LESSONS ABOUND

2

I watched Sunday’s Grammy Award ceremonies. While I’m not as familiar with the top acts as I once may have been, I still enjoy the music, the pomp, and the pageantry. I found it notable that two of this year’s most powerful performances came from the artists Kesha and Miley Cyrus. Watching Cyrus, wearing a stunning red gown, perform with Elton John made me flash back to five years ago when she faced a barrage of criticism for her behavior on and off the stage. Large swaths of the public were willing to write her off as being immoral and creating art devoid of value. Similar criticism was leveled at Kesha in response to her huge club hits that topped the mainstream charts. Last night those same young ladies produced performances that will stand the test time. Performances that would not have possible without their previous experiences.

There is a learning opportunity for educators and parents here if we choose to take it. We constantly make judgements on people, but especially children, based on snapshots of their lives. We allow test scores, grades, and yes, even behavioral issues to define a child instead of just defining where they are at that moment. Kesha and Miley couldn’t have produced the performances they did last night without the shortcomings of their past. I believe it’s essential that schools don’t just focus on achievement but also on nurturing. Kids have to be given room to make mistakes, come up short, and feel comfortable taking risks in an environment that offers protection and nurturing. Those are the things that make you not just college and career ready, but life ready.

Reading, writing, and arithmetic are certainly important skills to develop, but equally important are recovery and self-evaluation. You can be the greatest reader in the world, but life is still going to offer you setbacks, and you are still going to, on occasion, make poor decisions. Without the ability to self examine and recover, mistakes in the real world can be devastating. I’d like us to look at Miley Cyrus and Kesha’s performances last night and use them as reminders that we can’t just focus on achievement. Unlocking the potential is equally as important.

MORE ON RESTORATIVE JUSTICE AND SEL

In my mind, one of the most troubling trends in our society is our growing inability to admit when we might be wrong. In that spirit, I’d like to revisit the statement I made in last week’s blog post on restorative justice practices. I stated that the policies had been reduced to a message of “Don’t suspend black or brown kids.” After talking to several educators, I realize I might have cast too narrow a net. The message has been translated more to “don’t suspend ANY child” than just children of color. Unfortunately there is a disparate number of black and brown kids who get suspended, and therefore the mistaken translation. I regret any contribution I may have made to reinforcing that interpretation, though I still believe there are times when a child might need to be removed from a classroom.

Along related lines, Social Emotional Learning has grown larger and larger as a component of a school’s curriculum. One of my favorite education bloggers, Peter Greene, wrote a piece last week questioning whether SEL belonged in schools or not. His views are closely aligned with mine on this issue.

There are a lot of benefits to helping kids become better people and deal with issues in a more appropriate manner. The problem is who gets to decide what’s appropriate? If we are creating individuals who are are less likely to question things and speak out, that may be benefit for business, but is it a benefit for society? Some might say yes, but not I. Going back to my opening example, some may say Miley and Kesha have learned how to behave better and therefore they have more power to incite social change. I might argue that their behavior modification prevents them from expanding boundaries, which is bad for society, because we always need those willing to live on the fringes. The truth is, it is probably a mix of both and that’s what we often fail to grasp.

I suggest reading the entirety of Greene’s piece, but for me the money shot is near the conclusion:

SEL at its worst is about emotionally engineering humans. It’s about imposing someone else’s values on a vulnerable human being, essentially stripping that human of their autonomy and will. And worse, from re-education camps to certain cults, we know that it can be done. Because the power and wealth attached to such a massive endeavor are so great, the entire business is guaranteed to be warped and twisted by those who stand to profit. At its worst, we are talking about crafting human beings to order and harvesting both them and their data in the service of those with power. We are talking about pushing them to be the people who someone else thinks they should be. This is not just bad policy, inappropriate pedagogy, or culturally toxic– this is evil.

The last thing I want to share on the topic of restorative justice practices/SEL comes from a reader. I sometimes get comments from readers that are just to good to leave relegated to the comment section.

