I've attended five of these conferences in Cambridge and I've gone twice to the national TURN conference in Chicago (where I developed my deep and abiding love for the Chicago Cubs). Sometimes the work of TURN feels too big for little old me. What do I have to say to people from Washington, with their posh suits and their knack for talking for ten minutes without actually saying anything? This time, though, I decided to talk, even if my ideas came across as small or silly. I'm glad I did, because I made some great connections and engaged in some wonderful conversations.
Here are some of the highlights of the conference, which was focused on education in general with a side order of teacher evaluation:
- Here's a metaphor for you in response to the suggestion that the answer to failing schools is to train teachers better: Imagine a dangerous intersection. There are 30 accidents a day at this intersection, so street reformers come along and say, "Let's have everybody take classes in driving, since the greatest indicator of success in road safety is safe drivers." OR here's an idea- you could put in a stop sign! Systemic change is necessary, bandaids and placing blame won't cut it.
- Another metaphor: If we ran hospitals the way we run schools, doctors would say, "Regardless of your ailment, we are going to give you identical treatments in the hopes that it will make the majority of you well."
- The idea that we will start kids off in Kindergarten, bringing them together from disparate backgrounds and at widely varying levels of cognitive ability, and then keep them together for 12 years regardless - that's not helping anyone.
- Teacher evaluation should be used not to find and fire but to support and inspire.
- Education reform must address three issues if it is to be meaningful:
- Customized education that meets every kid where he is in early childhood and continues through graduation. We acknowledge prior experience, different ways of learning; the meritocracy no longer applies (mass customized learning).
- Deal with poverty front and center - the things that stop kids from attending school and being able to thrive physically and emotionally. This must be the work of our unions, too, and non-cognitive features need to be addressed.
- Create a level playing field for out of school opportunities.
I told him about the challenges of working in a school that desperately needs change but is filled with fear about that change, how difficult it is to stand up and call for systemic reform when it's so much easier to keep my head down and just teach. He patted me on the back, smiled, and said, "You're odd. Being odd is good." So that's my mantra now - being odd is good.