Friday, November 22, 2019

Happy Thanksgiving!

This week’s article summary is Why I Stay in the Classroom.

I feel very fortunate to have found teaching as a profession.

After four years of college, I needed a break from formal studies, so I figured I take a gap year or two before graduate school and the school I had graduated from, losing a teacher right before the new school year began, gave me the opportunity to teach and coach.

Honestly, taking the position was more a lark—a chance to earn some beer money and scrimmage with varsity athletes. I had no prior teacher training or experience beyond having been a camp counselor, and the only classroom teaching method I knew was mimicking the teachers I had when I was a student. My only assets were I liked working with kids and had an intuitive feel about what middle school students needed to know and were interested in.

From the first few seconds of my first sixth grade English class, I knew teaching was my destiny! I was happy, fulfilled, and--even with growing pains and missteps—was pretty good at it.

But I consider myself even more fortunate that even after forty years in schools, I remain as excited and gratified by being in a school as when I was a na├»ve, inexperienced twenty-two year old. I’ve amassed a cavalcade of memories, laughed way more than cried, been inspired by mentors, influenced many students, and, most important to me, developed lasting relationships with colleagues.

For me, the article below accurately captures both the joys and challenges of being a teacher, yet reminds me that for most of us the good parts greatly outweigh the bad ones.

I’ve had the good fortune to work at schools with high morale, positive culture, and strong trust and respect among school employees, yet Trinity dwarfs the others in these areas. I am always thankful and never take for granted what it means for me to be a part of Trinity’s community. The past seven years have been the most enjoyable, meaningful, and impactful of my career! (My wife keeps asking me if my honeymoon with Trinity has ended and I always answer, “Not even close!”)

It’s my hope that all of you are as fulfilled as I am at Trinity! I am thankful for all you do and your impact on our students, their parents, and one another!

Enjoy Thanksgiving Break!

Joe

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In choosing my career, I desired a field that I was passionate about. I wanted to change the world.

I chose teaching: As a teacher, you are not just a master facilitator of content knowledge. You are a mentor, confidant, and friend to your students and colleagues. You are a lifeline. I knew that with the amount of passion, dedication, and patience I possessed, I was the right candidate for the job. I can't say the road hasn't had its ups and downs but there are many components that helped me stay in the profession. For every teacher it may look different. Here is a glimpse of why I stay.

I Stay Because I Have Support: Many organizations and people supported me as I grew into the teacher leader I am today, challenging me to develop my own voice and expand my horizons. They have highlighted and recognized my accomplishments which stimulated me to continue to soar as a teacher. Colleagues and supervisors gave me the chance to lead inside and outside of my classroom walls and school community. Many diverse professional learning experiences allowed me to emerge from my comfort zone and try something different for my students. This supportive community of educators reassured me that I matter to the profession and to those who need me the most: my students.

I Stay Because of the Spark: My classroom is my center stage, and I understand the power that being in the classroom holds. The curriculum and standards drive the work that I do in my classroom, but I am willing to take risks to make learning fun and relevant to students. I bring innovative ideas into my classroom so students will be challenged to achieve at high levels. It is imperative to have autonomy in your classroom to create a spark of learning for students. The sparks I create for and with my students lend to authentic learning and those coveted "ah-ha" moments.

I Stay Because of My Colleagues: Over the years, I have learned that it is important for me to surround myself with other educators who want to advance in the profession for students and themselves. I call on these educators to hear their suggestions or ideas and to challenge me. This collaboration and collegiality builds a sense of community among professionals that keeps them excited about learning and growing.


The profession comes with its trials and tribulations. Everything does. But with a steady stream of support, a "practice what you preach" mentality, a love for creating those "sparks" for kids, and a network of collegiality, we can and will improve outcomes for students by attracting and retaining educators into the profession that I so love. Hopefully, they also are empowered to remain where they are needed most...in the classroom.

Friday, November 15, 2019

Stop Trying to Raise Successful Kids and Focus on Kindness

This week’s article summary Stop Trying to Raise Successful Kids and Focus on Kindness is a follow-up to last week’s Five Success Skills about the importance, yet frequent absence, of EQ development in schools.

We live in anxious, uncertain times—increased global competition, limited resources, disparities in wealth, political division. It’s no wonder kids often end up perceiving the world from a dog-eat-dog, me-first perspective.

And, according to the article’s author, contributing to this focus on selfishness is that’s the message parents are sending to their kids.

