The Conceptual Age: Is Education Ready?

11 Aug

In the Conceptual Age we’ll all drive hybrid cars bearing bumper stickers showing how the monkey became the caveman that eventually became our yoga instructor.  Or at least that’ll be one extreme.  Certainly though as we enter this new era we will see shifts in societal values.  As Daniel Pink points out in A Whole New Mind: Why Right-Brainers Will Rule The Future, the skill sets to succeed in a post-Information Age will be different than those we know today because of the effects of living in an age of abundance.  Cheap goods have not only made the American Dream more tangible, but many Americans can now afford two or three of them.  As more of of us join the two houses three car club, we begin to seek something greater with more meaning.  As educational leaders we must understand how these changes will affect our economy so that we make the right decisions regarding educational reform.  In this post I will highlight two “big ideas” from Pink’s book and discuss how they connect to leadership and change in education.

Big Idea Number 1: Where did my cushy office job go?

Grandpa left the farm for the factory.  Dad left the factory for an office job in a business park.  And now that job left dad for Asia.  Pink says, “we’ve moved from an economy built on people’s backs to an economy built more and more on people’s right brains” (loc. 647).  As leaders in education we must redefine education to match a changing job market.

Big Idea Number 2: SAT-ocracy–an expired golden ticket?

A high SAT score meant you possessed skills desirable for a right-brained job market.  In a sense the SAT was your golden ticket to middle class life.  Although logical and sequential thinking are still important, Pink argues that, “those with the ability to see the big picture . . . have a decided advantage in their pursuit of personal well-being” (loc. 1555).  As leaders in education we must realize that standardized tests ought to be a relic of our past instead of the fad of our present.  We shouldn’t ignore the right brain, and we shouldn’t ignore the left brain.  Instead teachers must teach to develop whole new minds.

If computers do it faster or workers in Asia do it for less, then what’s left still in demand?  As leaders in education we must help our students see how the small pieces put together make a bigger picture.  The ability to synthesize in a global market will become the Conceptual Age’s golden ticket.  It’s easy for educators to overlook these subtle changes in our economy because we spend our working hours behind classroom doors.  Therefore Pink’s book is especially important for educators to read.  So throw out your old CDs (or turn them into art), buy a Prius and, “good luck in the age of art and heart” (loc.1).

Pink, D. H. ( 2006).   A whole new mind:  Why right-brainers will rule the future. New York, NY:  Riverhead Books.

The Voice Of A Future Administrator

23 Jul

Welcome to my blog, and thank you for taking the time to also visit jhlang.com.  With the help of a dozen youtube tutorials and intermittent coffee breaks, I made my very first webpage.

I still have a long ways to go before gaining my IT badge, but I did enjoy this challenge as I put forth my most novice efforts.  It is likely that my students design better sites in half the time I took to make this one.  I can live with this though because the students are what motivates me to continually challenge myself as a leader in education.  As a future administrator I believe it is important to challenge our students to try new experiences and that we also challenge ourselves, so this crack at making websites was my attempt to “walk the walk.”

Throughout my graduate course work, independent research, and even friendly debates with pals after Wednesday night basketball games, I have managed to find my voice on education policy and discover what it means to be a leader in this field.  The intent of this blog post is to share that voice, so I have broken my instructional leadership philosophy down to five key points which all tie into a Nicholas M. Butler quote that I often refer to.

“America is the best half-educated country in the world.”

I believe the United States has many of the best schools in the world, but unfortunately we also have some of the bad ones.  It is not a particular person or group’s fault as much as it is an issue of inequity.  All schools in the US were not created equal.  And if you are a teacher in one of these underprivileged schools then you know what I mean.  Many of these struggling schools operate in unhealthy climates and experience high rates of attrition.  Why, because they’re bad places to work!  The organization’s culture has been disrupted by budget cuts, policy mandates, and consequently high employee turnover.  When these occurrences become the norm, then building learning communities rooted in collaboration and efficacy become more difficult than blindfolded web design.

I believe in our public education system even though some schools are inequitably equipped with tools to produce students gains.  If we choose to close the achievement gap, then we need to address these differences from school to school and acknowledge poverty as an issue affecting achievement in urban and rural poor public schools.  Instead the solution to boost gains has been to privatize schools, silence unions, and replace traditional teacher salary scales with merit pay systems.  If we wish to pay teachers based on merit, then I want to know how we differentiate the the top from the bottom tier of teachers?  If teacher merit is based on standardized test scores, then we will continue to fuel the high stakes testing bandwagon while triggering more cheating scandals.  Worst of all, we will fail to prepare students for the creative economy we are entering.   The best way to pay teachers is to pay them enough so money no longer becomes an issue.  Name me a teacher that went into education to become rich and I’ll give up my aspirations to instead design websites.  Merit pay is not the best way to motivate educators.  Educators are best motivated by the intrinsic rewards they receive when their students learn.  It is that “Ah-ha moment” that simultaneously engages the students and motivates teachers to stick around the public sector for a little while longer.

