When Will We Get Serious about Teacher Stress?

I’m privileged to work with some of the very best educators around the world. I’m continually inspired and in awe of their expertise, energy and commitment to their craft. They are true artists.  I marvel at these artists and the different ways they approach teaching and learning.

Of late, I’ve become acutely aware of one sad commonality among these very good people. Teachers are stressed. One could argue teachers have always been stressed but I’m sensing something new and disturbing. Today’s headline confirms some of my hunches. I’m sure some will read this article and suggest teachers are weak or lazy or manipulative. However, it’s the increase that needs to be noted. Perhaps teachers are taking better care of themselves and thus are taking time to recover rather than bringing their sickness back to the classroom. If that’s the case I see a problem in a job that requires employees to take that much time off.

In Ontario, mental health and well-being is now a mandated goal. While I applaud that move, several educators questioned the strategies suggested that are designed to deal with the stress the system itself created. “Try these mindfulness activities to deal with the … Read the rest

Stop Worry About the Achievement Gap

“Closing the Achievement Gap” is a term and movement that has been around for a while. Born out of good intentions, it’s essentially a recognition that we need to attend to students with lower grades. Fair enough. And yet I see this obsession flawed in a few ways and it once again is more about adults and accountability than caring for children.

The essence of the problem stems from the inherent flaws of our education system. We tend to focus mostly on students’ weaknesses and spend an exorbitant amount of time and money in attempting to remedy this.

When a student says, “school sucks” it might be for a number of factors but my intuition is that for the majority of them it’s because they spend time working on things they hate and an inverse proportion on things they enjoy.

Scott McLeod and I just release our new book on Different Schools for a Different World. Scott shares a graph from Gallup that offers some insight.

While all three of these results are troubling, it’s’ the last, the one in red that addresses the problem. How can we live with the idea that only 20% of students feel they … Read the rest

Three Questions

I say a lot of things on Twitter. Most tweets get very little attention and rightly so. Occasionally I manage a lucid thought that seems to resonate more than I anticipated. Sunday I tweeted:

So I thought I’d provide a bit more context to explain this idea.

My journey into assessment and changing the narrative has been going on for over a decade. Specifically dealing with the question, “Who owns the assessment?” It shouldn’t be about what satisfies me but what aids the learner in getting the most from the experience.

For the most part, we’ve over complicated assessment. Our data-obsessed world and education system continues to look for silver bullets, accountability, and/or justification of our practices. More tools mean more ways to try and measure learning. My mantra remains:

You might not be able to measure learning, but you can document it. 

So assessment and evaluation remain elements of my teaching that I’m always tweaking and ultimately empowering the learners as much as possible. It’s why they … Read the rest

And What Do You Mean By…

People listen to leaders. Whether we’re talking about true leaders or people considered leaders because of status or authority, their words impact culture. Over the last several years of the “reform” movement, words like “accountability” “data driven” “student achievement” “rigorous curriculum” and “college and career ready” are used frequently in many districts. By themselves these words and phrases may not be particularly offensive but over time, combined with countless new initiatives send a sometime subtle and sometimes overt message to teachers and students.

Working in districts where these terms are embedded into the culture, I’ve often had leaders defend these terms by saying they aren’t meant to oppress anyone but can be seen as empowering. I don’t usually buy that. Here’s why.

Accountability

Accountability is what’s used when relationships and trust haven’t been fostered. I realize in many large organizations, this is challenging and being accountable to someone isn’t necessarily negative but it’s a word that’s very authoritarian and suggests there’s a problem. As Sahlsberg suggests, we should replace “accountability” with “responsibility”. It makes a big difference. You can read more about my thoughts on accountability if you wish.

Data Driven

My issue here is that “data” is usually … Read the rest

Things I Was Never Told

Having spent the last 7 years teaching pre-service teachers and working with districts and schools across Canada it’s easy to see a disconnect with new teachers and the environments they are entering. In times of fairly significant change and disruption to varying degrees, the role of hiring and finding great teachers is much more important than ever before. At the same time young people entering the profession likely have certain expectations that have been shaped by their past experiences in schools. My beginning of term speech to students in my courses goes something like this:

“You’re the winners of education. You got good grades, listened well and did what you were asked. School worked for you. This is going to make teaching difficult for you because education is in the midst of tearing down this system of compliance based success. Yes, many are still holding on to this but it’s changing and you’ll be placed somewhere in the middle of this. You’ll have a tendency to want to replicate the success you experienced in your own classrooms and it may work for a few but understanding this isn’t a plan for all or even the majority of your students will

Read the rest