Monday, April 14, 2014

Why teaching is difficult



Bryce Harper was (is) a can't miss prospect.

At 16 he was on the cover of Sports Illustrated.

Bryce Harper, Baseball, Las Vegas Wildcats


He left high school early so he could get to college to accelerate being drafted.

He was the number one draft pick in Major League Baseball's 2010 amateur draft.

He signed a multi-million dollar contract. Less than two years later he was a regular in the outfield for the Washington Nationals.

He was the youngest position player ever selected for the MLB All-star game.

Yet at the beginning of the 2014 regular season, just days ago, he said, "I'm pretty lost right now."

Bryce Harper has all the tools. He trains relentlessly. His whole life it seems has been devoted to becoming a great baseball player.

He just spent six weeks in spring training getting ready for the season. And yet, he feels lost!

Imagine, if you will, if Bryce Harper had to worry about 23 kindergarten students or 27 8th graders or 25 high school seniors?

Bryce Harper has to worry about himself. His success is connected to the other players on the field but ultimately he is judged by how well he does. He can be an All-star even if his team is not successful.

But teachers. Sure they have to worry about what they do.

Are my lessons plans good? Am I using the right strategies? Do I know my content? Do I know the answers to these questions? Can I connect the lesson to real life? How much time should this lesson take?

Teachers also have to worry about their students.

How is Joe feeling today? I know Robert gets lost some times so how can I make sure he keeps up? Jan's dog died yesterday - how will that impact her mood today? Tim had a tough time on the bus - how can I get him refocused on school? Bob knows this really well but Tracey struggles - how can I keep them both interested and moving ahead?

In addition, teachers have to worry about school.

When is the fire drill? What happens if an intruder gets in the building? When can I call Steve's parents? There is an assembly today - how can I modify my lesson?

I know baseball is a difficult and demanding game. But teaching - now that's a challenging career!

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Why teach?

It's a simple question:

Why teach?

Every aspiring teacher is asked that question in one form or another.

I asked it today. I was part of our school district team at a teacher job fair. Every interview started with a variation of the question: Why were you drawn to education? Why did you want to become a teacher? Why did you choose to be a teacher?

In short, why teach?

The answers were mostly the same.

"I always wanted to be a teacher."

"I enjoy working with kids."

"I was successful coaching and it seems that is a lot like teaching."

"I'm good at math."

"I like kids."

The question is, most of the time, intended as a set-up question. An ice breaker if you will. And the answers were all appropriate. But none completely satisfactory.

Why teach?

Because it is important. Because it can make a difference. Because it opens up doors. Because it teaches people how to think and solve problems and grow.

Because it helps people discover who they are. Because it gives kids confidence. Because teachers  prepare students for their life.

Because it changes lives. Because teachers get to see five and eight and thirteen and eighteen year-olds struggle and work and think and change and grow.

Because teaching matters!

When I ask someone the question - why teach? - I want to hear an answer that convinces me that she understands the power of education to transform a life.

Why teach? is not an ice breaker or a set-up question. It is the question. And I want my district to hire people who understand the importance of that little question.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Duke goes down! What lesson do we learn?

Duke - mighty Duke - got beat by Mercer today.

Coach K - the household name, Olympic gold medal winning coach, 4-time national championship winning coach - out in the first round.

A 14 seed beat a 3 seed. A huge upset! Not the biggest of all time. Seven times a 15 seed has beaten a 2 seed.

But Duke - mighty Duke - beaten by a team that very few people know.

Is there a lesson for schools?

Perhaps it is this: The inevitable isn't always inevitable.

In schools we fight against some seemingly intractable problems. In our district achievement gaps continue to confound us. We have made closing achievement gaps a district goal. We have spent time, money, attention on trying to identify ways to close achievement gaps. Yet they persist.

As a result it is tempting to make excuses. Those kids who aren't achieving - well those are our special education kids, those are our ESL kids. Those tests that measure growth and achievement - they don't really work very well for our kids.

Yet if I am the parent of any student in my district, I send my child to your school because I believe that you can help. If you can't right away, I believe that you will find a way. As a parent, I do not want to hear that my child can't achieve because he has special needs or because his first language is not English.

No, when I send my child to your school I trust that you can help.

As a parent I understand that I have a part to play. I need to read to my child. I need to make sure they are cared for and nurtured. I need to establish routines. I have an important role to play.

But I send them to school to learn. Don't tell me that my child can't learn or that it is really hard.

If Duke vs. Mercer teaches us anything, maybe it is the lesson that "can't" or "won't" - as in can't win or won't win or can't learn or won't learn - should not be part of our vocabulary.

Instead, we should say - we will find a way. Nothing is impossible!

Friday, March 14, 2014

You have to be kidding!

Blogging with 1st graders?

You have to be kidding!

1st graders need to learn the basics. They need to learn how to write with a pencil. They need to learn how to spell. They need to learn like I did.

But do they really?

The children that we have in our classrooms were born into a world where computers are not a new and scary thing. These students understand the power that technology brings to their lives.

Certainly, these students need to know how to read, write, and think. But blogging provides a tool that can engage them in deep and powerful ways.

