Back to Blogging

Posted January 26, 2013 by blairteach
Categories: Musings

I am a lapsed blogger. Period. Even though I fell off the blogging wagon, my quest for knowledge never abated. I read, think, and discuss regularly. I tweet, comment, and connect in a variety of spaces. My passion for learning and sharing thrives.

The list of reasons (AKA excuses) for the blogging lapse is lengthy. The bottom line, however, is procrastination. Pure and simple. When one overthinks what to say and who to say it to, it’s easy to put off the writing until another day. Day after day after day… Well, today is that day. I’m making a commitment to blog my ongoing quest for learning. What better time to renew my commitment than while attending Educon 2.5 in Philadelphia with an amazing group of people who share my thirst for learning and vision for educating children. The quest continues…


The Quagmire of Education Reform

Posted October 17, 2010 by blairteach
Categories: Reflections

Is there any better word to describe education reform today than quagmire? Can anyone deny that the mixed messages, rules, “guidelines,” and financing formulae contrived by education reformers have resulted in “a perilous, mixed-up and troubled situation”?

My biggest concern with current education reform is that it involves so few educators with any classroom experience. Am I qualified to regulate the auto industry just because I’ve ridden in cars all my life and am a pretty decent driver? Clearly not, yet others seem to be using that logic to justify their involvement in education reform. After all, most of the reformers have spent years in school and really believe they know what will make our schools better.

Since there is a lot of talk about the “factory model” of education, let’s think about that for a moment. Have you ever taken a behind-the-scenes tour of a factory or watched a craftsman create a piece from start to finish? If so, you likely said, “I didn’t know all that went into making (whatever).” The same is true of education. If you have never spent time in a real, operating classroom (and I’m not talking about countless tours of schools that provide great photos ops and sound bites), if you have never been the person responsible for educating students, then you may not realize the impact relationships and factors unrelated to curriculum have on instruction and achievement.

Building relationships with students takes time. Sometimes that time looks (to the outsider) as frivolously used, wasted time, yet “fun” is a great relationship builder. Often teachers are told all their time MUST be spent on INSTRUCTION – instruction that will yield results on an accountability model that clearly assesses isolated, factual knowledge, with NO consideration of thinking, problem-solving, creativity or affective development. They are told they must post their lesson plans so anyone entering the room will know what should be happening and criticized if what is happening does not match the written plan. This criticism often happens in writing, without any opportunity to explain why the lesson deviation occurred and creates a culture of defensiveness.

Time, unfortunately, is a finite quantity, and teachers are often placed in an untenable position. If they do what they know is right for students but deviate from the system-sanctioned, system-monitored guidelines, they jeopardize their jobs. The fact that (in too many places) teachers are held strictly accountable to pacing “guides” that no human could adequately teach to mastery is not addressed. The curriculum is king in public schools, anointed by the politicians, and the test is the evil enforcer. Even though the most successful charter schools provide wrap-around services that address the underlying problems of poverty and parenting, these elements often get short shrift in public school in favor of content curriculum and “the test.”

Which brings me to my second biggest concern about current educational reform – the charter movement. A bedrock premise of charter schools is the ability to do things more innovatively by cutting the red tape that ties the hands of public school practitioners.

A few weeks ago, I had the privilege of listening to Ron Clark address the Tennessee LEAD audience. Throughout his engaging, entertaining speech, I couldn’t help but mentally juxtapose his out-of-the-box, creative, connected, relationship-rich philosophy against the rigid strictures by which public school teachers must operate. Those rigid strictures are IMPOSED on teachers by the governmental bodies – be they local, state, or federal – who deride and demean teachers for the results of education within those systems then laud the performance of isolated charter schools who have been exempted from many of the outside constraints.

Ron Clark would likely wither in a public school environment today. The first time he jumped on a desk or disturbed the class next door by frequent chanting, the documentation trail of his “deficiencies” would begin. He would be beat down by warnings to conform and driven to leave as many of our best teachers are. Oh wait, that already happened. He left the public schools to create a rich environment with rich resources and tons of parental involvement – an environment that is not driven by a state test.

I realize Ron Clark worked in a difficult public school setting, but he was very fortunate to work with quality administrators who allowed his gifts to shine. Plop him down in another setting with a rule-following, conformist administrator with no tolerance of his antics and ideas, and he could just as easily have been hounded out of the profession.

