Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Silent Voices

"They're never this quiet!" --a first ring Cleveland teacher commenting on the behavior of the 220 students sitting in an auditorium taking a My Voice survey.

The set up was the same as in Akron a few weeks ago.  More arm wrestling.  More encouragement to think win-win in school with teachers.  Only this time instead of sharing My Voice results with students, we were administering the My Voice survey.  This school had opted for the paper version and the silent seriousness with which students took the survey was impressive. All 1500 of them in 200+ installments. No one had to shush them.  No one had to ask them to be respectful to the guests.  No one had to pull a student out for horsing around.  We simply showed up, told the students we wanted to hear from them, and their desire to be heard, paradoxically, kept them quiet for the fifteen minutes it takes to complete the survey.

I am more and more convinced that this is how we must move forward in improving our schools.  Not in conference rooms with committees of overworked teachers and administrators trying to decide what is best for the students, but with students themselves as our partners.  In these assemblies I keep saying teachers and students want the same thing:  Students don't want to be bored and teachers don't want to be boring, students do not enter high school so they can drop out and no teacher wants students to drop out, students do not want to be ignorant and teachers do not want their students to be ignorant.  Why then have we been stuck for the past ten years with the same amount of students saying they are bored, the same dropout rate, the same amount of ignorance and, by the way, fairly stagnant test scores?

I don't know the answer.  I do know that if we start listening to students more they will help us find them. I know that if we ask the right questions in all seriousness they will answer in all seriousness. I know the way forward is with the students, not simply on our own, even if on their behalf.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Arm Wrestling 101

Last week I arm wrestled 14 of the biggest students in Akron, Ohio. In 14 separate assemblies in 4 high schools in Akron, I had the task of sharing with the students results of their My Voice survey and asking for their assistance interpreting those numbers and helping the school improve.  Borrowing from Stephen Covey, at the start of each assembly I made a lot of noise about growing up in New York City (close: Jersey City), being an arm wrestling champion in high school (I was in theater), of setting up intramural arm wrestling at Boston College (I helped found a performing arts council), and of knowing that I could pin any student 20 times in 30 seconds.  "The only question," talking the best smack my acting background could muster, "was whether any student in the auditorium thought they could pin me 20 times in 30 seconds."  The testosterone that filled half the assembly hall took care of the rest.

So each time I brought up one of the biggest students in the room.  Each time I flexed a bicep and gave him a chance to back out.  Each time I told him there were two candy bars at stake for 20 pins in 30 seconds. And each time we started the timer, I looked the student in the eye and said, "I want you to win" and put up no fight the first three times. Pin. Pin. Pin. Then I stopped and fought and started the object lesson. "Look at the timer ticking down.  There is no way you can pin me 20 times without my help. Let's cooperate.  You pin me 20 (I let him win again...4) and you let me pin you 20.  Let's cooperate.  There is no way this can happen unless we do that."  Some of the kids pinned me 5 or 6 times.  One young man pinned me 18 times (remember 4 were freebies!) but not 20, not without my help.

About half of the young men got it.  They put aside ego and picked up two candy bars.  The other half could not get there and if they couldn't pin me those one or two times more, it was a stalemate and they walked away empty handed. They understood what I was asking them to do, but could not make the switch from a Win-Lose mindset to a Win-Win mindset. After the fun, teaching the lesson about how high school was like a ticking clock and that they and their teachers would likely stay stuck...same drop out rate, same amount of boredom, same amount of respect for one another...if they didn't start working together was easy. When teachers and students start thinking Win-Win with each other, beginning by listening to the voice of students and taking their point of view seriously, amazing things can happen.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Got Homework?

Every few weeks or so an article pops up in the news about homework.  Yesterday, the Boston Globe (which I won't link too because they are starting a pay for use program on their website) had one discussing some new and, as ever, inconclusive evidence.  For math, yes; for english and social studies, no.  Or something like that.  The disappointment was that the study used data from 1988.  "Anyone working in schools think homework has changed much since 1988?" he asked, on a blog, using the internet.

