Flip the Script

By Lesley Hagelgans

Now is the time to flip the script on teacher evaluations. Teachers can no longer afford to be passive in the receipt of their evaluations – both literally and figuratively.

The livelihood of 3.1 million people – teachers – will be affected if they don’t become active in this process. More importantly, according to the Institute of Education Sciences, the 49.8 million students enrolled in public schools this fall will not receive the best education their teachers could provide for them.  Time spent pulling together data reports and documenting every accommodation for every child takes time away from the art and craft of good teaching, including connecting with kids, finding research to improve one’s craft, and planning for more effective instruction thus ultimately hurting student achievement.

Change in Policy
Over the past four years, the process of teacher evaluation evolved faster than the Common Core and State Assessments. Teacher evaluation, the vital instrument intended to organically improve student achievement, has eroded while debates over a nationalized curriculum and high stakes testing distracted educators and administrators alike.

Students and parents have become customers. Administrators have become little more than retail managers trying to improve sales from the year before as demonstrated by test scores. Teachers have become clerks trying to retain their customers while meeting the quota. Republicans and Democrats created a role for themselves as upper management dictating corporate policies.

But students and teachers are not cogs in a capitalist machine.

Time to Take Action
Teachers need to find their voice in the process and coach others as well. While some administrators seem to sadly enjoy wielding the sword of evaluation, they are a minority.

Principals cannot be everywhere at all times and see everything. They can only document what they observe and what the data shows them. They need help from teachers to provide anecdotes and data if something doesn’t appear quite right.

An evaluator might see a messy classroom and note the teacher does not adequately provide an orderly learning environment. What that person cannot see are the relationships an educator was building with students all day long with no time to tend to the mess. The teacher can bring anecdotes, video footage, student reflections and data to explain the messy classroom and effect on student achievement.

The evaluation process and the game of baseball have a lot in common. Administrators and evaluators are like pitchers, and when they document a concern on an evaluation, it’s like sending out a pitch. Teachers need to practice swinging in order to be able to hit a pitch. Is the educator going to score a homerun, hit a foul, bunt, take a walk on balls or strikeout? Many teachers have become complacent in the process by striking out or taking a walk without even swinging.

Educators need to start swinging for the fences. Here are some warm-ups:

  1. Never sign an evaluation the day or even week it is presented. Take time to let it resonate.
  2. If you are not given your written evaluation prior to your meeting, ask to reschedule the meeting until you have had time to carefully review the document.
  3. Read ahead. Know the evaluation tool and process before the year starts.
  4. Do your homework. Once you have received your evaluation, carefully examine it looking for anything punitive. Then gather your data, anecdotes, video footage or whatever you can to support how your actions have improved student achievement.
  5. Focus on the information in the evaluation and the evidence to back it up – both good and bad. Staying focused helps to keep emotions at bay.
  6. Reach out to parents and elected officials. Let them know what’s going on. Seek reforms where the evaluation process is created and calibrated by experts in the field not politicians.
  7. Share. It’s time for meaningful professional learning communities. Educators who are christened highly effective can share what they are doing with others. Teachers who are pegged as minimally effective seek the expertise of fellow teachers to mentor you.


Lesley-Hagelgans-150(2)Lesley Hagelgans teaches Language Arts at Marshall Middle School in Marshall, Mich. She was a member of the National VIVA Task Force.

Two Minute Megaphone

Why Educators Need Social Media

Michael Petrilli compiled a list of education policy interested folk with the highest Klout scores. Through the some quirks of fate and metric silliness, I ended up ranked fifth among individuals, behind Arne Duncan, Diane Ravitch, Michelle Rhee and Randi Weingarten, and ahead of a number of folks who’ve mentored me and consistently produce outstanding analysis and content.

Some of them have written on the challenges of the metrics behind Klout though none better than Audrey Watters, who made Petrilli’s list for the second straight year only to promptly delete her Klout account, and Jose Vilson, who had a different view and successfully fought last year for the equal inclusion of folks of color and active teachers on the list.

What I take from this list: The landscape of education policy discourse—however measured—is shifting: after the top four, who either have large staffs or the power of title, the next folks rank ahead of large, deep pocketed organizations and are current or former educators. Is it enough? Absolutely not, but change is coming; not with the approaching sound of inevitability, but a rising tide built by the Herculean efforts of classroom educators.

