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Archive for February, 2010

What is an Exemplary Teacher?

I was recently reading an article titled “What Happens to Bad Teachers?” posted on THEDAILYPAGE.COM.   The article suggested that “getting rid of problem educators is a lot easier in theory than in practice.”  This got me to thinking, (a) Who hired them in the first place, and (b) What constitutes an exemplary teacher?  My wife has been in the teaching business for the past sixteen (16) years, the last four as a middle-school principal.  Identified as a Title 1 school with over 50% poverty (53.4), she has guided that school to the School of Promise award for three of the four years, and Exemplary School status for 2009.  That level of achievement, over the past four years, with only four years at the helm, in any school – far more a Title 1 school, suggested to me that she may know a bit about teachers and teaching.  So rather than talk about “bad” teachers whom, it is suggested in the article, are hard to dismiss, I elected to focus on the attributes of an exemplary teacher.  My simple question to her was; “What is an exemplary teacher?”

Her response:  “Willing to remove any barrier in the way of that child’s learning – willing to teach that child coping skills to deal with barriers affecting learning.  A teacher who would give up lunch, come in early, or make a home visit at the drop of a hat.”

That got me thinking.  I have no answers to my questions.  I just have a whole lot of questions for you.

  1. How is an exemplary teacher developed?
  2. How is an exemplary teacher nurtured?
  3. How early should “child barrier removal” be initiated?
  4. What are these potential barriers?
  5. Are teachers trained in barrier recognition?
  6. Are teachers trained in barrier removal?
  7. What if a child does not have control over barriers?
  8. Are environmental barriers different from biological or neurological barriers?
  9. Do they require different learning and training?
  10. What is the nurture/nature relationship with barriers and barrier development? 
  11. Are barriers more evidenced in certain populations that in others?
  12. Are barriers different relative to social land/or ethnic differences of the populations being served?
  13. If “yes” do we have specialized teacher training in barrier recognition and removal?
  14. Is there remuneration for training specialization?
  15. What schools/colleges/universities are particularly good at training for barrier recognition and removal?

It seems to me that it would do us well to go backward and recognize universities that consistently produce exemplary teachers, and highlight those that do not. 

Bad teachers come from somewhere.  Exemplary teachers come from somewhere.  Identify the farm.  Identify the farmer.   Don’t wait until you buy crappy fruit and then blame the fruit.  That just means that you suck at selecting good fruit.

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Inclusive Excellence IV: The Plan

Now you have the job.  You have your Chancellor’s back and he/she has yours.  The relationship has been established.  

Time to get to work.

I am going to use a real-life situation so you can see aspects of the model in action.  There are going to be gaping holes in the model.  That’s why we call it a model.  The game plan is that you take it, and match the major aspects of the model…the hinges upon which it sits, to your particular social and cultural environment. 

Know that each situation is different.  Each university is different.  You will have to match your intervention to fit the particulars of your university – it’s size, the particular state it is in, where you draw your students from, the type of weather you enjoy, et cetera.   These particulars, which may seem peripheral, are integral to your success in attracting students to your university.  I will revisit this point later in the presentation. 

 You will also find similarities.  There are certain similarities to all universities despite size or geography.  Then there are similarities that small universities enjoy, others particular to large universities, others to Midwestern universities, and other still to Southern universities.   Certain aspects in the model, therefore, can cross…can be used anywhere.   However, to make this model work, you will have to take the skeleton and clothe it in the body relevant to your situation and circumstance.   This means that you have to know your particular situation and circumstance.   That is the very first thing.  This too, I will get back to.  But you can place it as number one right now.

Throughout this piece, I am going to propose that you do a number of things and ask a number of questions.  What I will also do is attempt to consistently link both the directives and the challenges back to Inclusive Excellence (IE).  I will try to explain what these questions have to do with moving your university toward IE. 

