Should not our Schools Be Set Up On the Basis of How Children Learn?

One of the principles of Positive Leadership is to challenge people to re-think their underlying assumptions about why we do what we do. Education in America provides a perfect example of a system or education process that demands a complete re-examination.

Think about how children learn to walk or ride a bike. Children learn these things very much the same way they learn almost everything else. We provide lots of encouragement and many opportunities to practice whatever it is they are striving to learn. We understand that some children learn more quickly than others and, when we are teaching them to walk or ride a bike, we do not push them to learn any more quickly than they are able. We know that the only thing that matters is that they do learn.

When children make a mistake while learning to walk or ride a bike, they fall down. When that happens, we pick them up, we comfort them, give them a hug or a kiss, dust them off, and we encourage them to try again. When they finally get it, we celebrate their accomplishment just like we celebrate all victories. Victory is just another word for success.

What we don’t do is tally the number of times they fall, nor do we diminish the degree to which we celebrate their ultimate success based on the number of mistakes they made along the way. We also do not push them ahead before they are ready.

If we are helping two children learn how to ride a bike, simultaneously, and one child catches on more quickly, we do not stop working with the child who is struggling and tell them time is up. Neither do we push the second child to take off in pursuit. We certainly do not start teaching both children more advanced skills, rather, we give each the attention they need appropriate to their progress.

We continue to work with the child who struggles and we do so patiently, providing lots of support and encouragement. Once both children are riding proficiently, we do not remind the latter child that their counterpart learned more quickly, nor do we celebrate the quicker child’s success more lavishly. The reality is that, once both have learned, one rides every bit as good as the other and has just as much fun. Once one masters a skill, it no longer matters, in the least, that one student took longer to learn than another.

Now, think about how we teach children in many of our schools. We present a lesson to the entire class and we encourage them to practice, both at school and at home. We call it homework, not practice. The next day, we gather up all the homework and we review the most common mistakes that students make to help them learn from their mistakes. We, then, require our teachers to do one or more of three things that are incomprehensible when you think about it.

The first is that we do not, routinely, give struggling students whatever extra time they need to understand their mistakes. If they are to acquire a sufficient level of mastery of the subject matter to demonstrate to us that they understand and can use the knowledge or skill, proficiently, they must have time to learn from all their mistakes, even the uncommon ones.

Secondly, teachers will either record the grades of their students’ practice assignments or give or withhold credit for those assignments. They, then, factor a students’ scores/credits into their final grade at the end of the grading period, which often influences their grades at the end of a semester or school year.

The third unfathomable thing teachers are expected to do is require struggling students to move on to the next lesson in a textbook or syllabus, ready or not. It is as if the designers of the education process did not consider that for students to understand many lessons, they must be able to apply what they have learned on previous lessons. Teachers are expected to let their students advance without the prerequisite knowledge and understanding they will need.

The fact that one or more of our students is poorly prepared for the next lesson might trouble us, but the expectation of the education process and entire American educational system is that we move everyone along to make sure we cover, within arbitrary time frames, all of the material identified by the educational standards that drive our curricula and our competency testing process.

It was not always this way. When we first began teaching children, in a classroom setting, the only thing that mattered was whether each child learned as much as they were able at their own best speed. How, along the way from the early days of public schools until now, did we gravitate away from a focus on individual student achievement to an environment where we judge schools and teachers based on whether their classrooms are on an acceptable pace with respect to academic standards?

We also label the students who learned more quickly and successfully as “A”  or “B” students or “honor” students and, we label the slower kids as “C”, “D”, or even “F” students. We may or may not feel some sense of concern that these labels may follow our students well into the future, but that is what is expected of teachers. We ask teachers to shove aside their reticence and plunge ahead.

If we look closely and carefully, we will probably be able to tell that the kids we have labeled as “A” or “B” students seem to be having more fun and demonstrate more enthusiasm for learning than their “C, D, or F” classmates. Certainly they enjoy more success. In fact, it does not take long before it becomes clear that the latter group of children is having no fun at all and are demonstrating a diminished enthusiasm for learning. Oh, well, as the saying goes, “it is what it is!”

We observe this fully understanding that it is as much fun to learn successfully as it is demoralizing to fail repeatedly. How often do we refuse to play a game at which we habitually lose? How can one learn how to be successful without experiencing success?

If we were to examine this practice from a positive leadership perspective, what an educator, school principal, school superintendent, or educational policy maker would do would be to step back and begin to question what we are doing and why. These positive leaders would begin to challenge some of their assumptions.

The truth is that every time we push a child on to a next lesson before they are ready we are setting him or her up for failure. It is this practice, as much as anything else we do, that leads to an unhealthy focus on failure throughout our entire system of education.

If you are reading this post, you are challenged to begin questioning the fundamental assumptions of your leaders and policy makers.

You are also invited to examine an education model in which all these issues have been examined and where the way we have structured teachers and classrooms, and the way we  teach kids, has been re-envisioned. The result is an environment where we give our students the time and attention they need to learn every lesson and we evaluate teachers on how well they focus on that priority. It is amazing how, when we expand our paradigms, the possibilities multiply.

