When It Rains It Pours

Just a quick post before I’m off for New York. I’ve been contacted by NBC and they have asked me to stay a few days longer in New York after the New York Times Schools For Tomorrow conference to be part of an on-stage panel talking about “Innovation” in education during their Education Nation Townhall this Sunday. I’ll be on-stage with Brian Williams and others to be named that day.  This year the Townhall is the kickoff to their Education Nation week of focus on education.

Readers of this blog might note a bit of irony here in that I took NBC to task last year for their this same Townhall. Watch this space. : )

Learning is messy!

Posted in Uncategorized | 4 Comments

My Panel @ The New York Times “Schools For Tomorrow” Conference

I’ll be participating in New York Times Schools for Tomorrow Conference next week. From the web site:

” …  we’re bringing together 400 of the most influential leaders in teaching, government, philanthropy and industry. The goal: to harness the power of technology to improve the learning experience. Democratize access to quality education. And elevate the American student to a higher level.

It’s not a question of “Can we do it?”

It’s a question of “When?” … “

The updated agenda came out today. This conference is not in the typical presentation style, but mostly a series of panel discussions. The panel I’m on is:

Brian Crosby, Elementary School Teacher, Risley School, Nevada
Jeff Piontek, Head of School, Hawaii Technology Academy
Randi Weingarten, President, American Federation of Teachers

My first reaction was to wonder how this panel represents “The teachers’ perspective” with only one teacher, from one level of K-12 education (and no higher ed?). My understanding is that the audience will be well represented by teachers, but this seems to illustrate  one of the issues education is facing – a lack of teacher voice.

The conference will be streamed live.

Learning is messy!

Posted in Brian Crosby, Change, Education, Literacy, Reform, Student Access, Teacher Access, Technology | 1 Comment

New York Times: Schools For Tomorrow

I was informed recently that I am a speaker (a member of a panel) at the New York Times sponsored “Schools For Tomorrow” – Bringing Technology Into The Classroom Conference. They bill it as: “Technology is transforming how we live. This conference will transform how we learn.”

This ultimately came about because of a number of tweets about how here is yet another education conference upcoming that involved everyone but actual teachers (other than audience members with a chance to ask questions – perhaps a somewhat unfair description, but … one of my major peeves about the non-discussion happening about education). So I shot off an email pointing out this obvious error (spurred on by several friends) and lo-and-behold the sponsors got back to me and after a conversation via email I was invited to participate. This, of course, coincides with the start of the school year, not a perfect time to be missing a few days of school, but on the other-hand I better be willing to put my “money” where my mouth is.

Learning is messy!

Posted in Change, Education, Messy Learning, Reform, Technology | 3 Comments

Getting to Know You

Each year one of my favorite first week of school activities helps me figure out my first quarter seating arrangement while also helping students get to know one another. I’ve done this with 3rd graders through seventh graders. I don’t have a name for it, but here is how it works:

The first day of school as students enter the classroom they are instructed to find a seat anywhere they want. My classroom, by choice, has tables instead of desks because I like the collaborative nature of a shared space. What tends to happen is that we mostly end up with “Girl Tables” and “Boy Tables” with an exception here or there. This year (I’m teaching 6th grade) there were no exceptions, all the tables were boy or girl tables.

The second day of school after we have settled in for the day, I explain that we are going to change seats, so gather up your things. Next I explain:

1) You may not sit with anyone you have already sat with. 2) You may not sit at a table you have already occupied. 3) All tables must have at least one boy and one girl. 4) You SHOULD try to help by being willing to move so things can be worked out if someone is having trouble finding an appropriate seat. (Note that back in the day when I taught 4-5-6 multi-age classes you had to have at least one 4th grader, and fifth grader and a sixth grader at your table – just another problem to solve.)

We also have a conversation about “inclusion” and making others feel included and what it is like to be not included (and we do more lessons during the week about that using books like “Crow Boy” and “The Brand New Kid” and “Chrysanthemum” and others).

