Institutionalized

On the recommendation of a couple of Twitter friends I watched Shawshank Redemption for the first time (yeah I know), and I am glad I did.  The majority of students I teach and have contact with are seniors and the scene below struck me as how students come to depend on the walls of the schools.

This line by Red particularly struck me. Red: “These walls are funny. First you hate ‘em, then you get used to ‘em. Enough time passes, you get so you depend on them. That’s institutionalized.”

For most of our students, it works a different way.  When students enter the school walls, in kindergarten they love them, then they get used to them.  Then for some students, they depend on the walls. Sadly, for others, they grow to hate them and want to find a way to escape. Why shouldn’t they?  A majority of schools around the country are concrete and brick structures, and, in recent times, are being locked down daily.  Their lives are controlled by a clock and bell routine, and, they get fed at least one- if not two- institutional meals. As Steve Jobs stated in his biography he went to Homestead High and “it was designed by a famous prison architect…they wanted to make it indestructible.”  Many of our old and even newest schools- high, middle, or elementary- are still built on these same principles.

Some educators say the students have learned to play the “education game.”  I believe that it is more that we- are institutionalizing our students. Through their 12-13 years in school they see every hour of every day the same type of teaching.  And in this time of high-stakes testing, we are so worried about the outcome that we “teach to the test.”   The routines and sameness help the students for the most part feel safe.  These same things make the teachers feel comfortable and safe, and makes them either unwilling to change or are scared to change what they do in the classroom.  Students in our classrooms are still sitting in rows with the sage on the stage.  However, when some teachers start to change the way they do things and make the classroom learner-centered, both students and other teachers (and even administrators) get scared and start asking “why are we/you changing?”  At this point- we start breaking the institutional mindset.

“These walls are funny. First you hate ‘em, then you get used to ‘em. Enough time passes, you get so you depend on them.”

 

This brings me back to the seniors as they approach the end of their last year of school- I start to see many different emotions.  Two of them are: stress and fear.  All of a sudden they see that they are being paroled to the “outside” world and are not sure of their futures.  Some are headed to jobs (or they hope they can get a job) or they are headed to college and hope they are prepared. Some don’t know what they are going to do.  We are taking away the safety of the walls from them and it scares them. Some of them will exchange the walls of the school with the walls of the colleges or the military.  Many are sounding happy to be leaving high school, but as our seniors did their final walk-through,  in the halls at the end of their last day, many were in tears at the reality and some showed quiet fear. However, it is not all doom and gloom. Most will succeed in one way or another, but others will struggle.  Are we doing enough in this new day and age of education to create learners that are ready and excited to get out and take on the world?  This task is usually delegated to overworked and understaffed counseling departments.  But I say it is the job of all us- including the support staff.

I believe I work in a school that is making great strides in trying to break this institutional mindset.  I base this on what our senior class President Caleb Jenkins said this at the closing of the graduation ceremony:

“Not only have we created a graduating class of professional standardized test bubblers, but also people who want to make a difference. People who see an issue and want to help solve it. People that see someone in need, and want to help them. People that see smoke and fire coming from the athletic end of the high school…and are smart enough to book it outside!”

What is your school or district doing about institutionalizing?

 

Then Change It!

imagesThis post is a result of a conversation on Twitter between one of my students and myself about the Chemistry class I teach.  This class is required by the state of Michigan in order for students to get a state endorsed (whatever that means) diploma.  The class I teach is called General Chemistry is designed for At Risk students to meet this requirement.  I have included the conversation below, and it is the genesis for this post.

A few years ago former Michigan Governor Granholm decided that the Michigan graduation requirements were not tough enough, and, working with the Michigan Legislature created a set of the toughest graduation requirements in the United States. However, like most politicians don’t realize, all students are not created equal and are not going to college.  Two of the more discriminatory requirements is that ALL students need to take 4 years of math up to and including Algebra II and 3 years of science- including passing Chemistry or Physics.  I am all for more science in high school (but I should say more appropriate science and not necessarily Chemistry or Physics).  Many of my students do not plan to attend college, but rather go straight into the workforce, the military or a technical school.