So, beyond caring about a list or ranking system or not, why should educators join social media?

One, it is high time the folks in the classrooms had the lead in the educational policy discussion. Educational policy is still by-and-large determined down onto communities by people who are not the ones who have to directly experience the implementation of those policies. When I sat at the highest policymaking tables, often I was the only educator. In sharing stories with other educators in those situations, often we are there as tokens rather than serious partners or leaders. We must grab that power to lead.

And I’m not just talking about educators. Students need to have impactful outlets to share their own experiences as well. I’ve learned from my colleagues to speak strongly and lovingly on social media. I’ve taught my students to do the same, even as they’ve taught me beautiful new ways to use the media. During the strike in Chicago, two of my students created a Facebook page for fellow students to receive updates and discuss what was happening. It received 13,000 likes in six days. Another group of students raised their voices to help pass legislation fighting against the criminalization of youth of color in the Chicago Public Schools.

Secondly, through social media, we can improve our classroom instruction. Within the classroom, authentic social media engagement is another way for students to passionately connect to the material. I still discuss real life legal issues with nearly a quarter of my graduated law students from my time at Gage Park. For students who want a prepared text or small scale system, I can provide that. For other students, the opportunity to connect to a world beyond their neighborhood might be what hooks them on education for life. Furthermore, my time on Twitter has been the best professional development I’ve ever had. I’ve had incredible in-person mentors and that’s an indispensable support. That support has been amplified by having access to a whole world of legal experts, experts on intersectional justice movements, and a whole world of people fighting for justice.

Nowhere is this more apparent than in the current situation in #Ferguson, Mo. As an Asian American educator who has taught predominantly African American and Latina/o American students, I cannot rely exclusively on mainstream media sources to understand how my students are experiencing these events. In surveying them in our law classes, the vast majority of them are actively fearful of police in our city and these events are triggers for them that evoke years of human rights violations they have suffered at the hands of law enforcement in our communities or even within their school experiences. When a student experiences this kind of trigger, it’s irresponsible to power through the existing material and prepared lesson plan. As teachers, we must be prepared, of course, but also flexible to changing that plan to support our students the best ways we can. Social media helps me be more successful in these vital moments. For example, earlier this year, a number of educators from #educolor put together a guide to help teach during the Jordan Davis trial. (Jordan Davis was a Black teenager shot and killed in Florida, in November 2012, by a White man.)

Finally, let’s consider this: On the chaotic street in #Ferguson, with a near abridgement of first amendment rights, which would you rather your student have in their hand, a textbook or a gateway to entire world?

So whether you have one or one million followers, get out there and amplify your teaching with social media (you don’t have to sign-up for Klout), and let us know how we can support you!

How can we support your voice on Social Media?
What issues do you hope to lend voice to on social media?
What resources do you use to learn about current events for your classroom? 

Two Minute Megaphone

Students, safety and sharing

We can’t engage our students if we don’t let them teach us who they are and what they value in their own words. Often we can bring our own societal perspectives and preconceptions into the classroom. Strong student voice can lead the way to better relationships and better education.

What do you think of immediately when you hear the name of my home, “Chicago”? Michael Jordan and Al Capone? Pizza and Chiraq?

The visible violence in our communities often grabs the spotlight as it robs us of so many wonderful people and robs so many Chicagoans, especially youth, of their lives. It is vitally important to acknowledge this violence and address it, yet too often the mainstream narrative focuses on young people’s deaths and never remembers to honor their lives.
In the midst of this media frenzy on the violence, young people are courageously making their own voices heard. On Saturday, the youth from Urban Gateways held their annual film screening. Urban Gateways is a program for high need Chicago youth to study social issues and technical filming techniques to create their own films. How do you feel watching the world through their eyes?

Michael Coleman shows his love for our Southwest side neighborhood here.

Antwon Funches shares a new lens on history here.

My own student Stephanie Alvardo considers how Latina Americans view their own beauty here.

And Mariah Starks portrays the power of the unapologetic Black here.

You can see the whole collection here.

In Sunday’s Chicago Tribune, a group of fifth graders published an opinion column “This is Us” that lovingly critiques the hurtful stereotypes that they face in the media while shining with love for their neighborhood and community. “This isn’t Chi-raq. This is home.” They conclude.

