Do We have the Will to Bring About Transformative Change: A Message of Hope and a Call to Action!

We have the power, intelligence, and imagination to envision a better America and we have, in our possession, a new idea about how we can bring that vision to life. It requires that we challenge our assumptions about how we go about doing what is every society’s most important job: preparing our children for the future. Ultimately, the question is: “Do we possess the will to bring about transformative change?”

Public education need not be under attack! Public schools can be successful. Teachers need not flee the profession. Children need not fail. Teaching need not be stressful and frustrating. Learning can be fun. All kids can learn and be excited about learning. Parents can be effective partners with teachers to help their children get the best possible education. The American dream can be real for every child. People need not be poor and do not need to be entrapped in the cycle of poverty and failure, nor do they need to live under a blanket of hopelessness and powerlessness.

There is no requirement that our prisons be full. Black men and women need not be afraid of being shot by the police, white Americans need not feel threatened every time they see a black man in an unexpected place, Hispanics need not face anger and resentment when they speak Spanish to their children—besides, isn’t being bilingual something to which we should all aspire? Immigration need not be considered a threat to prosperity or democracy. Children of immigrants need not be separated from their parents. Children born in America must not be denied citizenship, whatever the status of their parents. Everyone must be free to worship according to their faith. None of the worlds great religions must be singled out for disdain or preference and their worshipers need not be subjected to prejudice.

America can, indeed, be great again, in fact, greater than it has ever been, and we need not be a divided people. The very things that divide us are, in truth, the things that keep the reality of America from matching our vision. Prejudice and bigotry impede rather than enhance the quality of life in America. We need not deprive our citizens of access to healthcare services or see the costs of healthcare become prohibitive. We need not place our environment at risk to have a strong economy or strip away regulations that were established to protect our citizens from abuses from those who would sacrifice our safety and well-being for the sake of profits.

Considering America great again does not depend on restricting the freedom of the press; questioning the integrity of our electoral process; or branding an entire race, ethnic group, or religious faith as unworthy of freedom and justice. Our greatness as a free people is not enhanced by withdrawing from the world community any more than our economy is enriched by protectionism. Like it or not, the future of the United States of America requires interdependency and the same can be said for the future of the world community.

America’s strengths and weakness are a reflection of what the American people have learned rather than a representation of who and what they could be.

All the problems facing American society and threatening the future of our participatory democracy are rooted in the historic ineffectiveness of our system of public education. Neither the interests of American society nor the world community are enhanced by ignorance, illiteracy, innumeracy, gullibility, or closed-mindedness. We need our young people to leave school with solid academic foundations, portfolios of a broad range of skills, and the ability to think exponentially (outside the box) with creativity and imagination. We need them to be able to accept the responsibilities of citizenship. We need for them to provide for themselves and their families, to understand the cogent issues of our time and to participate in their intelligent discourse. Ultimately, we need our young people—all our citizens, in fact—to be able to make thoughtful choices in the face of the extraordinary challenges that await us in balance of this 21st Century.

We cannot have citizens who are so poorly informed about critical issues that they will follow, blindly, high profile dilettantes based on jingoistic platitudes and outdated dogma on whatever side of the political spectrum they reside. We need our people to be sufficiently informed that they can distinguish between real and fake news, the latter of which is poorly disguised propaganda.

We want to create an abundance mentality in which everyone believes they can participate in the American dream because, if we work together, there is enough of everything for everyone. This is an enormous challenge, I know, but it is one that is possible if every American possesses a quality education. There are, indeed, deep prejudices in the hearts and minds of millions of Americans and we cannot legislate an end to bigotry and resentment. What we can do is ensure that all Americans, regardless of their race and/or ethnicity are able to fulfill their responsibilities as citizens, which, in turn, increases the frequency and quality of our interactions with one another. If we live and work in closer proximity with one another our similarities are magnified relative to our differences.

This can be an accurate representation of our society, but it requires that we abandon an obsolete education process that has allowed millions of our children to fail, has driven hundreds of thousands of qualified teachers from the profession, has created extraordinary anguish on the part of a significant percentage of the rest, and has left huge populations of men and women unable to participate in the American dream.

We must replace an education process that is structured like a competition to see who can learn the most the fastest. It is an education process that fails children on both ends of the academic achievement continuum. Children who had the misfortune to start from behind are pushed ahead before they are ready, placing them at an even greater disadvantage when success on subsequent lessons requires the application of knowledge and skills they were not given time to learn. This sets up children for failure, particularly disadvantaged children. A disproportionate percentage of these disadvantaged children are black or other minorities, and kids who come from homes in which English is not the mother tongue.

The incessant repetition of this practice erodes the diligence of educators and conditions them to tolerate some level of failure. It also inures teachers and educators to the tragic consequences with which their students will be forced to deal. Sadly, policy makers and government officials are so far removed from the suffering to which they contribute they are oblivious and learn nothing from it. These powerful men and women have not learned the lessons from “systems thinking” that help us understand how our own behavior contributes to the outcomes that do us harm. (Systems thinkin is a concept introduced by Peter Senge in his book, The Fifth Discipline: The Art & Practice of the Learning Organization (Doubleday, New York, 1990).

At the other end of the performance continuum, high achieving students are asked to slow down and wait for classmates to catch up. This is also tragic because when confronted with boredom and impatience, learning ceases to be fun, leaving hungry young minds to look to social media, video games, and even more harmful diversions for excitement, intellectual stimulation, and mindless distractions. When they get to high school, these students may be diverted into honors or advanced-placement programs but what happened to them in elementary school has diminished their enthusiasm for learning.