Bad Days and Grumpy Moods – we all have them both Teachers and Students

A friend on Facebook recently posted a meme, published by Miramir.com, quoting author Rebecca Eanes.

“So often, children are punished for being human. They are not allowed to have grumpy moods, bad days, disrespectful tones, or bad attitudes.  Yet, we adults have them all the time. None of us are perfect. We must stop holding our children to a higher standard or perfection than we can attain ourselves.”

-Author, Rebecca Eanes, posted at Miramir.com

It is a terrific message and should be read by all. Having, “grumpy moods, bad days, . . .” is a universal human characteristic. We are all like that, even kids. When kids have that kind of day at school or at home, however, they usually get into trouble. This is especially true in school because the education process demands conformance, obedience, and “respectful tones.” Anything else disrupts the classroom and interferes with the work of teachers and classmates.

Because of the way our education process is structured, we leave no room for our students to do the very things we will likely do when we get home because the behavior of students led to a bad day, left us in a grumpy mood, and feeling short-tempered. Hopefully, at home, our families and friends will back off and give us space to work through the frustration we feel. Good friends and good families are like that. They are people who love us and have no expectation that we be perfect, in fact, they love us with all our “perfect imperfections,” as John Legend’s song describes them. And, at home, we typically have places where we can get away from everyone, even if only for a moment or two.

At school, even for good teachers, it is not so easy. Good teachers care but are not allotted enough time to help students work through the frustrations that flow from dealing, in some instances, with problems at home that we can hardly imagine. There are just too many kids, too much to do, and nowhere near enough time. So, we discipline students and even send them to the office if their frustrations and acting out cause too much disruption. It’s a last resort for teachers but their responsibility extends beyond the individual child, to a classroom full of other students.

The problem isn’t just that we give kids a reprimand, time out, or trip to the office—all of which brand the child as a discipline problem–the most significant consequences that flow from such actions are related to the fact that they lose time. They miss out on lessons that are being taught and practice time that is being given, and opportunities to get in-class assistance from their teacher. Most significantly, they fall ever further behind and this this only exacerbates their situation and fuels the frustration that got them in trouble to begin with.

The combination of their frustrations from the challenges at home, combined with the hopeless feeling of falling further behind, academically, and being viewed as “a problem student” or “bad kid” pile up until a student feels overwhelmed. When kids begin to feel hopeless and powerless to extricate themselves from bad situations, the risk is that they may choose to give up and stop trying.

Think about how you feel when you have had ”meltdown” incidents. For many of us, what we feel is helplessness and hopelessness. When the episode passes, as they always do, they may have created some inconveniences with which we must deal, but we are still able to get back in the game. For our students, in similar circumstances, the game clock is ticking away and there are no timeouts as in an athletic contest, where the whole game pauses to let participants catch their breath.

The academic standards that drive teachers and classrooms function like a conveyor belt. Once a child falls off, it is difficult for them to get back on the belt, even with our help. If they get back on, they can see how much further behind they have fallen, relative to their classmates.

Those academic standards are tied to an external, arbitrary timeline that may be totally out of sync with a child’s unique internal timetable. We all know how difficult it can be to get back in sync with all that is going on in our lives, but for many children, particularly disadvantaged kids, getting back in sync seems next to impossible. Their internal and external timetables are like an event horizon in which the child finds him or herself on the wrong side, with no way to get back on track.

What I have striven to do in the education model I have developed—The  Hawkins Model©—is  to eliminate external timetable so that students are never at a place in time that is out of sync with their unique developmental path. Even when schools must teach to a set of academic standards, these represent an outline of what policy makers have determined all children need to learn. We need to ask ourselves what is most important: that students learn these things, even if it takes some children longer than others, or that we strive to get them all from point to point in perfect cadence?

If we accept the premise that the two most essential variables in education are relationships and learning, what are arbitrary timetables? Are they not a “constant” that regulates relationships and learning? If we eliminate the constant variable of time, relationships and learning become independent variables that are not compromised by extraneous forces? We need an education model—education process—that ensures that such forces do not impede a child’s progress down their unique academic path.

We need a model in which the teacher is able give each student the time he or she needs to learn. Teachers often tell me, “this is not possible, there just isn’t enough time.”

Within the context of the existing education process, they are correct. This does not mean that creating time is impossible, only that the existing process and structure does not provide for it. If we are willing to alter the process and structure, we can design it to produce the outcomes we want based on the unique needs of each of our students. It all depends on how we sort our priorities and whether we are willing to question the validity of our structure and process.

In The  Hawkins Model© giving students time they need to learn and work through their frustrations, bad days, and grumpy moods is more important than keeping all students moving at the same pace down the arbitrary timelines that complicate academic standards. The fact that they may need to be separated from the class so as not to disrupt, need not impede their progress, it just delays things a bit.

The Primacy of Relationships and the Challenge of Peer Pressure – Part 2

Part of the focus on relationships that is central to The Hawkins Model©, is to ensure that, not only do  students have close and enduring relationships with their teachers, but also that they develop and sustain healthy bonds with their classmates. Such relationships play an important part of healthy development and can ensure that peer pressure can be a positive influence on kids, of any age, and not just a negative force that distracts and diverts young people from their values and purpose. Positive peer influence can be a powerful force that can strengthen relationships, minimize the incidence of bullying, and provide positive role models for kids.

