PART ONE: Research
This month, we take a side trip from the classroom and go directly into your kitchen or dining room. Many will celebrate school being out soon (unless you’re year-round or living in the Southern hemisphere). All of you will be, of course, eating. This month, I thought I would give you the science behind eating and over eating.
If you know me, you know I am skinny as a rail. But, while I might make it look easy, it’s NOT! I watch what I eat. I rarely eat desserts. I try to avoid artificial sweeteners, artificial colorings and preservatives in my food. On top of that, I go out of my way to avoid so called “natural sweeteners” like high fructose corn syrup. I often eat 8-10 pieces of fruit a week PLUS loads of vegetables. All I’ve told you so far is a “no brainer. But I haven’t told you the most shocking thing yet… (more…)
Usually, we feature a column on how to be a better teacher, administrator or trainer. This month, we’ll pause for a moment and work at the other end of the process. What do STUDENTS NEED to be doing to become far more effective learners? Some of the research tells us things we already knew.
We all know that teaching kids HOW to get more organized for study is important. But there might be a few surprises that are downright counter-intuitive. For example, you’ll be surprised to find out that quizzing MORE OFTEN actually promotes learning. But that’s just one of the 10 powerful steps for improved learning. If you are in a position to share these with staff that can reach students, please share this upcoming list. The research for this month was collected by the following scientists:
Harold Pashler (Chair)
University of California, San Diego
Patrice M. Bain
Columbia Middle School, Illinois
Brian A. Bottge
University of Wisconsin–Madison
University of Memphis
Carnegie Mellon University
Washington University in St. Louis
Typically, I use this area to fill your brain with the “why” behind all the action. This month, it’s posted, so you can look it up. The full research document is posted on the web. Only one of 50 of you either: 1) work with students in this capacity, or, 2) are hungry enough to look it up. The document can be downloaded here (pdf).
The research tells us that the following suggestions have reasonable scientific support for them. If something’s not a good idea, you won’t hear it from me. But wait, there’s more! The online research posted 7 ideas and I have added 3 of my own, for a total of 10. (more…)
By popular demand, we feature a teacher this month, not an entire school. After all, teachers make the difference. This teacher works at an “Extreme School.” Her high school is one of many underperforming schools in this low-performing district, within a high-poverty area. Another teacher in her place might feel like she has the deck stacked against her and every excuse to give up on her kids. Every other teacher at her school already has their excuses lined up, but this teacher doesn’t give up. In fact, the achievement scores that HER kids get are.
“In fact, the achievement scores that HER kids get are… so awesome that 100 percent of her students passed their state-mandated, end-of-course exams despite data from the state’s predictive model suggesting that over a third would not.” In short, she out-teaches every other teacher in her district.
Her school, Ben Smith High School, has 1,200 kids and 80% of its kids are from poverty. Academically, the school performed worse than 75% of the schools in North Carolina, meaning that Ben Smith is in the bottom 25%. About 96% are children of color. As a school, it struggles. But, is the problem with the kids or the staff?
First a bit of background about HOW this teacher succeeds… (more…)
Kimberly, a veteran teacher, has to make a big decision at the end of this school year. She’s either going to “re-up” and stay another year, or quit her job and seek another teaching job elsewhere. I am going to describe her work in a minute. But go ahead and put yourself in her shoes and ask yourself, “What would you do?”
First of all, Kimberly’s (I have changed her name; this is a true story) classroom kids all come from poverty. Every one of them has home issues, some have disabilities and all of them were struggling every year in school until this year.
Yet, her students alone outscored ALL other students on district-wide assessments by more than 25% points on average and 100% of her students passed their state-mandated and school mandated exams. In short, she is an “over the top, amazing teacher.” Many would call her an “irreplaceable asset.”
She has spent her entire 15-year teaching career actively seeking out schools where the students need her most, and her current school is one of the lowest-performing schools in the area.
So, what is the big decision that Kimberly, an amazing teacher, has to make at the end of this school year? It’s simple; “Should I stick around this school another year or not?”
Will her brain focus on the rewards of seeing how well her kids do, and decide to stay? Or, will she walk out the front door, never to set foot in her school again, leaving every future class of kids at that school without her amazing presence? And how much does guilt or regret (of not leaving or staying in a job) play into the decision?
Rewarding behaviors in the workplace has been well-studied for almost a hundred years. It’s not simple, either.
