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Posted by on in School Culture


My partner and I once went to counseling to resolve a conflict that was tearing our working relationship and friendship apart.   In the process, I learned that I have a serious problem with letting people know that I have heard and understood their point of view. I’ve been working on fixing that character flaw for 20 years, and producing education talk radio is the perfect therapy.

I’ve now spent a decade listening to educators speak about what matters most.  I’ve sat silently as teachers, principals, superintendents, professors, parents, and advocates voice their thoughts and opinions on myriad education topics from homework and teacher assessment to growth mindset, metacognition, innovation, creativity, risk-taking and leadership. Those voices have been thoughtful, articulate, passionate, compelling and committed to doing what’s in the best interest of kids. 

Personal blogs, a zillion Twitter chats, and a bazillion hashtags have amplified those voices and spread the ideas that educators value most around the world. Every week teachers now connect online and delight in their newfound power to get their discussions to trend on Twitter -- or better yet go viral.

It was unthinkable a decade ago, but we now live in a world where every educator’s voice can be heard.

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Posted by on in School Culture


When people talk about childhood idols and heroes, I always say David Copperfield.  No, not the character from Dickens.  The other character:

image credit: vegas.com

If you don’t know of the man above, David Copperfield is an international illusionist who has performed all over the world.  He did a series of specials in the 80’s and 90’s on television and currently performs daily in Las Vegas.

David Copperfield wasn’t just simple magic. There was spectacle; there were music and lights; there was a story; there was the attractive girl; there was the impossible becoming possible in a few minutes.  Illusions were almost performed like MTV music videos.  I was obsessed.

My love for illusions and magic was instantaneous. There was a magic shop in town that I was stopping in every day after school to either learn a trick or save up lunch money (sorry Mom) and buy a new trick each week.  At one point, I had a duffle bag full of all sorts of tricks.

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Posted by on in School Culture
Like many jobs in the world, particularly those that deal with humans, teaching requires focus on both forests and trees.

A teacher faces questions like these in the classroom:

What body of information do I need to convey to my students in a deep and integrated manner that best fits their pedagogical requirements and will most help them take their place as fully-actualized adults in the world?

What instructional techniques can best be used with this particular set of content-based objectives that also blend with and respect the cultural and personal backgrounds of my students while maintaining a whole child approach that helps achieve my global objectives?

But these questions are also part of the classroom world:

What's the most efficient way to get these test papers passed back?

Do I have enough copies of this worksheet?

Can I get Chris to stop jabbing Pat with a pencil?

You can't have one without the other. Focusing on the broad and deep concerns of education is like loving someone deeply and fully and never doing anything about it but sitting in your room and writing angsty poems. A broad vision without an action plan gets nothing done, achieves nothing for the students. But focus too intently on the nuts and bolts and you end up with a technician who completes tasks efficiently, even though the tasks have no real useful purpose behind them. You need a vision of how to get through the next year, and a plan for how to get through the next forty minutes.

Educational amateurs and neophytes often suffer from this balance problem. Beginning teachers may enter the classroom with Big Dreams about Touching the Future and Shaping Young Minds, but with no idea of how to get twenty-five teenagers to keep watching while the teacher writes on the board (chalk, white or smart). I've also seen new teachers arrive with stacks of unit plans and worksheets, ready to deploy them while moving briskly through the textbook, but with no idea of why they're doing any of it except that it's their idea of what teachers do. Each creates their own problems-- one leads to students who ask "What the heck are we doing?" while the other prompts students to ask "Why the heck are we doing this?" And the teacher has no answer, and the class sinks further and further into the weeds.

The educational amateurs who push the reformy agenda have similar issues.

