Dr. Ravitch on the Complexities of Schooling

I think Diane Ravitch is one of the most important educators and policy makers of our time. Her book, The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education is a must-read for administrators and policy makers. She was on President Obama’s short list for Secretary of Education. In this five minute video, she helps us understand the complex social and political dynamics affecting effective teaching and learning.

Today’s discussions on education are about the business model vs. the social service model, merit-pay, testing, rigor, etc. Let’s step back and truly understand what our educational goals are in the United States. Let’s deepen our understanding of teaching and learning. How do students think and acquire knowledge? How can society support the successful learning of all students? How can we develop educators who have a passion for their craft and an understanding of their students? How can each of us take responsibility for the greatest assets we have- our children!
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New Chicago School Chief

Chicago has a new school superintendent. The first of “The Six Secrets of Change” (Michael Fullan) is to love your employees (as much as your clients). I hope Mr. Brizard understands that our goal is student success and that happens best through effective teacher development and strong community support systems!

We cannot be mired in the “Management Model or Social Services Model” conflict. Effective school leadership must encompass both types of leadership. A system-level education administrator 1.must have a deep knowledge of the craft of teaching and learning, 2.must understand how to motivate and coach employees, and 3.must be able to effectively and transparently manage school and community systems.

Mr. Brizard now heads the the nation’s third largest school system. This is an excellent opportunity to develop a model for success. The months ahead will be full of expectations, challenges, struggles- and successes!

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Life is Full of Cookies…

“Sometimes the cookies look so good…And I want them so much. I think to myself that I would rather eat a cookie and risk your discovering the crumbs than to ask you if I can eat a cookie and risk being told ‘No’”.

This is my teen son’s explanation of why he is sneaky sometimes.

Life is full of cookies-literally and metaphorically.

I sneak in a decadent snack of chocolate milk and several oreo cookies at the end of the day, even when I know the “crumbs” will show in the form of pounds on the weight scale.

We know our students and our children may be sly as they try to get out of homework, or try to bend the rules for assignments, sports practices, or late-night texting.

Our job is to help them to understand and evaluate the cookie choices before them. How delicious is the cookie? How natural are the ingredients? Why do I want one so badly? What are the consequences of eating this cookie? Will I be able to stop at just one?

We each have had cookie dilemmas in our lives. As a junior, I was invited to a seniors-only party in high school, a “cookie” I wanted very badly and my parents consented to. Just before the party, I found out alcohol was being served. Was I certain that I would not want this cookie, too?

Today, I think there has never been a time in history when a greater and endless variety of seemingly delicious cookies have been accessible to each of us, especially those of us who are young and novices in a world full of delectable desserts.

We can keep our students and children away from the aroma of fresh baked pastries for as long as possible, we can even make sure we never have desserts at home…and we may risk finding crumbs anyway. Or we can share our favorite cookies with them as they grow up, and help them be discriminating in their own choices of delectable, desirable, and potentially diabolical, cookies.

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Our Living History

Live. Learn. Teach. I just spent a weekend with a man who embodies this philosophy and I am humbled and inspired. James Earl Carter’s mother was asked if he was an extraordinary child during the 1940s and she answered that he was a completely ordinary boy. This boy grew up to be a remarkable dreamer, a lifelong learner and a teacher for a classroom filled with the citizens of the world.

Jimmy Carter is an inspiration in my life. He was raised on a farm and became the 39th president of the most powerful nation on Earth (from peanut farm to the nation’s capitol is quite a motivating story). Today, at the age of 86, President Carter (his title is President, not Mr., even after he leaves the office) continues to strive to meet the potential that he knows God gave him.

President Carter quips that he was forced into “involuntary retirement” in 1980 (Reagan beat him in the election). And then his extraordinary service to our country and the world really began. For the last 25+ years, the Carter Center has immunized over 35 million sufferers of guinea worm disease, malaria, trachoma, and river blindness. His health and peace initiatives benefit over 70 nations on Earth. Partnering with local communities, he serves the poorest people in the most neglected areas of the world.

