There are Millions of children who struggle in our schools, both academically and behaviorally and if it were not for the dedication and commitment of teachers, that number would be even higher. There is no more reason to permit children of color, or any other child, to struggle in school than there is to put up with a light bulb that flickers. All that is necessary is to replace the education process at work in our classrooms with a new education model.
The good news is educators have learned everything they need to know in college to end the academic distress of these kids and to prevent the consequences that flow from the trail of their disappointing outcomes. What we learned about human motivation from Abraham Maslow’s “hierarchy of needs,”[i] first introduced in 1943, has a direct application to kids in our classrooms, today.
Maslow taught that until lower-level needs are satisfied, there will be little motivation to pursue the satisfaction of higher-level needs. The lowest level on the hierarchy is “physiological needs” which have been mitigated, at least partially, by the National School Lunch Program.
The second and third levels are the need for safety and security followed by love and a sense of belonging. Meeting these needs must be our priority, if we want to assure academic success of our students, we must begin on these students’ first day of kindergarten. There is nothing more important to 5 and 6-year-old kids than having a special relationship with teachers.
Teachers understand the importance of meeting these needs, but the education process impedes their effort.
It is not good enough that there are some schools in which students and teachers succeed. All students must learn in all schools.
When we add what neuroscientists have learned about the brains of children, our reluctance to change how we teach our kids is incomprehensible. We know the brains of children are programmed to learn; to soak up the world around them. We also know, with the help of its friends the brain can relearn in response to deprivation, illness, and injury, with teachers among the most important.
We also know these little brains can only learn what they have an opportunity to learn. It is up to schools and teachers to provide that opportunity. It has been a lack of opportunity that contributes to the inequality that black and other students of color have had to endure. These are the same factors that have contributed to generations of adults who have always struggled in school and have always been poor.
I believe that almost everything wrong with American society, today, has been influenced by an education process that has been disconnected from its purpose and has not been meeting the needs children of color or with other disadvantages for longer than most of us have been alive. We must find a way to provide an education of sufficient quality to enable young people to overcome the obstacles that poverty and discrimination presents until the disparities, themselves, begin to disappear.
This is a problem that has a practical solution—one that is within our power to fix. But we cannot just think or talk about it, it requires that we take action. Understanding the action needed requires that educators at all level step outside the boundaries of conventional wisdom because a solution cannot be envisioned from within the context of the present-day classroom.
The mission and purpose of education must be to help students learn as much as they are able at their own best pace, and everything teachers do must support that purpose.
A quality education has never been more important than it is today. What is transpiring in the US with the rise of white supremacy; the attack on voting rights; on the lessons of history; the rise in hate crimes, and so much more makes it essential that next generations of Americans, including black and other people of color, have a quality education and a powerful self-esteem.
Our nation is going to need their leadership to help meet the challenges we will face as we strive to rebuild a society that works for all people, not just a chosen few.
We begin by understanding that the heart is a portal to the mind. If we can capture the hearts of young children and cement those relationships, we can open their minds to learning. Kids must experience success and teachers must not only help students achieve it, but they must also share in the celebration of that success.
When we succeed and win, we always want more. We must help students develop the self-esteem of winners.
Let me show you how the existing education process fails to accomplish this.
It will help if you understand that an education process is nothing more than a system of logic designed to produce desired outcomes no different than any production or service-delivery process. The logic of any process must remain true to its purpose, however.
Today, we are not getting the outcomes we need, rather what we are getting are the outcomes the existing education process is structured to produce. Those outcomes will continue to be unacceptable no matter how hard teachers work or how qualified they are until we are willing to change what we do. If we want the outcomes that our children and society need, we must reimagine an education process equipped to produce such outcomes. This must be the mission and purpose of education.
The Existing Education Process
There are identifiable reasons why the existing process allows so many of our students to struggle and these reasons have nothing to do with the ability of students to learn or of teachers to teach, with or without representation; and nothing at all to do with the name of the schools.
Each of these reasons are consequences of a dysfunctional education process that has become disconnected from its purpose. Just as children do not all learn to walk and talk at the same time, children in school will not all learn at the same pace or in the same way.
The first flaw in the process is that when we pack as many as 35 students into a classroom with one teacher with all the responsibilities teachers must manage, there will always be more children with more needs than even the best teachers can address, and no, it is not okay if we succeed with only few. And, when we see students hiding along the edges of our classrooms or acting out, these are the first signals telling us their needs are not being met.
Although there is an expectation that teachers will develop special relationships with their students, there is no meaningful strategy to stay focused on that priority. When we establish something as our top priority it must be supported by the process in every possible way, and in everything we do.
If we truly believed relationships were our number one priority, why, at the end of each school year would we sever the few relationships teachers and students were able to forge? It makes no sense and is contrary to our purpose.
Another flaw is that, from the beginning, the process is more focused on getting these youngsters started out on the pathway mapped out by academic standards than it is about learning. By keeping to the schedules and timetables embedded in academic standards, the process starts students out as a group and begins moving them from one point to the next on a pathway that makes no provision to prevent some students from having to start from behind nor does it allow us to adapt to a student’s pace of learning.
It appears as if the education process is more focused on timeliness than it is on learning.
The third flaw is that the instruction process requires teachers to present lessons and provide students with assignments so they can practice their knowledge and skills. Although educators understand the importance of helping children learn from their mistakes, there are always more mistakes by more students than teachers have the time to help them with.
Teachers are, then, expected to administer quizzes and tests that are graded based on the number of mistakes students make as measured against the performance of classmates—to see who won. When tests are returned to students, who are given an insufficient time to review of mistakes, grades are recorded in the teacher’s gradebook to maintain a record of who was successful and who was not.
Students are then moved on to the next lesson in each subject area, ready or not.
Another flaw is that the Cs, Ds, and Fs recorded next to the names of students are not the best they can do, only the best they were able to do in the time allotted. Because these students are being pushed from lesson to lesson without the prerequisite knowledge and skills prior lessons were intended to impart their probability of success on future lessons diminishes and they fall a little further behind at each stop along the way.
It should be obvious that students unable to meet expectations on a chapter test, administered immediately after a lesson, are even more likely to fall short of expectations during spring exams. Why are we surprised by this?
And why do we feel the need to defend ourselves from these tests. What they measure is the effectiveness of the education process, not teachers. They tell us kids are not learning and that we need to rethink how we teach. The way we should be responding to the test results, every time they are being held out as a criticism of public schools and their teachers, is with indignation.
Public school educators are encouraged to turn the table on their critics, including the leaders of one’s own school district or state department of education and demand that, rather than spend money on tuition subsidies and charter schools, they should be reimagining the education process teachers are required to use so it is designed to produce the outcomes we are all seeking.
The proof, as ironic as it may be, is that the charter schools that are being created as alternatives to community public schools are not performing as well as the public schools they were intended to replace.
The reason is that they are utilizing the same education process, often with less qualified teachers and based on their misguided believe that if businesspeople change the name on the school building and run them like they run their businesses, our children will no longer struggle.
It is only a matter of time before the outcome’s teachers are willing to accept become a child’s expectation of themselves.
As patterns of disappointing outcomes emerge, it is inevitable that some kids will begin to give up and stop trying. Rather than building on one success after another, these students find themselves having to deal with one disappointing outcome after another.
This is not a recipe for constructing the solid academic and emotional foundations they will need throughout life.
We spend a lot of time, particularly in high school striving to help students catch up. As excellent as these programs may be, and as commendable it is that so many advocacy groups are striving to help students who have fallen behind, it begs the question:
“wouldn’t students be better off if they had never been allowed to fall behind in the first place?”
This new model is constructed on the belief that education is an uncertain science and success depends on the ability of professionals to develop and practice the craft of teaching. This model includes several transformational changes to increase the capability of our teachers and reduce class size by establishing teaching teams of three teachers assigned to a classroom with no more than 45 students. Teams have proven to be a powerful tool in which the sum is greater than the whole of its parts.
