Make the Connection

Over the last few months, I have made my way back into doing what brings me the most joy… training and teaching leaders. In this particular case, I was training teacher leaders. It’s been incredibly gratifying listening to teachers engage in discussion allowing them the opportunity to hash out their feelings about many of the challenges they have encountered over this past school year. Poverty, trauma, mental health, behavior, mindset; these are just a handful of the many issues impeding educators’ ability to effectively engage students in learning. While I have advised many educators on ways to help connect with students, it really doesn’t take much more than a big heart and an open mind!

How well do you know your students? How much effort do you put forth to get to know them? I have worked with teachers who have been so open with their students; they have given their personal phone number or attended events with students’ families. Others weren’t as open for whatever reason and that’s okay. However, when that is the case, it is important that these teachers discover more creative ways to connect with students. This requires intention and purpose.

As schools prepare to open their doors for the new school year, I want to offer a simple way to make connections with students. Simply remember these three words: relevant, real, and rapport. These three R’s can go along way when working to make connections with your students. Let me offer an example…

I have always found interesting, the number of students that think teachers don’t eat, sleep, or breathe! Seems pretty foolish, right? However, I have literally had several conversations with students about something as simple as a trip to the grocery store, only to be met with a gasp, then, “You go to the grocery store??!!” At this point, we’d find ourselves looking at each other with cocked heads and equal amounts of confusion. I’d simply answer in affirmation and realized that to some students, the “teacher” was some sort of fantasy, fairy tale character, and because of this, I had to figure out a way to bring myself to life! I had to make myself relevant and real outside of the classroom in order to build a stronger rapport inside of the classroom.

I’d like to offer you this… During the first days of school, share a bit of your world with students. It doesn’t have to be anything extremely private, but should be something you wouldn’t mind other people knowing. Think about your hobbies or something you are passionate about doing in your personal time. For example, I am an avid sports mom and I also played sports when I was younger, so I would often share photos and updates about my children’s games or races.  In return, I would learn about the sports my students were playing, receive game schedules; hear about their games and tournaments, their wins and their losses. Now, because I have shared my own love of sports and expressed interest in theirs, I have opened up opportunities for further conversation or even a pickup game or race at recess, in spite of the pain that was sure to come as a result!  Not only do we talk about our own experiences, we ended up having discussions about professional sports and sports players! So many life lessons can be taught to them simply because I was willing to make the connection. Showing that I value them and what is important to them has now connected our worlds and I have become more relevant, real, and built a foundation for a stronger relationship. It didn’t take research or a lot of planning. It simply took me sharing a piece of me and expressing interest in them. As a result, my students became more responsive to my directions, decreased behaviors, increased participation, and increased engagement in my lessons.

This seems simple enough, I know, but sometimes it seems the simplest of things become the first things go by the wayside when teaching gets tough. I also realize there is much more to engaging students than this, but this is a great place to start at the beginning of the year. Believe me, I, both, acknowledge and understand that the year gets long, planning becomes monotonous, student behaviors go awry, and patience gets short. However, it doesn’t have to be that way. Remember that what you are feeling, more than likely students are feeling too, so make it your plan for the entire year, intentionally and purposefully, to simply make the connection.

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New Day, New Year, New Opportunities. New Year Motivation for All!

Obstacles will ALWAYS be a part of our journey! Trust me! I am a witness! Health challenges, family, friends, children, work… all parts of our lives can become an obstacle during our journey at some point along the way. Obstacles, in themselves, are opportunities to go in a different direction along your journey! That can be scary when you’ve mapped out your route in a particular way. But the good news is, with every new year and every new day, we are afforded new OPPORTUNITIES!

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When you are faced with any obstacle, if you fall down, or get stuck in a rut… get up, take a deep breath, shake it off, and simply start again! If I can do it, so can you!

Transitions Educational Consulting is grateful for each new opportunity that is ahead! You should be too! Remember, your journey does not end unless YOU stop moving!

With ❤, passion & purpose,

Dr. Kelly Bullock Daugherty
CEO/Founder
Transitions Educational Consulting, LLC
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Imprint

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It’s the beginning of another school year. Many of us are beginning to gather things for our classrooms or enjoying our last moments of vacation. During this last week of rest and relaxation, I read a book! I can hardly believe it myself! I’ve begun several, but this book seemed fitting as I begin to get back into the focused mindset of daily instruction. The book incited a great deal of reflection, but not only that, it is special because it is the memoir written by my father.

