Dr. Sarah L. Gibson- A Tribute

“Lives of great ones all remind us
We can make our lives sublime
And departing leave behind us
Footprints on the sands of time.”
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (excerpt “A Psalm of Life”)

An educational pioneer, a trailblazer, the first through the wall. Dr, Sarah Gibson leaves her footprints on the educational arena in Detroit, Michigan.

Dr. Sarah Gibson Middle School Pioneer, 1927 -2014

Dr. Sarah Gibson Middle School Pioneer, 1927 -2014

During the 1970’s, American education journeyed from the school structure of the junior high school, grades 7, 8, 9 to the school structure of the middle school, grades 6, 7, 8, and of magnet schools, drawing students from across the district. In 1971, Dr. Sarah Gibson became the first principal of the Whitney Young Magnet Middle School here in Detroit, Michigan.

Meeting Dr. Gibson

I had been teaching language arts at a junior high when I met with a district level administrator about transferring to another location. He informed me there was an opening at Whitney Young Magnet Middle School; however, the principal had brokered an understanding with the district that she could interview her staff first, something unheard of at that time. Today, it is common practice.
Dr. Gibson interviewed potential staff because she wanted to make certain that they fit with her vision of a school as a learning organization. She championed onsite, ongoing professional development where staff focused on personal mastery, building a shared vision, and team learning, while other schools engaged in one time, off site approaches. In 1990, Peter Senge from Massachusetts Institute of Technology would write The Fifth Discipline: The Art and Practice of The Learning Organization, long after Dr. Gibson had retired from Detroit Public Schools and had moved on to Oakland University.

Unique Approach to Discipline

Dr. Gibson’s approach to discipline was unique. If a student was remanded to the office or decided to go on his/her own, she didn’t start with the standard, “What did you do wrong, or why did your teacher send you to the office?” Generally, her first question was, “What are you learning in math, science, etc?” Unemotionally and with a poker face, she would listen as the student attempted to explain what s/he was learning. Her guiding question was, “How much of the problem is faulty delivery of instruction which can cause off task behavior ?” Together, they would examine the student’s notebook, folders, and textbook. Later she would meet individually with the teacher to provide additional strategies for delivering a lesson.

I remember one incident where Dr. Gibson challenged my instruction. I failed a student on her book report because she had copied it from her sibling I had taught the previous year. The student immediately made tracks to Dr. Gibson’s office with big tears in her eyes. Naturally, she asked the student to explain the assignment, which I would discover later she could not to Dr. Gibson’s satisfaction do. Later when Dr. Gibson met with me, she shared that the student really didn’t understand the assignment, didn’t understand what I expected, so she resorted to cheating. She further explained that sometimes children cheat because of the way we teach or the way we fail to teach. With hurt and anger in my heart, I EXPLAINED to Dr. Gibson that I always TELL the class what I expect and I had told them what I expected with their book reports. Dr. Gibson’s nonchalant reply was, “Lorraine, if TELLING were teaching, everyone would be smart.” OUCH!

That day, I sat afterschool in my classroom with tears in MY eyes. How could I convince my boss I was in my room doing my best, giving it my all. Suddenly, it dawned on me that half of the students “got it” when I TOLD them what I expected. But it was the half that didn’t that made me look bad. So that day, afterschool, I rearranged students’ desks from single rows facing the teacher, standard industrial classroom

Industrial Classroom Be Silent, Be Obedient, Be Still and Face the Teacher

Industrial Classroom Be Silent, Be Obedient, Be Still and Face the Teacher

operating procedure at the time – silence, obedience, stillness- to a collaborative seating approach. From now on students would sit face-to-face and side-by-side and support one another.

With Dr. Gibson’s guidance we began rethinking seating arrangements in the classrooms at Whitney Young. Classes became busy and active with students talking and discussing the lesson in collaborative groups. Students gained experience in leading and in following. Thus, before the research of Johnson and Johnson, or any of the other collaborative/cooperative learning experts/researchers published their work, “collaboration, communication, and cooperation” became part of an invisible, covert curriculum at Whitney Young Magnet Middle.

Collaboration, Communication, Cooperation

Collaboration, Communication, Cooperation

Rotating Schedule
It didn’t take Dr. Gibson long to discover that first hour students didn’t always benefit from the same quality of instruction as second or third hour students. It was as if teachers practiced the lesson on the first class and the other classes throughout the day were beneficiaries of that practice. She also discovered that in the PM teachers sent the SAME students to the office. Brainstorm! Create a rotating schedule. On Monday, teachers would teach first hour students first; however, on Tuesdays, teachers would start the day with their 2nd hour students first, next teaching third hour students etc,. On Wednesdays, teachers would start the day with 3rd hour students first and then teach the 4th hour next and so on.

Dr. Gibson had a open door policy that I availed myself of frequently. I remember our confrontation after this big rotating schedule idea Dr. Gibson shared with her staff. “Dr. Gibson, you are giving these students carte blanche to attend class late or not at all,” I admonished. “Their built in excuse, I got the days or periods mixed up.” Calmly, she explained that it would work. Just give it a chance. Again, she was right. I did interact more positively in the morning with students I had previously sent to the office in the afternoon. They saw a different side of me and I saw a different side of them. And the students were on time, on task, and on target. And my delivery of instruction became more balanced. A few years ago when I visited Renaissance High School, I found that they had adopted the rotation schedule we initiated at Whitney Young.

Accountability Pioneer
During Dr. Gibson’s reign/time, the hysteria and hoopla surrounding test scores, had not yet reached the fever pitch at the school or district level that it has today. Accountability had not yet become a watch word. However, Dr. Gibson’s inner compass knew that the scores were important to gauging student achievement. Using a handheld calculator, pen, and paper, she would disaggregate the data herself. Dr. Gibson would analyze the test items to determine where the school’s instruction was weak.

Holding a whole school staff meeting, she would share with us her findings. And she would meet privately with some of us to give us pointers on how to adjust our instruction for the next year. Now a whole test data industry has sprung up around testing. Companies and consultants use software to do what Dr. Gibson did with her calculator and her brain.

The First Through the Wall
Dr. Sarah Gibson was a pioneer, the first one through the wall. We know that the first one through the wall is often bloodied. She was bloodied but unbowed. Articulately, she defended her philosophy, her beliefs with passion and vigor. She spoke truth to power, challenging the educational status quo and working diligently to maintain Whitney Young as a progressive learning center and a problem solving, problem seeking organization until her retirement from Detroit Public Schools in 1984. .If EVERY urban school had a Dr. Gibson, there would be no “So Called” achievement gap.

I acknowledge Dr. Gibson in my workbook: A Coaches Guide to Asset-Mapping Teacher Quality http://www.amazon.com/dp/0557670950/ref=rdr_ext_tmb (Available on Amazan and Barnes and Noble)

Dr. Gibson, I will miss you greatly.

Will the REAL Chief Hope Officer Please Stand?

Mayors and Teachers-Towards a New Job Description

After a long fought, strategic battle, Mike Duggan emerged as the next mayor of Detroit, a formidable job if there ever there was one. Can he turn the ship around, or point it in a new direction? Will he create a new narrative for Detroit? The city is in a blizzard and he has been elected to lead it out. Can he? Will he? More importantly, will he be allowed to?
Mr. Duggan still has another race to run. Over the next weeks, months the mayor will be battling/negotiating with Governor Rick Snyder, with Detroit Emergency Manager Kevin Orr, and with Detroit City Council to carve out a new role, a new job description for himself . Who will emerge as Detroit’s Chief Hope Officer?

Though not present at the meetings, there IS another rival for the title of Chief Hope Officer on whose recovery, survival, the city is dependent. Challenged with preparing a fast changing, globally competitive workforce, the Detroit classroom teacher, should also be at the INCLUDED in the groundbreaking narrative AND as an integral member of the transition team charged with turning around the city’s economic future. They too are in a blizzard and face similar formidable odds as they attempt to balance a critical thinking, problem solving curriculum for ALL students along with a malodorous mix of 21st century student behaviors – All without the compensation package, respect, or support of any of the other rivals for the title receive.

What Is The New Normal?
Once upon a time during the industrial economy, the prosperous era Detroiters have ever known, teachers balanced gum chewing, fighting, littering, making noises, and talking out of turn with a rote memorization and basic skills curriculum. They were backed up/supported by parents who used their prosperity to indulge their children in shopping sprees, toys, TVs, cars, vacations if they stayed on track with good grades and citizenship. However, the sun has been switched off of that economy.

Today, too many parents are jobless, helpless and lack emotional or financial resources to back up the classroom teacher or to support their children. And, today’s teacher faces a smelly mix of different classroom behaviors: assault, bullying, digital cheating, profanity, ongoing insubordination, verbal abuse while attempting to teach a more complex curriculum to ALL students.

How do we emotionally prepare and support teachers to teach a student population raised on a corrosive culture of celebrity, degrading songs, reality TV, sexually explicit videos. Too frequently, teachers must instantaneously decide, on the spot, how to handle such behaviors when presented to them in the classroom. And generally, they are not behaviors they witnessed in their classrooms when they were students.

Part of the Job

Part of the Job

What Would You Do?
Ms. Brent, a first-grade teacher walks into her classroom to witness a wiry, angelic looking six-year old writing the letters F-U-C-K on the board. She stares at him and the word. He doesn’t back down; he stares back. What should she do? What would you do? You are limited with the amount of time you have to make a decision. Thirty pairs of eyes are on you – waiting! Do you

A. Yell and banish him to a corner of the room?
B. Lecture him and the class about using such language?
C. Send him to the office/principal immediately to
D. Exclude him from class until you hold parent- conference to determine where he is learning such language?
E. Give him a timeout?