One of the dysfunctionalities of our existing education process is that it is brittle and unadaptable thus providing teachers with neither the opportunity nor the authority to differentiate between the divergent needs of their students.

As much as I admire teachers and administrators, only a minute percentage ever see the struggles faced by students, whom they proudly declared ready for graduation, when these young men and women find themselves woefully unprepared for the demands of the workplace, institutions of higher learning, or the military.

Every employer witnesses the tragedy when they turn away young men and women who lack the essential academic foundation and skills required of the jobs for which they have applied. Even those employers that offer remedial instruction to help new hires overcome their functional illiteracy and innumeracy, find these young people unmotivated to learn and unwilling to work hard. Even job candidates with impressive academic credentials are often found to be unmotivated and unimaginative. Employers are mystified when they discover that the “book smarts” of the men and women they recruit do not translate well in work situations. On the other side of the equation, these young people are frustrated to discover that what they have learned does not meet the expectations of their employers.

In many of my blog posts, I have shared stories about the difficulty young men and women have, typically recent high school graduates and second-semester seniors, when striving to pass the ASVAB (Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery) to qualify for enlistment in the military services. They may have been able to pass a test or meet some other criteria to qualify for a high school diploma but a few months later they are unable to apply what they had been expected to learn to the real-life challenge of achieving enlistment eligibility. When these enlistment candidates fail to achieve the minimum score for enlistment, they can retake the exam a second time, after a thirty-day period; a third time after another thirty-day period; and, a fourth time after an additional six months. Even with the use of study materials, few of these young adults ever achieve a passing score. Cramming for exams does not give one the mastery required to be able to utilize what one needs to know in life; mastery requires that we know it.

[to be continued]

My Motivation to Develop an Education Model that Works for All Kids!

My wife and I have four grandchildren. The eldest is a little girl who was adopted by the eldest of our two daughters and our son-in-law. She is of Mexican descent with beautiful, thick black hair, brown eyes, and golden-brown skin. The second is a little boy, who was adopted by that same daughter and son-in-law, has skin that is a beautiful, rich brown with eyes to match and who came out of his birth mother’s womb with a natural Afro. Our youngest two grandchildren are the biological offspring of our youngest daughter and her husband. The eldest (and our third) is the palest of whites, bordering on pink, and her hair is as red as her father’s beard. Our fourth, not yet three years of age, has skin not quite as pale as his big sister’s but hair every bit as red.

These four children represent our family’s beautiful rainbow and like all grandparents we love them so much that it hurts.

These kids have magnificent smiles that light up our lives even more than the lights of the holiday season and laughter that warms us during the coldest of times. Such smiles have reminded me that throughout my whole life, whenever I have been blessed to see children smile, I am blind to any of the other features, that for reasons that are difficult to fathom, cause some human beings to pass derisive judgment. For me the smile of any child is a source of incalculable joy that is as common to the shared universal human experience as anything else in life.

I have spent my entire lifetime striving to understand why our world is so full of hatred over issues as insignificant as the color of one’s skin. I still struggle to understand why differences in eye or hair color are perceived as different shades of beauty while differences in skin color produce such extremes of enmity.

I was blessed to be born to parents who taught that we are all children of Creation and that we were blessed to live in a country in which we are all considered to be equal under the Constitution.

In 1951, I was equally fortunate to live in a neighborhood and attend an elementary school that was twenty-five percent black. It was at school where I learned to be a friend and playmate with one of my black classmates before I ever learned of the existence of bigotry and racism. Somehow, I never noticed that when I was playing with my black friend that my white friends were off doing something else and vice versa.

When I first witnessed the hatred that my white friends had for my black friend, I was devastated. My black friend and I never played together, after that. At the time I did not understand whereas he probably thought to himself “I should have known better.” This was nothing new in his life. For me, innocence was forever lost but I never lost my perception of diversity as something to be cherished as beautiful.

Later, at the age of 20, I was privileged to spend a summer working in a churchyard in Philadelphia, providing a place for young children to gather and play, safe from the reaches of the gangs whose territories sandwiched our little oasis. All these kids were black, save one. While I was responsible for the boys and girls between the ages of 8 and 16 who came to play in our churchyard and game room, I played with them far more than I supervised. While my job was to keep them safe and be a mentor, I must confess that these youngsters taught me far more than I ever could have taught them.

For the first nine years after college and the military, I worked as a juvenile probation officer where I supervised a multi-racial group of boys and girls between the ages of nine and seventeen. I also worked with their families. I have vivid memories of sitting at a kitchen table, having a cup of coffee with the mother of a young boy or girl—some white and others black—who was desperate to understand why her child was failing in school and seemed unable to stay out of trouble. “My kid’s not stupid!” they would often say. I had no answer for them, but I agreed that their sons and daughters were not stupid. In fact, their “street smarts” was apparent.

A decade later, I was one of the founding board members of a local Boys and Girls Club where, once again, I was privileged, as a volunteer, to be around, play with, and serve a diverse group of children. When in an environment where these children felt safe and received unconditional affection, patience, and affirmation their joy and laughter was contagious. These kids were voracious learners, quick to listen to adults with whom they felt a special connection. They were anxious to soak up whatever lessons their adult leaders might offer. If they struggled with a lesson, they sought the help of their trusted friend.

Often, the adults would scratch their heads and wonder why so many of these children, so full of life and curiosity, were failing in school. I was only beginning to comprehend.

