Tuesday, December 30, 2008

A Thought on How We Think About Teachers

Why is it that teacher-directed websites usually look like they've been designed for children?

This isn't a big point -- just something I've been chewing on as I do organisational research this morning.

Take a look at any site for educators. Unless these educators are administrators, you'll probably find pictures of apples (for the teacher, presumably), ruled paper, and cartoon characters with blackboard pointers in their hands (hooves? claws?).

Here's My Experience

When I was hired to produce an interactive site for Troll Communications (at the time, Scholastic's chief competitor), the consistent image across pages was an owl with a flat, square graduation hat (what are they called? You know, the ones with the tassles?).

That owl was first on my hit list, especially because he also wore spec's. But the whole situation seemed revising from the bottom up.

Don't trolls EAT children? (Tip: don't ask this question at your first meeting with a CEO. It doesn't encourage the kind of change you're after.)

Kids Think Teachers Don't Exist Outside of School

This isn't a big point either. Anyone who's taught, and then runs into a student in a coffee shop or the supermarket, has seen the shock register.

I chalk it up to some sort of delayed object permanence problem. Kids tend to have a pretty fixed idea of how their worlds function. Even when I taught university, my students would express shock usually reserved only for a broken law of physics if I were sited anywhere outside the English Department.

How Much Thought is Given to Teachers Anyway?

We'd expect more from grown-up's.

But from the websites I've seen, non-educators seem so completely to merge teachers with their kids that they forget they're adults.

It's a strange phenomenon. I might give it to NASA to chew on.

On the other hand, how surprising is it really that teachers aren't paid very much if we forget they exist outside the classroom -- you know, paying rent, driving cars, or doing an activity with other adults?

Anyone, please find me a website designed for teachers that looks sophisticated, that treats its target audience as though they have some design sense or have ever been to the opera.

And those text-only sites don't count. They're just lazy.


Thursday, December 18, 2008

Inspiration Redux: Some Things are Worth Repeating

I've recently been asked to do fund raising for the CAGSE Foundation, and I'm finding that speaking to people about learning is challenging when they have never taught -- or at least, have never felt comfortable teaching.

When I worked in Silicon Alley, we always said that all clients think they can write and design a logo for effective branding. Generally, when left to their own devices, clients give you muddled visual concepts and run-on sentences instead.

Talking to non-educators about learning has led to something a little different from this -- although the reaction is similar to that of the people for whom I consulted for PricewaterhouseCoopers.

The standard line: learning is an intellectual exercise.

This Time, With Feeling

Many blog posts ago, I defined inspiration as the meeting point of intellectual and emotional insight. You can't innovate without engagement. You can't learn without it, either. Engagement is as much emotional as intellectual.

The trick to great teaching is to bring your students to an understanding of the beauty, passion, extraordinary nature of what it is you see in what you're teaching.

And students define great teachers with feeling as well. They remember the great teachers they've had by the passion the teachers inspired. The feeling lasts much longer than any particular piece of information relayed.

Do you remember much of what your favorite teacher told you? Or are there one or two "aha" moments that generated the passionate gratitude you feel today?

How much more emotional could a process be? And why do we continue to insist on denying it?

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Ellen Marden Interviews Yours Truly

Ellen Marsden interviewed me at PopTech! about CAGSE and all we do to connect the past to the present, school to the world outside, and other ideas of similar note.

Ready for my close-up?

Ellen wanted me to skip the linguistic aspects of the project and talk in broader terms so that we could focus on historical and cultural issues. She's got kids of her own and is very interested in education.

So what should we learn, and how should we learn it?

Culture and History: Dead or Alive?

Nothing is dead if someone alive learns it. The process of learning, on its own, immediately connects what is learned to everything happening at the moment of understanding.

That's the magic of context.

Think of the word "history" as a living thing - something in which we live and that we create as we breathe rather than something that is over. Nothing is unconnected to anything else. People sometimes use the word "culture" to name human experience, but history and culture can't exist without each other.

My 15 Minutes of Fame

If you don't believe in Latin's cultural and historical relevance, here's information about our storytelling programme included in every Latin class CAGSE teaches. It's only part of the story, but it's one worth telling.

For more on the relationships among culture, history, and learning last week's post.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Rap That

Among our tremendously talented staff at CAGSE, we have a a charming and gifted rapper called Jonathan Goddard. He ain't no slouch as a Latin teacher, either.

Jonathan makes grammar sound urgent, compelling, interesting (even). Check it out, Yo.