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Greg Broberg | September 28, 2014

Saying "No" To Another Meeting


The issue of “time” in terms of my professional learning community (PLC) has become very important to me lately.  As I deal with the implementation of the Common Core and ongoing teacher evaluation efforts I have become more aware of situations that try to “nip away” at this precious commodity.  There are weeks where I feel that much of my planning time has slipped away in support of emergency IEP, intervention or parent meetings.  Some of these are inevitable, but I notice my colleagues bristle when I ask the question, “Why are we having another meeting?”   I worry that we have forgotten one of the key tenants of the PLC: norms.

I am part of an amazing PLC and one thing I appreciate is that the process is built on establishing and maintaining professional norms.  As a National Board teacher I consider any norms related to time critical.  Without this time my ability to prepare engaging lessons and reflect on my practice is at risk – which in turn places my students at risk academically.  Over the years my teammates have adjusted our norms.  However, as you can see from the list of my current norms time always gets primary attention.

Time: We will meet weekly for an hour on Tuesday - 1st Period.

Listening: We will have a single team where everyone has an opportunity to speak

Decision Making: We acknowledge that the best decision making is through consensus; therefore we will achieve 90% of our decisions in this manner

Participation: We have an expectation that 90% of our meeting will be inclusive of all team members

Expectations: We will have a focus question for each meeting.  Active participation is expected from all team members.  Meetings will focus on three areas: 1) student data (assessment), 2) curriculum alignment with student learning goals, and 3) administration issues

Student Achievement: a time will be dedicated to discuss student accomplishments and those needing our support

As teacher leaders I see it as our primary function to remind colleagues (and guide new teachers) in negotiating the time we are given.  This negotiation can sometimes create conflict when another person does not get what they want.  However, taking people back to PLC norms is the way to solve this.  Here are some tips that I use when confronted with an unexpected time intrusion:

  1. Always have agendas for meetings (this is something that our district has mandated in our PLCs and it has made an amazing impact on time (keeping on schedule and on-task).
  2. Acknowledge the importance associated with the request (i.e. IEP meeting) and ask that it be given preference in your next team meeting.  Remember – once a week team or content area planning is meant for any student achievement issue.  This includes IEP, intervention and parent meetings.  The key is ensuring that all staff members (psychologists, social workers, etc.) understand where their requests fit into team norms.
  3. Ask if the issue could be addressed through an EMAIL exchange.
  4. It is easy to lose track of upcoming events (i.e. parent-teacher conferences) which can turn into an emergency meeting.  Try to get team members to allow 5 minutes in an agenda item to consider events that are coming up within the next four weeks.
  5. If none of the above work, then you may have to use professional discretion and simply state that your planning time is not available.  In other words, say “no” to a meeting.  I often times seek the support of an administrator to assist in negotiating these situations – using a review of our PLC norms and if necessary asking for time to be given from some other time slot (staff meeting, etc.).

Allowing for continuous intrusion into our planning time (or worse, our personal time) not only diminishes the effectiveness of PLC’s but also risks our personal wellness.  If we hope to be mindful in the work that we do then we need to respect our time and the time of our colleagues.  PLC norms are one way to accomplish this.

Mike Lee | Current Affairs, Education, Education Policy, National Board Certification, Professional Development | September 27, 2014

Can Teaching Follow Medicine's Prescription?

