Education Teacher Leaders Network

What’s Good in Education?

February 13, 2008 6 min read
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Here’s a valentine from the Teacher Leaders Network. It’s a “chat-gram,” not too sweet. Feel free to supplement what you find here with your own candy and comments. The candy, of course, goes in your mouth, and the comments at the bottom of the page.

—John Norton, co-founder and moderator of the Teacher Leaders Network.

In our Teacher Leaders Network e-mail discussion group, Ellen offered this challenge:

As part of a partnership, teachermagazine.org publishes this regular column by members of the Teacher Leaders Network, a professional community of accomplished educators dedicated to sharing ideas and expanding the influence of teachers.

In education, we tend to focus on the doom, gloom, and stuff we don’t like so much. Some of it is in our control, but so much of it is not. This can leave us feeling helpless and frustrated and banging our heads against a brick wall.

Can we spend the next little while talking about what’s good in education? Our education lives, or the national scene, or the view from our own classrooms—anything, so long as it’s good and positive and related to education. I firmly believe that embracing what’s good and right in our lives is far more powerful than working from a deficit-defensive model.

So, what’s good and right in your educational world right now? No qualifiers, no buts, just a celebration and appreciation of what is wonderful.

Ellen received more than 40 replies from TLN members. Here are some excerpts.

It’s the second full week of our second semester, and I have 153 new students in my Reading for Pleasure class. Every one of them is reading. Great books! They’re writing and responding. They’re talking to each other. Books from Atlas Shrugged to Gossip Girls, from Sarah Dessen to Chuck Palahniuk. From The Golden Compass to The Chocolate War. And they pay me to hang around with these kids!

My students who cope with LD are thriving. We have had some intense reading and writing interventions at our school. While these students read slowly, they are reading and comprehending on grade level and beyond; and keeping up with the rest of their 6th grade content work. Do you know how much fun it is to have class discussions that are of a higher order, now that their reading level is there? It’s great to work in a school where general educators and special educators are teammates.

I am heartened every single day by the fact that there seems to be a growing, bubbling, increasingly articulate mass of people who are FED UP by the testing mentality that began flourishing about six years ago.

I am so happy to be in a brand new school building! I have a beautiful classroom with skylights. The classroom lights work on a sensor—if the sun’s bright enough, the lights go off. In my last school, the ceiling was falling down and the floor was coming up. I thought that at some point they would meet in the middle and I would be gone. Now I have a room with a phone. We also have a team room so I have a Big Girl Cubicle with pictures of my children on a bulletin board—just like a grownup office.

What’s really good is that students still care deeply about what the important adults in their lives think of them and their choices.

It’s exciting to be part of a community of teacher learners at my K-12 school—a community that is not satisfied to keep their new learning to themselves. It all centers on the idea of 21st-century learning, but it might as well be about anything. The joy of working so closely with great teachers is amazing. What’s good? Being part of a group that realizes that together we are much better than we ever could have been alone.

I got invited to the local (high-needs) high school today to help judge the annual reading fair, where students create storyboards and other exhibits about novels and stories they’ve read. I spent the whole morning talking to some great young people about what they like to read and why. It was wonderful.

I’ve spent a lot of time reading and learning about improving student engagement and tapping into brain theory. As a result, my teaching is a vast improvement over the stand-and-deliver model I began with in 1978. I knew then that half my students weren’t listening and mostly did whatever they needed to do to get by. Now, through choice and modeling, sharing, and discussing, my students come closer to owning their education and truly learning. Supporting them as they construct their own knowledge is much more powerful.

Because of the Internet, teachers are growing more aware of what’s happening in education in the larger nation and world, and using that knowledge to cultivate their own thinking and their own brand of teacher leadership.

In the middle of this high pressure testing season, we always try to restock the local food pantries using the Super Bowl as an excuse to have our own “Souper Bowl.” This year we challenged our students to exceed last year’s collection of cans and cash—and you know how that appeals to their middle school mentality. In 3 days, these kids have brought in over 10 barrels of food and almost $600.

What was good this week? Taking 75 5th graders on a ski trip Thursday (Wow!). And the hugs I got on Friday from the 75 5th graders (and the groans of “I’m so sore!”).

What’s good in my educational world is seeing a library packed with 8th graders participating extremely well in our mock congressional hearings. And being part of a school in one of Los Angeles’ most impoverished neighborhoods that has such a strong spirit that every year it wins the district’s charitable contributions campaign. Oh, and having the opportunity to interact daily with middle schoolers, which is an unpredictable, hilarious journey.

I’m feeling good that 70 percent of my at-risk 4-year old students are reading at a Kindergarten or early first grade level. Yep, I’m feeling real good!

What a good day I had today. My fourth period class of seniors—the ones who drove me crazy in the fall because of their lack of interest and effort—participated in a full 50 minutes of student-led and student-driven discussion on their perceptions of a section of Tim O’Brien’s war novel, The Things They Carried. It was worth the first semester of pain and angst. It was a day that reminded me of why I do what I do.

It’s good that teachers and principals are having more frequent, open, and honest conversations about difficult topics, like why we need to teach all students—not just the easy ones—and other discussions that challenge conventional wisdom and the status quo.

Teaching in a year-round school is great. I thought I’d hate it, but now I don’t think I’ll ever go back to a nine-month calendar. We just started back after a four-week break. I am refreshed, and so are my kids.

I love it that few days go by without at least one colleague coming into my classroom during my planning hour, or lunch, or before or after school to ask: “Could we go into your office, I need to talk to you.” Over the years, I’ve gotten better at listening and asking questions than handing out answers. For me, what is good and right is that I am a “covert school-improvement specialist” and that, at least at this point in my career, I’ve found a way to have the best of both the classroom and the opportunity for leadership.

Today, I began a new novel study with my 8th grade classes. The boys in each class are reading one book and the girls read another. (This is the only time in the year I do gendered reading groups.) For the first time, out of the clear blue sky, my two most challenging male students (I have struggled so much to get either of them to do anything academic all year long) sat together at a table and were taking turns reading the novel to one another aloud. They were even stopping to write responses on sticky notes. I was totally floored. The whole class was—I could see it on their faces. Some days a moment like that just comes along and trumps everything!


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