at the behest of former FL governor Jeb Bush (whose younger brother, Neil, profits from NCLB & RTTT), has become a testifying standard anywhere education reform is on the legislative docket.
It all makes me wonder if ed reform is being driven by Superman, or Lex Luthor.
What if the propagandized central conflict, Unions vs. Good Teaching, isn't the central conflict after all? What if it's just a sub-plot, cast as headliner? What if the problem is much more complex than that? What if the central argument, "Pay great teachers for student achievement and great teachers will flock to the classroom" doesn't hold water?
What if the actual teachers we want teaching and shaping our youth are not the ones attracted by promises of pay for performance? What if wooing and keeping great teachers requires a different sort of honey altogether?
Unfortunately, few are asking what it takes to attract (and retain) the truly innovative educators who can provide the transformative learning experiences that transcend race, gender, and socio-economic status. It seems assumed that bonuses, based on centralized high-stakes tests, will be enough.
In a tweet-versation with RiShawn Biddle (@DropoutNation), an education journalist (and ed reform advocate with a passionate interest in parent involvement & reducing dropout rates), I asked if the current slate of reforms was likely to narrow the curriculum and decrease educator autonomy. He replied that it would, that it was necessary. This made me wonder what it would take to attract and keep the best and the brightest (the most ambitious and well educated among us) to the field of teaching. So I asked him.
They need more than a paycheck. They need an environment which allows them to utilize their skills in new and creative ways. In essence, they need autonomy and the flexibility to work in a professional atmosphere where they have latitude.
And therein lies our paradox. We all want/need the best and the brightest to embrace teaching as a profession, but our brand of ed reform vinegar (high stakes testing, value added firing, & standardized everything) is a hook without a worm. It doesn't attract and/or keep the very candidates we need flocking to our schools.
We seem to hope that by testing the kryptonite out of students Superman will arrive. However, him being faster than a speeding bullet doesn't make him a silver bullet. We'll need more than Superman if we aim to make meaningful, relevant, and lasting changes to our national school system. In fact, we'll need the entire Justice League in order to effectively address the central conundrums of transforming our schools into learning environments of equality where students are engaged, enabled, and empowered.
Our villains are many:
To tackle these villains, we must recruit & engage every one of the Justice League heroes, many of whom are already dedicated teachers who've been asked to stay quiet and do as they're told for far too long. The Justice League is supposed to be a collection of people banded together in mutual cooperation.
Too bad they've been left off of Superman's NBC panel.
Thanks a lot, Man of Steel. I bet you could've gotten one of us on it, if you really wanted to. Especially since you've got that cool x-ray vision thing going on. Thought you'd be able to see through their shenanigans. Guess I was wrong.
Walter’s blog archive: http://surfaquarium.com/blog.htm
Mirror site: http://surfaquarium.blogspot.com/2011/07/jigsaw-juts-and-slots.html
Consider these three pieces to the public education puzzle. How can they fit together?
_I have three children in our local public schools. My oldest is very successful and her teachers all love her. She is our “low maintenance” kid. My youngest is a handful…he is all about his friends and his gaming. We work hard to support him on homework and studying and he earns As, Bs and the occasional C. My Erik has the hardest time. After a very difficult time in elementary school he was finally diagnosed with Asperger’s in middle school. Since then it has been a long hard road fighting for the accommodations for him in the classroom. Especially as he has gotten into high school, the staff has been more and more resistant to supporting him. They say it’s all about him adapting to the real world. I disagree, and I’ve been in there so often fighting for Erik they now cringe seeing me walk in the front door….it’s all over their faces. It’s awkward because I used to be “Parent of the Year” material with all the work I did in the PTA, on advisory councils and as a room mom. But that’s ancient history. Now I’m one of “those parents” and it’s all gotten so adversarial the staff has circled the wagons and I’m handled at the front office instead of welcomed in the classroom. Getting him through the next three years to graduation may be the death of me, but no one is going to stand between me and the best interests of my kids.
