Sitting here on a Saturday morning following a week of protest, turmoil, and violence has me in a deep state of reflection. Why do we turn on each other? Why do people that have so much more in common than differences chose to see only the differences? From the nastiness of our presidential campaign rhetoric, the gratuitous violence in entertainment, and the real violence on our streets, one does really wonder at times about what in the world are we headed for. Our family’s experience over the past year and half has allowed us to see the other side of human nature, thank goodness! Once people in our community (and beyond) found out that our son was gravely ill, the outpouring of care and concern has really lifted us. The efforts of so many to help comfort us will never be forgotten and has played no small part in the fact that our son is still with us! There have been so many things done on the behalf of my family that there is no way I can begin to think about them without being overwhelmed by the compassion showered upon us! There have been fundraisers, meal trains, hats passed in church, gift cards, monetary gifts, shoulders to cry on, dishes washed, clothes cleaned, school tasks completed…etc!!!! The list could go for paragraphs! Complete strangers have sent us care boxes, the community held a bone marrow donor drive. The town in which we live gets run down a lot, both from those from the outside and those who live here. I will tell you this, there is has never been a more generous place in my life experience. I am completely humbled by the efforts of this community! Thank you! I can only hope I can pay forward your amazing kindness. There is hope! Humankind has a great capacity for love and generosity and this place is a great example of that!
Yesterday I wrote in my post “Where Have I Been?” about my child becoming quite ill in October of 2014. The post was written with the assumption that most of those who would read it already knew how he was doing presently. Sorry to those who have an interest in this story but were left wondering about his status. For those of you who know the story, you are excused from reading further. My wonderful spouse has written a much more cogent and readable blog about our experience called Blessings in Disguise. If you have not read the musings of my wife Marianne, I suggest you should! My purpose here is not to talk about his journey through a medical nightmare, but to try to apply the lessons learned and share the thoughts that streamed through my conscience during his many days in the hospital. For those that are curious, here is a very brief synopsis of what he has experienced. He was diagnosed with an undefined immune disorder in which his natural killer cells did not function normally in 2012. Which means when he gets sick, HE GETS SICK! Not really sick more often, but out for long periods of time when he does get sick with what was usually a bronchial infection or pneumonia. When he became really ill in October of 2014, he was initially diagnosed with meningitis, but when no infectious agent was found, he was diagnosed with neuro-sarcoidosis. When the normal treatments to combat sarcoidosis did not make him better, further investigation found a MAC infection in his lung. Which came first? The MAC infection or sarcoidosis? We will never know. He responded well to treatment of the MAC infection. He felt good enough to finish his senior year and give a speech at commencement while graduating with highest honors. In the Fall of 2015, he started school at one of the nation’s most prestigious undergraduate engineering schools. He was able to complete one quarter of his freshman year. On the third day of the second quarter he called and said he could not catch his breath, and walking anywhere was next to impossible because he was so fatigued. He was admitted to the hospital and after several weeks of medical testing, he was diagnosed with AML Leukemia. He was given a round of chemotherapy to put it in remission. The team treating him scheduled a bone marrow transplant to generate a “new and healthy” immune system. The transplant was three months ago. He is home now, recovering from the transplant and the effects of the chemotherapy that was used to “kill” his defective immune system. The good news is that he is (knock on wood) making progress towards recovery. He has good days and bad but his recovery looks very good according to the doctors. We have hope! (next….I promise I will start talking about the kinds of lessons that can be taken from an experience like this!)
I am not sure how to start this entry. I have not written a serious blogpost in almost two years. I look back and I see drafts, full of thought, yet not published for one reason or another. Two years ago I was a self proclaimed social media guru. I presented to groups of educators about, pushed staff to adopt, and cajoled the community to follow the many ways social media could enhance learning and connectedness. Yes, connectedness, not even a word really, yet this network of social media had me plugged into the best things being done in schools. Things all changed for me in October of 2014 with this simple question: “Dad, am I going to die?” My just turned 18 year old son was having an intense headache. My response was “of course not.” Little did I realize how harrowing the experience we would have on our journey to make that “of course not” come true. By the end of that day my son had been tied to a hospital bed for fear he could hurt a hospital staff member or himself. What would become the most unreal of realities unfolded in the next year and a half. The best doctors we could find were totally puzzled by what was happening to our child. Instantaneous answers for his problem did not exist and connecting to experts did not produce an answer to what was wrong. Google could not give me an explanation to what was happening. My son went from being a straight A, top of the class student, to not even being able to recognize me as his father. My beliefs about our system of education and the purpose for what we do were about to be turned upside down forever. In my next several posts I hope to share how this experience has shaped the lives of my family and has emboldened me to fight for what is right in education for the years I have left in my career.