Finally, youth—including several of my own students—gathered from around Chicago at Roosevelt University to share their personal stories of brutality at the hands of the police. The stories they shared are heartbreaking, but the voicing of that experience can help change the culture of police violence and improve things for others.

Through these three examples, you can see three ways that I support the growth of student voice in my own classroom. First, the development of their own voices through visual arts. Second, the development of writing skills to tell their own stories. And finally, the courage and preparation to present their perspectives in a public forum.

What are your reflections on these students’ work?
What strategies do you use in your own classroom to nourish student voice?
What specific ways have your students used their voices to impact your shared community?
What support would you like to help you develop a safe and vibrant space for student voices?

Please take a couple of minutes to share your answers to these questions or other questions and insights you have around student voice via the comments section below or by emailing me directly at xbarrett@vivalistens.org.

Josh Agpalza

In July 2014, our staff sat down with Josh Agpalza, a Cambridge World History and AVID (Advancement Via Individual Determination) teacher at Federal Way High School in Federal Way, Washington, to see where his leadership journey had taken him since participating in the NEA VIVA Idea Exchange last spring.  Josh helped to author Teacher Voices for Education Reform: Making the Most of Time in School, and now serves as a national representative for the NEA.  Here’s what Josh had to say.

Q: What are you most passionate about?

A: My role as an educator, and fighting for social justice.

I know the issue of time in school is a social justice issue.  It’s not our students’ fault that they weren’t born in to a privileged family that has a chance to send their kids to preschool or summer camp.  Those students who don’t have those opportunities (for lots of reasons) are behind.

All students need the same access to education, and I’ve seen first-hand how some kids have access while others don’t.  Example:  I did a year-long student teaching at University High School in Spokane WA.  It’s an affluent, homogenous, population — 60% free and reduced lunch, but overall an affluent community.  Then I moved to Federal Way and saw a lot less privilege: students were behind in reading and writing, elementary kids living in motels, and little access or resources to do enrichment.

Q: What inspires and motivates you? 

A: The stories of the students is what drives me. Our school is an AVID (Advancement Via Individual Determination) demonstration school.  Over 300 students participate in AVID at my school, and most of them have background stories of struggle.  Example – One of the students I teach lives in a house with 22 other kids and 7 adults.  Yet he was able to get scholarships and grants, maintaining a 3.4GPA in that environment. We don’t just talk about struggles, but we focus on their lives in general.  “What’s your purpose here? What do you want to contribute to the world?”  You take their struggles as motivation to move forward in life.  I tell them, you do go good for yourself so you can do better for your family.

All 16 of my AVID students are first in their families to graduate. 100% of them got accepted into 4-year university (16 students) and collectively they received over $400K in scholarship awards.

Q:  You played a leadership role during the VIVA Idea Exchange.  What kinds of leadership opportunities have you been a part of since then?

A: I remember that email (inviting Josh to be on the Writing Collaborative) and thinking I wanted to do something. I’ll just do it.  When it was over, it motivated me to talk to one of our building reps who also happens to be the Vice President of the Federal Way Educators Association.  I told him about it and he told me to run as a rep at the national level.  Now I’m an NEA Rep, and just returned from the national meeting.  I went to NEA and met so many great people.  This gave me more motivation.  It’s not just me in my building who is fighting for education.  I was learning the whole time.  My intention was to immerse myself, take any opportunity I could to learn. I joined the Asian Pacific American Caucus.  Learned the issues they were talking about and fighting for.

At the AVID Summer Institute earlier this month I spoke to a close friend about how other teachers are becoming more involved.  One of the reasons why is because I was so excited by the VIVA Project that I was sharing that with my colleagues.  I presented about it at a staff meeting.  Now a lot of younger teachers are becoming more involved.  My role is to help motivate others to be proactive in what we do.  Everything we do will affect students.  If we decide to just sit and not lead, then the stuff that comes form the top down will affect our students, and affect us.  Top-down mandates breed complacency.  WE have to have our voice in the realm of education.  Those who study it, breathe it, and live it, know what’s best for students.

Thank you, New Voice Strategies.  Because of you and the organization you are a part of it gives me so much energy to keep going.  I have more reasons to fight for my students.  I see my students fighting every day, which gives me more energy to keep fighting for what’s best for students.

