3 things

Warning: Do not read this post for more than 3 -4 minutes.

2016 is hurtling towards its calendar end and thoughts turn to a highlight reel retrospective heading for the history books. My mind is counting down around a repeating loop of ideas and reflections like a Space X reusable rocket. Well, maybe the baking soda and vinegar in a bottle type.

As the countdown approaches, I wanted to ask educators around the world to answer this question. If you’d like, think of it as a wishlist.

What would you change in education for 2017?

If you could change 3 things about education in 2017, knowing you wouldn’t fail, what would they be? I’m talking Astro Teller moon shot type changes here.

We use the word “moonshots” to remind us to keep our visions big — to keep dreaming. And we use the word “factory” to remind ourselves that we want to have concrete visions — concrete plans to make them real.  Astro Teller

Here are my 3 cannot-miss-the-spot-moonshot-thoughts.

  1. End the school to prison pipeline. My wish would be that schools could be funded with the same amount of money per student as the prisoners of our world. I believe that if we provided more funding for our schools, then our prisons would soon be very different and under-crowded spaces.I also believe that by stopping the flow of students from classrooms to courtrooms to cell blocks there would be a better standard of living for our entire society with opportunity for all. Imagine what could be done with all of the extra money if it was spent educating instead of incarcerating? Did you know that the students receive on average only 1/3 of the funding of prisoners?
  2. End standardized testing. What good is asking students to cram 10 months of learning into 9 months, only to stresst them out?  Why are millions of tax dollars being spent on tying up instructional time and resources in order to administer and assess students in grades 3, 6, 9, and 10. Is it worth quantifying education annually as a soapbox for politicians?Has anyone thought that the questions being asked are not considerate of skills and understandings required for the future? Cynical me asks, if there is a correlation to test results and real estate value? This appears to frequently be the case in my own province of Ontario, Canada. My own home price benefiting from strong results in neighbourhood schools.When I look at results by district in the U.S and compare facilities and funding I am left with many questions around equity and distribution of assets. In 2012, 1.7 billion dollars were spent on standardized testing in the U.S.A. If the financial cost doesn’t get your attention, how about the anxiety and mental health issues that result from many educators who feel they need to teach to the test instead of to the needs of their learners?
  3. End the global desk-wagging contest known as PISA and invest the money shelled out back into the students.Are you noticing a trend yet?To whose benefit do these tests and rankings really serve? How come the sample sizes are so small? Why are students and schools used as collateral/capital for international bragging rights? Did you know that schools can be recruited or selected to participate? How does this not scream of yielding a skewed sample? Why are so many countries not taking part in PISA? There are students learning on dirt floors or without access to any education at all. All the while a bunch of people in suits are deciding to see which privileged country’s students are number one.

It’s your turn to share 3 things. Shoot for the stars because you can. It will not be marked.
Countdown in 10, 9 … 3, 2, 1.

If you have made it this far, thank you for your interest in this topic. You are now past 3 minutes. Why not read on? Here is a very worthwhile reading list.

Pipeline to prison – https://briarpatchmagazine.com/articles/view/pipeline-to-prison

School-to-prison-pipeline – https://www.aclu.org/infographic/school-prison-pipeline-infographic?redirect=racial-justice/infographic-school-prison-pipeline

Project Liberty: School to prison pipeline –

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DXR51vZCfVY

How High-Stakes Testing Feeds the School-to-Prison Pipeline Infographic –  http://www.fairtest.org/pipeline-infographic

US should nix its federal department of education –  http://www.troymedia.com/2016/12/12/canada-proves-dont-need-federal-department-education/

School performance rankings from the Fraser Institute –  https://www.fraserinstitute.org/school-performance

How does a school district affect the value of your home (don’t miss comments) –

http://torontorealtyblog.com/archives/10020

The standardised test debate. Is EQAO good for education? (don’t miss comments) –

https://tapintoteenminds.com/the-standardized-test-debate-is-eqao-good-for-education/

