Engagement, Empowerment, Enthusiasm – Part 3

Maybe it’s a “chicken and egg” scenario with no real answer, but I have finally come to the personal conclusion that engagement trumps empowerment and enthusiasm in teaching and learning.  By this, I mean to say that without engaging students in the learning process, they will never become empowered to enthusiastically learn on their own.

As I wrote in the previous post, Chris Lehmann started me on this path with a post on his blog in which he argued that we should be empowering students, and not just engaging them.

Respectfully, I disagree.  My new opinion comes from reading Charlotte Danielson’s outstanding book Enhancing Professional Practice – A Framework for Teaching.  Every teacher and school administrator should read this book.  Danielson’s framework is comprised of four domains:

  1. Planning and Preparation;
  2. The Classroom Environment;
  3. Instruction; and
  4. Professional Responsibilities.

Danielson also provides a framework for specialists such as school social workers, psychologists, instructional coaches, and speech therapists.

Within each domain, Danielson includes rubrics for teachers to assess their levels of performance.  As a staff, the teachers in my school and I are working through this book as part of our professional development activities for this school year.  I think it has opened some eyes, and it has helped teachers re-asses their professional practices.  It also has given us some wonderful common language to use in the evaluation process.

This leads me to my argument that engaging students in learning is the single most important element of good teaching.   The following quote is from the section on Domain 3: Instruction:

“Domain 3 is the heart of the framework for teaching: it describes, after all, the critical interactive work that teachers undertake when they bring complex content to life for their students.  And the heart of Domain 3 is engaging students in learning:  all the other aspects of the framework serve the purpose of engagement, because it is engagement that ensures learning.”

That is powerful.  In my mind, that paragraph, and the ensuing chapter in the Danielson book, seals the deal.  The very best teachers engage their students through clear and concise communication, through the use of expert questioning and discussion techniques, through intellectual involvement with the content, and by helping students become mentally engaged in the content.

It is possible that Chris has written his post in the narrow context of educational technology.  That may be true, and if children are playing video games or goofing around on Facebook, then they may not be fully engaged in learning.  However, if used correctly, ed tech tools (including video games) may engage students more than any other teaching tool or technique available.

So which came first?  The engagement or the empowerment?  Maybe it does not really matter, as long as the students are passionate and self-directed about their learning.  If they are, then they are engaged, empowered, and totally enthusiastic about learning.


Is There Really “Perfect?”


Here are some definitions of the over used adjective:

1. conforming absolutely to the description or definition of an ideal type: a perfect sphere; a perfect gentleman.
2. excellent or complete beyond practical or theoretical improvement: There is no perfect legal code. The proportions of this temple are almost perfect.
3. exactly fitting the need in a certain situation or for a certain purpose: a perfect actor to play Mr. Micawber; a perfect saw for cutting out keyholes.
4. entirely without any flaws, defects, or shortcomings: a perfect apple; the perfect crime.
5. accurate, exact, or correct in every detail: a perfect copy.

Are you perfect? I am far from it.

What in your life is perfect?  I mean, name something that is truly perfect.  Not perfect because you have some special affinity for it, but perfect based on the definitions above.

That ’57 Chevy I passed on the road today was way cool and beautifully reconditioned, but I guarantee that it was not perfect.  It may have been “practically perfect in every way” but only if it was being driven by Mary Poppins.

What’s perfect to one person could be simply nasty to another.  Have you ever tried oysters?

Someone painted their dining room puce and loved it.  A perfect color for a fine dining experience?  Hmmm.

It’s all a matter of opinion.

The “perfect storm?”  That’s a terrific oxymoron, but non-nonsensical.

Remember that old phrase “Practice makes perfect?”  I would argue that “practice makes very, very good” but not perfect.  We need to stop saying that phrase to children as a method of motivating them to try harder.

Why?  Because working toward”perfect” only leads to disappointment.  Telling children that they need to be perfect is doing them a disservice.  We all need to make mistakes in order to learn and improve.

Perfect implies a comparison to something else.  It means nothing can ever be better.  However, the best of the best in anything will eventually be topped.

Instead, let’s teach children to strive to be the very best they can be as compared to their own past achievements.

Well, this has been the theory in which I have always believed – until today.

Today, I witnessed “perfect.”  My guy, Mark Beurhle of the Chicago White Sox pitched a PERFECT game.  27 batters up – 27 batters down.  Perfect.  It was a work of art, a joy to behold, a beautiful sight to see, yada, yada, yada.

So this blows my entire argument.  There really is perfect in this world.

Tomorrow, I might just bowl a 300 game.

More About the Use of Cell Phones in Schools

I have written numerous posts about the use of cell phones in school for educational purposes, and I continue to search for others who have written on the same topic.  Here is a great article which states the many reasons for allowing students to use cell phones and other handheld electronic devices (such as iPods) in classrooms.

Think Before You Ban: A Handheld Is a Powerful Learning Tool

According to By Bob Longo of TechNewsWorld,

“… looking at the world outside of education, everyone is using their cell phone to do many things they used to do exclusively on their computers. Much of this is informational and productivity related. Furthermore, cell phones or other PDAs are very cost effective and significantly more portable. Schools that cannot afford to deploy a 1:1 laptop initiative could achieve a 1:1 with a mix of laptops and lower-cost portable devices like an iPod touch.

Part of the solution, I believe, is not to ban enabling technologies that possess great value in the learning environment, but rather manage the risks that may surface in the same way we manage all risks to our children. Some of this can be done with technology, some with education and some with policy and supervision. We don’t prohibit playing in the schoolyard because it borders a street; we put up a fence, we add a supervisor and we instruct the children not to run after a ball that goes into the street. Similarly, with well-constructed software learning environments, we can provide teachers with management tools to protect our students; we can access Web 2.0 technologies and push value to our children and at the same time provide a safe and secure learning space for them to explore and prepare for the excitement of the technology-rich world they live in.”

I hope you will read this article and pass it along to other educators.

A Teacher at Heart

Yesterday I spent the day working with the administrative team from a nearby school district.  This was the first time I have ventured outside the comfort zone of my own district to teach other professionals.  We worked on blogging, wikis, RSS, and other Web 2.0 tools, and we did a lot of talking about the use of these tools by administrators and by teachers  in the classroom.  I shared some of my district’s work with Alan November and the Metiri Group on 21st Century Skills, and I assisted them in setting up their own blogs, RSS aggregators, and wikis.

I really enjoyed the day, and I was fortunate to be working with a team of open-minded, hard working educators who have a passion for what they do.  I see this in my own district with our admin team, and it was great to see the passion with another team.  It also was interesting to observe the dynamics of how another administrative team works, and this group appeared to be focused and willing to roll up their sleeves and learn some new, often confusing, stuff.

I have wanted to get back into teaching for a while, and I have been thinking about the possibility of teaching adults.  So when this opportunity presented itself, I jumped at it.  I will admit that it was nerve racking for me, and I had a few de-ja-vu moments.  I had the same “imposter” feelings that I experiened when I started teaching elementary school, when I moved to a junior high, and when I first became a principal.  It’s the feeling that I am faking my way through the day, praying that nobody will notice that I am an imposter who really does not know more than anyone else!

I also experienced that feeling of stress when a student “does not get it” after my initial instruction.  There were times yesterday were I was worried that I was not explaining or teaching well because the “students” were not picking up a concept immediately.  I had to step back and remind myself that there is a learning curve for all new things, and that I need to be patient.  This is what all teachers face, including those in my school, and it’s good for me to be reminded of this again.  Additionally, not everyone gets it at the exact same time. People process new information at different speeds, and at different levels.  The concept of differentiating the instruction is important for learners of all ages.  Again, these are good reminders for me as I work with my own teachers and the students in my school.

I am pleased with how the day went, yet there is so much for me to learn about leading workshops and inservice meetings for other educators.  Of course, there is a learning curve for all that’s new and challenging.  I hope to get the opportunity to do this again one day.

I am definitely a teacher at heart.

Texting and Driving

Tomorrow I will be taking my 15 year old daughter, Marni, to get her driving learner’s permit.  OMG!  I remember when my dad took me to get my permit.  Later that day we went to a deserted parking lot so I could drive around and get a feel of the car.  Then we went out onto the road.  Wow!  That was exciting and very nerve racking.  I am not sure who had the whiter knuckles – me or my dad.

I plan on doing the same thing with Marni tomorrow.  I will take her out somewhere and let her take the wheel.  Will we go out on the road?  I’m not sure she and I are ready for that yet!  I’m sure my dad thought the same thing 32 years ago, however.  Watching my daughter learn to drive will bring back so many memories for me like my first time on the expressway, my first left hand turn in traffic, and my first experience parallel parking.  I also will remember the stupid things I did as a neophyte driver (I’m keeping those to myself in case my parents are reading this!).  Thinking back, I wonder how I survived those days.

This morning I was watching the Today Show on NBC, and they had a piece on the dangers of texting while driving.  This is when it hit me that my little girl will be out on the road facing the awesome responsibility and inherent dangers that all drivers face.  Featured in this story was the sad tale of a 17 year old girl who was killed on her way to school becasue she was sending text messages while she was driving.  The story goes on to explain how texting while driving has been proven to be more dangerous than driving while intoxicated.

Well, my daughter is the queen of cell phone texting, having been known to send/receive more than 4,000 texts in one month.  And, until now, I have not had a problem with that.  I have gone so far as to argue why cell phones and texting should be allowed in our schools (see here, here, and here).  Now, it appears as if my daughter’s world of texting and the very adult world of driving are about to collide (no pun intended).

I can guarantee that Marni will be watching this story tonight, before she gets her learner’s permit.  She must see and undersand the danger in this behavior before she gets behind the wheel.

Soon enough, Marni will have a driver’s license which will be very convenient for our family.  I am looking forward to the day when I can send her out to the store or take her younger sister places.  However, I also am dreading the day when she is driving by herself, no longer under my wachful eye in the seat next to her.  How will I know that she is focused on the road and not on her cell phone?

If you have a cell phone and a driver’s license, please click on the link below to watch the video.  I only wish they had included the acts of shaving, applying make-up, reading the paper, and eating cheeseburgers in this story.  I am seeing those activities taking place behind the wheel as well.

Texting and Driving

Baseball, Hot Dogs, Apple Pie, and Memorial Day

Baseball was like a religion in my house when I was growing up.  My dad and my grandfather made baseball the most important aspect of life (aside from modeling for me the importance of putting in an honest day’s work).  My dad would tell wonderful stories of the great ballplayers of his day.  Men like Sandy Koufax, Hank Greenberg, Nellie Fox, Luke Appling, and Minnie Minoso – these men played the game like it was supposed to be played (according to my dad), and they were his true heroes.

But the man he most admired as a ballplayer was Ted Williams.  To this day, Dad still gushes about the kind of hitter Ted Williams was.  “You know, Dave, Ted could actually see the rotation of the seams on the baseball as it was pitched to him.”  I think I have heard that story at least 50 times.  Ted Williams is arguably the best hitter in the history of baseball.  He was the last player to hit 400 for the season, he hit over 500 home runs (one of only 17 players to accomplish that), he was the 1939 rookie of the year, he was a two-time most valuable player, and he won the American League Triple Crown twice.  Enough said.

Ted Williams should be remembered as a true hero.  Not because of his incredible athletic accomplishments on the baseball diamond, but because of what he did off the field of play.  Right in the middle of his remarkable career, Ted left baseball to fight in World War II, and then a few years later, he left baseball again to fight in the Korean War.  For both tours of duty Ted flew fighter aircraft for the U.S. Marines.  Ted was not drafted.  He enlisted in May of 1942.

Today, the sports headlines are full of stories about players signing multi-million dollar contracts, athletes taking steroids to gain an unfair advantage, coaches cheating, and players and referees gambling on their sports.  I have been thinking all day about Ted Williams.  Here is a man who, in the prime of his career, put his country first.  He lost lost salary and endorsement deals when he entered the service, but he did it any way.  Aside from Pat Tillman, can you think of any player today who would give it all up for the love of country?

Ted Williams is one shining example of the importance of Memorial Day.  Imagine what his career statistics would have been had he not chosen to fight for his country.  Yet, today I will remember Ted for his bravery flying aircraft as a proud U.S. Marine.

Soccer Dad

The President continues to fascinate me.  He spent part of Saturday out on the soccer fields cheering for his girls.  It’s the same thing I have been doing for the last ten years with my girls.  How cool would it me to be one of the parents on this team?

I don’t remember a past president as focused on family as this man.   I have never met the man, and chances are great that I never will.  We come from very different backgrounds, cultures, and religions.   And, he has a job that I can’t possibly fathom.

Yet, I feel some kind of connection to the man.  Maybe it’s because we are the same age (give or take a year or two).  Or maybe it is because we are both raising two daughters.  Could it be that he is a Chicagoan?  We are both big Chicago White Sox fans in a city where the other baseball team (the team that shall not be named) gets all the headlines.

Whatever it is, I am glad that Barack Obama is the President of the United States.  I am a natural born cynic who typically believes that politicians are self-serving, pompous, ego-maniacs.  Of course I am.  I live in Illinois the home of ex-governor Rod Blagojevich (enough said) and his predecessor, the incarcerated George Ryan.  And, I am from Chicago, a city known for crooked politicians.  However, I really do believe in this man.  I believe that he has the morals, ethics, and inner strength to lead us out of difficult times.  I believe he has what it takes to unite the USA and the free world.

Barack Obama appears to understand the importance of global awareness which is one of the main concepts underlying the 21st century skills we should be teaching in schools.  He is the best man for the job, and I sure hope he doesn’t disappoint me.

Check out the slideshow of Obama.  The pictures are incredible, and they provide some great insight into his daily life and work.

Obama Slideshow

Additionally, on Flickr you will find the Official White House Photostream.  The pictures there have captions to explain what you are seeing.  This is historic. Because of Web 2.0 tools like Flickr, we are provided with insights into the presidency that we have never had before.