The Achievement Gap

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Three simple words that can silence a room almost as quickly as they are uttered. We all know it exists. We’ve known for quite some time now. But it’s not going away. In fact, it appears to be widening in many areas.

And it’s not as if we aren’t giving it attention. We’ve thrown money at it to see if it that would work. That had little to no effect. We’ve had educators receive professional development led by “experts” that we just knew would do the trick. Strike two. We’ve even begun, in the last two presidencies, collecting disaggregated data in the hopes that increased vigilance and accountability would somehow be the silver bullet we’d been looking for. Strike three.

Now what?

I for one, believe that we are going about this all wrong. My concern is that, we are so focused on being politically correct, that we have lost sight of doing what is right. For kids that is. Sure, we can say that we are trying to narrow the gap and maybe that allows us to sleep better at night. But each of us knows that the gap will still be there in the morning when we wake up.

The recent emphasis on equity as opposed to equality has led us to believe that all students are getting what they need. But it’s going to take more than our current level of differentiation to accomplish what needs to be done. What needs to happen is going to look very different from what we are doing and it is going to require us to think outside of the box. More than anything, it’s going require us taking some hits.

And I think these are hits worth taking because our current efforts are not working.

I know that what I am about to say will not come as a surprise to many, if any.

But the children that walk through our doors each morning are coming to us with vastly different levels of preparedness. Simply put, many of the kids we serve each day are just not ready for what it is we are putting them through. Yet, we act as if a tweak here or a tweak there will help them make it through the day.

Knowing is not enough; we must apply. Willing is not enough; we must do

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

I’m here to tell you that (a) they’re not making it through the day and (b) just making it through does not help narrow gaps. This is my 20th year in education and in all of my years I have never seen children enter school with as many social, emotional and physical needs as I do today. The current level of need absolutely blows me away!

We say Maslow before Bloom, but somehow Bloom always wins out. I would estimate that about 90% of my school day is spent helping students who are not ready for school cope and make it to the last bell. And believe me, it is extremely difficult for both of us. Many students in this country need more something different than what we are providing them.

It’s not as of our students aren’t trying to tell us. Some cry, some scream, some kick, some run, some sleep and some fight. We think that this is by choice. But let’s get real. Most of these students are crying out for help. They are tired. They are hungry. They are angry. They are stressed. They have cortisol levels that are off the charts.

And yet we expect them to conduct themselves like their peers and achieve at the same levels as their peers? Get the f*$% outta here! Their peers don’t have to deal with any of the issues that they do. Yet, and here is where things get tricky. If we even hint at having different expectations for these students then we are accused of showing prejudice. We are told that we do not believe that all students can achieve.

I for one, do believe that all students can achieve. And for the most part, I believe that all students have the potential to achieve at high levels.

But…

We must work to give all students a fighting chance. But we are not. It’s as if we are sending kids out to play tackle football without a helmet and without pads. Sure, they get to be on the field. And some may even make out okay. But most won’t. And as each day passes, they become more battered and more bruised. Yet they keep coming back because they are told they have to. And this is when gaps begin to form.

What do I have in mind, you ask. It will look different for each child. And it will take some time, but I believe it is possible. Here is a list of ways I think we can get there:

  • Begin each day with 30 minutes of rigorous exercise
  • Provide a comfortable and safe place for students that lack sleep to get some extra sleep.
  • Help students reduce their cortisol levels when they enter school so they don’t start their day angry
  • Spend as much time building inter/intrapersonal skills as we do math, reading and writing skills
  • End each day celebrating accomplishments and setting goals for the future

I believe the only way to close and eliminate the achievement gap is to make sure that all students are fully equipped. As I mentioned earlier, this will involve us taking some hits early.

So what?

If it means that more students are successful then I say bring it on.

We can’t worry about being politically correct.

We can’t what it looks like if we find that one group needs more help than others.

We can’t worry about what outsiders say.

We must remember that our number one priority is to fully equip all students so that they are able to run out onto the field and compete.

The bottom line is that we must start doing what is best for kids and stop doing what looks best for adults.

From now on the rule is Maslow before Bloom, always!

In those days, we finally chose to walk like giants and hold the world in arms grown strong with love. And there may be many things we forget in the days to come. But this will not be one of them.

Brian Andreas

I Said Yes

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I can’t today.

Sorry, I have a meeting.

I wish I could.

