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Had a really stimulating discussion with @ToughLoveforX on Twitter yesterday about the Rhode Island situation where teachers have been threatened with dismissal for not agreeing to management measures.

This sort of issue automatically produces a management/workers argument and like most arguments, it's pretty hard to make it black or white.

It would be interesting to explore this further as @ToughLoveforX suggested, so I'm posting this in the hope of widening the debate. This is clearly a topic where we are not going to get a consensus, but smacking the ball back and forwards a bit might help for both sides to gain an insight.

I'd really like to hear people's views (and I'm off to get my tin helmet!)


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I understand your point, but if we accept that the Principal should be replaced (which I personally am unsure about) what should the teachers do if the new Principal comes up with the same plan? Are they against the plan or the Principal?

For me this is starting to look like a typical union battle to get a manager removed and thus claim victory, rather than a fight over what is right for the school.
That's a nice point.

To be clear, I don't think there as a monopoly on looking good instead of doing good.

My bet is that if the principal and the teachers could spend two honest days away from the school building, they could come with many ways to improve the outcomes.

The fact that I think I see is that any "plan" that comes down from 30,000 or even 10,000 feet has much less to do with improving things than with someone keeping someone else happy enough to leave them alone.
The big similarity between war and education is that the leaders try to take credit for the victories but not for the losses.

That said, folks, focus on where the results come from. The students. Yes, the Supt, the principal, the teachers, the parents can help...a lot...but the primary responsibility for learning success has ultimately got to come from the learner. One at time.

Unless a child wants to learn, all the other machinations don't amount to a pile of old chalk. Salt the hay, as they say, but they have to drink from the fountain of knowledge on their own.
Excellent points. I often tell workshops that you can't motivate a student. Only the student himself can do that. The teacher can provide an environment where motivation can thrive, and that's it.

This brings me back to the issue of holding a Principal responsible for what teachers do in a classroom. the Principal can do very little to influence the environment that a teacher creates. Taking it in the other direction, in the very rare cases where it goes the other way, a teacher can massively undermine a Principal's initiatives. I have thankfully only seen this a couple of times, but from my perspective such teachers deserve to be removed from the job.
I think I see where I need to clarify what i'm trying to say .

I never meant to say the "Principal responsible for what teachers do in a classroom." The sphere of influence for a Principal is at the school level. In fact from what I've seen any attempt by the Principal to micro manage the classroom is as counterproductive as a Supt trying to micro manage a school.

In the States we are just coming out of a period of making education "teacher proof." In the absence of clear standards for what a student should be after HS, they resort to making checklists, throwing money at it. Everything but setting up a clear goal that everyone is aiming at.

Having said that, it's the principals job to clearly indicate where he/she wants the school to go. It is the teacher's job to lead their students to that place. If the principal does not their job, it's impossible for a teacher to do their job without undue stress that predictably leads to burnout. The not strong enough teacher avoids burnout by repressing what got them into the career in the first place. Takes the check, waits to retire. Both responses to bad leadership doesn't help the kids.
To carry your apt analogy one step further. Consider what makes a soldier fight. All the research and everything I've ever seen about the military (never been there myself) is that it is loyalty to the small group in a platoon. Turns out that the basic human emotion of taking care of the people you know well enables regular kids to face death.

Sort of points to the power of teams to motivate behavior. Makes me wonder if there is an analogous situation that educators could use in a classroom?
"We" are "them." I am responsible. I will act accordingly.
This is a recurring question educators are often faced with. There is no easy answer for the simple reason that every school is different. I think that this question can only be answered fairly by teachers in regards to their school. What is true for the school in which I teach may not be the case for another teacher's school.

I teach at a public school in the mornings and a private school in the afternoons. Though I'm consistent with my teaching methods in both schools, I do not get the same results in both schools. My private middle schoolers, for instance, are academically beyond my public high schoolers in almost every area in any of the Language Arts content areas, and achieve much deeper critical thinking skills in history than the high school. I was astonished recently, when referring to a specific happening in the American Revolution, to discover that the high school students had no idea to what I was alluding. I have discovered that many of the reference points I take for granted that they should know, they do not know.

In analyzing this, I considered the staffs of both schools. Both schools have very supportive staff members who engage with each other and the principal or peer friction. Both staffs relate well with the students. But there is one major difference that is unmistakable...home environments. While all my private schoolers come from 2 parent homes in which they are nurtured and education is valued, many of my public schoolers come from dysfunctional families with negative home environments. They come to school so burdened with personal issues that it clouds their ability to take full advantage of the education available to them.

I'm sure that this isn't the only issue that is accountable for such disparity between the two schools; there are many lesser issues at stake as well. However, I do think it is the main issue. I do wish all students were on equal footing in family nurturing and home environments.
I think it is very important to make the distinction between "responsible" and "accountable." I think that it is beyond argument that home environment is responsible for disparity. But as a society we choose to invest resources to overcome that problem. In that sense, schools are "accountable."

It's as if a doctor held a patient accountable for getting a disease. No doubt that bad health decisions are responsible for many avoidable medical conditions. Childhood obesity is just the most prominent example. But a patient is not "accountable" for ameliorating the condition. That's the job of the doctor and the public health system.

I think the analogy works for education. No doubt some diseases are much more virulent than others. I think the most appropriate thought model is an epidemic. Yes the actions and background of the individual victims co create the problem. AIDS is a good example. But we should learn from the years wasted as we demonized the victims as opposed to looking for solutions.

What I see in education - most especially at the bottom of the pyramid - but also at all levels is watching good smart people trapped in a natural but dysfunctional mindset that makes the victims of circumstances the "reason" for failure. It's one of the reasons that people outside the world of education don't get it and don't accord the respect that is often, but not always, due.
Michael, I believe you make a great distinction here between responsible and accountable. Your response is thoughtful and your metaphors are helpful for thinking about this problem. Successful students often come with the habits of mind that support their learning. They bring adaptive reasoning and a productive disposition. As teachers we need to model and teach all of these habits of mind, including strategic competence, procedural fluency, and a conceptual understanding. Lack of leadership and support for educational innovation often change a school's climate and make the school a dysfunctional place. Yet, we must always remember that we all have the power to create change. It is amazing what a single teacher can do.
Lets get to the root of the problem...the students and parents themselves. When does the responsibilities of the students...and parents for that matter come into play? When will students and parents be held accountable for THEIR actions. The children could go home and read 1984, or they could go home and play video games or text. Which one do you think they will choose? Why do the parents LET them make that choice?
Actually many parents have taken control by taking their kids out of formal education and have started homeschooling. Turns out this is one of the fastest growing tendencies in the States. My bet is that as lower income communities have the same opportunities with web based resources, it's going to turn out to be a much bigger problem for formal schooling than charter schools.

It may well turn out that as parents take on their responsiblities formal schooling will create less and less value.



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