Monthly Archives: October 2011

Rogues’ Gallery, Part I: Dealing with Statler & Waldorf

Happy Halloween! Tonight there will be a whole host of characters on display trick-or-treating across the country. Some will be scary, some funny, and others just plain ridiculous.

Of course, for those of us in education, we can get much of the same in the cast of characters we deal with on a daily basis. And it’s not just the students! Students can be annoying, yes, but we tend to expect that when we sign up for the job of educating young people. What’s truly difficult sometimes is dealing with the “characters” that are on staff with us!

So here’s my first installment of an ongoing series entitled “The Rogues’ Gallery.” Consider this an administrator’s guide to dealing with the staff members who try our patience the most!

Education World does a nice job breaking down one of the classic types – The Complainer.

Education World: Managing Difficult People: Turning ‘Negatives’ Into ‘Positives’.

Astute administrators can distinguish between individuals in temporary rough spots and those in a permanent rut.

Dr. Mike Weber, superintendent of the Port Washington-Saukville (Wisconsin) School District, has classified three types of “complainers.”

  • The “helpful complainer” has a specific gripe about an issue, but offers constructive feedback that could resolve the problem.
  • A “therapeutic complainer” is experiencing a temporary setback and draws out a confidante to vent frustrations, rather than liberally spreading doom and gloom.
  • The “malcontent complainer” is the one to watch out for, warned Weber. “They have ongoing, persistent problems with many issues, but offer no constructive suggestions. They are energy drainers,” he stressed.

Statler and Waldorf are the third category of complainers. They never have anything positive to say! Everytime you exhaust yourself to put on a good show, and inevitably you look up to the balcony and you hear the criticism. “Just once, can’t they either say something supportive, or nothing at all?” So we might wonder, but it never goes that way, does it? Of course not.

This is when we need to remember what Weber suggests in the reviewed article:

Learn about the psychology of negativism. Negative people are using their attitude to control you and obtain something. Each time you or your staff membets get pulled into a negative downward spiral, negativism is reinforced and it intensifies. Negative people continue their negative habits so long as they are getting their desired control and reactions from others. Negative people are much like children in that they will get attention one way or another. If children do not get positive attention, they will misbehave, resulting in negative attention, because negative attention is better than no attention at all.

The psychology of negativism can be very insightful! Remember that even though they criticize, Statler and Waldorf are still there at the show every night. They never miss! If the show was that awful, wouldn’t they stop attending?

Obviously even the Statlers and Waldorfs on our staff are invested in what happens there, and the trick is to identify the real problem. They want your attention, clearly, or else they wouldn’t be complaining. Have you been accessible enough as an administrator? Are there ways that you can make the complainers feel as though their feedback is appreciated – even when it drives you crazy?

Weber suggests that most malcontents have fallen into behavioral patterns that can be easily disrupted with a positive approach – precisely because it is the last thing they are expecting! Statler and Waldorf are used to catcalls and confrontations – that won’t work because they’ve protected themselves too much in their balcony to let a negative reaction both them. Don’t fall for the bait! React positively, and reframe the narrative in a way that forces the complainers to take action and choose. And then stick to it! Eventually they’ll either get down off that balcony and join you on the stage, or they’ll get the message and quiet down (or leave). Stay positive and stay focused on the students! If you show the complainers that you are the one with the metaphorical candy, then you get to be the one who puts it on them if it’s going to be a Trick-or-Treat!

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Of Kings and Consequence

One of my signature courses is British Literature.  So I don’t mind deviating from the normal focus of this blog to dabble in a little Anglophilia.

The British monarch’s first-born child, whether a girl or a boy, will ascend the throne under new succession rules approved Friday by Commonwealth nations, reversing centuries of tradition.

Commonwealth national leaders also agreed […] to lift a ban on monarchs marrying Roman Catholics, British Prime Minister David Cameron said.

