Putting “Love” Back in Lesson Plans

Putting “Love” Back in Lesson Plans

“A nation or a culture cannot endure for long unless it is undergirded by common values such as valor, public spiritedness, respect for others and for the law; it cannot stand unless it is populated by people who will act on the motives superior to their own immediate interest.”
Chuck Colson, Against the Night

I have the greatest job in the world. On a day to day basis, I get to watch phenomenal adults take phenomenal children and do some phenomenal, and at times remarkable things. I believe in accountability. I like the idea of having a rubric to measure where we are and to establish a plan to get to where we need to be. I like using data to drive decisions. I even like learning from exemplars that have proven what can be accomplished. However, as a society, we often times make rubrics, plans, and/or initiatives without measuring the impact of human nature.
In a hope to not bore you, I will not go all the way back to the Coleman Report of 1966, but I will make mention of how my state (Kentucky) took a strong initiative to addressing education reform in 1990. The Kentucky Education Reform Act was a huge movement in challenging the state of education from just teaching lessons, to preparing young people for an innovative world. The six components they used were:
1. Students are able to use basic communication and mathematics skills for purposes and situations they will encounter throughout their lives.
2. Students shall develop their abilities to apply core concepts and principles from mathematics, sciences, arts, humanities, social studies, practical living studies, and vocational studies to what they will encounter throughout their lives.
3. Students shall develop their abilities to become self-sufficient individuals.
4. Students shall develop their abilities to become responsible members of a family, work group, and community, including demonstrating effectiveness in community service.
5. Students shall develop their abilities to think and solve problems in school situations and in a variety of situations they will encounter in life.
6. Students shall develop their abilities to connect and integrate experiences and new knowledge from all subject matter fields with what they have previously learned and build on past learning experiences to acquire new information through various media services.
Obviously, addressing these 6 areas was a MAJOR improvement to our education system. It applied learning to living, and living more productively. In theory, this is one of many great steps to education. There have been many aspects to education that fall under this same categorical change that in a perfect world would cause immediate changes to not only the education system, but the world we live in. Unfortunately, the one thing that research or data does not prepare us for is human nature. In theory, The Civil Rights Act of 1964 should have brought equality to work environments, education, and social justice. If you read it, it addresses everything from education to workforce; disability to sexism. Yet today, all the areas listed bring constant quarrel from local government to popular media. Title IX should have eliminated gender equity issues in all areas of society; education, sports, workforce, etc. Yet, today the struggle for equal pay and the push for fair working environments still exist. We could go on and on, but we would only bring more of a spotlight to the negative. So, why did these areas not work (as well as expected)?
I return to my circle of control, which is my school and my profession. In education, millions and millions of dollars are being spent both by the government and special interest groups in hopes to “fix” the problem; address the constant decline of national/international relevance and the growth of the educational gap between races and socioeconomic differences. We put more money in this pot, which is actually needed, but change is minimal. We put more people in this pot, which is needed, but change is minimal. We run this report. We collect this data. We look at this best practice. ALL OF THESE THINGS ARE NEEDED, BUT THEY ARE BRINGING MINIMAL POSITIVE RESULTS. What is it that we are missing?
Again, I have the greatest job in the world. On a day to day basis, I get to watch phenomenal adults take phenomenal children, and do some phenomenal, and at times remarkable things. Why are they having such an impact? They have chosen to put love back in to their lesson plans. I have heard my mom tell stories about a segregated south filled with poverty and violence. However, when she mentions her education, it is almost like she was talking about her home. She talks about how her mom and dad, hard-working Sharecroppers in northern Mississippi, would invite the teachers and band directors over for homemade biscuits and fresh sausage gravy. I hear the stories of how teachers would walk across the street to have a face to face conversation with a parent about what was happening at school. She would tell me about teachers spending the time, going the extra mile before school and after school when students were struggling. She talked about the custodian at the school being like a father to her. Every aspect of school was filled with love.
Whether we realize it or not, love is the deciding factor for our schools. Teachers are taught to focus on standards, not relationship. Across the country, the mindset that you cannot hug, or “stick to teaching” removes one of the strongest weapons we have to ensuring student growth. Our students are going to do or not do based on how much we show them we truly care about who they are and what they can accomplish. Our parents are going to be a part or not be a part of what we try to do with/for their children based on how much they know we truly care about their most prized possession. If you take a closer look at most of the school transformational models across the country that were sustained over time, school culture is the key component. Another word for school culture is relationship. Schools that build strong relationships with students and families, see amazing results that usually carry over to student achievement. I ask every teacher one question during interviews. “Are you able to look across a desk and have the same goals, aspirations and belief in a student no matter race/ethnicity, religion or gender as you would for your own child?” If the answer is anything but a resounding yes, there is really nothing else to discuss. In developing a school filled with teachers that are able to act on the motives superior to their own immediate interest, we can see children striving on intrinsic motivation, working hard to fulfill a desire to see every child be as successful as they can possibly be.
Every Friday, we draw a name from a bucket filled with students that have had good behavior. The student chosen gets to pick any student in the building and they get to go to lunch with me. A teacher found out that a student she had the year before had never been to a restaurant, not even a fast-food place such as McDonald’s or Wendy’s. She was no longer this child’s teacher, but she has a relationship built on love where she constantly works with this student to be successful, no matter whose class he is in now. With the dedication the school has had for this student, he has progressed amazingly well as an English Language Learner. He and his sibling(s) are confident and secure in their education environment. Because of the care the teachers had for him, they devised a plan to assure his name was drawn to go eat with the principal. Why? Because they love him as their own. The student chosen could have selected anyone in the school. He chose his sister, who also had never been to a restaurant to eat. When they got to the restaurant, they were amazed at the fact that they could choose from so many different foods and that people kept coming to fill their drinks and ask if they needed anything. They were blown away that the plates were left on the table and someone else would come and get them. They were honored that you left the workers a “blessing” (also known as a tip) for choosing to be so helpful. The delight in their eyes and the joy in their voices was a priceless moment I will never forget and a picture will never do justice. Even more amazing is the fact that they know their school loves them. They know their teachers desire them to learn from researched best practices across subject areas. They know their teachers expect them to follow the rules and show positive behavior. Most importantly, they know their teachers and entire school environment loves them and see them as important figures in an ever-changing world, and believe they will make a global impact in that world.
Writing that into a lesson plan takes more than a pen. It takes love. It takes love to look at what students enjoy and build relevant plans based on their interest. It takes love to walk across the street and just hang out in the apartment complex because you know your students will be there. It takes love to create after-school programs based on the social and emotional well-being of your students. It takes love to truly see what will make your students try harder than they would normally, and that will change the overall outcome to education (and the world).
http://www.millcreek.fcps.net/media/3244926/creed.wmv
-GR

