Tagged “Voices”

ASCD Whole Child Bloggers

Inclusion: A Necessity for Fully Engaged Students

Project UNIFY

The following blog post was written by a unified pair of youth leaders who participate in local and national youth engagement and activation conferences to enhance their communication, leadership, and advocacy skills. These youth continue to collaborate and motivate other youth to become active in our pathway toward social justice for all. The post is republished with permission and was originally featured on the Special Olympics Project UNIFY blog.

Looking at the aspects that create schools where students are able to express their ideas, engage in meaningful leadership opportunities, and develop a collaborative relationship with the staff to address the needs of both students and teachers is challenging, yet important. One word that is indirectly included in each of those aspects is inclusion. Inclusion can be defined in many ways, each catering to a certain situation. However, there are common characteristics that we can define as being inclusive: students of all abilities, religions, genders, and races are offered equitable opportunities for academic, social, and physical growth; students perceive their peers as valued individuals with unique assets to the school community; and everyone is included in the school's student body, regardless of popularity, athletic ability, or academic achievement.

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ASCD Whole Child Bloggers

Do You Know of an Inclusive School?

William B. Hughes

This article has been reposted with permission from William H. Hughes and the Cascade Matters Blog. Hughes has worked in education for 34 years as a teacher, principal, and superintendent of schools. He has served as superintendent of the Greendale School District in Greendale, Wisc., for the past 15 years. Greendale Schools is ranked as the top school district in the Milwaukee metro area. It is known for high student achievement, inclusive schools, and engagement and consistently has student achievement that is beyond what community demographics would predict. He is a partner with Cascade Educational Consultants, based in Bellingham, Wash., and teaches educational leadership classes at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.

School leaders realize that inclusive schools engage all children and youth, resulting in higher student achievement. That leads to success post high school and beyond. We are looking for inclusive schools.

We have all seen schools that are struggling to be inclusive. Places where adults and youth and students with and without disabilities all seem disconnected. Places where there are clear differences or where there are distinguished characteristics between general and special education programs—students in isolated areas of the schoolhouse, a lack of attention to participation by students with disabilities in school programs and classes, or lack of respect for their well-being.

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ASCD Whole Child Bloggers

The Truth of Youth

Evan Heller

Post submitted by Evan Heller, a youth advocate and leader for Special Olympics who currently serves on both the National and Massachusetts State Youth Activation Committees. He also participates with Special Olympics as the head coach for a unified soccer team and a unified football team, as well as an assistant coach for bowling and track and field. Additionally, Heller has participated in numerous local and national conferences about youth leadership and activation. This fall he will begin his freshman year of college at University of Massachusetts–Amherst. Listen to Heller discuss inclusive learning environments on the Whole Child Podcast.

The following is a reflection on Heller's recent experience as a facilitator at whole child partner National School Climate Center's 2011 National School Climate Summer Institute, which helps support educators in developing school climates that promote safe, caring, and civil schools.

I was recently invited to help emcee and facilitate the 2011 National School Climate Summer Institute, held at John Jay College in New York City, along with two of my youth peers. Despite the plethora of e-mails I received in the week leading up to the institute, I arrived with little knowledge of what would be coming and even less knowledge of how, as a youth, I would be received by an audience primarily consisting of high-level administrators and educators. At the beginning of the first day of the institute, I was handed a name tag that read, "Evan Heller—Youth Leader." Well, I guess that sums me up?

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Walter McKenzie

Open Campus, Open Network, Open Possibilities

It's a bright, sunny Tuesday morning, and students are entering Roosevelt Elementary school with excitement and energy. No backpacks. No luggage on wheels. Just lunch bags and handheld devices.

As they enter the renovated 75-year old building, students find places to settle in. No homerooms. No morning announcements. Everyone busily logs in to the network system using their personal devices, indicating they are present for the day, reading school announcements, and reviewing their individual schedules for the day.

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ASCD Whole Child Bloggers

Use the Brain's Resilience to Teach Beyond Poverty

Post written by Clare Struck, a 2011 ASCD Conference Scholar, is an elementary counselor at the Malcolm Price Laboratory School (PLS) in Cedar Falls, Iowa, and an instructor for the school counseling practicum at the University of Northern Iowa. PLS is the 2010 Vision in Action: The ASCD Whole Child Award recipient. Originally featured in ASCD Express.

