1. Is failure a real and regularly option and experience for kids at your school?
Last year my school had a non-graduate rate 10%. This is a horrible number, and it is a very real number. The odds are that out of those 20 or so students who were unable to meet the necessary requirements to graduate middle school, 16 of these children will not graduate from high school.
2. If so, what impact do you believe that is creating? If not, what structures have been put into place to accomplish alternatives?
It is a hard truth that all middle schoolers must face, failure is real. The 11-year-old boy, his back a virtual black hole where papers go and are never seen from again, must learn to navigate the demands of 6th with no training in organization or time keeping. We college educated adults expect this boy to show personal time management skills and academic responsibility. When the boy can not meet this challenge he is given an “F.” It is as if someone has set up a system to ensure that some students never have a hope of success. There must be some form of hope. There must be a way for all students to have dignity.
Teachers and administrators do care. My school site has put in place a credit recovery after-school class for students. Teachers work close with students to monitor progress, give supports, and have open hearts which let students know that someone is in their corner, rooting for their success. It is not a perfect system and some students just don’t meet the requirements. But for many in the program, there is the success and 8th-grade promotion.
3. What conditions exist that make it too late to learn and reach competency in your school? Can you give an example?
At this point, I wish I could reach to the textbook and use the quotes. I would cite data, facts, and figures making my argument for why students are unable to meet the rigors of middle school. Maybe I would even break down the facts, provide inspiring quotes, and use the latest theories in sociology to explain what happens over the course of three years that causes students not to succeed. But I won’t be doing that here.
The condition that makes it too late learn and reach competency is called ‘The Teacher.’ It is the unwillingness of the classroom teacher to provide students with opportunities for success that directly causes unsuccessful students. These are the teachers who give big one shot exams with no chance for make-ups or revisions. These same teachers give piles of meaningless nightly homework. These teachers accept no late work, give recycled worksheets to fill class time and relish in requiring memorized facts and details. I am not making this attributes up; these teachers exist at my school site.
4. What would you do, if anything, to introduce/enhance “never too late to learn” structures in your school if you were the school leader?
As a leader, it is important to improve a school’s culture through authentic change. Teachers can smell poorly planned professional development a mile away. Mandated trainings are often a single day with no further support. Instead, I would plant a seed of positive change and foster further growth. I would give How to Create a Culture of Achievement (Fisher, Frey, and Pumpian 2012) as a gift to each teacher. I would take the time to go through the book and engage my staff. As a staff, together, we would explore each Pillar and create a plan that would work at our site. This would be my focus, and every meeting would touch on one of the Pillars. I would support teachers expressing their opinions on how to make Fisher, Frey, and Pumpian’s (2012) ideas work for their classroom and the school. I would allow teachers to create the own PD sessions about the Pillars, too. This would be giving teachers ‘voice and a choice’ about their learning, and we all know how powerful that can be.
5. What can you do in your present position to create “never too late to learn” structures into your current practice and those of your peers? Are those things in your sphere of influence?
I like the idea of “presumption of competence” (Fisher, Frey, and Pumpian 2012, p. 102) and it makes sense. That student have skills and strategies already in place and can be successful. I would also help students with their learning strategies through the gradual release of responsibility and in fact this his the model of how I teach my classroom. I am also a fan of Wiggins, so my assessment style is based on his ideas. I have what we call “levels” in my classroom, or competencies, where I can keep track of which students have mastered a skill and which student needs support. This is done through a large Super Mario themed wall where student name tags, with their achievement badges, cross the Mario horizon.
I also there are no “Ds” or “Fs” and instead I give an “R” on assignments for a redo. Every two weeks we have a “French Fry Day” because students need to “ketchup.” On these days students are allowed time in class to complete missing or redo assignments. During those days I also check in and have mini-conferences with those students who are struggling to turn in assignments. Even more radical is that my homework is simple. Students are to read 20 minutes a night, five times a week. Added to this, homework is only 10% of the overall grade.
As for my staff, I share and share some more. Sometimes I know I am judged and have been described by my department head as a “lone wolf” or as “going rogue.” This seems strange to me, as I consider myself a progressive teacher. In fact, I have never given a word-search or a crossword puzzle in my teaching career. I also only give worksheets when I have a substitute. Recently I did have some success sharing Quizlet with teachers. I even demonstrated how by allowing students to retake the test, through Quizlet, until they reach a passing level creates more motivation for success.
6. Commit to 5 things you are willing to do this semester that will make your school an increase learning opportunities:
1.Gamer’s Mindset: I will continue to explore the idea of growth mindset with students using analogies to playing video games. I will also use the work of Bartle and McGonigal to explore this Gamer’s Mindset.
2. Team Work: I will work on fostering relationships with my students by focusing on the idea that we are a team, working together for their success.
3. Be Awesome: I am also going to be a great teacher, one of those who inspires and motivates. Less verbal irony, more recognition.
4. Create Success: I will provide many opportunities for success and created different methods for students to show what success for them looks like.
5. Be Kind: This is easier said than done, but must be practiced at all times. When we are good better opportunities are created for all of us.
Fisher, D., Frey, N., & Pumpian. I. (2012). How to Create a Culture of Achievement In Your Schools and Classrooms. Alexandria, VA: ASCD