The book details my father’s life, beginning with a simple life growing up in rural south to his success as the first African American to lead a major national organization. He speaks in great detail of the values and mindset instilled in him at an early age by his parents. The encouragement he received and the motivation to believe he could achieve whatever he set his mind to were imprinted in him from as far back as he could recollect. Time and time again, he attributes every advancement in his career to the foundation of values his parents had imprinted in him. I stopped there in my reading to reflect.

Think for a moment. As an educator, what imprint have you left on your scholars? An imprint, by definition, is an impression or a mark made by pressure. This is a commanding responsibility when you consider all we are tasked to do within one year. Nonetheless, I believe it is necessary for each of us to evaluate the imprint we intend to impress upon our scholars as they enter our classrooms. To do this, let’s begin by thinking about your purpose in education. Why are you here?

Education is not for everyone as many of you well know. For those that are educators, think about why you chose this particular field. We all have our personal and/or professional reasons, but, it is my opinion that to be effective in this field, you must understand your purpose. I hope those of you reading this are here for the purpose of educating children (or adults) and developing productive thinkers and problem solvers as opposed to monetary gains and/or extended breaks. While financial stability (some of you probably chuckled right there) and weeks of vacation are attractive benefits to being an educator, nothing is more fulfilling than watching a child learn and grow before your eyes. Understanding your purpose for teaching is the first step toward leaving your imprint on a child.

In addition to understanding your purpose, the book also speaks about values. Think about the values you endorse in your life. Are they like the values of your classroom? Chances are the values you hold in the highest regard are ingrained and ever present in your life, no matter where you are, therefore, they will be modeled for the young people around you. As a teacher leader, it is imperative that we are clear and consistent about our values in order for them to leave an imprint.

The most important values I work to instill within my scholars (in addition to the school wide values that unite our school community) are growth mindset, kindness, and acceptance. These values set the climate within my classroom each day and throughout the year. They set the precedence for each individual and holds us all accountable for our choice behaviors.

Growth Mindset:

For my scholars, a positive mindset, above all, has transformative power. I have heard the phrases, “ I can’t…”, “I’m not good at…”, and “I don’t know how…” on more occasions than I’d like to admit. The second I hear just one of those statements, I pull that scholar aside to see if I can determine the root cause. I tell them specifically to, “Get your mind right”! They often look at me with confusion.  I go on to explain negativity has no place in their words. Further, I go on to explain the power of the mind. You see, once a scholar begins to think they can, more often than not, they will. I keep my expectation bar raised high and I do not ever doubt they cannot reach it. Of course, I may have several bars at different heights to meet the needs of each individual scholar, but know that each of them is reaching high to meet their own set of expectations. Seeing what once was a self defeating attitude and mindset shift into an intrinsically motivated zest for learning is more gratifying than any amount of money could buy.  This is probably the most important value I hold in my class.

Kindness:

Words can build you up or they can tear you down. I’ve witnessed some shattered spirits enter my room.  The power of kindness can break down barriers and allows people to open themselves up to build better relationships. It is important to understand that using kind words and feeling that one is a valued contributor within the class also helps build confidence and risk taking.

Acceptance:

It saddens me when I come across a scholar who feels they do not belong. In my presence, we are all uniquely different, with amazing gifts and individuality to offer the classroom community. I work diligently to create an environment where each scholar is encouraged to share a piece of themselves with the class. This allows people to acknowledge and respect each others differences since there is something uniquely defining in each of us. Being accepted for the unique person you are helps build self-esteem.

These are only a few of the values I reinforce in my classroom and I think it is important to share the reason they are important is simply because they were instilled in me at a young age. I learned that the power of words tear you down as a new student, bullied and teased for the way I talked when I moved to a new school at 11 years old. At that same time, I learned to conform to social standards to be accepted by my peers. This is something I decided would not be the case for my scholars. For my scholars, I would vow that they would not succumb to the peer norms of acceptance that I faced. Being different and unique is okay and all of us would respect each person’s unparalleled skills and abilities.

