Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Why do we do this to students?

Recently, via twitter @stevenstrogatz, I stumbled across this tweet.

Intrigued, I went to the link and found a math dissertation. I typically don't read math dissertations - for obvious reasons. But I started reading the prologue. The first paragraph starts thusly:

Respected research math is dominated by men of a certain attitude. Even allowing for individual variation, there is still a tendency towards an oppressive atmosphere . . .

The second paragraph starts with this sentence:

I’m unwilling to pretend that all manner of ways of thinking are equally encouraged, or that there aren’t very real issues of lack of diversity.

Clearly this is a bright student. She is, after all, submitting her dissertation at Princeton University in the Department of Mathematics. Yet, in her prologue to her dissertation she voices emotions that those of us in education should find unacceptable. 

Schools, places where we send our children and where we welcome the children of our friends and neighbors, should not be "oppressive" or places where thinking differently is not encouraged.

As I read the prologue I began to wonder what the students in my school district would say about the classrooms in my district. Are my students welcomed? Are my students encouraged to think differently? Do we embrace diversity in people, in thought, in action?

Today I was in an elementary building and I visited five first grade classrooms. In each classroom a math lesson was in progress. In each classroom I saw teachers who encouraged students to explain their thinking, to discuss various approaches to solving problems, and to listen and learn from each other. 

I saw classrooms that made a positive difference.

Those of us who work in schools, who lead schools, who want they best for our children and every child, should take responsibility and ensure that we build the schools that we know our children need.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Recognizing excellence

Today was a big day at Novi Woods Elementary School. Today Novi Woods publicly celebrated their National Blue Ribbon Award. There are over 98,800 public schools in the United States. This year just over 300 were recognized as National Blue Ribbon Schools.

The National Blue Ribbon process is rigorous. The Michigan Department of Education nominated deserving schools. The schools then had to complete a lengthy application, highlighting a variety of criteria including information on class size and demographics and staff development and school improvement plans.

After months of keeping things quiet, today was the day to celebrate. Choirs sang. Classrooms were highlighted. Novi's Mayor brought his congratulatory message. Retired staff returned to join in the festivities. It was a fun morning!

But the best part of the day, for me, happened in Mr. Kenrick's second grade class during read-to-self time. There were people all over the building. People were coming and going, in and out of every classroom. Yet teachers - like Mr. Kenrick - continued to steal any moment they could to teach.

What makes a school a Blue Ribbon School?

It's the people. People make the school. The teachers, the cooks, the secretaries, the parapros, the principal, the students, the parents.

A National Blue Ribbon School is made up of people who are committed to ensuring that students learn and that students know they are cared for.

And that happens every day! It happens at Novi Woods. But it also happens in every other Novi school.

This picture symbolizes for me what goes on in Novi Woods and across our district every day. Students learn. Teachers teach. Students connect in powerful ways to caring and committed adults.

Novi Woods staff and students would agree - it is nice to be recognized. But what is even better is that students in Novi will be taught and cared for tomorrow and the next day and the day after that in equally powerful ways.

It happens at Novi Woods. But it also happens in every other Novi school as well. I have seen it. I have experienced it. It happens because we have great people in every building in our district. 

That's true excellence! That's being a Blue Ribbon School!