Monday, December 22, 2014

There's a wolf in my school!

Earlier this year, Jimmy Kimmel showed a video of a wolf walking down the hall of the Olympic Village in Sochi. Not surprisingly, it became a news story. News shows around the country picked up the story and showed this wolf walking the hallway of the Olympic Village.

As you can see, it wasn't true! It was a prank, a hoax, a jolly good laugh! Along with Kate Hansen, an Olympic luger, Mr. Kimmel and his staff had set the whole thing up. Using social media and the public's appetite to believe, this prank became a believable story.

The funny, or sad, thing, depending on your point of view, is that people assumed it was true.

Public schools do wonderful things in our communities. Public schools are not perfect. There are times when those who work in public schools make the wrong decision.

But the overwhelming evidence is that public schools do things that make a positive difference in our communities each and every day.

Yet there are people who tell us there is "a wolf in the school!" There are people who tell us that schools are doing the wrong thing. That schools fail. That schools can't get it right.

And people believe them!

As this year winds down to a close I want to stand up and say that public schools have and will continue to do wonderful things for students and communities.

We can't let those who claim they see "a wolf in the school" win. We have to push back and tell them the wonderful things that we see in schools every day.

I see math teachers who dress up in full Holiday regalia to engage students.

I see coaches give of their time so students can participate in competitive athletics.

I see teachers in every subject giving time and attention to help students get better, to learn, to grow.

There is a lot going on in the the classrooms on public schools. But there is not "a wolf in the hallway."

Instead of seeing wolves, people need to see the good that is going on in the classrooms and the hallways of our public schools.

Friday, December 12, 2014

What brings you joy?

A young man - still in elementary school - looked up in the teacher's eyes and asked, "What brings you joy?"

A teacher recounted that story to me this week as she asked me, "What brings you joy?"

It is not a question that I ask myself very often. But as I thought about it, I understood that joy surrounds me.

I see joy - almost everyday.

In a variety of places.

With students who are doing a lot of different things.

I see joy in the faces of the students in my district. In the faces of the teachers in my district.
But the question is what brings me joy?
My wife, my boys, my walks with Kaya - my dog.
My family, my friends. 
Sunrises, sunsets, clear nights when I can sit by a fire.
I find joy in many places and with many people.  
When I enter a classroom and see students and their teacher deeply engaged in meaningful work - that brings me joy.
When a teacher bends down to listen deeply and intently to a child - that brings me joy.
When I hear students laugh, when I see students care, when I see students work hard to learn their lesson - that brings me joy.
Joy is something that surrounds me - and yet most days I don't think much about it. I will think about it more often.
A teacher asked me a question, "What brings you joy?"
So I ask you as well - what brings you joy?

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Kids are not crops

The New York Times had an interesting article about the rising use of technology in farming. Two sentences in the article struck me:

There is an incentive to grow single crops to maximize the effectiveness of technology by growing them at the largest possible scale.

Technology encourages farmers to move too aggressively toward easy-to-grow and easy-to-sell crops that are more easily measured by instruments, rather than keeping some diversity in the fields.

In education we love our technology.

We also love our ability to standardized our testing routines so that we can measure student growth and achievement.

I am an accountability advocate. I want to be able to demonstrate that a student is learning. When a parent sends their child to one of the schools in my district, I want to be able to show that our schools make a difference.

But, if I am not careful, the focus on being able to demonstrate that our schools make a difference, that students are growing, will lead me, like farmers, to simplify the solutions.

Instead of creating a robust and diverse curriculum, it will be tempting to narrow the curriculum - to focus instead on easy to measure, easy to assess curriculum topics.

But kids are not crops.

Students need to struggle, to be curious, to be allowed to fail, to explore, to chase a passion.

But that is hard to measure.

Students need to be able to talk and write and explain their reasoning.

But that is hard to measure.

It is tempting to maximize the effectiveness of our schools by "growing single crops," teaching only what can be measured.

It is tempting to eliminate diversity and focus on conformity because that can be measured by the instruments that we have.

But kids are not crops.

My challenge is to create a school that has a diverse and rich curriculum, that allows for exploration and failure and the pursuit of passions AND one that can demonstrate to students, parents, community members, and legislators that something good and rich and productive is happening.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Finishing second

I stood in the interview room. On my right, the coach spoke to a group of reporters. 

Directly in front of me stood a circle of fifteen girls. Each one a Novi High School student. Each one a member of the Novi High School volleyball team.

Now the team stood, arms encircled one another. Heartbroken. Tears filled their eyes. 

Just minutes before these Novi High School volleyball players had lost in the 5th and deciding set of the Michigan High School Athletic Association state championship game. Down two sets to none, these girls won two sets in a row to force the fifth and deciding set.

Just a night before the girls had found themselves in the same situation. Down two sets to none, they faced the task of winning three straight sets if they wanted to advance. Amazingly, thrillingly they did.

Then less than twenty-four hours later, they faced the same situation. And it appeared they might pull it off one more time.

But they didn't.

And now, in front of me, I saw a team smiling, crying, holding on to each other.

They were not champions. Instead they finished second.

The point of sports is to win. In our society finishing second is frowned upon. Champions are celebrated. Those that finish second are forgotten.

But I am here to suggest that the point of high school sports is about more than winning.

Every team wants to win. Every coach wants to win. The sacrifice, the sweat, the time is all given in an effort to win. 

Winning is the point.

But, in high school, I would submit that the point of athletics is winning plus . . .

