To my friends on Twitter: A request for your assistance!

If you are receiving this Tweet, you and I have followed each other on Twitter for a while and I thank you for the “Likes” and “re-Tweets,” and for reading a few of the posts on my blog, Education, Hope, and the American Dream; including this one. Below I will be asking you for your help.

I know a few of you are familiar with my education model and I hope this note will entice more of you to examine it.  The Hawkins Model© is designed to assure every student’s success. I fervently believe this model has the potential to transform education for every child in America and I consider it the most important work of my life. I hope you share my belief that never have our nation’s children needed a quality education more than they do, today, and never has our society had a greater need for well-educated citizens.

Many of you know I have been working on second book on education with the working title, The Hawkins Model©: Education Reimagined, One Success at a Time. I had anticipated the book would have been finished by the last quarter of 2020. Due to a non-Covid-related health issue, which I wrote about in a blog post of February 19, 2021, I was unable to work on the book for nearly a year. Now, four months later. I am only just beginning to make meaningful progress and I want completion of the book to be my highest priority. This means sacrificing some of my blogging and Twitter activity.

Completing the writing is only part of the challenge, however. I must also reach out to superintendents, seeking public school districts to test my model in one of their struggling elementary schools. I, also, must find a literary agent to represent me in my search for a mainstream publisher.  Each of these achievements will serve the other.

It is now apparent to me, if I am to be successful, I will need the help and advocacy of people like you.

I am seeking educators and advocates of public education who will allow me to add their names to a list of professionals who deem my model either, 1) worthy of implementation in schools or, 2) believe it merits serious examination by the leaders of school districts, whether public or parochial.

As I solicit representation by a literary agent or consideration of a school district, having professionals willing to provide some level of endorsement would be a great advantage.  So, my request to those of you who know me through Twitter and are familiar with my writing, is that you take an hour or more to read the overview of The Hawkins Model© at my website.

If you come away believing the model has the potential to make a positive difference in providing a quality education to all students, I ask that you send me a message authorizing me to use your name and/or Twitter handle as an advocate for the model, to whatever degree you feel comfortable.

Because my visibility on social media will diminish when I am not Tweeting or blogging, I am also asking you to share your decision to support my model with your friends, followers, and colleagues as frequently and in as many ways as you are able.

This is a lot to ask, I know, and I understand not all of you will be motivated to give me that level of support. I respect that, just as I respect each of you. I encourage you to contact me with your doubts and questions.

Those of you willing to help me will be given an opportunity to review my book as I approach a final draft. I will be seeking only feedback, however, not editing. I have someone to help me proof.

Thanks so much for whatever level of advocacy you can provide. As it might be helpful for you to be familiar with what I am communicating to superintendents, I have included a generic copy of my message to them at the bottom of this post.

Thank you for even thinking about offering your support.  I have gained so much knowledge and insight from all of you it is difficult to express how much I appreciate you. I feel blessed and am most grateful.

Mel

Here is my message to superintendents:

Re: A Game Changer

Dear:

After visiting your website and reading about your district, I have no doubt you do an exceptional job for your students. Like most educators, however, I am certain you agonize over kids who struggle no matter what you do or how hard you work. What critics don’t get is, no matter how valiant their efforts, even great teachers and administrators cannot make a dysfunctional education process work for every child. It is only because of their heroic effort that so many kids enjoy success at all, but many is not enough!

This post-Covid era provides an opportunity to transform the way we teach our children but seizing it will require bold leadership. You are among the first superintendents being asked to test The Hawkins Model© in an elementary school, this fall. I assure you implementation of the model will be much easier than you imagine. It will be transformational, and the decision to act is already within you and your board’s purview. The model will be offered to public and parochial schools for free.

Let me tell you how easily the model can be implemented. Although instruction will still be guided by academic standards, progress will be a function of a student’s success rather than arbitrary timelines. Transformation will require a few adjustments to the way you organize your teachers and classrooms and how long they remain together. Although a few minor physical modifications of classrooms would be nice, they are not essential and will be at the bottom of your priority list.

Other significant changes are redefinition of purpose, changing expectations for principals and teachers, and simplification of the expectations of students. Students will be expected to learn as much as they can at their own best pace. The model is constructed on the premise all children can learn and failure is not an option. Kids must receive whatever time and attention they need to learn.

