The Essential Purpose of School: Help All Kids Learn or Just Document and Accept their Success or Failure?

It is time for educators, at every level of the education process in America, to redefine and reaffirm their essential mission. For what purpose do they exist to serve?

 Is it to use their talent, skills, and all the resources available to them to help children progress along their unique developmental and learning path or is it to push them from one lesson to the next on an arbitrary schedule or calendar?

 Is it to teach children how to be successful and help them celebrate their successes as they learn and grow or is it to document their successes and/or failures after an unending sequence of arbitrary time periods? Is it to move students from one lesson to the next, in each subject area, ready or not, or is it to ensure that they are able to utilize what they have learned throughout their lives, in real-life situations, the least important of which are standardized tests?

 Critics of public education find it easy to point their fingers at teachers but that is a “cop-out.” It is always easy to blame someone else for our problems. Teachers can only do what their administrators tell them to do and they can only teach to the academic standards that have been established by their state government. They must teach the curricula they are given.

 It is also easy to blame teachers’ unions and associations that exist only for the purpose of representing the interests of their members and defending them from policy makers, government officials, and reformers who want to blame them for the unacceptable outcomes of the flawed education process in which they are asked to work. These critics have not taken the time walk in the shoes of the teachers they are so quick to blame.

 Perhaps if administrators and policy makers would acknowledge that it is the education process that is flawed and that teachers are their most important asset, they might find that teachers’ unions and associations would be willing partners in reinventing the education process. Imagine an education process that, truly, does function to serve teachers, students, and parents in the important work they do.

Even in our highest-performing schools, many teachers are frustrated. It is such schools, however, where the symptoms of the flawed education process are subtle. This leads many educators to proclaim “public education is better than it has ever been.”

 The best teachers, if they were to look deep inside their hearts, know that many students are not learning as much as they could, even in high performing schools. They know the process is moving students along an assembly line.  

 In struggling schools that perform poorly, as measured by state competency exams, the flaws are apparent. Teachers know their students are not getting the education necessary to enter adulthood with meaningful choices. Teachers know something is awry every time they are asked to move students on to a new lesson before they can demonstrate understanding of preceding lessons. Teachers know the education process is flawed every time a student arrives in their classroom who is so far behind that catching up seems improbable, if not impossible. Teachers know something is wrong every time they record a low or failing grade in their grade books. They know it is a sham when administrators seek innovative ways to justify the issuance of diplomas to students who have made little or no effort throughout four years of high school; young men and women who lack the academic foundation necessary to make a place for themselves in main-stream society.

 The fact that most of the schools that produce low test scores are populated by disadvantaged students is no secret. We all know this. How is it that we have become inured to the failure of these students? How can administrators and policy makers avert their eyes and pretend that the education process is working for all kids?

 The fact that a disproportionate percentage of disadvantaged students are children of color is also common knowledge. How can the leaders of public education not see that the education process is failing theses students? Have they convinced themselves that this is the best we can expect from black students and other minority children?

 Leaders of the black community and other minorities must surely be appalled by the academic performance of so many of their children? They know these kids deserve better and they know their own children are as capable of learning as any other child. Is it not obvious that something is broken? Why are the leaders of black community not marching in the streets to protest what is clearly the civil rights issue of the 21st Century?

 One can only judge a process by the quality of the outcomes it produces. This is true of assembly and manufacturing processes, of service-delivery processes, and it is true of the education process in American schools.

 Before we rush to join the bashers of our nation’s public schools let us state, unequivocally, that the same disappointing outcomes are being produced by many private, parochial, and charter schools.

The problem is not our public schools and it is not the teachers. Schools are nothing more than structures constructed of brick and mortar and our teachers are all trained in the same colleges and universities and are certified to the same standards.

 The problem is an education process that became obsolete a half century ago and no longer serves its essential purpose. The education process at work in American schools is not structured to ensure that every child gets the time and attention they need to learn. The education process is not designed to nurture our nation’s most precious assets. It is a process that honors stale traditions of a distant past and that suppresses the creativity and craftsmanship of teachers.

 The problem with the education process begins with academic standards. We must have academic standards to ensure that we are teaching our children the things they need to know to become healthy, confident, and productive citizens. Quality standards give us direction. What we must do, however, is challenge the fundamental assumptions upon which the current standards were established, beginning with the assumption that all children must develop and learn at the same pace.

 We know that some children learn to walk or talk earlier than other kids. Even within our own families, some of our sons and daughters reach the notable milestones of child development earlier than their siblings. A child’s brain is not software, programmed so that every step in the developmental process is scheduled to occur at a precise point in time. Child development research may have established broad guidelines, but they are only guidelines. Each child is unique in every conceivable manner or characteristic. When children arrive for their first day of school, they are not at the exact same point on the growth and development chart. Not only are they genetically unique but they come from households that are diverse by every conceivable measure.

 How is it, then, that the establishers of academic standards expect all students to move from grade to grade on the academic standards continuum, in unison? We do not expect children to reach puberty at the exact same age nor do we expect synchronous growth spurts. Are we striving for regimentation or are we seeking the optimal growth and development of each of our students; intellectually, physically, and emotionally?

 Let us step back and re-think the essential purpose of education and then construct an education process that is engineered to support that purpose. This is what I have labored to do with the education model I have designed. It is structured to help each child learn and grow at their optimal pace while also developing their unique interests, talents, and potential.  It is an education model engineered so that teachers can adapt to the individual and dynamic needs of their students with creativity and craftsmanship. I urge you to take an hour to read it at:

 http://www.melhawkinsandassociates.com/education-model-white-paper/

No one has ordained that we must follow the obsolete traditions of a past we have out-grown. Please open your hearts and minds to the simple belief that the creation of an education process that will help your students fulfill their inherent potential is within our power. 

How To Make People Feel Important is an Essential Skill of Positive Leaders!

Great teachers and great principals share a common characteristic and less effective principals and less successful teachers lack that same characteristic. Great principals and great teachers have learned how to make people feel important, which is one of the essential attributes of positive leaders.

While following teachers on Twitter, one of the things these dedicated men and women often share is the nature of the culture in their school. Do they feel valued and appreciated or do they feel that their principals prowl the hallways looking for reasons to be critical? The culture in any organization is a function of the quality of leadership and the same is true in a classroom. The experience and success of students is every bit as much a function of the culture in the classroom as the experience and success of teachers is a function of the culture in their school.

Anyone who aspires to a position of leadership must learn what I consider to be the essential lesson of positive leadership: “It is not about you!”

The only measure of a leader’s success is the success of their people. Teachers may not think of themselves as leaders but leaders they are. Children are desperate for affection and affirmation and the heart will always be the portal to the mind. Make people and/or your students feel important and ignite the internal motivation to learn and to excel that exists in each of us.

Examine your own experience with your favorite teacher or supervisor. You felt a special relationship with your mentor, a real kinship. You knew you were liked and you did your best work while they were involved in your life. What did they do differently than the other teachers and supervisors who clutter your memory?

These leaders treated you as if you were special. They liked you; they remembered your name; they listened to you; they valued your opinion; they showed appreciation for your efforts; they smiled at you; they treated you with respect; they trusted you; they challenged you; they strove to help you do a better job; they provided you with clear expectations; they gave you continuous and ongoing constructive feedback; they let you make mistakes without fear of retribution or humiliation; they encouraged you to stretch, knowing they were there for you when you needed them. They made sure you received full recognition for your contributions and they celebrated with you. They expected much from you and so much more.

They worked hard to make you feel important. It was a genuine display of affection. And, it was easy because they liked people. Positive leaders genuinely care about and believe in the capabilities of the people with whom they work; whether those people are five, twenty-five, fifty-five, or older.

When subbing a few years ago, I was helping a young lady with an assignment. When we finished, and she understood, she thanked me; not for helping her but for caring. I responded that caring is what teachers do. She said, “Not mine. If they cared they wouldn’t be so quick to give up on me.”

