Why Blog?

For the better part of the past decade, I’ve been writing here on the Radical.  In fact, this is my 927th post.  That’s pretty darn hard to believe.

Whether I’m transparently wrestling with a common challenge, sharing an instructional strategy that has worked in my room, or creating visual slides that communicate core messages in provocative ways, I like to think that my contributions to broader conversations about teaching and learning have value — and given that readers pay nothing to access my content, I’d say they are getting a pretty serious bang for their buck!

And I know full well that blogging carries tangible value for me.  I dig the fact that I have an audience and a voice and a following. I think it’s neat to see my content bouncing around Twitter.  And I absolutely love it when folks I admire think that something I’ve written is legit.  But that’s not why I blog.

I blog because I think it’s my responsibility to share.

The simple truth is that most everything that I’ve done professionally has been inspired by someone else.  Whether it’s Dean Shareski pushing my thinking around assessment or Chris Wejr pushing my thinking around Honors Assemblies or Diana Williams and Kristen Goggin pushing my thinking around purpose-driven learning in the classroom, I learn a TON from folks online.  Their willingness to give has made me a better practitioner.  Blogging is my way of giving back.  I see it as a responsibility.  Being a creator is my way of repaying the space for all that I have consumed — or stated more simply, if you are going to take, you darn well better be willing to give.

I blog because it gives me the opportunity to reflect.

Being an effective practitioner means constantly reflecting — on the changing nature of learning in a digitally connected world, on instruction that leaves students both inspired and engaged, and on the impact that things like crippling poverty and crappy policy has on practice.  The simple act of articulating complex ideas in writing here on the Radical forces me to refine and revise and polish my core ideas.

That makes blogging a fundamentally selfish act.  The real value of the hundreds of hours that I spend behind the keyboard every year isn’t the content that I’ve shared with you.  Instead, it’s who I’ve become as both a teacher and a thinker as a result of the effort that I put into every post.

And I blog because it opens me to challenge.

The most beautiful thing about “the digital revolution” is that it is participatory.  That has fundamentally changed the relationship between writers and their audiences.  Need proof?  Then leave a comment on this post.  Challenge my thinking.  Disagree with me.  Point out something that I’ve forgotten.  Or build on my notions.  Take my post and create something new out of it.  Generate your own list of reasons why blogging makes sense and then share it back here.

That kind of interaction has value, y’all.  Every new post is really just another opportunity for us to think together.  I’ve had readers introduce me to thoughts I’d never considered.  I’ve had readers bring new perspectives to conversations that I simply can’t share.  I’ve had readers call me a complete idiot.  In EVERY situation, though, I grow.  That’s what learning together is all about — and blogging has given me the chance to learn alongside tons of people that I may never have crossed paths with in person.

Any of this make sense to you?  I guess what I’m trying to say is that I’m grateful for the attention and audience and voice and power and credibility that being a blogger has brought me — but strip all of that away and I’d still write twice a week most every week.

#whyblog

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Related Radical Reads:

So Much More than a Personal Learning Network

Shameless Self Promotion in Social Spaces

Why Educators Should Blog

 

 

Here’s What We Have to Stop Pretending.

Greg Pearson — the mind behind the Better Together blog — tagged me a few weeks back as a part of Scott McLeod’s We Have to Stop Pretending project.  The thinking behind the project is that it is time to confront the unproductive truths that keep us from making schools different.

Here’s my contribution:

If we are going to make schools different, we have to stop pretending that “engaging learners” and “empowering learners” are the same thing.

Want the kids in your classroom to be truly invested in the work they are doing at school?  Help them to uncover and investigate their own passions and interests.  Give them opportunities to work together with peers on meaningful issues.  Let purpose stand at the center of your classroom instruction.  Invested learners are learners who recognize that they have power as individuals and as contributors to the world around them.

#agencymatters

If we are going to make schools different, we have to stop pretending that “knowing” and “learning” are the same thing.  

Sometimes, I’m amazed by the breadth of the curriculum that I’m expected to teach.  Here are just a few of the things that the eleven year olds in my science classroom are supposed to know by the end of the year:

The difference between loamy and sandy soil.

The difference between comets and meteorites.

