How to retire from all of that retirement talk…

Many Americans Try Retirement, Then Change Their Minds— NY Times

“Now back at work in a part-time position she designed for herself, she calls herself “a failed retiree.”

“A failed retiree”: I would be much more generous in my assessment of Ms. King. I am thinking that if your professional life-work was exciting, rewarding and fulfilling (and it seems that hers fits that criteria), then you might come to view traditional retirement as terribly overrated.

As a retired school teacher, principal/superintendent; I find a disconnectedness in my conversations with other ‘retirees’ who hated their jobs, and could not wait to retire. I loved every moment of my life as an educator, as challenging and difficult as it was at times. I now have taken on several new jobs (on my own terms): working with individual and groups of students on expanding their involvement with STEM; mentoring present and aspiring school building leaders, and writing a soon to be published book on school leadership: Report To The Principal’s Office (

But I question if the ‘retirement model’ most often presented isn’t based on a particular ‘national-historical culture’, the individual personality type, attitude toward and feeling about the ‘work’, and to which occupation/vocation the ‘retiree’ was attached.

Clearly, going to ‘Work’ for some may have brought significance and meaning to their lives, and for others it might have represented the daily drudgery of meaninglessness.

And for some can a job-employment be, using a grammatical metaphor, a comma or semicolon, rather than a period between the person’s life inside and during, and outside and after, the ‘job’? And can one truly retire from a calling?

Perhaps there is no ‘one size fits all’ for decisions related to work, leisure time or retirement. And so maybe each person must find their own path, and place of joy, peace, productivity and fulfillment, in and after work.

In a time of crisis true leadership character emerges…

“Ben Carson Defends Buying $31,000 Dining Set to Congress: ‘I Left It to My Wife’”– NY Times

No matter the job, no matter the amount of money, neither should cause you to throw a love one under the bus. Politics aside, this is just simply disgraceful and despicable human behavior. As a principal and superintendent, I took personal responsibility, and even publicly apologized for ‘something gone wrong’ for which I had no involvement. That is how true leadership acts in a crisis.

Being a leader is a choice, and once you make that choice you should be willing to accept all of the challenges, no matter how difficult, that comes along with that choice. If it is a public education leadership position that means fighting against all forces (all, not just the easy ones), who would seek to deny all of the children in your protective charge, a quality education.
However, being an honest, good and decent person is reasonably within the expected behavior of the average person. But then again Dr. Carson is modeling his behavior after the morally and ethically challenged person who appointed him!

“Ben Carson Defends Buying $31,000 Dining Set to Congress: ‘I Left It to My Wife’

Sometimes I feel like I am ‘Culturally Misassociated’.

The children of Flint continue to be poisoned, for life. (Educators, we know the long-term learning effects of lead poisoning!)

The occupant of the White House, and other elected officials in Washington just don’t care that large sections of schools (the ones that have reopened), in US Puerto Rico are cut off from that present day essential teaching tool—the internet. What will be the long-term educational effects on these children?

The majority of Black and Latino communities (especially in the Liberal North) remain Gifted and Talented programs ‘deserts’.

Somewhere in our country civic and elected leaders are calling a 40-50% high school graduation rate a success. Imagine bringing home a dozen of eggs, and six of them were rotten!

In places like Mississippi, faux Christian men, who should really be paying more attention to the behavior and control of their own reproduction organs, want to control the reproductive organs of women; while at the same time not caring one bit about the health and education of the children those women bring into the world.

We are in 2018, but in large parts of the modern world there is still a struggle (battle!) to get the majority of some nation’s youth… its girls, into a primary and secondary school setting.

In many Black and Brown communities in our nation the ‘mass murdering’ of high school students is taking place outside of schools, it is systematically and routinely stretch-out over the course of years, not in one day. It’s a ‘make it to adulthood lottery game’, that many don’t win; clearly their lives don’t matter; and it’s not a game.

In many parts of the world, where there is war, violent political conflicts and a human created refugee crisis; there are children who have not attended school for years; this will have a devastating effect on those nations, and particularly the educational, mental and physical health of those children.

And so what am I missing here?

Some people are upset that Bruno Mars has studied the moves of people like James Brown and the Temptations. Well, when I was a 1960’s teenager in Brooklyn my friends and I tried to appropriate the moves of JB and the Temps. But Bruno is clearly better at it then I was; and so do I get my cultural association card lifted? What’s the problem: The entertainment artist I don’t like, I simply don’t but their music, or purchase tickets for their concerts. Seems pretty simple and straightforward to me. But my music preferences don’t get raised to the level of a political movement.