Students will respond to the positive attention and affection of a teacher who communicates that they care with their words, actions, their smiles and even the twinkle in their eyes. They care enough to expect the best of a child; they care enough to give their students the safety of boundaries. The student is sufficiently important that their teacher refuses to give up on them. Teachers will respond to that same positive affection and attention from their principals.

If you are a principal, how would your teachers rate the quality of your leadership? How fondly will they look back on their time with you?

What School Could Be, 2018, by Ted Dintersmith

A Five Star Review by Mel Hawkins

 

If you are an educator, parent, grandparent, or are just concerned about the quality of education being provided to our nation’s children, What School Could Be: Insights and Inspiration from Teachers Across America, (WSCB) by Ted Dintersmith is a must read. It is a look at what school in America could be, juxtaposed with the reality in an overwhelming majority of American schools.

Many educators have said that reading about these “teachers and children in ordinary circumstances doing extraordinary things”  has given them hope, inspiration, and encouragement. For teachers struggling with the day-to-day challenges of “teaching to the test,” finding encouragement and inspiration is reason enough to read Ted Dintersmith’s book.

We can only hope that teachers, administrators, and policy makers are shaken and motivated by Dintersmith’s core message that “our education system is stuck in time, training students for a world that no longer exists.” His challenge to educators is that “Absent profound change in our schools, adults will keep piling up on life’s sidelines, jeopardizing the survival of civil society.”

Over the past eight years, I have been comparing the American education process to a 1950s assembly line with an obsolete quality system, producing piles of discrepant material. These piles are the allegorical equivalent of remedial classrooms full of high school students unable to pass state competency exams. We place the future of our democratic society at risk when we send these young men and women out into the world, with or without a high school diploma, unprepared for the challenges of the Twenty-first Century workplace. For young people entering adulthood with few skills and choices, the American dream quickly becomes a nightmare.

It is my hope that American teachers, administrators, and policy makers will rally around someone of Ted Dintersmith’s stature and platform and be motivated to act; with a sense of urgency. I also hope those of us with a vision for our schools can work together to bring it to life.

In WSCB, Dintersmith suggests that our schools must help students develop: PEAK (Purpose, Essentials, Agency, and Knowledge). He suggests that these things “abound in preschools, kindergartens, and Montessori schools—places where children love school, learn deeply and joyously, and master essential skills.”

How ironic is it that learning is fun until children arrive at school where such initiatives as No Child Left Behind, Race to the Top, and other policies have “shoved PEAK out of our classrooms.”

“The purpose of U.S. education. . ,” Ted Dintersmith writes, describing the current reality, “. . . is to rank human potential not develop it.” And, that “’College ready’ impedes learning and innovation in our K-12 schools.”

The journey on which WSCB takes its readers provides examples of schools, in diverse communities throughout America, that focus on “hands-on learning” where children are challenged with “real-world problems.” You will see students who are excited by learning and teachers who are fulfilled by teaching. It reveals a vision of education where students develop their unique potential and leave school with knowledge, skills, and abilities they can utilize in the real world, rather than with abstract academic concepts they may or may not be able to regurgitate on standardized tests, let alone apply in life.

One of the people Dintersmith encountered on his excursion was a chief of staff to a state governor whose attitude reflects the scope of the challenge facing those of us seeking to transform education in America. This aide said, in response to his query, “Look. I know everything I need to know about education. You don’t need to tell me anything.”

One can only wonder how anyone could ever think they know everything there is to know about anything? Breaking through this kind of resistance is the challenge educators face and if you are a teacher in a classroom, the sense of powerlessness can be overwhelming. Possibly, Ted Dintersmith and others, can give teachers hope and inspiration around which they can rally. They need not be powerless.

Teachers unions and associations were created to give teachers a voice and some sense of power over the outcomes in their professional lives. The key is for teachers and administrators to use the power of their numbers as advocates of positive ideas rather than as a forum for complaints. There are few things as powerful as a positive new idea in the hands of a community of people with a shared vision. Ted Dintersmith’s accounts of his visits around America provides his readers with real examples of things schools and teachers can do for their students.

The questions that nag at me after reading WSCB, and that have nagged at me for years, are “why do so many of the innovative programs and initiatives we read about focus on kids in high school or even middle school?” Why do we wait for children to be bored, unmotivated, and discouraged before we act? Why not begin changing the way we teach them from the moment they arrive at our door for their first day of school? Why not make learning fun and meaningful right from the start? Imagine how we would be pushed to reinvent college, high school, and even middle school if fifth grade boys and girls were successful learners prepared to take ownership of their educations.

Do not wait to read What School Could Be: Insights and Inspiration from Teachers Across America, 2018 by Ted Dintersmith. Go ahead and treat yourselves. You deserve it.

Teach to the Kids and the Tests Will Take Care of Themselves!

In his books Stephen Covey often used the story about taking time to sharpen the saw and it is a good lesson for public school educators. As we work hard, cutting wood, the saw gradually loses its edge. If we don’t take time to stop and sharpen the saw, it won’t matter how hard we work; our productivity will begin to decline until we are accomplishing almost nothing at all. It is the same concept as an athletic coach pushing his or her athletes to focus on the fundamentals.

The era of high-stakes testing has led public school policy makers and administrators to push teachers to work hard doing the wrong things when what they really need to be doing is teaching to the kids and their unique requirements and not to the test. It seems that no matter how hard our dedicated teachers work toward our misconceived purpose, the test scores rarely improve and when they do they see only gains of the slimmest of margins.

From a child’s first day of school, at age five or six, our focus needs to be on identifying each child’s unique starting point. We need to know where they are on the academic preparedness continuum. Once we have identified what they know and where they are lacking, we can develop an academic path tailored to the unique needs of each child.

Our goal is not to train them to pass state competency exams rather it is to help them lay a solid academic foundation on which they can build the future they will be learning to envision for themselves. Once they have that academic foundation they can begin the wonderful and fun journey of discovery of who they are, what they can be, and where they can go in life.

Their destination should not be based upon anything other than their own evolving sets of knowledge, skills, interests, and dreams. We are not teaching them to be successful in the world as we know it because that world will not exist by the time our students leave school as many as 13 years later.

Think back on your own teachers. Could they have envisioned the world in which you are now asked to teach. The world has undergone such phenomenal change that if our deceased grandparents and educators were able to drop down today they would be overwhelmed by a world that is nothing like the one they knew.

Our job is to make certain our children are always moving forward from one stage of their individual development to the next, irrespective of what their classmates are doing. We must not prepare them for college because college may not be what they will someday want and need to find joy and meaning in their lives. The last thing we must do is allow them to become discouraged, to give up, and to lose hope. We want them to be excited about the adventure and we need to be excited to be their guide, coach, mentor and friend

If we give them a solid foundation they will be primed to go wherever their curiosity, interests, talents, and abilities will take them. They will be primed to thrive in a future we can barely imagine. It will be a different world where every aspect and institution in society will have had to adapt to accommodate whole new generations of motivated young men and women with both the hunger and wherewithal to make a difference and with a dream to follow.

We cannot wait until kids reach middle school and have become so far behind that they have given up and lost hope. Certainly, we must help the children we find at this tragic point in their young lives but it is not where our overall focus must be. Instead, we must focus on children in grades K-2 and makes sure they never fall behind because we have given them a foundation upon which they can construct their own future.

The last chapter of my book,  Reinventing Education, Hope and the American Dream: The Challenge for Twenty-First Century America (2013) was an attempt to envision how different the future might look if we help our children develop their full potential. Envisioning that future, I wrote:

“Post secondary educational institutions have had to virtually reinvent themselves as the demand for more advanced mathematics, science, engineering, and information technology classes has exploded. The evolution of institutions devoted to a wide range of technical and vocational educational opportunities has been similarly phenomenal.”

 

My education model has been developed to allow such a future to evolve and I encourage you to examine it with an open mind. If you are inspired by what you find, as a number of readers have been, I urge you to share it with as many of colleagues as you can. Imagine what it would be like to teach in such an environment. You will find my model and an accompanying white paper at http://www.melhawkinsandassociates.com/education-model-white-paper/ 

In a few months, I will be releasing a new book focused on the model and what it will allow us to accomplish. More important, it will focus on what we can enable our students to accomplish so they can take their place in a troubled world where their knowledge and imagination will be desperately needed.

