Search ASCD EDge
I recently had a discussion with a friend John, who is a Superintendent in a rural school district. We were discussing his district specifically and what it was providing its students in the way of relevant programs of study. The conversation came around to a question often asked and an answer that is too familiar. I asked what the purpose of school was? As educators what is it that we want for our students at the end of the journey of K-12? Of course the answer was to get them to college or to get them to a good job.
My friend was consulting with a number of local companies to determine what they were looking for in employees. He was also consulting with area colleges to see what they expected to receive as college ready students. He was doing everything a responsible, caring superintendent could do in order to properly prepare his students for the stated goals of education, getting to college, or getting a job.
Thinking about the goals, as pragmatic as they are, I was really having trouble with the idea of what the goals were. We were considering limiting kids’ learning to the limited needs an industrial complex, or the present entry requirements of institutions that are slow to change in an ever-changing culture.
My other problem with these almost universal goals of American education is that for too many kids these goals are not an inspiration to learn. If college is truly a goal for education, why is it that only a third of Americans have completed four-year degrees? The first answer that comes to mind is that most were not able to handle the studies involved. A more likely answer however, is that a degree has become cost prohibitive. People can no longer afford to go to college without incurring massive debt. How can any kid embrace a goal of education knowing that it is financially unattainable, or that it will come at a cost of unending loan payments? This is not unlike promising every kid playing sports should have an expectation to play in any of the national, professional sports leagues. Few might, but most will not.
This goal of a college career is certainly less of an incentive when we consider schools in areas of poverty. Middle-income people may have some shot at college with the help of family, but that puts the student and the family into years of debt. What chance do poor kids have, especially in the current political climate of limiting any government funding for anyone? Nationally, student debt is rising at an astronomical rate because of the need to fulfill the goal of college and its promise of financial security upon completion. Poor kids are told that college will break the cycle of poverty. How is that an incentive for a kid who knows its likelihood will never happen? Education’s goal is not the kid’s goal. That is not a winning strategy.
Now for the second goal of education for those who we recognize as the non-college ready students. Our goal is to place them in the labor force. We ask business and industry what they require of their employees, and then we work that into our education system. We have then prepared our students for the workforce of today. The problem here is that they are not prepared for the workforce of tomorrow. That is more likely the place that they will live. We saw the result of this when the economy went bust. Many workers who found themselves again in the job market, were not prepared for the world of work today. We can’t program kids to fit into a workforce that may not support their skills after they graduate. Business, industry and our entire society are subject to rapid change driven by the evolution of technology. Think of how different the workforce will look from when a kid enters school until his or her graduation. In that time, that twelve-year span, how many businesses died, and how many started anew? Yet, we will have programmed our kids to be work ready for a workforce that may no longer need those skills. Think of how long a time it took moving typewriters out of education in a world of word processors.
If college readiness and work readiness are failing goals in education, what should the goal of education be? I don’t know. I think life readiness or learning readiness might be more fitting for our world today. Teaching kids how to learn and continue to do so outside of a classroom is the best way to prepare them for whatever path they choose. A goal of self-reliance might serve kids better in the future. To enable a kid to learn without a teacher is the best gift a teacher can give a student.
Change will be slow however, because all of our educators and all of our society have been programmed to believe that school is to prepare kids for college or work. We have come to believe that education is salvation, when in fact it is the learning that is important. Education is a certificate of learning that comes at great expense. It does have its place however, and we will always hold it in high regard. The fact is however that fewer people will be able to pay for that piece of paper, but the learning it represents may cost a great deal less, not in terms of effort or work, but in terms of dollars and cents. In the future it may not be the degree, but the learning that is important. Maybe we need to reassess our goals in education?
While schools seem like historical institutions that anchor a community with continuity, they are always changing. While one school can provide a connection through generations in a neighborhood, the school that existed for the baby boomers is not what exists for the millennials. I went to a high school that just celebrated its centennial and while the name over the door remained the same, almost everything else has changed.
Every year the students, staff, and community change. New educational policies and reforms are instituted and old ones are forgotten. New events become traditions and new initiatives become protocols. One of the reasons that schools are so hard to change is that they come with history that was created through the efforts of the many people that were part of moving a school from a building to a monument to community accomplishment.
While some traditions provide connections within a neighborhood, others hang on long
past their usefulness.
As we have moved forward to change things in my school, there has been continuous discussion around how we got to where we are today. My school is less than fifteen years old, but there have been many changes since its inception. Many of the policies where put in place in order to solve problems that we are still facing, but others have lost their relevance. As we push forward to make the necessary changes to address our current student, staff and community needs, we are often stopped by these irrelevant policies, procedures and traditions. Last year, I began to call these policies ghosts because they continue to haunt us long after they are no longer relevant.
These ghosts haunt us for many reasons: we have failed to reassess their ability to meet the needs that we currently have, we lack an understanding of why they were put in place, and or we simply are still doing them because we have always done it that way. Most of the time, they do not cause problems. We have adjusted them to meet our needs each year, but in adjusting past practice, we find it difficult to develop new practices that better meet our needs. They continue to hang around and distract us from the work ahead, clouding the next steps in the process, and make us a less flexible school. Instead of developing something new, we are consumed with making something we have always done survive for another year.
Over the past year, a few teachers have engaged in a ghost busting process. We started getting together to discuss where we want the school to go and what ghosts haunt us from getting there. Throughout these meetings, I have seen that three steps are needed to bust ghosts.
This process is long and we have had real challenges at my school with making it happen. One person’s ghost is another person’s sacred cow and worth defending. We have taken steps forward and steps backwards, but we are working together. Schools are buildings with long institutional memory full of ghosts, but also the great work of generations committed to making it a great place. By ghost busting we hope to only to continue building that monument to community accomplishment.
A hot buzzword in education is the term ‘connected educator.’ For the past year, I’ve gone to unconferences, EdCamps, and had countless Twitter interactions. We always talk about what a ‘connected educator’ is.
Well, what about an ‘obsessive educator’?