When my family moved to Indiana during the middle of my junior year in high school, I had an opportunity to witness the positive power of peer influence alter the behavior of many of my classmates. In this case, it was a small thing, but it demonstrated the ability of a popular student to influence the behavior  of his peers as a positive role model.

As a new student who didn’t make friends easily, I was thrilled to be invited to hang out with one of the nicest and most popular juniors in the school. His name was John and he was a trend setter; not only in fashion but also in other ways. He was the first guy to reach out to me with an offer of friendship.

One day, we all arrived at school in a driving downpour and, as was the case in my prior high school, there were no raincoats, boots, or umbrellas to be seen on any of my male classmates. Guys were willing to arrive drenched rather than appear uncool. Then, along came my friend John, using an umbrella. He was the only guy who left a dry path, that day, as he passed through the halls and classrooms.

The very next time it rained, a few days later, there must have been a dozen or more guys, myself included, who arrived at school using an umbrella. By the end of the school year, seeing a guy in the rain without an umbrella was the exception, not the rule.

Our friend John, with his powerful self-esteem demonstrated how much of a difference one person can make just by setting a good example. To his credit, this was not the only way John exerted a positive influence on his peers. He was a genuinely good person who treated all other students–no matter who they were–and teachers with kindness and respect. He would have been a perfect candidate for membership in a 1960s version of @melanie_korach’s #starfishclub.

As I thought back about the other students with whom I shared a classroom over thirteen years of school, I began to recall others boys and girls who contributed, quietly but meaningfully, to help create of a positive peer environment.

It was a sad day, more than twenty years later, when  I searched for and found John’s name etched on the black walls of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, I felt a keen sense of loss and was unembarrassed to shed a tear for a guy who befriended me when I was the new kid in school; a young man who made a difference with his positive values, commitment to his community–whether a high school class or his country–and by being both confident and kind.

How many schools and classrooms, of which you are aware, make it a point to create a positive culture for all students, not just the most popular kids. It is my assertion that we can create a classroom environment that fosters this kind of positive peer influence, intentionally. It is one of the subtle but powerful things The Hawkins Model© can help create just by changing the way we structure the education process. Why not check it out?

Understanding Education as a Process and Our Schools as Organizations: and a Shout Out to Ted Dintersmith

There are many new and exciting things happening in some schools: innovative education methodologies, ever more sophisticated technologies, and curricula that are being challenged and re-examined.

Recently, our friend @tracyscottkelly shared a teacher’s ( @HJL_Greenberg ) enthusiastic Tweet about Ted Dintersmith’s book, What School Could Be. Kelly acknowledged, as have many of us, that @dintersmith has provided a wonderful compilation of innovative education programs in real American schools.  It is a great read and if you haven’t done so, put it at the top of your reading list.

Let us not lose sight of Dintersmith’s title, What School Could Be, however.The book is not about “what all schools are.”

Dintersmith’s book offers  examples of public schools and school districts that are producing exciting results for their students. These schools and their programs provide shining examples that give hope to teachers and other educators who are feeling overwhelmed by their own challenges and those of their students.  

Let us, also, not forget that Ted Dintersmith traveled through all fifty states to find these innovative education programs, approaches, and methodologies.It is vital that we acknowledge theses schools are the exceptions and do not represent the reality that is public education in many of the other schools in those same fifty states.

Think about how we arrived at present day with respect to public education.At some point in the distant past, schools may have been established to enable teachers to meet the unique needs of children, but over the decades, schools have devolved into one-size-fits-all service delivery providers.  Schools in the U.S. are organized for operational efficiency, based on financial constraints. That the unique needs of our nation’s children have never been as complex as they are now, creates a recipe for failure for millions of kids.

No matter how hard they work or how deep their commitment, teachers cannot alter the aggregate reality that is public education in America and they must not be blamed.

Each of the noteworthy programs from around the nation exists because of the extraordinary efforts of educators willing to step outside the boundaries of education tradition; often against the forces of doubt.  Sadly, these schools are not the norm and millions of American children do not enjoy the benefits of such programs nor are they likely to benefit, any time soon.  We can only hope that as more educators and school administrators are inspired by the examples of “what could be,” they will step out of their comfort zones and take a paradigm leap.

In my education model, my 2013 book, Reinventing Education, Hope, and the American Dream, and my upcoming book with a working title, Reinventing Education One Success at a Time: The Hawkins Model, I have examined our schools from the perspective of an organizational leadership consultant asking the question, “are schools structured to produce the outcomes we so desperately need?” Most often, the answer is that they are not.

The paradigm leap that is needed, if we are to transform public education in America and restore the American dream, is a willingness to remind ourselves that schools are human organizations incorporating an “education process” designed to deliver a service.

If we are dissatisfied with the quality of the service our education process is producing, we must take a giant step back to a point from which we can examine the education system as an integral whole.We must, then, stop looking for someone to blame and, instead, challenge every single one of our assumptions. Only then can we start from scratch and reconstruct an education system—both structure and process—to produce the outcomes we want and need.

