Relationships

An excerpt from my education model http://www.melhawkinsandassociates.com/education-model-white-paper/

Anyone who has worked closely with children of any age, but especially five and six-year-olds, knows that relationships are everything. It is our belief that this is true, also, for teenagers and for adults. For kids who are five or six, some of whom are away from their mothers and other primary caregivers for the first time, a close personal relationship with one or more teachers is more important than anything else. Children who feel a close personal relationship with their teacher, the kind that many of us recall when we think back on our favorite teacher(s), almost always give their best effort and that proves to be true throughout one’s whole life. If we think back on those times in our lives when we enjoyed the most success, most of us will recall a favorite teacher, coach, mentor, or boss. In fact, is there any time in our lives when close personal relationships with other human beings are not the most important source of our happiness and well-being?

The current education process is not structured to facilitate those relationships for more than a given school year, if it happens at all. Neither is it an expectation on which teacher performance will be evaluated. That those special relationships that do develop are severed, routinely, at the end of a school year illustrates that the most important variable in the education equation is not even a priority in the education process in our public schools.

We are guided by the principle that the people in our lives are always more important that the things in our lives. We must acknowledge that the academic success of every child and of everything we do for them will be a function of the quality of relationships we have been able to build.

In a recent Tweet, our colleague Amy Fast, Ed.D. (@fastcrayon) said,

“If students are under-performing in class, we can guess at the reasons why, or we can ask the students themselves: Do they feel the classes are relevant to their lives? Do they think they are too hard? Too easy? Do they feel like their teachers care about them and their success?”

Amy Fast’s questions are vital on two levels of analysis.

These are all questions to which teachers must have answers for each of their students, with the last being the essential question. The challenge for teachers is that the probability of receiving meaningful answers to these and many other important questions is a function of their success in developing meaningful relationships.

It is this author’s assertion that, from the moment of first contact with a new student, whether on their first day of Kindergarten, or any other grade, or whether he or she has transferred in from another class or school, the development of nurturing, meaningful relationships with each student should be the teacher’s first and over-riding responsibility/priority. It is only as such relationships are beginning to form that our students will begin to place their trust in us.

Students are often the people least qualified to answer the question, “are their classes relevant to their lives?” The younger the student the less of an idea they will have of the challenges in life with which they will be called upon to deal. We need them to trust us that we know what they must learn.

It is up to teachers to utilize their experience, training, and appropriate assessment tools to discern what their students know, what their capabilities might be at a given point in time, how their young minds work (how they learn and process information), how confident they are in their own abilities, and what their interests might be at that stage of their development. As they learn, grow, and begin to experience success, their individual interests begin to take shape and their special abilities begin to reveal themselves—to us as well as to them. Our willingness to invite our students to participate in charting the direction of their studies will be influenced by the way our relationships have evolved and the level of mutual trust we have been able to establish.

In this education model, there is nothing as important to the job of teaching as the development of positive relationships with students and it is at the top of our priority list, even if that means that other priorities need to be put on hold, temporarily.

We Must Be Willing to Believe There Is a Better Way to Teach Our Children!

One of the things that distinguishes positive leaders from the rest of the crowd is their belief in the possibility of a better world. How many times, when presented with a new idea for solving a problem have you heard the response, “That’ll never work!” “You will never convince them of that.” “Management will never go for something that grand!” “You are biting off more than you can chew!” “You will never get the funding!” “What makes you think they will be willing to listen to you?” “That’s impossible!” “You are spitting in the wind!” “You’re dreaming!” We could go on and on with similar examples of the excuses people use for not taking action when getting of unacceptable outcomes.

Right now, in the USA, we are producing unacceptable outcomes that have an adverse impact on millions of young people. In our public schools, disadvantaged kids, a disproportionate number of whom are black and other minorities, are failing in great numbers. This is an untenable situation that has a negative impact on almost all aspects of American society and is placing our democracy at risk.

We have the power to alter this reality, beginning now and all it requires is for professional educator—teachers, principals, superintendents, and policy makers—to admit to themselves, if not to the world at large, that what they are doing is not meeting the needs of millions of our nation’s children. The only thing stopping us from altering this reality for all time is our unwillingness to acknowledge that their must be a better way, one that will meet the needs of every child, including disadvantaged kids.

Yes, I know many teachers in many of our nation’s best schools are happy with the job they are doing but they must not be content with the success of their own students and schools. What about the students who are struggling in other public schools in communities throughout the U.S? What about your colleagues who are giving their hearts and souls to students less fortunate than those in our nation’s best public schools?

It is time to reinvent the American education process in use in schools throughout the nation, both public and private. I have offered an idea educators can use as a starting point. I believe if you take the time to truly understand the model I have developed, you will see that, not only can it work, it would be relatively easy to implement and would require minimal action on the part of our state legislatures, if any at all.

What do you have to lose but a few hours of your time? What you may gain is something that might very well inspire you to act. At the very least, it will give you food for thought and get you thinking of other ways the failure of disadvantaged kids can be remedied.

You have the power to help create a whole new world for students, teachers and their communities. All it requires is that you convince, first, yourselves that maybe there is an idea that would work, and then, ask one or more of your closest friends and colleagues to join you in a campaign to transform public education in America.

Can you imagine how exciting it would be to participate in something that will change the world around you? Can you imagine how satisfying it would be to begin a process that will render education reformers and high-stakes testing, irrelevant.

Please examine my model at http://www.melhawkinsandassociates.com/education-model-white-paper/ and envision what it would be like to teach in such an environment. Imagine the difference it would make for your students. Envisioning better outcomes and then utilizing their imaginations to bring that vision to life is what positive leaders do whether or not they occupy formal leadership positions.

Important Questions for Public School Teachers

We begin with a declaration that American public school teachers strive to do their absolute best to help all their students learn as much as they are able. The purpose of my questions is to understand whether teachers are satisfied that they can give their students a genuine opportunity to learn, given the education process within which they are asked to teach, and the resources allocated to them.

Many public school teachers and other educators are concerned about the future of their own schools, about the future of public education as a whole, about their own futures and of the teaching profession, and about the future of our nation’s children. These concerns are justified considering the extent to which public education is under attack by education reformers with their focus on privatization of schools, high-stakes testing, attacking teacher unions and associations, and minimizing the reliance on teachers through increased utilization of digital technology.

The following questions are posed to all teachers, but especially to those who work in public schools under scrutiny because of low test scores and/or who have students who struggle to keep up. Think of the education process as the manner in which teachers, classrooms, time, and resources are organized to allow you to teach your students.

(Please note that I am not asking you to share your answers with anyone, only that you answer each question, as honestly as you can, to the satisfaction of your own hearts and minds.)

1) Given your commitment to do your best to help every one of your students experience academic success, how well does the education process support your efforts to give struggling students the extra time and attention they need to learn?

2) How often is it necessary for you to move your class on to a new lesson when one or more of your students—often a significant percentage of your class—are unable to demonstrate subject mastery on end-of-chapter exams?

3) How many times in a grading period, semester, or school year do you find it necessary to record a “below-passing score” in your gradebook?

4) By the end of a school year, what percentage of your students meet the objectives that were established for them per state academic standards for their grade level?

5) What percentage of your students earn a below-passing score on one or both Math and ELA components of your state’s competency exams (high stakes testing), or are unable to meet the criteria required to be identified as “proficient” in these subject areas; not “approaching proficient?”

If your answers to these questions raise doubts in your mind about the viability of the education process and the adequacy of the resources at your disposal, I ask you to consider another way to organize and teach our nation’s children. Please take the time to examine my education model, which is available for your review on my website at http://bit.ly/2k53li3 along with a white paper that provides the logical foundation for the model. It is an education model that has been developed through the utilization of a “systems-thinking” process, the principles of organizational development and positive leadership, and a focus on purpose that, in education, is helping every child achieve academic success.

Please note that “systems-thinking,” the principles of organizational development and positive leadership, and a focus on purpose or mission are utilized routinely in the private sector to help organizations address the concerns of dissatisfied customers and engage in continuous improvement of products and services. Often, this requires positive leadership to take an organization and its production process back to the drawing board to reinvent a process to produce better products and services or, in many cases, create new products and services. Make no mistake, education reformers and their supporters are nothing more than dissatisfied customers of public education.

If, upon review, you believe that my education model might improve the odds of success of your students, I ask you to help me spread the word, put an end to the failure of so many children, and end the frustration of public school teachers, everywhere. Implementing an education model focused on success will also render irrelevant the education reform movement with its focus privatization, high-stakes testing, and diminishing the role of teachers.

Are students who fail, quitters?

It was suggested to me, recently, that there is no failure, there is only quitting. I must respectfully disagree.

No doubt the educator who suggested that failing students have quit trying is speaking from personal experience with kids in his classroom. When a student has given up, it is easy to conclude that they have just quit. Unless one has made the effort to go back and assess that student’s home environment and their academic record, beginning with his or her first day of school, such conclusions are rarely justified. I suggest that such conclusions are dangerous assumptions that have tragic, life-long consequences for millions of young people.

Certainly, there are students who do just quit because they don’t care but they are not the whole story. There are millions of students who quit because they have learned to quit in the face of difficult challenges; challenges that require extra effort. It is my belief that these kids quit because they have lost hope. They have lost hope because the education process at work in our schools, both public schools and private, has set them up for failure. Please note that I said the education process has set them up for failure, not their teachers.

