What I’m Reading 9/14-9/18

Monday: Why borrowing from the ‘best’ school systems sounds good – but isn’t

Interesting article about adapting “successful” models from other locations and trying to put them in place in other places. The author points out that principles of successful systems can be borrowed and used, but not whole policies as these are dependent on the context and culture where the implementation is to occur. This carries particle meaning in the view of the current educational changes that are taking place in our country. It is important to examine all aspects of a successful system and determine why they are successful and what the contributing factors are in that location. A more thoughtful approach is taking bits of successful programs and creating a hybrid model with what your area is already doing well. Good read.

Tuesday: Why Generation Y is unhappy

This one caught my attention as I am a member of Generation Y. The major idea is that our generation has a lot of motivation and drive but has a lack of understanding when it comes to expectations. With a lack of perspective we are ultimately unhappy as our expectations are not met. The lesson to take away is to continue to work hard, appreciate generational differences, and be more content in the moment.

Wednesday: In Education “Change is Inevitable, Growth is Optional” or the 3 Types of Educators

Blog post about educators and their views of change; indicating that there are three. Those views of change (in my own words) are a resistance/wait it out approach, go through the motions and buzzwords out of fear, and to embrace it as a means of advancing one’s self. The last option is the ideal option and the type of educator that, though fearful of change, operates out of that area of being uncomfortable and does what is best for the advancement of student knowledge.

Thursday: More Michigan school districts shedding deficits

Report that states that 40 of 56 school districts that operated out of deficit in the previous year have made positive progress, with 20 of those 40 eliminating their debt. This is an encouraging report about the hard work, dedication, and sacrifices that school districts have made to bring themselves out of debt. While 40 of 56 have made progress, others (Detroit for example) have gone deeper into debt and will be taken over by the Treasury Department.

A major concerning point that is “between the lines” of this article is that school districts have made large cuts from pay reduction, to benefits, to outsourcing of services. Many districts are now at the point that there is nothing else to cut and if the financial situation of the state does not improve there is a grim picture of what that can mean for the future of schools and the retention of quality educators.

Friday: Why are US Teacher so White?

Article had an attention grabbing title and makes mention of the fact that minority teachers has risen from 12 to 17 percent from 1987 to 2012. The article then went into depth about overall teacher attrition, but especially within urban areas which typically employ more minority teachers. The end result of this attrition of minority teachers is that minority students have less role models and examples to look to. I’m not certain of the correlations that the article claims to make but I do think that the point that is made about targeting historically black colleges as well as tribal areas etc to enhance teacher preparation programs is a good idea.

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Too Much Power is a Bad Thing

Last week I read an article and a short summary about Governor Snyder’s plan to improve for educational reform in Michigan. In the Detroit Free Press article it is stated that the Governor intends to fix Michigan schools by putting in place an additional layer of oversight by putting in place an appointed CEO/Superintendent in financially distressed/under-achieving districts. The oversight by an education manager of an empowerment zone would see the state government gain further control over education while ignoring the major issues that have landed these troubled districts in this spot in the first place, namely limited funding and a lack of resources to address the needs of students and their families.

Here is where my Assistant Principal and Athletic Director worlds collide. Has the Governor not learned anything from the debacle that has been the Deflate-gate saga in the NFL?

Recently, a court has found Tom Brady’s punishment for his involvement in the deflation of footballs during last year’s playoffs to be unjust. More importantly the court determined that Commissioner Roger Goodell’s action as judge, jury, and executioner of all things discipline in the NFL was an overstepping of power.

This educator sees the governor’s approach to education reform in the same light; too much power in the hands of one person (or branch of government) is a bad thing. We have a Department of Education composed of educators that understand the real problems; let’s trust them to do what is right by kids.

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Goal for the 15-16 School Year

Summer went by fast but with every beginning there must also be an end. The summer has ended and with it my self-imposed break from social media. While I strive to be as connected as possible, the summer was a time for me to be connected with the people that I hold most dear, my family. In order for me to be truly with them, I made the conscious decision to not be connected in blogging and on other social media platforms.

