Tuesday, January 22, 2013

The Other Stuff...

Preface: our district is currently in the midst of the AdvancED recertification process. With this comes a ton of reflection, data analysis, and writing.

Much of my time the past few weeks have been consumed with "the other stuff." The "the other stuff" consists of things that takes me away from visiting classrooms and spending time with my "Boyz in the Wood" and researching best instructional practices and matching teachers with resources and being available to model and allowing time just to talk and committing total attention to whole child discipline. I am in no way minimizing the importance of "the other stuff". I lament the fact that it takes me from what I think matters. However, doesn't data analysis, reflection, and writing matter?

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

If failure isn't an option...

I like to think that I'm a risk taker.  I like to think that I'm bold and live life on the edge.  I like to think that change is good for me and will make me better.  But I also like to think that I'm much better looking than I really am and can still keep up with 16 year olds in basketball.  (Well I can keep up with 16 year olds on the court, but I pay for it in the morning.  However, I'm still as ugly as I've always been ***see profile picture!)

Needless to say, what goes on in my mind and what really happens are two VERY different things.  In all honestly, I like to play it safe.  I like the guaranteed route.  Like most educators, I want the greatest success with the list bit of resistance.  Change is good, as long as it doesn't change me.  I'm an education reformer that just happens to be closer to the "way we've always done it" mindset.

I can remember day after day preaching to my students about taking risks.  Step out there and be willing to "fail successfully".  (FAIL SUCCESSFULLY was an expectation in my classroom).  However, rarely was I willing to step up to the plate.  Rarely was I willing to put myself out there and do something that was edgy and offered an opportunity for failure.  Likewise, rarely did I achieve excellence as a teacher...

...until I began to put myself in situations that afforded failure.  I will admit, at first I was like a cat in a room full of rocking chairs.  I was skiddish and still wanting t o hold on tight to the outcome.  However, once I got my first taste of success...now I'm not just talking about about success as in a bunch of students making "A's".  I'm talking about success when I looked at a piece of students work, their finished creation, their blood (yes I said blood), sweat and tears, and stood in awe of the amazing that I would have NEVER-not in a million year- created or thought to create.  It gave me a rush.  I have chills now just thinking about those times.  Now, those times in my teaching were scary.  I had a clue of what was going to take place.  I'd plan and outline like crazy.  I'd dream and hope and pray, but I would never allow myself to control the outcome (even though I wanted to oh so very badly).

My fear in education is that we have eliminated the option for failure.  Failure for us and failure for the kids.  We have grown so accustomed to cookie cutter ways; ways that are guaranteed; ways that have ALWAYS "worked".  The elimination of failure has a residual affect as well.  When the option to fail is removed so too is deep problem solving, any type of real world relevance, and even motivation.  I guess this brings me to my final thought for this post: If failure isn't an option, than neither is excellence!

Thursday, January 3, 2013

I was in a squirrel trap...

(My fear about using the following analogy and giving you a glimpse into my messed up head will scare you away, but it's worth taking that risk because I was scared away from education today.)

I am an outdoorsman.  I love the outdoors; it is a supreme release for me and something my heart and body uses as medicine.  On occasion, I will "harvest" animals.  In regular city folk talk you'd say that I shoot and kill poor defenseless animals.  I started my hunting hobby by hunting squirrels with a close buddy.  Don't cringe too much, but YES I do skin, freeze, cook, and eat the squirrels that I harvest.  One way I go about hunting squirrels is by using a trap very similar to the one in the picture.  I have found that squirrels are absolutely addicted to bird seed.  I mean to the point that I think that squirrels have BSA (Bird Seed Anonymous) Meetings somewhere in the tree tops.  "Hello my name is Squire the Squirrel and I'm a Seed-aholic!"  I have trapped as many as three squirrels in one day by using bird seed as my bait.  I won't go into any further squirrel trapping details since it is so close to dinner time.  However, I felt like this analogy was perfect for what I suffered through today.

I was chosen to be on the 2013 Math Textbook Adoption Committee for my district.  I was honored to be considered valuable enough to be placed on such a prestigious committee, but I'm not sure that whoever placed me on it understands my background.  I taught for 6 years at a WONDERFUL inquiry-based school that chose not to use textbooks.  I was allowed to write my own pacing guide and make instructional decisions based on the needs of my students, not the textbook page we were required to complete.

As I sat in the 4 presentations, each an hour long, trying to practice the skills I am picking up from my current book, "The Lost Art of Listening," I could not help but to feel more and more paranoid that the doors in the room were going to shut and a loud voice was going to say in a slow country twang, "look -er boys, we got us her -notha one!"  As each presenter (all apparently self-professing former teachers...clever) pitched their product as the best thing since they aligned sliced bread with the Common Core back in 2012 (gotta feed students brain food now), I started looking around for the bird seed.

The more the presenters talked, the more I realized how we continue to move further and further away from rigorous and RELEVANT instruction and fall deeper into the quick-fix curriculum trap.  We have taken the same thing that students did in 1920 and dressed it up in a pretty cover, added an iPad app, some differentiated instruction, a few Tier 3 interventions, aligned it with the CCSS, sprinkle in some higher order thinking questions and called it innovative.  Mr. Winkle would still feel comfortable!  We fork over thousands of dollars for curriculum that doesn't meet the needs of this year's students and probably won't meet next year's needs either.  We supplement with PD.  We buy supplemental resources.  We groan and grunt as, yet again, another program doesn't work.  We're trapped again until the next adoption.

I am new to my school district.  It is an amazing place, filled with amazing educators.  I honestly feel that we are moving in the right direction by implementing data teams and the PLC model.  I know that we HAVE to adopt a textbook, and since we will fork out a ton of money; we will HAVE to use it with fidelity across the district.  I just get so skiddish about the use of textbooks as curriculum.  I honestly feel that the kids should set the curriculum.  The kids interests should guide how we use the standards, ESPECIALLY in math and language arts.  It's hard to solve real world problems when you must be on page 107 by Thursday.  I understand that some teachers need that guide.  However, why don't we put our money into teaching those teachers how to make informed decisions about their students' needs rather than buying books that will, AT BEST, be used as dust collectors on shelves, book bag weights, or desk filler-uppers.  We have already placed a significant amount of money into training for data teams and PLC's.

I could ramble on forever about this, what are your thoughts about the squirrel trap we are in?