Friday, August 15, 2014

Teaching Is Impacting Lives Forever Not Raising Test Scores

What the testing and accountability crowd does not get is the impact teachers have on lives. No bubble sheet can capture that, and you won't find it in standards. Each of us has a teacher or teachers that have impacted our lives. In my own, there was fifth grade with Ms. Case and sixth grade with Ms. Williams. Ms. Case captured my imagination in reading with Old Yeller which she read to us lovingly everyday. Ms. Williams encouraged me to explore my interests in the stars and science. These teachers fired my curiosity for learning and exploration. The impact teachers have on lives can't be measured using EVAAS, ACT, or SAT. As much as we would like to reduce teaching to numbers, it can't be done.

This video of a surprise party for a teacher of 40 years will move you to tears. In spite of the test score fetish our education leaders and politicians have, there are still teachers touching lives. Let's make sure that continues.


3 Principles for Creating a Culture of Creativity in Schools to Unleash Technological Innovation

"While in school, we are often educated into believing that we must succeed---that mistakes should be avoided. But to be successful, we need to learn how to fail and how to respond to failure. What we call failure is really a learning process." Bill Capodagli and Lynn Jackson, Innovate the Pixar Way: Business Lessons from the World's Most Creative Playground
In today's standardized, testing, and accountability climate, there are major penalties imposed on those who fail. For example, in some states, students who "fail" standardized tests are branded failures by being held back a grade with retention policies that tell students, "Failure is not an option." In other states, teachers whose students don't demonstrate "success" by reaching pre-determined levels of "growth"on standardized tests, find themselves labeled "In Need of Improvement," which might as well be a "Scarlet Letter of Failure" they are forced to wear across their chests until they prove themselves. Finally, in other states, there is the practice of labeling entire schools with letter grades A-F, which is just another device to make sure those who fail suffer the consequences of being a failure. Clearly in our current education system, failure is something to run from and avoid. "Failure is not an option" is the mantra, yet, in today's super-charged, technology climate, failure is exactly what we need. Our mantra should be "Fail early and often" if we want to move forward with innovation. If failure is avoided, so is risk and exploration, two primary ingredients for a culture of creativity within a school, and it is that creativity that drives the innovation necessary to make the most of technology.

If school leaders want to capitalize on what technology has to offer their schools, they must create schools where "failing towards success" happens as rule, and taking risks and exploration is expected. For, as Capodagli and Jackson point out,

"Failing forward is about learning from our mistakes---examining failures and moving beyond them to success." 

In the accountability and audit culture, any failure is treated almost as a sin for which there is no forgiveness.

What then is a school leader to do, to create the kind of culture of creativity that celebrates failure as part of success and creativity? Here's 3 principles adapted from Pixar's Ed Catmull's book, Creativity, Inc. Pixar has demonstrated what a culture of creativity looks like.

1. Remember that "Ideas come from people. Therefore people are more important than ideas." Intuitively, most school administrators begin by focusing on the technology. They assess: What technology do we have, and what technology can we get? They even use the number of smart boards and computers in their buildings to gauge technological progress. That's not how it should be. You can have all the tech toys in the world in your building, but if no one is using them, they might as well be trophies sitting on a shelf. As Catmull points out, you have to begin by focusing on people. You do this by finding "good people" and then supporting them. You develop them, and you give them "running room" to try the new. The same is true with both innovation and technology. Focus on the people first, not the technology.

2. Foster the idea that "mistakes are the inevitable consequences of doing something new" and "a positive understanding of failure." Creating a school climate where mistakes are an accepted part of trying the new is especially challenging in a an educational environment that places a premium on holding all "accountable" for failure by beating them over the head with bad ratings and grades. Too many accountability systems are scapegoat-seeking tools for hunting down and getting rid of the culprits who caused "failure to happen" instead of providing solid feedback that leads to success. It is this that creates a "fear-based" climate where no teacher or administrator is going to step out of safe territory and make great things happen with technology.

3. Avoid allowing your school or district to become infected with the desire to "just play it safe." According to Catmull,

"Even though copying what's come before is a guaranteed path to mediocrity, it appears to be a safe choice, and the desire to be safe---to succeed with minimal risk---can infect not just individuals but entire companies."

