October 3, 2014

I am not a “real teacher.”

Filed under: about me,education,teaching — Candace Hackett Shively @ 9:03 am

I am not a “real teacher.” At least that is the reaction I have heard for decades when telling people the specifics of my teaching assignment. Over the years, I have been:

  • teacher in a middle school library/media center (teaching language arts and cultural arts minicourses on media production, research, and more)
  • push-in teacher of process writing (co teaching with middle school language arts teachers)
  • gifted program specialist, grades 2-8 (implementing individualized enrichment and advancement per IEPs for which I was case manager)
  • technology integrator (peer coach to teachers on effective use of technology in their teaching)
  • Adjunct grad instructor (teaching Technology for Educators to teachers and teachers-to-be)
  • Director of K-12 Initiatives (running TeachersFirst, an online friend and “coach” to any teacher seeking ways to improve their own teaching and enhance/facilitate learning using technology)

What I have never been:

  • a teacher of a self-contained, elementary class
  • a teacher of a narrowly defined or scripted curriculum
  • a teacher with a textbook or teacher edition

In the world of teaching, there are “real teachers” (aka “regular” teachers) and “specialists.”  “”Real” teachers’ days follow predictable patterns and behaviors (the ones most adults ascribe to teachers based on our own experience in school). Then there are teachers whose patterns are less easy to explain or envision. Unless you have shared the same role, you have no idea what a teacher-librarian, Art teacher, school counselor, learning support teacher, speech/language clinician, reading specialist, instructional coach, or ed tech coach actually DOES. Those of us who are not “real teachers” do not use a specific textbook — or teacher edition. Our patterns, while possibly predictable, are not like those of “real teachers.” We are the ones who are assigned extra bus/hall duty (and the worst Friday afternoon study halls) or who are told to fill in when a “real” teacher is sick and there is no sub. We are the ones that “real teachers” do not fully understand. On the worst days, “real” teachers may even covet our mysterious positions.

As education grinds toward the divergent goals of 21st century individualization and test-based accountability, those who are not “real” teachers may be best prepared to handle the push-pull of change. All teachers today are pushed beyond previous patterns. Those of us accustomed to inventing our own wheels may have a slight advantage. “Real” teaching has changed. Now is the time for us to share ideas and strategies to invent our own teaching wheels. Those who embrace technology have some helpful tools. Those who embrace collaboration, questioning, reflection, and mutual support have even more. Let’s make teaching and learning “real” together. Thinking Teachers Teaching Thinkers are much more important than “real” teachers.

September 5, 2014

The technology dilemma: Connected mud?

Filed under: edtech,education,Teaching and Learning — Candace Hackett Shively @ 9:06 am

I had a short exhange with a mom this week about her school district’s major technology initiative. I pointed out that by the time her young son is in kindergarten, there will be class sets of Android tablets available for use in every K-2 classroom in her suburban district. Her response:

Don’t they get to play in dirt anymore?mud

 Reflexively, I responded that I hoped the teachers were going to have significant professional development to make effective use of the devices and not simply use them as the electronic equivalent to “seatwork,” aka “drill and kill.” But I had to stop and reflect about why I automatically respond to technology initiatives as a positive sign of a forward-thinking (and well funded) school district.

In a serendipitously related meeting with middle school MySciLife teachers, we were discussing how to integrate the online, social learning of MySciLife with hands-on science labs:

Where do labs fit? Which should come first? How do we balance the available time?

These questions are really the same, and they distill down to one omnipresent issue as technology pushes its way into classrooms, with or without the welcome of the adult stakeholders:

How can teachers and parents envision the interplay of technology-facilitated learning, hands-on experiences, and other types of learning? 

or, flipping to a skeptical voice…

Do kids really need this technology stuff in (insert grade or subject here)?

As we hear over and over, it’s not about the technology. It’s about learning, and learning happens in many, many ways. Our kiddos need multimodal approaches. Even the young parents of today remember singing out poems about prepositions, standing up and moving to remember a sequence of algebra steps, touching spelling words in the sand, drawing a mind map, and learning in many, many ways. Kids need lots of ways to learn, including dirt.

