Collaboration…It’s a Beautiful Thing!

As I reflect on the past year, I begin to set goals for the year ahead.  I separate my goals into two categories; short term and long term goals.  One area where I feel I need to 1make changes in is my collaboration.   There is absolutely no excuse NOT to collaborate. All the tools are readily available for my use.   So why is it a weakness?

Several reasons affect my personal ability to collaborate…none of them good.  First, and perhaps the most difficult to resolve is my ego.  I love to create “fun” lessons for my students.  These lessons, in my opinion, are the most incredible lessons…that is until I try and conduct them.  You see in my eyes; these lessons are amazing.  However, if I would have taken the time to run them past a colleague, I would have seen the holes that existed.  My teammates and PLN often have their own amazing ideas and are very willing to share.

There are times, as they say, I cannot see the forest for the trees.  Becoming a better teammate will be my number one focus over the summer. Research tells me, that if I am to become a better teacher, I m
ust learn to collaborate better.  In a study of more than 1,200 kindergarten through fifth grade teachers in New York City Leana and her co-workers found the following.



I have already begun the process.  I am working hard on keeping up with m blog.  I am also participating in more twitter chats and increasing the number of awesome teachers I follow.  I also intend on becoming a better teammate, regularly meeting with my colleagues to better improve my skills.  There is no time like the present…


All Things are Created by the Mind

“There is nothing clean and nothing dirty, all things are created by the mind.” -Wonhyo

This quote is now one of my favorites.  It’s so deep and insightful and rings true in all facets of life.  In our world, as educators, we are trusted with building the minds of the future.  We focus our efforts on getting students to think deeply.  We want them to analyze questions and provide thought provoking answers.  We nurture.

As we teach, are we truly focused on the mind?  Is that something we should even be focused on.  When we teach we often use strategies that help students remember details.  When we read, we read closely to determine the answers to questions.  When we write, we produce a product that is well organized and answers the prompt.   But do we nurture the mind?  All these skills are what they require to pass the test.

But are we addressing their minds?  When we teach them to solve a math problem are we teaching them to answer the “why”?  Do they understand what the numbers represent?  When we teach them to close read, do students understand how to interpret what they are reading?  When they write, do students understand how to analyze the prompt?  Are they able to add personal voice to their writing and make it their own?  Or do they regurgitate the information from the text?

If we are not nurturing the mind, we are no teaching the whole child.  While they may do a little better on the standardized tests, they are not better prepared to face the future.

Wonhyo…all things are of the mind.

MonhyoOccasionally, I like to delve into the past, exploring the how and why of our world.  Today, I wanted to learn more about the roots of Seo Buddhism.  As I read, I discovered a wonderful figure that played a key role in the development of the prevalent form of Buddhism in Korea.  His name was Wonhyo.  He is often portrayed in pictures, carrying a human skull, and dancing merrily about.  In these pictures, he is often accompanied by his good friend Uisang.  The story behind the skull is rather macabre, but nevertheless important to Seo Buddhism.

Legend has it that on a dark night a storm drove Wonhyo and Uisang into a cave for shelter near Dangjugye. During the night Wonhyo was overcome with thirst and searched in the dark for something to drink. On the cave floor, he found what he thought to be a gourd filled with cool water and lifting it to his lips drank deeply from its refreshing contents. In the morning when he awoke, he looked for the vessel and was shocked.  The delicious, thirst-quenching water of the previous night was dirty rainwater swarming with maggots that had collected in a rotten skull-cap. He fell to his knees and vomited and experienced deep inner enlightenment.

What initially drew me to Wonhyo was a quote I discovered related to this story.  Wonhyo says “The three worlds are only mind, and all phenomena arise from the mind, consciousness.  If the truth is present in the mind, how could it be found outside of the mind!”  Powerful words, that when analyzed, can be a tremendous set of guidelines to live by.  To me, these words mean that the world “outside” should not influence how we act or think.  Our own consciousness should drive our world and not the other way around.

