School Transformation

It’s been said that the only human that likes change is a baby. Change is the hardest thing to work through even when dealing with professionals like educators. Part of it is due to the fact that our state legislature has a bad habit of changing the rules every other year. Part of it is that campuses and districts have leadership changes often and with those changes come different theories. Both of these mean that the hard work teachers put into their curriculum and classroom work is either scrapped or highly modified. Given that teachers have little time for planning as it is, that means less family time after hours while trying to prep for the school day.

Now, you want to “transform” their classroom? Really? Another change for another year or two? This is where your leadership (from the school board to superintendent to assistant principals) must have the same vision. This allows you to point out that no matter what cog of the wheel might change, the overall direction will not change anytime soon.

My good friend, and a wonderful educational mind, is Diana Laufenberg. She recently blogged about her work in transforming schools as a consultant after her classroom and leadership work at Science Leadership Academy in Philadelphia. She keys in on four areas that she finds leaders could focus attention and make the process easier and more profitable for all involved.

  • Allow for breathing room – the people who are walking the path need support, but be careful not to micromanage. Once a plan is in place, check in on progress but leave some room for the project to breathe, get up to running speed, a watched pot never boils… evoke whatever analogy you want. This matters.
  • Play the long game – when the change process begins there is often a push to change it all right now, flip the thing over, disrupt. I would caution that to do so often alienates your core team, leaves the changes at a superficial level, and does not lay the ground work for the core changes that you want to see cement themselves into your school ecosystem. Its easy to drop new machines in a building and much more complex to bring that technology in to serve the pedagogy powerfully. Being thoughtful in scaffolding the process will set up the pathways of success for the team in ways that cannot be manufactured in any other way.
  • Pay attention to critical indicators – I often joke that if none of the students are doing the homework, it is not a problem with the students – it is a problem with the homework. Similarly, if a critical mass of the teachers in a transformation school are not on board, its time to evaluate that push back. It is important to listen to what the criticisms are and attend to the information. Ignoring it will only lead to massive staff turnover, year after year, which is a death knell to meaningful change. Change requires a school to reevaluate all its systems and structures. This is uncomfortable. Help people move through that space rather than ignore the issues.
  • Celebrate successes – Celebrate often, celebrate loudly, celebrate in the classrooms/school/community. Invite the community in, send the teachers and students out to meet with the community. It is important for the greater community to see the work of the students and start to see the transformation not just as a school initiative, but as a community effort.

Which of these do you feel you do well already as it pertains to the transformation you’d like to see on your campuses? Which of these do you think should be a priority for YOUR staff right now?

Crossposted in PLP Discussion Group.

Creating a Culture of Connectedness from the Top Down

Photo Credit: gfpeck

In my post yesterday Teaching in a Participatory Digital World, I wrote about our need to change as a whole. That easily draws back to the questions of how and where do we start. There is a great blog post by John Robinson titled “5 Principles That Make Outdated Educational Practice Impossible.” In it, he deals with the #edchat topic, “How should teachers deal with colleagues who are comfortable with 19th century and punitive measures for non-compliant students?” He states that we are asking the wrong question:

At first glance, I would agree that the administrator does have the responsibility to address the issue of teachers using outdated practices. However, I think the real solution is a bit more complicated and can be captured with another question: How can a teacher engaged in outdated pedagogy and practice possibly exist in a true 21st century school? Should the school environment not be so innovative and challenging that such teaching is impossible? Perhaps the real problem is that we have been fooling ourselves into thinking our school is a “21st Century School” when it’s not. Just maybe our school systemically allows teachers to continue do what they’ve always done and avoid growing personally and professionally

He then goes on to discuss what a school or school district with that culture may look like. Here are his top 5 things with my commentary listed after each:

1. A strong expectation of personal and professional growth permeates the school and school district environment.Everyone, beginning with leadership, are lifelong learners, and their every action is focused to that end. There’s an attitude of perpetual learning and professional development surrounding everything that is done.

Me: Agreed. Obviously it will be more difficult to change those who are not knew to the campus/district because they have a practiced method they are comfortable with. Start working on them a little at a time with the goal of having made that shift inside of two years. Above all else, make the culture evident in ALL new hires. Let them know what they are getting into and what the expectations are. The cream will rise to the top.

