My Take-Aways from the Tiger Mom

The closing keynote at the NAIS conference was Amy Chua, author of Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother. A year ago, the press used this book to paint a portrait of a villainous mother. The media generalized the differing parenting styles of Chinese and Americans making inflammatory statements in their headlines such as the Wall St. Journal’s “Why Chinese Mothers are Superior.”

I haven’t shared my thoughts on whether or not I found value to her talk, as my opinions about Ms. Chua’s memoire continue to vacillate. Though cynical about her keynote address, I wanted to approach it with an open mind. As she began speaking, she started with a great story about how the press storm caught her by surprise. I even started feeling for her when she described being on the Today Show and the first thing Meredith Viera asked was, “Are you a monster?”

Unfortunately she followed that story with one about a trip to DAVOS that seemed more about name dropping than it did about teaching or parenting. And so even though she may have ended up with more negative press than she initially bargained for, it certainly helped her sell her book and my sympathies began to wane. Interestingly, one of the names she dropped was Larry Summers who disagreed with her by saying,

“In a world where things that require discipline and steadiness can be done increasingly by computers, is the traditional educational emphasis on discipline, accuracy and successful performance and regularity really what we want?”

Mr. Summers went on to note two prominent Harvard ‘drop-outs’ Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg may not have had that much support from the kind of strict parenting to which Ms. Chua refers.

Ms. Chua said her book was meant to be a ‘funny’ memoir rather than a parenting guide and it was a way to reflect on how her strict parenting didn’t exactly work out when her second child turned thirteen.

Overall, while somewhat charming and engaging, I wasn’t too impressed by her talk. It was still validating to come away with these few thoughts.

1) Have high expectations for your children/students.

2) All children are different and we need to recognize this.

3) Self-Esteem must be earned.

One thing I enjoyed from the conference were the illustrators that were engaged in live visual note-taking for each of the main speakers. Below is an example of Ms. Chua’s.

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Continuing to Learn

“When it feels like your brain hurts, you know you’re learning,” is something I say to my students from time to time.

I want to reflect and immediately share more on NAISAC12 and EdCampIS, but honestly, my brain is hurting a little bit. I have learned an immense amount and met so many incredibly passionate educators that I think I simply need some time to take it all in and process what I’ve learned.

For now, I couldn’t be happier with the success and energy of EdCampIS which wouldn’t have been possible with all of the participants, many of whom spent an extra day in Seattle to make this happen.

Thanks to one of my colleagues who helped organize the event, Jac de Haan, you can get a quick summary of the day through photos and quotes by checking out the main page of the edcampis website.

What to Do in Seattle While Attending NAISAC12?

The National Independent School Annual Conference kicks off tomorrow at the Washington State Convention Center here in Seattle. Having been fortunate enough to attend a few conferences in other cities, I know that sight seeing isn’t really on the agenda as each day is completely filled. By the time each day is over, most sights are closed or one is usually exhausted from the conference itself. Nonetheless, I’m going to try and give a few tips for those visiting our splendid city this week. Here are my top 5 things to do this week while you’re here.

5. Have dinner with colleagues in the Westlake/South Lake Union District. The theme for the conference is innovation, and you couldn’t be in a better city for it. Boeing, Microsoft, Amazon, Starbucks, and Costco are just a few of the innovative companies around here. Amazon has embraced the concept of an urban campus, and what used to be a rarely visited part of town is developing into quite a great spot – and that doesn’t include the 3 million square feet Amazon plans to build in the near future. It’s a short cab ride from downtown or you can ride the South Lake Union Trolley (only tourists do, so go ahead). Here are a few places.

4. Visit the Seattle Art Museum on Thursday night for free.

Every first Thursday of the month, Seattle has an art walk. I wouldn’t normally recommend walking at night in the Pioneer Square area, but all the galleries are open to the public until 8pm and its very safe on First Thursdays. You can check out this website for maps and galleries. In addition to the galleries, the Seattle Art Museum is free on the first Thursday of the month. It doesn’t include the current Gaugin exhibit, but there’s plenty of great art throughout the rest of the museum.