More than a dozen years later, when I decided to relinquish my leadership and organizational-development consulting practice to focus on my life-long dream of writing books, I worked part-time as a substitute teacher for my local public school district. In those high schools, middle schools, and elementary schools, I was able to walk in the shoes of public school teachers and observe, first hand, the struggles of so many of these teachers and their students. Once I got over feeling overwhelmed by all that was swirling around me, I began to wonder why these classrooms were so different from the game rooms and playgrounds at the Boys and Girls Club or the churchyard in Philadelphia.

What I learned about children during these significant chunks of my life was that whether black, white, or shades of brown; rich or poor; male or female they are all just kids and they can all learn from someone who cares about them if given a fair opportunity. Whatever their backgrounds there are more similarities than differences between them.

They all laugh when they play or act silly; cry and bleed red when they get hurt; get mad when they lose; celebrate when they win; get embarrassed when they are made fun of; yawn when they get sleepy; respond to warmth and affection with warmth and affection; and, suffer egregiously when abused by their parents, feel disconnected in many of their classrooms, or when bullied by their peers.

All these boys and girls are capable of learning; they are all curious about the world around them; and, they all get discouraged and feel humiliated when they fail. They all suffer great loss of self-esteem when they give up on themselves after repeated failure and no longer believe in their ability to compete in classrooms that never should have become competitive environments in the first place.

They all deserve our respect not only as individual human beings but also as members of their unique cultural traditions. The only difference, once they arrive at school, is their level of preparation and motivation. They all deserve the best we have to offer and the very fact that so many of these children fail provides irrefutable evidence that what we are doing does not work for everyone.

Despite the heroic effort of our teachers, it is here, in our elementary schools that we will find the roots of the problems that beleaguer us as a nation and society. Whether we are teachers, administrators, policy-makers, or deans and professors of schools of education, we must be willing to pull our heads from the sand and stop defending the indefensible.

The fact that so many children are failing, particularly minorities and the poor, is not a predisposition of birth or a fact of nature. That children are failing is nothing more than an outcome of a flawed system of human design. The performance gap between white children and black kids and other minorities is an outcome our traditional educational process is structured to produce. Like any other production, service-delivery process, or software application, our education process can be reinvented to produce the outcomes we want and need.

This flawed system is not the fault of teachers and other professional educators. Rather, the culpability of educators is that they are the people in the best position to identify the failure of this flawed educational process, yet they hold back as if they are afraid to act. It is critical that we understand that this lack of action is not because they are bad people or incompetent professionals rather it is because they have learned to perceive themselves as powerless.

Teachers must be challenged to accept that, for professional men and women, powerlessness and hopelessness are functions of choice.

Education Infrastructure: To Ensure Our Future, Focus on Desired Outcomes

Fort Wayne Journal Gazette

OP ED COLUMNS

http://www.journalgazette.net/opinion/columns/20181206/education-infrastructure

Mel Hawkins

Thursday, December 06, 2018 1:00 am

The Journal Gazette’s Nov. 30 editorial, “Students first,” offers evidence of the dysfunctionality of the political process with respect to education policy.

Our system of education is a national tragedy and is at the root of all our nation’s challenges. That millions of our nation’s children suffer irreparable harm makes the American education process a disaster of unprecedented scope and scale.

Children in charter, parochial and public schools are failing throughout the U.S., and each failure has tragic consequences for the children and our society. Even the students who seem to be succeeding are not learning the things they will need to know, nor are they developing the skills they will need to have meaningful choices in life. Neither are they being prepared to find creative solutions to the unimaginable challenges the balance of this 21st century will present.

That our teachers are being asked to shoulder the blame for the unacceptable outcomes of an obsolete education process is just one more travesty. These dedicated men and women are as much the victims of our flawed education policies as are their students. Not only are they blamed for the struggles of their students, we refuse to provide them with the level of respect and compensation they deserve for doing one of the most important and challenging jobs in American society. The fact that we are driving so many of these men and women out of the profession is just one more symptom of the obsolescence of the American education process.

Possibly we should invite teachers to participate more fully in the policy-making process. The problem, however, is that the solutions to the challenges of preparing our children for an uncertain future will be found outside the boundaries of conventional wisdom.

Perhaps we should examine the challenges facing education in America the same way we must address our nation’s crumbling infrastructure. Over the past century the world has changed exponentially while the structure and function of our education process have changed minimally. In our schools today, it takes an extraordinary effort on the part of teachers and principals to implement innovative ideas and solutions that will endure and not be ground to dust by the unrelenting glacial power of the existing education process.

The education process impedes rather than facilitates the ability of educators to respond to the unique requirements of a diverse population of children with disparate needs. The recent focus of education reformers on charter schools, voucher systems and high-stakes testing to hold teachers and schools accountable has done more damage to public education than we could have possibly envisioned.

Ironically, high-stakes testing is telling us what we need to know. These tests are not measuring the performance of teachers and schools, however; rather they measure the efficacy of the education process itself.
Our challenge must be to reinvent the education process to produce the outcomes we want.

What are those outcomes? That every child learns as much as they are able at their own best pace. That students retain what they have learned and are able to use their knowledge and skills in real-life situations and not solely for the purposes of passing standardized tests. That as these students discover they can be successful, they begin to develop a healthy self-esteem that will enable them to overcome obstacles and control most of the outcomes in their lives. That as they progress along their developmental paths, they are able to partner with their parents and teachers to take ownership of their futures.