Plus helping our students build character. 

Plus developing tenacity, grit, and perseverance.

Plus building an understanding in our students of how to depend on teammates and how to be a teammate.

Plus creating in our students deeply passionate connections with others.

Plus learning how to support others with your presence, with your voice, with your talent.

Plus learning what it takes to grow, improve, and develop talent.

These young ladies wanted to win. They did everything they could to finish as champions. 

But, my guess is, these young ladies will remember the lessons that they learned that go beyond winning.

Even though they finished second.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Why high school students inspire me

On Thursday I walked into a Novi High School Biology classroom and watched as students and the teacher worked through a discussion about cell division. One of the students participating actively was a student I had seen the previous Tuesday evening working as part of her high school volleyball team as they won their match that sent them to the state semifinals.

I saw this student again last night as her team stormed back to win their state semifinal match. Today they play for the state championship.

High school students are amazing!

The boys cross country team at Novi High School was academic all-state with a combined team GPA of over 3.9.

On Thursday I walked into the TV production studio at Novi High School and watched as students directed, broadcast, and problem-solved their way through a live news broadcast. 

Just down the hall I had left a dance classroom where students practiced their  latest dance performance. Later that morning I saw one of the students who was in that dance class working her way through chemical notation in her chemistry class.

Upstairs students were working their way through primary source documents in AP US Hustory. 

Back down on the first floor I saw students putting together a lawnmower engine that they had recently taken apart. As I watched one of the students approached me and joked about how slick the roads were that morning. Smiling he wondered if we should close school.

High school students are so much more confident, skilled, and capable than I was in high school. 

We hear a lot about high school students - some not very complementary. I'm here to say that the high school students I see amaze me. 

I know high school students make some interesting and dubious choices at times. So do adults. 

What I see are wonderful students who need deeply committed adults in their lives to help them continue to become all they dream of becoming.

High school students - all students - truly are amazing!

Saturday, November 8, 2014

What I learned from Bus #2

By 7:00 AM tomorrow I will have spent approximately 84 straight hours with 8th graders from Novi Middle School.

Right now it's about 10:00 PM on Saturday evening. A long bus ride is all that stands between us and the end of our Washington DC field trip.

We came to Washington DC, we toured Washington DC, and we have left Washington DC.

In the 84 hours that I will have spent with our 8th graders, I learned, or at least remembered, several things.

One, 8th grade boys touch anything and everything. Walls. Railings. Each other. 

Two, the wonders of history can make an impression on 8th grade students who are bombarded with technology and entertainment and Instagram and text messages and Twitter. It may take awhile but the power of Arlington National Cemetery or the 9/11 Pentagon Memorial or the Lincoln Memorial can make 8th grade students think about their place in the world.

Three, 8th graders will spend foolishly. Five dollars for a lollipop as big as your fist - seriously!

Four, the world is as difficult for 8th graders to figure out as it is for adults. 8th graders question why there are so many graves at Arlington, why the Declaration of Independence was so revolutionary, why a President could be shot in Ford's Theater. 

Five, 8th graders sometimes don't pay close attention. One young man, sitting in Ford's Theater, having just listened to the National Park Service Ranger talk about how Lincoln was shot in that very place, looked up at his chaperone and asked, "Wasn't Lincoln shot in a theater?"

Six, there are adults who care a great deal about children who are not their own. Approximately 30 Novi teachers, our Assistant Principal, our Novi school nurse, and the Novi Chief of Police voluntarily chose to ride a bus from Michigan to Washington DC and back, eat with, walk with, and share with a group of 8th grade students.


In the hope that these young men and women would learn about the American spirit so that they can be part of the American dream.

It was a noble and generous gesture. One for which I am deeply grateful.

My final lesson remembered - the seventh lesson - has been that giving of yourself to others is never easy and not always rewarded. But it is always worth it.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

To the Parents of Bus #2

I sit in the middle of Bus #2. In the middle of your sons and daughters.

It is late.

Novi Middle School is on the way to Washington DC. Tonight we travel so that tomorrow we can tour the sights and see the historical documents of our country.

The school and the school district promote the trip as being educationally relevant. It is. Eighth grade studies US History. There is a lot of US History in Washington DC.

Eventually, your sons and daughters will study Civics and some will even take an Advanced Placement class in Government and Politics.

At some point one or two of our students, perhaps your son or daughter, will decide to run for political office. They may look back on this trip to Washington DC as an inspiration. They may remember the Lincoln Memorial or the Capital Building or the King Memorial as particularly meaningful.

But for tonight, education is not the primary focus.

I have sat for three hours listening to your sons and daughters laugh and giggle, talk and whisper. They have leaned over seats and across aisles. 

There are cell phones and iPads, tablets of all shapes and sizes. 

At one point there was a student with a book right in front of me. And he was reading it. Wonderful!

We just stopped on the Ohio Turnpike. You should be glad you were not at that turnpike stop. Everyone who stepped off the bus stepped back on. One hurdle cleared.

I am not with your children every day of the school year. Instead I am a visitor, a frequent guest to the classrooms, the hallways, the lunch room at Novi Middle School.

I see your sons and daughters in places and in ways that as parents you do not. I hear them chatter. I see them run when they should walk. I see them talk when they should be quiet. I see them lean in close to share secrets. I see them open lockers that at times are remarkably organized and at other times amazingly cluttered.

I also see them think deeply, struggle to solve problems, find joy in learning. 

Tonight I have seen them navigate the bus. It is a remarkably delicate dance.

