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

How do we know we are making a difference?

When I was a supervisor in a juvenile probation department, one of my probation officers sought my advice. She said one of her probationers was due in a few minutes. He was a fourteen-year-old boy. She told me he never talks to her other than an occasional “Yeah”, “hu-huh!” or “nuh-huh!“

“Sometimes, all he does is shrug his shoulders or shake his head. I don’t know what I should do.  I know I’m not getting through to him.”

“Has he been in any trouble? How often does he skip his appointments?” I asked.

“Not once to both questions. I’ve seen him six or seven times, here, not counting court hearings, and twice at his home when I met with his mother. There have been no calls from the school but I don’t know about his grades. He’s not yet received a report card.””

“Well, that’s something,” I responded. “What do you say to him?”

“I ask how things are going at home, how his mom is doing, and how things are going at school or with his friends. Other than encouragement to do his best at school and stay out of trouble, most of the time I just sit there with a dumb smile on my face.”

I didn’t know what to tell her. I suggested she just keep doing what she had been doing and keep smiling. 

“Most of the time, ” I said, “we never know whether what we say or do is making a difference in a kid’s life. Other than his mother, and hopefully a teacher, we may be the only adult who cares what he’s doing. And there’s no such thing as a dumb smile. Not when you’re smiling at a kid.”

She returned to her office, which was right across the hall from mine. A few minutes later the kid arrived and I watched as she greeted him and shut her door. 

After a while, her door opened and the young man left, heading toward the lobby. N____ left just seconds later. As she turned the other way, she looked at me, shook her head and gave me a weak smile.

A moment later, I saw the kid return, peak into her office, and put a Tootsie Roll on the empty seat of her chair. Then he was gone.

When N____ returned, she picked up the piece of candy and turned to look at me with raised eyebrows.

“He snuck back while you were gone,” I said, smiling. “You are making a difference. Keep doing what you’ve been doing!”

Neuroplasticity: A Road Map of Neural Pathways for Education


On July 29th, on Twitter, our colleague, @DrTeresaSanders[i], shared information about neuroplacticity, a concept of which every education policy-maker, administrator, teacher, and professor of colleges of education should be aware. The dictionary defines neuroplacticity as:

“The capacity for continuous alteration of the neural pathways and synapses of the living brain and nervous system in response to experience or injury.”[ii]

What neuro-scientists are learning about neuroplasticity is confirmation of our belief that a child’s brain is programmed to learn, even after deprivation or injury. Just because a child grows up in a family-environment with fewer experiential enrichment opportunities than other students does not mean the child will be unable to learn as well as their classmates. That child’s brain learned everything there was to learn in the environment in which its owner resided. With the proper time and support, each child’s brain will allow its owner to learn whatever we are able help it learn and more.  

The brain learns by processing sensory information from the world via an incessant process of creating new connections along the neural networks and synapses of the brain. An article in Psychology Today writes:

“Research has firmly established that the brain is a dynamic organ and can change its design throughout life, responding to experience by reorganizing connections—via so-called ‘wiring’ and ‘rewiring.”[iii]

This is especially exciting for children with dyslexia and other learning disabilities, and for their parents and teachers. Dyslexia, for example, does not diminish a child’s intelligence or creativity rather, learning difficulties have to do with the way their brain perceives and processes stimuli from their environment. Research has found the brain can reorganize itself, with a little help from its friends, allowing the child to overcome the obstacles their disability presents. Many accomplished adults, probably people we know, are dyslexic and have had to learn how to process sensory data they perceive differently than others do.

Our granddaughter was nine years of age when her parents learned she was dyslexic. We had believed her to be a good reader not realizing she was not reading at all. Instead, she had been reciting from memory stories we had been reading to her, which demonstrates both intelligence and a remarkable memory. Since the recognition of her dyslexia and the special help she has received, she has made wonderful progress. We can only lament the time and opportunities lost before she received the help she required. The importance of diagnosing and treating such disabilities as early as possible cannot be overstated.

Not beginning an assessment of each child’s capabilities, when they arrive for their first day of school, is one of the flaws of the existing education process; a flaw The Hawkins Model© has been designed to address.  The current education process—the tool teachers and schools have been relying on for generations—was designed to ensure teachers and students conform to schedules embedded in academic standards as well as to the standards, themselves. The process demands teaching whole groups children, thus limiting a teachers’ ability to adapt what they do to the unique needs of individuals.  For all this time, while being asked to shoulder  the blame for the disappointing outcomes of their students, teachers have been doing exactly what they have been taught and expected to do. It is the education process that is failing to meet the needs of our children, not their teachers.

What we require is an education process that exhibits the same plasticity as the brains of the children it exists to serve, and this is exactly the kind of learning environment The Hawkins Model© is intended to provide for both teachers and their students.

The reluctance to exchange the existing education process for a new model would be understandable if everyone was happy with the outcomes students are getting, today. The reality is, hardly anyone is happy with the way things are, but it has proven oh so difficult to change. However much we might admire the effort of education leaders who are introducing a steady stream of innovative initiatives, outcomes for students across the nation have not altered the reality that is education in America.

The question for education policy makers, school administrators, and teachers is: how long will they choose to endure a reality in which the outcomes for students in the aggregate never seem to change no matter how hard they are asked to work or how many new methodologies and technologies they are asked to employ. In the existing education process, new ideas and approaches are exceptions a few schools have been able to carve out of the process, not expectations for all.

Once they overcome inertia and embrace the need to reimagine the education process, what educators and policy makers will discover is how easy implementation of The Hawkins Model© will prove to be and how cost-effective genuine success will be.

Our thanks to Dr. Teresa Sanders for tweeting information about neuroplasticity and for the important work she and Safari Small Schools are doing. The reader is encouraged to learn more about the micro-school concept. In essence, The Hawkins Model© is a way to do for an estimated 53 million American children what Dr. Sanders and her Safari Small Schools are doing for five students in each of its micro-school. Her philosophy is “do what you can” rather than wait for the education system to change.


[i] Dr. Sanders is a leader of Safari Small Schools, in Canton, Texas. Her schools are described as “an innovative micro-school serving students in grades Pre-K through 3rd”. Such schools are designed to serve a maximum of five students. Here is a link to her website if you would like to learn more: Safari Small Schools:Texas – Safari Small Schools

[ii] Merriam Webster Dictionary

[iii] Neuroplasticity | Psychology Today

Education is the key to everything!

We are what we have been taught to be and our children will be what we teach them to be. The solution to providing equality in education to every child would be so easy, most people would think it to be “too good to be true!”

If all educators would put their heads together with advocates for children of color, English language learners, and other disadvantaged kids and consider a new idea, they would wonder why we have waited so long and would be asking “why would a school district choose not to implement The Hawkins Model©?”

Surely, we have learned we cannot legislate an end to discrimination and racism. We have been trying for over fifty years, and discrimination still ravages the lives of men and women of color. Only an education of the highest quality can render these young people impervious to discrimination.

No matter how hard our teachers and principals work or how dedicated they may be, they cannot make the existing education process work for all kids, especially the disadvantaged. The problem is not teachers and schools, it is the education process at work within those schools; it is the way we go about teaching our precious sons and daughters. Consider what happens in even the best public and parochial schools, today.

Kids show up for their first day of school, at age 5, and we do not take the time to thoroughly assess their level of academic preparedness, nor do we utilizes that knowledge to create an academic plan tailored to the unique requirements of each child.

These youngsters show up in a classroom in which there are too many students to allow any one teacher to forge the kind of nurturing relationships these kids need to feel safe, secure, and cared about, all of which are essential to learning. The positive relationships that do develop for a fortunate few, will be severed at the end of the school year. These students will return to school in the fall and can only hope to be assigned to a new teacher who will believe in them and make them feel special.

Students are given lessons for which they may or may not be prepared and, after a few days, they will be given a test over that material.  It will not matter whether they understand the lessons they are asked to learn, or whether they get an F, D, C, B, or A. Ready or not, they will be moved on to a new lesson.

Teachers are given only so much time for each lesson. Children who do not yet comprehend their most recent lessons will be moved on with the rest of their class and be expected to learn subsequent lessons without the pre-requisite knowledge their prior lessons were intended to provide. Neither will they enjoy the benefit of the confidence that flows from successful learning.

A student’s scores will be recorded in his or her teacher’s gradebook, to become part of the child’s academic record and will begin to influence their teachers’ assessment of the child’s academic potential and intelligence. Worse, those grades will affect each child’s perception of themselves.

