Nail in the coffin, dead in the water, …

Whatever phrase you want to use to mourn the loss of my start-of-the-year ambition, use it.

I had what I thought were two really good ideas that I wanted to head up in my school this year.

  1. An academic journal, where students could submit research papers they are proud of, for consideration for publication.
  2. A professional development group that focused on making a bridge between the math and science curricula in the upper school (high school). So, for example, the math department should teach logarithms before the chemistry students learn about pH. It is especially important that we do this now, since the math curricula in the upper school is being completely redrawn and this is the time we can shift things around easily. [1]

Both were shot down. [2]

What’s the most sad part about this? An invidious seed has been planted in the back of my head. Each time I get an idea of something I want to take on to help make my great school an even better school, to help improve student learning, to get students excited about learning, to get teachers excited about what they’re doing, about anything, I know I’m going to think about these two ideas that never materialized and think twice about pursuing it.

My more optimistic, excitable self back tomorrow. For the next couple hours, I’m going to be in mourning.

[1] In my school, we are required to join a professional development group which meets half a dozen times a year. These groups are led by faculty and span topics like “Space and Pedagogy” to “The Brain” to “Diversity” to “Critical Friends Group” (don’t ask what that is). Historically these groups have been cross divisional — so we’d have lower school teachers and upper school teachers in the same group — and cross departmental.

[2] The first was shot down because there are teachers who want to encourage students to submit their good research papers to other journals, and having our own journal would get in the way of this.

The second was shot down because — even though there was enough interest among math and science teachers, and both math and science department heads were excited enough by it that they wanted to join — the other potential leader of this group and I wanted to restrict the people in it to math and science teachers in the high school. For obvious reasons. It requires a bit of a long-winded explanation about the culture at my school why this would be frowned upon. But I think it boils down to this: if the professional development committee were to approve this, it would be setting a precedent it is hesitant to set.

Without going on a “oh gosh he’s complaining again” riff, I’ll just say that I find the reasons against both rather specious. But I don’t want to rock any boats, make any waves. I’m going to let them die in peace.

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4 comments

  1. Hmph. Is there any way you can learn from it? How do successful proposals get approved? Who is it key to get on board? What works in convincing them?

    This seems like an angsty week all around. Chin up.

  2. I’m with Kate. From what you say it seems that what really decided people against your second proposal was the institutional interest in maintaining the status quo. Next time you should have a plan for convincing people how your proposals actually are even more status quo than the status quo. It’ll screw with their heads.

    I had to do a lot of research to figure out what Mersenne primes were, and I was glad to see that, deep down, there were some Greeks behind it after all. Hurray.

  3. I really, really don’t understand why #2 wasn’t approved. Wouldn’t it make sense to have articulation with the math and science departments? Logs before Ph, vectors before they need them in physics, … ? How is this a bad thing?

  4. @Jackie: Yeah, I know. And in fact, even the professional development committee thinks its a good thing and I think they want to see it happen. But not without opening the group up to others.

    I love paying attention to my institution, and analyzing it like an academic. And my answer about this is partly cultural, and partly organizational. And I’d LOVE to go into that analysis here, believe you me, but I don’t want to turn this blog from teaching experiences and practices to one where I talk about what’s not working in my school. And going into this — even though it’s one small thing — would do just that. I do think there’s use for that discussion, but mainly I think it has to happen with close friends and at the local watering hole.

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