My first airplane ride was in 1971. I was 13 months old and my parents decided to move to Algeria for my dad's work. I don't remember this particular plane ride, but I do know this was the beginning of my life-long obsession with travel. I jokingly say that I work to travel, but there is a little bit of truth there. Mostly I work, because I love what I do, but my work also affords me the ability to travel and travel often.
My most recent trip was Rome to Florence to Venice to Lausanne to Paris to Normandy to the Loire Valley to Paris. Twenty-two days of travel through three countries with my friend, Stephanie, and then my husband. During the trip I posted often on FaceBook various pictures of things we had seen or done. Often the comments would be "I wish I could do something like that!" This post is about that quote. Basically, you can! You just have to decide to do it, plan it, and then GO!
There a few barriers people have against traveling. One is fear and the other is cost. I will not say I am never nervous about traveling. This past fall I sat through a 17 hour plane ride for a trip to South Africa. This was not the easiest experience of my life, however, if I would have given into this fear, I would have missed so many blessings and the opportunity to bless others. Worrying about the what-ifs will limit your experiences, opportunities, and blessings faster than anything else. Stop worrying! Do not be afraid!
Cost is also a realistic concern. However, traveling does not require saving for a lifetime or going into crazy debt. You have to decide what kind of traveling you wish to do and budget for it. If you do not require 5 star hotels and three fancy meals a day, you can travel realistically anywhere in the world at a decent rate. Our first overseas trip was to England for our daughter's high school graduation. We saved for three years by putting aside any extra income/overtime. We spent about $6000 for 15 days. We could have gone for less and have, after learning a few tricks. I will share these with you.
First and foremost, save for your travel outside of your budget. We cut out quite a few extras (coffees, eating out, subscriptions, etc...) and put the money into a special account to travel. We work overtime and save it. We have always had a policy that our kids have to supply their own spending money during travel.
Airfare is the greatest expense. Play the game. I use Google Flights, Kayak, Expedia, and other sites to watch for flights. Fortunately, we live close to New Orleans, so we can often find decent priced flights. However, we will often use a cheap airline to get to New York, Boston, Atlanta, then take a direct flight from there to Europe. The cheapest we have flown round trip to Europe is $550 and the most expensive was $950. Everything effects the cost of flights from the day to the time to the connections. There are often great sales if you watch and if you are flexible. We have also used low-fare international carriers like Aer Lingus and Norwegian and found both to be great. Another expenses related to flying is parking for your car. Either have someone drop you off or find a hotel that allows you to leave your car there for a few weeks free of charge, if you rent a room one night. Luggage is another airfare expense. We travel with strictly one carry-on and one personal item. There will be a post about packing at a later date, but trust me, you can do it.
The next big cost is lodging. We do use hotels usually at an airport before an early morning flight. I joined Hilton Honors and try to stick with this brand in order to accumulate free nights. Pick a hotel and stick with it. However, hotels are not our long-term stay solutions. We just completed our 25th AirBnB stay. We have stayed in AirBnBs in eight countries and six states. We love this very affordable and homey solution. We only choose 5 star places and usually only book homes managed by Superhosts. These types of lodging solutions have many positives, but cost is at the top of the list. My favorite AirBnB cost just under $70 per night in Florence. We had a one-bedroom apartment with a gorgeous terrace in a lovely neighborhood. We have stayed in a great neighborhood in London, on a bay in Nova Scotia, a lodge built in the 1400's in England, and a beautiful magical home in Wales. Authentic experiences are very valuable.
Travel within the area is another expense. In Europe, I highly recommend using the public transportation from rail to metro, as much as possible. This will be your cheapest mode if you book earlier enough. Renting a car is sometimes required, but pay attention to information concerning renting a car. For example, the toll roads in France were really expensive. If you do decided to rent a car, learn the road rules before going on your trip. Parking and traffic citations can add unfortunate costs. Fuel prices in Europe are more than $6 per gallon and prices are by liter, which can be deceptive. However, their cars get much better gas mileage.
