Teach & Serve II, No. 4 – Fight the System

Teach & Serve II, No. 4 – Fight the System

August 31, 2016

Because we often venerate those who came before us in our institutions, we tend to venerate the systems they created right along with them.

We sometimes talk about “human systems” – the architecture of people who live and work and journey together. These human systems are the ways we relate, the hierarchies we put in place to deal with one another. They help orient where we stand. And how. They are important sociological structures that keep our schools functioning. Without these, our schools would descend into chaos.

systemsOf the many elements that unite schools – private, public, charter and otherwise – perhaps none are so prominent as the fact that schools are places which rely on human systems that create systems on which we all rely. Attendance procedures, grading scales, assignment turn in policies, employee handbooks, you name it, schools have them. They prescribe how cell phones are to be used, where food can be consumed, how people (students and faculty alike) can dress. Systems and structures abound in school settings. Even those schools that cast themselves as innovative and free, open and would like to suggest they don’t have systems do.  They have systems. They have structures.

How does a student get out of class to go to Counseling? Fill out a pass. Have it signed and countersigned. System.

When does a teacher round up a students’ grade? Check the manual. System.

How do we get to the parking lot during a fire drill? System.

What are the on-boarding procedures for our new faculty and staff? System.

Here’s where the trouble comes. We sometimes define ourselves and our schools by our systems. Because we normally do good work and our schools and collaborate to develop solid systems, it’s hard to recognize when the time has come to shut them down. Because we typically trust the people with whom we’ve created said systems, we have trust in the systems themselves. Because we often venerate those who came before us in our institutions, we tend to venerate the systems they created right along with them.

Therefore, we sometimes adhere to systems long after we should for fear of offending someone. We resist updating outmoded policies and procedures because Janney designed them in 1998 and we love Janney.

No one wants to make Janney feel bad.

But that’s not the point, is it? The point is, as our schools move through the years, the systems that looked so shiny, so snappy and so smart when we designed them inevitably show their wear-and-tear.

How many libraries in our schools kept the card catalogs years longer than necessary? Raise your hand if your school still has it…

How many schools resisted moving to data driven decision making processes because the systems they had in place – largely anecdotal, often inaccurate – had worked just fine for years, thank you very much.

How many schools continue to prop up old systems instead of building new ones?

Break up the system. The system is not the person.

Schools that are forward thinking, ready to adapt and change to meet the needs of any new day, understand that systems must change even when the people behind them do not change. Schools that do this with facility build into their systems the understanding that they are temporary, that they will become obsolete. This is stated truth and lived fact.

It’s often not the people who need to change, it’s the system.

Separate the two.

Fight the system.

EduQuote of the Week: August 29 – September 6, 2016

The supreme art of the teacher is to awaken joy in creative expression and knowledge.

Albert Einstein

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Teach & Serve II, No. 3 – One Thing at a Time, Not Everything All at Once

Teach & Serve II, No. 3 – One Thing at a Time, Not Everything All at Once

August 24, 2016

Don’t ignore. Don’t demolish.

Work the problem. Work it piece-by-piece.

No matter what subject we teach, we think it parts, not wholes. Take US History for example: when history teachers begin the year, they know where they have to end up. They know they have to get to the election of President Obama (in truth, many US History teachers will be happy if they hit the chapters on the Reagan presidency by the end of the year, but that’s neither here nor there). They know where they are going and they begin to plan how to get there. They plan units, they plan chunks, they plan blocks, they plan lessons.

Nesting DollsWe hope our students do things the same way. We preach at them to do so. Start the lab. Put on your goggles, then look for the chemicals. Learn the vocabulary in Mandarin before you attempt speaking the language. Understand the equation and then apply it. Begin the research paper with, you know, the research, then start to write. Look at homework assignment-by-assignment, not at the totality of what needs to be done on any given night.

Assess the big picture. Paint the small strokes and make it coalesce.

Why don’t we apply this same thinking to the challenges facing our schools?

All too often, especially at the beginnings or ends of school years, we look at what we perceive as being wrong with our schools and become paralyzed. We see problem linked to problem, issue feeding issue, hazard upon hazard and our reactions do not always help. Our reactions break down into two categories, neither of which is particularly constructive.

