School Reform

School reform. The idea pushed by some is that we can rate teachers by effectiveness those measured as least effective are to be fired and replaced with effective teachers.

First question: How do you rate the effectiveness of teachers? Value added measurements has been proposed, but of course is statistically inaccurate. Principals of course could observe and rate teachers. That has been done for years and as it turns out upwards of 90% of all teachers are rated effective. At first glance, this sounds wrong, until you realize that while a teacher may be the most influential person in a child’s educational life that influence only goes so far.

Second question: How do we find better teachers? Are the students who get the highest grades the best? Are those with the most content knowledge the best?

Third question: If we replace 10% of the teachers this year and scores don’t improve do we replace 10% again next year? Do we give the new teachers a grace period to learn how to teach?

Really, this whole thing has been an excuse to show this clip from Torchwood?

Keeping Kids Safe

Do we keep our children too safe?

Not long ago I wrote a post about a teacher who was fired for posting a picture on Facebook. Not only was she fired, but I had a few friends mention that they thought it was pretty gutsy of me to repost the picture.

I get what they are saying. As public educators, we are held to higher standards than the general public. We need to recognize that much of our public lives are going to have to be G rated.

On the other hand, I am an adult and at least part of my life has adult situations. This blog, for instance, is not meant for kids. Instead, it is written for an audience of teachers. My kids have no wish to read this blog, but I wouldn’t dream of blocking it. I wouldn’t post a picture of myself in a compromising position, but I feel it is appropriate to use someone else’s digital citizenship mistake to encourage discussion. However, that is not the point I want to make today.

Last week we had a great discussion about teenagers and the internet. This particular teenager had some extra difficulties, but what was most amazing is how many of the warning signs she exhibited could so easily have been mistaken for normal behavior. Take an hour and watch the video if you haven’t yet.

Suddenly, I see digital literacy and digital citizenship not only as important subjects for students to learn, (How many promising careers, college scholarships, or relationship have been seriously damaged by posting the wrong things online?) but now it can be as touchy as teaching health to middle students. I can protect my students from most outside threats, but how to I protect them from themselves? It is both the reason for teaching digital skills and the danger.

He Grabbed her Breast; She Posted it to Facebook

Laraine Cook, was fired as girls basketball coach at Pocatello High School  Her fiance Tom Harrison, a football coach at the same high school was reprimanded. All because of this picture. breastAccording to Huffington Post, she was fired because she posted the photo. So here are my questions:

  • Can the picture be that offensive if a national website is posting it?
  • Yes, teachers are held to a higher standard than the average person, but is this too far or not far enough?
  • Do you think the school district was right in firing her?
  • Should her fiance been fired also?
  • Is the school actually being sexist?
  • Yes, she is a role model for young girls, must role models always be virginal?
  • He is a role model for young boys, is he being held to that same standard?
  • As an educator myself should I get into trouble for re-posting this picture?
  • Who is the girl in the back? Should she get into trouble also?

Why Good Teachers Don’t Have to be Tough

Originally Joanne Lipman, wrote the article Why Tough Teachers Get Good Results. I was not impressed, as I feel motivating students can be done more effectively through finding and stimulating a students intrinsic motivations.

Nancy Flannigan responded with a great article in Education Week, Gettin’ Tough! Or Not.

I think she responded better than I could have. However, A friend in G+ asked me to expand a bit and so I did. While I am not so sure I want to reveal my inadequacies as a teacher to the general public, sometimes I think that is a good thing to do.

Debbie Morrison asked, “do you think parents object to teachers’ methods seen as heavy handed?”

My answer:

I would, as a parent, pull my child from a classroom like that.

My philosophy is that people who use those tactics don’t know better or believe they are useful motivational methods.

It is true that I have in the past, and occasionally still do, use some form of coercion to get the students to follow my directions. Nothing along the lines of what this music teacher had done, never name calling or poking with a pencil. I have, however, found myself leaning toward a student and raising my voice. (A subconscious use of size and authority to intimidate)

Always, always, always after having lost composure like that I have regretted it and realized that if I had kept calm I could have found a better solution that did not involve me forcing a student to follow MY rules.

I like to think of it as being “smarter” than the students. I’m the teacher and I planned the events of the day, I should also plan for students choosing not to follow my plan.

In the end I think of these methods of student management as the beginning form of violence. And that leads me to one of my favorite quotes, “Violence is the last refuge of the incompetent” spoken by Salvor Hardin a  character in Isaac Asimov’s book Foundation.

I don’t feel I am an incompetent teacher and thus I should not have to resort to these methods. Of course I always add a bit of my own to the end and that is “Not everyone is competent all the time”

Crush Their Spirits

LinkedIn has a new Inspiration Index (The LinkedIn Inspiration Index #InspirationIndex)

All it is, is a simple slider. You set where you feel your level of inspiration lies.

I’m an educator and my experience and particular position allows me a fair amount of innovation in my work. I feel this inspires me. I sometimes see kids learning cool stuff, sometimes I see teachers doing amazing things. Other times I get stuck planning or doing paperwork. But even then it isn’t always drudgery (sometimes lesson planning is very creative).

What bothers me is this:

What do we do to uninspire young men?

What do we do to uninspire young men?
Screencapture from on 7/30/2013

Not only that but after women come of age there is a dramatic fall in their inspiration.

Screencapture from 7/30/2013

Screencapture from 7/30/2013

Are we crushing the spirits of our boys in school and just trusting that the real word will do the same for our girls? Should we have to wait until our 70′s to start feeling inspired again?

Yeah I know it isn’t an unbiased poll, but it does bring up questions about quality of life, education, and socialization.

Tough School


I have known for a long time that public schools, especially the ones in Chicago are doing a better job than most people give them credit for.


Like this post from four years ago. “many students feel safer in their classrooms than outside of them. ”


Today I finished listening to part two of a This American Life broadcast about Harper High School.


HarperHS_ServiceDay_Aug1_2011_JBarr (31)

HarperHS_ServiceDay_Aug1_2011_JBarr (31) (Photo credit: cityyear)


Did you watch “Waiting for Superman”? I didn’t, I figured it for a bunch of propagandist crap. These teachers though; these teachers, councilors, principals, security guards, they are superman. For the children of this school they might just be the only thing standing between them and the abyss.



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Reading the Words

Imagine reading a paper (Culture Shift: Teaching in a Learner-Centered Environment Powered by Digital Learning) that said this:

 Learner-centered education dramatically impacts the work of educators, and education systems and school must empower teachers to apply their pedagogical knowledge, instructional skills, and digital tools and resources to meet the needs of individual students.

So teachers should know about the science of teaching and be given the authority to determine best practices for teaching in their classrooms.

Educators are empowered to use innovative approaches and personalize learning in face-to-face, blended, or virtual environments.

Teachers empowered again to choose different approaches.

…opportunities for teachers to learn from each another and from outside experts, …

Teachers as chief learners, right?

…students who have the knowledge and ability to solve problems, think critically, collaborate with others, and communicate in a variety of media.

More important than content is teaching students to think critically, and problem solve.

Deeper learning skills:

  • Knowledge and mastery of … content

  • Critical thinking and complex problem solving

  • Effective communication

  • Collaborative work, self-direction, and incorporation of feedback

We might be able to measure mastery of content with tests, but the rest of those skills require more of an experts subjective observation.

…meeting students where they are and helping them to develop the knowledge and skills they need.

Getting to know our students and tailoring instruction to them.

For example, a student may have the option to utilize simulations or access content that is in a visual or audio format.

Note it doesn’t say teacher creates content in all possible formats but allows students to access.

…open-ended nature…problem-solving strategies and critical thinking are applied…

More thinking skills

…access to learning anytime and anywhere.