This is just a sampling of the responses I give students when they ask to eat lunch with me. I wish I didn’t have to. But the nature of my job is such that it is very rare that I have 20, let alone 30, consecutive minutes to sit down and eat lunch with a student.

And so I hate to commit to eating lunch with a child because I know that at any second I could be called to a classroom because a child is struggling and the teacher needs my assistance. I have read and heard that we should not allow what is urgent to take precedence over what is important. Like sitting down and eating lunch with students.

But the urgent matters that I often get called for are ones that must be handled right away. Or the learning in the room can’t continue. And so I go when and where I am called.

I realize that this is not a situation that is unique to me. And it’s not as if the people that I work with have it better. It’s just frustrating. That’s all. Okay, whine time is over.

But last week I was asked to eat lunch. By a student who asks me almost everyday. By a student who is simply put, a beautiful soul. And you know what?

I said yes!

I had the best time. She got to share with me how and why her day was AWESOME and I got to just sit back and listen about why. It was wonderful. I showed her some videos of my kids that I thought she might enjoy and she smiled and seemed to enjoy watching them just as much as I did.

We had to stop a few minutes early because I was called to a room. But to get to spend 25 minutes eating lunch and connecting with this student made my day. She makes me smile. Because no matter what seems to be happening around her, she is always happy.

She is often in the rooms that I get called to. To deal with the urgent. And yet it doesn’t seem to phase her.

She continues to ask me to eat lunch with her.

Despite the fact that I have to turn her down almost every single time.

Why hasn’t she given up on me?

Why does she keep asking?

Doesn’t she realize that my office is often filled with angry, aggressive and sometimes violent children? She must know. And yet…

Maybe she is trying to teach me something that I have yet to figure out.

I have the magnet. I share the quote with those that I feel could benefit from hearing it. But am I following my own advice?

 

Peace

It does not mean to be in a place where there is no noise trouble or hard work. It means to be in the midst of those things and still be calm in your heart.

As she was leaving my office and preparing to dump her tray, she asked me if I was going to be still be at school at 4 o’clock. She was going to be practicing a song for her after school group. I can’t remember if I was or not. But I do know that I missed it. And that is a shame.

I would have loved to have should have been there.

I must start making time more often to eat lunch with this student. In my position there will always be noise and trouble and hard work. But I must do a better job of finding peace. And spending time with people who have already figured this out is a great way to start.

I Must Do The Same

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In those days, we finally chose to walk like giants and hold the world in arms grown strong with love. And there be many things we forget in the days to come. But this will not be one of them.

Brian Andreas

If I hadn’t witnessed it with my own eyes, I am not sure I would have believed it could happen.

Three times in three days!

But it did.

The first time I took a little bit of the brunt. Not much. But a little. The student had lost their temper and cursed and pushed and almost reached the point of no return. Almost. But not quite. And if I had gone with my initial reaction I would not have this story to tell.

Lucky for me I got some good advice.

Have the student and the teacher sit down together. To come up with a plan on how they could move forward. I knew this wasn’t going to be easy. The level of disrespect shown to this teacher was off the charts. And to be quite honest, I had no idea how the conversation was going to go.

It couldn’t have gone any better. The teacher had every right to be mad. To be livid. But they weren’t. They had every right to ask for their “pound of flesh.”  But they didn’t. This teacher did ask for one thing. To be treated with respect. A more than fair request.

Towards the end of the conversation I made a suggestion. One in which I probably had no right to ask. But in the hopes of rebuilding this relationship I thought it just might work. I asked the teacher if they’d be willing to take on this student as an assistant of sorts. Without a thought, the teacher agreed. The conversation ended with a firm handshake and gentle heart.

It’s moments like the one above that give you hope. They give you hope that you can make a difference. They give you hope that what you’re doing is worthwhile. They let you know that people are inherently good when given a chance.

So you can imagine my disappointment when two days later, the same student ended up in my office for a remarkably similar event. I was speechless! Didn’t they learn? Hadn’t they reflected on what took place? Weren’t they grateful for having been given a second chance?

At least I had learned something. I did not fly off at the handle. I didn’t make any rash decisions. Instead, I asked the staff member who was on the receiving end of the student’s anger to come to my office. While they made their way to my office I lectured the student on the inappropriateness of what they had done.

Once again, the offended adult was not looking for revenge or hoping for punishment. They simply wanted the student to do the right thing. Despite the fact that this staff member towered over the student by at least two feet, they did not look down on them. The meeting ended with a sincere apology and a firm handshake.

Not thirty minutes had gone by when I got wind that this student had disrespected yet another staff member. I took a deep breath and tried to fathom how this was possible. Was I being played?

I was able to speak to this staff member before we met with the student. And once again, the staff member’s main concern was for the student, not for themselves. In fact, they told me they just knew that they were going to win this kid over.

What!?

Here, this grown adult was threatened and disrespected and all they wanted was to win this kid over. And I can tell you because I was in the room. That’s exactly what they did! Hugs were exchanged and smiles were warm.

As I sat and reflected on what I had witnessed over the past three days I couldn’t help but feel honored. To get to work with such amazing people each and every day is a gift. The work we do is hard. But when you work with good people it’s not as hard as it could be.

The student and I sat for a while. And I have to think that they were just as amazed as I was at the unconditional forgiveness that we had witnessed over the past three days. My charge to the student was that they now  were to try and show the same unconditional forgiveness the next time they feel as if they had been treated unjustly.

And you know what?

I must do the same.

[Suhm-pin]

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You become responsible forever for what you have tamed.

The Little Prince, Antoine de Saint-Exupery

I know it is coming soon.

It’s simply the natural progression of things.

But I am not looking forward to it.

As of today, November 11, 2016, my five-year old son still pronounces the word something like this

[ Suhm-pin ]

And I love it! Each time he says it I just melt. You see, it wasn’t that long ago that my daughter, who is eleven, had similar words that she had her own unique way of pronouncing. Not any more. I miss them. At the same time, I am proud of the girl she is becoming. On her own. It is beautiful to watch.

But I am also reminded of the enormous responsibility we have before us. We are presented with these “eyes-wide-open” hatchlings who know nothing of what they are about to face. And it seems like just yesterday that we ourselves were in need of taming.

Or were we?

Were we that unruly?

Did we not have more to offer than just obedience?

Was the leash what we really needed?

There are times when I correct my children or students and then I wonder. Why? And am I correcting or am I taming? Yes, we have a responsibility as parents and teachers and adults, to guide children. The world is not easy to navigate. And there is much we can teach them.

But I think we are forgetting one crucial fact.

There is much they can teach us.

Until they are tamed.

And then…

Well, one of the synonyms of tame is broken. Once something becomes broken it no longer thinks for itself. It becomes dependent. Worse yet, it becomes obedient. Is that what happened a few weeks ago? Were many voters in such a state of dependence and obedience that they no longer were able to think for themselves? Have they been tamed past the point of no return?

It was as if folks were being led around on a leash. But they were okay with it because…

Were they even aware?

I don’t fault them.

We let it happen.

Like a mistreated animal, they were sometimes beaten (sexually assaulted women) and other times denigrated (homophobic slurs). Yet this was okay, because their master held the leash. And he would give them a treat from time to time. He really did love them and he couldn’t possibly have meant all those things he said.

And was what he said really that bad? 

Master is always right.

Master has the treats.

Master lets us out.

Master must be right.

Yes, Master must be right!

He is our master and he takes good care of us. He would never let anything or anybody hurt us. He promised.

Those that speak against the Master don’t know him. They wildly run around unleashed and think they know. But they don’t. We remember when we used to run around leash-less. It was…

Actually we can’t remember.

Oh well.

It doesn’t matter anymore now that we have Master.

My son still can’t properly pronounce the word something and I freakin’ love it! I am not ready to tame him just yet. In fact, I don’t think if I ever will be. Because if I do, then he will no longer be able to run free. He will no longer have the ability to think for himself.

And that is [ Suhm-pin ] I am just not ready to have happen.

Who’s In?

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It took all of about 5 seconds. But it has been almost a week now. And as I sit in silence as the sun begins to rise, I think, “this is the moment I want to share.” Because it was beautiful. Because it was powerful. And because it mattered. A lot!

The school day had started and I was simply walking down the hallway. When a young student turned and happened to notice I was behind him. He was at a distance where most children would simply say Hi Mr. Harper and return to class. I would have been have been fine with that. But this young man did something quite different.

This beautiful child turned, walked towards me and opened his arms wide to give me a hug. He didn’t have to. I didn’t ask him to. He wanted to! And it meant the world to me. Not so much because he gave me a hug. But because he knew I wanted one. And because he wanted one too.

Moments like this can’t be planned and they can’t be measured. But we can work for them. And we must work for them. I work with an amazing group of people everyday that do just that. They work for the moments.

But it is hard work. And what appears to be effortless is oftentimes quite exhausting. What I mean is that there are those that we watch and we think that because they appear to, have it all together, everything comes easy to them.

Their class is awesome!

They always seem happy.

Their students adore them.

But it’s not that simple! These folks have to work damn hard. And it is very easy to forget this. We spend much of our time helping and nurturing those that we see in need or those we see that are struggling. And we forget about those that don’t appear to be struggling.

This week let’s take more time to check on these folks.

They are struggling too.

But they continue to smile.

And they are always positive.

And we continue to lean on them when we need help.

But they are human.

And they get tired. And they get angry. And they get down.

But you’d never know it. This week let’s thank them for what appears to effortless. This week let’s thank them for always being there. This week let’s thank them for creating so many powerful moments.

Better yet, this week let’s create a moment for them.

Who’s in?

Missing Socks

missing-socks

I want to start making time to find my missing socks because it pisses me off when I can’t. It doesn’t sound like much. I know. But it bothers me that they go missing. And every morning I waste a few seconds here and a few there hoping that at least one might magically return.

What would my productivity mentors say? Well, they don’t really know that their my mentors. But I look to them for ways that I can be more productive with my time. I am referring to the countless people that share information, tips and ideas about ways that I can be more productive with my time. Or to put in kids terms, use my time wisely. I’m not even sure I know what that means anymore.

In his bestselling book, Good To Great, Jim Collins suggests that we should spend less time making to-do lists and more time creating stop-doing lists. I can dig that. Our lists of stuff to do are just too damn long. And while I am on the topic of lists, do we always have to have one? I know I know. We are all very busy and we have a lot to get done. Or at least we tell ourselves that we do.

But I am starting to realize that we don’t always have to focusing on doing. Because I am starting to realize that not-doing can oftentimes feel quite good. By not-doing I do not mean ignoring and/or neglecting our responsibilities.

What I am referring to is granting yourself time each day or at the minimum, each week, to simply be. To not be working on something that can checked off a list. Plus, I am beginning to find that 2 or 3 things well done can be much more rewarding than a laundry list of assorted tasks that have been checked off.

I spend a lot of time reading articles, listening to podcasts and viewing Ted Talks aimed at helping us become more productive. But here’s the thing. If we are always looking for ways to to better do things then we are doing things. Right?

I mean Getting Things Done by David Allen is brilliant, but it means we always have stuff to do. Do we really? I really want to have time to find my missing socks because it pisses me off when I can’t. But I don’t because I am working my list. Why? Because it’s there. And if it’s there, then it must get worked.

I need to really start thinking about what is essential in my life. What is necessary?

Are there things on the list that…if didn’t get done…nobody but me would know? They need to go!

What are the things that bring me the most joy in life? They need to be on the list!

They should not be added only if I have spare time.

I believe we need to start saving our energy for our passions and the things that matter most to us. Like our families, our friends and our bucket lists. It’s time to get started on this.

No more “getting ready.”

My dad used to always tease me when I told him I was “gettin’ ready” to do something. Because we all know that getting ready to do anything is just a b.s. excuse for I’d rather waste more time doing nothing. And life is too short for that.

As I am typing away at 4 am I can hear the light above the sink humming.The kind that provides just enough light to see but not enough to see well. I hear my heating system turn off and on as it battles to keep the house at just the right temperature.

And right now I am waiting for just the right words to finish this piece. They appear in spurts. A sentence here. A word there. I keep glancing at the tabs I have open at the top of my browser so from time to time I glance up. But I am able to resist clicking them. They’re not on my list.

Ha ha.

What if I took this time to find those missing socks?

Would that be so bad?

I think I can do it.

I’m tired of knowing that that S.O.B. is somewhere in my house just mocking me.

And just like that that I lost my train of thought.

That’s okay.

Time to step away.

Creative flow state can’t be forced.

To be honest I don’t think we really have much say in the matter. We can create favorable conditions in the hope that it appears. But then it just shows up. Unannounced. And when it does we need write like Hell.

I think I’m gonna go look for those socks.

I can finish this blog another day.

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Look For The Moments

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He is still afraid of the dark. And at 4 years old that was to be expected. So as the daylight began to fade my son started to get nervous. Nevermind the fact that he was with 40,000 people and his parents and sister. He was still worried.

It was at this point my wife and I began to wonder if we had made the right decision taking our four-year old son to the One Direction concert. We had been preparing him for several months now and we already knew that he loved their music.

My daughter and I had seen them the summer before and we had a blast. But there is a big difference between a four and an eight year old. We thought it would be a fun family event and a nice way to celebrate our anniversary and my birthday, which happen to fall only two days apart. But maybe it was too much too soon for our son who had yet to enter preK.

It was at this point that we were ready to do whatever it took to make our four-year old happy. One Direction had yet to take the stage, but we knew it was only a matter of minutes before all of the lights went out and the show would begin. I decided to try sugar and salt.

So I hurried to the concession stand and got him cotton candy and pop corn. By the time I had come back my wife had cleverly convinced my son that the sky was just one big giant roof. He didn’t turn the food away, but this new way of looking at his surroundings helped to ease his worries.

And then they came on stage and my son, along with 40,000 screaming fans, was mesmerized. We had great seats, but I had to hold him so that he could see the stage and the giant video screen.

After about a half an hour my son began to tire. His eyes began to droop and his head fell more heavily on my shoulder. It was 9:30, way past his bedtime. Once again we wondered if we had made the right decision. Was it worth paying the money for his ticket if he was going to sleep through the concert?

But he never did.

He may have been tired, but he hung in there. There were times when I know he could have drifted off. Right in the middle of the concert. And yet, every time I asked him if he was having a good time, he would tell me yes. After the first fifteen minutes, he never complained once.

And then, towards the end of the night they played The Story Of My Life. My son’s favorite One Direction song. His face lit up and he sang along. With his eyes closed and the most incredible smile I have ever seen on his face. That was why we came! For that moment right there! It was unbelievable. To witness my son in a complete state of bliss was something I will never forget.

Looking back it is hard to believe that almost eight years ago my wife and I weren’t sure if having our son was even going to be a possibility. I had just found out that I had prostate cancer and therefore having another child was going to be difficult. Luckily through the marvels of modern medicine and an incredibly strong and determined wife, my son was born over five years ago. By the way I am 100% cancer free and have been for nine years.

My wife went through a lot so that my son could be here today. And I can never repay her for what she went through to have our son. But I can cherish every single moment that I get to spend with her and our two children. They make life worth living. More than that, they make life beautiful!

Usually I have a takeaway in mind when I begin writing a piece. But this time? I’m not so sure. A One Direction concert, in a packed stadium, with 40,000 screaming fans. What is so special about that? It’s been happening all around the world for the past several years.

Maybe it is this. That too often we worry too much. Was my son ready to attend a concert in a packed stadium that kept him up three hours past his bedtime? At first, we weren’t so sure. But by the end of the night we realized that we had made the right decision.

Or maybe it’s that experiences like the one that my son and daughter had at the One Direction Concert, play a crucial role in their development. They were very fortunate to have the opportunity to attend such an event and years later if they have children they may do the same for them.

But I think it’s much simpler than what I am making it out to be. Too often in life we search for the entertaining, the spectacular, the incredible. We pay good money to go to concerts, watch movies on large screens and visit places far away that we hope will bring us great joy.

And sometimes they do.

But I can promise you. No concert, movie or destination could ever do what my son’s smiling-eyes-closed-singing did for me that cool summer night. And while it did happen at an expensive concert, I bet it could have happened right in my family room. With no more than an iPhone and a comfy cushion.

Don’t stop going to concerts.

Don’t stop going to the movies.

And don’t stop traveling.

But…

Start taking notice of the wonderful moments that life presents you that are right before your eyes. The ones that don’t cost a thing and the ones that don’t require us to leave home.

And then allow the memory of these wonderful moments to sustain you when times get tough. Tuck them away in a safe place. Revisit them as often as you can. But, don’t stop searching for more.

Because I promise that

 

if you can slow down long enough to notice a smile,

 

if you can allow yourself a few extra seconds before letting go,

 

if you can take the time to just sit and watch and notice everyday Life.

 

You will begin to see that it is indeed magnificent.

 

* In the most recent episode of My Bad I got to speak with Dwight Carter. We spoke of fatherhood and the importance of simply being there and being present. Dwight also talks about one of the best nights he’s had in a long time. It wasn’t at a concert and it didn’t cost him a thing.

Click the link below to find out what he did. I promise you it will be ten minutes well spent.

Dwight Carter Episode

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