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Leadership and Activism, Philosophical Meanderings

Must-Do List From the Co-op

This week we decided to follow up on some of the conversations we’ve been having and co-create a list that answers the question:

What MUST we DO to transform schools into places of authentic, democratic learning?

At one point we mentioned involving someone else in creating this list as well, and I know several of us have been having those conversations with our local peers.

So, to begin the list are three action items from Becky Fisher, Assistant Director For Information Management and Instructional Technology in Albemarle County Public Schools, VA. (@beckyfisher73 on Twitter)

1. Stop using low level state tests as excuses for not teaching authentically and not taking the time to run a democratic classroom.

2. Work diligently to prove authentic assessments have validity and reliability and can, in fact, be used to demonstrate skills and mastery, replacing those multiple-choice, low level tests.

3. Abandon practices that sort, select and compare kids to one another.

Now for mine:

4. Look for competence and find successes to share. Build confidence and creativity as you honor all kinds of learning and all kinds of learners. Listen to your heart as you watch and observe, and keep in mind that students build a sense of self through experiences that both challenge and support them. Think about your tone of voice, and the looks on your face that kids see throughout the day. Make sure kids know you believe in them!  Have you scaffolded them and the learning so they willingly and ably approach new learning with their own strengths and ideas? Are your students leaving you each day  feeling more knowledgeable, more confident and more ready to face the next adventure in life?

5. Run a joyful classroom. Construct high-quality and meaningful tasks that make learning rewarding. Build a respectful community that supports each and every learner succeeding, working together in a network of engagement and sustenance. Are you supporting your students to open their hearts to one another and become a responsive, caring part of the world?

6. Vow to share EVERY DAY with a colleague ONE practice you think is worth repeating based on the engagement of your kids. Converse with that colleague about the qualities of engagement and high quality work. Does what you’re asking students to do REALLY matter in the big picture of life?

So what are the things YOU  believe we simply MUST DO to transform schools?

Join in and share your ideas as we share ours this week.

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About Paula White

grandma, teacher, Apple Distinguished Educator (ADE), DEN STAR, Google Certified Teacher, camper, Gifted Resource Tchr, NETS*T certified, lover of learning

Discussion

15 thoughts on “Must-Do List From the Co-op

  1. Similar to #5 and 6: Remain positive with colleagues about change, about other co-workers, about “the system.” Refrain from criticism and focus on what can be done. I love this Tony Wagner mantra: “No shame. No blame. No excuses.”

    Thanks to the co-op as you speak on behalf of kids. M.E. (@steelepierce)

    Posted by M.E. Steele-Pierce | May 17, 2010, 6:25 pm
    • M.E. – I’m so glad you joined us and shared your must-do with us. Thank you!

      I’ll work on the system piece; it’s still a target in my mind for a bit of blame. I’ll try to talk about it more constructively without making excuses for it.

      All the best,
      C

      Posted by Chad Sansing | May 18, 2010, 6:37 am
  2. Yes, Paula – I will take the time to run a democratic classroom share out something each day with a colleague.

    While reflecting on your list, I’m reminded of this post by Mary Beth on encouraging dialogue; I hope to use it with students for blogging, morning meetings, and group work.

    This question sticks with me: “Are your students leaving you each day feeling more knowledgeable, more confident and more ready to face the next adventure in life?”

    That’s a good one for a gut-check. How do we know it? How do we allow students to show it?

    How do we avoid knowing that they don’t? How do we fill up the school day and class period to avoid doing work that matters? How do we retreat from authenticity? Why?

    I’d like to come back to assessment at the nitty-gritty level sometime; perhaps ask all the Coöp members to design a unit or learning opportunity on an agreed upon topic, as well as an assessment for it? Too artificial? Not democratic enough?

    I can’t wait to read more this week. This is a great topic for diversity, inspiration, voice, and point of view.

    Many thanks, Paula!
    C

    Posted by Chad Sansing | May 17, 2010, 6:30 pm
  3. I’m in love (friendship way) with both of you. That’s why I am going to push the envelope here a bit and question something that I see, not just in the last two posts, but in everything we write. It’s a reoccurring theme that fascinates me because, although I believe in it, leaves me concerned about what lies ahead for our students. Feel free to reflect back on any post as I just need to ponder this a bit:

    Are we preparing our kids for the road that lies ahead by emphasizing a “democratic system” in an undemocratic world?

    Yesterday was the anniversary of Brown v. BOE, and it simply amazed me how my kids pinpointed so many examples outside of school that clearly point to an undemocratic world. Does the whole “rage to riches” mantra still exist? Does everyone still have a fair shake in life regardless of background? Does everyone treat everyone else equally?