Towards a NEW Job Description – A New Narrative
Like a tightrope walker, today’s teacher (Chief Hope Officer) is also engaged in a high-wire balancing act. And, it is not work for the faint of heart, insecure, timid, or unsure. Today, effective teaching requires more than scholarship and dedication; it also requires extraordinary emotional competence and resilience in order to make the scores of decisions that ensure learning takes place. Today’s educator needs to know how to deescalate a situation and how not to meet challenges, confrontations with fear, tears, or uncertainty.

Teaching Is NOT for the faint of heart.

Teaching Is NOT for the faint of heart.

Daily, hourly an educator must be prepared to put out fires, to be a relentless, resourceful problem solver, to be comfortable amid an uncomfortable environment, to identify and to be able to make use of teachable moments. Today’s educator must find inventive ways to say no to inappropriate behaviors, too often without parental support or administrative backup.

A Chief Hope Officer at Work
Ms. Brent is aware that ALL classrooms include a few Jabaris- attention-seeking, power-grabbing disruptors who seek to win control of the learning experience. They seek to be the CEO of the classroom and to dominate the non-disrupting students who attend school each day with the sole goal of learning. Thinking on her feet, Ms. Brent decides to send a message to the class that she and not Jabari is the classroom’s real alpha dog, the real CEO.
With a firm and but unemotional tone, she declares “Jabari, I see you have written a new word for us on the board. Certainly, your handwriting is improving.” Jabari smiles. She continues. “And being able to write a word means that you are a writer and a reader. Turning to face her students, she instructs, “Class, we are going to have our language arts lesson now. Jabari, will you help us? We are going to discover how many words we already know that rhyme, sound like Jabari’s word. “

She pronounces and writes the letters D-U-C-K on the board, underlining the U-C-K sound in both words. She never repeats Jabari’s word and neither does he nor does the class. For the next ten minutes, the young male and the class engage in discovering rhyming words with the U-C-K sound. When the lesson ends, the teacher thanks Jabari.

With light feet and a happy heart, he skips back to his seat having been provided with the attention, belonging, competence, recognition he craves. The teacher has just aborted a power struggle, losing face, a possible suspension (with time away from his learning). Win, Win!

Will Detroit’s REAL Chief Hope Officers Please Stand, Be Recognized, and Be Supported as the Profession Is Reconceived, Reinvented, and Reoriented!

Towards A New Narrative

Towards A New Narrative

Parent Accountability Pt. 2 – A Report Card for Parents

Parent Report Cards?

We give students grades; we give schools grades. The new Educator-Effective Laws being implemented across the country advance parents and the public being provided clear information about teacher effectiveness. When will we start giving parents grades on parenting effectiveness? Perhaps instead of writing the child’s name on the report card; we should replace it with the parent’s. In addition, there should be a special checklist on the report card for parents.

1. I turn off the television each evening in order for my child to complete homework. (Pass/Fail)
2. I provide an environment conducive to studying. (Pass/Fail)
3. I read to my child/my child reads to me. (Pass/Fail)
4. I model reading newspapers, magazines, books for my child (Pass/Fail).
5. My child has a library card. (Pass/Fail)
6. I monitor homework. (Pass/Fail)
7. I attend parent-teacher conferences. (Pass/Fail).
8. My child has a hobby beyond video games or the computer (Pass/Fail) .
9. I don’t leave my child alone with every new (wo)man I happen to be dating (Pass/Fail).
10. I don’t allow my child to worship celebrity, sex, or violence. (Pass/Fail)
11. My child attends school on time and on a regular basis (Pass/Fail).
12. My child attends class and is never truant.

Four failures and the parent receives a warning; the second time the parent goes before the school board, and the third time the parent’s name is posted in the newspaper for all to see, just like schools.
As we attempt to create instruments and tools to hold teachers accountable, we need similar tools and instruments for parents..
I hope the next movie that reformers produce and promote focuses on how parents need to redefine their roles during the era of technological change and globalization.
After all, “The hand that rocks the cradle is the hand that rules the world”. William Ross Wallace

A Reform Movement to Hold Parents Accountable? Pt. One

Back To School

Returning to school is a bittersweet time in the American educational landscape. It marks the end of fun and freedom and the return or beginning of responsibility for both parents and their children.
Several years ago the movie, Waiting for Superman was released during the return to school season to promote the Charter School Move Agenda inspired by educational reformers. It put the spotlight on poor and minority children trapped in failing schools. It portrayed parents as desperate to enroll their children charters that were succeeding according to test scores. Correctly or incorrectly, it promoted charter schools as the audacity of hope. It created a national conversation.

