Capitalists and school administrators

Providers of educational training and materials sell products. I understand that. They are businesses.

What I don’t understand is how educational administrators know what to purchase without a definition of what it means to be educated? For example, here is an Education Week advertisement for “The Evolving Role of the School Leader” (a free webinar on March 19, 2015):

The role of the school leader has never been more important or more challenging . . . Successful principals embrace and fully understand the vision and direction of the system, empower staff to collaboratively raise the achievement of all students, and build the instructional focus at every level of the organization.

How do educators know if this webinar is worth their time, if they don’t have a clear definition of what it means to be educated? Without a clear definition, how does anyone know if the webinar is worth their time?

According to the first sentence, school leadership is important and difficult. According to the last sentence, it involves: (1) understanding the system’s mission, (2) empowering staff to raise student achievement (which really means test scores), (3) building an instructional focus into every level of the organization (which really means emphasizing higher test scores).

But there is more to be learned, so administrators should attend the webinar to discover the rest. Providers of training and  materials make money by convincing administrators that their work is difficult AND complicated. In this case, practicing administrators should hear the lessons learned by others who accomplished difficult things in their schools.

So, the advertisement goes on:

Join Phee Simpson, Mike Oliver, and Sue Gendron (moderator) in a discussion of successful school leadership and Q&A centered on the challenges they have faced and the solutions they have implemented in their schools.

I did not attend, but I know what they said. They described difficult situations created by ignorance, intellectual incompetence, weakness, fear of truth, pride and selfishness. Then they described how understanding, imagination, strength, courage, humility and generosity made things better.

In spite of what providers of goods and services tell administrators, leading schools is difficult, but it is not complicated or expensive.

Self-righteousness is not a strategy

More than ten years ago I wrote a newspaper column criticizing writers who attribute motives to others. I am going to violate my own critique here.

When educators say, “We should do what is best for the child,” these words contribute nothing to the decision making process, which leaves the significance of the utterance in the speaker’s motive. Evidently, the speaker wants others to re-set their consciences to what is best for the student, putting aside whatever selfish motives they probably have.

But the reason educators struggle to do what is best for the student is not that they don’t want “what is best for the student.” It is that they don’t know what is best. There is never a sign saying:

→ This path takes you → to what is best for the student →

In fact, the opposite is true. “Best for the student” raises numerous issues:

  • “Best” in the long-term or short-term?
  • What if “best” for one student sets an unacceptable precedent?
  • What if “best” for one student disadvantages others?

The questions go on and on.

Saying you want what is best for the student might make you feel good, but it contributes nothing to the decision making process. Self-righteousness is not a strategy. I love irony.

Teenage generosity

Guest blog by Ryan Chandler

Social Studies Teacher

Jesse C. Carson HS, Rowan-Salisbury Schools, NC

Many adults believe high school students are self-absorbed and care only about themselves. I had a recent experience that shows the other side of adolescence. My story is about student generosity.

At the beginning of November, the mother of one of my students was hospitalized. Not long afterward, she passed away.

Once students heard about the mother’s passing, they told me they wanted to do something for their classmate. I thought it was a wonderful idea.

What happened the next few days blew my mind. I could not have been more proud of this class. For several days they took up collections. They even asked students from their other classes to contribute.

I was amazed at how generous the students were, and I know their classmate appreciated it. This also brought my class closer together as they shared their concern for the well-being of another student. It showed me that high schoolers care about others, too.

Computers go better with virtues

Guest blog by James Bell

Business & Technology Teacher

Mitchell High School, Mitchell County, NC

Teachers try to present information and knowledge in a meaningful way. Incorporating the six virtues adds “flesh and blood” to what is otherwise “bare-bones” learning that lacks the desired impact.

As a rookie teacher I taught business and computers to middle-schoolers. This was challenging because we had few computers and not enough space for the ones we had. Later in the year I was also assigned to teach a beginning computers class at both K-8 schools (now closed).

One of these schools was trying to develop better relationships with parents, so teachers brainstormed ideas and came up with having a “Computer Night.” We invited parents, grandparents and other community members to attend a program in which students would demonstrate their computer skills and teach basic technology lessons to adults in our rural community.

Our goals were to (1) develop deeper understanding of computer technology, (2) increase parent and community involvement, and (3) inform community members about their schools.  Preparation for Computer Night focused on preparing students to be courteous, humble and confident in their demonstrations.

