Larry Ferlazzo’s Websites of the Day…

…For Teaching ELL, ESL, & EFL

December 27, 2016
by Larry Ferlazzo

“Capturing The Spark”: An Interview With David B. Cohen

David B. Cohen, a California teacher who I have often written about here over the years, has just authored a great book titled Capturing The Spark: Inspired Teaching, Thriving Schools.

He spent a year visiting classrooms (including mine), observing and asking questions.

He agreed to answer a few of my questions about the book:

LF: What inspired you to write the book, and how did you go about choosing which teacher’s classrooms to visit?

David B. Cohen:

The first time I really took up this idea, merely imagining the possibilities, I was wondering what it would be like to visit the classroom of my friend Renee Moore. We know each other through work with the Center for Teaching Quality and the National Board, and I admire her immensely. Our life stories and our professional experiences couldn’t be much more different, though, once you set aside the teacher leadership interests. I wouldn’t just happen to be passing through Cleveland, Mississippi, so I imagined visiting Renee as part of some kind of project where I could see public education in a wide variety of settings.

That initial impulse to visit teachers and schools goes back several years. It took another few years for the project to take shape. I floated the idea to my wife as a “what if, someday…” kind of idea, and she was supportive, so the wheels kept turning. Limiting the scope to California instead of the nation made it more feasible. I had a conversation with Samer Rabadi at Edutopia, and I think he was the first person I tested the idea on, outside of close friends and family. It might not have seemed like much to him, but his response pushed me from speculation to action.

My inspiration evolved a bit too. At first it was just my own curiosity. I was involved in a variety of projects that were helping me meet and learn about great teachers all over the state. But then, at the same time that I was learning more about the positives in public education, I felt like public discourse around education was increasingly negative. So many people seem willing to generalize from the negatives and compartmentalize the positives. I wanted to flip that around, believing that I could present enough positive examples to sway readers’ attitudes towards public education.

Choosing teachers and schools was challenging, because I had too many good options and had to contend with logistical and fiscal constraints. Many were teachers or schools I’d come to know through various leadership and policy projects over the years. I also solicited suggestions through other professional networks, and from some trusted sources on social media. The final decisions reflected my attempt to achieve some diversity in the teachers themselves, the types of schools, and regions of the state. There are some gaps to be sure, but in the end I spent 63 days visiting 70 campuses and saw close to 100 teachers.

LF: What, if any, common features did you find among many of the classrooms you visited?

David B. Cohen:

The common feature most worth talking about is the caring teacher. There was never a moment of doubt that these educators all cared deeply about the students in the classrooms. Sometimes, caring shows up in the meticulously planned lessons and projects, and sometimes it appears in the form of student-driven learning experiences. Like parents, sometimes caring teachers are warm and effusive, and sometimes they have to take a stern approach to a situation. Other than that caring quality, the commonalities were predictable and less interesting than all the variability.

LF: What were some of the biggest challenges you saw facing the teachers you visited and how did they respond to them?

David B. Cohen:

Since my visits were limited to a day (or in a few cases, even less), I think I missed what are likely the greatest challenges. I know from experience that there are challenges that come with supporting students whose needs are almost overwhelming and whose progress requires intense and sustained effort. Much of that work is difficult to observe in the space of a day in an elementary school, or a single class period with a secondary school teacher.

What I could observe more directly were the challenges of time constraints and student load. We know that compared to most of our international counterparts, American teachers generally spend more of their time working directly with students, with less time for preparation, collaboration, communication and meetings, and evaluating student work. Some teachers respond to those conditions by giving everything they have; teaching is more than a job to them, and we’re lucky some teachers are willing to go so above-and-beyond. Some teachers can sustain that for years, and some can’t. Thinking about the long-term viability of the job, I’d say that teachers who understand the constraints they can’t change in the short-term and respond by setting some personal limits and boundaries are also responding effectively to the challenges of teaching. They won’t necessarily be the most noticed or heralded, but they may end up having many more years in the classroom doing fine work for more students.

LF: The school where I teach has encouraged us to visit and observe our colleagues in action. For teachers who can and want to do that, what would you recommend they look for in the classes they observe and/or what are your suggestions for how they can maximize their visits?

David B. Cohen:

That’s a good question! One of the points I tried to make in the book, in Chapter One, actually, is that the quality of observations depends on clarity of purpose and suspension of judgment. My purpose was appreciative and celebratory. I told my host teachers up front that I was not visiting to evaluate, and on the few occasions when I was asked for any advice or feedback after seeing a teacher all day long, I always declined. Honestly, sometimes I wouldn’t have been able to formulate that kind of response even with my pages and pages of notes. I simply wasn’t in that mode, wasn’t watching with that kind of lens.

I also relate in the book an example of why we need to suspend judgment, describing a time when I watched a second or third grader spend most of his day in the classroom under a desk, sitting on a rug and doing his own thing – reading, coloring, but not participating with his classmates. The teacher seemed to ignore him. I asked about that after the students left for the day, and learned that the student had missed a lot of school (for reasons the teacher couldn’t divulge, of course), and that today’s return to class was a great success, with the teacher approaching the situation using strategies formulated in consultation with the family and others responsible for the child’s care and well-being.

Now, in the situation you describe, the purpose of the observation may be different. If I invite a colleague into my class, I might want feedback regarding engagement and collaboration strategies, lesson structure or pacing, formative assessment, differentiation, etc., and so I’d talk to my peer observer ahead of time. I’d hope that the observer would keep to that focus as agreed upon ahead of time, or, formulate any additional observations in the form of non-evaluative questions. Trust is the key, though, in any type of observational arrangement.

LF: What’s the most important point you hope that readers take away from your book?

David B. Cohen:

It comes down to two ideas, one for the general public and one for educators and policy makers. For the general reader, when you walk or drive past a public school you don’t know, assume that there are great, caring teachers inside, helping students learn and grow. That’s what I’ve seen, and what I firmly believe. Though, paradoxically, these same outstanding schools and teachers are in dire need of additional support and resources to help students. The price of educators’ often heroic efforts should not be public indifference to the challenges they face.

For teachers and anyone concerned with education policy (including instructional and curricular decisions), I would add that our profession’s focus on “best practices” is often misplaced. Instead, I suggest that we focus on best conditions. We shouldn’t be in a rush to adopt the programs that helped other teachers and schools to improve (though we should certainly take note of those examples). The key to sustained improvement is fostering the conditions that allow people and organizations to develop their own strategies and solutions. That work is not done in isolation, nor does it imply a lack of awareness of the options that are out there. If we simply import programs, there are likely to be issues with buy-in and important systemic or contextual differences that haven’t been accounted for. When everyone in an organization has a part to play in identifying needs and crafting solutions, there’s much greater likelihood of success.

LF: Is there anything I haven’t asked you that you’d like to share?