Eighth grade is a year of transition. For you as parents. For your sons and daughters as children.

Your children are beginning to recognize that there there is a life beyond school. They are beginning to recognize their passions, wonder about life beyond your house, beyond Novi.

Tonight is emblematic of their life.

They are scared and excited and hopeful.

You are scared and excited and hopeful.

But for tonight they are kids on a bus. So rest easy parents of the students on bus #2 - your sons and daughters will soon be asleep. Perhaps.

And hopefully so will I.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Are "educational reformers" legitimate?

Think back to the best teacher that you ever had.

How many teachers did you think of? I immediately remembered six.

Miss Harriger - 2nd grade Inez Elementary School - Albuquerque, New Mexico
Miss Hixenbaugh - 4th grade Inez Elementary School - Albuquerque, New Mexico
Mrs. Chapman - 5th grade Inez Elementary School - Albuquerque, New Mexico

(Evidently I had a really good experience at Inez Elementary School!)

Miss Getz - 9th grade Language Arts Monroe Junior High - Albuquerque, New Mexico
Miss Ely - 10th grade English Sandia High School Albuquerque, New Mexico
Coach Braig - Latin I and II Sandia High School Albuquerque, New Mexico

Great teachers - everyone of them.

Why did I believe that they were so good?

They respected me. I had a voice. The valued my opinions and ideas. They gave me freedom. I knew what to expect day to day. They treated everyone in the class fairly. They made me work hard. They challenged me to become better.

I thought of those teachers as I read Malcolm Gladwell's book David and Goliath: Underdogs, misfits, and the art of battling giants. In his chapter on the limits of power Gladwell talks about the principle of legitimacy.

It turns out, according to Gladwell, that leading and moving and motivating and encouraging and managing people turns on this principle of legitimacy.

Students view good teachers as legitimate. Students respect the teachers because we believe in them. As a result, we follow those teachers. We follow them to places that we never thought we could go. We become better than who we thought we were.

Students also are very sensitive to teachers who are not legitimate. These are the teachers who cannot relate to students, do not believe in students, have poor classroom management skills, do not challenge students, and who do not move students forward.

I can think of some of those teachers as well.

As I read Gladwell's chapter I also thought about the educational reform battles we are waging. Why are the battles so fierce?

It is possible that the battles are so fierce because those of us in education do not view the "reformers" as legitimate.

The "reformers" don't give educators a voice.

The "reformers" keep changing the rules.

The "reformers" treat groups differently.

The "reformers" are not actually in schools working with students every day.

The "reformers" talk about the changes that need to take place but they have never actually demonstrated that they have the ability to make these changes.

As a result, those of us in education don't believe the reformers.

Do schools need to improve? Absolutely.

But does that mean teachers are terrible, administrators are incompetent, and public schools are a failure? Of course not.

But the rhetoric of the "reformers" castigates educators. Instead of trying to listen to our voice or inviting us to participate in the dialogue, the reformers push us away.

They know best - that is the message they send.

As a result, those of us who work with students and parents every day, those of us who understand the variety of needs within the students who come to our schools every day, those of us who have committed our lives to being with and beside students, don't believe the reformers.

I am not suggesting that the reformers do not value students and that they do not genuinely want schools to improve.

But the reformers by pointing fingers and claiming to have the answers undermine their legitimacy and go against Gladwell's points on the limits of power.

As Gladwell states, "when people in authority want the rest of us to behave, it matters - first and foremost - how they behave."

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Imposing my will

I began my teaching career as a 6th grade teacher in Hale Center, Texas. Go Owls!

During my first year of teaching I, at times, struggled.

I received plenty of advice. Some advice I sought. Some came to me unsolicited.

My principal suggested I needed to be tougher. More discipline. Don't let the little things slide. Stop misbehavior in its tracks.

Impose my will!

I tried that approach. It wasn't me.

What I discovered was another approach.

I made my class interesting. When I did interesting things that connected in a meaningful way to my students interests I had few, if any, discipline issues.

I thought of that as I read Malcolm Gladwell's book David and Goliath: Underdogs, misfits, and the art of battling giants. In his chapter on the limits of power, Gladwell talks about a teacher named Stella. He suggests that the students in Stella's class misbehave because Stella does an "appalling job" of teaching the lesson.

Gladwell states that a natural response to disobedience in many situations is to crack down. Use your authority to make people do what you want them to do. But, Gladwell makes an interesting point: "Disobedience can also be a response to authority. If the teacher doesn't do her job properly, then the child will become disobedient."

As I read this chapter I was once again struck by the tremendous responsibility those of us in leadership have to do the right thing.

Gladwell says it best when he says: "When people in authority want the rest of us to behave, it matters - first and foremost - how they behave."

I can get compliance as a leader.

What I want is commitment and passion.

Leadership comes in all shapes and sizes. Teachers lead. Parents lead. Friends lead. Colleagues lead. Creating a space that is productive depends not on power and the ability to impose your will. It depends instead on creating a space where people are engaged, invested, and committed.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Threats - real, perceived, and created

Threats are all around us.

Some are real. Some are perceived. Some are created.

Take, for example, birds.

Birds face real threats. Cats, high tension wires, cars. Each of these threats kill lots of birds.

But the biggest threat to birds are buildings and windows. Out of every 10,000 bird deaths, buildings and windows are responsible for close to 6,000. (See chart below.)

Yet, wind turbines and windmills used to generate electrical power are often blamed for bird deaths. True wind turbines and windmills do kill birds. But the numbers are incredibly small when compared to the other threats that face birds.

What does this have to do with education?

Our students face many threats to learning.

Some of the threats are real. Poverty, lack of opportunity, safe learning environments. Each of these present real threats to students learning.

Yet, there are some who would have us believe that teachers are the greatest threat to student's learning.

It is just not true. Teachers, by and large, have a tremendously positive impact on students and their learning. Teachers help connect students in meaningful ways to their lessons. Teachers create enthusiasm for their subject. Teachers help students learn.

Are there teachers who pose a threat?

Yes. But the number of teachers who pose a threat is so very small. I understand that when teachers do pose a threat to learning - through indifference, through neglect, through incompetence - the outcomes can be devastating. I am not trying to minimize that negative impact.

But there are some in our society who seem to promote this idea that it is the teachers who pose the greatest threat to students. These people then work hard to create policies and pass laws that unnecessarily focus on changing teachers.

There are other threats to student learning that are so much more powerful and devastating than teacher indifference or incompetence.

Instead of creating a threat let's focus on the real threats to student learning - poverty, societal indifference to learning, learning environments that are not safe, and on and on - and work hard to eliminate those threats.

That will make a real difference in our students' lives!

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Let's Read!

My wife and her book club recently celebrated their 15th anniversary. For 15 yeats this group of women has met monthly to discuss books and to support one another.

Why would a person be willing to commit to a group for such a long period of time?

First, books are powerful. They can move us to action; they can move us to tears; they can move us to reach beyond ourselves.

Second, groups are powerful. We develop strong bonds with one another that become difficult to break.

Combne the power of books and the power of a group and a wonderfully engaging and strong combination emerges.

In conjunction with the Novi Public Library we have started a Parent-to-Parent Book Club. Our first meeting will be on September 23 where we will discuss The Motivation Breaktrhough: 6 secrets to turning on the tuned-out child by Richard Lavoie.

I would invite you to join us. Books are available at the Novi Public Library. Or you could buy a copy like I did.

Sign up with the Novi Public Library. (Click on the "Adults" tab and find the information on the Parent-to-Parent Book club.)

Please come join us!

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

I'm OK and evidently you are as well

The vast majority of Michigan teachers are rated as effective or highly effective. The latest numbers posted by the Michigan Department of Education are from the 2012-2013 school year. They show that 97% of teachers were rated as effective or highly effective. (Look here for details. For the percentage click on the "percentage" tab.)

Outrageous! Unacceptable!

But why?

How many doctors are rated effective or highly effective?

I don't know. I can't find on the state of Michigan's website a list anywhere that rates doctors.

My guess is that most doctors - probably over 90% - would be rated effective or highly effective.

Yet, there are a lot of people who are obese. There are a lot of people who don't exercise. There are a lot of people who have high blood pressure. There are a lot of people who do not engage in a healthy lifestyle.

Still - most doctors would be rated as effective or highly effective.

But we don't know. Because the state of Michigan does not publish a list that rates doctors.

How many Certified Public Accountants are rated effective or highly effective? Or financial planners? Or dieticians? Or legislators?

My guess is that in most professions the vast majority of professionals are rated effective or highly effective. After all most professionals have college degrees, have lots of experience, and participate in ongoing training.

Yet, there are a lot of people whose finances are in trouble or who can't plan a meal or who can't legislate. But do we blame the accountants or the financial planners or the dieticians or the politicians?

We also don't know because the state of Michigan does not provide a rating list of CPA's or financial planners or dieticians or legislators.

Are there bad teachers and administrators?


Should bad teachers and administrators be evaluated out of their profession?


Historically, education has done a bad job of evaluating educators.

But, I would argue, that most professions have done a bad job of evaluating themselves.

That does not excuse the historically poor job educators have done in rating teachers and administrators. Rating educators is important. Teachers and administrators work with children and have a tremendous influence on their lives.

We must get educator evaluation right. But just because most end up being rated as effective does not mean the system is broken.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Where we are going, not where we have been!

It is attributed to Lou Holtz, famous football coach and sports announcer, to have once said:

The good Lord put eyes in the front our your head
rather than the back
so you could see where you are going
rather than where you've been.
The new school year starts in my district on Tuesday, September 2nd.
I am committed to looking forward trying to see where we are going instead of worrying about looking back to see where we have been.
The new school year beckons all of us.
We could all waste time looking back.
We could mourn the loss of last year because we had the best teacher, the best team, the best lunch. We could mourn leaving last year behind because it was the best year of our life!
We could also be eager to leave last year behind because it was, like Alexander's day, a horrible, no good, very bad year. We had a horrible teacher, a bad bus route, a no good lunch. So we look back eager to leave last year behind.
But instead of looking back. I want us to look forward.
Right now it is a clean slate.
My hope is that as we look forward we are anticipating the best, not fearing the worst.
My hope is that as we look forward we are committing ourselves to solving problems, not creating them.
My hope is that as we look forward we will find the joy inherent in learning new things, not dread the work that comes with learning.
A new school year starts Tuesday. I am looking ahead to see where we are going.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Our unexceptional schools are really quite extraordinary

The official school data website for the state of Michigan (, lists 51 districts/charter schools for Oakland County.

None are exceptional.

At least that is the impression given by the Michgan Department of Education's school accountability report cards. Official scores were released last week. Scores for Oakland County districts, like every county in the state of Michigan, were perceived to be lackluster.

No Oakland County district/charter school received the state's highest rating of green.

