Things I Know 256 of 365: I’ve drafted my purpose, and I’m looking for your thoughts

I just finished my first draft of my paper on the purpose of schooling. I’ve posted it open to edits on Google Docs with the following letter to those interested in helping:

Hello,

This is my Purpose Paper. I’ve posted it online for your thoughts and feedback. The final paper is due Monday, Nov. 7 @ 8 PM, so I’ll probably take it down sometime Monday morning. This paper is worth around 50% of my grade for this class, so it’s important in that way. Mostly, though, this paper contains ideas in which I believe profoundly. Because of that I want to make sure I make the case for them and communicate them as best as I can.

With that in mind, I welcome your help. I know the Internet is a place where anonymity can allow us to give in to the urge to rip and shred. While I don’t shy from critique, these are my ideas and they come from my beliefs. I guess I’m asking for the humanity you would hope any teacher show any child in their care. Thank you, in advance, for helping me with my learning. The rubric for the paper is at the end. Feel free to comment there any anywhere else within the text.

The tenets of the assignment:
Beneath many aspects of school reform often lie articulated and unarticulated beliefs about the purposes of schooling.  In order to provide a foundation from which to explore your developing knowledge about school reform, please write a well structured essay (not to exceed 2250 words) answering the following questions:

  • What do you think the purpose(s) of schooling should be? Why do you think this should be the purpose of schooling?
  • What has informed the evolution of your beliefs (you may reference past experiences, readings, research, work in the field and so on)?
  • What would a school or other educational setting that embodied your vision look like?
If you have any questions, feel free to direct them to my twitter account (@MrChase).
Thank you,
Zac Chase
If you have the time and inclination to jump in and take a look, any comments toward improving it would be greatly appreciated.
The link is here.
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Things I Know 240 of 365: I wrote with the world

The world and I wrote a paper Friday.

By midnight tonight, I’m to submit my Theory of Learning for A-341 Supporting Teachers for Instructional Improvement. I’d been resisting the writing of the paper. After railing against the silver-bullet approach to education, sitting down to distill my beliefs into a single theory lived in a hypocritical room of my brain.

The temptation was strong to submit a Word doc containing only a link to this space, but that steps outside the bounds of the assignment requirements.

Two weeks ago, I asked 5 people to take a look at the first few pages of a rough draft of the paper. I’d written it up in Google Docs and shared it out.

Friday, I needed to get down to business. I wasn’t going to face a long weekend with an assignment hanging over my head the entire time.

I sent out this tweet and started writing:

Before long, other folks from wherever had jumped into the doc and started lurking. A few left comments on my friends’ comments. My friends, either from the doc or via e-mail, responded to the comments.

I kept typing.

Dan Callahan, who’s about as fine a teacher and person as you’re likely to meet, retweeted:

Google Docs let me know as more people joined me in the doc.

I kept typing.

As I neared the end, this message popped up in the doc’s chat window:

On the other side of the world, a teacher I didn’t know was reading my thinking as I cobbled thoughts together. Even more, she was moved to interact. We talked about our experiences in modeling and eliciting passion from students and shared a bit about our backgrounds. I learned her name is Jo:

I told her the doc would remain live as long as Google let it be so and that the copy would be posted here. I offered to brainstorm with her and her teaching partner if they’d like – to continue connecting.

And then she left.

I kept typing.

The difference at that point was huge.

I’d been putting together a theory of learning based on the ideas that:

  • Students learn best when they are in an ethic of care.
  • Students learn best when they know something about what they are learning.
  • Students learn best when the learning situation has real stakes and is challenging.
  • Students learn best when the learning is playful.

I’d been professing all of this to complete an assignment that initially spoke only to the second tenet. I knew a little bit of where I spoke.

The rest, as a student, I created.

As soon as I invited my friends, those whose minds and passions inform my thinking, I chose to surround myself in an ethic of care. In the initial stages of the rough draft, my sister Rachel watched from Missouri as I typed in Somerville. She offered encouragement and asked prodding questions. What I was saying mattered to someone other than me.

Each time Bud or Ben or Debbie pushed back, my learning was more playful. Every comment in the spirit of “What about X?” was an intellectual chess move asking me to refine my process and play with my thinking more deeply.