The Power to See a Child for ALL they Are…

The Education Trust (www.edtrust.org), an organization led by Dr. Kati Haycock, provides research and data to strengthen the field of education with the hope of addressing the needs of ALL students. A recent bit of research they have done found this to be true:

WASHINGTON (April 2, 2014) — Many black and Latino students and students from low-socioeconomic backgrounds who enter high school as top academic performers lose important ground as they push toward graduation day. When compared to their high-achieving white or more advantaged peers, these students finish high school, on average, with lower grades, lower AP exam pass rates, and lower SAT/ACT scores, according to a report released by The Education Trust.

The research goes on to discuss many findings. The biggest reason for the drop in performance levels of the student is their performance on college readiness and college attendance measures suggests “they are not always privy to the types of instruction, school culture, and support and guidance from their schools that other high achievers get and that would help them to remain at the top.” This is a huge concern! Basically, their ability to stay at the top is not because they did not continue to produce top level work or strive to achieve the highest standard of learning. They failed to stay at the top because ADULT EDUCATORS failed to provide them with either opportunity or appropriate educational counseling/advising. So the next concern (for me) is, was this act accidental, subconsciously done, or intentional?

From the US Department of Education to many private sector groups, U.S. Public Schools are often compared to other countries. I have the utmost respect for the educational accomplishments of those around the world. I think we all have the ability to learn from one another. Recently in an article from the Huffington Post (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/11/27/best-education-in-the-wor_n_2199795.html), they shared similarities between the countries with the highest scores. They mentioned things like the countries have a high respect for teachers and how these countries educate for the future. However, there is one thing they do not mention at all about these countries. The five countries considered the top in the world for their education systems are China, Singapore, South Korea, Hong Kong and Finland. Do you realize what they all have in common? Ethnically, they are all homogenous. In other words, when you walk in to a classroom in these 5 countries, the ethnic/cultural makeup of that classroom will look strikingly similar to other classes throughout the country (not just the town, city, region, or even state). Their teachers will also have similar backgrounds and cultural/ethnic similarities as one another and also to the students. This alone closes a huge divide. Within the United States of America, you have over 15 ethnic groups with at least 1,000,000 individuals represented. This number does not even begin to touch the multiracial groups and their cultural differences. Also, this number doesn’t (fully) take in religion and beliefs. This is strictly ethnic groups. However, according to the 2010 census, over 70% of the United States remains white/Caucasian. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, 83% of all teachers are white. So, unlike the top 5 countries, the majority of teachers in the U.S. are dealing with a highly diverse population of students unlike their own ethnic/cultural background.

Whether we admit it or continue to ignore it, understanding ethnic/cultural differences is a powerful thing, especially when it comes to grooming the lives of young people. In a doctoral class I was pushed in a debate by an amazing professor (who happened to be white) I have the utmost respect for. We were discussing the idea of closing the GAP within our educational system. I wanted to show him and discuss every reason why closure of this GAP could be obtained. I had research supported by data that showed how consistent, quality teaching could overcome years of poor instruction. He stated to me, “Do you really think the majority of society is ever going to allow the minority to be equal? The idea of it would make them work that much harder to assure they were seen as superior.” He wasn’t saying this to anger me or belittle me. He was saying this to make me think from a social science perspective. What did anger me though, was the fact that his point was more than valid.

In order to CLOSE the GAP, we have to OPEN minds. We have to do a much better job of intentionally teaching our future teachers to appreciate and celebrate differences. We have to make the understanding of culture and diversity just as much a part of our professional learning as we do technology and content. Our teacher prep programs have to begin analyzing teacher dispositions to assure future educators have the ability to see beyond themselves into the greatness of others. We have to provide our students with an educational setting that not only desires to, but provides opportunities for every child from every background to succeed at the highest level. When we do this, our high-achieving minority students will be in advanced placement courses, be a part of debate teams, and lead science/technology clubs. The opportunities will be recognized and considered for all,……intentionally.

