Tag Archives: Frank Corbo

Frank Corbo And Lis Comm’s Very Important Lessons

This month, Frank Corbo retires after nearly 5 decades in education. He spent 30 years as a classroom math teacher, 13 as a department chair who taught 2 classes, and the past 6 years as Westport’s full-time grades 6-12 math chair. He has helped put Westport on the world math education map.

At 70 years old, he looks back at his career — and discusses what he’s learned.

First, you have to love the subject you teach. I love math. It is much more than computation and manipulation of symbols. Math is about thinking. Math is a language that gives us an alternate window to view and understand the world. Math can can surprise and delight. It can also be a thing of beauty and elegance, in its ability to generalize and compress big ideas into symbols. One simple differential equation can express an infinity of meaning.

Frank Corbo

Frank Corbo

Second, you have to love your students. You must find something you can genuinely like in each one, no matter how challenging he or she may be. Unless you can connect with your students as human beings, as individuals, and find their strengths, you can never reach them.

After talking about trust — between students and teachers, teachers and department chairs, department chairs and building administrators — Corbo says:

The hierarchical workforce paradigm is different from the commonly accepted one. Teachers are not the workers. Instead they are leaders of the workforce, which is the students. The product is learning. Productivity is measured not by how many hours or classes a teacher teaches. but how much work the kids do. And that depends on how good a leader the teacher is — how well the teacher plans tasks that will lead students to a deeper understanding, and motivate them to complete those tasks.

My job as an administrator is to bring teachers new ideas, ask provocative questions, and push them to think about what they are doing and why. If there is trust, teachers will be open to new ideas, to trying new approaches. I have been fortunate to lead an exceptional group of teachers, arguably the best group of math teachers in the country. They are intelligent, professional, adaptable, good-humored, and passionate in their commitment to kids and to high-quality math education.

Westport is an exceptional district. My years here have been fulfilling, challenging and enjoyable. Thank you all.

Frank Corbo is not the only administrator retiring — not even in his family. His wife, Lis Comm, steps down too, after 44 years in Westport. Her current position is townwide director of secondary education. She says:

Lis Comm

Lis Comm

First, I love my subject area: English. Teaching students to read the word is really teaching them to read the world and to read themselves. And teaching students to write is really teaching them to think about their place in the world, to solve real world problems, and to find out who they are.

Reading and talking about literature, poetry, and non-fiction, in a classroom together, is an extraordinary opportunity to get to know the best that has been thought and written through the ages, to get to know yourself and others. I am proud to say I was a full-time English teacher for 25 years.

Second, I would go into education again because of teachers in Westport. I saw amazing teaching in every classroom. Really good teachers are my heroes. I think William Ayers got it right when he described the work of a teacher as “exhausting, complex, idiosyncratic, never twice the same—… at its heart, an intellectual and ethical enterprise…. Teaching begins in challenge and is never far from mystery.” Who would not fall in love with a job description like that?

Working with young people has kept me young in spirit and forced me to at least try to keep up with a fast changing world. The great educator Elliott Eisner said that students ensure our immortality. Our lives as teachers live on in theirs.  That is quite a remarkable thought!

Westport Teachers Teach The World

For 3 days in April Columbia University’s Teachers College will be the site of an international event. Educators from around the world will participate in the Global Learning Alliance‘s 2014 conference, on 21st-century education.

Hundreds of presentation proposals were submitted, from China, Singapore, Japan, Thailand, Korea, Australia, Finland, England, Canada and the US. Only 40 were selected.

But of those 40, an astonishing 5 came from Westport teachers. They represent all levels: high school, middle school and elementary.

Bedford Middle School 6th grade instructor Jeremy Royster will present “Truth- Sleuthing to Develop Global Solutions.”

Jeremy Royster

Jeremy Royster

That’s “a fun way to describe the search for evidence in conflicting reliable sources to support a reasoned conclusion about a given topic,” he says. Throughout the year, his students use their “truth-sleuthing” skills to challenge Dr. Jared Diamond’s claims that geography is the key to unearthing the causes of wealth and poverty in the world.

Participants in Royster’s workshop will study a region of their choice, using resources linked to his website to support or refute Diamond’s argument. They’ll also use his own students’ proposals intended to help some of the poorest countries in the world.

The goal of truth-sleuthing, Royster says, is to “encourage people to think more critically, deeply and broadly so that they will be better poised to improve our global society.” To that end, his students are well versed in critical thinking, global awareness, online research, presentation skills, creative thinking, innovation, entrepreneurship, and problem-solving.

He looks forward to sharing what he’s doing with educators from around the planet. He hopes too that they will offer him “a different cultural perspective on teaching in general.”

Other presenters from Westport include:

  • Staples math teacher Trudy Denton and grade 6-12 math coordinator Frank Corbo: “Transforming a High-Performing Mathematics Program to Meet the Needs of the 21st Century.”
  • Kings Highway Elementary School assistant principal Anne Nesbitt: “Elementary Math Education for the 21st Century: Transitioning From the Concrete to the Abstract.”
  • Bedford Middle School teachers Courtney Ruggiero and Alison Laturnau: “Bringing the  Common Core into the 21st Century.”
  • Elementary school teacher Hannah Schneewind: “Persuasive Writing and 21st Century Skills in a First Grade Classroom.”

Top educators from around the globe will be at Columbia in April. They come from places like Singapore and Finland — countries regularly ranked atop the lists of “best educated.”

And they’ll all learn from 7 of Westport’s finest.