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Pockets of Power

The “backpack” of the educational system and curricular design is filled with many pockets of power. Some large pockets seem to carry the weight while other small pockets house the incidental yet often necessary tools for the 21st century classroom. Who is in that weight-bearing pocket? Educators? Legislators? Publishers? Politicians? Parents? Students? Just as we shift our belongings around in our backpacks to accommodate the load we carry, the pockets of power have shifted among the various groups at different times. As we focus on the STAAR tests, our attention turns to the power of the standardized tests. Certainly, Pearson currently wields a great deal of power in the state of Texas as the publisher of the standardized tests and most of the adopted textbooks. I would dare say they serve their own interests in the form of the bottom line. Unfortunately, the standardized test seems to be driving the decisions we make at all levels in education.

However, I agree with my colleagues that the true power, though often untapped, still lies with the educator in the classroom and the parent in the community. Though many perceive their power to be limited, unwanted, or not valued, educators and parents are partners in the education of their children. By sheer numbers alone, they have the power to invoke change – at the local, state, or national level. Teachers often fear the involvement of parents, for parents are not the educational professionals and often have personal agendas. While that may be true, we as educators, as professionals, need the support of parents in the community as partners in education to set high expectations for learning that is not solely centered on a standardized test but is meeting the needs of individual students.

Wouldn’t it be a better world if we didn’t have pockets of power at all but were all in the same bag? How great would our nation be if we worked cooperatively to serve the individual needs of our students! Having attended several conferences, workshops, and seminars with Philip Schlechty (2009) of the Schlechty Center for Leadership in School Reform, I appreciate his model of the school as a “learning organization” where students are “viewed as volunteers rather than conscripts” who attend school to learn material that is relevant to them, teachers are “leaders, designers of work for students, and guides to instruction,” and principals are “leaders of leaders.” I love those terms . . . designers of work and guides to instruction. Schlechty further defines the learning organization by describing parents as partners, central office staff as “capacity builders . . . in partnership with building-level leaders,” and school board members as “community builders and community leaders” responsible for engaging the community in “serious dialogue about the school.”

Let’s engage in serious dialogue about learner-centered schools.

 
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Posted by on April 28, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

Where are all of the excellent teachers?

John C. Maxwell’s quote is appropriate in the description of an excellent teacher’s relationship with students, “They don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.”

An excellent teacher is that rare combination of someone who builds rapport with students to better understand their academic needs and personal interests and someone who engages and inspires students to have a passion for learning.  An excellent teacher engages all students by using instructional strategies that meets the learning styles of the students, allows for choice, develops global skills (collaboration, communication, critical thinking, creative problem solving, and digital literacy), and inspires students to want to learn more.

In this age of standardized testing, do we really have teachers like that anymore?  Teachers who infuse a variety of strategies in each lesson.  Teachers who allow choice in the classroom.  Teachers who develop global skills (of today – not 60 years ago).  Teachers who inspire their students.  Of course, we do.  They are everywhere – in every school, in every district, in every state.  Some of these teachers are easy to find because they work for administrators who inspire their teachers and promote these same strategies in the classroom.  Unfortunately, many have to play the “dog and pony show” game when administration comes to call.  Many must hide their innovative instruction behind the closed door of the classroom.  Many are chastised for having a chaotic and unruly classroom because students are communicating, moving around, and working on different activities while the teacher facilitates learning.

Where are all of the “excellent” teachers?  Some are retiring – for it is difficult to fight the system.  Some are hiding – for it is easier to play the game when admin visit than to fight a losing battle.  Some are no longer teaching – for sticking to their principles cost them the ultimate price.  Some are happily teaching – for they were fortunate enough to work in schools and districts with foresight.  Some are sitting in classrooms – for they haven’t yet completed their education in teacher preparation.

My hope for those future teachers is that they work in districts where the administrators appreciate collaboration and digital literacy, critical thinking and creative problem solving.  Where administration provides opportunities for positive feedback, support, and growth.  Our only hope is to “replenish” our retiring excellent teachers with new ones . . . and keep them.

 
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Posted by on March 10, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

Shift Happens . . . Really

The world is drastically different today from what it was my mother went to school and when I went to school; therefore, schools today should be drastically different from what they were then. We say we are promoting 21st century skills, but are we really?  When we are focused on the “skills” required by the standardized tests, are we really promoting collaboration, critical thinking, and creative problem-solving when there is always only one right answer in a multiple choice question.

