when my students’ community is broken

Today my heart shattered into a million pieces of stain-colored glass.

My students, with despondent faces, entered my classroom. The air was heavy.

“What’s up guys?”

Crack quiet.

“What’s going on guys?”

Splinter silence.

“Is everything ok guys?”

Splitting stillness.

One brave student:

“Miss, did you hear about the shootings?”

Oh. Right. The shootings. I mean those shootings. I mean those shootings. I mean, how many more shootings do I have to mean!?

“Miss that happened right by my house. I’m scared to go home.”

“Me too.”

“Yeah, by mine too.”

“Me too.”

Disintegrating destruction.

I step over my fragmented heart, walking like a circus performer across a knife-tight-rope. Except this is no circus. This is war.

“What can I do?”

From the cavern of my heart, a tidal wave of grief pours down my cheeks. I hope it reaches their souls. I hope in its liquid sorrow there is love and peace and light and just one iota of safety.

Because what can I do? I come home to my safe mountain home, filled with joy and security. They go home to a Baltimore in their backyards, a Ferguson in their front, and a Middle East minefield embedded in their minds.

What can I do, against darkness? What can I do, against injustice? What can I do, against fear? What can I do, against the color creeds that crescendo into senseless slaughter?

As I write this, they write too. Some exploration of written protest, words against oppression.

Will the words be enough?

What can I do?

take your vitamins: boosting school immunity in the treatment against teacher turnover

There is an epidemic eating at the bloodlines of our educational system: teacher turnover. Not only is teacher attrition expensive (wasted expenses), it is also detrimental to student achievement and school culture.

I personally have seen the symptoms of this deadly disease. I have spent my entire teaching career (to date, I’m in my eighth year, which you’ll see by the end of this piece makes me Jurassic) in at-risk schools: urban, poor, underserved, underestimated, at-risk, traumatized, overwhelmed, overtested. And in both schools, the teachers are predominantly young and inexperienced–me included. And if they’re not currently, just wait another year… because sadly the teacher attrition rate in high-need schools is an atrocious and powerful illness.

Nearly 20 percent of teachers at high-poverty schools leave every year, a rate 50 percent higher than at more affluent schools. That’s one of every five teachers, gone by next September.

But far more than research, this sickness is personal to me. I have left friends and have been left by my friends in both schools I have worked. I have been interviewed by people looking for teachers in it for the long haul, and I have sat on the other end of that interview table, hoping for the same thing. The eradication of teacher attrition–teacher sustainability and investment–weighs heavy on my heart… every. single. day. To that avail, I’d like to prescribe some treatments for schools like mine…and schools like yours.

  1. Vitamin C–school Culture: Teachers, students, parents, and administration all want the same thing: community…a place where all stakeholders come together for the sake of a vision which, though inclusive of achievement, is bigger than a number. This requires adults who act like adults, professionals who treat each other as such. This also demands a group of people who want to be together and who spend time together in and out of the workplace. To swallow this vitamin, there must also be a focus on the social-emotional health of ALL members of the culture.
  2. Vitamin D–Dissemination: There is no Vitamin C without open communication and transparency. This means all parties have an open-door policy…from the top to the bottom and back up again. People want to be heard, and this doesn’t stop when they go into their places of business. In order for Vitamin D to permeate the organism, there has to be veins: emails, meetings, hang-outs, collaboration. An essential nutrient to pair with Vitamin D is humble questions. Questions are the antibody to assumptions–and assumptions are toxic. Dissemination of information is also critical for a group of people to be moving forward toward a common goal in unity.
  3. Vitamin A–Autonomy: Teachers will want to stay in a school where their professional judgement is trusted implicitly and explicitly. With this Vitamin, they have the creative license to “make things work” inside of the system–whatever that system may be. Schools who regularly take their Vitamin A hire the best there is, and then provide space and inspiration for those employees to do just that–their best.
  4. Vitamin E–Expectations: In a school fighting teacher turnover, there must be equal and fair accountability. Staff should expect the best from themselves, and those around them. But instead of expecting this in a passive-aggressive way (gossip, slander, playing the mom vs dad game with the students, popularity contests), staff should be held accountable to having courageous conversations with each other, talking to instead of about. The same goes for administration. Especially in at-risk schools, there is no time to waste with mediocrity. Each stakeholder should be putting their best foot forward, and each stakeholder should expect that from themselves and each other. A staff healthy in Vitamin E is committed enough to call each other out on the carpet in a loving way, and humble enough to be called out.
  5. Vitamin S–Synergy: In many articles about teacher turnover, a common cause is teacher isolation and lack of support. The remedy for this is collaboration. Collaboration should be both top-down (delegated by administration) and grassroots (teacher to teacher, organic and informal). It should be across grades, content, and staff role. The more teachers reach out to each other as experts, the more synergy builds inside of a school, and synergy neutralizes teacher attrition’s poison. This synergistic collaboration must also exist between the administration and the teachers. Schools where there is an “us vs them” mindset provide the perfect breeding ground for teacher attrition. Instead, Vitamin S is most effective when coupled with a entire staff of innovative, problem-solvers who want to make progress.
  6. Vitamin G–Growth: Another critical part of the treatment against teacher attrition is creating a place where teachers can grow inside of the building, as opposed to beyond it. There must be more paths to teacher leadership than just pursuing an admin license. Teachers must have a place at the table…whatever that table looks like.