Actions Speak Louder

By Jennifer Reinhardt

After reading Rick Hess’ recent blog post “10 School Reform Phrases That Should Trigger Your BS Detector,” I’ve been thinking a lot about authenticity versus jargon and what exactly we mean when we say “teacher leadership” or “teacher voice” within our own organization. How do we distinguish ourselves from the “sugarplum visions fueled by hot air” that Hess cautions against in his post?

In an arena where decision-making can be contentious and divisive, New Voice Strategies develops insight into education policy by tapping into the collective wisdom of the people most intimately involved: teachers themselves. Our VIVA Idea Exchange™ process both elevates professional voices and promotes collaboration between teachers, parents, administration, and elected officials.

But there I go again using “collaboration,” another word Hess flags as a fatuous phrase! Is it that hard to describe our process without sounding trite or like Charlie Brown’s teacher talking in the Peanuts cartoon?

I believe that our work can withstand the “Hess test” on vapid vocabulary because our process is thoughtful, deliberative, and shaped by our members. This summer, we launched the VIVA Leadership Council with a mission “to create pathways for mobilizing action at a grassroots level to effect change in the educational system.” A pretty lofty goal, but achievable through both the passion of our teacher leaders and their work within four distinct action cohorts: Research, Communications, Programs, and Opportunities.

With our members defining the vision and objectives of each cohort, they will help our organization prioritize areas of interest and affirm that we are heading in a direction guided by teachers. For example, in a recent conversation about creating a searchable database of report recommendations, teacher-led research studies, and curriculum guides on our website, our members suggested that we also include a portal for upcoming PD trainings where teachers could submit, review and share content, as well as be reminded about registration deadlines.

So many times, organizations profess to know what is “best” for teachers and create programs or policy based upon this internal script. Sometimes “collaboration” is as simple as asking teachers what they want for themselves and then listening to their advice. We’ve created a system where “teacher voice” doesn’t mean “rent-a-teacher,” and “teacher leadership” is supported with multiple entry-points for ongoing engagement and skills cultivation. In these ways actions speak louder than words, and also give substance to jargon.

jennJennifer Reinhardt is New Voice Strategies’ Engagement Program Manager. She works through the VIVA Leadership Center to design, implement and lead strategic campaigns around practitioner-identified issues.

Parents Beware! Of Unnecessary, Invalid and Unreliable Test Scores

By Judy Smizik

Are all of the tests our children taking at school necessary? Are the results valid and reliable? Should our kindergartners be assessed on reading skills? Our tests today reflect the Common Core State Standards, but are the standards developmentally appropriate? These are questions parents need to ponder when reviewing their children’s test results. They also need to ask themselves if all these tests are necessary. Are they depriving their children of valuable instruction time, as well as other vital educational components such as play, recess and creativity?

As a teacher, parent, and grandparent, my answer to that last question is, “yes.” There is no research that says five-year-olds need to read. Yet, the tests used at the beginning, middle and end of kindergarten require children to do just that. I have had many students reading in kindergarten, but these children were developmentally ready to read. Reading was encouraged, but not forced. Years ago, tests were not required at all in kindergarten. Kindergarten was once a blooming garden where children could play, socialize, create, imagine, explore, and develop skills at an individual pace.

Because of the rigorous standards of today, kindergarten is now a place where students are required to sit for long periods of time, pay attention, and perform tasks that were once considered first grade skills. Kindergarten teachers are forced to administer a plethora of individual and group tests throughout the year. Most teachers, through classroom observation and progress monitoring charts, know their students’ strengths and weaknesses without the need for standardized testing. Have you ever tried to give the DIBLES (a mandated individual test in most states) while monitoring a classroom of 25 other kindergarten students? Did the DIBLES tell you anything more than what you already knew about the students? The answer is, “no!” So why give them?

The overuse of tests has caused many students to give up. Some of our students are late bloomers and need a little more time to develop. Some have learning difficulties. Are all these tests helping them overcome their learning challenges, or are they creating anxiety, stress, and feelings of failure? Overuse of testing begins in kindergarten and continues throughout the student’s schooling. Last week, I was asked to assess a student’s readiness for second grade. When I pulled out my stopwatch, the child responded with a look of trepidation on his face. “Do you have to time me?” he pleaded. “Just this once, “I promised.

When designing this student’s individual education plan, I needed first to help him overcome his fear of making mistakes when reading and let him see he can be successful. All the testing he has experienced has had a detrimental effect on him.

