All students will achieve their maximum potential by becoming responsible, productive citizens and life-long learners.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Mr. Censabella and Mr. Hoogerzeil Participate in International Research

The teachers I wanted to highlight this week are Mr. Robert Censabella and Mr. Peter Hoogerzeil.  While a brief glimpse of either class will tell you that students are engaged through exercises such as Socratic Seminars, Harkness Discussions, group work, problem solving, and analysis of primary resources, you would need to spend much more time to see the amount of work both of these individuals put into improving their craft.

Mr. Censabella, traditionally known for his ability to impersonate Daniel Shays, instructs two Advanced Placement History classes as well as United States History I (covering the early years of our nation until the period after the American Civil War known as Reconstruction).  Students in Mr. Censabella’s classes are exposed to primary resources, issues in America’s past, and sound academic skills as they gain a greater understanding of the subject by meeting a high set of expectations through hard work, higher level thinking, and support.

Mr. Hoogerzeil also teaches United States History I (mainly the honors level), but also instructs the Contemporary Issues and History of Rock Classes.  Mr. Hoogerzeil is also an instructor in the Ontrack Program.  This is an alternative program that helps students who, for multiple reasons, struggle with the traditional model of school.  Mr. Hoogerzeil is also the advisor for Jam Club and the Audio Visual Club here at Seekonk High School.  He works to instill a strong sense of responsibility and work ethic in all students at all levels in an effort to increase their ability to succeed not just as they move through high school, but once they graduate as well.

Both Mr. Censabella and Mr. Hoogerzeil are now participating in an international study comprised of three nations (Spain, Columbia, and the United States) that will explore how history texts represent critical moments of collective violence (Westward Expansion and Conflicts with Native Populations (1812-1860), the Civil War Period (1861-1865), and the War on Terrorism (2001-Present Day) in their respective nations and how teachers in different cultural settings understand and teach about these narratives in their own classrooms.  Specifically, Mr. Censabella and Mr. Hoogerzeil will be interviewed, take part in a focus group, and possibly participate in an international symposium to discuss the findings from this research and its implications for the teaching and learning of history.

Research in the United States will be led by Dr. Alan Stoskopf, a Visiting Scholar at the Harvard Graduate School of Education.  In his summary, he explains that the research aims to provide a more authentic representation of what occurs with real teachers in real classrooms when they teach about difficult topics in diverse cultural contexts.  This in turn will contribute to both international scholarship and wise practices in the field of history education.

Both Mr. Censabella and Mr. Hoogerzeil should be commended for their efforts to continually improve their craft by participating in opportunities such as this so that their field becomes better understood by both those who teach and wish to learn.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Do Something...

A little while back when I was still taking courses for my Doctorate I remember a book one of the professors had us read.  The title was, “Don't Just Do Something, Stand There!: Ten Principles for Leading Meetings That Matter” While this was a good book, the title has brought me to some moments of reflection that at times have been uncomfortable.  While there are many sayings that tell us to actively make change that is needed; it was the catching up with an old, good friend that drove it home and gave me a little more perspective.  We spoke about everything from character to education to family to dreams for our children.  I had more than a few takeaways (as I always do) from our 3.5 hour discussion (that seemed like 5 minutes), but the one I want to share at this point is this:

We are all able to point to something in our lives and realize that it can be better.  We may even have some good strategies for achieving improvement.  The problem lies in the courage and character to implement them.

There are always reasons (excuses) why we cannot begin to affect the changes we know are needed.  I’m not prepared enough; I don’t hold enough power in my current position; the political climate isn’t right for it now; I’m unsure of my solution; and I don’t have specific, right answers are some that lead the pack.  Unfortunately, the acceptance of these excuses leaves us at the default position of saying that what is currently occurring is good enough.  Even when we do not verbalize it, we are quietly making concessions on our personal standards.  Why do we accept that?  Why not:

·         Make that phone call
·         Send that email
·         Have that tough discussion
·         Take challenges rather than easy paths
·         Speak out
·         Set goals and act to achieve them
·         Ask yourself why not here? Why not now? Why not me?

In a world where many people want the best for the least…

Who among us negotiates during: the purchase of a car, house, or contract?  I personally negotiated for a bus stop because when I was told that the current placement was acceptable and “good enough” I disagreed.  How many of us settle for “good enough” in those negotiations without pushing back?  Why then, would we ever settle for “good enough” when it involves education and therefore, the future composition of our society?

Just in case I’m rambling, let’s focus.  Some examples of “good enough” in education:

·         Students will not act respectful because that is who they are growing up based on the current culture and society.
·         Some students just cannot learn the same content and/or skills, but must be pushed forward with scarcely supported interventions in an effort to help them feel better about what they have achieved.
·         We must do better with less rather than get drawn into an ugly political fight for more funding for programs to assist students.
·         There are issues with Common Core (depending on which state you live in) and the new teacher evaluation system in Massachusetts, but we are too busy and do not have a big enough voice to effectively seek meaningful change that is actually about improving public education rather than politics.

