Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Apathy in schools? Where?

Apathy and student motivation...

How can we, mere educators influence the motivation of our students? What if we get IDK as the typical answer on their page? What if they exert no effort, at all? What are our options? Punishment? Discipline? Sending them to the office? Getting them out of the room so other students can learn?

Students are just like all the rest of us but more exaggerated. They want healthy and solid relationships with adults but have not learned how to articulate that need, so they often act out. They also act out because they cant read well enough to learn. They also act out because they don't have a worthy model to emulate. What should we do if this happens?

Let's consider an option. Teach.  Teach them to behave. Teach them to read. This means we will need to understand their needs. We will have to know what they want and what motivates them. This is best done through dialogue and getting to know each other. For a student to take an educational risk, the fear of rejection must diminish to the point where the relationship is no longer in jeopardy. This is after trust is established. Spend, rather invest, extra time connecting with those kids that typically struggle and the results will be astounding. Read a book and take the imaginary adventure that comes from fiction.  Then training them how to read to take the intellectual adventure that comes from non-fiction takes an entire new perspective.  This builds human connections, improves motivation and reduces apathy and improves their hope.  

Apathy, and portrayed apathy, both stem from the lack of hope.  Hope for an improvement. Hope that tomorrow will actually be better.  Hope that this relationship will not hurt, end or scar.  Hope that the safety physically may transfer to intellectual.  Hope for success.

This can not be done alone but must be done by caring adults.

Then hold high expectations for self and others.  Point no sarcasm at them and acknowledge personal learning struggles publicly so students learn it is ok to fail, as long as you persist. Finally, measure time and progress with a calendar and NOT a watch. The baggage many students bring is unbelievable.  To improve our perspectives, we introduce our new teachers to the community through a bus tour of the neighborhoods.

Students are motivated for healthy relationships, even though the ones that need it the most have the fewest skills.  If their teachers don't teach these skills, who will?  The family?  The village?  Their peers? 

We may be only Winfield, but we are going to be on the map!

Monday, July 30, 2012

Literacy influences Behavior, Achievement and Success!

Literacy influences Behavior, Achievement and Success! 

Questions to ponder:  How detailed should we get?  What if a teacher teaches and nobody learns, should they go on? Is that the teachers fault or the students fault?  Is this a valid statement: "I taught it but they did not learn it?"  Do students have the "right to fail?"  Should they suffer their own consequences?  Who really suffers? Is it our responsibility or theirs?  What if they already know it and the material is boring?  What if they don't know it and the material is too advanced? 

These pedagogical questions were touched on at the #CCSS St Louis Cooperating School District Common Core Conference on July 25th and 26th, at the Frontenac Hilton in St Louis.  What a great venue and superior service!

Consider a high school like Brockton High School in Massachusetts.  They are the largest school in the state but have done great things academically, socially and behaviorally to serve their urban community.   A quick YouTube or Google search will find many things related to their current path for excellence. From earlier work, this school has approached success from three angles.

Rigor, Relevance and Relationships:  Literacy effects behavior, achievement and success!

First: Rigor
The rigor, content and ability to read and communicate form the foundational premise of our CCSS.  This implies reading is key.  Key to both learning to read, and then reading to learn.  (as described in other posts as well)  This rigor however is across ALL content areas.  Yes, even a performance based discipline like band, when students, after being asked to read the back story to a piece, listed the emotions they felt, finally understood the composure's intention's.  This personal revelation became the new starting point for the ensemble as they played with a renewed passion and energy.  Yes, reading does cross all the content areas.  Consider our students we send to technical schools.  What do they do?  They read a trade manual and then act according to the directions!  (Why does your DVD still blink 12:00?) If a student does not read well, help them!
Second: Relevance
Relevance is also vital to the effort exerted by our students.  Of course, there are times a compliant student, that already processes many mature relationships, will do things in response to, "because I said so"  (thanks Jesse).  This is often the exception, especially when the students initial struggle stems from outside influences such as poverty familial or learning issues.  Our quest then becomes twofold.  We must connect with our students on a deeper level first by knowing what is relevant to them.  We must be able to answer questions in their lives that demonstrate how much we care for them and desire success for them as individuals.  Secondly, our personal, sincere and direct connection with students motivates them to try something they may not have done before. (like green eggs or ham) From there, students take a risk because of caring adults influence over their lives.  If a student acts up, train them in the proper responses.  This allows teaching and then learning in the contents to happen.
Finally:  Relationships
Hope and acceptance are key students components to ensuring their success.  Good discipline does not diminish hope.  Our intention when teaching students is to use our content to reach into their lives to help them discipline their own behavior.  We are not trying to coerce into submission but striving to teach behavior as well as content.  Sometimes this gets confused.  A biologist, or, a teacher of students with biology as the vehicle or language that connects pupil to master?  A student does not typically express the thought in words but, they want and sometimes actually need approval from the adults and superiors in their world. (I know I do)  If this connection is too far from their grasp, simple deviant behavior causing a confrontation is a safe alternative that prevents this percieved vunerability from exposure.  If a kids acts out, teach him the right way to act!
Application questions. 
A student that yells "shut up" at a teacher should be ________?
A student sleeping in class should _______?
A student not turning in assignments should ________?