[…]

“Attitudes have changed fundamentally over the centuries and some of the outdated rules — like some of the rules of succession — just don’t make sense to us any more,” Cameron told reporters in Perth.

“The idea that a younger son should become monarch instead of an elder daughter simply because he is a man, or that a future monarch can marry someone of any faith except a Catholic — this way of thinking is at odds with the modern countries that we have become,” he added.

Commonwealth Nations Change Royal Succession Rules – NYTimes.com

For those of us that pay attention to these matters, the historical significance is rather shocking!  Generations upon generations of warfare and political intrigue have impacted British history – and world history! – because of the rules of succession in England.  The three big restrictions – divorces, women, and Catholics – have all now been lifted!

Just think about how different things could have been in the reign of King Henry VIII if even ONE of those three weren’t at issue!  The entire course of human history has pivoted on hairpin turns related to these issues, and in one understated swoop, Queen Elizabeth II has finally turned the page of the Commonwealth to the modern era.  Her namesake would have ascended to the throne earlier under these new rules, avoiding Bloody Mary and heaven only knows how much violence.  Charles I might never have been executed, avoiding the Interregnum and the excess of Oliver Cromwell.  Indeed, Elizabeth II might not even be the monarch, since her uncle Edward VII could have remained king alongside Queen Wallis Simpson!

But then we never would have been able to watch The King’s Speech, and where’s the fun in all that?

Certainly we are long past time as a human society where certain institutions, even largely ceremonial ones like the British monarchy, need to be updated for the modern age.  It’s just amazing to me that these monumental shifts take place with such little fanfare.  What resulted in an abdication crisis a generation or two ago has now yielded first to Charles & Camilla (divorcées) and now Wills & Kate (commoner).

Winston Churchill said “It is a mistake to try to look too far ahead.  The chain of destiny can only be grasped one link at a time.”  He lived in interesting times.  I believe that we still do.

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Core Concerns

First, a disclaimer.  I have spent the last 10 years in the private school sector.  So, my exposure to many public schools trends is limited, and my relationship to the alphabet soup of assessment (e.g. NCLB, AYP, HSA, MSA)  is practically nil.  In fact, a major part of the original appeal of the private sector was that there was no government watchdog telling me what to do in my classroom!

That being said, as I move deeper into administration, I am learning that accountability does matter.  Teachers need professional development like any other area of the labor force, and appropriate PD requires benchmarks and a report of progress.  The rub is who develops the measurement tools and how are they applied.

I will admit to being intrigued by the Common Core movement spreading across the public school system.  Finding myself as I do leading my school’s revision of the college-prep curriculum, I have discovered that my efforts to “move the ball” at my school are nearly identical to my public school counterparts.

So how does one go about co-opting the best of the Common Core and adapting it to a private school model?  This seems to me to the question of the moment, and I definitely need to get my hands on some more research.

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Once More Into the Breach: How to Cross the Digital Divide?

This one is tough, dear reader.  One real problem in Classroom 2.0 is a lack of access equity to the technology that fuels it.

Education Week: Digital Divide 2.0.

The sucker punch comes at the end of the article…

Gaps in Use

Arguing that technology has posed particular educational and social problems for disadvantaged children, Rousseau sketched a history of what she sees as technology’s negative impact on African-Americans—sweeping the cotton gin, the Cadillac automobile, movies and television, the boom box, the iPod, and drill-and-practice software—into her analysis.

“As much as I admire technology, … it has a mixed history in the way it has impacted our lives,” said Rousseau, who is African-American.

And she pointed to contemporary technology—including TV, video games, the Web, and educational software—as reinforcing a cultural “construct” of race, class, and gender that she contends sets limitations for the academic achievement of disadvantaged children. “The issue isn’t all technology,” she said, “yet in this day, it has everything to do with technology.”

In today’s schools, Rousseau said, low-income children of color too often are using educational software that has them engage in skill-and-fact drills rather than in creative, “constructivist” experiences more often available to white and middle-class children.

Her point resonated with Crystal, the technology-integration coach from Hartford.

He says school districts are spending their educational technology budgets on “drill and kill” tools because of the overwhelming pressure to meet federal requirements for test performance under the No Child Left Behind law.

“The focus on NCLB is like just looking at the blue threads in a tapestry; you don’t see that [student achievement] is a manifestation of lots of other areas,” Crystal says. Without a broader focus and more creative tools, disadvantaged students miss out on important learning modes, such as cooperative learning and sharing ideas with others, he argues.

Not all educators agree that drill technology is bad; some say that with powerful data-collection systems and a focus on key building blocks of learning, drilling students is a valuable use of technology. That perspective, however, was not voiced at the Atlanta summit.

So what to do as educators?  Is there a false choice being peddled here on advancing technology in the classroom vs. focusing on the underlying social disadvantages many students face?  Or is there a third way yet to be properly articulated?

Education Week: Digital Divide 2.0.

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Good Morning, Dave…

The technology known as Siri in the iPhone4s is a quantum leap forward in the field of voice recognition.  Potentially, it could conquer one of my main gripes about the iPad… the keyboard!  Maybe this is one area where I truly am a technology traditionalist, but I can’t bring myself to type on a virtual keyboard.  My fingers just seem to crave the feeling of actual keys beneath them!

As a sophomore in high school, I was required to take a typing course.  Of course, this was in the dinosaur age of the 20th Century, and today’s students hunt and peck for keys with all the precision of a trained monkey.

What will Siri do to how we deliver information to the machines?  And an even more looming question – if we make keyboard obsolete… will Siri change how we write??

As an educator and a lover of all things literary, that last question more than any other is on my mind.  Does Siri truly mark the end of the Gutenburg Galaxy??  Where is Marshall McLuhan when we need him?

In the Future, We Will All Talk to Computers – Techland – TIME.com.

 

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A History Lesson

Another good one from Bellow… this one is on the history of educational technology.

Credit:  Adam Bellow

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Education 2.0

Found a great video on the future of education – there is definitely some very thought-provoking material here.  Worth a watch!

Credit:  Adam Bellow

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Paradise Lost: Writing a Revolution’s Wrongs

Having spent most of my career  in the English classroom, the state of writing in today’s society is always in the forefront of my professional mind.  So it is distressing to me when I find that so many educators believe technology and writing to be at odds with each other.

It is true that many students today have developed poor habits from certain technologies.  Yet the story does not have to end at the doorstep of “u” vs. “you.”  When Johannes Gutenberg introduced moveable type in the 15th Century, it revolutionized the written world predominantly through the democratization of information flow.  More authors came to share more ideas with more people.  The road to the information superhighway began with Gutenberg and continued through the Digital Revolution of the 1990s.

Today, as we prepare to shift from a Web 2.0 (sharing) to a Web 3.0 (collaboration) environment, educators need to harness the prevailing winds and use them to chart in course towards improved student achievement.  The collaborative nature of technologies such as Google Docs, SharePoint, and Moodle create a treasure trove of resources that can inspire an information flow unparalleled in human communications.  The Revolution is over – now is the time to build new ways of writing.  This generation of educators has a responsibility and an obligation to guide the formation of that paradigm.

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Is Technology in the Classroom Worth It?

Are Technology Initiatives in Schools Paying Off? | Education News.

The data is indeed thin and that should be corrected.  I believe that technology in the right hands can be a catalyst for student achievement.  However, a bad teacher with technology is still a bad teacher, so much of this depends on the person in the front of the room!

We need reliable data to support educational technology innovations and we need professional development for teachers so that we aren’t simply throwing money and technology at the problem without training our staff on how to make best use of the resources provided.

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Acknowledgement

One can’t very well run a blog on the intersection of education, leadership, and technology without a moment of silence for one of the giants of the industry.

RIP, Mr. Jobs
1984 Apple’s Macintosh Commercial – YouTube.

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