All students will achieve their maximum potential by becoming responsible, productive citizens and life-long learners.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Here and Now vs. Yesterday and Tomorrow

While recently contemplating the influence of the society of which my current students are a part of, I noticed a connection between my doctoral research on historical understanding and student behavior.  Those of you who regularly read my posts will not be surprised to find that I am looking at this connection through the lens of being purposeful, acting with integrity, and building character.

I am fortunate enough to deal with all types of students who, at the time of our meeting, are usually not in their best light.  With very few exceptions, I notice that there is always an absence in our conversation concerning some type of behavior.  Previously believing this to be an offshoot of the survival skill known as self-preservation, I have now come to think somewhat differently.  What follows could and possibly should be a larger discussion, but not here.  I will attempt to keep it brief and possibly revisit later.

Students today, for many reasons live in a constant state of the present.  This is why the concept of character is so hard for many to not just grasp, but meaningfully implement in their lives.

Whether you call it the existence of:
·         instant gratification,
·         everyone gets a trophy,
·         140 character conversations,
·         reality based on TV shows, or
·         the world instantly at their fingertips in the form of a screen.

Whatever the combination of factors, students are left with a stimulating, instant, very current world with little explanation or understanding of how prior actions have affected their current state and how the present has future consequences.  That is where the problem (yes it is a problem) occurs.

It may not necessarily be a refusal to accept responsibility as much as a lack of understanding concerning that very thing.  In fact, more and more research is bearing out the delayed development in the region of the brain (otherwise known as the frontal lobe) that controls individual’s ability to recognize and fully understand the relationship between cause and effect as it pertains to them personally.  Before you protest and say that I am making excuses because “of course students know what they are doing” you must understand that is not what I am saying.  The success I have had in working with students to change their behaviors stems from my belief that they need to be made aware of their actions and their impact contextually.  After all, it is my job to teach.  Not to mention, who wants to complain about the ills of the society instead of moving in a direction that fixes them?  Even if it is one student at a time…

That is why appropriate consequences for action are needed more now than ever before.  Surrounded by a world that has disconnected, negotiated, or even nonexistent effects for actions, students must be taught the exact opposite if they are to achieve real success.  The question is how we accomplish that.  I use a method that follows three steps.

When I follow this framework I have noticed:

·         a lower rate of recidivism of negative behavior,
·         stronger relationships, and
·         students developing more character.

Be Purposeful
We all know that students deal with concrete explanations the best.  Tell them the behavior that is wrong and why.  Then take the time and walk them back (verbally) to the causes and then forward to the effect.  Be sure to continually tie everything you talk about to the action.  Create that connection for them until it becomes natural.  Much like sledding, you need to go down the hill first if they are to go where you want them.

Act with Integrity
Be “above board” with the students.  Let them know exactly what you are doing and why.  The goal is to get them to realize the larger context of their actions.  How many of us would accept a class in which the objectives were either absent or unclear?  Model the behavior you are looking for.  Do this by telling them what effect you are trying to get by your actions of speaking with them before the consequence.  This talk should be about much more than just a “due process” requirement.

Build Character
As mentioned before, this is not about the lack of consequences rather the presence of useful ones.  Students will repeat the behavior if they are not aware of the connection to the consequence.  This is where the responsibility portion begins.  Character is not about acting gracious when you are getting what you want.  It is about handling what you don’t like with a determined, yet open mind.  Every consequence is an opportunity to build a student’s capacity to have a stronger character.  We need to use it as such by teaching them that they need to accept whatever decision they made and the resulting actions.  Not because someone is doing something to them, but because they did something to themselves.

Finally, if students live in the present where actions and memories are quickly discarded how they can really understand the consequences (both past and future) of their actions.  The best part of this is that the frontal lobe doesn’t fully develop until later.  Therefore, even though high school may serve as the last chance in many regards, we still have the opportunity to help students develop this ability that much of society has, at best left alone while at worst reinforced the negative.  We need to stop reacting and instead respond with strategies and interventions that serve a longer term goal.  Take the time, acknowledge the context, and address the future possibility.

As always, your thoughts, discussion, and comments are welcome.

I will close with a poem someone passed me about a week ago…

 “If a child doesn’t know how to read, we teach.
If a child doesn’t know how to swim, we teach.
If a child doesn’t know how to multiply, we teach.
If a child doesn’t know how to drive, we teach.
If a child doesn’t know how to behave, we…punish?” 

-John Herner, Counterpoint (1998, p.2)

Friday, September 12, 2014

Required Student Behaviors

As I was involved in various discussions over the summer, the recurring theme was centered on how to help students achieve both academic and social success while in high school.  There is plenty of theory, but what I thirsted for was a concrete way to help students by teaching them to help themselves.  Couple this issue with my strong belief in societies need to stress character, ethics, and responsibility and I have decided to start small by introducing what I view as vital behaviors if we are going to graduate students who will thrive once they leave the safe walls of school.

I briefly introduced these behaviors at our full class meeting this week.  Each class council will be picking up ways to visually represent their class’s acceptance and application of these behaviors around the school.  I will also use the Positive Behavioral Support Committee, ideas from William Moore’s book “On Character and Mental Toughness, and Ed Gerety’s book “Combinations: Opening the Door to Student Leadership”.

A brief outline of the behaviors I hope to instill and why:

·         This year is a year of transition.  Students need to not just realize, but also understand that they no longer have most of the answers concerning the school.  This should lead them to ask questions and look for answers.  Students also need to begin their high school career properly by putting the hard work in early.  This creates a strong base from which they can achieve higher levels of success.

Sophomores: Discipline/Perseverance
·         This is a year that students should be “rolling up their sleeves” and setting habits of mind that will help them push through those difficult times they are bound to experience.  They have to have the discipline to set routines and work consistently.  Once they do this and begin to build momentum, it will be easier to persevere.  They must begin to see the bigger picture and goal of high school and use it to motivate themselves to work hard no matter the challenge.

Juniors: Commitment/Initiative
·         After two years of high school, juniors need to recommit themselves to the idea of working hard for another two years with increased responsibility.  They now need to take more control over how their future plays out.  This is the year they really begin to look closer at colleges or trade schools and be sure they are completing any requirements necessary.  They also need to be aware that they will be the leaders of the school next year.  That level of maturity takes commitment, time, and experience to develop.

·         Students at this year need to take the role of school leaders.  That is a serious position because it requires them to be aware of the bigger picture.  They have been given rules and asked to follow procedures without always understanding the whole context.  This is also the year that students are over scheduled with sports, academics, work, and their social lives. They need to strike a balance so that they can enjoy what becomes a very fast year. This is where their awareness must be developed so they understand that their actions affect others. Ideally this will lead to them wanting to leave the school a better place than when they entered. In other words, how will they be remembered and what did they do that really mattered?

Whenever I am asked a question concerning my attempt to support students, I always counter (mentally at least) with the idea that we often do too much to help and therefore, create a state of learned helplessness.  Yes, students need assistance, but they also need to fail if they are to learn and grow.  Education and improvement are constant.  We never fully reach our potential without sustained effort through many failures and successes.  Students will not succeed for very long if all their “wins” are given to them.  Many schools are so concerned with how their students perform on the MCAS (possibly soon to be PARCC), SAT exams, AP tests, and college acceptance percentages that they begin to lose sight of the bigger picture.  I am concerned with those to an extent as well, but more with college success (graduation) rates, students’ ability to land and keep a job, or students’ ability to contribute to society in a positive fashion.

They will only be able to accomplish these things if they have character, ethics, responsibility and mental toughness.  School shouldn’t be about a narrow set of facts that must be learned, but instead the creation a framework on which students’ may build a successful future.  It is our responsibility to help students build it, not build it for them.

What are you doing to guide rather than give?

As always, feedback is more than welcome…

Monday, September 8, 2014

Teachers Needed Today

I had to take a minute to write this entry as a type of “shout out” to not just the teachers at Seekonk High School, but all teachers everywhere who continue to let their passion for subjects and students show.  Ok, so maybe it really is slanted towards teachers at SHS, but who can blame me?  In all seriousness, I have been thinking about teachers quite a lot recently for a number of personal reasons and it is clear…they all make a difference one way or the other.  That is why it is important to recruit good teachers, keep them, and be around as they become great!  Watch the two videos that follow…they get my point across.

This first video is by someone who is far more capable than me of delivering a very important, complex message in a simple way…

Now ask yourself…what am I teaching?  Kids learn whatever we teach whether it is good or bad.  Are we showing kids that education is a drag that has no real world connection or are they solving relevant problems and asking sophisticated questions that instill a sense of wonder and discovery?  The teachers that Kid President is talking about sure are doing the latter.  Teaching is hard, but the most important job anyone ever does.  There are many people who condemn teachers as not working full years, being overpaid, and having it easy.  I wonder how many of those people have ever taught.  How many of those people are the first to dance when summer is over?  How many are tired after one week’s vacation?

Take a look at this Ted talk by Rita Pierson.  It is seven minutes long and titled: Every Kid Needs a Champion.  Think about it.  Are you a champion to a student?

Teachers are needed:

·         Students learn best when they build a relationship first.
o   School isn’t about just the subjects; rather it is about opening doors of opportunity for a future that is yet unknown. 
·         Because not every student is easy.
o   Teachers must teach students who fight back at every turn.
·         Because there are many kids who just need somebody.
o   Teachers must teach students living in unimaginable circumstances.

So teachers:

·         Build that relationship
·         Seek to understand circumstances
·         Discover the root of opposition
·         Above all teach as if a life depended on it...sometimes it does.

I didn’t write this as a lesson for teachers as much as a thank you to those who work in an age of increased negativity, demand, paperwork, and accountability.

You continue to teach:
·         even when it gets hard to see the point
·         even though there are times you feel unappreciated

You continue to teach because who will these students look up to and how will they learn if you don’t? 

As far as Seekonk High School…I walk by rooms and hear teachers talking about how to get better.  I see students engaged with lessons about life and how to be better.  I see students solving problems, asking questions, and learning.  Most importantly I see teachers working with students as if what they are doing is the most important thing at that moment…and…it is.

Take some time today and thank a teacher!

Thank you to all teachers and welcome back!  May you have a fantastic year!

Here is one last (short I promise) video to make you laugh (hopefully) for the rest  of the day!  You all deserve it!

Friday, September 5, 2014

Orientation Should Focus on Mindset

The genesis for this post was a statement I made last year after attempting to deliver my normal freshman orientation parent workshop titled; Getting to Know the Handbook.  Just before speaking to parents, I had a moment of reflection concerning the concept of being “oriented” and thought about what I would want to know that would help me help my student be successful.  As you may guess, it didn’t take long for me to realize I was going about it wrong.  What ensued was a largely unplanned discussion about character centered on the simple message; your student will only be as successful as their character warrants.  Therefore, I thought and believe even stronger today that orientation needs to be about learning a place, but that learning must go far beyond the physical structure or static rules that guide decisions.  It must focus on learning the behavioral expectations that, if adopted, will help students build a stronger character and succeed beyond the four years spent in high school.

As such, my “speech” looked more like this:

Parents were given a brochure with some of the “nitty gritty” rules in print for their “reading enjoyment” after we discussed the more important things.  It also contained rights and responsibilities of all those involved in the education of the child.  I discussed the need to work as a team and communicate.

 Such a plan raises the expectations on parents, but also stresses the fact that the school needs to make a great effort as well.  The issue is that with all of today’s distractions and influences, students not only need, but thrive with accountability.  Led to the mindset students need to have as they enter high school.

There are two traits students must learn, adopt, and practice as freshmen.  They are humility and effort.  This is not easy for a group of students who used to be the most knowledgeable amongst their peers and even though they are too scared to admit or show it, are nervous about this new environment.  The road to these traits lies through three essential behaviors that are indispensable to success no matter the age.

1.      Character:
·         Hard work beats talent every single time.  As we get older we realize that the days of coasting and still successfully reaching the finish line on talent alone are gone
2.      Perseverance:
·         Consistency wins…always, because of momentum.  We must create good habits and work towards goals if we are to succeed at anything.
3.      Respect:
·         We must respect ourselves for who we are, both good and bad. It’s the only way to become who we want to be - do the same for others and help them grow.

You may have noticed that the language changed from “students” to “we” in those three bullet points.  That is because I believe that we are all able to (at best) improve ourselves in these areas and (at worst) keep from sliding backwards.

Parents then received a homework assignment from me.  Using the framework (and language) offered by Dr. Troy P. Roddy (Thrivapy Blog), I had them go home and discuss their student’s W.I.S.H. list (pictured below) in an effort to focus on what happens when circumstances are not ideal.

Finally, I let parents have a graphic that I put together for behaviors both they and their students will need to exhibit as they pass through their freshman year.  The top half represents the notion that parents must communicate, be involved, and be aware with both their students and the school.  The bottom half illustrates the steps needed for improvement.  The question mark?

Well, the only way to learn is to question…

To conclude…

In the end we all need to:

Be Purposeful
  • Make decisions for your future
  • Be present, be on time, study, set goals
Act with Integrity
  • Do what is right, the right way
  • Help others, be gracious, walk the talk
Build our Character
  • Continue to succeed through failure
  • Thrive in the face of hardship

What are you doing to orient students and parents to the culture you desire?  

Please share ideas and thoughts…