2. The school and school district culture values risk-taking more than playing it safe. Valuing risk-taking takes courage from leadership and everyone else. It means accepting failure as part of learning. Leadership that values risk-taking can’t ask others to take risks if they themselves aren’t willing to do so.

Me: Not only value the risk-taking, but make it a part of the teaming process and campus meetings. Give purpose to those meetings. Have an open dialogue with staff on these things. let them know they are safe to discuss the failures with the larger group. Everyone needs support to grow. Who better than the folks who are near and dear to them?

3. Leadership in the school includes more than the principal. When the leadership includes strong teacher leadership, it is difficult for those not growing professionally to exist. Teacher leadership means there are peers pushing those teachers to develop professionally.

Me: I completely agree with this statement. One of the hardest things to get teachers to do is mentor other teachers unrequested. Teaching is a professional career. Until we start doing all of the things that professionals do, it will be difficult to get the community to accept us as such. Doctors and lawyers wouldn’t stand by as others in their profession did things against their code or in a less than professional manner. I’m not sure why teachers do not feel compelled to help those around them become the best they can be in their careers. Sometimes it only takes a short email or conversation in the hall. Or, maybe a few minutes of PD added to grade level or department meetings can do the trick. Admins should make that a global expectation and then find and mentor those special teachers on campus who have a knack for leadership and are respected. Nurture and grow that talent so that it can spread. 

4. Collaboration among staff is the norm. When issues and problems and challenges are viewed as “our issues/problems/challenges” then everyone is expected to be a part of the solution. This means those who are hanging on to outdated practice find it more difficult to do so. Their colleagues are pushing them to take ownership of the school’s future and they can’t continue to exist in their tiny isolated compartment within the school. 

Me: This is where being the academic leader of the campus comes in. Jumping in and being a part of the process of learning instead of just being the leader of the campus. Joining in on the planning, implementation, and resolution of good work in the classroom shows support and encouragement for both staff and students. Parents will appreciate the knowledge the campus leader has of what is going on in the classroom. This helps grow great practices much quicker. Like the teacher who handles classroom management issues by the proximity they are in the room, campus admins can do the same. 

5. There’s a strong sense of entrepreneurship among staff regarding the school. They feel that it is “their school.” Staff who feel this aren’t just provided a token opportunity to give feedback on School Improvement Plans. They have a say in the direction and focus of the school because it is genuinely their school too. Teachers engaged in obsolete practice can’t continue to operate in an obsolete manner because colleagues push them to do better.

Me: This really ties into the last two, but I would add that it is imperative that educators have time during the school day to grow together. Teaming, PD, and PLCs are all important things that should occur each school day. Teachers are so overwhelmed with the testing culture that has been created. They know that routine well. Grade homework, cover new topic, review new topic, assign homework over new topic…rinse, repeat. It is going to take some time and effort to get them out of that cycle. They will find it tough going to begin with, but they will appreciate the pushing and urging in the end. More than that, the students will benefit from that in the end. 

Just like we expect our teachers to plan their weeks out in their classrooms, admins must do the same if they expect the culture/paradigm shift we so desperately need in our classes. Target high needs areas and staff. Do some mental RTI work to plan out the best way to grow the skills of those in need. Find that time to allow staff to work together to grow each other and be a part of that process. Showcase the positives more than spotlighting the negatives during group meetings. Create a culture where failure is seen as an opportunity to learn and grow. Create a culture where connecting is the expectation and not the exception. 