Philosophy Point 1: Creating an Environment Open For Innovation and Collaboration

As a principal I am committed to helping urban and rural schools make organizational change that will close inequity gaps in the worst schools while also keeping our teachers from leaving the profession.  I will do this by adopting techniques that will help build professional learning communities that innovate and operate purposefully to make all our schools equally great.

One way to aid the change process, making schools more open to change and collaboration, is by identifying the hidden components that compete against our change efforts.  A simple way to do this is by developing an immunities map.  This is what one might look like.

Commitment What are you doing or not doing Hidden or competing commitments My big assumption
I am committed to improving school wide achievement I am not collaborating with others. I am taking on too much responsibility while not delegating to other professionals If I don’t do the work then it wont be done correctly

(Kegan & Lahey, 2009)

As seen in my example immunities map, adapted from a blank Kegan and Lahey map, the principal is committed to improving gains, but now realizes that her big assumption is getting in the way of school-wide innovation and collaboration.  The discovery of these assumptions can lead to strengthening organizational health.  Another tool that can be used is called Levels of Use, or LoU.  According to Gene E. Hall and Shirley M. Hord, when educational leaders innovate there is an assumption that their new program will successfully be employed (Hall & Hord, 2011). Their research has demonstrated that this is not the case and therefore LoU becomes an effective tool defining the different levels of use.  Hall and Hord break the levels up into two categories: users and nonusers.  The five levels of users are renewal, integration, refinement, routine, and mechanical use.  The three levels of nonusers are preparation, orientation, and nonuse (Hall & Hord, 2011, p.94).

Philosophy Point 2: Invest In The Future, Not in Standardized Tests

It has become a popular trend in today’s society to criticize public education.  Many stakeholders are pushing to create change that I do not see as being valuable to our educational system.  More standardized testing, education privatization, and merit pay are red herring initiatives distracting us from true change.  The charter movement is a threat to our public schools and middle class American values with the deunionizing of our school districts.  I ask where is the evidence that supports the need for more testing and privatization of our schools?  Where is the evidence to prove charter schools or virtual schools are more effective at educating our youth?  Has rote test preparation become our new curriculum?  Do we want an intelligent and thoughtful citizenry, or a society good only at taking tests?

Our students must be prepared for the Conceptual Age because the Information Age is already behind us.  According to Pink, in the Conceptual Age, left-brain dominant people will excel.  As globalization opens up employment opportunities across the globe, the professional qualities in demand will be creativity and global competencies (Pink, 2006).  Many incorrectly assume America was once on top in international test scores.  Just as Reagan and A.N.A.R. sparked controversy and doubt in our education system, today’s policymakers are again grabbing our attention regarding the state of American education.  Now that our attention has been piqued, let us make the right decisions for educational policy in the future.  I hardly believe in this public education apocalypse, but perhaps the heightened concern for our schools may lead to the right decisions if policymakers step up and other leaders in education let their voices be heard.  The Steve Jobs of the world didn’t become successful because they were good at standardized tests.  It was Job’s ability to think outside of the box that made him a revolutionary in his field.

It is ironic that many stakeholders in education today revere the education systems of Asian countries that have in recent years been working to emulate American education (Zhao, 2009).  In Zhao’s book he discusses how the Chinese have made strides to move away from a rigid standardized test culture.  To be a leader it often means standing up for what you believe in.  I believe standardized tests can be one assessment of student performance, but I do not believe in the stakes we have attached to these tests.  Education must be about preparing students for life beyond the classroom.  After spending five years as an ESL teacher in Asia, what I’ve witnessed is what I would expect.  Extreme rote memorization and test preparation has produced a lot of students with phenomenal abilities for taking tests, but that is about all.  As a principal, I will make my feelings towards standardized tests clear.  I will ask my teachers to do a good job preparing their class for tests but to not lose sight on the greater purpose of education.  I will do my best to support my teachers while taking as much of the standardized test burden off their shoulders.