It’s important to recognize this type of educator, too, as they are a strand of the ‘connected educator’. An obsessive educator is eternally hungry for teaching and learning knowledge. So hungry, that they’re never full. They’ll attend Saturday free conferences the weekend before Thanksgiving because they want to learn something, be inspired, meet others like them, and go home with their passion ablaze. Snow on a Saturday in Philadelphia? No problem for the obsessive educator. The pros way outweigh the cons. The obsessive educator burns the candle at both ends, only because there isn’t a third end.
The default setting for an obsessive educator is to communicate. Once an obsessive educator learns something new, they need to try it out immediately. And, then share out: not to brag or show off, but to deconstruct what just happened -- so more learning can occur. They want to break down why something worked, why something didn’t, or what they can do better.
They also want to help others get better. Making an investment in someone else by sharing new knowledge makes the obsessive educator happy. They know at some unknown future point, their investment will pay a dividend because a student will learn. And, that’s in their job description..
The obsessive educator is a teacher first, next, and always. And with teaching, there will be times when their peers don’t comprehend the material. They won’t see its relevance. Why do that? Who has time? Everything is already good the way it is, the obsessive educator hears. However, the obsessive educator sees a different picture than others hear. They don’t see the forest or the trees. Their vision is longer term, and it’s beautiful: a place where we are all connected and an obsession with learning becomes the norm.
But, they understand that their obsession is not the norm now. They understand that not everyone gets stoked when Tom Whitby and Todd Whitaker follow them on the same day. They understand that by taking pictures of the educational badges from the conferences they’ve attended that people they love, respect, and even marry may call them “Nerd Camp.” Because, the obsessive educator believes they get it -- the rest of the world will just catch up soon.
Most of us have counted down the days until spring. But this year, March, April, and May bring a bit of trepidation to many in the education community. With the heightened demands of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) and forthcoming next-generation assessments—which require a renewed emphasis on writing—many districts are concerned that students won’t be prepared.
No longer will students find tests comprised of dozens and dozens of “bubble-filled” multiple-choice questions. Instead, writing—assessed at every tested grade level—will be a key factor in the next-generation assessments developed by the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) and the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC).
The importance of writing skills on these new tests far exceeds traditional expectations. Students will now be required to explain and defend their answer to math questions in writing. On some math questions, the point-value of the written explanation may be even greater than the point-value of the correct numerical answer. The bottom line is that students with good writing skills will have a distinct advantage on these assessments.
During the first half of the school year, I traveled across the country delivering presentations on CCSS writing and upcoming assessments. And, from my discussions with educators, I’ve noticed a recurring theme—a common anxiety that students will not be prepared for the heightened expectations in writing.
In order to ensure that students are ready for new standards and assessments, schools must change the way writing is taught. Early, focused attention to writing is critical to ensure that students are prepared for increasing academic demands in middle school, high school, and beyond. Here are six specific steps that teachers and educational leaders can take now to prepare students for writing success:
To make sure your students are prepared for success on next-generation assessments, and ready for college and a career, you must renew your instructional emphasis upon writing at all grade levels. Writing must be explicitly modeled and taught. Making writing instruction a priority will undoubtedly result in higher academic achievement and greater economic success and civic engagement for your students. You cannot afford to wait; the need is urgent and the time is now.
Constructivists, like myself, in education today would agree that technology is redefining the way we think, practice, communicate, and carry out the routines of day-to-day living. In my personal and professional life, I have become increasingly dependent on my personal devices, such as my iPhone, iPad, and my Mac. I may leave home without matching shoes, but you can bet I will have all my tech gadgets. My iCali is synced to at least 4 systems and so are my reminders. My life has changed for the better due to the synchronization of my tech tools. Evernote, Drop Box, Google Drive, Live Binders, iCalendar are just a few ways I can manage my career and family. One of the best things is that my devices have afforded me the luxury of having access to personalized professional development at any time of the day or night. Because of the technology, my leadership skills, pedagogical practices, content knowledge, etc. have soared during the past two years. I have allowed social media, blogging, and other web 2.0 tools to become a consistent standard in my life.
Professional development has always been a part of the educational system. Rebore (2012) described that the main purpose for a staff development program is to “increase the knowledge and skills of employees and thereby, increase the potential of the school district to attain its goals and objectives” (p. 112). Cooper and Johnson (2013) believe learning needs are always present, therefore, educators find staff development necessary to stay abreast of current trends and practices. Many districts will perform a needs assessment to gain useful information regarding the types of professional development that should be offered to employees. Using the data from the assessments, the district pays attention to employee deficits. These shortfalls will show up as gaps in staff knowledge and/or skills in certain areas of the profession. To orient staff with new knowledge and skills, a district or campus may provide professional development to help close the learning gaps between those educators who display strengths in a certain area and those who do not (2012).
Traditionally, many staff development models try engaging their audience with a single presenter, who shares new knowledge centered around an idea. These models are mostly called workshops or seminars. Research has shown that these particular models are frequently presented in isolation without the motivation needed to change practices (Cooper & Johnson, 2013). This delivery style is very common in the educational world. Who needs this old-fashioned, "sit-'n-git"* approach to learning?? As a campus leader, I have the ability to move us away from tradition learning models and into the current era where there are means to personalizing PD for every single member on my staff. (* Thanks @ambercldrn for the "sit-n-git"…love it).
Research indicates that professional development is most effective when: “it involves the participants in concrete tasks; is participant driven while rooted in inquiry and reflection; is collaborative, connected to and derived from teachers work; and includes ongoing support” (Cooper & Johnson, 2013). With purposes quite the same as face-to-face counterparts, online teacher professional development (oTPD) operates using Web 2.0 tools, which have the potential to maximize principles due to flexibility and personalization for the educator. Web 2.0 oTPD engages and provides motivation for learners through reflection, review, connection, and immediate action, which are key to the constructivist experience (2013).