David B. Cohen:

Much of what’s in the book, and what I’ve shared above, focuses on the “sparks” that help teachers and students thrive at the classroom and school level. It would be a mistake to lose sight of the energy and inspiration we can exchange with colleagues across broader horizons. I would encourage teachers to be active in their union, in professional associations, in virtual networking and social media. Building up a vibrant personal/professional learning network is a great way to expand your knowledge and interests, and to contribute to the strength of our profession overall.

LF: Thanks, David!

November 10, 2014
by Larry Ferlazzo

Interview With People Behind The Most Popular English Language Learning & Teaching Sites In The World


A year ago I posted an interview with Ann Foreman, who coordinates the Teaching English-British Council Facebook page, the most popular site in the world for English language teachers (see Interview With Ann Foreman, Coordinator Of The Most Popular Site On The Web For English Language Teachers).

Since that time, the popularity of that site, along with British Council sites for English Language Learners, has exploded.

I thought it was time to visit again with Ann, along with her colleagues Paul Braddock and Neil McLaren.

LF: I can’t remember exactly how many “likes” the TeachingEnglish – British Council Facebook page had when we spoke about a year ago , but I know that you’ve had extraordinary growth since that time and are approaching 3 million “likes.”  Have you been doing anything differently over the past twelve months, or is that dramatically increased popularity just coming naturally?  The only things that I’ve noticed is that you might be sharing more online videos for professional development and I know that you’ve created more of a regular Teaching English blogging community (that I’m happy to be a part of).

Ann Foreman:

Yes, ‘likes’ for the TeachingEnglish Facebook page have skyrocketed. From 200,000 in September last year to nearly 3 million at the moment – a growth of 1500% – quite a phenomenon!

What have we been doing differently? I’m not sure there’s a simple answer to that one as you always have to keep on your toes and be doing something different on social media. People get quickly tired of one approach and soon move towards something new. So we are constantly on the look out for fresh materials and ways to talk about them. What’s more, Facebook is continuously changing its algorithms: the way they calculate which posts show in people’s newsfeeds. Recently they’ve been favouring paid posts much more than ever.  And as we rely on the organic growth of our pages and don’t pay to promote our posts, that means that we face increasingly stiff competition to get our posts seen – even by the people who have indicated that they like what we do.

One of the main reasons for our constant growth is, I think, because so many teachers like to feel useful and help out their colleagues.  When they see something that looks like a good or innovative way of approaching a teaching problem or some content that they think will go down well with students, their first instinct is to share it with their friends. That’s basically how the word has got around and resulted in so many people liking the TeachingEnglish page. So, for example, a recent post with suggestions about how to prepare students for the IELTS writing exam received 3,745 ‘likes’ and was shared on more than 2,000 times!

I also think it’s important that we’re not publishing just about our own British Council content. While we have excellent materials on our British Council websites and we’re proud to post about them, we also welcome posts on the page from teachers from all over the world who have nothing to do with the British Council. There are now some really excellent blogs written by teachers of English and their contributions enable the TeachingEnglish page to reflect the ideas and experiences of teachers working in a wide range of different educational contexts and to keep pace with emerging tendencies in teaching. This is something that we simply wouldn’t be able to do if we relied uniquely on our own devices and resources. We like to think that TeachingEnglish has a symbiotic relation with the best current ELT bloggers worldwide. We feature their posts prominently on the Facebook page while the Featured blog of the month and our Community of bloggers sections of our website have proved to be increasingly popular with users.


LF: In our previous conversation, you mentioned that you wanted to expand professional development opportunities for English teachers at the Facebook site.  How is that going, and what other future plans do you have?

Paul Braddock from the TeachingEnglish website:

Our plan is to provide a professional development opportunity in a game-based format and we’re looking at how we can use a combination of the TeachingEnglish website and social media to achieve this.

The first step to making this happen is an extensive tagging process on the website: all our content is being matched to 12 key teaching ‘competencies’ (Managing the lesson, Planning lessons and courses, Understanding the learner, etc.). On the site, teachers will be able to choose a particular competency they are interested in, or have identified as an area for development. They will click through to a page containing all the articles, blog posts, videos, seminars, publications and training modules or courses that relate to their area of interest. With this in place we aim to be able to provide a supportive and engaging scaffold for professional development.

LF: The LearnEnglish – British Council Facebook page, for English learners, is pretty popular, too.  What is your strategy for how you use that site and have English learners benefit from it, and what are future plans?

Neil McLaren from the British Council LearnEnglish  and LearnEnglish Teens Facebook pages:

Yes things are going well, with 1.7 million ‘likes’ at the moment, one and a half million of which have been added in the last year alone. Not only that, but LearnEnglish Teens,  our ‘youngest’ page, has gone from fewer than 50,000 to 650,000 in the same period – a growth of 1300%.

The strategy we follow is to provide learners with a daily dose of free resources and engaging activities at different levels so that they can follow their own path in exploring topics and work on developing their skills. It’s very much a two-way process, and the strong community feel which has developed on the page really helps in this.

Our single most popular feature is our Language Clinic which we run 2-3 times per week and we get a lot of inspiration from that. It has a huge reach and we can get anything up to 200 questions in a single 90-minute session. Topics range far and wide from simple grammar questions up to subtle nuances between word choices from journalists and academics.

This feeds directly into what we then share on our Facebook page timeline. Common themes, topics and areas of difficulty emerge, and we then bring together resources from across our online offer – the LearnEnglish, LearnEnglish Teens, ESOL Nexus and TeachingEnglish websites. We also include third party learning resources and authentic content not specifically aimed at language learners. We know very well from the questions that we get asked that lots of learners have trouble navigating the vast sea of online resources available, and in discerning which resources are authoritative and reliable, so we see providing them with guidance as part of our role. By engaging in discussion we can clearly identify their specific needs and so point them in the direction of the best available resources.

We’ve experimented with user-generated content too, such as collaborative story-telling, collaborative music playlists, an online writing clinic and more, and we’re always looking for new ways to promote engagement. It’s been great watching the page grow organically and extend its reach. For example, in the last year Vietnam has shot up from nowhere to become our fourth biggest group of followers, and Myanmar has gone from almost zero to 70,000 followers in the same period. This truly global spread, with regular contributors from Latin America, Europe, Asia and Africa, leads to some great discussions, and the development of online friendships across cultures which I find particularly rewarding.

LF: The British Council seems to be on the cutting-edge of technology and English language development.  Can you share briefly about your other tech projects — MOOC’s, mobile apps, laptop initiatives in developing countries, and others?

Ann Foreman:

Indeed! The recent Exploring English: Language and Culture MOOC, which the British Council partnered with FutureLearn, proved fantastically popular and was referred to as ‘the biggest English language learning class in the world’. 122,583 learners joined it and more than 60% of them participated, with 54,928 of them being classed as active learners. In fact, 50% of learners made comments, leading to a total of more than 357,000 posts on the page.