TEachers pic
Ron Thorpe recently published a provocative pie
ce in Phi Delta Kappan where he outlined key components for a plan to fully professionalize teaching in America. His proposals are highlighted by extended residencies for preservice teachers, and a pathway that leads all educators towards advanced certification. Personally, I believe that he makes a highly convincing case about what is missing in our field. Subsequently, Gallup released a powerful poll that showed overwhelming public sentiment for advanced certification for educators, much like what is found in the medical and legal fields. At nearly 80% support, it’s as close to a mandate as we are likely to see in any public opinion poll.   
These days, you’re likely to get a 50/50 split if you ask respondents if wheels should be round.  
As someone who believes passionately in the power of teachers, and has witnessed talent and dedication well above a five-figure pay grade, I believe that our failure to fully professionalize the field is what prevents those teachers from what they deserve: true respect, professional support, and fair compensationUnfortunately, the echoes of some of the social media chatter surrounding the aforementioned articles and polls represent our problem in advancing the field and, if the sentiment is allowed to prevail, will guarantee that teachers continue to be undervalued and underappreciated for yet another generation.   
Predictably, counters to the suggestion of residency and advanced certification always include the question, “Does that mean we’re going to get paid like a doctor or a lawyer?”  I am assuming the question to be rhetorical, and it always contains just a hint of sarcasm. However, my response does not. 
Well, yes. But, it may depend on what you mean by “we.” 
Mr. Thorpe effectively outlines the parallels to the medical field, and although there are certainly  differences in the career paths that are intrinsic to the two professions, one significant constant was the lack of pay and respect that was once afforded to doctors. To point, it was not uncommon for doctors to be part-time physicians and part-time barbers, out of the same office, in order to make ends meet. 
But doctors decided to change it.  They didn’t get the respect they wanted by asking for it; they demanded it through the expertise and excellence that they required of themselves. They seized control of their profession by professionalizing it themselves. They raised the bar. They held each other accountable. They decided their professional associations. 
After all, it’s pretty basic supply and demand situation. If anybody can do what you’re doing, then you are going to get paid - and treated - like just anybody else. Can anybody be a doctor? I would argue that not anyone can be an outstanding teacher. The problem is that we allow plenty of space in our profession for those that are not. And, we pay for it. 
Or, more accurately, we don’t get paid for it. 
Doctors voluntarily shunned mediocrity and poor practice, by being sure not anyone could be a doctor. They started performing at a level that not just anyone could attain through rigorous standards created not by outsiders, government officials, or the public, but by themselves. Their current status is largely based upon the public’s response to those efforts. 
I’ve evaluated the best of the best and no, not anyone can do it. To be honest, I know some doctors who couldn’t replicate some of the talent, intellect, and skill I’ve seen demonstrated in classrooms. 
But, back to the question of whether “we” will get paid more.  
This kind of change does take time. “We” may not. Obviously, the parallels between the fields are far more sophisticated than I am portraying in this post, but I believe we can change the course of the profession by drawing on what is congruent. It is often said that MLK felt strongly that he would not witness the results of the Civil Rights Movement. An overwhelming majority of those that struggled for the same cause indeed, did not. He advocated for those who were to come after, in essence dedicating his life for rights he would never receive.  
History is rife with examples of great people doing noble and foresighted things for a movement - not necessarily for personal gain - so that someday, someone would get the respect, pay, or treatment he or she deserved. They did it with a sense of moral purpose. Teachers often tell me how they believe in their students, so I propose believing in the ones who are going to follow in our footsteps, the ones who will want to become teachers. 
The ones we need to become teachers. 
Many of the doctors Mr.Thorpe described never saw six figure salaries, luxuries, or the status enjoyed by physicians today. However, they were rich enough in professional spirit to advance the cause of medicine as a career. They consciously raised the bar on themselves, because they knew that the later iteration of physicians would be the only ones capable of clearing it. In essence, they created a profession where nearly all are elite.    
Society responded. It had no choice, because not anyone can be a doctor.  
We know what it would take so that not anyone could be a teacher. Are we willing to do it? If not, then settle in for more of the same. 
And, believe me when I say that our kids will not thank us for it. 
Sandy Merz | September 26, 2014

From, "Arggghhhhh!" to "Awesome!"


ScreenHunter_43 Sep. 26 20.53
A few months ago bloggers argued about a parent who complained that the Common Core had needlessly complicated subtraction. The controversial techniques involve deconstructing "hard" numbers into "easy" numbers and working on the parts to get the answer. Most the teachers commented that the parent didn't understand that the new method showed the deep meaning of the math. Most the parents said their children were frustrated and giving up.

This week teachers and parents are posting a video on Facebook showing Chinese multiplication. The video and the picture above show that if you draw diagonally intersecting lines based on the numbers and count the intersections in the right order you can construct the right answer. Everybody says it's pretty cool. One friend, a really smart, really loud opponent of the Common Core, shared the video and commented, "This is awesome!" 