Before I conclude, I want to draw attention to what’s not on the list: student demographics, funding, amount of testing, teacher evaluations, etc. Though overwhelming, these are not the issues; they are the system. Urban schools are always going to be challenging places to work. But what’s important is how a group of people comes together, inside the broken system, to make it better, to make it sustainable, to make it a place all parties want to be.

And stay.

This Article May Be Illegal – Lifting the Veil of Silence on Standardized Testing

More people need to be saying this.

gadflyonthewallblog

whistle

Warning!

What you are about to read may be a criminal act.

I may have broken the law by putting this information out there.

Edward Snowden leaked data about civilian surveillance. Chelsea Manning released top secret military documents.

And me? I’m leaking legal threats and intimidation students and teachers are subject to during standardized testing.

Not exactly a federal crime is it?

No. I’m asking. Is it?

Because teachers are being fired and jailed. Students are being threatened with litigation.

All because they talked about standardized tests.

The US government mandates public school children be subjected to standardized assessments in reading and math in grades 3-8 and once in high school. Most schools test much more than that – even as early as kindergarten.

And since all of these assessments are purchased from private corporations, the testing material is ideological property. The students taking these exams –…

View original post 1,681 more words

growth vs. fixed mindset: it’s not just for the students

Allow me to step into the confessional.

One thing I struggle with is loving people unconditionally, accepting them in their weakness. I expect the best from people, immediately, consistently. This is a universal application that haunts my students, my friendships, my colleagues, and my marriage.

Of course, I am not off the hook. I am my own worst critic, my most insistent demander, my harshest judge. I live in an internal world where it is hard to accept grace for myself…and thus–either as a cause or an effect–hard to offer it authentically and organically to others.

I am no blind fool: this leads to a lack of peace within myself…and with others.

At school, we’ve excitedly moved into a focus on rigor. Many voices expressed the idea that there can be no rigor without risk, and no risk without struggle. I wholeheartedly agree. At the most foundational level of this struggle comes the idea that it is worth it, that struggle can lead to something better. This conviction grows and blooms only in the soil of a growth mindset (rather than a fixed mindset; for more information). Educators today are very familiar with these concepts and understand the critical value of fostering not just information in students, but a kind of mindset, a mindset that is pliable rather than set, questioning rather than settling, seeking rather than content, hopeful rather than definite. Only when we encourage this in students can they grow beyond their potential–which is really just a euphemism for fixed mindset.

mindsetBut, as always, what happens in the student cafeteria is mimicked (perhaps pioneered) in the adult lounge. I have come to realize lately that though I approach students in a growth mindset paradigm, I do not extend the same courtesy to my colleagues. For whatever reason, something in me operates under the idea that adults in schools have arrived, are set in their ways, are settled into their potential, are who they are, well, because that’s who they are. The end. This ugly monster rears its head most frequently in the realm of assumptions. I make assumptions about people… and by doing so, I limit them to a quaint box that is formed nicely and neatly in my own finite head. How arrogant! How presumptuous! How fallacious!