Last year, the movie Won’t Back Down also opened during the back to school season with a big Hollywood style premiere. Brand name movies stars (Maggie Gyllenhaal, Viola Davis, Helen Hunt) lots of spotlights, and hoopla were designed to ignite a mass awareness of Parent Effectiveness Laws, which give parents a pass to make changes in failing schools. It was another movie that portrayed public schools as a failed status quo. However, the Hollywood hoopla failed to make up for a failed message . It failed to create a vision the masses could believe in or follow.
A Movie that FAILED to ignite a Vision

Yes, we need parent effectiveness laws but not for the reasons invoked in the movie. As a retired educator and as a parent whose child attended public schools, I have experience on both sides of the desk.
As we attempt to create instruments and tools to hold teachers accountable, where are the tools and instruments for parents? Let’s begin with a review of the movie.

Weapons of Mass Destruction
Get rid of teacher unions! Get rid of teacher seniority! Get rid of teacher tenure! Get rid of the bureaucracy!
They are the weapons of mass destruction in public education that we have only to eliminate to begin to solve the schooling crisis in America.

Won’t Back Down portrayed a sea of white children trapped in failing schools and not being effectively educated by a large corps of white female and male teachers. The weapons of mass destruction have crushed their spirit, causing them to give up on trying to teach, to make a difference. Is this the image we really want to portray across the globe about our educational system?

Parent-Trigger Laws
The movie pays homage to the Parent-Trigger Laws being implemented in states across the country. Basically, the law gives parents a pass to make changes in failing schools: a new curriculum, longer school days, different personnel. Or they can take over entirely and turn the school into a charter.
You see it’s the union that keeps the teachers in the movie from staying after school to work with children, or rearranging the seats in their classrooms for collaborative learning, or assigning projects, or giving homework. Gee, I taught for a lot of years in a union town (Detroit) and I don’t remember once receiving a letter, phone call, or an message from the union preventing me from providing such experiences that we offered in our school. Our principal encouraged and supported them, and so teachers agreed.
In the movie, the principal appears to be an impediment to a positive school culture, but no one organizes to get rid of him.

The Blame Game
Blaming teachers for the educational challenges in the United States is a lot like blaming assembly line workers at a factory for turning out a poor product or lagging sales instead of blaming the CEO. If the school reformers want to follow a business model; they should do so. In private industry if LEADERS don’t perform, they are FIRED. In private industry, corporate managers who supervise 50, 100, 150 personalities daily earn far more than the $40,000 to $70,000 earned by teachers and they don’t run out of the supplies they need to perform their jobs. However, because of the imploding economy and the high jobless rate, there is no more taxpayer elixir to keep the system going. And, thus, we need to find fault.

No Parental Responsibility
In Won’t Back Down, parents bear no fault, nor responsibility. The lead-parent organizer played by Maggie Gyllenhaal doesn’t have a clue about parenting. Her only responsibility is to send her child to school (late) with an overpriced book bag ($59.00) which indirectly causes a fight ending with the bag being destroyed . Though the child is dyslexic, her mother provides video games instead of books to keep her occupied. (See my blog post on “Reading: The Road Ahead”: on this site) The child doesn’t appear to practice reading at home, nor is her mother seen modeling reading. She doesn’t seem to bother taking her to the library, community center, or anyplace else that’s educational. Oh that’s right; she works two jobs. However, in her spare time, she spends it hanging out with her new boyfriend, a teacher, from her daughter’s school. He is allowed to babysit her female daughter ALONE while she runs off to organize a school takeover of which her new man wants no part. Hello single mama, have you heard the words: safety, security, stability?
Of course she permits the child to idly channel surf as much as she likes while her new man babysits her. After all she has a parent take-over to get going. Mommy provides her child with lots of hugs and kisses though. Love is enough, right? It’s all she needs from her poor mama to take part in the new boundaries of prosperity redrawn by globalization and technological change.

Why doesn’t Mommy spend the time organizing a Parent-Teacher Association so she can work collectively WITH the teachers in the school? Spend all of that energy and firepower building bridges; let her child see first hand what collaboration, cooperation, and communication are all about- skills needed in the new economy.
Parent Report Cards?
We give students grades; we give schools grades. The new Educator-Effective Laws being implemented across the country advance parents and the public being provided clear information about teacher effectiveness. When will we start giving parents grades on parenting effectiveness? Perhaps instead of writing the child’s name on the report card; we should replace it with the parent’s. In addition, there should be a special checklist on the report card for parents.



Next Time:Part Two
A Report Card for Parents

American Security Guards: The Voice as a Weapon Instead of a Gun

America needs to do a better job of preparing/training security guards, instilling in them how NOT to elevate “macho” behavior over what is needed to preserve life and property.
The voice can serve as a WEAPON/tool of CONFRONTATION or as weapon/tool to solicit COOPERATION. When I was a child, I knew just how fast I needed to respond when my grandmother called me just by her tone of voice.

