Courage, Faith & Public Education


My days can be a blur with all that do. Someone recently asked me why I am always in a hurry and frankly they were right-I am. Well something happened yesterday that made me stop and think. I was something I had never seen before and was absolutely amazing.

While walking through the cafeteria of a traditional public school I saw what I usually see. Lots of children busy moving around getting their lunches and finding a spot to sit. Usually all looking around at what everyone is doing and chatting up a storm as they quickly eat. The tables were really filling up and the noise level was steadily increasing.

praying hands

As I turned to exit the cafeteria I notice a boy (maybe 4th or 5th grade) bow his head and fold his hands in his lap. I stopped and watched. He was surrounded by other boys busily eating and talking, opening their milks, and going about

their usual lunch business. None of their actions affected him. His lips were moving and his eyes were closed. As I watched I did my best to read his lips and then I was certain he was praying. WOW, just wow!

Amidst the hustle and bustle of the public school cafeteria filled with students and staff this boy stopped to pray before breaking bread. I was so unbelievably amazed, impressed and moved. As I walked away the tears welled up in my eyes and my heart sang. There are seeds of faith growing inside the doors of public education. What a courageous boy.

I pondered this event the rest of day. We could all stand to learn from this boy. I imagine his parents have taught him well for him to carry out his faith despite his surroundings. Would we as adults have the courage to do what he did?

Many times we are working hard to share our faith by talking with others, inviting them to attend church with us or come to special events. We may be over thinking it…This boy made me think that is may be more of what people see us do than what we say. Sometimes we say a lot without saying anything at all.

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Growing Hope Against The Odds

In schools today educators are pulled in many directions and with so many mandates are left with very little autonomy. The class sizes are growing, the students needs are never-ending, mandates continue to come down the pipeline and laws are constantly changing forcing teachers to change and adapt the new demands.

Somewhere in the midst of this teachers do what they do best, teach. Teaching isn’t as easy as bestowing knowledge upon a child as some people may think. They can’t simply open up their heads and pour in information. There are so many conditions that have to be in place for learning to occur, real learning that is. Real learning? That would be the processing of new information, connecting it to something the child already knows and filing it away to future use (not just regurgitation on the next formative assessment).

hope

How can we teach so that real learning can happen? What conditions are needed? Can we even control the conditions? Unfortunately there are things that are out of reach of the teachers. Lack of sleep, problems at home, stress from life outside of school, etc. are a few things that may weigh on the bodies and minds of children which we can only to our best to mitigate. So what do we do then? As a school feeding the students breakfast helps, encouraging the students to get rest albeit isn’t easy but can also help but most importantly the teachers can be there for the students.

Having a healthy relationship with an trusted adult can help a child. (Notice I said healthy, boundaries are there for a reason). Students need to know that you care. This can be very challenging with large class sizes. Knowing students names is one thing, knowing the students themselves is another. Getting to know them individually as a person and building rapport is very important. They don’t know what you know until they know that you care!

Once you know the students you are more aware of what base knowledge they have, what interests them, what they like and can use those things to help them engage in the learning process. Again , this is very difficult when teachers must ‘cover’ material quickly to keep pace with a curriculum schedule because each child is unique and requires effort on the part of the teacher to ensure each child is engaged in the lesson/activity.

Another piece required to providing an optimal environment is providing students opportunities to support one another in the learning process. Do your students feel that their classmates want them to do well? Do your students feel they have classmates who care about them? Would they notice if they were absent? If the answers to these questions are ‘No’ you have work to do. Many classrooms are competitive as most students see it as ‘every student for themselves.’ This isolates the kids and inhibits a positive classroom environment. Teachers providing students opportunities to work together, support one another in goals as a class as well as individually creates a positive and supportive environment.

You may be asking yourself why in the world teachers would ‘waste’ their time building relationships/rapport with students and helping students support one another?? Why? Because doing those things is critical to building student engagement and growing hope both of which are absolutely necessary for lifelong success. These crucial pieces provide students an optimal learning environment to build persistence, resilience, a life-long love of learning and pave a path of success that spreads beyond the walls of the classroom.

Are you growing hope in your classroom? Do you feel your child is in a classroom environment that fosters hope?

Don’t believe me? Check out these resources to learn more!

The Hope Survey

The Hope Survey Supporting Research

Assessing What Really Matters in Schools: Creating hope for the future

Hope and Academic Success in College

Activating the Desire to Learn

Hope Theory: Rainbows in the Mind

Here’s Hoping

What is Hope and How Can We Measure It

Tales from the trenches: The testing debacle

I have no idea where this school is but I like their thinking....

I have no idea where this school is but I like their thinking….

It’s spring, the sun is shining, the birds are chirping, (it is snowing in MN) this means testing season is upon us. If you work in schools or are a parent you probably are with me when I say I dread this time of year.

I have dealt with testing in the schools for years and may not enjoy it but have managed to survive it. This year at the elementary level it just seemed to be absolutely horrific.

It started with all online testing. The system was up, then down. They said stop testing, then start testing. Then emails came in stating to test if you aren’t experiencing any problems….We had students who were not able to pause their tests and therefore where clicking just to fill in the bubbles to get to the bottom of the screen to pause the test. We had trouble getting the system to pause for days. We called the help desk, repeatedly (and then some more). Some people who answered seemed to be very empathetic to our situation, others referred it as ‘glitches’ in the system.

Regardless, I want to know how in the world these tests results would be considered valid. We had kids crying and others  so frustrated with the starting, stopping, and issues trying to pause for breaks I just can’t imagine they were in a frame of mind to actually perform on the tests.

To that end, how can it be right to attach funding to tests that should at the very least be considered compromised due to the many MANY technical errors or ‘glitches’ as they called them???

I have witnessed our students tested on the state assessments, the NWEA MAP’s and now the DRA’s all within the last few weeks. Our poor students are tested too much. If only we could put our trust in the educators who already use diagnostic assessments like the NWEA”s and the DRA’s &  not mandate additional tests (which they don’t’ receive the results from for months….)

Students don’t learn anything from tests. They learn from passionate educators who know them and can help guide them through the learning process. I say, step out of the way and let teachers do what they do best-Teach!

 

College Ready vs. Ready for College

Recently I read a tweet about the release of the list of ‘best high schools’. I was curious about who made the list but knew it wasn’t going to be the schools I would ever want to send my own children to. I confess, I clicked on the link and read the list as far as the top 20 at which point I was irritated. What put them on this list? Who decides this anyway? Why in the world I click on an article when I know darn well it’s going to get under my skin is beyond me? I digress….Back to the list. It included items such as teacher/student ratio and the percentage of students who passed exams which fell under the ‘college ready’ category. Student/teacher ratio-I get that and can get behind it. The more staff you have the better you can personalize for each students individual needs. Offering AP classes, AP exams and other standardized tests?? Now that one I don’t care for. Should the best schools’ graduate students with a great academic foundation? – Yes! But let’s think about this for a minute…College Ready? Does filling in the correct bubble on a standardized test make you college ready? Is that how we really want to define college ready?

During a recent conference I heard a great quote that I agree with, “Student achievement is more than test scores. It’s what students DO with what they know.” With that in mind, are students ready for college just because a they score high enough on a test to be labeled college ready? I don’t think so.

To be ready for college students need to have a strong foundational knowledge but more importantly they need to be able to do something with that knowledge. They need to be able to communicate that knowledge to others. They need to be able to have the motivation to get out of bed and go to class. They need to have the resilience to overcome obstacles that may get in the way. They need to have the persistence to continue to strive to achieve their goals even after facing multiple obstacles. Okay, I am sure you get the point now.

I understand the concerns people have regarding incoming college students taking remedial courses. Is it really THAT bad? After all, they did get into the college and are attending. What about the students who are labeled college ready and attend college only to drop out? Is it better for students to have extra debt from those remedial courses which may require them to graduate in more than the typical 4 years or for them to have the debt from college courses that never resulted in a college degree?

My thoughts: It is better to be ready for college and learn some things on the fly than to be college ready only to end up not completing college. After all, the learning is in the doing.

It is not what in education it’s about WHO….

In the past few weeks something has really gotten under my skin, (And yes I am very aware that I can be easily irritated). I spend plenty of time reading about education on fb, twitter, blogs, and of course old-fashion print. For whatever reason it seems so much of what I have been reading or hearing about has more to do with the adults than it does the kids. It seems to me that many in education spend so much time fighting one another about what education is or should be losing sight of what is most important. It’s not WHAT education is, was or should be but rather WHO is education for? I may be a bit naive but I think if we took a step back to gain a little perspective we might see there are children everyone who are counting on us to do what is best for them. Yes, do what is best for THEM, not any publishing company, research firm, teacher, CMO, union, etc. I understand politics and the actions that drive politics are a fact of life but maybe, just maybe or one minute we can all step back, see those children’s faces and try to work together and do right by the children.