And this from Chris Lehmann

We must take risks in education. We must challenge the tried-and-true way of educating students, but we must do it thoughtfully and carefully and transparently, because we don’t have the luxury of just “going out of business.” Every school that makes those choices poorly affects the lives of the students who honoured that school with their choice to go there. This is — as much as any other reason — why we must always, always, always humble ourselves before the enormity of the task in front of us.


Fight clubs, allegations of bullying by students AND staff. This is my school. And a beautiful boy is dead. I have a son the same age who attends the same school. What is the long-term plan for TGS? Our students need something that we aren’t giving them. What is it? How do we find it and give it to them?

Chris Lehmann has written some great posts this year with humour and humanity. His recent Letter To A New Teacher speaks to all teachers, but particularly to those teachers who,  around year three or four,  are thinking of leaving the profession. His letter is below:

Thursday, February 28. 2008
Letter To A Young Teacher

I don’t remember where I read it, but I was reading another article that mentioned the oft-quoted stat about how many teachers leave the profession within the first five years, and I was thinking about how many really amazing young men and women I’ve known in my career who fell into that category, and I was thinking about a conversation I had with an old colleague at Beacon and how she said, “Yeah… that year three or four mark, that’s a dangerous time, because that’s when you think you know so much more than you actually do.” And I was thinking about my own progression as a teacher and how true that was… And I was thinking about some of the things people who stayed with the profession seemed to embody that the ones who left didn’t. I was thinking about what I want to say to all those teachers who, right around year three or four, start to leave the profession…

Dear Young Teacher Thinking of Leaving,

You’ve stuck with this job for a few years now. You have made it past the hardest few years, but it’s still a really hard job. And you’re at a point where you know a lot about the job, but there’s still a lot to learn. And the things you haven’t learned yet are the some of the things you need to stay with this job. I don’t know for sure that you should stay; after all, people switch professions these days. But here are some of the things it takes longer than three or four years to really, really learn. Some of these are things I’ve had to learn the hard way, some of these are things I’ve seen others learn the hard way, and a lot of these ideas are things that I keep having to relearn all the time.

This job is a marathon, not a sprint. As much as we don’t like to admit it, we have to acknowledge our need to pace ourselves.

However, you learn something in time that makes that easier. You aren’t their only teacher. You aren’t the only adult in their life. And even if you were, you can’t be everything to every kid.

You learn that perfection is a lousy goal because it is unattainable.

You learn that excellence is a better goal, but even that is a moving target.

In other words, you learn that the perfect really is the enemy of the good.

You learn that it’s just not about you. And it’s just not about the kids either. It’s about the space between where the meaning happens.

You learn that you can’t reach every kid. And you never really learn to be o.k. with that.

You learn that you know a lot less than you think you do.

You learn that your colleagues know a lot more than you think they do.

You learn to find the teachers who can prove to you that you can do this job for thirty years, and you learn to go sit in their classroom when you need to.

You learn that you don’t have to be young to relate to the kids.

You learn that teaching is both an art and craft, and that it is something you get better at.

You learn that the more you document what you do, the happier you are the next year.

You learn that retooling a unit takes less time than creating one….

You learn that the more you get good at the basics, the more you can experiment with new ideas.

You learn that you can’t grade everything.

You learn where you can compromise and where you can’t.

You learn that not every kid is going to major in your subject and you accept that that’s o.k.

You learn that you aren’t perfect… and neither are the kids, and sometimes the best thing you can do is forgive… yourself and the kids.

You learn that taking care of yourself is important… and that the kids know when you do… and want you to.

You learn that you shouldn’t idealize other jobs.

You learn that the worst thing you can do is think of yourself as “just a teacher.”

You learn that the second worst thing you can do is think that being a teacher is the hardest job in the world.

You learn that the best things that happen in your class weren’t wholly because of you.

But you learn that the worst thing things weren’t wholly because of you either.

And you learn that, in both cases, your presence did matter.

You learn that every time you are feeling like really know what you are doing, it’s important to find the thing about the job that humbles you.

You learn that every time you feel like you have no idea what you are doing, it’s important to find the thing that reminds you how much you have learned.

You learn how to ask yourself, “Did I give what I had to give today?”

You learn how to look at that question over time.

You learn that life is hard… that the teaching life is hard… that the movies rarely get it right… and that being a young teacher means being the adult in the room, and that’s o.k.

You learn to find that teacher’s voice inside you that is real, authentic and effective.

