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

A question for teachers and, also, an opportunity

Notwithstanding the innovations, methodologies, resources, technologies, or other initiatives you have endured over the last 5, 10, or 20 years, has anything of significance really changed in your classrooms with respect to student achievement?

If you teach in what we refer to as one of our nation’s “under-performing” schools, do your students continue to struggle no matter how much of yourself you give or how diligently you strive. There is no reason to think this will change, anytime soon.

It is not your fault and do not believe anyone who tells you otherwise.

Do not give up on your students, your school, or public education. Your students, your schools and your communities need you more than ever. Whatever happens, do not give up on yourselves.

When you return to school things will be different but you will still be unable to give every student the time and attention they need; you will still be asked to try new approaches and methodologies and train for new software applications that will be frustrating, will complicate your professional lives, while engendering few  meaningful outcomes.

You must, still, brace yourselves for another round of standardized tests on which the same students will do just as poorly as they did the years before, and you will still be blamed for their disappointing outcomes.

You will still be denied the pay raises and the respect you know you deserve and this demoralizing pattern will repeat itself year after year, leaving you to fantasize about what it will be like when you can retire.

Think about your return to school. Has there ever been a more opportune time to do something new and different? Not a little different but “life-changing” different?

Whether it is teachers who will drive the changes that are coming or will be driven by them, remains to be see. Have no doubt, however, significant changes are coming whether we like it or not.

The danger for public school educators is that you will squander this opportunity by devoting your time, resources, and energy to get back to what we have always done. If this is the choice you make, you can be sure someone else will seize the opportunity and teachers will be fortunate to be taken along for the ride.

Teachers need to answer a question, for themselves, if for no one else. Do you want to return to the same classrooms and with the same constraints and limitations? Or, do you want something better?

We have all witnessed new ideas, products, or services that have captured the imagination of the American consumer. This is how markets are transformed, by the relentless advocacy of people who are excited by an idea and are determined to share it.

With respect to education, there is an idea afloat that is said to have the potential to transform education in America. Understand, if we transform education, we will transform America because people are who they were educated to be.

This new idea is an education model that exists to serve its teachers and students rather than one in which educators and their students exist to serve the model. It is an education model that is waiting for the relentless advocacy of teachers who want to believe there must be a better way to educate our children.

Why not take an hour or less of your time to examine this new way to educate our children; a new education model designed to support you and your students in doing the things your students need from you and that you need for your soul and sanity. You have little to lose and almost everything to gain.

The Hawkins Model©

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/

How do we extricate ourselves from the mess in which we find ourselves?

I want to share a message my daughter posted on Facebook because she said it better than I could ever hope to. Her message reminds us there are no simple answers to what is happening in our society and that nothing will change until each of us is ready to change:

“Please don’t let your outrage at the fires and looting distract from the reasons why it is happening. Our country is deeply damaged. Anger has festered for decades and it is time for a change. This type of anger is not always expressed quietly and calmly. It is ugly and uncontrolled. As ugly as the racism that has led to it. We must rebuild a better America. An America that is not great AGAIN but great for everyone going forward. White people must realize that people of color are not to be feared – WE are. We have caused this and contributed to it and we must be a part of the change. Do what you can. Donate, volunteer, demonstrate. Speak out when you see something wrong. Find your own way to help. But most importantly, learn empathy and examine yourself. We can all do better.”

                                              -Jeanne Hawkins Beaupre, Facebook, May 31, 2020

We must work to change the fundamental character of America and this can only begin with our system of education, whether public schools, parochial, or private. There is no other way.

Every child must be given the absolute best education we can provide, and this will not happen until we are willing to change how we teach them. We must not allow a single child to fail and we must never forget they can only fail when we choose to allow it. 

We have the power to ensure the academic success of every one of our nation’s children.  

We cannot accomplish this by teaching the same things we have always taught in the same way we have always taught them. We must change the very nature of our education process. While this may seem like an almost impossible task, you will discover it to be easier than most of you can imagine.

We must help every child learn as much as they are able at their own best pace. We must help children establish a foundation of knowledge and skills from which each can begin to create a positive future for him or herself. We must help every boy and girl choose whatever direction suits their interests and abilities.  The education we provide must give them a wide menu of choices of what to do with their lives in order to find joy and meaning; must prepare them to provide for themselves and their families; and, it must enable them to participate in their own governance.  

If you would like to learn how this can be accomplished, please check out The Hawkins Model© at my website at www.melhawkinsandassociates.com

As you read the model, strive to imagine what it would be like to teach and learn in such an environment, not in search of reasons why it will not or cannot work.

If you like what you read, please help me find a superintendent willing to test the model in one of his or her struggling elementary schools.

What do we have to lose? If we continue to do what we have always done, we will continue to get the same disappointing outcomes  we have been getting for as long as any of us can remember.

Teachers: have you considered creating do-over opportunities?

So many teachers are expressing frustration with their limitations in this interlude of distance learning. Possibly the most important thing principals can do for their teachers and students is to stress the fact that this is not business as usual. When it is not business as usual,  we cannot have the usual expectations for our students and teachers.

Expect them to strive to tackle less, but to do it better. Sometimes less truly is best.

Essentially, this pandemic experience has placed us in “time-out” mode. In sports, which sometimes does provide lessons for academic instruction, a “time out” is when we strive to fix what is not working; remind our players to focus on doing their jobs: or, maybe draw up a new play. What is unique about “time outs” is that the clock is stopped, and in this instance, think of it as an extended time out.

Teachers: consider how many occasions there were when you and/or your students  were unable to learn or accomplish something because of insufficient time. Figuratively speaking, we now find ourselves in a  situation where we have a virtually unlimited, if unknown, amount of time.

Maybe educators should view this unique time as an opportunity to do somethings differently or, better yet, do something over.

We are far enough into the semester  that most students have had lessons with which they struggled. Why not give your students an opportunity to have a “do-over” with a lesson on which they struggled or where they never really got the point of the lesson or acquire a skill that was being taught.

Possibly teachers could go back to their gradebooks and identify a few of the lessons on which individual students received their lowest grades. Or, give them this opportunity to go back and review the lessons with which they would have loved to have had more time. Give them an opportunity to convert a grade of C, D, or F to an A or B grade.

Challenge them to go back and review the lesson, re-do the practice assignments, make certain they are given enough time to discuss the mistakes they make or the things they do not understand, and then re-take a quiz or test. Let them then earn the credits, grades, or points they would have liked to have earned the first time around.

Then, when their work is done and you are satisfied that they made the kind of effort you were hoping for, make it a big deal—a celebration event—to go back and change that C or D grade to an A or B.

If there is still time, let them select another lesson.

For students who did well on all their lessons, let them pick one on which they would have liked to have had more time. Let them dig deeper and report back on what they learned or discovered,

There must be worse ways to use the time we have been given by this extraordinary event.

As Simple as 1-2-3-4-5-6

Let us make the solution to the challenges facing public education in America as simple as possible.

Providing a quality education to every child who arrives at our door is as simple as 1-2-3-4-5-6.

  1. Children need to feel special and experience what it is like to have one or more favorite teachers on whom they can depend for the long term;
  2. Students must start at whatever point on the academic preparedness continuum where we find them when they arrive at our door;
  3. Boys and girls must be able to depend on us to give them however much time and attention they need to learn from the mistakes they make, every step along the way;
  4. Kids must understand they are being asked to both learn and employ the lessons, principles, and discipline with which each of them can create success for themselves, throughout their whole lives; it is a process of success;
  5. Our children must be taught to celebrate their successes and the successes of the people in their lives, always; as success is an experience best shared; and,
  6. Educators must learn that it is the success of our students, not the promises we make, that will draw parents and guardians in as partners.

We must understand there is no one, perfect solution to the challenges of public education. Technology is but one example. Digital technology is  not the solution to the problems in education rather it is a tool, the value of which is measured by its utility to teachers and students.

We must reimagine how to ensure that everything teachers and schools are asked to do will support our mission.  The mission is to send every young adult out into the world with the knowledge, skills, and wisdom they need to find joy for themselves and their families; in pursuit of whatever meaningful goals they set for themselves.

To carry out this mission superintendents, administrators, teachers and policy makers must be willing to break from the traditions of the past. The Hawkins Model© is one example of how that might be done.

The logic behind these six objectives might be simple, but the work they will require of educators will be hard. These goals require that we embrace the notion that education is an uncertain science. It requires that we all work, relentlessly, to develop our craft.

What does a craftsperson do? They must apply all their knowledge, skills, and collective wisdom to discern the unique needs of individual children and then utilize an eclectic portfolio of tools and methodologies to instill success in the hearts and minds of those children. Not everything they do will work so they must keep striving until they find something that does. They must never stop learning and they must never give up. Teachers must never permit their students to give up and stop learning.

