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Apples, Oranges and Education Reform

20 Oct

Clarity.

Clarity –noun
1. clearness or lucidity as to perception or understanding; freedom from indistinctness or ambiguity.
2. the state or quality of being clear or transparent to the eye.

The need for clarity is at the core (pun intended) of the Education Reform debates. The plural is intentional because more than one debate is at issue. The lack of clarity in the way that we define “Ed Reform” has created a situation where educators are constantly arguing apples to oranges and non-educators are frequently confused and disconnected.

In terms of national, policy related dialogue, when people are talking about “Education Reform”, they are talking almost exclusively about the achievement gap and all issues that directly impact, contribute or relate to the achievement gap.

In the United States, the Achievement Gap is usually understood to be the difference in the way low-income and minority students perform on standardized tests as compared to their peers in other groups. Let’s call Ed Reform Dialogue (and its participants) focussed exclusively on the Achievement Gap “Apples”.

The “Apples” discussions relate to hiring policies that result in the least experienced teachers universally being placed at the highest-need schools, year after year. They include policies that provide those teachers with next to no support or development, and make it impossible to remove teachers who don’t come to work, or do their work and who add to the burden of their teammates.

“Apples” discussions address policies that allow principals to “evaluate” less than 1% of teachers as “Below Expectations”, even in schools where there is a deplorable, unconscionable history of student failure. These are just a few hot topics for those that define and understand “Education Reform” in relation to the Achievement Gap.

Reformers who are exclusively (or at least predominantly) focused on closing the achievement gap, have some image problems, especially with “good” teachers who hear their messages out of context. Talk of getting rid of teachers, even “bad” teachers, seriously ruffles the feathers of many dedicated and effective educators who are only hearing part of the message.

This is in spite of the fact that so many studies and surveys have proven that the vast majority of teachers acknowledge and agree that there are some “bad” teachers in their schools, and further, believe that they should be removed. Forget about test scores for a minute (although I do believe they matter). Some teachers don’t come to work. Some don’t even bother to maintain a safe, clean classroom environment. Some can’t (or won’t) get along with other people and some just don’t like kids.

NOW consider test scores. Whether or not we agree that testing is the most effective (or even a valid method to) evaluate student learning, in what case scenario would it be “Ok” for entire demographic or racial groups to universally do poorly on a specific type of assessment as compared to their peers from other racial groups or demographics? I can’t think of any.

That said, it’s important to note that virtually all proposed models for teacher evaluations consider additional factors besides student testing to determine the value teachers are adding in the classroom. In districts like Washington DC where the IMPACT model was rapidly implemented and widely feared, many, many teachers (including some who didn’t score well) acknowledged the benefits of the system after the first year, and appreciated the additional attention and feedback that it provided.

It’s also important to note, that while former DC Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee was initially demonized as an enemy of teachers, many teachers have become supporters and are sad to see her go. As it turns out, many, many teachers viewed her leadership as having significantly improved their ability to be effective in their classrooms by increasing accountability in their schools.

But many educators whom I admire and respect are angry right now about what they believe is an unfair attack on teachers. They resent the tone of some “reform” messaging, resent feeling “blamed” and judged, and feel that much of the way the National Education Reform dialogue has been constructed has left them out and further damaged the credibility of their profession.

I see their point and feel their pain, I really do. But I also believe that some of that is the result of destructive,  under-informed media spin and some of that is the result of deliberate political agenda.

I know that saying this out loud is NOT going to be popular with some of the educators that I admire the most. That doesn’t make it any less true.

New York’s “Rubber Rooms” may be a thing of the past, but there are still many other egregiously destructive policies that protect adults at the expense of kids. There ARE some horrible teachers in our schools and everyone, EVERYONE knows it. Members of my PLN regularly tweet warnings to new teachers to stay away from the toxic teachers’ lounge.

There ARE some HORRIBLE schools in our country, and we all know that too. Kids should NOT be subjected to those teachers and those schools. Not for one day of one year. Not anywhere in the country, not anywhere in the world. Saying that out loud HAS to be OK. It has to be, because it’s the truth.

I challenge anyone who would dispute those statements to explain the following video clip. I challenge ANYONE to explain how any school could ever fall into this state of disrepair and neglect if it were consistently staffed entirely with great leaders and great teachers. (Please bear with the short ad – the video was removed from Youtube and is no longer available without the ads but still worth watching).

The New Teacher Project says it out loud, with more clarity than any other source I’ve found. They also advocate strongly FOR teachers, insisting that they deserve to be treated as and valued as professionals.  Most importantly, TNTP addresses the disparity that is created when excellent teachers and poor teachers are viewed and treated as if they are interchangeable.

This is an incredibly important point, because it addresses a major sticking point between those who support and oppose “Merit Pay”. Many people oppose Merit Pay and insist that it won’t serve to improve performance.

I agree that Merit Pay is unlikely to significantly change the behavior or performance of individual teachers. Daniel Pink gives an amazing TED talk on the Surprising Science of Motivation. Anyone and everyone who has an interest in the dialogue surrounding Merit Pay should see this video, and consider reading the book Drive. I’ve embedded the TED Talk and a trailer about Drive below.

Now, PLEASE read TNTP’s reports. PLEASE. There can be no informed dialogue on issues like tenure, hiring practices, Merit Pay and teacher evaluation without at least considering their studies.

