Posted on March 31, 2023
What if there was nothing called school until today? What if the concept of formal education never existed until right now? Would we create a system that has evolved to its current state in the year 2023? I think it’s easy to answer the last question and more difficult to answer the first two. But my point is that the system of formal education that exists in 2023 is the product of an evolution of ideas over the past 200 or so years that were designed to serve various purposes at various times. And I’m sure that no time needs to be devoted here to rehash these advancements or lack thereof and explain how we got to where we are at today. The very basic and simple point is that the system that we currently have is highly ineffective given the needs of current learners.
I would actually argue that the system that’s been in place for most of the past 100 years was highly ineffective at meeting the needs of learners during most of that time. But I’ll return to the question and my original point. What if we could design a system of education right now based on the ways that we know people learn, their needs, and the current and future technology that’s available to us? I hope the created system would look almost nothing like we have. The truth is that this system will not change much because changing this system is mostly impossible. That’s hard to admit for someone who is most interested in educational change but a quick review of reform efforts over the past 100 years reveals little to no change in any discernable way.
So if we can’t change the current system what are we to do? I believe the answer to solving the problems created by the inadequacies of the current system requires that a new system be created. I don’t think we need to make small incremental changes over time to fix the existing small problems. The problems are huge and they’re not going away. Our system is focused on achieving the wrong goals and uses the worst possible methods to attempt to achieve those misguided goals. The answer is to start fresh. We must create a new system that is nothing like what we have. We shouldn’t even call this new system school because if we do people will bend it back to being too much like what school is and school is BROKEN. I’ll devote some future posts to imagining what this new formal education system could be and how I believe it could be achieved. A brighter future for education is possible if we’re able to let go and create anew. Not everyone will be able to do this and many will cling to the system of the past. That’s ok and they can have it. I will continue to work toward the future and see what is possible for the young people of today who deserve so much more from their educational system in order to be prepared for the challenges of tomorrow.
Maverick Teaching – Close Your Door and Teach
Posted on March 31, 2023 Leave a Comment
A few years into my teaching career I met up with a former professor of mine. She was largely responsible for inspiring me to continue on the path to becoming a teacher. However, over the first few years in the classroom, the subtle comments from colleagues and administrators managed to push aside the inspirational messages that my old professor had sent me out into the world. When I met her she of course asked how my teaching was going and I responded with what I thought was a very typical message. I told her how it was so hard to teach with the standards constantly being discussed. I went on about how the fun had left the profession and I was now required to focus only on a test that the students didn’t care about. Hopefully, I didn’t talk about how the job had changed and it used to be so much better because I had only been at it for a few years but that’s usually the part that comes next.
I will never forget the somewhat puzzled look on my professor’s face as I described my challenges in the classroom. It was most likely a look of disappointment but I hope it was not because I would hate to disappoint her. But she was undoubtedly ready to continue teaching me as she began her response. She told me to remember that she taught me to close my door and teach. She taught me that I was in control of what happened between those four walls and that as long as I did what was best for my students nobody would ever care or know. She asked me how the standards had changed what I had to do daily. She asked who was watching me daily to tell me that I had to teach differently because of standards or a test. I had to think for some time but the answer was that nothing had changed and my classroom was still my own. There is a place with no more freedom in all of education than inside the four walls of a single teacher’s room. It is your own and you are the professional charged to do what is best for your students. The message that I received that day has stuck with me for a lifetime. And the message is simple. Teachers just have to close their doors and teach.
The outside world will change by the decade, year, or even the day. Administrators and policies will come and go. But Maverick Teachers are charged with the mission to best prepare themselves to do what is best for their students every single day. Teachers must be confident to build their skills to the point where they build the classroom that they always wanted to have, not one that someone else tells them that they should have. The concept of closing your door and teaching does enable you to do whatever you want. It actually will challenge you to become the very best educator that you can be as you pursue the methods and practices that best match your style and the education that students need. This blog will continue to present the best ways that like-minded teachers can become Mavericks and teach in inspirational ways. The first step of the process is to free yourself of the distractions and excuses that seem to plague most teachers at one time or another. You just need to close your door and teach and you have permission to do so! Next, you must be confident in the ways that you’ll go your own way within your own room.