As soon as Jo entered the chat and asked if she could use a piece of thinking that was being created as she typed, the stakes became real for me. What was otherwise to languish as another artifact of academia destined for the eyes of a professor and teaching assistant was transformed into a guide of practice that would, in some way, affect the learning of children half a world away.

Unless a teacher is completely out of touch with his students, an assignment is likely to connect to students’ previous learning and fulfill my second tenet.

The other three, though, they take work. I write this as a teacher and a student – that work makes all the difference.

Things I Know 228 of 365: I’m developing new work and life flows

The more constraints one imposes, the more one frees one’s self. And the arbitrariness of the constraint serves only to obtain precision of execution.

– Igor Stravinsky

The last 48 hours have been a reminder of the future in which we live.

Yesterday, when completing an assignment for one of my classes, I needed only to open a google doc to see the notes for the readings I hadn’t done.

Through e-mail, my reading group and I divided the readings for the week. I suggested we use a 3-2-1 reading strategy to capture the most important information. We added a section for “key words and phrase” and it was done.

Another member of my group e-mailed a draft Word document of what we’d decided on. I took the doc, fed it to Google Docs and shared it to the rest of the group.

Over 72 hours, the notes came rolling in – synchronously, across all of our computer screens, with no files or iterations of files to keep track of.

Where I had questions or comments, I got to add them in and my group members added their as well.

This morning, I created a Google Collection for all the files for the course. I created a file for next week’s readings and dropped my assignments so far in there as well. Collaboration, right?

This morning, I paid for my coffee and bagel with my phone – and I wasn’t at Starbucks.

Paying attention to my surroundings, I saw a decal on the window of my local coffee shop advertising LevelUp. A download later and I was outfitted with my own QR Code for paying at local businesses. Not unlike other apps designed to get patrons to visit businesses, LevelUp has a built-in savings plan and daily deals. The piece that sold me, no receipt. It gets emailed to me and sent to my phone. Later today, I’ll be setting up an inbox filter that channels my receipts out of my inbox and into a designated folder.

Speaking of designations, I got around to something I’ve been meaning to do for month – mint.com.

Now, more than any other time in my life, tracking my spending and keeping a budget are key constructs. In undergrad, my job at the paper supplemented my income and insured me a paycheck would be on the other end of each fortnight.

Though I’ve some contract work and a newly added research assistantship, I need some help making sure my finances are under tight control.

Shifting from a productive member of society to a straight-up consumer of goods, services and knowledge calls for a shift in thinking as well.

Mint is there to help. In about 10 minutes, I’d created a profile linked to my bank and credit card accounts as well as my student loans. Replete with budgets, savings analyses and comparisons of financial services, Mint is a financial advisor for those of us who can’t afford financial advisors. If I were a parent sending my kid to college, mint would be a requirement before I let the kid out the door.

Part of the joy of being a student that’s satisfying the curious portion of my brain has been developing new work and living flows. I’ve been working to leverage what’s free and available to me so the things I stress about are the things I care about.

Things I Know 225 of 365: Oprah taught me

You get a car.

– Oprah Winfrey

New standards, new students, new schools, but no Oprah.

For the first time since I was in kindergarten, students starting their educational trek through began their school year in a post-Oprah world.

To most, it’s likely a subtle shift. I hadn’t even thought of it until today in class when we were learning about Lawrence Cremin’s concept of the “ecology of education.”

The interaction between educational institutions featured heavily in Cremin’s ecology. As Prof. Lawrence-Lightfoot pointed out, this included any number of institutions. We were, after all, talking education, not just school.

Several examples of these institutional interactions were offered, but it was the Prof. Lawrence-Lightfoot’s calling out of talk shows as redefining our conception of “how we think about talk, public/private boundaries and intimacy vs. voyeurism” that set me reeling.

Though not the everyday fixture in our house that she was in some of my friends’ homes, Oprah had a place in our family. She belonged. In fact, she was the only African American adult with whom I had consistent interaction until I got to college.

Though I remember the highlights of the Christmas shows or the celebrity exclusives or those damned book selections, something more subtle was taking place each time an episode was airing.

While I wasn’t allowed to watch The Simpsons because my mom didn’t appreciate the message, Oprah was acceptable.

Some piece of that daily hour of television was worth inviting into our home, though we never spoke of or attempted to agree on its value. Its presence vouched for its value.

And, as Cremin would likely agree, that shifted my education. It altered my understanding of what it meant to talk and the possible public discussion of taboo.

