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Changing Education One Post At A Time


Facebook vs Twitter

Posted by Tim under Personal

I use both Facebook and Twitter (and to a far lesser extent, Google Plus) to engage with teachers and other professionals.  I also use them both to curate information I’ve found online.

I have also found that I automate a lot more to Twitter than I do to Facebook.  I use Buffer App to schedule posts that I think are interesting.  And I retweet a lot on Twitter, but do not “share” so much on Facebook.

The other thing I’ve noticed is that I tend to interact a lot more on Facebook.  I have a large number of family members that I’m connected with, and I have “groups” I’ve joined for things like photography, Discovery Education, hiking, and more.

In both instances, I post things that are serious along with things that I find humorous.  What I try NOT to do is post things that are inflammatory (although I’ve slipped up a few times now and again).  I do realize that my posts are public, and I can be reprimanded, or even fired, if I cross a line.

Which leads me to the purpose of this post.  In my hometown of Cleveland, TN, the Bradley County Schools system has been going through a rough patch as problems have surfaced between the board of education and the director of schools.  It isn’t a new thing.  Its been going on for about two years, but it has come to a head recently when Mr. McDaniel, Director of Bradley County Schools, asked the board to consider buying out his contract.  And even though I have known of this situation and talked with various board members about the issues, this request caught me by surprise.

And that’s when the Internet blew up.

What I’ve noticed as I’ve followed this situation online is that people who post to Twitter are more often positive and consoling to Mr. McDaniel personally.  He has used a hashtag that I really like: #FindTheGoodAndPraiseIt.  This is based on a quote from Alex Haley, a man who chronicled some of our nation’s most embarrassing and painful moments in his book, Roots.  I have thoroughly enjoyed reading through them and seeing how appreciative everyone has been of the work he has done.

And then there’s Facebook.

Facebook has gone ugly.  People are posting inflammatory remarks about board members, about the process, and more.  Threats are made.  Names are called.  It reads like an episode of The Real Housewives combined with reality shows from MTV.  Its bad.

Here is a (mild) case in point:

Screen Shot 2015-02-27 at 9.28.16 AM

This discussion comes from the Bradley County Education Alliance page on Facebook.  Now, I have no idea who this Nancy Graham woman is.  But I do know that Alycce Childers Bunch is my daughter.  I’ve read the entire exchange, and Alycce has her facts exactly right.  And yet the response from people who are angry and upset is “We don’t need no stinkin’ facts.”  Oh, and the fact that we should go stick our heads in toilets.  (She has since deleted this post, but that doesn’t delete all the screenshots people have taken of the post).

Believe me, I’ve been there.  I’ve been emotionally charged, written posts I’ve regretted, and either not pushed “post” or deleted it after the fact.  And, like the post above, it may have been too late for me.  I try not to make the world an uglier place than it already is.

What are your thoughts about how Twitter and Facebook stack up with each other with regard to person to person interactions?


I’m an Introvert…No, Really

Posted by Tim under Personal

Yes, I am an Introvert.  At times I come across as being shy because I don’t like conversations with people I’ve just met.  I don’t know what to talk about sometimes.  I can listen pretty good.  If its interesting.  Or I can go back inside my shell and hibernate there.  It just depends on where I am at that particular time.

On the other hand, I can get up in front of crowd and talk for an hour without a problem.  I can make them laugh, and I can make them cry.  And when you see me in that environment, you’ll wonder how I can possibly think of myself as an Introvert.

Its a struggle at times.  There are times I love to go out to dinner with 6 or 8 or 12 of my friends and laugh and chat about nothing and just hang out.  And there are times I like to go out to dinner by myself and join my friends on Facebook.  And sometimes I go out with friends and sit at the table quietly while everything happens around me.  I’m there.  I’m not bored.  I don’t wish I was somewhere else.  I’m just at that place where sitting back and observing is more energizing to me than jumping in with both feet and participating.

And yes, I am addicted to my phone.  I love to read.  I read anything.  Before cell phones I would read sugar packets when I went out to eat by myself.  Now I have Twitter and Facebook and RSS Feeds and Google searches and… well, I have it all.  So don’t be surprised if I’m having lunch with you and you find me navigating back to my phone.  I’m not bored with you.  I’m still there.  But every now and then I need to withdraw, even if its just for 30 seconds.  It makes me feel comfortable with myself.

