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Classroom Q&A

With Larry Ferlazzo

In this EdWeek blog, an experiment in knowledge-gathering, Ferlazzo will address readers’ questions on classroom management, ELL instruction, lesson planning, and other issues facing teachers. Send your questions to lferlazzo@epe.org. Read more from this blog.

Teaching Opinion

Existential Questions for Educators Right Now. Do We Even Matter?

By Larry Ferlazzo — June 14, 2023 8 min read
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Today’s post wraps up a series exploring the questions educators ponder when we’re not up to our eyeballs in school-related work.

Does What We Do Matter?

PJ Caposey is an award-winning educator, keynote speaker, consultant, and author of eight books who currently serves as the superintendent of schools for the nationally recognized Meridian CUSD 223 school district in northwest Illinois. You can find PJ on most social media platforms as MCUSDSupe:

I chose to write a response to this question because it reminds me of something I often say in my speaking which results in many “after session” conversations: Reflection is an absolutely necessary component to growth and self-awareness, but it is inherently limited.

This statement, somewhat ironically, is borne out of deep self-reflection. I often think about my long rides home as a first- and second-year teacher in the Chicago public schools and the process of reflection. I wanted to be the best teacher in the world, but my experiences, understanding, knowledge, and questions were inherently limited in scope. Said differently, my reflection today while driving home would be dramatically different from what it was 15 years ago.

Thus, the importance of asking ourselves amazing questions, but also having the experience and/or willingness to continue learning in order to have more food for thought, is necessary when pondering these inquiries. For me, there are five core questions that I ask myself quite often. I do not have great answers to them, but the process of thinking through multiple aspects of the same questions over and over has allowed me to become more thoughtful and, hopefully, a better leader.

I will share the questions below and also give a quick glimpse into my thinking of why they are important to consider:

  • How do we move faster, but faster at a rate that is inherently sustainable? Can schools ever keep up with the pace of change in society?

Society is changing at an exponential rate; schools are changing quickly but at a more linear pace. If schools are to create an informed and employable citizenry, then we must accelerate our change because society is not going to slow down.

  • Is there a way to make education a more attractive option for employment?

Chick-fil-A pays as much for a full-time employee as a new teaching position in many districts. I would argue the stress, demands, and expertise needed in education are radically different from what is necessary at Chick-fil-A. Societally, are we OK with this? What can be done to change the trajectory we are on which continues to make education an unattractive field for high-capacity professionals?

  • Why isn’t there a more formalized incentive program to connect industry with schools so that we are creating employable adults when they leave our doors?

The only way schools can keep pace with industry is with industry support. To me, the clear link from a policy standpoint would be tax benefits for companies that work directly with the educational sector to ensure that students are leaving with immediately employable skills. To be clear, many people’s heads go immediately to trades when I raise this question. Yes, that is part of it, but there are many opportunities in other “white collar” industries as well.

  • What would happen to my district if I dumped every available dollar and resource into ensuring all 3rd graders could read on grade level?

Kids that cannot read are placed at a far greater risk of incarceration, dropping out of school, and other catastrophic consequences. Research is fairly clear that our best shot at solving this problem is through early intervention. So, what if (at the expense of other MAJOR issues) I dumped everything into solving this one problem. Would I be doing my students a service or a disservice?

  • What if we don’t really matter right now?

This one hurts my soul to consider—but I think we have to. What if we don’t really matter in terms of moving the needle forward for kids? I think the pandemic will provide interesting data, but what happens if in five years kids are back to the levels they always were and nothing has changed in schools? What will that say about the time they missed? Will we have the courage to consider that question and the implications of it for future practice?

OK, my head hurts from thinking about these questions, but hopefully, they will start some conversations in your school or district as to how together we can start to move schools forward.

howdowemovefaster

Student Mental Health

Kara Knight is a passionate educator and leader who has dedicated over the last 10 years to education. Knight has published two books, including her most recent title through Routledge: The Confident School Leader: 7 Keys to Influence and Implement Change:

The biggest question I often ponder in education is how we can best support students with mental health in the here and now?

Before COVID-19, it was clear that students and adults alike were struggling with mental health for a variety of reasons. Stressors of life, trauma, social media, peer conflicts, and beyond are all contributing factors. Yet, after COVID-19, this need became even more clear. School counselors and social workers are absolutely incredible and do amazing work. Unfortunately, there are not enough mental health experts in schools for the amount of needs that are being currently presented. We often at schools receive part-time help for full-time needs. As a school leader, I often step into support mental health crises that present themselves on a day-to-day basis. I wish more people understood just how much the youth need us right now.

First and foremost, I believe there is a need for mental health awareness. Everyone has mental health, and it needs to be a huge focus, whether we notice someone is struggling or not. Also, we cannot always rely on our own perceptions. We may think someone is doing OK, but in reality they may not be.

If we do not proactively care for our mental health, daily implementation can be difficult. We have state-required minutes for teaching different content areas, but then just need to “fit in” social-emotional learning? What we focus on grows, and this paradigm shift is bigger than us. Furthermore, building leaders and teachers need district and communitywide help for more mental health support in and outside schools. Mental health needs to be a priority, and schools need individuals rallying behind us. Our students need us now more than ever.

Lastly, counseling resources outside of school can be a financial struggle and/or often have wait lists for families. It is hard to see families go through this cycle of wanting outside help but not being able to receive it. This is a huge reason why I am gaining my MSW degree; I do not have the answers, and may never gain them, but I hope to work with others to be a part of some sort of solution. In the meantime, we can be transparent about the needs of our school and do our very best to advocate, while spreading awareness.

howcanwebest

Thanks to PJ and Kara for contributing their thoughts.

This post is the fourth and final one in a multipart series. You can see Part One here, Part Two here, and Part Three here.

The question of the week is:

What questions related to education do you periodically “ponder” and don’t feel like you—or others you are familiar with—have a good answer for? Do you have ideas for what would be required to get those answers?

In Part One, Matt Renwick, July Hill-Wilkinson, and Ann Stiltner contributed their reflections.

Matt, July, and Ann were also guests on my 10-minute BAM! Radio Show. You can also find a list of, and links to, previous shows here.

In Part Two, Vernita Mayfield , Jeffrey D. Wilhelm, and Michael Pershan shared their ideas.

Part Three featured responses from Meg Riordan, Keenan W. Lee, and Amber Chandler.

Consider contributing a question to be answered in a future post. You can send one to me at lferlazzo@epe.org. When you send it in, let me know if I can use your real name if it’s selected or if you’d prefer remaining anonymous and have a pseudonym in mind.

You can also contact me on Twitter at @Larryferlazzo.

Education Week has published a collection of posts from this blog, along with new material, in an e-book form. It’s titled Classroom Management Q&As: Expert Strategies for Teaching.

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The opinions expressed in Classroom Q&A With Larry Ferlazzo are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

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