One of the biggest hurdles I see in education reform is that of handcuffed leadership. When managers, administrators, and teachers are overly restricted, creativity is squashed and the monster of apathy begins to grow. When an organization promotes a talented, zealous, competent employee to a leadership position, they must ensure that she is given enough freedom to actually take advantage of her talents. Far too often in education, the trend is to inadvertently stymie legitimate potential for improvement through restrictive legislation, overly litigated collective bargaining agreements, fear of punishment, excessive red tape, and/or disproportionate workloads.
I was recently honored to speak at the Computer Science Ed Week kick-off event that brought together 100 CS teachers from across the county in Boston, MA. For my portion of the program, I was asked to share ways to use Sphero™ brand toys/robots in high school CS. Just three weeks prior, I had purchased two of Sphero SPRKs™ for my 6 and 3 year-old daughters for Christmas.
I was introduced to Sphero™ brand toys in the fall of 2014 when I won a grant to purchase robotics equipment for a high school. The relatively large grant was intended to purchase the human social robot, Nao™ but I had about $2,500 left over that had to be spent on robotics. After some research, I decided to give Spheros™ a try, purchasing about 20 balls and 6 Ollies™.
Education is filled with teachers who make tremendous financial, social, and personal sacrifices because of their passion for education. While I have championed efforts to reconsider teacher pay and evaluations, I have never been bitter. I wittingly chose to become a teacher in spite of sacrifices I knew I would have to make for my family -- and in my experience, the overwhelming majority of teachers have done the same. Does it get old living paycheck-to-paycheck or breaking a backpack because of the number of books and papers you have to drag home to grade after you leave? Sure. There are days when a parent drives you crazy as she enables her son to continue to not reach his potential while she offers up excuse after excuse for him. Inevitably, at some point, you know you will get chewed out by an administrator for insufficient test scores -- even though you know that you're really getting it because the administrator got it from her boss and so on. It's unfair to do work that is often trivialized, discounted, underfunded, undervalued, lacks professional clout, pigeon holes, isolates, lacks external incentives, is clogged with bureaucracy, garners everyone's opinion, and is tiring.
"You know, sometimes all you need is twenty seconds of insane courage. Just literally twenty seconds of just embarrassing bravery. And I promise you, something great will come of it."
-- Benjamin Mee, We Bought a Zoo
Life is scary. From grade school to retirement we are constantly thrust into a culture of comparison. Whether statistical stratification that comes from standardized testing ("I'm in the top 18% of my age group nationwide"), or job performance evaluations that identify whether or not we qualify for a management track, we are constantly being compared to other people. If we are not careful, we begin to invest in this comparative stock. If that happens, most of us start playing the game of life not to lose instead of playing to win. We maintain status quo to avoid being on the bottom, rather than innovating to try and rise to the top.
For a few years now, social media has been inundated with parents (and some teachers) flooding timelines and newsfeeds with viral images of edgy responses to apparently ridiculous strategies that are being taught under the umbrella of Common Core. I am no Common Core apologists and I still have some issues with agendas that have come out under the Common Core banner, but I think it is time to step back and reevaluate the scene.
I'm not going to address the troubling cultural implications of parents (in the "everyone deserves a trophy" generation) who would stoop so low as to encourage their child to blatantly disrespect a teacher by drafting and publishing such vial responses -- you know, the ones where they attack a teacher for attempting to teach modern, research-based solution strategies that were not developed, nor necessarily endorsed by that teacher. I'm not going to address the fact that US students have sharply declined in math and science globally in the last three decades while these parents were learning old techniques. I'm also not going to address the fact that Common Core is not a curriculum and does not promote any particular strategy -- rather, in math, it does suggest that students should develop problem solving skills based on a deep understanding (like adults have to do in the real world) instead of merely accepting and regurgitating facts and rules. I'm not going to address those issues, so you don't have to get mad.
Below is a list of a few of the EduMyths I held or witnessed through a least some part of my career, and the insights that helped me debunk them.
1) The student should leave more exhausted than the teacher.
There may be nothing that turns me off in a PD session faster than hearing the facilitator proudly exclaim that, "In the student centered classroom, the students should always leave more tired than the teacher. If you're doing the work, you're doing it wrong." The last time I checked the only people in the classroom that get paid to be there are the teachers. Why should a teacher ever leave work having done less work than the students. Phrasing like this turned me off to the student-centered model for years. I did not even pay attention to anyone clamoring for student-centered education until a phenomenal administrator (Pam Dantzler) explained true student-centered teaching to me in an evaluation.
