Promoting and equitably assisting organizations in the integration of animal-assisted therapies for the physical, mental, and emotional benefit of individuals in public and private settings, one paw at a time.
During my most recent school building leadership internship course, students were to read one of five articles and provide a response. Below you will find my original thoughts inspired by the reading and analysis of Larry Ferlazzo’s the March 7, 2022 EducationWeek article, entitled, “It’s Time to Debunk the Myths About Standardized Tests.” I had fun writing this piece and hope you enjoy the read.
Standardized tests. Okay, fine. To appease the quantitative data driven mind reading this response, I will give you the token line you know I am programmed to say. Yes, the data produced from standardized tests provides insight into the abilities and deficiencies of students, areas in need of improvement, yada yada. Can you pick up on the sarcasm? Well, it’s there, along with a dramatic eye roll.
Please do not confuse my position around the quantitative data put forth by standardized assessments with my position on data as a whole. I actually love data. Data! Data! Data! I love data. I think that might make for a good bumper sticker, maybe a t-shirt. No, I really do.
Data is evidence.
Data is what I need to prove my point, to validate my position, because my position is never enough to stand on its own, it needs some support.
For example, I can’t rely on a singular data set when it comes to making a statement like the New York Yankees are the best team in baseball (we all know they are the best team in baseball, but still). And that singular data set cannot be my own opinion. Sound the bias alarms.
Following this line of thinking, why should one type of data set, say the data from standardized tests, trump all other data collected specific to evaluating a student’s performance? There is still the need for multiple data points for triangulation purposes, a system of checks and balances, etc, to ensure the findings reflect the data, the data-driven findings are reliable and sound, otherwise, nullify the recommendations.
Data does have a place, but only when that data is well-rounded data and truly meaningful to reflect and act upon. Data becomes meaningful when it reveals evidence, from multiple sources, to support or negate a school or district’s current curricular pathway, or the degree in which teaching practices/protocols established within that school or district effectively meet, or exceed, district, state, national, and at times external learning standards and benchmarks.
The data of value, the data I’m talking about, is the data the standardized test fails to produce.
The data of value, the data I’m talking about is the data society has deemed as a less valuable marker.
You see, data most definitely has value, but that data is “no good,” especially when it suggests there are inequities at play.
That data is “no good,” when it takes a stand-alone moment in time, and gives that moment such tremendous power, quite possibly the power to determine the trajectory of one’s academic career, maybe even their life.
That data is “no good,” when it stems from an assessment catered to the student with just the right amount of socio-economic clout. Clout that, in turn, provides a cushion of support for almost guaranteed success, but does not guarantee the success of their classmate because of that impenetrable socio-economic stratosphere.
Any data produced from an assessment that reveals society’s interference and influence on determining who deserves an opportunity and who does not, is of no value. And it is society, government, the hierarchy established by the macro, and carried out by the micro, that continues to perpetuate this vicious cycle. What does all this “no good” data really try to remedy, or prevent from happening, anyway?
[and then there was silence]
There is no better time than now to make the academic playing field an equitable one, not one determined by the perfunctory toss of a scantron and test booklet– one to the student the system wishes to promote, and one to the student the system wishes to leave behind.
My recent post is associated with a school building leadership assignment. Below is the prompt and my response.
Prompt: During your internship, has anything occurred that was unanticipated or surprising? Is there anything you encountered that was unexpected? If so, what was your major takeaway? If nothing was unexpected or surprising, why do you think that is the case? After the class session, post a reply to this inquiry on the discussion board and respond to at least one other classmates post.
This is the second semester of my school building leader internship. Interestingly enough, I find myself much more astute at identifying areas of need, at both the building and district level. Additionally, I find myself considering those within the organization, other than individuals appointed to leadership positions, equipped to address those identified areas of need.
I’m aware that there are resources, human resources, readily available to assist those in the designated leadership position, human resources who may in fact be more equipped to address the identified area need than the person in the designated leadership position to typically address those needs. But for leadership to truly benefit from the human capital within the organization, it requires a transformative mindset, or at least a mindset working towards a full transformative overhaul and cognizant of the need to be open minded, as well as a fortified ego, ready to withstand some of the most daunting moments of self-doubt.
I often find myself thinking, if I were in a current leadership position, how I would incorporate these outstanding educators, to honor their strengths and their desire to be a part of the larger systematic plan of improvement? If students want to be seen, heard, and valued by their teachers, wouldn’t teachers want to be seen, heard, and valued by their leadership team? At the end of the day, people are people.
