Sometimes a single comment changes everything. Sometimes a single sentence has more impact that an entire book of words, concepts, and teachings. Several years ago Todd Lile aimed a single sentence in my direction, and changed the way I taught and viewed education from that day forward. I don’t believe I was doing a bad job before I heard this sentence, but I think that after I heard it, I became more effective as a teacher, and as a coach. What was the sentence? I will get to that in a minute, but first let me tell you how I went about doing things before hearing these 32 words. (more…)
I was speaking at a Denver area high school recently, and I asked students from several classes to raise their hands if they wanted to be successful parents someday. I asked them if they wanted to be good husbands and wives. If they wanted to have successful careers with meaningful jobs. I asked them if they wanted to have stable and friendships and lots of personal interests. Not surprisingly, 100% of their hands went into the air for each question. After each question, I asked them to look around the room to see how many hands were in the air. Then I asked a more interesting question. (more…)
“It’s the quintessential team game. So it teaches you, at a certain point, to get outside yourself and be a part of something bigger,” reflected President Obama to CBS basketball analyst Clark Kellogg during Final Four coverage last Saturday.
The president, who surprisingly beat Kellogg in a shooting contest aptly named P-O-T-U-S, (President of the United States) has in the past credited basketball as a formative part of his competitive character. On this occasion he connected basketball to life lessons of teamwork, self-sacrifice, and determination to achieve collective goals. In the conversation’s context it seemed clear the president’s message concerned the importance of sport to teach life lessons. By no means is it new for a prominent public figure to credit sports with major contributions to later success.
For 35 years I listened to stories of a lone coach who inspired my grandfather and his brothers to set high personal standards, show determination in the face of adversity, and achieve difficult goals. During the 1930s many graduates of Kerman High School (CA) felt as though leadership was taught so well they attributed their post-war success to “Coach”. The class’s lone survivor, my grandfather, still feels as though he must keep Coach Johnson’s lessons alive.
Knute Rockne, John Wooden, Pat Summitt and thousands of unknown coaches, teachers, and advisors shaped the confidence and competence of Americans for the last 100 years. So why do the lessons only serve a select few in the narrow realm of sports? Why should athletes like my great uncles or President Obama, be the beneficiaries of these formative experiences?
Since athletes often have fame enough to have their stories told, we know the results. Drama teachers, debate coaches, choir directors, and countless others impart powerful lessons to young students. They emphasize skills that strengthen character and empower future risk-takers. These gifted educators use a different vocabulary and develop singular conversations that reach students in their greatest moments of need. These students care deeply about their development and success in these activities. In that moment they are ready to hear and understand life lessons on the deepest level. So it should surprise no one that the most transformative president since Reagan can articulate exactly where self-sacrifice was powerfully learned.
Why do we relegate the lessons to the narrow world of sports? If the lessons are powerful enough for leaders of our nation and its families, then should we not expose our young students in as many endeavors as we can? In an atmosphere of high accountability and focused instructional strategies, doesn’t it seem fitting to incorporate new teaching techniques to speak to our children in a language and context they individually choose? Isn’t there tremendous opportunity in this moment in our republic’s educational history?
These are not meant to be rhetorical questions. Our schools teach thousands of lessons to each student from K to 12 and only a fraction speak directly to students’ hopes, fears, and goals as they near graduation. We know they will listen when the time, place, and message is right. So then, we must question why these moments are not strategically created. We must question why these lessons are only for the privileged few, and to often learned by chance or by the innovative design of a lone educator who believes life lessons are best taught when students feel most alive – in moment when they know they’re part of something bigger. – Todd Lile
Filed under: Attributes, Dreams, Edge-Ucation, Education, High School, Learning, Reform, School, Sports, Teens | Tagged: Basketball, Clark Kellogg, Coaches, Edge-Ucation, Education, Life lessons, Obama | Leave a Comment »
With the passage of the health care bill, education reform is now likely near the top of President Obama’s domestic to-do list. Education Secretary Arne Duncan recently met with the Council of the Great City Schools to discuss federal shock treatment for the failing 5% of American schools.
Department of Education regulations call for a two-year school turnaround before staff terminations begin. Many leading administrators recoiled at the inflexible timetables and draconian penalties. From the perspective of the professionals this all seems quite rigid and unrealistic. Dissenting superintendents have hundreds of local variables to consider and a strong sense of the obstacles ahead. Secretary Duncan seemed to signal his understanding of their fears.
For the sake of argument lets throw out the politics or defensive bureaucratic posturing and consider the students.
Typically it takes three to five years to redirect failing schools. This is a student’s entire high school career. Longtime educators know even one bad year is too many for students who deal with past or current personal or academic trauma. Urgent measures make good sense if student’s futures are to be protected.
From the standpoint of the adult who is charged with stewardship of the system, this is good policy. But when dealing with high school students, there is a second side of the equation.
High School students will not likely see these measures as adults would. Since kindergarten school has often provided some measure of stability and safety for most kids, even as it contains innumerable social risks and academic challenges. If school leaders cannot transparently explain these new pressures, strong adolescent opposition should be expected. In class discussions, my students are quite vocal about how their identities are little understood by teachers focused on curriculum and instruction. Students tell me repeatedly how even by Christmas, many teachers have not ever used their name unless handing back a test with a name at the top to read.