What do you think?
(But I am not a reading teacher?  Post to Follow)

We may be only Winfield, but we are going to be on the map!

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Drinking from a fire hose? Take a look at the Common Core.

What is common about the Common Core?

Pop Quiz
1. When was the typewriter key board invented? _____
Bonus: Why? _________________________________

After hearing great things from William Daggett and others today at the Cooperating School District Common Core Presentations and Frontenac Hilton #CCSS #MOEdu,  there were a few take aways that may apply.

Here is the agenda.   http://leadered.com/csd.html

Here as a list of talking points

1. The United States does a great job of educating EVERYONE.

2. Equity and Excellence are in conflict.  Both are expensive.

3. Revolution takes time.  (Try changing the bell schedule)
         a. Incremental
         b. Innovative
         c. Transformational

4.  Reading is  VITAL.
         a. Read something in every class, every day. (thanks WM)

5. Having a high bar helps.

6. Having a high bar hurts.

7. Rigor, relevance and relationships. 

8.  This FREE tool helps get the right books in the hands of the right kids.

9.  This site hosts the CCSS

10. Our students will know sites like this...  that give answers to everything.

11. Games teach. (Angry Birds anyone?)  Some games teach our curriculum. (Sushi Monster)

What is comm om about the common core? 
The groups of states responding to the cry from business leaders to supply career ready workers. These workers will keep us competitive in a flat world.  The goal is to have a consistent and common curriculum to compare educations and measure accurately across political boundaries.  Parents, students, community and educators alike want a valuable education.  The common core stresses reading, comprehension and real world applications to content by focusing on fewer things more intently.  http://www.corestandards.org/the-standards

Pop Quiz Answer:  1917
Why:  To slow down the fingering to keep the metal wands from becoming tangled during typing!

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Our past or their future??? What are we teaching them?

I rmbr txtng my GF in HS  ... Wait!  No, we were not texting when I was in high school.  We passed notes on pieces of paper, folded in various ways, depending on if we liked or did not like the person.  That was then.  Now we txt, Tweet, fb or ...?

Things sure are different.  It's like, things change.  After visiting a technology firm near Saratoga California with my brother who works there, I wondered what we are doing at school back in our small town in our fly-over state to prepare students for their future.

The young staff at this technology firm seemed driven, ambitious, motivated from within and ready to conquer the world.  Are our students being equipped to face challenges like these?  The last post had that link about SHIFT HAPPENS.  Yes, we are preparing students for a future we know little about and can only speculate on the changes.  But how do we link our present to their future?

Experiences, Relatinships and Reading.  Together, these three components form the basis of a liberal arts education.  Of course, organizing student trips through school groups like the band, choir or activity teams such as cheer leading football or volleyball is a wonderful start.  Students learn to think independently as they gather their own gear, equipment, clothes and accoutrement's necessary for whatever the experience.  These typical day trips are just the beginning.  Overnight experiences where students learn to trust, connect and forming relationships with other travelers also prepare students for a smaller, flatter world.  Caring adults to guide and encourage students extends their reach are invaluable to establishing students broad minds looking for other opportunities.  (See earlier post on Green Eggs and Ham)This physical relocation adds body and substance to history lessons.  Calculations regarding the travel times, rates and costs test computation skills.  Following maps and instructions tests the non-fiction reading comprehension abilities and demonstrates the need to pay attention.  Even seeing the world makes science lessons more personal.  Our curriculum, even the CCSS is meant to prepare them for their future.