Equity vs. Equality
If there is an overarching problem that plagues all of public education, it is rooted in the misbelief that equitable and equal mean the same thing--particularly with regards to teachers. It is perfectly reasonable to stand for equitable rights and opportunities for all people, but equity is not always synonymous with equality. According to Webster's Dictionary, equality is rooted in the idea that two things, ideas, or quantities are the same; not changing for each individual. Whereas equity refers to fairness or justice in the way people are treated. The contrast between the two terms is so minute that it can appear this is an argument about semantics. However, this is a BIG little difference. In public education, the erroneous interchanging of these two terms has led to a problem that may be crippling STEM education.
Why is 6 afraid of 7? Because 7 eight 9!
If you want to pick a fight in a room full of math teachers, whip out your TI-83 Plus and state an opinion about why you love or hate it. The ensuing feud will last for hours and people will inevitably leave the meeting with less information but far more angst than they came with.
As a tech enthusiast and math teacher for the better part of the last decade, I have spent a lot of time pondering the appropriateness of calculators in 9-12 classroom. Group conversations about this generate nearly as much animosity between teachers as the Hatfields had with the McCoys, but one-on-one questioning makes it easy to see that teachers essentially fall into one of two camps on the calculator's place in the classroom.
As an awkward freshman in high school, I found myself drowning in a sea of loneliness midway through the year. In reality, I had plenty of friends a great community around me, but those adolescent years hit me hard and I was yearning for close friends. I remember talking with my dad on the way to Best Buy one afternoon when he shared a nugget of advice his father had given him many years prior. He said, "You know, if you want to make more friends, be silent and listen. Really listen. People love to be listened to. It's the key to building lasting relationships"
Years later, as a young teacher, I had was talking with a friend and mentor who had come to the classroom a long and fruitful career in the private sector. While talking about our roles on a committee for our school district, she noted, "This isn't life, it's business. In business, if you show up to a lot of meetings and have nothing of value to add, they eventually stop inviting you to the meetings. If I'm on a steering committee, I assume I was appointed because they want my opinion."
As I sit in committee meetings every day now, I am realizing that both my dad and my colleague were right. To thrive in this world of bureaucracy, politics, funding partnerships, and leadership, you must float in a delicate balance of the two. Proverbs 18:13 says, "If one gives an answer before he hears, it is his folly and shame." It is not an admonishment to never give an answer. Instead, it is sage advice to listen and think before you speak. I'm learning that to thrive as a contributing member in collaborative, large-scale projects, it is apparent that one must say more without speaking more. In the information age, as we are inundated with more information than any individual could possible digest, it is an increasingly valuable skill to be able to filter through the muck and identify truly valuable nuggets to add to the conversation.
Several years ago, I was honored to give the commencement address at my alma mater. In preparing to address the attendees, I was struck with a sense of responsibility I had not previously considered to be associated with such a speech. I realized that I had been given the opportunity and responsibility to put the period at the end of a 13-year long educational upbringing.
After considering all the important points, the challenging remarks, and motivational stories I could share, I lifted my head from desk and began to reflect on my time in the classroom as a student and on the remarks made at my graduation. My college basketball coach, Morris Michalski spoke at my high school graduation. I do not remember everything about it, but I have always remembered that he challenged us to hold on to the relationships we had, and to value the people in our lives.
Cleveland Rotary Club
Innovating Education Through Community Partners
NEA Foundation The Promise of Public Ed
Leveraging Teacher Leadership to Increase STEM Education
US Senate Briefing
The Need for a National Organizing Body of Digital Fabrication
NACCE California Symposium
Scaling Innovation through Partnerships
Volkswagen eLab Ribbon Cutting
Why Digital Fabrication can't be an Option
NSTA STEM Leadership
Developing, Incubating, and Implementing Public/Private Partnerships that Matter
Chattanooga Fab Institute
Revolutionizing Learning through Digital Fabrication
HCDE Future Ready Institute Launch
Developing PBL Units with Business Partners
STEM Fellows Celebration
Community Partnerships for Teacher Leadership
Scaling Innovation in Schools
Remake Learning Days
Dig Fab in the Community
Public/Private Partnerships Panel
Digital Fabrication in the Modern Classroom
Redesign for Student Success (San Diego)
Scaling Innovation through Digital Fabrication
GE Leadership Summit
Leveraging Innovative Technologies for Learning
Texas Open Innovation
Emerging Innovations in Education
FFT Leading & Learning
Connecting Global Ed
reMake Education Summit
National Governor's Asc.
Coding with Governors
US Dept of Education
Round Table with Secretary John King
K-12 Pathways for CS
K-12 Education Panel
Reducing the Racial Gap in Computing
Boston Museum of Science
Teaching with Toys
US Dept of Education
MSP CS Proposition