Who I am: Chris Lehmann
What I do: Principal of the Science Leadership Academy in Philadelphia, PA (Opening 9/06).
What I did: Technology Coordinator / English Teacher / Girls Basketball Coach / Ultimate Coach at the Beacon School, a fantastic progressive public high school in Manhattan.
Email: chris [at] practicaltheory [dot] org.
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< What Comes Before Filtering, Fearlessness and Foresight | Daily Walkthroughs with GoogleApps and the iPad >
Thursday, September 23. 2010
So I haven't been blogging lately.
It's not for lack of ideas. Certainly, with things like the DC election and Education Nation and Waiting for Superman going on, there's been a lot to write about on the national scene.
And at SLA, we've started our first year without the first class. We have made major changes in the way we get work done to better distribute leadership to the people who want to get the work done, we are using GoogleApps for the first time, we have a new walk-through protocol that is all Google-Driven that makes it much easier for me to give feedback, and we are learning what it means to be a school that actually can feel like we know what it feels like to have four years done and can really start reflecting on practice deeply and start revising ideas and begin, in earnest, the transition from start-up to sustainability.
And then there's this idea that I've been kicking around about where and how we should be talking about education reform in this country. The concept is "Leading from the Radical Middle" (which I think I stole from Doug Johnson) but I've been doing a lot of staring at the blank screen on that one. But it's in there, and it's probably a multi-post piece of writing.
But the reason that this post has its title is because, despite all these reasons to write, I haven't been. And here's why. I'm feeling a bit defeated these days. Between Oprah and Waiting for Superman and $100 million for mayoral control to Newark and an increasingly hostile and simplistic rhetoric about public education, I've started wondering what a blog entry here and there or a speech in front of teachers here and there can really do. I mean, how do you go up against the PR machine of Bill Gates and Eli Broad? How do you make a difference when you are outmanned and outgunned on what feels like every front?
And then I listen to the voices of my students in class as they dig deeply and powerfully into complex ideas. And then I read the emails and tweets from the first SLA class at college talking about how prepared they are. And I realize that I have to keep writing and talking and teaching, because this isn't about unions and charters, and it's not about what Oprah wants or about what Bill Gates wants or even about what Arne Duncan wants. It's about a vision of what we want our schools to be and therefore a vision of what we want our world to be.
And I realize the way you do it is to do it.
You write the blog entry.
You speak truth to power when you have the opportunity.
And you serve the children who have put their faith in you.
You let their voices rise.
And you let their voices inform and embolden your voice.
Because that's what's needed.
And that's how we win.
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I'm right there with you, Chris. When I started blogging, it was to help me reflect, provide a resource and repository for workshops I was presenting, and to inspire. Lately, though, I feel like my posts reflect that same defeat you mention.
But here's what I think: there are more of us than Oprah, Bill, et al. And there are more parents who are happy with what teachers are doing for their kids. We can be louder, and we can exercise our purchasing power. As always in this country, money talks. We need to be strategic, and we need to be *heard*.
I wish Educon were this weekend, instead of 4 months away. I'm really looking forward to visiting SLA and hearing about all the great things you all are doing.
Thanks for writing this post!
I think you are underestimating the power of your voice and the wideness of your voice.
I know you did not write this post to have people say "WAY TO GO, CHRIS....WE LOVE YOU" -- etc etc etc.
And I, for one, am glad to see that you can get discouraged as well.......
But then you do what we all need to be doing -- we stand up, brush ourselves off, remember THIS IS NOT ABOUT US....and begin again.
All the loud voices you mention will dim as they move onto a new item to conquer.
I view us -- (if I might be so bold) -- as steady streams or currents that are "slowly" etching into the rocks of education. It takes time. It takes persistence. It takes strength.
And it takes voices like yours to encourage the rest of us to not give up.
Thanks for this post.
Tried to comment earlier, but not seeing it here now. Maybe it got caught in spam trap?
If you find original comment on your end, please delete this one.
Just wanted to say -- keep writing, keep speaking -- yours is an important voice and it needs to be heard!
I'm also taking my message outside of blogging -- trying to spread it to friends and family via email and face-to-face discussions...
