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Monday, August 18, 2014

Why I Deserve to Lose!

When you assume....................

I have had a blast taking part in the #30secondtake show that principal Brad Gustafson, @GustafsonBrad on Twitter, has worked hard to get going.  The show offers a four minute video cast featuring a "Digital Duel" between two people involved in education.  I am honored to have been chosen to partake in this challenge and was even lucky enough to earn a couple of wins against very passionate and knowledgeable opponents who had great answers.

Check out this week's #30secondtake at

This week, however, the video responses were posted and I immediately knew that I deserved to lose.  The question was:

What does "best practice" look like in today's classrooms?

When I saw the question, I immediately knew what I would say.  Instantly, a talk that I had watched by Malcolm Gladwell came to mind.  In this talk he discusses a story about how studies were done to find the perfect "spaghetti sauce", the perfect "Pepsi" flavor, and other examples.  The studies concluded that there is NOT a "perfect" example of any of these products, because not everyone has the same taste preferences.  This is the reason that we now see a wide range of spaghetti sauces and Pepsi products on the market. In the pursuit of the "PERFECT" product, they realized that this was like "looking for a black cat in a dark room, when there isn't even a cat in the room" Stuart Firestein says in his book Ignorance.

This seemed to be a perfect metaphor to the issues that exist in education and its quest to find the "PERFECT WAY TO TEACH STUDENTS".  There isn't a perfect way to teach students, because every student is different!  There are auditory, visual, and kinesthetic learners.  Their are students who aspire to attend Ivy League Universities and others who will struggle to graduate from high school.  Yet, most teachers will hand these students all the same worksheets, give them the same tests, and give them the same standardized feedback.  In the quest to find the perfect way to teach, the education system is unfortunately forgetting to embrace diversity and, in the meantime, letting a lot of kids slip through the cracks.

......... everything that I said, however, assumes that students are even BEING EDUCATED.  In other words, you cannot find the "best way" to do something, if that something doesn't even exist.

Example.  What are the most important things to have in order to enjoy a Saturday?  I would immediately mention family, friends, and nice weather (because that is what I enjoy); however, this isn't the correct answer.  There are things FAR more important than this, including oxygen, water, and other things biologically required for us to even be alive.  Well, duh.  Most people would assume that these things were there.....and they would be correct in assuming that because oxygen, water, and the biological requirements to live ARE usually there.

In education things are different, though.  In his answer to the original question on #30secondtake, Vice Principal John Fritzky (@JohnFritzky) explains that ENGAGEMENT, FEEDBACK, and REFLECTION are absolutely essential to "best practice" in education. THEY ARE!


The second I heard his response I realized what I had done.  I assumed that these three elements were present.....My point was to illustrate that we must engage students in different ways, give feedback in different ways, and allow students different types of reflection.  I assumed that these three elements were there, as if they were the oxygen and water in my metaphor.

The reason that one cannot assume this, however, is because these (unlike oxygen and water) are unfortunately NOT always there.  In fact, I would argue that right now these three elements should be on the endangered list in most classrooms.

Engagement - walk around the hallways of a school once and look inside.  In a high percentage of the classrooms you will see students sitting in rows of desks writing down irrelevant information as the teacher lectures them about all of the "stuff they know".  Sit and Get.  You will likely see kids fidgeting, sleeping, and looking very bored (and I don't blame them).  

Feedback - in my opinion, the feedback that is given in schools is a JOKE.  Most classrooms involve giving letters, percentages, and points.  What do these really tell a student?  Grades are not feedback.  Grades are measures of compliance.  School, which should be the ultimate place for learning, would ideally have a culture in which everyone is trying to learn as much as they can.  The purpose for being there would certainly be "TOO LEARN".  This is not the case.  Questions such as "how many points do I need to get an A?"..... "Is this going to be graded?"........"Is this going to be on the test?" are not students asking for feedback to their learning.....they are students playing a gigantic game called school that we have unfortunately trained them to play.  Students deserve REAL FEEDBACK.  They deserve discussions, one-on-one conversations, and personalized reports.

Reflection - Most students, especially ones with high GPA's will never take any risks in school.  We have created a culture that is afraid to fail....because that may mean that they receive a poor grade which they cannot recover from.  I don't blame them.  It isn't there fault.  This culture, however, is nothing like the real-world and certainly doesn't create innovative and confident students who are ready to take on the challenges of the real world.  Instead of an emphasis on memorization, we should be emphasizing the PROCESS.  In order to learn from the process....what worked and what didn't work, students need to REFLECT.  Success is accomplished by the formula of.....try, fail, adjust, try again, fail again, adjust again, try again, fail again, adjust again, try again, fail again, adjust again....... and then hopefully succeed.  We need to teach students how to reflect upon their learning, their insight, and their experiences in order to educate them.

In conclusion, John Fritzky has the correct answer.  My answer is pertinent in a fantasy world, and will be the next step, but right now is NOT a good time to assume that education has the basic level needs being met.  In most instances, it does not.  In way too many classrooms, education is suffocating.  Education is drying up and dehydrating.  We are operating under an outdated model that has not been changed for over 125 years.  My vote goes to John.

Thank you John for reminding us to consider the fundamental needs that are required for education to take place.  I wish that this would serve as a wake up call to many, but unfortunately most teachers and principals who need that memo are probably not connected via technology.  Maybe we need to start more "in school" discussions.  Now it is time for everyone to start doing CPR to resuscitate education.  Then, and only then, will personalizing education and differentiating make sense.  Then, and only then, will students be receiving the education they deserve.  Ready.  Set.  Go.

Shame on me.  I assumed.....and you know what they say about assuming!

Oliver Schinkten
Education Reform Leader least trying hard to be one!



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