Thursday, June 28, 2012

Good Student, Good Teacher, Good School

As part of a recent research project, I have been asking people how they define:

"a good student"
"a good teacher"
"a good school"

The general consensus about a good student is that he or she is pretty self motivated.  In fact, nearly every explanation expressed very high expectations for a "good student."  Good students are curious and generally interested in learning.  They are responsible and self aware, needing less supervision and encouragement than others.  They do their work on time and strive to always produce high quality work.  They are also respectful and, in a word, nice.  Interestingly, the issue of intelligence did not come up at all - thus, the definition of a good student seems much more geared around a natural interest and engagement with learning and a lot of diligence.

A good teacher, by most accounts, can be judged by two criteria: content knowledge and engaging personality.  It could be that simple, which is easily identifiable in one regard and nearly impossible to quantify in the other.  Teachers need to know their subject well in order to teach it.  And the fact that this is such a common expectation makes me wonder if there are a lot of unqualified teachers out there.  Actually, I don't wonder.  I know, and lament, that it is true.  The engaging personality component is the primary reason that the Gates Foundation will continue to struggle with their model of identifying great teachers.  In many ways, it seems innate and almost unteachable.  Are good teachers born, not made?

It seems only likely that if a school has good students and good teachers, it will be a good school.  Of course, most of the data shows that a good school is most likely found in safe, upper class neighborhoods.  However, plenty of good schools rise above their neighborhood and produce good results because of a shared vision of excellence throughout the school community.  That is most often seen in successful charter schools - though the charter model is by no means a guarantee of a good or successful school.  My research finds that a good school is above all a safe and caring environment that offers all students the opportunity to succeed.

What do you think?

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Matt Continues to Dance

Years ago, I was introduced to the video "Where in the Hell is Matt," which chronicled a man who danced his crazy little dance wherever he was in the world.  It went viral and made a great statement.  Now, Matt is back with a new version.  And there's "nothing left to do but smile, smile, smile.

Keep dancing, Matt.

And everyone.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Bus Monitor Bullies are not "Good Kids"

Every once in a while a news story on children behaving badly goes viral, and we're all given a sad bit of insight into the dark side of the human spirit and the stupidity of youth.  The latest incident is the group of middle schoolers who taunted, ridiculed, threatened, and demeaned a 68-year-old bus monitor, and then posted a video of their exploits on Facebook.  The public reaction - and outrage - has been swift and animated.  Matt Lauer on the Today Show called the kids "little monsters," and a website originally created to raise money to send the woman on a vacation has, at last count, raised nearly a half-million dollars.  While the school has yet to discipline the cruel, small-minded tweens, one father is reporting that his family is receiving death threats.  Clearly, that has gone too far.

But I have to wonder about the father who says his son "made a mistake."

The bus monitor bullies did not make a mistake - they made a conscious choice to be cruel.  They didn't accidentally insult this 68-year-old woman - they chose to be mean, they chose to psychologically brutalize a weaker person, they chose to victimize a human they saw as beneath them, they chose to be awful human beings.  This father has said his "heart was broken" when he viewed the despicable behavior of his child.  Sadly, he came face-to-face with his son's nature - and it's not a pretty picture.  Some will take exception to my criticism of these boys - because they truly are young and naive and clueless about the pain they were causing.  But these boys are mean and nasty individuals who, for some reason, lack any degree of empathy and the most basic level of human decency.  They are not good kids.

The bus monitor bullies' incident reminded of another example of atrocious teen behavior that happened in the upper class Chicago suburb of Northbrook about ten years ago.  A girls powder puff football game that was established as a ritual where the senior girls hand the school over to the juniors degraded into brutal hazing incident which resulted in girls being hospitalized with concussions and broken bones.  In one of the more disturbing aspects of the incident, the younger girls had buckets and coolers filled with fish guts, fish blood, urine, and human feces poured over their heads.  To add to the insanity, some of the girls were beat over the heads with the buckets, and some of the girls with concussions required up to ten stitches.  It was a disaster of human behavior which generated the same sort of outrage as the bus monitor bullies.  However, the aspect that really got under my skin was comments from some parents of the senior girls who said, "They're not bad kids - they're good kids who made a mistake."

Whoa, there, Nelly.

These are not good kids, and this was not a mistake.  They are actually rather self-absorbed, obnoxious, cruel, manipulative, mean-spirited, and shallow young women.  They are not nice people.   They apparently take some sort of sick twisted pleasure from brutalizing others and seeing people suffer.  They have no empathy and they have no self control.  That is not, in my opinion, the behavior of a "good kid."  And brutalizing a person is not a mistake.  It is a representation of who you are - in your heart - even if that means you are simply an incredibly shallow and careless person.  But that's who these girls are.  So, let's not try to justify it.  Let's not claim it was about the alcohol.  Let's not pretend that mob action can be justified.  That part of their nature is indefensible.  And, while it does not represent the whole sum of their lives and personalities, it is a very significant part of who they are.

