The courage to be imperfect

“Creativity is allowing yourself to make mistakes.

Art is knowing which ones to keep.”

~Scott Adams

Educators and staff in my community start the new school year tomorrow. And as they do, there will be the usual pressure to be perfect. Perfect in pedagogy, perfect in understanding students, perfect in everything that has to do with school, in the finger-pointing education environment under which we teach and learn.

Does it seem as if somehow no one in public education is allowed a misstep?  I think so; and I think that toxic expectation of perfection can interfere with the art of teaching.

In teaching, there is an underlying expectation that all should go according to plan without stumbling or error. This is an unrealistic expectation, and it creates an environment of canned, scripted and safe lessons that do not necessarily serve students. Unrealistic expectations of flawless lessons create an impediment to teaching creatively.  As any experienced educator can attest, every day there will be moments when all goes smoothly, and moments when nothing does. This is to be expected. Teaching is an art filled with glorious highs and magnificent lows; sometimes this takes place within the same 60 minutes.

As you all return to school and to the important work of creating a community of learners, I urge you to embrace both creativity and the mistakes that are inevitable.

Do the research. Read professionally. Participate in discussions with colleagues. Take chances. Take advantage of opportunities for creativity in teaching and learning. Teaching is an art and you, my friends, are the creatives.

 

Lost in the shuffle

flipoutThe Lowell High School project is, without a doubt, the biggest thing going in Lowell. I mainly stay out of the discussions about siting this project, mainly because, aside from being a taxpayer, I have very little skin in the game – no children/grandchildren in the school system. I do have an opinion, however, that is not based on tradition or the often-cited “that’s the way we’ve always done it”. That is one of the advantages of being a Blowellian.

In my opinion, soliciting community support for this massive project has been ass-backwards from the start. My recollection is that, until there was some blowback from community groups like CBA and CMAA, there was very little effort to include all the stake-holders in the decision-making.  Did the rush to get the project in front of Mass. School Building for project approval preclude the necessity for a referendum vote on where to put the school? I think it has.

But while decisions and debate about where to put a new high school have become the focus point, there are other equally important issues that are getting pushed aside.  One of those issues is the inadequate school funding support coming from the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.

Thanks to cuts in the state budget and cuts coming from the Federal government, Lowell Public Schools needs to cut the previously approved 2018 budget by nearly $1 million.  At the last School Committee meeting, there was plenty of debate surrounding the cutting of positions. Some of those proposed cuts are positions that directly impact students.  The loss of anticipated Chapter 70 funding is somewhat complicated, but in my mind, these are the issues:

  • The lowering of  tax revenues at the State level has resulted in the need to make last second reductions in school budget line items.
  • The state’s budget and funding formula for Chapter 70 has not been fully funded (currently presumed to be underfunded by over $1 Billion) for many years.
  • Education funding formulae are based on 23-year old calculations. The Foundation Budget is is dire need of updating (see TracyN Foundation Analysis).
  • The continually increasing expenditures for charter schools.

Brockton, Worcester, and other gateway cities, those who are impacted most critically by Chapter 70 underfunding and under-calculations, have joined together in an attempt to force the Commonwealth to rectify Chapter 70 funding issues through a lawsuit to address the inequities of funding. Because of Lowell’s focus on the high school, the effort to fix the funding, and possibly get some relief for our local school budgeting, isn’t even a blip on the radar.

Yes, the high school facility and a building that will serve the students in this community is important, but it is not the only thing.

“Doing” Justice: More than just forms

Donalyn Miller recently tweeted about a recording sheet she uses for the 40 Book Challenge she not only “invented” but practices with her students in her classroom.  As I’ve recently added her book “The Book Whisperer” to the book study portion of a course I’ve developed, Donalyn’s tweet caught my attention:

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My curiosity over why Donalyn Miller would feel compelled to tweet an endorsement of  Debbie Ohi’s collection of forms led me to read this post from August 2014:  The 40 book Challenge Revisited.

Her point this:

… the original thinking behind an instructional idea becomes lost when it’s passed along like a game of Telephone. You heard about it from a 60-minute conference session. Your teammate attended a book study and she gave you the highlight reel. The teacher down the hall is doing something innovative. You should try it. We’ve all seen the quick adoption of shiny, new ideas without a full picture of how these concepts fit into best practices (or don’t).