We need to speak up and be very vocal on this -- we cannot be silent!
The forces against us are indeed overwhelming, Chris, but the stakes are too high for us to afford ourselves the luxury of giving in to despair and defeat.
SLA is a shining example of what school should and can be (I've mentioned to you earlier how it has influence me in my own classroom - http://www.elkner.net/static/essential_questions_core_values.jpg).
I keep hoping that Educon can somehow become more than just an annual opportunity to come together. I'm personally yearning to be part of a broad movement for liberating and democratic education.
Please keep up the inspirational work you've been doing. We need more examples like SLA, and can't get by with less.
Finding the strength to write can be difficult and disheartening at times. Sometimes I wonder if anyone is listening. But then I remember a great professor that told me "I write because I have to, there is something in me that needs to get out." I find that every time I am ready to throw in the towel, someone reminds me that my voice matters. The many voices of those of us who work with these kids every day matter because we know how to reach kids and help them become masters of their learning.
Your voice matters, we are listening.
You may be one voice but together we can all sing a song of change.
There is not a doubt in my mind, Chris, that without your voice we would be lacking in the education world. Sadly, the politicians do not realize the wealth of knowledge that can be had if they would only offer a true open door policy to all voices regardless of political earning potential (read as election contributions).
I know you are making a difference in schools across America. I was just telling a school district today a few hours north of me that they were at a crossroads in what they were doing and needed to be at EduCon to hear some great educators discussing openly the direction they should be headed. Maybe they will listen and be there and also become part of the greater conversation. That is the only way to make it work. Who are the Pips without Gladys Knight, anyway?
Thanks for the message of hope. I too, have been feeling down. Down that many of my colleagues don't even realize what is happening. Down that my 26 years as an educator are getting lumped in with the "worst" examples of education. (I freely admit I've made mistakes along the way.)
Sunday I had a chance to hear Curtis Johnson talk about "Disrupting Class." One of the points he talked about was that for organizations to change from within they need two things:
Separate Space. Don't try to change everything or everybody-Just allow a few to try it. (Dayton's-Target example of decentralized Target whose leaders didn't have to report to the Department store leaders, they reported directly to the Board of Directors.)
Radical Autonomy-IBM was the only company that survived the changes in the computing industry from mainframe to mini, mini to PC, and beyond because they gave the spin off organizations autonomy.
From an outsider, it appears that Philadelphia Public Schools gave those to things to you at SLA. I wish more districts would have the courage to do the same!
Both Will Richardson and you are my favorite Ed-Bloggers and I have noticed frustration from both of you. But, please believe me, just knowing you are out there trying and that someone really does get that fundamental change in our education system is needed is important. I liken you both to stars in the Universe shimmering brightly for all your worth to be noticed.
Also, the knowledge that SLA is in my own backyard is extremely reassuring and a source of pride. There is so, so much to do that when you are tired it is very discouraging.
Thanks much for this post. I think its what we need to hear...keep fighting.
I was inspired by your post and have been thinking along the same lines. I'm a newbie to blogging, but here's my latest post : "Waiting for the Citizens of Edutropolis". http://www.masterlearners.com/m-l-blog.html
Chris - I've been probably over-rabble-rousing lately and have felt at times like "let it go". It isn't making a difference. But maybe, just maybe these recent shows, movies and attitudes will wake this sleeping giant ... maybe teachers will wake up and find a voice. I don't think we have reached a critical mass yet, but maybe we are as close as we have ever been. Maybe now is the time to push back the hardest and make as many teachers/educators and more aware of what is happening and we can get something done.
Frustration seems to be the feeling of the hour for those in the progressive education camp lately. While my district and school are using what could be valuable time to work on test-prep and all goals are based on making AYP, I've been feeling frustrated and as if my voice is being swallowed by the powerful voices from on high.
A few days ago I sat down and thought through whether I should voice my criticisms or just let it go. I came to many similar conclusions as you:
I won't sit quietly while decisions are made that are bad for students.
I won't get enraged- though I'll argue passionately.
There must be other teachers who feel the same way. I hope I can get a few to speak up as well.
Thanks for sharing your struggles. In some small way, it helps to know that there are others frustrated with similar things. It let's me know I haven't gone crazy yet.