Our teachers, schools and districts cannot possibly work any harder. From Common Core to district and (some) state-wide Common Assessments, rigor is at an all-time high. Districts and states are ramping up the evaluation systems to put teacher and leader effectiveness in overdrive. I am not knocking any of it. As a matter of fact, a lot of it I believe is a step in the right direction. However, what if the difference in a teacher being seen as successful and students scoring high on assessments is merely gaining understanding about the students’ cultural environment? What if the key to students’ understanding is not pushing more information, but understanding how they learn? It is my belief that when we as a country take the time to not only accept the differences of others, but truly appreciate and celebrate those differences, we will excel like never before, and not only in the classroom. Anyone that has sat in an interview with me knows there is one question I ask every person I interview, “Can you sit across the desk of the children in your classroom and have the same high expectations as you would your own child?” I obviously cannot expect them to love them equally as they would a child they created, but I can expect them to believe in the abilities of the child they are chosen to groom for success. When we choose to do that, our high achievers will not just be high achievers in elementary or middle school. They will be high achievers throughout their lives. Even better, we will create so many more high achievers along the way.

http://www.gregoryeross.com

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Acting on the Motives Superior to our Own Immediate Interest …..

     I live in Frankfort, KY. My residence is a rock’s throw from the Capitol of the state. It is 10:15 on Monday, March 5, 2014. There is literally a march going on less than a block behind me commemorating an important act in history, and the ones that really need to know about it and what it represents will probably never know it ever happened. Which leads me to wonder,….why have an event if only for a symbol of relevance and not to make change?

     We do this every day throughout America. We make token actions as to say “We see you” but we do nothing about it. We do NOTHING about it. Today’s event is to pay tribute to a march that took place in 1964 (see video).  The 1964 march — which included speakers such as the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and Jackie Robinson, who broke baseball’s color barrier — was called to support a civil-rights act that did not get out of a legislative committee. The key issue then was voting rights and fair housing accommodations in housing and employment. This march will pay tribute to an event that took place 50 years ago. Oh how we forget. We forget that it was roughly within the last fifty years that there were church bombings, voting restrictions, segregation, many hangings, beatings and maltreatment, along with the assassination of Medgar Evers, John F. Kennedy, Malcolm X, and Dr. Martin Luther King. So, we are paying tribute to an event that the US Supreme Court recently overturned?

  • —  Supreme Court invalidated a crucial component of the landmark Voting Rights Act of 1965, ruling that Congress has not taken into account the nation’s racial progress when singling out certain states for federal oversight (June, 2013).
  • Just hours after the ruling, Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott said his state will move forward with a voter-identification law that had been stopped by a panel of federal judges and will carry out redistricting changes that had been mired in court battles.

You are probably wondering, “Greg, where are you going with this? Don’t you usually discuss educational issues?” The answer is an adamant “Yes”, and this is probably one of the most important educational issues one could learn. Just because we no longer have Asian internment camps, public injustice of Native Americans, hosing and dog chewing of African Americans in the street, does it mean that the interest of ALL individuals are truly recognized and supported? Chuck Colson, author of Against the Night, wrote, “A nation or a culture cannot endure for long unless it is undergirded by common values such as valor, public spiritedness, respect for others and for the law; It cannot stand unless it is populated by people who will act on the motives superior to their own immediate interest.” As a nation, we tend to provide the smoky mirrors of support only to find that often times it is an illusion filled with selfish acts. It is a nice gesture to plan a rally to commemorate a march of a historical event, but it would be even better to put forth ACTION FOR CHANGE to assure the intent of the original event was not in vain. Reality is, a key component of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 has been invalidated by the Supreme Court, and there are very few that raise this concern, not even during a rally to symbolize such an important event in history.  So, what would our world look like if it was filled with people who were willing to act on the motives superior to their own immediate interest? What if we thought about what was best for all cultures, all nationalities and ethnicities, all socioeconomic groups,……….all human beings. What if?

Along with housing and voting rights, in 1964 segregation was also an area filled with boiling heat and concern. From dismantling Jim Crowe laws to integrating schools, this area was one that all cultures and ethnicities heavily debated and fought for. To assure the government had adequate data to support the integration of public schools and facilities, James Coleman was commissioned to research the possibilities. To provide further insight, I am going to insert previous research. The following 5 paragraphs is an excerpt from a document I published in 2012:

[Begin] On March 4, 1986, the House of Representatives Committee on Education and Labor subcommittee on elementary, secondary, and vocational education presented H.R. 747; The Effective Schools Development in Education Act of 1985. The committee gave a detailed definition of effective schools stating:

An effective school is orderly and safe. Its principal is not just an administrator. He or she is a leader who takes an interest in the quality of instruction; the mastery of basic and higher order skills is a school’s prime focus. Teachers in effective schools have the expectation that all students will learn. It is a school in which an equal percentage of children from highest and lowest socioeconomic groups achieve at least a minimum level of academic mastery. (p. 1)

Twenty years prior to the Effective Schools Development in Education Act, research was being conducted on the effectiveness of schools within the United States. In 1966 The U.S. Department of Health, Education, and Welfare commissioned James Samuel Coleman to complete The Equality of Educational Opportunity Study, also known as The Coleman Report. This report is widely considered one of the most influential education studies of the 20th century. Its researcher, James S. Coleman, was truly an astute individual. He was the founder of Johns Hopkins Department of Social Relations in 1959. He also co-founded the Center for Social Organization of Schools in 1973 (Clark, 1996). In accordance with the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Coleman went to work on researching educational equality at a time when society was completely upside down. With data from over 600,000 students and teachers in over 4,000 schools across the United States, his research showed achievement among students was not as much about the quality of the school, but was about the social compositions of the school, the student’s sense of control of his environment and future, the verbal skills of teachers, and the student’s family background (Kiviat, 2000).