School choice not the right choice for our kids –  http://www.freep.com/story/opinion/columnists/nancy-kaffer/2016/10/02/choice-schools-michigan/91240656/

Pisa and the creativity puzzle – http://www.straitstimes.com/singapore/education/pisa-and-the-creativity-puzzle

The tower of PISA is badly leaning – https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/answer-sheet/wp/2015/03/24/the-tower-of-pisa-is-badly-leaning-an-argument-for-why-it-should-be-saved/?utm_term=.c813afeddee2

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Batting 300 – Swinging for the fences pt 2 — The Heart and Art of Teaching and Learning

This is the second post in my word series in spirit of circling the bases of baseball and education. I’m back at the plate to take another swing. Click here for an instant ‘read’play of my first at bat. It’s the 7th inning, and your back at the plate, again. So far you have popped out to short stop, struck…

via Batting 300 – Swinging for the fences pt 2 — The Heart and Art of Teaching and Learning

Keep swinging for the fences — The Heart and Art of Teaching and Learning

photo by jcclark74 CC0 Spring is definitely here, perhaps this is not so evident in our temperamental weather, but by the fact that baseball season is back. In honour of that I wanted to share some connections to how being a student of the game is like learning in the classroom. I look at baseball as a sport for all ages…

via Keep swinging for the fences — The Heart and Art of Teaching and Learning

Freedom

This is the second post in a series about freedom.

Is there any freedom in education? Would it be easily identifiable, as if through some sort of standardized test?
Could there be a way to quantify freedom? What about qualitative data to define freedom instead? Just ask some students and they’ll be happy to give you a piece of their mind.

As I shared in my previous post, I am wrestling with the idea of freedom. Here are some questions that have been flying around my mind: How about the sunflower in the header photo? How does it dare to defy its surroundings to stand out above the choking crowd of corn? Are we really giving students the freedom in their educations to rise above the systems as they learn?

I want the answer to be yes, but am well aware that freedom comes with costs. Costs to identity, creativity, and in many cases joy of learning. Think of how Sir Ken laments this is, to no small part, in Changing Education Paradigms (RSA version).

Shoe does not tell

That got me thinking about how much real freedom exists in our world of education? We want students to come through our doors everyday with smiles on their faces and boundless energy to pay attention, sit still and answer all questions asked. Frighteningly enough, this also implies that students will not be asking any questions themselves. Students are being asked to perform more like programmable robots, akin to a follow up generation from Ira Levin’s The Stepford Wives, let’s call them the Stepford Students who are programmed to conform rather than thinking and (inter)acting?

Another way of seeing this is very much like a new computer. It is given an operating system(education), a number of pre-programmed executable files(curriculum) and a hard drive to fill with personalized content. What the learner doesn’t realize is that the OS and the programs consume most of the hard drive and limit the computer’s potential to function at optimum speed and or intention.The Kids and the Computer

Where’s the freedom in education when everything is prescribed rather than inspired? (With thanks to Ursula Franklin’s Real World of Technology) Are we risking future freedoms in education for the sake of perfunctory outcomes? Will students be allowed to learn on their terms?

Much of education seems counter-intuitive to freedom. Schedules are set by bus companies, unions, school boards and governments. Don’t forget the publishing industry too. Curriculum is established top down with little consideration of student input or their various interests. Students who excel then, are usually still kept in the same learning line based on their year of birth rather than strength of abilities. In many cases learning seems to be in compartments with human management as the top priority. As I reflect through all of this it must be mentioned that these first world problems of freedom hold little weight compared to the global fight for equality and freedom to learn for over 100 million students.

It seems that there are lots of great causes for freedom in the area of education. None more prevalent, in my mind, than the #HeforShe movement and UNESCO’s Literacy for All. On a macro scale, gender equality and access to literacy for all are arguably crucial to reversing many of our global socio-economic problems. So how would freedom make the difference? Our youth must see a place for themselves at the table of the future. That means our youth need their freedom to be heard as they safely share their voices, hopes, dreams and needs without fear of violence, reprisal or loss.

