Family Friday Links 3.10.17

Here are our weekly post of online gems:

Logan Gentry had a post on the Verge site on discipleship. He writes, "Discipleship is really messy and more of a slower process than we want or realize." This is true for every discipleship relationship: parent to child, pastor to congregant, friend to friend, etc. The good news is this mess is a mess well worth making.

Christina Fox had a post on the True Woman blog on the discipline of children in prayer. She wrote, "Children learn from us how to pray by watching and listening to us pray." She then goes on to list ways to help our kids. Parents, this is helpful for you as well as your kids. Pastors, this needs to be encouraged.

Mark Merrill had a post on the importance of education for our kids. He says, "Head knowledge is important, but heart knowledge is even more important and required to lead a productive, meaningful, and significant life." This is primarily the responsibility of parents.

What have you been reading online lately? Leave us a link in the comment section and we'll check it out.

Family Friday Links 2.26.16

Here's what we've been reading online this week:

Chelsea Kingston had a post on the Gospel Coalition on parents idolizing education. She says, "The god of academic achievement convinces us to take on college debt that will enslave us for many years." And later on in the post, "So is the antidote to run from education? No, the antidote is to redeem it." Pastors, parents, and students, this is a wise word.

Scott Sauls wrote a post on his blog on the topic of "special needs". He concludes his post this way, "... the kingdom belongs to children…and we all have special needs … and in Jesus, we all belong." This is a great reminder for those of who work with kids. 

John Hailes had a post on simple ways to pastor kids. His list is as appropriate as it is practical. He ends his post this way, "The more we love kids, the more they will be willing to open up their hearts to us and essentially God!"

What have you been reading online lately? Leave us a link in the comment section and we'll check it out.

Encouraged by an Educator: An Interview with Bob Hill, Part 2

Photo credit Joe Thorn

Photo credit Joe Thorn

Bob Hill, an educator of almost 50 years, and friend for almost a year has great insight into what makes a good educator of children of any age. After giving me his credentials and demonstrating his passion for the education system (see part 1 of this interview), I turned the interview to more specific questions about how to teach kids of different ages and what role parents play.

Pat - What are the most important things that need to be kept in mind when teaching elementary students?

Bob - The general consensus among educators is that elementary teachers teach kids and secondary teachers teach content. We have been more successful in making transitions across time relative to changing expectations with elementary teachers than will high school teachers. A large part of the reason for this relative success is that the transition of focus from teaching to student learning was not as great of jump for elementary teachers (student focus) as it has been for secondary teachers (content focus).

Great teachers at all levels combine both the art and science of guiding learning. They know how to relate to students and how to teach content and skills. They understand the need for relevance and rigor in their classrooms. They know that one size does not fit all, and if we are to succeed with students who bring widely varying learning styles and learning needs into a classroom teachers must find multiple ways to connect to all of those students. Great teachers have always done this to some degree, and those who do it well today are easy to spot.

Nearly all elementary teachers see themselves as literacy teachers first and foremost. They understand that literacy skills are foundational to school success specifically and formal learning in general.  This is the right focus, and the good news is that it is not a hard sell. We typically think that in PK through second grade kids are learning to read. In third grade they start to make the transition to reading to learn. Of course, every child does not advance on that spectrum at the same rate, so elementary teachers have to monitor that learning and support the transition as students become ready for it. Again, typically, learners who make the transition easily tend to do well in school and those who do not seem to struggle.

Pat - Do those things change as the student enters middle school? High school? How so?

Bob - Most certainly, things change in middle and high school. I like to use a definition of literacy that is broader than learning to read and write. For me, literacy is making meaning from a wide variety of symbolic languages  - math, science, etc.

A great deal of work exists on teaching and learning for kids who are middle school age. The growth and maturation processes that are occurring for adolescents and teenagers do impact learning for most young people. Skilled middle school teacher have been prepared to recognize this fact and adapt their approaches accordingly. Middle school students typically are children one moment and adult-like at others; and those moments can change numerous times each day and each week.

As noted above, teachers who are good at both relating to learners and to having strong content knowledge and teaching skills are those who are most successful. If you want to find someone in a bad place, find a middle school teacher who aspires to teach high school content while having a classroom full of 13 year olds. These folks usually are miserable themselves, and they often spread that misery to their students.