The tablets just happen to be one type of hands-on dirt. With them, kids can take a picture and write about it. Why not draw a picture with crayons and write about that? I agree. Do both. With the tablets, kids can share with a broader audience, such as posting on a blog or sharing a comic they create. Can’t they do that on paper and post it in the hallway? Sure, but Great Grandma in Vermont won’t see it. They can be real “authors” who connect and collaborate with others in classrooms far away. OK, I get it, but do they NEED that kind of connection? I believe today’s kids need to be digital authors. It is as much an everyday medium as the mud they splash in at the bus stop.

I believe they need digital mud, too.  Go back to the young mom I spoke with. Her phone is in her hand all the time. Anytime she is curious, she Googles. Needs a recipe… Google. Wants an idea for a rainy Saturday with her son… online story hour schedule at the library. We all know the cliches…. this is a “digital native,” blah blah blah.

So where does the dirt come in? Digital learning is another kind of hands-on, messy learning.  It is our job to balance it so every child — our children, our students — experiences the mess and mud of learning in the science lab, in the outdoors, on our tablets, with crayons and paper (gasp!), and in collaboration with those we can connect to only digitally. Think of it as connected mud.



May 2, 2014

A War for Learning

Filed under: deep thoughts,education — Candace Hackett Shively @ 10:58 am

Tilt your eyes up a bit. I am atop my soapbox.445086027_54fa7ff553

Earlier this week I “met” (virtually) with the TeachersFirst Educator Advisory Board, an energetic and savvy group of educators from primary grade teachers through a teacher-ed prof, with a representative sampling of responsibilities, experience, and geography in the middle. These meetings help TeachersFirst grab a snapshot of what is important to teachers in various locations and situations and what we can do to continue to meet teachers’ professional development and classroom learning needs. This was a particularly spirited meeting with many positive outcomes, but it did leave me with a ponderous, very gray cloud  that just will not go away.

I had asked the group to make a pie-in-the-sky prediction about when the day might come when teachers can assume (and expect) ALL U.S. kids  to be able to do homework that involves using an online device. In other words, when will all U.S. kids have both Internet access and device access to complete an online homework task outside of class? Why does it matter? Simply because a teacher cannot in good conscience assign anything that places some students at a disadvantage compared to the rest of the class. This is a non-starter. Forget “anywhere, anytime” learning. We don’t even have “somewhere, sometime” learning without such access. And don’t think it is just a few schools that suffer from this problem. It is MOST schools.

The predictions from the group were downright depressing (to me), and this is a very positive group of people:

Even if kids might have smartphones, it’s not good platform for activities like writing. In our lifetime? Doubt it.

Even if they have a device, all the kids in the family share it. All of them do homework on one device?

Living in the country (30 minutes outside a state capitol) and VERY limited Internet choices here (dial up is frequently the ONLY choice). Without govt. requirements, it’s not going to happen. It’s too expensive for providers to make any money when the farms are FAR apart!

I don’t see this happening. Too many children have other responsibilities after school. Also I see far too many families wondering about how they are going to survive (not enough food for family…etc), and they consider online devices a luxury.

There will always be the haves and the have nots. Whether it is technology or something else. I also agree with [name withheld]. It is an issue of the home support and we have issues with that too. At this time I cannot see all teachers being able to expect that.

…assuming that families will have technology is unrealistic when the families bounce around, live in homeless shelters, and struggle to get enough food (cuts in food stamps have made it even more desperate). When I worked in a suburban school, I happened to know several families who were in and out of homeless shelters, but the incidence in urban schools is so much higher.

I cannot see us requiring our students to complete online activities unless the government would somehow fund the internet for all. However, as that is extremely unlikely to occur I don’t really think we’ll ever get to that point.

A few offered a positive end in sight, or at least a glimmer of possibility:

I don’t see that happening. We can’t even expect all of them to do homework now. But stranger things have happened. I remember when the PTA bought our school our first computer and it was for 4 third grade classrooms to share. That was way before internet. WE SURE HAVE COME A LONG WAY… and who knows where it will go next?

