NONNEGOTIABLES: 45 Years On
By Mickey Dunaway
I was asked over the last weekend to give some long-distance career advice to a former student I taught when I was an adjunct professor at the University of Southern Indiana—Evansville.
Our conversation got me thinking again [such thoughts are never far away] about the school business and what I learned during my dozen years as a high school principal back in Alabama and 50 years of focusing on the profession of K-12 public education. Below are my 25 non-negotiables. I am sure I have more, but my little gray-cells are not what they used to be [to quote Agatha Christie ‘s Hercules Poirot]!
Lesson planning is not optional.
If a teacher doesn’t know EXACTLY what the kids are to learn, how, and why, the kids surely will not know.
Every week, every level of Bloom’s Taxonomy is a part of every lesson plan.
Don’t tell me about high-level skills. Show me.
A written essay question will be on every exam.
Yep, even math and PE! How will we know kids can think if we never give them a chance.
Getting to personally know the kids in your classes is not optional.
Teachers teach kids how to learn. You don’t just put the material out there.
Every staff member is responsible for every student in the school.
Get out of the classroom and get to know the kids.
Whatever our problems are in our school, WE will solve them.
The central office (or the legislature) will never solve OUR problems.
Discipline starts in the classroom.
Not the principal’s office.
Planning and Conference Period is for planning and conferences.
Not for buying groceries or getting in your daily jog.
If I stand in your doorway unexpected, I expect to hear some high-level questioning.
And you will see a big smile on my face!
You cannot teach with high-level questions and ask low-level questions on the exam.
Nothing about teaching is easy—especially assessing student learning.
One staff meeting each month on Thursday after school or Friday morning before school.
Yes, you must attend one or the other.
Taking roll, writing hall passes, turning in money with a receipt, and bus duties are not optional.
Teaching is your most important job. Your job doesn’t begin or end only with teaching.
A textbook is not a lesson plan.
The textbook (or computer!) is a resource—ONLY.
Classroom observations by administrators are required.
But they are excellent improvement tools and also document great teaching.
Post-Observation Conferences will probably last the entire length of your planning period.
Don’t schedule anything else.
Gradebooks and Planbooks will be assessed during the Post-Observation Conference.
Yep, you are evaluated on your grading and planning!
Teenagers typically do not like to be directed by adults. Therefore, school is not about teenagers feeling warm, fuzzy, and relaxed every day.
Every day is about the business of learning. I am more concerned about how students feel four years after graduating than whether they like me today. Probably my own children don’t like me today!
If a kid can do a study sheet (written or on laptop) without a teacher, he must do it at home, not in class.
The time students spend in direct contact with you is the most critical time you and they have every day.
I probably don’t know your subject matter as well as you.
But I know good teaching (and poor teaching) regardless of the subject matter.
Decisions inside and outside the classroom must be based on research and best practice.
Yes, experience is important, but can you show me measurable evidence that it works better than research and best practice?
Want to try something new that has no research behind it?
Let’s talk about it. Collect data about how it affected learning. Share your results with everyone.
There is nothing wrong with the lecture. Nothing wrong with cooperative learning. Nothing wrong with project-based learning.
There is a lot wrong with only using one method when you have a classroom of students with varied abilities.
Word problems are not real-life examples.
Every teacher in every classroom and subject must bring real-life examples—preferably directly related to the students’ lives.
Great learning requires great teaching. Mediocre teaching produces mediocre understanding.
My job is to hire great teachers. Teach them every day to become better teachers no matter how good they already are.
“The only thing that is more expensive than education is ignorance.” ― Benjamin Franklin