That had me puzzled: Why the inconsistent responses to new ways to calculate, particularly from the Common Core opponent? 

My first thought was that if you label something "Common Core" too many people will automatically defend it or reject it out of hand. (Which is true.) But then I realized that part of the issue lies in the claim that the criticized technique shows the deep meaning of subtraction. That claim is false. (No one that I've heard claims that Chinese multiplication shows the deeper meaning of multiplication.)

Regarding the deep meaning of subtraction, one asks: How far apart are two numbers? Period. To show the deeper meaning, look at where numbers fall on the number line. When you do that, you can see how far apart any two numbers are: natural numbers, whole numbers, integers, rationals, and irrationals. (You need a plane to show the distance between complex numbers.)

Deconstructing and working on the parts shows something else, and it can, in fact, be interesting and is a good way to do mental arithmetic. But to get to the interesting and practical, one has to have a foundation that doesn't seem to have been built. If teachers presented the disputed subtraction method to students after they mastered the basics, it wouldn't be frustrating and many might find it cool and useful.

Turning to multiplication, one asks: What happens when you combine groups? You can show that with manipulatives, drawings, and, of course, our friend the number line. You learn to multiply numbers with two or more digits by lining them up vertically by place value, multiply single digit numbers with the same place value, and then adding  those results together. (In other words, you deconstruct, do the operations, and reconstruct.)

With those lines and dot-counting the Chinese method loses track of place values until the end and you don't multiply or add anything. I don't really know how practical it is, particularly for multi-digit numbers, but it is thought provoking to explore.

Back to the controversy. Teachers who want more support for Common Core Math need to be wise about when and how they present new techniques and contexts. Something like the subtraction and Chinese multiplication methods should come after they know their students have mastered working with multiple digit numbers. And to do that, teachers need to find and teach to mastery with the simplest techniques. Then, when students have mastered those, they will be ready for the enrichment.

And instead of saying, "Argghhhhh!" students may be saying, "Awesome!" 

Jess Ledbetter | Current Affairs, Education Policy, Teacher Leadership | September 25, 2014

TYLTS Day: One day, many lessons


Last week, I had the incredible privilege of hosting Representative Jonathan Larkin (District 30) at my school for the first annual Take Your Legislator to School Day (TYLTS). TYLTS Day originated under the leadership of Bobbie O’Boyle (Arizona Education Foundation) in partnership with Arizona K12 Center, Arizona Education Association, and Rodel Foundation of Arizona. The mission of TYLTS Day is to nurture partnerships between Arizona teachers and Arizona legislators to collaboratively seek positive outcomes for children in our local schools. The experienced positively influenced my ideas about building partnerships, and I look forward to sharing some ideas here.

When I received an email asking me to reach out and invite Representative Jonathan Larkin to my school, I was really excited. A quick web search showed that Representative Larkin has a heart for public service and a commitment to public schools. I realized that a HERO was coming to our campus! I awaited the event with great anticipation, and Thursday was no disappointment.

During his visit, Representative Larkin toured the school, spent time in my preschool special education classroom, met with families, and spoke to our 8th grade students about serving others and making good choices in life. I was inspired. He was so authentic and interested in what we are doing at my school. For someone with such a busy schedule, I was amazed when he passed out business cards to teachers, reminded them that he lives right up the street, and offered to come back anytime as a classroom speaker. As a teacher, I had never personally thought of reaching out to a legislator in this way. The experience taught me to reconsider the importance of extending invitations to community leaders. What a wonderful way to work together for kids.

At the end of his visit, we had a great chat about the importance of public education and the partnership between schools and legislators. Representative Larkin offered advice to increase opportunities for collaboration. He suggested that local schools from his district could send him an annual calendar of important events like school board meetings, family outreach events, school plays, concerts, and sporting events. He said that he would like to attend more events if he had more information. I was really amazed by his interest in our school calendar. Representative Larkin said, “Anything that is important to you is important to us.” As a teacher, sharing a calendar is another way I can build partnerships. 