What happens next is that a few students quickly find a new table and sit down like they are playing musical chairs. Occasionally this is followed by a look of relief on their face. Others mill around looking for a table where there are students they know or a table that looks “safe.” Others hold back to see what will happen and fill in where they can, and others wait to be “helped” either by other students or the teacher.

Next we trouble shoot what happened and make sure everyone has a seat. This year only one student was left seat-less on the 3rd day only because she had been at the same table, that was solved by a student that volunteered to move so the seatless student could find closure.

The third day of school we do it again after we review the day before and think of ways to help each other … that was today and although many students still lookout mainly for themselves, there was more thoughtfulness. We discuss that and why it is so hard to give up a seat to help another … it mainly comes down to worry that the new table will not embrace you … major scary for 6th graders. We talk about that too.

The fourth and fifth days can get really hard … at least a bit more complicated. By that time most students have run out of “safe” friends to sit with. Usually we end up with more standing around. This gives us a great lesson on how this feels … how scared we are of rejection and not being included … it’s  a bit scary for me because you have to handle this part well if there are really at risk students involved … although I’ve never had a major issue, we’ve gotten close … this can be somewhat scary stuff, but a great point of reference for the rest of the year. Students that have nowhere to sit … not because they really don’t, but because they are afraid to sit and have a comment made – feel it, but you can tell almost everyone else feels bad for them (if that even happens) so it is a great discussion … it’s breakthrough awareness for some.

Usually the groups we end up in the last day become my groups for the first quarter (I keep my students in groups for longer periods now – I used to change them a lot, every week or so, but at risk kids often have less experience with commitment and this makes them have to deal with each other and work things out over time … not assume that in one or two weeks I’ll be away from that kid).

Learning is messy!

Posted in Cooperative Learning, Inclusion, Messy Learning | 12 Comments

If Media Reported on National Security (for example) Like They Do Education

Crisis in national security? If we follow the lead of NBC and their Education Nation and other media outlets’ education coverage, their coverage of the “National Security” crisis might look like this:

We would put together a panel to discuss national security “in depth.” The panel would consist of college professors and online university presidents that have studied national security and toured military and other “security” bases, and business people (1 or 2 of them would be billionaires) and a lawyer or two that have very strong opinions about national security and may have visited military bases, a few members of at least fairly extremist US militia groups and a politician or 2 also with strong opinions not considered seriously by the military people actually running national security. In addition only one of the panelists can have as much as 3 years experience in the military or other actual national security service and the experience must have happened more than 5 to10 years ago. Almost all the panelists should have similar opinions and attitudes that mostly run counter to what the actual experts believe. The host should likewise have little to no experience in national security and ask almost no follow-up questions, mainly because they don’t know or understand the background or issues involved. (I’d add the US Secretary of Defense as part of this group, but it is too unrealistic to place them here, wish that was true of the US Secretary of Education … but I digress)

In the audience you can have generals and other high ranking military folks and national security experts with 10 to 30 or more years current experience, but they only get to make a few short comments or ask a few short questions from the audience with no chance for follow-up no matter how poorly their question is answered or taken out of context or they are belittled (knowingly or unknowingly) by the panelist answering or commenting on their question. Now advertise this panel as a broad ranging, in-depth, expert discussion on national security issues that face our nation

Next, decide as a public service, to put together a week or more of these panels to discuss this vital topic (“National Security Nation”, perhaps), and set the panels up pretty much just like the description above except a few times include one panelist that represents a national security think tank that is only considered a barely adequate expert in the field by the people they represent, and that hasn’t worked directly in the field for 10 or more years outside of the think tank. In addition do one-on-one interviews with some of the most controversial panelists where they say what they want and even belittle the actual experts and their ideas like it is common knowledge with no follow-up questions from the host (who is really the celebrity reporter or anchor, not a national security or even military reporter that might know enough to ask follow-up questions).

