Relationships Are an Indispensable Variable in the Education Equation!

Recently, I have heard many very smart people trash such ideas as “personalized learning” and “digital learning.” While I have great respect for all of you, I ask you to consider the question, “what if you are wrong?”

Just because “Education Reformers” who are attacking public education are misusing these concepts does not mean they are bad ideas! Clearly, education reformers are wrong to think that the future of public education will be realized by kids working independently on computers, going their own way, and not needing the help of teachers. Anyone who thinks that would be a good thing and would increase the quality of education our children receive does not know much about working with children.

Those of us who have worked closely with children, especially kids as young as 5 and 6, know that relationships matter more than anything. And make no mistake, relationships are every bit as important to preteens and teenagers. Think back on the kids with whom you had the most success and it will almost always be the students with whom you had the best relationships. Also, think back on those times when you were successful in your own endeavors. More often than not, in those special times in our lives, we were working closely with a favorite teacher, boss, or mentor.

When working with children of any age, not only do relationships matter, they are paramount. Relationships are an indispensable variable in the education equation.

“De-personalized learning” is what kids are getting, now, and it is tragic.

Every year, young children who arrive for their first day of school and who are starting at a disadvantage are placed in a race with other students in their classroom. It is a race in which these children are totally unprepared to compete. When they begin falling behind, we act surprised when they give up on themselves, stop trying, begin acting out, and maybe even drop out of school before graduating.

In the hands of qualified teachers whose minds and hearts are open to new ideas, “personalized learning” can be a powerful strategy. When a child is beginning from his or her own unique starting point on an “academic preparedness continuum” and is being given the time he or she needs, the child will begin to learn and will progress at his or her own best speed. As kids begin to discover that they can learn, they will gain confidence and gradually increase the pace at which they learn. Once kids discover that they can learn, successfully, learning becomes fun!

It is my belief what children need is learning of the most “personalized” kind, from capable and qualified teachers with whom they feel a close, personal connection and who have at their disposal the most sophisticated tools and resources.

Dissing “digital learning” is another example of educators reacting with Pavlovian predictability to neutral names and labels that have become pejorative words and phrases. Just because reformers over-value digital tools does not reduce their potential as tools for capable teachers. And, the fact that they undervalue teachers and the relationships between teachers and students creates a real opportunity for those of us who are against high-stakes testing, privatization, charter schools and vouchers.

It creates an opportunity to demonstrate how effective public schools will be when they employ an education process or model that:

• Optimizes the power of positive relationships between teachers and students;

• Pulls parents into the equation as partners in the education of their sons and daughters;

• Identifies an appropriate starting point for students based upon where they are on an academic preparedness continuum when they arrive at our door for their first day of school;

• Tailors an academic plan to meet the unique requirements of each student, in conjunction with academic standards;

• Expects students to learn as much as they are able at their own best speed;

• Expects teachers to give each child the time and attention they need to learn as much as they are able;

• Expects teachers to help kids learn from mistakes even when it takes multiple attempts and then celebrate each success like the special achievement it is.

• Equips teachers and students with the best tools and resources available, including cutting edge digital tools and learning technology; and,

• Expects students to achieve a sufficient level of mastery of subject matter that they can apply what they have learned in the real world and where nothing less is acceptable.

With such a model, public schools will outperform charter schools and other experimental classrooms at every level.

Champions and heroes of public education, at every level, are asked to take a step back so that your passion does not overshadow your wisdom. The job of public school educators is not to blame poverty and segregation for the failure of so many of our disadvantaged children. Rather it is to accept responsibility by acknowledging that what we are doing does not work for everyone and not giving up until we find a solution that will work.

Public school educators have been blamed for so long for the problems in public education that they will not listen to just anyone. It is for that reason that the champions of public education whom teachers have come to admire and respect are in the best position to influence public school educators at every level. Having the respect of teachers comes with certain responsibilities the most important of which is to provide positive leadership.

I have applied all that I have learned from over thirty years of organizational development and leadership experience to examine and strive to understand all that I witnessed during the 10 years in which I worked as a substitute teacher for an urban public school district. My objective, initially, was to understand why so many children are failing and I very quickly realized that I also needed to understand why some children manage to succeed in spite of all of the disadvantages they face. Once I felt I had a solid understanding, I began applying the skills I developed while working with my clients as an organizational development and leadership consultant.

I was guided by an axiom from operations management that said “if a process continues to produce unacceptable outcomes no matter how hard people work or how qualified they are, then the process is flawed and should be replaced or reinvented. In almost every instance, giving hard working people a process that works proved to be empowering and led to unprecedented success.

In every project the objective and methodology was the same. Apply the principles of systems’ thinking, organizational development, and positive leadership to clearly identify mission and purpose and then design a process that is tasked, structured, and resourced to produce the outcomes my clients were seeking. The outcome of my effort with respect to education was a process or model designed to empower teachers and meet the needs of all students, even the disadvantaged children.

I invite you to examine the model and accompanying white paper at
http://www.melhawkinsandassociates.com/education-model-white-paper/. I then ask for your help in finding at least one superintendent and school district willing to test my model in one of its lowest performing elementary schools.

It’s all about the kids!

Educators and Billionaires: Adversaries or Partners?