Additionally, Representative Larkin shared a desire to help connect schools with local businesses. He explained that businesses ask for ideas about the needs of the community, so it really helps when schools let him know their needs in case opportunities arise.  This got me thinking: What wonderful projects could I think of for my campus? How could contacting my local legislator bring resources to my school? Representative Larkin explained, “Companies are willing to do stuff like that…you just have to see where your resources are.” I will definitely think of contacting my local legislators next time I have a project in need of resources. Legislators can be a great bridge between schools and local businesses. 

I asked Representative Larkin, “How can teachers make a positive difference in politics?” He pondered that question carefully and responded with great insight. He explained his view that teachers have a very important role to educate students in America about the importance of voting. He explained that kids need to know what their vote means. Though students seem young today, today’s students are tomorrow’s voters. Representative Larkin’s comments really reframed the importance of teachers in a different light. I reflected on my experiences learning about voting in school. I had great teachers who crafted opportunities for me to learn about voting, the legislative process, and real-life (practice) voting with “Kids Vote.” I am so grateful for people in my life that developed my commitment to vote. Teachers really do pass on the ideals of democracy. What an important role.

Finally, I asked, “How can teachers make a difference in policy?” Representative Larkin offered some advice to teachers and organizations that utilize chain mail about important issues. He shared that these letters are most effective when they are in the right format and appear personal. Here is some specific advice about chain letters: (1) Make sure your letter has a recent date. (2) Personalize the letter with your name and address instead of using terms like “your constituent.” (3) Include links and information in the letter where legislators can find out more about the issue. Further, he shared that splash pages with limited info are not very effective. Links are more meaningful when they are connected to real organizations. (4) Share how the issue affects you personally. Overall, he said that chain letters can be an effective way to mass communicate about an issue when many people are concerned. However, he added that legislators tend to overlook letters when they are not personalized. 

When I asked Representative Larkin about the highlight of his visit, he shared that he really enjoyed the opportunity to talk with our 8th graders and have a positive influence on youth. He said, “When you look back on life, those are the moments that really stand out.” As a teacher, I completely agree. We have a huge influence on the youth of America. Thank you Representative Larkin for having a great influence on me. I greatly appreciate your visit to our school and your ongoing commitment to education.

L2Gura | September 23, 2014

Twenty Minutes


The other day I completed my reading lesson with fidelity to the curriculum, rigorous objectives, 100% student engagement, and data from formative assessments to indicate skill mastery.  Sounds like a great lesson, right? But I was panic-stricken. Somehow I completed this 120-minute thoughtfully-planned lesson in 100 minutes!! Quite honestly, that rarely happens nowadays in my classroom. My perplexed students observed me scratching my head, looking at my lesson, scratching my head (no, I don’t have lice), skimming the results of the formative assessment, and then sitting down in amazement. Twenty extra minutes?? In the classroom??? I was aghast. Appalled. Discombobulated. What to do now??

Finally in defeat I called my class to the classroom meeting carpet and said to them, “We have twenty minutes to talk. What do you want to talk about?” You would never imagine the excitement and enthusiasm from second graders over such a simple and yet profound statement from their teacher. THEY got to drive the direction of time spent in the classroom. THEY were in control of what to talk about. What I imagined to be a “fluffy” block of time to “waste” became a defining moment in our classroom community as we bonded deeper. Yes, I use Kagan, Tribes, and Character Counts team-building exercises in the first two weeks of school to build a close community of learners, but this was different. An organic classroom conversation stemmed from the students’ interests was uplifting, invigorating, and interesting.

The conversation was quite interesting as the students shared information about their pets, families, hobbies, and video games. But do you know what? They started sharing about their favorite books without anyone prompting them to. There were moments of empathy as a student shared about his great-grandfather’s death, and another student shared about his mother being in prison. We ended with belly laughs as I gave some of them new nicknames and shared about my silly new dog. Students left the meeting with a better understanding of each other, and new friendships were formed by finding common interests throughout the classroom discussion.

Taking time to enjoy my students was one of the best ways to end my lesson. Although it was an accident, it reminded me to intentionally be present in my students’ lives. Find time to just sit down and chat about life. We talk so much about academics, Common Core standards, character education, and assessments. What about life?  We need to be intentional in giving students time to just talk about life.

