Sunday, January 27, 2019

The Only Place For a Classroom “Equality Mindset” is in a Museum!


“Classroom equity,” “school equity,” “excellence through equity,” “equitable practices,” etc. have all become buzzwords in the education world…some might even call them “the latest fad in education.”  When I noticed the uptick in the usage of the word “equity” as a part of education parlance, I immediately paid attention because it was relevant to who I am as an education professional.

My teaching career began in 1988 in Brooklyn, NY. I did not have language to apply to “equitable practices” in my classroom as a brand new teacher, but it was more than evident from day one that the learning, social and emotional needs of my students varied widely and I therefore knew instinctively that if my students were going to be successful in my classroom, I had better meet them where they were.

I eventually moved on to East Orange, New Jersey to continue teaching in the city that produced me from birth. Once again, I had no language to apply to “equity”…I simply knew that equitable classroom practices were a necessity because the needs of my students varied. When I became a principal, although I was no longer a classroom teacher, I was now an instructional leader. That role in and of itself demanded that I possess an “equity mindset.”

When I say “equity mindset,” I am saying that the teacher in the classroom has to be fair. The teacher has to consider each student as a unique individual with a focus therefore on meeting the unique needs of each and every learner in the classroom. As the teacher examines the learning needs, the social needs and the emotional needs of the student, the teacher is in a much better position to meet each of these needs via bringing to each student in the classroom an “equity mindset.” An “equality mindset” on the other hand might not only be devastating in “real time,” but can potentially have life long adverse implications as in the following scenario.

A baby is born into a family. She receives sustained love, care and attention from her parents. The home environment is pleasant and there are no major challenges such as poverty that the family has to contend with. What stands out for this baby from the very beginning is the mother’s attention to cognitive development, language development and listening skill development. Mother is constantly talking and reading to the baby in the first year of her life prior to being able to pronounce words. Eventually at around a year old, the now toddler starts to develop a vocabulary, listening skills are developing and overall cognitive development is intentional. Mother continues to talk and read to toddler and by the time she is three years old, she may have a grasp of anywhere from 250 - 500 words.

At the same time another baby is born into a family. He too receives sustained love, care and attention. This home environment is comparable to the aforementioned home environment. The major difference between the experiences of both babies however is the attention to cognitive development, language development and listening skill development. Yes, this baby is loved and cared for but the intentionality of cognitive, language and listening skill development via purposeful talking and reading to this youngster is just not there for whatever the reason and consequently, there is a higher probability that this toddler will have less of a vocabulary by the age of three than the first one.

At age three, both sets pf parents enroll their toddlers into preschool and they are in the same class. Clearly, one is behind the other relative to language development, but to no fault of the child. What distinguishes them is essentially how they are being raised in their home environment. Now that they are both in school, how they proceed in the classroom will boil down to two words – “equity” and “equality.” If the teacher brings an “equality mindset” to the classroom, both children will suffer. In the teacher’s effort to strike a balance, the first child might not be fully challenged predicated on her prior experience and the second child might not be met where he is predicated on his prior experience. An equality mindset simply will not work in this or any scenario. This scenario therefore begs an “equity mindset.” The teacher must identify where both children are relative to their own language development and meet them where they are toward true equity in the classroom. And just imagine if you will, that both children go for several consecutive years with "equality mindset" teachers. The gap in language development would never close and the implications would be potentially devastating...particularly for the second child.

The only place for an equality mindset in a 21st Century classroom is a museum. It is a relic from the past and has no place in a modern classroom. The equality mindset shortchanges children. It undermines their ability to maximize their potential. If the playing field is going to be truly level for all children, they must be afforded the opportunity to enter schools and classrooms where equity abounds for everyone.

For more Principal Kafele resources, visit PrincipalKafele.com.

Sunday, January 20, 2019

Hey Principal…The Tone You Set in the Morning Matters Exponentially!


