Thursday, May 26, 2022

White Bears and Blue Dolphins

The final article summary of the year is about Giannis Antetokounmpo, a superstar in the NBA. His team, the Milwaukee Bucks, won the title last year yet lost in the second round of the playoffs two weeks ago.

The article written by a psychologist focuses on how Giannis responded to reporters right after his team’s disappointing seventh game loss.

As you’ll see, Giannis doesn’t dwell on negativity (what the author calls ‘white bears’); rather, he chooses to focus on positives (‘blues dolphins’).

I’m lucky that my personality naturally has me think of  blue dolphins, not white bears. No matter what disappointments or hardships I’ve faced professionally and personally, I’ve always chosen to view them as learning opportunities. Since I was very young, life for me has always been about the process: deal with whatever happens by being thankful for the good and learning from the bad.

As we reach the end of the 2021-22 school year, there were—like any school year—inevitable peaks and valleys. Over the last two plus years the persistent irritant of Covid has tested the positivity of even the most optimistic. Nevertheless, I’ve remained continuously proud of how we individually and collectively dealt with these challenges and am thankful for the immense good we did for our students, one another, and ourselves. 

At graduation rehearsal a few days ago as I listened to 6th graders (who were in 4th grade when Covid began in March 2020) they acknowledged the struggles and difficulties they faced in 4th, 5th, and 6th grade, yet their memories of their school experiences were positive and they are deeply appreciative for all their teachers did for them. They were all about the blue dolphins!

I feel so fortunate to have discovered education as my career, particularly because the end of every school year and summer break afford me the opportunity to reflect on the year—the good, bad, and ugly—and set new goals (both short and long-term) for the upcoming school year and beyond. Certainly there were unusually big hurdles and obstacles over the past two years, yet throughout, like our 6th graders and Giannis, I made sure the blue dolphins overshadowed any whites bears. 

Thanks to all of you for everything you’ve done the past two years—as Jackie Gleason used to say at the end of every Honeymooners episode, “You’re the greatest!” I wouldn’t want to be in any other school with any other group of colleagues!

Enjoy the summer. I hope you dream of countless blue dolphins and slay those pesky white bears!

Joe

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There sat Giannis Antetokounmpo, patiently waiting for the first questions to trickle in from reporters. His team, the Milwaukee Bucks, had just lost game seven of a gritty, hard-fought playoff series with the Boston Celtics.

Antetokounmpo was a bit more somber than usual, a bit less joyful. But you couldn't describe him as heartbroken. He certainly wasn't depressed, or distressed, or even unhappy.

And although his team had just been defeated, Antetokounmpo wasn't defeated.

"At the end of the day, we were playing sports and there's a winner, there's a loser," said Antetokounmpo.

"This is the learning curve. Nobody promised you're going to get to the second round of the playoffs. There's people that have never been in the second round; there's people that have never been in the NBA finals. So, I'm not viewing it as, 'I lost.'"

"It was a learning experience, so hopefully, this moment, instead of thinking that we lost something, we can gain and learn in order for us to put ourselves in a position to win another championship."

There is a lot of wisdom in those words, which are rich in lessons for all of us chasing their version of success. This interview was a master class in emotional intelligence--because it gives a firsthand demonstration on how to use principles of psychology to control negative thinking and emotions, using something I like to refer to as the blue dolphin rule.

What's the blue dolphin rule? And how can it help you understand and manage your emotions, putting you one step closer to achieving your goals in life?

Emotional intelligence (EQ) is the ability to understand and manage emotional behavior. This ability allows you to keep your thoughts, emotions, and feelings in balance, so they aid you to successfully reach your goals, instead of hinder you from achieving them. This is why I like to describe EQ as making emotions work for you, instead of against you.

Consider Antetokounmpo's interview. How does an extremely accomplished NBA superstar deal with the failure of not winning a championship, and what can you learn from that?

When you work hard to achieve a specific goal, it's easy to get swallowed up by negative emotion when that goal doesn't come into fruition. Depending on where on the spectrum your personality falls when it comes to traits like extraversion and neuroticism, you may be prone to focusing on critical thoughts when this happens.

We could describe critical thoughts like these as white bears.

In psychology, the white bear problem states that as you attempt to suppress certain thoughts, you actually increase their frequency.

So, how do you stop the white bears of self-criticism and overwhelming failure?

Enter the blue dolphin.

The blue dolphin is a replacement thought, a different point of concentration. It's a go-to, something you can immediately switch your focus to if your white bear comes to mind.

