Time To Turn The Page

Today is my last day working for the overly-large school district.

Which anyone with even the slightest interest could have easily discovered is Fairfax County Public Schools, located in the Northern Virginia suburbs of the Washington DC area.

When you tell people you are retiring (and that is the last time I will apply the “R” word to myself), the first response is “Congratulations!”, very often followed by an expression of happiness, sometimes mixed with a hint of envy, as in “please take me with you!”.

That sentiment is usually followed immediately with the question “what are you going to do next?”.

To which my answer is, “I have no idea”.

I really don’t.

I am very fortunate that I will be able to live comfortably on the welfare checks from the state of Virginia 1 and my own resources, the end result of a strong saving ethic instilled in me by my mother.

All of which means I have the option to explore many paths that don’t necessarily involve earning a steady income. At the very least, I certainly intend to continue writing in this space, although the topics will likely expand beyond rants about edtech and ed reform issues, to include more of my photography efforts (inspired by Tom, Tony, Kathy, and Karen) and expanded travel experiences.

Another question over the past couple of months involves whether I am sad to be leaving.

Truth be told, a few years back a little voice in the back of my head began whispering suggestions that it was time for a big change. With those whispers now grown to a full-throated demand, I would likely be moving on about now even without this opportunity.

So, I will miss the regular interactions with my colleagues, both in the schools and our little central office group (many of whom are also scattering to new adventures as well), but very little about the “job”.

Ok, enough early morning rambling. I have a few things left to clean up in this current chapter and then it’s off to figure out what comes in the next one. Stay tuned.

  1. Don’t look at me that way! Tell me that you don’t have politicians in your area who believe that teacher and public employee pension plans are equivalent to welfare. Ok, maybe not if you live outside the US.

Political Disconnect

I try very hard to avoid any kind of political reporting, especially since we are more than 14 months away from the presidential election. Plus our news media is far more interested in polls, sensational arguments, and the flavor of the moment than they are about analyzing actual issues.

However, I stumbled across something this week that’s just too hard to ignore.

In an piece about a focus group explaining why they support Donald Trump, someone was quoted as saying “He’s like one of us.”.

Considering this woman, described as a “former dog breeder”, is likely a long, looong way from Trump’s social and economic class, and probably shares very few of his actual political views, her remark immediately enters the top ten dumbest things anyone has ever said.

Right up there with “That bear is more afraid of you than you are of him.” and “I’ll be rich as soon as the wire transfer from Nigeria comes through.”

Forgetting the Other 1

One more post about 1:1 computing programs and I’ll let the topic rest for a while.

In his post yesterday, Doug says he is advocating in his district to give a computing device to all students in grades 6-12. But he refuses to call it a 1:1 program.

Instead of emphasizing the device (which that name certainly does), he wants everyone to understand that the primary purpose of whatever is selected is to enable students to have 24/7 access to digital resources.

Watching our 1:1 project unfold here in the overly-large school district, I completely understand his concerns.

Planning is led by the IT department, due in large part to abdication of responsibility by leaders of the Department of Instruction, and discussions are all about which device to buy1, how they will be distributed, security, maintenance, and pretty much everything other than how they will be used for student learning.

Even if we do arrive at the topic of instruction, often at the end of the meeting when everyone is packing up to leave, it’s always in the context of how the devices will reinforce and support teachers traditional practice.

Oh, and there’s one other missing element in all this planning: student voices. One of those 1’s represents kids, but we never ask them what they want from all this. Instead we spend most of our time worrying about the other 1, the device.

  1. But don’t you dare propose anything not blessed by Microsoft.

Learning Not to be Creative

You know all those “21st century skills” we want students to learn? Creative. Innovative. Critical thinking. Entrepreneurial spirit.

To be a “goal-directed and resilient individual”, which is one major category in the Portrait of a Graduate here in the overly-large school district.

But how do you teach someone to “think critically”? To be creative or innovative in their work? To be self-directed?

I don’t think it’s possible.

You can encourage, lead, model, inspire, coach, and mentor students. We can provide supportive environments for them to be innovative and collaborative. Teachers can experiment, investigate, explore, question, and play along side their kids.

But I don’t think anyone can teach a child to be creative.

The best we can do is reorganize the American K-12 school experience so that it doesn’t wring the creativity and curiosity out of kids before they even reach middle school.

Let children be creative, innovative, critical thinkers instead of teaching them not to be.

Not Ready to Change

And speaking of the blossoming 1:1 program here in our overly-large school district (as I was in my previous rant)…

About the same time as our sessions for teachers this month, we heard that the principal of one of the project schools decided to delay implementation until the beginning of the next academic year.

Why? She simply said “We are not ready.”

Which also wasn’t a surprise.

In most of our schools, there is no sense that something fundamental needs to change. It’s all about the tests and the feeling is that any problems we have with kids not passing them can be fixed with what we already have. The same curriculum, pedagogy, and processes.

With putting kids through more time practicing the tested subjects. By collecting more data (always more data). Through “remediation” programs, in which students largely do the same thing they didn’t respond to in their regular classes.

And using computers as data collection terminals, not for creation, collaboration, or communication.

“We are not ready” to change anything about our instructional practice so why bother with the distraction of giving kids computers.