Wednesday, December 09, 2020

Good teachers; bad teachers

 Rarely is there a good teacher or a bad teacher, instead there's a great mix of educators who are generally great teachers for some and not-so-great teachers for others. No educator has all gifts and can speak to all students, but there is rarely an educator who does not significantly impact the lives of some of their students. This is why it is important for school communities to include a diverse array of educators, and to recognize, value, and support the great diversity of skills, strengths, and impact they bring to the school community. 

This morning I received a letter of gratitude from a former student. As part of their high school wellness program, students are asked to write a letter of gratitude to a teacher who has impacted them. I LOVED getting the letter, and what I loved even more were that the qualities the student identified as positive, qualities that well-matched my overall pursuits in education. What I truly believed in impacted this young girl in significant ways. That made me happy.

Too often, people try to choose the best educator when, in truth, it is better to acknowledge the great diversity in teaching teams that make their programs spot-on when it comes to serving the variety of needs, interests, and potenteial in the school community's children and families. Most teachers are good teachers, and that good is exhibited in multiple, different, and meaningful ways. The key is to figure out who you are as an educator, and to hone those talents, skills, and perspectives. It's best that every educator work to be the best of who they can be, and in that way, they will impact students in significant, life-enriching ways. 

Tuesday, November 03, 2020

Inspire students to create a composition studio

 As I wrote about my writing journey today, I recognized the need to update my composition studio. And as that thought filled my mind, I realized how important it is for writing teachers to help students create a modern day composition studio both in real time and online. What does this studio include, and why is this important? 

To compose is a journey

As all composers know, it is a journey to write, make film, craft musical scores, and publish podcasts. You get better over time, and it is the rich repertoire of work you do that informs later work. That is why it is integral to create online and real-time composition spaces that include the work you've done and the tools you use to compose. 

Images

No matter what you compose, whether it be poetry, stories, essays, musical lyrics, podcast interviews, or film, images matter. Images are rich resources of ideas, understanding, and share. Every composer needs a collection of images. For me, I'll start with figuring out how to combine my image collection from my phone and online to create a personal image gallery to use as a rich resource for future compositions. I'll figure out ways to organize that image library too. For writing students, it's a good idea to help them create image files they can refer to as resources for inspiration and content for their compositions. 

Music

Music inspires our creativity in countless ways. Music also helps us tell our stories and express our truth. It is in the best interest of every composer to create and save playlists of vital musical pieces to add richness to the composition work they do. Similarly, with regard to both images and music, is to understand copyright laws and practices. That is something I need to study more. If possible, creating files of your own music and images helps in this regard. Students can be encouraged to record the songs they play and music they create to use in their compositions. 

Words

Both written and spoken words should be stored in readily accessible places. As students compose, they will likely use similar ideas over and over again. They will grow their ideas and better their stories in countless ways. To be able to readily access the words they've spoken and written is a great advantage for any composer. 

Artifacts, Tools, and Creative Spaces

Every composer has a collection of artifacts and tools that support their composition work. They also have preferred creative spaces. Ask students to share their ideas related to this with questions such as:

  • What tools make your compositions better?
  • What artifacts inspire your creativity?
  • What spaces inspire your best creativity?
For me, tools that inspire my compositions and make them better include a great lap top, good head phones, a blogging spot, image files, playlists, movie-making software. Old photos, beautiful flowers, natural scenes, favorite books, wonderful art, and beautiful music. And as for creative space, light is critical for me. Comfort and simplicity matter too. 

Composition Studio

To add all of these elements together is to create both online and real time composition studios. Students may use these studios for invention and innovation too as there is great overlap with composition and creativity of all kinds. 

Beautiful flowers are a source of inspiration for my compositions. 

To truly inspire and teach students to compose well, you have to give them the opportunity to create their own creative studios. You also have to give them time to write, and avenues to share their writing with audiences that matter to them. 

Let your students lead their own composing by answering these questions:
  • What composition genre is your favorite? Is it writing, drawing, music, movie-making, podcasts?
  • What do you most like to think about, create about?
  • What audiences do you prefer creating for? 
  • Why do you compose?
  • What are the ideal objects for your real-time composition studio?  
  • What is your ideal online composition studio like?
  • What do you need to become a better composer? 
  • Where do you best like to compose?
  • Do you create better on your own or with others? What is the right mix of individual time and group time for your ideal compositions?
  • What can I do to help you reach your composition goals?
To teach writing and composition is to immerse students into this craft in organic, meaningful, personal ways, and when you do this you provide students with awesome paths to bright futures. 

Friday, October 23, 2020

What's wrong with schools?

 The pandemic is bringing to light so many of society's problems--areas of life, unsupported over time, are clear to us now as we rely on long held traditions, institutions, and lifeways more than ever for survival. What's wrong with schools is staring us right in the face now during these pandemic days. With this knowledge, what are the next steps?

Teacher voice

Sadly, in too many schools, teacher voice is ignored. This obstructs the good work possible and ignores educator investment, training, ideas and care. I know this issue first hand. In the spring, when the pandemic struck, I did everything I could to create a worthy, successful virtual teaching/learning program with my colleagues. While not perfect, it was very good and almost every student made significant progress. Where children did not make progress, we understood why. As the school year came to a close, I shared the many ideas we put in place as well as the additional needs that existed to make the program even better should the pandemic continue through the summer months and into the fall. Then when that happened and leadership began planning for the fall, they ignored teacher voice and opted to project their own lack of classroom experience and knowledge of what we had done onto the fall plans. They planned an unhealthy, disrepectful, and weak return to school in the fall--their plans not only neglected teacher voice or the good work we did in the spring, but their plans also put teachers' lives in danger--they saw us as their peons, people to manage, direct, and use/abuse, and not as the professionals we are, professionals with years of dedicated service, experience, knowledge, and skill. I knew that I could not return to such a situation--a situation where I would be used/abused and put in harm's way. I retired instead.

School systems that employ management/leadership models that negate educator experience, ideas, knowledge, and skill are on the path to destruction. Educators will not be able to work at their possible capacity in situations like this. Instead they will do what they have to for survival, and little else. The disrespect I noted in so many leaders' decisions, words, and voices were oppressive, inhumane, and frankly, simply not smart when it comes to building a strong, successful school environment. How money, time, and capacity are used and acknowledged in schools needs to be reconsidered with strength--there is too much good potential ignored and misused, and that includes teacher choice and voice. Educators, along with their students and families, should be the centerpiece of school systems everywhere.

Poor leadership models and infrastructure

Throughout my career, I was always dissatisfied with the wasteful organization, money, and time at the leadership level. While educators often didn't even have time to use a bathroom, go to a doctor's appointment, make a call, or take care of a sick family member, leaders had the luxury to do as they pleased with little accountability. Mostly leaders did not know what teachers were doing, and as long as parents didn't complain, they stayed mostly away from schools, teachers, students, and families. These leaders, including some school committee members, would talk about school without the knowledge of what was really happening and without the knowledge about how children learn and the many, awesome tools out there to help educate all children. This was always frustrating. In my opinion, there is a lot of waste in school leadership models--there are too many people distanced from the actual teaching and learning with too much power--these people are often a burden, not a support. How can we make change in this area?

First, it is essential to look at time-on-task for leaders. I believe school leadership models waste a lot of time with issues and efforts that don't matter or do anyone any good. I had coaches who were earning full salaries who had no idea what was happening in the classroom and did not understand the content being taught. These people would send out random ideas every so often that were either too late or too distanced from the curriculum to be of any use. In my opinion, the coaching models in place where I worked were a waste of money. Also, many leaders would simply hire consultants to do the work without any care of whether that consultant work was successful or not. Over my tenure, consultant after consultant was hired to update and better programs, and most of these initiatives were dead ends. The consultant came, shared ideas, and left without much change. There were a few instances where consultants did make good change. Further, there were many leaders who were so high on their positions that they never listened to educators. For example, I took a real interest in technology and used it to help students learn often. Yet the technology leader would never support my work--I had to pay for almost all the technology I used, and whenever I asked for support, all I got was a lot of negative feedback and forms to fill out. The technology department, for the most part, was a hurdle to any good work in that area. I had to do it on my own and with the help of outside consultants and experts who were willing to help. Leadership models in school are often poorly constructed, managed, and utilized--often leaders are without the knowledge they need to make good decisions. This was particularly visible with some of the system's school committee members who were making decisions with a lack of modern information about how learning happens or how schools work--they clearly had an attitude that teachers were dumb and they knew more. I believe, in the long run, they will find that this is working to their detriment if they want to continue to foster a strong school system. 

Neglected school buildings and environments

All over America, businesses have been building incredible campuses while school buildings have been neglected. The richest Americans send their children to gorgeous private schools often located on multi-acre campuses while poor and middle-class students are often relegated to old, crowded buildings with sometimes unsafe and polluted structures, schoolyards and communities. This is horrible. America needs to update their school environments for both in-school and virtual learning so that every child in America has access to an inspiring, workable, safe school environments. There are many creative ways to do this--one is to tax businesses more to support great schools. After all, businesses profit from well educated employees. 

School evolution

Schools and education have to continually evolve. In the past, I was very pleased with what my state, Massachusetts, had done to build a strong school system. In many ways, I've been disappointed with the leadership during the pandemic because I feel that our leadership at the state level has been disrespectful to educators and not broad-thinking about the needs of families, children, educators and schools.

The pandemic has laid bare the lack of support for working parents, children, the environment, teachers, and schools--it's a chance to take a hard look at what exists now and what we want to build for the future. In my opinion, many communities are still operating with outdated ideas about what makes a strong, happy family and school environment. We need to reimagine life in the United States to do better, and as we reimagine, we have to consider the following questions?

  • What can we do to ensure that every child and every family has what they need to be healthy, happy, and strong for themselves and others?
  • What can we do to create greater environmental health in communities, natural lands, homes, schools, and other buildings?
  • How can we connect child/family-care agencies in ways that streamline the accessibility to needed quality health, recreation, nutrition, and other supports?
  • How can we better support children from birth to age six--what can we do to ensure healthy, happy early life experiences. Strong, healthy, happy early life experiences prevent a lot of troubles later on--this is a great investment for any community?
  • How can we support working families more--what can we do to give families adequate leave time to take care of their children, the time/money to build their career knowledge/skill, and time for healthy, happy recreation--the kind of events that build a strong, caring community and culture?
  • How can we ensure that our schools and education systems are evolving with the best new knowledge, progams, and results? What do we need to do? 
While I know that everyone is busy just surviving during this pandemic, we cannot loose the opportunity to see this as a ripe time to analyze what's going on and to work on a better vision for our families, schools, and communities. David Culberhouse has some terrific writing and research which supports efforst like this. 

Tremendous opportunity for positive growth and change

The pandemic found most people unprepared for the changes we're experiencing, yet most people have risen to the challenge and maintained some success during this time. There is a lot more that we can do to use what we've learned to recommit to building strong supports and structures for optimal family life, the environment, education, health care, and communities. It's time to begin reimagining where we want to go and what we want to do. We have to ask the important questions about what matters to us and why that matters--we have to listen to the voices of all stakeholders to make optimal change and growth in the many ways possible. We can do this, and I look forward to working on a process like this in my own, new chapter of life--a chapter which finds me shoring up my capacity to contribute in ways I find both meaningful and productive for my own life and the lives of others. 


Wednesday, October 07, 2020

MIstakes in the Field

 As I right my ship toward new endeavor, I am thinking about some of the errors I made during my 34-year teaching career. There were many successes, but I know it's important to focus on the errors too.

Meeting problems head on, early on

Mainly in the early years of my career and sometimes later on, rather than meeting problems head on, I would discuss those problems with others quietly using conjecture, judgement, and worry. It would have been a lot better to address those issues head on, early on to figure out what to do. Back room conversations, conjecture, and worry lead nowhere, whereas transparent, respectful confrontation and discussion of issues holds great potential. Too often I tried to solve problems on my own as well. Later in my career, I worked more with colleagues and my local union to solve problems collectively--that was better. 

Establish vision and seek incremental change

I often wanted change to happen right away, I didn't consider the strength of incremental change. In hindsight, it's good to establish a great vision, break it down into parts, and then work to achieve each section of the vision. There is great power in incremental change.

Take time out

Dreamers like me get frustrated at times, and when emotions run high, you mostly have to take time out rather than let the emotions loose. Some emotion is okay, but too much obstructs the work you want to do. 

Prioritize

You can't do or be all, prioritize what's most important to you. Focus on that. Chart your progress. Reflect and revise. Seek critique from trusted colleagues and others. 

Take care of yourself

You can't take care of anyone else if you don't take care of yourself. 

Sunday, October 04, 2020

Surviving slumps

 I've known people who had long slumps, slumps that lasted months and years. I ached for those people and tried to help as I could. I just weathered a three-day slump. Fortunately, I was able to give into it knowing that slumps are a natural occurence in everyone's life, and an especially regular situation when your facing pandemic limitations and ramifications. 

What caused the slump?

The slump was caused by a number of physical and environmental factors. There was also an element of procrastination related to completing some needed, undesireable tasks. The more I neglected the tasks, the greater the weight of procrastination came. From 6-22, I was a great procrastinator who put off doing my school work until the last minute all the time. Once I left college and began working, I learned how to avoid procrastination and, for the most part, completed tasks ahead of time. I loved what that change brought to my life. But recently, a few new and not-so-inviting tasks led me back to some deep and unhealthy patterns of procrastination which, in part, led to the slump.

Slumps often reveal hard truths

There's always some truth to be found in a slump. I remember that one friend who experienced a lengthy slump had to face some truths about his family and his own personal limitations that were unpleasant. Once he faced those, he moved out of the slump. For me, I had to face some hard truths about some work that has to be done--work that's quite ordinary as you think about people's lives, but work that is not inviting, but has to be done. The hard truth is that I simply have to do those jobs--there's no way to avoid them. I can do them and I will. That proclamation lifted the dark clouds of the slump, and I'm over it. 

Slumps will happen

Slumps happen in every aspect of life. The key is to figure out why they happen and the truths those slumps reveal. Once you've remedied the situation by taking care of your physical needs and embracing the truths and resulting actions you need to do related to those truths, you're ready to move out of that slump. In general, it's best to give into the slump at first to figure out what that slump means. Of course, if it starts to last too long, you'll need to get some help to move out of the slump. 

Life is rarely a steady stream. There will always be good times and challenging times. As we acknowledge this, we learn to work with it in good ways, ways that help us to live lives we're proud of and lives we enjoy. Onward. 

Teaching during a Pandemic: The Steep Climb

 I am listening to the stories from teachers near and far. They are all involved in a steep ascent right now as they try to navigate a large variety of pandemic-related school scenarios. No two situations are the same. It is a wild west of teaching right now. With this in mind, and as one who has experienced some wild west teaching experiences, I offer the following suggestions.

Be kind to yourself

No one really knows what they are doing right now. Yes, everyone has some good ideas and wonderful real time practices, but the truth is that this pandemic has created uncharted territory leaving everyone, in some ways, to fend for themselves. Don't be too critical, harsh, or tough on yourself. Be kind to yourself.

Know the "Do Not Go There" List

As in all aspects of life, there are actions that are completely wrong and these actions make up the "Do Not Go There" list. When frustrated, unsupported, exhausted, and afraid, it's possible for people to go to places that are not only harmful, but that can be life- or career -ending. Don't go there! Remember, when you're at your wits end, you can take a day off. Stress is a sickness, and too much stress leads us to places we don't want to go. 

In general, in teaching, the Do Not Go There list includes the following:

- Never use impolite language or a loud voice. (I've gone there--I wish I didn't)

- Never use physical force of any kind.

-Always be polite, respectful, and lawful with your actions online and in real time. 

-Work against habits that harm you physically and/or psychologically. 

-When in doubt, seek counsel of trusted colleagues, friends, and family members. 

-Don't make difficult decisions on your own.

-A trip to the restroom while teaching can make the difference between doing the right thing or the wrong thing--take a personal time-out when things get too stressful.

-Never harm a child with words or actions--always treat every child as if they were your own.

Establish a good routine and stick to it

Create a manageable daily routine.

Seek the supports you need

You may need to get a little extra childcare for your own children. You might have to order dinner out. You may have to miss out on a special event, or lessen your bills by making a few household changes. You can't do it all, and when you need support, reach out to find that support. 

It won't be perfect

Many say, perfection is the enemy of good. Strive for good at these difficult times, not perfection.