Once a year in April, the Carter Center invites its supporters to join them in a briefing and a trip to Plains, Georgia, the Carters’ hometown. This is one of my favorite weekends of the year! When the Carters left the White House, they could have lived in any exciting city in our beautiful nation, and they decided to come home to Plains and live amidst their town of 635 citizens. President Carter states tongue-in-cheek, “Rosa and I haven’t gone very far in life…we still live about a couple of miles from where each of us were born.”

During the weekend, the Carters brief us on the work they are currently undertaking. President Carter and his dedicated staff deepen our understanding of the process of eradicating some of the most terrible diseases on Earth. Mrs. Rosalyn Carter shares her experiences developing policies to end the stigma surrounding mental health issues. They also host us during some of their favorite meals (with fried chicken, corn bread, macaroni and cheese, and amazing pecan pie), invite us to church where Jimmy Carter is the only president to teach Sunday School regularly while in office and even today, and even block off Main Street so they can lead us in square dancing where they out-dance every guest in attendance. This is hospitality indicative of the true spirit of the south. I leave spiritually fed and inspired to do more to serve and teach others.

Jimmy Carter travels the world; he engages in discussion with queens, sheikhs, and paupers. He has stayed in castles and straw huts. He has played with the rich and famous and he has played with dirt-covered children in African fields. He has influenced world leaders and he has served disease-ridden villagers. He teaches us the true meaning of service through his actions, his demeanor, and his sincerity.

He was a young boy who chose to dream and strive to be more than ordinary.

It’s not about politics. It’s about people. Live. Learn. And share your learning- teach others. I urge you to visit www.CarterCenter.org. The Carters are our American heroes. They are living history of the great story of the United States of America.

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Now Trending!

I am in California and I am astounded by local practices;

1. San Francisco requires paper bags instead of plastic grocery bags and cardboard containers instead of styrofoam takeout containers.
2. Wealthy Piedmont citizens drive Toyota Priuses and the most fuel efficient versions (and least ostentatious) of Mercedes Benz cars.
3. Reusing is common practice. For example, chic residents go to Urban Ore to find high-quality, beautiful doors that others who have recently remodeled do not need.
American citizens have made cigarette smoking unacceptable in polite company. We can use positive peer pressure to help others (and ourselves) make better decisions regarding environmental issues as well.
I do not think we can (or have to) sustain a “go without” lifestyle in resource-rich America, but we can make using resources wisely cool and in vogue.
The local common practices in San Francisco are not amazing, they are essential!
Americans lead the world in modeling the next big trend – let’s model this for the world!
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Teens at Capitol Hill

Empowering young people who are defining our future in positive ways is the most exciting work I will ever do…Supporting teachers, educators, parents, and community members as they empower young people is the important work I hope to continue to do. This is the mission of Envision Education Consultants.
On Wednesday, March 9, we took a group of teens and adults to Springfield, IL for an annual political Action Day. What a life-changing experience!

Before the event, we watched videos on last year’s event (for those who were new to get a glimpse of what it may look like), we watched SchoolHouse Rock videos (Little Bill singing “I’m Just a Bill…On Capitol Hill”), and we trained students from our own experiences with local legislators.

Our students and adults created index cards with their names, organization’s title, personal talking points on the issues, and were ready to enter the capitol dressed in suits and dresses, smiles on their faces, and a crisp one-minute prepared speech. We also passed out muffins, orange juice and candy on the bus. I think this sugar-high helped them keep a great mood all day long!

We met several representatives and senators and watched one committee meeting where we understood the issues at hand. Students begged State Treasurer Dan Rutherford’s assistant to let us in to see him (anyone with a teenager at home knows how persistent they can be!) and we took photos with him as three students grilled him about funding for educational programs. The highlight for us was when the students were given a shout out in the House of Representatives. We all stood up and waved as the members gave us a hand for being there to support our legislative system. Rep. Will Davis facilitated this memorable event.

