Tag Archives: resiliency

Power and Privilege and the Boiling Frog

“If an unfriendly foreign power had attempted to impose on America, the mediocre educational performance that exists today, we might well have viewed it as an act of war.”–A Nation at Risk, 1983

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All schools have a choice. My schools have a choice. Bayfront Charter High School and Mueller are at a familiar crossroads, and the world is not waiting. On January 20, Trump will begin to govern as he promised and we can prepare our students to compete in that game or we can soldier on—business as usual.

And as usual, we ain’t taking that chance.

Inside my building are Latinos, immigrants, girls, African Americans, LGBT kids, Moslems, Jews and children of democrats. At least that describes 99% of them. And of those, 85% qualify for the free federal lunch program on the basis of their parents’ income. They are–if we falter– the next generation’s working poor. And they are all in our new government’s crosshairs to either deport or demoralize.

America’s educational system has experienced multiple defining moments during which sweeping social or political events have led to ideological and transformational change in the direction of our schools.

Think US History 101:

In the earliest days of our country’s founding, there was a clear religious motive behind teaching kids to read. As waves of Christians colonized the new world, they brought their Bibles and handed down their favorite verses to children who were expected to spread the good news. After the Revolutionary War and the subsequent ratification of the US Constitution, our Founders banked on an “informed citizenry” to nurture and grow the new experiment in democratic governance .

Fast forward 100 years and the industrial revolution churned kids out of farms and prairie schools and into factories that prepared kids for the factories.

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Then in 1958, the Russians launched a rocket into space, and the subsequent race to the heavens was on. Sputnik scared the crap out of America’s post-WWII “Greatest Generation” who realized in the span of one evening newscast—that their kids had somehow been passed up in math and science. So the education pendulum swung to math and science with a vengeance—and schoolkids paid.

Then there was the Civil Rights era. The malaise of the 70’s. Forced desegregation and bussing and waves of white flight to suburbs and private schools. And education was the medium for maintaining the sociocultural and economic advantage that was a perceived birthright of white families.
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The ominous warning of “A Nation at Risk” in 1983 unleashed the pendulum again. Reagan’s ‘rising tide of mediocrity’.

Then the Apple IIe drove a whole generation of post-Viet Nam War era teachers to ask “what am I supposed to do with an Apple IIe?” And they used them as door stops on the theory that this too shall pass.

By the early 2000’s Bush had appropriated no child left behind from the Children Defense Fund and we were awash in still another pet project of Republicanism: “back to basics” and the core belief that what we really need to do in schools is just test the hell out of kids and fire the teachers and the schools that can’t produce evidence of extraordinary achievement.

Public education. America’s whipping boy. Always something.

So now what?

George Bush’s “soft bigotry of low expectations” has given way to trump’s straight up, bold-face racism. And our students have heard every word.

ap_77642174753What is the purpose of schooling in a trumpian culture where bluster and lies and bullying and misogyny are rewarded with keys to the White House; when shadowy election schemes and gerrymandering and voter suppression and an archaic electoral “college” are intentionally designed to undermine democracy; when in 2016 it is harder for citizens to cast their ballot then it was in the era of poll taxes and literacy requirements; when it is impossible for citizens to believe that their vote is even really counted; when half our nation considers it anarchy to remind ourselves that black lives matter?

unknownRemember the parable of the boiling frog:

If you place a frog in a pan of hot water– he’ll jump right out. But if you place that same  frog in a pan of cold water, then bring it gradually to a boil—he will be oblivious to the changing temperature. Pretty soon it’s too freaken hot to jump!

Our schools move too often like the boiling frog. They wait until it is too late to jump, and for our children, even generations at a time, the results are fatal.

One thing this past election has taught us is that our students need the skills to navigate a massive sea of propaganda and misinformation that seems to routinely persuade the adults to vote against their own best interests. They need a discerning eye that separates entertainment from “the truth”; that rejects Facebook’s brand of political discourse and revives the tradition of deep critical thinking and informed debate.

They need to compete in a workforce that demands higher levels of thinking, innovation, and entrepreneurialism.

