Finding the good: awesome teachers and excellent opportunities

Today I was watching the most recent Board Meeting (Jan 23), and I was reminded that I wanted to write a post (several posts, actually). Aside from the important-but-dry communications about legal issues, bonds, finances, “construction management at risk” (it sounds worse than it is, lol), etc etc, I have been very impressed by the Staff Spotlights, not to mention the occasional report about some really cool things at various schools, like what was hinted by the Kenwood presentation.

 

At this last board meeting, there was a double dose of Staff Spotlights, honoring three outstanding individuals – from the Jan 23rd 8A agenda item:

Ms. [Lindsay] Green sees her students as people. She wants them to be successful both academically and personally. She was recently touched by the tragedy of a student suicide. She has since looked at her curriculum and how she can wrap around students as people and as students. She uses literature to help students be successful and active members of our society. She creates a space where students are heard, valued, and helped. Her students know and recognize her as a person who can be easily identified for support and advocacy. She is a teacher that I frequently use as a model to emulate. She is a teacher that all of us hope to be. She is a life changer. She is a safe space. She is an excellent teacher.

Every day, regardless of any outside factors or variables, both Tami [Fisher] and Iyana [Jones] show up to work with an attitude that puts what is best for our students first. They are experienced, confident, and understand how to work with students at baseline as well as those in crisis. The most amazing thing about these two is the work they put in outside of school hours to benefit our students. Be it service projects, going to see student sporting events, helping gather donations for students whose families are in need, or just always keeping their eyes open for rewards/prizes/snacks that students have stated they like, their devotion to our students never seems to diminish.

 

We are blessed to have people like this serving in our schools. Likewise, a shout out to Nicole Lafond for having a weekly teacher highlight in the News-Gazette; I would encourage you to check those out as well. Nicole seems to range all over looking for stand-out teachers.

 

In addition to the Staff Spotlight this past Monday, the Board was also treated to a presentation, via four students, about the computational work going on at Kenwood. These kids are being exposed to some really fantastic opportunities at such a young age, not to mention the enviable partnership with the University MTSE via CTRL-Shift. On top of that, while it is not in the limelight, for several years students have been able to attend the renowned Students Involved with Technology (SIT) conference; just as one other example of how doors are being opened. There is obviously a synergy happening, especially when you have folks like Wendy Maa, Kära Tanaka and Trevor Nadrozny, all of whom were supporting the students at the board meeting (there are of course many others, Kenwood has quite an impressive cast).

 

At one point during the meeting, Board President Chris Kloeppel praised the Choice program – and I believe he was very much right in that Unit 4 has a lot of exciting schools to choose from.

 

I don’t know about you, but these things warm my heart. Yes, there are still many challenges to address. But I believe we can and we will address them. If Unit 4 is full of such amazing people, how can we not? 🙂

“Most Likely to Succeed” (#MLTSFilm) and CTRL-Shift

I drafted an email to the CTRL-Shift email list, and decided it would be more appropriate as a blog post. For a little background information, there have been several email threads on the CTRL-Shift email list and a Tuesday night conversation about an educational documentary called “Most Likely to Succeed“; I have been reading the book.

 

The more I read Tony Wagner’s and Ted Dintersmith’s MLTS book, the more I think about how important it is that we have these conversations with people who fundamentally disagree with the premise of the book. Why?

There is already a huge audience of people who agree; both Deborah Meier and Sir Ken Robinson each have sizable followings, and I would say all their viewpoints align with those of Tony Wagner and Ted Dintersmith (Meier and Robinson are both referenced in the book). Everyone I have talked to at CTRL-Shift also seems to share these ideas. Are we not the choir?

Wagner and Dintersmith want communities to have these stirring, impactful, district-shaking conversations. They want teachers and administrators to be bold enough to get off the sinking ship and sail a new one. So it seems to me that we should seek out those who are resistant (for any number of reasons, some that are actually realistic and sound, perhaps *grin*). Not to beat them over the head with a 10-pound bible, but to have a healthy argument, a dialog, to debate.

It feels good to surround oneself with a bunch of “yes” people. But I think that would be a wasted opportunity. Having said that, there are already lots of you sailing new ships, and I celebrate that; the work at Kenwood is amazing, Katrina Kennett is working on a “school-that-is-not-school” and EdCamps, and Laura Taylor is spear-heading social justice efforts from the Mellon Center, just to name a few. Even though it is unwritten (I believe), it seems that the purpose of CTRL-Shift is to get administrators, teachers, students and parents marching to the beat of a different drum. That’s the “shift”, I think.

