“Management is doing things right; leadership is doing the right things.”
Great leaders inspire others. They motivate and make decisions that are going to impact change. They might make mistakes, but they learn from these mistakes. According to an article by Paula Davis-Laak, JD, MAAP entitled Seven Things Successful Leaders do Differently, great leaders possess certain qualities that set them apart from others.
1. They put relationships first. Successful leaders make time for their relationships. They make people feel they are important, and continuously work to strengthen these relationships, whether it’s with clients, colleagues, people they mentor, or people in their personal life.
2. They know that meaning matters. Great leaders have a vision of how their work is going to make impact on the world, and work towards that vision.
3. They use humor. Leaders have to deal with stressful situations on a daily basis. Successful leaders use humor to help reduce this feeling of stress and build positive emotions.
4. They lead and live with their strengths. The most successful leaders know their strengths, and build a team with people who understand their vision and can be effective. They understand the needs of their team.
5. They manage pessimistic thinking. Successful leaders focus on the areas they have control over, and know when to move on when strategies aren’t working. They also keep the mindset that bad situations will pass, and that they can only learn from the situation. They do not allow one bad situation affect other areas of their life.
6. They make their own luck. Strong leaders have a goal and pursue that goal. They don’t give up when challenges arise.
7. They manage their energy. Great leaders know when they are feeling overwhelmed and burnt out, and keep this in check by stepping back and taking a break. This allows them to feel renewed and reenergized.
When reading about leadership traits, we tend to picture those who have acted as leaders in our lives. But, it is important to consider that we are all leaders in someone else’s eyes and these seven traits point us in a direction for success in respect to those who depend on us!
“Children’s natural curiosity and desire to discover the world are integrated with philosophy” Prof. Mathew Lipmam. As a philosophy major in college and an intern at the Mayor’s office I took a unique interest in charter schools, specifically their ability to be innovative in education. As I sat in an ancient philosophy class, I was struck by a philosophical dilemma: if philosophy was the root of knowledge, why is it that we don’t teach it more in primary and secondary education? To be fair, we do touch on concepts such as the Pythagorean theorem or Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech. However, this question was normally answered by concerns that children were just not capable of understanding philosophy. I would argue that this is in fact far from the truth.
Consider for a moment the child’s ability to learn a foreign language at a young age. Here at PSOE we are already taking advantage of teaching Spanish to children at a young age to increase comprehension. If this concept applies to the teaching of something as complicated as a new language, why should it not apply to philosophy? In fact, research over the past 40 years has concluded that even as a first year undergraduate in college it is too late to effectively develop reasoning skills (Marashi, 2007). This isn’t to say that without philosophy we don’t develop the ability to reason, but we will develop poor reasoning skills the same way native English speakers develop poor writing or speaking skills.
It is also important to take into consideration that there are two methods to the proper utilization of philosophy. The first (what you would expect from your undergraduate philosophy class) teaches who the philosophers are and explores their theories. The second method is more comprehensive, and something children do on a daily basis whether we want them to or not. Think of anytime that you have made a decision about the world. At one point you may have believed in a monster that lived under your bed, and you acted accordingly when you had to get out of bed at night to go to the bathroom. Through experience we grew out of these fears, but our experiences shape our philosophy of the world, even if we don’t realize it’s happening. A child who performs poorly at math isn’t bad at math or pre-disposed to be poor at math; they just don’t understand it yet. That being said, the child only has experience with not understanding math, and over the years this experience continues causing the child to believe that they are poor at math and that nothing can change it.
Findings in 50 countries indicate that teaching philosophy to children in school improves thinking skills and critical thinking. “Children should be taught how to try out, analyze and experience the subject matter rather than being taught how to memorize and recall the content” (Marashi, 2007). This form of doing philosophy would take advantage of short stories and books to develop philosophical questions and cognitive skills. This educational philosophy is being supported by www.teachingchildrenphilosophy.org, which suggests using books already found in the classroom (such as The Giving Tree or Dr. Seuss). The site also provides modules and resources to help teachers develop constructive methods for teaching philosophy in the classroom. Teaching philosophy transforms the classroom and the role of the teacher and student. Instead of information being transmitted from the teacher to the student, information is received in a collaborative discussion. In this manner, the teacher only facilitates ideas, rather than trying to convince children or bring them to a specific conclusion.