In a nation and world where large numbers of people are wondering how and where they are going to get their next meal, and if they get it will that meal be enough, or they are not sure where they will lay their heads tonight; it seems that some folks have too much idle time on their hands. I rather focus my energy on expanding creative and performing arts education opportunities for children who don’t have access to these learning experiences. But what do I know, after all I am just an old 1960’s James Brown and Temptations dance moves appropriation guy.

One of the reasons that the public does not believe us (professional public educators), when we say we need more money for schools.

When it comes to children, their education and safety, it is always ‘cheaper’, more efficient and effective to invest on the front (prevention-intervention, pro-action and productive-positive actions) end, rather than on the back (remediation, correction, fix up, cleanup, etc.) end.

“Convened by de Blasio to talk school safety, New York City students tell him his latest solution is misguided”

“When it was Andrea Colon’s turn to ask a question at Mayor Bill de Blasio’s town hall meeting on school safety Thursday, the high school senior got right to the point. Why is the city “prioritizing police and metal detectors instead of ensuring we have enough social-emotional and mental health support in our schools?” Colon asked the mayor, who had invited roughly 100 students to talk about gun violence and school safety at the Vanderbilt YMCA in Manhattan.”

The question taxpayers might be asking themselves: “Wait, we are paying a lot of people, a lot of money to come up with the wrong and/or incomplete answers; and here you have a student(s) earning a salary of $0 dollars a year, and she comes up with the most thoughtful, educationally correct and long-term effective answer!”

To increase the possibility of having a safe high school, can we at least do the ‘easy stuff’ first:

To increase the possibility of having a safe high school, can we at least do the ‘easy stuff’ first.

Why School-Based Administrators Should Not Cheat (Children)

The first chapter in my book Report To The Principal’s Office (RTTPO) is titled: “The Ethics of the Principalship”; it is not the first chapter by accident. For if the School-Based Administrator’s (SBA’s) leadership practice is not founded and grounded in, guided and defined by, a set of student empowering ethical principles; then those SBA’s will ultimately do great harm to children. Thus the reason why so many educators, retired and presently working, are so saddened by the reports of principals in fear of, and/or in collusion with the district’s leadership, have made a decision to cheat children out of an education, along with creating the strong possibility that those children will not have a bright and hopeful future.

And to add ‘insult to injury’; the victims of many of these acts of educational malpractice are the students who are at the greatest risk of not being served well by the public school systems of this nation; those for whom a good education may be their only hope of braking a pattern and societal planned trajectory that leads to poverty, disenfranchisement and disconnection from the fruits and benefits of the ‘American Promise’. As a Black educator, and it gives me no pleasure in saying this, my pain is doubly deepened in knowing that in some Black ‘controlled’ cities/districts/schools, these practitioners of miseducation share a cultural and ethnicity link with the very children they have educationally cheated. I know these Black mis-educators must, at some points in their lives, felt the painful stings of racist denial and dismissal; and so why inflict it on children who look like them?

In two of the largest, but by no means only examples of the problem; we see in one case the future of children being choked by those helping (really hurting) them to cheat, or cheating for (actually against) them on standardized exams. In another district, high school students were being awarded ‘graduation diplomas’, even if they fail to show up for the required class (‘seat’) time to hear, let alone learn the course material.

At the core of these ethical fails is that the SBA’s in both cases harbored a deep false belief in the inherent inability of the students to learn. What we usually sum up as ‘low-expectations’. They essentially distorted that popular phrase “All children can learn” into: “Perhaps, all children can learn, but not the ones I have!” Not only do these actions reveal the principal’s expectations; they also speak to the SBA’s lack of confidence in their own professional effectiveness and efficacy. If children arrive to your school with ‘learning-parental support-opportunity gaps’ (and in any Title 1 school that will be the annual reality), then the ethical principal will put programs and practices into place to close those gaps.
And, as is also often the case in Title 1 high schools, some students may be struggling* to get to school every day, and on time; then again ethical school leaders will visit and exhaust all avenues available to get as many students as possible, into school on time and every day. That begins by designing a school environment, where students feel safe, welcomed, educationally challenged and respected. In other words creating a school where students actually want to come every day!

*As a principal I once had a student who lived with two younger siblings. The single parent had to work back-to-back full time jobs (12: AM to 4: PM), in order for the family to survive. This meant that my student had to dress, feed and take the younger siblings to the neighborhood school every day. But the earliest she could leave them made her late for her own school. I reached out to my elementary school colleague, and made arrangements for my student’s siblings to be able to enter the school an hour earlier then the official ‘students admit’ time. Thus less stress on my student, and she was now able to take 1st period classes; and of course I ‘sweetened the deal’ for the elementary school principal as a thank you! (Don’t ask how because I am not telling, but every school as I explain in RTTPO, must have an independent, out of the school district’s control, 501c3 foundation!)

