Are Parents Putting the Quality of their Children’s Future at Risk?

When facing challenges, the better we understand the issues, the world, and the people with whom we share it—whether they agree with us or not—the more likely we are to find reasonable resolutions.

So many parents appear to be striving to protect children from information they themselves fear, disagree with, or are just uncomfortable with. Do these mothers and fathers not understand this leaves their sons and daughters less prepared to address the challenges they will face as adult citizens? Less prepared to work with others in search of meaningful solutions to challenges we cannot yet envision.

Many of our fellow citizens want our leaders to dictate policies that will produce outcomes they view as favorable, seeming not to understand that once we exit the pathway of democracy we may not like where it takes us. More frightening yet, we may not be able to find our way back.

An education is intended to prepare our children and grandchildren for a future we can scarcely imagine—a future in a society for which they will be required to accept the responsibilities of citizenship.

We can do our best to influence their beliefs and prejudices while they are under our care but, as adults, they must be free and able to choose what it is they wish to believe in. If they make such choices based on faulty information because of choices we make today, we are depriving them of the freedom to choose. Although we may never know it, any consequences they might someday endure will be consequences we have bequeathed to them.  

Is it our responsibility as parents to give our children as wide a menu of choices as possible? This depends on the quality of the education they receive—an education preparing them for a future beyond the imagination of early 21st Century parents.

freedom to choose, prejudices, 21st Century parents, quality of the education, responsibility of parents, responsibilities of citizenship, challenges we cannot yet envision, protect children, democracy, education

A Man Named Charlie: a Most Unlikely Leader!

If you wonder how much of a difference one individual can make, consider this story about a man named Charlie. His life offered a wonderful example of the power of relationships. He passed away ten years ago but he lives on in the hearts of many of the people he touched, both students and teachers.  Every few years, I like to pull the story out, dust if off, and delight in the memory of this special man with whom I spent only a few moments of my life.

            Charlie made an enormous difference in the lives of literally thousands of young people and hundreds of adults in the high school all three of my children attended.  One of the teachers who worked with him shared Charlie’s story in a letter to the editor of the Fort Wayne Journal-Gazette, a few weeks after his death. Otherwise, few outside of the Wayne High School community would have known about this special man, and the quiet but enormous impact he made.

Charlie was a black man working in a high school that was somewhere between ten to fifteen percent black. He did not have an impressive title, did not make a great deal of money, had no formal authority, there were no letters after his name, and he was neither a star athlete nor a celebrity.  Charlie’s stature as a powerful positive leader came only from the force of his personality, his dedication to his job, his love of people, and his God-given ability to make people feel important. He was a human being who, out of the pure generosity of a loving heart, accepted responsibility for making his corner of the world a better place.

            I first heard about Charlie years ago when my kids were in high school, but it did not make a great impression on me.  I assumed Charlie was one of the kids at school.  The first time, and one of the few times I met Charlie, I was working as a substitute teacher in this high school I thought I knew so well.  Like other teachers, I was monitoring the hallways during the passing period, standing next to the door to my classroom. It had been a rough day and I was reeling from difficult period of a math lab class when this man came up to me. 

He was dressed in a sport coat, slacks and tie and it never would have occurred to me he was a custodian until he grabbed a broom from a cart he had left a few feet away and swept up some debris from the floor.

            “How is it going, today? Is there anything I can do for you?” he asked.  “You just call me if you need something,” he continued and then proceeded to rattle off his name and extension number.  He shook my hand and smiled before continuing down the corridor and I watched him, trying to figure out who in the heck he was. 

My eyes followed him as he spoke to a couple students he passed. From the smiles on their faces I can only assume he was smiling, also.  Moving on, he gave another student a high five, and then stopped to pick up a couple of broken pencils that lay on the floor. 

A dozen yards farther down the hallway, a young girl had been leaning against the wall, alone.  I had noticed her earlier as she had a lonely and forlorn look about her and I suspected she had been crying.  As this custodian drew closer, he drifted over to her and then stopped and smiled at her and put his hand on her shoulder. 

            This made me immediately suspicious because we are told, frequently and pointedly, not to touch the students, especially members of the opposite gender.  I could not hear the words that were spoken, but after a few seconds the girl offered up an embarrassed smile, followed seconds later by a laugh.  Charlie lingered a moment in quiet conversation, and then sauntered off, dishing out more high fives to students as he passed.  When I looked back the girl was still there, standing in the same spot but she stood a little taller and had a smile on her face.  Whatever this man had said to her must have been something she had needed to hear.

            Later in the day, in the faculty lounge, I asked a teacher about the custodian in the suit and tie.  He laughed, and said, “well, that would have been Charlie.”  He went on to say, “he’s a very special guy around here and both the kids and staff love him.” 

            I asked others about him, including my youngest daughter, now a teacher herself.  Whoever I asked, just the mention of his name would evoke a smile, and everyone proceeded to tell me pretty much the same story. “He is everybody’s friend and always has a kind word for you,” my daughter explained.