"Teaching with Poverty in Mind," an ASCD Annual Conference session by Eric Jensen, had a strong influence on me and encouraged me to take actions to support the students I work with as an elementary school counselor, as well as the school counseling graduate students I supervise.

Much of the data on brain-related research and kids in poverty that Jensen shared in his session was disheartening. For example, he provided brain research that noted that highly immature frontal lobes are unable to delete or reframe any negative input. He explained that kids "download" negative experiences like chaos, disharmony, poor relationships, foul language, poor manners, and weak vocabulary just as automatically as they would any positive or enriching input.

Nonetheless, I left the session with a sense of hope. Jensen convinced me that brains can change and that we as educators have a responsibility to take action to help adapt the brains of students in poverty or undergoing other high-stress situations.

The first step I took was to read Eric Jensen's book Teaching with Poverty in Mind. Reading about the complexities of defining poverty and learning to understand how to define situational poverty, generational poverty, absolute poverty, relative poverty, urban poverty, and rural poverty cautioned me to not simply use the socioeconomic status (SES) statistics to identify students living in poverty.

Collegial Outreach

I plan to invite my preK–5 colleagues to read his book and to participate in a follow-up book study group. Jensen provided practical strategies and themes for success that he calls the SHARE factors for the school level and the classroom level.

The school-level SHARE factors are

  • Support of the Whole Child,
  • Hard Data,
  • Accountability,
  • Relationship Building, and
  • Enrichment Mind-Set.

The classroom-level SHARE factors are

  • Standards-Based Curriculum and Instruction;
  • Hope Building;
  • Arts, Athletics, and Advanced Placement;
  • Retooling of the Operations Systems; and
  • Engaging Instruction.

Reflections, discussions, and action plans connected to these SHARE factors will be important components of this process.

Going forward, I also would like to introduce this material to Iowa school counselors at the 2011 Iowa School Counseling Summer Summit and at the Iowa School Counseling Association Annual Conference in November. I also plan to include some of the content of Teaching with Poverty in Mind in my seminars for the Iowa School Counseling practicum students I supervise.

I want to teach my students about the different kinds of poverty Jensen defines in his book, highlight the brain research that is linked to low-SES kids, and introduce the SHARE factors to them. Most of all, I'll emphasize the good news that kids' brains can change and discuss some of the specific strategies Jensen encourages educators to use.

Empowering school counselors with this research and these insights can help them put plans into motion that can have a positive effect on changing the brains of our students who live in poverty. When Jensen spoke about how acute stress and chronic stress impairs working memory, I thought of students with whom I work, who, while not in poverty, live in situations that produce high stress that can adversely affect their ability to learn.

The strategies Jensen provides are not trendy, quick solutions, nor are they for the faint-hearted. For us to make a difference with these students, we must roll up our sleeves and commit to the long haul.

Andrew Miller

Project-Based Service Learning

Project-based learning (PBL) by nature lends itself to authenticity and real-world relevancy. All well-designed projects connect learning to an authentic task, but some can really run with it. This is where project-based service learning comes in, where PBL is used to not only create authenticity, but also fulfill a community service and need.

I have a long term partnership with EagleRidge High School in Klamath Falls, Ore. PBL is becoming one of its core identities as the school moves forward. On a recent visit, teachers were collaborating to build a PBL project for a Community Studies course.

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ASCD Whole Child Bloggers

Engaging Student Voice to Welcome The Future, Today

Adam Fletcher

Post submitted by guest blogger Adam Fletcher, student voice expert and author of Frameworks for Meaningful Student Involvement. Follow Fletcher on Twitter and listen to him discuss how student engagement can improve schools and communities on the Whole Child Podcast.

Talking about college, careers, and the workplace can be anathema for students. Whether due to the developmental irrelevance of time, socioeconomic factors, or conditioned apathy, many young people view "The Future" with apparent indifference, seemingly finding it irrelevant to their present. The dilemmas with this reality are myriad, primarily because today schools are inherently future-oriented. The essential challenge here seems to be, "How can The Future be materially relevant for people for whom The Future is developmentally irrelevant?"