Wonhyo was referred to as an “unconventional monk” often dancing in the street while spreading the word of Buddha.  He did not live a lavish lifestyle like other monks of this time.  He lived a secular life among the common people.  He educated and inspired people with his talks of enlightenment.  He wanted everyone to understand that “there is nothing clean and nothing dirty, all things are created by the mind.”

Question 4…Siri how can I get educated?

Sorry, yes, I know, I missed a few days…I’m not usually one to make excuses but, it has been a long time since we’ve had a break, and frankly my energy level is not where it should be.  So, anyway, sorry about the delay.  I know you all have been anxiously awaiting the answer to the next question.  Should, we as educators, be worried?

Should we as educators be worried?  Of course we should, but a little worry is a good thing.  It serves as a motivator, pushing us to be irreplaceable.  Some may ask, why should we be worried?  Well simply stated, the time will eventually come that a teacher is a device, a computer, or some form of artificial intelligence.  In the future programs like Siri will be teaching or kids.

There are other reasons to be worried.  Like these statistics form the Huffington Post

First, teacher demand is growing:

  • Student enrollmentsare projected to grow by 3 million (to 53 million total) in the next decade, driven by higher birth rates and immigration.
  • Pupil-teacher ratiosare projected to shrink from an average of about 16 to 1 back down to prerecession levels (about 15.5 to 1). A small shift in class size can have a noticeable impact on teacher demand, requiring an additional 145,000 teachers overall by 2025.
  • Teacher attritionremains at a high of 8% annually. Two-thirds of leavers depart before retirement age, most because of dissatisfaction with aspects of teaching.

Meanwhile, teacher supply is shrinking.

  • There are fewer new entrants,with teacher preparation enrollments having dropped by 35% between 2009 and 2014.
  • Although re-entrantswho are former teachers typically comprise one-third to one-half of hires in a given year, the number willing to return is currently not enough to make up the difference.

The article goes on to list these reasons for the decline.


  • Teacher salaries have declined substantially since the 1990s and are so low in more than 30 states that a teacher heading a family of four is eligible for several forms of government assistance,including free or reduced-price school lunches for his or her own children.
  • Inequalities in school funding across the country translate into unequal salaries and working conditions that make it difficult for under-resourced districts to compete in the labor market for qualified teachers. Currently, as historically, students in high-minority schools are 4 times more likely to have uncertified and inexperienced teachers than those in low-minority schools.
  • Decades of shortages in fields like math, science, and special education have been periodically alleviated when incentives (such as training subsidies with service requirements) are applied to recruit and retain these teachers. Most of these incentives have disappeared with budget cuts. Even though the supply of teachers is picking up slightly in other fields, there’s been little upswing in the fields where we have the greatest need.
  • One-quarter of teachers cross state lines at some point in their career, and many leave teaching when they do, because of the problems in transferring licenses and pensions.
  • Teachers are leaving at a much higher rate than they did in the past (8% per year) and at much higher rates in high-poverty communities. Most leave due to dissatisfactions with teaching, ranging from accountability pressures (e.g., teaching to the test or having their schools threatened with sanctions) to lack of administrative supports to working conditions. Without changing these conditions, many communities will be in a continual process of trying to fill a leaky bucket with newly recruited teachers who quickly leave.

All of the stated reasons are true, but what I feel is the root cause of all this is the public’s perception of what teaching is.  I do not know of a single teacher that enters the profession to become rich.  While a larger, more comfortable salary would be nice, for me at least, it is not a reason to be concerned.

Frankly, teachers in general have not really done much to persuade the general public that teaching is perhaps the single greatest influence on the future health of our country.  Generally, when asked, the public feels educators get too much “time off”.  They feel we don’t really do much more than baby sit and read from textbooks.  We need to convince the public otherwise.  We need to show them all of the amazing alternative programs that educators have developed.  We need to spotlight the progress that has been made integrating technology into our students lives.   But most importantly, we need to build a better system that develops our students and makes them ready to face the challenges of the 21st century and beyond.  We need to get everyone excited about the possibilities!

So should we be concerned?  Yes, of course we should.  That being said, the future is bright, all we have to do is embrace it!

