A Note to Teachers – Thank you!

Typical Teacher To Do list (with added comments for emphasis).

  1. Plan lessons and prepare classroom and materials. (Non-stop.)
  2. Individualize/personalize instruction. (Good Luck!)
  3. Design and deliver appropriate assessments. (Have we agreed yet on what is appropriate?)
  4. Maintain records on attendance, assessments, and grades. (The fun part.)
  5. Supplement textbooks with appropriate additional materials. (Keep looking.)
  6. Utilize a classroom management strategy that works. (Keep looking.)
  7. Keep records and identify students with special needs, health related, behavioral, etc. (Keep these kids in mind when doing # 2 and # 3.)
  8. Contact and work with parents/caregivers/counselors etc. via email, phone, and conferences. (Are there regular business hours for this?)
  9. Collect money for various activities; meals, field trips, fund raisers, etc. (Don’t leave the $$$ in your desk.)
  10. Plan and prepare field trips including student health related needs. (This is not a waste of time.)
  11. Attend school and district meetings. (In moderation of course.)
  12. Collaborate with colleagues. (Often and always.)
  13. Complete paper work and expectations for regular teacher evaluation. (Hoop jumping.)
  14. Spend personal money to enhance classroom. (Think of it as a contribution to a good cause.)
  15. Take additional classes for profession growth and development.  (In order to earn more money…so you can enhance your classroom.)
  16. Maintain a positive attitude. (Keep trying.)
  17. Add ten more that I’ve missed and repeat every school year.

I’d like to list two others.

  • Make learning meaningful, authentic and fun.
  • Keep the child as the focus.

These two are so important and sometimes lost in the myriad of mandated items that school teachers must do.  For those who think out of the conventional school box, these two might be the only ones on your list. Just imagine!

Whether public, private, charter, homeschooling or unschooling, a caring and kind adult makes all the difference in the life of a child. Thank you to all who accept this responsibility.




What Schools Tell Us And What We Believe

caring adult

I woke up on Monday morning so excited to meet my eleven year old granddaughter at a library half way between her home and mine.  While driving thirty minutes to the designated meeting spot, I found myself in a “feel good” moment as the rays from an emerging spring sun periodically lit on my face. Surviving a rather long and cold winter I welcomed this spectacular warmth.

The beautiful hills and valleys I traveled were dotted with farm silos, horses and cows, and farm machinery. It reminded me of a time long ago when I traveled this same route on visits back home to Pennsylvania with my husband and four children. Soaking in the sights, I almost missed the exit to the back road where this beautiful library sat nestled on a small hill directly above a lovely park and children’s playground.

My daughter had an appointment to keep so I had at least an hour to spend with my granddaughter. Our meeting came about from a brave decision my daughter made to pull her daughter out of the local public school about two weeks ago. At this point in the school year, many might say why pull her out now? When my daughter shared her decision with me, I said, “Congratulations – how can I help?” So my help came in the form of meeting at the library to see where Alexis is with regard to mathematics.

In an attempt to gauge how best I could help her, I asked her a few questions. First, to share with me the school assigned 5th grade math books she brought with her. She set FIVE paperback books on the table and proceeded to tell me the purpose of each one. One for classwork, one for homework, one for extra practice, one for more extra practice and one that was an exact duplicate of the other.  FIVE books!  As one whose job it was to order and purchase textbooks for my former school district, all I could see was dollar signs $$$$$ and money wasted that might have gone towards teacher salaries.  I set the books aside.

Before moving onto the the next question, she informed me that she was not very good in math, that she was just average. I asked her how she came up with that analysis. Without hesitation, she said, “that’s what my teacher told me.” I asked her if she thought that was true. She giggled and said, “maybe or maybe not.”

As we made our way through this informal math Q & A,  she started to perk up quite a bit.  The discussion gave us a starting point and without my direction, she chose to focus on fifth grade fractions.  I shared the online Khan Academy as a quick way for her to access/practice fraction problems. I asked her to explain to me the steps she took to get her answers.  She easily did that. She also told me that there is not enough time in school to ask a lot of questions so sometimes she doesn’t get the right answer. 

She was also quite amused that the method shown (pictorial fraction segments) in the Khan Academy video was different than how her book taught her but that the answer was still correct. I assured her that there might be even more ways to solve problems than the way we had both learned. She approved that idea and said, “I’d love to know them all!”

I let her decide when it was time to end since her mom gave us an open-ended opportunity. She chose to take four of the mini quizzes that Khan offers before calling it quits for the morning. She made one or two minor errors that she chose to correct. Her proclamation before we headed to the park sounded like this; “I guess I’m not average after all and I really do like math, thanks Grammy!” I just asked questions and she directed herself.

