Archives for category: teaching

A comment on the post about “Zombie Education Policies”:

Having spent years in business, I cringe at blindly applying business models to education. 360 evaluation is a business fad that will join MBOs and matrix management. I tried student evaluations. Students are usually upset over not getting a certain grade on the most recent test, angry over a detention, or at the other extreme, like the teacher and don’t want to say anything negative. I eavesdropped on two of my high school students evaluating their teachers and a “good” teacher had more to do with being lenient, funny, and good looking. It took me years to later appreciate my good teachers – not at the time the most popular. Most parents mean well, but often have only glimpses of the classroom from their child’s perspective. Often the truth is difficult and not always well received. Peers are OK, but not all peers are objective or can separate politics. Administrators may not have spent enough years in a math or language arts classroom – perhaps moving up through phys ed – to understand content and delivery. Third party evaluations are too disconnected and have conflicts of interest.

So a better solution? First, and this principle is also overlooked in business, IF IT AIN’T BROKE, DON’T FIX IT. Not all schools are failing, and then, not all for the same reason. Blanket, scorched earth solutions never work and just replace one set of problems with another. Improving upon what exists takes skill and savvy. Second, if you want to know what makes a good teacher, ask a good teacher. We all know who they are. Mentoring is by far the best system with centuries of success. Make it work. Third, start listening to teachers, not politicians, billionaires, and opportunists. The latter have other interests. Teachers, in contrast to the constant demonizing, are in the classroom everyday and want their students to learn.

The best approach to education is there is no single approach to education. Students are individuals and human. Not data points in a multi-level statistical model. Teachers know this. Will anybody else listen?

I often get comments by teachers that move me close to tears. This is one of them. In the best of times, what the writer says would not be remarkable. In these times, these words remind us how education can be powerful and why these days it is not, it is just filling in the blanks.

I thought that several years ago the NCTE had come out with a position or paper arguing that rubrics were not appropriate for several reasons. I tried rubrics for several years and found them to be limiting and the products that I received in Social Studies, English and Humanities courses to be less than what I knew the kids could do. It’s a natural human thing to want to please and then focus on doing what is defined in front of you ala a rubric and stop. “Little Boxes” rings in my ears.

I adopted Leonardo DaVinci 7 Principles as a guide and was especially attracted to Sfumato usually translated as “Up in Smoke” meaning to embrace ambiguity, paradox and uncertainty. Great things are produced and discovered when you open the door to possibilities and leave some things undefined. When I did that, there was difficulty adjusting as kids had been trained to give the right answers. My response was there may be none and that I was more interested in originality, creativity and being able to explain and defend one’s thinking. En Garde!

However, once kids realized that they were full partners in their learning and that most anything was possible, they brought me to tears with their work. I have been lucky to work with teams of colleagues that shared this philosophy in public and private settings here in Houston and around the world. We shared a belief also that rich, engaging teaching and learning was the best way to inspire kids and the test scores took care of themselves. All test prep and no play makes Johnnies and Janes dull kids.

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