Donnie Dicus | Education, Elementary, Life in the Classroom, Mentoring, National Board Certification, Professional Development | September 17, 2014

Make It Work


    RuPaul tells us to work it. Britney sings that we better work if we want something. However, Tim Gunn says it best. "Make it work." He tells all his designers to take their tools, fabrics, and various odds and ends and make them work. And that is what teachers do. We make it work.

    At a staff meeting last week, my administrators showed us a graph entitled "What works best for student learning." The title had me hooked. I thought to myself that this is going to be good. I was eager to see the things that truly help students. This graph was pretty in depth and had ranked various strategies teachers use to help students learn. Next to each item was a percentage score. Things on the top greatly impacted student learning and things at the bottom did not impact student learning. I began to read the items. As I read, I wondered what prompted this think tank to do this research. How did they do this research? What was their original hypothesis or intended message? What do they have to gain from this research?

    I asked these questions because this graph was contrary to nearly everything I believed about student learning. In fact, I found this document to be highly offensive! According to this graph, the three things that have the least to with student learning were retention, (I can see how this could be damaging to students) summer vacation, (Duhhh! But we're stuck with that so students can go work the farms) and....... teacher subject matter knowledge. Yes, you read that right. Apparently, the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards has it wrong! Content knowledge does not matter. We do not need to know our content to teach it to students.

    That's not the only 'What the___?!' in this graph. It ranks formative teacher evaluations in the top three but mentoring is in the bottom 5. So we can be evaluated and that's good but having someone to guide and teach us to be better teachers is bad for students. Riiiiigghhhttt.

    Classroom management also made it towards the top of the list. That's accurate. You have to be able to manage behavior for learning to take place. But classroom size was in the bottom half of the graph. Obviously these researchers have worked in a kindergarten class with 39 five year olds. There's a lot of learning going on in that class! I bet a future Nobel Prize winner is going to graduate from that classroom.

    Even with all of these contradictions, I still haven't mentioned the most offensive part of this document. There was one hugely glaring omission from this research. A good teacher. Nowhere on this list did they measure the impact that a good teacher has on a student and that is the single most important factor for student learning. There can be no learning without a teacher in front of students. There can be no significant learning without a great teacher in front of students. I can't believe there is any company in the field of education that would even posit this absurdity. This document has the ability to be incredibly damaging to our proffession. I read it with a skepitcal mind frame and I know enough about the field to know these things weren't true. However, there are people that would look at that and swallow it like Kool-aid!

    To get back to my opening, teachers learn many different strategies throughout our career. We have so many things in our tool belts. And every year we are learning some new "red pill" that will finally unlock a student's mind. It's hard to single these things out and measure their impact singularly because teachers are what make them work. If our class size is too big, we make it work. If we are missing resources, we make or find our own and make them work. If we are learning a new strategy, we do our best to make it work even though we may not fully understand it. I would wager that if the strategies show improvement in student growth, it's because of the ability of the teacher and not solely because of that strategy. If there was a teacher edition of Project Runway, Tim Gunn would probably look at us and exclaim, "Oh! YOU DID MAKE IT WORK!"




Amethyst Hinton Sainz | Assessment, Education, Education Policy, Life in the Classroom, Professional Development, Teacher Leadership |

Time to Grow: To Grade or to Kick Butt?


Today, a student resentfully announced in class that there was no grade in the gradebook for an essay he wrote.  A month ago.  

I couldn’t argue.  It has been sitting in the “Speedgrader” of my digital classroom for several weeks. Last week, I was really going to focus on getting those finished.  The essays are personal narratives about family histories, nothing I can really just skim-and-grade (which I rarely force myself to do anyhow). I really want to read them. But the moments when I can focus like that on getting to know students… I have to create them in my hectic days.  Clearly I haven’t managed well when it comes to those essays.

But what would I have given up last week and weekend if I had graded essays?  

