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Normally, I am not one to write on controversial issues, but there is freedom in the provocative, and the time is now (or yesterday) for action in education. Although this speaks to one state's journey through the massive budget cuts and the looming additional injustices, I think that most educators in the nation have experienced a degree of this. I humbly share my thoughts with legislators considering budgets for next school year and the community of ASCD advocates:
How will your child suffer? We must stop this ridiculous abomination of a proposed budget now. The incessant and continuous hit that education has taken in the last 5 years has been beyond reason. However, this year's proposals fall just shy of criminal. As a voter, a parent of children in the school system and a school principal, I have many perspectives to offer. First, as a voter: We elect officials into office who we believe will stand for the things that we hold close to heart. Public schools are the birthplace of some of the best minds in America. What does it mean to be American? Please ask yourself this, as our elected representative. Americans value critical opinions and diversity but stand united when someone attacks our home or our community. To my esteemed elected officials, I say: We are under attack. Make no mistake... this is a war of interests. We must not let the future of our children and ultimately our country falter to other priorities. We know that you are under pressure to invest in the political interests that got you into office, but we beg you not to sacrifice our children, your children or the future of our great nation in doing so. As a parent: We cannot provide quality schools without adequate funding to do so. Should we settle for mediocrity? Would you settle for mediocrity for your own child? Absolutely not. I want my children to get access to teachers with skills that will challenge their minds and inspire their hearts. Teachers deserve pay worthy of the countless hours they spend planning. Let Principals hold them accountable to that. I want my children to have adequate support in their classes as they are acclimated to the rigor of public schools. Teacher Assistants provide this support. They are educators, advocates and probably teach your child in a center or reading group. I want my child to have access to the equipment, books and materials needed for 21st century learning. As a school principal: Is the public aware that kids in most counties are still using outdated books, so teachers have to develop their own curriculum materials to match the new standards? And what justice do we pay teachers when they do this with a smile on their face and protect our children from the perils of society? We cut their support (TAs), cut their pay (furlough), cut their money for supplies (instructional money), increase their class size (class size waiver elimination), increase their insurance premiums and cut their access to resources and support (district funding going to charter/private schools). Teacher Assistants are not just secretaries for the teacher, and I wonder if the public realizes that. They are instructional assistants... they help your children and grandchildren learn. Also, as a school administrator, one of the ways in which we can provide a duty-free lunch for teachers (which is a state requirement) is through the use of teacher assistants. Similarly, I wonder if the public understands the correlation between effective instruction and the number of students in a class. There is an inverse relationship between time for critical learning and the number of students in a class. This state and this nation is in a dire place of certain demise, if we cannot commit to providing safe, quality schools for our children today, so they can solve nationwide and worldwide problems tomorrow. With the proposed legislation about class size, harsh cuts to public schools (again), elimination of Assistants, sequestration at the federal level, and funneling the leftover pocket change to charter/private schools rather than public schools... I must ask the question... how will your child suffer?
Arne Duncan recently gave a speech at the American Educational Research Association Annual Meeting. In the speech he emphasized the importance of non-cognitive, or social and emotional skills stating, “We know . . . that the development of skills like grit, resilience, and self-regulation early in life are essential to success later in life.” He later continued,
Ultimately, a great education involves much more than teaching children simply to read, write, add, and subtract. It includes teaching them to think and write clearly, and to solve problems and work in teams. It includes teaching children to set goals, to persist in tasks, and to help them navigate the world.
Duncan’s words were not all that surprising considering his own U.S. Department of Education had just released a publication titled “Promoting Grit, Tenacity, and Perseverance—Critical Factors for Success in the 21st Century” a month earlier. Surprising or not, it is always good to hear that there is a push (with some real muscle behind it) for teaching these skills.
Duncan didn’t stop with simply promoting non-cognitive skill development, however. Instead, he went on to suggest,
. . . testing experts need to further expand the range of assessments in the years ahead by developing better, reliable, and valid assessments of children’s non-cognitive skills. This is the next frontier in assessment research—and it is hugely important to me.
I would love to see assessment experts work with schools and districts to develop more reliable, meaningful, and easy-to-administer assessments that help us understand whether we are teaching the non-cognitive skills that predict students’ success in college, careers, and life.
The whole idea of assessing non-cognitive skills is an interesting proposition in and of itself because it would require all teachers to actively teach these specific skills. It becomes even more interesting, however, when we realize that something must be done as a result of it. The reality is that just as with academic skills, an achievement gap will exist for non-cognitive skills. In fact, it’s already there. In Washington State the Washington Kindergarten Inventory of Developing Skills (WaKIDS) revealed that only 74% of students demonstrated the characteristics of entering kindergartners in the area of social and emotional development. Kindergarten readiness in the area of cognitive development (which includes problem solving) was only 71%. Furthermore, similar to academic skills, these so-called soft skills become more sophisticated as one gets older. For example, whereas the ability to work cooperatively might mean simply joining in a game of tag for a kindergartener, it could mean building consensus for a project idea for a middle schooler. Therefore, the gap that exists in kindergarten will only widen unless intensive interventions are done.
This begs the question: If a student has low academic skills and low non-cognitive skills, will one be given priority in terms of time and resources?
Social Media Week is one of the two New York events that inspire me and inform my perspective on developing curriculum. The New York Comic Con is the other. While they may seem tangential at first glance to classroom teaching and curriculum design, they actually offer a model of and insight to creating moving narratives which I believe drives effective learning.
It was at a Social Media Week session two years ago that I learned about Timehop. Timehop is a social media service that places your tweets and wall posts into an historical context. On any given day, you are sent a reminder of what you tweeted and posted on the same date last year. This includes news items you retweeted and shared. When you compare what you tweeted a year ago to what you tweet today, you have the beginnings of an autobiographical narrative (a personal history).
Currently, Timehop only presents you with an account of day-to-day social media activity. What I am hoping to see somewhere down the line is a "timeline" feature. I am certain there would be some meaningful classroom applications, if Timehop users were given the option to view day-to-day activity over multiple days, weeks, months, and even years.
Unfortunately, I wasn't able to attend as many sessions this year. I was particularly disappointed about missing the Cowbird workshop. Cowbird describes itself as a "community of storytellers". I like to think of it as a great online anthology of flash non-fiction filled with examples of folksy wisdom and lazy Sunday observations over coffee or tea. Cowbird is definitely meeting its goal of building a "public library of human experience".
I particularly admire Cowbird's resistance to video and hope it continues to ask its community to take the time to contemplate the pictures and sounds (the individual components of video) and text they chose to tell their stories with. There is a risk of forsaking these individual pieces when composing directly in video.