Twitter Convo

My student told me: “then change it!”  But how do I- as one teacher in a state where public education has been under attack the last 2 years and teachers are basically ignored and demonized?  Recently, there has been a push to change the math requirement, but not realizing the students need those math classes in order to do the Chemistry and Physics classes.  I am not advocating dropping the three year science requirement but just changing to classes that have meaning for my students.  At night, I teach adult learners at a local university.  The first day of the math class I teach, one student spoke up and said, “don’t tell me I need Algebra. I have been out of school for 30 years and haven’t used Algebra.”  The nice thing about the math class I teach does very little Algebra, but focuses on subjects that students between 20-60 years old can use (i.e. principle and interest, home mortgage, geometry). All I want is a class that students can use out in real life.  I do teach Forensic Science and used to teach Geology- each of which are interesting and can be seen in everyday life.  But they are not state mandated and Geology was dropped and I have only two sections of Forensic Science.

What I would like to see is a group of teachers, students and parents willing to go to Lansing and other state capitols around the country and let the Governors and Legislatures know that a one-size curriculum does not fit all and that all students are not the same.  They are not pieces of steel ending up at the loading dock of the factory and you can’t reject the pieces that don’t meet an arbitrary standard.  Ideally, each student should have a curriculum tailored to their individual needs, interests and academically appropriate.

Who’s with me?!

Image Credit: Universal Pictures

Are We Drinking The Common Core Kool-Aid?

oh yeah

Disclaimer: The following post is meant to disrupt your thinking about the Common Core and the Next Generation Science Standards- not to offend.

During the course of taking courses for my teacher certification we had to read J. Abner Peddiwell’s book called The Sabre Tooth Curriculum.  The gist of the book is comparing education to the developing a better tiger starting with a sabre tooth tiger. At the end of all of these changes the new tiger looks exactly like the original sabre tooth tiger. As with the tiger, he compares changes in in education the same way.  Everything is cyclical.  So it seems once again we are redesigning our education tiger with the new Common Core Standards. There are a few of us in my school that have been in education for more that 25 years and have seen all of the changes that have occurred about every five years. Now allegedly we have the next latest and greatest change in education….Common Core (CC) and the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS).

The Common Core/NGSS bandwagon is being jumped on by districts and states all over the country including mine.  I am beginning to wonder -why?  Is it because it’s going to be good for students or because they fear if they don’t, their test grades on the new Smarter Balance tests will suffer and, in turn, their AYP? We all know if your AYP suffers the State will intervene.  Right now, based on what I am reading in the Next Generation Science Standards is that we are sacrificing content for analysis at the upper levels.  If we are expected to be tested on these new standards shouldn’t we wait 12 years until they are fully implemented in order to accurately gauge how they are working?  The CC & NGSS assumes that all teachers at every level are following and teaching the standards to mastery.  Based on my 26 years experience in education I have found that Science is one subject K-6 teachers don’t like to teach and don’t do it well or often. But before all of my K-6 teacher friends get up in arms- this is not a shot at you- but a reality that I have observed. I have seen some elementary teachers do a really good job of teaching science, but in most cases Science gets 1 hour- once a week.  Most elementary teachers I know are not science majors, and only took those classes needed to get their degrees.  I have principals in my district saying the Literacy Standards (ELA) are the most important standards. We are continually told in the media that we (the US) is lacking in Math and Science but now Literacy (ELA) seems to be the subject driving the bus. Last year I had to sit through an entire day of “in-service” (with the giant sticky notes for the walls) with Science and STEM teachers on how to integrate ELA into the Science and STEM classes. Really? Are the ELA teachers willing to integrate Science and STEM into their classrooms? Doubt it.

High schools are the schools in every district people look to see how districts perform. Thus, we depend on the other levels to prepare our students for the end game. Many times we (High School teachers) are fixing things missed at the other levels, especially Science and Math. Until we can get K-6 school to teach all of the core subjects daily and/or equally, I won’t feel comfortable relinquishing control of the content especially when many of the NextGen High School Standard are using terms at the top end of Blooms Taxonomy. During the first 12 years of this grand experiment,  we at the high schools will need to be making sure we are teaching content and the NGSS if this change in education lasts this long. Remember it is all about “passing” the tests. I also wonder how far we can take content at the lower levels and having students understanding it?  There are some concepts especially in science that need higher level mathematics to understand.  So if we are taking the content out of the upper level classes, are we doing those students a disservice- especially those that are college bound (or at least until the NGSS have been implemented for 12 years)?

