Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Effective Schools Part III

Researchers who have studied effective schools have found that such schools possess the following characteristics: (1) a clear sense of purpose, (2) core standards within a rigorous curriculum, (3) high expectations, (4) commitment to educate all students, (5) a safe and orderly learning environment, (6) strong partnerships with parents, and (7) a problem solving attitude (The Trouble with Black Boys, Noguera pg. 36).

In Part I and Part II of my Effective Schools series, I've provided my thoughts relating to the research presented in Noguera's book The Trouble With Black Boys. My remarks are based on my understanding of the experiences I have had at a low performing high school combined with the many leadership books I've read in the past nine months--that list will be provided at the end of this post.
Today, we are celebrating our right and obligation to vote for the next president of the United States of America. Despite the very negative nature of the extremes, which often get much of the press, I recognize that both candidates and their respective running mates are products of the third characteristic of effective schools: high expectations.
Last year, my first and my wife's first year in this urban district provided us with the realization that not everyone in our district expects our students to meet standards. In fact, many of our colleagues offer excuses for why our students cannot achieve to the same degree as the surrounding towns. A lack of money, absent parents, and other issues outside the realm of the classroom are all factors which cause schools like ours to fail. And while I have pointed out those flaws, I hope I have also recognized that teachers, principals, and central office staff also have failed to live up to our proimse to educate all students.
To show one such failure, I will use an example from my wife's elementary school. Though I, at the high school, cannot affect what happens at that level, I certainly can observe the long-lasting effects. In the middle of a unit on mulitple paragraph essays, a natural continuation of a unit on single paragraphs, my wife searched out a long-serving colleague in hopes of collaborating with her. After my wife desribed the unit, her colleague replied, "Oh, our kids can't do that."
I recognize this as one teacher and one example, but I believe it is indicative of the latent beliefs of many within our district. I've also recognized that as I tried to teach my emerging readers how to analyze setting, the same thought embedded itself into my head. It didn't stop me from trying.
It is easy to have high expectations for our students; it is difficult to maintain high expectations in the face of absolute refusal, avoidance, and disdain. A student reading at the third grade level would not stop arguing with me that my lesson was not necessary, but when given the chance to prove me wrong, refused to because "we're not stupid, ya know."
I expect my students to come to class ready and wanting to learn. I expect my students to improve by at least two grade levels by the end of their time with me. I expect my students to not argue with me. I expect my students to be leaders in the school. I expect my students to prove that low-income students can learn, especially when they want to.
What I am not sure of is whether I can keep those expectations in front of me while confronted with some of the most discouraging, infuriating, and down right stupid behavior. How do we convince our least motivated and least successful students that we have their best interest in mind, that our expectations of them are valid and necessary?


At 5:58 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

"How do we convince our least motivated and least successful students that we have their best interest in mind, that our expectations of them are valid and necessary?"

Short answer, no one teacher can convince EVERY student of anything. However, every word we say, movement we make, smile we give or withhold; every lesson we plan, strategy we use, explanation we offer; every trip we plan, praise we give, palm we slap; every book we choose, skill we emphasize, poem we read; every parent we call, quiet talk we have, ear we lend communicates something to the students we teach. A lifetime of teaching should be a lifetime of gaining control over all of these things so that they tell students, "You are worth it."

By the way, ABC7 in New York should be airing a piece tonight around 5:30 about letters some of my students sent to the future President. If you have access, take a look, if they include my interview you'll be able to put a face to the name.


At 2:02 PM , Blogger Mr. McNamar said...

I couldn't agree with you more about each of our interactions. Sometimes we fail to recognize the long lasting effects of which we may or may not see.
And I will look for ABC7 on-line, as I am on the eastern Connecticut side of the Nutmeg state.

At 4:50 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

It is also that some of the teachers at your school don't know what they should be expecting because they rely on the their curriculum, which isn't developed enough, and doesn't cater to your demographic of student. Some teachers I assume, in November are still trying to hold the expectation that all students will come in and sit down before the bell rings. If that happens you've accomplished something. I think some of the issue lies with trying to get the students to believe it is important, but also to convince the staff of the school that it is important. Without everyone being on the same page, Johnny can eat, dance, and swear in history class...but when he gets to English he can't. That is going to make Johnny hate English and possibly transfer those feelings to you. So, sadly, without cooperation from your peers (which is highly unlikely), this idea, although valid and concerning, will never come to fruition.


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