Wednesday, April 28, 2010

My Fictional 21st Century Technology (Cell Phone) Policy

An idea hit me today as I looked at the list of cell violations I have witnessed in the past two months. It’s time to write a common-sense cell phone policy for schools. Maybe this is how it should read.

The administration of this school recognizes that life in the 21st century means that citizens enjoy technological advantages that previous generations have not enjoyed. We at Cutting Edge High School embrace all technology as a normal appendage of our lives. For that reason, we encourage our students to use all technologies rather than ban them. As our students use technology, the only thing we ask in return is:

  • Students use it wisely and judiciously.
  • Students be considerate of other people when they engage in its use.
  • Students recognize that increased freedom in the use of technology requires increased responsibility.

For this reason, we invite our students to use technology and use it often and everywhere. The only violations of technology use in this school are:

  • Engaging in its use when you have been asked to be engaged in other tasks. (Off Task Use)
  • Engaging in the use of technology to negatively impact others. (Examples: cyberbullying, name-calling, etc.)
  • Engaging in its use for any immoral or illegal purpose.
  • Engage in its use when it is considered bad manners and distracting.

Now I realize the wording and language needs work, but I think it’s time to have common-sense approaches to technology in general and cell phones specifically. Policies should seek to embrace student use, to do otherwise is either an exercise in futility or contrary to 21st century thinking. Policies should also focus on what the real issues that can arise from technology use instead of blanket bans. By opening the school house doors to all technology use, we are then in a position to teach our students ethics and values regarding its use.

I plan to keep thinking on this idea of a technology (cell phone) policy that embraces technology but also protects our students and teaches them to make the right choices. After all, we want our students to be good citizens in the 21st century.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

All I Got For My Troubles: An Obama Email Begging for Money to Fight Financial Reform Battle

I have sent message after message to the Democratic Party and to President Obama to express my concerns about Secretary Duncan’s education policy that is basically painting a target on the backs of every teacher and principal in our grand country. You will not believe what I have gotten in return: An email message begging me to donate money to the Democratic Party’s fight for financial reform. The nerve of these people. I vote for them in the last 8 election cycles or as long as I can remember, even donate money to their presidential campaigns, and they are deaf to my messages, and still have the guts to send me an email requesting money! Honestly, since the Democratic Party apparently does not give a hoot about educator’s concerns about Duncan run wild, I don’t give a hoot about their financial reform. I am now taking lessons from Arne Duncan, my vote and financial support has now become a competitive grant. I will grant my vote and support to who can best meet my conditions for reform. Not sure what those are yet, but you can bet it is “Change I CAN believe in.”

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Voucher and School Privatization Advocates Get What They Want in Demonization of Teachers

Many educators and education leaders are scratching their heads regarding how teachers in particular and educators in general have suddenly become the obstacles of reform and the enemies to getting what is best for kids done in our schools. Just like all educators, I am scratching my own head because a presidential administration I voted for and even contributed to financially has chosen to contribute to this demonization of teachers. No matter how many times Secretary Duncan says that teachers are the “unsung heroes” in education, his policies have poisoned the water for all teachers in this country, and those same policies are giving opponents of public education license to push draconian reforms that seek the destruction of public education as we know it.

Let’s face it, one of the greatest obstacles to school voucher programs and the eventual privatization of education are teacher unions and teacher organizations. The political right has known this for a long time, and our President has basically given those same opponents to public education the means by which to tear down public education in this country. With teacher unions and teacher organizations marginalized, the pro-voucher and school privatization movement no longer has one of its greatest enemies. If President Obama and Secretary Duncan continue to push their current education agenda, they will basically hand over our public school system to those who believe that the power of markets better shape educational efficacy. Perhaps this is what President Obama and Secretary Duncan have had in mind all along. I hope not. Teachers and principals who really care about the direction that President Obama’s education policy is going, need to let him know loudly and clearly that he is demonizing the wrong people. He is basically setting the stage for a complete turn-over of the Great American Education System to market-based forces who have profits in their sights and not the best interest of kids. Afterall, that same blind faith that markets would keep coal miners safe in West Virginia resulted in the worst coal mine disaster in history. We should not give for-profit education companies the same chance to devastate the lives of our kids. I am afraid that education reform according to Arne Duncan and President Obama is going to do just that by allowing one great obstacle to education privatization to be removed: our teacher unions and teacher organizations.

