More than a tip o’ the hat

Steve Jobs saw ways to connect people and realized that that was the best thing he could do with his time and his intellect . . . find ways to connect us to the ones we love, we trust, we cherish. Sure, he may have also thought about the money to be made . . . but he saw that the human spirit is creative and desires to be connected.

We, the human race, desire to create expressions of our love, our despair, our anger, our joy, our ideas, and our dreams. We desire to be connected to those we love, those we create with, and to challenge those with disagree with. We desire to share our experiences, good, bad, and inane. Steve Jobs found ways to provide us with tools to do all of those things.

First, and foremost, I think his desire was to help us connect to each other, share in each others triumphs and struggles no matter where we are in the world . . . even when we don’t know each other. I am reminded of @acarvin’s (Andy Carvin from NPR) work during this year’s uprisings in the Middle East. He was able to funnel real time, real emotion, real experience information to the world via Twitter – I don’t know if he used an iPhone, MacBook, or other Apple tool – but even if he used an Android enabled tool, the influence of connecting the world of the Egyptian uprising to the Populist protests in Madison, Wisconsin happened because of Steve Job’s influence and foresight over many years of innovative exercise.

The detractors may point to the ways in which the technology he oversaw (and at times all technology) have been used to do things unethical, immoral, or just plain stupid . . . but the ways in which the technology he helped develop have connected us and changed the world in positive ways far surpass any negatives.

His vision is essential to anything that the technology community does from this point forward. His spirit, insight, innovative desire are the things dreams are made of. There will be many amazing innovations in the years ahead, but they really have their energy in the things Steve Jobs has done since he co-founded Apple. At once, it is a day to feel a sadness, that an American who truly exemplified the things this country should hold dear – innovation, creativity, integrity, humanity, and a desire to make the world a better place – has passed away and a day to look forward with optimism to the possibilities his spirit has come to emblemize.

Legacy defines your time on earth. It may be big, it may be small. But, the question is always . . . did you leave this world a better place for your time here or not. This time the answer is clear.

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21st century (fill in your educational consideration)

This post is an omage to a friend and colleague, David Jakes, series: “Words Matter.” You can read his thoughts about the vocabulary of education at Strength of Weak Ties and djakes posterous (follow him on Twitter).

The current debate about education is primarily focused on a product – test scores. All the subsequent discourse focuses on how best to prepare students to take tests, how to use those scores to decide who is and isn’t a good student, who is and isn’t a good teacher, and which schools to keep open and which to close. It’s all about the wrong things.

It is amazing to see the speed with which education has moved to the top of the political debate agenda. Where were are these ne’er-do-wells five years ago, ten, twenty? The debate is being driven by a growing number of individuals who are exponentially further and further from the actual experience of school. What are we to do then, not having access to the same size bully pulpit, to force the conversational focus where it needs to be?

We have to define the focus, the thing that really matters, the thing that has been lost in the process.

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“Well, why shouldn’t the classroom be the ‘real’ world?”

This morning I posted the following blog post, by Dr. Scott McLeod (Twitter) at Dangerously Irrelevant, on my FB wall:

Our students want better work, not less work

Chris Guillebeau says:

Many people believe that the key to an improved lifestyle is less work. I think it’s better work. I believe that most of us want to work hard, but we want to do the kind of work that energizes us and makes a positive impact on others. That kind of work is worth working for, and the other kind of work is worth letting go of, finished or not. (The Art of Non-Conformity, p. 10)

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Students are a product that comes off of a teacher assembly line

Time to start a new school year and with it wading back into the conversations about rethinking school. I’ve spent the past two months reading and talking with students, teachers, and parents about what is going right in their schools and what are their greatest frustrations. As I was considering what my first post would address this school year I happened across a link (in my Twitter stream) to the transcript from the August 15 edition of, “This Week with Christiane Amanpour.” The interviewees included, Arne Duncan, Secretary of Education, Michelle Rhee, chancellor of Washington, D.C.’s, public schools, and Randi Weingarten, head of the American Federation of Teachers. Though there is much to comment about, the following really stuck out:

Rhee: “And I think that’s incredibly important, because one of the things that we have not done in public education in the past is differentiate between the types of performers that we had. And it’s incredibly important to recognize and reward the people who are doing heroic work in our classrooms every single day, just as important as it is to ensure that for those who are not performing, we’re swiftly moving them out of the classroom.”