How different that fatal winter night might have turned out had George Zimmerman been TRAINED/EDUCATED to use his body language and voice as tools of cooperation. How different the future of both males would have been had George Zimmerman been trained to approach strangers with a non-threatening body language and a non-confrontational tone by Calling Out: “YOUNG MAN, SIR, where are you going? Is there anything I can do to help you find your way?” I am Security Officer Zimmerman and I have been hired to protect this area.
My experience as an educator who (at under five feet tall) has worked with teenagers informs me that they are belligerent by nature and seek ways to exert their power, to test their boundaries. Often males are weary of being dominated by their mothers, female teachers and seek to flex their muscles in unacceptable ways.

I wasn’t there that fateful night, but I have witnessed too many situations escalate that could have been avoided had the adult used proper body language and tone of voice in addressing African-American males.This is especially true in hallway situations with security personnel assigned to urban high schools. http://blog.owlmountaincoaching.com/blogpost/hallway-2-0-saying-no-to-zero-tolerance-pt-two/

Over the years I have learned to NEVER address a Black Male with whom I have no caring relationship with by calling him “boy” unless I want the situation to get out of control. Unfortunately, I believe that some of what happened that night was a WAR of testosterone power vs. testosterone power, a WAR of wills.Trayvon Martin lost his life, and George Zimmerman lost his “way of life” A tragic situation all the way around.

Hallway 2.0 – Saying No to Zero Tolerance Pt. Two

Zero Tolerance Behavior Policies are a fungus threatening to grow out of control in some schools but not in Community High Hallway 2.0. They say, “No to Zero.”

First hour has just ended and students pour out of classrooms and into the bright hallways filled with murals created by students at the school.
Animated chatter, joking, and banter back and forth among students and school personnel fill the air. Administrators walk the hallways and teachers stand outside of their classroom doors with the purpose of motivating students to not dally at their lockers or dawdle with friends on their way to the next class.
Minutes later the tardy bell rings and some students make a mad dash to be on the other side of the door when it is closed. Punctuality is an important trait, but some teachers also realize that strict punctuality is a holdover from an industrial economy that required workers to be punctual in order that costly machines not be kept idle. Some teachers are flexible about not locking their doors after the tardy bell and allow students to enter a few minutes late without a pass as long as they enter quietly and not disturb their peers. After all, everyone is late for something at some point in their lives is their reasoning.

Fifteen minutes into the period, a ninth grade student wearing baggy pants strides aimlessly through the school hallway without a pass or his student ID. A teacher sees him and inquires in a firm but non-confrontational tone, “Sir, where do you belong now? Are you headed to class?
Embarrassed, the student looks away but replies, “I was 15 minutes late, and the teacher had locked the door. “
In an even tone, the teacher further inquires, “Is there any way I can help remedy the situation? Are you frequently late?
Frustrated, the student responds, “No, but today is not a good day for me; I lost my ID, left my homework home. Maybe I should just go back home.”
The teacher asks, “What’s your name young man? What year are you?
A security officer outfitted in a burgundy blazer, dark trousers, and wearing a badge that identifies him as Officer Wentworth spots the two in hall and inquires if everything is OK. He notices that the student is not displaying his ID.
The teacher answers, “Good Morning Officer Wentworth, this young man and I were just becoming acquainted. His name is Jose Alexander.
Security officer Wentworth inquires, “Mr. Alexander, I see you are not wearing your ID today.”
The students looks off into the distance and replies, “I seem to have misplaced it.”
In an even tone, the security officer informs, “You know there is a penalty for not having your ID. I’m going to let you off with a warning Mr. Alexander. But we need to be extra careful now with so many acts of violence taking place to make certain that only people who belong in the school house are here. Are you “feelin me”? Can you prove that you belong here?
The student shows him his books, notebooks, papers with his name on them and gives him the name of his counselor.

The security officer requests that he belt his pants as he writes his name on a form. The teacher escorts him to the library and instructs him to quietly work on an assignment.

Say NO

Say NO

Community High Hallway- 2.0-School Culture
A culture where troublesome behavior is solved in a non-confrontational matter whenever possible filters through Community High Hallway 2.0. It is a school with a soul and a heart. School administrators have decided that security officers’ wearing a blazer and trousers present less of an institutional/jail house feel. Security personal patrolling hallway 2.0 are called security officers instead of guards and display a badge that clearly identifies them by name. Students have been repeatedly instructed via assemblies and class meetings to address them by the title of officer and to include their last name when possible. Because students are bombarded daily by declining communities, massive unemployment, and dysfunctional family life, security guards are trained to be sensitive to the emotional frustrations of students.

Modeling R-E-S-P-E-C-T

Educators in Hallway 2.0 understand that our verbal and nonverbal behaviors influence student behaviors and responses. The voice serves as a weapon of confrontation or as a tool of cooperation.

