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Randy Speck

Superintendent , Madison District Public Schools

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For 2012, what 3 things should schools focus on for students?

Schools around the world are trying to determine the secret to a successful school and more importantly, an engaged student. But many schools get bogged in the mire of bureaucratic policies that make the teaching of students an even more complicated one.

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    Jan 5 2012: First, thank you for answering my request. The classroom you are looking for IS the exception not the norm. The teachers that will make it work will have the intrinsic desires. In the public system the advent of the new system would be very contraversial if not allowed. The test group could occur in a private or charter environment or possably a magnet school. I attended a Lab high at Illinois Stae Normal Univ and that would be a perfect environment.

    The way you frame your next conversation will limit the range of answers. The best in public schools would not be the same answer as the best in private nor would that match the answer for charter. When you say "expand the box" I read public education. How about starting a parent group at your school called Bridge Builders or something acceptable and have them make suggestions in the school direction. There are few avenues for parents to get involved. This group would make them feel like a real part of the future rather than a tool only called for errands. If they interact with the administration (you) they will feel at part of the solution. Remember the PTA when we were young. Everyone came to meetings. We need something to draw parents like that did. The answer to many of the questions is parent pressure to the board, the lawmakers, etc ... Lets maker sure they are on our side.

    I look forward to your next conversation. Best of luck.
  • Jan 4 2012: I know that it sounds like silly, but schools need to let the students loose.
    All of the students are sick and tired of doing what schools say.
    Teachers also have to admit the fact that they are not perfect enough to teach their students--no offence to teachers I love teachers.

    Even though it sounds like a naive idea,
    wIth modest attitude, rather than forcing students to do what the teachers want them to do, the teachers need to give them a free and let them find the values of learning just by themselves.
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    Jan 4 2012: Randy, As I stated in my first post I cheated and had more that three. Well here are some more for your thought:

    Instill motivators

    AUTONOMY - The urge to direct our own lives

    MASTERY - The desire to get better and better at something that matters

    PURPOSE - The yearning to do what we do as a part of a larger goal.

    We accomplish this by using intrinsic motivators VS extrinsic motivators

    EXTRINSIC MOTIVATORS - Rewards (Carrots) and sticks (punishment). These are 20thy century
    motivation tools that are good for mechanical skills

    INTRINSIC MOTIVATORS - Use of cognitive skills (meets 21st century needs) It matters, we like it,
    interesting, part of something important.

    SELF DIRECTION - Inspires engagement and satisfaction

    As this conversation ends in two days could I ask for a summary of how this has influenced your thinking.
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      Jan 5 2012: Robert,

      What is interesting about this conversation is the range in which the discussion can go. My ideas about what the "perfect classroom" could look like (might be my next TED question) are unfortunately bound by the education box I allow myself to be in. The system doesn't account for motivators such as "autonomy", "mastery", "self-direction" and "purpose." Those ideals often become the exception rather than the norm. As a building principal, I can teach and instruct my staff on the points you describe, but it takes a teacher's intrinsic desire to push for those ideals.

      As I look at the overall conversation, it affirms to me the direction I want to lead in education. The constant battle is how to expand the box.
  • Jan 1 2012: Oh Teachers ! May I be able able to face life with ingenuity that the uneducated posses, continue to love to learn more about doing what I love to do and yet be equipped with all that has to be taught.
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    Dec 31 2011: 1. Teach how to participate in the learning process.
    2. Teach the life-long value of the learning process.
    3. Teach nothing subjective.
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    Dec 31 2011: "Good teaching cannot be reduced to a technique. Good teaching comes from the identity and integrity of the teacher"

    Schools are just one small part of a child's overall life experience. In my experience, the school with loving teachers, involved parents, and an administrator who is interested in teaching the child, and not teaching the subject, is the one that has success.

    The school system is broken. But there are still teachers who view teaching as a work of heart. And are in it for the love of teaching in and of itself. Find those teachers, bring them to your school. And reward them, let them know you appreciate them. Then watch the results. Those who will benefit will be the students, and society as a whole.
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      Dec 31 2011: "In my experience, the school with loving teachers, involved parents, and an administrator who is interested in teaching the child, and not teaching the subject, is the one that has success."

      Thank you Mary for the comment. I couldn't agree more.
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        Jan 2 2012: Randy I agree with much Mary Munoz stated with the exception that the school system is broken. I feel that it is not broken, but rather that it is doing what it was designed to do in the 1940's. The problem with our system is that it has not been updated to reflect changes in tehcnology and the cultural changes that have occured. Mary addresses the difference between education and learning. Something we all should be aware of and benefit from.

        This conversation is great. Thanks.
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      Jan 4 2012: Mary I have added some more thoughts that may interest you. As we have shared thoughts in other conversations I respect your input. This deals with instilling motivators.

      Bob
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        Jan 4 2012: Thanks Bob...I'll read, and reply later on if I find anything of value to add.

        Mary
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    Dec 31 2011: "I'm bored", "(Insert subject here) is boring", "My teach is boring", these are the three of the areas I find needing attention.
    So, I would say, focus on the child, the curriculum and the teachers.
    The problem is that all the focus ends up being on the number of subjects taught, test scores, discipline, legal requirements, Et al, leaving the child waiting in line or at desk "quietly" for a great amount of the day while the staff does paperwork, waits for space availability, or just to takes a break.
    (And preemptively, I have the utmost respect for teachers, what I consider the most noble of professions) And being your question was brief, I will not bloviate further.
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      Dec 31 2011: Denver...it seems that saying "I'm bored" is part of the job description of a student, at some point of their academic career :). You're right, teachers and staff have a continuous supply of paperwork that has become a part of our profession for various reasons. My hope is that our teachers will continue to be able to put the needs of students first, then find the time and energy to get to the paperwork. Thank you for your comment.
  • Dec 31 2011: I am a student. I believe:

    1. Teach students to be self learners. The classical model of teaching is dependent upon the teacher. We want students to become autonomous learners-to look the information up themselves and even challenge what the teacher says. The best thing a teacher could do is provide the mechanisms for learning: researching online, asking experts or peers, collaboration,skepticism, abstract problem solving, and being willing to make mistakes
    2. Schools need to inspire passions in students. Students in the troubling adolescent years do not know why they are in school besides qualification. By helping students find their passions, we give them the drive and purpose to learn--not as a mere qualification but a means to achieve a dream. I personally took a yearlong engineering class and it stands as the single most valuable and enlightening experience of my highschool career. There is also room to include industry into the equation and let students see what lies after school
    3. Provide resources with open access. Creativity happens. Wether it be a fancy laser printer, full access to the machining room, computers with creation software, school kitchen usable by aspiring cooks, a supply of circuitry components, or a large library. My old highschool had an open fabrication lab and every day people would come in and build things.
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      Dec 31 2011: Albert...thank you for posting. Self-learners, passion and creativity through open access...love all three.
  • Dec 31 2011: hmmm. as a student myself i think that schools should focus more on making a child understand the whole concept,because i see many of my fellow students not understanding the FULL concept and they are to scared ,dont know how to use their resourcesor cant find time to ask the teacher. Next, to be more technology friendly because students now days are the technology generation and thats what they understand. that and most time students percive a teacher who can combne technology and the cirriculum together is/will be an enjoyable, understandable teacher. and Lastly, have honors classes (or give a goal for students to achieve like honors) because of two reasons:
    1- a goal will push students to try harder to acheve that goal, esp. if their friends is already in thoses honor classes they will urge the other to come and join them in the classes

    2-to give the attention to the right students .......i once had a teacher who cattered to the lower academic level of students while i was a higher academic level (suitable for honors), but since there was no higher level classes i had to act as a student teacher . wich means that for about a year i didnt learn anything more,one year of my life wasted

    please take these reasons to consideration...there is always more room for improvement and when it comes to schools there is many ways we can improve...to stick w/ your rules i thought of the most important 3, i can think of
    a few other things
  • Dec 31 2011: Your phrase 'successful school' underlines the problem; in part. Any teacher with a classroom full of children will be subject to many constraints including those which are imposed by local policy, continuing professional development, parental perception, available time, curriculum requirements, standards setting and monitoring, public exam preparation and the degree of social control required to get all of the children through the laid down work of the day, on an equal footing. The education system in the UK tends towards a one-size fits all solution.

    To a greater extent, the continual fiddling with legislation, regulations, outcome measurements and dogma within the UK state education system, has produced unsatisfactory learning experiences for many pupils. I remain to be convinced that letting children decide what they want to learn is an altogether useful approach for providing our future societies with the tools they need to develop to become model citizens. When 15 year old children are innumerate and illiterate, it is clear that our schools have (and will likely continue) failed our children.

    The primary reason that any government has an interest in their local school system and why education is compulsory is more about our schools being used as agents of social control. Ersatz education policies keep the pupils just dumb enough so that they are too stupid to make unreasonable (or perhaps any) demands of government and to provide fodder for the few remaining menial tasks which so-called civil societies require to be completed. Computerisation having removed many of the occupations they may have sought.

    The UK school system is currently arranged to gate-keep access to wealth and suppress untrammelled demand from those who would benefit most from being well-educated, despite them being the least likely to succeed within a system of learning, expectations and examinations which were deliberately designed to keep them excluded from attaining any wealth.
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      Dec 31 2011: Jeff...thank you for posting your thoughts. "Successful schools" is probably a misnomer due to all of the various definitions of what makes a successful school or student. I believe in standards and assessments, but for the purpose of seeing growth in the individual student. Those outside of the education circles, whether in the UK or in the US who are making policies have very little, if any experience inside a classroom or with an individual student. Students do not care about any of that...students want to know that the teacher cares, that the school is safe and that those in authority will set them on a course for "success."
      • Dec 31 2011: Randy, thank you for your response. It is clear to me that teaching has a legitimate claim to being a profession. It is less clear that all of the hallmarks of a profession are present when referring to teaching. There is, for example, no universal body of knowledge that teachers must subscribe to when they are students studying to become teachers. I have undertaken some teaching courses in order to prepare myself for teaching others. I was struck by how little factual information was imparted during the courses I have undertaken.

        Whether we are talking about Maslow's hierarchy of needs or Gardner's multiple intelligences, the theories of education appear (to me) to be a mix of psychobabble, personal opinion and pedagogic myth. I would like to be pointed to the science which defines the boundaries of educational method and delineates where the art of teaching begins and upon which hypotheses the tuition of our children is based. Absent seeing any scientific papers concerning the reproducible influences of teachers, on classes of children, it is hard to shake myself from the belief that the teaching profession has no real base from which to sustain its methods.

        It is not my intention here to dismiss the teaching profession because I firmly believe in the value of educating our future generations and teachers appear well-placed to undertake this work. It is difficult to see how our children will survive if we do not pass on the skills which we consider are necessary for society to function well. Students do not know enough, in my experience, to know what they are lacking. I consider it to be the fundamental responsibility of the teacher to make the student aware of their lack of knowledge and to give them sufficient skills and motivations to function both in the hear and now and later; particularly if they are to be able to assimilate new knowledge.
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    Dec 30 2011: 1. Cease lock-step instruction and develop competent / non-competent modular self paced curicculum that follows a course map. When the map has been completed allow the student to conduct independent studies. The subject and amount of credits agreed to at either secondary / college level. Stop the A-B-C grades and replace with modules completed.

    2. Cease high stake testing. Tests should be designed to show application not reguration of instructors thoughts.

    3. All secondary instructors should be associated with a college/university and if the secondary student completes college level course then give college level credits. This allows the student to accel academically while remaining with peers for social development.

    Sorry to limit this to only three areas. In order to return education to a "learning" environment it will be necessary to get the Federal and state government out of the business. The latest requirement in Arizona is that the teachers raises and ratings will be determined by the students test results. I see this as a disaster in the making. Randy have you viewed the PISA scores. If not please do. The US is in the POOR category and still falling. A revolution in education is about to take place of the magnitude that occured when Russia won the space race. I am working with the State Superintendent of Schools and the Senate Chair for Education to get some base line ideas in place for consideration. This program (course map) is K thru 12 with all syllabus interlocking. I also firmly believe that the best instructors should be a the elementry level as a foundation is essential to the structure we are attempting to build. If discipline and focus are instilled at the beginning then success is within their grasp.

    One last thought .... we must devise a method of getting the parents back into education. The parents that show up at parent / teacher meetings are not the ones you need to see.

    I broke your rules. Sorry
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      Dec 31 2011: Robert...thank you for your response. you're right on with the direction you propose. I would add an "ideal" to getting the publishers out of the business of dictating how we teach kids, but for now, that may be a pipe dream.

      I whole-heartedly agree with your perspective on elementary teachers. As a current elementary principal, I marvel everyday at the work these teachers do with students. Teaching a child to read is one of the most amazing accomplishments of a teacher and that foundation can never be overlooked.
  • Dec 30 2011: Immediate rewards to students, focus on the individual rather than broad groups, and try to give students subtle extrinsic motivation to improve intrinsic motivation.