Today is November 2nd 2015. Students in the state of Illinois took the PARCC exams during March (3 week window) and May (again a 3 week window) earlier this year. As of today, I have not seen any results from these exams other than a broad statewide generalization about how students performed on the tests. The tests were administered both online and as a paper pencil test. I have seen sources (like this one) which estimate the state of Illinois spent up to $57 million administering and grading the tests. I have several questions: Why do we not have results? How do we justify this kind of expense on a test where the results will have no bearing on the teaching and planning for these students’ learning activities this year? According to some, these tests are about accountability. Making sure that teachers are doing their jobs. Making sure that schools are doing what they need to do for students. Where is the accountability for the decision to spend this kind of money on a program that has had no impact on student learning? I am not against testing. I think it is important to benchmark a school’s performance and make comparisons. We need to know what our students do not do well as well as what they do well, BUT the feedback HAS to be timely. If we know there are deficiencies we make a plan to address them. We cannot do that with results we do not have. A test given between five and seven months ago will have little to no value now as a tool to help our students. I hope someone is paying attention to this feedback……
I am not going to use this space to bash the PARCC Test. To do so is counterproductive. I want to embrace a system of assessment that gives our students and teachers the feedback they need to develop a deep understanding of concepts and the ability to think critically about the world in which they live. I want leaders and colleagues who can do those same things. We need leadership in our country that has a deep understanding of concepts and the ability to think critically about the world where they have chosen to lead. I have a simple proposal: In order to take the oath of office, an elected official must at least meet the expectations as set by state in which they serve on the PARCC (at the highest level it is given) or equivalent if their state is not part of the PARCC consortium. I think that is fair. Our leaders need to demonstrate the same level of academic proficiency that we expect of our high school students. Do you disagree? Why?
I am a very lucky educator. I have the opportunity be a part of building a new school for our learning community. What an awesome task, responsibility, and opportunity. As part of this undertaking, I have been able to visit modern schools and not only see the physical spaces, but also observe the learning activities that occur in them. It was so interesting hear to a lead science teacher tell us about students studying cancer cells and looking for ways to disrupt their growth. She told us how one particular student had the opportunity to work with bacteria and try to disrupt their communication patterns. His research had progressed so far that he was able to meet with several Nobel Prize winning scientists at science exposition that he was invited to attend. At first I was amazed that high school students were involved is this kind of research, but as it these stories sunk in, I could not help but feel that the students in my school were being robbed of these types of learning opportunities. Should we simply say we cannot afford to put in a laboratory where this type of research can be done and leave it at that? I am determined to find a way that our students who wish to study and research such topics can do so in a local lab. At the very least, we must build spaces that promote active learning where Science is a verb and students can explore and discover. Active learning must take place in all subject areas and we must seek to integrate them where we can.
The above photos were taken in Niles North High School’s state of the art STEM lab. It is a large learning space with a corner “think tank”. This is where short, whole group learning activities take place such as a like a mini lecture or a student presentation. The makeup of the room shows what is important–active learning. The rest of the space is dominated by large tables, deep sinks, and a multitude of tools to experiment with. A scientist’s dream. We will not be able to replicate this room. I am not so sure we would want to, but we need to see that learning spaces need to be flexible to accommodate different kinds of learning and learners.
Some of the schools we have visited have been very traditional. The learning environments were not much different than what we have used in our school for the last 100+ years. Rooms as boxes, filled with student desks, and a central learning focus that cast the teacher as information giver/subject expert. Other schools have moved away from the traditional design and have spaces that suggest other models of learning.
The four photos above were take at the the Columbus Signature Academy High Tech High. The school uses a project based approach to engage its students. What stood out to me at this school was how the student work and the vision of students collaborating were the architectural features. Learning studios were transparent with movable glass hallway walls, that when moved created very large learning spaces for large group instruction or presentations. The hallways were filled with different seating configurations. Some of them resembled restaurant booths, others were library like configurations with comfortable furniture. Design shaping function or function shaping design….either way the way students learn in these environments reflects a social, transparent, and integrated approach that allows students to do real, meaningful work in ways they will outside of the “school” when they matriculate to other endeavors. Exciting times indeed!