Never taught ….

“He missed something in school, Mr Bloch!” was the first response when my 6th grade advisory watched this video. A friend had tweeted the video out earlier in the week. After I watched the video, I wondered how my students felt. Our 6th grade class had an incredible discussion about school following the video.

First point my students understood: “Boyinaband” missed the true purpose of school, to learn how to learn. Students attend everyday to get exposed to knowledge but most of all to figure out how they learn best. Students learn methods to help them grow. Many lessons are also for exposure to what might be a career. Student dissect frogs and learning about cells give students exposure to science and possible medical careers.

Second Point: Many of my students felt they did have lessons connected to their current needs. They shared examples of how their Social Studies teacher connect lessons to our current laws. How in science we made connections to health and wellness. In language arts teachers made references to writing resumes. Connecting our lessons to our students lives has been a push in our district. My student gave great evidence that it is working.

Finally, “Boyinaband” does make some good points. My students want to learn more about coding, finances, health care and technology. We don’t have offerings for them. Our curriculum is too defined in what “society” wants students to learn it gives little voice for students to find a path of passion. One of my students asked, “Why can’t we have exposure to more fields of study? I want to do more in school, do more hands on experiences like at the science museum. I want to make a video game, create music, build toy, electrically wire a device, you know like a job.”

I was impressed. Why can’t school do more doing, less reading about things and practice that has no relevance. Students need to have choices in their paths of learning. Schools should be less concerned about mastery and more concerned about exposure, growth and effort.

Lets make schools a place where students want to go and learn. So someday they will write songs about all they did learn from their teachers.

Failure to Represent…

fair representation

Our country was found on the principal of representative government. The Boston Tea Party was a result of colonists anger over taxes of goods without having an representation in the governing body the levied these taxes. Our we heading down a similar path today with our government? Will it lead to a revolution. Well here in Michigan it might seem that way.

Our legislative body seems to do its bidding without the consensus of the citizens it is supposed to represent. Public act 4 of 2011 allowed our governor to place Emergency Managers in cities and school districts experiencing financial crisis. In November of 2012 the citizens passed a referendum on the act, eliminating financial managers. The majority of our legislative body decided that the citizens were not right in their vote. In December they redrafted the Emergency Manager act signed by our governor December 27, 2012. This act has led to much turmoil in the state. Flint and Detroit Public Schools have seen disastrous out comes under Emergency Managers. The People of Michigan are not being represented  by the majority in Lansing.

In the last few years educators have felt that their voices fall on predominantly defeat ears in Lansing. From budget cuts to evaluation laws teachers feel out of the sphere of influence. The education committee that hears testimony and input for legal changes regarding schools, only meets during school hours/days. That is odd? Shouldn’t the ones most effected by legal changes be able to give input? Teachers can’t even attend the state board of education meetings which are also held during school hours/days. So who testifies? Lobbyist and others with political motives, not classroom educators.

The latest from Lansing  is a series of bills to prevent the sick-outs by the Detroit teachers.

SB 713-715: Provide for changes in provisions concerning designating what is a strike by teachers, and require suspension of teaching certificate for teachers engaging in strikes and deduct 5% in school aid payments from schools who don’t dock pay of striking teachers. Sponsors: Sens. Phil Pavlov, R-St. Clair; David Robertson, R-Grand Blanc, and Joe Hune, R-Whitmore Lake.

First, If these bills were sponsored by Detroit legislators I would understand. All three legislators live in areas, distant from Detroit.  Are they representing their district? or a donor’s political agenda?  Second, The reasoning behind the sick outs was due to the horrible learning conditions for the students, does firing teachers and fining the district solve the conditions in Detroit? Third, Teachers are speaking out for their students. They were not striking. They are raise voices for the voiceless.

We need representation in Lansing. One that looks to solve problems and make the world better, not look to blame others and punish those that speak out on behalf of those without a voice.

Adults Behaving Poorly

poor

Walking into the classroom, a paper airplane flies from the back row towards the front. Upon asking the student to pick it up, I get the normal teenage response: I didn’t throw it. Although I know this is the typical middle school student response, outright denial of any wrong doing, it angers me. After 15 years of teaching in a middle school, I should be used to it. Where do adolescents learn this behavior?

