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Denver

This past weekend S and I were in Denver

for the annual meeting of the American Educational Research Association (AERA).  This is one of the largest conferences I attend; AERA has something like 10,000 members, many of whom make presentations and attend sessions where they can talk about current issues in educational research and policy (among other things).

This year the meeting was particularly interesting (for people in the field of education, that is) because of upcoming changes in federal legislation related to education and because of the considerable national attention focused on the preparation and evaluation of teacher performance and student learning.  These are topics that I spend a lot of my professional life thinking about and the meeting provided me with a chance to hear from educational leaders who are hoping to influence those policies.

The trip also gave me a chance to reconnect with old friends and colleagues, visit the newly renovated Denver Art Museum

and eat out (too often and too much I am afraid!).  All of the food we had was great, especially the meals prepared by the friends we stayed with, of course.  Of the meals we had out, three stand out — both for the company and for the food.  First, we had a lovely dinner with our friends P, J, M and N at Duo, a neighborhood bistro in the rapidly developing and chic Highland neighborhood.  The Sweet Pea Fritters and the Halibut Carpaccio were particularly tasty.

We also had a great lunch at Bistro Vendrome on Larimer with P, K and T.  I loved my chicken salad sandwich (I know it doesn’t sound like much, but it was very good) and the wine, a 2007  Champalou Vouvray imported by Kermit Lynch, was exceptional.  Finally, we met our friends J & M for brunch at Rioja, another place on Larimer that really lived up to it’s reputation as one of the best restaurants in Denver.

All in all, it was a good trip.  As usual, though, I am glad to be home.

*Note:  none of the photos in this entry are my own.

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Holiday thoughts

I have mixed feelings about the end of year holiday season.  I love the expressions of thanks and gratitude that people are encouraged to make, the way people think about how to make others happy, the gatherings of family and friends, the food, the festive decorations.

I particularly look forward to spending time with my family:  cooking and eating together, sipping wine and talking late into the night, running through my brother’s neighborhood in the cold mornings listening to old favorites on my iPod, reading to my nephew before bed, starting a new knitting project with my niece.

Yet, this time of year I am also constantly reminded of how fortunate I am.   On these short, cold days I shiver uncomfortably when I see homeless people bundled in sleeping bags under a bridge as I drive past in my heated car.  I remember some of my former middle and high school students who, over winter vacation, had one less warm meal to look forward to every day.  I think about the story I heard on the radio about people begging online for gifts of clothing or toys for their children this year.

In the short term, I try to do things that will make a small difference with donations of time or money to the Oregon Food Bank, the School BackPack Program or other worthy charities and services for people in need.

I also focus on my work preparing teachers and others who will work with young people in schools because I believe that is another way to promote change and make the world better for more people over the long term.

Of course people are not only in need over the holidays and the changes we need to make as a society won’t happen if people don’t think about them year round.  Maybe if we start now, during a time of year when we are encouraged to think about others, we will continue during the rest of the year, when our daily busy-ness makes it more of a challenge.

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Last week one of my heroes died.  Ted Sizer was an educator, author, school reformer, and the source of much of what inspired me in my own work in schools and with teachers.  That may seem like a funny start to a post about what keeps me going, but it actually makes sense.

rosepetal

My first teaching job (somewhat by accident) and my second (completely by design) were both at schools associated with the Coalition of Essential Schools (CES), the school reform network that Ted Sizer founded.  Connected by a set of Common Principles (there were originally nine, now there are ten), teachers and administrators in CES schools strive to help students do meaningful work, to develop equitable school practices that acknowledge and support all students, and to allow students to demonstrate their understanding in ways that honor both what has been learned and the uniqueness of the individual who has done the learning.

fallleaves

That is the context in which I learned to teach, and in which I developed my beliefs about what it means to be an educator.  Although I no longer teach in a CES school, those principles guide my work still.  I share them with my current students, and I keep them in mind when I plan and teach my university classes.

Talking about making schools better is popular these days and just about everyone has an opinion about what to do.  Ted Sizer’s opinion, and his work, represent what I think is a good start — one that respects teachers and what they know, that asks us to listen to our students and that places a value on meaningful learning that helps children develop into caring, thoughtful adults who can make society better for everyone.

leafonground

I recently heard a story on National Public Radio about farmer, philosopher and environmentalist Wes Jackson that ended with this line:  “If you’re working on a problem you can solve in your own lifetime, you’re not thinking big enough.”  That’s how I think about my own efforts to change public schools for the better, and Ted Sizer’s life and work inspires me even though I know it’s a job that isn’t likely to be solved in a lifetime.

rosebud

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