Food is another expense. Basically, avoid the tourist traps and eat local with locals. Most of us do not eat three large meals a day, so why do this on vacation? If you have an AirBnB, you can knock out breakfast in your rental. Then find local eats for the other meals. We also love to stop by a shop and buy things for a quick picnic. When we were in Prince Edward Island a few years ago, we stopped at a local farm stand and bought the most delicious produce. We went home and ate fresh, yummy vegetables for supper. The potatoes were still warm from the ground!
Finally, don't buy gifts for everyone at home. Seriously. We may buy a few small items, like a piece of art or local spices. Memories are the best things to bring home and your carry-on luggage will not allow for much else. Be selective and resist the urge to blow your money on trinkets.
Start dreaming! Joey and I have a 30 year travel plan. Dream big! Then, JUMP!
My passion is studying outliers in education. Through the years of watching amazing teachers and leaders, I have noticed the best of the best educators are willing to allow people to struggle with problems, wrestle to find answers, and even argue through issues to find unique solutions. Process and thinking are critical goals rather than only a right or wrong answer.
This week as I was teaching my undergraduate class, my initial desire was to make the road smooth for them, but then I remembered the power of struggle. It was one of those days when the content was rich, but difficult. The weekly class is three hours long. They all completed the first element smoothly and effectively. Then came the second part and the struggle began immediately. After four semesters of teaching this course and reflecting, I have come to realize this element offers a great opportunity to struggle. The element is applied to their individual projects, thus requiring students make critical individual choices. The choices require sound reasoning as to why certain pieces fit in certain places. Each one is different and each person's justification is unique.
What I noticed is most students want a right or wrong answer. They want me to confirm "yes" or "no" to each element. What I am more interested in is why they made the choices they made and what was their thinking behind the choices. I want them to think. I want them to reflect and decided if they need to make changes, because when we send them out into their classrooms, they, and they alone, will have to make instant decisions about children's learning. If they have never struggled to make choices and justify those choices, how can it become second nature as required to be an effective teacher?
In our schools and in our classrooms across this country, more and more children sit through daily lessons focused on passing standardized tests. I am not advocating the elimination of accountability, but I am advocating for opportunities where students are pushed to think beyond the application level. Students need daily opportunities to struggle and wrestle with content. Struggling teaches students to think.
We also must allow teachers to struggle to solve problems and teach them the reflective process. Many professional learning programs offer rote steps in data analysis, finding and applying strategies, and adjusting, but few allow teachers to struggle through the messy process of reflective teaching. The struggle combined with powerful questions and discussions can lead to teachers who are powerful and highly effective.
This should process occur in every lesson throughout every unit. There are small daily pieces where an expert teacher will quickly see where and for whom the lesson is breaking down. The teacher may adjust by adding a strategy individual students or facilitate through questioning. This type of teaching will never fit a scripted model or specific linear process, because the process is messy and unpredictable.
Similarly, improving schools/districts is a similar process. There are no quick-fix answers. The real answer is recruiting, developing, and retaining quality talent at every level.
My family was a family of movers, maybe not shakers, but we were certainly movers. When we moved back to our home town, I thought we were done. Needless to say, I was not pleased when at the end of sixth grade, my parents told me we were moving AGAIN! I followed them to Bryan, Texas dragging my feet. The last six weeks of sixth grade were spent in a new school, not making friends, and being fairly miserable. I took a test to move into the highest math group and missed it by one point. This one test confirmed to me I was terrible in math. The summer was long, but I did make one new friend in our neighborhood.
Seventh grade started at a whole new school, Anson Jones. Again, I was not excited. My bus assignment placed me in front of the most annoying boy on the planet. His main goal in life was to make me miserable. This was a huge school with students divided into four teams. I was a Comanche, which meant we had the white t-shirts with red writing. No one as fair as I am wants to wear white. I did not wear make-up, so I looked like a two year old compared to all the other girls. My Laura Ingalls braids made it worse. My only friend was an Apache, so we did not have lunch together. I figured the year could only go downhill from there. I just wanted to go back to Louisiana.
My math teacher was Mrs. Donahue. She was a by the book, straight-forward, and very strict teacher. She completely freaked me out. I dreaded going to her class and tried to hide in the back of the room. However, she read to us every Friday and O. Henry was her favorite. She laughed through The Ransom of Red Chief and so did we. One day she asked me to stay after class, which made me break out into hives. I was so nervous she was going to ask how someone so dumb in math could possibly be in the second-tiered class.