 

The Biggest Flaw in our Education Process is not Giving Kids Time to Learn!

My challenge to teachers, whom I consider to be unsung American heroes, is to look deep inside your hearts and think about how many times the education process requires you to move your students on to a new lesson before they are ready.

How many times in a given semester, year, or in your career have you had to record a lesser grade beside a struggling student’s name, not because it was the best that they could do, rather because an arbitrary schedule said it was time to move on to a new lesson module? For many of you, this happens, routinely, with one or more students on every lesson module. In some public schools—in all schools, actually—it happens for the majority of a teacher’s students. In our lowest performing schools, it happens to teachers with almost every student on almost every lesson; semester after semester and year after year.

Is it any wonder that so many of these students are unable to pass state competency examinations by the time they reach the third grade? Why should we be surprised that a significant percentage of these boys and girls have given up by the time they reach middle school? We all know what happens when a child has given up and lost hope. They stop trying and begin acting out in class. After all, they cannot appear to care! Peer pressure is far too powerful.

In my book, Reinventing Education, Hope, and the American Dream: The Challenge for Twenty-First Century America (2013), I used an example of children learning how to ride a bicycle and I will use the same example in my new book, which will be finished by the end of the year.

We know that some kids learn quickly and are riding within an hour or two, and that other children will endure bruised egos and scraped appendages for several days before their brains finally gain a sense of balance. We also know that once they learn to ride their bikes they derive the same enjoyment from riding as the early learners. The fact that it took them longer to learn is inconsequential. The only thing that matters is that they did learn and can use what they learned.

There are many things that determine a child’s success in learning. Children learn differently. They have different potential. Some have special needs. Some kids arrive better prepared to learn. Some children are shy and timid and are fearful of being embarrassed in front of their teachers and classmates. Some boys and girls need more personal attention before they are ready to test their knowledge. So many others just need more time to learn.

Imagine that when half the children have mastered the art of riding a bicycle, we immediately push all ahead to learn advanced riding skills. Can you imagine popping wheelies, doing jumps, or racing around turns before you’ve mastered keeping your balance, braking, and steering? Can you imagine even having the courage to attempt using more demanding skills when you are still afraid of falling?

With poignant clarity, this example illustrates the trauma that children face when the learning process is more focused on keeping up with an arbitrary schedule than helping children learn. The more scrapes and bruises, whether egos or appendages, the greater the trauma. Imagine the added indignity when we attach grades to the names of these children: A’s for the fast learners and C’s, D’s, and F’s for their slower classmates.

Learning is not a competition. It is not like a race to see how fast they can run and where the winners get ribbons and medals and the losers get nothing.

Learning should be thought of as more like healing from an illness or injury. It does not matter that some individuals heal more quickly than others and we certainly do not award ribbons, medals, or A’s to patients who recover the fastest and easiest. The only thing that matters is that our patients heal.

Learning, also, is not a trip where all students travel to the same destination. It is not grooming children for the life we envision for them rather it is preparing them to discover their own future. With our help, they acquire the basic academic skills they will need to interact and communicate with the world around them. From that foundation they can begin to discover their own talents, interests and, ultimately, the destinations they choose for themselves. This adventure of discovery requires that they are exposed to a broad range of learning experiences that challenge their own imaginations and the imaginations of their teachers. Teachers, in a positive leadership environment, must keep in mind that we can barely imagine the world in which our students must be prepared to prosper.

If you think about these examples you can see that what we ask teachers and their students to do in our schools, today, makes little sense. It’s the way we’ve always done it, however. The entire education process is structured, tasked, and resourced to reward the speed or ease with which one learns rather than assure that every child learns. Tragically, we have become inured to the reality that so many of these precious young lives fall behind and out, along the way.

We talk a great deal about the importance of relationships between teachers and their students but the process, itself, and the way we organize teachers and their students, makes it difficult to develop nurturing relationships with every boy or girl, especially the most timid and reticent. Where does it say that the best way to organize teachers and students is in grades Kindergarten through 12? Where did we get the idea that it is in a child’s best interest to assign them to a different teacher, every year?

Who decided it was okay to allow children to fall so far behind that they are never able to catch up? Who got the bright idea that it is okay to expect kids who start from behind to keep up with classmates who arrive at school, readier to learn? What were they thinking when they decided that it was in a child’s best interest to learn at the same pace as their classmates and reach the same milestones together?

Who in the world got the idea that it is acceptable to tell students we cannot give them the extra time they need to learn? When did we decide to accept, unquestioningly, that our education  process is working when the same kids and the same schools are unable to pass state competency exams, year after year? It is bad enough that administering such exams has become our focal point. Is it not worse that we seem not to learn and then utilize what the exams are telling us?

Whether you are a teacher, principal, superintendent, school board member, or policy maker, do you deem it acceptable that some kids excel in school while others fail? Do you not see that while it might be wonderful that some teachers are able to accomplish extraordinary things for their students, it does not mean the education process is working for children, everywhere?

The truth we must accept is that the teachers and schools that are able to accomplish extraordinary things for their students are succeeding despite the system, not because of it.

Examples of these success stories are wonderful in that they show what educators can do when allowed to use their imaginations in an environment supported by positive leadership. The challenge, however, must not be helping more teachers and principals carve out exceptions to the norm. The challenge must be creating a process that allows all teachers to use their skill, training, and imaginations to help children learn as much as they can from their own unique starting point; all kids, not just a few. The challenge must be preparing them to take command of their own destinies.

We must not preserve the existence of a system that constrains the ingenuity of our teachers and the performance of their students. What we must do is go back to the drawing board and create a system that exists to help all children learn, grow, dream, and create.

Through the application of my nearly fifty years of working with children and leading organizations, I have developed an education model crafted around the work of teachers and students. I urge you to take an hour or less of your time to examine my education model. Read it, not looking to find fault. Read it like an explorer to see if there might be a better way to do what you do. You can find the model simply by scrolling down to the previous blog post.

The Hawkins Model: An Updated Version

THE HAWKINS MODEL

 Implementation Outline for Educational Model in Which There Is Only Success and No Failure.

By Mel Hawkins

Version dated: September, 2018

 

A Process is Just a Process

Teaching children in a classroom is a process of human design, no different than any other production, assembly, service-delivery process, or even a software program. It is a logical construct engineered to produce certain outcomes.

We are guided by the principle that when a process continues to produce unacceptable outcomes, no matter how hard people work or how qualified they are, then the process is broken and must be reinvented. The education process in our public schools must be tasked, organized, staffed, and resourced in such a way that every child leaves school with a quality education. It is such an education that gives them meaningful choices about what to do with their lives to find joy and meaning and to provide for themselves and their families. The education process must help students discover their potential and help them develop that potential and begin taking ownership of the pursuit of their dreams and ambitions.

The existing education process in use in public schools is structured like a competition in which some students win and others lose. It is a rigid process that requires teachers and schools to conform to its structure and organization. It is our belief that the structure and organization of teachers, students, and schools must be driven by the purpose for which schools and teachers exist: “To help all children learn as much as they are able at their own best speed.”

I challenge educators to examine the model you are about to read with an open mind, seeking to understand how it could work and not in search of reasons why it will not.  My hope is that this model will stimulate your imagination and open your heart and mind not only to the deficiencies of the existing education process but also to the limitless possibilities of a model created for you.

The model has been titled, the Hawkins Model, so I can retain the right of authorship. The Hawkins Model will be offered to public and parochial schools, free of charge. The only compensation I expect to receive would be royalties on the sale of my new book, that will be released, later this year, with the working title, The Hawkins Model: Public Education Reinvented, One Success at a Time!

This work will replace Reinventing Education, Hope, and the American Dream: The Challenge For Twenty-First Century America, published in 2013 through Createspace. Thanks to the wonderful professional educators who support one another and share ideas through social media, I have learned a great deal in the past five years. While I believe the original book is worth a reader’s time and consideration, I have discovered many new ideas and have abandoned others.

