Archive for September, 2010

It was only two days ago that I attended the Education Nation Town Hall meeting in New York City that was hosted by NBC and sponsored by a bunch of businesses. The entire event took place in what amounted to an elaborate Tent. There were several hundred educators there of all ages and from many schools, representing both Public and Charter School educators. I commented on the shortcomings of this meeting in my last post, so I will not cover that ground again. There was one striking comment however, from one young educator that sent chills down my spine, only to have them go up my spine by the applause that followed her statement. As an educator of 40 years, I was truly awed and upset. Her statement was that she did not need Tenure. She only wanted to be evaluated on her teaching and she was confident she would have a job the next year. She saw no need for Tenure (down the spine). TEACHERS then applauded (back up the spine).

The sound of fingernails on the blackboard for that statement ripped into me. What she was asking for is what Tenure IS. It is a guarantee of due process. It guarantees that the only thing you can be fired for is that which you are responsible for in your teaching duties. What you CAN be fired for under the Tenure law is: Misconduct, Incompetence, Insubordination, Physical or Mental Disability, Neglect of Duty, or a Lack of Teaching Certificate. Additionally, it cannot be a blind accusation, it must be documented. It is also presented at a hearing with all parties under oath. This guarantees fairness in firing people. Why would any teacher say they don’t need that? If the world were as this young teacher assumes it is, having all teachers judged on the merits of their teaching, it would be a wonderful world. History shows us that it has not always been so. Forty years of experience gives me a firsthand account of history.

If it were not for Tenure, I know I would not have survived 34 years in the Public School System. I would have been fired, not for a lack of teaching skills, but for being a vocal advocate for learning and fairness. I stood up publicly and confronted administrators, Superintendents and Board of Education members when I did not agree with policies they were mandating which were not in the best interest of kids. These administrators were not bad people, just misinformed. As Educators we deal with ideas and everyone has opinions about ideas. Some people are threatened by certain ideas. If we, as educators find truth in those ideas, we use our best skills and passion to teach them. If someone in power disagrees with those ideas, our effective teaching becomes a threat. As educators we work under people who are political by the nature of their positions. Sometimes administrators prefer dealing with the person pointing out a problem as an easier task than addressing the problem itself. In this era of economic despair budgets are being cut. Education Reform too many is code for cut my taxes. With senior, experienced teachers making the highest salaries, what better way to cut expenses? Teaching quality be damned. Tenure protects educators from these attacks. It insures our academic freedom as an educator. Again, it only guarantees due process; it does not guarantee a job for life.

Now let’s talk about why people attribute Tenure to “BAD TEACHERS”. It is the most convenient of excuses for administrators who fail to do the right thing. It is not always their fault, but nevertheless some people are not being held accountable. In order to get Tenure a new teacher is supposed to be observed by several administrators over a three-year period. If at any time during that period a non-tenured teacher does not meet the standard, he/she can be summarily dismissed without explanation. It is reasonable to assume that after three years of administrator observations that an accurate assessment of a new teacher can be made. It is after three years that the recommendation for tenure is made. If no decision is made by the administrator, it does become automatic. That only occurs if the administrator allows it to happen. A big problem in the process is the time administrator’s need to complete the observations that they are required to do. Administrators don’t always get to it. It is not intentional, but many things must be prioritized over the course of the year and observations do not head the list. This is further complicated by the administrator turnover rate. As administrators come and go a clear picture of observed teachers is not always there. There is no continuity for observations or personal conferences. If a teacher is brought up on charges of any kind to force a firing, administrators often do not have the documentation to prove the accusations. It is a quick step to say, I couldn’t fire him because of Tenure. A more truthful statement would be I couldn’t fire him because people did not do a follow-up for the process to prove incompetence. The biggest problem in my estimation however, is that not all administrators are cut out to be leaders who make tough decisions. They do not want to be a bad guy and say we have to let you go after your three years of service. This makes the capable leaders weakened in their attempt to do the right thing.

That being said we need to address the problem. It is not Tenure, but the lack of enforcement of the process that grants Tenure that has the most flaws. The observation process also needs to be addressed. Administrators as well as teachers are often upset when an incompetent teacher fails to be removed. Tenure allows incompetent teachers to be removed as long as it is done fairly. Bad teachers make it bad for all teachers. A union however, has a responsibility to defend all teachers to make sure the rules are equally applied to all.

