I have often used the following video, Building Airplanes in the Air by EDS when talking with teachers because they can relate to how difficult the job is.  Teaching can be as difficult, challenging and worthwhile, as building an airplane in the air. Teachers transform lives.  True, they teach about subjects, content, concepts, ideas, but the bottom line is that they educate children; the whole child. Teachers know this; non-educators do not.  And teachers are continuing to inspire and educate our youth despite the firestorm of recent public disapproval. They aren’t sitting around waiting for a superhero.  They have been not been inspired by Arne Duncan, the Race to the Top, legislation, their administrations, the fear of School Improvement and certainly not by the money.  Dedicated teachers are setting an example everyday of grace under pressure.  They are inspired by the promise of learning and the realization that they are entrusted with a year of each student’s educational lives.  They go about the business of educating and changing lives because it is a calling. Everyone can think of a teacher that impacted their lives.  Frequently people are asked, “Who was your favorite teacher?”  Teachers often become teachers because of a teacher they had that influenced them.

And so my message today on this National Blogging for Real Education Reform day, be on notice education naysayers. Educators are not distracted by the circus that legislators, non-educators, millionaires, and movies create and the media instigates.  We have a job to do, educate our children.  So while we can and will stand up for ourselves in the face of criticism and insist that educators know better than anyone about education; our focus will not shift from our students. No matter what legislators throw at us, how NCLB impacts us, or what public opinion may be, for teachers it comes down to two questions: Am I as inspirational as the teacher who changed my life?  And am I transforming lives?
 
 
"Money don't get everything, it's true
What it don't get, I can't use
Now give me money (that's what I want)"  -- Barry Gordy and Janie Bradford

This is the song that many school districts and states are singing right now as they compete for funding. While the general public is quick to point fingers at teachers for low test scores, they don't realize what is going on behind the scenes in some states. I will use my state, Missouri as an example as to what is happening in education. I suspect that other states and their educators are facing the same challenges as many states have cut education or proposed cuts because they face budget deficits.

Let me preface my piece by saying that Missouri has been on the forefront of improving instruction and learning. The state set the bar high implementing rigorous GLEs, aligning the standardized test cut scores with NAEP, promoting student-centered instruction, and our state assessment; the Missouri Assessment Program requires complex thinking.

From an educator's perspective, a big part of our problem right now is money; the lack of it and how it is dispersed. Missouri has recently been identified as one of six states that do not fairly distribute education funding as determined by a national study conducted by Rutgers University researchers and the Education Law Center in Newark, NJ. It is one of 20 states that have a regressive funding system, providing high-poverty districts with less state and local revenue than low-poverty districts. This does not come as a surprise to teachers teaching in the low poverty districts.

