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

I’m not an Expert, But Neither are You Part 2

Yesterday’s post was intended to challenge teachers for the most not to be swayed by those who have either been given or taken the title of an expert. Anyone who spends any time working with children and helping them learn brings with them a reasonable level of expertise to be able to contribute to the conversation and question authority.

While my context was largely about online spaces I think it’s important to examine and apply this more locally. In particular, how do schools and districts work to either include teachers as experts or suggest teachers need to see those higher up on the org chart as having more expertise?

For as long as I’ve been in education, there were always those in leadership positions who were not respected and when they made suggestions or mandated policies they were met with eye rolls, furrowed brows, and heavy sighs usually behind their backs. Sometimes principals or Superintendents were the least knowledgeable people about teaching and learning. They may have had administration and management skills but didn’t couldn’t discuss pedagogy, let alone pronounce it.

In our best schools and districts, this isn’t the case. Leaders, specifically principals are asked to be instructional leaders. … Read the rest

A Survey on District Culture

On Friday I’m going to be offering a workshop at the Canadian School Boards Association’s National Conference entitled, “Getting Serious About Culture”:

“Culture is not the most important thing, it’s the only thing.”
– Jim Sinegal, Co-founder and former CEO, Costco

Is this true for schools and school districts? Having worked with districts across Canada, Dean Shareski has discovered some important ideas about building community and creating cultures where students, teachers and leaders feel empowered and work together for a better learning environment for students. This session will provide an opportunity for participants to share, gain insight and develop plans to create a powerful learning culture.

In preparation for this, I sent out an informal survey on Twitter to get a sense of people’s perception of their own district. I was pleasantly surprised. I defined culture as, “the beliefs, perceptions, relationships, attitudes, and written and unwritten rules that shape and influence every aspect of how a school functions.”

I received 146 responses and here are the results:

(these were the top answers)


I also ask for any additional thoughts, here are a few:

Empowered in my classroom, but not so much outside my classroom.

Wanted to answer yes and no.

Read the rest

When The Answer is Both

Should schools prepare students for college and careers or to be good citizens?

Do we want students to get good grades or love learning?

When it comes to teaching Math, should we focus on procedures or problem solving?

Should learning be fun or hard?

Do we want students to consume content or create content?

Should we be using ebooks or printed books?

All of these questions and dozens more are discussed pretty regularly and by many different folks. Our default answer to these is “both”. Often we add “it’s about balance”.

It’s hard to argue that and generally, I agree. But for me, it’s not so much about balance as it is about emphasis and what we lead with.

When Arnold Palmer was learning to play golf, his father told him “Learn to hit the ball as hard as you can and worry about accuracy later” If you know anything about golf you know you want to hit it long AND straight. But in this case, it was about what to focus on and in what order.

Should learning be fun or hard? While I personally question whether learning should be hard, this question is about what we emphasise. … Read the rest

Why We Work

The Paradox of Choice by Barry Schwartz remains one of my favorite TED talks.

The insight and wisdom from Schwartz come through in his latest book Why We Work. Of course, we all seek work that is satisfying and fulfilling but Schwartz provides an interesting historical background that in my mind parallel the way in which public schools were created. The default perception of school tends to be something students have to endure. Much of this was borne out of its history. Schools were designed to address the needs of the industrial revolution and were developed from a factory model.  Educating the masses required a system built on efficiency. The needs of the child were not considered nearly as much as the needs of society. And while this is changing, its impact and structures remain.

Schwartz points out the industrial revolution and mass production of goods created a need to convince people to do menial tasks. Previously, most people earned a living by doing things they were good at and were self-sufficient. Getting someone to do repetitive tasks was difficult and thus the way to convince people to do these tasks was through monetary incentives. Before this, working was … Read the rest