Teacher Productivity Vs. Teacher Effectiveness

Teacher Productivity

Many teachers on their first day of work feel naked–shoved into a room with a few behavior theories, some lesson plans, a few dos and don’ts, and not much else.

Like architects and television producers, one must be both an artist and field marshal.

One of the biggest challenges I see in the design and administration of our education system is confusion between what is “teacher productivity” as distinct and separate from the art of teaching or what I’m defining as “teacher effectiveness.”

“Productivity” is a set of tools. However in teaching, “effectiveness” is an art.

For the most part, preparation of new teachers seem to be more on the trappings of teaching, not on the act itself. Professional development about the art of teaching is done in a non-explicit way. Metacognative it ain’t. Learning the art of teaching takes either a natural God-given unconscious talent, real ingenuity, or a work environment that allows for constant co-teaching, coaching and mentoring.

“Productivity” is a term from the industrial age–to increase the rate of output. However, as in that old adage I like to tell efficiency experts, “If it takes a woman 9 months to have a baby, then two women should be able to do it in half the time,” this definition of “productivity” doesn’t fit all situations.

Effective teaching is mixed up with “teacher productivity,” but should be distinctly defined. “Teacher effectiveness,” as I define it, is the ability to cause someone else to learn. It has everything to do with the ability to reach students at that very human level–to pass information from one to another and have it absorbed in a useful way. As with any art form, it also has a set of skills.

In the education system of today, many problems are caused by one of these skill sets being applied where the other should be employed. For example when adult professional development is run like a 3rd grade classroom. Not really the most productive situation. Or when efficiency is strictly applied to children’s learning timeline. You know this isn’t very realistic if you’ve ever been a good teacher.

Effective teaching is clearly important and why we are all here. But what of productivity? If you can teach one student a lesson in 20 minutes, then it should take 40 to teach two? Productivity steps in and one can insert tools into the process allowing 23 students to be taught the lesson in the same 20 minutes.

But for the act of teaching there’s a limit to teacher productivity. There is a point at which teacher productivity (when being applied directly to the act of teaching rather than everything surrounding the act of teaching) reaches diminishing returns. One could imagine a day in which public school teachers might be given bonus pay based on how large a class they could “teach.” I’m sure class sizes and bonuses would grow, and perhaps they could successfully teach to a test, but learning would be negatively impacted.

More and more the “content” of what we need to teach is becoming less measurable in a bubble sheet. The ability to perform on standardized tests, regurgitating information, does not equal success in creating a workforce to sustain the economy.

We are no longer teaching a “working class” as our culture thinks of it in a hold-over definition from a pre-information age. Today’s education system was forged out of the industries of the 19th century–creating little factory workers who could show up on time, do basic calculations, behave and communicate sufficiently to hold a job. In today and tomorrow’s workplace there are few jobs like that. Today, everyone is a web-producing/computer science/technician. From the Safeway checkout clerk holding a laser scanner to a truck driver with a satellite computer on the dashboard, jobs require an interconnected set of skills. Specialization is for insects. Today’s workers (even at the bottom most rungs of the economy) need all the skills of a 20th century manager, plus some: collaboration, critical thinking and a basic knowledge of technology being just a few.

Still, everything in the field of “productivity” does have a place in education. There is no point at which that old definition of productivity gets maxed out when it is applied to everything in education which is not the act of teaching.

So going forward I’m going to focus on these two concepts: “teacher productivity” and “teacher effectiveness.” I’m going to list the tools, means and ways the productivity experts have come up with over the years and how they can be applied to the administrative, troublesome and ancillary aspects of our jobs as teachers. I’m going to list and think about all the ways teachers can become more effective at their craft–the art of teaching. And I’m going to try not to mix up the two.

How we navigate the next few years in education will define the economic growth over the next century. A lot hangs on how we define “teacher productivity” and “teacher effectiveness” because those definitions will drive the redesign.

By the way, I’m importing the content from my previous Clairvoy blog and rewriting it so that it is aligned to this new goal. The Archives will fill back out over the next few weeks.


Design A Computer Lab

I’ve been contemplating how to set up our computer lab, and the conventional wisdom seems to have something missing.

Classroom Computer Lab Layout Four Leaf Clover Computer Lab Layout
Inverted U-Shaped Computer Lab Layout U-Shaped Computer Lab Layout

The Four Best Computer Laboratory Layouts for Schools have a lot of similarities to  subdivisions in southern Florida.

Google Maps Google Maps

Subdivisions are built to squeeze the most humans into one place while keeping them from interacting, “We love our neighborhood, but no, we haven’t really gotten to know the neighbors yet.”

It seems both traditional computer lab setups and subdivisions are designed for individual, parallel play, in a confined space.

