Tag Archives: education

Where’s the Conservative Clamor Over Socialized Education?

Why is it that the conservative movement is allowed to pick and choose when big government is bad? Think for a moment. Government run health care is the devil come to earth, government is getting bigger and more expensive and that is what is ruining America. Yet look at what is happening in our educational system. 45 states have adopted the Common Core standards, effectively neutering local control of curriculum. Wasn’t it Thomas Jefferson himself who advocated local control for education (I’m certainly no constitutional scholar)? Certainly the government is not funding the Common Core directly, rather big business is and therein lies the answer to my own question. Apparently conservatives have no trouble removing local control from districts as long as corporations are making big profits, and there has never been a bigger cash cow (looking at you Pearson and your billion dollar profit) in education than the common core.

As for liberals…yeah I’ve got my eye on you too. Where’s the gripe about individual choice or corporate control on this one?

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Weighing the Sheep

So this week we weighed the sheep. It took three days to weigh them all, I guess we had to weigh different parts of them each day. They were good sheep and I was proud to weigh them, they calmly submitted to the scales. I had been preparing them for the scales for weeks, giving them tricks to make them appear fatter. I taught them to try to look past the scales that would make them look skinny. Now the market will judge me to see if they are fat enough. I hope the weight is good.

Of course I really only get to influence them when they are in the barn, as much as I want to I can’t affect what happens to them out in the pasture. I have a hunch that some of them are eating grass while they are in the pasture and others are only eating what I feed them in the barn. Some of my sheep didn’t come to the barn at all on weighing day, didn’t they know how important it was? I wonder if they were eaten by wolves out there in the pasture. Maybe the wolves are in the barn.

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The Power of People: An RSCON Reflection

Something I often read as a hindrance to culture change in public schools is the isolation of the public school teacher. The idea that schools are filled with disconnected, independent contractors, working alone is a pervasive one. Some of this is self-imposed isolation, or “flying under the radar” in the vernacular. Teachers might wish to be left alone for any number of reasons, perhaps their practice is flawed and they don’t want to admit it, or perhaps they are flouting a school policy that they disagree with, or perhaps they are just so inundated with the work of trying as hard as they can to educate young people that they can’t spare a minute.

Some of the isolation of the public school teacher is institutional, it is created and fostered by the system. Think about the places where you work, narrow corridors of unconnected rooms where teachers are lucky to see each other for two minutes between periods. Converted classrooms that serve as lounges for faculty, where fliers for upcoming board meetings are hastily attached to walls with yellow tape. Faculties that have been spread so thin by diminishing budgets that they see twice as many students as they did last year. I find it more than a little ironic that a system that often treats all students as if they were the same has no such checks on the teachers.

Whatever the reason for this isolation, how ever long it has been here, it is bad for us and it is bad for our kids. Teachers are learners, and learners crave interaction of an intellectual nature. Think about how energized you might feel if you happen to have a two minute conversation about a new teaching technique while you desperately wait in line to fill your coffee cup between periods. We need to sustain that feeling, somehow, and I believe we can.

I used to believe that the system was too large, to corrupt, to entrenched to ever change. But I don’t believe that anymore. Systems after all are built and sustained by people and I have seen the power of people. People like Shelly Terrell, whose infinite energy has lead to dozens of projects that touch the lives of teachers and students all around the globe. People like Kelly Tenkely, who asked herself, why couldn’t I start a school, and did. People like Clive Elsmore who believed in the cause of education so fiercely he gave up hundreds of hours, with only a thank you for reward. All of the organizers on the Reform Symposium team including Lisa Dabbs, Melissa Tran, Ian Chia, Cecilia LemosJerry Blumengarten and Mark Barnes are doing amazing things all over the world and making a difference.

The Reform Symposium was just an idea until it was empowered by people.

Then it became something else. It became total strangers with common goals working together to learn from each other. Although the Reform Symposium was born of social media it has never been about that, it has been and will continue to be about people. So don’t lose hope. Ideas are powerful.

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2010 Edublog Awards Nominations

This is the first time I have participated in the nomination process for the Edublog Awards. As trite as it may sound this was quite an arduous task, taking me nearly two weeks to complete. There are so many great blogs out there, these are my favorites.

Best individual blog: Spencer’s Scratchpad

  • I’m reasonably sure there is no blogger out there that I admire and respect more than John Spencer. Like a pragmatic philosopher, John eloquently and truthfully reflects on teaching and living. His writing simultaneously inspires me and makes me fume with envy, that’s how I know its great.

Best individual tweeter: Joe Bower

  • Joe Bower’s antagonistic and rabble rousing tweets about abolishing the grading systems in schools have inspired me to question, if not actively undermine the status quo. Joe’s tweets are like 140 word punches in the arm.