21st Century Administrator Book Review: Chip and Dan Heath’s Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard

I have a number of books in my library that address change using a variety of strategies, methods, and principles. I recently purchased Chip and Dan Heath’s book Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard. Just as these authors did in their immensely popular book Made to Stick, the Heath brothers provide some common sense methods and approaches to making change happen in the lives of individuals and in organizations.

From the opening of the first chapter, Chip and Dan Heath begin by pointing out some common sense considerations regarding change. First of all, to the person seeking change, “What often looks like a people problem is often a situation problem.” In other words, energies do not always need to be focused at the people involved in a change effort. Instead, change can be made to happen more easily if one focuses efforts on the environment, or situation. To get individuals to change behaviors might be simply a matter of changing their environment so that they are no longer drawn into the behaviors we are seeking to change. Secondly, “For anything to change, someone has to start acting differently.” This is common sense. For change to happen, the individuals in the change situation must begin to demonstrate new behaviors and take on new habits. As Chip and Dan Heath point out, “Ultimately, all change efforts boil down to the same mission: Can you get people to start behaving in a new way?” Thirdly, Chip and Dan Heath point out further, “For an individual’s behavior to change, you got to not only influence their environments, but their hearts and minds.” Again, this change advice is hardly new. The idea of reaching a person’s divided mind in order to make change happen is found in the writings of a number of change authors. What is new in this book is the Heath Brother’s Three-Part Framework for Changing Behavior. They have based this framework in a mind-emotion analogy used by psychologist Jonathan Haidt in his book The Happiness Hypothesis.

According to Chip and Dan Heath making change happen is complicated by the fact that our minds are divided. There is the emotional side that is instinctive and feels pain and pleasure, and there is the rational side that is the reflective conscious system that deliberates, analyzes, and looks to the future. These two sides of our minds are in conflict with each other. Using Haidt’s analogy Chip and Dan Heath call the rational side of the mind, the Rider, and the emotional side is called the Elephant. The Rider is actually perched atop the Elephant, holding the reins, and seemingly leads the Elephant. The problem is the Rider’s control is precarious because he is so small in size in relation to the Elephant. Anytime there is a disagreement, the Elephant wins due to his size advantage. Basically, a lot of change fails because the Rider can’t keep the Elephant on the road long enough to reach the destination, or desired change. The Rider also has his problems. He tends to over-analyze and over-think problems almost to the point nothing gets done. On the other hand, the Elephant’s weakness lies in his laziness, skittishness, and his looking for instant payoff. According to the Heaths, when change fails, it is often the Elephant’s fault because his hunger for instant gratification pulls him away from the change path. Since emotion is the Elephant’s turf, he is actually the one who gets change done. He has the energy and drive to get one to the change destination. It is impossible to get there without the Elephant. If you want change to happen, you have to appeal to people’s Riders and their Elephants.

Ultimately, it is people’s Riders that provide the planning and direction. It is their Elephants that provide the energy of change. Reaching people’s Riders but not their Elephants means they will have understanding but no motivation. If you reach people’s Elephants but not their Riders, then they will have passion without direction. If people have reluctant Elephants and wheel-spinning Riders, then nothing changes. In a tug-of-war situation with people’s Elephants pulling wildly, the Rider is ultimately going to lose, because he can’t maintain control for very long. This self-control is not an inexhaustible resource. Eventually, the Rider loses control. Ultimately, changing behaviors means changing those behaviors that have become automatic which requires the careful supervision of the Rider.

Ultimately, Chip and Dan Heath provide a “Three-Part Framework for Changing Behavior” as a means to bring about individual and organizational change. This framework involves three parts: 1) Directing people’s Riders, 2) Motivating people’s Elephants, and 3) Shaping the Path. Directing the Rider involves using strategies to make sure people have a crystal-clear direction. Motivating the Elephant involves engaging people’s emotional side to get their Elephants on the path and cooperative. Shaping the path involves changing the environment so that the change you are seeking is more likely to happen. Ultimately, to change behavior, you have to direct the Rider, motivate the Elephant, and shape the Path. The Heath’s book then provides specific strategies for working all three parts of this framework.

This book is quite compact, and its ideas about change are intriguing. I am still digesting all of the information found in its pages, and I will be for some time. It is one of the most thought-provoking books I have read in 2010. As a 21st century administrator seeking to make change happen, I gladly place this on my reference book shelf in my office, and I will not doubt refer back to it often.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Saving Technology Funding: Get Into Cloud Computing

Recently during a meeting about technology, our technology director proposed the idea that our school system move to using Google Gmail as our email service. The bottom line is that the school system will save lots of money immediately from hardware and software maintenance costs. In the long run, it is a win-win situation because our tech department, already stretched to the limit, will not longer have to worry about our system’s email service. Welcome to the future of education!
The 2010 Horizon Report has “cloud computing” at the top of the list when it comes to the technologies schools are likely to adopt within the next 12 months. Gmail is a part of this cloud computing movement. Cloud computing is described as internet-based computing where resources such as applications, information, data storage, and data processing is shared through web applications. Cloud computing distributes applications, storage and even computing power through the use of a web browser. One of the  major areas of development in cloud computing is the development of cloud-based applications. Some immediate examples of this effort are Google Docs and Zoho. Both of these web services provide word processing, spreadsheets, and other computer applications through web browser. Zoho provides users with an even greater number of applications. Users of these products save their work in the computing cloud as it is called, so the need for additional data storage is lessened as well.
Why should administrators get excited about cloud computing? First of all, cloud computing can provide a great deal of savings in Tech support, software, and hardware expenses. Secondly, cloud computing provides users with ability to provide access to applications without relying on software installed on a local computer. Cloud applications can be accessed anywhere there is web access. The bottom line, by turning over our email services to Google, we could save several thousand dollars a year short term, and who knows how much we will save not having to maintain email services. Schools would do well to begin exploring the cloud for opportunities to stretch the shrinking tech budget even further.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Google Docs Upgrades

I read about the new changes Google was making to Google Docs this morning and immediately became excited. I use Google Docs quite often. I use it when I need to create a presentation simply because it keeps me from having to tote a flash drive around. If you are like me, you probably have about ten of them, and trying to figure out to which one I saved the presentation is a painful process sometimes. Using the presentation mode in Google Docs makes it easy. I also have begun using Google Forms for some of my administrative tasks. For example, I have actually created a form that allows me to enter discipline data and then track it in a spreadsheet. I can talk with teachers about how many referrals they are making, and this can generate discussion with the whole staff regarding how they handle individual students in their classrooms.


Discipline Form Created in Google Docs

When I heard about Google Draw being added to the Google Docs line up I was excited, because now I have an opportunity to create flow charts, graphic organizers, and other diagrams online and keep them. The new Google Docs will also allow real-time collaboration now. Lots of uses for that.


Flow Chart Created in Google Docs Draw

Google Docs is becoming a power tool for me in my daily tasks as an administrator. I have even uploaded my letterhead so that when I need to pound out an official letter, I can do it anywhere.


Saturday, April 10, 2010

Thoughts for Democrat Candidates for Office in North Carolina

As a long-time democrat, I think the NC Democratic party and candidate Elaine Marshall need to understand that there are number of us educators out there who are upset and saddened by the policies taken by the Obama administration in general and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan in particular. Many of us voted, donated time, gave money to the Obama campaign in the last election, and this administration has chosen specific policies that scapegoat teachers and principals for all that is wrong in schools. We had hoped that the Obama administration would set right the misguided testing and accountability policies of the Bush administration, but instead they have only intensified efforts to place testing on a pedestal and as the answer for our problems in the schools. In response to this, I have written many times to the President and the National Democratic party about my concerns and the only thing I have received in return are requests for additional funding support. It is apparent that now that President Obama has become president, he has chosen a course that has created a national culture that has become hostile to teachers specifically, and to educators in general. His applause for heavy-handed actions such as firing all teachers in troubled schools has only served to make teachers and school administrators the targets for blame of school failures. I can assure you that as an individual, the democratic party's desertion of educators through the misguided policies of Secretary Duncan will not be far from my mind in the elections this fall, and in the Presidential election in 2012. I will also continue to spread the word about how democrats have chosen to join with republicans in scapegoating teachers and administrators for school failures. Democrats can boast all they wish about their health care victory, but failure to take notice on how their education policy is hurting one of their large constituent groups is callous and cannot be forgotten. Normally, at this point, I would have totally agreed that Richard Burr needs to be replaced, but if we are going to replace them with someone who is going take the same kind of policy stance in education, we might as well keep the status quo.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Why Current Educational Wisdom Behind Race to the Top and the ESEA Blueprint Is Going to Fail

Last evening, right after the wonderful #edchat session we had on Twitter, and after I completed the blog post previous to this one, a final thought came to me.