I hadn’t considered it until today, and I haven’t a clue as to the depth, but I know she’s embedded in my thinking the same way Mr. Rogers’s airing of the film on how crayons were made created the first inkling that the things I played with and counted as wholes within my world had once been disparate pieces.

Millions of students began school this year in a post-Oprah world. Though no new episodes will be blaring as they come home to work on or blow off their homework or enjoy their after-school snacks, I wonder at how ever-so-slightly, perhaps imperceptibly, their classrooms, their interactions and their learning will be shifted by the echoes of Oprah.

Things I Know 224 of 365: Ownership matters

And I would argue the second greatest force in the universe is ownership.

– Chris Chocola

“He needs to get buy-in,” someone in class said today as we discussed a case study of a school where those in charge were failing to get all teachers swimming in the same pedagogical direction.

From there, the room was flooded with off-hand mentions of “buy-in.”

Some agreed, some advocated the opposite of buy-in and argued the use of administrative power instead.

I sat thinking for a while.

By the time I raised my hand, class was running short on time and many other voices needed heeding.

What I wanted to say was this:

If buy-in is your goal, if it is what you are shooting for as you advocate change, you are working toward something less shimmering, less amazing than what you imagine when you put your dreams to bed.

What I wanted to reference, as my access was sleeping in my bag, was the idea of ownership vs. buy-in.

I’m not certain when, but a few years ago, I started noticing buy-in as a main descriptor in conversations around project formation. Whether it was planning professional development or building units of study for students, people were worrying about buy-in.

“I like this project. I’m just worried about how I can create buy-in with my kids.”

“This is a great approach, and I’d love to take it to my faculty, I’m just not sure how I can get buy-in with my teachers.”

It came up so often that it started to permeate my thinking.

“A bunch of people are talking about ‘buy-in,’” my brain kept saying.

Enter ownership.

I honestly can’t remember who it was, that pointed out to me a distinction that has doused my thinking in intellectual kerosine ever since.

When making change, when starting the new, when shifting thinking; it is ownership toward which we should work, not buy-in.

Henri Lipmanowitz, former chairman of Merck International and board president of the Plexus Institute, draws a line between “buy-in” and “ownership.”

“Your implementation will inevitably be a pale imitation of what it could have been had you been an ‘owner’ instead of a ‘buyer-in’…” Lipmanowitz writes.

I have trouble disagreeing.

When thinking about larger educational policy or thinking about the workings of my classroom, ownership means more than buy-in.

If the system is working, we work toward ownership.

If ownership is established, I do not need to become a salesman.

If ownership is established, I do not need to worry about customer relations down the road.

If ownership is established, I am not in an idea alone.

If ownership is established, it will take more time.

For the latter, Lipmanowitz has a counter argument. To those who argue the involvement of all players at the inception will take time, he responds, “People that are affected will inevitably be involved.”

The difficulty for the classroom and for the shaping of policy or systemic norms is the paradigmatic norm of time allotment as incremental.

I’ll design the unit.

I’ll take time to show it to my peers.

I’ll explain it to the students.

I’ll teach it.

They’ll have questions.

I’ll answer them.

We’ll struggle as they work to buy my vision.

We’ll get to the learning…

Lipmanowitz’s believe (and mine) is based around the assumption that spending the chronological capital at the outset to insure ownership will smooth the road later on.

“In complex situations,” writes Lipmanowitz of the concept of ownership, “it is the only one that is likely to generate superior results. It requires giving people space and time for self-discovery.”

That’s tough.

That’s worth it.

Things I Know 223 of 365: Everybody has an agenda

Education isn’t part of my agenda. It is my agenda.

– Kenny Guinn

In 1980, Hugh Mehan published a study of children participating in “circle time” in their classroom. Throughout the study, Mehan placed a wireless microphone on the back of students for one hour each morning to document their interactions.

Up to that point, Mehan wrote, classroom community had been studied from the teacher’s perspective. He wanted to se what was going on with everyone else.

Students like teacher, have objectives that they would like to meet during the course of a given classroom event, a school day, a school year. And like teachers, students employ others and their surroundings as contexts for achieving these objectives. The simultaneous presence of students’ and teachers’ agendas suggests that the classroom be viewed as a social activity in which teachers and students mutually influence each other and collaboratively assemble its social order.