Which brings me to the reasons why I ALSO understand and ultimately, support the idea of Merit Pay as one tool in efforts to close the achievement gap. Here’s why:

  1. TNTP, and other supporters of Merit Pay are not (usually) saying that merit pay is going to significantly impact the performance of existing teachers. They are saying that teachers who are “highly effective” deserve to be paid significantly more than they are right now, and that effective teachers should have the opportunity to make more than ineffective teachers. I agree.
  2. Supporters of Merit Pay frequently assert that teaching is undervalued as a profession, and that treating all teachers the same exacerbates the gap between the importance of the work they do and the social status they receive. They believe that Merit Pay is one way to recognize and show appreciation for excellent teachers, and that this may make teaching a more attractive option for high achievers, and support retention of top performers. I agree.
  3. There are many talented, driven, charismatic and caring college students who don’t even consider teaching, not because they don’t care about kids, or have the drive or skills, but because they aspire to a better quality of life than they believe they can achieve as teachers. I agree.
  4. TNTP asserts that Merit Pay will draw people to teaching who otherwise would not consider it as a viable professional option. Many advocates for Merit Pay believe that this group, and their Career-changing counter parts would be more likely to consider teaching if they knew that they had the potential to improve their earnings based on their own Merit. Further, they believe that Merit pay may encourage top performers to consider teaching at high needs schools. I agree.

“Apples” call foul on the idea that we have to continue to tolerate “bad” in schools. Actually, they go further and get in all of our faces and challenge all of us to call foul and do our part to make it right, right now. RIGHT NOW. To the greatest degree possible, right this minute, every minute, of every day.

Ideology, philosophy, and “feelings” aside, and like it or not, the achievement gap is all of our problem. Apples put it in our face as much as possible and force us to see what we otherwise wouldn’t if we are fortunate enough to work in a “better” school, or in a “better” district.

It’s not that they love testing (many don’t), that they don’t want kids to be happy, or want them to hate school. It’s not that they don’t want their students to become great thinkers, leaders, PEOPLE, or that they hate arts, sports and music.

It’s that kids, lots and LOTS of kids can’t READ. They can’t write, or do basic math… in HIGH SCHOOL. It’s that every second of every day that we aren’t addressing that, and making that the MOST important thing, puts us further away from ever closing the achievement gap.

It’s that the clock never stops ticking its way towards “too late” for our schools to help and truly serve another generation of kids… kids like the ones I’ve spent most of my professional life serving.  I work with bright, good kids, who way too often, can’t read, write or do basic math; 16-24 year olds who are trying to recover from their histories of abysmal school failure in time to build viable futures as adults.

For the record, there are a whole lot of “Apples” who work in schools with longer days, and Saturday and summer school programs, so that their students can spend time on task in school and still play sports, make music, and learn to lead. There are also a whole lot of Apples who advocate passionately for valuing teaching as a profession, and supporting teachers as professionals who do critically important work.

Now let’s talk “Oranges”.

For the sake of this analogy, “Oranges” are discussions about all of the other issues often referenced in terms of “Education Reform”. Digital Literacy, 21st Century Skills, Student Centered Learning, Differentiation, Project and Portfolio based assessment, Experiential, Collaborative Learning, Strength Based Approaches, Classroom Communities, Learning Teams, Language Studies, Music and Arts… all of the things about school that, frankly, have always made my heart beat a little faster and put a bounce in my step, both as a student and as a teacher.

High stakes testing flies in the face of the “Orange” perspective on Ed Reform. It creates enormous pressure to “teach to the test” in schools and districts where leaders have failed to make the connection between outstanding teaching and student achievement. Situations like those referenced in this NY Times Op Ed piece highlight the validity of those fears.

If Apples are Waiting for Superman, Oranges are Race to Nowhere. People who are interested in authentic dialogue should see and consider both.

Orange discussions are farsighted and forward thinking. Orange advocates are deeply invested in ensuring education keeps pace with the times. They are concerned about a deficit in 21st century skills like critical thinking and digital literacy becoming the next manifestation of the achievement gap.

Proponents of Orange have a lot to offer to the Apples discussion. They are creative, often brilliant problem solvers and inspired teachers. They are collaborators and risk takers. They understand teaching and learning and kids. They are coaches and cheer leaders, award winners and life-long learners.

That’s why it’s so tragic that they often feel like the kid on the playground who never gets picked in the national dialogue on education reform. NBC’s recently broadcast and widely publicized Education Nation is an example of how (perhaps) well intended media efforts to support education reform have further polarized stake holders.

Throw in the world’s most famous talk-show host, a young billionaire, a-not-so-young billionaire, a gifted young mayor, and the Chancellor of DC PS and subtract all input from active teachers, and you have the perfect storm. This Huffington Post article by @Garystager is a taste of what you get when you (consciously or inadvertently) scorn brilliant educators.

So what’s next? Hopefully, movement toward more inclusive, open-minded dialogue. Currently, the climate is QUITE “Apples versus Oranges”… and vice versa. Oranges are frequently as caustic in their condemnation of all things “Apple” as Apples are exclusive in presenting their strategies for improving failing schools.

@TomWhitby has written several thoughtful and thought provoking posts since the airing of Education Nation, and urged an end to the “teacher bashing” that has become so central to the discussion. One of his posts was a call to action, encouraging educators to blog their thoughts on education reform and post them on the Rebel Education Reform Blogs Wallwisher.

More than 100 educators answered his call yesterday. The posts represent an enormous range of experience, insight and investment from educators all over the country, and a few from all over the world. Some, I agree with, others I don’t. But I am going to read them all.

Each and every post represents an educator who cared enough to take the time to weigh in, and each represents another piece of the puzzle that we need to truly understand what is needed for us to move forward, together. For that reason, I’ll read them all.

I’ll also commit to ensuring that OTHER people have an opportunity to see them… People who may benefit from an “Orange-er” or “Apple-er” perspective, or who may appreciate the invitation to explore the insights of so many “real”, dedicated, talented educators, even if they don’t agree with their positions. People who aren’t “sure” and want to understand. People who have some sway, and some say and would want to know that this is going on.

What’s next?

We share… the wallwisher, individual bloggers’ posts, Tom’s call to action – all of it. We let the world know that we are here…that Educators, from around the world work together every day to grow together and find a better way, and that we have invested in this effort to deepen understanding of the teacher’s perspective on Education Reform. Shelly Terrell (@ShellTerrell ) delivers great ideas for reaching out and spreading the word in her compelling article,  How a Whisper Becomes a Roar.

