Skeptic to Pirate!

Okay…she didn’t twist my arm or bribe me in any way, but she did make it possible for the two of us to attend this Saturday’s Teach Like a Pirate seminar with Dave Burgess in Orlando when she registered us a few weeks before the event and told me we were going.  All week long, I met the opportunity with skepticism even after she brought a copy of the book home and I thumbed through it one tired, sleep deprived evening.

Argghh!  Teach like a pirate?  It sounds too gimmicky to me.  It sounds too much like a packaged motivational seminar with a self-important pirate-dressing speaker.  However, because I am a consummate learner and ready to try anything in my classroom to improve the culture of learning, I committed to being open-minded.  I told my son that if you go to a seminar and meet one new person and bring home one new idea that you can implement you’ve not wasted your time.  Saturday arrived and I went on an early morning 5 mile run before we had to get ready to go to the event.  On the run, I was filled with gratitude thoughts during one shaded, oak covered part of my route and was enthused with some positive energy for the day ahead!

Upon arriving and entering the church building, my wife and I were met with the sounds of Pirates of the Caribbean (“Yo ho! Yo ho! A pirate’s life for me!”) and pirate decorations abundant.  I was beginning to feel the pirate spirit!  Our gracious hosts (volunteers of Glad Tidings church in Ocoee, FL outside of Orlando) provided a fantastic breakfast spread that included pastries, fresh fruit and fully caffeinated coffee.

TLAP Orlando

Do you believe in the power of coincidence?  Last week, I answered the call from my bookshelf of my old copy of “The Autobiography of Malcom X” which had begun saying “Read me, read me, read me” each time I passed to let our dog in or out over the last several weeks.  I was once again smitten and overwhelmed by the words of Attallah Shabazz in the book’s foreword which I had read aloud to my students as a new teacher in my first American History class at a Title I school in Orlando, FL.

“A lover of language, my father believed very much in the power of words to influence and transform lives.”

Reading those words aloud to my students marked a “flash memory” in the beginnings of the awakening of my mission and vocation, my passion for teaching.  I discovered a passion for teaching the Civil Rights movement as I picked up for a teacher who left in the middle of the school year where I was supposed to be teaching the standards according to the county’s pacing guide to a group of students who were painfully unaware of this history.  I found my passion for teaching wrapped up in the calling of the transformative power of education…of words…of the written word to a classroom of 11th graders who were struggling with the grade level text.

On Saturday, Dave Burgess opened with the P of PIRATE: PASSION and shared his passion for the story of Malcolm X and the transformative power of education.  Coincidence?  Who knows?  But he hooked me in hard and fast as he described the need for teachers to answer three questions:

1) Within my subject content areas, I am passionate about:

2) Within my profession, but not specific to my subject matter, I am passionate about:

My Answers:  Building lifelong learners.  Equality of education.  Engaging learners every day.  Helping students discover their innate gifts and talents.

3) Completely outside of my profession, I am passionate about:

Some of the resonating notes from my PASSION page:

Your message to your students lived and taught: “You can become an expert in anything….witness Malcolm X.”

“Bring yourself to work so students see you as a human being.”

“We must bring more of ourselves to work.”

“Build a catalog of LCLs (Life Changing Lessons) that are embedded in your content standards and that match your higher purpose.”

“It’s not as much about raising standardized test scores as it is about raising human potential.”

I have a lot more notes and a lot more to share.  I woke up this morning at 5:15 and read half of the book.  Needless to say, this skeptic is now a PIRATE!  I highly recommend educators put Teach Like a Pirate on their summer reading list or start reading it right now.  Attend a seminar when one lands close to you so you can learn the rest of the PIRATE acronym and the PIRATE toolbox to go with it!

Special thanks to the congregation of Good Tidings Church (@ocoeegt) for hosting this professional development event for Orange County teachers and to Christina Howell (@TeachToDream) for the vision and work she put into making this day happen.  See you on the seas!

 

There’s One Born Every Minute

I changed careers almost 4 ½ years ago, but I didn’t change vocations.  When I left behind a 17 year Fortune 100 sales career, I answered what I considered a calling into education.  I followed the same call my grandmother answered who had a teaching career spanning almost 3 decades and the call my mom answered who had a career of similar length.  The call I answered also brought me in touch with the career my wife is in and was training for when we met in college.  Though I’ve been surrounded by amazing teachers and I have three children in the public school system, I, like the Huff Post Ed blogger wrote in http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/answer-sheet/wp/2014/02/22/you-think-you-know-what-teachers-do-right-wrong/ never really knew what teachers do.