To wrap it up, I love how the book asks the fundamental question “What is the purpose of education?” I have asked that many times, of many people; unfortunately, sometimes the ideal in our head does not match what we actually practice in the schools. I have also come to realize that it is a moving target. For me, the ubiquitous and interminable undercurrent is that we are humans, and we are wired to live in community, and there a few axioms that make the machine of society run well and long. First and foremost, love others as we love ourselves. What would happen if that is what we learned in school?

Are you ready for the Future?

At the Sept 14th Board Meeting, U4 Director of Educational Technology Dave Hohman presented on “Future Ready“, a strategic planning exercise to enable “Anytime Anywhere Learners” (go through his presentation to learn more).

 

Mr. Hohman is casting his net in an effort to attract various representatives of the community (aka, stakeholders) – note the kick off meeting is this Thursday (October 8th):

We need YOU to shape the future of Unit 4 as we know it! Join the Future Ready Council–a new committee that will guide decision making around technology in Unit 4. Your involvement will help shape the way our students and faculty engage with technology on a daily basis, building 21st Century skills and furthering our goal for high academic achievement for all students.

The goals of the Champaign Unit 4 Future Ready Council are:

*   Use collective insight and expertise to serve as a technology steering committee for the district.

*   Serve as communication vehicle for U4 digital learning.

*   Provide final input decisions about district technology policy and implementation.

Our kick off meeting is October 8th, 4-6pm at the Centennial High School Library.  Subsequent meetings will be held on the second Thursday of every month. Light refreshments will be provided!

Please fill out this RSVP form [https://goo.gl/haerdh] to let us know you are coming!

 

[The October 8th meeting was recently posted on the Board’s U4 Board Corner blog]

 

In reading through Mr. Hohman’s presentation, I did develop some questions of my own. In general, I am curious how this will be influenced by CTRL-Shift and U4Innovate. Just to be clear, I really love the direction CTRL-Shift is going, so I am hoping there is a ton of influence. 🙂 Yet to be honest, I wonder about having a 1:1 laptop program that calls for replacing laptops every 4 years. I work with some of those devices when I volunteer in the classroom, and there are definitely drawbacks. I agree it would behoove us to provide equitable opportunities for all students to gain access to computing devices and new technology as they explore the world around them, but for me the focus should be allowing kids to be hungry to learn, whatever tool it is that is needed to get the job done.

 

I am sure we will discuss this more.

 

 

“It takes a village to raise a child”

Time and time again I have circled back to the thought that one or two parents cannot possibly bear the weight alone of nurturing, educating, training and preparing a child to live “in community”. And every time I bounce to this thought, I wonder “why?” What is it about parenting and raising kids that make it nearly impossible to do in isolation? And it occurs to me that parents themselves have not yet learned everything about parenting; we don’t magically acquire perfect child rearing skills once a kid pops out. And yet there is a much more subtle undercurrent that begs for attention on the topic of raising kids in society; “community” is not merely a telephone book of anonymous individuals. We see each other on the streets and sidewalks, we rub shoulders in grocery stores and libraries, we provide commodities and services for each other, we worship together in churches, but perhaps most importantly, we relate, socialize, talk with, and learn from one another. We are constantly changing, growing, learning – we don’t “arrive” at being parents, rather it is a long journey.

Having just finished Robert Putnam’s “Our Kids: The American Dream in Crisis“, I came away with three main points:

  • it posits an excellent argument that by investing in the “have-nots” (whether you call them poor, low-SES, low-class, less educated, etc), we better our community overall more than if everyone only looks out “for their own”
  • throwing money at “problems” does not automatically fix them; the more impactful approach is listening to and caring for one another
  • there are no fast-acting, overnight solutions, much less a panacea; we have to be committed to the long-haul

The main point of Putnam’s book is that there is an “opportunity gap” widening between the “haves” and the “have-nots” of our nation. And perhaps what hit me the hardest is that a child does not have a choice into which environment she is born, yet that very environment stacks the deck either for or against her. Putnam carefully researches the differences in opportunity between 1960 and 2000 and discovers that one of the biggest factors in the “opportunity gap” is that the “haves” used to mingle with the “have-nots” much more than they do now. There is a strong correlation between the “opportunity gap” and how well the various classes are integrated. If Putnam were to expand his scope to other countries, I wonder if he would have found the same to be true elsewhere (I am thinking “yes”).