I realize that some of these issues are catch all and some are much more complicated than the simple sentence they are presented with.  However, they illustrate a point if we stop and reflect.  There are those of us who are doing everything they can to manifest positive change and there are those of us who are not…for whatever reason.  In a perfect world, who are you.  Who are you in reality?  Don’t waste time pointing fingers, assigning blame, denying, or feeling guilty.  Moving toward perfection is tough, time consuming work.  I know I have a long journey.  I owe it to too many people to not stop the excuses and start doing something.

What about you?

Monday, February 17, 2014

Students Informing Students

This post is meant as more of a public service announcement for Plymouth North High School’s News Program and their recent attempt to focus more attention on an ever present problem for our high school students…drug use.  I recently took their news story and incorporated it into my own segment “The Doctor Is In.”  The area surrounding my high school has had three recent heroin overdoses that were quietly reported on…until the Boston Globe and Sun Chronicle decided to do large pieces on the problem we all face as a society.  These pieces reiterated that it is not just a problem in Plymouth or the South Shore, but all of Southeastern Massachusetts.  That is the part I found valuable enough to keep students from saying, “that problem is somewhere else.”
The video and sources for the articles are located below as well as under my heading “The Doctor Is In.

Again, kudos belongs to Plymouth North New (PNN) for their bravery in addressing an issue that is not popular to discuss.  Those students have done their high school, fellow students, and parents proud for their willingness to point out one of the areas that we as a society need to fix.

PNN Video - http://bit.ly/1ixiYGT
Boston Globe Article - http://b.globe.com/1c7DpoJ
Sun Chronicle Article - http://t.co/Qa18YGsaOc

Friday, February 7, 2014

Don’t Just Look Good…Be Good

This past weekend afforded me an opportunity to notice some things at a hotel that, as I thought, can be compared to many educational situations.  It has to do with looking good versus being good.  I also heard someone comment; “She is amazing because she is beautiful from the inside out.”  The proverb “beauty is only skin deep,” (first found in a work by Sir Thomas Overbury, 1613) is normally used in relation to people however, I believe in education we could say “usefulness is only student success deep.”  Success being measured by understanding and ability to demonstrate what are now being called “college and career readiness” standards.

One example:
The hotel I stayed at served wonderful looking scrambled eggs for breakfast.  Unfortunately they contained an overpowering amount of vinegar only detectable upon eating (and then promptly spitting out).  It does a fine job of preserving the look and life of the eggs, but is inedible and therefore, ultimately fails its purpose.

·         How many times have we implemented programs that make our schools look as if they are cutting edge, but in reality fall short of that lasting or significant impact we desire?  Or even better, we buy into new reforms and programs (as they come out in new packaging) without giving enough time or effort  to the “old” ones to prove themselves or enough thought to the effectiveness of the new ones beyond the fancy jargon.

·         Fidelity of implementation when it comes to programs is good or bad depending on the context.

Another example:
The iron that is attached to the ironing board so that it acts as a unit and saves space.  Unfortunately, the cord that attaches the iron to the base is too short to reach the whole board.  This in turn causes the attached base to be in the way.  Not to mention the base was affixed to the wrong end of the board.

·         This issue pertains to budgets and fiscal policies aimed at creating schools that are able to brag about efficiency before success.  How many stories contain the two aspects of success and spending less as if one is no good without the other?  While it is important to be financially responsible there are times when it is not about what it costs, but what you need.

·         I am reminded of the old phrase; “you get what you pay for.”  I am a taxpayer who does not mind saying; “Sure my taxes are a little higher, but have you seen how awesome our school system is?  People move here just for that!”

This hotel I stayed at was beautiful.  It was almost a “Taj Mahal Hotel.”  Does that phrase sound familiar to what we were calling new high schools a few years back?  For the most part, everything on the surface was good, but it was the extras (that would have really made a difference) that were lacking.  Does that also sound all too familiar?  I could go on with multiple little details I noticed, but I believe the point is clear…

Let’s all be sure we are “all in” when planning and implementing researched based programs.  Not so that it looks good, but so that it is good.  By good I mean effective for those who are most in need…our students.  In the end, they are going to care about how prepared they were rather than how good they looked.

We need to stop implementing programs for the sake of implementing programs.
We need to stop cutting budgets for non-essential reasons.
We need to stop adding more initiatives rather than thoroughly completing what is already underway.

We need to stop; take measure of who we are, what we do, and why; follow Lincoln’s advice when he said; “Well done is better than well said.” and realize that being good is much better than looking good when it comes to successful education.