Best group blog: Connected Principals
Best new blog: Connected Principals

  • Although new on the seen the Connected Principals blog deserves to be recognized for giving a united voice to innovative administrators.

Best class blog: Mr. C’s Class Blog

  • Not only has William Chamberlain created the amazing #comments4kids, which has had a direct impact on my own students, but he also maintains an amazing blog for his class. With this blog William’s students are reflective and engaged. I wish my own children could have William as a teacher.

Best resource sharing blog: iLearn Technology

  • Kelly Tenkely and her blog really need no introduction, but no one works harder or with a happier spirit to share tools and best practices with educators.

Most influential blog post: The 30 Goals Challenge

  • This is more than one single blog post, but it is the most influential I have seen. The 30 Goals Challenge has lead to action and has made a tangible contribution to culture change in schools.

Most influential tweet / series of tweets / tweet based discussion: #edchat

  • Edchat really needs no introduction. It is the reason I came to Twitter and the reason I stayed.

Best teacher blog: Teacher Reboot Camp

  • The magnitude of Shelly Terrell’s contributions to education can be overwhelming, but don’t overlook her excellent blog. Her blog is practical and useful and contains something for everyone. From interviews to challenges this blog has it all.

Best school administrator blog: The Principal of Change

  • The first time I got the chance to interact with George Couros was during and after the Reform Symposium this summer. His sense of humor makes him easy to relate to but it is his ideas about education and school culture that will stick.

Best elearning / corporate education blog: Edutopia blogs

  • The Edutopia blogs are a great resource and a lot of really great writers post there. Read it.
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Invite a Skeptic to the Reform Symposium

All of this social networking is starting to pay off for everyone! For the past month I have been working with some really amazing educators to put together a free summer conference. I have never met any of these amazing people (Shelly Terrell, Jason Bedell, & Kelly Tenkely), yet this was one of the most successful collaborations I have ever been a part of. None of use have received any reward for the time we have put into planning the event, monetary reward that is, but somehow this has been an incredibly rewarding experience. This seeming paradox lends credence to the argument Daniel Pink makes in Drive, that money isn’t a very good motivator when it comes to intellectual endeavors.

Working on the Symposium has been an empowering experience. It is empowering because by harvesting the power of connections, and everyone’s desire to improve education we can all get together for summer professional development. No one is paying anyone, no one is getting paid. Many educational conferences have costs that are so high that we cannot attend, and what do we see when we get there….great educators talking about what they are doing in the classroom.

So in the words of The Monkees, I’m a believer. PLNs work! Making connections works! I suspect many of you are nodding your heads right now, that’s because most of you believe too. So here is your charge: invite a skeptic to the Reform Symposium. Not just a doubter, a skeptic. Offer to have them attend a session with you. Sit right next to them, help them click the right links. Make bargains to get them to agree. When it is over tell them about PLNs and help them sign up for Twitter and follow up with them over the year. Do all this because if you can convince a skeptic about the power of connections that is powerful, and that skeptic will talk to other skeptics, and this movement will grow. That is how reform will happen.

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Call to Arms on School Reform

I felt so strongly about the topic of this week’s (7/6/10) #edchat that I needed two days to collect my thoughts. This week’s #edchat centered around what we as educators can do to move from discussion of educational reform to action. I have been participating in #edchat since November and this is unequivocally the most important topic that has ever been covered. Many participants in the chat answered the question of what we can do to enact substantive change by saying that they were already doing it in their classrooms, meaning that they are taking the things discussed on #edchat and other social forums and applying them to their teaching. This tactic employs a trickle down strategy and hypothesizes that simply by doing it in their classrooms others will eventually take note and decide to change themselves. This strategy does not work and we know it. You don’t have to look any further than certain classrooms in your own building. There are teachers who will NEVER change their teaching styles no matter how big the smiles are on the students exiting our rooms. To employ this strategy to reform is to put your head in the sand as that student exits your room and enters the other room down the hall. This illustration needs to be multiplied by ten thousand to get the picture around the country. There are some schools where there are no teachers attempting to change the system by example. What happens to the students that happen to reside in that district? On a building level really reform has absolutely no prayer of succeeding if the administration is not on board. Only administrators can force wholesale, building level change. Take what some of the things administrators who particpate in #edchat are doing, Patrick Larkin (@bhsprincipal), Eric Sheninger (@NMHS_Principal), Deron Durflinger (@DeronDurflinger) for example. Reform is happening at their schools. But what if the administrators are content with the status quo, what then? Will they be influenced by the teacher in room 115 who’s students are totally engaged? Maybe. But maybe simply isn’t good enough anymore. There are students getting a simply terrible education in this country waiting for bad teachers to take notice of the good ones, and we can’t wait any more.