My final advice to prospective readers is to consider that positive advocacy for a new idea or solution is a far more effective means of driving positive change than complaints and protests. The latter are like fireworks. They are exciting, stimulating, and even inspiring, but when the last echoes fade into the night sky and the smoke has dissipated, they are quickly forgotten. Only ideas and solutions, promoted through the advocacy of positive leaders working together, have an opportunity to become real and have a lasting impact on the world.

 

Discarding the Past

What public school teachers and administrators will think when they first review my model is, “this will not work in my classroom(s),” and, of course, they are correct. This is exactly my point. In the current education process, it takes an extraordinary effort on the part of teachers and principals to implement innovative ideas and solutions that will endure and not be ground to dust by the unrelenting glacial power of the existing education process. It is my assertion that no educator can be satisfied, no matter how successful their own school, until every school is focused on the success of every student.

We commence this implementation process by rejecting our current educational process in which some level of failure is tolerated. We reject failure, absolutely.

 

Two Fundamental Truths

 There are two fundamental truths that are central to our purpose and every detail of the education model you are about to read has been designed to serve those truths.

 

Relationships

The first truth is that academic success is a function of the quality of the relationships between teachers, students, and parents. 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. In fact, is there any time in our lives when close 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 schools, today.

Of great concern is the tendency of some education reformers to denigrate the importance of teachers. We reject this notion, categorically.

In the Hawkins Model, nothing is more important to the success of kids than enduring relationships with caring teachers. Add concerned parents to the equation and students will soar.

 

Learning is the only thing that counts

The second truth is that the only thing that matters is that children learn as much as they can at their own best speed. One would think this would be obvious but all students in schools, today, are not given the same opportunity to succeed. The process is structured to move children along an identical path, at the same pace. At the end of the lesson, we assign a grade to each child’s performance, record it in our grade books, and move on to a new lesson; our job on the previous lesson, completed; or so we believe. At the end of the school year, we move all but a few on to the next grade where new teachers will try to get to know them and move them and their new classmates along the next measured segment of the path delineated by state academic standards. We then, repeat this process in succeeding years as we are gradually conditioned to tolerate a certain level of failure. It is difficult not to become inured to the failure of our students.

The model you are about to examine has been engineered to insure no child is pushed on to a new lesson until they understand and can demonstrate mastery on the current lesson. If a child has not learned a given lesson the job of educators is incomplete. The expectation must be that educators keep working with the child until they can demonstrate an acceptable level of mastery; until our students have learned. Nothing else matters. We must not be satisfied, however, that a student was able to pass a test. The true measure of learning is one’s ability to apply that skill or knowledge in real life situations. Simply stated, if a child cannot use a skill or knowledge they have not learned it, and this has devastating consequences with respect to the child’s ability to become the best version of themselves.

At the same time, the last thing we want to do is put a child in a situation in which they feel pressured to perform. Learning is supposed to be fun. It is one of the great ironies of life that many children perceive learning to be fun until they start school. Learning can be fun in any environment if success in learning is both assured and celebrated. We want children to believe in their hearts that learning is a great adventure. We want it to be a great adventure for teachers, as well.

This requires that we change what we teach. We must teach more than academic subject matter and we must teach the whole child. We want to teach applied academics–how to use what they learn in the real world. We want to teach them how to think creatively; how to solve problems; how to communicate effectively using all media; and, how to work together with other people both individually and as members of a team. We want them to embrace technology and use their imaginations to take on the challenges facing both the planet Earth and human society. We also want them to learn how to be kind; how to have an open mind and be non-judgmental. We want to teach them how to participate in their own governance and to respect the rights and beliefs of individual human beings and the principles of democracy. We want them to be good citizens who accept responsibility for their actions and their communities. We want to teach the principles of positive leadership, of organizational dynamics (people working together in organizations), and systems thinking, which is the process of bringing about systemic changes. Finally, we want to teach them to value life, family, and community.

Where our students will end up in life will be determined by their individual potential, their interests, how much they learn, and how hard they are willing to work. If they leave school with few, if any, choices about what to do with their lives then not only have they failed, we have failed them.

 

The Hawkins Model

 

Step 1 – Clarifying Mission and Purpose

The purpose of an education is to prepare children to be responsible and productive citizens who have a menu of choices for what they want to do with their lives to find joy and meaning. We want them to be able to think creatively. As citizens of a democracy, we want them to participate in their own governance and be able to make informed choices with respect to significant issues of the day.

The welfare and success of all students must be a teacher’s over-riding priority and the instructional process, and the very structure of the environment, must be molded to serve that purpose with the same dedication aircraft engineers use to design the cockpit to support and enable every function a pilot will be called upon to perform.

An education must teach children more than facts and knowledge, it must teach them that success is a process. Success and winning are not accomplishments rather they are a life-long process of getting the most out of one’s life by learning from one’s experiences; both mistakes and successes.

 

Step 2 – Objectives and Expectations

Our objective as educators is to help children learn as much as they are able, as fast as they are able, beginning at that point on the learning preparedness continuum where we find them when they arrive at our door. Each school must be a “No Failure Zone!”

It is our expectation that:

  • Every child will be given whatever time and attention they need to learn every lesson;
  • They learn that mistakes are learning opportunities and that they should never give up on themselves;
  • Success will be measured against a child’s own past performance and not the performance of other children;
  • We will strive for subject mastery and that the threshold for mastery is a score of 85 percent or better on mastery assessments;
  • Students must learn well enough that they can apply what they have learned in real life situations that include subsequent lessons, state competency examinations, and life in a democratic society;
  • There are no arbitrary schedules or time limits and that all students are on their own unique schedule; and, finally,
  • Learning is an adventure of discovery.

 

Education is not a race to see who can learn the most, the fastest and there is no such thing as an acceptable level of failure. No child should be asked to keep up with their classmates and no child should be asked to wait for classmates to catch up.

 

Step 3 – What do children need to learn?

Let us summarize all the things children need if they are to learn:

  • A close personal relationship with one or more qualified teachers;
  • The involvement and support of parents/guardians in partnership with teachers;
  • To start at the exact point on the academic preparedness continuum where we find them when they arrive at our door;
  • An academic plan tailored to their unique requirements and where disadvantaged students receive accommodations appropriate to their disadvantage much as we do for special needs students;
  • Access, under guidance of their teachers, to leading edge methodologies, approaches, and technologies; from STEM to stern;
  • Our patient time and attention;
  • A stable and safe environment for the long term;
  • The freedom to explore the world and pursue their own interests as well as the curriculum developed for them;
  • To learn how to be successful and they need to know that success and winning are nothing more than a process of striving toward one’s goal and making adjustments along the way on the basis of what they learn from experience; and,
  • To experience success and winning and to celebrate every success and every win.

 

As educators, we must understand that while cutting-edge technology may seem threatening to us, it will be an integral part of the world in which our children must, someday, thrive. Educators are encouraged to think of their smart phones as an example of something that was initially intimidating but has become an integral part of our lives. Notwithstanding that everything in life has tradeoffs, think about how our smart phones have benefited us in our daily lives.

 

Step 4 – Where do we begin?

We begin by selecting the lowest performing elementary schools in any of our targeted public school districts and using them as a test case and, also, by soliciting the support of local advocacy groups that represent the people residing in a given school’s boundaries. We stress our focus on public schools because this is the only place we can attend to the needs of all our nation’s children. When something works in public education, it will find its way into private, parochial, and charter schools but the converse is not true.

People in the communities to be targeted will be skeptical. They have spent a lifetime hearing false promises and enduring their own difficulties in school. We will need the help of a community’s leaders to convince people that this is something special that will truly give their children a path out of poverty. After sharing our objectives with the community, our primary agenda is to focus on children who are starting kindergarten and what we now refer to as first through fifth grade. Our objective will be to meet each child at the unique point on an academic preparedness continuum where we find them on day one. From that unique point of departure, our objective is to help each child move forward on their unique path at their own best speed.

