The Moral Learning Curve of Alabamerica…

Nothing (despite Roy Moore’s claim of the opposite) was ‘good’ about the period of American slavery. But if America is to be saved from the Bannons, Moores and Trumps, who demagogue themselves into positions of ‘leadership’, by appealing to the must vile, crude, ugly and primitive expressions of the human personality. There must then be a moral counter-force in our nation that will resist these evil persons call for the building of walls, and the destroying of bridges between human beings. And so yesterday, Black Alabama voters “showed up, and showed out!”

It was amazing to go to my polling place yesterday, and see the look in the eyes, and the ‘praise-pep in the step’ in the many Black voters entering and leaving the polling station. It was as if every voter was on a spiritual mission to strike a blow against evil. In many ways Black voters seem to be marching… This occurring in a state that has raised Black voter suppression to a state level governmental policy.

Perhaps for many of these Black voters this was not just an exercise in civic duty; but also a way of exercising the demons that hold Alabama captive to forever serve as the standard punch line for late night talk show host. It was as if they were telling the world, that Alabama is not just what is represented by the GOP’s political hegemony in the state; that indeed there are good, intelligent and decent people in this state. A state whose political image has been damaged by George Wallace, the recently disgraced governor Bentley, and present governor Ivey, along with the US Attorney General Jefferson Davis Sessions; Yes these people may have come from Alabama but both individually and collectively, they have dramatically failed to display anything resembling profiles in courage, compassion and decency.

I probably would not be wrong if I hypothesize that many of those large numbers of Black Americans I saw yesterday were connected to the Christian faith. And so this was also an opportunity for them to reclaim the faith from those who are ‘conveniently flexible’ around the religion’s tenets when it comes to: pedophilia, adultery, and party affiliated political-worldly objectives. As well as to speak spiritual authenticity to those who only care about women having babies, but then care nothing about the well-being of those mothers, or the health and education of those babies once they are born.

If this election proved anything, it’s that mathematically Black America can’t take on the moral conscience burden of the nation alone. We will definitely need to be in partnership with many other decent and compassionate White Americans, that is, if this nation is to truly live out its true calling and purpose. That great distractor Trump was sent to poison and prevent that movement (Obama laid the groundwork) toward a better and more thoughtful America. And like every evil divider-tempter before him in history, he promises more to the few, while diminishing and dismissing the humanity of the many.

But December 12th was a setback for him, and a step up and into a different and better direction. Yes, the moral (“arc of the universe”) learning curve seems to move very slowly; and sometimes even seems, with the election of a Trump, to move backwards, but it is moving–forward, and it is moving in the direction that won’t allow any lie or evil deed to plant permanent seeds of injustice; because there will always be some good people to pull those injustice weeds up by their indecent roots.

“People who seek solitude are more creative, study finds…”

In a world run by extroverts, how do we accommodate the creative, introspective, hyper-metacognitive, and solitude-quiet seeking students? And since all teachers were once students, school based administrators, who don’t already know, will soon find out (or they won’t); that a little bit of linguistic and behavioral ‘code switching’ is required when supervising music, art, drama and dance teachers, for they absolutely see the world in a very different (good) and interesting way. It is my experience as a superintendent that principals who fail to communicate with design, creative and performing art teachers, inside of their ‘language’ (world view); the results are that the school, and thus their students are unable to take full advantage of these teacher’s talents and gifts.

But back to students; how does this study* inform our pedagogy as to how we think about ‘paired’ and ‘group work’? If one of the learning objectives of the lesson is to: ‘teach students how to successfully and productively navigate working with others’; then this study could make the case that students who enjoy ‘working alone’ maybe telling us that ‘alone work’ is their preferred (most comfortable) learning style, and that it works well for them. It would also suggest that ‘wanting to work alone’ is not a negative or counter-productive approach to learning, and for practicing creativity. And further, being inclined toward introversion-inter-vision, may not hinder that person’s ability to be a good team/group member. Finally, does this study push back against the very popular (and in my view overstated) “peer socialization” criticism of the Home Schooling Community?

Over my 11 year tenure as a principal, without fail year after year, students approached me to complain about their problems with paired or group work. Also true is that their protest was focused not on philosophical-psychological principles; but rather on the unequal work energy and commitment on the part of students with whom they were joined. (Another reason why teachers must perfect that very difficult skill of accurately and fairly assessing individual students working in paired or group learning activities.) Now I would probably need to do a better ‘memory-analysis’ of these students since many of them would definitely score higher on the plus-extroversion scale. But the common factor for all of these students, was not wanting to work with the burden and/or discomfort of ‘others’. The way it was presented to me was that these ‘uneven yoking’ work relationships, could possibly lower their grade point average (GPA), and thus honor roll, class ranking (preferred college admissions and potential scholarships). However, perhaps based at the time on their limited knowledge of human psychology, they never defined their opposition to paired/group work to be based on personality preference reasons. But maybe the two reasons (academic and personal learning comfort preference) are not in conflict, and could in fact be co-related, and even co-dependent.

Every sociopolitical group upon gaining societal-political power, seeks to present its ‘personality traits’ as the aspirational normal state of being. And so in a world essentially controlled and managed by extroverts, because they are so loud and dominate the cultural-linguistic spaces where we live, work and play. Behaviors based on inter-version and ‘quiet reflection’ could be seen as a negative trait, thus the term ‘anti-social’; when in fact these ‘ingoing’ individuals (the researchers call them: ‘unsociables’); could be driven by many deep altruistic social concerns for which they opt to apply their creativity; a creativity that can best be cultivated in aloneness. We clearly understand how this plays out in the art (adult) world with writers, painters, composers, sculptures, etc. But what about the individual creativity and self-reflecting we are seeking to nurture in our classrooms? Are we getting in the way of our own metacognitive seeking learning objectives, and at the same time hindering the independent introspectively inclined learner?

*“People who seek solitude are more creative, study finds”:
http://www.buffalo.edu/news/releases/2017/11/023.html

Until proven wrong, reading to and by young children is a critical key to future academic success.