Prioritize

Choose a few areas that you will do well at, and don't worry about the rest. I suggest you choose areas that will also benefit life and teaching after the pandemic. For example, if you're a reading teacher, focus on finding ways to encourage students to access great books and read them--that's a super and manageable goal. If you're a math teacher, Khan Academy offers excellent resources--learn the tool and use it. The children will learn. For social studies, there are countless great videos you can watch together, discuss, and write about. And for science, you'll never go wrong in K-5 with the exceptional Mystery Science program--it is amazing. Social emotional learning can simply be done by focusing on one news article a day--the news is full of stories that make great learning tools for developing apt social-emotional intelligence. There are countless opportunities to learn--figure out areas that matter to you and your students, get better at teaching those areas so that your students get something valuable at this time. 

Love

You will never go wrong if you are kind and loving to your students. That doesn't mean you won't be challenging or truthful, but you need to be loving at this time in all the ways that you can be. You will never regret that. 

I wish teachers in the field the best at this difficult time. I hope they'll find ways to work together to get the work conditions and fair salaries that they need to do their jobs well. I hope that they will be kind to themsleves and not put too much pressure on themselves.

Due to pandemic health risks, I retired a few years earlier than I expected. I knew this was the right decision for me given the details of my life. From this vantage point, after a 34-year career, I simply want to support all of you from the sidelines, hoping you'll see this for what it is, an unprecedented event. I'm thinking of you and wishing your success and happiness. 

Saturday, September 26, 2020

Automatic

 A friend discussed her teaching schedule with me. It was a good structure to follow. Educators know that the more that all the details of teaching and learning are on automatic, greater depth and personalization are possible. 

The same is true for any aspect of life--the more we have the nuts and bolts of living on automatic, the greater opportunity exists for richer, more meaningful living. 

What elements of living belong on automatic?

  • Chores/Basic Needs: Most of us grew up in homes with some kind of daily schedule that made sure all the needed chores for a clean house, clean clothes, proper nutrition, and good rest occurred. Making a schedule to complete these chores and meet basic needs is positive.
  • Time for Reflection/Decision Making: It's also important to carve out time daily or weekly to reflect, make decisions, and revise as needed. A reflective life is a more fulfilling, positive life.
  • Commitment/Investment in the future: As I mention often, my dad would say repeatedly, "A little for today and a little for tomorrow." You have to make time to work for your positive future in ways that are meaningful. This is the work you do to invest in the dreams you have for your life and the lives of your loved ones. 
  • Relationships, Rest, and Recreations: To avoid becoming a dull person, you need to invest time into relationships, rest and recreation. These areas need to be mainstays of your schedule.
Making a weekly schedule that includes these categories creates a positive pattern for living--the kind of pattern that ensures more happiness which helps to support good living. 

Teachers, Stay Safe!

 I am worried about some of my loved ones who are headed back into the classrooms this week. I am worried for the following reasons:

  1. Loved ones who are teachers have faced increasing illness in poorly ventilated schools over the past few years--these loved ones have had numerous respiratory illnesses when teaching, but not when school is over.
  2. Loved ones who are teachers have to use poorly ventilated restrooms shared by many.
  3. Loved ones who are teachers are working in classrooms with poor ventilation, windows that don't open, and little access to the outdoors.
  4. Loved ones who are teachers are working increasingly with children who are homeless and living in homeless shelters. Homeless shelters tend to have more transience with regard to who lives there and where they are from. This transience matches elements that lead to greater COVID spread.
  5. Loved ones who are teachers are still working with relatively large groups in tight classrooms with children from all kinds of families and all kinds of contact--the potential for virus spread is great in these small, poorly ventilated places for multiple hours a day.
  6. Loved ones who are teachers have to be in classrooms with unmasked students who are eating their lunches.
  7. Many schools are not providing masks or shields for teachers--this puts these teachers at greater risk.
I cannot understand why most schools think their environments are safe for teachers. In some very specific cases there is enough space, ventilation, and just-right numbers and little contact. These places may be safe, but in many, many school systems, I don't believe teachers are safe for in-school teaching. I am worried about my loved ones who teach. 

Wednesday, September 16, 2020

Life lessons from Scrabble

 Scrabble like any contest or sport offers lots of life lessons:

  • The more you play, the better you get
  • You play better when you give the game 100% focus
  • When you doubt yourself or get stressed out, you don't play as well
  • There are many strategies for successful play
  • Pay attention to the opportunities that exist
  • Don't hold on to your valuables for too long--put them to use when you can
  • Don't squander your valuables, use them with intention
  • Overplay leads to less value--there's a just-right amount of play that's positive, and that quotient is different for everyone
  • Doing what you love relaxes you
  • When you do what you love, you meet people with similar mindsets, interests and that brings joy
  • Healthy competition is good for you
  • Have fun, don't take it too seriously

Make a loss a win

 As I listen to news reports about the challenges educators, students, and families face during the pandemic, the only advice I can offer is to make these losses wins in the following ways.

Where do you want to grow?

Think realistically about the current circumstances, and choose a few areas that you can use to grow students' academic foundations and your practice at the same time. For example, simply to inspire students to spend more time finding, reading, and reflecting on awesome books is a win-win during the pandemic. With lives and connections less busy, there is more time for reading or listening to books online. If the whole country could uplift reading, that would be a tremendous win during this pandemic. 

Numeracy

One problem we face in the world is that many cannot correctly interpret data and statistics. This hurts us as a people because it leads to poor choices wth respect to the leaders we choose, the policies we support, and the work we prioritize. Simply using news articles with stats and data is a good way to help students understand numbers better. This can be done from K-12 with articles that relate to students' interest and developmental levels. 

Student relations

Challenge yourself to listen to students, hear what they say, and respond with love and care. Virtual learning, in some ways, gives greater voice to individual students. Educators can develop their child-centered teaching skills and abilities with care at this time. 

Teamwork

Pandemic teaching requires that educators, parents, and students work closely together. This is positive and there is room to elevate this teamwork during COVID-19.

Lifelong learning

Identify the key skills, knowledge, and concepts students need to work on, and demonstrate to students why these skills, knowledge, and concepts are vital for their entire life. Then work with students to strengthen their learning paths in those areas--teach students how to learn, how to be flexible, and how to strengthen these vital elements to good lifelong learning. Let students know that their ability to be flexible, open minded, and hard working during this time will serve them well throughout their lives.

Our losses can ultimately be wins if we take time to see the promise in the problem, and reflect about what we can do at this time to hone our craft, serve our students and selves, and do good work that brings strength and happiness today and into the future. 


Friday, September 11, 2020

Decision Making with Equity in Mind

 Shana White posted a profound tweet this morning. She created a shortlist for people to consider as they work for equity. This is a powerful shortlist that might be used in any situation where you are working to make an organization more equitable, just, and positive. As an educator, I often sat at a table with decision makers, working for greater equity and opportunity. Shana's list would have helped me a lot in this regard. 


I used her list to create questions that might help people in their organizations work for greater success for all stakeholders--these questions can be used when planning programs or other endeavors.

Access

  • Will all stakeholders be able to access this program, event, or opportunity?
  • Which stakeholders may be distanced from this program, event, or opportunity?
  • What can we do to create access for all stakeholders? 
Opportunities
  • What opportunities are needed so that stakeholders are successful in gaining a meaningful, productive, and inspiring experience now and into the future?
  • What opportunities do stakeholders desire or need?
Funding
  • Who profits most with regard to opportunity, access, and experience with regard to current funding?
  • How can we analyze funding with an equity lens? 
Quality Resources
  • Does every stakeholder have access to quality resources?
  • What quality resources are essential for all stakeholders?
  • What resource inequality is at the center of inequity? How can we ensure that all stakeholders have access to quality resources? 
Decision Making Power
  • Whose voices are represented in decisons?
  • Do the voices represented demonstrate some groups more than others?
  • How can we change decision making processes and analysis to represent the voices of all stakeholders?
I can imagine this initial thinking to result in an equity analysis process that organizational leaders and workers use to make sure that their efforts represent all stakeholders in promising, positive ways. I will think more on this in the days ahead. 

Wednesday, September 02, 2020

Why a mandate to teach from school is not okay

 Teachers throughout the country are opposing decrees that they conduct remote learning from their school buildings. I agree that this is a bogus, punitive, childish decree that disempowers and disrespects educators. Why?