Those who don’t do Social Networking spread the word by word of mouth. Email, snail-mail, IM, text and shout it from roof-tops.  Copy and paste and quote and post on bulletin boards and Message Boards. Weigh in, speak up and share your own experiences in any way that you can.

No matter how you choose to share, please let me know if you get any traction! Good luck, Rebel Reformers! Social networkers, there’s more…

If we are Linkedin, we link in. We Facebook, Digg, Delicious, Stumble and Tumble… and those of us who tweet, tweet often. Maybe we can tweet with the Hashtag #redref for “Rebel Ed Reform”. Maybe we should use the regular #edreform hashtag. What do you think?

Below are a “few” Twitter contacts we might start with but add your own as well, and please remember to share your experiences and responses! Be bold, be brave, be heard and be part of the solution! Isn’t that what this is all about?

@educationreview @drsteveperry @edpresssec @tfanews @tntp @lateducation @hechingerreport @educationnation @ulrichboser @EdPolicyAdvisor @teacherbeat @educationvoters @educationsector @emilyjohns @catalystohio @baltimorecityschools @michaelbirnbaum @TimesEducation @EducationWeek @Usedgov @Postschools @cathgrimes @tomstptimes @smarick @arotherham @nyedreform @buffaloreformed @PNS_News @district299 @dropoutnation @edubeat @catalystchicago @m_rhee @notextbkanswer @compclass @changeeducation @aaeteachers @publicagenda @mikememoli @sirgutz @mitchellreports @msnbc @mikedebonis @donewaiting @edequality @corybooker @pbsneedtoknow @stevefarber @danielpink

‘Tis the Season… Share Your Stuff and Pass It On

12 Sep

“Student Management”, “Classroom Management”, “Positive School Culture” etc… After years of “doing it myself”, a big part of my current role is to teach this stuff to other people. For the past 16 years, I’ve worked for a company that operates alternative schools all over the country (impacting literally thousands of students and staff each year).

We work with young adults (16-24) who have frequently experienced extensive school failure. They come to us with all kinds of goals, for all kinds of reasons… to get started, to start over, to catch up, to get by, to grow up… Some are really driven to finish their high school education or start a career path. Others just want to get their parents off their backs. Most don’t have the education or life skills to do any of those things when they enter our program. It’s our job to change that.

So we remediate. We redirect. Sometimes, we even rebuild. But we wouldn’t be able to do anything at all with the students that I work with, if we weren’t first able to provide the framework… the parameters, the rules of the game.

I understood that early on; I couldn’t help but understand… the importance of being able to manage behavior becomes impossible to ignore when you are really, really bad at it, and I really, really was. Luckily, I’m also really bad at being bad at things… it doesn’t sit well with me, and more than anything else, more than I wanted to be “right”, more than I wanted to look good, or smart or be in control, more than I wanted to BREATHE, I desperately wanted to make a difference.

So from my very first experience working with kids, learning to set limits, define expectations, create relationships, and shape the environment and conditions that were most likely to make a difference became my mission in life. Eventually, I got to be really good at it, and that skill set ultimately blazed the trails of my professional journey.

My own drive to read, study, self-assess and self-correct and the mentoring I received early in my career had everything to do with my success. There were definitely times when I was “on my own”, and developing professionally was up to me. There were other times when others really pushed and helped me to grow. I’m not sure I would have made it to this point if either piece had been missing for very long.

Maybe that’s why I always feel the “call to action” when I see an article or blog documenting the trials or lamenting the struggles of “new” teachers… and there are SO many of them out there, together, but feeling so alone. It kills me to know that good, smart people, who really want to make a difference are so often, so QUICKLY driven to despair because they lack the skills or support they need to effectively manage student behavior and classroom logistics. After all these years, I still remember how that feels, and it’s nothing nice.

Perceived “failure” can be especially traumatic for new teachers, who are so often used to being “good” at things. They’ve been great students or have already established themselves in successful careers. They aren’t used to fully investing without getting results. These frequently idealistic, overachievers don’t view the challenge of building their classroom management style as a “process”; they feel every failed lesson or rowdy period of every hectic day as it’s own, unique failure.

Teaching can be a lonely “gig” once the classroom door closes, especially when things aren’t going as planned and you don’t have years of experience and networking to fall back on. Most of us “veterans” know that the toughest part of the struggle is to find your own, most effect management style and stick to it.

The reason that’s so tough is that once you’ve “lost it”, you are already in the hole and that’s where many new teachers quickly find themselves with no one to lead them out. Sometimes it takes a herculean effort just to stop digging, and sadly, many new teachers never fully recover in their early years, and some of them just give up.

Don’t get me wrong… I’m not justifying quitting. But does it really have to be SO hard, SO lonely, so…tragic? Wouldn’t more teachers stay under different circumstances? And isn’t this a problem that we (educators, leaders, business owners, people who CARE) can solve or at least begin to address? Shouldn’t we try?

In this job market, we’re talking about smart people who really want to teach… they have often gone through a grueling and frustrating hiring process, they go in knowing they are going to work really hard, and aren’t going to make a lot of money, and they aren’t expecting it to be easy. Lots of them have significant debt from the student loans they took to prepare for a career that will never pay them what they would have made in another field. We are talking about people who just really want to teach and go in believing they can be great at it.

Clearly, our kids, ALL of our kids, need great teachers and clearly, we aren’t there yet. There is no avoiding the fact that many of the students I’ve served for my entire adult life wouldn’t NEED an alternative program if they would have or could have succeeded in their original schools. Can we really afford not to support our teachers from the very beginning?

On August 24th, Shelly Terrell, who has been a driving force in my own professional development this year, tweeted out the following challenge, “Can we set a goal to provide PD (Professional Development), support, or resources to at least 1 teacher who seems lost? #edchat” . I responded by re-tweeting her post and adding ” Love This & YES. I’m all in.”