We either throw up our hands, stymied by the enormity of the trouble, by its complexities, fearful that pulling any thread on the quilt will rend the thing asunder or we leap to solutions that will tackle the entirety of the trouble, consequences, ramifications and collateral impact be damned.

The systems that exists in our schools are comprised of human beings each full of talents and commitments and agendas and weaknesses and strengths. Rarely do any of us set out to create complexity and tie Gordian Knots around our institutions. But it happens. It seems to always happen.

Some leaders believe the way to overcome these challenges is with the precision of hand grenades. Blow the problem up and start anew. Some leaders believe the way to overcome these challenges is to trust people to do good work and let the problem work itself out.

I understand both reactions. I’ve had them. I’ve lived them. I’ve turned away from the beast. I’ve challenged it head on. Not the best plans.

We can solve the issues we face if we do one thing at a time, address one problem at a time and, wherever possible, keep the pieces separate and the issues distinct. We actually can, with discipline and planning, take on each part and create a chain reaction that will solve the whole.

Don’t ignore.

Don’t demolish.

Work the problem. Work it piece-by-piece.

We don’t expect our teachers to teach everything at once. We don’t expect our students to learn everything at once. We cannot solve each issue our schools face all at once.

But if we don’t start with the first step, we’ll never solve anything.

And if we try to jump to the last step, we’ll likely solve even less.

EduQuote of the Week: August 22 – 28, 2016

The best thing about being a teacher is that it matters. The hardest thing about being a teacher is that it matters every day.

Todd Whittaker

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Teach & Serve II, No. 2 – Playlist 2016-2017

Teach & Serve II, No. 2 – Playlist 2016-2017

August 17, 2016

As I don’t work in school settings anymore, I have adapted some of these rituals. I still rearrange my offices – if only the memorabilia on the walls and shelves. I still move the furniture. And I still put together the playlist.

Playlist.PNGI worked in high schools for over 20 years and I loved the fall. I loved returning to the rituals I’d left behind in May and I sank comfortably back into them I loved gearing up for back to school, cleaning the classroom, writing lesson plans, preparing for the year.

I remember being in various classrooms or sundry offices decorating the walls and moving desks and furniture around, trying to visually symbolize the beginning of something new and fresh. I would come to school with a CD player or I would take one from the library. Please, don’t tell on me. I don’t know what the statute of limitations is on procuring devices from the library without signing for them.

The music to which I would listen was, years and years back, whatever album had most struck me in the prior summer. Later, when I could burn CDs, I would make a Back-to-School Playlist. Still later, I would program what I wanted on my iPhone, grab some speakers (again, from the library), set them to 11 and get to work. And, though I doubt that any of the new teachers with whom I worked when I was an assistant principal remember, I carried over that musical tradition to training programs and I would play my favorite back to school tracks in transition times during our meetings.

As I don’t work in school settings anymore, I have adapted some of these rituals. I still rearrange my offices – if only the memorabilia on the walls and shelves. I still move the furniture. And I still put together the playlist.

In Teach & Serve Volume I last year, I wrote about #OneSong, stealing the idea from my good friend and esteemed educator Sean Gaillard. The playlist is more than one song… it’s a concept album for an entire school year.

How do songs make my playlist? They land there for one of two reasons.

First, I like how they make me feel. In the fall as the year begins, I am searching for energy, excitement and enthusiasm. You won’t find too many ballads on the playlist, but you may find some instrumentals.

Second, the lyrics resonate with me, move me, inspire me and send me a message.

I listen to the playlist all year, adding to it, deleting from, adapting it like any good teacher should do.

