I’ve been invited to give the talk of my life in eighteen minutes to a group of 36 teacher researchers at Annandale Terrace Elementary School on the topic of teachers writing for publication.
Serving grades PK-5, Annandale Terrace is a Title I school with 675 kids. 85% are English language learners and over 50% are eligible for free or reduced lunch. In some ways, this is the opposite school from where I teach now. So why me?
It’s Josie’s fault. (Loyal readers will recall that I taught a class for George Mason a couple summers ago to help teacher researchers and other educators write for publication. “Voices from the Classroom” was a short-lived but fruitful attempt to help Emmet’s Eleven tell teacher tales. Josie, a Gifted and Talented specialist from ATES, ultimately published a story about “Why Johnny Can’t Persevere – Using ThinkFun Games to Develop Strategies and a Can-Do Attitude” in a math magazine for teachers. )
Josie, like other teachers at this school, is highly motivated to make a positive difference in the lives of needy kids. Judging by many indicators including meeting “adequate yearly progress” goals, they are successful in doing so. One reason is that more than 60% of the faculty does teacher research.
When more than half your teachers regularly engage in a systematic and rigorous process of inquiry about their own teaching, using the kids in their room and the work those kids produce as evidence, something’s up.
The instigator and the guy who invited me to present is Mark Smith, the school’s technology guru. In addition to helping teachers learn to integrate technology into their lessons, Mark has nurtured a culture of reflective practice in and beyond his school by supporting teacher researchers and maintaining a wiki called clairvoy that lets teachers share their best ideas.
Mark doesn’t just tell teachers, “First push this button.” Instead he gives hoopla tent revivals (his words) about how idea-mapping software like Inspiration can be used, then sets them loose. How come so many teachers at your school do TR? I asked Mark.
It makes them better, he explained, and provides the tools for research-based interventions. Research begets research, which after a while changes the tenor of copy room chat. It becomes easy to get 5 articles on a topic because everybody knows about databases and current research. This let’s people fix the hardest problem in their classroom, which might otherwise get ignored. “We have a great relationship with the professional library at Sprague center,” he adds.
When I asked Mark for more details about the sort of presentation he wanted, he pointed me to TED.com. Apparently, every year a bunch of smart people get together in Monterey to talk about the Big Picture. A good example is this speech by an innovator named Ken Robinson from the 2006 conference in which he speaks about creativity and how schools squash it.
Sir Ken (knighted, apparently) argues that people are afraid to take risks and make mistakes, and schools reinforce this by teaching us to worry more about being right than creative. He laments that academic ability has become our definition of intelligence; consequently, creative people who aren’t good at school are stigmatized.
With a delivery as understated as his plain but probably really expensive sweater, Robinson challenges us to rethink intelligence based on the idea that it’s diverse (visual, sound, abstract, movement, kinesthetic), dynamic and not compartmentalized (he defines creativity as having original ideas that have value), and distinct (asks how people discover their talents).
I’m sharing all this because it made sense, and because I’m still trying to figure out how to give a “TED.com kind of speech.” Mark asked me to “go to the 60,000 foot level” on my topic. “Give the GMU course in 18 minutes,” he clarified. Not just how to publish, but why publish? Beyond a pat on the back, or moving your career forward, what is it good for? Include where to find the info that you need to start, Mark says. Not phone #s to editors or low-level how-to, but more the topography of the landscape.
Easy, huh? Stay tuned. I’ll let you know what I see from way up there. And what happened when I jumped.