Between the Secretary and the Trumpeter, our priorities were off

When Secretary Duncan spoke at the Askwith Forum here at the Ed School, every seat was filled. Tickets were raffled off and his talk was streamed for those who didn’t make it in the room.

As expected during an election year (not sure which years aren’t), Sec. Duncan’s talk was light on anything that could be taken as disruptive thinking. The title of “Fighting the Wrong Education Battles” was fleshed out not with a clear cry for which battles were worth fighting, but for compromise and ceding of ideology.

It was the stump speech I expected and that Sec. Duncan needed to make in an age when leadership has become conflated with keeping power. Because I understood the politics of the moment, I wasn’t surprised by the speech.

The underwhelming feeling came from the audience’s response. It almost felt as though being in the room negated the potential to disagree. Access trumped democracy. When we arrived at the Q&A portion, questions were largely driven by personal interests and not thoughtful engagement with the positions the Secretary had outlined.

This was expected. As columnist David Brooks noted at his Askwith, I’ve been at Harvard enough to know people were there to hear themselves talk.

All that was not what frustrated me.

The next day, Wynton Marsalis joined with a distinguished panel for another forum titled “Educating for Moral Agency and Engaged Citizenship.”

Marsalis and the rest of the panel explored education from the perspective of jazz, the arts, and non-religious spiritual education. They challenged notions of masculinity and community involvement and considered how educators and officials could shift the way they listen in a move to improve students’ learning.

It was exteporaneous and free-flowing. Tangents were followed. Ideas explored. Standards challenged.

…rows empty.

Whereas a stump speech brought out throngs and was streamed and archived, I can’t post the footage of the Marsalis panel because I can’t find it.

I wish I could.

If we continue to flock to those in power who are encumbered in the service of multiple masters for inspiration and solutions, the future we hope for will continue to exist on a far distant horizon.

If more and more we realized the value and wisdom of engaging with those who are in an of the doing of the work, that horizon would be far closer.

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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.

Things I Know 232 of 365: I met the Car Talk guys

Don’t drive like my brother.

– Tom and Ray Magliozzi

Did I ever tell you the one about the time I met the Car Talk guys?

Monday, I had the chance to speak virtually to the District Technology Leaders of Orange County, CA about what digital spaces and digital learning can and should be. Rather than risk running late for class or getting cut off from my apartment’s super sketchy Internet access, I travelled to campus and reserved a room in the library so I knew I’d be able to hardwire into a network connection. At the appointed time, I spoke for an hour to and with what I was told was a room of about 20 people from around Orange County about the spaces they could imagine online and they affordances of such spaces. It was a learning experience in how to shape a talk around of people I can’t see or physically interact with.

The Car Talk guys were not a part of the talk.

Feeling suitably pleased with the talk, I headed to the Crema Cafe in Harvard Square for a lunch. Normally, I’d head to the commons on campus, but I was feeling pretty good, so I thought I’d splurge.

At Crema, I ran into a few other folks from my program. They were sitting at the bar whilst I was waiting for my grilled cheese, and I struck up a conversation. Three of them needed to head to class (none of them the Car Talk guys), and I took one of their seats next to Meaghan and Eric to catch up on our weekends.

I took off my bag and set it at my feet between the wall of the counter and my chair.

Ten minutes later, as Meaghan and Eric were standing to leave, I heard Meaghan say, “Where’s my bag?”

I looked to where I’d seen Meaghan’s bag when I sat down, “It’s right over…” Nope.

We looked around. I looked from table to table, pointing to the bags at strangers’ feet, “Is that it?” as if we were playing some impromptu game of I Spy.

None of the bags was Meaghan’s.

I looked down at my own bag.

Well, I would have, if it were still there.

My bag, too, was missing.

Again, I surveyed the immediate area of the cafe – this time for my bag.

Nope.

I stood and walked the length of the building – nothing.

I walked up the stairs to the loft seating – nothing.

In the initial moments, my thinking was that someone we knew had moved our bags and was going to pop up from behind the counter – that rapscallion. And then we’d have a pint of ale and sing sea shanties.

No such luck.

Our bags had been stolen.

We had been robbed.