While I can’t see that happening, when I started teaching in the early 70s (yes, I am older than dirt) I would never have thought today’s technology would be possible. So who knows?

Yes, I think within less than five years all U.S. teachers will be able to hold students accountable for assignments that need to be completed online and turned in as a digital assignment.

The best thing to come out of the conversation was the brainstorm about what we can DO about it.  Teachers are can-do people, so this group came up with:

  • SAD days (stay after days) staffed by teacher volunteers so kids could use school computers for 90 minutes after school.  This supported respite from home responsibilties is actually a popular event with some teens! (Yes, the transportation issue was discussed. This seems to vary by location/school.)
  • Grade level  or all-school teacher teams working together to staff extra access times for both kids and parents in the media center or computer lab (recesses, late afternoons, and/or evenings).
  • Loaner, cellular-enabled devices — but we immediately realized the cost was prohibitive.

Teachers really are can-do folks, and we will often find ways to beg, borrow, or hijack help. On re-reading the challenges this group cites to universal access, however, I think even the best grassroots effort from teachers is going to need significant assistance from a broader public and policy makers to truly enable anywhere, anytime learning for ALL kids. We had a War on Poverty once.  We need a War for Learning. 

[Photo Credit: aconaway1 via Compfight cc]

April 11, 2014

Citizenship “Special”?

Filed under: deep thoughts,education,Teaching and Learning — Candace Hackett Shively @ 1:46 pm

Since when is  Social Studies a “special”?

For those unfamiliar with elementary school lingo, a “special” is the rather ironic term for a subject that kids have once a week or once in a six day cycle. “Specials” typically include Art. Music, Library, and PE. In some schools, Computer is a special. Kids love specials for the change of pace — and probably because they see a different part of the building and a different teacher face. You would think “special” would mean important, but in this case, it means “extra.”shutterstock_109755791

In researching elementary schools this week for a friend who is considering a move, I was stunned to see social studies listed among the “specials” in the elementary curriculum, a class that kids have once a week. Thinking this was a fluke, I poked to find the same thing in a neighboring district. What I feared a few years ago — with the advent of No Child Left Behind — has come true. Science was saved from NCLB purgatory by the current emphasis on U.S. competitiveness in STEM and the inclusion of the NextGen Science Standards as part of Common Core, but even the gr 6-12 Social Studies Literacy aspects of Common Core have not been enough to save Social Studies from becoming “special.”

Why? ” If you test it, they will come. If you don’t, it is a “special.” (I could insert a long discussion about this, but it’s not my point here.)

Robert Frost ended a favorite poem with this oft quoted line:

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

I fear that this time we have taken the wrong road, and THAT is going to make all the wrong difference. Where does this path lead us, this path where kids rarely see and hear discussion about what it means to make the tough decisions of government, to learn from our past and to plan for a society that fits our ideals? If social studies is a special, it drops to the bare facts and skills that can fit into one class per week: know the national symbols, the basics of your state’s history, the names of the three branches of government. But elementary kids need to talk about how people and governments make decisions, not just how they pass bills. They need to be aware of how varied cultures are around the world and even around their city. They need to understand why people’s opinions differ on upcoming elections or social issues. While they are young, they need to learn to be citizens of a broader world. They will not simply “pick up” a deep sense of citizenship, history,  cultural richness, and personal involvement when social studies suddenly becomes a (non-special) subject in middle school.

I am certain no policy maker has planned a study to find out whether loss of social studies experiences and discussions in elementary school has an effect on whether kids later become involved voters or savvy global citizens. I offer a strong hypothesis that these kids won’t care as much about why people are slipping through society’s cracks, why people from different cultural backgrounds may have a different approach from their own, and how to make the tough decisions about what a national budget should keep or cut. If  learning about these decisions doesn’t count before they were 11, why will it when they are 21 or 31 or 41?