More helpful are articles like the one last week in the New York Times reporting about the usefulness of "spaced repetition." Or learning about the school district in Los Altos that is using Khan Academy to flip its math classrooms: learn the material at home on Khan Academy and come to school to do homework type activities when a teachers assistance would be most helpful.

Most of the articles, the Globe included set up a false dichotomy between kids who hate homework on the one hands and parents and teachers who like homework on the other.  But this is false.  Kids don't hate doing extra academic type work at home.  They hate busy work.  Work that doesn't contribute to their learning.  I know a third grader who spent a great deal of free time for months collecting shark teeth and researching sharks on the internet. I know a fifth grader who, having learned about Pangea in school wrote a movie script about a group of kids who time traveled back to see if the theory was accurate.--not for homework, but for fun.  I know many, many students who read books outside of those assigned in school.

The question is not whether homework works or not.  Student can, do, and want to learn outside of the classroom.  The question is: How do we assign homework that students actually want do do?

Monday, September 12, 2011

Fall Out

I have a five year old friend who has been in school for about a week now. When I asked him how school is going, he reported, "I had a great day today. I learned something which I forget, and had outdoor recess." He captures it, doesn't he? Not just the one day, but the entire experience. When I look back at my entire educational experience, like Tom, I can say honestly, "I had a great educational experience, I learned somethings which I have forgotten, and had outdoor recess"--I played with friends at sports and in co-curricular activities, we ate animated lunches together discussing the latest liaisons, we receded from the academic grind into crisp fall days, and slushy New York winters, and bright spring afternoons.
Undoubtedly there is an accumulation of learning and knowledge which persist despite the memory gaps in the particulars of every math or science or history class. What I think Tom's response calls attention to is the fact that from the student's side of the school experience, as distinct from the adult's side, the real energy, the part that sticks with you, is what happens "outside" explicit learning experiences--in the interactions between teachers and students, over lunch with some students, inside a football or soccer stadium when students see their teachers supporting something they love to do. In a sense, everything not directly curricular is co-curricular and has the potential to engage students in meaningful ways. This is the "fall out" of having the privilege of interacting with young people for six or seven hours every day.  
When you consider your busy week ahead, what time can you give to a recess outside--literally and figuratively?

Friday, September 9, 2011

What's New?

And so begins another school year. In the past three weeks, I have participated in one way or another in opening events in 6 school districts. In one I was an opening day keynoter, in another I had students helping me deliver professional development via a systems game to their teachers, and in the others it was straight out pre-student arrival PD about Aspirations. By all accounts, schools have never been busier. It wouldn't be too big a stretch to say that before a single student sat at a desk, administrators and teachers were already feeling behind. They were excited, eager, and energetic and wondering how they had already been lapped when the official starting pistol had yet to be fired.

This year the new entry seems to be 21st Century Skills. But schools are not adopting that effort as a replacement to improving literacy or numeracy--or just coming online science and/or social studies testing. They are not side-lining common core standards or dropping their new anti-bullying program to work on Innovation and Collaboration. 21st Century Skills, the PD associated with it, the time committed to it in classrooms, the effort to assess whether the skills are being taught or not is not being done in lieu of the dozens of other initiatives schools have adopted over the years. It is just being added--some might say "piled"--on.

The big question is: Is this sustainable? All the programs are good programs. All the skills--from traditional literacy skills to the more avant guarde communication--seem critical to teach if our students are to be successful. But where will already breathless educators find the stamina to keep up this pace? One answer is from the students themselves. Not just as inspiration for doing whatever it takes, but also as partners in the effort. That's a goal I have for this year: Helping the schools I support develop deeper and fuller partnerships between teachers and students.

What's new at your school?

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Creativity Contest

This is a committee I worked on to help promote and assess creativity in schools. It is the one thing we need more of in education and the one thing that gets squeezed out by shrinking budgets and growing standardization. Please check it out and spread the word!

Announcing the EdSteps Student Work Contest!

The EdSteps Student Work Contest has officially launched. To win, submit work from March 14- May 14th 2011 in the areas of Creativity or Problem Solving. For a chance at one of two $1,000 gift cards, all you must do is submit student work in the areas of Creativity or Problem Solving at www.edsteps.org. For each piece of student work that you submit, you will receive one entry for the contest. For example, if you submit 500 pieces of student work, you will receive 500 entries to the contest. There are no limits on the number of entries that one may have. Winners will be contacted on May 15, 2011. If you have any questions, please feel free to email info@edsteps.org.

