“All the ills of mankind, all the tragic misfortunes that fill the history books, all the political blunders, all the failures of the great leaders have arisen merely from a lack of skill at dancing.”
“When I was a kid, the county in which I lived was dry. That is, you had to buy your booze from a bootlegger in order to keep the church people happy.”
― Don’t Sit Under the Grits Tree with Anyone Else But Me
Back in the day, I used to work with a sound engineer that in his rack, had an excess piece of gear that had tno discernable function in shaping the sound emitting from the stage. It was plugged into power but wasn’t connected to anything else. When a button was hit, it produced a show of bouncing lights. If you asked him about it, he would tell you that it was the module that housed the anti-suck gear.
He’d be mixing a show and invariably a patron would make their way to the sound booth, “The mix is off,” they would yell to him, “I can’t hear the vocals. It’s all too bright.”
He’d look at them. Give them an earnest look. Stare at his board with a puzzled look. Then he’d shift his look to the rack, his look of puzzlement would suddenly change to one of eureka. He would reach out and punch a button on the module, and suddenly the display of bouncing lights would appear. With a look of relief, he’d turn to the sound connoisseur, “Thanks, man! I’d forgotten to hit the anti-suck button. Much appreciated.”
The patron would turn to the stage, nod their head a few times, a smile would creep unto their face. They’d turn to the sound engineer and give him a big thumbs up, “Yea that was it. It sounds fantastic now!”
The engineer would return the thumbs up and return to the job of mixing the sound. The customer would return to his group, sharing with them how he and the engineer had collaborated to solve the sound issue. Not knowing that absolutely nothing had changed.
There is probably a scientific term for the phenomenon that I just described, but I just refer to it as establishing yourself as the expert and drawing a line of distinction. We do it all the time. A common means is through the heavy deployment of acronyms, “The problem here is that the FDT got caught up on the GYH. That slows down the deployment of the PBL.”
Huh? The FDT? The PBL? What the hell…instantly the second party is put on the defense as they try to sort through the acronyms and decipher just what was being said. It’s hard to offer a counter-argument when you are not even clear what the assertion is. Often times the second party, already unsure in their knowledge, internally defers to the first party and backs on out of the conversation, after all, the other person is clearly an expert, just listen to them.
The other common method of establishing authority is to introduce new vocabulary into the conversation, creating a vernacular that the second party is unfamiliar with. For example, the usage of terms like “synchronous” and “asynchronous”. Two terms, that up to a month ago, few were familiar with, but are now front and center in every conversation surrounding the upcoming start to the school year. For the record, in talking lesson delivery, synchronous refers to lessons delivered live via a teacher, whereas asynchronous refers to lessons students pursue independent of a live teacher.
Some will argue that the usage of these terms is to offer clarity and maybe simplicity. I’d argue that in using unfamiliar terms, you force the listener to focus more on the language than on the subject of the communication. It’s hard to push back or question when internally you are grappling with whether you properly understand and are correctly utilizing the terms being used. As a result, it establishes the power balance in the ensuing conversation. As a past episode of Seinfeld explained, it helps establish who has “hand” in the relationship. He who has “hand”, controls the relationship.
By using the new acronyms or enhanced language a feeling of false inclusion in created. The “expert” is deeming us worthy of being included in the conversation by letting us into the field’s hidden language. We are both flattered and placated. We feel like we’ve made an impact, altered the output, when in reality nothing has changed.
In other words, policymakers are hitting the hypothetical anti-suck button and we are responding in the same manner as the patron to the sound engineer. We believe that shared use of terminology and an illusion of inclusion translates into us being an active participant in the conversation, an assumption that does not accurately reflect reality.
I read a lot. Often times I’ll read something by an author and I’ll think, that was good but…and then I’ll shelve it, But the really good ones have a way of bubbling back up to the surface, of reasserting their relevance. Such is the case with a piece written by Peter Greene earlier in the summer.
You’ve heard about an emotional bank account, a metaphor for the investments in personal relationships that keep them healthy and able to deal with the bumps and bruises that come along in any relationship. Build trust and deposit in the account in good times, make withdrawals in the lean times, and maintain a healthy balance. Organizations such as school districts have similar accounts, and 2020 is turning out to be the year some districts are finding out just how deep—or shallow—their reserves are.
In his piece, Greene is talking primarily about the relationship between district leaders and teachers. But I don’t think it’s a stretch to add parents, students, and community stakeholders into the equation. Emotional bank accounts should be established and maintained with all stakeholders. Early in the Summer, MNPS made some large withdrawals that have left their accounts dangerously depleted.