Here’s this year’s edition (at this point):

  • My Old School – Steely Dan
    • I like the idea of getting back to where we’ve been and though the actual point of the song may not wholly positive, I resonate with the phrase “my old school.”
  • Carry On – Crosby, Stills and Nash
    • Soaring harmonies, a surprisingly upbeat pace and a great message. Carry on, teachers! Carry! On!
  • Classical Gas – Mason Williams
    • Is there a better, more uplifting pop guitar piece?
  • Someday We’ll Know – New Radicals
    • Teaching is such a hopeful profession. Someday we’ll know if we made a difference (spoiler alert: you make a difference!)
  • To Sir, with Love – Lulu
    • A classic, must have for every teacher.
  • Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is? – Chicago
    • At the beginning of the year, does anybody care?
  • Everyday Is a Winding Road – Sheryl Crow
    • Good anthem to think of the long view of the school year
  • Masterblaster – Stevie Wonder
    • Sometimes, you just want to have fun as the year begins.
  • Shake It Off – Taylor Swift
    • This is an obvious choice, yes? The chorus is a rousing mantra when we let ourselves take things too seriously
  • It Keeps You Running – The Doobie Brothers
    • It sure does.
  • Teacher, Teacher – 38 Special
    • Another classic that actually asks the right question: “Can you teach me?”
  • Paradise – Coldplay
    • We’re shooting for something like this, right?

The list will grow and contract and change with my moods during the 2016-2017 campaign and that’s good. We shouldn’t be too static in our approach to our work. We should rock it!

What are you listening to this fall?

EduQuote of the Week: August 15 – 21, 2016

Education breeds confidence. Confidence breeds hope. Hope breeds peace.

Confucius

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Teach & Serve II, No. 1 – Teach Boldly

Teach & Serve II, No. 1 – Teach Boldly

August 10, 2016

…you have the opportunity, the responsibility to do more and be more. You can animate. You can inspire. You can engage.

The beginning of the beginning is ramping up in schools all over the country. If you’re reading this, you’re likely a teacher or administrator knee deep in preparation, cross checking lists of all that needs doing in these opening days and preparing for these early moments of 2016-2017 as best you can.

May I please make a suggestion? No matter what you do in these initial days, no matter the pressure you feel, the demands you take on, the time crunch you suffer, no matter what you do in these days, do it with as much positivity as you can. Go about your work with energy. Greet students and colleagues and families with smiles. Celebrate the beginning of the year. Be bold in your embrace of all the possibilities it brings.

BoldLet boldness be your home base this year.

Teach boldly. Administrate boldly. Coach and direct boldly.

Let that be your rallying cry: teach boldly.

Students respond to boldness. Colleagues are searching for it. We hear that schools should inspire. They should challenge. They should dare. How do these things happen if we ourselves are not bold in our individual rooms and days and works?

Shouldn’t we want to be bold? Wouldn’t we rather be bold than be… well, what’s the alternative? Timid? Reticent? Fearful?

Those aren’t the descriptors for which our work in education calls. None of them are even close.

Be Bold. Be resolute. Be heroic.

Teachers, your students want to be engaged. Inspire them. Be bold.

Your colleagues want to hear what you have to say. Engage them. Be bold.

Administrators, your staffs want to be led. Animate them. Be bold.

Make this year a year for boldness, for courage, for fearlessness.

Your students, colleagues and staffs need this from you. They hurry from class-to-class, assignment-to-assignment, meeting-to-meeting and running that gauntlet is both daunting and draining. When they come to you, when it’s your class, your assignment, your meeting, you can give them what they’ve come to expect, most often a kind of dull proficiency. You can give them reserved professionalism. You can give them cautious platitudes. They won’t be shocked if you do. They’ve seen this before; they know how to respond.

But you have the opportunity, the responsibility to do more and be more. You can animate. You can inspire. You can engage. While they may not know it, your students, colleagues and staffs are thirsting for this. They are thirsty for boldness.

Teach boldly. At the end of the day – at that end of the year – teaching boldly may be the only kind of teaching that truly matters.

Best Teachers in Fiction: 5 – 1

School is (or is just about to be) back in session all across the country. As things are gearing up for the 2016-2017 school year, and in anticipation of rolling out this new blog, Teach Boldly presents THE FIFTEEN BEST TEACHERS IN FICTION.


The Best Teachers in Fiction (5 – 1)

No. 5: Professor Charles Xavier

“Professor X” as his students call him became a teacher out of a sense of duty: he wanted to help others like him. He wanted to teach others to live full and happy lives despite whatever personal limitations they might feel they have. He wanted to teach that all people are beautiful and worthy of respect. He wanted to spread love. Crazy stuff from a comic book character but it makes sense when one considers that the character has been said to be modeled on Martin Luther King, jr.

