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Why Do You Ask?

From asking questions that require an answer To asking questions that require a conversation.

Thursday, January 31, 2008

I Dare You To Prove Me Wrong

Remember the title of the blog - Why Do You Ask?

I have a history of saying and demonstrating that it is not the answers you give, but the questions you ask that get you in trouble.

So, I anticipate "getting in trouble"...again.

Why is this okay from our local paper?
I DARE YOU TO LOOK, THEN CHECK YOUR OWN NEWSPAPER'S WEB SITE.

From the article that should send many online educators (who claim they are concerned for the safety of children) over the edge, up in arms, and filing lawsuits against editors across the country...and this happens every week, in every community.

Here is what I see in the article:
  1. The full name of a minor
  2. The age of the minor
  3. The town where the minor lives
  4. Two dates where anyone can know she will be
  5. The location where she will be
  • HOW SAFE IS THIS?
  • WHY ARE PARENTS POSITIVELY EXCITED WHEN THEIR CHILD GETS THIS TYPE OF PUBLICITY?
  • WHY DO WE ACCEPT THE DOUBLE STANDARD? FINE FOR NEWSPAPERS BUT DANGEROUS FOR SCHOOL WEB SITE? C'MON!
  • IS IT ONLY BECAUSE WE ARE FAMILIAR WITH ONE MEDIUM, BUT NOT THE OTHER (NEWSPAPER VS. WEB PAGE)?
  • ARE EDUCATORS THEIR OWN WORST ENEMIES WHEN IT COMES TO THE ACCEPTANCE OF WEB TECHNOLOGY?
YES, I AM YELLING! I WANT ANSWERS!

Give me your best shot. Convince me that I'm way off base.

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Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Reversing Memory Loss

Another Slashdot find...

Scientists "accidentally" discover a way to reverse memory loss.

Mem'ry
Lost thought, now found!
Please discover a way
To remember things never known
Breakthrough!

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Yeah, Testing Will Change Things


Rick Scheibner sent a tweet today about a former student being killed. Stephen Rahn followed with his experience of a former student being killed. I had a former student (19 years old) who killed a former student who would be a senior this year. Gangs were mentioned though we appear to be trying to cover up the gang relatedness. Brian Crosby has mentioned the turmoil his school has faced with break-ins. And how many more of us could add to the sadness with other experiences? Too many to count.

Our other students live in this climate, even when we as adults are able to turn it off for a period of time and recall that "time heals all wounds." I recently read a study that implied our kids (kids of previous generations too) expend energy, and require "noise" in their lives as a coping mechanism. It is in the quiet times, when kids have time to reflect, that their minds tend to wander into their world of personal concerns.

If this is true, when it comes time for high-stakes tests, our kids are required to sit in silence, and their minds begin to wander, what do they really think about? The next question, or the fears they face in their world that most of us will never understand? How do we test that?

Testing
Sharpen pencil

Who will we leave behind?

Darkened circles; multiple guess

Assess

Image Credit: No More Tests

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Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Why We Twitter

Will writes about his "concern" of Twitterialization.  Twitter is a "strange yet somehow important little tool," says Will.  Agreed.  I also understand Will's concern about the depth of conversation and thought.  Perhaps Twitter is not about the depth of conversation of the professional opportunities.  It is, ironically, much deeper than that.

Twitter
Tell the story
In a hundred forty
Characters (or less if you're good)
Useless?

I created a Twitter account last Spring.  Played for a day or two.  I didn't get it.  I read about how Twitter was the topic of the NECC edubloggers cafe.  I tried, I really did, to get into the power of Twitter.  Again, I didn't get it. 

There is a chicken/egg debate in the use of Twitter.  Do you have to have a network before Twitter exposes its power or is the power of Twitter that you can build your network?  Hmmm.  The ones who  discussed how great Twitter is had their network of followers through other means.  Twitter seemed to make it easier for them to keep in touch.  As it has evolved, it is a place to highlight new tools, backchannel conferences, share seed ideas, and other things.

In late November, I decided to hop back on the Twitter brigade, and tweeted so.  Within a day I received a direct message from Sylvia Martinez wondering if I was giving it another try.  I responded and said yes.  I jumped into the Twitter pages of a few educators, followed them, and a few followed back.  I dropped a few tweets, and people responded.  Cool.  In a way, better than a comment on a blog post...why?  It is more immediate.

So I have come to this temporary conclusion:  Please indulge the analogy, and at the end I'll clarify.  Babies cry to get attention.  The quicker the attention, the more appeased the child, but the more frequently the child cries.  Response to the cry makes the baby feel loved.  Twitter operates the same way.  We cry out into the wilderness, when someone @replies we feel accepted, loved if you will.  The more people respond, the more we cry.  CLARIFICATION - I am not saying those of us who tweet are babies.  I am saying Twitter gives us a feeling of belonging, of being accepted, of being loved.

A few weekends ago, during the Packer/Giants game, I sent out a tweet saying something like "No one wants to win this game."  Stephen Rahn and Sylvia Martinez responded.  As I sat in my living room alone, my sons were out with their girlfriends and my wife does not usually watch sports, I felt I was watching the game with friends.  I have never met Stephen or Sylvia, yet we had an immediate conversation after nearly every play near the end of the 4th quarter and overtime.  It was fun.  It was great.  Thanks for playing along.

I get Twitter now.  It connects us, plain and simple.  Whether it is what you are eating, what you're linking, what you're doing...it really doesn't matter.  It's like real f2f life; sometimes we discuss important issues, and other times we discuss the movies we saw over the weekend.  Web 1.0 did not allow this kind of connection.  Web 2.0 does.  Twitter does it instantly.  Get it?  When you tweet and someone tweets back, your existence is validated...you are loved.  Be sure to love someone back.


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Monday, January 28, 2008

Very upset

If this comes through I'll be even more upset.

I was using Flock to post to my blog.  It was a diatribe on Twitter based on Will's recent post.  It did not post, and I can't find it in Blogger.  And it is not in my Saved Blog Posts within Flock.

ARRRRGGGGGHHHHH

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Multitasking Makes Us Slow & Stupid

From Slashdot.

Very interesting view of multitasking by Walter Kirn in The Atlantic.

Jack of all trades, the master of none.

Ten Hut!
Attention please
What? Doing other things.
Mind wondering...wandering...gone.
Focus!

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Sunday, January 27, 2008

Cinquain of the Week




In honor of EduCon 2.0

Shifting!
How to change things?
New wine in old wine skins?
No! Demand a new paradigm!
Transform!



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Saturday, January 26, 2008

Plato, Aristotle, and Dr. Lynn Hieronymus

Aristotle

Raphael's The School of Athens features Plato and Aristotle in the center.  The world's great philosophers - still - are said to be debating the universe.  Plato's hand pointing upward to demonstrate his worldview of Universals, while Plato's hand is level to the ground to demonstrate his worldview of Particulars.  They were "big picture" vs. "details" guys.

My favorite professor at Lincoln Christian College, Dr. Lynn Hieronymus (who died much too early of cancer) said in class, "We must always be careful as we seek to interpret the actions and beliefs of others.  For all we know Plato was saying, 'We'll have one pizza to go,' while Aristotle says, 'No, we'll eat it here.'  And perhaps that when their disagreements began."

Aristotle


I miss the thoughtful common sense of people like Doc Hieronymus.

I am in a philosophical mood lately, and this painting always brings me to a point where I think how theory and practice relate to one another.  I'm spending some time listening to EduCon 2.0 and organizing the ways in which tech tools, educational practice, and learning will co-exist over the next year.  While I am a fan of Plato's universal "truths" and theoretical approach to the world, I also live in the real world of Aristotle's particulars. 

In education, the theories change when a educator (usually former educator) is able to sell their answer to their own school boredom to the public marketplace.  They are the Platoes of our generation, so to speak.  The rest of us Aristotlize to make sense of how their ideas would actually work in the particular classrooms and schools.  Until the 2.0 Platoes convince the Aristotles that learning will increase, but more importantly that test scores will surpass Annual Yearly Progress measurements - because that is the Particular in which we all will continue to work in the USA - we will simply be debating that which will not be proven, while our students continue the pattern of educational malaise.

By the way, Dr. Hieronymus also made comment about how little school has changed.  "Just look at those kids not paying attention to the professor (Plato) and then one student (Aristotle) gets all the attention...You just know Aristotle was the teacher's pet. That's probably the only reason we still remember him."  Classic.

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The More Things Change...

I was reading David Warlick's very recent post about presenter Sara Kajder's use of Web 2.0 tools.  His point is that she doesn't discuss the tools, but what the tools allow -- "It's not about the blog, it's about writing."  Amen!

David then inserts this quote...

“Learning to read and write is not learning how texts stick together, but how people stick together…” (Brandt 1990)

Here is what struck me from this post.  I bought a book at a used bookstore (McKays in Chattanooga, also in Nashville and Knoxville) called The Art of Teaching by Gilbert Highet.  It was written in 1950.  Sure, some of the things are dated, even gender-biased according to today's standards.  But, at the root of the book is that teaching is an art that requires the instructor to...
  1. know their subject, and continue to learn it.
  2. enjoy their subject, so your passion can carry you through when you are "tired" (p. 20).
  3. like their students.  I love these lines. "It is easy to like the young because they are young.  They have no faults, except the very ones they are asking you to eradicate: ignorance, shallowness, and inexperience" (p. 25).
I am enjoying the book, much like I enjoy re-reading Socrates, Aristotle, and Plato.  There is no sarcasm in that statement, by the way.  I fear that teachers who consider themselves on the cutting edge of education, sometimes forget why the technology (whatever that might be) is so cool. 

Blogs are nothing new really.  It is only another avenue to write.  Yes, I get that the audience, feedback, and method is different, and can have a greater effect/affect on the writer - but it is still a just a tool for writing.  Thus, writing/communication is still at the core of the blog. 

Skype is also mentioned.  Again, a tool for communication that should allow for more primary sources in research.  Wikis, a tool for communication that allow for written, visual, and audio avenues. 

