Thursday, May 29, 2014

Common Core: Please Read The Standards

Last night I was invited to take part in a panel on the Common Core State Standards for interested folks in Lake County. The inimitable Michelle Wood, Lake County Superintendent, organized the event which was attended by about 30 people. Our panel included Dennis Parman, Deputy Superintendent of Public Instruction, a couple of administrators, a couple of elementary teachers, a math expert, and a policymaker in addition to me.

The Common Core State Standards are attacked from the left and the right for different reasons, but notice how I phrase that: left and right. This education initiative has become politicized and as such, has suffered greatly and needlessly. It has become a pawn in political gaming even though most teachers know this much about the standards:
  • they are a set of skills; 
  • they are outcomes, not curriculum; 
  • they are high-level and encourage high-level thinking and communication; 
  • they are helping teachers strengthen their instructional practice; 
  • they provide consistency across states and across the state.
Another important feature, in my opinion, is the standards' integration with Indian Education for All (IEFA), our state's multicultural initiative. One of our missions as teachers is to teach students to think critically and independently; this is supported both by the Standards and by IEFA, which is often best addressed through the lens of multiple perspectives. In February I wrote this guest column for the Billings Gazette that explores this idea and the Montana Office of Public Instruction included my ideas in the following video for their series on the Common Core.

Here's a short video I put together for the #InMyClassroom campaign, showing Common Core in real classrooms across the nation. In it I demonstrate how I help students understand the Standards and apply them to their classroom work. 
Common misconceptions about the Common Core include the idea that they complicate teaching and learning, that they are a federal mandate, and that they remove local control from schools. All of these are false. 

At last night's symposium, one of the emerging themes was that concerned individuals ought to read the Common Core Standards for themselves. I've linked here to the Montana Common Core Standards for English Language Arts (choose the grade level that interests you). If individuals still have questions, they should talk to their schools' teachers and administrators. At my school you might even be able to talk to some students about them. The main point here is that people learn for themselves rather than swallowing what various media outlets or their favorite politician has to say about the Standards.

As a side note, one of the best parts of being on The Warrior Trail is the travel. Here is a picture I snapped from the car on the way home last night. 

Ninepipes. Flathead Reservation. Home.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Aloha and Mahalo!

Aloha! Last week I had the honor of attending the World Indigenous People's Conference on Education (WIPCE) in Honolulu on the island of O'ahu. I took my family for a surprise trip, but the purpose was to exchange ideas and learn more about indigenous cultures in other parts of the world.

The opening ceremonies lasted several hours on the first day at the Waikiki Shell, a large amphitheater. This picture shows one of the welcoming ceremonies of Polynesia.

After this, we had the opportunity to see the Hula Pahu. According to the WIPCE program, "the Hula Pahu is regarded as our most elevated dance genre and is performed today to esteem each of you as dignitaries, educators, participants, and attendees at this prestigious indigenous-focused conference.

"In keeping with the conference theme, the story of the high chief La'amaikahiki is recounted and transformed from narrative into dance. For Hawaiians, hula has become an important change agent for the perpetuation of our arts, our stories, our histories, and our heritage."

Here is a video of one minute of that dance.

During the workshops, I learned about a program of the Cherokee Nation Foundation which aims to prepare young Cherokee students for college success, starting early with Junior Achievement which teaches financial literacy. Moving into high school the Cherokee Scholars program encompasses academic challenge, mentoring, language, Cherokee history, and ACT prep work. It culminates in scholarship money to institutions of higher education. During the summer the Cherokee College Prep Institute is a five-day college readiness program that teaches 100 students personal finance, interview skills, essay-writing, and time management and also includes meeting with college recruiters. This Institute partners with 16 colleges and involves mentoring by college admissions personnel. The program also supports Native males in postsecondary institutions through various offices and organizations.

This made me think about Arlee's organizations; the summer institute sounds a lot like the college program I run, but I get just 5-8 students per year in that program. How can I boost enrollment - if only to 15 or 20? The college recruiters might be one answer. The ACT prep is also important, but we had that opportunity this year and no teachers wanted to teach the course. It sounds like the Cherokee Nation Foundation has a strong K-20 program and I think our community could learn from it.

In another workshop, I learned about a work of Hawaiian literature called La'ieikawai and the website this preservice teacher has created to help teachers integrate this traditional tale into a Common Core-based classroom. It was fascinating to hear about Hawaiian ideas such as kaona, the "hidden in the open" meaning feature of Hawaiian literature. Also the aloha 'aina, or love for the land, is something we certainly have in our local literatures.

