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Why do people write?

This is the post excerpt.

People write because they can.   I know that seems a bit simplistic, but it’s still true.  Cognition, time, and necessity have given us the ability -dare I say compulsion- to record our thoughts for propagation and posterity.  If not, we would never have reached the current height of technological evolution.  Before written language information was passed by oral traditions.  Griots in Africa passed down historical lore and cultural knowledge by telling the most amazing stories.  Considering how stories change now a days, we may question the veracity of those stories.

Writing has gifted us with the ability to distribute information to a much wider audience and allows us to encapsulate thoughts and ideas in much more permanent ways.  Consider how information gleaned from ancient writings have enlightened the work of archaeologists, theologians, linguists, anthropologists, and historians.  From ancient writings on stone tablets, papyrus, and parchment researchers have been able to gain insight into the historical perspectives, religious beliefs, and philosophical ideals of our predecessors.  Written expression -coupled with the ability to interpret them (ie.: read with insight)- has yielded a vast amount of knowledge and information on a plethora of topics.  Today, both historic hard copy (books, journals, newspaper, etc.) and modern electronic publications (ebooks, internet sites, blogs, etc.) transport data, information, and ideals globally.

The bottom line is simple.  Writing allows the communication of ideas and the expression of one’s thoughts.  So humans find great utility in writing.  Although, arguably, visual and oral communication have blossomed with the advent of internet technology and social media –factual knowledge and ideas are heavily dependent on written text for durability.  To that end, writing provides humans with a vibrant and robust means to communicate and disseminate their amazing ideas, their quirky humor, and/or what ever may venture out of their mind.   And we hope that what comes out will be interesting, entertaining, or otherwise worthy of our consumption.

writing

Leadership Styles: Thoughts on Transformational Leadership in Education

Charisma is not a required trait for leaders, but it certainly helps.  A leader with personal qualities that positively and effectively influences others to achieve goals lessens the likelihood of objectors, grumblers, complainers, whiners, and protesters.  Unfortunately, many (if not most) educational leaders lack this convenient quality.  (Present company included.)

There are, however, some virtues of the Transformational or Transactional Leadership styles that make it a very effective construct for leading schools in ways that help communities deal with tensions, detractors, and force-fields impacting education.  James McGregor Burns analyzed leadership across disciplines and formulated the basic framework for Transformational Leadership.  This leadership style is guided by two important principles.  First, what a leader does must be aligned with collective goals held by the leader and the followers.  Second, the role of the leader and follower are conceptually united by a relational-interchange or interaction between power and conflict (Stewart, J., 2006.)

In Transformational Leadership, followers are consulted by leaders and allowed to participate in decisions and solutions that affect them.  Leadership decisions/actions are developed through a bottom-up process that both includes contributions from followers and aligns with collective values.  Leaders and followers are motivated by shared wants, needs, and aspirations.  The four factors that characterize Transformational Leadership were later described as the “four I’s.”  They are individual consideration, intellectual stimulation, inspirational motivation, and idealized influence.  Transactional Leadership, closely associated with Transformational Leadership, further expresses this branch of leadership theory with a focus on reciprocity or mutually beneficial trades.  The transaction occurs when leaders give something to followers in exchange for something received from followers.  Generally speaking, the Transactional concept focuses on trading to accomplish goals, while the Transformation concept focuses on achieving change (Marzano, R, Walters, T., & McNulty, B., 2005.)

Transformational leaders are best equipped to help communities deal with tensions, detractors, and force fields impacting education because this framework includes all stakeholders in the solution process.  School and community members work toward shared goals and are motivated to achieve mutually beneficial results.  Transformational leaders view stakeholders as contributing members to achieving solutions.  Each stakeholder is given individual consideration for their ideas, wants, and needs.  Each stakeholder is intellectually stimulated by evaluating information, reflecting, and sharing insights and ideas for potential solutions.  Each stakeholder is inspired and motivated by shared goals and the determination to achieve them.  Finally, each stakeholder experiences idealized influence because transformational leaders seek and value contributions from all participants toward the collective development of solutions to resolve problems and/or manage change.

References

Marzano, R. J., Walters, T., & McNulty, B. A. (2005).  School leadership that works: From research to results. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision & Curriculum Development.

Stewart, J. (2006).  Transformational leadership: An evolving concept examined through the works of Burns, Bass, Avolio, and Leithwood.  Canadian Journal of Educational Administration and Policy, #54, 1-29.

On Intellectual Property and Plagiarism

I remember the moment very well in second grade when Mrs. Johnson confronted me for cheating on a math test.  In my heart, I knew it was wrong because my parents had taught me much better.  I’m not sure if it was because I didn’t know the material or whether it just seemed easier to copy off the girl sitting next to me.  Regardless, I immediately acknowledged what I had done and accepted the consequences.  My parents had applied no pressure to get high grades for their instructions sounded like this, “We don’t expect you to have an A in every subject, and we expect you to do YOUR best.  But, we know you’re capable of at least a C in your worst subject.”  Fact is, they were right.  Truth was, I was capable of an A in every class but sometimes didn’t work as hard as possible.

I don’t share that uncomfortable memory because I’m proud of it.  Rather, to illustrate the innocence in which some kids make mistakes.  If children are not taught the values of honesty, self-reliance, self-determination, hard work, and integrity then they will not understand them when they are most needed later in life.  While I regret the mistake made so many years ago, I am so glad that lesson was learned back then.

I remember several years ago when I first heard the term “intellectual property.”  I reflected for a moment and then quickly understood that what is produced from one’s brain should belong to them.  The issues of pirated music on the internet seemed minor until I realized that what was being stolen was indeed an intellectual product.  (Just to note, I’ve never pirated music off the internet.)  Like music, people’s ideas and how they are expressed (their words) should enjoy the same protection as music.  The creator should be credited and their work should be attributed to them.  I like how Gerhard (2006) pointed out that the “fair use” provisions in the United States Copyright law does not prevent a person’s intellectual property from being used as long as that information is strictly limited in scope/quantity, and the copyright holder is appropriately documented/credited.  She went on to note that both Shakespeare (Romeo & Juliette) and Thomas Jefferson (Declaration of Independence) capitalized on ideas from previous authors.  In both cases, they “recycled” previous ideas; they further developed and refined them into new conceptualizations; then they expressed them in their context.

The idea of protecting intellectual property must be approached from both a scholarly and a marketing perspective.  It would be extremely difficult to trust scholarship with a high level of integrity and honesty.  In a very real sense, we could not identify the primary sources of ideas with any certainty unless scholars establish a strong commitment to a high level of integrity.  It is vital that researchers credit their sources and work within high ethical guidelines to preserve the cognitive property of others, to establish the integrity of their current work, and to maintain a clear path of evolutionary thought in the various threads of scholastic progression.

The marketing perspective of intellectual property is equally important.  If we define intellectual products in terms of property then we have to realize the legitimacy of ownership.  If these cognitive products are owned, then the owner has certain rights and privileges that others do not.  Free use of that property only belongs to the owner.  Since we attribute value to property, reasonable remuneration should be expected for use of that property.  Remuneration could be described in several ways.  It could be simply crediting or attributing who owns the intellectual property we’ve chosen to cite.  It could also include financial payment.  In either case, the owner of the property should under all reasonable assumptions have the right to offer or withhold that property.  For instance, the author may choose not to publish the work so it remains outside the public domain.  Or she/he may choose to publish and sell their property.  Whether referring to the scholarly approach or the marketing perspective, it is important that we allow the creator to receive appropriate attribution for their work and we allow them to determine how their intellectual products will be distributed to others.

Capitalizing on those ideas, I am a strong believer in maintaining the integrity of myself and others.  Craig (2010) offered excellent ideas on how to teach academic integrity to high school students.  I completely agreed with the idea that academic integrity is learned.  As with so many things we teachers assume, we often expect that students know what plagiarism is and that they would automatically choose to produce their own work.  Unfortunately, they often don’t.  It is important that we teach the ethics we expect.  We have to explain what plagiarism is and model the integrity we expect from students.  I was fortunate to have parents with strong Christian morals and clear views on “right” and “wrong.”  I need look no further than my parents to see people of the highest moral integrity.  Fortunately, they modeled those principles and I have learned them.  To that end, doing the “right” thing is a powerful motivator in my life.  I model those ideas in my life and in the classroom.  I was committed to and achieved high academic integrity in past academic settings, and I will sustain that commitment and success in all future ones.

References

Craig, P. A., Federici, E., & Buehler, M. A. (2010).  Instructing students in academic integrity. Journal Of College Science Teaching, 40(2), 50-55.  Retrieved from:  http://ezp. waldenulibrary.org/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=ehh&AN=54564701&site=ehost-live&scope=site

Gerhardt, D. R. (2006). The rules of attribution. Chronicle Of Higher Education, 52(38), B20.  Retrieved from:  http://ezp.waldenulibrary.org/login?url=http://search.ebscohost. com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=ehh&AN=21076202&site=ehost-live&scope=site

Learning Organizations: Schools are not businesses, non-profit organizations, or governments.

This piece was written in November of 2011.

Having a background in corporate America and coming from two entrepreneurial parents has given me a unique perspective working inside a government organization.  I have clear grasp of the “business perspective” and what is involved being successful in that arena.  I have clear understandings of things like “overhead,” “financials,” “cash flow,” “reserves,” “profit,” “the client’ or “the customer,” “customer service,” “customer satisfaction,” “customer support,” “the customer is always right,” “operations,” “inventory,” and “product” or “service quality.”  Having worked in various roles in churches, I also have a firm grasp of what is involved in motivating “volunteer” workers.  There are many variables involved in all three settings (corporate, private business, & religious organizations.)  While many of these ideas may be adjusted and applied to the school setting, clearly, schools are none of these things.  They are even different from a typical government agency.  What they do have in common with government is bureaucratic structure.  While I am in favor of applying some ideas to the school setting, we must be very careful in doing so and ensure that the ideas are appropriately adapted.

Schlechty (2009) poised the idea that schools are often operated like factories, warehouses, and/or prisons.  In many ways he has appropriately applied these analogies, and underscores the point that they are NOT functioning in the best way possible both practically or philosophically.  Many good teachers are handicapped by the current bureaucracy.  Many principals have other priorities such as meeting AYP instead of leading true reform or transformation initiatives that are needed to make schools true learning organizations.  There are a significant number of teachers who lack the initiative or desire to improve themselves or their instructional skills and mindsets to become more effective teachers.  The many school-improvement fads many have impaired their ability to realize the need for continued professional growth & development.  Regardless, most teachers need continual development despite the frustrations they have developed from so many short-lived initiatives.  That being stated, many teachers would not be receptive to the transformation motif presented by Schlechty because it is revolutionary in nature and would demand acceptance of an entirely new paradigm in education.  Many teachers would likely be resistant to that level of change.  Having admitted that doesn’t diminish the necessity of bringing about needed transformation.

The concept of transforming schools from bureaucratic agencies into learning organizations seems to be an odd task.  One would assume that a school is already a learning organization.  Philosophically, yes, but not in practice.  As Schlechty pointed out, schools lack the flexibility and autonomy to adjust their focus/framework from producing frequently tested, “standardized” students to developing creative/critical thinkers and problem solvers who are prepared to engage their tasks and communities.  The benefits of restructuring schools & classrooms to create engaging, student-centered, learning communities would have dynamic and meaningful results in several regards.

However, despite the potential & probable benefits of Schlecty’s transformation framework, there are important challenges to consider.  Indeed school transformation is needed, but until those given the task to lead change and those involved in the actual change itself reach synergy, they will have difficulty becoming learning organizations.  The first challenge is related to the public and political mindset.  “Out with the old and In with the new” becomes difficult when tradition has established the bureaucratic principles currently in place.  These control mechanisms will not relinquish themselves without a fight.  Secondly, this requires a new paradigm for curricular design and most teachers are not proficient in creating the necessary design elements.  Much training will be necessary.  A third challenge will be in transforming students from the current model of educating to a new model in which they take much more personal responsibility for their engagement, their participation, their products, and their outcomes.  They are used to the traditional methods and will need to adapt to the new model.  A fourth idea involves accountability.  I don’t think most teachers are against being held accountable for their work.  They are at issue with the lack of accountability of students and parents.  All three participants must be engaged to assure students success, not just the teacher.

