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.

Advertisements

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 😀

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. 🙂