Now be shocked, shocked! that the actual national security experts are mad as hell that they are continually ignored and that only these controversial opinions are given voice and weight. In addition they are angry at uncritically being labelled as against what is best for our country’s national security and only care about keeping their jobs and pay when most have given their whole professional lives to national security. Add news anchors and reporters that aid in spreading this perception (knowingly or unknowingly – not sure which is worse) by constantly repeating it or allowing others to repeat it unquestioningly like it was common knowledge. And perhaps most vexing, when pushed condescendingly mention how they are sure “Most” national security experts are great at their jobs and are probably the most cherished and valuable members of society (just not worthy of of having a voice in their area of expertise apparently).

Can you imagine any news organization having even one panel exactly as I described above being promoted as an “in-depth” and “broad-based” discussion about national security? Well apparently that is OK when education is discussed “in-depth.” To be fair there have been a few (very few) well done discussions lately, but we shouldn’t even have ONE like I described above. I’m hoping that we are turning the corner in this one-sided “debate” about education, it will be interesting to see what transpires.

How could we make the discussion about education valuable? Who should “be at the table” when education topics are discussed?

Learning is messy!

Posted in Change, Education, Reform | 1 Comment

Models of Education Innovation: What Else Should We Try?

This is my latest post on Huffington Post.

In comments on this and other blogs about education, one of the constant complaints from commenters is that no solutions are proposed, only reasons why some program or policy won’t or doesn’t work. These are frustrating and non-productive since usually the solution is implied (if too much testing is the issue, less testing is part of the solution for example. If very regimented models are being railed against, then less regimented is what is being promoted). I decided sharing some ideas might be productive. I provide just a brief synopsis of each.

We have KIPP, other charter schools and regular public schools trying that model, and it is the model that Race to the Top seems too laser-focused on, let’s try other things too. Here are just some ideas, this is by no means an exhaustive list, add your own in the comments. Some of these ideas would be expensive and others less so. My goal was a great education, not less cost, although if any of these models are found to be  successful, cost savings might be realized over time or perhaps thought worth the investment. NOTE: I’m an elementary teacher, so my ideas are influenced greatly by that.

  • If too many bad teachers are the real reason why children do poorly in school, here is an approach to ferret that out. Since the promoters of this thinking claim that if we just put a great teacher in a classroom they can overcome poverty, health, language issues and more, let’s spend some of the Race to the Top money to find out for sure (and maybe Gates or Broad or someone else could support this too). Let’s assemble a staff of great teachers (award winners? Teachers whose students have great test scores?) and have them take over a high poverty elementary school with horrid scores, for example, and give them 3 to 5 years to turn the school around. To make this model legit, no other funds or special programs, extra staff or health care beyond what is already funded by the school district or grants already in place (because remember, it’s just about the teacher) can be utilized.
  • Let’s try schools that follow the “bottom to the top” model where teachers and other educators on-site have most of the responsibility and autonomy to design the curriculum, pedagogy, assessment and professional development (training). The administration is there mostly in a support role to gather resources, advise and provide other support. Since the teachers/educators at each site make the decisions on what pedagogy and materials they will use, this will look different at different sites. This is a benefit since what each site finds works and doesn’t work can and should be shared.

  • Models that include the example above and provide a broad, rich curriculum for all students starting in pre-school, including science, social studies, physical education, field-trips, during and/or after-school sports programs, arts programs, literacy, health and counseling programs for students and families (as opposed to a narrower curriculum offered in too many schools under NCLB). In addition, since research shows easy access to lots of books makes a huge difference in student reading ability, students in the school (and their families, including pre-school age children) will receive libraries of books for their homes (which would be collected and recycled to others over the years), each classroom and the school library will be very well stocked and updated with books. Technology should be ubiquitous and students should be taught to use it as a tool for learning, exploring, connecting, collaborating and becoming learners. Ethics, safety and responsible use would be taught and discussed daily. Some schools in this model could also try extending the school year and include outdoor education and sports leagues (maybe run by the parks and recreation department). Some of the health monitoring and care may be covered already when the new health care program is fully implemented. This model might be the closest to what they do in Finland, which is the highest scoring country in the world according to PISA scores. I model this approach somewhat during a TEDx talk I gave in Denver in 2010.
  • Re-draw boundary-lines in school districts to make schools as diverse as possible, socio-economically and otherwise. There is research that shows that diversity helps everyone. There are plenty of school districts, especially large districts, where it would be fairly easy to try this intervention on a smaller scale at first. For example, in my school district there are schools where higher socio-economic schools and a lower socio-economic schools already border on each other so long distance busing would not be required, and many students could still walk.

