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?

The Primacy of Relationships and the Challenge of Peer Pressure – Part 1

Relationships are everything to human beings, as we have discussed in earlier posts. What we do not spend enough time discussing is the power of peer pressure and how it affects relationships, learning, development, and self-esteem of our students.

All human beings are subject to peer pressure and this is especially true of school-aged children. This was true when I was a kid but, today, that pressure is magnified by the ubiquitous nature of social media. Has it ever been more powerful than it is in present times? We will come back to that thought.

One of my all-time favorite teachers was Mrs. Swartz, my seventh-grade social studies teacher at Johns Hill Junior High School, in Decatur, IL. The fact that I remember so much of what Mrs. Swartz said and taught should illustrate how much of an impact she had on my life. She was my favorite teacher and I truly believed that I was her favorite student. I looked forward to 4th period every single day.

One day she began a period by sending one of the class’s best students to the library for a pre-arranged visit to pick up literature of some kind. As soon as our classmate left the room, Mrs. Swartz drew five lines on the black board. Four of the lines were the same length and one was noticeably shorter. She then proceeded to explain to the class what we would do when our classmate returned from the library. No doubt, some of the teachers reading these words have conducted the same exercise.

Mrs. Swartz explained that the purpose of the exercise was to test the power of peer pressure. She asked us to say yes when asked if the lines were the same length. She also asked us to predict what our classmate would do when it was his turn. Would he report what was obvious to see, that one line was shorter than the others or, would he succumb to peer pressure and go along with his peers?

Because he was one of the smartest and most popular students in our grade, my classmates and I were almost unanimous in our belief that he would say that one line was shorter. We all watched with growing anticipation as Mrs. Swartz worked her way around the classroom and we observed as each kid announced, without a moment’s hesitation, that all five lines were of equal length.

When, finally, it was the turn of the subject of our experiment, we were stunned to hear him say, as did we all, that the lines were of equal length. As we sat in disbelief, our teacher finished her trek around the classroom so that every student had an opportunity to respond.

Taking care not to embarrass our classmate, Mrs. Swartz proceeded to explain peer pressure, noting that it has the power to affect everyone, even one of the most intelligent and independent students in our class. She asked our classmate how he felt during the exercise and he said he was confused when, one after another, we all announced the lines were the same length. He said, “it didn’t make any sense, so I just kept staring at the lines, trying to understand why I was seeing something different than everyone else.”

As she questioned him, he described being pulled in opposite directions. Part of him wanted to say “ we were all crazy and that line number five was clearly shorter than the others. Another part of him felt pressured to go along with the crowd.”

He then laughed and we all laughed with him, but his was loudest of all.

Even in such simple situations, kids feel pressure to conform to the ideas and behavior of their peers and it is this writer’s assertion this has never been truer than it is today. All educators and parents are aware of this pressure but how many formal strategies exist to help protect kids from this incredible force that diverts and distracts them from their priorities? The answer is that very little is done to deal with the power of the peer group.

There is an interesting side note to this story from 1959. It  was not until the next year, when my friends and I were talking about how much we missed having Mrs. Swartz as our social studies teacher, that I was stunned to learn that every single one my friends truly believed that he or she was Mrs. Swartz favorite student. It  made us love and miss her even more.

What if we could give every child a Mrs. Swartz and allow him or her to keep her as their teacher for 3 or even as many as 5 years? What kind of an impact would that have on a child’s emotional and learning development? What if we could help more young people develop a powerful self esteem that would enable them to make sensible decisions and stay focused on their priorities, even in the face of negative peer pressure? Providing such an environment is one of the purposes of The Hawkins Model©.

Teachers Are Many Things All of which Are Essential!

When we greet a five- or six-year old boy or girl on their first day of school this is a point of embarkation on a twelve- to thirteen-year journey to adulthood. The mission of teachers is to help prepare these young people to be citizens of a participatory democracy. Teachers are essential to the fulfillment of that purpose and can be replaced by neither technology nor less qualified, lower paid staff.

The job of teachers is to help our students build a portfolio of knowledge and skills so they will have choices for what they want to do with their lives to find joy and meaning. We want our young people to be able to provide for and create wealth for themselves and their families and we want them to add value to society. More than anything we do, relationships will be key to our students’ success and development, in every way.

When children arrive at our door on their first day of school they may be at the single most vulnerable period of their lives. These unique little human beings are a precious creatures—truly our society’s most important asset and it will be on their backs that the future of society will be borne.