“I have come to the conclusion that I am the decisive element in the school house. As a security officer OR teacher, I possess tremendous power to make a child’s life miserable or joyous. I can be a tool of torture or an instrument of inspiration. I can humiliate or humor, hurt or heal. In all situations, it is my response (voice) that decides whether a crisis will be escalated or de-escalated, and a child humanized or dehumanized and wind up trapped in the school to prison pipeline” With Thanks to Haim Ginott, psychologist

While patrolling the halls, it is often necessary to make requests of students with whom adults have developed no relationship. In attempting NOT to be confrontational with students in the hall, and thereby not lose control of the situation, security personnel have been educated to approach students with a firm but non-threatening tone, addressing them by “young man,” “sir,” “mister.” “young lady,” or “miss,” if they do not know their names. In addition, the use of “please” and “thank you” when making requests increases cooperation.
“Sir, thank you for picking up that popcorn that you just spilled on the floor; I appreciate it very much.”
Young lady, where is your pass? You are in violation of the Student Code of Conduct (or whatever the student discipline/culture code is called in your district”.
Young man, please refrain from…”

(NEVER call an African-American teenage male “boy” unless it is your INTENT is to be aggressive, disrespectful, hostile, or to escalate a situation.)

Security personnel keep repeating the request in a firm tone (not pleading or begging) until they gain cooperation. Using this approach lets the students know that the adult is the voice of authority and reason, but we care because we are giving respect (R-E-S-P-E-C-T) by addressing them in a positive manner.

Guiding Philosophy- Saying “No” to Zero Tolerance
According to the Center for Civil Rights at UCLA, Zero Tolerance Behavior Policies were responsible for over 1,000.000 middle and high school students being suspended during the school year 2009 and 2010, Suspensions were for infractions that did not include violent behavior. Such punishments increase the likelihood that students will drop out of school.
The staff at Community High School 2.0 have made a conscious decision that Zero Behavior Policies will not be tolerated in their school house. Understanding that such policies unnecessarily criminalize nonviolent behaviors and lock in students who are most emotionally and economically vulnerable into a school-to-prison pipeline trap.

No School to Jail Pipeline

No School to Jail Pipeline

The philosophy that guides behavior policies at the school: Are students displaying deviant behaviors or normal developmental behaviors ?

Deviant behaviors such as extortion, carrying weapons, possessing controlled substances need outside intervention from law enforcement, a social service agency and/or parents.

However, normal developmental behaviors come with the job of educating young people: talking back, not wearing an ID, wearing inappropriate clothing, cheating, in-school truancy, cell phone use, etc. and, therefore, should be handled INSIDE of the school house. Thus, preventive and intervention measures are put into place, such as using the voice as a tool for cooperation, contracts, class meetings, assemblies, student government, etc.

In the compliant hallways (1.0) of some schools, Zero Tolerance Behavior Policies are a fungus threatening to grow out of control but not in Community High Hallway 2.0. They say, “No to Zero.”

Avoiding the School-to-Prison Pipeline: A Tale of Two Hallways Pt.One

Security Guards Take Note

Compliant High Hallway 1.0
A crowded and excessively noisy hall way is the daily way of life at Compliant High School 1.0. Students push, squeeze, and wiggle their way through the crowd to avoid arriving late to class. Some loiter at their lockers as an administrator patrols the halls with a bullhorn and a bat in an attempt to keep order and to keep the students moving. Finally, the tardy bell rings and students make a last minute scramble to be on the other side of the door before they are locked out.
Ten minutes into the period a student wearing baggy pants strides aimlessly through the school hallway without a pass or his student ID. A teacher sees him and in a rapid, demanding bursts shouts, “Where do you belong? Where is your pass? The tardy bell rang ten minutes ago. “
Snidely, he replies, “ None of your business.”

A security guard dressed in a uniform of a brown shirt, matching khaki pants and a badge overhears the dialogue and steps in. In a confrontational body language and tone, he barks, “Boy, where do you belong? Where is your ID, and do you have a pass?
Angrily, the student responds, “Get off my back, you ain’t nothing but a security guard.” (Unfortunately, Security guards’ institutional looking uniforms and badges only serve to make students feel they are being warehoused.)
Confrontation meets confrontation and a power struggle ensues between the security guard and the student.

Result: the student receives a three day out-of-school suspension for insubordination, in school truancy, and failure to display a school ID. Zero Tolerance Policy at work again. Though it is not a productive policy, schools insist that it is necessary to create an appropriate environment.
A combustible mix of invisibility, powerlessness,and revenge, push schools, especially in urban centers, to zero tolerance behavior policies. According to the Center for Civil Rights of UCLA over one million middle and high school students were suspended during 2009-2010 for infractions that did not include violent behavior. Most suspensions came not in response to violent behavior but for infractions such as a dress code violation or lateness,

How Did We Get Here? School House 1.0
Punctuality, rigid uniformity, and obedience were melded daily into the curriculum to prepare a majority of students to take orders without question from a foreman in a plant or a manager in an office. Students were pre-fitted to submerge their voices, opinions, and power (compliant behavior) to teachers and other authority figures IN EXCHANGE for a PROSPEROUS way of life at the end of the high school rainbow. However, the sun has been switched off the industrial economic model and students no longer WILLINGLY comply. With their parents jobless, helpless, and sometimes hopeless, too often students have no audience for their own emotional turmoil. Sensing a dark destiny ahead of them, they hold no vision in their hearts or spirits of what life can be like because the old social contract no longer works. Emotionally homeless, students frequently respond in unacceptable ways.
And schools respond with Zero Tolerance Behavior Policies.