Reading between the lines here, Rhee is making it clear that in her mind, her world, the only teachers that can be recognized as “heroic” in the classroom are those that reduce their practice to preparing students for standardized tests and do so in such a way that those test scores increase over the previous year. Additionally, rather than finding ways to help teachers improve their practice she just wants to fire them (euphemistically referred to as “moving them out of the classroom”).

Nothing in Rhee’s approach to educational reform address the issues underlying the swift march toward irrelevance that American schools are engaged in. Change has been reduced to student performance on standardized testing (which in Rhee’s world is weighted at 50% of a teacher’s value and worth to their school). Rhee’s approach is simplistic and arcane in its application. Students become nothing more than a product at the end of an assembly line that are checked for defects via standardized testing. Defects are directly attributed to teachers only. Take a look at Rhee’s algorithm for determining teacher success:

Rhee: [ ] in our new model, 50 percent of the teacher’s evaluation is based on how much they’re progressing their students, in terms of academic achievement levels, 40 percent is based on observations of classroom practice, another 5 percent based on how their school is doing overall, and then the final 5 percent based on their contributions to school community.

Let’s break that down:

  • First, compare student standardized test scores from one year to the next. Take no consideration of socio-economic concerns, family issues, physical and mental health consideration, and/or cultural barriers. Take no consideration of the learning culture’s health within the teacher’s school or district. Take no consideration of support or, lack-there-of from, from the school/district administration.
  • Second, classroom observations would not seek innovative/creative teaching approaches, rather, they would have to support the goal of the school/district which is evidenced in item #1: higher standardized test scores. Teachers who dared teach in ways that didn’t evidence that the learning in the classroom was directed toward guaranteeing higher test scores (even if those methods were grounded in solid research and WORK) would have to be “graded” as unsuccessful.
  • Third, teachers will be forced into adversarial relationships with their co-workers who dare to teach on principal and choose not to design their learning environment as a test preparation operation. This works well for Rhee (and “leaders” such as Arne Duncan) because it creates a toxic environment where teachers will either acquiesce or work in greater isolation in fear that their fellow teachers will “out” them for not insuring that the school is “succeeding” overall.
  • Fourth, the simple act of teaching is a contribution to the community. Will the “powers that be” grade the community on its involvement and support of the local school? Probably not, instead this evaluation over looks the personal financial sacrifice most teachers make as they make sure that their students have the basics they need to in order to learn. It is a well documented fact that most teachers spend significant sums of their personal income to supply their classrooms.

In the same interview segment, Arne Duncan added:

Duncan: [ ] this stuff is complicated. [ ] Rewarding excellence is important. [ ] There’s no simple answer here. [ ] We have to learn from excellence in education. The answers are all out there.

We know that there is a tight connection between Rhee and Duncan, they share the same philosophy of educational reform. Duncan claims the situation is complicated and yet his answer (evidenced in Rhee’s approach) is to reduce reform to a simplistic, ineffective approach by ranking teachers and keeping those that share your philosophy and getting rid of those who don’t, labeling them as ineffective using the above types of metrics. The irony here is that in June 2010 Duncan told the National PTA Convention, “We want to launch a national teacher improvement campaign.” Nothing in the Rhee equation touches on “improvement” or the facilitation of improving teacher practices. Duncan’s support of school boards firing entire district staffs isn’t about improving teacher practice, it’s about putting in place those teachers who share a philosophy that focuses (arguably) solely on standardized test scores. That type of philosophical approach to educational reform is anti-student, anti-intellectual, and if one considers Dewey’s original vision, anti-leaning.