The District Administrator:
After teaching for five years I made the move into administration, first as a principal, then as the head of curriculum and now as superintendent. The team I have assembled is a proud collection of savvy public administrators who value the same things I do: implementing legally sound policy and protocol, acting as good stewards of public monies, and promoting all the good things going on in our classrooms…in short…accountability. When we report to our board and our citizens and our state department of education, we need to be able to substantiate everything we do; if it can’t be measured, it didn’t happen. Of course it’s all about the kids, but we can’t offer a world-class education to our students if we are not a strong, sound, well-managed school system. Our town government touts us as a feather in their cap because we work hard to meet their expectations as a municipal agency; strong schools are important in building a strong community. Minimizing complaints and controversy while increasing our rates of academic success makes the best case for new funding…and funding provides new educational opportunities. In all things we try to be student-centered, but in the final analysis we do what is best for the organization as a whole.
The Classroom Teacher:
I always wanted to teach; to make a difference in the lives of my students. Seeing that light-bulb go on...having that major breakthrough for a student…makes it all worthwhile for me. While these are tough times for everyone, what especially makes it tough for me are the demands that have been piled upon me by my administration: testing, record-keeping, and being held accountable for every indicator of progress. The pressure is so intense, I end up feeling on the defensive. Nothing I do seems to be good enough, and anything that doesn’t measure up rolls downhill and lands on me. I love my students and I work hard for all of them. Doesn’t anyone see that? Expectations keep ratcheting up higher and higher while I’m keeping my eye on what’s important: my students…not dollars…not data. But when we try to refocus the discussion, we are accused of being more about our self-interest than student success. I didn’t get into this to spend my time on politics and public relations. I just want to teach and feel like I’m making a difference…but I’m being undermined. Who would sign up for this…and how long would anyone stay in this no-win situation? I am re-examining my career options and fighting for the best working conditions possible while I am still here.
<visually scanning the pieces of the puzzle>
If this were a jigsaw puzzle, we would scan the outer boundaries of each piece looking for possible juts and slots that (at least at first-glance) look like they could interlock with one another to help create the larger composite picture: educating all children to be successful adults contributing to society…
We have one vision for our public education system…but…
So…do you see any juts and slots in the three pieces described above that would allow them to snap together...snugly...correctly...compatibly?
And if not…isn’t that the problem...?
In a recent coaching conversation, a teacher told me that her 12th grade students should be able to just be assigned work with the expectation of completing it. She was tired, she said, of lazy students who didn’t do what they were told and were so disengaged from the learning process that they barely did any assigned work, choosing instead to accept D’s and F’s.
Hello everyone, my name is Todd Frantz . I have been teaching in Chicago since 1997 and understand first hand the challenges of urban education. I decided to start a blog because I feel we need a forum that is uniquely suited for urban educators. I have always found it difficult to find teaching strategies that are not only practical but designed specifically for our population of students. I have grown frustrated attending conferences that do not speak to the challenges that teachers face in urban settings. Too often we are forced to adapt ideas that do not account for our unique set of challenges and have not been field tested in the inner-city.
The plight of urban education is well documented. The film "Waiting for Superman" is a perfect example. It belongs to that genre of reporting that holds teachers solely responsible for the failings of public education. A more apt name for the movie, in my opinion, would have been: "Waiting for parents". I think the biggest impediment to student achievement in the inner city is parental apathy. Many of our students are not getting that "second day of school" when they get home. It's an uphill battle trying to enlist the support of parents and sustaining their involvement. Our most recent Open House is indicative of the weak school-parent connection that is typical in many inner city schools. Despite phone calls to parents, flyers, emails , website postings,only six of my parents showed up during the three hour event. I believe this has a negative effect on student achievment and impedes our ability to make positive change in our schools. When I was coaching soccer, I was lucky to have one parent show up to a game-even regional quarter finals. Compare this to the scenes of hundreds of families eagerly assembled for the admissions lottery depicted in the movie. It is both moving and depressing at the same time. I wish we could repliate that energy everywhere. Any school fortunate enough to receive such a motivated and dedicated group of parents has a huge advantage over schools whose parents are uninvolved and lethargic. Undoubtedly, there are teachers who have no business in the classroom. There needs to be greater accountabilty and a vehicle for removing individuals who are a detriment to children.