Our district administrators recently had the pleasure of hearing Maria Henderson, an Education Development Executive at Apple, Inc., speak to us about new and innovative ways of developing students and teachers on Web 2.0 tools. Henderson (2014) defended using 2.0 tools as an innovative way to personalize professional development for staff. I agree 100% with Ms. Henderson! Online professional development (oTPD) is not new but becoming more alive in the world of education. On my campus, I have tried using new apps and online resources to ease the time constraints that accompany traditional staff developments in an effort to deliver information. I have implemented the use of tools like Screen-Cast-O-Matic, Google Drive, Padlet, iMovie, YouTube, Teacher Channel, Blogging, Twitter, ScoopIt, Haiku Deck etc. Unlike traditional professional development, oTPD can be tailored to the professional or grade level, which increases engagement and the likelihood that the educator will apply what was learned or discussed.
With less time and more to learn than ever before, I often wonder why teachers do not embrace online learning more. Henderson (2014) stated it best when she said, “There has never been a more exciting time to be an educator or a student.” She is right! As an educator, I cannot wait to see where we go next. I am not afraid but rather anxiously await the next new, innovative tool to take us through our life's journey. #EXCITING!
We have always lived with and adapted to change; however, today’s changes are fast and furious. In education, building networks globally can help us stay abreast of current research and tools. Using Twitter, users are able to collaborate professionally with other educators about interests personalized to them (Cooper & Johnson, 2013). Books and magazines have much to offer but, once written, they stay the same and are not able to update immediately. Online venues, such a Twitter, LinkedIn, and Facebook provide educators with current feed with around the clock access in real-time. Almost nightly, I am able to read a plethora of new information and decide what best relates to my needs. I am able to share and learn skills and content on my own time with others who I have accepted in my professional learning network. By participating in #chats, I am able to discuss even more specifically the topics, which are more relevant to me. This method sure does beat sitting in a cold, sterile meeting where I might (or might not) walk away with something worthwhile. When I am on Twitter, I walk away with new learning each time I log off. (Which…by the way…logging off Twitter is hard…VERY HARD!).
Blogging is another user-friendly Web 2.0 feature that puts professional learning at your fingertips. Blogs are intended to prompt dialogue between people who have a vested interest in the material presented. Well…like this one!! I hope the material I am presenting makes you think. Sometimes blogs can embed other attractive and engaging features, such as YouTube videos, graphs, media clips, trailers, etc. Cooper and Johnson (2013) found that most research on blogging and teacher development has taken place with preservice teachers. New teacher bloggers have shown ability to critically reflect and interact with others in their online communities. My own Learning and Leading blog has taken me to new levels of learning. For me, it has given me a voice and a platform to speak. I also know that it has helped other educators reflect and think about their own practices in education.
Online professional development using 2.0 tools and other online resources can connect and give authentic experiences to the constructivist through reflection, review, and collaboration with network members. Not only that, but it can making learning simpler and easier. Another added bonus, as Cooper and Johnson (2013) stated in their article, “Exploration of professional development with such technologies presents possibilities for their use in the educational settings, while also engaging teachers in 21st century learning.”
Cooper, T., & Johnson, C. (2013). Web 2.0 tools for constructivist online professional development. EdItLib, 2013(1), 1923-1926. Retrieved from http://www.editlib.org/p/112231
Henderson, M. (2014, 0320).Apple learning. Lecture. Waco, Texas.
Rebore, R. (2012). The essentials of human resources administration in education.(1st ed.).Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education, Inc.
Source for graphic: AppEducation.org
As an educator, I am often surprised by the things I hear other educators say. You hear these comments at conferences, read opinions shared on Twitter, overhear opinions shared at other schools, and possibly even hear one of these statements at your own school. These statements make me cringe. When we are working with students, it is difficult to understand the statements that some educators make.
Ten Statements That Make Me Say, "Shut The Front Door!"
"Those students can't go to college. We should just prepare them for a career, starting in middle school."
In 1903, Saunders, a professor at the University of Mississippi, described the perspective of many Americans at the turn of the century. He wrote, "College education is desirable and theoretically necessary for preeminence, but it is not for the masses, and it would be but a utopian theory to plan for the day when a bachelor's degree shall be a qualification for suffrage or a necessity for success and happiness" (p. 73).
In 2014, several Americans still share this perspective. The recent move towards College and Career Readiness is a positive move in education. This movement does not guarantee that every student will enter a four year college. It is the idea that every student should be provided with the opportunity to learn (OTL) key skills and concepts. Furthermore, adults should not determine a child's plans after high school when the child is in the seventh grade.
"Our seventh graders made a PowerPoint, so I would say that I am proficient with technology integration."
I am not offended by teachers saying that they require students to make a PowerPoint. However, it should be a red flag to administrators if any teacher hangs their hat on one project that incorporates technology. Technology integration should become seamless. In other words student projects will require technology integration, but the focus is on student understanding, not the device or program. After all, did you ever hear a teacher say, “My students used a pencil and paper today?”
"The Common Core State Standards are not new ideas. I have always taught this way."
Regardless of your stance (for or against) the Common Core State Standards, there are obvious changes in the way teachers should approach curriculum development, instruction, and common formative assessments. "These Standards are not intended to be new names for old ways of doing business. They are a call to take the next step” (Common Core State Standards for Mathematics, Introduction, p. 5). Be aware of teacher teams and administrators who claim, “This is how we have always done it.”
The new standards will not fit into your state’s old standards like a jigsaw puzzle. The Common Core State Standards provide an opportunity to change how teacher teams communicate, collaborate, and reflect on standards. In the absence of ongoing communication, it will be easy to revert back to teaching in isolation and struggling to understand each standard. “Failure to understand the Standards and adjust practices accordingly will likely result in ‘same old, same old’ teaching with only superficial connections to the grade level Standards. In that case, their promise to enhance student performance will not be realized” (Wiggins & McTighe, 2012).
"I require the gifted students to do double the work. They can handle it, because 'they are gifted.'"
You do not hear this myth as often as you did at the turn of the century. However, there are still misconceptions about rigor and about homework for gifted students. Giving gifted students more work does not support student understanding. If you hear a teacher bragging about giving the gifted students double the work, you should refer them to resources such as (Edmonds, SERVE) and Rigor on Trial (Wagner, 2006).
"How do you expect me to read a journal article or blog. There's no time for that."
