Shutting teachers out of the education conversations, a national pathology – can Dallas avoid it?

September 26, 2012


Have you noticed, and has it bothered you, that many of the major discussions about what to do to help education shut out teachers?

This is nothing new.  As Director of Information Services at the old Office of Educational Research and Improvement, I occasionally got tagged to go speak to education groups meeting in and around Washington, D.C.  One or our projects was a reboot of the Educational Resources Information Centers, or ERIC Library System.

At every public function where I spoke, or where I attended and was identified as an ED employee, teachers would seek me out, and ask how long I spent in the classroom as a teacher.  Then they’d tell me teaching college doesn’t count, and they’d complain that education policy makers at all levels ignore teachers.  They didn’t appreciate people making policy for them who didn’t know their situation from having been on the ground with them, as one of them, or at least listening to what they had to say.

It’s a key principle of leadership, to understand what the frontline employee faces, to know what the workers on the shop floor see, to feel the heat from the open hearth, to know the discomfort of hitting Omaha Beach and be pinned down by gunfire while wet and sandy and weighed down with 80 pounds.  It’s one of the keys to understanding how Harry Truman, who saw action in Belgium at the Western Front and who lived in the trenches, could decide against a land invasion as a first option for forcing Japan to surrender at the end of World War II.  It’s why his troops thought so much of Patton, as he stood shoulder to shoulder with them at the front as bullets whizzed by, why Soichiro Honda’s workers listened when he stripped down and stripped an engine to find a problem.

A couple of days ago the president of the Dallas ISD School Board, Lew Blackburn, Tweeted his gratitude for help from Leadership Dallas for a “dine and discuss” session with DISD leaders.  It’s good that Blackburn Tweets.  He has good intentions, most likely — and he’s trying to let people know what’s going on.

What’s the topic?  How to improve education in Dallas, of course.

What ONE group of key stakeholders is left out of these discussions?  Teachers.

It’s a bugaboo for me.  Education discussion sponsored by the New York Times, but no teachers.  Secretary of Education Arne Duncan buses across America — school kids show up to sing welcomes, but teachers appear to be left out of discussions along the route.

So I Tweeted back — what’s up with that?  In the past few months, I’ve gotten Tweets back from writers, scientists, friends, and Tom Peters, the management guru.  I was happy Blackburn responded.  it puts him in good company.

It’s not like this once teachers were left out, due to scheduling conflicts.  The process design pointedly includes stakeholders other than teachers.  Trained facilitators — professionals? paid? — are brought in, a touch that suggests these meetings are formal efforts whose products will be used for some formal policy-making purpose.  Invitees include “diverse” community members.

Listen. Learn. Dialogue.

Dallas ISD Dining & Dialogue is a pilot initiative in partnership with Dallas ISD and Leadership Dallas Alumni with support from the Dallas Regional Chamber.  The purpose is to encourage frequent communication over a meal between members of the community and Dallas ISD that address practical solutions to improve education in our community.  The roundtable-style dining events bring together small groups of individuals with diverse backgrounds to foster community-wide dialogue about Dallas ISD in an effort to gain understanding, share ideas, and increase diverse investment in education for the benefit of our region.

The FREE dining events are held quarterly at various sites within the Dallas metroplex. Discussions are led by trained facilitators who guide participants through questions designed to elicit thoughts and opinions on issues facing Dallas ISD.  This dining and dialogue framework is patterned after Dallas Dinner Table, a popular, highly-regarded community event founded by Leadership Dallas alumni, and DeSoto Dining and Dialogue.
Dialogues will include school board members and other important school voices along with community stakeholders such as business leaders, parents, neighborhood associations, nonprofits and members of the Dallas ISD Teen Board.


I still get some notifications from DISD, but none on this.

Should we be concerned  about any biases of Leadership Dallas, intentional or unconscious?  Leadership Dallas draws its inspiration from Leadership Atlanta, the formal effort to create a band of leaders to lead Atlanta after so many leaders died in a tragic airplane crash years ago.  Alas, the assumption is that educators cannot be leaders.  The course work is scheduled in a way that makes it difficult for any professional to participate, but almost impossible for any hourly worker, or teacher.

Looking through the records, I see very few people participating who have much to do with education, and especially no teachers.  Gross oversight.  There are no garbage collectors, either —  that may be a bigger problem in a place like Memphis with a different history on garbage collectors — or any other workers without graduate degrees.  Small business owners don’t get great representation, either.

Hmmm.  NEA?  AFT? We’ll check with them later.

So, Lew Blackburn — you’re the leader of this bunch, in some cases more than Superintendent Mike Miles (he may not be paying attention to this, either, let alone to the opinions of mere teachers, who make 17% of what he earns.  It’s up to you, I think.  You need to make sure teachers are a part of this dialogue, to be sure it doesn’t become a monologue.

Get some teachers involved in this process.  Get some principals involved, and some other school administrators.  Counselors might have a good, and different view.  Do you still have librarians enough in DISD to get a couple involved?  Libraries should be a key focus point for education in the 21st century, and many Dallasi ISD libraries have librarians who work harder and more effectively than the district has a right to expect (they don’t get paid for what they do, heaven knows).  And, keep records of these dinners.  These meetings are in the gray area of the Texas public meetings laws — but you want to be certain you have an open process that is not open to petty challenges due to bureaucratic miscues.  If any policy comes out of these meetings, you’ll need to be certain they were open for public meetings rules.

Gee, any reporters invited?

Are these sessions designed to improve education in Dallas, or to find new ways to flog teachers? Make sure the actions speak louder than words on these things.

Mr. Blackburn, you’ve made a couple of good moves here — including Tweeting about what’s going on.  Keep these processes going, and improve them.  Make sure teachers are not left behind.


Nightfall, video essay on Los Angeles

September 26, 2012

You wondered how anyone could ever fall in love with the modern megalopolis that is Los Angeles?

Along comes Colin Rich with this video ode, visual poetry to an essential chunk of America.  Oh, yeah, it’s got lots of time-lapse. Notice how the photography turns simple airplanes into something akin to shooting stars, and notice how even an ugly old radio tower crowded with microwave and digital communication antennae turn into things of grace, if not beauty:

More information from Colin Rich:

Music: M83, “Echoes of Mine” off of ‘Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming.’ Available from Mute Records, EMI Music
Download the song/album here here:

Cinematography, Direction, and Editing by: Colin Rich:
Produced by Pacific Star Productions

A big thanks to Matthews MSE ( especially to Bob Kulesh, Tyler & Ed Phillips for their generous support and patience of this lengthy endeavor. Most of the linear motion control shots were captured using their FloatCam DC Slider, a wonderful piece of engineering for the time lapse world.

‘Nightfall’ is a three minute tour of light through the City of Angels.

I shot “Nightfall” in an attempt to capture Los Angeles as it transitioned from day to night. As you probably know, LA is an expansive city so shooting it from many different angles was critical. Usually I was able to capture just one shot per day with a lot of driving, exploring, and scouting in between but the times sitting in traffic or a “sketchy” neighborhood often lead to new adventures and interesting places.

Nightfall in particular is my favorite time to shoot time lapse. Capturing the transition from day to night while looking back at the city as the purple shadow of Earth envelopes the eastern skyline and the warm distant twinkling halogen lights spark to life and give the fading sun a run for her money- this will never grow old or boring to me.

In this piece, it was important to me for the shots to both capture and accentuate the movement of light through the day and night and the use of multiple motion control techniques allowed me to do so.

I hope you enjoy watching it as much as I enjoyed creating it.

An English translation of the lyrics-

“It is late. I am looking for my other home, taking an unfamiliar path: a small trail near the factories and the city, cutting through the forest. I can barely see nature when suddenly, night falls. I am engulfed by a world of silence, yet I am not afraid. I fall asleep for a few minutes at the most, and when I wake up, the sun is there and the forest is shining with a bright light.

I recognize this forest. It is not an ordinary forest, it is a forest of memories. My memories. The white and noisy river, my adolescence. The tall trees, the men I have loved. The birds in flight, and in the distance, my lost father.

My memories aren’t memories anymore. They are there, with me, dancing and embracing, singing and smiling at me.

I look at my hands. I caress my face, and I am 20 years old. And I love like I have never loved before.”

Surely this film can be used, at least for a bell ringer or warmup, in geography classes.

Bathtub instant profundity, 1

September 26, 2012

Clearing out a backlog.

  1. Turns out that tax cuts don’t spur jobs development.  An economist at Berkeley finds that any job stimulus from tax cuts comes from tax cuts to the middle class and poor — in other words, the people who instantly stimulate demand by spending on needed goods and services.
  2. On-line version of the Library of Congress’s exhibit, “88 Books that Shaped America.”  In case you can’t make it to D.C. soon.
  3. Kennedy’s speech at Rice University, “We Choose to Go to the Moon,” was on September 12, 1962.  That was also the ninth anniversary of his marriage to Jacqueline Bouvier.  She let him go out of town to talk rockets?
  4. Thomas B. Edsall makes the case that Paul Ryan’s budget, or any version of it (like the Romney plan), would be an economic disaster for the nation, in at article titled “The Ryan Sinkhole.” Why don’t the Republicans ever listen to economists?
  5. Those “work requirements” that Ryan insists Obama has illegally stripped from law, to the great detriment of the work ethic in the U.S.?  Not only did Mitt Romney ask for them, when he was governor of Massachusetts, but earlier this year Ryan voted “yes” on a House bill to do exactly what Obama is trying to do.  Can’t Ryan keep his own stories straight?
  6. Graphic shows that summers in the U.S. are getting warmer.  More evidence for warming denialists to deny!
  7. More GOP election fraud, this time in California.
  8. It is said God looks out for drunks and babies; can we make a case that our government works better with more drunks in elective office?  David Frum discusses. (I actually have some thoughts and experience in this area . . . when to find time to discuss?)  There’s a video there, but not in a format I can embed here easily — go see.
  9. Jim Hightower tells a scary story of a coup d’etat within the borders of the United States, in Michigan.  Imaginary?  This is a guy who doesn’t see UFOs, who isn’t afraid of black helicopters . . .
  10. New studies on colony collapse disorder affecting especially commercial beehives suggests insecticides, and substances related to insecticides, may be hammering our bees; worse, EPA has known about it, but kept quiet.  Reported readably in New Yorker, 50 years after that magazine serialized a book named Silent Spring.  Rachel Carson’s Ghost joins Santayana’s Ghost pacing America, nervously, as if to awaken us all . . .


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