Category Archives: Food and Drink

Lesson Plans vs. Professional Development

Thanks to the internet, I have hopelessly messed up some of the most (supposedly) tasty recipes ever posted: Homemade breads….desserts including many species of cookie…a few things involving breading and frying various other foods…

It is foolish for me to believe that merely following a recipe will net the kinds of results I see on the Food Network.

That, along with my roles as a mentor and leader of teacher PD, is why the headline “Give Weak Teachers Good Lesson Plans, Not Professional Development” caught my eye when it posted in Education Week recently.

The article made a few valid points, including this: Often, the least-effective teachers are so because of ineffective planning, ergo starting with stronger lesson plans is a great remedy. By “least-effective,” I’m talking the lowest 5-10% of the struggling corps.

Unfortunately, that valid point gets buried by this statement toward the end: “Giving teachers lesson plans is also cheaper and easier to scale than other interventions aimed at improving student achievement.”

I can follow a simple recipe, sometimes. I will never be Wolfgang Puck by just following a recipe. What do people who want to truly excel at their cooking do? Take classes. Get a mentor or coach. Collaborate with a peer. If I’m stuck on using a recipe, maybe I need to learn to cook without one…or better yet, learn to write recipes I and others can follow.

I’m a big believer in planning. I have never, not once, used a lesson plan written by someone else. That’s just me, not a wholesale indictment of “planning via Pinterest.” I simply cannot wrap my head around someone else’s script and make it work. I’ve tried, but I end up completely rewriting the recipe on the fly… my students tend to be picky eaters.

The point in all this: Yes, good lesson plans are a must for some teachers just starting their careers, wading into a new grade level or content area, or who are struggling to be effective. The lesson plans should be the starting point, though. Only through deliberate practice, peer support, and (gasp!) well-designed professional development, can we move beyond the recipe. The false dichotomy of “lesson plans” or “professional development” suggested by the article (which also cites that studies reveal almost no impact of PD on test scores) ignores the very real truth that well-structured PD whose practices are implemented with the support of peers, teams, or instructional coaches does in fact have a research-supported positive impact on student learning.

Lest we scrap our PD budgets and start just printing recipes for everyone… let’s remember that we have some pretty talented cooks in our kitchen already. We can, and should, learn from them. “PD” doesn’t have to mean sitting in the cafeteria to watch a PowerPoint. What “PD” looks like has evolved to be much more job-embedded and meaningful…and much more powerful than a few lesson plans printed out from TeachersPayTeachers. When it comes to PD making a difference, the quality of and follow-up provided in concert with the professional learning we experience is what transforms the recipe into a meal to remember.

Home for the Holidays

Winter, particularly the stretch from Thanksgiving to New Years, is especially challenging for many schools located in high poverty rural and urban communities. Teachers wrap up units and collect essays, anticipating days to rest, catch up on grading, and reconnect with their spouses and children. For many of our students, the holidays are not times of joy but rather a reminder of scarcity.

In response to that scarcity, each year my principal pulls a Commissioner Gordon, sending out the bat-signal and asking teachers and community members to collect peanut butter, jelly, and other non-perishables so that we can send home food with our McKinney-Vento students’ families. The McKinney-Vento Act, a federal law, requires that schools provide “educational stability for homeless children and youth.” Like many federal and state mandates, this program is underfunded. McKinney-Vento partially funds “educational needs” such as transportation, school supplies, class fees, and ASB cards (allowing students to participate in clubs, sports, and school activities).

Our McKinney-Vento students aren’t the only ones in need. Many LHS students rely on school breakfast and lunch to give them sustenance for the day. Teenage stomachs are bottomless pits. My students are hungry all the time. It’s difficult to imagine how they survive the winter break when their primary nutritional source is closed. This is why we do what we do at Lincoln—-we pack two weeks worth of easy to prepare groceries in order to offset the driving hunger. In additional to our McKinney-Vento students, my colleagues and I usually identify about forty families who need financial support. It seems that every year our list of families in needs grows longer.

This is why many schools, like my own, desperately rely on strong community involvementtoys.

When we sent out the signal in the beginning of Dec,  we expected some help from our usual supports. We hoped there would be enough to cover the increased number of LHS families in need this year. What we didn’t expect was 3x the aid!

