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Mar-25-2017

Let’s Really Think About This

Posted by Tim under Personal

Teaching is one of the most stressful careers you can choose. You could list a million reasons why, but I want to concentrate on just one: the work is never done. If you are a teacher, you know that you live, eat, breathe, sleep, and caffeinate about this job all the time. It…just…never…ends.

This is why teachers don’t last too long in the profession at times. They probably thought, as I did, “How hard can this be? You talk to kids all day. They do stuff. You spend a few minutes grading a handful of papers. And you get crayons.”

Yeah. OK.

The truth is, teachers typically get to work thirty minutes to an hour before their contract time. Why? Well, for one, it’s quiet. There isn’t a line stacking up to use the copy machine. You can enjoy that last cup of really hot coffee before you drink all the cold cups later.

OK, that’s part of it.

But in reality, there are students coming in early for tutoring. And you know your planning period is going to be taken up with an IEP meeting, or a PLC meeting, or a parent conference, or a curriculum meeting, or…

You spend the day corralling kids, dealing with drama (sometimes from the teachers), talking Johnny in the hallway about why it is important that he pay attention in class in spite of his ADHD, being evaluated by an administrator, waiting another hour before class is over so you can take 45 seconds and run to the restroom, return phone calls to parents wanting to know why Suzy got a 93 on her paper instead of the 98 she deserved, and on and on.

Let’s not even talk about bus duty, after school programs, evening meetings, required professional development hours and more.

At night, you get home, try to spend some time with the family, eat dinner, maybe watch 30 minutes of news to cheer you up, and then start in on grading papers, planning the next lesson or unit, reading the book your administrators assigned to all teachers, and more. You fall into bed and lay there wondering what tomorrow will look like until you finally wear yourself out enough to sleep.

There is no end to the work.  We work when we get up.  We work through the day. We work at night. We work on weekends. We work, work, work. And, after awhile, we get tired of the work.  We’re stressed out. Our health suffers.  We burn out. And we suddenly dread the very job that breathed life into our existence just a few short years earlier.  Why? Because the work is never done.

Now, think about our students. Many get up way too early, stand out in the dark to catch a bus that takes an hour to get to school, and then slog their way through 7 hours of a work day. After that, they take another hour to get home, or perhaps they get picked up by a parent an hour or two after school because of tutoring or clubs or sports or…

They scarf down dinner, and then they sit down to do the homework assigned by their overworked, overstressed, overly tired teacher. Some of our high school students state they go to bed at midnight or later because of the amount of homework they have to do for AP classes, Honors classes, and more.

Our kids come to school tired, frustrated, stressed, and worn out. They feel like the work is never done.

Sound familiar?

“But wait!” I hear you say. “My homework should only take 30 minutes!” That may be true, but the teacher across the hall also gave 30 minutes, and the one in the section across campus gave 30 minutes, and another gave 30 minutes.  So now, with an hour to school, 7 in school, and hour home, and 2 hours minimum homework, we’re up to 11 hour work days.

And that doesn’t count the homework we assign over the weekends (many don’t…thank you) or the work they must be over fall, winter, or spring breaks.

Is it any wonder our kids have grown tired of school? We don’t want to be there at times because our workload never ends. Our kids often don’t want to be there for the exact same reason.

Should homework be abolished? I don’t think so. I think it should be meaningful. Drill and kill is never meaningful. Ever. Filling in empty spaces on a worksheet (I mean, really, worksheets??) isn’t meaningful.

So, let’s really think about this. Your thoughts are greatly welcomed.

 

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Mar-20-2017

Do Kids Need Teachers?

Posted by Tim under Personal

This is the question that will be asked over and over again in the coming years: do students need teachers? If you look to government funding of education, you might be convinced that the government doesn’t think we’re all that necessary. If you look at the drop-out to poverty to prison pipeline, you might be convinced we need more teachers than ever.

While my simple answer to my own question is yes (I’ll just get that out up front), my more complicated answer is, “Not always.”

I think this was brought more clearly into focus for me after a coupe of recent events. First, Sir Ken Robinson talked about all the heavy lifting learning toddlers do to learn to speak as part of a language formation. Parents may sit in front of their infants an coo, “Say dadda,” or, “Say momma.” But the reality is that while children do learn some of their language by parroting their parents or siblings, they make the great leap from word comprehension to sentence structure and meaningful conversations on their own.  And, depending on where they live in the world, they will do this in very different languages. At times, in multiple languages. In fact, most of our learning happens by age 5 or 6 as the brain forms synapses and dendrites to store and carry meaningful information. Curiosity is a great teacher.