Charlie, God rest his charitable soul, was a beautiful human being and positive leader.  He took his job seriously and took pride in keeping the school clean for the students and teachers.  Even more importantly, he reached out to people to share his positive attitude.  He accepted responsibility for making this high school a better place and for making its people feel special and important. 

He had a special ability to sense when someone—teacher, student, or substitute teacher—needed a kind word, a high five, or a warm smile and I am certain Charlie never wasted an opportunity to share his gifts.  None of these activities could be found in the job description of a school custodian but Charlie made them a part of his daily routine. They were a part of who he was.

This man demonstrated it was not necessary to have a title, formal authority, or even someone’s permission to be a leader and to make a positive difference to the world and its people.  All one needs is a belief that people—all people—deserve our best effort and that we can make a difference. While doing what most people would consider an unimportant and mundane job, this man changed the world around him. He did it by reaching out to people with a generous heart, a simple act of kindness, reassuring words, and a genuine desire to make each of them feel special.

Gifts such as this may brighten only moment in an otherwise stressful day, but we never know how much of a difference we make when we give the best of ourselves with joy and affirmation.  It is a lesson from which all can all learn whenever we wonder if what we do matters. We can choose to believe every job, well done, adds a little beauty to the world and every smile or simple act of kindness is an affirmation to another human being.

No doubt Charlie believed he had the most important job in the world. By having a relationship with each of them, Charlie made a difference in the lives of twelve hundred students and a hundred members of a school’s faculty and staff, while giving them a clean place in which to do their important work.

It was the relationships that mattered. Given what we can learn from Charlie, imagine what teachers and administrators can do in their classroom and schools by doing the best job of which each is capable and by making every student feel special and important.

Relationships are everything in life, leadership and teaching.

God bless you, Charlie.

Providing Positive Leadership from the Top

When our oldest child was nearing high school age, my wife and I debated whether to send our Catholic daughter to the public school for the district in which we lived or to a nearby Catholic high school. The decision was made after attending an orientation program at the public high school and was influenced almost entirely by the principal who spoke to us one mid-summer evening.

This man began his presentation with the words, “I am big, and I’m black, and I’m ugly!” and in the next ten minutes he successfully sold himself and his school to us. He was far and away the best principal that any of our three children were blessed to know.

What was it about this man that distinguished him from his colleagues over the twenty-year period during which we had children in public schools?  He was a communicator. He sold us on his mission and his belief that our kids were special. During the several years that he served as principal for two of my children, it was obvious this man had a special gift.

He spent time in the halls and classrooms and talked to students and he would listen, also. At every opportunity he talked to students  about pride and about respect and they listened, black kids, white kids, and Hispanic kids. He expected much from his students both academically and how they conducted themselves and they listened. Whether it was true or not, every student in the school believed that they had a relationship with this man and that he had a special interest in them. The school was a special place, indeed.

No doubt, not everyone comes to their role as a principal in possession of a special gift but what this principal accomplished, through his positive leadership, illustrates just how much of a difference positive leadership can make. Every principal should strive to model this man. They should be evaluated on the effectiveness with which they perform to these expectations. They should be selected based on skill sets that would make that possible. They must be involved in incessant, ongoing leadership development.

One of the most import keys to effective interaction with people in the workplace, and especially students in a school setting, is for leaders to remind themselves it is not about them. Kids are quick to pick up on even a hint of arrogance or braggadocio in the adults with whom they interact. This is true for administrators throughout the school and for teachers in the classroom.  Developing empathic listening skills is essential. There is a simple truth in working with kids. Every child needs to be able to trust that there is at least one adult in the school who has their back.

Principals have no business hiding in their offices any more than managers in business organizations belong in their offices. The challenge of organizational leaders everywhere is to help people be successful and to satisfy their customers. In the business of education our customers are the students,  parents, and communities we serve, and our people are the professionals who teach those children and the other administrators and staff who support both students and faculty in that process. Any school district that allows administrative paperwork to obscure the mission and purpose of its principals will surely fall short of fulfilling its potential.

Every principal and assistant principal in the district should participate in a variety of leadership development programs to hone their skills in selling mission, vision, and values to all the players in their school community. They must know how to effectively develop the skills of their faculty through observation, consultation, and feedback; they must be able to relate to the kids through face-to-face interaction, getting to know as many of them as possible and forming genuine relationships with them; they must be able to communicate directly with parents, always selling the mission, vision and values of their organization; always doing whatever they can to pull those parents in, both physically and emotionally.  

In both learning and leadership, relationships are the difference maker and principals must strive to forge the same sustained, nurturing relationships with their teachers and staff as we ask teachers to do with their students. The quality of any product or services, whatever the venue, is a function of the quality of leadership provided by people in leadership roles throughout an organization. Similarly, the quality of leadership men and women in any organization provide is a function of the quality of the relationships they develop with people throughout both their organizations and supply chain.

Colleges of education with programs for administrators, whatever the level, should make the principles and practices of positive leadership a core component of their degree programs.  The principal referenced above went on to serve as principal of another high school, served as superintendent for two school corporations, and later served as President of Martin University, in Indianapolis, Indiana. Notwithstanding all the awards and honors bestowed on him, his greatest legacy can be found among the young lives he touched.