  • All the models above should be tried with ongoing professional development decided by what teachers require to support their teaching.
  • Hybrid approaches using combinations of the above ideas should be tried as well.
  • Any of the models above could (really should) include paying teachers to spend more contract days collaborating, planning and preparing lessons and receiving professional development before and during the school year.
  • Assessment of each model could be done through observation, NAEPPISA, or other assessment.

OK, please add your ideas (the flipped model or anything else) in the comments.

Learning is messy!

Posted in Change, Reform | 3 Comments

Innovation Starts With Having Autonomy

My lastest Huffington Post, post: Innovation Starts With Having Autonomy published today. John Thompson left a comment there that reminded me of a quote I’ve used in the past. It is from Renee Moore’s blog where she quotes David B. Cohen, who teaches at the upscale Palo Alto High School in CA :

“What I wish people would realize is that “good” schools with high test scores don’t think of their instruction as some kind of reward for the test scores. They don’t focus on basic skills and then suddenly reach a point where they…develop deeper knowledge, enrich learning, engage students’ interests, etc. It’s not basics and then enrichment. The basics can be addressed more covertly, more authentically, and more effectively, when those skills are developed in a meaningful and motivational context. That type of environment shouldn’t be the exception, the unearned privilege of the children of privileged parents, and those lucky enough to attend schools that test well. That type of education is the birthright of every child.”

Learning is messy!

Posted in Change, Education | 4 Comments

Turning The Corner

I’m told I’m a pretty upbeat person. I usually note the challenge in something and take it on, or deal with it as positively as I can. One of the self imposed challenges I’ve taken on gladly the last few years has been to embrace a new 21st century pedagogy that is still in its infancy (somewhat) and make it as powerful for my “at risk” students as it can be (see examples- here, here and here). Partly because it is the 21st century and education seems stuck somewhat in the convergence of the 19th and 20th centuries, and because the more I delve into the possibilities the more powerful and engaging I have found them to be.

My students and I stepped into a shiny new school year last August with that as our recent legacy. And we weren’t alone. (see here, and here for examples ) Some of the aspects that make this new pedagogy rich are the collaborative and connective possibilities it invites, enables and leverages. But like anything that is valuable it must be done with rigor, and rigor takes time if done … um … rigorously. But that was good because that was what we were doing … we were finding that students were motivated to do things with rigor when we had them participate this way … it made rigor easier to get to because students wanted to do well, wanted published work with their name on it to be “good.” So we started out in good company with schools and students and teachers we had met and joined with along the way AND the promise of more to come.

We weren’t entirely disappointed by what happened next – we still did some good things …. but disappointed we were. We ran full bore into the “innovative,” “school reform movement.”

Now you would think WE would be a key cog in this “innovative school reform movement,” right? After-all we (and by we I mean my class and all the other classrooms and teachers and educators we have worked with the last 4 to 5 years – and some we have not been involved with directly but are out there too) … so … after-all we have been developing, participating in and truly innovating in teaching and learning and new ways to get at this education thing that mostly people tend to agree is stagnate, and behind, and is way past due changing! I’m afraid WE were wrong. Apparently “innovation” is synonymous right now with “old ways” tied to “new testing” (which seems mostly like “old testing”)… well and data and assessment …. and then more data and all the meetings and in-services that includes.

But still, no one told us to stop doing what we had been doing. AND no one told us to stop doing new things even. It’s just that BEFORE we could do those things we had to do THEIR things … with rigor. In my case that meant a schedule that included 2 hours and 45 minutes a day of literacy (during which you WERE NOT to teach science or social studies content … you could teach HOW to use a textbook (that might be on a test),  just not the content) and 2 hours a day of math. I had 45 minutes PER WEEK of science OR social studies, no art, no PE. This is what “innovation” looks like during reform evidently. To me it was more like the old days of Readin’, ‘ritin’ and ‘rithmetic.