You learn how much good you can do… and how important it is to find ways to do that much good over a whole career, not as a martyr to the job, but as a healthy, clear-eyed teacher.

You learn patience.

You learn how much you have to keep learning.

Most of all, you learn that once you stop trying so hard, you can listen better, and then you can hear what the kids are saying back to you. And then you can learn that they change you as much as you change them.

It’s a hard job, it’s a frustrating job, and the vast majority of our schools are underfunded, understaffed and swimming upstream to teach the adult values of hard work, sustained effort and sustained focus when there is very little else in teenage life that reinforces those values. And you realize that the kids are hearing your message, even when you think they aren’t.

Our schools need so many more of those early-career teachers to stay in the profession so that they can become the master teachers of the next generation. We need you to stay and figure it out. It’s never easy, but it does keep getting better as long as you are willing to continue to learn.

And you do learn that, in the end, so many of us love our jobs more than the rest of the world does.

Teacher Observation

Part of a workshop that I facilitated yesterday raised the vexed question of how best to observe a teacher. Do we pre-warn the teacher (and therefore, perhaps, gain a false impression of the lesson or raise the anxiety levels of the teacher being observed?) or do we simply pop in at random? Do we watch just part of a lesson (the “four minute walk through” concept) or a whole lesson? Are lesson “snapshots” valid or useful? And, if we are observing, where do we sit? – at the back and observe or do we sit with the class and help out? And what should an observation sheet look like?- a blank piece of paper with notes Or a particular, agreed template?

If this is just a general observation what should we look for?- “is there learning happening here” “are the sudents engaged?”

Afterwards, how do we broach the follow up conversation? Who speaks first? Do we begin with the “So, Mary, how do you feel about that lesson?” and let Mary verbally reflect, or is this opener perceived as a loaded question? Should we reflect on the positives first? How should we couch our suggestions for further development?

It was with these issues in mind that I annotated a video from Teachers TV , using Imovie, and showed it to a group of new SCTs, all of whom will be involved in some form of teacher observation this year. The video promoted some great discussion and a sensible, nay humane, view that all of the above questions will depend on the personality, power dynamic and world view of the observee and observer- that there is no one perfect model for observation. The key is to know your teacher/colleague first and engender trust. Then build the model of observation together.

It’s all about perception

An interesting item on National Radio today –

1. Wine experts were given a white wine that had red food colouring in it. Guess what? They sniffed it, swirled it, sipped it and pronounced it an excellent red.

2. Students were sold an energy drink at quite a high price. The drink comprised sugar and caffeine. They were then asked to complete a mathematical/language test. Other students were sold the same drink for half the price. They also sat the test. Consistently, the students who drank the same but higher priced drink outperformed the students who drank the same but cheaper drink. This experiment was repeated over and over again and every time the reults were the same. The higher priced drink was perceived as being a superior product and this, in turn, lead to higher performance.

So, it is all about how we perceive the world around us and our performance is predicated on our perceptions of what will make us succeed. Our cerebral cortex is not built for objectivitiy and we must work hard to overcome our subjective response which is so often flawed.

Which brings me to the matter of Maori educational success. If the student is perceived as being in a failing group, and, equally importantly, if the student perceives himself to be in a failing group, then it is likely that this student will fail, or at the very least, underperform.

What is the answer? it seems to me that, given the subjective nature of humans, we must, as Rata states, stop identifying a group by ethnicity, because if this group is perceived negatively, and perceives itself negatively in relation to certain outcomes (like educational success) this perception will lead to a reality of negative outcomes, regardless of actual ability. It is a huge disservice to claim that “Maori are failing educationally” because it is not all Maori and indeed it is more likely that belonging to a particular socio-economic group is a greater predictor of educational attainment (or not). How many young Maori have failed our educational system simply because they have been pigeon-holed, and pigeon hole themselves, by ethnicity and have become the casualties of our too human subjectivity which, despite everyone’s best efforts, has predicted failure before the student has even entered the classroom? Is it time to revisit our means of classifying students and throw out the ethnicity labels?

Rethinking the Education Model

Have we been wrong all along? The latest education statistics from the OECD in secondary Maths, Reading and Science show that the top performers are Finland, Korea and Japan. And Korea is the nation with the smallest variation between
highest and lowest performers, indicating that all its schools are doing well
in educating their students. Furthermore, the OECD assessments of 15 year olds did not involve low level recall but tested the higher level ability of these students to apply
their knowledge to highly complex real life situations.