His name is Dr. Eugene G. White, Ed.D.

As we will see in our next post, powerful positive leadership is not limited to people at the top of an organization; they can come from anywhere!

They Must Believe We Believe in Them

The responsibilities of leaders; whether superintendents of school districts, principals and other administrators in our school buildings, and teachers in their classrooms begins with making people feel important. This starts with assuring that each of their people always knows where he or she stands. Never must people be left in doubt about how much we believe in and care about them.

Not only must the success of one’s people be a leader’s top priority, a leader must demonstrate this truth to everyone in their organization through everything they say and do. This is one of the essential responsibilities of positive leadership. Most leaders have been taught how important this message is but they are also imperfect human beings, just like the rest of us. Unless they remind themselves of this responsibility, relentlessly, it is a human tendency to get comfortable in the status quo. Many people, even the very best, are continually at risk of getting entangled in our routines and taking for granted that our people know what we think of them.

Among the most vital responsibilities of leaders is the self-discipline of not only communicating their organization/profession’s mission, vision, and values, incessantly, but also questioning whether what we ask of our people still makes sense given the changes taking place in our profession, in our environment, and in our society. Powerful, positive leaders must always keep one eye on the big picture because if they do not, who can? One of the most effective ways to provide this kind of positive leadership is to listen and observe, empathically.

Our people—teachers, most of all—may be so immersed in their daily challenges they cannot see the big picture from the windows of their classrooms. They depend on positive leadership. What leaders must look for are the “symptoms of inefficacy.” These symptoms are conveyed through the frustrations of our people when what they are being asked to do does not seem to be working. This is true in the classroom for both teachers and students.

Teachers must strive to provide the same positive leadership to their students. Students must always know where they stand but not just with respect to the grades they are getting. They must know  we believe in and care about them. The misbehavior of our students is also a “symptom of inefficacy.” The responsibility of teachers and leaders is not limited to reacting to such behavior. It is far more important that we strive to recognize, interpret, and respond to the underlying drivers of such behavior not as wrongs that have been committed, rather as needs to be addressed.

Because it is so easy to be distracted by overt behavior, other students live in hope their covert withdrawal to the darkest corners of our classrooms will go unnoticed. The risk to operations and organizations is that the wheels that do not squeak rarely receive the attention they require. They may be silent, but such withdrawals are the desperate screams of children who know of no other way to communicate how lost they feel.

Teachers who are giving up and end up leaving the profession are doing so because even their covert “symptoms of inefficacy” went unrecognized, were misinterpreted, and were not addressed.  The practice and development of one’s craft includes dealing not only with one’s own disillusionment but also rallying to the aid of colleagues who are at risk of giving up. As challenging as this may be, it is essential to the successful practice of one’s craft.

The truth with which all educators must come to accept is that their profession cannot afford to lose any more teachers any more than our society can afford to lose any more kids.

This fundamental truth will only be accepted when our people/students are confident we have their back and will assure their effort is always focused on our true mission, vision, and values as conveyed through positive leadership.

The Hawkins Model©: Education Reimagined, One Success at a Time!, by Mel Hawkins

A Six Page Excerpt

Introduction

Look around at what you see. Is there anyone who is happy with the society we have created for our children? We are more divided than we have been at any time in my life and many of you feel the same way. We find ourselves at odds with one another over one issue after another. Rather than focus on the things we have in common, we seem fixated on the ways we differ from one another. If we cannot set aside our differences and work together in response to the challenges we will face in the balance of this 21st Century, things will not end well for some of us and could end badly for everyone. This is where we find ourselves, today.

The future is ours to choose. If we want a peaceful and prosperous resolution to the challenges we face, we must commence our response by understanding that we are what and who we have learned to be. If we want to be a better people, a better democracy, and a better society we must teach our nation’s children more and we must teach them better. We must strive to open their hearts and minds to learn as much about the realities of life and of the world as possible. This is a formidable task that can only be accomplish through a highly focused approach to education.

It is the premise of this work that the problems we face are a consequence of an education process that has become disconnected from its purpose. Over the three-quarters of a century since the end of World War II, the world has changed exponentially while the way we teach our children has changed only incrementally. The America in which we find ourselves is where education has brought us. It is said that organizations are perfectly structured to produce the outcomes they get, so it follows that the existing education process was perfectly structured to get us to the point in history at which we find ourselves, today.

If this is not where we want and need to be, we must accept responsibility for bringing about transformative change. One of the fundamental principles of this work is, “it is not until we stop blaming others and/or society and accept responsibility for our problems that we begin to acquire the power to solve them.”

I believe the state of American society, today, is a consequence of an insufficient understanding of the true nature of the complex and interdependent universe in which we live and of the people with whom we share it. What we think we understand is further compromised by our fears and prejudices. The quality of the choices we make will be determined by the level of our understanding of the world as it is, not what we wish or fear it to be.