  • Team Backpack gifted 102 backpacks bursting with PJs, toiletries, and a new jacket for each homeless student.
  • A church donated toothpaste, shampoo, feminine products, and other desperately needed toiletries.
  • Someone brought in 40 blankets.
  • The Iron Workers Union supported 70 families with gifts under the tree.
  • Absher Construction supported 74 families with Christmas dinners that included a huge
  • Compassionate individuals organized their workplaces to collect donations to purchase Christmas dinners for more Lincoln families.
  • Businesses like Tacoma’s Best Grooming sponsored specific families on our list.
  • Life Center, East Side Community Church, Soma, and other faith communities sponsored families dinners, and gave generous donations so we could purchase the items we needed to fill boxes to the brim with groceries for over 90 families AND send kids home with gift cards so they could have a Christmas!
  • Ken, a friend from church, connected us with God’s Portion who brought in an hundreds of boxes of Kettle chips & popcorn. There was so much that my ASB students stood outside the entrances to our school handing out bags of chips to each student!
  • Many others–names I don’t know– donated their time to organize, sort, and lovingly pack bags and boxes. You know who you are. Thank you.

I conservatively guess that 200-ish families will have a more joyful holiday because of the kindness of “strangers”. We are grateful for every last dollar or item donated.

We all know schools are grossly under-funded in Washington state. Although economic indicators tell us otherwise, many communities are yet to recover from the Great Recession of 2008. School and community programs that support families are essential, and finding sustainable school funding is critical especially for the most vulnerable children in our society.

No More Cupcakes!

NocupcakesBy Tom

My school district recently made a bold move. They banned birthday cupcakes and other treats in schools as part of a district-wide wellness initiative. Despite the fact that they’re going to catch some flak (they already have) and despite the fact that I’ll personally miss those 200 calorie bundles of sticky awesomeness, I support the decision. Birthday cupcakes are disruptive, unhealthy and sometimes even dangerous. Let me explain.

Here’s what happens on a typical birthday. The special child’s parent swings by the office sometime in the morning to drop off a large plastic box containing 30 store-bought cupcakes. The office staff – with plenty of other things to do – sends an email or leaves a voice message for the child’s teacher, who then sends the child down to office to pick up the cupcakes. Unless the message doesn’t get through; in which case the office has to resort to the intercom. The cupcakes then live in the classroom until the teacher finds time to have the “party.” In my room I hold off as long as possible. I typically have the birthday kid stay inside when the rest of the class goes out to recess at 2:50 so they can put a cupcake and a napkin on everyone’s desk. When recess is over and everyone comes back inside, I take my guitar off the wall and we sing the standard. Then we eat cupcakes. After five minutes we throw away the wrappers, wear the rings that are usually embedded in the frosting (Seahawk helmets or Disney princesses) and get on with what’s left of our day.

Now obviously that’s not a huge distraction. But that’s a typical birthday. I’ve had misguided parents drop off a standard round cake with candles (seriously?) and no plates. I’ve had parents bring in jugs of juice and no cups. I had one dad drop off 24 cupcakes for a class of 29, five of whom received a ballpoint pen stolen from the supply room. And then there are the parents whose child is too special for mere cupcakes. They bring cupcakes and balloons. Or cupcakes, juice and balloons. Or sometimes an entire pizza lunch for the whole class, complete with cookies, drinks and favor bags. And if you think these parties are distracting for a classroom, imagine what it’s like in the office; five hundred students means there’s an average of 1.5 birthdays each day – more on Mondays and Fridays to account for the kids who were thoughtless enough to have a weekend birthday this year – and you can see how much time is consumed by birthday logistics.

Besides the distraction, birthday treats are usually horribly unhealthy. I challenge you to find something worse for a child’s body than the average store-bought cupcake. And frankly, there are a lot of kids in school right now who need to take nutrition a lot more seriously. When I first started teaching, 30 years ago, I would typically have one or two chunky students per class. This year nearly half my class appeared to be overweight. No, we’re not going to turn the corner on childhood obesity by banning birthday cupcakes, but trust me, we need to start somewhere.

And that’s not even taking into account the kids with allergies or diabetes. I usually have a handful of students each year who are allergic to anything from wheat to milk, chocolate, dairy products, or nuts. The data is readily available, but it’s time-consuming for me to figure out who can’t eat these particular cupcakes, and it’s heart-breaking for the allergic kid to be told that he’s going to have to miss out on the treats.

That said, part of me will always miss those birthday cupcakes. But that part of me is – quite frankly – a little too large as it is. It’s time to ban the cupcakes and move on.