Chaos, Coherence, Better #TeacherEd

If we want our children to be critical and creative thinkers, individuals who possess a true love of learning and a deeper ability to demonstrate it, we must ensure they have like-minded educators guiding them through the process. They need teachers who both know and do, instructional leaders who are able to adapt to the individual learner and specific lesson. They demand educators who personify the balance of both inputs and outcomes.

From “Out of ‘Chaos,’ A Call for Improved Teacher Education,” Eduflack’s latest on Medium

Going Back to College, College, College …

Tributes to LL Cool J (back when he was a rapper) aside, earlier this week Eduflack has the honor and privilege to spend a little time up at Williams College to guest talk at Williams’ Political Leadership course.

The course is taught each year by Jane Swift, the former governor of Massachusetts and the CEO of the terrific Middlebury Interactive Languages. I’ll go on the record and declare I am a HUUGE fan of Governor Swift. That might surprise some, who remember that back in the day I ran a congressional campaign where she was the opponent and I did and said things in the heat of the campaign that I wish I could do over, but it is true. The good governor and I reconnected about a decade ago, after she transitioned from being chief executive of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and was focusing her enormous energies on her passions of education and education technology.

For all the folks who bemoan edtech and how online learning has stripped all meaning from classroom instruction and has kids focused on rote memorization of math and English items for the state test, take a look at what Swift has built up at Middlebury. She and her team have been able to harness the power of interactive technologies to teach foreign language to students across the nation. And they have done it in ways that better prepares the learners for the 21st century, both in their language fluency and in their approach to learning in general.

But I digress. Back to Williamstown and the textbook New England college campus at Williams. As part of Political Leadership (LEAD 250/PSCI 205), this week’s class was focused on trends and tactics when it comes to establishing a political narrative. I was fortunate enough to spend nearly four hours with students in the class. And I was amazed by what I learned from the students.

We can be so quick to stereotype students, particularly in the context of politics. It doesn’t help when it is on a campus like Williams, that carries a long-standing reputation for liberalism. But I found students who represented the political spectrum. More importantly, I engaged with students who had deep reasons for their political beliefs. Those who could distinguish the different forms of feminism when explaining why they may be for or against Hillary Clinton. Those who didn’t share the distain for the fly-over states that we hear from so many political prognosticators. Those who had looked through the talking points of all of the viable candidates to really drill down on how they would lead, who was advising them, and who would be at their sides in a new presidential administration.

What I heard was what “educated voters” continue to say is absent — a new generation of voters who are passionate about issues, inquisitive about candidates, and determined to be informed as to both how politics and policy work. And it helped that these students were also interested in education policy, particularly how it should impact politics but rarely does.

It’s very easy to voice frustration with “today’s college students.” Demands for free college, safe spaces, and the like make it very easy to caricature those on our college campuses. But my visit to Williams gave me hope. I saw the sort of students I wished I had been during my own postsecondary experience. I saw them questioning and pushing back on convention. I saw them seeking to better understand a political system that has largely either taken them for granted or written them off. I saw the future.


Teacher Education’s “Black Box”

Over at Real Clear Education, I have a new piece that looks at two recent research studies on innovation in teacher education, one of which proclaims significant research is needed when it comes to understanding what good teaching is. As I write, such data really isn’t needed. The real challenge is how we get the research we do know into classrooms, both at the K-12 and at the postsecondary levels.

In my essay, I issue a call to focus teacher preparation efforts both on what is known and what a prospective teacher is able to do with it. We need to move beyond teaching “at” someone and instead ensure the student — or the prospective teacher — is able to take that new knowledge and apply it. Even more simply, we need a competency-based approach to teacher education.

As I write:

There is nothing magical about 36 credit hours of graduate education that ensures one will be an effective teacher. Instead, it is about understanding content and pedagogy, as well as being able to put that understanding to use in a classroom of your own.

That means that teacher preparation must begin to shift from a “time served” model to competency-based one. It means more time spent demonstrating skills in a K-12 classroom than sitting in a lecture hall. It means recognizing that the prospective teacher takes priority over the process, appreciating what an educator is bringing to the process and then building personalized approaches to complete preparation. And it means continually acquiring competencies well after the initial licensure is completed.