As I wrote about reform really beginning with teachers who care about their students, I honestly realized at that point why Secretary Duncan’s reform efforts are going to fail. His efforts are well-meaning I think, but they will take their place just behind the failed policies of George Bush and NCLB. It’s really simple. They are correct to think that one of the most important factors in a child’s success is having an effective teacher. While they define that “effectiveness” by test scores, most of us who have been in education know that’s a really shallow measure of a great teacher. Sure, I think a great teacher can get those test scores that are so important to politicians, but they also get something else. The truly great teacher wins that child over to loving learning and being curious about the world. The truly great teacher takes the students places that no standardized test can measure. The truly great teacher has a hand in making that student move one step closer to being a productive member of society. The truly great teacher inspires that student to grasp an unforeseen future. And so on. The real problem with Secretary Duncan’s education plans are you can’t quantify these kinds of teachers. That is why the Obama Administration’s Race to the Top and their ESEA Reauthorization Blueprint will fail.

So many have tried to reduce good teaching to some kind of measurable result and have failed in the past. This administration will fail at that task too. Teaching is an extremely complex task, involving so many complex tasks and decisions, that even states who have tried to devise evaluation instruments to capture it usually fail miserably. Teaching is messy and does not like to be pinned down. The debate about whether teaching is an art or science has never been settled entirely, but most of us who have been in the classroom know it certainly is not entirely a science.

Ultimately, what will happen under the current administration’s education policy? It’s hard to say, but I would bet that great teachers will go right on with the business of teaching, which is their love anyway, merit pay or not. They might compromise a bit to give the politicians the test scores they so desperately crave, but they will go on inspiring students to reach their full potential. You honestly cannot reform any one by wielding sticks and carrots in a profession of love.

More Thoughts on School Reform

The Edchat topic tonight was school reform, which is a hot topic. If we have one thing to thank the Obama administration for is that education reform is the topic of the moment. I do not think you will find an educator anywhere who would say that schools are doing fine, and that reform is not necessary. I think the real problem is the starting point. Obviously, Secretary Duncan and the Obama administration have provided a starting point for discussion with the Race to the Top initiative. Whether or not we agree with the reform stipulations of that policy, it certainly has started a nation-wide conversation about making education better. In my twenty-one years as an educator, I can’t think of a time when so much is being said about education reform, it is literary possible to get lost in the rhetoric.

I think my position on Race to the Top and the ESEA Blueprint is clear from my previous posts on the topic, but honestly, I want to take a look at the reform proposals being pushed by the current presidential administration. I am going to set aside my personal feelings, and my preconceived notions about these reform measures and take a really close look at them. In the coming weeks, I am going to try to find every shred of evidence that supports the effectiveness of charter schools versus regular public schools. I am going to look closely at everything I can find about tying student test scores to teacher and principal evaluations. I am going to examine carefully anything I can find on these measures.

You know, in the end, if Secretary Duncan and President Obama have their way and my principal evaluations are tied to test scores, I can promise them one thing: I will have the best damn test-takers in the state and in the world. They will show phenomenal growth on any test thrown at them. As a classroom teacher I was not afraid of the state tests. In fact, I often had over 90% proficiency rates for my classes. If that is the kind of culture our schools get transformed into being, then I can assure all the education powers that be, I will have a school filled to the brim with phenomenal test takers.

As far as charters go, I have absolutely nothing against them. I know of two very effective charters close to my home town. I also know two others that have been close to being shut down. But I also know two phenomenal public schools that have the lowest drop out rates in the whole state and are highly proficient when looking at state test scores. I also know two low-scoring public schools that ought to be shut down. The point is, if it is honestly best for our kids, I can buy it, but please do not misrepresent the facts to promote charters or any other reform measure of the month without making a great case for it.

I have been an educator long enough to have lived through several reforms. Believe it or not, merit pay was the flavor of the month when I started teaching. I see it has come back around. I have seen “site-based management” practiced as well. Schools still pay a bit of homage to that one, though with all these strings running into the classroom, what we think as a site becomes less relevant. But that is Okay, because if it best for the kids, I can live with it. Let’s see, what other reforms have been thrown at me in the last twenty years? Oh yes, there was Tech Prep in the nineties, a movement to try to meet the needs of more students. There also was outcome based learning, multiple intelligence learning, whole language, block scheduling, and many, many others. In retrospect, what made real reform, real reform? Perhaps the answer lies in why so many high schools made the switch to block scheduling. I taught at a school during the transition to this type of scheduling. It was touted as being the vehicle to transform how our high schools do business. And what happened? Most high schools took what they had been doing with the fifty-five minute, six-class-a-day schedule and just made it ninety minutes long. Changing schedules is not enough. Now we find out the research about the effectiveness of block-scheduling is mixed at best.

