Thursday, February 26, 2009

Don't Put All Your Eggs in One Question

Recently @courosa tweeted this blog post The Interview Question you Should Ask.

The question is "What do you do with your spare time?" The answer should be, according to the article, pretty much the same thing I do at work. Thus you are putting in twice as much time as the next guy and will be that much better. It is sort of the same idea as Malcom Gladwell discovered in his book "Outliers: The Story of Success" I haven't read it yet, but it seems to be making the rounds in my particular echo chamber and I have picked up on the basic idea. (or what everyone says is the basic idea) That is that to become an expert at something you need 10,000 hours of practice. Or the difference between someone who is accepted to a school like Juliard and someone not accepted is that the first put in 10,000 hours of practice (about 8 hrs a day for 10 years) while the second wasn't as dedicated.

While I will conced the point that, "practice does make perfect", I won't go so far as to say we should focus specifically on the number of hours dedicated to a task.

I don't always remember everything, but one thing I do remember from my gifted education, education, (say that 10 times fast) is that one of the common differences between gifted students and regular students is gifted students often pick up a skill in one or two tries while a regular student will need on average six opportunities to practice.

Think for a second. (I love wait time) It means in first grade, as a gifted math student, when the teacher first shows me how to "count up" as a strategy for addition I remember it and use it on a regular basis. The student next to me forgets, or doesn't realize that the count up strategy used yesterday can be applied in today's lesson. The next day when the teacher asks how we can solve this example my hand shoots up right away, while the kid next to me has to think. He might remember, or he might go "oh yeah", when someone else answers, or he might need the teacher to reteach the strategy a few more times.

What if the regular student next to me really loves math? He can put in the 10,0000 hours and still not be as good as my 2,000 hours of study.

Now I love education and lately I have spent a lot of time building my knowledge. Does that make me a better teacher than the guy next to me? It certainly makes me better than I might have been if I didn't try to develop professionally, but not necessarily better than the guy next to me. On the other hand some of the hobbies and interests I have outside the classroom also go into making me a better teacher.

The fact that I read and write about education can tell a prospective employer that I value my skills in education and that I want to improve, but it doesn't necessarily make me a great teacher. On the other hand hobbies and interests outside of education can also enhance my skills in the classroom. At a former school in Kentucky teachers use interest in aviation to enhance the classroom experience.

All anecdotes pointing to the trap one must becareful of: just because someone practices a lot at one thing doesn't actually mean they are good at it.


Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Pinkslipparty what is it

Brendan Murphy
3819 Lincolnshire Dr
McHenry IL 60051

Twitter #pinkslipparty coming to McHenry

What is it:
A #pinkslipparty is an informal networking opportunity for anyone who has lost a job, is in danger or losing a job, knows someone who lost a job, or would like to help someone who has lost a job.

Where is it:
Usually held at a conference room, public house, church basement, or any space that is free or donated. As of this moment the location is still TBD. See for updates on where, or donate a space.

The current #pinkslipparty in McHenry is scheduled for March 6th 2009 at 6:00PM.

With record unemployment numbers we all wish to do everything we can to help our neighbors and community.

How can I help:
Jobs are not found in the classified ads they are found when one person connects with another person. Come, meet, mingle, and network. Collect business cards pass out a business cards, maybe next week you will learn of an opening that is perfect for one of those contacts.

Community leaders this is a great opportunity to help support your community.

Press, this is that human interest story everyone needs to hear. A community gathering around itself in a time of need. Job seekers are not asking for a hand-out, just an opportunity.

If you want to sponsor:
If you own a business please add your name to the wiki page ( I will do it if you need help) and
come out.

  • career-related services
  • local food & beverage establishments
  • co-working or office share spaces
  • companies that are recruiting
  • trade and industry associations
  • government offices charged with economic growth and job creation
  • You may not be hiring now, but you will again in the future.

  • HR people talk and network the same as everyone else, you might find a
    perfect fit for a fellow business person.

  • Your show of support will
    mean a lot.


Wednesday, February 18, 2009

What good is an education?

I wonder about the education we give out children these days. I know some of the top schools in our country graduate students who are as good or better than any student in the world. Even some of our worst schools do a better job then they really have a right to considering the circumstances.

The problem is there are far too many students who are graduating without a quality grasp of the knowledge and skills they will need to be successful in life, or at least at a job.

Professor X writes a provocative essay about just that.

Some more interesting quotes I've read recently.

...but that the college degree has been substituted by employers for the high school diploma, which now signifies no skills or knowledge at all.

Diane Ravitch
Education week

Ordinary citizens need to be in a position to make judgments about institutions they can see, feel, and “taste.”

