Thursday, April 17, 2014

Learn Everywhere, Every Moment

As a teacher, I often find myself sharing stories. My stories, my family's stories, stranger's stories, it really doesn't matter. Some are profound. I admit that some may not have a relevant point.

One of my favorite stories that I share with students is one I have from my high school spring break. I remember arriving in Cocoa Beach like it was yesterday. Three of us arrived in typical Michigan fashion, in complete awe of the 80 degree Florida weather. After all, 24 hours earlier we had left the frigid cold of a grim Michigan April. 

Our first activity, after dropping our luggage in the room, was to walk the beach. As we made our way towards the pier, we noticed people atop the embankment of the beach with photo equipment. The locals were looking through their lenses checking their shots. For a split second, we all thought they were looking at us. Moments later, the ground shook, we heard a massive rumble and we looked North to the Cape to see a rocket launching across the Atlantic from Kennedy Space Center.
It was an amazing sight. One I will never forget. I see it clearly even today. At that moment, it was hard not to reflect upon the dreams of all of us who have looked to the heavens and imagined traveling through space as well as the dedication it must have taken all of those NASA employees to get that rocket launched. The wonder I felt at that moment, that all of us felt at that moment, was lasting. As we looked around to take inventory, it was as if we all had just shared the same thing. Hundreds of strangers applauding in unison. Cheering. On the rare occasion I see the two friends I was walking the beach with that day, we rarely miss the opportunity to talk about what we had experienced on that beach.
Most of us never recognize the idea that the next moment we experience might be one that could last a lifetime. We anticipate events like spring break because we look at them like milestones, rights of passage. We have great expectations for these milestones, usually, because of someone else's story. In total, that whole week was a bit of a blur. We packed a lot of activity into those seven days. A lot of fun, a lot of friendship. But none of those moments stick out like the one on that beach.

As we all look to take a well deserved week away from our daily lives, I would challenge us all to live in the moment this week. Watch the people around you. Drink in all that the different environment has to offer. Look for the unseen and recognize that the memories you make this week, may in fact, not be the ones you initially anticipate. Enjoy your week away from school and safe travels.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Get a Job

Okay, let's be authentic. Using real-world benchmarks to measure students has been done for decades. Longer than that even.  Considering a student's job, business, volunteer work, writings, drawings, interests, passions... says a lot about the maturity and ability of an individual student. Transferrable skills built at work, for instance,  do not just "transfer" to a future career. Vocational teachers have known for years that the real world experience gained at work is invaluable to the future succes of their students, both inside and outside of the classroom. The same can be said for a student's success as an Eagle Scout, or band member, or participant in a theater troop.

Bubble tests are seen today as the best way (as demonstrated in the modern climate) to measure what students know and predict how students will fare in the future where college is concerned. As far as measuring learning is concerned, much has been debated over the validity of using a standardized test to measure standards-based learning. My take on this debate is simple: I will become an advocate for standards-based education and standardized testing once my school starts sending me standardized students.

Now, a group is reporting that the age-old academic measure of grades may be the best predictor of college readiness. A three year study released in February of 2014 by The National Association for College Admissions concludes that student grades are the better indicator of college readiness, not college admission test scores. Grades represent the measure of outcomes, as does an ACT score. Whether it is knowing or being able to perform an outcome, it is a symbol of outcomes nonetheless. Academics have recognized for years that there is much discrepancy between a B- in one school and an A- in another. Grading, much like a bubble test, is not perfect. Symbols of outcomes, whether they be composite numbers or letter grades, only tell tell a small story about human achievement and potential.

So, as a Vocational Teacher with an Advisory Committee, I pass this advice on to the world of education from our partners in the world of business; it is the same advice that your father told you: Get a Job! As the Chair of my Advisory Committee put it best, "A job teaches a kid lessons that school cannot. Once you assign a paycheck to work, it gives the work more stature in the eyes of a young person."

I couldn't agree more. Now let me be clear, I do not see my role as a Marketing Teacher as one that is solely intended to make my students career ready. There are many more lofty democratic ideals that education serves beyond merely a vocation. But, a job, a career, a vocation all represent an opportunity to demonstrate something beyond a means of supporting ourselves and being a contributing member of society. Work represents another opportunity for students to demonstrate growth. Whether it be in one job where a student shows advancement, or in the progression of jobs that a student interviews for and attains, demonstrating growth is an essential trait of the life long learner. In many cases a student's work can be achieved without the paycheck; see band member or member of a theater troop from above. These students demonstrate incredible growth chasing their passions.