Most parents (teachers and principals), may not have been exposed to a doctoral level research methodology course. Which is why we must all be very careful not to make parental and professional decisions about educating children on every piece of research (peer-reviewed or not) that comes out. The other problem is that popular magazines, TV-radio shows and newspapers often ‘summarize’ the conclusions of research studies either incorrectly or incompletely. Sometimes even making claims that the researchers themselves have not made! And of course there is no ‘peer review’ process as to the validity and methodology of these studies that is performed by these reporters and commentators working for various media outlets. They are really going for that “important sexy” conclusion the study supposedly asserts, no matter how impotent the research methodology and/or conclusions that are being affirmed.

I read the abstract and briefly scanned this study, sent to me by a colleague, and reported in Inc. Magazine; the source, thus the motivation, also always matters:

“19-Year Study Reveals Kindergarten Students With These 2 Skills Are Twice as Likely to Obtain a College Degree (And They Have Nothing to Do With Reading)”… https://www.inc.com/amy-morin/kindergarteners-with-these-two-skills-are-twice-as-likely-to-get-a-college-degree-according-to-a-19-year-study.html?utm_content=buffer08aa1&utm_medium=social&utm_source=twitter.com&utm_campaign=buffer

I plan a little later to sit and read the study in its entirety. But some methodological and theoretical ‘red flags’ immediately jumped out. For example the ‘front end’ data collection relies solely on ‘teacher observation-perception’. But teacher observations and perceptions don’t occur in some objective cultural vacuum. All teachers bring an idea of a ‘model student’ with them into the classroom, and very often that model is the teacher themselves, and/or the affirmation, some form of modification, or outright rejection of their own family-cultural upbringing! Student behavior is often in the eyes of the beholder. For when does ‘self-assuredness’ and ‘self-confidence’, as defined for little White girls; become seen and interpreted as ‘sassy’, ‘acting grown’ and ‘confrontational’, for little Black and Latino girls?

Being ‘compliant’, listening ‘passively’, or for that matter actively-dramatically participating, asking questions, and/or ‘sitting still’ during kindergarten reading time; may in fact reflect the child’s pre-school experience with parental ‘reading to them’ style, or no parental reading to them activities. And so, the format, or absence of the same, of home based pre-school reading activities, I maintain is a critical factor in how the child ‘shows up’ (looks like) to the kindergarten teacher.

A Further technical research problem with the study is that the child would be exposed to perhaps 10-20+ teachers by the time that student becomes a college ready, or not ready senior in high school. And we do know from other studies that children being exposed to two or more consecutive incompetent and/or ineffective teachers in a row; or being in a school setting where they have a competent and effective teacher (i.e. 4th grade) in between two incompetent-ineffective teachers (i.e. 3rd and 5th grades); could in fact be a greater determiner of that child’s college chances, regardless of the ‘behaviors’ they exhibit in the early childhood educational classroom setting.

How many of us as superintendents have visited a school and watched the joy and excitement; particularly in the body language and facial expressions of Black and Latino boys in Kindergarten, only to see those same students look lost, miserable and unhappy when they reach the 1st , 2nd or 3rd grades. In other words what variables are in play between Kindergarten, upper elementary, middle and high school 12th grades that determines a child’s academic options and path? And again, I suggest that a critical factor is reading skills. On a positive teacher note the study also does not measure or account for the Efficacious Quality* of all of the post kindergarten teachers that a child may encounter on their way to the 12th grade!

Finally, and granted I still must read the entire study, the researchers in my view don’t prove that being read to, reading, loving to read and loving books are totally disconnected from the child’s building of their conceptual understanding of the world; the behavioral skills they exhibit once in the Pre-K to Kindergarten setting, and/or the quantitative and qualitative level of their linguistic-vocabulary skills. And these linguistic-vocabulary skills are (according to Vygotsky, and I believe him!) inextricably linked to the child’s thinking and reasoning skills; as well as their moral-ethical decision making skills (Piaget). The young pre-school child who is exposed to book stories, over and over again because they like the book, and then request that the parent read it every evening, and often again in the same evening. These message rich stories that teach values like ‘stick-to-itness’, determination and perseverance, i.e. “I Can’t Said The Ant” or “The Little Engine That Could”; could very well mean that the child is absorbing these values, and incorporating them into their out of the home social setting decision making process.

I could say a lot more, like a standard and proscribe psychological developmental stage does not automatically kick-in on the child’s first day of kindergarten, but I will stop here. But my humble advice to parents is that by all means keep reading to your young pre-school child, and continue to engage and encourage your child (from the cradle to high school) to fall in love with books and reading; until some study (and this one does not seem to be it) comes along to dismiss that approach as the best way of creating an environment where the child will be academically successful when they attend any school.

*The Efficacious Quality in teachers: A belief and skill whereas the teacher essentially ‘takes matters into their own hands’ (capabilities); and does everything in their power to correct academic deficiencies, and past mistakes and misses by their colleagues who taught the child before them; all in a determined effort to make the child academically successful.

We need to close the parent information gap when it comes to choosing the right high school for a child.

Every year as a NYC principal I would get calls from the NYCBOE high school placement office (Jackie Charity, a most appropriate name for a wonderful child advocate!) In Washington DC I would get the call from a parent. Usually after the 2nd or 3rd marking periods of problems. Some young person and their family thought they hit the educational lottery by being accepted to a highly acclaimed admissions restricted specialized high school or program*.

These students were surely academically capable, but for complicated social-psychological-cultural reasons I won’t go into, “things were not going well, and getting worse by the day”. However, there was always a happy ending to these stories as all of these students who transferred to my schools (SSCHS/Phelps), went on to do well in high school, college and professional careers. Sometimes it is as simple as having a school administrator or faculty member who actually knew their name, and constantly checked in, with and up on them. These students were clearly academically capable; for when I looked at their middle school standardized test scores and course grades, their score on the specialized high school entrance exam (SHSAT); I’d say to myself (but not to the parent): “In what kind of crazy school system world are we in that we are not able to get this kid to pass 9th grade biology or algebra?”

Often, all these students needed was to be surrounded by other smart students who looked, talked and lived like them; as well as having culturally aware and efficacious teachers/administrators, for which many of whom they shared a cultural link. In essence we modeled the traditional HBCU mission of seeing student academic success as a political and social activist calling—educating the next generation of servant leaders!