Honestly, I did not mean to get sidetracked into my own nostalgia, but the truth is, there have been many an educational guru coming forth bearing the promises of reform during my years as educator, so naturally I am skeptical. One person in the Twitter edchat session tonight reminded of the one thing I have always believed to be true as a teacher and as a principal. The fads do come and go. Schools can be on block schedules or traditional calendars. Students can be in charter schools or regular public schools. But, whether that student learns or not is ruled by what that teacher does with that student during the short time they are together. True reform will begin in the hearts and minds of classroom teachers who care about kids. That is one reform that even Secretary Duncan can’t make happen.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Lack of Support for Race to the Top Does Not Mean Lack of Support for Reform

What amazes me is the continued browbeating educators who have not jumped on the Race to the Top bandwagon are still taking. Newspapers are publishing editorial and editorial blaming teacher’s unions and the educational establishment for not supporting their state’s applications for funding under Race to the Top. It’s almost as if to disagree with the reform measures being pushed by the Obama administration is blasphemous. The reality is, I know no educator who does not feel the need to reform what we are doing, but many like myself, do not buy the reform agenda being literally being shoved down the throat of the  public educational establishment by Secretary Arne Duncan.

First of all, Secretary Duncan and President Obama’s unwavering faith in Charter Schools is misplaced. Personally, I have nothing against charter schools. In fact, I honestly believe they have a place in our efforts to meet the needs of all our students. Where I do have problems, is the unquestioning promotion of charter schools as the answer to reforming education. I suspect that charter schools are just like regular public schools. There are good ones, and there are bad ones. But to shove them down the throats of the educational establishment like they are some kind of miracle cure is wrong. There are certainly places where charter schools have done great things, but to suggest that these schools have any kind of magical ability to transform education is ludicrous.

Secondly, in spite of the fact that the Obama administration in its pre-election campaigns promised to end the “culture of testing” that our schools currently suffer under, under Secretary Duncan this emphasis on testing has only intensified. Race to the Top would have states evaluating teachers based on test scores, which suggests that these tests actually do indicate how well a teacher is teaching a subject. Never mind that these tests were not designed for that purpose. Also, never mind that most state tests have not even established both reliability and validity. I disagree with with Secretary Duncan’s unwavering faith in tests as a measure of teacher performance. I have not yet seen a test that I would bet my career on.

Finally, I disagree with Secretary Duncan’s whole belief that competition for reform dollars is going to ultimately bring about what is best for all our kids. Competitions mean that there are winners and losers, and with Race to the Top there will be losers, and ultimately the students are the ones who lose. They will lose if their state does not magically create an application acceptable to the Obama administration. Education reform is not a game. What we do as educator’s affects our students’ futures. If that means I am a bit skeptical of politicians bearing lots of money, then so be it.

Ultimately, I remain skeptical of Secretary Duncan’s reform agenda because he has not convincingly made his case. Because I disagree with him and the Obama administration does not mean that I am against reform either.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Reflections on Winners and Losers for Race to the Top Funding

I have spent most of the past week thinking about and reading all of the fuss regarding Secretary Arne Duncan’s education initiative, Race to the Top. I have heard all of the finger-pointing that blames teachers unions and educators failure to rubber stamp state applications as the prevailing reason why this state or that one did not win funding. Honestly, it really amazes me that many of these same people are not pointing their fingers at the state officials and politicians who hastily pasted together reforms and applications in order to best satisfy Secretary Arne Duncan’s criteria for receiving the blackmail money. Why are we not closely questioning the logic of the reforms being pushed by the Obama administration? None of those so-called reform measures being promoted by this administration have any sound basis in research, yet, our governors and legislatures are scrambling to make them happen. And, this does not even take into account the Obama administration’s failure to live up to campaign promises to educators in the first place. Those who support Secretary Duncan’s NCLB 2.0 efforts often accuse those of us who point out the problems with this education policy as not wanting reform. As an educator I know even better than the politicians the need for reform. I have seen first hand how our education system fails, but just because I do not buy the “snake-oil” reform being pushed by the Obama administration does not mean I am against reform. When I think the reform measures being pushed by the politicians is going to harm education, I will continue to speak out against it. If Secretary Duncan wants me and other educators to buy in to his education policy, he must use more than bribes to convince me of their soundness.