High school teachers, as previously noted, usually see themselves as purveyors of knowledge. They are “experts” in their subject matter. Good high school teachers understand that great teaching is not the act of filling a cup but rather it is the act of lighting a fire. It is reasonable to expect high school students to take a great deal of responsibility for their own learning. Achieving the right balance of support and the transfer of that responsibility is the art of great secondary school teachers. A student conducted by Dr. Ron Ferguson a decade ago centered on asking students in inner city schools their advice on what makes a great teacher. The result of research revealed that students rated their best teachers as those who could expect high performance from their students (rigor), who made teaching relevant, and who provided guidance and support when their students needed extra help and guidance.

Pat - How does the parental relationship change the way we teach our own kids?

Bob - Parents are positioned very well to be their children’s first and most influential teachers. Obviously, they are in a position to support their own children with love and understanding. Even if a parent is not formally educated to high levels, parents can be role models regarding the importance of learning and the hard work involved in the process of learning. The role of good parenting is all about teaching and modeling, beginning at conception. Parents who model healthy habits and lifestyles are more likely to have kids grow up with healthy lifestyles and habits. “Do as I say, not as I do” is the most flawed logic about human learning anyone has ever thought up.

Specifically, I encourage parents of young children to read to their kids as often as possible. Don’t be afraid to use big words and to expand vocabulary. Ask questions in a supportive and non-threatening way. Support good thinking by young learners more than arriving at what the parent thinks is the right answer. Introduce young learners to art and music. Buy toys that allow small children to role play and to develop their imaginations. These are inherent traits of all human beings.  We are hard-wired to be curious and to enjoy learning. 

Once children start school, parents are well served to stay in tune with what is going on at school. Find home activities that support school learning. Create as many chances as possible to make learning fun and interesting for kids. Model that learning is fun and interesting to you.

Parents should never let a question or concern about their children’s learning go unanswered for a long time. If one is not sure about what’s going on at school, be sure to ask. Ignoring learning issues seldom leads to their solution. Approach schools as a partner in your child's learning. Parents who constantly criticize teachers and school should expect to see that behavior in their children.  If there are problems, address them rather than complaining about them in front of the kids.

To repeat a previous point, modeling is great teaching. As your children get older, continue to model your own learning to them. Look for out-of-school activities that can involve both the parents and the children. Balance those types of activities so that kids are involved in activities that stretch beyond being entertained.

I want to include a paragraph about parents who find themselves challenged by a child who struggles with school. Often, the school may call your attention to a cause of the learning difficulty. The school may have a name for the learning challenge. I certainly do suggest that parents take the advice of the school seriously, but I also caution that ultimately this child is your child. Weigh decisions carefully, and make decisions that make sense to you. Good schools will work with parents as partners and not impose “take it or leave it” scenarios.

 Pat - How can teachers get better at teaching? How can leaders encourage them?

Bob - Great teachers continuously hone their skill sets just as top professionals do in their chosen field of work. There are numerous opportunities for teachers to continue their professional learning, including professional development provided by the school in which they work, through professional organizations of which they are members, and by continuing their formal educations at colleges and universities. Great teachers see themselves as learners.

Parents can be most supportive of ongoing learning for teachers by encouraging the efforts of the school and/or school district to fund those learning opportunities.  

One of the great advances in the teaching profession in the past 25-30 years is grounded in the realization that teaching is a team effort. In good schools staffed by good teachers, staff work together in professional learning communities. They have time to collaborate. They learn with and from one another. They do not talk about “those kids” or “their kids” but rather they talk about “our kids.”

If you have questions for Bob, feel free to leave a comment. He's not only willing, but would love to interact with you on this topic.

Thanks Bob for your time, your passion, and sharing your insights with all of us.

Encouraged by an Educator: An Interview with Bob Hill, Part 1

Photo Credit Joe Thorn

Photo Credit Joe Thorn

I love getting out of the office to work. Partly because of undiagnosed ADD and partly because of the people I meet. One of my favorite places to hang out and work (... and sometimes play) is the local cigar shop (don't judge ... and if you have to, take it else where). One of the people I've gotten to know over the past year is Bob Hill. One of the things I appreciate most about Bob is his passion for education.

Recently I started a causal conversation with Bob on this topic that was well within his wheel house. I started this conversation because I wanted a better understanding of how teachers effect the process of education. I asked Bob five questions via email and he came back with over 5 pages of response. Here is what he said and why I interviewed him.

