Sunday, January 30, 2011

Making Change Now--Final Thoughts on Dallas

Since September 28, when I was announced as NH Teacher of the Year, I have been grappling with the reasons why I was chosen--there are so many competent, effective teachers in our state, and not very many of them get the recognition they deserve.  I have held, since that September morning, the complete understanding that I do not sit here as the best teacher in the state--I am simply a representative of the best teachers that we are so fortunate to have, from the north country to the Manchester schools.  And while I have been quite comfortable understanding that, I have not understood how I would be expected to represent our teachers.

This week the 2011 National Teacher of the Year Program Conference has clarified that for me.  We have spent the past 5 days here in Dallas receiving training in lobbying policy makers, navigating political roadblocks, defining and refining our messages, public speaking strategies, media savviness, and using our voice to represent the whole.  I feel as though I have been groomed to return home and begin my job for the year.  And while I am so relieved that the job expected of me is the job I have craved, I am fearful of what lies ahead of me, for it is foreign to me and very much exists in the unknown.    

This week I have come up with many ideas, but these are some of the following plans I intend to act upon: 
  • Over the course of the next year I will visit districts across the state, meeting teachers and hearing their issues. 
  • I would like to start up round table groups so that I understand what issues our state's teachers are most concerned with and how I can best represent them to our policy makers. 
  • I will be contacting our state universities and visiting with pre-service teachers. 
  • I will be contacting our state newspapers and requesting that I be allowed to write a monthly educational article showcasing the work that is done in our state. 
  • I will be pursuing funding to pilot a parent education program that steps outside of the box and begins to create data that shows that parent involvement is essential and that our schools are responsible for making this happen, because there will never be any legislation that includes parents and community in our schools. 
  • I will promote the Teacher of the Year program, with the intention that more teachers from districts across the state take the time to honor the talented, amazing staffs they are fortunate to have.
  • I will meet with policy makers about educational funding issues that our state is grappling with.
I am no longer the same person I was when I arrived here 5 days ago.  I am now, officially, the New Hampshire Teacher of the Year with an agenda that I have been given the tools to execute.  I promise I will be an active, political representative.  I promise to represent our students, our colleagues across the state, our communities, and our parents.  And I will attempt to do it with all the humility and grace in the world--but I will not do it quietly. 

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Correspondence from Dallas(for my students)

Hello Holderness Central School!

So here I am in Dallas with ALL of the National State Teachers of the Year.  I am SO honored to be here with them.  I have met such fascinating, wonderful people who have amazing stories to tell.  They have heard all about you as well!

Here are some pictures from my trip so far.  I will take more tomorrow!
This is the hotel where we are staying--it's beautiful!

 Everywhere in the hallways are these beautiful, large pieces of artwork.  This is one of my favorites.

This is the reception area where we get our tea & coffee each morning and gather for pre-dinner discussions.

Aaah...and the heated, outside pool.  Today it was actually in the 70s, so we got to go in!  By next week it will be down in the 30s though, so we are very lucky today!

These are the Delaware, Utah, Massachussetts, and Kansas teachers enjoying the hot tub.  See the blue bottle?  All of our water comes in those cool bottles...

Bamboo!  Just thought it was cool...

These are the North Carolina, Caliornia, and Florida teachers--Cheryl, the Florida teacher on the far right is a finalist for National teacher!  She's a very very sweet lady.

This is my new, new dear friend, Wilma Ortiz from Massachussetts.  She teaches English as a Second Language in Amherst to middle school students.  She is SO much fun--you would LOVE her!

North Carolina, Delaware, and Massachussetts...two of them are crazy middle school teachers, can you tell?

 This is my friend Joe--he teaches 6th grade in Delaware.  Umm...I'm not sure what to say about him, I think this speaks for itself as to why he has chosen a profession that involves middle schoolers.  Same sense of humor.

We had a dinner at the Dallas Aquarium.  From left to right, this is Laurie from Wyoming, Jennifer from North Carolina, me, Mike from Oregon (he was the 2008 National Teacher of the Year), and John from Washington DC.

