Thursday, January 17, 2013

The Greatest Force in Civilization

1. We have an obligation to teach our students about the influence of the media.
In the last 24 hours, we have been inundated with news of a bizarre and almost unbelievable story of Notre Dame football star Manti Te'o's apparent hoax of having a deep relationship with a woman over the internet, who tragically died of cancer, but then somehow never existed in the first place. Yes, you are reading that correctly. If you are still reading my blog, thank you, and please consult the video above for further clarification.
I asked colleagues at school what they thought about the story and if Te'o was the victim or the perpetrator of the hoax. Most agreed that Te'o was at fault. Then I thought to myself, why do I care and why are we talking about this?
I think the story raises a larger question for us as educators about how we teach the influence of media to our students. The only reason people in America knew Te'o as an incredible football player and stand-up guy was because the media built him that way. Newspaper articles, feature stories, Sports Illustrated magazine articles and internet message boards validated his character and created a perception of yet another "heroic" sports figure. On Wednesday, that all came crashing down as the talking heads of sports radio, the bottom line of ESPN, and every media source in America chased this story throughout the day and night. 
So I ask, how do we teach our students about the influence of media?
Legendary newspaper editor William Randolf Hearst once said, "the newspaper is the greatest force in civilization." In an age where the television and the internet are the greatest forces in the universe, I think we are obligated to teach our students how to consume media and judge the accuracy of all news sources.

2. We should cherish our school's graduates when they return.
If you work in a school, you know all about the feeling I am about to describe. You see a person walking through the halls and you immediately do a "double take." You've seen the kid in the hall a hundred times, but just not in awhile. You strain yourself a bit to remember who they were and then you start to think about how many years ago they graduated. They are, of course, the former students who have returned to hang out at their Alma Matter. 
From a teacher's perspective, admittedly-a selfish one, I really like having these kids back. It helps me complete the story of who these kids were, and are. One of my former students joined me for my final class of the day last week and I found it to be a rich experience for my current students. After our lesson was over, my former student fielded questions from my current students about college academics, living away from home, and financing school. In a school full of to-be first generation college attendees, our students should have access to graduates who can tell them like it is. 

3. You are what you tweet.
As I continue to meet more people from my Twitter PLN in person, I've realized that you are what you tweet. I think this is a good thing. I think the majority of our society tends to be less genuine and more emboldened with their digital personalities. Let's face it, people say and do things behind a screen that they might not say and do in person. But I think this is changing among professionals on Twitter and it is contributing to more authentic interactions between all of us, both digitally and in person. As the great Dr. Seuss once said, "Be who you are and say what you feel-because those that mind don't matter, and those who matter don't mind." That applies to Twitter, too, right Dr.?

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Danielson, Hard Work, and a Little Love

1. The Charlotte Danielson Model is flawed. 
Recently school districts around Illinois and around the country have turned to Charlotte Danielson's "Framework for Teaching" ( to evaluate the effectiveness of their educators. While many districts will ultimately determine how to implement and make sense of the model, the framework has many flaws. If you read all 54 pages of her dissertation, you will find many contradictions like this one below---

Under component 2C "Managing the Classroom" Danielson lays out requirements to achieve a "distinguished" rating for classroom management. She says, "A smoothly functioning classroom is a prerequisite to good instruction and high levels of student engagement. Teachers establish and monitor routines and procedures for the smooth operation of the classroom and the efficient use of time. Hallmarks of a well-managed classroom are that instructional groups are used effectively, non-instructional tasks are completed efficiently, and transitions between activities and management of materials and supplies are skillfully done in order to maintain momentum and maximize instructional time. The establishment of efficient routines, and teaching students to employ them, may be inferred from the sense that the class “runs itself.”

Yet, under component 3E, where Instruction is evaluated and responsiveness to student needs is valued, distinguished teachers:

"Seize an opportunity to enhance learning, building on a spontaneous event or student interests or successfully adjusts and differentiates instruction to address individual student misunderstandings. Teacher persists in seeking effective approaches for students who need help, using an extensive repertoire of instructional strategies and soliciting additional resources from the school or community."

So what exactly am I supposed to do as a teacher when I sense inquisition among my students? According to 2C, I should maintain a smooth functioning classroom routine that maximizes instructional time and "keep moving" through my instructional goals for the day. If I truly bought into that style of teaching, and tried to grind out every minute of 180 days of instruction, my students will be bored stiff. Moreover, this contradiction in evaluation categories pits the creative and spontaneous teacher against organized and target focused teacher. Both teaching styles have their merits and places in schools. My hope is that our Illinois school districts are able to drastically adapt the wording of this model to evaluate and reward good teaching.

2. True confidence can only come from your work. 
I often think about the qualities that separate great school leaders and teachers from others. Many times, I think about the age-old question that we ask prospective job seekers in education, "What quality separates you from others?" I think the answer, "I am a really hard worker," is corny at face value. But the more I think about it, that may be the most genuine answer someone can give if they are truly being honest.