The Coleman Report held the nation accountable to its differentiation and asked the question, “Why?” It brought to light the drastic difference in educational latitude between students from different economic backgrounds, races, and/or both. The research from the report showed the impact between both in-school and home/community factors. It considered how each played a great part in the academic growth of students within these communities during a time when people were not emotionally concerned or ethically involved. The Coleman Report presented a thorough outlook of equal educational opportunities to children of different race, color, religion, and national origin. [End]

Basically, Samuel Coleman’s research substantiated the comment made by Chuck Colson. When we really start caring about people and assuring change, we can truly make a difference. So technically, the idea of cultural competence was mentioned in 1964 (see italics above). Now, fifty years later, our voting rights are in question, our schools are still segregated and we still struggle to assure our teachers and education leaders have a true grasp and knowledgeable understanding of the concept of cultural competence. Yes, our schools are still segregated.

Recent research reviewed the 1966 Equality of Educational Opportunity report on the 40th anniversary of its publication and made surprising conclusions (Wisconsin Center for Educational Research, 2007).

This study revealed:

  • —   Similarities between today’s educational gaps and those in 1966. One example was in desegregation.
  • —  Although the Wisconsin Center for Educational Research showed gains in desegregation in the 1980s, these gains were practically reversed in the 1990s. According to some indicators, levels of segregation were nearly as high in 2006 as they were in 1966.
  • —  Although black/white achievement gaps are smaller today than in 1966, they remain substantial (Gamoran & Long, 2006).

Research has also established:

  • —  A large number of school districts in the 1990s experienced re-segregation, diminishing the major gains that were seen from 1954 to the 1980s (Orfield & Eaton, 1997).
  • —  Re-segregation is due in part to growing minority enrollment, but a large part is due to the effects of the court system declaring school districts change from “dual” to “unitary” in status. This means that districts are no longer segregated in any part of the school system.
  • —  With desegregation programs being dismantled, schools have become more segregated within the district (Clotfelter, 2004; Gamoran & An, 2005; Orfield, 2001).
  • —  African-American students make up 17 % of the student population but 34 % are suspended (USDE, 2011c).
  • —  Blacks are three times as likely to be suspended as their White counterparts.
  • —  In reference to students with disabilities, Blacks are also three times as likely to be suspended or four times as likely as Whites to be educated in a correctional facility (USDE, 2011c).

I could go on and on and……….. But there is good news. Cultural Competence builds autonomy within the profession. Autonomy is the one factor that has the power to ameliorate the negative impact of racial mismatch on work attitudes (Renzulli et al., 2011). This makes the claim that despite a teacher’s race or ethnic background, and despite his/her financial differences from the area in which he/she is teaching, if a teacher is given the belief, the freedom, the respect, and the tools to do what he or she is trained to do, the likelihood of him/her being able to create an environment of understanding and compassion and also being happy or “satisfied” at his/her place of employment is heightened tremendously. Cultural Competence focuses on educators putting the interest of the students above anything else. We may have smoking mirrors in society, but we do not have to have smoking mirrors in education. We can train educators to be culturally competent and in turn create future leaders who may just act on the motives superior to their own immediate interest for the betterment of society. We often hear how America is out performed by other countries, specifically Finland, South Korea, Hong Kong, Japan, and Singapore. However, there are two major things that are never discussed; the creativity allowed within the education system of America and also the cultural make-up of the American classroom. Teachers in the countries listed above primarily deal with a similar culture to their own. In America, the average teacher will deal with many cultures, many ethnicities, many races and languages, along with many socioeconomic backgrounds, all in one classroom. If we REALLY want to close this gap, we have to focus on what James Coleman recognized 50 years ago (see above). We have to create a culture of understanding. We have to show students what is important to them is also important to us. We can’t give students symbols of greatness and never act on them. We have to walk beside them and be willing to ACT on what might be a concern to them. In turn, we will create individuals that will act on the motives superior to their own immediate interest.

I live in Frankfort, KY. My residence is a rock’s throw from the Capitol of the state. It is 12:15 on Monday, March 5, 2014. There is literally a rally going on (post march) less than a block behind me commemorating an important act in history, and the ones that really need to know about it and what it represents will probably never know it ever happened. SO WE MUST TELL THEM! We must make sure our students, whether white, black, Latino, etc; whether straight, gay, lesbian, transgender; whether rich or poor; whether Christian, Jew, Muslim, Buddhist, etc…..We must assure to/in them the importance of their culture and celebrate (not just tolerate) their differences. In doing so, we will help to create a stronger America. For “They Too, Are America (Langston Hughes)”.

http://owl.library.louisville.edu/2005/Owl0205.pdf

www.gregoryeross.com

I, Too

BY LANGSTON HUGHES

I, too, sing America.

I am the darker brother.

They send me to eat in the kitchen

When company comes,

But I laugh,

And eat well,

And grow strong.

Tomorrow,

I’ll be at the table

When company comes.

Nobody’ll dare

Say to me,

“Eat in the kitchen,”

Then.

Besides,

They’ll see how beautiful I am

And be ashamed—

I, too, am America.

copyright

Because I’m Happy…..

Because I’m Happy…..

