Saturday, August 29, 2015

Where have all the imaginatives gone?

Neil Gaiman has written a well thought out article on the importance of creativity and imagination.  I was surprised to know the ladders and stair wells to these places in the minds of the younger generation are being eroded or simply torn out. Various places are shuttering their libraries and are not introducing students to excellent fiction.  You can read his work here:

One of my favorite sections in this missive was a quote from Albert Einstein:'"If you want your children to be intelligent," he said, "read them fairy tales. If you want them to be more intelligent, read them more fairy tales." He understood the value of reading, and of imagining. ' Children need a world where they play creatively and spend some time away from the controlled play of video games. They need to be read with and too and invent great stories with adults.

This generation of children are not as literate as people who were born before personal computers.  Many do not know how to play and something has happened to the natural curiosity I observed even ten years ago.  It has not been as evident lately. 

In the mornings I sit in the hallway and greet students as they enter the building.  One morning I brought an Arduino project which I assembled using an Arduino, LEDs, as many different colors of wires as I could lay my hands on, and a bread board. 
 If you pressed a button three lights would light in succession then an alarm would sound.  

I sat the device on top of the box on my lap.  Most of the children greeted me but walked by without a second glance at the device.  A couple of 5th graders stopped to look but they did not ask any questions.  I am concerned about this.

Isaac Asimov once said, "The most exciting phrase to hear in science, the one that heralds new discoveries, is not 'Eureka!' but 'That's funny...' "- Brainyquote.  Those two little words, 'that's funny', are said when people are curious about something they see or notice and their imagination begins to work.

We need to change the direction of our educational system to allow time for unstructured creative play and reading for pleasure so children have time to let their imaginations breathe. We are treating education as if it's main job is to create workers.  The best education starts with the child in mind not the adult worker in mind.  It fosters a sense of wonder, creativity, and imagination.  Great education creates memories children cherish and tell their grandchildren about someday.  These experiences go into the 'favorites file' in their memory. 

If I could search through the favorites files of people education in our schools I would find examples of play time, related Arts science experiments and connections.  I suspect I would not find single memory of a favorite bubble test.  Tests are not favorites. Tests do not build creativity but they do build anxiety which is anti-creativity.  I think it's past time to return to an educational design which fosters imagination. Let's build schools where the whole child can be educated and flourish.  And let's head to the library or local bookstore this weekend to pick up some of our favorite fiction books from when we were children to share with young people in our lives.

Do you want to know what fiction the folks at teachersandcompany and their families are reading?  Here are some links:

The Cricket in Time Square

Myth series by Robert Aspirin

The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy

We would love to hear what you are reading or recommend in the way of great, non-dystopian, fiction .  I am trying to build our library of hopeful fiction for young ones.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Should We Do Away With All Textbooks?

Dollars in the books, isolated on white background, business tra
Schools put a lot of money in textbooks 

       E-book readers or other electronic devices allow the students to read pre-loaded copies of their books. These devices are superior in several ways to last centuries text books. Basic E-book devices are much less expensive than providing a set of commercial textbooks. Online textbooks never become outdated if they are properly maintained. Parents can access texts from a home computer to see what the students are covering in class. Being able to use E-book readers could make life easier for middle and high school students because it would mean they could carry around a lightweight device instead of a library. 

        If you travel down I-24 from Nashville to Chattanooga along the way there is a smallish, often-over-looked town called Tullahoma.  My kids know it only as a favorite spot along the way to the aquarium but something unusual is happening here.  Tullahoma is outpacing the Metropolitan areas with a new innovation that is making life easier for students and teachers and is saving their district money.  Tullahoma has created their own on-line, opensource textbooks for use on E-book readers.

       TCS, Tullahoma City Schools is using their texbook fund to pay teachers to create the digitaltextbooks that are being used across the district.  The books are aligned with whatever the current standards are today and can be quickly changed when the standards change again.  Many of the examples and pictures in these textbooks are local. Local stories and pictures allow the students to learn local history and culture.

      Tullahoma is using an open-source, fair-use copy write so the work could be used in other districts with some changes to line them up with other local areas.  These books are designed to improve educational outcomes but they are not designed for commercial use, so a school could use them but a publisher cannot print and sell them,  That's a good thing.

       Other districts could take the work Tullahoma has put into these books and build off the texts to create their own open source version, micro-brewed for their own population. If you would like to see the works TCS has created go to: This page has Social Studies and the fresh off the press Mathematics texts for Middle School.

      The books can be loaded on to an E-book reader or other device.  The director of schools, Dr Dan Lawson, said he could make individual copies at a local copy shop for seven bucks. So the lack of access to devices is not a barrier to using this high quality source.

        Switching to E-books is compassionate. In 2011, one of my students backpacks weighed 70 pounds.  The child herself only weighed 87.  We can do better than asking her to carry her body mass around on her back.