Frankly, I find that making a ‘poverty excuse’ (no matter who is making it), as to why students can’t be successful in a public education setting, racially and class offensive. But worse, it provides a societal wide rational for giving these students our least concern and efforts. That we must ‘cheat and cut corners’ in order for them to succeed. The ethical principal cannot and should not cooperate with that societal denial of a quality education for all children, no matter the career cost.

Report To The Principal’s Office: Tools for Building Successful High School Administrative Leadership

Available Spring 2018!

Black Child Genius (Like Black History) Is Lost, Stolen and Ignored.

According to some NYC news reports Black History Month celebrations did not go well in some schools:

A poorly supervised and trained NYC teacher offers a lesson on slavery by asking Black students to lie down on the classroom floor, at which point she stepped on their backs to demonstrate to the class “what slavery felt like”… (Thank goodness she did not do a field trip to the New York Botanical Garden and have the Black students pick cotton!)

A student named Malcolm Xavier Combs, is not allowed by his high school to put (his own) and his namesake hero’s name: ‘Malcolm X’ on his senior sweater, school officials considered it “inappropriate”. (Could we feel confident in believing that if the young man was named after slave owner and rapist Thomas Jefferson, that a sweat shirt bearing that name would have also been banned?… Well no, not so confident.)

A middle school principal discourages and exacts penalties for the teaching and learning of Black History in an English Language Arts (ELA) class; and perhaps equally egregious, the principal being pedagogically unaware of the learning linkage between ELA (literature, speeches, plays, and poetry, journalism, public and personal documents) and students studying historiography (The methodological study of history).

All three events taking place in the ‘liberal’, ‘hip’, ‘progressive’, Democratic Party controlled, Northern, Blue city-state, New York City. We can only read these news articles as we cringe and weep…

I so desperately wish that I could say that these incidents were “isolated and rare”; but after so many years in public education as a teacher, principal and superintendent, I must admit that the public’s awareness of these types of horrible miseducation missteps is only limited by the small number of education reporters, interest and space in various news media outlets.

But these examples of Black History Celebrations ‘gone wrong’ are small compared to the vast number of Black (and Latino) students who won’t ever get a chance to make a positive contribution to ‘future history’; because they won’t get the chance to discover and display as adults, their natural gifts and talents. And I am speaking here of Black students who are on every point of the academic achievement level continuum. Including those who have parents with PhDs, and those with parents with no “D’s”! Parents who are unemployed and poor, as well as parents who are in the middle, upper levels, or far beyond middle class income levels. This “Lost, Stolen and Ignored” (LS&I) genius capacity is sadly equally distributed in the Black community, and compels us to redefine and expand the concept of “At Risk” to mean: Any Black child (particularly boys) who enters a public school building!

It is also important to note that this “At Risk” designation of not truly discovering and engaging Black student’s talents is not limited to Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM); even as the destructive powers of the LS&I policies are the most dramatically displayed in the STEM areas of study. The reality is that Black students with a gifted and genius inclination for Music, Art, Dance, non-stereotypical sports (i.e. fencing, archery, swimming, gymnastics, gulf and speed-performance ice skating); the untapped talent to engage in intellectual-creative competitive activities such as creative writing contest, photography-film, debate, chess, etc. competitions; are also places where these students are under-unexposed, and their skills and interest chronically undiscovered.

It often boils down to a word I hate to hear and depend on in public education: ‘luck’! That is, having the luck of having a ‘pushy’ parent(s)* who will expose the child to a wide spectrum of human intellectual, knowledge and talent rich out-of-school activities; those parents who are sensitive to the child’s display of ‘budding’ giftedness and creative interest, and then actively responding to those early talent inclination signs, parents who are ‘inquisitive’, aggressive and willing to make the sacrifices to put the child into a position; outside of the public school system, and into the informal educational-school system, where the child can receive professional coaching and training. Finally, students will need to be ‘lucky’ to have parents who don’t “ghettoize” the talents, gifts, dreams and aspirations of their children. These parents are naturally and justifiably suspicious of the aims and goals that any US school/school system has for their child. They know, even if it is only in the most rudimentary and without research data way, that when it comes to American education, race is always “in play”! As you can imagine, this ‘luck’ approach to child development, is unable to create a ‘critical mass’ of Gifted and Talented (G&T) discovered and developed students of color who can bring a significant generational change/improvement to their communities.