What is it that we want and need from America’s public schools? We need an education model or process in which our dedicated teachers can help every child have more than just equal opportunities—they must have the wherewithal to develop their own dream, envision their futures, chart their own paths, and seize those “equal opportunities.”

At the root of every problem facing American society—whether social, political, economic, technological, ecological, or criminal justice—is the fact that far too many young Americans are not equipped with the understanding, knowledge, skills, self-esteem, and self-discipline to seize the opportunities to which they are entitled, constitutionally.It all comes down to the efficacy of our education process as a whole and not whether a few schools might be succeeding.

What the Data Tells Us

The following graphic speaks eloquently about the problems in public education in America; problems that exist in spite of the heroic efforts of teachers.

Fort Wayne  and South Bend are two of Indiana’s greatest cities and both have many cultural, educational, business, and recreational resources to offer to their citizens. As is true in so many medium- to intermediate-sized communities (populations of 100,000 to 300,000), both communities have diverse populations. What is also characteristic of such communities is the existence of  urban, suburban, and rural public-school districts. Both Fort Wayne Community Schools and the South Bend Community School Corporation, within their district boundaries, have a high proportion of children of color; children from families that are on the lower end of the income continuum, regardless of color; and, the largest percentage children for whom English is a second language. By virtually any criteria, in diverse communities, both have the highest percentage of kids that could be thought of as disadvantaged students.

Both school districts are led by some of the most highly educated and experienced administrators in the State of Indiana. They are staffed by a diverse faculty of teachers who have been educated in the nation’s finest colleges and universities and who are represented by the same unions and associations as their colleagues from Indiana and around the nation. Teacher salaries are within the same range as other area school districts that compete for qualified teachers and typically exceed teacher salaries the community’s parochial schools offer.

These school districts also offer a variety of programs for students with a broad range of special needs. And, so there are no misunderstandings, they teach to the same academic standards as must teachers in every other school in their state. They also continue to make the best investments in their school buildings and equipment as their constituents will permit.

Both cities have been my hometowns in major parts of my life, and I am proud to have lived in South Bend and Fort Wayne, Indiana. I graduated from one of the two districts, as did all three of my younger siblings, and I spent the greater part of my life and career in the other. All three of my children attended and graduated from Fort Wayne Community Schools and went on to earn both undergraduate and graduate degrees in their chosen fields of interest. There, I also spent ten years as a substitute teacher.  Although my wife and I are in the process of moving from Fort Wayne, that decision had nothing to do with the quality of life offered by the community. We will always love Fort Wayne.

We have the greatest possible respect for the dedicated teachers and administrators of both school districts. We also have a family member who is a principal in one of the school districts and who strives, every day, to make a difference in the lives of his students.

The graphic is offered to illustrate how the combined student bodies from these fine school districts struggle, academically, despite the heroic efforts of public school teachers, not because of them. In this post, I will provide only a few highlights of the data and what I believe they tell us . My new book will allow readers to delve more deeply in the data.

These two school districts are like a thousand other school districts of comparable size and demographics and this just begins to reveal the sheer size of the crisis in public education in America. If we take the total number of students that are struggling in these two districts, divide that number by two, and then multiply it by the estimated one thousand school districts in America of comparable size and demographics, we are talking about eight million school children. Let me repeat that number: approximately 8,000,000 kids.

Add numbers from the roughly fifteen thousand other school districts in the U.S. that are smaller, larger, richer, poorer, and more segregated and the numbers are both staggering and compelling. Anyone who denies that we have a crisis in public education in America must be challenged to take another look and, yes, the degree to which the validity of state competency exams is questioned, is understood.

            The only reason to question the validity of state competency exams is that they are utilized to evaluate the quality and effectiveness of teachers and public schools and this author shares the conviction that their use for that purpose be categorically rejected.

            What educators dare not reject, however, is that, with all the imperfections of standardized competency exams, they are still a measure of the ability of children to demonstrate their mastery of the subject matter set out for them by academic standards of their state.

            MOST IMPORTANT OF ALL, THESE RESULTS ARE A MEASURE OF THE EFFECTIVENESS OF THE EDUCATION PROCESS WITH WHICH TEACHERS AND SCHOOLS ARE EXPECTED TO EDUCATE OUR NATION’S DIVERSE POPULATION OF STUDENTS. I CHALLENGE ANY PROFESSIONAL EDUCATOR, WHO DISPUTES THESE DATA TO LOOK INTO THEIR OWN EYES IN THE NEAREST MIRROR AND TELL, FIRST THEMSELVES, AND THEN THE AMERICAN PEOPLE, THIS IS THE BEST WE CAN DO.

            The essential purposes of this work is to show that this is nowhere near the best we can do for our nation’s children, and to offer a solution. It is a solution engineered to give every child a quality education to develop the knowledge and skills they will need to identify and then pursue their dreams and aspirations. Equality in education is the categorical imperative of our time.

