Perusing the periodicals

They pile up quickly — all those intriguing education magazines and newsletters busy folks set aside for a day when “I have more time.” More often than not, that day never comes, and this rich resource ends up in the recycle bin or filed away in magazine boxes neatly aligned on a shelf.

As a new service, we’ll take the time (from time to time) to peruse our publications pile for items of special interest to teacher leaders. Our rule of (inky) thumb: If you read about it here, it’s publicly available on the Web and reachable with a click of your mouse.

A good source of greens — At the top of our current teetering stack is Edutopia’s special themed issue (October 2007) titled Go Green. One of the anchor articles in this issue is “A Climate of Hope,” and it carries this sub-headline: “The terrifying consequences of global warming can spur student action, and not just despair.” This important thought is represented in articles and sidebars throughout the magazine, guest-edited by Bill McKibben, noted author of books on the environment and founder of Step It Up 2007, which organizes massive demonstrations against global warming.

The issue includes a profile of an Oregon high school where environmental issues are woven throughout the curriculum. You’ll also find ideas about schoolyard gardens, improving school recycling and energy conservation, and a description of Edutopia’s new Go Green Database which is “packed with online resources: links to lesson plans, green curricula, service learning opportunities, and innovative classroom projects,” and includes a filter for topics, grade levels, cost and location. In his editor’s note, McKibben encourages us to remember that schools are mini-communities where we learn to work together to solve problems — even problems as big as massive climate change.

Following a professional script The Journal of Staff Development (Fall 2007) features an important and provocative essay by Judy Wertzel, a senior fellow at the Aspen Institute, who describes an approach to teacher professionalism that includes the use of common goals and tasks — something teacher leaders often resist as “scripted” teaching. Wertzel, who discussed her ideas with members of the Teacher Leaders Network last spring, challenges teachers to consider what might happen if teachers themselves developed those common scripts. She calls for a balance between specific prescribed protocols and latitude for teacher experimentation, reinforcing her argument with the analogy of a heart surgeon who follows strict protocols that are known to produce the best results. A worthy and eye-opening article that every serious teacher leader should read.

In praise of top-down leadership — Richard DuFour, perhaps the nation’s most visible proponent of professional learning communities, takes issue with those who argue that consensus-building is a necessary first step in system-wide school change. Inthis new article published by School Administrator (November 2007), DuFour writes: “Considerable evidence from [Michael] Fullan, Philip Schlechty and Richard Elmore indicates that leaving the issue of school improvement to each school to resolve on its own does not result in more effective schools.” In other words, he says, “the bottom-up approach to school improvement does not work.” The central question for DuFour is: “Does professional autonomy extend to the freedom to disregard what is widely considered best practice in one’s field?” There’s no comment feature on this AASA webpage…but you will find DuFour’s email address if you’d like to follow up.