We see Antetokounmpo use the blue dolphin technique when he's faced with tough questions from reporters:

Reporter: What stands out about coming up short in this series? Is it that you didn't shoot enough three point shots?

Antetokounmpo: Obviously, we didn't make enough threes. On the other hand, I couldn't be more proud of the guys and the effort they gave.

Reporter: Giannis, how do you digest the finality of the season? Do you watch the film, let that sink in

Antetokounmpo: Nah, it's over with. It's over with. No film for me. Just got to go back, get some break, and get on the court, start getting better, try to improve parts of my game. Hopefully I can come back healthy, in a good place, keep enjoying basketball.

See how it works?

You can do the same thing when you encounter negative thoughts about your own perceived failures in your life.

White bear: You're so behind. You should be months ahead of where you are right now. You're never going to make it.

Blue dolphin: Look back at what you've accomplished over the past six months. You're so much further ahead of where you were. Keep up the great work; good things will happen.

The next time you encounter what first feels like dismal failure, remember this little psychological trick--and the NBA superstar who showed you how to apply it.

Treat every failure, not as a loss, but as a gain--a learning experience that puts you one step closer to achieving your goal.

 

 


Friday, May 20, 2022

Old School Parenting

This week's article summary is Old School Parenting. It connects to a summary I sent out last year about how America in the 1950s transitioned from the long-standing parenting style of ‘kids should be seen and not heard’ to today’s ‘child-centered parenting.’

I’ve never been a fan of glorifying the good old days; we tend to over-exaggerate how good things were years ago. I’m more interested in how this article highlights parenting techniques that will support a child’s growth into a well-adjusted adult who, as our mission states, will ‘achieve his/her unique potential as a responsible, productive, and compassionate member of the greater community.’ 

The old school parenting reminders below give kids the opportunity to be imaginative, self-reliant, humble, selfless, respectful, gracious, well-rounded (developing both their IQ and EQ), responsible, and empowered without becoming entitled.

To me that’s not old school but good school!

Joe

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Parenting is vastly different than it was 30 plus years ago. We have come a long way in parenting philosophies, including health and safety. Raising children is a completely different game than it was back then. But that doesn’t mean we can’t take some of our parents’ expertise and put it into practice. Vintage parenting might be just what this generation needs. Here are 10 things our parents did that parents today should bring back.

Put Each Other First: Back when our parents were young, it wasn’t uncommon for marriage to be the most important relationship in the family. But somewhere over the last 30 plus years, parents have started to treat their children as the center of the universe. Keeping your spouse a priority can be hard, but it’s essential to have a healthy and happy family. When my children interrupt me while I’m talking to my husband, I tell them they will have to wait (unless it’s an emergency). Children need to learn that everything does not revolve around them.

Made Kids Play Outside: Most of my childhood memories are playing outside, using my imagination. My friends and I would be outside as soon as we got home from school. We would come in for dinner and then go back out until dark. I enjoyed watching TV here and there, but we always preferred to be outside. Today’s Kids ages 8-18 spend an average of 7.5 hours every day in front of a screen for entertainment. That does not include homework or educational purposes. On the flip side, children spend only 4-7 minutes a day engaged in unstructured outdoor play on average. Kids don’t need a sports court or a swimming pool to be entertained outside. All they need is their imagination.

Trusted Their Children: I’m sure most of us (especially if you are old like me) can remember spending most of our free time riding bikes with our friends miles away from home, building snow forts for hours, staying out until dark, all without our parents knowing exactly where we were. You may call this “free-range parenting” or even think it’s dangerous. The truth is, children are twice as likely to die in a plane crash than get kidnapped by a stranger. 

Didn’t Push Academics: Before 1980, the main focus of the early elementary years was creativity and social skills. Children did not know how to read upon entering kindergarten and many didn’t even know their alphabet. They were taught to be respectful, to share, and to make friends. Culturally, our children are obligated to compete academically at these early ages which magnifies, if not causes, anxiety and stress in our children.

Taught Manners: I am always amazed at the lack of manners I see in many children and teens today. My husband and I spent a week cooking for 300 teens a few years ago. We would spend the entire day cooking, doing dishes, and literally serving food onto their empty plates for them. We were shocked at the amount of “thank-you’s” we received: 2 out of 300. That’s a simple example. I could make lists of others who demand snacks or toys when they play at my house, or that take without asking, etc. It is refreshing when I come across those who have been taught well.