Our teachers must be free and willing to give fully of themselves, without fear of recrimination. Creating a quality education for all will require a level of effort, dedication, courage, and camaraderie comparable to that which our medical professionals, first-responders, and so many other men and women are demonstrating in response to Covid-19.

These men and women are heroes and the work they do saves lives and a nation. Teachers are also heroes and the work they do will save lives and, also a nation.

More than One Kind of Hunger, Part 2

There is more than one kind of hunger. We all know nourishment is essential to the health of young minds and bodies. It is difficult to stay focused on a lesson or challenge when there is an ache in one’s belly. It is even more difficult for children who are less able to rationalize away that ache long enough to finish a task. It is vital, therefore, that we feed the bodies of our nation’s children because not only does it enable growth, it frees their minds and hearts for learning.

Kids also hunger for nurturing  relationships. Many children, when away from their parents, are desperate for someone to care about them. It is so much easier to care about oneself when someone else cares for us. In this respect, the heart is a portal to the mind. Knowing someone cares frees the mind to allocate energy to learning.

Same is true of the hunger for safety and security. We all need to feel safe from harm and kids need that safety even more. Think about a time when something happened to startle or scare you. How long did it take before you could push that unsettling experience aside sufficiently to return to one’s task? Imagine how much more difficult it is for a child.

When young children are away from their home, they feel vulnerable. This is true for all kids but especially for children who come from homes and families that are distressed. Toxic though some home environments might be, however,  it is the only home they know, and it colors their expectations.  If we wish to alter those expectations, it is essential that we strive to provide nurturance and affirmation. For some children, school may be only place they experience the comfort of unconditional, loving relationships with adult human beings.

In these awkward times in which it has been deemed inappropriate for a teacher to touch a child, remember that wrapping one’s arms around someone is not the only way to give a hug. Hug them with the warmth of your smile, the sparkle in your eyes, and the loving words you say when you greet them as they enter your classroom or depart for the day. Even a fist bump can be a hug, if done with a warm smile. A hug, whether virtual or real, is nothing more than an affirmation of how important someone is to us.

Our objective is to convey to them that sense of value in whatever way we can, because they yearn for it, even when they shy away or act embarrassed. If genuine, such hugs will win over even the most recalcitrant child, over time. Once they come to believe in our affection for and belief in them, children will begin to open themselves up to us. From that point onward, anything becomes possible.

We must strive to keep our objective at the forefront of our minds as we strive to help children create patterns of success for themselves. This requires that they feel empowered. When, however, the education process requires that mistakes be counted against students, as if they were failures—and must be recorded as failures in a teacher’s gradebook—it is contrary to our purpose. In these instances, the education process usurps a child’s power to create patterns of success for themselves by imposing on them a pattern of failure.

Patterns of failure are the genesis of surrender. Once any human being gives up and stops striving, it is incredibly difficult to pull them from the maelstrom of hopelessness. This particularly true of children.

Kids do not want to feel hopeless and powerless, they want to be winners, which is just another way of saying they want to be successful.

To be continued.

More Than One Kind of Hunger!

Our society is learning much from its experience with this pandemic, but as the Novel Coronavirus saga plays out, it is revealing so much more. The most obvious lesson to be learned is with respect to our level of preparation for a phenomenon that is proving to have an adverse effect on, not only our health, but almost everything people do. For educators, our concern is with the impact on our nation’s students when our schools are shut down.

In schools, whether public, private, or parochial, we are learning just how vulnerable our nation’s children are in times of distress. One of the first revelations, beyond “how do we deliver subject matter, remotely,” is learning how much our students depend on us. Not only are many students hungry when they cannot attend school, they are enduring more than just a lack of food. We are seeing families unable to insure their children are being cared for when they must go to work. Given the low wages on which many American families must live, many mothers and/or fathers must work forty or more hours per week to provide a decent living for their families. Some must work more than one job, which only exacerbates the hardship s with which their children must deal.

For many kids, when there is no school there may be few, if any,  breakfasts, lunches, or snacks. One would think any doubts people might have had about the prudence of providing meals for hungry kids should be resolved, What is more central to caring for our children than making sure they have the healthy nutrition they need to learn and grow?

The suspension of so many schools will bring many other issues into sharper focus. It is not just how much our kids depend on school for healthy nutrition but also for safety, for social/emotional support, and for physical exercise, in addition to their intellectual and academic needs. We must keep kids safe from Covid-19, but when they return to school, we need to acknowledge that those schools are more than just places of learning.

As I said, in my book Reinventing Education, Hope, and the American Dream[1], “schools  have become the social milieu in which young people live and endure.” Teachers must realize that they are more than just educators. Whether we like it or not teachers and schools are a support system for the whole child, and we must structure the education process to serve all these needs.

Some teachers have expressed reservations about the level of responsibility they would be asked to bear, under such an education process. They are encouraged to think about how much they enjoy working with their favorite students from over the years. Educators are invited to examine The Hawkins Model© that is designed to increase, for both teachers and students,  the number and duration of these special relationships. Might this not enhance the satisfaction of teachers?

We must embrace the coronavirus as the learning opportunity it has the potential to be. It is unlikely this will be the last crisis of such magnitude we will face in the span of most of our lifetimes.


[1] Hawkins, Mel, Education, Hope and the American Dream: The Challenge for Twenty-First Century America, (2013), CreateSpace.

Changing the Way We Think about what We Do?

If we truly want to bring about transformative change, we must begin by changing the way we think about what we do. 

What does it say about the importance of relationships between teachers and students when we sever a student’s relationship with a teacher who cares about them, just because it is the end of a school year? What is the impact on a child when we move them ahead to material for which they lack perquisite understanding and, with the same stroke of a pen, separate them from a teacher with whom they feel both important and safe?

When we collect practice assignments and go over the mistakes students make, are we able spend as much time as we know we should with the kids who struggle most? Are we even allocated enough time for such a purpose? Should it be an expectation?

Does it really make sense to administer a chapter test to a child whose practice assignments suggest they are likely to fail? What would contribute more to our students’ long-term success: giving them more time to learn or by recording a “D” or an “F” in our gradebooks and then moving them on to the next lesson?

How far behind do students fall before they give up and stop trying? When we move kids along faster than their pace of comprehension and gage their performance against that of classmates, have we set them up for a pattern of failure that will follow them throughout their lives?

An athletic team can come from far behind to win a game or turn a losing season into a championship, and we celebrate not only their victory but also what they had to overcome. Do we give kids in the classroom the same opportunity to catch up and learn? Do we provide them with an equal opportunity to prove themselves winners?

For decades, teachers were expected to teach a diverse group of children in the same classroom; kids who were at different ages, with different life goals, and were at varying stages of academic development. Did we change the way we teach because what we were doing was proven to be ineffective, or did we change because it was perceived to be inefficient?

How many more things do we do with the kids in our classrooms that make little or no sense when we stop and think about them? We have taught kids the same way for generations because of tradition, even when results gave us reason to question our effectiveness.

Everything we know about early childhood development tells us that development follows an identifiable pattern but, also, that kids develop according to their own unique timetable. Are academic standards and curricula crafted around the way kids learn and develop or do they reject differentiation. Students of a given age are expected to advance down the same generic pathway, moving from one benchmark to the next, as a group, at the same relative speed. If they do not, schools and teachers are held accountable.

We evaluate achievement by comparing the performance of some kids to the performance of others rather than making sure they are each touching their essential bases. Imagine how it work if we treated early childhood development the same way we treat learning in school. Imagine labeling kids as slow because they did not roll over, crawl, walk and talk as quickly as their siblings.

There is a price to be paid when circumstances disrupt childhood development. Could the same thing be true when a child’s academic development is disrupted because there is too little time for kids to learn and for teachers to teach? Even under adverse circumstances, the brain will strive to learn, relentlessly. Do we help the brains of our students or do we get in the brain’s way?

While it may make sense to keep kids of a certain biological age together, is there any research to justify holding them to the same expectations as their classmates with respect to academic standards, development and achievement?

Far too many young men and women are leaving school only to discover their choices are limited. What does it say about what we do when the regimen through which we guide our students serves to limit rather than expand their range of choices? Could it be that the same thing has happened to educators? Have their perceptions been forged by traditions and practices that serve to discourage rather than reward divergence.

The problem when we are taught to “think alike” is that we end up “thinking alike.” How well does what we do for kids in classrooms prepare kids to enter a dynamic world that rewards broader rather than narrower visions?  What if we could do better?

Do you believe in your hearts that all kids will be successful next year or the year after next if only you work a little harder and give more of yourself?

What if disappointing academic achievements occur not because of our inability to teach and not because of our students’ inability to learn? What if unacceptable outcomes are a consequence of an education process that impedes and constrains  rather than enables and supports the efforts of teachers and students?  

What are you willing to do, differently?