          My students would welcome an opportunity to save their backs and their backpacks.  My son busted his backpack last week carrying his library of textbooks to class.  When I told him about the new initiative in Tullahoma he asked if we could move there.  I would instead like to see this become the new way we teach in Tennessee.  I am hoping the changes will be made soon but until then we will get by with some muscle and a bag of holding to carry everything in.

        My son's new bag of holding is sturdy and seems to hold a lot more than it should.  You can check it out using the link below.

       So, Should We Do Away With All Textbooks?  I think we would better serve our students, parents, and teachers by dumping the textbooks and using digital books instead.  It can be less expensive, easier on the students and their equipment, and easily updated.  If you agree with me you can reach out to your local board and let them know you are ready to switch to digital.  Together we can bring local schooling into the 21st century.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

How do we save our Public Schools from a teacher shortage?

In my life time I have had two friends with neuropathy.  This is a condition where the nerves, in this case to the feet stop working.  It's a problem for two reasons.  First the person can have trouble standing or walking.  There is so much information we receive from these nerves which help keep us upright and moving around.   The second issue is that infection or injury can occur without the person knowing about it.

I mention it because it is very similar to what is occurring in public schools now.  Many states are experiencing sudden debilitating shortages of teachers.  Some are holding special sessions of state congress to study the issue, some are taking any warm bodies they can find to stand in, some were resigned to teachers only wanting to work less than 5 years.  Unfortunately the problem has become so great it will no longer be ignored.  The symptoms are serious and require immediate attention.  And the problems could have been averted if information was traveling from the ground up.

The 'doctors' / PhD's are looking for answers.  They are trying to regain balance and restore health to the public school systems.  They are putting their heads together and trying to guess the problem. They are trying to figure out why no one wants to teach for them any longer.  They think they are so smart they can get into a legislative session and figure it out. All of the information is readily available but it is not accessible to them.  The lines of communication from the ground have been severed.

It doesn't take Einstein level brilliance to understand what is happening.  Instead it takes a listening ear.  The decision makers need the information from the teachers who have recently left and are still working.

When humans get neuropathy the disease usually cannot be reversed.  They can only manage the effects.  When systems like governments and schools get ' neuropathy' the cure is available and other institutions have self healed.  Communication and action can repair the damage.

One approach which could help is to use a Kaizen model.  Kaizen means continuous improvement and has guiding principles.

  • Good processes bring good results
  • Go see for yourself to grasp the current situation
  • Speak with data, manage by facts
  • Take action to contain and correct root causes of problems
  • Work as a team
  • Kaizen is everybody’s business (bullet points reprinted from

Much has been said and implemented around improving education.  These changes have occurred and some of them have been designed to block 'nerve' signals.  By ignoring issues raised by the teachers who serve our countries children we have lost many of our best and brightest from the profession.  We have some new teachers who are willing to fill a warm body slot for a bit but it takes longer than 5 years to become a solid teacher.  Many new teachers today will not stay that longand fewer are agreeing to try the work at all.

If we implemented a Kaisen strategy to restore the health of our public schools what would that look like?

1. Good processes bring good results-  You cannot create good processes without all of the information. Teachers would be involved in the dialogue. Actual teachers not solely union or professional organization representatives.

2, Go see for yourself to grasp the current situationPoliticians would take the course to be a successful substitute teacher.  They would then sub, tutor and volunteer in local schools without the photo op nonsense we see today.  If they will do this they will see the situation.  By doing so decision makers will meet some teachers and students. They will learn real ways to retain and attract great teachers and build solid public schools.

3. Speak with data, manage by factsRealize genuine working condition data should be collected.  This is typically not able to occur through multiple choice survey. Teachers should be protected from punitive action when they share specific facts with the authorities able to make the changes.  Principals who lose more than 1/4 of their staff  should be placed on focus.  The working conditions in that local school should be closely scrutinized.  Unless the admin is able to justify the loss he/she should face demotion or termination.  Our teachers are valuable and their loss should not be taken lightly.

4. Take action to contain and correct root causes of problems- When the issues become evident we will make changes to restore our schools.  This may mean replacing crumbling buildings, creating open source teacher driven texts/ tests and managing issues which have been so uncomfortable we would rather ignore them, such as the effects of childhood poverty.  If we want professional grade teachers we will need to restore teaching to a profession.

5. Work as a team- Like one body- head, hands, heart and feet

6. Kaizen is everybody’s business- which is why I am writing this article. I have two children in public schools. Both have great teachers and I want those teachers to stay in the profession. I know that my teachers' working conditions are my children's learning conditions.  Lets improve those conditions together.- Amy Flatt (These thoughts are my own.)

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Contrasting Pond Gap and Community Achieves

I have spoken with Jill Speering. She traveled to see the Pond Gap Program I referenced in last week's blog. Dr Bob Kronick has miraculous success with students in poverty he works with his after school program. During this program professors from the University of Tennessee spend time with small groups of students . They lead them through activities that teach them in non-classroom activities. Such as writing a play about a subject the whole group needs to learn about or engaging in activities similar to those you might see in Science Olympiad. Late in the afternoon these schools hold workshops for parents.  Before everyone goes home for the day families may be fed a meal made form plants grown in the programs garden.