Posted on March 30, 2023
The term Maverick has an interesting ring to it. A Maverick is simply defined as an individual who does not go along with the group. So why am I focused here on the term Maverick Teaching? This is a concept that I’ve been thinking about for some time and practicing in one form or another for over 20 years. A Maverick Teacher recognizes that the system in which they function is flawed and sets out to do their best for students and the system from within. If this sounds familiar to what you’ve done or thought about doing at any point in your education career then it’s safe to continue. But if you believe the system in which you’re currently functioning is working best for your students and puts you in the position to do what you’ve been called to do then it’s best to stop here and focus on something else. Because without an understanding that the education system is flawed and individuals from within are necessary to drive real change for real students right now future focus on this concept is mainly irrelevant.
It’s counterintuitive and perhaps dangerous for anyone within a system to say that the system is flawed and set out to change it from within. However, I’ve come to the belief that if Mavericks from within the system are not able to unite and work collectively for change then no change will occur. The system will not change from the top down because there is no motivation from the top to change. But there exists a collective group of educators from across the country who recognize that something different is drastically needed and who have been working their entire lives to realize that different and better system not for themselves but for the students who they serve.
So the concept of the Maverick Teacher will evolve here as I work to define what Mavericks in education do and can do in the future to build a system that works for each individual student and realizes the power of education. Future posts will begin to outline and define the concept as I hope to assist like-minded individuals in their own professional and personal journeys to make a difference.
School and Running
Posted on May 6, 2021
School always seems like it misses the mark to me. We’ve built a huge infrastructure to educate children and it doesn’t do what we need it to do. But, this system does do what it’s designed to do. The problem is simply that the design and the structure have chosen the wrong target and severely limited their capabilities in the process.
I’ll present this idea by using a metaphor. Imagine that instead of educating children, schools were charged with training children to run. The job of school is to get everyone to run. Well there are a lot of students with a lot of abilities and a lot of goals. Some students are great at sprinting and some are great at running long distances. Some can barely walk and some even hate to run. But the job of this school is to teach running. It’s impractical to teach all students how to run all ways so the school decides to focus on 5 k running. That’s a nice distance somewhere in the middle of everything and should get everyone to run.
Now somewhere along the way someone asks why kids even need to run but that question is dismissed as crazy talk. The school goes on to focus all of their efforts on training students to run a 5k. Everything that is done is focused on the best ways to run a 5k and that’s the entire focus. All students run everyday to run that race. The school is even so focused on the 5k that they creat a huge 5k race at the end of the year to see how each student performs. The student’s times are recorded and reported.
The fact that some students hate to run and some want to run marathons and some want to run up a mountain instead of on flat ground are all of little concern to the school. The focus becomes the 5k time instead of the people running the race. And we haven’t even talked about the ways that nutrition and motivation and mental preparation relate to being a good runner. After all, there’s not enough time for everything when you’re trying to teach hundreds of kids to run a race.
I hope you get my point here. Our system is off the mark. It’s so far off the mark that most of the time we aren’t even having the right conversations about what needs to be changed.
I do wish that our system would allow for all students to choose their race and become great at running it. But I’m afraid that we will continue to focus only on that 5k and continue to wonder why everyone isn’t great at it.
Because we care
Posted on April 29, 2021
Trust and care are demonstrated, not said. Almost anyone can say that they care about someone else. However, there’s a very far space between someone saying it’s true and having the other person feel that it’s true. Research tells us that most teachers say that they care about their students and believe that their students know that they care about them. But that same research also tells us that the students do not indicate that their teachers care about them. There’s a disconnect that can only be explained through actions.
To care about a student is to show them that they are cared about. You can tell them that you care but those words are just words. Care must be demonstrated every day for every student. Today, I boy came into my room during second period and asked me for snacks because he was really hungry. This was the third time that he had asked me for something to eat. The first two times I told him I was sorry because I didn’t have anything. After the third time which was today, I guess I finally realized that this boy has hungry and needed to be fed. I called to the cafeteria and then sked them to make up a bag of food for him. I then left my class, walked to the cafeteria, and got the bag for him and delivered it. This little example of something that just happened today is so small and seams so insignificant. However, I bet that boy knows I care about him because I did that. And, I bet I took one more step toward establishing a positive relationship with him.