Our curriculum should provide for opportunities to learn in a variety of ways addressing what Gardner calls the multiple intelligences.  It should allow for student choice – something educators have discussed at length.  It should develop global skills such as collaboration, communication, critical thinking, creative problem solving, and digital literacy.  It should teach them flexibility.  It should inspire students to be lifelong learners, for the world of knowledge will grow exponentially in their lifetimes, in fact for some, exponentially before they graduate from high school!

Some of you may be familiar with the “Did You Know” YouTube videos.  This one is the most recent and certainly warrants another look:

Did You Know 2014 . . . Shift Happens
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XrJjfDUzD7M

There’s an old saying about not throwing the baby out with the bath water . . .

Some of the good old fashioned lessons from the past should remain in the schools – not just the content of numeracy, literacy, etc. but also citizenship, respect, and community service/service-learning.  The pendulum doesn’t always have to swing so far . . .

 
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Posted by on March 2, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

Education Reform

This roller coaster ride we call curriculum reform offers ups and downs, twists and turns, and often brings us close to where we began though certainly not along the same path nor in the same condition.  Some educators ride the rails of reform without any movement at all, as if totally unaffected by the ride.  Others enjoy, in fact embrace, every twist and turn of reform, learning and growing from every challenge set before them.  Is our roller coaster about to take another turn?

Clearly, the vast majority of students still attend public schools.  However, alternatives are offering students and families the education they seek.  Virtual schools, now available in at least a dozen states, offer courses for digital natives such as computer programming, web design, game design, and e-commerce as well as global languages such Mandarin Chinese, Russian, and Arabic.  Do a quick search on virtual schools to see the myriad of resources available.  They aren’t riding the same old roller coaster . . . they are remodeling it!   Creative curriculum design might be hastened by some good old fashioned competition.

To ensure that my intent is not misunderstood, I know that many on our roller coaster are ready for reform.  In fact, I know of many teachers, many classrooms, many schools, and even districts, where amazing teaching and learning happens every day.  The infusion of cooperative learning, community service, multiple intelligences, problem-based learning, interdisciplinary learning, and others into standards-based instruction seems to be a harbinger of change in the making.   As we face the ups and downs, twists and turns, often created by the politics of educational reform, as future curriculum leaders, we must seek to keep our “riders” as our primary focus.

This video doesn’t use the roller coaster analogy, but you’ll get the point . . .  “Building a dream, that’s what we do.”  Watch for the “little kid” . . . he is our “rider.”

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L2zqTYgcpfg

 

References:

Layton, L. & Brown, E. (2011 Nov. 26).  “Virtual schools are multiplying, but some question their educational value.”  The Washington Post. http://www.washingtonpost.com/local/education/virtual-schools-are-multiplying-but-some-question-their-educational-value/2011/11/22/gIQANUzkzN_story.

 
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Posted by on September 19, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

Welcome to Beyond Classrooms!

Beyond Classrooms is a blog for discussion about instructional strategies that go . . . well, beyond classrooms. For all of the years I was in the classroom, I told my students that what I was teaching was only important if it took them beyond the four walls of my classroom. I had to revise my statement when I moved into a classroom with an entry hallway, and a gifted student pointed out that I had more than four walls! Today, more than ever, teachers need to be in discussion with one another about what is working and what is not. Teachers in classrooms, teachers at home, teachers in churches, teachers online, teachers who volunteer . . . teachers of all kinds need to share. We can no longer operate in isolation. The educational system, instructional strategies, and classroom management tools that were effective fifty and even twenty years ago will not work today. The digital natives of today are simply not wired the same way we were. They can’t change, and we find it difficult to change. What can change is how and what we teach. Let’s share . . . beyond classrooms!

Why Now?

Why is change so critical right now?  Why is our dialogue concerning curriculum that extends beyond classrooms critical right now?  Regardless of your age, how much has technology changed during your lifetime?  Can you imagine how much it will change during the live of our students?  Have you seen the statistics lately?  It’s staggering!  Shift Happens . . . with or without us.  We need to be a part of it . . .

Check it out:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jp_oyHY5bug&feature=related

 
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Posted by on September 21, 2011 in Welcome

 
 
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