Since then, I’ve been playing around with a number of ideas for ways that I can help. Then tonight, I read several articles and ANOTHER new teacher’s blog and realized that the time is right now. Before another week goes by, before another week even starts.

For starters, I’ve revised an older post full of Classroom Management and other resources for new teachers. You can find it here. Please add additional resources in the comments section and pass it on to anyone you think might find it helpful.

Here are some additional thoughts, ideas and suggestions:

  1. Let’s make a point to reach out to “new” teachers every day. Speak to them. Stop by and say “hi”. Give them a minute. I have vivid memories of a Professional Development Retreat a couple of months after starting my 1st teaching job. It was there that the other teachers apologized for barely speaking to me for my 1st two months on the job and explained that it was because they were sure I wasn’t going to make it, so why bother. WOW. I was 23 years old. Let’s not be “that” veteran teacher.
  2. Let’s plan something. A happy hour. A pot luck… something that welcomes and includes “everyone” and especially the new kid on the block.
  3. Let’s remember. I know some of us have blocked them out, but we’ve all had those moments (hours, days, weeks…) when we were filled with doubt… scared… unsure. Let’s not scare and further discourage new teachers with our “war stories” but let’s share our experiences in a way that helps them see the light at the end of the tunnel.
  4. Let’s use our relationships with students to facilitate a new teacher’s progress. When we share students in common with a new or struggling teacher, let’s be especially sure to focus on developing self-management skills and good character in kids instead of simple compliance. Let’s look for ways to develop constructive behaviors that students can transfer to other areas. We can invite the new teacher to collaborate with us on this to create a win for everyone, especially the students.
  5. Let’s share resources and offer help. So often, one person’s smallest effort might save someone else hours of work or frustration.
  6. Let’s follow New Teacher Blogs and offer support for the challenges they face by commenting and offering resources. If you know of any New Teacher Blogs, add them to the comments of this post as I am going to compile a list.
  7. Let’s ask rather than assume, coach rather than criticize and give the benefit of the doubt whenever possible. So many new teachers share the feeling that they “can’t do anything right.” Let’s help them reframe that and lead them out of the “hole.”
  8. Let’s help connect new staff with resources from our PLN… I live outside of DC and am open to connecting with and supporting new teachers through Twitter, my blog, and other tech mediums and am exploring the possibility/interest in starting a “Meetup Group” for new teachers in and around DC, Maryland and Northern Virginia. There is also a new teacher whose blog I’ve just stumbled on who I am going to refer to several Math teachers in my PLN for support.
  9. Let’s keep this discussion going… tweet about it, blog about it, TALK about it… let’s get our Twitter and “real life” PLNs engaged in reaching out.
  10. Let’s be part of developing a culture that embraces and welcomes new teachers into the profession, while still valuing the experience and contributions of veterans.
  11. Let’s keep this issue on our radar… permanently.

Thanks so much for reading! I look forward to hearing your thoughts.

Resources for New Teachers… and the Rest of Us.

12 Sep

When I was a new teacher I read a TON and watched every movie I could find about education and teaching. Lean on Me, Sister Act Two, Dangerous Minds, Stand and Deliver, To Sir With Love… if I could find it on VHS (And yes, I know how that dates me), I watched it. I even watched the silly one where Mark Harmon teaches summer school.

It may sound corny but these movies helped me realize that some very successful teachers, first had to get through their early years. I also really paid attention to how the “movie” teachers  spoke to and treated the kids. Even the completely fictional movies helped… there is something to be said for observing charismatic personalities in action. Charisma is a fantastic management tool and Hollywood teachers are usually charismatic!

I also read… a LOT. Here are a few of the books I remember most vividly from my “early” years:

ALL of the William Glasser Books – The Quality SchoolThe Quality School TeacherChoice Theory in the Classroom etc. They are easy to read, and gave me great, practical direction for creating the climate, relationships and accountability that I wanted to establish with my students. I found Glasser’s model to be a great fit for my beliefs and style and they truly shaped my early practice. More importantly, they worked!

Several books by Torey Hayden about her experiences as a special ed teacher… the one that I remember the most clearly was called One Child. Torey worked in heartbreaking circumstances, and didn’t do everything “right”, but she also didn’t QUIT, and no matter how tough things got, she persisted. That made all the difference with her kids and left a lasting impression on me.

My Posse Don’t Do Homework by Luanne Johnson. The movie “Dangerous Minds” is based on this book, but the book is somuch better, and I read it years before the movie. I didn’t realize how much of an impact this one had on me until years later when the movie actually came out. My students saw it before I did and I didn’t know anything about it. After seeing it they all kept saying “Dangerous Minds” to me and smiling, shaking their heads and saying, you’ve got to see it, Miss.”

This made me pretty uncomfortable. I didn’t know anything about the movie or why my students were associating it with me. Let me assure you, I look NOTHING like Michelle Pfeifer.

When I finally went to see the movie, I was touched and pleased to see that they had picked up on and recognized that, like me, the main character was a strong proponent of the idea that “You always have a choice”. I didn’t realize until the final credits that the movie is based on the book I had read during my 1st year as a teacher.

There are also many, many excellent resources I’ve discovered more recently. They include:

Books

Wake Up Calls by Doctor Eric Allenbaugh – Great for framing an accountable relationship with students/classes. I’ve had great success using this to create mini-lessons about what I expect from students, what they should expect from me and why. I’ve also passed it on countless times and always gotten terrific feedback from others who have tried it. Check out chapter 5 – “The Dirty Dozen” (12 Ways People Attempt to Escape Accountability) to help minimize excuse making in your classroom.

The Speed of Trust by Steven M. Covey – Trust matters.  Building it is the most efficient way to maximize the efficiency and efficacy of a group. I found the concepts in this book really relevant to the struggles teachers experience related to classroom management; ie- “How can I teach/how can they learn when I spend the whole class “managing” behavior?” Relationship, mutual accountability and trust are powerful stuff, in businesses and in the classroom.