Nashville is slated to start school in 10 days. Something that even the casual observer can deduce they are ill prepared for. The reasons are multiple. There is a pandemic going on so it’s understandable that plans need to be shifted rapidly, which results in increased uncertainty. But let’s be honest, back in May and June, district leadership was more consumed with shuffling deck chairs then they were with planning for the upcoming school year. The Central Office “reorganization” should have been completed by mid-May at the latest and the work now being done should have begun in earnest at the end of May.
There should have never been any doubt that virtual learning would be a major part of the upcoming school year. It should have been recognized that in the middle of a pandemic, everybody and their brother would have been ordering laptops, so you better get in line early. It’s like back in the day, if you wanted to see the Stones live you didn’t show up expecting to get tickets on the day of the show, you camped out days before they went on sale to ensure that you would be in the theater when they hit the stage. Failing to adequately plan meant missing the show, and that just wasn’t acceptable.
Instead, here we are 10 days ahead of the start of school and the district lacks adequate resources to allow students to participate in virtual learning. According to the Tennessean, the district has 19K laptops ready to go, but are lacking 20k power chords. There are additionally 24k computers that could be deployed but are still in the process of being readied. The first wave of new computers provided by Mayor Cooper, 20K, is slated to arrive in mid-August. But there will still need to be work done in order to prepare those computers for distribution.
Add the 19k to the 24k…add 20k…plus 10k distributed last spring and you still get…less then the 86K needed. The lack of power chords is understandable due to most of the existing laptops being utilized through computer carts. Pre-COVID nobody thought those computers would ever go home with students, so the power chords were considered superfluous. Can’t fault anybody for that thinking. But why wasn’t this issue discovered earlier? Why wasn’t an inventory taken back in May?
Decisions on curriculum should have been made back in early summer, with an effort to get teachers access to the proposed curriculum early enough that they could become familiar with the new material. That would have given teachers time to personalize lesson plans, and adequately compare the proposed curriculum to the existing curriculum to assess strengths and weaknesses. Instead, district leadership plowed forth with a meaningless conversation about ELA textbook adoptions, and an even more meaningless initiative to train teachers on its usage. They did so despite widespread acknowledgment that there wouldn’t be resources to facilitate adoption this year.
Now here we are with the adoption of the Florida Virtual School curriculum and teachers in K-5 not getting access until July 29. Early indications, from those in the upper grades that were granted access mere day ago, is that the FVS is weak on literacy and maybe overly robust on math. Either way, adjustments will be needed and there is now little time to make those adjustments.
These instances should be considered as withdrawals on the district’s emotional bank account. The withdrawals by district leadership needs to be recognized, but not for the purpose of casting blame. Nothing positive can come of that, and the school year must proceed no matter what shortcomings transpired early in the pandemic. Hopefully what will recognition will instead inspire is a renewed sense of urgency and a need to involve stakeholders in solutions.
As the school year approaches, there are schools within the MNPS that appear better prepared and set up for success than others. These are schools that have put together virtual open houses for their families. Some have made sure that teachers have access to their proposed rosters and have begun reaching out to families to make contact and forming those all so important relationships. Others have recognized that solutions can’t come from just a handful of individuals and have instead gathered larger leadership teams to begin drafting action plans.
The schools that are setting themselves up for success have a common thread. They are those who prior to the current crisis understood the need to invest in their emotional bank accounts. At the center of those investments is a deep commitment to transparency and communication among stakeholders.
By and large, public education stakeholders are a forgiving lot, almost always willing to defend and excuse. Sometimes to their own detriment. Include them in the conversation and they will extend a high level of patience.
Nobody expects Dr. Battle and her team to deliver a clear cut plan on the order of the ten commandments. She is not expected to have all the answers. what they do want is to be an integral part of the conversation and that just happening right now.
Earlier in the week, I wrote about how current circumstances are evolving out of a crisis management mode and into one of evolution. Like it or not, public education in this country is undergoing an evolution – perhaps even a revolution. As a result, expectations should be that much will become obsolete. When faced with such circumstances, our natural tendency is to grasp tighter in an effort to retain control. But like trying to squeeze jello, the result is for things to slip even further out of control. When making policy decisions, administrators should think about that jello.
I’ve seen Facebook posts this past week by educators asking for grace throughout the coming school year,
On behalf of the educators out here…this next quarter (but probably longer) starts a new chapter in public education. There is a huge learning curve that students, teachers, and district administrators will be navigating, yet again, together!As we embark on this thing called “eLearning or blended learning”, we are asking our Facebook friends to refrain from publicly scrutinizing their children’s teachers/schools/district for the way they are teaching, the lessons they’re assigning, or the decisions the districts are making. Instead, we ask you stand up for educators if you see this negativity on your timeline.Please offer grace to your child’s teacher and other school personnel. I promise that educating & keeping your children safe is still their #1 priority.They are about to navigate unchartered waters with little idea of what to expect. This is a crisis, not a time to be playing armchair quarterback. They love your kids and will be doing their absolute best!