Over half of the districts/charter schools earned a rating of yellow.

In Novi, over 86% of our students were proficient in math. Over 95% of our students were proficient in reading.

For each district and school the state calculates its "bottom 30%". That is the state creates a group that is comprised of the lowest achieving 30% of the students in the district.

In Novi, over 54% of our "bottom 30%" were proficient in math. Over 85% of our "bottom 30%" were proficient in reading.

Yet, the Novi Community School District earned a "yellow" rating.

The state would argue that Novi has achievement gaps. That is true. We do. that appears to be the most powerful indicator of performance and the one the determines the overall rating of any individual school or district.

As a result, districts that are diverse. Districts that are large. Districts that have groups that the psycometricians can slice and dice will have a hard time being rated highly.

I am not opposed to accountability. I understand that parents want to know if their schools are being successful. Politicians want to know if the money that they are spending is being used wisely.

Schools need to be able to demonstrate that students are learning.

Any rating of schools should use test data.

But rating schools using test data alone ignores many of the good things that schools are doing.

Novi has a marching band of over 170 members. Novi has athletics and clubs that create opportunities for students not only to be engaged but to learn how to lead, how to work hard, how to set goals. Novi has a freshman orientation program that links upper-classman with incoming freshman. Novi sends fifth graders to camp and eighth graders to Washington DC. Novi teaches our elementary students about the seven habits. We have computer labs and laptop carts.

The Novi Community School District is exceptional in many ways. We have work to do. Of that there is no debate.

And Novi is not alone. There are many excptional districts and schools throughout the state of Michigan.

Can we get better? Of course.

I appreciate the state attempting to rate schools. But, in my opinion, the rating ignores many of the factors that make schools truly great.

In my opinion, many Michigan schools are quite extraordinary. Even though we are colored yellow!

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

What Led Zeppelin teaches us about school reform

Have you ever listened to a Led Zeppelin song backwards?

I hear they say all kinds of evil things.

Simon Singh has listened to Led Zeppelin songs backwards. He doesn't hear anything but gibberish.

Yet he is able to get me to hear things that are not there.

Listen to his talk. Then play your Led Zeppelin album backwards! Oh my!

Singh states, "Combine bad data with a big bias and the brain fills in the holes and you end up hearing something that's not there."

Which brings me to this editorial in the Detroit News. The writer states without qualification and without hesitation that only 17.8% of Michigan high school graduates were prepared for college. This data comes from the ACT College Testing data.

ACT in their "Reality of College Readiness" report state benchmark scores on ACT subject area assessments that "represent the level of achievement required for students to have a 50% chance of obtaining a B or higher or about a 75% chance of earning a C or higher in corresponding credit-bearing first-year college courses." (page 3)

Michigan's education dashboard promotes this number. Governor Snyder in his 2013 State of the State address stated that "only 17% of our kids are college ready." The Michigan School Data portal has a link to the ACT College Readiness results. Again, only 17.7% of students are viewed as college ready.

As Singh states: "Combine bad data with a big bias and the brain fills in the holes and you end up hearing something that's not there."

The state of Michigan could promote other data.

For example, they could promote the number of students who attend Michigan colleges after graduation from high school. Over 60% of the graduates of 2011-12 (the latest year for which data is currently available) enrolled in college. And this is just the students who went to Michigan colleges. The percentage would rise if students who went to out-of-state colleges were included.

Some might counter that "I'll grant you they went to college but I bet they needed to take those remedial courses when they got there!"

Not really.

The same Michigan School Data portal shows how many of the 2012 high school graduates needed remedial assistance when they entered college.

What's your guess?

Well if only 17% of the graduates are college ready it must mean that 83% needed remedial assistance.


The numbers don't lie. And they are pretty good. (Click on the percentage tab under the title.)

Only 17% of the 2012 graduates took a remedial course in math, less than 10% took a remedial course in reading, 11% took a remedial course in writing, and less than 10% took a remedial course in science.

So why would the Governor, the state of Michigan's education dashboard, and the Detroit News continue to promote this idea that only 17% of our high school graduates are college ready?

If I were the Governor I would promote the idea that our students are ready for college. I would promote that when our graduates go to college only a small percentage need remedial assistance. I would promote that our public schools are doing wonderfully well educating our students.

As Simon Singh says: "Combine bad data with a big bias and the brain fills in the holes and you end up hearing something that's not there."

So why does the Governor promote that our schools are doing so poorly?

Maybe there is an agenda and a bias against public schools. Maybe if public schools look like they are not doing a good job it will be easier to promote agenda items that favor schools of choice, charter schools, the Educational Achievement Authority, online learning, and other so called educational reforms.

I for one believe in our public school system. I think the numbers demonstrate that we are doing well.

Can we improve? Absolutely!

But to suggest that we are not preparing students to be successful once they leave high school is, in my opinion, irresponsible.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Life goes on

This is Kaya.

Kaya is a great dog. She likes to walk. She enjoys the outside. She loves the snow. She really loves her visits to Doggy Day Care.

She also happens to be blind. (If you look closely at the picture above you will notice that she only has one eye.)

She wasn't always blind. When Kaya was four she developed glaucoma in her right eye. She eventually lost sight in that eye. We continued with daily eye drops to contain the swelling and reduce the pain from inflammation. But after a few months it became obvious that the drops were not working. The eye continued to swell.

So we decided that surgery to remove the eye was the best option.

We continued to give her daily eye drops for the other eye. Eventually she lost sight in that eye as well.