This student is not alone. I have witnessed numerous children cringe when the teachers announced it was time for a test. I have seen others who have just given up and put their heads down on their desks.

What can parents do to help eliminate the overuse of testing? In Pittsburgh and other places, a group of parents and teachers are asking parents to “opt out of the testing.” Parents need to put in writing that they do not want their children taking standardized tests. Because teachers are forced to teach to the test, test results are not reliable. Teaching to the test narrows the content of the curriculum, denying students a comprehensive education. It also makes the results questionable.

Parents need to demand we go back to a developmentally appropriate curriculum, where students are encouraged to take risks, be creative, imagine, problem solve, and think critically. They need to have time to socialize and play when they are in younger grades. Too much testing is depriving them of the experiences they need to become well-rounded individuals. If a student is experiencing academic difficulty, he should be given the gift of time to develop his skills in a stress-free learning environment that accommodates his academic needs. It is not the time to put more unnecessary stress on a student who is already feeling inadequate.

It’s time to eliminate the overuse of tests and focus on the real needs of our children. We need real educators with real practical experience to establish educational policy. The Common Core State Standards need to be revisited, and a new direction in the best interest of all students needs to be taken. Our children are our future.

Judy_SmizikJudy Smizik is an educator with over 35 years of experience. She is a  former President of the Pittsburgh Association of Kindergarten Teacher and a member of Delta Kappa Gamma, an International Educational Society.  Presently, she mentors new teachers, provides professional development workshops, and has a private practice.

Marshall Middle School teacher delves into world of public policy

By Chuck Carlson

It started with an email. Where it ends? Even Lesley Hagelgans isn’t quite sure.

But the Marshall Middle School eighth grade teacher does know this: She’s going to enjoy the ride and do what she can to help change the dialogue and, perhaps, the direction of public education.

“I’m a teacher, a mom and a writer,” Hagelgans said. “Writing has taken me to Washington, D.C. twice, New Orleans and New York City. I’ve gotten to see people around the country and meet people I never thought I would have met.”

She has found herself deep in the often complex, sometimes frustrating world of public policy. In fact earlier this month, she was in Denver with nine other educators from across the country in the National Education Association “Raise Your Hand: Empowered Educators” representing Vision Ideas Voice Action, a teacher-empowerment group.

She has become a powerful local voice in teacher evaluations and in the national VIVA program and she has met with U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan to voice her ideas and suggestions.

“It’s very fulfilling,” she said.

And it all started with a single email.

In fact, it was an email blast that came from Marshall school superintendent Randy Davis, by way of a school board member, and it asked the generic question, “If you had $3.94 billion to spend on public education, how would you spend it?”

The number was not random — it was the amount the federal government currently spends on professional development in education — and the question intrigued Hagelgans, who teaches language arts and is the school’s yearbook adviser.

“I was just going to spend 15 minutes on the computer looking into it and I was there two hours,” she said. “I was sucked in. And when I was in Denver, the other teachers all said the same thing.”

That initial foray was a little more than three years ago and since then, she has become an advocate for VIVA Teachers and the launching of its Idea Exchange, a three-step process developed by New Voice Strategies to increase participation in public policy.

The plan is to begin an online conversation and then bring those who are truly interested into a room to discuss recommendations for teacher accountability, teacher support and more.

Those recommendations made their way to Duncan’s office and he met with a group of teachers, including Hagelgans, in D.C.

He discussed some of the proposals and seemed non-committal, she said, but six months later, he introduced the “Race to the Top” program, the Education Department’s $4 billion contest created to spur innovation and reforms in state and local public education.

She has also found herself in groups discussing public education and funding with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which over the years has donated millions to education.

“It’s taken on a life of its own,” she said. “It’s so cool.”

It was never supposed to be this way for Hagelgans, who while growing up in central and southern Illinois, figured she’d eventually do something with what she knew best — math.

“We moved down to Carterville, Ill. and it was a small town, but kind of cliquey, something like Marshall, though no disrespect to Marshall,” she said. “I had a teacher named Connie Church and all the cliquey groups fell away. She said everyone has a voice and she didn’t care about your past. For the first time I felt like I belonged in a small town.”

Hagelgans had Church as a teacher for three classes by her senior year but in October of her senior year, Church, her husband, her sister, her sister-in- law and two others died in a horrific traffic accident.

