Saturday, July 31, 2010

Why we shouldn't treat schools like factories, even if it is more cost effective...

If you have ever walked into a factory that produces a finished good from raw materials, it is frankly an amazing process.  Dating back to the early 1900's, Henry Ford revolutionized the world and the way it manufactures goods.  How could one argue with a process that can take different materials and products, and in one smooth motion put them together to produce a brand new flawless product exactly identical to the previous one produced.  The assembly line process used in factories around the world is graded on its ability to produce the same product over and over again in the shortest amount of time possible, and for the cheapest price possible.  We are making a dire mistake by approaching public education in the same manner.

In a factory you start with the same exact pieces before beginning the first stage of the assembly line process.  In education we start with a unique child with different characteristics than every other child.  In a factory you follow the exact same steps to put the exact same pieces together as fast and as cheap as possible.  In education we treat each child as an individual, and we use a different set of steps to help that child no matter  what the cost, or the time involved.  In a factory you are assessed by how many identical finished products you can produce in a certain time frame.  In education we are assessed by how well we prepared our students to be responsible, independent and lifelong learners who are able to be successful contributing citizens in a democratic society.  Isn't it time we treat students like students, rather than treating them like manufactured products from a factory?

With state budgets being cut on a nationwide basis, it is imperative we reach out to our policy makers to insist on continuing to fund education.  As difficult as it sounds, we need to fund education in a way it has never been funded before.  We simply need more...more teachers, more SMALLER schools, more opportunities for students to develop their own love of learning, and more opportunities for teachers to grow personally and professionally.  This is a battle, despite the restraints financially, that we can win.  If we approach each child as a unique and different individual, meet every child where they currently are, give every child a part in the process, trust every child to do what is right, and most importantly, believe that every child can and will make a difference, we can overcome the easy street of the assembly line. 

Please respond to this post with strategies and ways you have achieved this in your classroom, school or district.  We need to spread the word and provide the necessary help and resources to change our factories into schools. 

Friday, July 30, 2010

What should busy administrators be reading (or watching)? - Leadership Day 2010

This is my first time participating in Leadership Day 2010, and I must say I am really excited to be a part of this fantastic movement.  As educators, I would argue we all need to be inspirational and progressive leaders in our own right; however in education's current form we have building administrators and central office administrators as our leaders.  Their jobs are extremely difficult, and I can honestly say most people have no idea how much time and commitment is required for them to do their jobs in a meaningful and effective manner.  Consequently, as the leaders of a building or district, it is imperative that these administrators are at the cutting edge of new technological advances that could be utilized in a school setting. 

Leadership Day 2010 is here to help.  Bloggers from around the world are here to contribute their thoughts, their resources, and their beliefs on ways both building and central office administrators can better utilize technology to improve the educational process. 

Currently, I am a high school German teacher, but on the side I am an aspiring administrator.  The preparation for this transition has challenged me, and it has forced me to really think about my educational beliefs and the educator I am.  The biggest challenge I have faced is the growing need of technology integration into school curricula and school instruction.  I have used a majority of my summer to find resources and networks to help me grow as an instructional leader who utilizes technology.

Here is my list of resources for aspiring, new, current and retired administrators who want to see technology integration in an educational setting:

1. Read: The Art of Possibility: Transforming Professional and Personal Life by Zander and Zander  
2. Join: Thomas Whitby's Personal Learning Network:
3. Read: How to Use Twitter in the Classroom:
4. Watch: TED for "ideas worth spreading" -
5. Start a blog:
6. Read:
10. Ask for help, input, advice, suggestions - everyone wants to feel needed :)

This list has been extremely helpful for me as I continue to grow and evolve as an educational leader, and it is my hope this list can help you transform your school or district into a technology supporting entity.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Is merit pay for teachers best for students?

If you walk into a teacher's lounge, and your goal is to get the teachers really fired up...then ask them how they feel about merit pay!  Teachers across the nation are torn in their beliefs when it comes to merit pay.  For every teacher that supports merit pay, there is a teacher who firmly disagrees with merit pay.  Educational reform would not be complete without some kind of overhaul in the way teachers are compensated.

