Wednesday, October 19, 2016

The importance of today for tomorrow

If you are looking for a book to read may I suggest this one:
Technically, book critics and reviewers call it a "middle-grade novel," meant, I suppose for students in grades 4 - 8. Perhaps, but for me, it had a great message.

From 1983-1986, I spent three years as a social worker for the Texas Department of Human Services trying to put families back together. I worked with children who had been abandoned, ignored, beaten, shuffled from home to home, and forgotten. I worked with children whose parents either couldn't or wouldn't feed them, who burned them with cigarettes, who left them alone all night, or who were willing to use them to get drugs. The children who came to me did not come because life was good. They came because life was less than it should be for a three- or five- or eleven- or thirteen-year-old.

I was supposed to help these children. Yet, in most cases, these children helped me.


They taught me the power of knowing that you belong, that you matter, that someone cares for you.

These children - ignored, hurt, forgotten - wanted to belong.

As a social worker, I saw how easily parents and relatives would give up on a child. I saw how adults would take care of themselves instead of taking the time to listen, to care, to help a child - their child.

Yet, most of these children still believed that there were adults who would care for them, who would help them, who would love them.

In our public schools, it is critically important that we create classrooms that care for kids. In our public schools, it is critically important that teachers and principals and bus drivers and cooks understand that the students who come to school every day need to find in our classrooms, on our buses, in our lunch rooms, on the playground people who care for them.

I understand that we have schools so that our children will learn the lessons that will prepare them for the rest of their lives. But our children are living lives right now. To ensure that they will be ready for the rest of their lives the children who come to our schools every day need to know that there are people who care about them, who will create positive spaces for them, who will make them feel like they belong right now.

Our children will never be ready for tomorrow unless they have adults who care for them today.

Monday, October 3, 2016

Because we can, does it mean we should?

First, let me say that I believe that schools should be held accountable. Those of us who teach and those of us who lead schools need to be able to demonstrate that we make an impact, that the hours' spent in our classrooms really do matter.

This is important. For ourselves. For our parents. But most importantly for our students.

However, can we take this too far? Can we know when we have crossed the line and made accountability more important than it should be?

I think I know the answer to that question. Last week, I think I saw good teachers in my district step over the line. They were just doing what I told them to do. They were not being mean or evil. They were following my direction. Good intentions gone wrong. Perhaps.

Last week I watched kindergarten children take a standardized, online assessment. Our district does this for all students in grades K-10. We assess in the fall and in the spring. We do it for the noblest of reasons. We want to establish a baseline so that we can measure growth over the course of the school year.

But just because we can assess kindergarten students using an online assessment in the first month of school, should we?

The first month of school is important - especially for kindergarten students. During the first month, routines are established, culture is created, attitudes are formed. Should we take the time that is required to give the online assessment or invest that time in continuing to create a positive classroom culture?

I have been on the side of assessing our kindergarten students twice a year for some time now. For the past five years, we have assessed kindergarten students in the fall and in the spring. I have advocated that this is important. I have championed the idea that the data we receive from this assessment helps us focus our instruction. I believe that this data makes a difference.

But, what if I have been wrong?

Last week I was in a building and watched as kindergarten students took the exam. For the most part, it appeared to be going well. Many students have handled laptops or ipads before. The online assessment was, for them, not stressful or difficult.

But there was one young student for whom it was not going well. The assessment was too long, the work was not meaningful, the experience was, obviously, frustrating.

And, it made me stop and think?

Perhaps, assessing kindergarten students in the first month of school with an online assessment is not good practice. Perhaps, instead of taking this time, I should instead trust that teachers will gather the information that they need to create meaningful literacy lessons in more authentic classroom literacy activities.

Instead of using September to communicate to kindergarten students that testing and assessment will be part of their school experience, perhaps I should instead encourage teachers to read with students, talk with students, write with students. Perhaps I should encourage meaningful, authentic classroom literacy activities that will engender a love of reading and a love of writing in my kindergarten students.

The online, standardized assessment could probably wait until spring. Kindergarten students would be older, they would have used classroom technology more frequently, and their experience in the classroom over the course of the year would have prepared them to take the online assessment more successfully.

I don't know the right answer.

What I do know is that just because we can doesn't necessarily mean that we should. Especially when it comes to kindergarten student assessment.