A Martin Luther King, Jr. Birthday For Children, Parents, Teachers, Principals and Presidents

When we celebrate the birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr., we celebrate a great deal more than the life of a great man. We even celebrate more than a period in American history when our country took a very large step forward toward the dreams of our founding fathers. We celebrate the whole idea that each of us has a responsibility bring out the authority in others.

Today in so many schools across the country children of all races and economic backgrounds are being abused in the most insidious way. Continue reading

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Peace, Joy, Love and Being Wrong

 We wish each other peace, joy and love this time of year. Seems like a simple way to happiness. Why is it so hard?

At Christmas Eve dinner with friends someone asked the question, “If your life could be any movie you wanted, what would it be? Who would play you? Who would play the role of your true love? Would you change the ending? What would the new ending be? Continue reading

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Should Parents Give Their Children Books For Christmas, or?

 Love

When I was nine and my father asked me what I wanted for Christmas I said, “Something I can build and then when it’s built I can play with it.”

Fifty years later, when my wife asked me what I wanted for Christmas I said, “Fifty pieces of rebar two feet long.” Continue reading

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How Do You Use Blocks? An Excellent Interview Question When Hiring an Elementary School Teacher

Ah, those smooth, splinter-free blocks of maple! Just reading about them in the New York Times last Sunday connected me to my childhood like almost nothing else could. I spent hours on the floor with them on into my early teens when sports, girls and boarding school finally tore me away from them. I built and built and built, designing and redesigning as I went, learning the relationships among quantities Continue reading

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The Joint Parent-Teacher Enterprise: Self-Possessed Children

Just because children are self-centered, doesn’t mean they have to be selfish.

Last May I stood on a polished hardwood floor in the middle of an 80-year old multipurpose room with a 30-foot ceiling in front of 250 wooden seats that rose before me like the stands in a baseball stadium, looking up as a couple of hundred 10- to 15-year-olds, flooded in and filled up these seats. Continue reading

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Making Better Schools is a Local Enterprise

In the summer of 1974 I became principal of my first school. It was in trouble—such trouble, in fact, that I was the only person they could find to be its principal.

Demographic change had hit the school hard. White flight and other changes had dropped the enrollment to only 210 students, 38% of whom were now African American. The neighborhood of the school was what the real estate agents charmingly called “a little salt and pepper,” and everyone believed what one trustee whispered in my ear: “Research has shown that if a third of a school goes black, it goes all the way.” Continue reading

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Management-Speak Disguises a Short-Sighted Vision of School

In decades of trying to improve schools, things aren’t working out. Maybe, we should apply a lesson of life to our approach to elementary school: Do the present right, and the future will take care of itself.

On the surface much of the lingo of school improvement seems full of confident commitment to excellence and success for all. Language like accountability for measurable outcomes, high standards, data driven decision-making, racing to the top, leaving no children behind, and so on is seductive. Hearing this language in a school system one imagines thousands of children working hard to produce results that will someday make thousands of adults proud of their collective commitment to success. Continue reading

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In Education Failure IS an Option: New Myths for Successful Kids and Better Schools

In Education failure IS an option, and a pretty good one at that.

Fear of failure is not a big issue for most kids going off to first grade. Their life is not yet framed with questions of success and failure. Even after a year in kindergarten where their mission was to make friends, create, do fun things, and learn as much as they can, the concept of failure isn’t really on the brain, much.

Unfortunately, most schools try to change this. Our culture is obsessed with success and failure in the context of a pyramid model of society, Continue reading

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How Do You Get Your Child to Love Learning?

Well, it’s a trick question. Your child automatically does love learning. The question really is, “How do we get him to love to learn what we want him to learn?” It should be the job school to get kids to love school work, but what if they are not doing their job?

When a child is not motivated by school work, getting that to change is tricky business—it’s not hard; it’s just tricky. Here is one success story with a few moments of parental brilliance that might inspire others to be creative about how to get our children to love doing school work on their own (based on a year’s worth of email reporting on Daniel’s progress through fifth grade.)

Email from Daniel’s Father on September 28

Daniel makes no bones about not liking school and only being interested in video games (specifically “Zelda” games–Daniel is in love with Zelda). Continue reading

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Blessings on the First Day of School

On the first day of school, Peter had had a good night’s sleep and a good breakfast. His teeth were brushed, his lunch and snack were in his backpack, and his favorite shirt was on his back. As his father scurried around the kitchen, he talked to Peter saying things like, “Have you got your lunch? Have you got your backpack?”

Peter was in the lead as they stepped out the door and down the steps to the car. Five feet from the car his father yelled: “Peter! You don’t have any shoes on!”

Looking down at his stocking feet, Peter saw that it was true and said, “Okay. But you don’t have to get mad at me.” Continue reading

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