Today at MACUL, two first grade teachers from Deerfield Elementary in Novi - Sherry Griesinger and Lindsay Pintar - spoke passionately about how their students - in first grade - were blogging.

Real audiences. Real content. Real writing.

Blogging with 1st graders is not only possible but should be happening!

Monday, March 3, 2014

The (limited) power of analytics

Data is in vogue. 

Athletics has begun to use data - changing how we believe we can create success in athletics. Moneyball - using data to make decisions about baseball players - was an early example. First it was a book and then a movie. (Starring Brad Pitt no less!) 



MIT Sloan - Sports Analytics Conference

a conference dedicated to analyzing sports - from analyzing over a million pitches to see how umpires change how they call balls and strikes to predicting how a pitcher will do in the next inning.

But just because we can get all of this data, does it mean it is good for us to make every decision based on data?

Some are beginning to question whether we are becoming "digitally obese." 

"Technology will absolutely stay on its exponential course and make information wider, deeper, and faster. Unless we find a way to deal with this constant tsunami of possibilities, we may ultimately all become digitally obese. . ."

The same phenomenon is happening in education. 

We have more information. We have faster information. 

But do we have the right information?

We can track a student's growth and his/her achievement every year they have been in school. Correspondingly, we believe we can use that to measure the impact a teacher has had - the added-value of the teacher.

But is that really what we are doing? Does the data really show us what we think it shows us?

I believe that parents send their children to our schools so that they will learn. Those of us who are in schools need to be able to show that a student's life has been enriched in our schools. We need to be able to show that a student has learned. 

We need to do this because we are not babysitters. Our job in education is not to keep students out of trouble or to keep them "busy" while their parents are at work. 

Our job is to educate.

We now have state tests, national tests, and benchmarked assessments. We have scaled scores, percentile ranks, and projected growth metrics.

But do we have what we need to sit with a parent and describe the change that has happened in a student's life? Does the data do the job for us? 

Or is there something missing when all we rely on is data?

I think that data has its place. But the real power of schools is not just to give a parent a "number." No - the real power in schools is to be able to have a conversation about the change that has occurred in a student. Are they engaged? Are they interested in school? Do they get excited about learning? Can they apply what they know to their life outside of school? Are we seeing them develop a passion about ideas?

There is power in numbers.

But the real power of school cannot be captured in just a number. No the real power of school is displayed by students and teachers who love to learn.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Trying to scare teachers to death

They've tried.

They've tried really hard.

It seems like there is a conspiracy to scare teachers to death.

In fact, they have tried to scare almost anyone who works for a public school to death.



The dominant narrative is that public schools have failed, students don't learn, and teachers (and other public school employees) are to blame.

Yet, every day teachers and principals and bus drivers and food service workers and tech support staff and preschool teachers show up and do their job.

Why?

Because instead of focusing on those people who say public schools don't work, those that work for public schools focus on doing their job. When students are waiting for the bus, they bus driver shows up. When students want to eat, the food service staff provides lunch. When students want to learn, teachers are there to help.

The people who have tried to scare us to death are the people who have never been the teacher, the bus driver, the food service worker. They don't visit our schools. They don't ride our buses. They don't cook our meals. They haven't coached our teams, led our choirs, directed our bands and orchestras.

The student who just threw up - the teacher took care of that. And then continued teaching.

The student who threatened to beat up Jimmy - the bus driver talked him down. And continued driving the bus.

The student who finally aced the exam - the teacher silently celebrated while the student told all her friends about how hard she worked.

There are things that go on every day in a school that only those who work in a school understand and know how to handle. There are reasons to celebrate, reasons to worry, reasons to stand back, and reasons to jump in.

It's not that those who work in public schools aren't scared. It's that those who work for public schools understand that the students in our schools, the children in our communities need what happens in school. So they show up. They do their jobs. They figure out the answers to the problems. They dance when there are reasons to celebrate.

So you might as well give up trying to scare us. We aren't going away. We are going to show up every morning to do our jobs.

And . . . we will do them well.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

My most important job


What is the most important thing I do everyday?

Let me re-phrase that. What is the most important job I am supposed to do everyday?

This summarizes it fairly well.

From: http://www.leadlearner.com/lyn-hilt

I am like most of you. I have a lot of "important" things to do each day. I can often inflate my sense of self by listing everything that I should get done each day.

I also depend on others to get a lot of things done. 

In schools there are a lot of things to do every single day.

But the most important thing I should do each day is let the people I care about know that I care about them.

If I do that - everything else will begin to fall in place.

That does not mean that I don't focus on all of those important things. Budgets, teacher evaluations, administrative evaluations, Board of Education relations, policy, student discipline, bus issues, parent complaints, building issues, morale, state assessments, legislative mandates. The list could go on.

I am not supposed to forget those things. I am not supposed to spend my day expressing to others that I care about them and not get my job done.

But in the midst of all those things people should know that they are more important than the job. 

Sometimes I forget that. Sometimes I am sure that I communicate to people that who they are, what they care about, what they want to accomplish in their life is not nearly as important as getting the job done.

And that's not right.

Every one should know that they are important first. Then the job will get done.