Education is the key to everything!

We are what we have been taught to be and our children will be what we teach them to be. The solution to providing equality in education to every child would be so easy, most people would think it to be “too good to be true!”

If all educators would put their heads together with advocates for children of color, English language learners, and other disadvantaged kids and consider a new idea, they would wonder why we have waited so long and would be asking “why would a school district choose not to implement The Hawkins Model©?”

Surely, we have learned we cannot legislate an end to discrimination and racism. We have been trying for over fifty years, and discrimination still ravages the lives of men and women of color. Only an education of the highest quality can render these young people impervious to discrimination.

No matter how hard our teachers and principals work or how dedicated they may be, they cannot make the existing education process work for all kids, especially the disadvantaged. The problem is not teachers and schools, it is the education process at work within those schools; it is the way we go about teaching our precious sons and daughters. Consider what happens in even the best public and parochial schools, today.

Kids show up for their first day of school, at age 5, and we do not take the time to thoroughly assess their level of academic preparedness, nor do we utilizes that knowledge to create an academic plan tailored to the unique requirements of each child.

These youngsters show up in a classroom in which there are too many students to allow any one teacher to forge the kind of nurturing relationships these kids need to feel safe, secure, and cared about, all of which are essential to learning. The positive relationships that do develop for a fortunate few, will be severed at the end of the school year. These students will return to school in the fall and can only hope to be assigned to a new teacher who will believe in them and make them feel special.

Students are given lessons for which they may or may not be prepared and, after a few days, they will be given a test over that material.  It will not matter whether they understand the lessons they are asked to learn, or whether they get an F, D, C, B, or A. Ready or not, they will be moved on to a new lesson.

Teachers are given only so much time for each lesson. Children who do not yet comprehend their most recent lessons will be moved on with the rest of their class and be expected to learn subsequent lessons without the pre-requisite knowledge their prior lessons were intended to provide. Neither will they enjoy the benefit of the confidence that flows from successful learning.

A student’s scores will be recorded in his or her teacher’s gradebook, to become part of the child’s academic record and will begin to influence their teachers’ assessment of the child’s academic potential and intelligence. Worse, those grades will affect each child’s perception of themselves.

These boys and girls will then be asked to repeat this ritual in every subject area, for each lesson,  semester, and school year for the next thirteen years, without relief or exception. Somewhere along the line students who struggle will begin to think themselves incapable of learning and unable to keep up with classmates. It is only a matter of time until these kids give up and stop trying.

After thirteen years, these—now young men and women—will leave school, with or without a diploma, lacking the knowledge, skills, wisdom, pre-requisite knowledge, confidence, and self-esteem necessary to overcome the ravages of  discrimination. They will lack meaningful choices for what to do to make a life for themselves and their families and to participate in their own governance.

They will, also, begin to produce their own offspring who will replicate the same ritualistic childhood their parents and grandparents have endured for generations. None of this will change until we replace an education process that has been dysfunctional to the point of obsolescence, for as long as any of us can remember.

Do not be deceived by the false promise of “school choice” that suggests a charter school will provide a better opportunity for our sons and daughters. Please understand, there is nothing inherently wrong with the concept of a charter school other than most rely on the same education process at work in the public and parochial schools they were intended to replace; nor do they serve entire communities.

Let me introduce you to a solution.

The Hawkins Model© was designed to provide the education each one of our children deserves and is available for free to any public or parochial school district willing to implement it, beginning in their elementary classrooms. The model has been engineered to eliminate all the issues addressed in the preceding paragraphs. It will be transformational, and the decision to act is already within a school district and its superintendent’s purview. They need only say “yes!”

You will be surprised to learn how easily the model can be implemented. It changes the way the game is played.

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 a school organizes its teachers and classrooms, and how long they remain together. Minor physical modifications of classrooms might be nice but are not essential. 

Other significant changes are redefinition of purpose and changing expectations for principals and teachers. Students will be expected to learn as much as they can at their own best pace. The model is constructed on the premise the brains of children are programmed to learn and that failure is a choice the existing education process requires us to make.