Education must not be a competition to see who learns the most the fastest. Rather, it must be a process that provides each and every child with a menu of choices about what to do in life to provide for their families, to find joy and meaning, and to participate in their own governance. It must enable them to make thoughtful and reasoned choices and help them work together to find new and innovative solutions to the problems facing a world undergoing unrelenting change and facing unprecedented challenges.

These things are possible and within our power to accomplish if we are willing to challenge all our assumptions about what we do and why and, then, open our hearts and minds to new ways of thinking and doing.

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.

Who is @melhawk46 and What Is His Agenda?

After a brief respite to spend time with my four grandchildren, it is back to work.

In response to my last blog post, Twitter user and educator, @thenerdyteacher, reacted negatively to some of the points I made in the article. He wrote:

“If you wanted to say it was something learned at school because of the system that accepts “C” as good enough, that would be one thing. Teachers do not teach mediocrity. They push students to do their best.”

And, of course he is correct, teachers do not set a goal for their students to be mediocre. They do their best to help their students do their best, to the extent the education process allows.

It occurred to me that @thenerdyteacher had not been a part of an ongoing conversation I have been having with educators, on Twitter. Had he been involved, he would know that expressing concern that “the system accepts a C as good enough” is exactly my point; a point I have been making for over five years. I would add, “the system also accepts Ds and Fs.”

For the record, I believe teachers are unsung American heroes and that blaming them for the problems in public education is like blaming soldiers for the war they were asked to fight. The problems in public education are not the teachers, rather they are the result of an education process that has grown obsolete. The education process at work in American public schools impedes rather than enhances the ability of teachers to respond to the unique needs of their students.

Ask yourself a simple question. Did someone sit down and design the education process (the process by which we teach students in our schools, today) because it was perceived to be the best way to teach our children or, did it evolve over time?

If it evolved over time, why not reinvent the process so that it is specifically designed to provide the best way to teach our society’s children in this 21st Century? The education process is no different than any other service-delivery or production process. It is a logical construct created to produce certain outcomes. Just because the existing process has been in place for decades does not mean it cannot be changed.

In case you are wondering, I am categorically opposed to the education reform movement with its focus on “Choice.” I believe the education reform movement places the future of public education and community schools at grave risk, making it imperative that we go back to the drawing board and reinvent our obsolete education process as if the future of our society depends on it; because it does.

Charter schools are not the solution to preparing millions of American children for leading our nation through the challenges the balance of this 21st Century will present for two fundamental reasons. The first is that most charter schools rely on the same education process used in the public schools they are intended to replace and, routinely, prove incapable of outperforming those schools. Moving kids to a different building with different teachers changes nothing. Different teachers and facilities are not the solution; what matters is what we do in those buildings—what matters is how we teach.

The second reason is that simple logistics make it impossible for charter schools to fulfill their “professed” promise that they will ensure the highest possible quality of education for all children. We cannot solve the problems of millions of children with a handful of charter schools, scattered here and there, serving a few hundred students at a time. We already have school buildings in every community in the U.S., full of students, and staffed with teachers trained in our best colleges and universities. This is where the challenges lie, and it is with those same teachers and in those same buildings that they must be met.

It is my assertion that no child should be allowed to fail. Our colleague, @thenerdyteacher, commented that “Failure is good for students as they learn new things.” I choose to distinguish between failure and mistakes and I believe our colleague would concur. We all make mistakes and we all experience disappointing outcomes. These are not failures and do not become a failure until we throw up our hands in defeat and stop trying. When teachers are required, by the education process, to record an F or other low score and move a class on to the next lesson, knowing there are students who are not ready, the system is forcing them to accept failure or less than a student’s best.

For these students, this is not an isolated event rather one that will be repeated lesson after lesson, semester after semester, and year after year. The longer it goes on the more improbable the odds that these kids will ever overcome their disadvantage. Kids are learning, but they are not learning the correct lessons; they are not learning how to create success for themselves.

Teachers do their best to help kids learn from their mistakes. At the end of a lesson, teachers take as much time as they can to help students who are struggling and are not ready to move on to the next lesson, but that only works when the number of struggling students is small. When the percentage of struggling students in a teacher’s classroom grows to 25, 50, 75 percent or more, the amount of time the education process gives teachers to help these kids is insufficient. There is no policy that tells teachers not to help these students, but circumstances often make it impossible. The pressure to move kids down the path established by academic standards is relentless. This arbitrary schedule is created, not to serve the best interests of our students, but to serve organizational efficiency and administrative convenience.

None of this is the fault of public school teachers and administrators but they are the only people in a position to do anything about it.

State legislators do not understand it and the powerful forces that influence them understand it even less. If we wait for people outside the field of public education to solve the problem, nothing will happen. It is only when we accept responsibility for a problem that we begin to acquire the power to change it. It is time for public school educators to accept responsibility, not for the blame, but for finding a solution. And, yes, I understand that this is easier said than done and this is where I come in. Whether what I am offering is an end-solution or a catalyst, it has been motivated by nothing other than the interests of our nation’s children, their teachers, schools, and communities.

If they are to learn at their optimal level, what students need is an model built on the essential variables of the education equation =

Warm, nurturing relationships with teachers for a sustained period
+ they need to start with what they know
+ they need our patient attention to give them sufficient time to learn from their mistakes
+ they need to build on their successes
+ they need the support of their parents.

