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Milestone Assessements Are Done, What Now?

Help       Just because the standardized testing we all know and love has finally come to an end, does not mean that school has. No matter what grade level you teach there is still much left to do for the remainder of the year; even for seniors. 

I told my junior students I am now focusing on getting them ready for their senior year. Their new teacher will love me for it. Besides finishing out the text book, there is no reason these students should not be getting a jump on resumes, learn how to fill out job applications, or write award-winning scholarship and college essays, the list can and does go on. 

The state and district-wide standardized tests, while they do factor into the class grade for most students, are not an accurate reflection of what students have actually learned in class. Students need to feel they have come to class every day for 180 days for a reason. Standardized tests do not make them feel that way. While the skills and foundational knowledge in class are transferable to these tests, the students are quick to recognize these test bear little resemblance to lessons taught and specific content learned daily. 

It is important that teachers not just pack it in now that these tests are over. English teachers can teach that favorite novel they just did not have time for prior to testing. Science and math teachers can pull out that STEM project they have been drooling over. History teachers can have their students work on a cumalative museum project. 

The last thing any of us want for the last two to three weeks of schools is to sit in idle boredom and have the kids with glazed over eyes texting and “liking” on their phones. Worse yet, skipping class. 

Some other ideas: 

  • Socratic Seminars
  • Create a Broadcast
  • Write and Act out a Play
  • Teacher for a Day
  • Film Critiques
  • Role Plays 
  • Create a Puzzle
  • Paint a Mobile Mural
  • Start a Fundraiser 

Do something. Your kids and your brain will thank you for it. 

Then… you can have a truly great summer!

 

Summer Vacation

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Toxic School Environments Make Teachers Sick

Is your workplace a toxic environment? If there is more than one person per week out sick in your department, chances are it is. Before I left teaching one of the primary problems was the inability to take an actual sick day. You know, the kind when you are really sick. If I needed to take a sick day for myself or to attend to my daughter, my ethical compass would steer me away from that decision. My daughter and I ended up in school many times when we were unwell. This did, I admit, cause some resentment towards peers who seemed to take an average of at least two days off per month. While my sick days were building up, so was my stress level.

Cognitively, I understood why there were so many teachers out each week. Yet, I did not see the district or my school in particular doing anything to fix the problem. None of these teachers were bad teachers. It is just that education has gotten to the point that what is actually taught is irrelevant, and as long as students can be trained to pass tests like seals jumping through hoops, we do not need to invest a great deal of time immersing them into complicated plot lines, or delving into characters to determine motive. No, all we have to do is to make sure students are able to accurately identify which key term is associated with a cold passage read, and viola! We have done our jobs.

The sick days were needed because the toxicity of the school environment, of the district expectations which do not at all seem fitting with what I observed at the state or national level. So, the sick days are real because creativity is atrophying at lightning speed for teachers in our schools.

 On any given Friday as many as 25 teachers were out of a total of 290. That is nearly 10% of the teaching staff. By Wednesday each week what I began to call the “guilt” emails were circulating letting teachers know how many had already asked for Friday off. These emails ran up stress levels for many, myself included. You see, when my students came to my class after having at least one sub, and at times two on Friday, they were bored and restless. However, I had an engaging lesson ready to go, or more than likely an essay test or some activity to assess what was learned that week. Yes, even though their course scores did not factor into how well I was doing as a teacher, I knew that how they were doing in my class did matter to them.

 My soldering on ended up getting the better of me, however, because I was not taking time off from an environment that was becoming increasingly toxic. The overall lack of trust between administration and teachers was palpable, and it was permeating what had once been strong bonds between teachers. How can you trust your colleagues when you are having to lose your planning period at least once per week to cover their classes; and sometimes, when you are sick yourself?

 When situations like this occur in schools or other work environments, it is not because the teachers or employees are bad people, or are even irresponsible people. It is because leadership has either brought or introduced a toxin into the environment. When people love and are excited about their jobs, they do not miss work. There was never one meeting with the faculty at large or with individual departments to talk about the illness that was causing the need for sick days. There was no leadership accountability.

 When the work environment is toxic, it is trickle down. Toxic leadership leads to a toxic environment. Teachers need to be allowed their creativity for more than meeting a lettered standard. Good teachers meet those standards every day without having to write them on a board, or put them into a formalized lesson plan.

 If chefs in the finest restaurants were told they all had to cook the same meals on the same days, and that they had to survey restaurant patrons to collect data to determine if they were going to be allowed to be chefs anymore…they would take sick days too.

 One of the reasons for toxicity in the work environment is a lack of true diversity and inclusion. The current climate of many schools is that teachers are supposed to be the same, what I call Stepford Teachers, yet they are to differentiate the “standard fare” for their diverse classrooms so that every student can learn the same thing, and be able to apply it in the same way on a standardized test. That class is an example of a paradox. 

 If teachers cannot be diverse – using their individuality, their uniqueness and creativity – to diversify the lessons organically, then the entire concept of differentiation is missed. Teachers become teachers because they are creative people who have a desire to share their knowledge with others. Their knowledge, not what has been boxed and properly labeled for them.

 

 

 

Diversity and Inclusion Executive Summary for Cobb County School District, GA

Diversity and Community

Diverse Communities are Strong Communities

CCSD: One Goal, One Community Strong

Diversity for the Future of All

2017-2018 Diversity and Inclusion Plan

On Behalf of a Diverse and Growing Community

 

Submitted by

Jacqueline Burnett-Brown, PhD

 

May 17, 2017

 

 

Introduction

Cobb County School District’s Mission Statement Slogan is: One Team, One Goal. Their overall mission statement is Success for All Students. However, there is no sustainable Diversity & Inclusion Plan for Cobb County School District, one of the largest and most racially and culturally diverse districts in the state of GA. Students of color, differing cultures, and those with learning disabilities show the lowest academic performance of all CCSD students. A strong push towards actual inclusion of ALL students, teachers, and staff in an actionable, sustainable, and measureable way will increase student as well as teacher performance throughout the district. Research supports that when education systems adopt a multi-cultural approach to the curriculum, teachers feel more confident and students thrive (1).

PROPOSED SOLUTION

To achieve Cobb County School District’s primary objective of student achievement, there needs to be an implementation of district-wide diversity & inclusion initiatives into the Cobb County School District to include all leadership, teachers, and staff.

A Plan Designed for A Diverse School and Community

The current Diversity and Inclusion statement employed by the district has a permanent residence on the school district’s website. It is not a living instrument, the stated goals are in black and white, but they are not voiced to teachers, students, or parents. Diversity and Inclusion is more than lip service, it is more than annual cultural days and Black History Month. The proposed D&I plan is designed to take a top down approach to the implementation of diversity and inclusion from the district office, to the board members, each school, every teacher, student, parent, volunteer, support staff employed, as well as the community at large.

The Cost of Diversity

  • The district will generate a budget for salaried diversity and inclusion personnel.
  • The district will generate a budget for materials and technology to support D&I training initiatives.
  • The district will generate a budget for social and local media advertising of their D&I initiative.
  • The district will generate a budget for the recruitment and hiring of a diverse leadership, teaching, and support staff.
  • The district will generate a budget for multicultural text books and other academic resources.
  • The district will generate a schedule and budget for teacher professional learning days to be allocated for D&I training outside of normal school days.

The Benefits of Inclusion

Teachers feel more free to teach in an environment where they are free to discuss issues of race, culture, gender, and other differences2. When these are treated as controversial topics, and therefore considered taboo, it stifles teacher as well as student creativity (3). When teachers are teaching under the myth that they should be color (4) politically, and gender blind, they are teaching under oppression as they are disallowed the necessity as well as joy of seeing their students. Teachers are asked to differentiate, but are not allowed to discuss the ways in which we are all different (5), or to advocate for the rights to those differences (6,7).

In addition to culture and race, it is vital that gender, gender identity (8), and learning and physical disabilities9 are interwoven into the vision statement as well as the curriculum.