The education process sets them up for failure because, repeatedly, they are not given sufficient time to master subject matter before they are pushed ahead to new lessons that often require that they apply what they were expected to learn on previous lessons. Learning from one’s mistakes is a critical part of the learning process, but it only works when we have time to utilize the lessons from those mistakes to produce successful outcomes. Time is an essential variable. If we are not given sufficient time to apply those lessons, successfully, we will not experience that “Aha!” moment when it clicks in our minds and it all makes sense.

The learning process requires success, not just one success but a series of successes, each built upon previous successes. What happens to us when we are expected to learn to perform complex functions but are told to stop before we can perform those complex functions, successfully? We become frustrated and discouraged. If we are, then, asked to learn to perform an even more complex function, one that depends on our acquired proficiency in performing pre-requisite functions, our probability of success has dropped while our frustration and discouragement have increased. Repeat this process on increasingly more complex lessons and it will not take long before people of any age will begin to give up and stop trying.

By denying someone the opportunity to experience success we are teaching them that success is improbable, and the more improbable success becomes the greater the odds that he or she will quit and stop trying. The younger the student the more fragile their self-esteem and the more likely they will be to stop trying; not because they are quitters rather because they have lost hope.

Disadvantaged kids are particularly susceptible to this phenomenon because almost all of them arrive for their first day of school behind with respect to academic standards and often with respect to some of their classmates. Academic standards are the expectations that have been established for students, teachers, schools, and school districts.

If the purpose of public education is to ensure that children learn as much as they are able at their own best speed, it would not matter whether students start from behind. The objective would be to help them advance through the syllabus that the standards represent, beginning at their unique point of embarkation and progressing as far and as fast as they are able, building on their successes.

Unfortunately for these youngsters, a disproportionate percentage of whom are black and other minorities, our public education process is structured more like a competition in which students are guided through the standards according to a predetermined schedule. Students who perform well and keep pace with the standards are labeled as “A” and “B” or “honors” students and their success is celebrated. Boys and girls who struggle to keep up are given “Cs,” “Ds”, and “Fs,” or their equivalent and rarely have an opportunity to celebrate success.

Yes, I understand that teachers work hard to give struggling students the extra time, attention, and resources they need to be successful. A teacher’s ability to provide that extra assistance, however, is compromised by the number of struggling students with whom he or she must work. It is one thing to help one, two, or three struggling students and quite another thing when 25, 50, 75 percent or more of their students need that extra attention. Teachers are under relentless pressure to keep their classes moving at a pace that is dictated not by the individual needs of children, but by state-wide expectations. They have only so much time to devote to their struggling students and, always, state competency exams that are used to hold teachers, schools, and school districts accountable, loom in the future.

Because we resent that we are required to administer competency examinations (high stakes, standardized testing), we tend to reject the results from such exams. Because we reject the results, we do not apply what can be learned from them. What those results would teach us, if we would take the time to understand them, is that what we are doing is not working and that a percentage of our students are not learning. The data should prompt us to challenge all our assumptions about what we do and why. Instead, our displeasure with the idea of competency testing and the data they produce pushes us into denial.

Children who are failing are victims of an obsolete education process that was established generations ago and that has changed little even though the world in which our nation’s children must live and learn has changed exponentially. I don’t care what you want to call it, but this is failure, pure and simple.

It is not the children who have failed even though they are the ones who suffer the consequences of that failure. Neither is it our teachers who have failed. The culpability of teachers is that they know what they are being asked to do does not work for many of their students and yet they endure the unacceptable outcomes, passively, as if they are powerless to speak out.

Our education leaders and policy makers are the ones who are failing because they have a responsibility to reject unacceptable outcomes and be powerful advocates for change on behalf of their students, teachers, and communities. Instead, far too many of them continue, resolutely, to march down the same path as if there is no other way for them to go.

How can we continue sending young men and women out into the world without meaningful choices of what to do with their lives? It is a human tragedy of incalculable scope and scale and the consequences of it are, without doubt, at the root of most our nation’s ills.

If we want better outcomes, we must go back to the drawing board and reinvent the education process to give every child an academic path tailored to their unique requirements. We must then give them whatever time, attention, and resources they need to learn from one success to another so that they leave school with meaningful choices in life.

Bringing an end to the failure requires that we “think outside the box” because the solution lies outside the boundaries of conventional wisdom. We cannot get where we need to go by making incremental changes. If we want every child to learn we must challenge all assumptions about what we do and why.

I have developed an education model that I offer as a starting point and I challenge educators, at every level, to examine the model to understand how it might work rather than looking for reasons why it might not. I believe, absolutely, that my model will work but you are invited to come up with a better approach if you can.

Please examine my model and white paper at http://bit.ly/2k53li3