My class still blogged, but not as much. Still did projects, but not as much or as deep. I’ll let your imagination figure out how we even did that with the schedule I provided above. Others were going through the same, and those that were still “free” were beyond incredulous as to what was going on … or maybe NOT going on. Imagine if we were supported in what we do and collaborated and coached each other and made what we were doing even better? Frustrating? Yes. And many people and departments that you would think would be cheering us on were at the root of our frustration. We’ve been a glum group I’m afraid.

But it seems there might be light at the end of this “reform tunnel.” Others are becoming aware and speaking up (including the President it seems in an ironic twist), and the lockstep of the media uncritically reporting what some have wanted reported has softened some. How can I tell? Because there is suddenly a desperation in the current “reformers’ ” tone, rhetoric and actions.

I’m also buoyed knowing that what many of us have been doing is a right way to go. A great way that IS innovative, that is rigorous and engaging. Other reform models seem heavy on the rigor and very light on the innovation or truly being engaging. NOTE: I was actually told this year that testing IS engaging and motivating if “done right.” If students are constantly charting their improvements and seeing where they need to go next, that is all they need to motivate them according to some. Is that good enough for your kids? (and remember the narrow curriculum piece that goes with it!) If so, go for it. But note that the students that tend to be involved the most in this kind of reform have the least voice in what their education looks like, and the “reformers” children do not experience the reforms their parents thrust on others.

I think we are turning a corner. There are more voices out their now and we all have to jump in to amplify them and make sure they (and we) are heard. A big part of that is sharing what you do in your own classroom, or if you are not a teacher, what your children do that is truly innovative, engaging and powerful for them as learners. Remember too, the Save Our Schools March, on July 28th through the 31st.

Learning is messy!

Posted in 1:1, Blogging, Brian Crosby, Change, Education, Inclusion, Literacy, Messy Learning, Project Based, Student Access, Teacher Access, Technology, Web 2.0 | 1 Comment

“Articulate Specific Programs You Are For”

Justin Hamilton, the US Department of Education’s Press Secretary sent out the following tweet:

Mr. Hamilton had just endured a bashing on Twitter, some appropriate points, and a few very over the top. I have to admit as a teacher I hoped maybe he would get an idea of what teachers, and education in general have endured at the hands of the neo-reformers his office too often uncritically supports. But I am also sure that being in the position he is in he deals with more than his fair share of criticism, deserved and not.

I had hoped to respond to him earlier, but as is most often the case this school year, the job of being a teacher does not always allow me to reply in a timely manner. I’ve hit some points below, but this is far from complete. Please add your own here or on your own blog.

Mr. Hamilton, here are some things I am for:

- Aggressively support a broad range of “reform” – actual innovation. If states get federal money, they must support different reform models explicitly (right now you mainly support 1 model based on lots and lots of testing and the narrow curriculum that goes with it … oh, and it isn’t supported by research or what other countries do that outscore us – so why is that your major emphasis?).

- Do realize that when Mr. Duncan visits, “lots of schools,” he doesn’t actually get a true vision or reality about what is happening there. Administrators, teachers, parents and students are generally performing for an important guest, and they want to make a good impression, not make waves. That might be why he claims he never hears negative feedback about his policies.

- Do hold all-day informational meetings across the country where teachers are invited and asked (no begged) to vent, answer questions about education, teaching, learning, how to make our schools better, education policy and their real view of it … and DOE employees in attendance should mostly “listen” and ask clarifying questions. Oh, and a full account of everything discussed should be released – and it should not be mostly a media event.

- Do hold similar meetings for parents, students and administrators … sometimes even mixed groups.

- Do act on the ideas offered in the meetings above, even when they require a change in USDOE current policy.

- Do come to the realization that perhaps Bill Gates, Eli Broad, Michelle Rhee and other “reformers” should certainly be listened to for their opinions, but that they have very little, and mostly NO actual experience in education, mostly just lots of money or backers with lots of money … and too often an agenda that might not be in the best interest of children (despite their opinions otherwise).

- Do come to the realization that perhaps actual experienced, successful teachers have more insight and knowledge about what might work in education, but that they are used to being told what to do and then blamed for the outcome. In addition understand that they are not used to REALLY being listened to about what they have found to actually work, or from experience think might be worth trying to see if it works (true innovation based on experience, not a billionaire’s whim or “business model”), and they tend to be kid centered … they care deeply about their students and want what is best for their students with few – very few exceptions.

- Do support, from the sidelines, billionaires if they want to try their ideas for reform (as long as they are not obviously bad for children). Their ideas should be listened to and tried if they want to pay for them, and they find willing schools to try them out and see if they ACTUALLY work, but you should be very suspicious when they imply that any other ideas should be dismissed as the “status quo” and should therefore not be funded, or only funded if 50 hoops are jumped through (like what RTTT does now).

- Do realize that perhaps uncritically supporting the message in a movie like “Waiting For Superman” which is full of flawed facts, statistics, and, as it turns out, filmed “set-up” scenes that did not actually occur, just might demonstrate on your part a disconnect about our actual public schools. Use the film to start a conversation, great idea, but we never hear that you realize the severe flaws, poor research and misinformation the film is wrought with. Let’s discuss the reality too, and be transparent.

- Do, when Mr. Duncan comes out in support of the Los Angeles Times outing teachers based on test scores that even the testing companies themselves say should not be done, is not valid, and has no actual proven value, admit you were wrong and that the LA Times is wrong.

- Do come out in support of teachers and schools, not looking to blame them. If a school is doing poorly, support it. Put money and time into training that empowers teachers, gives them the most say in what they do, and find out what THEY say they require to improve. You’ll probably find out that when teachers have the most say, they won’t tolerate incompetence very often. And if what THEY say and do doesn’t work after a reasonable chance, NOW hold them accountable.

- Do realize that the fact that half of teachers leave the profession in five years, that maybe a fairly high percentage of them left because their peers suggested that might be a good idea.

- Yes, we need to do a better job of weeding out poor teachers (and every other profession needs to weed out their poor employees as well), but do realize that is not THE major issue that will improve education. Lets aggressively deal with all the other issues that effect student learning and success as well, not pretend they don’t matter almost at all.

Please add your ideas here too. I hope to come back and add some more specifics about what those other education models might look like in the future.

Learning is messy!

Posted in Education | 4 Comments

My Comment on the Education Nation Blog

I left a comment on the “Education Nation Blog” post written by John Deasy, the superintendent of the Los Angeles Unified School District. Just thought I’d post it here tonight as well:

Supt. Deasy – Nice job tonight, don’t agree with you on everything, but appreciate your “can do” attitude. I would just like to ask if you find it telling that the conversation you participated in tonight about education included no actual educators or stakeholders that are in your schools doing the real work of teaching and learning every day. No teachers, parents, students that might broaden the discussion and share points-of-view about education that would be important to the discussion? Only business people and politicians with little to no actual classroom education experience.

Yes, there were a few comments from the audience … where they could be looked down on by those of you on stage. I wonder if NBC had a show where actual classroom teachers, students and parents, you know, the actual stakeholders in this discussion were on stage and you and the others there tonight were spread out through the audience and only referred to as, “the administration guy in the 4th seat in the third row”, by Brian Williams and you weren’t allowed to rebut the comments made after your point was made – and some of the speakers said things in their rebuttals to your point like, “Because to me that child in the classroom is what is most important …”, which purposely or not assumes that YOU don’t see children as important (cheap shot).

Does it bother you AT ALL that last year NBC did the same in panel after panel of “EXPERTS” on their Education Nation broadcasts? They gave rich people, business people and politicians the strongest voice, and gave only a very, very minor role to actual educators and then billed it as a broad ranging discussion? Would appreciate your comments.

Brian Crosby
Elementary Teacher

Posted in Uncategorized | 3 Comments