But all the research points in the other direction. In computer labs there should be talking. Groups of children talking, sharing, collaborating. Student “experts” (in things like inserting pictures or downloading audio files) should feel free to get up and walk all the way across the room, if somebody over there needs help they can provide. It should be natural ongoing collaboration. You can read about how children cooperatively learn on the computer by reading the blog post titled Interactive White Boards and Joint Computing here and watch the video by Sugata Mitra outlining the research on which Nicholas Negroponte’s one-laptop-per-child project is based.  Sugata Mitra also has a blog.

AssortedStuff blogged we should organize schools to make innovative learners. The 4-minute video he includes from Stephen Johnson is worth watching:

Unfortunately for me, I’m not dealing with a “should.”

I’m dealing with a “do it” and “do it now.”

I’ve got a room, a bunch of computers, just under a thousand students, and need to sort it out in a real way, soon.

As a public school teacher, I’ve got unlimited resources, as long as I don’t spend any money. I’ve got a trailer, 24 rather good desktops without flatscreen monitors. And a decision to try and carve out the next model for computer labs.

We’ve done more with less…

It’s my firm conviction computers are not for teaching technology, but for teaching art. (Read more about art and computers in the blog post “We are Vermeer” here…)
Art casts a wide net including: writing, drawing, photography, design, music, layout, and the organizational and collaborative skills to get those tasks done.
Therefore, the space in which computers are used by children should seem more like a artist’s studio than a factory bench. It should be a creative atmosphere, not an assembly line.

Big Projects & Radical Collaboration:

We have a number of large projects going or in the works. Our 5th Grade does a large-scale project in Social Studies using technology, which Jenny, Jennifer Metcalfe and I presented, in part, at ISTE for the last couple of years.

We’re also gearing up to try and launch a school-wide online newspaper.  It’s less a rehash of paper school newspapers with lunch menus and the weather, and more of an online environment in which we can showcase all the online work that’s going on throughout the school.   I’ve outlined ideas on how that might work in the blog post titled “Online Workflow for School Newspaper Defined” here.

So the stage is set to create and use a room in which computers are housed for innovation and collaboration.  Bringing about all the “we shoulds” about such things being written in educational publications. (That’s not a slam on AssortedStuff.  He’s helping.)

Here’s a stab at “doing it.”  Please feel free to toss peanuts from the gallery:

User requirements:

1) The students need to be organized in small groups of 4 to 6, each with a computer, but in a concave circle so they can easily see one another’s computer and share ideas, as well as how-to knowledge quickly and easily.

2) Monitors must all face one way, so a single teachers can see everything that’s going on at one time.

3) I have only desktops to work with, no budget and I’m setting up in a trailer (I know, only the best for the next generation.).

3) There should be a relaxed “living room” feel to the place and the artwork should be anything BUT schematics of computers and warnings about Internet safety.  The artwork should be artwork.  Inspiring.

Taking inspiration from:
art studio
The Gothic Study - The Private Library of William Randolph Hearst
OLPC Papua New Guinea: Drek #20Hole In The Wall
The stupid selfportrait

We are Vermeer

The book “I Was Vermeer” by Frank Wynne got me thinking…

It’s about Han van Meegeren, a great 20th century art forger. The story exposes “fine art” as arbitrarily defined by critics. Talent is prerequisite, not predeterminer.  The book went a long way toward defining art.

The prosecutor at van Meegeren’s trial said, “The primary function of art is to rouse emotion in the viewer.” He was speaking of fine art.

Art in general terms, as opposed to “fine art,” is rather broad. Writing, design, drawing, photography, music, mashups, sampling, typography, page setup, display and organization, are ALL aspects of artistic expression. Expression being anything which can be interpreted. Even street signs are designed.

When one looks, everything interpreted has artistic elements.

In some ways, everything is art.

In a world in which most of the media’s audience have become producers, knowing that fact is important.


At my school our primary use of technology publishing is in 5th grade. “Think about writing to a specific audience.” “Can we choose pictures to better tell your story?” “Are there better videos to embed, which help the reader understand?” “Could we choose colors which are less distracting?” “Look for music which fits your message and audience.” Teachers are directing students–during social studies.

PicassoSelfPortrait1907Pablo Picasso said, “Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up.” In the 20th century, the real question was how to remain an artist while going through modern education. “Art” has been considered an elective. “You’ll never make money as an artist, dear. Better concentrate on math.”

Looking at Powerpoint, Online Video, Blogging, Flickr, Blip and Twitter one quickly comes to the realization that everything is art. The challenge now is, how to train our children to be better and better artists.

Teachers are falling in line, and one reason it’s working: Nobody has said out loud, “But all this stuff is art!”

God forbid, because in education, art is both worthless and calling it art relegates it all the weekly art “special.”