Another workshop was about the Jay Treaty. There were many First Nations people from Canada at this conference, and it was a presentation about the implications of the treaty for both Canadians and Americans. The first activity was a discussion with our neighbors about what a treaty is, and what treaties mean. This, as some of you know, is one of my favorite topics! However, I found myself in a group of people with much more direct experience and so I got to learn from them.

My presentation with Hal Schmid of Kamehameha Schools was fabulous! We had about 50 people, mostly educators, in the tiny room to hear about multicultural approaches to teaching literature. I was able to show part of the Inside Anna's Classroom video and talk about working with students using manipulatives, discussion, and primary sources. The presenters all received a lei of kukui nuts.

Every person we encountered began with "aloha" and thanked us with "mahalo." I got a tiny glimpse in Hawaii of a vibrant, welcoming culture revitalizing their language and living their beliefs.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Keeping It Real with the Governor

My governor is so cool. That's all I have to say.

No, wait. My students are so cool too. Here's the story.

Governor Steve Bullock owed me a favor. Well, he didn't really owe me a favor but if the Governor tells you he owes you a favor, who are you to say he's wrong? So I let him make things right by spending 90 minutes with my class today.

First we took a tour of the Capitol led by a Montana Historical Society tour guide. She showed us much of the artwork in the building and provided historical facts. For example, I love the fact that our capitol building was the first in the nation to have electricity, plumbing, telephones and so on built into the structure rather than being retrofitted.

Next we were ushered into the Governor's meeting room where we taught him how to participate in a Socratic circle. He was interested in the students' ideas regarding college completion, early childhood education, and dropout prevention. He drew them in, and they responded. They asked him questions too.

After 10-15 minutes, we headed into the Governor's inner office to watch our videos on the same education topics: college completion, early childhood education, and dropout prevention. There is a secret door from the meeting room into this office. This office, as you can see, is where I left the feather.

After a group photo we hoofed it to the Governor's residence a few blocks away. The Governor led the way, stopping traffic and opening doors. We enjoyed pizza and pop and brownies and chat about himself and ourselves. Then he begged Eula to play a tune on the piano. Then he had another appointment so we all moved out, but not before students got some selfies with him! Here's the Missoulian article describing the whole day.

Arlee students absolutely REPRESENTED today! They were knowledgeable, mature, polite, respectful, engaging, and they clean up very nicely.

Just another day on the Warrior Trail.

Friday, May 9, 2014

Warrior Trail Comes Home

Tonight I had the pleasure of speaking to some teachers just finishing their first year of teaching. They had graduated from Salish Kootenai College last spring, and they were having a reunion dinner - which is a great idea by the way - to chat with their instructors and see how things were going.

Incidentally, the Warrior Trail took me home tonight, back to my reservation, and I even drove over the hill where the background picture was taken.

Designing a talk for those with a small amount of experience is tricky! I can't tell them all things about teaching which they wouldn't know, and I can't treat them like veteran teachers. I chose to make a talk around both things they already know and things they don't know.

Here's the top ten list I started with:

Top Ten Ways You Know You're Just Finishing Your First Year of Teaching:
10. You carefully planned a whole unit without realizing that testing/assemblies/sports would destroy said plans.
9. A student asked you a question you couldn’t answer.
8. A student asked you a question you couldn’t answer.
7. You watched veteran teachers handle problems…and you were insanely jealous.
6. You are pretty sure the principal asked you to do too much only because you were new.
5. You went home right after school once.
4. A parent or student said thank you and you got choked up.
3. A colleague told you they thought you were doing a good job and you got choked up.
2. You came away from at least one lesson, one day, knowing you nailed it.
1. You’re looking forward to next year already. You even have the new planner.

I found myself really wanting to talk about professionalism in teaching without lecturing the group. It was hard to walk that line. I gave some cautionary tales and talked about reasons to be professional: that doing so helps others see us respectfully, quashes some of the scapegoating, and sends a message that teachers are worthy. 
I also shared this inspiring 10-minute video of Arkansas Teacher of the Year Jonathan Crossley because I think it sends the message that even early-career teachers can make a positive, lasting impression on people. 

Finally, I repeated NTOY'99 Andy Baumgartner's comment that teaching success is measured by our willingness to suffer and sacrifice. This is true, but it's wrong. Teachers are warriors, and we shouldn't forget that or act any different from warriors.

Friday, May 2, 2014

A Perfect Day

Thursday, May 1, 2014 was one of the most exciting days of my life, and I'm thrilled to share it with you. The State Teachers of the Year left our hotel on the bus early in the day and landed at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, which is part of the White House complex. We went through the Secret Security process which involved looking us up in their computers. My ID was insufficient, apparently, and I had to recite some personal information. ...Montana...

We were at the EEOB for a meeting with Roberto Rodriguez, Special Assistant to the President for Education in the Domestic Policy Council and Cecilia Munoz, Assistant to the President and Director of the Domestic Policy Council. They served us lunch and asked for our input on a variety of topics, whatever we felt was important, really. 

Since there are 53 of us it was impossible to hear everyone's thoughts, so I found an opportunity to speak to Mr. Rodriguez after the forum about education in Indian Country. My message was really a reminder that it is crucial, when working with tribal communities, to build relationships first due to historically founded distrust of the federal government and the importance of partnerships in those communities. He was very receptive and shared that it is a priority of Secretary Duncan. Maybe when he visits my area in June some community members, educators, and I can meet with him?


After this forum, we were off to the White House. We were guided by staffers the whole way - every few feet there was someone saying, "right this way, please keep going, no more pictures!" Finally we were inside the state dining room. In this room hangs a portrait of Lincoln. You can walk from the dining room to the Red Room, Blue Room, and Green Room, and then into the East Room where the event would take place. Even though that day was gorgeous, the incredible rain of the previous two days made the Rose Garden too soggy to use. We did practice the line-up in the East Room once but had a long while to explore the four rooms plus the ladies' room where there were portraits of First Ladies. Apparently the men's room had books and swords. Hmm.

At one point our coordinator came running into the room to announce, "Hooray! He's in a good mood today!"

They didn't let me attach the feather to anything so I just held it there. The guy behind the podium is checking the microphones.

This is the view from the Blue Room toward the Washington Monument and the Jefferson Memorial.
Here is the line to meet the President. He is in the room past the red room, on the left, looking away.

Eventually it was time to line up. We had already practiced this, by height, so I was fifth from the end. Each of us had a card with our names and states. The Marines in attendance ensured that our names were printed correctly and they could pronounce them. As I approached the President in the Blue Room, Marines directed me: step here. Step here. There will be two flashes. After the second flash, step in and shake his hand.

The second flash went off, and I stepped in. The President of the United States shook my hand. The man announced my name and state. Mr. Obama said, "And what do you teach?" I said, "I teach high school English, on the Flathead Indian Reservation." He said, "Wonderful!" and we turned for the picture. One flash, two flashes. "Keep up the good work," he said as I exited the Blue Room. "Thank you, sir."

I handed my card to the announcer, who double-checked the pronunciation of my name, and then spoke it into his microphone. I walked into the East Room, filled with press, family, and friends. Here is a link to the announcements and ceremony

After the ceremony, we had a few moments to meet with our family members. They were then escorted out. After collecting our things from the dining room we walked right through the front doors of the White House. Here are a couple of victory shots of that experience.

Jon Quam, director of the National Teacher of the Year program, says we are the most exuberant group he's had. I don't know if that's true, but we certainly are close to each other. We had tshirts made and did a flash mob in Dupont Circle ... what an amazing way to cap off this experience!

I'd like to end this part of The Warrior Trail by showing you the statue and message in a little park directly across from the hotel. Those who know me well know that I revere Mahatma Gandhi. Everyone's personal philosophy is their own business, but I believe that teachers have entered a profession that requires us to embody our beliefs. Finding this statue with its message last night was the perfect end to a perfect week and the ideal send-off to go back to my class and community, and to live my message.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Celebration of Education

Today was all about education and celebrating teachers. It began with a trip to the US Department of Education where we were introduced to the Teach to Lead initiative. There is a conversation nationwide around teachers taking on various kinds of leadership roles within their districts. This work requires districts to be flexible and creative, administrators to be willing to give up some power, and teachers to take risks. But teacher leadership can be very fulfilling for some teachers. I found the conversations fascinating since I am an instructional coach half-time, and much of the discussion related directly to my experience. 

In small groups we provided feedback to ED staff. Also, Bill Mendoza, Executive Director of the White House Initiative on American Indian and Alaska Native Education, was in my group. We took a selfie and he mentioned that I should come to Pablo in June when the Secretary speaks at SKC commencement. This invitation figures into events later in the evening. 

In the evening the teachers and their guests dressed way past our normal level and headed into more driving rain to the US Institute of Peace for the gala. Just picture something from a movie...drinks handed out, a really excellent group of musicians playing, synchronized meal service. That was our life for a few hours. 

After Secretary Duncan spoke he was mobbed right behind my chair by people wanting to take photos. When I told him I was from Montana and said I thought he would be in my neighborhood shortly, he said yes! At the tribal college! I said, "That's just 30 minutes from my house and  Bill Mendoza indirectly invited me today." He said, "Of course, yes, we'll have to make sure you are there." Husband captured that conversation as well as the pose. 

Sean McComb was named National Teacher of the Year and gave a very touching talk. He will make a wonderful ambassador for educators nationwide this year, and I'm proud to know him personally. 

It was a day when teachers were heard and celebrated.