*I devote an entire chapter in my book (Report To The Principal’s Office: Tools for Building Successful High School Administrative Leadership), to deconstructing and explaining the profiles and practices of these empowering parents!

For sure, beyond race, economic status is a huge factor, (along with a parent’s ability to access the wealth of out-of-school educational information) in a child’s ability to realize the full capacity of their gifts and talents. But Black parents who are financially in a good place, and who have advanced formal educational degrees, could get too comfortable, and dangerously fool themselves into thinking that their child is not “at risk” of not realizing their full learning potential. And to borrow from a popular song: Money (and college degrees) can’t buy you love from your child’s teacher, principal, school or school district.
Teachers and educational leaders (Including incompetent, scared and ‘unwoke’ Black educators), bring ‘themselves’ to the district-school-classroom every day; ‘themselves’ meaning their personal histories, prejudices, cultural preconceptions, expectations, and the experience of living in a nation with many still unresolved race prejudice and discrimination problems. And clearly these problems are not being helped when the chief executive officer of the nation is openly advocating bigoted and white supremacy ideas.

Any Black or Latino parental approach that wrongly assumes that they have an educational ‘temporary privilege pass’; or that schools, the classroom are just, fair and neutral places, where all gifts and talents are equally discovered and developed, are sadly in a state of delusion; and that delusional state moves their child from being “at risk” to seriously “in danger”! Ironically, these well-resourced and knowledgeable parents can best help their own children by advocating for children who don’t have parents with their same level of education, financial resources, or access to information. After all the ‘system’ does not really see a difference in Black students with or without, wealthy and highly degreed parents!

There are some very easy to accomplish small steps by which districts and schools can discover and cultivate the genius of all students in their care:

(1) In the same New York City, several Black and Latino elected officials have correctly called for the expansion of Gifted and Talented programs into the ‘G&T dessert sections’ of the city (Read: majority Black and Latino neighborhoods). There is no reason that their educationally sound and reasonable request can’t be met. The ‘cap’ on G&T programs (and admission criteria) in any school district, is completely invented, arbitrary and discretionary. There are no national statutes, regulations, professional agreement/understanding (standards), as to how we can determine and measure: ‘giftedness’, ‘intelligences’ and ‘natural talents’; to what extent these qualities are acquired genetically (at birth), or can be discovered and developed by way of schooling. As a NYC superintendent of Community School District 29 Queens (CSD 29Q) I utilized my discretion and without central office permission, expanded G&T programs in the district. And even in those schools without a G&T program; the district’s curriculum supervisors and staff along with a team of teachers created a G&T curriculum, and a companion professional development program that could be utilized by any teacher, in any grade in the district. My hypothesis (since there is no professionally unifying pedagogical theory on ‘giftedness’), is that we expose all children to as many intellectually stimulating activities, ideas and skills as possible, and then see what happens!

(2) We need School Based Leaders (SBL) who are conscious, courageous, caring and committed to finding and developing the Gifts and Talents of all of their students. Something I learned as a superintendent; that it is very difficult for even the best and most skilled instructional staff to overcome a poorly trained, scared, strategically weak and pedagogically inadequate principal. The SBL team along with the principal must establish a school building policy that males sure that teachers will receive the support, supplies and professional development they need to engage in rigorous, standards based instructional practices. That means not just ‘passing’, ‘moving along’ and ‘graduating’ students, when these students have not met the required course-grade level-graduation standards. Quality instruction brings out the best budding G&T qualities in children; poor instruction however poisons, hinders and eventually destroys those embryonic G&T qualities.

(3) Schools and districts must stop utilizing that ‘dirty little’ inside secret approach that translates the screening process for elementary G&T programs, into what is really a screening of the parents. We need to ‘discover’ the gifts and talents of those children who don’t come from entitled and privileged households; including homes where English may not be the primary language spoken in the house.

(4) Instructional Time on Task: We need good and effective quality instructional time, link to the task of quality learning. As a principal I was able to raise the level of instructional rigor, by creating a more productive and disciplined school learning environment. This is the only way that effective teaching and learning can actually exist. It’s very simple: If teachers are unable to teach, students can’t learn! The most gifted and talented Black students can be ‘zip coded’ out of a quality learning experience simply because their school environment/classroom produces too many negative lesson ‘stopping and interrupting’ experiences. The SBL team in many of these schools also can’t serve as effective instructional coaches because they are overwhelmed with functioning as ‘highly paid deans’. Student G&T discovery and enhancement is really all about high teacher expectations, efficacy, and the quality and quantity of good instructional practices!