We are following up the success of this MOOC with one for teachers: Understanding Language: Learning and Teaching which has been developed jointly by the British Council and the University of Southampton. We are very excited about the prospect and looking forward to the start of the course on November 17.

We will also be running another Exploring English: Language and Culture MOOC for learners in February 2015, and, in addition, have in the pipeline another MOOC to help students who are preparing for the IELTS exam.

As you mentioned, the British Council has also been involved in an exciting educational project in Uruguay – the Ceibal project – which aims to provide a laptop to every teacher and every child and so start bridging the digital gap that exists worldwide.

British Council Uruguay has taken responsibility for providing remote lessons to Primary school children with the aim of improving their level of English. The Ceibal English project began in July 2012 by providing some 50 remote lessons each week in 20 urban schools outside Montevideo, using teachers based in Argentina, Colombia and Mexico. By the beginning of the 2014 school year, the number of remote lessons had reached over 2,000 each week. Our target is to provide over 4,000 remote lessons each week by early 2015, thus reaching around 90% of schools in the country. If you’d like to, you can read more about the project here British Council – Uruguay Report of the Ceibal English project.

There has been huge growth in smartphone adoption and smartphone usage over the last two years and the British Council’s LearnEnglish apps have seen a huge increase in downloads. Since 2011, we have had 9.5 million downloads and we now have a wide range of apps that cover language skills practice, listening practice, educational games and resources for children.

Our most popular app is LearnEnglish Grammar (UK Edition) which has reached number one in the educational app store charts in 24 countries and top ten in 82 countries. The app has been really well received by users with hundreds of 5 star reviews in the app stores and educational app review sites such as AppoLearning giving the app top marks for the wide range of activity types that create an engaging experience. Other really popular apps include our listening practice apps – such as LearnEnglish GREAT Videos and LearnEnglish Audio & Video.

In some countries we also provide English language learning material through SMS (text) and pre-recorded interactive lessons over the phone using technology such as Interactive Voice Response. In these countries you often find that mobile is the main source of information for people wanting to learning a language.

LF: Thanks, Ann, Paul and Neil!

October 27, 2013
by Larry Ferlazzo

Interview With Ann Foreman, Coordinator Of The Most Popular Site On The Web For English Language Teachers


Note: The original headline of this post described Ann’s site as “the most popular site on the web for English Language Learners.” I’ve since changed it to “English Language Teachers.” Here’s Ann’s note: 

Just one point: the TeachingEnglish Facebook page is aimed at teachers of English. We have a specially dedicated LearnEnglish page for learners.

Last month, I posted The Best Three Sites On The Web For ESL/EFL/ELL/ELT Teachers.

I’ve since interviewed the people behind each of those sites, and will be publishing them over the next few weeks. Two weeks ago, I published my interview with David Deubelbeiss, the founder of EFL Classroom 2.0. Last week, I posted responses from Michelle Henry from Ressources Pour Le College En Anglais.

And, , here’s my interview with Ann Foreman from The British Council’s “Teaching English” site, and the person who coordinates the most popular site on the web for English Language Learners, Teaching English- British Council:

LF: First off, can you a little bit about yourself and how, when, and why you got involved in teaching English?

Ann Foreman:

I’m very much from that old happy, hippy generation. Although I’ve always had ambitions, they’ve rarely been clearly focussed on career but much more on doing what I wanted to do and felt right. So at times I’ve been a community worker, photographer, film-maker or software developer and at others, a teacher. What these diverse pursuits have in common, I suppose, is that they’ve all given me a continuous incentive to learn and adapt – which is what I enjoy doing in life.

I began teaching English to Chilean Refugees, who had fled from the coup against Allende, which means that anybody who knows their history should be able to calculate my age pretty easily! I think that was a great way to start because there was no room for doubts in my mind as to what I had to do or what my role was. My mission was clear – to help my Chilean friends learn enough English to enable them to confront the harsh realities of their day-to-day lives. They needed it to be able to find a job and somewhere to live, communicate with teachers, social workers and doctors, and also to keep up with their children who, immersed as they were in the language at school, were quickly outstripping them in their knowledge of English. I’d say that this was a real moment of praxis for me, and this concept – the fusion and interplay of theory with practice – is one I’ve always liked and tried to apply to my life. So, at the same time as I caught up with the pedagogy: the theories of learning and teaching English, I was caught in the process of testing it out – looking to see what proved effective and quickly discarding what was not.

LF: You publish the Teaching English Facebook page for the British Council, which is likely the most popular site — by far — in social media for English teachers and learners.  What have you done/do you do to make it so popular?

Ann Foreman:

I work closely with Paul Braddock, who manages the TeachingEnglish website, and both of us were clear from the onset that our aim in creating the TeachingEnglish Facebook page was to build up a support community for English language teachers. We hoped that the page would become a kind of daily digest for the ELT community: a place where teachers could keep up-to-date with innovations in education, plus exchange ideas about their day-to-day experiences in the classroom. So alongside encouraging daily discussions on the page and posting about great content we have on our TeachingEnglish and LearnEnglish suite of websites, we extended an open welcome to ELT bloggers. We featured their blogs, invited them to post updates about them on the page and followed that up by launching a monthly TeachingEnglish blog award. It’s been a gradual, organic process, but I’d say that the reason for our current success is that the page is widely regarded as belonging to the people who contribute to it and find it useful, rather than being a flagship for the British Council.

I assume, but don’t know for sure, that you also coordinate the Teaching English Twitter account which I’m assuming is the most popular Twitter feed for English teachers and learners.  As I asked in my previous question about Facebook, what have you done to have made it so popular?  And how do you determine what you where?

Ann Foreman:

Yes, TeachingEnglish Twitter is very popular. However, I think that I should really put more effort into making it better. We’ve not systematically tried out the idea of community building there. To be honest, I’m a bit scared of what could happen if we managed to achieve the same level of discussion that we get on our Facebook page. At the moment we simply don’t have the resources to manage it! So for the time being our tweets are short, snappy and largely informative, although in the future I’d like to engage more with teachers who see Twitter as a support network for their personal and professional development.

LF: What are your future plans to expand your online work, and what are you future plans in general?

Ann Foreman:

I’m excited about the idea of doing more to help teachers with their continuing professional development. The TeachingEnglish team is currently looking at ways we can break CPD down into manageable bite-sized chunks for teachers. We’d like to offer teachers specific learning pathways that meet their personal needs but to include game elements and fun challenges in the mix. Our aim is to build on the support that teachers already get from social networks, but to try and channel it in a more focused way.

LF: What are your thoughts about the future of English teaching — trends, predictions?

Ann Foreman:

What interests me most about current trends is that they’re slurring the traditional boundaries where learning takes place. New technology and the internet are now so much part of our lives that there is no longer a good reason – if there ever was one – to confine the learning process to geographically or conceptually fixed sites such as schools or universities. I think that we as teachers really need to get our heads around this one and work out how we can help our students take full advantage of the situation. It means thinking as much about how we teach as what we teach.

I’d like to see us break through the passivity that the current educational system tends to foster amongst all of us: to find ways that we can encourage students to become critical thinkers, the kind of people who don’t take what’s offered at face value but have a clear strategy for learning about the things they consider to be important. I think that we can enrich the learning process enormously if we see it as a seamless process where teachers and students alike explore the connections we find both inside and outside of the classroom. I’d like to see us drawing on our students’ life experiences and stimulating their curiosity to pose questions that they’re really interested in and to get them seeking the answers from whichever information source that best suits the situation.

The world is our oyster and we need to explore all possible means for finding out what we want to know whether it be though the spoken word via friends, family or local community; printed materials via comics, magazines and books; or the virtual world via the internet and social networks.

LF: Thanks, Ann!

October 19, 2013
by Larry Ferlazzo

Interview With Michelle Henry Of Ressources Pour Le College En Anglais


Last month, I posted The Best Three Sites On The Web For ESL/EFL/ELL/ELT Teachers.

I’ve since interviewed the people behind each of those sites, and will be publishing them over the next few weeks. Last week I published my interview with David Deubelbeiss, the founder of EFL Classroom 2.0

Today, we’ll hear from Michelle Henry from Ressources Pour Le College En Anglais:

LF: Can you share a little about yourself — where you teach and how and why you initially became interested in English language education?

Michelle Henry:

I taught in high schools and had classes with adults. Now I have been retired since 2007.

From the start I had very good results at school, I considered language as a game. I got correspondents and could go to England every year.

At first I wanted to be a doctor, like my father, but he refused, saying that it was too difficult for a woman. I have always wanted to help people. So I turned to what I had always liked: English, and decided to become a teacher to try and convince my students it was a rich, interesting and useful language.

LF: When and why did you begin sharing online resources for English Language Learners and teachers?

Michelle Henry:

Fourteen years ago, teachers began to receive help with computers and work with WORD. We discovered the internet and how to link it with WORD. I started a list of useful links for me and my students and began to write webquests.

Then I was noticed by an inspector who liked what I was doing. He appreciated my first webquest about The White House. He asked me to work for the Regional Education Authority of Nancy-Metz, find links for high school teachers and create webquests (in addition to teaching). So I created a site and wanted it to be welcoming with pictures, varied and helpful for learners and teachers. I also created a site for primary teachers with a colleague.

Since my retirement, I have kept my site for which I received the European Language Label in 2010. It was thus recognized as an effective and reliable tool for teachers and students.

LF: How do you find all the great resources you share on your site?

Michelle Henry:

I am a member of several lists of teachers on the internet, so I can see what they are interested in and I look for corresponding links and create worksheets.

I have also subscribed to sites I appreciate for their seriousness, their ideas and efficacy.

Some teachers send me their creations: worksheets, interactive activities and games, webquests, etc.

I am interested in lots of domains and want to keep up-to-date with the news, so I spend a lot of time every day looking for interesting and motivating links. I try to put myself in the students’ shoes and wonder what they will like, what will touch them and encourage them to deepen and talk about a subject.

I wish the sites will lead to thoughts, communications and debates. I hope that the teachers will feel like creating a lesson, using videos and podcasts and talking about a subject with their students.

LF: What are your future plans — for yourself and for your site?

Michelle Henry:

This work is a passion and I can’t stop looking for new ideas. As long as I can help, I will continue.

I have created a second site: the presentation will be clearer and the pages will be smaller for the browsing to be more pleasant.

LF: Is there anything I haven’t asked that you’d like to say?

Michelle Henry:

I receive lots of encouraging mails from around the world and I appreciate the teachers’ comments. They tell me I save them a lot of time.

I also thank you for choosing my site among The Best Three Sites On the Web for ESL/EFL/ELL/ELT Teachers. It is great to have such enthusiastic support.

LF: Thanks, Michelle!

October 15, 2013
by Larry Ferlazzo

Interview With David Deubelbeiss From EFL Classroom 2.0


Last month, I posted The Best Three Sites On The Web For ESL/EFL/ELL/ELT Teachers.

I’ve since interviewed the people behind each of those sites, and will be publishing them over the next few weeks. I’m beginning with David Deubelbeiss, the founder of EFL Classroom 2.0:

LF:  I interviewed you about three years ago. Would you mind quickly reviewing some of the things you mentioned then, particularly about how and why you got involved in English teaching and why you began EFL Classroom 2.0?

David Deubelbeiss:

I began as I think many teachers out there,  with unsure and timid steps but a strong will to make a difference and help students. I’d been a steelworker and had an accident and that sobered me up and gave me time see teaching was a career option that most fit my own beliefs about my purpose in this big, wide world (yes, I’m an idealistic Virgo).

Since then taught in many places, many types of students.  Became very interested in why one student succeeds and why one doesn’t and especially special education as it relates and transfers over to ELT.  I have a strong belief that second language students need to be assisted in the same way(s) our special needs students are. This led me into the world of assistive technologies and technology in general.

As I began first doing workshops about using karaoke to help struggling readers, I began sharing online. Eventually, started doing teacher training full time and began EFL Classroom 2.0 as my “junk yard” –  a home for my mind that others were invited to enter and come and go as they pleased.

LF: Since that interview, what would you say have been the major changes/additions to EFL Classroom 2.0?

David Deubelbeiss:

We used to be a place with a lot of discussion, hundreds of comments a day. Since twitter/facebook and other micro blogging platforms exploded on the scene around 2009-2010 – we are now more a resource area/place.  Our “conversations” have transferred from EFL Classroom 2.0 to our LinkedIn group – ELT Professionals.

Additionally, we’ve become less focused on individual resources and more on general curation. There is so much “out there” and I think I’m in a great position through the community and my wide reading/contacts to help teachers find the gold and save their precious time.  We’ve also in this spirit expanded into teacher training – helping teachers with webinars and professional development materials (even a free  basic TESOL course).

LF: What are your future plans for the site?

David Deubelbeiss:

You know, to be very honest, I’m not sure….. I’m making it up as I go along – truly.  And that’s how it has to be if we are all honest about the world that is “online” and even our classrooms.  In my own lectures to my student teachers I always push this notion of “the transactional” as underpinning our professional practice. The ground is constantly shifting under us and that is a necessary part of being a teacher. If you don’t like that, you probably won’t  enjoy teaching!

I intend on continuing to keep EFL Classroom 2.0 new and up to date – there hasn’t been a moment where it just sat there and got rusty. I’ve also started a digital resources platform that I’ll be opening up to other teachers.  I hope teachers with strong materials development skills will sell and share their materials there.