Philosophy Point 3: Strengthening Teacher Capacity

As educational leaders everything we do must be purposeful with the intent to boost achievement.  There is room to make mistakes along the way, but it is crucial that we learn from our errors to build more efficient schools.  One way I can build capacity as a leader is to adopt Charlotte Danielson’s framework for teaching.  With this framework, administrators can end blind assessments and make the process more purposeful.  Two valuable steps often overlooked in the teacher evaluation process are the pre and post teacher interview.  The principal should take about thirty minutes to sit down with the teacher before and after their class is assessed.  Here are some sample questions the principal could ask before the interview:

  • To which part of your curriculum does this lesson relate?
  • How does this learning “fit” in the sequence of learning for this class?
  • Briefly describe the students in this class, including those with special needs.

Here are some sample questions the principal could ask after the interview:

  • In general, how successful was the lesson?  Did the students learn what you intended for them to learn?  How do you know?
  • If you were able to bring samples of student work, what do those samples reveal about those students’ levels of engagement and understanding?
  • Comment on your classroom procedures, student conduct, and your use of physical space.  To what extent did these contribute to student learning? (Danielson, 2007).

When principals take time to share the framework process with teachers, the teacher better understands how she or he will be assessed.  Moreover, this is one way for the principal to show support for building learning communities when teacher assessments are done in a non-threatening way.

Philosophy Point 4: Building Efficacious Environments

As a leader I will work to develop efficacy beyond school walls and into the greater community.  Efficacy is important because many of our lowest performing schools are set up for failure before the day even begins.  The privatization movement continues to falsely claim that our public education system is a failure; meanwhile, we continue to underfund schools and ignore the implications poverty has on a student’s chances for success.  We need to believe in our schools, and we need to believe that, “it takes a whole village to raise a child.”  I argue that the criticisms many make against public education are pointless and do no good.  I believe this because they destroy academic optimism while also failing to offer any real solutions.  The focus is always on the problem, and not how collectively we can make it better.  For instance, I don’t buy a new house when I have a leaky pipe.  I just fix the pipe.  I feel like abandoning public education is like buying that new house when we could just fix the pipe.  The first step in turning a school around and creating a culture of academic emphasis is developing faculty trust (Hoy & Hoy, 2009).  Again, one way we might develop trust is by adopting Danielson’s framework.  Once trust is developed, local stakeholders can begin to develop the collective efficacy needed to innovate and succeed.

Philosophy Point 5: Collaboration and Education

Learning communities are built through collaboration, and without collaborative efforts, innovation will stall.  As a future leader in education I will build a culture of trust that welcomes innovation and demonstrates purposefulness in what we do as a school.  I will work to make schools transparent while also preserving the professionalism of my teachers.  I myself will be visible to my staff and the greater community because I believe the principal must be accessible.  I will try to always answer questions openly and honestly.  Also, to demonstrate that the entire community is a shareholder in public schools, I will look to parents, and other leaders, for help when possible.  I will work to make school spaces available to the elderly, families, or local organizations.  I believe some adults think of schools as I remember the dentist office.  They recall negative experiences of their own and therefore still avoid or have bad attitudes towards school later on in life.  Collaboration is important, and if done successfully then it will also help to build efficacy in our schools.  Like the saying goes, I too believe it takes a community to raise our children.

Thank you again for taking the time to listen to the voice of a future administrator.  I believe my leadership abilities in education exceed my web design abilities in information technology, or at least I like to think so.  If you enjoyed this blog post, then please subscribe or read earlier posts.

References:

Danielson, C. (2007). Enhancing Professional Practice: A Framework for Teaching. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision & Curriculum Development.

Hall, G.E. & Hord, S.M. (2011).  Implementing change: Patterns, principles, & potholes (3rd ed.).  Boston, MA:   Pearson Education, Inc.

Kegan, R. & Lahey, L.L. (2009).  Immunity to change:  How to overcome it and unlock the potential in yourself and your organization.  Boston, MA: Harvard Business School.

Pink, D. H. ( 2006).   A whole new mind:  Why right-brainers will rule the future.  New York, NY:  Riverhead Books.

Woolfolk Hoy, A. & Hoy, W. (2009).  Instructional Leadership: A Research-Based Guide to Learning in Schools (Third Edition). Boston, MA: Pearson Education.

Zhao, Y. (2009). Catching up or leading the way? American education in the age of globalization.  Alexandria, VA:  ASCD.

Four More

20 Nov

Congratulations to the president for securing a second term.  It is my hope that in the subsequent years of this administration real change may come to education. The president and Mr. Duncan must begin to address the real issues affecting public schools.  So far they have not.  Although I do not see Mr. Duncan as the best fit for Secretary of Education, he is clear favorite to a Republican led administration or even a Michelle Rhee.

We must have faith in our public schools and our urban students.  Now that the November politicking is set aside, let us work for the change public education direly needs.  Mr. President, YES WE CAN end high stakes testing, fund schools equitably,  strengthen teacher preparation programs, and begin to close the achievement gap.  2013 is a new year and just around the corner.

