Friday, February 18, 2011

Guest Writer - Schools to Watch visit

"We sure ain't in Kansas anymore Dorothy! They (the GPS) told us to just follow the yellow road, but there are SO many roads. Yellow ones, grey, black, red... and isn't there supposed to be paint on the roads to keep us side by side? What is this BRONX.... is that like OZ? I never knew there were so people in OZ, and they kinda talk funny, is that their munchkin accent?”

What do you do when the GPS tells you one direction, MapQuest another, and Google maps a third? I went with the GPS, a lot easier than trying to read. I got there!

Jamie asked me to share some of my recent experiences as a member of a “Schools to Watch” site visit team to Garden City Middle School. The problem I face is sorting through all the interviews and observations over the past two days. Garden City is an upper middle class community which has a very clear emphasis on high academic performance with a school (grades 6-8) population of 1100. They regularly score in the mid/upper 90's percentile having 3’s and 4's on all state assessments, they also have strong athletic modified and intermural programs, as well as expressive arts offerings. A healthy competitive nature runs through the building. Speaking of the building, it does have a newer built section, but for the most part I felt like I was visiting Hickory from the movie “Hoosiers”. Crammed rooms, often very little heat, outdated halls and stair wells which led to ???. To say the least, our first day was off to an auspicious start. The Superintendent no showed, HS sent an assistant, elementary principals no showed and several staff and faculty had very little idea who and why we were there. We witnessed less than impressive classroom practices. This is a school to watch? Our evening wrap-up and start of the evaluation process was not very positive. Maybe it's good to have the second day. First thing Tuesday morning we all had our “A-HA” moment, the kids! Each one of us was blown away with these kids. They loved being in this school. This universal message was received loud and clear. Yes there were significant deficiencies in the building, technology, and classroom practices, but there is something going on there that has a near total “buy in” from the kids. They LOVE being there, they want to perform well in class, they love the clubs, activities, the athletics, the arts, and they feel safe in doing them. As the second day evolved a new light was shed on Garden City. We saw a school community. From the administrators , counselors, teachers, aides and staff, the students do and always will come first.

It was clear the students left a lasting impression on all of us. This also is where I felt, as a representative of AAK, most closely connected with our Island colleagues. There is something special about the school community environment we have. Now more than ever, we need to remind ourselves of what it is that we do at AAK that warranted recognition, and be able to continue these practices. We owe it to our kids!

Have a great break,
Dave Vroman

Friday, February 4, 2011

In Japan, ceramics of high value are repaired using an ancient technique called kintsugi – filling cracks with gold-laced lacquer. Visually, kintsugi celebrates breaks, flaws, and points of weakness as opportunities to create new beauty. Skillfully done, kintsugi can make a broken piece of ceramic more prized than an unbroken one. (Olson, 2009)

This quote came to me through a book that I recently read called, “Wounded by School: Recapturing the Joy in Learning and Standing Up to Old School Culture.” It simply framed the idea that every student brings their life experiences with them into the classroom.

Admittedly, wisdom for me on this topic is short, but I recognize that a basic flaw with our educational system is that we try to place students into categories. When, in fact, we should have 400 separate categories – one for each student enrolled at AAK. Tony Wagner said it best in his book, The Global Achievement Gap, “Our system of public education … was created in a different century for the needs of another era. It is hopelessly outdated.” For most schools in most communities, this sentiment is corroborated. However, AAK is not most schools. Through our curricula, teaching methods, and common belief t
hat change is not taboo; we have remained a beacon of educational excellence. By creating dynamic, engaging, and differentiated lessons, our teachers have helped all students reach their potential.

I remember my own infamous legacy as a student at a near-by school, and the trials that I faced each day. For me, I brought my obvious flaws into each classroom and the teachers that I fondly recall are the ones that worked with me despite these flaws. The teachers that truly gained my admiration were the ones that went one step further – they taught to my strengths and taught to my flaws. They understood how I learned best and encouraged me, gave me confidence, gave me a second chance, allowed me to fail with dignity, and created a desire within me to do better. You could say that they celebrated the flaws that were Jamie Cruikshank and inspired me to be intrinsically motivated. They could not have accomplished this without helping me meet my basic needs.

I have previously shared with you Maslow’s Chart, and I do so again – this time with a small explanation. Maslow believed that a child’s basic psychological needs must be satisfied (lowest level) before they can be concerned with the next level of needs (safety). Basic safety needs must then be met before the next level (Belongingness and Love) can be addressed. As you can see by this chart, the lower portion of the pyramid deals with the most basic of things that most of us take for granted. Once these basics needs have been met, a student is ready for the classroom (Need to Know and Understand). This pyramid makes sense to me – A child must be provided with the most basic of needs and be cognitively able, they must feel safe, they must have a sense of community/family belonging, they must be secure – before they are ready to learn.

Many of you are constantly searching for ways to reach a student and help them become intrinsically motivated. I have had numerous conversations that show me just how conscientious, concerned, and involved with the students that our faculty and staff truly are. I am proud of the fact that AAK provides individualized instruction. You are aware of your student’s needs and how they learn best. This is one of the most impressive components in our educational program here at A. A. Kingston Middle School. Your students admire you.

Enjoy the Weekend!