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y6Sxv-sUYtM

What if public education was like a Pharrell song………

It might seem crazy what I’m about to say
Mom school’s here, you can take a break
I’m a hot air balloon that could go to space
With the air, like I don’t care –excited for today

[Hook:]
Because I’m happy
Clap along if you feel like a classroom without a roof
Because I’m happy
Clap along if you feel like happiness is the truth
Because I’m happy
Clap along if you know what happiness is to you
Because I’m happy
Clap along if you feel like there is no limit for you

 

(happy)
Bring me down
Can’t nothing bring me down
My level’s too high
Bring me down
Can’t nothing bring me down
I said (I’m ready to soar)
I said…………………

 

So,…… what if? What would education look like for our kids if parents, teachers, education leaders and most importantly, students felt this way? Can you imagine the joy we would bring our schools? Our cities? Our states and our nation? I get goose bumps just thinking about it!

Usually, I look at things from a data driven mind-set. This is where in most of my post I contradict the thought(s) you may be having at this moment with data to show all the work needed to be done within education and society. Instead, today I am going to take a moment and reflect back to 1983, Dove Anna McNabb Elementary, in the classroom of Mrs. Jackson. Mrs. Jackson was my 5th grade teacher. If there was a super model teaching in a school, it was her. She appeared to be 5’10” or more (remember I was 10), long and lean with thick blond hair, dressed like a lawyer, and a smile that could light up the heavens. She was beautiful.  The coolest thing of all, she was so much more beautiful internally than her exterior gave her credit for. She was loving and professional all in one. She was teaching at a school that (at the time) serviced 3 housing projects with mainly minority students,…and she made us happy. She started out the day with positive motivational thinking, encouraging us to do amazing things and become amazing human beings. Her dedication to rigorous instruction (especially in reading/writing) was second to none. The thing that truly set her apart was her ability to teach us to celebrate the differences of all and that our failures only taught us to be better people. She was the real deal.

I have a story about this “Inspector Happy” that I have told hundreds of times since my childhood. My family moved into a house on Madison Street in Paducah, KY. It had an attached outhouse that was a mess! Well, being the inquisitive kid I was, I wanted to know what all that stuff was! I had a huge imagination. If you told me you found a treasure, within minutes I would have concocted a story of the island it came from and the pirates who risked their lives for it. So, delving into this “mess” excited my imagination immensely. I was ready to pretend I was looking for a treasure, solving a major case,……SOMETHING! As I get two-feet in to the piles of boxes and bags upon bags of magazines,……I come across a huge stack of magazines only suitable for adult men, if you know what I mean. Well, like most 10-year old boys, I really didn’t think about what the girls inside the magazine looked like. However, I knew the boys in my school would go crazy if they saw these magazines. I just knew tomorrow I would be the coolest boy at McNabb Elementary. So, I took some of the magazines to school. Each morning, my brother Gerald and I would play checkers in the library with a buddy named Mitch. Low and behold, I took a magazine out so Mitch could see what I had. His eyes grew the size of grapefruits! Before breakfast was over, it was all around 5th grade the I had naughty magazines with “Real Women” in them. Before I could get my book bag hung up, the beautiful Mrs. Jackson had me in the hallway. She pulled me aside and began talking to me about the magazines. As a teacher and building principal, I have seen teachers address students bringing inappropriate items to school many times, but never in the way Mrs. Jackson did that day. She  made me look at my actions. She made me aware of how offensive and embarrassing the magazine was to some women. She asked me what I would do if I saw someone I really cared about on those pages. She explained to me that the women in the magazine were someone’s mother, daughter, sister…….. She made the ladies in the magazine “HUMAN” to me. She could have sent me to the office which I had definitely been before. She could have disciplined me physically (back then). She could have done so many things. Instead she made me learn about influential women who had changed the world. She made me learn about the struggles women go through daily within society. She forced me to look at women from different cultures, different backgrounds, different ethnicities and different perspectives of society. She didn’t remind me of my mistake, but she gave me constant reminders of others’ successes. She made me so happy to learn, even while disciplining me.

Having her that year was such an inspiration. We moved a lot growing up. I do not remember much about many of the teachers I had during my elementary years. However, I remember nearly every student in that classroom, how we would change the class around, Mrs. Ragland’s PE class, specific lessons and classroom experiences about that year. Why? Because Mrs. Jackson made us “Happy”.  Pharrell Williams described the students in Mrs. Jackson’s class to a T. As a teacher, a principal, a state education leader, and hopefully one day a future superintendent, I can only pray I can inspire and motivate students the way she did. I can only hope I encourage and prepare teachers to have the confidence and content knowledge she had. I can only believe I will move education to be all that the “Mrs. Jacksons” of the world hoped and dreamed it would one day become.

“Only as high as I reach can I grow
Only as far as I seek can I go
Only as deep as I look can I see
Only as much as I dream can I be”
― Karen Ravn

I propose we make education a “Happy” place for all involved. Whether students are in the height of a lesson or they are dealing with a life lesson, learning should create happiness.

Spread the word.

 

www.gregoryeross.com

 

Why Educators Need to Be Taught Cultural Sensitivity

Why Educators Need to Be Taught Cultural Sensitivity

Each year, millions of students, both traditional and non-traditional, pile into colleges and universities to enter the amazing profession of education. From college campuses to online-learning facilities; many are setting out with the vision that they have the power to save the world. They go through their loaded programs filled with mega-amounts of information to help their future students get from point A to point B. They are taught strategies and concepts with the hope they will one day help to make America’s students College and Career Ready. This over-arching goal is one that is believed to promote over-all professional preparation, whether it be preparing a student for a vocation or preparing them for higher-learning. Future teachers receive entry into teacher-prep programs, taking courses that will assure they are ready to teach the common core and/or work with students on different learning levels. However, the idea of addressing someone’s cultural differences, which may have the biggest impact on learning, is never even considered.

