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.

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.

Reading: The Road Ahead Pt. I

Reading scores are a huge predictor for planning America’s prison population. Because of the link between prisoners and literacy, the number of prisons built is based partly on reading test scores of American third and fourth graders. A low literacy level is the factor prison inmates have most in common. Learn to read or go to prison?
So much economic and human capital wasted!

Some years ago, I read Dr. Benjamin Bloom’s Developing Talent in Young People, a book that chronicles world famous, high achieving mathematicians, scientists, writers, musicians and athletes. I was stunned to discover the number of white males who recounted NOT fully learning to read/comprehend until fourth or fifth grade. Unfortunately, an African-American male who is not reading by that time has most likely been written off by family, school, and/or by society. (A prison bed is being planned for him.)
However, three factors saved the future achievers in Bloom’s study:
1) a mentor,
2) a hobby, and
3) strong family support that boosted their self-esteem until their reading skills developed.

All fruit DOES NOT ripen on the vine at once.

Technology: Holding Readers Back?
Some research suggests that a child’s brain continues to evolve for up to eight years after birth, weeding out neural connections that don’t get used. Early exposure to screens has been linked to diminished deductive reasoning and reduction of other cognitive skills. What are the implications for a generation of students whose brains are acclimated to a blur of videos, color, sounds, images, logos and therefore, find it difficult to concentrate on the printed words that represent the cognition of the textbooks, the workplace and an information-based economy? ) State-mandated exams, the ACT, and SAT employ a paper-driven format.

If you Can Read this Post, Thank a Teacher.

If you Can Read this Post, Thank a Teacher.

In addition, channel and Internet surfing provide little time for the reflection and concentration on ideas crucial to improving the reading process.
According to the National Assessment of Educational Progress, (NAEP) fifty-five per cent (55%) of the children of college-educated parents read BELOW proficiency levels by the time they reach 8th grade.

Reading Is a Social Act!
ALL Teachers Are Reading Teachers

Reading is a social act and cognitive process dependent on a number of skills: decoding, concentration, memory, reflection. The hallmark of an effective reader is to be able to decode AND to comprehend simultaneously. Comprehension is building bridges between the known and the unknown.
Recently as an educational conference, I sat at a table with a variety of educators. One young assistant principal insisted that social studies and science teachers didn’t want to be reading teachers. They merely wanted to teach their content. When I stated that ALL teachers are reading and writing teachers, he bristled. I added that ALL students need to be able to speak, read, and write knowledgeably about any subject they study. I further reminded him that most content areas have a specialized vocabulary that needs to be taught systematically.
I further lectured:

Literate people can use the communication system of a culture for their social and economic well being.
Literate people share in the fruits of the culture, society, community. They use literacy to solve problems in their daily lives. Being literate is how a society gives out its life chances; it is what gives people options.
In the collaborative learning community where students sit face-to-face and side-by-side and are interdependent, literacy is both a cognitive and a social act. Students read, write for and speak to an authentic audience. It is also the foundation for shared reading, project-based learning, problem seeking, critical thinking, argumentation and debate, and the writing process.

“The Foundation of every State is the Education of its Youth!” Diogenes

Next Blog Post: Some ideas on how to improve reading.

Can These Teachers Be Saved? The Finale

Note: This blog contains the lessons I wish to share about my journey coaching the teachers of urban students. Students: sometimes poor, talented, “at-risk”, of color, and/or poor white. This my journey;this is my story.

There is not now nor has their ever been a foolproof system for measuring teacher effectiveness. However, we can identify critical attributes of effectiveness and ineffectiveness, and we can identify when students are not being well served.

The principal has determined that Carrie’s students are not being well served and decides that she wants to place her on the unsatisfactory track which is the prelude to being released from the school system. Because Carrie is a first year teacher, the process is easier. The principal decides not to take the chance that she might improve by her second year. (Amina is off the hook for now.)
Carrie is still absent once a week. Though her lesson plans have improved, she does not consistently turn them in. And though she sends fewer students to the office, her classes are still chaotic even though we are into the second semester. Because I will be charged with helping the administration to build a case against her, the principal wants me to determine her emotional response to being placed on the unsatisfactory track. The department chair will cover Carrie’s class while I meet with her in my office.