When Computer Night arrived, the media center was packed. Students welcomed the adults and beamed as they demonstrated their skills.  Parents and community members were pleased with our efforts and eagerly went to the computers for hands-on learning.

We had only one problem — too many people showed up. We needed more pizza. The principal and several others headed to local pizza places and even went to the next town to get more pizza.

Computer Night was a memorable, meaningful night of learning. It was a great success because of faculty and student understanding, imagination, humility and generosity.

The sky is not falling

Guest blog by Loryn Morrison

Asst. Principal, Welcome Elementary School

Davidson County Schools, NC

I am a worrier. My husband often jokes with me, saying I am constantly waiting for the sky to fall. I try to prevent myself from worry by avoiding difficult situations. To clarify, though, I do not worry about everything. I worry about money.

My husband lost his job three years ago when we were eight months pregnant with our son. To say that I thought the sky had fallen would be an understatement. We have been recovering from financial hardship ever since, but money worries still haunt me.

While it is embarrassing to put these concerns into words, I am trying to be courageous so others can identify.  For the past year I have been using our hardship as an excuse to avoid giving to others who are less fortunate.

For the past five years, I was in a district leadership position for a rural school system. I worked in many schools, but was never part of their cultures. For example, students on free and reduced lunch were a number associated with Title I funding, rather than people struggling for proper nutrition. I believe I lost touch with the reality faced by many of our students.

This year, I am an assistant principal in a school with many free and reduced lunch participants. This school is teaching me about generosity and humility every day.

I believe in teaching the six virtues, but I have to model them before I can teach them. Specifically, I need to model generosity.

One of my responsibilities is to greet bus riders each morning. This has taught me about our students. Some don’t have gloves or cold weather coats. Some wear the same outfit every other day. When I pass the local food shelter on my way home, I sometimes see our parents in line.

I also met Kim (a pseudonym), when her mother enrolled her in kindergarten. Kim and her mother had just gotten an apartment after living in a homeless shelter. Each morning Kim came to school excited to learn.

In October, Kim’s mom was far along in a pregnancy, and Kim started being late for school. Each morning she would come in and just cry. Many thought she did not want to leave her mother.

In my old state of mind, I would have let someone else care about Kim’s situation, but my new state of mind said I should step forward. I found out Kim and her mother were living in their car. Her mother lost her job because she couldn’t stand for long hours (doctor’s orders). She couldn’t pay the rent, and Kim couldn’t ride the bus in the morning, which meant she missed breakfast.

Kim was crying because she was hungry. She was not eating dinner and now she was missing breakfast. Each morning, it became my mission to get Kim breakfast. Seeing Kim’s face when she got food in the morning showed me that my sky had never really fallen. Since meeting Kim, I have stopped avoiding situations that might cause me pain or worry.

I became an educator because I want students to love learning. I now realize children cannot love learning if their basic needs are not met. Children in our schools need to see that we care about their basic needs as well as their education. We need to model that caring, so others can see that our hearts are in it for all of them.

Our school now donates to the local food shelter on a regular basis. We have maximized our backpack program. And there is a large room where students can get clothes, if needed.

Last Tuesday a fourth grader saw that her classmate needed shoes. That night she gathered several pairs from her closet and brought them to school the next day. She asked the teacher if she could meet with her classmate privately. She and the other girl went into a quiet area during independent reading time. They probably did not read that day, but one girl got to go shoe shopping. The girl who donated the shoes told only her teacher, and the other girl has proper shoes because of her generosity. That is why I am in education.

 

Including and being included

Guest blog by Carrie Sprouse Norris

Pisgah Forest Elementary School

Transylvania County, NC

Teachers understand that the six virtues make our students into the human beings our world needs. With schools trying to pack in more academics, however, early grade teachers are abandoning or shortening community building activities during morning class meetings.

Sadly, I have sometimes been that teacher. Some days I don’t take time for morning circle compliments because we have to get into our RTI groups. And I have stopped doing buddy reading with older students because we have to complete Progress Monitoring.

Sometimes, however, I “sneak” in a virtue lesson. It can be a few seconds to compliment a student on pushing everyone’s chair in without being asked. Or it can be complimenting students on the way they lined up for lunch. Or I acknowledge the courage of a student who recites a poem in front of class.

There was one particular time at recess about a month ago when I thought, “Forget my math lesson. It can wait.”