And then there were those students (especially at SSCHS); who were accepted to a NYC specialized high school/or a specialized program in a comprehensive high school, but chose instead to attend SSCHS. I distinctly remember a conversation I had with a parent who against the passionate advice of her child’s middle school counselor (one of the few GC’s who mistakenly advocate not for the child, but rather to boost their “placement stats”); decided to send her child to SSCHS and refuse the NYC specialized high school acceptance. “I know my child better than anyone”; she said, “she was the top in her middle school, and one of the reasons was the tremendous support, inspiration and encouragement she received from the ‘old school, in your business’ Black principal, and the diverse caring teaching staff; if I let her attend _________; she is going to be lonely, isolated and get lost”.
The student like so many like her did go on to do extraordinarily well. The point here is that selecting a high school (not an option in most of the nation); should be a carefully thought out decision, utilizing the same strategic thinking and energy that goes into a choice of a college.

Every school (no matter how ‘good’ and ‘exciting’) is not for every child. Which is why the below article and referenced study published by The Atlantic Magazine is so important. The conclusions it presents are very much aligned with the smart intuition of that parent who explained to me why she was turning down a specialized high school seat for SSCHS.

Importantly, it challenges the concept of ‘high performing school’ (which is worth its own posting as a topic); and whether that school is high performing on behalf of your individual child? More pointedly, does that school have the capability (mission-philosophy, operational practices, leadership and staff) to make your individual child a high performing student? Or, do you just become one of those calls a principal receives asking them to now, academically save your child from a specialized high school underperformance performance!

*Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School Of Music & Art and Performing Arts in NYC, and Duke Ellington School of the Arts in DC; are the two schools for which I would not receive calls.

“Why Parents Make Flawed Choices About Their Kids’ Schooling: A new study shows that families act on insufficient information when it comes to figuring out where to enroll their children.”–The Atlantic

https://www.theatlantic.com/education/archive/2017/10/can-parents-really-pick-the-best-schools-for-their-kids/543201/

Being an educator in the era of Trump… Or, how do you explain to students that the national “Role Model-in-Chief” is everything that you don’t want them to be.

As educators we have a commitment to learning, the acquisition of skills and knowledge, to telling the truth, and yet we don’t want to distribute despair in our classrooms.

The scary problem is that Donald Trump is very much America, its tragic past, its dangerous present, and hopefully not its future. Perhaps he is not the “America the Beautiful” that Ray Charles sang so movingly about; but he is still America, at least the ugly parts. The American Slavery part. The decimation and destruction of Native American people’s Nations part. The Chinese Exclusion Act part. The World War 2 Japanese-American Internment Camps part. The treating of a hurricane devastated Puerto Rico and Virgin Islands like they are not Americans, or even human beings part. And although a case could be made that he was voted into office by the moral and mental equivalent of the ‘walking dead’; they were indeed living and breathing US citizens who cast millions of votes for what is essentially a leadership obscenity. Donald Trump, for now and forever is very much a part of America and American history.

I struggled with this at first, perhaps I was lost in my musical memory of hearing both the Ray Charles rendition of “America”, and Marvin Gaye’s spiritually soulful treatment of the Star Spangle Banner at the 1983 NBA All-Star Game (check it out on YouTube).

But the truth is, that the election (and present successful process of normalization) of Donald Trump is not an aberration, mistake, misstep, an event invented by Russian espionage, the ‘Bernie or Bust’ crowd, or the lack of effectiveness of his opponent’s 2016 campaign. The elevation of Donald Trump to the US presidency, was an American aspirational choice.

And although it is so clearly obvious (to at least some of us across the political spectrum), that Mr. Trump is totally unfit to serve in a position that can not only endanger all Americans, but indeed puts the entire world at risk; many US citizens who he has not offended find comfort, or are at least feel comfortable with him as the nation’s leader. We keep hearing about ‘negative polls’, conflicts of financial interest, and ‘flat-out-lies’ coming out of the White House, but where is the ‘tipping point’ of national revulsion; I don’t see us reaching it; we seem to just endure, accept and adjust to the ‘next’ extreme and noxious behavior. What if a principal led a school in the same way that Trump is leading the nation; would there not be a dramatic unified outcry and actionable movement for their removal?

History teaches us that nations (ignorant of history), often make bad choices. Bad and evil people don’t always seize power in a military coup; instead they are often handed the keys to power by a spiritually diminished and morally exhausted populace. The truth is that Trump’s presidency has produced no real surprises (despite the recurring betrayed expectations of the ever hopeful ‘pivoteers’), his entire campaign, from the start, was so unseemly, unworthy, ugly and offensive (to at least some of us); that in a sane and rational world, if he were running against a cadaver, it should have been a landside win, for the cadaver.

As a lifelong educator my natural position is to see the ‘good’ in young people, even when that good is hidden from and ignored by the rest of society, and even, as is often the case, when that good is hidden from the children themselves. The ‘good’ of the 2016 elections has so far eluded me; we now simply careen, on a daily basis, from one piece of bad news to another; much of it affecting people who look like me.

It took me some time and difficulty to arrive at the horrible conclusion that Mr. Trump represents America. Difficult because it pushes against everything I want to believe about this nation in particular, and human beings generally. Sadly this revelation goes against my internal compass that always points in the direction of hopefulness.

That means I am not buying the “discontented and disconnected White rust belt voter” movement that various news media outlets claim propelled him to victory (did all of those millions of votes come from uneducated and unemployed Whites?) And as he puts into place policies that do great harm to poor and working class White Americans; there is no popular White Lives Matter rebellion against him because economics was never the reason for their support of Trump. It was his bigotry, the incendiary and exclusionary rhetoric, the walling in and walling off of people of color; the call for a return to a safe to hate era in America, where Blacks, Muslims, Latinos, Women, Gays and Lesbians knew their places and stayed in them.

