Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Top 10 Thoughts On Education

I recently had the opportunity to interview the top ten finalists for 2016 Indiana Teacher of the Year.  Watch out, America!  These Hoosier educators are among the finest!

Throughout a day of sitting with Indiana's teaching best, I heard many good thoughts that warranted a broader audience.  This is what Indiana educators are saying.

Fail forward, or be a success.

This should be on bumper stickers.  We all fail.  Unfortunately, too many people see failure as merely the opposite of success.  Failure is a great learning experience.  When we fail well, we fail forward.  This is why I am one of the founding fellows of The Failure Institute and why I support my friend Jessica Lahey's book, The Gift of Failure:  How the Best Parents Learn To Let Go So Their Children Can Succeed.

Ask alumni what you could have done better.

Many of us keep in touch with former students, but do we ever ask them what we could have done better?  We all need space and time away from something to be able to see it clearly.  Once our students have gone on to college or careers, they are in a better place to evaluate their own elementary and secondary education.  This is one I had never thought of, but am eager to implement.

Tests should measure students, not teachers and schools.

Teachers and schools must be evaluated, just as any employee or organization should be evaluated, but such evaluations cannot be significantly informed by student testing.  Note that I did not write "should not be," but "cannot be."  There are many factors affecting a student's performance on a test that are beyond a teacher's control.  It says absolutely nothing about my school or about me if my student fails a test because he or she was unable to think clearly as a result of hunger or worry about an abusive home life.

To be fair, we must also consider what test scores do and do not reveal about students themselves.  When a student misses a question, I know only that the student did not answer the question correctly  I do not know why he or she did not answer it correctly.  The student may have simply forgotten, never known the answer, lacked understanding of the question's wording, had a panic attack, failed to study, or missed seeing that particular question entirely.

Teachers need less required collaboration and more trust to work on their own.

If I have to be told when to meet, where to meet, with whom to meet, and what to meet about, then why did you hire me?  If college-educated adults cannot be trusted to work independently or in collaboration of their choosing, then the fault, dear Brutus, is not in their substandard work, but in careless hiring practices.

On the flip side, leave teachers to their own devices and they will come up with some of the most amazing ideas.  Nobody shares information the way teachers do.  We enthusiastically ask each other questions and share our best ideas and activities.  If you do not know this is what happens when even two or three teachers gather, then you do not know teachers.

Teachers are effective when they are inspired.

We know this is true regarding students, so why it would it not be true regarding teachers?  It has been said that people perish when there is a lack of vision.  Never is this more the case than in schools.  When school leaders work shoulder-to-shoulder with each other, tapping into each other's talents and both casting and sharing dreams, something happens that is the true result of real education:  life.  Just as you can tell a plant by the fruit it bears, you can most accurately assess a school by observing its life or, in some sad cases, the lack thereof.

It's worth it.

Our profession can always get better.  All professions can.  Why would we want education to improve?  Because it is worth it.  Oh, is it worth it!  Setting aside all manner of foolishness, we see education for what it truly is.  It is a most human endeavor, a shared journey of discovery with young people discovering the mysteries and glories of creation and all that humans have come to know about and added to it.  Working with colleagues who understand this, teachers like these top ten finalists and the many others I have enjoyed knowing throughout our state and across our nation, I can honestly proclaim that the calling and life of a teacher are most definitely worth it.

Friday, September 11, 2015

That's So Routine!

Is there a place for routines and rituals in the modern classroom?  There is if you want learning to take place, and there is if you ask Bill Day, 2014 Washington, D.C. Teacher of the Year, who spoke about this on the latest episode of Teachers of the Year Radio.

It would come as no surprise to anyone who knows us that the first date my wife and I went on in college was to see the movie Lean On Me, which tells the story of Principal Joe Clark and his efforts turn around a troubled school.  Morgan Freeman in the lead role explains at one point that discipline is not the enemy of enthusiasm.  He knows that there must be some basic routines and procedures so that students and faculty can operate in a safe manner with each other, and that such an environment is then conducive to learning.

Yet there is another reason routine is important.  Our children live in an unstable age.  Think for a moment of the child teetering on the edge of the pool, eager to dive in, yet terrified at the prospect.  She beckons mom or dad, who is standing with feet firmly planted just a few inches away.  She laughs and giggles nervously, wanting to jump and not wanting to at the same time.  The desire to explore is there, but she needs the comfort of the solid pool deck behind her and the trusted arms of a parent in front of her if she is to make the most of this yearning.

Our children are exploring so much during their school years.  They want to take risks, yet they need stability and safety, and good classroom routines provide that.  Oh, there are subtle differences from day to day in my classes, but there is also a comfortable predictability.  The students know what they are going to get.  It is why they are upset when there is a substitute teacher in the room.

So what keeps routines from becoming routine, as in boring and stifling?  For that, check out Bill's podcast.  I know Bill, and I can assure you this award-winning educator is as lively as they come.