Thursday, February 26, 2015

I am surrounded

Watson & Sherlock
I'm writing this post surrounded by dogs: Sherlock laying next to me, wearing a cone because his eye infection is creeping back and I need to keep him from making it worse before he sees the vet. He is grumpy. Watson is my headrest; his poodle coat is too long and woolly and it heats up the back of my neck. He really loves our new couch because he can lay along the back cushions again. Darwin is chewing on a piece of dirty, knotted rope on the other side of my lap. He's chewing noisily and won't stop moving, shaking the whole couch and annoying the other two. He's a giant pit bull that thinks he's a little dog.

The house is quiet, except for Darwin's chewing and the faint sound of Sallie singing in her bedroom. She's home sick today with a fever and various other complaints. In a little while, I'll ask her if she's hungry and she'll chat all the way through lunch, telling me about some scenario playing out in her room with her stuffed animals.

I love being alone. I love quiet. I don't have music or a movie playing in the background on days like today when I work from home; I don't usually have the radio on in the car. But it's rare that I'm ever actually alone. Dogs. Kids. Work. Church. The only time I have to myself anymore is when I'm driving to pick up or meet someone, or sometimes in the bathroom (although kids and dogs aren't always respectful of a closed bathroom door).

My husband John knows that I'm an introvert, although I try to fake otherwise. I hate labels like that, "introvert," but I do acknowledge that labels help people understand complex dynamics quickly, so sometimes I'll use it to explain why I avoid social hour in between church services, or why I don't want to be the one to call for takeout, or why I am completely exhausted after I speak at a conference and need to decompress.

I find myself tired a lot now. Exhausted, even. John and I both work full-time, manage the schedules of our 5 kids with us in California and figure out how to stay present in the weekly routine of the 6th one who is back in Pennsylvania for most of the year. He's never out of our thoughts and we're constantly planning trips and phone calls and Skype conversations, the planning of all these things tempered by the difficulty of negotiating them. Daily life isn't just us, the kids and the's all of the kids' other parents, too.

And work. There aren't a lot of jobs in the world where you can work by yourself, and I don't have one of them. It's funny because I intentionally chose a career path that focused on helping people learn. I love it. I'm passionate about it. And it, by design, surrounds me with people.

Beyond family and work, I'm still surrounded. I'm on the Worship Committee at church and work to create worshipful lay-led services to support our ministers. I need the feedback of my committee members and the members of the congregation to be successful. I am constantly working on new start up ideas, seeking out other entrepreneurs and experts to collaborate with, networking and building relationships. People, people everywhere.

I am surrounded. I fantasize sometimes about just driving someplace quiet, alone. Maybe reading a book. Maybe just listening to the ocean, or the sounds of the mountains. I think about what it might feel like to not be responsible for or to anyone but myself. What a relief that would be. I think about when I read Eat Pray Love and how selfish I thought the woman was, and how absolutely glorious it still sounded to me. What a luxury, to be free of commitment. How light that must feel. Nobody to make dinner for or pick up from somewhere, no deadline I need to meet.

I'd probably be so incredibly, incredibly lonely. No one to tell me something funny that happened to them at school. No one snuggle with at night. No one to hear my favorite part of the day. No one to waggle their whole body in excitement to see me when I come through the door. No one to tell me I look beautiful today. No one to giggle with about a goat who sounds like he's saying "mom." No one to hear singing in the shower. No one to ask me for a hug. No one to be devastatingly proud of as they perform on stage.

Darwin is snoring
Sometimes when I'm feeling suffocated, overwhelmed and buried, I think about what I've surrounded myself with. All of these people and animals...I might not always be able to handle all of them. I shouldn't think I have to. Being surrounded can be a lifting up, not a holding down. Because it's love, all of it is love. I chose this life, all of it. My family, my pets, my career, my friends, my spiritual community...even my Facebook friends. It is love, not responsibility. They challenge me and make me think and reflect and grow. It is love, messy and crowded and busy. It is love, loud and yes, sometimes overwhelming. I am surrounded by love. And right now, love sounds like a pit bull curled
up next to me, snoring. 

Monday, February 16, 2015

Common Core Conundrum

You know the old saying, if you're a hammer, everything looks like a nail?

This is the analysis that I can't help but apply to the Common Core assessment battle emerging in states across the country. 

I've been introduced to Common Core as a former teacher and now as a parent with kids in elementary, junior high and high school. I've read all the perspectives on Common Core from teachers in social media, I've read the informative literature provided by my kids' teachers, schools and school districts. I've seen the type of assignments and questions asked of my kids change. I get what they are trying to do and frankly, despite the challenges that inevitably come with change, I support Common Core. I want my kids to become critical thinkers, not spouters of facts. I want them to be problem solvers and understand the why, not just the what. I want them to think creatively and deeply and I'm encouraged that school might be a place where that is encouraged and fostered. I think it's a noble cause and it makes that longing to go back into the classroom a little stronger. A survey of teachers find that most of them feel the same way I do:

And then I hear about the testing

It is going to be a shame if Common Core is protested, abandoned and ultimately fails because we can't reconcile our desire to encourage critical, creative thinking with a scalable assessment of those skills. We already know that standardized tests are biased and don't represent student success or achievement. They are not used as a measure of student progress; they are only used as a measure of comparing schools. They aren't even used as a measure of teacher effectiveness in most cases (and rightly so). 

Standardized tests are really good at measuring how well students can complete standardized tests. If we're trying to move our educational system to measure critical thinking, problem solving, collaboration, design we REALLY think more expansive standardized testing is going to give us the information we are looking for about the impact of Common Core on student success?

Sadly, I think we're at risk of throwing out the baby with the bathwater. Common Core curriculum and Common Core assessment should be viewed as two different things, different pieces of the same puzzle. While I think the curriculum changes are encouraging, my encouragement is overwhelmed by my disappointment on the emphasis on using the same old standardized assessment. I've been trying to ignore or combat the various Facebook memes of  anti-Common Core ranting. But with these new, expansive assessments looming, I find myself siding with the Common Core protesters. No, I don't want my children sitting through 10 hours of testing that will have no bearing on their learning, forget about all the instructional time dedicated to "test prep." No, I don't believe standardized test results will show the impact or benefit of Common Core curriculum. 

How can I support Common Core and not support Common Core standardized testing? How do you support the strategy and vehemently oppose the tactics? How can you support teachers and schools in trying to meet the modern needs of their students when the government assessment of student education is stuck in the 80s?

It's time to break free from the hammer of standardized testing. Common Core is not another nail. Students are not all the same. If K12 education is changing to support different skills, then assessment must evolve, not expand. We don't need more standardized testing, we need a different kind of test, a different kind of skill assessment. 

I'm passionate about immersive learning, but even more so about immersive assessment. Let's stop assessing knowledge...let's let students apply their skills. What if assessments were games? What if we structured assessments like Odyssey of the Mind, or Math Super Bowls, or science fairs? What if we made assessment challenging and engaging and fun? What if we made assessment real?

I've never had to take a standardized test at work to measure my competency. I show my value in the work that I produce, the ideas I contribute, my participation and passion and ability to see problems on the horizon or find the root cause of problems that already exist. If we want students to develop those skills, let's find meaningful ways to assess them. It is possible. Let's use those creative problem solving skills that Common Core is developing to create better solutions to assessing our real capabilities.