(A guest post by Caroline Lewis follows this introduction)
I just had the chance to be encouraged by seeing another excellent book written about education from a teacher who “gets it.” It was a very pleasant surprise. You see, I greatly dislike most self-help books, and especially books about teaching, because all too many come from either the perspective of endless Pollyanna platitudes (“…all is beautiful, things will be better in the morning, there is a silver lining…”) or are written by someone with absolutely no clue about the realities of their topic. As someone battling cancer, I see and hear that approach every day. And worse, as a teacher, like all of us, I have had to live through endless PDP sessions by some paid professional “educator” who has not been back in a school classroom since leaving high school.
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Of course, there are exceptions, and when I come across one, I really appreciate what the author has created. A book entitled Just Back Off and Let Us teach, by Caroline Lewis, is one of them!
Ms. Lewis understands the difficulties in trying to be an effective teacher today. Yet she provides a framework that will help any teacher become more effective under the existing disastrous mandates and climate of intimidation and cronyism in our schools. Her perspective is far from that of a Pollyanna:
“The nobility of the profession – that which drew me in – is losing its magic. The ranks of effective teachers are declining. How do we attract and keep the good and great ones in the profession? How do we get that spark back?
Like many I have witnessed the role of poverty, school climate, school leadership, student motivation, parental involvement, and other such factors in influencing educational outcomes, but effective teaching remains an important component.”
One of her most insightful statements, and the reason she wrote Just Back Off and Let Us Teach is her understanding that “…some of us are born teachers, effective from day one. Others are and have been on a journey towards effectiveness.” Her book is an excellent structure that will help any of us who are still (does the journey ever end?) on that “…journey towards effectiveness.”
I asked Caroline to write a blog post I could host about parents in today’s school environment. Here is her piece, and I have tacked information about her book and website at the end.
What is the role of Leadership, Parents, and Poverty in Education Reform?
(By: Caroline Alexander Lewis, Author of Just Back Off and Let Us Teach
THE THREE PILLARS
What is the role of leadership, parents, and poverty in education reform? Well, a lot more than we think. Yes, teachers are important, critical pieces of every teaching-learning experience, but they are not magicians. We need to acknowledge that successful public education requires development of three key pillars or legs of a stool: (1) the readiness-to-learn of the learners; (2) the effectiveness of the teachers; and (3) the culture of the school: leadership, tone, and resources that support (1) and (2).
These days we seem fixated on only one of the pillars, teachers, and not in ways that improve quality, but in ways that undermine, place blame, and seriously demoralize too many good teachers. Somehow the realities of inadequate school leadership and resources, coupled with increasing poverty levels and the fragile lifestyles of too many of our children, never seem to get fully addressed in the equation-balancing of education accountability.
In the last decade or so, the debate on what constitutes successful education, the spotlight has become laser-focused on a teacher’s ability to get students to pass tests. It takes a toll, all of this testing, analyzing, micromanaging, measuring, and labeling that is consuming K–12 education in America these days. As a result, too many effective teachers are worn down, burnt out, and prematurely leaving the profession. And we surely are not attracting the brightest the best college grads with the talent and passion for teaching. This is not good, especially as that second pillar, effective teachers, needs all the bolstering it can get.
Pillars #1 and #3 are frequently ignored and, in too many schools, teachers are expected to teach kids who are not ready to learn in schools without the leadership and resources to support teaching and learning. Parents and poverty play an important role in attending to that first pillar. Alas, too many of our students, from the youngest to the oldest, are vulnerable to hunger, homelessness, abuse, illness, learning disabilities and so much more, and have few adults advocating for them. Their readiness to learn is significantly compromised. Pillar 1 needs significant societal attention.
LEADERS & RESOURCES
School leadership and resources also matter – significantly. Teaching and learning are heavily influenced by where and with whom we work, as school climate shapes the journey that begins anew each day, each week, each grading period, and each year. Effective school leaders provide motivation, sense of purpose, and sense of pride in teachers and students, and create positive school climates. The resources available to each school (from new buildings and technology and music rooms, to strong PTAs and teaching aids and after school programs) provide the foundation of that third pillar and tremendous support for the other two.
We must rethink our education reform strategy and change the current debate. We must extol, not vilify, teaching. We can weed out bad teachers AND recognize the worth and value of effective teachers. We must keep in mind that: (A) We cannot—we categorically cannot—reform public education if our pool of effective teachers continues to shrink; and (B) there are two other pillars that also need significant attention.
About Caroline Lewis:
After spending 22 years as a science teacher and school principal, Caroline Lewis became director of education for Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden and developed the award-winning Fairchild Challenge to engage students in environmental issues. As founder and CEO of The CLEO Institute, she applies her educational leadership skills to promote solution-oriented approaches to address climate disruptions. A native of Trinidad, she earned an MS in Educational Leadership in 1999 and is committed to elevating and celebrating the teaching profession.
Visit the author online:
About the Book:
If America wants to reform public education and regain its status in the world, it must start valuing teachers and stop the present policy of commissioning study after study and revising measurement tests every few years. That assertion is made by author Caroline Lewis, who outlines reform in her new book Just Back Off and Let Us Teach: A Book for Effective Teachers and Those Who Champion Them. Both descriptive and motivational, Lewis’ book defines five skills distinctive of effective teachers called SCOPE (Sensitivity, Communication, Organization, Professionalism, and Enthusiasm) Skills. Lewis encourages all teachers to self-examine and grade themselves on their own effectiveness using SCOPE Scores.
Amazon listing: Amazon