The tone the principal sets for the entire building is a topic that I have spoken about, written about and practiced extensively. One might even say that I am obsessed with this topic. How the day starts for students simply matters and it is the job of the principal to ensure that the entire school is ready for learning each and every morning.

I have visited a plethora of school campuses while wearing my consultant’s hat and have observed on numerous occasions students entering a school and proceeding to a cafeteria, gymnasium or a classroom. On the surface, this is fine and perfectly normal. But I always want to go beneath the surface toward identifying the root cause of a given concern, issue, problem, etc. In most of the schools that I visit, trauma is an ongoing reality for far too many of the students who are enrolled there. These students have either witnessed or experienced realities that most of their teachers could never endure if they were asked to trade places with their students for as little as ten minutes. There are consequently far too many children arriving to school in the morning with so little hope. They find it difficult to make the correlation between hard work and effort today, and success in their adult lives later on. Their out-of-school challenges can be so overwhelming that they find it difficult to even have a vision for what their adult lives might look like. But each and every day, they must report to school, ready to learn.

There are so many safety nets that need to be put in place for such a large number of students in any given school which is beyond the scope of this essay. Here, I want to focus on how the tone is being set at their arrival everyday. As a consultant, as that youngster is arriving in the morning, I pay strict attention to what the arrival looks like….the dynamics of the arrival. I want to see how the tone is being set for the students as they are arriving in the morning. I therefore want to see the principal outside of the building warmly greeting them all. I’m looking for that sincere welcome as they are walking into the building or milling about on the campus before entering. I’m looking for those light conversations between the principal and students when needed. I’m looking for that handshake or fist bump or high five (or even a hug when appropriate). I’m looking for that warmth in the morning FROM THE LEADER. This time of the morning is invaluable for the leadership toward setting a tone while favorably impacting the overall climate and culture of the school. And of course, if the school is a very large school where students enter multiple doors, then I am always looking for the other members of the administrative team to participate in the greeting of students at their respective entrances. This is not a time for reading email or other administrative chores. When students are arriving to school, the only place for the principal to be is outside welcoming them. I am fully aware that some principals even greet their students as they exit the school bus. I welcome this practice as well.

Once the students are in the building and settled into their classrooms and homerooms, I have another component of the early morning that I pay strict attention to relative to the principal setting a tone for learning – the principal’s morning message. Most schools have some sort of morning routine which include the student body and staff reciting the pledge of allegiance, the school’s motto, mission and vision, birthday shout-outs, and school news and announcements. These are vitally important. As it relates to setting a tone for learning however, I’m waiting for the principal’s role in the morning announcements. I want to hear the principal’s morning message. What will the principal say today to capture the attention of the students and particularly the ones who need it most? Again, there are students sitting in classrooms who justifiably do not see the correlation between school today and success later on. That correlation has to made clear to all and it starts with the principal’s message toward setting the tone each and every morning. The principal must strive to inform, inspire and empower the entire student body daily. In some schools, this occurs as a morning convocation in the gym or auditorium and in others, it is over the intercom. Either one is fine. It’s just imperative that it is done. This is not a time to scold, complain, criticize or go over rules and consequences however. There is ample time for that when needed. The morning message is a time to uplift..to give hope…to spark the imagination and to launch the day on a very positive note.

Lastly, the principal must keep in mind that his / her message will only matter and be received and embraced when he / she has credibility in the eyes of the students. Credibility must be earned. It doesn’t come with the title. It is earned by being the authentic, sincere, student-centered leader the students need their principal to be. Anything less and the students will certainly detect it and consequently, the morning greeting and message will all be for naught.