A Chance to Breathe

Photo Credit: Darren Kuropatwa

Rarely do schools get legitimate opportunities to be a part of the legislative process in Texas. You can argue we always have the opportunity, but I can equally argue that our input is rarely welcomed or invited by many in leadership in Austin. But thanks to the work of Sen. Carona and Rep. Strama during the 82nd Session, the Texas High Performance Schools Consortium was created. White Oak ISD is one of the fortunate, hard working, twenty-three applicants chosen to play a part. The bill, the child of work from TASA’s Public Education Visioning Institute, offers member schools the chance to have a say in these four key areas:

  1. Digital learning–Engagement of students in digital
    learning, including, but not limited to, engagement through the use of
    electronic textbooks and instructional materials and courses offered
    through the Texas Virtual School Network;
  2. Learning standards–Standards that a student must master to be successful in a competitive postsecondary environment;
  3. Multiple assessments–Various methods of determining
    student progress capable of being used to inform students, parents,
    school districts, and open-enrollment charter schools, on an ongoing
    basis, concerning the extent to which learning is occurring and the
    actions Consortium participants are taking to improve learning; and
  4. Local control–Ways in which reliance on local input
    and decision-making enable communities and parents to be involved in the
    important decisions regarding the education of their children. 

The biggest piece of this work is centered around the next accountability system. If the bill works out as planned, the consortium members will draft a plan to be approved in the upcoming 83rd Texas Legislative session. That plan should provide consortium members some needed respite from the current testing system with the goal of utilizing that freedom in implementing a new system built around the bigger picture of the child’s learning and not just one day. That data will then be brought back to the TEA commissioner and the Texas Legislature for further recommendations in the accountability system updates.

I am fully aware that there are detractors already lining up to dismiss the work of this group. They are protecting their special interests and ignoring what should be the focus of the public education system: educating each student to his or her full potential. What gets lost in this is that these special interests think all kids have the same potential. They ignore the special needs of students above or below the norm. They wishfully think that every single child has the intrinsic goal of attending college and thus force curriculum and testing onto them with that in mind. They believe that students dropping out of school due to a “failing public education system” is improved by even more testing.

If these special interest groups would pull their heads out of the sand long enough to view the real world outside of their fancy office windows and stack of campaign checks, they’d realize we have a wonderfully diverse population in Texas. It is one full of future career professionals such as doctors, lawyers, educators, business men/women, and engineers. It is equally full of creative citizens who will ply their trade in welding, plumbing, electrical work, and carpentry. They’ll keep the infrastructure of our great state moving forward with a growing citizenry. No great state can be complete without successful citizens in all of these areas and more.

The fact that open-minded legislators, such as Sen. Carona and Rep. Strama, were able to push through a bill offering hope to an education system continually burdened with multiple choice tests shows just how much we need to change. Our system will not improve by piling on more of the same, regardless of what some say. It will improve by changing to meet the needs of our current customers: students with the broadest options for careers that our country has ever known.

Let’s get to work creating a system that holds schools accountable for that.

Why School? Will Richardson tells you why.

Below are my thoughts on Will Richardson’s new book Why School? How Education Must Change When Learning and Information Are Everywhere. I have to say, this was a great read that I have already shared with my entire admin staff. We are reading it prior to a district visit with Will and Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach October 2nd. Looking forward to the follow-up conversations this book will lead to. It steps on a few toes, but it does so lightly and appropriately.

The following is my review of the book I posted to both Amazon’s site and the iTunes Book Store.

I’ve read lots of “school needs to improve” books over the last decade or so. What happens is that they get bogged down in repeating the same problem with different verbiage over and over. It gets old and boring and I quit reading. Will went the right track with this text. He nails the issues at hand, offers a little commentary, and moves on. This is a quick, but insightful read for any person interested in making positive, proactive changes in their schools and classrooms. Keep in mind what you want for your own child as you read throughout. One of my favorite passages from the book:

“What doesn’t work any longer is our education system’s stubborn focus on delivering a curriculum that’s growing increasingly irrelevant to today’s kids, the outmoded standardized assessments we use in an attempt to measure our success, and the command-and-control thinking that is wielded over the entire process. All of that must be rethought.”

I would postulate that the group who contends “if it was good enough for me when I was in school, then it’s good enough for these kids” are the group causing all of the drop out issues we are facing today. The quote above describes the Industrial Revolution education systems that are still in use today in far too many places. It is that mindless, fact regurgitation system that bores kids and disconnects them from the love of learning new things they had as toddlers. Failure to adjust leads to failure to succeed.

Listening to politicians and big business has gotten us nowhere over the least several decades, unless you consider making the testing companies giant, rich automation factories. Take from this book and consider the part you can play in improving the education system. Quit letting others with their own special interests make the decisions for you.