Anyone who has worked with kids knows that when an adult has a real connection with a child, amazing things happen. Clearly, some proponents of “personalized learning” or “digital learning” seem unaware of the importance of such relationships and this is tragic. These powerful advocates from the Gates’s to the Zuckerbergs and beyond are squandering hundreds of millions of dollars on initiatives that will ultimately fail. More tragically, the combination of their zeal and power has pushed us further away from a solution.

We need to embrace the utilization of technology in education but rather than involving professional teachers to learn how technology can be folded into the art and craft of teaching, these reformers have drawn a line in the sand. They want to diminish the role of teachers because they have not taken the time to understand why so many children are failing.

In the education model I have introduced, first in 2013 with the publication of my book, Reinventing Education, Hope and the American Dream: The Challenge for Twenty-First Century America (CreateSpace, 2013) and more recently on my website under “Education Model and White Paper, my conclusion is that if our goal is to bring an end to the failure, we need to enhance the relationships between teachers and students (and parents) rather than diminish them. The problem with public schools, today, is that the education process is rigid and obsolete and does not support improving relationships and giving students more time to learn. Rather, it is a system that is structured like a race to see who can learn the most, the fastest, and where there are both winners and losers.

Once we have addressed that issue, as I have done in my model, it opens the door to the utilization of technology to help professional teachers guide their children down an academic plan that has been tailored to the unique needs of the child. The categorical imperative, however, is that the relationships are the key to every interaction between people, and the more fragmented our world becomes the more important these relationships become.

My model changes the structure of the education process and classroom in such a way that teachers are supported in their efforts and that such relationships are an expectation, not something that happens every so often. Anyone reading this who has had a special relationship with a favorite teacher at school, or a favorite boss or supervisor at work, knows that it was during these periods that we were the most productive and achieved the best outcomes. We look back on these special times with regret, particularly when we were in school, that such relationships were not allowed to continue. These relationship could not endure because the education process required that we move kids on to a new grade and a new teacher at the beginning of every school year. The existing education process is focused more on preserving traditions than it is meeting the needs of 21st Century children.

My model changes this reality and makes the formation and preservation of such relationships our highest priority. No matter what we do in life, even if we are programmers writing code in a secret location, our success is ultimately determined by our ability to interact, communicate, and form relationships with other human beings.

Technology in any form, whether “digital learning software” or making full use of our smartphones, will always be tools to help us achieve results and produce outcomes through our interactions with other people. As I wrote in my book, The Difference is You: Power Through Positive Leadership (Create Space, 2013), even in their purest form, the value of assets whether land, money, or time is always measured in terms of their utility to people. The challenge is to keep abreast of new developments and discoveries, in the context of a dynamic environment. This is the job of leadership, in any venue, including public school corporations.

In education, whether public or private, the relationships between teachers and students are paramount whether we are talking about five and six year olds in Kindergarten or teenagers in high school. The second priority for teachers in my model are to pull parents into these vital relationships as partners with their child’s teacher. When there is a positive and enduring bond between the key players in education’s cast of characters, truly amazing things happen.

In her insightful blog post, “The Edu-Tech Billionaires Promote ‘Personalized’ Learning That Lacks the Personal Touch,” Jan Ressinger notes that true collaboration would involve the “billionaires” working with teachers through the NEA and AFT, and through college departments of education.

There is a simple lesson from operations management that “if a process continues to produce unacceptable outcomes no matter how hard people work or how qualified they are, then the process is flawed and must be replaced or reinvented. The one thing of which we can be sure is that the outcomes produced through the initiatives of our “billionaires” have been no more acceptable than the outcomes produced by far too many of our public schools. Our best chance of success is when the business community, even through retired consultants like this author, and professional teachers work together.

The irony is that the outcomes from the charter schools promoted by our billionaire reformers are rarely any more acceptable than those from the public schools the charters were intended to replace. And, why should we be surprised at this? With rare exceptions the charter schools rely on the same obsolete education process as public and most private schools. When are we going to admit that putting different teachers into different classrooms while using the same process will never produce the outcomes we need.

I invite the reader to check out my model and white paper to see how professional teachers, parents, and students can utilize the tools of the 21st Century to transform public education in America. Once we put talented professionals in an environment that is tasked, structured, and resourced to produce the outcomes we want, success is always within our reach.

Every Kid Needs a Favorite Teacher, Even in the Age of Digital Learning

Most of the people reading these words can recall a favorite teacher. If we are lucky, we may have had two, three, or more. However many, these special men and women played an important part in our development and academic success. With the spread of both digital learning and personalized learning, it is imperative that we clarify that the relationships between teachers and students, must always be at the core of academic success.

Relationships are everything in both public education and private, but it is also necessary that teachers have at their disposal and are trained to utilize, fully, the latest in instructional technology. No matter how good a farmer might be in plowing behind a team of beautiful horses or how much such a sight may stir the purist’s heart, their production will never approach that of farmers using the latest agricultural technology.

The impact made by our favorite teachers is the best way to illustrate the importance of the relationship between teachers and students and how powerful those relationships can be, even in the age of digital and personalized learning.

What did our favorite teachers do differently than the others who clutter our memory? Our favorite teachers treated us as if we were special. They liked us and they listened to us and they made us feel important. They believed in us and held out ever higher expectations, challenging us to push beyond our comfort zones, knowing they were close by to help us if we stumbled. They cheered us on and helped us celebrate each of the victories we worked so hard to achieve. They also smiled at us and it was genuine, heart-felt smile that made us glow. They treated us with respect, they trusted us; they wanted us to be the absolute best that we could be. They let us make mistakes without fear of consequences and taught us that mistakes are learning opportunities and the building blocks of knowledge and wisdom. They made learning fun and taught us that learning is a great adventure. We owe a great deal to these special men and women.

For children, relationships are everything. Relationships with their parents, siblings, extended family are vital to the healthy development of children. As their world expands to daycare, nursery schools, head start programs, or regular schools, relationships continue to be the most important ingredient in their ongoing growth and development. Whether their social skills, psychological and emotional development, or formal learning, kids need to feel safe and secure and they need to feel that the people with whom they interact care about them. Security builds confidence, and confidence builds motivation, and motivation leads to success, whatever the level to which we aspire.

The relationship between teachers and students is one of the two most important variables in the formula for academic success and this is true throughout a child’s thirteen years of school. As children get older and must learn to deal with temptations of peer pressure, solid relationships with teachers become more important, not less.

The other is vital variable is the support and commitment of parents. Parents, particularly those of disadvantaged kids, are suspicious because many of their own experiences with schools and teachers were negative. Most of them must be won over, but that won’t happen until teachers are able to demonstrate, in very real ways, that they are having a positive impact on the child.

If the reader has doubts about the importance of parental support and commitment, consider disadvantaged students who excel in spite of the incredible disadvantages they face. What is different about these success stories?

Almost always, when a disadvantaged child excels in school it is because of a parent or guardian who somehow clings to hope that an education will provide a way out for their children. These parents are ferocious in their commitment to make sure the child is motivated to learn and is working hard to learn. These mothers, fathers, grandparents or other guardians are fully prepared to seize their child’s teacher by the throat, figuratively of course, if they think their son or daughter is being treated unfairly or if the teacher is not giving their child the best effort of which they are capable. In these uncommon but almost miraculous success stories, it is the powerful parental commitment that is the difference maker. Without that parental commitment disadvantaged children fail, routinely.

It is only after their son or daughter begins to come home, every afternoon, bubbling about how much he or she loves their teacher that the parents are curious enough to want to learn what is happening. The same is true as parents begin to see their child enjoy success at school and be excited about the new things they have learned. Winning is contagious, even for those sitting on the sidelines. Teachers must be prepared to seize these opportunities to pull parents into partnership.

All educators know these things to be true, and many of you who are reading these words are nodding your head in agreement. What I want the reader to understand, however, is that the current education process is not structured to support and encourage teachers to reach out to parents. It is not an expectation held out for teachers and it is not something for which teachers are held accountable.

If these relationships are as vital as we believe them to be, then working to develop them must be at the top of every educator’s priority list. The reader is invited to read my education model and white paper to see how these expectations and the utilization of personalized learning are integral and interdependent components of a new education process.

Why-oh-Why Do We Do What We Do?

Should the education process at work in private and public schools, be structured as if it is a race to see who learns the most, the fastest? Or, should it be a process in which we help all kids learn as much as they are able at their own best pace?

Should the education process be competition in which some students win and others lose, or should all students learn how to be successful and how to win?

Why is it that even though some students fail to master a lesson, we still move them on to the next lesson with the rest of their classmates?

When we enter a D or F in our gradebook at the end of a lesson module or chapter test, does that mean we are satisfied with that child’s performance? Does it mean that our job on that lesson with that child is completed?

Do we ever stop to consider that we are setting students up for failure on future lessons where success depends on their ability to apply what they have already learned?

If we let these children fall behind, lesson after lesson, how will they ever be able to catch up?

How important is the relationship between teachers and students in determining a student’s success? If we all believe, as I do, that that relationship between teachers and students is essential to a child’s success, why do we sever the relationships, every school year, just because the calendar turns to May and June?

We all know that some children are easier to love and befriend than others but how often do we remind ourselves that the child who is hardest to love is the one who needs it the most?

Almost all of us agree that the involvement of parents as partners in the education of their sons and daughters is important, if not critical, to the success of a student, but how many schools treat the solicitation and welcoming of parents as a high priority? How many make this an integral part of what they do?

Very often, having an adequate time is critical to the success of a student in many aspects of the education process. So, why do we not make time?

We mentioned, earlier in this post, that bonding with one’s teacher can make all the difference in the success of a child and that forming such bonds can take an entire school year for some kids. What they need is more time with the teachers with whom a student has bonded, so why do we make them start over with a new teacher in August or September; often, a teacher they may have never met?

Given that having sufficient time on lessons is critical to the child’s success, especially for children who must start from behind or who struggle, why is allowing sufficient time to learn from one’s mistakes not at the top of our priority list? Why do we not make giving students the time they need to learn an expectation of teachers, everywhere?

If most of us understand that our ability to learn from our mistakes is a critical component of the learning process, why do we not embrace mistakes as learning opportunities? Many teachers reading these words will insist that, “Oh but we do!” and they mean that, sincerely, but the evidence that they do not is compelling.

Mistakes are critical to the learning process but when we count the mistakes students make against them, what kind of message are we sending. Teachers use the number or percentage of mistakes a student makes as one of the factors that determine the grades they record in their grade books. How can students believe mistakes are nothing to be afraid of when the consequences of those mistakes are adverse? This is one of those occasions where there’s an obvious disconnect between the words policy makers and administrators say and the things they require teachers to do.