Professor X

No. 4: Professor Robert Langdon

Professor Langdon challenges norms and the status quo as good teachers should. Engaging and a lecturer and brilliant as a writer, Langdon travels the world to research his subjects and is willing to put himself at the center of controversy to make his points. Dedicated to uncovering the truth at all costs, Langdon is an example of dogged pursuit in academia.

Langdon

 

No. 3: Doctor Henry Jones, jr

Does anyone on this list make education more exciting than Doctor Jones? Armed with vast experience, his practical, real world application of his subject matter, his dislike of reptiles, his ability to survive every calamity (including nuclear explosions and Shia LaBeouf), and his ability to use knowledge to battle evil makes him a lock for the top five on this list.

Indiana Jones Teaching

 

No. 2: Jane Eyre

Passionate, committed and caring, Jane Eyre is a wonderful teacher. She believes in the power of education, knows that being disciplined and expecting discipline from her students is critical and embraces the idea that love conquers all. She teaches by example, has a stalwart moral compass and educates all around her – adults as well as children.

jane-eyre

No. 1: Mr. Glenn Holland

Glenn Holland surprised even himself when he discovered his calling was a life in education and discovered, as many of the best teachers do, that no matter the subject – in his case music – teaching is about challenging students to learn so they can live better and fuller lives. Mr. Holland consistently makes good choices even in the face of temptation, reaches out to those in need, inspiring his students and, eventually, finds his compass doing so. He is certainly one of mine.

Mr. Holland

Best Teachers in Fiction: 10 – 6

School is (or is just about to be) back in session all across the country. As things are gearing up for the 2016-2017 school year, and in anticipation of rolling out this new blog, Teach Boldly presents THE FIFTEEN BEST TEACHERS IN FICTION.


The Best Teachers in Fiction (10 – 6)

No. 10: Ralph Hanley

Mr. Hanley managed to keep his students out of trouble while saving the world as the Greatest American Hero (how has this property gone without a reboot?). Mr. Hanley balanced the life of a superhero, boyfriend and teacher, seemingly like he was walking on air. His most important lesson was that his understanding that one person can make a difference … believe it or not, it’s just him.

You know you want to hear it… click HERE for the Mike Post theme song!

Oh, and a quick bit of trivia… Ralph Hanley’s name was originally Ralph Hinkley, but that surname was changed after the attempt on President Reagan’s life by John Hinkley, jr.

Ralph Hanley

 

No. 9: Ben Kenobi

Speaking to his students Anakin and Luke Skywalker with nuggets of wisdom so compelling and thought provoking, we can ignore the fact (can’t we?) that his first student went on to almost destroy hope and freedom in the galaxy.  Connected to an inspirational greater power, he inspired his students to discover truth, and also had the ability to do and not just teach – take that, haters!

Ben and Luke

 

No. 8: Gabe Kotter

Thomas Wolfe said “you can’t go home again, but former Sweathog, Gabriel Kotter broke the rules when he returned to his alma mater to teach. As someone whose career followed a similar path, I find in Mr. Kott-air’s dedication to his work fruit for the journey of being an educator. Never one to back down from a challenging situation (such as 1970s television would allow to be broadcast), Mr. Kotter endeared himself to his students and to American TV viewers.

Mr. Kotter

 

 

 

No. 7: Ms. Norbury

is there another teacher in fiction who can match Ms. Norbury’s sweet sarcasm? The best of a crop of questionable educators, Ms.Norbury spins her love of a well-turned phrase into timely advice for her most troubled students. She has self identified “pusher-ness” – she pushes people – and she knows (at least she thinks she knows) when to use it. She also has an incredible likeness to Liz Lemon. Anyone else notice that?

Ms. Norbury

 

No. 6: Professor Ross Gellher

Ross Gellher has undying commitment to his subject matter and while his desire to educate all around him, no matter how much they don’t want to learn, can annoy his… er… friends, his enthusiasm in all circumstances, never-say-die attitude (he gets fired from positions and keeps coming back), thumbing his nose at rules by dating his students all mean we should never forget that… he’ll be there for you.

Ross Gellher