This weekend’s post produced one such comment:

With respect to restorative here is my diagnosis. The Joseph team came in seeking the actions with best bang per buck. They have (intentionally or not) underfunded restorative efforts to be able to fund STEAM. Although more schools have shifted to restorative, schools can still largely choose their model for SEL work and some choose a PB (positive behavior) and might include carrots (reward tickets) and sticks, instead of restorative. Schools haven’t been told to get all teachers trained in restorative if they are following that model, and the training and support office has been underfunded, plus schools wishing to get all teachers trained might not have been able to do so due to having to attend STEAM days.

Schools that are in year 2 or 3 of restorative even find that there is a small segment of (usually ACE-impacted: adverse childhood experiences) students that don’t respond to restorative no matter what. They end up having to use some version of PB or other approach with that most challenging group (say 5% of students) that drives perhaps 50% of the classroom disruptions. You should interview the principal of Fall Hamilton on the incredible work done there using a grant to fund a truly trained social worker type of position to restore but also putting in place various checks and balances via PB for his most challenged students. This case study shows what everyone probably needs to do, and funding it would be a challenge. I can name other schools that also have funded support positions out of their flexible spending which has been a major challenge, but my other examples do not include an explicit PB piece that is systematized for the most challenging cases. These other schools are having difficulty employing restorative within the framework that Joseph has laid out.

The problem is NOT an edict to suspend less black and brown kids. The problem is the edict to suspend less kids. If mostly black and brown kids are who is getting suspended, though, then the effect is similar. Considerably more thought and resources and time need to go into unwinding the disruptive behavior cycle. We could have the ability to rise to that, but our current SEL paradigm isn’t allowing for real counseling to occur. I’d like to see more thought put into this because there’s no easy recipe that will work everywhere all the time.

Ok, I lied, I do have one more comment to make on discipline practices and SEL. If we are serious about curbing youth violence and increasing social emotional learning, why is the district not putting more focus on the ProjectLit book clubs? Two recent novels, Dear Martin and The Hate U Give, both have the issue of youth violence at the center of their themes. What better way to address these issues then through discussion of a literacy work that accurately reflects who kids are? What better way to promote literacy than by connecting it to real world applications? I learned a lot about the man I wanted to become through the books I read. We need to give all kids that same opportunity.

This weekend I watched All Eyes On Me, a movie about the life of Tupac Shakur. There is a scene where he is in the prison visiting room with his mother. Tupac is despondent over his life and where it’s headed. His mother is trying her best to reassure him, but nothing is working until finally she looks at him and says the following:

This above all: to thine own self be true,
And it must follow, as the night the day,
Thou canst not then be false to any man.
Farewell, my blessing season this in thee!

Tupac raises his head and you can see him draw strength from the words. “Shakespeare,” he says, nodding. Literature is a powerful thing. That power needs to be demonstrated to kids so that it can be used as such for a lifetime. It’s not just about raising test scores so adults can check that box. We owe it to kids to help them unlock the power of literature and to use it to help understand and cope with the feelings they have inside. ProjectLit book clubs are the perfect vehicle for that unlocking. It’s like the cave story I shared from last week: how deep do we want to go into the cave?

QUICK HITS

There is an article in this morning’s Tennessean sure to produce pearl-clutching as it proclaims that More Nashville public schools rank in bottom 5 percent, according to state data. Apparently in addition to a priority school list, the state has a “cusp school” list. Nashville has 21 schools on this cusp list. While not downplaying the seriousness of the issue, I can’t help but question the timing. Per the article, “The Tennessee Department of Education Cusp list, obtained by the USA TODAY NETWORK — Tennessee, was released to school districts in October to help flag academic issues ahead of the state’s official Priority list.” That was four months ago with TN Ready testing looking to begin in 2 months. So what’s the benefit of sounding the alarm now?

One thing I will say is that hopefully this serves as a reminder to district leadership of the importance of TNReady. Over this school year, there has been a keen focus on MAP testing. At last week’s MNPS school board meeting, Executive Director of Research, Assessment, and Evaluation Paul Changas gave assurances that there was a close alignment between MAP scores and TNReady. I hope that is true because doing well on MAP and underperforming on TNReady won’t be good for anybody. If I was the kind of person that believed in hidden messages, I might take this article as a thinly-veiled reminder of the potential consequences of underperforming on TNReady.