We must choose otherwise and give every student whatever time and attention they need to learn.

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

Implementation will be so simple the question educators and leaders of advocacy will be asking is “why would a school district choose not to implement The Hawkins Model©?”

This is not a request for financial support. Whatever revenue I generate will come from the royalties of a book I will be finishing, soon. I am asking organizations that serve as advocates for people of color and educators to help convince school superintendents to test The Hawkins Model© in one or more of their underperforming elementary schools. Consider how many schools and school districts are struggling to provide a quality education to children of color, English language learners, and the other disadvantaged students they serve and how many of those kids are giving up and will, soon, stop trying.

There are many wonderful programs available for kids who have fallen behind but if all we do is wait until they fall behind before we help, we have waited too long. Besides, there are many kids these programs never reach. We must choose to prevent students from “falling behind” in the first place. Nation-wide, there are millions of boys and girls at risk, waiting for us to act, and there are millions more waiting to follow. The Hawkins Model© will help all students learn how to create success for themselves.

With your help, children could begin benefitting from my model as early as this fall. Let us not forget, however, it takes thirteen years to educate a child; thus, we dare not drag our feet. I urge you to become advocates, reaching out to school districts with which you have a connection and encouraging them to act.

Please examine The Hawkins Model©. It may prove to be one of the most important things you will ever do.

A Story of a Special Man!

If you wonder how much of a difference one individual can make, consider this story about a man named Charlie. His life offered a wonderful example of the power of relationships. He passed away a few years ago but he lives on in the hearts of many of the people he touched, both students and teachers.  Every few years, I like to pull the story out, dust if off, and delight in the memory of this special man with whom I spent only a few moments of my life.

Charlie made an enormous difference in the lives of literally thousands of young people and hundreds of adults in the high school all three of my children attended.  One of the teachers who worked with him shared Charlie’s story in a letter to the editor of the Fort Wayne Journal-Gazette, a few weeks after his death. Otherwise, few outside of the Wayne High School community would have known about this special man, and the quiet but enormous impact he made.

Charlie was a black man working in a high school that was somewhere between ten to fifteen percent black. He did not have an impressive title, did not make a great deal of money, had no formal authority, there were no letters after his name, and he was neither a star athlete nor a celebrity.  Charlie’s stature as a powerful positive leader came only from the force of his personality, his dedication to his job, his love of people, and his God-given ability to make people feel important. He was a human being who, out of the pure generosity of a loving heart, accepted responsibility for making his corner of the world a better place.

I first heard about Charlie years ago when my kids were in high school, but it did not make a great impression on me.  I just assumed Charlie was one of the kids at school.  The first time, and one of the few times I met Charlie, I was working as a substitute teacher in this high school I thought I knew so well.  Like other teachers, I was monitoring the hallways during the passing period, standing by the door to my classroom. It had been a rough day and I was reeling from difficult period of a math lab class when this man came up to me. 

He was dressed in a suit and tie and it never would have occurred to me he was a custodian until he grabbed a broom from a cart he had left a few feet away and swept up some debris from the floor.

“How is it going, today? Is there anything I can do for you?” He asked.  “You just call me if you need something,” he continued and then proceeded to rattle off his name and extension number.  He shook my hand and smiled before continuing down the corridor and I watched him, trying to figure out who in the heck he was. 

My eyes followed him as he spoke to a couple students he passed. From the smiles on their faces I can only assume he was smiling, also.  Moving on, he gave another student a high five, and then stopped to pick up a couple of broken pencils that lay on the floor. 

A dozen yards farther down the hallway a young girl had been leaning against the wall, alone.  I had noticed her earlier as she had a lonely and forlorn look about her and I suspected she had been crying.  As this custodian drew closer, he drifted over to her and then stopped and smiled at her and put his hand on her shoulder. 