Finally, my questions to you are:

  • Why Common Core and NextGen Science Standards? (How many times are we going to redesign the tiger?)
  • Are all K-12 teachers, schools and districts ready to give ALL core subjects (including Science and Math) equal time and effort as they give ELA? 
  • Why are you willing to give up local control of your school and curriculum to the State/Federal bureaucracy?
  • Is the State of Michigan willing change its graduation requirements by replacing Chemistry/Physics with Earth Science since this is one of the three main areas in the NGSS?
  • Is the Congress or State Legislatures will to put resources into the schools to make this new experiment work (especially in schools in areas that are poverty ridden)?
  • Who is driving these changes? Educators or the for profit testing companies?
  • Finally, are we doing right by the students with all of this testing?

Standardized Testing: 20 Percent Time Gone Wrong

This was my favorite quote, but in the current climate standardized testing and education reform movement I am about ready to change it to “You Can Take This Job and Shove It.”  Our high school, and more specifically, the science department have been under immense pressure to raise our standardized test scores which include the ACT and MME (Michigan Merit Exam).  Last year we had an A for science on our state report card, but this year the State of Michigan changed the way they calculate our grades and we now have an F (even though we showed growth).  As side note in our district we have two elementary schools that 95% of their students passed the tests, but one school is called a Reward school and the other a Focus school. This is bad- because the gap between those passing (and not) in one subgroup was too large.  Tell me this system is not screwed up.

Over the past 2 years the education reform movement in Michigan and across the US has been constantly changing the rules in the middle of the game and adding more testing.  In our school of 1100 students, I calculated we use roughly over 30,000 student hours doing pre and post testing (part of our evaluation), practicing the ACT, Explore and Plan testing, and taking the required State tests (ACT, MME, Work Keys) and more Explore and Plan tests. The test is now king in lieu of content. This is frustrating many teachers to the point they want to get out of the profession they once loved.  I got into teaching by accident, but found out this is what I love to do.  I also teach those students that many teachers shy away from those labeled At Risk, Special Education, Low achieving Low, ELL, and those just totally disinterested in school.  My main task is not to educate them in the content of the subject, but to get their test scores up on tests they frankly don’t care about.  The ACT and MME tests have little or no meaning to these students because all they want to do is go out and get a job that does not involve college but more skilled trades.

During second semester, we, as a department, are having to spend every Friday or 20% of my week reviewing for the ACT and now after last night the Earth Science portion of the MME (Michigan Merit Exam).  In Michigan, the Science testing takes place in the student’s Junior year and the last time they have seen any Earth Science it was in 8th grade.  It is, however, a small part of their 8th grade science class because we had to shove a large chunk of our Biology standards down that level- because there were too many of those standards to cover in one year in high school.  There are over 400 Science content standards in the state of Michigan and the MME Science portion consists of 40 questions.  The state of Michigan in its infinite wisdom does not release past questions, or give us details on what our students missed, changes the test and emphasis year to year, and they take over six months to get our results back to us.  The last test questions I can find were released in 2005.

Some of you out there will try to tell me once the Common Core/Next Generation Science Standards come in, it will be alright.  But at the pace the science group is moving we are going to have to do some major scrambling to catch up on the new tests.  The other frustrating part of Common Core is it seems that only English and Math matter.  Based on what I have seen so far Chemistry is nearly non existent with a huge emphasis on Biology, Physics and Earth Science.  Which means now the State of Michigan will have to abandon their mandatory Chemistry/Physics graduation requirement for an Earth Science one. We are going to have to revamp our entire curriculum very soon to keep up. More on my thoughts about the Next Generation Standards and Common Core in my next post.

Am I ready to quit? Most likely won’t because I am here for the students- and not the testing.  I will do my best to get my students ready for the test.  It is a tall order when many have reading and motivation issues.


Find A Wolf Pack Using The Little Blue Bird

In my first post for the Disruptors I wrote “Disruptors: Get Comfortable with being the Lone Wolf.”  This post is about using that little blue bird to find your wolf pack.  Over the past few months I have found three packs to run with and they are all groups of Disruptors. I found then all on Twitter and they are all lone wolves in their districts or schools.  Some actually have disrupted their whole school.  Let me introduce you to my packs.