Giving freedom to students around the world will not cost our economy, but rather allow it to grow. Plain and simple – education changes lives. Providing ALL learners opportunities and freedom(s) to alter the course of their futures will be the greatest legacy we can endow to our students.

Educate your students to possess the resilience of dandelions.

This is the first of two posts about freedom to grow in education.

I am wrestling with the idea of freedom. There are some questions floating around my mind like dandelion seeds: So in true randomly consistent fashion I go off topic from the start and into the thoughts below.

So I am cutting my lawn the other day. However, at first look, lawn is a generous label. Lawns according to most are explicitly intended to be pristine alignments of grass.

Stripes on the Lawn -EmmanuelMy perception of viewing a lawn much more as something  akin to a dandelion hosting site. And so thoughts about dandelions and education took root and sprouted…

Does the lawn tell the weeds where to grow? After cutting the dandelions this week, I know this is impossible. So why have we historically told students how, where and when to grow? If education is analogous to tending a garden, then our goals to sow, water, tend, prune, feed, nurture, and harvest are all in-line. However, how we deal with the weeds leaves me second guessing the process.

Dandelions possess a beautifully disobedient resilience in their ability to grow when and where scattered. To defy human chemistry, thrive, and stand above a crowd is admirable? They even provide delicious greens for salads. All the while being berated, maligned and removed. And yet, year after year, a new crop stands at the ready to take over despite all best efforts. These are the students who don’t fit the mould. Do we just cut them down? Do we not need variety in the garden even at the risk of losing perfection and conformity? Isn’t this the type of student differentiation and multiple intelligence theory is meant to reach and teach?

Are we altering the nature of our learners by planting them in infertile educational soil, asking them to perform a series of mundane tasks, and expecting unified responses? A recent Twitter post sums this up all too well.

It's

Are we really giving students the freedom in their educations to rise above the system as they learn? Have we offered them a place where they are safe to grow as they are able and equipped to do so? Are we covering them with weed killer and mowing them down? Is there room for something other than grass in our educational landscaping?

Would love to hear your thoughts.

Does CoP mean Challenge of… Practice or Perfectionism?

Imagine sitting in a room full of high achievers? You know the types who can pore through 2879 open tabs on a web browser at light speed. These high performance types make multi-taskers look like the Terra Cotta Warriors of Xian.

Photo by Jeremy Barwick Creative Commons http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/deed.en

Photo by Jeremy Barwick  Creative Commons

In many school staff rooms this is an everyday occurrence, and in the spirit of educators as lead learners, we hold meetings to share, set goals and grow. Like all schools, our meetings are done at either the corporate (Board or government mandated), school or personal learning levels. On many levels I feel that CoP is the new TLCP, as I shared in an earlier post.

At a recent gathering of our school staff, our team of 30+ worked diligently at defining the most pressing needs in our local learning community. To attempt this in a group half this size would be no small feat, and it’s being done in every school in the board. As our leadership team shared previous staff driven ideations, I could sense some anxiety across the room. It wasn’t fear or concern, but something more akin to uncertainty.

Failure-Quotes-21

The unspoken question that plagues teachers and students: What if I get it wrong? Am I going to embarrass myself? What immediately struck my mind was to remind everyone that if our CoP wasn’t perfect we could always revisit, reconsider and revise our “challenge(s)”.

Think of it in terms of mountain climbing. It’s tiring. It requires mental and physical toughness.There could be several routes to the top. You have to be prepared/acclimatized to the surroundings. At times you move sideways before going up. Occasionally, you have to descend to gain new perspectives and bring new people up to your base camp. Some days it will take every ounce of determination and strength to climb a little higher.

We have to remember that as teachers we need to take the time to try, make mistakes, get messy, reflect and learn too. As educators if we are to truly embrace a #GrowthMindset in our practice we must be willing to fail, fall and rise up again and again. If not, how can we ever expect our students to trust us and try new approaches in learning, or to grow their own mindsets?

So now what? A core of converts are already to climbing their next mountains knowing that there are still greater heights of which to ascend. However, it is crucial we do not leave anyone behind either. How do we help those still at base camp whose feet are on shakier, uncertain ground and raise everyone’s a(l)titudes? In short we need to encourage and engage each other.

Our failings are not faults if they occur in the process of learning. They are merely markers and steps of our ascent for ourselves and future climbers. Along the way we are not considering how to take the perfect steps.On the contrary, we must realize it is the journey that gives us the confidence, strength, and perspective in our practice.

Additional sources of inspiration:

From her TED Talk “Trusting too much on being on the correct side of anything can be too dangerous.” Kathryn Schulz

Not Feeling It…today

Sorry. I am just not feeling it today. I know this is true because even the coffee tastes funny.

Have you ever come to work distracted? I have.
Anyone who said “no” is engaging in self-misinformation.

Maybe it’s lasted the whole week, an entire month or longer since your attention to the job has been strained, compromised or unfocused? Maybe it’s a chronic or compounded form of distraction that no one, but you has acutely perceived? Phew!

I ask this because, I have recently witnessed a number of things (events) that are affecting the way I conduct myself in the classroom. And in all honesty, I’m not sure I like it? Maybe it’s a brain thing? Maybe it’s the time of year? With 80% of this year’s teaching days behind me, fatigue might be a factor? But why, and why now? Usually, it only takes an extra coffee or 5 to put me back on track.

I get that there are multiple things happening at all times on any given day at school. In the past few years, I’ve discovered how much the cold and snow of a Canadian Winter impacts my frame of mind. Couple that with a constant flow of new learning (professional growth) at a new school, labour tensions being ramped up in the media, imminent standardized tests, reports, global chaos, and year end organization for September are on looping simultaneous play.

And then, there are the intangibles beyond my headspace. These can range from behavioural issues, sickness, emotional distress in students, and in myself. It’s true. Teachers get sick, even weary from time to time too. Is that wrong? Not at all.

Sometimes we get sick because we are stressed and unable to articulate how we feel inside. I like how this short video lays this all out for the world to see.

Without delving into details, I’ve been wondering about my state of mind relative to my professional practice and purpose as an educator? Am I getting the job(s) done. Was that assessment enough? Did I give enough descriptive feedback? Did I spend enough time answering students’ questions? Did I empower them to seek their own answers? Am I making a difference?

With more questions than answers, this seems like a great place to share that many days I just don’t know?

So…how do I get the “feeling” back. I prefer the personal pep-talk via mind purging blog posts.

Whether it’s exercise, mindfulness/meditation, hobbies or conversation there are ways to restore your body and mind. In fact, as I write this, I have nearly snapped out of my “not feeling it” spell for now. For me, it proves that by sharing my journey in writing, helps me open up an otherwise conscientiously closed chapter in my career. As I reflect on my emotions and anxieties around my efforts as an educator, I keep hearing a singular thought playing like an earworm over and over in my head.

Remember why you became a teacher?
Ugh! I hate it when I beat myself in an argument.
OK, you’re right altruistic brain. Cynical brain can go shove a rock!

For many, more than the recovery strategies above are needed. How we deal with issues like these will inevitably lead us to examining our self-perception, our mental health, and our support network. I love this quote by Ray Allen to capture the possibilities that can be found in the highs and lows.

ray-allen-quote-everything-i-know-now-the-pitfalls-the-highs-and-lows

Going forward,I am happy to share that my school board, and many others are providing support, resources and care for the mental well being of its employees and students. If we are to grow beyond ourselves, we need to know that we are safe to have moments of vulnerability,that we have time to restore, and time to rise from the rubble. And as I am able to rise I will be…Thankful. Stronger. Wiser.