A little change requires a little (or a lot of) discomfort   17 comments

Yes, the presidential election is over but people are still using the word change when describing anything from politics to education. I can’t help but wonder: Do most people really want change? I think a lot of people talk a good game, but when it comes to walking the walk, folks start to disappear or get really, really quiet. Yeah, I think I may need to go a little ‘rogue’ in this post because there are some things that need to be said because a lot of people are oblivious to what’s going on in the world, especially as it relates to education.

Barack Obama was elected the first African American President of the United States. He made history. We must move on. I did not hold any unrealistic expectations for this president because I understood (to a certain degree) the mess he inherited: two wars, a crappy economy, a broken-down educational system, and hatred from other countries of the world. As David Letterman would say: I wouldn’t give his problems to a monkey on a rock. Obama definitely has his hands full and he needs our help. First and foremost, we all need to be realistic: He is not going to come close to fixing all of these problems during his first term (yeah, I am claiming a second for him). Secondly, there are things we can do to be the change we want to see (Ghandi).

How? You might ask. Well, for starters, there are thousands of educators on Twitter who have an opportunity to participate in ‘professional development without walls’ like never before via various weekly chats. We can communicate and share best practices with people from all fifty states and many foreign countries. However, simply talking is not productive. Let me go a little deeper: Ignoring the real issues facing our educational system will not make them go away. Since I was a little late to the chats, I thought I would ‘observe’ first to get a better understanding. After observing for a few weeks, I started to notice a recurring theme: Technology. Now don’t get me wrong, I think technology is great, especially since I can connect with other educators. Unfortunately, technology is not solely responsible for the opportunity gap (or achievement gap, as others call it) that exists for millions of students. Let me be more specific: Lots of African American, Hispanic/Latino, English Language Learners, Students with Disabilities, and kids eligible for Free and Reduced Lunch. You may know those students as members of the AYP subgroups. I don’t doubt for one second that Interactive White Boards (IWB) are great educational tools but let’s keep it real, shall we? How may schools actually have them? Do they have enough for every teacher? Better yet, how many Title I schools have them? I have said it before and I will say it again: Too many kids have to dodge pimps, whores, crackheads, and dope dealers on the way to school. Reality check: School is the safest place for a lot of students, whether you care to accept and acknowledge that fact or not. Ignoring it won’t make it any less true. I seriously doubt they give a damn about whether their teacher is effective at using an IWB. Reality check: Yes, technology can be a great teaching tool, but when I am hungry and my stomach is growling, I am only focusing on how/where I can get something to eat.

So this brings me to my issue: I suggested that we discuss a real educational issue, like what different schools are doing (besides talking) to address the opportunity gap. Well, the question submitted was completely edited/altered and in no way reflects the one submitted. Hence, the point is completely missed. If ‘professional’ people are too uncomfortable with addressing the issues, are they really competent enough to be in front of the student groups in question? I am reconsidering my opinion on that one because you cannot enter a classroom with the notion that you don’t ‘see color.’ If something is right in front of you, how do you not see it? That’s something David Copperfield could master, but the average teacher, I don’t think so. But here’s a better question: Why do people attempt to stifle the dialogue of those who are interested in addressing these issues? Whether the stifling comes via completely ignoring or changing the question posed, it’s ignoring nonetheless. And it’s not right. It’s unprofessional, offensive, and dismissive. Certainly counterproductive in any attempts to address and eliminate the opportunity gap. I guess we are not as far removed from D.C. as we’d like to believe, huh?