Garnering the support of parents is a challenge and not something over which teachers have direct control. Providing the first four of the essential variables in the education equation, however, creates the best opportunity to pull parents into the process as partners, sharing responsibility for the education of their children. Success is contagious even for those sitting on the sidelines.

The existing education process does not ensure that teachers have the time and environment to form those important, sustained relationships; it does not ensure that we begin teaching each child at the unique point on the academic preparedness continuum where we find them when they arrive at our door; it does not make giving students as much time as they need to learn from their mistakes an over-riding priority; it does not allow all students to build on their success because one cannot build on success until one begins to experience it; and, the education process does not make parental support a priority and is not designed to facilitate the formation of such relationships.

Teachers do the best they can to make these things happen despite the education process but both teachers and their students deserve more. What teachers, students, and parents deserve and what school corporations must be compelled to do is provide an education process that is designed to facilitate the education equation. They require a process that is molded around the work that teachers, students, and parents must do together, much in the way the cockpit of an airplane is molded around the needs of a pilot.

I understand that many teachers reading this post are proud of the work they have done and of the success of their students and they should be proud. It took sustained effort to achieve that success within the context of a process that does not make it easy.

What teachers across the spectrum of public education must be willing to acknowledge, however, is the process does not work for every child, for every teacher, and in every school. And, if it does not work for every child it is not good enough. Every child counts or none of them count.

What all public-school educators must do is be willing to step back and think about how you would structure the education process if you were starting from scratch. Over the past dozen years, that is what I have been doing by applying my experience working with kids, leading people and organizations, finding innovative solutions, and applying what I learned over my ten years as a substitute teacher. I simply went back to the drawing board.

It may seem arrogant to say it, but I believe everything I have done and learned over the last 50 years has prepared me for this purpose: to change the way we teach children in order to ensure that every child learns as much as they are able, at their own best pace rather than an arbitrary schedule, and are driven by their own unique interests and potential.

I ask you to take the time to think about a new model designed to support teachers and students as they go about their important work. I am also asking for help in finding at least one superintendent willing to test my model in one of his or her district’s struggling elementary schools. The outcomes in these schools have not changed in years and they are unacceptable. That means we must try something other than what we have always done. My model can be found at https://melhawkinsandassociates.com/education-model-white-paper/

For those who would like to have a better understanding of why I believe I am uniquely qualified to introduce a new education model, I offer the short bio, below.

After a career that included: a summer running a churchyard playground and game room on Germantown Avenue in Philadelphia, in 1966, for the purpose of keeping teens and preteens away from gang recruiters; 9 years as a juvenile probation officer working with a similar population of kids; thirty years in organizational leadership positions and as an independent consultant, I left my consulting business to pursue a lifelong dream of writing books.

During a ten-year period from 2002 through 2011, during which I wrote 3 books, I worked as a substitute teacher for my local public-school district. This was the same district my three kids had attended.

During this same period, and up to present day, I also administer the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB) to potential enlistees in the Armed Services and, also, to high school students as part a Career Exploration Program developed by the U.S. Department of Defense. I have Masters’ degrees in both Education (psychology) and Public Affairs (public management).

Among my specialties as an organization executive and as a consultant had been to help organizations address their dissatisfaction with the unacceptable outcomes of their production and service-delivery processes. I did this by conducting an organizational assessment and then applying the principles of systems thinking, positive leadership, and operations management to reinvent the process to produce the desired outcomes. My work was guided by a simple axiom I have observed in operations management that:

“If a process continues to produce disappointing outcomes no matter how hard people work or how qualified they are, then the process is flawed and must be replaced or reinvented.”

In her book, The Flat World and Education: How America’s Commitment to Equity Will Determine our Future (2010) Linda Darling-Hammond made a similar point:

“A business world maxim holds that ‘every organization is perfectly structured to get the results it gets.’ A corollary is that substantially different results require organizational redesign, not just incentives for staff to try harder with traditional constraints.”

It is time to go back to the drawing board and reinvent the education process to ensure the success of every child.

What I proceeded to do, first, in my book, Reinventing Education Hope, and the American Dream: the Challenge for Twenty-first Century America (2013), and in my blog Education, Hope, and the American Dream, and through tweets and other forms of communication is clarify the mission or purpose of education; identify the key variables in the education equation; and, then design an education model that insures that every child receives the time, relationships, and support they need to learn as much as they are able, at their own best pace. No child should be pushed ahead to keep up with classmates and neither is it acceptable to ask other students to slow down and wait for classmates to catch up to them.

My book is now over five years old and I have learned a great deal since then, thanks to the many professional educators with whom I have had the opportunity to converse. I am working on an updated version to incorporate what I have learned, and to alter things I wrote, then, that I no longer believe to be true. I am striving to complete the book before the end of the summer.

In the interim, I have published an updated version of my education model and a white paper. The latter provides the logical foundation for the model and an overview of the other findings and conclusions from the book. The reader is encouraged to check out the white paper and model at https://melhawkinsandassociates.com/education-model-white-paper/

My blog now has over 200 articles written about the challenges facing public education and can be accessed at https://melhawkinsandassociates.com/blog/

You are invited to share your comments and criticisms through the blog or Twitter. I also encourage you to subscribe to my blog, and to share this message with your colleagues. However well your own school may be doing, I know you all share grave concerns about schools and students that struggle and I know you are concerned about the future of community public schools. This is an opportunity to make a difference that extends beyond the walls of your classrooms and schools.