In a study done by Keith Topping and Steve Trickery in 2007 a group of 105 students (age ten) were taught philosophy for one hour a week for 16 months. Compared with the control group of 72 students, the experiment group showed signs of improvement on tests of verbal, numerical, and spatial abilities after 16 months. Two years later the children were tested again and despite changing schools or moving from primary to secondary, the experimental group showed continued improvement while the control group continued to fall behind (Topping and Tickery, 2007).
The Greek translation of philosophy “love of wisdom”, is the goal of education. In other words, the goal is not to teach children to recall facts, but to teach children how to analyze material and critically evaluate it. It was the teachings of Aristotle that helped lead Alexander the Great to conquer most of the known world; or what about the ideas of John Locke that lead to the writing of the United States Constitution. If the “love of wisdom” has lead to some of the greatest achievements in the history of man, why are we not teaching philosophy more?
“But why?” my four year old asks. In exasperation, this frazzled mom finds herself uttering those infamous words, “Because I told you so!” Just as this response is unsatisfying to my own children so, too, is ill-phrased feedback often unsatisfying and unproductive to our colleagues. As an internal coach or mentor, one of my responsibilities is to help guide and give constructive feedback to other teachers. I’m a mom, and I like to “mother”-- to give advice. Yet, is this truly effective feedback? Does it simply leave teachers asking “why” while trying to silently please their mentor/administrator? What kind of feedback is actually constructive in helping teachers achieve growth towards long-term goals?
In order to satisfy my wonderings to these questions, I sought out current educational research. In Grant Wiggins’s article “Seven Keys to Effective Feedback” (Educational Leadership
, Sept. 2012), he first defined true feedback as “information about how we are doing in our efforts to reach our goal.” This does not include comments that are advice (You need to ….) or value judgments (Great job!) True feedback is geared toward long-term goals. In his article, Wiggins outlines seven essential elements of effective feedback. Effective feedback is:
- Goal-referenced- create clear goals; feedback should consist of information related to those goals
- Tangible and transparent- look at tangible results like video or audio; take counts
- Actionable- be very descriptive; information should be useful, concrete, and specific; facts should be neutral and goal-related
- User friendly- do not be too technical or overwhelming
- Timely- give feedback soon after the observation; the sooner the better
- Ongoing- give opportunities to reshape performance in order to achieve goals
- Consistent- ensure that observers are stable, accurate, trustworthy; built on a common vision of what high quality teaching is
As teachers, we give feedback to our students so that they can grow and learn. As mentors, our job is the same with our fellow teachers. Before dispensing advice, the learner needs to first grasp and accept the descriptive feedback. Then the mentor can ask, “Given the feedback, do you have some ideas about how to improve?” This builds both confidence and autonomy in the learner. “But why?” is unlikely to be an issue.
What kind of feedback is truly effective in producing growth? The key is descriptive observation based on long-term goals. What have I learned? This mentor “mom” needs to reign in my predisposition to dispense advice and accolades. My goal is not to “fix” issues that other teachers might have but to guide those teachers in figuring out how to reach goals themselves. Given with purest intentions, effective feedback results in greater learning for all.
Change is difficult for us all, but when you are dealing with children between the ages of 12 and 15, it just seems to have a higher rate of difficulty. When students move from an elementary setting into a middle school setting, so many changes take place that it is difficult to determine which end is up. While in elementary schools, students are typically taught by one teacher, walked to the restroom and cafeteria each day, and are with the same 25-35 other students all day long. This all changes once they reach middle school. The students are now expected to manage a locker, visit seven or more classrooms and teachers each day, learn the “ins and outs” of each teacher’s personality and expectations, and organize themselves enough to get everything completed and to the right destination each day. Add to that challenges involved with the physical, mental, social, and emotional changes happening to this age-group, and you have a recipe for potential disaster.
As a middle school administrator and having worked closely with administrators at the elementary level, I understand the differences between the two environments and how it affects students (and parents). The first week of school is filled with silence, wide eyes, and multiple questions. No one knows where to sit in the cafeteria because they are not assigned seats and there are six lines available to visit for a variety of types of food. Now, granted, this wonderful silence does not last long and it only takes a few days for students to relish in the thought that they can sit wherever they want and run up their lunch bill by purchasing pizza, breadsticks, ice cream, and Gatorade each day, but the silence does exist in the beginning.
Helping students manage their newfound freedom takes many people. Informing the parents early in the journey is a must. Conducting a parent meeting in the spring prior to students entering the middle school allows staff to fully inform parents of day-to-day operations, scheduling, communication techniques, and what their child will experience when coming to the middle school. We have received great praise from parents following these meetings as their pre-conceived notions or “word on the street” has been clarified with true information. The parents feel more at ease and have had their nagging questions answered which, in turn, can help to calm the nerves of their children as well. Once the parents know what to expect, they are much more likely to ease the minds of the children and prepare them over the summer for the transition.
Another benefit for students is to have them visit the middle school during the last few weeks of their elementary experience. During a school day in May, we invite all of our 6th graders in the district to come to the middle school for a couple of hours. This is treated as a field trip and students and teachers board buses and fill the gymnasium to hear staff speak, students perform, and tour the building. This allows the students to get a feel for the school while in session – a big difference from coming to a parent meeting in the evening! They experience passing period with 800 students crowding the halls, see the cafeteria (and the 6 lines they have to choose from), and meet multiple staff members in hopes of seeing a friendly face on the first day of school in August.
Summer registration is another opportunity for students and their families to, once again, come to the school prior to their first instructional day. This event brings families in to complete all necessary paperwork, order yearbooks, add lunch money to student accounts, provide students with their IDs and laptops, assign students lockers and locks (which they can “try out” to ease nerves on the first day), and pay any necessary textbook rentals and fees. This day tends to be more of a task-oriented experience, but has proven to be greatly beneficial to staff and parents – we are able to get the information we need and families have another chance to visit the building and get their questions answered.
The transition from elementary to middle school is daunting. By providing multiple opportunities for families and students to visit the school and communicate with staff, a comfort level can be reached. So many of us have a fear of the unknown; once we know what to expect, everything seems to be much easier to handle.
The idea of “closing the gap” conjures up vivid memories in my life. One of my favorite winter break positions while I attended Indiana University was that of a “seasonal employee” at the retail store, THE GAP, in Bloomington, Indiana. For those of you that have worked retail over the holidays, you know it can be an arduous time- physically and psychologically. Sure, there was extra holiday spending money and the deep discount on much needed spring attire, but…make no mistake…it taxed the body and the soul. We, as employees, counted down the minutes until closing, celebrated the ushering out of the last customer, and rejoiced in bringing down the chain-clad mall door. We felt relief coupled with excitement because we knew that when the last penny had been counted (as long as we were within $10.00 of what the register stated) we had closed the GAP, and University nightlife awaited us.
Almost twenty years later, the term “closing the gap” takes on a far different meaning in my life, but I have learned to attack this closure with far more fervor. Now, I spend my days developing academic/curriculum frameworks in the urban Indianapolis school setting. The “gap” in achievement that separates economically disadvantaged students from less disadvantaged students has been the focus of research for almost forty years. While the achievement gap narrowed considerably through the 1980’s, particularly between blacks and whites, progress since then has been marginal. Below-par achievement of minority students remains one of the most pressing problems in education.
Today (2010 data), the average black student currently achieves at about the same level as the average white student in the lowest quartile of white achievement. Black students are much more likely than white students to fall behind in school, and much less likely to graduate from high school, acquire a college or advanced degree, or earn a middle-class living.
So how, as we all aspire to be socially responsible and culturally sensitive members of this academic culture, work together to close this achievement gap? Research suggests that there are a number of strategies that schools should be implementing in their school-wide community plan. However, the strategy that most research proposes as the foundation for all of the remaining initiatives is the school’s ability to develop the “school-home relationship.” What are we as members of our school doing to build a bridge between the school and home? Here are some steps to consider:
(1) Time should be reserved to educate families, along with their children, on the school’s discipline and academic frameworks. Parents should know the “why” regarding what we do at school.