A Coach’s Journey: The Pressure Is On

As I have written earlier in this case study, coaching can sometimes be a lonely journey of faith- there is no single path or recipe. Coaches travel an uncertain terrain and juggle an intimidating number of priorities.

Coaches empower, collaborate, challenge, confirm, cajole, communicate, flatter, guide, goad, intimidate, listen, model, push, prompt, problem solve, and problem seek.
We also serve as counselor, friend, compassionate shoulder, and confidante.

What are my roles and responsibilities this day? I try to anticipate what Carrie might say when I inform her about the principal’s agenda.

“I am my children’s sole support.”
“ I really need this job. I have student loans to repay. “
“ Please ask the principal to give me another chance.”

To start the meeting by telling her that the principal has decided to place her on the unsatisfactory track, I decide, would be unproductive. So I try another approach.
Carrie’s son and daughter are in second and fourth grades respectively and attend school in the community in which they live, a middle-class suburb outside of the city. I start by inquiring about her children’s school and their teachers. Pleased with the curriculum, enrichment activities, the school environment, the commitment of the teaching staff, Carrie wants to do whatever is in her power to maintain the status quo/stability for her children especially because she is divorcing. She and her soon-to-be divorced husband specifically selected the zip code because of the reputation of the schools.

Goading, Guiding, Listening

I ask her to close her eyes and to THINK about how she would FEEL if her children’s teachers emulated her behavior: Absent weekly, inconsistent with their lessons, sitting behind their desks instead of engaging students, not returning assignments in a timely fashion. Carrie starts to tear up. I request that she open her eyes, and I provide her with a tissue.

Teacher Reflection

Asking the Teacher to Reflect

Giving her a few minutes to compose herself, I gently explain that just because the demographic is poor and of color doesn’t mean that the parents don’t have the same dreams for their children as she has for hers.
She agrees. However, she is concerned about the amount of energy and stamina that it takes to teach the students. “Sometimes there seems to be a desperation and hopelessness in their eyes. At the end of the day, when I return home, too often, I have nothing left for my own children.”
I can hear in her voice and see in her face that she is beginning to lose the efficacy needed to teach an at-risk population. (See my blogpost:A Teacher’s Scent)

Teaching is a serious emotional and intellectual journey no matter the demographic or zip code. And, it’s an especially lonely and rocky journey for Carrie because she is attempting to balance her home life and her work life without steady, emotional support. She is reconstructing a new reality for herself and her young children.
Again, I request that she close her eyes and this time I ask her describe to me what she sees five years up the road for her career as a teacher. Again, Carrie begins to tear up. She is not so certain that she has the resilience to meet the ongoing demands of the administration and to raise her family alone. Even though the specter of unemployment looms large, Carrie comes to understand on her own that she is ill-equipped to consistently supply what the school district requires.

The reality of her situation settles in and she inquires if the principal has decided to place her on the unsatisfactory track. I reply that she has, but that it doesn’t mean that she will automatically be fired. “ You still have an opportunity to pull the rabbit out of the hat.” I smile. Using my coaching Foundational Goals I outline for her again how she must consistently and persistently perform over the next several months.
I explain that the principal is also between a rock and a hard place. Her job is at-risk as well if she does not raise the school’s test scores. I also inform Carrie that going forward, she is no longer my client; I can no longer be her confidante. I must report her weaknesses as a teacher to the principal.

A Revolving Door or the Dance of the Lemons

The next day Carrie meets with the school’s union representative who advises her to shape up because the principal is within her legal rights to release her at the end of the year.
Carrie meets with the principal and makes a deal with her. If she promises not to start the unsatisfactory process for firing, she will not return to the school in the fall. The principal is in accord; however, she warns her in no uncertain terms that if she does return: HEAVEN HELP HER!

In the fall, Carrie secures a teaching position in another district, in an unstable high school that has experienced a revolving door of administrators and staff. Her REAL job description: Show up and don’t send too many students to the office. Oh by the way, don’t fail too many while you are at it.

I don’t pretend to have an answer to the challenges of recruiting, supporting, and retaining the Aminas and Carries, who need an income to support their families, into a system with a population in need of the most resilient teachers who BELIEVE they can succeed. My years of coaching teachers have taught me that scholarship and content knowledge, though critical to the role of teacher effectiveness, are NOT enough.

