Tuesday, February 22, 2011

"Look Me In The Eyes"

Our students simply want us to "look them in their eyes."  If we could look into their eyes and see all that they had to offer, we may begin to appreciate them a little bit more.  We might be able to remember back to when we were their age and wanted our teachers to look at us in our eyes.  We wanted to be seen as an individual and not just as a child.  You see, although our students are young children, they are still people and they have something to offer.

Why are we scared of them?  Is there a reason?  Are we scared of what they can and will become?  What if all teachers believed that we wouldn't allow any of our students to finish where they began?  Can you imagine the impact this would have on test scores, graduation rates and AYP???  What if we could pull out what was imbedded inside each child that we had the pleasure of interacting with each and every day?  How powerful would that be???

Our students will become what they know they are...BUT how do they know what they are if we don't take the time to expose them to the possibility of what they could become?

Monday, February 21, 2011

If Urban Prep can...so can we....



Urban Prep Charter School in Chicago has done it for a second consecutive year!  If they can, we can too! Sure they get to pick who attends their school every year and we don't BUT should that matter?  We can educate all of our students and move towards a 100% graduation rate from high school and have ALL of our senior class attend college, trade school, or enter the military.  Why not!  When we begin to seriously invest in ALL of our students...not just say that we are...but really and truly do it...we will begin to move towards these type of results.  The school will graduate 104 African American males this year...very sharply dressed, I might add.  They have been accepted to 103 different institution of higher learning.  

"On Wednesday, Urban Prep Academy for Young Men celebrated its repeat with a tie-exchanging ritual in which the final three seniors to receive acceptance letters exchanged their red uniform ties for red-and-gold ones as the other seniors did before them."

We must adopt the "by any means necessary" mentality.  That means not rushing out of the door at 3:00pm because that's the end of your work day.  You may have to tutor on the weekends, after school and before school.  Think back to when you were in school.  I'm sure someone reached out their hand to you just as someone did for me.  We have been passed the torch and bear that same exact responsibility.  After all, that is why we entered the field of education, isn't it?  It wasn't for the money and I think we can all agree on that!  Urban Prep has grasped the mentality of going above and beyond...

"Skeptics last year had questioned whether grads would actually attend college and be able to succeed in higher ed programs. One of the school's missions is to ensure students earn that bachelor's degree, so King and his staff have helped secure money for plane tickets, driven students to college campuses, held workshops for alumni in the summer and winter, and checked up on them. Of the 107 seniors in 2010—the school's first graduating class—101 enrolled in college, King said. Three went into the military and another three joined the work force."

If this doesn't inspire you, I don't know what will!  There are positive African American males all over the world!  This is just a small story....

Sunday, February 20, 2011


I urge all of you to watch this short video (parents, students, teachers, administrators, etc.) and become a member of studentsfirst.org.  Michelle Rhee, former chancellor of DC schools started this organization to have a group in place that would serve as an advocate for students.  I believe that this may be the beginning of change for a positive education reform across the nation.  Someone has to step up and start the change...why not you???

Having the right teachers in front our students is critical!

Towards the end of this clip Michelle Rhee discusses the importance of having the right teachers in front of the kids and why it's so imperative!  It's really just this simple.  If we want students to learn, we have to have the right teachers in front of them teaching them and educating them on a daily basis.  This type of individual has to be someone that cares about them...truly and genuinely cares about them and their well being.  Someone that wants to see them succeed and be a positive influence in their lives.

There are teachers that enter the profession to receive a paycheck, for a stable job, and for a guaranteed summer off. This mentality has to change.  We need better teachers in front of our kids.  Michelle Rhee, ex-chancellor of DC schools, had this in the forefront of her mind as she was in her position.  People had the audacity to see this as wrong and shunned her because of this.  How can we demand excellence from our students if we don't want to demand excellence from our teachers?

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

STOP "Waiting for Superman".....YOU ARE Superman!!!!!! (or Superwoman)

I JUST saw this movie today and my mind is racing all over the place!!!!!  EVERY teacher and parent that reads this MUST go and get this movie!!!!!  

I have been on the both sides of this coin.  First, I am a parent and have tried for three consecutive years to get my middle school son into a theme middle school in which its attendees were chosen through the lottery system.  He did NOT get in to this school either of the three years.  We were that family sitting at the end of the lottery with a disappointed son, upset, not knowing what we were going to do.  He is a very smart young man and we did what we needed to do to get him to attend a school where he is involved in the magnet program.  While watching the movie, my heart broke and tears streamed down my face because I knew, firsthand, what the families in  the movie were going through.  All because they simply wanted better for their kids....

As an educator, I totally understand the lottery process but it can't help but to make me think.  If ALL schools were operating at a level of excellence, we wouldn't need theme schools and magnet programs, etc.  If ALL schools were operating at a level of excellence, we wouldn't have to have lotteries for enrollment into our "good" schools.  Parents wouldn't have to consider moving (I am guilty of this as we speak!!!!) to ensure that their kids would go to a "good" public school because ALL public schools would be "good" schools.

I have heard over my years as an educator that parents blame the schools and schools blame the parents for the lack of motivation on the students part.  The students want things handed to them.  It's an entitled generation of kids....blah blah blah.  While I personally may agree with some of these things I also understand that as a human being we must STOP placing the blame on each other and simply hold each other to higher standards and levels of accountability.  Here's the solution!!!!!

  • Parents-DEMAND better schools for your students WHILE holding your students accountable.  It starts at home.  Demand excellence from your children in ALL aspects of their lives.
  • Administrators-DON'T hire mediocre teachers!  Only hire the types of teachers that you would want to teach your own children!
  • Teachers-Set HIGH expectations for your students and don't let any of them fail!  DEMAND excellence from ALL of them...not just your favorite students or the ones that you feel can do it....ALL OF THEM!!!
We all want better for our kids and teachers all want better for their students.  Personally, I don't know of a teacher that says, "______ just isn't smart enough...he can't do it."  I'm not dumb, I know there are teachers out there like this and you know what should happen to them???  Michelle Rhee was right on target with her practice.  I KNOW that I am a GREAT teacher.  I know a plethora of GREAT teachers and I don't think that they, nor myself would have had a problem giving up tenure (not that we have it) to risk being paid for what we do because I KNOW that we are all GREAT teachers.  Not only do we teach, we educate....I'm not saying any of this to toot my own horn, or brag, BUT I care about my students as if they were my own.  I want them ALL to succeed.  I KNOW that they can do whatever they set their minds to AND I am willing the help them get there!  

We ALL need to STOP waiting for Superman!  He's NOT coming....Instead, we need to KNOW that WE are Superman/Superwoman!  We hold the power.  If we all demand great things, the end result can be NOTHING short of greatness!!!!!  When are YOU going to step up and do something????  What are you going to do????  When does it begin???  The time is NOW and YOU are the person to get it done!  We have to stop looking around and saying that "someone" needs to do something about the problem....YOU are that someone...I am that someone!  

~Okay....I'm off of my rant and rave....for now, anyway!

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Creating a School Culture....

How awesome is this?????

After watching this video above, I was almost brought to tears at the thought of imagining the possibility of EVERY student in EVERY school across the United States feeling this important on their first day of school.  Is it impossible?????  I think not!  Sure this is a little extreme but the students at Magnolia High School get it!  The understand the importance of creating a culture and climate in their school building that makes the students feel important, valued and accountable for their learning.  Yes this video shows tons of fun but I would be willing to bet that the same amount of energy that went into making this video, also goes into the learning of the students every day.

When the students and faculty of a building feel appreciated and involved and like they matter on a daily basis, everyone works to improve student achievement.  The students begin to understand that there are high expectations that have been set that they must live up to them on a daily basis.  They begin to work harder to please their teachers.  The teachers don't mind staying after school to tutor students or for professional development or faculty meetings because they know that they are being supported by their administration.   It's all about the culture and climate that are set forth for the school.  Too many times, the parents blame the teachers, the teachers blame the parents and it's a never ending hamster wheel of the blame game!  Can you imagine if everyone worked together to improve the culture, the climate, and increase student achievement instead of blaming each other!  The possibilities would be endless!

A lot of students today don't feel like they matter to anyone. Some teachers are around for a paycheck and a guaranteed two month summer vacation.  Parents are working two and three jobs and aren't home to see their students, eat dinner with them or help with homework.  Something as simple as a teacher telling a student "Good morning" or asking them "How are you today?" could make all the difference in that students outlook on life and their purpose in life.  Imagine a school that values diversity...truly values diversity and appreciates everyone that walks through the door.  Public schools can't pick the students that walk through the doors each day, but they can choose to make them feel valued.....