For more Principal Kafele resources, visit principalkafele.com

Saturday, January 19, 2019

Just One Teacher Can Completely Alter the Trajectory of a Child


I am admittedly a social media “junkie.” I thoroughly enjoy posting education-related content literally every day and the follow up interaction with my social media friends and followers on all things education. Many of my posts are short quotes that just sort of pop into my head regarding how I view the education landscape. One of those quotes I posted recently drew a little more attention than my norm – “Just one teacher can completely alter the trajectory of a child...both for the good or for the bad.” I really didn’t see this one as being any different from the hundreds of other quotes I’ve posted over the years (I’ve saved them all), but educators really gravitated to this one…over 400 shares on Facebook and over 500 retweets on Twitter in one day! I thought, “wow…if there’s that much interest in this quote, I need to turn it into a blog post, so here it is.

There are 3.6 million teachers in the U.S. and each of them can wind up in any state, district, school and classroom in the country. There are 56.6 million school-aged children in the U.S. and each of them too can wind up in any state, district, school and classroom in the country. In your case, you wound up where you are and by fate, your students wound up in the same place with you. Of all the teachers and students in the U.S., you both occupy the same space.  Well that reality engenders a simple question: Are your students at an advantage BECAUSE you are their teacher? In other words, I’m asking you is there something special; something unique; something extraordinary; something advantageous about you being your students’ teacher? Does you being the teacher of your students raise the probability that they will be successful as students and successful in their adult lives? Is there something special about YOU being in that classroom? I challenge you to consider this question daily. I challenge you to have an honest conversation with yourself daily on this question via self-reflection and self-assessment. Why? Because it is absolutely imperative that as you walk into your classroom everyday, you walk into your classroom with an attitude of: I Got This! You walk into your classroom with an attitude of, “my students are going to soar today BECAUSE I am their teacher.” You are firmly aware that there are challenges, obstacles, pressures and demands that stand in your way and that you must contend with, but your attitude, your drive, your passion, your determination, your belief in your skillset are such that you will surmount every challenge, obstacle, pressure and demand that come your way.

But let’s go deeper. The title of this essay is, Just One Teacher Can Completely Alter the Trajectory Of a Child. I’m arguing here that of all the variables that can favorably or unfavorably impact the life of a child, your presence in the life of your students is immeasurable and undeniable. You absolutely matter. A youngster can go through 12 years of grade school and potentially have a plethora of substandard teachers but encounter that extraordinary teacher in grade 7 for example. Because of the drive and determination of that one teacher in grade 7 to see that this youngster completely understands the significance of education, and the drive and determination of that teacher to see that this youngster passionately believes in him / herself, there is a much higher probability that this youngster will be a success story. In this hypothetical example, this youngster was born into poverty and had to endure the realities that accompany poverty. Academics suffered as a result of the overwhelming challenges that this youngster has endured since birth and behavior was an ongoing challenge. This youngster was not on a path of success. But then you came along. In this case, in grade 7.  You were convinced that your students were at an advantage BECAUSE you were their teacher. You were “all in” on altering the trajectory of your student. You made it your personal mission to see to it that this youngster is on a trajectory to success…a trajectory of excellence. And because of your unwavering commitment to your student, your student went on and became a success story because EVERYTHING you poured into him remained with him long after he departed from you.

Conversely, just one teacher can completely undermine the trajectory of a child too. This is actually one of the scary parts of education. A student can go consecutive years with a great teacher and then in grade 5 for example, wind up with a teacher who is the antithesis of the aforementioned teacher…the drive, determination, passion and commitment are just not there. The teacher is strong in content but deficient in children. Because the teacher is deficient in children, connections are simply not being made and consequently, there’s a much higher probability that this student’s previous trajectory could be adversely altered as a result of the current teacher.

During the school day while your students are in your classroom, the number one determinant of their success or failure is YOU. Be ever so mindful of this reality and therefore stay committed to being that teacher that keeps your students on a trajectory of excellence!

For more Principal Kafele resources, visit principalkafele.com.

A Dysfunctional Principal-Assistant Principal Relationship Can Sabotage an Entire School!

“It is apparent that the leadership isn’t on the same page in our school.” About a month ago, I wrote a blog post entitled,...