A student who reads to learn can take similar journeys inside their imagination.  Again, we see reading as vital.  Fiction, non-fiction and historical fiction all prepare students for their future.

A student connected to caring adults benefits from the shared expereinces and healthy role modeling.

As the opening statements illustrates, things change and often quickly.  Our students need us to prepare them for their future, and not our past.

What is going to be different this year at school?  Content, Discipline, Seating Charts, or Student Centered activities that encourage them to take educational risks???

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Sound Familiar?

Everything was going great in class.  Everyone was playing along. Kids were expressing personal applications to the lesson.  They were asking questions that demonstrated sincere thought and consideration to the ideas discussed.  There seemed to be no questions left. The assignment was handed out with the typical instructions, "Read and follow the directions."  Then boom, it happens.  Little Johny threw a piece of eraser at Suzy and Suzy screams out, "STOP IT!"  All that preemptive work, down the tube.  Then the conscientious teacher begins asking questions and self-reflecting.  What happened? Do we yell at either, neither or both of them?  Do we need to spend more time working together and less time on independent practice, because they cant handle it?  What went wrong?  Where did I mess up?  Should we have spent more time on procedural training at the beginning of the year?

Idea:  Johnny can't read.  Oh, sure, he learned to "read" but he is not able to read well enough to learn.  This forces him to act out to distract any possible attention given to his deficit and he now works to avoid being put into a position where his ability, experience, talents or struggle is called into question or doubt!  This case of avoidance behavior keeps his struggle well hidden. 

Short term suggestion: Read the instructions together and do a sample of semi-guided practice.  Then maybe circumvent the confrontation and prevent Johnny from acting out and Suzy for disrupting .  Maybe he will stay quiet and be good long enough for others to do their homework? Maybe not?

Long term suggestion:  TEACH JOHNNY TO READ.  Try these...

This should be our primary quest as educators.  All other content areas will take a back seat to a student's reading ability.  Standards, outcomes, CCSS, ELO's or whatever desired results we wish our students to grasp follow their ability to read.  A students ability to read will govern or limit the amount of information he is able to grasp, understand and then comprehend.  Articulation, verbal expression and written expression serves as the building blocks of civilization.  Failure of one generation to equip another generation with tools is truly educational neglect and societal suicide. Investing (not spending) time on teaching folks to read will only reap dividends. Failing to help our children (and adults) read only hurts our community, both locally and nationally! 

Look at these videos discussing the shift... Then please email me or respond or comment with something you find interesting...
       1. Shift Happens - Original  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FdTOFkhaplo 
                           (Originally created for teachers in a district in Colorado)

       2. Shift Happens Technology Version http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6ILQrUrEWe8

       3. Shift Happens -ver 3.0   http://tinyurl.com/7geryma

Is it OK for us to send Johnny to the next grade, even though he cant read?  What if Johnny is in a math class and not a reading class?  What if reading is not my specialty?  Is there justification for not teaching our future to read? 

There is a shift...  Preparing our students for something we know nothing about is our challenge. 

Reading is the tool they will need to succeed!

Learn to read, to read to learn...

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Encourage, Affirm, Instruct then Educate

Many discussions with professional educators have lead me to understand the best thing about the career is not June, July nor August, but the students!  The relationships teachers form with students seem to energize, refresh and rejuvenate the adults that are their to serve the students.  This encourages me as an administrator to know we have the right people on the bus! (thanks Jim Collins)

Now let's shift to the cycle identified by the title.  Students bring their variety, backgrounds and concerns that influence their learning and propensity for success at school.  This is our challenge, our quest and the thing that drives us to succeed; the diversity in the classroom.  This also disguises our greatest challenge.  How can we instantly assess, then balance the various abilities, plan and organize interesting activities that keep everyone's attention and finally measure our effectiveness through assessment, in a 54 minute daily lesson?  The four terms in our title form a cycle necessary for changing behavior, learning.