Cowbird offers classroom teachers in the age of Common Core a powerful tool to create personal narratives. It also provides teachers with a way for engaging in informational texts especially in "Integration of Knowledge and Ideas" where in eighth grade students are tasked to "Evaluate the advantages and disadvantages of using different mediums (e.g., print or digital text, video, multimedia) to present a particular topic or idea."
Happily, I managed to attend the "gsummitX - Gamification in NYC" presentation with Gabe Zichermann from Gamification.co. In the classroom, teachers understand that playing games is an effective way of engaging students. However, with the rise in the number of free online video games and the increased portability of traditional console games, students are much more sophisticated edutainment consumers than we Generation X'ers were with our Colecovisions and Commodore 64s.
Gabe was speaking from a Sales/Marketing perspective when he stated the challenge of retaining consumer attention. However, I don't think you need to stretch your imagination too hard to see how even with the onslaught of educational online video games that student attention retention can still be a challenge for teachers.
Gabe made several interesting comments during his presentation. First, he stated that gamification is a process not a product (Sound familiar?) It's what those who favor a constructivist approach to education believe. He then said that (I'm rephrasing slightly) games allow players to play with the limits of the reality of their jobs. In classrooms, this might mean games allow students to play with the limits of the reality of their... classrooms? subjects? tests? school? community?
Writing about Jane McGonigal's TED presentation, “Gaming Can Make A Better World” I suggested a game that addressed the school dropout crisis. The role playing games that Jane has worked on fit well into Gabe's statements on gamification. In creating a game that challenges students to solve the real world problem of dropping out, the challenge would be to convince the player to find value in the rewards and prizes. There are plenty of good commercial games available but also an equal (if not overwhelming) amount of bad video games. And there are instances where a game comes highly recommended but the player does not see value in continuing it.
In a recent meeting about student behavior the discussion turned to spring fever and the stress students take on as state testing approaches. A colleague shared an experience that reminds us all that it’s not just students that feel the stress of state testing or the anticipation of summer. The teacher was working with her students on writing conclusions, a skill they had been honing throughout the school year. With the state test approaching, it was time to review and practice. When asked to write a conclusion, students acted like it was a foreign concept. The teacher’s reaction, however, was anything but foreign to those of us in similar positions: she lost it. The usually calm and considerate teacher ripped into the class, “What do you mean you don’t know how to write a conclusion? We have been working on conclusions all year! You have to be able to write a conclusion!”
Listening to her regret her uncharacteristic outburst it reminded me of similar scenes in my classroom recently. Her call for all of us to be aware of how the stress and excitement of the season affects our behavior drove me to think about how social and emotional skills are equally important for us as adults as well as students. Here are a few ways teachers can benefit from CASEL’s five SEL competencies:
Self-awareness: As teachers we must maintain our awareness of how we are feeling. As the above story highlighted, this time of year is ripe with emotion: the stress of state testing (especially in an age of increasing accountability based on test scores), the excitement of summer vacation and general exhaustion from a long, hard-fought year.
Self-management: Once we identify our emotions we can begin to manage them effectively. For example, in stressful times perhaps a lunchtime walk in the fresh air might be a better use of time than grading that lingering stack of papers. If we are aware of our emotions we can also anticipate situations in which they could lead us to uncharacteristic and undesirable behavior. During moments of extreme frustration in the classroom we need to regulate ourselves so students are not the target of our unleashed emotions.
Social awareness: We also need to be cognizant of what our students are feeling. They also feel the stress of state testing and, depending on a student’s homelife, the anticipation of summer brings uncertainty and anxiety rather than excitement. We simply must be able to walk a mile in our students' shoes.
Relationship skills: During these strenuous times we must maintain positive relationships with our students. More than ever (even though they would probably never tell us) they need us. They need us to listen, they need us to connect with them and they need us to be there when they need help.
Responsible decision-making: By paying attention to all the above we will be in a position to analyze the probable outcomes of our actions and make decisions that truly respect our students.
As the pull of summer and anxiety brought on by state testing increase, let’s remember that social and emotional skills are critical, not just for our students, but for us as teachers as well. By practicing and modeling positive social and emotional skills we can all end the year on an upbeat note without losing our cool.
As educators we have a firm belief that the small efforts we make today will have big payoffs down the road. It would seem then, that the opposite must be true: That missed opportunities will have large penalties in the future. These notions hold no more true than in the area of social and emotional learning (SEL) and were illustrated recently, interesting enough, by fast-food giant McDonald’s recent webcast company executives had with franchise owners. Apparently McDonald’s hasn’t been lovin’ it when it comes to customer satisfaction. According to a Wall Street Journal article, “1 in 5 customer complaints are related to friendliness issues.” The article goes on to explain, “ the top complaint (was) rude or unprofessional employees.”
Whereas I understand that a fast-food establishment would receive lower customer service ratings than its table service counterparts, it did surprise me that McDonald’s employees were downright “rude or unprofessional.” In fact, as a teacher I was disheartened by it. Certainly, these employees—all products of our education system—had been taught to “be nice” and “be respectful,” so what went wrong?
Over and above any attempts to justify these employees’ actions and vilify McDonald’s, let’s acknowledge their personal responsibility for their actions. In doing so, it is clear that our small efforts in teaching kindness and respect did not result in big payoffs. Instead, perhaps, the situation McDonald’s finds itself in is a result of our missed educational opportunities. Thinking about it this way, it might be easier to think about what could have gone right for these employees while they were in school. Or, similarly, what small efforts could their schools have made that would have had big payoffs in terms of social and emotional skills when they got jobs at McDonald’s?
Let’s think about the outcomes of a comprehensive SEL curriculum. According to the Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning (CASEL) five SEL competencies exist: self-awareness, self-management, social-awareness, relationship skills and responsible decision-making. It is easy to envision how well-developed skills in these areas would have prevented any issues with “rude or unprofessional” behavior from these McDonald’s employees. Instead, these employees would have been aware of their emotions, managed them, and in reflecting on ethically and socially accepted behavior for the workplace, would have made better decisions.
This issue with McDonald’s seems to be just one in an increasing number of similar instances which call attention to a growing deficiency in social and emotional skills. Can we as educators, regardless of our students’ academic accomplishments, deem our efforts successful when increasing numbers of our past students are “unprofessional and rude”? Is it simply coincidence that this trend is growing along with our schools’ sole focus on academics?
Returning from spring vacation to a new month I am reminded that as a schoolteacher the beginning of a new month means more than simply flipping the calendar. It signals the time to erect another pillar of our growing character.