Schlechty provided a great deal of information in part one of his book.  I found myself agreeing with him quite often.  I like that he underscored that students have changed.  Students have evolved.  Adults and parents are no longer the primary sources of information for kids.  Technology has proliferated our society in dynamic ways.  Additionally, visual media has become a primary means to gain student attention.  A seminal neuroscientist and scholar, Richard Restak M.D., substantiates much of what Schlechty poses as the basis for schools needing to reorient themselves.  Restak (2003) has done considerable research on the brain and how it continues to evolve.  He found that the advent of technology (computers, internet, personal data devices, cell phones, etc.) and extreme increases in visually stimulated communication (internet, television, video games, etc.) has accelerated the brain’s ability to adapt and process multiple, sensory rich stimuli.  Essentially, he states that the human brain is evolving at a quicker rate than was previously necessary.  He proposes two important educational challenges for school.  First, he suggests that children will require a greater sensory rich/technology enhanced environment in the classroom.  Secondly, the intense competition for attention has caused a decrease in children’s ability to sustain attention for long periods of time.  This translates to higher diagnosis of ADHD in children and implies the need to modify educational instruction in ways that avoid the problems that often arise from students who are unable to maintain sustained attention (2003).  Restak’s research substantiates Schlechty’s propositions in terms of recognizing that students have evolved, that students are much more technology dependent than ever before, and that schools must evolve to meet the individual and collective needs of their clientele.

Without writing a book here, let me make one more case for the sheer size of change that is required for learning organizations to evolve from their prior bureaucratic forms.  To substantiate Schechty’s transformational framework, I searched for other evidence in peer-reviewed educational journals.  Alma Harris (2010), presented a study on the progress of leading a “tri-level” reform movement in Wales, England.  The emphasis in the reform, “The School Effectiveness Framework,” was to change schools from a government-focused enterprise to a learning-oriented enterprise.  The reform postulated that change must occur at all levels –the local level, system level, and state level—and that the intense use of professional learning communities (PLCs) would cause a mindset/mental shift in educators toward a more student-focused learning environment.  Like Schlechty, she found that PLCs were vital in effecting and sustaining transformation inside schools.  Her final analysis suggested difficulties in maintaining consistency in the reform at all levels.  Educator participation began to wane, and system level and state level reforms were met with challenges that slowed the progress of reform.  What Schlechty is proposing is a major paradigm shift for schools.  I agree with the need for transformation.  However, we must evaluate the feasibility of engaging in the transformation and the means to attaining it.  There are inherent challenges that will hinder or prevent success unless resolute adoption of the framework occurs at all levels of participation (educators, administration, systems, states, and other public and national political levels.)

References

Harris, A., (2010).  Leading system transformation.  School Leadership and Management, 30 (3).  197-207.

Restak, R., (2003).  The new brain:  How the modern age is rewriting your mind.  Emmaus, PA:  Rodale.

Schlechty, P., (2009).  Leading for learning:  How to transform schools into learning organizations.  San Francisco, CA:  Jossy-Bass.

 

Thoughts on Common Core 12/4/2011

This piece was originally written in December of 2011.

The adoption of Common Core Standards has been a topic of issue with the introduction of Obama’s “Race to the Top” (RttT) educational funding initiative.  Of course, there are many other issues involved, but this issue has some educators scratching their collective heads.  While I believe the standards movement needs to be reinvented in ways that I’m not sure I fully understand, the current efforts are clearly an attempt to reform the American education system.

The essential idea behind the creation of Common Core Standards is to make standards uniform across the country.  Given that we have 50 states in our nation, historically, each state was required to develop content standards for each content area taught in public school systems within each state.  While it is important that educators (and students) identify the specific content knowledge and skills necessary for proficiency/mastery of each content area, the leading driver of this “standards movement” was and has always been driven by federal mandates tied to federal funds.  As an extension of that movement, the collective wisdom of current educational policy-makers is that a “common” set of content standards would bring equality and consistency to each state.  And, RttT requires universal adoption of these common standards for the opportunity to apply for additional federal funding.

There is certainly nothing wrong with having common standards in a common country.  Some may argue that standards could or even should be unique as they reflect the varying cultural diversity of our country.  And while that may have some merit in specific content areas (art, music, history, etc.) that is unlikely to be the case for the four primary academic areas (LA. MA, SS, SC.)  The first Common Core Standards to be implemented are Math and English-Language Arts.  One would be hard pressed to argue against having a uniform standard in these content areas.  One might argue that these standards could be too difficult for some groups, or too easy for other groups.  However, this is likely unrelated to geographic location or cultural group as much as it is traditional/historical precedent of what states or parochial districts determined to be appropriate content standards for their populations.  In the 21st century, this thinking must be changed.

