Welcome to October, believe it or not.
I’d like to say a word or 2 about testing, or at least the way we test at SMAA. Many adults have developed a negative attitude toward testing, partly due to the judgments associated tests in school. Simply put, the message many people have gotten is that if they do not get an A+ on a test then they are no good as people. Getting in A+ on a test, on the other hand, proves your worth as a person. As ludicrous as this sounds I’m sure we’ve all been through this. However it is so antithetical to success that we need to see this type of view what is–misguided the least, and outright destructive at the worst.
I have said this before and it bears repeating. I have seen schools change the name from the “belt test” to “promotion demonstration” to avoid the idea of testing altogether. The idea is that a student demonstrates that he is ready to be promoted. OK, he’s taking a test. My point is that changing the name doesn’t change the purpose of testing or that your skill is being tested.
In my eyes the phrase “test it” changes my whole mindset about learning and succeeding. I don’t test myself, I test what I’m practicing to see what I need to work on. This way I take personal judgment and self worth out of the equation. Now I can focus on my actions and their results, not whether I am a good person or a bad person because of my performance.
In a way the entire process surrounding testing encapsulates the martial art lesson of life long mastery. The secret is right there out in the open contained in our teaching cycle, belt testing and the strategies we teach students how to fix their mistakes, turning them into long term success. Don’t shy away from it.
Of course testing is always stressful because it is difficult to face yourself. But again, that’s the point. I refuse to lower standards and/or pass students just so they will feel good about themselves. Most of the stress around testing goes back to judgment–judgment or perceived judgment from others as well as your own self judgment–and not the material.
I have always taught and can continue to teach students to focus on their efforts and outcomes. Students develop more personal power when they can look at their efforts, see what is working and what is not working, and fix it. They are always strengthening their weakest link. The best students are the ones, who even when they pass a test look at what they can improve and set to work on becoming even better.
So embrace the testing procedure and apply this mindset to everything you do and long-term success is guaranteed.
Recently one of our Karate Moms asked me this insightful question. To tell the truth, I just always assumed that of course our students are intelligent and do well in school—that’s what we do. I’d never gave it much more thought than that. Upon further reflection I came up with…
3 Big Reasons Why SMAA is Full of Intelligent Children
#1: High-Achieving Families Realize That We Teach The Very Skills They Need To Excel in Academic School But That They Aren’t Learning Elsewhere
Our families know that IQ is nothing without Focus, Discipline, Perseverance, Resilience and the many other LifeSkills we excel at instilling in our children. Everyone knows these skills are critical success factors but few people really know how to cultivate these abilities like we do. Worse, people tend to teach children the exact opposite lessons, virtually guaranteeing that children do not learn proper LifeSkills.
Our children receive a Systematic Education on how to develop these critical Life Skills. Our staff, and the SMAA parents, all agree that leading by example is the best way to teach our children.
Shared Values and Parenting Philosophy
In addition, our families share common values and Parenting Philosophy. High-Achieving Families know that the Core Martial Arts Values, including Respect, Commitment and Social Intelligence, directly influence how successful their children will be in school and in life.
Our families always act in the best Long-Term Interests of Their Child versus feeling good in the short-term. This philosophy allows them to overcome almost any obstacle in the way of high-achievement and happiness.
#2: High-Achieving Families Tend to Know Each Other
This is the simple answer. Once the first few families with gifted, high-achieving children began their study with us, they naturally spread the word to their friends. Over time we have built a reputation as “THE place to go to for academically-minded families.”
The most intelligent parents realize that the real benefits of a quality martial arts school do not just come from putting a child in a uniform and a belt and then jumping into a huge class of screaming kids.
#3: High-Achieving Families Are Drawn To SMAA Because of
the Unique Knowledge And Experience of Our Heads of School
Of course when new families first meet Master Brad and Dr. Karla Scornavacco they immediately know that SMAA is “far beyond the ordinary martial arts school.” Their educational backgrounds, including Harvard, Northwestern and CU create an environment of higher learning and academic achievement unmatched in Colorado.
Our “Education-Centered” Martial Arts Academy naturally attracts intelligent and well-educated families, both inside and outside academia.