In 1950, our leaders were bursting with optimism that there was nothing the USA could not accomplish. They thought we were living in a nation with unlimited potential in a world with inexhaustible resources. The U.S. had a population of 150 million people that was 87.5 percent non-Hispanic white in a world with 2.75 billion people. In the seventy years since, the world population has grown to 7.9 billion people while the U.S. population has grown to a remarkably more diverse 330 million citizens. Today, estimates suggest less than 58 percent of Americans are non-Hispanic white.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, we are amid a population shift in which the percentage of white Americans is forecast to decline from that 58 percent of the US population, today, to an estimated 47 percent by 2060. The challenges in the balance of this 21st Century will be unprecedented, and this is the future in which our children and grandchildren will be required to live and compete. To proceed as if it is “business as usual,” in the coming decades, seems ill-advised.

If we wish to change the course of our history, we have two generations to alter the character of America. We need a rebirth of commitment to the principles of democracy envisioned by our founders nearly 250 years ago. We must acknowledge that if we continue to teach the way we have always taught, over the next forty years or so, it will not take our society where we need to go, and we will be even less happy with where we will find ourselves.

If we are to have any hope of achieving this rebirth of commitment to democracy in America, we must begin by relinquishing our insistence on blaming our nation’s teachers and schools for the problems of our society. Blaming teachers for the problems in education and asking them to work harder will not be sufficient to produce the outcomes we need. At one time or another, each of us has experienced what it is like when asked to do a job or perform a task without the proper tools, or with tools that were in such a state of disrepair they did not work. This is what teachers are dealing with, today, and yet they continue to give their hearts, minds, bodies, and souls doing their best to make the education process work.

Neither can we blame the parents of our children. Parenting has never been easy but the:

  • The number of working parents, and an increase in parents who must work two jobs to make ends meet, somewhat offset by an increase in  work-from-home opportunities,
  • The ever-present influence of the peer group, empowered by social media, and
  • The ubiquity of mass media providing virtually unrestricted access to all the world has to offer and the challenge of shielding one’s children from whatever parents deem to be objectionable,

all combine to make parenting more challenging than ever. We believe this makes the roles of schools and teachers that much more essential.

The effort in many communities seems to be focused  on parents protecting children from what they deem to be the unpleasant aspects of society. The question we encourage parents to consider is how they can best prepare their children to deal with realities they will face as adult citizens. Should mothers and fathers strive to shield their kids from the things they fear, or would it be better to arm them with the knowledge and skills they will need to find their own solutions and create a better world for their own children?

The purpose of this work is to introduce a new education model to replace the existing American education process. It is a model designed to enable teachers to help each child learn as much as they are able at their own best pace and is premised on a belief that the human brain is the most remarkable three pounds of organic matter in all of creation and that the brains of the human child are the most remarkable of all.

The good news is, it will not take forty years to get where we need to go. It takes eighteen years to guide a child from birth to adulthood, and it takes thirteen years from the time they arrive for their first day of kindergarten, at the age of five. If we were to implement our new model, by September of 2023, we will have a full thirteen years to prepare the graduating class of 2036 for a new and better future.

For the students who will graduate in the intervening years from 2024 to 2035, we will have a shrinking window of opportunity to solidify the weaknesses in their academic and emotional development foundations that will influence the way they think about America and the world and the way they conduct themselves. Thus, it is vital we take full advantage of that opportunity and not subject them to another unproductive school year.   Each year, thereafter, we will send another class or young men and women out into society, well-prepared to work with their fellow citizens to preserve and protect our people and our democracy.                

By the time you complete this book you will understand how this new model will change the rules and expectations of education in America and the way we will keep score. We will show you exactly how and why the existing education process is letting our children down and exactly what we will do to eliminate those deficiencies and how we will ensure that the needs of all our students are met.

The changes we will be asking schools and teachers to make are simple, but will have a profound, positive effect on our children and on American society. We will also show how these changes in the way we teach will transform democracy in America so that it can fulfill its promise to all our citizens, not just a select few.

When we rely on a system that meets the needs of only some of our students, we deny other children of the value of the lessons they were supposed to have learned  and we deprive society of the value of the positive contribution they might have made.

If we are unable to make this transition in a peaceful and positive way, the future of our nation and its democracy may be irrevocably altered. We must not underestimate the magnitude of the impending population shift over the next forty years. It will help if we understand that many of the problems with which we are dealing today are symptoms of the deep fear of the possible consequences of that anticipated tipping point on the part of millions of Americans.

During that same 25 years, while those young people commence the work of rebuilding a nation, we will continue working to provide a primary and secondary education of the highest quality to succeeding generations of children who will follow in the footsteps of the first wave of students educated under the whole new way of teaching we will refer to as The Hawkins Model©.  These new classes of young men and women will join their fellow citizens in the reshaping of America.

The education model I will be introducing in this work has been named The Hawkins Model© so I can maintain the right of authorship. This new model will be offered, free of charge, to any publicly funded or parochial school entity willing to test the model in one of their struggling elementary schools. While the implementation of the model will be surprisingly easy, it will require educators to make a paradigm leap to a point where our leaders can observe our nation from a broader perspective and see that where it is taking us is not where we need to go. It requires a focused commitment of the people and educators of each community to teach by this new set of rules and a commitment to make the necessary investments to make it work.

Let’s Keep this Short and Sweet!

Every time I discuss my model with educators for the first time, whatever their level or role, the response is always the same. They cannot imagine how they could ever find time to do all the things this new model envisions. Of course they are correct, when looking out through the windows of their classrooms and schools.

When we build something, even knowing what we want it to look like when all the work is done, it is not until we step back and observe from across the street that we see the finished product as an integral whole. It is only then we can see what we were actually able to accomplish. Think about how good it feels when you look at something new you have created.

The only the way the model I propose will work is if we change all the rules about how we do what we do, re-order our priorities, and change the way we keep score. Only then will it all begins to make sense. You will be surprised how easy this can be accomplished.

Here is an overview to explain why the outcomes never seem to improve for so many of our students. In my next post, I will try to do a better job of laying out the logic how of the rules and priorities will be re-organized, and how we will keep score differently.

But first, here is a look at why things have not turned out the way we all have hopeed it will.

  1. Tens of millions of students are not meeting expectations, and not just the poor, minorities, or ESL students. This is indisputable fact. The problem transcends race, ethnicity, language of birth, and relative affluence.
  2. In tens of thousands of K-5 schools less than 20% of students are achieving proficiency.
  3. Despite the hype, the NAEP shows charter schools do not perform as well as the public schools they were created to replace.
  4. This should come as no surprise as they rely on the exact same education process. Just changing the name above the door and hiring different teachers makes no difference if they are expected to do the exact same things that teachers in the public schools do.
  5. Thousands of teachers are leaving the profession, frustrated that what they are asked to do does not work for their students and who are sick and tired of being blamed.
  6. Kids struggle because the education process is neither structured nor designed to allow teachers to forge the quality relationships every child needs to feel special and to learn.
  7. Students do not get the time they need to practice and learn; which forces Teachers to accept less than the best kids can do; record their Cs, Ds, and Fs; and then push them ahead to a new lesson, ready or not.
  8. Kids are deprived of the opportunity to experience and celebrate success and benefit from the powerful motivation success instills and that also helps pull parents in.
  9. Kids, also, are deprived of the pre-requisite knowledge on which success on next lessons depends, reducing the probability of future success.
  10. These flaws, that set students up for failure and teachers up for blame, have practical solutions that are easy to address.
  11. It requires educators to open their minds to a new model designed to teach the way kids learn rather than expecting students to learn the way we teach.
  12. Discretion to act is within the purview of school boards and superintendents, already.
  13. I’ve spent 9 years striving to convince education leaders the existing education process is not immutable and is no different than any other production or service-delivery process.
  14. Few have been willing to look at a model that changes the way teachers and students do what they do, while teaching to the same academic standards, just not the same calendar.
  15. The few willing to imagine what it would be like to teach and learn in such a classroom, believe the model will transform education for students and teachers.
  16. The Hawkins Model© is like any other production or service delivery process designed to better serve customers or constituents and produce outcomes we want.
  17. I urge you to examine the model with your colleagues and then help bring it to life.
  18. Our children are dependent on the help of people like you and me.
  19. The futures of our children depend on a quality education, and the future of our society depends on those same children to lead us through the balance of this 21st Century.

Please read the Synopsis of my book, The Hawkins Model©: Education Reimagined, One Success at a Time, at by clicking on the link at the bottom edge of the black banner at the top of this page or, accept my invitation to preview the manuscript.

                                                            Mel Hawkins, MSEd, MPA

PS: Retweets appreciated                              

The Hawkins Model©: Education Reimagined, One Success at a Time – A Synopsis

A TWO PAGE EXCERPT:

This is the first excerpt of the Synopsis of my book and i encourage you to click on the link at the bottom of the black banner at the top of this page and read the entire document. I am seeking volunteers to preview the manuscript of my book, prior to beginning the process of querying agents in search of a major publisher. This book and model can benefit from the widest possible audience. I am specifically asking for letters of endorsements from respected educators to provide the credibility that only professionals of your stature can lend. I would be grateful for an acceptance of my invitation to read.

You are also asked to help spread this word by Retweeting and/or share the link to this blog post https://bit.ly/3MGMTks

Synopsis Excerpt #1

Frustration with and Blaming Public Education

The frustration with the disappointing academic achievement of students has been building, over the last several decades, and the evidence of the academic struggles of millions of American children is pervasive and compelling. The assumption of many is that the problem exists in public schools but data from each of the states and from the National Assessment of Educational Progress[1] (NAEP) suggest publicly funded charter schools struggle just as much if not more. Even faith-based schools that typically outperform their public-school counterparts, still have far too many children who fall short of expectations.

The temptation is for educators to blame Covid but although the pandemic contributed to a significant drop in test scores, student performance was already unacceptably low, as NAEP data from 2019 will illustrate, below. What Covid has done is blessed us with an opportunity to abandon the obsession of policy makers with keeping students moving at the same pace, from one lesson to the next. Test scores have, effectively, been scattered by the wind and to return to that objective will be futile.