Ate Dinner As a Family: This is so important and so easily overlooked. Parents today tend to sacrifice family dinners for extra-curricular activities. Children who participate in regular family meals are less likely to have anxiety and depression. They have less delinquency, greater academic achievement, and improved psychological well-being. Don’t schedule meals around your activities, schedule your activities around meal-time.

Made Their Kids Do Chores: When I was growing up, every Saturday was reserved for doing chores. We couldn’t play with friends or any other activities until we had cleaned our bedrooms and done a few other of our assigned chores. I cleaned bathrooms, vacuumed, dusted, mopped, and more. Today children are asked to take on only the most trivial of responsibilities. You might be surprised at how much your kids are capable of.

Disciplined Each Other’s Kids: What would you do if your child’s friend threw a tantrum or even hit your child? Ask them nicely if they would like to stop? Would we even dare bring it up to their parent? With our parents, there was an unspoken rule that if another child acted out, they would discipline them the same way as their own kids.

Held Birthday Parties at Home: The birthday parties our parents would throw included cake, ice cream, and pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey. They didn’t give every guest a basket filled with personalized party favors. They didn’t rent out the local trampoline park or hire a professional photographer or caterer. Yet we still had fun! It was a guilt-free party zone.

Kept Things Simple: The best part of the “good old days” was how simple it was. As kids, we weren’t rushed from soccer to piano to dance. Our parents didn’t take us to Disneyland every summer or buy each child their own tablets. We got bored. We used our imaginations. And we thrived in the simple life.

Our children will end up fine–even better than we did. They don’t need to be handed everything on a silver platter. They don’t need to be the best at everything, or even at one thing. It’s okay if they fall and get hurt or get their heart broken. It’s how they learn and grow. And it will teach them compassion and kindness and love.

Friday, May 13, 2022

Is There a Right and Wrong in History?

This week's article summary is Shifting Out of Neutral and it focuses on the challenges middle and high school history teachers face when trying to remain objective in class. 

While I am a champion of guiding students to be open minded, reserve judgment, and think with multiple perspectives, the article’s author rightly wonders if too much teacher objectivity may lead to students not thinking there are moral and ethical rights and wrongs in life.

I liked how the author defines the purpose behind studying history: “Studying the past offers a venue for reflecting on the human condition and developing a sense of right and wrong.”

Viewing all opinions and perspectives equally may result in students looking at the world and how we treat one another through an overly relativistic lens when in fact we want our students to develop an ethical and moral compass to guide them into and throughout adulthood. 

It’s hard to teach history in these polarized and politicized times, yet, as we have emphasized this year in our all-school meetings, if we keep the words of our mission and program pillars as the basis for what and how we teach, we will be doing well for our students.

Joe

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I ask a lot of open-ended questions in my history classes, the kinds of questions to which there are no right answers, only good answers (logical, well-supported and so on). 

A few years ago I started asking myself such a question: “Am I damaging my students?”

Here’s the context. In the past I hesitated to share my own opinions about the questions we addressed in class. My hesitation came from a desire to maintain some level of objectivity and my understanding that this is what was expected of me as a teacher. 

But my attempt to strike a neutral pose began to feel like a major ethical and philosophical quandary: Is neutrality possible or even desirable.

I have come to the conclusion that objectivity is practically impossible. What’s more, it can hinder our students’ moral development. And cultivating morality is uniquely essential to the project of teaching history. Studying the past offers a venue for reflecting on the human condition and developing a sense of right and wrong. We study who we were so that we can figure out who we want to be.

Today’s students often view moral claims as mere opinions that are not true or are true only relative to a culture. In other words, today’s students have an overdeveloped sense of relativism. All opinions or perspectives are considered equal. My students tolerate all views while dismissing none.

A student once gave me a note on the last day of school that read, much to my alarm, “Thank you for a great course. I learned that if you look at perspectives that are different, then you will see that everyone is right for different reasons.” I was dismayed because, of course, everyone is decidedly not right for different reasons. Some people are quite wrong about a lot of things, and many of those people feature heavily in the U.S. and global history classes I teach.

Teachers often diversify and complicate their students’ thinking by talking about studying history from “multiple perspectives.” This approach can be an effective way to broaden students’ thinking and include voices from outside of the dominant narrative.

I have come to see, however, that the inclusion of “multiple perspectives” without sufficient attention to power, intent and privilege makes it challenging for history teachers to honor their moral imperative. 

Talking about perspectives without talking about power can imply an equivalency of viewpoints that brings with it a very real danger of erasing historical injustice. Do we consider the perspective of the slave owner and the enslaved person to be equally valid?

