Wednesday, April 16, 2008

“Keep the Faith”: Some Compensation is Delayed for Decades

Choosing education as a career takes an enormous “act of faith”. Faith in our ability to affect students in a positive way. Faith that we will make a difference. Faith we will be compensated, not only with money, but also with a knowing we contributed to our students’ lives. But as educators, some of our compensation can be delayed for decades.

While being introduced by the superintendent, to speak to a large group of building level leadership teams, I noticed an envelope labeled “My Hero” had been placed on my computer keyboard. Curious, I opened it, while knowing I had only a few minutes before I was to begin speaking.

Here is what I read as tears streamed down my face and the audience and the superintendent wondered what they had gotten into when hiring this speaker.

Dear Mrs. Roekle,
Look around the room. Can you find me? It’s been 30 years since I was in your 1st grade class at Patterson Elementary. You have been such an inspiration in my life. I knew when I left first grade that I wanted to be a teacher, just like you. I’m glad to see that you are still inspiring people today. I credit you for teaching me how to care for children and love them. What an impression you made on me, because you made me feel special. Thanks for the education that will last a lifetime.

Your admiring former student,

Lori Bowling Burack

Along with Lori’s note was the original graduation card I had sent her 11 years after having her in my first grade classroom, and there I was, holding this card 20 years after I mailed it. (I had a practice of sending a graduation card to every student whom I taught or to whom I was principal, no matter what grade.) The cards always consisted of their school picture from our time together, and a note telling them how proud I was of them. Well… Lori Burack had kept the card throughout her life, and as she explained later: through two husbands, four children, and five household moves. She explicitly told me I was not to keep it… she wanted it back.

As you might imagine, I had no problem spotting Lori in the auditorium, she had not changed in my eyes in 30 years. Same beautiful brown eyes, same dark hair, same energy, and oh yes, the same extraordinary smile I remember beaming from her desk in the second row.

I tell this story to remind you to “keep the faith”. Because each of us have, or will have, students who treasure and appreciate the gifts we give. YOU have a Lori Burack out there who would love to thank you personally for the “education that will last a lifetime”, as she wrote in her note. I was just lucky enough to bump into one of mine. It was worth the wait!

Thursday, April 03, 2008

“Moving From an ‘Either/Or World’ to a ‘Both/And World”

In February I gave a keynote address in the “Windy City” to an audience of 2,000 at the Illinois NCLB Conference. I titled my speech "Schools That Thrive", which fit well with the conference focus on rethinking, reviewing, reshaping and renewing efforts to improve No Child Left Behind and to “lift the bar” on all student learning.

I spoke about thinking in new ways and the importance of moving from an “Either/Or World” to a “Both/And” World”. “Do you believe your world will ever be entirely paperless?” I asked the audience. Very few hands went up. It may be easy to see that our world will consist of both paper and digital images.

Often you may find yourself taking sides on issues or ideas, which limits other thinking. As educators our goal is to expand our thinking and our students thinking. There are several examples of “Both/And” thinking that are alive and well in the field. The debate about Whole Language raged for years, but creative, successful, and evolved thinkers know it is not either Whole Language or Phonics, it requires both strategies to produce successful readers. Differentiated instruction is another perfect example of a successful “Both/And” strategy that accelerates learning for most students.

The “Either/Or” debate is often heated when it comes to educational technology. It seems as if people believe it is either the greatest educational tool since sliced bread or they believe it is wasting taxpayer’s money. Here is where the creative thinkers, who live by the “Both/And” philosophy for powerful instructional strategy (and search all ways to improve learning), will serve themselves and their students well.

I believe this philosophy has come of age. And, just by coincidence Andrew A Zucker, wrote an article “Smart Thinking About Educational Technology” in the April 2, 2008 issue of Education Week, addressing simplistic thinking as it applies to technology in schools. He believes that advocates often rely on weak arguments such as “ students are digital natives, so we should use more technology” yet critics may warn against excessive hype about the value of computers.

Zucker writes: “It is time to move away from simplistic “either-or” thinking about computers in schools. Instead, we need to focus on key educational goals and how computers and other digital tools can help us achieve them.” Within the article he describes his key goals and gives clear examples of them. You may find his thoughts and ideas helpful in your own technology integration.

I believe there are compelling reasons not to take sides in a debate about educational technology. But our organizations may have set us up for it. Zucker tells of an MIT professor who studies business investments in technology. He found that for every dollar large successful companies spent on hardware, $3 was spent on software, and $16 on organizational capital such as retraining workers and redesigning practices in the workplace. Here may be the place to start.

Many of the folks in Chicago came to believe that new knowledge of technology and its uses in our classrooms could move many teachers, administrators, and board members from an “Either/Or World” to a “Both/And World”.

Ask Yourself:
Do you believe your world will be paperless?

Have you noticed how quickly on-line schools, computer-based testing, and other powerful innovations are spreading, and how significant they are?

Do you need training in bridging time and distance for your students?

Do you need training to leverage the exponential increases in computer power?