Open Letter to M Night Shyamalan

I Got Schooled

I Got Schooled

Dear Mr. Shyamalan,

My hope is that this will reach you if you are as obsessive and sentimental as you confess in your book.  I’m sure completion of any project of this magnitude is a cathartic process where you hope to move others to action.  I’d like to congratulate you on the thorough and professional research for I Got Schooled.  As a 20+ year veteran of teaching I am impressed with your depth of understanding of many educational issues.  I’m also impressed at the many things I learned through reading your book besides your goal of the five tenets.  I particularly like the overview of cognitive biases and the simplification of effect size (and Appendix B).  Adherence to the health tenets could go a long way to improving education too.  [For readers, Shyamalan learned from a doctor that there are five basic health tenets which, when adhered to in combination, sustain good health.  You can not ignore one, it’s an all or nothing.  The tenets are: eat right, exercise, don’t smoke, get eight hours sleep, and maintain reasonable stress levels.  Shyamalan posited that the keys in education may well be the same.  He offers five tenets which need to be offered in combination in order to close achievement gaps.]

I am writing you in an open letter so I won’t spoil the book completely for anyone who reads my blog.  I will say this book is definitely worthy of adding to anyone’s reading list.  We all know the reasons that schools and children struggle is a multifaceted problem so your systematic approach provides a template to succeed.  Although it is easy to look for scapegoats, no child wakes up saying, “I want to fail” and no teacher says, “I want to be a poor teacher”.  Your “no enemies” approach provides a no nonsense look at best practices. And Mr. Shyamalan, it may be impertinent for a complete stranger to assess your personality but I will venture to say you are doing your best to be a responsible citizen of the world (and thank you Bhavna for reinforcement).

I’d like to share some concerns for those who may read this book and hope to make  changes in their school.  Before I do, I sensed your concern that the book may insult or enrage people in education.  I don’t think any teacher worth their salt will be surprised or even bothered by any of the tenets.  Your revelation is in the combination of all five tenets.  As they say, the devil is in the details.

  • Schools are short on time and human capital so that reform is often in the form of pieces of good information rather than a systemic approach.  I’m afraid administrators will want to make changes but still not have the time, training, or resources to make comprehensive change.  That would be missing the point.
  • I’m sure it wasn’t the intent but I can envision misguided leaders expecting teachers to work and pace in classrooms like automatons.  Most people who want to teach and inspire children are lead by their heart.  It is a rare person who will also embrace data analysis over creative inspiration.  Part of this, of course, is a lack of educational measurement training or training on specific management strategies.  I am still an advocate of innovative freedom and a certain amount of autonomy in the classroom.  I do have to remind myself your book addresses how to solve the achievement gap rather than a blueprint for every teacher.
  • With tenet three, teachers and administrators need to be reminded that data and assessments don’t need to exclusively be multiple choice tests.  I fear with too many standardized assessments we are teaching children strategies to determine an answer when presented with a few choices rather than experiential learning with transference of knowledge outside a discipline.
  • Tenet four – I am all for more focus and more time for students.  I was fortunate to be a part of a year round program in the past and can report that children and teachers were happier and well adjusted in a nine week on three week off program.  In the three weeks off, there was a week of remediation and a week of enrichment activities.  Some children only took one week off every eleven weeks of school.  However, when it comes to extending school days, often the teachers are expected to do this duty with no additional pay.  There needs to be after school assistants.  Most people don’t realize the average teacher spends anywhere from 20 to 40 additional hours a week at home grading, planning, etc.  It truly takes a superhero to add to the contact hours and keep the pace of their usual “homework”.  As you say, it is not sustainable.

I don’t mean my comments to be a criticism at all, just thoughts and concerns after many years of seeing strategies come and go.  Overall I think you are spot on.  It is interesting that it has taken a story maker and film director to illuminate that education is the sum of its parts just like a movie and story line has to be more than a great highlight reel.  You accurately sum up teaching with, “I can report that the thing that makes teachers happiest is their students’ success in learning what they are being taught” (Shyamalan, p. 222)  I hope your book helps improve the conversation and ultimately remove the obstacles to the aforementioned happiness.  Thank you for your commitment and for writing I Got Schooled.

With warm regard,



Consider How We Teach

This time of year used to be an exciting time not just because the school year is coming to an end.  For many years, the last few weeks of school has been the window of opportunity in the school year when teachers can enjoy hands-on activities with creative thinking strategies and problem solving because the drill and kill time for testing is complete.  It is not to say that is the right way for things to happen but it does happen.  The students and teachers finally experience the pure joy of teaching and learning with little time left in the year.

Unfortunately, I am seeing even less of the joyous moments.  I’m afraid two things are happening.  One, the students find creative thinking and problem solving so foreign after so much two dimensional learning.  Or two, the teachers and students are so burned out they have forgotten that there should be joy in inquiry.

Watch Randy Wilhelm’s “Ignite the Hope of Learning” TEDx clip. (also embedded below)  I agree with his assessment that in many cases schools have stopped making learning real for children.  To “know” S’mores, you have to MAKE and EAT them.  Even in places where there has been innovative change, there is a real struggle not to teach to the test in flat, one or two dimensional terms.  I ache to see that change.