Tag Archives: school reform

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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School of the Future Part 3: Administration

After taking a short hiatus from social networking due to the birth of my daughter (cutie), I return to the school of the future series with a fury. In this post I would like to discuss educational hierarchy in general and school administrations in particular. Some recent events taking place within my PLN have made this subject even more topical. Recently Beth Still put out an invitation for innovative administrators to apply for an upcoming position at her school. She also asked other bloggers in her network to cross blog her post, maximizing exposure. In a similar circumstance, Scott McLeod wrote an open letter to his school board imploring them to think about educational reform as they select new leadership. I think this is a revolution in the way administrators are selected for districts, and perhaps this will be a way administrators are selected for schools of the future.

The most important question for me is: what are the qualities we need to see in progressive administrators to insure that educational reform can move forward. How much education or experience does a person need to be an effective administrator in the 21st century? What personal qualities do we wish our leaders to possess? How can we insure that the greatest talent goes to the most needy schools?

In my experience an administrator with vision can be transformative, and a leader without vision can be disruptive so I will begin the discussion by answering my own questions. Currently administrators need to have quite a bit of schooling to be qualified in my state, but having spent time in a classroom is not a prerequisite. Personally I wouldn’t mind if the educational requirements were softened in favor of a minimum years of teaching requirement. I think that school administrators should be required to spend at least five years teaching. Hopefully this would give some administrators more perspective, both in terms of the students and the teachers. Administrators should be open minded and forward thinking when it comes to new technologies. Administrators need to continually challenge the teachers in their districts to reject the status quo, but they should do so in a way that teachers feel safe. Administrators need to have the courage to fix the problems that exist in their schools, but act with a long-term, deliberate plan that contains measurable goals.

If you were on the committee choosing your school’s next administrator, what would be non-negotiable?

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School of the Future Part 2: Infrastructure

The way I see things, in the school of the future there will either be a building where everyone meets to engage in learning, or there won’t be. Let’s look at both possible scenarios.

Scenario 1: A building.

A far less radical scenario than the one to follow, let’s imagine for a moment that the school of the future is still actually a school. Meaning a physical structure of some kind where students meet at the same time to engage in learning. Now, just because the students all meet in a building, does not necessarily mean that instructors need to be in that building with them. To begin with I will use the school building that I work in as a frame of reference and comparison. The building that I work in was built in the 1950s, and all of the technologies that exist in the building had to be retrofit. This has lead to some less than desireable situations. For one thing, our servers are housed in a tiny closet behind the cafeteria. When the servers were initially installed there was no cooling, and without any windows the tiny room was quite balmy. To list all of these instances would simply take too long and be a bore, so what have I learned. The school of the future needs to be built from scratch with a purpose in mind. I think that the process we apply when writing lesson plans needs to be applied when schools are constructed, namely, what are the desired outcomes, how will we reach them, how will we asses whether or not they have been reached?

Let’s get the technical stuff out of the way. I believe that the school of the future needs a scalable LAN, that should be divided into sections around the building so that if a part of the building experiences problems, those problems are localized. Data lines throughout the building, and out to the world should be fiber optic with gigabit terminations. There. Basically you want data flying around as fast as possible, leaving room for whatever future applications might come along.

That said, what should the building look like? How should the rooms be laid out, how large should they be, what shape should they be, what color? Should there be chalkboards in the front, Smartboards, or nothing at all? What if all of the rooms were round and there were only padded chairs, and each student was given one of those laptop tables with the squishy material underneath so they could work on their school issued laptop. What do you think? You have a blank slate, and a blank check, how would you design this building?

Scenario 2: No building.

This scenario is harder to predict, but almost as likely I feel. As state and local governments tighten their belts and search frantically for ways to cut costs, having students attend classes online begins to become appealing. I have already been asked to look into the plausibility of this issue by my administration and my school is far from the school of the future. So how would this work? Would kids just logon in their jammies and do coursework on their own time asynchronously and never meet their classmates or instructors in person? Would they use virtual meeting technologies like Skype and Elluminate to attend classes at the same time? Would there even be an instructor? Look into your own crystal balls. Is this scenario too radical, or more than likely?

Is there a scenario I am over looking? What do you think the school of the future will look like?