In the current form most teachers are paid based on their years of service and education, and in my opinion there are several flaws with this type of compensation setup.  It would be easy to think the longer a teacher has taught, the more effective he/she is, however that is not always the case.  Additionally, it would be easy to think the more education a teacher has, the more effective he/she is, and as before mentioned this is not always the case.  Taking a small step back, I think the million dollar question should be, not how much should we pay teachers, but rather does compensation and pay always have to be in the form of money? 

Research has continually shown that merit pay can have adverse effects on teacher and student achievement, rather than the expected increases in performance.  When teachers are paid based on their individual performance it has been reported to negatively affect the relationships teachers have with each other.  The collaborative nature that is essential to the efficiency and improvement of education is greatly reduced when teachers feel they are working for their own benefit, and not for the benefit of the team

Perhaps the biggest concern with merit pay is the way teacher performance is determined.  Should we use the results of one test per year to determine the overall effectiveness of a teacher, or should we use the grades of students for one teacher versus the grades of students from another teacher?  The validity of merit pay is called into question because we are trying to make teacher performance into a black and white image, when as every educator knows, there is nothing black and white about education.

The elephant in the room can not be ignored.  What really motivates and drives teachers?  Money, fringe benefits, personal drivers, huge signing bonuses, lavish lifestyles and celebrity status?  I think not, so then why is money and compensation such a big deal?  Most teachers did not enter the teaching profession for money.  We never thought being a teacher would put us on the same level as a professional athlete or a big name actor or actress.  We were motivated and driven by the idea of impacting the lives of students.  We wanted to inspire, motivate, encourage, teach, develop, mold, educate, guide, strengthen, create, stimulate, enhance, discover and influence the lives of our students in a positive and meaningful way. 

Daniel Pink, wrote a fantastic book called DriveThis book outlines the basic principles that motivate humans.  The basic principles were not celebrity status, they were not huge pay checks, they were not fancy cars and big houses, they were much simpler.  Human nature requires autonomy, mastery and purpose to be motivated and driven.

I am not saying merit pay is wrong, because there are states and districts using merit pay with increases in teacher and student performance.  On the other hand, I am not saying merit pay is right, because there are also schools who have used merit pay and have seen a decrease in teacher and student performance.  My main point is this:  I urge educators to realize there is not a silver bullet to fixing and reforming education.  There are many components to the educational process that need to be evaluated simultaneously.  There is only one part of education that is simple and straight forward...EVERY DECISION WE MAKE NEEDS TO BE IN THE BEST INTERESTS OF OUR STUDENTS.

Please respond to this post with comments and feedback because I would really like to hear what people have to say about this topic.  Thank you!  

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Do you speak their language?

How often do you hear students complaining about a teacher who told them to put their cell phone away, or turn their iPod off?  If your school is anything like my school, then I am sure you hear this on a daily basis.  Integrating technology into the classroom has been a hot topic over the last several years, and as our society continues to embrace new technological advances, Education 2.0 will hopefully continue to gain traction.

I have been using a lot of my summer to research and learn about new ways to use technology in my classroom.  The great thing about using technology in the classroom is that we for the most part won't have to teach the students how to use the technology.  Ironically, the students might be doing a majority of the teaching, by teaching the teachers how to use THEIR technology.  More importantly, I want to bring the 21st century advancements in technology into our classrooms so we can close the gap between our schools, and the "real" world.  Unfortunately, going into most schools is like going 20 years into the past in terms of applying current technological trends.

This upcoming school year I plan on using Twitter in my classroom to stay connected with both students and parents.  Additionally, I want to give my students and parents the opportunity to voice their comments and concerns in an open and transparent forum.  I hope to also utilize the many resources available online to "engage" the students in the learning process.  I want them to help me integrate technology into the classroom.  I will ask them for advice and suggestions that could prove to be influential in gaining their trust, as well as their attention!

This video highlights the importance of using current technologies (which the students already use) in the classroom to address student disengagement and student boredom.  "When I go to school, I have to power down," perfectly illustrates exactly why it is imperative that we change the way we approach technology in the classroom.  Enjoy!

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Do we have an achievement gap with teachers and administrators?

Education reform is a hot topic widely debated among educational leaders around the world.  I think it is safe to say we are all interested in improving the educational process to ensure the proper mental and physical development of our students.  As with every controversial topic there is definitely not a shortage of opinions by teachers, administrators, parents, students, community members and politicians.  With so many people wanting to have their voice heard, how do we decide to whom to listen?

