Monthly Archives: April 2013

From Enchantment Learning

This nice article from Maria Deblassie’s: Enchantment Learning Blog
April 12, 2013
It is no surprise that Jeff Tuttle, teacher at Monte Vista Elementary and speaker at this January’s TEDxABQED won the Golden Apple Award for teaching excellence. His recipe for success? Treating people as people.

His TED Talk focused on reforming the education system through valuing the professionals and students that make up its core. Many reform agendas focus on refining the system itself; Jeff suggests that while a system can be infinitely refined because it is not dynamic, it is the incredibly dynamic and powerful human element that has the potential to produce long lasting progressive changes.

One of the ways Jeff feels we can change the profession is by creating an open source textbook for teachers. The idea is to take all the money spent on textbooks and testing and give it to teachers who can then use their years of experience and expertise to develop an open source curriculum. In essence, the curriculum is developed by teachers for teachers (and their students!). If you want to see what an open source textbook looks like in action, check out Jeff’s Libros Libre, his own website that is currently looking to pool together a variety of lesson plans for teachers to utilize. By valuing the profession of education and those who choose to devote themselves to it, we can then have a system that celebrates and helps create innovative thinkers.

Jeff was kind enough to show me his classroom at Monte Vista—or what I call “the genius room”—and talk with me more about how valuing the professionals in turn helps produce more effective teaching methods and more creative, critical thinking students. When I entered the classroom, I felt the movement of the day—the pile of plants in one corner, the melted Salvador Dali-esque clock, the many posters and write-ups on the walls, the stack of learning knick-knacks and half-done projects on students’ tables. This, I could tell, was education in action.

I asked Jeff how he created this education reform on daily basis in his classroom. He said that his first focus is in building a community between himself, his fellow classroom teachers, and his students. The key is to allow students to understand the diversity of the classroom, including a range of learning needs, and to respect everyone’s role in that community. This helps students escape the “I can’t do this” mentality, Jeff explains; they simply work together and help each other master the learning concepts.

What I really love about this is that for these students, as Jeff puts it, there is “no pressure from outside labels, which frees students to be human.”

Daily classroom activities that move away from traditional textbook teaching also allow him to reform the system. Class activities include the Daily Pilot event in which one student gets to show the class about a place they have been or would like to go; the student has to research the history and geography of the location in order to give the class a tour via Google earth. Jeff also said that with the support of his principal he abandoned the traditional math textbook in favor of integrated math activities in the classroom. Every class member has a job where they can earn money for their services, like selling and tending to plants for example. The students get to use math to buy supplies, collect fees for their work, and borrow money to start their own businesses. They even have their own checking accounts that the balance every day!

Because of this inclusive environment and innovative learning strategies, Jeff has seen students outperforming expectations of what traditionally works in the classroom. And the students feel it too. One student wrote him a thank you note that simply said, “Thanks for giving me math.”

In short, education reform occurs in teacher’s daily actions, the unquantifiable classroom moments that help kids eventually learn how to tell a knock-knock joke correctly. It’s about letting people be people.

If you want to read more about Jeff’s insights and the power of classroom innovation (and really, who wouldn’t?), check out his blog Tomorrow Trees. In the meantime, stay innovative!

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UNM talk


Tom wrote and said the current discussion is about a fair and comprehensive teacher evaluation system, and so I’ll weigh in there-

I think the purposes evaluation are important to consider.  Using evaluation as a way to oust the turkeys will never be practical- it will be bound up in endless bureaucracies and litigation, and will get the “wrong guy” when it does succeed, just like the death penalty.   The de facto assumption is that we need evaluation rather than development.  But most teachers don’t need to be fired.  They need, they want- development.  It is better to have an assets model rather than a deficits model, just like in a classroom.  Its better not to gear the whole system around the lowest common denominator, just like in a classroom.

If accountability and development is the goal of evaluation, then we should just skip to that.   So here’s my perfect world:

If classes had a student or new teacher, a middle of the career teacher, and a veteran, or as it is, maybe a level 1, level 2, and level 3 teacher, there could be a culture of exchange that would benefit everyone.

I have been in a unique situation for several years, in an inclusion team.  27 students, a special ed teacher, a regular ed teacher, and an assistant.  This has built in accountability and development.  More importantly the PTR is excellent, so it is great for the students.  That is the goal of all of this.  We should cut to the chase.

In finland, this is the model.  Using existing buildings in their current capacity with better PTRs is a much more economical plan than the unsustainable model of the abandonment of schools that are not performing.


Tom also mentioned a general discussion of the current state of education.  Teaching is on a precipice between profession and hourly job.  The resignation of letter of Gerlad J. Conti in Syracuse, New York made a big splash on April 6th, which ends with “I realize that I am not leaving my profession, in truth, it has left me. It no longer exists.” – Certainly a death knell for teaching.  I am not there yet.  In fact,  I am here.  Our presence is hope, and we are charged with not only hoping but embodying hope.  To teach is to believe there is a future, and if you don’t believe there is a future, you must yield to those who still carry a torch.

At the advent of the $79.00 nook, I wrote Governor Martinez, asking that as a state we consider using all of the already free curricula that is online, and fill in the gaps with our own talent here.  We could create printable versions for schools that suffer still from the digital divide, but at least have more money to close it, and pay teachers while developing expertise and professional investment, rather than paying publishers more and more.  I did not get far with that endeavor.  I set out to help create a free library of lesson plans, which would be stitched into freely printable textbooks or digital “techbooks”.  I started a website at :  two years ago.  I have gotten exactly zero lesson plans so far.

I decided I need to create the first one as a template.  It will be a starting point for new professionals, but not something to pledge fidelity to.  Something to build from, change, swap out.  An open-source, integrated textbook or “techbook”.

I decided to use the Creative Commons <>  license as a way to publish my work, to keep it freely available, and to set that as part of a template.  APS spends millions of dollars on programs that end in controversy <> , almost every time.  States spend more than half of their general budget on education, and whenever it is mixed with private interest there is always at least rumors of a conflict of interest, and often worse.  If we could create a free bank of textbooks and printable materials, we would be really changing the system at its core.  Wikipedia <>  style.  Khanacademy <>  style.  Elevating education to its purest form, free of entanglement.  Its a pipe dream.  Its public education.

The aim (of education) must be the training of independently acting and thinking individuals who, however, can see in the service to the community their highest life achievement.

– Einstein

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