Finally, do not expect a straight-line solution to this challenge.  Just as with any good recipe for creating a cake, you bring in diverse elements, mix them together in appropriate proportion, and then allow it to bake at the appropriate temperature.  Work diligently but be patient.   Remember that it is not as if everybody wants you in their kitchen in the first place.  Many are very happy with the cup cakes they have enjoyed over the past fifty years!  They are none-too-happy about you being in their kitchen tinkering with stuff.  It is okay to have the rhetoric of change.  In fact, many of us have been hired to lead the rhetoric of change.  But when you begin the process of change (a) it is not linear, and (b) there is a necessary process of grief that will be incurred.  This is another piece I hope we will discuss.    

Here we go.

1.     Learn Your Town/City.

This means that you learn everything about the place that you are going to.  

  1. When was your town/city built and why was it was built?  What were the social-historical circumstances that led to its being built?  What is its financial profile?  What is its social profile?   What percentage of your residents has attained a four-year degree?  How slowly or quickly does your town/city change?  What percentage of the population in your town/city is retained?  What percentage was born in the town/city, grew up there, went to school there, and still resides there?  Is your town/city a manufacturing based economy, a technology-based economy, or are you a university town where a large percentage of the economy revolves around the university?  Is your community heavily conservative, heavily democratic, or a mixture?  Would your town/city be considered an urban, suburban, or metropolis environment?  Do stores open late?  What is considered late?  Are there places within your town/city that ethnic and social minorities (to your town) can comfortably get needs met – haircut, meal, music, et cetera?  Are there available radio and television channels that serve or recognize ethnic and/or social minority populations? 

This is an incomplete list of the questions you have to answer before anything else can be done.

2.     Learn Your University.

This means that you learn everything about the place that you are going to.

  1. I know that you guys meet with all the social and ethnic groups and/or their representatives.  That is great.  I know that some of you even have informal meetings with students.  Beautiful.   I also know that many of you have great climate surveys commissioned.  Wonderful.  Let me add a little bit to your hard work. 

When was your university built, why was it built, how was it established? What type of students does it attract?  Are they first-generation or second-generation?  Where do they come from?  Are they primarily from within the community, within the state, adjoining states, or from all around the country and the world?  How wide is its net?  If given the names of a number of universities, which ones would your university think itself close to, relative to prestige?   Would it say that it matches up well against a University of Michigan, a UCLA, or Whitewater?  On what is that assessment based; numbers of students, strength of athletic program, strength of its academic program, endowment?  What is that assessment based on?  How accurate is that assessment?  Do the students agree?  Does the community agree with that assessment?  Does your university have a long history of support for and integration of ethnic and social diversity cultures, or is this process in its infant stages?  That you have had an ongoing process for years does not mean that there has been any or any substantial progress.   How committed are your ethnic and social diverse cultures to the university?  Do they attend your sporting events?  Do they purchase and proudly don your clothing? Do they bleed your colors or do they simply go to your school?   If I pick up the school newspaper, do I see myself reflected anywhere, or is it only in the sport section?   Am I evidenced anywhere in your alumni magazine?   What is the make-up of your Board of Regents?  How has that make-up shifted over the past fifty years… or has it? 

Here again – another incomplete list of questions that must be answered before anything can be done.

3.     Learn the Relationship Between the University and the Community.   

Here you are trying to find out if the university sees itself as an integral part of and player in the community, if the community and its attendant school district agree, and how that relationship might be demonstrated.  Some universities are the main employer in the community.  That is where the term “university town” comes from. For example: Madison, Wisconsin is a university town.  There is a very dramatic and much evidenced shift when the university is in recess.  Here are some of the questions you need answered.

  1.  What is the relationship between the community and the university?  How is that evidenced?  Are there any radio stations, stores, television stations, or barber shops that cater to diverse populations?  Do your students feel comfortable going down-town?  Do they pick up on-campus jobs or are there student jobs available downtown?   Do you have a rhythm and blues station?  Do you have a world music station?  Do you have clubs that students can feel comfortable at, or does that have to all happen on the campus?  Is there a self-imposed curfew that student hold themselves to?  That means, do they feel safe being off campus late at night?  How late do the buses run?   If I pick up the local newspaper, do I see myself reflected anywhere, or is it only in the sport section?    What is the relationship between the university and the school district?  How is that evidenced? Are there vibrant, ongoing academic relationships or is it that the university simply sends their teacher-education interns for the school district to absorb?  Are there ongoing tutoring, mentoring, and pre-college programs?  Is there a standing committee in discussion on this very issue of student readiness, recruitment and retention? 

