Category Archives: school reform

TRADING MACS FOR GLOCKS: A Twisted Vision and the New Frontier

gunsWe’re trading in our Macs. We don’t need them anymore.

Trading our laptops too. We have thwarted the nascent rise of iPads. Now. Before they become too familiar.

I mean, what good is digital literacy if some sinister shadow drops in out of the sky to shoot up the school. And we all know it happens. We all feel that sense of dread lingering, remotely familiar, like the acrid cloud of cafeteria food prepped daily for a thousand kids. We all read the headlines:

L.A. School District Buys 14 Semi-Automatic Rifles To Protect Students

Southern California Schools Get High-Powered Rifles

GOP Lawmaker Wants High Schools To Teach Kids To Shoot

Mother Writes $12,000 Check For Armed Guard At Daughter’s Elementary School

5-Year-Old Suspended For Pink Bubble Gun Threat

Duncan: You Can’t Teach Kids Scared Of Being Killed

The School Where Nearly Every Student Has Experienced Gun Violence

18 States Already Allow Guns In Schools With Few Restrictions

Utah Teacher Wants To Carry Gun Without Telling Parents, Students

Minnesota Teacher Brings Loaded Gun To School For Fear Of Newtown Shooting

Our fences cannot rise any higher and still stand against the wind. We have rows of metal detectors. Our children remove their shoes for inspection as if they were boarding an airplane. They know the drill. We scope their pockets and their backpacks. We x-ray their intent. They are each sworn daily to refrain from brandishing arms. At least in any menacing way. It is our new and collective oath of allegiance to protect one another from mutual annihilation.

We are America’s most innovative school. We are widely renown as the first in any line of early adopters. First to be wired. First to go viral. First to poke holes in the internet firewall. We used to camp out for iPhones but we can’t afford dual priorities: upgrade learning technology or arm to the teeth?

So we invest in the latter. Once secure in our conviction that Macs were superior to IBM’s, we now know what we know: Apple expenditures are so pre-Newtown.

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So we have glocked up. Every kid. Every teacher.

We ripped out the fitness stations that lined our running track and installed target shooting pods. They are creative. Colorful. They lend themselves to seamless integration of the so-called 21’st Century Skills– to which we have now unilaterally added: “Mastery of Firepower.”

Our students may be prone to childhood obesity and Type II diabetes, but they can freakin’ shoot. And besides, are you going to be the one to tell them they are fat?

Our “Gun Free Zone” is the registration counter, where in exchange for enrolling here you get your guns for free. (Ammunition clips are provided at no cost– however, any modifications are subject to the discretion of individual families.) Frankly, I worry about that policy. In the name of equity, is it fair that some families can afford state-of-the-art ammo packs while others can not? Are we perpetuating another national divide of “haves” and “have more pop”?

teacherOf course, without trained teachers, what good is an entire student body strapped to their sidearms?

So on minimum days we target and crouch and shoot and load and afterwards debrief. There’s a lot of peer coaching. A lot of self reflection and goal setting. We feel morally obligated to out-shoot the kids.  And so we do.

As of late, we are frequently invited to present break-out sessions at state and national conferences: “Shooting Straight:  How Schools Can Target the Real Common Core Priorities.” And: “The New Literacy Standards: How Guns at School Somehow Sharpen Everyone’s Listening and Speaking Skills.”

We’ve done keynotes. Workshops. Webinars. TED-talks. Book signings.

This year we intend to run a booth when ASCD merges with the NRA at the the national gun show in Las Vegas.

And while our academic metrics have virtually imploded, our kids and our staff generally feel good about themselves. We feel like pioneers of the old west. Revolutionaries. And we feel safer in the bargain. Sort of.

Now that we have a baseline established, we can afford to debate whether glocks are enough. We are nothing if not professionally diligent. We are an ever-visionary and forward thinking lot:

“What if Sunnyside arms their kids with higher caliber weapons?”

“How do we keep up with the inevitable modifications and weaponry upgrades– say…Glocks 2.0.?”

“If we hire a sniper coach, where should we place him or her on the salary scale? And would she have to be credentialed?”

“What happens when we discover that we’ve been  left behind in the arms race?”

Taken together the questions are chilling. Where’s the leadership?

So I sidle into my office and remove my firearms as I sit at my desk to Google updates on best practices. I reach for my laptop when I am reminded– that we traded our technology for glocks.  It’s gone.