Second, I’ve been tinkering with the Enlight app on my iPhone. I like to take pictures with my phone. Yes, I’m one of those that bought the iPhone 7 Plus for the camera. When I’m eating out along, or just sitting around the house, I like to go back to some of those pictures and use an app, or five, to edit them in certain ways. The Enlight app allows me to mix two images together in much the same way that Photoshop does. (I’ve been having a lot of fun using the twins from The Shining). But it is not totally user friendly until you play around with it. In fact, the tutorials offered by the developing company are a bit useless.  So, trial and error is the way to go. And that takes determination.  What some might call grit today.

These two things, curiosity and determination, are natural parts of the lives of some students. It can be the difference between the student struggling with Algebra 2 and another who takes five AP classes as independent study and scores 5’s on all the exams.

Sometimes it isn’t the teacher.  Sometimes it’s the student.

Yes, I am a firm believer that all children can learn. In fact, all children do learn. But some students are happy about it (that was me), and others have to be pushed forward often against their will. In fact, while this isn’t the point of this post, one could easily argue that some students need teachers just to be a positive adult role model in their lives.

Technology has the potential to do a lot of things to help our students learn. Using it for taking tests is not it. But utilizing technology to inspire curiosity could be the game changer.

Technology can also do a lot of the instructional heavy lifting. No longer is it necessary for a teacher to stand in the front of the room and lecture about every thing a student needs to know. That 20 minute lecture can be boiled down to 5 minutes of video with additional resources for the student to explore on her own. And that works great for adults. We’re still experimenting to see how well it works with kids whose frontal lobes are underdeveloped and often lack the critical thinking and logic that says inside their heads, “You have to stop playing this video game now and get back to that lesson.”

Teachers can help with the curiosity part. In fact, they can drive it with great content and delivery. But the drive to succeed is much more difficult to teach.

Do kids need teachers? Yes. But not always.

The tricky part for teachers is to know when you’re needed and when you need to get out of the way and let the learning happen.

It’s kind of like that for parents, too. But that’s an entirely different post.

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Mar-19-2017

Rethinking Questions

Posted by Tim under Assessment, Personalized Learning

This past week I was struck with an idea about questions in the classroom.  It isn’t new. I’ve come across it before. But for some reason it resonated with me.

One of the ways teachers evaluate learning is by asking questions. It is important enough that it is even one our teacher evaluation rubric. Asking questions that require deeper and deeper understanding of the subject to answer adequately is the goal. As a teacher evaluator, questioning is something that jumps out at me during a lesson. I want to see how kids respond.  All kids.  Not just the select few that are eager to please.

And so, this idea of questioning began to swirl around a bit.  I’ll use math as an example because it is probably easiest to make my point, but the idea can be applied to all subjects.

In math, one of the first things we do is easy types of problems.  We need kids to understand how numbers work. Like sight words for reading, some of the simplest problems are the place to start.

Sally, what is 2+2?

In this case, there is one answer. I remember tons of worksheets like this when I was a kid. Those timed 1-minute and 2-minute math drills were fun (although I don’t know what they assessed exactly). I was always competing to be the first one done.  Missing 3 or 10 out of 100 wasn’t of any concern for me. Being second was.

But this is the typical standardized test question that can easily be graded by bubbling something in, or choosing a number on a website. While handy, it is a very weak question. The answer is 4. The answer is always 4 (when working in base 10 anyway). Anything other than 4 is wrong. Try it again.

But what if we asked the question in a way that allows for an infinitude of answers?

Sally, what is 4?

Now the answer could be 2+2, or 10-6, or (2×10)-16. Kids now have the freedom to express themselves in ways much larger than 4. Just asking this question isn’t enough, however. We need to go deeper.

We need to personalize the questions.

Sally, why did you choose that way to express 4?

This is where we can truly begin to understand a child’s mathematical thinking. We can see if they are thinking in more complex math thoughts. And we can get an understanding of where to take them next.

Hint: It will be different for every child.

Have you considered the way you ask the questions in your classroom? What would happen if you started rethinking questions?

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Mar-16-2017

An Open Letter to Sir Ken Robinson #MACUL17

Posted by Tim under Personal

Dear Sir Ken,

I hope it is OK if I call you Sir Ken. It seems rather friendly for someone I just met today, but then you may be one of the friendliest people I’ve come across. It was an honor to meet you, however briefly, but even more so because I found you to be utterly down to earth and, might I say, humble.

I enjoyed my short talk with you immensely. You weren’t interested in sharing more of your tremendous insights into education and pedagogy (to which I would have eagerly attended). Instead, you wanted to know about my job, if I felt the school I was at was being successful, why I drive 90 miles one way to work, and the general well-being of my mother. You even offered to add one more viewer to my own TEDx Talk (I’m a few views shy of 300 million, but then it’s only been up a few months). And, in case you forgot my last name, here is a link to the video.

