Online Inspiration for the School Administrator Committed to Providing the Highest Quality Educational Leadership

Lessons Learned From Hollywood Movies – Steven Weber

(Originally posted on ASCD EDge)

By Steven Weber

 

There are several movie quotes which provide food for thought. These are some of my favorite quotes that apply to teaching and learning. As an educator, we must strive to improve daily. When we stop learning and growing, we will no longer have the ability to help students grow. Hollywood provides educators with a chance to remember that “You must unlearn what you have learned” (Yoda in Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back). May the Force be with you as you read this article and inspire students to grow!

 

Boys, you must strive to find your own voice. Because the longer you wait to begin, the less likely you are to find it at all.

– Dead Poets Society

 

Student voice is essential. When you provide students with the opportunity to share their voice through writing, speaking, collaborative projects, blogs, videos, and artwork you allow students to express themselves. The classroom teacher plays an important role in facilitating the class so each student finds his or her voice. Imagine a K-12 system that teaches students to memorize facts and does not provide opportunities for student voice. Terry Heick (2014) wrote, “Students need a voice. By voice, I mean the ability to recognize their own beliefs, practice articulating them in a variety of forms, and then find the confidence — and the platform — to express them.” Give every student a platform.

Help me…..help you. Help me, help you.

– Jerry Maguire

Great teachers and administrators clearly understand this statement. Struggling learners need the help of a patient teacher who is willing to try hundreds of strategies in order to support student understanding. A building principal should have the heart of a servant leader. A principal should support all teachers and staff. The goal is not for 65 staff members to serve the principal, but for the principal to serve the staff members in order to increase student understanding. In a professional learning community (PLC), a teacher may utter these words to a co-worker. When a teacher supports a colleague, the students win. Parents and guardians are often seeking ways to support the school. Experience with families has led me to believe that a willingness to help the school is the first step towards school improvement. Any member of the staff or community can criticize the school and find shortcomings. Imagine if all members of the staff and community said, “Help me….help you.”

 

Does that blow your mind? That just happened!

– Talladega Nights

Carol Dweck shares how a growth mindset supports teaching and learning. Dweck (2014) says, some students “believe their intelligence, their talents are things that can be developed…..These are the kids that are learners.” This is known as a ‘Growth Mindset’ (Dweck, 2007). Students need opportunities to take risks and to exceed their own expectations.

Tony Wagner recently wrote a book titled, Innovators (2012, Creating Innovators Book Trailer). Wagner emphasizes that the skills employers are seeking are not being taught in most K-12 classrooms. If we assign a grade to every project, writing assignment, and math project that a student attempts, will the student become a risk taker? When you write a blog or write in your journal, do you get a grade? In order for students to take risks, we must create the right learning environment. We must encourage risks through the authentic tasks that are assigned and through the feedback that is given. Students need to learn to complete project independently and as part of a team. We need to challenge students, so they will be prepared for the next level of learning. So many students enter kindergarten as risk takers and graduate high school as compliant learners who are seeking the answer that gives them an A. Universities and employers need students who graduate from a Culture of Learning.

She’s got gaps, I got gaps, together we fill gaps.

– Rocky

Every student enters kindergarten with learning gaps. If learning gaps did not exist, we could send children straight into the workforce. Teachers in our school district meet as a Professional Learning Community to study Gap data, focus on student misconceptions, identify common barriers to student achievement, reflect on current instructional practices and share strategies for supporting student achievement.

 

Educators Can Use The Following Questions to Help Close Gaps:

1. Do I know what misconceptions or naïve assumptions my students possess?

2. How do I know what they understand?

3. What evidence will I accept for this understanding?

4. How will I use their understanding to plan future instruction?

(Source: Fisher & Frey, 2007, p. 14)

Using the four questions above, teachers can share important information about student understanding within a building and across the school district.

Live in the Now!

– Wayne’s World

Live in the Now is possibly my favorite movie quote! It makes me laugh every time I hear it! Today’s students are digital learners. Recently, I saw a two year old in a grocery cart playing on a game on his mother’s cell phone. Teachers need to emphasize the traditional 3 R’s (Reading, Ritin’, and ‘Rithmetic), along with the 5 Cs (Critical Thinking, Creativity, Communication, Collaboration, and Contribution). In addition to the 3 Rs and 4 Cs, teachers need to emphasize the 4 Ps: posting, presenting, publishing, and portfolio (Vander Ark, 2014).

Today’s learners need a different learning space. Consider ditching the desks for a more open space which allows students to practice the 3 Rs, 4 Cs, and 4 Ps. Blended learning is not just a popular term. If you “Live in the Now,” your school will embrace blended learning — “Blended learning is a student-centered approach to creating a learning experience whereby the learner interacts with other students, with the instructor, and with content through thoughtful integration of online and face-to-face environments. A well-designed blended learning experience thoughtfully organizes content, support materials, and activities via synchronous and asynchronous learning events, all of which are delivered in a variety of modes ranging from traditional lecture to online tutorials. Communication and collaboration are necessary functions of a blended approach. Because formative assessment is embedded throughout learning events, the learner assumes responsibility for his or her learning” (Hobgood, Learn NC). If your learning space does not resemble this, you may need to “Live In The Now!”

