Monthly Archives: December 2008

ONE RAINY CHRISTMAS DAY WE MAY DISCOVER OUR GIFT

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It is a rainy Christmas Day in San Diego and I am not thinking about gifts as much as I am thinking about how children are gifted…

And how we have tried so hard for so long to defy NCLB’s gravitational pull toward the homogenization of our curriculum by stubbornly celebrating the multiple intelligences…

And how we might be even more effective when we return to school in January if we can continue to recognize the many ways that children can be gifted. Or intelligent.

And how we so casually recite the 7 intelligences as if we were naming the days of the week or Disney’s dwarfs: verbal, mathematical, spatial, musical, interpersonal, Saturday, intrapersonal, kinesthetic, Grumpy, Sneezy, Dopey… 

guitarAnd how we have come to accept Gardner’s word as Gospel when it comes to intelligence and how we weave his word into our work– or we do not…

And how the newest “intelligence” that Howard Gardner identifies—the one that we haven’t quite figured out how to recognize (let alone celebrate)– is the one he simply calls the spiritual intelligence…

And how sometimes I think that the spiritual intelligence is the strongest of my intelligences, and sometimes I can hardly find it at all…

And then on this rainy Christmas Day when I should be playing with my daughter’s new PSP I am instead reflecting on my students and my colleagues and my family and what a collective gift they are to me….

And so, for the moment, I resolve to seek the gifts we find in others and continue the journey to wherever the spiritual intelligence might take me…

And I wonder where your gifts have taken you. 

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7 HEISMANS AND THAT PICTURE FROM UCLA

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It’s not a great picture.  At least artistically speaking. There are eight of our students and only Brandon even looked at the camera.  The lighting, such as it is, is purely accidental. If you didn’t know the subject you would click past it and move on. 

But we can’t.  We know the subject.  And we know how they came to be sitting in the courtyard there in the shadows of those majestic buildings.  For us there is tremendous symbolism in that picture from UCLA.

So let me ask you, as an educator, when did you first know you were going to college? 

As the youngest of three wayward boys, I was the first in my family to even graduate from high school, let alone go to college—or get a degree.  When I was the age of the students in the picture, I could not have predicted a doctorate.  Or running a school.  Or reading the blogs of colleagues on Saturday morning. I went to college by accident and only to play football.  For many of you I know the story is the same.  Our students have their stories too.  And for most, the journey to a university campus is too often one of pure luck, or providence, or childhood fantasy, or accident. 

Unless we put them in the picture!

busjpgWe took all sixty of our 8th graders to Los Angeles last Spring and spent three days touring colleges and universities there.  We went to Cal State LA, UC Irvine, Long Beach State University, UCLA, and of course, the University of Southern California.  We stayed in a hotel in Santa Monica and I have ever been so proud of a group of students—or so inspired.

As close as we were to Hollywood and Universal Studios and Knotts Berry Farm and Disneyland–  we didn’t see any of those places.  Our only side trip was to the Museum of Tolerance.  The real attraction– the power– was in spending time on those campuses;  feeling the energy, shopping in the bookstores, walking through classrooms… and seeing so many college students who looked just like our kids.  57 of our 60 students are Latino.  2 are African American.  We are a low income, Title I school. Every one of those students knew how unlikely it was for them to be sitting on the wall at UCLA on a Spring afternoon when they would otherwise be back at school struggling through their algebra.

It is getting harder and harder for families to send their children to college.  It is getting harder to finish, too.  In fact, the US is 15th out of 29 nations in college completion rates– just ahead of Mexico and Turkey.  Moreover, Latinos like the students from our school that we call El Milagro, are least represented on our college campuses. Even though they are the fastest growing ethnic group in the US, they make up only 11% of college enrollment.   This of course explains why only 12 percent of Latinos age 25 and older have received a bachelor’s degree or higher compared to 30.5 percent of non-Latino White students. 

