Friday, December 26, 2014

Top Five Posts of 2014

       As I complete my first full year of blogging, here is a look at the top five posts of 2014.

       This was published on November 21st.  This post recalled the Apollo 13 moving scene when the Ed Harris character said, "This is our finest hour".  I compared this to educators today that view the exciting things happening in the world of education today.  I said that today's educators do amazing things in (sometimes) difficult situations.

       I do believe that is our finest hour and we are fortunate to be teaching in this exciting time!

       I was inspired to write this post after seeing a middle school student in my district give a speech titled, "Everyone has value."  She told a story of a one-hundred dollar bill.  She said, if she asked anyone of they would like to have a one-hundred dollar bill, people would say, "Yes" because everyone recognizes its value.  And if she were to take that one-hundred dollar bill and crumple it up and step on it and then ask people if they wanted it, people would still take it because we still understand and appreciate its value.

       Then she said that everyone has value and we should appreciate ourselves for who we are.  It doesn't matter how we look or the clothes we wear because all of us have value.  

       What a joy it was to listen to this middle school student talking to other middle school students about self worth.  This post really touched a soft spot in many of my readers.  She is a beautiful example of the many great things that take place in our public schools everyday.

       This post was a reprinting of an essay written by my daughter's middle school principal in the school newsletter.  In it, he talked about looking back at his life and wishing he spent more time telling his children how special they are to him.  The essay talked about appreciating every day and all of the people around you.  It talked about something we all want--no regrets in our later life.

       He said that we shouldn't take ourselves too seriously.  He said that we should do our best everyday and not worry if we make mistakes sometimes.  It was a bit of a tear-jerker essay and my readers real enjoyed reading his words.  I first published this post in May, but republished it recently and (once again) it got a good response.

       Principals are the most visible leaders in our public school system.  They have a huge responsibility.  This is the principal that everyone wants because he cares so much about his students. 

       This was the first of a three part series that I wrote in November of this year.  And it was the most popular of the three parts.  The series talked about the three things (in my opinion) that public schools must improve upon if we are to move forward with higher student achievement in the future.

       This part talked about the achievement of poor students in our public schools.  We know that poor students often have lower achievement than middle class and upper class students.  This has been the case for most of the history of public schooling in America, and we continue to struggle to improve this situation.  Still, we must do better by our poor students if we truly wish to see student achievement (overall) to rise.  Also, we have a moral obligation to help these most vulnerable of our student populations.

       After a successful Google Hangout session in front our our Mid-Maryland Mathematics Specialist Group back in March, I wrote this post about professional learning among educators today. No longer do we need to see people face-to-face to learn and to improve professionally.  Today we have so many options from journals to books to online courses to social media to learn from others.

       This was the most popular blog post in 2014 for my blog.  My readers really responded to this idea of using the tools available to us today to learn from educators and others from all over the world--especially via online tools such as Google Hangout.

       It has been a great learning year for me and a great year to talk about the great things that are happening in our public schools.  Thank you for the feedback from my readers and I look forward to more learning and more positive stories about our schools and our educational system in 2015!

Tuesday, December 23, 2014


       What's so good about public education in America?  Everything!

       I guess this is my post of platitudes.  

       Years ago I taught in a middle school that was located in an area where people were struggling to make ends meet.  I met with a lot of parents during my time at this school; and spoke with a lot of parents on the telephone if they weren't able to come to the school.  At the time, I was not a parent.  And, so, I did not have the perspective of a parent.

       We know that schools are challenged to raise the achievement of children from poor families.  We had a lot of these children at this school.  I would hear teachers say that the parents don't care about education and that is why the children did so poorly.  But when I met with the parents, I would hear a very different message.

       The parents told me that they wanted their children to do better then they did.  They wanted their children to get a good education and a good job.  One parent told me that she would tell her children to look out of the window at the house (and neighborhood) across the street and she would say, "Is this where you want to live when you are an adult?"  She told her children that she made mistakes in her life and she didn't take her education seriously and that is why they were forced to live in a neighborhood that was not so nice.

       Education is everything.  Education provides opportunity and options for all that take full advantage of it.  Learning and the ability to learn and to solve problems is a skill that enables people to make decisions, to create, to explore, and to live.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Good Teaching is Still More Important Than Technology

     Lately, we've been spending a lot of time thinking about bringing more technology into our schools.  We say, "This is how students think."  "This is how we teach in the 21st century."  "Our students will be at a disadvantage if they don't use technology in the classroom."

       All of this may be true, but let's not fool ourselves into thinking that newer and better technology is going to make our students smarter or better able to learn.  The single most effective tool that schools have to raise student achievement is the ability of teacher.  Good instruction trumps good technology every time.  The more we learn about educational technology; the more we come to understand that the technology is just a tool for learning--no different from the tools we've had in the past.

     Yesterday we had a meeting with mathematics supervisors in my state and during the meeting we had a Google Hangout discussion panel with three Educational Technology experts from around the country.  We asked them questions about different digital tools and what might be best for learning.  All of these Ed Tech experts told us that the tech is just a tool.  The classroom is still all about learning and the ability of the teacher is the most important tool for student learning.

     I think that this is a message that I should remind myself of from time to time.  It can be easy to get caught up in the quest for "stuff" and forget our core mission--to educate.  Technology should be used as we use a car--to get us from Point A to Point B.  We can have a fancy car or an old clunker; if it gets us to our goal, then it is serving our purpose.