I say all of this because it is difficult to be an administrator and an Introvert.  People expect you to be “on” all the time. And while I can do that, it wears me out physically and mentally.  I need the time alone. I need time to sit and do nothing constructive.  It isn’t that I’m trying to be rude or inconsiderate.  Honest.  And if I’ve gone for 3 or 4 days of having to be “on” pretty much all the time, you can expect a day thrown in when I will sit and say nothing.  Believe me, its not personal.

It might feel like, but its not.




(NOTE: Has it really been since November that I’ve posted to this blog?  Wow!)

I’ve had a similar interesting interaction with two fast food chains today.  On their own, I probably wouldn’t have noticed it so much, but taken together it really started to turn the engines in my mind.

Ordinarily, when I stop at McDonald’s to get breakfast on the way to work, I go through the drive-through.  If you ever want a really good experience, go through the breakfast drive-through window at the McDonald’s on Gunbarrel Road in Chattanooga.  They are fast, friendly, and accurate.  All smiles and have-a-nice-days.

Today, however, I went inside.  It was as different as night and day.  The help was slow to take my order.  They took forever to get it together.  They seemed inconvenienced by the customers in line.  And I left feeling very disgruntled about the whole experience.

Same place.  Two different views.

Tonight I hit the same thing.  I decided to go to Chick-fil-A to grab a sandwich on the way home.  I like Chick-fil-A drive-throughs. They are so courteous on the speakers.  They encourage you to have a nice day.  They are polite and all smiles all the time.

But tonight I decided I wanted to go inside for a few minutes and just unwind a bit before the last 1/2 mile home. It was deja vu all over again.  There were 7 people standing around behind the counter.  One lone girl was trying to take everyone’s order.  The manager was standing talking to a friend of his at the end of the counter. I was almost ready to turn around and walk out when there was finally an opening for me at the register.  No smiles.  No I’m sorry for you wait.

Same place.  Two different views.

As is my habit, this got me to thinking about teacher observations and how scores can be all over the map at times.

Same Teacher.  Two observers.

Same Teacher. Two classrooms

Same Teacher. Two days.

We can’t be on our game 100% of the time.  Sometimes we’re going to forget to ask the harder questions.  Sometimes our lesson plans don’t allow for grouping.  Sometimes kids act out.  Sometimes the technology doesn’t work.  Sometimes there simply isn’t a problem to solve.

But what I do see, and what other administrators tell me they see, are teachers that are hard at work every single day making a difference in the lives of their students.  I see teachers that care.  I see teachers that want success for every single student.  I see teachers that meet with kids before school, after school, on planning periods, over lunch, and in between classes.  I see teachers that answer emails long into the night.  I see teachers that don’t stop working just because they are on vacation.  Or sick.  Or out of the building for professional development.

Most of the time we get it right. So, let’s not dwell on the times we don’t.


The Tyranny of the Absolute

Posted by Tim under Personal

I’ve had thoughts swirling around in my head about the title of this post for several days now.  It first came to me in the aftermath of being totally vilified in a comment I made on a friend’s post about the election results in Tennessee.  Elections generally only allow you to vote in black and white.  Yes or No.  This candidate or that one.

(Wouldn’t it be wonderful if there was a section that said “Yes, except…” or “No, but…”?)

I sometimes forget that people don’t want to have a discussion on social media.  They want to be “right.”  And if you disagree, even with cause, you are an immediate enemy.

Thankfully, my “flesh and blood” friends (the ones I see in the flesh and interact with verbally rather than the ones I “talk” to online) allow for gray in our relationships.  I have extremely great friends that disagree with me on political matters, sexuality matters, women’s rights matters, and more.  And yet we allow each other the space to have our own opinions without dominating or destroying our relationship.

I’m afraid the discussions on education are quickly moving out of the debate or discuss realm and into the online Tyranny of the Absolute.

  • You are either for or against Common Core.  You can’t say, “Well, I kind of like this, but I don’t like that.”  The absolutists quickly put you in the other camp from their own and you are left out of the discussion entirely.
  • You are either for or against teacher tenure.  You can’t say, “Well, I think it works here, but it doesn’t really work there.”
  • You are either for or against teacher unionization.  You can’t say, “Well, the unions have done a really great job here, but I can’t join because of that over there.”
  • You are either for or against your Superintendent.  You can’t say, “Well, I really like what she’s done here, but I can’t support that decision over there.”
  • You are either for or against STEM, PBL, Standards Based Grading, the State DOE, this new initiative, that new software… It gets old really, really fast.

When you enter the Tyranny of the Absolutes the ones who proclaim tolerance become extremely intolerant.  The ones who claim they don’t like standardization become extremely standardized in their belief system.  The ones who claim to want more openness and transparency become extremely secretive themselves.

The Internet doesn’t help us here.  If you read an article from Fox News or MSNBC, FB gives you more articles that are similar to that one.  If you search for something online, Google makes sure you see that thing everywhere you go, even if you already bought it.  The Internet says, “You must like this, I’ll cram more of it down your throat.”  In doing so, we become insulated to other thoughts.  Other ideas.  Other paradigms.

And we inch ever closer to the Tyranny of the Absolute.

Don’t get me wrong.  There is a real feeling of safety and satisfaction in believing in absolutes.  It drives people to do things they would not ordinarily do, like drink the kool-aid in Jonestown or protest the funerals of servicemen and women, or blow yourself up in the middle of a crowded street.

Living in the gray is scary.  It requires constant rethinking, analyzing, researching, listening, accepting, and still coming up with a personal belief system that doesn’t betray who you are as a human being.

Its also very much more human.  Its civilized.  Its Democratic.  Its freeing and liberating.  Its energizing.  It makes one feel alive.

Perhaps that should be the goal of education.  Rather than “college and career ready” (which makes me gag these days), perhaps “being fully human,” or “being fully alive” would be a better result of 12 to 16 years of education.

I don’t know.

(Man, Absolutists hate those words.  They must be good to say every now and then).


Genius Hour – A Reflection Part 2

Posted by Tim under Personal

Screen Shot 2014-08-17 at 9.48.02 PMIn my last post I described a bit of what Genius Hour looks like at the L&N STEM Academy.  You can see a full listing of the activities offered right now by clicking here.

It has not been all gumdrops and roses as we have struggled to set up activities, schedule kids, and try to find space for everything.  So, I decided to think through my own pluses and minuses by writing about them here.  Next steps will include feedback from teachers and, finally, from students and parents.  We are a design school, so we don’t just throw stuff out there and make everyone live with it.  It is a living, breathing, fluid schedule that is already changing before the end of the first week.


  • The kids are excited about the possibilities of Genius Hour.
  • The variety of offerings is pretty solid for the first time out of the gate.
  • In the midst of one of the most stressful weeks we’ve had in the time I’ve been at the L&N, teachers are excited about what they are seeing from kids in these activities.
  • Kids were given 1st and 2nd choice offerings in the Google Form we used to sign up.  Most kids got one of those choices.  When they didn’t, our first choice was to find something similar (swapping Hour of Code for Java Coding for example).
  • There is a blend of both indoor activities and outdoor activities
  • There is a blend of both cerebral (thinking) and non-cerebral (outdoor fun) and just being quiet to do your own thing for an hour.
  • While we thought we would have total chaos in the cafeteria for the first week or two, it has actually been quite calm and easily managed throughout the week.
  • We’ve scheduled department meetings throughout the week, so teachers only have to be in 4 activities total. And they get to meet during school hours instead of scheduling before- or after-school meetings.
  • We have included time in tutoring and in Odyssey for students who are struggling.  Most of these are self-selected, but some will be placed in one of these two scenarios one or two days a week depending on the severity of their grades or graduation risk.


  • We simply do not have enough activities for every day of the week. Thursday is a good example.  As a result, the activities we DO offer are too big for the spaces we have available.
  • Some activities are more teaching on the part of a teacher than we originally anticipated. As a result, flowing 1/3 of the kids in and out of the 90 minute activity to get a 30 minute lunch becomes problematic.  We’re making it work!
  • These activities, while great in their own right, were not suggested by students.  I’m anxious to see what suggestions we have for the next 9 weeks.  Which ones we’ll keep and what we’ll add.
  • Space. Space. Space.  In our limited capacity to handle all of our students, we also lack enough larger classroom spaces to house groups of 40 or 50 or 60.
  • The outdoor activities are great.  Kids love them.  But when it rains, we will have no place for them to meet indoors. And when we can’t schedule them because of snow or cold, I’m not real sure what we will do.
  • Departmental meetings take teachers away from the extra activities we need.
  • Some kids did not get their 1st or 2nd choices.  They also did not get anything similar to what they wanted on one or two days. I worry they will think Genius Hour doesn’t work.
  • Scheduling is hard work.  HARD work.  Last Saturday and Sunday I worked over 20 hours scheduling kids and still had about 50 that did not get scheduled. Since then, I have put in an additional 20 hours after work.  Lessons learned from this round will greatly help next round.