In his published findings, Mehan reported interactions between a triad of girls who were talking to one another during circle time while the teacher was attempting to divvy up classroom jobs.

It all happened simultaneously.

Hair combing, securing snacks, discussing play dynamics, they all happened at the same time.

Mehan writes, “All this indicates an ability to monitor and participate in several activities simultaneously, a skill that cognitive scientists have called ‘parallel processing.’”

By teachers in any ordinary classroom, the actions of Carolyn, Leola and Ysidro would be taken as insubordinate. Not telling-the-teacher-off insubordinate, but certainly working-against-the-teacher’s-agenda insubordinate.

They don’t have to be.

Mehan’s point, and the deeper implication of the study is when teachers see “off-task” behavior, it doesn’t necessarily mean the students are off-task. They are on the tasks they deem important. And Mehan claims also on-task with the items on the teacher’s agenda.

This isn’t an argument that children should be allowed to do whatever they want or that their agendas should trump any agenda set forth by the teacher. There’s literature about that, sure, but this isn’t about that.

Instead, it’s about realizing everyone in the classroom has an agenda, and to each individual that agenda is personal and important.

Mehan writes the study’s findings shed light on the fact “that participants to interaction, including socializing interaction, mutually influence each other.”

Yes.

And.

The study serves as a reminder that teachers face the task (perhaps their first agenda item) of persuading each student in a class that the teacher’s agenda is worthy of student attention and perhaps even adoption.

It’s a tough sell all around.

Citation:

Hugh Mehan, “The Competent Student,” Anthropology and Education Quarterly, Vol. 11 (1980), 131-152.

Things I Know 222 of 365: I want to build stuff

Teachers would have to be knowledgeable about experience, academic knowledge, and learning, knowing these territories as well as mountain guides knew theirs.

– David K. Cohen

I haven’t built anything in a while.

My friend Vanessa is in the Technology in Education program here. Each of her classes is shaped around a semester-long project in which she and her classmates work together to complete a project in which they build an education object for use or consumption in the bigger world.

My semester is shaping up to be consumptive.

I’ve read a couple hundred pages of scholarly work in the last few weeks and written a few briefs analyzing and reacting to what I’ve read. My brain is exploding with ideas, questions and intense moments of “Oo, I want to try that right now!” As I said in my last post, it’s pushed me to put all this thinking down on the record for when I’m able to put it into practice – a sort of daily diary or my reading diet.

Vanessa’s is shaping up to be iterative.

She’s pitched projects, formed groups and started building wireframes of the project she’s heading up. She’s working on leveraging funding for the pieces of the project that exist outside her wheelhouse and finding a home for it in the wide world when all’s said and done.

I just finished reading “Teaching Practice: Plus Que Ca Change…” by David Cohen from Contributing to Educational Change: Perspectives on Research and Practice. Cohen examines Deweyian educational reforms and why they appear to have stalled or gone sour since the 1950s. In his analysis, Cohen writes, “…teachers must take on a large agenda: helping students abandon the safety of rote learning, instruct them in framing and teasing hypotheses, and build a climate of tolerance for others’ ideas and a curiosity about unusual answers, among other things.”

Various pieces of Cohen’s list of necessities for “adventurous teaching” are in place, but I wonder where the building and teasing of hypotheses will come in.

Vanessa’s cohort is building real things. They’ll be creating, failing, taking apart and re-building all semester.

I’m curious as to how much of that I’ll be doing outside of the sterile protection of case studies.
Ideally we’d be building the institutions we all had in mind when we applied in the same way a student would learn math and design by building structures with authentic purposes.

At heart, I realize the difference between Vanessa’s program and my own. If any of the groups in her classes fails, it is to the detriment of their portfolios. If those in my cohort were to fail at any type of authentic adventurous learning, the impact would extend beyond our own personal failures.

Still, we got in the door. And, for almost a decade, I’ve been trusted to experiment and iterate responsibly with my classroom as a playground without harming the students in my charge.

Let us build schools or systems of professional development. Start by letting us ask the questions that lead to the problems. Then, guide us in forming both the structures and understandings surrounding the solutions of those problems.

Some of this comes from the stagnation I feel in not creating unit plans or working to help run a school this semester.

All of it helps me to understand how it feels for students of any level when we ask them to put down what is real in their world’s and trust us when we promise that what we ask them to do will be important in the future.