Why do we focus on failure rather than success? In everything we do, the level of enthusiasm for that activity is a function of how successful we are. The more we win, the more we want to play, and the activities at which we win most consistently are the activities we enjoy the most. Winning is a form of success, however transitory, and successful people are almost always winners.

Losing, on the other hand, is a form of failure. When we lose repeatedly—when we rarely experience success—how long before we stop believing success to be attainable? How long before we give up and become unwilling to participate? How long before we lose interest and stop trying? If all we ever do is lose (fail) how do we not think of ourselves as a loser and a failure?

Why-oh-why would we ever want to teach children to view themselves as a failure and as a loser?

There is no question that many student excel in public schools in spite of the flaws in the education process. For kids who begin with a disadvantage—who start from behind—however, there are few success stories. Most disadvantaged students leave school with very few choices about what to do with their lives in order to find happiness and meaning. Far too many end up on the schoolhouse to jailhouse express.

The question we might want to ask ourselves is, how much more would our exceptional students accomplish, academically, if they were not asked to slow down and wait for classmates; if they were free from the distractions caused by students who have given up on themselves and have stopped trying? Even our most accomplished students must endure the adverse impact of a system that is flawed in so many ways.

Why-oh-why do we do what we do? Is it because this is the best we can do? Or, is it because we do not challenge our assumptions; because we do not stop, routinely, to make sure that what we do serves our mission and purpose? Is it because this is the way we have always done it?

Whatever the reason, how can we ever justify the failure of so many our nation’s precious children? How can we atone for the opportunity cost to society of huge population of children who will never reach their potential; who will never make the contributions to society that we should have been able to expect? How do we even calculate the value lost as a result of this opportunity cost to a nation that so desperately needs the very best of every single American man, woman, and child?

Why-oh-why-oh-why?

Seeing the Forest through the Trees

How is it that some of the nation’s most intelligent and accomplished people overlook a simple truth. As trite as it may be, the expression “can’t see the forest for the trees!” is as true as it is timeless. In the midst of the trees, or any other complex reality, it is incredibly difficult to see the whole of which we are apart. The consequence of being so immersed in the detail is that we are not fully aware of the external forces that influence whatever it is that we do. Without that broader perspective and the knowledge and understanding it provides, we find it difficult to resolve the challenges we face.

The analogy is very much like the reality in public education. Public school teachers, administrators, and policy makers work hard to address the challenges they face, particularly those in communities populated by large numbers of disadvantaged students, and yet satisfactory solutions elude us. Public school teachers and administrators seem disconnected from what outsiders perceive as the reality. Educators judge their work by the effort and commitment they put into teaching our children while those outside of the system judge the work of our schools by the performance of its graduates. Far too often those assessments are on opposite ends of the curve.

That raises the operative question. How do we judge any process developed to produce a product, service or any other outcome? Do we judge those outcomes by how hard people think they work and how much they say they care, or by the quality and utility of the outcomes, themselves?

The incremental improvements made in public schools over the last half century are comparable to course corrections of a ship at sea. The corrections are intended to allow the ship to arrive more quickly to its destination. If the destination, itself, is incorrect, however, the course adjustments are not only irrelevant, they might divert us even farther from our destination.

With respect to our system of public education, the education process as it is currently designed is neither tasked, structured, nor resourced to optimize each child’s academic success, particularly disadvantaged kids. The data from public schools in communities all over the U.S. supports this assertion. What we hear so often from public school educators is that “public schools are better than they have ever been.”

How these educators respond to challenges about the low performance of disadvantaged students provides insight into our dilemma. What educators say is that the performance of these kids is a consequence of poverty and segregation and fixing these socio-economic issues is the responsibility of society; not public schools and teachers. The unfortunate result of this disavowal of responsibility is that, in response to a half-century of poor performance of the disadvantaged, public school educators have made no substantive changes to the education process. They have, instead, relied on incremental improvements that are as irrelevant to American society as the course corrections at sea, by ships steaming toward the wrong destination.

It is clear to this observer—one who has spent an entire career working to help my organizations and clients fix ineffectual processes on the one hand and who has walked in the shoes of public school teachers while subbing, on the other—that the education process at work in our schools is fatally flawed. Because it is flawed, it has proven almost impossible for children who start at a disadvantage to acquire the knowledge and skills they will need to escape poverty and become fully productive and responsible citizens. The fact that public school educators have done nothing to address this critical deficiency is the motivating force behind the education reform movement.

What we need from public school educators is for them to acknowledge what they know to be true. The process does not work for disadvantaged kids.

The good news is that the reinvention of the education process is a relatively easy thing to do. All it requires is that we take the time to re-examine what it is that all kids need, including the disadvantaged, and then engineer a structure that is designed for the express purpose of meeting those needs. This is what this author has done in creating a new education model.

So what do kids need?

1) What kids need is more time on lessons with which they struggle. They must not be pushed to move on to the next lesson before they have mastered a current one. As success on many lessons depends on a student’s ability to apply what they have already learned, struggling students are set up for failure, are rarely able to catch up, and fall further behind. This repetitive bruising of young egos is devastating. .

2) What kids need is a fair starting point on a unique academic plan that builds on what they know and what they can do. What matters is whether each of the children for whom we are responsible learns as much as they are able at their own best speed. Students are not competing with one another in the classroom rather they are each laying their own foundation and building for their own unique futures.