Since the first version of my model was introduced in 2013, I have been encouraging educators to shift the focus to steady progress by individual students, from one success to the next, wherever we find them on the academic success or preparedness continuums. Covid has provided the perfect opportunity to implement The Hawkins Model© nation-wide.

We believe the standard against which students should be measured is “proficient” which was introduced by the NAEP as one of the “achievement levels” in which students fall. They are “Basic.” “Proficient,” and Advanced. Proficient is defined 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.” [2]

Please note, the highlighting is mine. You will see, throughout this work, we will use “subject matter mastery” and “proficiency” interchangeably.

We believe helping students achieve and be able to demonstrate proficiency is the appropriate goal of education. Many states have adopted modified versions of the NAEP’s achievement levels. Some have added “approaching proficient”  or “approaching grade level” to the list of achievement levels. Unfortunately, many students who assess as approaching proficient from one year to the next, never seem to reach a point where they can demonstrate proficiency. This suggests such test results are false positives.

Blame game

Let us post our biases so everyone can see. Teachers are not the problem with education in America; just the opposite is true. All the positive outcomes of students for the last half century or more are because of the help of teachers, despite the inefficacy of the education process. Teachers are an essential variable in the education equation and the glue that holds it all together. My model and yet-to-be-published book will be dedicated to schoolteachers everywhere.

The response of leaders of business and industry, government officials, and education policy makers has been to point fingers and to assign blame, rather than initiate a problem-solving methodology to understand why the outcomes of so many students are not meeting expectations. One of the many fundamental assertions and assumptions on which this work is based is, “it is only when we stop blaming others and accept responsibility for our problems that we begin to acquire the power to fix them.” Blaming serves only to distract us from addressing the challenges facing education in the U.S.

            Our challenge in the development of The Hawkins Model© has come down to the application of the principles of systems thinking[3], organizational design and development, and the principles of positive leadership that I introduced in my book, The Difference Is You, Power Through Positive Leadership[4], published in 2013. Given the axiom that every organization is structured to produce the outcomes it gets, if we want something better, we must determine what it is we genuinely want and then design and structure a process to produce those outcomes. This is the challenge we have undertaken in this work. We offer this model as gift to our nation’s teachers and to their students.


[1] The Nation’s Report Card | NAEP (ed.gov), National Assessment of Educational Progress is part of the National Center for Education Statistics, of the Institute of Education Sciences

[2] https://nces.ed.gov/nationsreportcard/tdw/analysis/describing_achiev.aspx

[3] Senge, Peter, The Fifth Discipline . . . . .

[4] Hawkins, Mel, The Difference is You: Power Through Positive Leadership, Amazon CreateSpace, 2013

To Teachers, Everywhere:

This letter is motivated by our assertion that we need to stop blaming teachers for the flaws in the education process. Teachers are heroes who should be credited for all the good things that happen in our classrooms despite the flaws of the process. Teachers are the glue that keeps it all from spiraling out of control.

No one knows what goes on in the classroom better than teachers, so who better to take on the challenge of transforming education in America to ensure the success of both students and teachers. Education leaders and administrators have the same opportunity, and should have the same motivation but, instead, still choose to focus on the preservation of the status quo; but let’s defer that discussion, for the moment.

The disappointing outcomes of students throughout America is not limited  to public schools, as charter school students struggle just as much if not more, according to data from NAEP and virtually every state department of education. Even the disappointing outcomes of a significant percentage of students from faith-based schools are a consequence of an “education process” that has become disconnected from its purpose.

For some time, the focus of public education has been directed toward conformance, compliance, and testing, rather than learning and true student achievement. Therefore, so many of the activities the education process demands of teachers and students impede rather than support learning.  

Each time students are pushed ahead before ready; they fall a little further behind and must strive to makes sense of future lessons without the pre-requisite knowledge those lessons require. When disappointing outcomes  become a pattern, it begins to seep into a child’s confidence and self-esteem. Just as success is a powerful motivating force, the repeated  inability to achieve success is discouraging. When children are discouraged their first instinct is to give up and stop trying. When this happens, teaching becomes problematic.

We have waited long enough for our leaders and policy makers to step outside the boundaries of conventional thinking and address the flaws in the existing education process; deficiencies that set students up for academic distress, and teachers up for blame.

When will the leaders and policy makers of education recognize that when a process continues to produce unacceptable outcomes no matter how hard people work or how qualified they are, the process is broken and must be replaced.

This letter is a request of teachers, teachers’ unions, associations, and other advocacy groups to help promote what, recently, one educator described as the “the next big thing in education.” Another prominent educator wrote, “I enthusiastically support a pioneering school district’s willingness to consider The Hawkins Model© as a means of improving student achievement, reducing maladaptive behavior and preparing students to be successful in school and life.”

The Hawkins Model© has been developed to transform the “education  process” at work in our schools by creating an environment, focused on learning and that allows teachers to develop and practice their craft and adapt to the disparate needs of students.

