Need for Teacher Code of conduct ….

is

Last night as I was reading my twitter feed, I noticed a tweet about House Bill 4791, that would require districts to adopt a social media policy for teacher and student interactions. This bill is being introduced by State Representative Adam Zemke from Ann Arbor, with the best intentions of making districts have a policy where many have none.  I quickly tweeted my hopes of having connected educators input on the bill, Rep. Zemke quickly replied that he would love to have input including his office phone number.

 

Having a Social Media policy sounds great in theory. This bill allows local control for districts to come up with their own policy. This is where I get scared for many educators. A simple policy that many districts could take is prohibition of teacher/student contract via social media. Teachers would lose a valuable tool for connecting with their students where they are spending most of their time. Connected teachers in these districts would feel like they are losing a huge part of their practice. Other districts will spend money on this mandate by having their legal team research a policy draining a part of already limited resources. Some district might even feel that a policy gives them licences to monitor teachers social media accounts. (This would be costly and invokes visions of George Orwell’s book 1984.) Leaving teachers feeling paranoid of any social media use. Is there a better path than having to pass legislation every time new tools come about for teachers to connect with students?

What if Michigan Department of Education in collaboration with ALL stakeholders created a “Teacher Code of Conduct”? This code could be updated by MDE when needed. It would be similar to Hippocratic Oath that Physicians take. This code would be published on all teachers certificates, reminding teachers regularly. The Teaching Code of Ethics would address all the concerns with those few questionable teachers. A simple line like:

I will have only professional interactions with my students (and former students until they are adults).

This covers social media, letters, notes, phones and verbal conversations in one line, without adding burdens to the 500+ districts to create new policies. Laws already exist to cover the underlying concerns with inappropriate social media contact.

Will district policy (proposed by this bill) or a teacher code  of ethics stop the few perverted minds that the bill intends to stop? History says, probably not. A teacher code covers the societal concerns with teachers and social media without mandating districts coming up with their own policy.

Next we will be discussing bills requiring districts to have auto use policies, physical contact policies (covering hi-fives and handshakes) to bill covering every aspect of teachers day. The teacher code offers a more sensible path to the same solution for all teachers in Michigan.

Thanks for reading.

Hold it right there David C. Banks!

This morning a friend sends me a link to David C. Bank’s post in the Daily Beast entitled:”Why Middle Schools Should Be Abolished“. I was shocked an educator would write such a thing about any school level, let alone middle school which I hold dear to my heart. As I read the post, David does point out some challenges/needs for educators in the middle level but is focused on throwing out middle schools and combining them with High schools or elementary schools. He missed the opportunity to focus on the students needs and write about the need focus in the middle school level!

Here are a quote from the article really stuck out:

“One challenge is the ill-prepared teacher” – This is very true. Most states don’t have middle school certification programs. Teachers with elementary and high school certifications can all teach in middle school programs. States need to create a third level of certification so teachers are trained to teach this level. This does not mean the students should be lumped in the higher or lower level. I received a master degree in Middle Level Education Programming. All teachers in the middle level need to read “This We Believe” the position paper by the Association for Middle Level Education.

 

Later in the article David said “A teacher’s ability to relate to his or her students is not icing on the cake of serious academics—I believe it is the whole cake.” I totally agree, middle school is about relationships. (Well all school should be) Where is this not happening? I want to go help these schools become better rather than cut them out of the educational process.

I feel David is pointing out a larger problem that exists in our country today. Many Middle Schools are Middle School by name only. The function more like Junior High Schools. YES, there is a difference. If you read This We Believe, it is clearly spelled out. Middle Schools focus on team teaching. Making sure ALL students educational needs are met. Spending time with curriculum in all areas of learning: Physical, Emotional, Intellectual and Social. Dues to educational budget cuts around the country Middle School programs have been cut drastically.

Our society tends to focus on early intervention and college readiness. School districts feel judged by these programs so have spend the few dollars they have beefing up these programs. In my school district for example we have employed 11 staff members to help out with reading recovery and early reading intervention programs. These staff help the K-3 programs be successful. Our high school also has hired extra staff to help counsel students and prepare them for college success. This leaves funding short to middle level programming which David points out needs improvements.

