College and Career Readiness through Blended Learning

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What educators can learn from the Red Sox, Good of the Student

Humans do not always perform according to algorithm

by Greg Cunningham, Blended Learning Specialist

The Red Sox won the World Series this fall for the fourth time in fourteen years. If any of my friends had told me in 2003 that the Red Sox would collect four World Series championships in the next decade and a half, I would have told them they were crazy. (Disclosure: I strongly believe most of my friends to be crazy anyway.)

Championships do not happen by fluke. The cosmic forces of the universe have to align to create just one instance when a team is permitted to accomplish such a feat. Okay, having great talent helps: but the team with the most talented players does not always win– and often does not. It takes a myriad of little things to make a championship happen. A former boss of mine used to preach to the staff: “Worry about the little things. Big things take care of themselves.” For the Red Sox, those little things began on the very first day of Spring Training. For us fans in the world of education, there are lessons to be learned here.

Communication

From the very first day, manager Alex Cora made his philosophies and strategies clear to his players. Much of it had to do with rest. He was preparing the team not just for the 162-game season but for a deep playoff run as well. He made this clear to the players and communicated days in advance when a player was to have a scheduled day off. When Xander Bogaerts received such a text during the first week of the regular season he replied, “You really weren’t kidding about those days off?”

Communication is vital to the success of any endeavor. When an administrator issues a blanket policy to teachers without explanation or any type of logic, it can cause a backlash among the staff. The same thing goes for a teacher to students: if students do not understand why the classroom is run the way it is, or why they are doing an assignment, they may not fully buy in. Complete buy-in was essential for the Red Sox. Alex Cora’s players would run through walls for their manager by mid-season. Many were at that point much earlier. He gained their trust and he had a plan. Which, it turned out, worked exactly the way he intended.

For the good of students, it takes a team

Right vs Wrong

Cora could seemingly do no wrong during the playoffs. His moves were inscrutable. Brock Holt was the first player ever to hit for the cycle in the playoffs. He was pulled from the lineup the next night. Eduardo Nunez pinch-hitting for Rafael Devers? Three-run home run! But there were times during the season, and even once in the playoffs, when Cora admitted a mistake. “The game got a little bit ahead of me,” was a line he used more than once during the season. He frankly admitted leaving Eduardo Rodriguez in for one batter too many in World Series Game 4, resulting in a three-run homer. Shades of Grady Little.

A manager admitting a mistake was unusual and refreshing. It earned him respect from fans and the media alike. Administrators and teachers are much like managers and coaches: we hate to admit when we’ve made a mistake. But teachers will have great respect for an administrator who concedes that an idea of his wasn’t exactly what the school needed; and students will respect a teacher who admits that “The class got a little bit ahead of me. ” It is usually abundantly obvious to both teachers and students when mistakes are made. Not admitting them demonstrates a lack of humility and can even project a sense of arrogance. No one is buying in when arrogance rears its ugly head.

Trust Instincts

Cora and the crew who crunch numbers for the team did an outstanding job behind the scenes. Cora had a wealth of information about his own players and the opponents for each game. But every once in a while, he played a hunch rather than going strictly by the numbers. There is a quirky human factor in the game of baseball, and sometimes things happen that make absolutely no statistical sense.

In education, the wealth of standardized testing delivers ample data for teachers and administrators. But as professional educators, we know our students. Teachers and even administrators are human, and humans do not always perform according to algorithm. The people in the trenches and on the front lines know their students best, and know when to let instinct trump statistics. The hunch played in a classroom can result in an academic grand slam for a student.

Listen

Early in the season, J.D. Martinez made the unprecedented request to have his batting practice sessions videotaped so he could analyze them. It did not take long for all the players to request the same thing and suddenly the team had a new resource to improve hitting.

Administrators may find that the best ideas come from teachers, and teachers can discover a new idea or method of presenting material by listening to students. If the staff and students have truly bought in to the goals set for the school, everyone has a stake in the game and everyone will find a way to contribute.

Best for the Team

One of the best moments of the World Series came in the middle of the ninth inning. For the entire playoff run, the pitching staff threw their concerns about protecting their arms out the window. Players who threw over 100 pitches one day were volunteering to pitch the next. Immediately after the 18 inning Game 3 marathon, Alex Cora had no less than four pitchers in his office volunteering to start game 4. One of them was Nathan Eovaldi who had just finished throwing 97 pitches in more than six innings of relief.

In the ninth inning of Game 5, Chris Sale, the originally announced starter, began warming up in the bullpen. As the bottom of the ninth began, the bullpen door opened and all the pitchers lined up and applauded Sale as he entered the game. It was a sight even veteran baseball fans had never seen. Most players want the ball, and while they may never admit it, they get a bit jealous when another pitcher gets the call. This group were all about what was best for the team. They checked their egos at the bullpen door.