This model will be offered free to any publicly funded or faith-based school willing to put the model to the test in the K – 2 classrooms of even just one struggling elementary school. The only revenue I expect to generate is from the royalties from my yet-to-be-published book, The Hawkins Model©: Education Reimagined, One Success at a Time, which was written to introduce the model. A synopsis of the book is available at my website at https://bit.ly/3MGMTks. If you are reading these words, you will find the link along the bottom of the black border at the top of this page.

You are encouraged to invite your most innovative colleagues to join you in previewing my book and model, as a group, not in search of reasons why it might not work rather to imagine what it would be like for teachers to teach and students to learn in an environment that is a learning laboratory. The manuscript can be made available to you but please recognize, it is copyrighted material over which I will need to maintain some level of control.  

Let us be clear, the status quo in education is under attack and community public schools are the central target of that offensive. If it has not occurred to you, yet, the futures of teachers, superintendents and their school boards, and other public-school administrators are inextricably linked to the future of local community public schools. More importantly, the future or our nation’s children and our democracy are similarly linked.

This model provides an opportunity for community public schools to set themselves apart and you would be wise not to let “school choice” advocates get the jump on public education. Imagine how much more successful the “school choice” movement will be if their claims they can do a better job are borne out by the data. Public schools must seize this opportunity to reclaim the confidence and loyalty of the communities they serve.

Community publics school leaders can be prompted to act by the ardent advocacy of teachers. The Hawkins Model© provides a perfect solution around which teachers and other educators can rally.

Thank you all for the incredible work you do, and please join me in striving to reestablish public education as the key to the preservation of our democracy. Please share this message with every teacher you know, the broader their platform, the better.

Most Sincerely,

Mel Hawkins, MSEd, MPA

A Bases-Loaded Lesson in Leadership

One of the essential characteristics of positive leaders is a non-negotiable commitment to mission and purpose. It is something we all know and yet leaders lose sight of mission and purpose almost as a matter of routine. When we begin to lose sight of our mission, we begin to make decisions that are counter-productive and serve secondary agendas rather than our  primary mission and purpose. Inevitably, outcomes are adversely affected.  What follows is a true story and example of how easy it is to lose focus on purpose.

I am a passionate baseball fan.  I love to watch baseball and coach baseball and, when I was young, I loved to play the game.  Some of my most memorable lessons in positive leadership were learned while coaching Little League Baseball®.

One season, during the all-star tournament, which is the path to Williamsport and the Little League Baseball® World Series, I was honored to manage our league’s all-star team of thirteen 12-year-old ball players. While we did not advance beyond our district tournament, it was a special opportunity and memory.

While scouting  a game that would determine our next opponent,  I observed another league’s manager, a fine gentleman I am sure,  get so wrapped up in the heat of competition that he lost focus on his purpose.  In an elimination game, his team was trailing by a run in the last inning and the tying and winning runs were on base with two outs.  At bat was his team’s best hitter. 

I was standing at the end of the dugout where I could hear every word. The coach called his player over, a strapping twelve-year old, and said, “We need you buddy!  It’s all up to you!  Don’t let us down, the whole team is counting on you!”

I was astonished to hear those words come out of a coach’s mouth in any kind of youth sports’ activity.

The young man walked to the plate full of determination and proceeded to pop up to end the game—an exciting victory for the other team.  The 12-year-old batter walked back to the dugout with his head hanging.  His manager put his arm around the boy and said, “Forget it!  You did your best.”

But, of course, it was too late.  As his coach’s had directed, the boy carried the burden of success or failure for his team, and he had let them down. It was the kind of outcome that may be the only thing that young man will remember from what was a stellar baseball season. In his mind, in the most important at-bat of the year, he was a failure and a loser.  All I could do was shake my head.  Little did I know I would be confronted with a similar opportunity.

My team played the next evening and we went into the bottom of the last inning trailing by two runs.  Our best hitter was due at the plate, there were two outs, and the bases were loaded. 

The words that popped up into my head were, “We need you buddy!  It’s all up to you!  Don’t let us down, the whole team is counting on you.” Fortunately, I realized what I was thinking.  I shook myself by the scruff of my neck and was thankful I had an opportunity to learn from another leader’s mistake. 

When I called my best hitter over for a quick pep talk, my approach was different from what I witnessed  twenty-four hours earlier. I put my hands on his shoulders and smiled at him.

“This is the at-bat you’ve been dreaming about for as long as you can remember. I want you to relax and take a deep breath.” I gave his shoulders a playful shake and continued, “Now, enjoy this moment! Give it your best effort and whatever happens, I’m proud of you.”

My story has a different ending, as well.  The young boy responded with a grand slam home run for a dramatic win—the kind of which dreams are made.

Did my message make a difference?  You may draw your own conclusions, but I believe it did.  It helped the child approach the situation as an opportunity to succeed using his talents and abilities, and all the hours he had devoted to practice.  When we eliminate the fear of failure, even when it is a possible outcome, children and adults are able to give their best effort.