            The other essential purpose of this work is to give the millions of men and women who have chosen to serve our nation and its children as educators, an education model that will allow them to become the teachers they envisioned when they chose to enter this demanding profession. They chose teaching because of their desire to make a difference in the lives of kids and in their communities and we must enable, not just allow, them to do their jobs to the absolute best of their ability.

It is this author’s sincere belief that there is nothing we can do as a society that will have a greater impact on the quality of life of the American people, both individually and collectively, than creating an education process that will prepare all our young people to meet the unprecedented and unimaginable challenges the balance of this 21st Century will present.

Work on my new book is well underway and it will lay out the education model I have created in great detail. In the interim, the reader is invited to view the latest version of my education model at https://melhawkinsandassociates.com/education-model-white-paper/

You will also find a copy of the white paper written to lay the logical foundation for the model. Please read not in search of reasons to reject rather so you might envision what it would be like to teach in such and environment. Please share it with your friends and colleagues.

Is The Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Dream Complete?

In advance of an appearance by his son, Martin Luther King III, an editorial about the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., appeared in Sunday, June 2nd’s, Fort Wayne Journal Gazette. The headline: “A dream left incomplete.” In addition to asking the son to provide personal insights about his father, the column pondered, “But what did King really accomplish? What would MLK Jr say is still left undone?”

 Although MLK, Jr. is the acknowledged leader of the civil rights movement he was only one of the many heroes who labored to bring an end to discrimination in America. Had it not been for their courage and sacrifices,  the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and 1968, the Voting Rights Act of 1965, and other civil rights legislation might have been long in coming.

MLK III, is quoted as saying, “No one possibly could have projected that we would be going backward instead of forward,” referencing “the turmoil over immigration and political discourse that encourages hostility and racism and distorts the truth.”

The challenge for America, today, is to address the question, “why has so little progress been made to make black Americans and other minorities full and equal partners in American society, whether economically or politically?” The question demands  a frank an unapologetic examination.

The answer, this author believes, is that the protests and sacrifices of the civil rights movement and the subsequent civil rights legislation over the past 55 years have given black and other minority Americans the right to equal opportunity but not the means to take full advantage of those opportunities.

How does one acquire the means to take advantage of opportunities? The answer is education.

It is time to stop playing the blame game and acknowledge, once and for all, that the education process that has been in place in our schools has failed to serve the interests of disadvantaged children for as long as any of us can remember.  Over the generations, we have become inured to the failure of black and other minority children and have been willing to take the easy path by blaming poverty, segregation, public schools, and teachers. When are we going to acknowledge the obvious, that what we are asking our teachers and schools to do does not work for all?

We must also acknowledge that there are some Americans who are content to believe that the documented performance of the disadvantaged is the best that we can expect from these whole populations of children. This is an outrageous assertion that must be put behind us, permanently.

Similarly, we must stop blaming teachers and our public schools. Teachers cannot make an obsolete education process work for every child any more than you or I can quickly and efficiently mow an acre of overgrown grass with an unmotorized push mower from the early 1950s. That so many children have received a good education, notwithstanding the flawed education process within which our teachers have had to work, is an extraordinary accomplishment.

That our education leaders, policy makers, and elected officials have allowed so many children to languish  over multiple generations cannot be undone. Neither can we turn back the clock and absolve millions of teachers of the blame we have been so willing to heap on their shoulders and reputations. What we can and must do is bring this tragedy to a halt, now!

Continuing to rely on a brittle and antiquated education process that does not work for millions of our nation’s children—our most precious assets—is as irresponsible as it would have been to allow hundreds of Boeing 737s to continue flying after we discovered the existence of a fatal flaw in their systems. Unlike those Boeing737s, however, we can not change out a software application to correct the problems of education in America.

Can you think of any other venue where we have been so willing to endure products and services of such unacceptable quality? If an automaker produced vehicles that broke down as often as students fail in our schools would we keep buying their cars? If a restaurant in our neighborhood consistently produced bad breakfasts, lunches, and, dinners would we keep going back?

To fix the fatal flaws of America’s schools and give teachers an  education process that will provide every single one of our nation’s children with the means to take advantage of the opportunities to which they have an equal right, we must be willing to reinvent the education process from scratch. It must be reconstructed to serve its essential purpose, not in a few special schools but in every school, serving every community in America.

We must begin by changing the question we ask ourselves. Rather than ask “Why do so many children fail?” the question we must begin to ask is “Why do some children excel despite the disadvantages they face?”

What are the lessons to be learned from the exceptions to the norm? Could it be that, given the right circumstances, even disadvantaged kids can achieve at a high academic level? The challenge is to figure out how to replicate those “right circumstances” in every classroom, for every student.

The dream of which Dr, Martin Luther King, Jr, spoke with such eloquence is not complete and will not be complete until every child receives the quality education to which they are entitled.  Giving them that education requires that we abandon our obsolete education process and go back to the drawing board to create a process that works for all.