I wanted to share with you a thought that went through my head while you were talking today. It was during the time when you were discussing how children learn to talk without a teacher, the general model of education to which we have seemingly become addicted, and how reform hasn’t really worked.

My education background prior to being a public school teacher was in Christian education. We’ve experienced a lot of reform movements in the Church. Years ago I read a book by Gilbert Bilezikian titled, “Community 101: Reclaiming the Local Church as a Community of Oneness.” In that book (which I read while serving as a Christian Servicemen’s Center Director at RAF Mildenhall, a place you might know), Dr. B talked about the original model of the Church being one of community where everyone came and offered something to the setting of worship. For some it might be a prayer. For others a song. Others a word of edification. In all, the Gifts of the Spirit were free to operate, and the Church grew quickly.

As you said about public education, it was personal. It was local. It was cultural. And it was social.

Somewhere along the line, people started doing stupid things.  The Church was not operating as it should.  In Dr. B’s words, it was sick. The Apostle Paul then gave an admonishment to the Church that they should no longer be led by a group of people who were abusing the Spirit’s work.  Instead, they should choose one man of good report to be the “up front” person. He would direct things. And, it worked. The Church regained some focus, and things seemed to be good again.

They standardized the Church.

However, Dr B’s theory is that this should have been a temporary measure.  At some point, when the Church regained it’s footing, it should have gone back to a communal sharing of spiritual gifts. But it never did. And we’ve been operating in a “sick church” model ever since.

In spite of several reform movements, the Church has continued to operate under some pretty simple guidelines.  There is a man (or woman) at the front of the church that leads the service through its many phases. There is a singer, or group of singers, that “perform.” Congregants sit in pews (or chairs), face the nice man (or woman) up front, and listen appreciatively to the singers.  We’ve gone from cathedrals to churches to chapels to strip malls to store fronts to home churches to movie theaters, (we’ve even added coffee shops) but they all have this same end result: they cling to the “sick church” model because it is familiar and….well…easy.  Standardization always is.

As I said, I was a  Christian Servicemen’s Center Director.  And this is exactly what I did. I am ashamed to admit it all these years later. I didn’t really know how to break that cycle. And if there was ever a place where it could have been broken, RAF Mildenhall was it.

I said all of this to emphasize the point you made about school reform. We’ve gone through all types of pedagogical changes. We’ve bought books and watched videos (including yours). We’ve adopted Problem Based learning, Project Based Learning, and every other kind of Based Learning you can think of. We’ve emphasized STEM and STEAM and STREAM and more. We’ve tried college ready, career ready, and college AND career ready.

And yet, by and large, our classrooms are still made up of a teacher at the front of the room with students gazing upon their bountiful knowledge from nice, neat rows of desks (or circles or squares or whatever else we have room to try), and we feed them what we’re told they are supposed to learn and test them the way we are told to test them. And we’re not making much headway because we have this “sick school” model with which our systems have grown comfortable.  We’ve even standardized the way we evaluate success by trying to quantify teacher effectiveness.

I have often complained about district policies or state policies or federal policies that hold us back from doing the things we know work. Things that bring out the natural curiosity in our students. Things that ignite the spark of desire. Things that make light bulbs light up over the tops of our students’ heads.

But today, you said something profound for me. I even tweeted it:

This is a model espoused by my principal, Becky Ashe. She may not say it in these words, but she believes it with all her heart. It is partly why I drive 90 miles to work every day. She believes it. She lives it. She leads it. And our school, our kids, our teachers, and our district are the better for it. And yes, I am better for it.

You’d like her. I hope she gets to meet you one day soon. Oh, and she also has a really good TEDx Talk you might enjoy. You can find it here.

Anyway, it was great just hanging out with you. I thought I would feel really nervous being in the presence of such educational and Internet royalty. But you put us all at ease right up front. And that, in my mind, may have been your highest achievement.

Sincerely,

Me

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Mar-10-2017

Nobody Asked Me, But…

Posted by Tim under Personal

I know this post is a little late by modern time standards. I want to talk, again, about A Day Without A Woman.  It was two days ago.  That’s an eternity in social media.  If you are already over it and have moved on, just click on some other site that has more immediacy to it.

Still here? OK.

First off, let me say that I believe strongly in equal rights for all regardless of sex, ethnicity, religion, race, gender, etc.  I do have a few limits to that belief, so perhaps it isn’t totally true. But that’s another discussion. I think International Women’s Day is a great time for us all to realize the importance of women in our society, and to reflect on what equality truly should look like in it.  I’m happy to support March as Women’s Appreciation Month. (Why do I always feel I have to start with a disclaimer? No idea).