“We had to do something so we all went to her house,” Hagelgans said. “She brought us together when she was alive and she brought us together in death. But she pushed me in language arts. It just opened up for me. She gave me the push I needed.”

She also provided the template for Hagelgans, who decided to make her life’s work teaching.

She went to Western Michigan University, earning a bachelor’s degree in English and political science and a master’s in middle school teaching.

She heard about an opening at Marshall Middle School and, 15 minutes into the interview, was hired. She’s been there ever since and she has made it a point to teach the way Mrs. Church did, making every kid feel comfortable.

“I want to give kids that sense of community,” said Hagelgans, who turns 38 this week and lives in Union City with her husband Michael and their two kids, Damen, 9, and Delilah, 6, who both attend Hughes Elementary.

She continues working with educators around the country in VIVA Teachers as well as writing about public policy and the role of public education today.

“It’s like being a doctor,” she said. “You make a diagnosis of students and get a prescription for how to make them better.”


Originally posted Jul. 13, 2014 by the Battle Creek Enquirer http://ow.ly/zeok4 

Let’s Fix Inequality in Public Education

By Allan Fluharty

A central tenant of education is to prepare students to participate in a democratic society. We want them to value a diversity of thought and culture, as well as a commitment to equity and justice. Unfortunately, I do not see equality and justice in public education in Illinois on several levels.

Families raising children in Chicago are faced with tough educational choices, decisions that have life-changing impact on their kids. One is to stay in the city or move to a suburban district with well-funded schools. There is a vast difference between city, suburban, and rural schools in Illinois, in funding and educational outcomes. Most families who can afford it move.

Funding public education in Illinois is based on property taxes, which has created a dysfunctional system that favors the students who are lucky enough to live in well-to-do communities. Public education in Illinois is not progressive; it does not provide an equal education for all of our citizens.

In the Chicago, there are also great differences between schools. Some families send their children to private or parochial schools; however, most parents don’t have the means to pay both for taxes and tuition. Many families live in areas of Chicago with fine CPS schools, but other families don’t. Over the last 25 years, public education in Chicago evolved into a potpourri of options with magnet, select enrollment and neighborhood schools, both at the elementary and high school levels. There are also numerous charter school operations, some large and politically connected—who operate semi-autonomous schools with public funding. The “best” schools—those with the most successful results and highest funding, are the magnet and certain charter schools. Competition to enter the best schools is intense, involving a combination of grades, standardized test scores, and a lottery. Parents with students in CPS hope their children will have the grades and the luck to get into a magnet or a good charter school.

Incredibly, the separation and categorization of students also occurs inside schools, where students are placed, or “tracked,” into regular, honors, AP, and IB classes. IB classes are particularly divisive, creating a “school within a school” that splits the student body and the faculty into separate cliques. An after effect of splitting out the best students is that  “reluctant learners” are concentrated into lower level classes whose teachers must focus on social/emotional issues—such as tardiness, absent students, poor behaviors, and so on—at the expense of academic learning. It is typical that novice teachers are assigned to these challenging classes—teachers with the least experience handle the most challenging students.

Public schools in Illinois are divided by affluence, grades, behavior, and social-economic status. Perhaps the best gift a parent can give to their children is to live within the boundaries of well-off school districts. CPS separates children into neighborhood, select enrollment, magnet, and charter schools. Families pray that their children win the ‘educational lottery’ and get into the best schools. This separation continues with a vengeance within most schools through tracking and now school-within-school programs.

Enough is enough! Separating students based on class and ability is not done in public school systems of other industrialized nations as now practiced in the United States. More equitable systems in Europe, Asia, and North America—Finland, Singapore, and Canada, for example—are outpacing the U.S. by wide margins. Public education in the U.S. needs get back on track. It is time to put the “public” back into public education and introduce equity as a key provision.

Parents need to vote for politicians and policies that support the ideals of progressive education, in particular the ideal of educational equity.

Allan-FluhartyVIVA Teacher Allan Fluharty is a National Board Certified high school science teacher for the Chicago Public Schools. 

Design for Safety

By Mark Anderson

We talk a lot about the physical design of schools on this blog, as we know that the physical environment can have a great impact on learning. In this article on CNN from Paul Caron from last year on designing schools for safety in the wake of the Sandy Hook shootings, here’s some principles of school design that are worth exploring.