I followed recommendations to volunteer in schools as a Junior Achievement volunteer and to substitute teach before taking the plunge.  I also read several books and memoirs by teachers, but you just don’t know until you walk in the teacher’s shoes.  Four and a half years into the career, I find that the job description, the career toolbox and my educational philosophy (http://wp.me/p4cYuu-8t)  continue to grow!

Four and a half years into the career, people ask me what keeps me going.  You see there is a drop-out rate that is not being discussed often enough-the dropout rate of new teachers.  Some reports suggest it is near 50% for U.S. teachers within the first three years of teaching.  How does this impact the system?  How does this impact students? What can/should be done about it?  What keeps me going? -a passion for learning, creating learning environments/cultures for my students, and seeing students’ lives changed through learning are the drives that I awake with each day and that ignite my engines.

Often, though, even a passionate vision like this is not enough to keep teachers in the profession, for there are powerful bureaucratic pressures and deep cultural divides that can snuff out even the brightest flames.  The language of learning, growth and change is not commonly spoken in many U.S. schools and districts.   Replaced with a focus on learning are conversations about VAM scores, lack of resources, poor leadership, vilifications of teachers, increased demands on teachers coupled with lessened student responsibility for learning and more and more standardized testing to name but a few.  More than conversations, these are the realities of teaching in the 21st century in many schools.

Teachers, do more with less.  Do more with more students in your classroom (35 students/class has been the standard for me for the past two years).  Deliver a 21st century education with 20th century infrastructure.  Don’t teach to the test.  We are adding more tests.  We are buying more computers.  The computers are unavailable for the next 4 weeks due to state-mandated testing.

[Some U.S. districts are creating sweeping changes to reality. One such story here: http://t.co/8agLmOUGIT  ].

I wrote these paragraphs almost a month ago and before closing on what has probably been one of the toughest weeks of my teaching career…a week that left me questioning why I’m working for significantly less pay than I made my first year after graduating from college in the early 90’s and after a week of continued wrangling, political maneuvering, and propaganda-filled emails from our district and teachers’ union over a non-ratified contract and delayed pay raise.

I was once again faced with the question: “Why do you keep doing this?”  What came to mind this morning was a phrase often attributed to P.T. Barnum, but actually a phrase most historians now attribute to one of Barnum’s competitor’s: “There’s a sucker born every minute”.  When it comes to this passionate call to the profession, I must confess…

I am a sucker.

I’m a sucker for…

  • The look in a student’s eyes when she finally “gets it”.
  • Introducing students to new books through the classic read aloud.
  • Having student-initiated conversations about the learning as they enter or leave class or reading students’ insights sent to me in an email.
  • The thrill of being asked to write a letter of recommendation for a student you know is the right fit for the “job” and hand-delivering it to the recipient to give my vote of confidence in person.
  • Fighting the battle for literacy and authentic learning.
  • Fighting the battle against the effects of inequality of educational opportunity that manifests with reading levels well below grade level for many of my high school students.
  • Working with colleagues who share a passion for making a difference.
  • The exertion of physical, mental, and spiritual effort as my runners collapse into the finish line.
  • The excitement of a runners’ new personal best.
  • The quiet beginnings of a summer practice before the sun rises.
  • The power of the PLN (professional learning network) through connections made on #satchat, #nT2t, #satchatwc, #nbtchat, #learningfrontiers and more!
  • Hearing about my student’s progress on her blog and the historical fiction book she is writing.
  • Hearing: “Mr. Hines, the note you wrote me really motivated me to prepare for this exam” after a student earns his highest score of the year.
  • Being visited by one of my runners yesterday to show me his design for this year’s recruiting poster for our 2014 Cross Country season.
  • Hearing my name enthusiastically called out by a student in the middle of Target after a tough day.
  • Hearing a student playing and singing one of his original compositions at the beginning of class one day.
  • Hearing and seeing my assistant coach playing and singing on guitar with our athletes on road trips to and from our competitions.
  • The predawn bus boarding each fall Saturday morning as we head off to a meet.
  • Seeing my boys come together as teammates on and off the field working with each other academically and athletically.
  • Helping my students explore their innate talents and gifts and encouraging them to discover and pursue those talents and gifts as a lifestyle.
  • Discussing a student’s current read (Lao Tzu) with a student who has class across the hallway and hearing his meaningful responses to the book he is reading for pleasure.
  • The joy of learning for the sake of learning.
  • Those days when things “just click” in the classroom.
  • __________________________________________________________________.

