A gentle reminder ...

The goal of this blog initially was for Mr. Mc to show his students and friends what he doing while in Pennsylvania and DC in 2011. Now it's being used as a place for him, travelling colleagues and former students to discuss edumacation and history related "stuff" as well as ... well, anything which pops into his head. Mr. Mc would never knowingly embarrass either the school he loves or the family he is devoted to. By joining in the discussion, he expects the same of you.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Parents and "the means of knowedge"..an interactive conversation

This clip is from Don't Back Down. First, I love that the teacher gave them homework which asked them to engage with their parents...the homework is from an oratory by John Adams, which is the cherry on top.

A buddy asked me a question this afternoon and I've been thinking about it on and off since. His 'quandry':
I want my kids to excel more! What is the key? How much parental involvement at the public school level would you recommend? I want my kids to be more self driven! Ideas and thoughts at your leisure Obi Wan.

First of all, James. You are as skilled a Jedi as me so ... There are three ideas to unpack in the quadry. First is The key to getting kids to continue to excel. The third is how can we challenge students to be more self-driven. The question in the middle is what I've been thinking about.


How engaged should parents be? How hands off should parents be? What should a teacher expect from the parents of their students?

I am a teacher in a private school and I'm genuinely blessed with how parents interact with teachers. Are there times when a parent and teacher find themselves at odds? Yup. Does it always resolve itself in a way both parties are completely happy? Nope. However, his question is about public schools and so I wanted to be fair to him and place the question in the context of public schools.

That means I need reinforcements!

May I ask for a conversation? I have both teacher types and parents who read this blog. I would ask for your thoughts. The question is what level of parental involvement is best in most schools. Please note that its not asking for horror stories on either side. There will always be problems--a student has two people who are passionate about their education and sometimes the lens by which they both look causes them to see different things. And that is okay. But how much makes for a hovercraft parents and how much makes them absentee. What is the balance?

Post your comments below! Please Please and Please.

You do not need to join the blog to respond--but would you please give your first name of some way of identifying you?

Feel free to send this to other teachers-types and parental units.

When I grow up I want to be spoken word poet!

Monica commented on my last post with a link to a TEDTalk that I've watched three times now. It is more sophisticated and longer than my initial Shake and Fold TED talk but it is equally as authentic. I can tell you I am stealing her idea about lists and poetry. I already do haikus with the kids and find it a exceptional tool to get them to get to the roots of their thoughts. Now I just need to help them expand on their ideas.

Shake and Fold = just be yourself

Thanks to Jim Knight of Radical Learners for this TED video.

Mr. Knight does a great job of talking about the video so I would recommend his blog to you. What I've have been thinking about since seeing it is how genuine it is. TED conferences tend to bring out the big guns and big toys. Vice President Al Gore used a scissor lift on stage to interact with his graphs on a talk on global warming. Many of the presenters use as many computers on stages as was needed for a moon landing. One of my favorites has a scientist with backup dancers. Most TED talks are smooth-that smoothness is part of their appeal. There is something equally appealing about the unsmoothness of this presentation as well.

The speaker is Joe Smith. According to the TED talk bio on YouTube, he is a former district attorney in Oregon. The bio points out that he ran for the state's Attorney General with a campaign which accepted donations only from individuals and with a monetary cap of $100.

What I like about the presentation is its authenticity. A basin of water and paper towels. You get a sense he is a little nervous or at least a little out of his element. Mr. Smith has a sense of humor which points out that he understands that simplest ideas often sound too simple to be taken seriously. He doesn't get us all boo-hooey over the environment although that is the focus of the piece. I appreciate how simply he corrects himself when he misstates his evidence. There is even something authentically low tech about the fact that the handlers in Portland didn't tuck in his microphone cord.

I think sometimes as speakers we get enamored with technology and wowing an audience.
  • But if we don't have something to say ...
  • What if the bells and whistles get in the way of the audience hearing the your idea ...
  • What if the presenter gets swallowed up in the presentation ...
There is a great scene in the movie Hitch where one character says that a pair of shoes the dating consultant (that's Hitchens) told him to buy aren't what he would normally buy. He says:

Man : Yeah, but I don't think they're really me.

Alex 'Hitch' Hitchens : "You" is a very fluid concept right now. You bought the shoes. You look great in the shoes. That's the you I'm talking about.

As speakers, we need to sometimes try on new shoes. The 'new' technology or prop or technique can be a asset in our attempt to inform, inspire and convince. However, if, with appropriate practice, the new doesn't meld with who you authentically are, then it will more than likely get in the way of informing, inspiring and convincing.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Oratory Competitions and other Crap Shoots

The oratory competition was this past weekend and it was both exhilerating and surreal. We teamed with the Middle School improv troupe, who provided breaks between batches of speakers. They were quite good and a nice balance to speeches about slavery, racism, revolution and ALS. I need to acknowledge that the Fine Arts department at school deserves a huge thank you. The improv team adjusted their performance schedule and head of the dcepartment set the stage and wrangled electronics so a student who couldn't be there for the competition could compete. I blessed by my collegues.

It was exhilerating in that, in the end, it was about the 15 speakers. To say I was blown away was an understatement. There were a few kids I knew would do well, and they did. There were several others who I wasn't sure about who certainly rose to the occasion. Even the statistically last speaker was competative. I sat there thanking my lucky stars that I wasn't the judge.


The judges, a college professor and news anchor, kept asking me, "okay, these kids are 13-14, right?" Yup. For many of the students, it was literally the first time speaking in front of an audience.

As the competition ended, I had my list of who should be in the top group. I was curious to see how the judges weighed in. They mirrored my list of finalists, but not the order I had them. Even they had  different orders. In the end, the first representative of the school to Washington DC was clear but the second spot had a three-way tie! Three-way tie! Actually, the top seven finishers finished within three points of each other.

So here is where the surreal kicked in. You can't have a sudden death round in oratory, so we had announced that ties would be broken by random means. In my pocket all afternoon was a pair of dice, and so, the three second place finishers shot craps for the last spot. Two dice--highest score in one shot. The first roll was a seven. The second speaker's roll was ... also a seven. Really?!?! The last speaker rolled ... an eight. The reality is that any of these students would do the school proud at Ford's Theater so its a win win for me but ... dice to decide a speak competition? I suppose there are worse ways.