leadership related

Starting Over

Posted on October 12, 2013. Filed under: leadership related, thinking aloud, Working together | Tags: |

What a great fall carnival!  I loved seeing so many families there.  A number of the families were made up of you: our teachers and our staff members.peace I think the whole preschool team might have been there with their children! So many volunteers and so many of the volunteers were young people, recent graduates of Vista La Mesa.  For me, the whole event matched perfectly with our recent Wednesday staff meeting.

wallAt our staff meeting It was exciting to listen to the VLMA stories.  I am sure there are better artifacts that I could have found for our discussion, maybe there are some that other folks can bring forth in the future.  Nevertheless, the artifacts that we examined led me to some interesting larger themes:

I noticed a recurring theme about community.  We talked of our links to the past and the present.  stoneOur connections to VLMA as a Cheetah Community, our ideas about VLMA as part of the larger picture of military families, our choice to create connection to the outside through perhaps a community garden and/or other forms of community service and connection.

covI heard us meander around a theme about raising children with social conscience, embracing the idea of social values as part of schooling, teaching children to be “peace builders” and “covenant signers” by way of pledges, promises, and practice.

cheetahA smaller theme that emerged was one of student-leadership, through the cheetah logo, through the summer seminars in leadership, through the idea of sharing a garden with the community beyond.


Perhaps this is my own slant on the activity, I was thinking kindness, connection, and good humor were present in each artifact’s description.

I would love to hear your thoughts on this.marley

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Danger of Passion

Posted on May 20, 2010. Filed under: art and creativity, classroom related, leadership related, thinking aloud |

To converse with my husband, you must desire a straight shooter, a born and bred New Yorker who does not soften his honesty to suit the audience. Often, Joe is relied on by folks in his industry.  They ask him his opinion because they know they will get exactly what they asked for and no less. He speaks what he thinks and feels, and  you know he means it by the way his neck clenches and his eyes light up. My daughters rely on their father’s honest approach as well.  If they really want to know whether a dress, haircut, or set of shoes work, they ask Dad.  (If they need a softer, gentler approach that might be stuffed in diplomatic cotton, they ask me.)

You might be asking what does this have to do with passion? And what does this have to do with education? Here is what I am thinking:

When we feel passionately about what we are saying (and so by default what we are teaching), it comes across as a frank sort of honesty. It FEELS more believable, trustworthy, and real. Have you noticed when we begin to talk about “engaging” students inevitably emotion-laden words enter the conversation: belief, charged, excited, drama, and so on? Emotions connect and bind us together.  A passionate person is much more likely to speak with emotion and thus keep us interested and connected AND ENGAGED (though sometimes they might make us feel challenged and angry during our engagement).

Passion is also scarier. People who talk with (and teach with) emotion can sound like ideologues, over-attached to their own ideas, unable to see a new idea, and too fired up to listen to others.  The present political climate is filled with passionate people who do not seem to know what they are talking about, their evidence is often emotion-built, not facts. Over time, this approach can beat you down, make you tired of talking.

On the other end of things, academics rely on facts and evidence.  Not a bad thing, and it keeps them from falling into passionate ideology.  It tends to help them see and present the gray areas, understand the different points of view to an argument, and demand evidence. It is more diplomatic, and provides safer haven for easier dialogue. Nevertheless, academic talk is dry, and boring, and people do not trust that you mean what you say. Academ-eeze is not engaging. It lacks passion.

I believe in education we need to recognize the need for passion and emotion in what we do, but we cannot allow our passion to undermine the need for evidence and reason.  How can we build the skills to do both?

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10 Ways Edu-folk Know How to Mess Up a Good Thing

Posted on May 15, 2010. Filed under: assessment, classroom related, leadership related, testing, thinking aloud |

If it is good then…

…we should do it more often. Ice cream is good, folks.  That does not mean I (in particular)  should be doing it more often.  There is an educational quality to something that is NOVEL.  Novelty sparks interest, curiosity, motivation.  Not all good things need to be done in large amounts and some good things are absolutely ruined by being done in large amounts.

…we should do it in more depth.  Some things are meant to be short and simple. I once knew a teacher who had 29 rules for behavior that she interspersed throughout her walls, curriculum, and speeches.  I have no idea how she had time to teach.  Some things are best done in limited ways and do not require more.

…we should require everyone to do it. Honestly, no one needs to see me in the latest fashion inspired by Lady Gaga.  Not all good things are a good fit everywhere and on everyone. First graders do not have the developmental milestones that allow them to do what fifth graders do.  Students in the city may not connect as well with literature that draws in the rural crowd. We are a diverse people and I would hope educators embrace and promote that.

…we should require fidelity in implementation. Ok.  Implementation is the stumbling block of every educational reform.  We all know about the “teachers close their doors and do their thing” stumbling block.  Does anyone really believe requiring fidelity to any implementation fixes teacher autonomy?  Fidelity wreaks of blind loyalty.  I want my teachers understanding and believing in what they are doing. Without teacher belief, fidelity to implementation is meaningless.  Students can FEEL the disbelief; can’t everyone?

…we should market it. Seems like we want to reduce things to something we can do/say in a 30 second commercial spot.  Everything needs a catchy name, that name must be trademarked so no one else can use it, and then an entire consulting firm needs to grow out of it.

…we should give it an acronym. It is as if education were the precursor to Twitter; everything is renamed with an Acronym.  We are even starting to develop Acronyms with heightened spelling issues (RtI??). I once had to take a quiz on acronyms during a professional development (PD).  Here are a few: SDAIE, IDEA, RSP, SDC, DI, PBL, PLC, POI, ELD, CELDT, GATE, SPT, LDS, etc.  I begin to think: WTF?