Instead, she asked me how someone so smart was in the second-tiered class. I told her I had missed the first-tier by a point and I really hated math. She said, “How can you hate math when you are so good at it?” I was confused and quickly told her how I had always struggled in math. Apparently my struggle was I transposed numbers when I copied problems, but I could do the math itself. She said my explanations were some of the best she has ever seen. She said I made connections and really understood the big picture. I thought she was a little nuts, but I smiled. One did not contradict Mrs. Donahue. She told me she wanted to give me some extra work like the top class did. At this point I would have done triple the work, because her praise was like water to a very parched traveler.
The rest of that year I worked very hard in Mrs. Donahue’s class and she turned my mind around about mathematics. She allowed me to help other students, which was the beginning of me becoming a math teacher.
Each year I write a letter to a former teacher during Teacher’s Appreciate Week. I have tried to find Mrs. Donahue, but have been unsuccessful. This is my thank you note this year. Thank you Mrs. Donahue for not only believing in a very shy and insecure red-headed girl, but also for sharing your great passion of teaching with me. Your confidence in me inspired me to teach others to find their own confidence. Happy Teacher Appreciation Week to all the Mrs. Donahues in the world. Change a life this week and change the future.
For Bethany, a joyful leader!
In 2011, I wrote a blog about educators being free thinkers. I was struggling at the time against conforming and doing what I thought was right. I went my own way, as I usually do. The results were splendid, thankfully.
I deeply value the freedom to think and make my own choices. I love our country, because I spent much of my childhood in countries where free thought was not allowed. My goal as a teacher and leader was to help my students and teachers become thinkers rather than zombie-like followers. We should be a people who question and push. New ideas and methods appeal to this part of me.
2017 finds me teaching at the University of Louisiana Lafayette, which is an amazing experience. I wondered if I could love my undergrads and grad students as much as I love my middle school and high school students. The answer is "YES!" These future teachers and leaders push me to think deeply about my practice, my beliefs, and my experiences.
This step outside of K-12 has allowed me to look inward and see things I did not see while in the midst of school. Teachers and leaders need outside connections to grow and flourish. We can become so isolated within our classrooms, schools, districts, and states. Even in schools with the strongest collaboration models, we can become stagnant.
When I began in this profession, the only way to communicate with peers outside of my school was by mail or phone. Now we have tons of options! I joined Twitter this past summer as part of a communications course I was teaching. I do not believe in teaching something I do not practice. I used it a little bit and thought it was fun, but really did not invest myself. Then I found Escaping the School Leaders' Dunk Tank by Rebecca Coda and Rick Jetter. I read it twice in a week. (Read it). God works in mysterious ways and Rick's life ran straight into mine. He and Rebecca invited me to a chat on Twitter. I found all of these amazing educators, who talk to each other daily! They share ideas, offer solutions, and most of all give a different perspective. Some of the cool authors I have read over the years follow me! WHAT! (Yes, I did a few little gleeful dances. I am a nerd.)
Being a free thinker is a difficult thing if you only ever look at the immediate. By expanding our horizons and seeking the ideas of others, we strengthen our minds and our own practice. The chats over the past few months have inspired me to ask new research questions and to consider new possibilities.
If you are an educator, step outside of your realm. Push yourself to grow. Be a free thinker! Join a TwitterChat. You will meet people from places thousands of miles away. You can ask questions, push back, consider alternatives, and shun the status quo!
As I've said before, if we all rock our little boats together, the ocean will move.
If you want to be part of our school/district leader research, please take our survey:
Learning to think is an important skill for citizens in a free society. In our world of instant news and instant retorts, we seldom take the time to examine the facts and think through issues. Years ago I gave the political platforms from three parties to my students without the political party labels attached. Students went issue by issue and decided what they believed without my input. Then they tallied their choices and I revealed the parties. Most were shocked. Instead of labels, I offered ideas. We are a country in the midst of labeling everything quickly, which adds to the chaos.