We caught the attention of one of the women behind the counter and explained what had happened. In an understanding tone, she said they’d had a problem with that before and said she’d go get the phone number of the police.

I called and the voice on the other end said an officer would come to us. After I hung up, I learned Meaghan and Eric had asked if the place was outfitted with security cameras.

“Yes,” said the lady, but not on the space where we were sitting. They were more focused on the front of the cafe, near the entrance.

“Could we see them, just the same? Whoever had taken our bags had to leave somehow.”

We needed to talk to the owner.

Excellent, how could we do that.

The lady pointed to the front of the shop. The owner was showing around a new hire. She’d be with us as soon as she could be.

While we waited for the police officer to arrive, the lady told us they’d had a meeting just that morning where the employees had talked about how their weren’t adequate security camera’s in the place and that they needed more.

This was offered in a tone I suppose was meant to help us feel better.

“See,” she seemed to be saying, “we weren’t ignorant of the possibility that your day would suck a few minutes after you sat down to your iced tea and grilled cheese.”

So kind.

We went outside to wait, away from the noise and frustration of the cafe.

Eventually, an officer arrived to take our report.

While we’d been waiting, I popped my head in to let the lady we’d been speaking with know we were outside when the owner was done.

We never heard from the owner.

At some point, a new lady, a manager, came out to talk to us. It was as she was reiterating the lack of adequate camera coverage and the fact that they’d had a running problem with bags being taken that the police officer showed up.

She stood their for the first part of the conversation, and I’m not sure when she headed back in.

The officer took our details.

We described our bags and their contents. For me, it meant my laptop, iPad, course packs, statistics notes and two books for class were gone.

Meaghan lost her laptop, course packs, a paper due that day, her wallet, cell phone and keys.

The officer, after explaining the process for filing our case and the assignment of a detective, tried to make us feel better.

They’d had several cases of bags being taken, he said. From this place, particularly, he said. They tried to increase their presence, he said.

We thanked him kindly for his time, and he headed off to do more policing.

“Should we go talk to the Car Talk guys,” I asked Meaghan and Eric.

I’d noticed when I walked outside that the voice of one of the men sitting at one of the cafe’s outside tables sounded like a voice on which I’d been brought up.

As soon as the man to whom the voice belonged stood up and said, “Do you want anything, Tommy?” I knew it was the voice of either Click or Clack of the Tappit Brothers. They’re otherwise known as Tom and Ray Magliozzi .

“I guess we might as well,” said Meaghan.

The table had been feet away from us as we talked to the police officer, and they were clearly interested in what was going down.

We exchanged pleasantries and told them the story of what had just happened.

I found myself rushing through the explanation of the events to get to the end. After we’d said our piece, we were met with “That’s terrible,” and “That’s horrible,” and “I’m so sorry.” They were to be the refrain of the next couple days.

I accepted their condolences tersely and said, tripping over my excitement, “Are you the Car Talk guys?”

One said yes, the other said no, and that sealed it.

We told them how important they’d been to us as we were growing up and that we’d been longtime listeners, and they said thanks in their trademark self-depricating fashion.

We didn’t ask for autographs. It wouldn’t have mattered anyway.

Anything we would have asked them to sign had just been stolen.

We walked away wondering at the weirdness of the universe.

In the day since, I have learned exactly what kind of community I am a part of here.

Our program director, Lola Irele, sent us immediately to the head of Student Affairs, Liz Thurston, when she learned what happened.

Thurston asked us what classes we were in and what had been taken. This morning, I had an e-mail explaining that replacement course packs were waiting in the registrar’s office.

I received an e-mail from one of my professors, asking me if I needed anything and letting me know I had extra time on an upcoming assignment if I needed it.

Thurston e-mailed all of our professors to let them know what happened.

Classmates I met just a few weeks ago started e-mailing offering to help, lend course readings and let us know they were sorry to hear the news.

Charlotte, one of the three who left the cafe just before I sat down, started a chipin campaign for people who were interested in helping to offset the costs of replacing what had been stolen.

All day today, I’ve been getting e-mails letting me know people have been contributing.

I won’t be going back to Crema Cafe. It’s not because that’s where my bag was taken, but because the owner never paused from showing the new employee around the place to see if we were okay.