A sucker…that’s what we all are.  If we are in this profession as a calling and working on our visions each day to impact the lives of our students, we are suckers.

Passionate, mission oriented, dedicated, moving with vision, moving against the status quo, fighting for learning in the face of all that pushes against!

To my fellow suckers, I say: “Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!” Let’s GO!

 

The New 4 R’s of Education: The Voicings of a Radical?

Dear Readers and Fellow Visionaries, Inventors, Engineers, & Revolutionaries,

Thank you for your comments on my most recent post, http://wp.me/p4cYuu-8t, Towards an Educational Philosophy|What is the Purpose of Education? Your questions and comments have inspired and challenged further thought.

On 4/7/2014, Mary Sullivan @sullivan884 wrote:

We must not reform school, but reimagine education. Until we stop pigeonholing curriculum (i.e. World History, Algebra II)and students(by grade level, by ability…) we will continue in the same path. A few new strategies, perhaps, but within the same design, will not change our outcomes. Visionary, creative leadership outside the bounds of the current school structure is needed. If you could start from scratch, how would you reenvision education to live up to the purpose you’ve stated?”

I agree with Mary that “we must not reform school, but reimagine education.”  However, let’s not stop with reimagining.  These times call for the reengineering of education and nothing short of an absolute education revolution!

My statement of purpose included a reenvisioning of education on multiple levels.  It was intended as a starting point for conversations like the one we are having now.  My intention was to contribute to the ongoing global conversation that just might be producing a tipping point for education revolution.

My views on education have been formed by my experiences as a learner, a parent and now as a teacher and coach.  It would be great to be able to start from scratch, but we will never have that luxury.  The beauty and danger of it is that we are all formed by our experiences when it comes to education.  Education is very personal and ideas about what education can/should/could be are very personal and value-filled.  In addition to the shaping of vision by our own personal values, education is wrapped in a bureaucratic mess of abysmal proportion that will require nothing short of a revolution to meet the needs of 21st century learners.

As a classroom teacher, I acknowledge that my reenvisioning and revolution must begin with action each and every day in my own classroom, but it cannot occur in the traditional “teacher in a silo bubble”.  This comes with the knowledge that these actions will be fraught with moment by moment challenges and resistance.  Challenges and resistance come in many forms and are not limited to the infrastructural, interpersonal, or intrapersonal.  As the days go by in my fourth year of teaching, I have come to the realization that there are a couple of remaining choices given the current dynamic:

0) Quit right now.

1) Cave in, give up, crawl in a hole and pretend things will somehow be all right and worked out by others whilst I wilt on the vine and allow all the reasons that pushed me into education to wither away.

2) Say, [enter your favorite expletive________] it! These are my beliefs, this is my vocation, this is my calling and I am here to STAY!  I will be the change in my own classroom each day.

OR

3) I can say, “Let’s (Let us) DO IT!“…and team up, pal up, PLN up, and collaborate with anyone and everyone who wants to reenvision, reinvent, reengineer, and REVOLUTIONIZE education.

I choose the latter!  LET’S GO!

 

Towards an Educational Philosophy|What is the Purpose of Education?

A Less Than One and a Half Tweet Statement of Purpose of Education:

Empowering learners to uncover and develop their innate gifts and talents to become leaders who are equipped to learn and contribute in their local and global communities in the 21st century.

It was a reading of Cathy Davidson’s book, Now You See It and a week long (Spring Break) discussion on Twitter with @toughloveforx with valuable feedback from @edu_ivers that inspired and challenged me to think of a statement of purpose for education that could be expressed in as few words as possible.  My goal-a statement of purpose that is deliverable in less than a Tweet and a half (I couldn’t get it down to 140 characters) that could be a starting point of discussion around which key stakeholders could collaborate.  It begins from the premise that education seems to constantly reinvent the wheel without moving forward.

We are 15 years into the 21st century, yet we are still talking about creating change so our students graduate with 21st century skills while our schools are still stuck in the Agrarian-Industrial Age model.    My thoughts started with @toughloverforx’s suggestion of a general statement of purpose: “The purpose of education is to graduate students who make mindful decisions for themselves and their communities”.  Rather than complicate purpose, “can we please simplify things?” is the core question of this discussion.  Let’s begin with an agreement to K.I.S.S.-Keep it Simple, Smart.  The nation’s education system appears to be at a tipping point for revolutionary change as a result of current conversations that are birthing movements each day around the globe.

Empowering Learners

Empowering learners speaks to the goal of an education system to meet the demands of our new, rapidly evolving world.  Gone are the words “teaching” and “student”.  Enter the words “empower” and “learner”.  Teachers become learning leaders and coaches who facilitate the creation of the culture inside classrooms that embrace learning and learning how to learn as a chief end goal.  This implies a school culture and infrastructure (including classroom and building design) which facilitates the end goal-learning.  It requires project-based and inquiry-based learning.  It breaks away from stand and deliver instruction as the primary delivery mode.  It requires students to be curators and creators of content.  In doing so, each student becomes a learning leader-a classroom expert in his current area of study.  It broaches learning as a lifelong survival skill.  Yes, lifelong learning is no longer a skill that sets one apart for success.  It is a skill set that sets one up for survival.

A teacher who empowers is a learning leader who serves in the role of coach of learners.  School administrators and leaders move into the role of coach of learners and learning leaders as they engage the school community with LBWA (leading by wandering around).  These leaders must be equipped and freed up to lead so they are inside the classrooms, which are now our “learning labs”, working in the trenches at times alongside learning leaders (teachers) and learners (students). Good-bye hierarchical, ivory towered structure of old.  It is far past time for school administrators “to get dirty” in the business of learning.

 Uncovering and Developing Innate Gifts and Talents

“…to uncover and develop innate gifts and talents.”  Too often the current factory, assembly line style of education shuts down innate gifts and talents in favor of a model that gets children through the system.  Teachers are given the burden of differentiating instruction which for many parents and teachers seems more like this: “get students to create the same widget in a slightly different way that doesn’t delay production”. Our new statement embraces the idea that we all have genetically (some can argue God-given) driven talents and gifts and is built on the belief that we will all be better off societally (stop, imagine, think and count the ways) when each of us is prepared for and does work that expresses those gifts and talents.

The aforementioned models of inquiry-based and project-based learning can be excellent vehicles for uncovering learners’ gifts and talents when collaboration amongst learners is in the mix.  There are also tools available such as the Signature Strengths Test developed and tested by Martin Seligman and Christopher Peterson’s Values-in-Action Institute (VIA) that empower learners (and learning leaders) by uncovering strengths.  “Students take the Values in Action Signature Strengths Test (www.authentichappiness.com) and use their highest strength in a new way each week” (Seligman, pp. 84-85). Evidence from blinded studies demonstrate that this program “improved the strengths of curiosity, love of learning and creativity, by the reports of teachers…”  “The program also increased students’ enjoyment and engagement in school.  This was particularly strong for regular (non Honors) classes.”  Seligman’s Flourish [Martin E.P. Seligman, Flourish, (New York: Atria Paperback, Division of Simon & Schuster, Inc. 2011)] and follow-up studies should be required reading for educators and aspiring EDU leaders.

To Become Leaders

“…to become leaders who are equipped to learn and contribute…”  I have received some criticism on this component of the statement regarding the word “leaders” and the associated connotations, semantics and semiotics.  Becoming leaders who are equipped to learn and contribute refers to the development of learners who can contribute at multiple levels depending on their sphere of influence.  In the classroom (learning lab), it might begin with a student taking the lead on the investigation of one aspect of humanistic psychology (e.g. unconconditional positive regard), working to curate/create content and reporting back to the group as the lead on this aspect of a collaborative research project.  In essence, this student becomes the lead expert on UPR.

We are and we are not talking about the development of executives, presidents, principals and city officials.  We are talking about the very basic needs in society for people who will lead themselves (self-leadership) and the groups (where 2 or more are gathered) they will be part of throughout their lives (families, churches, schools, communities…).  We are talking about creating citizen-leaders who are able to make “mindful decisions”.  Leader as used here implies participating rather than spectating.  A leader is equipped to contribute…

 Contribution to Community

“…in their local and global communities in the 21st century.”  The world is shrinking at a fast pace.  The opportunity to influence for the greater good and destruct for the greater harm is an ever present reality.  The purpose of education should be to equip lifelong learners as local and global citizens who are prepared to contribute to the success/survival/growth/change of society at the most local of levels and globally.  This speaks to the global nature of our interactions and the impact of our actions on the persons in the room and the persons on the other side of the globe.

Thoughts?