Common Core Standards must focus on objective academic content.  Policy-makers should be careful to develop and implement core standards in consideration of local populations.  Perry (2009) reminded us of five key concepts to consider when developing common standards.  They are:  Diversity, Participation, Cohesion, Choice, and Equality.  Common standards should reflect achievable academic criterion for all students.  Standards should be accessible by all students regardless of cultural background; they should be developed by a diverse group that is reflective of the population; they should connect logically; they should allow for choice in how proficiency is demonstrated; and they should support educational equality for all students (Perry, 2009).

The purpose of Common Core Standards is to produce students with the necessary academic abilities to be successful in college.  Easley, II (2011) presented compelling information that standards themselves are much less a factor of student success/achievement than are other factors.  He states:

Data from this study seem to support the notion that the highly politicized achievement gap is exacerbated by a parallel gap in access to the vital social and economic resources needed to advance a large-scale and sustainable jump in academic attainment among racial minority and low income student populations (Easley II, p. 232.)

He suggested that content standards have much less of an impact on student success than do quality curricular resources and both the presence and consistency of student instruction by experienced teachers.  Thus, we should acknowledge that although common core standards may level the field in terms of criterion consistency across state lines, they do not guarantee the elimination of achievement gaps nor do they promise that schools will automatically improve after their adoption.

The present educational policy-makers brought forth a common core curriculum to help ensure that every student has the skills needed to be successful as they begin a career or enter college.  They believe that by reforming the standards movement to include the addition of uniform content standards, that schools, educators, and parents will “know what they need to do to help them” achieve those standards and attain future success (NEA, Common Core Standards).  This goal, as in other reform initiatives, supports the aim to improve schools and instructional practices in ways that help produce students who are academically prepared for higher education or immediate employment.  While a reform of this measure may provide some clarity to content standards in a geo-political sense, it is not a radical change or transformation of what schools teach or how they teach it.

 

References

Easley II, J. (2011).  What do students know anyway? High school graduates’ examination of standards and the responses of expert educators for educational equity.  Improving Schools 14.  223-238.  DOI: 10.1177/1365480211422285

National Education Association (2011).  Common core state standards.  Retrieved from:  http://www.nea.org/home/46653.htm

Perry, L. (2009).  Conceptualizing education policy in democratic societies.  Educational Policy 23.  423-450.  DOI: 10.1177/0895904807310032

Cyber Learning Day. Lesson 1

Today, our school system initiated its first “Cyber Day” for students because of inclement weather.  Instead of attending school and going to each class, students were able to stay home and do their work online.  It’s interesting that many children –and I mean school-aged humans- dislike school.  They say learning should be “fun,” not “boring.”  “Why can’t we stay home and learn on the internet?” they say.  Today, they had that opportunity.

I had my 8th grade Georgia Studies “Cyber Day Assignment” posted by 9:15AM (45 minutes early) for my middle school students.  I explained that I would be available via email or they could post questions to the “Cyber Day Questions Discussion Thread.”  I shared with them that I would check these locations every hour until 4PM.  It’s 4:57 as I write,  and no students have posted their work.

Admittedly, I only have 10 students in this particular class.  Two of them logged in and reviewed the assignments.  One for 1m, 57s and the other for 1m, 8s.  Yes, neither student reviewed my online class for more than 2 minutes.  ZERO students completed the work as of 4:57PM.  Looking forward to discovering the results from my colleagues on my co-taught classes.

Interestingly, my wife is a career & technical education teacher at the local high school.  She teaches classes in Teaching as a Profession and Business Law.  She has 75 students assigned to her in today’s classes.  (Her school has block scheduling so she has a different group tomorrow.)  Of those students, 59 actually logged in with 17 of them completing and posting their assignment (28.8% of those who logged in).

So there you go.  “Learning on the internet is fun,” they say.  “I wish we didn’t have to come to this boring school,” they say.  “We’ll never need the stuff we’re learning,” they say.  So as you can see, our children have just as much difficulty being motivated to learn at home as they do at school.  Let’s be honest.  The best thing about school is the teachers.  They struggle everyday to motivate and challenge children to become better people and better thinkers.  They push them to become successful members of society.

Lesson 1:  Teachers have value.  Never underestimate the importance of people who challenge and inspire you to become the best version of you.  So as they say, “If you can read, thank a teacher.”