Deadly

First of all, teaching from school for some will be deadly. A teacher in Arizona who was teaching remotely from school with her colleagues did die from the coronavirus. She and her colleagues all got sick. School buildings are relatively small for the large numbers of staff and students they serve. Multiple staff members share small teachers' rooms, bathrooms, and other common planning spaces and machines. Also, sadly, many schools are outdated and unhealthy--there's been a lack of funding and investment in many school buildings which make those buildings deadly during a pandemic. This share means educators will be in the midst of each other often, and they'll bring their potential exposure to the virus from the multiple outside-of-school connections they have into the school building. This exposure will threaten educators' lives. 

Better Work

I worked from home last spring. I had the entire basement to myself with a desk, computer, and other teaching/learning tools. I had my own bathroom and kitchen nearby. I wasn't interrupted by multiple staff members stopping in. I could focus well on the work I was doing with students. In many ways, I was able to focus much more from home than I was able to focus from the busy school environment. Further I didn't have to spend time commuting, I ate great lunches, and I didn't have to worry about a number of issues/activities I would typically have to worry about if I had to go into a school building each day. 

Child Care

Issues related to child care are better dealt with when educators are working from home. Some decision makers worry that teachers will spend more time caring for their own children than the children they teach. This is so sad and troubling since this demonstrates decision makers' lack of trust or respect for educators' professionalism. Rather than getting involved with how educators manage their own homes and children, I believe it is important for systems to relay professional expectations for remote learning, let educators know what the expectations are, and then check in to make sure those expectations are met. Plus, when educators are working from home, their children's illnesses don't have to translate into a family sick day--many educators can teach while nursing a child who has a slight illness. Of course, more serious illnesses will require a family sick day. Also when educators are working from home, they themselves do not have to take as many sick days and there's no need for snow days either. There's potentially more consistency with remote learning from home than when educators have to teach from their school buildings. Obviously, educators with young children working from home, will likely have to hire some childcare too so they can teach. 

Choice

Some staff will prefer to work from school. To provide the choice to educators would likely result in just-right, healthy numbers of educators working from classrooms. Typically, when you give educators voice and leadership over their work, the decisions are solid, positive, and enriching for students, families, and the educators too. 

Teacher Leadership

Sadly, the pandemic has resulted in a blow to teacher leadership. So many making decisions and speaking about schools during a pandemic are leaders without classroom teaching experience. The way they discuss schools and their mission/vision related to education are often outdated, self-serving, and negative. To allow educators to lead their profession will result in more positive, effective learning programs that match pandemic limitations, health concerns, and students' amazing potential. 

Childcare

There is confusion over childcare and education. While educators do care for children, their priority is to educate children. I believe that the country should have given every family with children under 12 making $200,000 or less a year a healthy childcare stipend. That stipend could have supported parents who want to stay home, relatives/friends who are willing to offer childcare, or safe childcare centers. This would have taken care of the childcare situation, and then I believe that schools could focus on what it means to teach well during a pandemic by prioritizing consistent, dynamic, healthy programs to promote the best of what children can learn and do in modern, brain-friendly, holistic ways.

Remote Learning

I believe that leadership should have looked for the promise in the pandemic problem. The promise for education was to look for ways to elevate the ability to teach remotely in creative, life-enriching ways. To maximize that promise for the relatively short-time that full-time remote learning will take place, would add capacity to schools into the future. 

Family

Another promise the pandemic problem holds is the promise to uplift families in every community with good supports. Rather than focus on the school as the center of social services, communities could re-look at how they deploy social services such as good medical care, nutrition, quality homes, healthy recreation, safe neighborhoods, and childcare in new and creative ways that build strong communities and elevate responsibilty/ability for families to care for their children in positive ways. 

Sadly, I believe that many school systems and decision makers ignored teacher leadership when it came to decisions for teaching/learning during a pandemic. Had they put educators center stage with regard to these decisions with lots of choice, decisions would have been better and lots of time would not have been wasted. We can do better when it comes to leadership and decision making for top-notch education, and we must if we want to continue to educate children with quality and commitment. 

Thursday, August 13, 2020

Professional disregard

 Throughout my teaching career, I was disappointed that educators did not have greater leadership capacity. Typically when decisions were made for us, those decisions were never as good as decisions made with us. The pandemic has shined an ugly light on professional disregard since in many situations educators have been left out of the discussion and plans for the school year during a pandemic. Many conversations have not only disregarded educators' voices, but the discussions have left out educators' safety too. No matter what kind of commitment you made to schools, students, and systems, what appears to matter most to many decision makers is that you are a body in a room to provide childcare during the pandemic. It is very sad to see the profession face this crisis--the poor leadership of the past has become the destructive leadership of the present. This is a sad reality for educators, students, schools, and communities across the country. 

Ending the teaching career

 I suspect that I'll reflect on this decision throughout the next year at significant school-related times. I still find it difficult to imagine how I could go from 100 to 0 in a matter of days when it came to my investment in classroom teaching. It seems like on a Monday I was 100% all-in for the school year ahead and by Friday, I had decided to end my teaching career. I didn't imagine the end this way--I thought it would be a more gradual change.

Why such a dramatic change in short time?

The Pandemic

There's no denying that the pandemic threat of illness and potential death was the single greatest determinant in this decision. I have too much to look forward to and too much that I want to do to put myself in harm's way at this time. I want to avoid sickness and death as much as possible in the days ahead. 

The pandemic response by decision makers at school also led to my decision. I thought of many ways to teach well during a pandemic, but my voice was hardly considered--I had little to no say in what would happen. That worried me as to return to school with no leadership or say about my work would make my work suffocating and frustrating at best. I could not go back under those circumstances.

34 Years Later

It's also true that I've taught for 34 years. I essentially worked around the clock for most of those 34-years trying to perfect my craft and education programs in ways that helped children become skilled, informed, and inspired lifelong learners. I loved the creativity involved in this work, and I was excited about every moment that a program resulted in student engagement, empowerment, and awesome education. I am happy about my career's efforts and focus. Last year, despite the pandemic, was one of the best teaching years in my career--so much of what I studied and imagined to be an excellent teaching/learning program occurred last year. The year ahead's limitations would prohibit almost everything that I believe connects to awesome teaching and learning--I could not put myself in that position at this time. I would be too frustrated, and I would literally have to work too much to be satisfied with what I could do. I'm sure that if I was a younger teacher, I would have made it work because my family relied on my salary during those years, and I had to work. Now, due to  my age and years of service, I could retire.

Called in a New Direction

I tend to listen to the signs all around me and within me when I make a decision. I do believe that we get signs and nudges from the universe as to where we should travel. I have listened to and heeded those signs throughout my life with no regret. I remember when my husband of 32 years called me from across the country at 5 a.m. one morning long before we were married--I saw that call as a sign. Also early life love of children and enthusiasm about school were the signs that led me to teaching. I tell my children that they were dreams before they were born, and that's true, I dreamed of having children from my earliest days--I always wanted to be a mother. And more specifically, usually all the activities I forwarded in school were inspired from the world around me including the news, nature, science, the teaching community, the children's words and expressions. This decision too has been informed by the world around me including my 90-year-old parents who I desire to spend more time with, my sons who I want to see and support more, my home which I want to update and improve, and the world which I want to contribute to in new and valuable ways.

It's sad to say goodbye to the school community. There's a bit of guilt at jumping ship during this difficult time in school life, but I'm confident that the school I left is in the great hands of talented, creative, and committed educators. Most changes in my life have been more gradual and expected. This is perhaps the first big change that has been more spontaneous and unexpected, but overall, the change is right. I am excited to see what the next steps will bring. 

Tuesday, August 11, 2020

Pandemic school decisions: have no regrets

Everywhere I look, there are discussions about how to do school in the fall of 2020 during a pandemic. My advice is to decide in a way that leaves you with the least amount of regrets.

Personally, since I have underlying health conditions that put me at risk of grave illness or dying, I opted to retire. I also opted to retire because as one colleague noted I could not run a "COVID classroom." I know that good learning does not involve tight rows, little to no contact, and a teacher teaching solely fromt the front of the classroom. 

To me, most of the discussions by decision makers are about warehousing children so their parents can get on with their lives and work. I don't believe that a good education is about warehousing children, but instead a good education is about giving students the experiences, skills, knowledge, and concepts necessary to live good lives and support a free country. 

If I were in charge of the world, my first choice would be safety. Children can make up a year of school, but they can't make up a lost life.

