Cory Roush

Dissonance and tension plus reflection and resolution equal intellectual growth

Get the Fear Out of Your Classroom!

Given the assignment of indoctrinating a thousand kids at a time, the embattled school administrator reaches for the most effective tool available. Given that the assigned output of school is compliant citizens, the shortcut for achieving this output was fear.

Love him or hate him for his no-holds-barred approach to delivering the truth about the public education system (and I've been reminded several times that he is not an educator but a businessman), Seth Godin does have the masterful ability to make you think long and hard about your attitudes towards life's most important institutions. His most hated adversary is the lizard brain, his catch-all explanation for why humans are fearful of anything that could result in discomfort.

His latest book, a short but powerful read titled Stop Stealing Dreams focuses entirely on education, undoubtedly a result of legions of educators begging him to elaborate on the points he made previously in books like Linchpin relating to school.

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Promoting a Growth Mindset Should Be Priority One

I've written about my own personal growth mindset before, the belief that most human qualities - intelligence, some elements of personality, work ethic, self-concept, etc. - can be improved (or, on a less positive note, degrade). It's my opinion that this is the only way that one can hope to live a happy, productive life.

An article in Wired magazine backs me up on this and then takes the idea one step further, to a point where it becomes apparent that the growth mindset is essential for teachers to nurture in their students.

Jonah Lehrer explains:

The question at the heart of the paper is simple: Why are some people so much more effective at learning from their mistakes? After all, everybody screws up. The important part is what happens next. Do we ignore the mistake, brushing it aside for the sake of our self-confidence? Or do we investigate the error, seeking to learn from the snafu?

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Piling On: Teachers Hate Creativity, Supposedly

A study published in 1995 is being dragged out of storage to create all new incendiary headlines for the upcoming weeks, which will undoubtedly prove once again that teachers are awful. Right?

The study itself is not at fault, of course (and rarely is). I did take issue with the researchers putting teachers in the uncomfortable position of actually choosing their favorite and least favorite students and describing them. Sure, we all play favorites, but I'm already wary of these teachers' disposition toward education if they can readily name their least favorite student in the classroom. I'm willing to bet that you'll find little Johnny in the back of the classroom, possibly facing the opposite direction of his classmates and working on uncompleted homework from the day before. But I'll get back to the point.

The results of the first part of the study showed that these teachers described their least favorite students as more creative (as defined by a list of characteristics deemed creative). Their most favorite students, on the other hand, were described as less creative.

At this point, the study could go in a few different ways, analyzing the elements of the classroom and our nation's schools that might lead to such results.

But that's not what the headlines are going to say.

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The First Sign That You Are a 21st Century Teacher...

People love buzzwords. I suppose that makes sense, given the defintion of the word, but each year it seems like every professional field gets a whole new batch of them. Politicians love to spew them in 30 second soundbites, and corporations are always eager to add new and exciting words to their marketing campaigns (see: artisan-baked everything, including potato chips and pizza). And for those of us who are interested in the latest technology news, you're probably familiar with Web 2.0, gamification, content discovery, and 4G, 5G, and LTE wireless access. If it gets people interested in what you are trying to sell, where's the harm?

It's fine if you choose to eat more Domino's pizza just because you think it's suddenly more healthy for you. Go right ahead and subscribe to the belief that any discontent with the ever-widening gap between the upper and lower class in America is socialist thinking. And please, spend a few hundred bucks more on a smartphone that you think is going to download YouTube videos faster than yours does now. There's no long-term harm in any of that, besides alienating your more liberal relatives during the holiday season.

The field of education, however, needs to avoid adding any more buzzwords to its repertoire. And if there's one buzzword that really rubs me the wrong way, it's this one: 21st century learning.

How do you know that you are a 21st century teacher? Simple.

You live in the 21st century, and are a teacher.

