Teaching Blog

Why The Teacher Moral Standard May Be Necessary

A few weeks ago, I learned that a teacher my little brother Travis had as a kid was arrested and charged with stalking his ex-girlfriend. It was a pretty intense case, as the news reported it, including thousands of calls and even putting a GPS tracker on her new boyfriend's car.

The news piece was shared to my brothers and I from our dad, who was a teacher at the school with this teacher when we were all kids, and at one point he was even a family friend. The former connection made it interesting to me, but I wouldn't have gone so far as to say that I really cared. Sure, his job is a teacher, but being a stalker doesn't exactly impact the students in that class.

Maybe that's a slightly callous opinion, but as I've talked about before, few other professions have the moral standard that teachers are held to, and few other professions have it for seemingly no reason. Fine, he's a stalker (allegedly), that doesn't mean he isn't a good teacher or that those actions endanger the children. I'd say the same thing about drunk driving or public drunkenness. Sure, none of those things are good, and they show questionable decision making at the very least, but they don't mean that the kids are getting a lesser education (unless of course the teacher is teaching students that those aren't bad things, or they're showing up to work drunk).

What really struck me from this scenario though was Travis' reaction. He was truly annoyed by it. I explained what I said above, that ultimately I didn't feel like he deserved to be fired over it, but Travis felt differently.

The way he tells it, knowing that this is what his teacher is up to outside of work tarnishes the memory of class.

In my argument, I am considering the rights of the teacher, and somewhat cavalierly ignoring the long-term impact on students. Before this moment, Travis looked back on fifth grade and remembered a teacher that was really great, active, caring, personal. Now though, he looks back and wonders "What was he doing after that last bell?"

I'm not completely sold on the idea that this means teachers should be held to such a high moral standard. We are still people, we are imperfect creatures, we make mistakes. Those mistakes shouldn't cause us to lose our jobs in most cases. Maybe they should though.

But where do we draw that line? Should I be fired if I get excessive speeding tickets? Do we only include felony charges? Or only if it makes the news? Do we only get fired if we don't self report?

I don't have answers on this one. I'm calling for input. Use the comments or reach out on twitter and let me know.

Story Speaker - Part 1

On Google Teacher Tribe Podcast last week, I heard about a Google Docs Add-On called Story Speaker. In the description on the show and on the Add-On page, it was said to be for making choose-your-own-adventure style stories that connect with Google Assistant to be read aloud and choices made through voice. I remember the Goosebumps Choose-Your-Own-Adventure books from my childhood, so I was instantly excited.

I love story telling (see NaNoWriMo, my book, my podcast...), so while that feature in of itself seems cool, I started thinking about ways to implement it in classrooms. Today, I spent a lot of time playing with Story Speaker (and by "a lot of time" I mean my entire work day).

Overall: IT IS AMAZING!!

First of all, there is absolutely no coding required. The system is entirely based on levels of indent. If you indent a level, it knows that the previous level is looking for a response. How you phrase the bolded text on the next line is what it is looking for.

Story Speaker provides templates as well (see the green and purple buttons on the right side of screenshot above), so all you have to do is change out the text to make your own story.

Once you're done, you have a few different output options. One of them lets you run a demo version on the same window. All you do is click "Play Your Story" and click "Play Story." And that's it.

You can also click another button to throw it to your own Google Home or play on your mobile device as well with Google Assistant.

But telling stories isn't the goal. The real goal is to use it in the classroom. The way I'm doing that now is making a test using the tool. My students are student tech support, so I am building out a test in which they respond verbally to a read scenario that occurs regularly. See the example below.

This is something that my students deal with regularly, but I think they forget basics too, so it's important that they're reminded.

I can also imagine this being used for something like a lab. You can build out the program so that it gives the directions step by step, and they have to reply with the current result before it will provide the next step. It is really easy to make it a text-based chat, which would be better in that case. You can click this link here to see what I'm talking about. Type anything in the box to start it.


I will be playing with this a lot more in the next week to build some more features into it. I feel like this tool has a LOT of power, and I will share out as I do more.

Thank you so much Kasey and Matt for this info! It has me really excited!

Admin Balance Panel

Tomorrow on VoicEd Radio, I will be hosting a panel discussion on administrator balance with special guests Derek Rhodenizer, Brent Coley, and Mary Vetter.

This came about because a couple months ago, Mary came to me and asked "How do I make sure I'm not hurting or upsetting teachers, but also give them the necessary feedback on their practice?" As an Assistant Principal at our school, I felt initially that her question was more-or-less rhetorical, and I didn't really reply, but she pushed on, asking for real answers.

I had a couple suggestions, first and foremost saying that if the goal of building morale was so that they will take feedback, it will be ineffective. "If you really want to find answers," I eventually said as our conversation continued, "then we can do that. Let's reach out to some administrators outside our district and see what they think."

So, I sent out a message to some of my favorite administrators, both of which have actually been on my podcast before, and also to Stephen at VoicEd and we setup this panel show.

In further talks, Mary is interested in looking at how you can bring about change in a school. She finds that teachers are often resistant to change, and that is something she would like to work on. I agree with her completely. Much of my work has become focused on how to make resistant teachers willing to change, making small changes that are palatable. What if we are going about it all wrong though? What if we looked into how we make teachers accepting of change?