The field of education is changing and professional growth is not optional. Online journal articles, blogs written by teachers and administrators, Twitter chats, webinars, and teaching videos provide educators with a multitude of resources. As a professional, I grow frustrated when someone claims that there is no time for continuous improvement. As educators, we should continue to grow and seek to understand best practices. It is professional malpractice to claim that there is no time for learning.
"Those aren't my students."
Teachers in a Professional Learning Community (PLC) change from saying ‘those kids’ to ‘our kids’ (DuFour, DuFour, & Eaker, 2008). If the goal is to prepare all students to graduate College and Career Ready, then the teachers and staff members in the school district must collaborate to support students. Principals within the same school district should share ideas and discuss instructional strategies. Competition is good when it comes to athletics, marching band, academic clubs, and science fairs. It is also appropriate to see which school has the highest graduation rate, lowest dropout rate, and highest number of students enrolled in advanced courses. The idea that “Those aren’t my students” should be a thing of the past. As adults, we should share ideas within our school district, across state lines, and even around the globe. When more students graduate prepared for college and careers, the world wins! These are “OUR” students!
"Do we get credit for attending this meeting?"
Have you ever heard a colleague whisper, “I hope they are giving us credit for this.” Most school districts require a number of credits over the course of one year or a five year span. If a teacher is more focused on receiving credit than learning, it is a red flag. Have you ever attended a meeting until lunch and then your co-worker goes to the mall, because the credit was given in the registration packet? It is a shame that some educators view the credit as the purpose for attending. Don’t get me wrong. I believe that educators should receive credit in order to renew their license. I also believe that more school districts should begin recognizing blogging, Twitter chats, and webinars as ways to earn credit. Asking for credit is similar to the following scenario:
A high school basketball coach asks the starting five to run a play in practice, one day before the game. The starting point guard pauses before running the play and asks, “Will we all five get to start in the game if we run this play right?”
Running the play several times is part of continuous improvement. Continuous improvement is the reason for professional development, not credit or a certificate.
"We are no longer teaching during the last nine weeks. We have started benchmarking and test prep."
Test prep is one of the worst things that teachers can do during the last nine weeks. Did you ever try to cram for a test in college? It usually does not result in transfer or understanding. There are multiple approaches that educators can take which will virtually guarantee instant gains or increases in student achievement. Curricular reductionism is a test prep strategy that eliminates arts education, social studies, character education, and soft skills. If it’s not tested, then it’s not taught during the last nine weeks (or even semester in some schools).
Taking shortcuts to improve the data at an individual school is akin to a professional athlete taking steroids. When our students graduate from high school, we do not want them to reflect on their K-12 experience and see that the shortcuts adults took created long-term detrimental effects.
When educators choose to give students multiple assessments that look like the high-stakes test, eliminate subjects, and create a test prep boot camp atmosphere, then students lose. High-stakes tests have changed the way some teachers and administrators approach teaching and learning.
"I would assign more project-based learning, but it interferes with the pacing guide."
Pacing guides provide students with a ‘guaranteed and viable curriculum’ (Marzano), if the curriculum is implemented in each classroom. Pacing guides can support teaching and learning. Alignment in a school district is important and pacing guides can provide an outline of what should be taught to each student. Pacing guides should allow for flexibility in pacing and the readiness level of each student.
The statement above is often overheard at high schools that teach on a block schedule. While there may be 90 minute periods, some teachers cannot overcome the fact that a one year course is taught in one semester. If student understanding is improved through project-based learning (PBL), then teachers should identify days of the week and units of study that provide students with time for PBL.
I say, “Shut the Front Door” to this comment, because it is an example of putting the needs of adults in front of the needs of students. We are paid to prepare each student for the next level of learning. Some educators say, “Research be damned, I am going to get through the pacing guide and make sure that I cover the content.”
"I believe that soft skills are critically important, but they aren't tested by the state."
Soft skills include, but are not limited to, teamwork, decision-making, and communication (America’s Promise Alliance, 2007). “The goal of college and career readiness for all high school graduates is no longer a radical reform idea promulgated by a handful of states: It has emerged as the new norm throughout the nation” (Achieve, 2010, p. 23).
Employers seek applicants who are problem solvers, communicators, team players, and have perseverance. These skills, sometimes referred to as soft skills, are needed by all high school graduates to ensure that they are college and career ready, regardless of whether they plan to complete an apprenticeship after high school or attend a two-year or four-year college. While employers are seeking students with strong academic skills, they are having trouble finding applicants who can collaborate, create, think outside the box, and communicate. When educators focus on tested subjects at the expense of soft skills, students pay the price. If test scores are the reason for teaching and learning, then someone forgot to tell the employers who are seeking qualified applicants (Wagner, Seven Survival Skills as described by business leaders in their own words).
I believe in instructional leadership, teacher leaders, the Common Core State Standards, curriculum alignment, professional learning communities, and College and Career Readiness. When teachers and administrators make statements that you disagree with, you should challenge the statement. As a professional, you owe it to students and to the profession to challenge broad statements or beliefs that are not in the best interests of students or the profession.
Share your thoughts below:
What makes you say, “Shut the Front Door?”
Steven Weber is an elementary school principal in North Carolina. During his career, he has served as the Director of Secondary Instruction for Orange County Schools, High School Social Studies Consultant with the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction, K-12 Social Studies Specialist with the Arkansas Department of Public Instruction, and as a classroom teacher and assistant principal in the West Memphis School District. Weber blogs on ASCD EDge. You can connect with Weber on Twitter at @curriculumblog.
It is open season on students in regards to testing, and in some school settings, this can mean a lot of pushback. This third quarter was a mess with all of the days off. It killed instructional momentum, disrupted the classroom culture, and narrowed the number of day in that ever so important “testing window.” Teachers are frustrated by the interruption in learning; students are frustrated by yet another meaningless assessment (at least to them). As we sat in planning and looked at the testing calendar, there was no way around it - a week worth of testing that had to be completed before spring break. Some of my colleagues lamented about how this would impact their data, or about complaints they would surely get from the students. It is true that the students would complain, and knowing that is a part of teaching; but what are you going to do with that knowledge? Last year, at ASCD13, I attended a session on kinesthetic learning. The speaker said something that has stuck with me since: If you don’t like the state of your classroom, change the state. It echoes something I always share with my advisory students as well: You can’t control what anyone else does; you can only control yourself.