So there you have it. SMAA successfully marries the best Martial Arts Character Development Strategies with a solid background in the Best Educational Practices. Our families take the long-view with their children’s mental and emotional education, sharing the oft-forgotten traditional values that create intelligent citizens with strong character. Finally, these families invite other, like-minded families to join them.
The president of the Rocky Mountain Branch’s International Dyslexia Association (IDA) said something at her presentation at the Longmont library on Tuesday that has been percolating in my heart and mind these past few days:
“A mom’s job is to make her child feel loved and joyful.”
The comment was in response to a parent telling a roomful of people what she and her husband were now doing at home to support their child who had recently been diagnosed with dyslexia. The child’s school had given the parents Skill and Drill worksheets for the child to complete with the parents at home. To the school’s credit, they suggested ways for the parents to coach their child on the assignment, including when to set a timer (so the child was aware of her fluency speed) and how many words to practice each night.
“I don’t know about you,” Elenn, the president of the local IDA chapter said, “but isn’t your kid exhausted by the time she gets home?” She talked about her own son (who has dyslexia) coming home at 6 p.m., tired. In a joking manner, she rambled about kids coming home and having to do work that was a struggle for them – work that made them that much more cranky, and likely to blow up at…you guessed it…mom or dad.
That’s when she said it.
A mom’s job.
She mentioned that she “didn’t want to offend anyone.” But that was how she saw it – a mom’s job was to make her kid(s) feel loved and joyful.
She talked about not being an “atta way parent,” which she defined as someone who kept saying “atta way” when a child accomplished something. When a child learned to ride a bike, “atta way Johnny!” When a child spelled a word correctly, “atta way Sally!” Instead, she saw herself as a parent who noticed and praised improvements over time. “Wow. You remembered that difficult vocabulary word,” she said, “last week, you got two of them correct. This week, four!” I appreciated her reminder. It’s something we do at the Martial Arts Academy…a foundation of the program, actually.
But I still kept thinking about her “mom’s job” comment.
When I first heard it, I noticed something in my body shift. It was one of those feelings when you realize something big is happening, When there’s a release of sorts. A put-you-in-the-moment type of feeling.
Interestingly, she made this comment in the context of a presentation about what parents can (and must) do to fight, if they have to, for their child to get appropriate reading instruction in school….what to do, specifically, when a school is not doing what she sees as a school’s job: to teach a child to read.
So, those eager parents who shared their story with the adults in the room about helping their daughter at home through worksheets (word study practice) that the school had given them – what are they to do? Not do the worksheets? Not coach their child in completing and practicing word study drills? What does it mean, really, for a parent of a child with dyslexia to “make a child feel loved and joyful.” To ignore word study practice?
No, not at all.
One thing to ask for, if you are a parent with a child who is struggling with reading, including word study drills, is for EASIER homework for your child. Easier books to read. Magazines, lower-level books, whatever….the point is for the child to practice and feel good about what s/he knows and can do. To build confidence (and reading speed).
What is a “mom’s job?” Would love to hear more insights. Especially when a mom’s child hates to read because he or she hasn’t yet broken the code…when the child has been given a locker, but no key or lock combination with which to open the locker.
I love Elenn’s job description for moms. It’s something that’s easy to remember….or at least easy to repeat to yourself. I also love that it includes the word “joyful.” That’s such a wondrous word – open and light. Loved and joyful.
So, what’s a mom to do to fulfill such a job description?
One thing to do is to feel loved and joyful ourselves…it’s hard to give what we don’t have ourselves. Time to take stock of what we love to do. What makes us feel joyful. And do it!
PART 3: Prepare, Propose & Plan
You’ve prepared your agenda…or at least what you want to bring up in the parent-conference. Now starts the real dance.
Propose: Marriage proposals tug at our heartstrings. By design, they launch us into a wondrous space where the future looks bright thanks to a budding partnership. The same can be said for meaningful parent teacher conferences. When “proposing” in a parent teacher conference it’s best to keep things simple and private. I say “simple” because there is only so much time for a conference. This is just one conference, and while it might be a memorable one, you want to be sure that it is just the start (or continuation!) of an authentic partnership.
You may want to ask your most important question first, in case time runs out.
Parent teacher conferences do indeed run on a tight schedule…unlike marriage proposals! Arrive on time and plan to end on time. It may help to set a silent timer such as the vibration mode on your cell phone to five minutes prior to the scheduled end of the conference. That way, you feel the vibration in your pocket and know that it’s time to start “wrapping it up” and, if need be, requesting more time with the teacher for a later date.