 

Step 5 – Organization and structure

 We will eliminate references to grades K through 12 as well as any other arbitrary schedules in the educational process and replace those grades with three phases of a child’s primary and secondary education:

  • Elementary/Primary Phase (formerly grades K through 5)
  • Middle School Phase (formerly grades 6 through 8)
  • Secondary Phase (formerly grades 9 through 12)

 

While addressing pre-school learning is not within our purview, what we will be doing will bring the importance of pre-school learning and development into sharper focus. The primary focus of public schools, however, must be on the children who stand before us.

It is understood that many school districts have divided elementary schools into smaller segments, e.g. K to 2, 3 to 5, etc. While these segments could be preserved in our proposed education model, we would ask administrators and policy makers to remember that one of our core objectives will be to sustain the relationships between children and their teachers and between students and their classmates for as long as possible.

 

Step 6 – Teaching teams

We will rely on teams of 3 teachers with a teacher to student ratio no greater than 1:15, meaning not more than 45 students assigned to a team of three teachers. To optimize our chances for success we would solicit volunteers from among the school corporation’s most capable and most innovative teachers. We want teachers who will be proud to be part of something new and excited by the opportunity. It is our belief that while modifications to existing classrooms might be nice they are not essential.

Teams have proven beneficial in business and industry for a long time and they have a clear record of productivity and excellence. Even in strong union environments in manufacturing venues, teams often prove more effective in dealing with subpar performance and commitment than management. Individuals who are marginal performers and evidence low levels of commitment may be able to hide in the crowd. Within a team setting, there is no place to hide and each person is held accountable by the team.

Teaching teams have the added advantage that if one teacher is having difficulty with a student, another member of the team can step in, thus increasing the probability that every student will find a teacher with whom they can bond. Teams will also make it easier to develop a rapport with parents as we triple the likelihood that a parent will find a teacher with whom they feel comfortable.

Finally, teams provide much more stability. If one team member is off due to illness or other reasons, the team is still able to maintain its equilibrium, even given the insertion of a substitute or replacement.

 

Step 7- Optimizing teaching staff

If a school has teacher aide slots for elementary classrooms, we recommend that the funds allocated for such positions be redirected to paying for additional teachers. Striving to optimize teacher resources is a top priority and if we are utilizing the proper tools, aides will not serve our purpose, however capable they may be. Qualified teachers are an essential variable.

Like the practice of medicine, teaching is an uncertain science. Physicians practice medicine and they are challenged to learn, relentlessly. Just like their students, practice is an integral part of a teacher’s learning process and provides one with opportunities to learn from the outcomes we produce, whether positive or negative.

 

Step 8 – Duration and stability

Students will remain together as a group and will be assigned to the same teaching team throughout their full elementary/primary academic phase. Eventually, that model will be employed as students move from the elementary/primary phase to the middle school and high school phases.

Close personal relations with teachers and their students, in a safe environment, can best be accomplished by keeping them together over a period of years. Why would we want to break up relationships between teachers and students because the calendar changes? We are guided by the adage that “the child who is hardest to love is the one who needs it the most.” Sometimes, it takes teachers most of the year to bond with some of their most challenging students only to have the relationship severed at the end of a school year, which is nothing more than a designated point on an arbitrary calendar.

These types of long-term relationships also increase the likelihood that parents can be pulled into the educational process as partners with their children’s teachers. Finally, we believe keeping students together in such an intimate environment will strengthen the bonds between classmates and have a positive impact on both the incidence of bullying and our ability to respond to such incidents.

 

Step 9 – Reaching out to Parents

Reaching out to parents must be a high priority. By partnering with their child’s teachers, the parent can play an important part in helping the child succeed.  There is a high expectation that, as students begin to experience success, their parents/guardians will begin to see a difference in their children, at home. Success is contagious, even for those of us on the sidelines. It is our hope that the desire to share in and help celebrate their son or daughter’s success will lure even the most skeptical parents into partnerships with their child’s teachers.

We also know that when we form close relationships with parents we also get to know their families. This creates a real opportunity to intervene, if there are younger children in the home, to help insure that they enjoy improved enrichment opportunities thus optimizing their academic preparedness. With each parent we pull into the process, we expand our presence in the community and raise awareness that our new education model is a special opportunity.

 

Step 10 – Assessment and tailored academic plan

Select an appropriate assessment process/tool and utilize it to determine the level of academic preparedness of each child when they arrive at our door for their first day of school. We will then utilize what we learn to create a tailored academic plan to meet each student’s unique needs.

We know that the disparity with respect to academic preparedness of students spans the full spectrum. We also know that children have different learning styles. What educators must do is to recognize that these differences exist and do their best to accommodate the unique style, potential, and interests of their students.

 

Step 11 – The learning process

Academic Standards

Academic standards have been established by most states and on a nation-wide level there is “Common Core.” These standards drive expectations of schools, teachers, and their students and they also drive the high-stakes testing that assesses performance against those standards. While assessing standards and curricula is not my area of expertise, the other area of concern is the expectation that students are all expected to be at the same place at the end of a school year. Given that students have different starting points and that they are headed for more than just one destination, such expectations set millions of kids up for failure.

As new approaches to teaching children using experiential learning methodologies gain popularity, the greater the disconnect will be between standards and what kids truly need. Education leaders and policy makers must begin to re-evaluate the efficacy of existing standards.

Most of us would agree that there are foundational academic skills upon which a diverse population of young people can build different lives. The common denominator, however, is no longer limited to being able to read and write and to have basic math and science skills, although these are essential. Our challenge is to prepare children for life, not test-taking, and this demands that we find new and better ways to help kids learn by doing. Critical skills such as creative thinking, communication, team work, problem-solving, and the ability to understand and utilize technology will be as essential to their success as reading, writing, and math skills. The compelling need to be better stewards of our environment will make science and engineering more important than ever. As citizens of the 21st Century, our students must not only be able to utilize what they learn they must be able to adapt to the accelerating speed of obsolescence.

Because of the disparity in the academic preparedness of children arriving for their first day of school, we need to help children progress along a tailored academic path from their unique starting point and we must also be helping them assume ever greater responsibility for their own growth and development. As their interests and aptitudes evolve they must begin charting their own futures, with the help of caring teachers. The process for helping kids develop mastery over an ever-widening range of subject matter must be adaptive and involve, in some form:

  1. Presentation, appropriate to the subject matter, through utilization the full spectrum of media, methodology, and technology;
  2. Practice and review, giving the student as much time as they require to learn from their mistakes;
  3. Assessment of their ability to demonstrate mastery over subject matter, which we define as the ability to utilize it in the real world. When that level of mastery is quantifiable, such as a grade on a test or other instrument of measurement, the target will be minimum of 85 percent;
  4. The expectation that no child will be pushed ahead before they are able to utilize what they have learned even if that means starting over using other means and approaches; and,
  5. A verification assessment, in each subject area, to confirm retention of subject area mastery at a point in the near future, such as 6 to 8 weeks.

 

If the student scores 85 percent or better, their success must be celebrated and, also, formally documented. Students are, then, ready to move on to the next steps on their unique academic path in a given subject area. It is envisioned that such formal documentation will, someday, replace the need for standardized competency exams given once a year.

One of our Twitter colleagues, @nkgalpal, reminded us that students can also play a vital role in helping classmates who may be struggling on a given lesson or subject area.  Educators have long recognized that one of the best ways to learn something is to teach it. This suggests that more advanced students benefit as much or more as the classmates they have an opportunity to help. Not only does this enhance the level and quality of learning that takes place it also strengthens the bonds between students.

We want our classrooms to function like a family or like an athletic team in which members have formed the strong bonds that result from dedication to shared purpose and objectives; sharing the demanding work required in practices; cheering for and supporting their classmates; and shared celebration of success in overcoming their academic challenges. Think about how many times you have seen starters, at the end of a basketball game, cheer excitedly for teammates who work hard in practice but rarely get an opportunity to make a basket, a steal, rebound, or an assist in an actual game. These bonds are enduring.

