Monday, June 16, 2014

Megalomania for Teachers - All the Grandeur; Some of the Delusions

As I have watched too many talented colleagues crumble under the crucible of the anti-intellectualism & anti-professionalism movement in education, I have decided that what teachers need is a super-power. Don't get me wrong - many of my colleagues already exercise a variety of superpowers every day  -the power to make the mysteries of life and learning accessible to kindergarteners, the power to make teenagers care and, dare I say, enthusiastic about solving World Issues or discovering new frontiers of microcosmic complexity.  These amazing powers are what have carried the belief that public education is a worthwhile and noble endeavor.  Alas, dear friends, it seems that it is only those educators with superhuman  abilities left who believe this value and we are an endangered species.

So, what we need is a different kind of superpower.  One that allows us to not only have endless empathy for our students while requiring excellence, not only to be patient listeners and serve as the heroes from time to time when our students are in crises.  We need a superpower that allows us to address our Kryptonite - the need for our educational system to be held to the same standard we hold ourselves - and turn that weakness into our strength.  

I realize that in the superhero origin stories that exist, it doesn't work that way.  Clark Kent did not just wake up and decide he wanted to fly and whoomp, there it was.  His unique powers were a combination of genetics and circumstance and environment.  My superpower actually does include elements of these things. Only through the pain we suffer from attempting to implement government mandated changes to our system, with fidelity, while still staying true to serving our students, will this power be awakened in all of us.

What is my proposal?  I am thinking we need to "take back" the concept of megalomania and rework it for the benefit of those educators in need.  Wikipedia says "Megalomania is a psychopathological condition characterized by delusional fantasies of power, relevance, omnipotence, and by inflated self-esteem.[1] Historically it was used as an old name for narcissistic personality disorder prior to the latter's first use by Heinz Kohut in 1968, and is used today as a non-clinical equivalent.[2][3]" (stop snarking right now about my demand for more intellectualism and using Wikipedia as a source - crowdsourcing information collection and distribution which incorporates peer review IS FABULOUS).  

Now at this point, I am quickly approaching the TL;DR portion of this rant, and may have convinced you of only two things - that the writer of this blog is definitely a narcissist (as she refers to herself in third person) in the classical, if not in the clinical sense, and that a psycopathological condition does not really sound like a good thing to promote in our society.  Hang with me - Megalomaniacs as delusional fantasy fans, understand the power of suspension of disbelief - just like any fan of a great action movie. 

One of the symptoms of Teacher SuperHeroes is that they quickly become disillusioned.  This disillusionment can be caused by many factors - the inability to secure resources needed to provide education and a positive learning environment for our students; the endless list of initiatives we are asked to implement, many of which we have seen before/are counter to what is BEST for our students/get in the way of providing quality learning and personal development experiences for the young people we feel strongly committed to.  This argument of what causes GREAT teachers to leave the profession has been discussed and proven elsewhere.  It has left me worried about the professional lifespans of my colleagues who are thinking and reflective practitioners - and WHO will be left in classrooms to lead our nation's youth into democratic citizenship?  

This disillusionment is a growing plague, my fellow SuperTeachers - it can lead to depression, a feeling that one's life no longer makes a difference, that we are small cogs in the Big Wheel of educational restructuring.  So what's a SuperHero to do?  Take ownership in a system which forbids it, believe in yourself as Change Agent of Awesomeness. Develop a SuperEgo as your superpower to help defend against disillusionment and to keep you where you belong - in the classroom, fighting the most important fight of all, each and every day.  Join me as we consider what megalomania has to offer in terms of becoming a better leader, advocate, teacher, citizen and person.

My Megalomaniac Manifesto is just beginning, my fellow SuperHeroes.  As we know, sometimes, saving the world can get in the way of other important events and tasks.  I've provided a list of topics to get us started.  Marco?