…If it is good, it will need to be tested with a standardized test. Student integrity is unlikely to be testable in a Multiple Choice format. Student writing is best assessed when read. Persistence of effort may be assessable, but not through bubbles. I could go on and on.  Do these things matter to us?

…we should quickly spread the innovation. Spreading means diluting, and that is usually what happens to quickly growing enterprises in education.  How about we let them percolate and grow, instead of multiply and spread? The reform pendulum has done so much more damage than good.  Patience is a virtue and we in education need to embrace that a bit more.  I understand that the Japanese developed lesson study over DECADES.  They do not switch curriculums every seven years, they wait TEN years and then they only switch out parts. Why can’t we do that?

…we should convince the politicians. How about we stop engaging the political machinations, and start working with each other to make change?  When we use politicians and political movements to make change it seems to me to reduce what we do to cliche.  Can’t we trust ourselves and have the important conversations on a local level where it counts? Are we too afraid to talk about what needs to be done with each other?  Our friends, neighbors, colleagues, and students?  Our local universities, our teachers, our parents, all talking about what we need to do to make education count? This is likely to be more real, more powerful, and more persuasive than any platform from elected folk.

…we should not change it. Sometimes good things have to move over for great things to get started.

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What if…

Posted on January 1, 2010. Filed under: interesting reading, leadership related, technology, thinking aloud | Tags: , , , , , |

What if I could recreate schools the way I want them to be?  Places where children experience the excitement and energy of working on that which most interests them for as long as their hearts desire. Places where curriculum, schedules, and resources bend to the whim of the learner, and not the other way around. Places where teachers learn beside students. Places where students read, write, and do math because the value of all of it is so obvious it takes no persuasion. Those are the kinds of schools I would like to see. Technology would be part of the rich underbelly of resources that make such an environment possible, not the driving force, just the enabling partner. Why not do this?

Whenever I have tried to pursue such aims in a traditional school, it has been a mishmash of half tries, and a crashing of opposing ideas.  The bells, whistles, tests, and grades of the educational establishment proceeded around and over my students as if they were standing still in their tracks.  Parents panicked at the possibility that  their child’s test scores would be harmed.  Other teachers panicked that students would come to them “unprepared” for the rigor of the next grade level. Our experiments in exploration were inevitably sidetracked by the realities of traditional school demands.  Trying to unpack constructivist practices in traditional school environments is like trying to fit an octopus into blue jeans.  Sure you can stuff its eight tentacles into the two pant legs using various implements and force, but the ocotopus’s fluid movements would be constricted beyond recognition; and why would you want to do this anyway?

Today I read a paper from Gary Stager that described exactly how I want schools to be.  I was surprised to learn that he had been lucky enough to have worked with Seymour Papert,  and yet not surprised at the results they saw through their Constructivist Learning Laboratory (CLL).  Using all the methods I describe in the first paragraph, they seemingly transformed learning for children in juvenile detention centers.  If disenfranchised children experience such dramatic changes of engagement in a constructivist environment, then I imagine all children would love having that same opportunity.  Of course, to give all children that opportunity would mean asking educational stake-holders to turn a blinds-eye to almost all the instructional practices that are presently held in high esteem.  Such an environment does not occur in the rampant bell-test-grade-rank-standards world of schools today.  Teachers wouldn’t even know how to begin to work under such free wheeling conditions as the CLL.  Where have they been trained for this sort of freedom?

We need to create some CLL experiences for teachers, full inquiry that allows teachers to experience the engagement that occurs when you have rich resources at your feet and pressing questions in your mind. To transform practice you need to first give practitioners a vision and a feeling for the real thing. They need to be learners in such a constructivist environment, or they will be doomed to fail at constructivism. They cannot be blind to where they are leading.

Unfortunately, little of professional development has truly moved teachers in this direction. Even my beloved PLCs are only a mere shadow of what true constructivist professional development should look like.

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Lesson Study

Posted on December 6, 2009. Filed under: leadership related, thinking aloud | Tags: , , , |

Last week my district reserved time for grade 2-6 teachers to meet for a half day lesson study on each campus.  For most campuses that meant the teachers met and went over their textbooks together.  For my staff that meant we picked and unpacked a math lesson, one teacher performed the lesson while others observed students, and then we debriefed what we learned from our experience.  I found it to be exhilarating to work with my teachers in such an intense endeavor (the time constraints forced greater intensity than my prior lesson study experiences).

Having read about, studied, experienced, and watched lesson study over the years, it was a curious experience to be the leader in charge of it.  First of all, “leader in charge of it” is entirely counter to the notions that I have always understood about lesson study. In true lesson study, my teachers should be driving.  They should choose the course, pick the speed, turn the wheel, everything.  But because there was a limited window of opportunity, I took the helm and scaffolded lesson study to the best of my ability.  My hope would be that the experience would spark a fire of desire in at least a grade level or two of my teachers.  After all, once it got rolling, attentive folks could see that although I was driving the vehicle, they were, in fact, choosing the destination.  Teacher-participants could realize I was just giving them a taste of what was possible within the spirit of teacher inquiry.

Working with students in classrooms, we do not simply drop inquiry into student laps.  We mold it, hone it, offer it in bites until students are ready to go the distance, until they demand autonomy and know how to use it effectively…correct?  I hope I achieved the same with my teachers. As a teacher, I loved how lesson study provided us with the framework for our own investigation of learning.  My fingers are crossed that some small contingent of my teachers comes away excited enough to demand more.

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