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Sunday, August 5, 2012

Friday, August 3, 2012

Teachers as Professionals

Somewhere along the line, "we" stopped treating teachers like professionals and many teachers started behaving like they were not professionals.  I can't say which came first;  perhaps a little like the chicken and the egg.  But clearly, one behavior perpetuates the other.

But here we are and this is a serious problem.  I believe we must get a handle on this problem if we are to reverse the trend and really make gains in educating all our children to be prepared to face the future productively.

I use the quotes around "we" because I think the non-professional treatment of teachers comes from many sources.
    -  The Union leadership treats teachers like a source of revenue and power, not really engaging in a productive conversation about improving student achievement and negotiating to get teachers at the table where important education policy decisions are made.
     - School administrators force technology, textbooks, curriculum, schedules, and more on teachers in a "one size fits all" model.  I used to develop computer applications for a living.  In a non-professional environment, we used a push strategy for new systems.  A management team and a select group of "users" would specify the terms and operation of a system, then the system would be implemented and ALL members of the user group would be required to use this new system.  This model works when you are driving technology for efficiency and accuracy, like check-out clerks, bank tellers, line operators and so on.  But systems developed for professionals are more a pull strategy where system design is more flexible with parts that can be tailored to the individual preference.  The professionals could opt-in to using the new system if and when they determined it would have a positive effect on their outcomes.
    - Policy makers convene great thinkers from academia, business leaders, opinion leaders,
consulting companies and a few select teachers (rarely parents) and develop new policies, and unfortunately even practices, that will then be imposed on all teachers.  The current Common Core Standards and Assessments is a perfect example.  Here is a link to an Ed Week article expressing a similar concern.

   - Universities that offer schools of education frequently look at these schools as cash cows for the other, more expensive and elite programs the institution wants to offer.  Hundreds and hundreds of students can be processed through courses that are not all that hard, ensuring a high graduation rate.  Accreditation for schools of education in Michigan is not geared around inspiring especially talented young adults to high level of personal learning and creative thinking about how to teach children.  Here is an interesting article about this concern from Hillsdale College's perspective.

On the other hand, no group can just demand to be treated like professionals and have it happen.  Professionalism is an attitude, a concern toward outcomes, a commitment to excellence, a willingness to police oneself and ones peers.  The more credible, intentional and impactful this police effort, the faster the transition of those around them.

One way we can create an education system that allows the profession of teaching to re-emerge and grow, is to create a system that offers robust choice, not only for parents and students, but for teachers!  If teachers have viable choices about where to teach, especially without having to sell their home and leave their community, they will pick those institutions that offer them the opportunity to be professionals.  And when the teachers who work there behave like committed, results-oriented, accountable professionals, children will learn.  Then more children will enroll and more teachers will want to be there and so on.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

The Significance of a Starfish

I came across this tale a while ago, and it has stayed with me:
There once was a wise man who used to go to the ocean to do his writing. He had a habit of walking on the beach before he began his work. One day he was walking along the shore, as he looked down the beach, he saw a human figure moving like a dancer. He smiled to himself to think of someone who would dance to the day and he began to walk faster to catch up.
As he got closer, he saw that it was a young man, and the young man wasn’t dancing, but instead he was reaching down to the shore, picking up something, and very gently throwing it into the ocean.
He called out, “Good morning, what are you doing?”
The young man paused, looked up and replied, “Throwing starfish into the ocean.”
“I guess I should have asked: WHY are you throwing starfish in the ocean?”
“The sun is up and the tide is going out. And if I don’t throw them, then they’ll die.”
“But, young man, don’t you realize that there are miles and miles of beach and starfish all along it. There must be thousands of them on this beach alone. You can’t possibly hope to make a difference!”
The young man listened politely, then bent down, picked up another starfish and threw it into the sea, past the breaking waves and said, “To THAT one, I made a difference.”
The message I got from this is clear: I cannot change the whole world. But I can make a difference.  If I can enable one more child to have an opportunity, to be taught be a teacher who cares if that child learns, then I have made a difference.