31 March 2007
Here's where my thinking diverges from the other district. They look at the development of stuff as being cyclical, moving between a need expressed by teachers and a document created to fill that need. I think it's more of an ever-increasing death spiral: a real twister. A Curriculum department isn't just scratching a teacher's itch. It's feeding a hunger that can't be filled. It begins with something like identifying aligned curriculum materials and creating guides for using them. But then there's a question about accompanying assessments for each reporting period...and rubrics. Then intervention/remediation materials are needed...but having things by reporting period isn't quite enough. It's too long of a time frame. Now teachers see the need to have these same tools unit by unit or even questions about common rubrics for the assignments contained within. When I think about this across all grade levels and content areas, my head hurts.
For those of you thinking that this looks like I have perpetual job security, I admit that it looks that way on the surface. But at the same time most teachers are saying that The District should provide these, they're also wanting the Curriculum department to be disbanded. Go figure.
But more importantly, what's so wrong with teachers asking for this "stuff"? If it frees up teacher time so that they can focus on instruction, isn't that a good thing? Absolutely. I agree that teachers should have these tools---there isn't anything wrong with this motivation...this need to grasp something solid while educational reform whirls around them. My concern is that some of our teachers have a different source of desire for these materials---and for them, nothing can satisfy it. These teachers want to be able to remove elements of subjectivity from their practices. What could be better than knowing without a doubt the performance level of every kid in the class and being able to justify and communicate this to outsiders without agony. I understand that want. I know I've had many restless nights pondering the evaluation of my students. At some point, however, we just have to realize that we're humans making judgements about the achievement of other humans. No matter how many tools we have or hours of training in using them are we ever going to be able to be completely objective about things. I'm hoping that teachers who act with the best of intentions on the part of their students (which is nearly every one) will learn to accept their humanness in this process and forgive themselves of any faults along the way. Perhaps they can find the eye of the storm around them and have some peace of mind in the classroom.
30 March 2007
I need some time to frolic in the yard. I've been out weeding and trimming...admiring the green leafy bits emerging from the hydrangeas, peonies, and blueberry bushes. I need to cut some tree limbs and test out some paint samples on the house. I have a stack of books to read, movies to watch, new recipes to try, and things to explore. Now is the time to catch up on the serious contemplation of my navel, watch the grass grow, have a mid-day nap, eat a leisurely lunch with a good friend, and generally indulge myself.
If we've made it this far into the school year, summer can't be much farther, can it?
29 March 2007
- Principals don't seem to think that they have the power or ability to get rid of bad (i.e. ineffectual) teachers. My assumption has always been that they do, but that taking this on is more work than it's worth. It means a ton of documentation, ongoing Union hassles, and as one put it, political suicide. I'm not thinking that swinging the pendulum over to the "hire and fire at will" power for principals, but if admins can't help kids by getting the worst teachers out of the classrooms, who can? One of the admins thought that peer observation protocols would be the avenue for this. I don't see that happening. Teachers are not evaluators of other teachers (at least not publickly). There's no authority there. Meanwhile, why would an admin ask a great teacher to throw herself under the bus when he's already admitted that such things are political suicide?
- There are too many expectations of admins (including my own). Time is a precious commodity. We in Curriculum would do well to keep the words of Cardinal Thomas Wolsey (1471-1530) more in the forefront of our minds: Be very very careful what you put into that head, because you will never ever get it out. In particular, if we share tools and strategies with admins, we need to remember that at least some of them will latch onto these ideas like lifesavers. Not all of these ideas are good...and not all of the people who convey them understand the power of their role. Ouch.
- While we understand that in the classroom that only a small fraction of kids are going to get what we're teaching the first or second time around, we don't apply that concept to working with adults. There is an underlying assumption that because an e-mail was sent, a mention of something occurred at a meeting, or information was presented in another format, that everyone retains every morsel of this. Beyond that, there is this indignation (I'm definitely including myself with all of this, by the way) when all of the parties involved don't remember things in an identical manner. An admin was saying today that Curriculum has no idea what his staff needs...we never ask. And yet, we just completed a major survey to find out and have several groups of teachers providing feedback to us on an ongoing basis. Was the survey completely forgotten, I wondered? Or was it that the information was returned in a way that he didn't recognize---perhaps things didn't look like he thought they should?
28 March 2007
27 March 2007
- 1.0 Sweat bee: Light ephemeral, almost fruity. A tiny spark has singed a single hair on your arm.
- 1.2 Fire ant: Sharp, sudden, mildly alarming. Like walking across a shag carpet and reaching for the light switch.
- 1.8 Bullhorn acacia ant: A rare, piercing, elevated sort of pain. Someone has fired a staple into your cheek.
- 2.0 Baldfaced hornet: Rich, hearty, slightly crunchy. Similar to getting your hand mashed in a revolving door.
- 2.0 Yellowjacket: Hot and smoky, almost irreverent. Imagine WC Fields extinguishing a cigar on your tongue.
- 2.x Honey bee and European hornet.
- 3.0 Red harvester ant: Bold and unrelenting. Somebody is using a drill to excavate your ingrown toenail.
- 3.0 Paper Wasp: Caustic and burning. Distinctly bitter aftertaste. Like spilling a beaker of Hydrochloric acid on a paper cut.
