Getting Some Things Off My Chest

I am going to do something in this blog that my son warned against, that I criticized Will Richardson for doing, and that every training on digital etiquette warns against.  I am going to write with some emotion (read: anger).  In doing so I respectfully thank Ben for his input, apologize to Will for my criticism (and Dave Cormier who so admirably and rightfully came to Will’s defense) and I throw caution against the wind relative to etiquette, as I will hit send when I am done writing this post, emotions and protocol be damned.  The fact of the matter is, this transparency thing is not something I can do only when I am happy or excited to share something new.  It is a choice I have made and in doing so forfeited the opportunity to hold back or filter.  So, you will read some anger in my words, frustrations in my thoughts, and disgust in my remarks, but that is where I am right now.  As always, you have the right to rebut or ignore, share or toss aside, laugh in contempt or laugh in the discomfort that what I am writing you know to be true. Whichever you choose, just know that I am uncomfortable with where education is, both locally and globally, and I need to get things off my chest.

1.  I am really upset with Michelle Rhee right now.  Not necessarily because she quit, but because when she became the Chancellor of Washington, DC schools, she said her job was not driven by politics.  Yet, when the politics shift and the votes don’t go her way (see DC mayoral race) she bails.  Regardless of whether or not I was a supporter of he efforts (which I was not) I don’t think you should sell “reform” if you are not willing to fight when you no longer have political clout.  Educational leadership takes courage, especially when it has to move beyond politics.

2. I am so tired of the amount of paper my kids are bringing home from school.  To the left is a picture of the pile of paper my kids have accumulated over the past two weeks.  Really?  Why can’t this be digitized?

3.  Within that stack is information for upcoming fundraisers that are being held to pay for a variety of activities at the school.  The major fundraiser is a magazine drive.  I’m sorry, but I am moving to paperless, I don’t want more magazines cluttering my house.  Further, our school doesn’t lack for books, supplies, or computers like so many others do; if we are going to raise funds, shouldn’t we be doing so with the children and in a way that allows them to explore global issues and not by the children to throw a bigger party at the end of the year?  Truthfully, I’d rather see my taxes increase to support education AND donate to student organized fundraisers that allow the kids to make a difference in the world then keep taxes stagnant only to hide them in a variety of fundraisers.  I understand that others may not agree, but I would rather see more opportunities for more kids than an embarrassment of riches in any one school.

4.  I was pretty disappointed in some of the discussion I heard at my kids’ “Back to School Night”.  When I hear teachers say things like, “we have to teach them to be responsible” by implementing ancient homework policies or “they need to learn how to read out of a textbook to prepare them for middle school” I cringe.  First of all, don’t prepare my kids for middle school, prepare them for life.  Second, you don’t teach “responsibility” by creating a double-jeopardy homework policy (please read Alfie Kohn and Doug Reeves), you coerce students into compliance.  There’s a big difference between being responsible and being compliant.

I know these teachers, they are all terrific people, I don’t want to come off as pointing the finger at them, I really don’t.  This is a systemic problem due to the fact that educators as a group loathe change.  The result is that old practices and dogmas rarely get purged.  We work in a system that rewards consistency and predictability and shuns change and the unknown, even if older practices do not help students engage in 21st century issues.  The quotes above could come from teachers in all grades, in all schools, in all states in this country.  I know that my kids’ teachers care and love my children, but there is the opportunity to do so much more.

5.  My most proud moment as an Assistant Superintendent was my collaboration with a district wide team of educators to change the Acceptable Use Policy into one that allowed for schools, educators and students to be more participatory on the web and to learn from and connect with others using web2.0 tools.  Yet, more than 5 weeks into the school year, my kids have yet to write a blog post, create a wiki, post to flickr, or connect with other learners.  In fact, the only participatory web tool that my family has been exposed to has come from the cafeteria director asking my family to start using the new web-based pay system, where I can fund my kids’ hot lunch accounts automatically using my credit card.  Could it be that the school’s cafeteria is more web savvy than its classrooms?

(In full disclosure, one of my daughter’s teachers has asked me to come in an speak to the class about blogging, but when my son says on Sunday nights that he is not looking forward to writing in his journal Monday morning because, “only the teacher reads it, not the whole world” I get frustrated.  Again… my kids’ teachers are great, it’s the system that bares the brunt of my frustration.)

6.  On a more global scale, I’m worried that my PLN is becoming cliquey.  I’m not sure if it is, but sometimes I feel as though my network is beginning to splinter off into different groups each claiming rights to their “specialty”.   This isn’t a complaint because I feel like I am being left out, but what I valued so much about all of the connections I have made over the past year is the cross-pollination that so often took place.  At times I feel as though that is happening less.  Perhaps I am doing it as well and don’t recognize it, but there are times when I am on Twitter, Facebook, or just catching up on my Google Reader and I feel like I am at a high school dance, with each group establishing squatters rights in their part of the gym.  Maybe I need to be more of a bumblebee and help make connections where there might otherwise not be any.  Maybe I need to form Triads as Dave Logan describes in Tribal Leadership.

7.  I’m growing more angry with the national conversation about education.  It is turning into an us vs. them debate.  Charter vs. public school.  Virtual vs. brick and mortar school.  Union vs. non-union school.  I have real disdain for competition in education, and I am still not sure why someone (or group) has to feel the need to claim victory here.  One of the things that I am most proud of our work at VLACS, is the fact that we partner with any school (or home school parent) in an effort to help kids graduate from high school.  Our core values are built on the foundation that we are partners in education, not rivals.  I don’t hear that sentiment coming from that national conversations these days.

8.  I am incredibly saddened by the decision this school board made.  It is so short-sighted.  I have come to the realization that decisions based on standardized testing rarely have long-term vision.  You can’t take someone’s temperature with a stethoscope and you can’t assess how much learning has taken place by a standardized test.

9.  It bothers me that I feel like I have a greater voice locally as a parent and taxpayer than I did as an Assistant Superintendent.

10.  Finally, I’m frustrated with educators (and community members) here in New Hampshire.  I hope that I see more progressive thinking and a push toward more authentic, passion-based learning models than what is happening right now.  My fear, however, is that people move here to find traditional ideals and values and that any movement forward will continue to be glacial at best. We’ll see, I’ll keep pushin’.

On another note, I’m thinking that the Chilean mine rescue will go down as one of those events in my life when I will remember where I was when I watched that first miner rise through that tiny hole in the Earth.  And, just to be grumpy a little more, I don’t ever want to hear another golf announcer use the word “courageous” when describing a 4 foot putt.  The courage displayed by that very first rescue miner as he descended down into the hole is hard for me to fathom.

Thanks all.  I feel better now.

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26 Responses to Getting Some Things Off My Chest

  1. dave cormier says:

    There are times when you can be angry or you can assimilate.

    5. I hear you re: your child’s desire to have a safe place to write and reflect. It’s terribly important for kids to have safe places to do that. Sharing with other groups is an entirely different kind of thing. They may both be writing, but the fact that the two different spheres of the human experience happen to share text as their medium of communication is incidental. Open sharing takes time to incubate.

    6. I also hear you about the cliquishness. Our society is, by its nature, cliquish in the way that you describe. We have our family groups, in East asia, for instance, people have very loyal groups based on high school graduation (partially because of shared age). These fractured groups abound. I think the time when the internet was not like that is passing… we are going to have to work harder to keep our diversity only as time goes by. It’s just the age of the medium. “sharing” the quality of being online is no longer a quality distinct enough to be a locus of connection.

    txs for the post.

    • tbaldasaro says:

      Dave, I really appreciate your comments about writing. My son’s teacher last year really cultivated open writing with the kids, and Ben really took to it. He came to look forward to, even embrace the comments of others. I guess I really never thought about it as being a “safe” place for him. Thanks for providing that perspective.

      The more I thought about the cliquishness, the more I’m thinking about Dave Logan’s Tribal Leadership. He says that “tribes” can’t be any larger than 150 individuals, so perhaps I am beginning to see that in my PLN. The one thing that he says however, is that tribes of 150 that are part of a bigger organization are still “governed” by very few core values. Perhaps what I am trying to handle on is what those core values are and who defines them. Do I define them since this is a “personal” learning network? Does the community-at-large define them? More to discover… more to think about.

      Thanks for lending your perspective.

  2. I hear you with #3 here is my pile of paper from two boys after the first couple of weeks. pile of papers

    • tbaldasaro says:

      In this case, I’m not glad to see that I am not alone. There is just too much information that can be digitized and share electronically. There is no excuse to simply send these items home each week.

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  4. Chad Sansing says:

    Come think with us at the Coöp. I think we’re having conversations about change and partnership that might strike a chord with you. We welcome push and try to resist cliqueyness with honesty and questioning.

    Best regard,
    Chad

  5. Karen Szymusiak says:

    Tony,
    I think so many of us feel the same (or similar frustrations). We can’t hesitate to share how we feel. Your post put your frustrations out there and most likely linked to many of ours. We need to carry on this conversation. I was glad to read that you were not “throwing daggers” at individuals but taking a wider perspective on the problems at hand. We need big movements to shift the status quo. They may start with one person, like yourself, sharing frustrations but together we can move mountains.

