Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Sailing Together This Year!

 Tobias Wenkemann:
                                  WHICH WAY WILL YOUR SHIP SAIL THIS YEAR?

Yesterday, I had the good fortune of spending the day with a group of my colleagues from Teacher's College in a school district working with the Writing Units of Study, and really contemplating this question together with them. It gave me time to pause and think back about all the new beginnings I faced in my many years with kids.

The teaching of reading and writing, by today's standards, is no small, boring pursuit. Kids love to work in an active engagement model, where the teacher talks less and less, and they are called to do the work that's asked of them. This is, truly, why I love this model. But for those small moments of teacher talk, and then the well-planned conferences that follow--there's a ton of preparation that has to take place behind the scenes.

Teaching is hard work. Learning should be hard work too.

So this year, with the kick-off of a new year, a new horizon...and a new chance to set sail, I'm looking forward to watching teachers working together, supporting one another, and being well supported by the communities that they serve. Because despite the insane narrative that's been created by large corporations and political machines out there...I know, my colleagues, past and present know what they're doing when they're at the helm. But in order to move this huge cargo ship, they've got to toss out the old, welcome the new, and they need to know that we all support them, as they row together to get the job done once more!

Teaching is the greatest profession on earth! And all of us, the community of parents, taxpayers, legislators especially...need to 'get it' and buy in! We are, after all, in this together. And as our Newtown Superintendent, Dr. Erardi stated so eloquently at his kick-off, "You're worst day is our worst day too! We are all in behind you!" All in...his message both on paper and practice.

Are you all in behind your teachers in your community? What have you done to make this evident to them?

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Fetch that Data, Spot!

Pendulums in education come and go...they truly do. But when you're in the thick of another maelstrom of over-testing, data collecting, and doting on curricula over student needs, it doesn't always feel that way.

Somewhere out there, not too long ago, a narrative began about teachers and teaching. And despite the best efforts out there, the voices of today's educational prodigy are not being heard. Well of course. What do they know? Seriously. What do they know? They are, like I was long ago, wet behind the ears. They're so happy to have a job that they learn to conform, compete, and appear to be on the right track. Succumb. That's what we do. We are, after all, the lambs. Especially those of us who come up the ranks through elementary educating. You can't make waves; you don't have the time or energy to do so.

But the narrative that has been born right under our noses is this: there are bad teachers out there, and worse yet, students are suffering. I do think this is an over-dramatization of the many, like me, who did suffer through a year or perhaps two of strict teachers. Yes, they did have the finesse of a large tank, and yes, they didn't understand me. They taught whole group, and if you didn't understand how to conform, you were in trouble. But today, our approach to learning is different. We've learned more.
And despite the incredible efforts of a LARGE majority of incredibly dynamic teachers out there, it becomes all about the old narrative.

Today, we test to predict who's using the best available practices in the classroom. We test to track students over time against the teachers who have taught them. We test at the beginning of the year, despite the fact that we have last year's numbers. We test mid-year to track the data from fall to winter. We then have the states tests, which are aligned with the standards, and then we test at the end of the year too. Fatigued? You're not the only one.

Students, drawn from their classrooms to sit in front of the blue screen, are separated from the depth and breath of a rigorous investigative curriculum. They, like us, are lambs. They have no choice and neither do we.

Don't misunderstand me, I'm not suggesting there be no accountability. I get that. But, the common sense of the matter is this...good administrators can get a good sense of a classroom dynamic and the teacher that's facilitating it, in about ten minutes' time. Administration these days have a great deal on their plates, though. With the constant stream of meetings, emails and parent calls...often their hands are tied. It's hard for them to poke their noses out of the office. But, I do think, if fidelity in observation were placed high on their evaluation, and the tests were all but eliminated, with the exception of the States' test at the end of the year? We'd all see a whole new horizon.

I say, swing the doors wide, let's all roll up our that deep investigative, creative classroom of our dreams. Yes, we can match it to the standards, and no it's not the standards that tie our hands. Let's all get our heads together and change that political narrative. And for once, listen to the people who are actually the true experts on learning, the advocates for kids: the teachers.