Our focus as educators always has to be on the good of the students. It can be hard to focus on the task in front of us and not stew about the colleague who has an easier schedule or has students who are more focused and teachable. Borrowing a page from the Patriots playbook, everyone on the 2018 Red Sox did their job and showed no qualms about the assignments handed to other teammates. The result was another duck boat parade.

It takes an entire organization to shepherd a team to success. From the very top down, everyone must find a way to buy in, trust each other, and always focus on the common good. It isn’t easy. It takes a very special type of leadership to foster such trust and commitment—even when it takes until 3:30 a.m. to see the results. The more students find ways to make great plays, the more teachers can celebrate, and administrators can plan for the duck boat parade.

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Astronomy in the Fenway

Reading the Red Sox’ Stars

by Greg Cunningham, Blended Learning Specialist

    “I’m amazed you can see Venus with all the lights around Boston,” my friend Tyler commented as we walked back to the car after a Red Sox win at Fenway Park.

    “That’s not Venus,” I assured him. “That’s Mars.”

    “It can’t be Mars. It’s too bright to be Mars.”

    “Actually, Mars is at its brightest point in 50 years right now. And the only time you can see Venus is right after sunset or right before sunrise. It’s too late for Venus.”

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Is access to literacy a constitutional right?

Of Literacy and Democracy

Is access to literacy a constitutional right?

by Eileen Wedegartner

On July 5, 2018, Thomas Birmingham and William Weld co-authored an opinion piece in the Boston Globe titled, “Mass. has to return to its high standards for education.” The former governor and senate president re-visited the 1993 Education Reform Act on its 25th anniversary, praising its successes and making an argument to raise the ante and not relax the push for high standards that has brought Massachusetts success in education.

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How teachers and coaches help students find their own success

How teachers and coaches help students find their own success

By Greg Cunningham, Blended Learning Specialist

“You have a great ability to quickly develop an analysis of the topic. If we can teach you how to speak, we might have something here.”

These were my first comments to Jackson, a new student, almost three years ago after he gave a practice Impromptu speech. “Impromptu” speaking gives the student a random topic on which to speak for four minutes after ninety seconds of preparation. Thus began a journey which would culminate in a way often found in my daydreams, but never allowed to creep into conscious thoughts for fear of jinxing the whole thing.

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The Magic of Opening Day

Today is Opening Day at Fenway Park

by Greg Cunningham, Blended Learning Specialist

It’s the worst-kept secret in offices, boardrooms and schools anywhere within striking distance of Fenway Park: people play hooky the day of the home opener. And why not?

In early April, young baseball fans find more to learn at the ballpark than in a classroom, and older ones more to do than in an office. In schools students are told to dream big, to imagine the impossible. Walt Whitman in Song of the Open Road sings “These are the days that must happen to you.” Lewis Carroll in Alice in Wonderland asks “’Who in the world am I?’ Ah, that’s the great puzzle.” Exploring Wonderland, Alice realizes it is she who’s changing, not the world around her. She grasps to hold on to the innocence of childhood, a yearning all adults can relate to on opening day. What is the ballpark but a scene of eternal childhood?

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Puerto Rico: Hurricane’s Children Make Landfall

Maria to Massachusetts

by Eileen Wedegartner, Blended Learning Specialist

On Wednesday, September 20, 2017, while life here in Massachusetts was proceeding as any other fall day would, Puerto Rico was devastated by a hurricane named Maria that still leaves 30% of the island without electricity.

Like many other people, I expressed my concern for my fellow Americans by contributing to agencies that could help the recovery. I was proud to see members of my local electric company go down to help, and proud to see how many states, including Massachusetts, responded to the need.

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The School Year Starts: Nothing but Net

by Eileen Wedegartner, Blended Learning SPECIALIST

It’s that time of year again when beach balls are traded for book bags. For many students, fall is a season of excitement: a new term, a clean slate and an opportunity to make new entries in the growing ledger of successes. But for others it’s a time of angst with the shadows of past failures dimming their vision and shrouding their hopes and expectations in nervous gloom. My task is to help these students acknowledge the past but find a way to embrace the new school year as an opportunity to write a new narrative on that fresh slate.

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Seeking the balance; planting the seed for success

There will always be joys and tragedies.

by Cathie Maglio, Blended Learning Specialist

Another tragic and senseless loss. A Haverhill High student who had just graduated was shot and killed last month when he answered a knock on his door. This student participated in the JFYNet program at Haverhill High last year. I did not know him personally, but having spent many hours and days at Haverhill High I know the principal, many teachers, and dozens of students I have worked with over the past two years. I feel the loss of this young life too.