Links

The Motherlode of Classroom Management Resources

Principal and PLN Force, Eric Sheninger’s Site –  Phenomenal Resources – also check out his Del.icio.us Bookmarks and follow him on Twitter @NMHS_Principal

A New Project to Help Teachers Integrate Tech – Ed Tech Specialist Andy Cinek is providing terrific resources and support for teachers who want to learn to use technology to improve their practice. You can also follow him @andycinek

Coach G’s Teaching Tips

I need my teachers to learn

Cowpernicus’ Beliefs in Schools

Todd Whitaker on “What Great Teachers DO Differently”

The Power of Positivity: Effective Classroom Management Tips

Edutopia’s tips for an engaged classroom

Tips for New Teachers via Steve Bossenberger

You may also find some of the other articles on this blog helpful. They include:

10 Reasons Educators Must See Sister Act 2

Feedback is a Gift. Thank You! (and you’re welcome;o))

Want kids to be happy? Teach gratitude.

“What if someone gets DRUNK?”

Additional Suggestions

Start a Twitter account to use for professional development – I don’t recommend using your personal account. You’ll find loads and loads of resources and people to help you on Twitter. People have written a bunch of blog posts about how to use Twitter as a Professional Development resource and I will compile a few in another post shortly. In the mean time, you can follow me @thenewtag and check out my lists and people I follow.

I also recommend that you get started by following @Shellterrell , (Coordinates #edchat , a phenomenal resource and gateway to support; she’s also an amazing Blogger, Organizer, and Leader) @ktenkely (Terrific Blogger, Leader, Organizer), and @teachingwithsoul (She is incredibly helpful and supportive, blogs @ Teaching With Soul and created and moderates #ntchat , an online chat for new teachers every week!) These three tweet terrific resources and, will quickly lead you to other terrific resources and people to follow. Their tweets are a great place to start building your PLN.

You should, you MUST also follow @cybraryman1 on Twitter. Not only has he compiled an amazing “Education Catalogue” packed with resources for just about EVERYTHING, but he’s put together a New Teacher Page just for you!

Find great blogs and subscribe. Kelly and Shelly’s (@Shellterrell @ktenkely) are a great place to start. Also check out my blog roll.

Lastly, and most importantly, take advantage of every professional development experience and look for opportunities for peer-to-peer observation and collaboration. Coaching and mentoring are critical to improving professional practice and if we aren’t getting this from our supervisors, we can create it among our peers.

These activities will deliver enormous return on investment and result in stronger, more confident and effective staff teams. They should be guided and include some form of accountability to secure the greatest outcome. If anyone is interested, I can recommend some resources to get you started.

Please comment to share your favorite resources, ask questions, ASK FOR HELP, offer help, leave feedback or just say “Hi”.

Thanks for reading!

Resources for Improving Classroom Management and School Culture

23 May

I am often challenged to provide assistance to members of my professional network. Usually these requests come from friends and colleagues I have worked with for years. But more and more frequently, I’ve been answering the calls of members of my fantastic Peer/Personal/Professional Learning Network (PLN) on Twitter.

My PLN includes educators at all levels, from 1st year teachers to Principals, Superintendents and other administrators who are interested in supporting their staff. The common thread is that they are all interested in developing more effective ways to engage students and build positive classroom and school cultures.

In this post I’ll share a few of the strategies and resources that have had a huge impact on my professional practice and resulted in student management, engagement and development becoming my area of expertise. For the past 16 years, I’ve worked for a company that operates alternative schools all over the country (impacting literally thousands of students and staff) and a big part of my role is to teach this stuff… I credit my success in this area largely to the reading and studying I have always done and continue to do and the mentoring I received early in my career.

When I was a new teacher I read a TON and watched every movie I could find about education and teaching. Lean on Me, Sister Act Two, Dangerous Minds, Stand and Deliver, To Sir With Love… if I could find it on VHS (And yes, I know how that dates me), I watched it. I even watched the silly one where Mark Harmon teaches summer school.

I know this sounds corny but these movies helped me realize that some very successful teachers had gotten through their early years. I also really paid attention to how they spoke to and treated the kids. Even the completely fictional movies helped… there is something to be said for observing charismatic personalities in action. Charisma is a fantastic management tool and Hollywood teachers are usually charismatic!

I also read… a LOT Here are a few of the books I remember most vividly from my “early” years:

ALL of the William Glasser Books – The Quality School, The Quality School Teacher, Choice Theory in the Classroom etc. They are easy to read, and gave me great, practical direction for creating the climate, relationships and accountability that I wanted to establish with my students. I found Glasser’s model to be a great fit for my beliefs and style and they truly shaped my early practice. More importantly, they worked!

Several books by Torey Hayden about her experiences as a special ed teacher… the one that I remember the most clearly was called One Child. Torey worked in heartbreaking circumstances, and didn’t do everything right, but she also didn’t QUIT, and no matter how tough things got, she persisted. That made all the difference with her kids and left a lasting impression on me.

My Posse Don’t Do Homework by Luanne Johnson. The movie “Dangerous Minds” is based on this book, but the book is so much better, and I read it years before the movie. I didn’t realize how much of an impact this one had on me until years later when the movie actually came out. My students saw it before I did and I didn’t know anything about it. After seeing it they all kept saying “Dangerous Minds” to me and smiling, shaking their heads and saying, you’ve got to see it, Miss”.

This made me pretty uncomfortable. I didn’t know anything about the movie or why my students were associating it with me. Let me assure you, I look NOTHING like Michelle Pfeifer.

When I finally went to see the movie, I was touched and pleased to see that they had picked up on and recognized that, like me, the main character was a strong proponent of the idea that “You always have a choice”. I didn’t realize until the final credits that the movie is based on the book I had read during my 1st year as a teacher.

