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Feb 25, 2010

My ideal community

In my ideal community, every person, of every size and shape, with whatever strengths and deficiencies, is able to find a place fitting his talents and needs. The ideal community creates a special place for every member, which fits her shape perfectly, like a cocoon. The person's rough edges are met with softness; his baby spots are protected by harder covers. The community does not stop looking until such a place is found. If someone is hurting, or unhappy, it does not seek to expel; it is busy looking for a new place within itself where one is happy, and is not hurting others. The ideal community does not expel; it is endlessly accommodating. It looks for all the good things each member may have, and wonders how they can be put to a good use.

It does not judge, but rather is amused by the weird things people do sometimes. It marvels at wonderful things people do all the time. The weirdoes are collected like rare stamps or coins – if they were printed with an error, so much better! The ideal community can take any amount of anger; it is eternally patient and endlessly forgiving. It may correct and guide, but will not try to alter anyone's inner being. People are just what they are. The ideal community does not believe in evil – it does not have a use for such a category. It admits the limits of mutual understanding – people are sometimes enigmatic, even to themselves. It embraces ignorance about each other's intentions or motives. Yet it is generous with interpretations; it always assumes benign intentions, even when consequences are disastrous.

The ideal community does not like pride and arrogance, no matter how justified. It does not support righteousness, but rather treats it like any other human folly – tolerated, but not cherished; a cause for amusement, not for admiration. The strongest must share their strength with the weakest as a matter of course, without asking. The strong are graceful, while the weak are grateful. It knows no pariahs and no outsiders. With each new member, it reshapes itself to make room for the new people. It values neither its identity, nor its ideals. People are more important than both.

It speaks with a thousand voices, which are not harmonious, not merging into one, but still recognizing each other as different and distinct. It does not seek agreement; it merely strives to hear the polyphony of human voices. To hear is more important than to be heard. It is a connoisseur of the human drama; it follows twists and turns of people's stories, and abhors clean, logical endings. It finds pleasure in stories, and likes to hear new variations of the same story. It knows how to forget and likes to keep many versions of its history. The ideal community is suspicious of agreement, it does not believe in consensus. Its members agree to act together if necessary, without agreeing to think the same thing. They all try to take in other voices; to internalize the discord of the larger discourse.

The community is not preoccupied with itself – it is open to the world, and has a purpose larger than itself, and its own happiness. It treats change as just another story, like a chrysalis enjoys becoming a butterfly: hurts a little, but it gives it a new life.

Such an ideal community is a utopian dream; it simply does not exist. It cannot exist, nor should it exist. Yet dreaming has huge health benefit. Research definitely shows that much (Source: none). In real life, communities cannot be too tolerant, for excessive tolerance hurts its members and its purpose. It cannot be endlessly forgiving, because it consists of real people who may or may not be able to forgive and forget. People's weaknesses may become too much of a burden for the rest to carry. Real communities have a specific purpose, and cannot afford be endlessly flexible. With dreaming, it is important to wake up.

Feb 12, 2010

Asking for the impossible

I had to apologize to Eugene today about asking him to do something that was impossible to do. It did sound reasonable when I asked; and I used all the right reasons – the interest of our students, the big picture, the right thing, etc. However, one glitch: it was impossible for him to do. Had I pushed myself a little further, I could have realized that myself, and avoid putting him in a position where he has to reject a reasonable request.

I find myself in his shoes quite often, and should have known better. Often one of my colleagues is completely right about something, knows she or he is right, and is asking me to do something – something that affects a third party. And sometimes I simply cannot do it. Why not? – usually, there is no good way of making a decision without hurting someone. Often, there is no way of saying what I want to say – the norms of collegiality, the relationships, may make it impossible; literally unpronounceable. What I have learned (partly from experience, and partly from Eugene), is to ask "OK, you're right, but what do you want me to do about it, exactly?" Or, "Give me a good line with which I can approach your colleague 'A' to say what you want me to say."

We all have to stop asking for the impossible. It is easy to say that someone else must keep their promises, be fired, dismissed, replaced, limited, or reprimanded – say it behind one's back. But how would you say it to one's face? How would you do it, exactly? How do you think the other party is going to react? Does the person you're asking to do something capable, or equipped to do what you ask? Would you be able to do what you're asking for? And if you think yes – why do you think other people are as capable and resourceful as you believe you are?

Just being right or righteous does not give you the right to insist something should be done the way you see it. The world is way too complex for that. People who are in the wrong must always have a face-saving option. No one should be humiliated. Everyone should be given a second and a third chance. Everyone can be forgiven and helped. We have to keep in mind the long-term consequences of our actions. We must keep in mind precedents we set.

Feb 6, 2010

NCATE worries

Carolyn and I sat down to review the NCATE report we need to produce by May1. Even though the new process we're piloting seems to be simpler, there is a long list of documents and materials we need to produce. How long? - Exactly 54 categories, some if which require a few different documents; see below. Some of it we have, some we know where to get, and a few need work. And of course, there is the report itself, which runs about 45 pages and addresses the six NCATE standards.