Another tweet that kept popping up was that we needed to have specific reforms in mind, not just some abstract pipe dream of the perfect school. This idea seems to fly in the face of the other idea. It suggest that there is in fact a power higher than the teacher out there that needs to be convinced that reform is needed, and that it is happening. Never the less here is my list of essential education reforms:

  1. Deemphasize so-called teacher accountability. Teachers are accountable. They know it. Rather than having teachers afraid for their lives they could focus on innovation.
  2. Deemphasize standardized testing in favor of more authentic measures of learning, which of course, we know are different not standardized.
  3. Give students more autonomy over their own learning.
  4. Emphasize skills like critical thinking, communication, and problem solving. So that students will be able to deal with problems that don’t exist.

A critique often leveled at the #edchat group is that it is simply an echo chamber where everyone involved is simply voicing the same opinion in a different way, preaching to the choir if you will. Although there is an element of truth to this I don’t think this is such a criticism. All of us discovered #edchat in the same way, we were hungry to be in control of our own learning, just as our students are and we went looking. Since we are like minded we can speak with a collective, deafening voice. If we truly want to have an influence on education reform and not simply talk about it on Tuesdays we need to think beyond the walls of our own classrooms. Start following your state government, who is making the right votes that benefit students, help them. Find out who is making the wrong choices for students and vote them out, or support their opponents. I have decided to attempt to form a political action committee with the purpose of influencing legislation to reform education. I have to try to do something to help the students who are not lucky enough to have a reformer in the room.

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What Educators Can Learn From Steve Jobs

Apple has been in the news a lot lately. They recently surpassed Microsoft in terms of market cap and became the largest American technology company, they sold two million iPads in two months, they lost a valuable prototype and then kicked in the door of the blogger who reported about it. They’ve declared Flash a dead technology and entered into a acquisition duel with Google. They’ve been busy. At the head of the tumult is the unflappable Steve Jobs who simply responds to nearly every critique of the company with some infuriatingly short email.

I have been an Apple fan since my friend Mike got an Apple IIe when I was 8 years old. I continued to be an Apple fan despite the additional pinch their products gave to my wallet. I always enjoyed the user experience that Apple provided, it somehow always seemed intuitive, as if it were anticipating my needs. Lately I have had the knee jerk reaction of feeling somewhat put off and maybe even a little angered by Apple’s very public moves. The English teacher in me feels frightened by the walled-garden of an app store that admits some applicants while dismissing others with no clear criteria for either other than Steve’s assurance that he is delivering the best user experience.

As I was reading a transcript of Steve Jobs’ latest interview at the D8 conference it became clear that there was a lot educational reformers could learn from the CEO. The part that I find particularly applicable begins at about 1:02 in the video below.

6:25PM Walt: We wanted to talk about your future mostly… but there have been controversies. I want to talk about them. I want to talk about Flash. You published this letter — even if everything you say in that letter is true, is it really fair or the best thing for consumers to just be abrupt?
6:26PM Steve: Well two things — I’ll come back to what you said. Apple is a company that doesn’t have the resources that everyone else has. We choose what tech horses to ride, we look for tech that has a future and is headed up. Different pieces of tech go in cycles… they have summer and then they go to the grave.
6:27PM Steve: If you choose wisely, you save yourself an enormous amount of work.
6:34PM Steve: Well things are packages. Some things are good in a product, some things are bad. If the market tells us we’re making bad choices, we’ll make changes. We’re just trying to make great products. We don’t think this is great and we’re going to leave it out. We’re going to take the heat because we want to make the best product in the world for customers!
6:35PM Steve: If we succeed, they’ll buy them! If we don’t, we won’t sell any. And I have to say, people seem to be liking the iPad! (huge laughs and applause)

(via Engadget)

Continue reading

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Pass It On! Some Great Blogs to Take a Look At.

When I started this blog in September I wasn’t sure anyone would read it, so I was thrilled and humbled to be given the Pass It On blog award by Lisa Sanderson. Now it is my turn to pass it on and mention some blogs that I find informative, inspiring or entertaining.

The rules of this award:

1- Copy and display the picture of the award given to you;

2- Link back to the blog that nominated you;

3- Nominate 10 different blogs yourself;

4- Inform the people you nominated, so they can in turn, continue the chain and spread the word about other great blogs out there.

And the nominees are:

I had a hard time selecting ten blogs from the sixty or so that are fed to my Google reader daily. For this list I tried to select the ones that challenge me most, either intellectually and philisophically, or by giving great examples of amazing projects that I need to step up to the plate and try for myself.

