Guest Post: Christy, Chrysler or Chrysalis

I think that how we look at students has a huge impact on how we treat students.  Let me give you three examples to get your thinking started.

Are students widgets?

This would be a Chrysler, as in a car is a widget.  People design cars, design processes for making cars, selling cars, and fixing cars.  Once a car is designed we can work on a better design, once a process is in place we can design a better process.  Marketing changes to accomplish more selling.  It is an interconnected process from start to finish that has many opportunities for revising, improving, changing.  In some ways students look like widgets.  Each student enters the assembly line in Kindergarten and is put on the track to graduate at the end of 12th grade.  Along the way certain Carstandards must be met, if the standards are not met the student gets pulled off the line, reworked a bit, hopefully brought up to standard and then put back on the line to keep moving toward that graduation date.  We rate schools on how many successful widgets they produce.  We define success from the corporate offices at the state or federal level and refine the “success determining process” so that millions of students can easily be coded into success or non success categories.  With students as widgets schools need to manage objects, sort, organize and maintain quality control.  Principals manage teachers as assembly line machinery, if one is not working we just switch it out with a working one, boards manage schools as factories seeing which ones are producing the most widgets.  Management centers on those numbers that define success.

Are students employees?

We can also look at students as employees.  Employees are hired by a company to get a certain job done and in return receive a fair compensation.  Along the way they need to be managed, pointed in the right directions so to say.  They need some inspiration at times, other times they need some controlling.  Employees can take on many different forms customerfrom the assembly line type employee being very compliant to the process to a Google employee with significant leeway to define his/her process.  Employees are there to get the work done that is under the umbrella of the company.  Students are “employed” to meet the standards, put in the time, and in the end we will pay you with a grade, a diploma, and give you a recommendation for your next place of employment.  That recommendation will vary depending upon your performance.  With students as employees schools need to manage people as part of a large human resource process.  Teachers manage the students under them, principals manage the teachers, superintendents manage the principals, school boards oversee the entire process as a large corporation.  Treating students as employees makes for a very different organization than treating students as widgets.

Are students customers?

What if schools treated students as customers?  Customers have money to spend to get what they need and want.  In the US customers have a myriad of choices in front of them, they need to investigate, shop around to find the best deal.  They talk to each other about the deals they got, or the high quality product they found, or the piece of junk they just paid for.  Customers get to choose how to allocate their spending, sure getting groceries is a high priority, but even with Chrysalisthat how much fruit do you buy, how much ice cream?  Stores cater to the needs and wants of customers and work to be just a bit better than the other guy down the street.  Products that are no longer needed are no longer produced or even supported.  Schools that treat students as customers realize that students can come to their school or go to another one but also realize that with the student comes the revenue.  Teachers work to meet the needs of students and find ways to support each student.  Principals work to support the teachers finding out what the teachers need to better support the students.  Success comes when the customer is pleased with the product s/he purchased, not when the company is pleased with the widget it produced.  The students end up “owning” their education because they bought it.

In the end teachers, principals, and schools get to pick their point of view.  But I think one of the problems in education is that the corporate board thinks students look like Chryslers.  As you move down the ladder to individual interaction between student and teacher students look more like Chrysalides with each student growing and developing quite differently and uniquely from each other.  These are extremely different viewpoints and I would argue that an organization living in both worlds will have tensions – possibly extreme tensions.  The customers desire an individually hand painted picture by an artist of his/her choosing.  The company board wants to produce many prints of one picture and produce it on time, in quantity, and at a certain level of quality.  To help increase the tensions the company board also has trouble finding the one picture it should produce.  To further increase the tensions the board usually picks a new picture to produce even before the “factory” has time to complete very many of the previous pictures.

So with all the politics around education and the seeking of the silver bullet solution, maybe we should start by deciding who these students are?

Keven  Kroehler is a husband and busy father of four who is very passionate about education reform. After 24 years in the classroom in addition to administrative roles he shifted gears to have a larger impact on education as the Executive Director of the national non-profit EdVisions Schools. Keven has a wealth of experience in both charter and traditional schools including project-based learning, technology, school finance, & school leadership. Follow Keven on Twitter @KevenKroehler .