There are also many, many excellent resources I’ve discovered more recently. They include:

Books

Wake Up Calls by Doctor Eric Allenbaugh – Great for framing an accountable relationship with students/classes. I have used this content to create short mini-lessons to provide a context for what I expect from students, what they should expect from me and why. I’ve had great success with this and have passed it on countless times and always gotten terrific feedback from others who have used it. Check out chapter 5 – “The Dirty Dozen” (12 Ways People Attempt to Escape Accountability) to help eliminate excuse making in your classroom.

The Speed of Trust by Steven M. Covey – Trust matters.  Building it is the most efficient way to maximize the efficiency and efficacy of a group. I found the concepts in this book really relevant to the struggles teachers experience related to classroom management; ie- “How can I teach/how can they learn when I spend the whole class “managing” behavior?” Relationship, mutual accountability and trust are powerful stuff, in businesses and in the classroom.

Links

The Motherlode of Classroom Management Resources

I need my teachers to learn

Cowpernicus’ Beliefs in Schools

Todd Whitaker on “What Great Teachers DO Differently”

The Power of Positivity: Effective Classroom Management Tips

Edutopia’s tips for an engaged classroom

Tips for New Teachers via Steve Bossenberger

You may also find some of the other articles on this blog helpful. They include:

10 Reasons Educators Must See Sister Act 2

Feedback is a Gift. Thank You! (and you’re welcome;o))

Want kids to be happy? Teach gratitude.

“What if someone gets DRUNK?”

Lastly, and most importantly, providing/participating in opportunities for peer-to-peer observation, coaching and mentoring is critical. These activities will deliver enormous return on investment and result in stronger, more confident and effective staff teams. Such experiences should be guided and include some form of accountability to secure the greatest outcome.

Please comment to share your favorite resources, ask questions, leave feedback or just say “Hi”. Thanks for reading!

Hope this helps!

“What if someone gets DRUNK?”

1 Feb

I just read Tom Whitby’s newest post on “My Island View” and had started to leave a comment when something hit me and I realized I needed to get out of there-fast. You know that feeling, right?

It’s kind of like when your two year old is about to have a melt-down in the check-out line and you know that the count down is on? 10-9-8-“Paper or plastic?” “Paper”-7-6 -“Cash or charge?” “Debit-sh-sh-we’re almost done”- 5-4-3- “I know, I know, sh-sh-sh” -2-1… And you don’t even stick around to hear the “Thank you, have a nice day” because there’s not a second to spare before the meltdown? Well, this wasn’t quite that bad, but it was close.

There’s a lot going on in Tom’s “The Old West and I encourage you to read it for some interesting perspectives that I’m not going to touch on here. Historical reference, current issues and literary device all play nicely in his piece. But there was a specific-some-thing in the article really struck a nerve for me.

There has been a thought playing around in the back of my mind for some time now that came screaming front and center as I started to reply. While Tom may not have minded, some may have considered it bad form to write a comment that is nearly as long as his original post!

Here’s what got me: Tom compares the school policy of taking students’ cell phones to Wyatt Earp’s taking men’s guns before allowing them into town. Can you smell the gun smoke?

The conversation about what is technologically blocked or “forbidden” in schools almost always focuses on the value of the material or tool versus the risk of abuse or possible threat to safety. Tom touched on something that is every bit as important, yet rarely discussed: the message that both students and staff internalize when faced with these blocks and restrictions. That message is, “You can’t be trusted”.

All policies that aim to control behaviors rather than teach and enlist them give the message that the powers that be don’t trust people to make the right choices… that the risk of trusting is too great. In some cases, that may be a valid position for leaders to take. Certainly Wyatt Earp had some pretty valid reasons for mandating a “gun-free zone”. I do not believe that the case for blocking, restricting or confiscating technology could pass the same test.

But in order to either enlist or teach a behavior, there has to be something valid to understand – something that makes sense, that people will buy into and support. By this definition, enlisting the voluntary surrender of cell phones and other technology would be an awfully tough feat.  Who are the “real” people who actually support these restrictions on the grounds that letting kids have access to a broader range of materials (and especially streaming video and social networks) poses too big of a risk to be worth the potential gain? Who honestly believes that promoting coercion and teaching compliance is more beneficial than promoting accountability and teaching good citizenship? No one who really understands the issues would even try to make that case.

Meanwhile, in schools across the country, students and teachers are receiving a relentless, high-profile message that “you can’t be trusted” and “we aren’t willing to take the risk”. Lock it up and shut it down. Intentional or not, that is what’s real and no explanations related to prioritizing student safety can undo the damage that does to the way students see themselves, each other and the adults in their lives.

In my role, I am constantly challenging staff to find ways to entrust students with more freedom and responsibility, and some staff really struggle with that. I work with Teachers and Youth Development Professionals who are tasked with sending kids out into the “real world”, ready to work. These staff are incredibly dedicated. They will happily cheer at graduations and often write students glowing recommendations so they can secure those jobs…But let them run the school store? By themselves? Are you CRAZY?

The truth is that wether we are talking about running a project, keeping a cellphone in class, or accessing media-rich websites, the restrictions aren’t really about risk and safety. They are in large part, about things that are much more basic- trust and resource management.

Here’s a related example. Administrators are going to have more anxiety about a cross-country field trip than the trip to the local park. “Will the staff be able to handle the group? What if someone gets sick? What if someone gets DRUNK? I don’t think so… maybe next year.” And so another group of students from somewhere in Arkansas graduates from high school having never seen the ocean.

The same concept applies to use of technology and for many school leaders, there are far more “unknowns” in the computer lab than on a field trip, however far reaching. The richer the online platform, the more bogged down the network becomes when everyone uses it at once. Downloads can create problems on shared networks and computers when users don’t know what they are doing.”Will the IT staff be able to handle all the questions that will come up? Will teachers be able to monitor the group? What if someone gets stuck? What if someone gets DRUNK? I don’t think so… maybe next year.” And so another group graduates from a high school in New York City having never gotten to podcast, blog or video chat with kids from India, China, Africa or Arkansas.