They will need to find their generation’s “true North”. And then their voice. And then a spirit of activism which is in their DNA: empathy, vigilance, authentic patriotism, and advocacy for others.

Our kids will need the armor of resiliency– in the face of an apparent national sentiment that their success, their future…their very lives may not matter at all.

So in our school at least, at Bayfront Charter high School, EVERY student will be…

  • Ready for college whether they go there or not; and they will be
  • Equipped with the real 21st Century skills: including the ability to think, create, communicate and play nice with others; and they will be
  • Masters of technologies that are befitting of digital natives; and
  • Keen and curious observers of their community– with a depth of civic literacy and   global awareness; and finally, they will be
  • Beneficiaries of learning that is confined by neither time nor space.

In defiance of who this president promises to be, we will be proactive. The water’s on the boil… but our children rise.

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Filed under 21st Century Skills, California budget, charter schools, college, El Milagro, empathy, immigration, innovation and change, ISTE Standards, public education, resiliency, school reform, standardized testing, technology in schools, the Dream Act, Trump, Uncategorized

GOLDEN BELL

winner of bellMueller Charter School is a finalist for California’s prestigious Golden Bell Award.  That is significant.  It’s a big deal.  

Significant because it means that the California School Boards Association (CSBA), the organization that grants the award, still values schools that take care of kids and their families. Like Mueller Charter School and our Resiliency Quadrant System– a model for integrating sch0ol resources to more efficiently serve our  most high risk children.

Significant because it means the CSBA recognizes that we have to generate more than test scores… we have to find the way: 

To manage the  academic, emotional, social, medical, and mental health needs of all 1100 students;

to build on their assets; 

to foster resiliency in children and the adults that serve them;

to maintain morale, optimism, and efficacy that will ultimately lead to extraordinary school results!

And if you can find a school that is keeping kids whole,  you ought to recognize them with a Golden Bell award.

riskSignificant because it signals an appreciation for the inherently complex nature of teaching, and how real reform cannot come to our schools unless we overcome (or at least neutralize)  the many crises in our communities that affect our students.  And that takes innovation… finding a new way.  President Obama has urged that we stop treating unemployment, violence, failing schools, and broken homes in isolation and put together what works “to heel the entire community”.  Like the Harlem Children’s Zone. And at Mueller Charter School, the heeling power of the Resiliency Quadrant System has the potential to transform our community.

And finally, it is significant because excellence should be replicable.

In her recent article in Education Week entitled “Innovative Reforms Require Innovative Scorekeeping”, Lisbeth Schoor, a senior fellow at the Center for the Study of Social Policy argued that:

“Reformers in virtually every domain– from education to human services, and social policy– have been learning that the most promising strategies are likely to be complex and and highly dependent on their social, physical, and policy context.  Very few efforts to improve education for at-risk students, prevent child abuse, increase labor-market participation, or reduce teenage pregnancy or homelessness succeed by applying a single, bounded intervention.  They depend on community capacity to take elements that have worked somewhere already, adapt them, and reconfigure them with other strategies emerging from research, experience, and theory to make a coherent whole.”

As a finalist for a Golden Bell Award, Mueller Charter School has been acknowledged for innovation, for serving our high risk students, for creating a system to engage children and their families. It reminds us that if we stay centered, stay true to our mission, and avoid the dull temptation to surrender to the search for higher test scores for their own sake… we have a chance to be more than just another high performing public school. We have a chance to be El Milagro.

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DANCING FOR FUNHOUSE MIRRORS

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I just looked at the calendar on my IPhone and it says I am supposed to go back to work on Monday.  So be it.  I haven’t really left my work anyway… I have been messing with stuff for the past month:  developing our new program at the Chula Vista Nature Center, researching elements of our plan to eliminate grade levels, writing about how we  raise resilient kids, brainstorming strategies to focus our teaching.  Blogging.

money bagsjpegMeanwhile, I noticed that the state of California still doesn’t have a budget agreement and that there is now a $26.3 billion deficit!  The system is broke and it doesn’t appear that we are even structured to fix it

I noticed that the U.S. Department of Education now has $5 billion in special funding set aside to promote  the development of new innovative practices and I wonder if they are really ready for the innovations we have in mind!