I am most upset at the scab-picking and bickering by teachers. The ugliness of this reform movement is in the name calling of teachers by teachers: Public school teachers against Charter school teachers; Young teachers against experienced teachers; Non-Tenured Teachers against Tenured teachers. The common word in all of these pairing is teacher. We need to work together for positive change and work to build ourselves up, not tear each other down. Teachers are of the most educated people in our society. We can’t point fingers at folks who teach differently or have different educational philosophies and say they are incompetent, FIRE THEM! We need to push this reform to include teaching teachers and parents as well. We can’t hold people accountable unless we train them for what they are accountable for. Learning is ongoing. We need to professionally develop all of our teachers continually. It is not an expense, but an investment.

By the way, I became a teacher at a time of declining enrollment in New York. I was granted Tenure, but I was excessed (not rehired until September) every year for my first nine years of teaching. I knew I was a good teacher, but had to live with the fact that I had to leave while others, that I deemed not as good, remained in their positions. I still support Tenure and I still support seniority.

If we are moving forward with reform let’s do our best to identify the real problems as educators. We need to take a more prominent role in a discussion that is being hijacked by business people and politicians. I understand that this topic will draw on many emotions based on one’s perspective in the system. Please try to stick to the facts and not address the myths on this. Your comments are welcome.

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NBC should be commended for shining a light on what should be a national discussion on Education Reform. Expense was not spared to create more than just a venue for this examination of education. It was an atmosphere created from banners hanging from streetlights to a modern tent pavilion which encased the iconic skating rink in Rockefeller Plaza. All of this created an air of excitement and passion to finally gather educators in a public forum to clearly state what so desperately needed to be clearly stated in the pursuit for education reform. With all that sizzle, I could not wait for the steak.

The Town Hall style meeting began with a touching film about the experiences of a first year teacher. It was well received by the several hundred educators under the big tent. That was a great start with all the members of the tent in accord and reminiscing about their first days as a teacher. The next big question further solidified that feeling of solidarity. Do you feel that teachers are under attack? There seemed to be no one standing up and saying, “No, it ain’t so”. It was shortly after this that I viewed the big tent as more of a circus tent with three rings in the center and a different activity in each of the rings. There was no focus.

I understand the Town Hall meetings are for everyone to get up and say their piece, so I really should not be so critical. Maybe I should be critical of the selection of this format as not being the forum of choice to advance Education Reform. It seemed to me anything but productive in moving reform forward. If this were a class discussion, I would say that the teacher needed a better lesson plan. I don’t know if it could have been done in this format, but I wanted a moderator to summarize, focus, refocus and lead with facts and questions. There were some facts flashed on the big boards, but they were not addressed or reflected in the questions or answers from the participants.

One big objection I had with the entire discussion was the lack of definition. I always have problems with people addressing a problem without defining what the problem is. I bet if you asked a dozen of those educators, “what does a successful education look like?”, you would get a dozen variations. We easily point out all of the failure signs, but even the failure signs are determined by standardized tests and few educators agree on that as a valid assessment. One problem we can identify is that we as educators do not all agree on what a good education is let alone how to get there.

The other lack of definition was that of a “Bad Teacher”. The only thing clear as to what a bad teacher was, was the fact that anyone using that term did not include him/herself in that category.I sumized that a “Bad teacher was similar to the definition of pornography. “I can’t define it, but I know it when I see it. It always gets ugly when teachers go after teachers. Why do we always find a need to FIRE the offenders? We are teachers. Do we fire our students who don’t get it or do we go back and continue with a different approach. Teachers are amongst the most educated people in this country. One would think that they are at least trainable. Is it possible that some of these “Bad Teachers “are victims of poor leadership and/or a lack of professional development? We are talking about people’s careers. They too had that first day in the classroom experience that we all reminisced in the opening movie.

Where the entire meeting seemed to be sidetracked was when someone brought up the topic of TENURE. As an educator of 40 years it was obvious to me that there is a huge disconnect on the part of young teachers as to what tenure is and why it is necessary. It was also obvious to me how naïve some of these young people are about thinking the only thing that would affect their maintaining a secure teaching position was the quality of their teaching. This subject also seemed, at least to me, to open a rift between Charter School educators and Public School Educators. I was getting a feeling that each felt threatened by the other. This was when I noticed that many of the audience members were wearing shirts identifying their schools. Of course my Hawaiian shirt did not give anyone an inkling as to who, or what I represented.

I came away from the Education Nation Town Hall Meeting more frustrated then when I went in. I understand that by a number of assessments our education system needs to make changes. I consider myself a reform advocate. The changes are many and it will require that we define things clearly and dispel any of the myths that people seem to hold onto from their education experience. Of course, with education the common experience of all citizens of this country with compulsory public education, everyone is an expert. There is no single answer to solve this problem. We can’t fire the Bad teachers and expect all will be right with the world. We also need to be truthful about agendas. Education Reform to many people is the code for “Lower my taxes”. Or fire the most expensive teachers. Or, let’s get in on the profits and make money with charter schools. Or, I need to get re-elected by jumping on the education bandwagon.