Quadrilateral Pegs through the Round Holes of Public Education

Participating in the dialogue between teachers, principals, superintendents, and other players in our public schools has been enlightening and inspiring on the one hand and frustrating and discouraging on the other. It is wonderful to know there are so many amazing men and women who have dedicated themselves to teach our nation’s children. It is heartbreaking, however, to see how so many seem to be unaware that they are being asked to do one of the most important and most challenging jobs in the world in an environment that has not been significantly altered in at least a half century and clearly has not been adapted to meet the needs of 21st Century children.

It has been a struggle to find an analogy that resonates with teachers, principals, and superintendents so they can see what it looks like to observe them at work, from afar. I know that many consider me an outsider because I have not been trained as a professional teacher, making it easy for them to make light of my education model. My perspective is unique, however, and merits the attention of our nation’s public school policy makers, leaders, and classroom teachers. I am speaking as an advocate for public education and for American public-school teachers and school administrators, not as an adversary. I consider public school teachers to be unsung American heroes and I’m asking you to open your minds to a new idea.

As a student, I have earned two masters’ degrees, one in psychology and the other in public management. On my own I have been a student of leadership for over forty-five years and have written a book to share what I’ve learned about the power of positive leadership. Also, I have been a student “systems thinking” since reading Peter Senge’s book The Fifth Discipline: The Art and Practice of the Learning Organization, when it was first published in 1990.

I have had an opportunity to both participate in and observe what happens in public school classrooms from the perspective of a substitute teacher over a period of ten years. I have worked with some of my communities most challenging children as a juvenile probation officer for the first nine years of my career. I have spent 30 years of my career in organizational leadership and consulting where I designed from scratch or reinvented service delivery and other processes to produce acceptable outcomes for the customers of my organizations or for my clients’ organizations. I have both taught and counseled CEOs, managers, and supervisors how to be effective positive leaders of their organizations and its people. I have been both the designer and instructor of multiple employee training programs.

What I have witnessed as an observer of the public schools of my community are dedicated, hard-working professional men and women, giving their hearts and souls to their students in a system and structure that has not been significantly altered since I started school in the fall of 1951.

If you can imagine, even for a moment, what our nation’s system of highways would look like—given the number of automobiles and trucks on the roads, today—if neither President Eisenhower, in 1956, nor any of his successors had envisioned America’s interstate highway system, you will have an idea of how our public school classrooms and the education process at work within those classrooms look to me, observing from afar.

We are asking good people to educate our nation’s incredibly diverse population of students on the education equivalent of Route 66. These kids are the future men and women who must be prepared to lead our nation through the unprecedented and unimaginable challenges the balance of the 21st Century will present. Think about the diversity of American public-school students. They represent every color of the human rainbow, speak innumerable languages, come from families both fractured and whole from every corner of the planet, and with a range of backgrounds with respect to relative affluence and academic preparedness that is as cavernous as America is wide.

Public school educators are striving to do their absolute best for students in an environment in which they are without the support of our federal and many of our state governments and are under attack from education reformers with their focus on “school choice.” These reformers and the politicians who are influenced by them are destroying our public schools and the communities those schools were built to serve. As I have written on so many occasions, a handful of charter schools serving a few hundred students at a time, even if they were innovative, will never meet the needs of the millions of American children on whom our nation’s future depends. These charter schools that are being funded with revenue siphoned from the coffers that were meant to support our public schools and rely on the same obsolete education process used in the public schools they were intended to replace.

We already have school buildings in communities throughout the U.S., staffed with the best teachers our colleges and universities can produce, and filled with kids. This is where the problem exists and where its challenges must be met. We just need to change the way we teach these kids and the way we support both teachers and students as they go about their essential work.

There have been many innovations in public education in recent decades, but they and other incremental changes will be no more effective within the context of an obsolete education process than repaving the highways of the 1950s would be in meeting today’s transportation needs. It is the education process or system that is obsolete.

Over the past few years, I have worked to build an education model that I believe will put both teachers and students in a position to be successful. It is a model that was designed from scratch to be molded around the relationship between teachers and students, enabling all to perform at their optimal level.

I am seeking a superintendent of a public-school district willing to test my education model in one of its underperforming elementary schools. You know the numbers and, therefore, that what you have been doing has not altered the bottom line with respect to student performance in any meaningful way. Why not consider a novel approach?

My education model and white paper, can be examined at my website at: https://melhawkinsandassociates.com/education-model-white-paper/ along with over 200 articles on public education on my blog. I am asking you to risk a couple of hours of your valuable time. Are your students worth at least that much given that the value of the upside is incalculable?

We often blame poverty, discrimination, and segregation as the reasons why these children fail. The reality is that when we ignore the unique requirements of our students and try to push their quadrilateral pegs through the round holes of public education we are the ones who discriminate. What we are doing has not worked for the last sixty-five years and it will not work for the next sixty-five years. When we let them fail we render them defenseless against discrimination.

Our goal must be to arm these young people with the skills and knowledge they need to be impervious in the face of prejudice and discrimination and to ensure that they have meaningful choices. We can only accomplish this goal if we transform public education in America.

“Street Smart” Translates to Every Other Kind of Smart!

When working with kids, outside of a classroom setting, their level of “street smart” is easy to recognize. What “street smart” tells us is that these kids can learn anything that is important to them. The fact that so many do not learn in school is because it is not important to them. If their families, from their own negative school experiences, do not value education we can be certain child will not. The operative question, therefore, is how do we make learning at school important to all our students?