I’ve been married twice. I’ve been divorced twice. In my marriages, for some reason, I wound up taking many of those traditionally female roles. When my daughters were young, I ironed their clothes, got them dressed, and fed them breakfast as part of getting them ready for school. In my last marriage, my wife made twice as much (more like three times as much at times) money as I did, worked longer hours, had more responsibilities that kept her away from the home, and still had time to be a great wife, mother, budgeter, and checkbook balancer.

I say all of that to say, yes, I am a male chauvinist about some things, but I fall far shy of being a pig. I’m also empathetic towards the plight of women in the world and attempt to support their equality in small ways that I can do on a daily basis. And I’m a bit of a curmudgeon.

I have been thinking about A Day Without A Woman, and decided to blog about it not from the perspective of a man (although I’m sure it’s in there somewhere). I want to talk about it from the perspective of a school administrator doing a teacher observation.

With that in mind, let’s start with the reinforcement areas. In teacher-speak, that means the things that appeared to go well.

  • Getting the word out – It appears that nearly everyone knew that March 8 was A Day Without A Woman Day. Some within my own circle of influence were not aware that this was part of a larger experience called the International Women’s Day (and that included women). But, it got pretty good news coverage, and that coverage was mostly positive.
  • Being inclusive – One of the complaints about the International Women’s Day in general is that it is mostly the work of women who identify themselves as Liberal or on the Left. That is not always the case, but it is the perception. For this event, there seemed to be a push for all women, regardless of political views, to participate. Kudos.

Then come those pesky areas of refinement. Again, this is teacher-speak for the areas that could have gone better, or flat-out failed.

  • From my perspective, there was no adequate alternative plan. Obviously, not every woman can take the day off and leave their workforce hanging. Small businesses depend on revenues every single day just to survive. Emergency services still have to operate. Teachers are still expected to teach.
    • One alternative was to shop at women-owned businesses, or businesses run by women. Great idea.  Who are they? I would have shopped there as a man just to support them. I would shop there more often. But I have no idea who they are in my area.
    • Another alternative was to wear red.  Really? A strong statement of equality comes from a fashion accessory? How many people even knew that red scarf or blouse or pair of shoes meant “I wish I could have taken off work, but I’m still standing with others”?
    • I wish more emphasis had been placed on getting women from all walks of life to email or call their legislators.  I know some did this, but it wasn’t evident to me as an observer that it was the larger push.
  • One of the things we look for with assessments in the classroom are the end results.  You gave a test.  Great.  What happened? With the Women’s March after the Inauguration, the results were immediate. They were visceral. Women all over the world, not just in DC, marched in solidarity. Seeing nearly half a million women in DC was a powerful visual on the news. Seeing that repeated in cities all across the country and in other nations was also fantastic.  A Day Without A Woman was very hard to gauge for success. Here are the questions I would ask as an evaluator in the classroom:
    • How many women stayed home?  There is nothing in your data that tells me how widespread this action was.
    • What differences did you see between blue cities and red rural areas?
    • Did you get involvement from women who would not ordinarily support this cause? In other words, to use Seth Godin’s phrase, how has your idea spread?
    • In women-owned or women-run businesses, did they see a significant increase in sales that day? To my mind, and I have said this before, it appeared to be more of a “no one buy gas on  Tuesday” kind of protest. One day isn’t even going to register as a blip on the revenue screen. Do you have evidence that this worked better than everyone jumping up and down all at once in the Western hemisphere in order to get the earth off its orbit?
    • After what appeared to be such a rousing success with the march, this appeared to be an action taken because women were tired of doing real protests. More like “calling it in” than actually promoting change. Show me evidence that would tell me I am way off base.

The other thing that happens in a post-conference (usually at the beginning for me) is a simple question set: How do you think it went? What worked? What would you change if you did this again in the future?

I could go on, but this post is far too long already. Feel free to comment either agreement or something that tells me I’m just an old fuddy duddy man who doesn’t understand a thing about women or women’s rights.  Just keep them calm and persuasive.  I would love for this action to have shown more impact than it did.  Truly I would have. I know we can’t knock it out of the park every time we plan an activity.

Nobody asked me, but I decided to share my opinion anyway. If you made it this far, thank you.

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Mar-9-2017

Here’s Hoping For More

Posted by Tim under Personal

Yesterday was International Women’s Day.  To my surprise, a few people seem not to know anything about this day, its history, or its significance. You can catch up on some reading here.  (No, Wikipedia is not Wikileaks).

To sum it up, it started in 1909, and was officially listed as a “day” in about 1914. Begun by the Socialist Party, the day was offered as a way to emphasize the importance of women in society.  The right to vote was a priority for the movement.  In 1917, women helped bring down the government of Russia with their efforts on this day (although it was on March 8 in the Gregorian calendar…which was in February for the rest of us).