In addition, for four years Missouri educators have been fighting to keep professional development funds in our state and we lost that battle when Missouri state budget restrictions eliminated $6.4 million for Missouri's 11 Regional Professional Development Centers (RPDCs). This left educators asking how this could happen. Part of No Child Left Behind mandates that schools possess "high quality teachers." How can schools maintain high quality teaching if our teachers do not receive quality professional development? Can you imagine if your doctor never received information or current training on medical procedures? "Let me get my hacksaw and take care of that pesky bone spur, Mr. Smith." It's sad to say, but some schools may not learn about the latest instructional practices and could resort to activities that do not promote 21st century thinking skills. "Ok, kids, today we're going to read Chapter 7 in your Science book and then you will fill in a study guide using your textbook. "
Let me explain the big shoes that our RPDCs fill: They provide an invaluable service, particularly to rural areas, who cannot afford to provide their teachers with quality professional development. They are funded by the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education and serve teachers, administrators and school districts. More than 250,000 teachers each year receive professional development through Missouri's RPDCs. My region's RPDC covers 16 counties. These qualified educators provide a variety of services in areas from Migrant English Language Learners to Positive Behavior Support. These folks provide workshops, community resources, consulting and evaluation services and information about learning models and current research. The RPDC's are a wonderful asset to our 532 school districts.
Slowly but surely, services that assist teachers and ultimately, our students are being cut. Two years ago, our districts lost an important program at the RPDC due to lack of funding; the STARR Teacher program. The STARR (Select Teachers As Regional Resources) selected top classroom teachers to learn about and share with educators instructional practices which have been proven most effective. These teachers attended many hours of professional development given by national education experts and then traveled to districts and shared new research findings, modeled researched-based instruction and provided support to districts. The loss of this program hit the districts in my region hard as they received high quality professional development at no cost.
Teachers also lost a valuable opportunity to learn about assessments and how students are required to think when lack of funds discontinued our in-state scoring of the MAP test. Teachers were taught what is expected when students answer questions and how to assess these types of questions. They took this information back to their classrooms and taught their students how to think.
Due to the budget cuts, this year we lost the MAP division at the RPDC. The MAP division housed the educators who assisted teachers and schools with increasing rigor in instruction and provided valuable information about our state standardized test, the MAP. Many are wondering if it's a matter of time before we lose all the Regional Professional Development Centers.
Schools' transportation budgets were also cut this year which eliminated summer school in many districts and affected tutoring programs. Summer school is important for students that need additional learning opportunities; particularly in reading.

And the hits just keep coming... We just received word that there is another casualty due to lack of funding; two portions of our state standardized test, the MAP. For the next two years, (until the Common Core Standards are implemented) there will not be performance events or a writing session. Just as we are being asked to increase rigor, leave no child behind and compete with other nations, we are not assessing writing and students are not required to demonstrate knowledge through performance on the test. We will have multiple choice questions of high rigor and constructed response questions. This letter from DESE details this and other changes in our state assessments due to budget concerns.

So before the public blames teachers for all the ills in education, realize that teachers are on the front line. They are where the rubber meets the road. In order to do their jobs effectively, they need support. Support in the form of quality professional development, support in the form of funds for transportation in order to provide additional services for students in need, and support from parents, communities and the public.
Being an educator today is like competing on Survivor. All states are a tribe competing for funds and we are given a minimal number of tools in order to try to survive. We're facing challenge after challenge, making square pegs fit into round holes with nothing but shoestring budgets and determination. Times of change are hard, there's always a period when even the leaders wonder if the change is going to be successful. Educators are wondering if the changes proposed will be successful when things are so difficult right now. Yet, many educators are hanging in there because they believe in education; even if it feels like no one believes in them.
This is a second part of my "Whistle-Stop" blogging where I attempt to take my message about education and teaching to the people. By the way, if you want to track your state or district's spending of federal stimulus funds, check out, edmoney.org.  This blog is also posted at Huffington Post Education.


 
 
We all know the drill by now, a major outbreak occurs, a recall on food, toys, mad cow disease, or a Y2K and it hits all media outlets for days. The media wear us down and out with all the coverage of their intended target. So much so, that before long, the American people tune out. The latest victim of infotainment is education and specifically, the scrutiny of teachers. The thing is, teachers don't want the issue of education to be tuned out. They want education in the forefront of intelligent conversations. Newsflash! Teachers were the first to know there are problems that need to be solved. They want assistance in solving them.

Imagine the blindsided surprise of teachers when they found themselves in the bull's eye of the media. Educators, who have been struggling with the demands of No Child Left Behind and the 2014 timeline found themselves in the cross hairs of the media, who called in the "experts." Don't get me wrong, there are positive aspects of No Child Left Behind, one being that it caused teachers, administrators and schools to rethink how instruction is delivered and how learning takes place. The timeline is another story. What other professions have a success rate of 100 percent and their funding tied to that rate? Perhaps we should have a law that every politician is required to pass 100 percent of the bills that they introduce. What you say?  Try as they might, they can't control how others vote?  They can't influence the other politicians?  No matter how they explain, present the information, and inform the House about a bill, they may not vote as expected? Hmm... That sounds much like the predicament teachers find themselves on a daily basis. They instruct, lead and invest in their students. Students that come to them with a variety of learning, social, and behavioral problems, and some who can't speak English.

Another negative offshoot of NCLB is the role of standardized tests has taken a punitive accountability. The role of standardized tests should be to measure students' progress academically, not to punish or label the child, teacher or school. Teachers are experts at meeting a student where they are academically and helping them achieve even greater learning. Teachers know that learning is not a "business." It's about creativity, inquiry, collaboration and learning how to think. You won't find those activities on standardized tests.
Teachers find themselves in circumstances that remind me of Harry Truman's presidential years. After reading many posts concerning the condition of our educational system and listening to the constant drone of the engine of voices berating teachers, I asked myself, WWHD? What Would Harry Do? Truman faced many challenges. Many had low expectations of his presidency. He had some of the lowest approval ratings as a president in his era. At one point, Republican Senator Joseph McCarthy accused Truman of protecting communists in the State Department. McCarthy made himself a household name by attacking Truman and putting fear and doubt in the public's mind. Harry had his share of trouble with the media. They were sure he would lose the 1948 election against Dewey. How disparaged he must have felt to know that the media, whose job it is to inform people, were predicting his failure. Did Harry buckle under the pressure, under what must have seemed like insurmountable odds? No. What did Harry do? He took his message to the American people with his Whistle-stop speeches.

The only way for teachers to win this war against the bashing is to be proactive. Let the American people know why educators should be respected and the passion they feel for their profession. Then explain how they do their jobs of educating students. Explain how they are the experts and deserve a say in their profession. Finally, they need to tell them what they do and what their roadblocks are in educating all students. You don't move people to feel things or get involved by stating a plan or facts, you get them emotionally involved. You inspire them. Why do you think Arne Duncan's ideas are not stirring excitement and passion with the public or teachers? He states facts and a plan. He does not inspire others.

Teachers need to get their message out there. I'm reminded of the scene in the movie, "American President," when President Andrew Shepherd played by Michael Douglas was being bashed by the media and his political opponent, Bob Rumson. In a speech President Shepherd states:

"We have serious problems to solve, and we need serious people to solve them. And whatever your particular problem is, I promise you, Bob Rumson is not the least bit interested in solving it. He is interested in two things and two things only: making you afraid of it and telling you who's to blame for it."

The public doesn't know the true story of our educational situation in the United States. Too many people who aren't educators are stepping up to the microphone. It's time for teachers to step up to the mic. That's what Harry would do.

My blog posts are my version of Whistle-stop speeches. I'm taking my message about teachers and education to the people.

This pieceis also posted at the Huffington Post.

 
 
 
 I have been mulling over and again, the state of what is happening in education with stunned silence.  I know exactly how Chris Lehman felt when he wrote his post, “Finding the Strength to Write”.  I think he spoke for many educators when he said that he felt defeated.  And I know why.  Caught between the steamroller (Oprah, Gates, Duncan, and Ed Reform) and the pavement, are teachers.  Teachers, who constantly get compared to doctors and lawyers professionally; yet, they do not receive the salaries and respect of these professionals.   Teachers, who since the introduction of NCLB; have tried to improve learning and instruction within a ridiculous timeline.  (Imagine doctors being told that they would have to have all their patients cured by 2014.  Do you think they would pick their patients carefully?  Do you think they might want to turn down some patients based on their disabilities, illnesses or subgroups?)  That’s in addition to standardized tests being the measure of student success or failure.  Teachers, who get questioned from all sides, including their administrations, parents, school boards, DESE, NCLB, and now Oprah.  This is what has many stunned and taken aback. 