Don't ever be discouraged Chris. Your voice is heard-thousands of students, thousands of teachers, administrators, education policy makers, and even the media hear you and see you. Unfortunately your voice isn't the loudest because you, what you stand for, what you have helped to achieve, is still rare. The more you voice it, your teachers voice it, your students voice it, the more change takes place. The more who follow your lead, the louder the voice gets. Keep going!
Well done Chris, You had me worried at first. I know, we all understand how frustratingly slow change can be in all field, not just education, but as you pointed out, something that every activists knows is that change takes time and we have no choice but to fight. The change comes from the struggle itself. Reminds me of the ole FD quote: "Where is no struggle, there is no progress.”
Just know that your voice is heard and whether you want it or not, or even realize it you are fighting the good fight and have become a leader and an innovator in this field. People look up to the work you do and we need you to keep doing it.
Don't worry. I understand that it can be tough to be saddled with that kind of responsibility, and I am here to remind you that you are not alone. Everyday across the world, teachers are rolling up their sleeves and trying to create spaces where they can help young people learn and grow
We are doing our best to create with what we got. The rest of it is all politics and money and BS.
Thanks for the work you do.
You, we, all of us can't stop pushing for a different vision of education. Even if the system hasn't changed appreciably, there are tens if not hundreds of thousands of individuals who have been changed by this conversation we've been having in the blogosphere and elsewhere over the years. But let's not kid ourselves. "We" are up against a ton of tradition and a ton of money and political power that wants to "reinvent" schools in ways that do nothing to take into account the radically different learning environments many are exploring today. We have to make sure we spend our energies in ways they will have the most effect for the kids in all of our lives.
But, as you suggest, there are too many teachers, too many students, too many people who are waiting for change to stop talking it, no matter how hard it feels.
Thank you.....Thank you for pushing through and inspiring the many students in your school.....Thank you for pushing through and inspiring the staff in your school......Thank you for pushing through and inspiring those that read your blog or follow you on Twitter......and most of all thank you for providing me just the right words at the right time.
I have had a tough go this week and have been reflecting on the decisions and work that I have done wondering if I am doing the right things. Your post put my week into perspective and allowed me to see that I am making decisions in the best interest of kids. I enjoyed walking the hallways and being in classes today. The students are happy, engaged, motivated, and challenged. It put a huge smile on my face!
On a separate topic, I am beginning to use a Google form for walk-throughs. However, I haven't incorporated the feedback piece into the form. I was wondering if you would be able to send me a link to your form to see how you have created the feedback loop?
Thank you for all that you do for your students, staff, and providing your thoughts for all of us to learn!
Let me add my sincere thanks to the others here for your wonderfully encouraging message.
The one thing about this job is our "rewards" don't come immediately. It is often years after our actions that we truly understand the impact we make. I think back to our breakfast in Manchester with Chip McGee. Listening to the two of you talk of your time teaching in Manhattan was such a treat. For an hour and half, you both unearthed stories that spoke to the impact you had on your students and even though I was a mere spectator at times, I could feel the passion in each of your voices.
Like you, I was a founding principal of a small school here in New Hampshire. Unlike you, unfortunately, for personal reasons I was not able to stay in that position past the first year. When I went the graduation three years later, however, the comments that the kids and parents made to me about my impact on their life, if even for only that first year, were incredibly powerful and renewed my faith in the impact we make on the lives of the families with whom we develop relationships.
Keep fighting. Keep inspiring. But, most importantly, keep inspiring your students to keep fighting. That will be your legacy. By igniting passionate learning in future generations, you will be able to make an impact greater than any media mogul or policy maker ever will.
the way you do it is to do it....
i see too many faces now.. to give second guessing a chance.
i have too many voices in my head now.. to linger in places where debates trump doing.
thank you all for your faces and your voices.
the way you do it is to do it....
Thank you for your thoughts. I have been very lost this week worrying about what will happen to our county and our schools because of the Waiting for Superman/Oprah explosion on education. If there is one thing we've learned... Oprah can get things done. Lets just all hope and pray that she sees all of the real problems in our schools and brings those issues as well as the one she has to the publics eyes. We need teachers to be accounted for, but we also need parent accountability, administration accountability, community accountability and most importantly government accountability. I hope that we, as a community of teachers, can stand up and support each other and change in our school systems
Thank you. You have verbalized what many who keep slogging and blogging away feel. And helps to hear that we are not alone, and we need not to give up. The bottom line is this: If we aren't willing to fight for what is in the best interest of our students who will?
Whether what is happening to public education is the misguided attempts of well intended amateurs or an orchestrated take over by cut throat capitalists, I will stay in the classroom and keep trying to impact what happens to education policy through whereever I can get my foot in the door.
I'm in a leadership program at a university and I have heard Chris Lehmann quoted at least 3 times in the first 8 weeks.
I myself count Chris as one of my inspirations to join the blogging twittering community of educators. Perhaps a shout out to my top three @budtheteacher @jutecht and @ddraper
FYI: "The Huffington Post will be launching an education section on October 4 and we're looking for bloggers to share their opinions and thoughts about relevant topics in education reform. The goal of this new section is to increase the volume of voices from those concerned about our country's education system and create a national discussion.
If you are passionate about Education, highlighting different viewpoints surrounding reform to highlighting what makes a great teacher, we invite you to blog about it for the education section. We will be welcoming blogger submissions in the upcoming months as the education section continues to take shape.
If you would like to be a contributing blogger for Huffington Post Education, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org."
GO FOR IT!!
I'd been meaning to comment here all week, Chris. I appreciate your perspective and the honest emotion in your voice and I agree that we've got to keep working to change education one perception at a time because it's the right thing to do for our kids.
I also feel lucky to live in a time where I have the tools to put my ideas in front of an audience as quickly and as easily as the billionaires with foundations do. 10 years ago, these conversations would have been happening and we wouldn't have had any way to challenge flawed perspectives.
At least today, we can push back.
That's where I find the strength to write. If enough of us embrace your reasoning---if we see the importance of challenging the thinking of the clowns that are burying us in failed policies---and we start blogging together, we should be able to capture attention in our own communities.
I can't wait for the day when people never turn to NBC or Oprah for news on education because they've got their own trusted teacher/principal edublogger in their RSS feed. Perhaps then, we'll have honest conversations about improving our schools.
Thanks for the post. I haven't written in awhile for the same reasons. I'll have to get back on it.
It's like pushing the Queen Mary out to sea - you keep pushing and pushing and almost imperceptibly, a run of water opens up between the boat and the dock...
Along the water metaphors - If you want to build a ship, don't drum up people to collect wood and don't assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea. (de Saint-Exupery)
But feeling the enormous inertia in the school system, from top to bottom, tiring, depressing.
Thank God for the kids on Monday morning, full of chatter,cheer, hope and jokes. And thank you for putting it into words. Together we can.
Look at all the voices gathered here. What was most heartening about the Teacher Town Hall yesterday were the sheer numbers of teachers who can speak clearly and confidently about what needs to be done to improve teaching and learning for our children.
We are ready to move. Just a few more shoves and this boulder is going to roll right downhill and take us all into a better day.
SLA also lends strength and conviction to thousands of people who have spent time there. Being able to teach your kids, attend your meetings, and observe and chat with your faculty for 12 weeks at the very beginning of my teaching career has defined and confirmed my ideas about what school can be.
Chris, I too, feel pretty defeated - your 4th paragraph is exactly how I feel. However, your last several sentences made an impact. You are doing incredible things at SLA. I still struggle a lot with how those ideas could be implemented in my current position at my elementary school. We don't have what you have - tech, people, etc. I just don't see it happening. With that being said, I still look at what's happening elsewhere and try to take bits and pieces of what can be applied to my situation to make improvements. Keep writing, keep sharing, keep learning.
Let me add my voice to the chorus. I keep telling myself that it always gets darkest just before the dawn. (Okay, so I know that's not technically true, but still, there must be some truth to the metaphor or it wouldn't have become cliche.)
What School Leaders Need to Know About Digital Technologies and Social Media - Edited by Chris Lehmann and Scot McLeod
The Quote File
"Democracy is not "I am as good as you," but "You are as good as I am.""