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

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.