Monday, October 26, 2015

Trust Yourself - Week Eleven

"The best way to find out if you can trust somebody is to trust them." Ernest Hemingway

Successful outcomes are never built on foundations of doubt. Any enduring work is established through trust. Trust in the workers who carry out the project, trust in the vision for the work and trust in the very process itself. The same is true inside the four walls (or through the fiber optic cables) of your classroom. Educating children well has to start with trusting in our teachers. Unfortunately, it seems that teachers are not trusted enough.

You are given scripted curriculum, assigned irrelevant professional development sessions and given district/state level assessments that are disconnected from what you can realistically cover in a week's worth of instruction. And if that is not enough, technology is brought in to perform better what the mis-aligned assessments have reported back that you didn't do well. This practice does not honor teachers, teaching and the students themselves. It must end.

You have the power to end this practice simply by trusting yourself. You, who have gone through specialized training and have passed rigorous  exams, are the professional expert in the classroom. You are the S.M.E.(subject matter expert) on your students. It is time to trust yourself again. Trust your ability to align standards, scope and sequence together in a way that does not lock-out the cultures, interests and needs of your students. Trust yourself.

Trust that the basics of pedagogy (planning, teaching and assessment) still work today. Trust in your ability to adapt to the changing needs of the 21st century student. And trust in your students enough to know that if you conduct yourself with intention, care, professionalism and respect - they will feel it and respond accordingly. You can do this.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Everyday Equity - Week Nine

"We do not really see through our eyes or hear through our ears, but through our beliefs." -Lisa Delpit


What if we stopped talking about the achievement gap?

Not stopped working on closing it, but just stopped talking about it in the classical ways we have. 

In the late 60's, at the height of the civil rights movement, Malcolm X had a profound epiphany following his pilgrimage to Mecca. When he returned to the U.S., he took the classic notion of 'civil rights,' and expanded it. Up to that point, civil rights had been on the lips of every progressive thinker in the U.S. It had been talked about and documented. There were plans, marches, boycotts and demonstrations all on the basis of what came to be known as the moral imperative of our time. (In fact, the term is so ingrained in our conscience that even today we use it to define other important issues involving people, e.g. 'the civil rights issue of our time'). Malcolm thought the term was too little and so he expanded it to human rights. His thesis was that human rights contains the ideas upon which civil rights stand. I think this is instructive for the classroom and the schoolhouse.

When we continue to focus solely on the achievement gap, we only see the deficit and difference in achievement of black and brown children versus their white peers. This deficit model of focus pushes us to seek and search for what is wrong with these children, rather than what is missing from the classrooms, schools and educational systems that should be serving them. Under-service usually precedes under-performance and under-performance almost always points to inequity. I would encourage you today to think beyond the achievement gap and to focus on equity. 

Equity could be defined as the practice of providing appropriate scaffolds and supports that meet the cognitive, cultural and emotional needs of students. Equity is a practice. It also is a perspective. A belief system. "We see and hear.....through our beliefs." When equity is your lens, it may be evident in the following actions:

1. Students are expected to work beyond their comfort level and just below their frustration point. 

2. Systems of assessment and instruction are put in place that make room for the cultural practices, experiences and values of students.

3. There is transparency to the work, such that students and parents know what each student's achievement level is and how close to or far from the grade level standard that achievement level is. 

4. Plans are put in place to ensure that no matter what the achievement level of the student is, he/she grows to at least grade level expectations by the end of the year. (And if they are already at grade level expectations at the beginning of the school year, they should still be well beyond it by the same time frame). 

5. The teacher organizes his/her life in such a way that deep and meaningful planning takes place, a consistent feedback loop between assignment, assessment and feedback is established and ongoing personal professional development fuels practice. 

If we focus just on the gap itself, and miss the overarching concept of providing equity for all, we will fall into that gap of thinking, planning and talking. We can do better by our students. We can do better by our parents. We can do better for the profession. When you focus on equity, you have the power to change the trajectory of every traditionally under-served student that walks through your door. Use that power today!

Monday, October 5, 2015

Teaching Moments - Week Eight

"Let everything you do reflect the seriousness and integrity of your teaching. Teach the truth so that your teaching can't be criticized." Titus 2:7-8 (NLT)


It has been a privilege to have a career in education. From connecting with children to leading with adults, the profession of teaching is replete with moments of learning. These are commonly referred to as teachable moments. I like to call them teaching moment because it reflects the reciprocal nature of the situation - it is our duty to reflect the best learning episodes back to willing ears and hearts. I would like to share a few teaching moments that have dotted my career so far:

1. "After you save this file, you should leave," was a note that I gave a high school senior. She was a student who had anxiety about being around other students and one peer in particular with whom she had a bullying history with. After speaking with some other concerned teachers about her being in the same class with the student, we determined that the placement would be suitable because of the relationship I had built with her. I spoke with the student and we developed a strategy for dealing with the student in question. One of our tactics was to allow her to leave a minute or two earlier than other students, so that she could safely go to her next class. Free from potential harassment. Free to be in a safe and orderly environment. I learned that it is our ethical duty* to protect the emotional as well as physical health of our students.

2. "Why are you so hyped, all the time?" This quote from another high schooler was said to me, with a smile, after I spent all 90 minutes of an energetic class session on my feet. As I was engaged in going from student to student in this composition day, the energy from their stories kept me whirling around the room. The teaching moment for me was that the fuel for my focus was and will forever be the stories of my students.

3. "In some states, prisons are built based off of the reading levels of students," was the beginning sentence of a message I gave to middle school students. I then proceeded to let them know about the power and potential of reading and writing in ways that were personal and transformative for me. For the rest of that year and the majority of my classroom days, I found teaching moments in literature and poems. I allowed rich texts to communicate deep truths and mixed in real world lessons for students to enjoy. This one practice of creating an environment of literate exchange for children taught me that students are always ready to respond to and be changed by passion and truth.

In each teaching moment, the learner is a flexible role and the lesson is dependent on human variables. As a teacher, you are never too bright to learn or too good to make a mistake. It is what we do with the learning; how we let it impact our practice and our leadership that makes the profession richer and more rewarding. As you start school this week, be prepared for the teaching opportunities that await you and your students.


*To learn more about ethics in education, visit the NASDTEC website which contains the first ever national Model Code of Educator Ethics. Additionally, an innovative tests for educator ethics has been developed by ETS - more information can be found here.