Our job as an artful teacher is to use new tools in order to communicate and relate to our students so the topics of interest and expertise which we teach can enrich the lives of the students under our care.

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Students Learn What They Want To Know

Last week Scott McLeod referenced Michael Wesch's 2-question School vs. Learning poll:
  1. How many of you do not actually 'like' school? (probably many hands)
  2. How many of you do not like learning? (probably no hands)
As I said last week, I would visit as many classes as possible to test the concept on middle school students.  Here are my results:

Number polled = 121 6th graders, 82 7th graders, 164 8th graders -> 367 total
Method - I asked only for a show of hands, so peer pressure may be present in the results.  I gave no reason for asking the questions before I asked them, but after the poll, I let them know what I was doing.

Results -
  • How many like school = 6th grade = 47, 7th grade = 14, 8th graders 21, Total = 82/367
  • How many like to learn new things = 6th grade = 113, 7th grade = 71, 8th grade = 121, Total = 305/367
What does it mean?  I'm not sure, really.  I don't want to really do the statistical analysis, I'll leave that to people who want to do thesis work.  What I do know is that it confirms my decade-old maxim - Kids will learn what they want to know.  So do adults.

The problem, as I see it, is that what we are told to force-feed our students is not in line with what they want to learn.  I think Prof, Wesch needs to add a third question, "What do students want to learn?"

The pessimist would say students are lazy, and they really don't want to learn anything of value.  The optimist would say students, when given the opportunity to create their own curriculum, could effectively learn anything schools would require and so much more practical material.  I would venture a neutral view that somewhere in the middle is the truth.  [I know, that's a big cutting edge, risky assertion on my part ;-)].

A post-script: I was asked to talk to a group of gifted students in a Language Arts class.  They are writing a research paper (MLA style) and their topic is WWII.  The teacher asked me ways the students, in groups of three, could use computer software to write a single paper.  I suggested Google Docs as a way to do this, so I went to the classroom to demonstrate the use.  Once an account was created (teacher's acct.) I was "invited" to share the document.  I went back to my office and participated in a mock collaboration with one of the students (still in the classroom) to show the class how they could use this tool at home, in class, or anywhere they were on different computers to complete their paper.  The student's computer was connected the the classroom TV so all could follow along.  HERE'S THE KICKER... As I was in my office, I made the mistake of writing a missive that further explained the potential of using Google Docs.  Keep in mind, none of the students had seen this program before...I got a response in the Doc, "Mr. Murry, we get it already.  It's not that tough to figure out."  I smiled at my computer screen, and wondered how many times students felt like they could tell a teacher, "Look, we get it already.  Can we do something important now?"  That is the difference between school and learning.  I'm glad I got to learn from the students.



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Saturday, January 19, 2008

Who's With Me?

I'm not much of a meme kind of guy, but this one seems it could be interesting to start.

Scott McLeod posts the two questions to ask students from Michael Wesch:
  1. How many of you do not actually 'like' school? (probably many hands)
  2. How many of you do not like learning? (probably no hands)
Says McLeod:
These two questions would be great conversation starters regarding the difference between school and learning. I wonder how many middle and high schools would see little difference in their results for these two questions. I'm guessing very few...

Well, I would like to find out.  So, next week I will be asking these questions in as many classrooms as possible...stay tuned for the results.

Anybody want to join me?

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Edublogger Survey - Nearly Painless

Dr. McLeod's survey is back this year. He is hoping for at least 320 edubloggers to respond. Will you be one? Will you miss out? Oh, c'mon, you know you want to! It takes less than 20 minutes, if you have to think. If you don't have to think, it takes less. I took about 30 minutes, because I had to reheat my coffee. :-)

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Monday, January 14, 2008

Digital Native or Immigrant? Neither!

I know Prensky has taken some heat recently over the coinage of Digital Natives and Digital Immigrants.

I was actually told today that I didn't "get it" because I was a digital immigrant. You must understand that the person who told me this is only 6 years young than I, and when I responded that I did not consider either term to be accurate of the digital generation gap, but that Prensky was trying to make a point that young people were born into an environment where computer/video technology was already invented and therefore they are "native" to our current culture...I saw him furrow his brow as if to ask a question. I asked, "What?" He said, "Who is Prensky?"

Yeah, I'm the digital immigrant who doesn't get it.

As I explained and provided support for Marc Prensky's concept, I realized I may not be a native, but I am also not an immigrant...I am a Digital Translator.

The system where I work is about 68% Hispanic, and in the early years of the transition from 2% (in 1995) to where we are today, I recall numerous parent meetings in which the English-speaking teachers required translators so the parents could understand us and we could understand them.

A few years later, we had to implement English as Second or Other Language (ESOL) classes (which became ESL, and now ELL-English Language Learners). Whatever PC name you want to use, it has served as my topic for this post.

Part of the coursework for an ELL endorsement includes: strategies to help students learn, understanding the culture of the students you teach, and respecting the values of different cultures.