Like Christians taking pagan holidays and making them religious (Christmas, Easter, etc), I don’t lend any credence to an argument that International Women’s Day is a socialist movement attempting to overthrow democracy.  It has morphed since that time, and, in my mind, probably become so diluted as to be nearly meaningless on the world stage.  (But that’s just me).

Yesterday, I posted a question, a very poorly worded question, to teachers on Facebook about involvement in the Day Without a Woman strike. A small handful of school districts across the country were closed yesterday because such a large part of their teachers and substitute teachers were not coming to work. The numbers were small, but I still found it significant. And so I asked a simple question: at what point do teachers decide they cannot participate in such protest activities because the livelihood of children often depend on the schools being open.

What I found was intriguing to me. And here are my takeaways from that conversation:

  • First, not all women even know about International Women’s Day, let alone A Day Without A Woman.  No, this did not come up in my discussion, but from reading through posts of other teachers who are women. I found that to be quite sad. I am a believer in equal rights for all, and a day with this kind of historical significance should be known, especially by those who it seeks to empower.
  • Second, not all women agree with the strike movement. I haven’t done a geographic detail of who responded, so I don’t know if it is mostly based on the local culture or not. I’m in a Right to Work state, so strikes in the public sector are not allowed. We have found other ways to make our voices heard.  Regardless, the small group discussion on my post appeared to be about half the women in favor of the protest (and participating in some way) and half thought it more important to make sure they showed up at school (some wore red to participate while others did not participate at all).
  • Third, the disagreement on staying out of work as teachers was not divided down Liberal/Conservative lines.  That surprised me slightly. International Women’s Day is, in large part, a Liberal women’s movement, as was the march in DC recently. And yet, several thought this was not the protest for them.
  • Fourth, while men participated in the conversation, our voices were sometimes politely rebuked because we can’t possibly know what it means to be a woman in America…or the world. True. But I was extremely happy to see that men were not attacked. I wasn’t really sure how that was going to go. The only thread I had to delete (so far) was between two men, so there’s that.
  • Last, the discussion renewed my faith in  Facebook as a platform for social discussion. People made their points, some more forcefully than others, but everyone seemed to truly read the comments before posting a response. And, if they mistook someone’s meaning, the listened when clarifications were posted. That meant more dialogue and no shouting or anger. It doesn’t happen as often as I would like on social media, but it does happen.

I’ll save my personal thoughts on International Women’s Day for another post. Not that the thoughts of a white male administrator are going to carry much weight. But it’s my blog and I’ll post if I want to (or however that song goes).

The one thing that I will say is this: It is crucial that those who govern, as well as those who lead, represent all of the people of this great country. We will not survive if we maintain the status quo of white male administrators having control of the government, the businesses, the stock market, the school systems, and more. Days like the International Women’s Day can help. It has helped in the past. It can help again.

Here’s hoping for more.

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Mar-7-2017

EdTech is Dead. Long Live Tech

Posted by Tim under Personal

There are a lot of words and phrases in the educational lexicon from which I wish we could move away. RigorGrit.  No Child Left Behind21st Century Skills. 21st Century Classrooms. And EdTech.

We’ve been using technology in the classroom since we’ve had an abacus.  And, if you don’t know, the abacus was in use long before we had a written numerical system. The biggest difference is that modern EdTech seems to denote only digital tools.

It seems to me that we have moved beyond the need to differentiate between EdTech and every other kind of tech. After all, if we are truly firm believers in STEM education for all, Problem Based Learning anchored in real-world scenarios, and equity, then we just need tech. Real-world, honest-to-goodness, what-everybody-else-is-using tech.

Technology in the classroom is at its peak when it disappears from view and becomes at one with the learning environment.

As long as we focus on the “Ed” in EdTech, it will continue to change on us almost daily. It wasn’t that long ago, for example, that interactive white boards were all the rage. Every classroom had to have one. And with the expansions of interactive white boards we realized we didn’t just need a smart board. We needed a projector. And that projector sat on a cart or hung from the ceiling. And every time we stepped in front of it, we couldn’t see what we were doing. So we had to buy short throw projectors.  Then ultra short throw projectors. Then higher lumens bulbs in order to see the board and still have the lights on.

Then, just as we were finishing up our investments into interactive white boards, we discovered iPads and Apple TVs. Suddenly, the need to walk to the board and manipulate data was no longer necessary. We could do it from our seat in the back of the room.  How 21st Century that was!

I could go on, but I’m sure I’ve bored you by now. The only tech we need is the tech our students need to play and learn in a real-world environment. Now that mobile tech is incredibly cheap compared to 10 or 15 years ago, we’ve realized that we don’t even have to buy it any longer. Kids have it. Most kids anyway. And so, now, we are grappling with what Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) looks like and how we create a level playing field between those that have tech to bring and those that don’t.

