Tag Archives: Educational Leadership

Ummm…That’s not a School.

I think THIS is a problem.

The linked article covers the story of a “school without teachers.”  According to the story, the school exists as a place for grouped computer-based instruction.  Students must compete for spots and, if they get in, will predominantly spend their days learning to code.

I will admit: I have only just read the article.  I haven’t seen this school’s supporting documentation; I haven’t done any research on the organization.  So take this for what it is: my first-blush, unvarnished opinion on the story.

Being a teacher, you’d think that my major problem with the school is its dearth of instructors.  But that’s not my problem…not by a long shot.  I have, in fact, argued in the past (privately, mostly) that there are plenty of instances where the mechanics of school hinder the activities related to real learning.  I have almost NO problem with this aspect of the school.  The problem I have is with something far bigger than the idea of a school without teachers.

My problem is that this project is called a “school” at all.  It’s not.  And if it were, it wouldn’t even be that innovative of a school (but it doesn’t matter…it’s not a school).  This project/organization/whatever is a talent farm.  It is designed to use the guise of school within the context of difficult financial times to justify a particular company’s talent pool development.  Using the argument that “schools just aren’t getting things done” (which, I agree, they aren’t), all semblance of anything related to the development of whole students is scrapped in favor of feeding the “new economy’s” need for code monkeys.

Now, don’t get me wrong: there’s no reason this commercial magnate shouldn’t try to grow his talent pool.  If I had his means, I might too (because BRILLIANT, that’s why!).  But I sure as hell wouldn’t pretend like I was doing the rest of you a favor by doing it.

The terrible thing about this case is that it will hurt discourse on actually transforming education.  People will look at this and (because there is a picture of kids sitting in front of computers kinda looking like they are doing something) say, “wow!  what an amazing model!  So transformative.”  Bullshit.  This is the same model of school that has been used since the earliest times of public education: train young people to fill the needs of industry.  Period.  That’s it.  The only difference is that this organization is privately funded by a particular company’s research and development budget instead of the public purse.  So, instead of looking at ways to make public education better and more responsive to the needs of all stakeholders including the students themselves, this kind of thing will be paraded as one of the stellar examples of wonderfulness from the land of the business magnates.  Hooray.

There is something about education that needs to be changed, but this model (if I am reading it right) changes nothing but the scenery.

The Marginal Teacher

The Marginal Teacher

We have all been there.  We have all been in a classroom led by someone who would rather be fishing, golfing, watching hockey, singing opera, or salsa dancing.  We knew it and they knew it.  As students, we just found ways around it: we asked our parents or friends for help.  Sometimes we may have even asked other teachers for help.  But that’s just how we helped ourselves.
What do we do to help the teachers in question?  As students, we often don’t have anything more than our voices to help the teacher.  We can ask for clarification or more depth on the subject.  This may or may not work.  Ironically, it is the same problem faced by colleagues or administrators who have to work with this teacher.
Now, one thing I really like about the presentation shared above is that it identifies that we are all “marginal teachers” some days.  When we are swimming in mountains of paperwork, coaching or supervision duties, I think we would all agree we don’t deliver the best to our students.  When this attention to matters outside the classroom becomes the norm, though, is when a helpful hand from a colleague or administrator is useful.
Campbell, in his presentation, does a good job of identifying who is who when it comes to marginal teaching.  Some people self-identify; others have no idea anything is wrong.  Some people are downright hostile.  All are destructive to the learning environment if left to their own devices.
As a leader, I think there is no better thing to do than to expect and model greatness.  The great thing about greatness is that it need only be the best you can do.  People will tend to do what is expected of them, so if they are furnished with the visible presence of a leader, the means with which to achieve their goals, and positive support of their efforts, success is theirs to lose.  Regularly observing your colleagues and staff “doing it right” is a small investment that pays enormous dividends in the long run.
At the end of the day, we are all having a bad day some days.  It’s up to all of us to help our friends and colleagues out.  There’s nothing wrong with teaching golf, too!