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.
A parent shared a wonderful story recently about his 24-year-old son letting him know that he was going to change his passwords and asking if it was OK with him. The father chuckled as he shared this story, but he was also in a state of bewilderment that his son was still honoring their agreement from ten years ago -- the one where his dad would have access to the 14-year-old's passwords. Sure, the son had stumbled and misstepped, sometimes without the father's knowledge, but the trust factor was sealed with a safe agreement between parent and child, and that bond had lasted in to early adulthood. Impressive.
"The whole morning meeting not only sets a really good tone for the students, but it sets a tone for me." - Teacher in Louisville, Kentucky
When I first learned about the Morning Meeting model, I was working as an elementary school principal in Pasadena, California. I was new to that school, so I was skeptical about launching too many initiatives, but also curious about how it could work to transform my school and the lives of our students.
Education is catastrophically deficient in trust. Pro-accountability education reformers presume that, absent carrots and sticks, classrooms would be overrun with lazy and incapable teachers. Traditional instructors presume that, absent carrots and sticks, classrooms would be overrun with lazy and incapable students. Both viewpoints emerge from a noble desire to make classrooms high-performance spaces, but in actuality they suppress excellence.