This week marks the return of students to Michigan schools. It also marks the beginning of a new school years’ goals. The primary goal that I am setting forth for myself this year is to be more informed. To accomplish this goal my intention is two-fold; first, I intend to read one article per school day. This may take the form of an online article or in one of the journals that I receive. The second fold of the goal is to reflect on that reading by posting a blog entry per week. My hope is that I can accomplish this before Sunday of each week, but alas, the weekend will likely be used at times to catch up.

The articles and thoughts on those articles will be posted to my Michigan Education Issues website as well throughout the year.

Here are the articles I read this week:

Tuesday: Bills reveal Snyder’s Plan Schools Plan: Increased Oversight

Governor Snyder plans on addressing the needs of under performing and financially stressed districts with the hiring of additional layers of bureaucracy. To address the needs of “failing” districts, he is proposing legislation that would “education managers” that would have universal control over both traditional public as well as charter schools that are deemed to be part of empowerment zones.

My personal thoughts on this are that a government appointed official that is appointed, not hired, by Lansing to be the CEO and superintendent of a school district is not the answer for struggling schools. Until we examine the reasons why schools (and students) are struggling and work to provide support in those areas, schools will continue to fail. Additional oversight is not a step in the right direction, but rather an attempt to do something, be it misguided.

Wednesday: Late Again?

Insightful article written by a college professor about what motivates students to show up on time for class. The author reveals that gimmicks do not carry much weight with students and that public shaming has a larger effect. This flies a bit in the face of convention as educators are geared more toward nurturing than shaming of students. Another big takeaway is that students want to be engaged and not lectured to, a trend that has been developing more and more in my time in education.

Thursday: Memorizing is out, thinking like a scientist is inĀ 

This Detroit Free Press article focused on the new Michigan Science Standards. Though there is some resistance about the new standards, in the same vein as the Common Core State Standards and in the name of a loss of local control, there are many positives pointed out by the author. The article recognizes the importance of the need for standards that require students to take the lead in their own learning rather than memorizing or following step-by-step instructions. The PROCESS of critical thinking is more important than perfection in the end product.

Friday: A Referee’s Take on Blown Calls, Game Control and Fans’ Misconceptions

This Sports Illustrated article from December of 2014 was passed along to me at an MHSAA Athletic Director’s Update meeting. The article provides clever insight from a high ranking hockey official about the role of referees in athletics. The major point of the article was that referees cannot control a game, but rather they only make calls when the play falls outside the rules of the game. The responsibility of control in a game falls on the players, coaches, and parents. This is an important lesson for coaches, players, and parents as it puts the emphasis on them to control and learn from their actions rather than assigning blame to the officials.

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Core Advocacy Convening in Summary

This past weekend I had the privilege of traveling to Denver and being a part of the Student Achievement Partners Core Advocacy Convening. I left the weekend with several thoughts and ideas as well as some new resources that I feel will help me in my professional development. The single biggest impression that I take away from my weekend is that there are a lot of extremely talented, dedicated, and energetic people who are working very hard to make high quality education a reality for all the students of this country. These educators, across the country, are advancing the progress of the implementation of the Common Core State Standards and are laying the groundwork for the full-scale roll out that is taking place around the country.

Rather than go into great detail on everything that I heard over the weekend I thought I would provide some snippets of my takeaways with a little commentary on each:

