Archive for January, 2011

Easy Come, Easy Go

I get a lot of mailings (of both the snail and electronic varieties) from for-profit educational companies companies that sell educational education-related materials and workshops; I imagine they get my address from one or more of the many professional organizations of which I am a member.  While I normally relegate these brochures and catalogs to the circular file within minutes of receipt, I’ll usually give them at least a cursory glance before doing so.  It disheartens me that one of the key selling points for various protocols, products, and workshops I keep seeing over and over again is *EASY!*

Don’t get me wrong; I like convenience as much as the next guy, but I’m drawn to wonder – if *EASY!* is the best selling point you can come up with for your product…

  • how valuable could it possibly be?
  • what can it do that I, with some degree of effort, couldn’t figure out a way to do that is more meaningful or relevant to my students?
  • why does your company have such a low opinion of educators (“it’s so easy, even a teacher can use it!”)?

I’m of the opinion that things worth doing or learning are worth an investment of time and effort – I know, one thing to say and yet another to do in the mandate-driven world of public education – but this just seems indicative of the instant-gratification culture that we often bemoan, most often in reference to our students.  Everyone reading this blog has had this conversation with their students and/or their own children.

One good thing that has come of my disgust with *EASY!* is that I’ve become very aware of it in my own language, especially when running workshops for my fellow educators.  “Convenient” has its place, and I tend to favor “intuitive” when describing tools like wikis or Google Docs, because while there is definitely an initial learning curve to each of those tools, they are fairly user-friendly and draw upon an assumed level of prior knowledge to facilitate their use.  But as I said, if it’s worth learning about for the benefit of our students’ or our own learning, is it not worth putting in some time and effort, or at least some stick-to-it-iveness (look that up in your Funk & Wagnall’s) while you determine the potential pros and cons?

I’m not saying we have to re-invent the wheel every time we make a move in education.  If something is beneficial to kids and happens to be easy as well, then great.  But doing something simply because it’s *EASY!* is not a good enough criterion when it comes to education.  We never accept it from our students; let’s not accept it from ourselves, either.

Unsolicited Advice: Get Out of Your Classroom

I don’t mean permanently, of course (unless you want to).  I mean for a period, or an hour, or a day here and there, to see what else is happening in and around your school.

I’ve been sitting on this half-written post since December of 2009, according to WordPress.  No real reason why I never saw it through, but Susan Meisel’s comment on my last post about leadership certainly brought the sentiments behind it bubbling forth:

I believe all professionals in education should be practicing visiting and sharing. Teachers and administrators alike should be in classrooms, visiting, picking up strategies, observing students, and looking for “best of”. I realize that administrators are busy, and teachers need to be released for this, but it would go a long way to making excellent schools.

This also brings me back to a short Twitter exchange I had with sixth grade teacher, blogger, mainstay in my RSS reader, and all-around good guy Bill Ferriter back in September of 2009 (yes, I’ve been sitting on these links for over a year – knew I’d get around to this post someday!).  The exact context of the conversation evades me – probably something regarding how teachers & administrators view certain issues differently – when Bill said this:

(Follow Bill on Twitter at @plugusin)

Bill gets no argument from me that my schedule is a lot more flexible than that of a classroom teacher (though I doubt it’s the free-for-all many probably imagine it to be), but shouldn’t learning from our peers be something that is actively encouraged in a school community?

Now I’m not an administrator, but since leaving the classroom, I have gained a much more global perspective of the goings-on in my school district.  As a teacher, my perspective was fairly limited to what happened in my classroom, and maybe it extended to a department-wide level in some matters.  Despite that increase in the breadth, my perspective has become limited in another way – i.e., I deal primarily with issues of special education: students who have been identified as requiring special education and related services, those classes designated as such, and the teachers, therapists, ESPs, and various other personnel who travel in these professional circles.

On the other hand, I’d argue that it’s also possible to pull so far back from the “trenches” that you lose sight of the personal interactions and little details that impact operations.

Maybe there is no happy medium to be found (unless you work in a really small school or district), but I think Susan’s suggestion of release time is a vital one, and one that would address Bill’s concern.  As a young teacher, I would go on my prep period to observe master teachers in my department for tips on classroom management, lesson structuring – all the things that new teachers need to figure out on their own, but could really use a couple good models at the same time.  While I learned much from those observations, in hindsight, I probably also limited myself by only observing other English teachers.  I wonder what I could have learned about cooperative learning or project-based learning from sitting in on a Science or Art class, or more effective uses of film and primary sources from a Social Studies class.

I understand there are costs associated with bringing in substitutes to cover teachers’ classes while they observe, but is this not a valid reason to do so?  If you were to take a sick day or attend a conference, they’d have to call a sub anyway, am I right?  Even if that was an impossibility, could you give up one prep period per month to sit in on your colleagues’ classrooms and see what you could learn?  If you’re an administrator, is it possible for you to drop in on a non-evaluative basis?

In an age where budgets are being slashed left and right and professional development is usually one of the first items to go, I challenge you, dear reader, to devote one prep period per month from now until May to finding some in-house PD.  For my part, I am going to try to get in to at least two classrooms per month (beyond my student observations, group counseling commitments, etc.)  just to get a better understanding of instructional strategies, pacing, and – hell – just to try to re-establish some ties with a professional context I really haven’t seen in almost three years.  I don’t know if it will make me a better school psychologist, but perhaps it will help me become a more effective case manager.

I know you’re busy.  We’re ALL busy.  If your administration encourages this and gives you professional time to accomplish this, I think you’re very fortunate and should take advantage.  But when we’re not given time to do something beneficial for us and for our students, sometimes we have to make time.  Will you join me?

I plan to blog about my experiences with this in June, so please stay tuned.