Deborah Meier
Education Week

No Child Left Behind, the biggest social engineering project of our time, put 50 million school children and their 3 million teachers under the gun. The law passed mainly because many people were convinced that low-income, minority students learn less than middle-class, White children because their teachers don't try hard enough.

No, it isn't, according to leaders in the science of testing. Scores always rise when you put high stakes on a particular test, whether or not students actually know more. This phenomenon even has a name: Campbell's Law.

NCLB: Is it Working?

The 'scientifically-based' answer

By Alain Jehlen

“It’s what you can do that should count when you apply for a job, not where you learned to do it.”

Op-Ed Contributors | Transitions
Should the Obama Generation Drop Out?

Article Tools Sponsored By
Published: December 27, 2008

Another term we need to consider—one that I hope we will be able to think collectively and publicly about—is “accountability.” 

A new book provides the occasion to rethink accountability. Written by Richard Rothstein with Rebecca Jacobson and Tamara Wilder, Grading Education: Getting Accountability Right begins with a blistering critique of NCLB and offers a more comprehensive state-based accountability model that includes a richer array of tests combined with school inspections.

American education that include basic skills in math and reading (NCLB’s focus) but, as well, proficiency in science, history, writing, critical thinking and the arts and literature. As well, education should address social and ethical development and preparation for citizenship and for the world of work.

...a big part of the problem with our national discussion of education, such as it is. It is dominated by policy analysts and advocates, by institutes and think tanks.

Mike Rose

My question is “how does an employer know quickly that the person applying for a job has quality qualifications?”

They used to be able to assume that a high school diploma meant the graduate was ready for pretty much any blue collar job and quite a few entry level white collar jobs. But now they have to eschew that and look for college educations. Like Prossesor X noticed some people with high school diplomas aren't ready for college and if they aren't ready for college they probably arent ready for today's workforce.


Of course I post this last night and in the morning my email newsletter from Teacher Magazine has this article "What Makes a Principal Great"


Tuesday, February 17, 2009

What Makes A Good Principal

I am hoping to start a leadership training program this summer, if I am accepted. Moving on to administration has always been a desire. I had the opportunity after my second year of teaching, but I thought I needed more experience as a teacher. After seven years of teaching in two schools and three grades I think I'm ready to begin learning.

In preparation of a possible interview request I thought I would reflect a bit about the principals I've known. In my seven years of teaching I've had 4 different principals. (I've also had 6 superintendents, but that is a different story.) I'm not willing to say any of them were out and out bad, but I will say they all had their own way of doing things. Let's just say I think one difference between principals is that good principals hire good people then get out of the way, while fair principals just get out of the way. I would then assume that bad principals get in the way, but I haven't had to deal with that.

I was hoping to get some more views on quality leadership in education so I asked the following question of my Twitter network. "What is the job description of a school principal? What is the most important thing they do?"

I received two responses both retweets.

Well it was worth a try.

On the other hand my tweets also update my Facebook status. There I at least had one response.

I've worked for a lot of them. Let's see..... Leadership AND decision making and *****IMPLEMENTATION. Styles differ but without these three working in conjunction, nothing happens. The staff splits and the school slumps. So however an admin. works, these must be cornerstones to keep best practices
ALSO and just as importantly, supporting teachers by knowing them and their professional strengths. By taking care of business professionally even when a crazy parent is demanding an instant beheading. By being IN THE SCHOOL and learning who the kids are as well as he/she can.

It was a start. I moved on a Googled “What does a principal do” and I found The Dragon Page.

The Dragon Page Just What Does A Principal Do? Has some interesting observations in a podcast with a principal.

  • A principal is the instructional leader
  • Should have 8 to 10 years experience
  • Safety of students and staff is much higher importance than it used to be
  • Identify focus of school
  • Where needs/gaps are for kids to succeed.
  • Where needs/gaps are for teachers to develop.
  • A principal should have a sense of servant leadership - "What can I do to make you look good."
  • Funding should address needs of school.

A few days later @principalspage tweeted his post on mistakes principals should avoid when hiring. So I asked him if he would write a post for those of use wanting to enter the profession. I figured he had one, but I was wrong. He had two.

The Principal Page has 25 thoughts on what a new principal should know across two posts.

Some of my favorites are:

  • If you haven’t, [failed] you aren’t trying hard enough.
  • Find mentors.
  • Be in unexpected places.
  • Know a little about everything.
  • Make sure that if you say you are going to do something, do it.
  • Spend time with the entire staff, not just those with which you are most comfortable.

I think a good principal starts by surrounding himself with quality people and then supports them 100%.