I would have missed out on Arizona’s first Elevating and Celebrating Effective Teaching and Teachers conference, for one.  The 1 ½ day conference focused on helping teacher leaders identify an area of passion, come up with a concrete goal, and craft a message, refining it for various audiences.  An elevator speech, if you will.  The educational community (at least, the segments not dominated by political ideology and corporate interests) agrees that teachers MUST join the conversation on policy, and yet most of us need this critical kind of training to even begin to imagine ourselves breaching those visible and invisible barriers keeping us inside our classroom walls. The conference was full of validating stories and powerful messages about individual teachers becoming leaders and shaping their schools, districts and communities.  How often do I get an opportunity like that?  This is the first one I’ve had.

If I had been grading essays, I would also have missed out on preparing for and enjoying a visit from the Honorable Juan Mendez, from the Arizona House of Representatives, who graciously accepted my invitation to be Taken to School.  Take Your Legislator to School Week is this week, and I felt lucky to have someone who was willing to spend the entire day with me.  More details than I anticipated filled my time as I prepared: last-minute touches to the classroom; making sure ALL lesson materials and preparation were done-- no last minute copies or typing up bellwork! (Ignore that.  I never do that.); inviting key folks on campus to photograph, videotape, interview, meet-and-greet, tour; designing prompts which would allow him to observe some of the less obvious aspects of what makes a classroom work.  The visit was, I thought, a wonderful beginning to what hopefully becomes an ongoing dialogue, and Mr. Mendez was a more willing subject than I had thought, engaging the students, reading Art Spiegelman’s Maus, helping distribute materials, and being a good sport about having lunch in the cafeteria.  Whew! No essays got graded those days, either. However, one more state legislator has spent a day at school before developing and voting on policy.  And who can argue with that?

So, I must apologize to my sophomores.  The past couple of weeks, when it comes to grading your essays, I have put my own growth above yours.  I can’t say it doesn’t eat at me, but I can promise you that I will use what I have learned to try to make school the type of place where everyone has the time and resources to accomplish what they need to do to continue to learn, grow, achieve and lead.

V_Vasquez_Robles | Education, Elementary, Life in the Classroom, Literacy | September 16, 2014

Academic Buddies: Planning For Success (Part 1)


Reading Buddies.  Academic Buddies.  Buddy Readers.  A process known by many names where two students, one younger and one older, get together to read a book and foster a love of reading.  Most of us have either participated as a child or have supervised such an initiative.  Most would agree, it was fun.  It removed the separation of age and grade which made it exciting.  It was an opportunity for learning to expand beyond the walls of the classroom.  But, as the supervising teacher, there is a lot to consider.  To start, take the following questions:

  1. Which grade level will your students be paired with?
  2.  Who will be your cooperating teacher?
  3. How will you pair students?
  4. What will they do while they are together?
  5. How much time will they spend together?
  6. How often will they meet?
  7. Where will they meet?
  8. How will you hold each student accountable?
  9. What will they read?
  10. How will this partnership support each student’s learning?

The truth is, there are so many things to consider when preparing to have students engage in Structured Academic Buddies.  Although many have voiced their opinion, stating Reading Buddies, for example, is a waste of academic time, it can be of immense value in supporting the whole child.

The questions previously noted are simply a starting point if you want to get the most out of this opportunity.  Having seen Structured Academic Buddies impact students, both academically and socially, I realize it can of immense value.  Yet, I have also seen the process implemented without thought and seen it completely fail.

Interested?  Get those buddies and books ready.  Stay tuned for additional blogs to help you and your students engage in an awesome experience.

John Spencer | Education, Education Policy | September 12, 2014

Why Teachers Are Still the Experts


Sandy wrote a great post offering some push-back about the statement teachers make that "your experience as a student doesn't make you an expert on teaching and learning." It was the kind of post I needed to read, because I am too quick to dismiss the knowledge that folks outside of education can offer. 

And yet . . .

While I agree that it's important to seek out advice from parents and to listen to the collective experiences of the public, I still believe it requires training and experience as a teacher (a real teacher and not someone trained in Harvard's education department followed by years crafting policy in a vacuum) to be an expert on education. 

Here are a few reasons it's dangerous to take one's experience as a student and use it to claim expertise:

1. The context makes a difference. Schools are often vastly different in climate, culture and instruction. It's not necessarily an issue of time period so much as location. Using one's own past experiences (as a teacher, student, etc.) is always dangerous. Not wrong, per se, but inherently myopic. When we see things only through the lens of our past experience, we start assuming that what worked (or didn't work) for us are universal. We take personal experience and make it normative across all systems. As Sandy points out, teachers can fall victim to this as well. That's why we need to call each other out when it happens. 