Mr. Trump like many evil demagogue leaders before him, has strategically found that ‘sweet collective social-psychological spot’ of combining racist-supremacy nostalgia, the fear of a loss state of privilege, ignorant prejudice, selfishness and a lack of compassion as the sound foundation to launch and lead a toxic political movement. Hitler did not invent anti-Jewish feelings in Germany, he simply cultivated them, and made them an instrument of official state philosophy, policies and practices. If your marriage was failing, or your kid’s underperformed in school, it was the fault of the Jews; if you were dumb as a brick and unemployed, it was the fault of the Jews. The origin and cause of every societal and personal problem can be reduced and found in the presence of the despised ‘other’. Trump did not invent ‘Trumpism’, he simply taped those feelings that were covered over by the US international PR campaign to convince the rest of the world that bigotry, racism, and the foundational elements of fascism, are not part of the American character; well that cover has been blown by the election of Trump, and the world has taken notice.

Trump is an immoral leader, but he is not silly or stupid, even as his own (well situated to know) Secretary of State seems to have described him as “moronic”. He knows what he is doing. In fact he knows that he could verbally insult, brutalize and continue to berate an emotionally traumatized and suffering African-American widow of an American soldier killed in combat and get away with it. Mr. Trump is fully aware that the widow, her children and her fallen in battle husband constitute the nation’s marginalized ‘other’ in the present American zeitgeist; the military service, death and suffering notwithstanding.

And like those coal miners he has fooled into thinking that he can change international economic energy reality; Mr. Trump has successfully mined the sewerage soul of America, found the worse attributes that will offer some false temporary relief to those Americans who have come to hate fairness, progress and change. He is their only path to feeling what they believe as being ‘wholeness’; and that is to: beat up the weak, deny the disenfranchised, belittle those who don’t have the capacity to defend themselves, hate and despise the (Muslim, Latino, LGBTQ, Black) other, than ‘us’.

Mr. Trump knows America, because he is that large part of America that lies to itself and the world, a prejudice laced petulance masquerading as patriotism, reciting ‘Liberty and Justice for all’, while placing limits and conditions on the ‘all’. They are like roaches who go into hiding when a type of Obama-like light of decency enters the public square. And now it is their time, to make America ugly, and ungrateful again for her natural gifts and diverse people resources.

It is easy for educators to teach about despotic and despicable national leaders in other nations and time periods. But what do we do when that aspiring despot and already despicable national leader is in our own nation, and in our present time? The dignity, graciousness and class of the Obamas made it real easy for us educators; we could simply and safely say to all students, regardless of color: just follow the example, and be like Barack and Michelle Obama, and chances are that you will grow up to be a good and decent person! But this…

In any event, I am glad I am retired because this is one of those familiar moments when I probably would get into trouble! High school students don’t miss much, and are just going to come straight out and ask you, “What do you think about Donald Trump Mr. Johnson?” Or, “you have a picture of President Obama in your office, where is Trump’s picture?”, and expect an honest answer!

“Well, sit down young folks and let me explain…”

Or, maybe you don’t explain:

A “got jokes” very intelligent student at Phelps ACE high school mentioned to me once in the hall: “Yo Mr. Johnson, I see you have a picture of Justice Sotomayor up in your office; where is Justice Clarence Thomas?” As he offered his best rendition of the hungry smiling cat eyeing the bird look. But a principal must be quick on their feet. “Not enough wall space for all nine judges”; I responded, “and don’t you have an AP history class this period… goodbye.” Sometimes in education you just let your reading assignments, bulletin board pictures and preterition tell the story!

To keep students safe in a school, principals will need to be strategically smart and consciously courageous.

“Seven high school students suspended after assaulting a 14-year-old transgender student…”
“A student stabbed a classmate to death with a switchblade and seriously injured another in front of more than a dozen classmates inside their high school. Police are investigating if bullying was a motive…”

Parents send their children to schools for a lot of reasons, not on the list of reasons is to die, end up in the hospital, or their child facing murder and/or assault charges. And yet every year, all over this nation we have a lot of young people who are seriously injured and/or killed, which also often leads to the alleged perpetrators having a negative life-changing encounter with the criminal justice system. These situations leave two or more families suffering from seeing their hopes for their children destroyed; there are no winners here.

As a district superintendent I can say that it was the rare case of student vs. student violence (or students vs. staff person) where the incident was ‘spontaneous’. There was always a ‘back story’, ‘warning signs’, ‘hints of trouble’, that preceded the violent event. There were often multiple missed opportunities, ‘intervention points’, where the tragic incident could have been avoided.

It’s extremely hard (but not impossible) to prevent the ‘spontaneous’ incidents, but there is a great deal that we can do to stop the majority of the ‘building over time’ violence related incidents that show up in our schools, as well as those outside of the school violent events, that are the result of something that occurred inside of the school.

Not just a Metal Detector, a principal needs a ‘Mental Detector’! A thoughtfully strategic plan to find out what is truly going on in the minds, words and ultimately the behavior of the students in the building.

I have told many principals over the years; that you stay (hidden) in your office at your own, and the school’s peril. I always love, love my main office staff folks; but for a principal they are like those Greek mythological sirens who with their beautiful voices want to lure and keep you in the main office, which means certain doom; resist them!

Also, if you are truly called to be a principal, then you must accept that you must work ‘two-shifts’ and get paid for one. The second shift starts in the afterschool/evening hour where you do all of the administrative paperwork, as an off-the-clock unpaid volunteer.
That 2nd shift ‘donation of services’ to the district will allow you to spend that school day’s first-shift moving around the school building, having informal and quick ‘stand-up’/sit down meetings with students and various members of the staff. A teacher may be in their classroom during their prep period, stop by to say hello, and ask how things are going (“Any potential problem they noticed in their classes?”); check with AP’s, the guidance department and deans office: “Anything I need to know?” Students could be on their way to the cafeteria, stop, and talk, check up on them. Make yourself available for informal conversations… Have a real, not rhetorical ‘open-door-policy’. All of these actions are important parts of the intelligence gathering and violence prevention program. In any institution/organization there is a formal and informal information-communication (IC) stream; as school building leader you must tap into the student’s informal IC stream.

