Tag Archives: change

Ming’s Musings: 10/5-10/9

Monday: Duggan steps into the breach to save Detroit schools

Article touches upon the mayor of Detroit’s plan to do his part in helping Detroit schools. I like the approach that he expresses in that he will lobby for the schools but will not take them over; he will leave that in the hands of people better qualified to run the schools. I also like that he recognizes that Detroit is a powerful test subject and that if we can get things right with DPS then we can apply those same principles to other struggling school districts. The part that I am not on board with is written between the lines. I am not in favor of legislation that would require other areas around the state to pay for the debts created by the EAA and DPS.

Tuesday: How much do big education nonprofits pay their bosses? Quite a bit, it turns out.

This article questions the tax exempt status of major testing corporations such as those responsible for the SAT and the ACT and the overall salary of the top executives. The numbers are eye-opening though, especially in light of the big state contracts that these companies have and the pseudo-monopoly they have in the college admissions process.

Wednesday: We must despise our kids: Our ugly war on teachers must end now

13% of teachers leave the job field every year. Why, you might ask? The rise of charters, the elimination of collective bargaining, and the constant denigration of being failures has turned a once noble profession to one of attrition and defensiveness. The author of the article points to the above examples as reasons why the profession is losing its workforce and warns that reformers are doing more harm than good which we may not see the result of until these children are older.

It is a sad state of affairs, but the author has hit some points that resonate with me. I would be lying if I said that I hadn’t had some tough, demoralizing days in my career that have made me question staying in the profession. The most difficult part is not necessarily financial, however, it is that the acts of the “reformers” have create this stigma around education that has eroded the once strong trust relationship between teachers and parents; a relationship that used to bridge the education of a student from school to home.

Thursday: Feeding and Fertilizing School Athletics

This article was written by the head of the MHSAA, Jack Roberts, and focuses on the importance of expanding opportunities for middle school athletics in order to interscholastic athletics to be successful. The article focuses on two major premises; that 6th graders should be permitted to participate in school sports and that we need to lift the cap on the number of contests permitted at the middle school level. These two factors will help to keep interscholastic sports competitive with outside clubs and groups.

I agree with the authors thoughts on the matter and am concerned about one particular set of comments that had the message that some school administrators believe sports take away from already limited resources. As an assistant principal and athletic director I see everyday, firsthand, the influence of sports on education. Many of the students that roam the halls of my school do so during the day because they know that they won’t be permitted to play their sports if they don’t. Sports teach important lessons about life that cannot be learned elsewhere and having a school-based system ensures that athletics remain educational.

Friday: Bill would get retired teachers back in the classroom

Proposed legislation in both the House and the Senate would allow for the return of retirees to the classroom without hurting their benefits and the hiring of non-certified teachers in areas of need.

I have very mixed feelings about this. On the one hand, there is a very real shortage of teachers in many areas of need and ultimately students lose in this scenario. On the other hand, bringing back retirees brings up a different problem, a generation difference that is exacerbated by the increased demands of today’s teachers. In most other professions, if you have a specialized job that has a limited applicant pool, employers will incentivize the position to make it more attractive. This is where education may be missing the mark. Pardon my crassness, but recycling retired teachers does not solve the long-term need.

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Ming’s Musings: What I’m Reading 9/21-9/25

Monday: Student learning accounts for half of teacher evaluations this year

Local article from my area that talks about the 50% value on student growth for teacher evaluations. This is an especially difficult situation for teachers and the evaluators alike in that the state, through legislation, has said that this is the law, but has not adequately defined what student growth is. To think that 50% of your evaluation is required by law to involve a variable that the state has difficulty defining is a difficult situation for all parties involved. Evaluations are not supposed to be punitive, but rather a measurement of where somebody is and what they can improve on.

Tuesday: Teens Need More Sleep, But Districts Struggle to Shift Start Times

The major point of the article is that school should start later in the day, especially at the high school level. Research points toward high school students optimally starting after 9am, but this poses a logistical issue for many families.

Being someone who has been involved with high school education for 11 years, I can attest to the observation that teenagers have a tough time functioning early in the morning and have noticed how much better those same students do in the afternoon. The article takes the viewpoint, however, that schools are not aware of the benefit of starting later, which is false. Educators are aware of the benefits of the teenage mind starting later in the day, but cost (though we wish it weren’t) is a driving factor in many school decisions. Fundamentally, everything from busing, to teacher contracts, to after school activities (including sports) would need to be changed in order for this to be beneficial. The difficult ask with this type of proposal is that it almost requires an entire community to alter their schedule for the schools and that seems to be too big of a reach in most areas.

Wednesday: Grand Rapids schools teacher layoffs spark evaluation system discussion

Another article, this one out of Grand Rapids, about the effect of teacher evaluations. The article brings up that multiple probationary teachers were released from a district due to not achieving effective status on their evaluation. The troubling part of the article for me is that the point was made that school data is used for student growth for the teachers that teach subjects that are not directly state tested, often times when teachers didn’t teach those students. This is an example of how the failure of the state to define student growth has led to dire outcomes. Another part of the article that was bothersome to me is that one of the board members, that was a former teacher and administrator, claimed a lack of consistency in the year-to-year evaluations citing his own record of being highly effective one year and effective the next. In the education world, as in many other professions, there are up years and down years that are determined by many different factors. It is not a fair claim to say that the evaluator or evaluation system is unjust based on the information provided.

