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March 25, 2018 - March 31, 2018

Thoughts on Trump, Literacy Coaching, and Writing for My GIS

Like usual, I couldn't be more disturbed about the incompetence going on in Washington. I've been reading this book by Kurt Eichenwald about Enron and why it failed, and so many of the people at the top of that organization had no business working with large sums of money and creating financial vehicles like hedge funds. They had no business buying up water utilities and shuffling funds around. This compares to the Trump administration in a bunch of frightening ways, and I am tired of just watching the train wreck in slow motion. Some nights after reading in that book, it's hard to sleep well. And then I wake up in the morning and turn on the news, and Trump has already been up since before dawn making a fool of himself and taking the entire country along on his weird little ride.

My theories about incompetence isn't confined to politics; I'm worrying about other places too. When you are depending on your leadership to make good choices (because it's like you are on a bus careening down a dangerous mountain with a bunch of other helpless people when you are subject to the decisions of an incompetent team), your life is on a kind of holding pattern, like at an airport. For example, I went on an interesting job interview last year. The school was in a tough neighborhood and the principal was young and inexperienced. Honestly, she looked like she was just out of high school, and she even had a squeaky little voice to go along with her tiny, young appearance. She had the campus instructional coach sit in the interview, and at the time I didn't see anything wrong with that. And then in January of this year, I read an entire text book on coaching. It turns out that the instructional coach should never chime in on personnel decisions because that interferes with the trust that is needed between the teacher and the coach. The student's success in the classroom should be the goal of coaching, not deciding which teachers should win or lose during hiring season. To help students succeed, the coach has to be trustworthy and ethical so the teacher can feel comfortable asking questions and demonstrating teaching methods in the classroom. The coach is suppose to support the teacher in an objective and professional way. A coach that is critical and unethical, willing to gossip, or seek power over an individual's employment, is unworthy of the position. Coaches should never verbally abuse a teacher or make hateful and derogatory comments either, but most of us in education have seen this kind of unprofessional conduct at least once. 

But my answer on that day was pretty blunt. I told them that I respected credentials and experience, and that I was hoping to work with a team that had a campus wide learning strategy. But in some ways just relying on a person's credentials or education is an invitation to open Pandora's box because as soon as someone thinks that his or her terminal degree means it's okay to stop learning from colleagues, then the department or institution is limited to something that may not be what it appears, similar to Enron's CFO, Andy Fastow. So, if a team is looking up to someone that is believed to have all-encompassing knowledge, overloading this person's ego with decision making power or influence, and grooming them to serve at the top, then the institution will never know what it has been missing in the way of growth or innovation because it has chosen to overlook other perspectives. When an organization centers its attention on a particular individual, and relies on that individual as a source of guidance or constant advice, then the organization threatens its very existence because of this insulating factor. It's important to listen to every voice. Let's take a look at the relationship between Ken Lay, CEO of Enron, and Andy Fastow, the CFO. Anything that Andy did or said was supported by Ken Lay, and it took a string of whistle blowers and mini-disasters, and finally a major disaster, to get anyone outside of the company to believe that the entire organization was near financial collapse. It was basic incompetence 101 that brought Enron to its knees after years of mismanagement, and the fact that Lay was enthralled with an erroneous idea and image of Andy Fastow. 

This is why I have been thinking about writing some ideas about literacy coaching into my GIS. The way we do education in this country does need some revamping, but the reforms that have been tried so far have done nothing but harm students and teachers. Maybe if more teachers were encouraged to take advanced coursework this would help with student achievement. But ignoring professionalism has done nothing to improve outcomes, and just allowing anybody to coach, teach, or lead a school, is just as crazy as relying on a perceived guru. When I say ignoring professionalism, I think of the instructional coach example.

My first instructional coach has since retired, but I met her one night last fall on a moonlit bike trail. It was the strangest way to meet back up again, and I was so happy to see her. She had so much to offer me back at my old school in the way of knowledge and expertise, but she had no clue about the actual learning environment between her visits because all she was ever shown was numbers and data, so she was unsure of how to guide any of her teachers on that campus (an example of how misguided leadership can hurt kids). But our conversation was tinged with sadness since we both already knew from watching the news that my old school is in its seventh year of "improvement required," and will soon be closed, proving in general that drastic reform strategies fail our kids. 

Anyway, my GIS is my capstone course for my master's degree, and I want to expand on how standardized testing has affected student writing. I've already done some work in this area in previous courses, but I would like to offer some solutions on how to mitigate the classroom tragedies that are taking place everyday in public schools everywhere. I know that the emphasis on writing to an examination has overshadowed the creation of student writers per se. The drill and kill method of grammar instruction is once again overshadowing the more effective literature based method. Standardized tests cater to a certain demographic, and the writing prompts are evidence of this. I know that I can't change policies, but one voice at a time can help one child at a time. I hope that what I learn from my capstone course will help me become a better teacher.

Vogt, MaryEllen, et al. Reading Specialists and Literacy Coaches in the Real World. 2nd. ed., Boston, Pearson/Allyn & Bacon, 2007.

Eichenwald, Kurt. Conspiracy of Fools: A True Story. New York, Broadway Books, 2005.

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