Monthly Archives: December 2009

Are Teachers Leaders?

Is this leadership?

Is this leadership?

The other day I read an post by Russ Goerend (@RussGoerend), which raised a question by making this statement: Teachers aren’t leaders [Self-fulfilling Prophecies]). Russ wrote this post in response to a conversation he had with Scott Mcleod, where Dr. Mcleod stated that teachers are not “leaders and policymakers who have influence/power.” This statement was in reference to an event in Iowa where Will Richardson was meeting with a handpicked group of ‘educational leaders’ (which appears to include two graduate assistants, not sure how much power/influence graduate assistants have, but that is neither here nor there). I commented on the post and tweeted about it, provoking an interesting conversation with members of my PLN.

Mr. Goerend had a bone to pick with Dr. Mcleod and I am glad that he did. Teachers, particularly young or new teachers feel powerless enough when they voluntarily become a cog in the machine that is education, then to have someone as well respected as Scott Mcleod omit them from a meeting of educational minds because they have no influence or power does nothing to help moral. Dr. Mcleod commented on Russ’ post and even invited him to the event after there was a cancellation. But to be clear, although he states that he sees teachers as leaders in this comment he hosted an event touted as an educational leadership conference and deliberately left teachers out.

Or is this?

Or is this?

My beef is only with part of Dr. Mcleod’s statement, and that is the part that asserts that teachers are not leaders. The truth hurts sometimes and the bottom line is that teachers are not policy makers, and probably never will be in my lifetime. No matter how visionary I feel when talking with like-minded teachers on Twitter, YouTube is still blocked at my school and will be until my Superintendent decides to unblock it. No matter how useful it would be to my students, I cannot unilaterally purchase a laptop lab for my classroom. Furthermore, no matter how much time I think we are wasting preparing students for tests, to the detriment of other essential skills it is my professional responsibility to teach the curriculum given to me by the state education department;┬áthe policy-makers.

It is the differentiation of those two phrases that must happen for teachers to maintain their sanity, and hold on to the faith that they truly are making a difference. Teachers are not policy makers, but they certainly are leaders. Conversely, many policy makers I know are poor leaders yet they are given the power to affect the futures of a great number of young people.

Here is my advice to teachers to assert your leadership:

  1. Be a role model. – Lead students and colleagues by example, practice what you preach (don’t be afraid to preach), and always be true to you word.
  2. Build real relationships. – Build real relationships with every other member of the system you work in including; students, parents and administrators. If others can trust you, they will listen to your advice. You might not make a policy decision but over time you can have great influence over them.
  3. Acknowledge & congratulate success. – again with all members of the system.
  4. Be persistent & pervasive. – insert squeaky wheel adage here, don’t give up!
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A Letter From a Student About Filtering

On Monday I got into an impassioned argument about the state of technology adoption at our school and the heavy handed internet filtering. A member of the student council happened to be their to overhear this conversation. When I got home from school I had the following email in my inbox. I asked the student if I could share his email with my PLN because of the conversation we had this week during #edchat. I have removed names from the message, other than that it is unedited. What do you think?

I’ve been thinking more and more about the blocking thing.

You and Miss [teacher name] were talking about how maybe it would be helpful to have student perspectives when you went to present. I would be more than willing to help you out with any of this.

I mean, I’m in a class called Entrepreneurship. I have a business and I want to advertise to engaged women about my DJ services. On Facebook, I can create an ad that will only show up on the pages of women in the Syracuse/Oneida/Utica/Rome areas, who are engaged. Now normally, if you ran an ad in a newspaper for that, the ad may only apply to every 1 out of 100 people that read it.

I think the biggest concerns would be, 1. Students would waste study hall time on social networking sites or game sites, and 2. Students would have access to inappropriate content.

Well for 1, isn’t school all about preparing students for the real world? When I go out and get a job where I’m on the computer for hours during the day, there isn’t going to be a blocking system. If I want to waste 20 minutes, I will have the ability to go to a game site and play the helicopter game. Or if I want, I’ll have the ability to check my Facebook. So instead of just trying to block it all, which is impossible, we should just teach students now to be productive with their time. If a student seriously has all their work done with 10 minutes left in a study hall and they want to check their Facebook, who cares?!