Going into the fall, money will be tight and needs will be great and teachers will be asked to make sacrifices of one sort of another. School districts must be clever and creative and flexible and adaptable. Districts that have cultivated an atmosphere of trust and teamwork with their staffs will be far more flexible and adaptable than those that have drained their accounts dry. As with any organization, years of quietly mediocre management become a big problem when they meet a large crisis. It’s difficult to get people to take one for the team today if you have spent years demonstrating to them that they are not actually members of the team. In a year that presents schools with unprecedented obstacles, it turns out that some schools are facing an obstacle that’s not new at all—the detritus of years of poor management. They’ve been taking this test of leadership for years; now they have to deal with the results.
While the extent of the pandemic is not yet known, the Initial COVID-19 Impact Report key findings highlight trends that have been uncovered, including:
- Economic, physical, and mental health are inter-connected and during times of crisis, may contribute to childhood adversity. Childhood adversity can have long term chronic physical and mental health related impacts, such as depression, suicide attempts, substance abuse and lung disease.
- Experienced family stress, such as unemployment, may contribute to increased rates of domestic violence, substance abuse, and child abuse as was evident during previous national disasters and crises.
- Nationally, the pandemic has impacted populations disproportionately, raising concern of a widening equity gap.
- In Tennessee, during peak stay-at-home orders, reports of suspected child abuse dropped by 27%, in large part due to mandatory reporters, such as teachers and pediatricians, being disconnected from children and families.
- 76% of Tennessee district leaders and 55% of public responders identified technology and hardware as a top COVID-19 related need.
Expect even more revelations to be forthcoming as the taskforce convenes monthly meetings August through December 2020. Schwinn leads this taskforce but one has to wonder who’s writing the reports.
This week it was reported that Governor Lee denied a waiver by Williamson County School on testing requirements. Since standardized tests are given in the Spring, the logical assumption might be that it is too early to be considering waivers. What you may not know is those high school students that are enrolled in districts that utilize a 4 x 4 schedule, take standardized tests in December. These tests are utilized to make projections and adjustments. Furthermore, if the test in the Spring ends up being waived later in the year, administrating those December test become an exercise in futility. In that light, I think it’s entirely appropriate and necessary to consider requesting waivers.
If you’re not listening to Taylor Swift’s new release Folklore on repeat today, why did you even get out of bed? Asking for a friend.
I always find it interesting when people demand that we “follow the science” when it comes to making policy decisions. What that tends to mean is “follow the science as long as it supports my views.” It is also seldom acknowledged that science is ever-changing as new data become available. Today the CDC released new guidelines on the re-opening of schools and I’m sure there will be plenty of push back from those that were previously arguing that we “follow the science.”
Schools are an important part of the infrastructure of our communities, as they provide safe, supportive learning environments for students, employ teachers and other staff, and enable parents, guardians, and caregivers to work. Schools also provide critical services that help meet the needs of children and families, especially those who are disadvantaged, through supporting the development of social and emotional skills, creating a safe environment for learning, identifying and addressing neglect and abuse, fulfilling nutritional needs, and facilitating physical activity. School closure disrupts the delivery of in-person instruction and critical services to children and families, which has negative individual and societal ramifications. The best available evidence from countries that have opened schools indicates that COVID-19 poses low risks to school-aged children, at least in areas with low community transmission, and suggests that children are unlikely to be major drivers of the spread of the virus. Reopening schools creates opportunity to invest in the education, well-being, and future of one of America’s greatest assets—our children—while taking every precaution to protect students, teachers, staff and all their families.
That’s it for now. We’ll see you on Monday.
If you’ve got something you’d like me to highlight and share, send it on to Norinrad10@yahoo.com. Any wisdom or criticism you’d like to deliver is always welcome.
A huge shout out to all of you who’ve lent your financial support. I am eternally grateful for your generosity. It allows me to keep doing what I do and without you, I would have been forced to quit long ago. It is truly appreciated and keeps the bill collectors happy.
If you so desire to join the rank of donors, you can still head over to Patreon and help a brother out. Or you can hit up my Venmo account which is Thomas-Weber-10. I don’t need much – even $5 would help – but if you think what I do has value, a little help is always greatly appreciated, especially this time of year when my contracted work is non-existent. Not begging, just saying.
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