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Stray Dogs: Getting Real About Making Schools Better

image from hinessight.blogs.comThe most memorable part of my Southern California Public Radio interview with Madeleine Brand earlier today was her honest but somewhat heartbreaking response to my description of the hard-won improvements that have taken place at Locke since 2008 -- the safe grounds and quiet hallways, the kids feeling like their teachers care about them and that they can succeed in school.  "That sounds sort of depressing." Brand said.  Indeed, not getting gangbanged in the hall or humiliated when you have a question in class is no big deal to most of us, and it's not hard to look at all the work that's gone on at Locke and hundreds of other turnaround efforts and think the same thing: no big deal. I get that, and have had the thought myself many times.  But then I remember how big a difference it makes when I feel safe on my way home to Brooklyn or how big a difference it makes when an editor is even the slightest bit engaged and supportive. Little things make big differences in all of our lives.  We're unsettled and unproductive when they're not the way we want them; it's just that the little things at Locke are different than most of ours.  Expecting big things immediately is understandable but ultimately destructive.  It's a habit we have to get out of if we want to have any chance of making a real difference in the long run.  

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I look forward to the day when little things and small steps toward progress are lauded equally in charter schools and regular public schools. When a district school makes these little changes that matter in real ways to kids, they are still, for the most part, labeled failures. That's the tragedy of NCLB -- and it continues unabated under RTTT, Duncan & Obama. So discouraging.

I feel you. I just went back to my old school for the first time since the latest lockdown for drive-by shootings. As opposed to earlier shootouts this year, they not were fatal. The faculty had the same exhaustion as ever. But this year they're told they'll be a Transformation school. While Turnarounds just fire 50%, Transformations drive out the teachers they don't want. This year, all teacher - the great and the awful - endure extra meetings being intimidated. What does that say about the people schools of "reformers" kicking people when they are so down while also so exhausted? How will that help teachers be more respectful to kids? In education, as in the rest of life, the feces rolls downhill.

The best thing for teachers to remember when being pummeled is that the kids have it worse.

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