I notice that Arne Duncan and President Obama are tweaking the NEA, the national teacher’s union, about the need for merit pay and opening up more charter schools– and that now they are both on the union “list”.

I notice that the NEA has been adamantly opposed to more charter schools… but they would like to unionize the ones that exist and steal their very best ideas! (By the way… the NEA is more than welcome to replicate our best practices!!!)

I notice that there is still some forward momentum around the effort to create one set of national curriculum standards and simultaneously wonder if that is really what is missing.

I notice that there has been no revision to NCLB and that we are still rolling up all our eggs in a very inadequate assessment basket called the California Standards Test.  And since we are not likely to have hit all of our AYP targets for the first time, and since we chose not to spend valuable learning time teaching our students how to take the test... we will have to be prepared to defend our teaching practices and explain why our kids didn’t score at a level that NCLB demands.   And, of course, we will have to demonstrate — to somebody– that we have a coherent plan for whatever ails us.  And the people we will have to answer to are the ones that can’t seem to do their own job… which is to manage the state’s budget and provide for the needs of children!      

IMG_3762As a matter of fact, I notice that the further away you get from actual classrooms where children and teacher live every day, the more delusional leadership becomes– like dancing in front of funhouse mirrors.  

So… much has changed since we sent our students tumbling into a very brief summer recess back in June.  And yet nothing has changed at all.  Real change and innovation still has to come from within the walls of the school.  And that is why I already set my alarm for Monday morning.

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Filed under California budget, California charter schools, charter schools, El Milagro, innovation and change, resiliency, school reform, standardized testing, teaching

STIMULUS: 20 Leadership Lessons From Barack Obama

stimulus | ‘stim yul us
noun (pl. -li | -,li)


• a thing that rouses energy in something or someone; an interesting and exciting quality

pres1On this, the thirty-day anniversary of the historic Inauguration of our 44th President, this much is clear: when it comes to leadership, Barack Obama has some game! In just four weeks (about the time it took most of us to figure out where the restroom was in our new school), President Obama has named and re-named cabinet members, passed a nearly $800 billion stimulus package, flown to Denver, Phoenix and Ottawa, launched Hillary into the Far East, visited a Washington DC charter school and took Michelle to dinner on Valentine’s Day. Whether you agree with his policies or not, there is much to learn from this president’s powerhouse approach to governing.

Metaphors for leadership abound– in Fortune 500 Company CEO’s, NBA basketball coaches, and admirals who have captained naval ships. You can find their books in Borders or read about them in Fast Company. Or you can follow CNN on Twitter and study how one man, our president, has approached his first month on the job and confronted the most complex and urgent crises of our generation.

So whatever your role in schools might be, here are “20 Leadership Lessons” from the dynamic presidency of Barack Obama:


1. Keep your eyes on the prize: There is nothing like a wordle to know you are consistently ‘on message’.

2. Invite them to the barbecue: Stepping outside of the hallowed halls helps to build social networks with allies and adversaries alike. Kegger at the White House!”

obama_running_blueflys_blog_flypaper_123. Don’t wait: Hit the ground at a sprint and knock over the furniture. Launch and learn!

4. Keep your family first. Period.

5. Feed your inner gym rat: Stay fit!

6. Bipartisan “process” is secondary to doing the right thing: So do the right thing.

7. Be resilient: After the inevitable setbacks, betrayals, and disappointments… you have to bounce back stronger.

8. Don’t be a sap: “I am an eternal optimist,” said the President. “Not a sap!

9. Read stuff!

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10. Don’t give up your Blackberry: Especially if it is your link to the only people who will tell you the truth.

11. Speak to the conflict: When you speak from the heart to the needs of people that didn’t vote for you, that’s real Servant Leadership.