I learned about mindset a bit later in life. During my younger years, I’d always believed the smallest effort was my best effort. That is exactly what I would tell myself. This limited effort resulted in average grades. I was average and average was my best. That’s what I thought to myself for the longest time. I didn’t understand what true effort looked like or sounded like, even though it was right in front of me day in and day out. As long as I read over something or copied something correctly, I was putting forth my best effort. It was not until I went away to college that I learned that true effort meant more time, more reading, more research, more practice; simply put effort means put in MORE!

It may seem trivial on some level, these three simple foundational values; but when you consider the impact they have collectively on a child’s future, it seems worth the investment. When my scholars leave and enter middle school, they enter with new imprints. They enter with a better understanding of who they are, what they are capable of, and a sense of self worth; all because I chose to leave my imprint on their lives. Now, what will your imprint look like?

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Don’t Be Defined by Disappointments

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Over the last year, I have worked diligently to reach newer heights. I added to my consulting business portfolio by becoming a National Trainer through the Center for Teacher Effectiveness (CTE). I also became inundated with the task of perfecting a professional development session focused on teacher efficacy, student engagement, and motivation. Keep in mind, I have led professional development sessions locally, but had not yet taken on the challenge of presenting at the state level. That all changed this last year. I was both honored and privileged to have my presentation/proposal accepted at four state teacher/administrator conferences! I didn’t expect it to happen so quickly, but now here I was preparing to present at four very established state conferences.

Have you ever prepared for something for so long that everything just seemed to fall right into place? I mean, the presentation looks great, it sounds great, and in your mind, you envision everything running smooth as pudding? This has been my experience and has led to an exceptionally eye-opening year to say the least! The opportunity to share my knowledge at the state level has the potential to finally boost my business to the next level. The mere conception of reaching districts beyond my locality has become intoxicating! I instantly become inspired by the expansive impact I would be able to make within neighboring states and communities. Needless to say, however, what was to be an exhilarating experience evolved into an overwhelmingly stressful, anxiety laden test that would become a lesson lying in wait.

I’ve been wanting to write for the longest, but for some reason, working to build the public speaking portion of my business left my voice silenced, ironically enough. The emphasis on making sure just the right slides were included, that each annotation was accurate, and each objective was being met loomed over me.  It may be difficult to understand, but while I was organizing and reorganizing slides, I began to feel a great deal of pressure. It was really all I thought about in my spare time and I became almost obsessive about the entire presentation. There was a lot of research and great detail placed into making certain the session was just right. It needed to be perfect! 

However, in my reflection of this past year, I finally have something to share with all of you, and that is this… disappointments can only define us, if we allow them! Think about that statement, then, think about the many successes you have achieved. Should one disappointment negate all of those?

Last summer, around this time, I created a professional development presentation focused on teacher efficacy, student engagement and motivation. My proposal was accepted for the very first time to present in October (2017) in Columbus, Ohio at the Fall Title I Conference. I was incredibly excited, yet, also nervous. Not about the content I was sharing, but more about how it would be received. I presented by myself, as I typically do, and I began to feel a tremendous amount of apprehension. The presentation went pretty well, but I sensed that I was not reaching some of the participants, particularly those that were administrators. My target audience had been teachers up to this point and teachers have been extremely receptive of the material. I found that I was a much harsher critic of myself than those I presented to because feedback and evaluation ratings from them were high. Very high! It was a confidence booster that I did not realize I needed! I became even more elated when as a direct result of this presentation, I was invited to speak at the spring Title I Conference in May! I thought to myself, I have finally created a platform for myself to reach educators across the state!

While I was looking forward to May 2018 and the future presentation I would deliver, I still had to present in February 2018 at the conference for Teachers of English Language Arts. This conference was very involved and my presentation was even more well received. There was standing room only and participants were extremely engaged! I was able to share a couple of strategies, but the discussion was so interesting, we not only lost track of time, but also ran out of time! A Board member spoke so highly of the session that she suggested more time for me next year! Great! I will be there! I am feeling very confident about the direction my business is heading after this conference. I should have known that disappointment was lingering nearby just waiting to pounce on me and wear down the high level of efficacy I have worked hard to build.

