Wednesday, May 14, 2014

The Epic Educational Turnaround Idea

In the midst of my commute home, I was thinking about so-called “bad” schools (a topic near and dear to my heart). . .And, I sort of had this. . .idea. . .about how to research possible solutions.

At the end of every high school sporting season, the local paper prints the name of the athletes whom have been named to the State and/or National All-Star Team. Once, as a kid, I asked my Dad when the All Star Teams got together to play. He explained that most don’t; it is an honor/symbolic sort of thing. The idea that we promote people to something like a team, and then do nothing with it has always stuck with me. It seems a little broken insofar as awards and concepts go. . .

It occurred to me a long time ago that we should have a yearly State and/or National All-Star Teacher Team for elementary, middle, and high school teachers. It would be awesome to recognize the efforts of teachers in such a regular and accessible manner.  I know. We already have Teacher of the Years and [subject area of choice] Teacher of the Years through [subject area of choice professional association], but this would be regular recognition of teachers across all subjects. . .For instance, if you’re a non-core-subject teacher, you know just how rare it is that we win any school-based Teacher of the Year awards (we are also less likely to be recognized during teacher appreciation week and holidays too).

But, this idea hasn’t ever really developed beyond that for me, because I was/am still bothered by promoting people to a team only to do nothing with that team.

Then, the IDEA happened.

What if we took the All-Start Teaching Teams for elementary, middle, and high school and asked them to make a five year commitment to work together in a “failing” school?  

In this instance, I’m denoting a “failing” school to be one wherein the local and/or state school-board has voted to institute a “turnaround” plan. In the event you don’ t know, a “turnaround” plan is one wherein the entire faculty –including the administration- of a school is fired.

I know. I know. You’re thinking, “Um. How is being placed in a “failing” school a prize?”

Stay with me.

If we had an All-Star Team of teachers, these would be the incredible, special, teachers whom are able to do a lot with a little. These would be driven people whom go after grants and build programs. These would be dedicated people whom believe in the humanity of teaching and abhor complacency. They would be the people who are already the change-makers and the visionaries of their current schools. What better group of people to examine and perhaps help a “failing” school than these heroes?

Here is how it would work:
-All-Star Teachers (AST) would be asked to work as a team in a “failing” school (the AST would include administrators and two educational administrative assistants)
-Should an AST be unable and/or decline, the next teacher in line would be asked
-Each AST team would be asked to make a 5-year commitment as a group (obviously contingencies are available for special circumstances)
-Each AST would be paid based on their experience and education according to the salary schedule of the “failing” school district (paid by the school district)
-However, each AST would be paid for SIX years salary for FIVE years work (the federal government would pay that extra year). This extra year of pay could be paid up-front or over the course of a set-time period of paychecks
-The federal government would provide a moving allowance of no less than $1500 per teacher
-The AST would spend at least 2 months prior to the new placement visiting the school and collaborating on possible programs and initiatives
-Each AST would be expected to teach according to the recognized standards of the school district, and to meet any test/assessment criteria set forth by both the school district and/or federal government (ie they would have the same testing/assessment/standards accountability as any other teacher in the district)
-The AST team would decide upon their own types of professional development. The federal government and/or the state government/BOE cannot interfere and/or require any mandated professional development etc.
-Each AST would be expected to participate in documented professional development. This could be PD designed by the team at school and/or another PD of choosing
-Each AST would be expected to lead their own PD (in no more than groups of 4). This PD could be for the “failing” school, for the district, for the community, or for other teachers (state/nationally)
-The AST would decide on a school governance and structure plan; they have autonomy from the local and state BOE in this instance. The AST gets to decide what school looks like and feels like in the “failing” school
-Each AST would be required to keep a journal documenting their experience (this could be a blog)
-A film crew would be present in the school to document the journey of the teachers and the students (parents would have to opt-out to this at the beginning of the year. Any parent whom refuses will have their child’s face blurred out in any shared video and the child’s name removed from any video files/speech/etc.)
-Each AST is expected to seek IRB approval for a research study related to the “failing” school no later than the end of his/her 2nd year of his/her 5 year tenure. The AST can work solo and/or in groups of no more than 4 individuals.
-IRB-approved research studies will be conducted, scholarly papers will be written and submitted to peer-reviewed journals
-The AST will meet to identify the best parts and worst parts of their interventions. They will share these with the film crew
-The film crew will put together a minimum 8 part series documenting the evolution of the teachers to be shared with schools in similar circumstances
-Hopefully, some of the teachers will continue after the five years; after all they have made a major contribution to changing the outlook of a school.