    Here’s an example: I was sitting at lunch the other day and a recently fired employee came to pick up his check. He was fired because he was late to work (by five minutes) two times. Forget the fact that the boss had no problem making a spectacle of the situation in front of me and my colleague (we were the only ones there).

    See, here’s the trend that I see school emphasizing that life doesn’t. We all talk about individualism, teaching kids to think critically, and seeing that all of their needs are met. What I wonder is if anyone beyond the walls of school even cares about any of these things? Does a boss care if a kid is late by five minutes because he/she forgot something at home (or in his/her last class)?

    I’m not trying to be pessimistic (though I definitely sound it). What I am saying is that kids grow up with a false assumption that the world bends to them and will treat them fairly. It doesn’t. It never will.

    This is similar to a post I wrote recently that Chad commented on: http://synthesizingeducation.com/blog/2010/05/10/tough-questions-do-we-care-too-much-about-student-engagement-interest-and-relevance/

    See, I think we are talking about the right things and that schools are doing the right things, but is life doing the right thing?

    Just kicking around some thoughts that have been troubling me as of late.

    Sorry for venting.

    Posted by Aaron Eyler | May 18, 2010, 7:04 pm
    • Aaron, back at you.

      I share your concern, but consider it from the flipside. Is the world going to change appreciably during my son’s lifetime if we don’t change how we school our children? Adam has pushed me to think in this direction. Consider #edchat and all the well-meaning teachers who want to embrace mastery learning, but still grade, or who feel like they have to take off points from awesome, but late projects to maintain control over students’ work habits. If we don’t push ourselves to make a clean break from hurtful traditions, then we’re playing the zero sum game of outdated industrial capitalist colonial public education.

      There is another game to play – a collaborative, healing one, one that’s played for joy and fulfillment. Call it education. Call it learning. Call it life. Call it sanity. There are service groups and socially minded enterprises out there for our students to join or emulate in their own vocations. Want to be a doctor, kid? Let’s start Students Without Borders today in class. A lawyer? Let’s go research and write briefs on our neighborhood’s needs. Want to be a game designer? Can you make a version of Urgent Evoke for issues in our school like poverty, exclusion, and boredom?

      When I was in love with test results as the end of education and infused them with totemic significance, I thought I was preparing students to succeed. But the real world isn’t about them either. The real world is a system. It needs help. People need help.

      In the service industry, humans asked to do low level tasks are seen as expendable. The boss’s attitude and reasons for firing the kid show this. Of course there are caring managers, too.

      If we help kids find their passions and pursue their vocations then maybe lead management will replace boss management. If we help kids relate to one another then maybe we won’t humiliate one another over 10 minutes time. If we help kids experience the fulfillment of authentic work and the safety and push of true community then maybe they’ll expect the same things from the communities they join in the future.

      Life is what we make of it together. You don’t sound pessimistic. You’re asking the right questions we should all ask ourselves.

      The creators and innovators and entrepreneurs and servant leaders and the employees who find fulfillment working for them are part of the real world. Let’s look to them and not to the boss.

      All the best,
      C

      Posted by Chad Sansing | May 18, 2010, 9:22 pm
    • Aaron,
      Chad said much of what I was thinking and very eloquently. I simply agree–if we set up a child’s world so that s/he expects to be treated well, and s/he experiences the power of a community, perhaps the work world will be a different place for the next generation.

      “The real world is a system. It needs help. People need help.” We can begin that in our classrooms and in our schools by painting different pictures of what the world and interactions between people can be like.

      Just as schools often perpetuate bad practices because “it’s always been done this way,” so does the work world, I believe. We need to point to the different ways some employers are doing things to provide those opportunities for creativity, self-direction and initiative.

      We need to really live the mantra of paying it forward, treating one another with respect and dignity and honoring the creativity, strengths and caring in all of the people in our world. Just as Chad says, “Life IS what we make of it together.” He adds, ” If we help kids experience the fulfillment of authentic work and the safety and push of true community then maybe they’ll expect the same things from the communities they join in the future.”

      I know that’s true for me. Having worked in a school division where the Superintendent says in her Twitter bio she is “creating 21st c community learning spaces for all kinds of learners, both adults and young people” it would be hard for me to even consider working in a school division with boss management.

      I say if we help them experience that sense of community and fulfillment, they WILL expect it. We need to also help them have the skills to change their world if they DON’T get “the fulfillment of authentic work and the safety and push of true community”, or they find themselves in a situation where it is NOT true. THAT’S another piece we need to add to our work, and what you address in your concerns, I think.

      Aaron, thanks for being in my world and pushing me. . . you are an amazing catalyst for my thinking!