CPS doesn't need Superman they need the whole darn Justice League. Maybe the "Wonder Twins could use their powers to activate in the form of a "VISION". I mean I have to laugh at the analogy, BUT if Superman showed up in Chicago (or any BIG CITY USA) he would be rendered helpless in the face of so much Kryptonite. Whether it be poor leadership, bad teachers, lack of resources, parental apathy, gang violence, truancy or ridiculous levels of mobility, there are many reasons for failure. There are simply too many stakeholders and variables at play in a child's education to single out teachers. It's simplistic, naive and shuts down a more comprehensive discussion on the state of our schools. There is enough blame to go around for everyone. Unfortunately, the public has shown it's willingness drink this kool aid . They have found a convenient whipping boy in teachers to explain the social woes that have been plaguing our country for years.
I look forward to sharing my ideas about education and comments in the months come.
Want Children to “Pay Attention”? Make Their Brains Curious!
By Judy Willis, M.D., M.Ed.
From Psychology Today Online
Curiouser and Curiouser
Plato Under a Brain Scanner
A few thousand years ago, in 360 B.C., Plato advised against force-feeding of facts to students. "Elements of instruction...should be presented to the mind in childhood; not, however, under any notion of forcing education. A freeman ought not to be a slave in the acquisition of knowledge of any kind. Bodily exercise, when compulsory, does no harm to the body; but knowledge which is acquired under compulsion obtains no hold on the mind."
We now have neuroscience of learning research to support these recommendations to avoid forced instruction and provide children with the best environment and experiences for joyful learning. We have come to literally see how stress and curiosity edits which sensory information is given entry to our neural networks and where the input ends up.
Social, emotional, hormonal, and nutritional influences are overtaking the attribution of intelligence to primarily genetic factors. Microbiology research reveals that emotions and experiences turn on or off portions of genes that determine how that gene will be expressed. Neuroplasticity research reveals that intelligence can be changed and guides us to educational and parenting strategies are neuro-logical to promote positive changes. Those are topics that will be in future posts here and are addressed in articles on my website www.RADTeach.com .
In this post, combining my background as a neurologist and classroom teacher, I'll share my strategies to help parents and teachers get information "admitted" through brain's attention system.
Children Are Paying Attention, Just Not to the Boring Things in Class
Getting into the brain is like getting into an exclusive nightclub where only the glamorous few are selected. Once inside, another gatekeeper, stress, determines what makes the cut to enter the upper VIP lounge in the prefrontal cortex - that valuable 13% of cerebral architecture where our highest cognition and emotional reflection takes place. (That will be the next post.)
The brain evolved to promote the survival of the animal and the species. That means giving priority to potential threat. Every second, of the millions of bits of sensory information from the eyes, ears, internal organs, skin, muscles, taste and smell receptors that are at the entry gate, only a few thousand make the cut. The system that determines what gets in - what the brain attends to is the Reticular Activating System or RAS. This primitive network of cells in the lower brainstem, through which all sensory input must pass to reach any higher regions of the brain, is essentially the same in your dog, cat, child, and you.
The RAS favors intake of sights, sounds, smells, and tactile sensations that are most critical to survival of the animal and species. Priority goes to CHANGES in an animal or human's environment with priority to change appraised as threatening. When threat is perceived, the RAS automatically selects related sensory input and directs it to the lower brain where the involuntary response is not to think, but to react - fight, flight, or freeze.
Force Feeding Won't Work Even on a Hungry Brain
The RAS is a virtual editor that grants attention and admission to a small fraction of all the available sights, sounds, and tactile sensations available at any moment. This survival-directed filter is critical for animals in the wild, but as it has not changed significantly as man evolved, and the implications for the classroom or with children in the home are significant.
When children's brains perceive threat (punishment or embarrassment in front of classmates for not doing homework, fear that they will be picked last for a kickball game, or anxiety that they will make an obvious error because they are not fluent in English) the RAS lets in only what is perceived as relevant to the threat. Unless the perception of threat is reduced, the brain persists in doing its primary job - protecting the human or animal from harm. The neural activity on scans during fear, sadness, anger or other stressful emotions is evident in the lower brain. In this stressed state "attention" is not under our control and the brain activity on scans drops way down in the prefrontal cortex. That higher, reflective, cognitive region of the brain does not receive the sensory input, determined irrelevant to survival. The day's lesson does fall on deaf ears.