(5) In CSD 29Q we established a district-wide “Readers-to-Leaders” (RTL) program that encouraged students to read books ‘for fun’ all year-round. As a young ‘latch-key’ child growing up in Brooklyn, NYC; my daily after-school “academic and safety childcare service’ visits to the Brooklyn Public Library, along with the books I borrowed for home reading, meant that I could through ‘mental magic’ travel and experience many areas and activities around the world, despite my families limited financial resources. Reading can open a window of intellectual opportunity for children who engage in its rich reservoir of knowledge and information. And beyond the ELA objectives of RTL, the CSD 29Q educators also wanted to expose students to the many inspirational and encouraging future career ideas that can emerge from reading books. Reading can help students to become aware of many different fields of study and possible future career options (i.e. Archeologist, Film director, Ethnomusicologist, Graphic artist, etc.), they might like, if only they knew that they like them!

(6) School Districts should create the opportunity to raise the career aspirational ceiling for students by providing the resources for schools to prepare students to enter Robotics, STEM, graphic and performing arts, dance, chess, etc. local and national competitions. These activities not only exercise and grow the known and displayed G&T’s of student participants; they could also stimulate the discovery and awareness of an unknown gift and talent inside of the student, one that perhaps even went undetected by educators or a parent.

(7) Design and support middle school mathematics: in, after, weekend, school breaks, and summer enrichment programs; in order to get as many students as possible into a position to take algebra, or at the very least completing a strong pre-algebra class by the end of middle school. Mastering pre-algebra (or algebra) concepts prior to attending high school is the single most critical factor in a student being able to effectively address a STEM gift, talent, aspiration, college major and career interest after high school.

(8) When it comes to STEM G&T–Go for it! As CSD 29Q was severely technologically crippled by the largest computer scandal in the history of NYC (the reason I was forced to take over the district in mid year); we decided to turn a problem into an opportunity by deciding to become the most STEM focused and equipped district in the city, including establishing state of the art STEM-Robotics labs, along with specially trained full-time teachers in an early childhood center, elementary schools, and all 5 middle schools. STEM cannot be seen by the students (and faculty) as something that is only limited to the culture of some Americans.

(9) Provide schools with the resources (courses, trips and in school exposures-experiences), so that they can become familiar with different hobbies, careers, sporting events beyond the ‘stereotypical’ sports activities (basketball-football). Insist as a principal that PE teachers actually teach the Physical Education curriculum; which if done properly will expose students to a very wide and diverse spectrum of athletic sporting events.

10) Organize a weekend-evening “Informal Education Fair” for parents where community programs that teach after-school and weekend courses in areas like: the martial arts, scouting, dance, music instrumental instruction, acting, gymnastics, chess, etc. can come to the school and set up information tables. The district and school leadership must raise the funds to offer their Title 1 students scholarships to attend these programs; as well as partnering with these creative community based organizations to hold these programs, classes and activities inside of schools, at the end of the school day and on weekends.

11) At CSD 29Q we also strengthen and expanded the Art, music, drama and dance programs in every K-8 school in the district, insisting that these programs not be sacrificed for less than effective mindless (endless-useless) ‘standardized test prep’ sessions. A lot of educators in and outside of the district (including a few principals) feared that standardized test scores would suffer if students spent so much time doing STEM and ART; but in fact the opposite occurred; throughout every school in the district standardized test scores went up dramatically, and the district as a whole posted some of the largest gains in the city!

These are just a few of the school system programmatic initiatives that can help schools to discover and cultivate student ‘smartness’, giftedness and talents. These are the ‘easy’ lift items; much more difficult is the politically challenging, but necessary effort to increase high expectations, empathy, efficacy and professional practices effectiveness on the part of teachers and school leaders.

Communities of color (COC) can also play an important complementary role in this effort. Many years ago a group of Brooklyn NY educators and STEM practitioners created a Saturday and After-School STEM program called the Science Skills Center, Inc. (SSC). This program’s uniqueness and isolation is the problem. COC need thousands of these SSC’s all over this nation; and unlike the request for G&T program expansion, the communities that set up these vital programs, don’t need to ask for permission or funding from folks who have no real interest or knowledge, in establishing G&T development programs for the disenfranchised. Further, these programs need not be limited to STEM careers, and could include activities like museum-cultural institutions trips, foreign language study, culinary arts, sculpture, instrumental music, creative writing, ‘non-stereotypical’ sports, etc. There should be an overflow of these programs and activities, funded by the huge financial resources led and generated by Black America; essentially we need to ‘tithe’ into the future of our children!

Nothing personal public educators (and as life-long professional public educator I never took it personally), no group of people in America that hopes to achieve ‘generational leap’* with their children, can rely solely on public schools to achieve that objective. Besides having a large number of these community based G&T incubator-nursery programs can also eliminate the ‘informal education gap’; that is driven not by the interest and skills of the child, but rather by the finances and access to information of the parents.

