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).