We can all agree that eliminating the achievement gap and improving education are the main purposes of educational reform.  However, before we can address educational reform we need to be 100% sure we are attacking the problem correctly.

Education impacts and has an effect on everybody in our society, and because of this, there is not and never can be a silver bullet to address educational reform.  There are so many pieces to education that contribute to our success or contribute to our lack of success.  In particular, I would like to concentrate on what we can control...ourselves...the educators.  As many are aware, Colorado's Senate Bill 191 is aimed at reforming teacher tenure and teacher evaluations.  This is a topic that most people tend to ignore and push under the rug, but as an educator we must sometimes do what is difficult to do what is right.

Many of my friends are not in education, and I can honestly say they find the idea of tenure to be unfair and wrong.  During one of the most difficult economic periods since The Great Depression, I can understand their plight when they hear about teachers teaching for three years and are virtually unfireable.  We all know there are teachers who are "underperforming," and how we deal with these teachers seems to be at the heart of the problem, and the solution.  At the risk of upsetting millions of teachers in America, I feel it is important to note that I am not claiming to have an answer to teacher tenure and evaluation.  I do, however feel it is crucial to address the issue of teacher tenure if we are to eliminate the achievement gap and improve education.  There are too many factors that we can not control, but hiring and retaining good and effective teachers is something we can control.
Please realize the laws of teacher tenure and evaluation are written and developed at the state level (not at the district or school level).  As educators we should be proactive and do what is right for the students.  Doing what is right is not always easy, but don't we owe that to our students?  Don't we owe that to society?  Don't we owe that to ourselves?  Take time to read about Senate Bill 191 and discuss this with your fellow educators.  Can this Bill be a model for other states to help eliminate our educator achievement gap, or should we continue searching for ways to improve teacher tenure and evaluation?  As Vance Havner so eloquently said, "The vision must be followed by the venture.  It is not enough to stare up the steps - we must step up the stairs."

Highlights of Senate Bill 191

Senate Sponsors: Michael Johnston, D-Denver, Nancy Spence, R-Centennial
•Teachers and principals are evaluated each year, 50 percent based on supervisors' reviews and 50 percent on student academic growth based on assessment tests and other measures.
•Teachers can earn nonprobationary status after three consecutive years of demonstrated effectiveness.
•Teachers can lose nonprobationary status after two consecutive years of ineffective reviews, returning to probationary status. Those teachers may appeal those reviews to their superintendents. Teachers on probation have one-year contracts and may be fired at will after that.
•Principals get reviewed every year by their supervisors.
•Highly effective teachers and principals can climb "career ladders" to additional pay and responsibility. Lesson plans and advice from the state's top teachers would be online and available to other educators.
•Displaced tenured teachers who cannot land a new position will have two years to find another job within the district. After that period, if they cannot find employment, they will be removed from the payroll and placed on unpaid leave.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Bring on the learning revolution!

A fabulous resource to educators is available, and the best part about is free! Visit the website and watch videos about "ideas worth spreading." I chose this particular video by Sir Ken Robinson because I feel Robinson makes a wonderful point about education. When we talk about education we need to forget about the evolution of the school system, but rather we should concentrate on the revolution of the school system...

Sir Ken Robinson is an author and speaker and is well known on the international stage for his presentations on education. Robinson uses several examples from his life to show the importance of education not just going through a few changes and adjustments, but education being completely transformed and revolutionized to address the needs of our ever changing society.

Robinson compares our out dated and broken school system to the fast food industry. Too much of education has become standardized with an emphasis on assembly line principles. We should be "customizing" the education system to fit the needs of particular communities and the needs of our society. Robinson, said a line that was disheartening as an educator, "Education dislocates many people from their natural talents." As educators shouldn't we be tapping into the natural talents of our students? Shouldn't we be encouraging students to follow their talents and their interests? The educational system our students deserve needs to incorporate words of encouragement and pats on the back; not barriers limiting creativity and passion.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Do you recognize the many pieces to the puzzle?

Over the last several weeks I have had the opportunity to speak with several different people who are the leaders/coordinators/directors/supervisors in their respective departments within my school district.  This opportunity has given me a new found appreciation for the many intricacies of a large suburban school district.  
As a current classroom teacher I plan my lessons, go to school, teach students, grade assignments and do it all over again.  Unfortunately, many educators including myself, take for granted the many things that need to happen before we can truly do our jobs. 

