This article teaches us that there isno magic formula to successfully serving our Black and Latino male students. Insome cases, separating by ethnicity and gender worked. In some cases, it didnot. There are arguments for and against any type of school.
The difficulty arises whenconsidering all the elements that need to exist in a school that is effectivewith these populations, as well as all other populations. These schools focuson community, culture, individual learning networks, mentoring, relevantcurriculum, rigor, character, ethics, and a respect for learning. That’s a tallorder.
The situation becomes even morecomplicated when attempting to transform a campus. My campus received a $6million TTIPS grant to transform our campus. We are focusing on creatingacademies to make education more relevant and responsive to student interests.Along with that since we are an urban campus with many who are considered”at-risk” students, there comes the charge of keeping studentsengaged—many of our students aren’t aware of their interests in aneducational setting. And if they are aware, they have had little to no occasionto speak or act on these interests. We are needing to create contexts thatinvite discussion, ignite curiosity, boost inquiry into possibilities. We arealso dealing with shrinking enrollment due to feeder pattern changes andchanges in demographics. We need not only to recruit new students to ouracademies but also having to re-recruit, in a sense, our current students forthem to realize that education can be different and more meaningful to them.
This change isn’t limited to ourstudents. There is a need for a philosophical shift for the teachers. Clearly,it’s not a completely new mindset, but rather, a return to the originaleducational values that drove teachers to education in the first place. Many ofus have become so accustomed to the climate of high-stakes testing, thepressures from the powers that be to deliver test results, that we have feltforced to sacrifice or hide our meaningful literacy instruction because it wasso at odds with the assessment world. In response to this, we began thetransformation process by attempting to empower our educators to believe thatit’s time to return to what we know works. It’s time to return to puttingstudents first by having high expectations, rigorous and relevant lessons, andfocusing on what works. It takes courage to confront those above us stillsaying that the test results are our top priority.
Because no matter what we do, thetesting climate continues to exist. We are deemed worthy or unworthy of futuregrant funding based on data that in part is assessment-based. So will thetransformation be successful? Will we be able to strike the fine balancebetween what we know is right and effective for all of our learners with theincreasing demands of high-stakes testing?
Only time will tell. I remainoptimistic not because I am naive or idealistic but because I know it has tohappen. We have to provide a quality education for all of our students. Onething for sure, I am more motivated than ever to find ways to reach not onlyour Black and Latino males but all of our students. Reading this article bolsters the notion thatthe entire school community contributes to the success of these criticalgroups.
I am a teacher. I am passionate about what I do. I want to be able to empower my students to believe in themselves, believe in their education, believe they can achieve their goals.
I try my best to do the right thing. I seek out professional development to better serve my urban students. I read articles and follow discussions to continue to learn how my English language learners learn best. I focus on technology as a means of providing a more equitable education for my 80% low SES kids. I advocate for reform to encourage rigor not just relationships with my students. I search for additional resources to provide for them. I am dedicated to the transformation of my campus.
Still, I wonder, “When will it be enough? Will it ever be?” Will it be okay to admit my shortcomings? Maybe, I am not the most effective educator with all student groups. Maybe, as suggested in research, certain students perform better for certain types of teachers. How, then, can I transform education for these groups I may not be able to reach? If I cannot, is that okay? Should I continue to strive for what I cannot achieve? Or, maybe, there’s another way around it?
I do believe that students and teachers have affinity groups. Especially at a young age, people self-organize into groups where there are others who are similar to them. It just seems to be human nature. Later in life, people who do embrace diversity find themselves in groups with various cultures, but, in a high school setting, what can I do to support my students in feeling more comfortable with diverse learners and teachers? Yes, read multicultural texts. Yes, model the behavior. Yes, openly discuss the importance of a global society. I just wonder how to speed this along; is it possible? If not, will my students ever be able to learn at maximum capacity?
The notion of voice to empower students is critical. One thing I can do is provide a learning context where students and teachers feel safe and encouraged to speak about what they need. I can not only invite suggestions but also respond to these recommendations in a quick and effective manner. And still, I wonder if this is enough?
There’s no magic pill. There’s no program to be purchased. There’s no assessment to measure it, but the idea of having teachers who certain students do not respond to is at odds with effective learning. I offer my experiences as counter examples for I know I could have done many things better, but I would like to hear more on what people are doing that works.
What can educators do? What can policy makers do? What can parents do? What can students do? What can we all do to transform the educational system to one where all learners have access to a rigorous and meaningful education?
Big questions. Answers will begin to form with dicussions like these. Honest reflection will help tease out the issues and hopefully, get us closer to possible solutions.
Sitting at a district meeting yesterday, I heard more of an all too widespread and alarming discussion. “Our students aren’t interested in learning like we were.” “The kids today are distracted by gadgets. They would rather text than talk.” “Our kids don’t have a long attention span.”
All of these rumblings have a common thread. Yes, our students for the most part, are quite different than us, their educators. They are interested in technology. They do like to communicate digitally. They do multitask.
I felt so uncomfortable hearing our district leaders finding so many shortcomings in our students—especially since what these teachers were critical of can be such assets. What people were complaining about are very important skills in the 21st century.
Don’t get me wrong. I, too, have been frustrated by a student slyly texting a friend to socialize instead of completing the class project. I, too, have wondered why I constantly have to switch gears in a single class to engage students. I, too, have wondered how someone can spend hours and hours playing a game and not ten minutes on a journal assignment.
But, after years of wondering and researching and collaborating and analyzing and experimenting, I know one thing. I have more questions. I also know that our students have a cultural wealth that demands our attention and respect. Their knowledge of building and sustaining community, creating and collaborating on multimedia projects, their hunger for information. All of this makes them candidates for being exceptional students.
Then, what’s the problem? Why is the United States lagging behind other countries in education? Why are some schools now being named “drop-out factories”? Why do some teachers perceive our students as being deficient learners rather than remarkable ones?
It’s not the fault of the teachers. It’s not the fault of the students. It’s not the parents. It’s not the media. It’s not the technology companies. It’s not the video games.
It’s the educational system in the United States. We operate in an antiquated context far removed from the realities of today’s society, its demands and its challenges. We want our students to fit into some educational paradigm that was conceived eons ago.
Well, in case you haven’t noticed, so much has happened to transform our landscape. Technology has developed. There are now so many digital advances making once impossible things everyday common occurrences. Every day, there is something new, something that ups the stakes, something that creates another challenge to our obsolete educational system. One thing, however, that is not changing, not transforming, not responding—fast enough anyway—is education.
Today’s learners are different. They learn differently from most of their teachers. All true. I get it.
When, then, do we respond to these differences? When do we take into account these inconsistencies and make systemic changes that embrace our learners and all their skills? When do we create an inclusive environment to fit their needs instead of forcing them into an educational box where they must abandon so much that is part of their culture? When will we demand an education that our students deserve, one where instead of failing, they will thrive?
Technology is not the enemy. It is not gadgets OR lessons. It is not cell phones OR learning. It is not social networks OR accountable talk.
On the contrary, we have the opportunity to use these powerful tools and many more to truly reform our classrooms. We have a chance to show our students how much we do respect and admire their skills by stepping out of our comfort zones to learn from them.
So for today, our first National Digital Learning Day, I ask what you can do to help these changes happen and happen sooner rather than later? Each day we do not advocate for our learners, each day we do not rally around this type of reform is another day where technology leaves education further behind.
Digital. Learning. Digital + Learning. Digital Learning.