12. Have some courage. Enough said.

13. Sneak out to dinner: (But leave your Blackberry at home.)

14. Change the culture to change the outcomes: Replace the curtains hung by your predecessor and then make up your own rules.

lincolnjpeg15. Stand tall on the shoulders of giants: Don’t wobble, they became giants for a reason.

16. Appreciate the ghosts. (If I lived in the White House I would walk around at night and listen to the spirits whisper.) Our schools have a history too.

17. Surround yourself with the best people you can find: Build your own team of rivals.

18. You belong in the room: So when you feel like you are over your head, it is good to remember that you were hired for a reason.

19. Communicate… communicate… communicate: Make it your gift.

And finally, whether you are an urban school district superintendent, the assistant principal of a small elementary school, or the most powerful leader of the free world, one month on the job–

20. Remember that HOPE is what brought you here.

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(Cross-posted at Leadertalk, a blogging community for school leaders hosted by Education Week.)

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Filed under President Obama, resiliency, spiritual intelligence

ALONE FROM EL MILAGRO AND INTO THE BORDER WAR

trolleyjpegWhen the bright red San Diego Trolley pulls into the San Ysidro station at 4:30 on a weekday afternoon, it opens its doors to thousands of people coming or going into the early dusk.  This is the Tijuana border crossing.  The busiest international port in the world.  Mexico’s day laborers silently shuffle across the footbridge to the caracol.  Their heads bowed.  Their eyes, darting nervously.  No matter how many times they have made this crossing in the past five or twenty or fifty years, this is no time for complacency. 

carsJust moments ago they were in America.  They were tending the landscape or working in fields or changing hotel linens or cooking in restaurants or cleaning homes.  Service, labor, business. They are cogs in the wheel of an ailing international economy.  As they cross into their homeland, they are no doubt welcomed by the unmistakable aroma of Mexican gas, street corner taco stands and open fires.  There are miles of choking cars and buses and taxis.  And there are too few police.  

It is no comfort to the border crossers that two more police officers turned up dead this morning. They had been bound, gagged, tortured, and executed. And even more chilling, they had been warned by the drug cartels in a brazen threat broadcast over their own police radios to the beat of narcocorridos.  Tijuana is a war zone.  Tijuana is out of control.  

And if it is no place for adult citizens who have made the silent journey to their jobs in America every day for decades, it is certainly no place for Jorge.

Just an hour ago he was leaving Mueller Charter School– El Milagro—  by way of our back gate. When the three-fifteen bell dismisses a thousand kids into the afternoon, there is an explosion  of energy.  There is running and boys chasing each other into the grass. Parents line their cars up all the way to Broadway to pick up their children.  And the parents will wait because God knows they don’t want them walking home alone.  Too dangerous.

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But Jorge carves his way through the playful chaos.  Quietly.  Silently.  As if to mirror the faceless adults who have been his anonymous companions on his daily commute.  He walks down the back driveway of the long apartment complex.  Passed the trailer park.  Across H Street and into the Trolley station.  Every fifteen minutes another trolley stops and he looks for the Blue Line running south to San Ysidro.

Jorge may be Mueller Charter School’s most resilient child.  And we are filled with resilient children.  We grow resiliency.  We study it and foster it and promote it and we have teachers and counselors who are authorities on it.  We are frequent conference presenters on resiliency.  Ryan is focussing on “resiliency in immigrant children” as a potential doctoral dissertation.  I am writing a book about it.

But nothing prepared us for seeing the very personification of resiliency in the dark eyes of Jorge. We had him on our radar screen.  We had discussed him a few weeks earlier at our quarterly Resiliency Monitoring session with his classroom teacher.  We categorized him as a “Quadrant 1”. In our system, that means Jorge is facing dire life crises.  He is in immediate need of urgent care. gunmanjpegHe is in our version of ICU.  There had recently endured unspeakable family tragedies including the decapitation of relatives in the border war.  

But now America’ imploding economy was closing in on him even more.  He and his mom had recently been evicted and they had to return to living quarters somewhere in the squalor of Tijuana. She couldn’t ask for help because she was afraid that Jorge would be disenrolled if we discovered they were living back in Tijuana.  California law is clear.  Not even charter schools can serve children living across the border in Mexico.