These boys and girls will then be asked to repeat this ritual in every subject area, for each lesson,  semester, and school year for the next thirteen years, without relief or exception. Somewhere along the line students who struggle will begin to think themselves incapable of learning and unable to keep up with classmates. It is only a matter of time until these kids give up and stop trying.

After thirteen years, these—now young men and women—will leave school, with or without a diploma, lacking the knowledge, skills, wisdom, pre-requisite knowledge, confidence, and self-esteem necessary to overcome the ravages of  discrimination. They will lack meaningful choices for what to do to make a life for themselves and their families and to participate in their own governance.

They will, also, begin to produce their own offspring who will replicate the same ritualistic childhood their parents and grandparents have endured for generations. None of this will change until we replace an education process that has been dysfunctional to the point of obsolescence, for as long as any of us can remember.

Do not be deceived by the false promise of “school choice” that suggests a charter school will provide a better opportunity for our sons and daughters. Please understand, there is nothing inherently wrong with the concept of a charter school other than most rely on the same education process at work in the public and parochial schools they were intended to replace; nor do they serve entire communities.

Let me introduce you to a solution.

The Hawkins Model© was designed to provide the education each one of our children deserves and is available for free to any public or parochial school district willing to implement it, beginning in their elementary classrooms. The model has been engineered to eliminate all the issues addressed in the preceding paragraphs. It will be transformational, and the decision to act is already within a school district and its superintendent’s purview. They need only say “yes!”

You will be surprised to learn how easily the model can be implemented. It changes the way the game is played.

Although instruction will still be guided by academic standards, progress will be a function of a student’s success rather than arbitrary timelines. Transformation will require a few adjustments to the way a school organizes its teachers and classrooms, and how long they remain together. Minor physical modifications of classrooms might be nice but are not essential. 

Other significant changes are redefinition of purpose and changing expectations for principals and teachers. Students will be expected to learn as much as they can at their own best pace. The model is constructed on the premise the brains of children are programmed to learn and that failure is a choice the existing education process requires us to make.

We must choose otherwise and give every student whatever time and attention they need to learn.

How we teach will be altered to focus on the primacy of relationships between teachers and students and converting time from a parameter that limits time to learn, to an asset available to kids in whatever quantities their success requires. Once they have learned, how long it took is inconsequential.

Implementation will be so simple the question educators and leaders of advocacy will be asking is “why would a school district choose not to implement The Hawkins Model©?”

This is not a request for financial support. Whatever revenue I generate will come from the royalties of a book I will be finishing, soon. I am asking organizations that serve as advocates for people of color and educators to help convince school superintendents to test The Hawkins Model© in one or more of their underperforming elementary schools. Consider how many schools and school districts are struggling to provide a quality education to children of color, English language learners, and the other disadvantaged students they serve and how many of those kids are giving up and will, soon, stop trying.

There are many wonderful programs available for kids who have fallen behind but if all we do is wait until they fall behind before we help, we have waited too long. Besides, there are many kids these programs never reach. We must choose to prevent students from “falling behind” in the first place. Nation-wide, there are millions of boys and girls at risk, waiting for us to act, and there are millions more waiting to follow. The Hawkins Model© will help all students learn how to create success for themselves.

With your help, children could begin benefitting from my model as early as this fall. Let us not forget, however, it takes thirteen years to educate a child; thus, we dare not drag our feet. I urge you to become advocates, reaching out to school districts with which you have a connection and encouraging them to act.

Please examine The Hawkins Model©. It may prove to be one of the most important things you will ever do.

Learn how easy it can be to implement a new education model

Although all of you who are educators—whether superintendents, principals, or teachers—strive to do an excellent job for your students, you also agonize over kids who struggle, no matter how hard you work or how innovative you may be. What critics seem to have no clue about is, not matter how valiant the effort of our teachers and other educators, even the best of them cannot make a dysfunctional education process work for every child. It is only because of the heroism of educators that so many kids enjoy success at all.

But many is not enough!

This post-Covid era has provided a unique opportunity to transform the way we teach our children but seizing it will require bold leadership. I am asking superintendents and principals to consider testing my education model in one or more elementary schools, this fall.

I assure you, implementation of The Hawkins Model© will be much easier than you imagine. It will be transformational, and you and your school boards already possess the authority needed to act. The model will be available to any public or parochial school for free.