Friday, December 12, 2014

We're Never Satisfied

       I was going to title this post, "We're Never Happy", but I didn't think that that would be a good title for a post about a blog that is supposed to talk about the good things about education.  (I guess I haven't caught on to the idea of catching-the-reader's-interest-with-a-provocative-title.  Slow learner [!].)


       A few years ago public schools had a rating system called Adequate Yearly Progress.  The idea was that we would measure the progress of schools by the percentage of students who were learning at or above grade level.  Each year the target (called the Annual Measurable Objective) for what was to be considered "Good" or "Making good progress" was raised a little bit.  The idea was that after 12 years, everyone would have a target of 100%--that is, 100% of the students in your school would be learning at or above grade level.

       People would say, "100% is unrealistic"; and the response would be, "OK. Let's make it 95% or 90%.  Just, tell me which students in your school will be the ones whom we will say 'It's OK with us if you don't learn at or above grade level.' "  Do you want to be the person who says this to a student?  Do you want to be the person who says this to their parents?

  Hence, we (as educators) are never satisfied.  We are the football coach that is always pushing his players to work harder.  We are the sales manager that is always pushing her salesman to sell more.  We are the artist that is always pushing ourselves to paint better.  We are the President of the United States who wakes up everyday unsatisfied because someone in the country is unemployed and wants a job.

       We have lots of successes around us all of the time.  But we never have 100% success.  And we care about everyone of our students; and we want all of them to succeed.  It's not that we aren't happy or aren't proud of our students who have succeeded.  We just want all of them to succeed.

       And that is What's So Good About Public Education in America...We are never satisfied until we figure out a way to help all of our students to succeed.  I believe we are doing better than ever before.  Through professional learning communities and strong leadership at all levels, we are seeing successes that we didn't see many years ago.  Through research about learning and research about how the brain works, we are working smarter than ever before.

       But we're never satisfied until we truly reach all students.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Digital Learning

       This is an exciting time to be in education!

       Educators today grew up before the computer age (or as the computer age was beginning) and we  are witnessing the transformation to the digital learning environment in our schools.  We will forever be able to say, "We were there when...
  • ...when our schools first got wireless internet
  • ...when our students were allowed to use digital devices for the first time
  • ...when we stopped using paper textbooks
  • ...when we first used "blended" resources and then went totally online
  • ...when we first allowed students to use cell phone as their "device" in school

       As with most major transitions, we are struggling with developing new rules and preparing for new unknowns.  Some of us are kicking and screaming our way to this new world of education; as other's of us can't run fast enough away from the past.

       And (I think) the public is struggling with what they expect from us (the public schools) as well.  Parents want their children to be prepared for the world that they will inherit.  But, at the same time, many parents are more comfortable with the old paper textbook coming home every night; "ten math problems"; "read a section from the Social Studies textbook and answer the questions at the end of the section."  They'll say, "That's what I did when I was in school...and I turned out just fine."  While other parents are calling their child's principal and asking what device is permissible under BYOD (Bring Your Own Device)--so they can get it for their child for Christmas or for their birthday.

       Yes, this is an exciting time to be in education.  Our schools are getting Chromebooks for students to use.  I met with a group of secondary mathematics teachers yesterday to talk about the new Techbook from Discovery Education.  Teachers use their school websites to communicate with parents.  And Google Apps For Education (GAFE) is all we ever talk about.

       The transition is happening now.  It's exciting!  It's great!  It's the right thing to do for our students.  It is the way our students live--now.  And it is the way they should be learning--now.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Students with Learning Disabilities Learn


       There was a time when students with learning disabilities were labeled dumb or weak or unmotivated or any one of a multitude of other names from people who didn't understand anything about learning disabilities.  Over my lifetime (I'm 51 years old), that has dramatically changed.

       I'm not a Special Educator, but today every educator knows something about students with disabilities.  This is because every single teacher in our public schools receives some training in working with students who have learning disabilities.  Over the past decade, schools have made an extra special effort to improve the achievement of students with learning disabilities because (under the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 2001) schools were partially "graded" on their ability to educate students with learning disabilities.

       Today most schools have teachers who are specially trained to work with students who have learning disabilities.  These students are given Individual Education Plans that are backed up by federal law.  We now know how to diagnose specific learning disabilities and we are constantly getting better at addressing the educational needs of these special students.

       When we say, "All students can learn.", we mean "all students".  It is still a struggle for these students and a struggle for schools to find the best way to help them; but the successes of today are tremendous compared to the extremely few successes public schools saw decades ago.

       As a mathematics supervisor, I often say that it sometimes seems that we spend 90% of our time on 10% of our students.  And that "10%" is largely made up of students with learning disabilities.  Schools and school systems are always talking about strategies to help these students.  And when smart people get together and think together and share experiences, we usually end up with ideas that benefit students.

       The U.S. Department of Education has an office dedicated to helping students with learning disabilities.  In 1975, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) was passed by congress.  This law told our schools that students with learning disabilities are our students and it is our responsibility to teach them and to help them as much as we can.


       What's so good about public education in America?  Students with learning disabilities learn.  Everyday.

Public Schools and Choice

       Is it true that public school kids and their public school parents don't have choices?  I'm sure that I will expose my igno...

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