Most schools aren’t in a position to send their students on a cross country trip right now. Such a trip has never been planned or budgeted and there are a lot of variables to consider, including whether students and staff are ready for that level of responsibility. Likewise, in most schools, the infrastructure (wiring, budgeting, equipment, memory space etc) wasn’t planned to support the use of technology that is now possible in classrooms.

The more complicated the student engagement, online and in life, the greater the responsibility adults have to prepare and guide them through it. But we live in a complicated world and it’s not going to get any easier. Shouldn’t we be exposing our students to every experience, every tool, every opportunity that we can imagine to better prepare them to live, or better yet, to thrive in it?

Let’s stop “regulating”, stop moaning about “regulations” and start including students and staff in intelligent discourse about how to garner ALL of our resources and get to the “yes”. Let’s engage them in projects to generate and manage resources responsibly, let’s help them plan BIG adventures on their wikis, and use their Wall Wishers and Twitter feeds to keep us posted along the way, let’s let them know we trust and expect them to make good choices, and for goodness sake, let’s let them see the ocean… and blog about it.

Thanks to Tom, for making me think, and thanks too, for reading:o)

10 Reasons Educators Must See Sister Act 2

28 Jan

Those of you who follow my tweets learned this week that I have a great and abiding love for one of the best teachers’ movies of all time… “Sister Act 2”. Oh yes, you read that correctly, and yes, I’m talking about Whoopie Goldberg, in a nun’s habit, teaching music in an urban Catholic school.

Yes, ladies and gentlemen, Sister Act 2. In fact, I’m such a devoted fan that a couple of nights ago, I stayed on the Life Cycle at the gym for the entire movie, unabashedly grinning from ear to ear. Because I anticipate scoffing and eye-rolling from those readers drawn to more cerebral films, I’ve decided to defend my position on this, and so I give you:

10 Reasons Educators Must See Sister Act 2

1. Whoopie Goldberg as Sister Mary Clarence conveys the unique blend of confidence, commitment and creativity that so many terrific teachers possess. Her simultaneous wooing and setting limits with the students is strategically spot-on.

I recently recommended this movie, among others, to a member of my PLN who is looking for ways to support a new teacher in her efforts to overcome a struggle with classroom management. Watch the following clip and you’ll begin to understand why.

Some of you may have been thrown off because I used the phrase “classroom management”, a term so often erroneously interchanged with “discipline”. But there is a lot to be learned about managing young people (and all people) from this clip.

A good teacher believes in students and draws them out, inspires their trust and can get them to go where they are afraid to go. A good teacher holds them accountable for pulling their own weight, makes the toughest journey seem like more fun than they could even imagine “Let’s party!”… and celebrates with them when they reach their destination. Sister Mary Clarence does all of those things brilliantly in this short clip.

2. There is a scene in the movie where Sister Mary Clarence “lays down the law”. Every new teacher should watch this scene before the first week of school. Although her style may not be right for every situation, her methodology is sound. She lays out her expectations in no uncertain terms, states the consequence for refusing to meet them and holds her ground firmly. She does not take the students’ behavior personally but makes it clear that she is going to hold them accountable for it.

3. Albeit lightly, the movie addresses the critical role neighborhood schools can play in urban communities.

4. Although many of the characters are practically archetypes, their interactions, quirks and qualities are each rooted in a grain of truth. From young men struggling to define themselves, to mother and daughter struggles, and from Lauren Hill’s tough girl with a ‘tude to the young teacher with a kind heart, if you look, you will find people and experiences that you recognize.

5. The dynamic of “Us versus them”/”Students versus adults” is nicely portrayed. More importantly, the redirecting of this dynamic into one of mutual trust, commitment and respect is handled effectively.

Like all good teachers, those in the movie are willing to be the adults. They don’t personalize. Instead, they make a genuine effort to find and delight in the good in their students, and to understand and support them, sometimes in spite of themselves.

They also deliver value – they offer something that students want and need. As a result, the students eventually overcome their distrust, open up and allow their teachers to help them to grow.

6. The teachers in this movie are not whiners and are not victims. They are creative problem solvers. They are flexible and resourceful. They counsel. They support each other and their students and make doing so look like it feels really good. They raise funds. They do community service, take field trips and do home visits. They roll up their sleeves and clean house. They take ownership in their students, their school and their community.

7. The Priest/Principal is both terrifically flawed and wonderfully redeemable. Through him we see the exasperating struggle between old and new, and that in schools, as in life, there can be value in both. We see a burnt out and overwhelmed leader brought back to life by his students and staff. We also see an administrator who is willing to revise his course when he realizes that it’s in the best interest of his students.

8. The movie shows both teachers and students rising to an occasion and that is incredibly motivating and a lot of fun to watch… which leads me to reason #9.

9. In cartoons, corny old movies and the 70s sitcom “Love American Style”, rockets go off and bells ring when people fall in love. For me the sparks fly when I witness anyone joyfully embracing or sharing a talent… doing what they were literally born to do… For example, I saw Wayne Gretzky skating once, years ago, just for fun, and I literally couldn’t look away.

I’ve come to realize, I am a talent junkie. As much as I love to serve, I have to admit that my reasons for teaching are not entirely altruistic… my motives are not entirely unselfish. You see, I literally live to see the light go on in my students’ eyes, to hear the excitement in their voices…

When you are a teacher, if you are open to it, you get to bear witness to more than your fair share of talent coming to life and that is an amazing, beautiful, goose-bump-giving thing. Whether they are mastering a new skill, creating a masterpiece, overcoming a personal challenge, excelling at a sport, standing up for a friend, demonstrating courage under fire, singing like angels or achieving perfect scores, I am constantly inspired and humbled by my students.

Watch Lauren Hill in this next clip and imagine if we could make all of our students feel that way…be that lit up, that joyful about SOME part of their school experience. All teachers should at least aspire to that goal.