For the past two plus years we have given Kaya daily eye drops in hopes of saving her remaining beautiful blue eye.

But the eye drops have lost their potency.

So today Kaya will have surgery to remove her eye.

We decided not to have prosthetic eyes added. It seemed a little silly. While the prosthetic eyes would give her a normal appearance they clearly would have no value. Kaya's life would not be enhanced with prosthetic eyes.

In some ways this is a sad day. Part of me wishes that this was not Kaya's life.

But Kaya reminds me each day that setbacks and roadblocks and difficulties are a part of life. You accept them and continue to move forward.

Every Friday Kaya goes to Doggy Day Care. She bounds into the car, she eagerly enters the facility, her tail wags and her head bobs as she is lead to the back. She plays with the other dogs. She loves her time there.

Sure she bumps into walls. She occasionally finds herself all alone as the other dogs wander off without her knowing it.

But she still loves going.

At home she goes in and out of the house on her own. She wanders our yard by herself - wearing her Invisible Fence collar. She goes up and down the stairs to our deck. She hides her bones in the bushes.

She still tries to sneak up on birds that she hears. She has even caught a possum that wandered into our yard.

In the house, she knows the location of her favorite chair. She can navigate the hallway and jump onto our bed.

When we take her for walks she leads.

Kaya continues to live her dog life - and as far as I can tell she continues to be happy and healthy and involved.

Is her life different than what it was? Undoubtedly.

But life goes on. In a positive and productive way, life goes on.

I am grateful to Kaya for reminding me of that every day.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Why tests alone fail

A sports quote with unknown attribution captures perfectly why standardized tests alone will never truly be able to identify if a child is going to be successful:

They measured my height,
They measured my weight,
But they never measured my heart.
We could slightly alter this sentiment and it would communicate what teachers, parents, and even students know to be true:
They measured my proficiency in math,
They measured my proficiency in reading,
But the never measured my passion for learning.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

What have we learned this year?

Today (June 12) is the last day of school in my district. As students get ready to leave our schools later this morning for summer vacation it is an appropriate time to ask:

What have we learned this year?

I hope we have learned how to be better readers, writers, and thinkers.

I hope we have learned more about math and science.

I hope we have learned to play the trumpet or the sax or the violin or cello better.

I hope that we have learned more about how to sing and dance.

I hope we have learned to build things and fix things and create things.

But, more importantly . . .

I hope we have learned how to listen better.

I hope we have learned to build friendships.

I hope we have learned that while people are different that is OK.

I hope that we have learned that our similarities are much more important than our differences.

I hope that we have learned to be passionate about things that matter.

I hope that we have learned that words and actions can hurt others.

I hope that we have learned that lifting people up is so much better than pushing people down.

I hope that we have learned that problems can be solved, even really big and difficult problems.

I hope that we have learned that even though people disappoint us we should still believe in the goodness of others.

I hope that we have learned to assume the best about people.

I hope that we have learned that we should lead lives full of trust, hope, and love.

I hope that as we have become better students . . .

we have also become better people.

Monday, June 9, 2014

"The mule's in the ditch!"

Next Sunday is Father's Day.

My father died in November 2009. Ever since then Father's Day has been somewhat bittersweet.

When my father died, my sister and I helped my mother go through what he left behind. I brought home some of his tools, some clothes, and, most importantly, his work gloves.

The gloves, beat up and used though they were, have become one of my prized possessions. Every time I work around my house I use these work gloves.

And when I do, I think of him.

My father was a school teacher. In his professional life he did not use work gloves. Yet these work gloves represent the kind of life that my father lived.

My father grew up in a small town in Oklahoma. His parents were sharecroppers. His childhood was spent on a farm. He attended a one room school house. He worked on a farm until he went away to college.

From this beginning my father developed a strong set of values that are represented by these work gloves. He was a doer. While he was not adverse to thinking about the best possible solution, he would often say, "The mule's in the ditch." It was his way of reminding me that it was time to get busy. We could talk about solving the problem, but every minute spent talking left the "mule in the ditch."

My father believed that working hard was important. No matter what profession you were in, a person needed to work hard, to do the job.

So I try to live my life that way. As a way to honor my father. But more importantly, to get the mule out of the ditch.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Seniors Rule!

Today was the last day for seniors at Novi High School.

In the proud tradtion of Novi High School the seniors were "clapped out." Both to honor the seniors for their work and, truth be told, to encourage them to leave the building.

Congratulations Seniors! Enjoy the next few days. Life will intrude on your celebration soon enough.

But today I was told by a junior, who believes that she is a newly minted senior, was the first day for the senior class of 2015!

Welcome 2015 Seniors!

Time, it seems, stops for no one.

Monday, May 12, 2014

So you want to be a teacher . . .

How hard can teaching be?

After all, what is there to know?

As a college graduate you know your subject. All you have to do is teach what you know to your students.

But, what if a student doesn't get it the first time through?

Do you know enough explain it in a different way?

And what happens when the student still doesn't get it? Do you know it well enough to explain it a third or fourth different way?

Teaching is not only about knowing your subject - although that is important. Teaching is also about knowing why your students don't know. It is about understanding their misconceptions, the holes in their thinking.

Knowing your subject well is critical if you want to be a teacher. But knowing how to help someone else know the content is equally important.

But teaching doesn't stop there.

Teaching is also about building relationships, engaging students so that they will be willing to work hard.

How do you build relationships?

Here's an example.

Teachers find ways to connect with students, to demonstrate to students that you care about them, that you want them to succeed. Many times those relationships are built outside of the school day. Teachers attend events - plays, concerts, athletic events. Teachers chaperon field trips, dances, academic and athletic competitions - all without complaint because they understand that it is important. It is part of the job.

Teachers stand in the hall and say hello to students.

Teachers stroll through the lunch room and see what students are doing.

Teachers listen as students talk.

If you want to be a successful teacher you will be willing to invest the time it takes to reach students.

If you want to be a teacher I applaud you. But recognize that teaching is more than you think it is.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

For teachers

"There are two kinds of teachers in the world . . ." reads a passage in Matthew Dicks novel Memoirs of an Imaginary Friend.

"There are teachers who play school and teachers who teach school."

Buda, the imaginary friend of Max, is reflecting on the power of teachers in the lives of students.

In his way of reasoning, some teachers have a profound impact because they are real and honest and truthful. They care for kids. And every kid knows it.

Other teachers like the look of school and the idea of school. But they don't really like students.

Buda, the imaginary friend, understands and appreciates the power of teachers who care for kids, who communicate to the students in their classrooms that they are safe and loved and respected. These teachers challenge and push and encourage students. It is in those classrooms, the classrooms of teachers who teach school, that students learn and grow and mature.

Today is Teacher Appreciation Day. It is a day set aside to thank teachers for what they do for all of us.

I agree with Buda - teachers who really teach school have a dramatic, lasting impact on their students. These teachers fill students with passion, curiousity, compassion, enthusiasm, and wonder.

I hope that you have had "teachers who teach school" in your lifetime.

I have.

And to Miss Harriger, 2nd grade at Inez Elementary School in Albuquerque, NM; Miss Hixenbaugh, 4th grade at Inez Elementary; Mrs. Chapman, 5th grade at Inez Elementary; Mr. Robbins, 6th grade at Inez Elementary; Miss Getz, 8th grade Language Arts at Monroe Middle School in Albuquerque, NM; Miss Ely, 10th grade English at Sandia High School in Albuquerque, NM; and Coach Braig, Latin at Sandia HS . .

I say thank you.

Friday, May 2, 2014

I would be grateful if you put in a zoo!

Unless I'm mistaken the world is not ending tomorrow.

But, of course, it could.

As I ponder the fate of the world on this Friday afternoon, I wonder if the world did end tomorrow, would I be satisfied?

Probably not.

I enjoy life. I enjoy the smell of fresh cut grass. I enjoy watching the seasons change. I enjoy baseball. I enjoy so many things.

But most of all I enjoy people.

Oh, don't get me wrong. People can be frustrating, maddening, ornery, cantankerous, rude, spiteful, mean . . . I think you get the idea.

People are not always pleasant.

But I work in schools. Schools are full of people who make you believe that people are good. Mostly schools are full of students. And students send me letters like this:

A first grader sent me this letter this week. It had been a rather long week. At times it seemed like the world was going to end.

But this young first grader reminded me of why I am here.

Life is full of really wonderful things. Most importantly, life is full of people like this young first grader. A person who still sees wonder in the world. A person who is excited about life.

May I always be so full of wonder and so full of life.

Until the world really does end!

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Flower now: Lessons learned from nature

I recently visited Seattle.

On April 5th I was able to walk - in shorts no less (if you live in Michigan as I do you know what a pleasure it was for me to be able to walk in shorts) - and I stumbled up on this:

It had been so long since I had seen a radiant red flowering plant that I stopped to take a picture.

Yesterday - April 23rd, at my home in Michigan, I took this picture in our driveway:

If you look closely you might see a hint that this tree is getting ready to grow some leaves. Eighteen days after I took the picture of the beautiful red flowering plant in Seattle, the magnolia tree in my own yard has barely begun to think about spring.

Most of us understand. Plants flower and grow at different times. Seattle's weather, its latitude and longitude, its proximity to Puget Sound - all of that and more create conditions that encourage growth significantly before plants in Michigan are ready to grow.

While we understand that in plants and are willing to accept that in plants, it is much harder for some to grant the same degree of understanding to people. More to the point, it is hard for some to understand that just as plants grow at different speeds and at different times, so do our students.

As I looked - really looked - at the magnolia tree (I think it's a magnolia tree) I thought about the students in our classrooms.

I visit classrooms every week. Just this week I was in a first grade classroom and I saw a young man who was having trouble focusing in class. He was the same age as everyone else. He looked the same as everyone else. But he was not ready to flower just yet.

The "weather and conditions" in his life have not prepared him to grow at the same rate and the same time as the other students in his class.

Don't interpret what I am saying as suggesting that we should just give up on this student. That is not what I am implying.

The point I am trying to make is that our students, much like the plants in our world, will grow and flower when the conditions are right.

Our responsibililty is to create great conditions for growth for every child in our classroom. Our responsibility is to take every child where they are and move them forward. Our responsibility is to honor the life of every child every day.

But we also need to understand that just because we say "grow," just because we demand growth, the conditions in a child's life may not have prepared that child to grow right at that moment.

If that is the case we need to continue preparing that child to grow when the conditions turn more favorable. We cannot give up on a child. But we also cannot force growth.

I believe that our responsiblity is to help every child grow and mature. I believe that every year a child can make progress.

But I also believe that some children will grow more quickly. The conditions in the lives of our children are different. Some children have an environment that encourages growth. Some children do not.

