Friday, December 10, 2010

Chris Lehman and Robert N. Lee in a Dialog about Teachers

In a dialog that in and of itself is an argument for school unblocking Facebook to allow teachers to participate in this kind of thoughtful discourse, Philadelphia's Science Leadership Academy Principal Chris Lehmann posted to Facebook this morning a link to his "Practical Theory" blog post, "What We Should Remember."

Very worth reading, too, is the thoughtful and soul-searching response Facebook (not on the blog, so teachers in workplaces where Facebook is blocked will of course miss it) comment from Robert N. Lee. My heart goes out to him, especially since some of my own experiences as the parent of school-age children mirror some of his, with the qualification that they have not all been public school experiences. His depiction of some teachers as can't-do civil service hangers-on will rile many of my readers, but I'd defy them to prove that those teachers don't exist. On the other hand, I add my own belief that they are in the small minority. It's just that when one of those teacher's detrimental practices impact your own child, it doesn't matter how small that minority actually is, does it?

I surfed on over to read his post, and since Chris is a cherished member of my PLN and since I highly value the information he shares (information is the new currency of the new economy, of course), I read it carefully. He's a good writer, and his thoughts approximate some of my own musings over the past year. They're well-intentioned, personal, and almost confessional expressions of his belief that teachers' most important role is caregiver. I did take exception to his suggestion that distance learning cannot provide that "hand on their [students'] shoulder." Indeed, in the kind of Virtual Learning program, perhaps even Virtual "School" that I am helping to envision, design, and implement, that is an essential component. It's just how that will look that's still up in the air. If anyone knows of a program that "gets that right," I'm all ears. I suspect that Florida Virtual School does to a large degree, but I also suspect that other programs off my radar are making the effort to form strong caring relationships with their students. Comment here if you have one to suggest.

All that is to say that my travels today, part of our program's effort to establish and maintain relationships and support, took me to three public high schools to talk with four students and four counselors today. I'm actually in the waiting room at my last stop right now, waiting for the School Counselor to come from a "Student Exhibition" of his or her work over the last 9 weeks. That's a feature of the Nashville Big Picture High School, and another example of the innovative work going on in MNPS. At my first stop the overworked counselor dialed up the student, a 17 year old senior at home who should have graduated last year but is missing two credits, one of which he's taking via the district's A+ credit recovery program, online, and one of which he signed on to take from our program. I have no way to check his progress on the former, but I can say that he's not put in more than 6 minutes on the latter, despite repeated outreach efforts. He's given up. It's tragic. So close to that diploma, and so far away, as evidenced by his falling asleep while we were talking. I gave him a pep talk, made him repeat after me "I can do it," and we disconnected. Again.

At my 2nd stop, the first meeting was with a counselor and a student and the student's parent. It was truly inspirational. This student came into public high school in the ninth grade from homeschooling, has worked hard, and as a junior still just doesn't like school. She wants to graduate early and is willing to work at a superhuman level to do it. For her, that means taking not only a full course load at high school but also taking not one, not two, but four courses full time throughout the remainder of her school year. This could be problematic in that the student fell seriously off pace in the past couple weeks, so much so that we were alarmed. But guess what? She dug back in to her Econ and Government classwork and has all but completed it. Not only that, her parent is willing to pay for the extra courses next semester--she has that much confidence in her child's ability. We're going to weigh this one carefully, because we don't want to set the student up for failure, but we are also going to do everything we can to do what we do: "the next right thing for the student."

The next counselor and student were a breeze. This child has plowed successfully through her Economics course on pace, has just a couple more tasks to complete in it, and we scheduled her proctored final exam for Monday. That's the way it should work.

My final stop is to talk with a student who's taking Spanish and is seriously behind. His counselor emailed for instructions last week for proctoring his final exam, but I'm here to remind him personally that unless he finishes basically the final half of his coursework over this weekend he will have no final exam to take, since its unlocking is tied to completed coursework. Is it possible? Possibly. If not, there's an F in his future.

My point here is that we are working to support our students, we are refining our course offering introductions to make expectations clearer: We're actually looking at ways to pre-test for disposition to online learning, ways to build in support on the front-end. Sometime support means denying acceptance, doesn't it?

Just another reflection from a struggling learner.

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