A principal must develop and cultivate the art of “approachability”; you really need the members of the school family to feel comfortable with bringing potentially dangerous ‘issues’ to you; and you want to be made aware of these situations in their earliest developmental stages: The menacing look or gesture, the threatening words exchanges, the two people in the gym who were separated but never exchanged blows, the “A said that B said, that C told B, that D was talking about A to E” (Me to the dean: “Just round up all the alphabet cadets and deliver them to my office!”), the teasing or joke that went too far, and/or for too long. The teasing or joke that ‘hits too close to home’.For a child who has lost a parent, being raised by a grandparent, living in foster care, or in a group home; a casual “Momma-Daddy” comment could take them over the edge.

A major part of the safe school story, is for the guidance dept. and school administrators to be aware and be involved with every student’s ‘story’. But further, to connect every student in the building with some type of staff supervised activity. Thus the ‘information gathering’ and mentoring power of clubs, teams and activities that can link students to a responsible adult in the building. Students will often feel more comfortable revealing a concern to a coach or faculty club advisor.
As principal you may not be able to know every detail connected to every student. But you must be open to being a ‘problem solver’ of potentially serious situations when they are in the early stages of development. The school family can’t feel that the principal is ‘too big’ to be concerned about ‘small’ problems; especially since most of big problems in schools start out small! (“Wait, you mean this started 3 months ago when you felt he jumped ahead of you in the lunch line?”)

A pro-‘snitching’ policy is needed to keep a school safe!

As the principal you must redefine, reinvent, rewrite and raise the profile of the “Snitching” narrative. Establish that for our purposes in schools, “snitching” is our friend and protector! You must have the student body buy into the idea that ‘snitching’ makes all of us safer; and to the greatest extent possible keep your sources confidential when they do provide you with life-safety saving information. This ‘snitching is good’ approach includes students letting you know when their friends are having ‘a beef’ with someone, are threatening suicide, planning to run away, drinking and driving, depressed, or are victims of abuse at home.

Understanding the language of ‘teenage speak’.

Remember there is a (foreign to adults) ‘teenage speak’ language and style, that may utilize English words but that’s about it. They also often don’t necessarily deliver information in the way you think it should be delivered. Be non-judgmental, persistent and patient (Also be humble by allowing your youngest teachers to help you with the latest terms and phrases!) On many occasions I have had to listen to a very long (“you see what had happen was…”) story a student was telling me about a serious problem an ‘unnamed friend’ was facing; when it was very clear to me early in the narrative that the student was really talking about themselves. But I had to wait for that moment when they were ready to reveal that the ‘friend’ they were concerned and asking this advice about was in fact them.
Part of the approachability skill set is having the ability when members of the school family are talking to you, make them feel, (and at that moment it’s true) that you are only the principal for one person in the school— Them. Leading a school where the environmental ethos is self-protection, and especially having a type of relationship with students such that they are your safe school partners; is better than any metal detectors you can set up at your entrance doors.

The best parents and principals are tactfully and thoughtfully ‘nosey’!

Growing up I remember one of my mother’s rules: “Only the owner of a premises can put a lock on a door”; and since I was not an owner, there was never a lock on my room door! And who knows what happened while I was at school? (Parents stay nosey-woke!)

Start out the day principal at the front entrance greeting students, read their facial expressions, their body language; do they look angry, worried, sad or upset? If you notice one of these symptoms pull them to the side and in a whispering tone: “Is everything ok, is there anything you want me to know or help you with”.
For boys, these kind of close encounter conversations starting at the front door, and very soon after moving it to an empty hallway or classroom, out of ‘ear and eye shot’ of other males may very well be the only opportunity for that student to let you know that he is being bullied, or planning to fight.
I will give away a teenage male secret here; they actually want (without saying so), an authoritative figure to intervene and prevent the fight; an ‘unauthorized fight’ is not like a fight in a boxing ring. In an ‘unauthorized fight’ a lot of things can go terribly wrong, for either combatant. Asking a male student in front of other students if: “Someone’s bothering you or, are you having problems with so and so”; is guaranteed to generate an untrue response; or even worse “I can (will) handle it! There is again also the problem of ‘teenage language’ and the thinking linked to that language. Teenagers and adults have a completely different understandings of words and terms like: “problem solved, problem solving”, “over”, “respect” (or disrespect), “something being handled”, “defending-protecting myself”, etc. Just because they (for the purpose of responding to power and authority) code-switch over into our linguistic world, does not mean that they accept our cultural-linguistic definitions. It’s like that principal who in honest shock said to me after a vicious after school neighborhood brawl; for which the angry neighborhood residents called (my) the superintendent’s office: “I don’t understand it, they shook hands in my office before they left the building!” Clearly, the young men and the principal had two completely different definitions of: “It’s over!” I gave the principal a reading assignment book list* for our follow-up discussion. We need to understand that teenagers are not mini-versions of us; they are psychologically linguistically speaking, truly another species.

The principal must be a ‘hunter and gatherer’ of information, but they must also be a closer!

Just as information-intelligence gathering is important; also having a thorough investigation and a complete closure process (that the students and parents understand as closure) is critical. There must also be a systemic process that allows the principal to continue to monitor the ‘situation’; as well as a way to evaluate the ‘conditions’ of the closure proceedings and conditions. For example, again returning to ‘teenage cultural-linguistics’; even after a stolen item is returned intact (or even when they received a brand new item) to its owner; and the ‘perpetrator’ of the theft received a severe official punishment from the school. It is not uncommon for the teenage victim to feel that the only justice that would erase what they feel was an affront (disrespect) to their dignity and honor, is a ‘beat-down’ of the thief! And the: “Yo son, you gonna let him…” agitator/friends; out of the hearing of adults will be anything but helpful.

That’s the smart leadership part, now the courageous part…

One of the reasons I always insisted that the novel Lord of the Flies, be placed on the 9th grade reading list was to have students think early in their high school career about what it means for young people to be ‘in charge’: “Is that the situation that you truly want?” The truth is that I don’t really need to convince them, I only need to make them aware of what they already believe. Despite the push-back and complaints from students, and in some cases their enabling parents. It has been my experience that the overwhelming majority of students want to attend a school that is safe, secure, and predictable in its operational practices. Even if they themselves are hell-raisers! Yes, as strange as it may sound, even those students who are fully committed to the cause of hell-raising, don’t want random and unpredictable misbehavior in a school that could adversely affect them if it is not corrected and contained.
Often the reasons for some ‘teasing’ acting out behavior might be deflection and fear; perhaps graduation feels like it is slipping away from them; the fear that they will be discovered as poor readers; or their discovery that they are not prepared to successfully engage with high school level academic work. These students may also be experiencing a difficult, arbitrary, unstable, unpredictable, and yes, living daily themselves as victims of a bullying home environment (These students will often employ verbal or physical bullying at school as a form of self-applied therapy). Or maybe these are teenagers who just never learned how to treat other people with respect. More than anything else these and all students want and need a school environment that practices commonly known and followed principles, rules, and is a safe place to learn, all wrapped up in a philosophy of consistency.