Creating such a process is what I have labored to do since I had the opportunity to see, first-hand, the challenges with which our teachers and students must deal. I witnessed those challenges while walking in the shoes of public school teachers as a substitute teacher. The outcome of my efforts is an education model designed to focus on its essential purpose, which is to insure that every student receives the unique time and attention they need to learn as much as they are able at their own best speed. This is the what teachers must be tasked to do and my model is crafted to support teachers and students in fulfillment of that essential purpose. Please check out my model at https://melhawkinsandassociates.com/education-model-white-paper/

It is on the public education that the future of our nation’s children depends, and it is on our children that the future of America depends.

Do Alternate Pathways to Graduation Lower the Bar?

In case you’ve been wondering why my presence on Twitter has diminished, as I mentioned in an earlier post, I’ve been inundated with ASVAB testing.

Beginning with the 2018/2019 school year, the State of Indiana has approved the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB) as an alternate pathway to graduation. Students who have been unable to pass the 10th grade math and English Language Arts components of the ISTEP+ exams, which have been required for graduation, can now take the ASVAB.

To qualify for graduation from high school using the ASVAB, students must achieve a minimum percentile score of 31 out of a possible 99, on the Armed Forces Qualification Test (AFQT) which is a composite score of the two math and two English Language Arts components of the ASVAB.

Since September, I have administered 55 student test sessions in 42 different high schools in Northeast Indiana, for just over 4,500 students. With travel to and from these 55 student test sessions, I have logged over 5,100 miles. Time required for both the pre- and post-test preparation for each session is significant and it has required that my 73-year old body haul anywhere from 1 to 4 cases full of test material (as much as 50 pounds each) over that same 5,100 miles.

During this same period, I have also administered 28 enlistment tests (once per week) for roughly 200 enlistment candidates at the Fort Wayne Military Entrance Testing Site (METS). This combined testing responsibility has been a learning as well as an exhausting experience. It has siphoned off both the time and energy required to complete the work on my book-in-progress and to participate in the important support network that Twitter provides for teachers and administrators. Needless to say, I am woefully behind on my writing.

Tracking ISTEP+ scores over the last ten years has been an ongoing part of the research for my book, Reinventing Education, Hope, and the American Dream: The Challenge for Twenty-First Century America (Createspace, 2013), for my 250 plus posts on my blog, Education, Hope, and the American Dream, and for researching my book-in-progress, Reinventing Education One Success at a Time: The Hawkins Model. None of that research prepared me for the experience of looking into the eyes of and talking to over 4,500 students who cannot pass their ISTEPs.

Many of these same students who are unable to pass their ISTEPs are also unsuccessful on the ASVAB. When you see their faces, rarely smiling, it is no longer an academic exercise. These are children representing a true cross section of the diverse population of Americans in the Northeast corner of Indiana. If all Americans could have looked into the eyes of these same high school students, any stereotypical illusions about the demographics of struggling students would have been shattered.

I should have been prepared for it, based upon my experience in administering the enlistment version of the ASVAB for the past 15 years. In my presentation to the students, I describe the AFQT score as a “work-ready” score. I also explain to them that there are few things as sad as watching 18 to 22-year old men and women walking out of a testing room with a piece of paper that says they are qualified for almost nothing. After all, if one cannot qualify for the most basic jobs in the Armed Services, how may civilian jobs will they be qualified for? Being able to get a 31 on the ASVAB means a young man or woman has some choices. The higher one scores the more choices they enjoy. I encourage them, should they do poorly on the ASVAB, to identify where they are weak and use their remaining months or semesters in school to work on them.

I wish every teacher and administrator could see the dejection in the faces of these young men and women. It is sad that educators, whom I consider to be unsung American heroes, do not get to see their students struggling to make a place for themselves in the adult world. If they did, I believe they would come to understand the truth of my words and the words of others that if a student cannot utilize what they have learned in the real world, they have not learned it.

That so many young people, across all demographic categories, are unable to achieve this minimum score on the ASVAB should be more than enough evidence that the education process is flawed beyond repair, no matter how valiantly teachers work to do the best for their students. This is a reality that has devastating, adverse consequences for not only the futures of these young people but also for a society that will depend on their leadership over the next half-century.

Teachers must come to understand that it is not their fault that so many young Americans are poorly prepared but there is no group of professionals better positioned to demand an end to it. It is time for public school teachers and administrators to stop being embarrassed and defensive about the performance of so many of their students and become indignant and aggressive in shouting to the world that what they are being asked to do in their classrooms does not work for a significant percentage of their students.

The education process at work in our public schools, is no more able to meet the needs of 21st Century students than America’s 1950s highway system would be able to meet the needs of 21st Century vehicular traffic. Our education process is neither engineered nor constructed to meet current needs.

Indiana’s decision to offer the ASVAB as an alternate way to qualify for graduation could well be interpreted as lowering the bar. More than a few teachers, guidance counselors, and administrators have commented that, while not all of them are successful, their students find the ASVAB easier than the ISTEPs. Is lowering the bar what we should be doing?

Would it not be a better use of our time to discard our obsolete education process and replace it with a new model in which teaching children has been reimagined and reinvented. I offer my model as an example: https://melhawkinsandassociates.com/education-model-white-paper/

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

This is the third in a series of re-published posts while I devote most of my time to the completion of my  upcoming book.  I hope you enjoy it.

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 their children will not value education. The operative question, therefore, is how do we make learning at school important to all our students?