There are schools and school districts all around us infected with this "be-safe" virus. They are inflexible and rigid, and the minute a teacher dares step to the edge of innovation, the school of system slaps them back in line. The early reaction of school districts towards cell phones and social media are a great example of this. When school leaders focus on safety alone, they move to risk-minimization mode, which kills creativity and innovation, the very things needed to capitalize on technology. You can recognize a school system that values safety at the expense of all else when they bring technology into their schools. How? It is simply used to do what they've always done. Smart boards become overhead projectors. The Internet becomes a massive online library. Social media becomes just another announcement system. You can't possibly play it entirely safe with technology and expect innovation and creativity.

The challenge then for today's school leader is how do you make it safe for innovation and creativity in a climate that only values success and punishes failure? How do we move our schools, districts, students, parents, and teachers beyond the thinking that "failure is not an option" so they can take risks and explore the edges of innovation with technology? We can begin doing that by focusing on our people instead of counting smartboards and computers. We can make mistake-making accepted step in the path to innovation and creativity. Finally, we need to inoculate ourselves against the "play-it-safe" virus and make risk-taking acceptable. We can't just copy what someone else is doing and call it innovation. We need to unleash creativity by taking Catmull's advice by "loosening the controls, accepting risk, trust our colleagues, work to clear the path for them, and pay attention to anything that creates fear." 


Thursday, August 14, 2014

Learn from My Mistake: Buying Apps from the Mac App Store: Read the Fine Print!

I've been trying to find an offline blogging app for my MacBook Pro for quite awhile. I purchased MarsEdit, and have used it, but it is so quirky and strange, it has been a big disappointment. When posting through MarsEdit, sometimes the format morphs into something not desired, and it is impossible to change it. As a former Windows user, I miss Windows Liverwriter immensely, but please don't tell Bill Gates.

Today, plastered big as a billboard, I found an advertisement for Blogo, another blogging editing software. I skimmed through the description and was immediately sold, so I purchased the app. I downloaded it and immediately tried to connect it to this blog. I received an error message immediately. It seems Blogo only supports WordPress currently. Bummer! I purchased a $15 app that might as well be bloatware on my computer.

I then went back and explored the Blogo ad further and at the very end of that ad, the developers mention that their app only works for WordPress, but they hope to include Blogger soon. Hmmmm! That seems a bit deceptive to me, but granted I should have read their entire ad to begin with, which I will religiously do from now on. Apparently, the Mac App store is like the National Enquirer: Don't believe everything you read! Had I gone to Blogo's website, I would have seen clearly (well not really) that their app only works with WordPress. They have the WordPress icon brightly colored, and the Blogger and Tumbler icons dimmed out, but they are there. Why list these two at all if you do not currently support them? A quick glance at the web site would lead users to think the app works for Blogger and Tumbler too, which it does not currently.

At any rate, lesson has been learned by this Blogger. You can't believe everything you read in the Mac App store either, nor on developer web sites. I should have known better. Still, all I ask is that app developers clearly avoid making claims about their apps, and that they mark clearly how their apps work.

I am still looking for a Blogging app that works for blogger if there are any developers interested in that. As you can see, I was willing to pay for it too.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Breaking the Silence: Why It's the School Leader's Responsibility to Speak Out

"The silence of thoughtful people creates a vacuum filled by extremists." Margaret Wheatley, Find Our Way; Leadership for an Uncertain Time
In her book, Finding Our Way: Leadership for an Uncertain Time, Margaret Wheatley asks the question:
"Why is silence moving like a fog across the planet? Why is it growing in us as individuals, even as we learn of more and more issues that concern us? Why do we fail to raise our voice on behalf of things that trouble us, and then regret what we didn't do?" 
Why do public educators and school leaders largely remain silent while politicians and government bureaucrats bash public schools and inundate them with harmful school policies? Why do teachers, principals, and district leaders automatically ask the question, "How can we implement this educational measure?" rather than asking the tough questions about implementation issues and possible harmful effects on the public education system, its students, and its employees? Is it fear? Has our public education system become so hierarchical, with emperors and kings sending down mandates, and the educator's job is to unquestioningly accept whatever those mandates are and carry them out? My question is not intended to encourage that we should break the law, or be insubordinate. Legally, we're often bound to doing some things while holding our noses, and hoping that no one is harmed by those laws or policies. Still, if we quietly move to implementation mode, without expressing our concerns and opinions, then those in power take that acquiescence as consent and total support.