Both the chronic ‘rule breakers’ and the faithful ‘rule followers’ should know the behavioral standards of the school; as well as the serious consequences for not meeting those standards. Students have come (been sent) to my office, where they brilliantly deconstructed the problem and solution: “I know exactly where I went wrong Mr. Johnson, when I could have made a different decision; and I know that I will be spending a day in the In School Suspension Room!” (“Now”, I thought back then; “All I need to do is to get them to the place where they are brilliant on the front end!”)

Principal, take the heat to keep the school a ‘cool’ place to be.

Any high school principal seeking to build a safe for learning school is going to get some complaints. And some of those complaints will come from some of our ‘liberal’ collogues who would never send their own children into a dangerous and chaotic learning environment. The people who charge you with being ‘too strict’, ‘not democratic’, or you’re not letting the “kids be kids”, will be in the front of the line of folks condemning you for having an out of control and unsafe school. I rather have a few feelings hurt, then to have students hurt.

There are many different categories, interest and personalities of students who attend a high school. And although I love teenagers and would not want to work with any other age group; they can very often engage in some very ‘not-so-nice’ behaviors toward other students and the staff. They also bring to the school a lot of the ugliness that is promoted by the adult society. High schoolers also can form a ‘group or clique’, and then seek wrongly to fill the empty spaces in their lives by identifying a not-one-of-us as the “other” to vilify and pick on (Sounds a lot like the 2016 presidential campaign!)

I can only imagine how hard it is to be a school principal today and be forced to transition from a very dignified, inclusive and compassionate Role-Model-In-Chief Barack Obama, to the present situation. But good or bad POTUS role modeling does not relieve the principal of the responsibility for establishing a school wide no bullying zone; not just in words but by action, monitoring, enforcement and punishment. The principal must make the school a place where students feel safe to be smart; and have the power and right to be the ‘who’ of whoever they are.
There are many ways to make a student’s school life-experience enjoyable, fun and fulfilling. Anarchy, danger, disorder and ‘bully targeting’; are not on the list.

As a principal you have your own version of “Serve and Protect”:

• Serve the parents by allowing them to spend their day knowing that their child is safe.
• Serve the students by providing them with a safe and productive learning environment.
• Protect the classroom by making it a place where teachers can teach and students can learn.
• Protect the district from being sued because we did not intervene early and effectively.

Suspending or turning students over to the criminal justice system is an ‘after the fact’ response. What we really need in schools is an ‘early warning’, take affirmative action, and bring things to closure, before a serious incident occurs, plan… Know that, if a school does not meet a student’s standards for safety and protection, then that student will predictably take their safety and protection into their own hands; logic, reasonable thinking, and bad endings-outcomes notwithstanding.

One of the mayoral candidates in NYC has as a solution to school violence, called for expanding suspension rates for students in kindergarten to 2nd grade; and just add more metal detectors. The first suggestion beyond declaring an open ‘search and destroy’ season on poor students and students of color; will in fact actually criminalize and create more bitter and disconnected students, who will end up being prone to acts of violence as they get older, and become less socially and academically successful in the school system. The second suggestion is drastically unimaginative and incomplete; we need to help principals to better discourage and deter students from wanting to bring a weapon to school, not just engage in the act of discovering a weapon. Besides, there are many ‘dangerous things’ in a school building that have, and can be transformed into a weapon of violence against another student or staff person.

Of course we must after every incident review and upgrade school security practices and procedures. But at some point we need to at least have the discussion as to why a student might feel that their only available option to a threat or bullying is to bring a weapon for self-protection into a school; or, in many cases they just won’t come to school at all.

*THE MORAL JUDGMENT OF THE CHILD: JEAN PIAGET; THE GROWTH OF LOGICAL THINKING FROM CHILDHOOD TO ADOLESCENCE: JEAN PIAGET; THOUGHT AND LANGUAGE: LEV VYGOTSKY; DISCIPLINE & PUNISH: MICHEL FOUCAULT.

Educators speak compassion like Obama and don’t spew hatred like Trump/Sessions!

“The time is always right to do what is right.”— Martin Luther King, Jr.

“…This is about young people who grew up in America – kids who study in our schools, young adults who are starting careers, patriots who pledge allegiance to our flag. These Dreamers are Americans in their hearts, in their minds, in every single way but one: on paper. They were brought to this country by their parents, sometimes even as infants. They may not know a country besides ours. They may not even know a language besides English. They often have no idea they’re undocumented until they apply for a job, or college…”– Barack Obama

Many present and retired high school principals can testify to that most difficult of moments, when your juniors are in the opening stages of that joyful and exciting exercise of applying to colleges and seeking college scholarships. It is in many ways one of the most redeeming and fulfilling parts of the job. But then you get that news. I can even now envision my SSCHS senior class guidance counselor Ms. Cammarata coming to my office, closing the door and saying: “Mr. Johnson, we need to talk.” That opening phraseology was never a good sign, and bad news was surely about to follow. “One of your favorite babies”; she would continue; “is (and/or the parents are) not in the country legally”. Because we had such a large Caribbean, Caribbean-American student population; in the majority of cases the student(s) in question were African-Caribbean, and not Latino, Asian, etc. (An important point missed by a lot of folks!)

She used the words “favorite babies”; because in every case these were some of my most academically high performing, best behaved, kind, warm and respectful students. They were ironically model US teenage citizens. These were the students we knew we could get some high quality college admissions acceptances and adequate financial scholarship support.