Can you imagine how different some of these schools would be in five years? First, I think there would probably be both skepticism and hope from the community. Sure, the skeptics would point out that this is just some over-educated people come to “cure” the problems. But, see, the average AST is probably a ridiculously enigmatic and charismatic individual; I’m thinking the ASTs would win over the community by the end of the first year. Additionally, some of the families in the community will probably welcome the opportunity to have fresh eyes and incredibly dedicated people join their community.

I’m sure by now some of you have considered the teachers whom will be out-of-a-job at the “failing” school. But, this is becoming an ever-increasing popular way to handle a failing school: To fire the entire staff and start over. I’m not saying I’m entirely on board. . .But, well, sometimes if a recipe is bad you have to just start from scratch. I’m sure there will be good teachers laid off, and I also feel sure that these good teachers will find another placement. I know of someone who was trying to place a student teacher who had already been asked to leave two placements for very circumspect reasons. I took the opportunity to plead this person’s case to an administrator because I felt bad this person may not have a job. The administrator said, “Why do we fight so hard in education to keep people in the classroom when we know that this is not their thing?!”  It is a hard truth; but it is truth.

As for the ASTs; I think most would be pretty into this. I mean, if you told me I had the opportunity work alongside the very best of my colleagues, I would RUN towards that hard-core. I have had the distinct pleasure to work with some of the most talented educators in my area, and all I can say is that it drives your practice to be so much better; it is an incredible experience.

So, I don’t think my idea fixes education. . .But, I do think it might help us to understand what works and what doesn’t when it comes to schools that are “failing.”  And, it also allows for both qualitative and quantitative research about “failing” schools. I am so tired of only seeing “look at the data” repeated when we teachers talk about and try to improve the failing situations of our schools and students. This is a human profession; it is hard to ONLY quantify that experience. . .You need both numbers and words.


What do you think? Are you an AST? Would you want to do this?

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Urban Cityscapes Inspired by Room 9: Art!

Have you ever done a project simply based on the materials you had on hand and fallen in love with the results?  

I have.

I posted previously about these incredible cityscapes by Room 9: Art! In my mind, the cityscapes are not only beautiful; they use easily found resources. I'm bowled over by this ingenious project and super grateful to Room 9: Art! for sharing it!! At this time in the year, my Art room supplies are very thin, very used-up, and very sparse (we are out of red colored pencils; just red mind you!). So, I thought to myself, "now this looks like a project that we could both do based on supplies, enjoy, have a great project, and have some meaningful learning happen!  And, as a bonus. . .All of the works you see on this post are made by my most difficult class (in terms of behavior). So, yeah, there is also a huge level of student interest and buy-in for this project! Boo-ya!

Here is what we did:
-talked about collages
-talked and looked at found object art/recycled art 
-talked and defined relief sculpture
-gathered up all of the "art junk" and made a huge pile in the center of the room
The pile was about ten x's this size. It was SO epic.

Here is what the students did:
-assembled the junk to make a cityscape of their design (they could work solo or in pairs)
the old cds are from an old editing software program from the late 90s. And, phone cord! 

-used school glue and glue guns to assemble (not tape! that was part of the challenge). Our school glue was so limited we actually diluted it and put it into bowls. It still worked. Whatevs! We only used the glue gun for "tricky" stuff b/c we were down to 20 glue gun sticks.

-painted the assemblage black (we only had a smidge of acrylic black and a smidge of tempera black left. The kids diluted it and it still worked fine)

-used the "nubbins" that are the remaining oil pastels sideways to develop texture

-en voila! awesomeness!
That would be a bridge in the middle of this one! So cool!!

I kind of love how this one is more abstract

Simple; but it works

Toes for scale. Also, how cool are those awnings (made from bulletin board borders)?


These artists added some "graffiti" to theirs to make it "legit"

This one has a support built in the back so it stands on its own

Don't they make a charming village?!

Friday, May 2, 2014

Vote for The Best Dressed Art Teacher (or just one reason why I love Art teachers!)