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Courage, Faith & Public Education


My days can be a blur with all that do. Someone recently asked me why I am always in a hurry and frankly they were right-I am. Well something happened yesterday that made me stop and think. I was something I had never seen before and was absolutely amazing.

While walking through the cafeteria of a traditional public school I saw what I usually see. Lots of children busy moving around getting their lunches and finding a spot to sit. Usually all looking around at what everyone is doing and chatting up a storm as they quickly eat. The tables were really filling up and the noise level was steadily increasing.

praying hands

As I turned to exit the cafeteria I notice a boy (maybe 4th or 5th grade) bow his head and fold his hands in his lap. I stopped and watched. He was surrounded by other boys busily eating and talking, opening their milks, and going about

their usual lunch business. None of their actions affected him. His lips were moving and his eyes were closed. As I watched I did my best to read his lips and then I was certain he was praying. WOW, just wow!

Amidst the hustle and bustle of the public school cafeteria filled with students and staff this boy stopped to pray before breaking bread. I was so unbelievably amazed, impressed and moved. As I walked away the tears welled up in my eyes and my heart sang. There are seeds of faith growing inside the doors of public education. What a courageous boy.

I pondered this event the rest of day. We could all stand to learn from this boy. I imagine his parents have taught him well for him to carry out his faith despite his surroundings. Would we as adults have the courage to do what he did?

Many times we are working hard to share our faith by talking with others, inviting them to attend church with us or come to special events. We may be over thinking it…This boy made me think that is may be more of what people see us do than what we say. Sometimes we say a lot without saying anything at all.

The Walmart Complex Applied to Education

The other evening I was doing what I always do (three or more things all at once…) as I was doing this I had a bit of an ironic epiphany.

SO I was reading someones thoughts on education and how the U.S. educational system demands everyone hit every standards to a specified degree and concluded with the notion that everyone doesn’t need to be good at everything and rather it’s important that everyone have their own unique expertise/talent. While reading that I had the T.V. on and there seemed to be many commercials for for big box companies and a few tech commercials both of which triggered an ‘ah-ha’ for me.

I typically get irritated when stores get what I refer to as ‘the walmart compex’ which is when they try to be all things for all people, (i.e., selling everything from mayonnaise to men’s underwear to crown molding.) Seeing these advertisements giving that same message not only about their company but about people too really hit home.

As I sat there reflecting I began to question it all. Why is it that we shifted from mom-and-pop stores where companies did one thing and did it well to giant corporations that do everything (and we’ll, I’ll let you decide how well they do all that they do). Why is it that we have shifted from having an expertise or niche to trying to do it all and fooling ourselves into thinking we are good -no- great at all of it? Why is it that in education we have moved from starting with a general base of knowledge in primary school with a gradual shift to areas of interest in secondary school to that of everyone must know every single standard to the exact same level? (Yes, I do know the history of why the factory model of education actually came to fruition but just follow my rant…)

Can we really do it all and do all things that we do well? Studies have proven those who multi-task more are actually must worse at it than those who rarely do it. Is it the media telling us we can do it all? Is it the market telling us that is the way we can make the most money? Is it because we are willing to sacrifice expertise for convenience? (And is that a good direction to head?)

Regardless it’s something to ponder. And if you are anything like me you try hard to do it all and in some cases shove ‘ten pounds of potatoes in a five pound sack’ which if you do the math doens’t end well. Ultimately, something’s gotta give.

Do we want the future to be filled with people who are mediocre and lots of things or people who have been exposed to many different facets but have honed their skills on just a few things? Does the Walmart approach to education really work?

I guess we’ll just have to wait and see….

Is it the holiday season?

My three-year-old makes just the cutest comments…I love hearing his thoughts on life because his perspective usually gives me reason to stop and think. A child’s innocence and the joy they find in the things we as adults take for granted it is so sweet.

