Category Archives: education

Systems and Grace in Schools

A couple of Sundays ago, my minister, David Mallory, preached a sermon titled Systems and Grace using the scripture of Genesis 21:8-19. David (really the Bible tells the story so he was just paraphrasing) tells the story of Abraham, Sarah, and Hagar. Abraham and Sarah struggled to have kids initially.  As was the custom during that time, Sarah chose Hagar, the beautiful member of the house staff, to help Abraham start a family. Hagar and Abraham celebrate the birth of Ishmael, but soon after, Abraham and Sarah have a baby named Isaac. As you can imagine, this was awkward for everyone, especially for Sarah. Like super awkward…

While it was common practice for men in that time to have multiple wives, the OW (original wife) was still the queen of the household. Sarah eventually goes to Abraham and asks him to banish Hagar and Ishmael because they just aren’t fitting in with the family. Abraham is crushed by this request because this is his son – his first born son. However, due to their customs (read: their systems), Abraham is forced to grant Sarah’s request, and he kicks Hagar and Ishmael out of his house. David paints the picture of Hagar and Ishamel walking out of the door for the last time as “Abraham falls to the floor cursing this unrelenting, unforgiving system” (Mallory, 2017).

Because of a system, Abraham banishes his wife and first-born son out into the world with no protection, no future, and nowhere to go.

This is nothing against Sarah or Abraham personally. They were just doing what the system allowed them to do, which from their perspective, appears to be caring for their family’s best interest. David challenges his parishioners by saying, “I wonder when the system starts inflicting pain and suffering on the people it was set up to protect, is the system accomplishing what it was set up to do?”

This question has stuck with me ever since that sermon. When I look at schools, I see so many systems that were designed to help at one point in time (in some cases, decades ago), but now they are hurting, restricting, and preventing.

Let’s say a student forgets his lunch money so he eats fruits and vegetables (a usual fall back for most school cafeterias). Healthy? Sure. Filling for a student who might only eat lunch today? No. In this system, the student might go hungry for the rest of the day.

Let’s say a teacher and his/her students work hard over the course of an entire year all for their hard work to culminate in a four-hour bubble test. A student doesn’t test well and fails the test.  The teacher is then held accountable for that test (maybe even in their paycheck).  In this system, both a hard working student and teacher feel like a failure.

Let’s say a student struggles in class from a number of learning disabilities, and a school is only able to offer limited accommodations (read: resource classes, separate setting, mark in book, copy of teacher notes, etc.) due to lack of resources. The student is placed in resource classes, falls into a cycle of underperformance, and continues to fall further behind. In this system, a student struggles for most of their early educational years and drops out at 16.

In all three of these instances, the systems that schools have in place were designed to help…initially.  I don’t blame anyone who created those systems – just as I don’t blame Abraham and Sarah.

Think about it like this…

For lunch, we used to say, “at least they are getting a FREE nutritious option.”  For testing, we used to say, “this is the most accurate measure of everything a student learned.”  For struggling students, we used to say, “these classes are smaller and more individualized.”  But I think we can all ask, “Is the system accomplishing what it was set up to do?” (Mallory, 2017).

Unlike the story of Haggar and Ishmael, I have seen glimmers of grace shining in schools.  I’ve seen teachers donate their own money to an anonymous cafeteria account so students can eat a full, healthy meal if they are running low on money that day.  I’ve heard superintendents and principals tell their teachers and staff that they are worth more than a testing statistic and stand by it when the scores don’t come back as high as some think they should be.  I’ve seen teachers and administrators re-work entire schedules to fit the needs of ONE student when they are falling behind in the curriculum.  In all of those instances, we let grace shine through, and our students benefit greatly!

I agree with how David ends his sermon: “…I’m just wondering, how much different would our systems be? How much different would our world be if we could all make some room for just a little more grace?”

How much different would our schools if we could all make some room for just a little more grace?

Siemens and the Flipped Classroom

2014-06-24 11.39.17During my trip to Germany with The Center for International Understanding (@GlobalCIU) and 32 other educators, we had the opportunity to visit the Siemens (@Siemens) Professional Education Center in Berlin, Germany.

Before I really sell home my idea…here is a rundown of what you could expect as a teacher or student in the Siemens Professional Education Center.