So every day, Jorge climbed the trolley and made the trip to Tijuana alone.  He struggles in math. He struggles in reading and writing.  He struggles with English.  But he never misses school.  He finds a way to get here, even if he has to step over bodies piling up on the border to do so.

And that is resiliency.  Jorge is 8 years old.  His story brought tears to our eyes when we talked about him in our staff meeting on Friday.  

We will be able to get his mom relocated and help them with housing and other basic needs. Our efforts will not be reflected in our API because Jorge will tank on that test.   But we owe him for what he has taught us about ourselves.   About how children, even as young as eight, are willing to rise above adversity for this opportunity to learn.  Jorge is a child worth fighting for.  Regardless of his standardized test score, he is one of our most gifted children.  It is called the spiritual intelligence.

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HAWK

tricksjpegI don’t get why skaters ride off curbs and park benches and the eaves of buildings.  I don’t get why they practice ‘ollies’ over and over and over again.  I don’t get why they are so insistent on landing some dumb-ass acrobatic stunt– or how they could be so willing to get maimed or killed for (maybe) :30 seconds of  satisfaction.  

For years when my wife and I saw young kids riding skateboards down hills with no helmets, or bouncing off the side of cars to land their imaginative new tricks and impress their friends, we would shake our heads and mockingly refer to them as “brain surgeons”.

Then Christy sent us a link to an interview done by Tony Hawk for NPR.  I never put Tony Hawk in the same category as the “brain surgeons” because he seemed like an entrepreneur and a businessman more than a skateboard guy.  I don’t picture Tony Hawk getting up in the morning and practicing skateboard tricks.  How could he?  He is flying all over the world making movies and video games and marketing Tony Hawk skating gear.  But then I was struck by this quote:  

“Although I have many job titles — CEO, Executive Producer, Senior Consultant, Foundation Chairman, Bad Actor — the one I am most proud of is ‘Professional Skateboarder.’”

It made me realize how important it is for kids to be encouraged to grow up and do the thing they love to do.  

hawkWhen interviewed on NPR, Tony Hawk said:

I have been a professional skateboarder for 24 years. For much of that time, the activity that paid my rent and gave me my greatest joy was tagged with many labels, most of which were ugly. It was a kids’ fad, a waste of time, a dangerous pursuit, a crime.

When I was about 17, three years after I turned pro, my high school “careers” teacher scolded me in front of the entire class about jumping ahead in my workbook. He told me that I would never make it in the workplace if I didn’t follow directions explicitly. He said I’d never make a living as a skateboarder, so it seemed to him that my future was bleak.

Even during those dark years, I never stopped riding my skateboard and never stopped progressing as a skater. There have been many, many times when I’ve been frustrated because I can’t land a maneuver. I’ve come to realize that the only way to master something is to keep it at — despite the bloody knees, despite the twisted ankles, despite the mocking crowds.

Skateboarding has gained mainstream recognition in recent years, but it still has negative stereotypes. The pro skaters I know are responsible members of society. Many of them are fathers, homeowners, world travelers and successful entrepreneurs. Their hairdos and tattoos are simply part of our culture, even when they raise eyebrows during PTA meetings.

So here I am, 38 years old, a husband and father of three, with a lengthy list of responsibilities and obligations. And although I have many job titles — CEO, Executive Producer, Senior Consultant, Foundation Chairman, Bad Actor — the one I am most proud of is “Professional Skateboarder.” It’s the one I write on surveys and customs forms, even though I often end up in a secondary security checkpoint.

My youngest son’s pre-school class was recently asked what their dads do for work. The responses were things like, “My dad sells money” and “My dad figures stuff out.” My son said, “I’ve never seen my dad do work.”

It’s true. Skateboarding doesn’t seem like real work, but I’m proud of what I do. My parents never once questioned the practicality behind my passion, even when I had to scrape together gas money and regarded dinner at Taco Bell as a big night out.