This program not only provides high quality enrichment on core subject topics it also provides wrap around services for the families in poverty. The people in the community are surveyed to find what services would be the most helpful for them. Dr Kronick brings Social Services, Medical/ Dental services, laundry services, charity ministries and any other services the people in the community indicate they need. Each program is custom tailored for the children and families in that community.

Now I know that even though Community Achieves is attempting to address some of the effects relating to poverty it is not the affiliated with the work of Dr Kronick.

Which leads us to some interesting questions which could make a great beginning for universityn level studies. Are all wrap around services programs equally effective? What are the differences between the type of program Dr Bob Kronick creates and the community achieves program? And Finally- What are the best practices that make a wrap around program the most effective?

 I would love to see someone replicate Dr Kronick's work here in an MNPS school that is not in the Community Achieves program but has a high population of struggling families. Then I would love to see the results compared to the works Community Achieves is doing. If you are a doctoral candidate or you are part of a grant funded organization looking for an opportunity to create a high interest study this could be just the ticket. It would also be dream job for someone like me who would love to see children set free from the wicked downward spiral poverty creates.

Saturday, August 1, 2015

MNPS is Finally Implementing Full Service Community Schools!

This morning I attended a meeting on full service community schools organized by a group in MNPS called Community Achieves.  I have heard of them prior to the meeting but I was not familiar with the function of this group.  So many new programs have come and gone since I began keeping up with MNPS, researching this was not on my agenda.

I almost missed learning about Community Achieves at this meeting and that would have been a shame! This program is everything I have been asking for since I began researching poverty affects on scores and wrote this article  It is still my most popular post with almost 11.000 hits and visitors from around the world.  If you haven't read it yet go ahead and pop over and give it a look.  Don't worry, we'll wait.

The Community Achieves program is based on the research and work of Dr. Bob Kronick.  He developed full service community schools program at the University of Tennessee.. He began his work at the Brushy Mountain State Prison. It was a maximum security institution. His greatest take away from his work there was he knew he did not want children to end up in this prison.  So he began his life work on breaking the prison pipeline.

Kronick states, "There is a systematic destruction when you lose black men to the prison system." This loss destroys families and communities.  This loss is a direct result of the effects of generational poverty.  The main focus of his program is to keep people out of prison.

Dr Bob Kronick then said, "American loves victim blaming." But victim blaming is not addressing the issues.  We need to switch to systems thinking.  Poverty does not happen in a vacuum. There is an entire system that creates the issues around poverty and it's effects.  We will have to treat the whole system.  

He told us system thinking is difficult.  It requires collaboration and listening to the people in the community. Boiler plate does not work in these situations.  Every community is different and each program is tailored to the needs of the community.

In order to gain funding for any program you have to show the program is effective.  This program is the single most effective program I have ever seen for improving scores and outcomes for children in poverty. I was most impressed by his data on behavior referrals.  Behavior referrals are zero! That is unheard of in this population.  This behavioral change creates teachable moments in the school day which helps to fuel the students success.  Truancy rates are down. Math scores are up. Spanish boys are top in math but reading scores were down.

Why were reading scores low? "Because the test is on computers and none of our students had computers."  That changed. The students were given computers and then the scores began to go up.

He recognizes Human Services are fractured and difficult to figure out. It(Human Services) is a system and you have to figure out how to enter the system.

 They help families get into the system so they can get the help they need.  They also bring laundry facilities, counseling, GED programs, what ever is needed is provided in after school programs at Pond Gap School.

Why should these services be provided in schools? "You want to deliver services at schools because that is where the families are."

The program in Knox County has become so effective Pond Gap has become a destination school with families moving into the district.  These families are getting out of poverty at Pond Gap but are choosing to stay in this community.

If you would like to read more about his work, I found his book on Amazon:. Just click this blue link and it should open in another window for you :

Because of Dr Kronick's heroic work these families and this community are forever changed.  I am so excited we are bringing a program like this to MNPS. Over the next few weeks I will tell you more about Community Achieves run by Dr Tony Majors and we will talk about Jill Speering's trip to visit Pond Gap.

I want to say a special thanks to Jill Speering, Shelley Baldwin, Amy Frogge and  Dr Tony Majors who have all fought valiantly for our schools to address poverty . Special thanks also to Bill Freeman.  Bill Freeman is running for Mayor and plans to expand full service schools programs to see that all children in poverty in MNPS have ways to get out.  Bill I hope you win your race.

Tune in next week for the next blog in the series on addressing the poverty gap.  So proud of all of our change bringers!

Some of our change bringers pictured from left to right: Amy Frogge, Dr Tony Majors, Bill Freeman, Dr Bob Kronick, and Jill Speering.