Duncan got one thing right, “this stuff is complicated” and it’s time he broadened his search so he can really “learn from excellence.” Until Duncan spends a week at/in/with:

among a growing chorus of truly great educators who dare to rethink school, he will continue down his primrose path. There are many educators who are creating environments that revolve around the missing element in American education: Learning. I could create an entire post listing great educators from my Twitter stream and Google Reader who know how to create real learning environments that are not focused on student scores on standardized tests. Educators that Duncan will never seek out, the result being, he will never be able to “learn from excellence.” Instead, he, and those that share his pedagogical philosophy, will continue to perpetuate a status quo that fails students and treats teachers as a renewable resource – easy to replace when they no longer buy his snake oil.

Photo Credits:

Pencil in hand: by beX out loud on Flickr

Testing girl: by Bastien Vaucher on Flickr

Teacher: by ben100 on Flickr

Cross posted at Cumulative Knowledge

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Ally Bank and Progressive’s Flo explain school.

A simple post today with what I think is a deep message. I hope this metaphor works for you as well as it does for me. In one minute and three seconds we see what school currently is too often like and then how it should be. I’d love to know if you see the same message I do.

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Epilogue to: “What do you want to be when you grow up?”

I received my copy of The Power of Pull by John Hagel III (Blog, Twitter), John Seely Brown (Web, Twitter), and Lang Davison (Blog, Twitter) yesterday and sat down with a cup of tea this morning and started to read. I made it to page four and had one of those serendipitous moments when I discovered the epilogue to my last post, “What do you want to be when you grow up?

To begin to understand how pull helps and enables individuals, groups, and institutions to thrive, we visited the living room of Wendell and Lisa Payne’s Lahaina home in Maui. Not just any living room turns out to develop world-class athletes, of course. So what made this one different? On the surface, the Payne’s living room looks much like any other: There’s a sofa, an easy char, a scrapbook on the side table (with a one-word title: “Dusty”), a television, and a book shelf. But this living room also became a place where Dusty and his friends, without realizing it, were tapping into deep processes that have lessons for all of us.

More often than not, these processes start with a simple question: What interests us? What are we passionate about? As eight-year-old Dusty squinted into the sun in the backyard of the small family house in Haiku, Hawaii, his father asked him, “What do you want to do?” Dusty, who had already gotten tired of stick and ball games, such as baseball and soccer, thought for a few moments and said, “I want to surf.”

From that moment on. Wendell and Lisa immersed their young son – and themselves – in the world of amateur surfing, becoming heavily involved with the Hawaii Amateur Surfing Association, where they met the Larsens, the Marzos, and the Bargers – the parents of other promising groms [a term for young surfers] who were as hooked on surfing as Dusty was.

In the midst of all this activity the Payne’s living room became a focal point, a clubhouse, a place of retreat and reflection following the day’s experiences out in the surf – the calm center in the middle of a growing intermingling of influences, contests, people, and interactions that together launched five of the most promising young surfers of their generation.

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“What do you want to be when you grow up?”

Have you ever watched or been part of this scenario:

A Thanksgiving dinner with all the family. Great grandparents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, newly weds, nieces and nephews. Uncle Dan is sitting with the youngest kids and asks Johnny what he wants to be when he grows up. Johnny answers, “A dinosaur!” His father looks over and laughs, “He really means that.” Uncle Dan decides to ask Jimmy, who is entering kindergarten in the fall, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” Jimmy, not hesitating, says, “A fireman!” and a dialog begins as Uncle Dan explores all the “whys” behind the decision. He then turns to little Sally and repeats the process and she ponders a moment, then thoughtfully says, “I want to be a doctor.” After exploring her reasons he asks them both, “Are you looking forward to starting school?” Both are. He asks them why and the respond, “Because we get to learn things and do stuff.”