2. Teachers are experts on pedagogy. We are professionals who have spent years studying the theory of this profession. Often, when I hear parents speaking out (whether it's Common Core or "new math" or abandoning homework) it comes from a place of pedagogical ignorance. I welcome parents' voices in teaching and learning, but not as an equal partner. They can help inform our practices, but they should not be driving what we do. Their voices are not as informed as teacher voices, because they lack the actual experience of teaching and the professional knowledge that comes with it. I drive a car, but I won't tell my mechanic what to do. I've been to hospitals and watched movies with doctors, but I won't tell a surgeon how to operate. Professional expertise matters.

3. Teachers understand the larger implications of policy: They see why certain things that sound like great ideas simply don't work. They experience, on a regular basis, the hidden aspects of the job. Whether it's IEP meetings or discipline or lesson planning or assessment, they see the practical implications of these policies. Often, when people reference their experiences as students, they are only getting a sliver of the educational system. They rarely stop and ask what types of policies were put into place along the way and whether or not these policies have changed. 

4. Teachers are part of a larger community of other teachers. They have spent hours in deep conversation about things that most of the public rarely speaks about. They've had huge paradigm shifts to break some of the cultural stereotypes that exist about education. This often leads to a more nuanced position for those who are asking hard questions. By contrast, the Dunning-Kruger Effect demonstrates that people with less experience and less knowledge are most likely convinced that they have the right answers. 

5. Teachers have spent more time in the classroom focussed on education rather than just content. I think this is a distinction people miss. It's not just years of experience, but also the mental process that matters. In many cases, the teachers who have the greatest level of expertise have gained that expertise through rich conversations and hours of introspection. There's a certain level of intentionality that they experience - a sort-of driving focus, a mission, a sense of responsibility for what happens - that are less common with parents or students. 

The end result is that that the teachers who are the greatest experts are often the most humble about what they know. They have a deep, powerful contextual knowledge coupled with wisdom and with a theoretical foundation. However, they also know what they don't know and this can come across as being weak or overly meek. In these cases, teachers are slow to say, "I'm an expert," because it sounds arrogant. 

For what it's worth, I welcome public input on education. I want to forge partnerships with parents. However, not all opinions are equal. Teachers ultimately have the greatest level of expertise, because of our professional experience. Collectively, we are way to slow to say, "No, actually, we get this. We understand what is best." It's not arrogance. It's the expertise that we've attained through hard work and deep thinking.  

 We're the experts. We need to own it. 

Eve Rifkin | September 9, 2014

The Small Things


Joey is a junior and, already, failing four classes. We have seen this many times before. The debate always sounds the same:

    "Joey is lazy."

    "Wait--maybe Joey is unmotivated"

    "What's the difference?"

    "If he is lazy, there is nothing for us to do. If he is unmotivated, there is everything for us to do."

I wonder how to bring a true sense of curiosity to the dialogue. My colleagues get insulted when I suggest that "laziness" is not a fair assessment. Here's a kid who comes to school every single day, on time, clean and dressed well. I'm not convinced that laziness is the problem.

And there's more. According to Joey's teachers, he is capable of doing fine work. "He's so smart!" "Such an excellent writer!" Yet he fails to turn in most of his major assignments and, consequently, fails his classes. We can't give grades based on potential, after all.

Tomorrow I will meet with a small group of colleagues in our Critical Friends Group. I will bring samples of Joey's work from all of his classes (the few things he has managed to turn in). We will participate in a protocol designed to help us think more expansively and less evaluatively about Joey and his so called "work ethic". 

A few days ago, I met with a college student who was curious about City High School. He said "I looked at the website and didn't see what made you different other than the fact that you are so small."

We are so small. We all know Joey. Every single one of us, whether we teach him or not. And tomorrow when we sit down for a structured conversation designed to unearth what is making Joey tick, we will be celebrating, among other things, the fact that we are small. May our small conversation tomorrow lead to big insight.