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Showing posts from February, 2017

My Winter Break in Classrooms

Over my district’s winter break, I visited four schools and over twenty classrooms. From the professional development session I led in a middle school in South Carolina, to my friend’s classroom/library in a Catholic middle school, to a nearby district where I shadowed an assistant principal, to the four schools across grade levels in the district I grew up in and serve on the board of education, I spent my entire break learning. I’ll even argue that I spent my entire break visiting more public schools than our nation’s secretary of education may have done in her lifetime.

Before I write any more about those experiences, I think it’s important to offer a sincere thank you to every teacher whose room or school I visited. I know how unsettling it can be when someone visits your classroom, and I thank them for the opportunities.

I wanted to summarize a few things that I saw over break and have really been thinking about.

In South Carolina, teachers are so excited to use classroom librari…

Don't Be Misled by $778 At-Risk Payments

Governor Snyder recently proposed a $778 increase per economically disadvantaged pupil in Michigan. At first glance, this looks good. Who can argue with an announcement like this:

An increase of $150 million, to a total of $529 million, to ensure that children in difficult financial situations are getting the help they need. All districts and public school academies will now be eligible to receive an additional $778 per pupil to assist at-risk students.

After all, it's money for at-risk students. We instantly assume that the governor is proposing helping our neediest students, which should make us all jump for joy.

And we know from the adequacy study done last year that our poorest students require greater funding (30% more!) to educate if we ever hope to close the achievement gap, not to mention their general recommendation of $8,667 per pupil as a foundation allowance (note that many districts in Michigan still receive far less than this).

But the real problem of inequitable fund…

"Culture Beats Strategy"

I subscribed to Seth Godin's short blog posts recently because my boss shared Godin's writing with me. He's worth listening to on the Tim Ferris Show, too.

Two days ago, he shared a post that ended with this:

Culture beats strategy. So much that culture is strategy.
When I think about our work with students, culture really is the most important work that we can do. 
Is there a culture of trust and collaboration in our classrooms and with our colleagues? Or is the culture that we have created one of competition and negativity? 
We can't begin to take risks with our students and co-workers if we don't trust each other. And it's in that space of trust where we can really be willing to try something new. 
I'm also thinking a lot about the days where I seemed to focus more on the "strategy" of teaching rather than tapping into the culture in my classroom. Even when I think the culture is established to the point where we don't need to spend any more…

Pay Attention to Weapons of MATH Destruction (WMDs)

I distinctly remember a former professor telling me that she provided false information when filling out her Kroger card. She wanted the rewards, but she didn't want someone to be able to track purchases to her. This type of data is so widespread. When you shop on Amazon, your purchases are fed into an algorithm that suggests and predicts other purchases you might like. Meijer now offers money off future purchases when you reach a limit and log in with MPerks.

I recently began reading Weapons of Math Destruction because a colleague referred me to it. I'm convinced that this book, among others, should be a mandatory read for every educator, young and old. We live in the age of "big data," data that promises to be helpful but is really quite terrifying.

Like Cathy O'Neil points out in her book, an algorithm is really "an opinion formalized in code" (53). But try as we might to make a mathematical formula objective, it will be subjective and flawed because…

Focusing Forward

Shortly after noon, my phone was abuzz with texts asking if I'd heard that DeVos' nomination had gone through. I wasn't able to stream it at that point, but I had assumed her nomination would move forward. I'll also admit that I was hoping McCain would be willing to go "rogue" or "maverick-y" like he once prided himself on.

I will leave this image of McCain and Clinton here and not even comment.


So, in the mean time, what should teachers do? Well, we shouldn't get upset that our calls, our letters, our rallying "didn't work." In fact, it did. It proved we are a formidable force. 
This is the first time in history that a vice president has had to be the deciding vote for a cabinet nominee. This, to quote Vice President Biden during the passing of the Affordable Care Act, is a BFD. 

We must continue to be vocal. We must continue to tell our stories about public education. We must continue to speak out against injustice and the potenti…

Highlighting African American Authors

February is Black History Month. One of the goals that I set for myself is to share as many African American authors' voices with my Creative Writing students over the next 28 days.

Yesterday, I began with Jason Reynolds. He's one of my favorite young-adult authors. His writing is real, it's "mundane," and it has the potential to really connect with young people. I showed this video, where Jason talks about the need for diverse books to be both mirrors and windows for all young people.


Today, I plan to introduce Kekla Magoon to students. In this video, she talks about the powerful situation that young people are in. Their voices are important. Their words matter. And we can situate them to use their language for hope and change.


Cashin's 'Place, Not Race'

Despite the landmark ruling in Brown v. Board of Education, today's schools are more segregated than in the past. But if the recent election reveals anything about race relations, it's that we've reached a point where, as Sheryll Cashin writes, "Nothing will get better, then, without reconciliation between sizable numbers of whites and people of color" (110). If we want to establish a true coalition and set of alliances that are working toward progress, everyone needs to feel as if their voices are being heard.

Published in 2014, Cashin's Place, Not Race explores the history and future of affirmative action in the United States, while encouraging changes in policy and strategy to create more opportunities for those in underserved places, which, in turn, will improve outcomes for all races.

I'll share just a few lines that have had me thinking the last few days:

"While non-blacks see real and virtual examples of black success every day, they don't …