Pat: Tell me about your background in education.

Bob: I’ve been an educator for 47 years. I began teaching 5th grade in 1968 in a rural school in Southeast Indiana. During my first decade as a teacher I taught 4th-6th grades in an elementary setting and 7th and 8th grade social studies and language arts in an urban middle school.  After leaving the classroom I spent my second decade as an educator working as a high school assistant principal, principal, and as a curriculum coordinator in Springfield (IL) Public Schools. In those roles I directly supervised teachers and teaching. Subsequent to being a principal I became Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum and Instruction -- a position that made me responsible for teaching and learning at all grade levels in a district of 15,000+ students in pre-kindergarten through 12th grade. Much of my work in this role was related to planning and implementing professional learning for teachers and principals.

In my third decade as an educator I served as Superintendent of Schools in Springfield, retiring in 2002. I then moved to the position of Director of Education Initiatives at the Ball Foundation. There, I recruited a team of nine professionals who ran partnerships in six mid-size urban school districts in five states. Our work was concentrated on building the capacity of all educators in those systems to most effectively support the teaching and learning of thousands of students, including large number of English Language learners.

I retired from Ball in 2012 and worked on the start-up of the National Center for Literacy Education, an organization devoted to supporting teachers in their quest to be effective teachers of literacy across the entire curricula of Pre-K through 12th grade education.  I now serve as a consultant for the Consortium of Educational Change where I carry on work closely related to that we created at the Ball Foundation.

I also remain very active in the movement to transform the American teachers’ unions and to professionalize the education profession. I am a fervent advocate for all teachers and for the profession and still tell people that I am a teacher -- my chosen profession of nearly 50 years.

Before Bob attempted to give me answers to my remaining questions, he added this as context

Over the course of the past 50 years I have observed and participated in three distinct blocks of time where the emphasis on the roles of teachers continues to evolve. When I began teaching in the 1968 and for a period of time until the mid-1970’s the American public held the expectation that some students would excel, some would make adequate progress, and others would struggle with school. An accepted part of the job was to participate in a “sorting and selecting” of students. Doing so was okay because the American workforce had jobs for people of varying skill sets and levels of education.

As the economy of the U.S. began to be viewed as more global and nature and American workers were now seen as competing in an international workforce, the role of teachers began to be redefined. The focus of research and practice was on a more prescribed way of teaching (based on research) that produced an emphasis on lesson design, time on task, and comparisons of U.S. students to those in other countries. Policymakers and educators began to embrace the use of “business” metrics in determining the quality of outputs of schools -- student learning. Included in this emphasis was a conversation about the cost effectiveness of American education and various approaches to it. The system that had long been established for sorting and selecting began to be called into question in the prop wash of the civil rights movement, the movement for gender equity, and in the comparison of American students to those in other countries. Adjustment to the new expectations have been steady over time, but also very slow. The system was good at sorting and selecting -- what it was designed to do -- and the trained workforce came under fire for not being very good at delivering on a drastically different set of expectations.  

The third generation of the evolution of teaching practice began to emerge in response to those changing expectations. Despite the fact that many schools and districts became competent in the methods introduced during the second phase of this evolution, student academic performance continued to go down or at best to stay stagnant, most notably for students living in poverty (which included many students of color).  Teachers are now expected to possess the skills introduced in the second phase described above, but the measure of process success now has moved from a focus on teaching to a focus on student learning. This is what the standards movement and the common core is all about. Ideas like differentiated instruction and response to intervention for struggling learners are now common expectations for teachers. Once again, large numbers of the work force are asked to use skills sets and knowledge to which they had limited or no access to as they prepared for their careers.

Commitment to children is as high among teachers as at any time in my career.  Teaching skills are superior overall to those that existed when I became a teacher. Our expectation that every student can and will be college and career ready at the end of 12th grade is a bar that is infinitely higher than the one set in the days of sorting and selecting. Teachers are caught in a very tough spot. Frankly, society’s expectations for them are unrealistic. They are asked to reinvent the vehicle without being able to stop for repairs and retooling.

This is why I value my friendship with Bob. His passion for education is apparent. Check back in next week when get into teaching elementary age students, middle and high school students, and the role of parents.