We must greet every child who arrives at our school as an individual with the potential to accomplish important things. Their welfare should be at the top of every single one of our nation’s priority lists. Possibly, one of our students may grow up to be President of the United States, become a brain surgeon, a research scientist who will find the cure to cancer, a lawyer, architect, teacher, professor, nurse, entrepreneur, public safety officer, elected official, sales professional , manager, supervisor or the best electrician, cosmetologist, auto mechanic, custodian, plumber, certified nursing assistant, or small business owner in their community. It is not for us to decide what they will grow up to be.

Our job as educators is to help them discover who they can be and then teach, coach, mentor, guide, cheer for them, sometimes push, and always support them along their unique developmental path. We must help them identify their talents, abilities, and interests so that they can begin to create their own dreams and become the best versions of themselves. During this time, we must avoid passing judgment on their choices. We must embrace the idea that every job, done well, adds an element of beauty to the world. We must refrain from making arbitrary decisions such as that all students must prepare for a four-year degree.

Public school teachers must convince their students, through our daily words, actions, the expressions on our faces, and the tone of our voices that we consider helping them develop their potential to be our mission in life. We must make them feel loved, and respected, and we must smile at them at every opportunity. Remind yourself how you feel when greeted by a warm smile from someone you know. Think of it as relentless affirmation.

We want our students to become good citizens who understand their responsibilities as members of a participatory democracy. We want them to understand the cogent issues of their time and to make thoughtful decisions. We want them to be able to think for themselves and not be swayed by charlatans, whatever their doctrine.

It is our objective that our students will become imaginative and creative adults able think exponentially, outside the boundaries of conventional wisdom (outside the box). They must understand that the world is changing at an ever-faster pace and that we all must adapt. We must help them understand that the solutions to the challenges facing society, at any given point in history, will not be found by dredging up strategies and tactics of the past, other than the lessons we have learned from them. Today’s problems are often the consequences of policies past, policies that have grown obsolete and are no longer in sync in a dynamic world. The young men and women our students will grow up to become, must be prepared to find new and innovative solutions as the 21st Century unfolds.

Our children must learn that the only way to protect their own rights is to protect the rights of others whether freedom of speech; religion; or protection from the abuses of the powerful, whether from the public or private sectors. They must understand how vital it is that they exercise their right to vote.

We want these young people to understand history in hopes that they might learn from our mistakes and successes as a society, much like we all must learn from our experiences, including classroom assignments and quizzes. We want to remind them of the adage that “if we are not falling down once in a while, we are not really skiing.” We must teach them that success is a process of doing just that, of learning from both our successful and disappointing outcomes. We all must learn how to master that process of success and a vital part of that process is not being threatened by the success of others. We must celebrate our own successes and those of the people around us. It is success that gives us the confidence to face new and bigger challenges. When our students become discouraged, as all will do, we must be there to encourage them not to give up. They must learn that the process of success is fused with persistence and determination.

When teachers get discouraged, as all will do at some point along the way, they must be able to depend on their leaders—their principals and administrators—to encourage them not to give up. Teachers must also be able to depend on one another for more than just negotiating for better deal, as important as that may be. They must be able to work together as a profession to drive change when they are confronted, daily, with a process that does not work for all their students.

We want our kids to understand the social sciences so that they might grasp at least a wisp of understanding of human nature; whether with respect to individuals or within the context of families, organizations, communities. and societies.

We want them to understand the natural sciences and that the forces of the natural world that are greater than us; that we must view such natural phenomena as climate and other environmental changes as components of an interdependent, evolving universe rather than view the natural world from within the context of narrow and shallow minds. We want them to be able to understand that a single winter storm does not refute the evidence of global warming and that a clean environment is not bad for business. Our children must learn to be stewards of all things in nature. They will need all of their creativity to find solutions for the 10 billion people with whom they will share the planet; billions for whom the policies of the past will be insufficient.

Our students must learn to appreciate and be able to express themselves through the arts, which have proven to be the signature of civilization. Arts also help us develop our imaginations and creativity and thus expand our views of the world. We want our students to learn that the ability to recognize the need for and embrace paradigm shifts is as essential to the development of the individual human mind as it is to the evolution of human society.

It is equally vital that our children have healthy lifestyles for both their minds and bodies. Helping children develop their mental and emotional health is one of the most important outcomes of an effective education process and the work of its teachers. A healthy sense of self is a function of the quality of our relationships with other people. Teachers and their personal relationship with each child are an essential variable in the growth and development of young minds, bodies, and egos.

How often have we heard that “it takes a community to raise a child?” Parenting may be the most challenging of callings, especially in times such as these. We believe the best outcomes for our nation’s children will flow from the partnership between parents and teachers. It serves no one’s interests, however, to pass judgment on parents who may be struggling to raise children and provide for their families. Even when parents are derelict in their duties, no one benefits from the neglect or victimization of innocent children?