#school2jail #school2prison #schoolculture

Next Time Hallway 2.0

The Journey to School House 2.0: A Perspective – Pt. Two

(I taught at both the middle and high school levels in Detroit. I also served as a teacher of teachers. I guess one could say that I helped educate the workforce that put the world on wheels. During part of my retirement I have worked for a virtual learning organization, implementing online learning in schools across in metropolitan Detroit.)

The industrial model school prepared American students for a prosperous life as highly paid wage earners. However, that economy is gone with the wind and a new one has been born. But what is the best path to prepare our young people for an economy based on innovative and the competitive forces of globalization? How do we, for the first time in American history, educate ALL children to a single, uniform standard?

Technology’s Promise
One promise of technology is to make learning appealing, to make it “cool”. But as a seasoned educator, I ask, “Why does learning need to be appealing? Why is it required to be cool?” Schools, teachers and parents are quick to point out that students are “engaged” when they are on the computer or using some new technology. The Hawthorne Effect is the term used to identify increased productivity over a short period of time in response to behavior that is being observed. The down side is that we keep having to come up with the next greatest, latest and EXPENSIVE cool thing that excites or keeps students’ attention.

 Must Learning Be "Way Cool"?

Must Learning Be “Way Cool”?

Why are we afraid to INSIST that learning is often hard work and that creating a strong economic foundation isn’t always fun or cool? Why do so many American schools and teachers believe they need to build classrooms that are indulgent when it comes to handling the conflict surrounding the real work of gaining new knowledge? Why are we afraid to PUSH our children? Why do we feel the need to provide them with a pain free existence? Most children prefer playing video games or channel surfing to getting down to the business of concentration and self-discipline. Computer technology will never replace the technology of a strong-willed parent or a strong-minded, efficient teacher.

Student-Driven Motive vs. Profit-Motive Driven
How much of the push of technology is student-motive driven vs. profit-motive driven? Is it really about student achievement or are our children pawns in a race to build the next great technology company that can be traded on a stock exchange? Are we crowding out the budget for art, music, physical education in a quest to spawn the next Mark Zuckerberg, Steve Jobs, or Bill Gates?
What’s the point of learning PowerPoint in elementary school? Does it really promote cognition and discussion (oral rehearsal)?
Certainly Facebook, Google docs, Word Press and other social media tools can support students’ writing as they attempt to discover their voices and to engage an authentic audience; however, social media cannot replace the pedagogy of teaching writing and the myriad teacher decisions, actions, and questions that teaching the writing process demands. Our students are fast becoming aggregators of other people’s writings instead of becoming creators of their own ideas as they cut and paste their way to completing assignments. Organizing students in face-to-face collaborative groups promotes engagement and interdependence which honor writing as a social and cognitive act. A “technology” that is a lot cheaper because it comes with no expensive, “planned” obsolescence.


Each new piece of technology/software requires a steep learning curve for both the student and the teacher, a curve that competes with and sometimes supplants the instructional time provided to master the content. Thus, the technology can become an appendage to the math, science, or history that is being taught. We know that time-on-task is critical to learning; how much time is devoted to learning the content vs. learning how to manipulate a cool, new digital tool?

Is Technology the Answer?

Is Technology the Answer?

According to Dr. Larry Cuban, professor emeritus from Stanford University who was quoted in a September 4, 2011, New York Times article, there is no trendline that technology improves learning. The evidence is insufficient and that’s probably because it’s difficult to create five or ten year longitudinal studies for a tool/product that is not created to last that long. How quickly can you spell U-P-G-R-A-D-E? The detractors state that technology engages student in ways that cannot be measured. However, schools are closed each year and educators lose their jobs because of standardized test scores that ARE measured.

Getting to School House 2.0

The Journey from School House 1.0 that prepared students for a prosperous life in a industrial economy to School House 2.0 that prepares students to become competitive, contributing members of an information, innovation-based economy is uncharted terrain that we are still learning to navigate. Technology, for sure, is a path to the future and there is no turning back, no putting the genie back in the bottle. However, School House 2.0 must also craft a rigorous, robust, democratic community that is fueled by collaboration, communication, and cooperation. We must rethink our blind faith in technology as the panacea to educating our students for a 21st century, global economy.
We must take care that technology does not become like the spider spinning a web smothering and suffocating everything in its path: teachers, librarians, the arts, physical education. We must acknowledge that teachers are the greatest capital for rebuilding America; technology like pencils, pens, and paper is but a start.