Some things really disappoint me

Of all of the things to spend money on and be concerned about in EDUCATING our students, this is not one of them. I’m not faulting the school or the teacher. They’re only playing the game with which they are trapped in by the state.

“Highlights” from the article (emphasis mine):

Photographs of each teacher hang nearby. Next to them are the average test scores for each of their classes, color coded in green, blue and red marker for high, average and low. Picture a super-size spreadsheet.
Teachers also can get bonuses or pink slips based on how their students do.
“the data room” – is the new meeting place for teachers.

Really? You need a “data room” to keep teachers and students focused on goals? What goals? Passing a standardized test that has no actual bearing on success in life? That goal? Wow, our focus is sorely misplaced in Texas. Read the article. $6000 to “design the room.” Salary for someone to be the “improvement coordinator.”

And the goal is to pass a test.

A test that has no bearing on college success.

A test that does nothing to prepare our students for the real, working world.

A test that the state of Texas spends $100,000,000 (that’s 100 MILLION dollars) on each year to administer (not counting local costs) while woefully underfunding actual education and not funding enrollment growth (which grows so fast each year it’s like adding another Fort Worth ISD annually).

A test that steals 25% or our school calendar to administer (not counting prep and practice days).

A test that does nothing but prepare our kids to take more tests.

A test that kills the love of learning in students.

A test that kills the love of teaching in teachers.

A test that kills innovation.

A test that kills creativity.

A test.

This is not what I want for my children. This is not what I want for other children. This is not what I want for our staff.

At what point will the Texas Legislature realize that if they truly want to be “successful” like the world’s leader, Finland (read that link, it’s worth your time), they have to go the opposite direction. You know, the direction that includes critical thinking, problem solving, free exploration of a subject as opposed to rote memorization. The one that mandates equity among ALL students and schools. The one that focuses on building successful citizenry.

Yeah, that one. </rant>

Meetings Because We’ve Always Had Them

Photo Credit: markhillary

Catching up on my blog reading lately. I ran across this great post by Ryan Bretag. As usual, he challenges one to consider why we do what we do. Are we doing it just because we always have done it that way? Sometimes, that is okay. Many times, it’s not. Consider his take on meetings:

Meetings are not all bad – quite the opposite. Good ones are focused on
organizational progress based upon legitimate dialogue and discussion
that enhance instruction and lead to greater student success. However,
those meetings that fall outside this scope waste the creative and
intellectual capacity of the very people expected to use such strengths
as instructional leaders. Those meetings block creativity,
brainstorming, wonder, play, risk-taking, and innovation.

I cannot agree with him more. We’ve all sat in and led those same types of meetings. Nowadays, we have technology at our fingertips to take care of the menial, informational, one way communication. Why make everyone come together for that again? And again. And again.

Ryan offers up this challenge:

Set the Tone

… I challenge those that structure “All Faculty Meetings” to
consider these as community learning, celebrating, and growing
opportunities. Do not treat these as a time for one person after another
to stand in front of a large group sharing information. Instead, I
encourage you to consider the following:

  1. Create an agenda that does not include any one-way information delivery outside of a motivational/inspirational opening (brief)
  2. Establish activities that ignite the interests and passions of
    faculty, that challenge mindsets and frames of reference, and that spark
    dialogue and discussion well beyond the time spent together
  3. Send an email that includes the agenda, any one-way information, and
    Ignite Prompts that get people into a learning frame of mind
  4. Utilize the opportunities as a community to push to new levels, to begin breaking the boundaries that are stifling progress
  5. Provide times and opportunities to extend these starting points
  6. Seek feedback from faculty on the effectiveness of faculty meetings
    and what could be done to create stronger learning opportunities

In other words, think outside the box in your planning. Pretend for a minute that you really want everyone’s input. Pretend that your entire staff is energized and passionate about offering feedback to make things better. Pretend that every meeting you you hold ends with mountains of beneficial input from the folks that it directly affects.  Prepare as if these things are true. Because if you pretend these things are true, and you prepare as if they are true, then you just might find them coming to reality. Can you imagine the power of those meetings?

Now excuse me while I go rework the agenda for my district technology committee.