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My Philosophy of Education

As one of my last assignments before I begin student teaching in the fall, I was asked to revise the philosophy of education that I submitted when I entered the program in 2009. I dusted it off (digital dust collects faster than real dust, you know) and started thinking about how it has changed in two years. In 2009 I was young(er) and (more) naive than I am now and I felt that the purpose of education was less about the individual child and their development, and more about the strength and quality of the students a school pumps out into the community. That's not entirely a bad thing - in fostering all domains of development in children, we are basically ensuring that they leave our classroom and go out into the world with strength, resiliency, self-respect, and a compassion for others that transcends all society-driven barriers between us. But it's not the only reason that we teach. Effective teachers are able to bring a classroom's test scores up a few points on average, and if they're lucky, they'll get by without any conflicts with the families of their students. Effective teachers look at a full classroom and see several distinct groups forming, often based on ability, age, and sociability. Effective teachers don't harm children and they aren't bad teachers. But they could do better. And I want to do better.

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The Growth Mindset

2011 has been quite the year for Cory Roush. If you knew me in 2010, you’d probably still recognize me now and you might not notice anything different about me, but my life has turned inside out and upside down since December of last year. On the inside, I feel like an entirely different person.

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The Paradoxical Commandments, by Kent M. Keith

People are illogical, unreasonable, and self-centered.
Love them anyway.

If you do good, people will accuse you of selfish ulterior motives.
Do good anyway.

If you are successful, you will win false friends and true enemies.
Succeed anyway.

The good you do today will be forgotten tomorrow.
Do good anyway.

Honesty and frankness make you vulnerable.
Be honest and frank anyway.

The biggest men and women with the biggest ideas can be shot down by the smallest men and women with the smallest minds.
Think big anyway.

People favor underdogs but follow only top dogs.
Fight for a few underdogs anyway.

What you spend years building may be destroyed overnight.
Build anyway.

People really need help but may attack you if you do help them.
Help people anyway.

Give the world the best you have and you’ll get kicked in the teeth.
Give the world the best you have anyway.

The Terror of Not Being Able to Teach

Easily one of the most uncomfortable moments of Race to Nowhere came when the audience met a young woman teaching at a school in Oakland, CA. I wish that I had thought to write down her name, but her story sticks with me. I immediately related to her lifelong desire to become a teacher and her eagerness to get out of college and into a classroom of her own. I watched as she moved around her high school English classroom, excitedly reading excerpts from A Midsummer Night's Dream and engaging her students in a discussion about. And then, I watched as her on-screen testimony went from joy to sadness and bitterness in just minutes.

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"Race to Nowhere": Where do we begin?

I recently had a chance to attend a screening of Race to Nowhere at COSI (Center of Science and Industry) in Columbus, OH, and the experience was, as I described on Twitter, uncomfortably inspiring. Whereas watching Waiting for Superman immediately put me (and many others!) on the defensive, I felt like this documentary found a happy medium between causing alarm, pointing out some of the problems, and then offering up the reassurance that A) there is hope, B) there are stakeholders in education who truly have the best interests of our students at heart, and C) there is no one person or group in particular at blame. Davis Guggenheim's documentary scolded public school teachers and parents who refused to endanger their children's well-being in order to get into a "good" school; Vicki Abeles' documentary held up a mirror to society itself and asked the honest question that we all need to ask ourselves: how did we let things get this bad?

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Students First, Michelle Rhee?

Michelle Rhee. She's been a polarizing figure for years, but I've always tried to avoid making her the villain of the increasingly dramatic conversation taking place around education reform. I cheered for her as she stood up to status-quo administrators, parents, and teachers who focused more on job security and convenience than effective teaching. I cringed as her attacks became less accurate, landing blows upon effective teachers who also wanted their paychecks to be based on more than their students' scores on a flawed assessment system. I held back my disgust as she appeared on Oprah with John Legend and starred in "Waiting for Superman", triumphantly praising teachers in charter schools and Finland while chiding American public school teachers already facing media criticism. I didn't call her the Boogeyman because I was confident that, deep down, every action she took was for the benefit of the children in her schools. Well, now she's really made me angry.

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"Secrets of a Buccaneer Scholar" - What Can We Learn?