Elementary school children around the nation are gathering in their schools’ gymnasiums for the monthly ritual of introducing a new character trait from Character Counts. In many schools one of the Six Pillars of Character (respect, responsibility, honesty, caring, citizenship, trustworthiness and fairness) will be introduced with a video or skit. Students will then in some cases make posters or banners to adorn the school walls and advertise the value of the trait. Teachers will give token attention to the character trait in the classroom by reading a picture book or doing some other isolated activity to highlight the trait of the month. At the end of the month the same school children will reconvene in the gymnasium to see who was selected as best demonstrating the character trait of the month.
Sadly, that is the state of character education, or social emotional learning, in many schools today. In fact, this article explains these two approaches among others. Even sadder, when presented with the idea of beginning to infuse a comprehensive social and emotional learning program into the existing curriculum many teachers at those same schools will reply, “No thanks, we are already doing that.”
Now let me be clear about one thing: I am in no position and have no motives to neither endorse nor reject Character Counts as an effective character education program. It is simply that Character Counts seems to be ubiquitous in schools, including mine. What I do reject, however, is the method by which many schools use Character Counts as their best attempt at teaching social and emotional skills. We can (and must) do better than simply mentioning and celebrating these virtuous traits once a month.
In a landmark meta-analysis of social and emotional learning (SEL) programs published in 2011 the authors found that effective SEL programs include “processing, integrating, and selectively applying social and emotional skills in developmentally, contextually and culturally appropriate ways.” Furthermore, “Through systematic instruction, SEL skills may be taught, modeled, practiced, and applied to diverse situations so that students use them as part of their daily repertoire of behaviors.” The four practices recommended in the study create the acronym SAFE. From the Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning’s (CASEL) summary of the findings:
Effective programs and approaches are typically sequenced, active, focused, and explicit (S.A.F.E.), meaning they:
Clearly, there is a stark contrast between a comprehensive SEL program as described in the meta-analysis and the manner in which many schools today are using Character Counts for teaching students the social skills necessary for a productive life inside and outside of school. We as teachers must drop our “we’re-already-doing-it” attitude and start doing what students and the rest of society needs us to do—put forth a wholehearted effort in teaching social and emotional skills in our schools. That will be cause for real celebration.
Don't Stop Achievin' (Cover of "Don't Stop Believin'" by Journey)
Authors: Lyrics by David Brower, Sacajawea Middle School Principal, and Hannah Gbenro, Instructional Technology Specialist.
Performed to the tune of Journey's "Don't Stop Believin'" by JoAnne Landis (Vocals), Jerry Warren (Vocals), Adrienne Chacon (Vocals), Rex Tucker (Guitar), Hannah Gbenro (Keyboard), and David Brower (Drums) at the FWPS August 2011 Administrative Retreat.
She's a brilliant girl
Acing History of the World
But she knows her grades don't mean anything
A boy failing math
Oh, how he hates that class!
But he knows his grades don't mean anything
Grades based on achievement
Learning is the focus
K-12 vocab we'll go on and on and on and on
Standards, re-do's, different pathways guaranteed
Learning, instruction, this is right
Leverage, endurance, readiness - take the lead
All kids reaching a new height
Clear and transparent
Grades based on academics
Giving options for success
Grades based on achievement
Learning is the focus
K-12 vocab we'll go on and on and on and on
Standards, re-do's, different pathways guaranteed
Learning, instruction, this is right
Leverage, endurance, readiness - take the lead
All kids reaching a new height
Don't stop believing
Hold on to that feeling
Don't stop achieving
Hold on to that feeling
Originally Posted: October 7, 2011
Originally posted at K2TWelve.com
The first two parts of Be Social Change and the Center for Social Innovation's three-part series on the Future of Education began with attendees sharing in small groups their personal transformative educational experiences outside and inside of the classroom. At both meetings and in both instances, the general opinion was that transformative educational experiences were personal experiences that felt "out of the box" or "above and beyond" what was expected.
What has been clear in both Future of Education Meetups is that these transformative experiences are currently missing from college and K-12 classrooms. Both teachers and students are dissatisfied with the current education system and has chosen to value.
From the educational entrepreneurs at the first Meetup, who spoke about their role in complementing and enhancing core college curriculum with hands-on job experiences, to the K-12 educators at the second Meetup, who spoke about an "educational ecosystem" and the necessity for self-efficacy and the acceptance of failure, the resounding message was that there is a disconnect between the classroom and what students want to know. Ivan Cestero of the Avenues school and a panelist at the second Meetup put it best when he said as educators we needed to "meld the passion piece with the stuff they (students) need to know."
Lyel Resner, co-founder of Startup Box: South Bronx and moderator of the second Meetup began the discussion by asking the audience: What is school for? I was reminded of something Eduwonkette wrote years ago, conveying historian, David Labaree's vision of school as an environment that nurtured children's ability to
Participants responding to Lyel's question echoed Labaree's vision. They responded that the purpose of school was to prepare students for civic engagement and to teach them how to apply their passions, as well as build their social and emotional skills.
Like going to an art opening and dropping words like "derivative" or "jejune", for the past couple of years, the password into educational cliques has been "Common Core" (sometimes "STEM", sometimes "21st Century skills/literacies"). When the topic of Common Core State Standards came up, there was no overtly negative criticism, only a cautionary thought from Ivan Cestero that the standards required "habits of mind, passion, and social skills to be meaningful."
When the issue of standardized testing came up, panelist Tim Shriver, Dream Director at The Future Project said "test scores won't matter to students if they are not hopeful about their future success." Most everyone in the room (including me) believed portfolios are a superior and more accurate assessment than test scores.
Panelist Leigh Ann Sudol-DeLyser, Computer Science Teacher & Consultant at the Academy for Software Engineering NYC, spoke of the trial and error process that software engineers engage in when writing code. She said that it was important to get students to try and fail at something and then try again. She said "self efficacy" needed to be cultivated. Students need to believe in their ability to solve difficult problems and overcome seemingly impossible challenges. Most of the room agreed with what Leigh Ann was saying.
What has interested me most about these Meetups is the pragmatism. There is a lot of talk of innovation and "new" ways, but it has been tempered with talk of "accreditation" on the college level and systems level implementation in the K-12 grades. Andrea Coleman, CEO of the Office of Innovation at the New York City Department of Education, cited her office's partnership with The Future Project. I'm looking forward to that same pragmatism in the final Meetup of this series.
Have you have ever wondered how some schools get grant funding? The answer is simple... School administrators and teachers who invest time into finding and writing proposals are likely to receive funding eventually, even if not on the first try. Those who keep trying are more likely to secure funding, as the writing team learns how to write a proposal that matches the goals of the solicitation. Here are a few quick tips for school leaders who wish to obtain grant funding for their school.
1. Stay tapped into common sources of funding.
You can sign up on many websites to be notified when new funding opportunities are released. Government agencies (both federal and state) are common sources of funding. However, there are many large corporations which invest a lot into grants for public education. It's a good idea to make a list of major contributors, as well as potential local corporations that have contributed to schools before. Foundations and organizations with local ties are sometimes more willing to contribute to a cause that will impact the local population, which provides their sales base.
2. Develop a grant committee.
Identify and recruit teachers who have an analytical approach to problem solving and who are good teacher leaders. Once a month they can meet to discuss needs and potential funding sources, and even write parts of proposals. With teachers vested in the process, proposals are sure to be implemented well if funded. Of course, if you are a school administrator, you will want to do some of the writing yourself also. Funding organizations want to know the leader of the school is fully vested in ensuring successful implementation.
3. Become knowledgeable about what kinds of things make winning proposals. Some of this knowledge will come with practice, but there are a few simple guidelines that can be helpful. Here are a few:
- Write the proposal to match the solicitation, if you are writing a grant. Don't be ashamed to even use their own solicitation language in your proposal description.
- Be sure to address every possible requirement or question mentioned in the solicitation.
- Make sure you address how the efforts will last beyond the funding timeline (called sustainability).
- Keep in mind potential extras you could throw in that would further the goals of the funding agency or bring positive press to that organization.
- Make sure that your scope and scale of your proposed project are appropriate and explicitly mention the scope of impact in your writing. For example, a $10,000 project that would impact five students might be less likely to get funded than a $50,000 project that would impact 500 students.
- Partnerships with external organizations look great in grant applications. Partnerships provide sustainability, vested interest and a broader scope.
There are plenty of workshops available to assist with additional tips for writing winning proposals. Also, keep in mind that grants are not the only sources of external funding. Donations made by local or even national organizations often do not carry the same stipulations and regulations as grants.
How will we remember 2012? Once again, it has been a challenging year for many in education. The school shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Conn., shocked and saddened educators worldwide, and reawakened the discussions as to what role schools can play to best keep their children safe. At the same time, the shooting reminded everyone of the commitment and love that teachers and principials have for their students, as they put their energies, their focus and their lives on the line for kids on a regular basis.
Seeing that kind of commitment, bravery and dedication from educators is what makes us most hopeful for the future. In the United States, teachers and adminstrators are pushing boldly in many areas to reform schools and improve student learning. Already, many districts have begun adopting new curriculum and assessment frameworks tied to Common Core State Standards. Worldwide, educators have moved to try new instructional approaches such as flipped classrooms and blended learning. And they are beginning to increasingly implement new technology strategies, establishing bring-your-own device programs and one-to-one iPad programs -- all the while improving upon core instructional best practices and techniques.
We salute all those who are dedicated to improving student learning and achievement -- and are truly making a difference in the lives others. In particular, as we do at this time every year, we would also like to tip our hat to our own community leaders -- those who have detailed their vision and ideas in the blogs below, and who have put thoughts out in the public domain for scrutiny and praise. As we look back at the past year, we hope that, in some small way, it can provide the impetus for helping you look forward, as you implement your own new ideas in 2013.
Thanks to all of you who participate in our great ASCD EDge community. Have a safe and happy holidays. And without further delay, we present...The Top 10 Blogs of 2012.
The ASCD EDge Team
The Top 10 Blogs of 2012
10. A Bucket List for K-12 Students by Steven Weber
In 2007, Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman starred in The Bucket List. In the movie, Nicholson and Freeman make a list of things they wish to do before they die...
9. 12 Alternatives To Letter Grades In Education by Terrell Heick
Few artifacts of formal learning are as iconic as the letter grade...
I have observed many, many teachers in elementary and early childhood classrooms and the ones that have the smoothest-running classrooms all do the same thing: they teach procedures...
7. 5 Top Resources for Aligning Your Social Studies Curricula to the Common Core by Robert Zywicki
Social studies supervisors and teachers across the country are revising their unit plans to meet their state’s content standards, as well as, the Common Core State Standards for Literacy in History and Social Studies...
In today’s world, with its rich and overwhelming amount of accessible information, bewildering career options, uncertainty, and change, five skill areas stand out as important for lifelong learning...
5. 10 of the Best Apps for Educators by Ryan Thomas
Whether you're an educational technology wonder, or a little slower on the draw, apps for your iPhone and/or iPad can make your job a lot easier...
4. What I Wish I Had Known about Student Motivation by Bryan Goodwin
“You’re a smart kid; I just wish you’d apply yourself in my class.” Most teachers have uttered a similar phrase. I know I did. I remember one student particularly well; we’ll call him Jerry....
3. Five Reasons I don't Assign Homework by Mark Barnes
The homework debate is one that has permeated education for many decades, and it shows no signs of slowing. Homework proponents perplex me, because the research is so overwhelmingly against homework's effectiveness...
2. The Seven C's of Effective Teaching by Muriel Rand
I recently attended an educational assessment conference in which Ronald Ferguson from the Harvard Kennedy School was the keynote speaker. He is an educational researcher who presented his work on teacher effectiveness...
And the number one blog of 2012 is:
1. SOCRATES FAILS TEACHER EVALUATION by Heidi Hayes Jacobs
So, it came down to one day, one test, at the Acropolis as the young men of Athens took out their #2 chisels to answer 30 questions on stone tablets...
With the holiday weekend coming to a close, I am coming off an abundance of overindulgence! Isn’t it divine to have so many days to rest up, read and reflect? I spent my time catching up on blogs, reading great articles from the Choice Literacy website and delving deeper into the stack of books that is never far from my side. I have joined two book groups to start in the coming months (Anyone else reading Pathways to the Common Coreor The Book Whisperer?). Despite the need to jump into these, I continue to find many other books, articles and posts that draw me in, leaving me mulling over things and making connections in entirely different ways.
