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Lead from the Start: December 2008

Wednesday, December 31, 2008

If I Were a Muppet

This is going to be a short and sweet post. Sometimes I feel like the male character in this classic bit from Sesame Street. I am really into education, teaching, the power of children, the amazing vision that children have and their ability to make us see the world different than we do. But, I get so into this whole teaching thing sometimes I forget where I am, I start passionately preaching to the choir until they remind me, I am not singing the same song anymore. So for all of you teacher leader freaks out there who absolutely just love education, this one's for you. With out us the profession may never start singing but, lets not get too far ahead of the parade that people don't know you are in it.

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Sunday, December 14, 2008

Dear Mr. Obama, Re: LDH

Dear Mr. President-Elect Obama,

I wanted to ask you to consider the rare opportunity you have to select Linda Darling-Hammond as Secretary of Education.
You see, the ED Sec position has always been a political decision, based on repaying the service of select individuals who have worked hard for a new president's campaign.

Here is a brief history of Secretaries of Education. It is from wikipedia so possibly incorrect, but it shows who held the position previously.

The history of the position has seen only two ED Secs with actual experience in education. Only one, Terrel Bell, was a K-12 teacher. What did Terrel Bell do? He changed the future of education in America through bringing together countless stakeholders to create the National Commission on Excellence in Education, and publish a Nation at Risk. And he accomplished this while Ronald Reagan was trying to dissolve the USED and cut funding for all of its programs.

Darling-Hammond is a real threat to efforts to privatize education. She is a friend of unions because she believes in teachers, one the most leftist ideals you can maintain these days. One can hardly imagine what our school systems would be like if teachers were empowered to be the good guys. Mr. President give it a try and watch the inherent heroism of impassioned teachers transform out schools. Let a teacher lead us.


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Saturday, December 13, 2008

Malcolm Gladwell the Airmchair Quarterback

Yesterday Eduwonkette responded to Malcolm Gladwell's article on hiring teachers in the New Yorker. In It Gladwell uses the first bad metaphor I have ever seen him write. I am a big fan of Gladwell's work but it seems like he hasn't talked to as many teachers as researchers before writing this article. In it he compares teaching to being a professional football player. I am sure that all of the women I work with will appreciate being compared to a 6 foot 2" football player but the part that is really bad is in portraying the circumstances. Gladwell compares watching players in college to watching teachers in student teaching. He then compares playing pro ball to becoming a real teacher. One way the metaphor breaks down is that even though many players can't transition to the big leagues is that the game changes. It becomes more complex and harder in the pros.

Teaching isn't hierarchical in its demands and schools are not organized so that the same type of practice is needed to be successful in each. The truth of the situation is that in some schools you can teach like a high school quarterback and be fine and in others you have to teach like professional quarterback to be successful. The real difference is that you get paid better in professional football if you are successful whereas in teaching the high school quarterbacks and the professional quarterbacks all get paid the same.

Over on Wonkette's site there is a hearty discussion about what makes good teachers. In it there is discussion about the art and science of teaching. John Thompson suggests that the profession is most like a craft. I tend to agree. Nancy Flanagan has written an excellent response to Wonkette's article as well.

Nancy and I have discussed art and science numerous times in the past. I want to point out that when Nancy says "science" and wonks and researchers say "science" they are not talking about the same thing. When wonks say science they are often proposing a word problem something like this: Teaching Practice A yields student success 88% of the time. Teaching Practice B yields student success 64% of the time. Which practice should you choose?

Nancy is talking about approaching teaching with a scientific mindset. She might choose Teaching Practice A but she might also choose Teaching Practice B at another time just to reach that 12% of kids Practice A doesn't work for.
I keep coming back to the story in Teacher Man where a kid throws a sandwich across the room. In that moment, how does McCourt react? There is no science in that moment but there is something else. There are goals, increasing student engagement and building relationships. Two goals that support and lead to student success although there is no academic element to the situation. What does McCourt do? He eats the sandwich. This is where creativity comes in, in how we react and promote learning "around" the academic content.

One point not mentioned in the discussion so far is the role of Bob Pianta's work in Gladwell's article. I have been a fan of Pianta's work for years. I know that he would not say that teaching should be open to anyone with a pulse but he would agree that the traits of successful teachers can be found in anyone. In the article Pianta highlights what the preschool teacher does that is good teaching, allowing students to show engagement through movement, he also points out what she could have done that would have supported more learning. This is where the profession can be taught, how to maximize learning situations. The teacher does maximize the learning by responding "creatively" to the situation as in she creates more learning using what is out of her control instead of shutting it down.

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