You’ve prepared. Now, dance. And remember, just like a dance partner, teachers don’t have all the answers. At the same time, they do have some of the answers…or at least a lot of data on your child.
Listen actively, and show that you are doing so (e.g. “is what I hear you saying….?” “this sounds like something important”). Use – statements (e.g. “I just wish there was something more we could do;” “I’m convinced there’s another way to go about this;” “I’d like to help”). Lastly, always – always – feel free to ask for clarification.
It’s also a good idea to check-in with yourself (silently!) about your expectations and assumptions. That way, you won’t be thrown off guard when the teacher says or does something that just doesn’t “feel right.” You’d be more likely to figure out where that feeling is “coming from” – what part of it is you, and what part of it is the teacher, and what part might be a complete misunderstanding. You’d be more likely to communicate in a loving, understandable way. And of course, you’re communicating about your child (not you). Your child: s/he’s the focus here….even though, yes, your “ghosts in the classroom” may be speaking to you.
Plan: We all forget things. We all dream of possibilities. At the end of the conference is the time to be sure that you’ve co-created a plan with the teacher about next steps. Write down things that you and the teacher will do to support your child. It’s okay if you write this plan down in the car or when you get home – just be sure to commit it to writing. Helpful points to write down include what you (and the teacher!) will do, when and how often you will do these things, and a date for another check-in. At the end of the meeting would also be a good time to ask your child’s teacher his/her preferred mode of communication. At that time, share your preferences for communication as well. Communication goes two ways!
Most of all, remember to involve your child in next steps. Talk to your child about what you learned from his or her teacher. You may want to show your child what YOU will be doing differently at home to support him or her…while, of course, asking for your child’s suggestions.
Here’s for more details….Prepare, Propose & Plan.
Prepare: This is your time to be with your child’s teacher…to start building a collaborative relationship with him or her, and to find out things about your child that you do not know. Prior to the conference is a great time to articulate your goals and have the “end in mind.” If you haven’t done so already, make sure you review your child’s work, grades, and progress reports. There is little need in wasting time in the conference to go over information to which you already have access. Also, by reviewing your child’s homework, tests, and the ways in which the teacher provides feedback (e.g. notes in the margins, number grades on the top of the sheet) you can help you get a better sense of the teacher’s expectations – both what is stated, and what is actually happening. In addition, continue speaking with your child about what s/he is experiencing in school. It’s worthwhile to get a better sense of your child’s interpretation of how s/he is doing, including what her strengths and needs are. Questions you may want to ask your child prior to the conference include:
- Do you think your grades reflect how much effort you put into your school work?
- Is there anyone in school with whom you feel you can get your best work done? Not necessarily your best friends – but a student you get paired up with, and end up working well with?
- What are some things the teacher (who you will be meeting) does that you wish she did even more often?
- What’s one thing that the teacher doesn’t know about you that you wish that s/he did?
Prepare Your Agenda: Take advantage of this opportunity to serve as a role model for your child about what it looks like to be proactive. Although your child may not explicitly express it, he or she is watching you. The conference is after all about your child! The very nature of the event has piqued his or her interest. At the same time, few children want to feel as if they are being “managed” by their parents or their teachers. The most important thing is to show your child that you have devised a list of questions and topics that you want to discuss with the teacher. Whether to show the actual list of questions and topics is up to you. Possible questions and topics include:
- Progress: What have you noticed my child getting better at? How is he or she doing compared to the rest of the class? Is he or she performing at grade level (and how do you determine what it means to be “at grade level”)?
- Social Learning: Is my child confident and friendly with other children? Since you see him/her in school, could you please share with me examples of his social skills in school? Does my child work best in a large or small group? Is there anyone in the class who you would recommend that we invite to our house for a playdate….who seems to be a positive influence on my child?
- Reading: What reading skills are stressed in your class? At this school? How do you present reading assignments to all the students? What is my child expected to do? My child loves when I read to her at home (not to mention that it helps with vocabulary development and reading fluency….not matter what the age of the child!), do you do that in class? If there was one thing you wanted me to work on with my child at home in regards to reading, what would it be? Do you have any explicit strategies in mind that I could use to help my child with that aspect of reading?
