Changing how we evaluate…utopic?

I was asked to think about this statement and how it can be considered an assumption:

The notion of systemic change in how we evaluate is utopic since it goes against parent expectations and societal values.

If this were true then women would never have gotten the vote and black people would still be riding the back of the bus and children would still be working in coal mines.

Any kind of systemic change is challenging but certainly not utopic or impossible! If that were the case then nothing would ever change. For this statement to be qualified as true then I must assume the following:

One at a time now.
Parent expectations and the values of society are homogenous and fixed
In my experience working with parents I know that their expectations are not fixed in favour of the stagnancy of how we evaluate students. Parents of students who have test anxiety, for example, would love to see formal, high-stakes summative evaluations bite the dust. And societal values? Which society are we talking about? Is there an assumption here that all societies have the same values when it comes to education and evaluation? I’ve worked in a few different social arenas myself and each one held different values. Even within the same school community I’ve experienced some parents who were in favour of rigorous testing while others were in favour of less rigorous practice. Oh and wait, don’t my values as a teacher fall into the realm of societal values? Am I not part of society?

The whole system of education is formed by these two elements alone.
As soon as we talk ‘systemic change’ we can not base our ideas on only 2 elements of a system. Theories about how systems work tell us that a system is made up of many parts and that none of the parts can be looked at in isolation in order to gain a complete understanding of how the system works. This is because each of the parts affects each of the other parts. Think of your own body. Do you think we could get a good understanding of why you have that headache by only looking at your head? A friend of mine’s headaches ended up being as a result of high blood pressure. If his doctors had only examined his head he may never have found out why they were happening.

By its very definition, a system is an arrangement (pattern, design) of parts which interact with each other within the system’s boundaries (form, structure, organization) to function as a whole. The saying, “the whole is greater than the sum of its parts,” reflects the notion that it is not enough to focus our evaluative gaze on single goals, objectives, actors, processes, activities, and the like, without attempting to understand the larger system in which the initiative lives. From Evaluating Systems Change by Hallie Preskill

What educators have to say has no affect on any other element of the education system (esp. parents and society)
This assumes that as teachers/administrators/consultants we have no power within our own workplace, that our beliefs and practices do not count. When looked at within the concept of systems thinking, as briefly explained above, we see this is nonsense. While we may sometimes feel this to be true, we know that if we need to change something we can. Look at how a group of Catholic educators changed public policy on the teaching of ethics and religion in Quebec, look at the number of hits that come up when I google teachers as change agents.

What do you think? Is it erroneous to think that we can change evaluative systems in education?
What would you like to see change in how we evaluate in schools?

farmers and teachers

From Dea Conrad-Curry at Notions and Potions in Thinking deeply about the seeds we plant:

…I was thinking of how farmers and teachers are alike. They both are responsible to nurture valuable commodities. Their work is both science and art. They both possess intrinsic passion, returning day in and day out to work over which they have limited control, facing the vicissitudes of nature: mother nature and human nature. And they are both being moved to change by the combined forces of technology and science.

Planting corn along a river in northeastern Tennessee (LOC)

Telramen op de bank in de klas / Counting-frames in classroom

I quoted this yesterday in a short post about recent blog discoveries and I find myself going back to read that quote over and over again. There is definitely something about it that strikes a chord within me. There is a notion of stability, of consistency, of basic humanity in both farming and teaching. Yet, within these stable qualities, there is a necessity for change, for constant, continual change.

I think it is the tension between those states – stability and change – that makes these passionate professions. You need passion to nurture and to live what Dea writes about.

As I wrote in the comment box on Dea’s blog – she helped me to see why I feel so right living out here in farm country.

Wherever you go, there you are

So now it’s July 1. The paperwork is over and all I have left to do is empty my classroom at the old school tomorrow – today is a holiday in Canada – Canada Day.

Time for brightness and light (and warmth. It’s July 1st and I have a fire going to ward off the chill that 12 degrees celsius brings to this old house) so welcome to my site redesign :) I need something cheery to look at right now. I’ll let this post explain some of the why.

Yesterday was supposed to be my first day of holiday until I was called in to do ‘a bit’ of paperwork that people forgot to tell me about. In Ontario, students are awarded a certificate of Bilingualism depending on the number of hours of French they were exposed to from Kindergarten through Grade 12. The system for figuring this out is rather…tedious. Each year the French teacher has to figure out how many hours each child received and add it to previous years. Not all students are equal though, some with IEPs receive less French instruction than their peers and so we need to figure out the percentage of instruction over the year. There is a form to write all of this in (by hand) in each student’s folder though, sadly, there isn’t a uniform location for the form in each folder. I taught 7 classes of 20 to 34 students per classroom. 5 hours later I was on my way back home. But the stress of this end of year got to me and I spent much of my paperwork time in tears. Uncontrollably so. Every once in a while I’d wipe my eyes and say, ok. It’s over. And it was, until someone came by to ask how I was doing and they’d start right up again.

So I definitely learned that when I’m not at my top form I default to old behaviours. I used to keep my emotions to myself until they finally exploded out of me in the form of tears that just couldn’t stop. And there I was again.

Smack in the middle of my new teaching assignment my boyfriend left. We had a difficult weekend about 2 weeks ago and really needed to talk. Instead I came home from work that Monday to find all of his things gone and I haven’t heard from him since.

I was in the middle of getting to know a new school in a new province, transitioning from high school to elementary school teaching, and writing report cards at the new school all the while correcting, evaluating, and reporting on student work from my old school. I already had a few emotions coursing through my system – fears of incompetence related to both teaching elementary school after an 8 year hiatus from that level and teaching in French, guilt associated with leaving my students and colleagues at the old school, and overwhelmedom from all of that :) Needless to say I packed whatever I felt about this relationship into the back of my mind (heart) in order to continue juggling the balls.

I’m looking forward to this summer to rest and recuperate! Gardening, spending time with friends and family, exercise (I have not exercised in I don’t know how long), reading, painting, and whatever else comes up are how I am going to do that.

Passion exists inside me, not inside a job

This blog post has been in the works for a couple of weeks now and was coaxed out by Dan Callahan’s post One for the Record Books over at Geek.Teacher. His post reflects on the mixed feelings he has around changing schools, changing positions.

My own recent job change has had me thinking along the same lines.

Dan writes:

I’ll admit to being very conflicted that I’m abandoning a lot of the core elements that have defined my first eight years as an educator. My new position is going to be so drastically different from what I’ve been doing on so many different levels, and it will differ in a lot of ways from what I set out to do when I got my first job.

* I’m going to be moving from a semi-urban district to a much more suburban environment.
* I’m going to be moving from middle school to elementary school.
* I’m going to be leaving special education to work with a much wider portion of the student body.

In my darker moments, I’ll admit, it feels like I’m selling out. While I know that my new position will have its own challenges, I have to admit that those areas highlighted above feel important, and it feels like I’m abandoning them.

As many of you know, I loved my last job. It was infused with ideals of teaching I believe in strongly – working with students who have been marginalized much of their lives and showing them it doesn’t have to always be that way, putting the student before curriculum, the necessity of relationship, the heightened sense of making a difference in students’ lives.

I used to teach students in grades 10 and 11 at an alternative program, kids who were at risk to not graduate high school but were identified as bright, needing a different environment. Close to half of my students were Native students (Mohawk from Kahnawake). I now teach French in an elementary school in a rural area of Eastern Ontario and at first I, like Dan, thought that I was abandoning those ideals I held close by leaving that job.

Those feelings are also entangled with the sense of real abandonment I fear I’ve left my students. You see, I took the new position with 4 days of teaching plus an exam period left in the year at the old school. The decision wasn’t easy but necessary to gain experience in the Ontario school system. I was able to take it because of the tight teaching team that exists in that program. I didn’t leave my students to flap in the wind with a random substitute teacher. I left them with some of the most caring people I know. That is another fear I have, attached to another one of my ideals, that I have left a teaching team that embodies collaboration, caring, and raising the bar for ourselves and our students.

So, while I was excited to be starting something new and to be on the track to better work/life balance by working at a school in my area of the world, I was also thinking about everything I just wrote about. Not to mention the fact that all of this was happening in June, not usually my most energetic month!

Soon into my new job, however, I began to make connections with my colleagues and with my students. The first time a student came to me on the playground, “Madame Tracy, please help,” I thought, “All is good”. I realized that I am still excited about helping kids to learn, though in different ways. And I remembered, it is not my job that defines me but me that defines my job.

I find inspiration when I need it and at the end of my 2nd week at the new school was intrigued by a tweet in my twitter feed from Elona Hartjes:

The link led to a talk on TED by Srikumar Rao called Plug into your hard-wired happiness. The line, “passion exists inside you, not inside a job,” seemed louder than the other lines that were spoken in the video. And I realize that everything is going to be ok because I love and am passionate about working with kids and teachers, about being part of a caring community dedicated to the children within it, about creating hope for the future within community. My job helps me to live out my passions but it isn’t the sum of them.

Where in the world is Tracy Rosen?

Just so you know, as I typed that title I was singing, ‘where in the world is Carmen Sandiago’ in my head. Just so you know.

A week ago, last Tuesday, June 1st to be precise, I changed jobs. Of course I still teach. Though the context and audience has changed significantly!

I am now teaching French as a 2nd language to students from Kindergarten to Grade 6 at a public school 15 minutes from my home. Oui, c’est vrai.

The decision to change jobs had me torn in a few different pieces. As you know, if you’ve read previous posts of mine, I loved working in the alternative program. I love each and every one of my students – no matter the hard time they may have a given me! There is something special and unique about students between the ages of 15 and 18, those students who have a drive to succeed and need kind, caring adults to help them get there. But I was breaking away bit by bit, traveling up to 3 hours a day tired me OUT and I felt so much less of what I am from the constant exhaustion. My original plan was to find a position for next year. I figured that if I jumped, by giving my principal my notice even before I found a position, that the net would come. Well, I wasn’t quite expecting it to come swooping in so quickly!

I was offered this position to finish the year and potentially continue in the same one next year. I was offered it on a Friday to begin the following Tuesday. That weekend was spent in hibernation mode. I finally decided that since there were 4 class days left and then the exam period at the old school, I could make the break by leaving plans for a substitute teacher for those 4 days and continuing to evaluate the students’ work in order to write their final report cards. It is so difficult to find a teaching position in my area and I finally decided that I needed to get my foot in the door, so to speak, by accepting this position.

I’ve registered for a Teaching French as a 2nd Language (FSL 1) course over the summer. The Ontario College of Teachers is very specific about the qualifications they require for a teacher to teach a specific subject. After this summer I will have the FSL qualification on my teaching certificate and so will be officially qualified to teach French. Apparently that is one of the easiest ways to begin teaching in my school board. Of 35 or so new teaching positions posted last week, 30 were for French positions.

So here I am, starting a new chapter in my professional life. Have you ever been the new teacher in June? Imagine it for a moment….