3) What kids need are warm and nurturing relationships with all of the adults who share responsibility for teaching, protecting, caring, and advocating for them and the more such people there are the better off the child.

4) Children need the people who care, protect, teach, and advocate for them to work together as a team. The more these educators, mentors, and care givers communicate with one another and work together, the better it is for the child. This need places a premium on the parents and teachers working together as partners to be a positive force in the lives of our children.

5) Children need these relationships to be stable and enduring. We want each child to have the same quality of relationships that many of us recall when we think back on our favorite teachers. Often, it takes an entire school year to create these special bonds and, far too frequently, it never happens within as single school year. Once formed, why would we want to sever such relationships because it is May or June?

6) Kids need to experience and celebrate success at every opportunity. They must also learn that success is neither a destination nor a trophy. Success is a process in which we learn how to set goals and objectives, how to achieve them by learning from the mistakes we make along the way. It is the child’s mistakes that point us to areas where they need more work. We want children and teachers to think of mistakes as the building blocks of success and accomplishment.

7) Our children need to master the skills, knowledge, and discipline they will need in order to have real and meaningful choices available to them when they leave school. This is only possible when our children are able to utilize in the real world that which they have learned. If they cannot use it, they have not learned it and our job on with that child is not yet done. It serves no one’s interest when a child is allowed to fail.

Creating an education process that is tasked, structured and resourced to help children meet their needs is our responsibility and it is eminently doable. It simply requires that we acknowledge that the existing process is irreparable and then go back to the drawing board.

Use Your Imagination and Experience as a Positive Force for Change Rather Than As an Obstacle!

In almost any other venue in American society, when something is not working properly we waste little time before we fix it. We may try to fiddle with the problem for a while but if that fails to produce the outcomes we want we move quickly to revamp or replace a faulty component or process. Very few of us are willing to put up with disappointing outcomes.

This is especially true in business. Few businesses can endure dissatisfied customers as doing so is the quickest way to lose one’s business. When a pattern of disappointing outcomes is recognized, business owners feel a sense of urgency to find a solution. Only rarely will tinkering or other incremental adjustments do the trick. What is needed is a trip back to the drawing board, analyzing feedback, clarifying purpose and objectives, challenging one’s assumptions, and finding a new solution. Very often, the new solution involves a radical departure from the manner in which things were done in the past.

“But, this is the way we have always done it” is never an acceptable answer to dissatisfied customers. Learning how to be an agent for change is one of the core principles of positive leadership.

How is it that the American people can be tolerant to the point of disinterest in the fact that millions of American children are failing in public schools. Disadvantaged kids failing in a nation that boasts of American ingenuity and its commitment to human rights? It seems incongruous. Do we not care about disadvantaged kids? Do we think them incapable of learning and therefore undeserving of our time and attention?

In my last blog post, I quoted Linda Darling-Hammond from her book The Flat World and Education: How America’s Commitment to Equity Will Determine Our Future, (Teachers College Press, 2010). Dr. Darling-Hammond is President and CEO of the Learning Policy Institute, a Professor Emeritus of Education at Stanford University where she is Faculty Director of the Stanford Center for Opportunity Policy in Education. She wrote:

“A business world maxim holds that ‘every organization is perfectly structured to get the results that it gets.’ A corollary is that substantially different results require organizational redesign, not just incentives for staff to try harder with traditional constraints.”

In the midst of the failure of so many of our most precious children, how is it that public school educators do little more than ask teachers to try harder while the education reformers are on a mission to shut them down? How is it that public school educators and the advocates that support them leave some of the most fundamental assumptions in public education unchallenged? Challenging assumptions is also one of the core principles of positive leadership:

• Does it really make sense for the education process at work in our public schools to be structured as if education is a race to see who can learn the most, the fastest?

• Do we really want public education to be a competition in which some kids win and others lose?

• How can we continue to justify asking children to move from one lesson to the next, one semester after another, and from grade to grade when they are unable to apply much of what they were expected to learn.

• Do we never second guess our tradition of accepting the failure of a significant percentage of public school students as an unalterable given?

• Does it still make sense to ask all children to progress through academic standards at the same pace as other children of the same age, even though there is great disparity in their level of academic preparedness?

• Other than the fact that this is the way we have done it for over a century, does it still make sense to move students from Kindergarten through grade 12, changing teachers every year?

• Is it fair to kids who want to learn to see valuable classroom time usurped as teachers allocate increasingly larger percentages of their time to unmotivated students who act out in class and exhibit no motivation to learn?

• Do we ever consider the possibility that there might be a better way to help kids learn?

It is so easy to blame public school teachers, whom I consider to be unsung heroes, for the problems in their schools and communities but doing so is no different than blaming soldiers on the front lines of combat for the faulty strategy and tactics of their commanders.

Our public school teachers need our help not our recriminations and they need our patience as it is only natural that they be resistant to change. That being said, the best thing public school teachers can do in their own best interests and the interests of their students is speak out about the inadequacies of the education process.

The education process at work in schools all over the U.S., both public and private, does not provide our children with the best chance to learn and it does not place our teachers in a position to teach at the top of their ability. The education process and the entire system of public education is flawed. Not only is it destroying young lives it is robbing our nation and our society of its ability to provide a safe community for its citizens, to compete successfully in a dynamic world economy, and to participate meaningfully in an increasingly interdependent global society.