  • To implement any big change institutions need two major starting points; a strong foundation to build upon and a vision of what is being built.
    • This is something that I certainly feel can be improved upon in Michigan. It seems to me that Michigan districts and schools are in the unfortunate position of being for an idea but without the big picture of what that idea will look like nor the foundation to build it upon. This is certainly an area of need for Michigan schools as we look to improve and one that I intend to talk more on in future posts.
  • When challenged by parents and naysayers about why math looks different now or why elementary students are being asked to cite evidence I reference back to my previous statement about laying a strong foundation. What is that foundation being laid to form? The easy answer is a college and career ready young man or woman capable of critical thinking, problem solving, and logic application.
    • Common Core literacy and mathematics is about more than coming up with an answer; it is about the development of an idea and being able to replicate a process under a different set of conditions. Yes, this looks different to parents than the way they learned, but that is the point! What we were doing was great, but the world has changed and with it, so have what we are asking of our high school graduates. In education we can control our targets and standards, we cannot control what the world and its many changes.
  • Rigor does not mean hard, but rather extremely thorough, exhaustive and accurate.
    • What scares people about the word “rigor” as it applies to education is that it requires real thought and a deeper level of understanding that most people are not accustomed to. This is a change from the status quo and any time the status quo is challenged there is resistance. I would argue that the status quo is an illusion.
  • When working with others we should “collaborate to calibrate”.
    • My favorite quote from the weekend. Nothing we do in this profession should be done on an individual basis because what we do ultimately should benefit all. Why are we making changes and implementing a massive educational shift? Answer, to better the lives of our students. If that is the case, collaboration is essential to develop the best possible resources. Within that cycle we calibrate and re-calibrate as needed because the collective understanding of all is greater than the individual understanding of one.

I was inspired throughout my weekend by the work, dedication, and passion that people have for education. I met some wonderful colleagues that are doing their part to improve the lives of students. We still have a long way to go as our country starts putting in the shifts of the Common Core State Standards, but I am confident that the right people are leading the charge. The work isn’t easy, but it shouldn’t be because if we are setting a goal for high rigor and greater depth then we need to be developing in that same manner. There is, and will continue to be, resistance as the status quo is challenged. Ultimately, though, the work is too important and the stakes too high for failure. Educators will collaborate and calibrate and networks and resources will be developed and students will be better for it.

I walk away from my experience in Denver knowing this to be true.

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Life Skills learned in school

In my last post I talked about the busy time in schools I called March Madness. Clear evidence of that is the fact that I wrote that post 4 weeks ago and am just now returning to type my next thoughts. It is during this frantic last month that it occurred to me that the most important skills that I use daily in my career are critical thinking, problem solving, and time management.

Critical thinking, problem solving, and time management are not classes that I took in high school or college. Rather, they were embedded by my teachers in the lessons taught in trigonometry, creative writing, and chemistry. While I look back at my schooling and feel that it was strong overall, I can honestly say that I do not remember every fact and function from those (or any) classes. In fact, I can claim to be one of those people who did very well in high school but struggled in making the adjustment to college. By today’s vernacular, I don’t think that I was college and career ready.

The funny thing about this term college and career ready is that it came about as a result of colleges and workplaces looking at our graduating students and their own expectations and deciding that what they were receiving from high schools wasn’t exactly what they needed. This evaluation of the product and the corresponding response of introducing standards that reflect a need for more critical thinking and problem solving is a process of evolution. This need for a better individual to start college or in the workplace has driven to the development of the expectations for schools and what they are to teach students to properly prepare them for life after high school.

Here’s the kicker: educators and schools have listened to the needs of post-secondary institutions and employers and have put together learning targets of “success” that fit what is being asked for. We call those the Common Core State Standards. Please understand that these are markers of success that have been established by educators and departments of education in response to the changing needs of colleges and job-providers. The plan for getting students to these learning goals is curriculum, which is very much shaped by individual states and local districts and put into place in the best way possible by talented teachers. The Common Core State Standards are not an infringement by the federal government on local control; in fact they don’t provide the structure necessary for instruction. They simply provide the finish line that needs to be crossed in whatever way is most effective for each teacher to their own students in their own little corner of the country.

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March Madness in Schools

We have made it to March and the smell of spring is just starting to hit the air and melt the winter away. NCAA College Basketball Playoffs excitedly start this week what has widely been named March Madness, the frenetic, crazy, fun, and exciting culmination of the college basketball season. In schools across the country, March Madness has a whole different meaning.