My takeaways:

  1. Worth the 30 minute drive.
  2. Happy to help.
  3. Beautiful time with my granddaughter.
  4. Alexis asking when will we do math together again.

Her takeaways:

  1. Worth the 30 minute drive.
  2. Glad my Grammy can help.
  3. Fun time with Grammy.
  4. Learning that she is not “average” whatever that is, and that she might actually like math.

Footnote:  I highly recommend going to a park right after doing math, it’s exhilarating! 


Schools For Learning

The “educational” twitter feeds are full of great ideas offering to make school much better for the learner. I read them all the time, like this one; “Knowledge shouldn’t just be a landing point—it should be a springboard. More class time needs to be devoted not just to mastering the material, but launching from it.” (Education Week) Or this one; “Every child deserves an adult who will never give up on them…” (MindShift) Or this one; “Recess is often sacrificed to make room for more academics. The research says that’s a big mistake.” (Edutopia)

There are also a plethora of eduvoices declaring what needs to happen in schools in order to better prepare students for life. Listed below are a notable few.

  • “High school is where we connect students with their futures by uncovering their passions and developing their unique interests and strengths … Ultimately society needs many diverse talents, and standardization that ranks and sorts on a single dimension does not serve us well.” (Linda Darling-Hammond)
  • “Research shows that for qualitative feedback to help, it must replace grades. When students get a comment AND a grade, as Dylan William observed, the 1st thing they look at is the grade, and the 2nd thing they look at is…someone else’s grade.” (Alfie Kohn)
  • “The emphasis on testing comes at the expense of teaching children how to employ their natural creativity and entrepreneurial talents – the precise talents that might insulate them against the unpredictability of the future in all parts of the world.” (Sir Ken Robinson)

It never ceases to amaze me how the school world latches on to these morsels of wisdom even to the point of paying massive consultant fees to bring these folks to their schools or districts. I know this happens. I did it in my leadership roles over the years. But what happens after they leave? What happens after the professional development for teachers is completed? What happens for the students? What changes?

Viewing this phenomenon now from a different perch in life, I find it simply baffling. Smart people in schools, seem to recreate the hamster/wheel scenario on a regular basis. We run after the latest, so-called research-based, best practices or other new buzz word only to find that nothing much really changes for the learner. In the meantime, teachers are in a constant state of flux trying to keep up with the new expectations often feeling exhausted and somewhat burdened under the weight. Why do we do this over and over?

Here is my eduvoice added to the mix.

The ultimate goal of schooling should be authentic and meaningful learning.

Instead, it is artificial learning.

Students learn how to fill out worksheets. They learn how to take tests and provide the correct answer. They learn how to behave and how to make the teacher happy. They learn a vast array of disjointed facts that they must memorize. They learn their worth in the value of grades, GPA, and test scores. They learn that time is not on their side and that asking questions may or may not be profitable. They learn that the goal of school is to get good grades, pass a grade level and go to the next one until it’s over in 12th grade.

As Alfie Kohn points out, “In a word, learning is decontextualized. We break ideas down into tiny pieces that bear no relation to the whole. We give students a brick of information, followed by another brick, followed by another brick, until they are graduated, at which point we assume they have a house. What they have is a pile of bricks, and they don’t have it for long.”

Young people are not given the time or the opportunity to go much deeper than a particular grade level curriculum allows. They are one of too many in a classroom that is designed to get them from point A to point B in exactly 8 or 9 months give or take a day or two.  Never mind that some can go much farther than point B or that others have not arrived at point A yet. We call these two points, gifted and at-risk.  Interesting that we feel the need to label learners based on how quickly or slowly they learn, when in fact it is inherently normal. We all learn differently, at different rates and in different ways.

The idea to totally revamp a compulsory, coercive, artificial structure of schooling that inhibits authentic, deep, and relevant learning is seen as radical and risky. What is truly radical and risky is the continued practice of running the hamster wheel in the hope of producing resilient and resourceful learners ready to take on their world. They know the wheel, the world is another story.

What can we do now? How can schools facilitate real learning? Who has the courage to face the needed changes that will spark a revolution in education? Many brave visionaries are forging this path with much success.  I wish there were more.

For a place to start, let’s get out of the hamster wheel of schooling. Let’s do authentic and meaningful learning, the kind of learning that lasts a lifetime not just for a test. It’s not really that hard to do. Please read my book, Learning Unleashed: Re-imagining and Re-purposing our schools.

hamster wheel

Image Credit: The Startup Sessions