Instead of multiple perspectives, I use “narrative,” which we can define as “perspective + power.” Using a narrative means interrogating the story and the storyteller, shifting perspective but also opening us up to questions of authority, power and control. Narrative offers us a way to frame history as multiple stories while also allowing us to talk about right and wrong. Without it, we risk producing relativists who tolerate all views and critique and interrogate ---none.

I acknowledge the fact that I want students to think how I do, as an expert in historical thinking. I also want them to learn how to build reasoned and well-articulated arguments. So, I think it’s okay to recognize and teach from one’s own bias and preconceptions provided that a) there is room for dissension and debate and b) students are assessed on the clarity of their thinking, soundness of their arguments and judiciousness of their evidence—and not their parroting of my ideas.

As students improve their discussion and argumentation skills, they will inevitably challenge each other. At other times, students will introduce ideas and ways of thinking that do not mesh with our subjective interpretations of the issue. Preparing for these moments means knowing what types of comments we as teachers will let slide and what we will flag as unacceptable. This means thoroughly assessing our own “red lines,” those areas that we will not permit students to enter.

My goal is for my students to learn to think how I think but not necessarily what I think. Inevitably, they may reach conclusions similar to my own, but the process of developing historical thinking skills is more important than whether or not they agree with me.

Friday, May 6, 2022

The Second Born Curse

This week's article summary is The Curse of the Second Born Child is Real.

I have always been fascinated by birth order, and, as a first-born, I wonder how different I might be if I had older siblings. 

 The article below intrigued me because of its shocking statistics for second-born boys and how more often they end up in trouble in school and even in life.

To me, a significant difference in birth order is the rules and limits first borns often have versus their younger siblings. 

As a first born, I had my parents’ attention much more than my younger sister did. Every rite of passage I encountered was novel, exciting, and potentially anxiety-inducing for my parents. Going through adolescence, getting a driver’s license, going on a first date, playing varsity sports, getting a first job, etc. Applying to college for a first born is often a family affair; we took family trips to visit college campuses. 

Yet by the time my sister applied my parents had lost their enthusiasm for the college search process. Instead, they had moved on to newer interests in my life’s path: my first job, getting married, having kids.

As a first born, I not surprisingly felt that my parents were overly involved in my life; I envied the autonomy my sister had, free from my parents’ watchful eyes. My sister, on the other hand, always felt that my parents doted on me and my needs and ignored her.

The article shouldn’t make you worry that your second-born son is heading down the road to ruin, yet it should remind us as parents to provide an equal amount of love, care, and attention to all of our kids.

Joe

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 If you have a son who’s the youngest or middle child, you’re going to want to watch them like a hawk. Second-born sons are more likely to get suspended, become juvenile delinquents, and go to prison.

According to a new report, the “curse of the second-born child” might be true. The report scoured tons of data sets and found that second-born children (specifically sons) have a whopping 25% to 40% increased chance of getting in serious trouble at school or with the law when compared to the first-born in the same family.

Researchers have suggested for a while that first-borns do better in education, have higher IQs, and can earn higher wages, but this is one of the first major studies to point out that second-born children are in fact the troublemakers of the bunch. 

And this isn’t something exclusive to families here in the states. The family data sets, consisting of thousands of sets of brothers, come from both the U.S. and Europe. Now, this isn’t to say that every second-born son is going to be a handful, but the study suggests the risk is there. 

But why? What makes second-born sons so different from their older siblings? 

For one, the report hypothesizes parents of first-borns are more invested in their upbringing. By the time the second kid comes around, parents are simply less vigilant. It also has to do with the child’s role models, who are adults: “The firstborn has role models, who are adults. And the second, later-born children have role models who are slightly irrational 2-year-olds, i.e., their older siblings. Both the parental investments are different, and the sibling influences probably contribute to these differences we see in the labor market and what we find in delinquency. It’s just very difficult to separate those two things because they happen at the same time.”

It’s important to note, however, this research is painting a very broad picture. Not every family will encounter this phenomenon, and being a second-born son certainly doesn’t mean you will have a harder time in life. There are always exceptions to the rule. 

But for parents out there raising a second child, it couldn’t hurt to keep a watchful eye and stay on guard. It seems that treating them differently than your first-born will have an impact.


Thursday, April 28, 2022

How to Foster Student Engagement in the Classroom

This week's article summary is The Engagement Illusion.

Young children are innately curious and intrinsically motivated to learn. Almost everything they see and experience is a learning opportunity. But research studied show that kids as early as third grade can become bored and disengaged by school.