The most important lesson has to do with one’s focus on one’s mission.  My purpose was not to win baseball games rather to provide young boys and girls with an opportunity to learn to play the game of baseball; to experience the thrill of competition and the value of teamwork; and, to develop their athletic potential and self-discipline.  My job was to teach my players to give their best effort without fear of failure.  This particular game was just one of what will be a life time of opportunities for this boy to excel at something he loves to do. I was only an instrument.

Because of his success, I was able to share the celebration of it. Had the outcome been different, my job would have been to encourage him to keep striving, as nobody “bats a thousand.” As an instructor in another sport once said, “if we are not falling down once-in-a-while we are not really skiing.”

My counterpart had been focused on his own needs, his own desire to win a game.  On this one occasion he viewed the child as an instrument of his own objectives. It was not that his desire to win was inappropriate rather that it was not his job. It was one example of the many secondary agendas that so often distracts us from our primary purpose.

In education, where our stated purpose is to help kids learn, a secondary agenda is when, to achieve operational efficiency,  we attach more importance to keeping pace with an arbitrary calendar or schedule than we do to giving students the time they need to learn each lesson.

A Lesson in Positive Leadership Prompted by a Valued Colleague

In a recent Tweet, our colleague, Amy Fast, @fastcrayon wrote:

“I too often take for granted that people who consistently demonstrate excellence need and deserve feedback too. . . . We need to take care of our people.”

This is an important lesson in so many ways. We all need affirmation. It is important that we feel appreciated. We need to believe the work we do and the effort we make is observed and valued. Many managers are so focused on looking for things people do wrong and need to improve upon they rarely give positive feedback, even to the best people in their organization.  

During the early years of my leadership and organizational development consulting career, I had an opportunity to witness an extreme example of a boss whose total focus was on the things his people did badly. I included this anecdote in a book on Positive Leadership I wrote and self-published in 1980. I used the book as resource material in the many Positive Leadership seminars I gave to the employees of my own organizations, of many of my consulting clients, as well as through the Continuing Education Program of Indiana-Purdue University of Fort Wayne (Now Purdue University of Fort Wayne).. The book was updated and republished in 2013 with the title, The Difference Is You: Power through Positive Leadership[i],.

Here is the excerpt about an owner, who started his business out of his garage and turned it into a multi-million-dollar company:

“I spent some time with the owner of a small but profitable company with only seven employees.  The owner was constantly complaining about how difficult it was to get good help.

“No one wants to work anymore!” he cried. “They don’t appreciate what a good thing they have, working here.”

He wore his frustration out where everyone could see, which caused a great deal of consternation among his people.

“I can do every job in the company,” he boasted, “better than my people!”

“I see,” was my reply and then I asked, “How much are you paying these people?”

“Probably close to $200,000 per year,” he responded, in shock as if he had seen that number for the first time. “My God!” he continued, “You would think for that kind of money I could buy some decent help.”

I thought for a moment and then responded, “I think I’ve got a simple solution for you.  In fact, it’s so simple I’m surprised you haven’t thought of it yourself.”

He didn’t say anything right away but just looked at me.  Finally, he asked, “How much is this going to cost me?”

“Well, it’s such a simple solution I am almost embarrassed to charge you anything at all.   But, since I would soon go broke if I gave away free advice, why don’t I bill you for one hour of my time and we will call it even.”

My client was skeptical, but we shook hands on the deal. “Okay!  What is this simple solution?”

“Just get rid of all of your staff,” I announced, “and do all the work yourself!  You do it better anyway and then you can pocket the $200,000 in payroll costs every year.  Heck, in a few years you’ll be able to retire on the money you save.”

Needless to say, my client was not particularly happy with my suggestion and he, “damn sure wasn’t going to pay me for a ridiculous piece of advice like that.”

When he finally calmed down, we discussed his attitudes at some length because it was his attitude that was the problem.  He finally acknowledged that he could not be everywhere at once or do all the jobs at the same time and, in fact, after much gnashing of teeth, he admitted that he needed his people.  He acknowledged that, in spite of all his knowledge and expertise, he was incapable of running his business by himself.

As we talked about his attitudes, he began to see that the message he conveyed, daily, to his people was that they should be grateful for their jobs and to him for giving them jobs.  He routinely conveyed his lack of appreciation for them and his lack of trust and respect for them.  Not once had it occurred to him to thank his people or tell them how important their contributions were to the success of his business.”

 

Sadly, giving formal performance assessments in many businesses and other employment environments has devolved into a grading process that documents success or lack thereof, not unlike the grades we give in our schools and classrooms. When giving performance assessments to adults in the workplace, or to children in school,  the focus should be on the two-sided practice of recognizing and celebrating excellence, on the one hand, and identifying learning and development opportunities, on the other. If our focus is on helping people at work or children in school do the best job of which they are capable, master their jobs or subject matter, and learn how to create success for themselves, it is imperative that we do both.


[i] Hawkins, Mel, The Difference is You: Power Through Positive Leadership, Createspace (an Amazon format), 2013