- 4.0 Pepsis Wasp: Blinding, fierce, shockingly electric. A running hair drying has been dropped into your bubble bath (if you get stung by one you might as well lie down and scream).
- 4.0+ Bullet ant: Pure, intense, brilliant pain. Like walking over flaming charcoal with a 3" nail in your heel.
Or maybe some ant sugar?
Revenge is supposed to be sweet, isn't it?
26 March 2007
A larger part of our image problem, however, has to do with how we are or are not sponsored by administrators. Sponsorship? It's the idea that an admin should recognize that all of us are after the same thing (doing what's good for kids) and treat support for teachers (in the form of Curriculum) as worthwhile in meeting the goals of School Improvement. A Curriculum Department is just a means to the end. The admin sets the tone in the building. He or she can say a lot about the value of staff development and the expectations for teachers to continually grow in their professional experiences by how Curriculum is integrated with the school. Right now, this district has an ongoing love-hate relationship with the elementary schools and no relationship with the secondary. An early morning meeting tomorrow is meant to be the first step in addressing this.
We have to schmooze them a little...romance them. We need to put in our most demure outfits and bat our eyelashes, perhaps throw in a little bit of playing "hard to get." We need them to realize how much they really need us. Why? Because there's an awful lot of kids who aren't being successful in school. Curriculum doesn't have all the answers, but neither does the school itself. We can be greater than the sum of our parts and do something meaningful for the children who show up each day; but, it takes the right attitude about things. It means that all of us have to be accountable for our actions in this partnership. I'm hoping that what we start tomorrow won't turn out to be a one-night stand.
25 March 2007
I've also been making minor changes to my blogroll. There have been a couple new blogs that I've wanted to add...and a couple that I was ready to retire. I usually just remove blogs that are "dead," but I am finding that at my current place in life, I'm not interested in blogs that are just used to rant. It's not that I don't understand the need to have an outlet for the frustrations of one's world, but there's only so much negativity I can let into mine. I'm much more interested in those blogs that not only air dirty laundry, but reflect on what they can do to solve the issues on their minds. Meanwhile, the edusphere just isn't a static entity. New blogs come on-line each day and I enjoy finding them. It's even better to share them on my blogroll.
The rest of my day appears to be devoted to time on the computer, but for different reasons. I have a short paper to revise and turn in for my grad class by 11 p.m. tonight. I also have a 20 page paper due for the same class in two weeks, but I don't really want to spend all of my Spring Break working on it. So, I'll keep my nose to the grindstone today and try to finish the draft. I have been inching along on it for a few weeks...trying to stay ahead of the game. I won't be sorry to have this particular class behind me. It hasn't been as interesting or useful as previous courses. I will be moving on to a stats class for the summer along with turning in a prospectus for my dissertation. It's hard for me to believe that I just have three more classes and the dissertation to go. I'll have my EdD very soon!
If you're looking for some distractions of your own today, here are a couple of tools to try:
- The Classroom Architect is a freeware program where you put in the dimensions of your classroom and the types of items (desks, tables, chairs...) you have---and it will generate different floor plans for you. Where the heck was this when I needed it?
- Head over to Image Chef and create some fun graphics to use in your classroom, on your blog, or perhaps those delightful PowerPoint presentations described in yesterday's post. :)
24 March 2007
There is a district-wide presentation to elementaries coming up on Monday and I will be helping to facilitate things at one of the schools. Another specialist was helping get me up to speed on things and we decided to look at the PowerPoint from the staff training which occurred in December. The information contained within it was really good and very helpful, however, the slideshow presentation itself induced a fit of giggles.
There was an awful lot of information packed into the presentation:
I started to pretend to yawn after awhile. I really did wonder how teachers must have felt sitting through this. Things then devolved into student-like questions when boredom arises: "Can I have a hall pass?" But hey, to keep things lively, someone had chosen to make this a presentation with some animations on the slides.
I know that the graphic above is static, but the little key/keyhole thing in the upper righthand corner cycled through three different graphics. All I could think of was "Eat at Joe's...Eat at Joe's..." The other specialist wondered if it might not be meant to induce a hypnotic effect. Fortunately, it was too slow to be strobe-like and thus seizure inducing.
But the icing on the cake was all of the fancy-dancy transitions. You know what I'm talking about right? Some lines fade in...some slides dissolve into a lot of tiny pieces...other aspects are revealed by a 360 degree wipe? It got to be a bit much about halfway through viewing the presentation and this was where we really got into trouble. The other specialist made the comment of "We can rebuild it..." a la the $6M man and did some of the relevant slow-mo sound effects. By this time, we were laughing so hard that the screen was a blur through our tears.
The lone male in our office was sitting a few feet away through all of this. He is continually bemused, being a stranger in a strange land of women. Listening to the two of us "work" yesterday gave him another reason to shake his head. He said, "I'm going to bring a tape recorder to work and record you two giggling...so that whenever I'm feeling down I can listen to it and smile." Maybe a deathly PowerPoint presentation isn't so bad.