I decided to do two things to be proactive about changing the state of this potentially negative situation. The first was to share a poem. Poetry was a major passion of mine in college, and one that teaching has taken away from me in some regards. For National Poetry Month, I’ve decided to share a poem a day. Not to annotate, or analyze, or read closely for some standard, but simply to share. I want to share poems that meant something to me when I was a student; that shaped my love of poetry to begin with. I want to share them the way they were meant to be delivered – spoken aloud. I want students to know that poetry is a great way to express our ideas, and I want to them to hear some of my own compositions. And maybe through sharing my passion, it will help shape theirs. I have to admit, that I am ferociously scouring my old college books, and reliving the joys of these poignant words all over again.
The second thing I decided to do was play a game before testing. Nothing fancy, just a simple game of silent ball. I set a timer for 5 minutes and let them go. It got the room quiet, which set the tone. It got the kids moving, which got their energy out. It got the kids smiling and laughing just before they were about to take an assessment, which got their brains firing on all cylinders. After we got settled in our seats, the kids were more serious about working. Their posture was better, and they were visibly focused on the task at hand.
I believe that if we are truly trying to create a Whole Child Classroom, then we need to think about what our children truly need. They do not need another test. They do not need another lecture. They do need to have some fun during the day. They do need to know that their teachers love what they teach, and care about things other than work and tests. And with those few quick moves they understood. They understood that we (my co-teacher and I) understand. We acknowledged how crappy it is to have to take so many tests, but we stressed the importance of doing our best. We gained their trust and buy-in and changed the state of the classroom. I thought about some of my peers, who were probably struggling to get their kids quiet, dealing with complaining or lack of effort. Would they be willing to try something like this, or would they just talk about holding students accountable or wasting time? Either way, my mind is made up. Give these kids a break (even if it is 5 minutes), give them some of yourself, and they will give you more of themselves. I’ll let the data work itself out.
It was the middle of a long week and there was no end in sight. My priority list seemed neverending. I grumbled as I walked into school. I was tired, and I didn’t care who knew it. My vibe was not a good one. And, it was the wrong one.
The first day I welcomed in a new group of students and told their parents not to worry, that their children would be fine under my care, my life stopped being about serving myself and began about serving others. This job stopped being about me a long time ago, and I’d forgotten about that.
I felt like road kill. And, that’s okay. It’s human to be tired. It’s not okay in our field to let it affect us, because that impacts not just us, but the students we serve, the families who entrust us to keep their children in the forefront of each decision we make, and our teammates who feed off our energy.
That’s why outside of this day, whenever a student or a co-worker had asked me how I was doing, I’ve always told them some combination of: “I’m awesome,” “I’m great,” or, “Never had a bad day.” Because everyone benefits from hearing that. Maybe it lifts us up, maybe it serves as a model for keeping a positive attitude.
Or, maybe my students, parents, or peers walk away and think I’m nuts. But, if they’re tired, not feeling well, or life has dealt them a bad hand that day, I’ve at least given them something else to think about: that guy must be nuts. How is he always in a good mood?
In reality, I’m not always in a good mood. I have arthritis, which can make some mornings tougher than others to loosen up and get moving. I have two boys, a three-year-old, and a 19 month-old. Neither has mastered sleeping overnight. However, I have the potential to wake up and put others in a good mood each day, and that’s a powerful thing. How many people can change someone’s day with a handshake, a smile, a nod of the head, raised eyebrows, or a silly face. Who was I to take away someone’s potential positive mindset because I had a long to do list!? That’s a misuse of power, and, that makes me sad, which is worse than being tired.
As I walked into my classroom, I reflected on how I felt, acknowledged it, and put it aside. Because, my day was now about investing in others: making each person I came in contact with feel significant, that they belonged to something, and the environment they came to each day was fun. This was no place for a sleepy party pooper.
I checked my coffee and diet soda to make sure I was armed for the day, turned on the tunes, and sat at my desk. It was time to review my plans, look at my morning message, and create another positive experience for those I would come in contact with that day.
We may not always feel like shiny, happy people. But, we do need to put that out there for our students, their families, and our peers. They deserve nothing less than our best. We can always nap later.
For most of my 36 years, my personal mantra has been “Failure is not an option.”
Seven months ago, I made a public pledge to blog at least twice a month. I may as well have also labeled it “My New Year’s Resolution” because I have not written a post after that, despite it being received relatively well.
Over the past few months, I made fun pacts with fellow ASCD Emerging Leaders (specifically Barry Saide, Eric Bernstein) about how I would follow their blogging lead, writing amazingly interesting blogs that reference cool ‘80s movies and inspire educators to work wonders in their classrooms. I also made excuses for why I never quite got around to writing (doctoral classes, family commitments, travel, conferences, sleep…).
Honestly, I didn’t write because I was afraid that my thoughts would be considered un-engaging, un-informative, or worse, poorly written. (Read: NOT GOOD ENOUGH.)
In my effort to avoid feeling like a failure, I failed.
As an educational consultant who focuses on social emotional learning, I am privileged to work with teachers and students in states across the country. In this role, I often encourage – no, I intentionally PROMOTE – failure. I believe whole-heartedly in giving others a 2nd, 3rd, even 4th chance. I urge teachers to incorporate formative assessment into the classrooms and offer students “second chance learning” on summative evaluations. I persuade students to forgive themselves, back up, redirect their paths, and move forward again with confidence based on new learning. Why can’t I seem to give myself those same opportunities?
Failure helps us grow character, build resilience, and increase knowledge and expertise. Failure lets us know who is standing by our side. Failure stretches us in ways we never thought we’d experience. Failure directs us to success.
Since everyone defines “success” differently, failure can always lead us to success. It is all in how we frame it.
Prior to starting my doctoral program, I set a goal to achieve a 4.0 GPA. Near the end of my first 9-credit semester, I earned my first “B” on a paper. For some, this may not seem like much. For me, the knot of failure sat in my stomach for days. I tried to ignore it, overcome it, and push it away.
Finally, I decided to embrace “it”.
