Sunday, April 26, 2015

Education is a Relationship and Integrity is Vital for Healthy Relationships

       Here in Nashville we have a church group which has a unique ministry to the homeless.  They help people who do not have enough income by allowing them to work in their Contributor Program.  The homeless people are trained and vetted.  When they have completed the training they are allowed to purchase papers from the organization and resell them.  Many of the articles are secular and are a venue to raise awareness of the difficulty facing homeless people.  It's a good thing.  I usually buy a paper every couple of weeks and place it on my dashboard.  I have learned many things from the homeless writers and I had become friends with my regular vendor.  She has been able to lift herself out of poverty and return to her home town.  So right now I don't have a regular vendor.

      I saw a woman at the mall with a Contributor paper cover that was new to me.  I found change to purchase from her.  She took my money, took a paper out from behind the Contributor paper which was not the Contributor and dropped it on my seat.  I requested my money back and she ignored me but I was persistent.  She told me it was the Mexican version of the Contributor.  It wasn't. She walked away across the parking lot.

      Of course, I was angry at first but then after a little while I realized that she had given me the topic I needed to talk about today, INTEGRITY.  She does not realize it but she broke a relationship.  If she had sold what she claimed to be selling she could have built a relationship and had a repeat customer.  She could have made several times the amount of money she stole from me today. Instead she sold her integrity for $2.  Really there is no amount of money that is worth a good name. Unfortunately, some corporate people in America don't understand the value of honesty and doing the right thing.

       I think one of the basic problems we are having in Education is that we as parents are attempting to manage relationships with people who have shown they have a lack of integrity.  Outside profiteers and reformers have unfairly criticised our schools and our teachers.  They claim they can do a better job. They have hired inexperienced teachers and stolen part of the wages from these women to generate higher "profits".  They have over crowded their classrooms. Of course, they have underperformed the regular public schools yet public funds continue to be paid out to ASD and others.

      A few of our politicians accept money from profiteers and make laws that favor reform.  People get ensconced in power positions in school systems and government and are insulated from accountability and oversight by the people.  They are freed to make decisions against the will of the people who are funding education through their tax dollars.  It all seems so bleak sometimes I could lose hope but I have to remember this is America.  America is unlike any other place on Earth.

       I have been heartened by the parent revolts in New York and other states.  I have watched the impact it has had on Pearson Stock.  I have heard the politicos and pundits attempt to convince parents why they should cooperate with the status quo but the parents know best for their children. And Companies are learning that a values can hurt the value of their stock.
You can't make this stuff up.

       Parents know that making 8 year-olds test until he/she cries is not okay.  They recognize that holding Ms.Teacher accountable and placing all of the pressure on one person is disingenuous.  Parents recognize they should have input into their schools and school/education policy.

       Most parents will tell you their local school is doing a good job.  Families are beginning to recognize the lack of willingness to share power in higher levels of policy and the lack of integrity that is seeping into our systems.  And they won't stand for it.

      American parents are getting involved to insure there is transparency, shared decision making, and integrity in our public schools.  Glad to see signs of life returning to American democracy through reform of the reform movement.  Whether you choose to become involved in politics, run for school board, write a blog or opt out, thank you for caring enough to help us all save our public schools.

       If you are a parent who is choosing to opt out you may be wondering what you could do with your child while they are out of school to help them enjoy learning something new.  I am including a few links to some of out newest learning toys and concepts we have played with this weekend:
There are hours of mind blowing Makey Makey projects on to watch for free also.

To test conductivity of pencil lead, fabric, conductive and non conductive play dough for squishy circuits and other things:
        This kept my kids busy for a couple of hours.  We earned that Ticonderoga pencils, which are generally our favorite, are not very conductive. Two non brand pencils turned out to be the best to draw workable circuits

If you just want to get them started with programming I recommend Scratch to begin.  Here is a guide for that:

Have a great week,

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Feels like a Revolution

       Today we are going to talk about the revolt in New York.  It was not mentioned on TV or radio.  At this point though we know the internet is our best resource for news.

       Parents have become frustrated over the tests, practice tests, and test driven curriculum.  We have managed it at home by supplementing the learning with trips, extra curricular curricula, and encouraging our kids to do their best in school.  The reality hit home for us when after yet another round of practice testing my child came home and told me how much he hated school.

       My son tests well and quickly.  I have taught him to treat the tests as a game.  This mindset helps him do his best without being stressed out.  He finishes quickly and goes over his answers a second time.  When he has finished his testing process he usually has time to read a chapter or two in a sci-fi or fantasy book but not this year.