I was extremely fortunate. For my undergrad years, I went to Oral Roberts University in Tulsa, OK, a private college that makes a point to address diversity, dispositions, and cultural differences. I remember having a professor that looked like Miss Frizzle on the magic school bus. I believe her name was Dr. Staley (it’s been a VERY long time). She taught foundations of elementary reading. She would often tell us, “When you are instructing a child, remember you have no idea what they went through before they walked through the school doors.” How often do we really think about this? Furthermore, even if we thought about it, can you imagine the options? Are you only accustomed to one way? Dr. Kim Boyd would assign us practicum experiences throughout the city of Tulsa to assure we had different experiences with different communities, different races, different socio-economic groups; assuring we had background experiences from diverse educational settings. We spent just as much time discussing the likes and differences of each cultural setting than we did talking about the learning objectives.  At that time, practicum hours were a prerequisite for entering the teacher prep program. Now, many colleges and universities do not have future teachers experiencing practicum/face-to-face experiences in educational settings till 2nd semester of their junior year. Lots of programs allow 85% of instruction online and practicum hours during their senior year. This is way too late! Even if they felt they wanted to change majors based on the practicum experience they received, they are so far along, many wouldn’t due to time and financial commitment to that degree. So not only have they not had many experiences in different settings of teaching, they have had no classroom teaching on understanding cultural differences. Why is this important? Let me give you some recent examples:

  • Student expelled for telling another student to “kill yourself”.
    • Although this sounds harsh, this is a common phrase used by many comedians as a point of embarrassment, not an actual act
    • Student sent to an alternate setting for telling another student “I’m gonna stick you”. Teacher and administration felt this was a threat to stab another student.
      • “Stick” could mean MANY things. In this setting it was a punch. Student said, “If you say one more thing, I will stick you in the face.”
      • Student made to remove head wrap during PE due to it restricting movement
        • Student wore head wrap for cultural/religious beliefs

I could go on and on as many of these are made public and blasted on social media outlets daily. However, there are many other issues that stem from this as well. There are many teachers that leave the profession daily feeling they are not equipped to deal with student differences.  Almost 90 percent of teachers are female, and nearly 80% of all teachers are white. With the vast amount of cultural differences seen within our public schools (race, ethnicity, religion, cultures, money, etc.,), teachers need more insight and experiences than their natural surroundings.  Here are some facts regarding teacher turnover:

  • One-third of all new teachers leave the profession within the first five years of their career (Darling-Hammond, 2003)
  • To add to that equation, teacher turnover is 50% higher in schools with a high poverty student population than schools that do not have a high poverty student population (Ingersoll, 2011)
  • Beside the issue of limited experience working with students and other teachers with diverse cultures, working conditions in low socio-economic schools tend to be more difficult than in middle/upper class schools and also carry a heavier workload (Feinman-Nemser, 2003).

Unfortunately, the majority of new teachers in urban areas are put into more difficult teaching situations were cultural competency is most needed.

When we enter a school, often times we make huge assumptions. We assume that all teachers understand the diverse needs of students. We assume all teachers are able to shake off any learned and/or developed stereotypes or misconceptions about race, economic status, disability or culture. We assume our children will be nurtured mentally, physically and emotionally. What is not considered is when a teacher is dealing with behaviors completely unfamiliar to them, hearing conversation and jargon they do not understand, and seeing or being made aware of living conditions they would never imagine, they are blind-sided with a harsh reality they are not prepared for clinically or literally. Teachers are not receiving courses that discuss positive ways to discipline students depending on their cultural environments. Teachers are not often taught how to address students respectfully from different ethnic settings. Very few teachers had intense conversation or clinical experiences focused on the learning styles of students based on race or culture. We have to be aware of the differences and know how to respond to them. Here are some differences seen in education:

  • Welfare children experience 500 affirmatives and 1,100 prohibitions per week, while working class children experience 1,200 affirmatives and 700 prohibitions per week (Hart & Risley, 1995).
  • Children from families in poverty have about 70 percent of the vocabulary as that of the same aged children in working-class families, and only 45 percent of the vocabulary of children from professional families.
  •  In a study using a panel of over 6,000 children matched to their mothers from National Longitudinal Survey of Youth datasets, research implies that for every $1,000 increase in income, math test scores were raised by 2.1 percent and reading test scores by 3.6 percent (Dahl, & Lochner, 2010).

By no means am I saying Cultural Sensitivity would remove these numbers. A lot of times these numbers are created before children are ever old enough to enter a school. I am saying they would help us address student’s differences more adequately.

