Monday, June 9, 2014

Education's Eight Blunders of the World

As a personal guidepost, I’ve always referred to Ghandi’s Eight Blunders of the World in order to guide my life and decisions.  The blunders came out of a context of civil rights and revolution in India, but are particularly relevant in today’s world.  Ghandi’s Eight Blunders of the World are as follows:

Wealth without Work
Pleasure without Conscience
Knowledge without Character
Commerce without Morality
Science without Humanity
Worship without Sacrifice
Politics without Principals
Rights without Responsibilities

I’ve recently thought about how these guiding words can be applied to the world of education.  On a certain level, every one of these principles does apply, but I thought I’d take a shot at trying to adapt their meaning to specifically working in schools.  Here’s my offer:

Learning without Sharing 

As educators it is our responsibility to learn as much as possible about our field.  Good educators are always engaging in continual professional development in order to further that knowledge in order to use that knowledge to help others.  Thus, it is not just important that we GAIN knowledge, as we go a step further to share that knowledge with as many people as possible in the education world.  That includes sharing with students, parents, staff, and with your Personal Learning Network.  It is in the sharing where the real value of learning happens.

Collaborating without Listening 

We often take on roles in education to collaborate with others in order to broaden what we have to offer to students, families and schools.  However, as much as I have learned over the years through formal education, attending conferences, reading, and modeling others, I know I only have a limited piece to offer compared to what the entire educational community has to offer as well.  Thus, it is incumbent on me, and on educators to do their best listening to others.  Listen to ideas and suggestions, incorporate others creativity and best practices, listen to how your approach positively (or negatively) impacts others.  Collaboration is a two-way street, and that happens through actively being mindful about engaging in reflective listening. 

Expertise without Relationships 

Plenty of professionals in the education world bring a vast world of expertise to the table to help staff and students learn.  Oftentimes, however, having this expertise is a necessary but not sufficient condition to advice being acted on in a real and invested way.  In order for this to happen, the leader, or teacher, needs to develop strong working relationships.  These relationships set a foundation of trust, and with trust, people are more likely to open their ears to taking risks and trying new things.

Recommendations without Empathy 

As educators, we make recommendations every day to students and families, that often have vast impacts on lives outside of the school’s walls.  When we make these recommendations, we should always step into another’s shoes and evaluate impact.  We want to leave students and families in a better place in the future and should be guided by the medical Hippocratic Oath – First do no harm.

Teaching without Guiding 

There is plenty of important information in this world that needs to be communicated to our students every day.  It is our responsibility to not just give information to students, however, but to guide them in how to use new found knowledge to empower their lives.  Teachers don’t want to be just the providers of information (Google is a provider), but to be a guide to walk students towards a better future fostering analytic reasoning, and creativity on their chosen path.

Working without Giving Back 

We all must realize that we are fortunate to work in communities that have taken us in as leaders to guide the community’s children and educate them.  The community has put trust in us to do this and has provided the resources for us to do so.  We should recognize that we are now an important part of these communities, and we should make efforts to give back in ways that leave them in a better place than we found them.

Decision Making without Vision 

Very often we make decisions impulsively, yet we should never act on impulse.  There should be a guiding vision that serves as a foundation for decisions for students, families, and schools.  Without a guiding vision, we too often list back and forth without a clear plan, and we begin to become disorganized, and lack cohesion in our efforts.

Rights without Responsibilities 

This blunder I left the same, as it continues to apply as stated.  We have rights as teachers, staff members, and community members.  The rights, however, do not come without the responsibility of doing what is in the best interest of students.  Student benefit should be at the center of all of our plans and actions, and we must always reflect and consider our actions in relation to this goal.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

School Psychologists - Bringing Value to the Table

This weekend I attended #Edcampphilly, a great un-conference which included many outstanding connected educators. We had just come from a conversation about school crisis prevention and intervention, and I was thinking along those lines, and more broadly about the role of school psychologists in schools.   I sat down to lunch with a great principal I've gotten to know over the past year who works in a different state not to far off from the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.  The role of the school psychologist was brought up, and the principal began to talk about how he did not have the best experience with his psychologist.  I told him that this annoyed me (not knowing the school psychologist) because, in my mind, when that perception occurs, it sends the message that we as psychs don't bring value to the table.  It is not good advertising for the role of the school psychologist.