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School of the Future Series: In Defense of Daydreaming

After generating a little interest in this series and a some scorn, I need to answer one question for myself before I continue this fantasy. That question is, why waste your time daydreaming about the future when the present state of education is in such disarray? The inquiry is a fair one to be leveled, and I answer in this way. The average, hardworking classroom teacher knows that the emperor has no clothes, but is either two frightened, powerless or disenfranchised to take any action. I know this from experience. The few colleagues who cared about the issue would come into my room after the students had left and plead with me, asking me if I was as frustrated as they were and why I wasn’t doing anything about it. I would always reply that the only thing any of us could control was what happened within the four walls of your classroom between the bells and that any energy spend outside of that was wasted. I still feel that way to a degree, and believe that this is always what classroom teachers should spend the most of their energy on. But now that I have made so many connections with like minded educators from all over the country and the world, I feel like it might not be such a stretch to believe that my sphere of influence could extend beyond the four walls of my classroom. Maybe if enough people read my ideas, or share my ideas, eventually someone with power will hear them, or ideas like them, and actual change will happen. So thank you for indulging me. It is precisely this ‘daydreaming’ that will keep us all sane. Now on to the next post in the series.

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School of the Future Part 1: Funding

I am taking certain things for granted even discussing funding when it comes to the school of the future. Mainly, that education will continue to be mandated by the federal government. I certainly hope that as a society we continue to value education and require it of all our citizens, but when thinking of the future maybe this won’t be the case. So let’s just say that in terms of mandated education that things remain the same, well that is not the only thing that has the possibility of altering the way education is funded. If the school of the future is not held in a central location that will change the need for funding, and if location is changed then the teacher to student ratio will certainly change. But those are discussions for later in the series.

The way I look at it, there are really only two main ways to fund education: either you pay for it, or your government does. If the objective of education is equity then we really can’t even consider the former option, right? Or can we? Nope, I don’t think that we can. While being forced to pay for your own education might yield short term results such as students who have more of a stake in their own education, the long term results of that scenario are a nightmare for society at large. So if we discard paying for your own education as a means to further financially stratify our society, what we have left is public funding. Any one of us working in public education in America knows that the way public school is funded doesn’t work. The property tax as inequitable as paying for education yourself. Consider the school that I work for. The major property owner in my school district is the State University of New York (SUNY), because they are a state institution they pay no tax. The second largest land owners in the district are family farmers who own a lot of property. Anyone who has any experience with family farms knows that just because they own a great deal of land doesn’t mean they are growing wealthy on all of that land. So my district is left with a very small tax base, which is filled in by…wait for it…state aid. When state aid goes up, property taxes go up even more, and negative sentiment for the educational system increases.

Why couldn’t the school of the future be funded by a flat tax? Or an income tax. It isn’t perfect, but I think it is more fair. At least people and districts would no what to expect in terms of their responsibilities. What do you think? How should the school of the future be funded?

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School of the Future Series: Introduction

My PLN and I spend a great deal of time talking about the future. We often bandy about phrases like 21st Century Skills, Digital Citizenship, Digital Native and others. We also spend a great deal of time bemoaning the current (undeniably broken) state of things in the educational system. After many conversations I started thinking, ‘what does this magical alternative’ look like, how does it work? So I would like to embark upon an exploration of this very topic with the few readers I have. I would like to break the conversation into pieces, since the traditional system is my only real frame of reference, that is where I will begin, although it is quite likely at the end of this discussion that things will look quite different.

Here are the systems within the system I would like to explore. Each one will have its own blog post:

  • Funding – how is the school of the future paid for?
  • Infrastructure – what does the school of the future look like, inside and out? Does the school of the future even have a physical location?
  • Administration – what is the administrative hierarchy of the school. Is it even a top down system?
  • Teachers – what do the teachers in this school look like, what can they do? What do they believe? How much are they paid?
  • Curriculum – who creates it? What’s in it?
  • Students – how do students interact with this school?

Is there anything I am missing in this exploration? Would any of you be willing to be a guest blogger on any of these sub-systems?

OK, because of some helpful suggestions I will be adding a couple of subjects to the exploration. The first will be assessment, which I will separate from curriculum. Secondly, I would like to examine exit outcomes for students (what do they need to know before they leave the school, and why).

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