Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Boys will be Boys

The other day, as I was driving home from work, I heard a radio personality talking about the Miami Dolphin's Jonathan Martin case.  Jonathan Martin had been harassed by a teammate Richie Incognito.  This talk show host's solution for Jonathan Martin was to "be a man" and "punch Incognito in the face."  He went on to talk about how men aren't allowed to be men anymore.  

Similarly, I have sat in on several meetings with a parents who have made the comment "it's just boys being boys" in response to their male children's misbehavior.  

Is it really true that boys simply can't behave?  Is it true that "boys are boys" and therefore do not have the ability to control themselves?

Is it really true that the way to be a man is to punch someone in the face as a way of solving conflict?

I've been alive for 36 years.  For a good portion of my life, I was a boy.  For the remaining time in my life, I have been a man.  I'm having a bit of an identity crisis.  In the 8 years I have been in school administration, I have had plenty of opportunities to deal with conflict, yet I have never solved any conflict by punching someone in the face.  Nor have I had a situation where the male teachers solve conflict by punching each other.  

I have dealt with many boy students.  Successful boy students do not regularly misbehave.

Why then, do we hold this standard?  Why is it that people accept that men are supposed to act like animals even though we rarely see this as a way successful men act?  Why do we allow behaviors that are inappropriate in children by saying "boys will be boys" when we don't see examples of successful students coming from these behaviors.  

This seems to be setting a standard that will lead to unsuccessful male students.  In my school, nearly 90% of all behavior referrals come from our male students.  It seems time that we begin talking about boys as in control of their behaviors and not accepting or perpetuating the idea of "boys will be boys."

Staycation Field Trip

Break out of the box
Schools are time based organizations.  We go to school for 7 1/2 hours per day for 180 days per year.

School schedules drive the way we teach.  If you have X minutes to teach math, we are essentially forced to fill that time with math, even if the lesson is not really an X minute lesson.  Can our focus be truly on student learning if we are limited to a certain number of minutes?

Schools develop schedules because students have to eat lunch.  Students go to Explore classes.  We can't have 55 minutes for Math and 90 minutes for Reading and still have the students rotate between classes (unless the same teacher teaches both subjects).  The bus has to pick kids up at a certain time.  In other words, the reasons we need schedules are for logistical reasons.

These constraints are real.  How can we find ways to lessen the restriction of the time barrier?

The Staycation Field Trip
What if a team of teachers who taught Math, Social Studies, Reading, Writing, and Science (interdisciplinary team at the middle level) decided to throw out the schedule for a day or maybe even a couple of days.  They could still send their kids to lunch at lunch time and still send kids to explore classes at the appropriate time.

  • What if kids were required to solve a problem or create a product?  Force students to think differently.  Allow kids writing to be published (do you take more time writing when you know others are going to read it-I know I do).
  • What if the students were required to use skills from all subject areas to complete the project?  Are any projects we do as adults actually so isolated that you could say "Today I spent 46 minutes doing math."  Or do real life projects force us to go back and forth constantly from reading, to writing, to doing math, to working through social problems or issues?
  • What if the project wasn't time based but learning centered? Overcome obstacles like time.  Allow time to learn.
Overcoming Obstacles
Yes, it takes time to do an authentic, learning centered, problem based, product oriented projects.  Yes, this takes away from time giving direct instruction and completing tests and worksheets.  However, the product could be amazing.  Instead of thinking of it as a day off, think of it as a Staycation Field trip.  Most of us are fine with taking a field trip.  We realize the value of removing ourselves from the building and the benefits of learning in a different location.  In a staycation field trip where we aren't rigid to the pacing guide but instead provide a lesson valuable to the student.  We will still cover material for the state test, but we will take time to provide real life, authentic learning opportunities along the way.

Why a staycation field trip?
Wouldn't it be better for kids to learn than for teachers to teach?  What will students remember?  What will be authentic?  What will have lasting value?

Think Outside the boxes on the schedule
Let go of making everyday exactly the same.  Allow for flexibility in scheduling and find ways to engage kids.

Collaborative Culture: Moving Away From "Just Tell Us What to Do"

Creating a collaborative culture can be difficult.  It's messy.  The answers aren't always black and white.  It takes time to come to resolution.  Discussions can be tense.  People will disagree. Collaboration is iterative.  It's never ending.  It's a process.

In a collaborative effort, titles don't matter.  Everyone possesses the ability to create change.  Everyone has the ability to influence decisions.  Completely collaborative environment probably never fully exist.  At some point, a hierarchy always develops.  However, moving as far on the continuum from hierarchy to true collaboration should always be the goal.

Think of the power of the group.  Ideas coming from collaboration are truly exponentially better than the idea of one person.  As one person comes up with an idea, another person builds on it.  This process happens over and over. People learn from each other and build on each other in a collaborative environment.

At times, a final decision has to be made.  However, when you have the ability to be collaborative on a decision, never wish for somebody to "just tell us what to do."  If somebody just told you what to do, think of all of the opportunities your organization would have missed.

"If you want to go fast, go alone.  If you want to go far, go together."-African Proverb

Authentic Learning: Making Space for Quality Instruction

Authentic learning is the way we actually learn in real life.  In order to create authentic learning opportunities, we must find ways to make space in our day to do the things that really matter.

Let me pose a scenario.  Your child is learning to read.  You have 3 goals for your child.  You want your child to comprehend what is read, increase his/her vocabulary, and improve his/her spelling.

Now, thinking of your own child, which of the following ways do you go about helping your child meet these goals?
  • A) Read to your child.  Have your child read to you.  Discuss what was read.  Find interesting books to read together.  Model reading.  
  • B) Give your child a list of words to memorize and then spell them at the end of the week.  Give your child a list of words to define.  Fill out a worksheet where the child matches definitions on the left with words on the right.  Do a crossword puzzle.  
In order to create the most effective learning environment, we must do it in the way people actually learn.  We clearly understand that increasing the amount of time reading will have a larger impact on vocabulary, spelling and comprehension than the alternative.  As we consider how to create authentic learning opportunities in the classroom, we have to make decisions of what we will give up to make this happen.  We can't do everything, so we must make space for authentic assessment, powerful feedback, quality instruction, and a focus on learning rather than teaching.

Making Space for Quality Instruction

  • Increase the amount and quality of feedback. Decrease the number of graded assignments.
  • Increase authentic learning experiences. Decrease worksheets and quizzes.
  • Increase student engagement through choice.  Decrease direct instruction (not eliminate).
  • Increase problem based learning.  Decrease memorization.
  • Increase connection to the learning target. Decrease busy work.
  • Increase creating tangible products. Decrease tasks that don't lead to a final product.
  • Increase focus on the student.  Decrease focus on the teacher.