Infusing multiculturalism into the curriculum is inclusive of all students, as it allows them to react and interact with one another in a real and measurable way. Students of color and differing cultures often feel the curriculum is not designed for them, but rather for their White American counter-parts (10). Students who recognize their history and their culture11 in the curriculum are more motivated to learn (12), than when they do not.

Research supports that inclusive school environments have less turn-over of teachers13, especially teachers of color (14) and when there is less turnover with the faculty, and they are a part of the community, students and parents have more confidence in the schools and district (15).

Diversity and Inclusion: The Responsibility of Every One

The proposed diversity and inclusion initiative is a top down approach that begins with elected officials: District Superintendent, Chris Ragsdale and board members, as well as HR, district support staff, district and local school leadership.

It is only with total buy in from Mr. Ragsdale down that this initiative can work, so that the district slogan: One Team, One Goal: Student Success becomes a reality.

TIMELINES

Milestone 1. Director of D & I hired or appointed within 3 months

Milestone 2. Broad publication of D&I initiatives and revised mission statement within 6 months

Milestone 3. All elected officials – Superintendent and Board members as well as District, Local School Leadership will reflect in word, deed, and their own diversity the D&I initiatives and mission statement within two years.

 

1 Jacqueline Burnett-Brown, Racial Dialogues: A Phenomenological Study of Difficult Dialogues from the Perspective of High School English Teachers (Northcentral University, 2014), http://search.proquest.com/openview/c9f429614a0306c789151930462db1bb/1?pq-origsite=gscholar&cbl=18750&diss=y.

2 Ibid.

3 Kamilla L. Venner and Steven P. Verney, “Motivational Interviewing: Reduce Student Reluctance and Increase Engagement in Learning Multicultural Concepts,” Professional Psychology: Research and Practice 46, no. 2 (April 2015): 116–23, doi:http://dx.doi.org.contentproxy.phoenix.edu/10.1037/a0038856.

4 Angie Beeman, “Walk the Walk but Don’t Talk the Talk: The Strategic Use of Color-Blind Ideology in an Interracial Social Movement Organization,” Sociological Forum 30, no. 1 (March 2015): 127–47, doi:10.1111/socf.12148.

5 Derek Cavilla and Belle Wallace, “Thoughts on Access, Differentiation, and Implementation of a Multicultural Curriculum,” Gifted Education International 30, no. 3 (September 1, 2014): 281–87, doi:10.1177/0261429413486576.

6 Burnett-Brown, Racial Dialogues.

7 Steven J. Sandage, Sarah Crabtree, and Maria Schweer, “Differentiation of Self and Social Justice Commitment Mediated by Hope,” Journal of Counseling & Development 92, no. 1 (January 2014): 67–74, doi:10.1002/j.1556-6676.2014.00131.x.

8 Sara Staley and Bethy Leonardi, “Leaning In to Discomfort: Preparing Literacy Teachers for Gender and Sexual Diversity,” Research in the Teaching of English; Urbana 51, no. 2 (November 2016): 209–29.

9 Deborah L. Voltz and Loucrecia Collins, “Preparing Special Education Administrators for Inclusion in Diverse, Standards-Based Contexts: Beyond the Council for Exceptional Children and the Interstate School Leaders Licensure Consortium,” Teacher Education and Special Education 33, no. 1 (February 1, 2010): 70–82, doi:10.1177/0888406409356676.

10 Venner and Verney, “Motivational Interviewing.”

11 Thomas S. Dee and Emily K. Penner, “The Causal Effects of Cultural Relevance,” American Educational Research Journal 54, no. 1 (February 1, 2017): 127–66, doi:10.3102/0002831216677002.

12 Terry Meier, “‘The Brown Face of Hope’: Reading Engagement and African American Boys,” The Reading Teacher 68, no. 5 (February 2015): 335–43, doi:10.1002/trtr.1310.

13 Susan Fairchild et al., “White and Black Teachers’ Job Satisfaction: Does Relational Demography Matter?,” Urban Education 47, no. 1 (January 1, 2012): 170–97, doi:10.1177/0042085911429582.

14 Betty Achinstein et al., “Retaining Teachers of Color: A Pressing Problem and a Potential Strategy for ‘Hard-to-Staff’ Schools,” Review of Educational Research 80, no. 1 (March 1, 2010): 71–107, doi:10.3102/0034654309355994.

15 Sadaf Naz, Mohammad Majid Mehmood Bagram, and Shahzad Khan, “Impact of Teacher Turn over on Students Motivation, Psyche and Performance,” International Review of Management and Business Research; Peshawar 1, no. 1 (December 2012): 26–46.

14 Betty Achinstein et al., “Retaining Teachers of Color: A Pressing Problem and a Potential Strategy for ‘Hard-to-Staff’ Schools,” Review of Educational Research 80, no. 1 (March 1, 2010): 71–107, doi:10.3102/0034654309355994.

15 Sadaf Naz, Mohammad Majid Mehmood Bagram, and Shahzad Khan, “Impact of Teacher Turn over on Students Motivation, Psyche and Performance,” International Review of Management and Business Research; Peshawar 1, no. 1 (December 2012): 26–46.

 

Part Two in the Series: The Gifted Child Twice Exceptional Students and a Need to Raise the Standards of Teaching

When I think of those who are gifted, I do not think of students who are “smart” and make straight As. I think of students who are different, students who indeed march to the beat of a different drummer. I think of the Lord Byrons, Mary Shellys,  Einsteins, Disneys, Thoreaus, Dickinsons, Poes, Oscar Wildes, Thomas Hardys, Galileos, and others who in one regard or the other were seen as social outcasts, oddballs, or perhaps even insane. In our more modern times, I think of the Robin Williams, the Martin Lawrences, the Robert Downy, Jr.s, Curt Cobains, Jim Morrisons, Jimmy Hendricks, Janice Joplins; individuals whose minds were/are so bright, so different, so busy they use(d) and abuse(d) substances to curtail their mental activity-  to feel normal.

I often told my high school students that the mind of a brilliant individual is like a Ferrari, if not taught the dangers as well as the thrills, it can become deadly to the individual and even those around him or her. There has often been stated a fine line between genius and insanity. Hitler, Manson, Stalin, and others come to mind. If we continue as educators only to see those who are as researcher Renzulli (2012) ­­­­­notes, “school house” gifted as our brightest and best, we might find we are losing great minds, or either allowing them to run amuck.

I also feel that in order for these students to be identified and nurtured that our teachers need to, as I have stated before, not just be gifted certified teachers, but gifted teachers themselves. Too many teachers obtain gifted certification because they, “…cannot teach ‘these’ kids another year.” These kids being on-level students. That is not a very reliable prerequisite for obtaining a certification to teach students how to operate their Ferraris.

I find that in a standardized world teachers are not equipped or supported in the teaching of truly gifted students to color outside the lines. Teachers who become gifted certified so that they do not have to deal with discipline problems or have to differentiate the curriculum to meet the needs of students who need more support than others are generally rudely awakened. These teachers are ill-prepared for the emotional intensity of the truly gifted child, and may find themselves, as suggested by Grant & Piechowski ( as cited in Sword, 2001), unwittingly damaging the child by fueling anxiety in the child’s need for perfection. How does one perfectly color outside the lines? As a teacher of on-level students, I was often chastised, threatened, and cajoled due to my “unorthodox” teaching methods. They were considered unorthodox because I challenged my students to question everything, everyone. Even those considered off limits.

One of the statements I made often in conversations with administration is that we cannot expect to teach our students to think critically if we lead them to believe either by commission or omission that there are certain tenets that are to never be questioned. Recent researchers (Corriveau, Chen, & Harris, 2015)studied the performance of students who have been taught Bible stories as fact vs. those students brought up in non-religious homes and found that students who are taught such stories as the creation story, Noah and the Flood, the Tower of Babel, Samson and the Philistines, have difficulty distinguishing between fact and fiction. If we want our students to fully develop their intellectual gifts, we must first stop insulting their intelligence.

The most important action I could take as a teacher of students identified as special education or non-identified at all, was to lead them in the direction of finding their talent, their gift and to develop it. The hardest part of that for any teacher is breaking through all the scar tissue formed over the years to protect the child’s esteem.

Some ways in which I help my students find their gifts. If a child is good at art, some assignments should be tailored to draw (pardon the pun) upon that talent, and it can still meet the standards. If a child is talented in music, that child can create a composition that identifies the mood, tone, theme, and action of a work of literature. If a child has a flair for the dramatics, then he or she should be given the task of creating a skit or a one man/woman show to demonstrate mastery of a concept.

One of the ways I differentiated was through tiered assignments. Each tier was worth a different point value, so each student has an opportunity to make an A. 250/250; 150/150; 75/75, for example. Students perform better when given choices that allow them to draw upon their talents, interests, ability (Beckley, 1998) and yes, even to some degree work ethic. These projects each have a rubric and students are given that rubric with the minimum expectations stated, and that to meet these means a C for that project. When given these clear expectations – with Ds and Fs not even offered, students seem to naturally strive towards the A. Imagine that.

Teachers need to unlock their own Ferraris and get back in the driver’s seat when it comes to educating students. Administrators need to break down this word and do what literally translated it means. It does not mean to rule or govern, it means to provide care. Care and nurture to teachers, means they in turn can care for and nurture their students.

 

 

References

Beckley, D. (1998). Gifted and Learning Disabled: Twice Exceptional Students. Retrieved from http://eric.ed.gov/?id=ED424711

Corriveau, K. H. ., Chen, E. E. ., & Harris, P. L. . (2015). Judgments About Fact and Fiction by Children From Religious and Nonreligious Backgrounds. Cognitive Science, 39(2), 353–382. https://doi.org/10.1111/cogs.12138

Renzulli, J. S. (2012). Reexamining the Role of Gifted Education and Talent Development for the 21st Century: A Four-Part Theoretical Approach. Gifted Child Quarterly, 56(3), 150–159. https://doi.org/10.1177/0016986212444901

Sword, L. (2001). Psycho-social needs: Understanding the emotional, intellectual and social uniqueness of growing up gifted. Victoria, Australia: Gifted and Creative Services. Retrieved from http://www.darshana-ganatra.com/files/Psycho_social_Needs_of_Gifted_Children_Kopie.pdf

When Teachers, Parents, and Students are Victims of Stockholm Syndrome

This is a total call out. So, read up!

Teachers need the support of parents and the community in the districts in which they teach. In the past week since a Cobb County School District, GA assistant principal of a local school filed a law suit against CCSD’s Superintendent Ragsdale and named others, there has been an outcry… and pardon my pun… to shush this and put it to bed to protect the District’s reputation.

STOCKHOLM SYNDROME DEF

STOP THE DEFENSE OF OPPRESSION!

Faculty and other staff who stand up to their districts are to be applauded. I understand why other teachers do not offer out loud support to their colleagues. They are afraid of losing their jobs. I appreciated all the shock, dismay, and even tears my colleagues shared with me. The words of support whispered in my room, the pats on the back, the hugs. Sure, those were great. But where was the anger? Where was the moral outrage at seeing a fellow teacher so blatantly targeted? Nowhere. Teachers have mouths to feed. I can entirely understand and forgive their silence. Even if I would have pulled my ever-ready soapbox out and shouted the roof tops off in their defense.

However, when something tragic like the death of a child occurs, or for those once in a blue moon instances where an educator or parent files suit against the county, there are those who want it all shut up to protect the reputation of the county. The ones who have the problem with bad PR are generally of the White Status Quo.

Let me be clear. You are not representative of the 85% and counting students of color, other languages, and national origins in this county. You have not walked in their shoes. Those of you who live in nice large homes with manicured lawns… what do you know of poverty? What do you know of not having the means to feed your children, let alone fight a large powerful district with a WSQ Board to back it on all fronts.

As a mediator, I will see to it that justice is served fairly.

For GA teachers, teacher associations like PAGE and GAE can only do so much, and only to the extent of protecting your job and certificate; sometimes, that is not enough.

You need someone who can help negotiate the best terms in disciplinary matters.

For families with children whose civil liberties and educational rights have been violated, you also need someone who is there to see that justice is served for the best interest of the child.

You have a right to ask for mediation. Know and exercise your rights!

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