Leadership for any kind of change.

Please, Administrators of Canada (and probably the US and Australia, and South Korea, and New Zealand, and Morocco, and…), please stop jumping headfirst into change initiatives and expect your teachers to jump on with you as if they had been there from the start.

Do you know that some of the least effective PD (wish I could locate the references. I can’t so trust me on this one for now) EVER is when a small group goes out to a conference or training session and then tries to bring their learning back to their schools?

If you know this, then why is it still happening? More importantly, why is this model for PD still being offered? Especially with all of the different models that are available to us now through the technologies that are being advanced every single day?

You see, what happens is the marathon effect.

Chicago Marathon

It’s effect on organizations is described nicely here, in a passage from this document on transitions for sustainable social change:

People leading a change have usually already gone through their transitions and are ready to hit the ground running as soon as the change is announced. Others, however, are either just entering the Neutral Zone, or have not even made it through their Endings. They need time to arrive at their New Beginnings. Change leaders need to give them that time for adjustment and guide them through their transition rather than wonder why it’s taking so long.

Even worse is when this happens on a consistent basis. One year differentiated instruction, the next – learning with laptops, the next – SMART boards, the next – multiple intelligences, the next…
When this happens organizational trust is very low and you get a school of teachers who are doing their own things while the administration is cut off from what is really happening.

So. If I could whisper something in the ears of all of you who are in charge of professional development at your schools it would be…

…slow down. Honour time for transition. Find out what your teachers need and want in order to let their passion for teaching shine. Nurture it, celebrate it. By doing this you’ll create a climate of trust in your organization through which so much can be accomplished.

Remember, when you run a marathon there is only one winner. We can’t afford only one winner in education.

Leadership Day 2009, hosted at Dangerously Irrelevant

Leadership Day 2009, hosted at Dangerously Irrelevant

How do you still love teaching?

because there is always light over the horizon, even when the river seems frozen. Image by me, available on flickr. Click to view source.

because there is always light over the horizon, even when the river seems frozen. Image by me, available on flickr. Click to view source.

Yesterday a friend and I had an email conversation on facebook. She has given me permission to reproduce it here.

friend: how do you still love teaching?
I’m in another tough school, and am starting to wonder if kids are just “like this” everywhere. i know they have issues, but they are incredibly rude, apathetic, and just MEAN to each other. the admin chatted with me today and basically told me to forget the curriculum, and as long as they’re not beating down the walls, it’s ok. wtf?

Ii don’t know how to ‘grab’ them. I’m teaching 7 language arts, and 7,8,9 PDR (personal development and relationships), which they don’t have to pass, and they know that, so they don’t care.
any ideas? or just hope in general ;)

me: give them a reason to not be mean.
give them some hope.

Maybe you do need to forget the curriculum for a bit, to get them caring again. But not for too long. They reach for the bar we have for them. If it is low, their reach is low as well.

Practical ideas? Hmmm…start by identifying the ONE major disrupt – the one kid who, if he/she isn’t there the class is a bit smoother. And spend time with him. Find out what he/she needs to keep occupied in class.

The one big idea I learned from Cliff [former principal of a school we worked at together about 4 years ago] – occupy them or they will occupy you.

What helps me sometimes is writing about it – a blog is great because you can get some feedback with the comments.

Let me know how things go :)
I still love teaching because of the challenge :) Beause there is no better place to learn about human relationship…

These are all the things that I know, but I don’t know how to do it.
I hate spending all my time planning and trying to come up with ideas that don’t work. I want to make things relevant, I want them to care, I want it to be safe, I want it to be FUN. I don’t know how to put all of that together into something that doesn’t look like chaos.

I guess I have to remember too, that this is my first time in a junior high classroom in a public school. I shouldn’t be so hard on myself. But I’m exhausted and so, so, so frustrated already. So many people are trying to help me with the ‘what to do’ – the things that i already know – but not the ‘how to do’ – which is what i need. Actually, I shouldn’t say that. There are good ideas floating around, I just need some more time to figure out how to implement them. maybe i just need to accept that this is going to be a rough year, and the next one will be a little bit easier.
Maybe a blog is a good idea….
Thanks :)

me: wordpress.com – don’t go with edublogs.org…very inconsistent!


Are you able to go visit other classrooms? Sometimes an hour in someone else’s classroom makes all the difference.

Setting Limits in the Classroom – a GREAT book for management.

All kids, but more so for middle school kids, need loads of structure to feel safe and to be able to be productive. Make sure they know what is ahead for them. When they walk into the room, be at the door, handing out a mini-assignment to do right away. Then have the agenda on the board for them to see.

Blog blog blog about what works, what doesn’t. Visit my blogroll to see other bloggers/teachers who are doing great things.

In particular I want to teach forever, so you want to teach, teachers at risk, The Jose Vilson, dy/dan, Science Teacher, TeachingTips.com ..oh, they’re all good…

friend: I will look at that again… the mini assignment at the door is a good idea. I’ve been doing the agenda on the board – most of them notice it ;)
I’m spending all my preps this week in other classes – I know most teachers are having the same problems as I am -if nothing else, maybe the visits will help me not to be so hard on myself.
it’s fine if you blog about our chat – and jacq is over 40 as well ;) [in reference to my comment to her friend Jacq’s comment on her wall about 42 being THAT old ;)]

So everyone, I promised that my blogroll rocked. Prove it …

a) Can you give and/or point my friend and any others toward advice when it comes to the reality of teaching in a class like this? In particular practical, tangible advice that she can use in her classroom?
b) How do you still love teaching when it can be SO hard and disheartening at times?

Because there is always light over the horizon…even when the ground seems frozen.

What it takes.

To help others to make a better world is healing.” Harley Wylie (Huu-ay-aht First Nation and American in ancestry. His mother went to a residential school in Port Alberni where she was regularly beaten for speaking her Native language. from Straight.com After the Settlement Comes Healing, Closure by Carlo Pablito)

Male fireflies flashing in unison, from The Millenium Bridge Simulator Project of the University of Cambridge, Department of Engineering (2000)

Male fireflies flashing in unison, from The Millenium Bridge Simulator Project of the University of Cambridge, Department of Engineering (2000)

I just commented on Jose’s rich post What Will It Take? and my comment or, rather, the feelings that were stirred in writing it, are rising in me.

Cynicism poisons my motivation for change. I know this about myself so I purposefully disallow it. I shake it off when I feel it coming. I have to. Some have called me a blind optimist and I’ve become comfortable in that. I refuse to allow any part of me to believe that something I see as necessary won’t happen. I think that is why I became a teacher… “Teaching is the greatest act of optimism. ” (Colleen Wilcox)

George Carlin also said “And then there are the times when the wolves are silent and the moon is howling.” The challenge is to maintain hope and positive energy until it is our time to howl again.

As I prepare myself for a new school year – one that is certain to be rife with challenge – I am paying attention to what I read, what I listen to, what I feel, what I add my voice to.

I’m filled with struggle and hope. I am deeply cut by how we can treat each other.

In June I wrote about the pride I felt for the Canadian government’s apology to residential school survivors and families of survivors. I felt it was a step toward a positive future. I still feel that way, though differently. I am confused about this apology. I hear accounts of healing, I also hear accounts that the Truth and Reconciliation Commission is a sham, a tool wielded by the Government and the United Church to ensure that the truth never really does come out. That the Aboriginal leaders involved in the commission and the acceptance of the apology are working in tandem with the Government and the Church for these secretive and shameful ends. That the apology comes from a misguided place. That until genocide is acknowledged it means nothing. That there are mass graves of children across Canada. That those (i.e. Kevin Annett) who try to point out these facts are lying or crazed.

When I look to the centre of my confusion around this history – and the agonizing, wretched, ripping and at the same time damming effects that continue to resonate in our rivers and hearts – and dredge out my feelings I find myself focusing on the people and the acts that represent hope. On the healing journeys. I believe that by focusing on hope for the future we have it. And we will see more of it. This is how I am preparing myself for the new year.

Recently I asked readers, ‘What are you looking for?’ and Michael Doyle (go read the post I linked to with his name. do it. he’s awesome) created a strong image in response

I am not sure I can answer this question directly, but I will tell you that I am closer to it when I am sitting at a pond’s edge at dusk watching lightning bugs attracted to their own reflected light than when I am in my cortex, trying to approach this rationally.

I am attracted to your light. That’s what it takes.

Who are teachers?

“Today’s topic…self-construction”

KRS-One **audio from 1vibe.net, April 22, 2008

7 months ago (though I just discovered it) Clay Burrell wrote On Leaving Teaching to Become a Teacher:

More and more I wonder: is school a good place for teachers who want to make a difference in the lives of their students, and to the future of the world? Is there a way to leave the daily farce of gradebooks, attendance sheets, tests, corporate and statist curriculum, homework assignments, grade-licking college careerist “students” (and parents), fear of parents and administrators, and fear of inconvenient socio-political truths – and at the same time, to make a far more meaningful impact on the lives of the young?

I’m thinking yes. I’m thinking, moreover, obviously. I’m not sure how much longer I want to work for schools. I’d so much rather teach.

Coinciding with that discovery was 2 others:

But really, there are no coincidences.

My mission as a teacher has to do with teasing out the stories, with helping people find their stories – the most positive ones they can.

Like Clay, I don’t think that teaching is relegated to the classroom. In fact most real content that affects peoples lives is not found in the classroom, it’s found in the experiences that make up each of our stories.

Example: KRS-One is truly a teacher. He inspires to create a positive story.

“Today’s topic – self-construction”

“… This is an opportunity for you to rise to your highest self. There it is.”

I’m not going to tell you his story, watch the video up top, and you’ll get an idea of where those quotes come from.

The point here, is that teachers are found all over.

So why do I choose to teach in the classroom?

Classroom teaching is a unique opportunity to help young people choose their direction and write their stories. It’s like living is research, and the classroom is the lab where we get to make sense of all that cool data.

My job has so much more to do with helping kids organize the information that comes at them (the stories of the world) in a way that makes sense for them, then it does with teaching them the stories of the world, and so much more than it does with “…gradebooks, attendance sheets, tests, corporate and statist curriculum, homework assignments, grade-licking college careerist “students” (and parents), fear of parents and administrators, and fear of inconvenient socio-political truths…”

Yeah, there’s some paperwork and politics. I keep my mind focused on student need and my core values of relationship and hope for the future, and the paperwork and politics don’t seem as important. Everything falls into place.

Cause this is what I am supposed to be doing.
It’s the best way I know to rise to my highest self, and to help others do the same.

That’s why I teach.