Within a team, someone always has our back and it triples the probability that every child will find a teacher with whom they can bond and learn. It also increases the chances that parents will find a teacher they are willing to trust. Teams also create many opportunities for collaboration as its members strive to meet the unique needs of students. Also, teams provide stability so that the class is not set back with the insertion of a substitute or even on the rare occasion that a teacher is replaced.
We must, also, convert time from a fixed asset that constrains rather than empowers us, to a variable asset available in whatever quantities teachers and their students require. (Readers concerned that state departments of education will find this unacceptable are asked to consider that, the struggling schools selected to test this model are already falling short of their state’s expectations. I believe students learning under The Hawkins Model© may well be approaching or even exceeding those expectations by the end of their second semester.)
We will set aside the first few weeks and/or months to encourage students to play and have fun while they learn. Play is, after all, nature’s preferred method of learning. Students, also, must become acclimated to the community of their classrooms, and get to know their classmates.
During those same few weeks or months, teachers will use their time to observe and assess the levels of academic preparedness and emotional development of students so they can tailor an academic plan to the unique needs of students. We need to understand what they know and what they have not yet learned. We must also understand how they respond to all the activities, people, and challenges of their environment.
To implement our solution, we must identify superintendents willing to test our model in the kindergarten classrooms of struggling schools in their districts in which only ten to twenty percent of students are learning at grade level.
Next, we will change the instruction process so that teachers:
- Utilize as much time as necessary to present and review lessons, allow students time to practice and provide the help they need to learn from their mistakes.
- Will utilize quizzes, tests, and other assessments, not for the purpose of grades, but rather to signal whether a student is ready to move forward to next lessons in possession of the pre-requisite knowledge and skills success on future lessons will require.
- When the test results signal that a student is not ready for the next lesson, the expectation will be that teachers take a step back with students, and reteach the lesson, provide more time, help, and practice in learning from their mistakes and,
- When deemed ready, give students do-over opportunities to demonstrate that they are ready to move forward, well prepared for success on the next lesson in that subject area.
Our objective also includes helping students develop character by viewing behavior problems as an opportunity to do more than admonish and discipline. We must both teach and provide affirmation while asking students what we can do to help?
These are opportunities to help students accept responsibility for the construction of solid academic and emotional foundations from which they can pursue whatever goals and aspirations they set for themselves.
Finally, teachers will strive to help children develop the healthy self-esteem they will need to overcome the many challenges and pursue the opportunities life will present. Our purpose is to help students get an education so they will have meaningful choices in life to:
- find joy and satisfaction,
- provide for themselves and their families,
- abide by the rules of law,
- make positive contributions to their communities, and
- participate in their own governance as members of what we hope will still be a participatory democracy.
This level of citizenship requires that each of us have a sufficient understanding of the universe in which we live and the people with whom we share it to be able to make thoughtful choices with respect to policies regarding the cogent issues of our time.
If those of you who are reading this blog post want better outcomes for your students/children, you are encouraged to join me in finding a struggling elementary school in which my model can be put to the test in at least its kindergarten classrooms and follow students all the way through 5th grade.
My education model, which is offered for free, does not provide a quick solution. Since it has taken us many decades and even centuries to get us to where we are today, thirteen years does not seem an unreasonable amount of time to begin pushing our children and our nation back on course.
Although the model will be made available to charter and faith-based schools, we believe community public schools should be our priority.
They are, after all, the only schools to which all students can be assured access.
We must always remember, it’s all about the kids!
[Black and other children of color, Struggle in School, dedication and commitment of teachers, disappointing outcomes, Abraham Maslow’s “hierarchy of needs kindergarten, relationship with teachers, education process, children of color. quality education black and other people of color, self-esteem, academic standards, prerequisite knowledge and skills, criticism of public schools, public schools, Public school educators, The Hawkins Model©, the heart is a portal to the mind, healthy self-esteem,]