I always tell my colleagues how proud I am to work alongside them, wish for more time for collaboration, to learn from one another– my colleagues know they are seen, heard, and valued, but it’s me that’s doing the seeing, and hearing and valuing. As one colleague said during a recent conversation, “You’re going to make a great principal one day….” I brush those comments to the side and change the subject, not because it doesn’t feel good to hear, but because of what their comment really says about how they feel, and how their words that followed directly reflected an area of need: school culture the teacher’s perspective on their value and worth, and the degree to which the teacher perspective was aligned with the leaderships’ perspective.
How does one address an identified area of need specific to the school culture from the perspective of the teacher, when it is assumed by some (not all) in leadership positions that there isn’t a problem at all? When does an identified area of need become an identified area of need? Is it in the eye of the beholder, or the one in a leadership position? And if the role of the leader is integral to addressing the need, is the need only a need worthy of attention when it directly impacts the transactional leader? More questions than answers.
I’ll continue to lift my colleagues, and contemplate all the possibilities to address the embedded needs in questions like those above. In all honesty, I would be disappointed if the only thing to come out of this reflective response is further confirmation for how I want to lead as school building leader, but it just might be all that a response like this is destined to reaffirm.
Currently, I am three weeks into the second semester of my year long, school building leader internship. This time around, I find myself contemplating a myriad of hot topics as a parent, secondary educator, aspiring school leader, and advocate for the social-emotional well-being of adolescent students.
Last week, my professor posted the following assignment:
Prompt: In this week’s discussion post, please select one quote, then make one comment on how you believe this technology may impact education. Please respond to at least one of your classmates (sic) posts. Do not create a new thread, simply respond to my post and to classmate’s (sic) posts.
During the fall months of the 2022-2023 school year, the one and only AI platform, ChatGPT, commandeered secondary department meeting agendas, as well as the group text threads and Snapchats of secondary students. There were mainstream publications like The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal, presenting bold-print, ominous headlines of the AI platform’s stealthy omnipresence. Then came The Atlantic’s subsequent op-ed from a high school English teacher, how cliché.
ChatGPT was a topic of conversation among parents while I stood on the sidelines at youth sporting events, during holiday celebrations with family, and even among my extended PLN of educators and other professionals. In all three scenarios, I listened to concerned perspectives. Statementslike, It’s the end of the world, there goes humanity, teachers are insignificant, here come the robots, and variations of such, were followed by a barrage of rhetorical questions.
Do students need to learn how to write?
Why do students need to learn how to write?
If there are computers that can do it for them, why waste their time with writing?
The words I read, the voices I heard, and the actions I observed were mere reflections of the dubious undertones emanating from those mainstream articles alerting readers, education and humanity of … what exactly?
The more I read, the more I listened, the more I observed, the more convinced I became that there was something worth adding to the docket.
Pre-ChatGPT Era. Let’s be real for a second. I’ve been in secondary education for 18 years. ChatGPT is no different than the tutor who only “helped,” the Google search results producing a plethora of graduate school level work worthy of a ::highlight, click-copy-paste::: into an 11th grade essay of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel, The Great Gatsby, or the older sibling/neighbor/cousin assigned the same senior thesis assignment 5 years prior, etc. Educators today need to consider how, if at all, pre-ChatGPT era students are more similar than they are different than students of the ChatGPT generation.
I asked my students their thoughts to that same very question. Their collective responses are captured in this paraphrased statement, If a student wants to cheat, they are going to cheat, and they don’t need ChatGPT. It needs to be known my students also provided an empathic rationale for why students might feel the need to submit something that does not represent their own original thinking, resort to cheating or using an AI platform like ChatGPT.
We have to get into college and get money.
All everyone cares about are grades.
Sometimes you aren’t prepared.
There isn’t enough time.
Stuff happens, and sometimes people don’t get that stuff happens, so what else are we going to do?
I’d rather play with my dog…
Keep this empathic level of adolescent transparency in mind as I share a recent comment and rhetorical question from a professional colleague with no affiliation to my current place of employment. The professional colleague stated, “If there was ChatGPT when I was a student, I would’ve used it. Wouldn’t you?” While I believe the intentions of the statement to be rhetorical, I vehemently responded, “No.” My answer was no, is still no, and will always be no, and here’s why–– the adolescent voices represented above.
Those voices, all of them, make me think about my own high school experience. I loved my formative high school years and believe they contribute to my pedagogical stance on education and curriculum. As a result, I skillfully craft authentic curriculum for my own students and continuously create organic opportunities for students to demonstrate learning on their terms, as much as possible. Nothing comes from a handout, or a book, or an online platform which allows educators to pay other educators for their products. My lessons today, look nothing like my lessons from 2005, the year I started teaching, nor should they reflect the needs of students from almost 20 years ago! Same goes for assessments. Formative and summative assessments are not the same from year-to-year, not the same from class period to class period, sometimes not even the same within the class period. I am always fine tuning lessons, assessments, differentiating and giving autonomy to the students (it is their learning after all). I am reflective, constantly wondering if I am being culturally responsive to the ever-changing needs of my students, diversifying texts and text types, and asking for their feedback.