The good news was that Ms. Cammarata and I could always put our heads together and get some free legal assistance for the family, and I could call in for some assistance favors from elected officials. We had a 100% success rate (although it was not always easy), of getting these very deserving young people into college and on the path to citizenship.

And I think back on those days with pride and joy for the education profession that champions children over politics. I guess that is why I was so upset by many of the DACA comments made by (more than a few) Black Americans.

I am seeing some very painful DACA comments on social media. I really hope none of these ‘posters’ are professional educators; because our standard ethical pedagogical responsibility is to educate all students regardless of their residency/citizenship status. Perhaps I am getting too old; but I remember the concept of African-Americans being the soul and conscience of America. Nothing can justify supporting the racist, bigoted and cruel actions of Trump, Sessions, et al. Structural, systemic and institutionalized educational and economic racism are the cause of pervasively high Black unemployment rates; not these young DACA folks. And when did the criteria for taking the right, just and moral position rest on who did, or did not support us on a particular issue? Many of us would have gone for personal wealth and not service a long time ago if that was the criteria! To borrow from the elders of my Brooklyn youth, when I too was a 1st generation Caribbean-American Dreamer: “If you lay down with racist dogs you will get up infected with racist fleas!” And one of my mother’s favorites that has haunted me all of my life: “There is no right way to do wrong!”

Maybe we need to send out truant officers to find out why Black and Latino Leadership is absent from our schools!

“You’re going to force the worst teachers in the system into the schools that are struggling the most.”

“City Will Move Sidelined Teachers From Limbo to Classrooms”—
NY Times…

https://www.nytimes.com/2017/08/18/nyregion/absent-teacher-reserve-plan.html?rref=collection%2Fsectioncollection%2Feducation&action=click&contentCollection=education&region=stream&module=stream_unit&version=latest&contentPlacement=2&pgtype=sectionfront

The NY Times has the sense not to make me an editor; because I would change this headline from “to Classrooms”, to read: “some Classrooms”. Or, just lead with that great quote I lifted from the article, as it succinctly and correctly, sums up the proposed policy.

One thing is always true of public education: There is no such thing as a “neutral” and “inconsequential” policy. As a principal and superintendent I tried to make decisions that helped the largest amount of children; and most important (and what usually got me in trouble), protected the children who could least survive any type of systemic policy harm.

The problem arises because the students most in need of protection, have the least amount of well-organized political adults advocating for them. Like the NYC-Southeast Queens CSD 29 politician (who sincerely felt that he was giving me good advice); told me as superintendent that my advocacy and programs directed to help our very large homeless student population, would not help me to survive politically. “You know of course”, he said; “those people don’t vote!” I wish I could say his prediction about my political future in CSD 29 was wrong. Further, if you think of every policy as being a stick; certain students and communities are destined, unless there is a leadership intervention at the district or school level; to always get the short end of it!

It is so heartwarming to see so many of my former NYC Principal-Superintendent colleagues still care about the present cohort of principals fighting the good fight on behalf of children. They are speaking up and out about the deleterious effects of this policy.

But my question (And yes, you’ll know I am going to ask it!): Where are all of the “Woke” folks; the Black and Latino leaders in elected office, civic, religious, news media, the NAACP, Urban League, etc.; where is the: Black Educational Lives Matter Movement? Why is quality and effective education, not on the front end, of the movement to reform prison referral and incarceration policies? I understand the political calculus that Black and Latino politicians are facing here; however many of them are in safe seats, and can’t be seriously “primaried” by the UFT. And so, why the silence on this important issue?

Recently the Brooklyn and Bronx Borough Presidents advocated for the very doable expansion of Gifted and Talented (G&T) programs into the “G&T desert” sections of the city. They are totally correct in their assessments (of the need) and proactive positions they have taken. But where are the other Black and Latino leadership voices; is it because this issue of G&T equity is not “politically sexy” as school integration, not “sound biteble” enough to get appearances on MSNBC or CNN; into the progressive leaning online and print journals and magazines? I keep warning Black folks, that when it comes to public education, there are limits to the largesse of liberalism! My experience is that the truly progressive White Americans, seriously and passionately support quality education for all Americans!

The central, and in my view most important question is; how can we make real and significant progress if we don’t properly educate the present generation of Black and Latino students effectively? The good educational history of NYC, is the story of “generational leaps”, made possible by public education. But this “teacher placement” policy will cause many NY students of color to leap backwards; because there are plenty of studies that fully explain the results of a student being exposed to even 1, 2 or 3 consecutive years of an ineffective teacher. A child’s future should not be a lottery game.

We all know what is going to happen here, and so let’s not pretend. The least politically connected-organized parents and communities (aka the “un-entitled”), are going to get the worse teachers. These teachers will be “teaching” the children, who in actuality are in desperate need of having the best and most effective teachers in the system! We need to give a “commitment to our children” exam to Black and Latino leaders, and then grade them accordingly.

In my Samuel Jackson voice: “Who is teaching your children?”

(A secondary question for Principals: “Who is teaching in your school?”)

A former full-time, and now substitute teacher’s Facebook post (unedited by me), that led to her removal from the substitute teachers list:

“Everyone gets to read my opinion on FB!! (No this doesn’t happen very often) It is stupid to remove landmarks because they offend people!! Look at the eclipse and go blind and you won’t have to see any of it!! Wars, battles, victories and defeats stand for something!! Its HISTORY people!! We each sat in a class and learned about events that took place at different eras of time. If we find it fiting to remove statues and pieces of concrete that offend “a black race”, then we sure as hell need to remove the Martin Luther king jr, rosa parks, your civil rights institute!!! I recall learning about museums and houses that were dedicated to black history!! The whole month of Feb to honor you can be dismissed because we don’t need to single anyone out, however that is exactly what your doing by destroying parts of history today!! Why don’t you take your happy asses to Africa and live in the deserts and starve to death and be happy!! America will not lose any sleep over letting you go!! You can all be equal there!!! I’m sure Mr. Trump will get you a boat ready!! I vote don’t even make you pay for the ride!! I’ve never been so sick of hearing poor me I’m black in my life!! If it’s that bad then paint yourself white and shut up about Have a great day!!
* if this offends you too then please by all means delete me!!!”

Geneva Co. Superintendent Becky Birdsong released a statement to the media in response to the post:

“I have seen the Facebook post making the rounds on social media and frankly find it disturbing. The person who made the post is not currently employed by Geneva County Schools. She was employed last year as a Pre-K aide/auxiliary teacher before being non-renewed by the board in May 2017. She also served with us for a half day as a substitute employee through Kelly Services on August 8, 2017. As of this morning, I have asked Kelly Services to remove her from the substitute list. Geneva County Schools is a school system that believes in community, diversity and equality. Moreover, we firmly believe that education is one of the best tools we can use to overcome the relics of hateful and divisive beliefs.”

I guess I was not that far off the mark with my question: “Racist Neo: Nazis-Confederates working in a public school near you?”… http://majmuse.net/notes-on-those-teachable-life-moments/

Neo: Nazi-Confederate March in Charlottesville, Va. A Very Teachable Moment…

I hear that some principals, on their own, or by a superintendent’s directive, are discouraging teachers from “touching on” the Neo-Nazi-white-neo-confederate-white supremacist march that took place on 8/11 in Charlottesville, Va.
First of all I am sure, that most students particularly middle and high schoolers are fully aware that this “situation” took place; simply based on the huge amount of public and private information related to this tragic event that is being produced. And so like many “worldly” events that occur outside of school, the question is: do we want the professionally trained educators and counselors to lead and guide the conversation; or (never works), let the students informally organize their own unstructured responses? The latter “plan” could lead to student to student conflicts, and/or student–faculty/administrators/staff unnecessary confrontations. Or, even angry students acting on their own outside of school, could find themselves (or someone else) injured, killed, or having a negative interaction with law enforcement agents.

My understanding of how to handle these types of major societal events is that just “pretending” they did not happen is a recipe for disaster. CSD 29 Queens NY, an urban school district which serves one of the largest number of Muslim students in NYC; received universal acclaim and praise, for our pedagogically thoughtful and healing response to the 9/11 tragedy. The peace that followed in the district was not by accident; or by our hoping “nothing bad will happen”. School leaders must act, and not act solely on hope!
And further, utilizing these types of moments is exactly what schooling is all about. Perhaps if some of those Nazi swastika flag waving folks learned about the tremendous scale of human suffering and sacrifices (including possibly their own family members), that was needed to defeat Nazism; perhaps they would not see that flag as an instrument of honor and celebration.

Now to be sure a school cannot approach these types of events without some strategic plan of action; like where (which classes) it will be discussed, the what and how the lesson plan objective-talking points will be developed and delivered, and (really important) by which teachers; are critical parts of the process. Not all teachers are prepared and/or suitable to teach this particular lesson (and this has nothing to do with race); which is not the same as saying that they are not great teachers with the regular content curriculum.

I would probably utilize the History or English departments; and select teachers to co-teach the lesson with guidance counselors. These would be the educators who can keep the lesson: well-managed, “on script”, on task and focused. Some of the key objectives you want to achieve through a guided, ground-ruled based discussion/lesson:

(1-3 year principals, you will probably need some mentoring and guidance before undertaking this effort. And for all principals, if the district gives you a plan, script and/or talking points, follow them to the letter!)

1) You don’t want the students to do anything harmful to themselves and others; and you don’t want the students to engage law enforcement in a negative and unproductive (for them) way.

2) You don’t want students to be depressed, in despair, feel “paralyzing” afraid, and destructively angry. Allowing for a safe space and place for students to go to express how they feel about the incident outside of the classroom.

3) The constitutional facts around protest and free speech. As well as the rights of counter-protestors, should be explained. (principals you should have on call volunteer “specialist”, in this case attorneys, in your resource rolodex )

4) The students will probably (even by way of their parents, religious leader, etc.), be aware that Mr. Trump has not exactly been a beacon of reconciliation and restoration in this situation. Don’t dwell on it; and students should read the more situationally appropriate comments made by many other elected and civic leaders, across a very vast political and philosophical spectrum. You can present Mr. Obama, or any past president’s response in a similar situation; but don’t in a partisan way, “politicize” the event. Present the facts, and if the lesson is conducted right, the students will “naturally” arrive at the best moral and compassionate place they need to be.

5) Comparing and contrasting the event with literary work (i.e. The Diary of Anne Frank; Dr. M.L. King’s: “Letter From A Birmingham Jail”; or New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s Speech About Removing Confederate Monuments)

6) Historical references for example: “Why has Germany been so strict (by law) on outlawing all signs, symbols, expressions, movements, organizations, etc. that present Nazism as a positive and proud heritage-historical event?”

7) Correct any “bad, not well thought-out”, emotionally driven ideas. I.e. “all white Americans are Nazis” or, “Colleges in the south are not safe to attend!”

8) Create some creative outlet, project for the students to express how they feel. That can be letters to elected officials, an intergenerational oral-history project, and letters to the victims of the car assault, drawing-painting, music, drama, essays, poetry, short stories, dance, or acts of service.

9) Finally, send a carefully crafted note to the parents explaining how the school addressed the issues (lest students, as they often do, go home and tell their parents their “creative” version of what happen). And let parents know that if they have any questions and concerns, please don’t hesitate to call you, or visit the school without an appointment; and then don’t hesitate to take-return their calls, and really meet and talk to them! (Send a copy to your superintendent, and whoever handles “parent complaints” at the district office; surprise is usually a problem!)

Let me state up front that I would never advise a principal to disobey a directive from their superintendent. I know both as a former principal and superintendent that the people above us on the supervision organization chart, who have “big picture” as part of their job description, can often see dangers and problems we are unable to see in the “trenches”. But I also know that if schools run away from addressing the tough and difficult moral and ethical issues of our time; then we run the greater risk of producing adults, who may have “competencies and skills”, but who lack an internal compassionate guidance system. Remember: 1930’s-40’s Germany was an international: STEM, Art, Intellectual, Philosophical and (yes) Theological powerhouse!

If a principal is given the green light to develop a “plan of study” in response to a terrible and traumatic societal event, then by all means do it with a strategic vision and smartness; a strategy that keeps your school safe and together; and that also protects, and intellectually strengthens the individual students.