      Posted by Paula White | May 19, 2010, 6:20 am
    • Aaron,

      A just question. From my perspective we need to be inoculating our children with sanity so that when they encounter insanity they can name it and resist it. If there is hope for change in a given situation then they will have the skills to help create it, and if there is not, they will be able to walk away gracefully.

      In your lunch counter example, a student of mine would understand that the boss was being an *sshole, and that while he needs a job, he might just be better off without this one. With his positive attitude and beautiful character (not to mention that shiny diploma and relevant learning) he will find a new job. Or who knows maybe he will start up his own business. Either way he will carry forth dignity and will not treat others like his boss treated him.

      In my push for democratic education, I am not interested in shielding students from the insanity that exists in our world, but I am interested in working with them to design meaningful alternatives while in school so that they have the tools and perspectives necessary to change the nonsense they find when they graduate.

      How else will they know there is another way to do things if they never experience anything other than crazy? Just because crazy is the predominant mode in Western culture does that mean we do students a disservice by showing them sanity?

      Posted by Adam Burk | May 19, 2010, 6:55 am
  4. Thank you Becky Fisher for your observations about assessment (tried to comment at your blog but got discouraged about having to create one more profile). As a sister-in-different-kinds-of-feedback-for- kids, I want to point you towards a wonderful group of folks at the Center for Collaborative Education, who are doing work on creating higher quality performance assessments for “progressivist” public schools that can be mapped onto existing state frameworks. They are working at the Fenway High School in Boston in ways that are very promising.

    Paula, you beautiful brilliant teacher: how do YOU create joy in your classroom everyday? What do you do that you can tell other teachers about, teachers who do not come at the work with beauty and wisdom?

    Posted by Kirsten Olson | May 19, 2010, 3:50 pm
  5. After a particularly challenging day–a day where I had to let my inner child go vent in a padded room (also known as my friend’s windowless, cinder block classroom)–finding this blog and this group is like a tall drink of cool water. Whew! I feel like I can sit back, relax, and REALLY say what’s on my mind. Thank you.

    Adam: A just question. From my perspective we need to be inoculating our children with sanity so that when they encounter insanity they can name it and resist it…How else will they know there is another way to do things if they never experience anything other than crazy?

    Thank you for saying this. This is where my support for the mantra to “prepare kids for the world” really breaks down. Why do we want to prepare them for something dysfunctional? Don’t we want to prepare them to transform? I have to admit, though, as someone who was the beneficiary of some wonderfully abundant, alive, humane education and work experiences, I am hesitant to inflict pain on my students… the pain that comes from growing up and realizing the world doesn’t match up to your hopes and visions. Sigh. Heck. One doesn’t even have to grown up to realize that. Adults feel it too. Just a job shift from type of school culture to another can really strain your emotional resiliency. I worry about the adults too, I really do. We all need to be invested in maintaining our integrity as educators and I see many of my colleagues losing their vibrancy, a heartbreaking loss that stems, in part, from learned helplessness, I think.

    Paula: Just as schools often perpetuate bad practices because “it’s always been done this way,” so does the work world, I believe. We need to point to the different ways some employers are doing things to provide those opportunities for creativity, self-direction and initiative.

    Yes. Yes. Yes. My favorite place to work was a summer camp (of course) and every summer was different because the director insisted that the staff contribute something of their passions and talents. Sure, there were the annual traditions that we maintained, but every year was colored by the people, not the institution. In way, that practice of putting people first became the institution. I have never felt quite so “seen” as a human being since. I wish that for everyone.

    Chad: I don’t know what to cite. The whole gosh darn thing. Have you been reading my mind and then you came and found me on Edutopia?

    I especially loved your third paragraph. What if we redefine “preparing for the world” as preparing to serve and transform the world rather than survive it? The standard model for designing a curriculum of “preparation” is to take a look at what the students/people the “next level up” need to do create mock tasks to replicate that experience in the classroom. But who/what are we modeling? Can we examine that, please? Most of the models revolve around conformation to a standard and behavioral compliance. What if instead we modeled innovation, empathy, and deviance from a standard?

    Posted by Laura Webber | May 19, 2010, 6:21 pm
    • Laura, I’m so glad you found us! Thank you for your generous comments and camaraderie. I love the idea of deviance even more than subversion – teaching that it’s okay to deviate is important in fostering empathy and risk-taking. It’s as important as teaching kids to fail forward.

      I hope you join us often!

      All the best,
      Chad

      Posted by Chad Sansing | May 19, 2010, 7:00 pm
  6. Hey, can we make deviance our next topic?

    Laura, thank you for your thoughtful response. Join us regularly, please.

    Posted by Paula | May 19, 2010, 8:08 pm

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