Million dollar question: Do my honesty and directness make you uncomfortable? If I were a man, would you be less uncomfortable? Do you genuinely care about your students’ success? Do you care enough to acknowledge that they may not pay attention to you because they are wondering if they will eat when they get home? Or they could be worried about whether they will have a home at all. Did you ever stop to consider that? If not, you need to at least acknowledge that, as of today, you are not equipped with the knowledge necessary to adequately deliver any content to your students, whether you use an IWB, iPad, Mac BookPro, or not. Period. Before you can take them anywhere, you have to know and acknowledge from whence they came. Yep, it really is that simple. By the way, notice there was no mention of one (racial) group not being competent enough to educate another. I know some of you were looking for it (and probably found or interpreted it somewhere) but I never said it. I will not stop discussing the real issues just to make people feel more comfortable. Sorry, there is too much at stake for me to live in oblivion. If my stance means I have to talk to myself, then so be it. I usually get more done and better answers that way anyway!

Peace!

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17 responses to “A little change requires a little (or a lot of) discomfort

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  1. I agree that I notice a lot of talk on Twitter strictly focused on technology, and while it has been great and very helpful, I do miss being able to talk about other things sometimes.

    As far as the chat on closing the opportunity gap, I missed it so I didn’t get a chance to see what was said (or not said). But I’m with you on people getting uncomfortable when it comes to talking about race/privilege or things we don’t really know the answer to. I hope in future chats we will be brave enough to at least try to touch on the issue, step out of our comfort zones a bit.

    By the way, I was really feeling this comment:

    “…you cannot enter a classroom with the notion that you don’t ’see color.’ If something is right in front of you, how do you not see it?”

    It would be nice to one day reach a point where I don’t see color anymore, but I’m not there yet. I think I was as a child but in college it all became “exposed” and now I can’t look at the world without thinking about it. I dunno whether that’s good or bad, I’m just being honest.

    Love your blogs & Twitter comments!

    • Thanks for your comment. What I really meant by the not seeing color comment was that it is not possible to see it in every other aspect of our society, and not see it in a classroom. Any time we see the news report a crime, they describe the suspect(s) by race so how can people really think they don’t see race? The whole concept is absurd to me! I think people are afraid that if they acknowledge color it will somehow make them racist. Again, absurd. In order to address kids’ needs we have to acknowledge that everyone comes to us with experiences, many of which we will not be able to understand but acknowledging them is a crucial starting point.

      If we continue with our heads in the sand, we will have the same discussions 10, 20 years from now. I can’t help but wonder if some people want to have the same conversations that long because it will give them something to talk/write about and make money. Pretty sad commentary on the state of public education.

      Thanks again!

      Monise

  2. I too was drawn to that quote…when I hear someone (specifically an educator) say, ‘I don’t see color,’ I get concerned. A student’s background is a large part of who she is. If I ‘don’t see color,’ that would mean that I don’t recognize that individual, I refuse to acknowledge a large part of what makes that student special. I would hope that teachers would embrace their students’ backgrounds along with all of the other qualities that shape their experiences, and then help each student to learn through that lens of experience.

    I appreciate your post, as I think it has the potential to get an important discussion rolling (so long as we all start discussing). I for one would love to hear more about what steps you, your school, or your school division has taken to address and eliminate the opportunity gap. Thanks!

    • After leaving this comment, I’ve gone to read several other of your blog posts, and I’m enjoying them quite a bit…specifically those that ‘zone in’ on the wealth of data that’s available to us and starts to synthesize it into ‘next steps.’

      A big focus that our school division has been taking is trying to use all of the data that we have available to us and isolate more carefully the ‘reasons’ behind those data. As an example, we’ve been focused on math during the transition from elementary to middle school. While there are several pilot programs that members of our school community have started up to help promote success (specifically in young men of color), we’re still trying to track longitudinal effects. The process reminds me of the adage about ‘what gets tested get taught:’ it’s almost like the act of keeping focus on the disparity in opportunity is helping us to eliminate it.

      I look forward to hearing more from you and your efforts.

      • Thank you! I am glad you mentioned that your school is focusing on looking at data. I think that teachers have the burden of trying to figure out what to do, but are not given enough time to ‘look’ at what’s going on and really discuss it. how many people in your building have advanced degress? How many of those people do you think have the opportunity to even use a fraction of what they have learned? How many times have you sat in a staff development meeting on something you already knew? Too much valuable teacher time is wasted on meaningless stuff. We need to find a way to allow teachers to get data on their students, analyze it, and then come together as a group to discuss what they ‘saw’ and how to address it. What are your thoughts?

