Being proud and actually saying it.

I was able to attend Fall Cue this year again.  It was, as usual, a great experience. It was a little different this year in that I didn’t come home with a great new tool. Usually I learn of a great tool that is new to me; an app, a web site, or a gadget. This year there was no such discovery for me. The learning for me seemed to center on attitude. Mostly my own. I really wanted to refine my thinking about the maker concept and design thinking, and I was able to do that, but it wasn’t really new.

The opening keynote by Ramsey Mussalum, which can be seen here, was great. Does Ramsey do anything not great? (Why do they call it the opening keynote when it is delivered at the midway point of the conference? But that is an aside.) Ramsey talked about why so many kids hate school, and to combat that we, as teachers, need to love our jobs. If you don’t love your job it shows, and you make it all the more likely that your students will #hateschool. Fortunately, #Ilovemyjob.

The closing keynote by Angela Maiers was equally powerful. She talked about how kids just want to be acknowledged and valued. Call them by their name Angela said. All of them. Make them know you notice them. In a good way.

One of the reasons #Ilovemyjob is because I work at a small school where I can know every kid’s name. We have less than 250 kids. I need to do better about knowing all of their names, even those who don’t hang out in Awesomnesity Central, or for those who don’t know, Room 17. I came back to school with the plan that I was going to seek out those kids who think #Ihateschool and say hello to them, by name. It seemed simple enough, and sounded like a pretty good idea.

It was Tuesday afternoon, the last period of the day. I spent most of the day honestly amazed at the work my students were doing. We were doing some pretty complicated GIS stuff on a school network that doesn’t like GIS stuff. We had lots of issues, and the kids were just plowing right through them. They were almost finished with a project and I was just beaming with pride. I said it.

“You guys are really doing amazing work, sticking to it, working through problems. Its amazing to watch. I am proud of you.”

One girl turned around and asked “Me? You are proud of me too?

“Yea, you. Everyone in here. You guys are doing amazing stuff.”

“But you mean me? You are proud of me?”

“Yea. Of course. Your data was gone, you got it back, like it was no big deal. You have been doing great work. Why are you acting surprised?”

“Because no one has ever said that to me.” Long pause. “No, no one. No one has ever said they were proud of me.”

I am glad I went to Fall Cue.

Yea, About That Charter School Thing.

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.