Send Education a Valentine today!

Today is the day we share love! We share this wonderful emotion. We give cards, flowers and candies to each other to show that we care. I hope that you take the time to give learning a valentine!

The American culture often gives lip service to education. We hear it is a priority. Actions speak louder than words. Today, Valentines Day show others that you LOVE  education.  Embrace the words and turn them into action.

HOW?

Read a book to someone.

Discuss history.

Explain the science.

Model correct grammar. (Not my forte but is important!)

Create art!

Play a sport or become physically active.

Make Music!

Explore culinary arts!

Do SOMETHING that shows you LOVE EDUCATION!! For Valentines Day’s sake.

 

2013 Resolutions

So it is a New Year! I have high hopes for 2013 as a professional educator. I have decided to post my resolutions for all to see to help me stay focused on the ideas and changes that I feel are important for this new year.

1. Stay positive: If I am going to make changes I have to focus on the positive and let the negatives lie where they are. I can give in and become an “energy vampire.” There is so much negativity surrounding the education profession today, it is easy to get sucked in an allow it to affect your teaching and you personally.

2. Expand my PLN: This past year of being a connected educator has helped me grow exponentially as an educator. I plan on continuing, I don’t think I could ever go back to being on “an island” alone with issues. Twitter, blogging, chats have so expanded my horizons and helped me find mentors and colleagues to push me as an educator.

3. Use more Formative Assessment in my classroom: Being my third year in the Formative Assessment for Michigan Educators program, I need to make sure I am using all of the wonderful techniques I have learned. I often focus on my favorites and forget about the rest. It is important to vary the Formative techniques I use. Need to focus more on allowing students to self-assess.

4. Lead by example: I need to continue by asking others to do as I do. Leaders leave the footsteps for people to follow them. I need to continue to press my feet into the ground for all to see and follow. If I say I am going to do something, I need to get it done. This goes for staff and students. I need to make sure if I ask the students to complete a task, I need to model it full for understanding,

5.  Blog: I need to do a better job of sharing my experiences. I am a poor writer in general, but I can write. If I write more I will get better. I wrote 53 blogs last year, I hope to improve on that number significantly this year. In blogging more, I will also be holding myself more accountable for my teaching and actions. I also have hopes of improving this site, by adding pictures and links,

 

I hope everyone has a great 2013. Keep up with your resolutions. Help hold me to mine.

Teachers need to be accountable, but to whom?

On Thursday night, after working all day and attending a union round table discussion about education, I met up with an old college friend at the bar to catch up. He is a vice-president of a small financial services company, lives in an affluent community, and enjoys the finer things in life. After getting past the normal pleasantries and catching up with news about each others families, he asked me Why I was on his “side” off town. As I attempted to explain about the “education reform” movement in the state of Michigan and how it is affecting teachers, he asked “Shouldn’t it be about what parents and students want?”

This question rings true: Shouldn’t education reform be about what the community wants? Not what legislators desire. I agreed with him, since I have never had a parent complain about my instruction and the district where I work typically has strong parental support for what the schools are doing. Parents are always thanking the teachers for the job that they are doing working with their children. “I won’t want you job!’ and “You are a saint!” are comments often overheard at conference time.

“So why are we reforming schools?” Was the question he asked. I answer that it seems to be about accountability and money. Being from a sales background he agrees with these motives. Teachers should be accountable for sure but to what? Now teachers are accountable to their district, community and ultimately to their students. Reformers desire teachers to be accountable to a standardized test. Which is right?

From a business perspective the test is easier to measure and attach funding. Tests are part of a business model. Test producers also sell books, software and “canned programs” to schools. They can make it advantageous to schools to buy their products or use their online programs. In turn these companies can make millions off of educating our youth. Do these results show we have made a true difference using their measures? That can be debated. Many would argue the same or similar results would prevail if we stuck with what we have now.

Teachers should be accountable to their students. Students’ individual needs have to be addressed and accounted for on a daily basis. NO standardized test can measure all the “teaching” that goes on in the classroom. Communities and locally elected school boards have to monitor and decide if schools and teachers are doing what is necessary. Each community will be different, just like each child is different in the classroom. Society cannot us predetermined benchmarked norms to decided if a school is effective. That would be similar to measuring a parents effectiveness based on how the child meets development standards.

Society needs to stand up to the corporate take over of our education system. School boards are elected for a reason: to hire leaders that will create schools that meets the communities needs. We cannot let a publishing company mandate what every school district needs. It is funny that GOP leaders don’t want this to happen in health care (Obamacare) but support it with education!

Unmotivated Really?

It is that time of year again, when teachers have flyers in their mailboxes for in-service training. PD specialists are promoting their latest and greatest ideas. “Classroom Management that works!” “Writing across the curriculum!” and “Motivating the Unmotivated!” The flyers seem to arrive the same time every year, just as teacher burn-out sets in just before the holiday breaks. The flyers are tempting to teachers that are stressed about classroom performance or meeting their evaluation goals. The titles seem so tempting and the time could not be better.