Most of the time demonstrating care is just doing the right thing. But we must actively demonstrate care each chance that we get for our students to feel it and then benefit from it.
The First Day of School (and every day after)
Posted on April 22, 2021
The goal of working with students is to build positive relationships with students so that the they know that you care about them and that you are trustworthy. And, after this positive relationship has been established students will behave better and ultimately perform better academically. The first thing people usually say when they hear about this approach is that they don’t have enough time for all that. They have to cover from A to Z before the end of the school year and there just isn’t enough time for any type of relational approach. I’ve heard this a lot of times and my answer is always the same. If you don’t take the time to build a positive relationship the A to Z stuff is never ever going to matter because you’re never going to get to it. A certain percentage of students are never going to care about the things that you’re trying to teach them unless they know that you care and can be trusted. You might be thinking yeah that sounds good, but… Forget the but. There is no but. Your class, whatever you’re teaching is about the students and not about the content. I know this is really hard for some people to accept but there’s no other way to put it. Your class exists for the students and it’s definitely not the other way around. You need to always focus on the people first and the content will follow. You can definitely reverse the order but you are also definitely always going to have a certain number of students who don’t come along for the ride. And, those students will not only harm themselves but will also do hard to everything else that you’re trying to do while you’re focused on your content.
So what does a classroom look like that focuses first on people and second on content? It starts and ends with people. From the first day of school you are focused on the people. If you want your students to know that you care about them you first need to know who they are, where they’re coming from, and what makes them tick. To do this the first day of school does not start with page 1. And, it definitely doesn’t start with a list of 25 rules or expectations. Rules and expectations will be a whole nother topic for another day. From the first day of school to the last you are working on building positive relationships. So the first day of school looks like you getting personal with your students. Who are you? Why are you standing in front of them? And, why should they care what you have to say? And I’m not talking about the fact that you have 45 years of experience and 17 advanced degrees. I’m talking about the stuff that makes you tick. So introduce yourself to your students and let them know who you are. Then, let them know that they can trust you and that you care about them. If you want to try something fun tell a student that you care about him or her the first time that you meet. You will see some strange expressions but you will also let people know exactly where you’re standing. I always say something similar to this on the first day of school:
” I care about you and the only reason I’m here is because of you. I will never yell at you or treat you in a way that disrespects you as a person. You can always count on me to do my best for you in this room and anywhere else you see me for the rest of your life.”
It’s a little corny, maybe, but it’s honest. And then after you talk about yourself for a couple of minutes you can quickly move on to the students. You can do an entire week or two of icebreakers and team-building activities. As you do these you are getting to know each and every student in a deeper way than you could in months of not doing them. And then, after everyone in the class is really familiar with each other you can move on to whatever stuff you want to teach them.
This sets the class up for being about people and not stuff. And then after the first day or the first week, once you’re teaching content, it’s still always about people. Maybe you have more projects and more hands-on learning. Maybe you are almost never at your desk. Maybe if there is time where students are working you’re up talking to them. And then this model doesn’t stop and it becomes what you do every class of every day. Your students will soon realize that you’re teaching them the stuff because you care about them. And, before you know it, they will want to do the stuff as a result of the relationship that you have built.
To remember this strategy just remember this very eloquently written line: It’s about people and not stuff.
Teaching the Most Difficult Students
Posted on April 21, 2021
In a previous post, I Don’t Want to Be Taught, I wrote about reaching students who don’t seem to want to comply and learn. Well that was just on the surface and there’s so much more to the process than just a few simple steps. So if you’re on board with wanting to try and reach those very hard to reach students, this is the place to be. Each day I will try and go through another step of the process. Each step is based on my own research and experience. I’m not someone sitting somewhere writing articles about something that I’ve never done, and I’m also not a practitioner who has never added the empirical research to my own experiences. Hopefully these steps help. And if they help just one teacher or just one student, I’ve made a difference which is really what counts. And here’s a really important thing to remember; nobody has all the answers. I’ve worked with a lot of students and hopefully made some good, but I’m not perfect. We are dealing with real people and if anybody tells you that they can reach everyone they’re not being truthful. But, just because nobody can reach everyone doesn’t mean that it’s not worth trying. The people who I’ve really connected with in education are those who are up for the challenge and really desire to help those who need it the most.
