Saturday, October 23, 2010

Giving Away Computers--Can It Be?

One of the greatest things about being a principal is creating partnerships. About four years ago, we were blessed to create a partnership with a not-for-profit known as Computers for Youth. This is a wonderful organization who mobilizes its resources to collect computers and distribute them to students in Title I schools. When we learned about it, we submitted an application and were fortunate to be accepted. Today, we celebrated our fourth computer workshop and give away.

Many of us believe, "If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is." This may apply most of the time, but not this time! Every sixth grader in our school who attended today's workshop with a parent or person in parental relationship, will walk out of here with a state of the art computer and a flat panel monitor. These computers also come fully loaded with a suite of educational software that can help our students become outstanding scholars and empower their parents to gain confidence with homework help. The school benefits because our students have unlimited access to a learning center. Our students are able to develop 21st Century skills and be college and career ready.

This year, Computers for Youth (CFY) enlisted the help of cable television providers who have become the keepers of the Internet. Remarkably, they have promised to grant everyone of our students access to high speed Internet service for a reduced fee and in some cases for free! Now every student will have access to the world from her/his own living room. Our students can seek out educational partnerships from Brooklyn to Beijing from Crown Heights to Kabul. It is too good to be true and yet it is!

Partnerships represent the best of the private, not-for-profit and public sector. We can continue to do outstanding work as long as we ban together and keep an eye on what really matters--the children. Our school works with may of these organizations, businesses, Universities, and elected officials. We have relationships with CFY, Sports and Arts in School Foundation, Council for Arts Education, Crown Heights Mediation Center, NYC Leadership Academy, Middle School Film Festival, CB Richard Ellis, Inc., Cushman Wakefield, Inc., Long Island University, SUNY Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI), SUNY Stony Brook University, Councilwoman Letitia James, State Senator Eric Adams, and Assemblyman Hakeem Jeffries. Partnerships are what sustain a school and make it great. They are the foundation from which our students will thrive.

Please support Ebbets Field Middle School and Computers for Youth so that we may continue doing good work for our students. Remember, they will hold the torch that lights our future. We have taken the first step in empowering them. We have given them access to the world. Today was a very special Saturday. Thank you Computers for Youth, Councilwoman Letitia James, Senator Eric Adams and the community of learners at Ebbets Field Middle School for making this possible. I am proud and humble to lead this community and forever in your debt.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

State of Education Today

I was listening to some of the rhetoric regarding education and change. I have to tell you--it is alarming. NCLB makes federal funding contingent upon test scores. This reality translates into every school teaching to the test.

There is also a difference between equal education and educational equity. The term equality iplies that all students will come into school ready and able to learn and yet it means completely different things depending on where the school is located.

For example, what about the countless number of kids who come to school unable to speak English. They may be able and ready but ready means something different than the kid who comes form the middle class family who has had material backed books in the crib, has role models for literacy, has been read to and spoken to in the language of instruction.

So now we should explore the concept of equity--let's give every child what s/he needs to succeed. Will it cost more? Absolutely. Will all chidren's test results be the same then? Probably not. Some kids are, in fact, better prepared for test taking. The test makers desing exams for them. This is a reality that gives those kids an edge! So what do I mean--there cannot be a uniform curriculum and uniform benchmarks until there is a uniform kid and neighborhood...and God knows--we don't want that!

What then is the answer--we have to empower individuals to teach and prepare curriculum that is differentiated and tailored to the needs of learners. We have to change the mental model and realize that education is not a sprint--it is an endurance test. We have twelve years to make sure that every kid gets what s/he needs to be competitive in the higher education arena. We must focus on the child, meet her/him where s/he is and build on their strengths.

Education is the great equalizer but more importantly it is the great healer. We cannot have a one-size-fits all model and we cannot use a test to determine who can and who cannot succeed. We need to stop looking for a quick fix and empower teachers, schools and districts to design student-centered curriculum, pedagogy and programs that prepare indivdiduals to meet, succeed and excel in a global marketplace and technological arena. The globe is shrinking but our impact is growing. Let's talk about this with students, parents and teachers and let's find the answer together. Not everything has to be decided immediately.