 This made me immediately suspicious because we are told, frequently and pointedly, not to touch the students, especially members of the opposite gender.  I could not hear the words that were spoken, but after a few seconds the girl offered up an embarrassed smile, followed seconds later by a laugh.  Charlie lingered a moment, in quiet conversation, and then sauntered off, dishing out more high fives to students as he passed.  When I looked back the girl was still there, standing in the same spot but she stood a little taller and had a smile on her face.  Whatever this janitor had said to her must have been something she had needed to hear.

 Later in the day, in the faculty lounge, I asked a teacher about the custodian in the suit and tie.  He laughed, and said, “well, that would have been Charlie.”  He went on to say, “he’s a very special guy around here and both the kids and staff love him.” 

 I asked others about him, including my youngest daughter, now a teacher herself.  Whoever I asked, just the mention of his name would evoke a smile, and everyone proceeded to tell me pretty much the same story. “He is everybody’s friend and always has a kind word for you,” my daughter explained.

Charlie, God rest his charitable soul, was a beautiful human being and positive leader.  He took his job seriously and took pride in keeping things clean for the students and teachers.  Even more importantly, he reached out to people to share his positive attitude.  He accepted responsibility for making this high school a better place and for making its people feel special and important. 

He had a special ability to sense when someone—teacher, student, or substitute —needed a kind word, a high five, or a warm smile and I am certain Charlie never wasted an opportunity to share his gifts.  None of these activities could be found in the job description of a school custodian but Charlie made them a part of his daily routine. They were a part of who he was.

This man demonstrated it was not necessary to have a title, formal authority, or even someone’s permission to be a leader and to make a positive difference to the world and its people.  All one needs is a belief that people—all people—deserve our best effort and that we can make a difference. While doing what most people would consider an unimportant and mundane job, this man changed the world around him. He did it by reaching out to people with a generous heart, simple acts of kindness, reassuring words, and a genuine desire to make each of them feel special.

Gifts such as this may brighten only a moment in an otherwise stressful day, but we never know how much of a difference we make when we give the best of ourselves with joy and affirmation.  It is a lesson from which all can all learn when we wonder if what we do matters. We can choose to believe every job, well done, adds a little beauty to the world and every smile or act of affirmation can make a difference in the life of another human being.

No doubt Charlie believed he had the most important job in the world. By having a relationship with each of them, Charlie made a difference in the lives of twelve hundred students and a hundred members of a school’s faculty and staff, while keeping their school clean for them, year after year after year.

It was the relationships that mattered. Given what we can learn from Charlie, imagine what a teacher can do in his or her classroom by doing the best job of which he or she is capable and by making every student feel special and important.

Relationships are everything in life and they are everything in teaching.

God bless you, Charlie.

Lessons from a Pandemic

There are so many lessons to be learned from this Pandemic experience, although it is sad that it takes something like Covid-19 to teach or remind us.

The starkest lesson has been the vulnerability of so many segments of our population. There are inspirational lessons, as well, such as the courage of so many men and women committed to doing their essential jobs even when it places their lives and the lives of their families at risk. We should be immensely grateful for the latter lesson, but it is the former lesson that should give us pause and motivate us to soul-search.

How we can “better prepare ourselves for disasters such as this” is an invaluable lesson as we can be certain this will not be the last global disaster to test our character; both as individuals and as a society.

We must ask ourselves whether it is in our nation’s best interests to have such disparity between those who have and those who can only want. We like to think of the U.S. as a great nation and it is, in so many ways, but we, also, must be honest with ourselves and acknowledge that what we have witnessed, in these trying times, are not all things about which we can be proud.

What are a few of the things we are learning about education and healthcare: two of the essential components of a full and meaningful life? They are also the two issues with which I feel the strongest connection.

All children will be challenged to succeed when learning remotely but many of the students who will struggle the most while learning remotely are the same children who struggle the most in their classrooms. Can we hope this experience will enhance our understanding of the importance of relationships and supportive environments for learning; that these things are more important than determining who can learn the most, the fastest?

And think about what it would be like if hospitals were turning away coronavirus patients because they lack health insurance coverage. Thankfully, we have suspended some the rules in this extraordinary time, but should such rules exist at all? Would turning away patients with other life-threatening medical conditions be more justified than turning away coronavirus patients? Would the converse also be true?

Imagine the turmoil if the families of Covid-19 patients without health insurance coverage, both those who recovered and those who succumbed, begin receiving bills for their hospital and medical care. Is medical and hospital care for the sick and injured a right of citizenship?

The world around us is changing at such a pace that many of us do not even notice that things have changed. Does not this world-wide pandemic demonstrate how interconnected we are, on whichever corner of this planet we might reside?

Maybe it is time to step back and challenge all our assumptions about what is “just” and what is “unjust”; and about what differentiates “inequality” and “equality; about what makes a great nation.” Possibly we should rethink the logic behind all our government’s policies, both domestic and foreign.

We know that people are the same, in many ways, wherever they may live, but is anyone else concerned that Americans seem a little bit more likely to hoard scarce resources; to “not let this thing keep me from partying;” or to protest “shelter-in-place” policies because getting what they want is not only more important than other people getting what they need but also more important than other peoples’ lives?

Make no mistake, the world will never be the same after this 2020 “Covid-19 pandemic.” The question all of us should be asking is “do we want to lead or be led” by the changes that will be taking place around us?

More than One Kind of Hunger, Part 2

There is more than one kind of hunger. We all know nourishment is essential to the health of young minds and bodies. It is difficult to stay focused on a lesson or challenge when there is an ache in one’s belly. It is even more difficult for children who are less able to rationalize away that ache long enough to finish a task. It is vital, therefore, that we feed the bodies of our nation’s children because not only does it enable growth, it frees their minds and hearts for learning.

Kids also hunger for nurturing  relationships. Many children, when away from their parents, are desperate for someone to care about them. It is so much easier to care about oneself when someone else cares for us. In this respect, the heart is a portal to the mind. Knowing someone cares frees the mind to allocate energy to learning.

Same is true of the hunger for safety and security. We all need to feel safe from harm and kids need that safety even more. Think about a time when something happened to startle or scare you. How long did it take before you could push that unsettling experience aside sufficiently to return to one’s task? Imagine how much more difficult it is for a child.

When young children are away from their home, they feel vulnerable. This is true for all kids but especially for children who come from homes and families that are distressed. Toxic though some home environments might be, however,  it is the only home they know, and it colors their expectations.  If we wish to alter those expectations, it is essential that we strive to provide nurturance and affirmation. For some children, school may be only place they experience the comfort of unconditional, loving relationships with adult human beings.

In these awkward times in which it has been deemed inappropriate for a teacher to touch a child, remember that wrapping one’s arms around someone is not the only way to give a hug. Hug them with the warmth of your smile, the sparkle in your eyes, and the loving words you say when you greet them as they enter your classroom or depart for the day. Even a fist bump can be a hug, if done with a warm smile. A hug, whether virtual or real, is nothing more than an affirmation of how important someone is to us.

Our objective is to convey to them that sense of value in whatever way we can, because they yearn for it, even when they shy away or act embarrassed. If genuine, such hugs will win over even the most recalcitrant child, over time. Once they come to believe in our affection for and belief in them, children will begin to open themselves up to us. From that point onward, anything becomes possible.

We must strive to keep our objective at the forefront of our minds as we strive to help children create patterns of success for themselves. This requires that they feel empowered. When, however, the education process requires that mistakes be counted against students, as if they were failures—and must be recorded as failures in a teacher’s gradebook—it is contrary to our purpose. In these instances, the education process usurps a child’s power to create patterns of success for themselves by imposing on them a pattern of failure.

Patterns of failure are the genesis of surrender. Once any human being gives up and stops striving, it is incredibly difficult to pull them from the maelstrom of hopelessness. This particularly true of children.

Kids do not want to feel hopeless and powerless, they want to be winners, which is just another way of saying they want to be successful.

To be continued.

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