What is a SuperTeacher and where can I sign up?
Why is Education problematic (and overuse of capitalization is intentional)?
The Megalomaniac's Guide to Making Megalomania Work for You
The Megalomaniac's Guide to Facing a New Day
The Megalomaniac's Guide to Effecting Change
The Megalomaniac's Guide to Working in Teams
The Megalomaniac's Guide to Mentoring

Monday, July 2, 2012

Review: Clockwork Angel

Clockwork Angel
Clockwork Angel by Cassandra Clare

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

An interesting take on a "prequel" series to Clare's earlier series, These Mortal Instruments. I liked the steampunk angle and the heavy take on the setting in Victorian London. Good female protagonist who doesn't wait to get rescued, though she often gets help from some mysterious friends, the Shadowhunters. In the volumes of fantasy novels for teens focusing on supernatural creatures, at least this one is relatively well-written and has an interesting plot. Readers who like this book might enjoy the Sally Lockhart series even more - written by fantasy favorite Phillip Pullman - another series with a strong female protagonist set in Victorian London, though more mystery than fantasy.

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Sunday, November 6, 2011

Communicating & Connecting with Social Media

My head is still spinning from 3 days' worth of sessions at Solution Tree's AuthorSpeak in Indianapolis this past week. I will be posting my thoughts and reactions to the sessions I attended in hopes I can pay homage to the fantastic author-presenters I saw and as a way to connect those educators who were unable to attend to some of the information and resources.

 The first session I want to share is around the book Communicating & Connecting with Social Media by authors Eric Sheninger (@NMHS_Principal), Bill Ferriter (@plugusin) and Jason Ramsden(@raventech). I almost skipped this presentation. I consider myself to be reasonably well along the technology uses spectrum in personal, professional and instructional uses of technology.  I figured I needed to see presentations that pushed or challenged my thinking rather than going to one that I knew I was going to agree with everything said.  But I kept heading back to this choice, in no small part because I was curious to see some of my twitter heroes in person.  As it turns out, the session was interesting, challenging and gave me some new great ideas for ways our school and district should be promoting their image.

About Twitter
This session focused mainly on professional uses of social media in education; for learning, sharing and getting the positive word out on our work and our schools.  I have been using Twitter for over a year but seem to go through bouts of furious tweeting followed by droughts of nothingness for sometimes months at a time, depending on how crazy my schedule at school is - and honestly, when DOES the school year slow down?  It doesn't.

Think of the 17-year locust - on a smaller scale, my contributions and consumption of social media goes through more famine than feast.  What I liked about the presentation were the concrete ways in which social media can contribute to our learning, why building learning networks and communities outside of our own schools is so important and the message that if we don't promote our own good news, someone else is going to do it for us and probably in a negative light - to get control of our  message, we have to have a message out there (#ihtech; IHMSHeybruch).

The beauty of social media is that it "redistributes" expertise - the voice is truly with the collective rather than in single traditional forces of media. This should be an empowerment - to every educator - to get the positive things that are happening in your classroom each day out to parents, community members and other educators.  Thanks to the model set by some amazing voices for educational reform, I plan to be a more "balanced" contributor to the cyber and concrete worlds we now inhabit.  Plus, you have to love that typing in less than 140 characters at once makes it feasible to contribute on a regular basis.  What will you do to be a positive change agent in your school, community and twitterverse?

Check out the book by Bill, Eric and Jason for more great ideas on how to use social media to broaden your PLN.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

I Vote that Teachers Go Away.... attend professional conferences, that is...

Dollars for professional development, like for all other things in our schools, are evaporating.  Getting support, permission and hopefully  funding to attend a conference is becoming more challenging, especially if the conference is farther afield.  There is a movement to rely on in-house expertise to lead professional development and a move away from bringing experts to schools or allowing teachers to travel to see presentations.  I get it - we need to rethink the old ways of doing business.  I am a huge supporter of developing teachers as leaders in all areas of school management.  But where do teacher leaders get their training and ideas from?  What are the advantages to sending not just individuals,  but teams of teachers, to a professional conference?