That said, I do not believe that these "children" are beyond redemption.  People can change ... their behavior.  They can be taught to control and manage that dark side.  But that darkness is in their hearts, and it cannot be explained away or justified.

Monday, June 18, 2012

The Next Food Network Star - Linky Goes Home

Not surprisingly to veteran viewers of the reality competition for who will be the "next" Food Network Star, Linky - the pastry chef with South African roots - was eliminated last night.  The basic reason for her failure was the inability to speak in front of the camera.  Additionally, critics might argue that she never really had a point of view, was not that skilled as a chef, and had been hanging around for weeks simply because her team was doing well enough to protect her.  Of course, with Linky coming from Team Giada, the team argument is weak because I still can't understand how some of these people have stuck around.  Like Linky, Ippy has no camera presence at all and he never will.  Martita is really not that interesting and her point of view - the Latina chef - is already well represented on the Food Network.  Yvan is coming along ... but he's still not going to be star quality.

It really comes down to the ability to be engaging and interesting in front of a crowd.  That simple trait goes back to the all important angle taken by Alton Brown in his initial screening.  He wanted the chefs to "teach him something" because that is what a Food Network Star needs to do.  And that was much appreciated by A Teachers View, as people don't often consider the significance of that quality.  It is an EQ - or emotional intelligence - issue, rather than an IQ or skill.  Not surprisingly, many intelligent and skilled people leave teaching - or never pursue it - because standing in front and being able to engage a group is quite tough.  It's extremely challenging when you have a reluctant audience of young people.  But it can be as tough for someone like a Food Network Star who has a very demanding and critical audience who will quickly change the channel if they don't like and buy what you're selling.

So, clearly, Linky didn't have "it."

Food Network Cookbook Holder

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Are Video Games Education?

Over the years, I have had various students who are video game players and enthusiasts, and the more astute of them have often argued for the educational value of video games.  This idea has been gaining traction in the field because of the basic concepts of risk/reward, critical thinking, improvement through increasing levels and challenges, and teamwork.  Additionally, I occasionally encounter some very bright students who talk about game design as a career.  While that may sound like a fantasy job, it is by no means a slacker career.  In fact, it's mostly my advanced AP students who express a sincere interest in this career.  Thus, the value of video games as education, and the value of game design as a credible career should be considered by any education advocates.

For more information check out this short 5-minute Film Festival of clips exploring the value of video games in schools.  This presentation is from Edutopia - the site for the George Lucas Educational Foundation.  It presents examples such as a middle school in New York in which all the traditional subjects are explored and learned through game design, or the STEM video game contest sponsored by the White House.  In keeping with "a teacher's view" that whatever works in education is good policy, the idea of video games as education is worth considering.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

My Education Statement of Belief

In 1983 when the National Commission on Excellence in Education released A Nation at Risk, I was thirteen years old and preparing to enter high school.  That report established my generation as the first to suffer failing schools.  It was a call for action and change, and it forewarned of a coming national crisis.  Yet, thirty years later, even as the nation has survived several cycles of boom and bust, the public education system remains largely intact. Even as the world has been reinvented through radical growth in information technology, public education looks much as it has since its inception.  However, change is incremental, and bringing innovation and progress to public education requires informed, passionate, and prudent leadership, as well as a degree of patience and commitment.

Certainly, the last thirty years have seen growth and development in education policy, especially with the rise of charter schools and various experiments in school choice.  Yet, despite numerous reform movements, not the least of which is the No Child Left Behind Act, the system remains virtually unchanged.  At times, that sort of intransigence can be disheartening to reformers.  However, it shouldn’t be.  There is much to praise about American education, and there is also great potential for change.  Margaret Mead said, “Never underestimate the power of a small group of committed citizens to change the world. Indeed, it has never been done otherwise.”  As an educator and leader in my community, I seek to be one of those committed citizens.

The current K-16 model of a one-size-fits-all education system is both outdated and inefficient for a nation as productive and progressive as the United States.  The system is not at all representative of American society, a culture built on diversity, innovation, and progress.  Change will come from the foundation of the American Dream – the notion of opportunity.  The greatest strength of American society and American education is the notion of “access granted.”  In Colorado, that idea is enshrined in the state constitution, which calls for a “thorough and uniform education system.”  At the most basic level that means equal opportunity for all students to access as much education as they require and desire.  As an educational leader, I seek to promote the strengths of American education while modifying its weak points, and my ultimate goal is summed up in the words of Washington Post education writer Jay Matthews who believes “The best education for the best is the best education for all.”

Having taught in Taiwan and in the United States, in both public and private schools, in the city of Chicago as well as several suburbs, my educational experience is diverse and informed.  Ultimately, as an educational leader, I seek to synthesize the best components of all systems into an exemplary system in the United States.  In the area of educational leadership, I have established a strong voice through a career dedicated to professional growth.  In twenty years of teaching classes ranging for ELA to developmental English to college prep and AP English, I have seen it all.  However, beyond the classroom, education policy has been a hobby of mine for years, and I consider myself a bit of a policy geek.  My desire to become an educational leader and reformer came during a staff development class on literacy when I discovered Chris Tovani’s book I Read It But I Don’t Get It.  That exposure kicked off a reading revolution in my classroom, and by the following year, my principal had purchased Tovani’s book for the entire department.  It was about this time that I began contributing to the world of educational commentary.  Following the publication of my first op-ed commentary on education – a piece for the Denver Post in which I challenged Sean Hannity’s assertion that the public education system was in a state of “ruin” – I discovered the world of education blogging, and truly began to develop a mindset for education reform and leadership.

As a reformer in education I firmly believe in “whatever works.”  For example, in terms of charter schools, I’d consider the plan in Mark Miller's book The 2% Solution, which should appeal to both liberals and conservatives, because while it is focused on achievement, it addresses the concerns of unions, which are made up of many passionate and committed teachers.  I’m also intrigued by reforms in the Adams 50 district, which challenge the tradition of “seat time” and “grade level.” Any program that produces results should be supported and replicated.  Additionally, I would like for Colorado to take a sincere look at the reforms in New Hampshire, which is moving toward a high school graduation at sixteen for students entering associate degree programs and trade schools. Students who stay in school for years 11 and 12 will take a rigorous AP/IB college prep curriculum that seriously prepares them for the work of a four-year college. This would radically cut down on the number of students requiring remedial courses in college or the half who quit without earning a degree.  The reforms are adapted from the “Tough Choices, Tough Times” report released by a coalition of education leaders and business professionals, and it draws on the Asian and European models that are so often cited by critics of the current system.  

Ultimately, America’s system of education has a strong tradition and foundation that can be developed and return the United States to the status of having the premier education system in the world.  The most important component of change, however, is open and honest dialogue that is grounded in the realities of the problems.  As long as Americans are committed to education, reformers can build on the strengths of innovation that are inherent in the character of the American people.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

The Next Food Network Star 2012 - Eric Goes Home

As much as I am enjoying the competition for who will be the Next Food Network Star 2012 on the Food Network, I have to think Bob and Susie made a big mistake in sending Napa executive chef Eric home this week after a producers challenge with Ippy.  While both of these great chefs have a camera problem right now, Eric is clearly the far superior chef, and Bobby Flay made this obvious argument in the final segment.  While Ippy from Team Giada is a good chef and a nice guy, he can not bring it on the camera in any meaningful way.  Ultimately, I think Bob and Susie just felt like the Hawaiian angle is more marketable for the network.  But it doesn't work for me, as neither of these two men was ever really going to be the Next Food Network Star.

Sadly, I would have liked to see Eric go farther in the competition simply because he is the superior chef.  That should count for something because we're all tuning in to see people who can work culinary magic.  And, while he has regularly struggled to finish his dishes, I always love what he's doing. Ippy, on the other hand, really doesn't have much of anything interesting going on.  Despite the claims that he is simply laid back, like his culture, I am unimpressed.  And, I can't figure out how Linkie didn't go home this week, and hasn't gone out yet.  She is completely forgettable - except when I can't forget how poorly she stumbles through her presentations.  The same goes for Yvan.  Bob and Susie should just send him home - despite how well he does next week - because he simply will not be the Next Food Network Star.  Ultimately, Eric and Ippy should go because it really is all about the camera presence and personality.  All these people can cook, and the world has many magical chefs; but being able to engage an audience is the key, and that's really the answer to who will be the Next Food Network Star.  It's like teaching - no matter how well you know your subject, you won't survive in the classroom if you can't bring it on the stage.

And, I have to again assert that I am not liking this celebrity chef team format at all.  For one, Alton and Giada are clearly helping out their people quite a bit - and that's not the point of the show.  Additionally, this format is really not flattering for Giada.  She continues to come across as petty and desperate for the affection of her team and the need to simply win.  It seems like she doesn't want to find the best Next Food Network Star, for she has had nothing positive to say about any other finalists.  She just wants to win and she is coming across, quite honestly, as a real bitch.  That's a shame because I never felt that way about her.  So, Bob and Susie should definitely nix this format for next season.

So, Eric's out.  Hopefully, Linkie or Yvan or Ippy go next.


Judson is another example of the problem with the team format.  As a reader recently pointed, he should have gone home last night as well.  In fact, he was every bit as bad as Eric and Ippy on camera, and he's a much worse cook.  Yet, he was protected because his team won.  And, this wasn't even a team competition.  It would almost be understandable if this - like last year - was an actual team event and his work somehow led to the team's win.  But it wasn't.  He was "safe" just by the default of having been picked by Alton.  Otherwise, he's a standard cook with absolutely no marketable "point of view," or POV, and he has no camera presence at all.  Everything he says sounds scripted - if not simply phony.  So, Judson needs to go home soon.

However, I must acknowledge the winner from Team Alton - Justin.  That kid just flat out rocks in the kitchen.  And, I think the quirky creativity is definitely going to be an asset.  My early favorite was Michelle.  But, if she doesn't get out of her own head, Justin is going to steal this competition.

** UPDATE - For the most current breakdown on Malcolm's exit this week, check out my latest: