Thursday, December 18, 2014

A Few Thoughts



I thought about this one today as I wrote college recommendation letters for students. I guess I'm not a part of the real world, since whether I complete and submit the letter for my students by the deadline actually does matter. Sometimes in life, a single mistake actually has life altering consequences not only for ourselves, but others.

I think it's pretty "pompous" to act like this issue is black and white and to paint teachers that require deadlines as uncaring or idiotically out of touch with reality. The fact is, we must balance accountability with understanding. How about giving us support in that instead of attacking from the outside.

2. Homework


This one has popped up in my newsfeed on several platforms lately. In my Psychology class I teach students to recognize that usually the phrase "research shows" is a power statement that people use to bolster a weak argument or to hide a lack of substance. Too often, research is cherry-picked to support our preconceived beliefs rather than used effectively to shape our practices. The research on homework is inconclusive and it would be foolish to strongly argue either side without enough humility to acknowledge you may be wrong. In the absence of a unified set of data to inform universal attitudes toward homework administrators, teachers, students, and parents must work together to discover what is best in a particular context.

3. An attempt to induce a little Cognitive Dissonance

No picture for this one, but it strikes me that sometimes the same voices that unilaterally dismiss the value of homework and deadlines love the way technology allows us to "extend the learning" beyond the school day. When did we go from thinking that a teacher lecturing in the classroom was bad instruction to thinking that a teacher lecturing to a student at home via video was great? And if spending a few hours reading and responding is an unreasonable burden for some students at home, how is spending a few hours watching a video and responding somehow manageable? I don't have a major problem with this type of "flipping", but when the same people who've bemoaned the burden of homework on students suddenly love the idea of technology providing the chance to keep students learning 24/7, I think you can't have it both ways.

4. Twitter and education.

Twitter has helped me grow as an educator in the last two years more than any other professional development in my career. If you're not using it, I won't say you must, but you really should give it a try and not be dismissive.

But I would like to let administrators know something. Sometimes your tweets sound dismissive and condescending toward teachers. They are hurtful and damage your credibility with people you work with. Most of them probably earn you credibility with your fellow admins and promote your attempt to build a larger platform. I suggest that first, you run your ideas by your staff and think them through in the depth and detail that our students deserve, and then, if your thought or idea is both valuable, practical, and novel tweet it out. It's easy to make people think you're a progressive educator 140 characters at a time, but make sure you're serving your primary audience- students, teachers, and parents in your own school- before you think you can make a difference in the world.

5. Twenty-First Century education.

Just throwing it out there, but I don't see many classrooms anymore that look like they came out of the 1950's. But what hasn't changed since the 1950's? Organizational structures of education oriented in a vertical hierarchy. We know that integrating technology without addressing pedagogy doesn't change much. Can we apply 21st century learning in a classroom embedded in the leadership structure of the 20th century?

6. Word/Phrase of the Year

Here I'd like to offer my suggestion for the Phrase of 2014 that should be put to rest. Drumroll....

"What's best for the student"

It's not the idea I want to retire, but the wording or anything like it. This phrase shuts down any productive dialogue in education. Perhaps some devious types actually got into the business or stay in the business because they want to make a buck at the expense of the most vulnerable of our species, but if I think that is true of another person I can't respect anything they do or suggest. When someone thinks that about me, I am offended and realize that my ideas or suggestions are not respected (because they shouldn't be if it's true).

Whether it's Arne Duncan or the teacher next door to me we must assume that our motivation is to do what is best and most appropriate children in our schools. Only from that posture will we stand on level ground able to learn from one another and through our conflict and compromise find the best path toward serving our children to the best of our ability.

7. Final thoughts.

I feel like Ferris Bueller at the end of the movie. "Why are you still here? Go home." If you made it this far, thanks for reading. The Teaching Underground has been rather quiet for some time. Personally, I started to feel like we were saying the same thing over and over. Also, we took some of our own advice if you look at #4. The first priorities are the students in front of us every day, our own families at home, and the people we work with. It's gotten harder to attend to those priorities and consistently blog as we have in the past.

We're not dead, just a little quieter than before. But we do wish everyone a safe and happy holiday season and thanks for taking the time to care enough to read what we write.