To find out more information about the contest visit www.edsteps.org.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Is Cheating Becoming Standard?

Interesting article in USA Today Yesterday about teachers and administrators who have been caught cheating on high stakes standardized tests. The crib notes version is that after a particular set of students' tests get flagged for showing an unusually big increase from one year to the next followed by an equally suspicious drop to normal the following year, an investigation is conducted. The uptick frequently turns out to be a teacher who gave students the answers ahead of time. Another way a set of tests can get flagged is by a software program that keeps track of erasures and blows the whistle when there are a lot of erasures that have been changed from incorrect to correct answers. The culprit there can be a teacher or an administrator with a number two pencil post-test.

This is inevitable right? The problem with standardized testing is not with the tests. Nor is it with wanting to hold schools and teachers accountable for making sure their students are able to meet certain standards. The problem is when the stakes that are tied to the tests impact the financial bottom line--whether that's someone's personal bank account or a school's ability to get government money. Doping came into sports when big money came into sports. People who are in the upper echelons of the tax bracket seek loopholes. White collar crime is rarely for chump change. Cheaters do prosper provided they don't get caught.

We need a less fiscally pressured approach to accountability in schools. It's a corruption of the learning process to tie its outcomes to dollar signs. That corruption in turn corrupts people who probably did not get into education to cheat their students out of a realistic assessment of their progress.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Double Dipping "Double Dipping"

A few more thoughts on yesterday's blog about Timmy's teacher taxing parents to tutor her own students in test taking for upcoming standardized tests. Besides collecting "overtime" for work that a teacher should be doing as part of her regular education program, consider:

What happens to those students from low income families who, perhaps struggling the most, are least able to afford the cost of extra help. Why is such an offering acceptable within a public system?

Do you recall the part of the teacher's email that offered to help students learn to "reduce anxiety" when taking a test? Where does that anxiety come from? Might the teacher herself be a source of it? I am going to overstate it to make a point, but: "Ok, boys and girls, this test that is coming up is really important. Whether or not our school is successful or not depends a lot on how well you do on this test. We are all going to have to work very hard because if we don't our principal will get in trouble. Oh and be sure to remind your parents that if they want you to come to my extra help session on how to reduce stress when you take a test, that the money is due tomorrow."

Finally, how authentic is an assessment that can be meaningfully affected by test taking tips? Do these tests measure what students have actually learned or do they measure how well students take tests? I think we all know the answer is the latter, which makes charging extra for improving the skills that actually get measured even more questionable.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Monday, February 14, 2011

What Are We Learning in Social Studies This Week?

This week in many schools most students will sit in two or three or maybe even five social studies classes. What will they be studying? U.S. History? Ancient civilizations? The Western World?

Last week the entire world witnessed history unfold in real time as the thirty-year "emergency" rule of Hosni Mubarak came to an end in Egypt. Those seeking reform were unswayed by promises of accommodations and concessions. They wanted democracy starting now and, although the Egyptian people have a long way to go, they are on a path toward greater freedom and liberty.

There are social studies lessons here for every grade level--from the simple lesson of people wanting to have a say in their government, to the critical role of the military in revolutions, to the complexities of international relationships and how they effect internal affairs. That the Egyptian demonstrators used FaceBook to organize is a lesson in how technology is playing a role in important social movements.

The question is whether Egypt will be studied this week for any other reason than a coincidence of current events with a chapter on the Pyramids? What a crime it would be if students in the United States were robbed of the opportunity to learn from living history because it is not in the book or because it won't be on the test. The tyranny of an increasingly standardized curriculum, in part, is causing a lack of relevance in our school systems. When teachers are not free to seize a "teachable moment" of this magnitude and relevance, the system proves as stubborn as Mr. Mubarak did last week. Our students are already using social networks to rebel. What will you teach this week?

Friday, February 11, 2011

Video Friday: Imagination

A little long (4 minutes) but worth every minute on the Cute scale and every second on the Creativity scale. How do schools encourage our natural tendency to be creative and innovative?

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Turnaround School

You may recall that during his State of the Union address, President Obama lauded the efforts of Bruce Randolph School in Denver, Colorado. He said, "Three years ago, it was rated one of the worst schools in Colorado; located on turf between two rival gangs. But last May, 97% of the seniors received their diploma. Most will be the first in their family to go to college.” He was holding this school up as an example of how "reform isn’t just a top-down mandate, but the work of local teachers and principals; school boards and communities."

Not part of the President's remarks was that Bruce Randolph dramatically improved by gaining "innovation" status under a Colorado law that allowed it autonomy from district and union rules. All forty teachers were asked to reapply. Only six made the cut and were re-hired. This approach is similar to one of four options--the Turnaround model--touted by the federal government for helping a failing school improve. You get money mandated from the top for choosing such an approach. Three years after making such a move, Bruce Randolph was prime time from the House chamber.

Why is this blog-worthy on Research Thursday? First, you didn't get all the facts if you left the SOTU simply being impressed by a school that somehow went from worst to first from the grass roots up. There is value in digging deeper. Second, many researchers are telling us that good teaching makes an enormous difference. Malcom Gladwell goes so far as to say that if you were forced to put your child in an excellent school with a bad teacher or a bad school with an excellent teacher, choose the latter. We call them Heroes. Lastly, the Department of Education will soon release an interim report on schools that selected the Turnaround option. Following that they will conduct case studies in 60 schools. Here's the interesting part, according the the article: "Researchers will not collect testing data, but will look at leading indicators such as changes in school climate and principal leadership strategies that could signal a successful turnaround." I find the idea that a school's success can be measured in ways other than achievement data a turnaround worth celebrating.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Double Dipping

If you're wondering, I have been avoiding comment on the whole debate emanating from Wisconsin and not limited to that state's borders. In part because the media is rife with both sides. This video defending teachers is making the rounds: The Truth About Teachers. And so are stories like the one in last week's New York Post.

I have met a lot of teachers and been in a lot of schools all across the country. I believe that the vast majority of teachers are like those in the video and that a handful (less than 5%?) are like those in the Post article. I think from the lay point of view (and that includes the student point of view), what is confusing is why the effective teachers put up with and even defend the ineffective teachers.

A friend of mine sent me this email from his son's teacher:

Our state standardized testing week is fast approaching.

Beginning the first week of March, I will be offering a "Test Prep" session after school on Thursdays from 3:00-4:00. This will last 5 weeks and end just before testing week. We will work on test-taking tricks, reducing anxiety, and time management strategies.

I will only be able to take 6 students. The cost is $50. This can be paid each week or all at once.
Please email your confirmation at your earliest convenience if you are interested in this for your son or daughter. Thank you!

My friend commented in the email: "Excuse me??? Why isn't Timmy's teacher covering this stuff as part of her regular teaching responsibilities? Wouldn't this be like me charging my boss overtime for something I should have gotten done during regular working hours? If I don't give in to the extortion, does my kid do less well on the test? It's one thing for a teacher to tutor on the side....other kids! from other grades!! or other schools!!! Isn't there a conflict of interests here that someone should be paying attention to??" Besides his venting to me, he said he was going to write a letter to the school board.

This would not be an issue if the administrator of Timmy's school or the other educators there made the thought of sending out such an email completely unthinkable.

When the Chain Pops Off

I have thought for a long time that politics and education were uneasy allies at best and unhealthy partners at worst. One way to put this is that education is on a long cycle--it takes years and years to build a foundation, see growth, weather backslides, deal with the fits and starts that are a natural part of learning--whereas, politics is on a short cycle--politicians need to get elected every two years or four or, at most, six. And because the short cycle provides the motive power (money) for the long cycle, the effect can be a lot like riding a bike in the wrong gear where the chain keeps popping and slipping.

Nowhere is this gearing issue more evidently problematic than in the relationship between a superintendent and a school board. In Wayne Township, Indiana it has surfaced that a retiring superintendent had, four years ago, pedaled quite the sunset ride for himself to his school board. According to the article, Dr. Terry Thompson was an effective, well respected administrator who just last year was named Indiana Superintendent of the Year by his peers. Now he is collecting his $225k a year base pay, a $200K "emeritus" payout for 150 days of transition work, and a $15K "retirement planning" stipend. Total payout: $1M+.

Leaving aside the ethical, but personal, issue of a school superintendent weaving a golden parachute for himself at a time when his district was making cutbacks and freezing administrators pay, what I want to highlight is the political issue of an inept school board now back pedaling on a contract they previously approved. One of the structural problems with our educational system is that school boards composed of mostly well-meaning, but lay members of the community are incapable of effectively governing our schools. Five of the current seven Wayne Township County School Board members were on the board in 2007 when Dr. Thompson's contract was okay-ed. What else are school boards not reading, or reading and not understanding, and approving?

Collaboration Abomination

Let's mix together three Conditions today--Belonging, Sense of Accomplishment, and Fun & Excitement. One of the 21st Century Skills that schools are asked to work on is Collaboration. This is very Aspirations-friendly as working together towards a common goal creates Belonging and many students say it injects Fun & Excitement into learning. When done correctly collaboration can create a wonderful group Sense of Accomplishment.

Asking students to collaborate is not new. I have decades' old memories of group projects--working with another student or two to produce some history presentation or science project. One of the "good" students, I recall being frustrated that we were graded in a clump and not everyone was doing their share. Most of this team work was in elementary school; I recall going it alone for much of my early late 70's high school experience.

But I am not talking about collaboration, I am talking about Collaboration. Working together as a skill, not just as a way of varying the pedagogy. How do you effectively communicate your ideas? How do you listen attentively? How do you respect and accept others' ideas even when you do not fully agree? How do you create consensus? How do you rebuild trust when someone has broken trust? Some of this can be learned in the school of hard knocks, but in the 21st Century something more intentional is expected. Collaboration can and should be deliberately taught. And there are plenty of resources for doing just that.

A friend of mine mentioned that his somewhat shy fifth grade daughter was asked to work on an assignment with a boy in her class. My friend had no problem with this as he thinks she could use some work on the social skills a partnered project would teach her. The problem was that no such skills were actually taught. The teacher, if she made a conscious decision at all, went for "figure it out yourselves." The young boy his daughter was assigned had no interest in working with her or seemingly on the project itself. She wound up doing all the work with her Dad's help, disliking group work more, and being told, by her father (regrettably, he says), "To just get through it." Nor was there any assessment of the collaboration itself, only the end product.

My friend asked, "You're an educator, right? Are you getting this? Collaboration is a skill they are supposed to be teaching in schools. We got a handout about it. But no Collaboration skills were taught. And Collaboration was not graded. What was the point?" My friend was as frustrated as I was in 1975. So in the end, no Belonging, no Sense of Accomplishment, and instead of Fun & Excitement, Anxiety & Frustration. Is your school teaching Collaboration?

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Competing Contrast

Last night I went to see "Race to Nowhere".  I highly recommend it. Yes, it's another documentary about our troubled school systems, but this one was made by a mother, not an Academy Award winning director. The focus is on the stress engendered by a system that is more about competing and test-taking than it is about understanding and learning. The consequences on kids range from depression to drop-out to suicide. One line from the movie that sums it up comes from a student who, after she passed her AP French test, said, "Good. Now I never have to speak French again." Another sentiment that captures the film's major gripe was that high school has become more about the college application than college.

I asked my high school senior to come along so I could get her take on the film.  She clapped long and hard at the end and was in major agreement with the film. She thought the movie could have spent more time on college guidance counselors as the pressure point for all this. That is somewhat autobiographical for her--she chose not to take Art instead of AP History against her counselor's advice that she needed the AP class to get into a top tier school. My daughter wants to be a pastry chef and has already been accepted to her school of choice.

On the way home we turned on the radio to hear the precise part of the State of the Union address when the President was discussing education. He was touting his administration's Race to the Top initiative, which the movie's title subtly mocks. He talked about being in competition with the rest of the world. He talked about the importance of high performance (which in the movie doesn't necessarily correlate with high learning...the students call it "doing school"). My daughter chuckled.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Friday Video: Confidence and Heroes

Confidence to Take Action - performer and attendees!

