Now for Something Completely Different….(not really)

Photo by Dave Meister

Wow. Sometimes it is so amazing how much I can learn by casually looking at what folks are saying or sharing on Twitter. I have come into contact with so many educator/educational thinkers and their ideas by engaging in the social learning network that has grown out of blogging a little bit and and reading the ideas of others and by looking at the resources they share. My participation in this Personal Learning Network has taught me more about education in the last two years than I learned in all of the education classes I took while earning three degrees. Do not get me wrong, what I learned in those programs was important, just not as relevant to the everyday job as the words of those living it everyday (in case one of my old professors is reading). Reading about education almost always leads me into thinking about changes that need to be made.   Inevitably I think about all the things we do just because we have always done them.  My thinking amost always makes me question why we do things that no longer make sense, such as:

1. The agrarian school calendar. Tell me it makes sense to take two and half months off every summer. Don’t’ get me wrong, I love having that time, the teachers love having that time as do the kids. Penguins love Antarctica. That does not mean it makes sense!

2. Sitting students in rows, talking at them, having them answer questions out the book, having them copy and memorize things with no depth of understanding.

3. Why do we have students do anything that they only do in school? How many fill in the blank worksheets do you do on a daily basis (students don’t answer)? I have not had to do any fill in the bubble tests since I took the test to prove I was competent enough to hold an administrator’s license (I heard that! and let that be proof positive that not all tests are valid).

4. Make students sit in a seat so many hours before they can earn credit towards graduation. The Carnegie system was good for days gone by. When the information was scarce, only to be found in the textbook, at school, or in the library, maybe this made sense. Not today. Today it amounts to day care for a lot of students. I kid you not, I know of a student who failed a math class twice, but when given the opportunity to take the course online, at his own pace, he finished the course in eight weeks—with a good grade!

5. Teaching students in a schedule in which they go to as many as eight different classes a day, where very little if any connection is made to what they were exposed to the hour before or what they will encounter the next hour.

6. Sending kids out into the world after high school with no clue about what they want to do and very little job specific training and expect them to figure it out and not make any mistakes.

7. If you have read this far….please continue this list with your thoughts in the comments!!! Because I could go on and on, but I want to know what you think! I did not even touch on subject areas, homework, extra-curricular activities…etc….

Now let’s move on to those things we should be doing but we do not because they do not fit into the way we do things.

1. I am going to get laughed here, but follow me, if you can. When my children were younger, they used to watch a program that I loved, The Magic School Bus. I loved the program because the students got to experience what they were learning about and the teacher was not always the expert (well she was, but I digress). We need to make small learning communities where strong relationships are built between the students themselves and with the teacher. In a model where they learn in an alternative schedule, free of the Carnegie system. Where students and teachers tackle real life problems, create real life solutions and have real outputs with value. Students would still responsible for learning many of the same subjects, but would do so in depth with a level of understanding and an opportunity see how what they are doing in school relates to the world they live in.

2. Have all students involved in an apprenticeship. Where they spend time away from the “halls of education” learning from professionals in the fields of their interest while earning credit. We do this to some degree, but not to the level it needs to be. We have to quit ignoring the businesses in our communities when they say we are not producing the types of workers they need, not because we need to serve the businesses, but because we need to prepare our students for vocations and show them that they can contribute to the community by working.

3. Give teachers time develop as professionals. Professionals from all fields of work spend time preparing to do what they do. We have to realize that professional teachers cannot effectively teach in the classroom all day and also be expected to grow professionally. They, as well as principals, need to be held accountable, but they also need to be given the time and resources needed to become master teachers. I think the National Board Certification program is a great way to help teachers to become better. We need to compensate them if they achieve that certification and give them the support to do it. If a teacher does not make that effort to grow or is deficient as a teacher then we need to counsel them to find another way to make a living.

4. We must develop a set of standards that make sense. Allowing the politicians, textbook companies, and other parties that do not have a real stake in what students should be able to do other than advancing their own agenda is a mistake. Students, parents, employers, teachers, and institutions of higher learning have to sit down and determine what learners need to be able do before earning a high school diploma. Our standards now are too broad. We have too much to cover and the list grows every year. Why does the legislature get to pass law about what is covered in class anyway? We need to ask, what does the 21st Century learner need to be able to do? Is it different than what we are asking them to do now? Why?

5. Again, this list could keep going, but these are my ideas…..I want your input. Join the conversation! What should we do that would be completely different? Remember what I wrote at the beginning of this blog? How what I have learned from my personal leaning network is greater than and more valuable than anything I learned while pursuing my advance degrees? Chime in. Change is going to happen; you may as well be heard.


  1. Pam Franklin said:

    This post makes me proud that you are my boss.

    September 3, 2010
  2. Kate Fogarty said:

    Thanks Dave – great post.

    I completely agree that PL has stepped up dramatically with the willingness of (and availability for) people to share their knowledge, passion and ideas online. Indeed, I am discussing and considering things for my school that would not have remotely crossed my mind 1-2 years ago, and certainly never came up in any of my formal study. How exciting!

    It’s ironic that we try to teach our students how to “question everything”, but rarely stop to look at our profession, or the ongoing development of the education with the same intensity. Certainly, we rarely have that conversation with colleagues, and never with politicians. We have some State MPs coming in this week to discuss school funding…think I’ll now add a few other items to the agenda!

    September 4, 2010
    • Dave Meister said:


      Good luck in talking about change with state officials. I guess the more I think about it and watch things unfold, I am convinced that education practicioners need to hijack the current reform movement. I have yet to read or see anything that leads me to believe that the last decade of school reform driven by either state or federal government has led to any real quantifiable or qualitative change for students in the classroom. But we cannot sit and complain. We have to take the iniative on ourselves to make change meaningful and purposely driven. Thanks for the comment!