(2) A culture of community must be created. Schools need to consistently send the message to families that we are here to nurture, support, and facilitate their children’s social and academic growth. This is why we chose this profession, and also why we chose this community to serve.
(3) The positive as well as the negative should be communicated whenever possible. When students are doing well, on any level, we should do our best to communicate that to the families. When discussing a student’s area of refinement, we should still take time to celebrate the student’s successes.
(4) Listen. Listen to family concerns…empathize…consider how both parties can work together to do what is best for the child. People are far more likely to work with us when they feel as if they’ve been heard.
In closing, I have many fond memories of my undergraduate years and my seasonal servitude to THE GAP. Yet, I am infinitely happier today serving our students and parents. I also know that from an employee’s perspective, as we moved closer to closing THE GAP, there was an air of excitement that was palpable. That feeling, however, in no way compares to being a part of “closing the achievement gap” in our local schools. I am proud to be part of a school with teachers and administration that feel the same, and who are working so diligently to see this goal become reality.
Race and Schools: The Need for Action, by Gary Orfield, Civil Rights Project/Proyecto Derechos Civiles, University of California–Los Angeles, is a Research Brief from the NEA Research Visiting Scholars Series, Spring 2008, vol. 1b.
Lake, R. and Hill, P. 2005, November. Hopes, Fears & Reality. A Balanced Look At American Charter Schools in 2005, p.2. Seattle: National Charter School Research Project, Center on Reinventing Public Education.
Smith, N. 2006. “National State of the Movement.” Presentation at the 2006 National Charter Schools Conference, held in conjunction with the 13th annual California Charter Schools Association Conference,
Feb. 28–March 3 in Sacramento, California.
Earlier this month, President Obama said he wanted to make high quality preschool available to every child in America. This would be financed through federal funds for all 4-year-olds from low and moderate-income families. Many people question whether a federally funded daycare with preschool curriculum would be a better National goal than public preschool. However, investing in public preschool will benefit children and families, and will increase the probability of these students finishing school and going to college and/or joining the work force.
Regardless of their backgrounds, children who enter kindergarten with early literacy, social, language, and fine motor skills are better equipped to succeed in kindergarten compared to children who don’t. Furthermore, expectations have changed greatly over the years for children. Now, with the common core standards, children are expected to have a sound foundation in reading skills by the time they leave kindergarten. Children who are “not” ready to read going into first grade struggle greatly to “catch up” to other students. By the time these struggling students enter third grade (when high-stakes testing is mandatory) they are a grade level or more behind, and their confidence is low.
Research has shown that early literacy skills (letter knowledge and decoding skills) are crucial for developing proficient reading and writing skills. Additionally, early exposure to text and print concepts support literacy development and result in long term academic success (Barnett, W. S., Young, J. W., & Schweinhart, L. J. (1998).) So, having a high-quality preschool program would provide students with these early literacy skills and better prepare them for kindergarten. In addition to early literacy skills, another important factor in determining a child’s school-readiness is vocabulary. Early development in vocabulary has been found to predict word recognition skills. (NICHD Early Child Care Research Network, 2005). Students who enter school having developed the necessary components for early literacy skills and vocabulary development will be confident learners and will carry success with them throughout their educational career.
Though federally funded day care is also very important for working families, providing a high quality preschool program is even more critical. To ensure these programs are high-caliber, they must be led by certified, well-trained teachers who will provide children with the skills necessary to be successful students throughout their entire educational career. So, while there are many facets to early childhood education related to ensuring the growth and success of our nation, it is becoming increasingly important to consider investing in a high-quality preschool for all children.
Barnett, W. S., Young, J. W., & Schweinhart, L. J. (1998). How preschool education influences long-term cognitive development and school success. In W.S. Barnett, & S. S. Boocock (Eds.), Early care and education for children in poverty: Promises, programs, and long-term results (pp. 11–44). Albany, NY: State University of NewYork Press.)
NICHD Early Child Care Research Network. (2005). Pathways to reading: The role of oral language in the transition to reading. Developmental Psychology, 41, 428–442. doi:10.1037/0012-16126.96.36.1998