Relationships are key to learning  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 message untrusting parents give to their kids.

When I was a juvenile probation officer during the first nine years of my career, almost every parent I spoke with expressed concern that their kids would be treated unfairly at school. What I also discovered was that listening to them works better than talking. 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. Empathic listening skills must be a part of every educator’s portfolio.

For a white teacher with students of color, this is especially true, but I often wonder how many teachers know this. Teachers must maintain a keen awareness that they must earn the trust of students and their parents. That trust is not given, automatically. It is so easy when we are busy, however, to revert to talking rather than listening, giving instructions rather than explanations, and to interrogation rather than dialogue. When our students and their parents 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 your generous attention and empathic listening.

The way we win the parents over is by winning their kids over. When our students begin 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, kids will be as quick to pass judgment on their teacher as we are to pass judgment on them. 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 are expected to teach our students are not important to them until students become convinced that they are important to us. I have also learned that as suspicious as our students 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 talk about their lives.

The summer after my time in Philadelphia, I was in the Army, stationed in Maryland. I went back to Germantown Avenue for a weekend visit, 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 pre-adolescent 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 kids on our commitment to their success. When we have accomplished that, their 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 over 20 years from my last day as a probation officer when I subbed for a 3rd grade teacher. 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. The teachers were as astonished as I was and told me he had 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, daily.  I think of that little guy, 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. There are times when all are distracted by personal issues. Somehow, teachers must have strength of character and a relentless commitment to their purpose, however, that they are able to set their personal issues aside when they walk into their classrooms. each morning. If teachers treat each student as if he or she is your number one priority; listen to them empathically; and 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.

As difficult as it may be, teachers can never let up. Your students will test you almost every day, to reassure themselves that your concern for them is genuine.

The following 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 is 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 adequate; 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 education process must be reinvented to fulfill its purpose. A process exists for no other purpose.

We can create an education model that helps us provide our students with a solid academic 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, back in February of 2018, @casas_jimmy 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 250 or more articles posted on this blog.

Quadrilateral Pegs in the Round Holes of Public Education; Revisited

Author’s note: In hopes of retaining a presence on social media, while writing my new book, I am selecting a few of the most widely-read blog posts from the past. I hope you enjoy this one.

 

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 many of these remarkable professionals seem 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 since I began school 67 years ago. Teachers labor in an education process that 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 because I have not been trained as a professional teacher, it is easy for them to discount the merit of my education model as the work of just one more outsider telling teachers how to teach.

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 hearts and minds to a new idea. If you see merit in what you read, I am asking you to help spread the word to other educators that there is an idea worthy of consideration.

As a student, I have earned two masters’ degrees, one in psychology and the other in public management. Over a nearly fifty-year career, I have worked with kids for 9 years as a juvenile probation officer and in a volunteer capacity for nearly 20 years. I have lead organizations; taught and have written a book about positive leadership; solved problems; created new and innovative solutions; reinvented production and service delivery processes; have written four book and many articles; have done testing for the military; and, while writing books, have spent ten years working as a substitute teacher in the same public school district from which my own children graduated.  Also, I have been a student of “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.

The experience of participating in and observing what happens in public school classrooms as a substitute teacher, was an incredible opportunity to walk in the shoes of public school teachers. What I 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 does not meet the needs of a diverse population of students.

If you can imagine 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 in the education equivalent of Route 66. These kids will become the men and women who must 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 lack 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 education reformers, policy makers, 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 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. Many of these charter schools have failed to meet expectations in community after community.

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 from every community in America. This is where the problem exists and where its challenges must be met. We cannot produce the results these children and their communities need, so desperately however, until we examine the current education process through the lenses of a “systems-thinking” approach. Systems thinking allows us to challenge our assumptions about what we do and why. Only when we have taken the time to understand the flaws in the underlying logic of the existing education process will we be able to alter the way we teach our nation’s most precious assets and the way we support our teachers as they go about their essential work.

There have been many innovations in public education in recent decades, but they and other incremental changes have been and will continue to be no more effective within the context of an obsolete education process than repaving the highways of the 1950s would be in meeting the transportation needs of the 21st Century.

I have been working 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 superintendents of a public-school districts willing to test my education model in one of their underperforming elementary schools.

You, our superintendents, know what the data illustrates and you know that what you have been asking your teachers to do has not altered the bottom line with respect to student performance in any meaningful way.  Most importantly, you know the number of elementary schools in your district that are languishing no matter what you do.

Yes, I understand the data produced through standardized competency exams is a totally inappropriate way to assess the performance of our teachers and schools but let us not throw the baby out with the bath water. The results of these standardized tests do tell us one thing of inestimable value.  They tell us that the education process does not work for millions of children no matter how hard our teachers work on behalf of their students .

We often cite poverty, discrimination, and segregation as the reasons why so many of our students 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 leave the most vulnerable at the mercy of discrimination.

I challenge teachers, principals, and superintendents to ask yourselves whether there is anything you have done differently, over the course of your careers, that has resulted in a significant improvement in the performance of your students, in the aggregate. Yes, you can cite examples of individual students whose lives have been altered, but what about your student body as a whole? Your underperforming elementary schools and their teachers and students are waiting for you to do something different; something that will help them be successful. How about now?