“Rob” suffers from seizures throughout the day. This makes his movements clumsy and causes him to drool. He is different, but he yearns to have friendships like the other children. My class knows I am on the lookout for kids who may be alone, and I take notes on who chooses to include others. Rob was often included, but it was usually a game of tag, where he ended up being the “tagger” the entire time.

While watching this one day last month I had seen enough. I called over two boys who were throwing the football. I asked them if they would ask Rob to play. The boys agreed. They called him over and began tossing the ball back and forth. Within just a few passes, Rob was catching the ball. He was so excited. I was on the grass cheering him on, and pretty soon a few girls were doing cheers.

I called everyone over to make teams. Rob was on a team with 3 other boys. During the first few minutes, Rob just ran around. He never touched the ball. I didn’t say anything and just watched.

Eventually, I saw the teams huddle up to plan their play. The next thing I knew, a pass was thrown to Rob, who caught it and ran for the touchdown. The crowd (teachers and cheerleaders) erupted into applause, as the team ran to high-five Rob. I have never seen a child smile so big. We went into the school building a few minutes later still talking about Rob’s touchdown. The entire class was happy for him.

I later thanked the student who included Rob in the game. He simply stated, “I wanted him to be happy.”

My students did not learn about measurement that day, but they learned what it feels like to make someone else happy. Since that day my students have displayed generosity and understanding at recess. Rob continues to play football, and he is often the first one chosen.

 

Fourth Grade Courage

Guest blog by Elizabeth Humphries

Grade 4 Teacher, Elizabeth Cashwell Elementary

Fayetteville, NC

I listen to the news on my way to school every morning. Reports are usually about crime and politics. One day this fall the reporter said a man raped, attacked, and maimed a woman while her two children tried to defend her. Utterly disgusted, I pulled into work and tried to forget this terrible news.

About an hour after I got to work I was shocked to discover that this incident involved my student and her mother.  One of my precious children had defended her mother while she was brutally attacked. Tears filled my eyes and sickness hit my stomach.

I was surprised when my student came to school the next day. She fell into my arms as she entered my room. We cried together. She explained her bravery, and she said she could overcome what had happened.

Since then, this girl has found the courage to move on. She has been placed in another home and she attends counseling. Throughout the whole ordeal she never stopped smiling. When I asked her how I could be brave, like her, she said: “Have teachers like you.”

This situation raised our awareness about students’ home circumstances. Their home lives can be difficult in many ways; so we have to provide a safe, caring environment at school. Being a teacher is not only about planning and presenting math and language lessons. It is also about building classroom communities and being the role models our children need.

We all want the same thing

Guest Blog by Heather Benton

K-2, EC Teacher, Salem Elementary

Burke County, NC

April was autism awareness month in our school. Students made posters for the “Tiger Paw Morning News.” And the whole school watched the autism awareness video produced by the county.

But the most beautiful event was the question and answer session with a panel of our autistic students. Questions were asked appropriately and even though my students were shy and unsure of what to say, they were prepared and did fantastic. Many of my autistic students became friends with peers who learned how to speak to them in the hallways, sit with them at lunch, and simply know that they want friends, too. Our staff is also more aware of ways to communicate with our students.

This was a great display of the six virtues. My students displayed the strength and courage needed to present to hundreds of their peers. And the rest of the school demonstrated humility, understanding, generosity, and imagination.

 

 

Losing the war? It’s our own fault. Part 1

In the Foreward to Educational Courage: Resisting the Ambush of Public Education (EC: RTAOPE) Deborah Meier wrote:

And we need resistance to the continuing assault on public education that reduces schools to market-driven factories that select and sort our students, distorting visions of communities of learning and growth and activism. We can’t internalize the norm that’s out there and can’t accept that this is “the way things have to be.” We mustn’t adjust to injustice, losing our visions, our hope and our active resistance. (pp. x-xi)

I’m on the side of resistance because I agree with Meier.

Continue reading →

Are they smart or not smart?

A school board member wrote an email to his friend about taking the Florida tenth grade standardized test:

I won’t beat around the bush. The math section had 60 questions. I knew the answers to none of them, but managed to guess ten out of the 60 correctly. On the reading test, I got 62%. In our system, that’s a “D”, and would get me a mandatory assignment to a double block of reading instruction.

The friend is Marion Brady, who wrote the blog (updated by Valerie Strauss). Continue reading →