As adults, we impose solutions to this challenge according to our own perspectives: Technology integration, project-based learning, and service learning all have loud choruses booming about their relevance in future-teaching. STEM-centric educators pull for their focuses as being the most significant for students. Some educators still believe testing and other forms of standardization are the only way to teach The Future. However, as we know from the continuous pendulum swing of educational trends, all of these do little to jostle the seeming indifference of students toward The Future.

Over the last decade I have been working in communities around the world focused on what Ruthanne Kurth-Schai called "reconceptualizing the roles of young people throughout society." In this capacity I have worked with educators, administrators, support staff, and students in hundreds of educational settings, both in school and out of school, to help students determine the meaning of education for themselves.

Repeatedly I have heard students describe how they arrive to an obtuse, confusing notion of what the purpose of schools is every time they enter the building. Rather than address their confusion, well-meaning adults routinely employ the means of schooling without identifying the ends; worst still, teachers, administrators, and political leaders seem to mix the means and the ends. Students receive testing and curriculum, classroom management and extracurricular activities without ever exploring why these things should matter to them.

I propose that rather than impose meaning on students, adults in schools make meaning with students. Research in developmental psychology has shown us clearly that young people of all ages have the capacity to develop sophisticated understandings of the educational undertakings they participate in. Unfortunately, policy and practice in schools today have not kept up with that research.

In 2005, I wrote a number of publications about meaningful student involvement with the intention of defining a series of frameworks schools can use to promote this deepening of student understanding. Ultimately proposing that schools reconceptualize the roles of students by positioning them as coleaders, coteachers, and colearners, my research for the series showed me that this work is already well under way in a few select educational environments across the country. What I found were K–12 classrooms, educational agencies, and community groups that engage students in making meaning in education. These students are learning to find the meaning in The Future by defining the purpose of schools and partnering with adults to change those places to meet their expectations.

Since then I have worked with hundreds more schools, districts, and state agencies. I have found many good practices, policies, and methodologies to support meaningful student involvement. Download a free module on engaging students as teachers from the new SoundOut Student Voice Curriculum to get students lit up about learning about learning, learning about teaching, and teaching each other.

One of the biggest lessons I have learned about teaching students about The Future is the key to defining why careers, college, and the workplace should matter to students: because students themselves decide it does. Letting learners name their motivation every single time they join a class, do a project, or complete a test and determine how their learning styles need to be met, which teachers can help them learn most effectively, helps them strengthen their conception and understanding of The Future. A growing number of educators are working to embrace this challenge, and in doing this, schools are building meaning into learning and instilling a lifelong love of education into every student. This is welcoming The Future, today.

Jason Flom

Mission Control to 5th Graders: All Systems Are Go

T minus 10, 9, 8 ...

Puberty, the final frontier. Er. Puberty, the inevitable and unavoidable frontier.

As a 5th grade teacher, I think of myself as a NASA flight coordinator, preparing students for their intergalactic journey from childhood to adulthood—a journey in which they abandon the laws of physics for the laws of adolescence. At the beginning of 5th grade they arrive as children; at the end they disembark, rocketing for the middle years. What happens in the months between can play a vital role in helping them navigate the strange and wondrous worlds they encounter in the 6th, 7th, and 8th grades.

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ASCD Whole Child Bloggers

Showing Is Telling

Ayanna Cooper

Post submitted by Ayanna Cooper, who works in the field of English as a second language teaching and learning and is a member of ASCD's Emerging Leaders Class of 2010. Cooper is also a past president of Georgia TESOL, an adjunct instructor, and an advocate for English language learners.

For middle-grades students, learning English as a new language and adjusting to their new environment and school schedule can be quite a challenge but is not impossible. For teachers, knowing where their students' academic language proficiency is helping them learn and become part of the school community is crucial. Increasing bilingual resources provided to students and their families is extremely beneficial.

Socially we can support them through extracurricular activities, such as sports, clubs, and mentoring programs. For example, students may play on the school's soccer team and perform well as an athlete. It provides another way for them to draw on other experiences that allow them to "show" versus "tell" what they know and can do.

What cultural and linguistic factors contribute to the development of English learners who are middle graders? What other ways can we support them both socially and academically?

ASCD Whole Child Bloggers

Muddle-Free Middle Schools

Samuel Dasher

Post written by Samuel Dasher, principal of Louisville Middle School in Louisville, Ga., and a member of ASCD's Emerging Leaders Class of 2007. This post was originally featured in ASCD Express.