These are previous National Teachers of the Year.  They sit and guide us through our conversations and while the rest of us think they are rock stars, really, they're just regular people here like everybody else.
Wilma--Massachusetts; Jennifer--No. Carolina; Darrin--California; Jay--Washington state

We are getting a Smart Board for  our classroom!  The SMART people came and gave us an entire day's worth of instruction on how to use the equipment we are receiving.  Oh my goodness, you guys are going to LOVE it!  I learned so much and am very excited to start using it!

Part of what we receive is a classroom set of student response systems.  You can take multiple choice, math, or short answer tests/quizzes/evaluations on these and have them instantly scored.  Your teacher can create automatic charts based on what your answers were.  We are also getting a SMART slate, so the activity/quiz, etc. can be put on the slate and projected onto any white board and you can still use the response systems!  This means any of your teachers can borrow the response systems--they don't just have to be used in my room!  It is absolutely amazing.  They should be here after February vacation!

The Dallas Aquarium

This was our dinner at the aquarium.  Here we were each given  full scholarships for a bachelor's or master's degree that we are able to grant to any community member to the University of Phoenix, which has campuses in New Hampshire.  I still can't believe that I have the opportunity to help a former student or a single parent get his or her degree. What an honor!

Today's lunch was sponsored by  People to People.

Typical plate of food--I have been running every morning so I can burn some of this off!  I have eaten SO much this week!

I miss our classroom--and I'm looking forward to returning to where I am most comfortable, but I have received so much invaluable information this week on how to speak to groups across the state and how to help make change at a state and federal level in education.  It has been an experience like no other.  I have made friends that I am excited to visit with throughout the year, and that I know will last a lifetime.  They are simply amazing people and passionate teachers.  I cannot believe that I have been awarded the opportunity to be here in the midst of such greatness!  I will try to take more pictures tomorrow--my last day here--and will see you  on Monday!  I hope everything is going smoothly--I miss you all!

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Michelle Rhee's Commentary on Marketplace (NPR)

Tonight, Michelle Rhee, the former, controversial Education Chancellor of Washington DC read this commentary on NPR's Marketplace.  It is such an honest look at how we praise children and students--she makes me stop and think.  What is the balance between instilling self confidence, making students feel positive about their learning environments and raising students who are honestly aware of the talents and their weaknesses?  How do we help students work hard and realize their goals?  This commentary comes in the aftermath of a new book that is out by Amy Chua about the difference between Asian and Western parenting styles. 

What is the best way to raise our kids?  What is the best way to praise our students? Do the results of these issues truly impact our economy and educational reform?  I don't have the answers, but Ms. Rhee's commentary certainly gives us food for thought.

Education reform needs a new starting point

by Michelle Rhee

We've lost our competitive spirit. We've become so obsessed with making kids feel good about themselves that we've lost sight of building the skills they need to actually be good at things.

I can see it in my own household. I have two girls, 8 and 12, and they play soccer. And I can tell you that they suck at soccer! They take after their mother in athletic ability. But if you were to see their rooms, they're adorned with ribbons, medals and trophies. You'd think I was raising the next Mia Hamm.

I routinely try to tell my kids that their soccer skills are lacking and that if they want to be better, they have to practice hard. I also communicate to them that all the practice in the world won't guarantee that they'll ever be great at soccer. It's tough to square this though, with the trophies. And that's part of the issue. We've managed to build a sense of complacency with our children.

Take as a counterpoint South Korea, where my family is originally from. In Korea, they have this culture that focuses on always becoming better. Students are ranked one through 40 in their class and everyone knows where they stand. The adults are honest with kids about what they're not good at and how far they have to go until they are number one. Can you imagine if we suggested anything close to that here? There would be anarchy.

There are many nations who have figured out what works in education. Look at Singapore. Last summer, I heard the prime minister gave a speech in which he outlined the plan for making Singapore number one in the world, financially. His economic plan was rooted in education. He knows that if the country can make its education system the best in the world, economic success will follow.

That's the opposite of what we do here in America. We see education as a social issue, not an economic one. And what happens to social issues in times of economic hardship? They get swept under the rug. We need to change our national conversation on education and our national culture on how we encourage kids. I think what's becoming clear with all of this, is that if we don't start to shift our perspective, we'll never regain our position in the global marketplace.