Saturday, September 13, 2014

Screw Data.

I'm really hoping that we're close to another pendulum swing in education.

The obsessive reliance on data in regards to decision making in schools and classrooms has exceeded it's value.  Just as teachers and principals have cried out that test scores aren't a measure of their effectiveness as educators- the same rule applies to learners as well.

What we're currently doing is the equivalent of looking at only a batters home run statistics to determine who the best baseball players are.  Learning is not, no matter how much we try, like money.  It can't be easily quantified, nor can it provide fast evidence of effectiveness or lack thereof.

I don't care what measure you're using.  None of them can account for the kid who walked away from drugs because of something a teacher said.  None of them can determine if a kid has stayed in school only because he feels safe with this teacher. None of them measure the blossoming of creativity, kindness, courage or collaboration (all 21st C. skills...) which teachers routinely foster.  And none of them can predict entirely if a child will or will not be successful in life.  However, most of the time, what they DO tell us, after loads of cost, time, and anxiety, is what any decent teacher already knew.  "He reads slowly?  Holy Shit!  I would have never known that despite teaching him for months!  I'm so glad we interupted several days of learning to lab test seven year olds!  Thank you AIMSweb!"

The data craze has numbed classrooms, and killed many spirits.  It's been great though for consultants and authors of educational books as we can now endlessly debate what 'rigor' or 'high standards' actually mean when determining cut scores and services for children.

Teachers should be encouraged to trust their instincts, embrace their passions while teaching.  I'm not in any way an advocate for drill & kill, endless memorization, or hours of homework.  Education has progressed and improved.  Data does have a place in our schools and classrooms.  However, 'data to inform decision making' should NOT effectively equate to "data to remove all use of the human brain.'  

Thursday, August 7, 2014

School Registration Blues

Our school district has recently adopted an online registration procedure.  It is super simple and totally convenient for all parties involved.  In past years we've dealt with the consistent problem of families being on vacations during the designated registration periods.  Being unable to add them to the count until they return from Disney has the potential to impact hiring/recall of teachers who are anxious begin preparing for school.  Online registration essentially solves this headache.  It saves secretaries tons of data entry, and it is also far more 'green' as we are making less copies and printing less documents.  Everyone wins right?

Perhaps.  But as I go through registration, which now consists of only unique cases (families without computer access, residency question marks, second language families who need translation, etc.) being 'in person,' something feels missing.  Ultimately, it's the same thing we've given up in nearly every area we've moved to Internet based- relationships.

I miss seeing all the children and their families come in after being separated for months.  The look of excitement on the children's faces reminds me of why I entered the profession.  I got to catch up with parents and hear their hopes and concerns for the new school year.  I got hear about little league games and swim meets.  We got to know and create an immediate personal connection with new families and students. But no longer.  It was a ritual coming back together for our school, and now it's gone.

I get it.  It's 2014.  Hell, we're probably way late to the game on this one.  We'd look disorganized and out of touch with time if we continued to force families to stand in a slow line to accomplish what they could do in minutes from the comfort of their home.  Many parents (sadly) have no interest in having a relationship with me or anyone else at the school.

Still, teaching children is about relationships before all other things.  As a profession, we need to constantly evaluate the decisions we make and how they impact our ability to form quality relationships.  When we lose something like in-person registration, one of the few times every parent has to come to the school, we need to brain storm alternatives to get that valuable in-person contact.  I'd love to hear what other schools are doing to preserve their relationships in the on-line era.   

Friday, June 13, 2014

Stay At Home Mom

A note had gone home inviting parents to an end of the year event at our school.  Steven was a messy first grader who frequently lost such correspondence between it being given to him and his arrival at home.  He was also a little sneaky and thought he was more clever than he in fact was.  His teacher of course was aware of this.

"Steven, did you give your mother the note about parents night?"

"Oh, she's not coming" replied Steven casually.

"Steven- did you, or did you not, give your mom that note?" his teacher pushed.

Steven, becoming a little short, pushed back. "Okay!  I didn't give her the note, because I KNOW she's not coming!"

"Sweetie, how you know for sure your mom is not coming to an event she may not even know is happening?"