When students criticized for not paying attention to the lesson it doesn't mean they are inattentive. Their RAS is paying attention to (letting in) sensory input, just not the sensory input their teachers think in important.
One of the great gifts of neuroimaging research is information about which sensory input gets through the RAS when threat is not perceived. When not under high stress alert, the RAS is particularly receptive to novelty and change that arouse curiosity. That is the key to the gate - the brain seeks input about the new, the unexpected, the colorful, musical, moving, aromatic sensations that are available when perceived or imagined threat is not blocking the way. When students are curious about something, they seek an explanation. This motivates them to persevere in seeking the information they now WANT to learn, what they need to be taught.
Knowing about the RAS means we can promote classroom communities where students feel safe, where they can count of the adults in charge to enforce the rules that protect their bodies, property, and feelings from classmates who they perceive as threats to these things. Our increasing knowledge of what gains access through the RAS, once threat is reduced, offers clues to strategies that promote attentive focus to lessons in school and at home.
Curiouser and Curiouser
You can build novelty into teaching new information. Changes in voice, appearance, marking key points in color, variation in font size, hats, movement, lessons outdoors, music, curious photos, unexpected objects (a radish on each desk when students enter the classroom) get the RAS attentive to admit the accompanying sensory input of lessons that relates to the curious sensory input!
Advertising a coming unit with curiosity provoking posters or adding clues or puzzle pieces each day invests curiosity as children predict what lesson might be coming and the RAS is primed to "select" the sensory input of that lesson when it is revealed. Playing a song when students enter the room can also promote curiosity; hence focus, if they know that there will be a link between some words in the song and something in the lesson. If a teacher, or parent helping with homework, walks backwards before a lesson about negative numbers, the RAS is primed by curiosity to follow along when a number line is unrolled on the floor start learning about negative numbers. Even a suspenseful pause in your speech before saying something particularly important builds anticipation as the students wonder what you will say or do next.
To further alert the RAS, increase curiosity, and the subsequent memory of the information (learning) that explains the curious phenomenon, have children make PREDICTIONS. The predictions can be written down, shared with a partner, or held up on individual white boards at any point during a lesson. Don't break the participation or curiosity with a "yes" or "no", but maintain the interest by responding with a nod of acknowledgment or a "thanks you" so the other students will continue to predict. The brain actually learns based on a system of predictions and feedback as neuroplasticity strengthens neural networks used to make correct predictions and corrects memory networks used to make incorrect predictions. (This is why feedback is important so those faulty circuits can be replaced with accurate information.)
Children Who Actually Get Excited When Asked, "What did you do in school today?"
Recall how, as a child, you felt about radishes as garnish on your plate. Now, imagine walking into your childhood classroom and finding a radishs on all the desks. Students' RAS will be curious about this mundane object because it on THEIR desk in a classroom, and not on a dinner plate. Now their attention is alerted to the novelty and curiosity so the RAS admits sensory input "clues" to the puzzle of the novel object on their desks. They are engaged and motivated to discover the reason the radishes are there. Now they are attentive and their brains are engaged.
Younger students learning the names and characteristics of shapes might have the opportunity to develop a concept of roundness and evaluate what qualities make some radishes have greater "roundness" than others. The lesson for older students might address as analysis of similarities and differences. The RAS will respond to the color, novelty, peer interaction of evaluating these objects that are usually disdained when found in their salads as they develop their skill of observation, comparison, contrast, and even prediction as to why the radishes that seemed so similar at first, become unique as they become detectives using magnifying glasses. Students' stress levels remain low as they use their individual learning strengths to sketch, describe, or take notes about what the radishes in their group have in common and how the differ.
As the survival tool, the RAS alerts to curiosity and remembers the resolution of the brain's prediction, as animals need to learn and repeat behaviors that are satisfying and fulfill survival needs, such as eating tasty food or following the scent of a potential mate. Engaged and focused brains are alert to sensory input that accompanies the pleasurable sensations. In animals these associations will make them more likely to find the source of pleasure in the future. As students enjoy the investigation with the radishes, the required lesson content can follow the open gateway to reach the higher, cognitive brain.