Journeying to School House 2.0: A Perspective

During the industrial economy, schools’ primary mission was to graduate the masses from high school. Teachers employed a curriculum of basic skills that they blended daily with a mix of rigid conformity, obedience, and punctuality. A prosperous path waited at the end of the high school rainbow, generally in a plant taking orders from a foreman or in an office filled with repetitive tasks. The cognitively and economically elite attended examination schools or private schools and engaged in a curriculum based on critical thinking and problem-solving. A seat at the tables of power and/ or prestige awaited them at the end of college or graduate school.

The sunlight of educational opportunity beamed brightly on women and minorities during the latter part of this economy. Enjoying increased ACCESS to education, these groups began to complete high school and/or to attend college in greater numbers than in previous decades. Doing so empowered more Americans, including me, to participate in the greatest economic expansion America has ever known.

Journeying from Providing Access to Ensuring Achievement
Eventually, the sunlight of the industrial economy was switched off as a new economy emerged. A technological, innovation-based global economy moved the education bar from providing access to education to ENSURING achievement. Now ALL groups are expected to be provided with a critical thinking, problem-solving (Common Core) agenda. Educating EVERYONE to a single, uniform standard is a feat that has never been attempted at scale. Reforms abound across the land as all school districts hustle to meet the new and increased educational demands of the new economy.

Bridging the Abyss?

Bridging the Abyss?

Bridging the Abyss

Almost once a week I participate in a virtual chat that focuses on strategies to bridge the abyss between the old and the new models of teaching and learning. Technology’s role is always part of the conversation. Apps, tablets, software, videos, social media are the new next thing to disrupt the industrial model of education and to usher in one that is more student-centric. Every school district in America has jumped on the technology bandwagon without any solid proof (data) that it improves learning, improves test scores – ensuring achievement over the long haul.

Even with talks of fiscal cliffs and sequestration, school districts spend limited tax dollars to purchase the latest and greatest technology for its students in a desperate hope that it will give them an advantage in an increasingly competitive and technological world. Even as teaching positions are downsized, librarians (media specialists) positions eliminated, the arts decimated, nothing has slowed the technology march.

Just how important is technology to preparing students for the new bounds of prosperity drawn by the competitive forces of globalization?

In Part II, I will provide insight from an Owl Mountain perspective.

Reading: The Road Ahead Pt. 2

The Race and the War We Dare Not Lose!

Though educators know more than in previous decades about the teaching and learning of reading, still it may be in danger of becoming an elitist activity. When we were an industrial economy, prosperity did not require highly proficient literacy levels. However, fierce global competition and the constant need for innovation demand higher degrees of cognitive and problem solving skills than ever. Some students catch on to the reading process without any instruction or prodding, while others need all the support schools and the home can provide.

What to Do?

Intensive Instruction – The wiring for language may be laid down but it has not been or is not being appropriately activated through proper instructional strategies that address the four learning channels: 1)visual (seeing) 2) ear (hearing), 3) verbal (saying), AND 4) kinesthetic (writing/touching) Workbook instruction favors visual readers. However, if students lack auditory (hearing/listening) discrimination, they can’t distinguish sounds such as think –thank or charge – sharp. Intensive instruction is necessary especially by third grade because up until that time, the brain is much more malleable, plastic. What to do! Make sure your child’s teacher is providing the instruction needed for your child to succeed. Gently, ask questions.

Crawl Baby Crawl - Some research indicates that early motor stimulation (such a jumping and crawling) is important to development of the language center of the brain that promotes reading skills; yet the average child spends hundreds of hours sitting in a car seat and/or swing seat by age two. Many Headstart/Early Start programs introduce crawling as part of their curriculum. What to do! Make certain your child or grandchild crawls while learning to walk.

Dyslexics Need More Time Students who have intellectual equipment necessary for reading yet they cannot despite motivation and their socio-economic background are dyslexic (word blind). There is problem within the language system of the brain. These students have difficulty transforming letters into sounds and need accommodations (more time) for testing and for completing assignments. What to do! Make certain that there is documentation for this condition so that students receive more accommodations during standardized and other timed tests. To keep students’ spirits up and self-esteem intact: tutor, mentor, and provide a nonacademic outlet.
More Exposure to Print – Too often the home does not permit enough exposure for the brain to begin to analyze and to decode words, especially true for low-income families. There is not enough practice or role models who read. Multiple exposure to print is necessary for the brain to begin to analyze words, to decode words, and to obtain an awareness of word patterns. What to do! Buy books, newspapers, and subscribe to magazines. Read with and to children.
Real Wealth

You may have designer clothes and furs untold, boxes of jewelry and chains of gold. Richer than I you can never be, I had a parent/mentor who read to me.