  3. I went back and read the yesterday’s Twitter feed and I think changing the question was a cop-out. Why not leave it as is and let people have the dialogue?? Sadly, everyone is not ready to have the hard conversations. I do think that your voice still needs to be heard. I remember reading one of your tweets about forcing people in your class to talk to you since they were clearly uncomfortable. Well the same thing applies here, you sometimes have to scream from the rooftops, especially when others don’t want to hear it! We need you to continue to do just that.

    • Ha ha! Girl you are crazy! How are things going on your end? People do need to swallow the pill and get on with the healing and learning. As long as we are afraid to discuss, nothing will change.

  4. I have been part of education conversations on twitter and via blogs for more than a year now and think that the tech-focus is mostly about the educators who find their way online- they tend to be tech oriented or at least tech interested. A phenomenon I am currently enjoying is the spread beyond the initial tech focus… it can be hard to find but it is definitely there, and growing!

    In my experience there are a lot of teachers working within their own classrooms in their own schools who are not vocal or public with the work they do to close the opportunity gap. Those conversations are not only challenging personally and professionally as you try to navigate the academic, social, economic, linguistic needs of your learners, and then keep up on the top down requirements for how and when you are to instruct and assess them, and then mash the requirements with what your learners actually need… but public conversations about children and realities in schools can get you in big trouble with parents, administrators, community members and school board members if you are not careful, so, many have determined that it is best to keep their mouth shut publicly and do their very best to get your kids as far as you can. (Now, of course there are some who do not work to this end and in my opinion do not belong in the field… but I refuse to continue to pay attention to the minority that skews perception of the important work needs to gain traction and grow to address these very real issues as we speak.)

    Teaching is a field made up of people- and people range in their knowledge, experience and beliefs. I would hope that those of us interested in expanding this conversation beyond current topics and getting real about what is and is NOT happening in schools today can find each other and engage… and in the process attract others to share their perspectives so we can all learn from each other and make real schools better for real kids in real communities.

    And speaking of communities… I am in great agreement that the community, location and economic realities of our learners has far greater impact than our current instructional and assessment structures allow us to address- but… that will need to be a followup comment and further conversation later.

    Thanks so much for your candor and commitment to getting real in this online space. I am excited for further conversation!

    • Here’s the thing for those teachers who are doing things in their rooms: Find a way to share it! There are lots of people on Twitter longing for ways to help their students. We have to get away from being so insulated in our professions. Those teachers would easily start blogs (without revealing who they are) and share what has worked for them. Also, there are some very voval teachers on Twitter who have blogs. I guess it all depends on the strength and quality of the teachers’ union in each state as well. in defense of some parents, if a teacher went the extra mile to help students, I seriously doubt that those parents would be upset/offended. I would be more worried if my kids had teachers who were uncomfortable talking about race, especially when the school is predominantly African American and Title I.

      Thanks for your comments! I appreciate feedback!

  5. What was the original question you submitted and what was the altered version? I came to the chatter late last night and couldn’t find the answers to that.

    The issues you are passionate about mirror mine and I’d be very interested to see the originally submitted question.

    • Here was my original question: What are your schools/districts doing (besides talking) to close the achievement gap? When posted for the vote in edchat, there was nothing remotely similar to what I had posted. My concern is that it is presented as an open forum but when concerns are censored, you create chasms and separate groups. Sometimes separate groups can be effective, but they can be equally counterproductive. If we are all truly striving towards the same end, why censor or adulterate questions/concerns?

      I will try to find the link so you can see the questions presented in the poll.