But, perhaps the biggest reason we need to stop using the phrase EdTech is because it makes our students feel like there is still a dichotomy between what they do with their technology at home and what happens in the classroom. And with that, they feel the “Ed” part is unnecessary to them. After all, most of what they want to do from a real-world perspective isn’t allowed inside the classroom. YouTube is blocked in many places. Facebook, Twitter, and other social media are also blocked.

I am aware we cannot simply open the floodgates and allow anything and everything into our schools over the Internet, but we can work to make our learning experiences with technology much more realistic.  After all, we are teachers. If we can teach a student to read and write, we can teach them how to use the Internet appropriately in varying circumstances.

The use of technology…in fact, the very presence of technology is now a forgone conclusion.  It is a necessity for our students if we are truly planning to prepare them for something more than filling out bubble sheets or doing worksheets as practice for life skills.  But we’ve grown beyond EdTech. We just need….Tech.

EdTech is dead. Long live Tech.

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I use Klout to judge my social media presence and engagement.  Yeah, I know. I’m just narcissistic enough to care.

For those that do not know, Klout is a social media tool that measures engagement across several social media platforms and gives you a score from 1 to 100 that shows the “value” of your online presence. I’m sure it is more like TVAAS than I would like to admit (I hate TVAAS, I’m addicted to Klout), but it is fun and harmless.

For the longest time, my Klout score stood about 67 or 68.  I was measuring engagement across Facebook and Twitter. Since then, I’ve added Pinterest (don’t judge me), Instagram, and Tumblr. Today I disconnected Flickr.  I’m just not using it much right now. Klout gives me that flexibility. I’ll add it back later when I get ready to do more on social media than I’m doing right now.

At one time my goal was to get above 70.  I finally hit 71, then 72, and a top score of 73. After that, life happened, and I didn’t get to post as much to Instagram as I wanted.  My score started to slip. Then, Instagram took off, but my score dropped again.  Down to 68.  As I write this, it stands at 69. And guess what? It isn’t Instagram that’s the culprit. It’s Twitter. How do I know? Because I have a continuous feedback loop of analytics that show me exactly what’s happening on each social media site.

This is what I like about Klout. It updates my statistics daily. I can know, almost in real time, if I’m doing something that makes a difference. I can look at the analytics and see that, while I am posting a lot to Twitter, it isn’t garnering much discussion, likes, or retweets. So, I need to analyze what I’m doing, make some adjustments, and see if the score changes for the better.

In addition, I am just now starting to get followers and re-pinners on Pinterest, and my Tumblr account is just sort of laying there.

My point is this. I have continual, meaningful feedback directly related to the algorithm that drives this score. I can make minute changes and see, in nearly real time, if I’m on the right track or not.

As an educator, whether teacher or administrator, we are not so fortunate. Educators under the TEAM model are evaluated 4 to 6 times a year.  However, out of those 4 to 6, only 2 or 3 are directly related to instruction.  The rest cover things like planning and environment. So, a teacher that is evaluated in October, but not again until March, has a long time of floundering in the dark to know whether they have raised that 3 to 4, or if their 5 has dropped to a 2.

And, they are rarely evaluated by the same person in the same year.  For fairness, you know. But one evaluator may be looking as a Constitutional strict constructionist and going strictly by the letter of the rubric, while the next may be more of a “living document” proponent that gives a break on certain things they feel are not really that important. It isn’t supposed to work like that, but let’s just be real about it.

What would it look like if teachers were evaluated more along a Klout-like algorithm? What if they could get nearly real-time feedback on the things they try out in class? We’ve got some models that approach this methodology.  Critical Friends is one that comes to mind.

What if we had the luxury of allowing cross-curricular feedback between teachers on a regular basis? Teachers evaluating one another’s lesson plans, visiting classrooms, sharing thoughts, and learning themselves as they critique others? What if we could go beyond the pettiness of the feeling that speaks to our minds, “What do they know about what I do? How can he help me with this?  He’s got his own problems!”  Because, you know, sometimes teachers get like this.

After all, we aren’t really judging teachers here.  We’re judging learning. What does student engagement look like? Can you see the learning happening in this classroom? Does it matter if the teacher is talking, or not, if the students are learning from one another? How do you score a teacher for just getting out of the way and letting the learning happen? That isn’t really in the rubric.

Educators need feedback.  We need to know how we are doing. We need, I’d go so far as to say we crave this knowledge in order to improve on our own practice.

How do we get there? What do we give to legislators that will make them realize how inadequate our current model is?

How do we get to Klout for teachers?

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Mar-1-2017

What Happened to the Bell Curve?