Kids tell me they love “specials.”  Kids look forward to them, but their parents may not emphasize specials like art or music as anything other than an outside interest or hobby kids will enjoy during leisure time in adult life. I hope by making social studies a special, we have not made citizenship a hobby for a generation to take up in their spare time.

PS On a note to Art, Music, PE and other “special” teachers, I personally believe every one of these subjects is as important as breathing.  I was fortunate enough to attend a school that had art and music every day!  We had no “specials.” I am painfully aware, however,  of the culture of school and of our society in designating certain subjects as  “specials, ” i.e. almost expendables in elementary school. But that could be another post entirely.

March 14, 2014

A playground moment: How to eliminate teacher meetings

Filed under: about me,edtech coaching,education,iste14,teaching — Candace Hackett Shively @ 12:05 pm

What role do you play when you meet with other teachers (or ed tech coaches)? Do you chime in with ideas but pray they don’t ask you to take on too much responsibility? As busy teachers, we all know that temptation. This week I had the pleasure to witness the positive power of educators to move the boulder forward — and quickly — simply by leveraging a little tech.

I am part of a dynamic duo(?)  leading a powerpack of ed tech coaching superheroes. Together we are planning a “playground” event* at ISTE 2014. About eight of us met on a conference call, preceded by an email with a link to a shared Google doc. Before the call, the doc was pretty much an empty shell. No more than 3 minutes into the call, I watched a little flag typing across the doc, adding the ideas as they began to flow from our conversation. Kim McMonagle was keeping a running record of our ideas as they flew by.  She didn’t say anything. She just did it.  We ended our call with a bunch of work DONE, not just planned-to-be-done. 

How often do you simply take up a tool to help the cause during a meeting? Imagine the power of such simple modeling in front of your teacher-colleagues, especially the hesitant ones who always say they don’t have time for tech. It isn’t hard. It’s not a big deal. You don’t even need to say anything. Just give them the link to use it when the meeting ends.

Of course, a hesitant teacher will say he/she does not know how to do Google docs or prefers to use paper or prefers to just sit and listen, but (s)he really cannot ignore the leverage of one Google doc against the boulders we teachers must move. Maybe if (s)he noticed the power of one doc without being threatened or “taught,” and the doc were perceived as useful, (s)he’d try it in the secrecy of his/her classroom.

This nearly invisible moment made me stop — and wonder that would happen if teachers took up a tool to move the boulders forward during every meeting we had (or had to attend).  No “we’ll write this up and send it out” or “we will be sending you a form,” or “will” anything. It gets done while you are there, in front of your eyes. We can all take the next steps without waiting for a report, an email, or some other “afterward.” It’s a “duh” thing that too many teachers neither notice nor initiate.

We’d probably have far fewer meetings. Wouldn’t that be a shame?

 *The Ed Tech Coaching “Playground” will be held June 30, 9:30- 1:00 at ISTE Atlanta. Playgrounds offer a couple of small group demonstration areas with casual seating and multiple walk-up stations for smaller demos/conversations, all in an open area that screams, “Come on in!” Conference attendees happen by or make deliberate plans to see big-name presenters in this up-close-and-personal opportunity, all focused on a common theme, in this case Ed Tech Coaching. My experience with playgrounds is that the presenters are approachable, and the learning is immediate. In these venues, there is no doubt that learning is play and play is learning. If you’re coming to ISTE, I hope you will join us.

February 28, 2014

Looking inside on a cold, cold wet day

Filed under: deep thoughts,education,teaching — Candace Hackett Shively @ 8:57 am

The sun did not shine.
It was too wet to play.
So we sat in the house
all that cold, cold wet day.

In honor of Dr. Seuss’s birthday coming up, I reread the book I could once recite as a child — and later as a young mom. It is a tale of fun, surprise, fear, mischief, skepticism, and guilt. That fish speaks in the back of our minds throughout our lives, warning us not to allow the Cat or Thing One and Thing Two into our house for fear they will upset everything.  

Tell that Cat in the Hat
You do NOT want to play.
He should not be here.
He should not be about.
He should not be here
When your mother is out!”

