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Blogs of the Week

September 10, 2013 3 min read

| NEWS | Education and the Media

Film Finds Budding Classroom Heroes

Filmmaker Davis Guggenheim’s last education documentary, “Waiting for ‘Superman,' " sparked debates over school reform, charter schools, and teachers’ unions in 2010. Some critics said it celebrated charter schools as a panacea and made teachers and unions culprits for a broken system.

The film grossed $6.4 million worldwide—respectable, but nothing like the $50 million worldwide take from Guggenheim’s Oscar-winning 2006 environmental doc, “An Inconvenient Truth.” Still, the film drove the debate for months.

Guggenheim’s new documentary is called “TEACH,” and it was set to air Sept. 6 in a two-hour time slot on CBS.

The new film just focuses on the efforts of four young teachers in the classroom: Matt Johnson, a 4th grade teacher at McGlone Elementary School in Denver; Shelby Harris, a 7th and 8th grade mathematics teacher at Kuna Middle School in Kuna, Idaho; Lindsay Chinn, a 9th grade algebra teacher at Martin Luther King Jr. Early College in Denver; and, Joel Laguna, the Advanced Placement World History teacher at Garfield High School in Los Angeles.

A couple of people suggested to me that Guggenheim was perhaps “atoning” for “Waiting for ‘Superman.’ ”

That’s not a view the director seems to accept. He said in a recent interview that “Superman” screenings led people to ask him, “Now what?” Guggenheim said in the interview with TakePart, the digital division of movie production company Participant Media, that he decided to focus on “great teaching.”

This film isn’t likely to provoke the controversy of “Waiting for ‘Superman.' " But it is a poignant reminder that amid all the debate, the most important work is going on in the classroom.

—Mark Walsh

| NEWS | College Bound

Connecting Students With Success

As educators from middle school through high school and college try to figure out the secret to improving academic performance, the idea of building relationships with students is a recurring theme.

A piece in this month’s Association for Middle Level Education newsletter makes the case for advisory programs to help schools improve interpersonal relationships and promote cooperation in achieving student and school goals.

Ellen D’Amore, a 7th grade teacher at LaMuth Middle School in Painesville, Ohio, developed an advisory program that begins with a focus on social/emotional awareness and gradually moves to academics.

In the program, in which small groups meet each week, teachers build students’ communication techniques and group dynamics, often enabling them to deepen their friendships, she writes.

In the two years since her school started the program, grades and attendance rates improved, and behavior referrals decreased, she states.

College-readiness efforts are expanding to include an emphasis on life skills like communication, problem-solving, and resilience.

—Caralee J. Adams

| NEWS | Rules for Engagement

Can’t Take the Heat? Get Out of the School

America, it’s hot.

In the most literal case of school climate problems, schools around the nation have sent their students home over the last couple weeks due to extreme temperatures.

The inverse of snow days, “heat days,” as the Associated Press details, occur when a school can’t guarantee a temperature that any reasonable human being can endure while expected to learn.

Many schools do not have the facilities to accommodate high temperatures, which aren’t a problem during most of the usual September-June school year.

So far this school year, schools in Missouri, Indiana, North Dakota, and Minneapolis closed down because of heat.

This is now becoming a prominent issue because the school year continues to lengthen in many areas.

OK, generations have survived schools without air conditioning, and maybe it’s not that hot. But “It builds character!” is not a great counterargument to the child who is sweating all over her test. If hunger acts as a sufficient enough distraction to warrant breakfast and free-lunch programs, then why, districts should ask, would heatstroke be any different?

But hang on students; winter is coming.

—Ross Brenneman

A version of this article appeared in the September 11, 2013 edition of Education Week as Blogs of the Week