Education going forward,
Education going back
by Deb Austin Brown
As it turns out, three years after retiring from teaching in West Virginia public schools, I still have an opinion about education. A strong opinion. An opinion based on more than forty years of reading, research, study and practice. For thirty-seven of those years, I rolled up my shirtsleeves each day and went to work in the classroom trenches with kids. I loved every minute of it, and I learned a lot. I learned a lot about what works and what doesn’t work in helping students to achieve personal, academic, and professional excellence—and in helping them to become truly successful in school, the workplace, and life.
These last three years, I have watched from the sidelines as educational stories were written and broadcast in America. During that time I have kept up with research and reading; I have volunteered in schools; I have talked with students and teachers. I have listened and learned. So when I engage in national conversations and debates, I want to shout out from the West Virginia mountaintops that I know the answer. I know what schools need to do in order to ensure a successful future for students, our state and our nation. And it will boost our economy in remarkable ways without costing even one educational cent.
These days the more new educational trends that appear on the horizon, the more educational bandwagons we jump on. And when doing so, our focus on what really matters sometimes gets blurred or lost. We often spend large amounts of money on exciting new things that may or may not reap dividends. There is certainly some value in jumping, but the foundation for the jump must first be solid and sound.
Since 1635 when public schools were first established in America, there have been basic principles of good character—timeless in value—that have become the foundation for all that we do in schools. We need never to lose sight of those values. In going forward, we must go back—back to those basics in order to make the new things work. During my teaching career, I loved the new trends and technology that came down the pike, but I found that they worked best when synchronized with character education. It is the weaving together of academic and character threads that strengthens the fabric of American education and the fabric of our American economy. History has proven that when we omit the character thread, the entire fabric of our country begins to unravel.
In order to train a most efficient and productive workforce, schools need to equip kids with character skills as well as academic skills. The American workplace needs students who are respectful, responsible, honest, trustworthy, skilled and hard working. How can we expect those traits in our graduates unless we intentionally teach them? There are nine compass points—the 9Cs— that we must teach if our workforce is to thrive in the global community: critical thinking, communication, collaboration, creativity, common respect, core integrity, civic responsibility, character, and the common good.
Good teachers stand on the horizon of tomorrow and show students what is possible. They model good character; they teach initiative and success strategies; they encourage excellence; and they inspire greatness.
Teaching for character changes things because it changes people. With character education, students come to care about their education; they work hard to achieve excellence. They develop personal, academic and professional integrity; they exhibit initiative, self-direction, and a remarkable work ethic. They succeed in school because it becomes intrinsically important to them. They go on to become successful in the American workplace and as socially responsible citizens who contribute for the common good.
Character teachers with high standards and high expectations are the key. They are the true architects and builders of human potential and the economic landscape. They spend their time, their energy, and their lives investing in our greatest American resource—children. I believe that students intrinsically want to be good and great, but they hunger for the how. Good teachers who teach the how—character lessons and success strategies—along with the academics, help our students soar to successful places in school, work, and life.
With the last days of school on the horizon, it is a good time for thought and reflection. Let’s use summer as a time of honest dialogue and planning. Let’s renew our commitment to our children by incorporating character education as a core component of our curriculum.
Education going forward is contingent on education going back. Going back to the basics will help us to go forward in wonderful ways. That’s the educational initiative we need in order to secure a promising future for our students, our state, and our nation.
Deb Austin Brown is an award-winning teaching veteran and the author of five books about character development. She can be reached at: www.99successstrategies.com.
Teaching for Character
Resetting Our American Compass for the 21st Century
History is the best teacher. In any century.
Almost twenty-four hundred years ago, the great Greek philosopher Aristotle taught that the only way to be happy is to be good. His studies on moral and intellectual virtue raised the bar for teachers who want to call their students to personal, academic, and professional excellence.
In the twenty-first century in every American community, there are obstacles crowding the educational horizon: fragmented families, unemployment, poverty, drugs, violence, neglect, abuse, crime, disrespect, the Me-mentality—and a shift in core values, principles, and priorities. These challenges put holes in our boats and make it difficult to navigate the seas of life. The regattas of boats sailing to the finish lines of life are in definite danger. We need to reset our educational compass; we need to make intentional efforts to help young sailors find their way.