 

The world needs ditch diggers too.

– Caddyshack

This is still the mindset of several educators around the world. While no educator would openly admit to believing this quote, it is evident in their instructional strategies. A study titled, Ready for College and Ready for Work: Same or Different (2006) concluded that the knowledge required for entry-level workers is nearly the same knowledge and skills required for college-going students. According to Achieve and the Education Trust (2008): “The old dichotomies of ‘college bound’ and ‘work bound’ no longer apply” (p. 7).

“As long as the system functioned under the assumption that only a small portion of students will go on to college, the current model of college preparation was largely unchallenged and unexamined” (Conley, 2009, p. 5). Today’s high schools must offer more than education for just one option or the other. To prepare students for success in life, the twenty-first century American high school needs to shift its focus from preparing for college or career to achieving college and career readiness for every student (Richmond, 2010, p. 3).

“The reality is that whether students go to a four-year college or to other postsecondary training, they do, indeed, need the same rigorous academic preparation in high school” (Murray, 2012, p. 60).  “The goal of college and career readiness for all high school graduates is no longer a radical reform idea promulgated by a handful of states: It has emerged as the new norm throughout the nation” (Achieve, 2010, p. 23).

 

One Thing….Just One Thing….Stick To That….

– City Slickers

Educators have purchased programs, written mission and vision statements, hired more teachers and teacher assistants, paid consultants, developed curriculum maps, purchased benchmark tests, written school improvement plans, and implemented state mandates. At the end of the day, initiative fatigue kicks in and educators ask, “Is this worth it?” In the movie City Slickers (1991), Cowboy Curly tells Mitch Robbins to stick to just one thing. Obviously, educators cannot stick to ‘one thing.’ We must teach reading, writing, math, science, English, social studies, art, health, digital citizenship, critical thinking, collaboration, leadership, media literacy, communication, and other life skills. Teaching one thing is not an option.

W.E.B. DuBois provides us with a powerful reminder of the moral obligation of educators:

“Of all the civil rights for which the world has struggled and fought for 5,000 years, the right to learn is undoubtedly the most fundamental….The freedom to learn….has been bought by bitter sacrifice. And whatever we may think of the curtailment of other civil rights, we should fight to the last ditch to keep open the right to learn, the right to have examined in our schools not only what we believe; not only what our leaders say, but what the leaders of other centuries have said. We must insist upon this to give our children the fairness of a start which will equip them with such an array of facts and such an attitude toward truth that they can have a real chance to judge what the world is and what its greater minds have thought it might be.”

– W.E.B. DuBois, The Freedom to Learn (1949)

as cited in The Right to Learn: A Blueprint for Creating Schools That Work (Darling-Hammond, 1997)

Opportunity to Learn (OTL) should be the “One Thing” that drives decisions about teaching and learning. We can open doors for ALL students when we focus on the main thing.

If I woke up tomorrow with my head sewn to the carpet, I wouldn’t be more surprised than I am now.

– Christmas Vacation

This quote could mean several things for educators. The following made the ‘short list.’

1. When a parent writes a note to the 3rd grade teacher and says, “I would like to request a parent-teacher conference regarding Tommy’s project. I worked on it until 3:00 am and there is no way he got a B+ on his project.”

2. When elected officials openly embrace the Common Core State Standards and then tell teachers they are uncertain about endorsing the same standards two years later.

3. Unfunded state mandates should not surprise you. It sounds good to say you are supporting public schools with a new initiative. Most of the people who vote do not question whether or not the state mandate will be funded.

4. When you teach your heart out and a student says, “We never learned this.”

5. You may be surprised to learn that the your performance evaluation will include how students perform on a single test.

Surprise and uncertainty are to be expected in K-12 education. Educators need to learn to focus on students, even when times are tough. Educators should also find ways to challenge laws, policies, and mandates that do not support teaching and learning. “Leaders have far more freedom to transform, reimagine, and invigorate teaching, learning, and schooling than is widely believed” (Hess, 2013). Read Cage-Busting Leadership (2013) and The Cage-Busting Teacher (2015) to learn how you can advocate and lead change when you “wake up with [your] head sewn to the carpet.”

 

Life is like a box of chocolates….You never know what you’re gonna get!  

Forrest Gump

The moment you receive your class roster for a new school year can be exciting and depressing, sometimes both! The Laff-A-Lympics (Hanna-Barbera, 1976) included a team called the Really Rottens. While educators should focus on teaching the whole child, it is only human to pause and say, “This class could be the Really Rottens.”

