Entries Tagged 'Teacher Reads' ↓

Capitalists and school administrators

Providers of educational training and materials sell products. I understand that. They are businesses.

What I don’t understand is how educational administrators know what to purchase without a definition of what it means to be educated? For example, here is an Education Week advertisement for “The Evolving Role of the School Leader” (a free webinar on March 19, 2015):

The role of the school leader has never been more important or more challenging . . . Successful principals embrace and fully understand the vision and direction of the system, empower staff to collaboratively raise the achievement of all students, and build the instructional focus at every level of the organization.

How do educators know if this webinar is worth their time, if they don’t have a clear definition of what it means to be educated? Without a clear definition, how does anyone know if the webinar is worth their time?

According to the first sentence, school leadership is important and difficult. According to the last sentence, it involves: (1) understanding the system’s mission, (2) empowering staff to raise student achievement (which really means test scores), (3) building an instructional focus into every level of the organization (which really means emphasizing higher test scores).

But there is more to be learned, so administrators should attend the webinar to discover the rest. Providers of training and  materials make money by convincing administrators that their work is difficult AND complicated. In this case, practicing administrators should hear the lessons learned by others who accomplished difficult things in their schools.

So, the advertisement goes on:

Join Phee Simpson, Mike Oliver, and Sue Gendron (moderator) in a discussion of successful school leadership and Q&A centered on the challenges they have faced and the solutions they have implemented in their schools.

I did not attend, but I know what they said. They described difficult situations created by ignorance, intellectual incompetence, weakness, fear of truth, pride and selfishness. Then they described how understanding, imagination, strength, courage, humility and generosity made things better.

In spite of what providers of goods and services tell administrators, leading schools is difficult, but it is not complicated or expensive.

The art of singing (and teaching)

Harrison Craig was a contestant on “The Voice”– Australia. Before his performance, he said,

What I feel that I have to do is pour my heart and soul into that song — make the coaches hear what I am feeling (2-minute mark on the video).

That is the best definition, ever, of the art of teaching.

But if you just want to hear something beautiful:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9-3lpscXPrw

At the 5:03 mark, about Harrison’s voice, Seal said, “That is a gift, brother.”

I love irony.

 

Although I am right, I am irrelevant

Richard Elmore recently edited a book entitled, I used to think, and now I think. Twenty well known educators wrote essays on this topic. I was struck by the ridiculousness of what they used to think, and the common sense of what they now think. In other words, they used to think what they were taught within the social science paradigm for school improvement. Now they simply use common sense and experience, when they look at school improvement.

Here is my personal IUTTANIT:

Like many education professors, I used to believe:

  1. Good teaching cannot be defined, so we describe it in hundreds of ways, hoping aspiring teachers learn something from those descriptions.
  2. Good teaching produces test scores that are better than the ones students would have gotten with less “effective” teaching. (Teaching is an applied social science.)
  3. Teachers should be held accountable for the development of student knowledge and skill. Student test scores are the bottom line.
  4. Our beliefs about education should be based on “research-based” facts and reason because those are the “best” beliefs.

Now that I am wiser, I believe the opposite:

  1. Good teaching can be defined. A definition says what something always is and what it never is. Good teaching always involves understanding, imagination, strong character, courage, humility and generosity. It never involves ignorance, intellectual incompetence, weakness, fear of truth, pride, or selfishness. It is difficult to be a good teacher, but it is not complicated.
  2. Good teaching starts with teacher appreciation for the subject and students. It ends with student appreciation for the lessons and teacher. (Teaching is an art.)
  3. Knowledge and skills are not “measured” by standardized tests. Test results are not points on a ruler, they are like light switches that are either “on” or “off.” Therefore, teachers should be held accountable for modeling and teaching the six virtues that lead to knowledge and skills. They are easy to observe. No standardized tests needed.
  4. Beliefs are based on experiences, not facts and reason. All of us “just believe” many things. An example is those who just believe that “beliefs should be based on facts and reason.”

Nobody believes what I believe. So, although I am right, I am irrelevant.  I love irony.

“Rotten Apples” and TIME

Dear Defenders of Public Education:

Get a grip. Outrage over the TIME magazine cover (November 2, 2014) reveals your ignorance of American capitalism. Describing teachers as “Rotten Apples” on the cover is meant to sell magazines — nothing more, nothing less. The real article headline (pp. 34-35) is “Taking on Teacher Tenure,” which is placed under a picture of three good apples and a rotten one.

