Wednesday, November 27, 2013

An Attitude of Gratitude

One of the topics we discuss in the field and in our writing is how there are non-academic means to academic ends. Of course we all know there are academic means to academic ends: You have to have good reading programs and time on task to teach students to read. And you have to have a good math curriculum to teach students math. Having a solid scope and sequence, clear rubrics and objectives, and valid assessments are critical to any successful effort to support student learning.

Yet, time and time again we see teachers and administrators underestimating the power of the non-academic, not only as something important in its own right (it is), but also as something that brings about desirable academic outcomes. The most obvious example of this is frequently reported in focus groups by students who say they work harder academically for teachers they believe care about them as people. On the flip side of this coin, we also hear that students will withhold their effort in classes taught by teachers who they perceive as uncaring and disrespectful. Though they know they are likely the only ones harmed by this, they refuse to give such a teacher "the
satisfaction."

Among the non-academic sources of positive academic outcomes is thankfulness. In a study of gratitude in adolescents, it was discovered that grateful students achieved a higher grade point average, as well as attained a number of other positive outcomes such as life satisfaction, social integration and absorption, and lower envy and depression. While gratitude is not one of the 8 Conditions, per se, an attitude of gratitude is part of a school environment characterized by Belonging, and in which teachers and students are Heroes to one another.

Consider how you model gratefulness for your students, and expect them to say "thank you" when appropriate.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Don't Judge a Beatbox By Its Cover


Adult Assumption Alert: This blog reveals an unconscious generalization I am not proud to admit.

We are partnering with the organization R.E.A.C.H. Communications for our Stand Up Speak Out (SUSO) middle school leadership conferences, which we are facilitating at six sites in Ohio this fall and winter. At one recent SUSO event, R.E.A.C.H. speaker, Shaun Derik, called for two male and two female volunteers to join him in his presentation.

Four students, ages 12-13, went up to the stage. A petite white girl who said her dream job was to be an actress or a singer. A confident African American boy who said he played sports. A seemingly shy white girl with glasses who giggled that she wanted to be veterinarian. And a tall, lean, lanky hispanic boy who seemed to be participating in "No Shave November."

After pointing out how brave they were for volunteering, Shaun upped the ante by putting them into a dance contest. While Shaun beatboxed, the students shimmied, one at a time, to the applause of 70 of their peers in the audience. After three attempts to break the applause tie between the boys and girls dance team, Shaun decided to jump into the competition. "But I'll need someone to beatbox for me," he said.

Now, if I asked you to put the four students I described in the order you thought they would: 1. be competent to beatbox and 2. volunteer to do so, what would your sequence be? Here was mine: confident athlete, male student on the other side of puberty, self-proclaimed actress and, finally, future veterinarian.

So the giggly, shy veterinarian says to Shaun Derik: "I got this." And you know what? She crushed it! Shaun danced and the last kid on my list popped and clicked and tch'ed into the mic, to my amazement and the rhythmic beat of her clapping peers. It was is if she was born to do it. Shame on me for assuming otherwise.

You know what they say happens when you assume...

What would you learn about your students if you dropped your assumptions?

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Who Cares?

Once again I learned something new from a student recently.

Let's start with what I had already learned from students: In the reciprocal relationship that is respect between a teacher and a student - I respect you, if you respect me - the adult has to go first. I have heard teachers say, "I don't give respect until I get respect" or "When kids show me respect, that's when I respect them." I always think they will be waiting a long time. Maybe it's my age, but at 50+ I am not waiting around for some 13 year-old (I have neckties that are older) to respect me before I show them respect. Even students in focus groups get it that the adult has to start.

The fact of the matter is, there is no way to disrespectfully teach someone who is disrespectful to respect you. The only way to teach respect, to get another person who is being disrespectful to respect you, is to respect them in spite of their disrespect. It turns out that when someone treats you respectfully, even if you disrespect them, they come to learn what real respect is and to then treat you with respect. Teacher respect for students must be a constant even in the face of variable respect from students.

But I already knew that.

The other day a student said something similar regarding caring about his education.  In a focus group I had asked what encouraged students to care about their education. After exploring positive answers, I flipped it: What discourages you? A student said, "When a teacher doesn't care about my education." I asked him to explain. He said, "Sometimes you're down on your self and you don't care about school or getting good grades or even finishing school. And so you're not doing well and some teacher says to you, 'Hey, this is your education. I don't care if you do well or not. I get paid either way.' Well, that makes you care even less when they say they don't care."

The fact of the matter is you cannot get a student who doesn't care about school to care by saying you don't care either. Just as with respect, the only way to get a student who doesn't care about school to care is to care in spite of their not caring. Teacher's care for each student's education must be a constant even in the face of their variable care about their own education.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Keeping Schools Weird

Here is something I am not sure we have faced squarely in education: Teachers are weird.  Only about 2% of the population decides that having been through a K-18 schooling experience the best thing they could do with the rest of their lives is go back and work at a school. Think about it, a 47 year-old veteran teacher with 25 years of teaching experience has not not been in a school since she was 5 years old.  That's weird.

Here is another thing that's weird: We have said that one of the main goals of a K-12 education is to prepare students for college.  We've balanced that a little with saying the goal is to get students college-ready and career-ready. But I still hear a lot that getting ready for college is of paramount importance.  But isn't that like saying that the goal of school is more school?  And that's kind of weird, too.  Isn't the goal of all schooling, no matter how long its term: Life?  Shouldn't the purpose of school simply be to get students ready...period?

Actually it might be weird but it's logically consistent. Haven't the weird 2% of people who loved school so much that they made a career out of it, simply set up the whole system to to be self perpetuating?  Should it be surprising that those who have made a meaningful career out of school have made the goal of school more school?

Could that be why schools are so resistant to change?  Because they may not work for almost half the students, but they work for almost all the educators who decide what school should be like and what it should be mainly for: Tests and essays and reading and writing and math, but not creativity and art and socializing and dance and music and physical education.  If that latter set of educable skills is exactly what business leaders and the future seem to say we need, why can't we foster those skills and not simply entrench the status quo?  Weird.