The vision of America was conceived some two hundred and thirty two years ago and is still evolving. We are all still laearning. Let's continue to the dialogue and produce a generation of literate thinkers who can tackle complex issues and will fight for equity, justice and liberty.

Friday, February 29, 2008

Lions and Tigers and Cell Phones--Oh My!

Well as hard as it might be to believe, every student at Ebbets Field Middle School 352 was given a brand-new cell phone. Each child at Ebbets Field now has a Samsug SCH U740--these phones feature a full QWERTY keyboard that will make texting fun!

We are proud to be a part of the MILLION program. We were selected to participate through the generosity and well-wishes of our Deputy Chancellor, Dr. Marcia Lyles, to whom we owe a debt of gratitude. This program is the brain child of Dr. Fryer, an Economics Professor from Harvard who is heading up the Department's Division of Equality. These phones or mobile devices will be rewarding our children for hard-work and good behavior.

Too often, children see no immediate reward for doing well in school. It's hard for any adolescent to see past lunch never mind looking ten or twelve years into the future. This phone gives our students an immediate reward. But what about talk time? The Million Program has covered that too! Here is the real value added. Each child will be given a matrix also known as a rubric. This rubric will identify several performance indicators that are focused on student performance. Our rubric focuses on three school based performance indicators, the school section sheet; student performance in humanities and student performance in engineering. In addition, the system will track student attendance, lateness, and suspension data through OORS.

The rubric is weighted with points. Based on the program, an average student (behaviorally appropriate, good attendance and good class work) will earn around 600 minutes a month. It should be noted that it is possible to earn more minutes and it is also possible to earn less. In addition, students cannot buy minutes. The only way to get minutes on these mobile devices is through the school. (There may be some provision made within which students will be allowed to buy minutes during July and August).

This speaks to the demand side of economics. According to Dr. Fryer, a school is set up to address the supply side of the equation. We can supply, educators, books, classrooms, lunch, guidance, administration, facility, etc. What we cannot supply in "real time" is the demand. I need an education because......................"I NEED MY MINUTES! I NEED NEW RING TONES! I NEED TO HEAR THAT POD CAST!" Well, then you need to follow the rubric! At Ebbets Field, we believe that this is the tool that will increase the demand for good behaviors and will lead to academic excellence in our students.

This program has the capacity to provide the leverage we need to address negative behavior and poor study habits through immediate and plentiful reinforcement. For those of you who are reading and asking yourself, "What about the Mayor and Chancellor's ban on cell phones?" It is still there. We will enforce it. Your children will not be allowed to bring their phone to school or use it in school. Nothing changes. It doesn't matter if your mother is paying your minutes or your behavior is paying for them. The rules are the rules.

This program is definitely an educational tool. Students will gain minutes, track their usage, and be permitted to roll their minutes over into the next month. This is especially important as we will disseminate the phones in March. If our students are extra good and budget their usage, they will be able to use their phones all summer. If not, they will find themselves out of minutes and that would be a shame.

What remains evident is Ebbets Field is not your typical middle school. We are a school of excellence that will continue to seek out every possible opportunity for child. We seek to educate the "whole child" and will appeal to her/his social, emotional and cognitive domains. We are so pleased that we are involved in a project that will help revolutionize the link between home and school, the here and now and tomorrow and the haves and have nots. Through the Department's EQUALITY Office our children are Empowered as opposed to Disenfranchised.

We could not be more proud to be a part of MILLION. The program designed to ensure that our children know they are one in a million and are precious resources in which the City of NY and its benevolent partners which to invest. A little faith moves mountains. The first words ever spoken on the telephone were spoken by Alexander Graham Bell who said, "Mr. Watson, come here. I want to see you!" To this we add, "Dr. Fryer. Thank you. Our children's voices will be heard."