23 March 2007
It seems as if most teachers don't have a caring ear in their worlds. Good teaching is damned hard work, in addition to being lonely. Kids can do some crazy and wonderful things and there aren't always other adults to share in that. The small joys and frustrations accumulate until the presence of someone with time and interest to listen is like a dam breaking. And when it does, there is often a cacophony of stories with very little conversation. Like toddlers engaged in parallel play, there's lots of side-by-side activity and not much interactivity. It makes me sad to think of how many teachers are just waiting for their opportunities.
Last night, it was good just to let these two teachers unload a bit of stress and then get them engaged in some dialogue about what we were learning together and what it might mean for classrooms in our district. I hope they know that there's someone out there---me---ready to kep on supporting them.
21 March 2007
How many in the education system are working under a different philosophy? How many teachers out there are laboring under "What's easiest for me?" The number of legislators thinking about "How many voters like me?" Can we quantify the amount of administrators who pick their battles on things other than student learning happening in their buildings? How many times will the Union step in to say that as long as teachers are happy, it doesn't matter what kids learn?
Maybe the problem is with me...maybe my philosophy about being in education is all wrong. Perhaps what happens in the classroom is not supposed to be about kids at all.
I was thinking today about a grade level group of teachers at one school who are having a bit of a tantrum about the new science kits this year. In their defense, I will say that they are teaching at the grade level which has experienced the most significant change to its curriculum and that the kits represent some heavy duty learning. Not so much in their defense, I will say that this is the school where their literacy coach had chest pains after trying to deal with their tantrums and was taken away in an ambulance. The staff there has quite the reputation. To wit, there is talk of involuntary transfers out of that building to shake things up...and the Union has already told staff there that they're not going to prevent it. The staff doesn't see themselves as bad apples---and there are some teachers there who are a delight to work with. But the ones who wrote me today? Not so much.
They have another curriculum they want to teach instead. So, here's where I am sitting...
- The alternate they propose does not consist of district approved materials. It's not bad science, but does not necessarily address the same standards as the kit they're boycotting.
- It's not my job to monitor what is or isn't used in the classroom: that task belongs to the principal.
- The principal at this school is a lame duck. Not only is she being moved to another building at the end of the year (as are several other admins), but her staff as a whole does not respect her.
- The Union keeps having a fit over the concept of academic freedom for classrooms...never mind that the case law doesn't back them up.
- The WAC (state code) states that teachers must teach the curriculum which is selected for them.
- Boss Lady 2.0 is certain not to back me up on anything I say to these teachers.
- The legislature seems to be rather fickle about what it wants in the science standards, as well as their assessment.
- None of the above have a student-centered philosophy.
20 March 2007
This district is particularly robust in terms of having women on top. Apart from the Supe, the directors are all women. Females run the union and occupy more than half of the school administration positions. Why are we not encouraging more men to take a leadership role? We could use a few more role models who have (more?) hair on their chest than our current regime. As it is now, we'll definitely be riding the estrogen tsunami next year. Surf's up!
19 March 2007
Personally, I don't mind a bit of change. What I do mind is that "we" don't seem to leave any initiative in place long enough to really examine what the effects are. There's always the bigger better thing on the horizon. By "we," I mean both educators and politicians. There is plenty of guilt to go around for both, but today, I'm going to point the finger (you can guess which one) at the political side of things.
The National Science Teachers' Association (NSTA) sent out this update this afternoon:
More than 50 Republican members have signed on to a bill, the Academic Partnerships Lead Us to Success Act of 2007 (A-PLUS Act), that would allow states and districts more flexibility in implementing state-based initiatives using federal education funding. If passed, this legislation would fundamentally alter the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act.
The A-PLUS Act would allow states to "opt out" of NCLB if it held a referendum or if two out of three state entities---the governor, the state legislateion, and the state's highest-elected education official---decided the state could no longer meet the law's accountability mandates. States that elect to opt-out would still get federal funding and could combine funds from certain education programs into one funding system. They would be freed from the requirements of each federal education program and could use the funds to advance their initiatives.
You can read more in a Washington Post article, a detailed description on the NSTA website, or a section-by-section summary provided by NSTA. This is certainly not a change which would be limited to science---so go poke around for yourself and see how things sit. I like the idea of more flexibility, but I worry that the ability to opt-out may mean that those groups of students which have traditionally been "left behind" will be allowed to fall through the cracks again.
Within our own state, there are bills in both House and Senate which would alter our current testing in math and science to end of course assessments for algebra, geometry, and biology---all of which would be multiple choice items taken in a web-based format. I find this possible change disturbing. It is such a slap in the face to all of the work teachers and students have done to become better thinkers in math and science. Science is so much more than a set of terms in biology. It is irresponsible to send students away from high school without the tools they need to adapt in an ever-changing world...one which includes probability, chemistry, measurement, and process skills.
Right now, there isn't a lot I can do except prepare to roll with the changes. Whether I like them or agree with them or not is really not part of anyone's considerations. I just need to endure.
18 March 2007
Will the finished product actually be in a box? Things are still a bit uncertain at this point. Right now, the recommendation is to have a spiral-bound set of information for a grade, plus something similar for each building, and then a welcome note from grade level teaching partners. All of this could be bundled in something akin to a magazine storage box---something easy to put on a shelf and access as needed. Our hope is to have these available in June for teachers who are making changes for next year. This would give them the summer to look over things before a more formal day of inservice in August. In terms of materials, those of us in Curriculum can pull that information together. But the real scoop? That can only come from teachers currently working at grade level.