Today's headlines are filled with the Orlando shooting travesty. This is what I know...I don't know enough about the situation to make any type of comment except how saddened I am for the families of these victims. I am also saddened by how quickly this tragedy has become a source of ugliness through comments. The hate speech comes from every direction in this country. Where is our civil discourse?
One issue we have is the media who is so quick to put out the story, they often misreport. There is no way anyone can know the facts of a situation within minutes/hours of the situation happening. I wish someone in the media would say something like "There has been a tragedy in Orlando. Honestly, anything we could report at this time would be speculation." What a thought! Imagine how much less chaos we would have if the media would stop speculating. Our society can be described as one constantly looking to hate someone else for a difference of opinion. Social media is a hotbed for words spewed in hate and ignorance. (I am constantly shocked by those I know who claim to be followers of Christ name calling and hating people.)
Religious people want laws to match their specific beliefs. Non-believers often want laws opposite of religious beliefs. Each ideology has a desire for laws to help their cause. We, all of us, have placed too much value on laws over relationships with people. As a Christian I have often considered the fact Christ did not come to this earth and run for office to legislate his commands. Nope! He worked within a very confining government controlled society, developed relationships, and loved people. When people disagreed, He did not hop upon a rock and start screaming hateful things and calling them names. Often He shook the dust off of His feet and kept walking. He had much discourse, which people attended and either accepted or did not. None of this forced His message to change or treat people in an ugly manner.
Civil discourse begins when we do the following:
1. Get to know people, all sorts of people. Understand their perspectives. Understand various ideologies and be able to clearly articulate your own.
2. Be kind, even in disagreement, be kind. Name calling is a sign of ignorance.
3. STOP reposting stories on social media without checking the sources and the validity of the story. Seriously!
4. Instead of listening to the soundbites, go read the transcripts, the laws, the political platforms, the counter accounts, and know the media is all about the money.
5. Let your voice be heard by the politicians representing you. Track their voting records.
6. Most importantly, decide what you believe at your core rather than what you have been told you believe. When things do not align, question yourself. For example, since I am a self-confessed believer in Christ, how does this align with my beliefs about life, criminal punishment, and civic responsibility?
We must take back our country from the media and all sides of the political monster we have allowed to grow. We must begin to have civil discourse. We start one person at a time. Go have dinner with someone this week who is completely opposite of you in beliefs and listen, really listen. Then share your heart in love. Go seek out facts before jumping to conclusions. Create relationships with the unlovely. Read. Ask questions. THINK! We are so blessed to live in this country where civil discourse is at the core of our very foundation. Let's use it!
I had decided to stop blogging, but in the last few months I have found my voice again. There are things to be discussed and points to be made. Our current educational landscape is a war-torn battleground with various armies fighting for control of a multi-billion dollar prize. To control education is to control the minds of the future. The arguing and under the tables deals are deplorable. The issues are many, but we are a free people with creativity and passion.
Has anyone pondered the fact both parties are in agreement with each other about Common Core? John White is a Teach for America alumni, mentored by Arne Duncan, who just stepped down from serving his dear friend, President Obama, as Secretary of Education. Does anyone wonder how our Republican conservative governor, Bobby Jindal, befriended White? Anyone?
National standards are not new. We have had national standards for years. The only difference is these standards were created by organizations like the National Council for Teachers of Mathematics, instead of the government. The standards were then used by the states to create state standards. The testing companies created tests to match these state standards. Here is the interesting part, when I was teaching; I would pull released test items from various states. Guess what? These were often the same released test items I found on the Louisiana Department of Education site. There are only a few testing companies and they had been selling the same questions to all the states, because the state standards were based upon national standards.
Common Core enters the picture. Why? Imagine how much money testing companies make from making all those new tests! Textbook companies created all new textbooks. Money! Interestingly enough, some of the "test prep" material I have seen is the same as the old stuff with a new cover and a new structure. Dig into the shareholders of these companies. I wonder where their political donations are going?
I am for standards, but I am for local control and states' rights. Trust the federal government? Seriously?