One of Trinity’s goals is to maintain student engagement in all grades: one of my measures of school success is seeing our UED students, especially in our older grades, engaged and motivated by their schoolwork.

Yet the article advises us to not confuse engagement with compliance in the classroom.

So how can we be sure students are engaged?

As the article attests, first we need to allow plenty of classroom open discussion and collaboration. Our kids at all ages and grades need to be able to actively participate and talk about why, what, and how they’re learning and their role and responsibility in the process and demonstration of their learning. A by-product of these discussions is teachers get a better sense of what is truly relevant and meaningful for the student(s), a critical need for continued engagement.

Second, teachers need to provide an appropriate amount of student voice and choice. There are a lot of cons to high-stake standardized testing, yet perhaps the biggest is its one-size-fits-all outcome. All humans crave being celebrated for their individuality, and giving kids a greater voice about what they learn and how they will demonstrate their understanding is vital to their continued engagement. We put in our Program Pillars that we give our students opportunities to be ‘critical and creative problem solvers and thinkers.’ 

I really like how the article states that our goal as teachers should be to create students who are ‘confident learners.’ Too often I think of confidence as being about the person’s character, while in fact confidence also supports academic achievement.

As the article states, there is no ‘silver bullet’ to sustain student engagement. Rather it takes a lot of trial and error and time, an example of the true art needed to be a master teacher.

Joe

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Who doesn't like a good magic trick? Regardless of how many times you see them, it's always satisfying to watch magicians make things disappear and reappear.

Yet, once you discover how the trick works, you realize it's just an illusion—that what you thought you were seeing was wrong. And while magic tricks are often just harmless fun, other illusions are dangerous—for example, when they lead educators to settle for the appearance of student engagement as a substitute for vital learning.

We may believe we can easily identify the behavior of disengaged students—sleeping in class, playing games on a device, or disrupting the learning for others. But disengagement can be less obvious, and sometimes hidden. Students may be quiet and compliant in class, facing the teacher and occasionally nodding in agreement, but not be connecting with the learning. They may turn in all their work on time but not really understand the concept and purpose.

Consider, for example, Jaiden, a 10th-grade student. He is quiet, comes to class on time, and follows directions to clear his desk or move to a group. He is not always prepared but is polite in asking for a pencil or book when he forgets his materials. Jaiden does not see any need for most of the classes he is taking and is not sure what he wants to do after high school. Jaiden's behavior may lead his teachers to believe he is engaged, but that behavior is an illusion. It is a performance designed to satisfy his teachers, who value an orderly environment in which the teacher talks and the students listen.

Many students know how to "play school": Be quiet in class, take notes when anything is written on the board, smile, and nod now and then. The engagement illusion can also exist when students appear diligent and on task by quietly working on a digital device, but the human interaction that is essential to learning might be so minimal that it disengages the student from active learning. Layer on top of that a lesson that fails to make connections to the lives of students, and students like Jaiden can sink into a sea of boredom and distraction, even while not showing it.

This one-way communication is the opposite of the vibrant and sometimes noisy collaborative environments that reveal evidence of real learning. The science behind the impact of student engagement on learning is not new, but in the pandemic age, the importance of authentic engagement has grown dramatically.

Let's consider another case. Kari is a 3rd-grade student who is constantly being disciplined. She gets inside recess for failure to complete homework, misbehaving, talking in class, not following directions, and being off task. She loves to draw and will engage in any conversations about current events but doesn't like math or science. Her outbursts usually come during silent reading time. The students like Kari in our classrooms are routinely classified as disengaged, though they are capable of focus and engagement if we take the time to learn about their interests and how they best express their learning. Sometimes, educators create misconceptions about students like Kari rather than probe into reasons the outbursts seem to only happen during silent reading time and consider modifications to support her behavior.

Teachers must look beyond the superficialities in these cases to gain a deeper understanding of engagement. It's possible that in our rush to support our students, we classify student understanding of the material through compliant behaviors. There's an illusion that manifests through our correlation of attentive students as successful students and withdrawn students as not caring. But the power of learning occurs when lessons are created to engage each student.

Student engagement is "the energy and effort that students employ within their learning community, observable via any number of behavioral, cognitive, or affective indicators across a continuum". The research reveals two forms of student engagement: (1) the student's behaviors, emotions, and thought processes, and (2) the student's intellectual response to the challenge of the material.

How can you tell if students are engaged? First, reflect on who is doing most of the talking—the students or the teachers? Teachers sometimes are led to believe that it is their job to perform for the class. These performances frequently involve presentations in which the teacher's expertise is on full display, but there is little demonstration of student learning. In contrast to these performances, other teachers are willing to explore student understanding—and lack of it—by allowing students to talk and make fearless mistakes. These educators can transform students into confident learners.

One of the greatest challenges teachers face in improving student engagement is correcting the perception that engagement is something within the student that cannot be influenced by a teacher. In the midst of a teacher performance, Jaiden, for example, might appear to be engaged, with his eyes on the teacher and pencil poised to copy whatever notes the teacher posts on the board. This compliant demeanor shields the reality that Jaiden's mind is a million miles away, but he has learned how to behave. Kari, on the other hand, may be deeply engaged in learning as she draws what may look like doodles but are in fact creative visual representations of how the teacher's lesson fits into her broader understanding of the subject. Rather than copy the teacher's notes, Kari is constructing learning with arrows, diagrams, pictures, and quotations above characters that reveal deep understanding and questions for further learning.

Here are three major educator misperceptions that perpetuate engagement illusions, along with suggestions for how to correct them to ensure proper learning is taking place.

What I'm Interested In, They'll Be Interested In: Our experiences as teachers illuminate our own errors in understanding student engagement. One teacher often used his own frames of reference—sports, after-school activities, and family vacations—as a way to connect with students to build relationships. But they did not always reflect the interests of his students. But this teacher learned to listen to his students and let their genuine curiosity fuel an environment of mutual discovery in which he became a fellow learner and explorer with his students. Engagement can also be explored outside of the confines of the classroom. Careful listening to student conversations on the playground, lunchroom, and hallways can be illuminating. As teachers, we can only make these connections to the lives of our students when we listen to spontaneous conversations among students outside of the classroom.

Students Learn for the Sake of Learning: Teachers may have entered the profession because of a thirst and curiosity for knowledge, or for the desire to shape and mold young minds. However, we do not always understand that our students may not want to learn just for the sake of learning. They need relevance. We need to be ready to answer the frequent question, "When will I ever need to know this in life?" Listening and learning collaboratively with students and families is a never-ending journey for educators. When teachers invest time at the beginning of a unit to foster an open dialogue that gauges student understanding, misconceptions, viewpoints, questions, and interests, they can create essential questions and identify beneficial resources.

There Is One Clear Path to Learning: In folklore, the silver bullet was the key to defeating a werewolf or other supernatural creature. The imagery of the silver bullet is used today to suggest a simple tool to solve a complex problem. Yet, in most classrooms, the achievement of the perfect blend of challenge and confidence is elusive; there are no silver bullets. Skillful educators make midcourse corrections throughout the day to meet the learning needs of students and engage their interest. The perfect lesson plan, freshly downloaded from the internet, is never perfect for the real classroom. Rather, it's the messy plans, full of annotations, excisions, and marginal additions, that reflect the reality of our classrooms. For example, a lesson that allows students like Jaiden and Kari to identify a position on a current issue and construct an argument to defend their position would definitely raise their engagement level more than a lesson that just had them read an article about the issue.

Getting Beyond the Illusion: Optical illusions occur based on changes in patterns, colors, or light that mislead the brain's hardwiring. They make our brains perceive things based on past experiences or what seems logical. As educators, we can similarly be tricked into thinking that the lessons we've prepared and the planning we've done will allow for students to be engaged. Therefore, it's easy to look at students like Jaiden and Kari and make inaccurate inferences on their levels of engagement. Only by doing the work to look past these illusions—by identifying our students' interests and needs; creating meaningful, real-life connections to the work; and ensuring our lessons result in productive struggle for students—can we begin to gain insights and strategies for success for all our students.



Wednesday, April 20, 2022

I Left My Homework in the Hamptons

 This week's article summary is I Left My Homework in the Hamptons: What I Learned Teaching the Children of the One Percent.

I have spent my entire career working in prestigious independent schools across the country, and while I never had students on Long Island tell me they left their homework at their vacation house in the Hamptons, they like all kids had inventive excuses for not having their homework completed; we’ve moved from ‘My dog ate to my homework’ to ‘My printer jammed’ to today’s ‘It’s a supply chain issue!’

As you’ll see from the interview with the author who has taught in elite schools around New York City, just because kids come from affluent families doesn’t mean they don’t have struggles and worries and need strong guidance, support, and mentorship from teachers. Particularly when I taught 8th grade, I had many kids who needed a steady adult role model to help them navigate the ups and downs of early adolescence.

Perhaps the biggest challenge for most kids from affluent families is the pressure to succeed. The past few articles focused on rigor and that most parents equate it with a lot of school work. Add to the mix the need to have a robust GPA and a high school transcript with no ‘easy-A classes’ as the gateway to an elite college, Ivy League preferred. With the pressure to succeed, it’s not surprising that self-doubt, overwork, and anxiety often predominate the world of high schoolers.

While I don’t think external and internal pressures will subside for these students, the author below recommends that we must try to help our students focus on what last week’s article highlighted: development of ‘emotional intelligence, listening and empathy, collaboration, creativity, problem solving, generosity, and fairness.’

We need to help our high schoolers to be more well-rounded, be able to have time, as the article below points out, for ‘idea flow’, be less critical of themselves, favor intrinsic over extrinsic motivation, and enjoy the moment more.

I know that conflicts with the world today and its expectations, yet it’s what kids ultimately need to not only be successful but happy and fulfilled.

Joe

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Blythe Grossberg has a doctoral degree in psychology, worked for many years at private schools in Boston and New York. Her new book offers a window into the parenting ideas and experiences of today, and how we might all work to make things more equitable and better for our kids.

Below, Blythe shares 5 key insights from her new book, I Left My Homework in the Hamptons: What I Learned Teaching the Children of the One Percent.

Kids are way too over-scheduled: I’m really speaking about all kids, not just those in the 1% that I focus on in my book. In my book, the situations are a little more extreme, where there are kids in Manhattan and Brooklyn Heights who have squash lessons at 5:00 AM before school, and after school, and even travel around the country or the world to play squash. But all kids, and especially kids who are in the middle class or above, experience over-scheduling in less extravagant ways. Squash is one of those sports that people use as a vehicle to get into competitive colleges, so it acquires this kind of outsized importance. But squash is just one example of the way kids really don’t have time to do what they want to do.

Kids have no time for “idea flow”: Flow was an idea popularized by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, a researcher and psychologist. He found that people can get into states of flow, and in those states they’re creative, but they’re also relaxed. Part of this state of flow is unconscious, or just letting your mind drift. We all know, for example, that if we’re running or taking a shower or singing, some really important ideas might come to us. They’re creative ideas, epiphanies—it’s during that time that we really grow and free-associate things in our mind. If kids are stressed out and over-scheduled, they’re not going to have time for this kind of idea flow, and they’re not going to be their full selves psychologically or intellectually. We’re losing a lot, and causing them to lose a lot, by over-scheduling them.

Affluent kids suffer from a unique set of problems: Research shows that affluent kids, in a counterintuitive way, often suffer from issues that resemble those faced by kids who do not have enough to eat or have a safe shelter. I by no means want to suggest that their lives are exactly the same as kids at the other side of the socioeconomic ladder—only that if we want to help all kids, we must acknowledge that affluent kids struggle with their own set of issues. Some of the problems that affluent kids struggle with are substance abuse, emotional issues like anxiety and depression, and the feeling of worthlessness that comes from thinking that they have nothing to offer, or that maybe their parents have done everything for them. Parents in affluent sectors of society place a lot of pressure on achievement over emotional connection, and it’s really that emotional connection that kids strive for with their parents.

There are commonalities in parenting regardless of wealth status: In the book, I discuss my own parenting of a son with autism. I realize that there are commonalities among parents no matter their socioeconomic group, and I think one of them is fear. It’s a fear that the world of tomorrow will be a zero-sum situation, one where if one person loses, another gains, and if one gains, another loses. I think that we can all relate on this level as parents, especially in a world affected by the pandemic, as well as environmental, political, and economic instability. It’s something that I think we need to not chastise ourselves for, but just recognize that a lot of what we do with our kids is motivated by this fear.

What can be done about this situation, really: I think there are several things that can be done, certainly for the kids I work with who often have the privilege of attending private schools or very good public schools. One key is they need the opportunity to reach out to other kinds of people. Because private schools are so expensive, the people who attend them are generally all from the very elite, along with a few kids who have earned scholarships. This situation deprives kids of exposure to other ways of life. Kids really grow from experiencing other people’s ways of life and helping them, though I don’t mean to imply that it’s a one-way street. I talk in my book about kids from an elite school in New York who went to a citizenship center nearby and helped people from all different countries learn the information needed to pass their citizenship tests. The kids felt really, really good about themselves that day. Several of them realized talents that they’d never had before. One kid, who was at the bottom of his class, realized that he was a very skilled teacher. Another girl who wanted to drop out of Spanish realized that she had beautiful Spanish and could communicate with a Spanish-speaking person. So as much as the elite can offer in their communities, their communities offer a lot back to them, and I think we’ve grown too stratified. So if people, especially kids, have that opportunity to leave their schools and go out in their communities, that is wonderful. 

We also need to look at the “sports industrial complex.” Kids today in the middle and upper class are playing on travel teams, and they’re playing so many sports that it starts to erode family time, time when they need to be reading or working at other things—like just relaxing, hanging out with friends, and getting to know their community. I think there are opportunities to play sports that do not operate at that level of stress. Granted, there are some kids for whom sports are a ticket to a better life. For the kids I talk about in my book, this is not true, and though sports are very valuable, we need to dismantle the type of sports industry that makes a lot of money for the people who run it and is not valuable for kids.

Thursday, April 7, 2022

Rigor in Schools

This week’s article summary is Out of the Shadows and its focus is the debate in education about rigor.

If you ask parents what they want for their children in school, most will say a ‘rigorous’ education.

The challenge for schools is that the word ‘rigor’ means different things to different people.

For most, a ‘rigorous’ education equates to a lot of work, especially homework. 

One of my kids as a high school senior took an AP American History class because he thought it would look good on his transcript. He didn’t particularly like history (his interests were more math, science, and technology) yet he thought he could handle this class. The problem for him was the course required a herculean amount of daily reading. He couldn’t keep up and didn’t have enough of a history knowledge base to help him read and digest the material more quickly. Two weeks into the class, he knew he was in over his head. 

His AP history class was clearly rigorous yet he didn’t get much out of it except a lot of frustration and a distaste for history.

The term ‘rigor’ needs to be redefined. For me, the article provides a better definition: Rigor in schools is ‘the degree to which a student is in equal parts intellectually challenged, engaged, enriched, and empowered.’

While last week’s article summary discussed the negatives of Bloom’s Taxonomy, the taxonomy at least helps a teacher avoid solely focusing on one type of thinking. AP American history for my son provided  challenge but no engagement, enrichment, or empowerment. 

The article reminds us as teachers to avoid an onerous workload for our students and to provide them with ‘provocative, stimulating, sometimes vexing challenges of grasping complex ideas that make learning meaningful and rewarding.’

We in elementary schools naturally implement the article’s definition of rigor in our classrooms to help our kids develop, as the article says, ‘emotional intelligence, listening and empathy, collaboration, creativity, problem solving, generosity, and fairness’. 

Of course, we teach a lot of content knowledge, yet we do so in a way that asks much more of our students than simply reading a ponderous textbook.

Joe

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Academic rigor has been “catnip” for many parents who associate it with favorable outcomes ranging from high standardized test scores and weighted grades to the grand prize, admission to elite colleges and universities.

But what does rigor mean in the classroom? 

The usual association is with difficulty – rigorous classes are hard – and not necessarily that they are intellectually challenging and conceptually deep. Rigor is more often associated with piled-on reading, homework, and assignments that produce anxiety, sleep deprivation, isolation, and emotional fatigue. Rigor as suffering.

This is not to suggest that academic achievement, ambition, or aspiration aren’t worthy and noble drivers, but there is an argument to be made against unnecessary, unhealthy, and inhumane academic distress – about the peril and the ethics of putting student achievement ahead of student wellness, and the fallacy that the two are competing aims. The additional layers of stress placed on young people during the pandemic have added urgency to the need to rethink rigor in middle and high schools. 

The irony is that parents who push schools to implement the hard-nosed conception of rigor are not helping their children prepare for the “best” careers. Many elite companies are looking for a different set of skills: emotional intelligence, listening and empathy, collaboration, creativity, problem-solving, generosity, and fairness. Certainly students need exposure to direct instruction, core knowledge, memorization and recall, and automaticity – and some students truly blossom when fed and watered by facts, but this is only part of what young people require to lead fulfilling lives. 

Here’s a new definition of rigor: The degree to which a student is in equal parts intellectually challenged, engaged, enriched, and empowered. The big idea is challenge, not in the sense of an onerous workload but the provocative, stimulating, sometimes vexing challenge of grasping complex ideas that make learning meaningful and rewarding (as well as empowering) to master. And this has to be tuned to students’ incoming knowledge, skills, and attitudes, so that work is at the Goldilocks level – not too difficult and not too easy. 

As schools courageously embrace a new conception of rigor that rises above merely a crushing workload, we expect to see both increased student wellness and higher levels of more-meaningful academic achievement. Even the most driven parents should be persuadable around the goal of producing graduates who are also healthy, well-adjusted, confident, and happy.