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Despite such odds, there is still is a well-lit path to college if we are willing to show our students where it is.  In fact, when we piled off the buses by the bookstore at USC, we were greeted by a Pre-med student who was hand picked to be our campus tour guide. He knew our students and the challenges they faced.  He was one of our alumni, a past graduate of El Milagro with a little brother now in our 7th grade. ( Just one more surprise—one more piece of diligent and intentional  planning by our counselors Ryan and Marisol!) He wasn’t a regular tour guide and to tell you the truth he didn’t know the campus all that well.  He pretty much knew where his classrooms were and the bookstore and the library.  But that too was telling.  He was not there to play.  He knew the sacrifices that others had to make so that he could attend this extraordinary institution; to live his dream and some day return to serve his community as a doctor. 

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He did know where the athletic department was though– where all 7 of the Heisman Trophies are displayed. There was the one from Mike Garrett and Charles White and Marcus Allen and Matt Leinart and Carson Palmer and Reggie Bush and yes, OJ’s is there too.  We passed by and looked at each one and kids like Fernando knew exactly what that trophy represented and what it means to have so many in one room.

The next day, just before lunch, Ryan and Marisol lead their daily groups in the main courtyard at UCLA.  The tours were structured so our students had some time to reflect.  In the groups they could ask questions and share pictures and write in their travel journals.  The group sessions challenged them to share their dreams and their personal epiphanies.

“So what have you learned in your visit today?”journals1

“As you sit here on these steps and look around this campus, what do you think you have to do right now—in preparation to go to school here?”

“What image has created the most powerful impression on you so far?’

They all shared and listened. 

“It’s not just the goals we set for ourselves,” Maria said.  “We have to stay close to each other and surround ourselves with people who have the same goals that we have.”

“High school seems different to me right,” Miguel said.  “I think if I want to go to UCLA, I need to start preparing today.  I need to approach school in a whole different way.  I need to get serious…because I can do this.” 

Fernando was still thinking about those Heisman Trophies he saw the day before on the other side of town. Everybody knows that Fernando is a great football player.  He has unlimited potential.  As an athlete.   He started to articulate what the past three days had meant to him and how no one in his family had even set foot on a college campus like this before.  Something clicked, sitting there in the hallowed air of UCLA.  “Those Heisman Trophies were sick,” Fernando said.  “But I know, I can’t count on football to get me to college.”  

Fernando and his classmates finally figured out why we wanted to load them on to buses and spend three days looking at universities when they were only in the 8th grade.

He looked at Ryan and Marisol and tried to say thank you but he just put his head in his hands and started to sob.  He wasn’t alone.  For Fernando and all of his classmates from El Milagro, the road to college will not be an easy one.  And for some it will be improbable.

But then… there they are sitting in the courtyard in that picture from UCLA.

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PS

On June 20, 2011,  I will be posting an announcement on my blog declaring where each of these 60 students are going to college.  I can’t wait.  In the meantime, this Spring, we are taking 60 more students to UCLA.

(Soon to be Posted on Leadertalk.)

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WHO LETS THE BULLIES WIN?

shadowsOn Thursday we made the disturbing discovery that some of our 6th graders are engaging in the most heinous kinds of bullying, hazing, intimidation and battery.  Some of it is of a sexual nature.  And they have taken it to extreme lengths.

Counselors, teachers, administrators, and local police met with our students and parents this past week and we assured everyone in earshot that we were going to protect out children from bullying.

We were most disturbed that:

• we hadn’t seen it happening…

• that it was mostly among the girls…

• and that no one spoke up in defense of the victims.

And that the nature of the behavior was so offensive.  One of the police officers recounted a similar incident that took place at another middle school just the day before.  He told us that a girl had been assaulted by other girls in a PE class.  Her attackers had grabbed her from behind, held her, and put a condom inside her mouth. 

Upon hearing the story and connecting it to our own events one of our teachers wanted to know what in the heck was happening to our children. 

“What in the heck is happening to our kids?” she asked.violent-games3

The answers were predictable:  “It’s the media, the internet, the quest for YouTube stardom, the lack of values, violent video games, the economy, screwed up role models, missing parents…” 

WAIT!  Maybe it is some of those things.  But WE create the climate in this school.  We designed a rotating, departmentalized schedule that leads to a more fragmented day.  We provide the structure and the supervision (and lack of it when we get complacent.)  We established the flawed systems that reward and recognize students that abide by our rules and consequences (most of the time) for students who break them.  We create the relationships.  We influence the culture of our school more than any of these outside forces!!!

