How to Implement Rigorous and Relevant ELA Curriculum Part Two

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My third semester of educational leadership is winding down, and that means I can use more of my summer vacation for blogging about things OTHER THAN EDUCATION!  If you’re still with me, though, here’s a follow-up to my last post about implementing rigorous and relevant ELA curriculum.  Enjoy, and please let me know what you think in the comments. – Bill

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How to Implement Rigorous and Relevant ELA Curriculum

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Leaders often look to best practices, scholarship, and other leaders before making changes in their organizations. However, much of my coursework in educational leadership has called on me to look to myself for answers. I find this to be valuable, as I do not yet have years of leadership experience to ponder; it does me good to envision how I will meet the inevitable changes and challenges I can expect when I assume a formal leadership role. Though I have opportunities to reflect in my coursework, prior assignments required me to ground my reflection in research. This may seem contradictory because most of us self-reflect without considering others’ thoughts, but academia demands explanation enforced by citation.

This post, though, is a reflective narrative reflection, a metacognitive exercise—a record of my thinking about my thinking. And in this instance I will write my way through the problem of implementing a rigorous and relevant ELA curriculum. Here is how I understand the issue.

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How to Get Teachers to Stop Hating the Common Core

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The backlash against the Common Core among teacher is, at its essence, a leadership problem.

In Heifetz and Laurie’s near seminal “The Work of Leadership” the two leadership scholars start by explaining the difference between adaptive challenges (game-changers, challenges that enable positive growth) and technical challenges (business-as-usual type stuff that just needs to get done).

In general, it seems that CCSS and the challenges it presents are being approached as technical challenges by many school leaders. However, there is a tremendous opportunity to make them out to be adaptive challenges and to rally staff behind a common vision.

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Leadership Self Improvement Plan

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leadership, improvement, education

It takes a lot of work to become a good leader!

Here’s an essay I wrote for one of my educational leadership classes at Southern Connecticut State University.  It ties together my study of communication skills, conflict resolution, and a few New Year’s Resolutions to boot.  If you enjoy the essay and find it useful, please let us know in the comments.  Thanks! – Bill

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How to Live Well After the Digital Revolution

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gc logo 8.14.11Here’s an essay I published on this site a few years ago when it first started.  It used to have it’s own separate page, but now that I’m redesigning the site it will be a linked post instead.  It could use some updated, but it still helps summarize what this blog used to be about, and where it will go in the future.  Enjoy! – Bill

PS – Thanks for your patience as I update Good Circuits to better reflect my own writing and thinking and to better invite you to join in the exploration of where technology and the humanities meet to make us better people!

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Comment; State of Education

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It seems those who make the rules/laws for others have never had the honor of wearing the other’s shoes.
However, firstly, my wife and daughter are both teachers – just to show my status.

Never heard them refer to the profession as a job, they live, eat and breathe teaching. When they get together with other teachers – questions arise about what progress this or that one is making – their hours are set buy themselves, my wife used to go in to school at least 45 or more minutes than required and my daughter is always at school for a special activity, helping a student or readying for the next day. And not to be crass or surly, the $250 the government allows as an education tax deduction is chump change in the real world, where I live.

Sure, it’s a job – my two aren’t of the STEPFORD cookie cutter ilk of which Mrs. Malloy refers. How about the governor and some State Legislators teaching a class for a week (with no chance of parole) and see what ‘job’ they prefer, the good ‘ol boy gathering of’ politicos figuring out how to levy another tax or unrealistic mandate or trying to convince little Jack or Jill that 6 is the product of dividing 42 by 7.

Wonder how NCLB would have fared if this exercise were mandated?

There will always be some debate as why teaching is an easy ‘job’; all the time off, especially in the summer.

Reality is taking over  as more and more states are eschewing NCLB as a poor, no horrendous piece of legislation.

Now, being under the proverbial gun, they  are scrambling to redeem themselves by coming up with some alternatives.

I hope they consult some ‘dedicated’ educators whilst drawing up the new guidelines; because, if you boil this all down to the basics – if it weren’t for dedicated teachers – I would not have had the skills to write this comment  nor would you have the privilege of reading my opinions. Correct?

One of My Favorite Things: A Love Supreme

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I won’t pretend to know a ton about jazz. Like many a listener, I don’t always know what’s going on, but I do know what I like.  John Coltrane’s seminal A Love Supreme is a perfect example of this.  I started listening to jazz around the time I started studying Buddhism.  (What can I say, I was faking my way through graduate school and being a beatnik.)  My first time playing the disc was after waking up early to read Zen koans, hopping in the car the car, and driving two hours in the rain to take karate class.

