Disqus

Sunday, March 18, 2018

A Real School Leader and Thinker

Super important article to read - this is HOW we can help students who struggle AND have behavior issues.  More of this, less collecting data. 

A Deeper Look at the Whole School Approach to Behavior
(from NPR) about vice-principal Mike Essien, assistant principal at Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Academic Middle School (MLK) in San Francisco.

First, Essien thought he could “cocoon” the chronically difficult kids during transition periods, but that didn’t help the classroom dynamic. 

Then he and the counseling staff tried talking with kids who were sent out of class about what was going on in their lives. They hoped they could leverage the strong relationships they had with kids to get at the underlying problems. 

They found out that often kids were hungry and traumatized, but that didn’t ultimately solve the classroom behavior issues either.

“At the end of the first year it struck me that we were saying we were holding restorative conversations, but they could not be restorative conversations because the kids didn't do anything to us,” Essien said. “What needed to be restored was actually in the classroom between the teacher and the classroom where the disruptive behavior occurred.”

So, Essien started trying to support teachers to have restorative conversations in the classroom, at the moment when a disruption occurred. This sounds like a good idea, but in an environment like MLK disruptive behavior was constant, and teachers didn’t always have strong relationships with their students, which are the foundation of effective restorative practices. Restorative practices are still central to the school's approach, but the burden isn't all on teachers now.

That’s when Essien hit on the idea of sending support staff -- adults who don’t have teaching roles, like the social worker, deans, academic adviser -- into the classroom to help when a situation arose. He calls it “push-in” and his staff started implementing it at the start of Essien’s third year at MLK, but his first year as principal. They had no information about whether it would work or not because they hadn’t been able to run an accurate trial at the end of the previous year. All they knew was that something had to change.

When support staff show up in class they can either take over supervising the lesson so the teacher can step out into the hallway and resolve the issue with the student, or intervene themselves. The hope is to help de-escalate the situation and get the student back into class and learning. 

Eighth-grade students who have experienced these changes agreed that the school culture has improved at MLK. On the whole, they said they felt safer and more supported, although they acknowledged discipline felt stricter. 

Some students weren’t so sure that the push-in process had improved their relationships with teachers, though. They like teachers who demonstrate some understanding and give them chances to improve before getting upset. It was clear, however, that they like and respect the support staff, even saying they feel bad when a teacher calls for a push-in because it means a support person would have to come to the room.  

Overall, the disruptions feel worth it. Even better, by working more directly alongside teachers, support staff are sharing some of their knowledge about how to form deep relationships with students. Some teachers even ask for feedback on how they handled different situations, looking for guidance on how to improve.

What makes a good school, a good workplace, a good life? Relationships.  So, so important to kids. 

Principal as academic leader for teachers (which is their REAL job)

As an instructional leader Essien has credibility because he spent so long in the classroom, but when he started at MLK teachers were wary of him. He knew he needed to show them he could teach, so they’d trust him as a thought partner on how teaching practices could change.

Essien calls this “cognitive disequilibrium,” an experience that displaces teachers from some of their previously held beliefs. With behavior issues causing less stress, teachers are experimenting with project-based learning. MLK held a STEAM night where students displayed their work to the community.

“I’m the guy who is always thinking about how can we drill deeper. How can we make something better,” Essien said. “So although I feel good that we're making these changes, I'm thinking still: How can I support teachers in increasing their capacity.” This quality might also be why Essien has been successful at MLK, something he attributes to his special education training. He’s used to making a plan, evaluating if it’s working, and changing course if goals aren’t being met.
Mr. Essien's other great interest?
Essien became an administrator after more than 20 years in Oakland classrooms, where he taught math and special education. He saw firsthand how students responded to project-based learning that was connected to the real world when he became an instructor with the University of California Mathematics, Engineering, Science Achievement (MESA) program. The program supports students from low-performing or poorly resourced schools in STEM fields through hands-on competitions, summer learning and academic mentoring at school sites throughout the year.

“I saw that kids who are in public school, if they were exposed to certain pedagogy and had certain content, that they can learn regardless of situation,” Essien said. The program doesn’t use lectures. Instead, instructors try to hook kids by posing inquiry-based questions and empowering students to find answers for themselves.

“Kids had a great time, especially since in the project-based learning they had to produce something in the end,” Essien said. “So we had kids doing things like building prosthetic arms -- like literally building,” or figuring out how to measure the height of the Campanile on UC Berkeley’s campus. Essien was blown away by what kids could do. But even better, he saw those students return to school with more confidence, succeeding even when the pedagogy of their classrooms wasn’t as dynamic.

“Kids had a great time, especially since in the project-based learning they had to produce something in the end,” Essien said. “So we had kids doing things like building prosthetic arms -- like literally building,” or figuring out how to measure the height of the Campanile on UC Berkeley’s campus. Essien was blown away by what kids could do. But even better, he saw those students return to school with more confidence, succeeding even when the pedagogy of their classrooms wasn’t as dynamic.
“The students actually developed skills around agency that it didn't make a difference where they went and or who was teaching; kids began to excel in classes,” Essien said.
I would love to see Bill Gates fund this guy to train others and deploy this thinking throughout the country.  That would be money well-spent.

No comments: