The Gift of the Three Year Option

It was early January.  A time fraught with concern for some of our students due to our annual promotion/retention conference assignment.

“Ms. Taylor, can I talk to you in the hall for a minute?” Khadoul’s eyes were full of tears as I said, “Sure, what’s up?”

“Ms. Taylor, I’m filling out that chart, and … well … I’m on the path to retention.”

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Growth Mindset: Creating A Culture of Courage

 – By Krista Taylor

“For me, the United Leaders way of thinking has made me see the world in a new light. I’m much more gritty than before and much more willing to be brave and courageous and to try new things.” – Adalira

This was a student’s response to the prompt, “How do the ideas of grit and growth mindset impact you?” I expected to hear words about perseverance, grit, and optimism. References to courage and bravery surprised me.

Courage. And bravery.

Courage and bravery don’t always look like martyrs facing down veritable lions or tigers. Sometimes they look like an adolescent working on a math problem.

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You’re Late!

You’re late. And what are you going to do about it?

Several years ago I found myself at school late on a Friday night. I was loosely supervising Jill and India Carson, awaiting the arrival of their mother – the last parent to come and pick up the last two students in Friday Night School.

Friday Night School is an intermediary consequence for students whose misbehavior might otherwise be cause for suspension from school. Instead of being suspended or otherwise removed from class, they stay with me on Friday night. Middle school students stay an hour and a half, high schoolers two and a half hours. FNS ends at 6:30. It was 7:30, and the older sister had just called their mom again to confirm that she really was on her way. She said she was “leaving now.”

I was only mildly hopeful. She was, after all, already an hour late, and we had earlier received the exact same reassurance. They lived roughly 10 minutes from school.

It happens that these sisters had received FNS because of tardiness. Chronic, repeated, and extended tardiness. At the time, we had a system of interventions in place. It worked something like this:

 

Each quarter we “re-set” the system, and students were understood to again have zero tardies, and they started up the discipline ladder all over again.

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The Gamble Montessori Great Lesson

-previously posted January 18, 2016 by Jack M. Jose

In reflection, there are many things that are unusual about this scene: The morning of the first day of our annual fall staff retreat, I was seated cross-legged on the floor in front of my staff, presenting the Gamble Great Lesson, and I was crying.

I would like to claim I never cry at work. It is, at least, unusual.

I wasn’t alone. Others were crying too. Crying partially because that next to last part of our story is exceptionally sad; the untimely death of two students in the same year deeply affected our school. Crying also because we needed to. In the moment of our most intense sorrow, or the series of endless moments of dealing with grieving students and parents, there simply had not been time to cry. And this time – the crying together – illustrated precisely why we need to tell the Gamble story over and over again, as it changes and grows.

Embedded deep in the Montessori philosophy, including student-directed learning , the Socratic method of questioning and the Adlerian concept of seminar, is an understanding that humans are naturally drawn to explore life’s great mysteries. We want to know the origins of the universe, the origins of life and human beings, how we started to communicate, and the origins of math. In these Montessori great lessons are the roots of the academic disciplines of science, history, reading and writing, and math. And those five stories already exist and are overtly taught to students as part of Montessori elementary philosophy.

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Adolescents deeply feel the need to belong and they have a yearning for deep connection. So just as there is a great lesson for each discipline, it is appropriate to create a story to help students (and staff) understand that they are part of something larger – in this case, a school with a short but powerful history. This was the genesis of the Gamble Great Lesson: if students and staff can understand why the school exists and our core values, and will accept our invitation to belong and make their mark in the school, everyone benefits. When a person feels deep connection to a place or an idea, when they feel they belong, it is a sort of magic. It is the basis of grit, and hard work, and victory … and vulnerability. It makes it safe to try, and safe to fail, and even safe to not fight.

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The 7 Gateways: The Yearning for Deep Connection

A few weeks ago, I was walking through one of our high school hallways at the bell change. As teenage bodies spilled out of doorways and began making their way to their next class, I was quickly surrounded by former students looking for hugs. After wrapping my arms around the first two or three, I heard an approaching student ask, “Can I get one, too?” I laughed and replied, “Of course. You belong to me.” This was immediately followed by a deep voice coming from down the hallway, “What about me? Do I belong to you, too?” I looked to see who the speaker was and saw Malcolm, a senior football star, who I had taught four years earlier in the eighth grade.  “Yes, absolutely,” I began to respond, when I was interrupted by a different voice coming from the other direction, “I get one first. I belonged to her before you did.” Ethan, another senior, was right. I had taught him in the seventh grade. He had, indeed, belonged to me first.

They all belong to me. I suspect that most teachers feel this way about their students. After all, we spend time with them every day for most of a year, or in the case of Montessori teachers, for two or even three years. Our students belong to us because we know who they are.

And knowing who they are is critical for understanding what they need from us.  What they need from us in order to make academic gains. What they need from us in order to develop personal responsibility and leadership skills. And what they need from us in order to get through difficult situations or interactions.

Being aware of the importance of knowing my students left me in a quagmire, however, at an important moment in my career.

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The Real Crisis in Education:An Open Letter to the Department of Education

This letter was originally published in January, 2017 and has been viewed more than 375,000 times worldwide.  It was mailed to all parties listed.

U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos
U.S. Department of Education
400 Maryland Avenue, SW
Washington, D.C. 20202

Governor John Kasich
Riffe Center, 30th Floor
77 South High Street
Columbus, OH 43215-6117

Superintendent of Public Instruction Paolo DeMaria
Ohio Department of Education
25 South Front Street
Columbus, OH 43215-4183

 

Dear Secretary DeVos, Governor Kasich, and Superintendent DeMaria:

I write to each of you, in my position as a teacher in the Cincinnati Public Schools, to ask for your assistance. I include both federal and state politicians here, as in the past when I had the opportunity to address concerns to a member of the Federal Department of Education, I was told that these issues were under state control, but when, while working as part of a committee examining the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), I addressed the same concerns to members of the State Department of Education, I was told that these issues were under federal control.

As a result, I invite all of you to engage in the conversation together in hope that rather than finger pointing, we can begin to seek solutions.

As we implement new education legislation, I ask that teachers be treated as the experts we are. That we are not just included in the conversation, but that we are leading it. The data demands it, and our children deserve it.

An Artificial Crisis

Politicians and the media have had a field day “exposing,” and attempting to address, what has been described as an educational crisis in America. I, too, believe that we are facing a crisis; however, unlike many in the school reform movement, I do not think that teachers and schools are at the root of this crisis. Rather I think it is the very reform efforts themselves – known generally as the “school accountability movement” — that has caused this concern.

I do not blame the Common Core State Standards. Many people conflate the Common Core State Standards with school accountability measures, but, to be clear, while there are some overlaps between these issues, the CCSS are not to blame in isolation for the challenges we are facing in education today. As a teacher, my personal opinion is that the jury is still out on CCSD, and will remain so until we have experienced several cohorts of students whose education has occurred entirely under CCSD. There are some who believe that this set of standards is not developmentally appropriate for students. This may be, but to be clear, the Standards themselves are merely goals to aim for. I am happy to have a high bar set for both my students and myself, as long as I am given time, support, and resources to attempt to meet that bar, and with the understanding that since students all start at different places, success lies in moving them toward the goal.

The standards are not the problem. The problem is the methodology being used to monitor them.

A Look at the Data

There is a body of information indicating that the supposed “crisis” in American Education has been misreported, and that this myth has been supported and sustained by a repeated skewing of the reported data.

Read moreThe Real Crisis in Education:An Open Letter to the Department of Education

How To Use Smart Phones at School

Despite the zero-tolerance position taken by many educators, smart phones are not the enemy of education. However, incomplete or thoughtless smart phone policies can create tremendous division between teachers, administrators, and students, and even conflict among teachers.

The solution is not

… eliminate cell phones from the school, or

… eliminate phone restrictions entirely.

 

Smart phones can be windows into the world for our students. They can open new vistas of direct communication with experts from around the corner, or with other students from around the world. But smart phones create problems in schools and in the development of adolescents, and for these reasons educators must be intentional in their approach to setting policies.

Your principal’s phone.

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Real-World Experiences: Solving Problems

-by Jack M. Jose

As the high school English teacher my first year at Gamble Montessori, I was able to put together a memorable and educational field experience

Recording in the "GarageBand" studio - a computer lab.
Recording in the “GarageBand” studio – a computer lab.

with the help of my co-teacher, Tracy Glick. This happened through perseverance and planning, and high student tolerance of changes as we adapted to obstacles.

This was a real-life experience in which students used the recording program GarageBand to create a song that met certain technical qualifications: it had to be 3 to 5 minutes in length, it had to use at least one original sound captured with a microphone, one sound played on an instrument, and one edited loop (pre-recorded sound available in GarageBand.) While some of the students were excited to record a song, several students admitted they joined my intersession because it was the only one they could afford.

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A Dramatic Turn

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Teachers training to lead the JumpStart Theatre program.

In the 2015-16 school year, Gamble Montessori earned a chance to participate in a groundbreaking new theatre program through a competitive application process. The Educational Theatre Association (EdTA), a large national actors’ guild, had initiated a program called JumpStart. Designed to help schools develop drama and theater programs, JumpStart targets schools that have no drama program. They provide training for teachers, access to modified musical scores which are tagged with the label “Jr.” (e.g. Once on This Island, Jr., or Annie, Jr.), and a structure for staging your own middle school musical in the spring.

 In order to be selected for JumpStart, the school must first verify their dedication and determination to establishing an ongoing drama program. This is determined through interviews, where our responses to a series of questions were investigated to make sure we had the resources and initiative to accomplish the work. Once a school was selected – Gamble was one of three in this inaugural round – JumpStart provided support throughout the process.

 Following the successful staging of Once On This Island, Jr. at Gamble Montessori in the spring of 2016, I was asked to speak at a fundraising breakfast to a group of EdTA donors. Other speakers from EdTA spoke about how the program came about, and between each set of speakers a professionally produced video was shown. Each video featured snippets (like this one) from the training or the performances, and interviews with those involved, myself included. Below are my remarks, edited for clarity.

 

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Drowning in Data Points

 “Will this be for a grade?”

That was a student’s response when I told my Algebra class about an upcoming test.  My first reaction was to be flabbergasted.  “What do you mean is it for a grade? It’s a test. Of course it’s for a grade!” But then suddenly I understood.

Read moreDrowning in Data Points