Barack Obama and Education

Image: Photo of Barack Obama from
Teaching Our Kids in a 21st Century Economy. A speech by Senator Barack Obama, in October 2005 at the Center for American Progress (Go here for a text version)

He talks about Jonathan Kozol‘s new book – Shame of a Nation. It seems to me that Mr. Kozol has been writing of the same themes for many years now. His books, Death at an Early Age and Amazing Grace, were among the factors that brought me to a career in education.

I am glad that Senator Obama, who, since yesterday, is now a presidential nominee, has advocated for equality and progression in education. I hope he still is. Because I think that he is someone who is going to have great influence in that country to the South of us, where 1 in 4 8th graders never finish high school (statistic taken from speech).

He talks of transforming American educational culture. A beautiful dream.

He says, “the single most important factor in determining their achievement today is not the colour of their skin, or who their parents are but…who their teacher is.”

“If we are going to give our kids a chance, it is time to start giving our teachers a chance”


He offers ways of doing this. I am going to listen more later because I have to go! I will give my opinion on that later on today.

liberating, educating – moving away from our deepest fear

Our Deepest Fear
by Marianne Williamson from A Return To Love: Reflections on the Principles of A Course in Miracles

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.

When it comes down to it, I think my job as an educator is to make sure that as many children as possible can aspire to live within the spirit of this quote.

(and I really don’t think that is possible by putting a child in a cage…)

Parents protest ‘time-out’ cage in classroom

Parents protest ‘time-out’ cage in classroom
(Last Updated: Friday, February 9, 2007 | 3:09 PM ET CBC News)

A Shawinigan, Que., teacher who put a nine-year-old student in a lattice cage for misbehaving will not face any disciplinary measures, school board officials said Friday.

The boy’s parents discovered their son, Félix, had been kept in a makeshift cage at Shawinigan’s École St-Paul, after he complained to them he couldn’t see the blackboard.

When they visited the school, they discovered he’d been spending several hours a week in the lattice cage….The local school board director, Claude Leclerc, told Radio-Canada the teacher did nothing wrong by using what he called a time-out area for a difficult student.

I have a few thoughts about this…as I am sure many people do.

My mind goes to a cartoon I saw on the Internet a few months ago. It is a picture of a boy, standing next to his desk, students sitting around him at their desks, and his teacher at her desk. At the back of the class is a huge cage with a pacing tiger and the caption is, “Well, Timmy. It looks like you’ve just earned yourself 10 minutes in the cage with Mr. Whiskers.”

Extreme discipline cases like this reaffirm my belief that teachers are overwhelmed with all that they need to do in a day. An act like this seems desperate to me and I think that if we took the time to think about our values as people and educators, a decision such as to put a child in a caged in area – in front of his peers no less! – would not have been made.

They also reaffirm my belief that we need to build more time into our lives as educators for professional development to help us in dealing with classroom difficulties like this and others. Personally, I think that MELS needs to provide us with time solutions (and the $$ to accompany them) to do so – especially given the present school context of inclusion, integration, and differentiation.

And so, I don’t think that the teacher needs to receive disciplinary measures. Rather, I think that she needs to receive support that will assist her in making appropriate decisions regarding discipline in her classroom. Perhaps the rest of that particular school community could use some as well.

But really, despite all that, I have to ask how could a measure like this have been instated by the teacher and school without parent permission?

I don’t know the whole story, but that is a nagging question for me.

Any thoughts?

Professional Learning Communities

Schools as professional learning communities: Collaborative activities and strategies for professional development by Sylvia M. Roberts and Eunice Z. Pruitt

Professional Learning Communities have the potential to touch the stars. Image found via Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach at 21st Century Learning. Click to view source.

Professional Learning Communities have the potential to touch the stars. Image found via Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach at 21st Century Learning. Click to view source.

The notion of professional learning communities excites me. I am jazzed about how people learn, especially with how we learn in relationship and collaboration with others who share our passions. The idea of a small group of people meeting to have genuine conversations around their concerns, triumphs, and successes about their passion – in this case teaching and learning – is very powerful and holds the potential expressed in Margaret Mead’s famous quotation,

Never believe that a few caring people can’t change the world. For indeed, that’s all who ever have.

I have been involved with a few different professional learning communities over the past few years. Some were wonderful communities of learning that I continue to learn from and others, unfortunately, fell flat after the first few meetings.

The communities that thrived and, in some cases, are still thriving all had a similar strong foundation: they began in a participatory manner. The community members were active in the formation of the community.

The professional learning communities that didn’t work were communities in which members were expected to participate but really didn’t have any personal investment in. We were told that we had to meet every week, or 2 weeks, or month, in order to discuss ‘x’ without being consulted with about what we felt we needed to talk about.

In one particular case, the principal of the school firmly believed that teachers needed to be talking about inclusion. He was probably right, however the way in which he created the professional learning community was through imposition rather than invitation and instead of talking about real concerns at the community meetings, there was complaining about difficult students – almost akin to a sharing of war stories!

I recently found another online blog with a posting on this very subject called, Why do professional learning communities fail to develop? This is what one of the commentators wrote:

That’s the key. It has to belong to the teachers who are part of the community. If the community belongs to “the administration” and teachers are merely invited to attend, things fall apart.

I firmly believe that in order for a professional learning community to work it needs to spring out of the real needs, concerns, and triumphs of its members. In order for this to work, our job is to create the conditions, the climate for educators to spend time together talking about what they really care about in education.

Here are some beliefs that others hold about successful professional learning communities:

What do you believe are the conditions for successful professional learning communities?