Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Stop Secrecy

Yesterday at our weekly half hour delay meeting, we had our annual "test taking procedures and protocols" presentation. Many of you probably have something similar. And even though we don't take the tests til Spring, and will have another training closer to the test, we still have to sit through the presentation, read a bunch of stuff, and sign that we have done so. As I was sitting there it was emphasized more than in the past that we are not to discuss the test. 
Not only can we not discuss the test, teachers will need to tell kids not to discuss the test with anyone -- not even parents. And a letter will go home asking parents not to ask their kids about the test. 

Schools are on a "need to know basis." "That's confidential." is the education motto. We can't know if a child is identified, or what their home life is, or what their behavior history is. We are not supposed to mention a child by name or discuss a situation with which we are having difficulty except with those in authority who have a need to know. 

Profiling is forbidden because it segregates people negatively. If someone commits a crime we shouldn't describe them by height, weight, sex, or ethnicity. 

Dramatically speaking, is it ever OK to tell a child to not tell their parent something? The Christmas ornament is going to be a surprise not a secret. The mother's day hand print is a surprise... not a secret. 

If I know a child is identified, then I know there may be other techniques I can use to help him or her to understanding. If I know a child used to live in a car, or that dad is in jail, or grandma has custody, it gives me an understanding of where the behavior stems and I can use that information to gain understanding and coach them through the emotion. 

If you are telling someone how to get to your house they need to know what roads to take, land marks along the way, and oh, yeah, whether your house is one or two stories, if it has a driveway, and maybe the color of the house and what the yard looks like. Shouldn't the same be true when describing people?

We are not all the same. We should not strive to all be the same. It seems to me all the secrecy has created less safety. It has created more shame than pride. It has created more tension than togetherness. 

We have special needs in our building. Of course I can't tell you what kind, but I can tell you how beautifully the Kindergartners adapt. After the first week or two Bob was just Bob and not "Bob who blahablahblah." It is we adults ( and the lawyers who are always ready, willing, and able to sue) who muck things up in order to prove we are above labels. 

But kindergartners are tested on their ability to sort things into categories. Friends for them tend to fall into two categories -- "those who are nice to me and those who are mean". Period. 

Knowledge is power and as educators I would hope we could use our powers for good. I can't be the only one who thinks we, not only as educators, but as human beings, need to advocate for what is best for children. A child who is blahblahblah and prone to blahblahblah needs blahblah in order to be his or her best self. Secrecy leads to needless struggle for Bob and a school career constantly disrupted for notBobs. 

Seeking information in order to understand is not gossip. It is not "labeling". It is not harmful. 

Let's embrace our uniqueness and teach others to do so as well.

 If you don't like women in their late 40's
 who have brown eyes and brown hair that they like to wear long so they can pull it up 
and are of German, English, and Native American heritage 
and who love to read and discuss book, 
are not great cooks but an OK bakers
who like to research genealogy
who have a thought to be an education activist when the youngest graduates
who married their high school sweet heart
who's said husband is of German and Polish heritage
who has two boys who are wicked smart and nerdy 
who chose to be a breast feeding, cloth diaper using, no pacifier using, stay at home mom 
who has a college degree from Purdue
who is to heavy for her 5'3" frame

then you don't have to be my friend or even like me. 

But I will wave and say hi if I see you. And if we get a chance to talk I may find out that 80's rock is your favorite music too. 

"And I said - well that's -- one thing we've got"
   (I realize this is from a '90's song) ;-)

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Teacher Game Show

"Hey Teacher! Come on down! You're the next contestant on This Student Needs Help."

"You have a student who is an only child, young compared to the others in your class, and whines all day because he does not get what he wants. What are the top 5 ways to improve his behavior?"

You consult your team mates and the answers come fast and furious...

Call parent to inform of child's behavior..... number 5 slides open. Ding!

Ask child to do something for you so he feels important...number 3-Ding!

Create a sticker chart where you give him a sticker every time he doesn't whine. ... number 2 slides open. Ding

Start tracking time of day and location of whining so you can be proactive about the whining and head it off before it begins... number 4. Ding!

With time running out your group leader blurts out, " Have a sticker chart that allows him to earn a prize from the prize box for every two stickers he earns so the reward is immediate."  ...number 1!!!!! Ding!!!

It is now the next team's turn.

"Are you ready?" the announcer asks? "Ok. You have a student who doesn't do their homework. Is often off task. She disrupts the class by blurting out constantly and also has frequent angry outbursts. She is learning little if anything and is disrupting the learning of the other students. How do you get her on track so she can learn and the other students feel safe?"

The other team huddles briefly then answer confidently...

Call parent to inform of child's behavior..... number 5 slides open. Ding!

Ask child to do something for you so she feels important...number 3-Ding!

Create a sticker chart where you give her a sticker every time she stays on task ... number 4 slides open. Ding

Start tracking time of day and location of outbursts so you can be proactive about the outburst and head it off before it begins... number 2. Ding!

With time running out, their group leader says, " Have a sticker chart that allows her to earn a prize from the prize box for every three stickers she earns so the reward is immediate."  ...number 1!!!!! Ding!!!

The game ends and everyone is a winner!!!

And everyone is a loser because --

There is no quick fix. There is no magic bullet. There is no magic wand.

Teachers can be the entire pit crew of a formula 1 racing team.
They used to be specially made and hand crafted.
Teachers can be Merlin and Houdini rolled into one.

They need to be, because kids need to learn to function in a world that isn't fair. No one's life is perfect. And even those in terrible conditions have occasional slivers of sun.

There used to be an art to teaching.
Now there is a script.

Teachers found ways to connect with their students so they could know how to reach them.
Now they document behavior to- generate- data- that- will- inform- decisions -made- by -a- committee -that- may- or- may- not- ever -interact -with- the- child.

Teachers found ways to weave incidental events into their plans.
Now they can't stray from the script lest they be reprimanded for failing to follow the pacing guide.

There used to be solid ground to stand on. And older teachers will tell you things come back around.
But it seems as though the solid ground has been placed on a roiling sea.

Those people who may or may not ever see our student, attend conferences by phone or in person. They scroll through their network of colleagues who also haven't been in a classroom in years. They read trade magazines written by scientifically based people in their hermetically sealed labs who expound on the virtues of having today's student learning XYZ -- to be sure they are prepared for that magical world known as college and career ready. And those people who don't know our kids, don't know our community, and in many cases don't know us, make decisions that change with the seasons in an attempt to be the first to discover THE way to teach the kids in rural Kansas to know the same things as the child in urban Minnesota, and they will both know the same as the suburban child in Connecticut.

Because differences need to be eradicated while at the same time celebrated -- as long as the celebration is in context. If you know what I mean.

Fair. Equal. Same. These are words that relate to manufactured cookies.

But we aim to please so...

We make excuses where we should make clear our expectations.
We standardize in our attempt to differentiate.
We sympathize when we should empathize.

And that's why we will be there for the next episode of "This Student Needs Help."

And we will clap when the number one answer is "... to pick from the prize box." Because as you know, every child responds to a trip to the prize box.

And if not, he can always earn a trip to the Bigger and Better prize box.

Maybe I should buy stock in stickers.