Girl inspires HS football team

Guest Blog by Nathan Padgett

Health/PE teacher, T.C. Roberson HS

Asheville, NC

My former co-worker’s grand daughter, Julia, was diagnosed with a brain tumor, when she was four years old. This touched me because I have a four-year-old daughter, too.

I told my football team of Julia’s diagnosis, saying:

Here is a four-year-old girl who is not expected to live longer than six months.  She was perfectly healthy before this tumor was found.

I explained to them that she and her family would battle this cancer with courage.  They would fight it with everything they had.

I presented this situation to my team because I wanted to give them an example of courage, like the courage they would need to face their next opponent. The other team was much better than us, so we played and lost, 7-0. I was humbled by the team’s performance, though. They played their best game of the year.

At the end of the game, one of my players wanted to address the team. This took me by surprise because he is one of our quietest players. He stood up and said:

Coach, we decided to play this game for Julia.  She is fighting the fight of her life and we are playing in a football game. We should be thankful that we had this opportunity to play this game even though we lost. She will never have the opportunity to compete in a game like this but she is playing the game of life.

Julia lost her battle with cancer last month, but she was the inspiration for a high school football team to demonstrate several of the virtues.


Crisis brings out virtues

Guest blog by Charles Williams

Assistant Principal, Heritage & Table Rock Middle Schools

Burke County, NC

Sometimes the six virtues are evident in a crisis situation. Rain was pouring during the morning bus run several weeks ago. As I listened on the radio “bus channel,” I heard the operator say one of the elementary buses was on its side and the driver and students were trapped.  As I listened, I heard heroic actions play out.

The driver radioed the bus garage with her situation. Her first concern was her students’ safety. In the minutes that passed, I learned that one of our middle school buses arrived on the scene.

Without a second thought, the second driver (who is also a teacher) entered the back of the bus.  The middle school students followed, and as the driver evacuated the elementary students from the wreck, the older students escorted them to safety in the middle school bus. The middle school students consoled and cared for the frightened little ones. Luckily, only one student received a minor scratch.

The second driver reached the injured driver and used her jacket to apply pressure to a major leg wound. I could hear her radioing back and forth, explaining the situation. Everything was under control. She was with the driver and the children were with our middle school students.  Things were taken care of until emergency workers arrived.

At a recent school assembly, the students and teacher were recognized for their actions. Clearly, the six virtues were demonstrated:

Understanding and Imagination: Individuals understood the situation and used their imaginations to figure out what needed to be done. Quick, accurate thinking was needed and evident.

Strong Character:  Everybody demonstrated this virtue.  They did what was right and the older ones had the strength needed to console and care for the little ones.

Courage:  I heard fear in the voices over the radio. Fear was overcome, though, and courageous actions were evident.

Generosity and Humility:  I am impressed with the spirit of generosity in our students. Humility has also played out after the incident. Whenever the story of the accident has been told, the students have humbled themselves and recognized the ones who stayed calm in the situation.

These actions and virtues remind me of the good that exists in the world, especially in our school.


Measuring knowledge and skills — Really?

My students say we define “educated” in terms of knowledge and skill because these can be measured by tests. Really? How do tests measure knowledge or skill?

They don’t. Student answers indicate whether a specific learning is present or not. Test answers are like on-off switches, not yard sticks. Just like virtue, knowledge and skills are “measured” with teacher judgment. They are just more difficult to gauge than virtue. I love irony.

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 →

Letter to teacher (also my student)

Dear Mary,

You mentioned a highly successful program in your school (brain-based ways to teach letter patterns and phonics). I believe you say it was successful because student reading scores went up. Is that right? Continue reading →

A perfect analogy

Bringing the six virtues to learning situations improves education just like burning more calories than are consumed reduces weight. The analogy holds in two ways:

Continue reading →

“Abstinence” and the six virtues

An old friend of mine used to warn about analogies: “They can both clarify and distort relationships.”

I thought of that as I read the Asheville Citizen-Times column headlined, “Abstinence is the answer” (July 20, 2013, p. A6). The author is a woman who periodically argues against abortion in our local paper. In this column she quoted Reverend Dahl B. Seckinger:

There is an alternative for the unmarried, and that is through the practice of chastity. It is foolproof, it is not hazardous to your health, parental permission is not needed, it is nondiscriminatory between the sexes, as either can practice this form of birth control, it is cheaper than any other form of birth control. It is energy-saving, it is tax-free and does not require billions in federal spending, nor is any red tape involved. I might add that it eliminates much of the danger of contracting venereal disease. Is this too simplistic an answer to the problem? It is medically sound and safe in its practice. There is no question about its moral implications. It is biblical. Why not deal with the cause rather than effects?