If I were in charge of the world, I would help families to support their children's good living and learning at home with childcare stipends and community supports to make this a reality until we get a vaccine. Work places can help out too by making centers for safe childcare at work to help parents who want to work. 

I would also support schools' ability to foster robust remote learning in sensitive, creative, and positive ways to help families and others continue children's educations in effective ways. Educators are well skilled to do that work, and fortunately the technology exists to allow educators to lead those programs.

Many school systems, communities, and states will not make good decisions. Some will have regrets. With this in mind, families, teachers, and students will have to put their own safety first and do what they can to make as safe as possible a year.

Bottom line, children are natural learners. If a child reads or listens to at least one well-chosen book a week (or one picture book a day), signs onto Khan Academy and does the math exercises at their level, watches good documentaries about social studies topics, explores the natural world outside and via experiments with household items (there are a zillion of these online), socializes with a small pod of friends and family members, and researches and creates creative presentations related to their questions and topics of interest, that child will make substantial gains in learning. 

As I've noted multiple times, the pandemic has laid the inequity and problems of society bare. There are many, many positive ways we can respond to this to make our communities and the nation as a whole stronger. But first, everyone has to look out for their personal safety and the safety of their communities. Everyone should operate so that they have few to no regrets during this relatively short-term problem. You can do this. 

Saturday, August 08, 2020

Frightening changes for schools, educators, and students

The pandemic has laid bare society's inequalities and long neglected organizations and instituations. Sadly, we see this reality in education in multiple ways.

Teachers left out of the narrative

Too many educators have been left out of decision making conversations and choices in significant ways. Instead, many who are not teaching/learning experts, have been leading the narrative for schools in the fall. This is frightening since many of those individuals don't understand learning with a modern lens and real experiences thus too many of the stories I read and hear don't represent what it means to teach well. Instead many narratives are more about warehousing children--this is very sad, but not surprising since the Trump team shows little regard for children in general.

Poor priorities

Instead of focusing on what it means to be healthy and well-educated, most of the priorities focus on how to warehouse children with the fewest number of deaths or grave illnesses. This is a deficit model, not a strengths model for learning. This appears to support the Trump team's will to keep a servant class in the United States--a class that does the service work with few to no supports that helps those people live and rise up in healthy and positive ways.

Private takeover of public education

Privateers are seeing this poor education management as an opportunity to make money. In so many ways, public schools systems are responding to privateers' glitzy, cost-saving messages. These privateers don't represent significant skill or investment in good education, but instead a mediocre-at-best response to systems' needs for remote education, school building/tech quick-fixes, and pass-the-buck-solutions. Too often, public school leaders and decision makers are attracted to the slick marketing, low costs, and empty promises of privateers in education who are out to make a quick buck without any true concern about deep and valuable education. 

Denial of the real issues

As I listen to many decision makers discuss education in the fall, they appear to ignore the science behind this pandemic and they don't take the pandemic risks seriously. They also ignore the social issues that this pandemic lays bare. I wish that decision makers and leaders would look for the promise in the pandemic with the following questions:

  • How can we use this time to uplift families, schools, and community life?
  • How can we build a more scientific savvy society, a society that takes science seriously and reacts responsively?
  • How can we collectively learn from our error during this virus--what did we do wrong and how can we change that now and into the future?
What can we do?

I am worried for our country right now. I am worried because too many leaders are putting their own wealth and privilege ahead of the needs of most people and society in general. Many of these decision makers do not have a strong vision for our country--they can't see beyond their own pleasure and privilege. What can we do? 

First, we have to look for the good leaders and support them in ways that we can. We have to follow their lead with regard to how to stop the spread including wearing masks, washing our hands often, using hand sanitizer, getting tested when needed, and not supporting decisions that elevate the spread and threat. We also have to advocate for decisions that help people--for those who need childcare, I believe we have to provide a stipend to help out. For those who  have been asked to work in dangerous, unhealthy situations, we should provide a safe, financially viable way to avoid those situations. We have to support essential services by providing financial and infrastructure support to make those supports a reality.

Vision?

Our country is suffering right now from a lack of a common vision. We need to come together with some common principals and direction. Too many have lost sight of what it means to live in a free country and the responsibility that's required. In too many ways, we've become a corporate state putting the rights and profits of corporations ahead of human rights and good living. We need leaders that will bring us together with a vision and direction that is right for all, not just a wealthy few. We can do this. 


Tuesday, August 04, 2020

The next teacher

I arrived at school to clean out my classroom. I was greeted by a nice sign, a bottle of wine and a beautiful orchid from the school staff. That was so nice! I was also greeted by a room that was super clean and organized for the next person. That was awesome too. As I went through cabinets and drawers to retrieve a few personal items, I thought back 34 years to when I inherited a fourth grade classroom in the same school. I was greeted with piles and piles of supplies. I held onto those supplies for a year or two, then eventually replaced what was there with new supplies that represented my knowledge and craft. 

Thirty-four years ago, I was very excited to be a teacher. I had a zillion ideas about what I would do, and I began working on what would become a never-ending list of ways to improve my craft and teach better. I chronicled my first year for a professor at Boston University who eventually used my notes for one chapter of his book on first year teachers--it's nice to have that chapter to refer to so many years later.

I am happy to leave my wonderful, clean room, terrific supplies, and wonderful fifth grade team for a new teacher. I suspect that the new teacher will be like I was, thrilled to use her creativity, knowledge, and will to take care of and teach young children. I am just as excited for the students as while a new teacher may not be as seasoned, their enthusiasm and commitment make up for that--I'm sure the new person will bring lots of new ideas and great energy to the job.

Once this COVID-19 threat is passed, I'm sure our school will regain it's terrific spirit and wonderful service to children and families. In the meantime, people will do the best that they can amidst all the limitations and rules. 

As for me, it was cathartic to go in there and put the final touches on the clean-up. Now it's officially time to embark on the next chapter, a chapter that will include greater focus on my immediate and extended family, catch-up with regard to what seems like a zillion house chores that I've put off for a long time, and hopefully a few adventures too--for now adventures that fit pandemic limitations and later adventures that are much more free and exciting. 

For those teachers still in the field, please take care of yourselves. Know that you are not super-human, but you are greatly skilled when it comes to education. Keep top-notch education at the forefront of your professional work, and understand the importance of your positions as nation builders. I'll be rooting and advocating for you from the sidelines. I know how important you are to our nation's children and our nation in general. We need you and we need to treat you with utmost respect and support as you do this important work. Onward. 

Final classroom clean-up

If you read my blog, you know that I retired a few weeks ago. 

With the threat of the pandemic, some underlying risks, and worry about the ability to teach well in the year ahead, I decided that it was time to retire from teaching after 34 years. 

Several parents have reached out to ask me if I would be willing to tutor their children or pods of families. I was honored by their requests, but said no since I'll spend the next year caring for my extended family and catching up on some long overdue goals and tasks. 

Today is my final big teaching task which is to clean up the classroom. I did a good job in the spring organizing and cleaning, and today I'll put the finishing touches on the classroom clean-up. 

What will I do?

First, I'll get rid of a lot of paperwork that would have been useful to me, but not to the teacher that takes over.

Then, I'll retrieve a few personal items and bring those home.

After that I'll sort through the book collection--I'll leave the books that are in good shape, take home a few valued personal books, and recycle old books that children have shown no interest in or that are torn and dirty.

I'll leave most of the supplies as they are--the new teacher can re-organize and decide what he or she would like to keep or not. I'll leave the picnic table I donated and a number of comfy chairs too. 

The fall presents difficult decisions and situations for educators, administrators, school committees, families, and students. Everyone continues to navigate new territory--territory that's risky and somewhat frightening too. I know that the families, administrators, educators, and community members at the school that I'm leaving will continue to do a professional, thoughtful, and skilled job by students.

This is a difficult time to leave schools, but for so many reasons, it is the right choice at the right time for me. Onward. 

Sunday, August 02, 2020

Why jump ship?

At a significant cost, I jumped ship from my teaching career after 34 years. That decision has come with all kinds of emotions, yet there hasn't been a day when I regretted the choice. 

What emotions has this created?

Anger
Certainly there has been some anger. Anger that a pandemic is raging, in part, due to poor, ignorant, self-serving, irresponsible leadership. Anger that no one would listen to me or take my ideas about safe school in the fall seriously? Anger that my tireless, 24-7 successful remote teaching in the spring was ignored for the most part. Anger that my underlying health risks were ignored. Anger that decision makers showed no concern, respect, or support for teachers' good work, investment, and lives. Anger that throughout my career, it has almost always been a battle to be heard.