BUT are there unmotivated students in anyones classroom? All of the students in my classroom are motivated. The least of my concern is motivation. Some students are motivated by the curriculum. They are in class to learn.  Seeing value in gaining knowledge. They try their best to learn despite their ability to learn. These student get frustrated when they don’t understand ideas. Hands get raised, questions asked.   Learners show up early or stay after class. Learners have recognized motivations.

In my class I also have “pleasers”. The students who want to please their parents. Motivated by the praise and love of their parents. (or sometimes bribes). “Pleasers” work but not for love of learning. Mainly concerned with grades they often are focused on a specific grade achievement. Not often concerned about trying to do their best but just to achieve the required grade.

Then there is the group often labeled unmotivated, the “socials”. Students who treat school like the mall. Teachers are the shop owners who herd them around like cattle. Motivated by their friends. Wanting to make impressions and establish a reputation. School work is not a priority, often not a thought. “Socials” often are the most motivated students in the room. Passing notes, sneaking around to talk. Acting the role of student when teacher is watching while sneaking in the quick text to the friend in the next room.

Of course there are more types and combinations of motivation. Motivation is natural in all of us. What teachers need to figure out is how to focus motivation in all students towards the learning targets. This is the PD teachers need.

The first step is understanding the students motivations. Then we can focus it towards learning.

What is the best learning environment?

Our traditional classrooms with desks in rows, with hard seats, is that a good learning environment? Probably not! Most classrooms are small, with hard floors, white walls, and 30-plus student desks. The desk traditionally are in rows facing forward, recent trends have teachers moving them around more but with limits due to class size. My current classroom is pretty big. I have large science lab tables that seat 2 student per table. I have them arranged in groups of 3, with two tables facing each other and one table at the end facing the front of the room. This seating arrangement creates seating for 36 students in my room. Luckily my largest class is 34. Recently, a few students complained because they were having problems focusing on learning. We talked about where they wanted to sit. In the end they concluded that there was not an ideal space in the room for them.

I got to thinking, where would I want to sit? Where would I learn best?  For me, I learn best alone in a quiet warm room while sitting or laying on a soft chair/sofa. Putting a sofa in a science room doesn’t work on so many levels and my room is usually far from quiet. So how do schools create idea learning environments that meet the needs of the students? What does this environment look like?

I remember at the end of a college course years ago, I was asked to create a plan for my ideal classroom. It should be large, with flexible seating. Carpeted area for students to sit on the floor. Book cases full of leveled reading materials. Muted colors on walls. A space that makes whole group instruction work, as well as areas to divide up the class for group and individual instruction. Nooks available for students who need a quiet out of the way space. Comfortable seating.

Many of these items are missing in my room, and many other teachers rooms. Schools just can’t afford the space or materials to create the “ideal” space. Our student are learning to deal with the less than ideal learning conditions. I am okay with it. Making do with what you have is valuable learning for students too. Teachers, administrators, society  need to keep in mind that the learning conditions might have impact on students performance. As a society we need to attempt to create the best learning environments in our schools.

Why teachers are frustrated….

Education has been in the public spot light for the last year. Teachers have seen various pundits speak as if they were expert teachers. Many have stated education just needs more “dedicated” teachers who “care more”  and “work harder”. Some experts have been teachers, for Teach for America. Now they are policy experts, after teaching two years. Other experts are come from industry or policy think tanks, with no experience in teaching except having been a student. These attacks hurt and make teachers feel unvalued in their profession. This is not where the frustration sets in.

Frustration comes when the leaders of education, superintendents, accept these criticisms. These leaders except the changes based on political and funding pressures. They fear for their jobs and district funding. Money seems to have power over even the most intelligent educational experts. The best research out today, says the one size fits all models don’t work in education. When big money from state and federal government and private donors like the Gates and Broad Foundations are at stake, best research goes out the window.

Teachers are frustrated because they don’t have an advocate that is being heard. Sure Diane Ravitch, the AFT and NEA are vocal opposition to the  “reform” movement. They are viewed as radicals or groups with vested interest not to change. Teachers don’t fear change. They fear a world that leaves students that are poor or that have special needs behind. Teachers fear a educational system that believes all students learn the same way at the same rate.

Teachers believe that all students learn, in their own way, at their own rate. Do all children walk or talk at the same age? Teachers believe that standards are guidelines not rules that are written in stone. Teachers feel the pressure of the world, since any time society sees a problem, society wants schools to solve it. (Think childhood obesity and bullying)

The teacher frustration will end when OUR leaders stand up and say ENOUGH!! Schools need to focus on students needs and students learning. Not meeting an expected score one day on one standardized test. When the leaders stand up, the teachers and communities will stand behind them. Then and only then can education focus on REAL Change: Making schools a place where everyone can learn.