This is why I am a Digital Translator. I, as most of the people who will read this, are not aliens to the digital world, as a matter of fact some of you have created the very world in which you are considered an immigrant (irony of ironies). You are not a native because most of my readers were born pre-WWW. However, we are the ones who bridge the gap between DIs and DNs. We translate.

David Warlick has said, on a few occasions, he does necessarily "get" everything, but that does not make it a bad thing. It's not about the technology, it's what the technology allows you to do. Immigrants will seldom move beyond email, because it does everything they want. Natives want the Social Networking tools that allow them to receive updates, information, and fun in a one-stop shopping atmosphere. Translators understand the cultures, and simply seek to get Immigrants to understand and accept the values of the Natives, and vice versa. It's not that one is better than another, it's a preference (value?) of the user; so they can accomplish the things they want to accomplish in a way that is easiest (and perhaps entertaining) for their sensibilities. Immigrants do this through the non-stop email jokes, pps's, and >>>forwards. Natives accomplish the same thing in Facebook with Status updates, Groups, Wall posts, and the unending Facebook apps that can be added to a profile.

I may not be a Native, but I am also not an Immigrant. I am a proud male incarnation of Pocahontas. I was here before the WWW arrived, and as the Natives and Immigrants seek to live together in WebWorld, I will do my best to translate, to increase tolerance, and maybe get them to Twitter each other one day. :-)

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The Conflict of Knowing What To Do

Imagine; you know what you want to do. You know there will opportunities in multiple places for you do what you want to do. Further, it's not just what you want to do; it is what you believe is your calling to do.

Your are currently in a situation that you do not dislike; it is simply not what you want to spend another year doing. It is possible that something may come available in the place where you work, but maybe not. So you begin sending out feelers for other opportunities. You seek the counsel of people whose opinions you value and trust. Here's what you hear:
  • I think you would be a great addition.
  • Why would you want to leave where you are? It is a better situation.
  • Don't come here! You will not be happy. No one here is happy with what is going on.
  • Things have changed over the past couple years. It's not the same.
  • 3 years ago - leadership was great; 2 years ago - one leader was great the other pretty bad; this year - both are making everyone's life miserable.
  • Don't do it. I'm trying to get out of here to go back to where you are.
  • I would be remiss if I didn't tell you one of the admins is difficult to deal with.
  • Every place has it's issues. If you do your job, you won't have any problems.
  • It seems the only thing the admins are looking for is something you do wrong...so they will find something, as if to justify their position.
Yikes! What a mess. So what does one do? Which is correct?
  • Be the change you want to see.
  • The grass is always greener :-)
  • The grass is always greener ;-(
  • Be patient. Good things come to those who wait.
  • You have to go after the things you want in life.
  • As a teacher, you should never trust an administrator; they are working toward a different set of standards and goals.
Why is trying to teach and help young people so stinkin' hard? Why do adults make it so difficult? If it is this way for adults in schools, think of how rotten it must seem to the students.

And finally - Are all schools/systems the same?

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Oh What A Web We Weave

Okay, I'm admitting this post will get very little editing. So many things have "hit me" within just a few hours, and I've been thinking about why school matters, it it does in the traditional sense, and in trying to separate myself from thinking for a while, here's what happens.

Young son (19) comes home last night and says, "Dad you gotta see the professor on the MIT site. He's a physics prof, but he's cool...and old...but funny in a good way...kinda like the Einstein picture with his tongue out." So we watch Dr. Lewin for a while, through iTunes.

A few minutes later I'm floating through Twitter and see someone link to an article on 71-year-old Professor Lewin - http://tinyurl.com/2syhzb

Coincidence?

------

While I'm in Twitterdom, I follow Clay Burrel, and he is an angry young man -- in a great way. "He is so starting his own school." He has a conversation throughout my evening with Sylvia Martinez and others. They begin talking about Papert (another MIT guy I believe) who was a Piaget protege, and constructivism proponent.

I had just finished reading some information from Piaget three days ago, and Papert's work was mentioned as further reading material.

------

This morning, I decide it is time to check on Sir Ken Robinson's progress on "Epiphanies," a book he promised in his 2006 TED Talk. As I'm checking, I get a Twitter update that Sir Ken's website is now functioning. Weird.

------

A few minutes later, I get to thinking about Will Richardson's all-time-great post (IMO) about how his kids don't need to go to college to get the education they need, nor do any of us. I'm really, really trying to accept this concept. Honestly, I can, but I don't know if employers can...yet. So I watch all of the MIT, DUKE, U of Wisconsin undergrad classes. It's like an audit, at best, in the minds of people who still have the view that the college from which you graduated really means anything.

I'm the guy who believes that most employers don't care where you graduated college, but rather that you did graduate. Graduation from most institutions proves to an employer that if you can put up with the garbage in college, you can probably handle in garbage from the business world. But can they, will they, make the leap to acceptance of an audited education?

