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You can’t teach them if they’re not paying attention…

June 20, 2011

Yes, this is a basic statement and will likely cause several “yeah, duh” reactions, but it’s surprising how overlooked this simple truth really is.  When we read about the factors influencing education, we hear so much about curriculum – whether there should be national standards or not, should there be more emphasis on STEM, etc. Or, funding — there is a never-ending litany of schools/districts/states talking about how there isn’t enough money to do what needs to be done.  Classroom size is another oft-debated topic — our classrooms are still “over-crowded” yet on average they have been getting consistently smaller over the last 30 years.  Or how about charter schools are the better way to educate our children?

The one thing that gets VERY little attention, however, and has, frankly the biggest impact on education is student behavior. All of the above things I just mentioned are directly affected, for good or for bad, by how students conduct themselves in the classroom, yet this is virtually never addressed in any high-level discussions on how to improve education!

I know it’s a problem, both from my direct experience in the classroom as well as from discussions and feedback from teachers and administrators. Take, for example, this comment on a recent posting of mine. Steve wrote Read more…


The “Anti-Social” Social Media

June 17, 2011

Before I get into the meat of this post, let me say that while it is directed primarily at kids and youth, the topic is certainly be applicable to adults.  I really started thinking about this a while back as part of the research I was doing for the “It’s Not Who You Know…” book.  There’s a body of thought that believes technology, particularly social media, has given us a great boost in finding, building and keeping connections with people.  But the reality is that it’s a “yes and no” kind of answer.  Social media can be a great tool…if used correctly and appropriately. Yet, too often, it’s not. And that’s when the complications set in. Let’s look at a few of the issues:

Amount of time spent: our young people are spending increasing amounts of time on various social media platforms.  According to a Kaiser Family Foundation report (2010), teens are spending an average of more than 53 linear hours a week using “entertainment media.” But, because of their talent for multi-tasking they are actually “using” a lot more time than that.  Consider that this is the equivalent of more than a full-time “job!”

Another concern is what they are doing with that time.  I’m not going to get into all the details of the really bad stuff like cyberbullying, lurking potential predators, and sexting in this post — that’s a huge can of worms to be opening today.  But what I do want to talk about is how this online “social” time is affecting their offline social abilities. Consider:

  • Of your many FaceBook/MySpace…pick your platform…”friends,” how many people do you actually know?  It may be a few dozen…maybe a hundred.  But you can’t really form “friendships” with thousands of people, now can you?  Often someone’s popularity is dictated specifically by how many followers they have.  If you are a teen, is your self-esteem affected by whether or not you have a large following?
  • The paradigm for forming friendships or building relationships on social media is not something that easily translates into the real world.  You can’t just knock on someone’s door, ask if there are any kids who live there, and suddenly become “friends.”  Yet, this is essentially what a lot of social media connections are based on. You find someone who may have one or more common interests, see if they seem interesting, and ask to be their friend.  Now, you may use that as the basis for later developing a friendship, but it’s a bit backwards of a model. Read more…

“Change” requires DOING something different

June 4, 2011

Do you ever find yourself in a situation that seems like a never-ending circular argument?  Sometimes it seems to me that our schools are stuck in a permanent state of “Who’s on First?”

There is so much talk about how schools want to improve their present circumstances.  They want their students to get better grades, achieve more in reading/math/science/technology. They want teachers to be happier and  more productive. They want bullying or other anti-social behavior to diminish. They want parents to be more involved and engaged in their children’s education.  The schools are full of wants and objectives…but what do they do with that?

It’s in the “do” that things fall apart.  You see, in order for things to be different in the schools, something has to change.  And, we all know that change is VERY hard. Even positive change.  And, for many schools, districts or administrations, change is virtually impossible. Here’s what happens when you suggest change to improve their present circumstances:

Before I get too far down the road here with generalizations (anyone who has read this blog for a while KNOWS I hate rubber-stamping everyone with the same label), let me just say that I KNOW this isn’t true of all schools, so please don’t be offended if you are one of the enlightened and inspired ones who is honestly striving to make a difference. But this blog is directed at those for whom the following conditions ring true. Read more…

Memorializing Memorial Day

May 29, 2011

Yes, tomorrow is Memorial Day.  Many of us think of it as the official start of summer.  Perhaps it’s marked by the Indy 500 race (which is today, BTW).  Or, if you are from the South or are very aware of fashion etiquette, it’s also the first day ladies may decently wear white shoes.

All of these may be true, but the real message behind Memorial Day is often overshadowed by the celebrations and festivities.  It’s a day to remember.

Since our country was founded more than 200 years ago, many people have dedicated themselves to keeping us safe and free. For some, it meant giving their lives in the process.  It is these people whose memory we honor on Memorial Day. While tomorrow is an American holiday, it’s one we need to keep in our hearts regardless of where we are.

At present, I’m in Grand Cayman on business (and sneaking in a little vacation, too, if I’m to be completely honest!). What we have planned for tomorrow is to host an “old-fashioned American Barbecue” for some of our Caymanian friends.  Steaks, potato salad..there may even be an Apple
Pie in it somewhere, along with “home-shaken buttermilk ice cream (thanks, to Food Network Magazine for this one…we have portable ice cream that will be a blast for the kids to take turns “shaking” it to chill).  However, at some point during the fun, we will be making a toast to the fallen and thanking them for their sacrifice.

For me, though, I’ll be remembering someone else, too, who left us last Memorial Day.  No, he didn’t serve in the military, but he was the son in a military family.  Christian Taylor took his own life last Memorial Day as a final escape from the bullying that had been tormenting him for years. I’ve written about Chris before and have gotten to know his mother, Lisa Williams quite well in past several months.  I know Memorial Day is supposed to be about the military men and women who have left us, but there’s room in my heart for Chris and his family as well.

Yes, “Happy Memorial Day” is one aspect of this holiday we’ve been granted, and there is certainly a lot to celebrate. But, if we consider that one of the definitions of “celebrate” means “to honor (as a holiday) especially by solemn ceremonies or by refraining from ordinary business” (source: it’s clear that spirit of the day is to pay our respects and honor those who have died so that we can remain safe and free. That sentiment travels well and doesn’t require any excess baggage fees so I encourage all Americans — whether “home” or abroad, to take a moment and “celebrate” the memory of those who served and the legacy they left.

“Congress Must Pass Law to Prevent Teenage Bullying in School” – Say WHAT??

May 16, 2011

Yes, this truly is the subtitle of a new posting by the Center for American Progress this month. The post, entitled “More than a Bully Pulpit” is insisting that Congress get on with passing laws addressing bullying in schools.

Conceptually it sounds ok — we all know that bullying is running rampant in so many of our schools.  But I have some problems both with what’s being proposed, and what it’s actually supposed to accomplish.

First, if you read the post, American Progress is implying that the issues of bullying and protection for students, is largely a LGBT one. The post begins by citing new research that indicates students that are gay, lesbian, bi-sexual, or trans-gender students that suffer bullying experience “long-term effects extending well into young adulthood.”  I agree, that is very likely true.  However, this can be said of ANY child, not just an LGBT student.

Second, the two pieces of legislation that are being proposed can’t really be called “prevention” methods, at all. Read more…

Bullying: “If I don’t see it, it doesn’t exist”

May 10, 2011

Do you remember being a child and pretending that if you had your eyes closed you or someone else with whom you were playing the game was invisible?  The thinking was, “If I can’t see you, you aren’t there.”  Well, most of us grew up and learned that just because you aren’t looking at something or someone, it doesn’t mean it’s not there.

I read an article this morning in the Miami Herald that has me concerned that our schools may be falling into the same child-like dreamland.  The gist of the article is that in Florida, apparently cases of bullying are going under-reported in school districts across the state. If you look at the chart cited in the article, bullying has decreased in every school district over the past two years listed (2008-2009, 2009-2010).  Virtually half of the school districts in the state, the Herald shares, reported fewer than 10 bullying incidents per year.

School district officials question these statistics. Pinellas County reported only 71 bullying incidents in 2009-2010. Given what we know of previous data, school district size, and average rates of bullying nationwide, the officials would have expected a number closer to a little over 1,100. Read more…

Education: Finger pointing and blame placing is NOT a solution

May 9, 2011

Wanted: Enlightened school/district administrators, education experts, influencers wanting to fix our education system.

No, this is not meant to be a joke — it’s meant to be a call to action. If you meet that criteria, and take that seriously, we want to talk with you because we can help.

I was inspired to write this post because I think it’s time we got down to the business of actually doing something about our education system rather than continue down the predictable, yet ineffective path of finger-pointing, placing blame, and searching for external excuses for why education is not meeting the needs of our children.

What do I mean?  Well, here’s a sample of the “reasons” for why education isn’t working:

  • School districts cite overly-restrictive teachers’ unions for why they can’t get fair teacher evaluation, hire good teachers/fire bad ones, keep salaries within reasonable levels, etc.
  • Teachers’ unions blame the districts for not providing better working conditions, pay, benefits to their teachers. They blame the states for “underfunding” education and keeping teachers’ pay so low that they can’t attract and retain qualified staff. Read more…