Saturday, February 26, 2011

We can all be Superman

Last night, I finally sat down and watched the much bally-hooed and blogged about "Waiting for Superman".  I have been a bit reluctant to watch this film, simply because I have heard scathing reviews from people in education circles about how it was unrealistic, biased against educators, and failed to take into account numerous factors that clearly impact the success of students.  I had my critical eyes ready to tear the film to shreds.

And then I watched it.  And I saw numerous things that I could rip apart.  Standardized testing--junk.  Merit pay--don't know how that could work. Bill Gates emphasizing math and science over other skills--not just about those.  Premise predicated on very specific examples--doesn't tell the whole story.

But there was something in this film that really struck me, and it was something that is undeniable for me, no matter who might criticize my interpretation.  What hit me was the unquestionable emotion of the families who were attending the school lotteries in hopes of securing a spot for their child at one of the charter schools.  There was pure desperation in the eyes of these families, followed by either the unadulterated joy that the 'winners' had on their faces when they found out that they had gotten a seat, or the gut-wrenching sadness and defeat in the eyes of those who did not.  This hit me in the heart.

I just see that my good friend Chris Wejr just this moment Tweeted a quote by Ross Greene, which said "All students WANT to do well...we have to provide the environment and teach the skills so they CAN do well".  In the context of this film, no parent or student sets out hoping to be unsuccessful.  Each parent and student out there wants the best for their family, and is really doing the best job that they know.  If they can give their child any sort of leg up to help them be successful, they will.  And I found it hard to watch anyone who was trying to help their child be restricted in their ability to do so.

Where did the desperation in the eyes of those parents come from?  These people were desperate that their child NOT to go to another school (in the case of this film, schools in the public system).  And no matter what the context, if those were parents of students that attended my school, I would sit up and pay attention.  And I would be absolutely wrong not to.  These people are our clients,  they are clearly unhappy with the current state of affairs, and I need to seek to understand.

This is great, just a few minutes after Chris tweeted his quote, another PLN star Joe Bower tweeted this, which fits this discussion as well "U can fire all the "bad" teachers u want but if u do nothing to ensure of quality replacements nothing good will come of it all.".  This is a perfected segue into the second half of this post.  You can't just fire people and expect to solve the problem.  You can't just come up with a merit pay system and expect to solve the problem.  You can't just change curriculum and expect to solve the problem.  You can't inject some Bill Gates-ian money and expect to solve the problem.  And these are just a very small few of the band-aid approaches to systemic issues, and clearly any one of these methods in singularity will have little impact on the education system.

Which brings me to the ultimate question that the film really fails to address, how do we REALLY do this?  How do we really change things so we no longer think of our children as students, but rather as learners.  So we don't need attendance policies to make kids come to school, but rather we invoke "The Best Attendance Policy Ever Created".  So we don't need to externally motivate our children with rewards and awards, but they want to learn because it is just so damn cool.  And ultimately, so our parents and students do not have to wish to go to any other school, but are truly excited and proud about their own neighbourhood school.

I do not control politicians.  I don't have input into how the millions of dollars are spent on national health, education, defense, or other large-scale priorities.  I don't write governmental policies.  And as much as I would like to think so, I don't really have as much influence as I would like.

But I do have influence.  We all do.  And we all have a huge number of ways that we can impact our schools.  We can CARE about all of our students and parents.  We can be passionate.  We can be learners.  We can be leaders. We can be uncompromising in our focus on what is best for students above all else.  We can be open to new ideas and implement new initiatives that are student-centered.  We can work with our teachers and provide them outstanding opportunities to collaborate with each other so they can reflect upon and refine their craft for kids.  And so on...and so on.

In short, I truly believe one thing (and I have always wanted to be..)

We can all be Superman.  Even if it's just in our own little way.


  1. Many Super women too, lest we not forget the balance in the male and female brain. In actually fact Wonder women (XX) would have more genetic material then Superman(XY).


  2. Fantastic post, Cale.

    I have not yet seen the movie, but have seen shorter versions of the education issues in the US on 60 Minutes and other news features. You are very correct. The parents of the kids going through the lottery systems care passionately about the education of their children, just like all parents do. As far as the hopes of the children, you mention Chris Wejr's tweet, "all kids want to do well." So, how do we create the environment where they can? As you stated, we all have influence and some level of control over our attitude and surroundings, and CAN make a positive difference for our students, one passionate, caring, and inspiring interaction at a time.

    Your post reminds me of Margaret Mead's quote, "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has."

    You remind us that we can, and will, make a difference. Thanks for the uplifting post.

  3. I felt the same way when I saw the film. Much wrong with it, but those families are real.

  4. A great post Cale. You make me want to go out and rent this movie. I sure wouldn't want to be the administrator of the school no one wanted to go to. I think you make a great point that we can all make a difference and owe it to our students and to ourselves to make that effort.

  5. Thanks Cale for your post. I have shared it with all of our administrators, trustees and parent leaders in the district. There was a showing of the film in West Vancouver last night that about 40 of us from the school district attended. It was so sad to see the plights of these families. Many of us had come from a meeting with District staff, Trustees and administrators focussed on leading learning and future thinking - it was such a stark contrast to what we saw in the movie.

    Another link I have shared with those in the district who went to the film is this one from the CEA:

  6. That is exactly what I took away from the movie as well. I have found your post quite late in the digital world...but it was great to read your comments.
    Thank you for putting into words the idea that educators can be and should be striving towards being a 'super (person)' because they can truly make a difference.

  7. Do you mind if I quote a couple of your articles as long as I provide credit and sources back to your blog? My blog is in the very same area of interest as yours and my users would certainly benefit from some of the information you provide here. Please let me know if this alright with you. Thanks a lot! | | | | | | | |

    gogreencab | |


Thanks for taking the time to comment on my blog!