Recently, I viewed a dispiriting PBS video which showcases the new faces of America’s poverty. ( Children who are increasingly white, articulate, intelligent and once middle class.

Is there a cautionary tale from my urban coaching journey for coaches in other school communities in America? If so, where do we go from here?

Can These Teachers Be Saved? Case Study Pt.3

Note: This blog contains the lessons I wish to share about my journey coaching the teachers of urban students. Students: sometimes poor, talented, “at-risk”, of color, and/or poor white. This my journey;this is my story.

There is not now nor has their ever been a foolproof system for measuring teacher effectiveness. However, we can identify critical attributes of effectiveness and ineffectiveness, and we can identify when students are not be well served.
Below is the RESULT of my intervention strategy that I employed with both Amina and Carrie. As you read can you determine what the principal decides to do with both teachers?

1 I worked to build a shared system of responsibility.

Collaborate/Challenge: I paired Amina and Carrie with one another and with a veteran teacher in the same department who was charged with chatting with them each day. She shared some of her classroom management strategies with both women as well a unit plan for a novel she taught the previous year. That saved the two young teachers many hours of creating lessons.
The department head’s brief visits paid off because students got the message that someone in a position of authority had the teachers’ backs. On several occasions, the administrator took a misbehaving student with her to the office. I found sitting in both teachers’ classrooms for five or more minutes seemed to have a calming effect on the students. Sometimes I made a recommendation to both about a lesson or students who were inattentive/not engaged.

2. I identified areas of strength (assets, gifts, talents) for teachers to share with others.

Empower/Flatter: Since both teachers are new, they are up-to-date on the pedagogy of teaching the writing process. The department chair scheduled some time in the computer lab for the teachers in the department. Amina and Carrie paired with some of the more seasoned teachers to demonstrate how to use search engines to gather information for pre-writing assignments. I want Amina and Carrie to feel that though they are young, they still have skills to share. Later, Amina shares a webquest assignment with the entire department that she created.

3. I identified areas for growth to enhance both teachers’ career longevity.

Challenge/Goad I threatened them both with the specter of unemployment. Amina had a serious talk with her husband who was underemployed and explained what would happen to them economically if she lost her job. It took some time, but he got with the program and started making a concerted effort to placate his step-daughter. There were no more crying jags in front of the students. Amina made strides at teaching on her feet and interacting with students to keep them on task. She found it reduced the numbers of students she sent to the office because she had the opportunity to “put out fires” before they had a chance to start.

However, Carrie’s soon to be ex-husband was not so easily persuaded. Nothing short of reconciliation was his demand. She threatened him with a restraining order. They went back and forth for several months with the threats and the phone calls. Because of this upheaval, she lacked the emotional and physical stamina to teach on her feet and engage on a regular basis with children. The department chair reported that initially two or three times a week when she entered Carrie’s room she was generally seated at her desk. She would get up when the department head entered the room. Sadly, I found the same scenario when I visited. However, by the second month, she began making a concerted effort when Amina reported that she was sending fewer students to the office.

4. I assisted both teachers to move past their current level of performance.

Problem Solve/Problem Seek: Both were weak in classroom management-sending students to the office EACH day. We started by examining their syllabus which,in part, is supposed to outline their philosophy for classroom management. I suggested that read or reread the classroom management book that was purchased by the principal for the school. Over the summer they can revise the syllabus. Both agree. I teach them the difference between developmental behaviorr that comes with the job and deviant behavior that needs to be reported for outside intervention. We identify the top three developmental behaviors and they begin to work on them in order to reduce the number of students they send to the office:talking back, yelling out the answer without being called on and talking while the teacher is talking. These behaviors come with the job and they must learn to handle the situation themselves. However, bullying, insubordination, stealing, destroying school property are deviant and need outside intervention.

High School Students

Normal Developmental Behavior

5. I assisted both teachers to reflect on and articulate their reasons for their actions.

Close your eyes and describe the lesson you taught.
What were your goals? Did the lesson go as you planned? Why or why not?
How do you plan to correct or reinforce your actions?”

