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 .

Growing Hope Against The Odds

In schools today educators are pulled in many directions and with so many mandates are left with very little autonomy. The class sizes are growing, the students needs are never-ending, mandates continue to come down the pipeline and laws are constantly changing forcing teachers to change and adapt the new demands.

Somewhere in the midst of this teachers do what they do best, teach. Teaching isn’t as easy as bestowing knowledge upon a child as some people may think. They can’t simply open up their heads and pour in information. There are so many conditions that have to be in place for learning to occur, real learning that is. Real learning? That would be the processing of new information, connecting it to something the child already knows and filing it away to future use (not just regurgitation on the next formative assessment).

hope

How can we teach so that real learning can happen? What conditions are needed? Can we even control the conditions? Unfortunately there are things that are out of reach of the teachers. Lack of sleep, problems at home, stress from life outside of school, etc. are a few things that may weigh on the bodies and minds of children which we can only to our best to mitigate. So what do we do then? As a school feeding the students breakfast helps, encouraging the students to get rest albeit isn’t easy but can also help but most importantly the teachers can be there for the students.

Having a healthy relationship with an trusted adult can help a child. (Notice I said healthy, boundaries are there for a reason). Students need to know that you care. This can be very challenging with large class sizes. Knowing students names is one thing, knowing the students themselves is another. Getting to know them individually as a person and building rapport is very important. They don’t know what you know until they know that you care!

Once you know the students you are more aware of what base knowledge they have, what interests them, what they like and can use those things to help them engage in the learning process. Again , this is very difficult when teachers must ‘cover’ material quickly to keep pace with a curriculum schedule because each child is unique and requires effort on the part of the teacher to ensure each child is engaged in the lesson/activity.

Another piece required to providing an optimal environment is providing students opportunities to support one another in the learning process. Do your students feel that their classmates want them to do well? Do your students feel they have classmates who care about them? Would they notice if they were absent? If the answers to these questions are ‘No’ you have work to do. Many classrooms are competitive as most students see it as ‘every student for themselves.’ This isolates the kids and inhibits a positive classroom environment. Teachers providing students opportunities to work together, support one another in goals as a class as well as individually creates a positive and supportive environment.

You may be asking yourself why in the world teachers would ‘waste’ their time building relationships/rapport with students and helping students support one another?? Why? Because doing those things is critical to building student engagement and growing hope both of which are absolutely necessary for lifelong success. These crucial pieces provide students an optimal learning environment to build persistence, resilience, a life-long love of learning and pave a path of success that spreads beyond the walls of the classroom.

Are you growing hope in your classroom? Do you feel your child is in a classroom environment that fosters hope?

Don’t believe me? Check out these resources to learn more!

The Hope Survey

The Hope Survey Supporting Research

Assessing What Really Matters in Schools: Creating hope for the future

Hope and Academic Success in College

Activating the Desire to Learn

Hope Theory: Rainbows in the Mind

Here’s Hoping

What is Hope and How Can We Measure It

Tales from the Trenches: As the Charter World Turns…

As the charter world turnsI have heard that some folks refer to those of us in the charter world as a daytime soap; more specifically,  “As the charter world turns” because we have so much drama. I find that very interesting as we don’t seek out the drama but rather we are treated as second-rate school by many, (cough, Dept of Cough, cough). 😉

Case in point, charter schools are expected to keep our finances in the black. If we run in the red we would be shut down. I think we could really come up with a nice list of traditional schools are able to stay open while well in the hole. They just go to the tax payers and ask for more money when they want to balance their budgets…running in statutory operation debt isn’t all that uncommon…

Charters are constantly under attack whether it be finances, test scores or governance.

If one bad thing happens in a charter school all of the sudden we are all thrown out with the bath water and labeled as bad. If one bad thing happens at a traditional school people say, oh, that is just one person who made poor choices at that school. The others are just fine…you know…, “My kids school is better than that…” we’ve all hear it..

We report to our school board just as a traditional school does, we report to the state dept just like the traditional school does AND we report to our authorizer. We have 3 entities keeping CLOSE tabs on us. We are mandated to test our kids just like all of the other schools, we exchange some funding for flexibility on our focus, calendar, etc., but overall, we have plenty of oversight. Despite all of these oversight we are still put in the corner time and time again.

How is it that concept of charters (which by the way were born here in MN) has gone from a school for piloting new and innovative teaching, learning and professional development practices has come to this??

Why is it that so much in education is NOT about kids but rather about politics, money and power? Charter schools are schools too. Charter schools are filled with kids just like other schools. When talking about students with disabilities I always refer to it as students with disability NOT disabled student because the student comes first. Maybe rather than calling us charter schools we should be called schools with charters. Would that put the focus back on the school and less on the piece that makes a different? Who knows. But for now, it makes me feel better.