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Snow Day: Anticipating Excitement

We are having a snow day here in the the Northeast and students from New Jersey to Maine are rejoicing as if Christmas had come again. Maybe teachers, too. Having been both a student and a teacher, I understand the sense of excitement that winter weather can bring. As someone who thinks a lot about schools and education, however, I can't help but wish there comes a time when a snow day brings disappointment, instead of delight. I know... keep dreaming. :)

Yesterday I was thinking about how the notification system has changed. When we were kids much of the excitement was listening to the radio anchor read through seemingly endless lists of schools and anticipating your own. When I was teaching, and later when I had children, we covered all the bases with the radio on and the scroll at the bottom of the TV. There was always the problem of tuning in to just past the letter in the alphabet of your school and having to channel surf or wait it out. Has anyone besides me chased the alphabet around their three local stations? It was a major breakthrough when they figured out how to keep the scroll going through commercials.

With my youngest a senior in high school, the announcement yesterday that school was closed today came via email, text message, and automated phone call. There was no going to sleep in anxious anticipation and waking up early so she could go back to sleep. There was only going to sleep happy to have an extra day to edit an end-of-term video project and study for next week's exams. Though it's 10 am as I write this and she is still asleep.

The system for notifying us that school has closed has changed a lot in the last twenty years. The excitement that school has closed has not.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

AP: From Hard Drive to CPU

The New York Times this week had an interesting article on upcoming changes to the AP exam. The changes are what I would call "Aspirations friendly." A rhetorical question I sometimes pose to teachers is whether the goal of education is to have students know science or to think scientifically, to know history or to think historically, to know literature or have a literary mindset. I believe the latter in each pair contribute more to a students Self Worth, Active Engagement, and Sense of Purpose--the 3 Guiding Principles of Aspirations work.

While it is true that to learn to think scientifically you have to chew on science, the days of memorizing facts and formulae are winding down. It used to be that the only portable memory device available was the one you carried inside your skull, but now just about everyone has a portable memory device with potential access to enormous amounts of information in their pocket. As a result, understanding information and being able to apply it--and not simply being able to access it from memory--is the mark of an educated person.

According to the the Times article, the goal of the new AP Biology curriculum framework is "to clear students’ minds to focus on bigger concepts and stimulate more analytic thinking. In biology, a host of more creative, hands-on experiments are intended to help students think more like scientists." Given the revised history exam, rather than memorizing specific dates "teachers will have more leeway to focus on different events in teaching students how to craft historical arguments." What I hear in all that is an encouraging shift to have students act less like hard drives and more like CPUs.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Tearing Down Walls

I think one of the more exciting things happening in schools today is teachers regularly meeting to learn from one another, share best practices, and discuss pedagogy. Some of my favorite meetings to observe are the Teaming meetings that now happen in many middle schools. Focused on students, these meetings inevitably open the door better outcomes for students and teachers alike.

I have long thought that the architecture of the traditional school lies. It tries to convince us that teaching is something that happens between one adult and a roomful of students. One big desk, twenty-five smaller desks. While much of the time-on-task of teaching is still like that, long gone (hopefully) are the days when teachers can operate effectively as if they were in a one room school house. Nor is gathering only in the silos of the traditional departments a solution to the challenge of being colleagues to one another in this profession.

Once I visited a school so close to Heathrow Airport in London that I thought the planes might land on the roof. Every Tuesday the staff gathers at the end of the school day for one of a variety of meetings.  Some Tuesdays they meet by department to discuss curriculum.  Other Tuesdays the focus is on student management issues and the staff meets in a hodgepodge of specialties and experience levels. Another Tuesday might be a free meet, during which you schedule time with a colleague with whom you are working on a special project; the only thing off limits on that day is not meeting with anyone.

