Thursday, March 24, 2016

Technology has NOT Over-Promised Anything

I get so many daily emails with tech digests that I hardly ever go through them all. But today, my last day of work before Spring Break, I had a little extra time on my hands so I thought I'd read through all my "junk" email. And hidden at the bottom of one of my emails was this gem of a quote:

I would like to politely disagree. I don't think technology has ever promised to do anything. It's just a tool. People may have promised that these tools will revolutionize education, but people tend to make a lot of promises that aren't filled.

People are the only fix to the problems in education. People who are willing to have tough conversations about the sad state of affairs many (but not all!) of our classrooms are in today. People who are willing to acknowledge that we are teaching to a new generation of students that live in a world we don't quite understand. People who are willing to embrace change as the only constant, and adapt to its ever growing demands. People who love children, and learning, and education.

Technology never promised to do these things. It can't. But it can be a great tool to help the people that are putting in the work to make education great.

Friday, January 22, 2016

The Gift of Urgency

Urgency is often a gift. 
It can create both clarity and action.
- Mark Miller

When I started my teaching career, my dad would scoff about Teacher Professional Growth Days. I remember him saying, "I don't see cars in the parking lot... it's just another day off for teachers." Well Dad, today we had 300 teachers packed in at one school engaging in some of the most meaningful professional growth I have seen during my 16 years as an educator.

Starting our day was a call to action from the superintendent. After years of stagnant test scores, he emphasized that it is time to face our current reality. Students aren't succeeding academically. What work must be done to turn this around?

Five instructional systems were discussed: Coherent First Teaching, Intervention, Positive Behavior Support, Assessments, and Teacher Collaboration. These gears, when in sync, can create monumental shifts in the learning experience of students. So how do we get there? Through professional learning, principal leadership, and district leadership. 

After our call to action, teachers were placed in collaborative teams, K-8, to look at the mathematical and NGSS science and engineering practices and really dig in to understanding them. It wasn't about what lesson are we teaching tomorrow, but about how we engage students in deeper thinking, deeper questioning, and deeper problem solving. In every room, the conversations were powerful, engaging, and with the student in mind.


Something special is happening here today. I think one day down the road, when the gears are well oiled and working smoothly together, we'll look back and see this day as the day the shift happened. The day we embraced our gift of urgency and responded to the call to action.

Friday, January 15, 2016

Are You a Master Teacher?

In his blog post, "What Makes a Master Teacher?" George Couros lists what makes a master teacher. Are there any qualities you would add? Or remove? Which one resonates the most with you?
For me, I tried to ensure I got to know students on a personal level. Having taught middle school English Language Arts, it wasn't uncommon to have 150-175 students walk through my door every day. It was critical that they not see themselves as just another warm body in a seat, but rather as an important contributing member to the class. 
I'll admit that I did better with some students than others. But I think that, overall, the effort paid off. By knowing my students, I was able to tailor curriculum to meet both their needs and their interests. For example, one year I had a student who had a poor assignment completion rate. He hated essay writing (and really, who doesn't?). But when I learned he wanted to be a rap artist, I let him write some of his literary responses as a rap instead of an essay. Lo and behold, he had a lot to say, and it was good, too! One year we studied the Zoot Suit Riots because the large percentage of African- American students in my class expressed an interest in it after hearing the song on the radio. 
I by no means would consider myself a "Master Teacher" and wonder if any teacher ever feels they have truly reached master status. I look back now, after having been out of the classroom for a few years, and see so many missed opportunities to do even more, but I'm proud of the work I did to connect with students.

Saturday, January 9, 2016

100 Starts with 1

A while back, I read an article in Good, "A magazine for the global citizen" about a #100StartsWith1 project. The idea is to promote positive change that betters society. It's an idea I circle back to today because I just spent three days at CUE Rock Star Admin being inspired by the passion, innovation, and creativity of school and district leaders in attendance.

Sometimes it's the simplest ideas that make the biggest impact. 

For example, dancing and singing during morning drop off, as this vice principal in Arkansas does every day. 

Maybe my #100Startswith1 project will be a return to blogging. Don't get me wrong... I don't believe my blogging will better society. But perhaps the time for me to reflect, and the ability to hold conversations with others about the current state of education, will spark a change that will lead to a better society.

It's worth a shot.