Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Teaching in the Post-Truth Era

Thursday, August 25, 2016

The Whole Student

Due to surgery and forced time off for recovery, I have been reflecting on the ‘good ole’ days and heading back to school.  It is timely, as my district started school two weeks ago and most of the surrounding districts returned or will return shortly.  It was while I was subdued by pain medication and could do nothing but think that I began to reminisce about the excitement of heading back to school.  I zeroed in on my high school years and the excitement of shopping for back-to-school clothes and school supplies.  I did not always get exactly the clothes or supplies I wanted, but always everything I needed. 

More than the new things, I remember being excited at the thought of new classes and having a consistent social life again.  After all, that is what middle and high school was for me and continue to be for many other tweens and teens.  It was the place where my social circle expanded beyond family.  It was where I learned to deal with challenges and develop coping skills.  It was where I worked hard to define my social status among peers.   It is where I developed positive relationships with other adults and began to test the boundaries of those relationships.  It was where I learned that I could do the bare minimum and still be above-average (the birth of my academic procrastination that I battled through undergrad and grad school).  Overall, my school experience was positive, including many opportunities to succeed, as well as learn from failures.

Fast forwarding a few decades, and now working in education, it is apparent to me that the start of school triggers similar and very different responses for young people.  I now know the student population is more than genders and ethnicities, but instead, ranges across the whole gamut of demographics (foster, homeless, pregnant/parenting, juvenile justice involved, military family, transgender, low and high socio-economics, English language learners, students with disabilities, etc.). Just as the demographics differ, the specific school experiences also differ greatly. Given this fact, student demographics require educators to be jacks of all trades. This is an unfair industry expectation, but very necessary to ensure the success of ALL students.  Success for ALL students makes it paramount for Instructional Leaders, like myself, to lead educators through transitions that are in the best interest of the profession and student outcomes.  It is equally important to preserve and embellish what is working well, and ensure that all practices be evaluated through an equity lens.  Change is difficult, but necessary. 

In a nutshell, the challenge is for educators to balance instruction and meeting all of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs for their students in order to maximize learning. 

Although introduced over 70 years ago, in Abraham Maslow’s 1943 paper "A Theory of Human Motivation," many current day frameworks are rooted in this theory, such as social-emotional learning, trauma-informed practices, and developmental assets.  Before students can be expected to learn, their basic, psychological and self-fulfillment needs must be met.  When vested stakeholders come together, these needs may be met through innovative, collaborative, no-cost/low-cost practices.   For long-term sustainability and impact, any practices must be memorialized in board policies so the changes outlast any individual. Change does not happen overnight.  It has to start with changing beliefs, before changing practices and outcomes.  

Edison Educational Consulting is available to facilitate stakeholder conversations and support planning system change around this shift. 

Saturday, June 4, 2016

When in doubt, stand on principle!

Some educators have claimed that a career in education is the most rewarding. I would have to agree. Those same folks around March of every year may also be heard saying that working in education is equally as challenging.  Helping young people reach their maximum potential - rewarding.  Working along side passionate, selfless educators willing to go the extra mile to ensure success for every student - rewarding.  However,  the nuisances of working in education - major challenge.  If you work in education, I do not need to populate the list of challenges for you, chances are you probably have a few running lists of challenges going already.  For others, some of  the challenge highlights are achievement gap, access gap/inequities, LCAP/LCFF, teacher tenure/evaluations, top-down initiatives,  state/local budgeting discrepancies, union demands, staff competencies, culturally relevant pedogogy,  community relations, safety and the list could go on and on depending on individual districts.

That being said, it is always my intent to be solution-oriented on my blog,  in professional development I facilitate,  and personally.  Therefore,  given the innumerable list of challenges educators face on any given day,  my recommendation is to know, stand on, lead with, and make decisions based on your core, guiding professional principles. It is easy, and human nature, to get distracted by challenges such as individual situations, isolated circumstances, and/or temporary variables. I'm not saying ignore the challenges.  I am saying refocus your efforts and be dogmatic about the desired outcomes.   When you have identified and stand on your principles, even given some of the above-referenced challenges, you continue to make decisions and/or act with the desired outcome in mind.  When you stand on principle,  the "how" and the "who" may change often, but not the "what". 

I worked very closely with an awesome group of passionate, dedicated cross-sector of professionals and community members for three years developing a strategic plan for countywide efforts to reduce the violence youth were exposed to and to create vibrant communities where youth could thrive.  This effort used results based accountability to guide our three year planning and implementation process. It was an amazing learning experience. 

With results based accountability, the planning begins with first identifying desired outcomes or goals based on guiding principles.  In other words,  the strategic planning begins with the "what" do we want, not the "how" do we do it.  Instead of  starting with the problem,  and only focusing on finding a narrow solution to the specific problem, results based accountability forces the process to first identify the desired outcome. For example, if truancy is a problem in a school, as a deterrent, having students and parents cited or fined might be an action some schools take in response to the problem of truancy.  On the other hand,  using results based accountability,  given the guiding principle of inclusiveness,  leaders may begin with identifying the goal of wanting a school culture where each student is valued and present daily to contribute to the learning experience.  If that's the goal,  the next step is to identify actions and/or supports that are needed to make that goal happen.  The latter example is more than taking the narrow action of citing in response to truancy.  With the goal of wanting a school culture where each student is valued and present daily to contribute to the learning experience, the intentional actions taken and/or enacted policy will indeed affect truancy, but will also impact overall student achievement, staff moral, and school culture.

When educators use guiding principles to make decisions that impact students, the thought processes and conversations are more aligned with the latter example.  I'm sure we have all gone to planning committee meetings that were derailed and ineffective because they began (and probably ended) with simply stating and restating the problems,  instead of thinking big picture goals.  Here is my challenge to you transformational leaders: TAKE YOUR MEETING BACK AND REDIRECT THE EFFORTS. 

I know it will take planning and strategizing, and will drive you close to the edge....but don't jump!  Remember the desired outcomes,  and move the group towards it. Keep them focused on intentional actions for desired outcomes.  Continue to remind them of the common ground principles and the eutopia that could exist when the outcomes/goals are realized. Acknowledge and validate their concerns,  complaints,  and endless list of problems,  but don't stay there.  Bring them back to guiding principles, desired outcomes, and intentional actions.  This takes practice, flexibility,  tough skin, vision, strategizing, being dogmatic, and most of all patience. This may start as a retreat conversation that spills over to the school year. Get your leadership team around the table to strategize how best to start the conversation, but by all means start it. Our students can't wait. Educators must know, stand on, lead with, and make decisions based on your core, guiding professional principles.