(Photo credit: Joe Gauder, http://www.flickr.com/photos/joegauder/5493563278/)

In less than a coincidence, I learned today about a teacher who was offered a grant to provide consistent, in-school Internet access to students involved in a national research pilot of an innovative (and free) program for learning science in a safe social network.  The grant would mean that the teacher — and her students– would have the solid, reliable connection they need to connect with a world outside their very small, rural community. Their world, much like the Seuss kids inside on a cold, cold, wet day, would be open to allow outsiders in.

But the worrier fish in this real life story had a greater say than the one in the book.  The Cat in the Hat — and Thing 1 and Thing 2 — did not get past the door to bring the reliable Internet connection to the kids in that classroom. For whatever reason, the school administration did not feel comfortable allowing an outside funder/stranger to bring in such disruption(?). And so the grant was politely but officially declined. Sally and her classmates simply stay inside, watching out the window and connecting perhaps during the few classroom hours when “mom” is home and the Internet works?

Every teacher faces different barriers, stressors, and challenges. And the fish in this tale probably has a very good (or legally protective) reason to refuse to allow the Cat into the classroom.

The message to me is that none of us really understands what others face inside their teaching houses on cold, cold wet days.  We may be risk takers and have school administrations that allow more open doors (and permit the mess caused by Thing 1 – the Internet and Thing 2- social learning). We may worry about how to clean up after the fun our students have when it gets a little messy. Or we may face much more basic challenges like just being allowed to open the door. Don’t assume you know every tale. You might even try rereading The Cat in the Hat through the lens of adult experience. It adds a new layer of meaning to Read Across America.

December 9, 2013

Sharing Wow

Filed under: about me,edtech,education,Teaching and Learning — Candace Hackett Shively @ 1:52 pm


I have worked face to face or side by side with at least 30,000 to 50,000 teachers in my career — at least if you count each teacher-year as “one.” That does not include the Thinking Teachers I encounter in my role as sort of  24/7 “edtech coach” via a free web service I am in charge of. Of those, I am privileged to know so many GREAT teachers, and yet every day I discover more. Sometimes I wonder why we don’t tag them in a global geocaching game for “Amazing Teacher Here- X marks the spot.” I read their blogs, I watch their students’ videos, I work together with them on an ISTE SIG, I meet them in OK2Ask online professional development sessions. I want to scream to the post-PISA media,”You guys, LOOK! These teachers are AMAZING! Did you see what that kid just did? Did you see what the teacher did to make it happen!?”


So today I am thrilled and humbled to discover this blog among those named as finalists for the 1oth annual Edublog Awards.


One of the real standouts among those 30-5o,ooo-teachers-I-have-known nominated me. I have thanked her by email, on Twitter, and now on this blog. I worked with her virtually for a couple of years before we actually met face to face. She is one of the teachers I point to, exclaiming, “You guys, LOOK! These teachers are AMAZING! Did you see what her bio class just did? Did you see what Louise Maine did to make it happen!?”

Thanks again, Louise.

I suggest that every teacher look at all the nominees. You, too, will say, “Wow” at the amazing things your fellow Thinking Teachers have to say and share. If, after losing yourself in the nominees,  you think this blog deserves a vote in the crowd-driven selection of “Best Individual Blog” from Edublog Awards, find Think Like a Teacher on the list here. Then follow these steps:

1. Click the up-vote arrow bottom-left of the post. A pop-up from List.ly (the voting tool) will appear.
2. Sign in to List.ly with your Twitter, LinkedIn,Facebook, or Google + account.
2*. You’ll need to provide your name and email if this is your first time using List.ly.
3. The window will disappear.
4. Click on the up-vote arrow one more time to cast your vote.

Pass it on.

December 5, 2013

Unfolding cardboard school

Filed under: creativity,education,gifted,learning — Candace Hackett Shively @ 9:35 am

I cherish my collection of memorable teaching/learning moments that exemplify how gifted students “see” the world differently. I do not believe that gifted students are alone in their unique views. They are, however, uniquely willing and able to express these thoughts —  or may have them far more often. In any case, I believe we as teachers can learn much from listening to the questions of gifted students who blow away the cliche, “think outside the box.” Their questions, ideas, and thoughtful approaches unfold the boxes, creating something entirely different from the plain brown cardboard called “school.”

One such unfolded view comes in the “visual creativity” Jonathan Wai describes on the Mindshift blog. Wai posits the importance of recognizing and promoting visual thinking (“spatial creativity”) among all learners. I have seen memorable moments of this acuity “unfolding” in front of me, students whizzing through Tangrams and Set so quickly the rest of us missed  the answers before they began another problem!  Visual-spatial skill uses an entirely different part of the brain, one typically underdeveloped in teachers’ verbally adept brains and ignored by tests, Standards, and cardboard school. The Common Core Standards include shapes, slices, rotations, flips, turns, surfaces, and the usual volume and area. CCSS high school geometry standards include endless requirements about relationships and functions that define shapes. There is even one standard that calls for “Apply[ing] geometric methods to solve design problems (e.g., designing an object or structure to satisfy physical constraints or minimize cost; working with typographic grid systems based on ratios). Another calls on students to “Identify the shapes of two-dimensional cross-sections of three-dimensional objects, and identify three-dimensional objects generated by rotations of two-dimensional objects.”  But all of these are within confines (boxes) that are rarely unfolded outside of “math class” or for other purposes and approaches to thinking visually.

Stop to think about the kid you went to school with, the one who was amazing at geometry and stunk in every other math class. S/he “saw” the proofs that you struggled with, even if s/he never quite got them on paper correctly. Remember those kids. I taught them, the gifted kids who scored the maximum 19 on the Block Design subtest of a WISC-R  but could barely write or speak a complex sentence.  Jonathan Wai may be onto something. If promoting talent in visual thinking is good for these extreme cases, perhaps we should be encouraging all students to unfold and repurpose the boxes. I share ten FREE, reviewed resources to get started, since this is not an area most teachers feel adept to address:

Several reviewed, online Tangram games

A collection of virtual, visual manipulatives (requires Java)

Blender 3D animation— a REAL challenge!

TinkerCad design for 3D printers

Foldplay (very cool!)

Box Templates (to make, UNFOLD, and change?)

Origami Club animations of MANY foldables

A new way to look at unfolded boxes (direct link)

Cloud Dreamer (for younger ones)


Another, profoundly memorable teaching/learning moment for me came in a single question from a second grader: “Is the number of grains of sand on the earth — at any one moment– infinity?”  I thought of this question when I ran across this post, an example of a box unfolding to new thinking. Questions like the second grader and blog versions of the grains-of-sand debate defy boxes. They do not go “beyond” a box, they create new folds in our understanding of the world. Like many questions that pop into our students’ heads, these fall outside the scope of cardboard school. But shouldn’t we invite them inside? The BEST source for questions is your students’ own thought questions. If you don’t want them to “interrupt” a lesson by unfolding their thinking out loud, at least offer a virtual graffiti wall using a tool accessible from any device where they can post their questions and “crazy ideas.” How/ how often do you encourage your students to interrupt YOUR thinking with theirs? Here are some sources for questions you and your students can drop into your curriculum, outside the “standard”:


Think (elementary)

101 questions

Super Thinkers

Thought Questions

This is the season of boxes: shipping boxes, gift boxes, ornament boxes, etc. Why not use the inspiration of a few experiences with gifted kids to unfold some of the cardboard in your class’s thinking as a special gift? You never know what you might unwrap.


October 11, 2013

Declare victory! (and send a colleague where he/she belongs)

Filed under: edtech,education,teaching — Candace Hackett Shively @ 1:07 pm

winTeachers don’t brag. In fact, most teachers usually minimize their accomplishments by pointing out the shortcomings. When complimented on a really cool lesson or activity, the first thing they usually tell you is what went wrong or took too long or didn’t come out exactly as planned. After that, they tell you about the one student who didn’t finish or the parent who complained. If none of these problems occurred, the teacher will surely tell you what he/she needs to do to make it better next time or that it wasn’t really his/her idea in the first place. He/she saw it on… (TeachersFirst… or Pinterest?)