      Thanks,

      Monise

  6. I appreciate your post. I read with dismay the discussion as it unfolded on Twitter, without a great deal of understanding about the nature of the controversy.
    While I agree that the question you pose above and the question as it was posted on the survey are very different – I am not uncomfortable with your question or having it be a topic of discussion on Twitter or elsewhere. If we are to enact real change we need to engage with the reality of our classrooms and the world.
    I think the problem in this situation was the limitation of 140 characters and the fact that many had a lack of context. Both your post and the post by Steve have helped to give both perspectives.
    So – now that it is out there, what are we going to do about it? How can we get a chat – and a productive chat – going that will help all of us struggle with this question? Is Twitter the appropriate forum or should we seek another avenue to join the diverse perspectives of educators using social media together?

    • I would certainly be open to another forum if that is what’s needed. I do not think we can ignore the real issues because they will continue to exist and the same dialogue will occur in the future. If you can think of a more appropriate medium, please let me know! I am in!

      Thanks,

      Monise

  7. Thank you so much for this post! I, too, am tired of the focus on technology. Quite frankly I think it aids in increasing the opportunity gap as so many of our schools and nontraditional learning spaces cannot afford to invest appropriately in technology. This is not to say the technology is not important, but educators and administrators seem to act as if learning cannot take place without technology. Furthermore technology will never be implemented properly without facing the truth of why learning is unequal.

    Are you familiar with the Scholarship of Teaching & Learning? It’s a whole way of thinking about researching what works in education, and sharing it with other educators. I never heard of it before I became a doctoral student. As a master’s student, I was familiar with teacher action research — which is similar, but apparently SOTL is supposed to be more formal. There’s a conference coming up in March at Georgia Southern if you are interested: http://academics.georgiasouthern.edu/ijsotl/conference/2010/index.htm

    Which brings me to another issue… We really need a conference (or some kind of regular gathering) for education bloggers (folks on twitter count as this is considered microblogging). We need a space for people like us who have a lot to say about the issues that many people don’t want to talk about when it comes down to educating young people and adults.

  8. Monise,
    Thanks for asking the question. I, for one, would love for that to be a possible topic to vote on next week. Will you be submitting it? If not, I will.

    And, like Tony (@Tborash above, who is a lead Instructional coach in my school system) , I applaud your effort to get this issue into larger conversations.

    I also would like to get beyond the EdChat issue of changing the question (and the accompanying nitpicking that occurred,-not from you) and move on to THE discussion. 🙂

    Our system has been looking at AND decreasing the achievement/education/opportunity gap for the past 8-10 years, so Tony and I (and many others, such as @pammoran, @beckyfisher73, @jacatlett, @mtechman, @corriekelly, @darahbonham, @chadratliff, @billsterrett, @Haasms, @mpcraddock, @kwmarcus1, @englandinva, @wingfriend, @mattcaduff, @mlandahl) COULD share some strategies used. 🙂

    Hope to see it win next week.

    • Thank you! I am not sure if anyone is willing to pose the question again, as quite a few people were disappointed by the manner in which it was handled. I am going to follow all of the people you listed because I am definitely interested in learning what you all have been doing!

      Monise

  9. Martin Luther King once said, “It is not the voice of my enemies I fear but the silence of my friends”….or something like that…smile! Profound words! The friends of children and those who are advocates of children often ignore the real issues. There will be no change if we continue to admire the problems or ignore them. I applaud your dedication to, and love for children you may never meet! We need action now!

    I would love to see the question as it was changed. Some people are intimidated by the perception or reality of a gap so they mask it in discussions. I find that the majority of people care but those who surround themselves with people who don’t think like them grow more. And on the hungry issue……

    I have had students refuse to sit by the window in school because of the fear of bullets coming through in retaliation for violence the night before in the community. So going hungry is a good day for many kids. We all need to work together to save all our children.

    Try to find that new question only because it will help to see where the fear is located and how the language was used to alleviate that fear. Sometimes we need to help people hear us!

    I enjoy Twitter, the diverse viewpoints, and mostly meeting you!

    God Bless……….

    Principal EL

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