 

Character, Creativity, Imagination, Service, and Civic Responsibility

As we have noted, our objective as educators extends beyond subject matter mastery. Even when character, creativity, imagination, service and civic responsibility are covered in the academic standards of some jurisdictions, they are easily forgotten in challenging environments and situations, particularly in our era of high-stakes testing.

We suggest that these things are interdependent. Think of subject matter mastery as laying a foundation upon which character, genius, and individuality will be built.  An individual’s ability to explore and create is very much, if not always, a function of fundamental knowledge and skill sets.

 

Step 12 – State-of-the-Art technology and tools of success

Provide each student and teacher with appropriate technology with which to work. We must be willing and able to utilize state-of-the-art technological tools, as they evolve, to help teachers teach and kids learn. Among other things, this requires that teachers be willing to relinquish their reticence.

No matter what some education reformers might say, technology will not and cannot replace teachers. This education model is premised upon the primacy of teachers in the education equation. Technology can and will empower teachers, however. The world is becoming and will continue to become more technology-driven than it is today, and this trend will only accelerate and expand in scope.

Our children will live, work, and rear their own families in a technological world that surpasses anything most of us can imagine. Our job is to prepare students for that future, not find ways to avoid it because of our own fear and reluctance.

There are wonderful digital tools on the market but many of them are specialized to the extent that it is unlikely they will provide the full range of support teachers and students need. We are seeking something comparable to an Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) system that is real-time, cloud-based, and integrated with 360-degree feedback capability. Such technology must be relieve teachers of all classroom management responsibilities, so they can be devoted, optimally, to relationship building and teaching.

It is envisioned that, as the scope of the potential market for such a product begins to reveal itself, developers of technology solutions will be competing aggressively to capture sustainable market share. Astute providers of such solutions will work closely with their prospective customers to ensure satisfaction.

A system must help the teacher manage the process as they will have students working at multiple levels, in various subject areas, utilizing an array of resources to meet the needs of a diverse student population.  Students will be on a unique path even though many of the paths may be parallel.

Software must be able to:

  • Keep attendance records;
  • Manage various subject areas;
  • Help teachers and students through lesson presentations;
  • Generate practice assignments and grade them if they are quantitative;
  • Permit teacher to enter qualitative assessments of performance;
  • Identify areas that need review and more practice;
  • Signal readiness for Mastery Quizzes;
  • Grade and record the results of quizzes and assignments and then direct students onward to a subsequent lesson module or back for more work on current modules;
  • Celebrate success much like a video game;
  • Signal the teachers at every step of the way;
  • Recommend when it is time for a Verification Mastery Quiz;
  • Document Mastery achievements as verified by VMQ as part of the student’s permanent record; and,
  • Give students the freedom to pursue their interests, as they strive to explore the universe.

 

Our objective is to empower teachers so their time can be devoted to meaningful interaction with each and every student as they proceed along their tailored academic journey. Meaningful interaction will include teaching, coaching, mentoring, consoling, encouraging, nurturing, playing, and celebration. That interaction must also include time spent with students’ parents.

 

Step 13 – No Failure and No waiting

No student is to be pushed to the next lesson until they have mastered the current lesson as success on one lesson dramatically improves the readiness for success on subsequent lessons. Similarly, no student who has demonstrated that they are ready to move on will be asked to wait for classmates to catch up. Every student moves forward at the best speed of which they are capable. This creates opportunities for students to move ahead on their own initiative and take ownership of their own adventure of discovery even if it means teachers must scurry to keep up.

It also means that no student will experience the humiliation of failure.The ultimate mission of education is to put the fun back in learning and teaching. Success is what drives motivation, commitment, and fun. If all we ever do is lose when playing a game, it is only a matter of time until we avoid playing.

Success is a process of applying what we learn from our experiences, whether successful or unsuccessful. The more we succeed, the more confident we become and the more confident we become, the more motivated we are to learn and grow. As children gain confidence in their ability to control the outcomes in their lives, their self-esteem is strengthened and their ability to overcome obstacles, including discrimination, is enhanced.

Educators are challenged to understand that the single greatest flaw in education, both public and private, is its acceptance of failure on the part of our students. Nothing destroys motivation to learn and creates an atmosphere of hopelessness as much as repeated failure. The fact that we permit children to fail is unconscionable and inexcusable.

In our definition, “failure” and “making mistakes” are not the same thing. We all make mistakes. Mistakes become failure only when students are allowed or are required to stop trying before they come to understand. This happens every time we ask a child to move on to a new lesson before they are ready and every time teachers are asked to record an unsatisfactory grade in their books. This type of failure not only deprives children of an opportunity to experience success, it robs them of the essential knowledge and skills they will need to be successful on subsequent lessons, and to live productive and meaningful lives.

Children must be able to use what they have learned in “real-life” situations. The National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP) defines “proficiency” as:

“having a demonstrated competency over challenging subject matter, including subject matter knowledge, application of such knowledge to real world situations, and analytical skills appropriate to subject matter.” [The emphasis is mine.]

Anything less than proficient is unacceptable and that includes “approaching proficiency.” Approaching proficiency is a good thing only if a student subsequently  becomes proficient. The work of our teachers and schools is not complete until students have actually achieve “proficiency.”

 

Step 14 – the Arts and Exercise

We also consider the arts and physical exercise to be essential components of a quality education. Student must be given the opportunity to go to art, music, and gym classes where they will:

  • Develop relationships with other teachers;
  • Exercise their young bodies;
  • Learn to appreciate and to express themselves through art; and,
  • Interact with children from other classes.

 

Step 15 – Performance Management and Metrics

Identifying how performance against objectives will be measured is a vital part of any operational plan because how we keep score determines how the game will be played. We want teachers and administrators to be rewarded for the quality of the outcomes they produce. Our objective is to measure how effectively teachers are helping kids learn and be able to apply what they have learned in real-life situations.

Students will be expected to pass not only a Mastery Quiz (MQ) with a score of 85 percent or better before moving on to subsequent lessons, but also a Verification Master Quiz (VMQ) that will be administered to students 6 to 8 weeks after passing the MQ. The purpose of the VMQ is to ensure that students have retained what the have learned and are able to utilize that knowledge and/or skills in real life situations. This can best be measured by determining the percentage of students who pass their VMQ on the first attempt. The higher the percentage of passage the better the performance of teachers.

We are not expecting perfection, however. Certainly a few students will not pass their VMQs, signaling that they were not ready. While we want to minimize such occurrences, teachers will not suffer consequences. We must ensure that “pace of learning” does not replace “understanding” as the objective of teachers or the education process. The failure of a VMQ by a student is nothing more than an opportunity for teachers to learn from their disappointing outcomes.

 

Step 16 – High Stakes Testing

The performance of teachers will not be evaluated on the results of high stakes testing. We do not want teachers to feel pressured to move students along before they are ready. Every student who passes a VMQ will be demonstrating that they were, indeed, ready.

High stakes testing using state competency exams will not disappear until they have been proven to be irrelevant and obsolete. Teachers and students should spend no time worrying about them or preparing for them. If students are truly learning, their ability to utilize what they have learned will be reflected in competency exam results. Such exams are, after all, nothing more than a real-life opportunity to apply what one has learned.

 

Step 17 – Stability and Adaptability

We will not concern ourselves with the arrival of new students or the departure of students during the process or with teachers who may need to be replaced, for whatever reason. These events will occur, and we will deal with them when necessary. These inevitable events must not be allowed to divert us from our purpose. We must keep in mind that there are no perfect systems, but the best and most successful systems are the ones that allow us to adapt to the peculiar and the unexpected.

 

Step 18 – Relentless, non-negotiable commitment

We must stress that winning organizations are driven by operating systems in which every single event or activity serves the mission. When we tinker with bits and pieces of an operation out of context with the system and its purpose, we end up with a system that looks very much like the educational process we have today. It will be a system that simply cannot deliver the outcomes that we want because there are components that work at cross purposes with the mission.

We are striving to create an environment in which the fact that some children need additional time to master the material is inconsequential in the long run and in the big picture, much like it is inconsequential if it takes a child longer to learn how to ride a bicycle than his or her playmates. Once children learn they all derive benefit from the knowledge gained.

