Sunday, March 12, 2017

43 Things We Need To Stop Doing In Schools

This month I turned 43... that's right I have officially moved into my mid-40s and am a prime candidate for a mid-life crisis (does wearing funky socks & drinking Mountain Dew on the regular count?). Although getting older comes with some drawbacks (starting to sound like your parents, lamenting for the days of yore and feeling aches & pains on a daily basis when getting out of bed), the last few years have also been pretty awesome for me on a personal and professional level. Being in my 40s has been quite empowering and has given me the confidence to be true to who I am, be proud of what I believe in and make decisions based on my experiences (not just strong opinions). I have learned a lot about happiness (it comes from within), a lot about priorities (both personal & professional), a lot about balance in life (still not great at it but better than ever before) and a lot about the world of education, especially the current landscape of education, which continues to be an interesting one, especially as it intersects with the political landscape. 

I have been an educator for 20 years and I have learned more in the last few months when I embarked on a new professional journey as an Ass't Sup - the learning literally happens minute by minute - it is pretty awesome! In the past I have written posts to coincide with my birthday milestones (here and here) and I have decided that although I missed last year (not sure why), I felt strongly about sharing 43 things we need to stop doing in schools today. 

Is this list perfect? No. Will everyone agree with it? Probably not. Do I have research to back everything on the list? No. Am I right? I don't know but it is based on my experiences in the classroom, as a building leader, and now as a district leader so here is my list of 43 that we need to stop doing in education right now...


We need to stop... 

1) Making schools more about adults than kids - we can't primarily make decisions about what is easiest or more comfortable for the adults because we need to make decisions that are best for kids;

2) Giving HW (at least in elementary school and possibly in middle school). There is NO research that I have seen that speaks to a positive correlation between HW and academic achievement;

3) Giving grades... what is the point? Grades seem to bring the learning journey to an end, which goes against what most schools communicate when stating in their vision that they want to nurture life long learners! Life long learners need feedback, direction and space to fail as they evolve. My friend Starr has enlightened me on this one!

4) Blaming teachers for all that is wrong in our schools - the issues are much more systemic and pervasive and are rooted in a history that is plagued by racism, inefficiencies and misguided mandates; 

5) Making classroom management about compliance and obedience. Instead we should make it about engagement and choice;

6) Taking away recess as a punishment when kids do something wrong (unless they do something serious at recess) because our kids (like us) need a break to run around, have fun and socialize!

7) Using public behavior charts (red light, yellow light, green light, etc.) because all they do is humiliate kids and they generally don't change the behaviors of the kids who are struggling. My friend Pernille has really pushed my thinking on this point!

8) Confusing innovative or progressive environments with ones that have a lot of technology!

9) Mistaking technology for innovation; my friend George has taught me that innovation is rooted in strong relationships that allow for creative ways (that may fail) to solve our current problems! 

10) Blaming parents/families for our children who might struggle in school; it is partnership - not a blame game!

11) Keeping all the awesome things happening in our schools to ourselves - the four walls should not be barriers; instead, they should be transformed into glass and we should proudly share all the awesome things happening in our schools! My friend Amy (and her awesome teachers) did an amazing job at telling the school story!

12) Giving tests with fill in the blank or multiple choice answers; these might be easier to grade but they don't build our children's ability to think critically!

13) Killing the love of reading by making it about reading logs, assignments or jotting every 2 seconds;

14) Keeping technology out of the classroom because we, as the adults, are uncomfortable with it... that ship has sailed!

15) Confusing technology with engagement; yes, screens do engage our children immediately but that is "level 1 engagement" - we want to push them to be engaged at a higher level where they are collaborating, communicating, creating and thinking critically. I think engagement is about thinking not just sitting quietly and working!

16) Using mindless worksheets - you know the ones with word banks at the top or dozens of multiple choice questions. We don't want our kids to be masters of worksheets because that is not how they are going to change the world!

17) Confusing PROJECTS with Project Based Learning! Projects are about a product (that often looks the same for every learner) while PBL is about inquiry and process... often driven by the student after being framed by the teacher. My friends Ross and Erin have taught me a lot about this!

18) While we are on the topic of PROJECTS, we must stop sending projects home for families to complete. Our parents don't need to be doing book reports or tri-fold boards that look professionally done! If the project is that important, do it in school to level the playing field and make the learning collaborative.

19) Demanding that our kids work quietly throughout the school day; messy, noisy and collaborative classrooms are often more successful than the quiet ones. 

20) Just involving our families in school during special events (like the bake sale) and instead we should engage them in the learning. 

