Wednesday, October 23, 2013


With expressions like School to Work, Career Ready and others, it seems like Education is focused more than ever on getting students ready for the world of work.  However, hasn’t this always been one of the foundational goals?  Yes, there were others such as citizenship, democratic participation, character and more.  But working or employment was always part of the goal right?  Well, this is both a good and bad thing.  How could that be bad?  Well, the problem is that many of the Myths of Learning, as I like to call them, come from our historical world of work.  And they now seem archaic, outdated and ineffective. 

Here are a couple of those myths:

LEARNING MYTH #1 – LEARNING IS QUIET.  For most adults, and even current students, learning is often associated with being quiet.  Our libraries and classrooms are founded on this to some degree.  And indeed, there was a time when “quiet” was a foundation at work.  When work was being part of the assembly line or factory, interaction or dialogue at work was limited and highly discouraged.  Jobs were where we did our individual assignment all day long.  We didn’t question, collaborate or even do many multiple tasks.  Heck, many of our contemporary office jobs were the factory, but just cubicles instead of the factory floor right?  And this is what our 20th century school model was based on.  It’s also often called the Factory Model of School. We duplicated the factory floors, or the cubicles if you will, in our classrooms.  So, we created rows with the boss or supervisor at the front of the rows.  Students were quiet and worked individually on the assignments or work distributed by the teachers.  And no matter how much we know that this is outdated and ineffective, especially in the 21st century workplace, we often still cling to this myth.  It seems logical, practical and comfortable.  Don’t get me wrong…quiet has a place in both work and learning, but it’s not automatically synonymous with learning or higher productivity.  However, learning, at its higher and powerful levels, is not necessarily quiet at all.  Just like most jobs in today’s economy, work – or learning – is collaborative, social, dynamic, participatory, ever changing and sometimes even chaotic.  Those jobs on the factory flow, or even in the cubicles are gone.  These jobs of the past have been replaced now by jobs where people work in teams, have input about their work, change roles frequently, use technology, think and act quickly and more.  Again, quiet has a place. There are times when it is necessary or important.    But don’t confuse quiet with actual ‘work’ or learning.  Most of us can recall being quiet many times in classes and/or jobs and we were not really ‘learning’ or ‘working’ at all.  Similarly, most of can recall some of our best classes or learning experiences.  They were action-oriented places with dialogue, discussion, activities, products and production, interaction, teamwork and more.  I bet our best work experiences are similar.  We love when work is collaborative, fast-paced, diverse, ever changing and goal or product-driven. 

LEARNING MYTH #2 – COMPLIANCE IS LEARNING.  Again, don’t be mistaken.  We all have to comply with rules, regulations, structure and supervision (our bosses).    Naturally, compliance is necessary.  But we can’t always confuse or substitute compliance for progress, advancement or learning.  In the 20th century workplace, again workers did not question their boss.  They did their jobs and shut up.  However, in the 21st century workplace, input from employees is not only acceptable, but also needed and required for real quality work.  Employees need to be part of a team that has a mission, a vision and goals.  Work is now about creativity, collaboration, critical thinking, communication and much more.  We need employees who generate ideas, ask the right questions, seek answers, and go above and beyond. Quietly doing our jobs without being personally and professionally invested does not cut it any longer in the 21t century workplace.  It’s the same now in education.  We can’t just do what we’re told like a robot and call that learning.  Like at work, it’s now more about asking questions vs. giving answers.  It’s more about critical thinking vs. compliance.  Teachers cannot just give a task, get everyone to simply do the task and call that higher-level learning.  Again, are there steps or processes during learning when this is necessary?  Yes, of course.  But Compliance is not the culminating activity.  We need students to be invested in what they’re doing, to have choices on how to complete the ultimate task or project, to be asking questions, to be infusing their ideas and creativity into the task or project.  Compliance in of itself does not lead to the type or learning or learner – or worker or employee – we need to tackle 21st century jobs and challenges.  Basically, real learning – or 21st century work – is not passive, but active.  It’s not just top down.  This is more difficult than all of realize when it comes to the classroom environment, but it is the ultimate educational actualization for all learners and leaders of learners. 

Could I generate more?  Of course as you can probably imagine.  But it’s not just about what I think. Like in the 21st century workplace or classroom, I am not going to give you all of the answers.  Feel free to add to this list right now and even right here if you like.

