Parents and Students Remind Us What Effective Educators Look Like. Is Washington Listening?
Mary-Dean Barringer, CEO, All Kinds of Minds
Two iconic educators—Jaime Escalante and Brian Betts—passed away this month. Known for their work in struggling schools (Garfield High School in Los Angeles and Shaw Middle School in Washington, D.C.), they shared a belief that students in low performing schools can find success as learners and a passion for doing the hard work to make that happen.
“Ganas. That’s all you need—ganas,” Escalante once stated, touting “desire to succeed” as the most important ingredient for Los Angeles barrio kids’ success.
“Nothing I’ve ever seen trumps personal relationships,” declared Brian Betts in a 2008 Washington Post interview about how he intended to turn around Shaw.
Relentless dedication to knowing their students and uncovering individual potential earned both educators high praise from parents and students. Unfortunately, the current national ideas on evaluating principal and teacher effectiveness and turning around low student achievement in schools do not incorporate such indicators.
I had the privilege of meeting Jaime Escalante in 1988, during a promotion for the movie “Stand and Deliver,” where told the story of how dozens of his Hispanic students passed the AP calculus exam. He spoke about the “ganas” it takes for educators to achieve such results. Escalante spent eight years building the math program that led to the story highlighted by the movie. He forged relationships with the principal, a core team of faculty, the community, and the feeder schools, and—most importantly—he succeeded in making math “cool” among students. As a result, his students wanted to succeed, not because of an innate interest in calculus, but because of a student-teacher relationship based on respect for learners and learning.
Under the Obama administration’s “blueprint” for reauthorizing ESEA, a principal like the one who supported Escalante’s dream of high achieving Hispanic math students would be drummed out after five years, and a teacher like Escalante would probably be replaced. Garfield was and remains a low performing school. The overall test scores for the school are still abysmal by state norms. Escalante didn’t even teach his first calculus course until his fifth year, when five students completed the course. His unorthodox teaching methods that produced the stellar results on the AP test were far from a “research-based instructional program” that would today be required at Garfield.
Turning around low performing schools is clearly an urgent need, yet Escalante’s story reminds us that transforming such a school to a beacon of learning takes time, hard work, and the persistence of many. I wonder how many stories like this never unfold due to the current turnaround policy, with its focus on immediate test score increases.
Which brings me to Brian Betts. Educators rarely make national news for doing something wonderful, so the media attention around this young principal’s tragic death stands out. The hundreds of tributes on the D.C. Public Schools website provide us with a glimpse of Betts’ effectiveness as an educator.
Parents and students alike identified Betts’ central success: he really knew each student. “He called my daughter by name; he was the first principal to do that.” “He knew something special about each student.” “He recognized and appreciated the uniqueness about each one of us, even the not so pretty.”
Was Brian an effective principal? He was in his second year at Shaw; test scores actually declined after his first year to 29% proficiency. Yet people believe he was going to make a difference—based on the data they had about the trust, relationships and respect for students he was building as a foundation for academic achievement.
Betts understood critical success factors for student achievement that remain elusive to our policy makers. You need to know learners and learning as deeply as you know the content you are going to teach to students. Research suggests that this knowledge could contribute more to student success over time than the test scores that federal policy would use to determine an educator’s effectiveness. This is not to suggest that academic growth shouldn’t be measured and be a part of educator evaluation. But in ignoring how well educators know and care for individual students, we are failing to capture the effectiveness data about what matters most to students: parents and teachers.
Teacher Appreciation Week is a time when parents and students recognize and reward teachers for their hard work and the lasting influence they have on individuals, not for composite test scores. This is the kind of evaluation that feeds the “ganas” within the teaching profession. I invite you to join me in expressing my appreciation for the teachers who excel in knowing their students, as Brian Betts and Jaime Escalante did.
3 New Schools Recognized as Schools of Distinction for their Amazing Work with Students
We are pleased to welcome Monroe Elementary School (in Enid, OK), The Quaker School at Horsham (Horsham, PA), and Woodinville Montessori School (Woodinville and Bothell, WA), as Schools of Distinction using the All Kinds of Minds approach to change the face of learning.
Monroe Elementary School began their collaboration with All Kinds of Minds in 1999 after recognizing the need to help students who were falling through the cracks. Today the school’s entire faculty is trained in the All Kinds of Minds approach, and principal Kay Kiner credits the use of this knowledge for helping improve test scores and reducing special education referrals.
The Quaker School at Horsham is a small, independent school serving students with learning differences. As students are guided to explore what makes each of them unique and valued, a focus on identifying learning strengths and affinities allows the school to better meet the individual needs of its diverse population.
Woodinville Montessori School is an independent, coeducational day school with 265 toddler, early childhood, elementary, and junior high students located in Woodinville and Bothell, Washington. Using the All Kinds of Minds approach, faculty members devote in-service sessions to building their skills at identifying and circumventing the barriers to student learning.
Read Our New Book and Spread the Word!
All Kinds of Minds just published a new book, Schools for All Kinds of Minds: Boosting Student Success by Embracing Learning Variation, in March, and initial reviews have been favorable! If you’ve already read the book, consider …
- Writing a brief book review on the Amazon, Barnes and Noble, or Borders websites
- Mentioning the book on Facebook, Twitter, or your blog
- Sharing the book with other educators in your school and beyond. We can help you put the All Kinds of Minds approach to work in your school! Visit the Using the Book page to discover a multitude of bonus resources such as chapter-by-chapter discussion questions, discussion protocols, downloadable templates and more!
Next week, May 3rd – 7th, is National Teacher Appreciation Week. All Kinds of Minds would like to extend a sincere thank-you to the thousands of teachers who are using our approach to help all kinds of learners find success every day. Teachers, be sure to seize this opportunity to reflect on the positive difference you are making in your students’ lives. Others, be sure to take time this week to honor the teachers in your life – here are some creative ideas.
Rethink Learning Now:
Promoting Meaningful Student Learning
All Kinds of Minds has joined the Rethink Learning Now campaign! Launched last September, this campaign seeks to ensure that our national conversation about improving public education focuses on things that will lead to meaningful student learning. The effort, driven by a consortium of 30+ member organizations, focuses on three core pillars of successful education reform—learning, teaching, and fairness.
Aside from releasing three provocative public service announcements (available on the website), the campaign’s first step is to invite people to recount powerful learning experiences and identify the attributes that made those experiences so successful. As the number of stories grows over time, the campaign is representing visually, via a tag cloud, the attributes that appear most often across people’s experiences. The purpose is to identify the core conditions that best support powerful learning so that all of us can be more prepared to ask our lawmakers to institute reforms based more clearly on what young people need in order to thrive—and stay—in school.
We encourage you to submit a story that reflects the value of bringing a neurodevelopmental approach to teaching, how this approach creates a more powerful learning environment, or how this approach can lead to greater equity in learning. Help us ensure that this important conversation about what matters in education reform reflects the power of understanding and embracing learning variation!
Defining and Measuring Success
As the end of the school year nears, we as teachers often find ourselves reflecting on the past weeks and months. Was this year a successful one for your students? How do you know?
We teach in an era in which the public now defines success as the score on an annual summative assessment. It’s not outrageous. If our students have been internalizing knowledge and skills throughout the course of the year, shouldn’t they be able to demonstrate that knowledge on any given day? Yes, but we also know there is more to being able to successfully produce knowledge on demand—such as the memory demands of a multiple-choice test, the strength of attention to sustain mental energy and focus for an extended period of time, and the ability to think and problem-solve and draw conclusions within the given time restraints, all influenced by the emotions that come into play on “test day.”
Summative assessments and the resulting scores are one integral piece of a much more complex puzzle of student success. What else goes into documenting the richness and complexity of your students as learners and of their learning experience? If we step back and take a more holistic view, what do we see?
Try this …
Take a moment to reflect on one student you have worked with this year:
- What have you and the student discovered about his strengths? Think of examples of how the student has been able to use these strengths. How have these strengths gotten even stronger?
- What affinity or passion did the two of you uncover that can motivate deeper scholarship and academic pursuit?
- What is this student’s mindset regarding his/her ability to succeed? Is he optimistic? Does he feel empowered to try new skills and accomplish novel tasks, even if they might be difficult?
- What does this student know about his learning profile that has helped him be strategic when approaching a task? Think of an example if how he has taken on more responsibility for learning as the year progressed.
- What’s going on socially for this student? Is he engaging with his peers in appropriate ways?
- What leadership characteristics has this student demonstrated this year? In what areas does he feel confident and encourage other students?
- If you assembled a portfolio of the student’s work from Day 1 of this school year to today, what story would it tell? In writing? In math? In reading?
Qualitative data gathered from a variety of sources allows us to document a broad range of accomplishments. Considering strengths, affinities, and weaknesses helps to create a rich description of a student as a learner. One of the greatest gifts you can give your students and their parents is this rich self-portrait to build from as they continue their journey as a learner.
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