Next Steps

  • Get feedback from teachers this week.
  • Get feedback from students and parents during the 3rd week (freshmen get their iPads this week)
  • Analyze how rooms are working and make adjustments where necessary.
  • Get feedback from the cafeteria staff on how each of the three lunch periods are working.
  • Start to collect ideas from students about what they would like to lead next go around.  After all, this is student led, student driven. Teachers should not have to prepare anything to make this happen.
  • Look for additional spaces for winter time in Tennessee.

What about you? What are your thoughts about this process?  As an outsider looking in, what have we missed? What have we done best?  Feel free to leave some comments!


Genius Hour: A Reflection Part 1

Posted by Tim under Personal

This week saw the inaugural schedule for Genius Hour at the L&N STEM Academy.  I have been excited (and a bit scared…intimidated…nervous) about this program since last Fall when we decided to make it happen.  My boss, Founding Principal Becky Ashe, is nothing if not visionary.  And Genius Hour is pushing us into uncharted, untested waters.

And you know what?  We LOVE it!

Screen Shot 2014-08-17 at 9.48.02 PMSo, what is Genius Hour?  For us, it is a series of voluntary activities for students during the 90 minutes we are rotating in and out of lunches.  Last year, this was a time for Advisories.  Each Advisory met for 60 of the 90 minutes, and each Advisory had a set time in the cafeteria to make things easy to track and trace all students and plan for food in the lunch lines.

And it worked. But at the end of the year last year, our kids had a common request in our feedback loop.  “Give us time for our brains to take a break.”  After all, we operate on an 8 Class schedule on alternating days for an entire year.  That’s a lot of work at one time when upper level kids are taking 4 or 5 AP level classes or dual enrollment.

We take our kids seriously.  We teach them to practice empathy as part of the design process.  And we like to practice what we preach. Genius Hour seemed to fit the bill.

For this first round (9 weeks) of Genius Hour our teachers came up with things they would like for kids to experience, things they know about, and in some cases, things they are comfortable “teaching.”  For the most part, these ideas have been a huge success with our kids.  Maybe too much of a success at times.  But the idea of “teaching” in Genius Hour misses the point slightly.  And I think our teachers are understanding that as we’ve jumped in this week.

The idea behind Genius Hour is to find things kids are passionate about; things that kids would like to explore, learn, practice, etc.  But they need to do that on their own.  It is a time of discovery.  A time for their own passion for learning to take center stage.  The job of our teachers is really just to be the adult in the room.  An observer.  A facilitator.  For instance, we needed a new activity on a couple of days, so I stepped up to launch an Hour of Code for beginners.  I know nothing about coding.  But we’re going to go in and learn together.

It has not been without its problems.  We have limited teachers available.  We have limited space available.  We may have tried to do too much.  (More on all of that in the next post).  This weekend is the time for my own reflection.  Next week we will start getting feedback from teachers.  After that (well, after our iPads are deployed to all students), we will ask students to weigh in on what is working, what’s not working, and how we can adapt our current 9 week program or change our next 9 week round. We are, after all, a STEM school practicing STEM thinking.  We empathized the best we could over the summer, but we had no kids present to truly test our empathy.  We’ve ideated and designed.  Now its “in the field,” and we are testing, revising, testing again, revising again, testing again…

But, for now it appears that vast majority of our students are very happy with the beginnings, and our teachers are blown away by some of the student interest shown.  And we can’t really ask for better than that the first week out o f the gate.


Lucy: A Movie Review

Posted by Tim under Personal

Let’s just put it out here up front.  This movie is awful.  And this post has several spoiler alerts.  So, if you haven’t seen “Lucy” yet, and you are planning to, maybe this isn’t the blog post you want to read.

Still here?  OK.  Let’s talk.

Screen Shot 2014-07-28 at 8.47.10 AMI went to see this movie for several reasons.  First, I’m a SciFi fan.  Second, I like action movies (sometimes).  Third and Fourth, it stars Scarlett Johansson and Morgan Freeman.  I hoped that would be enough.

It wasn’t.

The movie is listed as 90 minutes, so that should have told me something already.  It should have said “low budget” and “bad script” and “not much here.”  But I overlooked that because I was going at 9:40 at night, and the shorter the movie was the sooner I could be home in bed.

The story could have been so much more.  But the director, or the screenwriter, had a message to send.  I knew most of the message before it began just based on  the trailer (which wasn’t much shorter than the movie), but that wasn’t going to stop me.

Out of the 90 minutes, maybe…maybe… 60 minutes was actually acting.  The other 30 minutes were montages of nature footage similar to Discovery Education’s “Planet Earth” series.  So, at the beginning when Johansson’s current boyfriend tries to get her to carry a briefcase into a hotel, the scene is interspersed with nature scenes of animals being separated from the herd and stalked by predators.  And I guess that’s because the people for whom this movie was made would be too illiterate to understand foreshadowing.

The same occurs when Morgan Freeman is lecturing on how the brain works (he’s a world-renowned scientist in this movie).  As he talks, animations and nature scenes crop up to demonstrate what he’s discussing.  I suppose this is a good visual, but to me it detracts from the lecture and really serves to make it possible for the director to shoot less actual footage of the actors.

Its just stupid.

At some point, the discussion harks back to the very first human for which we have skeletal remains.  Lucy.  And just as Lucy started the evolutionary process that brings us modern day man (according to the theory), the movie’s Lucy is about to launch an entirely new human species.

The only problem is that as Lucy obtains more and more access to brain space (we use about 7% of our brain’s capacity, so the movie takes us to 20%, then 40%, and on up until she reaches 100%), the less human she becomes.  Joy is gone.   Wonder is gone.  Love is gone.  The things we would consider “humanity” starts to fade.  Everything is simply cerebral overload.

In most movies like this, there is a love interest that adds to the complexity of the story.  Not in “Lucy.”  You think there will be a love interest, but by the time she has exchanges with the French policeman, her desire for human companionship is gone.  She does kiss him once in the move “to remember” what it was like.  But it is devoid of anything even remotely romantic or interesting.

Freeman really lays out the ideals behind the movie when he gives his lectures based on nearly 7,000 pages of written research (yes, we know this because Lucy read them all in about 5 seconds).  If cells feel they are in a hostile environment, they merely try to survive.  If they feel they are in a safe environment, the reproduce and pass along their knowledge to the next generation of cells.

And that, my friends, is the summary of human existence.  We are either surviving or reproducing.  Period.  End of story.  (Well, almost the end, but there is about 30 more minutes of movie left to demonstrate that point).

Lucy fills in some gaps with her new-found cranial capacity.  The constant is time.  Time is everything.  She gives the analogy (and the director includes more visuals here) of a car going around a race track.  The faster it goes, the less we see of the car.  It is blurred from its own movement.  If it can go fast enough through time, it will ultimately disappear.

Do you wonder what 100% of the brain’s capacity will do now?  Yeah, me either.  By this time I was really, truly, honestly bored with this movie.

At 60 to 70% brain capacity, Lucy has the ability to move objects and people at will.  So we see her driving through traffic (why does every action movie have to have a scene of driving against traffic in a one-way street?) and throwing cars out of her way as she speeds to get to the hospital.  Yet, when she is faced with about a dozen bad guys, she moves them one by one rather than just throwing them all out a window at one time.  Well, actually, she levitates them to the ceiling, and that was really stupid looking.

In the end, Lucy takes an overdose of the drug that caused this problem in the first place.  She does so in order to obtain 100% brain capacity because her body is falling apart without it.  She connects to the computers, melts them to the ground, and builds a new super computer that stores all of her amazing knowledge on a single flash drive.  Yawn.

And then, just as the ultimate bad guy comes in to shoot her in the back of the head (why he didn’t do it from the hallway when he had the chance only the writer and director know), she reaches 100% and disappears into time.

She is now God.  She is everywhere.

But she has no humanity left.  Just all knowledge.  That may be someone’s view of God, but it ain’t mine.

