When We Forget the Past, We Often Relive it in the Future
In the past 3 months, I have had the great pleasure of attending and presenting at a series of conferences focused on equity. In late January it was the California Association of Latino Superintendents and Administrators (CALSA), March brought the California Association of African American Superintendents and Administrators (CAAASA), and just recently the Association of California School Administrators (ACSA) conference. At all of these conferences, the message was clear: Our most marginalized students need the education to break down systemic bias and think differently. As one of SI&A’s partner districts described it, we need to “Know the Name; Know the Face; and Know the Story” of every student we serve.
As a Gemini, I find that I am often split in my focus and sometimes even seem to be two different people depending upon where I am. First, and foremost, I am an educator who has since my origin story always worked on finding ways to connect with students and know their stories. Recently, while presenting with a superintendent from the coastal area, he talked about connections with students. He took time to sit down with high school seniors to hear from them how their high school experience was in that district. It is sad that it was not shocking when the overarching theme from the voice of our students was “Our teachers don’t know us.” The need for proactive outreach and connection with both students and parents is critical to counter the “new normal” of declining attendance, and more so that our students want us to know them and their stories.
The other side of my Gemini-infused functionality is a strong belief that one of the more important ways to assist in improving student outcomes is to ensure that your house is in order. I went into district-level administration to try and create ongoing systems and structures that reduce the bureaucracy and lack of communication between district departments. Investing in staff development with those who work behind the curtain can ensure that our educators are not overburdened with administrative tasks and are freed up to connect more with their students.
Today we have 1 out of every 3 students in the chronic attendance category (missing more than 10% of the school year) which means these students have not been present in the classroom for 18 days or more. This change in attendance patterns has also changed academic outcomes and school districts are having to choose how to provide good quality first instruction and still leave time for interventions. The concept of intervention is, in itself fused, with bias. For a student that is behind in their learning, the system now expects them to go back and add to the missed learning while simultaneously continuing to stay on track with the current learning. We are in essence demanding our most challenged students to work harder, do more, and navigate all that school gives you just to try and get close to catching up with those students who are on track.
In 2006 I published a brief article in EdTech magazine that broached the subject of supporting teachers to improve student outcomes. In that article, the conversation was about flipping the time model of data analysis to planning from a 50-10 to a 10-50 model where the majority of the time was in collaboration and planning. That same year I presented a concern about the Googlization of Education. In that frame, the goal was that teachers should not spend significant time covering concepts and issues that can be answered by typing a simple question into Google search. Instead, the time should be spent on facilitating student thinking and synthesizing the chief concept. An example would come from my own daughter, a teacher of World History this year, who has used the entire TikTok hearings to connect the era of McCarthy and the red scare. The conversations and connections the students are making are much more critical than they are thinking!
I believe that we should rethink our concept of interventions and start with what is covered in the class. The discussion from that World History class does not preclude a student who is behind from being able to participate. It is designed to engage, and at a time when more and more students are missing school because they are frustrated and discouraged due to being behind academically, we have to make sure that we do not add to that stigma. Learning from the past I am quickly outlining steps that all districts can begin to take now to support improved student outcomes and create a welcoming environment:
Our goal should be to support teachers to plan more and facilitate learning and discussions that are relevant to the student population.
Simultaneously, we should invest in systems that can remove administrative barriers for the district office.
Districts should implement an ongoing positive outreach campaign that reaches every parent and student that is uplifting and provides a foundation understanding of the importance of attendance.
Concentrating more on the story of our students rather than the push for interventions, learning theory shows that student outcomes can accelerate when they feel welcomed and motivated.
The pandemic fundamentally change education as we knew it and it created significant trauma and insecurity in our students (and also our adults) we need to focus on these socio-emotional areas in a genuine manner. This includes investing in ongoing support to help get students to want to be in school and the 10-50 model makes as much sense today as it did when every single student that was in our system when I wrote it has moved on to a new generation of students that have arrived.