Sunday, September 30, 2012

Dress Codes

Just as school began USA Today ran an article ( ) about teachers and dress codes.  I have such conflicting thoughts.  As a parent I love uniforms for kids, though I confess to finding rules about sock colors or what can be on a jacket a bit silly.  Kids in uniforms take away so many issues with expense, status, and self-image and puts the focus on education.  But for teachers?…. For my first three years of teaching I wore a tie every day and never jeans.  In my fourth year I wore a tie 80% of the time.  I think I had taught for six years before I wore jeans.  But by my 11th or 12th year….all jeans and never ties.  I dressed neat, but never dressed up.  I rationalized this by explaining that I had earned my credibility.  I was known, my hair had begun to gray and my students and their families frequently knew me before they started class. I honestly do not think my teaching was remotely impacted by not dressing up.  And I was comfortable and happy; I was ready to mix it up with the kids no matter what they brought.  Now?  After 20 years in the classroom, I dress better than I have since those first five years - a change of attitude and atmosphere.

On the other hand, I have had many colleagues who explain that they firmly believe that dressing well changes one’s attitude and one’s reception.  I cannot disagree.  If teachers want to be received as professionals they need to dress the part.  Will it improve student achievement?  I can’t say.  Will well-dressed teachers have some positive effect on the classroom and the building?  I have to believe they would.    

What should the elements of a teachers’ dress code be?  How do we define what is appropriate?  Can tattoos show?  Does it depend on content area?  Do we define width of straps and lengths of skirts?  Do we get into shoes?  Jewelry?  Are there safety issues to consider?  Do we ban or accept political buttons?  Religious symbols?  

Anyone who has ever tried to write, interpret or enforce a student dress code knows it is wrought with danger.  How complex does it get with teachers?  Consider also that on one staff you might have teachers as young as 22 and as old as…well, let’s just say experienced.  

While I can agree that having some professional expectations for attire is entirely reasonable and with merit, getting it done might be quite difficult.  

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Gotta Laugh

I think we need to take a careful look at all that we do in our schools…from the buildings to our food, pedagogy to grading policies.  Just as important is listening to our students.  Granted, they are not always helpful…but sometimes they offer some real gems.  Give them some modern technology and the sky is the limit.  These kids are teaching us a lesson in free speech, activism, nutrition, self-advocacy and social media.  Enjoy this….

Monday, September 24, 2012

How did a year go by without a post?  While the 2011-2012 school was great on so many levels, it was wildly hectic and stressful.  But what a gift summer and a new school year can be!  And this school year has started us off with so much to discuss.  Thank you, Chicago, a few new movies and a political campaign for stirring the journalists’ pens.  And thank you to the gift of time as I finally feel like I am settling into my current school setting.  You can now look forward to at least a post per week.  So let’s talk.

National Public radio has had in recent weeks a number of great stories about education, teaching and learning.  On September 17 they featured an item, “Teachers’ Expectations Can Influence How Students Perform” (listen to or read it here – but hearing it will be more instructive - 

My first reaction to the title was a bit ho-hum.  Don’t all classroom teachers know this already?  On the other hand, I have been doing this long enough that I know better than to blow this off.  Many, many teachers know that their expectations have an impact, but they are unconscious of their underlying beliefs.  Furthermore, changing those beliefs is extremely difficult.  Finally, even if progress is made on our expectations and beliefs, it is in our actions that we make the difference.  How do we change our behaviors?

Here are my take-aways from the article.  First, we behave differently when we expect more from our students.  We are more patient, quicker with positive feedback, and quicker with a smile.  Can we send a different message by being aware of smiling at all our students, offering plentiful, positive feedback to all, and being more patient with all students?  Of course, but how will we know we are doing it.  As the article says, it is very hard to police our own actions.  Take away two – video tape ourselves and look at the recording with a coach or master teacher.  This might sound terrifying, but there is ample research to indicate that this is wonderfully effective.  I have known many young, fearless teachers who made great strides using video of themselves.  My final take-way comes from the audio more than the print version.  Listen to the possible reactions of a teacher speaking  to a lively young boy.  The suggested changes are simple, indicative of ones beliefs and huge for the atmosphere in the classroom.  The possible impact on the willingness to learn for the boy involved?  Immeasurable.