Many things are shifting in education and the breakdown of the walls between teachers is one of them.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Friday Video: 2010 Digital Book Report Awards

Alan is a little intense, but the idea of opening up digital forms of assessment and reporting is a good one.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Resolution Suggestion

When I analyze a My Voice Staff Survey, there are two statements I start with:
  • If I have a problem, I have a colleague with whom I can talk
  • Staff respect each other.
My experience has been that the bigger the gap between those two numbers, the greater the likelihood that that the problem someone is talking to a colleague about is another colleague who they don't respect. That is an underlying issue in the work schools do that must be addressed before most things can move forward. In the National survey of over 20,000 school staff members those numbers are 93% and 72% respectively. Not horrible.

I was once in a school where the first number was in the high 90's and the second, among classroom teachers, was 0%. It actually forced me to run a system check on the survey processes. Everything checked out. I had been asked to go to that school to talk about their student data. I knew there was no assistance I was going to provide to help their students that was not by way of dealing with the fact that most of their "collegial" conversations took place in the parking lot, rather than in the staff room.

Suggestion: Next time you have an issue with someone that erodes your respect for them, find a way to talk with them about it instead of someone else.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

New Year's Aspirations

Why do so many well intentioned resolutions end up ending by the end of January? I deal with a similar question in my work in schools. Why do so many students with such seemingly high aspirations--to be a professional athlete, to star in movies, to develop the next viral video game--end up settling for careers and a life far short of their goals?

QISA's mission is to promote and support students' aspirations throughout the world. Here is what we have learned in that pursuit: Real aspirations are different than dreams and hopes for the future. They are more than mere goals. Having a genuine aspiration is having the ability to dream and set goals for the future while being inspired in the present to reach those dreams.  Dreaming is one thing, doing is another. Resolving is one thing, being resolute is another. It's acting in the present on behalf of my future that is the chief characteristic of an aspiration and a real resolution.

Inspiration in the present for either my resolutions or aspirations comes from self-worth, active engagement, and a sense of purpose. Consider a new resolution (or an old one you are renewing this year) and ask yourself:
  • Do I believe I can achieve this?
  • Am I willing to engage actively in the means necessary to attain this end?
  • Do I know the purpose of what I am resolving to do?
If the answers are yes, yes, and yes, then hip hip hooray!

Driving Bullying Out

Yesterday the Boston Globe reported that 99% of Massachusetts districts and schools met the December 30th deadline for filing anti-bullying plans. Of course, the key will be taking those plans out of the garage and out where the rubber hits the road. The only results that matter will be a downshift in actual bullying incidents.

I happened to be with a team of administrators in an urban school district yesterday as they were discussing their successful filing and next steps. While full implementation will not be until the start of the 11-12 school year, they already had plans in this school year for roll out, education, and training for all stake-holders: teachers, parents, students, everyone. Among other elements, their plan includes counseling intervention for the bully as well as the target, rather than just punishment for the bully and "there-there" for the target.

My bias about anti-bullying efforts has always been that it focuses on a symptom. Underneath the hood of bullying is the fact that only 30% of students in grades 6-12 have reported that students respect one another. That breakdown of respect undoubtedly drives all kinds of disrespectful behavior, the worst forms being the ones all but six schools in Massachusetts have committed to addressing because of a new law. Perhaps because the six schools have been publicly named, one administrator yesterday quipped, "the state has plans to stuff those six schools into a locker until they comply."

The Globe article states "Among the most effective anti-bullying programs, research has shown, are those that change school culture — often by involving entire school communities, including teachers, bullies, cafeteria workers, librarians, school bus drivers, and children who witness bullying, and imbuing them with a sense that bullying is not acceptable behavior." I agree with the "change the culture" approach, but if it ends in only "thou shalt not"s and never shifts towards a positive, caring, respectful culture, I'm not sure how far we will get.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Monday Musing: Re-entry

When I was teaching, I used to always ask my colleagues of these days after the holidays: How was re-entry? There can be a lot of friction and static after a week plus off. Our students and we still groggy from over eating and under waking.

I would also take my students through a groan inducing stand-up routine. "Ok. It's been over a week since we were together, so let's review a bit." I would pick up a piece of chalk. "This is chalk. This is a blackboard. I am a teacher. You are students." Picking up a pen and notebook and in turn holding each one up. "Pen. Notebook. Everybody good?" Groan.

So...how was re-entry?