To the Teachers of My Children

Inspired by Pam Moran’s excellent example, I thought it would be appropriate to resurrect one of the most heartfelt posts I’ve ever written. Since sharing this open letter three years ago, my love and appreciation for great teachers – everywhere – has only grown. There is no profession more impacting.

Thank you, teachers, for all you give and do to make this world a better place!

- – -

My grandfather’s passing last week accompanied, for me, several very important lessons that rarely come in any other fashion:

  1. Life is short.
  2. Time is precious.
  3. Quite often, we don’t fully appreciate what we have until it’s gone.

As a result, I’m writing with hopes that you’ll consider carefully how precious the time is that you’re able to spend with my children. Realistically, during this time of year, you’re able to spend more time with them than I. Do you realize how lucky you are?

Like many parents, I’m not as concerned with how well you teach my kids to take tests. I’m really not. In fact, I’d rather you use each priceless minute to captivate their imaginations, guide them in deep thinking, help them to create, and cultivate a love of learning so deeply engrained that they grow to no longer need your services.

Do that, and the scores will take care of themselves.

I’ve done my best to provide an energetic learning environment in our home, but am desperately relying on you, your skills, and the time you have to spend with my child to fill in any holes I might not even know exist. Because my kids have grown comfortable using technology when they learn (and they gravitate toward anything with a screen), I think you’ll have the best luck in leveraging technology’s potential for instruction. Nevertheless, I’ll also trust your judgment in determining how best to reach my child; and hope – earnestly hope – there’s consistently constructive purpose behind the ways you choose to spend the time that you’re given.

Kids Deserve Great Teachers!

I’m counting on you like no other, and want you to know how deeply grateful I am for your meaningful efforts. Yours is a difficult job, I know, but unquestionably invaluable. If there’s ever any way I can help in your classroom, I’ll jump at the chance to work by your side. I love my children, and will do all that it takes to prepare them for their future.

All that I ask is that you do the same.

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Why the Haters Hate: CCSS Edition

The more I analyze the contentions of those advocating for no common standards, the more I’m convinced of two important truths. Those who rationally oppose typically do so because:

  1. They didn’t play a role in creating the standards and would, therefore, have them shift.
  2. They misunderstand, resist, or ignore the critical role schools play in credentialing.

Regardless of motive, many so-called haters often land at the point of irrationality, embracing theories of conspiracy, with dreams for the day when school means little more than the feel of play-doh while dancing to the aroma of old-fashioned paste.

Long live 1984?

Essential School Supply

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When Should You Buy Your Child a Smartphone?

A few days ago, I did a riff off this Dan Tynan article – When Should You Buy Your Child a Smartphone? – in a brief interview for one of our local news outlets. I was hoping they would post our segment online (like they sometimes do), but apparently different news days produce varying quantities of news output. 1

I like the advice Tynan gives in his column. Younger children should be phased in to technology access, kids don’t instinctively know how to use all phone features, and parental controls should be responsibly used. Nevertheless, there are a few items he left out of the equation.

Texting Child

The answer to the question in this post’s title varies from family to family, and from child to child. There is no one-size-fits-all solution. As parents help their children to navigate digital waters, they should bear each of these recommendations in mind:

  1. Regularly speak with your children about technology and how they use the Internet.
    - Ask specific questions about apps and the people with whom they interact.
  2. Work with your children to define the boundaries of inappropriate and appropriate conduct, content, and times and places for technology use. 2
    - Ask about how they react when they come across something inappropriate. If you’re not comfortable with their response, then they’re not ready for a smartphone.
    - Consider the example you’re setting for your child. Most children follow the example we set for them.
  3. Remember that safe and appropriate technology use is a process, not an event.
    - Kids will make mistakes and parents will make mistakes.
    - The best advice is to always work together as a family to ensure technology use strengthens family relationships.

While there may be some (in highly influential circles) who argue that kids should run wild online, the experienced parent knows that a guided and safeguarded path is often best. 3 Do many kids need more freedom than they currently have? Probably, yes. Will they best benefit from blind trust? Absolutely not.

Finding safety and balance, together as a family, is the best way to run.

Show 3 footnotes

  1. Translation: HDTV wasn’t real kind to this face.
  2. Typically, public schools focus teaching on how to keep kids safe online. Because the definition of “appropriate” can vary greatly from family to family, curriculum rarely sets such boundaries.
  3. Why put so much stock in the voice of one so inexperienced? See my comment to Ms. boyd at the end of her post.
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The Struggle Between Intrinsic and Extrinsic Motivators

I began the morning today reading Larry Cuban’s interesting comparison of the ideological differences of some teachers that use and don’t use Class Dojo. 1 In his post, Cuban discusses the intrinsic and extrinsic motivations students have for behaving the way they do, and cites a Lepper, Sethi, Dialdin, and Drake study (1997) that offers interesting insight in its culmination (see pages 44-45):

We come to learn to do things not only because they are fun or likely to lead to some immediate payoff, but because we have come to believe that we “ought” to do them, either to facilitate our own long-term goals (i.e., because it would be “good for” us) or to follow the norms of the group or the situation in which we find ourselves (i.e., because it seems the “right” thing to do).

I have struggled lately with the balance between intrinsic and extrinsic motivation, and can empathize with the value inherent to both. While there’s something to the accountability and measurability of extrinsic motivators, lasting change seems most common when rising from within. Alas, one of the original, pure struggles of teaching (and of managing teachers of teachers).

Aspiration Management

In a fit of interesting irony this morning, I immediately thereafter read Class Dojo’s announcement that they (we?) had reached an exciting milestone:

As of February 14th, 2014, teachers have given students over 1 billion pieces of feedback on ClassDojo. That’s 1,000,000,000 moments when teachers have recognized students for doing something wonderful!

Is this something teachers should celebrate? Absolutely. Schools would be far brighter places if more successes were recognized and celebrated than failures. PBIS, for the win. 2

Show 2 footnotes

  1. As a personal policy, I have ceased linking to any of Cuban’s work - regardless of quality – in my own form of protest. An odd type of extrinsic motivator, to be sure, but his continued, blatant disregard for the copyrights of others is simply inexcusable. As a teacher and example to others, he “ought” to behave better because it’s the “right” thing to do.
  2. Does your school implement PBIS in some form? A praise to reprimand ratio of 4:1 or higher is the goal our schools have set.
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