Each day in the classroom trenches, teachers go head-to-head with the real educational enemy—apathy and indifference. Overall, American kids today don’t really care that much; they are not truly hungry for an education. They are not intrinsically driven; they are not passionate about their future. There is no real look of ambition in their eyes. It is disheartening to see.
And so, when setting high expectations and delivering the rigors of the curriculum—teachers must do more; they must be more. They must be a master motivator, counselor, advisor and sage. They must integrate 21st century learning skills with character education, success strategies, and academics. They must teach students everything from how to sit up straight, listen and look people in the eye—to how to set goals, see beyond today and get ready for the world of work. It would be a tall order in a 24/7 world—a definite challenge in the 7/5 educational setting.
The twenty-first century is demanding more of teachers than at any time in American history. No longer is it simply enough to teach the 3Rs: reading, writing and arithmetic. Today there are nine compass points—the 9Cs— that we must teach if we are to survive and thrive in the global community: critical thinking, communication, collaboration, creativity, common respect, core integrity, civic responsibility, character, and the common good.
One C that we must avoid is simple compliance. Teaching compliance is easy, and it is easy to measure. Textbook-driven curricula produce a focus on minimum competencies; standardized testing measures mastery of the minimums. Anyone can be average. Is that all we want for our kids to be? What about excellence? What about ambition and innovation? What about goodness and greatness?
We need the hook of meaningful and relevant education to reel in our students to the joy of lifelong learning and the thrill of achievement. If we teach character and initiative, we will see the look of excitement and determination in their eyes. It is an important step in the upward spiral to success.
Teaching for character changes things because it changes people. With character education, students come to care about their education; they work hard to achieve excellence. They develop personal and academic integrity, self-direction, and a remarkable work ethic. They succeed in school because it becomes intrinsically important to them. They go on to become successful in the American workplace and as socially responsible citizens who contribute for the common good.
Teaching character and initiative is difficult and demanding work; it requires Herculean effort. If you do it right, you are truly spent at the end of each day. It is exhilarating to see your students motivated and engaged in learning—going beyond minimum requirements and soaring to maximum achievements. Good teachers stand on the horizon of tomorrow and show students what is possible. They model good character; they teach initiative; they encourage excellence; and they inspire greatness. And on the tests of life, they get real results.
Today there is much negative noise in the news about public education. Perhaps it is time to get away from the noise and do some quiet thinking. Reflection is the first step in positive change. Think about the kids. What do you see when you look in their eyes? A love of learning? A determination to succeed? The hook and the look? We need to make sure that all students have these passions.
It is time to reset our compass, renew our resolve, and expect more. An upward shift in focus is needed. From minimums to maximums. From mastery to excellence. From compliance to initiative. From common core curricula to character education. These are noble and needed goals for our century.
Character teachers with high standards and high expectations are the key. They are the true architects and builders of human potential. They spend their time, their energy, and their lives investing in our greatest American resource—children. I believe that students intrinsically want to be good and great, but they hunger for the how. Good teachers who teach initiative, character lessons, and success strategies—along with the academics—help our students soar to successful places in school, in our communities, and in the workplace. That’s the educational initiative we need in order to secure a promising future for America and the world.
What can you do? Join the cause of resetting the compass of American education to its true north—teaching for character. Be a giver, a doer, and a supporter of character education. Remember that it takes school, community, business and family partnerships to make this thing called school work.
We are all charged with educating the next generation of Americans. It is a most noble calling. There is no work more vital to our nation and for our world.
It has been said that whatever we build in life ends up building us. If that is indeed true, character teachers are skyscrapers on the American landscape. Teaching the 9Cs along with the 3Rs will help our students meet with success and set sail on the sea of their dreams.
Deb Austin Brown is a thirty-seven year teaching
veteran. She is the director of the Alban Elementary Success Club and the author of four books about character development. She is a 1991 winner of the Milken National Educator of the
Year Award and the 2010 recipient of the Paul J. Morris Character Educator of the Year Award.
Reclaiming American Education
Let’s help students fall in love with learning!
As March is pulled from calendar pages, thoughts turn to standardized testing in American schools. It is as much a part of the April landscape as daffodils and tulips. This year, I will not be part of the testing process. After thirty-seven years as a public school teacher, I have left teaching and moved on. Moved on to help students achieve personal and academic excellence in other ways—outside of the classroom.
