On the Shoulders of Ted Sizer

November 1, 2009 at 4:01 pm Leave a comment

posted by Alisa Algava ‘08, leader of a small Hudson Valley progressive school

alisanephewI cannot teach a child well, whom I do not know well. How can I teach that child well, if I do not know her enthusiasms or why she makes mistakes or what seems to be out of sorts for her at a given moment, or what is behind her at home? And no two of our children are alike. ~Ted Sizer

If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants. ~Isaac Newton

We sat in couches and chairs in his living room on the East Side of Providence, 15 college juniors and seniors, sharing our writing with each other.  The week before, we had driven together with Ted Sizer and his wife, Nancy, to visit a high school outside of Boston.  Each of us, including our two professors, had “shadowed” a student for the entire day, trying to experience and understand the school through the eyes of that teenager.  Everyone had photocopied and passed out a one-page “portrait” that we had written, a description of one moment or interaction we had observed during that child’s day.  And now we were all discussing what we had learned.

tedsizerTed Sizer, education reformer, school leader, teacher, visionary, was one of the most kind, humble, and forward-thinking individuals I have ever known.  He was my advisor, teacher, and mentor in college and beyond.  My sister worked with and for him after she graduated from college.  I decided to go to Bank Street after a conversation I had with him.  Ted’s work and ideas are a big part of how I think, what I believe, and who I am.  When I read about the current small schools movement, I think about Ted.  When I hear about instilling habits of mind in kids, I am reminded of Ted.  When I work to hold students accountable for their learning in authentic ways (not through standardized tests), I credit Ted.  When I think about creating communities of adult learners in schools, I am deeply inspired by Ted.

Ted Sizer’s work has affected countless students and educators.  In regional and national school reform efforts, he continually focused on the importance of each community identifying its own needs and defining ways to better serve its children.  In the early eighties, he founded the Coalition of Essential Schools, a network of teachers, leaders, students, and schools.  Guiding each school, whether elementary, middle, or high school, is a set of Common Principles, not dictates or rules, but shared values.  Learning to use one’s mind well, knowing each student, believing that less is more (curricular depth over coverage), creating a tone of unanxious expectation, and modeling democratic practices are some of the principles that are envisioned in CES schools and are exemplified in Ted’s own life. Ted’s integrity, hopefulness, and generosity of spirit guided both his interactions and his vision of equitable schools, schools that inspire every child to learn how to learn.

In the mid-nineties, Ted and Nancy helped found a charter school in Massachusetts where they later served as acting co-principals.  Whenever Ted was asked to give a talk at a conference or university, he brought high school students with him.  When Ted sat and listened to a twelve-year-old, he spoke with the exact same tone, interest, and gentle questioning as he used when meeting with an education world bigwig.  He believed that schools should be places of decency and trust for everyone, and that is how he lived his life.  Last week, Ted Sizer died at the age of 77 after a long fight with cancer.  Ted was a giant for me.  I know I will hold him in my mind and heart as I learn so much every day about collaborating with colleagues, working with families, spending time with children, keeping a school.

If you have thoughts to share about Ted Sizer, please add a comment below or submit an Alumni Blog posting through Your Voice.

For more about Ted’s life and work:
The New York Times

The Coalition of Essential Schools
The Forum for Education and Democracy

Alisa Algava graduated from Bank Street’s Leadership for Educational Change program. For the past 15 years, she has taught and learned in public, private, and charter schools in NY, NJ, and RI. She has written a handful of postings on the Alumni Blog about her experiences leading and learning in a small progressive school. Alisa loves learning. She loves moderating The Alumni Blog. And she really loves her nephew.

Entry filed under: dialogue, leadership, our teachers, philosophy, policy, school reform.

Folding Paper, Constructing Meaning, and Following a Child’s Lead The Occasional Paper Public Forums

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Some of Our Past Bloggers

Alisa Algava ‘08, leader of a small Hudson Valley progressive school
Gloria Arenson ’58, psychotherapist
Bill Ayers ‘84, UIC professor, Chicago
Fred Baumgarten ‘84, writer/musician/naturalist/father
Keith Berman '03, founder/president of Options for College and Bank Street’s LinkedIn moderator
David Bowles ’08 (SFC ’93), museum educator at the Rubin Museum of Art
Elena Canaras ‘07, Special Education teacher, Hawaii
Virginia Casper, Bank Street faculty member
Jim Clay ‘88, director of a Washington DC Quaker preschool
Mary DeCamp Cotterall ‘87, Reading Specialist, Michigan
Judy Coven ’77, retired public school teacher and former Antioch University faculty member
Leslie Day '93, adjunct instructor at Bank Street and author of Field Guide to the Natural World of New York City
Mary Louise (Molly) Day ‘76, Lab School teacher, Chicago
Liezel de La Isla ‘99, Prague International School teacher
Diane Trister Dodge '70, founder and president of Teaching Strategies, Inc.
Meghan Dunn ’08, 3rd grade teacher, Brooklyn
Steven Evangelista ’01, co-director Harlem Link Charter School, NYC
Janine Fetters ‘02, Senior Associate of Parent Engagement at NACCRRA
Dena Florczyk '88, middle school teacher and founder/director of The Nigerian School Project
Hollee Freeman '94, writes about parenting issues for the alumni blog and was featured on BSCAA's April 2012 Career Panel
Ellen Galinsky '70, is President and Co-Founder of Families and Work Institute and author of Mind in the Making: The Seven Essential Life Skills Every Child Needs
Joanne Ruvolo Gannett ‘84, Columbia College art history professor, Chicago
Joan Goldstein ‘67, sociologist and educator
Margot Hammond, Director of the Center for Early Childhood Professionals
Carol Hillman ‘67, early childhood educator, author, and Long Trip co-leader
Pam Jones ‘05, Bank Street advisor and instructor
Lee Klinger Lesser ‘87, trainer for the Parent Services Project
Preminda Langer ‘97, teacher trainer
Claire Milam ’97, life coach, Austin, Texas
Rabin Nickens ‘03, Speaker, Trainer and Educational Consultant
Beth Norford ‘89, consultant and former School for Children teacher
Susy Ogden ‘97
Marion Palm ‘95, Leadership in the Arts alum, writing tutor, poet and singer
Jessica Poser, assistant professor of art education at UIC, Chicago
Jesse Pugh '76, BSCAA President
Meg Rauen ‘06, former Chicago elementary school teacher, NY
Linda Reing, Bank Street Director of Alumni Relations
Rosalind Rothman '62, retired NYC teacher and guidance counselor
Kyla Ryman '92/'97, educational coach and consultant
Ariel Sacks ‘06, middle school teacher, Brooklyn, NY
Linda Appleman (Guidall) Shapiro ‘81, psychotherapist and author
Barbara Silver ‘80, literacy consultant and former NYC first grade teacher
Andrea Penny Spencer, former Associate Dean of Academic Affairs at Bank Street
Debbie Stone ‘84, former teacher/co-director of High Valley School
Rachel Theilheimer ‘74, chair of teacher education at BMCC/CUNY
Theodore Timpson ’05, founder/president of Young Spirit Foundation
Eleanor Traubman '95, is Editor in Chief of Creative Times, a blog which promotes NYC's performing, visual and literary arts
Allison Warren '08, new mom, recent grad, and early childhood teacher
Max Weinberg ‘03, Francis Parker School teacher, Chicago
Ted Wells ‘07, 4th grade teacher at The Park School, Brookline, MA
Tracy Wiessbrod ’03, kindergarten teacher and stay-at-home mom

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