Guilt
There's an element of guilt that emerges too. I know how to teach well. I am very creative. I can take almost any situation with children and turn it into a positive learning event. And so there is some guilt about jumping ship when I know that I have the skills and abilities to be as asset during a time like this, but self-preservation outweighed guilt. Bottom line, I didn't want to put myself at risk of dying from the pandemic or at risk of not being able to teach well due to poor leadership and poor decision making.

Gratitutde
I could retire. I am grateful for that. I've worked for a long time. I invested money into the state's teachers' retirement system over time. I earned a lot of credentials throughout my tenure as a teacher and I worked very hard. I enjoyed my career. I felt I did a good job overall, and I'm grateful that I can retire at this time and turn my focus to other matters in life, matters that mean a lot to me. 

Excitement
I am excited about the chapters ahead, but that excitement is somewhat dampened by this pandemic since there are so many limitations and a lot of fear. No one wants to get ill, and life as we like it is greatly compromised. Yet, with some short term sacrifice, I hope that I can engage in some imagined explorations and adventures in the days ahead.

Sadness
I'll miss the school team. I enjoyed the creativity involved in collaborating to create great programs for children and to serve children and their families well. We created a good model. We had a successful school. There was a lot of joy and success. I'll miss that. 

Regret
Honestly I have little regret. I always did my best, though at times, there was error and mistakes. Those errors and mistakes, in general, were due to not knowing rather than any planned misdeeds or endeavor. As I taught, I learned a lot. That's both the upside and challenge of teaching well--you're always learning and you're never perfect.

Respect
I have great respect for educators. They truly are nation builders, and I hope that the country will respect and support that profession and those professionals going forward. 

Saturday, August 01, 2020

Your voice is not welcome here

There are times and places in life where your voice is not welcome.

You may advocate and work to gain voice in those places in many ways, but there will eventually come a day when you decide that it's time to leave because if you stay, you will be relegated to work in an environment that does not represent your vision, voice, skill, or knowledge.

I remember a long time ago when I made a move because where I lived did not respect or represent my voice or values. I had to make a change--it was the right thing to do. 

When it is clear that your voice is not welcome, you must try to exert your voice before you leave. Let people know what you think. But, if after attempt after attempt to share your truth and ideas, and you are still ignored, then it is likely time to leave--time to find a new place.

I don't want to go to my grave with the knowledge that I did not stand up to ineffective, disrespectful, and harmful events. I don't want to be part of the problem, but instead I want to be part of the solution. 

That said, I am aware that none of us have the monopoly on what is truthful and good, and we all have to be open minded and ready to listen to others too. We generally arrive at what is right and good when we work together rather than working on our own.

Sometimes it's easier to turn a blind eye to what is right and good. Sometimes it's easier to just go along to get along rather than stand up for what is right and good. In the long run, however, it is worth the energy and time to do what is right, to stand up for what is right and good, that saves a lot of trouble and struggle later on. 



Friday, July 31, 2020

Contributing to a better world

I was excited about teaching in the fall, but when decision makers appeared to create unsafe decisions, I decided to retire. 

Now, as you consider my decision, it's important to recognize the following factors:
  • In the best of circumstances, school decisions at this time are difficult--I know this isn't easy.
  • I tried to offer solutions, but no one appeared to take me seriously--I had no voice.
  • I have one of the CDC risk factors for COVID-19 so I was at risk of illness or even, death.
  • I knew that the fall would be greatly difficult given the fact that I had little voice and the climate appeared to put me at risk.
  • I have taught a long time (34 years) and was in a position where I could retire.
There are a number of aspects of teaching that I will miss including the following:
  • Working with children in dynamic ways to spark curiousity and support meaningful, productie learning quests.
  • Engaging children in learning how to use multiple pathways and tools for dynamic learning
  • Working with colleagues to create awesome programs to inspire, educate, and care for children.
Where will I go in the days ahead? What will I do?

First, I will play catch-up at home. I did put a lot of jobs on hold for a long time while I was working around the clock. It will be good to catch up with a number of household and family chores.

I will also think about the ways that I can use my skills and abilities to support betterment in new ways. I am considering a number of focus areas including the following:
  1. Supporting young families
  2. Supporting struggling students
  3. Working to get the vote out
  4. Contributing to environmental education and Earth-saving activities and advocacy
  5. Working towards a more sustainable lifestyle
  6. Research and writing to support advocacy for better policy in the United States, policies that uplift families, communities, and education in positive, modern ways. 
  7. Supporting educators and educational groups to foster best-possible education practices 
I am rightly sad to be leaving my school community--a place I devoted 34 years to, but I am satisfied that this is the right decision at this time. I'm excited to see where the next steps will take me. If you have any insights or ideas, let me know. 


Digital Identity

I began my digital identity a long time ago--I just jumped in and started exploring lots and lots of tools. I learned a lot by connecting with educators via Twitter and attending countless conferences. I enjoyed this journey and was more tangental than systematic with this exploration hence my digital identity includes all kinds of accounts and projects on multiple sites.

Now that I'm retiring from 24-7 classroom teaching work, I want to think about my digital identify focus with a greater systematic approach--I will have time to pay attention to the details more. What will I do?

Import accounts to new accounts
First, I'll have to import many accounts to my private accounts from my school accounts. That will take some time.

Figure out my direction
I want to think about the digital work I want to do going forward. I know that I want to get better at creating videos, blogging, and creating websites. So I've got some research and study to do.

Writing
I'll create some short books about a number of topics. I haven't decided what I'll do with those books yet, but there's no rush.

I truly enjoy the digital journey--I love to create and communicate with digital tools. I look forward to this creative chapter in life. I welcome your thoughts and ideas. 

Thursday, July 30, 2020

How will you feel at the end?

It may sound strange, but a good way to begin any endeavor is to think about how you hope to feel at the end of that endeavor.

Let's take a day at the beach. You expect to spend a day at the beach, and before you plan what you'll do, you think about how you want to feel when the day is over. For me, I want to feel relaxed and happy. I don't want to feel sore from sunburns, heavy from unhealthy food, or exhausted from too much activity. Then you work backwards and plan the day.

How do you want to feel at the end of your career? I just experienced this with the decision to retire, and I must say, I feel great. I worked hard throughout my career and did my best. I'm leaving this stage with a sense of satisfaction--that's good.

I asked myself this question, a long time ago, with respect to a loved one that was very ill. I thought long and hard about how I wanted to feel when that person died. I did what I could to support that person, and when that person passed away, I was very sad, but also satisfied that I did what I could to support the relationship in positive ways. 

There are times when I have not taken this approach--times when I let emotion, current needs, and a lack of true thought lead my words and actions. These are the times that lead to regret. Getting back to the beach day--there have been beach days that I've ended feeling lethargic from too much junk food, sunburned by not taking the time to apply sunscreen or cover up, and frazzled simply because I didn't take the time to plan or prepare well. 

It may sound crazy, but it's worth the effort to make some time to think about how you want to feel at the end of your life too. Some people even write out imaginary obituaries as a way to think deeply about the life they want to lead. None of us can predict our end or the challenges we'll face throughout our lives, but we can think about how we want it to be and work to live up to that vision as much as possible. While a bit grim, this is a step towards positive living. Onward. 

Deficit vs Capacity Mindset

Too often we meet situations with a deficit mindset noticing what is wrong with a person, place, or situation. We have to train our minds to meet situations with a capacity minset thinking what promise and potential does this person, place, or situation hold. When we change our mindsets from a deficit perspective to a capacity perspective, everything begins to look better. This change is worth the effort. 

Life is not a race

As I listen to multiple individuals discuss the pandemic with relation to school, there is an errant theme that runs through the conversations, and that theme is one that likens life to a road race. When we hear people discuss catching up, gaining momentum, coming out ahead, making the grade, being in the advanced group, and completing expected learning, those words compare learning to a road race with  winners and losers. Honestly, life is not a race. In the end, we all end up in the same place. Life, instead, is a journey with a lot of predictable events and some unpredictable occurances as well.

So what if Americans, changed their education as a race metaphor to an education as good living metaphor--how would that change the way people discussed education during a pandemic.

