Archive for teaching

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.

Building a Community of Learners

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , on September 15, 2010 by gfreducation

I had the opportunity to attend the first session of Professional Learning Practice (PLP) today with my principal and a great team of teachers.  The focus of the session led by Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach and Will Richardson was building  communities and networks of learners.

When we think of a community of learners many times the visions of students working together comes to mind.  One point that hit home today is that we as educators need to think of ourselves more as learners than teachers.  WE need to be a community of learners.  The more we learn, the better teachers we will be.  Sounds simple but sometimes we forget the importance of learning. We need to continually be building our network and strengthening our learning community.  Of course if we are going to strengthen our learning community, we are going to have to share, share, share.  It is hard to move from the mindset of competition to collaboration but it won’t happen unless we take action.

I have total confidence in my PLP team.  I believe we have the talent, the drive and the passion to make a difference.  Together we will grow in our knowledge of the possibilities of technology, make connections with our colleagues and build our capacity to create change.

Bottle the Excitement

Posted in Uncategorized with tags on August 30, 2010 by gfreducation

Nothing beats the first day of school–nothing!  I compare it to the feeling of running on the court for a championship game as the crowd roars.  At exactly 8:45, teachers, most likely running on little sleep due to butterflies and a weekend of final preparations, anxiously waited as hundreds of excited students began pouring off their buses, traveling to their classrooms on floors shining  like mirrors.   At no other point in the school year are teachers and students so excited.  Parents, support personnel, and the principal greeted students and helped younger students and  new students  find their classrooms.  It was truly an amazing sight.  Equally amazing are the efforts, going unnoticed by many, of custodial staff, secretaries and other staff who worked tirelessly behind the scenes in the weeks leading up to this day, to make the building look its very best.

In 14 years of first days, I have never seen an opening day run so smoothly.  The feat of getting 450+ kids  off buses, to recess and through the lunch line on time was an amazing one in itself – and that doesn’t count the learning that began the very first day.  The credit goes to all teachers, staff, students and parents working together.  Without teamwork, chaos would ensue.

Traveling through the building as teachers returned to their rooms after saying goodbye to students for the first time this year, I inquired about their first day.  The answers I got were  incredible!  Not one teacher mentioned a complaint or expressed a negative about the day.  One told me that the children were so excited to be at school they couldn’t stop talking about it.  Another told me of a student’s comments during a story about fear that she was reading:  “I can relate to that.”  One teacher, who was searching for a class pet that somehow escaped, said that this is going to be a great year.  Still another said that this was the best first day they had ever had, and the kids were great.

So the question is how can this level of  excitement be maintained?  In reality, it probably can’t. We can’t physically or emotionally maintain that level of intensity every day.  What we can  maintain – although not without effort – is the positive attitude, with the “cans” far outweighing the “can’ts.”  We can strive to keep the atmosphere of teamwork, working together instead of in isolation, collaborating instead of competing, and sharing in successes and problem-solving together.

I will try to bottle this excitement as a reminder of what can be.  Together we can achieve incredible things.

Back-to-School Challenge

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , on August 23, 2010 by gfreducation

It is that time of year again. For most educators it is the beginning of a new year.  A chance to start over and try new things.  Unfortunately, many educators will not take this opportunity to commit to change, collaboration and improvement.  They will isolate themselves in their classrooms and repeat the things they have done year after year regardless of the results.   They will continue to complain about “education,” that there is not enough time to teach everything and that students just aren’t like they used to be.  Yes, the curriculum is gigantic and students change.  But, the problem does not lie with the students.  It lies with priorities, commitment, attitude and the willingness of teachers to work together.

One of the most common reasons that teachers give for their lack of collaboration  is “There’s not enough time for that.” I think this statement confuses time with priority.  If you truly want to build a collaborative learning community, if it is your priority, if you are committed to it, then it will happen. If you want to collaborate then you will make the time.  To remind myself of this, I placed this quote in my room from H. Jackson Brown, Jr. : “Don’t say you don’t have enough time. You have exactly the same number of hours per day that were given to Helen Keller, Pasteur, Michaelangelo, Mother Teresa, Leonardo da Vinci, Thomas Jefferson, and Albert Einstein.”

As we begin this school year, I challenge all educators to honestly and critically reflect on their practice.   What are your priorities?  Do you have a “whatever it takes”  attitude? Are you committed to collaboration or do you want to maintain the status quo?  In other words, are you part of the solution or part of the problem?  Our students will be arriving soon.  They deserve the best.  Let’s not let them down.

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.


Posted in Uncategorized with tags , on February 28, 2010 by gfreducation

I have begun reading What Great Principals Do Differently: Fifteen Things That Matter Most by Todd Whitaker and I was fascinated by one simple concept of how to improve schools.  1.  Get better teachers. 2.  Improve the teachers you have.  A very simple concept indeed but not so easy to accomplish.  Many school systems keep changing programs thinking that if they can find the right one they can improve their results.  When in reality great teachers would be successful with almost any program or even none at all!  We have all witnessed how some program, whether it be academic or behavioral, can be extremely effective in one classroom and a dismal failure in another.  So a program’s success relies on the quality of teachers.

Whitaker asks How many principals -or teachers for that matter- can predict who in your building will send the most students to the office NEXT year?  Usually an easy prediction to make even without knowing which students are going to be in which class.  His point here is that the teacher is the variable not the student.   For example, if a student in the best teacher’s classroom fails a test, the teacher will blame himself.  If a student in the worst teacher’s classroom fails a test, that teacher blames any number of variables except himself including parents, last year’s teacher, the weather, full moon, TV and video games.  The difference is good teachers are always looking to improve and focus on what they can control–their teaching.   Poor teachers look to the outside and wait for variables out of their control to change.  RESPONSIBILITY lies with the teacher and good teachers know that.  Both good and poor teachers have high expectations for students but as Whitaker indicates it is what teachers expect of themselves that is important.

So can we help our fellow educators improve by showing them that they are the primary variable that determines student success or are teachers who cannot see that doomed to failure?