I embraced failure.
I reframed my thinking. Realizing that I no longer had to (was able to) achieve my goal, I could actually enjoy my journey of learning – relish all the new insights my professors and classmates offered. I was now open to truly grow as an educator, as a learner, and as an individual. I was stretched, and I bounced back. And truly, I am much better for it.
As a consultant, you build quick relationships with those with whom you work. One of my mentors, Thom Stecher, once told me that in order to build my consulting skills, I needed to find MY stories – and allow myself to be vulnerable enough to share them.
I think this might be a good place to start. From failure.
(And Barry and Eric, lest you think that have failed to tie a movie to this post: The 1993 movie, Cool Runnings, tells the inspiring story of Jamaica’s first bobsled team trying to make it into the Olympics. At different stages of their lives, the bobsled teammates, and their coach, experienced intense periods of failure. But, they embraced it, learned from it, and found success. As one of the main characters states in the movie, “Cool Runnings means ‘Peace Be The Journey.’”
May we all find peace on our own journey through embracing our failures and remaining confident that we will eventually meet success.
My 3 year old son follows his older brother around non-stop. Whether it is doing push-ups, saying “shut-up”, or standing on the living room couch (unfortunately it’s our new couch), my older son is locked into a silent game of Simon Says.
It really got on the older one’s nerves. Even though siblings intentionally try to push each other’s buttons (the more my older son would protest, the more intense the following became), I wondered if there was something more to this. Did following have to be a bad thing? Better yet, were there any benefits for following someone or something?
In contemplating the perks of following, I was reminded of the childhood game “Follow the Leader”. The game emphasizes the power of observation and environmental study in planning one’s next move. Similarly, consider the mantra from the Wizard of Oz, “follow the yellow brick road”. It reveals the power of tenacity-in spite of any real (tornadoes, losing your way, etc.) or imagined obstacles (witches, fake wizards, etc.) that come our way.
What is Involved in Following?
Nowadays, following is an action associated with the use of social media. For example, thinking about Twitter, we may "follow" celebrities, friends, or colleagues in order to network or keep abreast with things that interest us. In that sense "following" is done online using technology as a communication platform. For the purpose of this article, the concept of "following" relies on the desire to emulate. Please note that there is an element of imitation, but most importantly there is an internal change (learning) when effective following occurs.
So, let’s clarify a few aspects about the act of following before proceeding:
What Can We Learn About Following From Teachers?
I began to wonder how the concept of following translates into the classroom. Educators follow instructional principles in their classrooms everyday. Let's take a look at the experience of a few educators to learn how and why they follow:
What Does Research Show in Regards to Teachers Following?
The teacher mentor process is one way instructional principles are studied and practiced. Let's take a look at what teacher mentor research suggests about following:
What Are the Rules For Following Effectively?
Although teacher experiences and research indicate that following can be advantageous, as educators we must show care in how we follow. There is a difference between becoming a follower and following (the latter is the goal). Keeping in mind a few tips helps to ensure effective following:
At last, it is time to revisit the questions that were inspired by my 3 year older following his older brother. Was there a deeper meaning to gain from this simple act of following? Yes. I believe that there is an important take-away from watching my younger son engulfed in the act of following. I believe that following is a powerful and necessary process that may begin copy-cat like, but when done effectively, results in learning. As for the second question: Was following bad? I conclude that following is not bad at all, as long as it is principle-based, purposeful and change oriented. In addition, we have to remember the many benefits of following that are echoed by teacher experience and education research. Now, if only I could get my 10 year older to be more receptive to the benefits of following...
If there is one subject that most bloggers have written about, it is probably the act of blogging. I know for me, as well as many of my blogging friends, it is nothing like we imagined before we were immersed in the “blogosphere”. Bloggers start their blogs for many different and personal reasons. One step common to all however, is that it does take an act of courage to publish that first blog post.
When I first started, I thought that I would do apiece here and there for a little while, but that I would eventually run out of things to say. Three years later, after 237 posts, I am still waiting for that time to arrive. My areas of interest include education and social media. I guess as long as each of those areas continue to evolve, I will always have something to write about.
Another factor that affects what I blog is the continuing change in the audience. In order to access blog posts, a reader must be involved in some way with technology. That is a growing audience especially among educators. Most people use technology in everyday life, but more and more, educators are using technology for professional development in larger numbers. In order to access the most relevant information on the profession of education, educators are relying more on blog posts for relevancy. Many thought leaders and education authors are blogging their thoughts to share, test, and try out new ideas in education.
Twitter, which is considered to be micro-blogging, has lured many people to blogging. It limits the author to 140 characters, but it does however, enable one to blast out ideas for quick responses. Success on Twitter leaves some people with a need to do more. There are ideas that need to be placed in explanations longer than a string of 140 character tweets may allow. Many ideas are introduced and tersely discussed in tweets and chats on Twitter, but they demand more reflection and more explanation, which leads to blogging. The biggest effect of Twitter chats is often reflected in the blog posts following, and resulting from the chats.
Blogging changes the way many people think about new, and old ideas. The difference between writing a Blog post and writing a magazine or journal article is the immediate feedback in the form of comments or responses. Before a blogger puts words to the computer screen the audience and its reaction are a consideration. The blogger will strive for clarity in thought. The blogger will strive for clarity in the writing. The blogger will attempt to anticipate objections. The blogger will not rush the idea in print, but develop it, so that it evolves before the reader. It is less a reaction, and more of a transparent reflection of thought, benefitting the writer as much as the reader. This will begin to carry over into the way the writer approaches almost everything.
For a blogging educator, as a teacher, or administrator, student or even a parent, there becomes a transparency in their thinking and reflecting. Before technology enabled us, this process had never been available, or had so much access to an individual’s thought process been given. Before the technology, books and magazines enabled us to view it in only a few people who were privileged to media access. Today the computer is the publisher. Good or bad, anyone can publish at anytime.
The stunningly apparent, positive take-away from blogging is that it gives voice to the blogger. A thoughtful, reflective, considered post can be picked up by an audience and sent out to thousands, or millions of readers through technology.
