What can be done to help educators serve their students?
We have so much violence in and out of school. We have racial strife. We are confronted with issues related to gender and identity. The 19th and early 20th century notion of family rarely exists - particularly in poor rural and urban settings. Parents work multiple jobs just to provide food, clothes, and shelter. Children are left alone to see their way to adulthood. The Norman Rockwell picture of Mom, Dad, and children sitting together at the dining table doesn’t exist in real life. The world of work changes at an ever-increasing rate. And, the constant development of new technologies tends to divide us socially and economically.
By middle school age
· Many students don’t have a positive set of values upon which to make positive life judgments.
· School classrooms often border on chaotic where there is little evidence of respect for learning, people, and property.
· Few students have productive communications with teachers and other educators.
· Students do not productively communicate between and among themselves.
· Too many students are not capable enough readers able to learn and demonstrate competence in other fundamental curriculum areas.
· Many students are given adult roles and responsibilities by default yet they have no preparation for them.
The purpose of education is to perpetuate our culture and improve upon it. Schools are the only reliable vehicle to accomplish that. And, we are tasking teachers and other educators with remediating the immediate and ever increasing needs of our society.
We charge the teacher with being a content deliverer, psychologist, social worker, disciplinarian, as well as a moral and ethical guide - not to mention one who must intervene in violent situations, deal with social service and legal agencies and with a parent or guardian. And, we place on them increasing legal and regulatory demands.
Just think for a moment about a teacher who may have 30 students each class period and 5 classes a day. That is a direct responsibility for 150 individual people. The role of a teacher is, or is evolving into, a nearly impossible role. Moreover, teachers are not prepared for these roles nor are they compensated for them. And those preparing teachers have not successfully performed these collective roles themselves.
Where do we go?
We must first stop and think.
School must first be a safe, happy, and productive place and the classroom must be a place where there is respect for learning, people, and property. This is easy to say but it seems so difficult to attain.
The goal of school must be to prepare the nation’s people to be civil, literate, and be capable and willing to productively communicate with one another.
We must come up with a secondary school model that is realistic and direct. It must begin with
· teaching students to demonstrate expected behaviors,
· teaching and practicing productive communication, plus
· the continued teaching of reading
School and the classroom can then become a place for the learning of curriculum content (i.e. math, science, social studies, English language arts, career and technical content and the arts).
How do we get there?
Note the point of view that the first content to teach is that of teaching behaviors expected by the teacher in the classroom and the school in places around the classroom (hallways, offices, buses, athletic areas, cafeterias, etc.). The teaching of behaviors is really no different from the teaching of the Pythagorean theorem or the teaching of how to safely adjust the brake system of a vehicle. Teachers just have not been taught how to teach these things.
The goal to teach behaviors first is to lead students toward becoming self-regulated. A class of self-regulated students is one where respect for learning, people, and property is demonstrated at all times even absent the classroom teacher. Self-regulated persons act in a civil manner and have the first and maybe the most important set of adult survival skills. A class of self-regulated students is one where content can be taught and learned efficiently and effectively.
A classroom of self-regulated students is devoid of violence and bullying.
Discipline is only an issue when we’ve failed to teach the behaviors we expect. Focusing on punitive measures keeps our eyes off our real job: teaching students to behave in a way that respects people, property, and learning.
Communication between the student and teacher should be Goal-Focused. Students must have a clear view of their personal career, school, and classroom goals. Having these goals causes each student to self-identify the relevance of school and its subjects. When a student has a clear goal, knows where she is relative to that goal and has identified steps to attain the goal, she takes responsibility for attaining the goal. Every time a teacher conducts a Goal-Focused Conversation with a student and follows up with that student, she creates a productive relationship with that student. This process provides the student with the capability of solving problems and challenges in further learning or in adult life. And, the relationship with the teacher rapidly becomes collaborative rather than adversarial.
When students learn and use the Goal-Focused Communication process with one another they have the means of resolving personal and interpersonal challenges.
The keys to learning and competence in school are reading and writing. Nearly all that we do as adults is tied to the written and spoken word. It is how we learn what we need as adults. But, for some reason, we stop reading instruction near the middle school experience. Yet, we have substantial evidence that a significant percentage of our students are functionally illiterate. Students who do not read drop out or cause distractions in classrooms and schools.
Students from poor rural and urban settings often take their place in the line of multi-generational illiteracy. We, as educators, must finally break this chain.
When these things are done
Metis Leadership Group has derived this set of beliefs while providing Leadership and Professional Development for educators in Star Academy dropout prevention and acceleration programs in about eight states since 2009. Further, Metis has worked in traditional suburban, rural, and urban schools over this same timeframe.
The previously stated model has evolved and, when adopted, a Culture of Achievement is evidenced. Violent behavior diminishes, student views of teachers become supportive rather than adversarial, and efforts to remediate reading are welcomed by students. Parents become more involved in their charges’ education. Classroom time greatly increases due to the reduced need for disciplining students.
Metis is interested in conversing with districts or schools, agencies, academies, or programs that feel this approach might be efficacious. More specific information about Metis Leadership Group can be gleaned from www.metisleadershipgroup.com or from Mike Robinson at (609) 937-3578.