My skill started when I first got my Playstation 3 for Christmas two years ago and I played by myself until I played against Travis Hill and got admitted in the 7o6 Playstation Network clan. Although he beat me thirty to twenty-one, he still thought that I was good enough to join. I didn’t always play with Travis on Playstation, it was maybe five months before I started playing with Travis, and I think that I got good enough by playing that time by myself, and I didn’t really know the meaning of teamwork at first and I quickly figured out that the 7o6 clan was a very teamwork-based clan, especially after I got chewed out by all of the other, more experienced members, but then I proved myself to the entire team by winning an important match against one of our rivals with a 4 v. 1 clutch (a clutch is just when a player by themselves beats at least four of the other players on the other team). The only reason that I chose this as the most important skill is because of the things that it taught me by playing with teamwork, which are basic things like
I love teaching my students to write because there is no greater pleasure in my life than expressing myself. Over the years, as politicians and other folks push standardized testing, students resent the more formal writing and complain, refuse to participate or do a lousy job to prove how much they hate writing. Today, I explained to my students that we were going to venture into writing about ourselves – about things that matter to us. Guess what? Not one complained – not one. We pulled up Inspiration (a software that helps with planning) and students worked through the parts of the document that they needed to include in the writing in order to create a document that they can display with pride. This writing will be a slow process because students will need to conference constantly with teachers and students; learn new evaluation techniques to help them make decisions about their writing style. It was wonderful day working with my students because they have already demonstrated their total interest in writing about themselves. Little do they know that there is more ahead.
For the past year and a half, I’ve been working with a small group of schools in Chicago that are improving kids’ learning through instructional leadership teams. These are teams of teachers in schools that work democratically and systematically to help teachers throughout the school adopt a powerful practice, such as classroom writers workshop. What I love about this is that it is not only improving classrooms, but also developing teachers’ leadership capacity so they can continue making improvements whether consultants or grant funds or other outside resources are available or not. And when teachers learn how to work more democratically, they come to view kids this way as well. This is a kind of sustainable improvement in education that we have lacked across the country. Too often schools depend on outside experts (like me) to promote change, and then we wonder why it doesn’t last. What’s also exciting is that the well-structured development process the teams are using helps insure that the effort really gets carried out and deepened as it goes along — which too often hasn’t happened in schools. I’ve helped coach the teams — but it’s really the teachers and the kids who do the work.
The year was 1988 and I was a new high school principal in Franklin County, Virginia. The school had problems – a high drop out rate, low percentage of students going on to higher education, and parent and student apathy to name a few. We did a good job of working with the academically talented students, but not all students. In my five years as principal the faculty (with changes) came around to accept a mission of meeting all students’ needs. We started interdisciplinary teaming in 9th grade to ease the middle school transition, set up a mentoring program for at-risk students, and taught interdisciplinary classes (combining 11th grade American Literature and American History so students studied the Civil War as they read the Red Badge of Courage) to make school more meaningful and relevant for student learning. We also reprised the musicals that the drama and music department put on after 20 years of artistic silence in that arena. I met with all new faculty every Friday over pizza and soda to help them last through the first year and be more effective than they might have been otherwise. At the end of the fifth year our drop out
I am an educational consultant and writer, and the most powerful learning experiences I have are when the folks I am consulting with/learning with have chosen to be part of the group, agree on the nature of the problem, and there is a high degree of trust among group members. I’m working now in a troubled middle school that won’t make AYP this year and might be closed due to underperformance. Many of the teachers and all the school leaders got together at the beginning of the year, though, and decided they would work on problems of instruction as a way to deal with their underperformance. Because everyone agreed this would be fruitful, and people have developed a lot of trust with each other about discussing hard things, we are really seeing improvement every day, even in test scores! But all three conditions: trust, agreement on the problem, and choosing to participate are ingredients of making this a powerful learning environment. Thanks for asking!
I grew up going to my mother’s afterschool tutoring program in a church basement on the South Side of Chicago. It is the best learning community I’ve ever been a part of and the best learning experience I’ve ever had. That is high praise because I have been lucky enough to attend extraordinary schools and to have great professional development and learning experiences as an adult. My mother created a unique culture. Everyone was challenged to do their best, every single day. It was the ultimate in high expectations, both for individuals and the group as a whole. There were no short cuts or excuses. We did lots of things in teams and groups. These collaborations created positive peer pressure where we encouraged one another. Folks who were strong in one thing were helping ones who were weak in something else. We had a sense of camaraderie. We were all in it together. Everybody was both teaching and learning. Ten-year-olds taught five-year-olds, and fifteen-year-olds taught ten-year-olds. At every stage, you were expected to continue to learn and improve, but you also were expected to help others. The older students took great ownership for how the younger children were doing. At
When did I fall in love with learning? Or, maybe, why was it that I never fell out of love with learning? For me, my most powerful learning experiences have always included people I admired, conversations that mattered, engaging writing, eye-opening films, and most importantly opportunities to put my learning into action. As a high school student, I had two teachers in particular that opened the way for me to learn in real world settings: Jeff DePew and Ted Munnecke. They saw possibilities for me that I had not yet imagined for myself. Through their support and my mom’s persistent phone calls, I spent a summer volunteering for the National Zoo in Washington, DC. Nearly sixteen, I volunteered forty hours per week feeding small mammals and cleaning their cages. While some of the work was repetitive and physically demanding, the real learning for me happened with the zoo keepers who took me seriously and engaged me in aspirational conversations. Through their questions and guidance they helped me see more clearly my next steps. Through their connections and additional support from my biology teachers, I spent the following summer and volunteering for the Marine Systems Laboratory of the Smithsonian’s Natural History
Constructing a narrative about my own learning story has stimulated reflections on my experiences as a teacher for almost fifty years in a variety of contexts and through all sorts of trends and movements. Out of those fifty years, one decade-length experience I now see as pivotal in the development of how I approach schooling. The lessons I learned ranged from affirming, to challenging, to chastening. My career in education began with stints as a social studies teacher in high schools around Atlanta, then as a guest teacher, responding to invitations by secondary social studies teachers to conduct simulations and role-playing activities in their classrooms, presumably modeling these strategies for them. Modeling did not pay off, if measured by the number of teachers who began using simulations and role-playing in their repertoires of instructional practices. However, moving from school to school in virtually every neighborhood in Atlanta provided opportunities to observe teachers in action, as well as the climate and culture in each of those schools. The differences in resources between white and black schools stunned me. The invidious inequities in black and white schools was manifest before me on a daily basis. But it was the failure of all
I was 19 and in an instructor training course for Colorado Outward Bound. We had backpacked in to Snowmass Lake, and then, after crossing a steep snowfield (late June) climbed up over beautiful wildflower covered slopes into a high col in the ridge between Snowmass and the next cirque to the north under Capitol Peak. Just as we came into the col, a huge thunderstorm blew in from the north. Lightning was striking the peaks around us, and thunder was echoing back and forth across the cirque. The north slope was covered in avalanche-prone snow, which the booming thunder threatened to shake loose. Our packs began to buzz with electricity, signaling possible lightning strikes. The instructor turned to me, and calmly said, “John, you are in charge. What do we do now?” I had to think of a safe plan and execute it extremely quickly, and I had to manage getting the rest of the group into a safe place and addressing their fears, while organizing how they would move in an orderly and safe way down the snow covered slope to the valley below. We were able to get off the ridge and down the slope safely and quickly,