Thursday: Judge rules Ann Arbor school district can ban guns

A short article about Ann Arbor schools and a court case that upheld the right of the school district to ban guns on school property.

I am not against denying anyone their rights that have been granted by our Constitution. With that being said, however, I do not see having guns on school grounds as a good thing. Any gun, whether properly licensed or not, poses a security concern at the very least.

Friday: Five ‘dumb’ things one educator used to think but doesn’t anymore

Interesting take on five topics that have undoubtedly come up in classrooms across the country. “1. School is your job. Just like I have a job and your parents have a job, you too have a job. 2. Algebra teaches you how to think differently. 3. Homework will teach you how to do things you don’t want to do. 4. My strict deadlines are teaching them accountability and responsibility. 5. Difficult/strict teachers help you learn how to deal with those types of people…it’s good for you.

I really enjoyed how the author reflected on his experiences as an educator and challenge the conventional logic above. Anybody that has been in education will tell you that it is cyclical and that there are no new ideas. I don’t believe that this has to be the case if more people challenge why we do what we do. My thoughts on education have changed a great deal over my career and are now reflected in my simple philosophy of creating opportunities. Education should be exciting and learning should be fun while opening doors to areas that otherwise may have been blocked off.

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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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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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Envisioning Schools of Tomorrow

Schools do not look the same as they did 100 years ago; nor should they. The buildings in which we educate our youth should change as the needs of society change. These buildings should change both structurally and intellectually. In my previous two posts I discussed my educational philosophy and the need to shift the focus of learning. What follows is my vision of what schools in the future will look like.

The major premises that my vision for the future of schools are based on:

  • Today’s school buildings do offer some “unwritten” advantages that pay dividends in personal development of students
  • Learning through the use of technology is not going away, but does not replace the value of a good teacher
  • Knowing where to find information and what to do with that information has become a higher priority than the information itself
  • A school, and education in general, is a means of creating an opportunity for something better.

There are inherent advantages in schools as they are currently configured. They are a microcosm of society, for better or for worse, and provide a relatively safe environment for young people to learn the roles of society…how to interact with others, forming relationships, conflict resolution, etc. These lessons that exist outside of the curriculum are fully missed through online education.

That, however, brings me to the second bullet point, technology is not going away. As a high school administrator I have seen students leave my school to jump on the bandwagon of online school. Unfortunately, the transition from all brick and mortar to exclusively online is a difficult one for many students. My vision for the future is a blended effect across the board. Schools would become much more wired than they are now with a much more liberal plan for electronics usage.

With a more blended environment it is going to be important for schools of the future to provide the proper structure for success. I envision a slew of new classes developing that will teach basic tech uses, proper research and citation process, digital citizenship (and digital presence), time management, focus strategies, unplugging sessions, etc. All of these new classes would become a mandatory part of the curriculum that would provide the tools needed to construct a future education in preparation for life in the “real-world”.

All of these factors combined bring me to my final vision for future education; information gathering and usage will be measured and will lead to greater flexibility and choice for students. My radical twist for the future of education is the breaking down of the current class length requirement currently set at semester or trimester and instead a focus on standard proficiency. Through blended learning students would be able to complete courses early and move on to other areas of interest faster or conversely have the ability to spend more time in areas of need. Grades, in essence, would no longer be the assessment of student learning, but rather, students would need to be able to use the material learned in class and apply it in order to prove proficiency. Standard proficiency would lead to advancement and diving into material at a deeper level.

Schools of the future will look different. My vision for schools creates choice and eliminates the students that “know how to play the game”. By blending learning and shifting our focus, schools will be a place of choice and opportunity that will prepare students for what lies ahead.

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Tech Shortcuts

If you have been reading my weekly entries, you have probably noticed a theme of technology and change. My reason for talking about these two topics each week is two-fold. The first part of my reason is that I am a techno-geek myself and enjoying finding new ways to use the latest technology in my everyday life. The second part of my reason is that technology is coming to education whether we want it to or not. In my opinion it is much easier to get small doses of technology over time than it is to be thrown into the deep-end of the pool surrounded by it. I like to think of this blog as a means of vaccinating teachers to educational technology; small doses over time to avoid widespread disease.

With that being said, I am always on the lookout for new and neat ways of doing things with an eye always focused on efficiency. Keeping that “e” word in the back of my head, I stumbled upon a TED talk that astounded me in its simplicity, yet still taught me a couple of things.

Of the ten tech tips, not all of them were new to me, but half of them were. It got me thinking about all of the small tidbits of information that are out there and how we can all learn a little bit from each other. I think this is the hidden idea about integrating technology into our instruction. Despite all of the increased focus and attention on using computers for instruction, the key point to keep in mind is that we all have knowledge that can and should be shared. Technology, through the use of webpages, blogs, wikis, etc., has the capability of pooling that large knowledge base together and enhancing all of our abilities. One of the challenges of the future in education will be integrating technology in a way that harnesses the benefits and minimizes the detrimental effects.

Discussion Questions:

  1. What did you learn from the video?
  2. What types of information do you desire to feel more competent with using technology in your instruction?
  3. What steps can you take now to prepare yourself for the “educational technology epidemic”?

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