A Case Worth Fighting For

14 Oct

Society tells us war is an unfortunate reality of modernity.  I say war is a game capitalist play with the workingman thrown out like pawns in a cheap board game.  How can you see their war as a just enough cause to kill or die for?  What does the proletariat gain from war?  Higher wages, healthcare, affordable education for his sons and daughters?

Biased history has been unkind to the revolutionaries that have not fought the rich man’s war, but the war against the rich man keeping us oppressed.  Revolutionaries that have fought for social equity, like Big Bill Haywood or Samuel Gompers, were branded anti-American while those, throughout America’s timeline, with political influence have gone down as great leaders for the wars they started but fought from the safety of their ornate offices.

The right for an equal opportunity, however, is a case worth fighting for.  Inequity in Americans’ opportunity to achieve shows that unchecked capitalism is the greatest war against a nation’s own people.  This is why we must regulate big business.

When the impoverished use food stamps they are labeled as takers unwilling to work.  Meanwhile the rich receive their own welfare far exceeding a hundred dollar grocery bill.  The exception is that their wealth goes unchecked through their ability to influence public opinion and policy.

Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan say that most Americans are lazy and coddled by welfare.

Well I say give the working class and their children a fair opportunity to make something of themselves.  The American dream may only exist when there is one American opportunity granted equally to all.  The strength of the working class is not dead.  It is 100 times stronger than the alabaster hands of the 1 percent.

The role of government is to protect its people which, through democracy, run and protect our great nation.  A case worth fighting for is public education, universal healthcare, collective bargaining rights, and affordable education.

Capitalism is for business, not the preservation of a democracy.

Mayor Emanuel The Modern Mike Skully Democrat

1 Oct

As a straight ticket voting democrat since 18, I am offended by the undependability of the party that traditionally represented the laborer.  The line separating the Dems from the GOP is getting less distinguishable for the proletariat.  A mayor against the unions is a mayor against the middle class, Democrat or not!

Don’t hate teachers because their union is strong.  Don’t hate teachers because they make demands. It’s taken a century to secure rights for the laborer to afford a comfortable middle class life. This fall the teachers are striking for a reasonable raise while the unchecked capitalists of this country swim in their greed and reap their capital gains.

The average salary of a Chicago teacher is 54k.  The average salary of wall street banker is at least eight times that.  If the Dems want to keep the support of the teachers’ union, then they must support the teachers instead of the bankers with paws twitching to deregulate public education.

Remember Tom Joad from high school English class?

‘Well, Jesus, Mr. Hines. I ain’t a son-of-a-bitch, but if that’s what a red is-why, I want thirty cents an hour. Ever’body does. Hell, Mr. Hines, we’re all reds.’”

Teachers aren’t asking for a banker’s bonus.  They’re asking for a middle class raise and demanding an end to the nonsense demands put on the profession by bureaucrats.

The union is representation.  If you feel under-appreciated or underpaid, then organize!  There was a time, before temp agencies were the norm, when a working man had a secure job that paid enough to raise a family.  If you’re complacent with a minimum wage, then the private sector is complacent to pay that pittance.

The teachers are absolutely right for doing what they are doing.

Fox In The School House

2 Jun

Corporate reformers and tea party zealots have opened doors with their wealth for Scott Walker to ruffle feathers on school yards across Wisconsin.  Their “reform” aims to dismantle the Department of Education by unjustified criticism of public schools and attacking American unions.   These reformers seek profit by turning education into a free market business.

Contrary to their propaganda, it’s not pubic education that’s failing; it’s the middle class.  Great public schools exist in America with devoted teachers investing their lives, and often their own money, to help kids achieve their goals and chase their dreams.  There are, in fact,  holes in our nation’s education.  Some of our students do fall short on achievement results, but let’s ask ourselves why.  These corporate “reformers” and Walker would like you to believe it’s the fault of unions and lazy tenured teachers.  The truth is that teachers do their best often with limited classroom means.  As a nation, we must fund education equitably while also addressing poverty in our communities.  We should also model parts of our education system after high achieving unionized countries like Finland.  When we support our unions we support the working class.  When we support the working class we address issues like poverty.  When poverty is addressed and schools are equitably funded, then we will have successfully addressed our own shortcomings in education.

The free market is for buying vacuums and blenders, not schools.  Public education is precious to the future of American democracy and must not be treated like cheap plastic goods. Corporate America is using struggling public schools as an opened window in education policy.  If they really cared about equal education, then they would step down from the bully pulpit by supporting unions and those public schools struggling.