Although instruction will still be guided by academic standards, progress will be a function of a student’s success, not arbitrary timelines. Transformation will be achieved by making a few adjustments to the way you organize your teachers and classrooms and how long they stay together. Although a few minor physical modifications of classrooms would be nice, they are not essential and will be at the bottom of your priority list.

Other significant changes are reclarification of purpose, changing expectations for principals and teachers, and simplification of the objectives for and expectations of students. We must expect students to learn as much as they can at their own pace. The model is constructed on the premise all children can learn and failure is not an option.

How we teach will be altered to focus on both the primacy of relationships with students and converting time from a parameter to an asset/resource available to students in whatever quantity their success requires. Once students have learned, how long it took them to learn becomes inconsequential. Learning is the only thing that matters.

Until the education process is reimagined to produce the quality outcomes our kids deserve, many high school graduates will continue to leave school with limited choices and students of color will remain ill-equipped to overcome the ravages of discrimination. We cannot legislate a solution to the challenges we face as a society. It is only through education we can begin to change the hearts of a nation, ensure meaningful opportunities for all students, and render children of color impervious to discrimination.

The Hawkins Model© is a game changer. Given the ease with which it could be implemented and the potential benefit to students, the appropriate question to ask yourselves might well be, “why would a school district choose not to do this?” Education is challenge for which no stone can be left unturned.

Please help by examining the The Hawkins Model©, at my website at www.melhawkinsandassociates.com and sharing it with every Superintendent, Principal, and teacher you know. We only get so many chances in life to do something special and never has doing so been more necessary.

A Story of a Special Man!

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 a few 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 just 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 by 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 suit 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 janitor 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 things 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 —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, simple acts of kindness, reassuring words, and a genuine desire to make each of them feel special.

Gifts such as this may brighten only a 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 when 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 act of affirmation can make a difference in the life of 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 keeping their school clean for them, year after year after year.

It was the relationships that mattered. Given what we can learn from Charlie, imagine what a teacher can do in his or her classroom by doing the best job of which he or she is capable and by making every student feel special and important.

Relationships are everything in life and they are everything in teaching.

God bless you, Charlie.

Commentary on these frightening times

Is it not sad that so many Americans allow themselves to be manipulated by the scare tactics of leaders who rely on such trigger words as socialism, radical left, deep state, and even communism, none of which have a factual basis? It is a simple truth that when we put our heads together, without blame or recrimination, we are able to find solutions to each one of the problems we face as a people. All that is required to find such solutions is to look out on the world in search of all  things we can accomplish rather than focus on our fears and suspicions. Please consider the following.

How can so many Americans:

  • Evidence not the least bit of concern that many American citizens are being denied basic justice and fairness because of the color of their skin?
  • Follow blindly when their leaders reject the science of global warming and climate change; as well as the accepted science with respect to infectious diseases?
  • Be okay with strategies designed to prevent citizens from exercising their right to vote out of fear of whom they might vote for?
  • Seem willing to teach their children it is okay to rely on name-calling and ridicule of people with whom they disagree or choose not to like?
  • Be willing to believe government regulation of the behavior of self-serving business entities is worse than permitting them to pollute the air we breathe and water we drink,  abuse their workers, and defraud their customers?
  • Seem willing to accept the actions of hospitals and insurance companies that put their profits ahead of the health and safety of a population of patients that might, someday, include themselves?
  • Be unwilling to insure payment of a living wage to all who are willing and able to work, on the one hand, and be unwilling to help those same people in their time of need, on the other?
  • Accept the assertions of their leaders that people who do not agree with them are criminals who should be “locked up?”
  • Be so willing to accept, at the word of unknown sources, the existence of conspiracies theories that purport to threaten everything they hold dear, with no evidence, whatsoever.

All American citizens are urged to understand there is no radical left out to destroy America rather there are men and women of good conscience trying to prevent innocent men, women, and children from falling through the cracks of injustice. Similarly, it is  not socialism or communism to seek solutions that provide access to health care for ourselves and others.

We must also understand the only way to protect our rights is to protect the rights of everyone and, that freedom only works when it is balanced by responsibility?

Somehow, we must come to realize that leaders willing to play upon our fears will care about us only for as long as we are willing to pledge our blind allegiance. Such leaders do not want us to think for ourselves, they want us to rely on them as our only source of the truth.