Some may say the concept of throwing out the clock and the credit hour is controversial. But it is an idea that is both needed and proven. And it is an effort I am proud to be focusing on as part of my work at the Woodrow Wilson Foundation.

Happy reading!


Can’t We Give Summers Back to Our Kids?

I’ll admit it. I’m growing weary of hearing fellow parents brag about all of the academic acceleration they have planned for their kids this summer. Of the additional math they can get in summer boot camps. Of the foreign language immersion or the year ahead they can get in another academic subject by spending their summer months in a dark concrete box with no windows and no distractions.

The edu-wife hates me for saying it, but I want my kids to get “free-range” summers, a short part of their year where they can just enjoy being kids. I yearn to go back to a time when the summers were for bike riding and swimming and whiffle ball and all of those activities that are now seen as “distractions” by the very helicopter parents who once enjoyed them.

Over at Medium, my latest piece for the Ashoka Foundation’s Changemakers series focuses on the need to just let our kids be kids, particularly during the summers. As I write:

I look at my own kids, and their classmates, and feel great empathy for their generation. Too many are denied a real childhood. Too many are told, at the youngest of ages, that if an activity doesn’t help them get into a top-tier college, then it isn’t worth doing. Too many are given a warped sense of priorities at far too young an age.

Happy reading!




On #CommonCore, Kansas Can

In the latest installment of BAM’s Common Core Radio, we speak with Dayna Richardson, chair of the Kansas Learning First Alliance, on the importance of collaboration in the successful implementation of Common Core Standards in the Sunflower State.

In this installment, Richardson emphasizes how the “Kansas Can” mindset has resulted in a strong implementation model, even when there is a great deal of debate on other issues surrounding k-12 education happening in the state. She provides some interesting insights on how a wide range of stakeholders can get behind an idea like Common Core, even when they might not agree on other education policy issues.

Be sure to give it a listen!


BAM! EdWords

Eduflack readers know that I co-host a regular radio program on the BAM! Radio Network about Common Core and successful implementation efforts around the country. I’ve been doing those segments for about two years now, and greatly enjoy the opportunity to talk with educators and education leaders about what is actually working in our classrooms.

Recently, BAM! decided to launch a new platform called EdWords, providing commentaries that complement the content on its radio programs. I’m proud that Eduflack has been asked to contribute the written word to that platform, writing about Common Core implementation.

The first piece I have up on EdWords is a familiar one to Eduflack readers. Late last year, I wrote of a terrific third grade teacher who was using science and astronomy and non-fiction texts to help teach Common Core standards. That piece is now up at EdWords, focusing on how Common Core and content can get along.

I hope you’ll give it a read and give it a share. And check out all of the fabulous written content that BAM! is now making available to the education community. It is definitely worth the time.


Fathers and the Role They Can, Should Play

When it comes to family-school relationships, too often we still see the old stereotypes. It’s the mother’s responsibility to deal with the school, the teachers, and the homework. But should it be?

Over on Medium, Eduflack has a new piece as part of the Ashoka Changemakers series. In it, I write:

Too often, we leave educational decisions to the mother in the relationship, thinking it isn’t part of a father’s job. In reality, we shouldn’t just show empathy to those fathers looking to get involved, we shouldn’t just be praising those who choose that path, but we should be demanding it from all fathers. Fathers must be more involved in their kids’ education, beyond helping with homework at night. That’s what involvement really looks like. At its very heart, it is a simple, common-sense idea.

I also offer up some tips on how a dad can be a little more involved in the process. I hope you’ll give it a read.


Teaching and Respect for the Profession

If more parents understood what serious teaching looked like, what would they do instead? Maybe, at parties, they’d talk to teachers about their craft. They might ask to sit in on classes instead of just coming to concerts and games. And if they understood what their children would miss, they might not want them to be late for school.

From Amanda Ripley’s tremendous article in Washingtonian, Stop Talking About Teachers As If They’re Missionaries