Don’t get me wrong. I love the ideas behind Ron Clark’s school. I completely believe that students can perform well on assessments if teachers provide rich, high quality learning experiences. But rich, high quality learning experiences take time – time that is not available to most public school teachers, particularly since teachers are not the people in charge of allocating how time is spent. When district guidelines mandate teachers cover WW I in four days (and monitor to make sure you keep pace with the other teachers), there isn’t much time for implementing rich, high quality learning experiences. Nor is there much time allocated for designing these rich, high quality assignments. As I visit schools, I see almost every moment of the school day consumed by assigned tasks. Personal planning time is very rare in many places. During planning time, teachers hold data meetings, serve some kind of assigned duty, meet with parents, etc. Almost every day has a prescribed use of planning time. Is it any wonder that some teachers fall back on letting the textbook guide instruction and use “canned” lessons of questionable quality?

Let me be clear. I believe teachers have become the scapegoat de jour for the ills created by others. That is not to say they are blame free nor that there aren’t bad teachers who need to be removed. I am saying teachers are not the sole cause for the mess in education today, yet they are being abandoned to sink in the quagmire of reform efforts that often conflict with each other. Which leads me to my final point.

As teachers, teacher-leaders, and concerned others, we have GOT to overcome the passivity that seems pervasive among teachers. I see so much blind acceptance of all that is imposed from above and way too much “this, too, shall pass” attitude that urges people to keep their heads down and stay out of the line of fire. If we don’t like the changes, we have GOT to become more vocal and communicate our objections and the reasons upon which we base those objections. We have GOT to showcase our successes more than the failures. We have GOT to get past grumbling and complaining to actually taking a stand and DOING something to change the situation.

That will be hard for many teachers. We can’t forget, particularly in these economic times, that many teachers rely on their paychecks to support families and can’t afford to rock the boat too much. That’s one reason they are so vulnerable to the misguided dictates of rich reformers. Teachers’ commitment to students is another vulnerability. When politicians say it’s OK to take away pre-planning days and furlough teachers without pay before school starts because the teachers “will work anyway,” they are blatantly taking advantage of many teachers’ sense of commitment to the well-being of their students.

It’s a real dilemma.

There are no easy solutions to reforming education, but we, the teachers, need to be at the table whenever possible. That might sometimes mean we need to crash a party to which we are not invited. Becoming more vocal can only help. Participating in the REBEL Education Reform day of blogging is a start. Let’s strive to escape the quagmire of current reform by adding our common sense ideas to the conversation and put education back on solid ground.

Thank you, Tom Whitby, for organizing this day of blogging for education reform.

Thank You, Uncle Sam

Posted May 31, 2010 by blairteach
Categories: Reflections

Memorial Day seems like an appropriate time to reactivate my blog.  As I’ve checked my Twitter feed and read comments on Facebook, many people are extending appreciation to veterans. It’s a little thing, but, as a veteran, it makes me feel good to see more people realize freedom isn’t free.

I enlisted in the Air Force out of high school for several reasons, but the primary reason was patriotism. Between my junior and senior years in high school (the summer of 1970), I spent 6 weeks studying at Oxford University through a future teacher program sponsored by the NEA. Our group followed the seminar with three weeks traveling around Europe on a mini-bus. It was during that summer abroad that I became keenly aware of the many comforts and privileges I had taken for granted my entire life—access to bathrooms, grocery stores, cars, air conditioning, water—the list could go on and on.

Several world events were also occurring during that time period. One was the fight for the ERA amendment and the other was the Vietnam War. Enlisting in the USAF was my attempt to put my “money where my mouth” was. If I believed women deserved equal rights, then I had to bear equal responsibilities. That meant I needed to serve in the military, just as my male friends were being called by the draft to serve. I had an obligation to give back to the country that made my freedoms possible. [It wasn’t all patriotism and altruism, though. The GI Bill was an excellent enticement.] Little did I know how much I would gain from the experience. The Air Force provided me an excellent transition from childhood to adulthood. I had plenty of freedom to make my own stupid mistakes but there was always someone available to help me if I got in over my head. If I hadn’t married a man with children that lived with us and been hot for a remote assignment, I likely would have stayed in the Air Force until retirement. So, I often say I left the #1 most stressful job (air traffic control) for the #2 most stressful job—teaching.

My eight years as an air traffic controller in the USAF contributed significantly to my development as a teacher and administrator. Skills that my military experience developed include:

