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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[to be continued]

What Are We Teaching Kids When We Repeatedly Accept Less than their Best?

It’s not just about failure. The education process is structured to allow kids to fail and this has tragic consequences but as former radio personality and commentator, Paul Harvey would say, “now here’s the rest of the story.”

We are not just teaching subject matter, we are also teaching life skills, one of the most important of which is to do your best. We don’t want them to fail but neither do we want mediocrity or average. Every time we move a class and its students on to a next lesson before some students have mastered the material, we are allowing them to give less than their best effort. What they are learning is that it is okay to settle for less than their best and this does not serve society well, given the challenges to which these young people will someday need to rise.

As an employer with responsibility for hiring people for hourly, administrative or professional positions, for much of my career, striving to train people to do a job when they are functionally illiterate or innumerate was only one of my frustrations. The other biggest frustration was people who can meet the basic qualifications for a job but always have to be pushed to do their best.

These individuals seem unable to work hard, strive for excellence, apply their imaginations, or seek creative solutions to problems. Their goal seems to be to get the job done as quickly as they can with as little effort as possible. From where did such an attitude come? Was it something in their drinking water? Was it the processed food they have consumed throughout their lifetimes? Or, was it something they were taught?

It is my assertion that it was something they were taught both at home and at school; and, if this is what young people are taught in school, is it all surprising that this would influence the way they would someday teach their children at home?

Whether we are parents or teachers, we do our children a great disservice if we do not demand that they always strive to give their best effort. That means we do not accept anything less than a high B on a lesson or chapter test. It means that we do not give in when our own children refuse to do what we ask. It means that we do not make idle threats when they know as well as we do that we will relent if they push back. It means that we do not make promises we do not intend to keep. We must understand that children will test us at every opportunity and, as I have written on multiple occasions, it is every bit as important that we pass the tests our children give us as it is that they pass the tests we administer to them.

When we give in to children and accept less than their best then this is the standard we have taught them to set for themselves. This it is unacceptable and every bit as damaging to their self-esteem as failure. Whether we are parents or teachers it is our responsibility to settle for nothing less than their best effort or behavior. This does not mean that they are pressured, punished, or placed under great stress. It only means that we show infinite patience and relentless persistence and keep working with them until we can celebrate genuine success, excellence, or victory.

We must forget about arbitrary schedules. What is important in life is that adults be able to accept the responsibilities of work, parenthood, and citizenship. It does not matter whether they learned these lessons the first time or required extra time and patience any more than it matters whether they learned how to ride a bike after one or two attempts rather that after a week of falling down, skinned appendages, and bruised egos. What matters, always, is that we be able to use what we have learned in life.

This is why we, when we measure academic achievement, it is imperative that we never settle for “approaching proficiency.” Proficiency is the only level of performance that is acceptable. If we cannot utilize what we have learned we have not learned it and this is true in every aspect of life.

We cannot continue to make the same mistakes, repeatedly. We must find a new way of teaching our children and I have developed a model that is worthy of your consideration. Please examine my model seeking to understand rather than rebut. https://melhawkinsandassociates.com/education-model-white-paper/ You risk only a brief hour or so of your time but the potential gain is to alter forever an education process focused on failure and accepting less than the best of our students.

Learning Is an Adventure of Discovery!

School is a laboratory where we help students discover who they are, what they can be, and how far they can go. We do it with love, time, attention, and by teaching them that learning, like success, is a process, an adventure of discovery where we learn from our mistakes and build on our successes.

School and life are adventures in which we learn that everyone is special, including ourselves; that no one is perfect; that the people in our lives are more important than things; that diversity is a gift and that the color of our skin, hair, and eyes are nothing more than different shades of beauty; that the more we give of ourselves in love, work, and play, the more we get in return; that every job, well-done, adds an element of beauty to the world; and that life is a precious gift.

We want our students to learn there are no guarantees in life. There will be joy and heartache; victories and defeats; justice and injustice; good luck and bad; hardship and plenty, and they will delight in their blessings, and strive to overcome their troubles.

We must teach them that they are just like us. Throughout our lives, we must cling to the faith that nothing that can happen to us or that someone can do to us can diminish the meaning in our lives or our value as human beings. At the deepest moments of despair and suffering, the answer is to summon our strength, pick ourselves up and look around for someone to help or something that needs done. And, at our highest moments of joy and happiness we need to find someone with whom we can share.

As teachers, we are blessed to have one of the most important jobs in the world and that gives us an opportunity to make a difference in someone’s life. There will be challenges to be sure, but throughout the worst of it we need to cling to the belief that the most difficult kids in our classrooms are the ones who need us the most. They need the absolute best from us. Their behavior is nothing more than children testing the limits of our love, patience, and commitment. How hard they fight us is simply a measure of how much they must overcome in their lives to be whole.

As important as we think it is that our students pass the tests we give them, it is that much more important that we pass the tests our students and our own children administer to us. We will not be successful with every child and it is not because of something lacking in ourselves unless we know we have done less than our best.

I shared a story, recently, from my career as a juvenile probation officer and supervisor. One of the young probation officers assigned to my team had talked to me, on several occasions, about a thirteen-year-old probationer. She said she wasn’t getting through to him and asked me what I thought. I didn’t know what to suggest but I did think to ask how often he misses his appointments. She said that even though he skips school, occasionally, he had never missed. My only advice to her was not to give up and to keep trying.

I could see the door to her office from my desk and, one day, I noticed that the young man had come in. A while later I happened to look up as he left her office. He turned toward the exit of our office and she walked out behind him and turned in the opposite direction. Seconds later the kid sneaked back into her office for just a few seconds and then he was gone.

I waited for her to return and told her what had happened. She just shook her head and we both returned to our desks. Moments later, she came back to my office and sat down with tears flowing. She showed me a piece of candy he had left on her chair.

“He never says a single word,” she reminded me, “and now, he did this!”

The lesson we both learned that day was that we may never know when something we do or say will make a difference in someone’s life. The only thing we can do is to keep striving, always giving our best effort to meet the needs of our students.

We must place teachers and students at the center of our education process. Everything around them must exist to serve the mission of leading our students through an adventure of discovery. Please examine my education model to see one way this can be done. Maybe you can come up with another way? https://melhawkinsandassociates.com/education-model-white-paper/

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.

From Terry Heick and the Bad Ass Teachers Association: “10 Things I Wish I Knew My First Year of Teaching!” also Applies to Positive Leadership!

Terry Heick’s insightful comments entitled “10 Things I Wish I Knew My First Year of Teaching,” posted on the Facebook page of the Bad Ass Teachers’ Association, could have just as easily been written for a course in “Positive Leadership,” which, not coincidentally, could be offered to principals and other administrators.  

Prioritize—and then prioritize again. Positive Leaders relentlessly remind their people and themselves of the essential purpose of the organization and each individual’s job. It is so easy, in the heat of the challenges we face, to be diverted by secondary agenda’s and objectives.

 It’s not your classroom.   Organizations belong to the people and the customers they exist to serve and one of the biggest mistakes managers and supervisors make is to forget that their primary purpose, their over-riding priority, is to help their people and organizations succeed by doing the best job of which they are capable. Teachers and leaders need to remind themselves, often, that it is not about “me.”  

Students won’t always remember the content, but many will never forget how you made them feel. The most important component of human motivation is to make people feel important and it is amazing how forgiving employees can be when they know that the mistakes their leaders make were made within the context of helping them learn how to be successful. It is equally amazing how the level of trust that we earn is based almost totally by the way we interact with people rather than the things we say. It is also amazing how much the people of an organization are willing to give of themselves, when they know their welfare and best interests are always at the top of their leader’s list of priorities.

Get Cozy with the school custodians, secretary, librarian. One of the core principles of positive leadership is that every job well done adds value to the organization and its customers and also adds beauty to the world. Paying positive attention to people who support production and sales staff always pays dividends at crunch time when you need people to step up with their best efforts.

Longer hours isn’t sustainable. Quality always trumps quantity when it comes to how leaders and teachers allocate their time if for no other reason than it allows us to refresh ourselves and to “sharpen our saw” as Stephen Covey would say.

Student behavior is a product. In organizations as well as classrooms, how people conduct themselves, whether they have positive or negative attitudes, how much they are willing to give of themselves, and their commitment to their purpose is all a product of the kind of organization and environment the leader or teacher creates and sustains. It is also a product of how well they understand the process of success and whether they think of themselves as winners, as being a part of something special. Remember how you felt when in the classroom of one of your favorite teachers.  

Don’t get sucked in to doing too much outside of your class.  Activities that are separate and apart from our purpose can provide enrichment that refreshes and re-enthuses us or it can be an irritant that creates friction, and saps our energy. The process of getting sucked into something that is counterproductive is just one example of being distracted from one’s purpose and being drawn to secondary agendas. Pick and choose, carefully, the extra activities in which to become involved.

 Help other teachers. Everyone in an organization knows and respects the people to whom they can turn for help and support. It’s central to the adage that the more we give of ourselves the more we receive in return and this is powerful where ever people come together including classrooms and organizations.  

Reaching students emotionally matters. A lot. Ultimately our joy in life is a function of the quality of our relationship with other people. The more we understand that people are more important than things and that connecting with another person on an emotional level is the key to our sense of self and theirs, the more control each of us will have over the outcomes in our lives.

Literacy is everything for academic performance. Whether in business, in school, or in our personal lives it is our ability to read and understand and also our ability to communicate what we observe, think, and feel effectively that determine our power to create joy and meaning in our lives, and to seize the opportunities that present themselves to us.

 

The only thing I would change in this list of things we might wish we knew at the outset of any endeavor, whether as a leader, as a teacher, or as a friend is to:

“beware of the naysayers who are so immersed in bitterness and resentment that they find it necessary to drag us down to their level rather than elevate themselves up to ours”

The common theme through all of these items has to do with the quality of the relationships we are able to create and sustain. Ultimately, the value of our lives is measured against the quality of our relationships with other people.  So important is this central theme “that relationships are central to what we do” that I advocate that the entire educational process be re-structured in such a way that it supports a teacher’s ability to build and sustain close, personal relationships with their students, with the parents of their students, and with the other members of their teaching teams.