            One final story,….I use to work at a school called Cooper-Whiteside Elementary School. This was an amazing place to go to work each day. The students were so excited to see you; it literally made your heart warm. There, I started a program called The KING’s Club. It is an acronym for Keeping Inner-city Neighborhood’s Great. We worked with boys, focusing on social skills, problem solving/problem resolution, etiquette and many other areas. One of the teachers of a young man in my program came to me around mid-November of that particular school year very aggravated at a student, ready to give him a stern disciplinary action. She told me day after day he brings his homework to me unfinished. She said it had been going on for the past 2-3 weeks and felt he was just lazy and obstinate. She was tired of talking about it. She wanted something done. I asked how he has done on assessments. She said he has done great, which is why she knows he is just playing her and she is fed-up. I had KING’s Club that day. I told her I would talk to him immediately. We had a great KING’s Club session. I and some dear friends (Monte Hensley, Cornell Shackelford) would make sure all the boys got home safely. That day I purposely took this student and his younger brother home. I told him the concerns of his teacher. He informed me he was doing the best he could. We got to his house and his mom wasn’t there but his older siblings told me she would be home soon. I went in and we began working on his homework together. I noticed a teenage sister putting candles all throughout the house. It was mid November, so after the time change, it would start getting dark before 5:00 PM. I immediately realized why this amazing boy wasn’t finishing his school work. He didn’t have power in his home. I got up and told the kids I would catch their mom tomorrow. I did not want to cause them any embarrassment. The next day I spoke to the teacher. I told her why he was only finishing part of his work. Without power, he could not see to the materials to complete the work adequately. She then became sad and upset. She felt bad for being so hard on him, but then wanted to blame somebody for this child not having lights. She even stated she was going to call social services because no child should have to live like that. That’s when I lost it! I told her the mom is working two/three jobs to provide for 4 children! The kids are always clean. They are well behaved. They had food and the place was pristine. If you want to do something, call someone to help them get lights! This was not a bad mother. This was a poor mother. This was not a bad teacher. This was an uneducated teacher. She could not understand how a child could live in a house without lights. Even more so, she couldn’t fathom living without lights herself, so it had to be “bad”. Well, there are a lot of good people from good families who have had the lights turned off, went without running water, or even ate less than they desired. We have to be equipped as educators to understand and be prepared to educate the whole child despite how different their lives are from ours. We have to be able to listen, even when words are not spoken. We may have to adapt lesson for the needs and challenges of different students. If we are taught how to work with students with complex backgrounds, we won’t pity them, ignore them, or provoke them. We will TEACH them, using variety and choice. We will assure they are given an opportunity to learn they way their mind works. In doing so….. we, the educator, will be more successful and fulfilled for it.

http://www.gregoryeross.com

 

 

 

Changing Lives,……..Through a Book

Changing Lives,…Through a Book

            In the education world, it is known and understood everything builds from the foundation of reading.  Reading allows for understanding concepts, which in-turn builds overall comprehension of subject areas. This is not in question. We also know that students that are read to have a higher vocabulary. This also is not in question. However, I do not think we push the conversation for reading in the right direction to encourage students to read. Yes, we may say the right things to encourage parents to encourage students, but how do we truly encourage students to become life-long readers early in their lives?

            I had my nephews this weekend (who happen to be phenomenal readers). Although they wanted to plaster away at video games or wrestle with one another, my 2-year old son brought the youngest of them (who is 8) his favorite book, Llama Llama Red Pajama by Anna Dewdney. Although his words may sound a little skewed, he can nearly recite the entire book to you including (in his lil’ boy voice) the author as we say, “Written by Anna Dewdney. She is the author. She wrote the book”. As my 8-year old nephew read this book to my 2-year old son, they both could relate to this story! They laughed and giggled. The older boys chimed in with similar, real-life stories of when one of them had gotten upset wondering where Momma was. I could tell as the story ended, they were all comforted by the idea that “Momma Llama’s always near, even if she’s not right here.” They were then ready to read more books. Why? It was a lesson of assimilation or even the idea of imagining something better. We have to look into the lives of our potential readers and assign them an option that will support who they are. Whether you the teacher or you the parent, we have to look for those literary opportunities that can speak into the life of that particular child; almost like a pharmacist prescribing the right medicine.

            I will never forget reading Just the Two of Us by Will Smith, illustrated by Kadir Nelson (who is SO AMAZING!). Yeah, I heard the song a gazillion times, but seeing the words on paper with these amazing drawings of how I could only hope I could be with my son one day,……. WOW! It took me to another level! Yeah, I have had men in my life, but did I really want to model what I had seen? This book, in a matter of 28 pages, took me on such a realistic journey! From the time I put my wife into the car to the time I first watched him sleep, I can see me in this book. I can only imagine the deep conversations over haircuts, the first major fight, watching him play sports, and the overall idea of him becoming a man,….I gained so much insight; all in 28 pages. When I read this to my amazing nephews, do you think those same thoughts along with Nelson’s vibrant images won’t awaken a desire in them to be the most outstanding men they can be? Of course it will! This is just one example of many we could share with so many amazing authors. Examples?

  • Chris Van Allsburg using Two Bad Ants to teach others about the importance of home, family and being grateful for what you have
  • Patricia Polacco allowing her own life experiences with cultural differences, struggles, family and friends to take you on journeys like Bsbushka’s Doll  and Emma Kate
  • Major stories of those who were willing to risk everything for the rights of others like Gwendolyn Battle-Lavert’s Papa’s Mark to Marie Bradby’s More Than Anything Else
  • Lastly, loving who you are despite how different you may be such as in Judy Schachner’s Skippyjon Jones series to Patty Lovell’s Stand Tall, Molly Lou Melon (illustrated by the creative David Catrow)

These are just a very small portion of books that would allow a student to choose reading because they can truly relate to the story being told. If allowed the time to intimately take written adventures, students could find a new world that not only would strengthen their vocabulary, but also provide answers to some of the social and societal concerns our world throws at them daily. One thing is for sure, we live in a world that seems to become more judgmental and stereotypical daily. As the adult genre all walk with their heads focused on screens masked behind apps or droids, so many amazing authors are making books that allow our students to see it is okay to look different, sound different, dress different; it is okay to be who you are no matter what that is. What is so much more important than how you look or what brand of shoes you wear is how you treat others. There are books that clarify to students that we will all make mistakes but how we rebound from those mistakes define who we are. If we put Pink and Say (Polacco) in the hands of a 4th grader today, there is a chance he will read The Souls of Black Folks (W.E.B. DuBois) tomorrow. If we put Angel Child, Dragon Child (M. Maria Surat) in the hands of a child today, there is a chance he/she could be reading The Road Less Traveled (M. Scott Peck) tomorrow.