Blog posts can also be used for propaganda, or mindless ranting. As educators we need to emphasize critical thinking in our classes for that very reason. We need to model for our students how to responsibly question. We need to teach them how to comment and respond to blog posts. If blog posts are part of our ever-evolving, technology-driven culture, we need to educate our children in their use.
As educators we must also be learners. We need to model learning for our students who need to understand the necessity to be a life long learner. Educators are also people who work with ideas and share. It takes courage to put one’s self on the line to be scrutinized by others. Teachers do it every day in schools. The most effective way to have one’s voice recognized in sharing ideas in order to consider, reflect, modify, and improve with the greatest audience possible is through blogging.
We need courageous administrators blogging to give transparency to their thoughts and leadership. We need educators to have the courage to experiment with blogging placing them squarely in the conversation of education from which they are too often blocked. Educators need to be models for their students. We need our students blogging to follow their teacher models. Blogging provides an audience for students’ work. It is an authentic audience and not an audience of one, as have been most of their previous writing experiences. It gives voice to their concerns, and it shows them direction for their personal learning. We need parents to blog to give voice to their concerns in directing the conversation for the needs of their children.
Since becoming a blogger, I view things differently. I question things more. I try to understand things well enough, so that I can explain them simply. Most importantly I have been recognized as a person to be taken seriously, because I have a voice. These are things I wish for everyone to experience. What good is education, if we do not have a voice to share what we have learned in order to benefit all?
This post is a part of the ASCD Forum conversation “how can we cultivate and support teacher leaders?” To learn more about the ASCD Forum, go to www.ascd.org/ascdforum.
I believe that all teachers are, to some extent, teacher leaders. Teacher leaders are those who lead at their schools both formally and informally. For this reason, I believe that opportunities for educators to become teacher leaders are everywhere. When one looks hard at schools, I believe that it is hard to find teachers and other school staff who do not hold at least one leadership role. High quality teacher leaders are those who go above and beyond and are unafraid to work closely with their peers. When high quality teacher leaders populate a school site, that school site is invariably changed for the better.
Educators can affect positive change by filling formal leadership roles such as: mentoring beginning teachers, leading their department as a department chair, or volunteering to represent their school at district level committee meetings. While there are formal opportunities available for educators to become teacher leaders, there are also informal opportunities. Acting as a sounding board for ones colleagues, helping a fellow teacher improve a lesson, or brainstorming ways to reach a struggling student are all informal ways that one can be a teacher leader.
Whether acting in a formal role or informally, a teacher cannot be a teacher leader without being valued and respected by one’s colleagues. Teacher leaders are charged with building trusting relationships with their fellow teachers. If one wishes to be a teacher leader it should be their goal to get to know their colleagues because the stronger a teacher’s relationships with their colleagues are, the more positive change that teacher can affect at their school site.
By providing educators with ample opportunities to develop professional skills, school sites can support the educators that wish to grow in the role of “teacher leader”. Administrators can make sure to foster a school environment where experimentation is welcomed and the occasional failure is seen as a necessary part of pushing the boundaries and trying new things.
This video from TEDx Toronto has really been resonating with me lately. It has me thinking about the kinds of learning experiences we create for our students. The relationships we build with our students. And also the learning experiences we create for teachers and the necessity of strong relationships there too. The video is about 6 minutes. It's worth that watch. I've got some more thoughts on the other side.
Stop thinking that you don't have something to share. That you don't have insight to offer into making education better; whether that be at the district or school level. Or that no one can learn from you. We're all leaders when it comes to the business of making teaching and learning better for our students. To existing district and school leaders: are you tapping into the full potential of the leaders you have around you every day? Are you giving opportunity to the people within your organization develop their leadership capacity?
So, what might this look like? It could look like sharing at a faculty meeting, joining in a chat on Twitter to share your expertise, joining a Google Hangout, joining a Google+ community, leading a conversation at an edcamp, or writing a blog post. Some are more comfortable with certain mediums than others. We need to be ok with this and allow it to count as professional growth.
Who makes your life better? Who makes you a better teacher? There's no denying the power of words. No matter how they're delivered to us. Sean Williams and I had a brief discussion about this on Twitter the other night:
If you don't have an "Email that makes you feel great" label, make it now. I just got to add to add to that folder.
— seani (@seani) March 18, 2014
You will never know all the people you have impacted in your lifetime. Chances are good someone has impacted you in some way. Have you taken the time to tell them?
We have all experienced our own "lollipop" moments. We all have likely even been the creator of some whether we remember it or not. The power of sharing these moments with those that gave them to us I truly believe has the ability to change the world. It comes down to letting people know they matter. I think about this all the time when I think about the wonderful people I've become connected to in online and offline spaces. It regularly blows me away! I am working on being better about telling people who 1) I am thankful for them and 2) that they're having a huge impact because of what they're doing and in turn sharing about it, and 3) that I really appreciate it.
Think about the collective power that's out there already. Now think about if we worked more to tell people they matter, tap into their genius, and help them find the best outlet to share it. Just imagine what could happen!
Recently I was having a discussion with a colleague who is new to the building. This teacher is confident, self-assured, and has decades of experience over me. We teach the same children, so we meet frequently for RTI and team meetings. This is the type of teacher that takes pride on being “old school,” which roughly translates to a no-nonsense, quiet-equals-learning, behavior-should-have-negative-consequences type of environment. It’s the model that many of us grew up with. Although I was able to navigate through this system because I was a so-called “good student,” many friends were not particularly successful, with the logical assumption that they were “bad students.” This model puts the system itself as the driving force for success, which is disempowering both to educators and to the students alike.
Now, the conversation in question did not go smoothly, especially when I insensitively insisted that the teacher “would not be successful” using this old school approach. Realizing that I was working against my goal, I quickly concluded with a final statement that I paraphrased from a Maya Angelou quote: People don’t remember what you say; they remember how you made them feel. It is a statement that I share with staff and students, and for me it is at the foundation of the type of teacher I strive to be. It is also at the core of the safe and supported tenets of Whole Child. The Whole Child philosophy offers a new approach that does not consider students to be good or bad, but forces educators to consider students’ needs. And what better way to find out, then to ask the students themselves? Consider two examples of how student voice and Whole Child thinking work together to show improvements on both the classroom and individual level.