I’ve concluded after many years of just giving so much away as “free” that if we teachers value our materials, others will too. Don’t undersell your hard work.  A big change in my own beliefs. Further, there are too many low quality, worksheet stuff / things flying around out there and masquerading as “learning materials”.  Teachers need quality materials AND flexible ideas on how to use those materials.

LF: You also work with English Central, which I constantly tell people is, in my opinion, the best site on the Web for English Language Learners.  Can you describe it, how it came about, what it offers, its future, and talk about your role in it?

David Deubelbeiss:

Thank you Larry for your support and appraisal, means a lot.

I got involved with EnglishCentral just after it started up in Beta late 2009 as a Google venture.  I saw the potential of the idea of using revolutionary speech recognition for language learners combined with motivating, authentic video. I was already involved in this area through my own interest in technology and special education. I helped both with the main product design – video curriculum and also building the LMS where teachers can “teach” with EnglishCentral and have an instant online language study area (class page) for their students. It’s exciting, video truly is the new textbook!

I’ll also mention that despite having a team and staff behind me – I’m still very hands on. For example, I created from beginning to end our promo video for teachers – Dave Uses EnglishCentral.

The idea is still the same as it was at the start –  to provide a place where students can get the quality practice time with “real” English (getting comprehensible input and world leading speech assessment).  I’ve helped develop the product and its been a learning process!  But I love being involved in something where I’m growing and the strong combination of my technology/coding skills combined with my experience in the classrom has been a big asset to the company. There are too many technology companies out there that don’t have people who are educators as a big part of the company. EnglishCentral does and has its pulse on the needs of students and teachers alike.

The future of EnglishCentral lies in perfecting our tools to allow teachers more flexibility in designing video based curriculum for their students. Video combined with the technology of EnglishCentral is something extraordinary. It will even be more powerful when we allow teachers even better ways to differentiate the video curriculum for their learners and get even more useful data on student achievement.  A blended approach – classroom teaching complimented with EnglishCentral online learning is a proven forumula for language improvement.

We are also very excited about our launch of mobile products – access through these devices (with great microphones!) will greatly help educators in their classrooms as we all move more into a BYOD world.

It’s been a lot of hard work and many 20 hour days but well worth it!

LF:  What is giving you the most energy these days, and what are your future personal plans?

David Deubelbeiss:

Most of my energy beyond helping teachers on EFL Classroom 2.0 is in the area of teacher training.  This year I’m not teaching at the university and hope to book more speaking engagements and workshops (so if you are reading this and are looking for a quality teacher trainer – please get in touch!).  I’m going to try and slow down and be more purposeful in my actions. Help others on the ground.  I’m making a break and moving to a small, far away, enchanted city, under a volcano.  Of course, will still be tirelessly working to make EnglishCentral into an even better tool than it already is.

LF: Is there anything I haven’t asked you that you’d like to share?

David Deubelbeiss:

I’ve been making notes about a book I’d like to write – The Future of School.  I think I have something to add to this  “debate”. Hope to spend time writing this while away from the hustle and bustle this year ….

LF: Thanks, David!

August 24, 2012
by Larry Ferlazzo

Interview With John Norton From The “New” Middleweb

John (Croft) Norton is the founder and co-editor of John also co-founded the national Teacher Leaders Network and works as an education writer, editor and virtual community developer. See his LinkedIn page for more background.

There are very few people who rival John’s connections in the education world, his editing ability, and his willingness to help.  Middleweb was my first introduction to the education tech world nine years ago…..

What’s the MiddleWeb backstory?

Thanks for giving me this opportunity, Larry. I love to talk about MiddleWeb. first appeared on the Web in 1996. The project was supported by the NYC-based E.M. Clark Foundation, which was investing heavily in middle grades reform efforts during the 1990s. MiddleWeb served both as a place to publish stories about reform efforts in districts where Clark was active and as a website where middle level educators could find resources to improve classroom and school practice. Over about six years of Clark support, MiddleWeb evolved to become more of an “all things middle grades” site, with thousands of pages of content. Like you, I’m a bit compulsive!

We also began a listserv discussion community during the 1998-99 school year, which grew to over 600 very lively and loyal educator-members. We had amazing conversations, some of the best of which were captured and published as website content. For 3-4 years in the early 2000s, we actually had F2F gatherings at locations in the US and Canada. The Clark funding ended in 2002.

What happened after that?

I kept the email chat community going and worked on the site whenever I could find the time. In 2006, the listserv group moved to the National Middle School Association (now the Association for Middle Level Education) as “MiddleTalk,” where it continues today. As the years passed, I was less and less able to keep the large website current (you know about that) but I did continue to publish a biweekly Gr 4-8 newsletter that grew to a circulation of more than 15,000.

I might say that the content of the newsletter was heavily influenced by my Clark experiences. For about 8 years I led small teams made up of journalists and educators on district visits where we observed in thousands of 4-8 classrooms and interviewed in-depth hundreds of teachers, principals and central office people. We wrote about what we learned in a district-specific newspaper of our own creation, circulated in the community and published on our website. (One of the districts was Long Beach Unified in California, which is widely recognized today as a high performing, high poverty, high minority system.) I think we learned a lot about what matters in the middle grades.

Back to the 21st century: The decade I spent trying to keep the big idea of  MiddleWeb alive while also earning a living was made possible thanks to the sponsorship of Stenhouse Publishers — a company with a strong focus on literacy and some notable middle grades teacher/authors (like Rick Wormeli, who’s been a steadfast MiddleWeb supporter since the beginning). Stenhouse bought an ad in every newsletter, which defrayed the overhead. Anyone who has loved MiddleWeb over those years has Stenhouse and marketing director Chuck Lerch to thank.

What’s going on with MiddleWeb today?

We’ve literally been reborn! Two years ago I was able to recruit Susan B. Curtis, who’s been both a middle grades teacher and a reference librarian, to partner with me. With her help we moved the newsletter to a modern mailing platform that supported graphics. We generally upgraded the looks and the content. Stenhouse agreed to expand their advertising support so we could go weekly.

Then a very good thing happened — the SmartBrief company, which publishes over 200 industry and professional newsletters in partnership with associations and special-interest groups like ourselves, invited us to partner on a new newsletter for grades 4-8: MiddleWeb SmartBrief. Stenhouse sent them to us and agreed to be the first advertiser. (What a great company – they really are committed to the work of teachers.)

We receive a small share of any advertising revenue as part of the arrangement, and that gave us the impetus to create a new MiddleWeb and devote more time to site development. We were really lucky to coax Jose Vilson, a notorious teacher/blogger/geek into helping us “mod” a new site. He picked the cool WordPress template we’re using and helped us customize it.

We launched the new WordPress-based site in mid-June, just a week before MiddleWeb SmartBrief began to appear on Tuesdays and Fridays. The response to both has been excellent. Many of our MiddleWeb community friends from the 2000s showed up to promote the new site, to urge colleagues to subscribe to the MW-SB and to contribute content and good advice.

3. What’s new about the new MiddleWeb?

Our slogan is All about the middle grades. We’re trying to keep a sharp focus on teaching & learning in grades 4-8. Of course there are many matters that concern all K12 educators and we do touch on some of those, especially in our Quick Links feature, where we feature (in short form) some of the most interesting things we come across each day.

On the new site we’ve decided to emphasize original content. We have four main threads:

Resource Roundups: We’ve always specialized in finding and sharing resources you can use. Now we’re featuring “resource roundups” — our tag for short, link-laden essays built around a theme. Here are two recent ones: New Teacher 911 and Back to School. My partner Susan puts together most of these, calling on her teaching background and library science skills. She does a great job.

Guest Articles: These are first-person posts, typically featuring the voices of teachers and school leaders, including folks on the front lines, who have stories to tell and good practice to share. We love to get queries from writers. We can’t pay right now (no revenue coming in yet) but we can offer fame. Anyone who’d like to write for us can check out our user-friendly editorial guidelines. Couple of samples: Nancy Flanagan’s The Teaching Essentials; and Marsha Ratzel’s No-Bunk Letter to Parents at the start of school. You may have detected that we’re putting a lot of emphasis right now on advice for new teachers and prep for a new school year.

We’re also launching several blogs between now and the end of the year. One is underway: STEM Imagineering with Anne Jolly, a middle grades science teacher and Alabama TOY who now writes STEM curriculum for an NSF-sponsored project (and helps school teams become action researchers). Our next serial blog will focus on special education and co-teaching and will be co-written by two excellent SpEd teachers and NBCTs – Elizabeth Stein (Long Island) and Laurie Wasserman (Boston). We’re still looking for a literacy-oriented blogger. If any of your readers has an interesting proposal, they can write us.

Book Reviews: We’ve made arrangements with education publishers to share review copies with us, and our call for reviewers was well-timed for summer break (okay, luckily timed). We have over 100 books out for review at the moment, and quite a few reviews in the queue for posting. You can see what we have so far at this page. Anyone who likes book reviewing can find out more about how to get involved here.

Interviews: We’re also talking with interesting people who have expertise around middle grades education — or just do great things for middle grades kids and schools. Visitors can peruse our Five Q Interviews for ideas, insights, and good chat. Here’s an interview with teacher/writer Cossondra George who we described as the Goddess of Good Advice for newbies. And another with Tempered Radical Bill Ferriter about writing professional books. (And thanks for letting us interview you, as well!)

We want MiddleWeb to have a community feel and one way to accomplish that is to invite readers and visitors to become participants in content creation. Here are some ideas we’ve posted about getting involved. Writing for us is just one way – but an important way! You know that I’m an editor-for-hire in one of my personas, and we offer that editorial support gratis, for what it’s worth.

4. How is the MiddleWeb SmartBrief different from your long-time biweekly newsletter “MiddleWeb’s Of Particular Interest”?

Well, as many people know, SmartBrief is an information-sharing company with lots of newsletters, including some popular education editions: ASCD SmartBrief, Accomplished Teacher, SmartBrief on Ed Tech and quite a few more. But they had nothing specifically aimed at the middle, and that’s where we came into the picture.

Our MiddleWeb SmartBrief really has two components. First there’s the content gathered by the SmartBrief editorial team, who focus on news and resource articles from the social media stream that (1) have a middle grades focus, and (2) carry a byline and are less than two weeks old. The SB editors are professional information gatherers and it’s great to have them scouring the Web for useful stuff. We worked with them to come up with the section themes for each issue: Teaching in the Middle, Tweens & Young Teens, Classroom Innovation, Technology & Connected Learning, and Middle Grades Leadership.

Then Susan and I also provide several content items in each issue — in a section labeled MiddleWeb Recommends. Most often we write about new content we’ve posted on the MiddleWeb site, but we may mention other items of interest.

Here’s the best part about the SmartBrief partnership. The SB editors work very closely with us to make sure we think what they are providing is in sync with the needs and interests of the grade 4-8 audience. We may be asked at the last minute whether some new “find” is a good fit. If not, they find something else. We also send along things we’ve spotted that we feel would be good to include, and they’re very responsive to our suggestions.

My background is in journalism and I’ve been really impressed with the quality job these folks do and the level of collaboration we’ve achieved. If a subscriber writes in and says “I’d like to see more about innovative teaching,” we all pay attention to that and try to be responsive. Our MW-SB subscriber list is growing rapidly, so I’m pretty sure we’re on the right track. It’s free and folks can subscribe here.

5. What other projects are you involved in?

I turned 64 this summer, and you’d think MiddleWeb would be enough! But I’m actually working as a consultant for two great organizations — the Alabama Best Practices Center (three states away from my NC mountain home) — and Powerful Learning Practice LLC, where I wear several hats, including editor for the Voices from the Learning Revolution group blog. We’ve published nearly 200 essays there in the last 18 months, written by educators who are making the “shift” to more digitally infused, inquiry/PBL learning. Both ABPC and PLP support significant online communities of educators and have been recognized by USDOE for their leadership in that arena. As a founder of two highly engaged online communities myself, I love staying involved in what I think is the most exciting dimension of professional learning these days.

Thanks for the interview, Larry. You really are the Web Impresario of Education.




November 18, 2011
by Larry Ferlazzo

Interview Of The Month — Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach

(As regular readers know, each month I interview people in the education world about whom I want to learn more. You can see read those past interviews here.)

Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach is the author (with Lani Ritter Hall) of the just-published Solution Tree book The Connected Educator, which offers a new model for 21st century professional development: “connected learning communities.” Sheryl and came to know of each other through the Teacher Leaders Network and our mutual colleague John Norton, an education writer and editor who co-founded TLN and has given both of us helpful editorial feedback over the years. In this interview, she shares some of her own education backstory and her vision of teaching and learning in the Internet Age.

1. Tell us something about your background as a teacher and educator.

I wasn’t one of those kids who always wanted to be a teacher when I grew up. In fact, probably the opposite was true. I came from challenging personal circumstances — the sort where schools more often add to the problem than help solve it. I decided to become a teacher, oddly enough, because I was interested in homeschooling my kids and I didn’t want people saying that I wasn’t qualified.

Once I started taking education classes I fell deeply in love with learning, teaching, and the possibility of making the world a better place one kid and classroom at a time. I know that sounds kind of “noble” but I absolutely mean it. I fell in love.

My first teaching job, in the late 1980s, was as a preschool teacher at an independent school in Valdosta, Georgia. I actually bartered my teaching services in exchange for one of my children attending for free. As I walked the halls of Valwood School, I often eyed a row of Apple 2e’s that sat under dust covers, thinking “what a waste of equipment.” At the time I wasn’t much of a technology expert but I’m a quick study! I asked if I could create a technology program at the school and soon found myself their computer resource person, working with both teachers and students on developing digital literacy. When the Internet became more public and pervasive a few years later, I had no doubt that a deep understanding of digital tools and connectivity were going to be essential for any educator who was interested in helping all students reach their full potential as self-directed learners.

