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A Classroom with a View

"Educating the mind without educating the heart is no education at all" –Aristotle

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Policy and Advocacy

Advocating for students and educators because every student deserves to have an adult on his or her side and every educator deserves to have a voice and to be heard.

The Human Faces of High Stakes Testing

I spent the weekend with my baby sister, and during the course of our girl’s weekend, we discussed her 14 year old daughter who was struggling in school. Because I am an educator, my sister is able to discuss with me the kinds of modifications and accommodations her daughter is receiving in school, knowing I would not only understand all the coded language of education but also that I would be able to provide her with advice. Unfortunately, the area she lamented the most was the dreaded STAAR tests, Texas’ measure of learning and “college readiness.” The absurdity of that particular statement is neither here nor there and is a subject for many past and future posts, but suffice to say, her 8th grade daughter must take an ELA Reading test, along with a Math, Science, and Social Studies test later this school year. This is, of course, on top of all the eleven other standardized tests she has taken since 3rd grade, and doesn’t include the 5 standardized tests she must pass in high school in order to graduate.

While my sister doesn’t necessarily disapprove of the tests altogether, she does have issue with the immense pressure and anxiety these tests place on students as a result of the test-intensive environment of Texas public education. My sister was overjoyed by the possibility that she could opt her daughter out of state-mandated testing, which would help alleviate the anxiety and illness that these exams cause my niece. I had to break her heart: no such thing exists in Texas.

To understand the human face of high-stakes testing, you must first see the human, something the state has forgotten. You see, Masie is a beautiful, funny, witty young girl. She has the deadliest blue eyes, an infectious smile and laugh, and skin models would kill Continue reading “The Human Faces of High Stakes Testing”

What teachers want from their principals

Eveline M Bailey, consultant, embteach.comIf you’ve ever had the unlucky experience of teaching in a school with a difficult principal at the helm, then you know the nightmare such a leader can create in a school. I’m blessed that I’ve worked for 14 years at a school whose leadership has always been supportive, engaged, and champions of the teachers and students who attend. However, I’ve also been witness to some school environments that are toxic to all, including the leaders who initially created the havoc.  Continue reading “What teachers want from their principals”

What does “college-ready” mean anyway?

here-and-now-413092__180Discussions in education have become a veritable Tower of Babel with enough acronyms to make any bowl of Alphabits soup a solid summary of every school’s August professional development. Amidst the calls to revise standards (CCSS), reduce the impact of testing scores on students and schools (ESSA, NCLB), or to eliminate standardized testing altogether in favor of more authentic and reliable means of gauging student learning, terms such as “college and career readiness” (CCR), “21st century skills” (21C), “EQ v IQ,” “critical thinking” (CT, HOTS, DOK), and “grit” (well, that one didn’t change) seem to lose their meaning for anything other than keyword Google searches and SEO development. Continue reading “What does “college-ready” mean anyway?”

How many lollipop moments have you created?

Global CXN: The Technology Challenge, Part 2

Part 2: Technology and Time Difference

TOS students celebrating their first place win in Olympia Athletics, but their joy is not dissimilar to our joy in finding solutions to our technology issues.
In my last Global CXN post (click here to read Part 1), I talked about how our group started and the initial “getting to know you” stage of the interactions. Once students learned a little about each other and found a common project to undertake, work got underway and students have enjoyed their collaboration. However, getting them on a reliable, functional, collaboration-friendly platform has been a hit-and-miss operation for Vietnam GCXN facilitator Daniel Rymer and me. While we have most of the kinks ironed out now, it was off to a dubious start three months ago.

When we first started in September, I knew getting our students on a platform that encouraged discussion and collaboration was going to be a challenge. Not only were we facing a 12 hour time difference that could stymie any sort of real communication, but also The Olympia Schools is a Google platform school, whereas La Porte ISD is an Office 365 school. My school district blocks all things Google except for Google Search and previous requests to unblock Google have always been met with rejection. Too, Continue reading “Global CXN: The Technology Challenge, Part 2”

Global CXN: La Porte, Texas meets Hanoi, Vietnam, Part 1

Part 1: The Beginning

US Global Connections group.
US Global CXN group.

This year, students from La Porte, Texas, have the opportunity to correspond and collaborate with students attending The Olympia Schools in Hanoi, Vietnam, to learn about each other’s local communities, lifestyles, education, and other sociocultural issues. Initially begun as a way for US and Vietnamese students to engage in literary and cultural studies that would provide a basis for cultural awareness and allow them to interact and share their worlds, the group has moved far beyond our hopes and is now a thriving learning community of global citizens.

A few TOS students sharing a picture with us after a water fight at an autumn festival.
A few TOS students sharing a picture with us after a water fight at an autumn festival.

The idea for the group began last March when Christopher McDonald, Head of Schools for The Olympia Schools in Hanoi, Vietnam, and fellow AP English Literature grader sent me a television newscast video of the charitable work TOS was doing as part of a service learning project in their community. His students were interacting with the world around them and becoming better citizens and stewards of their community while learning valuable life skills and character development through experiences that complement the lessons taught in the classroom. While McDonald has cultivated many partner schools in the US and Canada, La Porte High School, the only high school in a suburban city of 35,000 people approximately 30 miles outside of Houston, is relatively insulated from the world. What better way to broaden my students’ worldviews than by introducing students from each school and providing an avenue for them to collaborate, as well as gain proficiency in 21st century skills and the real-world application of those skills? McDonald and I discussed the possibility of a student-led collaboration between the two schools, and with high hopes and no idea where this project was headed, we created the Global CXN group. Continue reading “Global CXN: La Porte, Texas meets Hanoi, Vietnam, Part 1”

What Students Wish Their Teachers Knew

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Earlier last week, my students were working in small groups discussing their summer reading novel. As I moved around the classroom listening to and facilitating discussions, one thing I heard over and over again was how much the students really liked this year’s summer reading and that it was the only summer book they ever really read. The reason for that is the subject of another post entirely, but it is enough to say that as I listened, I also heard some other disturbing trends. One group of students complained that they had 4 tests the next day, which clearly was some Communist plot by teachers to ensure students didn’t have a life and/or failed their classes. Another group overheard and chimed in, criticizing their teachers’ handling of the material, specifically that some teachers didn’t seem to know the curriculum well enough to give correct information to students so they could study. A different group grumbled about band and sports practices after school that would keep them at school until long after dinner and they had hours’ worth of homework to do when they arrived home. I questioned them about their preferences or what they thought could be done to correct it, and before I knew it and could stop them, they were unloading years of bitterness about specific teachers and classes (they’re brutally honest!). Continue reading “What Students Wish Their Teachers Knew”

A Call to Action to all Education Stakeholders

It seems no matter where we look, we are constantly bombarded by the many and various evils attacking our youths in today’s educational system: inappropriate student-teacher relationships, child abuse, unqualified teachers, unreasonable zero tolerance policies, volatile union riots, over-testing, questionable curricula, funding, the list goes on.  It seems every day a new story is “exposed;” news channels like Fox News and NBC News even have segments called “The Trouble with Schools” and “Education Nation.”  Simply watching the news or reading headlines could easily persuade us that schools today are corrupt, unhealthy places for children to be and the only answer for parents who care at all about their children is either private schooling or homeschooling, and if neither is an option for parents, then they may as well throw in the towel and accept the inevitable subpar education their child will receive because they can do nothing to change the outcome.

I may perhaps be overstating the case, although I’m not so sure when one considers the fear-mongering the media perpetuates by reporting nearly exclusively the terrible events happening in schools and the need for education reform.  Certainly there are a few instances where the media occasionally features one good thing happening at one school in one corner of the United States, and every now and then, Hollywood gets on board by making a movie that highlights the positive impact a teacher had on his or her students such as Stand and Deliver, Lean on Me, Freedom Writers, Coach Carter, and The Ron Clark Story; or (as if excellent teachers are difficult to unearth somehow) they write fiction-feelgood: Dangerous Minds, Dead Poets Society, Mr. Holland’s Opus.  However, more often than not, even Hollywood perpetuates the myth that teachers and schools are warped or deceptive: Bad Teacher, Teaching Mrs. Tingle, The Faculty, Election, The Breakfast Club, even Ferris Buehler’s Day Off (yes, I know—it’s a classic for all ages but it still misrepresents the motivations of teachers and schools). Continue reading “A Call to Action to all Education Stakeholders”

What Makes a Great Teacher?

Besides Christmas and the end of the school year, the first weeks of school seem to be the most popular time for former students to send emails, cards, or simply come around to visit. Certainly one of the most rewarding aspects of being a teacher is when students continue to share their lives with us long after they’ve left our classrooms. Some of them are excited about their path toward great success, while others seem to be stuck in a holding pattern, waiting for something, although they can’t quite articulate what that is. One thing they all have in common, though, is the greeting: “Remember me? It’s your favorite student!”

It always tickles me when kids who graduated a mere three months ago ask if I remember them, as if my short term memory is somehow compromised, yet they all follow it with the proclamation that they are my favorite student. The logic is a bit asinine: if indeed they are my favorite, then surely I wouldn’t forget them. Nonetheless, it seems to be more about ensuring they mattered to me enough to remember them than it is about jockeying for position in my affections. I am always intrigued by this desire to be a “favorite,” but it is something I understand. Continue reading “What Makes a Great Teacher?”

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