Principal Gladhand, Dept.

In Principal Gladhand’s latest missive in the school newsletter, he talks about the highly successful principal’s coffee that was held earlier in the week.  He lists the topics talked about at the coffee.  Some of the topics stand out so I’ve highlighted them here with my usual irreverent but salient commentary:

“Our focus on students leading the learning- more activity and less teacher talk in the classrooms”


“The push for mastery, not memory”

Not much interpretation needed here.  Apparently the less teachers talk, the more students learn.  Part of the “teaching by telling” is bad philosophy that prevails in ed schools and beyond.  Yes, even the mastery of facts and procedures must not depend on straight memorization.  Such facts must also include “deep understanding”.   I would imagine that the good principal may not cotton much to the findings of Helen Abadzi, a cognitive scientist from University of Texas who recently said: “People may not like methods like direct instruction – “repeat after me” – but they help students to remember over the long term. A class of children sitting and listening is viewed as a negative thing, yet lecturing is highly effective for brief periods.”

” Our students’ willingness to adopt the growth mindset and their understanding that learning requires being wrong sometimes”

This one again.  Yes, a positive attitude is great and so is a willingness to make mistakes. But it must be accompanied by hard work which sometimes means the much maligned “worksheets”, exercises (aka “drill and kill”) and yes, even memorization.  Dr. Abadzi again:

“It is important for parents, teachers and pupils to understand the benefits of practising to lay down the foundations for more complex tasks, Dr Abadzi said.  “Those who practice the most forget the least over time,” she said. “So-called ‘overlearning’ protects from forgetting, because consolidation requires repetition – small bits learned at a time”.

I may send Principal Gladhand a note, suggesting he invite Dr. Abadzi to his next Principal’s Coffee.  Stay tuned.


4 thoughts on “Principal Gladhand, Dept.

  1. Answer: More teaching and less administrative micromanaging in the school, please.

    I wonder what mastery without memory looks like. I probably know … but just can’t remember.

    I imagine there would be a few “pointy-haired boss” Dilbert panels that would capture this pretty well…


  2. Remembering is always good, but massive amounts of memorization in a short amount of time (like the list of presidents), has a low effective rate. Then again, few places EVER did that sort of thing. How about memorizing your adds and subtracts to 20 or the times table? This HAS to be done one way or another, but schools have math every day and homework too. Is this mastery understanding free? Is mastery of the standard arithmetic algorithms understanding free? When you divide 27 into 825, how many 27s go into 82? Is number sense understanding free? Is mastery of EM’s beloved Lattice technique filled with magical understanding? No, because they don’t enforce mastery and just “trust the spiral.” Of course, once you get to algebra, mastery is filled with different levels of understanding. Understanding is bottom-up from incremental mastery of basic skills, not top-down from what – individual or group struggle with little guidance from a teacher or textbook? After the students get done with their inspiring group struggle and understanding in class, are they tested to see if it has magically translated into understanding and the actual ability to do problems, or do they just trust the process and blame the students, peers, parents, society, and poverty – while the parents of their best students are enforcing mastery help at home or with tutors.

    If my son had that sort of teaching philosophy in high school, ALL parents would have been in the school explaining very carefully how STUPID that is. STUPID! Even the teachers, who are trained in areas like biology and not fuzzy ed school content, would agree. In the lower grades, however, schools get away with it because that’s all they have – that’s what they were directly taught in ed school and have learned by rote. How can parents argue against full inclusion and tell them that they have a HUGE systemic problem and are increasing the academic gap – especially with they send home notes to parents to practice “math facts”!!! How clueless can they be? We parents have to save their philosophical butts. When I was growing up, I got to calculus without any help from my parents. Now we have an institutionalized CCSS goal of a 75 percent likelihood of passing a college algebra course that starts in Kindergarten. Some of us parents save their butts with help at home and are too nice (smart) to fight their stupid full inclusion and differentiated instruction dreamland ideas in K-6. Many of these educators (facilitators) even fight against urban parents who want to send their kids to charter schools that value skills and enforce mastery. This completes a double-whammy for increasing the academic gap.

    ” Our students’ willingness to adopt the growth mindset and their understanding that learning requires being wrong sometimes”

    Blah, blah, woof, woof.

    Just put kids in a room with a connection to the internet. Throw them into the deep end of the pool. Learning requires struggling normally, but their goal is to create it and define it as the main source of understanding.

    Can you say “STUPID?”

    Can you list the Great Lakes? HOMES. I’m sorry. That’s too easy and rote because, apparently, understanding cannot attach to facts and understanding requires struggle. That’s why my son had a thematic unit on the Arctic in first grade before any of them really knew any facts like the solar system, globe, continents or the rotation axis of the Earth. Let’s just read a story about a little Inuit boy. Our son’s first grade teacher directly told us that our son had a lot of “superficial knowledge” about geography, but he then had to tell the student teacher where Kuwait was when they had a thematic unit on “Sands from around the world.” Apparently, no understanding can possibly attach to facts, but her college understanding of Kuwait had few attached facts.

    So my question is why don’t all of the honors and AP high school teachers complain about what goes on in K-8? It’s probably the same reason why I said nothing. You will get trashed.


    • My kid learned about Ancient Egypt in Gr.7 in a month long project. She made a glitter book and pastied in pictures of old Egyptian dogs and cats. She used lots and lots of glitter. She got an “A”.

      Steve I am with you here, absolutely. This parent has been told too many times that they’re the experts, we know what we’re doing with their kids. Meanwhile, WE paid for Kumon when our eldest struggled with arithmetic, WE taught our kids how to write cursive, and WE taught them the correct way to research, develop and write an essay. We also have a huge world map above their desk in our hallway, have a big world atlas in the kitchen and taught them the provincial capitals of Canada. I guess they were too busy in school learning about recycling and saving polar bears. Not sure. All I know is that we should ask to have our money refunded. 6 years in public elementary school…not much went on inside the classroom, as most of the learning occurred here in our home.

      Why do high school teachers not connect with the elementary teachers? They’d need a Pro D day for that, and when Pro D days are filled with saving the seals, social justice in math class and white privilege, who has time to discuss the evidence behind effective instruction, or where the gaps are that need to be corrected by the time kids leave elementary school?

      Yes, parents are too NICE not to holler and yell. Teachers are too NICE not to be a sticky beak and say publicly where the system is failing them, and their students. But the real threat of repercussion both to kids and teachers is there. It happens when the status quo is challenged. A revolution is in order. It will only get worse, until we take back our kids, and teachers take back their teaching. The educrats don’t care, they are hellbent on pursuing their agenda. We need to make them care. The damage to our kids has already begun.


      • The problem is that we are not just respectfully requesting a slight change in how they do things. I think that the only path to change is to advocate for more school choice. That’s no solution either because all K-6 teachers are directly taught and learn how to trash traditional teaching by rote. It’s ironic, and their arguments are silly and simple – and just plain wrong. You would think that some of the ed school students might apply some critical thinking and ask why things aren’t better in the last two decades or more of non-traditional teaching in K-6. You would think that some of them might ask to survey the parents of the best student to find out if they do something more than just turn off the TV and model a love of learning. You would think that some of them would ask why teaching in high schools for the best students is still a traditional form using good textbooks. My only hope is that parents will listen and understand that they are NOT crazy – that ensuring basic facts and skills is now their responsibility.


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