Sunday, July 31, 2011

I Love You, Matt Damon!

Tony Wagner, please move over and make room on my hero shelf for the Mighty Mr. Matt Damon.I still have mad love for you Tony--not to worry, my love for Matt is pure. In case you were in a coma, in WiFi hell, or waiting for COMCAST to fix your Internet service (again!), you might have missed one of my favorite all time moments this year, Matt Damon's extraordinarily lucid speech at the SOS Rally in Washington, D.C. Boy oh boy, that man can SELL a message. My favorite part of his speech was Mighty Matt's slam on testing:"And none of these qualities that I’ve just mentioned — none of these qualities that I prize so deeply, that have brought me so much joy, that have brought me so much professional success — none of these qualities that make me who I am ... can be tested."

Damon was in fine company including the usual folks: Jonathan Kozol, Diane Ravitch, and Linda Darling-Hammond. However stellar the company Matt, you outshined them all with your heartfelt message. I admit it, I cried. So, I have posted your speech below to anyone who missed it (although I am sure you can find it on YouTube too and then you have the added benefit of hearing Matt deliver these wonderful words). Will Matt's fine words fell the Testing Ogre? I fear not. But, more importantly, he has given me hope, and sometimes all it takes is a liitle hope to save the world.

I flew overnight from Vancouver to be with you today. I landed in New York a few hours ago and caught a flight down here because I needed to tell you all in person that I think you’re awesome.
I was raised by a teacher. My mother is a professor of early childhood education. And from the time I went to kindergarten through my senior year in high school, I went to public schools. I wouldn’t trade that education and experience for anything.
I had incredible teachers. As I look at my life today, the things I value most about myself — my imagination, my love of acting, my passion for writing, my love of learning, my curiosity — all come from how I was parented and taught.
And none of these qualities that I’ve just mentioned — none of these qualities that I prize so deeply, that have brought me so much joy, that have brought me so much professional success — none of these qualities that make me who I am ... can be tested.
I said before that I had incredible teachers. And that’s true. But it’s more than that. My teachers were EMPOWERED to teach me. Their time wasn’t taken up with a bunch of test prep — this silly drill and kill nonsense that any serious person knows doesn’t promote real learning. No, my teachers were free to approach me and every other kid in that classroom like an individual puzzle. They took so much care in figuring out who we were and how to best make the lessons resonate with each of us. They were empowered to unlock our potential. They were allowed to be teachers.
Now don’t get me wrong. I did have a brush with standardized tests at one point. I remember because my mom went to the principal’s office and said, ‘My kid ain’t taking that. It’s stupid, it won’t tell you anything and it’ll just make him nervous.’ That was in the ’70s when you could talk like that.
I shudder to think that these tests are being used today to control where funding goes.
I don’t know where I would be today if my teachers’ job security was based on how I performed on some standardized test. If their very survival as teachers was based on whether I actually fell in love with the process of learning but rather if I could fill in the right bubble on a test. If they had to spend most of their time desperately drilling us and less time encouraging creativity and original ideas; less time knowing who we were, seeing our strengths and helping us realize our talents.
I honestly don’t know where I’d be today if that was the type of education I had. I sure as hell wouldn’t be here. I do know that.
This has been a horrible decade for teachers. I can’t imagine how demoralized you must feel. But I came here today to deliver an important message to you: As I get older, I appreciate more and more the teachers that I had growing up. And I’m not alone. There are millions of people just like me.
So the next time you’re feeling down, or exhausted, or unappreciated, or at the end of your rope; the next time you turn on the TV and see yourself called “overpaid;” the next time you encounter some simple-minded, punitive policy that’s been driven into your life by some corporate reformer who has literally never taught anyone anything. ... Please know that there are millions of us behind you. You have an army of regular people standing right behind you, and our appreciation for what you do is so deeply felt. We love you, we thank you and we will always have your back.