 

Step 19 – The Power of positive leaders

As with any human endeavor, positive leadership is crucial. Administrators at every level, whether superintendents, assistant superintendents, principals, or assistant principals, must be trained to be more than administrators. They must be powerful positive leaders who understand that their success is a function of both their ability to keep their organizations focused on purpose and the quality of leadership they provide to their people. The bottom line is that the over-riding priority of positive leaders is to help their people be successful at every level of their organization and its supply chain; which includes students, parents, and the community.

Education departments in our colleges and universities must ensure that the study of leadership is a core component in the education of school administrators, at every level. We must view them as leaders, not administrators.

 

Step 20 – Special Needs

At anytime along the way, from initial assessment and beyond, if a child is determined to have special needs they will be offered additional resources, much as happens in our schools, today.

 

Summary and Conclusions

The only justification for preserving the status quo in public education would be if we truly believed the children who fail are incapable of learning. If, on the other hand, we believe all children can learn, we are compelled to act.

The fundamental premise of the Hawkins Model is that all children can learn if given the opportunity and if they feel safe and secure. The fact that we have clung for so long to an ineffectual educational process that sets kids up for failure and humiliation is unfathomable. Refusal to seize an opportunity to alter this tragic reality is inexcusable.

Once a school district becomes satisfied that this new model produces the outcomes they are seeking, the model can be implemented in every school in the district and can be modified to fit the needs of students as they move on to middle school and high school.

The success of this model will also drive the need for revolutionary change in our institutions of higher learning. Colleges, universities, community colleges, technical schools, and vocational education programs must be prepared to reinvent themselves as the needs of their students will have changed exponentially.

 

More Questions for Administrators, Policy Makers, and Teachers

It is not unusual to hear public school teachers express concern that all the recognition and celebration is directed to “high-achieving students.” Rarely is attention paid to the students who worked hard to receive a lesser grade and many teachers question why the effort of the latter group is not acknowledged and celebrated.

It is a tragedy that so many children go through school without ever having their accomplishments celebrated; the last thing they need, however, is a “participation trophy.” The tragedy is not that we never celebrate the accomplishments of low-performing students rather that they rarely have accomplishments worthy of celebration.

This raises the question, why are we content to preserve an education process that produces such disparate results?

Just because a student does not understand a lesson the first time through, does not mean they are incapable of learning and understanding. It just means they need more time and they need an education process that allows teachers to adapt what they do to respond to a student’s unique needs. Rarely do we give kids an opportunity to keep working until they learn. On the few occasions that we find a way to give kids the extra time to learn, it is because we found a way to circumvent the education process not because the malleability of the process gave us the freedom to innovate.

The current education process is structured like a competition that assumes that all kids are on a level playing field. It rewards the students who learn the most the fastest. Even worse, it requires that we grade kids on how much they have learned in an arbitrary timeframe and then record that score next to their name. Worst of all, we push the students onward without the prerequisite knowledge they will need to be successful on subsequent lessons, not to mention as adult citizens of a participatory democracy.

We go to great lengths to help a student qualify for graduation even though they are unable to perform at the level expected of them with reference to academic standards. It is as if having a piece of parchment that says they qualify for graduation will excuse them when they are unable to qualify for or do a job; when they apply for college admission or seek enlistment in the Armed Services.

What does a young man or woman do when they are unable to obtain and keep a decent job or pursue other meaningful opportunities because they lack the basic skills required to make a place for themselves in mainstream society? If these young adults are black or other minorities the challenges they face are often insurmountable and they are left at the mercy of discrimination. We wonder why so many find themselves in prison or are the victims of an early, violent death. We wonder why so many of them live in poverty and produce new generations of children with needs for which our education process is unequipped to meet.

We shake our heads in bewilderment when so many American voters seem willing to believe anything said by the leaders of whatever political point of view to which they are loyal. Do we not see the connection that we have sent millions of young men and women out into society without the knowledge and skills necessary to evaluate the critical issues of the day and to think independently?

Public school educators seem unable to understand that the motivation of education reformers, as poorly conceived as their solutions might be, is a result of their dissatisfaction with public education and the quality of high school graduates. They are dissatisfied customers seeking to replace their supplier.

The existing education process restricts our teachers’ ability to give students the close personal relationships they need to be healthy, both emotionally and intellectually. The process does not permit teachers to formally assess each student’s level of academic preparedness and, then, design a learning path to meet their unique needs. It does not allow teachers to give students the time and attention they need to learn. It does not give kids however many attempts they need to be able to demonstrate that they understand. The education process is not set up to help kids learn as much as they are able at their own best pace. It does not help them learn well enough that they can apply what they have learned in real-life situations.

Rather than seeking ways to help teachers deal with the stress and frustration of teaching a classroom of kids who have lost hope, have stopped trying, and have begun acting out, why don’t we address the root causes of both the frustration of our teachers and our students’ lost hope. We do not because it is difficult if not impossible for people to stop and look at the big picture when they are immersed in what they are doing; when they are, as the old saying goes, “up to their necks in a swamp full of alligators.”

Low-performing students, particularly the disadvantaged, have become a norm in public education, particularly in racially and economically diverse communities. While I believe most public school teachers and administrators believe that these kids can learn, one must wonder how many teachers and administrators have come to believe this is the best we can expect.

What educators must do is find a vantage point from which they can see the entire education process, as an integral whole, and then ask themselves whether they are doing what they should be doing. The fact that our classrooms, grade-levels, and the way we organize teachers and students has been in place for generations does not mean it is the only way to do what we do.

We should be asking:

• “Does the education process exist to drive our purpose or should our mission drive the education process?”

• “Does the education process exist to serve children and their teachers or are teachers and their students expected to sacrifice their wants, needs, personalities, and unique capabilities in conformance with the structure or process?” and, finally;

• “Are academic standards a representative guideline of what we think kids need to know in order to have meaningful choices in life, or is it both a road map and time table of how students should get from point A to Z, no matter what their individual potential, capabilities, and interests?”

My challenge to public school teachers, administrators, and policy makers is to believe that designing and creating an education model that can be molded around teachers and students is a simple human-engineering project no different than designing any other production process. All it requires is that we open our hearts and minds to the belief that there is a better way to do what we do and the faith and hope that it can be found just beyond the boundaries of conventional wisdom.

I offer my education model, as an example, of an education process that enables teachers to develop and master their craft for the sole purpose of helping every child develop their God-given potential.

An Invitation to Peruse My Most Recent Blog Posts

Whether you are a new visitor to my blog, Education, Hope, and the American Dream or a new follower on Twitter, why not take a moment to check out the most recent articles.

I also encourage you to take a look at my education model that completely redesigns the education process to allow teachers to focus on meeting the unique needs of each student, and assures that students get the relationships, time, and attention they need to learn, sans failure: The Hawkins Model

Imagine what it would be like to teach in such an environment and how it would impact your students.

Also be aware that “Likes” are nice but “retweets” are both nice and “helpful.” A “like” lets the Tweeter know that you liked what they had to say. A “retweet” goes a step further and shares the Tweet with your followers, which makes it powerful and allows you to do what Twitter does best: spread the word!

Here are my most recent blog posts:

Aug 16 – Let the Positive Leadership of LeBron James and Akron Public Schools Lead the Way!

8/10 – Grades based on Age and Focus on Standards and Testing Obscures Purpose!

7/27 – Relationships

7/18 – We Must Be Willing to Believe There is a Better Way to Teach Our Children

7/3 – Are students who fail, quitters?

6/19 – Thinking “Outside the Box”

5/25 – More Evidence that its time for Public School superintendents and Advocates for Disadvantaged kids to act!

5/14 – Public schools need visionary, Positive Leadership

4/27 Black Panther, the Movie: a Call to Action!

4/15 Who is @melhawk46 and What is His Agenda

 

Let the Positive Leadership of LeBron James and Akron Public Schools Lead the Way

However the controversy plays out, of athletes kneeling during the National Anthem before NFL football games, I want to go on record as a supporter of these talented and courageous men. Besides, when did kneeling with one’s head bowed become a sign of disrespect. I would encourage participants in any performance venue to take similar action.