This movie tries so hard to The Matrix, but fails.  It tries to be a lot of things.  But the only thing it accomplishes is being a total waste of time.



Posted by Tim under Personal, Professional Development

Screen Shot 2014-07-21 at 3.05.18 PMAt the DEN Summer Institute this past week we were all wowed by the incomparable Adam Bellow and his insane energy combined with his even more insanely genius presentation style.  During his keynote, he challenged us to take a selfie and post to Instagram with the hashtag #TYIW.  That stands for “This Year I Will…”  I haven’t used my Instagram account in, oh I don’t know, forever.  So I haven’t posted a selfie…yet.

But the thought has been nagging at the outer edges of my brain, and so I thought I would at least begin the process of writing down some of the things swirling around in my head.  I don’t think of them as New Year’s resolutions.  They are more hopeful than that.  So here goes nothing.

  • #TYIW blog more often.  It is a release for me.  I love to write.  It doesn’t matter if anyone wants to read it.  It is cathartic.  And I need catharsis.
  • #TYIW stay on top of my calendar.  Toward the end of the last school year (and by that I mean September) I was way behind and feeling quite overwhelmed.  I was forgetting about meetings and playing catch-up with teacher observations.  I simply must do this one.
  • #TYIW take more pictures.  I am still very much an amateur at this thing, but I love doing it.  It is a peaceful endeavor that brings a silence to my soul. I look for pictures that tell stories because I’m a writer first and photographer second.  And I need more pictures in my blog posts.
  • #TYIW eat healthy.  This one has been nagging at me for months.  I eat horrible stuff.  Far too much fried foods, fast foods, and fattening foods.  I need more real food.  Well, I need more of it, but less food overall.
  • #TYIW walk more.  I’m counting steps and flights of stairs, and I am constantly amazed at how much I sit.  I need to walk before work, during work, and after work.  I want to hike again.  And I’ve neglected some hiking MeetUp groups.  It has to change.
  • #TYIW run at least one 5K.  I’ve challenged my daughter, Sarah, to get in shape because we are running a 5K when she moves back to Chattanooga.  And then I’m going to run 5Ks with Rebekah Ellis, LeaAnn Daugherty, and Kimberly Wright (to name a few).  I’ll be a 5K running fool!
  • #TYIW connect more with my own family.  I live with my mom, but I don’t see her enough.  I don’t see my own kids enough.  And I certainly don’t see my grandkids enough.  I can’t live with the thought that when I’m gone they won’t know the difference.
  • #TYIW take my CoffeeTime videos to new places.  I haven’t made one in nearly 3 months.  I like doing them. And I don’t want it to be another endeavor I started but didn’t follow through.  Far too many of those in my past.
  • #TYIW get to 200 pounds.  My knees will thank me.  And my double chin will nearly be gone.
  • #TYIW go to fewer conferences on my own time and visit more friends.  My summer was shot this year.  I spread myself too thin with 6 conferences since school let out.  I need to take my free time and connect with people I love across the country.
  • #TYIW do at least one thing that scares me.  I am a creature of habit.  I like my bubble.  But climbing the Beehive with Sarah showed me that I need new and exciting things in my life.  And I’ve already looked at prices for taking a flight in a glider plane.
  • #TYIW stop giving myself all the reasons why I can’t and finally decide I can.  And that means everything.  Every day.  I talk myself out of so much.  I need to talk myself into stuff.
  • #TYIW look up from my iOS devices more.  Yeah, OK, that’s probably not going to happen.
  • #TYIW ask more questions than I give answers.  DENnis Grice did a phenomenal job with his DEN Speaks talk by doing an entire 5 minute presentation with questions only.  It reminded me of the power of questions.

Those are some of the things that I know of as of today.  And this blog post will serve as an assessment of my progress months from now as I reflect on what I’ve written here and bring them back to my memory.

So, what about you?  What #TYIW comment would  you like to leave below?


The Tipping Point

Posted by Tim under Teacher Evaluations

Several years ago Malcolm Gladwell wrote a book called “The Tipping Point.”  This post has absolutely nothing to do with that book, so let’s just get that out up front.

I’m sitting at Starbucks, and I think I just had an epiphany.  I’m not sure since epiphanies don’t come that often or that clearly.  But something clicked in my head, and I knew I had to get it down on digital paper before it went away.