Over the next 20 years, in Georgia and later in Virginia Beach VA, I served as a classroom teacher, technology coach, charter school principal, district administrator, university instructor and digital learning consultant. I’m now completing my doctorate in Educational Planning, Policy and Leadership at the College of William and Mary.

2. Tell us about your current work.

Sometimes I laugh and say I’ve held so many different positions in education because I can’t keep a job, but the truth is, I’m just keenly interested in learning, no matter where it takes place. The best evidence of that are the two education focused businesses I’ve started.

I’m the owner and founder of 21st Century Collaborative, LLC, a digital learning consulting group, and I travel in the U.S. and abroad to deliver keynotes, lead workshops and support nonprofits in their work to promote 21st century learning. Also, about five years ago, Will Richardson and I co-founded a professional development company called Powerful Learning Practice (PLP). Drawing on a host of brilliant education minds from around the world, we’ve helped schools and districts In the United States, Canada, Norway and Australia re-envision their learning cultures through the use of communities and networks. They meet online and face to face, do lesson plan study and action research — we make virtual classroom visits and help deconstruct ideas in webinars and Ning communities. The 7000 educators we’ve worked with have really changed who I am as a learner and educator. And they’ve given us a lot of insight into teachers’ learning needs today.

I also serve on the Online Communities of Practice technical working group for the US Department of Education and consult for organizations like Success at the Core (supported by philanthropist Paul G. Allen and the Stuart Foundation), and the NMC Horizon Project K-12 advisory board (an international body forecasting edtech trends).

3. And you have a new book just coming out . . .

Yes, in fact I’ve co-authored two books that are getting into distribution channels this month. The first is a collection of essays edited by Scott McLeod and Chris Lehmann, What School Leaders Need to Know about Digital Technology and Social Media, that features some of the most visible thinkers around social media in education today. The second book, The Connected Educator: Learning and Leading in the Digital Age, shares the theory of professional learning we’ve developed through our work with PLP communities. I say “theory,” but it includes plenty of practical advice for folks who are ready to become 21st century educators. We address four big themes:

  • Being a Learner first, educator second
  • Connected Learning Communities (which we describe as the next generation of professional learning communities)
  • Do It Yourself professional development, and
  • Becoming a connected learner

We argue that the time has come to reject incremental change and to radically alter the outdated learning paradigm that most students still experience it today, so they will be fully prepared for life in the 21st century.  More specifically, The Connected Educator is about the need for teachers in the Digital Age to exploit the transformative potential of emerging technologies on behalf of their students and their own professional growth.

4. Say more about the new model of professional development you’re advocating.

In the professional development model we’ve developed and use in our PLP communities, teachers and school leaders work together in local and global networks, connecting, collaborating and harvesting knowledge they apply in their schools and classrooms.

Through the three “prongs” of Connected Learning Communities, educators have the information, resources, and substantive community interactions they need to develop shared visions, common goals, and beliefs around principled change.

These three components of connected learning include the Personal Learning Network or PLN, which many teachers are now developing through Twitter, blogging, and other forms of social media. PLNs are primarily about gathering and sharing good information and ideas — they’re important but they don’t often “go deep.” The second component is the more familiar locally based professional learning community or team that now exists in many schools and districts .

The third and most “connected” component is achieved through participation in global communities of practice, which could not really exist before the advent of the Internet and high-speed connectivity. These are anytime, anywhere communities composed of educators who are committed for a variety of reasons to work together in deep ways on important matters having to do with the art and science of learning. They brainstorm and talk about creative ways to meet the needs of the 21st century learner with fellow professionals, whose ideas and geography may be very different than their own. Together in diverse spaces, they co-construct strategies that can motivate schools and fellow educators to transform learning environments, thus assuring their own sustainability by becoming highly relevant in students’ lives. They are, to adapt a late 20th century expression, places where educators can think globally, to better act locally.

5. I saw your interview at Education Week about passion-based learning. Tell us more about that.

Our book also advocates for inquiry-driven, passion-based instructional strategies that unleash the artistry of teaching and learning in educators. It’s the kind of teaching that requires educators to think deeply about learning design so that we are constantly leading and encouraging students to become self directed learners.

Let me say this first — I love what technology can do to help educators teach more effectively. But best practice for today’s learner starts with the learning, not the tools with which to learn (e.g. technology and the Internet.) We need to be asking ourselves what we want the students to know and be able to do and then work backwards determining how we recognize when they do indeed know and are able to do. What will students do or create that will prove they have mastered the objectives? And how will we check for understanding along the way?

Once we’ve determined the learning that needs to take place — then we can decide which tool(s) will work best. And this is where technology and the Internet pay off. Students can have real choice in the way they show mastery, which allows them to work through their strengths and not their weaknesses (which has been the case for many students in the late 20th century school model). Using technology allows them to create artifacts while connecting and collaborating with others; it allows students to become producers of knowledge and not consumers only.

Inquiry-driven approaches — project, problem and passion based learning models (PBL) — work best to create self-directed learning environments. And they can align nicely with the Common Core movement that has emerged in the United States. PBL can be a standards-driven approach that guides students in the creation of artifacts and also assures ownership of the content. The big difference in using project and inquiry learning strategies? They shift more control to the student. This can be unnerving for the educator who is used to command and control as a means to classroom management.

The amount of control shifted from teacher to student may vary by age level, and teachers may need to release control gradually as they help students (who often have little experience as active learners) gain the skills and understanding to become self-directing. But it’s through student-directed learning that technology and the Web become powerful tools for helping students find answers, solve problems, and design products as they construct and co-construct knowledge around the core curriculum.

Passion is an important piece of the inquiry-driven approach to learning. Knowing your students’ strengths and weaknesses — their interests and passions — will help you organize your curriculum in ways that motivate even your most challenged learners to achieve more. Want engaged learners who are able to elaborate and recall key objectives and concepts? Then design your lessons around their passions.

6. Where do you imagine your work going over the next 3-5 years? What excites you most about the future of professional learning?

Personally, I see myself becoming even more involved with the shifting of professional learning into connected spaces. The Connected Educator lays out the foundation for shifting PLCs into the next generation of connected learning communities (CLCs). Now there’s lots of work ahead helping schools implement that shift in their local context.

I also see myself writing more. I have a book in my head screaming to be written about passion-based learning and how it can result in deep student thinking and strong cognitive development. This concept can be a hard sell and I need to explicate the why and how in greater depth. I also have a desire to help create and promote more gender diversity in the educational technology space. I’d love to help interested women build their capacity around speaking and writing and then give them opportunities to share what they know with the world.