The key is relationships but given how many people of color and other disadvantaged Americans are suspicious of teachers, especially white teachers, it is not easy to break through. This is particularly true when skeptical parents tell their kids, “don’t let the teachers treat you unfairly” and this is a common occurrence. As a juvenile probation officer almost every mother I spoke with expressed concern about their child being treated fairly at school. What I also discovered was that listening to them works better than talking, and if they feel they are being interrogated, they will clam up quickly. If I was patient and just engaged in a normal dialogue with them, they would become more forthcoming with info about themselves and their families.

For a white teacher with children of color, this is most true and I am confident that most teachers know this. It is so easy when we are busy, however, to revert to interrogation and giving orders. When they begin to learn that you have a genuine interest in hearing what they have to say—hearing their story—they become much more open. Nothing convinces them they are important to you better than paying attention to them.

The way we win the parents over is by winning their kids over. When they start talking to parents about their teacher as being nice, a parent or guardian’s natural curiosity becomes an ally.

Especially early, as teachers work to form relationships with new students, the kids will be quick to pass judgment on their teacher. It is ironic that so many teachers and parents think their children never listen to them. Whether or not they appear to be listening, I can assure you that they hear and see everything you say and do. And, when what you say does not jive with what you do, your integrity is diminished. You won’t know this, unfortunately, until you feel them pulling away from you, emotionally.

It is an oversimplification, I know, but things we wish to teach them in school are not important to them until they become convinced that they, the students, are important to us. I also learned that as suspicious as they may be, they hunger for closeness with adults. They will not open themselves to a teacher, however, until they begin to trust.

In the summer of 1966, in Philadelphia, I supervised a churchyard recreation program. The church sat on the border between the territories of two gangs and our purpose was to offer a sanctuary for kids—no gang recruiters allowed. All I did was play with the kids, ages 8 to 16, and listen to them, rarely offering advice, not that I had much advice to offer at age 20. My goal was to keep them coming and on any given day we would have between 15 to 30 kids on the grounds, some days even more. The only evidence that I was making a personal connection to them as individuals was 1) the fact they came every day, and 2) they began to share more intimate details about their lives.

The summer after my time in Philadelphia, I was in the Army, stationed in Maryland. I went back for a weekend, not knowing whether I would even be remembered. When I walked into the churchyard, the teenagers were aloof, at first, but the young kids charged me and dragged me to the ground. If you have ever been mauled by a litter of puppies, you can appreciate how I felt. Never had I felt more loved than I did wrestling under that pile of kids. The teens quickly came around, as well.

While I choose to believe that teachers care deeply about their students I do not believe enough of them take the time to listen to their students and then demonstrate that they care through their actions. Like anything else, we need to sell them on our commitment to their success. When we have accomplished that, parents become so much more accessible.

One more story, this one from my first year of subbing, and then I will get on with my point.

It had been 36 years since my summer in Philadelphia and almost 25 years from my last day as a probation officer when I subbed for a 3rd grade class. I had only been subbing for a few weeks After the first 20 minutes, I noticed a young black boy was following me around the classroom. When I gave a teacher a questioning glance she said, “he won’t stay in his seat. We can’t get him to listen to or do much of anything.” For the entire day, he was my shadow. He let me help him with his assignments; read to him; and, when we marched to art class, to lunch, or recess, he held my hand. Again, the teachers were astonished and told me he never let anyone get close to him.

I was only at that school for one day. One of the most difficult things about subbing is that you may never see the same kids again and rarely get an opportunity to build on even the smallest foundation of the occasional connections you make. To this day, I am ashamed to say that I did not stay in touch with that little boy, whether as a tutor, or “big brother,” or some other way. My only excuse was that, in addition to dealing with a couple of personal issues at the time, I was a rookie substitute teacher and was feeling overwhelmed by what I was experiencing, every day. I think of that child, often, and wonder how he is doing. He would be in his late twenties by now.

Back when I worked closely with kids I would have responded to this child’s need for affection, instinctively. In that summer in 1966, on Germantown Avenue, and when I began work as a juvenile probation officer a few years later, I learned far more from my kids than they learned from me. The most important lesson of all was that it is all about caring.

Teachers are just people and there are times when all are distracted by personal issues. Somehow, teachers must have sufficient strength of character and relentless commitment to their purpose, however, that they are able to set their personal issues aside when they walk into their school each morning. If you treat each student as if he or she is your number one priority; listen to them empathically and are able to convey through your words and actions that they are special, you gain a tremendous amount of leverage with respect to your ability to influence them in a positive way.

If you have any experience at all you know that you can never let up because they will test you almost every day, to reassure themselves that your concern for them is genuine. This lesson had quite an impact on me as a father and I think the lesson applies to teachers and parents, alike.

“It is every bit as important that we pass the tests our kids give us as it is that they pass the tests we give them.”

How often we pass their tests and demonstrate unconditional love and concern has a profound effect on our ability to make a difference in their lives. It is imperative that we not wait until they are 16 before we begin working to form the kind of connections that, truly, will transform lives. We need to recreate the education process so that its over-riding priority must be to help teachers form close, personal bonds with their students beginning on their first day of school. The structure must be engineered to support this purpose, time must be fully allocated, the ratio of teacher to student must be sufficient, and teachers and students must be allowed to remain together for more than just one school year.

From the first day a 5 or 6-year old child arrives at school, our focus must be to treat each boy and girl as a beautiful, unique child of creation. For some children it will be easy but there are some who will test us, severely. They are the children about whom my grandmother was referring when she told me that the “child who is the hardest to love is the one who needs it the most.”