2. I know we have the ability to monitor what students are doing on the computer through another computer. Mirroring, whatever you call it. Is that difficult to do? Does it take a lot of time to go to each different computer to check them?

Imagine this, what if a teacher could open up a program that would show all the computer screens that are currently logged on in the school. It showed one at a time, and the teacher could press an arrow button to go to the next screen.

How many students do you think are on the internet at once during school? Maybe 30 or 40? How long would it take to go through those screens to check that they weren’t looking at porn or anything inappropriate? Probably less than 5 minutes.

Teachers have to monitor the halls now. And that’s a 40 minute commitment. Who says a teacher can’t go through for 4 minutes to check that no one’s looking at porn?

It would probably be simpler to have someone check it through mirroring than to actually make sure every teacher is watching every kid on every computer in the building.

And if they did unblock everything, they could tell kids that. What you’re doing on the computer IS being monitored. If a kid wants to go on their facebook, they just better make sure what they’re doing on their facebook is appropriate.

Now another question, would it be possible to institute the website blocker for certain users? For instance, if a student got in trouble for looking at inappropriate content, would it be possible to put the website blocker just on their account?

Just some ideas I had while I was thinking about it on the way home. I’m not going to be in school much tomorrow because of the field trip, and I figured I would forget them before Thursday so I decided to e-mail you. Sorry if it was a long read.

It was interesting though, because it’s something that I had been thinking a lot about the last few days, and I had actually thought about bringing in up in the Student Council meeting today (because we meet with Mr. [Principal] from time to time to express student concerns) but I figured it would be kind of pointless.

If you ever want a students perspective or need any help with it, I would be more than willing.


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Don’t Forget About Modeling: It’s Money!

I knew I would lure you in with that title, but I am not talking about fashion week here. I am talking about a tried and true teaching technique that I sometimes forget – modeling. I had an experience this week that reminded me of its importance.

We have been studying and writing various forms of poetry in my creative writing class. Normally this would elicit collective groaning from students, but this is an elective and students are generally motivated to write. But this group was having a hard time becoming inspired and expressing themselves with their writing. Remembering how I adored my creative writing class as an undergrad I dug out my old marble notebook and brought it into the class. I put the class in a circle and began to read from the ancient tome, each angst filled verse was like a snapshot of my past. The students giggled as I told them the story behind each one (if I could remember it), but some of the poems were pretty good. What was more important though was that the students saw me as a writer and a learner in that moment, they saw the evolution of my writing over time, and they saw that I practiced what I was preaching. Show your students a little bit of yourself, you will be surprised how far it will get you.

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Dear Mr. Patterson: Our Students Are Not a Special Interest Group

Governor Patterson has unilaterally decided to withhold funding for New York’s public schools, despite the legislature’s passage of a deficit reduction plan. This results in an effective mid-year cut to school districts that are already hemorrhaging from last year’s trimming. I understand that New York is in the middle of a very large financial crisis, and that schools have not always been paradigms of fiscal responsibility, but we get the point. My school is being responsible as I am sure many other schools in the state are, cutting down on supplies, cutting staff, cutting extra curricular activities, shortening sports seasons, canceling conferences and virtually every form of professional development that is not free.

The cuts hurt. But what hurts more is when the governor lists schools as a powerful special interest looking to derail any fiscal reform efforts, as if schools are in the middle of some ponzi scheme to waste the states money. NEW YORK’S KIDS ARE NOT SPECIAL INTERESTS, but they should be of special interest to the state. It is not the students’ fault that a dysfunctional state government squabbled for years while the money ran out but they are the ones who have to play less games, or hope that the school musical might be back next year if the district can scrounge up some money. Continuing to cannibalize the public school system is short sighted and the day will arrive down the road when the state will reap what it has sewn.

I grew up in this state and have lived here my whole life, but I am encouraging my students to move away from here as I am certain other educators across the state are doing. That causes me great sadness, as does everything in New York politics these days.

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