Think about what we can learn from observing our children. What do kids do to distract parents and teachers from their own misbehavior? Kids point their finger and say, “he or she did it.” How is this any different than standing on a stage and branding one’s adversary as criminal. How is this different from repeating over and over “Lock him or her up!” while offering not a shred of evidence?

Consider that whenever we begin to think of people who disagree with us as our enemy, it blinds us to all we have in common and obscures our mutual best interests.

Americans, socialism, radical left, deep state, communism, fears and suspicions, science of global warming, science, climate change, right to vote, government regulation, living wage, conspiracy theories, access to health care, protect our rights, freedom, responsibility

For as long as any of us can remember

For as long as I can remember we have talked about reforming, changing, re-inventing and re-imagining education and yet the outcomes our schools produce, today, are not much different than they were last year, 10 years ago, or even 20 or more years ago.

We have implemented countless ideas and innovations; we have initiated long lists of new  programs; and, we have introduced a profusion of digital technologies, teaching methodologies, and learning materials. Each of these  efforts have had an impact on some children; but rarely beyond a local level and, rarer still, has the impact penetrated the boundaries of our segregated neighborhoods and communities. The problem is neither a lack of ideas nor a prevalence of bad intentions; and, neither is it a lack of good teachers. The problem is our intransigence.

What we have never done is examine the logic behind everything we do, systemically. Notwithstanding a few experiments, we have never changed the way we structure the education process and the way we guide students along the path dictated by academic standards, from Kindergarten to twelfth grade. We have never overhauled a scoring system that is misdirected and misguided. It is as if we do not know that how we keep score drives how we play the game?

We have gone overboard with standardized testing that measures student achievement and retention as inadequately as it measures teacher effectiveness.  The one thing high-stakes, standardized testing has achieved is to distract us from our essential purpose and immerse us in the blame game.  

When will we acknowledge a body of compelling evidence, gathered over the decades, suggesting what we have been asking our teachers to do has not worked for tens of millions of American students?  We waste millions of dollars on testing, along with the precious time of our teachers and students, because we think it will hold teachers accountable, never stopping to consider the people who should be held accountable are the politicians, policy makers, and our education leaders. These are the people responsible for determining what we teach and how.

Think about this for a moment.   

Which is  more likely, that  our nation’s finest colleges and universities, and the millions of teachers they educate, are ineffectual or, that the education process is flawed?

Children whom we consider to be our nation’s most precious assets, and the very people on whom the future of our society  will depend, are languishing. When will we learn disappointing outcomes cannot be explained by superficial analyses and shallow thinking?  The longer we put off facing the truth, the greater the harm to millions of young lives.

It seems to be the perception that those millions of young lives include mostly blacks and other minorities, but white students are well-represented in the population of American students who are victimized by our obsolete education process. 

Let us be clear about this. The obsolescence of the American education process is doing harm to a far broader population of children than we have imagined. The damage to these children is pervasive as is the damage it does to our society. Nothing will alter this reality until we rethink all we ask teachers to do to prepare kids for a meaningful future.

There are many success stories of young men and women of color who go on to non-stereotypical careers, but they remain the exceptions.  We have been talking about and protesting inequality in education since the 1950s and the only thing we have accomplished with certainty is breaking down the barriers to entry to public schools.

Despite our efforts, over a span of decades, we keep the schoolhouse to jailhouse express filled beyond capacity.  We have over-filled poor urban and rural communities with streams of young men and women who completed twelve to thirteen years of schooling that fails to give them choices. With but a few exceptions, these young people continue to live and raise their families in segregated pockets of poverty. As mothers and fathers, they send their own children off to school with little hope the cycle of poverty, powerlessness, and hopelessness will be broken.

We know this is the reality for black kids, but how can we not know of the impact on millions of white students. If we look at the first two decades of this 21st Century, we see evidence of large numbers of Americans from all demographic groups, who are insufficiently literate and numerate to:

  • Participate in their own governance and be motivated to exercise their right to vote;
  • Understand the science behind the challenges we face in our natural world;
  • Shed the satchel full of prejudices with which so many Americans have been raised; and,
  • Understand how their own decisions and actions contribute to the very problems about which they complain so loudly.  