I will be thankful for the community here at HGSE. People who I’ve spoken to only once or twice have gone out of their way to help out when there was no pressing reason to do anything.

Plus, I got to meet the Car Talk guys.

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 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.

Things I Know 220 of 365: There’s history here

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My first trip to Philadelphia to interview at SLA, I arrived a day before the interview. I wanted to walk around a bit and get to know the city that might be my home.
Walking around without yet having my bearings, I turned a corner and there was Independence Hall. Right there.
My first inclination was to turn to the strangers walking down the street next to me and shout, “Do you know what that is? Do you know what happened there? And they just left it out in the open for everyone to see. That building is where we took some of our first steps to being what we are!”
A moment’s glance revealed that these folks were more concerned with their current conversation (which I assumed to be ahistorical) than they were with recognizing the past Winthrop which their presents were being presented.
I get that same feeling, still, when I visit home in Springfield and am confronted with all things Lincoln.
However imperfect, these places hold my attention as fixed moments in time when the impossible was made possible.
I hadn’t had such a moment hear in Cambridge.
Even sitting in Harvard Yard last week, watching tours of prospective students on tiptoe rubbing the boots of John Harvard’s statue, it didn’t occur to me.
I was in the middle of moving and course shopping and figuring out where to eat.
My present was cluttered.
This morning, it is dark, cloudy and drizzling in Cambridge.
The high temperature is not expected to head north of 65 degrees.
I decided to walk to campus. The walk is almost exactly the same distance I walked each day from my house to SLA.
As I rounded Memorial Hall, among the throngs of other students making their ways to class, the bell of Memorial Church sounded the hour.
I stopped.
I stopped to be in and of a moment.
No matter the work being done here now, no matter the imperfections of the system, I am of this place now.
However tacitly, I am connected to its thread of history.
Christian advised me to keep the “wide eyes” as long as I can.
I think I’ll do that.

Things I Know 219 of 365: A good start is asking what we’re orchestrating class to do

Designers think everything done by someone else is awful, and that they could do it better themselves, which explains why I designed my own living room carpet, I suppose.

– Chris Bangle

Wednesday, we had out first class meeting of Professor Elmore’s A-341 Supporting Teachers for Instructional Improvement.

Much of the class was directed toward establishing class norms and getting a general sense of whom we were learning with. While I loved it (we were moving around, meeting one another, having purposeful conversations and reporting out), it was one question that stuck with me as the defining moment of the class.

In describing what would drive our teacher observations for the class, Elmore asked, “If you were a student in this classroom and you did what the teacher asked you to do, what would you know how to do?”

The simplicity of the question reminded me of why I’d been drawn to apply to the course during shopping.

What’s more, Elmore wasn’t asking us to make judgements about the legitimacy of any of what we observed. He was asking us to observe.

Admittedly, this will be difficult for me. I’d imagine it will be difficult for everyone in the class.

I like the idea. I like the shift in focus from what the teacher is doing to the student experience.

As Elmore pointed out, the process starts not from a standpoint of “Here’s what should be going on here!” but one of “What’s going on here?” And, it starts from moving to the perspective of the student.

Starting out in the classroom, I asked myself, “Would I want to do the assignment I’ve just created?” It was a simplistic question.

Moving forward, I’d collected student responses to hundreds of assignments and had a better idea of the varying perspectives in my classroom. As a result, I felt I was designing assignments more likely to pique my students interest.

It wasn’t until moving to SLA and working with the unit planning template of Wiggins and McTigh’s Understanding by Design that I was asked to unpack where I wanted my students to head in what they were able to know, do and understand as a result of their time in the classroom.

Sparks of Elmore’s question could be seen in my review of student work, assessing how closely the students had come to reaching my goals for the unit.

This isn’t quite the essence of the question.

The question asks for a more complex and paradoxically more simplified observation.

When designing the flow of a given class period, what knowledge or abilities was I helping my students to have at that class’s end?

I wonder how classes would change if all teachers stepped into their classrooms tomorrow, mindful of that question.

Moving forward with the course, I’m curious to see and hear the variety of responses my classmates and I have to that question as we observe the same classes.