Colonel Francis Wayland Parker: The Chalkboard Champion Who Was a Civil War Hero

colonel_parker[1]One of the most famous pioneers of the progressive movement in education was Francis Wayland Parker. This innovative educator promoted a philosophy that education should not emphasize standardization, rote memorization, and isolated drill. Rather, he advocated a curriculum that addressed the development of the whole student, including the child’s intellectual,  physical, and moral growth. He created a model program that was strong on language development and geared towards teaching students to think and make decisions independently. Today we would recognize his strategies as teaching critical thinking skills and creative problem-solving.
Francis Parker was born on October 9, 1837, in Bedford New Hampshire. At the tender age of 16 he became the village teacher, and when, seven years later, the Civil War broke out, this young educator enlisted as a private in the 4th New Hampshire Volunteer Army. It wasn’t long before he was promoted to lieutenant, then to lieutenant colonel, and then to commander. In May, 1865, Colonel Parker was captured by Confederate forces and held as a prisoner of war in North Carolina. When the war was over, this Civil War veteran resumed his teaching career, first as a teacher, then as a principal, and eventually as the coordinator of a teacher-training institution.
Colonel Parker is an American hero in so many ways, and is undoubtedly a chalkboard champion in the truest sense of the word. You can read more about this remarkable historical figure in my upcoming book, tentatively entitled Chalkboard Heroes.

Cory Schlesinger: The "Sledge" that Became a Chalkboard Champion

$R36E4DGCory Schlesinger teaches computer-aided design, drafting, and vocational education classes at Allen Park High School in Allen Park, Michigan. But every one of the 120 students in his classes is well aware that Cory is a retired NFL fullback who played twelve seasons with the Detroit Lions. His nickname then was the “Sledge,” a player who blocked his opponents and brought them down like a sledge hammer. In fact, Cory was famous for destroying his face masks—sometimes as many as twenty in a season— in the game’s violent contact.

Despite this reputation, this mild-mannered hammer has a great heart, caring for his two young daughters, patiently instructing his students, conducting a school-wide strength and conditioning program for both boys and girls, and donating his time to charitable events organized by the Lions. “Cory’s such a generous, kind and wonderful person,” described Janet Wasko, principal of Allen Park High, in an article by columnist Mike O’Hara published on the Detroit Lions website January 11, 2013. “He doesn’t stand on ceremony, but everyone knows who he is. He cares about the whole student body. It’s not just about football,” she said.

Cory Schlesinger: the sledge hammer that became a true chalkboard champion.

Italian Immigrant Leonard Covello Was a True Chalkboard Champion

41NKQGMT1HL._SY300_[1]Leonard Covello was just nine years old in 1896 when he immigrated to New York City with his family from the little village of Avigliano in southern Italy. But he grew up to become one of America’s greatest educators, developing and instituting progressive community-centered educational programs. These programs are characterized by close links between the school, the home, and the community, and are still a model for today’s educational institutions.
As an immigrant student himself, Leonard understood the unique needs of this particular group of students, and, as an Italian immigrant, he recognized the specific conflicts between the home and the family experienced by most Italian immigrant children. Drawing from his personal experience, Leonard was able to develop innovative school programs that allowed Italian immigrant students to succeed in American public schools in ways they had never realized before. His observations and solutions are still applicable to certain groups of students we find in today’s classrooms.
You can read about the life story of this remarkable educator in Teacher with a Heart: Reflections on Leonard Covello and Community by Vito Perrone. This volume is available from amazon at the following link: Teacher with a Heart. In addition to analysis by Perrone, the book contains lengthy excerpts from Leonard Covello’s autobiography, now out of print. You can also find a chapter about this innovative teacher and principal in my book, Chalkboard Champions: Twelve Remarkable Teachers Who Educated America’s Disenfranchised Students, available from amazon  at the following link: Chalkboard Champions.

How is a Summer Vacation Tour Guide Like a Teacher?

With summer vacation finally here, or almost here, for most educators, many of us begin to think about how to spend our much-longed for and richly-deserved free time. For many of us, summer offers a great opportunity for travel. I’m no different, and I just returned from a wonderful two-week sojourn in Italy. My tour included visits to such iconic cities as Rome, Pisa, Ravenna, Venice, Verona, and Milan. While there, it was my good fortune to meet a number of very knowledgeable local tour guides. It occurred to me that many of the traits that make a top-notch tour guide are the same traits that make an exceptional teacher.

First, and probably most importantly, the tour guide must be likable. It’s imperative to be warm and friendly, because it’s just human nature to respond more positively to someone you like. Both the tour guide and the teacher are more successful if they set a relaxed tone right away and let it be known they are approachable, they are glad to see you, they are excited to share a part of their day with you. I think sometimes we educators forget how important this quality is to success in the classroom. Tourists will generally attempt to find something of value in the tour guide’s speech whether the speaker is likable or not, but students won’t always make the effort to bridge that gap.
Secondly, it’s imperative that the tour guide be well-versed in their subject matter. Like the classroom teacher, the tour guide must do their homework! Know your stuff! Furthermore, it’s important to be able to communicate the information in language that’s easy to comprehend, which means delivering the material clearly and distinctly, at a suitable volume, using appropriate vocabulary levels, and creating a logical sequence and progression of ideas. If your group can’t hear you or can’t get past your heavy Italian accent, or they don’t believe what you’re saying to them, before long they will meander away to take photos of what appeals to their eye, often having no idea what it is they’re taking pictures of.

Thirdly, it’s crucial for both the tour guide and the teacher to be flexible. Things happen! When the Vatican closes the Sistine Chapel without any notice, when laborers stage an unexpected shut-down of the metro services, or when you arrive at the funicular only to find it out of order, the tour guide can find their lesson plan for the day derailed. When that happens, the tour guide must extemporaneously construct a workable Plan B. After all, promises have been made that must be kept. Sometimes, like when you’re surprised by a political protest at the piazza which blocks your path to your tour bus, you just have to wait it out. You may be half an hour behind schedule, but eventually you’ll be back on track. Excellent teachers and first-rate tour guides are especially adept at reorganizing on the spot.
I have to say, on this vacation I had the good fortune to have really terrific tour guides everywhere in Italy that we went. I hope that your summer vacation, wherever you travel, is as fabulous as our sojourn to Italy was. Ciao!

Chalkboard Champion Barbara Morgan: Another Teacher in Space

224af0a0-e295-4c41-88c5-ea08c7c63c04[1]Educator Barbara Morgan is probably best-known for being named as Christa McAuliffe’s alternate for the Teacher in Space Program in 1985. Following Christa’s untimely death in the space shuttle Challenger explosion, Barbara continued her training as an astronaut. She became a mission specialist, becoming a full-time astronaut in 1998, and flew into space in 2007, completing an assignment aboard the International Space Station.

Barbara was born in Fresno, California, in 1951. She graduated from Stanford University in 1973 with her degree in human biology, and earned her teaching credential in 1974 from Notre Dame de Namur University in Belmont, California. She began her career in education as a remedial reading and math teacher at Arlee Elementary School located on the Flathead Indian Reservation in Arlee, Montana. She has also been a teacher of second, third, and fourth graders at McCall-Donnelly Elementary School in McCall, Idaho.

Barbara Morgan is truly a chalkboard champion. You can read a more about the Teacher in Space program when my new book, tentatively entitled Chalkboard Heroes, is published.