On the one hand we have visionaries who offer broad vague ideas, like we will lift up teachers so that they will raise expectations of students, who will rise and succeed, emerging from school well-educated and primed to succeed while also closing the achievement gap. All of which is pretty, but completely avoids the question of how, exactly, this will work. You are face to face in a classroom with a student who doesn't understand what the first paragraph of "Call of the Wild" says-- exactly how will you Higher Expect him into understanding. And you're doing it in a room with thirty other students, some of which haven't eaten in twenty-four hours, and the walls in the room are crumbling, and you don't have enough copies of the book, so you're looking at a projection of it on the stained and peeling wall in a neighborhood historically riven by all the stress that comes with being on the wrong side of poverty and systemic racism. What exactly will you do in the next fifteen minutes? Visionaries don't have an answer. They just want you to keep your eyes on those higher expectations and big dreams etc etc etc. and when anyone brings up the "How do we spend the next forty minutes" question, visionaries level the accusation that folks lack vision and keep making excuses.

On the other hand, we have the technicians. These reformsters are excited because technology answers all the questions about how to manage tests and practice and worksheets and all the record-keeping. They know exactly what you're going to do for the next forty minutes-- have students log on to their program and pull up the next module of materials that have been selected by the AI and answer questions as the software process those answers so that you can see the data crunched on the monitor on your desk. Technicians are so excited about the efficiency and elegance of this system that they forget to ask if any of it actually is a good way to serve the educational needs of the students. They are so excited about the pipeline they've built that they never stop to consider that the solid, unyielding shape of that pipeline completely dictates what can pass through that pipeline, allowing curricular and pedagogical decisions to simply happen as a side-effect of the technical delivery system.

Visionaries build gorgeous golden imaginary productions without any means of transporting them into the world. Technicians build efficient systems for delivering things that don't do anyone any good.

Teaming them up is not enough. They will fight. They will argue, and they will ultimately produce something that includes the worst of both worlds.

No, an actual teacher has to have both a vision and an understanding of how to make it real. A teacher must always balance a broad, deep view, and a detailed, granular one. A teacher must see forests and trees, as well as leaves and bark and full-scale ecosystems. When we tell reformsters that they should talk to actual classroom teachers, it's invariably a reaction to their lack of a full scale of sight, their childlike belief that if you just concentrate really hard on the forest, the trees will take care of themselves-- or vice versa.

Teaching is by no means the only profession where this sort of many-scales issue exists. In most professions, part of the training and the wisdom of experience is based on learning to see forests and trees and how they fit together. But in every other profession, it is widely understood that it takes a professional to see All That. It is in teaching that powerful amateurs continue to believe that since they once camped in a forest or they have this one tree they know really well, that makes them knowledgeable to act like a professional educator (and in some cases, qualified to wave a giant chainsaw around with abandon).

Like any metaphor, this one this limitations, and not everyone fits inside. But we'll wait for another day to discuss the people who want to clear cut the forest and replace the trees with condos.

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Posted by on in School Culture

door knocker

As the principal at a rural high school several years ago I often wrestled with the notion of partnering with parents at this level. How could I engage families? So many freshmen entered without a clue as to how to be successful. Most of my parents did not have an understanding of how involved to be at this level. I embarked on a radical adventure to try and bridge this gap. I decided to do a home visit to every one of their homes the summer before they began high school. This out of the box idea became one of the most powerful acts I have ever done as an educator.

My bilingual secretary and I visited 88 homes that summer. We mapped out the visits in neighborhoods and armed with information about credits, Powerschool, dual credit options, graduation requirements and extra-curricular opportunities we hit the road. Some families were suspicious as to why I would feel the need to visit their homes but the majority of them were so appreciative. More often than not the entire family would be present, all dressed in their finest with delicious food to serve my secretary and me.

 The visits would begin with me asking the question,"What are your dreams for your child's education? " The answer to this question would set the course for the rest of the conversation. We showed the parents how to check their children’s grades online, and we discussed ways that they could support their children’s education. We talked about educational goals and developed a plan for each child as to how to achieve them. All parents now had an educational partner in which to call with any questions. This initial meeting with each family was so positive that it made any subsequent calls that required a disciplinary tone so much easier to make. The incoming freshmen began  a step ahead of any former group of students. Attendance levels went up, discipline issue went down.

