Sunday, November 28, 2010
Like Socrates, you, teacher, are your own leader. You are the one and true leader of the learners entrusted to you. You lead your learners. And more:
• you respect them all,
• you take them as they are,
• you encourage them endlessly,
• you never give up on them,
• you affirm them with praise and encouragement,
• you send them back to their task when the product of their work is lacking,
• you elicit from them the answers to questions they never thought they knew,
• you expect their best from them, always,
• you model learning for them by remaining yourself a learner,
• you tell them failures are just another step to knowledge,
• you truly care for them, each and every one.
And at last, when they leave your classroom, you send them on their way with their own fishing poles and toolkits for learning how to learn.
YOU are the leader! A fellow teacher may encourage you. A principal who truly cares about you may have your back.
But no Superintendent has ever led you into your daily battle against ignorance. No superintendent is in your classroom to help those kids who need help right now. No superintendent gives you kudos when it's due or help when you need it most. No Superintendent passes on the culture and the breadth and depth of what we need to know.
Superintendents may be required by law. A teacher is required by students. A teacher is the real and true leader.
Thursday, November 4, 2010
Tuesday, November 2, 2010
Thursday, September 23, 2010
Friday, August 6, 2010
Suppose you had a good grade way back when; did you deserve it? Or, how about a bad grade in 3rd grade? Was your performance really that bad? Well, the teacher must have thought so. How did it affect your view of yourself? Were you the better or the worse because of it?
No Child Left Behind, that wonderful mantra, is still leaving far too many behind...attaching their accumulated standardized test scores to their teachers and their schools, assigning extra homework to the errant teachers and closing those bad, bad schools. But how do these test scores help the individual student from being left behind? They advance or retreat one child at a time.
So, what's really wrong with a grade or a standardized test score? The pundits and experts call them objective scores, as they are thought to be free from subjectivity and less prone to error. OK. So someone who really believes this, please tell me what a D- is, or what's a 72? Is there a teacher or an objective test out there with the wisdom of Solomon who can defend the complete objectivity of the grade or the test score? Anyone? Anyone? I thought not.
So, how do we assure that students possess the needed skills and competencies to succeed? How do we know if they can do quality work? How about we look at their work? Why not put each student, with help from their teachers, parents and mentors, in charge of designing, creating and collecting their best, summative projects, papers, videos, presentations, collaborations, apprenticeships (maybe), designs, solutions, poems, pictures, dreams, improved work,....well you get it: a Personal Portfolio of the Emerging Learner. Authentic assessment, if you will.
Why, with help, most students could create an assessment rubric too, so they can learn to judge the quality of their own work. Of course, they want reviews and input and suggestions from their teachers, fellow students, parents, mentors, Skype-buddies...you name it. In time they may need less help and have far more confidence in their skills.
Wouldn't that be far more meaningful than a number or a grade? Sure, students and teachers could keep a checklist of skills possessed, works in progress or improvements still needed. But, most of us in this profession can look at a student's chosen, best work and immediately tell what they know and what they don't know. Even better, with a little help, so can they.
Think of the time and energy saved from all the irrelevant, meaningless measuring we now do. And no one really, truly knows what it means for each learner. Or, finding something effective to remediate it.
It's time to make some fundamental changes in our educational system. How about replacing grading and testing with Personal Portfolios of Excellence and Progress? When they leave their classes next spring, they can only take their fond memories of their good teachers along with them. How about giving them the gift that keeps on giving: Learning how to learn.
Take a look at the changes we tried at our Saturn School of Tomorrow some years ago. We need more ideas like this one. Real reform. Not a race to the top of something that won't be there next year.
WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ON THIS ISSUE? POST YOUR COMMENTS BELOW.....THANKS!
Wednesday, August 4, 2010
Tuesday, June 15, 2010
Think of the millions of educators out there every day running the race against ignorance and lost opportunities for learning among the kids and communities we serve. Is anyone getting tired, cramped up or out of breath? Does anyone need a break?
