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What Does a Revolving Door at the Top Say About A School System?

JCCH_Revolving_DoorBy Nick McDaniels

It’s about time that I get off my soap box about the revolving door of teachers in big city school systems!  I’ve been a teacher for seven years, blogging here for most of that, and I have consistently criticized the revolving door of teachers, but have failed to really reflect on the revolving door of superintendents, or, as they would like to be called, Chief Executive Officers.  In seven years in Baltimore City Schools, I have known 4 CEOs–two permanent, and two interim–and on July 1st, I will know my fifth, as Baltimore City Schools crowns a former Chief Academic Officer the newest CEO. What does this mean for me, personally? Not a lot. The actions of a CEO don’t impact my day-to-day in measurable ways, though, over time, it may impact my year to year.

But that’s just it. CEOs don’t often get to stick around long enough to impact anything, and if they do, the impact of their leadership is not really felt until after they are gone.  What does this say about the revolving door at the top? About the long-term vision for Big City School Systems? What does it say for the rank and file who come back year after year to see CEOs either leave for greener pastures or get fired for, well, not really being any better or worse than the last person?

I can’t necessarily speak to all of that. But I can speak to what it says to me. No person within school system, no matter how brilliant, how experienced, how well-paid, has a recipe for fixing the problems poverty creates for a school system and the community it serves. And as such, one CEO comes in, is set up to fail, and another CEO comes in to replace that person, thus giving taxpayers the illusion that the government officials, whether elected or appointed, who get to call the shots, are doing something about the problem.

Instead, they are just running an assembly line of people who will take the fall for their own inaction. I don’t feel sorry for the CEOs who lose their job, because the salary is worth the fall at the end. But I do feel sorry for the rest of us, the students mostly, who are pawns in this game of kicking the can, false hope, and deflection.

The Self-Fulfilling Prophecy


By Dhanya Nair

A large part of my summer is currently being spent on taking a course about counseling children and adolescents; I often walk down memory lane as I read about concepts like attachment and modeling. And, I think frequently about the power vested in adults. People often refrain that childhood is the most carefree period in one’s life, however I beg to differ. Children face the immense task of initiation into the adult world. There are constant pressures on them to toe the line, to be a “good” kid, to get along with peers, to be an all-rounder…the list is endless!

I am reminded of one of my classmates from school in India as I write this piece. The average class size in my school was about 30 and the class would be firmly divided on the basis of grades- the “good” and “poor” students. The “poor” students would consistently remain “poor” and any behavioral indiscretion on their part would mean banishment to the corner spot in the classroom where they would stick out like a sore thumb. I guess the idea behind the punishment was to shame the student into obedience. One of the “poor” students happened to be the aforementioned classmate, who also had the reputation of being a bully as he routinely got into fights and overpowered most of his opponents. He was more often than not banished to the corner spot in the classroom from where he would make faces at the rest of us or doodle idly. However, one day, things changed for him, our seventh grade science teacher announced that he was incredibly bright. We were stunned and stared at her in disbelief when she told us that she had discovered he was a quick learner while coaching him for a test. After that point, he did not seem to get into as many fights. And years later, I discovered that he had secured an engineering degree from an Ivy League school in the States. I can’t help but think that my science teacher’s discovery of my classmate’s “hidden” potential could have well started him off on his journey to academic excellence.

The “self-fulfilling prophecy” concept in social psychology refers to the phenomenon of behavior being influenced by prior expectations. I believe that my classmate’s better academic performance in middle school and high school was positively affected by the altered perception which others had gained of him. Very often, children become victims of the self-fulfilling prophecy not just because others around them expect them to act in certain set ways, but also because they internalize messages received from these external sources. Labeling in schools as well as homes can have a lasting impact on children’s development. A “lazy” child will be seen as a sluggard no matter what she/he does, and the lore will be passed around to everyone in the child’s life leading her/him to internalize that message.

Gender-priming, also, I believe, strengthens the self-fulfilling prophecy effect. Why is it that women in developed and developing nations alike are not well-represented in STEM (Science Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) professions? Is it because society keeps propagating the myth of men being good at science and math and women being good at languages? There is optimistic news from the scientific fraternity now about female performance on math and science tests, it seems like in societies where more gender equality exists, females perform as well or nearly as well as males in math and science. And, now, on that happy note, I need to treat myself to some coconut French toast!

