Posts in School
5 Myths About School That Parents Should Question

I've worked in schools since 1998 and a lot has changed in that period of time.  The late 90's was a time of introducing change in terms of laptops in the hands of students and the emergence of smartboards in classrooms.

Interestingly enough, almost 20 years later, not that much has changed:

  • Lazy students still are lazy.  
  • High performing students are still high performing.  
  • Good teachers are still the most powerful learning factor in the life of a classroom.  
  • Supportive administrators are still a rare commodity.   

Still, there are certain myths that parents and schools promote that I'd like to challenge.  Here they are in no particular order: 

1. Small class size is better.   Actually, most students need some "class volume" in order to think, process information and practice a certain level of anonymity.  A great teacher can teach 30 kids or 10.  Class size isn't the answer. 

2. Technology is a cure-all.   My school uses iPads and for the most part, there's a value to that but don't be fooled by any school that touts its fancy-dancy 1:1 program as the elixir for all learning.  Technology is wonderful IF it's used to enhance learning and transform teaching.

3. Great facilities equal great learning.   Study some of the best schools around the world and you'll find fairly mediocre buildings.  Imagine if we spent as much on teachers as we do on solar panels for our parking lots...

4. You've got to have STEM in order to be relevant.   Science-Technology-Engineering-Math is all the rage right now.  Some of this is for good reason: we test poorly in PISA and other global tests when it comes to the integration of curriculum and critical thinking.  STEM attacks that on some levels.  On the other hand, a great science teacher does STEM without even thinking about it as does a superior math teacher.  I find the expansion of STEM to STEAM to be silly.  We're running out of letters!

5. Flashy leaders are the best leaders.  Those that I admire are effective because of their backbone, decision making skills and personal character.  They aren't the best looking and don't drive the finest cars.  Schools who are looking for their next leader are often seduced by the candidate who is flashy when they should be looking for the person who can get things done.

 Which of the five myths have you seen other parents buy into?  Which have you seen schools promote inauthentically?

 

Why Families Miss Deadlines

Most of the main offices in schools across America lament the school families that miss deadlines.  Schools request B6T forms here in NJ (a busing form required by the district) and have to nag families over and over again to get them all in.

Same for doctor physicals.  And permission to publish forms.  And on and on...

I think that we, the schools, may be a part of the problem.  

At our recent Town Hall Meeting, we honored various kids and their many accomplishments.  We also announced two new contests and several deadlines.  To be honest, it got hard to keep up as the meeting went on.  I wondered how the average student could remember all of the information that we provided!

Just apply that to the "average" set of parents and it might shed light on why so many deadlines are missed.  Our school's newsletter is nearly 8 pages long which is an amazing accomplishment.  On the flip side, only an organized parent can process all 8 pages and then follow up with efficiency.  

Most families are just overwhelmed and a bit disorganized.  Maybe it's time to simplify our communications home and help families stay on top of the most important bits of information.  

Are American Students Really Falling Behind?

There is a narrative that's formed over the past thirty years in America.  Beginning with A Nation at Risk and having been adopted by nearly every president since, it goes like this:

  • American students don't perform well on global tests.
  • Public schools are the cause of this lack of performance.
  • Breaking apart the public school system via vouchers and charter schools is the answer to solving our global performance woes.

The problem with all of this is that it's only partly true.  Diane Ravitch is quick to point out that our schools are far better than they appear to be.  Those charter schools can be amazingly great ... or routinely average depending on the school.

Sounds like a commentary on schools in general- depends where you are.  I'm not sure that Ravitch's argument is anything more than an observation.  It doesn't take anything away from a school like Science Leadership Academy which is kicking butt.

I'm curious to read Amanda Ripley's new book, the Smartest Kids in the World. She gives a gentle challenge to Ravitch and argues that American schools can do better.

After all, we're talking about kids and their future- the best just seems like a standard that they deserve.

 

Amanda Ripley discusses her new book, The Smartest Kids in the World.

From Channel One to iPads: Our Fascination with School Technology

Remember Channel One?  Remember when the tv's showed up in our classrooms, amazingly free of charge and Anderson Cooper got his big break as a teen a.m. news anchor?  Those were supposed to change the way we do school.

And then there were Smartboards.

And laptops.

And now we have iPads.  If you've followed the recent circus in Los Angeles and their multimillion dollar rollout of iPads to students, you're probably wondering about whether or not iPads actually make a difference in learning.  

Me too- actually my doctoral dissertation is on that very topic so it's a big deal when one of the nation's largest school districts decides to invest hundreds of millions of dollars into a technology just four years old.  

To see the latest on the L.A. fumble, click here.   Turns out they may be changing course and rethinking their decision.  

That's too bad since iPads actually do have a positive impact on schools IF deployed thoughtfully.  They might help to bridge the digital divide as they are doing in one poor California district.  There are some best practices that ensure for a smoother deployment and actual benefits from using iPads. 

But all of this misses the point- if you're focused too much on the tool, a school may miss out on the real point of schools: learning.  Just like in your backyard when the leaves fall from the trees, you need the right tools to wrangle them into piles.  Still, you're going to need a rake or two and maybe a tarp to move the leaves after you've piled them up.  You'll still need to sweat and reserve several hours to get the job done. 

It's not about the tools- it's about the work.  

If a school is focusing too much on iPads and not as much on teachers and kids, it's deployment of expensive tablets will probably fail.  

What aspect of technology is currently helping with learning in your school?

Web/Tech, School, iPadsMike StPierre
One Perfect Day: A School Leader's Challenge

Most school leaders that I talk to are stressed- big time.  Between the Student Growth Objectives being pushed here in NJ to the hundreds of teacher observations being mandated, it's darn difficult to stay positive. 

Still, a school leader has an obligation to stay above the fray, take the high road and practice skills that lead to "good days". 

Good days feel better than good.  They feel amazingly "right" and remind us why we got into education in the first place.  These are the days when we focus less on the requirements of the school office and emphasize the value of working with kids.  

Good days are not as frequent as we'd like but I have a challenge to all school leaders: instead of lamenting the many, many difficult days, go instead for small wins.  

One day at a time.   

Now imagine an absolutely perfect day.  Imagine... 

  • Getting enough sleep the night before
  • Having your work clothes laid out and ready for morning routines
  • Your lunch already prepared and in the fridge
  • Your car already gassed up for the day
  • Running meetings that are on time and efficient
  • Spending your day encouraging coworkers
  • Listening to parents and staff so that they feel your empathy
  • Planting vision seeds throughout the day
  • Being proud of your school
  • Ending your day on time so that you can see your family and be fully present to them
  • Getting to bed early so that you can do it all again tomorrow

All of this is possible.  Probably not every day but for one day (think: this week) you can do it.