My first pack is called the CUE-MACUL Road Trip. It came together when I invited Jon Corippo (@jcorippo) the Director of Minarets Charter High School in California to the 2013 MACUL Conference in Michigan.  He thought that would be a great idea and came up with a cadre other educators/disruptors to make a road trip from California to Michigan stopping along the way to meet up with teachers for quick workshops at coffee shops or truck stops.  When they arrive in Michigan at the conference they will be spending 3 days giving workshops and presentations on Web 2.0 and ed tech. For more information about this wolf pack go to cuemacul.weebly.com.

The next pack was also formed on Twitter.  A group of teachers here in Michigan got together to create the 1st Michigan Flip Teaching Conference (miflip.wordpress.com) to be held at my high school January 19th.  Dan Spencer (@runfardvs) a technology consultant at the Jackson Michigan ISD and I came up with the idea and threw it out on Twitter and we immediately had a group of local teacher to plan it.  As we started to flesh out the conference we picked up a teacher from Indiana and California to speak and present.  So over the past 3 months we put together a conference totally teacher driven.

The next pack created via Twitter was the brain child of Jill Thompson (@Edu_Thompson) who graciously asked me to be the co-creator and co-host.  Together we created the #21stedchat (Sundays at 8 PM ET).  It is a chat devoted to 21st Century Teaching and Learning.  This chat has grown since August to be one of the most popular on Twitter.  We have trended 1st every week including last week trending over the NFL & Golden Globe awards.  The chat is scheduled for an hour but continues to nearly 10 PM each night with anywhere from 1000 to over 1500 tweets or shared thoughts as one of our members put this week.  We let the people choose the topic to be discussed each week via a poll found on our website (21stedchat.wordpress.com).  Since we started this chat we now have a Facebook page and a Google + Community.  If you need a pack to join this is a great one to belong to.

Finally, don’t feel alone out in your schools or districts because there a lot of us out here.  The best way to find us is on Twitter.  If you are wondering who to follow just look at the people others follow. If you need another wolf follow me at @dprindle.


Improvise, Adapt, and Overcome

In recent years, the education landscape seems to change daily in the hands of all State legislatures.  In this environment, teachers and administrators need to keep up to date with proposed changes in their states.  In most cases, these proposals will using come to fruition with out a lot of changes. This is where the teachers need to adopt the unofficial Marine Corps slogan “Improvise, Adapt, and Overcome.”  Many of the teacher/disruptors already follow this mantra without knowing it.  This is probably what makes them disruptors.  Oxford Community Schools (oxfordschools.org) and their Superintendent Dr. William Skilling are great examples of disruptors in the education process in the State of Michigan.

Dr. Skilling was my former principal at my current school.  He is a visionary that is not afraid to change the way things are done in education.  He did it while at my school, and now he is doing for an entire district.  Just like many disruptors he sometimes stands alone- but not for long.  In his current district, Oxford Community Schools (OSC), he has changed the culture even as Michigan’s Governor and legislature seemed to change the rules daily.  At every step of the way Dr. Skilling and OCS were prepared for the changes and leveraged them for the benefit of their students.

OCS is on it way to being K-12 International Baccalaureate Certified district. They have created their own K-12 virtual school that serves a 5 county areas, have opened an OCS school in China, have created the 5th Core (fluency-based where all students are required to take either Mandarin Chinese or Spanish for 11 years), have weekly 2-hour late start for teacher collaboration, eliminated pay to play, offer free admission to all events for students, required 6 – 8th grade per-engineering program, 9 – 12 engineering program in partnership with two university, 9 -12 bio-medical program, opening Oxford Arts Conservatory the fall of 2013, opening a new k-12 school in Chongqing, China the fall of 2013, exporting American education virtually to China, have an international residency program for Chinese students, launched a K – 12 engineering program in 2008, have an Early High School program for 6 – 8 students, and have an Early College program on Oxford’s campus with more to come.  Dr. Skilling and Oxford Community Schools are disrupting education in Michigan.

While at Byron Center High School Dr. Skilling disrupted the education process, along teachers, students and parents.  In doing so, he made one of the top schools in Michigan.  During his tenure we were leaders in Educational Technology and were a State and National Blue Ribbon School.  He created the concept of the 3 A’s (Arts, Academics, and Athletics) and designed our building to fit that concept that became reality.

