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Educator Issues: 8/5/07 - 8/12/07

Thursday, August 9, 2007

Goal Number Two - Leadership

I want my students to recognize themselves as leaders. I will arrange situations in which they will develop leadership skills.
What are my views of essential leadership skills?

  1. Positive and Optimistic attitude
  2. Willingness to serve others
  3. Freedom from the need to be validated by others [living by ideals and virtues rather than a perception of what others think as a definition of personal identity]
  4. Ability to recognize problems and needs and take positive initiative
  5. Confidence to take risks and make mistakes
  6. Courage to stand for what is true and right
  7. Excellent communication skills
  8. Ability to multi-task and be flexible
  9. Perseverance and effective problem solving skills
  10. Responsibility and willingness to acknowledge personal weaknesses
  11. Discernment to prioritize correctly
One major way I deliver lessons on all of these character traits is through the study of famous role models such as George Washington Carver, Benjamin Franklin, Rachel Carson, and Martin Luther King, Jr., but I also want to emphasize the importance of identifying positive role models in our daily lives - those who live within our homes and community. Interesting thoughts on role models can be found all over the web, like the online "Women and Girls - Tech Up" where the goal is to: encourage women and girls - and the organizations which serve them - to use technology to share ideas, opinions, support, creativity and political action. They have some wonderful thoughts about what defines a role model.

I found an elementary school that actually has a program in which they develop student leaders to contribute to a positive learning environment. I like the way it is explained in their mission.

Goal for This Year

My goal for my students during this year is that they will gain ALL that is possible for them to gain under my educational care to be fully prepared for success in their future.

My most painful thought as a teacher is that my students may not reach their full potential.

This goal leads to an obvious question - What is Success? I've known many people who are financially well-off, and who have careers they sought and acquired, yet they are not fulfilled and satisfied in their lives and are not functioning at full potential. So, how can I, as a 4th grade teacher, provide a year's worth of training to move my students toward a position of true success?

I believe true success is deeply rooted in relationship. In fact, I think a person who has positive relationships is successful beyond any level that career and financial gain can ever permit. I know that my job as an educator is to prepare my students academically, but I also cannot ignore the relational and emotional damage that many of them already experience. I must work toward nurturing safety and love as a foundation from which learning academic skills may grow. I've been teaching long enough to see that my students who have unstable and frightening living situations are also those who struggle academically. I've also observed that the learning is much more effective when the child has a sense of safety and stability.

From the book, Failure Is NOT an Option, by Alan M. Blankstein, the following statements are shared:

“The relationship among the adults in the schoolhouse has more impact on the quality and the character of the schoolhouse – and on the accomplishment of youngsters – than any other." Quote by Roland Barth 2001 (p. 58)

“Students felt cared about and respected, teachers shared a vision and sense of purpose, teachers and students maintained free and open communication, and all parties shared a deep sense of trust.” (p. 58)

“Relationships are at the core of successful learning communities as well as
student success.” (p. 58)

“Stated simply, positive relationships are essential to a child’s ability to grow up healthy and achieve later social, emotional, and academic success” (p. 59)

I have felt this personally, in powerful ways. When I'm stressed in a major way, it becomes MUCH more difficult to think clearly, concentrate, and retain information.

All this said, my goal is to work more deliberately on forming positive relationships with parents, students, and fellow staff. I will begin this at our back to school orientation where I will explain these findings to parents. I have devised an activity in which parents and students will share thoughts (individually and independently of each other), concerning favorite classes, hobbies, struggles, hopes for this school year, etc. They will then come together to share their thoughts. I have a feeling that while many of their views will be similar, they will learn some things about each other that will cause them to be closer and have more of a shared vision for the coming year. I'm excited.

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Education is Obsolete

Bill Gates stated a couple of years ago that our current system of education is "obsolete". See the article that shares more of his comments here. A video slide show sometimes called "Shift Happens" reveals statistics on globalization and current trends in this information age. It states that we are preparing today's students for jobs that do not yet exist.
At last year's Missouri METS Summit meeting, a host of statistics was shared with the attendees, including the fact that over 50% of the U.S. revenue is generated by technology.
My students spend only one hour each week in the computer lab. We are very fortunate to have Smartboards in each of our classrooms. This allows for student exposure to technology to be increased a bit.
My observation is that the way we teach is more problematic than the particular set-up of the school environment (although this also has so much room for improvement). Currently, the institution [schools] are viewed as the responsible party to ensure that students receive the highest quality education. Evidence of the negative nature of this is observed as the state accountability testing time approaches and teachers become the pacing, nail-biting basket of anxious nerves while many students continue to find ways to entertain themselves and classmates with "off-task" behaviors. Schools have resorted to bribing students to do well by promising rewards for exhibiting appropriate testing behavior. Many try to create a sense of motivation in the students by hosting "testing" parties and afterschool events in which parents and students take sample tests. As a result of this wrongly placed accountability, schools have become ridiculously "assessment oriented". We give a test to make sure the students are prepared for the test that will serve as a practice to the test. I've heard several teachers reminisce on the great days when they enjoyed summer school teaching because it was "fun teaching". In other words, the teacher was actually allowed to behave as the professional, find engaging learning activities that students would enjoy, and interact with the students in high-level activities without all the pressure. Now the summer school session is structured entirely around assessment, just as the school year is. This will never result in the most successful learning situation for our youth. A shift must occur in which the pupil gains the fundamental understanding that s/he is ultimately responsible for learning. Students need a visual way to measure their own success. This definitely is NOT the current grading method of assigning A,B,C,D, or F to performance. It is a list of specific objectives that a student is able to determine [see visually] clear mastery of the learning goal.
I believe that is if the student is responsible for learning and able to see progress regularly, it will be motivation enough to keep the student desirous of further accomplishment. Consider video games. A video game is full of failings and difficult challenges, but keeps the player fully engaged with a succession of achievements.
If we are to produce the kind of thinking necessary for the success of our youth, we must allow them to take ownership of discovery and problem solving. We must provide our students with access to the most advanced kinds of technology and allow them to be the "experts" in the using of them, including troubleshooting. We must maximize the physical environment to provide for the best kinds of learning opportunities for student-initiated exploration and innovation. It will take the entire community in beneficial partnerships for this kind of optimal learning. It is time for us to teach smarter and rid ourselves of the hindrances to effective teaching. For example, teachers need time to interact with students, collaborate with fellow professionals, reflect on current practices with a vision to always improve, facilitate the lessons that will truly engage students, and locate resources [grants, community partnerships, real-world field trips, etc] to prepare students for true success. Schools need to find ways to support family relationships rather than seeking ways to remove children from their family for longer periods of time. Finally, our nation must do some serious introspection and face our flawed cultural values. We have to see the value of our youth and support them in their development in a way that we have not in the past and certainly not in the current time. Our media emphasis with music, video games, and movies promotes a way of thinking that is continuously eroding the efforts of those who seek to instill virtues and the values that will set our children on a path toward their full potential.