A Paradigm Shift in Classroom Design

Science Lab

Photo: Science Lab at Smithsonian in DC. We need one of these.

I have really been struck with the idea that we have reached a plateau in new technologies. I realize that useful, new gadgets and sites will continue to come out, but what we have currently will help us provide so much more to our students than we ever have before. So, why aren’t we seeing the change we need at the pace we need it and the pace the kids deserve it?

The answer is us. It truly is us. We are the problem. We are the disablers. We are the barriers the students cannot break through. Don’t get me wrong. We are using new tools with students in some amazing ways. We are engaging them like never before. Yet, we do it in spurts. It is just a modernized version of our old, standby friend the poster project. The kids get all excited, not because it is a good project, but because it is not a text and worksheet. That’s just wrong. To quote my friend and mind stretching mentor Dr. Gary Stager, “The blame lies within the bankruptcy of our imaginations.”

Yes, it is a start, but what good are starts if we hit the brakes every single block. It takes us forever to get across town where we should really be at already.  We should be buried in the middle of local conversations about how we could be changing teaching practices to better fit the kids we see coming through our doors. Seriously. What progress is made if we only automate the same boring routines? What new level (notice I said level and not concept) of learning is achieved if we continually return to the old textbook and worksheet far more often than open ended projects? And, yes, tests can still be passed if we do things differently.

It’s not just the teaching style that needs change, though. Shouldn’t it also be about the learning space? It is for them.

We have so many places we need to start with this. ISTE is moving forward with a new initiative as well.  Consider getting involved with it. But for now, let me begin with the presentation below. It is a nice conversation starter sure to thrill some, confuse some, and tick off others. Which category are you in? Wanna talk?

NECC Conversations: from the room to the poster

It’s a funny thing being a presenter. While I really work hard to make my own presentations engaging (and fail at times, I’m sure) I find myself more critical of others. Now, by critical, I mean both good and bad. I am always looking to see what makes one a better presenter over another and also what was the “thing” that released the crowd from the stream of thought so they would day dream instead.

With that in mind, several posts and conversations were had this year at NECC that I took notice of. While Scott McLeod and Doug Johnson do nice jobs of sharing their thoughts and even offering suggestions, one of the things that got my attention was a conversation had at the Google gathering with several others including Scott Meech and Dean Shareski.

Standard sessions have turned into sit and gets and have lost their luster. Poster sessions might be the better option. What makes one better than the other? The conversations. My presentation this year was changed from a standard session to a poster session. At first it was mixed feelings, but after having gone through my two hours of the poster session, it is all good. I was able to have deeper conversations with more people than if I had stood in front of an audience sharing the same information. The engagement for both me as a presenter and them as an audience was a far better experience than I have had in other settings. Dean noted that he felt it might be the better route to have the session conversations take place (as opposed to the unconference sessions conversations).

While many of us say the best PD takes place in the halls of the conference, maybe the poster session is the next best thing. Should that idea be expanded?

Now, let’s take ourselves from the position of teacher/learners at a conference and move into the position of learner in a school setting. Yeah, I would have preferred this type of setting in school as well.

My Day in Region 8

I was fortunate enough this past week to be asked to speak at the Education Service Center in Region 8 in Mount Pleasant, TX. I had a great time with a very receptive audience. One of the attendees was even in my university program during my bachelors. It was great to see her again.

My goal with this day was to show them how White Oak ISD uses our web presence to make our classrooms and district transparent in many ways and allow our community to become a part of the school day. We use blogs from our WordPress MU server, a redesigned Joomla site, our Apple podcast server, and other web based tools like Delicious to let everyone see just what we are trying to accomplish in our students’ education.

