Archive Page 2

No place for hatred…

Dennis

Good teachers have always created inclusive classrooms.

Their work is made more difficult, though, by bigoted and demagogic political leaders who speak to this nation’s fears and arouse hatred.

While I have been pleased to see so many politicians from across the political spectrum rebuke Donald Trump for his divisive and hateful views, it may be too little and too late.

Even now Trump continues to be the Republican front runner, and I am deeply concerned about the damage he is likely to do here and abroad before he is done.

In such times the work of good teachers and administrators in building inclusive classrooms and schools is more important than ever.

Learning our way forward

Dennis

College students have anxiety-filled dreams about taking a final exam in a class they never attended.

My recurring nightmare is about being poorly prepared to teach a high school class, although I haven’t been a high school teacher in decades.

As they say, Sigmund Freud would have a field day with that….

What does it mean that, at least in my sleep, I am anxious about doing something I haven’t done in years and am not likely to do again?

Perhaps it simply means that part of being human is that from time to time we will unexpectedly be asked to do something for which we feel poorly prepared and that our dreams reflect that reality.

A new responsibility at work. A relationship challenge with a partner or child. A significant life change in our lives, like caring for a loved one or requiring care ourselves with the sense of dependency that creates.

Life hands us many things for which we feel ill prepared.

But another part of being human is that we step up to those challenges and responsibilities and learn our way into doing things we previously may have thought were impossible.

And then many years later we may dream about them and realize how far we have come….

“I had Madeline Hunter”

Dennis

In the 1980s when Madeline Hunter was a prominent “presenter” of effective teaching workshops I heard so many people say “I had Madeline Hunter” that I used to joke that I felt obligated to call her husband.

It remains common for participants in workshops to say that they “had” whatever the presenter or content happened to be.

But they would say far less often what they had learned from that person or content and how it changed what they did.

Unfortunately, too many leaders continue to believe that the core learning process of teaching and professional development is the “delivery” of information, and that once the information has been transmitted, the teaching or the professional development is complete.

Those leaders are likely to believe that their professional development responsibilities are discharged when they have provided an activity — that is, provided a speaker or offered a workshop.

Professional development, in their view, is simply a box to be checked, a responsibility to be discharged.

At a minimum participants in any learning event should be able to say:

• I had (or did)…

• From that I learned…

• Because of that learning I changed the habit of…

• Because I changed that habit I saw the following results…

However, just as teaching is not complete until student learning has occurred, professional learning has not occurred until educators have deepened their understanding, honed their professional judgment, and/or altered their practice in ways that benefit students.

Administrators and teacher leaders play a major role in eliminating bad professional development by ensuring professional learning that truly benefits students.

But they are not alone in that responsibility.

Therefore, I propose that consultants or presenters or speakers “JUST SAY NO” when invited to do things they know will not make a difference.

One way to address this problem, from the perspective of both school leaders and consultants, is to pay consultants based on results, not time. 

What would be the benefits?

• Conversations preceding consultants’ work would be deeper and more concrete.

• Absolute clarity would be required about measurable outcomes on the part of consultants and school leaders, which is seldom the case now.

• Vague statements of purpose such as “inspire teachers” or “motivate participants to try new things” or “introduce participants to new ideas” would no longer be acceptable. (If such purposes are deemed essential because of the local context, I recommend that no more than 5% of professional development time be given to such activities.)

Once clear outcomes were agreed upon school leaders and consultants would have to determine if the learning processes they intended to use were sufficiently robust to achieve those outcomes.

Vague or modest goals and weak learning methods would alert school leaders and consultants that their plans were flawed and that precious professional development resources were being squandered. 

What do you think about paying consultants for results? Is it an idea whose time has come?

The greatest gift

Dennis

One of the greatest gifts we can give others is to bear witness to their lives.

One of the most important and readily available ways we can bear witness is to evoke and listen to the stories people tell that reveal what it has been like for them to live their lives.

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving Day in the United States, a day that can serve as a prompt to honor and express our gratitude to those who came before us in our families and communities by inviting their storytelling.

To that end StoryCorp proposes that family members accept its invitation to “The Great Thanksgiving Listen” in which a StoryCorps app is used to record elders’ stories.

“The app helps users select questions and record and then upload interviews to the StoryCorps archive in the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress,” NPR noted in its report on the project.

My experience as a hospice volunteer videotaping the life stories of patients near the end of their lives revealed to me the power of such storytelling for both the patient and for family members.

Take a moment this weekend (and throughout the year) to ask the elders in your life to share a few of their stories.

Include the teachers or mentors who were important to you  in your list of those you might interview.

I promise that you will cherish those conversations for years to come.

Good advice

Dennis

In Louise Penny’s mystery, Bury Your Dead, a senior police inspector tells a junior colleague that he will benefit in his career if he learns to say: “I’m sorry. I was wrong. I need help. I don’t know.”

With the U.S. Thanksgiving Day on the near horizon, I would add: “I am grateful.”

Many problems in our personal and professional lives would disappear or be significantly diminished if we learned to regularly say those things, one at a time or in various combinations.

What do you think—good advice?

Paying attention to what matters

Dennis

Giving our full attention to what’s in front of us rather than succumbing to unrelenting interruptions is one of the biggest challenges many of us face in our professional and personal lives.

Multi-tasking interferes with productivity and undermines relationships, both at work and at home.

It is impossible to do deep, engaging work and to establish satisfying relationships with colleagues or family members if we are not paying attention to the task or to the people who are in front of us.

For most of us digital devices lead the list of disruptors.

In this post Henrik Edberg offers “10 habits that help me to keep my attention on what truly matters – both at work and in my private life – and at the same time minimize stress and overwhelm.”

I particularly appreciate #10: “Remember the 5 little words for sanity: One thing at a time.”

What would you add to Edberg’s list?

Skillful leadership

Dennis

Early in my professional development career I spent a great deal of time talking with teachers about teaching. I enjoyed those conversations except when…

Teachers were angry, cynical, or otherwise emotionally unsuited to have such conversations. Without exception, those teachers were…

Poorly led. They were poorly led by principals or system administrators or union leaders. Or all three. Over time that led me to…

Focus my work on leaders, particularly principals and teacher leaders because their skillful leadership was essential to meaningful teacher professional learning, particularly the kind of professional learning that would benefit all students in all classrooms.

School leaders to a very large degree determine:

• The emotional tone of a school.

• Whether the school’s culture focuses on the continuous improvement of teaching and learning for all students or on maintaining the status quo.

• Whether teachers primarily work in isolation or benefit from strong, effective teamwork.

What is your experience? Is it possible to have continuous improvements in teaching and learning for all students without skillful leadership?


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