Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Passion Quilt

A friend and blogger extraordinaire, Nancy Flanagan, just invited me to post an image for an education Passion Quilt. This should be an image that evokes emotion and passion for teaching in me. See her blog posting and explanation at

This picture is my passion image.

Learning in action . . . that's what this represents.

Kids who tackled a real problem and came up with a real solution. Then they carried it out with a passion.

Kids who looked at the environmental mess made by the construction of the new school they were attending and built a weir and a wetland to make it better.

It wasn't part of the science course of study.
It didn't help them prepare for The Test.
It wasn't part of the aligned curriculum.

This was real. It had a real purpose. It accomplished something good for the school and for these students. They left eighth grade that year feeling good about themselves and their science work.

If you have a blog, would you also add to the Passion Quilt?

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Waking Up In Tomorrow

Did you ever see the movie, Groundhog Day? You may remember it – an early ‘90s film. Every morning the curmudgeonly hero (Bill Murray) kept waking up in the same day. And he had to keep reliving that same day over and over because he never got it right.

Sometimes I think we’re trapped in that movie as educators. Our days are unfolding in exactly the same way over and over again. Our schools operate the way they’ve operated for decades. For the most part, teachers still operate as isolated instructors with little or no time for professional growth built into the school day. When teachers do meet in teams for professional learning, it’s often something that’s added to their current, overflowing list of responsibilities – many of which don’t directly relate to teaching and learning.

Just imagine redesigning a new way of doing school . . . jettisoning the unproductive structures and practices that are carryovers from the past and starting with a clean slate. If I had an opportunity to redesign schools I’d start by creating a list of ideas for this question:

What should a teacher be doing every day from the time (s)he walks in the door of the school until the time (s)he leaves?

I believe if we all thoughtfully answered that question, and designed schools with the dedicated purpose of smoothing the way for teachers to do those things that are most important, we might blink awake and find that we’re in tomorrow.

Oh yes, as our hero in the Groundhog Day movie continue to repeat the same day over and over, he began to reexamine his life and his priorities. And – he finally got it right! I believe we could get it right also if we could find the will – and a way – redo schooling. One day, before I’m too old make it through the schoolhouse door, I want to wake up in tomorrow.

What about you?

Sunday, September 30, 2007

A Beginning Journey

I never planned to be a teacher. I began my career as an assistant research virologist - then married and moved to Mobile, Alabama only to discover that I could find no work in my field. Undaunted, I began randomly applying for jobs and the day after school started a principal called and asked if I'd teach math at a junior high school. Sure, I thought . . . how hard could that be, anyway?

It won't surprise you to learn that I found out that teaching was hard work . . . the hardest I'd ever done. And it also won't surprise many of you that I was completely hooked on teaching and kids by the end of that first year. I remember telling my husband over dinner one night, "Honey, I've decided to go into teaching." He calmly swallowed the bite of overdone steak he had been gamely chewing and remarked, "Okay, go ahead. I'm an engineer. I can support you." So, I took the salary "hit" and I discovered I was never richer than when I was working with those amazing, puzzling, and promising young teens.

One thing did perplex me, however, about my new teaching career. I had just left a profession where adults met regularly to discuss our work, analyze and troubleshoot problems, and plan next steps together. I stepped into the most important profession in our nation - the public school system - the glue that holds our diverse citizenry together as a nation. I had no experience or training as a teacher - and there was no time to meet with the other experienced teachers get help and guidance . . . no time to analyze our work, plan, and increase our effectiveness. What was that all about?

That question never ceased to amaze me. It still does. And it accounts for the fact that now most of my current life is consumed with trying to help teachers gain the same opportunities that other professionals have . . . opportunities to learn from each other and support one another as they do the important work of preparing students for worlds that we can't even imagine.

After 16 years I took a year off from teaching to work on that problem. If you're interested in some of the struggles and insights of an extremely naive and not entirely successful first-year team-builder, you can read an online diary I kept during that year. I'm still working full-time on building what are now known as professional learning communities.