Maybe I was spiritually switched on that day, or maybe I was just overtired, but I think the emotion I felt–and still feel–when I heard the gong and opening fanfare through ego-shredding solos to the final notes of “Psalm” really moved me.   It was the first time I’d cried since childhood.  I had never felt so free, and anytime I get stuck in my own “selfness” I reach for this album.  If you’ve never listened to it, I suggest you give it a try!

Anyway, here’s a great NPR story on the record.  Take a minute to read it for some great insight into what makes it so great.

The Story of “A Love Supreme”

State of Education

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Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, left, and Commissioner of the state Department of Education, Stefan Pryor, Right, arrive at the legislature's Education Committee public hearing on Malloy's education proposal. Melanie Stengel/Register (ctbulletin.com)

Okay, I’ll admit it.

I’m a teacher and my job is pointless.

I’ve been thinking a lot about this fact as educators have come under increasing criticism—especially here in Connecticut.

I concede that formal education is unnecessary.  Public school is a relatively new idea, and people got by without classrooms and textbooks for millennia.   Our most beloved American success stories are of self-made individuals who struck out against schools and other institutions to make their own way.

The truth is everyone is perfectly capable of learning what they need to survive.  Watch a child master a new task to see what I mean.  Learning is ingrained in human nature, and our curiosity allows us to figure out everything we need to know.

So why teach?  After all, Governor Malloy insists a teaching job should be “like every other job.”  He says teachers should welcome evaluation and competition as a way to improve our practice.  He says we don’t want to accept common business principles into our field soley so we can protect our tenure system.

I’ll counter with a question: Should teaching even be considered a job?

Let’s compare working in education to working in the ministry.  Across cultures and religions devout men and women heed the call to serve others through their faith.  Clergy are highly regarded for pursuing a vocation and for trying to make the world a better place.  They are protected and cared for by organized religion so they can do good without impediment.

However, as a job, becoming a priest or a rabbi or an imam is pointless.  People in general can find their own spiritual path just fine.  Spirituality is a natural part of life, and we are all equipped with an intuitive sense of divinity.  Left to their own devices, people will usually form a personal system of belief.

But isn’t it nice to have some guidance?

Maybe teaching should not be seen as just another job.  Like the clergy, men and women enter the field to enrich their communities.  Yet you don’t see the government attacking religion.  Despite some bad apples, the influence of religious people in this country is stronger than ever.

When a member of the clergy is criticized—rightly or wrongly—the faithful often see this as an attack on their beliefs.  Believers in education should feel just as indignant.  They should see attacks on teachers for what they are—attacks against the value of education.

Governor Malloy urges you to see teaching as just a job.  As such, many of his new policies will reward the very teachers he claims he wants to root out—those who pander to principles, who bully students into compliance, and who merely teach to the test.  In short, he will reward the teachers who only show up for a paycheck, not those truly devoted to their students.

If you consider yourself a member of the faithful, please support the educators and staff who chose a career in education instead of working just another job.  Believe it or not, there are scores of talented, hard-working people in our schools who want to make a difference.

A note on 9/11

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I feel like the tenth anniversary of September 11th went by very fast.  That is, the last ten years went by like the blink of an eye.  The actual coverage that played out the days before and after the anniversary were excruciating  to watch.  I unplugged myself from all media for about a week.  The “human interest” stories were unbearable: survivors and their families, people who missed their trains and, consequently were saved, the children of victims, the police and firefighters and EMTs and soldiers who just wanted to make a difference.  I am as equally sorry for these people as I am proud of them.

I wish the media felt the same way.  Days of sensationalism–milking each tear for maximum sadness–just shows how little we’ve learned from the horrible events of that day.  Taking advantage of other’s pain, ripping open old wounds, wallowing in sorrow and pity.  I doubt anyone wants to be “honored” this way.  News coverage of the anniversary went on like salve but burned like poison.

Consider, for a moment, some of the other harsh realities from 9/11.  The entire world does not love us.  We can’t always do the right thing.  The past ten years have lead to deeper divisions, wild punditry, and polemics in this country.  Opportunists have capitalized on this, and the gap between rich and poor is wider than ever.  We go on ignoring lesser and greater problems exacerbated by the current culture of fear and doubt about our future.

The media let us down again.  No one wanted to discuss the systemic problems that caused America to suffer terrorism in the first place.  No one has a real solution.  Soma doesn’t exactly lead to introspection; and candor doesn’t come in large enough doses these days.  Yes, we want to help the victims of the attack, but, no, we should not exploit their suffering to distract ourselves from never letting such suffering strike us again.  Maybe we should interview everyone again to ask them some questions actually worthy of their well worn consideration.

I’ll leave you with another essay by Henry Rollins.  He’s a bit better at articulating rage than I am.  I read this piece and was reminded of all the crud swept under the rug.  Let me know what you think–if you feel as cheated as me.

9-11: Ten Years in a Day