Tour de Classroom

I’m a BIG Tour de France fan.  I don’t ride, but the pain the riders put themselves through day after day as they climb up the alps appeals to the runner in me.  There is something inspiring about watching a rider turn themselves inside out, pushing themselves into the ‘red’ to finish a stage.  The great commentators on the tour say to win the tour a rider has to be great at all three disciplines: climbing, descending, and time trials.  In order to wear the yellow jersey you have to show you are skilled at all three places, if you’re good at only one you may win a stage or rack up big points but you won’t win it all.

This got me thinking about teaching, lord knows we turn ourselves inside out at times and put ourselves through pain in an effort to work with all the students in our class 🙂  I wonder what the 3 disciplines of teaching would be to make a great teacher?  There are lots that would never make the top three but are still important in some way.  I was all ready to make a joke about grading as a key discipline but then I thought about a teacher who is terrible at grading, perhaps it is never timely or it’s not accurate.  In that case, it seems like grading is an important skill, but certainly not a top three.  What about classroom management?  While I agree it’s important, I don’t think it makes the top three.  Maybe these skill would equate to being able to switch gears on a bike or knowing the technique in riding a certain way; both important items to master but they don’t make the top of the list, they are more skills that help a rider to be successful in the three key disciplines.  I haven’t given it tons of thought but I think the following would make my top three:

Communication:  You could be brilliant, but you if you aren’t able to convey that to your students you’re sunk.

Mastery: Regardless if you teach one prep or self contained there is a level of proficiency that all teachers need in order help guide their learners.  I was going to call this one ‘content mastery’ but I think leaving it at just ‘mastery’ allows pedagogy or teaching mastery to be part of this as well.

Relationship Building: If you’re students know you don’t care, they won’t either.  If your colleagues know you don’t care, you cease to be part of the team.  Rarely does anything good comes out of isolation when we talk about teaching and learning.

Just my quick list, wonder if I give it more thought how much that would change.

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Posted by on July 27, 2011 in Uncategorized


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mandating like a champion

as part of my new role on a campus i have been going over a few books that were recommended to me to be up on what teachers on the campus and folks across the district have been reading.  there was one that i had reade (the five dysfunctions of a team), one that i had heard lots about (the last lecture), one that i had flipped through (classroom instruction that works, marzano), and one that is ALL the buzz in HISD (teach like a champion).  I read the last lecture and i can understand why many people saw it as inspiring given the context of the story, then i flipped though the 5 dysfunctions as it hasn’t been that long since i had read it entirely.  the book i was most interested in reading was teach like a champion.  it has been talked about in my district a lot for the past year and i had never given myself a reason to read it.  i was glad it was included in the stack of books i received.  i’m being 100% honest when i say this about the book: it frightened me.  the idea of 49 techniques that put students on the path to success sounds great and there are a few strategies that i think work well in the classroom…however, the overwhelming message i got from reading the book and watching the dvd classroom clips is that the book is about control.  i don’t believe the teacher should be the sole focus of the classroom and that they should expect to control the classroom.  i believe the classroom is about shared ownership, collaboration and personal investment.  i found myself watching the clips and thinking that the classrooms being shown were more about compliance and it bothered me.  my feelings were further confirmed when i began to read the marzano book in earnest and i came across a line on page 8 that says

although the strategies presented in this book are certainly good tools, they should not be expected to work equally well in all situations

AMEN!  where i saw teach like a champion providing rigid strategies that were almost always shown as whole group instruction and demanded student compliance, i was only 8 pages into the marzano book and it was already admitting that these are good ideas but you need to know who you are working with and recognize when to use the strategies.  you may be saying that i’m only showing favor to the marzano book because the philosophy matches my own, but that is born out of years in the classroom.  i am not the teacher who is going to say “SLANT” and expect all my students to quickly get in to rigid formation.  i don’t believe that there is only one posture that students need to assume for learning.  if you were working with a group of adults and walking in the room and yelled ‘SLANT’, what would your reaction be?  why should we expect students to comply in this way if we would never even consider asking adults to?

perhaps some of my issue with teach like a champion is personal.  i’m a non-conventional learner.  i’ve spent most of my life teaching students who are non-conventional learners.  i’ve had kids who need to doodle while they listen.  i’ve had kids who prefer to think deeply about a topic before being drilled with answers.  i’ve had kids who would wilt in the whole group, one-at-a-time environment that teach like a champion seems to portray.

i can’t wait to speak to the teachers on my campus to hear about how they have made use of these books.

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Posted by on July 19, 2011 in Uncategorized


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cube no more…

in a fantastic turn of events i’ll be leaving my 3 year stint in the cube and making my way back to a campus.  my blog began when i took a hiatus from the classroom and worked in professional development.  i found that, in my new position, i had the time to blog and thus this little slice of my consciousness was born.  i’m uncertain what my blog will become when i’m back on the campus.  daninacube seems a bit inappropriate since i will no longer be confined in the same ways, but i don’t think tossing this blog aside in favor of a new one is the way to go either.  i’m going to ride this one out until i see the need for a change.  looking forward to it.