Their first few weeks of school may the most important period of a child’s academic life. Making certain they feel special and are not being pushed beyond their cusp of knowledge and understanding must be our absolute priority. Thereafter, the education process must be a place where they feel special, where they discover that learning is a process they can master and where their successes are celebrated. The powerful self-esteem that comes from feeling special, combined with the confidence that they can create success for themselves will ensure that they will have choices in life; real choices.

The way our schools and classrooms are structured today and the misguided expectations we place on our students and teachers do not allow us to give our students what they need most. Nothing we can do, incrementally, will be enough. The process must be reinvented to fulfill its purpose. A process exists for no other purpose.

We can create a process that helps us provide our students with a solid foundation upon which they can build a future for themselves. What we discover is “street smart” translates to every other kind of “smart.” If we accomplish this for our students we will have also created a process that provides teachers with the sense of personal and professional fulfillment that comes when we help another human being create a life for themselves,

We have the power to create such a process. Time and children are being wasted while we tinker with this or that. Working together, educators like you and advocates like me have the power to reinvent the education process. All it takes is our imagination, courage, and determination to accept nothing less than the best for our students and nothing less than the best for ourselves.

While writing this post, today, I saw a tweet from and Jimmy Casas, an educator, (@casas_jimmy) who tweeted:

“Let’s not hide behind the standard line “I don’t have time.” We determine what we have time for & what we don’t. When something matters a great deal to us, let’s find a way to make it happen. . . .”

It fit perfectly with the theme of this post. It helps when the structure and process are created to focus on purpose. If our purpose is that all kids learn then the process makes providing that time its priority. The proper response is not “I don’t have time” rather it is “that’s what I’m here for!”

Please take the time to examine my education model at http://bit.ly/2k53li3 not in search of reasons why it cannot or will not work rather looking with hope that it might work. Also check out some of the 150 or more articles posted on my blog.

Like An Old Pair of Shoes!

Recently, I described the American education process as being like an old pair of shoes that you feel comfortable wearing, but don’t dare run in, at least not too fast. In other articles, I have used the parable of storing new wine in old wineskins to compare the process with which we teach our children in most private, parochial and public schools in America.

Public school teachers and administrators have long grown comfortable with the current education process, but it does not always produce the outcomes they seek. Teachers do their best and in some classrooms, in some schools, nothing seems amiss. Those teachers feel good about what they do. In other classrooms, sometimes in the same school, and certainly in many other schools, things do not go so well. Not every student is successful and some who eventually achieve success, do so only after an extraordinary effort on the part of teachers and parents. Most teachers have at least one student who represents a challenge and requires that level of effort.

In other public schools and classrooms, most students struggle and in some, all but a few, struggle. For many students, success rarely happens. Are these teachers not as good? Is their something wrong with the school building? We know the students attending such schools present a different challenge but is that the only reason why outcomes are so disparate?

What if you were asked to trade students with a colleague who has a challenging class? Would the performance of that teacher’s students turn around, remarkably, once they spent time with you or would you likely face the same difficulty as your colleague? How would the students from your classroom perform with the other teacher?

If you are one of the fortunate teachers to have only one struggling student, imagine what it would be like if more than half of your students presented such challenges. What if the exception in your classroom was one student who is successful? How different would your experience be? How good would you feel about your students, classroom, and school?

The problem is not just the students and it is neither the teachers nor the school buildings. Rather, the problem is a brittle and inflexible education process that has been in place longer than many of you have lived? It seems to work okay for some children but the evidence that it does not work for all children is compelling and irrefutable.

There are millions of children who struggle in our nation’s most challenging public schools. If your classes are performing well, does that mean that you need not concern yourself with the challenges that other teachers face? Most often, the teachers in these low performing schools are just as capable as you; work just as hard, received the same education and training. Some of them might even be former classmates of yours.

If teachers in high performing schools choose to ignore the challenges of their colleagues is it okay? Is it okay for you to turn your head and be thankful that you are in a better place? Or, is that leaving your colleagues hanging out to dry. Do not all teachers and all students deserve better? Are you not comrades-in-arms in a noble profession?

If the only thing that is different between your high performing classroom and the low-performing classroom of your colleagues is the academic preparedness, motivation to learn, and parental support, what does that tell us about the effectiveness of the education process. If the process is incapable of adapting to the unique needs of its students, how can it serve the best interests of the American people and their sons and daughters?

The wonderful news is, “it need not be this way!” We can reinvent the education process to support every single teacher, in every single classroom, for every single student. And, no, it does not matter that all will not succeed at the same level. What our expectation can and must be is that we help each child learn how to be successful so they can be the best that they can be. We can ask no more of our children, their parents, or their teachers. We want every teacher to be the best of which they are capable, and we want each of your students to grow up to be the best men and women they can be.

The education process in place in our public schools and in most of our private and parochial schools is not capable of meeting the needs of a diverse population of children, no matter how capable their teachers, no matter how innovative their methodologies, and regardless of the level of sophistication of our tools. When taxed beyond its limits the education process will break down just as will that old pair of comfortable shoes. It does not allow teachers to adapt to the unique needs of their students and this is unacceptable and unnecessary. How can our nation compete in an ever-more challenging global marketplace and political arena if our children do not rise to their potential?

Once again, unless you have already done so, I ask that you review my education model at https://melhawkinsandassociates.com/education-model-white-paper/ Examine it not in search of reasons why it will not or cannot work rather in hopes that it might.