With older siblings counting down the days until Christmas the little one tries to figure out this whole holiday and being he is now three he ‘gets’ much more than in previous years. The other day he came to me very causually and I anticipated he was going to ask for a drink of juice but instead he said, “Mommy, Is it the holiday season?” I was a bit taken back by his question because he doesn’t normally talk like that but I smiled and said, “Yes, it is.” He was so thrilled he smiled and punched his fist up in the hair shouting, “Yes!” He then ran to his older brother who is 5 and said, “Guess what? It’s the holiday season!!”

I am not exactly sure whatLinus Speech that means in his head but it’s a great example of how the kids hear thing regarding the holidays and don’t understand what it’s all about. My husband and I feel it’s very important to keep our children grounded in their faith and shelter them from some of what we feel the media can do to kids. We don’t have cable and stick with PBS & qubo. (We feel some programming seems to push the kids to grow up too fast) The commercials on television during the holiday season tell us to shop, shop, and shop some more. This makes our job as parents even more challenging. We find ourselves reminding the kids frequently what this holiday is all about.

The best idea I can’t claim as my own. A number of years ago my brother and his wife shared a family tradition from their own which my husband and I quickly adopted. Every year our children each get 3 presents. If you ask them why they can tell you. Christmas is about Christ. Jesus got 3 gifts so we get 3 gifts. They may write a laundry list of ‘wants’ and wishes on their Christmas lists and letters to Santa but they are very aware that they only get 3 gifts from Mom & Dad. They have decided they had better be on Santa’s good list to ensure he brings a present too. 🙂

With the decorated malls, the snow falling and or the Christmas music playing on the radio it is so easy to get swept up on the ‘holiday season’ spending a bit too much and or forgetting what it’s all about. It may be challenging but it is possible to remember the reason for the season.

Merry Christmas and ‘Menne’ blessings to you and yours in the new year.

Thank a Teacher

Seeing so many tweets about teacher appreciation week I felt compelled to “Thank a teacher” myself. As I began to think about this I realized how many teachers had a great impact on my life. Of course there are many teachers whom have had an impact but a GREAT impact is what I was seeking, (and positive of course).

I can remember the names and faces of many of my teachers all the way back to kindergarten; however, as I think about those I have had more recently their names and faces escape me. Those teachers I had in my undergrad and my masters program had to really stand out for me to remember a name and a face but there are a few from higher ed that I put in that ‘great impact’ category.

As I  ponder those people and recall the wonderful memories I laugh because it seems that their impact on my had very little to do with academic content. I learned MORE than subject matter and had a connection with those teachers which wasn’t correlated to my grade in the class.

So I must thank those great teachers.

Miss Olson not only Thank Youtaught me how to play the violin, she taught me patience, persistence and the important of practice. Mrs. Reed who cared so much and were so loving and caring for a frightened 1st grader. Mrs. Moreng who brought a whole new language and culture into my life. Somehow I remember the Spanish I learned in 3rd grade and I still have the book she gave me. Mrs. Benson taught me it is OK to show emotions and be true to myself. Mr. Helgeson taught me a bit about myself as a ‘social butterfly’ as well as sparking an interest in history. Mr. Gora helped shine a light on my creativity giving me confidence in myself. Mr. Hoff taught me that I can do things even when I don’t want to. I will forever credit him for my public speaking skills, (thanks to impromptu speeches in Jr. High). Ah, and my foreign language teachers, Frau Sweden and Frau Olson-you are awesome. I had sooo much fun in all of those classes. You taught me that learning can be fun even when faced with challenge, (and yes, I can still speak and understand some German). Doc Skewes taught me I can do anything I set my mind to. Mr. Hohenthaner taught me how a teacher can make even the toughest subject interesting, (Oh and to trust no one and assume nothing). Mr. Kinney showed me patience like I have never seen in a teacher. No matter how much I struggled in his class he was always wiling to help without judgement. Mr. Anderson taught me autonomy and self-direction. Mrs. Schmidt taught me so much I can’t fit it into a paragraph. The connections I made in that class, the skills and tools I gained are immeasurable.

The Prof’s I had throughout my BA and MA were good but there were a few that were great! The ones that I could go to their office and they knew my name. The ones that were approachable, kind, and helpful. Al Ramirez and Dick Carpenter were two amazing professors that were just that. They had a wealth of information to share and had great rapport with students (myself included) that made learning from them wonderful.

