Know better: Do better.

There are three concepts to juggle, and with any dexterity and caffeine, allow me to attempt this hat-trick:

We are not doing a great job, and we need to do better. 

  1. We’re not showing students what rigor and high expectations really mean, and moreover, what it means to them.
  2. We’re not working as leadership teams.
  3. We’re running through the standards in concrete lock-steps and not understanding nuances and complexity. (See #1, and then refer to #2).

This year, as best as I can say, seemed like being lost in the woods and someone stepped on my compass. The good news is next year I’m leading and designing curriculum, and I know it’ll be great: sharing ideas and asking others, collaborating, and teaming on what our students need is my jam. I can’t get over, though, the haunting dread that we are not really doing what we need to for our students. Our current practices lack for consistent connections, and it is unacceptable. We have master teachers in our building, trained at the highest levels of PBL, science, math, social sciences, humanities, and language arts. The elective teachers are experienced and hold our students to the highest standards, too. But what is happening? My theory is we’re still working in too much isolation and silos. Our PLCs improve every year, even through administration shifts, but our cross-content and staff heterogony are lacking. We’re too homogenous. We must do better at being allowed the time to share knowledge and information.

Article #1: Make It Meaningful (not lock-step)

Revolutionizing Inquiry in Urban English Classrooms: Pursuing Voice and Justice through Youth Participatory Action Research

If I bring up my ‘burning questions’ unit with new leadership/staff, and or if they bring up something that they’ve tried, where is the reciprocal curiosity? Where is the time to say, “How did you do that? What resources do you have? Will you share that with me?” Right now we do this by the seat of our pants.

Agency represents the power that derives from the pursuit of those questions that matter most to students. It is what fuels action, a central component of YPAR that allows young people to attend to and explore firsthand the nuances of issues that have a direct bearing on their lives. It is contextually bound, always in negotiation, and mediated by the histories, social interactions, and cultures that young people’s identities are entangled within. We argue that agency cannot be framed as a competency then, but as a capacity to imagine and act upon the world. Central to this is the opening of spaces for students in their plurality, spaces where they can examine their relationships with each other, with texts, and with the world.”

I would love a resource guide of the staffs’ individual areas of expertise. My work with the National Writing Project precludes my inclination and bias toward their research, and I make no apologies for it.

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Article #2: Scientific American (high standards/rigor)

Is the U.S. Education System Producing a Society of “Smart Fools”?

It is not enough to teach knowledge but constantly strive for the highest levels the taxonomy, creativity.

As the writer Claudia Wallis says, teaching ethics in decision making combined with knowledge is the goal:

“Basically, ethical reasoning involves eight steps: seeing that there’s a problem to deal with (say, you see your roommate cheat on an assignment); identifying it as an ethical problem; seeing it as a large enough problem to be worth your attention (it’s not like he’s just one mile over the speed limit); seeing it as personally relevant; thinking about what ethical rules apply; thinking about how to apply them; thinking what are the consequences of acting ethically—because people who act ethically usually don’t get rewarded; and, finally, acting. What I’ve argued is ethical reasoning is really hard. Most people don’t make it through all eight steps.”

Think about that for a moment: doing the right thing means there may be no reward. No tchotchke, no token: just the idea that doing the right thing is doing the right thing. A beloved colleague said to me the other day how frustrated she feels when she sees students throw away our offering of an excellent, free (to them) public education. Do they have the ethical right to do so? What if it was framed that way–would it flip their thinking about their lives and connections?

“If ethical reasoning is inherently hard, is there really less of it and less wisdom now than in the past?
We have a guy [representative-elect Greg Gianforte of Montana] who allegedly assaulted a reporter and just got elected to the U.S. House of Representatives—and that’s after a 30-point average increase in IQ. We had violence in campaign rallies. Not only do we not encourage creativity, common sense and wisdom, I think a lot of us don’t even value them anymore. They’re so distant from what’s being taught in schools. Even in a lot of religious institutions we’ve seen a lot of ethical and legal problems arise. So if you’re not learning these skills in school or through religion or your parents, where are you going to learn them? We get people who view the world as being about people like themselves. We get this kind of tribalism.”

Article #3: No one else: You. Me. We.

7 Qualities That Promote Teacher Leadership in Schools

  1. New types of assessment are gaining ground. Several states are piloting performance-based assessments to replace standardized testing.
  2. Exemplars in the business community are now promoting flat organizational structures, where employees work in smaller teams and have more voice and power over how they work.
  3. Teachers are more networked than ever before, providing a unique opportunity to share and spread good teaching practice.*

*#3 makes me a little blue: I am more connected to my PLN in many ways than I am to my PLC. With my PLN, we can share ideas, no one counts or keeps score on how often I share, no one gets frustrated, and we simply share and collaborate. I want to be more connected with teachers in my building and this needs to be facilitated, without excuses.

If my friend and I go to a National Consortium for Teaching About Asia graphic novel seminar on a Saturday, how do we invite interested staff members to share in what we bring back? For staff members who send out an all-staff email about information from University of Washington opportunities to their upcoming roller derby match, how does a culture of a school encourage this knowledge and communication? I would love to know how other staffs communicate with one another: I understand the flat organizational structure, but I would rather see a web-shaped structure: interconnected and sensitive to the students’ needs: a roundtable, rather. We are a long way away from Finland’s shift to move to broader-based, connected learning? (No, they are not getting rid of topics.) How can we create more broad-based understanding and connections OPPORTUNITIES for students, that not only is of value but constructive?

“Classes are not taught in silos, but rather teachers collaborate on interdisciplinary approaches so students can see connections between things they learn.”

My wish is as the current admin returns to teams (hallelujah!) my enthusiasm doesn’t get the better of me.

This is a lot to process: teachers are feeling exhausted, that they must be all things to all students, and to themselves and their families. But I would caution all of us when we’re encouraged to say “no,” and to scoff or scorn, to look past that, and try to say yes, yes to each other at least. Yes to the idea people, the organized people, the curators, and collaborators. Do what we ask students to do:

  • Show curiosity in others’ ideas and knowledge
  • Ask a lot of questions
  • Be open minded

And go to the roller derby match.