    • tbaldasaro says:

      Hi Karen,

      I appreciate your comments. This isn’t about individual teachers, this is about all teachers. It’s about our profession. Yes there are pockets of greatness out there, but we still work in a profession that by and large doesn’t believe in sharing best practices. We work in a professional that seems to be incredibly defensive relative to its best, whether it be teachers, lessons, assessment, etc. For some reason, there is a disinterest (or fear?) in sticking out.

      I hope that I can share more than frustrations. My goal is to celebrate greatness and share perspective and not necessarily my anger or frustrations. I did learn through this post, however, that doing so has the potential to be very powerful… so I may do more. :)

  6. Tim Lauer says:

    Enjoyed your post. Your comments about homework strike a chord with me. I hear that one quite a bit. As for all that paper, I think somewhere in Western Oregon there is a clearcut with my school’s name on it. Gotta get better with this…

    Tim Lauer

    • tbaldasaro says:

      Tim,
      Homework (the daily variety anyway) needs to be about practice. It appears to me that as teaching becomes more standardized, teachers are holding on to their grading practices, not wanting to lose control over that as well. What bothers me most is when teachers confuse effort and achievement. The A, B, C, D etc. needs to be about what a student learns, not about production. If a teacher wants to grade effort based on HW completion and tardiness, I have no problem for that, but the grade a child earns needs to be independent of their willingness to comply.

      • Rachel says:

        Tony,

        I 100% agree, homework needs to be authentic practice. I also agree, the grades I give my students need to represent what they learn and their process, not their product. How can I achieve this if I work in a community that is against standards based report cards…how can I accurately assign a grade for what a student actually learns? I can’t. It is not possible. Traditional report cards need to be abolished. Portfolios are a phenomenal alternative. In fact, with my black and white thinking, they should be the only option. If only my community could see this.

      • tbaldasaro says:

        Rachel,

        It isn’t about the report card, its about your assessments. As a teacher, when you put a grade on a student’s report card you need to know that that grade reflects the student’s achievement, not their propensity to do work. You need to assess what a student knows or is able to do and the report card grade should reflect your assessment. My frustration stems from when I see a student who completes “A” work, but is given a “c” because the work is late. Use the effort portion of the report card to reflect the tardiness of the work and keep the content grade about the content.

        The irony here is that most kids are benefited by the effort portion of the grade. Few kids get all “A’s” on assessments, but their “homework”, “class participation”, “effort” grade pushes them over the top so they get the “A” on the report card – even if their understanding of the content is at a “B” level.

        Standards-based assessment can be done regardless of the report card. Go for it!

  7. Dan Callahan says:

    #1: I completely agree. In the long run, I think we’ll look back at Rhee as just yet another big city superintendent who wasn’t willing to stick it out when things got rough.

    #6: I agree with Dave. People splintering off into more specialized groups is a sign of increased platform maturity. When many of us teachers started, there weren’t a lot of teachers on here, so we banded together into our own teacher clique. Now that there are a lot more teachers, you have two routes you can take: follow everybody or choose who you follow. I don’t know about you, but if I’m going to legitimately be able to engage people in conversation, I can’t follow everybody. It’s just to much, too fast, so right now I’m finding that I’m being increasingly careful about who I follow, because I’m here for information relevant to my interests.

    Don’t forget that the P in PLN stands for Personal. There are are as many ways to use Twitter as there are Twitter users. People are just using Twitter in the way that works for them right now.

    • tbaldasaro says:

      Dan, I mentioned this in reply to Dave’s comments, but I think your assertion that I am witnessing the maturation of the platform. I only hope that this process doesn’t result in different, smaller “PLN’s”. What I value so much is the diversity of members, thinkers, contributers, etc. I would hate to lose that.

      Your point about the “P” resonates as well. These networks are very “personal” in nature.

  8. dloitz says:

    I would only counter, you don’t prepare them for life, they are already living it. You are helping to support and guide them….not prepare them! Great post otherwise.

  9. What is the purpose of writing a blog if you can’t use it to speak your mind? As I read through the archives of my own, I can definitely see which times of the year were more frustrating or more inspirational.

    As a parent, I’m right there with you. I either bite my tongue until it bleeds, or become ‘that parent.’ I have to gauge which person will help my children more. With my youngest graduating high school this year, I’m worried that she’s really not prepared for what awaits her after high school. Really worried.