      September 4, 2010
  3. Dave – I always enjoy telling students and parents the little scenario that if Rip Van Winkle woke up today that the only place that he would recognize clearly is the inside of a school. Not much has changed! We worry way too much about things that have little/no effect on our students.

    I am bothered by the fact that tradition tells us that students can only earn high school credits from around labor day until late June between the hours of 7:30 a.m. and 2:00 p.m. (for my school). It seems like we are saying that this is the only time that students can learn. In reality, I worry that students have some of their most significant learning experiences informally, outside of school.

    We need to encourage and create opportunities for credit where students go into apprenticeships and utilize some of the skills that we are teaching them in the context of a real world setting. If students want to take on-line courses during their summer to move ahead then we should allow them to. By the way, I also hate the the fact that we set it up so all students learn English (or any subject) at a pace we determine. Why can’t some complete the course in half the time, while others take longer if needed?

    I could go on and on… Another thing that bothers me is the start time of most high schools. Why do we start our kids so early when all of the studies that have been done about adolescents and their need for sleep tell us it is wrong? Aren’t we supposed to put the needs of our students in the forefront? Edina High School did this nearly 15 years ago and saw incredible results in student outcomes. Why is this not talked about more?
    Check out the study from the school’s webpage -

    Anyway Dave, I agree with your perspective about what I learn on here. We should pick one or two of these items and try to go at them in our schools. Personally, I would love to change the start time in my school by one hour.

    September 4, 2010
    • Dave Meister said:


      You said, ” In reality, I worry that students have some of their most significant learning experiences informally, outside of school.” I actually worry that we don’t allow students to take advantage of the very significant, yet informal, learning experiences outside of school. I very much agree that we need to quit making all students learn the same things at the same pace….and so early in the morning! Good luck on your new school year and the fantastic iniatives you are undertaking at Burlington!

      September 4, 2010
  4. Dave: this is great.

    I think too that the more we strive to define our school sites as places for widely shared learning of the understandings and skills we need to make a difference, the more progress we will make. This means we are serious about structuring our schools as all about our students learning, but one where our teachers and parents are also modeling and participating in learning.

    I love the option for our schools which is the synthesis of what Pat suggests about time of day and what you say about faculty professional learning (both of which I endorse whole-heartedly): let’s start school every day at 9am, but welcome teachers in at 8 every day to collaborate and learn together.

    Your post makes me wonder:

    why can’t school be more like business school, with its case study learning approach wherein students are given real-life business problems and then work in teams to address and solve them?

    Why can’t school be more like medical school internships, where interns work with residents, the team of them all working together to learn by solving medical problems immediately in front of them.

    Why can’t school be more like graduate school, where grad students learn and develop by assisting professors with their research, (who are in doing so modeling their own ongoing learning), while also conducting their own research with their professors’ mentoring and also tutoring/teaching younger students?

    The reforms, or transformations, we are calling for are not brand new inventions; they are instead looking to models of where learning is really working.

    September 4, 2010
    • Dave Meister said:


      Yes, lets make the student experience more like all of those things you mention! I still go back to how I learned how to teach and administrate…..on the job. The challenge for us is to create more life like learning opportunities for students where they practice what they need to know how to do and can explore their passions. Thanks for your comment!

      September 5, 2010
  5. Dave:
    Great post. After reading this all I can think is “Is this any way to run a business?” Teaching kids long division and cursive writing come to mind as dumb things we still do. The biggest problem may be standardized testing. Check my summary of “The Myths of Standardized Tests” at

    I envision a system where you have content rooms where you go when you are ready and leave when you are done. Imagine the algebra room where you enter, take an assessment that the teacher uses to decide what you should do next. This would include an online component, peer tutoring, group work, projects, and individual help as needed. At the end of each unit you would test to see if you understood the content. If you did, on to the next. If not, the teacher will help you address what you still don’t understand. When you have finished the course, off you go to some other room. The number of rooms you go to each day could vary depending on your needs. Your record would show the rooms you completed along with time spent, but no grades. Projects completed would go into your portfolio and be published on the school web site and/or displayed in the school.
    Douglas W. Green, EdD

    July 10, 2011
    • Dave Meister said:

      Dr. Green,

      Thanks for reading and commenting. Our schools are based on so much tradition. Everyone in our audience most likely went to high school and has an opinion. They remember how it worked for them and want to project that onto to today’s school. We have to create an inertia that carries our schools to the vision that you and I share (maybe a disagreement or two I hope, we have to have some fun!). Unfortunately, we have let the business/corporate/political types seize the reform movement and we (collectively: educators) have spent too much time wringing our hands about what evils they have wrought. We need leadership that is unafraid to stand between our students and the madness. To do what is right no matter the cost, but it has to be in numbers enough to make a difference, or those leaders will simply be martyrs.

      You have some great ideas about what a school should look like! So many of the suggestions you make in your above comment are where we need to do to explore effective learning and preparation for life after school. We are moving in this direction with an academy based approach that will blend subjects and curriculum for a more individualized approach. A capstone project the reflects skills the student has honed during their high school experience is their final performance before commencement. Thoughts? Pushback?

      July 10, 2011
      • With your proposed “capstone project,” graduating from high school would be more like becoming an Eagle Scout. Merit badges are better than courses as there are no grades, only proof that you completed the program at your own pace. You also get to pick which badges you want to go for so you are more likely to be intrinsically motivated. Progressive teaching practices take more effort on the part of the teachers, which is why they are hard to find. I am about ready to post a summary of Alfie Kohn’s new book “Feel-Bad Education”, which takes on many of the bad practices that are still common in school. Look for it tomorrow at DrDougGreen.Com.

        July 12, 2011

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