The academic side of this quote is more uplifting. Educators should not make assumptions about student understanding or ability based on race, gender, ability, income level, home life, or previous schooling. Assessment FOR Learning (Stiggins) allows us to enter each school day with the mindset, “You never know what you’re gonna get!” That is an exciting lens for teachers, students, and administrators!

Assessment FOR Learning is ongoing. It may appear in the form of a Post-It note,  role play, survey, presentation, thumbs-up/thumbs-down vote, Google Form, artwork, accountable talk, or a quick write. “Formative assessment, done well, represents one of the most powerful instructional tools available to a teacher or a school for promoting student achievement” (Stiggins & DuFour, 2009, p. 640).

 

You Can’t Handle The Truth!

– A Few Good Men

Educators need to develop norms, share ideas openly, critique lesson plans, evaluate the taught curriculum, and serve as critical friends. High functioning PLCs establish team goals and they hold each other accountable to meet the goals. If your PLC “Can’t Handle The Truth,” you may have a lack of trust.

According to Lencioni (2007), a lack of trust “occurs when team members are reluctant to be vulnerable with one another and are unwilling to admit their mistakes, weaknesses or needs for help. Without a certain comfort level among team members, a foundation of trust is impossible.”

A PLC that operates with Trust will ask:

1. Which students seem to struggle with the key concepts and skills identified by the team?

2. Which skills and/or concepts do I struggle teaching?

3. If our students do not do well on the state writing test, then what strategies should we incorporate at our grade level? at the grade levels prior to our grade/course?

4. Our students are struggling with Algebra I. Are there areas of the curriculum that could be revised to support teaching and learning?

 

Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose, sometimes it rains. Think about that for a while.

– Bull Durham

This quote applies to teachers and administrators, but I am going to focus on its application to the building principal.

1. The day you have substitute teachers in grades 4-6, because the Central Office has a training for teachers (Sometimes it rains).

2. When teachers identify a way to close achievement gaps (Sometimes you win).

3. The moment you are about to have a fire drill and it starts raining (Sometimes you lose – or Sometimes it rains).

4. Insert your own quote here…….

 

And the fact that I get it makes me feel good, about me.

–  As Good As It Gets

Great teachers inspire students to feel good about themselves. Do you remember a teacher who inspired you. Did the teacher believe in you? How did the teacher raise the bar and then challenge you to jump higher? Teaching is about building relationships. In the absence of positive relationships, it is difficult for teachers to inspire students.

Differentiated instruction should be evident in every classroom. Differentiated instruction allows teachers to support student understanding without teaching every student the same way. Recently, personalized learning has become a popular buzzword in education. “A personalized learning system transforms schooling by providing voice and choice on what, where, and how students learn in relation to disciplinary and cross-disciplinary outcomes aligned with standards” (Zmuda, Curtis, and Ullman, 2015, p. 131). If a student is able to say, “And the fact that I get it makes me feel good, about me,” teachers will know that their instructional strategies are having a powerful impact!

 

Don’t Get Caught Watching the Paint Dry!

– Hoosiers

In the classic movie Hoosiers (1986), “Shooter” Flatch, the assistant basketball coach calls “Timeout!” In the huddle, he tells the team “This is the last shot that we got….We’re going to run the Picket Fence….Don’t get caught watching the paint dry!” As classrooms across the United States enter the final days of the school year, I am reminded of this scene from the movie. ‘This is the last shot that we got’ with each of our students. Are we going to have Field Day, Movie Day, Pajama Day, Beach Day, Popcorn Day, and Free Day? Are we going to coast until the final bell rings or are there more intentional ways to end the school year?

Take a timeout with your co-workers. Analyze the final weeks of the school year and ask, “Will these lessons and activities help students become College and Career Ready?” Students have earned the right to a break at the end of the school year. However, a break does not mean we should stop teaching life lessons and skills. What key skills do students need to know in order to succeed at the next level? How can we incorporate these skills into the final weeks of the school year? “Don’t Get Caught Watching the Paint Dry!”

Conclusion

Were you inspired by these quotes? Teachers and administrators have challenging jobs! As you reflect on the school year, take a moment to write five things you can do to differently to support teaching and learning. You may never have your name etched in a Hollywood star, but you will touch hundreds of lives with your passion and influence!

Take a moment to reply to this post. Explain which quote resonated with you. Choose a quote from a Hollywood movie and share how the quote applies to education – It’d be a lot cooler if you did (Dazed and Confused, 1993).

steven-weber-2
Steven Weber is the Executive Director of Curriculum and Instruction for Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools (NC).  He has served as a classroom teacher, assistant principal, principal, and social studies specialist with the Arkansas Department of Education and North Carolina Department of Public Instruction.  Follow his blog on ASCD EDge, connect with him on Twitter @curriculumblog and on Voxer at sweber.

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