We had a reflection session after our meetings and these are some student comments.
(Sorry about all the exclamation points. This is how teens speak):
“I didn’t know how real these people were. I was just able to go up to them and tell them what I thought was important about our laws!”
“I loved sitting in on a committee meeting. I never realized how bills are voted on and passed to the next level.”
“There were 1000 of us here!”
“I can’t believe we got applauded by the House of Representatives- unreal!!!”
“Rep. Connelly spent 20 minutes with us! He gave us tips on how to become the next representatives!”
“I liked our contest to see who would talk to the most people for one-minute. I felt like I had to talk and keep sharing my points!”
“The building is beautiful. Our architecture class made me think about the building.”
Many other reflections are available upon request…

I kept offering to take the students and adults to lunch and the students just didn’t want to leave. We ate lunch at 3:45 because they were too busy talking with legislators, lobbyists, security guards and anyone else who needed to know why we were there.
Last, every student will email a thank you to those we met. This is our “homework/follow-up”.

The power of young people who have 1.knowledge about current issues, 2. the desire to make a change, and 3. the preparation that makes them organized, is palpable!

We are learning that a true citizen is one who loves his/her country enough to strive to make it even better!

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A Seed for Tomorrow

Our community lost a youth (his initials are BM).  Within one month, he was diagnosed with Leukemia, began and underwent intense chemotherapy, contracted an infection, and as his health spiraled downward, passed away at age 15.  We are each reeling from the shock, from the loss, and from the pain…
BM’s mother and father’s pain is palpable; their arms ache to enfold him for their bedtime embrace and they struggle to make it through one more moment (and then another and another) without completely succumbing to their grief. 
BM’s siblings’ disbelief is heart-wrenching because these younger brothers and sisters are hoping he will just come back.  His sister wants to make his favorite brownies and take it to his grave so he can come and eat them.
And the rest of us?  I was one of his teachers and an “aunty” and I simply cannot seem to go through a day without moments of complete arrest as I think of the last time I saw him, or the picnic at which he was playing football, or the time we sat together and revised his writing on an essay.  Why can’t I move forward?

As adults, when we invest in a potentially successful business, we always expect a return.  A high rate of return.  In the realm of teaching, children are our business and we know they provide the possibility of unlimited return on our investments of time, energy, and intellect…
How do we deal with the loss of a life that had so much more to do, so much more to say, and so much more to give back? 
In moments of despair, I remind myself that I believe (as the prophetic story states) that if we have a seed, we must plant that seed in the hope that a tree will grow.  We must plant that seed even if we know that the world will end tomorrow.  That seed is our contribution for today and our hope for a tomorrow.
I find the strength to keep teaching, to keep trying to reach another child, even through this tragedy.  I cannot control whether a parent provides a nurturing environment at home.  I cannot control the safety of the streets down which our children walk on their way to school.  I cannot control what choices a teenager makes as they are accosted by the vices of the world.  I cannot control the disease that may be spreading through a beloved students’ frame while he or she is engaged in a discussion in my classroom.  All I can do is simply plant a seed today…BM teaches me this certainty even as I mourn losing him.
I think again about BM’s parents and make another silent prayer for them.  And then I turn back to my students and continue with planting the seed today; hoping the best of outcomes will be their tomorrow.
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Honoring My Teachers

To God we belong, and to Him we return. One of my beloved teachers died yesterday.
The world looks to us in America as a highly educated, talented, successful, and deeply faithful people.  We did not just become this way; pioneers paved the path with their struggles as slaves, their work in factories, on railroads, and in rural areas and industrial cities.

