Tuesday, October 29, 2019

Wouldn't it be great to be a kid again?

Wouldn’t It Be Great to Be a Kid again?

Hmmm, if you are a kid, the answer is probably not so much.  It seems grownups have only minimal knowledge of what kids are feeling and experiencing.   Some recent research indicates some things that kids wish their parents and teachers knew about them.
Most kids are already really trying hard.  They want to please the grownups that surround them.  So telling kids to try harder or practice more and they will get it- whatever the it is- piano, reading or math.  Well that really doesn’t help much.  And telling kids to just try harder just adds to their frustration and, truthfully, it makes them angry.
Grownups think they know the kids.  Well the kids know us too.  They can tell by our facial expressions, our body language and our response time to events.  They want us to be happy.  And when they think we are not, they are concerned that somehow they had something to do with it.  If an adult is in a bad mood, it probably wouldn’t hurt to let the child/student know that your mood has nothing to do with them and that you still love/care about them.  Because kids worry that they caused the bad mood and you won't love them any more.
Kids, like adults, want to be trusted.   They want our first, second and maybe third response be that we believe what they tell us about an event.  So when something breaks and a kid says he didn’t do it, believe him until you are sure that there is another cause for the issue.   And maybe it really was just a plain accident just like adults accidently break a glass even when they are “being careful”.
Last week I saw a sign, it said, “I wish you would stop texting me every half hour, I told you I would be five minutes late.”.  Ok, pretty funny.  But kids experience that kind of dishonesty all the time and they wish we would just tell them the truth.   If you are going to be a no-show and you already know that, tell them the truth.  Don’t put them off for an hour or whatever and then announce you aren’t coming.  Ditto about someplace you promised to take them.  If it is not happening, let them know when you know.
Kids know when adults are hypocrites.   Grownups are all over them for too much time spent on electronics.  But have you ever watched adults at dinner in a restaurant?   How many of them have their phones out when they are supposed to be enjoying the company of their companion at the table.  Yet we give kids grief for doing the same thing.  Set a standard and stick to it.  It is fine for kids to have a different standard from adults, but they need to have some leeway as well.
We all want to give our kids multiple opportunities to do everything.  But what adult doesn’t treasure a free weekend morning or evening when nothing is scheduled?   Kids are often not in control of their own lives.   It is one of the worst things about being a kid.  In our rush to give children a broad life experience we don’t often realize that kids need “me time” as well as grownups do and may just need some time to just “be”.   Let’s let them have that.
I always think that the true sign of love is when someone loves you just as you are without the footnote.  As in, I love you if only… and there it comes.  If only, you would lose a few pounds, if only you would work out more, if only, you would dress better.  You get the drill and so do the kids.   There used to be a time when we taught elementary teachers to get unruly kids to behave by saying, “I like how Tania took out her book and is ready to work.”.   That is supposed to send a message to the kids who are not ready to work that they should be like Tania.  Siblings are different from each other even if raised in the same house and even when they share the same biological parents.   Yet sure enough, one kid will be the model for the others.  One of the worst things we say to kids is, “why can’t you be like …?”   Well maybe it is because he or she isn’t that other child.  Children, just like adults, want to be loved and valued for who they are, just as they are.  We need to value them for who they are, just as we want to be valued the same way.
Adults often have the language and the power to speak up when these kinds of things happen to them. Children don’t.   We need to listen to what they are saying with their facial expressions, their behavior, and, yes, their words.   It really isn’t all that hot to be a kid again.

Tuesday, October 22, 2019

What do principals think of parents?

So parents what does your principal think of you?

Probably not surprising that principals have names for parents and they aren’t always sugar and spice.   Education Weekly did an extensive survey of principals to ask them what they thought.  Principals walk a tightrope between staff and families.   If they are seen as caving in to families too often by staff, they will have a really tough time of running the school without staff support.   On the other hand, if they don’t provide the attention and understanding that families want there will be complaints to the upper reaches of administration.   So they must learn to walk the tightrope and avoid the squeeze play.
Based on the survey, principals use about seven different groupings for parents.
There are the “lawnmower” or “snowplow” parents.   These are people who are generally unhappy with previous experiences and come in with both guns blazing.   They are going to make sure that their child has only positive experiences.   They want the child to only experience success and avoid disappointment at all costs.   This attitude upsets principals and staff mainly because it does not prepare the child for what life will be as an adult.
The “helicopter” parent wants to watch over every phase of the child’s life.  They are a lot like the lawnmower parent except that these parents want to be involved in every minute aspect of the child’s life be it academic or social.   School folks worry that the child is not going to be prepared to problem solve on his/her own when life gets complicated as we know it will.
Tiger parents are often associated with Asian parents because of the book written called Tiger Mother.  But in fact any ethnic group can produce Tiger parents.   These parents have a very authoritarian style and demand high achievement from their children in all aspects of school life- academics, sports, music, or extra-curricular activities.   Teachers are concerned that the children will feel like failures because it is virtually impossible for any child to excel in every activity.
The Elephant parent is very nurturing.  They want the child to be happy and protected.   They place a very high value on encouragement and empathy to the extent that the child seldom experiences failure.   One of the most important adult skills is resilience to failure.  Learning to pick yourself up after a flop and move on.  Kids with Elephant parents don’t get to have the chance to do this very much so they lose a valuable adult skill.
Jellyfish parents are just that, jellyfish.   They have few rules or regulations for their kids whether it is because they believe kids should not be required to follow rules or because they do not want to exert the effort to teach those rules.  Often these children are overindulged and do not learn that life will have rules that they will need to follow.
Dolphin parents are the good guys.  They are firm but flexible.  They strive for balance in rule enforcement and they do have expectations for appropriate behavior.  They nurture creativity and independence in their children.   These youngsters are learning lessons that will best prepare them for adulthood.
The Free-Range parent is quick to say that their goal is to allow their children to become independent and self-reliant so they have few rules and expect their kids to learn from experience.   The problem with this parenting style is that younger children don’t have the experience or the cognitive maturity to make these kinds of decisions.
While it is nice to be able to categorize families/parents, it is seldom accurate that a family is exclusively one type of another.   One of the things that occurred to me is that we could probably use these same categories to sort principals in terms of how they respond to monitoring and mentoring teachers.
Might be interesting to do a survey to find out how parents categorize school staff.

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Tell me again what test scores mean?

Tell me again what test scores measure?
There are lots of ways to measure how good a teacher is.   Under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) all teachers were going to be evaluated based on the standardized test scores of their students.   This idea makes so little sense as to be ridiculous.  Yet state after state chased the money and began to link teacher evaluations to standardized test scores of students.   Now many, many states and school systems are rethinking the standard.
First of all, this requirement makes the assumption that there is a 1:1 correlation between teaching and learning by the student.  There are multiple reasons why kids don’t learn something.   Most obviously is the fact that the student may not have the ability to learn the material no matter how well it is taught.   Or there may be other aspects of the child’s life that are putting learning way down on the child’s priority list.  The child’s parents may be separating or fighting regularly.  The family may be suffering some economic trauma with income dramatically reduced.  A pet may be sick or has died.  A member of the family may be very ill.  When a child is experiencing life trauma, there isn’t much energy left over for learning.   Today, many schools have pacing guides that require the teacher to move on according to a pre-described schedule.  Teachers don’t have the luxury to go back and re-teach what the child has not learned.  Great teaching is wonderful and important but it can’t guarantee that the child will learn.  And some children need multiple exposures to the content before they learn it.
The idea was to use standardized tests as an independent measurement of what a child has learned.  Then teachers would be evaluated by this measurement.   The purpose was to move the measurement method to something more objective so that a principal wouldn’t rate a teacher highly because the principal liked the teacher or poorly is she didn't like the teacher.   Principals and school systems would need to use the objective test measure instead of some more subjective measures.   The fact is that standardized tests are not necessarily valid measures of what a child has learned.  They can measure what has been learned as measured by the test but as anyone who has ever been tested can tell you, much more was learned than was measured on the test. 
So how can good teaching be measured objectively if we insist that it be linked to learning.  Just maybe good teaching cannot be measured independently of each specific student. 
There is no teaching, good or bad, unless it is linked to learning.   And there is no such thing as the same model of teaching being “good” for all students.  What is perfect for some students is just the opposite for others.  Searching for an objective measure of good teaching is a fools’ errand.  Good teaching is very subjective.   Oh sure, there are guidelines and requirements for a good lesson or lesson plan.  These characteristics can easily be checked off by any evaluator.  But if you want to know what good teaching is, skip the test scores and just ask a couple of kids.  Their answers will be subjective and spot on.

Wednesday, October 9, 2019

What If We met kids’ needs?

What if we met students's needs?

Students spend the better part of their youth in school. What would happen if we actually met their needs?    Instead it seems we are intent on meeting the needs of teachers, administrators and politicians.   Kids have a great need for verbal skills.  They need to be able to argue their position among friends and bullies.  As adults their ability to take and argue a position will be a critical work skill. 
Teachers want the students to stay on track so they can meet the demands of the pacing guide.  Too many discussions will slow down the schedule and no one will be happy with that except maybe the kids.  Principals need to make sure material is covered in time for the tests. 
Students need to know how to work in a multi-ethnic world.  That is the world they live in now and it will be even more so when they grow into adults.   Yet administrators and politicians are working very hard to design school catchment areas that are as ethnically homogeneous.   It is more politically expedient to do that but it is not in the best interests of the students.
Teenagers get to bed late.  High schools are scheduled to open the earliest of the three levels.  That makes the scheduling easier for the transportation folk.   It doesn’t seem to matter when teachers complain that kids are sleeping through the first two periods of the day.  
Young children need to play and move.   Through play they develop basic social skills.   Motor learning and movement is basic language.   Providing opportunities for group problem solving is not just a child skill it’s the basic negotiating skill of the adult world.   Social skills count as the basis of all other social learning.    But administrators are anxious to be able to tout their higher standards which for some reason means more academic learning and less play and motor/social learning.
And here’s a thought- maybe if schools met the needs of kids rather than adults there would be fewer behavioral problems.   Now there’s an idea!

Tuesday, October 1, 2019

What would happen if education were useful?

What would happen if education were useful?

How much of what we spend huge chunks of our lifetime and great amounts of money on is actually useful?   Of course I am speaking about formal education.   Public education costs take the lion’s share of local and state budgets.   The hours spent in school consume the bulk of our childhood.   What are we doing this for?
I am reminded of Frost’s poem about two roads diverged and he took the one less traveled by.  It is time to assess the road most travelled by and what are we gaining along that road.
The Kirwan Commission in Maryland has recommended dramatic increases in funding for education.  Much of the money is for increases in teacher salaries and the addition of pre-k and expansion of kindergarten.  For the last decade, we have become obsessed with increasing standards as measured by high stakes testing.  To my knowledge no one is evaluating the usefulness of the accumulation of all that knowledge.  And that is assuming that the students really store that knowledge once the testing is done.
Initially, public education was established so that the United States would have an educated electorate as we moved toward full suffrage for all citizens.   What is the point of education at public expense today?   We keep asking citizens to spend more and more money but we don’t seem to be evaluating the content of that expensive education.  Some of the most failing local school systems in Maryland spend the most money per pupil.  As I have said frequently, paying a bad teacher more money does not make that person a better teacher.  Although it does make the person a better paid bad teacher.
We are now requiring that all kids take algebra II in order to receive a high school diploma.  No one seems to need to explain why that is, except it increases standards- standards for what!?
Our kids need to be taught basic economics.  The last great recession made it clear that most citizens don’t recognize that a mortgage offer or a loan offer that seems too good to be true, probably is.   Our national credit card debt is on the rise again.   Do people know what they are paying for things when they add in the credit charges?   Do students know how much it really costs to live?   Adolescents dream of fancy cars and big houses but have not a clue about apartment rent or taxes.
Last year the Speaker of the House of Delegates in Maryland died.   He was the longest serving Speaker of the House.  There was lots of coverage in the local media.  A few weeks ago I asked students in a graduate level courses about the event. Not A Single Person in the Class knew what I was talking about!  These people are all college graduates working on an advanced degree.  We teach kids about algebra II, about settling of the colonies ad nauseum, and about physics.   Yet most graduates can’t write a grammatically correct sentence, understand enough civics to knowledgeably vote nor figure out their own financial situation.
Not sure we are getting our money’s worth for public education.  What would happen if education really were useful!