Then, I decide I will try to blog something. I go into Blogger and I notice the Blog List of 10 you should see. Usually these are a waste of time, but I decide to see what topic are big at Blogger now. Why? Based on Clay Burrel's comment about how bad educators are at making networks outside our arena. So I click the first one...It has Buenos Aires in the title, so I expect a travel site, or something. As it loads, I notice it is Sexy Spanish Club in Buenos Aires. Yikes, I don't have time for this...THEN KAPOW...

I'm an American writer, researcher, teacher and mother of four college students. I'm currently living in beautiful Buenos Aires, Argentina where I'm busy writing a book about creative education...

Her name is Mary Frost. She is writing a book titled: The World Is Your Campus: Skip the SAT, Save Thousands On Tuition, and Get An Outrageously Relevant Global Education.

She has another site dedicated to her writing, called The World Is Your Campus. Good stuff.

What is all this telling me? My wife says, "It's telling you to get away from your computer and go grocery shopping. Let's go already. Tell you're playmates you'll be back later." Reality.

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Friday, January 11, 2008

Yes, We Can - I Admit Defeat

In an aftermath of New Year's Resolutions and an "argument" about can we change, wouldn't it be great if we could make a concession speech like this one? After coming in second in the New Hampshire primaries, does Obama demonstrate how we should admit defeat in the arena of technology in educational practice?

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Tuesday, January 08, 2008

The Wait May Soon Be Over!

I tweeted John Mayer's song, "Waiting on the World to Change" recently in a 140 character conversation about "where are the poets today." Well, John and his friends may not have to wait much longer...and hopefully we in education won't either.

TED released their 2008 topics of conversation. Interesting lineup for the humanist and fundamentalist in all of us.
  • Who are we?
  • What is our place in the universe?
  • What is life?
  • Is beauty truth?
  • Will evil prevail?
  • How can we change the world?
  • How do we create?
  • What's out there?
  • What will tomorrow bring?
  • What stirs us?
  • How dare we be optimistic?
  • And the point?
Perhaps we can figure out a way to create a way to change education by adapting the information gleaned from the great minds of our world.

@Miguel & Pete - If anyone mentions Diet Leadership here's the plan: Miguel you hit 'em low, Pete can hit 'em in the middle, and I hit 'em high. :-)

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Sunday, January 06, 2008

Local Poll - Day 4

Up to 189 votes. This, by the way, is quite a large number of responses to the newpaper's online poll. The largest one I recall had nearly 500 responses. It was about high school football predictions or something like that.

It now looks like if I find myself in a group of 100 people, I might find one person who I can talk to. :-)




UPDATE: This was the final day this poll was available. So approximately 2% of the community where I teach consider education the most important item in the presidential election. Wonder if it would be any different if people could rank their top 3 or 5 items?

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Saturday, January 05, 2008

C'mon Twitter - This is a couple times a day


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Local Poll - Day 3 - Hey Public Education Got Something

I am keeping a running total of the stats our local paper is running in their online poll which asks the question: In the presidential race, which of these issues is the most important to you?

My days of tracking:
Day 1 - A little background info included
Day 2 - Update

Day 3 is below. I believe that 1.25% of 160 votes means there are 2 votes for public education. That's a 1:80 ratio...wait, I had to vote today to see the update, and I voted for public education, does that count?

In fairness, if I am honest in answering the question as it is asked, I'm not sure public education would be tops on my list. I'll drop a hint: The "In the presidential race..." restriction makes it hard for me to answer education, because I wish the government would get out of education business (which is what they have made it - a business). So if a candidate really made this an issue in their platform, and said, less government interference, mandates, arbitrary testing, etc., then it might become number one to me. But since I'm Waiting on the World to Change along with John Mayer and "all his misunderstood friends," and I don't see any candidate who wants to give up power over public education business... errr... system, other things are probably more important to me in this race.

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Friday, January 04, 2008

Local Poll Update - Public Education 0%

After 118 votes still nothing for public education.

First mention

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Interview Question Teachers Might Want To Ask


I have a son who has 18 months of college until he seeks his first classroom. We talk frequently about the joys and struggles of teaching and coaching.

Today, Jeff Utecht (any relation to the Indianapolis Colts player?) posted questions admins of tech-focused schools should ask potential teachers. It's that time of the year when schools begin to fill their opening, and teachers seek to fill openings. It is truly a beautiful thing when the school and teacher are in sync.

In that vein, I offer some things I have told my son he may want to consider when selecting a school in which he will commit his time, effort, and life. First, a few words of clarification: a) it is next to impossible for a new teacher to have any idea what they should ask, especially if they are in the early 20s, b) new teachers in need of a job usually don't have the time to be too picky, and will likely take a first job just because it is offered -- nothing wrong with that the first time around, c) it takes courage to ask questions of a potential boss, and if this is not your personality then try to find out this information from a different source, and d) this list assumes that the potential teacher truly knows that teaching is their life, not just another job in the line of under-five-year temp positions.

Anyway, here are the questions I would want to have answers to before committing to a school.

1 - What is your leadership style? Do not smile or break eye contact when you ask this question.

