Relationships

An excerpt from my education model https://melhawkinsandassociates.com/education-model-white-paper/

Anyone who has worked closely with children of any age, but especially five and six-year-olds, knows that relationships are everything. It is our belief that this is true, also, for teenagers and for adults. For kids who are five or six, some of whom are away from their mothers and other primary caregivers for the first time, a close personal relationship with one or more teachers is more important than anything else. Children who feel a close personal relationship with their teacher, the kind that many of us recall when we think back on our favorite teacher(s), almost always give their best effort and that proves to be true throughout one’s whole life. If we think back on those times in our lives when we enjoyed the most success, most of us will recall a favorite teacher, coach, mentor, or boss. In fact, is there any time in our lives when close personal relationships with other human beings are not the most important source of our happiness and well-being?

The current education process is not structured to facilitate those relationships for more than a given school year, if it happens at all. Neither is it an expectation on which teacher performance will be evaluated. That those special relationships that do develop are severed, routinely, at the end of a school year illustrates that the most important variable in the education equation is not even a priority in the education process in our public schools.

We are guided by the principle that the people in our lives are always more important that the things in our lives. We must acknowledge that the academic success of every child and of everything we do for them will be a function of the quality of relationships we have been able to build.

In a recent Tweet, our colleague Amy Fast, Ed.D. (@fastcrayon) said,

“If students are under-performing in class, we can guess at the reasons why, or we can ask the students themselves: Do they feel the classes are relevant to their lives? Do they think they are too hard? Too easy? Do they feel like their teachers care about them and their success?”

Amy Fast’s questions are vital on two levels of analysis.

These are all questions to which teachers must have answers for each of their students, with the last being the essential question. The challenge for teachers is that the probability of receiving meaningful answers to these and many other important questions is a function of their success in developing meaningful relationships.

It is this author’s assertion that, from the moment of first contact with a new student, whether on their first day of Kindergarten, or any other grade, or whether he or she has transferred in from another class or school, the development of nurturing, meaningful relationships with each student should be the teacher’s first and over-riding responsibility/priority. It is only as such relationships are beginning to form that our students will begin to place their trust in us.

Students are often the people least qualified to answer the question, “are their classes relevant to their lives?” The younger the student the less of an idea they will have of the challenges in life with which they will be called upon to deal. We need them to trust us that we know what they must learn.

It is up to teachers to utilize their experience, training, and appropriate assessment tools to discern what their students know, what their capabilities might be at a given point in time, how their young minds work (how they learn and process information), how confident they are in their own abilities, and what their interests might be at that stage of their development. As they learn, grow, and begin to experience success, their individual interests begin to take shape and their special abilities begin to reveal themselves—to us as well as to them. Our willingness to invite our students to participate in charting the direction of their studies will be influenced by the way our relationships have evolved and the level of mutual trust we have been able to establish.

In this education model, there is nothing as important to the job of teaching as the development of positive relationships with students and it is at the top of our priority list, even if that means that other priorities need to be put on hold, temporarily.

Important Questions for Public School Teachers

We begin with a declaration that American public school teachers strive to do their absolute best to help all their students learn as much as they are able. The purpose of my questions is to understand whether teachers are satisfied that they can give their students a genuine opportunity to learn, given the education process within which they are asked to teach, and the resources allocated to them.

Many public school teachers and other educators are concerned about the future of their own schools, about the future of public education as a whole, about their own futures and of the teaching profession, and about the future of our nation’s children. These concerns are justified considering the extent to which public education is under attack by education reformers with their focus on privatization of schools, high-stakes testing, attacking teacher unions and associations, and minimizing the reliance on teachers through increased utilization of digital technology.

The following questions are posed to all teachers, but especially to those who work in public schools under scrutiny because of low test scores and/or who have students who struggle to keep up. Think of the education process as the manner in which teachers, classrooms, time, and resources are organized to allow you to teach your students.

(Please note that I am not asking you to share your answers with anyone, only that you answer each question, as honestly as you can, to the satisfaction of your own hearts and minds.)

1) Given your commitment to do your best to help every one of your students experience academic success, how well does the education process support your efforts to give struggling students the extra time and attention they need to learn?

2) How often is it necessary for you to move your class on to a new lesson when one or more of your students—often a significant percentage of your class—are unable to demonstrate subject mastery on end-of-chapter exams?

3) How many times in a grading period, semester, or school year do you find it necessary to record a “below-passing score” in your gradebook?

4) By the end of a school year, what percentage of your students meet the objectives that were established for them per state academic standards for their grade level?

5) What percentage of your students earn a below-passing score on one or both Math and ELA components of your state’s competency exams (high stakes testing), or are unable to meet the criteria required to be identified as “proficient” in these subject areas; not “approaching proficient?”