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Posted by on July 18, 2011 in Uncategorized


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four guiding questions

a colleague passed along a short article from learning forward titled Four Guiding Questions for Professional Learning.  i was struck by how such a short article could elicit so many reactions from me.  as the name suggests, it provides a few questions to consider when looking at the implementation and effectiveness of standard pd.  for expediency sake, i’m going with a bulleted list:

  • When educators are forced to take this “doing everything correctly but nothing effectively” approach, student achievement suffers – a little insulted by this.  as a teacher i feel like this is an indictment of the approach teachers take to managing all that is set upon their shoulders.  i suppose it’s possible that there is an emphasis on being correct, i would hope that being ‘effective’ or doing right by their students remains the center of the target.  i don’t mind describing teacher responsibilities as being vast and there is a current emphasis on doing things the right way, i don’t like that that article presents this mindset at the beginning.  it was clear the lens by which this article was going to take.
  • This works best when educators use data from the students they teach, rather than when the school system prescribes one-size-fits-all professional development based on a study of system-wide data – as part of the first guiding question, the article presents the ineffectiveness of top-down initiatives, which ties directly to the first point.  if pd is conceived from system wide data and handed down, then it’s no wonder that teachers feel like they just want to jump through the hoops.  i really don’t understand how pd can be organized the other way, even though it is MUCH more educationally sound.  how can pd, a centralized organization, create work if the needs of teachers are going to be so wide ranging?  perhaps this is the question that is going to define the work the centralized pd is going to do in the future.
  • teachers and principals are usually passive participants – see above point.  when the pd is limited and narrow in scope teachers may not find anything to address the needs they have identified for the students in their classroom.  what do they do?  pick a session and try their best to make connections?  will the pd model be changing to be elastic enough to manage all the needs?  what does that mean for vetting courses?  will central pd be willing to give up the control in some instances and empower the experts on the campus?
  • few school systems systematically document whether and how professional development increases what both educators and students ‘know and can do’ – i haven’t a clue how this is going to be done and i know this is paramount in measuring effectiveness of pd.  i may be in the minority, but i think there are too many degrees of separation to measure pd that teachers take to teacher practice in the classroom to student achievement.  if a teacher indicated pd they participated in had changed their practice and they felt it impacted the success of their student then i would absolutely believe them but it seems like there are just too many ingredients in that soup to truly pick out which one is being tasted.  what if the pd wasn’t a specific practice but a book study that led a teacher to investigate specific practices on their own, eventually implementing successfully in their classroom?

these questions don’t make pd implementation and development any easier and they certainly don’t provide any answers but i think the article does a good job of bringing forward issues that need to be wrestled with.  for me, it highlights some of the frustrations.

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Posted by on May 25, 2011 in Uncategorized


innovation = intelligence ?

firstly, i’m ashamed it has been nearly two months since my last post.  i’m not ashamed in the sense that i’m letting someone down; i don’t have a readership per se.  i’m disappointed that my professional life hasn’t allowed me to put down my thoughts on ‘paper’.  suffice it to say it’s been dark.  all that aside…this is what i was thinking about on my way to work this morning.

does innovation require intelligence?

i was thinking about teachers and how some are great at being innovative in their practices and others that aren’t.  first i chalked it up to fear; some teachers are so deathly afraid that they won’t stray from the script.  test scores suffer?  principal might catch them?  colleagues might frown upon them?  take your pick, but i think some teachers have the capacity to be innovative, but they listen to their lizard brain as Seth Godin would call it.  they just can’t pull the trigger.  but maybe that’s not it.

i thought it might be teaching background.  perhaps their path to teaching didn’t include courses on paving a new path or trying something that could as easily blow up in their face as it could be brilliant.  it was about time my hypotheses starting getting unsettling.  what if a teacher, who had never been schooled in the art of innovation taught in a school with other teachers who had never tried being innovative in the classroom either?  wow.  is that even possible?  could a school be jammed full of teachers who just want handouts and the teachers edition?

crossing the train tracks and nearly to work, i came up with my last possibility, that some teachers don’t have the mastery of content to be innovative; that some teachers aren’t comfortable enough to take the risks inherent with innovation.  this saddens me.  if you don’t know your content, it’s hard to tweak your methods.  the title of the post is a bit harsh and i would hope that it is a bit of hyperbole.  it comes down to two not-so-simple questions.

do you have to be intelligent to innovate?  i think this answer is going to be somewhere closer to yes than no.  like i said earlier, you can’t manipulate the learning environment without the fundamentals (content & pedagogy) down pat.

are those people who innovate always intelligent?  not sure, but i think the answer to this one is yes also.  i’m not sure how you can innovate without some sort of ‘smarts’ be them classical school intelligence or the kind of practical/contextual intelligence we’ve read about.

if a teacher doesn’t innovate in their classroom, which is the preferable reason – does’t know how, too scared, or lacks the content mastery?

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Posted by on May 23, 2011 in Uncategorized


when will you need a digital persona?

not sure what got me going along this thread, i think it was a story i heard on the radio.  either way, here is the questions that i wove out of those thoughts, just follow along with me on this one.  i shared this with a colleague the other day and it seemed to make sense when i was talking about.  kids who graduate today should be keenly aware of their digital persona, right?  potential employers seems to know enough to google you or check out your facebook profile, twitter feed, etc.  if a potential employer doesn’t turn anything up, no big deal.  it is reasonable to believe that if the potential employer is someone from an earlier generation, or two, not having a digital persona makes sense.  perhaps you didn’t get in to that?  maybe facebook, twitter, blogs, etc. didn’t appeal to you and the potential employer shrugs it all off.  here comes, my question…at what point will the absence of a digital persona raise red flags?  at what point will it no longer be socially/academically/occupational acceptable to simply ignore digital avenues?  let’s fast forward this scenario 50 years in the future, the current kids who are digitally connected will be the ones doing the hiring, how will they see it?  so by all means, let’s keep trying our darndest to bury our students’ collective heads in the sand when it come to managing their digital selves, after all they’ll never ‘need’ that kind of stuff, right?  wrong.


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dr jones at coors field

dr jones at coors field by tejasbuckeye
dr jones at coors field, a photo by tejasbuckeye on Flickr.

flickr has made sharing and posting photos easy…I think. Lets give this a try.

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Posted by on April 3, 2011 in Uncategorized