After the 1965 amendment to the civil rights act, this country benefited from the intellect and the work ethic of an amazing group of new immigrants.  These immigrants came from the Indian subcontinent, from east Asia and from the Middle East for a better life for their family… and they stayed to serve their new country.  They devoted their time to furthering innovative research in their respective fields, founded social and technical institutions, and still made time to give voice to their unique messages of culture and faith in this land of diverse voices.  I have been blessed to call many of them my elders and my teachers and this is my message to them.

You took time to invest in me and my brothers, sisters, and friends.  You raised a generation that watched the hard work, personal sacrifice, and ambition you modeled for the sake of service to others.  Many of you were my teachers, my role models, and my family’s friends.  And my generation?  Well, we were not always obedient followers… we were too rash in our actions, too brash with our opinions, we thought the “uncles and auntis” didn’t understand us, and we made you all grow gray hair (way before your time) or lose your hair completely!  
Your whole family became community property; Your children shared their father or mother with all of the “youth” and I know they may have wanted more of your time.  I pray that God will bless them for their sacrifice of their beloved fathers/mothers for our community.
In the last few years, we have lost many of our buzoorgh (Urdu for wise elders).  Each of us is brought to life to do God’s work and He decides when we will return to Him.  I pray that  God takes each of my elders and teachers by the hand and leads them into paradise as they took each of us by the hand and raised us so that now we may continue the work they started.
As we age, we often ponder how we will be remembered.  Please know that we have been honored to have your guidance, we have been nurtured by your talents, and we have been given the confidence to move our community to the next step by your model.  May you have a beautiful rest in the Hereafter in the best of His gardens because you worked tirelessly in this world for your students. 
I make this prayer for all my teachers, and for everyone who has selflessly served our community and raised a generation who now promises to continue to serve the generation that follows us.  
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Encouraging the Geeks!

There are those that are passionate about learning, constantly curious about the world, and eager to take risks.  As a community, it is our responsibility to encourage the geeks!  Never role your eyes in judgment of someone who is less capable than you…and never role your eyes in judgment of someone who is truly passionate about a cause and risking nerd-hood to show it!

Today, in my graduate class, I realized there are a couple of us who are teaching geeks…we are Howard Gardner groupies and long to travel to every ASCD conference.  We read everything we can get our hands on about education, student learning, school success- you get the picture.  This is actually true of most of us in the program (who else would spend 12 hours on Friday night and Saturday discussing how to engage students and develop school improvement plans?). There are two or three in the class, however, who seem to snicker at those who are teacher geeks- and their reactions greatly impact the dynamic of the class.

Now, we know students stop taking risks, stop asking questions, and retreat into a shell when they are ridiculed for asking and wondering.  What I observe is that the same is true of adults.  Those in the class who are raving, foaming-at-the-mouth educators feel inhibited and are becoming taciturn during the discussions.  And we all lose when our community’s learning lunatics stop wanting to be loony about learning and teaching.  We all lose when our community’s thinkers are not validated for wanting to think.  We all lose when our community’s passionate find their passions dampened.

I will be more cognizant of those who care deeply about an idea or a concept or a cause.  The doctor who reads everything about medicine in the news, the neighbor who recycles and reuses milk bottles and bottle caps, the woman down the street that runs marathons four times a year.   I will validate their passion.  I will value their commitment to their vocations and their avocations.  I will support their being a geek about it.

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Life is like skiing…

Live It, Learn It, Teach It.   My husband says to add Love It!  But that’s not life.  We are skiing.  I am living it, I am learning it, I am not ready to teach it, and I will never really love it.

We have many experiences but to be successful, we must focus our passions.  I do not think we can love everything or do everything with a passion.  That is too exhausting, too consuming.

But we can be passionate about some things.  Even better is to be passionate about a few things.  A passion allows us to focus our energy.  

So, back to skiing.  I am awed by the sublime view from atop Snowmass Mountain.  It is truly God’s country and we are blessed to have this experience.  I am not fast, I am not competitive, I am not passionate.  And that is just fine.  My passion lies elsewhere.  Skiing is fun,  teaching is my passion.  What is yours?

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