For those of you who believe that these things about which we have spoken are, indeed, what teachers must be doing for their students, it should be obvious that the education process in place today does not render these things possible.

Our education process is an archaic structure that is designed to process children as if they are widgets being fed through a machine like commodities. It is also a process that sets both teachers and students up for failure. Because the education process has not worked for so many children for so long it leaves the American people to do what human beings have so often done; look for simple answers to complex problems and for someone to blame.

Teachers must acknowledge, both individually and collectively, that no one else can see what they see, every single day. They are the only people who can possibly understand why the system has grown dysfunctional and what we can do to fix it. What teachers cannot do, however, is view the entire education process from inside their classrooms and nor can principals view it from within their buildings any more than any of us can view our entire planet from our own back yards.

What public school educators need is a little help from an outsider like me who unknowingly found himself walking in their shoes, observing what they see. The difference is that, as I walked in their footsteps, I saw their world through lenses colored by different training and experience. I observed a dysfunctional process that is public education through the mind of one trained to apply the principles of systems thinking, organizational development, and positive leadership to replacing systems that do not an cannot work with systems that will.

What I cannot do, however, is rally teachers around a positive solution to the challenges of public education, I can only give them a positive solution around which to rally. I can only urge them to consider that the powerful advocacy of their collective will around a positive new idea will be infinitely more effective than all the complaints, protests, rally’s, and collective bargaining strategies laid end-to-end. I would ask all of you to consider that the best way to regain the respect and support of the taxpaying public is to give them a solution that works for their children. I’m not suggesting that teachers not strike, when necessary, rather that they consider that such actions are only responses to symptoms, not etiologies.

I challenge teachers to consider The Hawkins Model, an education model designed and structured to do everything teachers need to do for their students. I challenge them to abandon our decades-long tradition of teachers pushing an entire classroom of children down an arbitrary path and replace it with an education model that helps children progress along a path tailored to meet their unique needs. I also challenge their principals and administrators to join them in the implementation of an adaptive education process guided by a student’s interests, aptitudes, motivation, and achievements resulting from a progression of successes.

Please do, as some of your colleagues have done, and take the time to examine my education model not in search of reasons why it will not work rather while striving to understand what it would be like to go to work everyday in a place where you truly can make a difference in the lives of each of your students.

“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.

More Questions for Administrators, Policy Makers, and Teachers

It is not unusual to hear public school teachers express concern that all the recognition and celebration is directed to “high-achieving students.” Rarely is attention paid to the students who worked hard to receive a lesser grade and many teachers question why the effort of the latter group is not acknowledged and celebrated.

It is a tragedy that so many children go through school without ever having their accomplishments celebrated; the last thing they need, however, is a “participation trophy.” The tragedy is not that we never celebrate the accomplishments of low-performing students rather that they rarely have accomplishments worthy of celebration.

This raises the question, why are we content to preserve an education process that produces such disparate results?

Just because a student does not understand a lesson the first time through, does not mean they are incapable of learning and understanding. It just means they need more time and they need an education process that allows teachers to adapt what they do to respond to a student’s unique needs. Rarely do we give kids an opportunity to keep working until they learn. On the few occasions that we find a way to give kids the extra time to learn, it is because we found a way to circumvent the education process not because the malleability of the process gave us the freedom to innovate.

The current education process is structured like a competition that assumes that all kids are on a level playing field. It rewards the students who learn the most the fastest. Even worse, it requires that we grade kids on how much they have learned in an arbitrary timeframe and then record that score next to their name. Worst of all, we push the students onward without the prerequisite knowledge they will need to be successful on subsequent lessons, not to mention as adult citizens of a participatory democracy.

We go to great lengths to help a student qualify for graduation even though they are unable to perform at the level expected of them with reference to academic standards. It is as if having a piece of parchment that says they qualify for graduation will excuse them when they are unable to qualify for or do a job; when they apply for college admission or seek enlistment in the Armed Services.

What does a young man or woman do when they are unable to obtain and keep a decent job or pursue other meaningful opportunities because they lack the basic skills required to make a place for themselves in mainstream society? If these young adults are black or other minorities the challenges they face are often insurmountable and they are left at the mercy of discrimination. We wonder why so many find themselves in prison or are the victims of an early, violent death. We wonder why so many of them live in poverty and produce new generations of children with needs for which our education process is unequipped to meet.

We shake our heads in bewilderment when so many American voters seem willing to believe anything said by the leaders of whatever political point of view to which they are loyal. Do we not see the connection that we have sent millions of young men and women out into society without the knowledge and skills necessary to evaluate the critical issues of the day and to think independently?

