Thursday, July 31, 2008

You WILL go to college

Hartford Public Schools, like many urban districts, struggles to improve student test scores and ultimately move those students beyond a high school education and into the world of higher education. Steppingstone Academy, located in Hartford, is in the business of scouting potential, developing that potential, and moving that potential forward.

Steppingstone searches for low-income, highly motivated students whose familie do not have a history of higher education. These students, known as "scholars" to their teachers, enroll in a 14 month program designed to motivate and educate.

The first stepping stone in this relatively new endeavor is to prepare the scholars for placement at local independent schools. Because this Academy is still so new, the long-term success can only be hoped for.

Yesterday, I had the opportunity to visit Steppingstone and observe their summer program. I was impressed with the staff, the students, and the systems in place. I have little doubt that this program will continue to grow and find success.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Classroom Leadership

My goal this summer has been to read as many books about leadership and influence as possible. At the moment, I am reading two texts, Crucial Converstaions by a bunch of people, and The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership by John Maxwell.
I am reading Maxwell's book with a small group from my church. This past week we read chapter 10, The Law of Connection. The following letter is designed for teachers, especially the younger teacher looking strategies that work in the classroom. Where the italics appear, I am using a quote from the book, only substituting educational language where necessary. If you are an entrenched teacher, but wanting to stay fresh and revived, you will also benefit from Maxwell's advice.

Dear Teachers,

With so much of the political dialogue about education focusing on standards and ensuring that we are all "highly qualified," it is easy to forget that we cannot teach our content if we fail to connect with our students. When it comes to teaching students, their hearts come before their heads. Teenagers are emotional beings, easily swayed by the darting hormones and chemical changes happening in their bodies and brain. Yes, our content is important, but for most, it isn't enough to move a student to buy in right away.
This is precisely why effective teachers connect with students. You can't move students towards learning unless you first move them with emotion. I am not advocating that you simply entertain them. Instead, I am suggesting you begin with passion, true heartfelt passion for the profession, the classroom culture, and the students themselves.
Good teachers work at connecting with students all of the time....The stronger the relationship you form with a student, the greater connection you forge--and themore likely your students will want to learn from you. Notice that I am yet to emphasize the content. A healthy relationship with a student will make him want to learn from you. But, you have to show that you genuinely care and want to help him. That is how you gain their trust and respect.
Before you can influence or connect with students, however, you must know who you are and have confidence in yourself if you desire to connect with the students. Be confident and be yourself. Many new and veteran teachers fail to truly connect because they have yet to have confidence in their own abilities or even their own inner being.
Learn students' names, find out about their histories, ask them about their dreams. Teaching should never be about you. It's tempting, believe me. You spend hours creating the fun and ingenious way to teach iambic pentameter and you'd like a little spotlight time. They don't care about your pedagogy; they don't even know if your objectives were met or if you used some fancy initiation (anticipatory set). They will remember whether you cared--a very true cliche.
One of the ways you can connect is to speak the students' language. I'm not saying you have to go out and learn Spanish, Russian, Vietnamese, Chinese with two differnt dialects--and yes, you will have them all in your classroom at the same time. No, I am saying that you ought to pay attention to their culture of IM, MTV, Youtube, Myspace, and dance. It is okay to adapt to your students instead of having them adapt to you.
Then, it is important to communicate to your students that you believe they have value. In a previous post, I wrote about a student who will be attending a university in Europe. When that student, a very capable academic, began to struggle with the transition from teenager to adult, I regularly confirmed, "I believe in you." It remains true today. Give students a sense of hope, which gives them a sense of future.
Many veteran teachers who hold on to the "good 'ole days" will tell you not to smile until Christmas and that the students should respect them because they are the teacher. NO. Innitiate the relationships and then continue to build them.
Part of that relationship building means getting out from behind your desk or getting out of your room to walk the halls. Attend games, plays, or even their place of employment. Students who see you caring about them will exhibit loyalty and a strong work ethic for you.
That is how you can set yourself up for a successful career, one that you enjoy and your students remember.


Mr. McNamar

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

My Bucket was Filled.

Back in January, I plugged the book How Full is Your Bucket?, a motivational text offering insight into the power of positive communication. This evening, in my sweltering home office, I visited SchoolGate, a British education blog, via one of my favorite blogs, Joanne Jacobs.

Ms. Ebner lists The Daily Grind as one the Top 10 Education blogs. For all of the time, and sometimes lack of it, that goes into examining education policy, classroom experiences, or the teaching life, I appreciate such adulation.

I hope that once life returns to normal here--my buddy Stence just visited for five days, including two Red Sox games: one at Yankee Stadium, the other at Fenway Park--I will return to thoughtful posts about education.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008


I am ready to retire. So what if I'm only 31? Top athletes often receive criticism from the media for hanging on too long, for not walking away from their game while at the top. If an athlete wins a championship late in his career, many think he should retire. That's how I feel today--and yes, I recognize the arrogance in that sentiment.
Allow me to tell my championship story. As an introspective and doubting person, I often wonder what exactly my students learn. Today, I received an e-mail from a student of mine (though she's already graduated, I still consider her a student). She informed me that after much deliberation, she'll be attending the University of (Insert Foreign City).
While reading the e-mail, the corners of my mouth moved upwards, and I chuckled outloud. She had learned to be a pioneer woman, to forge her own path, to listen to her life and what it was saying. Can I really take credit for that, who knows? What I do know is that I am extremely proud of her, that I believe she will succeed and flourish while there.
So, I want to walk away while on top, after realizing success in teaching my course objective: To become global citizens through the study of literature and writing. Hand me my cigar, spray the champagne, commence the victory parade.

MInimum grade

A student in England answered the question prompt of "Describe the room you are sitting in" with: F--- off. The student earned a score of 2 out of 27. In previous years, I might write about the obscenity as an answer, but after hearing that phrase a miniumum of three times a day this year, I've become immune to it.
Instead, let's consider the giving of credit for assignments completed. If a student turns in a writing assignment that answers the prompt either indirectly or not at all, and if the writing style lacks purpose, or if the grammatical structures are missing, what type of score should the student receive?
Lately, I've given a minimum score of 50% if the assignment is turned in. I suppose the better solution is to hand it back to the student and request that they redo the assignment.