Speaking of the Tennessean, can anyone explain to me why, despite being a subscriber, I have to constantly battle pop-up ads and embedded video just to read an article?

Opportunity NOW, a youth employment initiative launched by Mayor Megan Barry, is now accepting applications for summer jobs and internships. The initiative links thousands of youth and young adults to paid job opportunities with the goal of embedding youth employment into the fabric of our community. This year more than 10,000 jobs will be available for young people in Nashville ages 14-24 through Opportunity NOW’s online job portal.

This has nothing to do with education but I still want to share. Owner Story: “My neighbor walks her guinea pig with her two other dogs. Yes, it follows her when she whistles…”

McKissack Middle Prep received a generous donation of books from News Channel 5 last week for their Girls Inc. & AMEND programs! Rockin like Dokken.

I keep an eye on what’s happening in other states as a way to be prepared for what might possibly wash up on our shores. There is a lot going on in Colorado, positive and negative, that we can learn from. On the positive side, I love this concept of science education.

Indianapolis is starting to play around with the idea of giving more autonomy to principals. This is an idea Nashville has toyed with, but as of late we’ve begun to pull back on. Last year, principals were allocated more money than before, but they were given more mandates on how to use their individual school budgets. As we head into budget season, I’m interested to see how things play out this year. The rumblings I’ve heard to date don’t indicate a relaxing of control by central office.

Nashville will have a new elementary school next year, and now that school has a principal. Metro Nashville Public Schools announced Mr. Shawn Lawrence as the first principal of the district’s newest school, Eagle View Elementary School. The elementary school will serve the Cane Ridge Community with a capacity for 800 students. Mr. Lawrence was previously the Principal at Apollo Middle School. Before that, he was at Neeley’s Bend Middle. He is a recognized turnaround specialist. So I have to ask… why is a turnaround specialist for middle schools the perfect fit for a new elementary school? Is middle school no longer a high need for MNPS, and if it is, why are we moving proven MS leadership to the ES level? Just the kind of stuff that goes through my head.

Unknowingly, too many of us operate from an inward mindset—a narrow-minded focus on self-centered goals and objectives. When faced with personal ineffectiveness or lagging organizational performance, most of us instinctively look for quick-fix behavioral band-aids, not recognizing the underlying mindset at the heart of our most persistent challenges. Through true stories and simple yet profound guidance and tools, The Outward Mindset enables individuals and organizations to make the one change that most dramatically improves performance, sparks collaboration, and accelerates innovation—a shift to an outward mindset. I plan to put this book on my list.

POLL RESULTS

Very interesting results to this week’s poll questions.

On the question of where MNPS teachers live, suprisingly to me, the majority (65%) of you still live in Davidson County. I figured the high cost of living had chased you all out. The runner up, with 12%, was Williamson County, which is more expensive to live in than Davidson County. Only 4% of you indicated that you live in the area where your school is zoned for, which I think is a shame. There weren’t any write-ins for this question.

Here’s where things got really interesting for me. For the second question, on the number of years working in education, the majority of you have put in over 10 years. Yikes! I can’t tell you what an honor it is to have educators with that much experience as readers. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Nobody spots bullshit like a veteran teacher, and to have that many of you as readers speaks volumes.

Here are the write-ins:

20+ 2
30+ 1
More than 25 years 1
33 1
20 plus 1
35 years 1
24 1
25+ years 1
21 years 1
45

The last question referenced the indictment of former Superintendent of Baltimore Schools Dallas Dance. Many of you were not aware of either who Dance was or why I was referencing him. Dance is a close friend of Nashville Director of Schools Shawn Joseph and was appointed a member of Joseph’s transition team. We provided travel and hotel expenses for him to come here and aid in Dr. Joseph’s transition to MNPS. Many of the companies that Dance interacted with are also active in MNPS. It’s all worth keeping an eye on.