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More  from Kevin W. Riley…

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Filed under children at risk, education spending, El Milagro, Fighting for Ms. Rios, gun violence, health care, Human-Centered Design, innovation and change, public education, school reform, technology in schools, Uncategorized, zero tolerance policies

THROUGH THEIR EYES

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IDEO, the Palo Alto company famous for designing Apple’s first mouse back in the 80’s, has since created user-centered solutions for everything from computer games to ice cream scoopers, defibrillators and shopping carts.  As one of the world’s leading innovators in Human-Centered Design,  they even create strategies to address such social issues as poverty, nutrition, health, water and sanitation, economic empowerment, access to financial services, and gender equity throughout the world.

It should not be surprising that they also have some thoughts about designing our schools from the perspective of the students who attend them every day. Everything from the culture of school environments and education reform initiatives, right down to more user-friendly student desks.

And, of course, Aiden also has some ideas about school designs as he develops his journals in Fighting for Ms. Rios.

Ultimately, Fighting for Ms. Rios is not just about a kid and his teacher.  It’s deeper than that.  It’s a case for intentionally designing student-centered schools around a culture of what the corporate world refers to as “deep customer empathy”.  Authentic relationships.  Mutual respect. Caring. User-centered design!

imagesThe notion of “empathy” is a central tenet of Dev Patnaik’s book called Wired to Care. Patnaik, a renown business strategist, writes about how organizations of all kinds prosper when they tap into a power each of us already has: empathy, the ability to reach outside of ourselves and connect with other people.  He believes that when people inside a company develop a shared sense of what’s going on in the world, they see new opportunities faster than their competitors. They have the courage to take a risk on something new. And they have the gut-level certitude to stick with an idea that doesn’t take off right away.

In Patnaik’s view, people are naturally “wired to care” and many of the world’s best organizations are, too. But they must learn to stop worrying about their own problems and see the world through each other’s eyes.

Ms. Rios had a natural gift for empathizing with her students and Aiden writes about it constantly.  In “THE NINTH JOURNAL: The Last Day” he says:

During that time Ms. Rios found hope and inspiration in her students. She believed in every last one of us from Trinity to Atticus Hinzo to Rafael to Angela to Charlie Flowers and Remy Padilla and Vera Ruiz and Inca and even Lester…and me. And Raymond. Especially Raymond.

Raymond, is a special needs student who was placed in her classroom to test his ability to adapt to every-day school routines.   He struggled… (because he had special needs!)  Ms. Rios’ class would have been the perfect placement– but she was a brand new teacher and too easily influenced by Wanda, the burned-out teacher next door.  As we come to know Ms. Rios from Aiden’s writings– a natural born teacher wired to care– we realize that giving up so quickly on Raymond was very much out of character for her:

In his few short weeks with Ms. Rios, he had taught her more about teaching than any university or workshop or conference or colleague ever could.  She knew in her bones that she had given up on Raymond far too soon and she vowed to never let that happen again.  She regretted listening to Wanda.  She should have been Raymond’s advocate.

From that day forward, Ms. Rios never quit believing in her students. No matter what.  She remained resilient. (From “Lambs”)

It is possible (and critical) to design and manage schools–including the systems, services, relationships and programs– from the student out… instead of the outside in.  But to do so, we truly have to see the world through our students’ eyes.  That’s really what “deep customer empathy” is all about– and why, by the end of her first year, we come to regard Ms. Rios as such an extraordinary teacher.  And why Aiden becomes the voice of children in schools everywhere.

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Filed under California charter schools, charter schools, children at risk, El Milagro, empathy, Fighting for Ms. Rios, gifted children, Human-Centered Design, innovation and change, public education, resiliency, school reform, spiritual intelligence, teaching, user-centered design

MADELINE’S COSTUME

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The Human Rights Campaign has been profoundly influential in encouraging public schools to develop policies that protect students from any forms of discrimination or bullying– especially LGBT students.  San Diego Unified School District, for example, has developed a model, Board-adopted, anti-discrimination policy that assures children a safe learning environment, regardless of their “actual or perceived” sex, gender, or ethnic group identification.

Adopting policies that prohibit discrimination in our schools is essential for children and staff.  But the real work is in creating safe, inclusive, loving environments that are often the one safe haven in a community.  Like El Milagro.