The novel experience of a simple radish, when used to promote curiosity and prediction, is likely to do more than carry the learning experiences into long-term memory. When children are asked that evening, "What did you learn in school today?" they are likely to further strengthen the memory as they describe both the radish AND the lesson as grateful parents give the positive feedback of attentive listening.
"Ask Dr. Judy" Free Webinar Series:
Topic: Why Don't My Students Pay Attention?
Wednesday, May 5, 2010 1:00 PM - 3:00 PM EDT
Source URL: http://www.psychologytoday.com/node/42444
Links:? http://www.RADTeach.com? http://www.psychologytoday.com/files/u302/What has changed_ Can it hurt me?.jpg? https://www1.gotomeeting.com/register/251272049? http://www.psychologytoday.com/files/teaser/2010/05/curiouser-and-curioser.jpg
If there has been one supreme divisive factor among our otherwise united classroom forces, Facebook is it. Block it! Ban it! Take their computers! Oh, the drama you have brought to us, dear Facebook, and yet I do believe we have given you too much credit for our frustrations and perhaps not enough for your potential.
Alan November relates a discussion with the head of London-based HSBC Bank. Engaging him in conversation, Alan asked, “What’s the most important 21st century skill?” Alan admits that he was unprepared for the response: “Empathy.” It was counterintuitive. While we in education had been espousing the importance of such critical skills as creativity, collaboration and adaptability in a 21st-century global information economy, here was the head of one of the largest banks in the world citing a completely under-emphasized virtue. Alan readily admits he grappled with the idea for a while, but in the end he concluded it is true. Empathy is the most important of skills we should be imparting to students as we prepare them for life and work in the 21st century.
Empathy - the ability to identify with others - takes on a heightened role in an age where we are gradually merging to form a single global community. The Information Age is only going to bind us more tightly together as people, nations and economies. Empathy does not require us to give up our own perspectives, but to be able to integrate others’ perspectives with our own. Even fairly recently this was not a priority in conducting business and getting things accomplished. It was 1982 when Tip O’Neill declared that “all politics is local.” The world was segmented into smaller communities then. We had impact where we lived and worked. Events happening in other regions of the world seemed distant, even remote in their impact on our daily lives. But the geographical distribution of society has changed. Through global communication and collaboration we now network internationally on personal and business levels. Events such as the attacks on American soil on September 11, 2001 forever changed our perception that we are hemmed in by political and geographic boundaries that offered protection and detachment from the events of the greater human community. Today O’Neill’s notion sounds parochial and out of touch. Today politicians are moving in droves to social media tools to garner support and expand spheres of influence. Everyone contributes to the progress we are making not just in our local community, state or nation, but as global citizens.
Daniel Goleman’s work demonstrates how empathy fuels intrinsic motivation and effective problem-solving. In his theory of emotional intelligence, empathy is critical to social awareness. It allows us to intelligently build stronger interpersonal relationships that lead to improved informed decision-making. People who empathize well make others feel that their work is respected and worthwhile. Goleman identifies three distinct kinds of empathy:
Cognitive Empathy - knowing what others might be feeling and thinking
Emotional Empathy - intuitively sensing what others are feeling and thinking
Compassionate Empathy - combined cognitive and emotional empathy providing an understanding of others’ circumstances and feeling inclined to help
When Alan speaks of empathy as a 21st century skill, he refers to global empathy: the ability to perceive and appreciate personal and cultural differences across humankind. Certainly this requires a cognitive understanding of what is encountered, and to be truly effective there must also be an emotional sense of what others are experiencing; but compassionate empathy encompasses the true notion of global empathy. Compassionate empathy not only validates another’s background, experience and perspective, it also prompts a response – a call to action – that necessitates that we reach out and connect with others where we can jointly make a difference in the world.
Stepping back to consider this concept, it becomes clear that all our aspirations for our children in the Information Age are contingent upon their ability to empathize with those with whom they come in contact. We are moving away from self-centered and culturally-centric views of the world to embrace our global partners as open, receptive, willing, engaged, empowered counterparts who are ready to move forward together. Efforts to communicate, collaborate, create, innovate, problem-solve and transform will not be successful without global empathy. So how do we pass this on to the next generation?