Then it dawned on me. Students see adults out right lie about their behavior every day. Lies permeate our lives. Observant children learn to lie about their behavior by following the adult models found all around them. Our youth look to model themselves after celebrities/characters they observe on TV and social media. Poor behavior is also abundant in many of the popular video games our children are playing. Adults are behaving poor all over the world for our students to see.

Children here in Michigan can look no further than Lansing to see the denial behavior. Flint residents have been complaining for over a year about their water. Finally Governor Snyder has admitted their is a problem. If our leaders are modeling this behavior, how can we fix it in our schools?

Where can our students find positive role models? TV used to be full of them. Ranging from The Huxtables on the Cosby show to The Keatons on Family Ties. Of course preschool students see positive behaviors on Sesame Street and other PBS programing. Most mainstream programing lacks programing that contains positive role models. Now in a world of on-demand and 100’s of channels our youth can see shows that were once only seen after 10 pm, any time they desire.

Adults need to reflect on our values. DO we value adults behaving  poorly? Is this the legacy we want to pass on to the next generation? Our children’s behavior is all learning, the majority of it by observing adults. Be the model you want others to follow! Time for the adults to shape up!

 

 

 

Reflecting on Flint and Detroit

 

grief-927083_1920
From Pixabay user: Johnhain

Guest Post from Doug Hill – Rochester Education Association President

Is it anger? Is it despair? Is it disgust? Is it hopelessness?

I’ll be quite honest, I’m not sure what I’ve been feeling these past few weeks as a pair of crises have blown up within an hour’s drive of us.

To our north we have the Flint water fiasco that first rose to national prominence back in December when MSNBC’sRachel Maddow provided this compelling 18-minute profile.  To our south we have what can only be described as education in squalor-like conditions in many of the Detroit Public Schools’ buildings. Our brother and sister educators in DPS have been staging random “sick outs” the past several weeks in an effort to draw attention to these conditions which include: roof and window leaks, low/no heat, overcrowded classrooms, mold, and vermin.

There are some common threads woven between these two tragedies. One is Gov. Rick Snyder; another is the Emergency Manager (EM) legislation he signed into law during the infancy of his first term; yet another is the current DPS Emergency Manager, Darnell Early, who was also an EM in Flint at the time the city permanently severed ties with the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department by selling the pipeline to Lake Huron; still another is a sense of what can best be classified as a general inaction or sense of urgency – or even misguided actions – on the part of our elected leaders in Lansing; and the final common thread is us (yes, you and I).

Let’s begin with the Gov. Snyder, for if there’s one thing we know it’s that, ultimately, these two crises have occurred during his time leading the state.

 

The EM Law, then-known as Public Act 4 of 2011 was signed by Gov. Snyder and put into action the day before St. Patrick’s Day 2011 and its preamble states the following:

“AN ACT to safeguard and assure the fiscal accountability of units of local government, including school districts; to preserve the capacity of units of local government to provide or cause to be provided necessary services essential to the public health, safety, and welfare; …”

 

I purposefully clipped the preamble at this point because I believe it may be the most compelling and important segment of the entire law (which you can read fully here): Provide the necessary services essential to the public health, safety, and welfare pretty much says it all, right? Can anyone say without hesitation that – either knowingly or unknowingly – poisoning a city’s water supply or allowing school buildings to deteriorate to such an extent is in line with maintaining the public health, safety, or welfare?

 

Yet both have happened. Flint is currently on its fifth EM since December 2011; DPS is on its third since March 2009 (appointed as an Emergency Financial Manager under then-Gov. Jennifer Granholm). The EM has the authority to circumvent democratically elected officials (mayor, supervisors, school boards, etc.) to make the necessary decisions to maintain the public health, safety, and welfare. These authorities include voiding contracts and the like. (Please note: I don’t approve of EM and was adamantly opposed – and remain so – to this law when created.) He/she is appointed by the state’s governor.

Admittedly, these Detroit schools did not suddenly become decrepit and unfit for human habitation overnight. It has been a slow decline with plenty of waste, missteps, and malfeasance through the years long before 2010 when Snyder took office. But the current dilemma is due in no small part to legislation signed by Gov. Snyder that allowed charter schools to multiply like jackrabbits in and around the city, his encouragement of cyber schools and schools of choice, and, perhaps the coup de grâce, the creation of the Educational Achievement Authority (EAA) four years ago (announcement video here).