Now let us look at the education system in Korea- is it not characterised by
rote learning, drill the skill, cramming, corporal punishment, chalk and talk,
classes divided on gender lines, student cleaning of the classroom after
school? Is is not true that invariably, a large grassless area in front
of the school serves as the playing field as well as the area for school wide
assemblies and other meetings. Are not desks lined up in straight rows in
plain classrooms which are typically filled with 50 or 60 uniformed students?

Does not most teaching instruction mostly comprise teacher lectures, with
only rare interruptions for questions?

And Korea is leading the world in the most significant measurable educational outcomes?

Shouldn’t we be having a serious debate about this? Should the Korean
education system be our model in the West- or aspects of it? Are we heading
down the wrong pathway with our focus on differentiation, rich tasks and
student centered learning? Or is it all to do with what we expect for our young people from their schooling? Are we willing to swallow our western pride and take
a serious look at what is going so right in Korean education?

Daily News

Betty, at Teacherlingo- another cool blogging site for teachers- wrote about a great teacher who taught the news daily. I began a reply on her blog but decided I was writing too much!!  Our students in NZ are sadly ignorant of the news and
can often only spout the cliches that they hear from their parents (immigration is bad, Cambridge exams are good, China is taking over the world, the USA
is only interested in Middle East oil etc. )  Without reading newspapers,
there are no informed opinions, little critical thinking,  and these young
people (in my case secondary students)  are the future decision makers of our world! And the issues they will be dealing with are crucial to our planet- global warming, globalisation, biotechnology, nuclear issues, the spread of Islam.

I think we as teachers have a moral obligation to teach the news and reading the front page of a newspaper every day is a great start.  Do you know this
website  ??
This website has front pages from most newspapers around the world.  Great for comparing bias in news and for obtaining an insight into what is important for a country, cultural mores etc.  If you have a projector, you can project front pages on similar themes and discuss the difference in headlines.

If we don’t teach our young people the news, and allow them to think about and discuss issues that will undoubtedly affect them in the future, we are helping to disempower them politically and ensuring a continuation of so many worrying political, social and economic policies that clearly need informed debate.

Starbucks closed in The Forbidden City

This is great news.  After an online campaign that drew nearly 1/2 million signatures, this over hyped global cafe, with its overpriced and unappealing coffee is finally withdrawing from this 15th century world heritage site.  How crass that it ever was there in the first place.  Starbucks is an ever encroaching pestilence that, along with Macdonalds, Gap and Dunkin Donuts et al, are overwhelming other, often vulnerable, cultures.  More power to the web that enabled the voice of the people to be heard!Starbucks coffee shop in Beijing’s Forbidden City

Congratulations to Chinese state TV personality Rui Chenggang who led the online
campaign.  Starbucks, be warned, the people have spoken and, just maybe this is the start of a revolution to reduce the intrusive and insensitive global commercialisation  of our local communities.

Teachers, talk to your students about this to show them (a) the power of the web as a people’s forum  (b) that homogenisation can be reversible – it is not a chemical change

By Bye Black Sheep – the demise of nursery rhymes

It seems, according to the Guardian,that time is running out for nursery rhymes. A new survey of 1,200 parents unveiled today by a popular pre-school TV channel in the UK, revealed that 27% struggled to recall even one nursery rhyme!!- just ONE!

Worse still, the study found 37% of new parents rarely sing to their littlies, even though three quarters said singing to young children is a good way to help them learn to read.

The problem is, those that do sing to their kids prefer to sing pop songs than
nursery rhymes. All of which spells great danger for poor old baa baa
black sheep and his nursery rhyme mates.

Of the few nursery rhymes people did know, the most popular were Jack
and Jill, Humpty Dumpty and Ring-a-Ring-O’Roses. Of course, virtually no one knew their historical associations.

Oh, such bad and sad news. The article quotes one Janine Spencer,who is development
psychologist at Brunel University, saying that singing nursery rhymes to young
children “speeds up their development of communication, memory, language and reading skills, as well as being crucial for recognising
and learning phonic sounds.”

Teachers, Parents,  we need to make every day care and child care centre aware of this!  It’s all very well, in NZ, to have the “free” 20 hours of pre school but where do Humpty and friends come into the deal? Do pre school teachers even learn nursery rhymes these days? Sounds like rote learning of nursery rhymes should be mandatory and tested with rigour. I am off to test my 17 and 18 year old kids right now- and to change their bedtime reading if they fail.