Finally, Black parents/communities need to avoid the anti-standardized testing movement; unless the call is to eliminate all standardized exams (i.e. G&T Admissions Screenings based on the parents, Specialized High School Admissions Exams-SHSAT, AP, SAT, ACT, LSAT, NTE, MCAT, etc.) completely; and/or introduce bias free, fair and authentic student assessments. But until ‘fairness-fairyland’ arrives, these parents and communities must invest in (real) after-school-weekend-summer standardized test preparation programs; as well as insisting that the schools their children attend are places where the learning standards and high conceptual-skills expectations found on these standardized exams, are taught and practiced as the normal-everyday teaching standards in every class.

The above efforts represent the only real way that the public education Black child genius can be fully recognized and developed. It’s the only step, in the only right direction; or we will instead find as we saw with our terrible Black History Month ‘slavery lesson’, educators denying and dismissing students by stepping on their backs, as well as their dreams.

*The ‘generational leap’ concept is: That the financial, social and emotional well-being of your children should be an improvement over, and even exceeding your own. Children should not engage in the same economic, educational, life-career limited options, challenges, false choices, and struggles you encountered as you grew into adulthood. They should realize better social, career-educational choices, options and opportunities then you faced. And if they ‘screw it up’, then that’s on them, you have done your part!

Michael A. Johnson is a former high school principal and superintendent. His book: Report To The Principal’s Office: Tools for building Successful High School Administrative Leadership will be released in Spring/2018.

To increase the possibility of having a safe high school, can we at least do the ‘easy stuff’ first.

Another high school shooting tragedy, this time 17 lives are lost. And millions, starting primarily, and most severely with those students who attend Stoneman Douglas High School, will suffer much long-term psychological pain and suffering. The day after this tragic incident, students all over this nation will get up to go to school and instead of having their thoughts primarily on the upcoming school dance, graduation, college plans, the school play or a varsity sporting event; they will spend a great deal of individual and group time wondering if this day, tomorrow, or next week, is the day they come to school and die. Even in the most academically rigorous high schools; that school experience should be a wonderful break from the cruel and brutal reality of the ‘outside world’; this type and level of violence destroys that barrier, and the student’s sense of safety and security.

And let us not forget school administrators, teachers and school support personnel. They will as is our professional training do their best to establish an atmosphere of “normalcy”. But this type of event is in no way “normal”; and thus the challenge they will face, long after the news cycle has moved on to other topics, is how do you do your best work under these conditions? What are your own children and other family members thinking when you go off to work every day? It should be said, because it is not always acknowledged, that people who work in schools are humans, they know the murdered beyond names on an attendance sheet. They may feel like those students killed, are in a deep way, their own children, their colleagues who were killed, their own brothers and sisters. And every surviving adult in that school building, starting with the principal, is questioning their own judgement: “When did I think that something might go really wrong with this kid, and what did I do (or not do) with those thoughts”

Every person in that school, student and staff person, are now having painful ‘second thoughts’ as to whether they saw or heard something, but did not say and do something. From the NY Times:

In the hours after the shooting, people who knew Mr. Cruz described him as a “troubled kid” who enjoyed showing off his firearms, bragging about killing animals and whose mother would resort to calling the police to have them come to their home to try to talk some sense into him. At a school with about 3,000 students, Mr. Cruz stayed to himself and had few friends but struck fear in some students with erratic behavior and an affinity for violence. “He always had guns on him,” the student, who did not give his name, told WFOR-TV. “The crazy stuff that he did was not right for school, and he got kicked out of school multiple times for that kind of stuff.”…”

The truth we must speak is yes, we have high school students who come to school every day, but who for some reason or another, are isolated and desperately disconnected from the school community.

Those of us who have spent a considerable amount of our professional lives in high schools know ‘the truths’ of high school culture. Just as it is true that high schools are very wonderful, edifying and life enhancing places; it is also true that for some students going to high school every day is a form of a physical and psychological living hell. For several reasons:

•They were unprepared in their K-8 educational experience to do high school work; unable to read adequately, do math or follow the discussions in the classroom. School for these students is not the fun place many of us remember, rather it is a daily, and in every class reminder of why they don’t fit in. These students resolve this problem (by way of teenage thinking methods) in five possible ways. (1) They will seek to affirm their humanity by becoming discipline problems. (2) They will be chronically late and absent, thus plunging them deeper into academic unreadiness and failure. (3) The ultimate affirmative act of personality assertion is that they will simply drop out. (4) They will inflict some form of verbal or physical violence on one or many of the school family members, who they perceive as accepted, successful and happy members of the school community. (5) They will subject themselves to a planned ‘slow’ (drug-alcohol use, risky life-style behavior, drunk driving) or quick suicide.