    I get what you mean about the clique-like nature of some of the sub-groups in your PLN. I used to feel that way a lot before I’d met more people in person. I appreciate every single person in my network, but I’m naturally closer to those with whom I’ve spent more time and/or known longer. However, I’m just as willing to include everyone in a conversation. I hope you feel that way about most of the people in your network, because that’s how I feel about mine. Also agree with Dan about those numbers. Couldn’t possibly follow everyone I want to follow… it would turn into a lot of noise.

    Great post. Give yourself credit for your own feelings and that they are important enough to share with us. I appreciate that you did!

  10. Jennifer Wagner says:

    Thank you for sharing what many of us feel as well.

    #1 — I am stunned as well. But then, I am also in wonderment. There are so many things we still don’t know about this……and I wonder, was this in the works when she was on Oprah?? If so — that raises even more questions for me.

    #6 — I don’t believe your PLN is becoming any more cliquey than it always has. But I think because the PLN is growing so rapidly…..people who used to be noticed as “gurus” are now having to compete with others even more. So — they need to draw attention to themselves in any way they can.
    There have ALWAYS been inner circle(s) within the echo chamber. There always will be because people will navigate to those with whom they share similarities.
    What I find harmful is the lack of tolerance for those who might disagree with an opinion you might have — and refuse to see that there just might be more than ONE productive way to be effective. The “I am right therefore you must be wrong” is juvenile but very much visible within the PLN.

    And #3 — Thank you.
    I really had not thought that much about it — but our magazine sale was coming up and it just was not sitting right with me. Thank you for putting into words something I had just started see-sawing in my thoughts.

    Good post —
    Love that you shared from your heart.
    Do it again — often.

    thanks
    Jennifer

    • tbaldasaro says:

      Hi Jennifer,

      I’m glad that you framed my post as coming from my “heart”. I do think that we (those who blog) have a duty to celebrate and be positive, but I have learned through this post, and the comments that others offered that writing honestly and from the “heart” sometimes need not always celebrate. It is sometimes necessary to be pointed and emotional.

  11. On a positive note (?) – I’ve been so insanely busy with school lately that I have no idea what the dynamics of the Twitter PLN are these days. I know I always enjoy reading what you write. And I know that I’m lurking more these days, but that’s just because it’s not summer, and the real work has kicked back into high gear.

    And yeah, I’m a high school educator by training, but as a grade school parent, I’m starting to itch to really examine how we could do that part better.

    • tbaldasaro says:

      Hi Chris,
      It’s interesting that you mention how busy you are. With the new school year starting, the past five weeks have been crazy busy. There are times when I feel like my PLN is flying by me and I thought about that a bit prior to commenting on the cliquishness on my post. It may be that I have been too busy to engage like I use to resulting in the appearance of cliques. We’ll see.

      I was primarily trained as a secondary educator, so I have incredible respect for primary teachers. I thought I was a pretty good teacher until I walked into my son’s Kindergarten teacher’s classroom 5 years ago. But, as they mature as learners, I want more and I am getting antsy knowing its possible and not seeing it happen.

      Thanks for taking the time to comment. See you in January!

  12. Cheryl McDonough says:

    Tony
    I think you have been reading my mind again!

  13. Rachel says:

    Tony,

    Why do we need grades? Why can’t kids assess themselves (with our guidance) and create their own goals (with our guidance) and reflect on themselves as learners (with our guidance)? If we believe in “authentic learning” and “passion based learning” then why isn’t this the way? How can I do that?

    I would have flunked out of school (all levels) if achievement was the only factor in assessment–I was only passionate about learning in the summers when I created my own curriculum.

    How can I successfully create standards based report cards when I have to assign an A, B, C, D…. I mean- I’ve done my best and luckily I haven’t been called out on it and hopefully I never will. Hopefully change can occur.

    • tbaldasaro says:

      Rachel,
      Fair question. Some would argue that we need grades to comply with the system (high school graduation, college acceptance, etc). I think what you really mean is that we need assessments more than we need grades. We (and by “we” I mean teacher and student) need to assess whether learning has taken place and how much learning has taken place. I would argue that the feedback we give kids is more important than any grade and I am aware of some studies that show that student respond to thorough specific feedback more than they do to A, B, C. etc.

      Your comment about passion-based learning is so important, and I am glad you brought that up. We absolutely need to move to a system that allows students to explore and develop passions, a system that doesn’t focus on how learning takes place, but rather that learning takes place at all. At VLACS we are trying to break free from some of the perceived restrictions of traditional schools by allowing students to earn credit through experiential learning opportunities. Even there, however, we are trying to break from assumptions that the institutional model of schooling has created.

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