The difference between the speed of sound in solids and liquids and gasses.

The difference between elements and molecules.

The difference between pistils and stamens and anthers and stigmas and styles.

The difference between the pinna and the cochlea and the cilia.

The difference between stomata and xylem and phloem.

You see the problem, right?  Grinding through my fact-driven curriculum — which John Seely-Brown calls explicit knowledge — leaves little time for me to turn my students into learners.  The brutal truth is that my kids never tap into the power of learning networks or use conversations with peers to challenge their thinking or identify bias or problem solve together because I’m too damn busy trying to get them to memorize facts that they are going to forget by the end of the year.

Will Richardson has been pushing my thinking around all of this lately. His point:  Filling curricula with explicit knowledge is pointless simply because explicit knowledge is growing exponentially.  We can’t possibly keep up.  Our goal should be to develop LEARNERS.  Our schools are good at developing KNOWERS.

If we are going to make schools different, we have to stop pretending that the best schools have the best test scores.

What worries me the most about using testing as a tool for identifying accomplished teachers and successful schools ISN’T that someone might discover that I’m a crappy teacher or that my school is a crappy school.  What worries me is that our current generation of assessments don’t measure much of anything worth measuring.  Until THAT truth changes, test scores are a useless indicator of just how successful schools are.

If we are going to make schools different, we have to stop pretending that kids are motivated by technology.

Kids aren’t motivated by technology.  Period.  End Stop.  #nuffsaid

If we are going to make schools different, we have to stop pretending that poverty doesn’t matter.

One of the things that saddens me as a classroom teacher is knowing full well that I have students in my classroom who live lives of almost constant struggle beyond our school.  Whether they are homeless or hungry or going home to unsafe neighborhoods or responsible for babysitting siblings while their moms and dads work three jobs to make ends meet, poverty steals opportunities from kids that I care about.  Yet we do little in America to acknowledge the impact that this struggle has on the learners in our classrooms.  Poverty must become a policy priority if we are truly serious about ensuring student success.

So what five things do YOU think we need to stop pretending if we are going to make schools different?

Whip up a blog post and tag it with #makeschooldifferent .  Or leave me a comment and I’ll post your thoughts in a future Radical post.

#lookingforward

 

 

This is Why I Teach: Individual Moments Matter

Years ago, I was in my first season as the head coach of the boys basketball team at my middle school.  The girls coach came to me just before the last game and told me that our school’s tradition was to call eighth grade players and their parents to the floor at halftime to recognize them for the contributions that they had made to our teams.  “I give each of my girls a rose as a way of saying thank you,” she said.  “Do you want me to pick some up for you?”

Figuring that my boys wouldn’t see roses in the same positive light as her girls, I decided to start my own tradition:  Giving each eighth grade player an Eisenhower silver dollar as a keepsake and reminder of his time on my team.  “These silver dollars,” I explained, “connect us to one another.  Ten years from now, you will find them in your box of special things or the drawer beside your bed and you will think of the time that we spent together and you will smile.”

I knew instantly that the coins mattered to my kids.

In the moment — on the floor in front of their friends and family — they couldn’t take their eyes off of them.  They turned them over and over in their hands; they jumped when their coins dropped — afraid that they had somehow cheapened the gift; they kept them on the bench for the entire second half, passing them off for safekeeping whenever they subbed into the game; and they spent the next three weeks showing them to me whenever we passed in the halls.

Since then, I’ve given out hundreds of silver dollars.

Sometimes the moment is formal — an end of the season pot luck dinner, a team Honors assembly, a gathering to celebrate the work of an individual or a group of students.  Other times, the moment is informal — in my classroom after a student has done something to make me proud, in the hall on the last day of school, in the lunchroom after cafeteria duty ends.  EVERY time, the moment matters — to both me and to the students that I’m recognizing.

A reminder of just how powerful those moments can be landed in my email inbox this week.  Check this out:

Hey Mr. Ferriter, 

I went to Salem Middle a long time ago.  You may remember me vaguely.  I was a manager for soccer during my sixth grade year when you were the coach.  Your last season of coaching was during my seventh grade year, when I was cut during tryouts.  My final year at Salem, I played on the team.  I am about to graduate from Panther Creek and move on to college at NC State, and I am writing to you today to let you know that even though I haven’t seen you in four years, you’ve made an impact on my life.