Posted by Tim under Personal

You remember the Bell Curve, right?  The one that says that mass gravitates toward the mean, so in any given data set where answers can range from 1 to 100, the vast majority will center around 50.  1 to 10 will barely be a blip on the map.  90 to 100 the same.  And the more people that answer your question, the tighter the spread will be at 50.  Things start to really pile on top of each other, and the tails, as they’re called, get thinner and thinner.

Politics used to feel like that.  It used to feel like the vast majority of the United States, whether Democrat or Republican or Libertarian, all sort of wanted the same basic things out of our politicians. They might disagree, but they could find enough common ground to pass legislation that  satisfied the majority of the people (those bunched up in the middle).

It doesn’t feel like that any longer.

Let me give you a couple of examples from Facebook in just the last couple of days.

I made a comment on a friend’s post about the picture of KellyAnn Conway sitting on the couch in the Oval office with her shoes off and her feet tucked up under her on the couch. My original comment was just an off-hand, flippant attempt at being funny (as I do). But, once you comment on something, others’ comments get in your notifications until you tell them to stop. And that’s when I saw this exchange. What appears to be someone from the Right made the first comment:

It was pretty clear in this exchange that the person on the Right (I do not know this person) has no love for those on the Left. And when another friend of mine tried to have a conversation from the Center, the first commenter was having none of it.

That’s from the Right. And there was this exchange with someone from the Left.  Again, I do not know this person. A friend of mine on the Left posted a meme that was, in my opinion, rather inflammatory towards every state that voted for Trump. He and I do not agree on many things politically, yet we have a pretty good friendship, because we are willing to overlook those things and find the common ground for the things we love.  So, my original comment was a little snarky.  And it was directed at him.

The conversation went downhill from there. I attempted to explain my viewpoint, and the fact that I have 2 Masters degrees, work at a STEM high school, etc.  It did not change her opinion of me as one of the people she describes here.  Why?  I can only guess it is because I never explicitly stated that I do not vote for Trump.

Somewhere, after the birth of social media, and probably more specifically after the move to Web 2.0 or Web 3.0 (wherever we are now), we seem to be squishing down the top of the Bell Curve until it is now at its lowest point in the middle and the two tails are bulging with people.

There’s plenty of things at which we can point fingers for this.  The 24-hour news cycle that went into Right and Left camps competing with each other for eyeballs is one. Social media is another. Anonymous postings online is there. Watching our political infrastructure in D.C. fall apart. Yes, probably the election of our first Black president caused some of it. The desire by some to see the US as a Christian-only America compared to those who want to see the US be a totally religion-free America.

My question is this: As educators, how are we combating this in our classrooms with our children, or our children’s parents. I see so many posts from educators online that fall into the “I’m with the Far Left” or “I’m with the Far Right.”  That discourages me.

As you ponder my question, and consider making a comment (please do!), I’ll lay out a brief outline of where I am from the Centrist-Slightly-Left middle.

I am a Christian. More than that, I am a Pentecostal Christian. While Christian principles helped ground this country as one of religious freedom, Christianity is not our country’s religion.  It is mine. I believe equal rights belong to everyone regardless of race, ethnicity, religion, or sexual orientation. I believe gay couples should have the right to marry. I believe the vast majority of the Muslim faith are peaceful, law-abiding people who want to get along with everyone in their community regardless of religious beliefs. I believe life begins at conception, but I also realize that legalized abortion has saved the lives of countless women who would have died from botched abortions in back alleys somewhere. It is an internal battle I have not yet satisfied for myself. I believe that science and faith are intertwined. One should not lead us away from the other, regardless of your starting point. I believe I have a moral obligation to help those in need, whether they are represented in Scripture as a man left beaten on the side of the road, an adulterer about to stoned (metaphorically I hope), or an outcast woman who can’t go to the well to get water with her neighbors because of what they will say about her.

And I believe I have an obligation on social media to try to stay in the middle. I use humor to attack the insanity of both sides of the political issue.  It is my sanity.

I’d love to hear from you.  Whether you are Far Left, Far Right, or Firmly Middle. Let’s see what happened to the Bell Curve.

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Aug-29-2016

Sincerely, Me

Posted by Tim under Personal

Dear Colin Kaepernick,

Well, your decision to sit out the National Anthem at the beginning of your last game certainly garnered media and national attention. I understand that you are frustrated with what you see happening to people of color in our country. Many of us are outraged right there with you.

I’m afraid, however, your protest was ill-conceived. Let me explain.

First, it took a total of 3 games before anyone even noticed that you were protesting.  You sat out the National Anthem in two other events as well, but because you weren’t dressed to play people either didn’t notice you, or they thought you were sitting down because you are a spoiled brat who didn’t get his way.  It seems it was the first, and that leads to the bigger problem. People didn’t notice.