Let’s start with the upside. A recent study on dopamine hints at an answer. When we get the “rewards” in our brain (e.g. when dopamine is released), it also primes the body for action (Saddoris MP, Sugam JA, Cacciapaglia F, Carelli RM. 2013). In a classroom, when a teacher feels successful, it fosters more energy and action. When kids improve and the teacher feels excited, it prompts even more energy. Now the brain associates pleasure with the physical location, environmental cues and the people around us.
But the reverse is also true.
Now for the downside story. If things go badly in your classroom, now your brain associates pain with the physical location, environmental cues and the people around you.
When we’re constantly not meeting the challenge, only the most highly resilient teacher will get more determined to improve. Many teachers start feeling disillusioned and even depressed when the students don’t do well. They can become overwhelmed with guilt and/or depression. This is a critical outcome because guilt (regret with social consequences) is very counterproductive for future improvements. Those who feel guilt easily make more future low risk choices to avoid those bad feelings (Wagner U, Handke L, Dörfel D, Walter H. 2012). This is a problem for teachers, since most of the top teachers are taking on risks on daily basis.
The research on teacher retention is pretty clear. Most typical “rewards” for teachers don’t work. Some school administrators have relied almost exclusively on short-term incentives such as cash rewards, prizes, and promotions for improved test scores. The research shows that these have minimal (but not zero) effect (Hanushek, E. A., J. F. Kain, and S. G. Rivkin. 1999).
Why do public schools lose good teachers?
There is a hierarchy, a nearly vertical list of “deal-breakers” and “deal-makers.” Not surprisingly, for most (but not all) teachers, money is not in the top three. And more than 25 percent of teachers in schools scoring in the bottom quartile of achievement leave their schools each year (Hanushek, E. A., J. F. Kain, and S. G. Rivkin. 2001). But in essence, the list is the same for staying or leaving; it’s just reversed. Good environment or bad environment at school? That’s an easy decision for whether to stay or not.
Let’s “flesh out” each of the studies listed above. This is fairly easy to do. High-poverty schools (like Kimberley’s school above), that also are good at retaining strong teachers, do the following:
I’m sure you could add to this list above, but it’s insightful (Olson 2003). In short, there’s an uncanny connection to the human brain’s hierarchy (safety first, followed by social support, academic support and support of aspirations). When a teacher is satisfied that the working conditions of his/her school provides them with the support they need to teach well, they are more likely to stay.
Ultimately, it is emotions that make the decision, even more than the pocketbook (you and I know there are exceptions). But it’s how we feel that is what’s real to us.
Ultimately, will Kimberly stay? There are two potential pathways.
PATH 1: Here’s what happens WAY too often. Kimberly walks into the principal’s office. She announces she is resigning, and the principal says nothing and just signs the paperwork. The principal says nothing about the teacher or the kids, about the school or the future.
PATH 2: (Hint, if you’re an administrator, say this to her before the year is up) “Kimberly, all I hear are good things from your kids. All I see in the data are high scores. You are amazing and I want you to stay. What can I do to keep you here next year?” That one positive interaction just bumped up the odds that Kimberly will stay.
You see, all of us want the same things in life. Once we can live safely, put food on the table and have some health (e.g. Maslow’s hierarchy), we want to be appreciated. We want to feel important and even special.
Is there someone in your life that you need to appreciate today? Is there someone that is special to you, but they need to hear it?
Hanushek, E. A., J. F. Kain, and S. G. Rivkin. 1999. “Do Higher Salaries Buy Better Teachers?” Working Paper 7082, National Bureau of Economic Research, Cambridge, MA.
Hanushek, E. A., J. F. Kain, and S. G. Rivkin. 2001. “Why Public Schools Lose Teachers.” Working Paper 8599, National Bureau of Economic Research, Cambridge, MA.
Saddoris MP, Sugam JA, Cacciapaglia F, Carelli RM. (2013) Rapid dopamine dynamics in the accumbens core and shell: Learning and action. Front Biosci. 5:273-88.
Useem, E. 2003. “The Retention and Qualifications of New Teachers in Philadelphia’s High-Poverty Middle Schools: A Three-Year Cohort Study.” Paper presented at the Annual Conference of the Eastern Sociological Society, Philadelphia, PA. March 1.
Wagner U, Handke L, Dörfel D, Walter H. (2012). An Experimental Decision-Making paradigm to Distinguish Guilt and Regret and Their Self-Regulating Function via Loss Averse Choice Behavior. Front Psychol. 3:431.