We need to make changes in the system, but they must be made by people who have an understanding of the problem. It can’t be left to town hall meetings. These meetings are useful in underscoring the concerns, but emotions tend to cloud the facts. We need educational leadership to step up and replace the business people and politicians who are stealing what should be our issue. We need educators on every level to be aware of not just their problems, but how they fit into the big picture. We need to take responsibility for our actions. We expect nothing less from our students. We need to model that which we teach. We need to be educated about our profession in order to guide the discussions to a positive outcome for reform.

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I have really grown tired of the teacher-bashing that is currently being carried out by politicians and media outlets. Teachers are not the cause for educational reform. They are however, the means we need to enact the reform. Teachers often offer positive education reform suggestions with less of an audience than popular media. Since education is their profession, one would think that these suggestions come from experience and training. Those are two elements that are often not evident in many of today’s Education Reform contributors.

I read great suggestions for reform from educational Bloggers on a daily basis. I would like to focus that voice. My suggestion is to have as many educational bloggers who wish to participate, do a Post for positive educational reform on one day. Individual contributions could be a single idea or a range of ideas in an overall plan. There are no limitations on the ideas.

My plan is to have all of these Blog posts come out on the same day. I would have the links to the Blog sites posted on a Wallwisher page with the Post title and the link. We could drive people to the Wallwisher site for a large group link recommendation, as well as the usual twitter link recommendations for individual links.

I have chosen Sunday October 17th as the day for this effort. It is a Sunday, so the week should be filled with great suggestions being bounced around schools for the entire week. It will give us time to develop ideas and promote the Day. Any individual, who wants to participate, but doesn’t have a blog, may place their post on the Educator’s PLN Blog Page. We could call it Reforms from Educational Bloggers Links of Educational Suggestions, REBELS Day

That is my Plan and I have yet to etch it into the granite slab now on my desk. It would be a great time for your suggestions or refinements.

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Although there are many who think I was an actual witness to the event, I was not there when Achilles’ mother, Thetis, tried to make him immortal by dipping him in the river Styx. In holding him by the heel she failed to make him totally immortal. The term Achilles Heel has come to mean a place where something or someone is vulnerable to attack of serious consequence.

Moving from the mythological world to the digital world of the 21st Century, we may be able to link the two in regard to Twitter. Educators familiar with Twitter and who use it as a means of sources and collaboration may have personally experienced a similar act, as I cite this example to support my point.

For those of you less familiar with Twitter, it is a place where educators may make statements or pass on information in the form of short URL links to other educators. This is probably an oversimplified explanation, but it should establish an understanding. If a person Tweets out a thought (limited to 140 Characters) it travels out to anyone who is following that person. If a follower finds value in that tweet, they may pass it on to their followers in the form of a Re-Tweet (RT).

The RT credits the original sender for the idea or link. The person who RT’s the Tweet may need to abbreviate the original if it exceeds 140 characters. It is understood however, that the intent of the original idea is to be kept intact. Many tweeters comment on an RT, but it is usually clear that the comment is separated from the original tweet or idea. Usually, it is an acknowledgement of agreement to the idea. If there is strong disagreement then the tweeter will usually put out a new, original tweet expressing a different point of view. This has always been my understanding of the process and it is how I explain it to others when I am in the position to do so.

In that context I now offer my experience on Twitter yesterday. As I looked over my TweetDeck column of all of the tweets that mention me, I came across a tweet resembling one of mine that was RTed. It credited me with an idea that I supposedly tweeted. The problem that I had with it, and the thing that brought about a 20 second tirade of screen-screaming, was that I never tweeted what this person said I did. This person was rewording my original tweet with his/her viewpoint and crediting me as saying it. When I pointed out to this tweeter that I never said what he/she was crediting me with, I received a few replies. I was told that everyone comments on Tweets in RT’s and that there are no Rules on Twitter. I would imagine some other educators on Twitter may have had similar experiences.

It is true that there are no rules on Twitter. It is true that comments are made on RT’s. It is also true that people do not bastardize other’s tweets for their own purpose, or to serve their agenda. There are however, certain rules of civilized society that should govern conversation or discourse on Twitter. We have to assume that Twitter participants are people of integrity who do not distort the truth. We need to assume that we are respectful of others and their ideas, even if we disagree. We need to believe that people make every effort to be accurate in their attempt to share information. We need to believe that our passions for a topic or idea will not allow us to disrespect others with opposing points of view. Those same opposing points of view are what force our reflections to strengthen or change our views on that same subject.