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This Puritanical Double Standard For Teachers is Wrong

I have been wanting to write about this topic for quite some time but it has always been pushed to the back burner. A number of recent current events and some tweets from members of my PLN have brought it back the front for me, so here is my two cents. So the way that I will approach the topic is to synthesize a few seemingly disparate pieces of educational news, then ask the readers whether or not they concur with my assessment. Firstly pressure has been steadily increasing on teachers to have students perform well on standardized tests. President Obama’s Race To The Top (RttT) initiative has sent state legislators, desparate for cash, scrambling to alter laws and intitute policies that will win the popularity contest. This is really the perfect economic climate to introduce such an initiative as traditionally stubborn unions are forced to acquiesce or lose members to staff cuts.

Here are some of the more famous headlines I am refering to.

Across the country states are clamoring for buzz words like accountability and rigor, sacrificing hard won gains for students and teachers along the way in the name of the almighty buck. Now add to this discussion a headline like this.

Now allow me to put the two together. I don’t care what any irate taxpayer says, teachers are over worked and under paid. I know, this is the profession that I chose, and I also know that I get summers off. Those points, coupled with the fact that I love working with young people and I am able to make it through the week. But the suspension of this teacher has gotten me really riled up and here is why. Teaching is only getting harder and more thankless, as politicians who have never spent a minute in a classroom are making policy decisions that affect whether or not a teacher is able to keep their job. This creates a great deal of stress and anxiety, but again, this is the profession that we have chosen. But if teachers, especially younger teachers without families of their own are not allowed to have personal lives outside of their school lives then this profession will never attract the most talented people that we desperately need. This teacher was no where near her school or her students and she did not pose for or post the picture on Facebook. Think of the ramifications of this. Every cell phone has a camera on it, Facebook has just surpassed Google as the most used site in the world. What are teachers to do, never leave their homes? This puritanical double standard is wrong. You would never read a headline that said RN Suspended Over Stripper Photo. It has gotten to the point where I have to think twice when young people ask me if they should pursue a career in teaching.

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More #Edchat Tips: Surviving the Maelstrom

After reflecting on it for a while, I have come to the conclusion that nothing has has a more profound impact on my development as an educator this year than my participation in #edchat (if you don’t know about #edchat click here and check it out). Although the chats themselves are quite stimulating, the more important thing to me has been the connections and relationships that have developed as a result of my participation. These relationships display what is best about Web 2.0 technologies, like minded people who share common passions are able to work together regardless of proximity. A few weeks ago I was able to act as a judge for a poetry contest (click here to see the winner of that contest) at a high school in Burlington, Mass. through an online interaction I had with Patrick Larkin (@bhsprincipal), in early June I will be making a presentation at a TeachMeet in Nashville, TN because of a connection that I made with Jason Bedell (@jasontbedell). I never would have been able to do these things had I not met these people, and I never would have met these people without the #edchat conversation.

That being said, the #edchat conversation can be quite overwhelming especially at first. The Twitter platform is an interesting place to hold any conversation because of it’s innate constraints, it is built for speed and economy. When I first started participating in #edchat I compared the experience to being in a gymnasium filled with educators shouting out there opinions about a topic. Sometimes I am able to hear individuals from out of the noise, then I would engage with those I heard. The #edchat community seems to have grown exponentially since then and the metaphor is more like a sports arena filled with educators shouting their opinions, but the previous philosophy still works.

So here are my tips for making #edchat a more rewarding experience for you.

  1. Pick a client program that works for you. I personally use Tweetdeck with columns set up to follow the hashtag and certain people. Others I know prefer to use Tweetgrid (here is a great tutorial), still others use the web interface. Use whatever medium works for you, the important thing is that it refreshes frequently to keep up with the conversation.
  2. More important than the client you choose, is HOW you participate, this is what I do:
    1. Follow the moderators! The moderators for the conversation will be announced before the chat begins. Pay attention to the #edchat hashtag before the conversation starts to learn who the moderators are. Follow the moderators by creating a search for them. The moderators do a great job of keeping the conversation moving by asking questions. When they ask a question reply directly to them with an answer.
    2. Pick a few people to interact with. Realize that you are not going to be able to interact with everyone in the #edchat gymnasium. Follow the conversation an pick a few tweets that you find particularly interesting and respond to them. If the person who sent the original tweet replies to your reply you have started a conversation. Likewise if someone replies to one of your tweets, reply back to them to continue the conversation.
    3. Don’t share links during the conversation. The #edchat hashtag has become more than a weekly conversation. It is used all the time to tag something that might be useful for educators. But speed is of the essence during the conversation itself and links slow the conversation down. If you take the time to find a link and post it you will miss something, if you click on a link during the conversation you are missing something. Save your links until after the conversation is over.
    4. Follow the people who you interacted with. This is a great way to build your PLN. You want to fill your PLN with people who are willing to engage with you and I have found this to be an extremely effective method of discovering great people.
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