Monday, August 2, 2010

We Have Got to do and Be Better

The other day I was reading an article in the New York Times entitled "In Reassessing Schools, a Lot of Bad News to Break".  The following comment in the article stuck out to me and others on Twitter:

“There are two reactions those of us in this business can have,” said Geoffrey Canada, the chief executive of the Harlem Children’s Zone, which operates the school. “One is to complain, and it’s human nature to do that. The other is to say we need to do something dramatically more intensive and powerful to prepare our kids. We are going to look at the mirror and say we have got to do better.”
Geoffrey Canada hits on something that all schools and educators need to reflect upon and that is the need and desire to be better.  My comments are not meant as a call to arms in support of better standardized test prep, but rather a holistic metamorphosis of teaching and learning practices.  Much to often educators reach a saturation point where doing what it takes to get by is the prime choice of many.  Tenure adds to this problem and is frequently used as an internal excuse to not work hard, take risks, collaborate, or pursue professional growth opportunities outside of the school day.  Utilizing free time in the summer to learn and get better has also gone by the wayside and been frowned upon.  

Personally, I get offended every time someone says how great teachers have it because they have the summers off.  This is a much deserved reward in my mind.  Dedicated educators know that the summer break is needed for all of the extensive hours spent planning, grading, and helping each and every kid succeed for 180 days.   The summer months also represent an opportunity for all educators to get better.  More educators need to take advantage of this time.  Excuses such as money are now a non-factor as numerous free professional development opportunities have arisen.  Just check out NTCAMP and The Reform Symposium as two fantastic examples.  I am even sending four of my teachers to a free training session provided by Discovery Streaming this week. Getting better does not have to involve educational technology.  It could simply be developing an authentic-based unit of instruction in collaboration with a teacher from another department, attending graduate classes, or reading the latest research in the field. My point is there are so many opportunities to get better.

There has been so much talk lately about education reform, change, and innovation.  None of this will occur if educators don't find it necessary to get better.  Take Twitter for example.  While becoming a major part of our school’s communication plan, Twitter has also become a major part of my own professional learning patterns. I use this tool on my own time! How each one decides to accomplish this is up to them.  My challenge to all of you is to empower, support, encourage, and assist your fellow colleagues in their improvement pursuits. Here are some professional development resources to help you and your colleagues get started.


  1. Great article Eric - I totally agree we have all got to want to be better. I have spent most of my summer learning about Twitter, online social media, and different ways to use technology in the classroom. Your pages (blogspot, PLN and Twitter) have all been extremely beneficial. I am the Professional Development representative at my high school and I plan on sharing many of your experiences and beliefs with my staff. People like you help make it easier for educators to want to improve.

    Thank you,

    Justin Tarte

  2. good boggles my mind when people who are good teachers say "i don't think about school in the summer" or who don't read up on policy, research, new ideas, etc. - at some point, they will be "behind" and even more discouraged and then they'll just stagnate...sure, i like to rest and recharge in the summer, but that's also when i take my biggest leaps in exploring tech integration because i'm not trapped in the inertia of the school year - i'm not asking everyone to live, sleep, eat, breathe this stuff like i do (and maybe returning parent emails on my blackberry at midnight is a bit much), but if we're to be taken seriously as professionals and defend against the attacks on our profession and our compensation, we have to evolve and grow and improve as educators...there's no bigger defender of tenure and unions than i, but that is protection - not an excuse for complacency....with the acceleration of change in tools and practices, the process of becoming "dinosaurs" will take place a lot more quickly than in the past...we need to support people in their endeavors if they are skeptical or afraid, but that's just leading the horse to water - thirst for improvement is a pre-requisite..i know it's hard, especially for people with small children or multiple jobs, and i hope i don't sound darwinistic with a "change or die" approach, but the integrity of our profession and the educational welfare of our students depend on even great teachers (and administrators) wanting to get better...rant over...Brian

  3. The job of teaching means learning what will cause the students you have succeed. Teachers and administrators as learners is the key.

  4. I think the summer is what separates the good teachers from those that are on their way out of relevancy. Those that resist change, squander the summer with no focus on improvement, and complain about professional development are in danger of become a stagnant pool that seeks to suck others in. Being a new teacher, I constantly watch the veteran teachers. It is easy to spot the good ones, they are arrive and stay beyond time set times, they are ready to learn new tools, and they encourage us newbies to be agents of change. Thanks for the great post.
    Follow my blog too if you wish:

  5. Eric,

    Good points. I have been thinking along the same lines. Even though we might not agree with the shape the current federal reform movement is taking, we cannot dismiss the fact that we have to work to be better! Let's face it, we can talk about a lot of things to improve school, but unless we are will to work on instruction and continually strive as educators to make our schools more responsive to our students' needs, we deserve what we get from the state and federal governments.

  6. I think your words "None of this will occur if educators don't find it necessary to get better" are the key to the issue. They certainly echo some of my own frustrations!

  7. Sounds like you do great progrmas for your teachers at your school.

  8. I was just having this conversation with a colleague of mine. It's interesting how many of my teacher friends mock me because I'm on Twitter, reading blogs, taking part in the Reform Symposium, or reading educational books. One friend commented, "you know what month it is? seriously..." When I posted the Reform Symposium link on Facebook. My thoughts, his lose.

    I love the summer for just this reason. I get a chance to catch up on reading. I've connected with so many educators on Twitter. I can't wait to implement some of what I've learned and keep in contact with them throughout the year.

    We want doctors to know the latest techniques and treatments. Why not teachers. I like your two points; We can complain about it or take action to do better. I've always chosen to do better and I'm trying to get my colleagues to do the same. I'm passing on articles and blog posts. We just need one person to take the bait.

    Thank you for your post.

  9. Eric - Conversations like these are what keep me going. Whenever I listen to some "old school" philosophy about how we can't force teachers to investigate and employ new tools I get a little ticked off. I agree with your point about doctors - What if my doctor decided he wouldn't look at new tools or techniques to help me when I need him?

    Providing the most relevant, engaging environment for our students is not optional! How different teachers choose to get there is a matter of choice. But we all have a moral imperative to work to get better at what we do. I am done arguing about why. It's time to get our kids on here to start talking about the type of learning environments that excite them.

  10. This is my first summer back to a teacher's schedule after two summers away. I have learned more about teaching this summer than I have in a long, long time.

    Professional development is not just about what you learn from the session, it is also about who you meet either face-to-face/electronically or both. The getting to know other teachers, how things are done differently or the same, time to whine and complain with each other, a opportunity to see things from a different perspective than just what "our" school does.

    Those are the lessons that I am taking away from this summer. I have been told to give it a break and just enjoy the summer. You know something - I am enjoying my summer I am doing something that I love, learning more about teaching.

    Thanks for the post Eric.

  11. Great post Eric.

    Here is a link to my blog post w/ our video that we recorded the day you wrote this - let me know if you have any links you would like me to add to it.