First of all, I don't think anyone would be thinking about putting young children in robot-like rows or relegated to a computer screen all day. Good living is active, imaginative, engaging, and empowering. Relegated to stationary, passive learning is not good living at all. Good living instead includes active, exploratory adventures such as planting gardens and producing beautiful, tasty, healthy food to enjoy and share with others. 

Next, no one would put children or anyone in situations where there is a grave threat of illness or contagion. Good living is healthy living, and everyone would work for as healthy as possible decisions.

And, the focus would be on the elements of good living including reading great books, writing wonderful letters and stories, investigating thought-provoking questions, inventing, cooking, fixing, making, planting, hiking, and exploring. 

Further the focus would be on elevating every Americans ability to live well with good homes, beautiful safe neighborhoods, wonderful nutritious foods, healthy positive recreation, and empowering educational opportunities.

I'm not sure how the road race metaphor ingrained itself so deeply in society--perhaps it goes all the way back to days when early humans had to outrace dangerous predators or be the first to get the good catch. Times, in my opinion have changed, and it's not about the race anymore, but instead about the wonderful journey that good living holds. 

Tuesday, July 28, 2020

Capacity?


Capacity is one of those words that gets thrown around a lot in education, but what does it really mean when it comes to good teaching, good learning, and good living?

What is capacity and why is it important?

Dictionary definitions point to capacity as how much you can contain and how much you can produce. 

The word, capacity, came to mind today as I recognized that I suddenly had increased capacity to be who I want to be and to give in ways that I want to give. This felt great. Earlier in the summer, my capacity to be that person or to give was greatly dimished. I recognized this powerful shift, and wondered about how we might reflect on this word in order to create shifts in capacity related to containing and producing in ways that uplift and elevate life for ourselves and for others.

Learning capacity
Educators desire that students learn in productive, positive ways. They want their learners to hold on to or contain good information that supports success and good living. How can reflecting on what capacity is help educators to heighten a student's capacity for good learning? What might they do?

Holistic assessment leads to increasing an individual's capacity for successful learning. Thinking about who the child is and what support their good learning and what stands in the way helps us to increase a child's capacity for learning. 

Teaching capacity
When we think about how we develop our capacity to teach well, it's important to think deeply about what enriches that capacity and what depletes that capacity. Before that question, however, you do need to define what good teaching is and what it entails--what do you need to do to teach well. Too often that question is not clearly answered by individuals or educational groups. When the question of what you need to teach well is left blurry, the objective of best possible capacity will be left unfulfilled. 

Specifically, at this time, as educators think about best teaching during a pandemic, it's important to outline what that means including areas to emphasize and areas to leave for the post-pandemic days. For example, to foster a nation of readers is one way we can empower a positive education for all during a pandemic.

Living capacity
What creates our capacity for living good lives? What can we work for so that we increase our ability to contain the energy, vision, and motivation for good living, and then use that capacity to produce actions that reflect good living? What can we do?

As with good teaching, it is important to identify what it means to live a good life. While our definitions will vary a lot, there will be some consistent themes such as good health, a comfortable home, nutritous healthy food, positive relationships, and an overall sense of well being. 

Once we've identified what matters for us, we need to make a list of life factors that contribute to our capacity for good living and life factors that detract from that capacity. Then we have to work towards building our capacity for good living. That will makes us stronger and happier.

Capacity is an awesome concept when you really stop to consider what it means. It takes complex questions and really culls them down to a manageable process and set of steps. 

I look forward to think more on this concept in the days to come. In the meantime, if you have anything to add, please do. 

Education leaders: Make the right choice

A pandemic rages throughout the globe.

How should educational leaders react?

They should make the right choice by putting the safety of students, teachers, and families first.

We are fortunate to live at a time when children can learn at home via technology--the tools exist to teach children every subject in safe, virus-free ways in their homes. This is amazing. During the pandemic, educational institutions everywhere can elevate the frequency and quality of these tools to teach children well. 

How can families support this kind of learning without experience, when they have to work, and if they have multiple children of different ages?

This is a challenge, and I suggest that the nation give every family that makes $200,000 or less with children under 12 a hardy childcare stipend to support their need for childcare during this time. Families can choose to use the stipend to afford to stay home and work with their children or they can hire a familly member or someone else to support their children during this time. That money can be considered an investment in strengthening family life throughout the country. That money will also serve to support women well since women in general take on most childcare and teaching responsibilities. 

What will be the long term gain of a plan like this?

The pandemic has clearly demonstrated that schools have become a catch-all for society's problems and neglect. That fact has challenged schools' abilities to educate because education institutions are not families or parents--educational institutions are centers for dynamic learning and teaching. I believe that we need to either disconnect schools from the many social services they provide, or even better, broaden what we know as school into family heath and education centers. If we do that, we can recognize that communities need food centers, social service centers, and mental/physical health centers that are easily accessible and affordable. These centers would serve all family members including students, and would operate in conjunction with schools, but separate from schools. That means when school closes, students and their family members still have ready access to health care, social services, and nutrition--schools alone should not be the center of all those services, and those services need to serve whole families together--that's the best way to develop strong families, which in turn will result in strong, supported, ready-to-learn students.

Pandemic promise
The pandemic has laid bare the inequities and neglect in society. Clearly many organizations and services for families have not been developed appropriately over time. Thus we see too many families in need of essential health care, nutrition, homes, education, and social services. We can clearly do better by America's families in so many ways, and this pandemic gives us time to focus on these needs in the following ways:
  • Rethink and support dynamic childcare models that represent the BEST supports for healthy children and healthy families. We can do this better--we can do this in ways that create successful, happy, and healthy families.
  • Rethink and support dynamic education institutions that teach children in a large variety of worthy ways that elevate student, teacher, family health and success. 
  • Rethink and support healthy, peaceful, productive communities that include good homes, accessible health care, nutrition, and social services, healthy recreation options, and environmentally positive policies and actions. 
In other words, the promise of this pandemic is to elevate the way we can live in peaceful, healthy, successful ways. We can do this by making sure that our policies, economy, laws, and investments support good living. Let's tackle the inequity that the pandemic has laid bare, and make better. We can do this. 

Monday, July 27, 2020

If I had to do it over again; what would I change

If I had a re-do of my teaching career, there are aspects of my work I would keep the same and aspects I would change. I am writing this mostly for teachers who are new to the profession, but some veteran teachers may gain some good ideas from reading this too. 

What would I change?

Retirement savings
A wise colleague many years ago convinced me to start a 403B account. I did that, and I am very glad that I had some extra savings. My regret is that I didn't put the maximum into that account from the start. You hardly miss the money you put away prior to receiving your paycheck, and it really comes in handy later on. So my advice is that every teacher have a 403B account and that every teacher put the maximum into it. You won't regret that.

Professional learning
I continually invested in all kinds of professional learning throughout my career. That kept the job fresh and rewarding--I was able to employ new research and new ideas regularly which helped me to teach well and helped my students to learn well. My one regret here is that I didn't get all those extra credits under one big umbrella such as a doctorate or a specialist degree--that's what I'd recommend.

Content creation
Over my tenure I created hundreds and maybe even thousands of lessons. I essentially wrote my own mini books to go with each unit and updated those books every year to match my students' needs and interests. I have many, many files that will soon be erased on the school computer. I wish I had created a good infrastructure for all that work on my own computer accounts--the kind of infrastructure that could essentially be easily turned into books to share, or perhaps, even publish. I hate to see most of that work go to waste as it represents substantial research and tried-and-true learning experiences that were successful. I suppose I could cull those hundreds of files, but I simply don't have the energy or motivation to do that now. Plus I suspect I'm headed in a new direction, so that information wouldn't be useful to me in my future roles. So my advice is to create a good infrastructure for all that research, writing, and content creation you do. That's valuable work that can keep on giving after your teaching career. I do have my blogs, however, which I'm happy to have, but unfortunately many of the links will no longer work.

Speak up and work for betterment
I did speak up and work for betterment. I wish I was a little more successful with this, but there were some successes with regard to my will to change school structures and elevate teacher leadership. I will be rooting from the sidelines for teachers to keep up that advocacy in order to make schools more equitable, positive, and successful centers for teaching and learning.