Remember that some students would get to where they’re going without teachers or the hard work that they do. But other students won’t get to where they should get to without the very hard work that teachers can do to get them there. And like I’ve said before, this is very hard work and it’s not easy. But I know that there are many teachers out who very much want to help students who could be getting so much more from school and it is for those people who I’m writing these tips.
The Game is the Game
Posted on April 19, 2021
In The Wire, Omar once said, “the game is out there and it’s either play or get played.” I’m quoting The Wire and not some academic educational journal because The Wire is awesome and does a great job of describing life. If you haven’t seen The Wire, go watch it. But even if you haven’t seen it, Omar’s words are still true. He’s talking about selling illegal drugs and I’ll be talking about school but they’re all the same. Now it pains me to describe school as a game but I know that it is and if you’re honest, you know that it is too. My school, the school that I would create in my perfect world, would be nothing like a game and you couldn’t game the system. But real school, the school that exists in this imperfect world is very much a game, and if we can be honest with ourselves and see it as a game we can help students win.
The students I’m focusing on here are those students who aren’t successful. I don’t need to focus on the ones who are successful because they already know that school is a game, they play by the rules, and they want to win. The students who aren’t successful either don’t know that it’s a game, don’t know or play by the rules, or don’t want to win. To help someone become successful at school who is not currently, you need to figure out which one of these things is a problem and help him or her get the picture and move on. Below I will address each individually.
- They don’t know that school is a game
Successful students know that school is a game. I’ll prove it to you. When a successful student walks into a class on the first day they want to know what the rules are and what they need to do to win. These students want the syllabus right now. They want to go through that syllabus and see how they’ll be graded and what they are going to have to do to get an A. Now notice that they aren’t going through the syllabus to see what they will learn. Finding out what they will learn is irrelevant. Every course is the same with slightly different rules and the content doesn’t really matter. What matters is the game. What matters is how each teacher approaches the game. I hate this about school. And, most of the time I hate school. But I can’t change school. I’m just trying to help kids and if they are to be successful, we need to tell them that they’re playing a game.
Action Step: Tell students that they’re playing a game
2. They don’t know or play by the rules
So we have the student that knows that the game is the game and wants to know the rules right up front. Once they know the rules, they are good and they’re ready to start playing. But what does the student who doesn’t know that they’re playing a game look like? They’re sitting out there in their seat doing there thing. They’re there. They may or may not know why they’re there and they will probably do what is asked of them, but they don’t really know what’s up. Even if they learn, and learn a lot, their grade might not be great because they aren’t going to know or play by all the rules to make sure their learning corresponds to their grade. And, even if the teacher is great, the grade isn’t going to be great if the student doesn’t take ownership of the game and make sure the rules are followed.
Not knowing that the game is the game is one thing. But the other problem is that some students might know the game is the game and just not care about playing by the rules. You know that these students look like too. They might be really intelligent but they’re not interested in the game because it doesn’t really give them what they want. These students might go out of there way to mess with the game because they don’t like it. They’re going to get detention and suspended and aren’t going to have great grades because the game isn’t for them. They have probably tried to play the game somewhere along the line and weren’t successful. If school were something like football they would just quit and not be on the team anymore. But they can’t quit school so they’re still sitting out in that chair.
Action step : Teach the rules of the game
3. They don’t want to win
Have you ever watched someone play a sport or game or doesn’t care about winning? It’s awful and painful. If you’ve ever played a sport or a game with someone who doesn’t care a bit about winning they also ruin the experience for everyone else involved. Well, guess what? Students who don’t care about winning the game ruin the experience for themselves and the students and teachers around them. I’ve already said I mostly hate the game but I can also find the good and value in it when it’s played correctly. Those who don’t care about winning at all have not shot. They have to care about winning the game if they’re going to be successful and win.