Growth cannot be measured accurately in regards to test scores and grades. Those data points may have importance, but they fall well short of telling the story of the learner as a complex holistic being.

Let me be clear, when I mention growth, I am not speaking of the series of ever more difficult goals or outcomes that we as humans set and achieve for ourselves. When I say growth, I am speaking of developing a sense of purpose and committing to a set of values as well. Growth is more about answering the question of "Who do you want to be" rather than "What do you want to be." Growth ensures that we as human beings develop our own standards rather than living by the standards of others. Much like test scores and grades, growth is tricky to measure. But I believe work, offers a faster path to growth for a population of our students than the classroom does.

None of this is new thought, I realize. But in an environment where Vocational Education is under attack and fewer students are working than when I began in education, it is a message that needs to be said. We are focussing too much on the outcomes in education and not enough on the growth. And the very students that are at risk the most are seeing their opportunities cut short the quickest.

It is a mistake for educators to assume that all students should take the same path to a high school diploma. Just like it is a mistake to believe that all learners will achieve the same outcomes after four years of high school. In fact most educators agree on this, it is law makers who are confused and mistaken.

A job, though, is a great common denominator. True, there is no "standard" job that will give each of us the education we need at a given point in our development. But, it is arrogant for schools to exist under the guise that learning only takes place in the classroom  In fact, it essential for students to leave the classroom for optimal learning to take place. Jobs exist as a real world measure of where we are now, but more importantly, they offer us a glimpse of what we can become. A job can help us clarify our values, develop our purpose and yes, increase our skills.

Although we live in an outcome based world and education, for much of its history, has reflected that distinction. It is now time for us as educators to abandon that history and move towards the process of continual growth for our students with little concern for the outcome. A job can represent that for students. A job can be a means for the student to travel down a path, just like we want them to do in the classroom. A job not only can, but should be the supplement of a great education. If you have your doubts, check out Finland. Enterprise and innovation, work concepts both, are built into the the Finnish model. And they aren't performing badly at all.

And be sure to tell a student, a teacher and your favorite admin to remember what their fathers told them and, "Get a Job!"

New York Trip

After an 11 hour bus trip, students were ready to stretch their legs. A walk around Brooklyn, bad service at a diner and a quick bite at a local deli later, and we were ready to take on a world class fashion marketer in NYC. 
Vertical marketing icon J. McLaughlin set the stage for THS students in what was our 3rd Annual NYC Trip. Students were impressed by the retailer’s story, as well as how the business operates on a day by day basis. Students experienced much of what NYC has to offer, including: A tour of retail giant Macy’s, the Business to Business Broadway Workshop, the meeting of former Trenton students, a trip to see Phantom of the Opera, and finally free time around Manhattan.
Students definitely spread their wings in The Big Apple gaining confidence as each day passed. Possibility thinking increased as students learned about the host of THS Alumni that live and work in New York. They were surprised to learn that two recent graduates were just brought on board as interns at J. McLaughlin for the summer. You could see that some students were already planning their return to the city.
Education takes place in a wide array of locations. I can think of no other place that offers a greater number of teachable moments than NYC. This is an important capstone experience for our business students and I would like to take this opportunity thank all of those who participated, as well as all of those who supported us back at home.

Learning and Teaching and Teaching and Learning

It amazes me to see the virtual world our students live in. Sometimes that’s a bad thing, but often their insight and reflection is remarkable. Inspiring.
As teachers, we should take the opportunity to meet our students online. Assigning writing or projects online is not necessarily meeting them. Students need to read our work. They need to see our thoughts; our insights, see our growth. Blogging and posting is now essential for teachers. You can call it modeling, but really it’s just sharing.

But also, meeting students online means we need to engage students in topics they care about. I want to read and be inspired by my students. And they are all capable of that. This is more likely to happen when our students share the things they find important. It is my hope that 20 Time is going to bring more of this. And so far the student posts have not disappointed. They are delivering growth and insight.
The age old adage about teachers as learners is exactly true. And it is a privilege to share in this symbiotic relationship.