Bullying begins to take root in places where bullying is permitted. To find the source of why it happens, we only have to look in the mirror.  Even some of our students reported that they took our advice when others were picking on them.  They told an adult.  And the adult just blew it off because they were busy doing something else.  Maybe they were overwhelmed with the alarming increase in students coming to report that they were being bullied too.

As school leaders we can say what we want about our obligation to tests scores and politicians and our quest to create the planet’s most amazing school– creating El Milagro.  But job one is keeping children safe, and if we can’t do that, we will step aside and allow our communities to hire the quality of principals that our children deserve.

(Posted simultaneously at Leadertalk.)

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ONE QUESTION I’VE NEITHER RESOLVED NOR RECONCILED

  Why twitter?

 

twit-bird “kriley19…is standing in Vons reading the ingredients of chorizo…”

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  I rest my case.

 

 

 

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A LEATHER BLANKET ROUGHLY CUT IN THE SHAPE OF AFRICA

huffingon-bookI am approaching the six-month anniversary of my very first blog. For those of you who were the early pioneers of this vigorous enterprise… let me first salute you, then ask your patience while I share three personal discoveries that are having a significant impact on how I think about leadership and my school. I guess they are my “Blogging Discoveries”– lessons that you all learned a long time ago when neophytes like me were just stumbling along.

First, as I read the extraordinarily prolific writing of so many educators I have arrived back to a familiar place, right where I started when I first completed my student teaching at Mar Vista Jr. High School thirty years ago: that strangely refreshing realization that the more I learn, the more I learn that I don’t know squat. Whenever I get to that place, somewhere between bewilderment and humility, I become open to really, really growing.

fish-cartoonSecondly, I have discovered how much I hate to fish. I don’t eat a lot of fish, and so I have no use for sitting out on the Ocean Beach Pier all afternoon incubating pre-cancerous skin lesions. Besides, I don’t like killing living creatures. I don’t hunt either. So I blog. And I have discovered that blogging is very much like I imagine fishing to be. To catch fish, you have to have the right stuff, you have to hang it from the right hook, and you have to be ever so patient when the fish come trolling for dinner. And if they don’t come trolling, they either aren’t hungry or you have the wrong bait. That’s teaching for you.  And it’s blogging for you too-at least when you first get started and your name isn’t Eduwonkette.ob-pier

Finally, I learned form reading so many posts and joining in those blogospheric debates, that we all have one very cool thing in common– one noble thing: we all seem to want the very best for our students. And that is where it gets really interesting.

People write and argue and fuss with a passion,  and frequently – they are blinded by the utter certitude of their world view. It reminds me of that old allegory of the blind men and the elephant:

Six blind men encounter an elephant. The first touches its trunk and says that an elephant is like a palm tree, another touches its side and says that an elephant is like a rough wall. Another feels its tail and says that an elephant is like a piece of rope. Each comes into contact with a different part of the elephant and is convinced that their own explanation is correct and that the others are wrong. None of them realize that they are each experiencing just one part of the same elephant and that none of their explanations are complete.

elephant-men-2Not even the one who touches its ear and says “an elephant is a leather blanket…roughly cut in the shape of Africa.”

They may each be wise, but their blindness has prevented them from developing a broader view of the world. They could only understand the elephant in the context of an isolated feature… rather than as a magnificent creature that was the sum of its parts.

Clearly the “elephant” represents the educational system, about which we all know just enough to be dangerous. I don’t know which part of the elephant I hold or you hold but I figured this out:

When it comes to blogging and sharing perspectives on this very complex enterprise called education, we need the courage to realize that just because our ideas are criticized it doesn’t mean we are wrong. And conversely, we need the humility to recognize that just because we write it in a blog, it doesn’t mean we are right!

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(This post has been simultaneously shared on Leadertalk)

 

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