Thursday, March 26, 2015

Teaching Writing is as Hard as Living a Virtuous Life

Virtuous behavior is like good writing. We know it when we see it, but it is not easily taught or described with any precision.

- Russ  Roberts paraphrasing Adam Smith in "How Adam Smith Can Change Your Life

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

What I Wish Nancie Atwell Had Said

Nancie Atwell was awarded the Varkey Foundation's first global Teaching Prize this week in which she was recognized for her outstanding work at the Center for Teaching and Learning.  If you don't know about Ms. Atwell, here's a quick summary of her achievements.

She was interviewed on CNN about her award and after discussing her philosophy of learning and education - which is rock solid amazing, focusing on authentic literacy,  She was then asked a great question:

CNN: What do you say to kids out there who are trying to figure out what they want to do when they grow up and  might be considering teaching?

Nancy: Honestly , right now I encourage them to look in the private sector.  Public school teachers are  so constrained right now by the Common Core Standards and the tests that are developed to monitor what teachers are doing with them.  It's a movement that has turned teachers into technicians, not reflective practitioners.  If you are a creative, smart, young person, I don't think this is the time to go into teaching unless an independent school would suit you.

You can watch the interview here:

So, here's what I wish Nancie had said!

Now is an amazing time to enter the teaching profession.  Public attention on education has never been greater.  The integration of effective teaching practices and the best technology is a recipe for engaged, authentic, and relevant learning.  The missing ingredient is smart and creative teachers  to lead the way.

Yes,  some schools and districts are thoughtlessly pursuing test scores, but our children's education is too important to leave public education to those who mindlessly follow dictates without thinking.

Our schools and students need smart creative teachers who will challenge the status quo.
Our schools and students need smart and creative students who  love literacy and will infuse that love of literacy to the next generation.

So, if you are considering teaching as a profession, don't hesitate!
And, if you are not considering teaching as a profession, think about it now.
The rewards are satisfying personally, but more importantly, students across the country are waiting for you to join this exciting endeavor to set children up for a lifetime of learning.

Nancie, thank you for setting such a standard of excellence for education by your amazing school, and your many contributions to authentic literacy instruction, but please don't wave the white flag!  Use your exposure to inspire those smart and creative kids to join us because some of us would love to nurture those young people into educational leaders who can write the story of education for the future - a story that does not need to be about mindless technicians, but can be about thoughtful and reflective educators who create life affirming learning environments.

Saturday, February 07, 2015

Thank You Ron Schwab

It was Summer School 1977 and it was my last hurrah before heading to High School.  I was handed the baton for the final leg of the relay race.  My team was solidly in 2nd place, far behind the leader, but the team behind us had Ron Schwab awaiting his chance to run me down and hunt down the leader.  Now, Ron Schwab was a cross between Arnold Schwarzenegger and Usain Bolt.  He was strong, powerful, and fast and  a member of our school football team - an imposing figure with every athletic credential. Me - I was a skinny guy who liked to play finesse basketball, so I did the only thing I could  possibly do .... I ran!  I ran away from Ron Schwab, feeling his presence behind me at every step.  As I rounded the track for the final stretch, I was still holding off the barreling linebacker at my back and something strange happened.  The team that was far away in first place was falling back to me and I somehow sprinted into the lead, held off my nemesis and threw the baton into the air as I crossed the finish line leading my team to victory in this small corner of Chula Vista.  Nearly 40 years later, I still remember the effect that this physical challenge had on my performance.  Needless to say without Ron Schwab...

I would have never run as fast as I did that day.
I would have never overcome the front runner to capture the victory.
I would have never benefited from the competition that made all of us reach new heights.

Most recently I have seen again the benefit that well designed competition does to improve the performance of an entire group.  Some teachers at my school were sporting Fitbit trackers this January, booty from their Christmas feasts and/or possibly personal gifts to encourage New Year's commitments to health and wellness.  They mentioned something about a challenge that I eagerly asked to join.  "Why not join my colleagues and encourage one another to reach our goals?", I thought to myself.   Before long we has nearly 20 staff members in a frenzy of physical activity, each trying to outdo one another in ... moving!   Quickly, it became apparent that some of our mild mannered colleagues had fire in their belly and the competitive juices started to flow.   Our cell phones were flooded with messages of goal attainment, encouragement, and a snarky comment from time to time.  I started out on a little jog then got this notification.

I must admit my first inclination was to look behind me wondering where Amy was hiding.   While some were worried that it was a little creepy to see who was moving and when at all hours of the day, the pros far outweighed the cons as our mutual commitment to healthy activity was making it harder to stay on the couch and waist away those promises we had made to our self.  There were daily winners at the top of the leader board, but one and all reported that they had increased their personal accomplishments because of the public competition.

Today I came back from our District spelling Bee where we crowned champions from Grades K-6.  Some would decry that competition leaves students anxious and unnerved, but I would argue that all of these students put in tremendous effort and determination to strive for the crown.  No, not everyone finished at the top, but all of them learned valuable lessons and, no doubt, all became more familiar with words and literacy because of the competition.

So, thank you Camarena colleagues for spurring me on to better habits.
Thank you Ron Schwab for pushing me to strive for my very best.
Thank you competition for fostering growth, excellence, and effort toward achievement.

How are you incorporating healthy competition into your life, classroom, or school?

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Math With My Duaghter

Driving home from the grocery store, my daughter and I got into math related to the Golden Hour.  You see, my 8th grade daughter had recently shared with me her discovery of the Goden Hour and I was noting that we had just hit the tail end of tonight's Golden Hour.  I then explained to her how many Golden Hours we can expect in a lifetime.  Since we have approximately 50 cloudy days in Chula Vista in a year, we can count on about 300 Golden Hours a year.  Lifespans are generally 70 years.  So, that's 21,000 Golden Hours.  Since she has already lived nearly 15 years (She needed to remind me that she is 13, but we are estimating here, so back off on the specifics), she only has about 16,500 Golden Hours left.  Me, on the other hand, having pushed pass that Golden number of 50 can only count on, Lord willing, another 6,000 Golden Hours.  In the end, I'm so blessed and grateful to have enjoyed the latest Golden Hour with my thoughtful and kind daughter.  Life is a very precious gift and savoring a moment with my daughter on cloudy days or sunny always adds up to a good day and time well spent.  Who says nothing gold can stay?

Thursday, December 18, 2014

The Progress Principle

Of all the things that can boost emotions, motivation, and perceptions during a workday, the single most important is making progress in meaningful work. 

Teresa Amabile and Steven Kramer

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Learning What Works Through Failure

Misconceptions are a natural phase in the learning process.  Here's  a great quote from Make it Stick: The Science of Successful Learning about the benefits of failure and problem solving.

It's not the failure, that's desirable, it's the dauntless effort despite the risks, the discovery of what works and what doesn't that sometimes only failure can reveal.  It's trusting that trying to solve a puzzle serves us better than being spoon-fed the solution, even if we fall short in our first attempts at an answer.

Research shows that effort is required for learning to be lasting and durable.  Sweat equity must be paid and the task for teachers is to design learning experiences that allow for productive struggle and determination without leading to frustration and burnout.

Every Child

“I have never encountered any children in any group who are not geniuses. There is no mystery on how to teach them. The first thing you do is treat them like human beings and the second thing you do is love them.”

 Dr. Asa Hilliard