  • The average age of the first year student seemed to be around 20, but I met some 18 years old and some 25 year olds who were just getting started.
  • The Siemens Professional Education Center is a cross-over between a trade school, a community college, and a 4-year college.  Students have completed high school (and some even college) and they are learning a unique skill set (electrical engineering, mechanics, etc.).
  • These students are being trained to join the Siemens workforce, but theoretically, their training would allow them to work for any company offering the same job they are being trained for.  Their education is highly specified for Siemens, but the core principals can be applied in any similar setting.  As a Siemens’ teacher pointed out, his students should be able to walk into any factory and identify and fix any problem with a production assembly line.
  • Lecture/lessons is always accompanied by intensive, collaborative, problem-based learning projects.
  • Team work is a STRONG focus at Siemens.
  • They have just started an international program, but you are expected to learn German within two months.
  • Teachers are very highly respected and the environment appeared more relaxed than traditional American schools.
  • Many of the teachers (if not all) were products of the same school.
  • Siemens spends millions of dollars on their professional training center in Berlin.  When asked, “what is their monetary return for their company on this huge financial investment?,” the director of the Siemens Educational Department replied, “our future.”
  • Knowledge is important at Siemens, but the vast majority of the knowledge is obtained through practice and real-life application, which leads me to my overall point…

I noticed more and more that what Siemens prides itself on about its Professional Education Center are the same principals that are rooted in the flipped classroom.  The flipped classroom – if done correctly – works so well because of the focus on real-life application.  Students are provided with a small amount of basic content via videos, VoiceThread, or any other multimedia.  Then the students are asked to investigate a topic even further and deeper and apply what they learn through that investigation to a larger, more applicable problem.  A flipped classroom allows for a problem-based learning environment that many teachers say they do not have time for, and Siemens also recognizes the value in a similar approach.

Siemens incorporates the flipped classroom ideals (minus the videos) in an effort to help their students become highly successful and knowledgeable employees.  Flipped classroom teachers incorporate the videos, the investigation, and the application in an effort to help their students become highly successful and knowledgeable citizens (assuming we never mention standardized testing).  Slightly different outcomes with very similar processes.

***The picture above features a once gas-powered car that was converted to an electrical-powered car by students at Siemens.

Germany Blogposts

2014-06-23 08.31.21I was fortunate enough to spend roughly 9 days traveling throughout Germany with 34 other amazing North Carolina educators as we studied the German education system.  The trip was sponsored by The Center for International Understanding (@GlobalCIU), and they did a great job of putting together an exhausting but incredibly informative trip.  I learned so much about what the German education system has to offer its students, teachers, and communities.  The next few blogposts are dedicated to what I learned in Germany – both red flags and achievements.

Just a few highlights…

~We heard many times that Germany could not depend on itself to produce much due to its lack of renewable resources.  The energy sources are just not available in their country to produce at a high volume unless they depended on an alternate source.  This meant that the German education system prided itself on helping students think creatively and independently to solve this issue.  Their renewable resources are the minds of their people.

~Some students have the opportunity to work directly with companies like Siemens and participate in a company internship along with their regular class studies.  In a nutshell, they went to school at work and went to work at school.  Companies like Siemens spends billions of dollars on their education department to allow for students to apply what they know.  When asked, “what is their monetary return on this huge financial investment?,” the director of the Siemens Educational Department replied, “our future.”

~In Baden-Württemberg, Germany, which is a federal state similar in population size to North Carolina, the spending budget for education is $40 billion.  Do I even need to mention how much North Carolina spends? (this year’s proposal is around $8 billion)

~Germany has an entire branch of their educational system dedicated to helping students develop a tradecraft.  What a novel idea?  However, their system isn’t perfect, and I will explain in later posts.

~Germany values conservative teaching methods and pedagogy.

~”Handlungskompetenz” is a common buzz word throughout many German schools that means having a well-rounded competence of a variety of skills.  This concept applies to students and teachers.

~Personal responsibility is huge in Germany. You are expected to rise to the occassion, and if you don’t, then you suffer the consequences.  This idea is noticeable throughout all of Germany, but I want to visit what this looked like in schools.

Needless to say, I have a lot to write…stay tuned!

Common Curriculum Lesson Planner

Are you tired of plan books? Sick of word documents? Tired of 3 inch binders?  Common Curriculum takes all the frustration of lesson planning away.

If you aren’t amazed by the potential of CommonCurriculum.com after watching the video, then watch it again!

Here is just an abbreviated list of what is possible in Common Curriculum: