Why We Don’t Ask if We’re a Learning Organization

You may be a learner, you may use a learning device. Does that matter if you’re not part of a learning organization?

My guess is no.

Today, I participated in Ben Wilkoff’s session at Future Ready: A Technovation Institute. The conversation was geared around some deeper thinking of what we mean and imply when we invoke the “1:1” ration in talking about learners and devices.

Midway through, Ben asked us to think about what is needed to support learners in tech-rich environments and what is needed to support devices as tools for deeper learning in those environments.

My answer kept coming back to the place where my thinking’s been living these last few weeks – learning organizations. Being a part of such an organization is necessary for both learners and devices to move beyond the shiny of new tech in learning.

Here’s what I mean by that.

Sure, classrooms, schools, and districts purport to be learning organizations in that they are organizations designed to facilitate the learning of those in their charge or care – namely, students. And, yes, this is a good goal. It is certainly better than being teaching organizations or education organizations. To hit lightly on being a learning organization is to at least imply that your goal is the learning of those within your system.

What I’d posit is necessary for the ongoing support of learners and the view of technology as tools for learning is that the classroom, school, or district is, itself, a learning organization. Better phrased, is any of these an organization that learns? Dice that apart. A school that is comprised of teachers who are learners may find itself ahead of other schools where teachers don’t engage their curiosity or agency to satisfy that agency.

Such a school still cannot go as far if it does not attempt, as an institution to learn from its mistakes, to move forward as a whole, and to be better as a learning body. This is part of what Chris and I mean when we write “Be One School.”

To be a learning organization classrooms, schools, and districts – either by dictate or consensus – would identify a driving, commonly held curiosity and then move toward investigating that curiosity together.

Whenever I’ve had the chance to talk to the leadership of any organization of which I’ve been a part, I’ve asked one question, “What are the three things you hope we’re working toward this year?” For whatever reason, I’ve yet to pose that question to a leader and get a coherent answer. Maybe they don’t know, maybe they’re being politic, or maybe they’re resistant to make their own goals the goals of all.

Imagine, though, what could happen if a superintendent, principal, or teacher engaged in a process of identifying those wicked problems to be investigated throughout the year. Shared ownership of these problems and shared learning toward their solutions would be a powerfully unifying experience.

From Theory to Practice:

  • If your organization has a leadership team or committee, pull them together and ask what big issues they would like to grapple with in the coming year. Make updates on learning a standing item on each meeting agenda.
  • In the classroom, select the big buckets of learning (usually disciplines) and have students work through their big questions for each bucket. Keep track of answers and new questions as the year progresses.
  • If you’re at the very beginning of this work and need to build cohesion, build a simple question into your formal conversations, “What is something you’re trying to figure out right now?” Keep track of the answers you get and see how you might be able to use common threads to plan events, learning sessions, and communications toward common cause.

Stop Scaring Teachers with Students’ Inconceivable Futures

future

It’s back-to-school season, so there’s a strong chance you’re reading or writing posts from people getting you jazzed about the work ahead in the 2016-17 school year. Maybe you’re attending a back-to-school kickoff or orientation or induction or whatever fills out your buzzword bingo card. If you’re doing any of the above, someone is likely to remind you of the impossible task before today’s educators – Preparing students for jobs that don’t even exist yet.

Well, that’s terrifying. It’s terrifying for students, and it’s terrifying for teachers.

“What do you want to be when you grow up, Zac? You know what, don’t even answer, because that job will be done by a robot and whatever job you will be able to get is beyond comprehension.” Maybe that’s a stretch, but you get my point.

Instead, I’ve got two points to fight the IMPOSSIBLE FUTURE blues:

  1. This isn’t our first rodeo. Before the Industrial Revolution, we couldn’t quite conceive of the jobs for which we were preparing students. Before the computer revolution, who knew we’d need to figure out GUI programming? Before globalization and the Space Race and the Internet and so many other societal seismic shifts, those in teaching roles could not fully conceptualize the jobs for which they were preparing students. And while that system had many inefficiencies for preparing the students in our care, it always will. The future moves fast, and it’s a big world. All we can do is our best and keep learning. So, when you hear someone say our job is to prepare students for jobs that don’t exist yet, think to yourself, “It always has been.”
  2. The present is full of plenty of jobs that need doing. While I’m not necessarily talking about honest-to-goodness W-9 requiring and W-2 generating jobs, I am talking about the jobs any news program will remind you need attending to. Rather than throwing the dart of preparation at the invisible dartboard of future employment, let’s aim our schools and classrooms at the targets we have in front of us. Climate change is a thing we’re 99.5% is a real thing. What if we turned our science curriculums toward saving the glaciers, the coast lines, and the polar bears? Ask students who haven’t yet learned not to come up with creative solutions to turn their beautiful imaginations toward poverty, systemic racism, strengthening the republic, sustainable energy, and interconnected economic systems. And, then give them the resources, lessons, and teaching they need to start figuring things out rather than telling them, “The adults have this.” Because, we don’t.

While we may not have the codex on the jobs employers will be hiring for as our students leave our care, we have a pretty good line on the problems educated, informed, collaborative, thoughtful citizens will need to solve. And that’s what we’re working to create, right?

We didn’t have control before

I’ve been spending a great deal of time with educators who are thinking about the changes that will be necessary once a greater saturation of technology is present in their schools and classrooms.

The most frequent topic under this umbrella – classroom management.

Principals and teachers are concerned over a lack of “control,” and that students will be distracted to greater extents now that devices are in their hands. Students will be distracted and engagement will flag, they worry.

Instead of doing what they are asked or expected to, many teachers worry students will do something else, something they choose.

These educators are correct. Faced with the choice to do school and learning as they always have versus an activity or piece of content of their choosing, students are likely to favor the latter.

I cannot blame them.

To prepare for this distraction and tension of control, schools are readying policies and school-wide language for students. They share it with parents who are equally concerned their children will stop paying attention and choose anything else over the prescribed curriculum and tasks.

Schools will tell students when they are allowed to have their devices out and when they are not. There will be signs in the classrooms that teachers can turn over or point to for clarification. Students who are repeatedly off-task will meet with restricted freedoms until they can show a greater ability to act in compliance.

I wish the answer they were giving was a different one. I wish when educators spoke to parents they made a different promise and instead said that they would be working to make their classrooms more interesting, responsive, spaces connected to students’ curiosities and questions. I wish they committed in faculty meetings, not to a common signal, but to a common agreement to be better at asking students to do things that matter in the moment.

We have been skating by in our classrooms. This was a hard truth I ran into head first when I started working in my first 1:1 environment, and my instinct was to intensify the ways in which I showed my students I was in control of their learning. It’s not an instinct of which I’m proud, but that’s often true of the novice learner.

Luckily, I had access to communities (online and physical) who shared both their practices and their thinking about interacting with students in well-saturated technological learning spaces. Following their lead and writing in this space as a place to reflect publicly, I came to realize holding tighter to control wasn’t in the interest of my students or my peace of mind.

Any shift so seismic as the introduction of connected devices to a classroom calls for a greater awareness of practice. We may turn toward that awareness or we may dig in more deeply to what we have always done and choose not to examine our practices and beliefs about learning.

My hope is that teachers and principals will choose to lean in to the conversations and reflections during this shift of opportunity and begin asking what they should stop doing and start doing, given the affordances of a shifting landscape.

Join Us for a Book Study and Conversation Series on Connected Learning

Screen Shot 2014-05-22 at 10.10.55 AMDo devices arriving in the Fall have you feeling a little unprepared? Do you find yourself excited about the prospects of teaching in a connected classroom, and yet also unsure where to start? Have you dabbled with connected learning in the past and are looking for a group of like-minded folks to push your thinking?

If you answered, “Yes,” or even, “Maybe,” to the questions above, you’re going to want to join the SVVSD ITC’s book study of Teaching in the Connected Learning Classroom.

The book offers an introduction to the principles of Connected Learning as well as real-world classroom examples from classroom teachers across the country who share their stories of leveraging connected classrooms to increase their students’ abilities to create and connect in the world at large.

Who: Anyone who is interested is welcome to join the book study which will be facilitated by SVVSD Instructional Technology Coordinators Bud Hunt and Zac Chase.

What: An informal study of Teaching in the Connected Learning Classroom.

When: The group will hold meetings twice each week on Tuesday at 3:30 PM and Thursday at 8:30:30 PM beginning June 3, taking a recess throughout July and then continuing in August with a concluding meeting the week of August 18:30. Participants are welcome to join either or both weekly calls. (All times MST.)

Where: The meetings will take place in Adobe Connect in this classroom (https://connect.svvsd.org/connectedlearning/). The book can be downloaded as a free PDF here or for $.99 from the Amazon Kindle Store here.

Why: As our classrooms become places of greater and greater connectivity, it is incumbent upon us as teachers to consider the best ways to leverage that connectivity to help students learn and impact the world in which they live.

Connected Learning Principles:

Connected learning is…

  • interest-powered,
  • peer-supported,
  • academically, oriented,
  • production-centered,
  • openly networked,
  • and driven by shared purpose.
DISCUSSION SCHEDULE
Content Discussion Dates and Times
Foreword & Introduction 6/3 @ 3:30PM or 6/5 @ 8:30PM
Chapter 1 – Interest-Driven Learning 6/10 @ 3 PM or 6/12 @ 8:30 PM
Chapter 2 – Peer-Supported Learning 6/17 @ 3:30PM or 6/19 @ 8:30 PM
Chapter 3 – Academically-Oriented Teaching 6/24 @ 3:30PM or 6/26 @ 8:30 PM
JULY RECESS
Chapter 4 – Production-Centered Classrooms 8/5 @ 3:30PM or 8/7 @ 8:30PM
Chapter 5 – Openly Networked 8/12 @ 3:30PM or 8/14 @ 8:30PM
Chapter 6 – Shared Purpose & Conclusion 8/19 @ 3:30PM or 8/21 @ 8:30PM

Professional Learning for Everyone (No, Really)

Some Things

  • Our district has started moving to a 1:1 device-to-student/teacher ration in secondary schools.
  • Our elementary schools will also be getting a sizable influx of devices.
  • There are only 6 instructional technology coordinators (ITC) in the district.
  • Realizing our capacity and teachers’ and students’ needs weren’t quite aligned, we started to design a new system.

Since not long after I started at the district, this project has been my baby. A few weeks ago, it started hitting its stride.

The basic idea is to create a range of 1-2 hour online self-paced modules in our district MOODLE install where teachers, students (anyone, really) can log in and  work through their learning whenever they’d like.

Design

Each module follows a simple structure:

Overview – This offers a description of the main ideas within the module, the driving objectives, and the essential questions.

Investigation – Here is a curated pathway for learning about your module’s topics complete with explanations, links and ideas for learning.

Application & Discussions – In this section, you’ll complete a specific activity related to the module topic that asks you to put your learning into action, and a link to posting and sharing your learning for deeper discussion.

Further Investigation – If the initial Investigation was dipping your toe in the learning, this section gives you a chance to dive in, explore things more deeply, and provide yourself with an archive of resources for shifting your practice.

Wherever possible, the application gives participants a choice of tasks that both speak to the learning of the module and remain open enough to fit participants’ needs.

Realizing that 1-2 hours only scratches the surface on many topics, the Further Investigation section holds all the resources we identified as valuable, but not necessary. The hope is that participants will follow their curiosity.

Implementation

Anyone can look through a module. There’s no need to complete the application if you drop in and find what you were looking for, we’re happy you stopped by.

If you’re looking for something more, we’ve built that too. The fine folks in Professional Development have included module completion in the PD Course Listings. Participants can sign up to complete 4 modules (including application and discussion) for .5 hours of course/salary credit.

What’s more, any face-to-face course we teach has an accompanying, abbreviated module. This way, a teacher completing a course can answer a principal’s request for sharing what was learned in a faculty meeting can reply, “Sure, I’ll walk them through the module.”

Finally, modules de-centralize the knowledge. Whereas there might have been one of us in the office who was equipped to lead a training on classroom workflow or any other topic, modules mean we can all own the landscape of any course. It’s not a script, it’s a container, a bag of tricks.

Alignment

When we started planning, we didn’t want these modules to be “another thing” for teachers. This made it important to align each module with other district instructional initiatives. Each connects with Tier 1 instructional practices, the teaching and learning cycle, and the newly-adopted Colorado Teacher Quality Standards.

Building

Everyone is building these modules. It’s part of the beauty of starting from a basic structure. ITCs, curriculum coordinators, teacher librarians, classroom teachers, and contracted instructional designers have helped us bring 17 modules to life with the goal of having around 50 completed by the end of the school year.

Monitoring

When a module has been created by someone in the school district, that person remains the teacher within the course. They are notified when assignments and forum posts have been submitted, and jump in for conversation and comments.

When a contracted instructional designer has built the module, I fill the role of teacher.

Participants completing 4 modules for credit complete this form when they’ve finished their work, I confirm completion, and sign off on the work for OPD.

Discussion

One piece that’s different for our MOODLE courses is the location of the discussions. While each module includes a discussion portion, those discussions all live in a single course here. This allows all curious folks interested in discussing a topic to find the forums in one place. It meant an interesting course architecture dilemma, but we’ve got it working.

Open to All

Perhaps a unique aspect of our MOODLE install is that anyone anywhere around the world with an Internet connection can sign up for a user account. Thus, anyone with an account, no matter their district affiliation can work through a module.

We also started the project with an eye on openness and sharing. Each module has been Creative Commons licensed for attribution, non-commercial sharing and uploaded to moodle.net, the hub for sharing MOODLE courses. If you’ve got MOODLE, you can install these modules and tweak them to your edu-landscape.

It’s about time to show we’re #wellrED

#wellrED logoEarly February, I announced that Jose Vilson and I were starting a book group through GoodReads for folks whose lives are entangled with education. We saw a general lack of conversation around the tough issues we face in districts, schools, and classrooms, and thought maybe there was something we could do about that.

A little over a month later, and we’ve got about 50 members of the #wellrED group, and are about to start our conversations around Lisa Delpit’s Other People’s Children. Just looking at the group members, I know this is going to include some great dialogue. Folks from all over the US have signed on to think deeply and listen to understand other people’s thoughts around the book.

You should too.

Pick up a copy of Children today. You’ve got plenty of time to read the introduction and forward by the time we post this week’s questions Wednesday. Then, join us Thursday from 7:30-8:30 EST for an on-air Google hangout discussion of what we’ve read and/or join us for a twitter chat at the same time with the hashtag #wellrED.

Being connected gives us a chance to create the type of professional learning we’ve been looking for. Hopefully, this discussion is something you’ve been hoping for.

If you have any questions about any of the above information, leave a comment below, and I’ll be happy to help you get connected.

How data are like beets

This is a guest post by teacher Paul Tritter. It originally appeared as part of this newsletter about professional learning in Boston Public Schools.


My first association with beets was borscht from a jar. My mother loved beets, and she made them lots of different ways, but my association was that borscht, and so I left beets alone. Then about 10 years ago I found myself in Avignon, France at a buffet, confronted with an aluminum serving tray piled high with diced beets. France, you may know, has a reputation for making delicious food, so I gave the beets the benefit of the doubt. Good decision.  These were perfectly cooked, just the right amount of snap in the texture, and dressed in a garlicky dijon vinaigrette that perfectly complemented the sweetness of the vegetable. I have loved beets ever since. Roasted, pressure cooked, grated raw on top of a salad, the greens cooked up with some garlic and vinegar. Beautiful. It turns out my mother’s roasted beets are delicious, too. I missed out all those years because of that borscht in a jar.

Oh, I’m sorry. This is supposed to be about professional development?

I also remember the first time I was introduced to the idea of using data in my classroom practice. There were three packets of MCAS data that covered the school’s history for the three previous years. There were twelve of us in the room, and we had fifteen minutes to look at the packets and discuss. We came to no conclusions. The conversation never continued.  Let’s call this borscht.

Later, I had the chance to sit with a group of colleagues and examine a more narrow data set, a student essay.  This one happened to be about the student’s understanding of the role of religion in Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God.  We used a conversational protocol called the Collaborative Assessment Conference where my colleagues analyzed the work while I remained silent.  Later, we discussed the implications of this particular data point for teaching reading and writing and for understanding our students themselves.

The conversation included big picture thinking and specific next instructional action steps. Let’s call this French beets.

Any teaching and learning endeavor produces some kind of data: a test score, an artifact of student work, a spreadsheet, a story. Any of these could be made into borscht, and any into French beets. It’s what you do with data that matters.

With the right cooks and good quality ingredients you can make something delicious. Ingredients don’t drive the cooking process, but they do play a critical role. Similarly, educators shouldn’t let data, especially any single set, drive their work, but neither can we completely ignore the necessity to seek out and utilize good evidence about our teaching and students’ learning. Don’t let the borscht keep you away from using data, and don’t let the obsessive data hype make you use it the wrong way. Earlier in this newsletter, I plugged the Boston Teacher Leadership Certificate.  The Boston teachers who developed this program understand the value of multiple forms of data. If you are interested in becoming the Julia Child of data, you might want to check it out.

A couple of good recent posts about data have caught my eye:

If you don’t like food metaphors, Texas Superintendent John Kuhn, in his Tyranny of the Datum compares using data to hunting deer.

We are like a hunter who once hunted deer but then got sidetracked by obsessively examining deer tracks. We became experts at deer tracks. Now we hunt deer tracks. We make molds of them. We hang them on our walls. We haven’t seen a deer in ages, and we can’t really figure out why we’re so hungry. But we have a great spreadsheet that sorts our deer track collection by circumference, regularity, and a hundred other criteria. Because deer tracks are important for finding the deer, only we kind of forgot about the deer.

Venison with beets sounds good, no?

In What Role do Hunches Play in Professional Learning Communities?, Bill Ferreiter makes a compelling case for honoring the second-nature knowledge of experienced teachers while submitting that knowledge to regular, purposeful examination and reflection:

As a real-live, bona-fide, full-time practicing classroom teacher myself, . . . I’m sick of being doubted — and sick of the implicit suggestion in every right-wing press release that my choices are failing American children.  I know that my expertise matters and that my hunches aren’t just random guesses about what might work drawn from the professional ether.

But I also know that if we are going to reestablish ourselves in the eyes of our most vocal critics, then we need to constantly document the tangible impact that our hunches have on the kids in our care.  It is our responsibility to prove that the strategies that we believe in and the choices that we are making truly represent best practice — and when confronted by evidence that our strategies aren’t as effective as we thought they were, we have to respond, change direction and embrace something better.

Something better, like French beets.


Paul Tritter is Director of the Professional Learning Initiative, a partnership between the Boston Teachers Union and the Boston Public Schools. He tweets at @btulearns and @ptritter.

131/365 Trust the Start

My new job has me thinking quite a bit about the flow of systems. For the majority of my career, I’ve been at one end of the educational system – in the classroom – working directly with students and other teachers to make learning and formal education better.

Now, I find myself somewhere in the middle of the system. I’m not in charge of anything, per se, at either end of the system. I support teachers and students and I support the leadership of the district. Sometimes (not often) that support looks drastically different.

I’ve found myself realizing and hoping for a specific string of trust to be enacted and embodied by the district.

It starts like this – Trust that teachers are doing all they can to support students’ growth and learning.

From there, direct interactions should be set up in such a way to give them support they need to do what they feel they need to do to help kids. This would be at the principal level. From there, outside the schools, intermediate district personnel should move to support principals based on the assumption that they trust that teachers are doing all they can to support students’ growth and learning.