Action step: Make them want to win
That was quick and there are a lot of unanswered questions. Each reason and each action step is probably it’s own post and I’ll get there. For now, the game is the game. Students need to know they’re playing the game, they need to know that the rules are, and they need to want to win.
I don’t Want to be Taught
Posted on April 16, 2021
There are some students who are very hard to teach, right? But notice that I did not write that there are some students who are impossible to teach. And, even though it’s very hard to teach some, it must be done because if it’s not, the alternative is just not good. I’ve spent most of my life working very hard to learn how to teach those students who others just don’t seem to be able to reach. This is really hard work. It’s so hard that most people don’t want to do it. But, notice again that I didn’t say that they can’t do it, but instead that they don’t want to do it. It’s possible and I know that it is because I live it everyday. Below is a brief explanation of how this works for me and how it can work for others who are willing to try. And, if you’re searching for ways to reach those students who just don’t seem reachable, you’re already in the right place because you care. I definitely don’t have all the answers and I definitely have more room to grow but what’s below might be the start of a journey that could transform the way you think about some students and more importantly, transform the life of a student.
Start with the belief that students should generally listen to their teachers and do what they’re told. Most likely, teachers are accustomed to this structure because they listened to their teachers and did what they were told. And, most likely, those same teachers were taught by their parents to listen and do what they were told. Parents are our primary attachment figures and provide care, love, and warmth. Above all else, they can be trusted and model what a caring relationship looks like.
Now, move to the understanding that students who do not listen and comply have not been taught to do so. However, it is not simply the absence of proper teaching that is the issue. The student who is defiant most likely has experienced a lack of proper primary attachment relationships in his or her life. They have not had the proper modeling of what a good caring and trusting relationship looks like. Actually, this lack of a primary attachment relationship negatively influences all future relationships.
A teacher who experiences defiant behavior must understand that the behavior is not about them. The behavior is instead about past relationships and a lack of trust in future relationships.
So, let’s consider a question about when a defiant student disrupts a class:
What reason does the student have to listen to me?
Pay careful attention to this question. It is not:
What was the reason that the student did not listen to me?
The hard truth is that the student will not listen to the teacher or anyone else whom they do not trust. He or she has been taught through learned experiences not to trust anyone. Pause here to think about that statement. The student’s behavior is not about the teacher and it is not personal. Instead, the entire experience of the student is validating the belief that nobody can be trusted and everyone is similar to the failed primary attachment caregiver.
Finding a Solution
So, what then is the solution?
The solution, unfortunately, is easy to write and difficult to do, but it can and must be done. The question of what reason does the student have to listen to me must be answered. The teacher must provide the reason that he or she is worthy of the respect that is afforded to someone who is able to direct behavior.
The teacher must UNCONDITIONALLY demonstrate care for the student. No matter what, through the most difficult of times, the student must feel the warmth and care from the teacher. This is much deeper than believing that one cares for another. The student must experience that care every day and it can never go away.
The teacher must demonstrate trust at all times. The teacher can never become like every other failed relationship that the student has encountered. He or she must be a steady, unwavering force that is always there for the student through good times and bad. And, be sure, there will be bad times and that is when the teacher must be trusted to not prove themselves to be like everyone else.
Remember that the teacher is in control of the relationship. The teacher is almost never required to do what someone else thinks should be done. Those actions simply lead to the continuation of the cycle which we are trying to break. The teacher builds relational capital which eventually allows for a caring, trusting relationship to be established.
Remember that the student will continually test this relationship, possibly forever. The test is much more about past failed relationships than it is about current actions. The teacher must never perceive these tests as personal attacks. The student will always provide tests and they must always be answered with unconditional care and trust. No matter what the teacher is committed to the student because nobody else ever has been. The advantage here is that as the teacher, you know these tests are coming. And, you know they’re coming because I’m telling you that they’re coming. I have never worked with a student who did not provide tests. There is one key and that is to anticipate the tests and then know that when they come that you’re reaction will not negatively impact the relationship that you have worked so hard to establish.
You need to be different because being the same doesn’t work. You can know this is true because your current behavior isn’t working. The only option is to change and be different if you want to have different results. You can not do it like everyone else because everyone else has failed. This will be the most difficult step of this process for many. You are functioning in a system that implies that you should treat certain students in a certain way. There will be pressure and there will be comments and a few sideways glances. Trust me about this too because those glances come my way often. But, as a teacher who cares, you must ask what you are willing to do to be different and positively impact someone’s life. This answer may surprise you and really might lead to more problems in your life because you just might find yourself taking on more work than you anticipated.
The basic approach is known as relational discipline. Take comfort in this term because if you choose to adopt this approach, others will question you and believe that you are not properly disciplining students. But what is considered to be proper discipline will never work because defiance is not about behavior that all traditional discipline focuses on. Defiant behavior is about attachment, care, and trust and relational discipline is a proven, effective, and difficult way to address such actions. What if you could become that teacher who can teach anyone? Every teacher wants to teach every student. And, every teacher might have the ability to do so if they are able to change their thinking and behaviors.
Teaching and Covid
Posted on December 14, 2020
eaching and learning are social endeavours. You can’t teach without others. And, it is also very difficult to learn without others. For many, myself included, changes brought be COVID 19 have completely upended the way that teaching and learning function. But I think it is important to realize the ways beyond the obvious that both have been altered. I have been teaching for over 18 years. And, for each of those years the experience was always similar and familiar. The content that I taught changed and the methods and strategies that I employed changed greatly but rarely if ever was the simple structure of me being with my students in a room for 180 days ever altered. That is, until March of 2020 when almost everything with school and life in general was upended. My own school attempted to get back to “normal” in the Fall of 2020 but, as we know by now, nothing has the ability to be normal in 2020 and we are currently stuck in some awful place between what school was and what school could become. And I may write later about why this is and how it could be changed and improved, but for today, I want to focus on how this upheaval to education has impacted me personally and potentially millions of teachers across the country.
A few weeks ago, I believe out of sheer necessity, the school district where I worked transitioned to a fully remote education model. For the first time ever I have come into my classroom each day and I see nobody. I see no other students. I see no other teachers unless I deliver myself to their classrooms which I am most often afraid to do because the transmission rate of COVID 19 is currently at alarming levels in my area. I see no administrators. I come to school each day and I sit in a box. I have tried very hard to deliver the content of my courses, which I have altered almost completely due to the necessities of transitioning to a hands-on-content to a virtual environment. I have made videos of myself. I have hosted live Microsoft Teams meetings (which is like zoom but school-district approved or something) that some students have found their way into. I have tried to give very structured and graded assignments. I have tried to give very free and optional assignments. I have emailed students and parents. I have called students and parents. And still, despite all of these things, I have failed in my attempt to connect with my students.
So here I sit in my brick box that was built to house a teacher like me and students who are currently at home. And I’m alone. People who don’t teach probably don’t understand how I feel right now. And, maybe even some people who do teach don’t understand how I feel right now. But all of those students who I have tried very hard to help for 18 years are out there somewhere right now and I can’t reach them. Maybe I can’t even reach myself because I am trying very hard to make this new school work for my students and for me. But the truth is that it is not working. It is definitely not working for me because it isn’t working for them. There are solutions to these problems because there are solutions to every problem, but those solutions won’t change how I feel today. Today I am disconnected from my students, my colleagues, my administrators, and maybe part of society.
So I will try to do better in connecting with that world that used to exist for me and one that will hopefully come again. I think the best thing to do right now for me, and probably for a lot of teachers, is I am going to focus on myself and trying to find ways that I can stay healthy and happy as I also search for ways to help my students. And maybe our students need to do that to. As I stated at the beginning of this, learning is a social process. But learning is also very personal. Students must find it within themselves to take responsibility for their own learning and their own lives and navigate through this difficult time . The major difference here is that for the first time for them, they do not have teachers in front of them daily helping them to do that. I will continue to search for solutions and work on my own journey to becoming a quality post-Covid 19 teacher, but today, and think I’m a far way away from what that is.