Note: Ashley Hutchinson co-wrote this post with social studies teacher Stephanie Noles and instructional coach Mike Flinchbaugh, both of whom are her colleagues at J.H. Rose High School in Greenville, North Carolina.
Stephanie was having one of those days when everything she thought she knew about working with young adults seemed miscalibrated -- when tempers flared without cause and student motivation disappeared despite her careful planning. That was the day we decided our students should come with written instructions.
During more than 20 years as a school administrator, I received numerous reports of bullying incidents from children, parents and teachers. Now that I'm the director of Not In Our School and bullying has become a topic of national discussion, I still regularly get calls from students and parents who share stories of tragic and worrisome incidents.
Sadly, it seems that terrible tragedy needs to keep striking in order for bullying to retain its status as worthy of serious efforts to eliminate it. The latest incident involves 12-year-old Rebecca Sedwick's leap to her death in response to persistent cyber-bullying, and the subsequent arrest of two juvenile female honor students. While all this attention spotlights the serious consequences of this stubborn issue, schools and parents must be equally persistent in providing constant reminders of the dangerous and damaging impact caused by hurtful words, threats and actions when horrors like this aren't center stage.
Did you know that when reading, one's mind will wander 20 to 40 percent of the time while perusing a text, regardless of whether it is a book, blog, email, narrative, essay, or anything else? This is one of many fascinating findings reported in Dan Goleman's new book, Focus: The Hidden Driver of Excellence and it calls us to remember that students can't learn what they are not paying attention to.
In my last post I suggested that equitable schools are those that contribute to happiness in children. Now I'd like to offer some suggestions for actions that school leaders and teachers can take in order to cultivate happier schools.
In Dan Goleman's new book, Focus: The Hidden Driver of Excellence, he shows the importance of being able to direct and sustain our attention on everything from, well, everything! Not paying attention is downright dangerous. The inability to focus and sustain attention can rob us of relationships, deep knowledge, career accomplishment, peace of mind, and high test scores. But, as Goleman's book makes clear, we can learn to focus.
In physical education, curricular requirements such as fitness development, motor skills and health knowledge must be pursued with vigor. But after my 38 years in the field, let me state the obvious. All teachers, specialists included, should consider their subject matter as secondary to teaching children. This primary mission occurs when we prioritize two goals:
Building a sound relationship between teacher and student
Guiding the student in the study of personal/social management skills (PSMS)
Restorative justice empowers students to resolve conflicts on their own, and it's growing in practice at schools around the country. Essentially, the idea is to bring students together in peer-mediated small groups to talk, ask questions and air their grievances. (This overview from Fix School Discipline is a wonderful primer.)
I have visited and trained in schools in every state in America, and at most of these sites, I've had a conversation with teachers and administrators similar to the one below:
Me: How many rules do you have? Answer: (proudly) I only have one rule. It's respect for everyone. Me: Do you allow hitting? Answer: No. Me: Do you allow swearing at the teacher? Answer: No. Me: Do you allow cell phones in class? Answer: No. Me: Again, how many rules do you have? Answer: (laughing) One, I think.
This year has begun with a lot of discussion about how Common Core will affect instruction, curriculum, and assessment, conversations that usually circle up to the intended outcomes of our K-12 education system. In my district in Oakland, CA, we aim to prepare students to be "college and career ready." Explorations of the achievement gap and structural inequities also point to ways in which some of our students (primarily low income black and Latino students) end up at a disadvantage when competing for jobs after going through our schools.