I’ve frequently heard fellow educators reference that they are “doing” the Daily Five or the Daily CAFE. However, digging in a little deeper, misinformed yet well-intentioned educator’s idea of the “doing” is more likely to be incorporating some of the “centers” (sorry Gail and Joan, I know that’s not what you intended) or using some printable for students downloaded from one of the educator enterprise sites.

The Daily Five practice is based on developing a trusting relationship between learners and teacher. The development of this trusting relationship is every bit as important as the student activities.  A gradual release of responsibility leads to developing students independence and accountability.  Joan and Gail’s commitment to research and development of their own practice is the powerful glue that, in my opinion, holds the Daily Five and CAFE together. This becomes the basis for educator changes that lead to best practice.

Shiny new ideas are terrific, of course. That is the basis of being “green and growing”, as one of my former administrators used to say.  However, without fully understanding a method for management of teacher, the practice become so simplified that it often becomes just another tedious fill-in-the-blank task to keep students occupied.

 

And that, is not a best practice of any kind.

 

This wasn’t Mozart, and it ain’t no jungle

My favorite weekend of the year is always the last weekend in July. The Lowell Folk 2017-Jul-29_Folk-Festival-2017_1195_edited-1Festival – a free (!) and frenetic amalgam of music, food, and culture – is worth planning around, which is, exactly what we do.

2017-Jul-30_Lowell-Folk-Fest-2017_1323Over the 31 years that the festival has been here, it seems to me it has developed into a better and better version of itself. This year, with stellar weather, not too hot and most definitely not too humid, was one of the best.

The music is naturally one of the biggest draws. 2017-Jul-28_2017-LowellFolkFestival_1031Where else can you go to sample everything from Armenian to Zydeco? I mean that literally.  When we first started coming to the Festival, we would carefully plan out which bands to listen to, and that’s not a bad strategy, really. But what we’ve done in recent times is move from place to place listening to music that is not necessarily in our cultural comfort zone. Doing so has been a great way to get some exposure to music we wouldn’t necessarily listen to on Pandora or iTunes.  Great stuff.

 

Over the years, we’ve also come to appreciate Friday nights, the first night of Folk Festival. While the crowds and 2017-Jul-28_2017-LowellFolkFestival_1036excitement of Saturday and Sunday of Festival weekend are energetic, there is a different kind of vibe to Friday. There is a goodly amount of community pride when the 6:30 parade kicks off. Representing many – not all – of the cultures of Lowell, it causes this Blowellian to realize what a special community we have here in Lowell. The diverse cultures making up our community fabric is a great source of pride for all of us. Long-established cultures that immigrated here during the hey days of the mills or newer immigrant groups establishing homes – all were represented in the kick-off to the weekend. 2017-Jul-28_2017-LowellFolkFestival_1039

But there was a little something more this past Friday: there was a feeling of kind togetherness and consideration. A festival-goer, a stranger to me, insisted I take a cushion as I knelt down on the grass of Boarding House Park to photograph the parade. Random concert goers started up and 2017-Jul-28_2017-LowellFolkFestival_1100_edited-1carried on conversations, enjoying the music and the collegiality.  I think this shift in attitudes must have become contagious. One of the Park Rangers we spoke with on Sunday was delighted to point out his radio had been 2017-Jul-28_2017-LowellFolkFestival_1153very quiet all weekend because, in spite of large crowds, everyone was well-behaved.

An event of this size takes lots of organization and many, many dedicated volunteers – from fundraisers to recyclers to people who run the cameras for broadcast.  If you were at this year’s festival, you may have run into a few of them from the Bucket Brigade. 2017-Jul-28_2017-LowellFolkFestival_1111In order to put on a festival of this size, there is a huge financial commitment from community partnerships to donations large and small.  You can continue to donate to the Lowell Festival Foundation’s fundraising efforts and, in doing so, get ready for the next festival.

Next summer, on the last weekend of July, the dedicated volunteers and sponsors who organize Lowell Folk Festival will do it all again for the 32nd time.  I know where I will be, and I hope you’ll join in the fun too.

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