I feel it is malpractice to propose abolishing an entire level based solely on achievement gaps and personal experience. David have you actually taught in a middle school? Have you read This We Believe? Please do if you haven’t. Don’t throw out the middle level for the reasons you state. It is an important time for our students. Insist that staff is trained properly. Middle Schools that are TRUE middle schools are Highly successful. Just look at the schools to watch list here in Michigan to see some great middle schools at work.

David I charge you to reexamine you post and see the need to make sure all middle schools are TRUE MIDDLE SCHOOLS. We shouldn’t abolish anything.  Hopefully other Middle School bloggers will also take their time to respond to your post and change your mind!

 

Student data and teaching ….

You hear it all the time, in all the media “Student data shows need for better teaching.” It is the mantra of many educational reformers today. I have struggled with this argument for years. When I talk to friends outside of the education field they buy into this argument. If students don’t perform well on a test then it is “the teachers fault”. Seems logical from a business perspective. When a business makes a product, they desire them all to come off the assembly line the same. If a sales man isn’t making sales or a company isn’t selling its product, then the person or company is at “fault”.

 

Problem is education is not a business. Students are not products but individual people with a variety of individual needs. Does our society want all of our students exiting schools to be the same? It seems that way right now with the testing culture that exists in our schools today. Maybe we need to take a step back and look at schools in a different light.

Instead of: 

Student data is to teaching as product sales are to company’s success

The analogy should be 

Student data is to teaching as crops growth are to farmers.

 Farmers grow crops similarly to how teachers help grow youths minds. Farmers look at the climate of the region pick best methods and choose crops. Similarly teachers see the environment students come from and pick lessons accordingly. The best farmer can loose a crop when unexpected events occur. Droughts, insect infestations, and floods are all possible outside influences that can cause a crop to be lost. The best teachers can not show students growth gains when outside events effect their classrooms. Deaths, loss of jobs and other social ills can effect student performance despite the quality of teaching. Farmers can help adjust environmental factors that affect their crops by watering dry fields, applying pesticides and building dykes. Schools systems try to adjust the environments for their students with counseling options but it is often hard to control these factors. 

Even this analogy has a weakness, farmers get to pick their crops for the environment. Teachers have no choice. They have to teach every student that walks into their classroom. Teachers give their “A ” game everyday to create an atmosphere for success and culture of learning.  

Society needs to be careful when using “learning” data to measure the teaching that is going on in the classrooms.  Incredible teachers are leaving the classrooms due the recent trend in using this data poorly. It is time for it to change. 

The needed struggle with change in education

Education is changing at a rapid pace. Over the last two years, my school district has made more changes than the previous 12 that I worked there. Schools are dealing with so many changes teachers heads are spinning.

  • Curriculum changes,
  • Legislative changes
  • Testing changes
  • Evaluation changes
  • Instructional methods changes
  • Technology Changes
  • and of course students changes

Many arguments say it is about time the outdated American educational system made some changes. Educators are trained to ask question, to seek information and find out the reasons changes are made. Highly Effective educators seek research data that supports a change in their instructional practice. ALL schools require data to support changes to be presented as part of school improvement plans.

Currently teachers feel enormous changes come from outside of the school district, based upon legislative agendas. The majority of this “legislative” change has little research and data supporting it. Teachers and Schools lobby to get more data and research but few are listening. Teachers feel threatened by these changes that they had little voice in making. Feeling defeated teachers start to put up walls, not wanting to listen to any ideas about change.

Education at the same time, is attempting to evolve into a better machine for the 21st century and beyond. Blended learning models, flipped classrooms, standards based grading and many other student centered changes are happening. Sadly,some teachers overwhelmed with change, resist the changes that they can. Teachers need to look at these changes carefully. DO they make learning improve in my classroom? Will they help my students become engaged and take ownership of their learning? IS it something my students need? (Are my students performing WELL now?) Are the results there or is it change for change sake?

Educators need to look at change in 3 ways:

1. Change you can’t control- Legislative change we can not do anything about once laws are passed. Sadly many legislators don’t listen to our voice on these issues. We can dwell on this change, just deal and move on. (Knowing we voiced our opinion when we could)

2. Changes where our students benefit-Research shows that my students will benefit. This is a change I have to make and invest time to make it happen in my classroom. This might mean I have to replace a current technique or instructional plan. This change might be hard work, but most things worth doing are hard work.