Empathy is not something we teach, it is something we instill. How? By modeling, coaching, facilitating, moderating and promoting it across all areas of the curriculum. It begins with the empathy we experience one-on-one in our most immediate relationships and builds from there: friendships, small groups, teams, cohorts, classes, networks and beyond. It is not that the traditional geographic and political boundaries no longer exist, or that regional and national identities are not still valued. We embrace these unique identifiers even as we bridge across them to make higher level connections - empathetic and empowering connections - that move us forward as communities and societies and as a common global civilization.
It’s all about the hype. The spin. The pundits. The experts. The talking heads. The facts. The data. The insight. The intangibles. The inside scoop. The interpretations. The trends. The analysis. The speculation. The predictions. The records. The historical contexts. The powers that be. The informed conclusions. Really?
Every Saturday morning here in the states college football experts fill hours of airtime making the case for who will win the games on the weekend schedule. They look at conferences, rankings, previous performances, position-by-position match-ups, who plays better at home or on the road, injuries, benchings, weather, scandals, human interest stories…if there’s a way to make the case for why certain teams will win today, it is made…convincingly.
Then at high noon eastern time the games begin. And all the posing and posturing about the result of every game in the country goes out the window. Some favorites win. Some underdogs surprise. And while some general statements can be made about the power conferences, the football factories and the haves and have-nots, there is only so much rhyme and reason as to the outcomes when they are reported out on Sunday morning. All the talk means nothing. Any given team can beat any other team on any given day. That’s why they play the games.
What does this mean for education? Well, we have a lot of experts and data and powers that be putting their spin on what is happening and what is going to happen in classrooms. They have a lot of money, power and influence on their side...access to media and entertainment and corporate resources…it can certainly appear and sound like they know what they’re talking about. But where does the rubber meet the road in public education? In the classroom. All the politicians and philanthropists and administrators and data analysts may have their say, but at the end of the day it is the teacher and student who make it happen.
What can we infer from this?
Make a difference in the moment. Right now. Nothing else matters. You have control over your oucome. No one else.
There’s a certain satisfaction with proving the soothsayers wrong. Truman defeating Dewey for the presidency. The Jets beating the Colts in Super Bowl III. Everyday citizens bringing down the Berlin Wall. It didn’t matter who had the perceived upper-hand or who predicted what…all that mattered was the outcome.
So…stop listening to the pundits. Get your game on, get back out there and give it everything you’ve got. Don’t let the voices on the sidelines get in your head. Sure they can have their say. But in the end, it’s up to you. You own the endgame.
Walter’s blog archive: http://surfaquarium.com/blog.htm
Mirror site: http://surfaquarium.blogspot.com/
The vice principal of a school I was working with in Mexico made a very interesting comment: "What many teachers are reaching for but can’t quite grasp in practice is this idea of a transformation of our classrooms to the future. Personally, I find that information sources from Apple or TedTalks often do a great job of giving us that vision, but the steps to get there are tough… those practical steps of how to get there."
Part of the problem is that you have two tiers of teachers when it comes to technology. First, there are the tech geeks. Some of them may be in the classroom, but many of them are out of the classroom and in charge of implementing technology in the classroom. These teachers have certain traits:
1. They are easily wowed. They go to ISTE or EduCon and get seriously excited.
2. They love all the new toys. They are in line for the new iPhone or Android, and they must have Kindles and iPads.
3. They try everything. If you mention blogs, they will start one. If you mention wikis, they will make one. (At the extreme, I met a woman who told me she loved wikis so much that she had created more wikis than anyone at wikispaces and was their number one user.)
4. They emphasize wow over why. They can get so wrapped up in the coolness of the new thing, they can forget to ask if how they are using it supports any valuable learning goal.
5. They are blind to how the non-tech person sees the world. They can’t imagine why all teachers aren’t on board and they are impatient with those not in the club. I heard one tech teacher remark, “Well they [the teachers reluctant to use tech] are just going to have to get with it!”
On the other hand, you have the reluctant adopters.
1. They are easily overwhelmed. They see all the new stuff and think there is no way to keep up.
2. They are not toy oriented. They have a cell phone to make calls and see no use for a smartphone. They would rather hold a book than a Kindle.
