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.

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.

 

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 the six virtues ever vices?

Naturally, I was drawn to the September/October, 2013, Psychology Today article entitled, “When Virtue Becomes Vice” (by Mary Loftus). The author should have read my book, where I explained that the greatest of all social science truths is, “In all situations, it depends on the situation.” That was her main point, although she didn’t state it in the article. Continue reading →

Poll: “Parents back standardized tests”

When pollsters question people who know very little about the topic of the poll, we say they are polling an “uninformed population.” This poll is an example.  Although parents don’t know the difference between norm-referenced and criterion-referenced tests, and they don’t know why we give the first and not the second, they “back standardized tests.”

From hearing policy makers talk about test scores, I already know uninformed people back standardized tests. I love irony.

 

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.