I think a good principal listens, to teachers and students, and even parents.

I think a good principal knows he doesn't know everything, but is willing tolearn.

I wonder what you think.


Sunday, February 15, 2009

What's next?

Universities have never been known to be very forgiving when it comes to tuition payment. If you don't pay you don't get the grades, with out grades you can't register for the next semester or receive your diploma.

Perhaps that needs to change, or at least take a hiatus for a year or two. Then again maybe not as some of the smaller underfunded private universities are finding it just as difficult to keep the doors open as many businesses.

Harvard or Yale could probably go a few years without taking in any tuition, but then again...


Thursday, February 12, 2009

Things that I wish for

There are just some gadgets I would love to have. Some may exist some may not I haven't seen most of these things, but I'm sure many could be found for enough money.

Let's start with the Kindle, or the Sony reader or one of several similar electronic book readers. They are great, that is if you want to spend $300 for a library in your pocket. Did I mention you have to buy the books separately? The problem is what I really want to do is to be able to highlight sections of the book and write notes in the margin. At the moment I do this by copying what I read into open office and use that to highlight and comment. Total cost zero dollars, but I am chained to my computer, which at the moment is a desktop.

Of course that leads me to the second gadget. (if you want to call it that) I don't want to be chained to a desktop computer, but I'm not happy with a laptop either. (I need two screens) I've thought about a netbook or a powerful cell phone, but they don't have the computing power, screen size, or the ability to mark up documents that I like. I read about a paint they are trying to develop that can actually be a monitor.

So consider this: a central server in the house that is connected to all the walls which are painted with the special paint. Now I can stand and use the walls as a monitor. If I need to move another room, maybe the kids playroom, I can do it easily. I just have to get the picture to know where I am going. The other problem is getting the mouse to work.

To get the mouse to work I can use what they call a fingertip mouse. A little ring type thing worn on the finger that will track the movements and work like a mouse. To get the picture to follow me I could perhaps have a program that allows me to create a screen with the mouse or something like that. Or key it to something I wear like my cell phone.

Now of course I want to be able to write one the walls. You know to mark up those documents I read. Johnny Lee has some great things he does with Wii remotes. I can stand back or sit in my recliner and read. If i feel like marking up the documents and stuff I can just use a light pen and a Wii remote and write on the walls.

Of course I'll save everything on my computer, but that computer will be a web server so I can access my documents anytime anywhere. (I'm writing this on Gogle Docs so I actually kind of have that, when I remember to use it.)

When I'm not home I can carry around a netbook or laptop, or tablet computer. I'd also have a smart phone to so I don't have wait for a full computer to boot up if I'm out and I want to write a quick note of something.

Most of the time I don't mind sitting at the desk and working on the computer, but sometimes I just need to get up and move around. I am a teacher at heart. Teachers don't sit behind desks and work we get up and move around the room. We lean over desks and write notes on papers. If I can't do that I it hampers my thinking.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

How Schools Caused the Mortgage Meltdown

The old model of school (the one that still seems to be the most popular and the most familiar) is based upon the idea that the teacher is the authority and delivers knowledge to the students.

While this works relatively well in most cases I don't think it is the best model. Most “progressive” educators would rather schools are more student centric. Allowing students to drive their own education.

I don't really want to go into that at the moment. Let's get into the connection between our current economic crisis and our current school system.

At the moment even though the reform education moment start with John Dewey around 100 years ago most classrooms are still based on students sitting quietly and taking instruction from the teacher. Even here where I live in one of the “better” school districts we can see evidence that the students are taught at a very early age to be quiet and listen to the teacher.

If students are in a situation where they are expected to be quiet and listen to the authority from age 5 to age 18 I think most will be fairly well indoctrinated.

What does this have to do with failed mortgages?

Simple, ask yourself who is the authority on mortgages? That's right your mortgage broker. I've done it myself. I ask the mortgage broker what mortgage can I get with the money I make and wait for him/her to come back with the answer. My fact checking is limited to maybe an online mortgage calculator or shopping around. (The shopping around part usually leads to looking for a higher mortgage with better interest rates). When the mortgage broker says you can get this amount of money at this rate most people assume this is a good and safe proposition.

Of course there are many folks who looked the broker in the eye and said, “what are you nuts?” On the other extreme there are just as many folks who said, “Why not refinance every 6 months and take more money out of the house?”

I'm fairly certain, though I don't have statistics to back this up, that most home owners took the first offer from the mortgage broker as the best offer because he/she was the authority and they just aren't used to questioning authority.

House picture courtesy user McMorr in the creative commons group on flickr.