Just a little success at something.

David O’Rourke proposed an interesting activity at a meeting I attended yesterday. We’re focusing on our students who drop out, specifically those who are Native American because they are dropping out at a significantly higher rate than our other students. David is leading our three-district initiative.

Yesterday he asked us to take two minutes to think about one student who is failing two or more subjects and who’s unlikely to graduate. Imagine what he may need to get him there. Well, I’ve taken more than two minutes to think about it because I haven’t stopped yet.

It brings me back to this idea of one high school fits all again. Why? Because when I imagine what every student needs to stay in school, it’s success. She needs to find success in our school that’s so compelling it makes her want to return every day. It doesn’t have to be success at everything, but at something, at anything.

Let me use an example. When I attended elementary and middle school, I was in most of my classes with Leslie Horn. Leslie was smarter than me. She always did better than I did on every assignment, in every class. As a child thinks, I concluded that she was smarter than me, plain and simple. I don’t remember being upset about it, because I also knew that I was smarter than Ronnie B. Probably just about every kid could look to his right and see someone who was smarter and to her left and see someone who wasn’t. But what about the kid at the end? That’s the student we lose.

We need to provide lots of different opportunities to succeed that result in a diploma. Not just one way.

When Leslie and Ronnie and I got to high school, we went in different directions. Leslie went into the Honors courses; I went into the Business courses and Ronnie B. went into vocational courses. Each of us got to excel at something, got to stop comparing, got to find our own success. I remember being surprised when I won a DECA competition; just as Ronnie B. may have been surprised to find out he was terrific at fixing cars. But we got to find out. We got to take different routes and isn’t that what the rest of our lives is all about? When we enter the work force, we go in the direction of whatever it is we’re best at—I’m not singing and dancing on Broadway for a reason. And I love my job, because every day I get to follow my passion, education. With my students who struggle the most, all they get to do at our high school is more of what they struggle with, through remediation and AIS and doubling up on subjects they can’t pass.

Why does everyone have to get out of high school in the same way? Who decided that’s the only way that’s worthy? I want a school where we can help our students determine their strengths and do more of what they’re good at, whatever it may be. And I want to help them figure out what that is instead of showing them where they fall short.

  1. Yes Success……A little success goes a long way, and I also learned that relationships can make all the difference in the world. Some of us at EGHS attended Quality School Training by Dr.William Glasser. The whole training is about relationship, and I’m a firm believer that He is right. To make a difference we must establish relationship with our students, and find out something about them, sometimes just showing that we care can make a big difference. If you think about the way the students think, you will notice that they do the work from the teacher they like, someone who has shown some interest on them.
    My guess is that the Native American students in some clases feel totally out of place, they have few connection if any with adults or fellow students.If we put ourselves in their places we too would be incline too leave school as fast as we can. We as humans have a strong need to belong.
    My two cent…..:-)

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  3. Hi Kim, take a look at an article in the March 2005 Harvard Business Review, “What Great Managers Do” by Marcus Buckingham. I have it document protected within easy reach for the days when I feel like I am not getting through or maybe just missing the boat with an employee – usually right after I get over lamenting that I must be the only competent person in the entire organization :).

    Play to individual strengths and gone is the frustration, bickering about who got what assignment and resistance to any type of change. I know when I got it right because I find a willingness to go the extra mile and an energy that can be unstoppable. Employees come to work to do a good job and contribute – my job is help them be successful and identifying their strengths is one way to do it.

    Unfortunatley, there are managers who look at employees as people trying to get over on them, out to beat the system etc. They are easy to spot – their employee satisfaction rates are low, turnover rates, unscheduled absences and union activity are high, and it is a struggle for the department to provide satisfactory service or consistently meet their goals. How an organization deals with those managers successfully (or not) is another whole post but I just wanted to share the article with you. It is one of my favorites.

    Hey, on a personal note – would a girl from Long Island make a decent President of the Parent Teacher Council? I am hesitatant to throw my name in and that usually tells me that I should go for it. I have until Thursday to decide.

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