If the administrator pauses for more than a couple of seconds of shock, the admin probably does not really know. You need to find out. Some teachers need a principal who will stop in their room frequently (weekly) to provide support, or sometimes just say 'hi.' Other teachers would rather have a principal who "trusts" teachers will do their job within constant supervision. Other teachers prefer participatory leadership wherein faculty have a say in the policies of the school. New teachers may not know what they prefer, but the wise one will know what they need in a leader before the first semester is completed.

2 - What is your level of risk-tolerance? Do not smile or break eye contact when you ask this question.

If the administrator says "the higher the risk, the greater the reward" know that they are probably afraid to risk anything. Yes, I said that correctly. Any cliche used to answer this question likely proves they are not willing to risk thinking of something unique, and must therefore rely on the cliche.

Regardless of what the administrator says, follow up their response with...

3 - What is the riskiest thing you have done to improve student learning since you have been in your current position? You can smile when you ask this one, because you need to lighten the mood anyway. show that you're not always so serious.

For me, this is not so much a question of risk as it is a way to gather information on the leadership view of learning. If the administrator mentions test score anywhere in the answer, learning is secondary, at best, when it comes to the objective of the school. You do not need test-score information, it is already online and available to the public. High or low test scores do not equal the amount of learning. I'm still not convinced that test scores are even an indicator of what was learned either, but the jury is still out on that one.

4 - What is your greatest fear about the role of Internet-based technology in your school?

If their fears focus only on the poorly written byline "students must be safe from predators," then know that the any networked computer you see is for show; either to appease parents or the review committee that come by for accreditation purposes every five years. No need to ask about filtering, permission to blog, create wikis, or implement a global project, because it will not happen, and as the newby, you will not make it happen anytime soon.

On the other hand, if they mention student safety AND any of the following ideas, you might have something positive on which to build: a) Internet-based technology is the language of the students we serve, and we have to figure out how to speak their language, b) Internet-based technology opens up a world our kids may never get to experience first-hand, so we encourage teachers to find ways to bring the world into their classrooms, c) Internet-based technology allows for student and teacher collaboration here and around the world in ways that students can become engaged in the material they are presented, d) Internet-based technology is the primary way we use to help our kids become information literate. The amount of information that will be available to them is staggering, unfortunately not all the information will be accurate, useful, or appropriate and we must teach students how to make distinctions between what can be valuable to them in their process of making decisions. [NOTE: If the principal says anything remotely close to the last one, I'll arm wrestle you for the job!]

5 - What were the topics of your last three Professional Development opportunities for the faculty, and was it mandatory for all teachers?

By getting an answer to the PD offerings, you will find out what is important to your potential boss's boss...either the Superintendent or the School Board. If it was mandatory for all the teachers, then you must discover what you will be missing in your practice, and more importantly what you might still be accountable for knowing and/or doing. Schools are bad about expecting everyone to know "this is how we do things" yet never informing the people who weren't there when the policy was implemented.

Conclusion - Obviously there are dozens of other questions that could be asked, but you won't be given much time to ask questions. I have tried to ask five highly-loaded questions that can give the teacher an idea of what they could be getting into if they become a part of the faculty. If you are in the presence of a quality administrator, they will not feel threatened by these questions. They may not agree with the answers they have to give at this time, and they will likely tell you that too.

What questions would you ask if you were in the market for a new/different teaching position?

Image: by dullhunk from http://www.flickr.com/photo_zoom.gne?id=202872717&size=s

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Thursday, January 03, 2008

Proof of the Struggle (in my neck of the woods)

Our local paper (Dalton Daily Citizen) conducts online polls. Just a moment ago, I found the one below.

A bit of context:
  • Dalton is the Carpet Capital of the World. At one time, during the Johnny Carson era (late 1980s), he mentioned on the Tonight Show that Dalton, GA led the nation in three categories 1. Coca Cola consumption (3 shifts in the carpet mills), 2. Millionaires per capita (Carpet Money), and 3. divorce rate (hmmm).
  • In 1995, when I did my student teaching at the Jr. High, the school diversity was close to this: 88% white, 10% black, 2% other (Hispanic/Asian).
  • Today: Our school system is hovering at 68% Hispanic, 26% white, 6% black, 1% other.
Is it any wonder why I feel like a voice crying in the wilderness? I'll update as long as the poll remains.


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Writers Intend: Readers Interpret - Apology Offered

When we write, most of us write with a purpose. Writers intend to say something, but at times can struggle with finding the correct words. [To me, this is one of the restrictions of blogging, and why I prefer face-to-face encounters on important topics.]

For my January 1st blog, I submitted my entry on all the conversations that occur around the beginning of each year. Resolutions are a tradition, I believe, that can have value, but often are left by the wayside when "life happens."