Instead what the general public gets is the glitz of a cheapened illusion show performed by these “reformers.”   Documentaries and other propaganda have produced a smokescreen to hide corporate greed behind.  We must look past the superfluous hype and myths behind the charter circus.

Breaking up unions and closing public schools will not attract highly qualified educators or improve academic gains.  Merit pay is another myth vis-a-vis the charter panacea that is failing to address real concerns in American schools.  It’s not even a reasonable starting point in the reform debate.  First let’s focus on ending poverty by providing healthcare and creating jobs for the middle class.  This will ensure some stability that will allow children to come to school ready to learn.

We’ve already closed the Main Street hardware shops and grocery stores.  Is public education the next to go?  There’s a fox in the school house and his name is Scott Walker.

Superman Went to Public School

28 May

Just watched “Waiting for Superman” and am wishing I hadn’t.  The film is disguised propaganda, in the embrace of American exceptionalism, that traces the paths some featured parents take to get their child out of the big bad public school and into a charter.  Basically saying without words that the only way to save America and education is by shaming teachers, destroying unions, closing public schools, and privatizing education.

What they don’t know is that Superman went to public school and Superwoman was his 4th grade teacher.  Charters are a hoax controlled by the profiteering elite. Teachers and their unions are not the problem.  The problem is that we live in a country with a growing divide between the rich and poor.  Nicholas Butler once said, “America is the best half-educated country in the world.”  Teachers aren’t trying to waste tax-payers’ money; they’re trying to help that other half catch up while putting up with crappy documentaries that ostracize educators and foster a growing trend of hatred for the public sector.

Remembering The Trapper Keeper

20 May

Middle class America’s presence has faded like the once ubiquitous Trapper Keeper now absent from school hallways.  We can live without Trapper Keepers, but can we live without a middle class America?  Poverty, inequity, and polarization are holding back achievement in our urban schools.  Many of these urban districts were once the heart of American industry and now they’re the ghost towns of a dried up American dream.  As company after company packs up for cheaper labor abroad, family after family and community after community are left behind.  Parents are left struggling to find work offering insurance and paying enough to support basic necessities.  A new refrigerator, lawn mower, or a can of paint are no longer products afforded by what was once the middle class.  With little hope and few opportunities I understand why impoverished families fall into credit card debt or turn to alcohol and drug abuse.  The system has been privatized and the working people of our nation have been abandoned.  As leaders in urban education we must approach day-to-day issues in respect to the current state of urban communities.

So how dow we turn it around?  We must all continue to speak up against inequity.  We must urge our policymakers to draft legislation that will fund school districts based on need, not property tax value.  Every student deserves the opportunity for the same education, so we must hire well-prepared and fully certified teachers to educate urban students.  Because urban schools often lack basic resources, they have difficulty attracting and retaining the best teachers.  For many districts the solution has been to staff schools with under qualified and unprepared personnel holding only emergency licenses.  Other programs, like Teach for America, are good hearted at best, but only temporary solutions to a much bigger problem.  Reform will come once we broaden our scope of what good education looks like.  If we can overcome this notion that high stakes testing is the cure-all for our ills, then progress will have a fighting chance.  By investing in an equitable education, we invest in the middle class while ensuring a brighter future for us all.

The private sector is fueling polarization in educational policy through its philanthrocapitalism as millions of dollars pour into think tanks and campaigns to influence policy and opinions on privatization.  In her book The Death and Life of the Great American School System Diane Ravitch argues that the free market has its place in society but not in education.  Charter schools turn students into consumers which jeopardizes the value of their education.  Good schools are not something to be bought; good schools are the product of communities that embrace them as neighborhood landmarks.  Public schools house more than just students.  They preserve a lifetime of  memories and forgotten teenage secrets.  They hold generations of cherished artifacts from state trophies to the etched initials of homecoming sweethearts.

Public education is a gift from our democracy and all of those before us that fought so hard for it!  This is why we must protect our public schools as the gems of our communities.  If we give in to privatization, then we’ll be dropping children off to schools named like sports arenas: Welcome to Verizon Telecom Middle School of Technology.

I’m not down with that, are you?

As leaders for an equitable urban education, lets rise to the challenges and let our voices be heard.  Let’s make the middle class the trend again by supporting working class families and providing the same quality education to our urban students.  Education is too fragile to be treated with passing fads.  Leadership means realizing the importance for fairness in education and the endless potential in every student.

Hello world!

19 May

Welcome to WordPress.com! This is your very first post. Click the Edit link to modify or delete it, or start a new post. If you like, use this post to tell readers why you started this blog and what you plan to do with it.

Happy blogging!

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