If I believe that’s what principals believe, I’m going to be better at my job.

The same assumption is what I hope for those to whom I report. As I move through schools, help teachers and administrators learn and consider new practices, I hope that those in charge of me assume that I trust that teachers are doing all they can to support students growth and learning.

I want others to assume it in the system, and I want those others to assume that I believe it as well.

If we all operate from this believe, if we all trust that teachers are doing all they can to support students’ growth and learning, a foundation is established on which we can build, improve and design pathways to even greater capacity.

Assuming teachers are doing all they can is not assuming that they are doing the absolute best, it is assuming that they are doing their absolute best in the moment, and that it can always be augmented.

If I work with a group of teachers to build capacity around some new tool or practice, approaching our time together from the assumption that they are doing all they can will result in conversations much more replete with respect, listening, and care than conversations based on the assumption they are slacking, skating, or faking their way through the school year.

I want the best for anyone who endeavors to add to the learning, understanding, and choices of students. The best way I can think of to support and work alongside these folks is to trust they are doing the best they can and move from there.

A letter from a student teacher to a student teacher

As a final activity, I asked the four student teachers I had the pleasure of supervising write letters to next semester’s group. The instructions were something like, “Write what you wish someone had said to you at the beginning of this experience.” Below is the letter from Jessica Post to those who follow. Jessica is an amazingly creative teacher who is dedicated to improving her practice and connecting to kids. Here’s what she had to say:

Dear Future Student Teachers,
I was very apprehensive before student teaching and was not sure I was
entirely ready for such an intense experience. All I heard from people about this
necessary step in the process was how much work it is and several unfortunate
stories. The thought of planning and teaching four classes was incredibly daunting
and my confidence was shaky. Time flew and before I knew it I was preparing to say
goodbye to the students whom I had grown to know and love. I feel guilty
sometimes when I think about how my 130 students probably taught me more than
I could ever hope to teach them. They continued to show up everyday and stayed
with me when lessons fell flat. They tolerated my cheesy jokes and random
tangents about my pets. They saw me as a teacher before I ever saw it in myself.

Sure, there were days I was tired and dreaded teaching and I imagine, some days,
the students felt the same. But I made it and more importantly I enjoyed it.
Currently, I feel invigorated and excited to have a classroom to call my own. Job
searching and planning for the future is now more daunting than student teaching
could have ever been.

Student teaching gives you the unique opportunity to talk through lessons,
try things you learned in class, and observe the inner workings of a school while
having a plethora of support. I had a wonderful and educational experience and I
sincerely hope that you have similar journeys. I have learned more about myself,
both as a person and as a teacher, during student teaching than I could have learned
in any class. Looking back on the past four months I can pinpoint some key things
that I believed helped me have a positive experience. I share these, in hopes that
they may be of service to you as well.

The most important thing is to accept and remember that everyone’s
experience is different and you should not feel pressured to do things a certain way
or at a certain pace. I observed and co-taught with my CT longer than some of my
colleagues. I had a very gradual transition into solo teaching while other members
of my group jumped in right away. At times I felt slightly inadequate for my sluggish
transition. Did my CT not think I was capable? Am I not qualified to do this? I
pushed my self-doubt aside and accepted the fact that this is what I am comfortable
with and how I learn best. Looking back I am glad I did it this way.

Secondly, make sure to continue doing things you enjoy and ask questions. I
was very busy but I made it a point to hangout with my friends and continue to be
active. This provided some much needed stress relief and made me a more amicable
teacher. Zac and your CT are here to help you and they are really good at answering
questions-especially Zac, he is awesome and you are lucky to have him as a
supervisor. Listen to their suggestions but always be yourself. If something doesn’t
feel right, even if it was their suggestion, don’t do it because if you’re not invested in
it or believe in it, neither will your students.

Accept that some lessons are going to be awesome and others will fall flat.
Always be reflective and critical and write down suggestions as if you were going
to teach that lesson again. I kept sticky notes and stuck them to my lesson plans
to remember what worked, what didn’t, how I would change it, and if the students
liked it. I also went through my CT’s file folders (with his permission of course) and “borrowed” lots of project ideas, rubrics, and assessments. This will undoubtedly be of service to me when I land a job of my own.

For some weird reason I cannot explain, my friends do not find my stories
about the student building forts in the corner of my classroom or my really engaging
lesson that mimics Tosh.O’s web redemptions amusing. Therefore, I befriended
the other members of my cohort and we met every weekend for breakfast. The
first hour we were at the restaurant consisted of eating and sharing stories from
the week. I found these friends are much more responsive to my stories. Then we
would lesson plan, bounce ideas off each other, complain about the TPA, or grade
papers for 2 or 3 more hours. I suggest finding a restaurant is not incredibly busy
and does not mind if you camp out for several hours (I was a server for a long time
so I am very sympathetic to the server’s plight and customer dining etiquette).
Always let them know you intend to stay for a long time and tip your servers well.
Serving PSA aside, this was very beneficial and it provided some much needed help
and support. I strongly suggest this.

Nearing the end of my experience I visited other teachers I have come to
know and respect throughout the school. I observed them and took pictures and
notes of things I liked in their classrooms. In particular I focused on daily routines,
resources, and classroom management. These observations were much more
fruitful than the ones done in practicum because I have experience and specific
things I am looking for. It was also fun to see students with other teachers. Some of
them act completely different than they did in my class. This was very helpful and
allowed me to see other teachers in action (something we won’t get to do as much
when we have our own classrooms).

Try not to get overwhelmed and remember that you are in control of what
you get out of this program. I sincerely wish you the best and I am very excited for
you. I hope you have a wonderful time student teaching and learn a lot from the
experience.

16 Proposals for Radically Changing Schools (for the better)

I was finally able to finish Neil Postman and Charles Weingartner’s Teaching as a Subversive Activity yesterday. (What else was I supposed to do the day after graduating?) That I’d made it so long without encountering this text baffled me, but I’m willing to chalk it up to the right books coming into our lives at the right time.

Toward the end of the book, Postman and Weingartner list a group of proposals “that attempt to change radically the existing school system.”

I should like to learn and teach in a school that honors these proposals. In the case of a few of them, I’ve already done just that.

  1. Declare a five-year moratorium on the use of all textbooks.
  2. Have “English” teachers “teach” Math, Math teachers English, Social Studies teachers Science, Science teachers Art, and so on.
  3. Transfer all the elementary-school teachers to high school and vice versa.
  4. Require every teacher who thinks he knows his “subject” to write a book on it.
  5. Dissolve all “subjects,” “courses,” and especially “course requirements.”
  6. Limit each teacher to three declarative sentences per class, and 15 interrogative.
  7. Prohibit teachers from asking any questions they already know the answers to.
  8. Declare a moratorium on all tests and grades.
  9. Require all teachers to undergo some form of psycho-therapy as part of their in-service training.
  10. Classify teachers according to their ability and make the lists public.
  11. Require all teachers to take a test prepared by students on what the students know.
  12. Make every class an elective and withhold a teacher’s monthly check if his students do not show any interest in going to next month’s classes.
  13. Require every teacher to take a one-year leave of absence every fourth year to work in some “field” other than education.
  14. Require each teacher to provide some sort of evidence that he or she has had a loving relationship with at least one human being.
  15. Require that all the graffiti accumulated in the school toilets be reproduced on large paper and be hung in the school halls.
  16. There should be a general prohibition against the use of the following words and phrases: teach, syllabus, covering ground, I.Q., makeup, text, disadvantaged, gifted, accelerated, enhanced, course, grade, score, human nature, dumb, college material, and administrative necessity.
I’ve not stopped thinking about how much the teachers in schools adopting this list of proposals would learn and how much more effectively they would begin to teach.
What else deserves to be on this list?
Citation: Postman, Neil, and Charles Weingartner. Teaching As a Subversive Activity. Delta, 1971.