Data: our reputations – our students – our collective future

testingIn learning environments, particularly schools, where teachers have yet to engage in a conversation about common assessment, that is, participating in a shared instructional environment and reflecting on teaching with colleagues, it is all too common to hear the following statement offered in argument against it:

“It may reflect on me negatively as a teacher if my students do not perform well on a given test.”

This is a true statement.

Like all true statements, though, it deserves some unpacking, and I’ll do that by asking the following questions:

1. If your student doesn’t do well on a test, whose problem is that, really? Is your ability to make a living and function in the culture threatened? In the long run it is clearly to our collective detriment as the social fabric will be weaker, but will next month’s paycheck shrink?

2. Let’s say you can teach circles on a given topic around the teacher in the room across the hall, and your students do better than his/hers on a test as a result. What right do you have to secret mastery in teaching that topic? Do the students in class across the hall have any rights? If it’s a competition (and no doubt teachers become very competitive), who are the actual winners and Hanshin-Awaji_earthquake_1995_Kashiwai-building_001losers?  If you and a friend suffered from the same cancer and your friend’s doctor had the cure, would you feel entitled to the same access to the cure your friend enjoys?

3. Do you have the right to a good reputation just because you show up and have the keys to the room? Does an architect with a cool studio but whose buildings fall down have a right to a good reputation? How about the doctor who judges his own competence based on the bell curve?

4. Do the people who sign your paycheck and the kids whose futures you hold in your hands have the right to expect that some evidence exists, somewhere, indicating you know what you’re doing?

5. Should each student expect you to figure out how best to educate them, or should every 15-year-old already know the best way to learn whatever you choose to offer up? (I said 15 because my own 15-yr-old just left the room).

Staff_meetingSo the above is all very negative, but do grant that the phrase in question has the word “negatively” actually in it.

What teachers discover when the competition no longer makes any sense, when they start to share the best practices available to get the job done for students, that they begin to grow again, and that teaching returns to the joyful, vital, hopeful profession they thought they entered in the first place.

Teachers, students, the world, deserve no less.


Hero Teacher Burnout



In her usual brilliant style, Bianca Hewes once again brings us deep insight into the kind of reform so desperately needed in education.

If you are an “agent of change” in your school site, you must read her latest post, Why I don’t want to be a hero teacher, and maybe you shouldn’t either.

And like so many things she writes, the article popped an educator boil in my own head, so I share with you my reply to her post:

For a short while I worked in emergency medical services, and while I never thought of myself as a “hero,” everyone in that line of work does heroic things on a daily basis. I emphasize “short while” here, as heroic work is indeed humanly unsustainable. I share Ms. Hannon’s evaluation of the hero teacher issue.

The kind of reform we need is not at the level the politicians in any western country have been willing to entertain, but it is one Asian countries have, and it’s why their systems are soundly kicking our collective education asses, both in delivering content and in technology. If they ever find PBL, we’re done for.

Teachers need significant collaborative time, as in hours per day, and they need to work (during their work time, not at night, over weekends and during breaks) with colleagues continually on how learning happens in their classrooms. They need to vet their practice constantly, daily, not just during some ex situ summer institute where students are nowhere to be seen. They need time daily to build collegial trust, to observe each other, to comment, to practice, and repeat. They need the opportunity daily (have I used this word enough?) to be critical of themselves, and time to stay in touch with trends of change, both in their students and in their tools. They need to feel protected in a professional enviroment in which not only are they accountable for student learning outcomes, but also valued for the societally vital role they play every day.

Our current mode of packing as many students into a room as possible and packing as many instructional minutes into a day as can be shoehorned into a schedule and still give people a chance to eat is educationally insane. The pols who hold the strings to the money bags still think we’re educating line workers and field hands. Until they wake up and get a grip on what they’re asking us to do, we will continue to burn through our hero teachers and nothing will change.

Cathy Davidson

Educators with an affinity for technology and living in the 21st Century with an inclination to thinking about the future, find common purpose whenever someone begins a rant about education going about its business the wrong way.  We have a sense that instruction needs to incorporate the abilities and sensibilities of the networked digital students in our classrooms, and we can point to growing evidence that traditional lecture drill & kill instructional models are damaging our collective futures.  We know this grasping at traditional pedagogy is not only rendering our education systems ineffective, but perhaps utterly irrelevant to the degree its practitioners and administrators ignore the changes in how information molds our culture and its youth.

Yesterday I attended a UC Davis Chancellor’s Colloquium featuring a meta-thinker who is providing clarity on the science of precisely why education needs to massively reconfigure its practice in order to succeed at its task.

Cathy N. Davidson of Duke University has written the book Now You See It: How the brain science of attention will transform the way we live, work, and learn.  As codirector of the HASTAC Collaboratory , Cathy the book, Now You See Ithas drawn upon the collective knowledge of brain scientists, psychologists, educators, technologists, management scientists and more (from the book jacket) not specifically to offer “The Solution” to all our ills, but get us talking and thinking in dynamic ways; talking to each other and thinking out loud together to develop real solutions to real problems in evidence in the misalignments between education and culture.  Read more about HASTAC.

You can watch this 2008 video of Cathy Davidson here, or you can wait for the video of yesterday’s presentation.

Another excellent opportunity to hear her is featured in Duke University’s Office Hours, where she takes questions on Learning in a Digital Age.

cathy davidson signing her book, now you see it

I highly recommend making her work a frequent stop in your learning journey, either by reading her excellent book (seen here signing my copy) or following her blog .  It was with great pleasure that I add her to my link set of Necessary Thinkers on this page, as no one better fits that descriptor.

The Power of Intention

navy seals tridentMuch is said about 1:1 computing, putting technology into classrooms and into the hands of students.  However, anyone who pays attention to technology and schooling recognizes that transformation of school culture into one in service to real 21st century demands requires more than providing tools to students, tools they already know how to manipulate with considerable agility.

In the news these past days has been the story of how Osama bin Laden was tracked, discovered, and his time on this planet brought to a close by a team of Navy SEALS.  What has particularly struck me is the degree of reverence given to the highly focused, laser-beam stream of intentional thought and action that brought about this chain of events.  It is clear we, as a culture, value clear, intentional, fearless action.  We like it when people make definitive choices, travel risky paths despite the possibility of negative outcomes, and take decisive action based on what you know at the time as the best information you can possibly develop, vetted by the minds of good people collaborating for the right reasons.

If we value this quality in our leaders and we recognize intelligent, intentional action as being the agent of success, why is it we as educators think we can tiptoe into transformation by half measure and semi-commitment to strategies we know work?

The first two paragraphs of this post are related by the fact that while we seem willing to get devices into the hands of students, to supply them with access to the cloud, to turn them loose under the crush of random data, we appear bent on bringing transformation to the rest of the education infrastructure in half and quarter measure lest we disturb someone’s sleep.  While the world around us is propelled by information carefully and intentionally crafted, education continues to think of information technology as some sort of luxury add-on, like sequins on a dress.

Folks, the sequins are the dress, and unless we incorporate enough of them in a strategic manner, we will be left naked in all the wrong places.

Citizen Science Projects for the New Year

science friday logoNo sooner did I post on Thursday about everyday folks (particularly the teachers among us and the instructional import) did Ira Flatow do a story on that very topic the next day.  My wife tells me it was a killer show, featuring roadkill…

However, click on Ira’s picture here for more resources, including The Milky Way Project, FoldIt (proteins), and several others.  Plus, the link to Friday’s show Podcast is there.  Awesome stuff.

A tip of the hat to you Ira, but remember who beat you to the scoop!