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Posts Tagged ‘Administrative Leadership’

This Just In: Recess Helps… A LOT! It Allows Children to Be Children and Not Data Points

August 16, 2019 Comments off

In yet another study that proves the sun will rise every day, researchers gathered data that proves the value of recess. “Becky” who writes for Your Modern Family reports:

…research is actually showing how schools with more recess have happier, smarter, and more focused students.   In fact, recess even helps students to be more friendly and social.

“Recess is the only place in school, maybe the only place in their social life, where kids have the opportunity to develop social skills with their peers,” says Murry, former chairman of the AAP’s Council on School Health.

And why was recess ever considered unworthy? If you guessed that it ate into time needed to prepare for standardized tests you’ve been a careful and diligent reader of this blog for the past eight years. And guess what country assures recess at all costs AND consistently outscores the US in international tests? FINLAND!

Strong research in Finland shows that children who engage in more physical activity and play do better academically than children who are sedentary.  From kindergarten through eighth grade, students in Finland spend 15 minutes of every hour in recess, enjoying unstructured outdoor play. During that time, they love to make up games, expanding their imaginations and creativity.”

15 minutes per HOUR… as opposed to our country that often tacks 15 minutes of recess onto the end of lunch period. For those who scoff that it would never work in our country, Becky has some news for you. A program called the LiiNK Project provided more recess for students and, voila, test scores went up!

A school in Texas took part in the LiiNK Project, where students in K-1 had four 15-minute recess breaks a day.   “Adopting LiiNK requires eliminating one hour of instructional time each day. That is a high risk for educators who believe more instruction leads to higher test scores. But research shows vast benefits to providing kids recess.”

“In districts that have adopted LiiNK, the teachers, administrators, and parents raved about its effects on students. The additional recess, they said, helped their kids focus better, misbehave less, and even lose weight. There were benefits for teachers, too. Sandra Hill, a third-grade teacher at Chavez with 18 years experience, said better-behaved kids improved her morale. She described the difference between teaching LiiNK kids and the kids at her previous schools as “night and day.”   “This year was hands down, the easiest year I’ve had with behavior.”

Cindy Griggs, a kindergarten teacher at Eagle Mountain Elementary, a LiiNK school in Fort Worth, described a similar change. Recalling her students’ behavior before LiiNK was implemented four years ago, she said, “They were always antsy, messing with the name tags on their desks, poking each other, rolling around on the floor.”

But now with the extra recess: “They’re able to get all that energy out. Coming in, they’ll just be sitting on the carpet zoned in and engaged for 45 minutes.”

A Texas college professor and elementary school Principal were given the last words on this topic, which included lots of links to lots of reports substantiating the value of recess and unstructured play:

Professor and associate dean at Texas Christian University, Debbie Rhea, launched the recess initiative, reminding her of her childhood.   “We have forgotten what childhood should be.   And if we remember back to before testing—which would be back in the ’60s, ’70s, early ’80s—if we remember back to that, children were allowed to be children.”

“Test scores don’t tell you everything you need to know about a child,” she said. “I hope people can understand that. In this age of accountability and testing, I think we’ve forgotten that we’re dealing with these little kids with their little hearts,and they need to be nurtured too.” – Principal Elizabeth Miller, Chavez Elementary School.

And here’s what is saddening to this retired veteran school superintendent: anyone who entered the teaching profession after NCLB has NEVER known of a time when “children were allowed to be children”.We now have a generation of teachers who know of nothing except accountability based on standardized testing… teachers who themselves were subjected to passing fill-in-the-bubble tests to prove they had the ability to deal with little kids with their little hearts. The sooner we move away from this “meritocracy” based on tests the better!

In “Call Me By My True Names”, Thich Nhat Hanh Points Out a Troubling Reality that Princeton Professor Drives Home

August 7, 2019 Comments off

I just watched the YouTube video embedded below featuring Eddie Glaude, a Princeton Professor who talked with MSNBC about the recent killings in El Paso and Dayton. Watch it… and then read Thich Nhat Hanh’s poem, Call Me By My True Names, that is pasted below the video clip. My concluding thoughts follow the poem.

Call Me By My True Names

By Thich Nhat Hanh

Don’t say that I will depart tomorrow— even today I am still arriving.

Look deeply: every second I am arriving to be a bud on a Spring branch, to be a tiny bird, with still-fragile wings, learning to sing in my new nest, to be a caterpillar in the heart of a flower, to be a jewel hiding itself in a stone.

I still arrive, in order to laugh and to cry, to fear and to hope. The rhythm of my heart is the birth and death of all that is alive.

I am a mayfly metamorphosing on the surface of the river. And I am the bird that swoops down to swallow the mayfly.

I am a frog swimming happily in the clear water of a pond. And I am the grass-snake that silently feeds itself on the frog.

I am the child in Uganda, all skin and bones, my legs as thin as bamboo sticks. And I am the arms merchant, selling deadly weapons to Uganda.

I am the twelve-year-old girl, refugee on a small boat, who throws herself into the ocean after being raped by a sea pirate.

And I am also the pirate, my heart not yet capable of seeing and loving.

I am a member of the politburo, with plenty of power in my hands. And I am the man who has to pay his “debt of blood” to my people dying slowly in a forced-labor camp.

My joy is like Spring, so warm it makes flowers bloom all over the Earth. My pain is like a river of tears, so vast it fills the four oceans.

Please call me by my true names, so I can hear all my cries and laughter at once, so I can see that my joy and pain are one.

Please call me by my true names, so I can wake up and the door of my heart could be left open,the door of compassion.

In response to the relentless accumulation of deaths due to mass shootings, politicians are drawn to quick solutions, solutions based on linear Western thought. If we limit guns we will limit deaths. If we identify potential killers and deny them the chance to acquire weapons we will limit deaths. If we stopped the sale of video games that graphically engage players in shooting enemies we will limit deaths. These solutions connect dots…. but as Mr. Glaude and Thich Nhat Hanh point out, there is an interdependence in play that requires each of us to examine ourselves and identify the role we are playing in increasing the violence and hatred in our world.

Can schools teach self-awareness and interdependence? It is a question I am wrestling with… and one I hope others who support public education will examine as well.

PA School Lunch Brouhaha Exemplifies All That is Wrong With Internet

July 22, 2019 Comments off

I first read about the overly aggressive memo about delinquent school lunch accounts on my phone feed. Fox Mews reported on it and I could imagine Fox and Friends having a field day. Later I saw a CNN account of the story and this morning the NYTIMES has a story. The bottom line is that a rogue food service administrator and the school attorney got together and concocted an ill advised letter that was sent to parents whose students owed money to the school for lunches. I dare say that such incidents occurred at least once a month SOMEWHERE in the US during the 29 years I served as a school superintendent… but the boneheaded mistakes did not become national news… they were taken care of at the local level. When local mistakes by overly aggressive administrators become national news it makes everyone’s job in the public sector tougher… and takes up bandwidth in national news reporting that COULD be used to inform the public of the big picture challenges public schools face.

www.nytimes.com/2019/07/20/us/school-lunch-bills-overdue-payment.html

Sanity Prevails in Florida Dismissal of Holocaust Denying HS Principal… BUT…

July 14, 2019 Comments off

I read a NYTimes account of the dismissal of a Boca Raton HS Principal with a sense of relief… but also a sense of bewilderment. According to an article by Sarah Mervosh, William Latson, the Principal of Spanish River Community High School in Boca Raton, Fla., wrote in an email exchange with an unidentified parent in April 2018 that:

…the school offered an assembly and courses on the Holocaust, but that they were optional and could not be “forced upon” all students.

I can imagine that an irate Holocaust denying parent writing an email to a Principal complaining about an elective course offering and, perhaps, a school-wide assembly on the topic… and I can see where a Principal’s appeasing response might be taken out of context as evidence that his personal equivocation on the issue. What I found astounding was what followed:

“I can’t say the Holocaust is a factual, historical event because I am not in a position to do so as a school district employee,” Mr. Latson wrote, making a distinction between his personal beliefs about the Holocaust and his role as the leader of a public school. “I do allow information about the Holocaust to be presented and allow students and parents to make decisions about it accordingly. I do the same with information about slavery.”

I cannot fathom how anyone “…can’t say the Holocaust is a factual, historical event” and then justify such a stance based upon his status as a “…school district employee”. Then, in case the reader has any doubts about Mr. Latson’s wisdom, depth of knowledge of history, or political savvy, he indicates that he not only allows students and parents to make up their own facts about the Holocaust, he invites them to do the same thing with slavery!

Thankfully, the citizens of Boca Raton did not take kindly to Mr. Latson’s thinking and the school district did the right thing:

The comments set off an intense backlash in South Florida, which has a significant Jewish population and has among the highest concentrations of Holocaust survivors in the world. Thousands signed an online petition calling for Mr. Latson’s resignation, and on Monday, the Palm Beach County school district announced that he would be stripped of his position as principal and reassigned to another job in the district.

In response to the rise in anti-Semitism in the state, the Florida legislature has mandated instruction on the Holocaust in order to ensure that every student who graduates from Florida schools is aware of the horrific genocide that occurred in World War II. The Palm Beach County School Board Chair, Frank A. Barbieri Jr., emphasized that the district’s curriculum exceeds what is required by the state mandate.

“Every generation must recognize, and learn from, the atrocities of the Holocaust’s incomprehensible suffering and the enduring stain that it left on humankind,” he said. “It is only through high-quality education, and thought-provoking conversations, that history won’t repeat itself.”

And leaders in the Jewish community also weighed in:

Mr. Levin, of the Jewish Federation of South Palm Beach County, said that the Holocaust should be treated like other undebatable facts throughout history, from the Roman Empire to the Revolutionary War to slavery.

“We simply don’t let educators pick and choose what is a philosophical debate and what is not,” he said, adding: “There is no way to be politically correct about the Holocaust. It is a fact of life.

It IS a fact of life… like climate change, like the need for vaccines, like many inconvenient facts of history and science. When the day comes that we get to choose facts democracy dies.

“Thin Contracts”: The Way Forward for Charter Schools AND Unions

June 5, 2019 Comments off

Forbes contributing writer Talia Milgrom-Elcott offers a way forward for charter schools and unions, a way that would provide charter schools with a stable workforce by offering teachers in those schools the basic benefits unions provide: decent wages, benefits, and working conditions. Here’s Ms. Milgrom-Elcott’s opening paragraphs that describe how this might work:

I am part of a growing contingent: a supporter of unions, public schools and public charter schools. This is no easy alliance. Unionizing charter schools can make both parties anxious – even though charters were first conceived by Al Shanker, the then-president of the American Federation of Teachers.

Many charter schools have delivered powerful results for students by focusing on children first. And unions have staked out the teacher-happiness terrain, focusing on satisfaction, retention and job quality. Why have we forced a choice: unions or charter schools; children-first or teacher-first? Personally, I have come to see these dichotomies as false, because students will only thrive in schools where adults are also thriving.

Companies with disgruntled staff don’t make good widgets. How can we expect unhappy teachers to shape thriving humans? As Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, shared in a recent piece in The Atlantic: “As charters go from infancy to adolescence, those who want to succeed for the long haul have to have a stable, vibrant teaching force, and that stable, vibrant teaching force wants a voice and agency.”

Later in the article, Ms. Milgrom-Elcott answers the question she posed above regarding the mental models in place that result in a forced choice between charters and unions:

We can’t ignore the animosity that has long characterized the relationship between charter schools and unions. Charter schools have made explicit structural decisions to side-step some of the more onerous restrictions of traditional teachers’ union contracts, and unions have derogated charter schools’ intentions, in turn.

Ms. Milgrom-Elcott offers a workaround used by several charter chains who have accepted unionization: a “thin contract”. She uses Green Dot’s collective bargaining agreement as an example:

…Green Dot Public Schools, a network of charter schools where in California they are serving about 11,000 students in communities across Greater Los Angeles – (has) unionized teachers and staff have a central role in the organization.

“We want to be agents of transformation in public education, so we have to live and breathe the same context as our peers,” said Chad Soleo, the national CEO of Green Dot. “Ultimately, we want to make sure that our reforms and the lessons we’ve learned in public education are completely replicable in any union setting.

Partnering with an organized workforce has evolved into much more, says Soleo.

“Our educators buy in wholeheartedly to the values of collective decision-making, collaborative leadership, and organized labor,” he said. “In practice, they wanted a different flavor than the status quo.”

Green Dot’s “thin” contract, negotiated in Los Angeles with their unions, both affiliates of the California Teachers Association – itself a joint affiliate of the AFT and NEA, the nation’s two largest teachers’ unions – leaves room for flexibility by both the school administration and teachers to remain responsive to student needs. Organized charter schools have typically worked with unions to create these more streamlined contracts specific to the needs of each school community.

I can see “thin” contracts being a benefit to unions as well as charter schools. Many “mature” contracts I worked with near the end of my career incorporated detailed regulations on the length and structure of classes that arguably hampered the ability of teachers to innovate and often included arcane provisions on leaves that taxpayer groups would quote to illustrate how easy teachers have it. These regulations and provisions often emerged because of a controversy in one school caused by a single incident that led to language being added to ensure that an outlying practice was not repeated. The result was an increasingly thick and complicated contract. From the union’s perspective changing any of the language was perceived as an erosion of protection or benefits, making it difficult to strip away language that was no longer needed even if current practices made the language superfluous. Language changes regarding the time frames for the issuance of report cards, drafted when they were done by pencil-and-paper instead of computers, were often viewed as “concessions” instead of “clarifications” making relationships between unions and school boards contentious. In order to make contracts skinnier and more flexible, a requirement in this day and age of technology, both sides need to abandon their win-lose mentality and find “a different flavor” than the status quo.

Ms. Milgrom-Olcott’s closing paragraphs an apt closing paragraph for this post as well:

We’re at a critical juncture in this country, one that requires courageous leadership. Persistent economic inequality and lack of social mobility threaten the fabric of our nation and the health of our democracy. Public charter schools want to combat this. To fully live into that mission, their boards, leaders, teachers, and communities should embrace unionization and negotiate the details with unions. Charter school leaders have an opportunity to reignite their schools as engines of economic mobility and robust democratic participation for their communities. The American Dream might well depend on it.

How to “Bully-proof” Your Child? Teach Them the Serenity Prayer

May 30, 2019 Comments off

I just finished reading a NYTimes article by Estelle Erasmus titled “How to Bully-Proof Your Child“. The bottom line answer is provided by child psychologist Izzy Kalman who suggests that if a child is bullied they should “...treat the person insulting you as a friend rather than an enemy, and not to get defensive or upset.” The article offers several examples of how to apply Dr. Kalman’s principles, including this one:

The Reflexive Response

“I didn’t. Tessa is a liar!”

“No, she’s not!

“She is! I didn’t cheat!”

“Everyone knows it’s true.”

“It’s not true!”

Mr. Kalman’s Approach:

“Really? Do you believe it?”

“No.”

“Good.”

Or, if the answer is “Yes”:

O.K. If you want to believe it, how can I stop you?”

“You can’t. So I’m going to tell everyone you cheated. And you can’t stop me.”

“That’s right. I can’t.”

After reading this example, I was reminded of the Serenity Prayer ascribed to Reinhold Niebuhr:

Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.

In dealing with the false accusation, the bullied individual is acting on this prayer: They accept the thing they can’t change— the accuser’s beliefs— have the courage to stand up to the accusation— but ultimately accede to the accusation because they see that changing the accuser’s mind is an impossibility.

From my experience, all bullying can be resisted in this fashion. A bullied individual cannot change the behavior of the bully on their own and they cannot change the bullying incident itself. The bullied individual, then, needs to have the wisdom to decide whether to seek the intervention of someone who CAN change things or to continue accepting the bullying.

Ms. Erasmus’ elaboration of Dr. Kalman’s theories reinforce the notion that the Serenity Prayer might be applicable across-the-board, as my italicized notes indicate:

Instead of having adults act like law enforcement officers against bullying, Mr. Kalman advises teaching children the following four facts:

1) The real reason they are being picked on is that they get upset when they are picked on. (i.e. they are not accepting what they cannot change) 

2) They have been making themselves upset. (i.e. if they ACCEPT what they cannot change they will not make themselves upset) 

3) Fighting back and acting defensive fuels the bullying. (i.e. IF they accept what they cannot change it will diminish the bullying behavior— in this case courage IS acceptance) 

4) By not getting upset, the child wins, and gets the bullies to stop.

“The way to reduce bullying is to not punish kids for exercising their freedom of speech,” Mr. Kalman said. Teaching children that everyone is allowed to speak freely removes much of the power of the bullying and enables children to be their own advocates.

Bullying has been going on for decades… and trying to stop it by developing elaborate rules and protocols can be self-defeating. I’m with Dr. Kalman on this issue:

Mr. Kalman explained that when we punish kids for using certain words, it teaches them that words are very harmful. And when an adult punishes a child for saying something hurtful, it magnifies hostilities and takes the solution for fixing the issue out of the child’s hands.

Nobody can guarantee their children a life without difficulties. If you protect your children from the social challenges of life, it weakens them,” he said.

Denver Administration “Accidentally” Sends Letter Threatening Deportation of Striking Teachers

January 27, 2019 Comments off

I try not to be cynical about school administrators, but the latest news from Denver Public Schools who are on the verge of a strike test my credulity.

Here’s a quick overview of what is going on: on the heels of a successful strike in Los Angeles that reinforced the public’s support for public school teachers and antipathy toward charter schools, the Denver teachers decided to strike. But at the 11th hour the Denver School Board invited the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment to intervene which, in accordance with state laws, postponed the strike. At the same time as the school board was ostensibly striving to find a middle ground, the Denver Superintendent sent out a memo to administrators imploring them to cross the picket lines. Then, in the coup de gras, her HR department issued a memo indicating that any undocumented teachers who participated in the walk out would be reported to ICE.

In response to the memo, according to Chalkbeat the newly appointed Superintendent offered an apology, stating “…she was shocked the evening before to learn that a district human resources employee had sent an email to schools on Tuesday that said immigrant teachers working in Denver Public Schools on visas would be reported to immigration authorities if they participated in an impending teacher strike.”

Following the school board’s last minute and arguably disingenuous effort to reach a settlement and her administrations admitted effort to recruit administrative staff to cross picket lines, her apology seemed hollow at best and dishonest at worst…. especially given that “…No employees were put on leave as a result of the email”. The Chalkbeat report did indicate, though, that the Superintended DID say that “…the district is taking steps to ensure it doesn’t happen again” but “...did not elaborate on what they are.” 

I do not envy the effort the new Superintendent will have to make to dig herself out of the hole the Board has put her in… but I cannot believe that her decision to look the other way when a key HR staff member threatens to report teachers to immigration officials will help. All of this underscores the fact that teachers only join unions to protect themselves from unenlightened boards and administrators….