Before I even wake up on a given morning: there are people working to make sure the buses are safe to transport students, there are people doing repairs all throughout the district, there are people coordinating before school programs, there are people arranging subs for sick teachers, and there are people preparing food to feed our students upon arrival to school.  My point is simple; as a teacher I would not be able to do my job if these "forgotten and under appreciated people" were not doing their jobs.  When you work for a school district everybody is working toward the same goal.  We are here to create a safe, positive and encouraging environment, that promotes lifelong learners who are prepared to be successful democratic citizens. 

So, the next time you use your empty trash can in your classroom, you enjoy the nice air conditioned school in which you work, you spend money from your checking account, and you teach students who arrived at school on time, please remember the people who are responsible for making this happen.  A school district is a complex and delicate structure that requires the expertise of several different people to run efficiently and effectively.  Be aware, be thankful, and be appreciative to those who help us do our jobs, by doing theirs...

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Where is the value added?

I am 26 years old.  I like to play video games.  I like to play computer games.  I think I am somewhat computer savvy.  I am a member of generation Y.  So, naturally I use Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, Google, Youtube and blogging on a daily basis, right?.  "Jain," which in German means yes and no.

I will give most of the credit to a friend, fellow cohort member in my doctoral program, mentor and educational inspiration, Chris McGee.  Chris is considered our "tech guy" in our doctoral program because he is light years ahead of us in terms of his technological knowledge and experience.  It is because of Chris that I started to blog.  Which in turn leads me to my main point of this blog.  What is the value added to blogging and why should I blog?

In my short blogging career I have had a great experience learning how to blog, as well as the many advantages to blogging.  In my opinion the main benefit of blogging is what I would call the "clearing of the mind."  When I sit down to write I am forced to really evaluate my true feelings toward particular issues.  This in turn allows me to understand where I stand with particular issues related to education.  The first step in change is to truly understand what you believe in and what you think.  Blogging allows me to sort out my beliefs while expressing my opinions in an open and accepting forum.

Secondly, I would argue that reading other blogs of what people have experienced, believe, and think about education related issues can be extremely powerful in terms of professional development opportunities.  I am still not exactly sure who my target audience is when I blog.  Perhaps my audience is just educators, perhaps educators and parents, perhaps educators, parents and students...I am not sure.  Additionally, I am not sure if my lack of a target audience is a problem.  Do I absolutely need a target audience, or can I just write to write?  Can I just write to "clear my mind," and if somebody happens to read and like what I have to say then it is a bonus?  I don't have an answer for you, but I do know one thing for certain.  I plan on continuing to blog and learning about myself, and I would encourage others to explore different ways of finding yourself and discovering your inner beliefs.            

How high can you JUMP?

Last year I volunteered to lead a program called JUMP.  JUMP is aimed at helping freshman students who are struggling academically and/or socially. At first I was somewhat hesitant because I have never lead a program quite like this.  In short, we were able to accomplish some great things, but looking toward the future we also have a lot of room for improvement for a more effective and efficient implementation of this program.

As I mentioned, we accomplished some fantastic things this past year.  To the program's benefit we had an excellent group of mentors working with the mentees.  The mentors were chosen because they all have an outgoing and caring personality, and ultimately have the patience and empathy to work with a group of struggling students.  I couldn't be happier with our group of mentors.  They were able to connect with and relate to the mentees in a way a teacher never could.     

Perhaps the most important benefit of this program is that we are meeting the students where they are.  Too often in education we try to force new information upon our students, whether they are ready for the new information or not.  This mentor program has established itself as an initiative that meets students where they are, and from there the students will be able to grow and develop through their own natural course.  It is my hope to grow this program, as well as take my experiences leading this program and bring them into my classroom to "meet students where they are."

Personalized and individualized learning are terms that get used often, but are we really personalizing and individualizing the learning process for each student?  Unfortunately, the truthful answer is no.  As educators our goal should be to address the needs of each and every student at the current level at which he/she is.  The educational process is not about you or I; it is about the student.  The mentor program has started off in a great direction, but by no means am I content with it's current form.  I wish to continue to grow and to develop as an educator, while creating an environment that meets the needs of every student by allowing them to grow and develop at their own pace.  In closing, I am very fortunate and happy I volunteered for the mentor program, because it has allowed me to grow as a person, as well as refined my skills as a professional educator.  I will leave you with one question...can we effectively personalize and individualize the learning process for each student in the current form of education?  If your answer is no, what should we do?