Let’s face it, Oprah is a machine.  She has power and she’s not afraid to wield it where she feels it will do the best work.  Let me caution that this is not a “Let’s bash Oprah” post.  I believe her heart is in the right place and she feels compassion for the human race and animals, but let’s face facts.  When Oprah so much as suggests something, MANY people in the world, jump to buy it, do it, eat it or read it.  She can make a star out of her lawyer, her doctor, her decorator, and her best friend.  She can create a best seller out of an obscure book, diet or product.  She has the public trust and they buy everything she sells or promotes.   Her latest endeavor in trying to correct what’s wrong with education in America has many scared, and rightly so, given her clout.  And let me say, that if Oprah can help come up with a way to change the direction of education in a positive way without demeaning the very people who have dedicated their lives to educating our society, I’m behind her.  I just hope she does more homework on the cure for what ails the American education system than she did when she endorsed James Frey’s book, A Million Little Pieces.   In other words, if we are going to change the face of education in this country, let’s include some educators in the discussion.   I don’t think anyone disagrees with the statistics.  Teachers have been pleading for something to be done in order to help them educate our children.  They want positive change, but it should not come at the expense of their professional reputations.  Educators didn’t create the statistics mentioned above.  Educators persevered despite all the educational reform in the past eight years.  They kept plugging along hoping that someone in charge would see the light and help them, help their students.    Is it no wonder that educators are feeling defeated?  I will tell you who is “Waiting for Superman.”  Teachers are.  I think we have waited long enough.  I think it’s time that we, the citizens of Edutropolis become our own heroes and do what we teach our students to do in the face of adversity:  Have faith, don’t give up, try your best, make our voices heard in positive ways and if all else fails, find the antidote for kryptonite. 

 
 
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I’ve been wondering lately how to promote the idea that the traditional role of the “teacher” has slowly changed.  I would like to plant this seed with the idea that changes start when teachers are learners themselves; in essence, master learners.  To use the knowledge learned to transform our classrooms into learning communities.   

Parish, Bunny. bp019.jpg. 1956. Pics4Learning. 30 Aug 2010
<http://pics.tech4learning.com>


I can remember when I was in first grade and I thought I could learn anything.  The new information was coming so fast.  Every day was a learning adventure with Dick and Jane and their family and friends during reading.  Once I began to read, I read everything I could see.   Needless to say, my learning self-confidence was at an all time high.   I was an invincible learner.  I was fearless.  As I think about learning today and teachers, I can’t help but think about my former teachers, particularly my elementary teachers in the 1960’s.  They presented information from such limited sources; mainly the textbook or basal.  And I couldn’t learn the content fast enough.   If I were a child in a first grade classroom (or any grade-level for that matter) in this technological age, with a teacher who was a facilitator of our learning community; I can only imagine how my dendrites would be growing and making connections daily. 

Today there are many learning opportunities for teachers from various sources.  Let’s face it; teachers are not the sole source of information for students anymore.  My former teachers taught to the best of their ability and served me well for the times.  They didn’t have the professional development opportunities or outlets for learning new concepts and ideas as educators have today.  (Although in my state, PD funds have been cut.)  If teachers today rely solely on the textbook as a resource, how many of their students learn more from the Internet; including cell phones, iPads, and iPod Touches, than they learn in their classrooms?  Students, who are inquisitive and seek out knowledge, will learn despite what’s going on in their schools.  Teachers, in past decades, had a captive audience of learners.  The outside educational experiences were books and Captain Kangaroo, The Electric Company and Sesame Street.  Any activity we did at school was exciting.  Fast forward to the present, and teachers have many students with technology available at home and the tools that go with it. It’s hard for a “sit and get” lecture to compete with today’s technology to engage the mind. Students are craving hands-on, collaborative and interactive lessons.