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Step by step, teachers can learn how to tap into a student’s internal motivation to help them become determined learners. The authors also offer guidelines on how and when to use “workarounds” or lasting interventions that rely on the “rules” of how the brain changes. In addition, the authors include vital information on the role of nutrition, exercise, and life balance on academic achievement.
From the very first chapter, to the final page, you’ll find solutions to many of your toughest challenges so they can become become excited, lifelong learners.
Praise for Turnaround Tools for the Teenage Brain
“I highly recommend this book for all secondary educators. Jensen and Snider have written a teacher-friendly book filled with proactive strategies to reclaim struggling students.” —Dr. Sheryl Feinstein, Department Chair, Education, Augustana College, Sioux Falls, SD; author, Secrets of the Teenage Brain
Eric Jensen, CEO of Jensen Learning, is a former teacher and cofounder of SuperCamp, the nation’s most innovative and largest academic enrichment program. He is the author of numerous popular books about teaching and brain-based education, including Teaching With Poverty in Mind (ASCD) and Enriching the Brain (Jossey-Bass).
Carole Snider is a former teacher and school counselor. She serves on the state governing board for Ohio school counselors, is an adjunct professor, and recently authored the graduate course, Succeeding with Students of Poverty.
This book clearly shows you how to succeed with teens. Research, background and classroom-tested strategies you can use immediately.
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This month our featured “Extreme School” is a school like many, on the “cusp.” That means, their student population is right on the edge for qualifying for this update. Just under 50% of their students are from poverty.
What this school does with their kids is amazing…
This elementary school is in Oklahoma City and has a diverse population, with an increasing segment of Hispanics every year. Just under half of the students are from poverty and the challenge is to prepare kids for secondary education and for life.
How does this school rate in the top 10% of all schools in their district and in the surrounding areas?
1. Decision is made. The school staff begins with a simple question: “Are we 100% (not 90%) committed to the success of our students?”
2. Support. Instead of complaining about what kids can’t do, they tutor students after school and provide resources necessary to individualize instruction. They ensure their kids CAN do what they need to do for success.
3. Focus. Naturally, they use research-based methods that they know will get results. They are a Great Expectations’ School and the majority of their professional development has been from the Great Expectations organization. This company raises the vision of what can be done and they provide clear, practical strategies to reach the miracle.
The school is in the top 5% in the entire state! They are a National Blue Ribbon School, an A+ Arts School, a Core Knowledge School, and a model school for the Great Expectations process. In short, kids LOVE going to this school.
Outstanding Teacher: Paula Washington
Nichols Hills Elementary
Oklahoma City, OK 73116
Now, you’ve read about another “Extreme School” success story, we have a question for you. How many school successes do you need to see and hear about before you BELIEVE that it can happen at your school? And, if there’s anyone on your staff who does not think it can happen, please forward these monthly bulletins to them.
Second, what can you learn from the true story mentioned above? The only good that happens in this world is when you move things from inside your brain to the outside world. What ideas, principles or strategies were affirmed OR, what was new to you? Could this be a topic of discussion at your next staff meeting?
Finally, miracles do happen every day. Are you ready to be one of them?
Lets focus on something that is so simple it slips by most educators. In fact, it is easily the most non-predicted, surprising “Top 15 factor” for student achievement. That’s partly because it is happening everyday, all day, in your work. It’s ubiquitous. It’s almost like the joke that 8-year olds tell:
“Help, help, it’s all around me!”
The friend says, “What’s the problem? What’s all around you?”
“My belt” he says, with a grin.
Actually, this factor is so powerful, it’s finally getting the research done that it deserves. Can you guess what it is?
Few words are thrown around more often during the second half of the school year than “stress.” But what you’re about to find out is that… most of what you’ve heard about stress is dead wrong! For example…
Our featured school is actually several schools: The King/Chavez is a system of five schools in “Barrio Logan” in San Diego. This month is time for a reality check. If you work at a public school you may have thought, “Those charter schools have it easy; they can break all the rules!”
Actually, it’s no different.
Yes, I know of charter schools that do quite well. But being designated a charter school does not, by itself, raise school performance. That’s not the reason they do well. Good teachers working in good schools are how a school does well.
Today, the school is different; it’s a higher achieving school that does far better. The kids are the same, but the school is different. How did they do it? Their formula was… (more…)