The Madness that March brings to schools is quite tangible and is created by a number of factors. Here are just a few of the many realities that schools face during March:

  • State and federal standardized tests
  • teacher and administrator evaluations
  • school report cards
  • budget proposals for next fiscal year
  • student scheduling
  • AP testing
  • end of year band/choir/drama performances
  • next level orientations (5th and 8th graders)
  • award ceremonies
  • graduation
  • Spring Sports
  • interviewing and hiring
  • retirements
  • building master schedules
  • student anticipation of the pending summer

Added to that ever-growing to-do list this time of the year is the pressures that the results of these tasks will bring. Politicians at the local, state, and federal levels licking their chops at the idea of cutting this or axing this due to dips in numbers. Families eagerly sifting through the data to find the best possible schools to send their students. Employees worrying about whether they will have a job the following year and, if they do, what that job will look like.

It is very important at this very busy time of the year to step back from the pressures and the to-dos and reflect on the primary purpose of all of this stress. While everyone from the parent, to the teacher, to the administrator is stressed to the point of breaking this time of the year it is important to remember that the reason that we are all in this is for the students. Regardless of what any politician says, or what the results of a standardized test show, what educators do now needs to be with students as the focal point. It is far too easy for people to lose that focus of this simple point in the face of all the stress agents at this time of year.

To all of the educators out there from administrators, to teachers, to coaches, to parents keep persevering and doing what is best for kids. Put aside all of the pressures, checking them off one at a time, and all the while keep your eyes on the prize that is our kids. Take in the Madness and make it marvelous.

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Why Educators Should Connect

In a couple of weeks I will have the pleasure of sitting on a panel with some phenomenal educators at the MACUL conference in Detroit. The topic of our panel is why educators should connect. In preparation for that panel, this is my formalization of the random thoughts that I have coupled together since being invited to join.

A few years ago I was a classroom teacher and one of my best friends in the school was next door. We shared a wall and we shared a passion for chemistry, but it dawned on me one day while we were talking in the hallway during a class change that I did not know much about John as a teacher. Sure I had heard his voice through the walls on a frequent basis (and I’m sure he and his classes had heard mine) but I didn’t know much about his instructional technique nor his relationships with students or any of the other important aspects that make a teacher effective. At that moment it occurred to me that education is an isolating profession.

It is funny to think about a job that involves standing in front of 30 people at a time and talking as being one that is isolating. The reality, however, is that while teachers and school administrators talk a great deal, the majority of that conversation is small talk amongst peers or instructional toward students. There is very little dialogue about pedagogy or the sharing of ideas and technique. Most educators, whether they choose so voluntarily or do so sub-consciously are confined by the four walls of their room or office and do not engage in the types of conversations that allow them to grow. This is precisely the reason why educators should seek to connect!

There are many roadblocks that inhibit educator connections. Roadblocks like increased accountability, more school responsibilities, and a lack of time and money for common planning and professional development are a few of the obstacles that prevent connecting. Now more than ever, however, it is important for teachers and administrators to combat these potential land mines and find ways around them in order to reap the benefits. The reality of education at the moment is that there are many outside influences that are looking to derail the progress that schools make on a daily basis. These voices that exist from the outside looking in heap a very negative vibe onto schools. Connecting with the positive energy of dedicated educators is a powerful tool for overcoming the naysayers.

Stepping out of the classroom both literally and metaphorically is a necessary step toward educator progress. Technology has changed our society and has made making connections much easier, but it is not the only necessary ingredient for progress. The most important necessity is a desire to connect, the want to. This internal motivation is what pushes through the obstacles on the path and leads to connections with others, that leads to ideas and reflection, and ultimately progress in classrooms and the school.

I’m not sure where my principal at the time, Dr. Nathan Franklin, found the idea but in my last year at Loganville High we started stepping out of our classrooms. Teachers were asked to go observe other teachers, their peers, in the classroom. This wasn’t an evaluation exercise, it was an expansion exercise; one in which we could start seeing our peers’ strategies and start having conversations. It was an idea that lead to an exercise in breaking down obstacles and building connections.

Oh, and in case you were wondering, the first teacher on my list to observe and learn from was my good friend John.

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