Confidence comes from many different sources. Most notably- people gain confidence from the feedback of others, from their own personal accomplishments, and from their own sense of self-identity.

But when you really tighten the sphere of who you are as a professional-- when you block out how you are evaluated or what your colleagues think of you-- when you put your accolades and accomplishments to the side- nothing speaks louder than your work. Your personal level of commitment to your job is something only you can judge, and only you can gain confidence from.

3. We all need to stay positive and look at the world a little differently. 
A special thanks to George Couros for the inspiration and the reminder- enjoy this awesome commercial!

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Are You Challenging My Teaching?

1. Throwing the challenge flag is a good thing in the classroom.
As a younger teacher, I sometimes found myself intimidated when students would challenge material I presented them in class. Students did not confront me often, but that was not a reflection of the "truth" that I spoke every day. It was a reflection of the timid nature of my kids and a lack of their inquisitive drive to challenge their teacher. Veteran teachers will tell you that students would challenge them more often years ago- and somehow I think we have lost that in schools today. Teachers should welcome this dialogue from students.

A few months ago, I wrote a blog post for East Leyden Principal, Jason Markey's learn365 blog. You can find it here:
In the blog, I referenced a quote that a colleague said about our Leyden students six years ago. The quote was, "Leyden students may not be the smartest, most creative or even the most athletic, but they will run through a wall for you if you ask them to do something." I thought overall, my colleague's assessment was complimentary in nature. But in sharing my blog post with my some of my students, one of my kids challenged this quotation in an email to me that night. With his permission, below is the text of what he wrote me-

"Mr. Sharos, I just wanted to randomly comment on one thing. Without a doubt, I think that person who told you Leyden kids are not the "smartest" was 100% wrong.... All those other schools with higher ACT averages do NOT have smarter kids. They just happen to have kids that were given more opportunities to learn in their lives - not in the classroom, but through their educated parents, through their environment, and through the culture in which they were raised. All Leyden kids have the same potential as "them". We were just born into a different zip code. The Leyden kids that have been able to use our outstanding teachers and tools to become the ones scoring 4s or 5s on AP tests or above average ACT scores are the smartest ones in my mind. They learned to overcome their poisonous environment to compete with those that have been spoon-fed all their lives, so to speak. As for everyone else, it may take longer or more effort, but they possess the same potential to be just as successful as the "smartest" kids in the nation.... Just my personal thoughts."

I was so struck by his email, I actually got off my IPhone and logged on to my computer so I could read the entire thing on a bigger screen. And while this student really wasn't challenging me or my opinion (because I agree with everything he said), I enjoyed seeing some push-back and some reaction from one of my kids. Our job as educators is to encourage students to challenge the status quo, to question the presentation, and to arrive at their own opinions on how history, literature, and scientific theory unfolded. This particular student will never need me to encourage him to do these things- but many of our students do need us to foster an environment of inquiry and challenge. 

2. New teacher training should encourage ingenuity, not uniformity.
The pressure to perform "the job," -you know, meeting specific learning targets during a lesson, fulfilling all the departmental mandates or responsibilities, and teaching towards a common curriculum- can sometimes mask our personal talents that we bring to the classroom.

New teacher training programs seek to provide structure in the classroom for the teacher and the student, but can often produce "droid" teachers. Every day, they begin class with a seven minute warm up activity. They follow that activity with a short presentation of content. They direct students to an activity that relates to the content. They hand out an exit slip. They collect the exit slip. They explain the homework for the next day. Thank God it's over!

But what happens when that new teacher is 5, 10 or 15 years into his/her career? When do we as school leaders encourage that teacher towards creative lesson design that doesn't necessarily follow the cookie cutter Harry Wong, "Model of the Well Managed Classroom."
If we do not encourage risk taking and creativity right away, when do teachers know that it is acceptable not to be a "droid?" Some of the best teacher's I have worked with just do things differently-which leads me to the last thing I know is true...

3. Every school needs first year teachers, but successful schools will go as far as the veterans will take them.
A few days ago, I wrote about the merits of first year teachers and how much they contribute to the positive culture of a school building. In fairness to that post, I also believe that veteran teachers play a crucial role in shaping the direction and the ultimate success of schools. We in the Twitterverse and Blogosphere are generally in the first halves of our careers and are progressive enough to stay current with the shock waves that travel through education. But how about our colleague across the hall that still uses a text book and doesn't own a cell phone?

Veteran teachers transcend us. Their longevity in the building alone should shape our understanding of school culture. Their experience in the classroom should be shared and modeled in front of our younger staff. Their advice should always be taken seriously. Their crusty methods, (gasp), might actually work. Veteran teachers establish the heartbeat of a building. If their resolve is still strong and their passion is still alive- they have the power to drive a successful school. Let us not shelf, but celebrate our veteran teachers...and happy first year of retirement, Dad- after 37 years of teaching- you deserve it.