A few times lately, I’ve been surprised by colleagues–a delicious and humbling and didactic surprise. And in reflection, I wondered why I was so surprised? And of course, it was rooted in my faulty assumptions.

Ultimately, both my perspective of others and myself as well as Carol Dweck’s research on fixed vs. growth mindsets distill down to the idea of absolutes. For all my life, I have felt more comfortable existing in a worldview of absolutes: good or bad; black or white; holy or profane; worthy or detestable. Just like it’s easier to shop in a supermarket where everything is labeled, it is more convenient to live in a world where everyone is categorized. But…though easier…it is more limiting. And more destructive.

But thankfully, I don’t have to stay here. I can change, grow, evolve. And so can anyone and everyone around me.

I just have to perpetually cultivate the gracious space for that personal and communal shifting.

everyday easters

It’s been a rough couple of weeks around these here parts. Dave has been busy focusing on some consuming work projects; our house is in a constant state of remodeling flux; work for me is picking up with both the testing and senior season; we’ve both been sick. This all adds up to a cacophonous version of the song “Strangers in the Night.” Like two ships that can’t quite find the harbor at the same time, Dave and I have been feeling very disconnected from each other as of late.

And so Friday, we remedied that. We spent the day devoted to each other. Less phones and internet, more face time. Less TV, more living.

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We tried new restaurants.

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We ran. And I managed to get in a few balancing postures.

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We checked out a new brewery.

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We battled on the bowling lanes.

We sat, facing each other, and get this, talked. Like new lovers do. Like best friends do. Like old-fashioned married people do. Part of what we talked about were assessments of our current status, as a couple and as separate human beings. We came up with a plan to tend to our own souls, as well as reconnect and stay that way. We laughed, we remembered, we made new memories. It was a good day. It was a resurrection.

Many Christians will wake up tomorrow (or in some parts of the world, this already happened), and they will go to church to celebrate another kind of resurrection, a much more dramatic resurrection: Jesus’. The prevalent idea is that two-thousand and fifteen years ago, a sun-burnt, sand-blown and dove-blessed God-man lived, loved, died, and then was raised–raised (he needs no helping verb)–from the dead, leaving stones unrolled and surprises unfurled. Whether this is the actual timing, or the actual way the story went, what I do truly believe without a doubt is that I serve a God of resurrections. A God who believes in perpetual transitions into new glories. A God never defeated, but always abounding in incredulous second-chances. And third… A God who wildly abandons the norms and conventions of ordinary with a flair for the extraordinary, for the special, for the miracle.

So… then… where does that leave little ol’ human me? Precisely where I want to be, where my faith and hope rests: that e’ry day, all day (YOLO), for the dirty underdog and bejeweled prince alike, there are opportunities for resurrection–everyday easters. Just like with Dave and I. We were in a microscopic tomb of our own, as all married couples are at varied intervals. But, thank God, we didn’t have to stay there. We could roll the stone away, step out into the sunshine with beer in our hands and gratitude in our hearts, and begin anew. And countless times every day, at home or at work, with my own heart or with others’, stones roll away revealing such resurrections. With the new morning sun. With forgiveness instead of bitterness. With honesty instead of gossip. With courage instead of complacency. With relentless love instead of self-seeking transactions. With discipline and honor instead of indulgence and short-sighted pleasure. With thankfulness instead of complaint.

As I think about the wonder of this all, I cannot help but ponder the idea of “everlasting life”…you know, that thing that is dangled before converts like competing greyhounds at the track. Have we misinterpreted everlasting life? Instead of a pie-in-the-sky fairyland of clouds and trumpets, perhaps it’s something much more simple, and much more tangible, and much more now, and much more mundane. Perhaps the best part of a life with the resurrected Jesus is that we live perpetually in a state of resurrection. Everyday=New. Everyday=Heaven. Everyday=Easter. Everyday=Glory. After all, if it’s everlasting, doesn’t that mean it’s supposed to have started already?

I wanna live that way. Don’t you?

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