The National Assessment of Educational Progress is a national assessment used to check our educational progress. The first test was given in 1969! You can learn more here: http://nces.ed.gov/nationsreportcard/about/naephistory.aspx
Again, why do we need another set of tests? We already have a national assessment data we can use from the past 47 years!
Why are outside interests such as Bill Gates and the Walton family donating so much money to certain BESE candidates? Do you think these very wealth business people are really concerned with children or could there possibly be other reasons?
The whole idea about teachers being held accountable using value-added measures is quickly finding to be statistically unsound. I will humbly admit I thought this was a great idea about ten years ago. Of course, I was clueless about the statistics and the idea sounded great. I know amazing teachers and I know some who need to be kicked out in the chair they constantly are found sitting. The reason I supported this concept is because of the terrible teachers I found in the profession. Why can't we work together as a profession to police ourselves? There are terrible teachers out there. If you are one, quit. If you know one, help them quit.
Linda Darling-Hammond, who should have been the Secretary of Education for the United States, outlines the issues with VAM-models. You can read the facts file://localhost/here/ https/::edpolicy.stanford.edu:publications:pubs:1340
Many things impact student achievement. Hattie (2003) offers a quick summary of the research. What students bring to the table predicts 50 % of their success. Home life is 5-10%, schools are 5-10%, principals show little impact outside of the school factors already counted, peers impact between 5-10%, and TEACHERS account for 30% variance. Other studies show even lower impacts of the various educational factors, but the teacher impact is always the highest of these factors. You can read Hattie's report at http://www.educationalleaders.govt.nz/Pedagogy-and-assessment/Building-effective-learning-environments/Teachers-Make-a-Difference-What-is-the-Research-Evidence
Why would we focus all of our efforts on content and assessment, when we know highly effective teachers make the greatest impact? What if instead of spending all of the billions of dollars we have spent on creating assessments, curricula, textbooks, computer programs, etc... we would have spent the last 20 years focused on recruiting, retaining, and promoting the very best teachers in the world? Do you think this could have made a huge difference in our country? Look around the world....this has worked for the high performing countries. Teachers are valued and appreciated, not demonized and blamed.
Highly effective teachers work hard and I don't mean the ones labeled by some crazy system dreamed up over cocktails. I am referring to those teachers I have seen in action. They arrive at school before sunrise. Their classrooms are places of wonder and excitement. The children are engaged every minute of the day. They push their children to think, read, discuss, argue, invent, create, and love each other. They do not yield to scripted lessons with robot-like workbooks. These teachers, you see, have a brain and should be allowed to think, problem-solve, and teach! If scripted robots worked, we could save tons of money and buy a parrot for each classroom!
(Of course imagine how much money textbook companies would see float away. There would be no fancy dinners for personnel on the textbook committees.)
What will we do when we don't have enough teachers?
School leadership is tired! I challenge you to shadow a principal in this day and age. Whether you are a teacher or a non-educator, when done well, this is a tough job. I know some amazing leaders. I love them and I appreciate the work they do. Support your school leaders. They need you! For a glimpse into their world read this: https://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/answer-sheet/wp/2015/02/10/why-a-great-principal-burned-out-and-what-might-have-prevented-it/
Buzzwords are the enemy of education. “College and career ready”, “rigor”, “diversity”, “differientiation”, blah, blah, blah… Every year there is a new trend. Effective teachers and leaders have always been using various strategies and producing results for years. We act like these ideas are something new once assigned a label.
Drop the double talk and fancy buzzwords. We need to speak so the public understands us. Our goal is to use our training as experts in child development, pedagogy, soft skills, and content to help children meet their potential. This will look amazingly different for each child if done well. We need to communicate with the public. I have met very few parents and community members who will not work with the school when they understand the issues.
Stop listening to all of the rhetoric. Talk to teachers and to children. Read what other countries are doing. Be informed about your candidates’ platforms and inquire about the sources of their funding. Ask to see exams. Go read the practice tests at www.louisianabelieves.com. Go read the Compass data, which will be another blog soon. Don’t trust what you read…even this blog. Go find out for yourself.
Question! Read! Think! Discuss! We are a free people. Make up your own mind!
