Let me start by saying that I have never actually worked in a charter school. I have spent my whole career in public schools in high poverty urban settings. I have always spoken out against the charter school concept. It appeared to me that they cherry pick kids. If they don’t get to pick the kids they take, because of a lottery system, they get to pick the kids they keep, through a variety of ways. They are a threat to public education. That’s what I thought.
But lately more and more the schools that I see as doing things right are charters, or at least these schools have a charter component. Locally there is the Venture Academy. It is in the same extended neighborhood as the school in which I work, so it is convenient to my students. It is close enough that untill this year they used our gym for their after school sports program. My school looses a number of kids each year to this school. We rarely get kids that come to us from the Venture Academy. I don’t wonder why.
Yesterday I attended an edtech conference at Natomas Charter School in Sacramento, California. While I have much less experience with this school, it was evident from walking the campus, sitting in the rooms, and talking to some of the teachers who work there that they are doing a lot of things right. They aren’t cherry picking kids, and from everything I can see, they aren’t kicking kids out. They seem to be doing really great things in the classrooms.
I frequently ask my PLN on Twitter to recommend schools I can visit. The recommendations that come back are always charter schools. I have yet to have a person recommend to me an awesome public high school that is not a charter. Why is it that no one can recommend to me a public high school that serves a high poverty population that isn’t a charter? These charters must be doing something right.
So I am officially saying it. I was wro… I was wrrooon… Dang it, I was wrong. There I said it. I was wrong about charters. They arent a threat to public education. They are one of the few promises of public education. They have to compete for students, so they have to do a good job, or they can’t stay open. Because they have to compete, they can’t just do the same old, same old. They have to purposely do things to compete, to keep up. They have to keep up with the times, the technology, and the community. And that is why I have changed my mind about charter schools. There. I said it.
This year our school district changed a policy concerning cell phones used by students. While there seems to be some contradictions, my understanding is that it is ok for students to have and use cell phones on campus, as long as they do not disrupt instruction. While some teachers are still taking phones from kids I decided to try something new. I gave them an assignment and encouraged them to use their phones to do it. Then I told them it was ok to use their phones as long as they were not just texting, Instagraming, Facebooking, or what have you. I promised them I would not give them grief about their phones, if they kept it professional.
So far it has worked out well. Almost everyone has a phone, iPod, or tablet out and plugged in. They have their ear buds in while they are working, they take them out when I need to talk to the class. They take pictures of things they need to remember. They step outside to make audio recordings, and they compare apps for given tasks. And yes, they text. Every now and then I will see someone talking on the phone. I tell myself it is ok. I asked a student who she was talking to on the phone. She said “My mom called.”
Yesterday I asked a girl if she thought she might be texting too much. She didn’t argue with me at all. She said “You’re right.” She turned to her friend next to her, handed her phone to the friend and said “put this in your bag and give it back to me after class.” No argument. No disruption. No referral. No calling campus security to search for a phone. Just kids doing their work. It looked and sounded a lot like a bunch of adults working in an office. I like this policy much better.
For the last several years I have been on a one man campaign to end the use of scissors, glue, and cardboard trifold science fair type project boards in high school. It hasn’t been a very successful campaign. I reasoned that kids in high school should be creating things that look like those they will create in the workplace. I don’t know of any careers that involve printing pictures from the Internet and gluing them to cardboard. It seems to me this might be an appropriate activity in 3rd grade, but by the 9th grade we should have moved on, for sure by the 12th. We should ban glue. We should ban scissors. We should ban cardboard. That was my reasoning.
Along comes #caedchat on Twitter. (Every Sunday night at 8:00 pst) The topic this week was innovation in the classroom. You can imagine my surprise when the topic of scissors and glue came up. Innovation, scissors, and glue are just three things that I never thought of as going together. But this exchange got me to thinking:
I always tell people its not just about the tech. I tell them not to just add tech for the sake of the technology, but to view it as a tool. But I have been dismissing the use of scissors and glue as low tech, and not worthy of high school. When I stop and think of some of the conversations I have recently had with people about entreprenuralism, prototyping, maker faire and the like I realize there may be room for scissors AND glue in the high school classroom.
Its not the tool, its what you do with it that makes innovation.
I have committed this year to do a better job of providing timely feedback for my students. I know that timely feedback is what makes or breaks a learning experience. When I was a child learning to ride a bike, I knew immediately when I made a mistake. I knew because I crashed and it hurt. I knew when I was doing it right because I didn’t crash, and it was fun. When I read about using games in the classroom I find that they are valuable because the feedback is immediate; the student doesn’t need to wait to get their paper back to see how they did. They know right away; they got points, they lost points, or they got game over. And that, so the theory goes, is why games are so engaging.
The problem is the classes I have are not games. Or at least I haven’t figured out yet how to make them games. (Maybe I should learn to code…hmm.) I still am having kids “do things” and turn them in. And that is where the catch is. Right now there are 76 “things” in my cue awaiting feedback, or as my kids prefer, waiting to be graded. Some of those things are videos, some images, some websites, some short essays. To make the problem worse, I don’t penalize for late work (why I do this is another post) and students can redo work as many times as they like to get the grade they want. All this makes my inbox a mess. Some of the work is new and timely, other pieces are things that a student didn’t turn in a couple weeks ago, and still others are things I have already seen a time or two before.
So my challenge today is to figure out a way to tame the inbox so that kids get their feedback no later than the next day. They need to know when they are doing well and when they fall off the bike.
I just finished the coursework for a Preliminary Administrative Credential at Teachers College of San Joaquin. In California prospective administrators have two options to become credentialed; take a test or take a year long series of courses. The test takes a Saturday and has a relatively small fee. The coursework option is several thousand dollars and is just shy of a masters degree. Seemed like a no brainer to me- I took the coursework!
One of the ideas that kept gnawing at me through all of the coursework was that it is a good thing to stay at a school for a short while and then move on. I was told that I should plan on being an Assistant Principal for three to five years and then move on to something else. And then repeat. It seems like the old football saying, “three and out.” The three and out thing is generally not a good one. Unless you are on defense. I don’t think schools should play defense.
One of the things that make good schools effective learning places is the environment. Effective schools have a positive climate where everyone feels included. Students, staff, teachers, parents and all the stakeholders feel they have an important role in the school. I think of that as a sense of ownership. It is our school. As an administrator I think it would be difficult to accomplish this climate when your tenure is shorter than the tenure of the students. Especially in high school.
I think if we truly want to transform schools we have to be a part of the learning community. We as educators have to be a part of the community as much as the students and their families. We really are in this together. You can’t do that if you are going three and out.