Public school educators are challenged to step back to a vantage point from which the educational process can be examined as an integral whole. You are invited to evaluate the education model I have developed and an accompanying white paper at http://www.melhawkinsandassociates.com/education-model-white-paper/ If you do not think my model will work, use it as a springboard to come up with something that will work. Use your experience and imagination as a positive force for change rather than be an obstacle in the way of progress.

Withstanding the Relentless Wave of the Education Reform Movement

Throughout the U.S., the movement to privatize education is advancing, whether in state legislatures or local school districts, and it is a relentless force. Education reformers are on a mission to replace under-performing public schools with charter schools and other private alternatives. They are committed to giving parents a “choice.” Most of the public schools reformers are targeting are located in urban and rural communities with populations that are as diverse economically as they are culturally. That public school educators have not taken the time to understand the true motivation of reformers places their futures and ours at risk.

This unrelenting pursuit of privatization on the part of education reformers, and the policy makers who support them, is driven by the poor performance of students. The zeal of these crusaders, however, is not just about the numbers rather it is guided by the intransigence of public school teachers and administrators who insist that public education is better than it has ever been.

The irony is that public education might, indeed, be better than ever but it is nowhere near good enough. This leaves public schools, their teachers and communities in a showdown, winner-take-all poker game in which they hold no cards.

The facts are indisputable. In states throughout the U.S., the percentage of children unable to pass their state’s competency exams in math and English language arts is unacceptable. If you have doubts that what I say is true, go to the website of a nearby public school district that serves a significant percentage of poor and minority students and examine the data. Better yet, go to the website of your state’s department of education and look at statewide data. Although children who fail are often poor and include a disproportionate percentage of children of color or for whom English is a second language, they come from all segments of U.S. population. The data is alarming.

It is my assertion that most of the problems facing 21st Century American society are rooted in the separation between the haves and have nots and between white Americans and people of color. The chasm that divides us exists because disadvantaged children enter public school at age five or six and then exit, 13 years later, without the knowledge and skills necessary to accept the responsibilities of citizenship in a participatory democracy and without the ability to participate in the American dream. Instead, they return to their communities and join the previous generations of men and women who have always failed in school and have always been poor and who live under a canopy of hopelessness and powerlessness.

As these men and women clog up our justice system, fill our prisons to overflowing, raise their children on welfare, and become hardcore unemployable they elicit the bitterness and resentment of mainstream Americans who are asked to bear the economic burden. Many of these “mainstream Americans” have been reared in a society that has long been permeated by racism and discrimination and the events of our time validate, in their minds, the long-held traditions in which blacks and other people of color were viewed as inferior. Is it any wonder that, in the anger and frustration of so many, the American people have elected an authoritarian outsider as President of the United States on the basis of his promise to make American great again? Sadly, what is great for some is misery for others.

The biggest cause of this separation is that the needs of disadvantaged students are not being met by public schools and by the educational process at work in those schools. Public education was intended to be the great equalizer that would give every American child a ticket to the American dream. Instead, public education has become a brittle shell of its former self. While American society has changed exponentially, public education has plodded along with a seemingly endless series of incremental improvements none of which help our public schools serve the mission for which they were created. Public school educators have forgotten whom they exist to serve.

Would we be content, for example, to let physicians practice early 20th century medicine in response to the health challenges facing 21st people? Of course not, and we cannot afford to let our public schools prepare children for the challenges of the 21st century using outdated early 20th century methodologies.

Public schools, their teachers and administrators must recognize and acknowledge that they are viewed as obsolete by the education reform movement in America. Reformers are committed to putting public schools out of business. Unfortunately, the leaders of the reform movement, who are enormously successful business people, have forgotten the very principles upon which their own success has been built. They think that just by taking over the responsibility for educating our nation’s children, their success and the success of their students will be guaranteed. Unfortunately, they have not taken the time to understand the needs of their customer. It is ironic that this is not a mistake they would make when making an acquisition of another business entity.

This flaw in the internal logic of the reform movement, with its focus on high stakes testing and privatization, creates a real opportunity for public education. It is an opportunity, however, that cannot be seized and realized until educators are willing to go back to the drawing board and re-examine the needs of their customers. We need our public school educators to understand that not only are they responsible for the outcomes public schools produce they are also responsible for finding a solution that produces the outcomes our society so desperately needs. Blaming external forces is unacceptable. As I said in a recent post, what public school educators need is a paradigm shift.

In her book, The Flat World and Education: How America’s Commitment to Equity Will Determine Our Future, (Teachers College Press, 2010) Linda Darling-Hammond writes:

“A business world maxim holds that ‘every organization is perfectly structured to get the results that it gets.’ A corollary is that substantially different results require organizational redesign, not just incentives for staff to try harder with traditional constraints.”

Now, seven years after these words were published, very little has changed in the way the American education process is structured and we are still getting the same outcomes we were getting then.

I utilized an axiom from operations management with a similar theme when developing my education model. It is a model that I believe will transform public education in America and seize the initiative from the reform movement. It says:

“If a system, process, or operation continues to produce unacceptable outcomes no matter how hard people work or how qualified they might be, then the system is flawed and must be replaced or reinvented.”

What my model does is:

• Change the objectives and expectations of teachers;

• Identify and address the unique needs of each and every student;

• Alter the structure of the education process to support teachers in meeting our new objectives and expectations;

• Rewrite the rules by which the game is played; and,

• Change the manner in which we keep score.