Week One “The more you read … The more you achieve”


By Charlotte Adnams 
Sixty 2nd and 3rd grade students trickled into the Hartman Center Monday morning fresh-eyed and excited for the start of the Dwyane Wade LIVE TO DREAM: Summer Reading Program, the program’s second year at Marquette. The morning started with the students hearing from a special guest, Tragil Wade, the Director of the Wade’s World Foundation and Dwyane Wade’s sister. The students gathered in a cluster on the floor listening to Ms. Wade encourage and emphasize to the young learners the value of reading. Though he was not able to physically join the students, Dwyane Wade supported the students via video expressing his passion for reading and his encouragement for them as they begin the summer reading program.
The 12 “Wade Coaches,” graduated and current Marquette Education students, spent the first week getting to know their students and doing several pretests as a way of gauging where the students are to help them excel in these next few weeks. Each mini-classroom is adorned with its own theme, providing a comfortable and encouraging space for the students to learn, along with the over-arching theme of the program, the “Reading Olympics.”

Throughout the day students have recess, snack, and lunch breaks so they can get all of their wiggles and soccer moves out. This new addition of the morning snack and lunch program is funded by the Summer Food Service Program.

There are many fun things ahead for these 60 students as they embark on their journey of enhancing their reading and writing skills, this first week was only the start!

Out with the old, in with the new: Getting ready for 6th grade (again!)


By Sabrina Bartels

Last Thursday, I said goodbye to my wonderful 8th grade students. While I made it through each of their completion ceremonies without crying (that was a shock!), I won’t deny that I shed a few tears when I got home. I was relieved. I was nervous. I imagine this is what most parents are like when they send their son or daughter off to college. I was so proud of my kids for making it this far, and I was so nervous about how their lives would evolve from this point forward. As I told one of the high school counselors, these were my kids, and I felt like I knew them pretty darn well. Would the high school counselors know that the best thing to do when Patrick got angry, was to leave him alone for a few minutes to let him sort out his emotions? Would they know that Drew acted like he knew everything, but was incredibly vulnerable and would become upset when he encountered difficulties in school? Would they be able to coach Hannah through her emotional troubles, and would they provide a listening ear when Lily sobbed about her parents and their recent divorce?

I know the high school counselors are fantastic – I interned with a few of them. But when you spend three years of your life getting to know students, you become ingrained in their lives. And they become a part of yours. I can’t tell you the number of students who asked (rather hopefully) if I was going to become a high school counselor. Then there was a fight about which high school I would work at … I think my students compromised that I would just have to split my time at both.

As sad as I am to lose my current 8th graders, I am very excited for the new 6th grade class. I’ve already been brainstorming some ideas of things that I want to do with them. Some things are different than what I did the first time around; I’ve learned some new skills, and found some new things online that I would like to attempt. At the same time, there are some things that I did with my class that I think was really helpful.

  1. A paper bag speech. One of the other counselors in my building strongly recommended that I do this with my incoming class three years ago, and I’m so glad that I did. It gave my students a chance to see me as a “real person,” not just as a counselor. It also gave my students different ways to remember me – every one of my students can tell you about the high heel tape dispenser in my office and my love of shoes!
  2. One-minute meetings. I actually heard about this on Pinterest and Facebook; a number of counselors use this technique to check in with their students. They will hold one-minute meetings with each and every one of their students. It’s a way to quickly check in with everyone. This also provides students with accessibility to me – they don’t need to worry about coming down to my office and how that will look to their friends. If there are students who need more than one minute, I can follow up with them. I could do these one-minute meetings once a month, and then use the rest of the days to follow up and do responsive services.
  3. Positive praise. I’m not 100% sure yet how I will integrate this into my practice, but I’m going to find a way. A video was circling on Facebook about a special education teacher who started every day by calling each student up and telling them something positive about themselves. According to the teacher, this revolutionized the way his classroom ran. Behavior referrals decreased, test scores went up, and students were overall happier. Finding time to meet with 200+ students every day to say something positive may be difficult, but hopefully I’ll figure something out. This might require extensive collaboration with my teachers.
  4. More groups! I would love to figure out how to do more lunch groups with my students, or groups in general. It would be a good way to teach skills to a very specific group of students. I haven’t quite figured out which groups I would like to run – it all depends on the needs of my students – but I have some ideas: a group on the use of social media, a self-esteem group, and possibly a group for boys. I feel like a lot of my groups in past years were focused more on girls; I would love the challenge of working with a group of boys.

I will keep everyone updated on how it goes! Suffice to say, I am very excited to meet my incoming group of 6th graders!

Fel’s Regret List: my attempt to live vicariously through my students as they head off to college

Graduation-HatsThe last day of class with my AP English Seniors is always an emotional one. I’ve come to adore these scholars over the course of their high school careers. As I bid them farewell, I leave them with two final handouts: a reading list: Fel’s Kicking and Screaming List and a list of college advice, the content of my blogpost this month:

Fel’s Regret List: Wisdom in Hindsight from a College Grad

  1. Foreign Language. The more, the better. My do-over would include Latin (for a solid knowledge of roots and etymology). Never again will you have an opportunity to REALLY Learn foreign languages, and doing so will vastly improve your language and vocabulary facility in deep and authentic ways.
  2. Travel. Even though you will inevitably be broke in college, never again will it be as cheap to travel, nor will you ever be able to immerse yourself in a foreign culture for a prolonged period of time as you will if you study abroad in college. Trust me on this one.
  3. Don’t work too much. During the school year, work for petty cash, but not for tuition. College debt is both the best debt you will ever accrue and the best investment you’ll ever make. Dive in head first. Don’t spend all of your time studying and working (see #8 below).
  4. Take some weird, interesting classes, making yourself a little more weird and interesting in the process—consider judo, basic drawing, African literature, art history, Japanese, fencing, music theory, ballroom dancing…you get the idea. And (this is a beautiful thing) you can audit classes, so you can simply enjoy them without the stress of credits or grades.
  5. Cavort with your profs. Use their office hours. Most are pretty brilliant and fascinating creatures who love talking with their students one-on-one. Get help thinking through a paper you’re writing, ask for clarification of a concept in class, or just ask them their views on your latest ponderance about the universe. I have ALWAYS left professors’ offices glad that I had made the effort, and I saw almost all of my prof’s during their office hours at least once.
  6. Set an artificial deadline for your papers (1-2 days before they’re actually due). If you stick to that deadline, allowing yourself a day to polish, you’ll receive a higher grade, and more importantly, your paper will be significantly more focussed and eloquent, cementing the impression that you are a good thinker and an effective communicator.
  7. Pursue a scandalous love affair with your University Library. Need I say that these palaces of wisdom are oozing with morsels of knowledge yet unknown to your noggin? I’m talking about millions of books; thousands of magazines. So rummage around; shake up your thinking: humble your ego; get lost in the stacks! Play Fel by spending a couple hours in the library on Friday afternoons perusing magazines and journals you never knew existed.
  8. Read and heed kiosks! (the free-standing bulletin-board-like things with about 10,000 staples in each, located all over campus). They will alert you to the notable, the cool, the quirky—the campus goings on. Carve time out of your life to experience some of these things—never again will there be so much going on around you, and most of it’s free. This is your chance to become even more interesting, cultured, and worldly than you already are: musicians, foreign film festivals, poets, radical thinkers, foreign dignitaries, etc…they show up on college campuses. Take advantage of this phenomenon!
  9. Check out the local arts scene: repertory theatres, symphonies, art museums, etc…Most have obscenely reduced ticket prices for students. You’ll never have a cheaper opportunity for high culture!
  10. Disco on Fridays, climb a tree and stay there for a while, drop your backpack mid-campus and do a cartwheel, travel via pogo stick, have a stare down with a stranger…you get the idea. A direct correlation between the intellectual and the irreverent makes for a happy, balanced scholar.
  11. Keep a notebook of all the things you want to do, use, or remember (and start now!): striking quotes, “to-read” book titles, irresistible words, phrases, descriptions, facts, jokes, goals, anecdotes, anything, everything. The alternative is to forget many unforgettable things and/or spend countless minutes of your life searching in vain for little scraps of paper you jotted things down on. When you add to your notebook, read what was written before, massaging the dendrites. When  you fill one notebook, start another, and keep them all (and use the Evernote App if you’d rather be paper-free).
  12. Socrates says, “Know Thyself”; Fel says, “Challenge Thyself. Take control of your intellectual destiny, scholars! If you’re at school or in a program that isn’t adequately challenging or beneficial, make a change!  You are at the helm of your own boat, dear scholars, steer accordingly!
  13. Lastly, and most importantly: that little voice inside you? Listen to it! Call it what you will—your conscience, your soul, your deep-down gut instinct. It’s there, and if you really listen to it, it will lead you to the right place. Though I sometimes ignored it when convenient, ultimately, I did listen, and it led me to you, oh scholarly ones (a.k.a. a fulfilling career), my husband (the soulmate thing) and other unmentionables (that Fel, so mysterious).

Educating kids in a diverse society

diversity-1350043_960_720By Dhanya Nair

As a counselor-in-training, I am constantly attuned to the issue of diversity because my clients come from different cultural and racial backgrounds; respecting their cultural and racial moorings is important to understanding and exploring their emotional world. But, I must confess, the idea for penning this piece came to me when friends of me and my husband came to pay us a visit last week.

Our friends have a nine-month old infant son who has Indian, Native American and Caucasian ancestry. Watching the little fellow play and listening to stories about him from his proud parents made me realize what a wonderful thing heterogeneity is! I could not help but marvel at the wide range of influences which will mark his upbringing. His parents are eager for him to learn Hindi and the tongue of his Native American tribe, and to be exposed to the Indian, Native American along with — of course — the American ways of life (he also polishes off Indian food readily). I assume that he will grow up to be an individual with a great degree of sensitivity towards people from diverse backgrounds. And, hence I think heterogeneity is the greatest gift we can provide our children with.

Listening to the recent narrative of heightened xenophobia in Europe and the United States makes me wonder if insulating children from diverse experiences is a sound idea. I say this because I grew up in a country which has long been exposed to various cultural influences. I shudder to think how different my life would have been had African sailors not brought coffee to India (student life without caffeine is unimaginable!). I owe discovering the pleasures of reading Enid Blyton, Charles Dickens, Roald Dahl and Oscar Wilde to a great degree to India’s colonial past. Though I read in English, my affinity towards Indian languages and the Indian way of life did not diminish. History bears witness to the fact that wars and conflicts have often arisen because of a yearning towards maintaining homogeneity. Closer to home, in India, arranged marriages were and are so vehemently encouraged because families do not want their children to intermingle with those from other communities. This fear of “muddying” normative influences is rather strange in my opinion. Food, to me is an excellent example of marrying diverse influences, I cannot remember eating a meal in India without potatoes and tomatoes, but these crops were introduced to India by Europeans.

I believe, humans are capable of assimilating numerous influences in a cogent and harmonious manner. Assimilation can, I believe, only make the world at large less fearful of foreign influences. In an increasingly mobile world, migration and exchange of thoughts, customs and traditions are bound to happen. Fighting external influences is a bland and prosaic way of living. The best sort of learning, according to me, happens at home. Children tend to emulate their parents or caregivers more often than not. Hence, parents can play an important role in inculcating awareness and tolerance towards diversity in their children. Discussions about diversity and multiculturalism need not be restricted to the classroom, children can be encouraged to embrace multiple experiences by having friends from different backgrounds. Curiosity about the wider world and an eagerness to learn as much as they can from different cultures will help children to create a more tolerant world in the future.

Where did the time go? My middle school kids move on

graduation-995042_1280By Sabrina Bong

It is hard to believe that next week, my 8th grade students will graduate from middle school.

At the school where I work, we loop with our kids, which essentially means that we counsel the same kids for three years. The counselor that starts with the incoming 6th grade class stays with those students until they graduate from 8th grade. For me, this is especially meaningful: not only have I been with these students for the past three years, I really felt like I got to experience an amazing journey with them. We both started middle school at the same time: me as a nervous, inexperienced school counselor, and they as nervous, inexperienced middle school students. Together, we learned a lot of lessons and grew in immeasurable ways (both physically and mentally; the majority of my students are now taller than I am…)

I was recently asked to think about what I want to say during the graduation ceremony, and to be honest, I’m a little unsure of what to write. It’s not because I’m struggling through writer’s block; it’s because I have so much I want to say to these kids.

My kids. For the past three years, they have been “mine.” I remember that one of the other counselors in my building offered to “take” a team of them under his wing, since I had such a huge class size. It was a great plan, but it never panned out. All the 8th grade students came to me. And I was fine with that.

If I could have an individual conference with all 360+ students, I would. I can think of so many things I would want to tell each one of them. How proud I am that they accomplished their goals, and overcame adversity. How it was such a pleasure to watch them mature into young men and women. How much they made me laugh over their questions, and how much I enjoyed getting to know all of their names. How that, no matter where they go in life, I will always remember and think of them. I want them to know that there will always be someone in this world who cares about them and loves them for who they are. I want them to walk away from middle school with confidence, knowing that they can take on any challenges and succeed in whatever they set their minds to.

I was thinking about what advice I wanted to give my students, but as we get closer to graduation, my own words seem to fail me. Instead, I’ve been thinking about different songs that I enjoy. Here is some of the advice I want to share with my amazing, wonderful, talented 8th grade students (as told through song lyrics):

Don’t take for granted the love this life gives you/When you get where you’re goin’ turn back around/And help the next one in line/always stay humble and kind – Tim McGraw (“Humble and Kind”)

Living might mean taking chances/but they’re worth taking. – LeeAnn Womack (“I Hope You Dance”)

And I’ll end by saying have no fear/these are nowhere near the best years of your life – Brad Paisley (“Letter to Me”)

When your hourglass runs out of sand/you can’t flip it over and start again./Take every breath God gives you for what it’s worth – Kenny Chesney (“Don’t Blink”)

Every time you get up/and get back in the race/one more small piece of you/starts to fall into place – Rascal Flatts (“Stand”)

Congratulations to the 8th grade class of 2016!

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