Contrary to what many critics suggest, these are not spoiled, selfish millionaires showing disrespect for the American Flag. Rather these are Americans who are using the platform they are blessed to have been given to speak out against injustice in America; a nation that has not yet risen to the level of greatness to which it aspires. The American flag is a beautiful symbol of our democratic principles, but its symbolism is only as relevant as the principles, themselves. What is disrespectful is the presentation of the colors by people whose actions demonstrate a disdain for those principles.

Whether it is:

• attempts to prevent minorities from exercising their constitutional right to vote in our local, state or national elections;
• separating children from parents who have sought to immigrate to this “nation of immigrants” to escape religious, political, racial, or other forms of persecution much as our own ancestors have done;
• discriminating against men, women, and children because of their religious faith or nations of origin; or
• denying the right to the same presumption of innocence to which the rest of us are entitled, by profiling and unjustifiably shooting black or other minority suspects of criminal behavior, or even acts of civil disobedience.

These and many other injustices are far more disrespectful of the principles of liberty and justice delineated by the Declaration of Independence, the United States Constitution, and the Amendments that we refer to as the Bill of Rights; than kneeling during the “Star Spangled Banner,” our National Anthem. Every American not only has the right to take a stand or a knee on behalf of those for whom the principles of liberty and justice are being denied, we have a sacred duty to do so.

A few months ago, I wrote that “the movie Black Panther, has a compelling message for all Americans, but particularly to successful men and women of color.

“It is a call to action with an unequivocal message that it is not acceptable to isolate oneself from the problems of society when one’s successes, discoveries, and genius can make a . . . difference.”

NBA star LeBron James has set a marvelous example of giving back to one’s community with the creation of his I Promise School, in partnership with Akron Public Schools. We must all accept responsibility for ending the failure of millions of disadvantaged children, a disproportionate percentage of whom are black or other children of color, in so many public schools as well as charter schools, or parochial.

I challenge successful men and women of color—and every other socially-conscious American man or woman—to come together as powerful positive leaders to transform public education in America, similar to what the LeBron James Family Foundation and Akron Public Schools are striving to do.

I would ask these positive leaders, however, not to delay intervention until children are in the third or fourth grade. Instead, start on the first day they arrive for Kindergarten to help them not only overcome their disadvantage but help them catch up and develop their unique talents and abilities so they can become the best version of themselves.

Can you think of anything that would do more to make America great, than creating a reality in which every single young man or women, upon finishing grade twelve, is literate, numerate, and in possession of a portfolio of knowledge and skill that, in conjunction with a healthy self-esteem, will give them choices about what to do with their lives in order to find joy and meaning; to be full members of our participatory democracy.

I offer an innovative education model that changes the way we prepare our nation’s children to fulfill their God-given potential. I believe this education model, which you can examine at http://www.melhawkinsandassociates.com/education-model-white-paper/ can and will transform public education, with your help. All it requires is a willingness to open your hearts and minds to a new way of educating our nation’s children and that you abandon the long tradition of incremental improvements; a tradition that has brought us to the point at which we find ourselves today.

Through our utilization of the principles of positive leadership, we have the power to end the failure of disadvantaged children and all other kids, for all time. What are we waiting for?

Grades Based on Age and Focus on Standards and Testing Obscures Purpose!

In the mid-19th century, the one-room schoolhouse with one teacher working with children at varying stages of learning, each pursuing different academic objectives, began giving way to Horace Mann’s vision of an education process. Mann was influenced by the Prussian education model that organized students by grades, based on age.  The Prussian model was designed for organizational efficiency and discipline. Mann’s model and focus remains the process of choice, today, in private, parochial and public schools.

If there is meaningful research to show that this is the best way to structure classrooms and organize students and teachers for learning, I hope someone will share it with me.

In a one-room schoolhouse, a teacher’s priority was to help every child get from where they were upon arrival for their first day of school, to where they needed to be when they left school to embark upon life as an adult citizen. Some students only needed to learn how to read and write; others needed to prepare to find a job or to take over their family’s farm or business; and, some  aspired to go to college to become teachers, doctors, and other professionals. Each student was guided by their inherent abilities, their unique interests, by their own dreams for the future and the dreams of their families, and by a caring teacher.  That teacher’s only purpose was to help each child prepare for whatever future to which he or she aspired.

It is my assertion that the existing education process, to which so many educators are loyal, has obscured that mission and purpose, for generations.

One of the characteristics of organizations, irrespective of venue, is that if leadership is not diligent in remaining focused on and reminding the organization and its people of its core mission or purpose, the process that was created to serve that purpose becomes the entity’s focal point. Over time, that mission or purpose becomes obscured by the clutter of the process. This is what happened when administrators and policy makers  committed to moving students from Kindergarten or first grade to twelfth grade, as a class.

The existing education process requires that “students at each grade level” be able to meet certain criteria before they are deemed ready, as a population, to move on to the next lesson or grade level. The shift in focus from preparing individual students for their unique future to preparing all students of a given age to advance as a group is subtle, but with each school year the degree of separation between the original purpose and the secondary agenda, expands.

When formal academic standards were established, teaching to the standards and meeting their arbitrary time frames grew in importance. No longer were we teaching individual children according to their unique level of academic preparedness or pace and style of learning, rather we were marching to the cadence of the Prussian fondness for order and organizational efficiency. The standards also opened the door for high-stakes testing, that was viewed as a method of assessing the effectiveness of schools and teachers. Not only did we begin teaching to the standards, we began teaching to the tests.

What high-stakes testing measures, however, is not the effectiveness of teachers and schools. It reveals, instead, the ineffectiveness of the education process in helping individual children learn as much as they are able at their own best speed; despite the efforts of public school teachers. Educators must cease viewing the results as an indictment against themselves and use it as evidence to show what they are asked to do does not work for all kids.

Can you imagine a teacher in a one-room school house telling a child, I’m sorry but time is up! I need you to move on to the next lesson, along with your classmates, ready or not?

I’m certain some of you are thinking, “but we don’t teach in one room schoolhouses!” And, of course, you are not. But, “are you teaching kids to prepare for their own unique futures or are you “teaching to the standards” or “teaching to the test?” You need not feel guilty after answering truthfully. Neither should you feel powerless to bring about a transformation.

The appropriate question educators and positive leaders at every level should be asking, is: “has our fundamental mission and purpose changed?”  And: “should mission and purpose be driven by structure and process or should it be the other way around?” It is this author’s assertion that mission and purpose should always drive structure and process and assuring that this is the case is the responsibility of positive leaders.

At one time, holding a student back so they could repeat a grade (be given a second chance to master the subject matter) was not uncommon. Gradually, educators gravitated away from that practice because it was perceived to be the greater of two evils.

A decade ago, writing about this issue in Educational Leadership, Jane L. David[i] wrote, describing the reality in public education:

 

“School systems cannot hold back every student who falls behind; too many would pile up in the lower grades. Moreover, it is expensive to add a year of schooling for a substantial number of students. Therefore, in practice, schools set passing criteria at a level that ensures that most students proceed through the grades at the expected rate.” (March 2008, Volume 65, Number 6).

 

By sacrificing so many children to preserve the process we demonstrate that the process was then and continues to be viewed as more important than our students.

Had “mission and purpose” been driving “structure and process,” educators and policy makers of an earlier time might have asked the question positive leaders should pose, relentlessly, “who exists to serve whom?”

What I have endeavored to create is an education model designed to remain loyal to “mission and purpose” amid the dynamic changes taking place around us. It offers a process that gives educators the freedom and support necessary to: form close, long-term relationships with students; elicit the support of parents; help children experience, celebrate and expect success; shield them from loss of hope that comes with repeated failure: and, to apply leading-edge methodologies, tools, and innovations for the benefit of their students.

Please examine my model at http://www.melhawkinsandassociates.com/education-model-white-paper/

 

[i] Jane L. David is the Director of the Bay Area Research Group