Thirty-six percent of you responded that “you were judged by the company you keep,” with an additional 22% indicating that you were bothered by the association. Only 2% of you indicated that you didn’t care. I’m coming to believe that Dr. Felder and Cumberland Principal Carolyn Cobb have made a Sunday habit of reading Dad Gone Wild. Sorry, couldn’t resist.

Here are the write-ins:

Not shocked one bit. 1
Monique Felder is right behind him 1
What about the new Eagle View principal? 1
Has anyone looked at MNPS’ non-bid contracts (tech & PD consultants) 1
who cares about Dallas. Fire Monique- the one doing damage to our district

That’s it for now. If you need to contact me, you can do so at Norinrad10@yahoo.com. I try to promote as many of the things sent to me as possible, but I do apologize if I fall short. I have started using Patreon. If you think what I do has monetary value, you can go there and make a donation/pledge. Trust me, I know I ain’t going to get rich, but at the end of the day I’m just a Dad trying to get by. Check out the Dad Gone Wild Facebook page as well.

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2 comments on “LESSONS ABOUND

  1. Griffin says:

    Don’t forget about Moreno Carrasco, the former MNPS executive officer of organizational development, who resigned from the district on Dec. 8 amid the ongoing investigation into allegations of sexual harrassment. He “… was originally hired in July 2016 as the district’s priority schools officer as part of a wave of hires by Nashville Director of Schools Shawn Joseph.”

    “… Carrasco was also one of several Metro Nashville Public Schools administrators that the state flagged earlier this year for not obtaining his Tennessee administrative license upon his move from Montgomery County (Maryland) Public Schools. He had since received an administrative license.”

    https://www.tennessean.com/story/news/education/2018/01/19/investigation-into-sexual-harrassment-allegations-former-nashville-public-schools-administrators-act/1048888001/

  2. The Greene piece was profound and as of late with regards to the role of Social Media and the way data, information is used, abused and manipulated (the New York Times did a great piece on the company that finds followers on Twitter) it cannot be overlooked how powerful that tool is in creating some of the problems that are happening in our schools, from the bullying to the rise in suicides. But that brings up an important issue of time. When one has only 6.5 hours a day in which to work with a child to teach, math, history, science, etc.. what are we expecting Teachers to do in that time frame? I noted the comments in Greene’s blog that discussed parents frustration with how the student was measured, evaluated and often the subject itself integrated into what should be math. Again the point is what? Remember cause and effect, input to output, etc. As my mother used to say, “you want to be different like everyone else.” Well individuality is overrated! And again so time consuming!

    Then the “list” what is the message to the Teachers/Students/Families and others who are working in said schools? And many of them having had massive churn and burn of staff and Admins? Cannot measure and compare when you constantly have changing dynamics.. What is the adage about moving the goal posts? Then we have the feeder school issue. Funny how some schools are on the list but the respective feeder be it Elementary or Middle not on it but the high school is or the other way around. Some you can see the clear link and pattern and that is the trace the line to the source and figure out ways to enable schools to have clear communication lines and training to work together to resolve that problem. As for charters well there is a bleed that will be apparently left to flow. What is the band aid there? They are not accountable to apparently anyone.

    And lastly we have testing and tests and again apples to oranges. Again with constant changing of measurement tools, changing players on the field, coaches and others calling varying plays into the game, honestly how can you choose anything or make decisions that will ultimately affect your child’s social emotional intellectual growth? And how many hours are there in a day?

    There is a massive shortage of Substitutes and if people truly wanted to know what is going on in these schools, sign up. The private company hiring subs ironically are for most if not many of the schools on the “cusp” start there and see first hand what is the problem. When you are behind the walls you might have a different perspective than standing before them.

    This district is huge, too huge but that too is another problem for another blog. The reality is that across the State schools are too big to manage and it may be a time to examine districts and how they are organized. But again that i for another blog for another day. The history of Nashville schools made it into a book published last year – Making the Unequal Metropolis by Ansley T. Erickson- I urge others to read it to see the history behind this and in turn how and why some of these problems exist.

    Again your schools are public and yet the doors are locked and why? Again keeping people safe sends one message and in turn it sends another and that may be the problem. How many messages can one send before SOS is needed?

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