Teachers in Tennessee, and many other places across the country, are being evaluated on every possible thing you can imagine today.  One of the biggest, most controversial tools is that of the Value Added Model, or VAM.  In Tennessee we call that TVAAS.  It is a statistical measurement of prediction that says each student in a teacher’s class should grow by “this amount” from last year’s standardized test to this year’s.  “This amount” is different for each child, of course.  And we don’t really know what “this amount” is when we start.   But that’s not really the epiphany.

Some teachers don’t teach subjects that are tested in a standardized fashion.  Band and choir teachers, for instance, don’t have TVAAS scores.  But the legislature, in their infinite wisdom based on input from our state’s Department of Education in their infinite wisdom, decided that every teacher has to be evaluated by this growth measure whether they teach such subjects or not.

As a result, the band teacher has part of his or her evaluation score based on the TVAAS results from the entire school.  It doesn’t matter that he or she has never met over 50% of the student body, has had no contact with them, and has not impacted their learning one iota.

So, I was standing at the counter at Starbucks (remember that epiphany), and realized that the person at the counter has complete control over whether the entire workforce will receive a tip or not.  At Starbucks, and places like it, tips are shared among the people on the shift.  But customers are totally impacted by the person at the register.  We decide, based on his or her performance, whether or not we are going to let loose of some spare change or a dollar bill or add a tip to our app payment.

The fact that, later, we get a drink that isn’t what we ordered, or they spelled our name wrong on the cup, or forgot something we ordered, or heated something when we didn’t want it heated, or… you get the idea…has no impact on the tip whatsoever.  We’ve already paid it.  And even though someone screwed something up and left us angry or disappointed or vowing never to return, that tip has already been split among everyone.

And that seems a bit unfair to me.

Compare that to a restaurant or cafe where we are waited on by one person.  He or she gets our drinks, takes our order, delivers our food, checks to see if everything is ok, makes sure we got what we ordered, offers us dessert, takes the bill, processes the payment, and then we decide if we will offer a tip and what amount.

That tip goes to that one person and that person alone (usually).  And that seems fair to me.

The tipping point makes all the difference.



Posted by Tim under Personal

I’ve just finished a whirlwind two weeks of travel to Maine and back-to-back-to-back Discovery events in Nashville, TN.  To say that I’m tired is an understatement.  My body is tired from hiking and climbing and kayaking and staying up late and laughing and sightseeing and…  You get the idea.

More tired, however, is my brain.  It has been asked to soak up so much in the last two weeks.  Great conversations with my youngest daughter while on vacation.  Great conversations with some of my closest friends in edtech.  Learning, learning, learning.  Teaching a little.  Crying some.  The list goes on.

I feel like a thick-skinned balloon that has been overfilled with air to the point of near explosion.  I am so full of new ideas, admiration for friends, pride in my family, and more.  Every fiber of my being feels stretched.  Don’t misunderstand me. Its a good stretch.

I’m reminded of a sermon a former pastor of mine, Ken Luke, preached nearly 30 years ago (the good ones stick with you).  Something about “Living Above the Snake Line.” Did you know that there is an altitude above which snakes will not slither?  I shared this with Sarah as we climbed the Beehive or drove up Cadillac Mountain (it already all runs together for me).  People like to talk about their “mountain top experiences.”  “I have been to the mountaintop,” Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., preached so eloquently.  Its exhilarating.  Its breathtaking.  And its free of snakes!

But one can’t live on the mountaintop.  The green, lush, healthy vegetation needed for survival grows in the valleys.  Its a trade off.  Snakes hide in the valleys.  Live is lived in the valleys.

I’ve just been on the mountain top.  And I’m as full as a tick on a wild boar (as my Papaw used to say).

I want to write about 57 1/2 blog posts all at once.  I want to just turn on the webcam and talk for about 5 hours about all that has happened.  And I want to do it all again.  But not today.

Today I need to rest.  I need a walk along the riverside in Chattanooga.  I need a quiet cup of coffee on the back porch.  I need to listen to nature.  I need sunlight.  I need a nap by the lake.  I need my introverted alone time.  I need to recharge. I need the valley.

Tomorrow I go back to work.  There are about a bazillion things waiting on us as the new year is already upon us.  Its going to be hectic.  Non-stop.  Stressful.  And some of the most fun I’ve had in education (yeah, I love my job).

But today I’m decompressing.

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