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Teaching Prosocial Behavior to Adolescents

According to Sagi and Hoffman (1994) All students are born with a capacity to empathize--this inate capacity empowers them to connect emotionally wiht human beings. The ability to empathize is sustained and developed by relationships with others. Kids whose parents respond to their needs in a positive manner are more able to empathize with others and develop prosocial behaviors (Zhou et al., 2002). This is uspported by (Hartup, 1996) who said that children are especialy responsive to their friend and dependent upon them to develop socially.
As middle school educators, we must ask ourselves how we can create environments within which our students learn positive behaviors and participate in rituals and routines that will teach them prosocial behaviors. First of all, we can model caring and respectful behavior. If we don't endorse shouting--don't shout! Sometimes, it really is that simple. I think the bigger and more compelling question is how do we help our students exhibit empathy, develop insight into their impact on other people and build their awareness of the world around them.
Each classroom must be managed in a way that teaches students personal repsonsibility and good decision making. We need to have class meetings. But real meetings that give children choice and empower them as learners and citizens. They need to see how their voice shapes classroom and school-based decision making. We can do this together. It isn't hard.
We must create forums within which students who model these behaviors are recognized and celebrated. We need to make them peer leaders. Our programs that exist already will serve as the conduit through which this will be realized. Our Ladies In Training, Gentlemen's Club, Right of Passge, Student Government. We must meet during common planning, faculty conference and such to make this happen.
Next year, I think each class may want to collect or raise money and adopt a child from a developing nation or maybe adopt a family from the community here. We will continue to do the can drives, letters to Santa, Penny Harvest, et. al. But, we must come together as a community and continue building community. Let's meet and talk about it--again and again. Thanks.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Adolescent Literacy

As middle school educators, we continue to struggle with difficult issues. A huge question and topic of debate is how do we increase adolescent literacy? How do we persuade our students to read? This is important for all students. But, some subgroups are particularly vulnerable. At Ebbets Field, we struggle with literacy and as a community we especially worry about "Boys and Literacy." We have deep conversations about how to get our boys reading. How will we instill a love of reading in our young men? We keep looking for new and innovative ways. Well of course, we will continue to stock our shevles with non-fiction, science fiction and sports biographies--even graphic novels. We strive to find media that will get them reading and keep them reading. We continue to integrate technology into our classrooms and launch activities that promote the "read and write" web. We will make mass and multiple forms of media available to excite and inspire our students to read! This is a moral imperative that is equivelent to war! Actually, it is a war--a war against illiteracy. We cannot afford to lose even one of our students.


Last night, we held a pajama party. We had readers sititng in rocking chairs and students laying on sleeping bags and blankets while sipping hot cocoa. They reclined and listened to the readers and they found the readers renditions riveting! They were captivated listeners--this activity made literature come alive. We took a chance. We had grown men reading in their stocking feet! We set out to prove beyond any doubt that real men love to read!
On March 3, we will celebrate Read Across America Day. We are very excited! Ebbets Field, as a learning community, has also decided that we will name the week of March 24-28 as Adolescent Readers Week. We will award our school's top reader--An Apple Ipod! We recognize and understand that reading is a behavior we wish to reward. :) We will work diligently to create an environment that rewards good literacy behaviors and promotes success in all of our students.

We hope you will sit and watch our video from our pajama night and host one of your own. Join us in celebrating literature. I hope you will support Ebbets Field Middle School in launching the first annual Adolescent Reading Week from March 24-31st. We hope you will catch the fever and remember Real Men Read and Readers Become Leaders! We will be celebrating a male writer every day. We will begin each day reading a selection written by: James Baldwin, Bill Cosby, Frederick Douglas, W.E.B. DuBois, and Alex Haley. We will celebrate these men and honor their prose. Fine men who influenced their generation All were MEN WHO READ. Remember Ebbets Field, Simon says.............
"Touch Your Books."