3. Change for change sake- IF a change shows no value to our students, it should not be made! Teachers have to be careful with all the educational jargon and “sales” pitches on new “programs”. It is always best to talk to teachers who are using the tool to hear first hand how it works and if it improves students’ learning. Remember that what works in one place, doesn’t always work in another. Look for data that shows repeated successes.

 

Change is an essential element in education. Without change, students would still be writing on chalkboards, watching film strips, and in one room school houses. Struggling with change, is natural. Educators must question changes to make sure it is what is best for their students.

We must remember not to fight the NEEDED change because we can, since we can’t fight the BAD legislative laws that change how schools operate. We have to remember to separate the political fights from our students’ classroom needs.

 Below is a link to an #mschat on Educational Change.

 

The Forgotten Purpose of Education

As United States policy makers set out to raise the standards on education by implementing the new Common Core State Standards (CCSS), I often think we have forgotten the purpose of education. Legislators have been convinced by “Education Reformers” that raising the standards will make our country competitive again in national tests and the rankings that follow. States, school districts and teachers have gotten caught up in attempting to teach the numerous standards each year. Many of us fail to cover it all. The argument made has been: “We don’t want Mary Poppins teachers”, you know those who teach a few of their favorite things. “We want to know that all students have the same educational foundation”, often called guaranteed and viable. Other education educational buzz words often used to describe new curriculum are rigorous and relevant.

When reading about the new CCSS non-educators often feel it is a needed change, especially with all the negative press education has received lately. Many educators have spoken out against the CCSS, arguing that it is a sign of corporate take over to education and takes away from the arts, leaving education  dry and  scripted. Really lost in all of this banter is the TRUE purpose of education.

Is education supposed to:

  • Guarantee that individuals know curriculum?
  • Create employable students?
  • Enable students to be college ready?
  • Solve a quadratic equation?
  • Create a graph?
  • Use the scientific method?
  • Speak a foreign language?
  • Create an App?
  • Write a song?
  • Paint a Masterpiece?
  • Build a house?

The answer is simple yet lost in all of the discussion about education lately. Education is for ONE thing and ONE thing only. Since the dawn of time education has been about LEARNING to LEARN. Once this process is completed we can do all of the above if we so desire.

Think about it: Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, and Steve Wozinak did not follow a “Common Curriculum” on their paths to greatness. Mozart, Picasso, and Jackson Pollock would have never created such wonderful works if their learning bound by a “common” content.

Schools need to become a place where students learn the basic skills. Then they are allowed to  explore topics pushing their teachers to help them. This is the discovery that four and five year-olds have, the endless questioning and excitement. You know the ones parents get tired of and answer with BECAUSE!   Schools should not be on clocks, expecting everyone to discover their path by 18. Some get to the road much quicker and others might like to wander in the woods for awhile.

A teacher will know they have done their job when their pupils finds answers to their questions without assistance.

Remember schools can’t teach all the skills needed for employment. Too many jobs and skill sets are changing too fast. I went to high school in the 1980’s: No internet and few computers. Look at me now writing a blog!! Once we know how to learn we can do anything we desire!

Let’s return education to its true purpose: TEACHING how to LEARN!!

Searching for Ed-Reform!

The state of Michigan has been undergoing what legislators and the media have defined as Educational Reform. As a teacher I have felt that it has been an attack on my profession, by belittling our jobs, effort and intentions. In the name of this reform teacher’s unions have been attacked, school funding has been slashed, students are tested more and the value of a teacher’s teaching lie in these test scores.  For profit charter schools have been popping up like zits on the middle school students I teach. Self-proclaimed “Educational Reform” experts Jeb Bush and Michelle Rhee have flocked to the state to promote their “system” of reforms. Conservative, business centric  think tanks continue to lobby for more “reforms” that reduce the judgement of a classroom teachers turning them over to  untrained legislators and corporate interests. Most recently proposing the outsourcing of teaching positions. All in the name of Educational Reform. I ask myself: Is this reform? Are the reforming educational practices?

To start we need the definition of “reform”: Make changes in (something, typically a social, political, or economic institution or practice) in order to improve it. – Webster’s Dictionary.

Well the so-called reformers say they are going to make it better by tearing apart the old system and building it anew. Should this be done by parties with financial interests at stake? Most reform movement add money to the “thing” they are changing , not take it away, unless it is a financial reform.