In the current education climate, our silence on issues like standardized testing, accountability, education budgets, and poverty does create the vacuum into which the enemies to public education, sometimes allied with well-meaning education reformers have poured their ideas. They have captured the marketplace of "what's-best-for-kids" because educators and school leaders choose to be silent, and in this, when it comes to our current educational climate, we've only ourselves to blame.

It is time, time for us to speak up. It is time for us to let our politicians know how their budgets and laws affect lives and our education mission. It is time for us to let federal bureaucrats know how their programs and policies are undermining our efforts to bring sound education to our students. It is time, for us to break the silence. While our speaking up may not change minds, laws, or policies, at the end of the day, we will not regret that we allowed all these anti-public education reforms occur.

Of course, those in "power" might see our speaking out as "insubordination" and "not being a team player." But since when does being on a team mean you check your expertise and opinions at the door? Since when is contributing your own concerns and objections deemed insubordinate? We do have a responsibility to be respectful when expressing our concerns and objections. And those objections and concerns expressed may do nothing to change the course of events. Still, we've not been insubordinate, and we are being the ultimate team player. We are contributing our expertise and ideas and experience when we do not remain silent. We are in the practice being "thoughtful people" who are trying to keep in check those whose agendas may not be in the best interests of our students and public education, and to help our leaders make sound decisions.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

A Plan to Destroy Public Education in NC with Five Easy Steps

If I wanted to design an education budget that gives the “appearance” of supporting teachers and educators, what would that budget look like? What if my long term goals are to get the state out of the education business and turn that entire enterprise over to the private sector? How can I continue to “starve” public education to achieve this goal? Here’s what I might do.

First of all, since I would have to give some raises in pay during election years, I would, but do so strategically. I don’t really want young college students choosing education as a career, because then I would have to keep paying them and ultimately give them some kind of sound benefits and retirement. I want young teachers and young teachers only, so I make sure that teachers in the first 10 years or so get paid well. I would not want to pay them too much after that. In fact, I would take away experienced teachers' longevity pay and any other incentive they might have to teach beyond 10 years or so. I don’t value experience nor getting higher education degrees, so I would disincentivize those things as well. The goal in my planned destruction of public education is to attract teachers who use the job as a stepping stone to other careers, so keep the pay for experienced teachers flat.

Secondly, I would look for strategic areas in the education budget that would have the greatest negative impact on public education in this state if they were cut. I would cut a bit here and there, change funding structures that in the end result in cuts. I could cut special programs like at-risk funding to make it even more difficult for schools to meet the needs of students, so I can say public schools are failures. I would keep textbooks and instructional supply budgets flat, so teaching becomes even harder. That has the duel effect of making sure no one chooses teaching in a public school as a long term career. It also makes sure that teachers can’t claim to be successful too much. After all, if my ultimate goal is to put public education out of business, can’t have teachers being successful.

Thirdly, I would tighten the accountability screws even tighter. I could use tests as bludgeoning instruments to further beat up the education system. Give schools ratings using these test scores (grade them on an A-F grading scale), and make it difficult for them to obtain the highest ratings. That way, we can use numbers, which I know everyone believes don't lie, to declare more and more public schools a failure. I would also use tests and a testing process that does not give teachers too much feedback on teaching. Can’t have them getting quality, timely testing data that can then be turned around and used to improve teaching and learning. After all, we don’t want public schools to succeed. We want them to fail, so we can then create a whole industry to take over the education enterprise.