Tuesday, July 12, 2011

What I Learned from Betty Ford

     Pure class and elegance underscored by solid steel. Betty Ford truly epitomized the great T.R.'s words of "walk softly, and carry a big stick". Betty Ford not only fought for women's rights, but she made it possible to openly discuss a myriad of issues that no one wanted to voice. She taught me that the best leadership is by example, if you want to get anything done you better be willing to get your own hands dirty, and that compassion speaks volumes. Betty Ford owned her weaknesses which was one of her greatest strengths. At a time when addiction was hushed up, she came forward and sought help. Betty Ford realized that shame cast a shadow and prevented others from seeking help. In her founding of the Betty Ford Center, she brought a rather large spotlight onto addiction and saved countless lives through her actions. Ford demonstrated endless compassion for those who sought help but also demanded that any resident of the Center contributed sweat equity toward its upkeep (as she did herself).
     Betty Ford was audacious in her own quiet way. She spoke out about many topics and ensured through her example that no subject was taboo if it meant supporting those who suffered at the hands of illness, addiction, neglect, or abuse. Betty Ford was a force to be reckoned with as she tirelessly fought for women's rights. She built consensus among disparate groups through her charm, common sense, and her ability to truly listen and find common ground. She never sought the spotlight for her own glorification, but rather used her fame to bring attention and support to where it was needed. When my thirteen-year-old twin daughters look for an example of how to live their lives, I point to Betty Ford. I always tell them not to look for mentors who rise when life is easy but rather to look to those folks who shine during their darkest hours. Thank you, Betty Ford.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

What Would Darth Vadar Do?

     Many teachers, good teachers, even GREAT teachers, think of technology as the DARK SIDE. Why? Well, perhaps it is just a fear of the unknown. Perhaps these teachers fear loss of control as technology sometimes slides you into more of a facilitator role (isn't that a good thing?). If you are a content area teacher, you keep up with how your content evolves so why not keep up with the best means to engage your students? If your lack of technology expertise makes you feel inadequate, become better educated. Make it a priority. After all, the fate of the Galactic universe is in your hands. As I blogged earlier, it's really a mindset issue that I believe will take more than one Jedi to fix.
      What would Darth do? I'm sure the Emperor would tweet him to find the best teacher who integrates technology seamlessly into his or her curriculum and then clone that person--and of course, blast any teachers who did not comply. Boy, that would give a whole new meaning to mandated professional development. I'm betting Darth wouldn't think that was the best method. Darth would probably consult his PLN for a solution. I think Darth would agree with Tom Whitby that we should begin with a different type of PD. Darth would push for relentless, rigorous technology training and he would then follow up with multiple classroom visits to see how things are going. (Can you picture that black cape strutting down your hallway?) Darth, although not the best dad, knows his son, Luke, while skilled, is no digital native Jedi. Darth knows that a Jedi only becomes a master through a lot of training and support. Of course, wouldn't all teachers want to become Jedis as they are given so much respect? Wouldn't all Jedis want to become Master Jedis?
     Lots of talk out there in the universe about "no excuses". I hear you. I understand your frustration. So Administrators, let's set the bar high. Let's set clear expectations about technology implementation in every classroom. Let's evaluate teachers based on those expectations. Let's make sure we support them with the right training, tools and encouragement. Let's remember what Yoda said, "There is not try, there is only do." So, let's do.

Darth Vadar, pictured here at the Laptop Institute during a lightsaber demonstration.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Mad Love for Tony Wagner

    I admit it, I have an intellectual crush on Tony Wagner. I {> him. My friends and colleagues are sick to death hearing about me extol the virtues of the mighty TW. Don't get me wrong, I have great respect for Daniel Pink, John Medina, Richard Arum, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, Carol Tomlinson, Jay McTighe, etc. but I always come back to Tony Wagner. He hits the nail on the head as far as how we need to THINK about students, learning, change, leadership, education  . . . it's not what is taught that matters, it is what is learned.

 Teaching ALL students NEW skills is a new education challenge that requires development of new accountability structures, different ways of teaching and testing, and new ways of working together and with our students. The Global Achievement Gap by Tony Wagner.

     In case you are not familiar with The Global Achievement Gap, Tony suggests that there are seven survival skills our students need to learn in order to be successful 21st century citizens: 

1.Critical Thinking and Problem-Solving

2.Collaboration Across Networks and Leading by Influence

3.Agility and Adaptability

4.Initiative and Entrepreneurialism

5.Effective Oral and Written Communication

6.Accessing and Analyzing Information

7.Curiosity and Imagination

     He advocates for schools to develop strategies for instruction/assessment of the BIG 3 C's:
  1. critical and creative thinking
  2. communication
  3. collaboration

     Thanks to social media, we can accomplish this challenge. Really. It's not rocket science. We just need to move out of our comfort zone. How about all those A.P. classes? If we must have them, then does it take all that much energy to push students to ask the right questions past the same old Powerpoint presentation? Maybe ask those questions across collaborative networks? To communicate those answers articulately (through Skype classrooms?), concisely (through Twitter?),  and creatively (well, pick your favorite medium . . . I think we have some choice here). Pat Bassett, president of NAIS, wrote a great riff off these ideas: Demonstrations of Learning for 21st Century Schools. (Really wonderful, insightful article.)