For example, when a kindergartner raises his hand and says he has to go to the bathroom, do you send the kid immediately? Wait until circle time is over? Send him with a buddy (or in a small group)? By himself? Let's say that you find yourself assigned to fifth grade next year. Should you be surprised when the boys are standoffish?
The teachers who are helping with this project have all the inside information and they aren't being afraid to dish the dirt. I have to say that the first grade comments are my favourite so far (e.g. "They poke you. They poke you. They poke you."), but every grade has had some wonderful insights to share with their peers. It's been more of a "Everything you wanted to know about grade x but were afraid to ask" sort of project. Second and third grade teachers will be arriving in the morning to work on their pieces and I can hardly wait to find out what they have to share.
17 March 2007
|Original Image Credit Unknown|
Several years ago, someone I worked with gave me this postcard. I admit that I was tempted to pull this out and use it during more than one parent conference in succeeding years. My viewpoint as a classroom teacher was a bit narrower than it is now because it had to be. You can't focus your energies on being the best you can be for the kids in your class each and every day plus advocate for ways to make the system as a whole better. There's not enough time and headspace to go around. The kids have to come first. Now that I've traded the classroom for the system, I don't know that I react to this postcard in the same way. I think I've learned more about making myself suit the needs of students and teachers rather than finding ways to make the kids fit my needs. Sometimes, learning doesn't happen because there's something not working with the kid...and sometimes it's the system. Somewhere in the middle of that postcard is the truth.
16 March 2007
I wish I could say the same for others who were out and about in the world and saw our group of young adults. While we waited for a bus in Seattle, I saw numerous people glance at the kids with either a look of fear (Boogie-boogie! They're coming after you!) or disgust (How dare they take up air and space in my vicinity!). I don't get it. Why is there such prejudice against teenagers?
I understand that there are some "bad apple" teens. I've had some in my classes over the years who have done some horrific things. There have been rapists, drug dealers, and thieves among my students, but it is such a small percentage overall. If adults never engaged in such behaviors, I might understand some disdain from people in that age group...but it just ain't so.
The kids yesterday seemed blissfully unaware of some of the looks they were getting. I have had some conversations with students who have experienced prejudice based on their age. I don't know what to tell them---I don't understand why the service they receive at stores and restaurants can be so different just because they aren't grown-ups. Yes, I know a few kids probably have acted like butts, but painting all kids with the same brush should not be acceptable.
I hope that if I don't get back in the classroom soon that I find a way to keep this perspective. I hate to think that I'll become one of those people who forgets what it's like to be young and full of hope and promise. I want to remain able to admire the spirit of youth.
15 March 2007
I didn't intend for yesterday to be a 3-ring circus with me as the Mistress of Ceremonies. I did schedule my seventh grade group for Wednesday. I set this up in December...and then "Grade in a Box" came along and subs were limited. There were two available for yesterday, so we used them to release two first grade teachers to help. And then, our Curriculum Department meeting got moved from last week to this week. Oy.
Things did work out in their own odd way. I started my seventh grade group at 7:30, hoping to get them focused and working away on their tasks by the time 8:30 rolled around and the first grade teachers arrived. Fortunately, the secondary gifted ed specialist volunteered to facilitate this group at the last moment. I floated back to seventh grade for a few minutes until the 9 o'clock department meeting. I stayed in that one most of the time. I was afraid of leaving as there are so many things going on and the nearly invisible Boss Lady 2.0 was there with quite the agenda in hand. By 12:30, every single group was finished and seemingly happy with the products.
This juggling act is only going to get more complicated. An integral member of our department resigned yesterday...Boss Lady 2.0's mother passed away this afternoon (so BL2 will be out for awhile)...and there are all sorts of other things afoot. Instead of balls in the air, the rest of this year is going to be balls to the wall.
14 March 2007
13 March 2007
A. Turn in the project late. After all, your absence is excused so the teacher won't take off any points.
B. Send the project to school with a friend or have a parent drop it off so it's on time.
C. Give the project to your teacher early. That way, you know it's all taken care of---your mind can rest easy during your trip.
D. Turn in the project late. Sue the school when you receive no credit for the work.
If you're a student at Sissonville High School, apparently the answer is "D."
This case has a variety of interesting points for me. I understand why teachers have a no late work policy (I used to be one of them); but it is also unreasonable to punish a student with grades. Did the kid make the wrong choice? Sure. Did the kid complete a quality project? Apparently, she did. Give her the grade and then assign a consequence separately.
Bill McGinley, legal counsel for the West Virginia Education Association, said the union would be watching the lawsuit closely.
"We're very interested in this," he said. "Especially in the notion of protecting the integrity of teacher's grading, as well as student responsibility.I hope to find a way to learn about the outcome of this story. It's one of those which, to me, doesn't have a clear winner: both parties are out of order in one way or another. Will they be laughed out of court? Will things be taken seriously and policy be shaped? In the grand scheme of things, a leaf project is not as big of a deal as the family of this student is making it to be. If things truly get to the point of litigation, my hunch is that the court will find in favour of the school district because no true harm was done to the child's academic record. It's not like the kid can't get into college now. But I hope the teacher is thinking carefully about grading practices, too...and what will be in place for next year's leaf project.
