Just finished with the general session on Day 2 of NCSC 2011 and feel definitely inspired by the key notes. Marian Wright Edelman and Doug Hense spoke eloquently, passionately, and intelligently about the role we play as educators in making the lives of children better. I was struck by the references to the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s and how the promises of Dr. King and the Freedom Riders are still there as promises and not so much as realities for so many American children. Although we have made great strides in opening schools to all children, in providing more equitable access to educational resources to all children, and to opening doors of opportunity, we have not done a satisfactory job of pushing the beliefs into children's minds that they must do better.
Its challenging to think of educators and schools where the belief is that only some kids will achieve. Its frustrating to believe that the view of so many who are so influential in the lives of students is that there are winners and losers in the game of life. I see so many that believe that motivation is the key to success and that kids are not motivated and that is where their failure is rooted. But, they don't ask the questions or worse yet, only rhetorically ask, why are the kids not motivated. Edelman told the story of a 12 year old black male student she spoke with in the DC schools in the days just after Dr. King's assassination who she was imploring to not but his future at risk and go out and loot and riot and get arrested. He looked in her eyes and said, "But, I ain't got no future, I have nothing to lose." He saw no reason to get an education, no reason to push through what could be the challenges of reading, math or history because the promise of segregation and walls he had no control over were all he saw. Today, those walls of law and tradition have been torn down, but the image of students still creating those walls in their minds persists.
Our role as leaders of schools, whether it is a grass roots charter in downtown Atlanta or a traditional school in the suburbs or a "failing" school in any city is to provide BOTH the motivation and the path by which kids can be successful. Schools must be a refuge for strength, sanity, routine, and success in the lives of so many kids that experience the opposite outside of schools. Schools and educators must be the influences that push kids to be more than they want to be.
There are many paths to success for schools. Best practices of good instruction breed success which breeds pride which breeds high expectations for students. Poor practices breed failure which breed excuses which lead to low expectations. The behaviors of successful schools and students create the mindsets of success. That is what you see in good private schools, good charter schools, good traditional schools. That is what is scalable and possible.