Kids feel unknown to the adults with whom they must interact daily. So then, for whom should they perform? For whom is the teacher teaching? The answer is too often not for a student but for a score, a benchmark, or a standard. We may tell them to perform for their own future but that is too distant and abstract for most teens to fully grasp.
We have long known adolescents desperately want to belong somewhere and we know this overpowering desire to fit-in manifests with negative social consequences like bullying, gangs, substance abuse, and unwanted pregnancy. Added academic pressure forces positive connections lower and lower on the school’s priority list because they are never measured unless in a value-added sense. Pressure on staff would greatly diminish their ability to address social needs in favor of academic mandates.
Students who feel they have become no more than a score or a grade can expect more of the same but with even greater pressure.
School leaders must make choices about how to expend their finite resources and political capital in a way that best shows the state and public desired immediate change. A smart, researched, comprehensive, well-managed, plan takes more time than Secretary Duncan has afforded. Leaders must force teachers to perform. Teachers in turn must force students to perform. There is precious little time to really talk about what is best for students as a group and there is even less time to talk to students as people so they understand what is best for themselves. That next step takes initiative, courage, time, and trust if students are to gain ownership of their education in the next three to five years. – Todd Lile-
Teens on the EDGE
Teenagers live on the edge. Whether they like it there or not, they are relegated to the fringe. Adults and children enjoy being the center of modern culture. Adults have rights and privileges reserved just for them. They can drink alcohol. They can buy cigarettes. They can vote, drive, marry, enter clubs, gamble, rent cars, or attend a movie of any rating. These privileges are for them alone. Children and teens are not welcome or even allowed.
On the other end of the spectrum are the children. Children necessarily garner a lot of attention and special considerations. They cry when things do not go their way. They make messes when eating. They don’t seem to care when they have crusty buggers or dirt all over their faces. They get a free pass on many behaviors we would consider inappropriate or even reprehensible in the adult population. They need and get special attention and consideration because they are children.
Stuck between these two worlds, are the teenagers. They are not allowed to act like children, nor are they allowed to participate fully in the world of adults. They are on the edge. Expected to act like adults but not treated or given the rights of adults, teens get mixed messages. In one breath they are asked to behave like an adult, and in the next told they cannot do something because they are not an adult. Is it any wonder they do not want to conform to an adult world that rejects them? They distinguish themselves from the adult world and the world of children by choosing, often shocking but always different, styles of music, dress, language, and behavior. They live on the edge.
High school halls are filled with teenagers living on the edge. Teenagers trying to figure out who they are, how they fit into the world, and what they are like. They experiment with their identities, different activities, relationships, interests, values, and ethics. They consider passionately different ideologies and social dilemmas. Some are full of angst, angry at a world that does not seem to understand or value them. Others are depressed or disillusioned at a hypocritical world that claims to value justice, yet allows injustice to thrive and prosper. They are becoming. They are in process. They are on the edge of adulthood. The question of “What they are like?” hangs in the balance and can swing in a variety of directions.
Teenagers live on the edge.
Learning on the EDGE
High schools are designed to take these teens on the edge and teach them the content and skills they will need to be successful when they enter the adult world. During school hours, teens take compulsory subjects like History, Science, Math, English, and Social Studies. After school they can choose to participate in an array of activities which, like them, exist on the edge. The academic subjects are at the center of a school. This is right where they should be. The learning outcomes in academic subjects are well articulated, defined, and assessed on both internal and standardized tests.
Swirling around the academic center of a school are arts, athletics, and activities. We believe it is good for students to participate in a school play, join a club, play in the marching band, run for student government, go out for the soccer team, etc. because it “builds character” in other words it helps shape “What they are like”. We probably agree that there are some valuable lessons in these activities but they are not well defined, articulated, or assessed on standardized tests. The learning that takes place here is on the edge.
Consider this. Teenagers are living on the edge trying to figure out what they are like and how they fit into the world. Performing and visual arts, athletics, and activities exist on the edges of academics. Teenagers get a chance to select for themselves which, if any, of these edge activities they would like to participate in. When they do participate, they practice, develop, foster, and learn positive attributes like accountability, perseverance, adaptability, commitment, discipline, integrity, person-ability, and drive.
Imagine if schools met these teens on the edge.
Imagine if schools, valued, defined, and articulated the learning that takes place within their already existing infrastructure of arts, athletics, and activities.
Imagine if schools found a way to allow students to explore the very questions fueling their teenage confusions.
Imagine if students were able to discuss, reflect, and define who they are, how they fit into the world, and what they are like with a coherent and common vocabulary.
Imagine if adults and Teens found a way to meet each other on the edge in complimentary rather than adversarial roles.
Teenagers on the edge, learning around the edges of the academic core of a school, is the definition of Edge-Ucation.
Filed under: Edge-Ucation, Education, High School, Learning, School, Teens, Uncategorized | Tagged: Activities, Adults, Angst, Arts, Athletics, Attributes, Children, Edge-Ucation, Education, Learning, School, Teenagers, Teens, Tim Catalano, Todd Lile | Leave a Comment »