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Tag: tony wagner

Leadership Rerun

Last Wednesday, our superintendent summoned all of his administrators (along with us lazy, evil central office folks) to assemble in the fine arts theater at a local college for the Leadership Conference here in the overly-large school district.

This was the setting for our annual kickoff to the new school year, part inspirational talk, part self-congratulatory presentations, plus a keynote from an expensive high-profile author selling a new book. Although the venue has changed over the years, very little about this event does. And this post will probably not differ much from my past rants on the topic.

Our keynote speaker was Tony Wagner, addressing the themes in his book “Creating Innovators”, and the same person we heard from three years ago. He gave a pretty good presentation, discussing his research into the factors that make people innovative. Once again he told us how our students have changed, how the world is different, and how we need to change our practice.

The problem with Wagner’s talk, and really with most of the inspirational talk from the other speakers, is that what is said is very much disconnected from what everyone in the audience understands is expected of them once school starts.

All of this is very familiar to those of us who have sat through the conference over the years. We are told that schools must help students learn how to collaborate on projects, communicate on a global scale, be creative, and acquire all those other attributes that go way beyond memorizing facts.

However, once the year begins, the emphasis returns to collecting and analyzing data, and increasing student achievement, all based on the same clichéd themes recycled from the past two years. In other words, giving lots and lots of practice tests in order to get every student to pass their spring standardized tests.

I’d like to think that this will be the year that things start changing, now that the state has its wavers from the provisions of NCLB and the superintendent has told us to stop using AYP in our vocabulary.*

But I doubt it.

I’m afraid that schools are already way too addicted to test scores (or am I supposed to call it “data”) to substantially change, and it’s likely to get worse since the state is “recommending” that 40% of teachers’ evaluations under their new system be based on “student academic progress”.

Anyway, that’s how we start the school year around here. What’s it like in your part of the world?

* Interesting… that little piece didn’t appear in the official transcript of his remarks.

Tinkering With Teaching

Today we had the Leadership Conference in our overly-large school district, the annual August gathering for all of us above a certain pay grade, designed to provide an inspirational kickoff for the new school year.

Our keynote speaker this time around was Tony Wagner from the Harvard Graduate School of Education and author of The Global Achievement Gap (which I haven’t read yet).

Wagner spent most of his time telling us about how our kids have changed, how the world they’ll be working in has changed, and about how educators need to change what we do in school to better serve our students.

In effect, he was telling us to radically change our curriculum, our teaching process, and so much more about what we do.

Ok, certainly a lot to think about going into lunch.

For the afternoon, however, we broke into smaller groups (if you can call 40 – 100 “smaller”) to hear about a new district program entitled Best Practices for Teaching and Learning.


I thought Tony Wagner just told us that we need to do things differently, to adapt what we do to those different kids who are constantly connected and multitasking, and want to create and communicate.

Instead of making them adapt to the curriculum and traditional school structure (none of which is changing).

And we must prepare them for a world that wants them to be adaptable and to understand how to network and collaborate.

“Best practice”, especially as it was presented to us, is all about a recipe approach to teaching. We provide the ingredients and the teacher mixes everything according to directions.

The afternoon reminded me of a session I attended at last week’s Building Learning Communities conference with the wonderful title of “Scratch Best Practices: It’s All About The Beta, Baby!“.

Darren Kuropatwa and Clarence Fisher offered the premise that teachers should be encouraged to tinker with their professional practice.

That good teaching has more in common with Maker Faire and tinkering school than with the Betty Crocker Cookbook.

In both concepts, talented people offer instructions for putting together all kinds of unusual stuff and then help and encourage others to take their ideas and play with them to make something unique and useful to them.

Nothing in this rant is intended to say that we should just tell teachers to do whatever they want in their classrooms.

Certainly we should provide them with great examples and access to a selection of excellent materials to work with.

But not a database full of classic recipes, most of which are designed to produce a standardized, and very, very bland result.

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