21) Making professional development for teachers an afterthought - our teachers need to have the opportunity to learn throughout the school year! And the PD does not have to be a workshop or conference; the PD can be led by the principal, by teachers and even by kids! And, our teachers should have the choice to log PD hours by doing things like reading (or writing) blog posts, participating in Twitter chats and watching webinars. 

22) Making professional development for building leaders (this one goes to you superintendents) almost nonexistent because we don't want them leaving the building - that is not ok! We need to support our leaders in their learning - they should be encouraged to go to conferences, EdCamps, take courses, watch webinars, etc. because if they stay current, the chances increase that our schools will continue to iterate and get better!

23) Ignoring the fact that school leaders have the greatest singular influence on the culture of a school. Todd Whitaker taught me that if the principal sneezes, the whole school catches a cold and after 10 years as a principal, I can wholeheartedly say that is TRUE!

24) Removing "soft data" from our data walls, data meetings or whatever you call them in your school! We cannot just look at test scores as THE data point; instead we should consider observations, conference notes and relationships because they all influence how our kids perform!

25) Hiding our smile from kids till December - that is just silly! We need to smile for kids from DAY ONE! Smiling teachers and kids lead to happy teachers and kids and that leads to positive relationships and those are the key to active learning!

26) Ignoring the fact that relationships influence everything that happens in a school. Our schools need to be built on positive and healthy relationships rooted in trust and respect!

27) Ignoring the reality that culture is about a lot more than spirit days and parties; culture is about trust, respect and a common vision!

28) Forgetting how important our school secretaries are in the sustainability of culture; these people are the faces of our schools so they need to be AWESOME and they should be recognized for their awesomeness!

29) Forgetting how important our school custodians are in the daily running of our buildings; these hard workers make sure our schools are healthy and safe for our kids and teachers!

30) Ignoring the reality that, in general, our schools haven't evolved much since the one room schoolhouse yet we, as humans and thinkers, have evolved tremendously. It is time for our schools to start moving forward!

31) Focusing, solely, on "forward thinking" or "progressive methods" because then we are working towards something that doesn't exist - something abstract. Instead, let's focus on building the capacity of our educators so that the current instructional methods being used are sound, robust and best for kids!

32) Putting pressure on kids to perform on high stakes testing (or any testing for that matter). If we support our kids and differentiate instruction (and assessment) to meet their needs, they will perform and show us what they know!

33) Focusing on the "cool" or "trendy" stuff (iPads, Chromebooks, etc.) in isolation; instead we must focus on the people... the stuff is only as good as the people using it!

34) Going towards a total self-directed PD model for teachers. While I do believe choice for teachers in what they learn about and how (passion projects, PLCs, etc.) is incredibly important, there also need to be some district-wide goals and focal points that we are all working on. That is how we move an entire community forward as opposed to just perpetuating pockets of awesome within our schools. 

35) Trying to force educators to get on Twitter (or some other SM platform) because the truth is, it does not work for everyone. That being said, we do need to expose people to the power of collaboration (possibly through communities of practice or PLCs) so educators can break out of their silos! 

36) Making school more about teaching - school should be about learning first! Learning for kids, families and educators should always be at the core of our work!

37) Punishing educators through ridiculous federal or state mandates that have nothing to do with kids; instead, these mandates reduce educators to a number and that is not what will improve education in this country!

38) While I love trends like Genius Hour, Makerspaces and PBL (we did a lot of this awesome learning at Cantiague) those go much deeper than just blocking out time in a schedule to make them happen. If we want things like Genius Hour or PBL to be sustainable, we must change the way we teach - these can't just be special events that happen once a week (that is a fine starting point though); instead, they should help us change our daily approaches so learning is filled with more student centered and student driven inquiry opportunities!

39) Using sarcasm in the classroom - especially with our elementary and middle school kids; even if it is funny most of the times, the one time it is embarrassing to a child is enough of a reason to stop!

40) Making all teachers write in plan books (you know, the ones with all those little boxes). We need to let our teachers plan however it makes sense for them and their kids!

41) Ignoring the reality that common planning time is critical to the success and sustainability of a school community - our teachers and leaders need time together to share ideas, resources and materials!

42) Having meetings just for the sake of having meetings! Come on people... if it can be put in an email or newsletter, then put it there and use the meeting for some professional or personal development! My friends Jennifer, Peter and Mark taught about re-imagining meetings. 

43) Finally, we need to stop making decisions that feel good or are easier for the adults within the learning community and instead make all decisions in the best interest of children. While this approach may not always be easy, it will always be right.

Clearly the list could go on and on but in the end, I think these 43 points are critical to the success of any learning organization and are in the best interest of children. Do you agree? Which one stands out most? Why? What do you think should be the next thing on this list? 

Please leave a comment below!