In “Fighting for Ms. Rios,” Aiden introduces us to Matty in the Fourth Journal: Virtuosos.

Matty was an athlete. Matty was a fierce competitor. Matty played little league. Matty played kickball. Matty wore a Baltimore Ravens football jersey. Number fifty-two. Matty always had a short-cropped haircut and was tall and thin. Matty pounded Augie behind the backstop for trying to cut to the front of the kickball line. Matty cussed and spit and told crude jokes and talked with a full mouth.

For Halloween Matty dressed up as a professional baseball player. A catcher with eye black and all the gear and the shin guards and a cup. (Madeline’s Costume)

Aiden has been playing with Matty since the beginning of the school year, but it is not until the Halloween Carnival– when the kids take a bathroom break and go into separate facilities– that he discovers she is really a girl.  The other kids knew all along.  Perhaps they have known her since kindergarten.  Perhaps they paid attention when their teachers lined up the boys and the girls separately.  Perhaps in elementary school  it just doesn’t start to matter yet.

“Matty is a girl, you dumbass!” said Charlie Flowers. He stopped adjusting the crimson pirate bandana that bordered his crimson head. He paused and looked at me to see if I was serious. “She’s supposed to go into the girls’ restroom.”

Matty is a character based on several students we have served at Mueller Charter School.  Even in pre-adolescent years, some children identify more with children of the opposite gender– and at that age– it is often difficult to tell them apart.  Matty dressed like a boy, wore her hair like a boy, talked like a boy and behaved like a boy.  Enough to confuse Aiden, who seems to blush a little, shrug his shoulders, and move on:  “In any case, it just didn’t seem to matter much at the Halloween Carnival where, at least for one night, we were all hiding behind one disguise or another.”

We have seen children so insistent on behaving like a child of the opposite gender that they refuse to use the school restrooms.  So we just make quiet arrangements for them to use the nurse’s restroom whenever they need to.

Aiden comments on the sensitivity and compassion of the teachers at El Milagro and we can easily imagine that the staff there has adopted policies similar to those inspired by the Human Rights Campaign.  It is as if he knows, even at the age of ten, that  policies don’t change attitudes and that what really matters is how children are actually treated every day.

As we walked around the carnival, I watched all of the adults interact with Matty like she was any other kid. They all knew. Her former kindergarten teacher even called her by her real name: Madeline. “You look like a pro tonight, Madeline! You look stunning!” Matty smiled.

I had a new respect for Matty and for my school. I felt proud of who we were at El Milagro—a place where kids could be who they needed to be for however long it takes to work it all out.

matty

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Filed under charter schools, children at risk, El Milagro, Fighting for Ms. Rios, gifted children, health care, public education, resiliency, school reform, spiritual intelligence, Uncategorized, zero tolerance policies

CARVING UP CRAIGY

MORE STORIES from “Fighting For Ms. Rios”:

Now that my book is published and available (even for your iPad) through Amazon, I want to resurrect my blog.  There are a lot of really good posts here. So I’ll highlight different stories from Fighting for Ms. Rios and connect them back to a previous post.  It all comes full circle anyway.

BookCoverImageAiden is clearly blessed with many talents: he is an amazing writer, of course.  He is athletic.  He seems to have a sixth sense when it comes to adult culture in schools.  And he is quiet capable of defending himself in a fistfight.

Other interesting talents emerge from time to time– but one of the more peculiar ones is his awareness of when he is invisible to adults.  It’s hard to tell how literal Aiden wants his readers to take these passages, but they are definitely there for a reason.

On his first day at school, on the blacktop, he hears a conversation between a teacher and a parent.  How does he hear it?

I always seem to overhear those kinds of conversations between adults—maybe because I am invisible to them.

He overhears Wanda and Ms. Rios speaking about Raymond. And later, when Craigy gets himself in trouble for bringing a knife to school (Carving Up Craigy), much of Aiden’s narration comes from being invisible.

I wondered how I could have sat through that entire conversation and how it never once occurred to Señora Principal Nuñez or the Compliance Director to send me back to class. But I guess it didn’t. And I remained strangely, invisibly, witness to every word.

invisiblePerhaps it’s just a sneaky literary trick that Aiden is invisible and privy to information that normal kids wouldn’t have at school– if it weren’t one troubling detail.  They are often invisible.  Adults run the place.  They call the shots.  They determine who comes and who goes and at what time kids eat and go to the bathroom and play with their friends.  It’s all about command and control.  And when the adults step off-stage they do so in places where the kids aren’t allowed to go:  the office or the teacher’s lounge or the lunchroom or parking lots or the fast food restaurant down the street.

Some of this is just a matter of practicality. Adults in the workplace have different needs and privileges than children in a school.   But what does it mean when a child feels invisible in his own school?  He has no value? No relevance?  Nothing to offer? No wonder Aiden is so insistent that the adults know his name!
Schools often describe themselves as being student-centered– they aspire to focus all their attention and all of their decision-making around what is best for their students.  That is a worthy mission.  But if they could hear their students speak, if the truth was made manifest, how many are falling through the cracks and chasms simply because they are invisible?

“Carving Up Craigy” is from THE FOURTH JOURNAL: Virtuosos

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Filed under children at risk, Fighting for Ms. Rios, gifted children, public education, school reform, spiritual intelligence

BEYOND YOUR SCHOOL’S TATTOO

A few years ago The Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology released a study on the trend of tattooing. In it, they estimated that 24% of the population between the ages of 18 and 50 had at least one tattoo. But that was five years ago. It is likely much higher now.

And the most popular tattoo? It is the tribal band, a sun or butterfly, or some Chinese script that one can only hope means what you think it means when you commit to wearing it for the rest of your life.

A tattoo is all about commitment and communicating your “brand”.

So I wonder why our parents and our teachers don’t routinely get tattoos of our school logo. Come to think of it, I see all kinds of tattoos every day at my school, but I have never seen even one that promotes our brand.

That’s troubling. Not because I want to see a bunch of tattoo designs of our school, but because tattoos are the the ultimate expression of a customer’s faithfulness to a product. The single most powerful indicator of customer loyalty is when clients willingly share their positive experience with family and friends and urge them to see for themselves. It is the concept of “net promoter”.

And how do citizens of a capitalist and democratic society express their product loyalty? Through their frequent patronage. By word of mouth. By wearing a tee shirt (Hard Rock Cafe-London?) Through Twitter and Yelp and Facebook.

And by affiliating oneself to an idea… symbolically captured in a tattooed brand: the mercedes benz hood logo, the channel interlocking “c’s”, the nike swoosh, the flirtive persona of the playboy bunny, the venerable “NY” of the New York Yankees.

If you were to Google tattoo designs for Harley Davidson you would find pages and pages of them and no shortage of examples carved into every conceivable body part. It is a small price to pay for attaching oneself to the notion of raw power, independence and engineering excellence. Tattoos are, among other things, metaphoric.

If you Google tattoo designs for your school, on the other hand, chances are you won’t find any. You won’t find my school either and that’s the problem. Our stakeholders would sooner ink images of automobiles or household appliances or tobasco sauce to their forearms than their neighborhood school.

There may be some reasons for that:

• Product brands are familiar and reliable and often represent an attribute that an individual is willing to “advertise” for the rest of his or her life. It is less about the product and more about the metaphor. And our schools don’t make good life-long metaphors.

• When schools do show up as tattoos they are logos for universities like USC or Notre Dame or the bright red “A” of the Crimson Tide. But don’t be mistaken. These tattoos are not in tribute to the math department or to the fine services rendered over in accounting. They represent football teams that win more than they lose. Teams with history and swagger. We all like a winner. The Trojans may be on probation but they certainly aren’t in Program Improvement.

• Perhaps most importantly, if someone is willing to tattoo the icon of a business or product to their body, it is because that brand is incontrovertible and well defined. There is no going back. There is, for example, no debate about who (or what) the Apple or Target icons represent.

The neighborhood elementary school? That’s a different story.

But if people have a positive enough experience in the marketplace, if they are so passionate about a product that they feel it in their bones, if they are willing to shout from the rooftops, to at least buy the (Ferrari) tee shirt until they can afford the car– then you have a brand that works.

And if people are willing to compromise their career aspirations for a visible tattoo, to endure the stinging pain and fuss with the healing process, to brook the criticism from mom and the in-laws, to say nothing of their jealous friends’ incessant chiding–it is only because they believe so deeply in what that brand represents.

And, sadly, that is why there aren’t a lot of public schools represented in tattoos. Neither for metaphoric value. Nor for the sake of sentiment.

When it comes to our experience in public schools, there simply is no “brand” identity that invokes the kind of passion required to allow some 19 year old to carve a Chevy monster truck with Bridgestone tires into your ribcage. We forfeited that responsibility to the marketing genius of politicians who chose instead to brand public schools in a far less generous light: as ineffective, archaic, moribund sinkholes that waste taxpayer dollars.

Time for a different brand. Time to promote the extraordinary capacity of teachers and schools to not only engender amazing academic results in whatever test you want to gives us… but to simultaneously prepare students for a future that they will actually inherit– one that will no doubt require them to think, create, innovate, problem solve, communicate (in multiple languages) and work effectively with others.

What would that brand look like? And would you be willing to tattoo the icon to your body if it all lead to extraordinary results?

(This post also appears on LeaderTalk)

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Filed under charter schools, El Milagro, innovation and change, public education, school reform, teaching

A BLINDING FLASH

I’m back.  I have been sleeping.  Drifting through the universe.  Holding on for dear life.

I’m trying to get my second book published and figure out where I go from El Milagro.  So I am going to resurrect my blog and lose myself in thought again.  Maybe Mondays.  I don’t know.

Here’s what I do know…

We got our test results back and they were very strong… very satisfying- at least  from the standpoint of trying to engender higher test results.  We had to give up a lot to get our 35-point growth on the Academic Performance Index (API).  We had to give up science and social studies, for instance.  We also had to give up the arts and music– not that we were ever real strong in those areas before.  We had to give up creative writing and critical thinking and dancing on the blacktop and “the Mission Project” and quality physical fitness time (though we implemented a new standard for nutrition) and problem solving and the science fair.  Our kids did not weigh in on either the ecological crisis in the gulf or Arizona’s immigration policy. In fact, they didn’t apply their learning to very many authentic tasks at all.

But we got to 835 on the API and there is satisfaction in improving our teaching and learning– if in fact we improved our teaching and learning beyond what is required to prepare children to take the California Standards Test.

This year we are striving to improve the API from 835 to 860.  But this time…we are bringing the rest of the state’s curriculum back and organizing around multi-age classrooms.  We are also emphasizing the importance of the 21st Century Skills… since we think it is pretty important that our children can actually compete in a future when grade school accountability movements may very well have run their course.

We will take the 35-point increase on the API because it is better to leverage growth than to have to explain why our students aren’t keeping up with the test prep academies.  We will be all about growing their basic literacy skills.  But we can’t be blinded for a moment by the bright flash of the API or the illusion that it is enough just to get higher test scores.

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Filed under innovation and change, school reform, standardized testing, teaching, Uncategorized

CRUCIBLE

Three weeks remain in the 2009-10 school year an we have just finished testing. We expect to see significant growth over the year before and we expect the schools down the street will  have gotten even more growth and we will be reminded that the schools down the street did it right and we are somehow not as efficient or effective or committed or skilled or blessed or insightful or something.

In the meantime, we also moved the ball down the field on our plan to implement more multi-age classrooms and transform our teaching. We are preparing to return to a curriculum that inspires our children to think and create and spring out of bed in the morning and race down the street to El Milagro because there are things happening here that are worth learning.  In the post-test celebration our students danced on the playground and I was reminded how much I miss seeing them find their rhythm.

Along the way we even challenged ourselves to find a solution to that stubborn dilemma that all teachers face in June: what to do with the kids that aren’t ready for the next grade.  Retain them? Socially promote them?  Transfer them to the schools down the street that have all the answers?

We decided that no one zeros in on student needs like we do.  We decided that we wouldn’t have to retain or socially promote kids that weren’t ready… if we just get them all ready!  And since kids learn and develop on their own time , we decided we would give each struggling learner their own timeline and gameplan for promotion… and multi-age classrooms allow us to do that.

So much is happening at El Milagro… even in the face of opposition and cynicism that we are somehow cheating or taking short cuts.  If you read this blog you know… we are totally focussed on finding a better way.  So we dip, even for a moment, into the fires, searching for that wisdom that even those schools down the street might learn from us.

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Filed under charter schools, children at risk, El Milagro, innovation and change, school reform, Un-graded schools