3. They try nothing unless someone is guiding them slowly and carefully step by step.
4. They only see the problems: it is hard to get computer lab time; some laptops on the cart aren’t charged up and buttons are missing and some froze up; sometimes the website doesn’t load…
5. They already have lesson plans for teaching [insert any topic here] and don’t see why a tried and true lesson should be changed. The kids get enough of the tech stuff at home.
I think the tech geeks (TGs) may be 15% of the teachers and the reluctant adopters (RAs) have the other 85%. So in 2010, most classrooms look like they did in, oh, I don’t know… 2000? 1970? 1950?
The TGs have not been effective at communicating with the RAs. The lessons and tools that wowed the TGs do not wow the RAs. The stuff that the TGs pick up quickly is very difficult for the RAs to pick up. RAs are often put off by the TGs. TGs have the vision but often not the ability to translate that vision to those who don’t see the world the same way. And so we get the comments like the one from Guadalajara.
You have to find translators. Find someone to calm down the TGs and teach them to be more sensitive to the very real issues the RAs see. Find someone to hold the hands of the RAs and work with them rather than present to them. Spend more time on “those practical steps of how to get there” and less time introducing new stuff. Figure out how to bridge the gap between TGs and RAs so our classrooms can finally get into the 21st century.
Walter’s blog archive: http://surfaquarium.com/blog.htm
You say you want a revolution?
We all want to change the world.
You tell me that it's evolution;
We all want to change the world…
There are calls for revolution everywhere today; in education, economics, environment, law, government, international relations…and in many cases the call smacks of change for change’s sake. It has to be better than our current situation. Right?
Let’s think this through:
Each has its own implications for our future and our children’s future.
“If you’re serious about leading a revolution, why not blow the lid off of this thing and let everyone do what they want? We’ll surely see innovation and learn new ways to do things!”
Really? Does revolution mean freedom…and does freedom mean everyone gets to do whatever they want? Based on the current education landscape, some people must think so. But that’s not what I’m talking about. Revolution - a complete change - requires informed choices, visionary strategy and thoughtful implementation. Public education is not in need of a coup de tat…and revolution is not anarchy.
Consider these examples of revolution from just the last 300 years:
You say you got a real solution?
We'd all want to see the plan.
You ask me for a contribution;
We're all doing what we can…
In each case, revolution is not a call to anarchy, but to a new order in society that will move everyone forward. Yes anarchist ideology can be found threaded throughout the fabric of history as a call for extreme change…but the resulting upheaval never leads to anarchy as the end goal. Why? Change requires constants. Think about it. When you solve an algebraic equation for the variable, you have to work with the known values to solve the problem. Trying to solve x + y * z = n is wide open. Anyone can plug in the values they want…so there’s really no value at all.
Revolution is a necessary-yet-temporary state in the change process that leads to new order, and that new order is identified by commonly accepted values.
Values are key:
Creating a revolution requires connecting to the values of the larger community in which you live…the people who will be served by your efforts…if those efforts are going to be successful and sustainable. Working in an isolated pocket of innovation is all fine and well, but it does not impact people outside your immediate sphere of influence. If you believe you have the answers to move education forward, come out of isolation and plant in your seeds in open fields in the light of day. Of course the climate is unpredictable and the soil can be unforgiving, but it is the only way to give your ideals a chance to take root, thrive and grow.
You say you'll change the constitution?
We'd all love to change your head.
You tell me it's the institution;
You better free your mind instead…
This past weekend the “Save Our Schools March and National Call to Action” took place in Washington DC, after months of planning and organizing. I have picked up snippets of information from blogs and web sites, but for all the organizer’s efforts to hold the event, it did not receive coverage from the mainstream media. While those who attended will no doubt feel invigorated and encouraged to continue their work, it is unfortunate that it did not get the attention of American citizens who vote and pay taxes. We can build consensus and work together within our ranks, but we need to connect to the larger community if we are going to change public education for the better.
Our choices are clear:
What is the right choice? History shows us that when a society’s needs aren’t being met, revolution erupts from outside the existing system, because that system is perceived as the problem. Sound familiar?
With apologies to John Lennon:
Everybody’s talkin’ ‘bout…
Revolution, evolution, education,
Communication, cooperation, innovation,
Collaboration, transformation, congratulations!
All we are saying is give change a chance...