We can accept that the world has changed and will continue to change.  Whether we always like it or not, work has changed immensely.  What is required now to be successful is vastly different than that of the 20th century.  Remember, half of our college grads are now unemployed or underemployed.  We can’t simply cling to the past and hope for the best.  We have to recognize and acknowledge why and how things are different and then lead the way.  In the end, shouldn’t teachers and educators be constantly evolving and even ahead of the curve vs. safely duplicating outdated practices?  You know the answer.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Make All California Teachers Truly California Teachers - Unleash Them

     One of my many mantras is about trying to make education as real world or relevant as possible.  This can apply to all areas of education including teacher hiring, retention, promotion, compensation, etc.  Although I’d like to see tenure, unions and a host of other things reformed, I’d rather start with something that I think is more agreeable, possible, tenable and reachable. 

     Essentially, I would like to see California adopt a statewide standard and process for teacher mobility and salary compensation.  As you know, we already have a statewide credentialing process, a statewide teacher retirement system, a statewide recognition of sick leave accumulation, state department of education and many more examples of our education has a state standard of what teaching is in CA.

     However, in terms of teachers being able to move from one district to another, there is not a standard or anything that equates to mobility, competition or professional recognition.  Teachers are compensated in years of service.  The longer they teach in a school district, the more they make.  Currently, most school districts only allow a teacher to maintain 5 - 10 years of service credit if they move from one district to another.  So, if a veteran teacher wants to move from one district to another, they will have to take a tremendous pay cut.  Although there are exceptions where some school districts are able to go beyond their standard limitation of years of service credit, these are reserved for a small degree of administrative requests based on specialized credentials or experience.

     So, essentially, that almost locks most teachers into one school district for life.  This has traditionally probably worked for many teachers and many school districts.
     But the 21st century workplace is about creating competition and rewarding talented teachers.  If a teacher has 20 years of experience, wants to move to a another school district in the state for any number of reasons, and this other school district wants this teacher, there should be a system that makes this possible and maintains the years of service and their salaries. 
     Naturally, this is complex and provides challenges.  It is important to remember that a school district would always have the right regarding whom they hire.  But shouldn't they be able to hire a veteran if they want to?  And shouldn't the veteran teacher be able to take their years of experience and service with them and be compensated appropriately?
     School administrators do not have to worry about this the same way. They are paid essentially a market price for a particular type of administrative job.  For example, I have the opportunity to apply, interview and essentially get principal or administrative jobs all over the state.  Not only does my credential allow me to do that, but also I can expect to be paid based on the level of position.  If I am qualified and they want me, my salary will not be cut or lowered due to coming from one district to another.  There are areas in the state that have higher or lower salaries based on higher or lower cost of living standards, but essentially, there is a range one can expect for the position, expertise, skill set, etc. 
     This creates mobility and competition.  In addition to being fair and consistent with other statewide educational areas (retirement, credentialing, sick leave, etc.), it will also move education reform forward.  Talented and gifted teachers should have the right to potentially take their skills anywhere in the state and not be punished.  They should not be trapped into working in one school district like a life sentence simply because their years of service will not be recognized statewide.
     It is important to remember that the school district does not have to hire anyone they don't want to.  But if they were interested in someone, their years of service would travel with that teacher.  If a district wants to hire only younger or new teachers, then they can do that as well. 
     Teachers or districts should not be handicapped.  Both should have the right to compete.  Districts should be able to attract teachers and not have their salaries limited.  Our current system almost guarantees life employment within a district one they teach beyond 10 years.  This seems archaic. 
     I don’t know who would fight against this.  It seems like teachers would like this both for the mobility and statewide recognition of their years of service.  It also seems that school administrators would like the flexibility to pursuer and hire veteran candidates and not have their salaries be a hindrance one way or another.  Some might argue that it’s not financially sound from a district perspective.  But how many veteran teachers would any district hire at one time?  And again, they don’t have to hire them.
     I am fully aware that there are many other ways teachers could be compensated beyond years of service.  However, changing that system seems a lot more unlikely and/or difficult.  So, why don’t we take the current system and expand or improve it?
    This seems like something CA could easily adopt and make years of service credit in line with other statewide standards.  Why would we not want any teacher in CA to be able to take their years of service credit with them?  Maybe this is too simplistic.   It seems that teachers would have more freedom and mobility, while the system would have more competition and reform. Teachers should have the same statewide mobility and salary options that us administrators enjoy.  I say Make All California Teachers Truly California Teachers - Unleash Them. 

(images courtesy of Foter)