Today’s lesson on the chalkboard as you enter the classroom:

Examples of Partial Truths

1. Teachers are rotten.

2. The percentage is 25%.

When it comes to magazine covers and graphics, partial truths are good enough, just as they are in all forms of advertising/marketing/promotion. “Rotten Apples” is a partial truth because, although it is not true that a high percentage of teachers are rotten, some teachers are. Using an illustration that says the ratio is one in four is also a partial truth because the actual percentage depends on the definition of “rotten.” Few people believe 25% of teachers are “rotten,” (as that word is commonly used), but some believe at least one out of every four teachers is “rotten.” There you have it — partial truth. We can’t know the actual percentage, and some people believe it is at least 25%.

Instead of outrage, do your job. Teach young people how our society works by helping them understand partial truths in advertising/marketing/promotion. Examples are all around them.

Self-righteousness is not a strategy

More than ten years ago I wrote a newspaper column criticizing writers who attribute motives to others. I am going to violate my own critique here.

When educators say, “We should do what is best for the child,” these words contribute nothing to the decision making process, which leaves the significance of the utterance in the speaker’s motive. Evidently, the speaker wants others to re-set their consciences to what is best for the student, putting aside whatever selfish motives they probably have.

But the reason educators struggle to do what is best for the student is not that they don’t want “what is best for the student.” It is that they don’t know what is best. There is never a sign saying:

→ This path takes you → to what is best for the student →

In fact, the opposite is true. “Best for the student” raises numerous issues:

  • “Best” in the long-term or short-term?
  • What if “best” for one student sets an unacceptable precedent?
  • What if “best” for one student disadvantages others?

The questions go on and on.

Saying you want what is best for the student might make you feel good, but it contributes nothing to the decision making process. Self-righteousness is not a strategy. I love irony.

Educators: The choice is ours

This morning’s newspaper (1/28/2014) had a “tech quote” from Knightscope CEO William Li, whose company sells robotic security guards:

There are 7 billion people on the planet, and we’ll soon have a few billion more, and law enforcement is not going to scale at the same rate; we literally can’t afford it.

Li wants people to (1) imagine how to live more safely on a crowded planet, and (2) invest in his company.

Modeling and teaching what it means to be educated is another way to live more safely on a crowded planet. For those of us who are educators, the choice is ours. We can continue to ignore the six virtues, or we can make them the foundation for graduating a more educated citizenry.

If we ignore them, Li will be wealthy and his robotic security guards will be happy (if properly programmed). The rest of us will live in fear. I love irony.

 

Measuring knowledge and skills — Really?

My students say we define “educated” in terms of knowledge and skill because these can be measured by tests. Really? How do tests measure knowledge or skill?

They don’t. Student answers indicate whether a specific learning is present or not. Test answers are like on-off switches, not yard sticks. Just like virtue, knowledge and skills are “measured” with teacher judgment. They are just more difficult to gauge than virtue. I love irony.

Honest and dishonest opinions

Opinion columnists try to persuade readers to their point of view. The honest way is to be true to facts and ideas on the other side while explaining a different opinion. The dishonest way is to distort facts and ideas on the other side to make your opinion look like the better one.

Here is an example of the second from John Hood, regarding the latest chapter in North Carolina’s Leandro lawsuit:

Continue reading →

Losing the war? It’s our own fault. Part 1

In the Foreward to Educational Courage: Resisting the Ambush of Public Education (EC: RTAOPE) Deborah Meier wrote:

And we need resistance to the continuing assault on public education that reduces schools to market-driven factories that select and sort our students, distorting visions of communities of learning and growth and activism. We can’t internalize the norm that’s out there and can’t accept that this is “the way things have to be.” We mustn’t adjust to injustice, losing our visions, our hope and our active resistance. (pp. x-xi)

I’m on the side of resistance because I agree with Meier.

Continue reading →

Defining “effective” teachers

For three reasons I was drawn to the article, “For better North Carolina schools, link teacher pay to effectiveness.

  1. I want better NC schools.
  2. Paying higher salaries to “effective” teachers is a good idea (if it can be done).
  3. It can be done only if we define “effective” teaching.

We all want #s 1 & 2. The hard part is #3. It is not enough to describe “effective” teaching. Paying higher salaries for all those descriptions would increase spending, not keep it the same or lower it. Continue reading →