     So yes, I am a FAN. I cannot wait until Tony's new book comes out: Learning to Innovate, Innovating to Learn: What The Best Parents, Teachers & Employers Do And Why It Matters AND I am hoping to catch the documentary about his experience touring Finland's schools, The Finland Phenomenon (see interview at Huff Post 

     Tony is still at Harvard, but in a new position, Innovation Education Fellow at the Technology & Entrepreneurship Center at Harvard. If you are interested in some great summer reading, The Global Achievement Gap is in paperback and IBooks. Enjoy! 

Monday, July 4, 2011

Fix the Problem, Not The Blame

     My dad taught me how to drive on an old Jeep. I am quite certain that I killed the clutch (and I know I destroyed an exit sign on the Merritt Parkway) but my dad continued to teach me in spite of my comments that I would never, ever master this four (sob) wheel (sob) thing. He would reply, with patience and fortitude, that driving (especially an old jeep) is a magical blend of art and science. Dad assured me that I would indeed master the the right blend of gas, clutch, and brake, and hopefully, I would not kill any living thing in the pursuit of this goal. Dad always believed you should fix the problem, not the blame.
     Learning anything new is scary and thrilling all at the same time. It's a roller coaster, isn't it? Some folks don't enjoy the roller coaster. Too much fear about the downs, too much anxiety on the way up. There has been quite a bit of blame (and downright crankiness) spreading across blogs and twitter today. Humph! It's 4th of July folks! Let's declare independence from any more name calling and blaming. I admit I have been stewing today over recent posts that blame teachers for not being more technologically savvy, for not integrating technology into their classrooms, for being lazy and unprofessional, for the lack of world peace . . . oh wait, I guess teachers have escaped blame about the lack of world peace, but teachers be warned, that will be next. Really? Having been in the classroom trenches for over a decade, I do not believe that laziness and unprofessionalism are to blame as to why many teachers do not integrate technology into their classroom lessons. I believe the situation is far more complex. It is my experience that most teachers do want to incorporate technology into the classroom. It is not usually about choice for them. Most teachers do not choose to make technology a low priority, however, there are a zillion more things that do become priorities. Teachers carry the weight of all the multitude of decisions made every minute, everyday with them constantly. Teaching is one of the ten most stressful jobs you can have. Do we have teachers who coast? Sure. Are there teachers who are lazy? Sure. Most teachers I know do want to learn (after all, it is one of the primal forces that inspired you to become a teacher) and sometimes all they need is a a helping hand. A real helping hand.
     How many schools do you know that give teachers adequate time just to learn how to integrate technology into their classroom lessons? Almost all U.S. public schools I know devote weekly time to data driven teams intent on increasing test scores in particular areas. I cannot think of one public school that on a weekly basis provides the necessary intense indoctrination into learning technology that it will take to turn the situation around. Ah, but wait, the Internet exists where teachers can learn about technology! Yes, it's true and many teachers, bless them, do devote a good amount of time to this endeavor. Well then, why isn't there a greater integration of technology into these classrooms? Perhaps it is fear, maybe the lack of equipment, or gosh, maybe because most teachers are not evaluated on their use of technology during classroom visits. Ah! So it must be the administrators' fault that teachers do not have the time, training, motivation, and equipment to make true technology integration a reality. Hmm, again, I think it is more complex than that. [Sigh of relief from administrators.]
     So, shoot, what's a tech integrator to do? Instead of being frustrated and blaming different folks, let's just fix the problem. You have to find your own way to this solution. For me, it comes down to one simple statement that Ghandi made. You remember, Ghandi, right? He's a fellow who really understood that change is messy and sometimes it requires a lot of patience. He said, "Be the change you want to see in the world." Boy, is that simple. Do I get frustrated? Absolutely. However, instead of beating my head against the wall, I read every book I could about change. Slowly, I adjusted who I target in my drive toward technology integration. I became more savvy about who the game changers were around me. It's not easy but I rely on Ghandi's advice and my dad's advice every day. Fix the problem, not the blame. Be the change you want to see in the world.
     And for goodness sake, if that doesn't work for you, try my mom's advice, "You get more with honey than you do with vinegar." :)