Keep the balance
Like many teachers, I worked around the clock. I gave my heart and soul to my work. I'm proud of that, but my advice is to keep a healthy balance. Do the required work to the best of your ability, but don't give up on your personal needs and interests--that's what makes life meaningful and that makes you a better teacher too. I'm happy that I always put family first, but now in hindsight, I advise not working around the clock, but instead, keeping a good professional commitment that matches the expectations for the job.

Seek help when you need it
Teachers are not superhuman--there will be times when you need help, don't be afraid to seek that help.

Know your contract
Teachers' unions are critical to the profession simply because teachers are very busy and don't have the time to advocate for what they need on their own. We need our unions and we need our contracts. Study your contract, join your local union, and stay active. When all union members are involved, teachers are treated better and enjoy better pay and better working conditions. This is essential to doing your best work by the students and their families.

There are many that will to infantize and belittle teachers. The way they speak about and to teachers is oppressive and negative. It is important for every educator to stand up and advocate for professional respect and support--the job of education is critical to the welfare of the country and world. Educators are important people who need to manage their careers in ways that support themselves and the students and families they serve. 

Retirement: There's an element of anger

I must admit that my retirement includes an element of anger that I have to analyze and put to good work. A long time ago I learned that anger actually creates a lot of energy, and if you forward that anger energy into good work, the anger subsides and you've actually accomplished something worthwhile. That's a win-win. Typically anger at home is best used for house cleaning--I've been able to complete some totally univiting projects when angered.

So what do I do with the anger that accompanies my retirement. I believe it is best used to write about what created that anger so, perhaps, someone will read it and make positive change.

Unheard; Unacknowledged
When COVID-19 struck and schools were closed, I did not listen to state- or system- leadership when they told us not to teach new curriculum and focus only on SEL. I also didn't listen to what exactly they said about what to teach or how to teach. I didn't listen because I didn't believe in what they were saying. I knew that our team had created an awesome teaching/learning infrastructure, and I knew that if we didn't continue the good work we were doing, our students would lose out. I knew our students were ready for new learning and I knew that a lot of what people were telling me to teach, my students had already learned. Too many decision makers were giving directives with a one-size-fits-all mindset, yet we had been teaching with a personalized approach all year. We knew that what's right for one student was not right for another, and when COVID-19 struck, we continued our personalized instructional focus online. We kept the momentum going and included all the typical teaching in virtual ways. It was a successful spring semester.

So when I began to listen to decision makers discuss plans for the fall, I became dismayed. It became clear that few to none noticed or understood what we did. So I wrote a number of letters filled with evidence of the good work we did as well as ideas for the fall. In general, my letters were both misunderstood and ignored. I wasn't surprised because those distanced from classroom life often ignore practioners--they often think of us as follow-the-leader workers and less educated than others. They discount our years of professional learning, multiple degrees, good educations, and experience in favor of their own perspective which often include their own school experiences and the experiences of their children.

As a big fan of teacher leadership and inclusive, holistic, collaborative education models, you can imagine that this posed a huge dilemma for me. Of course I became angry that no one listened or recognized the work my team and I did. I literally worked around the clock all spring to make the learning successful. I knew where we had to improve to make it even better, but no one really cared. And when plans were discussed, I realized more and more that I could not teach in the environments proposed--environments that were unsafe and not child-friendly--artificial environments that were more like warehouses than teaching and learning campuses. So I retired.

Fortunate
Fortunately, I could retire without great hardship. My children are older. I've taught for a long time, and I can afford to retire. I did take a substantial monetary hit, but I felt the money lost was worth the stress, health, and potential saved. I have a long list of pursuits to invest in, and I can begin working on that list now. 

Some of my colleagues are not in the position I am in. Some of my colleagues are afraid. They are afraid of risking their health and lives. They are afraid of what they'll do with and for their own families. They are afraid of the artificial structures they may face in the fall. They are afraid of the lack of leadership and care that exists with regard to their work as professional educators. They are afraid to speak up because they don't want to lose their jobs and their ability to provide for their loved ones. They are afraid because they don't want to subject little children to the harsh, unfriendly environments.

I can speak up for my colleagues. I can lobby and advocate for safe, inclusive, teacher/student-friendly learning during a pandemic. I can write about win-win solutions that don't put lives at risk and still promote positive, child-friendly educations. These kinds of solutions exist, and are the only good solutions for the fall and perhaps the entire year as the country faces this pandemic and works for a healthy solution. 

Anger resolved
This isn't the first time I've been angry as a teacher because I was unacknowledge, ignored, oppressed, and talked down to. Teachers know this is a major problem in the profession. The profession needs to be reimagined and reworked so that the practioners have voice and choice--so that teachers everywhere can use their good educations and love of learning and children to work with conditions for excellence and fair pay. The system I worked in had actually embraced many positive and novel systems of teacher leadership in the past few years. Conditions had improved in multiple ways. In fact, the last three years of my career were the best years of teaching for me since we had a terrific model and I worked with amazing educators. In that regard, I am going out on a high note. I love what did with and for students in those last three years and I loved the plans we had going forward. 

For some reason, though, the pandemic made people forget a lot about what good education means. They also forgot about the expertise teachers bring to the job, and the natural needs and interests of children. In a sense, I think that many decision makers have panicked rather than take a systematic, smart approach to the problem. They're obsessed with the short term situation rather than taking a long-term view. They appear to be quick to squander dollars on short-term, environmentally unsound, and educataionally defunct soultions rather than invest in solutions that have long term gain. This is worrisome. 

I understand that everyone is facing this issue for the first time and they don't know what to do, but everyone needs to take the long view and do what's right looking down the road one year, five years, and ten years. What's right includes the following:
  1. Protect lives with good safe choices and financial support for those in need
  2. Invest in education that is positive and can happen such as daily reading, writing, math practice, and social studies/science project work--this all can be done virtually
  3. Update school campuses while children are learning remotely--take that time to clean up school buildings and make the environments safer and more inviting
  4. Develop educators' ability to teach with technology at this time
  5. Support families' abilities to support their children's education
  6. Advocate for healthy, positive recreation in every community 
  7. Look for ways to provide safe, healthy social experiences for children
There continues to be so many ways to take the long term view of what's best for people in schools and communities during this pandemic. The pandemic has not only taken and injured lives, but it has laid bare society's failings--for too long, society has ignored the needs of everyday people, and a win-win solution at this time is to reimagine the ways we can support schools. health care institutions, communities, and families. That is a positive response to the problems the pandemic holds. 


Back to school?

The back to school decisions for the fall are big, tough decisions, but bottom line--why would you put the lives of many at risk for a relatively short-term problem. Instead, choose safety first.

How can you promote safe, doable decisions for the fall?

Robust, remote education
In general, America's schools are outdated, underfunded, and neglected. This left schools unready for pandemic response. In general, America's classrooms don't have the infrastructure to school children safely during a pandemic. With that knowledge, the only safe response is remote teaching. 

Focus on what you can do
Rather than trying to replicate schools as we know them online, it's better to focus on what you can do well during this time. Some focus areas that should take priority as part of robust remote teaching and learning should be the following:
  • Read, read, read--all students should be required to read on average one or more books a week. Those books may be accessed online, in real time, and via recordings. If all of America's students were reading one or more books a week, all students and our entire country would profit.
  • Most educators should be coaching small groups of children--match qualified educators with small groups of children to forward a daily schedule of reading, writing, math, and social studies/science exploration. Teachers can do this, and children will be inspired.
Give every student in America a quality tech device and WIFI
The nation can do this and should do this.

Provide every family that makes under $200,000 a year and has children 12 and under with a substantial childcare stipend
Our children are our future, as a nation, we should financially support those children and families during this pandemic. Families can choose to use their stipends to stay home, hire a family member or neighbor, or pay for emergency childcare centers.These stipends also have the potential of invigorating family life.

Create emergency childcare centers
Massachusetts successfully created emergency childcare centers in the spring. School systems can merge resources to create these centers to support children who cannot stay at home in safe, supportive ways. 

Create social service centers rather than continue to see school as the social service agency
Create nutrition, health, and mental health support centers in every community to help families get the help they need.

Elevate healthy recreation
Find ways to elevate access to healthy recreation--the kind of recreation that gets people outdoors in healthy, positive ways. 

America's misguided decisions, analysis, and rhetoric related to bringing students back to school during a pandemic lack imagination, focus, and a positive scientific lens on what it means to live during a pandemic. There are win-win solutions for this problem, but these win-win solutions require the investment of all Americans. We can do better and I hope we do.