"Because" Steven confidently began, "I heard her tell someone last week that she's a stay at home mom!"

Monday, March 24, 2014

The High Cost Of Hygiene

Thomas was a mess of a little boy.  Besides being 'a picker' and spending more time in the nurses office with nose bleeds than in the classroom, he also had horrible hygiene.  Over the years different teachers had tried to talk to his mother about his shabby appearance, curious body aroma, uncombed hair, his frequent nose picking (and the after effort snack), and effect this had on his ability to make friends.  These pleas fell on deaf ears.  

Now in 6th grade, with a full face of acne, and recognizing the girls (and boys...) aren't interested in him, Thomas asked his teacher how he could get rid of all the pimples on his face.

"Well let me ask you Thomas, how often do you take a shower?"

"Every two or three days."

"Don't you think you should be taking a shower every single night?"

Thomas laughed hysterically.  "Ha!  We've got better things to spend our money than water!"

Friday, February 28, 2014

One Nation Under God?

While doing my rounds, I stopped into the kindergarten room (always an adventurous visit) to see what was going on.  On that particular day, I was wearing a tie with an American Flag on it (the US Olympic hockey team had a big game that day).

One excited little girl quickly blurts out, "Oooo, I love your tie Mr. Anonymousprincipalperson!"

"Thanks! Children, does anyone know why I'm wearing an American Flag tie today?"

Every hand in the room, instantly, goes up.  Anyone who has ever been in a kindergarten classroom can confirm the previous statement.

I picked out a little boy sitting nicely with his hand raised.  "Because President's Day was a few days ago?"

I was actually pretty impressed with this answer from a 5 year old.  "Great answer!  I never thought of that!  But there's another I'm wearing an American Flag tie.  Who else has a guess?"  Every hand, including the kid who's already answered, shoots back up.

I pick another little boy sitting patiently.

"Because you belief in Jesus?!"


Thursday, February 13, 2014

My Father Would Be Rolling Over In His Tomb...

Recently one of our second graders was shocked to learn that school was indeed in session on Valentine's Day.

Student#1: We have school on Valentine's Day!?  But everybody celebrates Valentine's Day.  We get President's Day off, but have school on Valentine's Day!  Nobody celebrates President's Day. That's crazy!

Student#2:  Valentine's Day is one of those made up holidays.

Student#1: Ohhh yeah.  Like Easter.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Fahrenheit -451, The Temperature At Which Schools Close

It's been a long winter for those on the East coast, the plains, and the Midwest in the United States.  My Twitter feed has been constantly filled up with posts about temperature (or the dashboard thermometer 'selfie' proving it's real damn cold where your at) and massive snow fall.  Many schools have been cancelled due to these circumstances.  However, many have not.

This is an impossible position for superintendents.  Cancelling school creates a ripple effect of other issues- most notably day care concerns.  While the occasional unexpected day off may be welcomed by some teachers, the extension of the school year later on is rarely popular.

Still I find it odd that in a country where New York has a limit on the size of soda you can buy, where seat belts & helmets must be worn by law, where most states have enacted smoking bans/limits of some sort, where metal detectors & cops are standard in school buildings, and where school districts are held to strict dietary cafeteria regulations- all in the name of safety and health, that superintendents are left to have to arbitrarily decide at what negative wind chill it's too low for a six year old to walk to and stand at a bus stop (is -25 degrees wind chill too low?  -30?).   How many inches of snow and freezing ice are unwise to send school buses (and staff) out on?

In weather as frigid as it's been this month in many parts of the country, frost bite can set in in under 10 minutes.  Is it more likely that one of our students DOES have a gun or DOESN'T have a pair of gloves?  Do our laws and procedures reflect the answer to that question?

I know, I know- we all walked to school in much colder temperature (uphill, both ways, barefoot...), kids are soft these days, blah blah blah.  Perhaps there's some truth there as well.  But when a five year old loses her fingers because his bus is late or a bus slides off an icy road, I can assure that 'meeting the demands of the Common Core' will be a very distant afterthought.

Some winters are tougher than others.  The number of days in question can probably be counted on one hand over the course of several years.  But on those days, I would urge leaders and policy makers to show the same concern for safety as we do when it comes to so many other areas.