There were a few things that struck me during the day:

  • I had several in attendance who told me during breaks that they had not heard of any of the tools I mentioned. While as a presenter that is good for me, it bothers me a bit as an educator. These have been around for awhile, so I thought I might be extending the knowledge on a few of these tools, not introducing them, per se.
  • I was struck at the statement made metaphorically by starting with the two videos that I did. While I did not intend it that way, it came across that way to the attendees. The Introduction of the Book showed early issues with lack of knowledge of its use. The latter video of Chris Lehmann’s students discussing, toungue in cheek, the lack of functionality of the book does much the same in a 21st Century context. It was cool to see they got that out of the videos.
  • Schools spend a lot of money on commercial tools when many times the opensource versions can provide more even if you have to find paid support. I will be helping one district start to rebuild their wbesite away from a paid, very limited service to Joomla. (Disclosure: I am not getting paid to help them. It is just nice to help when they have a staff member so willing to jump in on his own as well. I will be more of a guide.)
  • ESC 8 ROCKS! They either filter a LOT less than other ESCs or they opened up the lab I was in knowing I would be using several resources normally blocked. While they did not block, they did block Edublogs. I bet they get that resolved, though. They are sure to have several school districts requesting it, anyway.

My takeaway from this is that we all still have a lot to share with each other. While I shared tools that some might have even heard of before, several heard new uses for them for their own schools.

You will find below the Google Presentation version of what I presented to them. There are a few videos embedded for a point as well as just for fun. We did some hands-on work at different times, so the presentation might seem abrupt at times. If the embed below acts up, you can find the presentation here:

Feel free to leave your comments as well as questions below. I am more than happy to reply.

Hiring the Right Staff…Or Not

Photo Credits: Me

With NECC coming up sooner than it seems, and Malcolm Gladwell being the keynote speaker, I decided I had to make a move to learn a little more about this guy. 

I finally had some time to read through Malcom Gladwell‘s article in the New Yorker titled “Most Likely to Succeed.” I was excited about the possibilities after reading the tag line “How do we hire when we can’t tell who’s right for the job?” My hope that I would finally learn the secrets to hiring the right staff was short lived as I read through the article, though.

Once you get through the overly done metaphor of scouting a quarterback being compared to finding the right teacher, you find that Gladwell builds on a number of misguided beliefs bantered around already far too much in political circles as foundations of good education.

First of all, Gladwell jumps right into the fire by saying that “one of the most important tools in contemporary educational research is ‘value added’ analysis.” As he says, it uses standardized tests to determine the connection between a student’s test scores and a classroom teacher’s performance. More specifically, he uses a class average as the comparison between two third grade teachers. Not only does he not take into consideration the different make-up of student needs, he goes so far as to name the kids “Janes, Lucys, Johns, and Roberts.” That extends his description of the students as average with the use of average names.  When was the last time any teacher walked into a classroom full of kids with names like that?

I give Gladwell credit for the admission, “It’s only a crude measurement. A teacher is not solely responsible for how much is learned in a classroom, and not everything of value that a teacher imparts to his or her students can be captured on a standardized test.” Yet, he jumps right back into the poor side of the argument using the term “nonetheless.” Why nonetheless? Why not, “Standardized tests just don’t cut it.” Nope. He decides that it is just okay to base teacher performance on student tests. We will find out whether a teacher is “good or poor” based on one test on one day.

He then extends that argument even more giving it credence by sharing input given by an economist who talks about ranking our kids against other countries. That again? When other countries test their kids, ALL of their kids, like we do (or vice versa) then we can have this discussion. Until then, it is an apples and oranges comparison and not worthy of more print. I prefer to not create a nation of standardized test takers anyway.

As an added bonus, the economist shares that we can increase test scores by replacing the bottom six to ten percent of our teachers with teachers of “average quality.” Would this argument not continue through infinity? It’s like saying we need to bring up those below average. Won’t half the population always be below average?

After some more drivel about scouting, he gets back to some real research about what makes a good teacher. “Withitness.” Now, as stupid as that sounds, it is pretty accurate. It might be the teacher who allows the little kids at reading time to get excited about the book and lean in toward the book even though it might be against normal class procedure. She is identifying a level of engagement and running with it. It might also be the teacher who stops one of the kids as he/she heads out the door to make sure everything is okay after noticing odd behavior in the classroom. Or it might be the teacher who mentions student names and specific honors seen over the weekend at the academic event or ball field.  Or it might be all of the above and then some, which is far more likely, but that is withitness. 

