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Old Teachers never die…

I’m always a little jarred when I see an obituary for someone I’ve known, but several  weeks ago when I saw Jule Sugarman’s it was different.  For the 3rd time in my life I found myself reflecting on my experiences with someone who provided an experiential classroom from which I took away significant learnings. He taught me how to care.

The complementary understandings these three helped develop began to drive my journey through theory and practice whose products are integral to the nature and content of this Sabusense website.

Two of these teachers consciously played the teacher’s role – W. Edwards Deming and Seymour Sarason. But Jule Sugarman was a do-er and creator — maybe best known as the original architect of Lyndon Johnson’s Headstart.

Deming provided a way for me to see the “box” people struggle to “think outside of;” Sarason, a way to understand and “connect the dots” within it; and Sugarman with a way to get my hands around, and make manageable, what the others enabled me to get my mind around.

In “The Impact of Deming’s Legacy” I acknowledged taking away a different mental “map” for understanding the reality of people in organizations.

In  “Beam me up, Seymour” I reflected on the power of the role Sarason’s “Martian” had played in my career as a generator of different questions. (The Martian was someone 20,000 ft. above the earth who could only “see” what happens in a school, and then tried to understand their purposes based upon what he called their “regularities.”  These are the patterns of action accepted without much thought as the way its “supposed to be,” but which mindlessly become the binding and connecting structures limiting everyone’s capacities to make a difference. I subsequently adapted that role for my 20,000 ft. Memo writing relationship with the school district whose story provides the experiential platform for this site’s thinking. (“Catching them doing something right”)

As I reflected now on my relationship with Jule Sugarman, I saw a synergy among the three I hadn’t recognized before.

•            Deming had influenced the way-of-thinking that became my way of understanding,

•            Sarason had influenced my “role” in applying that way-of-thinking to the work of a major school district I had been observing “from 20,000 ft.” for the past 12 years. And

•            Sugarman had helped me drill down to a focal point exposing the fundamental purpose and nature of the work.

As a tribute, I’d like to tell that story here.

In the late 60’s, I headed up a Ford Foundation project aimed at furthering technology use in schools.  TV was to be the silver bullet making the best teachers accessible to every child.  At the same time, President Johnson’s War on Poverty aimed a new initiative at what he called “The People Left Behind” — including migrant workers.  I don’t recall all the details now, but somehow Jules Sugarman, who had created Headstart for OEO, and I developed and held a May, 1968 conference in St Louis called Communication Technology and the People Left Behind. My contribution included a presentation —  “Problem Analysis and Planning in an Electronic Context.” (ugh!)

Two takeaways from that meeting seeded the way-of-thinking I’ve carried with me ever since and have shaped the way-of-“seeing” I used to capture the experiences of the MCPS for the past 12 years.

My session included interaction with my audience of largely-minority parents. I put a list of educational resources (including the best teachers in each subject area) on the screen and asked them to prioritize them. My hope: they would end up with identifying the need to bring those great teachers to their children, and then logically TV would be the practical “answer.”

But that’s not where they ended up.  In answer to my direction to identify “the last thing they would want to give up,” their unanimous answer was “someone who cares about my child.”

(Years later that would come to mind as I read Gen. Colin Powell’s five things every child should be guaranteed and the priority order in which they occurred.  First was “An on-going relationship with a caring adult…”)

•            This ah-ha (for me) was followed later by the recognition that “caring” is an information-based process. It’s hard to care about, or care for, someone you know little about. You need “information” – both objective… and the subjective kind that usually develops from regular interactions with that person.

•            This started me asking a different question. How could we use these new information technologies to inform the interactions of the teaching process so that people who care about a child can know that child? Not just to know them in terms of the differences test results portray, but to know them in terms of the individual range of assets they bring to the teaching/learning interactions?

That question started me down a path of technology use (while I was at ASCD and AASA) different from most of my peers efforts aimed at putting technology in the hands of students. My search: ways for adults to use it to inform the teaching process and to support the interactive relationships that process needed. (Several papers and articles from that time are under this site’s Resource section.)

It also enabled me to connect-the-dots when I later encountered the information-driven principles of cognitive biology that are embedded in this site’s way-of-thinking and seeing.

So, thanks, Jule… sorry it took so long to remember how much I owe you.

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