If your answers to these questions raise doubts in your mind about the viability of the education process and the adequacy of the resources at your disposal, I ask you to consider another way to organize and teach our nation’s children. Please take the time to examine my education model, which is available for your review on my website at http://bit.ly/2k53li3 along with a white paper that provides the logical foundation for the model. It is an education model that has been developed through the utilization of a “systems-thinking” process, the principles of organizational development and positive leadership, and a focus on purpose that, in education, is helping every child achieve academic success.

Please note that “systems-thinking,” the principles of organizational development and positive leadership, and a focus on purpose or mission are utilized routinely in the private sector to help organizations address the concerns of dissatisfied customers and engage in continuous improvement of products and services. Often, this requires positive leadership to take an organization and its production process back to the drawing board to reinvent a process to produce better products and services or, in many cases, create new products and services. Make no mistake, education reformers and their supporters are nothing more than dissatisfied customers of public education.

If, upon review, you believe that my education model might improve the odds of success of your students, I ask you to help me spread the word, put an end to the failure of so many children, and end the frustration of public school teachers, everywhere. Implementing an education model focused on success will also render irrelevant the education reform movement with its focus privatization, high-stakes testing, and diminishing the role of teachers.

A Letter to Superintendents & Advocates for Equality in Education for Children of Color and for the Disadvantaged!

I am asking for the help of superintendents, advocacy organizations and individuals in seeking one, two, or three public school districts with superintendents who are sufficiently frustrated with the lack of meaningful improvement on the part of their students that they would be willing to examine a new education model. It is a model designed for any school but is particularly suited to meet the extraordinary challenges faced by underperforming elementary schools. My model is designed to focus on success and stop the failure in public education.

Consider a single disadvantaged child, age 5 or 6, maybe black but from a family entrapped in the cycles of poverty and failure. Consider that he or she will be likely to register for Kindergarten in a public school, this fall, in which a significant majority of elementary students are unable to pass both the math and English language arts components of their state’s standardized competency exams. Consider further that, in many such school districts, the percentage of middle school students able to pass both math and ELA components of standardized competency exams is likely to be even lower.

How would you rate the odds of this child emerging from the 12th grade with the knowledge and skills needed to give him or her real choices about what to do in life?

Imagine the difference if we could place that same child in a classroom, free from things that distract teachers from doing what they know their students need them to do:

• Connect with the child on an emotional level;
• Pinpoint what the student has learned and where the child lags;
• Create a tailored academic plan to help that child build on what he or she knows;
• Refuse to let the child fail by providing however much help, time, and patient attention a student needs to learn each and every lesson;
• Help students learn to use their imaginations and creativity;
• Help the student discover that academic success is “a process of learning from one’s mistakes and growing in confidence that he or she can create success for themselves” and,
• Reach out to the child’s parents or guardians so they can help celebrate their son or daughter’s academic success.

An environment my education model is intended to create cannot exist given the manner in which our public schools are configured, today, or in most of our private, parochial, and charter schools; no matter how hard teachers work. It cannot happen because this is not what is expected of teachers and because the education process within which they strive to teach is not structured to support such objectives. Instead, it is structured to keep score based on who learns the most, the fastest, as students progress, as a class, down a path outlined by state academic standards. Such scores/grades will color both the child’s perception of themselves, and society’s perception of them, for the rest of their lives.

Is there any doubt in your mind that children would flourish in a positive learning environment such as I have described, and would far out-pace children who will be attending struggling elementary schools in a neighborhood or community near you? As a superintendent, you have spent time in the classrooms in underperforming elementary schools and if you are an advocate, you need to visit a few, if you have not done so, already. Ask yourself if what you observe gives you hope that a solution is just around the corner? Or, did you walk away thinking these kids deserve better and that, surely, there must be a better way?

We can create an environment in a public elementary school that will provide this kind of learning experience for every student? I listen to teachers and administrators every day and what I hear is how hard they strive to create the very things my model is intended to provide. One can sense their frustration that doing what they know they should be doing requires an extraordinary effort within a structure that is not designed to support those activities. For all their commitment, sacrifices, and heroism these educators find it difficult to step outside of their frame of reference and observe what is happening around them, objectively. They need a paradigm shift.

If you believe that some of the many programs, curriculum changes, methodologies, and technologies that have been introduced in the last few decades, and about which many teachers are excited, will transform public education then I understand your desire to cling to hope. I only ask you to do one thing. Ask yourself how many of these innovations will work in a classroom with 20, 30, or 35 disadvantaged students who are so far behind that it seems impossible to think they will ever catch up? Would it not be better if we were able to keep them from falling behind in the first place?

Search your own heart. If you believe one child could succeed in the type of environment I have described, then it is not too much of a stretch to believe every child could be successful if this was the kind of public-school classroom they will enter this fall. And, if such a model proved itself, how long would it take before other public school districts would follow suit?