I had the opportunity to testify before an Interim Select Committee on Accountability in Austin, Texas, last spring. Near the end of my testimony, the chairman of the committee asked me a simple question: “What makes a teacher a good teacher?” My answer was just as simple, but not really: “I know it when I see it.” While it may seem an odd answer, those of us in education realize that it is VERY difficult to vocalize what a good teacher is doing that makes a good teacher. Sure, we can do checklists all day long. What is missing is what that truly looks like in a good teacher. A poor teacher can get through a checklist. It takes experience to know the difference.

This is where Gladwell allows some good ideas to come through even if he did not extend them to logical possibilities. He is absolutely correct that our government is too busy trying to certify every Tom, Dick, and Mary that wants to be called a teacher. Then they complain that teacher quality is low. Gladwell brings in an example of financial advisers and training and yada, yada, yada. Basically, the financial companies spend about $150,000 over three or four years to train up each finalist for financial adviser positions with mentors working with them, yet they still have a lower than expected success rate. He even admits that it is a tough sell for schools to pull that off. I have several issues with this model.

For one thing, the poor kids in those classrooms will suffer. Consider that the “teacher” just cannot cut it. He/she has ruined three or four years worth of kids in that subject. Obviously, not all of the kids would suffer, but for the sake of argument, we can all agree they got cheated in some form or fashion. And, on top of that, schools do not have that type of money to waste on a bet like that.

So why would I hammer Gladwell over trying to get schools to do an internship/apprenticeship like this? Well, it seems as though he suggests that we do this AFTER college. I don’t get that. Why would we not “cull the herd,” if you will, BEFORE they get to the classroom?

I happened to go through a program just like that, and cull they did. In a program at the University of Texas at Tyler that limited entry to thirty students, our graduating class only had eleven left. The program had us in classrooms in Title 1 campuses from the second semester on. Internships and apprenticeships are a part of that program. Well, were a part of that program. It was expensive to do. UTT did it for as long as they could before they did away with it and settled for a hybrid version for the entire education program. While that brought up the quality of the larger program, it dropped the quality compared to that which most of us experienced prior to the change. It was hard. It had rigor. It had high expectations. Most of all, it got respect. A graduate of that program, aptly called Professional Development School, from an experience standpoint was not considered a first year teacher once entering his or her own classroom. Mentors from both the university and the schools in which we worked during our program spent countless hours helping develop professionals and counseling those who had no business in the classroom.

That is the model we should be using. I am all for internships and apprenticeships in pre-service programs. I think it would be the best investment most universities could make in improving the quality of their programs and graduates, ultimately improving the quality of teachers overall. 

I also find Gladwell’s mention of the financial industries “Million Dollar Round Tables” out of place. The round table award is for successful financial advisors.  I am guessing he thinks there should be something similar in education. Wonderful. I’d love to see it.  If so, how do you determine the recipients? Please don’t tell me standardized test scores. There are too many issues with that thinking. The vast majority of kids in a state take the same test regardless of the fact that they are dyslexic, recent to the country, too low to qualify for special ed, mother died the week before, came to school sick as a dog, etc.  And even the university group that Gladwell discusses clearly shows how abstract good teacher qualities are with the term “withitness.” Standardized test that one for me.

Gladwell does end with a very profound statement before moving back into his football example:

What does it say about a society that it devotes more care and patience to the selection of those who handle its money than of those who handle its children?

So my takeaways from this article are these:

  • We need to improve our higher ed programs in the area of pre-service teacher training. Interneships and apprenticeships are great ways to do just that due to the fact that mentors will get to see candidates in real world situations.
  • Internships and apprenticeships are expensive. The public is not willing to pay for schools to do it, and frankly, my personal opinion is that waiting that long is too late anyway. The state should be paying to develop these programs at the university level.
  • Regardless of the fact that companies make widgets and are profit machines to generate further advances in their field and schools are far different from that, we will continue to see folks making that comparison in order to sell books, generate high paying speaking engagements.
  • Upon reflection, I cannot believe that Gladwell offered this article up as any part of a solution. It was more of a conversation starter.

So, let’s get to the point of that conversation. We are here for student academic achievement. What is the best way to insure that that happens at the highest level? How do we get to that end through hiring staff? I’m not sure I got much out of this article to move us in that direction.