Declare victory! Share your student’s successes, however small they might seem to an outsider, via “What is your #eduwin?”  I have written about #eduwin before, but it bears repeating. And now there is even more reason to report an #eduwin.

If you have seen an #eduwin occur in a colleague’s (or your own child’s) classroom, now you have a chance to highlight that success and send that teacher where he/she belongs. You can nominate someone for an #eduwin award — a chance for that teacher to share the #eduwin at the Annual CUE conference in March, 2014 in Palm Springs, CA. (CUE is the California group of Computer-Using Educators, a strong and creative edtech bunch made up of teachers and edtech users/coaches like you.) You can declare the learning victory of students who “get it,” of a culminating or motivator project that sings, or of a small win over confusion… even something as small as kids who finally use there, their, and they’re correctly!

As October spins headlong toward Thanksgiving, help the rest of the world know,”There are amazing things happening in education every minute.” As the #eduwin site asks, “What did you see?”

You could be sending a very deserving (and self-effacing) teacher on a professional trip that will be his/her personal learning #eduwin! At the very least, you tried.


September 27, 2013

SIx commandments of edu-ese

Filed under: education,teaching — Candace Hackett Shively @ 8:49 am

Why do we learn a new language?

In high school, we take a language to get credit, get into college, and maybe use it when visiting another country. As teachers, we learn a language I call edu-ese to speak among ourselves about professional strategies, the latest research,  or best practices. We use edu-ese as a common professional language that allows both precision and  shared understanding. Terms such as those found on this generator or this one are for teacher-to-teacher talk, much the way that doctors talk to each other about the surgical approach they will take to fix that heart valve or remove that appendix. Eduese is not intended for public consumption. Doctors do not expect us to know what a transaortic valve implantation is, and we should not expect a parent, grandparent, or student to know what scaffolding is or what tiers of intervention are. So why do we impose edu-ese on parents?

If you have been around hospitals with sick relatives enough, you have experienced the varied manners of doctors in explaining things. The good ones never use medical terms without paraphrasing them in the same sentence (providing what teachers might call context clues :) ). Some docs are not so good at this, and we all hope they will be reading xrays in some dark room, not explaining our choices for valve replacement! Yet we, as teachers, are as guilty as doctors of poor “parent-side manner.” I read this post with great sympathy and felt a twinge of guilt for the times I may have sent a parent home wondering what the heck I was talking about. I therefore offer my six edu-ese commandments for myself going forward:

six1. Thou shalt always paraphrase any edu-ese within the same sentence — or not use it at all.

2. Thou shalt offer an edu-ese translation of all terms used in printed handouts sent home or posted on the class web page.

3. Thou shalt provide and reply to an anonymous-submission “edu-ese translate” form (kind of like Google Translate but in an online Google docs form where people can submit anything they wish). This form shall be readily available via a link from the school and class web page so parents and students can anonymously request a translation of ANY term they hear in reference to teaching/learning/education, even if it is not from a source within your class or school.

Perhaps your school PTO/PTA could take on this last idea as a project to serve the entire school community. Ask your teachers with the BEST parent-side manner to act as translators for the edu-ese submissions. Encourage parents to paste or enter ANYTHING they read into the form. Share translations, responses, and explanations on the school web page for all to see.

4. Thou shalt not assume that you know which terms are “foreign” or misunderstood by your audience. Language is very personal and comes with its own baggage of experience. If you are not sure, use an alternate word and look or listen for understanding.

5. Thou shalt never use edu-ese in email. Email is hard enough to understand without complicating it with a foreign language. If you must use edu-ese, reserve it for live, preferably face-to-face interaction. Faces tell a lot.

6. Share these commandments with your colleagues and pledge to remind each other about them when you slip.

And to Dahlia Lithwick, the lady who feels left behind, maybe you can take these commandments with you to your next parent conference.