My Manifesto on Education
Education is changing and we as educators need to change with it. We cannot continue to teach as we have done for over a century and expect digital students to learn. Digital Students? Generations since World War II have been identified as baby boomers, millennial's, x-generation, etc., I refer to our current students as digital students or digital's because they live in today's digital world. Cell phones, pads, video games, computers, the internet are all part of their everyday lives. Many cannot tell time on an analog clock, they have lived with digital clocks all their lives. They do not know how to use a dictionary, they just Google it instead. They live in the digital world and we have to set aside out encyclopedias and join their world if we want to have them truly grow and learn. This is my goal, to find a way to connect with the digital's and instill the desire to learn. All too often, I get "just tell me the answer" from a student. These are the students that tell me they have no desire to learn, they just want to get through the year and pass.
I have begun an experiment in two of my classes in where I mix traditional learning with the growth mindset, one in an Algebra 1 and the other is 8th grade math. My approach is I start to explain how to solve a newly introduced mathematical problem. I pause in mid-step and ask, "what should I do now?" I wait, I do not proceed until; they give me an answer. They answer is usually voiced like a question and if incorrect, I tell them, "that's close", or "that would be true if we are looking at..." and find a positive way to push them in the right direction. I make a conscious attempt to not use the word "wrong, no, that's not even close" or anything negative. We have discussions about what is the best approach. I actively work on thinking outside the box, "look for alternative and not for the correct answer" (Corazza, 2014) and not use the traditional lecture method. My students are becoming comfortable enough to tell me when my explanation makes no sense to them. Then I teach a different method and go through the process again. It is exciting to see them think, to look at it differently, to not be afraid to say the wrong answer. I have used the concepts of the Universal Design for Learning (UDL) (CAST, 2018) in my approach to teaching these two classes. Engagement (why), Representation (what) and Action & Expression (how) are at the centerpiece of my teaching and grading. I grade on their presenting me with the process which amounts for the greater part of the grade. If it has the wrong answer but the process was correct, they earn most of the credit, pointing out where they added, subtracted, multiplied or divided incorrectly. They are surprised at their grades and at how I grade. I am seeing effort that did not exist the first two weeks of school. These last two weeks of school affirm this is the right track to follow. My students are starting to take a risk, asking questions from those who normally sat quietly and did not participate before. I had my first teacher evaluation and my principal was skeptical on my growth mindset approach; however, could not refute the interaction that occurred in the classroom. The challenge is to continue this excitement throughout the year.
I have complete control within my classroom but getting the school district and the community onboard is another issue. So how do we accomplish this. First, I believe we must change our broken school system. Public schools since the early days in the Americas, consisted of one classroom school, where students of all ages were taught. In 1848, Horace Mann "introduced 'age grading' of students in Massachusetts" (Education News, 2013), which has become our system of grade levels in public schools. The curriculum was simple, reading, writing, grammar, arithmetic, history and geography. Not much has changed since, school lasts about 7 hours; however, our curriculum has expanded tremendously with no addition to the hours we teach each day. The school year has expanded from approximately 132 days, to allow for harvest, to approximately 180 days today. Should we treat our schools like a business? That would surely fix the problems with public schools. One such business advocate was Jamie R. Volmer. A successful business man, he advocated fixing school system by treating them like a business and was very vocal about it. He was invited to an in-service in Texas to speak to the faculty of a school where he preached his three assumptions:
1. Our schools need to change.
2. We have a people problem.
3. Run it like a business.
During the question and answer period after his presentation, a teacher explained why schools cannot be run like a business, now known as the "The Blueberry Story". He left that day with only the first two assumptions. He understood that schools cannot be run like a business. After more study and spending days in an actual classroom, he lost the second assumption, realizing that the people problem, the teachers, was not the problem either. He was left with only the first, which is the basis of Volmer's book, Schools Cannot Do It Alone. In it he advocates that school districts must get the community involved is any meaningful change is to happen. Our school district has taken on this challenge and created the Great Conversations Team (GCT) of which I am proud to be a part of. We have a "Vision: Conversations, Community, Commitment: We Cannot Do It Alone." (Great Conversations Team, 2017). We go to the public to their venues to tell them what teaching is about. What our concerns as a teacher are and reality of what teaching is today. We also visit legislators to give them feedback about the reality of the classroom. If we want to make any change, we must get the community to back the change. To change their fixed mindset on what school is to a growth mindset of what schools can become.
The greatest obstacle in digital learning, in my belief, is school district budgets. The State of Texas provides only 38% of a districts budget. School districts must make up the 62% through school property taxes. "Overall, the NEA ranked Texas 36th in the nation for per-pupil spending for the 2017-18 school year — same as in the 2016-17 school year" (Samuels, 2018). This causes some districts to increase property taxes to make up that difference. "That means local property taxpayers will be paying billions more for public schools and that the state will spend billions less than it would otherwise as a result." (Ramsey, 2018). The community is understandably upset about the rising taxes and target the school district as the villains. This is one focus of the GCT, to educate the public on the realities of school funding by the state. The other focus is in letting our legislation know that teachers, and other district staff, are concerned about how they are funding our school district. As a teacher, I willingly go to Austin and visit state senators and representative to voice my concerns. As this is an election year, I actively promote teachers to research their candidates and vote for the candidates that are pro-public education. teachers traditionally in Texas do not vote. School districts need to be able to provide the technology necessary for our students to access the vast amount of information available on the internet.
Digital learning is here. We as teacher need to embrace it, it is not going away. I firmly believe that UDL and growth mindset are the track we need to pursue and implement. We as teachers need to change first, if we want to change our students.
CAST (2018). Universal Design for Learning Guidelines version 2.2. Retrieved from http://udlguidelines.cast.org
Corazza, G. (2014). Creative thinking-how to get out of the box and generate ideas. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=4&v=bEusrD8g-dM
Editorial: American Public Education: An Origin Story [Editorial]. (2013). Education News. 4-16.
Great Conversations Team. (2017). Retrieved from https://www.facebook.com/SCUCGCT/
Ramsey, R. (2018). Analysis: Property taxes rise, state education spending falls. That's the design. Retrieved from https://www.texastribune.org/2018/09/14/analysis-property-tax-rise-education-spending-falls/
Samuels, A. (2018). Texas ranks 36th nationally in per-student education spending. Here's how much it spends. Retrieved from https://www.texastribune.org/2018/05/15/texas-student-teacher-spending-average/
Volmer, J. R. (2010). Schools Cannot Do It Alone. Enlightenment Press.
Volmer, J. R. (2010). The Blueberry Story. Available from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O9TUrHMZMno