So how is “education”: defined: The process of receiving or giving systematic instruction, esp. at a school or university: “A new system of public education.” or The theory and practice of teaching.  – Webster’s dicitonary

Are the reformers changing how teachers instruct? Some, teachers now have their practice of teaching interrupted by testing and test preparation activities. Most of the changes here in Michigan are less about educational practices of schools and more about the financial practices of the school districts. The reforms have also attacked the lobbying body for teachers (unions) in hopes of pushing all of the “reforms” through the legislative body without resistance. I would define all of this reform as Financial Reform, with the only beneficiary being corporations.

When searching for educational reform I ask: Is there any REAL educational reform out there?

From my vantage point I see many leaders of TRUE educational reform: None of which are driving state or federal policy but all should be recognized as leading the educational reform movement. Here is an incomplete list of three positive educational reform movements:

  1. EdCamps – “organic, participant driven professional development for K-12 teachers worldwide.” Edcamps are a great place to see educational reform happen. Teachers get together during their “free” time to discuss, share, teach and learn from each other about current teaching practices and issues. By having attended Edcamp, I have changed how I teach and feel that all of my students benefit. Best part about this reform movement: it is completely FREE. Nobody gets paid to be there or pays to attend. All legislators should attend an Edcamp near them to SEE a process that is changing how learning occurs in classrooms.

2. Twitter Ed Chats– Many think of twitter is a tool to keep up with Hollywood’s stars or your favorite sports team. For educators, twitter has become a place to keep current by chatting with colleagues from all over the world. There are chats going on constantly covering a wide variety of topics. Twitter helps teachers share best practices, bounce new ideas off of one another and support each other when struggles occur. Teachers also use twitter to their students how to collaborate and give their students an authentic audience.

3. Teacher Blog’s – Thousands of teachers are blogging. They are writing about an area where they are experts: TEACHING and LEARNING. The two vary things so many in society want to reform. Many teachers are writing about what needs to change in education and how to make our classrooms better learning environments. Legislators, are you listening to them? These are the experts who have NO financial interest in reforming education. Their interests are for the education of their students. Many educators disagree in the “correct” path to a better education system. In these Blogs one will find an honest debate and discussion about teaching and learning.

In the future let’s separate the two education reform movements: 1: The financial movement lead by corporate interests and 2. the teaching movement lead by educators themselves.

Who wins in the overall reform movement will reflect our nation’s values:

DO we value Education? or Money? only time will tell.

How do kids grow?

Student growth

All of the so-called education reformers want teachers evaluations based upon student growth. Many of them have lobbied statehouses to enact laws mandating a growth model in evaluations before really thinking about how we measure “educational” growth.  Politician see poor academic achievement on standardized tests and begin to blame the educational system. These test scores are an easy tool to look at and see that the American Educational system needs work when compared to other nations. But do the test measure student growth? And can this growth be attributed to individual teachers? Probably not!!

The fact is all student grow at different academic rates based on numerous factors:

  1. Genetics
  2. Parental Nurturing- Exposure to reading, writing and other educational opportunities at a young age.
  3. Environmental Nurturing – In a rich educational environment all day long: NO TV babysitters
  4. Educational Values at home
  5. Teaching

I am sure that their are more. We can’t just take a standardized test score and use it to show growth attributed to teaching.  So of the score might be due to teaching, the rest to this other factors.

The other major flaw in this measurement of growth plan is the assumption that all students grow in a linear manner at a same rate. Using this assumption then: all students show walk and talk at the same time. Students should all be potty trained at the same time. We could also assume all students would be same height and weight.   Every American know this all not to be true. So why are we assuming all students can the same material at the same rate? This is ludicrous!!!

Growth is really similar to this chart below:

Patrh to succes

Students all start and hopefully end at the same place in their educational journey but all of their paths are unique and individual. Some students need more time than others. Some will go every which way but the direction desired until the right intervention is put in place. Our educational systems goal is to get to success no matter where the journey takes us. Our goal is NOT to have every student take the same journey to success.  If it was our world would be quite a boring place. Hopefully politicians will see the error in their ways. New measurements will be put into place. Then teachers won’t feel like they have targets on their backs. Let make sure we look at the journey instead of focusing on the end results. The educational journey is what makes us all unique.