Guide/Goad I notice after a couple of SCHEDULED observations that Amina’s classes start on time and run smoothly The students connect with the goals and objectives for her lessons because she better understands their experiences. She is better at bridging new knowledge with old knowledge/experiences. Because she still doesn’t know all of her students by name, the question and answer part of the lesson is choppy. She has to depend on her seating chart or point to students.
I find on scheduled visits with Carrie that when the bell rings, her students still are walking around and have not settled down. It’s ten minutes or more into the hour before she is able to start the lesson. I inform her that losing ten minutes daily is the equivalent to losing one instructional period a week. Once the lesson gets underway, students connect with the goals/objectives; however, she has difficulty sustaining their interest/engagement. On both occasions she has provided seatwork for the students and they don’t remain on task. Carrie seems overwhelmed and she too cannot call all of her students by name.

6. I worked to increase both teachers’ efficacy (belief that their actions can and will make a difference.

Listen/Strategize Amina and Carrie both appeared to have faith in their ability to teach inner-city students; however, their personal lives are interfering with their emotional and physical stamina to do the job. I pointed that out to them that teaching in urban schools requires a resiliency that may not be necessary in a private or suburban school environment. We identified bonding/relationship building strategies that are teacher-to-student, student-to-teacher and student-to-student that will better secure students’ cooperation. They both have seating charts but not a seating plan. We discuss the difference. I asked them to provide me with a rationale for why students sit where they sit.

7. I identified challenges that might interfere with a positive teaching experience for both teachers.

Listen/Empathize: Again, because their personal lives were spilling over into the classroom, we discussed support systems: family, friends, church, organizations, social outlets. Is there anyplace in their lives where they are having fun? Amina seemed to have more family and friends for support. Her husband has become more supportive and they now spend time alone and away from Amina’s daughter. Carrie has been attempting to reestablish the bonds with her family who disapproved of her inter-racial marriage. She has to reconstruct her foundation.
I communicated to both that I am aware they are juggling an inordinate number of balls in the air. And that teaching’s never ending journey tugs on their emotions, physical stamina, and spirits. They agreed.

How Much More Can I Juggle?

How Much More Can I Juggle?

8. I identified potential conflicts and ethical dilemmas.

Intimidate: We discussed the reasons both teachers decided on a teaching career: Steady income and to make a difference. Amina’s husband has stepped up to the plate with her daughter and with tasks around the house. She explained the concept of “taking money under false pretenses” to him. However, Carrie has not so fortunate. Her attendance and lesson planning are still sporadic. She made strides only to lose them when her soon-to-be ex-husband showers her with phone calls or unwanted visits. On occasion, she has taken her frustration out on her peers. I inquire about her getting counseling from a church or counseling center.

Final Installment: What happens to both teachers?

Note: These are the lessons I am sharing about coaching the teachers of urban students. Students are sometimes poor, talented, “at-risk”, of color, and/or poor white. This my journey;this is my story.

Can These Teachers Be Saved? Case Study Pt. 2

In a previous post, February 12, I described two young teachers who are experiencing emotional challenges in their home life. The principal is considering putting them on what is called the unsatisfactory track which is a prelude to being released. I have been charged with working with them.

A coach’s role is to move teachers from where they are to where they need or want to be. As the keeper of the vision, the coach works with teachers to set goals that will lead to improved student achievement. Though they do not pay me, I consider the teachers to be my clients.

Coaching can sometimes be a lonely journey of faith- there is no single path or recipe. We travel an uncertain terrain, and we juggle an intimidating number of demands.

Coaches empower, collaborate, challenge, confirm, cajole, communicate, flatter, guide, goad, intimidate, listen, model, push, prompt, problem solve, and problem seek. We serve as counselor, friend, compassionate shoulder, and confidante.

A Coach Juggles Too

A Coach Juggles Too

Getting to Know You!
Before coaches can determine how fast and how far teachers can be coached, my practice is to get to know them first.

I don’t care how much you know, until I know how much you care. Mother Teresa

Information Gathering Guide:
Age Range of the Teacher – A Guess: Under 30? over 30? over 40? etc

Experience in other schools/district

Content areas and grade levels taught

Certification: Lack of certification, alternative certification , career path change, Teach for America

Credentials- Degrees

Average years of service

Hobbies/Outside interests

Life Issues/Challenges: What is going on inside of the teacher’s head and heart: marriage, divorce, family, children, health, second job, death in the family, working on advanced degree, other?

The Foundational Goals I use to begin to coach the teachers in listed on my insights page of this blog.

