If I were calling the shots, I would make sure professional development was relevant and appropriate for the grade level and subject matter.
Too often teachers are forced to sit through a professional development class that does not apply to the subject and/or grade level they teach. One year, all of my high-school colleagues had to sit through a class on tiered assignments. That, in itself, is not a bad topic for a professional development. What made it a waste of time for all of us is that math, science, social studies, English, language, art, music, and PE teachers were all in the same professional development that presented tiered assignments for a 2nd grade literature assignment.
As English teachers, my department was annoyed, but those of us teaching regular English classes were able to apply the basic idea of the assignment to our curriculum. Even within our department though, far too many teachers had no use for a differentiated lesson. Many teachers only teach AP and college preparation classes. There is no room for differentiation for college bound students because colleges do not differentiate their assignments. To tell you the truth, this is one of my biggest issues with the college students I currently teach. Many of them have never written an essay and are completely lost in College Composition. I often wonder how many of those students had differentiated assignments instead of mandatory essays.
Furthermore, if my English Department had a tough time using a professional development class geared towards 2nd grade literature, can you imagine how the other departments felt? It’s no wonder many of them were caught passing notes and playing games on their phones. (Does that sound familiar? No matter who the students are, if you are not giving them relevant and appropriate student-centered lessons, they will get bored and check out.)
In order for professional development to truly improve teachers, they need to have these elements:
The person teaching the professional development must be a teacher. Even people who have been out of the classroom for too long, like principals, counselors, coordinators, etc. will not deliver relevant information unless it is to give the teachers behind-the-scenes information so that they are in the loop. Only experienced master teachers will know what teachers need in order to improve their classrooms.
Each department should have a separate professional development led by people who teach the same subject. The professional development instructor should be able to address all aspects of teaching and courses in that department.
The majority of time allotted for professional development should include time to apply the new concept/skill/strategy to the classroom. If teachers are not given that time, then the day will be wasted. Teachers do not have time on a normal day to realign their curriculum to a new concept. If the professional development is truly valuable, then the majority of the day must be dedicated to lesson planning and curriculum alignment or else it will be for naught.
“Effective parenting refers to carrying out the responsibilities of raising and relating to children in such a manner that the child is well prepared to realize his or her full potential as a human being. It is a style of raising children that increases the chances of a child becoming the most capable person and adult he or she can be.” Dr. Kerby T. Alvy
When it comes to fostering a life-long love of learning, parents are the biggest support for their children.
Here are my top 5 things parents need to teach their children so they are successful in school:
Teach Them How to Talk to and Respect All People: Students who cannot talk to or respect other people will have a hard time in school. There are so many students who are disrespectful to others; it is truly shocking. Having positive relationships in school affects students’ abilities to function in that school. Most issues are avoidable when one realizes it is caused by lack of respect, plain and simple. Teaching children how to respect peers and adults will help them to have great relationships and help them benefit from collaboration with teachers and peers.
Teach Them to Stand Up for Themselves and Others: Obviously, not all children will be respectful and kind to each other; it will be necessary, at some point, for a child to stand his or her ground. Parents need to have conversations with their children about when it will be necessary to stand up for themselves and others, and then give them the tools, words and confidence to say enough is enough in a mature way. Teaching this can be tricky as well. How do we teach our children to stand up to someone without turning into bullies themselves? There is a fine line, but it is necessary to know where that line is. Students who are not afraid to protect themselves and a weaker person have the makings of true leaders.
Teach Them the Necessity of Working Hard: A new trend in student achievement seems to be that even minimal effort should be rewarded with an A (according to some students and parents). If students want A’s, they need to be willing to put in the hard work necessary to get that A. It is unfortunate that parents are supporting this trend because it leads to students only caring about the grade, not the learning. Students who do not value working hard will be susceptible to cheating, which will lead to more severe consequences as they get older.
Teach Them Accountability and Responsibility: Students who are not afraid to answer for something they have done are more likely to make better decisions as they get older. If students cannot admit to wrongdoing for small things, and think they got away with it, the trouble they can cause and get into will intensify exponentially as they get older. Being accountable also means that students know their responsibilities. Students need to show up to class; they need to come prepared with all materials for that class; they need to be rested and ready to learn; and they need to find a way to connect with the material the teacher presents.
Teach Them Failing is Learning: Every self-help book tells its readers: Learn from mistakes. Learn from the setbacks. Yet, the current education movements seem to revolve around the idea that failure is not an option. Failure always has and always will be an option, and people can learn some of the best lessons from their failures.
This list comes from Uncommon Core: 25 Ways to Help Your Child Succeed in a Cookie Cutter Educational System. Pauline Hawkins’ book is available on Amazon as well as directly from the publisher using the link in the right margin.
How do we teach young people the rigorous critical thinking and research skills to distinguish news from propaganda? How do we ensure the next generation is one which communicates civically, values honesty, and recognizes reality?
First, we have to have courses for young people to take that are centered on critical thinking. Most college campuses have an introductory course that stands alone or coincides with a writing class, but until college, most students do not have intensive critical thinking instruction.
In the critical thinking class I teach at GBCC, we read about and practice observation skills, word precision, facts and inferences, assumptions, opinions, viewpoints (and their filters), arguments, logical fallacies, and inductive and deductive reasoning. The most important part of this course is not the tests students take, but the discussions we have as we explore the concepts and share our experiences with critical thinking or the lack there of. What students learn is that they need to read, ask questions, be willing to say “I don’t know, but I’ll research it,” and then actually do it. They learn to spot those logical fallacies and not be duped by them. I tell them never to just believe anyone, not even me. They cannot trust the majority of sources, including mainstream media, because everyone has an agenda.
However, within the constructs of my high school English classroom, I still made sure students received some critical thinking lessons. During research projects, I showed students how to distinguish between legitimate and illegitimate sources, where to find those legitimate sources, and how to use them ethically. We also had a number of shared inquiry sessions during classes on the most controversial subjects that didn’t have easy answers. Here are a few questions I would ask during these sessions: Did George do the right thing when he shot Lennie? Who demonstrated the worst behavior in Romeo and Juliet? Who is responsible for the destruction of freedom and equality on Animal Farm? Through these discussions, students learned to listen to each other (regardless of whether they agreed with each other or not), go beyond their own experiences and care about people and/or characters outside of their own bubble, and look back at text support for their responses—all critical thinking skills.
Which brings me to me next point: Students need to read more, and not just for pleasure, but also for exposure to the human condition. Reading diverse texts will arm them with knowledge outside of their limited perspectives. People cannot be critical thinkers when they have limited knowledge and limited experiences.
Finally, it’s not just young people who need to learn these skills. We have far too many adults who are role models for these young people that do not have critical thinking skills. I’ve said it before and will say it again: We cannot expect our children to learn skills the adults in their lives are not demonstrating on a daily basis.
I know too many people who are not educators (and some who are) that are in favor of the choice movement in education. The biggest reason people want choice is to improve the education for their own children and then create competition so that other schools will be forced to improve or shut down. Unfortunately, both reasons are based in misconceptions about education.
I will concede that “choice” is not a bad thing when you are talking about businesses, service industries, and commodities. We definitely want businesses to compete for our money. Competition makes businesses strive for excellence. That’s why people, outside of education mostly, thought that “choice” would make all schools better, but it hasn’t.
Why? First, because education is not a business; it is a humanright (Article 26) that isprotected as part of our inalienable fundamental rights to which people are entitled simply because they are human beings, “without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour (sic), sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status.”
In other words, if a business fails, the owners can start over, maybe poorer and a little wiser, but no real harm done. If a school fails, it has negatively affected the human rights of every child that went to that failing school.
So how does the “choice” movement hurt human rights? Bear with me as I try to explain this point.
If you are for “choice” in education, you want better “service” for your child. We all want what is best for our children–I’m not arguing that. But if your child is going to a failing school, and you have the money to pay for private schools, which is part of that choice movement, then you will no longer care about that failing school because you can give your child something better (unless your child makes a mistake which will result in an expulsion with no chance of return to that private school). That is great for you and your family, but what about all the other children who can’t afford to pay for private schools?
The next question is usually, isn’t that why people came up with charter schools, so that people who can’t afford private schools can still get a quality education? Yes. Charter schools, in general, are another great idea–on paper. You don’t have to pay for charter schools out of your own pocket—technically—but your tax dollars go to those schools. Our government gives charter schools a certain amount of money for every child enrolled in that charter school; so just like public schools, our government pays for your child’s education—that is if you are lucky enough to get selected, and your child behaves well enough to stay at that school. Most charter schools operate on a lottery system, so not all students will get in, and most schools will kick students out who make mistakes or make the school look bad in any way.
Once again, for those parents who want choice, this sounds great because those children who are selected have a great atmosphere for learning.
However, what people forget is that there are many students who will have to continue going to that failing school. If you can’t worry about someone else’s children, then just consider this: Pulling your child out of the failing school does not pull them out of the society in which they live. One way or another, the negative effects of that failing school will still affect you and your children.
Just to summarize the first point, education is not a business; it is a human right. Therefore, educational choice is about people only caring about their children—no one else’s. Those who can afford it will choose to pay for their children to go to private schools. Out of those that remain, some parents will apply to charter schools and a few lucky students will get selected. That leaves the rest in public schools because public schools will take every rejected and expelled student and do the best they can to educate those students within the confines of the system. Public schools also have incredible students who are successful despite the “choice” movement.
Is it any wonder our public schools look like they are failing if the wealthy and well behaved students are all going somewhere else? Along these lines, by eliminating the heterogeneous classroom in all three options, it makes it harder for those struggling students to see what work ethic, study skills, and perseverance looks like. On the other hand, a classroom that has students with different genders, talents, abilities, interests, backgrounds, and cultures will help all students work toward a higher standard. The students in heterogeneous schools can relate to the world better because they experience diversity on a daily basis. The homogeneous classrooms found in private and charter schools miss out on this necessary part of children’s education. Also, when you remove the top tier of motivated students, the learning culture deteriorates on multiple levels. Students with average ability, motivation, or interest lose that interest, and kids who struggle for whatever reason just give up. Remember, we want our children to be civic-minded and global citizens. How can they understand the global world or empathize with the struggles in our society if they grow up only relating to people just like them?
Second, it is important to note that private and charter schools don’t operate under the government’s watchful eye, which allows them to reject the highly controversial Common Core State Standards (CCSS) and refuse to participate in the corresponding state tests. Since these schools operate independently, they don’t have to participate in the very reasons that people are complaining about public schools. As a matter of fact, many private and charter schools saw the CCSS as a flawed document right from the start and opted out of it.
Remember, CCSS and the state tests are mandated for public schools by the government, while at the same time, the government is pushing for more charter schools that do not have to follow the mandates of the government. Does that make sense? So how can this “choice” movement improve the quality of all schools, when public schools don’t have the autonomy to fix their schools?
Third, to make matters worse, the government is giving money to private and charter schools because of that “choice” movement in the form of vouchers—money that could be given to public schools to improve those failing schools. Of course private and charter schools are going to appear as the right “choice” when they have money to purchase the newest technology, have the freedom to be innovative, and can reject the foolish educational reforms that are more about money than about our children.
Those outside of education do not understand that public schools cannot choose to change their operating methods, so it is impossible for public schools to compete in this so called “business market.” Besides the fact that education is a human right and not a business, the business competition model cannot change public schools because public schools are at the mercy of the government that continues to cut the budget of public schools to pay for tests and to give vouchers to private and charter schools.
Fourth, people and the government are not paying attention to the problems with some charter schools. John Oliver did this great piece on charter schools that exposed the problems with the government funding these unregulated entities.
Many “nonprofit” charter schools are finding deceptive was to make a profit. Once again, if “choice” education is supposed to create competition and a striving for excellence among all schools, Oliver’s research shows how that business model is failing even in the charter school industry.
On the other side of this issue, though, I will admit, there are some amazing charter schools out there. This is my biggest frustration: If there are innovative schools that are working, why can’t we adopt those innovations in public schools?
If parents truly want choice, this is where we as parents and educators need to concentrate our efforts. In Article 26 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the statement that “Parents have a prior right to choose the kind of education that shall be given to their children” should be taken literally and used to fix public education for all, not to give choice only to the wealthy and the fortunate.
If we want true education reformation, we need to make sure the public tax dollars are being used correctly to create an actual choice movement within the public school system itself: Increase money being spent on public education to improve ALL schools, regardless of location; increase teachers’ salaries to create a true competition for quality teachers; increase public school autonomy so that principals and teachers can use their knowledge and experience to innovate and create the right learning environment for their students.
If people are really concerned about choice, they should make sure their local public school is doing what their children need in order to thrive. Imagine a public school that has the elite academic prep curriculum of Phillips Exeter Academy for those students who are college bound; the innovation of The Ron Clark Academy for those who are creative or learn differently; the care and nurturing of the Learning Skills Academy for those with learning disabilities; and The Independent Project (https://youtu.be/RElUmGI5gLc) for those who want independence and a nontraditional education. Using these innovative schools as models to transform public schools would meet the needs of every student regardless of race, gender, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status—not just the wealthy and lucky few.
I had the pleasure of talking about my book on the Uncle Phil Show on Friday. It’s a bit long, but a great hour-long discussion with Phil and Marshall. We had some deep conversations about education, bullying and how to help our children in this climate of fear, but mostly, we laughed and bonded over our mutual desire to make the world a better place.
How do we better engender a healthy, happy, and productive school environment where both teachers and students can flourish?
In Martin E.P. Seligman’s Flourish (published April 5, 2011 with Simon and Schuster), he writes about the five elements people need in order to flourish. It goes beyond trying to find happiness: “Flourishing rests on five pillars, each of which we value for its own sake, not merely as a means to some other end.”
So what are the five pillars and how do we create those elements in a school environment?
Here are my thoughts:
In order for our schools to flourish, they need to be a place where positive emotions reside. At the moment, school systems, teachers, and students are surrounded with negative emotions. Most teachers try to create a positive environment for their students, but so much depends on what happens outside of the classroom. If we want to improve that outer atmosphere, we need to make sure teachers are happy and not stressed out over the increased pressures surrounding their profession. If the teacher ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy.
Students engage when they have a sense of wonder and curiosity about the subject matter, which is a direct result of the teacher’s engagement. I engage with my students because I want to hear and read what my students think about what we are learning in the classroom. The more control I have over the content of my classroom, the more engaged I am, which creates that atmosphere for my students. When reform agencies dictate the content of teachers’ classrooms, engagement diminishes significantly.
Even at the college level where I rarely see students for more than a semester, I have developed strong relationships with my students. I also encourage students to form strong bonds with each other because they need to trust each other when they share their thoughts in classroom discussions and essays in writing workshops. If students aren’t talking to and collaborating with each other, they will never build those necessary relationships.
Teachers find meaning in their chosen profession; it’s intrinsic to their job description. However, the current educational trends take away that intrinsic process from students: Students’ choices are being stripped away, with most schools buying into the factory model of producing only college-bound students, instead of creating a place where students can discover their own passions and direction in life.
One of the reasons video games are so popular with children and teens is that they offer a sense of accomplishment as players move through the levels. This element is sorely lacking in today’s school system. In middle school, students can move through the grade levels without passing a single subject. Some parents are demanding that their children are rewarded for little effort. What has hurt teachers in this area is the evaluation system that measures teachers’ accomplishments through a deeply flawed test. No matter what we tell ourselves about the growth we see in our students, if our accomplishments can be stripped away by a flawed test, we will operate from a defeatist position.
As Seligman states, each of these five pillars needs to be present for people to flourish. It only makes sense that they must be present in the school system for teachers and students to flourish as well.
How can we maximize the value of art and music in education and how can it be blended with more traditional subjects (math, science, history, etc.)?
I teach at a community college, and a professor there created an art therapy club for professors, adjunct, and staff. Nine people attended the first session where they colored with pens and painted with watercolors. Future sessions will consist of making jewelry, drawing, and using mixed media—all as therapy to help adults relieve a stressful week. This is brilliant; however, our primary and secondary children are going to school during a time when the arts are slowly being eliminated from their curriculum. I find this dichotomy painfully ridiculous.
Instead of answering the question this month, I’m going to ask a few of my own:
If schools embraced this idea of art therapy, would we have as many children and teens suffering from stress and anxiety?
If students were allowed to embrace their creative sides, would they grow up into adults who needed art therapy?
If art is therapeutic, why do we give it so little importance and relegate it to an elective in secondary schools?
Why do parents and educators allow people who don’t really care about their children to make unhealthy decisions for their children?
Why does the very notion of school imply that everything that is taught there needs to be quantified? Can’t we just enjoy learning without testing or assigning a letter grade to it?
Why are math, science, social studies, and English classes more important in a child’s education, than art, music, dance, and theater?
Why do people think that studying the arts is a waste of time and not preparation for college? Why can’t students who truly love the arts immerse themselves in those areas and continue to do so in college?
Why is our society so bent on educating only half the child? Do people not see the damage being done to our children when we eliminate the things that bring them the greatest joy?
What are the important skills, behaviors, and attitudes that students need to become contributing global citizens?
These skills, behaviors, and attitudes are so important that I wrote a book about them. My book goes into detail about the specific skills and offers suggestions for parents, teachers, and students on how to cultivate these traits at home, in the classroom, and beyond. For the purposes of this discussion, I put the list into two categories that encompass the necessary skills students need to be contributing global citizens. The one skill that students will need in both categories, however, is a good work ethic. Students will need to have good time management and perseverance whether they are working independently or with a team.
Able to Work Independently: Students who can sit down by themselves and get the job done, no matter what it is, will contribute positively to society. Too many people wait around for help or a leader to give them direction. Students who are proactive and do what needs to be done will have an advantage over those who wait. Independent workers have learned to be problem solvers. They look at complications as problems to be solved, not reasons to quit. In our quickly changing world, students also need to be comfortable with not having a clear-cut answer to things. Sometimes it is through those supposed “failures” that we learn the most, which allows us to become successful. Students who can work independently are able to follow directions and complete a job correctly. Students who can work independently are also responsible for themselves. They don’t play the blame game; instead they know they are in control of their good and bad choices and are more than willing to be accountable. Students who are independent learners will also be curious, innovative, and creative. They are genuinely interested in what they are doing and not afraid to think outside the box to discover new ways to get the job done.
Able to Work with a Team: Students who can also collaborate with other people will be contributing global citizens. Working independently shows confidence in one’s abilities, but working collaboratively shows respect and trust for others. In order to work well in a team, students need to engage in a real way with other people. They do this by being good listeners and communicators when they are face-to-face with their group. They will also read well and write clearly, so they can communicate through email and letters. Working well with a team will require patience for those times when others are struggling and strength of character to stand up for themselves when they aren’t being heard. In a global society, students will also need to be comfortable with and accepting of diversity. Students who cannot respect people who are different from them will find it difficult to find their place in a diverse job market. Finally, students need to accept and understand the differences within other cultures. Our world is getting smaller. The homogeneous populations of the past are no longer part of our realities.
This is the post I wish I wrote. Melissa Bowers captures the plight of a teacher perfectly. There are many reasons to leave the profession, which many teachers, including me, have done. The only reason to stay is for our students. Remember that when you want to be overly critical of the public school teachers still fighting in the trenches–they stayed for your children.
Joshua Katz describes perfectly the plight of American education, the damage it does to our lower achieving students, and the super villains behind it all.
“We need to pay attention to our students and who they are. . . . How can we help them be better students? . . . How can we help them with these non cognitive factors, like work ethic and character? . . . It’s the public narrative that must be shifted. We must talk about what is happening in the lives of our students–even our honors’ students–because we are simply creating a massive population of future citizens who are afraid to attempt anything challenging, unable to read or think critically, or unable to find a way to earn a meaningful income.”
I can’t say it any better than he did, so take the time to watch this video all the way until the end and pay attention to his solutions.
We can have an educational system that meets the needs of every child. We can change the narrative. We just need more people willing to stand up for our children, stand against the super villains, and demand an educational system that encourages success, not failure.