•I love teenagers, but alas they also have the capacity (like most humans) to sometimes act in a cruel fashion. There is a great deal of “body, appearance and clothing (and sneaker) shaming”, disability and academic underperformance teasing, “in-crowdism” and “cliqueism” behavior in high schools. For those students who live daily in the ‘out crowd’ status, the school can be a most unpleasant place to be. The mistake many adults who work in high schools make is to downplay and dismiss these feelings of alienation. But to teenagers this culture of peer acceptance and rejection is major. On many occasions as a principal I have been forced to pay for ‘stylish’ eyeglass frames because a student would refuse to wear the ‘social service’ issued frames, even though not wearing those glasses was hurting the student academically. Also, at times I had to stop by a student’s house in the evening, reach into my pocket, and pay for ‘hair salon’ or ‘barbering’ cost. Why, because when I called the house to find out why the student did not come to school, either the student or the parent informed me that they could not afford to pay for hair care services until a few days from then; and the student did not want to come to school and be teased.

•Students who are either physical or verbal bullies, are very often the victims of adult bullying and possibly emotional, physical and/or sexual abuse outside of school. Also, students do not shed a troubled, emotionally inconsistent and the absence of an effective adult authority home and family life at the entrance to the school door. Again, a major adult mistake is to expect teenagers to respond to their pain and isolation in a logical and sensible way; it won’t happen. Any serious ‘outside of school’ problematic issue that goes unaddressed and untreated festers, and eventually explodes.

This leads us to a discussion of how we can address the ‘easy stuff’.

•Too many high schools are moving in the wrong ‘providing counseling services’ direction. Departments, programs and professional staff that provide these critical services are being cut and/or eliminated for either budgetary, or, due to the school leadership short-sightedness of their importance in a school (or both). What we need is a visionary-massive Marshall (like) Plan to make sure that all of our schools have a practical and effectively workable student to guidance counselor ratio, as well as providing schools with adequate clinical psychologist and social workers. These services have been cut so badly that in most high schools the student to guidance counselor ratio is the same as the student not having a guidance counselor at all. Despite the ‘newly discovered’ by some, of the drug crisis, most schools are still missing a F/T drug counselor-educator. And clinical psychologist and social worker ranks have been so decimated, that in most schools they can only manage to see students who have these counseling services mandated as part of their IEPs. This leaves the vast majority of students in the school, who don’t have IEPs essentially on their mental health own. We need the same level of commitment and attention we give to ‘post-incident grief counseling’, to ‘preventative-grief counseling’.

•As a culture, public education tends to lean too heavily in the direction of ‘documentation’ and not the problem solving-resolution action arena. Once a student ‘displays’, even in their early stages, seriously troubling behavior, whether it is caused by outside or inside of the school issues; the school administrators and guidance/counseling department must come up with an action plan; that could include in school counseling, cooperation with outside of school counseling and other social support services; as well as law enforcement agencies. In this particular case Mr. Cruz gave a lot of very declarative early signs that his guns should have been taken away, and that he should have been put on some kind of ‘watch list’ (yes schools do that!)

•Give every high (and middle) school principal a F/T Assistant Principal of Administration (called AP of Organization in some school districts). This person will be responsible for the ‘mountain’ of paperwork a principal is forced to do every day. Right now if a principal sensibly wants to be a constant physical presence around the school, they are forced to provide the district with free administrative work labor in the evening hours. Principals should not be forced to choose between being penalized for the late submission of paperwork (which was always my choice!), or being able to actually interact with students, parents and staff ; as well as being able to gather firsthand knowledge and information in their school. Information degrades the further it is away from your direct perception (reception). A principal stuck in his or her office for large portions of the school day is the equivalent of driving a car blindfolded.

•The principalship is a uniquely exhausting, extremely difficult and seriously challenging position. It is made even more burdensome by the fact that the principal is the only person in the school building who does not have the benefit of having their supervisor/coach in the building with them. But as a superintendent it became clear to me as to why it is so important for principals to have leadership support and strategically smart professional development. Now I realize that my access to information for this incident limited, but based on even my limited readings of the statements of students and faculty at Stoneman Douglas High School; Mr. Cruz did everything but walk around the school with a sign around his neck saying: “I am about to explode”. For the most part school districts have done a good job in teaching school administrators what to do once a ‘live shooting’ like incident occurs, or after it has ended. The next important step is to help principals to be more effective in responding to these situations when they are in their early developmental stages. Create the opportunity for principals or counselors to ‘debrief’ concerning a troubling student who is transferred to another school. Presently, when a student is transferred for disciplinary or ‘safety’ reasons, all that happens is that the student’s records are forwarded by the sending school to the receiving school. Finally, support should include giving principals the resources to create pro-active crisis preventative programs and activities, as well as backing them up when they take a strong protective-disciplinary stand for school safety.

•Principals (get out of your office!) and other school administrators must become fully engaged with the student body. There are parents and students who are still angry with me so many years after I served as a high school principal. I was often accused of: “Doing too much”. But in fact, in high schools it is the doing too little, or just enough, that represents the breeding ground for major trouble, and/or a tragedy. As a principal you must get to know your students as individuals, their personalities, the lives they live outside of school. This is not only for the safety and well-being of that individual student; but further, these students who you connect to, and trust you, can serve as sources of informational ‘tripwires’ for other students who are facing a crises. Seek out, and engage ‘quiet’ and less socially involved students (I always allowed ‘shy’ students, or students who felt the cafeteria was too crowed for their liking, to eat in my conference room). What are their interest, talents, skills and gifts? And then get them involved in some school activity where there is an adult serving as an advisor. And so…

•We need to eliminate the potential isolation of high school students (including having a strategy for students who transfer into the school after the 9th grade, or after the school year has started; i.e. providing the transferring student a group of ‘friends’), by creating a school culture of social engagement. This will require the financial resources to have a diverse and rich survey of teams (academic and sports), clubs, dance, music, performing and visual arts. After-school-weekend-school break activities, events, cultural institutions trips (Contrary to common practices, we should continue to do ‘school trips’ in high school!) I have never met a student who did not enjoy, or was not good at ‘something’. Find that ‘something’ for all students, and get them involved in doing it. This approach can greatly eliminate a student’s feelings of isolation, but it also places them in the observation care and protection of other students and faculty members.

No racial, economic, geographic and academic achievement gap here; no parents send their children to school to be seriously injured or killed! But my Republican voting fellow Americans should consider that financially starving public education and social/counseling services; is not just harming children of color, or the ‘inner-cities’. Our lack of commitment to fully invest in our children will continue to inflict grave harm on all children, whether they live in a Blue or Red community.

Violence (verbal and physical), against students and staff in high schools goes beyond guns, and occurs daily without much news coverage. Unfortunately, as in similar mass murder crises, the discussion around this incident will be primarily focused on ‘gun acquisition rights’ arguments. And of course this is a necessary and important question that is in desperate need of a solution. But while we are waiting for the nation to get its ‘gun rights’ act together, millions of students will be attending school every day, and so what can we do to make them more safe, right now?

Michael A. Johnson is a former high school principal and superintendent. His book: Report To The Principal’s Office: Tools for building Successful High School Administrative Leadership will be released in Spring/2018.

The State of the Education Union

New York’s United Federation Of Teachers Rejects and Votes Down Black Lives Matter Position (BLM)

Not really surprised here; the ‘upside’ of the era of Trumpism is that all calculated, casual and careful views on defending the disenfranchised and disinherited children in our nation will be put to a standardized test: “In the age of a disparagement, the demeaning and rejection of people of color, the question is: “Whose side are you own?”

Real ‘Educational Progressivism’ means having the vision, courage and voice to defend and affirm the right of our nation’s least cared for, and little thought about children to learn and intellectually thrive; a good education being the only available and viable path to best alter the negative trajectory that has been planned for their lives.

Affirming that yes, these Black student’s lives matter is the beginning place of a pedagogy of learning liberation and empowerment. And to suggest (even if the speaker is strategically phenotypically black in color) that this affirmation is ‘divisive’ (or harms White children), is to betray the very principles and meaning of an ethically based philosophy of education. Trust me, in our nation’s public school systems the only White children in danger of not being well served are those who are poor.

This very definitive and self-defining vote should at the very least give every Black: parent, educator, political-civic-religious, union and civil rights leader cause to take a short pause, and think about who are your true friends. For true friendship can only be revealed in those difficult moments when the friend is called upon to make a painful and difficult sacrifice, and not a cheap donation of cute ‘throwaway’ rhetorical phrases that pretend, but never produce quality educational equality. It should also concern White parents, because if a system and its largest group of professionals are so willing to disaffirm the learning rights of one group of students; this ultimately lowers the quality of education for all students.–union.html

Michael A. Johnson, author of the soon to be released book on school leadership: Report To The Principal’s Office: Tools for Building a Successful High School Administrative Leadership…

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”: