“The Homework Ate My Family”

The above title is a quote from the video (shown above) produced by the Bookings Institute: Homework in America.  I came across the video while researching the impacts of homework.  As a parent, I hate homework.  It controls what we do every evening.  Everything depends on the amount of homework my children were assigned each night.  It causes my children to make sacrifices with their sleep and their own interest.  Most of the time I do not see the relevance of my children’s homework – it appears to be busy work. Technology and creativity are often lacking in the assignments.  As a teacher, I hate homework, as I think it contributes to the achievement gap.  Homework is completed outside of the school environment which is not controlled by the teacher and is different for every student.  Teachers assign homework thinking or hoping that every child goes home to a happy family with emotional and physical support.  That just isn’t true.

According to the National Sleep Foundation, sleep is “food for the brain” and “skipping it can be harmful.”  The National Sleep Foundation recommends that teenagers get 8-10 hours of sleep per night.  Do teenagers have enough time to get the recommended amount of sleep?  If a teenager gets up at 6:30 am and requires an average of nine hours of sleep, the teenager needs to go to bed at 9:30 pm.  Teenagers who participate in sports or after school activities arrive at home just in time for dinner (6:30 pm in my house).  That leaves only two hours until bed time.  Should all of this time be spent doing homework?  Teenagers need time to relax, read a book, and enjoy life.

I often hear “Maybe they should give up volleyball or being in the youth symphony.”   I remind them that it isn’t a question of handling the rigor of homework, but finding the time to do it.  Teenagers already put in nearly eight hours at school, so why do they need to do overtime?  Are we required to do overtime at our jobs in order to be successful?  Do we do that overtime right before we go to bed or sacrifice sleep to succeed?

Etta Kralovec and Hohn Buell, co-authors of the book “The End of Homework:  How Homework Disrupts Families, Overburdens Children, and Limits Learning” and that “Educators should stop squeezing time out of family life for the questionable benefits of homework.”  In the article, End Homework Now, they explain the myths that surround homework and how families need time to teacher their children too.

Teachers across the nation are starting the trend of “no homework” and are in support of kids being kids.  In the article Down With Homework:  Teacher’s Viral Note Tells of Growing Attitude, Young, a second grade teacher, informs the parents of her homework policy.  In the note Young said, “After much research this summer, I am trying something new. I ask that you spend your evenings doing things that are proven to correlate with student success.  Eat dinner as a family, read together, play outside, and get your children to bed early.”

Results from a survey done by the Today Show in 2014 showed that 75% of parents support a no homework policy.  The segment highlights some of the homework policies of schools across the nation.  While some school have switched to no homework, other schools have switched to no grading homework policies.  Most schools have done nothing, because it is a “contentious issue among parents.”

Not only does too much homework create less time for families, it could be making children ill.  In the article, Is Homework Making Your Child Sick?  Amanda Enayati states that “research shows that some students are doing more than three hours of homework a night – and that all that school work may be literally making them sick.”  Enayati discusses research that showed the correlation between excessive homework and physical health problems.   She also reported that the study indicated that “56% of the students in the study cited homework as a primary stressor in their lives.”

Is homework really necessary?  Is it worth out children’s health?  What is more important in the long run?

References:

[Brookings Institute]. (May 17, 2014). Homework in America:  The Homework Ate My Family. [Video File]. Retreived from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ArKr1exR2rg.

Enayati, A. (2014, March 21). Is homework making your child sick? Retrieved April 12, 2017, from http://www.cnn.com/2014/03/21/health/homework-stress/

Kralovec, E., & Buell, J. (2001). End Homework Now. Educational Leadership, 39-42. Retrieved April 4, 2017, from http://www.ascd.org/publications/educational-leadership/apr01/vol58/num07/End-Homework-Now.aspx

National Sleep Foundation Recommends New Sleep Times. (n.d.). Retrieved April 12, 2017, from https://sleepfoundation.org/press-release/national-sleep-foundation-recommends-new-sleep-times

Pawlowski, A. (2014, September 08). How a “no-homework” policy is working for these schools. Retrieved April 12, 2017, from http://www.today.com/parents/schools-try-no-homework-policies-amid-complaints-about-overload-1D80128324

Slotkin, J. (2016, August 24). Down With Homework: Teacher’s Viral Note Tells Of Growing Attitude. Retrieved April 12, 2017, from http://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2016/08/24/491227557/down-with-homework-teachers-viral-note-tells-of-growing-attitude

Teens and Sleep. (n.d.). Retrieved April 12, 2017, from https://sleepfoundation.org/sleep-topics/teens-and-sleep

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A New Standard of Service

If you would indulge me, I’d like to tell you a brief story.  In 2006, a high school student made a very poor decision (as teenagers often do) and decided to drive after she had been drinking.  It was New Year’s Eve and she had just left a party with friends when she ran a red light and hit another driver killing him instantly.  She walked away from this accident and has had to live with this terrible tragedy every since.  It wasn’t 24 hours before the local news outlets began blasting the story all over the print and media formats in Richmond.  The unfortunate side effect of this coverage, aside from the grief held by both families involved, was the dark cloud that settled over the school this young lady attended.  For months, there wasn’t a positive comment made about her school and the incident was attributed to the ‘type of student’ who attended this relatively new high school.  Fast forward 6 months and a forward thinking educator by the name of Kathleen Kern decided enough was enough.  She was sick of the negative cloud that hung over her place of employment that she decided to do something about it.  From this tragedy, grew a sense of purpose.  From this purpose grew a dedication to serve others.  A need to show the community what great kids attended this school emerged.  What followed over the next 11 years is an example of what service and transformational leadership is all about. The Deep Run Marathon Dance has become a way to not only give back to those less fortunate in and around central Virginia but it also became an avenue to teach young people the power of altruism.  www.marathondance.org

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As a secondary teacher, there is a lot of conversation about apathy and how it has become a commonly observed trait of young people.  Many teachers often talked about where this apathy started and how to we combat it in high school.  Analysis of a 2009 climate survey in Maryland for the target school revealed that 43% of the school’s total student body and 62% of the fifth graders scored in the “highly apathetic” range (Maryland State Department of Education, 2009).  One could argue that there are many contributing factors to this rise including but not limited to;  rise of high stakes testing, over exposure to technology (desensitization), and even drop in participation of extra curriculars. Many schools have put programs into place to try to alleviate the rise of this apathy like PBIS, anti-bullying programs, and more inclusive club options to try and engage more student involvement.

For Kathleen and the students of Deep Run, it was building the capacity to teach these young people how to utilize skills like collaboration, effective communication, long-term goal setting, problem solving, and the list goes on and on.  It was a chance to give these young people the autonomy to plan, organize, and implement an event that gave back to their community.   Many people in the Deep Run community congratulate Kathleen and she quickly corrects them and directs them to give those accolades to the student committee and the student dancers for their efforts. Her transformational leadership whereby a person engages with others and creates a connection that raises the level of motivation and morality in both the leader and the follower is evident through this event (Northouse, 2009).  To date, the Deep Run Marathon Dance has raised just shy of 2 million dollars for over 80 local non profits.

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Since 2007, thousands of young people who attended Deep Run have participated in this event and learned that in order to be a leader you must first learn to serve.  The best test is: do those served grow as persons; do they, while being served, become healthier, wiser, freer, more autonomous, more likely themselves to become servants? (Greenleaf, 1977). We can only hope that more building leaders see the longitudinal value in teaching young people the power of service.  The lasting impression this selfless approach has on the individual, the school, and the community will hopefully reverberate through society ultimately giving way to more kindness and a new educational standard for young people…serving others.

Timestamps for 2017 Closing Video

:00 – 4:51 –> Opening Skit   4:52 – 11:48 –> Beneficiaries Speak   11:49 – 16:12 –> Highlights

References:

Greenleaf, R.K. (1977). Servant Leadership: A journey into the nature of legitimate power and greatness.  New York: Paulist Press.

Northouse, P.G. (2013) Leadership: Theory and Practice (6th ed.). Thousand Oaks: SAGE

Maryland State Department of Education. (2007). Maryland school assessment technical report.  Retrieved. http://marylandpublicschools.org

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Princess Poppy’s Purpose: How movies can teach kids intrinsic motivation exists.

***Disclaimer: When your two and a half year old is sick the urge to give in to their every want is stronger than on any other day. This can lead to an understanding like no other of a children’s movie after an unbelievable amount of viewings.

Princess Poppy is a troll. Not in the ugly creature who lives under a bridge way, but in the extremely happy, dancing, singing and hugging fanatic kind of way. The community of trolls had been protected by her father many years ago from the dreaded Bergens, or so they thought. Bergens are miserable creatures who can only experience happiness when they devour an unsuspecting troll. One night after an extremely loud party to celebrate being freed from the Bergens for a full twenty years, tragedy struck. A Bergen who was trying to get back into the King Bergen’s good graces crashed the party and snatched several of Princess Poppy’s friends from the party. Princess Poppy went after the Bergen to try and get her friends back. She knew nothing outside of their small community of Trolls, only that she had to save her friends.

Despite the obstacles she faced, the largest one being she had no clue what she was doing nor did she have a plan for getting to her friends safely, Poppy remained positive. Her sidekick, Branch, was less than impressed with her preparation and planning for her trip. He was a No-No penguin (Kotter, 2005). Everything was doom and gloom for Branch, he was Poppy’s complete opposite in every way possible. His negativity and skepticism was at times the only thing keeping the two of them alive.

I won’t ruin the whole movie for you but I will tell you the part that you’ve probably already surmised by now which is the heroine of the story prevails and gets her friends home safely. Poor Princess Poppy had no clue what she was doing, she hit obstacle after obstacle and still accomplished her goals. But why? She had a purpose. Pink tells us that having a purpose that is higher than our own can create a sense of urgency and motivation (Pink, 2009). Princess Poppy’s mission was to save her friend’s lives. As the leader of her people her purpose was to protect them. Pink suggests that working in service of a cause that is bigger than ourselves is a motivator. Poppy’s actions were dictated by the need to affect change in someone else’s life in a big way. There was no reward for Princess Poppy, no carrots and no sticks, other than knowing that she was going to make a difference in the lives of others (Pink, 2009). Now while it wasn’t always cupcakes and rainbows for Princess Poppy she not only manages to save her friends, but also changes the way Branch sees life. Her positivity and determination show Branch that life doesn’t have to be void of adventure and happiness.

What is your purpose?

References:

Dreamworks: Trolls

Kotter, J. & Rathgeber, H. (2005). Our Iceberg is Melting: Changing and Succeeding Under Any Condition. New York, New York: St. Martin’s Press.

Pink, D. H. (2009). Drive: the surprising truth about what motivates us. New York, NY: Riverhead Books.

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Failing Forward

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Browsing through the DOE’s email to see what’s in the local news, I came across a story out of Fredericksburg that spoke to me about leadership in middle schools.  The Fredericksburg County School Board and the Fredericksburg Police department have teamed up to take action against bullying and instead show students what leadership really means.

“Leadership can be used in positive and negative ways … and when we look at leadership, it’s not the ones that are far ahead and managing people. They’re the ones that are coming alongside and helping people grow, and they’re influencing people to make better decisions for their lives.”

The certified trainers are working in association with John C. Maxwell to use their YouthMax Program as a way to teach students what positive leadership really looks like and how they, as pre-teens and teens, can be a positive influence on their peers.  While the article mentioned lessons on character development, confidence and other aspects of what makes a good leader; I was most intrigued by what they referred to as their lesson on “falling forward.”

Trainer Paul Gustavson explained, “You’ve got to learn to take those failures and make them learning experiences.  That’s all they are. Every failure you go through is an opportunity to learn.”  Paul’s message is pretty straightforward and one I believe middle schoolers should be hearing more regularly.  Middle school teachers know that this is the age where students are highly influential, forming their character and seem to be going in every direction all at the same time.  So many of the messages our society and the media send this group are about being the best and getting ahead.  At an age when they should be learning from mistakes, so many young people see even the smallest mistakes as full and devastating failures.  They see shame, embarrassment and all too often the value of what could have been learned is lost.

As I reflected on the idea of failing forward, I couldn’t help but to think about the support team required to help keep a leader on their truth north.  George describes this team as those who “keep you grounded in reality, and provide the support you need as you venture on your leadership journey” (2006, p. 117).  As teachers, can we do the same for our students?  I believe we should.  Educational leaders with a coaching style may be a good fit here.  They “believe people must learn from their own experiences, especially when failing” (George, 2006, p.195).  Students at this age do not typically respond to premature prompting to avoid a negative result.  Let’s face it, not everyone is going to respond to hearing, “Don’t touch that, it’s hot!”  Some of the lessons that have left the strongest impression on me (the ones I grew from personally) are the ones where I did touch the hot stove, but more importantly I was given the room to grow from the experience.  If a future leader can provide counsel to their teammates, the way that the folks on the Fredericksburg Youthmax Program are coaching their middle school students, then I think more people would embrace the idea of failing forward.

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Leaders fail too, so how can they fail forward?  An educational leader who can improve the strengths of their teachers, as well as develop and maintain positive, strong relationships with them is better equipped to recover from failure (Seligman, 2011).  Having a support team is essential.  As a concluding thought, there is great value in allowing yourself the time and space to gain experience.  Somewhere along the way this will include failure and I hope that each of us can remember Paul’s message to the students, they’re learning experiences.  That’s all failure is really, if we remember to fail forward.

References:

Dix, K. (2017, March 13). A positive direction for middles-schoolers: City police, staff and        schools work to fight bullying, promote leadership skills among youth. The Free                  Lance-Star. Retrieved from http://www.fredericksburg.com

George, B. (2007). True-North: Discover your authentic leadership. San Francisco,                      CA: Jossey-Bass.

Seligman, M. (2011). Building resilience.  Harvard Business Review, 89(4), 100-106.

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One More Reason to Love Dr. Sheldon Cooper

Chances are, you’ve seen the Big Bang Theory. According to Neilsen ratings, it was the most watched primetime television program of 2016, beating out even Sunday Night Football and it has been the most watched scripted television show for the past three years. It is a show about four cliché male scientists, who are brilliant but socially awkward, and their equally cliché beautiful neighbor who befriends them. I particularly love the show because it makes it seem “cool” to be a nerd. I wouldn’t say that any of the shows characters exhibit a tremendous amount of leadership. The actors who portray them, well that’s a different story.

Recently, the cast of the show made the news because all five of the original cast members had agreed to take a pay cut so that two of the other principle cast members could get a raise. This was a tremendous show of unity and, more importantly, leadership. Those five actors might not be the executive producers, but they showed textbook leadership according to Northouse. They recognized that there was inequity, and began the process of righting that wrong. They then used their collective influence until they successfully reached their goal and their cast mates received a salary more comparable to their own.

The thing that I think is more interesting, but is not being talked about quite as openly, is why those two actors make less money. And, to be clear, they don’t just make less money than their counterparts, they only make 20% of what the other principle actors make per episode. This discrepancy is particularly heinous because their screen time in recent seasons is almost the same as the rest of the principles, and one of them has been nominated for an Emmy four times for the role. The most glaringly obvious difference is that these two lesser-paid actors are women. Can anyone prove that their gender is the reason? Of course not! But we know that women only make about 80 cents to a dollar that a man makes. Even by those standards, these actors aren’t getting their fair share.

Interestingly, in addition to the additional salary that they will receive due to the aforementioned pay cuts, the two women are rumored to be demanding parity for the final two seasons. Contract negotiations basically require a person to promote themselves and justify their worth to the company. But the research says that women are seen as less hirable if they self-promote (Rudman, 1998). This means that negotiating is a catch-22 for women. The very act of negotiating her value makes a woman less valuable. Teachers might not get paid a tremendous amount of money, but that realization makes me glad that my government job will never require me to argue my own worth.

References:

Northouse, P. (2013). Leadership: Theory and practice. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.

Purcell, C. (2017, March 3). Here’s how much money the cast of the Big Bang Theory makes per episode. Retrieved from www.businessinsider.com.

Rudman, L. A. (1998). Self-promotion as a risk-factor for women: The costs and benefits of counter-stereotypical impression management. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 74, 629-645.

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We are born colorblind

A heartwarming news story caught my eye recently and reminded me just how much we can learn from young children. Over the years I have heard many sweet conversations take place in my classroom of 3-6 year olds. Inevitably at some point during the school year one or two children made the realization that they had different colored skin. I sometimes observed kids placing their hands next to each other and attempting to name the color. Pronouncements like “brownish” and “more grayish” were often made and then it was back to business as usual. But more often than not, my students did not see race, ethnicity, disability, socio-economic status, gender or anything else as a barrier to friendship and compassion. Children are born “colorblind” in every respect.

 

 

Once I overheard a rather heated argument between three kindergarteners and when I asked about the problem they each very carefully explained their positions. The two girls had decided they wanted to marry each other since they were best friends and the little boy told them that they wouldn’t be able to because only boys and girls could marry each other. One of the girls told him that she really could marry her best friend because her aunt had married hers. The boy was adamant, telling the girls that his parents had told him so and that people could go to jail if they did that. Children are born bias-free. All of their initial prejudices come from the adults in their lives.

While much of the culture outside of school walls has become unkind we can look to our students for guidance. They are the best example of the universal bond of sharing that connects all humanity and how we must rely on our differences to understand the world around us. But we cannot forget that they are growing and watching and learning. As educators we have both an opportunity and an obligation to model and offer children an environment in which they learn lifetime values. We can infuse multiculturalism into our classrooms and create school environments where all students can thrive together and understand that individual characteristics make people unique and not ‘different’ in a negative way. We can teach our students that there is great strength in diversity but they cannot learn that unless they are welcomed into an environment in which the adults are both accepting and inclusive.

With all of the political rhetoric swirling around us today, it’s easy to become deflated and hopeless. It’s easy to openly criticize our rather controversial president within earshot of our students. And if you’re like me, you might have a particular problem with the current administrations’ position on race relations. So how do we rise above it all and be good role models for our students? We can use the current political climate as the tipping point for educators to recommit to teaching values and to work with our professional staff to continuously improve a learning environment that facilitates the awareness, appreciation and inclusion of diverse beliefs and cultures. After all, preparing students to live and work in an integrated world and contribute to improving society fulfills the intended purpose of all educators.

As Michelle Obama said in one of her last public speeches as first lady:

“Our glorious diversity, our diversity as the faiths and colors and creeds, that is not a threat to who we are — it makes us who we are … To the young people here, and the young people out there, do not ever let anyone make you feel like you don’t matter, or like you don’t have a place in our American story, because you do, and you have a right to be exactly who you are.”

 

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Sources:
The National Diversity Council
NBC news and politics
CNN politics

 

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Leaders That Can Admit They Have Made a Mistake

Uber CEO Travis Kalanick admits he ‘must fundamentally change as a leader and grow up’

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Do leaders make mistakes? When leaders make mistakes, who is responsible for pointing out their mistakes? In any business or structure environment, the leader is always looked to as the person with the answers to all questions and guidance during tough situations. Often they are expected to make the correct choices on big decisions that will affect business growth and employee’s lively hoods. One of the qualities of being a good leader is being able to determine when they have made the wrong decision and they take ownership and move forward to try and correct their mistake. Becoming an effective leader requires reflection on past mistakes, taking responsibility for past mistakes, and using those previous mistakes as a learning platform to make changes and avoid the same mistakes in the future.

Recently, I read a news post by Recode, which talked about the CEO of Uber, Travis Kalanick, apologizing for comments and yelling at one of his drivers. The driver made a complaint to Travis Kalanick about how new work policies have negatively affected his income. From reading the article and watching the video, the CEO blames the driver current condition on him and feels that the driver needs to take responsibility for his actions. The CEO failed to understand and relate to the drivers concerns. Later after the driver posted the video of their encounter, the CEO admitted he was wrong and furthermore acknowledged that he needs help with being a better leader.

In this situation, what caused the leader to self-reflect and admit that he needs help on being a better leader? Does CEPO actually feel that he needs guidance on being a better leader? Is he admitting that he needs help because the altercation was posted online resulting in millions seeing and hearing about the incident, and consequently, the CEO is in fear of losing his business?

Being a leader is like anything else in life, you are going to make mistakes. As a leader you are expected to take calculated risks and the reality is at times, those risks will lead to failure. A leader that opens oneself to vulnerability shows his followers that he has the confidence to accept challenging oppositions and is not afraid of failure. A good leader not only understands his failures, but is also able to analyze the mistakes that were made and move forward. Making mistakes is part of the leadership experience and it helps to contribute to your growth as a leader, and as a person. Followership does not expect perfections from their leaders, however they do expect them to be honest and admit when they have made a mistake. Leaders that admit to their failures help to build a culture of trust among their followers.

Source

https://www.recode.net/2017/2/28/14772416/uber-ceo-travis-kalanick-apology-driver

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