It is time to consider a novel approach in which a new education model is crafted around the important work our teachers and students must do. It is a model designed to support them as they strive to meet the unique needs of an incredibly diverse population of American children.

My education model and white paper, can be examined at my website at: https://melhawkinsandassociates.com/education-model-white-paper/ I am asking you to risk a couple of hours of your valuable time to examine the model, not seeking reasons why it will not work rather striving to imagine what it would be like to teach and learn in such an environment. Are your students and their beleaguered teachers worth the risk of a couple of  hours of your time, given that the value of the upside is incalculable?

At my website you will also find my blog, Education, Hope, and the American Dream with this and almost 250 other articles about the challenges facing public education.

Our goal must be to arm our nation’s young people with the skills and knowledge they will 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.

Response to [at] stampingout re: Competency Based Education (CBE)

Thank you for taking the time to comment and I appreciate the referral to Jean Robbins’ paper in The Federalist. It has taught me a lesson in semantics because what she is writing about when she refers to competency-based education (CBE) and what I am talking about are two entirely different things. I hope you will take the time to understand the difference because I believe we share the same passion for doing what is best for our nation’s children.

In the interim, I will come up with a new label for the “success-based approach to education” that I envision in the education model I have developed and which is what I have referred to as competency-based education (CBE). I hope you will take the time to review my education model. I believe it will speak to your heart.

The essence of my model is that the teacher and student relationship is an essential variable in the education equation. One of the many flaws in the current education process is that children, beginning at the tender ages of five and six, are not given enough time to form, let alone sustain, a nurturing relationship with a teacher who is going to care about them, deeply, while helping them learn. The acquisition of the knowledge, understanding, and skills they will need to have meaningful choices in life is a daunting process with which they will need patient support.

One of the other essential variables is that kids need time to learn. What we must strive to do is help them experience success in learning because it always leaves us yearning for more. Success is a process, not a destination or even an “A” in a teacher’s grade book. An “A” is nothing more than the equivalent of a “digital badge” to which Robbins refers in her paper. What students must acquire are building blocks of the knowledge, understanding, and skills they will need to build an academic foundation from which they can create a life for themselves.

So much of the focus in the current education process is on failure. We need to distinguish between mistakes and failure. Mistakes are nothing more than disappointing outcomes that can be improved if we are given enough time to learn from them. When a child does poorly on a chapter test, for example, it does not become a failure until we deprive them of the time they need to go back and learn from their mistakes. This is a fatal flaw where the current education process breaks down in the face of the relentless pressure to keep a class on schedule. Teachers do their best to help struggling students keep pace, but the larger the number the more problematic that becomes.

We know learning from mistakes takes longer for some children than it does for others. Yet, when teachers must move kids along to a next lesson, ready or not, it is likely they will never experience the “aha” moment that most of us have had when a lesson clicks in our minds and we understand. Such moments are “successes” that prepare the student for future lessons in a subject area. It is only a matter of time before students who never experience success give up on learning and stop trying.

Not all kids are not headed to the same destinations and they did not start at the same point of embarkation. Students will go to college or to some type of vocational school; others will go directly into the workforce or to the military according to their own interest, demonstrated capabilities, and achievement. Unfortunately, a great many children, particularly the disadvantaged and minorities, fall out along the way and they leave school in possession of few, if any, choices about what to do with their lives.

Yes, many school districts boast a ninety percent graduation rate, but the rates reflect the creativity in finding alternate criteria for graduation qualification on the part of administrators rather than the capabilities of the students. Sadly, few educators, witness the challenges these young men and women face when confronted with real life; when they are bereft of meaningful choices. Graduation rates are not an effective measure of success.

What employers see when these young people enter the job market and what military recruiters see when their candidates fail the ASVAB, echoes what the results of state academic competency exams and NAEP assessments are telling us. Far too many students are not learning the subject matter presented to them well enough that they can utilize it in real life situations. Because we are so quick to point the finger of blame for the results of such testing rather than take the time to understand what they are telling us, we wrongly hold schools and teachers responsible for the performance of their students. Such tests
DO NOT measure the effectiveness of schools and teachers, but THEY DO MEASURE THE SUCCESS OF THE EDUCATION PROCESS with which teachers and schools are expected to work. Yes, this sounds counter-intuitive, but if a process produces bad outcomes no matter how hard people work or how qualified they are, the process is the problem. People can only do what the process allows them to do.

The reality is that the education process does not work for millions of students and this is the real crisis in American education. I wish educators could see how poorly prepared their students are when they are unable to pass a basic assessment of their math and reading skills needed to qualify for a job or pass the ASVAB for enlistment in the Armed Forces. Thirty to thirty-five percent of recent high school graduates and high school seniors are unable to get the minimum score for enlistment eligibility, often after taking the ASVAB up to four times. The percentage of blacks and other minority candidates passing is lower, still. I cannot begin to describe the anguish on the faces of these young men and women when they walk out of a testing room with a piece of paper that says this door is closed to them.