Friday, February 17, 2017

In Praise of American Educators

Several weeks ago, we lost one of the giants in education.  Rick DuFour came to prominence as the leader of Adlai E. Stevenson High School in Lincolnshire, Illinois, which is still widely recognized as a model for school reform based on the Professional Learning Communities framework.  He became a prolific writer and speaker and has influenced a generation of teachers and administrators.
DuFour always placed emphasis squarely on student learning.

It would be easy to continue to fill this entry with information about his life, his books, and his impact as a champion of public schools.  Instead, most of what I have included below are Rick’s own words.  

This book was written and
published after his diagnosis.
Those of us who have read his books or heard him speak will likely recognize some of these quotes.  If you haven’t had the chance to read or hear Rick, you will immediately recognize his wisdom—and you will quickly see that the heart of his message is about student learning.

In the months before his death, Rick DuFour published his last book, In Praise of American Educators: And How They Can Become Even Better.” In the first words of the introduction, Rick shares the experience of being diagnosed with stage 4 cancer and states simple, “there is no stage 5.”  A few pages later, come these words:

The best way to improve student learning:
Have educators work together!
As I assessed my career at this crossroads of my life, I felt more frustration than satisfaction.  Through history, Americans have criticized their schools—it is more of an American pastime than baseball.  I am frustrated, however, that politicians and the media seem to be waging an increasingly aggressive war not just on the public school system but also on the educators within it. Their unfair characterization of teachers and principals as lazy incompetents who are unconcerned about the well-being of their students is nothing like the amazing educators with whom I have worked both directly and indirectly.  I am frustrated that members of the profession I love are receiving none of the recognition they deserved for what they are accomplishing in the face of incredibly challenging conditions.

The remainder of the book is both a defense of educators and a call to action.  Educators must look both at what we are doing well and at what we can do better.  He states, “Our profession will not benefit from either unloving critics or uncritical lovers.”  The challenge for us, says DuFour by quoting Martin Luther King Jr., is to be confronted by the “urgency of now” because “at no point in American history have the stakes for our students been greater.”

According to Rick DuFour, the way forward is by working together toward a common purpose.  He lists "Three Big Ideas" that capture the essence of professional learning communities.  See if these Big Ideas resonate with you: 
Teachers as leaders is at the heart of PLCs.

  1. The purpose of our school is to ensure all students learn at high levels.
  2. Helping all students learn requires a collaborative and collective effort.
  3. To assess our effectiveness in helping all students learn, we must focus on results--evidence of student learning--and use the results to improve our professional practice and respond to students who need intervention or enrichment.

In the coming months and years, you will hear more about Rick DuFour and his work.  There is no question that he will be missed, but there is also no question that we can continue to learn from this master teacher.
This is pure Rick DuFour: putting our beliefs into action.

Rick DuFour worked up to his final days.  If you have sixteen minutes, listen to Rick talk about his most recent book: 

Don't have sixteen minutes? Try a shorter clip.  He just sits and talks, but he knows his stuff!

Have a great week, HSE.  We hope that you find joy this week in working together to improve student learning.

Your HSE Teaching and Learning Team
  • Jan Combs, Assistant Superintendent of Teaching and Learning
  • Stephanie Loane, Director of Elementary Education
  • Tom Bell, Director of Special Education
  • Jeff Harrison, Director of Educational Technology
  • Phil Lederach, Director of Secondary Education

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