"School is temporary. Education is not. If you want to prosper in life, find something that fascinates you and jump all over it. Don’t wait for someone to teach you; your enthusiasm will attract teachers to you. Don’t worry about diplomas or degrees, just get so good that no one can ignore you." - James Marcus Bach, "Secrets of a Buccaneer Scholar"
An aspiring public school teacher, posting such heresy? A product of the public school system, appearing to endorse the idea that diplomas and degrees are somehow unnecessary? That's right, and I'm warming up to the idea that this is perfectly acceptable and not at all hypocritical. Why? Because it's not our job to protect the public school system, at least not in its current form. No matter how old your students are, your devotion to promoting a lifelong love for learning is paramount to everything else.

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Teachers, We Know More Than You Do. (Or so we think.)

I've recently heard a few friends remark on the futility of participating in the current educational system. These are bright young men and women who are capable of things that I only wish I could do. As an obvious proponent of public education, it's becoming clear that the most popular model of schooling is failing not only the bottom tier of students, but also those who would normally be performing at the top. And I think I know one reason why: Teachers, we know more than you do. Or at least we think that we do.

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A Vision for Future Educators

I was recently elected President of the student organization for education majors at Ohio University-Zanesville; in essence, I've been given a college-sized playground (albeit a regional campus) in which I can begin to apply some of the things that I have learned over the last few years in regards to education. As I said last winter when struggling with an educational technology course: I don't like to complain about things without first trying to fix the problem myself. Grumbling about things is useful in select few cases, but standing up and facing an issue head-on really gets things done.

I opened this past week's meeting, the first of the new academic year, with a question. Thanks goes to those on Twitter who helped me formulate a perfectly provocative question:

"Looking back at elementary school, high school, college, and beyond, what do you value most about your education?"

The future educators in the room may not have realized it, but we were developing what I hope will become our vision for everything we do now and in our own classrooms and school districts. The answers we developed were:

1. Freedom, choice, and opportunity

2. Personal relationships/mentoring

3. A variety of challenges

I finished up this brief discussion with one last question, which I'm sure any reader of this blog has asked themselves at some point. If we've valued these things in our own lives and see them as important pieces of the puzzle that makes up our education, why are they often the hardest things to find in our schools?

The Impact Mindset

I'm an unapologetic idealist, and some may mutter "naive" under their breath. The way I see it, this may be one of the few times in my life where I can get away with it. But lately I've felt compelled to put into words the mindset that has gotten me through the last two years of my life and, with luck, will guide me into adulthood. It's 2010, and every man, woman, and child, can change the world. Alright, quit groaning. I'm not running for President, and I'm not standing two steps down from the spot that Martin Luther King Jr. once made the most important civil rights speech in history.

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Vermont School District Replaces Principal for Federal Aid

The New York Times published an article yesterday that highlights the inherent problem in setting blanket rules for obtaining federal money for education: human elements, like innovation, creativity, and a passion for your job are ignored when there are only four possible solutions to a problem like low test scores.

First of all, I wasn't aware of the requirements for failing school districts to qualify for aid. Schools must either shutter their doors, let a charter school come in and replace you, fire half the staff, or... fire the principal and "transform" the school? I'm hoping the Times simply chose to be vague on that last one, as I'm not sure what the difference is between firing your principal and half the staff, or just firing your principal and pledging to change things up next year.

And as I said on Twitter, there are 90,000 public schools across America. How can you possibly fix each of them by applying these four general solutions to their problems?

In any case, Joyce Irvine was sacrificed in order to grab millions of dollars in federal aid. She recognized this, saying "You can buy a lot of help for children with that money." Indeed, you can, but at what price? Irvine was in the process of developing a strong arts curriculum, something often missing from schools competing to raise standardized test scores, and something she saw as important to meet the needs of her diverse student population.

Ironically, Irvine won't be joining the unemployment line; she's now the district's school improvement administrator, a position created in order to address this situation. In order to fill a budget gap, the Burlington School District has now created a new job and, thus, a new salary.