       This year my son was forced to sit and stare at the wall when his practice tests were completed.  It was painful for him and caused him to hate school and testing.  While googling for solutions we learned about the national opt out movement.  Parents are opting their children out of annual tests even in places where they are being told they cannot because these parents have rediscovered another foundational piece of a free society.  Free people have a choice.  You don't have to do the most expedient thing. Often there are many paths to choose from if you take a minute to consider.

       Parents and teachers discussed the issues on line about the powerful forces which are trying to dismantle our public schools.  Public education is a bedrock of our free society but profits are on the line.  Rupert Murdock said there is $300 billion dollars in the public schools in America and Wall Street continues to have meetings about privatizing public schools.  These discussions are always about money and not about pedagogy.

       We recognize the politicians can have trouble saying no when big money makes a request because big money gives big campaign donations.  The destruction of our schools seemed unstoppable until someone noticed that it was data driven.  We can stop this nightmare by depriving them of data.

     Last week the State of New York gave the annual test.  This test is not considered valid unless 95% of the students take it.  Over 100,000 parents opted out,  invalidating their tests.  We are waiting to hear about the test in Ohio which also had a large number opt out.

       There is a parent revolt under-way.  You can follow it on Opt Out of the State test on Facebook. Opt Out is a Public Group. We were able to get the administration in our school to agree to stop forcing our son to sit and stare.  We evoked the Tennessee State law which went into effect this summer. You can read the law here:  In order to get traction father had to CC the 8 sponsors of the bill in the Senate.  If the school holds to it's agreement our son will test this year.

       Every family has to make a decision about what is best for their child, family, and community.  Whatever decision you make we at TeachersAndCompany support you and wish you the very best.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Play will find a way!

Image result for creative commons flower on sidewalk

        I recently spoke with an administrator who was telling me about an outcome which surprised him. Some of his teachers were seeing greater engagement of students when programming, such as the hour of code, was brought into the classroom.  I have heard other adults express similar surprise over makers classes, 3d printing classes, and other things.  What is the common factor that is causing kids to want to learn?  Authentic-Organic learning is occurring.

          The teacher is engaged in the learning process.  The topics are new to her and many of us who are over 40. She is undaunted. Even though she may use a resource from the internet, the lesson is designed by her.  It is not scripted.  She must plan the lesson, find the resources, tie it to the curriculum. Sounds like a whole lot of work.  Why would any teacher do that?  She does it because it's fun for her and it's fun for her students as well.

          This is the moment she signed up for. She is using this moment in her classroom as a canvas. It is a moment of joy and PLAY.  Great things are happening right now.

         The teacher likely does not have a degree in coding/ programming so she has to be willing to be vulnerable enough to share with the student that she may not know everything about the subject.  They can figure it out together.  When they hit problems, everyone engages to solve it. 

          Sometimes, once the students have the fundamentals they are allowed to explore the programming/ maker environment and self direct their learning in a process called play.  Play is the first form of self directed learning and the most important job of a child. Play is the most powerful learning engine known to humanity. When a child learns through play, learning is fun and memorable.

        Unfortunately, play has become rare in school because it is very hard to script.  It's difficult to generate profits for textbook and testing companies by 'creating play'. Inventiveness and creativeness is tough to measure on a commercialized bubble sheet test but these traits are vital to creating success here in the US. 

        So much has changed since my parents were teaching.  When the commercial achievement tests first came into the market it was considered unethical to teach to the test.  Now we spend weeks of the school year teaching to the test through multiple commercial practice tests, score conferencing, and a month of review before the TCAP.  When I was a student if a teacher did this level of prep I know the principal would conference with her.  Her high power prep would skew the scores of her students so no one would know what part of the education was retained in long term memory.  Students were given time every day to go outside and play when I was young unless the weather was poor.  Sometimes we evened played and explored in the classroom. 

         Finland seems to have revived the best parts of the former US educational philosophy.  Last weeks article touched on Finland's remarkable success through educational freedom for teachers, civil rights for student and play.  Here is a link:

        When my parents were teaching the only nations that scripted teachers were over in the Eastern Block.  Teachers here were trusted to develop the class curriculum and were trusted by the parents as professionals.  Now there are profits to be made.  The cost of education is higher without offering attractive to pay to professional teachers and without the joy of learning through play. 

        I have seen the power of play and I know play is natural to children.  The makers/coder events give me hope that authentic-organically grown learning is not a museum relic.  PLAY will find a way!

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Finland School Experiment

      Some of our charter schools are failing with the schools they have taken over in Tennessee.  Instead of closing the school and allowing the ASD to reopen it with another charter could we try something new?  What would happen if we took one of these schools and created a lab school based on the methods of Finland has developed?  Since the 1960s Finland has revolutionized their schooling to become the best in the world.  When queried about their success one of the Finnish Administrators said, tongue in cheek, that they "look at what America is doing and do the opposite." What might this experimental school look like?