This might just require a touch of Connectivism


Imagine a public school (not just a teacher) that is flexible in terms of meeting a student’s needs.

…extend learning opportunities outside of school…

This is flexible. Will the learning I do on my own time have meaning to a public school?

Learner-centered instruction demands that teachers develop different professional roles and responsibilities.

I am willing is my administration? Is my school board?

…shift the teacher’s role from disseminator of knowledge to a facilitator of learning or “education designer.”

A teachers evaluation should not depend on how well students listen.

Formative assessments…

A formative assessment could be an observation while a student struggles with a problem and a well-timed question or comment.

Providing the student with control of his or her learning

Is this possible in public school? Does this fit with Common Core State Standards?

Eliciting student work to demonstrate understanding of specific language and concepts

This is called measurement of knowledge, or mastery of content, through a means that does not include a test. Sometimes known as allowing teachers to be professionals.

…learner-centered teaching encourages collaboration …

Meaning teachers talk about how effective they are, and what they can do better, not how poorly the students listen.

“When teachers collectively engage in participatory decision-making, designing lessons, using data, and examining student work, they are able to deliver rigorous and relevant learning for all students and personalize learning for individual students”

Teachers are part of the decision making process of education. I wonder why students and parents were left out of this process?

Professional learning communities

Emphasis on professional

These other countries dedicate significant resources to professional learning opportunities that are ongoing and sustainable and emphasize collaboration among educators.  …about 60 percent of their time in classrooms.

Done right the most important part of a teacher’s day is his or her reflection and discussion of teaching practices, not time spent in the classroom. Remember from earlier, teachers’ roles are changing. They don’t need to lecture content as much, rather they are “education designers”. They need to spend a significant amount of time thinking, talking, and designing the educational environment. After that the classroom teaching really just happens.

Professional learning: Informal …Communities of practice

Informal yet still professional.

In some cases, teachers who are early adopters of digital learning or other instructional strategies do not have peers with whom to collaborate in their own school or district, so they seek out others on social networking sites or CoPs.

Like students learning for teachers is not limited to within the school walls or what is provided by the district.

…the education system faces many challenges that can hinder the development of strong cultures in schools.

Culture is empowering teachers to be the decision makers. Allowing them to take chances and innovate. Not everything will be perfect and that is what make each child’s education right for the students.

Classrooms many not be as quiet, ad students should be working on different things at different times.

Learning is often social and noisy.

While instructional practice should be evidence based, educators need to trust that it is acceptable to try a new lesson or strategy and possible fail, and that reflection and learning will be encouraged.

Not everything is perfect. No one person or one observation should make or break a decision about the quality of a teacher. It’s a holistic thing.

The culture shift required to move toward a learner-centered model must respect teaching and what is necessary to meet the individual needs of students on a daily basis. The culture must carefully consider collaboration among teachers and the development of professional learning community among educators in which they are all working together toward the same goal.

We are a long way from this and measuring test scores is counter-productive.

  • …understanding …a learner-centered environment…

  • Empower school and district leaders to develop collaborative working environments for teachers….

  • Integrate technology and digital learning into the strategic planning…

  • Elevate the profession of teaching

Again the power of teaching is not in how much content a student masters, rather it is in setting up the best possible environment to facilitate that learning. Measuring teacher quality through student test scores is counter-productive. Instead we should be measuring teacher quality through their ability to adapt to specific situations in their classrooms. This requires close observation over long periods of time. It requires collaboration among equals. It requires teachers to be allowed to make mistakes and honestly implement reforms that may or may not work the first time. reforms that may have to be reevaluated and changed depending on the circumstances. Basically the best teachers are those who are continually changing practices and implementing new ideas based on individual circumstances.


I just think if a group is going to say what we want to do but then later implement practices contrary to the stated philosophy then perhaps we should point to their words and hold them to it.



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