My thoughts today centered on Language.Choice Wordshad me recognizing the power of language within a classroom. I found myself thinking most specifically of the kind of language Celina and I work tirelessly to get imprinted into our students, a language of possibility, of thinking, of doing, of being. In turn we look to hear this language among our students. What are the 5 essential components of our classroom language that you might hear? Read on:
1.We continually speak about Growth Mindsets with our kids, and recognize it in ourselves, as a post or tweet can have us researching and reading into an entirely new arena.It is no surprise for us to have a student talk about some tangent they came across in their reading, some metaphor they have developed from a discussion or some new topic that they can’t wait to find more about.We recognize it and support it, encouraging that child to “go find it!”At the same time our students speak to each other with support and inspiration, often pointing out to us how another student’s find or growth was made evident.
2.It is in our language to speak of trying and doing every day, kids often reply back to us the words from Sousa that started our school year: “The brain that does the work makes the most growth.” They know themselves as learners through extensive study of their learning styles, intelligences and preferences, and they know that so armed they are accountable and responsible to themselves as students.
3.We also routinely remind them to use a resource, encouraging them to think about what they need to answer their own questions, to evaluate the sources around them for validity and usefulness, and that asking and seeking answers to their own questions will help them grow. We have helped them to create a personal resource in their Brain Books so that they can connect and reflect on a daily basis. At the same time we tell them, “We are not your resource!” Every time that we guide them into recognizing their own potential, rather than relying on others to tell them the answers, is a moment of empowerment.
4.Talk! Talk! Talk!Whether a turn and talk moment, asking for student opinions, or sharing in a one-to-one conference, student voice is an essential component of the language within our classroom. Their voices lead us in new directions, embolden their classmates, and drive the essence of possibility within our classroom community. They learn from and teach each other, and we all grow through the variety of talk.
5.Need It or Got It?Learning is a process of building blocks within our classroom. This has led to a language of recognizing that learning is a lifelong process of discovery, and that failure is not an end but a beginning. “I can’t do this” is not a part of our language, it has been replaced by “I need it” or “I need to set a goal in that”!Moving along the building blocks is not for the sake of covering a curriculum but rather the process of creating a solid foundation to grow from.
Our language also continues to evolve and grow as new learning occurs. The past few months have added perseverance, reason, passion, evidence, “prove it!”, wonder and countless other words to our lexicon. Our students talk project based learning like there is no substitute. They chant and dance their way through the CCSS Mathematical Practices like it is the only logical way to process through the words. They even belt out a little, “Hey I just met you, and this is crazy” to make a connection or get a laugh, and we do laugh.That is another language element that we can never get enough of.
All this reflection had me processing too about language acquisition. The research often says that being immersed in a language is essential and that the brain is hard-wired to best learn language when children are young. Is this the language that students are hearing everywhere? Is this what they are hearing from an early age, a language that supports them in making growth, being independent thinkers and problem solvers? Are the actions and environments matching the words? Or are they hearing instead to listen, do what they are told, to follow directions to one right answer. I wondered what does that lead to? How does it translate into the future?Then I found this quote:
“The limits of my language means the limits of my world.” by Ludwig Wittgenstein
By Judy Willis, M.D., M.Ed.
A Gift Parents Can Give Children that Money Can’t Buy
Recent studies of children who grow up in bilingual settings reveal advantages over single language children, including both increased attentive focus and cognition. The findings correlate with prefrontal cortex brain activity networks, which direct the highest levels of thinking and awareness.
Compared to monolinguals, the studied bilingual children, who had had five to ten years of bilingual exposure, averaged higher scores in cognitive performance on tests and had greater attention focus, distraction resistance, decision-making, judgment and responsiveness to feedback. The correlated neuroimaging (fMRI scans) of these children revealed greater activity in the prefrontal cortex networks directing these and other executive functions. (Bialystok, 2009; Kaushanskaya & Marian, 2007).
This increased executive function activation in the brains of children in bilingual settings extends beyond the translation of language intake and output. The powerful implications of the new research are about brainpower enhanced by growing up bilingual.
The networks that appear more active in the brains of bilingual children are part of the brain’s CEO networks, called executive functions. These are a constellation of cognitive abilities that support goal-oriented behavior including directing attentive focus, prioritizing, planning, self-monitoring, inhibitory control, judgment, working memory (maintenance and manipulation of information), and analysis.
It is not during the first months or even years of life that the brain undergoes its greatest changes with regard to cognition. These neural networks of executive functions are the last regions of the brain to “mature” as recognized by the pruning of unused circuits and the myelination of the most active networks that as they become stronger and more efficient.
Executive functions such as selective attentive focus and the ability to block out distraction are typically minimally developed in childhood. These functions gradually become stronger throughout the years of prefrontal cortex maturation into the mid twenties. It is with regard to these executive functions that research about the "bilingual brain" is particularly exciting.
What is Happening in the Brains in Bilingual Settings?
This aspect of bilingual research has focused on bilingual upbringing with one language spoken at home that is not the same as the dominant language of the country. The interpretations of researchers, such as Ellen Bialystok who compared responses of 6-year olds from bilingual and monolingual homes, suggest the bilingual brain is highly engaged in the cognitive challenge of evaluating between the two competing language systems. This requires executive function attention selecting and focusing on the language being used while intentionally inhibiting the activity of the competing language system.
When bilingual brains evaluate language, control and storage networks of both their languages are active and available. This ongoing processing, that seems instantaneous, is not reflexive or unconscious. It requires deliberate focus of attention on specific input and withholding of focus from simultaneous distracting input to analyze the language being used. Their brains need to evaluate and determine not only the meaning of words, but also which patterns of sentence structure and grammar apply and recognize nuances of pronunciation unique to the language of focus.
Bialystok describes this massive activity as exercising the executive functions early in bilinguals at work to decipher these multiple codes within each language. These control networks make choices, such as which memory storage circuits are the language-correct ones to activate from which to select the correct word, syntax, and pronunciation. The choices are demanding of a CEO that can simultaneously direct where ongoing new input is sent for successful evaluation and activate the correct language storage banks to use for response. These executive functions simultaneously coordinate the evaluation of the content of the messages and direct the response to that information.
One of the most significant implications of the bilingual research is the recognition that even very young children’s executive functions appear responsive to exercise which strengthens them for future use. An example from the research is these children’s higher scores on cognitive testing.
This incoming research supports encouraging parents to retain use of their native language in the home, but too often, social pressures and mistaken beliefs often limit children benefiting from the bilingual brain booster.
One problem is parents concern that exposure to one language is less confusing for children. When I taught fifth grade in a school where most of the students’ primary language was Spanish, I recall recently immigrated parents of my students telling me that although they were just learning English, they tried to only speak English at home with their children. They felt that would help their children learn English more successfully and believed that exposure to two languages would be confusing and make the transition to their new schools more difficult.
Another issue limiting the bilingual experiences was children’s desire to fit in. As my students’ English fluency improved, they would sometimes be asked by their parents to translate from English to Spanish during school conferences or meetings. When they did so, such as during “Back to School Night”, many were clearly embarrassed that their parents didn’t speak English and even tried to avoid having classmates hear them speak Spanish to their parents. When I would ask them about their reluctance, some would tell me that it made their parents seem “ignorant” when they did not speak English. My urging of parents to sustain the bilingual experience by speaking Spanish with their children in the home was thus resisted as children began to develop this bias against their native language.
The mistaken parental beliefs about confusing the brain with two languages and the response to their children’s negative responses to their native language cause these children to miss out on a unique and powerful opportunity to strengthen their highest cognitive brain potentials. One intervention educators and others in the community can do to avoid loss of the bilingual boost is to explain to new immigrants about the research and the strong impact they can have on their children’s academic success by retaining their native language in the home.
The other intervention is to lay to rest the mistaken assumption that the brain has limitations that are overwhelmed with duel language exposure. The more we learn about neuroplasticity, the more it appears the reverse is true. Experiences with new domains of challenge in general seem to strengthen the brain’s executive functions and cognition. This is evident on neuroimaging as well as in performance on the cognitive testing, reading comprehension, and success learning subsequent new languages. New challenges that include the use of judgment, analysis, deduction, translation, prioritizing, attention focusing, inhibitory control, delayed gratification, and pursuit of long-term goals are associated with increasing the number, strength, and efficiency of the executive function networks.
Just like our muscles become stronger with physical workouts, the developing brains of children in bilingual environments appear to build strength, speed, and efficiency in their executive function networks. This is the “neurons that fire together, wire together” phenomenon that in response to the electrical activations of messages traveling through them when used, executive function networks develop stronger connections – dendrites, synapses, and myelinated axons.
For now, it appears that when families have another language that can be spoken in the home where children are being raised it could be an opportunity to both enrich their language skills and also provide a cognitive boost for their highest brain networks of executive functions.
The implications of the bilingual research raise considerations of what other early exposures before and during school years can be designed to promote these executive function activations in all children. What are the implications regarding introducing second languages to young children from monolingual homes? Perhaps grandparents, nannies, friendships with families who speak another language could spend time with the children, or parents could participate in parent-child language classes suitable for youngsters such as learning and singing songs with movements in another language.
Does the bilingual benefit on cognition also work on older children and adults who learn second languages to the point of fluency? I’ll address some of these questions in my next blog, including the relationship of executive function activation and building new networks of learning with reduction in the manifestations of cognitive degenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease.
In my last blog, I noted that a recent Harvard study found mixed results for raising state standards on student performance with one notable exception: low-income and minority eighth-graders in low- performing states appeared to benefit from their states adopting better academic standards.
This would suggest that standards may have raised the floor on student performance, but what about the ceiling? Have more rigorous standards helped to raise the performance of students at the upper end of the spectrum?
At a McREL Network for Innovative Education event, Harvard professor Martin West reported that after he dug deeply into data from the 2006 Program for International Student Assessment (PISA), which compared student performance in 30 developed nations, he noticed an alarming “other achievement gap” between the top performing American students and top performers in other developed nations.
How well are districts, schools, and teachers challenging students at the top of the spectrum to raise the ceiling on performance?
West analyzed results from the 2005 NAEP exam and the 2006 PISA exam, specifically looking at comparable levels of “advanced” student performance. His work showed that top six percent of U.S. students performed at the same levels as 28 percent of students in Taiwan, 21 percent of students in Finland, 15 percent of students in Canada, and 13 percent of students from Australia.
So why do other nations have larger percentages of students performing at the same level as top students from the United States? Have we set our standards too low? One of the premises behind the Common Core State Standards, in fact, is that we need “fewer, clearer, higher” standards to move us away from the “mile wide inch deep” curriculum that has long plagued American education. In so doing, we can allow our students to develop the deeper levels of understanding and application that are tested on the PISA exam (Read a comparison of PISA vs. NAEP tests).
Therefore, better standards alone may not be sufficient to raise the achievement of all students—at either end of the spectrum. As I’ll explore in my next blog, if all we focus on is better standards, we may overlook a critical missing component in the formula for school—and student—success.
Bryan Goodwin is a Vice President at McREL, author of Simply Better: Doing What Matters Most to Change the Odds for Student Success, and writes a monthly column in Educational Leadership.
View the FWPS website with power standards for over 400 courses. These power standards were developed and continue to be revised by K-12 teachers in FWPS. Check out the multi-media and research around standards-based education (SBE) while you're on the site!
If you're interested in the FWPS Common Core State Standard (CCSS) transition plan, you can find it here.
As the election plays itself out this coming week, we as educators continue to work on behalf of children and our communities as a whole. Whatever the outcome of the vote, the work goes on and our efforts must continue. So I want to keep this post simple and straightforward. Whatever your political persuasion, there are certain objective, observable realities we can all agree on in looking across the education landscape:
When you look at these statements in the progression in which I offer them here, does it seem that there are forces at play far beyond our immediate influence? There are. These forces are forever changing society and, therefore, will forever change education. Are these forces of a particular political bent? No. regardless of your personal views or even those views of the candidates running for office, this kind of seismic sea change will continue to happen in spite of ourselves. Of course one party or another will sway the dialogue on the methods and priorities for getting the job done, but in the final analysis the transformation of public education is bigger than all of us. What a sobering realization. So...does this mean all our efforts are for naught?
No, of course not. Whichever candidates you choose, get out there and vote on Tuesday. And after the election results are in, continue to work to make a difference in the life of each child and each colleague with whom you come in contact each and every day. Because when your career is complete and you look back at the difference you have made, it won’t be measured in monetary or political terms. You will see the difference you have made in the life of each student you become reacquainted with in their adult lives...and this has become much more commonplace with the rise of social media. So here's a political primer you can actually reconcile with your professional life:
Walter’s blog archive: http://surfaquarium.com/blog.htm
Mirror site: http://surfaquarium.blogspot.com/
As hurricane Sandy approaches the east coast of the U.S., many teachers are getting a much-deserved break for a couple of days, but many people may also be experiencing the trauma of the storm. In the midst of this challenge, Halloween also occurs, and even for those schools that don't celebrate the holiday, its effect on children and families is still significant.
Children will be returning to school after at least a few days of unusual schedules, anxiety, and perhaps even staying in shelters or with other family members. Natural disasters take their toll on children as they are immersed in the anxiety around them. The added excitement of Halloween can create the perform storm of classroom chaos! Here are some tips to stay calm, productive, and supportive at this challenging time:
I wish everyone safe passage through the storm on the east coast of the U.S. - or to those experiencing unusual challenges anywhere in the world. Share with us in the comments how you respond to these challenges in your classroom.
Visit The Positive Classroom
How do you know if your worldview is based in reality…if your expectations are well-grounded? You need reliable perspective. How do you get solid perspective? You step outside of your own realm of experience and see how others live.
In my fourteenth year of teaching, I was also leading a number of professional development offerings for Spotsylvania County Schools. And like so many of us in ed tech, I was being pushed more and more to train colleagues on technology. It was at this point in my career that the husband of one of my workshop attendees approached me. “I hear you’re really good. Why not do what you do well for more money?” He worked for a consulting firm that worked with government agencies and private sector firms. They needed a technology trainer.
More money caught my attention…that and the offered title of Senior Technology Trainer made it tempting. After all, there weren’t many options for upward mobility within K-12 other than building and district administration. If I accepted the offer, I would be working at the Department of Housing and Urban Development right in downtown DC. My kids were young…not even in Kindergarten yet…so I asked for an assurance that I wouldn’t be doing a lot of traveling and I got it. It was June, the end of the school year…the perfect time to make the move. And so I did.
What a different world. Starting on day one I hit the ground running, meeting with HUD staff, learning every application used within the agency, and developing and delivering training. I was also on call for technology user questions, as happy clients got you “atta boy” letters of commendation that my consulting firm valued and would use to pay me bonuses and raises. What a different model from public education!
I was in the fast lane and on the fast track. Everything moved quickly. I would login on any given morning at my desk and a message would pop up saying “Joe So-and-So no longer works here. Please send all requests for assistance concerning his projects to Cathy Such-and-Such.” I quickly learned that no one was indispensible and you’re only as good as your last success. I also learned that once you’re in, you’re in for whatever the client needs. So even though I had been given an assurance from my consulting firm I wouldn’t be traveling much, within a few months I was being asked by the client to travel to HUD field offices around the country: Philadelphia, New York, Chicago, Denver, San Francisco. No room for hesitation. No questions asked. And so I traveled.
At the same time I was taking a course in instructional design with a brilliant professor who worked for the Arlington, Virginia Public Schools. The course gave me a lot of tools for my work at HUD, but it also reminded me of everything I loved about working in education. Over the course of the semester it was a source of substance and sustenance. I needed to keep learning and growing, even as I met the rigorous demands of life as a contractor. We got through the Y2K scare, during which I spent New Years Eve into the next morning manning phones in the event any of our systems went down as a result of entering the new millennium. Then came the change of administration in the White House, which meant changes for every federal agency from the top on down.
Talks of shake-ups and turn-over started in January, and my more veteran consulting colleagues talked me through everything coming into play as the change in the air was palpable. I kept my head down and my eyes on my work. Rumors circulated and the pressure ratcheted up as workers worried what the change would mean for them. We had huge meetings in packed rooms where HUD administrators spoke cryptically about what lay ahead, offering equal doses of caution and reassurance as nervousness turned to anxiety.
Finally in April the announcement came down immediately and all at once. A large number of workers were being let go and the new Secretary would be looking at major reorganization within the agency. My supervisor and all my tech-training consultant colleagues were let go. Inexplicably, I was the only tech trainer left standing. I was stunned. How was this possible? Why was I spared the axe? What do I say to all these people I had been working with closely who were coming in that day to clean out their desks and be escorted out by security? It was a very tough, very real-world lesson about so many of the assumptions I brought with me from public education. Job security, seniority, loyalty…nothing is guaranteed. I was so grateful to still have a job but so shaken by the reality of life outside K-12.
Later that year, after much soul-searching, my instructional design professor suggested I apply for a job as an Instructional Technology Coordinator with the Arlington, Virginia Public Schools. I missed education, and even though the job and the money as a consultant were good, when Arlington made an offer I accepted. I knew I was an educator at heart and I needed to come back where my instructional background could make a difference as technology continued to make its way into classrooms.
I eventually moved on to become a technology director and ultimately an assistant superintendent for data and technology. But I never forgot the perspective I gained working outside of education for that one segment of my career. It was a reality check. It changed me. I no longer feel entitled to anything. I am grateful to have meaningful work helping teachers and students. And I understand that giving my all in that work is the true definition of being a consummate professional…even as I have moved from K-12 to working for the world’s leading professional education association. Everything else is secondary, and in some cases, a distraction. We can lose our way…our sense of what’s important…important to us personally and as professionals.
As we prepare to vote next week and move forward in education, I encourage you to find an opportunity to gain new perspective. Even if it’s volunteer work, or summer work, or a sabbatical…whatever options you might have…get out there and experience the world outside of education. Get new perspective. It will change how you see your work and how you view your self as an educator.
Mirror site: http://surfaquarium.blogspot.com/
Walter’s blog archive: http://surfaquarium.com/blog.htm
I have spent the last few days in Nassau, Bahamas celebrating the approval of Bahamas ASCD application to become an ASCD affiliate. It was just a year ago I came to attend their inaugural conference as an ASCD Connected Community, their first step in becoming an affiliate. I remember being impressed with how well planned and coordinated that first conference was…how committed the leadership was to building this new organization to meet the needs of educators and students in their country.
It was at the end of last year’s conference that Bahamas ASCD made the decision to complete the affiliate application. Over the past twelve months we worked together to complete the application process and ensure that it would be given every consideration for approval. Interestingly enough, the ASCD Board met this past week at the same time Bahamas ASCD was holding its second annual conference, and we had no way of knowing if it would act on the affiliate application before the conference wrapped up.
As so often in life when good work is carried in a flow of positive energy, the ASCD Board approved the application on Tuesday and we were able to announce and enjoy the good news at the Bahamas ASCD conference the end of the week. What is significant to me is not the fact that everything fell into place, but the conditions that made this such a success story. Bahamas ASCD demonstrates:
- a leadership team that is highly respected in its education community
- a vision for education that addresses the immediate needs of educators
- a strong alignment with ASCD and the work we are doing
- a single-minded seriousness of purpose shared by all members of the leadership team
- clear messaging and effective public relations strategies
- professional connections that enhance its effectiveness and add value for members
- an energized membership base that seeks active participation in the affiliate’s work, and
- a work-life balance that evidences hard work, enjoyment of that work, and having fun as well
As I returned to DC and thought through these elements of success, it impressed me how much the Bahamas ASCD success story demonstrates the traits of successful membership organizations today. They aren’t looking to compete with other groups that already have created a niche on the education landscape. Rather, their singular reason for being is to meet the needs of educators on the ground in their backyard.
Yes there are lots of possibilities they will consider as they continue to write their story in the Bahamas, but with their clear sense of purpose, they will single out the opportunities to make an immediate difference from those initiatives that will take them away from their focus and weaken their impact. It occurs to me that staying small and nimble is an advantage today, as the education landscape continues to shift and morph around us. Perhaps Bahamas ASCD is a timely reminder of all that is right and good about effectively serving our peers: keep it simple and don’t take your eye off the ball.
Think of the organizations to which you belong and those which you joined at one time and in which you decided not to renew your membership. Aren’t the organizations you value similar to Bahamas ASCD? Let’s all aspire to follow its clear and concise example. Be there for each other and seek to make an immediate difference in the profession.
I am proud of my friends and colleagues who lead Bahamas ASCD:
Bahamas ASCD Board President Wenley Fowler, Board Vice-President Abraham Stubbs, Regional Director Verneth Patterson, Executive Director Christine Williams, Secretary Annastacia Forbes, Assistant Secretary Vernetta Ferguson, Treasurer Shirley Krezel, Assistant Treasurer Tamara Stuart, Public Relations Roberta McKenzie, Assistant Public Relations Tessa Nottage, and Project Coordinator Beverley Symonette.
Walter’s blog archive: http://surfaquarium.com/blog.htm
Mirror site: http://surfaquarium.blogspot.com/
Establishing a thriving learning environment is instrumental in students obtaining personal success. We must be strategic in how we develop our classroom communities at the beginning of a new school year. The setting must support the whole child, adapting to the needs of the group as everyone settles in for the yearlong learning journey. The environment must specifically be designed to support the health and safety of our students, strengthening the emotional well-being of each individual. While providing an atmosphere that supports learning endeavors from every angle, students can be offered many opportunities to be truly engaged and challenged.
But how do we guarantee that we WILL develop a solid foundation that supports the whole child?
I recommend intentional inspiration:
1. Engage- Find a meaningful way to reach your learners. Identify colors, symbols, and a motto that supports the yearlong learning theme. Allow this inspirational concept to reach learners from all avenues. Use this theme to connect learners’ thinking and experiences across the content areas. Infusing a foundational concept that motivates students to rise to the occasion will make an incredible difference and establish the tone within your learning community.
2. Connect- Meet your students where they are. Take the time to get to know each individual. An understanding of their academic strengths and challenges should be balanced with a knowledge base regarding their personalities and interests. Consider specific entry points that will capture their attention and allow them to make authentic personal connections to the classroom community’s learning theme. Establish a daily routine with significant rituals that build camaraderie and celebrate the diversity within the Student Learning Community.
3. Personalize- Allow the environment to rise up and greet your students each day. This space should be their home away from home, truly providing a comfort in resources that will meet their personal needs. A foundation should be established for the development of independence by way of individual goals. Each child should have a personal map to guide them along the path of their learning journey. Daily experiences should motivate them to celebrate their strengths and attack challenges. Above all, your students should deeply feel and believe in your promise of providing them a personalized learning experience.
4. Empower- Embed the 5 strategies of choice, reflection, self-assessment, students as teachers, and voice in all aspects our your daily routine. Inspire students by allowing dependable rituals to exist, but ones in which their thinking is stretched and enlightened by engaging processes. Provide unlimited opportunities for students to take charge of their own learning and design plans and activities that help them reach their own goals.
5. Believe- Take a step back, genuinely let go, and believe. They will ultimately rise to the occasion when they have been inspired to be themselves, and when a solid platform has been built to allow them to stand strong. A real sense of trust develops when you have provided a variety of resources, and then you allow those options to be accessed with their own discretion during the learning process. A huge part of trust is when students know you are there to catch them when they fall. So step out of their way, but do so with your arms wide open.
By embracing this initiative, students will identify with themselves and make authentic connections to their peers, teachers, and the world around them. They will recognize the role they play within the learning community, and how the environment will meet their needs as learners. Seeking out resources that best fit themselves will become second nature, because they will truly understand the purpose of the learning process. Actually meeting students where they are on their learning journey signals to them that we are advocates for their personal growth, success, and well-being. We want them to aspire to be amazing each and every day as an attentive learner, an incredible thinker, and a thoughtful collaborator.
Intentional inspiration is the potential key to creating an atmosphere that fosters the personal development of each individual. Using these strategic ways to inspire students will establish a foundation that reaches the whole child, while revitalizing the learning environment and supporting the success of all individuals.
***This blog post has been cross-posted at Work Hard, Be Courageous, Celebrate Growth.
Every American knows it’s election season. Actually, it’s hard to remember when it’s not election season since it feels like we’ve been enduring campaign ads for so long. In the DC area, we are bombarded with mail, phone, radio, and TV spots due to Virginia being one of the “battleground” states.
My boys, in 2nd and 4th grade, have been asking a lot more questions than they did four years ago, when they were emerging readers or not really paying attention to what’s going on outside of their own world of playdates and toys. I guess it began a few weeks ago with the question, “Why are there so many of those signs on the side of the road? Does the person with most signs win or something?” That’s a question I have a hard time answering. I despise those signs so all I could reply was, “I hope people don’t vote that way, but maybe some people do.” My second grader was recently voted in as the student government representative for his class, and is getting interested in how civic matters work. He told me, “When I get to vote I’m going to read about the person and figure out if I should vote for them, not just look at a bunch of signs.” Since I knew there were no roadside signs at his school, I asked him about the process of how he won the election.
“Well, our teacher asked for a boy and a girl to be reps for the class. I raised my hand and said I wanted to do it this year.”
“Did you have to campaign or promise anything to your classmates that you would do?”
“No, I just told them I would go to the student council meetings and tell them what’s going on. I had to say three or four things about myself to the class and why I should be the rep. I told them that I love to write, I read 20 minutes a night, I’m a good listener, and I’ll bring your ideas to the meetings.”
“So, what do you have to do?” I asked.
“My responsibility is to go to the meetings and listen to the president and the principal talk about things like wacky hair day or other spirit days, and I help tell the class about that.”
He hasn’t gone to any meetings yet, but at today’s parent conference his teacher told us how excited he was to be voted in. If this is his first picture of how government works, albeit at the elementary school level, I truly hope it’s a lot more functional than what we see in our presidential campaigns. To be honest, maybe our leaders can take a lesson from the simplicity of this second grade election process. Who among us wouldn’t love a quicker course of action?