The author advises both parents (and teachers) to recalibrate priorities and encourage and praise kids for being caring, kind, and empathetic. Of course, it’s important, as Socrates said thousands of years ago, to know thyself and to develop agency and self-assurance. Yet critical to being to being human is helping, supporting, and assisting others. (In an age that elevates selfishness over selflessness--think of the classic line from the movie Wall Street: ‘Greed is good!”-- it’s not surprising that many graduate MBA programs today have had to add mandatory courses in ethics in business.)

I especially like how the author shows the connection to being kind to others with future success and happiness. In an age of competition for fewer resources, knowing that being selfless benefits us as individuals is critical.

Joe
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As anyone who has been called out for hypocrisy by a small child knows, kids are exquisitely attuned to gaps between what grown-ups say and what grown-ups do.

If you survey American parents about what they want for their kids, more than 90% say one of their top priorities is that their children be caring. This makes sense: Kindness and concern for others are held as moral virtues in nearly every society and every major religion. But when you ask children what their parents want for them, over 80% say their parents value achievement and happiness over caring.

Kids learn what’s important to adults not by listening to what we say, but by noticing what gets our attention. And in many developed societies, parents now pay more attention to individual achievement and happiness than anything else. However much we praise kindness and caring, we’re not actually showing our kids that we value these traits.

Perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised, then, that kindness appears to be in decline. A rigorous analysis of annual surveys of American college students showed a substantial drop from 1979 to 2009 in empathy and in imagining the perspectives of others. Over this period, students grew less likely to feel concern for people less fortunate than themselves—and less bothered by seeing others treated unfairly.

If society is fractured today, if we truly care less about one another, some of the blame lies with the values parents have elevated. In our own lives, we’ve observed many fellow parents becoming so focused on achievement that they fail to nurture kindness. They seem to regard their children’s accolades as a personal badge of honor—and their children’s failures as a negative reflection on their own parenting.

Other parents subtly discourage kindness, seeing it as a source of weakness in a fiercely competitive world. In some parenting circles, for example, there’s a movement against intervening when preschoolers are selfish in their play. These parents worry that stepping in might prevent kids from learning to stick up for themselves, and say that they’re less worried about the prospect of raising an adult who doesn’t share than one who struggles to say no. But there’s no reason parents can’t teach their kids to care about others and themselves—to be both generous and self-respecting. If you encourage children to consider the needs and feelings of others, sometimes they will and sometimes they won’t. But they’ll soon learn the norm of reciprocity: If you don’t treat others considerately, they may not be considerate toward you. And those around you will be less likely to be considerate of one another, too.

Kids see their peers being celebrated primarily for the grades they get and the goals they score, not for the generosity they show. They see adults marking their achievements without paying as much attention to their character.

In our home to demonstrate that caring is a core value, we realized that we needed to give it comparable attention. We started by changing our questions. At our family dinners, we now ask our children what they did to help others. At first, “I forget” was the default reply. But after a while, they started giving more thoughtful answers. “I shared my snack with a friend who didn’t have one,” for example, or “I helped a classmate understand a question she got wrong on a quiz.” They had begun actively looking for opportunities to be helpful, and acting upon them.
Overemphasizing individual achievement may cause a deficit of caring. But we don’t actually have to choose between the two. Quite a bit of evidence suggests that children who help others end up achieving more than those who don’t. Boys who are rated as helpful by their kindergarten teacher earn more money 30 years later. Middle-school students who help, cooperate, and share with their peers also excel—compared with unhelpful classmates, they get better grades and standardized-test scores. The eighth graders with the greatest academic achievement, moreover, are not the ones who got the best marks five years earlier; they’re the ones who were rated most helpful by their third-grade classmates and teachers. And middle schoolers who believe their parents value being helpful, respectful, and kind over excelling academically, attending a good college, and having a successful career perform better in school and are less likely to break rules.
In part, that’s because concern for other people promotes supportive relationships and helps prevent depression. Students who care about others also tend to see their education as preparation for contributing to society—an outlook that inspires them to persist even when studying is dull. In adulthood, generous people earn higher incomes, better performance reviews, and more promotions than their less generous peers. This may be because the meaning they find in helping others leads to broader learning and deeper relationships, and ultimately to greater creativity and productivity.
Of course, we should encourage children to do their best and to take pride and joy in their accomplishments—but kindness doesn’t require sacrificing those things. The real test of parenting is not what your children achieve, but who they become and how they treat others. If you teach them to be kind, you’re not only setting your kids up for success. You’re setting up the kids around them, too.


Friday, November 8, 2019

Five Success Skills

This week’s article summary is The Five Success Skills Every Student Should Master.

We all recognize the importance of Emotional Intelligence (EQ); there’s even solid research (here's a recent article that shows how EQ trumps IQ as the most important criterion for success in life.

The article’s author believes that the two most important aspects of EQ are the ability to know oneself and the ability to work well with others—what psychologists refer to as agency (sense of self) and communion (sense of others).

According to the article, schools and teachers in a high-stake testing age often become too singularly focused on ‘scholastic skills’ and don’t spend enough time more developing in their students what the author calls the Formative Five: Empathy, Self-Control, Integrity, Embrace of Diversity, and Grit.

Imagine how different schools could be if instead of English, Social Studies, Math, Science, Spanish/French, Art, Music, PE, etc. schools looked at and assessed their students through the lens of the Formative Five?

Of course, the core knowledge/skills of academic content remains important (for example, there’s more and more research about how critical background knowledge is to reading comprehension), yet when schools foster EQ development both to strengthen a child’s sense of self and sincere care and concern for others, kids are forming an SEL foundation for future success.

Here’s a very short quiz on to what extent schools (public and private) attend to SEL needs. (I was surprised at some of the correct answers and I scored a meager 3 of out of 8.)

As the author concludes, when we focus in class on the Formative Five “we are developing people who will make a positive contribution in every situation, whether solving a problem at work, coaching a 3rd grade sports team, or being a good friend.”

I am so glad that when we as a faculty developed Trinity’s Program Pillars five years ago we made sure character foundation was a major student outcome of a Trinity education!

Joe

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We educators often fall into the forest and trees trap when we focus incessantly on the scholastic skills that students will need in the future, and fail to consider the larger question of how problems are solved.

If we step back and look at the big picture—if we consider what is essential in every situation, regardless of what technology or the workplace may require—it’s the ability to know oneself and work with others, our human literacy, that is essential for success. Today and tomorrow, people with strong intrapersonal and interpersonal success skills will be better able to solve just about every problem.

On that rare occasion when a problem truly is best solved solo, a strong intrapersonal intelligence provides the self-control needed to focus and fuels the grit required to persevere through frustrations and failures

If the problem is being addressed by a team, group, committee, or task force—all slightly different configurations that each require people to work together—the group will be more effective when people listen to one another, work to understand each other, and appreciate the differences we possess in background, status, and perspective. Character matters, too. We want to work with honorable people who are motivated to do the right thing because it’s the right thing.

The qualities I call the “formative five”—empathy, self-control, integrity, embracing diversity, and grit—comprise these intrapersonal and interpersonal success skills and become human literacy.

These success skills must be consciously taught, included in the curriculum at every grade level and in every subject matter. The difference between empathy and sympathy—embracing the feelings held by others and seeing things the way they do versus simply mourning their condition—should be taught to elementary grade students, for example. High school students should investigate when protagonists in literature have exhibited honesty but not integrity. Self-control should be a focus in every class, as students work to improve by identifying and changing habits that are counterproductive to their learning.

Teachers and principals should look for opportunities to help children understand their backgrounds and biases as a first step in appreciating and celebrating others who are different than themselves. A school’s halls and walls should highlight student growth and positive trajectory, not just displaying perfect papers or the art work of the top 10% of the students. And everyone appreciating the role of good failures in learning—working to make new mistakes—creates a learning organization.

Teachers and principals sometimes agree that these success skills should be taught, but they add that they don’t have enough time to address them. It’s true that we do a much better job of adding expectations than discarding responsibilities, but these success skills are too important not to be directly taught throughout the curriculum. When we teach empathy, self-control, integrity, embracing diversity, and grit, we are developing people who will make a positive contribution in every situation, whether solving a problem at work, coaching a 3rd grade sports team, or being a good friend.

Because we measure what we value, we need to find ways to assess and share students’ progress in these success skills. That doesn’t mean assigning letter grades or numerical scores; it means using rubrics, student reflections, and digital photographs of performances or group efforts to capture where students began and how far they have progressed. Classroom walls and bulletin boards can have photos of students learning about and exhibiting human literacy. The success skills should be taught with intentionality and transparency, so students should be involved in creating the rubrics then reflecting upon and monitoring their progress. We cannot let our efforts to teach human literacy be deterred by the fact that these skills are less amenable to measuring and counting than traditional areas.

When we think about the future and what skills and understandings our students will need to be successful, we must begin with the end in mind: We want to develop good people. By asking what kind of people we want on our team and in our neighborhood, we will appreciate the need to teach human literacy.