What we will soon discover after implementing such changes is that anything is possible. Reinventing the education process is a simple human engineering exercise. We have the ability to create a process to do whatever we need it to do, if only we are willing to use our ingenuity and open our hearts and minds to the possibilities that exist outside the boundaries of conventional wisdom.

I invite the reader to visit http://www.melhawkinsandassociates.com/education-model-white-paper/ to check out my education model and also a white paper that sets out the logical foundation of the model and summarizes the findings and conclusions in my book, Reinventing Education, Hope, and the American Dream: The Challenge for Twenty-First Century America.

If public school teachers and administrators continue to bury their heads in the sand and refuse to accept responsibility for fixing what is broken, the outcome for public schools and teachers is inevitable. The reform movement is riding the crest of a powerful wave and they will not be deterred. The only solution is to eliminate the failure and help every child develop the knowledge, skills, and character they will need to live the American dream. Only then will Americans see the false promise of privatization; only then will parents have a real choice.

Public School Educators Need a Paradigm Shift

Public school teachers in our nation’s most challenging schools and communities are like someone lost in the middle of a swamp who finds him or herself up to their waist in alligators. The rest of us act surprised when people who find themselves in such a predicament cannot seem to find their way out or even find the time to wonder how they became lost in the first place.

The concept “paradigm shift,” first introduced by American physicist and philosopher, Thomas Kuhn, and later popularized by Stephen Covey in his best-selling book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People (first published in 1989), is a significant change in the way people think about an idea, concept, or process that provides one with a whole new perspective. Once a paradigm shift occurs, nothing looks the same. After our perspective has been broadened, we begin to see forces at play in our world that have been invisible to us. When we gain an understanding of these forces, whole new realms of possibility reveal themselves to us and, very often, we see new ideas scattered around us like precious gemstones.

It is bad enough that we criticize public school teachers for their inability to extricate themselves. What makes it worse is when we blame them for the existence of both the swamp and its dangers. Worse, still, is the fact that the self-proclaimed education reformers and the policy makers who are influenced by them, are choosing to turn their backs on these dedicated men and women. The focus of education reformers has shifted almost entirely to privatization through the creation of charter schools as alternatives to public schools, and voucher systems to help families pay for such choices using tax dollars. If one steps back and examines the education reform movement systemically, there is a clear picture of intent “to help the families we can and leave the rest to fend for themselves.”

This focus on privatization through charter schools and high stakes testing also leaves public school teachers to fend for themselves. It is as if we have decided that we cannot do anything to repair the system, so we will just bypass it and those who want to come along are invited to join us. For the rest, “c’est la vie.”

This situation is aggravated by the fact that public school teachers have opted to play the role of victim. Much of the efforts of teachers appear to be devoted to defending themselves from criticism rather than taking ownership of the problems they face in their classrooms. These teachers are constrained because they are so busy fighting off the alligators that they are unable to view the larger picture. The consequence is that they struggle to envision any other way to do what they do. They spend their energy reacting to criticism rather than working proactively in their own best interests and in the interests of their students.

This is why a paradigm shift is imperative if teachers are going to utilize the power they possess to transform public education. And, yes, teachers do have the power to bring about systemic change that can transform public education even if they cannot see it. Until they break free from the encapsulation that suppresses their creativity, however, they will be doomed to keep repeating the mistakes of the last half century. They will remain stuck in the swamp at the mercy of its dangers.

The solution to the problems in public education is there, right in front of teachers but they cannot see it from where they sit. Maybe the solution is too simple. Most teachers understand that some kids need more time but they do not see how they can find that time within the context of the current educational process. And that is exactly my point. Teachers cannot give students the time they need to learn, particularly the disadvantaged students, as long they are stuck in the failed education process of the last century. Every year, hundreds of thousands of students fail, unnecessarily; not because they are incapable of learning and not because teachers are incompetent. The fail because our obsolete educational process thwarts the efforts of teachers and students, alike.

So, what is the solutions?

Fixing the problems in public education is nothing more than a simple human engineering challenge. It is a matter of reinventing the education process in such a way that giving children the time they need is not only a teacher’s priority but also the basis of how their own performance will be evaluated. It is redesigning the structure to support students, empower teachers, and pull parents into the process. It is changing the nature of the game from a race to see who can learn the most, the fastest, to one in which each and every child gets the help they need to learn as much as they are able at their own best speed. It is changing the game from one in which some children win and others lose, to one where we make sure every child acquires the knowledge, skills, and self-discipline necessary for them to have choices about what to do with their lives. It is changing the way we keep score because that is the only way to break from the patterns of the past. We want every child to be a winner and we want all children to enter adulthood with real and meaningful choices about what to do with their lives.

What teachers will discover after a paradigm shift is that winning is not measured against the performance of classmates. Winning and learning are synonymous. Each lesson learned is a win. Why would ever allow a child lose or fail? If they are struggling to master a given lesson how can a teacher’s job be finished?

The educational model I have developed is one example of a new idea; a new solution. Once we embrace this new paradigm, everything changes. The reader is invited to visit my website and review the education model I have developed at http://www.melhawkinsandassociates.com/education-model-white-paper/. They are also invited to read the white paper I have presented that provides the logical framework within which the education model was conceived.