Saturday, January 12, 2008

Thirty More on Our Way to Four--ELA All the Way

What can one say the week before "the test?" Walk into any NYC middle school this week and the pressure is palpable. Each school is like a pressure cooker. Every eleven year old knows that if they do not pass the test...they may very possibly be held over. You can almost here the fear in every sigh as our kids take out the test prep materials and begin conquering each passage. You can almost hear them saying, "If I don't pass, I'll be held over for sure!" The child in seventh grade is even more terrified. S/he knows that promotion is almost entirely predicated on whether or not they score a level 2 on both the ELA and Mathematics test. A reasonable individual might ask, "What about kids who aren't test takers?" The answer, Sorry, there is no provision for test anxiety under NCLB. What if the child is absent and does not take the test? If the school's participation is below 95% there are serious consequences under NCLB.

One might ask how a test can have that much power? What about the summative assessments? The class work, homework, portfolio, work folder? Doesn't day-to-day school work count? Check the legislation--the answer is "not really." From a middle school perspective grade 6 and 8 have multiple promotional criteria: pass major classes, 90% attendance, exit projects complete, and minimum proficiency on standardized tests. Grade 7 on the other hand is what we dinosaurs referred to as the "Gate." In middle school, the gate is lowered and locked at grade 7.

According to Center for Development and Learning (CDL), 2.4 million children are retained each year in the United States. Why do we retain students? There really is no evidence that anyone has benefited from this practice. In fact, retention was found to be one of the most powerful predictors of high school dropout, with retained students 2 to 11 times more likely to drop out of high school than promoted students. (CDL)

If you have a bad day the day of the test, you are destined to repeat the grade. This reality has the system bursting with yet another group (which undoubtedly will soon qualify as a brand-new sub-group) the overage student. Twenty-two percent of our students are over the age of 14. Statistically, they are 2 to 11 times more likely to drop out.

NCLB has not identified the overage student as subgroup as of yet. Sadly, they may have to do so. At present the NCLB subgroups consist of: Black, Latino, White, Asian, Title I, Special Education, and LEP ELLS. Schools like ours consistently face the challenge of meeting AYP and AMO in each of our subgroups. Try though we do. Did you know that the state counts level threes and fours twice? So getting children to Level 3 is a bonus for the child and the school The city's progress report grants extra credit in a kinder, gentler and I believe more equitable manner. A school will receive extra-credit for every child in a subgroup who makes at least one year's progress. Essentially, this means each child maintains his former scale score plus one. If we are to survive that is a statistic that cannot be ignored. We have a moral imperative to ensure that our students make one year's progress and yet more than 48 percent of our students did not make at least one year's progress last year.. That is unacceptable to me. I am sure you too are saddened by this fact and I know you share my resolve to do better.

At Ebbets Field Middle School, we have placed a lot of emphasis on data. Data driven instruction is the ticket to student performance. Do we know what our students need to improve? What are their strengths? How can we harness these talents to build on their weaknesses? We must look at the individual performance of every child. I know that it is a lot of information to manage but we must treat every child as unique because each child is. Honestly, you would not want a doctor to treat your high blood pressure with Preparation H because the majority of his patients have hemmoroids! We are professionals and we must accurately diagnose student needs, share them with the student, prescribe the right kind of AIS, and like physical therapy: relentlessly strengthen weakend areas, pursue a routine exercises, and focus on clear and attainable goals.

I know it is a lot. Truthfully, it is enough to make seasoned educator's head explode. I can only imagine how our first-year teachers feel. I am sure you are gasping for air. I am so proud of your courage and tenacity. You inspire me! Over the next six weeks, our children are faced with more stress than any adolescent should have to face. How can we help them manage?

When I began teaching, standards were defined by teachers. We set goals and determined benchmarks and yes there were formative assessments but they did not hold the teachers, administrators, parents and children hostage. The work was in the classroom and the work product came out of the classroom and was used to determine promotion. It was a kinder and gentler time. Somewhere along the way, math and reading scores began to decline and we moved to a uniform plan for reform. Thus, the standard movement was born. How do you assess whether the standards are met? Thus, we gave life to a new set of formative assessments that are inextricably inked to the teaching and learning taking place in the classroom. (To every classroom in NY State?) What do we want threes and fours!

The reason we began teaching was not to move kids to level 3 and 4. It was to move mountains. To change the world one child at a time. To instill a sense of pride, dignity and confidence in a child who, because of her/his teacher, knows s/he can! during the next few months when we go test prep crazy, remember what Mark Twain said, "Never let the business of schooling interfere with your education." Find the courage to laugh at out loud, laugh at ourselves, and make our classrooms and school houses places of joy and celebration.

To my teachers, my coaches, my assistant are talented and gifted educators. You command my utmost respect. You are in the trenches. You are trusted with the most precious resource we have -- our children. You are the planter of the magic seed. You are more than diagnosticians -- you are the keeper of the keys that will unlock the future -- You are our children's heroes. You inspire them, encourage them, teach them, and love them. You are a home run!

Don't forget Simon Says, "Touch the children!"

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Every Thing You Wanted to Know about Parent Conference But Were Afraid to Ask

This list of tips comes from TSTA/NEA and is provided to us courtesy of Inspiring Teachers.

  1. Offer a suggested course of action. Parents appreciate being given some specific direction. If Jane is immature, it might be helpful to suggest parents give her a list of weekly chores, allow her to take care of a pet, or give her a notebook to write down assignments. (Of course, when you offer advice, let parents know you're only making a suggestion.)
  2. Forget the jargon. Education jargon phrases like "criterion-referenced testing," "perceptual skills" and "least restrictive environment" may be just too much double-talk to many parents.
  3. Turn the other cheek. In routine parent conferences, it's unusual to run into parents who are abusive and hostile. But it can happen. Try to not be rude, whatever the provocation. Hear out the parents in as pleasant a manner as possible, without getting defensive if you can.
  4. Ask for parents' opinions. Let parents know you're interested in their opinions, are eager to answer their questions and want to work with them throughout the year to help make their child's education the best.
  5. Focus on strengths. It's very easy for parents to feel defensive since many of them see themselves in their children. You'll help if you review the child's strengths and areas of need rather than dwelling on criticism or stressing weaknesses.
  6. Use body language. Non-verbal cues set the mood of the conference. Smile, nod, make eye contact and lean forward slightly. You'll be using your body language to let parents know you're interested and approving.
  7. Stress collaboration. Let the parent know you want to work together in the best interests of the child. A statement like "You need to see me as soon as possible to discuss Johnny's poor study habits" only arouses hostility, while "I'd like to discuss with you how we might work together to improve Johnny's study habits" gets the relationship off on the right foot.
  8. Listen to what parents say. Despite the fact that we spend nearly a third of our lives listening, most adults are poor listeners. We concentrate on what we're going to say next, or we let our minds drift off to other concerns, or we hear only part of what a speaker is saying. You'll get more out of a parent conference if you really listen to what parents are saying to you.Ask about the child. You don't want to pry, of course, but remember to ask the parents if there's anything they think you should know about the child (such as study habits, relationship with siblings, any important events in his or her life) which may affect his or her school work.
  9. Focus on solutions. Ideally all parent conferences would concern only positive events. Realistically, many conferences are held because there's a problem somewhere. Things will go smoother if you focus on solutions rather than on the child's problem. Discuss what you and the parents can do to help improve the situation. Plan a course of action together.
  10. Don't judge. It may not always be possible to react neutrally to what parents say, but communicating your judgments of parents' behaviors can be a roadblock to a productive relationship with them.
  11. Summarize. Before the conference ends, summarize the discussion and what actions you and the parents have decided to take.Wind up on a positive note. When you can, save at least one encouraging comment or positive statement about the student for the end of the conference.
  12. Meet again if you need to. If you feel you need more time, arrange another meeting later rather than trying to rush everything before the kids get back from art class.Keep a record of the conference. You may find it helpful later to have a brief record of what was said at the conference, what suggestions for improvement were made and so forth. Make notes as soon as possible after the conference while the details are still fresh.

Remember to focus on what is important--the children. Remember why you became a teacher -- inspire, lead, teach. Enjoy the conferences.