How we teach will be altered to focus on both the primacy of relationships between teachers and students and converting time from a parameter to an asset available to kids in whatever quantity their success requires. Once students have learned, how long it took to learn becomes inconsequential.

Until the education process is reimagined to produce the quality outcomes our kids deserve, too many high school grads will continue to leave school with limited choices and many students of color will remain ill-equipped to overcome the ravages of discrimination. We cannot legislate a solution to all of society’s challenges. It is only through education we can ensure meaningful opportunities for all students, render children of color impervious to discrimination, and begin to change the hearts of a nation. Given the importance of education we can leave no stone unturned.

Please ask your most innovative people to help evaluate my model at my website at The Hawkins Model© Given the ease with which it could be implemented and the potential benefit to students, the appropriate question to answer might well be, “why would a school district choose not do this?” The Hawkins Model© is a game changer.

I look forward to talking to you soon.

Learn how easy it can be to implement a new education model

Although all of you who are educators—whether superintendents, principals, or teachers—strive to do an excellent job for your students, you also agonize over kids who struggle, no matter how hard you work or how innovative you may be. What critics seem to have no clue about is, not matter how valiant the effort of our teachers and other educators, even the best of them cannot make a dysfunctional education process work for every child. It is only because of the heroism of educators that so many kids enjoy success at all.

But many is not enough!

This post-Covid era has provided a unique opportunity to transform the way we teach our children but seizing it will require bold leadership. I am asking superintendents and principals to consider testing my education model in one or more elementary schools, this fall.

I assure you, implementation of The Hawkins Model© will be much easier than you imagine. It will be transformational, and you and your school boards already possess the authority needed to act. The model will be available to any public or parochial school for free.

Although instruction will still be guided by academic standards, progress will be a function of a student’s success, not arbitrary timelines. Transformation will be achieved by making a few adjustments to the way you organize your teachers and classrooms and how long they stay together. Although a few minor physical modifications of classrooms would be nice, they are not essential and will be at the bottom of your priority list.

Other significant changes are reclarification of purpose, changing expectations for principals and teachers, and simplification of the objectives for and expectations of students. We must expect students to learn as much as they can at their own pace. The model is constructed on the premise all children can learn and failure is not an option.

How we teach will be altered to focus on both the primacy of relationships with students and converting time from a parameter to an asset/resource available to students in whatever quantity their success requires. Once students have learned, how long it took them to learn becomes inconsequential. Learning is the only thing that matters.

Until the education process is reimagined to produce the quality outcomes our kids deserve, many high school graduates will continue to leave school with limited choices and students of color will remain ill-equipped to overcome the ravages of discrimination. We cannot legislate a solution to the challenges we face as a society. It is only through education we can begin to change the hearts of a nation, ensure meaningful opportunities for all students, and render children of color impervious to discrimination.

The Hawkins Model© is a game changer. Given the ease with which it could be implemented and the potential benefit to students, the appropriate question to ask yourselves might well be, “why would a school district choose not to do this?” Education is challenge for which no stone can be left unturned.

Please help by examining the The Hawkins Model©, at my website at www.melhawkinsandassociates.com and sharing it with every Superintendent, Principal, and teacher you know. We only get so many chances in life to do something special and never has doing so been more necessary.

The Hawkins Model© – the Perfect Solution for the Post-Covid Challenge in Our Schools!

What we hear on the news, night after night, is how concerned educators and parents are that their kids have fallen behind during the almost a year and a half of a pandemic that has placed the entire world in turmoil. It seems only logical we are striving to figure out how to help students catch up. The question is, catch up with what?

Educators and parents are encouraged to step back and rethink their concern about the need for students to catch up and get back to where they would have been had their lives not been so unexpectedly disrupted, for what seemed like forever. Unfortunately, none of us can go back to where we used to be or where we think we should be. Life is forcing us to create a new normal and this presents us with an incredible opportunity to change the course of history.  

Educators are preparing to make decisions that will have long-term consequences for every single one of our children, so let us be sure to make the best decisions possible. The truth is, we cannot help students catch up nor should we.

We must change our perspective so that we can understand our students are not behind—”they are where they are,” to paraphrase a popular idiom.

Our challenge must not be to return to our practice of pushing kids ahead more quickly than they are ready, which has long been one of the most devastating flaws in our existing education process. Most of our students have been pushed ahead before they were ready from one lesson to the next, since Kindergarten.

Educators worry about test results, but what test results have revealed, for decades, is whole populations of students who are behind where someone thought they ought to be. Our interpretation should be something else, altogether. What test results reveal is that what we have been doing has not worked for millions of children. Do we really want to repeat the mistakes of the past?

Let us re-clarify, for ourselves as well as for our students, that our mission is and has always been:

“to help children learn as much as they are able at their own best pace, in route to whatever future they will choose for themselves, some day.”

We must have no illusions our children will all end up in the same place on graduation day, all headed in the same direction, any more than we should cling to the illusion they should all be at the same point today, or any other day, on an arbitrary academic development track.   

Not only is it true “they are where they are!” it is equally true “what they know is what they know, not what we think they ought to know!”

It is from what they know, today, that our schools should restart the marathon, helping students along  a path to get where they will someday want or need to be, at their own best pace; not a pace designated by arbitrary standards and schedules.

A truth we already know but must be reminded of is millions of children start from behind on their first day of school and most of them never catch up; not because they are incapable of catching up rather because the education process is not structured so that helping them catch up is a priority.

The Hawkins Model© is designed to do what we should have been doing all along; determine where kids are on an academic preparedness and emotional development continuum, beginning on the day they become our responsibility, and then tailor an academic plan to help them progress, one success after another, toward whatever future they will choose for themselves, someday.

Our initial goal must be to help all students build a solid academic foundation and a healthy self-esteem on which they can create their own unique futures. It does not matter who gets where, first; what matters is learning enough to give themselves meaningful choices.

What matters, whether we are talking about reading, writing, math, science, social studies, or learning how to ride a bicycle, is not how fast they learn, or how quickly they make up lost ground. The only thing that matters is whether they have learned to ride that bike and utilize everything else they have learned to get to where they need to be or to go.  Our objective must be applied academics—how well can young people apply in real life, all they have learned.

We do our students no favor by pushing them beyond the cusp of their capabilities. Instead, we must remind ourselves, repeatedly, everything our students learn today becomes the pre-requisite knowledge and skill they will need to learn the lessons of tomorrow and all the tomorrows that follow. If they reach a point where their portfolio of pre-requisite knowledge and skills is empty, we have set them up for failure; the kind of failure from which many of them will never recover.

If we began today, by this September of 2021, we could implement the principles and practices of The Hawkins Model©, adapted for the age and grade level of every student. From that point forward, students would begin moving from one success to the next where they will always find themselves well-prepared.  

One of the exciting things about teaching kids to think of success as a process is once they master that process, their pace of learning will accelerate until the next thing we know they have progressed further than they could ever have gone had our minds been focused on catching up.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More Than One Kind of Hunger!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

A Child’s Brain is Programmed to Learn, with a Little Help from Us!

A healthy human brain begins its life from a starting point on an individual human being’s genetic map and is influenced by the unique, multi-layered environment into which it is born. It is programmed to learn; to soak up the world around it; to make sense of it all; and, to find its own place and personality. As it drives the physical growth of the body, it is reaching further out into the world, giving it access to more sensory treasures. It is a relentless effort to learn about the world and gain influence over it.

The human brain learns through a remarkable process of gathering information from an environment that includes the body in which it resides;  the support it receives from the people who provide care and nourishment; and from the infinite but unique physical universe around it.

No two brains are the same and each is born at a unique juncture of the dimensions of space, time, and energy. How it functions, physiologically is a process of collecting data from the stimuli in the universe, through all its sensory apparatus, and forming connections and pathways along its neural network. While science has learned much about how a brain forms those connections and pathways along its neural network, there is much more to learn. The brain remains one of the great mysteries of the universe.

The world’s scientists seem to agree about how we describe this process, based upon their collective observations, and have identified key developmental milestones that are common to every brain, whatever the time frame in which the milestones are reached—a lesson the drafters of academic standards would do well to learn. We must remember, however, that the observations of these scientists only describe the brain’s function, they do not define it. The brain, we might, say is its own architect.  The brain functions at its own pace and rhythm within a world of incessant change.

Educators who assume responsibility for teaching the child in whom the brain resides must remind themselves they have no control over what the brain may have experienced before we became involved. We must begin our work at the unique point where we find it on its developmental path. It is not ours to command.

Whatever he or she has endured, the brain’s motivation to learn is intrinsic. If environmental factors impede the brain’s growth and development, at any point along the way, there is a price to be paid but the brain is, also, a remarkably resilient entity that can learn almost anything. We have seen how people, even at an advanced age, can recover from debilitating strokes and some injuries. The brain is, at once, fragile and virile. It helps if we remember the brain does not unlearn things rather it keeps making new connections, gradually building on and/or replacing what was known before. Thus it is never too late to start anew.

The more stress and trauma a young brain may have endured, however, the more it needs our patient time, love, attention, and protection. Any challenges the child presents to his or her teachers reflect life experiences over which that child has had no control. Our purpose is to neither label nor pass judgment; neither should we keep score or assign grades.  Our mission is to help the brain move down its development path and help the child become the best version of him or herself. Even after periods of deprivation the brain is ready to learn, again. As it learns, the pace of learning accelerates.

We must never give up on a child’s potential to learn, to catch up when they are behind, or to create something of value to the world; with a little help from us.

Making Transformational Change

We all know how hard it is to change things that we’ve been doing  for what seems like forever. If you have ever tried to quit smoking, lose weight, start exercising, or one of a thousand other things, you know inertia can seem almost insurmountable.

Sometimes, however, we cannot get the need for change out of our head. It eats away at us and we might even lose sleep because we can’t stop thinking about it! Deep down we know something is wrong and we also know someone must do something about it. Why not let that someone be you?

Usually, we are only one among many who suffer the consequences of someone else’s inaction.  In the case of public education, everyone suffers because we seem to be stuck in time.

It is even harder when people are bashing us, always telling us we need to do something about this habit or that. No one likes to feel nagged into doing something and we don’t want to be blamed for it.

There is a part of us, however, that just wants to dig in and resist. Often, it is simply a matter of not wanting to admit that the other person might be right, especially when they are right for the wrong reasons; or to suffer what we feel is a blow to our self-esteem; or, just feel the need to defend ourselves from being unfairly blamed.

So, what do we do when there is a crisis and the need for a dramatic transformation is compelling? How do we overcome the monumental power of inertia and, often, self-defense?

Many teachers and administrators are experiencing all these things. They know public education is in crisis and they are sick and tired of taking the blame. They know many of their students are struggling and nothing we do seems to change that fact. Of course, even in struggling schools and classrooms, we do help some of our students but, often, there are just too many of them.

Teachers also know that all the attention they are asked to pay to high-stakes testing  only makes it worse, not better. The seemingly incessant focus on preparation for high-stakes testing just makes it harder to find the time to do the things we know are more important. We also have learned to resent the data from testing and how the numbers have been weaponized to attack teachers and the public schools to which we are so fiercely dedicated.

The truth is, teachers don’t need test scores to understand the problems in public education, because they see them every day in their schools and classrooms. The education system, however, is like a runaway train and all educators feel a sense of powerlessness to slow it down, let alone bring it to a halt.

Even teachers in high-performing schools and classrooms know, deep down, how fortunate they are to be teaching in district, school, or classroom where students want to learn. But for the grace of God—or good fortune–they could be laboring in a classroom where students who want to learn are few.

I challenge all public-school educators to take a step back and acknowledge that something is wrong and that the education process within which we are asked to teach offers no solutions.

I also challenge teachers and administrators to understand that legislators and policy makers cannot fix what is broken because they are too far removed from it to comprehend the full breadth and scope of the challenges facing our public schools.

It is imperative, also, that public school educators understand that education reformers; with their focus on charter schools, teacher- and union-bashing, and voucher programs; cannot fix public education because not only do they not understand how to fix it, they even fail to comprehend how much damage they do with their criticisms and misguided reforms.

The truth is that the only people who can fix what is wrong in so many of our schools and that harms so many of our nation’s precious sons and daughters, are the teachers and administrators who are up to their gills in challenges. What these teachers and educators must be willing to consider is that the answers cannot be found in the trenches.

It is the trenches, however, where professionals learn what is not working and they must feel compelled to utilize what they witness, daily, and what they have learned from those experiences as powerful motivations to embrace transformational change.

We must take back to the laboratories and drawing boards that which we learn in the pits, and then utilize the principles of systems’ thinking, of organizational development, and of positive leadership to create and entirely new way to structure, organize, task, and resource our schools. Only then are we ready to take these new solutions back to our community schools and classrooms.

Have no illusions. The only place we can fix public education in America is in our communities where men, women, and children live, learn, work, and play; and, the only people who can fix it are the teachers, administrators, and the parents of our students.

The key to transformational change is not in complaints, protests, demonstrations, and labor actions—as necessary as they might, sometimes, be.

The key to transformational change will come when professional educators and the communities they serve unite as positive advocates for a new and innovative idea. It must be understood that the sweeping changes that will be required will not be found in incremental changes, new approaches, methodologies, and new technologies, although each of these things will find a home in a new and well-conceived, 21st Century education process.

I respectfully offer an education model  I have developed as a point of embarkation. I call it The Hawkins Model© only to claim the right of authorships. If implemented, someday, my model will be available for free to any public, parochial, or private not-for-profit school that wants to utilize it. The Hawkins Model© was developed from all that I have learned after forty-five years of working with kids, leading organizations, solving problems, working as an independent organizational development and leadership consult, and of walking in the shoes of public school teachers as a substitute teacher in the elementary, middle school, and high school classrooms of a diverse, urban public school corporation.

Please take time to investigate my model. It may prove to be the solution we need. The very worst that can happen is that it will spark a better idea in the minds and imaginations of a few of you who are reading this post. If you are intrigued by what you read, please share it, widely, and open a dialogue.

Reinventing Public Education: A Categorical Imperative!

Transforming/reinventing public education in America is well within the realm of possibility because it is a relatively simple human engineering challenge. The obstacles to its realization exist not in the architecture or mechanics of a solution rather in the politics of change. Those obstacles begin with how difficult it is for people to step outside their paradigms and envision a different reality. Being able to envision a new reality is important to all human beings but is imperative for educators if we are to insure equality in education.

The danger we all face when confronted with a long history of disappointing outcomes is succumbing to resignation that we are powerless to alter those outcomes. It is so easy to become inured to the human consequences.

In public education, disappointing outcomes have been a fact of life for generations and the consequences have had an adverse impact on virtually all aspects of American society. Teachers entering the profession almost always believe that all kids can learn but, over time, they are confronted with the reality that so very many of them do not. Some educators succumb to the proposition that there are children who cannot learn.

That so many of these students are poor, black, and other minorities makes it inevitable that some men and women—not a majority, we believe—will draw unfortunate conclusions. Educators must be challenged to reject stereotyping or profiling by racial, ethnic, or any other categorization and conclude, instead, that the problem is not that these kids all look alike, rather that they experience similar disadvantages.

This tradition of unacceptable outcomes will not be altered until educators take a paradigm leap and imagine a new reality outside the boundaries of conventional thinking. Envisioning an alternate reality does not guarantee a solution, however. Even when we discover a transformational solution, we are still faced with one of greatest challenges facing organizations; we must overcome the paralysis of inertia.

What teachers, principals, and other administrators must do is simple. They must acknowledge that what they are asked to do in their schools and classrooms is not working for many students, especially the disadvantaged. They must be encouraged to forget about what the critics say; forget about the corporate reformers and the politicians who have been influenced by them; and, forget about test scores.

The only thing that matters to teachers is what they see in their classrooms. Not all teachers can see the pattern from their classroom, however, nor can all principals. Those educators blessed to work in high performing schools must not turn a blind eye to the challenges faced by so many of their colleagues.  They must remind themselves, often, that “if not for the grace of God, that could be me.” They must stand shoulder to shoulder with their colleagues in our most challenging schools and districts.

Superintendents have a special responsibility to provide positive leadership and in districts populated by struggling schools and failing students, superintendents must be strong enough to share the truth of what they witness. Their responsibility includes their students, the men and women who staff their schools, and the communities they have been chosen to serve. It serves none of these interests to act as if everything is okay.

It may be unreasonable to expect all top administrators to break from tradition, but they must be  relentless in challenging the assumptions of conventional wisdom. When these leaders see a long pattern of academic distress, they must feel compelled to act because if they do not, who can? 

It is not my desire to shower these good men and women with blame, but I do challenge them to accept responsibility. Blame and responsibility are two entirely different things. There is an essential principle of positive leadership that suggests “it is only when we begin to accept responsibility for the disappointing outcomes that plague us that we begin to acquire the power to change them.”

It has long been my belief that the top executives of any organization must be positive leaders with a passionate commitment to their mission. I have observed far too many leaders in education, whether superintendents or principals, who appear to be administrators more than powerful, positive leaders. Because most were hired and are evaluated based on their administrative experience and skills, we should not be surprised. Those graduate programs for school administrators that do not place great emphasis on leaderships skills must be challenged to rethink their mission.

It is my assertion that the absence of dynamic, positive leadership in school districts throughout the U.S. has given rise to a groundswell of dissatisfaction that, in turn, has opened the door for education reformers. These reformers—also good men and women—are only striving to fill a void of leadership. They see inaction from the leaders of public schools in the face of decades of unacceptable outcomes. Those outcomes are the millions of young people leaving school without the academic skills necessary to be full partners in the American enterprise.

What is unfortunate is that the solutions these education reformers and their political supporters offer have proven to be no more effective than the public schools they are striving to supplant. And, why should we be surprised when all they do is change buildings, call it a charter school, and ask teachers to do the same job they would be asked to do in public schools. They rely on the same obsolete education process and it is inevitable that they will get the same results.

This flawed education process impacts every child, adversely. To disadvantaged students, those impacts are often devastating.

Once again, I ask the reader to consider an alternate approach; a new model designed to focus on relationships and giving every child as much time as they need to learn every lesson, at their own best speed. Please check out The Hawkins Model© not seeking reasons why it won’t work rather striving to imagine what it would be like to teach in such an environment.

The ultimate measure of the success of our schools is not graduation rates, or the percentage of students going off to college. Education must be measured by each student’s ability to utilize, in the real world, that which he or she has learned; regardless of the directions they have chosen for their lives. Education must be evaluated on the quality of choices available to its young men and women.

Whether you are a teacher, principal, or superintendent, how does one explain that all your dedication, best efforts, and innovation over the last half century have produced so little in the way of meaningful improvements in the outcomes of disadvantaged students?

Blaming outside forces is unacceptable. If the pathway to our destination is obstructed, do we give up or do we seek an alternate route? If we succeed in treating the illnesses and injuries of some patients does this let us off the hook in dealing with people whose illnesses and injuries are both more serious, and more challenging? “They all count, or no one counts.”

It serves no purpose to beat the superintendents of our nation’s public school districts about the head and shoulders, but we have a responsibility to hold them accountable. 

If teachers would rally together and utilize the collective power of their unions and associations to challenge conventional wisdom, they would gain support and become a revolution. The same is true of administrators and their associations. If teachers and administrators would link arms, they would become an irresistible force, not for incremental improvements, but for transformational change.  

Is there any doubt in the reader’s mind that if teachers and administrators were united behind a positive new idea that would assure the quality of education of every one of our children, that their communities would rally to the cause?

Educators, you truly do have the power to alter the reality that is public education for every child in America.

A CALL TO ACTION: A New Civil Rights Movement Focused on Public Education!

Education is a civil rights issue of our time just as education and segregation were in the 1950s. Back then, the challenge was breaking down the barriers that prevented black children from attending public schools.  Thanks to the civil rights leaders of 50s and 60s, all children are permitted to attend public schools, but not much else has changed. Academic performance of many poor and minority children, blacks especially, still charts well below classmates.

Poverty still pervades the black communities and those of other minorities, and they are populated with multiple generations of men and women who have always failed in school. Far too many of their sons and daughters fill the seats of the schoolhouse-to-jailhouse express to overflowing; adding “criminal justice reform” to the list of civil rights issues.

Shutting down the schoolhouse-to-jailhouse pipeline is a point on everyone’s priority list, but all the talk and pledges in the world will not alter our current reality until we begin to alter the forces that drive that reality. Even then we cannot change, overnight, that which has taken generations to evolve.

The problems are systemic, and we must address the inherent imperfections of systems, not treat the symptoms of those imperfections.

The issue of criminal justice provides a useful example. For people who have not worked in the criminal justice system, the reactive nature of the system is often misunderstood. Our courts do not go out and seek people to load up their dockets nor do corrections facilities recruit inmates. Each institution must deal with the people delivered to its door.

Our police departments respond to complaints, patrol to deter crime, and act when witnessing evidence of illegal activity. Abuses of their power are not part of law enforcement training protocols, they are aberrant behavior; whether resulting from prejudice, poor training, or breaches of policy.

Although founded on the principles of democracy and on the rights and responsibilities protected and expected under the U.S. Constitution, the criminal justice system, like all systems of human design, are imperfect. When these systems are inundated, both the imperfections of the systems and the prejudices of some of its people are exposed. It is such aberrations that destroy trust between law enforcement and the communities they exist to serve and protect.

The criminal justice system is inundated because the schoolhouse-to-jailhouse pipeline is overflowing. We will not be effective in improving the efficacy of the criminal justice system until we address the social problems that overload its circuits. We must understand why the pipeline exists and the simple and convenient answers of poverty and discrimination are not very helpful. 

If we have learned anything over the last 60-plus years, it is that  we cannot legislate an end to the prejudices and enmity in the hearts of man. We cannot wish away the social realities that devastate the lives of so many people.

While necessary, protesting the injustices in society will not alter the social realities of our communities.

The only way to protect blacks and other minorities from discrimination and the imperfections of the justice system is to reduce the flow of people entering that system.

The only way to keep young black and other minority men and women from entering the system is to help them become impervious to discrimination by giving them a menu of meaningful choices.

The only way to provide them with meaningful choices is to make meaningful changes in the education process that was intended to provide them with those choices.

The only way to ensure a quality education for every child is to alter an education process that, historically, has not served the interests of society’s most vulnerable children; whatever the genesis of that vulnerability.

Like poverty and discrimination, the schoolhouse-to-jailhouse pipeline is a consequence of something that is not working the way our society needs it to work. That something is the “education process” at work in our schools, both our public schools and private. Whether they will admit it or not, virtually every educator understands that what they are being asked to do does not work for many children. Our education process has been obsolete for generations.

From the perspective of this observer, when the growing population of students demanded a reconfiguration of the process, in the early years of public education, the mounting cost and the need for operational efficiency obscured the essential purpose of education. We must redefine that purpose, which was to ensure that the unique needs of individual students are met.

Far too many of the young men and women leaving high school, today, with or without diplomas, are bereft of meaningful choices of what to do with their lives to find joy and to provide for themselves and families. When they leave school, this population of students opts for the only choice available to them: return to the communities from which they came, unprepared to participate in what the rest of us think of as the American dream.

Clearly, the education process is not meeting the needs of these young people. Unfortunately for society and educators alike, we blame our schools and teachers for the flaws of the process rather than the process, itself.

The consequence for society is that the education reforms, innovations, and initiatives of the last half century or more were like seeds planted in barren soil. Even the best ideas in the world will not take root in an environment unable to provide the nutrients necessary for germination, let alone blossoming.

A special report published, just this morning, in EdWeek UPDATE illustrates my point. The report notes that there is “no measurable gap between charters, traditional public schools on national tests.”

The charter school movement has not fixed what is broken in our schools because they still rely on the same education process as other schools. Just changing names, buildings, and teachers doesn’t change that which does not work.

In the interim, notwithstanding the litany of education reforms, American society has seen significant erosion of its faith in our public schools and teachers, never quite comprehending that teachers are as much victims of flawed education process as the students and communities they were employed to serve.

Americans are left with an education process that is the functional equivalent of a maelstrom in which children, communities, teachers, school, administrators, policy makers, and elected officials have become entrapped. It is an education process that cannot be fixed from the inside out.

As difficult as it may be, everyone involved in or who has a stake in the American education system must fight their way to the shore, climb out of the maelstrom, and examine the process from a new perspective. They must be challenged to take a paradigm leap and seek solutions outside the boundaries of conventional wisdom.

For that purpose, I have developed an education model that has been created to serve no purpose other than meet the unique needs of each one of our children. The Hawkins Model© is designed to allow teachers to focus on relationships and to ensure that every student has as much time and attention as they need to learn as much as they are able, at their own best pace. Only in such a learning environment can teachers help children develop their intellectual, physical, and emotional potential and begin discovering their special talents, interests, and aspirations.

The one thing educators dare not do, after fighting their way to the shore, is to dive back into the maelstrom where they will be engulfed in hopelessness; powerless to alter the destiny of our society and our participatory democracy.

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?