My mom got me from school one afternoon and she didn’t take me to get anything to eat before we went home. So, when we got home, I was hungry. I begged her to make me macaroni and cheese! But she told me she wasn’t making it, and that she was going to lie down. Oh jeesh! I had to do it myself. Well, I had never made macaroni and cheese by myself before. I’m not good at following directions. I always read directions too quickly. However, in this instance, my mom just told me what to do; she didn’t give me the box for some reason! So I start making the mac and cheese. The water boils, and I’m doing pretty good…or so I thought. I started mixing cheese in as soon as the noodles were drained. I thought I had it all perfect, but then I realized-I had forgotten the milk. My mom came in the kitchen and tried to take the cheese out, but that didn’t work. No one ended up eating the macaroni and cheese -except for our dog. My lesson is I learned I need structure and quiet in order to concentrate on what I’m
My primary school in an upwardly mobile neighborhood of a small Western town in the early 1950s was new and clean. The floor was vinyl, the walls a pale pastel. Dim round ceiling lights produced what was said to be the correct amount of light without glare. Desks in rows, we were arranged in alphabetical order. Paragraph by paragraph we read aloud from basic text books cleaned of excitement and controversy. Work completed, were were allowed to read the faded orange biographies on a shelf at the back of the room — Louisa Alcott, Clara Barton, Daniel Boone, George Washington Carver, Henry Clay. School was one of the places I learned the virtues of compliance and obedience, what most families expected of white, middle class American girls in that era. My classrooms represented the values of my town.Maybe this is the reason I pay a lot of attention to the physical space in the schools I visit. At one time I assumed that school buildings that appealed to the imagination, that sparked curiosity and intellectual rigor were settings for the education of the wealthy, but I now know that is not true. At Chicago’s Harold Washington Elementary School, hallways display
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.
I had a few powerful teachers who shaped my long career in advancing teaching as a 21st century profession. One was Gloria Smith — who taught me 9th grade civics (1970) and gave me a framework at 14 years of age for making a disciplined and educative case against the Vietnam War. Gloria was very sympathetic to my developing anti-war views (which I later discovered), but she made sure there was structure and process for civil debate among our classmates (including some intense encounters I would have with Don Carpenter ‘ a ROTC and an avid supporter of the War). Gloria became a dear friend and later she asked me (when I was a college sophomore majoring in sociology) to work with her in tutoring several students of hers who could not read very well. I returned to my old high school and watched an excellent teacher struggle to reach all of her students. I realized how little preparation she had for the students she was now teaching. I watched her learn, but without any teacher development system in place to help her teach. She launched my career in teaching and later to ensure that every child has a qualified,