These are some of the answers you will need addressed before you could move forward with this work.

After you get those answers, you have your data set and all cleaned-up; now you are ready to get to work on this thing. 

Let me take a few of these questions I have posed and answer them for you.  What I am doing here is simply giving you an example and explaining, as I go along, why this information is so important to your success in developing an intervention strategy.  Yes, it is an intervention strategy.  If things were going right, you wouldn’t need intervention.  Just the admission of a wish for intervention suggests that something is not as you wish or expect it to be.

That is next.

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AA Success: A K-12 Model

The social and academic success of African American (AA) students within our current educational system continues to be an elusive goal. Social success deals with the idea of being wanted in the environment – the belief that you actually matter.  Academic success is the A, B, Cs – the appropriate matriculation through the system.  In any environment, the academic and social should be closely partnered. There is a convincing positive correlation between social engagement and academic success for all students.  This suggests that students who feel comfortably accepted in their environment tend to perform better academically. 

There is huge difference between being comfortably accepted and attempting to be accepted, or attempting to belong.  Actually, AA students who attempt to belong show lower levels of academic success than those who do not.  Both those who actively and aggressively alienate themselves from the environment as well as those who try to belong seem to fare poorly.  Think of it as a Bell curve or an inverted U where students on each extreme demonstrate low levels of success within the environment. They stop-out or drop-out at much higher levels than those in the middle of the curve. 

Felice (2006) interviewed 10 successful male AA students at a predominantly white university to determine what behaviors led to their success.  Results were unequivocal.  Successful male AA students at (a) found/created social enclaves within the environment of the university, (b) only engaged with the university to get specific needs met, and (c) retained very close ties with their home environment (parents and/or friends).  This finding runs counter to Tinto’s (1997) assertion that students who transition successfully invest time and energy in attempting to assimilate into the larger culture.  This study does not reject Tinto’s findings.  It simply suggests that this may not be the process for successful AA students. If AA students do not see the potential for reward in their efforts to engage, whether true or learned, they would, quite justifiably, find spaces of emotional security until better could be done, or they interpret the discomfort and estrangement as part of the “cost of success.”  

There is also the concept of readiness for academic engagement.  This deals with academic skill acquisition and academic skill competence.  It is true that many of our AA students do not enter colleges and universities with the level of academic readiness as determined by the accepting institution. 

  1. This is many.  This is not all.  Many and all are two very different words, and there is no way to identify the difference within the institution so it raises everybody’s anxiety.
  2. This is also very true of many white students.  Yet it is not accompanied by the anxiety of the null hypothesis.
  3. Although the number of under-academically prepared white students is probably much higher, the percentages are much lower.  If we have twenty out of one-hundred AA students under-prepared, that is a much higher percentage than the three hundred out of ten thousand white students. 
  4. This leads to inter- and intra-anxiety amongst AA students and how they perceive themselves, and how they perceive themselves to be perceived.  You begin to see them separating themselves from themselves on campus.  They don’t say hello.  They don’t acknowledge each other on campus. 

Notice we are talking about the emotional anxiety around academic preparedness and the perception of academic under-preparedness.  Last time I checked, academic preparedness was the forte of the wholesalers who sell the product to us.  Conversely, once we accept the product, knowing that it has deficits, it is our responsibility to fill those gaps. 

If you do not want the responsibility of filling those gaps, then do not accept the kids who have academic deficits.  If you accept those kids who have academic deficits and have consistently demonstrated low success rates at filling those gaps, then either (a) you are really horrid at your job and need to be fired, or (b) your job is really not to produce a successful product.  You are here for the process of accepting – – – and there must be some financial reward for accepting with no cost for poor performance.