5 Questions, Day 3 Why Not?

So now th1111at we’ve convinced everyone to buy-in, what will our change look like?  The simple answer is radically different.  While the traditional classroom environment will still be evident, space must be created to explore, test, analyze, and evaluate.

For some students, the confined spaces of a “normal’ classroom are restrictive and do not allow for exploration.  Our computers are stored in a cart, and other multi-media is stowed away for “safe keeping”.  In our new classroom, students will need instant access to the internet, to books, to other students, and to experts.  They must have room to test and evaluate their theories.  They should be able to get instant feedback from experts outside the schools walls, perhaps even in other counties.  They should be able to collaborate with other students, constantly tweaking and overhauling their ideas.  If we want our students to become problem solvers, we must provide them with the tools to do so.

While some may say a school like this would be a tremendous expense.  Today’s schools struggle just to get access to a few computers.  While this is true, remember, we now (or at least in our perfect world) have buy-in from corporations and others outside the school walls.  We can tap into their resources.    Perhaps we might someday convince research companies to open research labs within schools?  Why not?  After all, since kindergarten students have been taught how to problem solve right?

Imagine if you will a software company trying to design the perfect gaming system.  These companies spend countless dollars on research and development.  Why not reduce that cost buy having a group of 11 year old students develop and test your system?

While this may seem extreme, landing a man on Mars was extreme to me when I was growing up.  Unless we adapt our education system to meet the needs of our changing world, we may just find ourselves relegated to the scrape heap!

5 Questions Day 2

1fddadadSDIf you did not read yesterday’s posting, please do so before reading this one.  Otherwise you may think I’m a little off my rocker.

So today I want to focus on question #2.  At what level does the change need to take place?  The simple answer is all levels.  Of course, to be successful, the change must be embraced by everyone involved, at all levels.  But what does that look like?  How can we identify the levels, is there a flow chart that outlines the levels that need to be involved?  Well in my opinion, there does not need to be a flow chart because the “levels” are easy to identify.  Simply stated, EVRYONE must be willing to change.  Students, teachers, parents, administrators, legislators, book companies, schools, school districts, even corporations need to get on board.

Consistent with Elon Musk’s theory of education, we must address the problem.  The problem is we are teaching with outdated methods.  By the time our students reach the 12th grade, the problems the world faces will look very different.  They will need new skill sets and they will face different types of challenges.  We must prepare them to face these challenges…but, how can we prepare them, if we ourselves, do not know what these challenges will look like?  Unless we are Nostradamus…we have no idea what problems these kids will face.

So is it doom and gloom?  No, the key is to build flexibility into the education program.  Currently we address a set of standards for each grade level.  These standards are “laddered”, increasing in complexity as students’ progress through their academic career.  One skill builds on another.  We spend much of our time on the “core” standards in reading, writing and math.  These core subjects will always be required and should continue to be the cornerstone of any education system.

The change that needs to be made is in the “extra” material being taught.  Why shouldn’t we teach students to problem solve?  Why can’t problem solving be incorporated into our academic day.  I’m not talking about problem solving that involves a bus leaving a station at 9:36 AM.  I’m talking about solving problems like how to lower a school’s energy bills or finding an alternative to wood products, saving the honey bee, or overcoming cyber bullying.  All too often we are guilty of saying “kids can’t do that”.  Why not?

The natural way for most kids to solve problems is to take the easy way out.  Given the choice between fixing a broken engine and buying a new one, most kids would select option B.  We need to motivate them to take choice A.  To do this we must have buy in from all levels.  Take a second and imagine this.  You’re in a classroom with 18 sixth grade students.  One the screen, via Skype, is a representative from Boeing.  Boeing is having a problem getting widget A to work properly.  The Boeing rep asks the sixth graders to solve the problem.  Well, because the sixth graders spent a lot of time problem solving with Legos and a 3-D Printer, they come up with a printable solution that fits tightly together and solves Boeing’s problem.  Does this seem a little extreme?  Well, in all honesty, yes.  But why not?  Why can’t students be given a problem to solve and just asked to solve it.  No instructions, no restrictions, no outside interference?  Why not?

To accomplish something like this, everyone must buy-in!

Come back tomorrow as I take a look at question 3!