Coaching Goals:

1. I will work to build a shared system of responsibility.

Collaborate/Challenge: I pair Amina and Carrie with one another and a veteran teacher in the same dept who will spend a few minutes chatting with them each day. In return the teacher will represent the school at a university professional development seminar for teachers during the summer. The veteran teacher will answer questions about classroom managetment and lesson planning. The department chairman will spend five minutes daily in each teacher’s classroom for the next couple of months just to let the students know that some one in a position of authority has the teacher’s back. And to make sure Amina and Carrie are on task, I will do the same. Philosophy: I care; I’m concerned; I’m curious.

2. I work to identify areas of strength (assets, gifts, talents) for teachers to share with one another

Empower/Flatter: Since both teachers are new, they are up-to-date on the pedagogy of teaching the writing process. I recommend that the department chair encourage them to collaborate on a brief presentation for a departmental meeting. I want Amina and Carrie to feel that they belong and that they matter.

3. I will identify areas for growth to enhance teachers’ career longevity

Challenge/Goal I inform them that they need to begin by improving their attendance and not allowing students to know what’s going on in their personal lives because doing so detracts from their credibility. No more crying in front of students or showing up late. No more sitting repeatedly at their desks day after day which communicates a nonverbal: “Do not disturb” to students. An effective teacher teaches on her feet and not from her seat. I threaten them with the specter of unemployment

4. I will work to assist teachers to move past their current level of performance.

Problem Solve/Problem Seek: Both are weak in classroom management-sending students to the office EACH day. We start by examining their syllabus which, in part, is supposed to outline their philosophy for classroom management. I remind them that an effective teacher is firm, fair, consistent and persistent-sometimes needing an iron will. Both agree. I suggest they review the syllabus regularly with students until it is internalized. We discuss the difference between deviant behavior and normal developmental behavior as well as the consequences for each.

Student Misbehavior

Teachers are responsible for student behavior.

5. I will assist teachers as they reflect on and articulate reasons for their actions.

After a couple of SCHEDULED observations, I meet with the teachers individually. My process: “Close your eyes and describe the lesson you taught; What were your goals? Did the lesson go as you planned? Why or why not? How do you plan to correct or reinforce your actions?” Amina and Carrie both become aware of their shortcomings without my having to tell them. Both are weak at introducing the lesson which leads to confusion on the part of students and frustration on the part of the teachers. They realize that they are not getting through to them. I start each with brainstorming ways to bridge/link new knowledge to past experiences/knowledge of their students (population). I inform each that I will ask the department chair to monitor only the introductory portion of their lesson plans for the next month. I will drop in to see how they are doing.

6. I will work to increase teacher efficacy (belief that one’s actions can make a difference)

Listen/Strategize Amina and Carrie both appear to have faith in their ability to teach inner-city students; however, their personal lives are interfering with their emotional and physical stamina to do the job. I point that out to them that teaching in urban schools requires a resiliency that may not be necessary in a private or suburban school environment. We identify bonding/relationship building strategies that are teacher-to-student, student-to-teacher and student-to-student that will better secure students’ cooperation. And to secure Carrie and Amina’s ability to make a difference.

7. I will identify challenges that might interfere with a positive teaching experience.

Again, because their personal lives are spilling over into the classroom, we discuss support systems: family, friends, church, organizations, social outlets. Is there anyplace in their lives where they are having fun?

8. I will identify potential conflicts and ethical dilemmas.

I start by asking them how much they need the income from teaching. Both would be economically devastated w/o the income. I remind them that the taxpayers are spending over $7,000 annually to educate each student. That is how their salary is derived. When they don’t show up or merely sit at their desks day after day and only provide busy work to students, they are in essence taking money under false pretenses. I warn both that this behavior is ethically indefensible. I also warn both that they are in danger of being rated unsatisfactory. I assure them that at this point I am NOT sharing what I am learning about them with the administration; however, that could change if they don’t. Amina and Carrie seem contrite.

Moral Crossroads

I know that this process seems arduous and time consuming; however, Amina and Carrie are both intelligent women who invested enormous amounts of time, effort, and money to become teachers. And thousands of dollars of tax payer money is lost each time a teacher abandons the field or is pushed out the door. That doesn’t include the emotional toil on students who must adjust to a new teacher. Is it easier to merely force Amina and Carrie out or to invest in them?

In my next blog post, I will share the outcomes for both teachers.