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Would anybody like some change?

As I often do, I speak with my wife about issues and theories related to education. Though my wife is not a full time teacher, she does teach as an adjunct professor at a local community college. Thus, I feel she is knowledgeable and a worthy audience when discussing educationally related topics.

Our most recent discussion revolved around how education needs to be more effective and applicable to the ever changing needs of the student population. There are so many fantastic things going on in education, and at times I am extremely proud to call myself an educator. Unfortunately, there are other times where I am not so proud of some things done in education. Looking at education with a glass half full approach, we can be encouraged because there is always room to change and improve the way we conduct our business as educators.

One of the beauties of being in education is we have the right and obligation to be change agents. We go to work every day looking for new ways of improving education. That is our job...make education as relevant, applicable and as necessary as possible to prepare students to be successful in their lives in the future.

I prepared a presentation about change and how we can all be change agents. My wife had one question for me, "Don't you think you are asking too much of educators?" When I thought about how I would answer this question, I realized the answer was simple. "No," I am not asking too much of educators, because our duty and job as educators is to do what it takes to get the job done. Just as society and students have changed, we need to change and evolve to ensure we are positively affecting our students. We need to change the culture of education and make sure we are reaching all of our students preparing them to be lifelong learners and successful democratic citizens.

Friday, July 2, 2010

What motivates you, me and students?

As a human being I am inclined to believe that we are self-motivating and self-driven. We yearn to explore and discover as much as possible about the magnificent world around us. We derive our energy and power from our self-motivation and drive, and without this ability to discover and explore on our own, we will most certainly become zombies.

Now, to some people, becoming a zombie might be really cool, but I refuse to live my life with a zombie state of mind. Merely floating through existence with no purpose or reason is not a viable option for me and many others. So, the question is, how do we make sure people continue and don't lose their self-motivation and drive? As much as it saddens me to say, I feel at times we are preventing the natural course of our existence by stifling our love to explore and discover. When we think about some of the best and most creative inventions throughout time, I would be willing to bet most were created out of shear curiosity and inquisition. Parents, teachers and administrators, think about some of your best childhood memories... were you allowed to do whatever it was on your own? Were you able to do whatever it was well? Did whatever you did have some kind of purpose or reason? I would be willing to bet you answered yes to these questions.

The human brain and psyche are widely complex, but Daniel Pink has isolated three main factors that allow us to be self-motivated and driven: autonomy, mastery and purpose. As with most things, it starts with education, and as educators we need to give our students the autonomy to master information and tasks they feel have a purpose and importance to them. A progressive idea being used by companies to challenge and motivate their workers is to allow them "free time" to work on something in which they are interested. Why can't we try this in the classroom? Why can't we give our students a set of guidelines and let them discover and explore something they feel is important on their own? The carrot and stick model is dead when it comes to really fueling drive and motivation. Let us now concentrate on ways of tapping into our natural state of discovery and exploration. Let us tear down the walls and release the fury of self driven motivation.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

What's my job?

Do you ever wake up in the morning before work and think to yourself, "I need to find a new job." If you are human the most likely answer is "yes." Should you feel guilty about this feeling? Should you focus on the negative parts of your job, and totally ignore any of the positive parts? I would answer "no" to both of these questions.

As educators we have the luxury of facing a litany of setbacks and struggles. Yes, I said "luxury," and in my honest opinion I would much rather have a job that challenges, pushes, and demands the best of me, than a job that does not test my abilities or my resolve. Every day we get the opportunity to affect and impact the lives of children. This is arguably the most important and crucial piece to our free democratic society. Of course, there will be down days and days we wish we had chosen a different profession. For your sake, for our sake, for the children's sake, do not ignore the struggles associated with education, but rather accept them as a challenge that motivates and pushes you to your limits.

I created this video to motivate and inspire educators at my high school's back to school faculty meeting. I hope it reminds you of why you entered the education profession, as well as the power you hold over the lives you have impacted, and the lives you will impact.