How to Influence Others on the Internet

EduDemic introduced its newest giveaway today, offering a prize to the educator on Twitter who the community votes as most influential. Despite the irony of including a noted opponent of frivolous rewards, Alfie Kohn, in a contest that awards you a prize for doing exactly what you should be doing, it did prompt me to think about the actual act of influencing others. Jeff Thomas posted a response to the giveaway this afternoon, arguing that his role on Twitter isn't to influence anyone but to share and collaborate, instead. I don't feel that there is any difference, but I think I differ from him in my definition of influence. Influencing someone else doesn't have to take their own thoughts and feelings out of the equation, and there is still room for critical thinking to occur. In my opinion, influencing someone can get the thinking process started. So what does it take to influence your fellow educators on the Internet? I've got the six-step process right here, and you don't even have to pay a single cent.

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Punished by a Race to the Top?

Disclaimer: I have, admittedly, not done a lot of research into the Department of Education's "Race to the Top" program. I'm not sure why I have avoided reading much into it; it's not as if my career will someday hinge on its success or failure, right? I've got the general overview, but I've yet to delve deep into what anyone is thinking about the implications of the plan.

But I was reading Alfie Kohn's Punished by Rewards tonight and I came across this paragraph. It stood out to me as a potential roadblock in the way of meaningful collaboration among states to further our goals for education reform:

"Of all the ways by which people are led to seek rewards, I believe the most destructive possible arrangement is to limit the number that are available. To do so is to replace the possibility that people will try to assist each other with the near certainty that they will try to defeat each other. But whether it is simply permitted by a standard individual incentive system, or actually required by a race for awards, contests are destructive for several reasons beyond the fact that they preclude the sort of teamwork that leads to success."

Is this a viable complaint with the Race to the Top program? Do you think that states might actually shy away from helping other states out in an effort to make sure that their proposals are the most innovative and effective?

My personal opinion is that we'll never see such rivalry start from the bottom up: the sheer number of educators who are connected online and sharing their teaching methods and strategies with each other daily is a testament to our inherent desire to work together. But as you near the top (no pun intended) and your salary and employment begin to depend on your ability to rein in spending and find sources of funding for your school, might we see administrators and states' Departments of Education become a little more walled off?

Putting the Brakes on Accelerated Readers

The Accelerated Reader program: a centerpiece of reading instruction in more than 75,000 public school systems across the United States, and yet another divisive battleground among educators. It shares that status with a variety of other programs and methods used in the classroom amidst great debate: behavior charts, gold stickers, a treasure chest chock full of prizes for when you finally sit down in your seat and profess your obedience (with fingers crossed)... I digress.

I first encountered the Accelerated Reader program in the eighth grade. As an already avid reader, the burden of reading 75 points worth of books in a grading period wasn't too overwhelming. In fact, I remember being asked once or twice to skip a test over a book I had read because, with my best intentions at heart, my teachers just weren't sure that I was actually reading them. Of course I was reading them; the problem was my short-term memory, which was going into overdrive in an effort to remember names and places.

So what could possibly be so terrible about a program that is known for getting children, especially boys with a natural competitive drive, to read books? A lot, I would argue.

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What Drives Us, Drives Students Too

Educators and administrators will agree that our desire for education renewal is driven by the realization that school is rarely authentic and doesn't always reflect the actual way that information is gained, processed, and applied in a real world setting. Nowhere is that more obvious than when you consider public education's "carrot on a stick" method of getting students to do everything. We assign homework for drill and practice, but also because we feel a need to give students a grade. Grades are highly coveted among parents and children because if you work hard enough, at the end of the month you'll see your name added to a list of the principal's best and brightest. Verbal rewards are given out every thirty seconds and God forbid you miss a spelling word. Don't you realize there is a $0.05 sticker at stake?!

And as everyone knows, graduating from high school and entering the real world comes with its own share of graded assignments, a list of the boss' favorites, and constant verbal praise and encouragement. And when you wake up in the morning, the only thing keeping you from rolling over and falling back asleep is that mental image of a nice, shiny sticker... right?

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