Fourthly, I make sure teaching is no longer a profession. Tenure has to go so I try to pass laws with incentives for teachers to give it up or I pass laws so that it quietly goes away. After all, if the destruction of public schools is my ultimate goal, I don’t want due process rights to get in the way of getting rid of teachers when it becomes necessary to get rid of them. For example, at some point, I might want to toss teachers out to balance budgets or to keep from having to pay retirements. I also don’t want teachers in the system who might ask too many questions. If there’s no tenure, and they get too close to the truth, I can toss them out.

Finally, I add more money to voucher programs to continue the process of getting students out of public schools, and I promote legislation that supports the idea that “any-old-charter-school-will-do." It really doesn’t matter if charter schools or private schools are more effective. In fact, they can be less effective. All I want to do get students out of public schools and the funding that goes with them. That way I can continue to starve public education even further, as their ADM drops. I also cut the automatic funding stream too, that way I use it to further the public education starvation process.

With just these five steps, I can move the state closer to dismantling public education and turning education over to private enterprise, and give the "appearance" that I support education. I could simply use a four-pronged approach:

1) Make public school teaching less of a profession and a less attractive career,
2) Strategically cut money from the budget that has the greatest negative impact on public school success,
3) Institute measures to begin getting students out of public schools, after all this will in turn start pulling money from public education, thereby continuing the starving process,
4) Ramp up regulation, accountability and testing, and use both to bludgeon public schools and educators so they aren’t seen as successful.

This entire plan would perhaps so negatively impact public schools that the public would be screaming that they be closed.

Hmmmm…does all this sound familiar to anyone in North Carolina? I’ll let you be judge.

Friday, August 8, 2014

NC Legislative Staffer Calls Concerned Teacher an Idiot? Say It Isn't So!

The question of the evening is, "Did a staffer in North Carolina Representative Tim Moore's office call a teacher concerned about about the recently passed North Carolina budget an "idiot?" According to a a recent post to my Facebook timeline, a teacher in Cleveland County, North Carolina  described what it was like to call her state representative and express concerns about the budget. Here's her post:



Perhaps this incident really illustrates how this legislature really feels about teachers in general. To call a teacher, who happens to be citizen, an "idiot" says a great deal about how this representative really feels about teachers. My fear is that such sentiments extend throughout the legislature and our state's governor's office as well. Their past actions have shown they are no friends to public education. They certainly have proved during this session that they are no friends to veteran teachers.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

NC Gov McCrory & Legislature Approves Budget with Hidden Anti-Public Ed Agenda

Today, North Carolina Governor McCroy signed the budget presented to him by the legislature. What amazes me is how our state political leaders can say with a straight face, that they have given teachers a "historical pay raise." Teacher raises are actually between 18% and .3%, depending on years experience. From what I can see, here's what this budget really does.
  • It takes away longevity pay for experienced teachers and then returns it back to them in what the Legislature is calling an "average 7% raise." In other words, the actual raise is lower than what they brag about because they are taking pay away that teachers earn because of their years of service.
  • This budget sets up a donation fund to collect donations for those would like to donate money to future teacher pay raises, because we have political leaders unwilling to use tax money to fund future teacher raises.
  • The North Carolina Department of Public Instruction is cut by 10%.
  • There were no direct cuts to teacher assistant jobs, but the wording of this part of the budget has an odor difficult to identify.
  • Textbook funding was increased only by $1 million, bringing to to a whopping total of $25 million, yet our legislature was able to somehow find another $840,000 for school vouchers. Compare this to the fact that the textbook budget pre-2010 recession was around $125 million.
  • Monetary allotments for salaries and benefits to district offices were decreased by 3%.
  • The North Carolina Teaching Fellows Program, an excellent program designed to provide scholarships to promising high school students who want to become teachers was also cut.
  • The budget directs funding toward for-profit virtual charter schools, even though there questions about their effectiveness.
This budget is what I would call a "grudge" budget, which is a budget that uses mirrors and smokescreens to hide this legislature's continued anti-public education agenda. It is sad that Governor Pat McCroy, Thom Tillis, and Phil Berger would resort to deception in an election year, but then again being able to deceive others is a valued trait in American politicians of every stripe. It's too bad that children will continue to suffer under these kinds of budgetary decisions and public education will still continue to deteriorate.