DAILY INSIGHT: Testifying at the Texas Capitol

By Carl Hooker, CIO Advisor

This "off-season" in the Texas legislature brings about a chance for both House and Senate members to gather information and intel for the upcoming session in 2015. On the House side, Public Education committee members are gathering information to review, repeal, and possibly replace the current method of administering teacher evaluations. That was the not-so-hidden agenda presented to me a couple of weeks ago when I was asked to give testimony on innovative teaching and learning from the viewpoint of a 1:1 school.

Now, I've done all manner of public speaking in my life; from being a keynote speaker to dressing up like a zombie, I really enjoy engaging a crowd. I don't get nervous or stage fright like I probably should in those situations. Testifying was definitely an exception to that rule. While I was extremely honored and grateful to have the opportunity to speak, I was nervous beyond belief. Not only did I have a whole set of verbiage to learn ("Mr. Chairman," members of the the committee, etc.), but I was also on a 10-minute time limit. Those of you who know me know that I can speak fast so my goal was to cram about 20 minutes worth of content into those 10 minutes without being completely incomprehensible.

Adding to those nerves was the actual physical set-up of the room. I don't know how many of you have had to give testimony or speak at a Board meeting, but that set-up can be intimidating. I was sitting at a table with 3 other witnesses looking up toward a wall of tables that greatly mimicked "The Wall" from Game of Thrones in my mind. This gave the committee members a distinct strategic advantage in terms of having the higher ground and vantage point to any argument.

I had all sorts of crazy ideas for my testimony as a way to stand-out (Zombie costume or take over their iPads somehow came to mind first). However, in the end, I felt it most important to speak clearly on our 1:1, the changes we've seen in learning and teaching, and the fact that professional learning is so valuable with these changes. Here's a link to the entire testimony. (I'm in the first hour and a half or so.)

I did decide to auto-tweet my testimony since my notes were written on keynote slides. (I had been advised to avoid "reading" my testimony.) While I got no response from the panel at the auto-tweet remark, I did actually get Rep. Donna Howard (D) to tweet at me which I took as an early win.

Need 2 follow--testifying/tweeting at same time RT @mrhooker: Going to attempt to live-tweet my resources during my testimony

today #txlege

— Donna Howard (@DonnaHowardTX) May 14, 2014

As for the testimony itself, I was fast but seemed to get the story of my district across. I was extremely thankful to see a friendly face, our Superintendent Dr. Nola Wellman, walk in minutes before I took the stand. Once I started speaking, a strange calm washed over me. I realized as they moved to the next panelist, that this was a great opportunity to speak my mind about what's been bothering me about the way the state handles public education. If you don't want to watch the entire testimony, here are a few of the points I tried to make:

The Autopsy that is standardized testing

I actually got quoted by the local NPR affiliatefor this one. When asked about whether or not state standardized tests should count towards a teachers evaluation, I cautioned the committee that that course of action is "dangerous." My rationale being: You are judging that teacher using one metric that is essentially an autopsy of what they learned, not only that year from that teacher, but the teacher prior to that and prior to that and so on. This isn't a new idea among many of us, but thought it was a good opportunity to get that out in the open.

"Bottom Kids"

When Rep. Harold Dutton mentioned in his cross testimony of Andrew Kim about whether or not project-based learning worked for "bottom kids," I started stewing. Our culture is so ingrained with the idea of ranking individuals that we now use nomenclature that demeans those struggling students right out of the gate by calling them "bottom kids." I went on a mini-rant about how we as society need to stop the competitive nature of state-testing in our world as it really benefits no one. (Rep. Dutton later apologized for using that phrase.)

Evaluating in Isolation

Near the end of our time on the panel, Chairman Jimmie Don Aycock took the opportunity to ask us our opinion on how teachers should be evaluated. There was unanimous agreement among the panel that the focus should shift from the "dog & pony" show of teacher-led lectures to encompass more of a 360-degree view of the classroom and what the kids are doing. As an appraiser, you should be not only ask kids what they are learning but also ask them to demonstrate their learning. My main beef with traditional teacher evaluations is the idea that we all should teach in silos (an idea that's made even worse when you throw in performance-based pay). There are no metrics out there that truly measure teamwork, but having items on a evaluation that encourage collaboration among peers would be valuable to break from the approach of teaching in isolation.

Parents evaluating teachers?

One of the more interesting questions was the final one: Should parents be able to evaluate teachers? This question prompted my "mic drop" (although it was more of a "mic shove" if you watch the video)

When asked the question, here was my response:

"I have no problem at all with parents evaluating teachers....as long as teachers can evaluate parents." (mic shove)

Opportunity strikes

This whole experience was very eye-opening for me and it has raised some extra questions in my mind that I'd love for some of my fellow bloggers or followers to reply to. Please comment below to one or all of these questions:

1. If you had 10 minutes to present in front of Congress, what would you talk about and why?

2. If you could remake teacher evaluations, what would you do differently?

3. Have you ever had a time in your life when you were given the opportunity to say something, but didn't?

I'm curious to hear your responses and invite you to help add to my testimony.

I promise not only that I'll listen, but that I won't be staring down at you from a tall desk.

Carl Hooker is director of innovation & digital learning at Eanes ISD in Texas and blogs at Hooked on Innovation, where this is cross posted.