My intent for the entry - With so many people either writing or commenting in edublogosphere about the changes that need to occur, I wanted to make sure that we understand the cost we must bear in when we seek a change. {I am checking my words carefully here} It is easy to say we want change, that we want to be a part of the change, perhaps even be the faces of change, but research supports that over 90% of people hate change. How much do we hate change? So much that Alan Deutschman says it this way in referring to the choice of changing or dying:

What if you were given that choice? [CHANGE OR DIE] For real. What if it weren't just the hyperbolic rhetoric that conflates corporate performance with life and death? Not the overblown exhortations of a rabid boss, or a slick motivational speaker, or a self-dramatizing CEO. We're talking actual life or death now. Your own life or death. What if a well-informed, trusted authority figure said you had to make difficult and enduring changes in the way you think and act? If you didn't, your time would end soon -- a lot sooner than it had to. Could you change when change really mattered? When it mattered most?

Yes, you say?

Try again.

Yes?

You're probably deluding yourself.

You wouldn't change.

Don't believe it? You want odds? Here are the odds, the scientifically studied odds: nine to one. That's nine to one against you. How do you like those odds?

Interpretations - Two people I respect greatly, though I have never met them in person (important point to be built upon later), commented on my post.

Miguel Guhlin commented, "...because I'm overweight, that means that I can't stick to change?"

Mrs. Durff commented, "change is costly to be sure - what else do you want - i have already given my life..."

Again, let me be forthright...these are two of six people from whom I have learned more in the past year than anyone. I have a great amount of respect for their thoughts, practice, and commitment. My intent was not about weight loss, nor is there meant to be an implication that if one cannot lose weight, one is unfit for educational change. That is an erroneous conclusion of the analogy.

The analogy was intended to mean that educational change is much more difficult than any personal resolution, because it systemic, not individual. Be it weight loss, stop smoking, get fit, stay in touch with old friends, read 12 books a year, or any of the 42 Things one might list, individual resolve is easier to accomplish than systemic change because, the only one stopping you in an individual change is you (unless there is a medical, chemical, physical limitation beyond your control). Systemic change can be stopped at an number of points in the change continuum, thus making it more difficult and therefore demands a much higher level of commitment.

My intent was to say educational change is going to require more than most imagine. Who other than Kozol are willing to go on a fast for educational change? Who among us is really willing to die for the cause of American public education?

It won't take that level of commitment, you say. Consider that American public education is associated with the following entities: government, politics, billion-dollar industries, testing agencies, and families. Education concerns itself with: opportunities, economics, equality, career advancement, and other societal issues. Education is big; it is more than the classrooms where most educators find themselves each day.

We might say it won't take the level of commitment mentioned two paragraphs ago, but tell that to the likes of Ghandi or Martin Luther King, Jr. These non-violent protesters both saw their violent days. The final paragraph of Dr. King's final sermon serve as a reminder of the type of commitment we likely need. Dr. King delivered this speech in support of the striking sanitation workers at Mason Temple in Memphis, TN on April 3, 1968 — the day before he was assassinated. Granted, Dr. King was concerned about more than sanitation workers, but they were as important a segment as any other in the movement.
Well, I don't know what will happen now. We've got some difficult days ahead. But it doesn't matter with me now. Because I've been to the mountaintop. And I don't mind. Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I'm not concerned about that now. I just want to do God's will. And He's allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I've looked over. And I've seen the promised land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land. And I'm happy, tonight. I'm not worried about anything. I'm not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.
Then, " Early morning, April 4; Shot rings out in the Memphis sky; Free at last, they took your life; They could not take your pride" [U2 - Free at Last]

Using Dr. King's words and relating it to public education change in the US and things I have read recently on other blogs,

Well, I don't know what will happen now. We've got some difficult days ahead.
(True for us wanting educational change)

But it doesn't matter with me now. Because I've been to the mountaintop. And I don't mind.
(Hmmm. Is that true for enough of us? Will recently said he is not sure if change will take place in his lifetime - he's my age - I happen to agree. I'm not sure we have been in this long enough, deep enough, grassroots enough, and influential enough to say anyone has reached the mountaintop where there was a clear picture of the change we seek - The statement is not one of despair, it's certainty of change)

Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I'm not concerned about that now.
(When you are willing to die for a cause, then you begin knowing how to live each day.)

I just want to do God's will. And He's allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I've looked over. And I've seen the promised land.
(Misinterpretation of Separation of Church and State restricts me from commenting on God's providence and guidance in our lives as we seek change. :-) Suffice it to say that the allusion of Moses and Aaron leading the Israelites from Egypt is not lost on me. Can we say with certainty that educational change, the kind we want to see, is coming?)

I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land. And I'm happy, tonight.
(Can we say this, and mean it? Is anyone of us content with the potential for change in education? We may not be alive when the change happens, can we accept that, and still give our lives to the cause?)

I'm not worried about anything. I'm not fearing any man.
(It's an election year. Educators are notorious for blaming elected officials, politicians, and the political process for our ills. Is anyone afraid of who might get elected this year, and what that could mean for public education? Is anyone worried about what could occur in an attempt to restructure or replace NCLB? As a Vietnam Vet friend of mine says, "Things are not so bad that they can't get worse.")

Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.
(Again, Separation of Church & State issues prevent me comment :-))

An apology to two people I would like to one day meet and share time with.
First, Miguel - I am 6'2" and 230 lbs. I am out of shape, overweight, and committed to the kids I work with so I can help them prepare to be the best people they can become. I read and follow you because I see this in you. I did not know your concern about your weight, and would never write something here, or anywhere else, that would intentionally hurt you or anyone else. If that occurred, I am sorry.

Second, Mrs. Durff - You are an inspiration to me. I know you have given you life to education. If I offended you in any way, I apologize to you as well.

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Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Will We Really "Do What It Takes?"



This post is motivated by the numerous year-end -- new-year posts about making 2008 a good year. A couple of posts from Will created a good conversations that were related. A portion of my comment to Will's New Year post follows:

I’ve been reading several people lately, reflecting, genuflecting, and peering into the future. “Be The Change” is becoming a common theme. I like it, but I wonder how strong we will stay if being the change truly costs us something…I think I’ll make that my New Year’s post. It’s easy to say we will “do what it takes” before we understand what it’s going to take to get the job done.

People say they want change. Oh, how many times I have heard in meetings, "We have to do what it takes to get the job done." Or, "The only thing that is consistent is change." On a personal level, I accepted a job where I knew no one, left things that were familiar, and moved hours away from my family and my wife's family, based on the answer a group of people gave to the question, "Are you willing to do what it takes to make this work?" They answered, "yes" and 5 months later they dissolved the organization because the clientele was not who they had hoped to "serve."

I learned a valuable lesson that terrible, horrible, rotten, no-good year.
PEOPLE DO NOT KNOW WHAT THEY WANT...THEY ONLY KNOW WHAT THEY DO NOT WANT.
I could go on and discuss the role of leadership, but I will concisely say the difference between a leader and everyone else, is they know what they want as well as what they don't want. Further, they know how to get what they want.

There are, as I see it (and I am more than willing to hear the thoughts of others), a few things people who are quick to discuss the need for change do not consider:
  1. Change requires sacrifice. Not that people will die, but some people may have to lose their jobs. That may mean principals, superintendents, board members, politicians, and teachers. Some need to lose their jobs. Some may lose jobs without wanting to, others may lose them voluntarily - as a lamb led to slaughter, so to speak.
  2. Change requires an acceptance of a certain amount of injury due to "friendly fire." What do I mean? Simply that some of the friends we currently have, who are unwilling to change for whatever reason, can no longer be considered our allies. You know...the teacher who helped you get your job, but still wears out the copy machine with daily handouts of math problems...they will probably not help much in the revolution.
  3. Change requires communication/reporting in the traditional mediums. We can blog, wiki, and tweet amongst ourselves, but this will not create the change we blog, tweet, and wiki about. This can create an "underground" resource for those who seek to cause change, but it is not the place that will lead the change. To create change, people will have to adopt the "I'm mad as hell, and I'm not going to take it anymore." Unfortunate, most people don't even know they should be mad (see number 6).
  4. The change needed is revolutionary, not evolutionary. Evolution, for those who have faith in this theory, takes millions of years to see the change. Revolution, for those who accept the coup theory, is rather cataclysmic. Without someone ready to take over after the change, the situation is more unstable than before. How many teachers are really ready for that responsibility? Not just a reader of this and other blogs, but look down your hallways and answer that question. Who will remain? Who will be ready to forge ahead?
  5. Change will require a true game-plan. Is there really an organizational plan for a 21st century classroom, school, or system? There are pieces, but politicians will not give up control of the Education System unless they see organization that will allow them some level of authority. They yield too much POWER to give it up. Most politicians are not in politics for the money, they want the power. It is the textbook publishers, testing agencies, and curriculum suppliers who make money (and I'm not naive to think that politicians don't get some kind of "kickback").
  6. Change will require the "parents in the middle" to care about their child's future opportunities. Parents of children with special needs have IDEA and other laws to make sure their kids have individualized attention. Parents with children who are considered gifted usually have the time, resources, and clout to make sure their children are given the best opportunities. The parents of the remaining +/- 80% are the ones who have to join the conversation. How will we reach them? Probably not through blogs or school newsletters.
It's great that people want to "Be The Change" (ala Ghandi), but they need to truly count the cost of their resolution. With so many people unwilling to be the change in their simple "lose weight" scenario, it is hard for me to believe anyone is really willing to be the change for something as big as national education system.

That does not mean one cannot be the change in their own classroom. It likely has to be done covertly. One of the reasons, a very strong reason, I turned to blogging and networking (such as I do) with the 172 RSS feeds I follow is for the support I needed emotionally to think it is worth my time to try. The mistake I have made over the past three years is to think that those teachers and leaders I cared about, and thought would care enough about students and teaching to move into the 21st century with their practices, were not willing to give up their personal traditions and devotion to the status quo. A mistake I won't soon repeat.

So, to those who seek to "Be The Change" I will be your cheerleader. You will remain on my hero list. If you choose to be the covert, insider who seeks to assist the coup from the inside, I will be your compatriot. What I have learned from the past few years, is that we all have our own battles. When the straight-forward advance does not work, you may try to flank left or right. When that doesn't work, you try something else. What will you try in 2008?

Photo: http://eskar.dk/andreas/wanting_change.JPG

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