Our responsibility is to focus on every child. Our responsibility is to care and nurture each child. Our responsibility is to make sure that we don't turn our backs and give up on a child.

Our passion and skill as teachers can create favorable conditions for growth. We can and do help children blossom - at times much before a person would think that a child would be ready to grow.

But we also need to remember that at times our job may be to prepare the soil and get the student ready for growth that we may not see.

It will happen if we tend to the garden. Just like it will happen for our magnolia tree in Michigan. Eventually, it will bloom - just like this!


Thursday, April 17, 2014

Monitoring your every move

UPS has begun monitoring a driver's every move. It is done, the company says, to increase productivity.

UPS monitors when the truck doors open and close, when the seat belt is fasten or unfastened, when the truck is started.

Data, some say, is king!

More data has led to increased productivity. Increased productivity saves money and increases profits.

And, not surprisingly, the company has the reserach to back it up. Deliveries per driver have increased. Pay has gone up as well.

There is a downside. Drivers complain of "big brother."

But, I am sure, drivers' enjoy their larger paychecks.

Can schools adopt and adapt the same process to educating students?

Can schools measure their productivity?

Schools can, and probably have, began to measure how long it takes to learn the alphabet, how to read, know math facts, learn economic principles. Schools can measure how long lunch lines are, if bus stops are too far apart, and how often the lights are left on in a classroom that is empty. The list of targets to measure in schools is endless.

Clearly it is not a question of can schools measure productivity. Perhaps the question is should schools measure productivity?

Some things in schools clearly should be measured. Bus stops wait times, how much electricity is wasted.

But can and should we apply productivity principles to classrooms?

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.


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.


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.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Have we created a system that encourages us to be liars?

In an interesting reflection in the New York Times Dr. Sandeep Jauhar says:

The doctor-patient relationship is ideally an intimate partnership 
where information is exchanged openly and honestly. 
That is seldom the reality, however.  

He identifies the variety of lies and deceptions that are either accepted or tolerated:

  1. Lies that patients tell doctor
  2. Lies doctors tell patients
  3. Lies doctors tell themselves
As I read this article I thought about schools. 

Have we created a system that encourages lying?

We have a variety of relationships in education. Student and teacher - clearly the most important relationship. But we also have the parent and teacher, teacher and teacher, teacher and administrator, administrator and Superintendent, Superintendent and the Board of Education, and the district and the community.

For these relationships to flourish, there must be, as Dr. Jauhar suggests, a "partnership where information is exchanged openly and honestly." 

I have been in every one of these relationships. Creating an honest relationship is difficult. In each relationship there comes a point and a time where deception, while not warranted, is considered and often becomes a tool that is used.

Harsh? Too pointed?


A Superintendent is evaluated by the Board of Education. How honest should the Superintendent be? If student achievement is trending down, does the Superintendent identify it clearly or does the Superintendent paint a picture that deflects and shifts responsibility to others - staff, parents, lack of community support?

A parent asks about her child's performance. How honest should the teacher be? The data suggests that the student needs additional focused assistance. Does the teacher make the case or soft-pedal it?

A principal evaluates a teacher. The teacher needs improvement. How honest should the principal be? The principal knows the teacher has had a difficult year. Is the context important?

A teacher grades a test. The student fails. Does the teacher have a conversation with the student? Does the teacher clearly identify her concern? How honest should the teacher be? Does the teacher begin to consider what the parent will say? Does the teacher begin to consider what the principal will say?

Dr. Jauhar concludes his article with these words:

In the end, we all practice a certain amount of self-deception. 

But when it originates in the doctor-patient dyad, 
patients are usually the worst victims.

The same words could be used for the relationships in education. Self-deception hurts us all. but it hurts the students most. 

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Data - hammer or flashlight?

Is student achievement data a hammer or a flashlight?

Clearly student achievement data provides information. It identifies student performance on a variety of assessments. We get state assessments like the MEAP. We get national assessments like the NWEA. We even have teacher created assessments.

All provide insight into student performance. But how are we supposed to use the information that these assessments provide?

The obvious answer, to me at least, is that I want student achievement data to be a flashlight. I want to use data to help people see, to light the way, to help illuminate things that otherwise would not be seen.

Using data as a flashlight also lessens data as a threat. People - administrators, students, teachers, parents, and community members - come to see that we are trying to use data to move forward. We are not interested in punishing people. We want to use data to help us find answers.

But data, truthfully, is a hammer. It is a hammer because people personalize it. Results are seen as a direct reflection on them. Teachers see it as a reflection on their teaching. Students see it as a reflection on who they are, not as a chance to take a pulse check. Parents see it as a reflection on them as a person and a referendum on their parenting.

Data is also a hammer because states are mandating that we make judgements about people using data. Data becomes one of the measures that we are required to use in evaluations. We rate teachers effective or ineffective based, in part, on data.

Data used in this way becomes a hammer.

But this must change. Student achievement data must be seen as a flashlight. Data gives information. With information we can see a way forward.

Student achievement data allows us to ask questions. Does the achievement of the students reflect their ability? Why or why not? How does the student achievement data give you insight into your own instructional practice? What is working? What doesn't work?

These questions are asked not to point fingers and assign blame. Instead the questions are asked to guide us. The questions light the way. Helping all of us to improve. A flashlight not a hammer.

Those of us in leadership have to make a conscious and deliberate effort to communicate that we believe data is a flashlight. It provides insight. In our conversations, in our writing, in our off-handed commentary we must make sure that our message is consistent - data is a flashlight.