Professional conferences do have an important place in building capacity, for teacher leaders and also in building relationships between members of teams. If we hope to encourage teachers to be more reflective, scholarly and research oriented concerning their own practice, then we need to provide opportunities to allow teachers to learn from other practitioners and scholars. Conferences can provide time and space to think about learning and to plan ways to incorporate that learning into action in the classroom.  Conferences can give a great injection of new ideas and strategies. If we truly want to take advantage of conference learning, however, we need to be sending groups of teachers as teams.  Allowing teams of teachers to travel together to attend conferences can create an environment of sharing and collaboration around all the great ideas learned.  As we articulate our learning to others, we clarify our own ideas and become more likely to put what we have learned into practice. At the same time, we might convince our colleagues that these are good ideas for them to also incorporate into their own classrooms.  Do teams who travel together, stay together?  It is true that colleagues to spend time together outside of work are more likely to work longer and harder to collaborate inside of work.  I propose that this could be an additional benefit to allowing teachers to attend conferences in teams.  By sending a team rather than an individual, more sessions can be seen, and more information can be shared with the staff or other teachers.  A group may als be more likely to discuss different ways of disseminating their learning to others and may be able to reach more staff members back at their site than an individual teacher.

Conferences are expensive and it makes sense for teachers and schools to be choosy about the types of professional conferences they attend based on goals and needs of the school, district, department and/or grade level.  The payoff can be beyond just new learning for individual practitioners. If we treat conferences as a PLC learning opportunity, then we can increase teacher learning, improve bonds between PLC members, improve the chances of information being shared in a meaningful way with the rest of the school/district,  and increase the likelihood that the new learning translates into classroom practice.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Are You a Polite Challenger?

In discussing technology access in schools with my online graduate class, one of the participants made a reference to colleague and called him a "polite challenger". In order to gain access to the technology he needed for his students, this person would often push back at the restrictions in place. It is true that schools treat technology and the Internet as something to protect students from rather than a tool that provides some of the most exciting learning experiences we've ever had access to. Yes, we are in charge of student safety when kids are in our classrooms, but most "blocking" programs are ineffective - they tend to block more good content than bad and students often know how to get around these programs to get to the "blocked" site they want to get to in any case. Wouldn't it be great if decisions about what sites were open in your school was decided by a committee of teachers rather than a random technology person? Wouldn't it be nice if every teacher had the power to add sites he or she wanted to use with students to the "nonblocked" list at the time they needed them? Wouldn't it be nice if we were trusted to act as professionals and that those teachers making bad choices were dealt with individually rather than punishing all teachers and students by assuming we are incapable of making good decisions?

I am going to continue to be a "polite challenger" in my own school. I hope you, too, will stand up for the things you think are important for your own students!

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Review: Disrupting Class: How Disruptive Innovation Will Change the Way the World Learns

Disrupting Class: How Disruptive Innovation Will Change the Way the World LearnsDisrupting Class: How Disruptive Innovation Will Change the Way the World Learns by Clayton M. Christensen

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I may have read this before - oh well - great ideas and deserves a second look after more grad classes. This was an interesting exploration of innovation in schools. I'm not sure I agreed with all of the business model solutions offered by the author but I do believe there is plenty of room for innovation in schools to improve student learning and that the only way we will be able to explore some of these options is by "disrupting" some of the traditional constraints that we take for granted as the "way of doing business". This is a great book to challenge the thinking of those of us who have been in the education game for a while and have forgotten that nothing should be assumed or taken for granted if one sees an opportunity for change.

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Saturday, July 2, 2011

Review: The Book Thief

The Book ThiefThe Book Thief by Markus Zusak

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Recommended for Grades 9 and up - and I can see why. This story is heart-wrenchingly poetic; tragically beautiful. I was sobbing by the end of it. It's story about an unlikely heroine living in Nazi Germany and her newly discovered past time - stealing books. She evolves from a late starting reader to a writer of her own story. The writing of the story is evocative, as is its narrator. The way Zusak brings alive these dynamic characters is magical. This is one of the best books I have read in a long time. Definitely worth the time and tears!

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