I was a social studies teacher in a public high school for 36 years. I loved every minute of it! Well, at least almost every minute. In all honesty, my teaching career started out wonderfully, and got better each year. I’m convinced that the key was good relationships. I was taught on my first day of graduate school in education that, “If you can reach ‘em, you can teach ‘em.” Starting with my student teaching, I put a lot energy into reaching my students, of making that all-important personal connection with them.
A recent article (July 20) in the Washington Post by parenting consultant Meghan Leahy entitled Five things you can do that will make you a better parent right now captured my attention because each of her five points are also sound recommendations for educators. I’ve reworked her five points – see if you agree that school culture and teachers lives would be much saner if we kept these in mind and took them to heart:
1. Cultivate a value system in your classroom and school. Of course core ethical and performance values are core aspects of the 11 Principles of Charcter Education, and Character.org has emphasized the importance of including stakeholders in the process of creating core values. Beyond establishing core values as the bedrock for your school culture, the important word here is ‘cultivate.’ As Leahy points out, “Americans don’t have a common parenting culture that has been passed down to us. Our wonderful mix of religions, ethnicities, worldviews and customs means that we are able to create our own parenting and family mores.” This means as well, that, if we are lucky, children bring those diverse values into the school house, and we must send a very clear message in our cultivation that just as families need to have their values to function effectively, so must our classrooms and school. And if there are values conflicts, a discussion with parents early in the school year is important to avoid misunderstandings and support both diversity and the need to adapt to American school culture.
Have you ever had one of those moments that, with just the sound of your voice, you got a student, on the brink breaking down, back on track? Maybe your back was turned but you felt something or you just knew exactly what to say. For these moments to happen, it takes foresight on your part but also your students must know what they should be doing.
So what does this mean? If we want to encourage good character in our classrooms, everyone has to be on the same page about what that means and looks like.
Set Class Rules:Enlist your class to create rules on the first day of school. It fosters a sense of ownership for those rules. They won’t simply be the teacher’s rules, they become their rules. Some studies suggest that if you give students the proper guidelines for developing class rules, what students come up with is about the same as anything you would have picked, given the same criteria. So what are those guidelines?
I’ve been thinking a lot about our focus this month on integrating academics and character education in the classroom. We truly believe they should be intertwined, but sometimes when I go to a school for a site visit evaluation, I observe lessons that seem like were planned just for my visit, as if someone had said, “Be sure to teach a character lesson today.”
I like it best when I get to observe a challenging academic lesson that engages the students and incorporates the natural intersections with character that most content contains. Exploring the ethical issues in science, debating historical decisions, and of course, exploring character traits and ethical dilemmas in literature are obvious choices, but there are ethical considerations in every subject.
At least 15 years ago I received a letter (people still wrote those then!) from an educator who had recently heard me in her school district. She shared with me how she had moved to a new large school district, interviewed at two schools and accepted the job at one of the schools. The letter really impacted me and I was honored that she shared it with me. Now the actual letter is long gone but I remember it in great detail and will now share it with you in her words. The following is her story.
By Jennifer Pilarski, STAT Teacher* at Norwood Elementary
*Baltimore County Public Schools has developed the Students & Teachers Accessing Tomorrow (S.T.A.T.) initiative which has provided each school a teacher who is a professional development resource and instructional coach.
If you are a teacher, you've been told to create a student-centered environment, shouldn't those creating PD for teachers have to do the same thing? The traditional forced faculty meetings and lecture style professional development are just as ineffective as lecturing to our students. It is time to provide teachers with customized and personalized learning opportunities and to capitalize on the leadership and expertise within the staff.
"In a completely rational society the best and brightest of us would aspire to be teachers, and the rest of us would have to settle for something less, because passing on civilization from one generation to the next ought to be the highest honor and the highest responsibility anyone could have." --Lee Iacocca
Teacher Appreciation Week (May 1-7) is a time to reflect on the importance of teachers and how we can best honor and encourage them. As a former high school teacher, I remember the teacher appreciation breakfasts and lunches, the occasional mug or teacher appreciation planner, but not much more.
Teachers matter. Decades of research and studies have found that, what to me, seems obvious--the quality of teachers has a bigger influence on student achievement than school facilities or curriculum. But what the studies have not clearly defined is what we mean by student achievement. Nor have they figured out what to do about ensuring teacher quality. (See the latest issue of Education Next for a range of articles and commentary on this issue as they explore 50 years since the Coleman Report.)
Those who think student achievement is best measured by test scores are among those who wanted to tie teacher evaluation to student outcomes. Taking it a step further, many wanted to use those tests to eliminate the low performing teachers. That led to hotly contested policy debates on teacher evaluations and protests on time spent on testing. Not to mention that the lowest performing teachers were often those at high poverty schools, and there was not a long line highly effective teachers waiting to take those challenging positions. Those debates may have dissipated a bit with the newly passed Every Student Succeeds Act that reduces the role of the federal government in requiring test score accountability in teacher evaluations. How the states will move forward remains to be seen.
When it comes to bullying prevention, teachers handle concerns from parents, demands from administrators and regulations from their local and federal governments, all while educating a group of 20 or so young students. Rather than simply providing them resources and telling them to solve the problem, it is important to also stress, they are not alone.
While the world is watching Ferguson, disturbed by the violence, disturbed by the grand jury’s ruling, disturbed by the very disparate responses that all seem to be colored by race, I was brought back to my teaching roots and empathized with all of the classroom teachers struggling with how to deal with this issue.
“It takes real character to keep working as hard or even harder once you’re there. When you read about an athlete or team that wins over and over and over, remind yourself, ‘More than ability, they have character.' ” ― John Wooden, quoted in Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, by Carol S. Dweck
What is performance character?
Performance character is a set of dispositions that drive effectiveness, such as striving to learn and improve, having self-discipline, and persevering. It is made up of beliefs and behaviors that enable people to grow their capabilities and meet their goals in any area of life, be it school, sports, relationships, or work. It is different than moral character, which refers to moral qualities such as kindness, integrity, and respect.
First in a series--how a new student teacher tries to implement character education based on her experience attending a National School of Character before entering college.
With nervous energy and excitement, I arrived at the elementary school where I planned to begin my student teaching. It was superintendent’s conference day, and I was taking the opportunity to get a lay of the land. I walked into the second grade classroom and I could not find it. The heart of an elementary school classroom, it was missing. There wasn’t a carpet or a rug, or even a patch of open floor where the students could congregate around an easel or board. There were only desks. They were laid out in a U shape, with two rows in the center. I couldn’t imagine an effective way to facilitate discussion in this set up. Perhaps I was overly critical, after my professor had assigned us to read McKenna’s “Uncovering the Lessons of Classroom Furniture,” but I couldn’t shake the feeling that building a sense of community in this business-like room would be quite difficult.
Character education is often misunderstood. It is more than a word of the month or an assembly to honor students with good character. It exceeds catching students being good and helping those who are less fortunate. Character education is not a program, but a philosophy about how we ought to treat one another and why.
The fundamental lessons in relationship building and character development need to begin with the staff, not the students. Once relationships among the staff are nourished, trust evolves and true understanding and implementation of character education can begin.
I was privileged to attend the Washington Post’s summit on families and children earlier this month. What did I learn? That education remains the key ingredient for success for all American children, especially those living in poverty. While experts and politicians continue to debate the role of government in helping families, children, and communities, all agree that education continues to be a path to opportunity.
A 2011 study in Virginia elementary, middle, and high schools found that bullying is considered the primary safety concern of students in all grade levels (Garrow, 2011). Students in middle school were most concerned with bullying (92%), followed by elementary (83%) and high school students (77%). Bullied students may experience many negative effects, including depression and risk for suicide (Kim & Leventhal, 2008). These statistics are alarming, and it is important to understand the ways that schools and districts can exponentially reduce these concerns so that students are able to concentrate on learning and build healthy peer relationships.
The movie Bully opens tomorrow in select theaters. You no doubt have seen many of the stories about the film as it has received widespread news coverage, in addition to on social media platforms like Twitter (#BullyMovie and @BullyMovie). I saw the movie last year at a prerelease screening at the U.S. Dept. of Ed. It’s a powerful film designed to show what being bullied is really like for some kids. Of course, I was very saddened by the terrible stories of the kids being bullied, but as a former teacher, I was more alarmed at the behavior of the authority figures in the film—behaviors familiar to any teacher or administrator. Director Lee Hirsh says that the question of how to respond appropriately to bullying is at the heart of the film.
How should teachers and administrators handle bullying? I was reminded of a courageous film sent to us a few years ago by Fox High Schoolin Arnold, MO. The video is a powerful demonstration of how teachers can sometimes act like bullies without even realizing it instead of preventing bullying. Watch the film below and ask yourself if you are a bully or a teacher.
I contacted Fox High School to see what changes may have come about since they made this film. Assistant Principal Gina Buehner said that initially the school did a lot, and many have changed as a result of the process.
Yesterday more than 5,000 teachers and supporters gathered on the Ellipse for the Save Our Schools rally and march to the White House. I decided to attend along with my son, his wife and her parents, who came down from New York City to show support. Quite frankly, I thought there'd be an even bigger crowd, but I'm sure the nearly 100-degree heat deterred many. Nevertheless, it was an enthusiastic group, and we heard some excellent speeches.
I was struck by Linda Darling Hammond's statistics--we have 5% of the world's population, but 25% of its prison inmates. She compared how little we spend per pupil for education t
Today is National Teacher Appreciation Day. What is your school doing to honor the hard work of its teachers? While some schools stretch out their celebrations throughout the full length of Teacher Appreciation Week with breakfasts and other recognition activities, other schools seem to let the day pass without any acknowledgment of any kind. Just take a look at some of the comments here (May 1st post) and here (May 1st post).
If you could come up with your own way to acknowledge the hard work of all of our teachers, school leaders, and the faculty and staff as a whole, what would you do?
I’ve been on the road for CEP lately, exhibiting at a few conferences. So I’ve had the opportunity to talk to quite a few teachers, and many are feeling burned out. They’re tired of being the media scapegoats for all that is wrong with education.
There’s even a Facebook page where teachers are posting Letters to Obama where they share their frustrations and concerns about education and hope to influence the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. I’ve been dismayed by much of the rhetoric, and wondered how CEP can help.