Public education’s intense focus on testing has always troubled me. Sure, I agree that students must be tested for skill mastery. But, testing should not be the most important thing in public schools. But, in far too many cases, it is. Today’s schools seem to spend more time on data collection than on teaching. Testing and assessment should be one small slice of a balanced approach to teaching and learning. Other slices of the pie that we need to focus on include: cultivating respectful and cooperative learning climates; developing supportive and nurturing relationships with students; ensuring that teachers have more time to teach; raising the bar of academic and personal excellence; instilling a love of learning in children; and modeling and teaching character lessons and success strategies throughout our schools.
It is not enough to teach our students to be smart. We need to teach them to be good. Good people, good students, good workers, good citizens. I believe that kids want to be good and want to be great, but they hunger for the how. That is where character lessons and success strategies come in. Over time, teaching to the test edged out these and other important lessons. If American schools would get back to its foundational priority of teaching academics and character hand-in-hand, our schools would be better places for kids to learn, grow, excel, and achieve. By cultivating self-direction, a strong work ethic, and academic and personal integrity—students would be truly ready for the American workplace. The character and fabric of American life, business, and economy would be strengthened in wonderful ways. America would do more than survive; it would thrive.
Why are schools not able to step up to the plate to focus on these needed and important building blocks? Their plates are already full. Heaping helpings of test and assess have filled American educational plates to the brim. There is simply no time or room for anything more.
Since there is less time for teaching in America, there is also less time for learning. And with America falling farther behind in global educational rankings, it is obviously not the path for American education to take.
This week the testing debate is heating up again. News outlets reported the story of Massachusetts teacher, Susan Sluyter, who wrote a touchingly heartfelt letter of resignation from a 25-year job that she loved. Why? She honestly could not handle the heavy-hitting politics and pressure of the testing climate any longer. This caring teacher had had enough. She missed teaching. As she read excerpts of her letter on the news, tears welled-up in my eyes. My heart echoed the sentiment. Ask any good teacher his feelings on the subject. The apple won’t fall far from the Massachusetts tree. We don’t need the kind of educational climate that puts scores ahead of scholars. We don’t need the kind of high-stakes testing that pressures schools to cheat in order to secure elite rankings. We don’t need the kind of curriculum that is designed to teach to the test. We need the kind of educational climate that inspires and motivates kids to love learning and to work towards skill mastery and academic excellence.
What happened to the good old days of public education? When teaching was a calling? When teachers were respected, trusted, and allowed to teach? When academics and character were taught hand-in-hand? When educational decisions were made with common sense and wisdom—with the kids in mind?
What happened to the time in America when teachers and students loved to go to school each day? Testing had its place, but teaching was the real priority. Teachers loved to teach; students loved to learn. There was joy in each school day. We need to bring back those days.
What we have now is a nation of schools who seemingly test more than they teach. Who could have imagined such a day in America?
Research tells the story. Retention of knowledge is 800% higher when students are enjoying school and engaged in learning. So why did we go overboard on testing and take the joy of learning right out of our schools? Oh, our intentions were good. In an effort to do the right thing, we have gone overboard. And now, we are drowning in rough and dangerous waters of our own making. The result? Each day in America, teachers look out over their classrooms and see that many of the seats are filled with apathy and indifference. It’s sad to see. Actually, it’s more than sad. It’s tragic.
The politics and pressures of overemphasized testing have no place in American schools. They take the joy out of teaching and learning; they send the wrong message to parents, students, and society. They suggest that the standardized testing week is the most important week of the school year. That day-to-day learning and effort don’t count for much. And, even though school continues for weeks after the spring testing window, kids feel like school is over once the big test is turned in. After the test, we need for students to put in more than time. We need for them to put in effort and enthusiasm. We need for them to stay the course of their education with integrity and excellence.
Let’s reclaim American education. Let’s give students what they really need in order to be prepared for life in the twenty-first century. Let’s put testing in its proper place as one slice of the American pie. Let’s readjust our focus to include the other essential pie slices, as well. Let’s create positive learning climates for our students where teachers have more time to teach. Let’s help kids fall in love with learning. We will love what happens next!
Deb Austin Brown is a recently retired public school teacher with 37 years of experience. She is the author of five books and is a national speaker in the field of character development. She is the founder and director of the Saint Albans Success Club—which teaches kids to be smart, good, and successful. Ms. Brown may be reached through the website: 99successstrategies.com.