The sad reality is that those kids will enter school in the fall and realize they were sold a bill of goods. I imagine their faces will not be too different from that of the young boy in this commercial:

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The world isn’t flat anymore, it fits entirely in your hand.

I dropped into my reader this morning and started to read Jeff Jarvis’ (Blog, Twitter) latest post, Mobile=Local and the second paragraph really caught my attention:

The biggest battlefield is local and mobile (I combine them because soon, local will mean simply wherever you are now). That’s why Google is in the phone business and the mapping business and why it is working hard to let us search by speaking or even by taking pictures so we don’t have to type while walking or driving.

I don’t know about you, but it occurs to me that this idea should have a major impact on rethinking school. I say “should” because not only is the whole of education meandering into the 21st century to see how it works, even the pockets that are attempting to race forward are realistically moving at a mere jog (Check out: Yoda on learning, “You must on learn what you have learned.“). This is more evidence that what we call school is not a place that will prepare students to create their future. This future will be a place where their learning can be carried around in their pockets.

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Yoda on learning, “You must unlearn what you have learned.”

Most Star War’s geeks know and love this scene, arguably one of the most memorable in the first trilogy. The segment of dialog that is usually referenced is:

“No! Try not. Do or do not, there is no try.”

I like that, to me it pushes the point that you must have conviction when you take the leap. If you don’t, the experience may look like the first time Morpheus ran Neo through the “Jump Program”:

Okay, I know, the geek quotient is rather high at this point. I want to focus on a different line from Yoda in the scene with Luke and tie that message together with an article from the most recent issue of Wired magazine (yes, I do have a non-digital subscription, so sue me). The line I want to draw out is this:

“You must unlearn, what you have learned.”

There are numerous applications for this line that can be applied to various areas in the field of education and the process of school. I am going to apply it to those seen as leaders in the act of rethinking school. I know, some would argue that it more aptly applies to those that are dragging their feet or maintaining the status quo. That would work too, but here is why I think it applies more accurately to those who are at the front edge of changing school.

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The Power of Conversation

I have been reading Tom Peters (Blog, Twitter) work for almost 25 years now. I find it insightful, inspiring, and occasionally infuriating. I always wanted to have a chance to meet Tom and have a conversation over coffee. He does not address the topic much, but his thoughts about education, and what it means to learn, are filled with great potential for rethinking school. I have found that many of his best ideas are not business specific, though he presents them in that context. These ideas are foundational to the process of learning by doing – a critical idea long ago removed from our schools. On numerous occasions I have used a video clip of or quoted Tom in my posts here.

I have also have been following Tom on Twitter since he jumped into that pool about a year ago. I enjoy what he shares in 140 or fewer. This morning one really struck me and I decided to respond. I have responded to other “top shelf gurus” not expecting a response, and they have never let me down. Tom responded. Now, it was not an hour over coffee, but I appreciate his attention to “customer service” (the man practices what he preaches!) and count myself lucky to have had the brief interaction.

Reflecting on the momentary experience I find myself asking, “What power can be brought into classrooms around the world by ensuring interactions between our students and experts in the fields of architecture, art, medicine, sciences, business, engineering, technology, and especially authors, artists, thinkers and inventors?”

There is tremendous power in establishing, within our classrooms, the reality that we as teachers don’t have all the answers. At the start of every year in the classroom I began with a statement of my manifesto (of sorts) for the learning that would occur over the next nine months. My first line was an unapologetic announcement that they better be prepared for the fact that, “Your teacher doesn’t have all the answers.” Following on the heels of that announcement was a promise to always work with students to discover the answer to any question when none of us in the room knew the answer. I remember that every year at least one student would comment on how shocking it was for a teacher to admit the truth. They would also remark that teachers they had had previously allowed the “sage” aura to be perpetuated and they admitted they would often remark (usually under their breath or in their heads), “But you’re suppose to know, you’re the teacher” (my own kids have a version of that statement using “dad” in place of “the teacher”).

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