The culture and climate must be set forth and trickle from the top down.  Administration sets the tone.  Can you imagine the face of your administrator if a group of students at your school asked permission to make a video similar to this one?  Would your administrator allow them to do it?  To this level of ensuring that the entire school was involved?  The administrator of this school gets it!  They are not afraid to allow their faculty and students to take risks.  THIS is the kind of school that values each and every student that enters through its doors everyday.  THIS is the kind of school that I would want my kids to attend because plain and simply put....THEY WOULD MATTER!!!!

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Our First Lady....

What an amazing day I have had today!!! I was Blessed to be able to spend some quality time with my 13 year old son today and take him to see Our First Lady, Mrs. Michelle Obama speak about getting fit and eating right. Her passion for this topic shines through her speech! She spoke about the plethora of changes that have been made just in the past year as a result of this new campaign that she has implemented. After she was done speaking, she started to shake hands....

Let me back up....first we were placed in an overflow room to watch her speech so we were kind of....hmmm....should I say "salty" about that! At the end of her speech when she began to shake hands in the room that she was in, the curtain in OUR room went up and the lights on the stage came on. Everyone ran up to the fence including us! We were on the front row of the fence and then all of a sudden....THERE SHE WAS!!!!! She was a vision in her cream colored suit and decorative broach. She was absolutely breathtakingly gorgeous! She made her way along the fence shaking hands and taking pictures. When she walked up to me, she shook my hands and looked into my eyes and said, "Pleasure to meet you." I smiled sooooo big and said, "You are such an inspiration...thankyou for that!" She replied..."Awww....thankyou!"

THEN she moved on to my son. When I tell you that I broke down into what Oprah calls the "ugly cry!"...I did! LOL! She shook his hand, gave him a hug and had about a minute conversation with him. She asked him his name, how old he was, how his grades were, and if he was handling his business. Then she said, "I have a daughter about your age, I'm gonna be watching you!" He couldn't stop smiling and neither could I!

For her to take her time out and shake everyone's hands, take pictures, and even personalize the conversations was amazing! I will NEVER forget this day for as long as I live. To be able to meet a first lady, let alone the first lady of the FIRST African American President of the United States of America was a humbling experience that I was honored to share with my son.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Shout out to my twinny!!!!

This evening when I went to check my mailbox and retrieve the usual bills and junk mail that are there every day, I was pleasantly surprised by a white envelope from an address in California...it was from my twin brother, Jermaine!!!! The card has two little kids on the front that could be twins so it was quite fitting for us!!! He has been reading my blogs, as I recently gave him the address and he sent me a card that said:

"May good luck and happiness rain down on you...."(on the front)
"....because no one deserves it more." (on the inside)

He then wished me success and luck in my blog writing...MY twin brother (my one of three...hehe) never ceases to amaze me! I am sooo humbled by his love and support of what I do (pursuing my doctoral degree and growing myself professionally and educationally....AND this blog!). He is my other half and is part of the reason that I wake up every day. There were times growing up that we didn't get along and he probably did things that I didn't agree with, as I'm sure I did...but the older we get, the more I realize how much of a BLESSING he is to me! I love him like no other! Publicly....I thank you, Jermaine K. Brown for being such a Blessing to me, a positive African American role model to my sons, and just an all around good guy! I love the way that you chase after your dreams and allow them to lead your life. I envy that in you....I LOVE YOU TWINNY!!!!!

Sunday, February 6, 2011

The 21st Century Learner....Imagine the Possibilities!

Wow! My new venture of becoming a techie nerd to increase my educational and professional learning knowledge is paying off! On Twitter this morning, I was introduced to the ischoolinitiative and was blown away! Travis Allen, a young man, while in high school in Fayetteville, GA created this initiative to save money in his school district and help with budget cuts. I am blown away and see the possibility of his hard work coming to fruition sooner than later. Below are the link to his blog and the video that I was introduced to on youtube. PLEASE take a look at it and really think about it! His initiative could eliminate textbooks across a district and have teachers, parents and students in immediate contact with each other. He is really taking learning in the 21st century to a new level. Currently he is a freshman at Kennesaw State University. I would love to have access to his product in my district and would be blown away if my sons had access to it for their education! Take a look at the video and imagine what we have to look forward to...all because of a high school senior!!!!!


Saturday, February 5, 2011

"What's Fair Isn't Always Equal...."

I am in the process of reading yet another book called "Fair Isn't Always Equal" by Rick Wormeli. He discusses that what we do for our students as far as differentiating instruction is fair but may not necessarily be equal for each of our students. He asks the question, "Did your teachers differentiate?" My first response was "NO...my teachers didn't." BUT they indeed did. They did things like rephrasing a question, extending a deadline, gave me a choice in assignments and provided me a few extra examples if I needed them. THAT is part of differentiating instruction.