            As an educator, I certainly want our children to read to strengthen their ability to understand, associate, and retain content knowledge. However, I would much rather them use literature to learn from the successes and mistakes of those before them, strive for the goals that others they admire have reached, and realize there is nothing they cannot accomplish. I want them to understand that through literature, they can take their destiny in their own hands, and as said in the book More Than Anything Else, they can “…hold it forever.”

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http://www.gregoryeross.com

 

Unrecognized Power

Unrecognized Power

            I love super hero movies! I absolutely love them. From Marvel comics to DC (or others), I cannot wait to read it, listen to it, or even watch it. I use to think I was a super hero,….well I kind of still do (laugh)! Yet, it intrigues me most to learn about the super hero that had no idea he/she had powers at all! It took them a while to tap in to them and realize the substantial, significant power(s) they possessed. However, when they found them, the impact of their existence became overwhelmingly substantial. Have you ever seen the movie Unbreakable featuring Samuel L. Jackson and Bruce Willis? In this movie, Bruce Willis is a middle-aged man, who realizes he is different, but does not quite know or understand how. Well, he was lifting weights one evening after work. He continues to add weight and it does become more difficult to lift, but he realizes he has the strength to do it. Eventually, he has every weight he owns on this bar and realizes he has the POWER to lift it. Once he recognizes his power, he begins lifting it with ease.

            This makes me think of the different points of entry individuals have within America’s education system that have immeasurable impact that is not often recognized. The first one is that of the teacher. In the state of Kentucky alone, there are approximately 42,000 public school teachers in a state with 173 districts. Each district only has 1 superintendent. Each building only has 1-3 administrators. The dominance of the teacher within a school setting is completely overwhelming. This is not about intimidation or gaining power. It is about understanding your voice. One thing I truly admired about the building I was fortunate to be a principal in was that the teachers took the time to teach each other first. They modeled best practices for one another. They discussed researched methods that propelled success, which made the singular role of the administrator that much easier. I know what you are probably thinking (if you are an educator). “Well that is why we have a teachers’ union!” Although I have been an advocate for teachers unions both financially and in action, this has nothing to do with the needs of adults (which are what teachers unions focus on). This is about the needs of children. We have to stop saying “What if?” and be the “What if”. We can make a point to get outside of our four walls of instruction, and discuss our successes with the peer next to us. Teachers have the capacity to help other teachers. We have to stop waiting on a teacher who truly loves teaching but has areas he/she struggles in to be put on a corrective action plan, and start mentoring that teacher as a support to students. Research done by Adam Gamoran and Geoffrey Borman (Wisconsin Center for Educational Research, 2006) showed that if low-income minority students could be assured of having teachers who fell in the top 25 percent of effective teachers four years in a row (after having a subpar instructor), those students could close the achievement gap altogether. So what if a student was not in the GAP and consistently had quality teachers continuously motivated by other quality teachers? That impact could change a nation. If a teacher shares his/her successes with other teachers, and other teachers are humble enough to take that information and continually add to their toolkit, the power of (all of) those super heroes in education could be devastating. This is just on a district level. Now, with the use of technology and discussions around peer mentoring, this could be done on a state level. Teachers could mentor each other and share information for the best interest of the students they serve. I know it sounds all kumbuyah-ish, but it is exciting to think about the power and/or impact of teachers when they take the time to strengthen each other.

The quiet super hero who truly does not recognize their own power is the parents. There are over 680,000 students in the state of Kentucky alone, which means there are at least 1.3 million parents (not including grandparents or other family advocates) within the state of Kentucky alone! That means if parents know there are things they should be concerned with on a building level, a district level, or even a state level, with one polite voice in the best interest of their children, they can make an impact. There are 26 states with a higher population than Kentucky. So this power is even stronger in other states. You might be wondering how you can make an impact. Become a part of the school’s PTA or Site-Base Decision Making (SBDM) Council. Volunteer within the school building. Become a lunch monitor to help with behavior. Ask if you can become a reading pal for struggling students. MAKE A WAY. Being a part of these organizations will allow you to have input on your school’s improvement plan, curriculum development, after-school activities, and even the direction of their budget. SBDM councils even discuss what type of teachers the school will need and the hiring of a school principal. The impact you could have as a parent in the life of your child and many, many other children cannot be overlooked. 

Now, the question is what type of super-hero are you? There are good guys and bad guys. Are you a Superman or a Doctor Doom? If you spend more time creating dissension instead of proposing solutions, you are a villain. If you refuse to accept change, even if it is in the best interest of the child and his/her learning environment, you are a villain. If your actions are based on what you as a parent or you as a teacher would rather have, and not what is best for the children within that school and/or district, you are a villain that is probably doing so much more harm than good. A true super hero is willing to listen. He/she is willing to give change a chance. He/she is patient enough to give others a chance to grow and not judge them too soon. People and systems deserve a chance to succeed or fail, but if failure is the product, a super hero should rise up to help find a solution. Because super heroes always have their hands in the action, they shouldn’t have to come from too far of a distance to make a difference. So, are you that hero? You may not be able to totally save the day, but you definitely have the power to make a difference. The choice is yours.

www.gregoryeross.com

I live and teach on inspiration. I look hard for things that might inspire me. With that said, I also hope to be an inspiration to students, parents, and other educators (my peers).