Dr. Skilling has been an example of the Improvise, Adapt and Overcome philosophy.  He doesn’t look at what will it cost the school or district, but what value will he get out of the initiatives or changes.  Like Steve Jobs did, Dr. Skilling surrounds himself with A people.  He gives his staff the vision then the autonomy and resources the fulfill that vision.  However as stated in my last post (Disruptors: Get Comfortable Being the Lone Wolf)  it means that a times he stands alone as the lone wolf and his work is not appreciated by schools and districts in his region or statewide.  However, in time, those around him start to slowly transform. He also re-inspires those of us that used to work for him to start change in our own district.  Finally, in the worst economy in our lifetime, every program was created and implemented in the last five years (contrasting to what other school districts did- which was to eliminate programs and reduce opportunities). Net result:  they are the fastest growing district in Michigan with over 1,500 additional students and highest fund balance in their history. Dr William Skilling and Oxford Community Schools are shining examples of a disruptive school district with disruptive leadership.


Disruptors: Get Comfortable Being the Lone Wolf

As a teacher what does it mean to be a disruptor?  Does it mean you are the innovator, pioneer or just a thorn in the side of administration because you want to do what is right for students?  I teach a group of students that have been labeled with many different terms: At Risk, Special Needs, Low Achieving Low, and with those labels students come with the attitude: “I can’t do this.”  They have the mindset that “no one expects me to learn or understand, so I will sit here and do what I need to just get by.”

I truly believe through the use of technology we can increase engagement in these students and make learning fun again.  Starting in January, my school will be going 1:1 with each student receiving a MacBook Air.  Over the last couple of years my principal has let me try out and test different applications in the hopes that we would be able to go 1:1.  However, through this process of disruption I sometimes have “disrupted” people that are not really used to being disrupted.  This list included administrators, technology staff, and other teachers. These disruptions included getting our filters opened first for teachers, then slowly lifting the lid for students. Others included moving faster than administrators cared or liked to move.  Finally, I disrupted other teachers by being the first teacher to allow students to use smart phones in my classroom.

Returning to my opening statement: a disruptor is usually the innovator, pioneer and thorn in the side of administration. This means you are going to be the lone wolf on the staff, looked at as a troublemaker, or boat rocker.  I have heard two different ways that schools and districts move. One is “don’t turn the boat to fast because someone might fall off.” Another philosophy put forth by my former principal is that of building an airplane in flight.  As I have become more involved with the educational community on Twitter with other disruptors we all feel like we are the only ones doing the disrupting whether through 1:1, blended, flip teaching, mobile learning.  I am here to say you are not alone and to continue your disruption of the process in your school.

As you continue to disrupt your schools and districts- find others in your town, region, or state you can meet with face to face or online for support, ideas and collaboration.  These fellow disruptors will do wonders for your morale.  Without this support you will feel like an island until others in your building start to come along for the ride. Believe it or not some of your best advertisement or publicity will come from your students.  If you are willing to try new things especially using the technology, applications, and social media they use will win you supporters among them and they’ll talk.  Once they start talking you will get other teachers coming in and asking what you are doing and how you are doing it.  This brings me to another trait of a disruptor that of someone who is willing to share, help and support those looking to make changes in their classroom.  If you support them they will in the end support you as you all move to change the way students learn and we teach.

A disruptor has to be willing to fail.  American dogsled driver and explorer said: “Dream big and dare to fail” when he climbed the Antarctic 10,000 ft peak named for him by Admiral Byrd when he was nearly 89 years old.  As disruptors, we are dreamers and risk takers which means we will fail from time to time. Sometimes we fail in small ways and other times we will have a major failure.  Failure doesn’t mean we stop what we are doing, but we slow down or temporarily stop and reassess what we are doing. The biggest key in failing is not to panic in the face of the failure. Always have a backup plan in case of failure especially if your principal is observing you that day.  This brings up the point of planning and testing.  Make sure you plan well and test everything before you try it out on the students.

Finally, to be a disruptor you need to be:

Not afraid to push into new technologies.

Ready to take criticisms from all directions (including fellow teachers).

Ready to be the lone wolf in your building or even your district.

Ready to build your own PLN via Twitter, Google +, Edmodo, or Facebook.

Be willing to travel to and attend conferences.

Move forward without fear of failure.

Ready to experience failure more than once.

Most of all disrupt your students, teachers, school and district.

Image Credit: Stuck in Customs on Flickr