Public school educators seem unable to understand that the motivation of education reformers, as poorly conceived as their solutions might be, is a result of their dissatisfaction with public education and the quality of high school graduates. They are dissatisfied customers seeking to replace their supplier.

The existing education process restricts our teachers’ ability to give students the close personal relationships they need to be healthy, both emotionally and intellectually. The process does not permit teachers to formally assess each student’s level of academic preparedness and, then, design a learning path to meet their unique needs. It does not allow teachers to give students the time and attention they need to learn. It does not give kids however many attempts they need to be able to demonstrate that they understand. The education process is not set up to help kids learn as much as they are able at their own best pace. It does not help them learn well enough that they can apply what they have learned in real-life situations.

Rather than seeking ways to help teachers deal with the stress and frustration of teaching a classroom of kids who have lost hope, have stopped trying, and have begun acting out, why don’t we address the root causes of both the frustration of our teachers and our students’ lost hope. We do not because it is difficult if not impossible for people to stop and look at the big picture when they are immersed in what they are doing; when they are, as the old saying goes, “up to their necks in a swamp full of alligators.”

Low-performing students, particularly the disadvantaged, have become a norm in public education, particularly in racially and economically diverse communities. While I believe most public school teachers and administrators believe that these kids can learn, one must wonder how many teachers and administrators have come to believe this is the best we can expect.

What educators must do is find a vantage point from which they can see the entire education process, as an integral whole, and then ask themselves whether they are doing what they should be doing. The fact that our classrooms, grade-levels, and the way we organize teachers and students has been in place for generations does not mean it is the only way to do what we do.

We should be asking:

• “Does the education process exist to drive our purpose or should our mission drive the education process?”

• “Does the education process exist to serve children and their teachers or are teachers and their students expected to sacrifice their wants, needs, personalities, and unique capabilities in conformance with the structure or process?” and, finally;

• “Are academic standards a representative guideline of what we think kids need to know in order to have meaningful choices in life, or is it both a road map and time table of how students should get from point A to Z, no matter what their individual potential, capabilities, and interests?”

My challenge to public school teachers, administrators, and policy makers is to believe that designing and creating an education model that can be molded around teachers and students is a simple human-engineering project no different than designing any other production process. All it requires is that we open our hearts and minds to the belief that there is a better way to do what we do and the faith and hope that it can be found just beyond the boundaries of conventional wisdom.

I offer my education model, as an example, of an education process that enables teachers to develop and master their craft for the sole purpose of helping every child develop their God-given potential.

An Invitation to Peruse My Most Recent Blog Posts

Whether you are a new visitor to my blog, Education, Hope, and the American Dream or a new follower on Twitter, why not take a moment to check out the most recent articles.

I also encourage you to take a look at my education model that completely redesigns the education process to allow teachers to focus on meeting the unique needs of each student, and assures that students get the relationships, time, and attention they need to learn, sans failure: The Hawkins Model

Imagine what it would be like to teach in such an environment and how it would impact your students.

Also be aware that “Likes” are nice but “retweets” are both nice and “helpful.” A “like” lets the Tweeter know that you liked what they had to say. A “retweet” goes a step further and shares the Tweet with your followers, which makes it powerful and allows you to do what Twitter does best: spread the word!

Here are my most recent blog posts:

Aug 16 – Let the Positive Leadership of LeBron James and Akron Public Schools Lead the Way!

8/10 – Grades based on Age and Focus on Standards and Testing Obscures Purpose!

7/27 – Relationships

7/18 – We Must Be Willing to Believe There is a Better Way to Teach Our Children

7/3 – Are students who fail, quitters?

6/19 – Thinking “Outside the Box”

5/25 – More Evidence that its time for Public School superintendents and Advocates for Disadvantaged kids to act!

5/14 – Public schools need visionary, Positive Leadership

4/27 Black Panther, the Movie: a Call to Action!

4/15 Who is @melhawk46 and What is His Agenda

 

Grades Based on Age and Focus on Standards and Testing Obscures Purpose!

In the mid-19th century, the one-room schoolhouse with one teacher working with children at varying stages of learning, each pursuing different academic objectives, began giving way to Horace Mann’s vision of an education process. Mann was influenced by the Prussian education model that organized students by grades, based on age.  The Prussian model was designed for organizational efficiency and discipline. Mann’s model and focus remains the process of choice, today, in private, parochial and public schools.

If there is meaningful research to show that this is the best way to structure classrooms and organize students and teachers for learning, I hope someone will share it with me.