Public school teachers have one of the most challenging, and at the same time, most important jobs in modern society. Society relies on our teachers to help our nation’s children acquire the knowledge and skills they will need to become productive members of society from both an economic and political perspective. We expect teachers to carry out this important function even though children arrive for their first day of school with great disparity with respect to their academic preparedness, motivation to learn, and parental support. Similarly, our nation’s children come to us from a diverse patchwork of racial, cultural, and religious backgrounds and, more often than at any time in our history, we may not even speak the same language. Never has American society been as diverse as it is today, and never again will it be less diverse than it is in this second decade of the 21st Century. This demands new ways of thinking about the challenges we face and new patterns of behavior that produce the outcomes we are seeking.

It demands a paradigm shift. It requires that we reinvent the education process.

The refusal, on the part of teachers, to acknowledge that the education process is flawed will eventually lead to their doom; it is a dangerous and self-defeating strategy. While they sit back in denial about the failures of the process, reformers are working, unobstructed, to put them out of business.

Latest 5-Star review of “Light and Transient Causes”

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5.0 out of 5 stars Rated 5 stars. This one will become a future classic., March 23, 2017
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This review is from: Light and Transient Causes (Kindle Edition)
Light and Transient Causes by Mel Hawkins reminded me of other classics like 1984 and animal farm. Well written and certainly one that will make you think long after you finish reading it. I was impressed with the story and I thought the author did a wonderful job with the characterization in the story. I would love to read more novels by this author. I have rated the story a solid 5 stars.

An Open Letter to Public School Superintendents

Below is a letter being sent to superintendents of public school districts in the U.S.

The solution to the problems in public education is so simple, conceptually, that most educators seem unable to see it. The over-riding objective is: “Don’t let kids fail!”

How we keep children from failing is by restructuring the educational process in such a way that every child is given as much time as they need to learn a given lesson. This model is constructed on the premise that education is not a race to see who learns the most the fastest and where how they finish becomes part of their permanent record and the basis on which future expectations are set. Rather, it is a process by which students learn as much as they are able at their own best speed and where performance is a function of their progress along their own unique path.

Here is a letter mailed to the first group of superintendents:

Dear Superintendent:

It is frustrating when whatever you do, the performance of schools serving disadvantaged kids seems intractable. Please consider the possibility that the educational process in public education is poorly designed to meet the needs of these kids. In operations management there is an axiom that if a process produces unacceptable outcomes no matter how hard people work, the process is flawed. The only way to get the outcomes we want and need is to replace or reinvent the process.

I am seeking at least one public school superintendent who is open to the idea that kids should not have to fail. Just one man or woman who is willing to believe there is a solution for disadvantaged kids and who is searching for a new idea that might work.

I am a writer and former leadership and organizational development consultant who, in 2002, gave up consulting to fulfill my lifelong dream of writing books. During the 10-year period from 2002 to 2012, in which I wrote 3 books, I worked, part-time, as a substitute teacher for Fort Wayne Community Schools. This turned out to be a wonderful opportunity to walk in the shoes of public school teachers.

That experience has given me a unique perspective in that I have witnessed and experienced the challenges teachers face but am able to evaluate what I felt and saw from the point of view of an independent consultant. As a consultant, my job was to help clients examine their business processes to understand why they were getting disappointing outcomes and then guide them toward a solution. Invariably, this required that their processes be re-engineered. What I also learned is that there is always a solution if one can look outside the boundaries of conventional thinking.

Although the overwhelming majority of public school teachers are dedicated professionals doing the best they can within what I describe as a flawed process, they have been blamed for the problems in public education so vehemently that they are, understandably, defensive. This is unfortunate because teachers are perfectly positioned to translate what they see in their classrooms into meaningful advocacy. Teachers know the educational process is flawed every time a student shows up in their classrooms so far behind that he or she has stopped trying. They know the process is broken each time they must move a class on to the next lesson, knowing there are students who are not ready. They know something is wrong whenever they must record an “F” in their gradebook or are asked to help a student qualify for graduation when that student has made minimal effort over a four-year period.

I urge you to take time to review the educational model I have developed and the accompanying white paper that provides an overview of the logic behind the model as well as the findings and conclusions offered in my book, Reinventing Education, Hope, and the American Dream: The Challenge For Twenty-First Century America. You can find the model and white paper at http://www.melhawkinsandassociates.com/education-model-white-paper/.

I am seeking a public school corporation willing to test my model in one of its lowest performing elementary schools. In school districts throughout the U.S. there are elementary schools where students perform well below their counterparts in other schools in their community and around the state, as measured by standardized competency exams. This is not a new phenomenon and has, in fact, been a pattern that can be traced back to the beginning of high-stakes testing and before. By the time these students reach middle school, their performance drops, suggesting that the further along they move through their K-12 academic career, the further behind they fall. By the time these students reach high school, many have given up and have stopped trying. Our teachers and principals see this, routinely. It need not be this way!

Would it not be worthwhile, and in the best interests of students, to examine a new idea? Imagine being the first school district to lead the nation in meaningful educational reform that actually changes the lives of American students?

I look forward to the opportunity meet with you to discuss my model and white paper and invite you to contact me at (260) 740-8285. We still have time to implement my model in the fall semester of the 2017/2018 school year.

Most public school educators have found it difficult to envision any other way to do what they do. Surely there is someone out there who can.

Sincerely,

Mel Hawkins, BA, MSEd, MPA