- Writing: What writing skills are stressed in your class? At this school? What is my child expected to do in terms of sharing her ideas, organizing her thoughts, writing clearly for an audience, following the rules of grammar, etc?
- Strengths & Interests: Tell the teacher what you think your child is good at, and back this up with a story or example. Also, mention 1-3 of your child’s core interests. Be brief, as teachers may zone out and even dismiss what you have to say if you come across as someone who just shows off about your child. At the same time, do not dismiss the importance of sharing your child’s strengths and interests with the teacher. You are presented with a wonderful opportunity to strengthen (or if need be alter!) the perception that the teacher has of your child.
- The teacher: Everyone needs a little praise & recognition. Teachers (and moms & dads!) expend time, energy and even their own money thinking through and learning about ways to support your child. Tell the teacher something specific you like about her class…about the ways she and/or the curriculum supports your child in ways that you love (e.g. in becoming more responsible, even more curious, goal-oriented, enthusiastic) – even if your inclined to “not like” this teacher, to resent him or her for something s/he is (or is not doing) for your child. A+ if you share an exact comment from your child. The descriptive praise will nestle itself into the heart and mind of the teacher, prompting her to do it even more often. By you sharing such a positive comment you may also be offering the teacher “just the energy boost” she needs at the time too!
So, there you go. A bunch of ideas for questions and topics to initiate at the conference. You may want to go through the list, circle your favorites – or at least the ones that make the most sense to you and your child’s experiences and needs in school (and at home) right now. Let me know, too, if you have others to share with more parents – ones that have worked for you..in gaining more insights about your child at school, usable tips from the teacher for what you can do at home, and most of all, more fertile ground on which to build an ongoing, collaborative relationship with another key educator in your child’s life: the school teacher.
Next up – Propose & Plan.
Anyone figure out yet how many acronyms it takes to educate a child? How many you know the meanings of, and don’t know the meanings of? How many you’d prefer to throw out the window, so that teachers talk to and with you when providing you with reports about your child in school?
You know your child better than any teacher ever will – or at least in a different way! You held her as a baby, laughed with her as a toddler, and swung with her on the playground. You hear what she says in the car, and notice how she changes when she interacts with different peers. But is the particular way in which you know your child appreciated – or even acknowledged – in parent-teacher meetings?
Numerous studies (e.g. Compton, 2009; Lightfoot, 2003; Mehan, 1993; Ware, 1994) have suggested that parent-teacher conferences gloss over what is “really” in the hearts and minds of teachers and parents alike. In Lightfoot’s study of parent-teacher conferences across the nation, for example, she noticed that parents come to the table with “ghosts in the classroom” – experiences of their own childhood when they were the student sitting in the now-tiny chair surrounded by colorful posters on the wall. These emotional experiences are hidden from view, and are not something that teachers (nor parents) explicitly bring to the conversation. Mehan’s study, on the other hand, analyzed the words that adults do indeed use when talking to each other about a student. Basically, he found that:
- Parents: Talk about their child in historical terms (e.g. “she used to sit on my lap when I read to her” or “she rushed through her math homework in second grade too”)
- Teachers: Talk about a student in sociological terms, such as where the student sits in the classroom, and with whom she does or does not work (e.g. “when reading alone at her desk she…”)
- Psychologists: Talk about a student using statistical markers that reference other students no one has ever met (e.g. “her verbal reasoning IQ is 112” and “she scored in reading at 4.1”).
That there are three distinct ways of framing a child’s learning in (and out) of school is not surprising given the different experiences each adult has with the child. What’s frightening is that educational psychologists are rarely if ever questioned by parents and teachers during school meetings. In his landmark study of IEP meetings, Mehan showed that parents and teachers asked each other to clarify what they meant by something (e.g. what an acronym means or what a teacher means by a child being an “independent thinker”), but neither parents nor teachers asked the psychologists to clarify any of their terms. It’s as if the psychologists were speaking a privileged language – one that should not be tampered with since it supposedly speaks “the truth.”
Acronyms are not what we have to “watch out for” when collaborating with teachers about our children. Instead, it’s the technical terms and scales (e.g. “test age was 7.0 to 7.5”) that de-humanize children, placing them into a social laboratory for the sake of objective comparison and study. Reading levels are particularly troubling. While knowing your child’s “reading level” can offer a guide for selecting some books out of the school’s library, it offers little in terms of information about your child’s imagination, ability to empathize with others, problem-solve or make connections: key cognitive skills of comprehension!
Furthermore, the ways in which a student’s “reading level” is determined differ according to the assessment used. Fry’s Readability Formula, for example, references syllables, words and sentences, but does not take into account topic selection or genre, let alone a reader’s interests and background knowledge. Schools might show parents charts indicating where a child’s test score falls in comparison to thousands of other same-age students on supposedly “normed” tests. As the term implies, however, norm-referenced assessments are graded along a normal curve and thus it is statistically impossible for everyone at a certain age to read “at grade level.” I can go on and on about the myths and misunderstandings of reading development at a later date….
At this point, let me just beg and plea… acronyms save educators time when talking to one another and writing progress reports about students. Parents can ask for clarification, and teachers can work toward eliminating jargon in their communication with parents. But technical terms that have little to do with the day-to-day life of a child within his own classroom, own school, own family at home must be seen for what they are: a way to position a child according to someone else’s definition of “normal.”
How many acronyms does it take to educate a child? S.A.T.’s…I.E.P.’s… A.C.Ts? P.T.O.’s? I.L.P.s? Each industry has its own “industry talk,” and it’s important to “talk the talk” when conversing with someone in that field. The over-reliance on acronyms in education, though, can be dizzying for parents – and teachers. It often seems as if educators and policy makers concerned with education started texting long before teenagers started hiding cell phones under their desks, typing away!
I teach a course at the University of Colorado, for example, on D.I. In that course, the students learn about instructional strategies for E.L.L.s using a research-proven model called the S.I.O.P.. They also learn the ins & outs of SPED programs, including the recent adoption of R.T.I. in secondary schools, and practice effective strategies for teaching students with L.D., R.D., ADHD, and a myriad of other high-incidence and low-incidence disabilities. Huh?
Educational jargon includes more than just multi-lettered terminology, too. One of my favorite stories about this topic is told in William Zinsser’s book, On Writing Well. (As a side note, he was my writing instructor in New York…a few years after he had left his post at Yale). A wealthy school district in Connecticut had hired him to ‘dejargonize’ the materials schools sent out to parents. The superintendent sent Zinsser samples of letters and memos, and Zinsser started the sorting process of good and bad examples. Overly wordy, dehumanized language…the bad pile had it all. “Enhanced learning environments,” for example. What the heck are those? And “modified departmentalized schedule.” Why not just say a modified schedule? Zinsser then asked the teachers, curriculum coordinators, and principals to re-write some of the samples. They scribbled, tore up paper, sat in silence, tried again. As Zinsser puts it, they were beginning to look and sound a lot like writers.
I applaud those teachers, principals, and curriculum coordinators who had the guts to think through the words they use when communicating with families. The language we use to talk about our children is important; it frames how we want others to see and thus interact with our sons and daughters. How would you prefer to be talked about – as a daydreamer or as someone who is creative, innovative and imaginative? As hyperactive or as energetic? As aggressive or as an assertive person who won’t let others take advantage of you? The first options shed people in a negative light while the second options have a positive tone to them.
Educational jargon is no different. It has the power to frame or reframe how we think about and interact with children in school. Using acronyms that parents do not use in their daily lexicon can also create a distance between a teacher and a parent. It’s as if the parents are not “in the know” when, in actuality, they know their child better than any teacher ever will – or at least they know their child in a different way than a teacher ever will know him or her (or them!).
The teachers, principals, and curriculum coordinators at Zinsser’s finally got it. They wrote in the first person. They used active verbs. They replaced long words and vague nouns with a description of what they were really trying to say. For one group, “Evaluative procedures for the objectives were also established based on acceptable criteria” became “At the end of the year, we will evaluate our progress.” Another group wrote, “We will see how well we have succeeded.” The writing – and thus the talk – was clearer, more personable, more real.
How well is your child’s school succeeding at de-jargonizing its communication to you? What are terms you can’t stand since they are so vague and don’t really tell you anything about your child, his school, the curriculum? Which words paint your child and his or her school in a positive light? Which ones are negative? Let’s pay attention…together, we can work toward humanizing the educational system in which our children (and we!) are a part.