Layers of hurdles can be designed for unwanted visitors, with corridors, entries and exits that are still clearly visible to teachers, said Robert Ducibella, a member of the Sandy Hook commission and founding principal of DVS Security Consulting and Engineering.

Adding transparent buffering allows time for visitors to be assessed. If we consider this design feature from the standpoint of aesthetics, not only safety, we could also consider how entryways can be used to transition visitors from the external community into the school community in a manner that communicates what the school is about. For example, there might be a series of switchbacks leading up to the school doors that could be adorned with plantings made by the students, or a short hallway before the entryway that depicts pictures and artwork made by the students.

Some security features can improve everyday life in schools. Adding doors that connect classrooms can make it easier for teachers to work as teams, and in a dangerous situation, makes it easier for them to move students to safer areas.

Glassed hallways allow teachers and other adults in the schools to see an intruder but also to combat problems such as bullying.

Visibility and connectability are important design features in a school. Open space design has been tried and rejected in education and now in many offices as too distracting, but having the option to both open up and close off spaces is important. Design that allows for this level of flexibility and control would be much appreciated by teachers so that they can collaborate in bigger or small groups as necessary without the acoustic and visual distractions of an open space.

Visibility is highly critical in a school not only for safety, but furthermore when we consider the importance of allowing natural light into a building. All too often schools feel like enclosed dungeons rather than like spaces we’d want our children to grow in and spend the majority of their day within.

The topic of physical infrastructure of schools isn’t a sexy topic, and it’s not written or discussed much in the media on education, yet it is clear that it is a critical consideration in education not only for its impact on learning, but furthermore for safety. As the article notes:

But it often takes a local tragedy to make security a priority. Security experts said lawmakers need to make safety upgrades mandatory, as they have in other areas.

It’s terrible to say, but America is built around response management,” said Ducibella, the Sandy Hook commission member. “In most states in the country, we don’t have a perfect security criteria document for school design, which the Sandy Hook commission is looking at. We don’t have uniform criteria that is legislatively enforceable.”

This is unfortunately true. But given that we tend to ignore the impact of the physical environment of schools on learning, I wonder how long the tragedy of decrepit schools must be inflicted on our children before we realize that how we design our schools reflects how we value our future?

Mark-Anderson-150-Mark Anderson is a 7th and 8th grade Special Education teacher in the Bronx.



This blog was originally posted on http://schoolecosystem.wordpress.com on July 6, 2014

VIVA Teachers Share Habits of Innovative Educators

By Tina Nolan, National Leadership Development Director

 The truth is, innovation is like your health. If you treat it like a fad diet, you’ll get frustrated and exhausted. If you develop good habits, the results will engage your students like you’ve never seen before.

This summer, New Voice Strategies is taking part in launching its first online course, and placing teachers at the center of leading change in schools. Developed by TedX speaker Courtney O’Connell, 5 Habits of Innovative Educators is an online class to uncover the habits of what she calls “disruptive educators,” individuals who are working to change the education system from within.

New Voice Strategies invites all VIVA Teachers to participate in this exciting experiment. You can register online at http://bit.ly/5habits_NVS.

The foundation of the course is a series of six video lectures from Courtney. Those are complemented by guest lectures from innovators in and outside of education, case studies written by innovative educators — including four of our very own VIVA Teachers — and two live Q&A sessions. As a participant in this course, you will receive access to more than 24 lectures and 3.5 hours of content! Use this link to save $20 (an exclusive rate just for New Voice Strategies): http://bit.ly/5habits_NVS

The participating VIVA Teachers are Joshua Agpalza (VIVA NEA – Time in School), Laura Hirschfield (VIVA NEA – Safety), Katie Morosky (VIVA NEA – Safety), and Jim Szewc (VIVA MET). In their case examples, they share how educators can disrupt the status quo without adding any money to their budgets or time to their day.

Want to know more? 

Here’s a blog Courtney wrote about the course to explain some of the “unknown” perks about the course: http://www.courtoconnell.com/follow-big-ideas-conference-back-time-virtual/

Here’s a short video explaining the course: http://youtu.be/vhLjlePB-yo


Special New Voice Strategies Coupon Code:

Share this link with your email list and on your social media channels to make sure your teacher colleagues save $20: http://bit.ly/5habits_NVS