Reverend Dahl’s answer to the abortion question is like my answer to the school improvement question. We both want to address the cause of the problem — he wants to eliminate unwanted pregnancies, I want to improve education. Refraining from sex (chastity) does, in fact, prevent unwanted pregnancies, just like bringing the six virtues to a learning situation does, in fact, improve education.

But neither is a viable solution to the problem. People often fail to be chaste and teachers can’t model virtues they don’t have. Opponents of these solutions don’t say we should not be chaste, or that teachers should not model the six virtues.  They say we sometimes fail to be chaste and teachers sometimes fail to be virtuous.

In other words, my argument for the six virtues is like the chastity argument because it does not solve the problem, even though it is based on what is true. Reverend Seckinger lists the truths of the chastity argument. And the six-virtue argument is based on the truth that all virtues are combinations of these six. But neither set of truths solves the problem because the problems are caused by another truth — people fail to be chaste, and teachers can’t model and teach the virtues they lack.

But let’s be careful with analogies.  The chastity and six-virtue solutions are not analogous in one important way. Chastity is only one thing. It is the absence of the act that causes pregnancy. That is why “abstinence” is in the headline. But bringing virtues to learning situations takes many forms. Education improves whenever teachers bring any of the virtues, even if they can’t always bring all six.

Facing a challenge with courage

Guest blog by Danielle Cairns, Instructional Coach

We all aspire to have courage, and many people think they have it. If asked, many would say,  “Yeah — I have courage, who doesn’t?” But many people do not possess courage, and they don’t realize it until they are faced with a challenge.

This year a teacher in my school was on the verge of an action plan, due to personal circumstances that occurred last year. Before then, she was an excellent teacher.

I asked my principal to let me work with this teacher. I wanted to see if she could overcome the difficulties of the past and return to the virtuous teacher she had been. This teacher showed courage by admitting she needed help. We worked side by side, day after day, and now she is back.

Admitting something is wrong and accepting help takes courage and humility. The teacher is benefiting from the virtues she demonstrated and her students are benefiting, too. After all, that is why we teach — to benefit the students.

Developing Understanding, Imagination and Courage in Pre-Teens

Guest blog by Victoria Bradsher, Algebra Teacher, Vance Charter School

As a teacher you want to help your students develop the characteristics that enable them to grow into citizens who are willing to look out for others as they travel through life’s journey. My classes always begin with an invitation to discuss “What’s new in your world?” Topics range from the presidential elections to atomic weapons in North Korea to the latest performances on the lacrosse field. As the year progresses, students become more and more comfortable discussing anything with me “behind the closed classroom door.” Our chats have become a safety valve, a way to build community and a way to explore subjects that sometimes are a bit uncomfortable. But they have also become something more. They have also opened conversations that allow students to determine appropriate actions they could take to handle situations in their own lives.

Pre-teen boys seem to be totally self-absorbed. This is especially true for one of my classes where almost every male is a high achiever — both in academics and athletics. I was especially surprised one day to have a particularly gregarious young man ask how to tell a classmate, “They stink.” Needless to say, the classroom dissolved into the expected fits of middle school giggles with each student eager to describe the offending person and the issue. We chatted a minute about what might be possible including the potential that this could be a problem over which the young person had no control. Students became thoughtful and appeared to understand.

The following week I sensed that our discussion of how to approach issues while maintaining an attitude of understanding and caring had made a mark. During “sharing” time, the subject of the “stinky” student arose, but this time the students had some ideas. They said they did not want to do anything that would overtly call attention to the student, but they did want to help. We talked about imaginative ways to address the issue, and they came up with the following idea.

They want to do a service-learning project that involves preparing eighth graders for high school. One of the sessions will be on hygiene, and it will be conducted by two of our former students. The plan is to hold this particular discussion on the day we get out for Easter break. The class decided to provide Easter baskets for ALL 8th grade students. Not only will the basket include Easter candy, but one of our local industries, Revlon, will donate deodorant and talcum powder. One of our parents, who owns a chain of drug stores, will donate toothbrushes, toothpaste and mouth wash. Baskets will also include breath mints and chewing gum.

The students are excited about this project, not only because it has been fun for them, but also because they have taken an imaginative action to help solve a problem in a way that does not offend anybody. I am excited too. This is not an Algebra topic, but it is a life lesson, which I hope I also model. The conversations, the thinking, the actions have all helped bring these students closer. It also helped them look inside themselves for ways to address sticky issues. They impress me with their understanding of several virtues.