Odds and Ends and Weekend Reading Recommendations


First off, I would like to celebrate the fact that since Will and I first opened this blog up to the public on February 5th (after our introductory post on GothamSchools), we’ve posted a grand total of 22 posts within that month alone. Not bad for a couple of busy and harried public school special education teachers. Finger snaps.

I’d like to invite all visitors to our blog to post a comment and subscribe to our news feed. We’ll be doing our darndest to keep posting and struggling to advance and develop our model. We welcome any and all constructive feedback and support along the way.

To get you through the weekend, here’s a few articles worth investing the time to read.

The first I discovered thanks to a tweet from the ever insightful Annie Murphy Paul (if you don’t yet follow her, do). The article discusses a study on the factors that contribute to black male success in college. These factors are salient to our model of schools as ecosystems:

[Prof. Shaun Harper’s] report, published Monday, explores what characteristics and conditions nurture success among black male college students. However, what separates Harper’s report from many others of its kind is its positivity: rather than identifying problems that limit black men’s potential, which Harper coins a “deficit model,” he aimed to identify positive influences using an “anti-deficient achievement framework.” [Emphasis added]

An unsurprising parallel to Martin Seligman’s PERMA model here. If we focus on the strengths of our students rather than their deficits (such as in our current monomaniacal pursuit of academic achievement and value added accountability), we can cultivate greater positive outcomes and greater achievement, most especially for students at a disadvantage.

. . . But perhaps the strongest driver for success among young black students was finding support from like-minded others. According to the report, many respondents found support in “same-race peers,” mostly older students attending the same college or university. . . [Emphasis added]

This speaks to my last post on the ecological principle of redundancy and interconnectedness, as well as to similar findings by the Posse Foundation. Strong relationships are critical to the resiliency and sustainability of any ecosystem. If we want to cultivate the long-term success of all students, then we will take the time to foster niches that establish lasting relationships.

“Nearly every student we interviewed said it was the first time that someone had sat him down and asked how he had successfully navigated to and through higher education, what compelled him to be engaged and what he learned that could help improve achievement and engagement among black male collegians,” wrote Harper. 

Well, and this last bit is just sad. Our political leaders and punditry quote statistics and research ad nauseam, but it is rare that anyone takes the time to speak to the ones everyone is talking about: students. I’m a big proponent of the importance of student surveys in teacher evaluations. If we want to say students first, then by all means, let’s talk to the students. Ask them the right questions, and they will speak the truth. I administer Google Doc student surveys based on Ron Ferguson’s Tripod Survey (pg. 12-13) to my students twice a year now, solely for my own professional growth and learning.

The next article I discovered from a link by @openculture, and which is on the always enlightening site Brain Pickings. Entitled What is Character? Debunking the Myth of Fixed Personality, Maria Popova provides a series of quotations that demonstrate the importance of contexts in the ever evolving formation of character. The consideration of contexts is critical to our model of schools as ecosystems.

Finally, the last article is entitled What Jay-Z Can Teach Us About the Future of Education. In this article, Nathaniel Whittemore discusses the critical importance of an understanding of the values and vision that underlie public education:

A question is being drowned out: Why are we educating our children? 

There are so many obvious answers to the question that it hardly seems worth asking. We educate our children so they get into college, understand how to think, and are able to get good jobs and have a successful life (whatever that means). 

Yet each of these answers is slightly different. Each answer is a statement of values and has the power to reshape the entire trajectory of any conceivable education system. An education system designed to maximize employability is different, ultimately, than a system designed to maximize capacity for critical thinking, and so on. How we chose to define the “why” shapes what we do and how we do it.

. . . if we fail to attempt to understand the big, inextricable “why” at the core of the system, we limit our capacity for change and do a disservice to the future.  

 So very true. As I said in one of my recent posts, “only when we ask the right questions and frame the problems appropriately will we be able to target our policies and actions to best improve the quality of our public schools.”

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