Encouragement often comes "built-in" with many of our students.  Parents, coaches and prior teachers have supplied sufficient internal capital and students already believe they can achieve great things.  These students affirm themselves readily and participate throughout their instructional processes taking a major role in their own education.  Solid and healthy relationships with caring, guiding and conscientious adults establishes this foundation of success and self-esteem.

However,  there are a enough students that lack this foundation and they often have greater impact on the alleged success of a program, grade, school or classroom or even teacher. (which is another blog in itself)   These students do not know solid words of encouragement.  They know sarcasm but can not glean any truth and only hear the jab clearly.  (Please note: Encouragement typically comes from external sources, namely that caring adult.  Discouragement also comes from adults but encouragement will also only go so far.  Nothing is remembered like the subtle jab or pointed cutting remark.)  Students must believe in themselves enough to take the educational risks we are requesting and suggesting.  If they are not equipped, we MUST encourage them till they can claim their own affirmations as true.  This is the difference between the terms encourage and affirm: encourage is external but affirm is internal. Even Dr Seuss talks about playing lonely games "you cant win because you will play against you" in Oh the places you'll go.  Understand this self talk is necessary  before we can master a new topic, learn a new skill or even learn to read, so we can read to learn.
Step 1:  Encourage everyone, about something! Anything!
As we continue looking at the plight of the dis-advantaged, we also consider their self-fulfilling prophecy.   They think they are not successful and so it becomes! They often times have no example of personal self-affirmations.  Few people exist in their world that are able to demonstrate with authority and proven success how this is supposed to look, work and effect outcomes of the things happening to and around them.  Encouragement from a caring adult is a proven and effective way to equip others to succeed. 
Step 2: Show, model and discuss effective affirmations. "I know this material." "I am going to ace this test." "I CAN do this."
I heard once, "the teacher comes along when the pupil is ready."  As educators, unlike the manufactoring world, we can not reject ill fitting raw material.  We must prepare all our pupils!  They do not always come ready to learn.  Howerver, we want the best for all our students, by choice and determination, and understand if our emotions drove and controlled our thoughts, progress would cease.  Hense, our instruction, best material and directed energy is focused on their success and our presentation of the learning activity. The activity becomes secondary after the student is mentally motivated to learn.  After student personal affirmation and encouragement has established a fertile mind, receptive to the lesson, instruction can take place.

Step 3: Instruct, teach, present the material, provide learning opportunities and plant the seeds of knowledge that grow into...

Step 4: ...An Education. 

Summary:  Encourage everyone. Teach affirmations. Provide instruction. Earn and Education!

Monday, July 9, 2012

What would you rather to teach? People, stuff!

Ingredients for a successful high school transition program called the Summer Academy:

As a flippant youngster just out of college, I was asked in an interview at a highly respected district if I would rather teach Calculus or Basic Math.  After a moments ponder, I replied, "people, stuff."  Needless to say, I did not get that job!  The retort, however, has become the focus and framework for the remainder of my professional work.  Our Summer Academy is designed to take every individual to their personal next level. We will discuss those four groups involved as well as their progress in the Summer Academy setting.

There are many arguments to the earlier question with merit to both sides.  The straightforward answer of picking one over the other, limits or applies a governor to a leader, handcuffing the impact or reach of the message.  For instance, picking the struggling student sounds like the right answer, but excludes the experiences and familiarity the advance student currently holds with the topic.  The advanced student may have a better way!  On the other hand, choosing the advanced student as the primary market turns a back towards a great many number of students.

The Summer Academy uses any level of student and fits them in along a continuum to allow them to participate or serve.  To  begin, the academy is designed to increase the persistence to graduation rate, improve discipline and raise attendance rates by planning activities that connect struggling students with school.  These activities range from kite building  indoors to field trips into the community, IE local businesses, manufacturing plants or colleges and physical tests at a challenge course.  We meet daily during the typical summer school window, usually in the afternoon and usually have a daily meal together, provided by our FACS staff.