  • A heightened sense of “situational awareness”—In air traffic control, one must always know where all your planes are and where they’re going next. As a teacher and administrator it is also essential to know what is going on around you. Being oblivious is NOT an asset.
  • The ability to prioritize and juggle multiple projects and tasks—There were always multiple jobs that needed to be done, and I had to find a way to do them. During my time in the military, I learned to manage the workload, whatever it might be.
  • To be decisive and take action – Believe me, trying to direct multiple types of aircraft to the same runway is an excellent teacher of the need to make a decision and act on that decision. Mixing Cessna 150’s with fighter aircraft and tankers is a challenge!
  • The ability to get along with all types of people—Few places have such a mixed group of people as the military. Living and working in close quarters with many types of people helps highlight the similarities more than the differences. As our schools become more and more diverse, the ability to get along with various people is a real advantage.
  • Leadership and organizational skills – As I progressed in rank, the responsibilities increased. I became a shift leader then a supervisor. I was assigned scheduling and training responsibilities. Through those experiences, working with people above and below me, I learned to “sell” my ideas instead of demand my way. It is a skill I carried into my career in education, always trying to make the “why” clear with every task.
  • A foreign language—What a useful gift for working with our school populations. Learning a foreign language taught me empathy for others who must learn a new language and live in an unfamiliar culture.
  • Rules can be waived – There is always someone higher up who can waive a rule. Frequently, one just needs to ask.
  • Discipline, respect, effort, flexibility, patience…Well, you get the point.

Although I appreciate the warm comments from family, friends, and strangers, thanking me for my service, I want to say “thank you” to Uncle Sam for providing me the opportunity to serve. Yes, I served my country. But my country served me as well.


Posted May 27, 2010 by blairteach
Categories: Quotes by Category

An EDUCATION isn’t how much you have committed to memory, or even how much you know. It’s being able to differentiate between what you do know and what you don’t.   Anatole France

EDUCATION is the best provision for old age.  Aristotle

Education is what survives when what has been taught has been forgotten. B. F. Skinner

A good teacher, like a good entertainer, first must hold his audience’s attention. Then he can teach his lesson.   John Hendrik Clarke

It is the mark of an EDUCATED MIND to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.  Aristotle

EDUCATION is a progressive discovery of our own ignorance.   Will Durant

It is possible to store the mind with a million facts and still be entirely UNEDUCATED.    Alec Bourne

The great aim of education is not knowledge but ACTION.     Herbert Spencer

Education’s purpose is to replace an empty mind with an open one.    Malcolm Forbes

EDUCATION is when you read the fine print. EXPERIENCE is what you get if you don’t.   Pete Seger

A college degree is not a sign that one is a finished product but an indication a person is prepared for LIFE. Reverend Edward A. Malloy

EDUCATION is like a double-edged sword. It may be turned to dangerous uses if it is not properly handled.    Wu Ting-Fang

There are two primary choices in life; to accept conditions as they exist, or accept the responsibility for changing them.   Denis Waitley

It is only the ignorant who despise education.   Publilius Syrus

EDUCATION is the ability to listen to almost anything without losing your temper or your self-confidence.    Robert Frost

Perhaps  the most valuable result of all education is the ability to make yourself do the thing you have to do, when it ought to be done, whether you like it or not.   Thomas H. Huxley

EDUCATION is a kind of continuing dialogue, and a dialogue assumes, in the nature of the case, different points of view.    Robert Hutchins

To repeat what others have said, requires education; to challenge it, requires brains.   Mary Pettibone Poole

EDUCATION has for its object the formation of character.   Herbert Spencer

Fathers sent their sons to college either because they went to college OR because they didn’t.   L.L. Henderson

The very spring and root of honesty and virtue lie in good education.   Plutarch

The DIRECTION in which education starts a man will determine his future life.   Plato

If we don’t model what we teach, we are teaching something else. Anonymous

The shoe that fits one person pinches another; there is no recipe for living that suits all cases.  Carl Jung

It is possible to store the mind with a million facts and still be entirely uneducated.  Alec Bourne

It has been said that we have not had the three R’s in America, we had the six R’s; remedial readin’, remedial ‘ritin’ and remedial ‘rithmetic.   Robert M. Hutchins

Teachers and schools tend to mistake good behavior for good character. What they prize above all else is docility, suggestibility – the child who will do what s/he is told. They value most in children what children least value in themselves.  John Holt


Posted May 27, 2010 by blairteach
Categories: Quotes by Category

If you could lead through testing, the U.S. would lead the world in all education categories. When are people going to understand you don’t fatten your lambs by weighing them? Jonathan Kozol

COUNTING TIME is not so important as making the TIME COUNT.     James J. Walker

Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted. Albert Einstein

Fixating on the format of a state test and practicing for it is like practicing for your physical exam as a way of becoming healthier! Jay McTighe

Standardized testing has become the arbiter of social mobility, yet there is more regulation of the food we feed our pets that of the tests we give our kids.                                        Robert Schaeffer

We all want progress, but if you’re on the wrong road, progress means doing an about-turn and walking back to the right road; in that case, the man who turns back soonest is the most PROGRESSIVE.
C.S. Lewis

TESTING has its place, but also has to be kept in its place.    Unknown

After you plant a seed in the ground, you don’t dig it up every to see how it is doing. William Coyne

21st Century Education

Posted May 27, 2010 by blairteach
Categories: Quotes by Category

Do not confine your children to your own learning for they were born in another time.  Hebrew Proverb

In times of change, it is the learners that will inherit the earth while the learned will find themselves beautifully equipped for a world that no longer exists.   Eric Hoffer

EDUCATION is equipping our children to walk through doors of opportunity. L. B. Johnson

Blogs and wikis are changing who we are as learners, preparing us for a future driven by peer production and networked learning.    Bill Ferriter

If we don’t MODEL what we teach, we are TEACHING something else.    Abraham Maslow

Increasingly, those who use technology in ways that expand their global connections are more likely to advance, while those who do not will find themselves on the sidelines. 2009 Horizon Report

All too often we are giving young people cut flowers when we should be teaching them to grow their own plants.     John W. Gardner

I can’t create MY future with tools from YOUR past.   Student comment in the TeacherTube video
No Future Left Behind

Sometime, in the not-too-distant future, these will probably be known as “the good old days.” Eric Harvey and Steve Ventura

For the first time in history, we are preparing students for a future we cannot clearly describe.  David Warlick

Communication, collaboration, and creativity are the skills that will help people be globally competitive in the 21st Century.    Education Innovation website

Literacies, skills, and disciplines ought to be pursued as TOOLS that allow us to enhance our understanding of important questions, topics, and themes. Howard Gardner

Education needs to be geared toward the HANDLING of data rather than the ACCUMULATION of data. David Berlo

Effective technology is like oxygen – ubiquitous, necessary, and invisible.    Chris Lehmann

Faith is taking the first step even when you don’t see the whole staircase.   Martin Luther King, Jr.

For our twenty-first century kids, technology is their birthright.  Mark Prensky

When the students of tomorrow sit in the classrooms of yesterday, it is our teachers who are failing. Bill Ferriter

The more powerful…technology becomes, the more indispensable good teachers are. Michael Fullan

Information, communication, and media technologies are the high-octane fuel that drives global interdependence.   Marcelo M. Suárez-Orozco

If we teach today’s students as we taught yesterday’s, we rob them of tomorrow.  John Dewey

Today’s students are not the students we were trained to teach.  Ian Jukes

He who dares to teach must never cease to learn.   Richard Henry Dann

Any teacher that can be replaced by a computer, deserves to be.  David Thornburg

We cannot become what we need to be by remaining what we are. Max DePree

We cannot always build the future for our youth, but we can build our youth for the future. Franklin D. Roosevelt

Technology Issues/Concerns/Objections

Posted May 27, 2010 by blairteach
Categories: Quotes by Category

In a few minutes a computer can make a mistake so great that it would have taken many men many months to equal it.   – Anonymous

COMPUTERS make it easier to do a lot of things, but most of the things they make it easier
to do don’t need to be done.  – Andy Rooney

If you tried to read every document on the web, then for each day’s effort you would be a year further behind in your goal.  – Anonymous

Any teacher that can be replaced by a computer, deserves to be.   – David Thornburg

We live in a society exquisitely dependent on science and technology, in which hardly anyone knows anything about science and technology.   – Carl Sagan

The real danger is not that computers will begin to think like men, but that men will begin to think like computers.     Sydney J. Harris

TECHNOLOGY… the knack of so arranging the world that we don’t have to experience it.   Max Frisch

Save early, save often.   Alwin Lee and everyone else who uses Microsoft Word

We are becoming the servants in thought, as in action, of the machine we have created to serve us.    ~John Kenneth Galbraith

The factory of the future will have only two employees, a man and a dog.  The man will be there to feed the dog.  The dog will be there to keep the man from touching the equipment.    Warren G. Bennis

TECHNOLOGY is dominated by two types of people: those who understand what they do not manage, and those who manage what they do not understand.    Archibald Putt

The real problem is not whether machines think but whether men do.   – B. F. Skinner

It took 75 years for telephones to be used by 50 million customers, but it took only 4 years for the Internet to reach that many users.  – Lori Valigra

Never let a computer know you’re in a hurry.  – Anonymous

Where is all the KNOWLEDGE we lost with information?   – T.S. Elliot

One machine can do the work of fifty ordinary men. No machine can do the work of one extraordinary man.    – Elbert Hubbard

It’s better to have a good teacher teaching by candlelight than a mediocre teacher surrounded by technology.”   Mike Wang

COMPUTERS can figure out all kinds of problems, except the things in the world that just don’t add up. James Magary

Technology is like fish. The longer it stays on the shelf, the less desirable it becomes.  – Andrew Heller, IBM

The production of too many useful things results in too many useless people.   Karl Marx

INFOWHELMED . . . becoming overwhelmed with information flooding into our brains faster than we can process it.     Ian Jukes