If we are to expose ourselves as educators to the world on Social Media, we need to remember we are professionals dealing with ideas and learning. We need to model our respect for these things. Even in the passion of discourse, we cannot stoop to name-calling or petty bickering. We need to be truthful and honest. We can be passionate about the subject and still have integrity and show respect for others even in disagreement.

Yes it is true, Twitter has no rules. We, as educators however, have guidelines which we need to live by in order to model for others. I am sure that this person who distorted my tweet believed he/she had every right to do so, because Twitter has no rules. We must rise above that thinking however, if we are to trust others in what we have developed as our Personal Learning Network. Like the students who we teach, we need a safe and comfortable learning environment that we can trust. Let us not allow anyone’s lack of ethics be our Twitter Achilles Heel.

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Personal Learning Networks have taken up a great deal of my time of late, about the last two years. I have always had a PLN although it was never called that. The digital slant, of what before this, might have been called a group of study buddies, has caused a re-examination by educators on a global scale. Instead of being limited to a small group of educators comparing notes or lessons in a building, a PLN can now draw upon literally thousands of educators, worldwide, at any given time. Study buddies without the boundaries of time or space, very Star-Trekkie. Educators can even Skype anywhere in the world for the ultimate video connection. It is no flying car, but the video phone was predicted at the ’64 World’s Fair. I remember.  I was there. Belgian Waffles were great.

The key to developing my Personal Learning Network had nothing to do with me being a digital Native, because I am not. My motivation to learn comes from somewhere within. I enjoy taking my own route to get to a goal that I set for myself. I think the term Lifelong Learner applies to me. The thing that makes the learning fun and easy for me is the technology. I am not always comfortable with it, but I do not fear it. I only say that because the reasons I am most often given by others for educators not embracing technology is that educators are fearful of it, or they are not comfortable with it.

Learning is not a passive activity. One cannot place a tape recorder (old tech term) under a pillow at night and wake up with the knowledge in the morning. I have personally researched this. Additionally, one can’t join a Personal Learning Network. If it is to be of value, it needs to be built by the individual who owns it. This requires a commitment of time, but not so much energy, except for the exercising of the mind. When one engages a Digital PLN, it will involve receiving a great deal of information in the form of links. Each link is a hot button. It is a click to: a website, a blog post, a video, an article, a webcast, a podcast, or a picture. I imagine without the technology, one would read books, Journals, articles, videotapes, DVR’s and talk to people face to face. That would be a very early 20th century PLN, but still doable today for a while longer anyway.

It takes a lifelong learner’s commitment to a PLN to reap the benefits and apply it to teaching. This should be no problem for educators because they all teach kids to be Lifelong Learners. If you don’t believe me ask a teacher. Better yet, look at the school’s Mission Statement; it probably addresses the school’s dedication to lifelong learning. The problem is that too often that only applies to the kids and not the staff. Lifelong learning is too much a case of do as I say, and not as I do. Too many educators subscribe to the theory that once the degree is secured, and the teaching license in hand, the goal is reached, and now the coasting begins. Maybe some courses to meet requirements will be taken. Certainly, courses for pay raises would be needed, but those are but small bumps in the road. I know, not everyone is like this. However, we are in a profession that is in a fishbowl and under attack. We cannot afford to have any individuals representing us with this mindset. These folks are not the majority but this minority has an ability to influence others to the dark side. We cannot have this jeopardizing our profession.

Most educators are collaborative and nurturing individuals. That is their strength. We use those qualities with our students. We need to apply them to our colleagues. All information does not stop evolving once we get our teaching job. We need to stay relevant. In a world with a technology rich environment it is fool hearty for educators to think they still have a choice about using technology as a tool in education. We are teaching kids who will be affected by more technology than we have today. They will have jobs that are not yet in existence. Their skills will require the use of technology.

Educators teach skills and encourage children to learn. A good teacher can do that without technology, but why? Technology is but a tool for educators and students to use. The skills remain the same no matter what the tool. Teachers do not need to be technology experts to allow students to use it to retrieve information, collaborate, create, and communicate. That is what will be required of them in their world. While educators debate and control technology as a tool, business and industry are embracing it. Technology continues to advance and many educators are not even familiar with what possibilities are available. If technology requires a new form of literacy, many of our educators are illiterate.

A PLN allows people to explore and collaborate on whatever it is they determine as a need to know. A PLN is not exclusive to educators. They can have: Boat builders connected to boat builders, doctors connected to doctors, educators connected to educators, learners connected to learners. People can choose their direction and go down that road as far as they need to go. A PLN enables a person to control her or his learning. A PLN is a digital tool for learning. We can use it to model the very thing that we strive to teach our students. A PLN is not learned, as much as experienced. A PLN enables us to continue our path to Lifelong Learning.

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