It was these great teachers that inspired me to become a teacher to impact the lives of others the way they impacted my life.

Thank you amazing teachers! You’ll never know what a tremendous impact you have on the lives of your students. And I’ll close with a quote from an amazing teacher who happens to be a colleague of mine (Mr. Keven Kroehler), “Thank you for doing great things for kids!”

Faith in the fast lane…

We are all so busy these days. Whether it’s career, family, or just life in general it seems we are going 100mph in 3 directions all at once.  If you are anything like me finding time for yourself can be challenging. As a mother of 5 between family, work, and volunteering it can be very difficult to squeeze in time to nurture my faith. No matter how fast are lives go I feel it is still very important to find time for faith. If you can’t find time, then you’ll just have to make time.

So how do we find or make time for faith in a fast-paced life? I don’t claim to have the perfect solution but this is what has been working well for me.

  1. A devotional. I have seen devotionals in bookstores and have even received one as a gift but didn’t pick them up right away. After cracking one open I soon learned it was a great way for me to get my daily dose of the bible as well as a practical example or message for me to think about throughout my day. I’ve tried reading right before bed, or first thing in the morning.  I gave up trying to have a routine and have since gone with whenever I have time in the day. My devotional has put on many miles being tossed into my purse or briefcase so I am ready whenever I have a few minutes to read. Rather than check my facebook or twitter I simply read the scripture on my smartphone and 1-page devotional message for that day. There are many different devotionals out there. I am recently finished one for women by Jill Briscoe and love it. Now my husband and I are reading a couples devotional book together each evening. I am confident you can find a devotional that works for you.
  1. Prayer beads*. I was raised Catholic but never learned how to use a rosary so when this concept of prayer beads was first presented to me I was skeptical. After trying it out I discovered how easy it was and how helpful it was for me to structure my prayer. I have 2 of these; 1 is meant for adults and 1 for children. I tend to use the children’s version. I have them on a key-chain ring and they hang in my car. Rather than listening to the radio or talking on the phone I hold my prayer beads and pray on my way to work each morning.
  1. Schedule Bible Time. It doesn’t always work well with our schedule but I try very hard to fit in bible time in the evenings with the kids. We usually do a “bath, book, bedtime” type of routine so one evening a week I replace book with bible. This has worked very well with the kids especially after they each got their own bible and bible case to carry it in. They love gathering on the floor with me to read together. Although they each have their own bible appropriate for their age we are still able to all read and discuss the same stories. It is so much fun to hear the kids explain to one another the various stories and talk about what they feel the bible is telling them.

*Prayer Beads: You can find beads to make this at your local craft store. I cannot take credit for this as I learned all about it from a pastor at a local church.

Happy Face Bead-This bead prompts you to talk with God about the joys of our lives, the things we love about God and the things we are thankful for that make us happy.

Blue Bead-This bead represents the things in life that make us sad or things we wish we hadn’t done. A time to talk to God for forgiveness.

Flower or Animal Bead-This bead represents the amazing natural world God created. The plants, animals, etc that we love.

Star Bead-This bead is for the ‘star person’ in our prayer life for the day. If you told someone you’d pray for them or someone you feel needs prayers that day.

Heart Bead-This bead is for the people we love…friends, family, teachers, coaches…and even the people in the world we haven’t met yet.

It is not what in education it’s about WHO….

In the past few weeks something has really gotten under my skin, (And yes I am very aware that I can be easily irritated). I spend plenty of time reading about education on fb, twitter, blogs, and of course old-fashion print. For whatever reason it seems so much of what I have been reading or hearing about has more to do with the adults than it does the kids. It seems to me that many in education spend so much time fighting one another about what education is or should be losing sight of what is most important. It’s not WHAT education is, was or should be but rather WHO is education for? I may be a bit naive but I think if we took a step back to gain a little perspective we might see there are children everyone who are counting on us to do what is best for them. Yes, do what is best for THEM, not any publishing company, research firm, teacher, CMO, union, etc. I understand politics and the actions that drive politics are a fact of life but maybe, just maybe or one minute we can all step back, see those children’s faces and try to work together and do right by the children.