Like Lisa Delpit’s “Other People’s Children“, Putnam points out the many advantages of viewing all kids as “Our Kids”. I would go further and say, in alignment with Dr. Edna Olive of Rocket, Inc, that we are morally obligated to take responsibility for all the children in our community.

Todd Lash, an Instructional Specialist at Kenwood, recently wrote the first of many blog posts (*wink*) documenting the work going on at Kenwood via CTRL-Shift. Titled “Shifting Education Through Local Community Building“, Todd talks about the “powerful and transformative” impact of local learning communities for teachers (and building staff). He mentions that they often develop more questions than answers, which to me is perfect – they have formed an inquiry-based group that is traveling together on a journey. This is just one example of community coming together to make the educational experience for children more relevant by empowering students (and teachers) and providing students with the tools they need (ie, critical thinking skills) to live well in community.

Putnam highlights another “school-community approach” known as the Harlem Children’s Zone (HCZ). Local activist Imani Bazzell has worked with a number of groups to form “At Promise … of Success”, a form of “community schools” approach based on HCZ and tailor-designed for the north end areas near Garden Hills, Stratton and BTW. It is an excellent “wrap-around” system to provide for the educational and social/mental health needs of children and families in need.

Putnam does have a suggestion for those that want a “quick fix”. First, he suggests that all “pay-to-play” schemes for extracurricular activities be addressed, removing any and all barriers for those of “low opportunity” to participate. Second, he suggests you become a mentor. Or if I may extrapolate that a bit, be the “village”.

I will conclude this post by reflecting on a meeting I had at the United Way offices yesterday. I really love how the main thrust of United Way, both worldwide and locally, is to promote and sustain unity as a way to have a positive impact on their three pillars, Education, Health and Income. I learned about the different funding initiatives, how decisions are made, the desire to fund programs and not agencies, and even some of their struggles. In a sense, they are providing a basic “asset-mapping” service in regards to taking the pulse of the community, learning what the needs are, and working to facilitate those needs by partnering with service providers and donors.

I love that there are so many good things going on in our community. We have many awesome people, even some that are yet undiscovered. Who is awesome in your “village”?

Jails, computers and standards, oh my!

There have been many things brewing in Unit 4, and this post will only cover a small fraction of them. I believe the topics I have chosen for today are actually all related – let me explain as I go.

Jails

What in the world do jails have to do with a public school district? I am so glad you asked because that means you haven’t turned your brain off. Reading various materials from the CU Cradle2Career, the United Nations criticizing the US about high rates of incarceration, Dr. Wiegand’s own mantra of “reading at third-grade level by third grade” and a myriad of findings via google (I know…), something as simple as reading proficiency in the early years has a high correlation to whether a child will later go to jail or not. That freaks me out. Because if that is true, why the hell don’t we do EVERYTHING humanly possible to make sure that doesn’t happen?!?

Tomorrow a group of folks have provided an opportunity to listen to state representative Carol Ammons and participate in a public forum:

Build Programs, Not Jails is sponsoring a public forum on Thursday, April 30.  Carol Ammons will be the keynote speaker.  The title of her talk will be:

“Envisioning Future Directions for the Criminal Justice System in Champaign County”

Time: 6:15 p.m.

Place: Urbana Civic Center 108 Water St.

Also featuring performances by spoken word artists Klevah Knox and T.R.U.T.H.

Co-sponsors: Champaign County ACLU, Champaign County NAACP, First Followers Re-entry Program, Peace and Service Committee of the Friends.

Light refreshments will be served.

More information is available from the “Nation Inside” website and the News-Gazette (“forum set on criminal justice reform“).

Computers

Yesterday and today various administrators and tech team members are in Saint Louis at a “Future Ready Regional Summit” learning about the effective use of technology. The St. Louis Public Radio offers another take for those who are curious:

http://news.stlpublicradio.org/post/school-superintendents-gather-share-ideas-keeping-pace-digital-changes

Having talked to a few people about technology in the classroom and the trend to go more and more hi-tech, I know there is a wide spectrum of perspectives on this direction. And this is where I can going to make my first connection, between jails and computers; rather, more specifically, it comes down to addressing the achievement gap and issues of equitable access, not just to technology, but skill building and attainment of knowledge. How? Is it possible to go beyond all the buzz and hype and show that all the money we are dumping into technology is actually having a positive impact on some of the deepest and most critical issues of our society?

Allow me to segue to a News-Gazette story in which Dr. Wiegand briefly mentions a desire to expand computation-thinking that is being pioneered at Kenwood. I have written about Kenwood several times, not to mention that they have a pretty public presence on social media if you want to follow them yourself (techtime blog, twitter accounts for Todd Lash and KenwoodStars, Ctrl-Shift’s website, U4Innovate website). Last night I learned that Kenwood and Dr. Wiegand are enthusiastically exploring the Mission Hill School model of a public school (referenced in a previous post).

Forget about the computers for a moment. Forget about all the hype wrapped up around Obama’s push for the reformed NCLB. The point I want to make here is that school can be fun. Or to use a different word, learning can be (and should be) fun. And by “fun” I don’t mean utterly undisciplined free time; I mean to imply something with a very definite structure and purpose, something that nurtures and develops a sense of awe and wonder about the world around us. Peel away the jargon, the buzz words, the fads, and what I want to find is the joint passion shared between teacher and student.

The connection between jails and computers? Give a child a love of learning, a love of books, a love of people, and she will change this world into a better place.

Standards

Dr. George Reese suggested I read Raymond Callahan’s “Education and the Cult of Efficiency“. I actually found the book to be rather depressing since he points such a drab and dire picture of how Education has evolved. Until I got to the last chapter. I do not agree with all of Callahan’s final conclusions about what we can do, but I do believe in what I think his intent was. We have idolized Efficiency; we have been on a quest to ever “do more with less”. There are thousands of examples where this is most likely a good thing. But when it comes to the unique position of a teacher and a child, “efficiency” is the enemy. To be clear, I am referring to the relationship-building aspect, the need for the teacher not just to understand the material, but to understand the child as well. Callahan seems to make an argument for “teacher as social worker”, which I have grown to respect. In the past I have mentioned Lisa Delpit’s “Other people’s children”; recently, I learned about Robert Putnam’s somewhat similar book “Our Kids”. After watching a video of a book discussion, I was reminded of how we too often look to protecting our biological children, and blissfully look the other way when it comes to other children.

And what does this have to do with standards? I am going to submit that we have standardized on the wrong things. Furthermore, who has set these standards? Why is it that the powerful and rich get to determine what is most important? And how has that worked out for us these past 50 years?

I am fully convinced that we do not need to raise academic rigor for the sake of being competitive in the global marketplace. In fact, I would go one further and say that is the absolute wrong direction to focus in. Our enemy is corruption, greed and hate towards our fellow humans. The News-Gazette recently ran a story about the “shooting epidemic” in Champaign. (epidemic: “a widespread occurrence of an infectious disease in a community at a particular time.”) Did the ISAT help any of the victims?

In all the controversy swirling around PARCC and standardized tests, I am hearing a lot of complaints. But what I do not hear that much of are feasible, practical solutions. To that end, I have some homework for you.

Get off your computer/device/screen. Take a walk outside, or sit in your favorite chair, maybe on the porch, visit a lovely coffee shop, have some comfort food, drop by the local barbershop. And think. Look around you. What are some of the biggest problems in our community today? If you need help to jog your thinking, try visiting the 1000 block of Northwood Drive. Or the Times Center (70 East Washington, Champaign), the Crisis Nursery (1309 West Hill Street, Urbana), or the County Jail (502 S Lierman Ave, Urbana).

What standards do you want our children to focus on in order to make Champaign a better place?

#ctrl-shift: small recap of 17-Feb gathering

This post is an attempt to summarize some of the discussions held over drinks at the Blind Pig on Tuesday evening, 17-Feb. I will only scratch the surface, so I ask that others who attended fill in the many blank spots.

 

First, the CTRL-Shift email list now has a public archive (woot!!):

https://lists.mste.illinois.edu/pipermail/ctrl-shift/

For those not familiar with the pipermail interface, I recommend you start with picking the latest month (in the second row, eg, February) and choosing the “Date” format (last option in the second column). You can play with different formats as you wish. Basically, this is an archive of all emails sent to the CTRL-Shift email list. If you hunt around, you can even find a list of all email recipients.

 

Also, for record, here is the CTRL-Shift website:

http://ctrlshift.mste.illinois.edu/

 

The first major discussion, a topic we would return to many times last night, was about the PARCC test (Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers). It seems the general consensus is that Common Core itself is a good thing, but PARCC is not serving our students, teachers or parents well. One person did raise the point that PARCC might actually be reinforcing the “good feelings” and confidence of those who take tests well in the first place, and for them PARCC might have some glimmer of benefit. But for everyone else, PARCC seems to do more harm than good. As tossed around in CTRL-Shift emails (for example), there is a fair amount of controversy surrounding the rapid Pearson-based implementation of PARCC, and so far we have not heard anyone who is really gung-ho for it. It is telling that so many states that initially supported the PARCC project have dropped out.

 

One of the many tangents/sidebars we explored was that of school board candidates and the leadership’s support of CTRL-Shift’s work at Kenwood. Obviously, those heavily involved in the programs at Kenwood are quite invested and want to see the fruit of their labor be sustainable going forward. There was talk of what various board candidates support, including the upcoming forums as an opportunity to learn more about the various platforms of each candidate.

 

Another related topic dealt with the work of curriculum development. As a parent and observer, I don’t really have any direct experience with such work, but one thing that was repeated is that this is very difficult, on top of the fact that there is no panacea, no “one-stop-shop”, no short-cuts to producing a curriculum; moreover, it is a process, as opposed to a product. Thus what CTRL-Shift is is not so much measured in physical output, but rather in how mindsets and learning environments are altered. Don’t be misled into thinking there is no output – check out the amazing TechTime @Kenwood blog to see what students are actually doing:

http://kenwoodtechtime.blogspot.com/

 

One very exciting report was that 15 Kenwood students are going to a SIT conference this weekend; what I personally find amazing about this whole experience is that, first, it is very project-based (which I absolutely LOVE), and second, to hear how students encounter and overcome challenges implicit in this endeavor; they have to not only come up with a topic, but figure out how to make it work and how to present it. From what I have heard, the actual presentation is just a small side-show compared to the bulk of the work these students and staff have been throwing themselves into at many after-school bi-weekly sessions.

 

Hopefully that gets your appetite going for what school can be. 🙂 It certainly made me want more.

 

I’m looking at you others that attended last night to fill in more details in the comments below.

“We make the road by walking”, part deux

Recently, Dr. George Reese (MTSE, CTRL-Shift, etc) emailed the CTRL-Shift list about a video he had watched of the “Good Morning Mission Hill” school model (from Founder Deborah Meier). I asked about borrowing it, so he brought it to the Blind Pig for the CTRL-Shift gathering tonight. I took it home and watched it straight away.

Now I am agitated inside because there is so much that I love about this school model that I dearly want to see in my local schools, but I don’t know how to make that a reality.

There are some major things that hit me hard.

First and foremost, it comes down to allowing humans to be human, allow the natural to be natural. And fundamentally to grow relationships. In fact, there was a line that a teacher used that almost exactly echoes the way Lisa Delpitt ends her “Other Peoples’ Children” book – “to teach you, I must know you”. Relationships are hard things, and our modern schools do not prioritize relationships. Yet, in my opinion, learning how to “do” relationships is probably the single most important factor in a successful society. I would ask Martin if he agrees, since we share many aspects in our world view. It seems to me that humans, and many other living creatures, are naturally hardwired for relationships.

Second, the school takes integration to a whole new level. It so much reminded me of Paulo Freire and Myles Horton (in fact, when I write my blog post about this, I will steal the title of their book, “We make the road by walking”) and their Highlander Folk School. So while we use new words like “project-based learning”, “collaborative spaces”, “student-directed outcomes”, really this just repackages older ideas that have older names (and so says Rebecca Patterson, who lived through something similar). For all I know, Freire and Horton recycled ideas that predated even them. They not only integrated, very successfully, people who are “different” (differently-abled or otherwise), but they integrated assessment (I absolutely love how they rendered assessment as “to sit next to”) and life-skills right into the daily flow of class time.

Third; while I do not yet share Dr. Reese’s conviction that PARCC writers set out to destory public education (*grin*), I would consent that standardized testing has had that end result. It seems that standardized testing killed what was great about Good Morning Mission Hill. But why? At the Blind Pig today we talked about what an awesome school Leal was. Is it merely the nature of these things to ebb and flow, to wax and wane like a moon visiting each chapter of its interminable cycle?

 

Conclusion

During a brief chat with Todd Lash and Minsoo Park at Kenwood today, I was commenting about how we got to where we are, and Minsoo wisely, succintly said “money”. Big money drives the federal mandates, while at the same time sucking away the very money needed to support those mandates. At the same time, “little money” is spent frivolously, without accountability – our tax dollars hard at work.

Last night I read the “young reader’s edition” of “I am Malala“; this was a totally fascinating, if shortened, account of a woman with tremendous bravery, amazing courage and wise beyond her years. She literally put her life on the line, multiple times, to pursue that which is good. Is this not what we all should be doing?

We will not be judged by what we say but by what we do. The path our feet make will show where we have been and how far we traveled.


I titled this post “part deux” because I have written about Freire and Horton’s book before.