To those in traditional schools- I don’t mean to attack you, I just would like others to know how it feels when some groups treat us as ‘less than.’ I am sure you endure many of the same hardships as we do. To those in charters- You are not alone. Keep pressing on. The students and families you serve desperately need you. Remember it’s about the kids.

And now I’ll temporarily step down from my soap box 😀

Tales from the trenches: The testing debacle

I have no idea where this school is but I like their thinking....

I have no idea where this school is but I like their thinking….

It’s spring, the sun is shining, the birds are chirping, (it is snowing in MN) this means testing season is upon us. If you work in schools or are a parent you probably are with me when I say I dread this time of year.

I have dealt with testing in the schools for years and may not enjoy it but have managed to survive it. This year at the elementary level it just seemed to be absolutely horrific.

It started with all online testing. The system was up, then down. They said stop testing, then start testing. Then emails came in stating to test if you aren’t experiencing any problems….We had students who were not able to pause their tests and therefore where clicking just to fill in the bubbles to get to the bottom of the screen to pause the test. We had trouble getting the system to pause for days. We called the help desk, repeatedly (and then some more). Some people who answered seemed to be very empathetic to our situation, others referred it as ‘glitches’ in the system.

Regardless, I want to know how in the world these tests results would be considered valid. We had kids crying and others  so frustrated with the starting, stopping, and issues trying to pause for breaks I just can’t imagine they were in a frame of mind to actually perform on the tests.

To that end, how can it be right to attach funding to tests that should at the very least be considered compromised due to the many MANY technical errors or ‘glitches’ as they called them???

I have witnessed our students tested on the state assessments, the NWEA MAP’s and now the DRA’s all within the last few weeks. Our poor students are tested too much. If only we could put our trust in the educators who already use diagnostic assessments like the NWEA”s and the DRA’s &  not mandate additional tests (which they don’t’ receive the results from for months….)

Students don’t learn anything from tests. They learn from passionate educators who know them and can help guide them through the learning process. I say, step out of the way and let teachers do what they do best-Teach!

 

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….

Walk a mile in their shoes…

Ah yes, it’s happened again. Never fails…someone asks a loaded question or makes a polarizing statement on some type of social media outlet and for some dumb reason I read the responses despite knowing I will soon be irritated. I know, I should just NOT read them but yet I am compelled to click.

What is it this time? Educational items..Yup, banging that drum again. A local news station had posted a question seeking feedback from their viewers as to whether or not cursive should be taught in schools. I know, I got sucked in just as they wanted. I didn’t plan to respond to read the other comments. 90% of the comments were what I would categorize as ‘ignorant’ and 10% put some thought into it and had some type of experience with the situation (i.e., students in school, children or in schools).

What really bothers me is how many people demanded that this ‘subject’ be taught in schools and even made comments on how schools have all gone down hill. Why is it that so many feel they know better than those in education? Spouting off that schools need to make time for cursive just as every other subject?? Complaining about what is or isn’t taught that has nothing to do with the original question…Everyone seems to feel they’d do a better job teaching. Everyone’s a critic right? 🙂

I know, I know, they feel they can give their 2 cents (or in many cases $20) worth of advice because it’s public education…but it’s so over played. The number of times a students has told me, “I pay your salary you know!” -Ug

One of the 10% who actually had some experience with education mentioned the national common core state standards. Yup, my favorite (insert sarcastic voice and eye roll here). And the response someone else gave was to add cursive to that list of standards!?!?! Really? Ha! As much as I would have loved to respond to the comments I didn’t. I need far more characters to do it and I can just imagine the back and forth comments that would ensue.

One of the comments pleaded not to judge until you’ve walked a mile in the teachers shoes and I must agree. I think the entire list of folks who commented have no clue who actually decides what is taught it schools nor do they understand there are so many hours in the day (and children’s attention spans are not very long).

My ‘Menne Thoughts’ on the whole comment craze:

  • Volunteer in a school: See what the days are like, what the kids are taught, what they actually retain and what they enjoy learning.
  • Talk to your local elected officials: I don’t care if it’s the local school board or a state representative. Talk to them to see what they know about what is being taught it schools and if they have visited any lately?
  • Talk to kids: Ask kids what they feel they are learning in schools and what THEY feel is important. Do they have time to play and be a kid? Do they enjoy school? Why or why not?
  • Judge not, lest we be judged: Think of what it would be like to be in a teachers shoes. Someone far removed from the classroom tells them what to teach and in many instances how to teach it. They have classes FILLED to the brim with students of varying abilities. (Many of the teachers are judged and compensated based on how well these students perform on standardized assessments. I know many people feel it’s just like a business. You have employees and you train them and you are judged on how well they perform. In education you can NOT fire (nor do teachers want to) students who don’t perform well. ) They have limited time during the day to get all of the mandated subjects scheduled and then the challenge of actually teaching them in such a manner that the kids can understand and retain the material. Oh, and it’s a plus if they can instill character traits and spark a love of learning.