By the time I get back to the Title I conference in May, something was feeling off. I was distressed, but I am not sure why. Perhaps it was from the stress of the school year wearing on my spirit; the desolate feeling I had being at this conference and every conference prior; or perhaps it’s the sudden inadequacy I was feeling as a lone presenter or regarding my presentation itself, as the case may be. I cannot pinpoint exactly what brought on this unsettling mood, but there is definitely something happening. Although it wasn’t the best, I believe I was still able to meet the basic objective of the presentation. Participants seemed to leave with a basic understanding of student engagement and motivation, as well as a couple of strategies to share, but something just did not feel right. I was definitely disappointed at the end of it, feeling that I had not given my best me. I immediately take participant feedback to revise the session to make it even better for the next presentation opportunity.

June 2018…my fourth and final presentation of the school year.  This conference was with Elementary School Administrators and leaders. My biggest challenge yet. I felt good about it going in, but once I got there, the feeling of trepidation enshrouded my being. Perhaps it is because I am presenting to a new audience or because, in the back of my mind, I knew I was not fully prepared for this particular audience. In hindsight, I recognized there were steps missed to meet the capacity of this group. I talk myself down, thinking, “Things have been GREAT up to this point. You’re overreacting!” Oh, but, my gut was very aware of what was about to happen. The very first thing that happened was, I lost my voice just before the presentation began! Literally, lost my voice. It was awful!! It had to be a sign! Then, I began to sweat and watch the walls come tumbling down, figuratively speaking. I presented to the most difficult room I have had up to this point. Participants were in fact NOT engaged and the more I tried, the less they listened. There were more administrators in the room this time and the words coming out of my mouth did not seem to spark any wick of interest at all. I wanted to stop immediately, but I pressed on, thinking the entire time, “What is happening?” Disappointment had shown its face! I was so disappointed in myself. I was saddened that participants left unfed and disengaged; distressed that I was unable to shift the presentation enough to gain attention; and frustrated that even though I saw it coming, what I did to prepare for it just wasn’t enough.

I immediately begin to reflect. In fact, I have been reflecting for the last month over what I consider a “major” disappointment in my career. I reached out to my mentors for feedback about what I experienced.  Receiving criticism, admitting defeat, accepting this “set back” as an opportunity for a come back was hard, but the fact of the matter is, disappointments are a normal part of life! While they are painful, for sure, they are necessary for growth. It is my belief that when you hold yourself to the same expectations day after day, week after week, disappointments are bound to make their way into your space, because one becomes complacent with what they are tasked to do. Think about this… if your expectations are the same day in and day out, they are bound to misalign with the needs of someone else. The implication of this is not that the end result will be different, however it does imply that the route you use to reach the goal may be (and, in fact, should be) different than the route you took before. Understand that this takes time, efficiency, and precision to ensure that each specific objective is met for the needs of the identified audience. Otherwise, disappointment is surely inevitable.

As a result of these personal learning opportunities, I have come to realize that my expectations were set to meet MY own needs and not the needs of those to whom I was speaking. The feeling of disappointment sensed that fragility in my session and pounced right at the perfect time. Now, what I thought were great experiences, became growth opportunities for me. Lessons in planning, public speaking, recognizing the needs of the audience, and lessons about myself as a growing entrepreneur, passionate about what I am creating and preparing. Rather than receiving these experiences as a lesson, I took them as progressive failures and personal attacks on my ability to teach and advocate for change. I was at an all time low and had allowed disappointment to define who I was as an educator and advocate.

No more! I refuse to allow disappointment to run my life and hinder my successes. I have come too far and accomplished too many positive things in this field to allow that to happen. So, I say to you, although it is often difficult to receive, let us welcome disappointments and use them as an opportunity for personal and professional growth. Disappointments compel you to redefine who you are in order to maintain engagement and relevance and it does so frequently. It can and it will define you and ruin you, but only if you allow it. Disappointments always linger in wait. When they come for you, listen, learn, change your route, then move onward and upward toward success.

Victims of Circumstance

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I’m sitting in a leadership team meeting listening as team members engage in conversation regarding student data. District wide, we are monitoring student progress in two significant areas, reading and writing. The data shows growth within the district, however, our students continue to perform low comparative to the norm. The question is posed, “Why would some teachers implement a strategy and others not?” I took a moment to reflect. My summation, stereotype threats are real and it is with these threats that our students unknowingly fall victim to their current circumstances.

Stereotype threat refers to an individual being at risk of confirming a negative stereotype about their group (Steele & Aronson,1995). We’ve encountered many stereotype threats in our day. Threats like, boys are stronger in math than girls, Asians are stronger in math than whites, blacks are better athletes than whites; all are examples of stereotypes that threaten the success of the individuals that identify with these particular groups. I couldn’t help but stop and think about this in the context of our current conversation.

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According to our district’s state report card, approximately 66% of the district is identified as minority, 49% are Hispanic students, 17% Black.  Of equal importance, 98% of the district is economically disadvantaged (2015-2016 Ohio Department of Education Report Card, retrieved November 24, 2016). Stereotype threats are looming throughout the local community. We hear some of them from parents during conferences and sadly even within the halls of the schools. In a district where language is a constant barrier and education lacking, at best, our students unconsciously inherit the limitations that have stunted the success of their parents. This is important to know because it speaks not only to the level of confidence our students come to us with, but also the level of efficacy we as teachers have to address these threats.

It’s a fact that our students are faced with challenges. Our perception of what it must be like to live in poverty is our students’ sad reality. But, are their circumstances truly indicative of their ability to be successful students? What is our role in ensuring that our students do not fall victim to their unwelcome circumstances?

As educators, it is my opinion that we first look at poverty differently. It is not a disability, it’s an obstacle. It’s a mindset that exists because the people in and around our students lives have yet to figure out how to change their circumstances or are unaware of the resources available to assist in changing them. Once we ourselves believe that our students circumstances are systemic rather than defining in nature, we need to be purposeful and intentional about working to change their mindset. Their mindset has been fixed on stereotype threats for much of their schooling already. I imagine it is difficult for them to think of anything different. Many of our students that are struggling readers come to us already years behind their peers. Place on top of that, being a non-English speaker. Some of our parents didn’t finish high school or get past the 8th grade for that matter. Think about the conversation happening in these homes. The fears and failures of the parents are now threats that hinder our students growth and progress. But it doesn’t have to.

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It is imperative that we raise our expectations. I understand that as educators, we don’t want to see our students fail. Their failures do become our own. However, we have to refrain from lowering expectations to meet our own needs. This is not about us. Our job is to provide all students with a quality education. That means we need to empower them. We need to continue raising our expectations and providing instruction that will challenge students thinking. We have to realize that when we show our students how much we believe in them, they will begin to not only believe in themselves, but, they will perform. So, raise the bar! As we begin to break down the threat barriers that are hindering our students, they will begin to reach for the bar where it has been set for them.

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Continuing to limit the growth of our students by succumbing to the belief that they cannot perform at the same rate or level as their peers is so damaging. And think about it, if we cannot ourselves break away from the stereotype threats, then who are the real victims of circumstance? We should know and do better.

References

American Psychological Association (2006). Stereotype threat widens achievement gap. Washington, D.C.: author

Ohio Department of Education (2016). Annual District Report Card, 2015-2016.

Reducing Stereotype Threats. Stereotype Threats. Retrieved from ReducingStereotypeThreats.org on November 24, 2016.

Steele, C. M., & Aronson, J. (1995). Stereotype threat and the intellectual test performance of African-Americans. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 69, 797-811.

Tyler, K. & Tyler, C. (2009). Stereotype Threat. Classroom Learning. Retrieved from Education.com, November 24, 2016.

No One Like Me

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I was born in 1972, shortly after the Civil Rights Movement ended. While schools, businesses, and neighborhoods had been desegregated for some years now, there remained residual resistance toward “justice and liberty for all”. I didn’t much understand this back in the late 70s and early 80s, but something has now stimulated these latent memories.

I don’t remember too much about my toddler years. I recall my father’s job moved us around somewhat frequently. Well, more so for my brother’s than for me.

My parents left Atlanta shortly after I was born. My mother maintains that I was the best thing that came out of her experience there! Well, I absolutely agree with that, of course! From there, we moved to Maryland. I can recall only a few things from my life there. One experience in particular was the time my mother cooked LIVE crabs for a family get together! “Oh no!”, I protested. “I don’t want no “craps”!”  I can remember how terrified I was by the sight of the crabs trying to escape the pot!! Ugh! I’m still a bit disturbed at the simple thought.

I was four years old when we moved to Minnesota. As I entered my formative years, my memories became more imprinted. I remember our home vividly. A three bedroom, two bathroom home. My brothers had to share a room while I had a room to myself. The front door led directly to the family room, with steps up to the kitchen, dining area, and living room. Here is where I have clear memories of the friends I made on my street, however, memories of my schooling experiences are few. In my quiet time, I often try to think back to see if I can draw out any memories. I’m never successful and I often stop to ask myself why this is the case.

While many of my friends and family have clear memories of their primary school years, mine are so very murky. I don’t recall my teacher’s names or those of my classmates. I remember I was very athletic and I did enjoy school, but what I remember most is that there was no one like me. I can see myself seated in the center of the room, surrounded by my white peers, whom I believe were as oblivious to the race issues around us as I was. Of course, I credit that to my parents who taught me to be kind and respectful to everyone, but to be aware of how others perceived me as well. What in the world does that even mean to a second or third grader who just wants to go to school to learn, then come home to go outside and play?! I hadn’t a clue.

After our six year stint in Minnesota, my father’s job moved us to Cleveland, Ohio where I still reside. It wasn’t until we moved here to Cleveland that I really realized there was no one like me in our old neighborhood or schools. As I reflected, I realized I was literally the only black child in my elementary school! My older brother was the only one in his junior high (until another young man came right before we moved) and our oldest brother was the only one from our neighborhood to attend the high school. He remembers some other black students being bussed in from a neighboring city, but he was the only one from our community. We all have at least one recollection of being called the “N” word during our time there and I later heard stories of a neighbor who thought it clever to dress up as a member of the Ku Klux Klan and leave a burnt cross in front of our home for Halloween. I suppose it’s safe to assume that some were not pleased to have us there and still did not believe in equality for all.

My parents did well shielding me as much as possible from the degradation they endured during their lifetime and, parenthetically, still existed after the Civil Rights Movement. However, I’ve now been exposed to a very diverse school here in Cleveland and I’m not quite sure how to respond. I want to make friends, but I find out quickly that I’m not “black” enough for them. “Why do you talk ‘white’?”, they’d ask. They’d taunt me with comments like, “You’re an Oreo!” and “You’re a white girl!” Well, what is this? Why are these kids being so mean to me! I’m just being me! I had no idea how to handle this at all!

imageI couldn’t help but think of my scholars in that moment. Remembering how ostracized and alone I felt going through elementary school, I wondered… In a school that is just about 80% minority (60% Hispanic, 10% black, and 9% multiracial),  are my students impacted by the fact that, other than me, there is no one like them? I should be clear that, yes, we do have paraprofessionals that speak Spanish and we have other staff that are minorities, but working in the classroom, right on the front line, responsible for making certain all standards are mastered…there is no one like them. I wonder if they feel understood? I wonder if they feel valued? I wonder if this impacts how they receive their education?

This is not the first time I’ve had these queries. In fact, I have them quite often when I walk into my classroom where 18 of my 19 students are minority and 13 of those are Hispanic. Now, I took Spanish in high school and passed, but I am by no means fluent in the language. But, oh, how I wish I were. Can you imagine the connections I’d be able to make with my scholars? Even though I know a little bit of Spanish, it’s certainly not enough to have a great impact on my instruction.

Not only am I unable to speak the language, I cannot relate to what it’s like to be living as a migrant, I’ve never been enticed to be in a gang, I wasn’t born into poverty, and I never wondered where my next meal was coming from. At first glance, I know they look at me and think, “She’s not like us. She won’t understand.” Little do they know, I recognize the feeling more than they, or anyone knows.

It is for these reasons that I’ve made it my business to try to protect my scholars from having the same experiences I’d had. I’ve made it a priority to fill their primary school experiences with positive memories that they will enjoy recalling as opposed to the converse of which I can attest to. So, I compensate for my lack of cultural knowledge and understanding in other areas so that my scholars do not have the perception that there is no one like them.

As with all scholars that enter my room, I take the time to get to know each one of them for who they are. I want to know their favorite subjects, the activities they like, their favorite foods, what makes them happy, and what makes them upset. I get to know them so well that I can generally tell when something is wrong, even when they try to hide it. Likewise, I share my interests, my likes and dislikes. I include them in parts of my life like my children’s birthday celebrations, when a family member is sick, or like the time I was in a car accident. I care about them all immensely and am very protective of their feelings because I get it. I’ve been (and still am) the only one.

As a result, my scholars open up to me about their family living here locally and their family in Mexico. I learn about the different foods from their culture, music, and what school is like for them in Mexico. They love to tell me stories and they do not withhold anything! We have great conversations about our different cultures and I am always genuinely intrigued to learn more. My scholars sense that and I know they appreciate that!

My scholars are more than just a number that identifies them. They have young, immature, yet creative and innovative minds that are thirsting for knowledge! Some are more thirsty than others, but I acknowledge that. I share the difficulties I had in school when I was a youngster, mostly in reading. They look at me with big, bright eyes in wonder. “But, you’re a teacher! You’re smart.” , they say. I explain that it didn’t come easily. You see, what came easily for others, has taken twice as much effort for me. I explained that when there are barriers that seem to get in your way, that’s when you have to work harder at getting past it and getting past it is possible. I assure them that they are smart too and is the reason I refer to them as “scholars”. I want them to hear that they are smart and to embrace it. It may not seem like I’m doing a lot, but I guarantee, through my experiences and my management, my scholars have made a connection and have a vision of hope and a belief of greatness.

I’ve made a commitment and as long as I am alive and able, my scholars will never feel alone in their challenges, nor alone in their sorrows, nor alone in their successes. None of my scholars will ever feel targeted, ostracized, or left out while in my classroom. They won’t see race, religion, or ethnicity as a barrier from the greatness that awaits them, but will know that it exists beyond the walls of our class.

Although I know first hand what it feels like to have no one like me, I also realized later in life that this was not an excuse not to try. I’ve learned that one cannot allow their circumstances to define who they are or to determine their destiny! This is the mantra I live by and that I share with my scholars. So when they leave the reins of my classroom, it is my hope that they do so believing in their greatness. I want them to look back on their primary school years knowing they were not alone because there was, after all, at least one in the school that was…just like them.

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What ARE the Odds?

http://insightbyseymour.files.wordpress.com/2014/03/2635-101413-gs2635.jpgFor the last few weeks, I’ve been thinking a great deal about the upcoming PARCC. I’m speaking of the Next Generation Assessment known as the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers. If you thought the Ohio Achievement Assessment was bad, then wait until you see THIS! I suggest, if you haven’t yet taken a look at this new online assessment, you should…and soon!

Over the last 5 years, educators across the nation have witnessed the development and implementation of the Common Core standards. In writing this piece, I found it important to research the who, when, and how the standards were developed before expressing my opinion about the PARCC. In a February 2014 article, Allie Bidwell of US News reported,

Although they only recently captured national attention, the Common Core standards – which lay out what students should know and be able to do by each grade – have been in the works since at least 2008. It all started with former Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano, who was the 2006-07 chair of the National Governors Association and now leads the University of California system.

During her stint as governor, Napolitano desired to develop an initiative focused on strengthening the country’s competitive position in the global economy. As students’ performance in math and the sciences have become comparatively lower than their global peers, the goal of this new initiative was “to give governors the tools they need[ed] to improve math and science education, better align post-secondary education systems with state economies, and develop regional innovation strategies” (retrieved from http://www.nga.org on December 4,2014).  Therein, a task force of governors, CEOs, and university presidents was created. Think about that for just a moment. Does that elicit any emotions for you as it did for me?

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I remember hearing that the Common Core was essentially birthed from the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act of 2001 in that the standards were developed to hone in on the skills students needed to know and be able to do by the end of each grade level.  The standards were thick with specific skills all students were to master only, with NCLB, this varied from state to state as state leaders played more of a role in the development of their own standards. Unfortunately, the level of expectation varied significantly as well from state to state. States, like Massachusetts, were known for holding very high academic standards, while other states, like Tennessee, did not (Bidwell, US News, 2014), making it more difficult to comparatively determine whether scholars were making adequate growth compared to their global counterparts.

The Common Core differs in that the numbers of standards have been decreased for each grade level and the depth of each of those standards increased. That’s my subtle way of saying that the standards push our scholars harder to learn skills they are fundamentally and developmentally not yet prepared to learn, whether they are ready or not! Don’t get me wrong, I do see this as an incomprehensible issue. It’s clearly a problem, and yet I was not at all surprised to find that the challenge of developing equitable academic standards has been in existence since the desegregation of public schools in the 1960s. Students of minority ethnicity, lower socioeconomic status, born in poverty from parents struggling to keep a roof over their children’s heads and food on the table, and some of them with nothing more than a middle school education was prevalent then and still exists today. Oh yes! You see, what I’ve just described for you was my current classroom and any educator teaching in an urban school district can relate to that very description.

Our scholars have been chasing their peers to close an achievement gap that was created to keep minorities out of public education and distanced far behind their white peers for years! And now, here we are with the Common Core standards, an initiative started to strengthen our competitive position in the global economy when neither our scholars, nor their families, are adequately equipped with the resources or skills to compete in the local economy!

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Let me be clear, I can appreciate the idea behind the Common Core. I get it. We want to develop critical thinkers, leaders, social changers! But then you add the PARCC to the equation. Oh my goodness! Consider this, the majority of my fifth grade scholars are reading at a fourth grade or below grade level right now. I even have a few reading at a second grade level! SECOND GRADE!! That’s their fluency and comprehension level. Did you catch that? The majority of my class is still behind 1-3 grade levels in reading. They struggle to develop a 5 sentence paragraph with a clear topic sentence and strong conclusion. They’ve been working to develop these skills since the second grade. When they are challenged to push themselves to a higher expectation, they shut down with frustration. Oh, I’m not finished yet. My scholars barely know their basic multiplication facts, even though they’ve been exposed to them two grades prior. Many still struggle with regrouping in subtraction and will argue to the end that 0-4 = 4 even when provided proof that it is impossible!

Finally, after losing our technology teachers about four years ago, teachers were tasked to teach not only keyboarding skills, but also researching skills in a computer lab which we were scheduled to use once, maybe twice a week for 30-45 minutes, if we were lucky. There were several times I’d taken my class in to complete assignments and it’d taken the first 20 minutes alone just to get through all the glitches we’d face trying to simply get logged in! Amazing! Well, the computer lab no longer exists after 6 years of existence. The district has begun transitioning to the use of chrome books. I share a cart with a coworker. Yes, share! We make it work. Our scholars are most knowledgeable about how to search for information because that interests them. However, they still lack in the area of research, note taking, and essay typing. It continues to be a struggle for them since it requires more thinking and effort. Not a very good place to be with PARCC right around the corner, wouldn’t you think?

Our scholars, while they’ve shown growth in reading and math, are continuing to chase the leaders of the achievement gap every single day they enter our urban school. This is based on data from the Ohio Achievement Assessment, a two and a half hour, paper-pencil, written assessment. The new PARCC will assess my scholars electronically and will take multiple days. They will be given multiple reading samples at a time with two part answers where one answer will depend on scholars’ knowledge of and response to the other. On this assessment, scholars performance levels will be scored in the areas of text complexity, range of accuracy, and quality of evidence. There are multiple choice questions, matching, and two part extended responses that will need to be typed, providing explicit evidence from the text provided. The questions are much more challenging since they are multi-step questions and very different from what they’ve been used to. Scholars must use, not only the text provided, but also answers from previous questions to construct their responses. Seriously, if you haven’t seen the sample PARCC, you should take some time to peruse the website. Here’s the link:

PARCC Practice Tests

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If I sound a bit anxious about this Next Generation Assessment, it’s because I am, along with many of my urban school educator friends. It feels a lot like my scholars are being set up to fail! Do you understand that the growth my scholars have made, any growth at all, will absolutely go unnoticed after taking this test! And YES…I take it personally! If they are not functionally or developmentally prepared to meet the Common Core standards then how could they possibly be prepared to take this Next Generation Assessment? Well, I don’t know either, but it kind of sounds like yet another way to keep our minority scholars at the bottom end of the achievement gap. All I know is that we need to get our scholars ready for this PARCC with the limited resources we are provided and hope that just one of them beats the odds, gets across that gap, and comes out on top! With everything we’ve been given, what do you think those odds are?

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