In a one-room schoolhouse, a teacher’s priority was to help every child get from where they were upon arrival for their first day of school, to where they needed to be when they left school to embark upon life as an adult citizen. Some students only needed to learn how to read and write; others needed to prepare to find a job or to take over their family’s farm or business; and, some  aspired to go to college to become teachers, doctors, and other professionals. Each student was guided by their inherent abilities, their unique interests, by their own dreams for the future and the dreams of their families, and by a caring teacher.  That teacher’s only purpose was to help each child prepare for whatever future to which he or she aspired.

It is my assertion that the existing education process, to which so many educators are loyal, has obscured that mission and purpose, for generations.

One of the characteristics of organizations, irrespective of venue, is that if leadership is not diligent in remaining focused on and reminding the organization and its people of its core mission or purpose, the process that was created to serve that purpose becomes the entity’s focal point. Over time, that mission or purpose becomes obscured by the clutter of the process. This is what happened when administrators and policy makers  committed to moving students from Kindergarten or first grade to twelfth grade, as a class.

The existing education process requires that “students at each grade level” be able to meet certain criteria before they are deemed ready, as a population, to move on to the next lesson or grade level. The shift in focus from preparing individual students for their unique future to preparing all students of a given age to advance as a group is subtle, but with each school year the degree of separation between the original purpose and the secondary agenda, expands.

When formal academic standards were established, teaching to the standards and meeting their arbitrary time frames grew in importance. No longer were we teaching individual children according to their unique level of academic preparedness or pace and style of learning, rather we were marching to the cadence of the Prussian fondness for order and organizational efficiency. The standards also opened the door for high-stakes testing, that was viewed as a method of assessing the effectiveness of schools and teachers. Not only did we begin teaching to the standards, we began teaching to the tests.

What high-stakes testing measures, however, is not the effectiveness of teachers and schools. It reveals, instead, the ineffectiveness of the education process in helping individual children learn as much as they are able at their own best speed; despite the efforts of public school teachers. Educators must cease viewing the results as an indictment against themselves and use it as evidence to show what they are asked to do does not work for all kids.

Can you imagine a teacher in a one-room school house telling a child, I’m sorry but time is up! I need you to move on to the next lesson, along with your classmates, ready or not?

I’m certain some of you are thinking, “but we don’t teach in one room schoolhouses!” And, of course, you are not. But, “are you teaching kids to prepare for their own unique futures or are you “teaching to the standards” or “teaching to the test?” You need not feel guilty after answering truthfully. Neither should you feel powerless to bring about a transformation.

The appropriate question educators and positive leaders at every level should be asking, is: “has our fundamental mission and purpose changed?”  And: “should mission and purpose be driven by structure and process or should it be the other way around?” It is this author’s assertion that mission and purpose should always drive structure and process and assuring that this is the case is the responsibility of positive leaders.

At one time, holding a student back so they could repeat a grade (be given a second chance to master the subject matter) was not uncommon. Gradually, educators gravitated away from that practice because it was perceived to be the greater of two evils.

A decade ago, writing about this issue in Educational Leadership, Jane L. David[i] wrote, describing the reality in public education:

 

“School systems cannot hold back every student who falls behind; too many would pile up in the lower grades. Moreover, it is expensive to add a year of schooling for a substantial number of students. Therefore, in practice, schools set passing criteria at a level that ensures that most students proceed through the grades at the expected rate.” (March 2008, Volume 65, Number 6).

 

By sacrificing so many children to preserve the process we demonstrate that the process was then and continues to be viewed as more important than our students.

Had “mission and purpose” been driving “structure and process,” educators and policy makers of an earlier time might have asked the question positive leaders should pose, relentlessly, “who exists to serve whom?”

What I have endeavored to create is an education model designed to remain loyal to “mission and purpose” amid the dynamic changes taking place around us. It offers a process that gives educators the freedom and support necessary to: form close, long-term relationships with students; elicit the support of parents; help children experience, celebrate and expect success; shield them from loss of hope that comes with repeated failure: and, to apply leading-edge methodologies, tools, and innovations for the benefit of their students.

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

 

[i] Jane L. David is the Director of the Bay Area Research Group

Relationships

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Something Incredible is Waiting to be Known!”

Recently, Chuck Canady (@chuckcanady) tweeted a quote from Carl Sagan, who said, “Somewhere, something incredible is waiting to be known.”

I believe something incredible is waiting to be known and it will happen within the next 10 to 13 years. The incredible event we will witness, will be that every single student who walks across a stage to collect their high school diploma, will have received: a quality education; will have a portfolio of skills that will enable them to have choices about how to find joy and meaning in their lives and to provide for their families; will have sufficient knowledge and understanding to participate in their own governance as citizens of a democratic society; and, will have gained a sufficient understanding of the important issues facing our planet and its people to make informed choices. They will also be able to add value to our society rather than be dependent on it.

If we began this fall, implementing an education model focused on success, relationships, giving kids time to learn, and eliminating even the idea of failure, in thirteen years every one of that first group of five and six-year-olds would be ready to graduate. I believe these young people will alter the job market by injecting millions of people, who formerly were destined to be poor, into the market to become taxpayers and strengthen the economic health of society. This will create revenues that will help society address the issues of replacing our nation’s crumbling infrastructure, end our dependence on fossil fuels, and address the consequences of climate change. We can only hope that this new group of young Americans will help us narrow the differences between us so that we can work together.

If we start, this fall with all K-5 kids, we will immediately begin to see magic happen in the classroom as relationships blossom and little brains begin to work. The older students in this group will present a challenge, but we will begin to see a real difference when they graduate in the next 7 to 12 years. From that point on, every single child will have never known anything other than a school environment in which they can be as successful as any of their classmates. And, no, we are not saying everyone will learn as much and advance as far because all of us have different potentials. What it will mean is that more people will fulfill their potential which almost always results in the discovery that they have far more potential than they ever imagined.

These young Americans will be the most diverse group of American citizens in the history of our nation and will begin to erode the deeply-entrenched racism that has plagued our nation for generations? We see it all the time. The attitudes of people who have never known a person from another race, religion, or nationality will gradually begin to change when they find themselves working side-by-side with them. The more diverse our neighborhoods, the more children of diverse backgrounds will play together in their neighborhoods and sit next to one another in a classroom.

I believe these new generations who will spill out of our systems of private and public schools, year after year, will have grown more tolerant of the differences between human beings. They will have learned that, like the color of our hair and eyes, the color of our skin is nothing more than a different shade of beauty. They will have seen more mixed-racial and multi-cultural relationships and families, more multi-racial children, more alternate lifestyles. This will help us move closer to a reality in which everyone can be accepted for who they are.

Because citizens will be growing more tolerant of the differences in people they will be learning that what we see on the surface of the people in our lives, like the color of our skin, is not the measure of a man or woman. Our hope is that they will become less afraid of people who look, talk, and worship differently than themselves. Because they will feel less threatened, they will be less prone to resort to violence to settle disputes between people, nations, and religions.

We cannot legislate an end to the prejudices in the hearts of mankind, but we can begin to transform a society to one in which minorities are no longer defenseless against discrimination and in which it is more difficult for others to justify those prejudices. It will be more difficult to justify their prejudices because they know these people. We will no longer be separate and apart.

They will be the generation, who because of their education and employability, will witness the shrinking and eventual elimination of poverty and illiteracy in this country.

They will have sufficient knowledge, understanding and wisdom to see that the policies of the past—whether conservative or liberal, democrat or republican—are not able to provide solutions to the new and yet unimagined challenges of the future. They will know that, as we progress into the mid to late decades of this 21st Century, that we will be challenged to seek new solutions that work for every man, woman, or child in every conceivable corner of the planet Earth.

All these incredible things will have happened because we will have replaced an obsolete education process with a new model for teaching children. It will be a model that focuses on building and sustaining positive relationships between teachers and students, teachers and parents, and between students and their peers.

It will be model that recognizes the extraordinary diversity of people and thus will be prepared to deal with what will, initially, be great disparity with respect to academic preparedness, motivation to learn, and parental support. It will be a model that gives every student that special relationship with a teacher that many of us recall with such fondness when we think back on our favorite teacher. Unlike the rest of us, this new generation will have enjoyed the security and benefit of such relationships for more than a single school year.

Through this recognition, the model will enable us to treat every student as a unique individual with a different starting point on the academic preparedness continuum, with a different pace of learning, with unique skills and talents, and with different dreams to fulfill. Each child will be on a tailored academic path that will give them more time to learn if they need it and more freedom to burst ahead to ever higher levels of academic exploration when they feel inspired; even if it means teachers must rush to keep up. No child will be judged against the performance of his or her classmates.

It will be an education model that recognizes that the power of the peer group, in this world of almost unlimited access to social media, will be stronger than ever. The structure of the model will create small communities of children who will remain together for a sufficient length of time that they will bond with one another and look out for one another. We will be working to create an environment in which, if they must disappoint someone, our children will choose to disappoint their peers rather than their teachers and parents with whom they feel closer than ever. They will be developing the strength of character to be the best version of themselves, regardless of what others think.

Because the relationships between students, teachers and parents will be stronger and long-lasting, we will be able to focus on the whole child; helping them develop their unique talents and interests, learn the self-discipline that is necessary to enjoy success; and develop a healthy self-esteem strong enough to endure the challenges of an increasingly more complex world where the rate of change will out pace anything adults of present day have experienced.

Finally, our children will learn that success is a process where learning from mistakes and building on one success after another, and will eliminate even the idea of failure. Our children will be internalizing the idea that success is a process in which there are only different velocities of learning. Gaining this understanding also helps human beings develop an abundance mentality and learn that win-win solutions and outcomes are by far the best solutions and outcomes.

Children will be learning that losing a competition in which they have given their best effort is only a loss within the context of such competitions and does nothing to diminish their self-esteem, their worth as a child of creation, or the meaning in their lives. None of us will win every time no matter how talented or brilliant we may be. We will be learning, instead, that because we strive to do our best we are winners in life, no matter the outcomes in small episodes of life. We will view those disappointing outcomes as wonderful opportunities to learn and grow.

This vision is every bit as achievable as exploration of space or phenomenal advances in science and technology. All it requires is a willingness on the part of educators and policy makers to open their hearts and minds to a new way of thinking about how we teach our children, and to challenge their assumptions about how we organize, structure and support teachers and students within our schools and classrooms. If a process does not allow an optimal level of learning, growth and development, then it is time for change.

I ask you to examine my education model and white paper because they offer a first step toward the future I have described https://melhawkinsandassociates.com/education-model-white-paper/ I hope it is a vision that we can all share.

The elegance of the model is that it is just a point of embarkation; that it empowers teachers and administrators to be continually reinventing the education process to meet the ever-changing needs of their students, communities and society. Who knows where the future may take us but if we remain focused on putting teachers in a position to teach and students in a position to learn it will be a great adventure of discovery.

A Minefield of Distractions or a New Education Model

In a recent exchange on Twitter, I made a comment that “Relationships put teachers in position to teach but too often the process gets in the way. [The] Process can be designed to clear the way, so teachers are always able to seize those moments. The existing education process is a minefield of distractions.”

A good athlete or team will put themselves in a position where they can win a game. That doesn’t mean they win every time, but they give themselves a chance to win. There are no certainties in athletic competitions just as there are no certainties in classroom teaching. In many ways, teaching is like the practice of medicine. Public school teachers and physicians are craftspeople working to apply an uncertain science to help people. Good teachers, like good physicians, are always working to develop their craft and they never run out of things to learn and new things to try.

What I want to spend a few paragraphs discussing is the last part of the sentence, “relationships put teachers in a position to teach but, too often, the process gets in the way.”

For going on six years I have been striving to make the point to public school teachers that the education process within which they work gets in their way. The existing process truly is a minefield of distractions. I have yet to find the correct words to explain myself in a way that resonates with teachers, however.

Public school teachers have been teaching within the same structure and education process for their whole careers. It’s the same education process within which their own teachers had to work and the same one within which their teachers’ teachers had to work. The current education process and structure have become an “unalterable given” in the minds of public school educators and it does not put them in a position to win/teach very often. When it does put them in position, teachers must often make an extraordinary effort to accomplish their objective with a student or class. It is an extraordinary effort of the type that only the most dedicated teachers are inclined to make.

Think about how an operating room is constructed to serve every need of the surgeon. It has been engineered to assure the surgeon has whatever he or she needs, within easy reach. It is designed around the way a surgeon works and thinks and the way they have been trained to react to unexpected events and crises.

One can even see this process of “designing to specifications” on state-of-the-art assembly lines in a manufacturing venue; even to the detail that when the worker needs a cap screw or nut, all they do is turn and reach, knowing it will be there. It is applied ergonomics where the environment and all physical resources are designed and organized to optimize the capability of the physician or production worker.

Why would we not want to create the same work environment for teachers? Is there any job in society more important than teaching? Is there anything in society more important than our children? How would our children grow up to be doctors, scientists, engineers, teachers or other professionals if were not for our teachers?

Teachers work with a population of students that is diverse to the extreme; each student has a unique set of needs and abilities to which the teacher must respond; and each subject area offers multiple strategies to convey content and concepts to their students. Teachers must, however, practice their extraordinarily complex craft within the context of a brittle structure, regimented to the nth degree, following an inflexible set of academic standards, while working within the confines of an arbitrary schedule.

We all understand how important it is for teachers to form close, nurturing relationships with their students, but the education process is not designed in a way that supports teachers and students through that relationship-building activity. There are too many kids for too few teachers with too little time, and no backup systems to help teachers spend extra time with the children with whom it is the most difficult to connect. Then, whatever progress is made in forming those relationships is scrapped at the end of a school year when kids move on to the next grade where they will start, anew, with another teacher with whom they may or may not be able to bond.

We all understand how important it is to pull parents into the process as partners, sharing responsibility for the education of their sons and daughters, but there is no well-developed strategy integrated within the daily activities of teaching for accomplishing this objective.

We all know kids arrive for their first day of school with cavernous disparity with respect to academic preparedness and motivation to learn, but we make no formal effort to assess their state of readiness, so we can formulate a strategy that optimizes our ability to attend to their unique requirements.

We all believe that every child needs time to learn and that the best way for most children to learn is to get concentrated help to understand their mistakes and then have an opportunity to try again and apply the lessons learned. We do our best, of course, but the age-old process very quickly prompts us to move the class on to a new lesson, knowing that there are any number of students who are not ready. We don’t like it, but this is the way the process is designed to work and we all feel the burden of competency examinations looming in the future. We are asked to conform to the arbitrary structure, process, and schedule rather than expecting these things to conform to the needs of our students and teachers. How does this improve academic preparedness and motivation to learn?

It is just common sense that when we stop a lesson before a child understands, because time is up, that they will be that much less prepared to succeed on the next lesson, which may well require that they apply what they have already learned. Kids cannot effectively apply knowledge they’ve been unable to gain because an arbitrary schedule was the priority.

Almost everyone understands that it is through our successes, and the celebration of them, that we gain confidence in ourselves, thus improving the odds for a student’s successful mastery of future lessons.

When we record a failing grade, the research has long concluded that this has a labeling effect that colors their teachers’ perception of a child’s ability to learn, diminishes the student’s self-esteem, and makes it easy for them to believe what they hear when their classmates refer to them as one of the dumb kids.

How many more examples do we need to offer before educators begin to see that the existing education process has grown obsolete and truly is a minefield of distractions from their purpose. It is not created to make their job easy or to make learning easy and fun for students, or to help them develop a powerful motivation to learn. The process is not teacher/student focused.

Why don’t educators and education policy makers go back to the drawing board and start from scratch to create an education process that utilizes applied ergonomics to help teachers bond with their students; pull parents in as partners; makes sure every child is able to start from the exact point on the academic preparedness continuum where they were when they arrived at our door; that is structured in a way that helps us tailor an academic path to meet the unique requirements of each child; that gives each student however much time they need to learn a given lesson because a teacher’s job is not done unless the child can utilize what they have learned.

From about the middle of 2006 until late in 2013, creating such a teaching/learning environment has been my focus. I started by striving to make sense of what I had witnessed as a substitute teacher from 2002 through 2012. I had retired from my positive leadership and organizational development consulting business to pursue my lifelong dream of writing books and chose to sub to earn some extra income. As I began to observe the challenges faced by both teachers and students, it seemed natural to begin applying my experience in positive leadership and organizational development consulting to address a process that was clearly dysfunctional.

One of my specialties was evaluating the production and service-delivery processes of clients who were frustrated that their outcomes were unacceptable. My job was to analyze the process and then modify it to produce better outcomes or, far more often, reinvent the process to produce the desired outcomes. It was simply a process of making sure the internal logic and activity of the process were perfectly aligned to serve its purpose. It involved organizing the activity of the people doing the work to make sure they remained focused on that purpose and ensure that the process was engineered in a way that every action and resource existed to support the work people were asked to do; to help them do their jobs to the highest standards of quality.

The result of my work on the education process was reported, first, in my book Reinventing Education, Hope, and the American Dream: the Challenge For Twenty-First Century America, which includes the initial version of a new education model. After the book’s publication, in 2013, I continued to work to refine the process and published those results on my blog, first in a white paper that was written to lay the foundation for the education model and then present the model, itself. During this time, I also published over 150 articles on the challenges facing teachers and students in the public-school districts of America. They were written to challenge teachers to break out of their conventional boundaries and undergo a paradigm shift.

My intention was to create a system much like what I outlined above; an education process molded around the relationship between teachers and their students, putting teachers in a position to teach and children in a position to learn. And, then defining purpose and objectives, creating a structure to support the efforts of people, and the other components of an effective service delivery process. I continue to revise the model as I learn things from you, the professional educators with whom I interact on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Email, and through my blog.

I invite you to look at https://melhawkinsandassociates.com/education-model-white-paper/. What do you have to lose? Imagine what it would be to work in an environment that was conceived and constructed to support you in your work in every conceivable way.