In education we do the best that we can with the resources we are provided. We are under constant fire from many angles but we keep on keeping on. We are in the business of education because we care about kids. ❤

Board Games, Poker & Purpose

From the title of this post you can tell I have children who love to play games but then again don’t we all? Even when young children like to play games. Whether it’s memory, words with friends, or poker – games are fun and a great way to learn all kinds of things. Young or old we all play games and learn new ones. When learning a new game where do we start? Directions of course. You read the directions or someone else may explain them to you. We all want to know how to win the game. Put another way-what is the purpose of playing the game?

You may or may not have played the game LIFE and most likely read the directions. We are all a part of a much bigger game of life which really doesn’t come with a set of directions. In fact many people are constantly seeking to discover their own purpose. Why do we do what we do?

As a mother of 5 I am no stranger to questions of why and can honestly say that I try to give my children answers to their questions rather than the “because I said so” line which we have all heard. As a teacher I heard the same questions only applied to different items. Rather than, “Why is the sky blue?” I heard things like, “Why do I have to learn this?” And sometimes when testing time comes around, “Why do I bother reading the questions if I don’t even know the answers?”

Students are no different than us-they want to have a purpose. They may ask “Why do I have to do this assignment?” Is the purpose to this assignment to put a score in a little square in a gradebook? Not very motivating in my mind. There should be a bit more contextual information provided here. How about finding out what that student would like to do with their life? Once you know that one you can work backwards to find more purpose in their path towards that goal. (Increasing student engagement through relevancy and corresponding hope as well)

In their educational journey students have many ‘why’ questions. I think if we explored these questions a bit more we could really change what is happening at both the classroom level and the policy level.

High-stakes, standardized tests-Why? Memorizing dates, facts, etc.-Why? 7-period days/block scheduling-Why? Requiring all students to take certain classes-Why? Building schools with square classrooms, boards in the front, student desks in rows-Why? (We already know the history behind the factory model of education-but again begin the dialogue.)

If we start addressing students (and parents) ‘why’ questions we may start a dialogue to get to the bottom of these questions and possibly even ask a new question. Why not change it???

Collecting Dots vs. Connecting Dots

Connecting the dotsWhy is it that we still put the teacher at the center of learning rather than the student? – This has brought forth some great discussions for me. The conclusion I came to (after getting some amazing input) was that we as teachers have grown up in the education system following the rules and have been trained to continue following the rules. There you have it folks, we are rule followers [we’ll at least the majority of the time…there are definitely some mavericks out there;)]

As rule followers we do what we are told and don’t question it. When the latest curriculum comes out or the next piece of sweeping legislation changes those rules we adjust accordingly. The interesting part is sometimes following the rules doesn’t help us to win the game when it’s as complex as the US educational system.

We all want our kids to have a bright future. We want an educated citizenry, we want our kids to be smart, happy, healthy, well adjusted individuals. Right? I mean am I completely off base here? I’ll assume we are good and move on…

With that said, under our current state of affairs the rules ask our students to collect dots so our educators are busy helping students to do just that-collect dots. They are busy putting those dots in the content standards buckets and then being tested like crazy about those dots.

The unfortunate part of this dot theory is that life doesn’t ask graduates to show them their bucket! They are not selected for jobs based on how full their bucket is or how well they sorted their bucket of dots. Life asks them to connect the dots!

Connecting the dots can be messy, time consuming and learning how to connect them may differ from student to student. This is only one of my theories as to why we don’t approach teaching and learning this way. Another theory I have is that it doens’t make teacher evaluation any easier or clean cut either. (Apparently Scantrons with tiny bubbles to fill in resulting in a concrete test score does). I will also throw out a guess that politics plays a large roll in this too but that is a whole different blog. 🙂

What do we do with this then? We’ll, do what you can when you can. If you are parent you can support your child in helping them to connect the dots and see the big picture in all that they are learning. If you are an educator guide your students as they fill their bucket…help them to see what they can do with those dots..how they are all connected and most importantly HOW TO CONNECT THEM so that they can continue to visualize how things connect and connect them on their own long after they leave your classroom. If you are someone outside of the education sector volunteer  in a school or at an after-school program and offer your time & talents to help kids see how all of those dots they may be learning can connect and why that is so important.

So often we hear that the future needs thinkers, do’ers, engineers, creativity, etc. A world full of people with buckets all filled up won’t get us there. People who can use the contents of their buckets can! Don’t just collect, connect!