For this reason, 21st century teachers need to create their own learning experiences in order to be equipped to teach the ‘digital natives’ of Generation Z; a generation of potential learners, thinkers and contributors.  And I’m not speaking strictly about the technology tools, although they can be great conductors to new learning.  I think it's important that educators choose to engage in professional learning networks or communities, and autonomously learn above and beyond their textbooks in order to gather new methods to engage and teach students.  After all, doesn't every child deserve to feel like an invincible learner?  Peter Pappas at Copy/Paste has a post about engaging students, called, “Five Ways to Engage Students and Other Audiences” ,
if you'd like to read about ideas to engage students.








 
 

  Welcome to the first blog posting at Master Learners.  I hope you’ll find some of my thoughts and ideas intriguing or interesting from time to time.  The website and blog came to be called Master Learners as a result of two things.  One, as a teacher and Curriculum Director I’ve been called upon to give presentations to teachers concerning educational topics and issues.  During my interactions with various teachers, I could quickly see that educators were falling into one of two categories.  The folks who thought they’d taught long enough to know all they needed to know and those who were eager to learn and share new ideas.  Naturally the best sessions were with the participants in the latter group.  It made me think of students who may come into our classes falling into one of those categories.  In either scenario, whether it’s a teacher or student who may feel that there’s nothing new to learn, I wonder, “How can we break through this wall and create engaged learners?”  And “What happened to these folks that disillusioned them or made them think or feel that there’s nothing new?” 

A couple years ago, during a presentation we were discussing posting lesson objectives for students in the classroom; a simple enough gesture that reaps many rewards.  After discussing the positive effectives of posting objectives, one teacher said that it was one thing that she would absolutely not do.  She felt like she was bombarded with change and being asked to do too much.  I asked her, “This is where you draw the line?  You will not post lesson objectives for your students?  Of all the things, you’ve been asked to change and do; THIS fundamental thing is where you have chosen to draw the line? “She said, “Absolutely.”   After the session, a few of her colleagues came up and apologized for her thinking and explained that she was a 20+ year teaching veteran and was about to retire.  So, how do we change the thinking of a teacher who feels that their methods are the only way?  As a teacher I know the stress involved in teaching and understand the feeling that you just cannot take one more thing coming your way.  Still, I felt sad for her students.  Students deserve a teacher who is open to new ideas and who wants to learn new things.  What better example for learning than for a student to observe their teacher learning?

On the flipside of that scenario, have you ever observed a student who was an eager learner, but was given a label for being smart or a pleaser just because they want to learn? The sad thing is that it sometimes continues into adulthood when these people are teachers.  Many times the educators that are considered go-getters, who stay abreast of new ideas and topics in education, receive raised eyebrows by their peers. I have to wonder why.  In reality, isn’t that the teacher you would want teaching your child?  The teacher who is passionate about education and stays on top of the latest educational developments, and works hard to ensure that each child learns?

Teachers are in a tough spot right now. We are stuck between a rock and a hard place.  (Check out this editorial cartoon shared by Ryan Bretag.)  We must stand and support one another and help each other succeed. We can’t allow the outside influences to kill OUR passion for learning, or worse, our joy in teaching.

The second influence of the name of this website came from Will Richardson, who has written in his blog, Web-blogged, about the role of teachers and refers to the educators that are proactive learners as Master Learners.  I agree with his thought: “Teachers are learners. If they’re not, they shouldn’t be teachers.”

So the intention behind the creation of the Master Learners website and its Facebook page is to foster the idea that teachers can create a learning experience for themselves.  They can continue to grow intellectually and learn about things that interest them athat they can pass along to their students.  It takes baby steps, if you want to become or continue to be a learner, this website and FB page could be your baby step in that direction.  Who knows where it could lead?  In this century when the world is at our fingertips with the Internet, Web 2.0 tools and collaboration so readily available to all of us, it’s the perfect storm for teachers to become Master Learners.  I’ll continue on with the Master Learners thread in the next post.  Until then, if you would like to receive updates about technology or educational websites, ideas or thoughts on the Master Learners Facebook page, just click Like.