      Lets take one of the schools that is not performing and test the Finnish theory of education.  Staff the school with teachers who have a minimum of masters degree in fields related to education. All teachers in Finland must have a masters in order to teach. I know six teachers with Masters Degrees who have been dismissed in the past two years.  We can pull from the talent that has been lost.   Hire administration capable of servant leadership and write a compact for the school that balances power.  The principal's relationship to teachers should be like a coach striving to encourage teachers instead of seeking to weed them out. The title for this position may be something that helps communicate the levelling of the power construct in this school.

       Immediately hold staff development which builds connections and trust, not seated training but team building exercises.  The Finns hire professionals and then trust them to do their jobs.  Trust is the bedrock upon which Finnish education is built.  In order to build on trust first trust will need to be established.  We can assume the teachers in this school want to self improve. For people who reach Masters Level in this current climate, the desire for self improvement is a fairly safe assumption.  

      Treat every person in the school as if they are valuable and worthy of respect.  All of them are helping to make learning possible including the custodian, office workers, and cafeteria staff. Use positive intervention strategies for student behavior. Plan the schedule so that students have class for 45 minutes to an hour and then a 15 minute break.  The faculty should decide how to transition the students to less direct oversight during breaks.  During these breaks students should be able to go to the bathroom, library, water fountain, hang out in the hall and chat with friends or best of all play.  Managing freedom is a skill set people learn through practice.  These 15 minute breaks are seen as a civil right in Finland and brain breaks are proven best practices.

      The schools I have read about in Finland have a positive, laid back culture.  Language used is positive and affirming. Everyone in the school should agree to use positive language and to avoid labels.  When teachers or students call one anther ugly names even in secret it effects the climate of the school. Communication should be about ideas and concepts instead of people.

       Instead of a monthly faculty meeting there should be a half day professional development for teachers to pool their expertise to work on pedegogical problems.  Envision it as similar to a Reading Recovery meeting.  One or two teachers share lessons they taped and other teachers watch and write notes. Prior to the lesson the teacher comments on the issues she is having so the other teachers can pay careful attention to those areas to make suggestions. After the tape is complete the teachers share something positive they noticed and something they suggest to help the teacher handle the hard to teach student(s) or subjects.  Teachers are not rated or berated during these reviews.  Everyone cooperates to improve one another.  The other two hours can be spent on other topics, students or ideas to help the school function well.  The faculty can decide how to best use this time.

      There should be classes and clubs on social skills/manners and mindfulness to help students lives run smoothly plus a wide range of other clubs for children to join.  A broad curriculum which includes informal, high interest learning is valuable. It also matches the reality of information flood we have today as opposed to the information drought which matched the old school house model. Information is readily available through a smart phone,  We need to teach children how to find and use this vast store of knowledge and to discover their unique areas of giftedness.  We cannot afford to waste a single brain,

        Club's may occur midday to allow a brain break but this would be determined by faculty.  Faculty leadership in school and high interests clubs are part of the Finnish system.  Finland is considering an initiative to put these clubs in the middle of the day.

        In order to match the ages this school should serve an age range from 7 to 11 or from 2nd to 6th grade. The arts, technology, and makers learning should be accessible as well as core courses of reading, writing, and mathematics.  Finland has no school uniforms so the faculty would need to decide how to transition students to this level of freedom when many of them have been wearing uniforms for so long.  Uniforms are worn in fast food restaurants and prisons but not in schools in Finland.

       Everything in this school needs to be geared for the success of students.  Soap should be available for students to wash their hands and the building should be clean and well maintained. No junk food or high fructose corn syrup should be available in the cafeteria.  Filtered water should be accessible for them to drink.  Lessons and breaks are geared for the developmental stage of the child.  If additional services are needed to help student struggling with poverty, mental health issues or learning issues these should be available. 

       Allow the test to run for three years without annual testing or annual teacher reviews. Ten percent of in class work can be maintained for the teachers,administration or others to assess the progress of a student. At the end of the term test the students to measure growth.  If these modifications are enough to produce results above the old scores run it for another 3 years.  When that is successful expand the program to other former charter schools.

What would you add to this plan?  Would you like to see it implemented?  Please leave a note in the comments below and please subscribe to follow

This book shares some first hand perspectives of students who move to join the top secondary schools in the world:

All teachers must have a master's degree before they start teaching.
Compulsory schooling starts at seven with voluntary play-based kindergarten for younger children.
No national testing, inspections or school league tables. The government looks at an 8 to 10 per cent sample of pupils' work to check on performance.
Pupils transfer to either an academic or a vocational school at the age of 16 after nine years of compulsory schooling.
No university fees for home or EU students. Pilot of fees for overseas students from outside the EU.