08 November 2010

The Seven Most Dangerous Words In Education

Sometimes, an educator will get sent to a conference. They'll go somewhere sunny and wonderful, like Omaha, and when they come back, the school will want to see a return on the money they spent.

Their co-workers, wondering why there was an elderly woman reading mystery novels in the class next door while children ran crazy, will ask the educator where they've been. The educator will respond with:

"I just got back from a conference"

These are the Seven Most Dangerous words in Education. Why? Because when an educator goes to a conference, they go away from school. While away from school, all things seem possible. You can go to the bathroom whenever you want. You can have free coffee and fruit.

At many conferences, there is AN HOUR for lunch. 60 whole minutes. Most educators can't even begin to imagine 60 minutes for lunch. And so, overwhelmed by this world that they don't understand, educators write everything down, and come back, ready to change the world, convinced that what they learned today really is the magic bullet.

Because someone at the conference has BRAND NEW IDEAS. And now, your school is going to implement those ideas. However, we don't have the funding to bring in the expert from the conference (Dr. Dick Johncock is actually available! Email him for details Seriously!) So, the person who went to the conference is going to lead an inservice, and we're going to implement this.

So, on the inservice day, the kids go home at lunch, you get lunch and meet in the library. At this point, a PowerPoint is projected, apologies are made for the small text, we watch a movie, get three handouts stolen from the Internet, and people walk away confused. Meanwhile, new jargon has been added to our educational lexicon. Because more jargon = better learning.

Seriously, I was once in a curriculum map planning meeting, and the leader (love you!), wanted us to develop a Vision Statement for Social Studies. I suggested that we put it in the "Random Educational Catchphrase Generator" and see what it spat out. Here's an example:

We will empower students, through experiential and differentiated lessons, to become masters of their education in an ever-changing world. Students will be supported by norms based, standards referenced, horizontally and vertically aligned, real-world applied, and community created lessons.

Far too often, administrators really buy into this stuff. They're looking for ways to improve test scores RIGHT FREAKING NOW, and these lessons from conferences seem like the real deal. That leads to administrators basing everything on jargon that teachers got exposed to for 2 hours at the end of the day in the library. (Honestly, the teachers probably graded and did the crossword, so they're just as much to blame in this deal)

You know what? The Internet is better at explaining this rant than I am.

Here's a video, it does a better job than I ever could:

So, are conferences bad, and are they hurting education? No, probably not. the problem is that the conference gets people all excited, and then they come back to school full of piss and vinegar, but that enthusiasm doesn't translate to us mere mortals. Indeed, there's even jargon for this. It's a "lack of buy-in".

What can we do about it? First, lets all calm down. Rome wasn't built in a day, and the problems of American education, as I think I've shown, are largely systemic, and won't be fixed by the ideas you're bringing back from the conference. Now that we're all calm, lets go ahead and implement these good ideas, in moderation. We don't need to reinvent the wheel every 10 months with a new set of acronyms and discipline plans. In fact, we might be well served to self-asses, or use that conference registration fee to bring in someone from outside to evaluate how we're doing.

But if we did that, no one would get to go to Omaha.

1 comment:

  1. I would say the 7 most dangerous words in education are:

    "He failed, now he has a gun"

    But that is just from someone who went to a Colorado High School in the Columbine Era.