When I was a high school student, I knew I was seen, heard, and valued by the way my teachers interacted with me, the lessons they created, the diversity of the texts, the way they allowed me to creatively represent my learning, by the way they listened, allowed me to be the gregarious change-maker who challenged norms and advocated for others, and they acknowledged my reality in a non-judgmental way.
Now, I pay it forward.
Seen, Heard, & Valued. Whether pre-ChatGPT era students are more similar than they are different than students of the ChatGPT generation really depends on three seemingly simple, yet ever-so necessary words–– seen, heard, and valued. The trifecta!
My students, your students, they are people, and I believe, as I am sure you do too, all people deserve to be seen, heard, and valued. Students want to know they matter, not just to any person, they want to matter to you, their teacher, their parent/guardian, their adult role model. And not just sometimes. Students want to matter all the time, for all their thoughts, ideas, mistakes, wrongdoings, successes, and they want to matter when it comes to their learning process.
I believe it is essential to unearth a student’s root decision to utilize AI platforms like ChatGPT, rather than submit their own thoughts and ideas. I believe it is essential to evaluate the extent to which a student’s perception of themselves as a learner, influences their decision to utilize alternatives like ChatGPT, and to what degree their actions are influenced by their perspective on how others may see, hear, and value them as a learner. In short, we need to illuminate the influence of the trifecta’s presence, or lack thereof, on the secondary students perception of self, and understand the possibility of such a factor influencing the decisions of secondary learners.
Today ChatGPT, Tomorrow Robots. No, I don’t believe robots are going to take over the world, or America’s classrooms. Do I think there is a concern for the well-being of humanity? Maybe, but my concern for the well-being of humanity is not because of an AI platform.
Humanity’s well-being can teeter if today’s students become the adults of tomorrow, who are one day responsible for humanity’s survival and simultaneously harbor self-doubt, the belief their words and the words of others are insignificant, the belief their thoughts and the thoughts of others have no purpose or aren’t good enough, the belief they aren’t good enough, the belief there’s no need to write or communicate or advocate, or the worst case, harbor the belief it is easier to embrace apathy because… why bother with any other mindset?
Who You Gonna Call? To protect humanity, we don’t need to condemn innovation. We must deconstruct the illusive apathetic mindset. Psst, I’ll let you in on a little secret, the apathetic mindset is creeping behind the letters, C-H-A-T-G-P-T, and it is looking for a spot to take root, but ChatGPT didn’t disperse the seeds of apathy.
Before any deconstruction takes place, we need to ask some questions, which may or may not start with the word, Why:
Why was the ChatGPT platform generated in the first place (think about Stone’s concepts of welfare and security)?
Literal rationale for its creation
Figurative rationale for its creation
Why would a student opt to submit anything other than a product representative of their authentic voice?
Why would a student resort to a sterile computer response, a response that could hold serious inaccuracies intertwined with “big SAT words,” rather than their own?
Why would a student resort to a sterile computer response that could violate a student code of conduct and result in serious consequences?
Why does the student value the “thoughts” of AI over their own thoughts?
Why would a student think their teacher would prefer the submission of AI generated “work,” over age and skill appropriate submissions which reflect who they are as a person and learner?
ChatGPT is here for a myriad of plausible reasons. I am highlighting one plausible reason being the messages students receive on the daily; messages of who is seen, heard and valued; why they are seen, heard and valued; and the need to figure out a way to be seen, heard and valued.
But, who would send a message like that, you ask? Schools, towns, stakeholders (educators, school building and district leaders, parents, state and national figures), external curriculums like AP and IB, state standards, national standards, SAT, ACT, societal norms and expectations, all send messages, intended or not. Which brings me to another set of questions to ponder:
To what extent do the intended messages sent differ from the messages students’ receive?
How, if at all, do parents and/or guardians contribute to disseminating messages which compel students to turn to AI platforms like Chat GPT, rather than their own thoughts and ideas?
Ready, Set, Deconstruct. Good educators will keep asking good questions, and by good questions, I mean challenging questions, like those I crafted above. Good educators will keep creating a good curriculum, and a good curriculum is differentiated, student centered, authentic, inquiry based, rooted in student choice, performance based, and sends an important message to the student they are seen, heard, and valued. Good educators will keep incorporating purposeful technology use in the classroom, for who are we to deny students with the 21st century skills needed to communicate, create, advocate, and protect humanity.
Now is not the time to get distracted from the good stuff. We cannot get caught up in futile efforts to catch or prevent student use of technological advancements. We cannot have a John Lithgow, Footloose (1984) level of control in our schools when it comes to mitigating the rapidly changing contours of technological innovation.
We cannot run away from technological advancements– just think if we took a defensive stance against the printing press, or “the calculator, which was decried as the death of math” (Rosenblatt, 2023)! We cannot point fingers and place blame for ChatGPT indiscriminately; technology is not the enemy here. Neither is innovation or ingenuity–– Elon Musk, is not the antagonist of this dystopian tale. I’m not certain it’s even a dystopian tale, at least for right now.
Balance is Key. I’ll stick with the Hollywood motif a little longer and quote Mister Miyagi from the 1984 classic film, Karate Kid. During the “Rowboat Scene,” Mister Miyagi, the film’s archetypal sage, guides protagonist, Daniel LaRusso, with inspirational words. Mister Miyagi states, “Better learn balance. Balance is key. Balance good, karate good. Everything good. Balance bad, better pack up, go home. Understand?”
No one is walking away from technological advancements in the classroom. No one is packing up their bags and going home.
We need to “get the balance right” (Depeche Mode, 1983) when it comes to technological innovation, which requires trial and error.
So let’s embrace technological innovation!
Learn from, and with one another (and I am talking about collaboration with students)–– about the emerging technological trends, model the behaviors we hope to instill in our students through our own responsible use of technology to present a true, unified digital citizenship initiative.
Maybe this offensive-line strategy will help to realign the messages we send, reflect their true intentions, and be received as such in the hearts and minds of our students. At the end of the day, our students are people–– people, sitting in a class, hoping their teachers see, hear, and value them (that has some Julia Roberts Notting Hill (1999) vibes, no?). Our students deserve to receive this message, and then some.
As educators and emerging school leaders, now is the time to reflect upon the individual and collective messages we send, the messages students receive, and recognize our contribution to the inception of ChatGPT, a technological response to an identified need we, inadvertently, created (and there are a lot of people, places, and things falling under the words our and we in this post).
But we do need to act, or the only fingers pointing will be those placing blame where it belongs, at ourselves–– and nobody likes fingers pointing while hearing the words, “I told you so.”
Disclaimer: I cannot present an opinion piece about students accessing AI technology without acknowledging an AI tool afforded to teachers! The a-ha!, we gotcha AI platform to determine a submissions level of authenticity, turnitin.com. Full disclosure, I use turnitin.com, but I didn’t get into teaching to complete a crime scene investigation on work submitted, and turnitin.com is so much more than a plagiarism “checker.”
Wait, does that mean ChatGPT is so much more than an AI platform doing the work for America’s students? A conversation for another day.
Nothing speaks more to me as an aspiring school building leader than the concept of enacting transformational change rooted in a “humanity-based model” (Fullan & Rizzotto, 2022). It seems as though the attention given to the “business capital” model (before the pandemic), inspired what now appears, in hindsight, as empty promises— promises to value innovation and creativity, for students and teachers, when things returned to normal. There was hope that maybe a silver lining coming out of this pandemic would be society’s acknowledgement of education as a non-gendered profession, compensate teachers for their years of expertise and degrees, etc. Unfortunately, the swift arrival of phrases like learning loss, constant references to a blanket academic deficit plaguing the intellectual development of America’s children, and the politicizing of education, accompanied fingers pointing in one direction, the classroom teacher.
Interconnected: Teacher-Leader Relationship
Interconnected with a teacher’s post-COVID experience is the role of the school building leader, district leader, and respective leadership teams. Individuals in these leadership positions must counter the destructive noise from outsiders and demonstrate to their faculty and staff that they are seen, valued, and heard (the essence of the Humanity-Based model). If students are deserving of an environment “where ‘belonging, purpose, individual and collective problem solving’ is fostered,” so are teachers. It comes as no surprise that many people will take the stance, teachers are abandoning students! Teachers are leaving the profession not because they forgot why they entered the teaching profession. Teachers are leaving the classroom because they never lost their “why” for entering the teaching profession in the first place, and their “why” is no longer valued.
The System Failed the Teacher
As a parent and educator, I sadly agree with the conclusion presented in the article, “that the old, deeply flawed system has de facto abandoned the teachers, not the other way around” (Fullan & Rizzotto, 2022). The challenges plaguing education, its teachers and students, are systemic, and any systemic challenge should be of great concern for educational leaders. Whether a school building leader or a district leader, those in coveted leadership positions must not only prioritize supporting students in all facets associated with the learning experience. School and district leaders must also prioritize and demonstrate to stakeholders how, and why, they support teachers in all facets of the post-COVID professional demands. A model of appreciation on the part of school and district leaders yields tremendous transformational power, exactly what the profession needs and deserves; nothing less.