Joey’s grandmother, MawMaw Mayeaux, could grow a magnificent rose garden in the middle of the Sahara given half a chance. Her garden and yard were a sight to behold and everything she touched seemed to bloom larger and brighter than anyone else’s garden. When Joey and I built our house, she gave us two roses from her yard. These roses were old stock and bloomed beautifully the first year, then one died. The second one limped along for a few years before finally succumbing and withering away around 2007. We were really sad as MawMaw was gone and the rose bush was a little reminder of her.
This winter has been so absolutely horrid. We, the people of south Louisiana, do not like freezing weather, ice, snow, and general yuckiness. Spring has finally sprung and our plants are blooming, the spring air calls us for long walks. My legs are happy to feel the sun.
A few weekends ago I was out front in our yard clearing out winter’s marks of death, when suddenly I saw the strangest thing. I ran across the ground cover and fell down on my knees to examine this crazy and very unexpected thing. There in the midst of the daylilies and groundcover was MawMaw’s rosebush pushing up through the dirt! This plant has been dead for 7 years!
Seven years dead and the longest, coldest winter I can remember has awoken a beautiful inheritance. Often we feel like we are in the midst of winter in our lives. We only see the death of things. There is no sunlight. Everything seems cold and lifeless. We are angry as we have planted and nurtured to find death.
I find this a wonderful Easter message this year. Imagine the disciples and their hearts as they realized the cross was death to their dreams. Things are not always what they seem. What is dead resurrects to a glorious new beginning.
Have hope! We will never know how the seeds we plant and nurture may blossom years after we are no longer involved. I challenge each of us to love the most difficult child, to plant with great expectations, and to have faith that even when we do not see, our efforts are not in vain.
MawMaw cultivated a strong stock of roses, but also a strong stock of family. We reap the benefits years after she has left us. Let us be educators with the same mindsets and hearts. Do not dwell on our crosses, instead believe in miracles and have faith!
This past week a former student was charged in the armed robbery of a local bank. Within a few miles were several schools. The middle school where I taught this young man is across the intersection and the high school where my child is a student is down the street. The news coverage was extensive and many of his former teachers made comments demonstrating our collective sadness. I am sad this young man, along with two others, has devastated their families and their futures, however, on this very same day, my Facebook page was full of other wonderful stories the media had no interest in covering.
I love Facebook, because it is the “news media” owned by us. We report our own stories. This past week there was a great pictorial of one former student and her new baby girl. The baby is so beautiful. Then there was a great little story of another former student’s daughter hating to leave pre-school. The picture was priceless. One former student is in a very intense military language school and when she posts how hard she is working, I pray for her and her classmates to learn what they need to learn in order to best serve our country. Another is a Marine and his adventures make me smile. Some former students are studying to be teachers. YEAH! One is finishing her OBGYN residency. I remember her over the top sense of humor in 7th grade and know her bedside manner will be second to none. Another is a tech genius and sends me great stories about new inventions and discoveries. I love them all.
Facebook allows me to see the stories of students as they live their lives. My few months with them may or may not have always made a difference, but their lives bring me great joy. I am so proud of them and the people they are. As for the ones who make bad choices, I remember them each night in my prayers and pray they find the grace, which I, a sinner, have found. May their poor choices be a turning point to mercy and love for others.
In a small village far away from the political powers of the world, there lived a young teen girl who found herself in the midst of the greatest love story ever told. While I see the story as truth, others see it as fiction. However, I ask you to love me enough to consider this story, regardless of your beliefs. The life of Christ begins with a simple few lines in the New Testament and with a young couple with a choice destined to change the world. My faith intertwines with my life and each element of Christ’s life has the potential to teach us, both believer and non-believers, important lessons, especially as teachers and learners.
Element 1: In the beginning we find sweet Mary, a young girl in a culture where an unwanted pregnancy was extremely taboo and Joseph, who knew accepting this pregnancy could cause him great distress.
Hear the comments amongst their friends in Bethlehem:
“Can you believe Joseph is really going to marry her?”
“Who do you think the father is?”
“You know, I always thought she was a little vulgar.”
The comments went on and on, however, this young couple remained loyal to each other and firm in their convictions.
Lesson 1: Following your calling may alienate you from people, but life-changers remain focused on the mission. Education is hard. Everyone has a comment. Be positive and humble.
Element 2: One of my favorite people in the Christmas story is Mary’s cousin, Elizabeth. WHAT A WOMAN! She remained faithful to God and waited for a child. Her husband actually laughed at her when she told him she was having a baby. (He was muted). Her child, John the Baptist, made the way for the Lord.
Lesson 2: Sometimes our dreams and visions take a lifetime to be fulfilled, however, our faith reaps a great harvest. Believe in children even when people laugh at you. The most difficult situations can lead to the greatest joys. Doing the impossible is fun!
Element 3: Birthing a child in a modern, lovely hospital with a great staff was difficult. I can’t even imagine the experience in a stable with a teenage husband, a cow, goat, and birds. This precious couple was far from home, far from family, and far from any type of comforts.
Lesson 3: Dreams sometimes mean you have to step out of your comfort zone and be uncomfortable. This may mean learning something you are uncomfortable learning, teaching in a school you do not like or teaching the very unlovable and difficult. Birthing a new promise is hard and usually happens in hard places.
Element 4: When my daughter was born, the moment between the doctor proclaiming she was here and her first cry seemed like eternity to me. I can’t imagine Mary and Joseph as they heard the voice of GOD cry for the first time. Did they grasp the potential? Do any of us grasp the potential of our children at the first cry?
Lesson 4: Children are promises of potential. Our main mission should be about assisting all children and their parents to find their potential. Our job is to assist in the development of the potential. Children are valuable.
Element 5: The angels showed up singing and praising GOD!
Lesson 5: Make a joyful noise! Stop whining and be excited about what God has put into your heart about your work. This is really hard sometimes, but a joyful noise is pleasant and opens up the heart. Open hearts are open to hear difficult truths.
Element 6: While the King Herod was in his palace looking around for the answers to an ancient riddle, the shepherds were minding their flocks in the midst of the fields. No one of “great importance” knew these men, but suddenly the Heavenly Host shows up and led them to the manger.
Lesson 6: The workers in the field are privy to the greatest revelations. I can’t express the importance of this lesson to educational leaders. Great teachers have so much to share about what works. They are masters of revelation.
Element 7: The Wise Men show up after the child was older to bring wonderful gifts. Interestingly enough, they went the other way home and ignored Herod.
Lesson 7: Share your gifts with the children regardless of the mandates. Each person has specific gifts and talents, which allows us to serve others. Our motivation increases when we work within our gifts.
Element 8: This one is to be continued at a later date as I am wrestling with an understanding, but Jesus goes on to live a life within a very tyrannical government. He was crucified.
Lesson 8: We have to do what we are called to do within the confines of government, yet without loosing our faith. Success may be painful, yet can make an eternal difference.
Merry Christmas to my fellow Christians. Happy Holidays to precious friends of all faiths. May each of you be filled with new reflections of your purpose and calling for a wonderful 2014.
“The philosophy of the school room in one generation will be the philosophy of the government in the next.” Abraham Lincoln
Our local paper contained a comment by Amanda M. this past month disparaging the Common Core. After numerous inquiries as to if I was the author, I went and read the comment. The comment was anti-CCSS with other similar comments accompanying it. The comment made me smile not because I agree or disagree, but because it demonstrates people, outside of education, are paying attention to what is happening in our schools. Freedom works when citizens participate, debate, disagree, find solutions, and remain vigilant about the issues.
In the summer of 1996 I participated in the National Writing Project at Louisiana State University, which led me to international research and a new vision for my classroom. I stumbled upon research by Jim Stigler from UCLA and was intrigued by his work. When he was featured on 20/20 a few months later, I wrote to him. He replied! Our correspondence, though infrequent, was exciting and opened my eyes to new ideas such as Japanese lesson design, Singapore math models, and problem solving research. I used all of this to develop my own supplemental curriculum, which I taught for the next several years in conjunction with our mandated curriculum. A 90-minute daily block allowed me some freedom to implement math fluency activities, model drawing, and critical writing. I used international standards and teaching models to improve my instruction. My students were more successful than they had been in the past, because I taught based on the international ideals I had discovered.