The EAA ostensibly allows the State Superintendent or an EM to transfer low-performing schools (bottom 5% in state) into the EAA. The idea was that the EAA would serve as an incubator for improving the education system in Detroit and presumably in other areas later on. Presently there are 15 Detroit schools in the EAA (nine elementary) and this year just one fourth grader was deemed proficient in the M-STEP math test (Eclectablog post here).

What all of these Gov. Snyder-approved “reforms” were designed to do was develop competition through choice for Detroit parents and – because everyone loves good competition – things would improve for Detroit’s students. Sadly, what has in fact happened, is Detroit parents followed the siren song of charters, cyber schools, neighboring school districts, and the EAA and enrolled their children outside of DPS. This steep and steady decline of students has only further exacerbated budget challenges with DPS and created many of the issues our colleagues are voicing their displeasure about.

 

Finally, it would seem, action may be underway. Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan toured buildings Tuesday (see storyhere) and has issued a mandate that all be inspected (see story here). Of course there is also misguided action. At least two bills are expected to be introduced in the state Senate Thursday regarding DPS; presumably one of them will be to address the budget crisis but another – and the one seemed to generate more outrage by Senate Education Committee Chair Phil Pavlov (R-St. Clair) – might be a bill to outlaw sick outs (see story here).

Meanwhile, in Flint the hits just keep coming. Today state health reports indicate a steep increase in reported cases of Legionnaires in Genesee County which seems to correlate with the shift to Flint River water in the city (see story here). Likewise, Snyder authorized the use of the National Guard to assist in the distribution of water filters, water, and water test kits (see story here) and has finally reached out the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) for federal assistance.

It sickens me that this has happened and I believe in addition to our state’s elected leadership we are all – to some extent – complicit in these occurrences.

As I’d indicated last week my resolution this year is to read more and the book I’ve begun with has been Peter Block’s 2008 work: Community: The Structure of Belonging.

In it, he outlines the steps one (or a small group) needs to take to – quite literally – build a true community. What I’ve realized more than halfway through this thought-provoking read is that even in a place like Rochester/Rochester Hills we DO NOT have a community in the purest sense of the term.

Block devotes a chapter to what he calls “The Stuck Community.” Despite having written this in 2008, I believe we are still very much in this stuck community and the Flint and Detroit situations evidence this. To wit:

“…The story of the stuck community can be heard both in the dominant public debate and also in what we talk to each other about each day. … The overriding characteristic of the stuck community is the decision to broadcast all the reasons we have to be afraid. This is a kind of advertising that exploits the fear we have of violence, of the urban core, of terrorism, of African-Americans and other ethnic groups, of immigrants, of those who are poor or uneducated, of other religions, and of other countries. It seems like the lead story of every local evening newscast is about crime and human suffering, and if our city had none that day, then we hear how somewhere else in the world someone was murdered, bombed, killed in an accident, or abducted from what was once thought to be a safe place. What we are hearing is the marketing of fear. … The marketing of fear is not just for profit; it also holds a political agenda. … It gets packaged as spiritual values, family values, the American way, love it or leave it, all under the umbrella of law and order.

 

“In addition to marketing fear, the stuck community markets fault. … Fault marketing rests on the belief that if we can assign blame and find cause, it is useful to society and somehow reassures us that it won’t happen again.”

 

Sadly, there is far too much fault marketing going on today. You need look no further than the ongoing presidential campaign for a healthy dose, but you can also look to the challenges facing us closer to home in Detroit and Flint. Some blame the Governor, some blame the Emergency Manager(s), some blame the state legislators, some blame the teachers, and some blame the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality. What no one seems willing to do, however, is be accountable.

Which is really one of the main tenets of Community. In a true community everyone is accountable because everyoneis a leader because everyone has a sense of ownership.