At Powerful Learning Practice, where I serve as the CEO, we’re in the process of developing a publishing arm to support the work we do. We’ve found that many of the educators who’ve participated in PLP communities have wise and compelling stories to tell about effective teaching and professional growth. We’re publishing some of those stories in our group blog Voices from the Learning Revolution, and also launching Powerful Learning Press to spread the voices of our PLPeeps via print and e-books.

What excites me most about the future of professional learning is the potential to break teachers out of their isolation and strengthen the human network. As we move forward, the collective brain will develop more and more rich collective intelligence. Part of the new challenge will be in determining how to access that intelligence and leverage it to make the world a better place.

Thanks, Sheryl!

October 29, 2011
by Larry Ferlazzo

Interview Of The Month — Larry Cuban

As regular readers know, each month I interview people in the education world about whom I want to learn more. You can see read those past interviews here.

Today, Larry Cuban, the well-known author, researcher, and former teacher, superintendent and professor, has agreed to answer a few question. Larry also writes a must-read blog at Larry Cuban on School Reform and Classroom Practice.

Can you share what led you to pursue a career in education, give a brief summary of the positions you’ve held, and tell us what has kept you in it after so many years?

I am the youngest of three sons of immigrant parents and the only one to attend college in my family. I needed to support myself in college and afterwards. Becoming a teacher of history combined to the performing part of teaching appealed to me so I began teaching in 1955. Since then, I taught high school history and social studies in big city schools for 14 years, directed a teacher education program that prepared returning Peace Corps volunteers to teach in urban schools, and served seven years as a district superintendent. In all I spent 26 years working in urban public schools before going to Stanford University in 1981.

For two decades at Stanford, I taught courses in the methods of teaching social studies, the history of school reform, curriculum, and instruction, and leadership. I was faculty sponsor of the Stanford/Schools Collaborative and Stanford’s Teacher Education Program. While a professor I taught three times in local high schools semester-long courses in U.S. History and Economics. My major research interests focused on the history of curriculum and instruction, educational leadership, school reform and the uses of technology in classrooms.

In 2001, I became Professor Emeritus of Education. After leaving the faculty, I have taught one seminar a year at Stanford, written articles and books, and since 2009, became a blogger.

If you were going to offer teachers three key pieces of advice that you think might help them to stay in the profession longer and be more effective educators, what would they be?

1. Re-pot yourself every few years.

Teaching is energizing but also exhausting work. When teaching you spend the rich intellectual, physical, and emotional capital that you have accumulated over the years on students. Because of that draining of your capital, for yourself and your future students you need to re-invest in yourself by doing what expert gardeners do with favorite potted plants.

Because plants can become pot bound, that is, the roots of the plant become cramped and form a tightly packed mass that inhibits growth they need to be re-potted in different soil and larger pots so they can flourish. Yes, re-potting entails risks and often causes stress but staying potted in the same place means little growth, even death.

For teachers, re-potting may mean shifting to another grade, tossing out old lessons, introducing new ones, taking a short or long break from the classroom and doing something else that engages one’s passions.

Effectiveness in every people-serving occupation requires developing relationships with those served be they clients, patients, parishioners, or students. In teaching, the building and sustaining of relationships with children and youth prepare the soil for learning. Such work, over time, drains one’s energies and commitment. Renewal—repotting—is essential.

2. Take intellectual risks.

Because teaching is repetitive work—as is doctoring, lawyering, and engineering—a certain monotony creeps in over years. Sure, the students each year differ and they add the spice of unpredictability to what occurs in classrooms but inevitably daily routines become familiar and taken for granted. Altering predictable classroom routines, introducing new subject matter, experimenting with different time schedules for activities, trying out new technologies to enhance student learning—all are instances of taking risks. Yes, failure may occur but teaching well means accepting that from time to time falling on one’s face is not a tragedy but—you guessed it—an opportunity to learn how to do the task better next time around. Losing the will to take intellectual risks is a telltale sign that teaching fatigue has set in and the routines of teaching have triumphed.

2. Speak out.

There are so many reasons why teachers do not speak out about teaching, student learning, school procedures and district policies. From fear of retaliation to sheer exhaustion at the end of the day to working at another job or taking graduate courses to caring for family and friends to inexperience in writing or speaking publicly—all are reasons teachers give for letting others speak for them. What many teachers forget or underestimate is the credibility that they have with parents, voters, and students when they do speak out about teaching, learning, school policies, and leadership. I read many teacher blogs and applaud them for taking this avenue to express themselves. More teachers need to speak out on the issues and the daily life that they experience. Being union members is, of course, important but no teacher can depend upon a union or association to do all of their speaking for them.

So voicing publicly one’s thoughts about teaching, learning, school routines, policy struggles, and, yes, even school politics is a way of re-potting one’s self and taking intellectual risks.

And, speaking of three pieces of advice, what would suggest to many people in the school reform movement, such as Bill Gates and Michelle Rhee?

*Before recommending any reform policy or making a grant aimed at altering teacher behavior in classrooms, include an historical impact statement (no longer than two single-spaced pages) of earlier similar reforms (what happened to the reforms? Why did they succeed? Fail? What conditions were in place? Missing?)

*Recommend only those policies (and grants) aimed at changing teachers and classroom practices that you, as reformers, would want for the teachers of your children and grand-children.

*Dial back hyped policy talk about what a new policy will achieve for teachers, students, and the larger society (e.g., online instruction for K-12, Core Curriculum Standards, charter schools). Over-promising results while under-estimating the tough difficulties principals and teachers face in implementing new policies is the pattern that reformers have followed for over a century. Speaking honestly, directly, and publicly about what a new policy aimed at teachers can and cannot do would not only be refreshing but give credibility to proposed policies and grants.

*Publicly advertise the theory of change (or action) that is embedded in any recommended policy that is being pushed and funded.

What are the most hopeful things you are seeing in schools today?

*New and veteran teachers with tempered idealism working hard each day teaching.

*Small but increasing numbers of teachers who blog and speak out.

*Amid the policy churn over evaluating teachers on the basis of student test scores and merit pay schemes to pay teachers and cascading criticism of teacher unions, public opinion polls show growing respect for teaching and teachers. To be sure respect for teachers in the U.S. remains below that in other nations such as China, Finland, and Canada. Nonetheless, the over-heated policy talk over the past five years about lousy teachers and firing bad ones has not altered the respect that parents and voters have for teachers—if these opinion polls are to be believed.

*The existence of good schools (as measured by parent/student/teacher satisfaction and multiple student outcomes) in big cities, suburbs, and rural districts that continue year after year seeking intellectual, physical, psychological, and emotional growth in children and youth.

What projects are you working on these days?

* Writing my next book. The working title is: “Inside the Black Box: Change without Reform in Classroom Practice.”

*Staying alive and healthy for my family and friends.

Thanks, Larry!

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