For the past several years I have been researching the education structures of high-performing countries with a focus on teachers. High performing countries hire very highly motivated individuals with a great sense of compassion for children, pay them well, and treat them as professionals, which means teacher make most of the decisions in classrooms. The teachers often police their own ranks without unions. The critical element to improving schools systems has not been the focus on standards or testing, but on highly effective teachers.
There is a great debate occurring concerning the Common Core Standards. For the most part the standards are rigorous and strong. Standards give us a vision and help us find our way to the expectation, which is easy to loose sight of in the midst of students. My friend Amy Crain explains the importance and the power of the CCSS in her blog http://mitchnamy.blogspot.com/2013/09/thank-teacher.html?spref=fb She is a wonderful teacher and friend.
Standards are critical to a functioning system, however, standards are only a piece of the puzzle. My concern with the comments I am reading is the wide brush with which CCSS is being painted. The standards as stand alone expectations are solid. The issues will develop from the implementation.
I have been in education long enough to suggest often good things can become a fire-breathing monster fueled by the love of money and power rather than the concern for children. I strongly support the CCSS. I believe pieces of the education puzzle being placed under the umbrella of the CCSS should be debated.
Be prepared as the national discussion becomes even more focused on terrible teachers. Yes, there are terrible teachers, but there are also amazing teachers. If you are one, find your voice! Speak out! Speak positively about our profession. Expect more from your peers. Admit there are a few teachers who are loose canons teaching something completely crazy and treating children like dirt. Stop protecting them!
Public perception is not our strong suit! Look like a professional, speak like a professional, and act like a profession. When speaking about school in the grocery story, stop being a martyr. Stop posting negative stuff about your job on social media. If you don’t like it, quit. If you do, stay the course.
Examine the number of educators on the various panels connected to CCSS and the other elements being created. Demand to be part of the process. READ! READ! READ!
Be aware of data mining. I do not like the government in my business or my child’s business. I love data, but I love privacy and freedom more. Be aware. Don’t take someone’s word for it, go and find out for yourself what is fact and fiction.
Private companies have control testing and have access to the data. These groups have strong political lobbying power. In some cases a single company may be in control. Monopolies seldom benefit the consumer. Powerful companies will make a ton of money from the enterprise of educating children. Note top ranking countries secret of hiring, recruiting, and maintaining great teachers makes little money for said companies. Um… Find out what is being bought in your district. Offer to be part of parent panels for the adoption materials. Ask to be part of the curriculum and assessment teams. Create strong parent organizations and be part of the discussions.
The US Department of Education is not a Constitutional entity. Really. No part of me likes the feds in my business regardless of the majority party. I support the U.S. Constitution and not much else. Therefore, support your state government by asking questions, being part of the discussion, reading policy, calling your representative and senators, and voting.
Other companies will and are jumping on this bandwagon to create “easy” CCSS lessons by simply reformatting their old materials and putting CCSS on the front of old materials. Go compare some old testing materials to new materials. This is a cash cow. Be aware. Again, ask to see what your school is using. Read the budget report from your school district. Ask questions professionally and be informed.
Someone will attempt to create lock-step lessons. Someone will attempt to make “suggested” texts mandated texts. These texts may or may not teach our children the ideas and precepts for which our country was founded. I want my child to read widely and to think beyond her borders, however I am against my child being taught a mandated one-sided, political agenda, which runs counter to the US Constitution and the moral code of my faith. Home is a place of education also. Know what is being taught and teach your child your beliefs.
My greatest fear is students will increasingly become a number or a label rather than a person. I do not like when I hear the many students I work with give me their label “basic” as some sort of character flaw or when others gives me a high label as if they are better than someone else. I am not against testing, but I am against labeling and the idea of the label is all a child is. Push for broader evaluations of children’s performances. Push back when someone labels your child and seek help. You are the parent. Rather than “fight” for your child, work with the teacher and the school.
We must all be involved in our education system. The standards are fine, but leave the implementation to local entities. Increase teacher quality by recruiting, training, and compensating the best. The discussion is needed as the results will be our future.
I am a teacher, which in a single word, sums up my passions and my belief in the future.