Friday, May 4, 2012

Rules...are for the Teachers...


This afternoon I spent a portion of a staff PD day discussing our school rules and potential changes for next year. We went over the usual suspect; gum chewing, cell phones and dress code. The discussion was heated as it usually is when it comes to things that people feel strongly on. Myself, I want kids to be able to use cell phones in class, but there are many that want them completely banned. Gum chewing is the same way in that I don’t care if kids chew it in my class. There is plenty of research indicating the positive effects of gum chewing on concentration and focus. Yet, because it is a school rule, I enforce it in my classroom and don’t allow it to be chewed.

After all this discussion, I headed home and started to think about the whole process and had a bit of an epiphany. None of these discussions or potential rule changes had to do with student behavior but rather on staff behavior. Let me explain…

The gum chewing conversation came about because many teachers were not enforcing the rule and some sit in front of their class chewing it themselves. Yes, I realize gum chewing is not that big of a deal in the grand scheme of things. However, if it is a school rule it must be enforced universally or it causes confusion among students and pits teachers against each other. I am labeled a “mean teacher” if I follow the rule we have in our handbook when others are not. So, this rule discussion was really not about kids chewing gum, but more about teacher’s enforcing a rule or not.

When looking at the cell phone policy, it is again more about the staff than the students. Anyone with half a brain knows the potential power of a cell phone in terms of a learning tool in a classroom. For resource strapped schools, these phones are mini-computers in kid’s hands. Why would we not want a kid to be able to pull out a phone and in seconds be connected and pulling information they need? Yet, this rule is not about that. It is about those staff members that are not willing to a) actively monitor their classrooms if students are using them and b) not willing to teach digital citizenship through their use. We are so afraid of a student doing something “bad” with a cell phone that we miss learning opportunities. Yes, kids could take pictures and post them on Facebook of themselves and friends doing silly things in the back of your class. I would argue that is a reflection of the teacher as much as the student.

On a total sidebar, I laugh at the number of teachers who are constantly on their cell phones during school hours texting, emailing, updating status and playing games right in front of the students. What message does that send the kids when the staff won’t even follow the rules set for the students?

Many of the other rules we discussed in the open forum had similar themes. More than once I heard, “it is too hard to enforce that rule.” I heard very few people mention what was in the best interest of the student’s and their learning environment. It may just be me, but I saw evidence that many of my school’s rules were a product of not keeping kids safe or protecting the learning environment. What I did see was rules being created because teachers were afraid to step up and enforce existing rules, or to step up and recognize learning opportunities and not punishment opportunities.

I wonder how many schools have rules established for the sake of the adults rather than for the sake of the kids. 

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Cruise Control

As the end of the year nears it is very tempting to hit the "cruise control" button. It is easy to pop that VHS in, hit play and let the remaining minutes pass by in a stream of mono-toned narrations and antiquated special effects. Many of us will check out the laptop cart or hit the computer lab and assign our students to create "big projects" that are busy work masked in PowerPoint slides, driveling essays or elaborate posters. Instead, let us finish the year as strong as we started and not hit the cruise control button...our kids deserve better.

Kids will feed off our attitude and if we expect the best from them, then we must give them the best of us.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

A Sit-down with Daniel Pink


Recently, I had the good fortune to spend some time chatting with author Daniel Pink at his home. I connected with Pink through twitter when I shared with him my work on helping start an Innovation Day at my school. Some of the theories behind the Innovation Day were taken from Pink’s work in his book, Drive that delved into with what motivates people. I went into the meeting with him without any agenda or really any idea what to talk about. Honestly, I just wanted to meet him in person because he seemed like someone that would be interesting to spend some time talking with.

Initially, we chatted about education in general and discussed some of our shared frustrations with the current system. Even though he is not an educator, Pink understood some of the very basic problems that I myself see in education. The part of the conversation that I took the most from was when we started discussing why his work, largely written for businessmen, was popular among educators. He openly admitted he is not writing his books for educators and will be the first to say that he is not an expert in that arena. Yet, many teachers and administrators look at Pink’s work and is resonates with them and their work in schools.

As we discussed this, it became very clear to me why his work has the appeal that it does within educational circles. While his work might be geared towards business people, it is the people part that is most important. He is looking at many aspects of the human mind and motivation and it is not simply business people or adults that it applies to. The concept of motivation and the underlying principles within apply to all humans…adults and kids alike. So, it would stand to reason that things that motivate adults would seemingly apply to kids in a school setting.

Towards the end of our conversation, Pink shared with me the outline of his new book and actually asked me for some feedback as to how it would/could apply to educators. He must be getting desperate for feedback because he was actually jotting down some notes based on my thoughts. J Without giving too much away, his book deals with the idea that we are all selling something, regardless of if we are actually in sales. He even laid out some specific traits and skills that make people successful at doing this. One might not think there is a clear connection to education but I see a pretty clear one myself. Teachers are selling ideas and concepts every day and how we do that is through using our own unique traits and set of skills. Administrators are no different as they too are trying to sell their staff and students on new ideas and initiatives. Some of the basic skills and attributes that Pink described to me have strong connections to our work as educators. I encourage you all to pick it up when he finishes it and it is on the bookstore shelves…