Is this a useful exercise? Perhaps it did force us to collect and consider data. However, we used to collect a lot of useless data, just for the sake of compliance. We have a much better, cleaner system now. I just with NCATE, the national organization, would be more logical in their accreditation approach. For example, it has a standard on candidate's knowledge, skills, and dispositions, and then another one on the assessment system. But the only way to know your candidates know anything is to show some assessment instruments and data – exactly the same you need to show that you have an assessment system. Then they have the standard on field experiences – but those are also ways of ensuring our candidates learn, and we assess those as a part of the assessment system. Then there is a separate standard on diversity – which should really be an integral part of the standard on knowledge, skills, and dispositions. It just makes very little sense. Compare, for example, exhibits #7, 26, and 29. They ask for the catalog twice, etc. etc.

Anyway, we will produce the stuff; and we will get the national recognition. It probably will take a little more work than we expected. I will have to take some significant time away from running the everyday business of the School to do that. This is fine. I just wish the effort would be a little more meaningful in terms of the actual outcome. My worry is not about the amount of work, or the possible outcome; it is more about the usefulness of it all.

  1. Links to unit catalogs and other printed documents describing general education, specialty/content studies, and professional studies
  2. Syllabi for professional education courses
  3. Conceptual framework(s)
  4. Findings of other national accreditation associations related to the preparation of education professionals (e.g., ASHA, NASM, APA, CACREP)
  5. State program review documents and state findings. (Some of these documents may be available in AIMS.)
  6. Title II reports submitted to the state for the previous three years (Beginning with the 2010 annual report, Title II reports should be attached to Part C of the annual report and will be available to BOE teams in AIMS.)
  7. Key assessments and scoring guides used by faculty to assess candidate learning against standards and the outcomes identified in the unit's conceptual framework for programs not included in the national program review process or a similar state process
  8. Data tables and summaries that show how teacher candidates (both initial and advanced) have performed on key assessments over the past three years for programs not included in the national program review process or a similar state process
  9. Samples of candidate work (e.g., portfolios at different proficiency levels)
  10. Follow-up studies of graduates and data tables of results
  11. Employer feedback on graduates and summaries of the results
  12. List of candidate dispositions, including fairness and the belief that all students can learn, and related assessments, scoring guides, and data
  13. Description of the unit's assessment system in detail including the requirements and key assessments used at transition points
  14. Data from key assessments used at entry to programs
  15. Procedures for ensuring that key assessments of candidate performance and evaluations of unit operations are fair, accurate, consistent, and free of bias
  16. Policies and procedures that ensure that data are regularly collected, compiled, aggregated, summarized, analyzed, and used to make improvements
  17. Samples of candidate assessment data disaggregated by alternate route, off-campus, and distance learning programs
  18. Policies for handling student complaints
  19. File of student complaints and the unit's response (This information should be available during the onsite visit.)
  20. Examples of changes made to courses, programs, and the unit in response to data gathered from the assessment system
  21. Memoranda of understanding, contracts, and/or other documents that demonstrate partnerships with schools
  22. Criteria for the selection of school faculty (e.g., cooperating teachers, internship supervisors)
  23. Documentation of the preparation of school faculty for their roles (e.g., orientation and other meetings)
  24. Descriptions of field experiences and clinical practice requirements in programs for initial and advanced teacher candidates and other school professionals
  25. Guidelines for student teaching and internships
  26. Assessments and scoring rubrics/criteria used in field experiences and clinical practice for initial and advanced teacher candidates and other school professionals (These assessments may be included in program review documents or the exhibits for Standard 1. Cross reference as appropriate.)
  27. Proficiencies related to diversity that candidates are expected to develop
  28. Curriculum components that address diversity proficiencies (This might be a matrix that shows diversity components in required courses.)
  29. Assessment instruments, scoring guides, and data related to diversity (These assessments may be included in program review documents or the exhibits for Standard 1. Cross reference as appropriate.)
  30. Data table on faculty demographics (see example attached to NCATE's list of exhibits)
  31. Policies and practices for recruiting and retaining a diverse faculty
  32. Data table on student demographics (see example attached to NCATE's list of exhibits)
  33. Policies and practices for recruiting and retaining diverse candidates
  34. Data table on demographics of P-12 students in schools used for clinical practice (see example attached to NCATE's list of exhibits)
  35. Policies, practices, and/or procedures that facilitate candidate experiences with students from diverse groups
  36. Data table on faculty qualifications (This table can be compiled in the online template from data submitted for national program reviews or compiled in Excel, Word, or another format and uploaded as an exhibit. The information requested for this table is attached to NCATE's list of exhibits.)
  37. Licensure information on school faculty (e.g., cooperating teachers, internship supervisors)
  38. Samples of faculty scholarly activities
  39. Summary of service and collaborative activities engaged in by faculty with the professional community (e.g., grants, evaluations, task force participation, provision of professional development, offering courses, etc.)
  40. Promotion and tenure policies and procedures
  41. Samples of forms used in faculty evaluation and summaries of the results
  42. Opportunities for professional development activities provided by the unit
  43. Policies on governance and operations of the unit
  44. Organizational chart or description of the unit governance structure
  45. Unit policies on student services such as counseling and advising
  46. Recruiting and admission policies for candidates
  47. Academic calendars, catalogs, unit publications, grading policies, and unit advertising
  48. Unit budget, with provisions for assessment, technology, and professional development
  49. Budgets of comparable units with clinical components on campus or similar units at other campuses
  50. Faculty workload policies
  51. Summary of faculty workloads
  52. List of facilities, including computer labs and curriculum resource centers
  53. Description of library resources
  54. Description of resources for distance learning, if applicable