For the next 24 hours I reflected on this, and on the thought of the role of school psychologist.  What do we bring to the table?  Too often I believe school psychologists get stuck in roles of testing for special education.  Granted, that has been a primary role in most places I've come across that employ school psychs, but I believe that both through my own schooling, internships, experience, and teaching, that we can bring a vast degree of expertise to schools that too often goes untapped.  Part of the problem may be our own fault.  Have we advertised our skills?  Have we volunteered and contributed to all areas of education?  

Psychologists are well trained in the area of assessment, but we also offer broad and diverse skills in behavioral consultation, crisis intervention, individual and group counseling, systems consultation, and academic skills consultation.  Our training is based in a scientist practitioner model, and we use a research base to guide our practice. We get involved at an individual level, with classrooms, with families.  We can contribute on a macro level, with district wide change or sit on county or state committees.  Psychologists can use the power of social media to learn and to advertise what we can do, and spread the word through our Personal Learning Networks, through conferences and collaborations.

Cognizant of the idea that we need to advertise our role, and bring value to schools, I'm always looking to expand my role.  Psychologists should look to volunteer their services, on district and school wide committees, to help with difficult cases and problems, or to offer a different perspective on how to handle particular situations.  I generally try to check in with the administrators of my buildings to offer support and services, volunteer for initiatives, and to try to keep a pulse on student and building needs.  I view myself as an advocate for how services can be improved in schools, and how we can make stronger connections for students and families.  I like to think that I'm constantly on the lookout to remove roadblocks to help support students to improve their academic and emotional well-being. Most psychologists do this, we are trained to do it, and it's instinctual.  What we need to do, is a better job of not waiting for people to walk through our door to ask for help, but to go out of our way to walk through other people's doors to offer it.  I hope to continue to improve in this area, and hope that other psychologists are doing the same thing around the country, so principals are having conversations with statements like:  "That psychologist brings a lot of value to the table!"

Friday, March 7, 2014

Perseverance - By Jim Moczydlowski

I asked Permission from Jim Moczydlowski (@JMoczydlowski), Principal at Trumbauersville Elementary in the Quakertown Community School District (Quakertown, PA) to share this message. Jim is a great writer, and likely future blogger, who was a former school psychologist prior to becoming a principal. He shares a great deal of wisdom every week, and here is another great example with his thoughts on perseverance. Thanks Jim!


One of the most memorable thoughts on perseverance witnessed in school today came from a first grader in who made the connection between perseverance and commitment, when she said that she wants to improve her reading fluency, and thus practices her reading at home using Raz Kids.

Recently we defined perseverance not as a want, but as a commitment. Perseverance is not about wanting to get better or improving, it is about making a commitment to take action to improve. We said perseverance is not this big overwhelming commitment, but it is a series of small repetitive decisions that we commit to immediately. For example, if I want to become a better basketball player, then I can start today by practicing my dribbling when I get home from school. Sitting around and wanting to be a Michael Jordan isn’t going to make it happen.

Perseverance is about the here and now. It requires action that is within my reach and action I can take immediately. We have to convince kids perseverance is a habit they can develop… Just remind them of how they persevere when they play video games, and they will probably tell you, “Yeah, that’s because we’re motivated!” and then remind them they are motivated because of the success to failure ratio every video game has programmed into it. They are motivated because as they persevere they eventually experience success. The Goldilocks Effect… not too soft not too hard, but just right!

During our meetings I asked the students to think of something they wanted to get better at, and then I asked them the hard question, “What are you willing to do today when you get home to help yourself get better?”   I say this with all due respect, “Let’s stop preaching about perseverance and start to show them how to persevere.” Our job is to help them develop a structure/framework that they can realistically work within to experience success. This is more than a philosophy, it is a habit of repeated action that leads to improved performance regardless of the content or skill that one is focusing on. As teachers, let’s teach our kids how to persevere.

A starting point is to help the child create a system to self-monitor/track the trials of effort in relationship to the noticeable improvements. Like the first grader, the more time spent practicing reading, the higher the fluency rate goes up. Share your personal stories with your students, of how you have persevered over time. Bring this habit to life through your example. With our most challenging students, let us persevere in teaching them the habit of perseverance.

“Perseverance is not a long race: It is many short races, one after another.”
Walter Elliot