Archive for teachers

Does Data Make Us Dumber?

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , on October 3, 2010 by gfreducation

Anyone who knows me can attest that I love data.  I can’t get enough of it.  I love numbers . I find data intriguing to the point of obsession.  Right now I can tell you that 43% of Americans want the Federal Government more involved in education with 56% of parents wanting more involvement (Gallup), the average American spends about 38 days of their life brushing their teeth and classes at my school spend about 10 school days per year on bathroom breaks. I have acquired nicknames from friends and colleagues such as “Graph Man” and “Chart Boy.”  Enough said.

In addition to having an interest in the numbers themselves, what I find  even more interesting is how data can be manipulated and how it can be misleading if used out of context.  In a poll for example, the results can easily be manipulated by simply framing the question in a certain way.  With assessment data, you can manipulate the format of the reporting depending upon the outcome you want.   With research data, a company can base the effectiveness of the product they want to sell on a certain sample size or chosen group of people.

Numbers can’t lie. They can’t tell the truth either.  They are just numbers.  People still have to think.  When used with caution numbers can guide us and help make us more effective communicators, teachers and learners.  When we try to assign numbers to things that are not measurable or when used solely without thought or used haphazardly numbers can, I would argue, make us look foolish.

Numbers are foolishly being used in schools across America to unofficially label students.  And believe me, in education, once you have a label it is very difficult to get rid of and if you can’t get rid of it, it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.  Year after year.  Teacher after teacher.  “Look at those scores. This student can’t learn.”  “They are so low.”  “My whole class is below basic.” “They shouldn’t be in this class.” “How can I possibly teach someone that low.”  “How can they possibly be in grade __ .  They can’t even _____”  “They shouldn’t be in this grade, they just came from [insert country here].” “They don’t even know ____”  These numbers were supposed to help teachers identify the needs of students so teachers could take them from where they are and move them to their fullest potential.  They were not supposed to be reasons for why students couldn’t be taught.

Let me repeat, numbers don’t lie or tell the truth.  What is hindering education today is not the numbers, not the data but the mindset of “me,” the attitude of “can’t” and the work ethic of “don’t want to”  that exists in some classrooms in every school today.  Instead of “what ever it takes” it is “I don’t have time to.” Instead of “What can I do?” it is “Someone needs to.”  It is true that it is not like this in all classrooms.  But just as a label can become a self- fulfilling prophecy for a student the selfishness, negative attitude and poor work ethic of a few teachers can and does infect the whole school.

So let’s not be data dumb. Use data with caution. Children are people, not budgets, batting averages or burgers.   They are all different.  Our job is to teach all students from where ever they come.  Our job is to meet student needs whatever they are.  Period.  So when you hear an educator making an excuse, do not let it go.  Challenge it.  Make it clear to them that teachers can teach all students and that all students can learn.

Not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted counts.

Uncommon Sense

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , on July 22, 2010 by gfreducation

It has been a long while since I have posted.  Plenty of time to read, reread, learn and reflect on teaching, learning and education in general.  Over that time I have come to the conclusion that what I thought of as common sense may not be so common at all.

We have begun to try to establish a PLC at our elementary school over the past two years.  We have had many successes and some setbacks. We are lucky to have a principal who is willing to provide time, resources, support and encouragement for PLCs.  The most difficult task–getting all teachers on board– still lies ahead.

During my coursework, I have been reading  about school reform, teacher collaboration, PLCs, and student success and I have participated in many #edchat discussions on the same topics.  Most of what I have read seems like common sense to me.  So why is it so difficult to implement? Why don’t many teachers want to collaborate?   Even when given the time and resources to engage in a learning community many see it as just one more thing they have to do and may even simply refuse. If collaboration would become the norm, their workload would greatly decrease over time and student learning would increase, making their job more rewarding.  It is almost as if some teachers don’t want to learn!  They just want to put up the same bulletin boards, drag out the same old tired worksheets and do the same thing year after year, acting as if it is going to be 1988 for the rest of their students’ lives.  Is this because it is easy or is there something else at play?

So what really keeps teachers from wanting to work together for common cause?  Why is it “my students” and not “our students?”  Why do we continue to talk about “what I am doing” rather than “is what we are doing working?”  Teachers want students to collaborate with each other on class projects; yet so many teachers see it as a weakness or a chore to collaborate on their own project: student success.  Is it the culture of schools that creates competition between teachers, making needing to learn seem like a weakness?  A friend of mine always says “Go to any teacher meeting and you will see the worst students.” Is it the personality type of many who choose the teaching profession?  I am stumped.  In Pyramid Response to Intervention: RTI, Professional Learning Communities and How to Respond When Kids Don’t Learn, Buffum, Mattos and Weber make  two interesting points that hit home for me:  1.  No teacher can possibly possess all the knowledge, skills, time and resources needed to ensure high levels of learning for all students and 2.  Not working as a PLC is educational malpractice.

What is even more frustrating to me is that not only do some (maybe many) teachers refuse to take part in meaningful collaboration with other teachers but they actively try to discourage teachers who are already collaborating as well as those who want to change and become better.  I have heard many comments  this past year alone that would discourage improvement.  One example  –  “Well we don’t have hours to spend at school like you do”  – was directed to a teacher who was sharing successful results in math. Of course there are less direct ways that this discouragement happens, as when teachers say  to anyone who will listen that planning with their grade level team takes away from “my planning time.” Really? I thought that was planning time.  How can those who are and want to collaborate be supported?  How can the “me” attitudes be changed to “we?” Can those attitudes be changed at all?  How can the climate be changed so those who AREN’T collaborating feel uncomfortable rather than those who are or those who want to?

As you can see, I have many more questions than answers.  I would like to hear from you about your road to building a true PLC.  How do you get teachers to buy in to the common cause?  While our PLC  is still under construction, I believe we have gone from a dirt path to a paved road with occasional tolls.  The superhighway still awaits.

Great Teachers

Posted in 1 with tags on March 16, 2010 by gfreducation

I have been doing lots of reading about what makes some teachers great and have particated in discussions on the same topic.   I was inspired to come up with my own list of characteristics of great teachers.  So here is my Top 11 list in no specific order:

11. Great teachers will never utter this phrase: “There’s no time to…..” Great teachers get it done.  They don’t wait around for time to find them, they find the time.

10.  Great teachers see the big picture.  Every decision that is made affects everyone else.  Great teachers know this. They know that what may be best for them may not be best for the school.

9.  Great teachers put students first at all costs, even when something may make their life a bit more difficult, like covering recess duty, monitoring the hallway, or meeting during planning time. Great teachers will do whatever it takes to make their school great.  They realize that all students are different and that it is their job to meet the students where they are and move them toward their fullest potential.

8.  Great teachers WANT to have the “challenging students” in their class.  They see it as their mission to reach the most difficult students to teach and they never complain about having them in their class. If these students aren’t in their class they will not speak negatively about them and they will look to support in any way they can.

7.  Great teachers’ classrooms are always different.  These teachers experiment with new ideas and continually incorporate them. You will rarely see the same lesson over and over again year after year in a great teacher’s classroom.

6.  Great teachers embrace change.  They are constantly seeking to improve what they already do.  They realize if we aren’t changing we are getting further behind because the world is a constantly changing place.

5.  Great teachers don’t complain.  When things don’t go exactly as they want or planned, they roll with it. No matter how bad their day is going, they always find a way to see the positive.

4.  Great teachers are team players.  They seek to collaborate at all times.  They consider nothing that they do exclusively theirs and share everything with everybody without being asked.  When recognized for their work they direct the recognition to the team.

3. Great teachers do not want or need public praise. In fact, they get kind of embarrassed when they are recognized for something at a faculty meeting or in a newsletter. They know that they are just doing their job and don’t need praise for doing what they are supposed to do.

2. Great teachers WANT criticism.  They feel unsatisfied if after an observation or “walk through” they only hear “That was a great lesson” or “I liked how you did this” or “You are such a master teacher.” They are not satisfied until they hear.  “You really need to improve this.”  See, great teachers know that unless they know their weaknesses they will never be able to improve them.

1.  Great teachers support final decisions that are made.  They get involved in the decision making process, they give their opinion but when a decision is made, even if they don’t agree with it, they don’t seek to undermine the decision or the administrator who made it.  They know this will destroy school climate which in turn hurts students.

While this list is not complete and I by no means have reached this standard, I believe that these 11 things will be at the core of any teacher considered to be great.  I would love to hear your feedback on this list as well as other characteristics that you would add to it.