Y'all.
Just y'all.
I love me some Art teachers.
No matter what school you visit, you can always pick out the Art teacher.
We are the ones who are just a little bit more carefully put together. . .Maybe not as professional, conservative, or in a way that makes sense to anyone but us. . But, us purveyors of aesthetics have thought out what we put on (or deliberately not thought it out; it's a purposeful thing). Once upon a time, it was my goal to always look just a little bit, "off." This embarrassed my sister to no end (bonus!). And, this sense of purposeful strangeness is something I just love about us.

Which is why I want you to hustle over to Cassie Stephens blog and vote for your favorite of the best-dressed Art teachers.  Will you vote for Frida? Bob Ross? Or Ms. Paintbrush? Or maybe you have another favorite?

All I know is that I adore, nay love, being a part of community that lays claim to such epic awesomeness. I love you guys. Thank you Cassie for hosting a contest of such insane coolness.

P.S. I didn't enter. . .But, in the interest of fun, here are a few of my more favorite Art-teacher get-ups.

One day, I taught class as a robot. My principal loved it (no she really did!).

Pretending to be Louise Brooks.

For Halloween, I was Medusa. It was epic. 

Pretending to be one of the Brady Bunch. 


How to End the School-Year in Peace and Harmony (or how to keep them engaged til the end!)

There are thirteen school days left in the 2013-2014 school-year for my students and me. . . But, it’s not like we are counting (hahahahaha!).  This is the time of year when spring-fever sets in, Friday-itis is practically an epidemic, behavior gets wacky, and students simply don’t want to work. I mean, I totally get it. Standardized testing (that epic “thing” that we stress to students they must do well on to pass to the next grade) is over. So in their minds, “what is the point?” Of course, as the Art teacher, you know the point is that we can create, learn, and stretch our minds every day. Learning is an everyday, all-your-life experience.  But, well. . .the school-year is long and it is almost over. . .So, it can be hard to keep your passion (and your students’ attention) for learning.

Here are my tips on making it (happily and in one piece) to the bitter end.

1.       Don’t let your classroom management and/or behavior protocols get lax. Routine is really important (especially in the spring when fieldtrips and concerts abound). Maintain your management. I’ve written quite a bit about behavior management in general (master post is here), and there is a great article over on The Art of Education about the end of the school (just click here).

How awesome is my colleague's shirt?!

2.       It feels like now is the time to use up all of your paint, colored pencils, oil pastels, paper, and what-have-you. . . But, often you don’t get to make your supply order until the beginning of the next school year. The art supplies you have now may be what you have to use during the first few weeks of the next school year.  . . So, be just as conservative and protective as ever. And, if you plan on leaving your position: Be kind and think of the person coming in after you; s/he would also like to start the year with supplies (bonus! I wrote a funny letter to the art teacher before me here).

3.       Having said all of that: Now, is a great time to de-stash. I keep piles of donated recycled materials that I don’t necessarily need to have rolling about my room for years on end (and they take up a ton of storage space too). Consider customizing student projects to make use of surplus and/or random donated materials.
So, I'm a hoarder. 

4.       Now is the time to clean out your cabinets and supply closet. Allow early finishers to “help” you in this endeavor. Kids LOVE cleaning out/up the art storage. Mostly because they know there is random stuff you don’t need that you will give them, and they think looking at all the random art stuff is cool. Plus, this means you don’t spend all of your post-planning de-stashing.

5.       Incentives are more important than consequences during this time of the year. Look, the kids can only serve so many detentions, ISS, OSS from here on out.  And, they have short-timer attitudes. You will get more out of them with incentives than consequences (and this is just generally true too). I let classes earn points towards a project of their choosing during this time of year (more about this is here).



Here are some of my favorite projects for this time of the year:

Artwork by Room 9 Art
Artwork by Room 9 Art







Use up all of that scratch paper you've been collecting all year to make a beautiful still life (like Mrs. Crosbie or anything from the Painted Paper in the Art Room blog). 
Artwork from Mrs. Crosbie Blog
Artwork by Demetri Martin

Design an Art History project wherein kids make it into a "pop up art." This great example is from Art for Elementary Teachers. I've make versions of Van Gogh's bedroom and Van Gogh's chair using this method! 
Example by Art for Elementary Teachers
Artwork by Refrigerator Good