These soon to be 9th graders are guided predominately by upperclassmen from their new school.  A primary benefit is guidance and direction by the older students as they connect and build bridges into the younger student's lives.  This component shares many common features of typical mentor type programs, especially with the selection process seeking to enlist the aid of a wide variety of mentor candidates.  Another less touted attribute is the leadership practice afforded these young talented, energetic and passionate students.  They are allowed to practice their new found leadership techniques under the watchful and observant eyes of the professional educators who work in the building already.  These staff members get to actually run the academy hosting activities and lessons that often time fell out of the latest curriculum re-write but still leave lasting impressions with students.  This layering reduces the risk for the teachers, the mentors and even the students to find their individual success, regardless of their level. This model also allows those students that have completed the Summer Academy to return and participate as junior mentors, called "interns."  While interns gain some responsibility, leadership and posture their participation allows them the benefit of increased communication skills and improved connections to school. Preliminary data verifies the effectiveness with a substantial reduction in absences and office referrals for students allowed to participate in the Summer Academy.

Mentors, interns, students and even staff all get to practice their respective crafts.  Educational risks are reduced and literally everyone in the operation progresses to their next level.  That flippant response given over 20 years ago has now become a major premise for our Summer Academy.  We teach, people, stuff.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Reflections on a Summer Academy: It's about people, not programs!

At our high school, another way we invest in all students is through our Summer Academy.  Describing this program accurately and succinctly is a challenge but here we go.  Research mentions the transitional years of the 8th to 9th grades as pivotal for students finding success in high school.  Many students progress through with hardly a hiccup.  Howserver, some students are in grave danger of dropping out and need additional interventions, support and connections before they will persist to graduation.  Here we introduce some major components of our successful intervention, The Summer Academy.

To begin, we all read and review the premise behind the Dr. Seuss book, Green Eggs and Ham.  Of course we all remember Sam is persistent and that is an easy lesson.  Deeper investigation behind the continual rejection and foundational to success, we notice Sam builds a relationship with the grouchy guy. It is not until they have a relationship does the grouchy guy relent and try the meal.  Therefore, trust is vital and required for influence and persuasion from one individual to another.  Sam was intentional and deliberate and withstood multiple rejections before his ward relented.  Throughout the pages, Sam always smiled, tried again and created another fun adventure for the two, even enlisting the support and encouragement from many others to help the grouchy guy consider taking this risk.  Finally, the realization that these physical risks never caused any harm convinced the grouchy guy to take a culinary risk and try the green eggs and ham.  SUCCESS.  That is the end of the book!  Our first deep lesson:  A relationship of trust and mutual respect is required for one to allow another influence. As leaders we can lead, but until our followers know we care, they may withold endoursement.

To look for an even deeper lesson, consider this:
What was the first thing the grouchy guy said?  ??? ???
He did not say anything about Ham!  He said, "That Sam-I-am!  I do not like that Sam-I-am!"

Correct, the Grouchy Guy did NOT like Sam-I-am!  Yet, Sam was intentional, deliberate and even professional, overlooking the repeated objections to the offering, knowing he had something of great value and high importance for his friend the grouchy guy.  Thus, he pursued a relationship with the Grouchy Guy, even though the grouch did not like him or his Green goods! 

Thus, we see as leaders, teachers, mentors and guides of others around us, the lesson is ours. For us to influence them, we must extend the olive branch, take the first step and build a relationship.  WE CAN NOT RELY ON THEM TO SEEK OUT WISDOM.  We must initiate, purposely subjugate ourselves and allow our wards and those we lead to have doubt, display frustration, become upset and not take their demonstrations of stress as rejections of the relationship. 

This premise of intentional relationship building forms the backdrop of every event, activity and interaction between the participants in a Summer Academy.  The risk of rejection is always there, however, breaking through this barrier and connecting on a personal level allows conversations to go deeper and fosters an environment where failures, do-overs and multiple attempts are common.  Mistakes are part of learning, growing and reaching new benchmarks but these failures NEVER put the relationship in jeopardy.  As guides and leaders, we refuse to allow their wall building to deter our efforts to reach into their lives with truth and advancement.  Just as the Grouch gave Sam the look, the hand and continual rejection, we too can see a case for persisting in relatinships.

It is about people and their well-being,  NOT the program.

More on the Summer Academy later.