Its not much of a protest if no one knows you are protesting.  So, thank you for suiting up and continuing on.  We finally saw you.  Well, some did.  I haven’t watched the 49ers since Montana retired. And I haven’t cared about a California football team of any level since Lane Kiffin went to coach college ball there. So, I didn’t see you.  But others did, and thanks to social media, they let me know about it.

After looking at Twitter, it seems there are lot of people letting others know about it.

First, let me tell you that I wholeheartedly support your right to protest peacefully in any way you see fit, for any cause you feel is worthy, at any time, anywhere. That’s what makes this country great.  If you had refused to stand for the Egyptian or Russian anthems, you might be in jail right now. They kind of have that going on at the moment. If you were protesting how minorities are treated in some other countries, you might be dead already.

It appears that this flag you cannot respect is the very thing that protects you to protest it.

You see, it doesn’t matter that individuals on Twitter are calling you every bad name they can muster. Their small mindedness is irrelevant. After all, you were expecting that. They don’t represent the flag you cannot respect. They are just protected by it like you. And it doesn’t matter if endorsement contracts disappear (they probably won’t) or if you get fired from football (you definitely won’t). If you go out there on the field and show us the spark of your rookie year, your place in football is secure.

And I understand that this year is different from last year, or the year before.  We have much more injustice being played out before our eyes in the media. Sometimes that injustice is aimed at a person of color who has been arrested, detained, or even killed for no apparent reason whatsoever.  And sometimes that injustice is aimed at the men and women in blue who acted appropriately under the split-second circumstances of their lives, but early reporting tried to paint it as something different, and even after all the facts are out people still live in the early days of half-truths or untruths. You see, the injustice sometimes floats both ways.

And neither of them are represented by our flag.  A country song that still brings tears to my eyes at times says, “I’m proud to be an American, where at least I know I’m free.” I realize some interpret that as “I’m proud to be a white American.” And sometimes, that may be the truth of the song in day to day living.

The song also says, “And I’ll gladly stand up next to you and defend her still today.” And you know what? That’s not just white Americans feeling that way.  It isn’t just white Americans who died in the many wars, both just and unjust, in which our country has engaged over the years. People of color have gladly stepped up and given their lives in defense of this country, at least the concept of this country, where “all men are created equal.” Yes, I realize when that line was written, not all men were treated as equal.  And women.  Well, let’s just not discuss how women are being treated in this country right now.  And religion.  OK, I won’t talk about religion either.

The great thing about this country is that we wrote things about it as a vision statement. It is a statement of what we visualize our country to be.  It is a future statement written in the present. We aren’t there yet. Even after electing an African American president, we aren’t there. Some have seen his presidency as a way forward for all people of color.  Others have silently, or not so silently, said to themselves, “OK, we did that. Now we never have to do it again.”

We aren’t there yet. But as a nation, I have to believe that we are slowly (too slowly for certain) working our way toward equality for all.  We’ve passed laws to try to make that happen.  In recent days we’ve expanded those laws to include others that weren’t allowed to be included the first time. Not everyone agrees with them. Not everyone obeys them. We’ve got laws about how to drive that are not followed. And laws about gun control that aren’t followed. And laws about…well, you get the idea. We are a nation of laws, and our laws are constantly trying to make this country better and safer and stronger. But we aren’t there.

Yet.

So, Colin, its ok if I call you Colin, right?  So, Colin we are the grand experiment of personal freedoms living in the not yet. Every day we inch our way closer. Every day the light becomes a little brighter. Every day more people become educated and find their way out of intellectual poverty.

There is a lot wrong with this country, Colin. Our political system is in shambles and quickly becoming the laughing stock of the world. Our best and bravest are dying on foreign soil even while we are not at war with anyone. Big corporations and the one-tenth of one percenters have too much clout and control over our lives. We have greedy people sucking the very existence out of some who struggle to eat from day to day.

And none of that can be laid at the feet of the American Flag. That’s on individuals who don’t believe as you and I do, Colin, that all men (and women and others) are created equal and deserve equal treatment.

Protest, Colin. You have the stage. You are privileged to have both the money and the spotlight. Make it count. Make a difference. I’ll even join you if you’ll have me. I don’t like how people of color are treated by others either. I don’t like how the LGBTQ community is treated either. We need change. There is no doubt about that.

But understand this. Refusing to stand for the National Anthem because you can’t respect the flag does not equate to a raised fist on the gold medal stand of the Olympics. Different times require different actions, Colin.

The nation is watching you, Colin. And right now, most of what I see is that the majority of people don’t care about your protest. You’ve made the protest about something its not.  Find a way to make a difference, Colin. Find a way to matter to the world. I, for one, would be a fan again if you do.

Sincerely, Me.

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