We have become adept at blaming everyone but ourselves for our problems and we shirk responsibility. We, all of us, are the problem.

Is it not time to stop blaming our teachers for problems over which they have little or no control? Is it not time to radically alter the way we teach our nation’s children to provide true equality for all Americans? It is not all that difficult if only we would step away from our classrooms and look at the whole picture.

Follow this link and let me show you one way this can be accomplished

https://bit.ly/2ZqGWxR

The Purpose of Education reimagined!

In a recent Tweet, @DavidGeurin wrote:

“The purpose of education isn’t mastering standards, getting good grades, or earning diplomas. The Purpose of education is better human stories. It’s about helping people be wiser and better able to care for self and others.”

So true! Our colleague’s thought is consistent with purpose of the education model I have designed. What we teach our children, whatever the subject matter, must not be about grades or standards or diplomas. It is about helping our students  become the best versions of themselves. We want our students  to be able to use what they have learned to make a life for themselves among the people and in the world around them. The subject matter must be a means to an end they will choose for themselves rather than an end we have chosen for them.

We must strive to teach the whole child. We want them to learn how to think critically and creatively. We want them to learn how to get along with the people in their lives however far they spread their wings. We want them to learn how to become good citizens who can participate in their own governance. We want them to understand the cogent issues of their time so they may think and act on the basis reason and wisdom rather than fears and prejudices. We want them to be able to create new and better solutions to the problems the next half century will unveil. We want them to learn that freedom must be balanced by responsibility; and, that we are all interdependent. 

People want to blame our teachers for society’s problems, but unfairly so. Teachers are dedicated men and women who have only done what they were trained and instructed  to do with the resources provided for them. Teachers are constrained by an education process that has evolved gradually over the decades while the world in which our children must live has undergone exponential change.

Is there any reason to think that things will get better if we continue to do and teach what and how we have in the past? We are a society faced with unprecedent challenges and we will not rise to them without a quality education, equitably distributed. What we have done to date has gotten us to this unique point in history. Where we go from here depends on education reimagined, which my model does.  

Go ahead, check it out! Read with hope that it might truly be something new and better that will assure a quality education for all our children and a more fulfilling career for teachers.:

The Hawkins Model©

An Open Letter To: Van Jones re: his 3-Step Pathway

I was fortunate to hear your interview with Brooke Baldwin on CNN, earlier today (6/3), and was encouraged by your suggestion that a there is a 3-step pathway to a better future in the aftermath of the George Floyd tragedy.

The reader can find a link to this interview at the end of the post.  

Yes, we must stop the bleeding and we must help those who suffered injury and, of course, we must have justice. It is vital that we  restore some level of trust in our public safety and criminal justice systems,  in the minds of black citizens and other minorities. These three steps are essential to moving us closer to a world approaching true equality for all, but they will not take us as far as we need to go.

Please consider adding a fourth step on your pathway:  “reimagining education in America.”

Equal opportunity has been the law of the land since 1964, but it is not the reality in which most blacks and other minorities have lived for the intervening 56 years. The reason is that our education system has not provided a quality education, equally distributed to all children. The education process at work in our schools  has grown obsolete. The process impedes the vital work of our teachers and their students. This education process  is perfectly structured to produce the unacceptable outcomes we have seen for generations.

Americans must understand there will be no equality of opportunity and justice until there is equality in education. It is a quality education that gives young men and women meaningful choices about what do in life to provide for themselves and their families and empowers them to participate in their own governance.

Unless we act to reimagine education in America, the next fifty years will be little better for black men and women and other people of color than the last fifty years.

As tragic as they have been, the time-out provided by the Covid-19 pandemic and the momentum the tragic death of George Floyd has generated, together, have opened an unprecedented window of opportunity. Now is the perfect time for people of principle to unite and follow the, now, “four-step pathway” to a new reality.

To facilitate the fourth step, I offer an education model designed to transform education in America by helping every child learn as much as they are able, at their own best speed. I invite you to examine this model at: https://melhawkinsandassociates.com/education-model-white-paper/

Sincerely,

Mel Hawkins, MSEd, MPA

Link to Van Jones interview with Brooke Baldwin on CNN https://www.mediaite.com/tv/cnns-van-jones-calls-police-brutality-an-atomic-bomb-were-one-videotape-away-from-five-or-10-american-cities-on-fire/