In a later chapter, “Taking Back Our Projections,” Block writes:

“One payoff for believing that problems and the suffering in our cities are the inevitable products of modern life and culture is that it lets us off the hook. The payoff begins the moment we believe that problems reside in others and that they are the ones who need to change. We displace or assign to others certain qualities that have more to do with us than with them. This is called projection. … The essence of projection is that it placed accountability for an alternative future on others. This is the payoff of stereotyping, prejudice, and a bunch of “isms” that we are familiar with. … The reward is that it takes the pressure off of us. It is a welcome escape from our freedom. We project onto leaders the qualities or disappointments that we find too much to carry ourselves. We project onto the strangers, the wounded, the enemy those aspects of ourselves that are too much to own.”

Block goes on to provide a powerfully tangible (in my opinion) example:

“Take poverty, for example. When we see low-income people, we focus on their needs and deficiencies, and that is all we see. We think their poverty is central to who they are, and that is all they are. We believe that the poor have created that problem for themselves. We view them with charity or pity and wring our hands of their plight. At this moment we are projecting our own vulnerability on the poor. It is a defense against not only my own vulnerability, but also my own complicity in creating poverty. If we took back this projection, we would stop denying that each of us plays a role in creating poverty – by our way of living, by our indifference, by our labeling them as ‘poor’ as if that is who they are, by our choice not to have them as neighbors and get to know them. Part of the reduce taxes debate is the belief that we are wasting money on ‘those people.’ … When we believe that the ‘other’ is the problem and that transformation is required of them and not of us, we become the beneficiaries of their suffering in the world. … The mindset that the ‘other’ is the problem means that we need to wait for them to change before the change we want can come to pass. And until they change, we need to stay distant and contain them. This diverts us from the realization that we have the means, the tools, the thinking to create a world we want to inhabit, and to do it for all.”

 

Yes! We do have the means, the tools, and the thinking to create a world we all want to inhabit. Perhaps what has resonated most about Block’s work has been his insistence that to truly develop a community one must form relationships with people/groups unlike you/yours. In short, we need to have conversations and share our stories and experiences with those outside our usual circles.

 

I wonder if it was Ann Arbor using the Huron River for its water supply and lead leeched into the pipes if Gov. Snyder may have taken a keener interest sooner? Likewise, if there was a rat infestation and black mold issues at St. Clair High School, might Sen. Pavlov be more forgiving to the educators who were “sick” or even be more willing to find a solution to its financial problems? I wonder (rhetorically) what kind of relationship Gov. Snyder and Sen. Pavlov have with the residents of Flint and the teachers in DPS, respectively?

 

I’ve extolled the virtues of relationships and sharing our story in this space plenty over the past 16 months. As I continue to read Community I am convinced more than ever that it is paramount for us to have these sometimes uncomfortable conversations and share more about ourselves, who we are, why we do what we do, and the challenges we face with those who scoff at teachers (parents, politicians, FB friend Peter, etc.).

 

Likewise, Block notes that we as a western culture are isolated because of our individualistic narrative, the inward attention of our institutions and our professions, and the message from the media all fragment us (remember “fault marketing?”). He continues that most sectors of our society are working diligently, though in isolation: “Each piece is working hard on its own purpose, but parallel effort added together does not make a community. Our communities are separated into silos.”

 

I would say this definition is true of Rochester Schools: Teachers, support staff, building administrators, district administrators, and the board of education; all working hard and trying to do the best job possible.

 

The question then, is how do we tear down those silos and once again become Rochester Community Schools?

 

The answer, I believe, lies within each of us.

I stand with Detroit Educators!

Stand with D

Over the past two days national media has taken notice of Detroit Public Schools. Why? The teachers have being protesting conditions by staging a “sick-out”.  Some of our legislative leaders have questioned the legality of these actions and are proposing new laws to prevent it from happening in the future.  Stating:

“I couldn’t be any more disappointed,” said state Sen. Phil Pavlov, R-St. Clair Twp., who chairs the Senate Education Committee.

Well Sen. Pavlov, the teachers in Detroit share your disappointment. Their schools are falling down, are cold, full of mold and mice as reported by Mayor Duggan after his tours yesterday. Disappointment in the system that is failing their students, disappointment in the legislature for inaction, disappointment in the lack of a voice.

Why did teachers take action of a sick out? NOBODY in LANSING was listening to their concerns. NOW you are at least noticing the issue. A sick out is an extreme measure to take. Teacher loose a valuable day of instruction an their earned sick time. The sick-out costs the teachers. There must be something wrong for them to take this action. The teachers in Detroit want solutions NOW. They have heard Lansing talk about all their issues. They have taken pay cuts and work in crowded classrooms. A emergency manager has been running the district, things continue to get worse with not solution in sight. When teachers voice their concerns they are pushed aside. Lansing has not taken action.

Where I work, a sick out will never occur. (Like most of the 550 districts in Michigan) WHY? Our administration is run by our local elected school board. They are concerned about our students learning conditions and understand that teacher working conditions impact learning. When issues arise they respond. Leaders have relationships with the staff and community. None of this is happening in Detroit. Legislation to prevent sick-out won’t fix the problem.

Lansing needs to visit Detroit schools and ask the teachers for solutions for the solution lies with in them.

I Stand with Detroit Teachers, I feel their pain and sacrifice for their students. THEY are not the enemy. THEY are standing up to help fix the schools in DETROIT.  If the teachers did not take a stand their communities’ voices would not be heard. We live in a democracy where every voice is valued. Lets value the teachers voices in Detroit and make real change.

Fellow educated citizens please stand with the teachers in Detroit and help them fight for solutions for their students.

Rethinking”Best” Practices

best practices

Its a phrase that has become popular in education, “Best Practices”. Heard in staff meetings. Found in session descriptions at conferences. Used as justification for change in how teachers teach. Using the phrase “best practice” implies that other practices are inferior. Are they? Shouldn’t teaching practices be dictated by what is best for our students? How can someone articulate what is best for a classroom without ever meeting the students? Finally who is the authority labeling it best? A teacher, researcher or business person who has never taught a class?

Surely there are different ways to teach in a classroom. This diversity is needed. Our teachers come from a variety of different backgrounds and experiences similar to our students. When education labels something as a “best practice” districts often feel that ALL teachers have to follow this practice. The practice can be made a look for in teachers evaluations. Is this right? Teachers should not be evaluated poorly for not following a practice. Teachers often try the “best practice” and find it does not work for how they teach or their students. Educators need to have multiple paths to delivering their lessons, can’t be limited to what is currently labeled “best”. Administrators need to take the time to discuss teaching methods teachers to find out why they choose the practice that was observed.

The other danger in the “best” practice label comes in a mindset created by the term. Teachers can say they used the “best” practice, even if it doesn’t work. Teachers who use the advertised “best” practices will feel they are superior to those that are not using these prescribed practices.  They will ask: Are the students to blame if I tried the “best” way and they failed? Surely not. Educators need to know that there are many paths for success. Professional Development needs to not just focus on what works but to focus on where, when and why a practice works.

It is time to leave the term “best” practice and adopt a better term for education. Practices can be labeled “good” or “next” practices.

But maybe by using the term “my” practice works best. Teachers can own their practice and label it theirs. Don’t we all take the best of what we see in the profession and make it our own anyway?

 

 

 

Dear Governor Veto HB 571

Gag

Dear Governor Snyder-

House Bill 571 is not good for our state. It is not good for our schools, communities, police and fire departments. It is just poor legislation. Kim Russell Writes in detail about this bill for WXYZ TV here.  As she says the bill will gag public entities from giving factual information about any bond issues for 60 days prior to an election. They are already ban by law from lobbying/ advertising in favor of bonds.

If you choose to sign this bill you will effectively ruin Michigan. Our already aging infrastructure will crumble. Why shouldn’t public entities be allow to share facts about bond issues? This would be the equivalent to banning politicians from campaigning for 60 days prior to their election! Oh wait no, public institutions aren’t allowed to campaign. It means politicians couldn’t answer questions about facts in their campaign or give any interviews what so ever.

It seems many GOP state legislators did not read the bill carefully enough and are regretting signing it.  If you won’t listen to those that are most affected by the bill. You should at least listen to those in your party who feel that it is an overstep by the government.

Most voters don’t pay attention to bond issues until right before the election. If you sign this bill you will be eliminating their ability to get the facts, creating many uninformed voters. A better bill would be not to allow any information about campaigns until 60 days prior.

House Bill 571 is not go for anyone,   only going to serve deep pocketed special interests. PLEASE listen to your state and veto this bill.

Working hard to make sure teachers are inspiring the youth of tomorrow.

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