I hope to pass on the same lesson to my children someday. Find the thing you love. My oldest son is an avid skater and he’s really gifted for a 13-year-old, but there’s a lot of pressure on him. He used to skate for endorsements, but now he brushes all that stuff aside. He just skates for fun and that’s good enough for me.

You might not make it to the top, but if you are doing what you love, there is much more happiness there than being rich or famous.

                                                                                                                                                             –All Things Considered, July 24, 2006

What a great lesson from a guy that has spent a lot of his life practicing and mastering his craft while others mocked him and called him names like… well… brain surgeon.  Maybe next time we should appreciate kids who have the persistence required to practice those sometimes-senseless tricks for hours.    They fall.  They get back up.  They fall.  They get back up.  They fall.  They get back up.  Resiliency is not a character trait to be mocked.  

So now Tony Hawk has the time and resources and motivation to do what ever he wants. And one of the things he chooses to do is direct the Tony Hawk Foundation— an organization committed to helping inner cities and low income communities build skateboard parks for youth.  To date they have built nearly 400 skateboard parks for inner city kids, from Compton to Athens, Georgia.  

From diving off of park benches to changing the quality of life for thousands of children in communities all across America.  Not bad for a skater kid from San Diego.

The day my wife read the Tony Hawk interview she took his advice and fired off an e-mail to Keenan and Kira:

Dear Keenan and Kira: I am attaching a GREAT (and yes, short) article about Tony Hawk. I encourage you to read it. I will never call those skater kids “brain surgeons” again. Now, I’m not advocating that anyone go off and be a skateboarder for a living….there is a real message here about doing what you love.

Daddy and I were talking the other night about how much time we put into our work. We do it not because someone requires us to do it, but instead because we find our work truly rewarding. If someone were to ask me, what is your wish for your children, I would not say, super intelligence or physical ability or beauty….I would say, I hope my children find a partner who makes them happy every day, a job that is so rewarding they don’t dread Mondays and the character to always do the right thing. I think you guys are well on your way!

I love you…Mama

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Find the thing you love. 

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JAZZ BECAME HOPE

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I thought Las Vegas was crazy, but it is nothing compared to the French Quarter in New Orleans.  Now granted, there are a lot more people in Vegas and you could fit the entire French Quarter in the lobby of one of the mega-casinos on the Strip… but you cannot deny the authenticity and music and culture of Bourbon Street.  

I returned home this afternoon from the 8th Annual National Charter Schools Conference that was held in NOLA. While I was there, I learned some stuff about the Voodoo Queen, and Preservation Hall, and Cajun cooking, and an historic old city that has slowly risen from the destruction of Katrina.  

I noticed that the local people talked about Katrina everywhere and I wondered if they are aware of how deeply scarred some of their neighbors are.  I overheard a young waitress tell a co-worker that she still feels traumatized and that she thinks she needs therapy.  Her co-worker just laughed at her.  “Try spending three nights on a bridge like I did.”  

I think they both need therapy and they are not alone.  Virtually every article in the local section of the Times-Picayune this morning mentioned Katrina at some point: like the story about the lady who is suing a couple in Texas because they rescued her dog “Jazz” and now they don’t want to give her back.  During the crisis the Texas couple wanted to help so they agreed to be foster parents to displaced animals.  They took in Jazz, renamed her “Hope” and then got real attached to her.  Meanwhile, her original owner dried out the house, recovered what possessions she could and then started to look for Jazz.  She never gave up hope that she would find Jazz and bring her home.

The truth is Jazz probably doesn’t care what her name is or where she lives as long as it is with these humans that will go to extraordinary lengths to love her.  And as long as the floodwaters don’t carry her away again. 

There is probably a metaphor in there somewhere to apply to the National Charter Schools Conference.  Or maybe not.  

Maybe it’s enough to just say we can learn something, every day, about resiliency and post-traumatic stress disorder and how these events outside of school profoundly affect children. And maybe we should listen to our kids when they tell us that they are in crisis and that they hurt inside and they don’t even know why. ”After all,” the waitress said, “that damn flood happened three years ago!” And maybe when our dog floats away we should just go find her. In looking for Jazz…we might find Hope.


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