3. Visit the Seattle Public Library

Open til 8pm on Wednesday and Thursday, the central branch of the Seattle Public Library is quite an innovation in design and architecture. You might want to watch this TED talk first before your visit.

2. Come share what you’ve learned at edcampIS on Saturday, March 3.

Unwind after the big conference, and instead of listening to big keynotes, listen to other educators and share with each other what you’ve learned. Currently we have over 80 registrants from 16 states, DC, and Canada. To learn more visit edcampis. Also learn more about unconferences by reading an interview of one of the co-organizers, Liz Davis.

1. Go to the Pike Place Market BEFORE the conference. 

That is when the market is most alive with all the deliveries of fish, produce, and other colorful sights. Make sure to bring a camera!

I’m afraid if you haven’t been to Seattle before, it will live up to its reputation of being damp and cold. Just to prove that isn’t the case, I took a picture at school yesterday while the sun was shining. Even in the rain, I love this city, and I hope all visitors have a great conference.

What I’d Like to Ask Bill Gates Next Week

Next week, people from many places associated with independent schools will be in town for the National Independent Schools Annual Conference here in Seattle. I’m excited about this week for many reasons and hope to write about them in the coming days.

One of the things I’m interested in is what the featured keynote speaker, Bill Gates, has to say. I won’t be able to hear him speak directly on Thursday as I’ll be teaching. I will, however, be able to follow his address through many various channels.

I read his opinion piece in the NYTimes on Friday about his thoughts on New York making teacher performance assessments public. I agree with him on many points. One of these is that making teacher evaluation assessments publicly available isn’t going to do anything to help improve teaching. I also agree with Gates’ statement that “Teaching is multifaceted, complex work.” I also think that his push for robust teacher evaluations that help give direct feedback to teachers so they can improve their practice is a good thing. Mr. Gates calls for trained peers and supervisors to provide this feedback. I would love to invite a team from his foundation come visit me teach, so I can get that direct feedback on how to improve. In return, I’d love to be trained so I can pass it on and give this feedback to others. If there’s a way to sign up, let me know.

Effective teaching requires complicated measures, and I don’t believe that we’ve reliably figured out what combination of those metrics are. Unfortunately, the term ‘teacher accountability’ tends to scare people away from “creating a personnel system that truly helps teachers improve.” As reported in an article titled “Teacher Quality Widely Diffused, Ratings Indicate,” the actual publication of New York’s assessments show that high and low performing teachers exist in every school regardless of wealth, neighborhood, or population.

The theme of the NAISAC12 conference is Innovation. I am a big fan of the work the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation do and think its research into improving schools will benefit us all.

The Gates foundation recognizes the need to implement new ideas, and even if those attempts at education reform don’t work, analyzing and learning from the data is important. Microsoft, the company Gates founded some time ago took many risks and has been very successful, but along the way, it has also produced some things that didn’t work as well as they’d hope (remember the Kin anyone?). That didn’t stop them. In fact, I’m quite excited to see Microsoft trying to be a player in the mobile world. It promotes innovation from all its competitors.

In today’s op ed section of the NYTimes there’s an article titled “True Innovation” about Bell Labs. Last year I read two great books about innovation and risks: Steven Johnson’s Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation and Tim Harford’s Why Success Always Starts with Failure: Adapt. Like so many things that end up being polarized, I think many things do not have to be either/or. The article and the books mention the need for both autonomy and collaboration. They are not exclusive of each other. The challenge is finding the balance, so that the continued cycle of improvement promotes both teacher accountability and innovative teaching.

If I had the chance, I’d like to ask Bill Gates this…

To fuel innovation, we often need to take risks. Risks come with many rewards, but they also come with failure. How do you balance teacher accountability while supporting and promoting innovative teaching?

If anyone gets a chance on Thursday to get behind a mic and ask this question, I’d love to hear his response.