I changed jobs after that year but I kept tabs on this group of freshmen. They graduated in 2015. Guess who they invited to be their keynote speaker? Yes, I was honored to deliver the graduation speech for a group that became so very special to me as a result of a summer spent in their homes. Reaching out to make the initial connection paid off in a big way for this group of students. Home visits are not just for preschool, they are highly impactful at the secondary level as well.

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Posted by on in School Culture

It's been one week since I said good-bye to the staff and students of Brookfield Elementary School. It's been one week since I started as a science teacher and department head at Camden's Promise Middle School, which is a part of Camden's Charter School Network. I know that nothing will ever be able to replace the experiences, staff, and students of my previous school and they will always hold a special place in my heart. With that being said, I could not be happier with my decision to move to the Camden's Charter School Network! 

If I had to sum up my new school organization in one word, it would be progressive. I have spoken with a lot of colleagues in my professional learning network about our mission and practices. The most popular word that these educational professionals use to describe my current situation is progressive. If you have followed my educational career, you know that I have been in charter schools, regular public schools, and private schools, but nothing seemingly compares to this. Ready to learn why?

  1. Useful, well-paced, & timely PD - All new staff members started last Monday. We learned about our mission, the plan for achieving the mission, the history of the program, and what makes us unique. We also had ample time to learn about the different tech initiatives and all the necessary job requirements in a way that was not rushed. We received instruction in all the specifics before the returning staff came on Thursday. Our kids return on 8/29, which means 10 days of PD for new staff and 7 days for returning staff. How many schools offer staff those kind of developmental opportunities? None that I have ever been a part of...
  2. Experienced veteran staff - I have worked in charter schools before and have always seen a high amount of staff turnover. There are a lot of factors that contributed to this issue, but Camden's Charter School Network boasts a significant part of their staff that have been there for years. When I met with returning staff, it was immediately clear why this is a reality for our schools. Staff believes in the mission and want to help change the lives of our students. Did I mention that there are many teachers and staff who were once students in our schools? Talk about enacting generational change and reinforcing a mission!
  3. Progressive goals - On our first day of full staff professional development, we talked a lot about our mission and goals as well as our focus for this upcoming school year, trauma-based education. To begin this discussion, all staff gathered in our high school gym to watch the film Paper Tigers. The movie focuses on the lives of several students in an alternative high school setting, their adverse childhood experiences (ACEs), and what the school staff did to work with them. We followed the movie up on Friday with round-table discussions with our grade-level staff, a development session about working with students with traumatic experiences, and a panel conversation with former students, parents, and staff. This really set the tone for the school year by ensuring that all staff were aware of what our goals are and what we are up against.b2ap3_thumbnail_Paper-Tigers-Movie.jpg
  4. True innovation - We pride ourselves on being innovative in what we do for the students of Camden and it is evident in everything that we do. First, we are a 1:1 Chromebook school for grades 6-12. The best part about this is that these students get to take their devices home! How awesome is that?! There is 1:1 technology throughout the K-12 schools as well, with various iPad and Chromebook carts. Second, we are moving our schools in a STEAM direction at all grade levels. In my experiences, this is unprecedented! We have a partnership with Adventure Aquarium that allows our students to develop and create underwater robotics. I am extremely excited to work within this program and all staff will actually be visiting the aquarium this week to learn more about how this magnet partnership is developing. Our schools also have two swimming pools that we are planning on using to teach all students how to swim. It is no secret that students in urban areas are not often given that opportunity and we want to use our facilities to help teach necessary life-saving skills to our population.

Can you see why I am so excited yet? I have spoken with many educators last week, both new and returning staff, and I can see the same thing in all of them. There is a genuine desire to help an underrepresented group of students in a city that has been largely overlooked by public education. Camden's Charter School Network has been at this since 1998 and they have found new and innovative ways to support their children ever since.

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