10. And for the grand finale?  There is a scene in the movie where Sister Mary Clarence (Whoopie) is talking to Rita (Lauren Hill). She tells her that if when she wakes up in the morning all she can think about is singing, then she’s a singer. Years ago, the very first time I saw this movie, I heard that line and it hit me like a ton of bricks, because that is exactly how I feel…how I have always felt… about teaching.

Please share your thoughts about this and other great movies and books for teachers. I’d love to hear from you. Thanks for reading!

Feedback is a Gift. Thank You! (and you’re welcome;o))

7 Jan

I am betting that I’ll write on variations of this topic over and over again but today I just want to say “Thank you”…”and you’re welcome!”

Like so many of you, I have recently stumbled upon the most amazing professional resource I’ve ever found. Actually, it’s a series of resources that seems to continually expand – ripple, domino, pick your own cliche’ but this thing has got legs! I’m sure some of you have guessed that I’m talking about Twitter, #edchat, Tom Whitby’s The Educator’s PLN and the never-ending extensions that seem to be sprouting from each of them everyday.

Here’s an example. Recently, @ShellTerrell, who is a true phenomena in my book, (but that’s another entry), sent a tweet asking all new bloggers to retweet and give their web address with the hashtag #edchat. I complied, not knowing why, because… well, it was Shelly and in a few short weeks of following her on Twitter, I’ve learned that she is constantly up to something good.

Shortly thereafter, I got a message from @cybraryman1 who is truly a super hero with a link saying he had put my blog on his blog‘s page for parents. WOW. Amazing. He had ME feeling a little like a superhero too! But that’s not all.

You see, Shelly has been issuing challenges for educators through her tweets and blog, Teacher Reboot Camp, and it seems that one of the challenges was to support a new blogger. She listed my site, along with those of all of the others who answered her call and that leads me to Marti and Wildcat Teacher.

But first things first. I could see from my stats that loads of people visited from Cybraryman‘s and Shelly‘s sites and that was really exciting and motivating. But a couple of people actually posted comments, and Oh-my-GOODNESS what fun! After reading Wildcat Teacher’s post I was all kinds of jazzed and motivated to finish several of the half-finished pieces I’ve been not working on… and then I read Marti’s comment.

Marti posted on my piece about “Teaching Gratitude” and shared that it had prompted her to take an activity that she uses in the classroom home to her own kids. She called it a “Rubbing It In” board and it’s a great idea that reminded me of  and prompted me to share one of my favorite strategies for teaching gratitude with you. You will find instructions at the end of this article. It will work like a charm, and you’ll love it – I promise.

But before I started writing about that, I did one more thing – I followed the link to Marti’s blog. You should follow it too: The Techno Tiger. Her “Goal #4, Starting a Blog” is not only fantastic, but it is what inspired me to write down what I’ve been thinking – about how reciprocal this whole process is – the tweeting, and chatting, the blogging, and reading, the thinking. commenting, sharing, acting on it all and passing it on to our students. WOW.

I’m feeling pretty fortunate and… grateful right now,  and so to Marti, Wildcat Teacher, Kim,  Shelly, Cybraryman, Tom Whitby, and all of the other PLN-ed-chattering-tweet-and-blogging-educational-inspirations out there – you’ve got my mind spinning, I’m stretching and growing more than I have in ages (and I already stretch and grow more often than the average bear!), and it is all just so exciting and SO MUCH FUN! So thank you, thank you so very much.

And… you’re welcome too. Because I’m going to do my very best to contribute and give back in every way that I can. You can thank me later. ;o)

The “Above and Beyond” (Or “Rub It In”) Board

To quote Marti, “If receiving comments on my blog inspires me, as an adult, to continue to write, what might it do for our students?” Feedback is a gift, online and in life. Giving that gift consciously can inspire our students’ interest and willingness to engage in all kinds of positive things.

The “Above and Beyond” board is about consciously, deliberately, strategically providing both a model and a way for students to experience being both giver and recipient of positive feedback. If you use this technique, students will appreciate and remember you for it. More importantly, it  will  help them become more conscious, more grateful, and sometimes, even more gracious human beings.

Here’s how it works:

  1. I write the student’s name in big bright letters on index cards, and write what they did in smaller letters underneath.
  2. I stack and tack or staple the cards on top of each other by name. When students come in the room, the 1st thing they do is check those cards… and my students are 16-24 years old!
  3. At the end of the month or workshop (depending on the format), I take all of the cards down and use them as raffle tickets – so the more good deeds, the more chances a student has to win.
  4. Students can also earn raffle chances by writing cards for their peers; a card written by a student is a chance for both the writer and the student being commended to win.
  5. After the raffle, the students get to keep their cards and we start all over again.

A few notes on implementation:

  1. I don’t announce or explain the board- I just start doing it. I post the words “Above and Beyond” and start putting up cards. This leads to questions and the students always notice and get drawn in. This sneaky technique also eliminates the possibility of “we’re-too-cool-for-this” sabotage. Teeth are not sucked and eyes are not rolled. There are no moans, groans or disparaging comments to discourage students from going “above and beyond”. The board simply appears and then “is”.
  2. I leave extra cards and markers right by the board and every single time I’ve done this, students have asked if they can write cards to each other too. You know your students – always provide guidelines; set limits and screen the cards if you have to… it won’t usually be necessary but better safe than sorry. Writing cards catches on and goes viral in no time.
  3. The stacking is intentional, for a number of reasons. Stacking is an essential move in this strategy. Do not worry about the board looking bare for a day or two; I promise it will fill up quickly and that is part of the fun. Stacking ensures there is enough space for everyone’s name (and you will need to find at least one positive thing to say about each student).
  4. Stacking also increases the interactivity of the board. Students will physically go up, flip through their pile and put it back where they found it, usually at least once a day.
  5. They won’t be able to resist finding out what their cards say, and will be forced to go the board to find out. This makes it cool to care and be proud of receiving positive recognition.
  6. Stacking also allows students who are shy about giving each other feedback to do so comfortably by inserting their cards into the stack.
  7. document.write(‘TwitThis‘);

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