Teachers hear those two words....DIFFERENTIATING INSTRUCTION and automatically associate it with a lot of work and offering the students a crutch to stand on. The more reading I do about the topic, the more conferences I attend, and the more thinking I do, this is not the case at all. Differentiating instruction is simply doing what is fair for our students. The purpose is to maximize the learning of our students...give them the tools to handle the situations that they are faced with, do different things for different students to ensure their success in our classes and in even simpler terms....IT'S HIGHLY EFFECTIVE TEACHING!!!!

When we really sit and think about it, the world is differentiated for us. You have a grace period to pay your mortgage, your college professors give you a preview of what will be covered by providing you with a syllabus on the first day of class, and if you do something like bouncing a check you are able to fix it. Sure you will be penalized and pay extra fees but you get a chance to fix it. I was once that teacher that stated to my students that "It's due on the deadline! No exceptions! The world is not fair! You have to do it the first time! You won't get any breaks in the real world!" I have had what Oprah calls an "AHA moment" in terms of differentiating instruction. If we look at it as simply doing what's right for our students and as highly effective teaching, we then take ownership of what it really is and the purpose that it serves.

Our students have more on their plates than we EVER did! So many of them come from single parent homes. They are working to help mom pay bills. They don't eat anything until they come to school and eat breakfast and lunch. They are involved in extra curricular activities and don't get home until late. Some of them don't have lights and heat at home. Some of them even live by themselves. Others don't have running water and can't take showers and brush their teeth. After they deal with ALL of this...HOW DARE WE NOT DIFFERENTIATE INSTRUCTION FOR THEM!!!!!! Who do we think we are????

Wormeli says it best when he says, "What is fair isn't always equal, and our goal as teachers is to be fair and developmentally appropriate, not one-size-fits-all equal."

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

A Positive African American Male....

The video above is of a positive young man...the Valedictorian of Booker T Washington High School, Mr. Deonte Bridges. The video is about 5 minutes long but it's definitely VERY powerful! I've watched it about ten times and even had my sons watch it. There ARE positive young, African American males in the world. I've never met the young man, but figured I would give him a shout out!

"What Great Teachers Do Differently!"

In preparation for an online class that a colleague and I will be teaching, I was given the opportunity to revisit a book from my Educational Specialists program. The book is titled "What Great Teachers Do Differently" and it is by Todd Whitaker. He takes the time to discuss and analyze what makes a GREAT teacher different from their colleagues. At the end of his book he has a list of the 14 things that he views matter the most when it comes to a great teacher. As I reflect back upon my teaching (and not to pump myself up) I must say that I am indeed a GREAT teacher! I surround myself with other GREAT teachers. Their greatness rubs off on me and my greatness rubs off on them....After reading this list, reflect on whether or not you are a GREAT teacher! Do you have areas of opportunity that you can improve upon?

“Fourteen Things That Matter Most”

  1. Great teachers never forget that it is people, not programs, that determine the quality of a school.
  2. Great teachers establish clear expectations at the start of the year and follow them consistently as the year progresses.
  3. When a student misbehaves, great teachers have one goal: to keep that behavior from happening again.
  4. Great teachers have high expectations for students but even higher expectations for themselves.
  5. Great teachers know who the variable in the classroom is: They are. Good teachers consistently strive to improve, and they focus on something they can control-their own performance.
  6. Great teachers create a positive atmosphere in their classrooms and schools. They treat every person with respect. In particular, they understand the power of praise.
  7. Great teachers consistently filter out the negatives that don’t matter and share a positive attitude.
  8. Great teachers work hard to keep their relationships in good repair-to avoid personal hurt and to repair any possible damage.
  9. Great teachers have the ability to ignore trivial disturbances and the ability to respond to inappropriate behavior without escalating the situation.
  10. Great teachers have a plan and purpose for everything they do. If things don’t work out the way they had envisioned, they reflect on what they could have done differently and adjust their plans accordingly.
  11. Before making any decision or attempting to bring about any change, great teachers ask themselves on central question: What will the best people think?
  12. Great teachers continually ask themselves who is most comfortable and who is least comfortable with each decision they make. They treat everyone as if they were good.
  13. Great teachers keep standardized testing in perspective; they center on the real issue of student learning.
  14. Great teachers care about their students. They understand that behaviors and beliefs are tied to emotion, and they understand the power of emotion to jump-start change.

~Todd Whitaker