Update: If you are interested in the outcome of this saga, you can read all about it here.
12 March 2007
The odd thing about being in my role with the district is that I am a teacher working under the same contract as every other, but neither the union nor other teachers view us in that capacity. We are regarded as administrators---and the union is more than willing to engage in member-member attacks as a result. They have gotten their hands slapped by those levels of the organization which are above them, but it has yet to stop them.
Today, I listened to a conversation between another specialist and the union vice-president (hereafter referred to as the "goon") which was completely inappropriate. The goon wanted the specialist to alter an e-mail going out to teachers about an upcoming materials adoption. (Remember, we are paying them to watch the contract---which does not include how district materials are adopted.) This was so that the goon could "protect" the specialist from attacks by teachers. Pardon me? The union has no business with member-member interactions. If teachers have an issue with contract violations, they deal with it in terms of administration. Finally, the goon mentioned that she was worried that teachers would end up with curriculum that they might not like. Um, it's kids who are accountable. And if there are materials which are better aligned with standards and are grade-level appropriate, then kids deserve to have access to them. I understand that people don't like change---teachers, too. But what happens in the classroom is about kids every day...not adults. As adults, we have a responsibility to meet the needs of students. I'm really tired of union goons who don't get that.
11 March 2007
I have lots of bulb plants up and blooming...trees are leafing out...pollen counts are up (a/k/a "the joys of hay fever have begun"). The tall tree in the background is my California Redwood: it's an old giant. It isn't as showy as the camellia, but it is no less awe inspiring. Anyway, there's a bit more promise to the landscape these days, even if my body clock is going to feel all out of whack.
Have you tried Clipmarks yet? Instead of bookmarking a page, this tool will allow you to "clip" just the parts you want (including video) and save them. You can also use the clips for your blog. I'm looking forward to using my account more often and be able to have acces to some different pieces of information, regardless of what computer I'm using.
If you stumbled across something which is making your digital life more manageable, I hope you'll leave the info in the comments. A gal can never have too many toys...especially ones that don't need batteries.
10 March 2007
The survey, conducted early this year, found a bonanza of stereotypes among those polled, with many using the optional comment section to label women "moody," "bitchy," "gossipy" and "emotional." The most popular term for woman, used 347 times, was "catty."
Women take care of others and nurture, while men are seen as taking charge and being assertive. The problem is, she says, when we map these attributes onto the workplace the male attributes are much more sought after.
“I call this the lack of fit,” Madeline Heilman explains, because the perceived attributes of women don’t fit the leadership mold. “When women succeed in areas they’re not supposed to they are disapproved of greatly, by everyone, men and women.”
Indeed, our survey found that about 33 percent of men and women would rather work for a man, while about 13 percent would prefer working for a woman. (The remaining 54 percent had no preference.)And when asked who would be more likely to lead effectively, males were preferred by more than a 2-1 margin by both men and women---even though women got high marks for being problem solvers and providing more supportive work environments.
One thing that I've known about myself for a long time is that I would much prefer to work for a man. I was certainly not raised to think that gender should have a bearing on the workplace, although I don't doubt that there were strong surrounding cultural messages that not everything was equal. That being said, all but one of the best working relationships I have had with a boss have been with men. Not all of them were great leaders or had all of their poop in a pile---but they had a way of working with people that didn't seem as strained as having a woman in that role. And the one Boss Lady I enjoyed? She was a nurturing type. In addition to all of her strong leadership qualities, she was also someone who fostered and sponsored her teachers. I am guilty as charged with "mapping the attributes" of gender roles into the workplace.
I've thought about this a lot this week. Should I try to overcome my stereotypical views---or is it enough to be aware? What does this tell me about my own leadership roles within the district...how gender is influencing perceptions of me...and how to build a style which might positively impact what all of us expect about women on top (so to speak)?
There are some glimmers of hope. About 54 percent of those polled in our survey said they didn’t care if their boss was a man or a woman. And when individuals actually had experience working for a female boss, their preference for a women leader went up slightly. Younger workers 18 to 29 appeared to have a higher preference for female chiefs than those 30 and up, possibly pointing to a generational change.
The survey and article referenced are focused on relationships in the business world and I realize that education is a slightly different animal. It is a profession of women, by and large...one of a few which, up until the last few decades, held acceptable gender roles for women. Females should be well accustomed to working for other females in this area and yet the underlying siren song of culture still reaches our ears. Maybe it's just that change is slow, whether it's the norms of society or my own. If it appears to still be a man's world out there, then perhaps I need to change my lens.
08 March 2007
I have to say that visiting with that group was one of the few times I've actually felt eloquent. Thinking about the events of the last year and organizing them to share was a good exercise for me. I took some time to put things in perspective in order to talk about them.
I started by divulging the bias our district had in making our final decisions. The bottom line is that what we do in schools is about kids. Kids are the ones who are held accountable to the standards. While I know that we made some mistakes with our implementation this year...that there were things I wish had occurred in a better way...the truth is simply that I haven't a single regret about the decision to leave the consortium. More than anything else, that tells me that we had done the right thing.
We talked through our curriculum selection process, what has and hasn't gone well this year, adjustments we'll make, and plans for the future. I told them that I couldn't claim that everything was all sunshine and rainbows this year: change is unwelcome for nearly everyone and this was no exception. I also said that I didn't really mind dealing with annoyed teachers---their frustrations are real and should be acknowledged and supported, when possible. But none of the complaints this year have been about kids...that kids can't do the science, don't like the kits, or aren't learning. We'll work out the teacher kinks as long as kids are getting what they need.
There was a feisty teacher in the group. She enjoyed testing the depth of my convictions and seeing how true I would stay to my philosophical beliefs. She wanted to know just how much I understood about issues with teaching science. I liked this woman. We need teachers like her questioning all that we do...being the devil's advocate. If you can win her over in a small group, she will cheerlead for you with others.
I can see that this district has some of the same staff development issues that we do. There are some major hurdles to leap in order to create a high quality science experience a reality for every student; but, I also believe that without a vision of what can be and where you want to lead teachers, nothing can change.
We left the group at lunch and drove back to our own district, wondering where the process of selecting curriculum would take them. We didn't have to wait long. This morning, the group leader e-mailed us to tell us that they've decided to go with the exact same thing we chose for our district. I'm a bit surprised by this---not because I think we made bad choices---but rather because each district is a bit different. The strengths and weaknesses of staff are not the same everywhere. Even if the standards are the same for students across the state, there are different curricula to support them. I also found it interesting that this district chose curriculum sight unseen...something we were not brave enough to do last year.
Words are powerful things, at least in my mind. Knowing that I was influential in the decisions of another district feels a bit odd. The most important thing I learned, however, is that in spite of all the budget talk, program cuts, ugly issues, and hoopla this year...it's still about kids for me. I can see that it isn't for many people I work with, but my reason for being in education is unswayed. That gives me a lot of courage to keep moving forward.
07 March 2007
“Now, now...none of that. Give today a chance! I promise that there will be no cutesy icebreaker games.”
There was an audible sigh in the room.
“I understand that the Right Wing Prof has something to start us off?”
“Ah yes,” he replied. “I have some fabulous tips for new teachers. I really think those new to our group would find them helpful.”
“I agree,” said the Goddess. “In fact, I’d like to contribute some advice for those new to blogging. By the way, I’d like to introduce the Exhausted Intern and The Teacher with a Bad Attitude.”
The perky Intern stood up, not looking exhausted at all. “Thank you! I’m hoping that someone today can help me understand why the least experienced among us are often given the most difficult of teaching assignments. It just doesn’t seem to make sense.”
“That does seem a bit counterintuitive” said the Teacher with Bad ‘tude. “It reminds me of the issue around trying to provide every student with some sort of award. Is it really such a hot idea to falsely beef up their self-esteem?”
Several heads nodded in agreement. “I’d like you to work with your table groups for the next few minutes,” the Goddess said, catching a few eye rolls. “You were asked to think about some current issues and brainstorm some ideas for the next meeting. I’ll leave you to it.”
The Grading group immediately started their banter. There appeared to be a great deal of interest in this topic.
“You know,” said DeHavilland, “maybe the issue isn’t grade inflation as much as it is the system. What would happen if teachers did the grading but there was an independent evaluator?”
Joanne jumped in next. “That might at least be one way to take steps. I’m trying to get some advice on how to help a kid who wants to learn, but whose teachers seem to only grade for effort, rather than academics.”
“I’m not sure how much grading might actually have an impact,” Dan said. “I’ve spent part of this week thinking about what it means to be able to predict failing grades.”
“Perhaps what’s important is how you choose to intervene when you think a kid is at risk of failing,” probed DeHavilland.
“Intervene? Are you kidding me? I have a story about a school board which is continuing its attempts to change the grade of a student. I just can’t believe it,” said Dr. Homeslice.
“Nice job with the Carnival last week!” said the Goddess before moving to listen in on another group’s conversation.
Miss Profe seemed a bit flustered. “How can you say that, Colossus?”
“Because I saw it. At least one university is now teaching world languages without professors. It does seem problematic.”
“But,” said Miss Profe, “Learning a second language requires thinking...although this week my students didn’t seem to want to engage with that.”
The Intern perked up at this conversation. Many years as a world languages teacher had provided many similar frustrations. “See?” said the Goddess. “I told you this would be a good place for you.”
“English can be just as frustrating...or exciting,” said Dana. “Just this week, I had a great experience doing a seminar with my students on who really killed Romeo and Juliet. Maybe I could share a few tips.”
The Hoosier Schoolmaster giggled. “My classes worked on Romeo and Juliet, too; but things did start off on an interesting note...after I asked for a kid to play Peter...a small part. Ahem.”
Scenes from a Battleground overhead the comment from his table. “Have you had any parent complaints?”
“No,” said the Schoolmaster.
“You’re lucky. I’ve had such ridiculous complaints made against me.”
“Some people just don’t get it,” said Ms. Cornelius.
“You’re telling me,” claimed the NYC Educator. “I had a kid who was bound and determined to be busted for throwing a bagel—not a muffin, as his teacher claimed.”
Aquiram looked up. “So what happened to the kid? I’ve been trying to sort out whether or not there’s a difference between a punishment and a consequence. Maybe you would have some insight to share.”
“It’s not just the kids,” added Ms. Cornelius. “The apple does not often fall far from the tree—which can be a most unfortunate thing. Let me tell you about a parent conference I had this week. Perhaps the world is truly made for people who aren't cursed with self-awareness.”
“Just send those kiddos over to me,” said Mrs. Bluebird. “I’m a magnet for bad kids as it is.”
Chris laughed. “Some kids are just plain gullible. Have any of you had students playing with that ‘Peter Answers' site? Let me tell you how it works.”
“Technology can really be a double-edged sword sometimes,” remarked the Goddess.
“Indeed,” said Matt. “It’s turning out to be one more thing which enables helicopter parents. As if they needed more help.”
“On the other hand,” remarked Rebecca from Information Age Education, “something like Squidoo can be a great classroom tool. You should see what I’ve been able to do with it for math.”
Denise asked, “Have you made a page about story problems? I’ve just written some helpful hints for solving those.”
“You could certainly Squidoo with something like that,” Rebecca replied.
IB a Math Teacher sighed. “I’d just be grateful to have kids in class once in awhile. What’s up with all of the field trips these days? I had to send a note to my colleagues excusing kids from these so they could be in my class!”
“Brilliant!” exclaimed the Intern.
“Once you get them there, you have to carefully consider how best to reach the kids,” said the Elementary History Teacher. “I know that some of my colleagues dread such staff development, but I think that until we expand our knowledge of instructional strategies, we’re not going to be able to support more students’ learning.”
Linda nodded. “Effective teaching should aim to prevent mistakes. And that can include direct instruction.”
“Schools do have big issues to handle these days,” said the Goddess.
“Case in point,” said Darren. “How should a school deal with the death of a student? It’s a rare event, we hope, but different each time.”
Mr. Lawrence jumped in. “Or what about the school with the meth-dealing principal? I’ve subbed at that school. I’m thinking that since society doesn’t place a high value on educators that they’ve begun to believe it. Maybe that’s why there’s all these stories in the news.”
“Speaking of news stories,” said that Education Wonks. “Have you seen how upset people are now getting that Pizza Hut rewards readers with coupons for free pizza?”
“Sheesh,” said the Goddess. “I wonder if those same people complain that libraries are making kids obese by encouraging them to sit still and read?”
Carol nodded her head. “There does seem to be a lot of junk food out there. Just last week I was working with some reading groups. We got to talking about their breakfast habits and I was amazed at what they ate, if anything. It made me wonder if this was part of the reason they were low readers.”
“Maybe parents just aren’t good at arithmetic these days,” said Mamacita. “You know, the kind that shows they understand value, not cost. It sure would help their kids.”
“Schools do have a lot to handle these days, especially with AYP concerns,” said John. “They’re damned if they do and damned if they don’t in terms of the support they provide the lowest achievers.”
Bill looked over. “And what will happen as school choice becomes more of an option? It doesn’t seem to me that we can really treat them along a capitalist sort of model. A failing school is not the same as a failing business.”
“It isn’t,” said JD, “but just as we are mindful of supporting student learning, we must also be mindful of eroding teachers’ contracts. We can’t expect teachers to take on more than they should.”
The Goddess made it over to the final table. “What’s been happening with your curriculum this week?”
“My kids and I worked with some owl pellets—even started off the week with a poem, if you can believe it,” said Terrell.
The ChemJerk added that he had been thinking about the teaching of comparative religion at the high school level. “It’s not the material, but the approach that makes the difference,” he said.
“That sounds a bit philosophical,” said Allison. “It reminds me of what I’ve recently been pursuing. I’ve been interested in examining the idea of whether or not literature makes you a better person. Maybe it just makes you feel more alive.”
The Tour Marm smiled. “Nothing could be better for that than getting out and flying a kite. I brought some ideas to share for integrating it into your curriculum. This might be just the thing to do with kids after all of the spring testing.”
“Very good,” said the Goddess. “What a fabulous discussion today! Please take a few moments to reflect on your conversations and jot some notes in your journals. Remember to bring these with you to next week’s meeting. It will be over at The Education Wonks. Please be on time—just to remind you, that’s 9:00 PM (Eastern) 6:00 PM (Pacific) next Tuesday. Send your agenda items for this 110th convocation to owlshome[at]earthlink[dot]net or use this link. See you there!”
06 March 2007
05 March 2007
A few of us snuck away on Friday afternoon to visit with our previous Boss Lady, now a mucky-muck at OSPI. OSPI has the responsibility of implementing federal and state requirements for education, monitoring teacher certification, and all other duties as assigned. As a classroom teacher---and even as a district level support teacher---it is easy to scoff at OSPI in some ways. From our more humble perspective, it doesn't look like they have their poop in a pile. Information changes frequently, as does their support model. But having some time to actually listen to the Boss Lady, someone I have such respect for, lay out things for us helped make a lot of sense and cast them in a different light for me.
Really, I should know better. Curriculum/"The District" is routinely villified by classroom teachers without taking the time or energy to really learn about what is happening. As for me, I try to start from the premise that people have good intentions. I am occasionally wrong in doing so as there are all too many people out there who take their joy in working to make others unhappy, but I am not sorry for starting from that point. I understand the frustrations and realities of our teachers---just not their need to be ugly about them. I have to remember that things are not any different at the state level. If I haven't walked in their shoes, I can't very well try to blast them for how they do things.
It's hard to say whether or not the Boss Lady will cross paths with any of us again---at least in a professional capacity. She is in a position to help us further our work on behalf of students in our district and state. Her enthusiasm and revitalized nature as a result of her new job is an inspiration to keep growing...and blogging about it, of course.
P.S. There's only a few more hours to get your posts in for this week's Carnival of Education. You can submit your posts via the Blog Carnival form or just drop me a line at the_science_goddess[at]yahoo[dot]com. Entries are due by 6 p.m. Pacific Time tomorrow.
04 March 2007
The district is shrinking, hence the need for fewer teachers. All but two of my charges this year have specialized certificates; half of them are working with special needs students. This will likely be the trend in coming years. We will just be looking for "niche" people. If beginners these days fit the traditional model of being in their early 20's, just out of college and getting their first job, this might not be a big issue. Teachers that age are usually a bit more mobile: they can move where the jobs are. I only have two which fit that profile this year. The remainder are second career teachers. Moving around the state is less of an option when you have a spouse with a job in this area and kids involved with the local school system.
I had the Human Resources Director come and talk to my group last week. While they are no different than other cohorts of beginners we've had in the past in that they have non-continuing contracts, they are different in the sense that their job may not be there for them to reinterview about next year. Some of their roles may well be absorbed into the budget cuts. My SPED teachers like to joke that no one else would want their job---so they feel a level of safety. I wish I shared their lightheartedness. They are employable, no doubt, but as the district has some hard choices to make in coming years, no one at the bottom of the totem pole has any sort of assurance about their job.
I heard that a couple of my newbies hit the bar after our meeting. I admit the news that was delivered wasn't very rosy, but I thought it best for them to hear what the realities are and have as much time as possible to consider their options for next year. I wish they weren't on such shaky ground. I hope they land in districts where there is a bit of growth and need; where they have some time to get established on the food chain and secure their futures.
03 March 2007
I went to an inservice with Jay McTighe on Understanding by Design (UbD) with Differentiated Instruction. Three of my Curriculum colleagues were there...I had most of my 7th grade differentiated curriculum group...a beginning teacher and two mentors...two other science folks...and some elementary representation from the district. The conversations at each break felt a little surreal as I interacted with different groups. Ninth grade teachers wanted to talk about their new Curriculum. Elementary wanted to talk about some training I'd delivered. Seventh grade wanted to talk about the work to do over our next four meetings. And so on. I was aware that some of the groups would be there, but for me, it was like being at the center of some Venn diagram from Wonderland. I found it distracting, in some ways, not to be entirely representative of one group...not to have a single lens for filtering the information.
The best thing from the day was simply some time to process with someone from Curriculum about how UbD might (should?) apply to our staff development and also the school improvement process. Our department has lacked focus this year---we've had to be more reactive to all of the upheaval in the district as opposed to being proactive about working with staff and students. I think that part of the power in UbD is that it helps articulate vision in a purposeful and realistic way. I am wondering how to test this out a bit further.
Admins in our district have been provided tools this year for planning meetings. As the instructional leaders in their buildings, they really need to do more than make announcements to staff. As of yet, there appears to be no evidence of buy-in for this. I don't know if it's the tools themselves or the source of them which is off-putting. I do know that the principalship is almost too behemoth for one person to be expected to manage; but in not using some kind of framework for instructional leadership in the buildings, I feel like it sends a message to staff that it is unimportant. Should improving the learning environment and creating opportunities for students be so far down on the priority list that admins can't take the time and care to craft a purposeful message for the small windows of time staff have together?
If we are truly about doing things that are good for kids, then there has to be a way to filter out all of the other noise. We have to walk the talk. We cannot expect teachers to engage their students in rich learning environments if we as staff developers and administrators are not willing to do the same for teachers. I have to think that clearly identifying one or two purposeful "understandings" (to use the UbD term) would make us all feel a little less schizophrenic in our jobs.
01 March 2007
In the meantime, here are some tidbits to consider, if you're looking for serious news...
- NSTA has some food for thought about the middle school years. What should happen with kids in grades 6 - 8? Should they have their own school? Be combined with elementary...or perhaps combined with secondary? They have links to several sources at the end of the article, but what I found most interesting was that in a time where I seem to hear a push for the k-8 model, research is showing that these kids don't perform as well academically. Instead, the 6-12 model may give kids the best chance at success.
- Should we care that 75% of high school students (out of 81,000 surveyed) said that they were bored in class? I do not believe that teachers owe it to students to be entertaining in the classroom. It's not the prime directive. I do believe, however, that we must plan work that is engaging for kids. As EdTrust remarks, students can do no better than the assignments they are given. If kids are bored, that is partly their problem---they have to make the choice to be ready to learn---but it is partly our problem, too. Could we reduce the dropout rate through more rigorous curriculum?