Throwing out the baby with the bathwater….

It’s been some time since my blood as been boiling due to educational darts being thrown between the charter and traditional school supporters but I guess it’s time to step up on my soapbox to get a few things off my chest.

I am fairly sure I’ve said (or written) this before…for whatever reason it seems you have to pick a side; Charter or Traditional, there isn’t any middle of the road. I may work at a charter but that hasn’t always been the case and my kids currently attend a charter but again, that hasn’t always been the case. Having said that I am not ‘pro charter’ or ‘pro traditional’ I AM PRO STUDENT & pro choice in education.

Cap Family Photo

So, when I read a recent blog citing that choice is a terrible idea and how it is ruining public education I got more than irritated.

Another sentence I use very frequently is “If you have seen 1 charter school then you have seen 1 charter school.” The same goes for traditional schools. There may be some things that are similar or even the same about those schools but ultimately every school is different, has different students, families, and learning environment.  Putting out a blanket statement that all charters are bad/good or all traditional schools are bad/good is ludicrous.

Is there some form of competition with choice in public education? Yes.  It allows parents/guardians/families to select a school that best fits their family and works best for their child. A blog I read recently mentioned that just the idea of parents having to ‘shop’ for their child’s school is bad idea. I disagree, REALLY disagree. Just as we choose where to buy our groceries, gas, or coffee we should be free to shop (select, choose) where to send our kids to school. If I want to have someone else to bag my groceries I go to a grocery store that offers that service. If I prefer to purchase organically grown produce I would seek out a store that provides such produce. Similarly, not every school offers the same services, the same mission/vision/values, etc., & why should they? Students are people and are all so different. They are people-not products and need to be treated as such. Finding a school that ‘fits’ your child/family is freedom I feel very lucky to have. (Especially considering we live in a small rural area)

I don’t hold any ill will to those who prefer, attend, work at or support traditional public schools. (Although I do feel the factory system is flawed as you may have guessed by that last paragraph) I support everyone who is in the business of educating our youth. It is NOT an easy job and working with kids, prepping for school outside of school hours, etc., leaves little time to defend what we do for and with kids everyday.

So I plea with you not to see students as dollar signs to fight over between the charter and traditional ‘sides’ but rather children seeking a world-class education regardless of what type of school they attend. Lastly, if you see one school you don’t like (charter, traditional, or private) don’t write off that entire type of school because of that one experience. Teachers, administrators, paraprofessionals, etc., don’t go into education for the high salaries…we do it for the kids…we do it to try to make the world a better place……we do it because we want to help.…we do it to make a difference. If you think you can do better and solve all of the problems and or flaws in the US educational system-join us. We could use more good people. 🙂

College Ready vs. Ready for College

Recently I read a tweet about the release of the list of ‘best high schools’. I was curious about who made the list but knew it wasn’t going to be the schools I would ever want to send my own children to. I confess, I clicked on the link and read the list as far as the top 20 at which point I was irritated. What put them on this list? Who decides this anyway? Why in the world I click on an article when I know darn well it’s going to get under my skin is beyond me? I digress….Back to the list. It included items such as teacher/student ratio and the percentage of students who passed exams which fell under the ‘college ready’ category. Student/teacher ratio-I get that and can get behind it. The more staff you have the better you can personalize for each students individual needs. Offering AP classes, AP exams and other standardized tests?? Now that one I don’t care for. Should the best schools’ graduate students with a great academic foundation? – Yes! But let’s think about this for a minute…College Ready? Does filling in the correct bubble on a standardized test make you college ready? Is that how we really want to define college ready?

During a recent conference I heard a great quote that I agree with, “Student achievement is more than test scores. It’s what students DO with what they know.” With that in mind, are students ready for college just because a they score high enough on a test to be labeled college ready? I don’t think so.

To be ready for college students need to have a strong foundational knowledge but more importantly they need to be able to do something with that knowledge. They need to be able to communicate that knowledge to others. They need to be able to have the motivation to get out of bed and go to class. They need to have the resilience to overcome obstacles that may get in the way. They need to have the persistence to continue to strive to achieve their goals even after facing multiple obstacles. Okay, I am sure you get the point now.

I understand the concerns people have regarding incoming college students taking remedial courses. Is it really THAT bad? After all, they did get into the college and are attending. What about the students who are labeled college ready and attend college only to drop out? Is it better for students to have extra debt from those remedial courses which may require them to graduate in more than the typical 4 years or for them to have the debt from college courses that never resulted in a college degree?

My thoughts: It is better to be ready for college and learn some things on the fly than to be college ready only to end up not completing college. After all, the learning is in the doing.