Monday, November 5, 2012

What I Learned This Week (Volume 5)

            I spent most of this past week in the United States and was working closely with a middle school staff in Texas. I really enjoy these opportunities as I feel it really adds to my knowledge base and also serves as a reminder that effective practice transcends geographic borders.

            The staff at Richland Middle School is working to create more positive outcomes for their students. We spent time identifying what they value the most and creating a vision and purpose statement for their work. The y drafted a motto, “equity for all”, that accurately captures what they want to be known for. What became clear during this work was how difficult this process can be when everyone becomes fully invested in the process. Each word in their vision had to be internalized and agreed upon by the staff in order for it to be a part of a school-wide belief and a way of doing their fine work. As I mentioned in my post last week, the best vision statements are not about what we do but who we are. The RMS team under the guidance of Dr. LeeAnn Bartee reminded me of this.

            Many schools I have worked with, and the educators that inspire the students that attend them, will share with me their belief that “all kids can learn”. In fact, I can’t recall a time where I encountered someone who didn’t espouse this. The point I’m trying to make is that our actions need to mirror our intentions. If we really believe this, then we will spend our time and effort on ways to actualize this. We’ll steer clear of the time wasting debates about zero as an earned grade or the unfairness of second chances. “All kids can learn” means we’ll do whatever it takes to make that so. Not by lowering our standards but by elevating all students to reach them.

I also learned that I’m not the only one who gets annoyed by the CAPTCHAs that are now on most websites. I’m not sure why these need to be so challenging with wavy lettering, blurry numbers, and lines through them. CAPTCHA is an acronym from Carnegie Mellon University. To complete the obnoxious nature of these, it stands for "Completely Automated Public Turing test to tell Computers and Humans Apart". Bill Ferriter (@plugusin), was equally annoyed by these devices, when he tweeted:

Thinking about buying bifocals so I can actually read the
Captcha codes on people's blogs. #gottatrysomething

I replied with a tweet of my own that summed up my feelings:

These remind me of the worst assessment devices created.
They are designed to confuse and prevent the end goal being reached!

It’s clear to me that the whiz kids at Carnegie Mellon could also design a really ineffective summative assessment. Here’s hoping they don’t enter that line of work!

            Finally, this week proved conclusively that the time on the road (23 days in the last four weeks) is made infinitely better by two factors – the quality of the work (and I have a passion for the topics I share) and the quality of the people I get to work with. The people I spent time with during the day extended their hospitality and shared their company during the after-work hours. Thanks LeeAnn and Chad, Staci and Justin, Nancy, Ann, and Jenn for the extended hours!

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