If “b” is true, and there seems to be pretty solid evidence that it might be, then either (a) AA students need to stop coming, (b) an external cost-for-failure must be put in place, or (c) AA students must come only to satisfy their needs, however “their needs” is to be defined.

Say “hello” to the billion dollar industry of football and basketball.

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Listen ~ This is not about immigration.  This is not about White people.  This is about Whiteness.  Whiteness and White people are two very different things. They are not the same!  There are lots of White people; terrific, passionate, supportive, engaging.  What we are looking at here is the retention of a disgusting blur called “Whiteness.” If we are able to clearly identify and market those differences we would release the anxiety of a whole lot of White people who are currently stooped behind their couches wondering, “What is going on?” We will have to give them signature to come out against them. Whites will have to come out against Whiteness. It does not seem to me that they have a sense of internal freedom and/or safety to do that. So they sit in their homes and allow Rachel or Keith to speak their voice…or they have small dinner parties where they discuss it. There is no external way for them to identify other, so there is an understandable fear and apprehension about stepping out there – and turning around and there is no support.  Believe me, you have beautiful Whites out there.  It is the horridness of Whiteness that has currently been given voice and authority. Good Luck!!

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The University of Wisconsin and the partner universities that make up the University of Wisconsin System are moving from the concept of Diversity to one of Inclusive Excellence (IE).

Whereas the concept of Diversity was evidenced by an overt attempt to increase the University’s population of students derived from groups identified as “disadvantaged” or “under-represented,” the “I” in IE suggests a more inclusive posture – the inclusion of students from a wider framework of both social and ethnic minority populations.  The “E” argues for maintenance of the current academic integrity of the school.

So we have an expansion of the fabric with maintenance of the academic integrity.

My question to you is: What do you think of it?  How, from your perspective, might this be achieved?

Go to my blog and give me your perspective.  http://www.diversitycontact.wordpress.com

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I read an article today on “Fear of a Multicultural Nation” in which the writer commented on Tom Tancredo’s recent presentation.  Here is the link in case you want take a gander yourself.  http://www.truthdig.com/report/item/fear_of_a_multicultural_nation_20100210/  I thought I’d throw a comment on her comment. So there!!  Have a fun read.  

Would you believe I can’t find my comment on her comment anymore?  I’ll see if it gets cleared for posting.  If it does, I’ll cut and paste.  If it doesn’t – Oh well!!! 🙂

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Inclusive Excellence: Setting it up

In this presentation we look at how to set Inclusive Excellence (IE) up, what to look out for, and how to get it going.  The very first thing that tells you if your effort has any chance of success is the leadership of the Chancellor.  The very first thing you gauge is whether your Chancellor is a leader or a manager.  If your Chancellor is a leader – you have a shot at making this IE effort work.  If your Chancellor is a manager – stay two or three years, build your resume, and get out! It will not ever work there. 

Now remember, I am writing this on the assumption that you want this IE effort to be successful.  Your ambition could just as easily be about you…and then none of this really matters.  So do understand the perspective that I am writing this from.

Okay.  You need someone who is willing to go toe-to-toe with your Board of Regents (BOR).  This takes a lot of internal confidence.  If this job is to be done well, you must have your Chancellor in your corner.  The Chancellor must be committed to the vision of IE, and strong enough to articulate that vision to the BOR, in the language of the BOR. 

Many seem to think that it is nice flowing language that impresses the BOR.  It is not.  The BOR has a responsibility to maintain and/or elevate and/or defend the message that the University wants to send out to the world.  They say, “This is what we stand for, this is how we do it, and this is how we will maintain financial solvency while doing it.” So you have to help your Chancellor aggressively present why IE is important to this University.  Here are some questions that you must help your Chancellor respond to. 

  • How is this IE going to advance the University’s interests?
  • What do I, as a member of the Board, say to my constituents and donors?
  • How much disruption of the smooth flow of the University will this shift toward IE cause?
  • Why can’t we just dust the furniture again?  It seems fine enough to me and everybody else seems fine with dusting their furniture?
  • How much will it cost?
  • How long will it take?
  • How would we know when we get there?
  • What are the benchmarks to tell us we’re on the right course?

