Sunday, April 27, 2008

Celebrate the Child

“Mothers will go where their children are being celebrated, every time, in every town, in every city.” Bill Strickland

This past week my school hosted a spring family night. Hot dogs and hamburgers were served along with performances by our jumprope club, our ballroom dancing club, as well as our staff and student choir. The next day our Assistant Principal sent an email to the staff with much praise and high thanks for all of the participation.

My school has a large base population living in public housing right on the outskirts of our city. Frequently it is difficult to attract parents to come to our school, though the trip, for most, would require little more than a short walk across the street. Our AP noted in the email the significant turnout of base parents and I thought of the Bill Strickland quote.

For those of you who don’t know him, Bill Strickland is an innovator who has funded and created his own schools and training centers to help the under served populations of inner city Pittsburg. He has received the MacArthur “Genius” Award for leadership and integrity in the arts, among his many other accolades.

His quote is referring to a gallery that the had opened at his school to celebrate the work of the students. He spoke of the drive to get parents to come to the gallery openings, and how he hired a man to encourage the parents to come. He described how the number of guests at their openings grew with each invitation because mothers will go where their children are celebrated.

Immediately I thought of our school.

I thought of the lengths that my school goes to to encourage our base parents to come for teacher conferences and the inevitable low attendance. I thought of my own frustrations with with parents who do not seem to offer the support that their child so desperately needs. Then I thought about celebrating their child.

I teach the fourth grade, so I wondered how many parent teacher conferences parents may have already been to that did not center around celebration. I wondered about a history of calls from the office that were devoid of celebration. At some point, I imagined, you begin to dread that call, to disdain the invitation, to ignore the school that looms, like a wall across the street. I thought of the conferences that I haven’t had with my base parents, and wondered if there would have been much celebration in the event that they had visited.

Sadly I fear that our results oriented society would not offer much hope for celebration at the parent teacher conference. This concerns me. What concerns me more is that I don’t know that I have to answer for how to provide the platform for celebration. I firmly believe that every child has a gift and talent to be cultivated and drawn forth by, among others, educators. Additionally, I believe that I am working every day to draw the children out of themselves, heads held high with confidence. But I also recognize theirs and their families strong adherence to the standards that our society has set in place. Grades and testing results measure, ultimately the child. While I do believe that there is a need for valid assessment of understanding and capabilities, my concern is that, increasingly, it is at the expense of the child. That, I suppose, is an entirely different blogpost.

Here, I am at an end, though I realize that I have not concluded my thoughts. Ultimately I feel that I am not at a conclusive place. Perhaps one of my three readers out there in cyberspace might have some thoughts on the matter. I just can’t get this notion of celebrating children out of my head.

See Bill Strickland speak here.


Bam Bam Bigelow said...

Nate wrote:
Sadly I fear that our results oriented society would not offer much hope for celebration at the parent teacher conference. This concerns me.

Brilliant comment, Nate. You're right that our focus on results---as defined by standardized tests---has changed who and how we celebrate in schools.

A part of me wonders if the solution to the success of students in your school doesn't rest beyond your school. When our community decides to invest in social services that offer support for families and students in need---after school care, summer care, medical care----perhaps we'll start to see kids who are currently failing succeed.

Have you ever read Class in Schools by Richard Rothstein? That's the argument he makes----that we keep expecting schools to solve problems that go far beyond the schoolhouse door.

In the meantime, I'm not sure I want to see our nation change its definition of success as much as I want to see us investing in the kinds of strategies that it takes to make success possible. To me, it's not the standards that need to change---it's our commitment to distributing resources equitably (as opposed to equally) that needs to change.

The good news is that the curriculum managment audit recently completed in our county made equitable distribution of resources objective #1----and our district leaders are committed to pushing conversations about finding ways to make sure that schools get what they need with the recognition that some schools need more than others.

With that kind of focus and attention, maybe you will have reason to celebrate again.

Interesting thoughts....

chickenlady said...

As your opening statement says "Mothers will go where their children are being celebrated" perhaps we should consider renaming our teacher conferences and calling them parent celebrations to allow us to share time with the parents to celebrate what is happening in class.

ksports9 said...

I am also concerned about the lack of celebration of talents in our students. I came to my current school due to the fact that it believes all students have a gift and a talent, and that we will find it and nurture it. I was a student who benefitted from these ideas.

I realize in conferences, as educators, we worry about those lovely test scores. I try my best (and sometimes it is ever so difficult) to discuss the strengths of the student. I talk about what they do on the playground, in art, or funny stories they tell. Maybe some maturity will kick in later for the educational part...who says we all have to be college bound anyway. Who will help me build my deck? Not some masters or doctorate educated person (in most cases, sorry Nate).

Back to the neighborhood school situation. GOOD mothers will follow their children anywhere. We happen to be dealing with mammas that do not seem to care from the start, not necessarily due to the continual negative conferences. I realize some cases are different. If they care they will show, good or bad news.

I have an issue somewhat connected. I get frustrated with the handouts we give. I know, I know, I know we have those that do need. However, so many have begun to expect us to give, give, give. I am talking about backpacks, school supplies...Again, I am a giver, I know the need is there. Our neighborhood has those in need, but when do we help vs enable?.

I have a student who needs much attention to hygiene and education. Her older sister reaps the benefits of her mother's attention and funding. It is a very sad situation. What do we do there? Money and time are given to one and not the gifting can add that mothers time into the equation.

I know I am spiraling downward..

I want to help. I want success for the students (not necessarily measured by a test), but when does it become the parents responsibilty to help us create that feeling.

Sometimes I think you should have to get a license to bear children.

Nate, how will our revolution help with that?