In the beginning of this school year the majority of my first period reading class was sitting with their heads down. There are two quick assumptions that a teacher can make. One is that the kids don’t care about school; the other is that the teacher and or content actually is that boring. The old school of thought would assume the first, placing the responsibility of learning on the learner. The second is something that many teachers don’t want to admit, or that they convince themselves is all right because (true to old-school fashion),“it’s school, we sat through boring classes too, but it’s just something you have to do.” But a Whole Child approach caused me to consider a third option based on the Healthy tenet. As I was addressing the class about having their heads down I thought came to mind: “Raise your hand if you ate breakfast this morning.” Few hands went in the air, and surely none of the droopy heads had their hands up. On the spot, the homework assignment for the next class was to eat breakfast in the morning (in hindsight, I should have made students report out and really build understanding by reading articles as well, but now I know for future reference). I checked up on the class the next day, and pointed out how different the dynamic in the class was when all or most ate breakfast. I also included this information in my weekly email to parents with a link to an article about the importance of eating in the morning.
I started to think about my own practice and the assumptions teachers make everyday. How many students have been written off as not caring, when in fact they may have simply been hungry and unable to concentrate? The combination of awareness of the Whole Child tenets, and a discussion with the students lead to a change, and hopefully a lesson that they will never forget. This is also something that will be woven into my opening lessons at the beginning of the next school year along with other brain-based research. Had it not been for Whole Child thinking, and a moment to talk with the students, I may have plugged forward with the lesson. Others might have fallen back on an “old school” management approach of consequences or phone calls home. Whole Child opened my mind to other possibilities. I still get some heads down during class, but it is almost guaranteed that every time a student complains about a stomachache or being tired, they skipped breakfast; and we can fall back on that day and use their experience as evidence. On the flipside, I also have several students that tell me what they ate for breakfast regularly now (win).
Having conversations with the students is an essential in serving the whole child on the individual level as well. At a recent student conference, the teachers asked about being off-task in math class. The student shared this:
“When you tell everyone to pass the warm-up to the front, I haven’t even done it yet because I don’t know how. I’m still just trying to figure out what to do. Then I get so frustrated and upset because I don’t understand what you guys are talking about, and it’s not even worth trying after that.”
The teachers asked him why he doesn’t ask for help when he is confused, and he replied:
“I look around and see how much the other kids in the class need you and how you are trying to help them out, I just don’t want to be bothering you. You already have your hands full.”
Finally when we asked him about the classes he was doing well in, he shared that in those classes he felt the teachers explained things more clearly to him, and checked up with him to make sure he understood what he was doing.
Thinking about the Whole Child philosophy forces teachers to go back to the tenets. This student definitely did not feel supported in math, which caused him to disengage. Possibly the most disheartening aspect of this story is that the student felt like he was bothering the teachers to ask for help, or even worse, that he wasn’t worth their time. Meanwhile, the teachers thought that he didn’t care, that he was all over the place, too social, or just couldn’t focus. In this case, trying to reach the whole child truly led to an improvement in instruction and learning by changing the thinking of both the teachers and the student.
From that meeting a direct plan came about to give the student extra time to complete his warm up, to assist with some guided notes and cloze steps for problem solving, and to find a peer tutor that can be trusted to assist during presentation and practice of new content. It was a powerful meeting and one that came about from allowing the student voice into the process to assist with figuring out the missing pieces of the puzzle. The student felt more supported, and would then presumably engage more in class. The teachers were forced to think outside of the “old school” model of learning, and truly personalize for the individual in front of them. More of these conversations need to happen regularly if we are truly going to reach every child, every day (and we have to push our colleagues to have them). These conversations lead to greater understanding, but none if this understanding can happen without allowing the whole child to help you see the whole story. Not every child is so open and self-aware, and many children are not used to sharing their opinion about instruction. Some may not even know how to explain themselves, but they do know how you make them feel in class, and that discussion alone may be enough to help them help you.
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?
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
In a recent post, Personalizing Professional Development, I shared our plan to personalize an upcoming professional development day by having teachers indicate which target goal they wanted to focus on and what activities they would like to engage in to further their learning outcomes in that area. The experience proved largely successful and respectful of teacher autonomy and specialization. When we anonymously surveyed teachers to obtain their feedback, we were able to reflect on the effectiveness of the day and were even able to learn more about our individual team members. Here’s what we learned…
100% of teachers found the experience at least as enjoyable or more enjoyable than a more traditional professional development experience, with 85% of teachers reporting a more enjoyable experience. Many expressed gratitude for the ability to customize the day with comments such as this one: “Thank you so much for the opportunity to tailor the PD to our individual goals. The time allowed me to really focus and make progress on the goals I set earlier this year. It felt positive and productive.”
100% of teachers found the experience at least as valuable or more valuable than a more traditional PD day, with 78% of teachers indicating a more valuable outcome.
Preparation was key for the greatest outcome. One teacher shared the benefit of pre-planning, “I feel the planning for the day went well. We were able to meet prior to our trip off campus, allowing us to set goals for the day. We also met after the experience to discuss the experience and work on putting a plan in action” while another pointed to the need for more pto maximize the experience, “The only change to our experience could have been a little (30-minutes) pre-planning so we could have hit the ground running.”
Some teachers indicated the value of both types of experiences in reflections such as, “The reason I chose "about the same" is I think our PD's this year have been very good!” A few even suggested that having an option of a more traditional workshop as a learning path on a choice-based day would be helpful “in case plans fall through” or simply because they enjoy shared learning, “It would have been nice to have one topic/ article to discuss and learn together as a team.
As an leadership team, we are very grateful for the reflective feedback. It was clear that teachers put in a great deal of thought into their responses, and we plan on incorporating some of the great ideas into our next professional development day.
I’m inspired to continue searching for innovative, personalized approaches to professional development. It seems that the more validated people feel in their professional endeavors and the more opportunity they have to engage in meaningful, passion-based learning, the more invigorated about their profession they feel. For teachers, as winter endures and the year grows longer, energy is especially precious!