You give these answers to your Chancellor or work with him/her on responding to those challenges, and you will be fine…granted your Chancellor is a leader.  

What then, are the characteristics of a leader in that role?   You hear people identify characteristics like truth, ability to communicate effectively to different audiences, a clear sense of centeredness, knowledge of both the material and the politics, vision, purpose, ability to listen silently and effectively, supportive, fair, and having clearly articulated expectations.  For your purpose, it really does not matter how well your Chancellor matches that list.  What matters is that you see him/her as a leader who will have your back in a scrum. 

A Chancellor who is a manager will not work.

Why?

It offers an inversion at the top.  Those of you who have worked in school districts know what that looks like.  What this means is that your Chancellor goes to your BOR and asks, pleads, cajoles, begs, and demonstrates a general lack of commitment to, knowledge of, and backbone for.  Many times it is fear for his/her own job.  Many times it is just his/her weak nature.   Many times it is a dual relationship situation where they are golf buddies of dinner buddies.  Many times they really don’t believe what they’re selling.  Whatever the reason is, it is not leadership.  Their language is one of weakness.  It is impossible to negotiate from a position of “Please, may I…” 

Now, in there, I alluded to the Chancellor who is the co-conspirator.   This one is really hard to catch.  This is the Chancellor who calls you in, says all the right things, shakes your hand, finishes your sentences, interjects at all the right times with a well-placed “Hmm!” or “Yes, yes!”   You release yourself to him/her, he/she goes play golf with his/her buddies or have dinner, and they are all laughing at you.  That happens when there are heavy social relationships between the Chancellor and the BOR.   That is another really tough one to work with – particularly if you are looking for change.  This is not going to work too well. 

There is nothing wrong with any one of these.  It is just not going to work very well if you intend making changes.  You can hang out.  Build your resume.  Move on.

The true leader tends to be very insightful, a bit of an outsider, with a very fluid marriage between the left and right brain hemispheres.  For example; you might observe a sense of fluidity in artistry yet a strict lover of classical music. 

I did not mean to stay so long on this but understanding who your Chancellor is, is central to the success of your intervention.   Yes, IE is an intervention.  You want to frame it in developmental terms, but honestly, it is an intervention.   Let’s be honest: You won’t be there is there was a feeling that things were all honky-dory – right?  The fact that, in many cases, it is an external force driving the perception of a need for change, does not help things at all.  If the University thought there was a need for change, we won’t be having this conversation at all.  There would be readiness, coming from the top, for the conversation about IE.  All we’d be talking about is “How do we institute this change?”  Right now, many of you still have a whole lot of convincing to do.  Yeah, you have the job…so?

Back to the Chancellor and your relationship with him/her. 

The Chancellor has to buy it, internalize it, interpret it, and turn around and sell it to the BOR in packages that a hesitant and suspicious BOR might buy. 

We social activists tend to be all about, “This is the right thing to do,” and “Now is the time to do it.”  Many of us dress smooth, talk smooth, walk smooth.  The BOR does not buy that.  That is the wrong audience for “the smooth.”  The people who make up your BOR know that the world is not going to fall apart anytime soon.   Your well-articulated verse does not influence them in the least. 

So your Chancellor has to translate all that heavy passion into the language of listening for your BOR.  That is a social-business model.  Place the emphasis on the “business” part of the model.

  • You have to have confidence in your Chancellor’s translation.
  • You have to have confidence in your Chancellor’s leadership.
  •   You have to have confidence that your Chancellor will block for you.

Despite your best ego-play, you are not leading here.  Sorry!  Leave the big ego home and work through your Chancellor.

I am telling you, if your Chancellor is a true leader, he/she has blocked so many shots for you already, and you don’t even know about it.  I promise you.  They want you to do the work.  He or she will do the politics. 

This is why you do not make a move without letting the Chancellor know.  If you want the Chancellor to have your back, you must have his or her back.

Next time, we’ll talk steps.  We’ll start to set the frame for this thing called “IE.”

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