Well, many of us now have one: Summer! A chance to reflect: What worked? What didn't? What could I have done better than I did? What more do I need to know? What can I change? Where can I find more help? Where are the others who will run this race against ignorance that holds back so many in our schools? I can't do it all myself! How can I better pass the baton?
20 years ago I and a dedicated teaching staff were running in such a race ourselves. We were in the midst of starting up a new school, called the Saturn School of Tomorrow, and dedicated to the simply stated proposition that "More must learn more!" We required a student-designed personal learning plan for every student. We were able to get nearly 100 percent parent involvement in their child's education. We empowered our teachers by giving them greater control (and even compensation!). We used the community for our classroom (art museum, science museum, library, etc.) Technology empowered both our students and teachers. Amazingly, 10,000 visitors from everywhere came to see what we were trying to do, even the President of the United States, who recognized us for our efforts.
Where is that school today? It is gone!
Some have asked "why?" Having served as the leader of that school, I know there were many reasons: the superintendent who supported our project left in the midst, our standardized test scores fell a little, the local newspaper and other district staff, after the hoopla, "fell out of love" with us and what we were trying to do. But key among the reasons was our failure to better "pass the baton." Not only did we need more outside help in our race for needed change, we didn't take enough advantage of the help that was there to take. Why? As one of our teachers said, "It's hard to change a flat tire on your car when it's moving."
The creative teachers who started the school, who invented new and powerful ways to deliver the curriculum, had a difficult time welcoming and inviting in and including the new teachers who joined us in subsequent school years. We no longer had a shared vision, to say nothing of a shared song-sheet, so to speak. All need to be empowered.
We were developing portfolio assessments at the same time we were trying to improve student scores on basic skills using computer-based learning systems. More support was needed from vendors and experts in that area. Why didn't I push for more help from them?
While we captured the attention of many outside our community, we were unable to secure tacit support among those in our own school district. They saw us as different and threatening to the so-called establishment. Why didn't I invite them in to help us, co-teach with us, brainstorm, observe and suggest?
When we learned our standardized test scores were below expectations (whatever that means), our local press, which had been supportive at first, ran every headline they could to make us look worse. One of the paper's columnists criticized a student who misspelled a word when he was showing the visiting President Bush one of our technology tools, never mind that the columnist has a misspelling in that same column. Never fight with those who buy their ink by the barrel! Had I been better at PR, perhaps I could have secured more support from the paper's editorial staff.
We even tried the fine suggestions that fellow blogger and tweeter Shelly Terrell has listed in her call to more "passing the baton" action:
- Creating a plan
- Creating leadership positions shared by many
- Having appropriate measures in place
- Establishing a vision
But, we needed to do a far better job of monitoring, promoting, including, sharing, telling, asking and passing on. As I look back now I know the students, who did a lot of this for us, could have done even more. Here's their own video they made about their own very different school:
How about that for an unprompted closing statement from the narrator? It still makes my day.
And as I reflect on it, I think more videos like this one and presos from the students would have greatly helped our cause and success. The students can be great runners in this race, too.
In case you're wondering, I do know I'd do it all again in a heartbeat. IF I could find some more passionate, caring, able educators and supporters who want to join in the Race For Reform, and are willing to grab a baton.
On your mark!……
Thursday, April 15, 2010
Wednesday, March 24, 2010
Subtitled :How Many School Districts Are There on the Head of a Pin?
I recall a Superintendent in my bygone days who, when queried about our district's insatiable need for more money during hard times, quipped: "I never met a dollar I didn't like." I suspect that applies to many of us, even if we're not running a school district. $4.35 billion in RTTT funding is a lot of dollars to like. So how much of the meager energy we have left after our days and nights in the classroom, or supporting same, can be spent on winning the Race?
What are we to make of these well-meaning feds, from the President to the Secretary of Education, to say nothing of those reading proposals from the likes of us, and who are dangling these golden RTTT carrots in front of us…the "us" being the we being who pull and push the school district's ancient oxcarts, loaded with kids who want to learn? These are the kids who need to learn, but far, far too often aren't learning nearly well enough. These funds won't likely go to the schools, being left behind, nor the students, nor the districts, but to the states!
There are 16,000 school districts in this nation and if there's one out there who doesn't need more money, please raise your hand. Of course, no amount of printing more money would provide enough for even the deserving top ten percent….whoever they are and whatever "deserving" means. If 20 states split the pot, each would get a couple hundred million dollars to split among school districts. If a state had, say 400 districts, the dollars would average $500,000. By the time it gets divided again amongst the schools, the pot of gold has shrunk to a more molecular level, nowhere near enough to address the lofty requirements of the RTTT manifesto.
It wouldn't be so bad if these funds actually helped us leave no child behind. But most of the states, districts, schools and classrooms that need them most probably won't see a nickel of it. Our local school district has to cut 25% from its strapped budget in the next 2-3 years. It would be higher if there weren't temporary federal funds for this year (unless more money is printed). Class sizes of 50 students?Yet, higher standards? More teachers fired and more schools closed? Another "Newsweek" diatribe?
On top of that we are all being asked to ensure all the the children we teach are soon above average. Never mind that the standardized tests that measure this are designed to replicate a normal curve and ensure that only half are average or above. How can that strategy possibly help in leaving no child left behind?
Did I mention that all of this depresses me greatly? I have been looking for a silver lining or at least some answers.
Monday, March 8, 2010
One of my teenage sons used to refer to the syllabus in his high school course as a "silly-bus." In many ways, in today's ever-changing world, it still is: "Silly"; a learning "Bus", if you will, and far too often to a new destination, or at least one whose route has changed.
For many of us, the courses we teach today change as we teach them, right in front of our collective nose. The content we chose on Monday has been tweaked by someone on Tuesday, and repackaged before the week is out. What we thought was good and useful gospel may now be considered whimsy, or worse. If we had put our syllabus on a Wiki, it would be no longer what it was. It might be a lot better, too.
Some may claim, for example, that a math syllabus may be exempt. I taught math for many years and Euclid may be as immutable as parallel lines, but just as there's often more than one way to a do a proof or solve a problem, there's more than one way to learn.
I have prepared many a syllabus in my 40+ years of teaching. Like lessons plans, many educational institutions from K-12 to higher-ed require a syllabus. Truth in packaging. Syllabi are the blueprints for our courses, the GPS on where the nuggets lie, the product information booklets for education. We may not offer guarantees when we teach, but there should be full disclosure and recourse.
Take textbooks, too, for example....please! I can't use a textbook anymore. The content changes by the time it's published. Used to be in olden days that the textbook was the syllabus for many teachers.
Here's what American Heritage Dictionary has to say about the word "syllabus":
[Medieval Latin, probably alteration (influenced by Greek sullambanein, to put together) of Latin sillybus, parchment label, from Greek sillubos.]
Here are some non-traditional suggestions on this tradition-bound issue:
1. Invite your students in to help create or modify your course syllabus.
2. What should be included or left out in the syllabus?
3. How should it be learned? What's the best lesson plan for today and tomorrow?
4. What are the effective ways to show what we know? Let students help make the rubric.
5. Can rubrics differ for different learners? How can we all show that we know?
6. How can we gather useful feedback to improve the syllabus for the next group of learners passing through this chartered territory?
In today's ever-changing world, a syllabus needs to be dynamic. Even more, it needs the learners as active participants. Both teachers and students should be owners and doers and helpers. What's a village for, if we all want an educated village?
For education to become better, we must all become co-learners and co-teachers. The Wiki concept is a powerful model to help make that happen. Google, too.
I'll bet there are many more ideas out there on how to make a syllabus come alive with our synergy.
We are all of us smarter than any of us. But we already know that. Let's use it.
Sunday, March 7, 2010
How does it differ? He uses his students at Kansas State to share what both he and they are learning. My guess is that these students contribute greatly to his unique message, with their unique massage of it. Here's an example from his youtube site:
There's a lesson here for all of us: invite your students in as fellow teachers and learners. Give them the power, and they will give it back to you as an empowered Classroom Learning/Instruction Community (CLIC).
This CLIC is a new kind of clique and kids will find it way-cool to belong. It will liberate them from the box too.
There is virtually no static syllabus any more. As Wesch, and Marshall McLuhan before him, remind us: the medium and the message are changing right before our eyes.....continuously.
We need more teachers and learners in every classroom. Promote your students to a greater team role. They'll do you proud and promote you right back!
Sunday, February 28, 2010
Thanks to a Twitter today, I saw an inspiring website article today in Edutopia.com by Mitchel Resnick, entitled, "Kindergarten Is the Model for Lifelong Learning."
I encourage you to read it at: http://bit.ly/KhLh6
Dr. Resnick directs the Lifelong Kindergarten Group at MIT's Media Lab, from whence many other good ideas have emanated: Sherry Turkle's publications on the sociological implications of computer chat (subsuming the billions of text chats, I'm guessing ), plus Seymour Papert's seminal work 40 years ago with Logo’s Turtle computer software.
There's lots more from that MIT corps, but suffice it to say Resnick's conclusions are simple and worth our consideration:
"…kindergartners playfully create stories, castles, and paintings with one another, they develop and refine their abilities to think creatively and work collaboratively, precisely the abilities most needed to achieve success and satisfaction in the 21st century." - Edutopia
He talks too about a new computer program they developed for kindergartners, called "Scratch", a free download at: http://scratch.mit.edu/ and all the community interest and participation evoked by a Kg student whom he anonymously calls "BalaBethany", a malaprop name if there ever was one, made up by permuting the real-life name of Bela Banathy, one of the founders and forerunners of instructional systems thinking. So, it's clear Dr. Resnick still likes to play too.
As another reviewer noted, many of the sound points made remind the reader of Robert Fulgham's classic book some years ago, "All I Really Need to Know, I Learned in Kindergarten." It's all true of course: holding hands while crossing the street, say you're sorry, don't hit, flush, and the biggest word of all: Look! And that last one is, of course, what education is all about.
Why can't the powerful model of kindergarten be extended into the upper grades? That's a good question. And there are far too few "good" answers. Among the biggest obstacles is we group our learners by how old they are instead of what their needs are. Followed closely by the fact that there's little chance to play and learn in groups, talking is not tolerated, naps are not encouraged when your brain is tired (see my earlier blog on "Sleeping Students), there's no milk and cookies, and learning is way too often boring and no longer fun.
After kindergarten, labels get hung on learners like an albatross and too many of them give up and become negative self-fulfilling prophecies: "I didn't think I could do it, either." How sad!
What can we do? Bring some of the fun back to learning. Break some of the rules….especially the ones you think you can get away with: more collaborative group work, answer fewer questions but ask more, let them teach you, give them the tools to show what they know. Say, "Look!" more often., “Hey, everyone, look at this!”
When the lights start going back on in their eyes, you'll know it’s working.
Friday, February 26, 2010
This commentary was first published in
Shelly Terrell's blog:
It's a great resource and
worthy of your bookmark!
Written on February 24, 2010 – 7:49 pm | by Shelly Terrell
Part of the series: Global Issues in Education
A tweet flew by this morning about what a teacher should do with a sleeping student. I sent a response to Shelly Terrell about my experience years ago as a young math teacher who tapped the shoulder of a sleeping kid in my algebra class, and with all the empathy of the rookie I was, asked him how in the name of the quadratic formula, could he be sleeping in my class.
He opened his sleepy eyes and said, “Sorry Prof King. I couldn’t get any sleep last night. My dad came home drunk and was beating my mother and me.” That was the last time I ever woke a sleeping student.
When I was in high school, corporal punishment was still meted out to any errant students, usually a slap, or the infamous paddle. But there were some sadists who somehow got to be teachers and literally punched kids into submission. Although the bruises healed, my guess is that the inner scars are still there. How do I know that? Some of those kids, now men and fellow alumni, were still talking about at our 50th reunion. They weren’t laughing, either.
Positive reinforcement works. I’ve seen it light the eyes of a learner many times. Negative reinforcement never works. Physical punishment not only doesn’t work on students (or anyone for that matter), but it may keep them from ever becoming a real learner. It turns an incident meant to be a positive learning experience into a painful memory of punishment. The only thing a student learns from the experience is that it’s OK to strike someone when rules are broken, or someone else just makes you angry. The punishment is perpetuated.
I grew up in an era where spankings were occasionally administered. I’m not going to say that the couple of times I got one didn’t get my attention focused on my poor behavior. But, as I grew older, I was more concerned about letting my parents down, or worse, having done something I knew was wrong. Most parents today eschew spankings for the same good reasons. Regardless, it never belongs in the classroom or in a school. Ever. Anywhere. Anytime.
Psychologists tell us that painful memories are often hard to eradicate. The really bad ones can result in Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Corporal punishment may not occur in a battlefield, but that doesn’t mean emotional scars won’t be lasting. Negative reinforcement obliterates the desired learning and replaces it with pain or shame. The negative is what has been learned. There are no positives.
Tom King is a retired math teacher, the founder of the Saturn School of Tomorrow, adjunct professor for 35 years +, husband, father, grampa, friend, tennis and golf partner, coffee buddy, reader, photographer, poet, and a marveling lifelong learner. He blogs at Tom King’s Blog of De-Fogand tweets by the handle, @profTK. Read his previous contribution to Teacher Reboot Camp, Oh, the Lessons I’ve Learned.
How do you feel educators should manage classroom behavior problems?
Friday, February 5, 2010
I’ve learned lots of things on my way to retired,
That I never thought then would leave me inspired.
One lesson I’ve learned is when it comes to the Group,
We’re somehow all different, like veggies in soup.
But when you mix us all up and sum up our best,
Why, together we’re better than any one of the rest!
Some folks you might pass seem too busy to say, “Hi!”
But if you asked for their help, they’d never pass by.
And some folks with a burden too heavy to bear,
Still find time for others, and step in and share.
So, I’m thankful for alikes and differences too,
For together, there’s nothing our “togethers” can’t do.
I’ve even had students teach me new ways to divide.
That are often far better than ways I have tried.
I remember a student who couldn’t square root a “darn-ful”,
But given a math puzzle, he could do a whole barn-full.
As I look back on teaching, there’s no better career, ‘
Cause you’re taught lots by others, year after year.
And, after 33 years, I’ve learned as much as I could.
So, given time to learn more, I’d move on, yes I would!
I’ll always remember my wonderful co-workers,
Learning from you has been one of those marvelous “perkers”.
You help change kid’s lives, and deserve abundant high praise,
So, in closing I’ll just say, why you all get all “A”s.
Oh, the things that I‘ve learned, but there’s more to be found,
So, I’m off to learn more, for at last I’m unbound!
“Thanks for the Memories!” Tom King,
ISD 625, Retired:1995
Friday, January 15, 2010
“That More May Learn More”
International Community of Socratic Educators
--Founding Charter Principles—
As a member of the Socratic Community, I hereby attest:
1. That the desire and capacity to learn is inborn within me and others...
2. That a spectrum of talents and gifts is possessed by each of us...
3. That I respect the dignity, worth and uniqueness of each learner...
4. That my talents have been given to me to be developed,
to be shared and to leave the world better for my being here...
5. That I am privileged to be called as an educator, and entrusted with the passing on of our culture,
the world’s knowledge and our collective bests...
6. That I shall always remain open to the insights and gifts that others bring,
and add them to my own store of knowledge for sharing with others...
7. That I will stand up for my beliefs and principles, but always thoughtfully consider and respect the same in others who may differ with me...
8. That I will admit my error or change my stance when confronted with incontrovertible evidence to the contrary, no matter the personal risk...
9. That I will suffer the unsettling experiences and stresses that accompany the risks of learning more and espousing the new and unknown...
10. That I will join in and help establish the many circles of learning that are a part of my learning life and Professional Learning Network...
11. That I will persist in my efforts to grow as a person and share as a teacher and educator as long as I live...
12. That I will remain committed to my Socratic oath: “That More May Learn More!” and more!
=== Established: July 3, 1999 By Dr. Tom King St. Paul, Minnesota