I am one who believes that there is no "muddle in the middle." Middle schools have taken the brunt of the attack from critics of education for as long as they have been in existence. The reason for the criticism is that most critics (and people in general) really don't understand how a middle school child functions and, as a result, misunderstand the purpose and strategies that make middle schools work.

Middle school children are like no other students the average educator will come in contact with. (Is that a chorus of "Amens"?) They are a massive bundle of raging hormones pent up in bodies that are growing faster on average than they have since infancy, struggling to come to grips with the rigors and responsibilities of young adulthood. While all of this is going on, they are fighting for social independence and, at the same time, maintaining a death grip on their families. Middle school students can be summed up in one word: confusing. However, despite the daily challenges and frustrations of working with middle-graders, middle schools do work.

For a middle school to function efficiently and effectively, it needs to have several factors in place. I am not listing these elements as a specific recipe for success, but I believe that they certainly improve the possibility for the success of any school.

A Truly Dedicated Staff

I was told early in my career that the best middle school educators have a little bit of middle school student in them. I believed it then and swear by it now, with a slight modification: I believe it takes a certain kind of teacher to understand the middle school child. As a school administrator, it is my responsibility to make sure that I have a staff that is dedicated to understanding, working with, and ensuring the success of every child in their charge every day.

I have been blessed with a staff that goes above and beyond on their own initiative—calling students at home to go over homework, accepting my open-door policy for parents without complaint (and encouraging parents to attend classes), staying after school or coming in early to work one-on-one with struggling students, and the list goes on and on. I am very proud of the work the teachers do, and they, along with the parents, are the greatest reason for our success.

A great deal of what my staff does is intrinsically motivated and the result of hard work to change the professional climate of the school. Teachers have the support of other teachers and the school's administration, and there is extremely effective communication among all levels of school personnel. Teachers are also afforded the opportunity to see administrators model our expectations when we are invited into classes to teach and coteach. This support allows teachers to feel free to strive for higher standards through innovation and creativity, without fear of undue criticism. We do ask teachers to explain what they are doing, but in the questioning, we create a true professional learning culture within the school that benefits both educators and students.

My school also provides several types of rewards and fun activities for our staff. They can be rewarded with passes to skip certain duties, which administrators will then pick up for them. The administration often cooks for teachers, with appreciation lunches in the teachers lounge, and twice a year we have a cookout on an early-release day. Our teachers and students have also developed a healthy sense of competition, with each grade level striving to achieve higher levels of academic achievement across content areas. In addition, we have pep rallies and teacher–student basketball and dodgeball games. Remarkably, teachers consider these activities as much of a reward as students do.

Discipline

I consistently tell my teachers that nothing comes from chaos except more chaos. With this idea in mind, when my leadership team and I accepted the challenge of turning around our school, discipline and the curriculum were top concerns.

For all their blossoming independence, middle school students (like anyone else) just want to know what is expected and what their boundaries are. They will test them, but they want to know how far they can go. Once those boundaries are set, all you need to do is enforce them. There will always be those who try to beat the system, but the overwhelming majority of students will stay within the set boundaries.

Freedom and Respect

These principles apply to both students and teachers. Middle school is a time of exploration as students begin to map out definite ideas and plans for their futures and develop their own unique identities. Students have to be allowed to feel like a part of their education and to make some decisions about what they will do in the future.

Giving students this limited freedom and deserved respect will go a long way toward helping them mature and showing them the same respect we expect as teachers. Teachers have to be respected and trusted as professionals to do what is in the best interest of the child within the confines of the curriculum, standards, and policy. Teachers who are given professional respect and freedom will often return results well beyond expectations.

Hard Work

There is no miracle cure for what may ail a middle school, but there is a plan: hard work.

When I arrived at my school, we were in our seventh year of "needs improvement," according to state mandates, and the climate of the school left a great deal to be desired. At the end of my fifth year as principal, our school can lay claim to the following: We have made AYP for three years in a row. We have watched discipline referrals fall to a fraction of the number they were the year before my assistant principals and I arrived. Teachers have become leaders and taken an active role in the successful operation of the school. And, most important, we have all watched young men and young ladies succeed academically and take the initiative to control their futures.

Middle schools can work, and many of them work extremely well; we just have to take the time as educational leaders to understand them.

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