Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Quality: The Heartbeat of Education

His name was Tom and this was his guide. He talked about it ALL.THE.TIME. 

If there is anything left of goodness in the world, it is this memory of him. I believe it was me, a novice and green teacher working with him for a few years that shaped me the most as a co-worker to become who I am today. I learned to stop and look at the situation from the student's perspective first. I learned to not care if the desks were in rows, as long as the students were learning. I learned to laugh a lot, I learned not to teach from the front of the room. I learned to take things in stride.  

Maybe it has been a while since you opened up the pages to this book. Perhaps you are looking for a book that will change the culture of learning at your school. 

If you have not read this book, here are the key points:

Students’ Needs Come First
  • Students sense belonging when they receive positive attention from the teacher and others and participate actively in class concerns
  • School environment is kept safe and free from personal threat
  • Students participate in making decisions about topics to be studied and procedure for working in class or assigns them responsibility for class duties
  • Students experience fun by working and talking with others
  • Students sense freedom when the teacher allows them to make responsible choices concerning what they will study, how they will do so, and how they will demonstrate their accomplishments
Quality Curriculum

  • Schools must be places where students learn useful information and learn it well
  • If students are old enough you may ask them to identify what they would like to explore deeper (Geniushour)
  • Depth of understanding combined with a good grasp of value
  • Ask students regularly to assess the quality of their own efforts
Quality Teaching
  • Provide a warm, supportive classroom climate
  • Use lead teaching rather than boss teaching
  • Ask students only to do work that is useful 
  • Always ask students to do the best they can
  • Help students learn to use reflection
  • Help students recognize that doing quality work makes them feel good

Whew! Looking at this list, it would be hard to achieve this without a cost: sweat, blood and tears. The cost is deciding that school is all about the students and their families. It is a school where student voice thrives. It is a school where as my friend Angela Maiers so eloquently and simply states, "Mattering IS the agenda!"

In many schools stakeholders are competing for who has the control or the power and often its a misinterpretation of power. Case in point: Grading. Does a teacher GIVE grades or does a student EARN grades? Grading is not supposed to be a power play. 

Glasser would say that we can navigate this by looking at what we are doing in our school culture to nurture caring habits or to bring about bad habits. 

Seven Caring Habits
  • Supporting
  • Encouraging
  • Listening
  • Accepting
  • Trusting
  • Respecting
  • Negotiating differences

Seven Deadly Habits
  • Criticizing
  • Blaming
  • Complaining
  • Nagging
  • Threatening
  • Punishing
  • Bribing or rewarding to control
The end point is that leadership is not supposed to be from top down. I like how Deborah Walker described it in the Constructivist Leader

"Leader Among Leaders Leaders: They recognize their limitations and who is in the best position to lead and work to establish organizational processes to encourage others to lead and learn together." 

The #vachat (7PM CST) was all about this on Monday night, growing leaders, but it is hard to grow leaders when the lead learner of the school is not leading. A friend of mine faces a everyday and real struggle with this and deals with leadership manipulation, coercion, bullying and lies. It is a battle of the mind to get to work, but my friend goes because of who they are serving, the students are the WHY.

I want to tip my hat to my friends who set the bar high, from whom I love learning, laughing and sometimes breaking bread with. They are excellent lead learners. They are risk takers, they continue in the trailblazing path that Glasser forged. They are putting students first. They are making learning relevant. They are people who I would call as Walker did, a "Leader Among Leaders."

You become like the people you hang around with:

Andre Meadows, Brookport Elementary, Illinois

If it had not been for Tom and at the time, our fantastic lead learner, Mr. James Fennick, I am sure I would not be who I am today. They set me on the right path, they modeled excellence in education for me from the get-go. Thank you for helping me daily remember that the heartbeat of education is a quality school and a quality classroom.

(Tom is still working as a education coach in his school in Anoka-Hennepin, but not active on social media. )