Whatever we don’t call it, the issues and skills sets used to communicate online, are all from ART.


“Those who do not want to imitate anything, produce nothing.” — Salvador Dali

PaulGauguin“Art is either plagiarism or revolution.” — Paul Gauguin. It also could be both, or neither. Well timed plagiarism (using Gauguin’s meaning as a copy of style) can be a cultural phenomenon–a social meme, a viral sensation. Artistic revolution never seen, isn’t.

Many bloggers (see Tumblr) are simply self-styled “curators.” They openly post things they find on the web into their blogs.  It’s called “CopyPasta” in the vernacular of the Internet. Those bloggers who curate sites of other peoples’ photos, statements and posts are creating a thing in itself.  A thing with a unique point of view.

“Forgeries are an ever-changing portrait of human desires. Each society, each generation, fakes the things it covets most,” wrote Mark Jones in Fake? The art of Deception. And Marshall McLuhan said, “Art is anything you can get away with.”  In today’s digital economy, copying the art one covets most, is very easy to get away with.

Taking and using people’s copyright is a problem indeed, but is it art? I would say, definitely.

The forger van Meegeren was clearly an equal of Vermeer in the eyes of the critics. On trial for selling an authentic Vermeer to the Nazis, van Meegeren had to expose himself.  When asked to prove the claim he had forged so many accepted Vermeers by copying a Vermeer in front of witnesses, van Meegeren said anyone could copy an existing painting of a great master. Instead, he forged an original Vermeer. When finished, the critics agreed.

Are forgeries art? I would say yes.


“Painting: the art of protecting flat surfaces from the weather and exposing them to the critic.” — Ambrose Bierce, The Devil’s Dictionary. Writing and other multimedia production could work within the same definition.

Is the beauty of a spiderweb in the morning dew, art? Probably not.When two people happen upon the spiderweb and both start arguing over why it is beautiful. Is that art? How about if one of them takes a snapshot (not some artsy photograph) of the spiderweb, frames it on their wall, and then two others start arguing over why the picture is beautiful? Well then sure, that’s art. But is it the photo or the spiderweb that’s art? Clearly the spider did most of the work. If it is a straight snapshot, it would really be a question.  One could say the photographer “recognized” it as art, but what is the art recognized? At what point along this continuum does the “art” happen? Perhaps when people start to discuss the interpretation.

In many ways, when the interpretation of something can be criticized, it becomes art.

jonathan_swift“When a true genius appears in the world, you may know him by this sign, that the dunces are all in confederacy against him.” — Jonathan Swift

With many blogs and other Internet publishing being so personal, it sometimes seems the critics are all in confederacy against one, but it is the nature of art.

What we, the new producer class, create–are things to be interpreted.  Almost everything on the Internet is open to criticism, and getting used to that criticism is one of the real-world lessons for writer/producers on the web.

On the Internet, “comments” is a ubiquitous feature from photos to blogs, from wiki pages to mapping tours. Comments are something we need to teach children to moderate–which comments does one approve, respond or delete? Dealing with critics is part of digital literacy. It certainly is a reality our children will encounter, as all of them will have a significant digital footprint entering middle school.


“To be one’s self, and unafraid whether right or wrong, is more admirable than the easy cowardice of surrender to conformity.” — Irving Wallace, Saturday Evening Post.

“It is not the critic who counts, not the man who points out how the strong man stumbled, or where the doer of deeds could have done better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly, who errs and comes short again and again, who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, and spends himself in a worthy cause, who at best knows achievement and who at the worst if he fails at least fails while daring greatly so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat.”– Theodore Roosevelt

It takes courage to produce, even more when there are critics ready to criticize.


Anyone who communicates in this modern world is an artist. You are either a good artist or a bad artist, but an artist you are–like it or not. We are all artists, and our students who are publishing are artists. To acknowledge this in our pursuit of education and technology publishing, will help everyone.

Title One Heaven: When Technology and Teaching Take Off

Here’s yet another brag on our school.   Our school is what Title One should be modeled upon. We are like a Charter Title One school in many ways, because we take the money the government provides for low income learners and run with it past what many are doing in schools in more well-to-do areas.

A Title One Heaven.

DateLine:  At a small school in Virginia …

A 1st grade teacher here at Title One Heaven shows her class Mo Willems books.  She participates in an internet interview of Mo Willems her class watches.

The students decide (with our Librarian) to write a pigeon book in the style of Mo Willems.

After writing it with the Librarian, the 1st Grade teacher creates a voicethread (inserted below) of the book written, illustrated and voiced by the students.

But then she goes one step further, and goes social. She sends the voicethread to Mo Willems website and it is posted.

That’s what I’m talking about!!! Reading, Writing, Art and Technology fueled by social media.

Title One Heaven.