I will never forget my last day of eighth grade at Salem.  I wrote a letter to you about a week before, thanking you for the lessons you had taught me when I was a manager in sixth grade….You called me out of class to speak with me about the letter.  I remember how you apologized for cutting me during my 7th grade year and you kept praising me for not the soccer player I had become, but for the man I had become.  

I also remember crying in front of you, and trust me those were tears of joy.  I also remember you giving me advice about high school, and about staying the man I had become.  At the end of our talk, you handed me a silver dollar, since you had given one to every player during the year that I was cut.  You told me that even though I may have not deserved to be on the team for my soccer abilities, that I completely deserved it for the person that I was.

I wanted to let you know that I still have my silver dollar.  I see it often, and whenever I do, I automatically think of you.  I think of our talk, and the kind words and advice you had given me…

I just wanted to say thank you!  Even though you only coached me for one year, I am extremely grateful for the coach that you were.  You never taught me as a teacher, but as a coach, you have had a tremendous impact on my life.

And I know you are wondering, and the answer is yes:  I will most definitely be bringing my silver dollar with me to NC State!

Thanks, 

Trevor

 

Amazing, right?  Needless to say, I’ll keep that email forever.  It’s a small bit of proof that my work hasn’t gone unnoticed or unappreciated.

What people don’t understand about teachers and coaches is that we aren’t driven by content or conference championships or big fat paychecks or summers off.  We are driven by the notion that we might just make a difference in the lives of a handful of kids over the course of our careers.  And the best part of our gig is that each new day is FILLED with moments that have the potential to be powerful.

We just have to keep our eyes — or maybe our hearts — open in order to find them.

This is why I teach.

______________________

Related Radical Reads:

This is Why I Teach: Inspiring Jake

This is Why I Teach: They Don’t Judge Me by a Test

This is Why I Teach: They are Learning From Me

Read This: In Praise of American Educators

Let’s start with a simple truth:  As a full-time classroom teacher, I have spent the better part of the past fifteen years wrestling with failed policies, frustrated by the suggestion that practitioners are to blame for everything that is wrong with American schools, and paralyzed, waiting for meaningful change that never seems to come.

In many ways, I’ve lost all hope for education in America.

It’s just plain hard to believe that our public schools can survive in the face of coordinated efforts on the part of politicians intent on “bending public education to their awe or breaking it all to pieces” or on the part of businesses intent on discrediting public schools so that they can step in, offer “solutions,” and pocket huge sums of cold hard cash in the process.  For the former, our schools are nothing more than ideological battlegrounds.  For the latter, our schools are nothing more than continuing revenue streams.

That’s why one of the highlights of the last few months for me was receiving an advance copy of In Praise of American Educators, Rick DuFour’s newest book.

inpraiseofamericaneducators-265

In Praise of American Educators opens with a careful study of the common myths being advanced by critics of public schooling in America.

Convinced that the United States fails when compared to international peers?  In Praise readers learn that when controlled for factors like poverty that have a direct impact on student and school success, American students and teachers actually outperform every nation on Earth by a wide margin.

Believe that charter schools and vouchers are improving outcomes for struggling students?  In Praise readers learn that fewer than two out of every ten charter schools produce student achievement results that are superior to those produced by public schools.

Certain that testing is the best way to hold teachers and schools accountable?  In Praise readers learn that national exams like the NAEP testing program and value-added models for measuring the impact that individual teachers have on students have been widely criticized as unreliable by national organizations including the National Research Council, the National Center for Education and the Economy and  the American statistical Association.

DuFour’s central argument in Part One of In Praise is that our schools are actually succeeding in spite of our nation’s commitment to #edpolicies and practices that are badly flawed.  “The federal and state policies that dominate the school reform agenda in the United States,” he writes, “are ill conceived, based on faulty assumptions, and have no record of improving student achievement anywhere in the world” (p. 102).

In Part Two of In Praise, Dufour argues that the power to improve our public schools rests in the hearts and minds of classroom teachers who are willing to work together in service of student learning.