The panel will run from 8 to 9 pm on VoicEd Radio (which you can find at https://voiced.ca) on Tuesday, November 28th. We will be looking for answers to the following questions:

  • How do you build morale in the teachers who report to you?
  • How do you create feedback that doesn't compromise that morale?
  • How can/do you instill organization trust in your teachers?
  • Is there something we as administrators can do to make teachers more accepting of change?

I am really looking forward to this discussion with some powerful educators, and I hope you will all join us!

My Time on APlusEdTech Podcast

A couple months ago (yes, I'm behind big time), I was interviewed for the APlusEdTech Podcast. This podcast is hosted by Ashley McBride, who I was lucky enough to just sit down at a table with during ISTE.

Ashley asked to talk with me because she wanted to learn more, and share with her audience, my creation of my Student Tech Support Squad (what my students lovingly call "Shreff Tech").

One of the cool things I was reminded of while recording this is that my class is now an official internship. The course is actually called Guided Workplace Learning and is in the course description as internship. What makes that cool is that it can go on their resumes as such, building true work experience. Hats off to my school district for making that a reality.

One thing that I didn't feel like I went into much was the additional projects I throw at my students. I have the advantage of having students attached to me, which not many instructional coaches are lucky enough to have. I asked for that, because I need to be connected to kids.

Since my class is kind of informal, I get the chance to do whatever I want with them during the year, and like I said in the podcast, that gives me 7 periods a day of guinea pigs to experiment on. I try a lot of random projects, but often incompletely, incorrectly, or at the very least, inaccurately. For example, last year, I tried to do a 20-Time kind of assignment, pushing my students to explore their own passions and set meaningful goals for the year. It was a total bust, mainly because I didn't follow through with the kids and give them enough structure to work in.

So, this year, I am focusing my students' attention in shorter bursts. I'm doing this through a project system called Independent Study Points (or ISPs, and yes, my kids get a kick out of the acronym).

The way ISPs work is there is a long list of project options. Some of the ones I've included are Portfolio Blog, Podcast Reflection, Book Presentation, Current Event Presentation, and Teach Shreff Something. In addition, students have the option to suggest their own project types, and I approve them (I say yes 90% of the time).

Each of these projects are worth various points, typically 10 to 20 points, mostly depending on the time commitment to make them possible. Each 9-week quarter, students have to earn 100 points in whatever combination of projects they want.

What's nice about this system is that they still get to focus their attention on things that interest them, or their passionate about, but it isn't a 6 month long project where a lack of focus has long-term detriment. It is also a lot easier for me to track their completion and discuss with them, especially since presentations make up a lot of the options.

I have to point out that this isn't my idea. The framework of ISPs came from a presentation I saw with Beth Scanlon and one of her peers a couple years ago.

Anyways, if you'd like to hear more about my Shreff Tech program and my kids, or just want to listen to Ashley and I chat back and forth, then click play below. Also, don't forget that you can listen to more of Ashley and I when she was a guest on my show, Episode 18.

My "One Thing"

Recently, I had the chance to be on an episode of OnEdMentors on VoicEd Radio. I was joined this particular night by Sarah Anne Lalonde (who you might remember from Episode 17 of Planning Period Podcast) and Stephen Hurley (who will one day not be so busy that he can't be on my show...).

In case you don't follow me religiously on twitter and chomp at the bit to find the next time you can hear my sultry voice, OnEdMentors is a weekly show on VoicEd Radio (Thursday nights at 9 PM EST), that was originally intended as a show to provide tips and advice to Ontario Educators beginning their career. I didn't know this when I first appeared on the show, instead, thinking that we were Mentors who had conversations On Education. I have since pushed for the n to be lower case to embrace my misconception, because I'm the pushy, ignorant American, and Canadians are as nice as stereotypes would tell me (at least those on VoicEd).

Anyways, the focus of OnEdMentors this week was a clip from the movie City Slickers, in which one of the iconic characters, Curly, explains that the point of life is to find "that one thing." Stephen asked us what our One Thing was, so I had to come up with something.

First of all, it's really hard to come up with "one thing" that doesn't sound cliche or platitudinal. Trying to boil down my passion for education, or my obsession with furthering discussions on the profession, to a single concept, ultimately lends itself to buzz words and quips. "I'm in it for the kids" or "I want to make a difference" came to mind, for example. Gag.

What I settled on was "change". I know, just as sappy and meaningless. However, to at least feel a little better about myself, I explained further. To me, change isn't the same as iteration, innovation, addition, or improvement. Those are all necessary, but ultimately build from the pre-existing base of what I believe to be a broken and crumbling foundation.

The reality, as you probably know I feel at this point, is that education is broken at the simplest levels, and to me, "change" is akin to throwing everything out and seeing what we can do from there. Sure, some things might get to stay, but if we throw it all out, then we can let back in the things that work.

Change is taking everything we do and asking "Why do we do this?" If we can't answer with concrete, data-based reasons why that practice is best, then it goes. Grades? Gone. We all know they suck, all the research says it sucks, and yet we keep doing it.

Homework? Good bye. Acceleration? You'd be hard pressed to convince me it is in the best interest of students to grow up faster. Direct instruction? Hasta la vista. Worksheets? Don't let the door hit you on the way out.

Change. That's my one thing. When I wake up in the morning, I think about what I'm going to do that day and how it will lead to that kind of change. The best days at my job are those in which I feel like someone heard me, someone listened. If it isn't a teacher, then I will convince a student that this whole thing is a sham. One decent sneeze, and this house of cards will fall. All I want is to be the feather that tickles the nose.

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