If you are a superintendent in a school district serving a poor and diverse population of students, you know what the numbers say and you know they have not changed, appreciatively, in decades. You have an opportunity to provide leadership in a venture that will change the lives of your students. I also believe that the changes necessary to implement my education model are within the scope of authority of you and your school board.

If you are an advocate, you and your organization may be one of a very few that are positioned to make an enormous difference for disadvantaged kids, if only you would help find a superintendent willing to test a new idea. Imagine a new world where all children are equipped with the tools to they need to have choices in life. Children of color must also possess the tools and strong self-esteem needed to overcome the obstacles of bigotry and discrimination, much as many of you and your colleagues have done.

Join me in promoting a new vision that will transform public education for our children, the world’s most important and most vulnerable resource, by examining my education model. Look not in search of reasons why it will not work rather seeking reasons why it can and what you can do to help. Subscribe to my blog with over 200 articles about the challenges facing public schools, their administrators, teachers, and students at https://melhawkinsandassociates.com/blog/ and follow me on Twitter at @melhawk46.

Millions of disadvantaged children are desperate for someone to take the lead in doing something different.

Students must be able to build on success, not failure!

It is incredibly frustrating that public school teachers and administrators have been unwilling and/or unable to take seriously the education model I have developed. It is exasperating because I know teachers want to do what is best for their students. I also know how frustrated so many public school teachers are and that the prospect of burnout is something many of these dedicated men and women fear. That teachers are blamed for the problems in public education must be especially galling.

It is even more frustrating that advocacy groups for black children and other children of color seem totally uninterested in a solution that will end the failure of millions of disadvantaged kids and shut down the schoolhouse to jailhouse pipeline that is transporting these kids to a life of poverty, failure, crime, and early violent deaths.

If only all of these dedicated men and women would open their hearts and minds to the possibility of a new way to educate our nation’s most precious assets.

“This will not work in my classroom(s)!” is what public school teachers and administrators say when they first review my model. I hear it all the time.

Of course, they are correct, but this is exactly my point. In the current education process, nothing different will work because the process is flawed. To paraphrase Linda Darling Hammond, “the existing process is structured to produce the outcomes it gets and we will not get better outcomes if all we do is ask teachers to work harder.”

There are many teachers in high-performing schools who feel good about what they do but there are also many teachers in low-performing schools who are frustrated, daily, because they are unable to get through to unmotivated students.

Odd as it may seem, African-American leaders, who jump through the roof in response to symbols of oppression, do not even bother to respond to the possibility of a solution that will attack the roots of that oppression.

I ask public school educators to take a figurative step back and imagine an environment in which they are expected to give each and every student however much time they need to learn each and every lesson. Imagine an environment in which teachers are expected to develop longer term relationships with students and where the process is structured to facilitate the development of such relationships; with both students and parents.

My challenge to public school teachers and administrators is that they consider that the education process can be re-designed and re-configured to produce whatever outcomes we want.

My challenge to advocates for black children and other children of color to consider the possibility that African-American students and other disadvantaged children do not need to fail.

My education model is constructed on the premise that academic success is no different than success in any other venue. Success is a process of trial and error, of learning from one’s mistakes and applying that knowledge to produce better outcomes. Success is built upon success and the more one succeeds the more confident he or she becomes. The more confident he or she is the more successful one becomes. Success is contagious and can become a powerful source of motivation.

The key, of course, is that one cannot master the process of success until he or she begins to experience success, routinely. In school, kids learn and each lesson learned is a success. Very often, success on subsequent lessons requires that one apply what one has learned from previous lessons. When a foundation of success is laid down in school, young boys and girls approach adulthood with a wide menu of choices in terms of the kind of future that can be built on that foundation.

Imagine, however, when there is no success on which to build. When kids fail, or even learn only part of a given lesson, they are less like to learn the next lesson. A pattern also emerges in this scenario but it is a pattern of failure rather than success.

For many of these kids, failure is the only thing they know. It is only a matter of time before they give up, stop trying, and begin acting out in class. Third grade is when many states begin administering competency examinations. Right from the beginning, a significant percentage of third grade students are unable to pass both math and English language components of their state exams. Although African-American students have the lowest passage rates, the poor performance extends to a percentage of students from all demographic groups, including white students.

By the time these students reach middle school the scores are even lower. In many middle schools, as many as eighty percent of black students fail to pass both exams. Middle school teachers throughout the U.S. can attest to the incredibly low level of motivation displayed by their students. Any illusions that high schools are able to turn the performance of these students around in four years are just that, illusions; high graduation rates notwithstanding.

When they leave school, the overwhelming majority of these low-performing students return to their communities, unqualified for jobs or military service. For many, it is the final station on the schoolhouse to jailhouse line. Far too many suffer early, violent deaths. Those who live spawn a whole new generation of children who will start from behind and will never be given a realistic opportunity to catch up. They are entrapped in a maelstrom of poverty and failure.

It is an American tragedy of unprecedented breadth and scope and it is at the core of our nation’s greatest political, economic, cultural and civil rights challenges. The chasm that divides the American people is very much a function of the bitterness on the part of some citizens because of their resentment that they are asked to support our nation’s poor and infirm.

The magnitude of this reality makes public education the civil rights issue of the 21st Century. That it is a crisis that can be prevented so easily, however, is the greatest tragedy at all. The ambivalence of the people who can bring an end to this tragedy is the greatest mystery of all. Do they not care?

We can end the failure simply by making sure every child has however much time they need in order to learn. If there is a reason why we should not do this, I truly wish someone would explain it to me.

Please check out my model at https://melhawkinsandassociates.com/education-model-white-paper/

Every Kid Needs a Favorite Teacher, Even in the Age of Digital Learning

Most of the people reading these words can recall a favorite teacher. If we are lucky, we may have had two, three, or more. However many, these special men and women played an important part in our development and academic success. With the spread of both digital learning and personalized learning, it is imperative that we clarify that the relationships between teachers and students, must always be at the core of academic success.

Relationships are everything in both public education and private, but it is also necessary that teachers have at their disposal and are trained to utilize, fully, the latest in instructional technology. No matter how good a farmer might be in plowing behind a team of beautiful horses or how much such a sight may stir the purist’s heart, their production will never approach that of farmers using the latest agricultural technology.

The impact made by our favorite teachers is the best way to illustrate the importance of the relationship between teachers and students and how powerful those relationships can be, even in the age of digital and personalized learning.

What did our favorite teachers do differently than the others who clutter our memory? Our favorite teachers treated us as if we were special. They liked us and they listened to us and they made us feel important. They believed in us and held out ever higher expectations, challenging us to push beyond our comfort zones, knowing they were close by to help us if we stumbled. They cheered us on and helped us celebrate each of the victories we worked so hard to achieve. They also smiled at us and it was genuine, heart-felt smile that made us glow. They treated us with respect, they trusted us; they wanted us to be the absolute best that we could be. They let us make mistakes without fear of consequences and taught us that mistakes are learning opportunities and the building blocks of knowledge and wisdom. They made learning fun and taught us that learning is a great adventure. We owe a great deal to these special men and women.

For children, relationships are everything. Relationships with their parents, siblings, extended family are vital to the healthy development of children. As their world expands to daycare, nursery schools, head start programs, or regular schools, relationships continue to be the most important ingredient in their ongoing growth and development. Whether their social skills, psychological and emotional development, or formal learning, kids need to feel safe and secure and they need to feel that the people with whom they interact care about them. Security builds confidence, and confidence builds motivation, and motivation leads to success, whatever the level to which we aspire.

The relationship between teachers and students is one of the two most important variables in the formula for academic success and this is true throughout a child’s thirteen years of school. As children get older and must learn to deal with temptations of peer pressure, solid relationships with teachers become more important, not less.

The other is vital variable is the support and commitment of parents. Parents, particularly those of disadvantaged kids, are suspicious because many of their own experiences with schools and teachers were negative. Most of them must be won over, but that won’t happen until teachers are able to demonstrate, in very real ways, that they are having a positive impact on the child.

If the reader has doubts about the importance of parental support and commitment, consider disadvantaged students who excel in spite of the incredible disadvantages they face. What is different about these success stories?

Almost always, when a disadvantaged child excels in school it is because of a parent or guardian who somehow clings to hope that an education will provide a way out for their children. These parents are ferocious in their commitment to make sure the child is motivated to learn and is working hard to learn. These mothers, fathers, grandparents or other guardians are fully prepared to seize their child’s teacher by the throat, figuratively of course, if they think their son or daughter is being treated unfairly or if the teacher is not giving their child the best effort of which they are capable. In these uncommon but almost miraculous success stories, it is the powerful parental commitment that is the difference maker. Without that parental commitment disadvantaged children fail, routinely.

It is only after their son or daughter begins to come home, every afternoon, bubbling about how much he or she loves their teacher that the parents are curious enough to want to learn what is happening. The same is true as parents begin to see their child enjoy success at school and be excited about the new things they have learned. Winning is contagious, even for those sitting on the sidelines. Teachers must be prepared to seize these opportunities to pull parents into partnership.

All educators know these things to be true, and many of you who are reading these words are nodding your head in agreement. What I want the reader to understand, however, is that the current education process is not structured to support and encourage teachers to reach out to parents. It is not an expectation held out for teachers and it is not something for which teachers are held accountable.

If these relationships are as vital as we believe them to be, then working to develop them must be at the top of every educator’s priority list. The reader is invited to read my education model and white paper to see how these expectations and the utilization of personalized learning are integral and interdependent components of a new education process.