He begins by spotlighting the steps that successful nations like Singapore and Finland have taken to make collaborative reflection between teachers the norm rather than the exception to the rule.  Then, he documents the extensive research done both within and beyond education on the positive impact that collaboration has on outcomes in knowledge-driven workplaces.  Finally, he outlines the Professional Learning Community at Work model — a structure for collaborative reflection that he has polished and refined for decades and that has a proven track record of success in schools that cross the demographic and socioeconomic spectrum.

In Praise of American Educators is a “no excuses” book at heart.

DuFour provides clear and convincing evidence that our schools aren’t the failures that vocal critics claim that they are.  But DuFour also provides clear and convincing evidence that educators are more powerful than we give ourselves credit for.  Instead of surrendering in the face of flawed policies, DuFour believes that we should step forward together to accept responsibility for ensuring the success of every child that rolls through our classroom doors regardless of circumstance.

“It is certainly true, DuFour writes, “that part of the problem in American education is that we have taken good people – teachers and principals – and put them in a bad system that was never intended to help all students learn. It is equally certain, however, that those same teachers and principals can and must play a critical role in changing that system” (p. 225).

That’s a message of hope, y’all.  And it’s a message that I badly needed to hear.

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Related Radical Reads:

Breaking Public Education to Pieces

A Brave New World for Personalized Learning

The Power of PLCs

Check Out These Three New Radical Reads!

With another school year coming to an end and summer right around the corner, my guess is that at least a FEW members of Radical Nation are starting to stock up on professional reads to challenge their practice during one of the best times to dig deep into new instructional ideas.  Reflection is always easier in July, isn’t it?

To that end, I wanted to introduce you to the three new books that I’ve had published this month.  They are all extensions of the content that I share here on the Radical — so if you dig my blog, give ’em a look:

Creating Purpose-Driven Learning Experiences (80 pages):  Creating Purpose-Driven Learning Experiences makes a simple argument:  If we want to create highly engaged learning spaces, we need to center our studies around real-world problems.  The text details the work that my students do to fight world poverty and to raise awareness about the amount of sugar in the foods that we eat on a regular basis.  A quick read that you can finish in about an hour, Creating Purpose-Driven Learning Experiences will challenge you to give students the chance to make a tangible difference in their worlds while simultaneously mastering the knowledge and skills necessary to succeed in tomorrow’s world.

Teaching the iGeneration, Second Edition (200 pages):  One of the messages that I push in every conversation about preparing today’s kids for tomorrow’s world is that our work needs to center around the kinds of essential skills that define successful individuals.  In this updated version Teaching the iGeneration, I introduce readers to best practices for helping students to master five of these skills:  Managing and evaluating information, building knowledge through collaborative dialogue, being persuasive — both verbally and visually, and solving challenging problems together.  I also introduce readers to a set of core digital tools to faciliate these kinds of core behaviors in our classrooms.

How to Use Digital Tools to Support Teachers in a PLC (72 pages):  I haven’t hidden the fact that few opportunities have changed me more as a practitioner than the chance that I’ve had to work as member of a professional learning community.  I am a better teacher because I am open to the challenge of my peers.  But collaboration hasn’t ever been easy because it depends on sharing, coordination and collective action — practices that can be time-consuming and inefficient.  In How to Use Digital Tools to Support Teachers in a PLC, I introduce readers to a set of tools and services that can faciliate the core behaviors of collaborative groups. My central message is a simple one:  Digital tools can make collaboration easier for everyone.

If you are a Prime shopper or a Kindle user, I’m sure that all three titles are also available on Amazon.  Just remember that if you search on Amazon for Teaching the iGeneration, be sure to pick up the second edition!  Chances are that they are still selling the first edition as well.

You can also purchase individual chapters of each title from my Author’s Page on Slicebooks.  That might be a great way to get a taste of all three titles.

And a quick favor to ask:  If you read any of these titles, I hope you will stop back here to the Radical to let me know what you think!  I’m CONSTANTLY refining my own thinking about teaching and learning — and your feedback on my ideas plays a central role in who I am as a practitioner.

#LOVEthat

#happyreading

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 Related Radical Reads:

The Power of PLCs

My Kids, a Cause and Our Classroom Blog

#edtech Reflections for Preservice Teachers