Each of us matters in moving forward with intentionality
We all are people and people can grow, change and evolve
Progress starts with understanding the present
“What is . . . is”
And by having a clear vision of a preferred future . . . progress has direction
Then bridging the gaps between “what is” and “what might be” becomes the mission
Movement towards a preferred future will likely require:
welcoming the unknown
motivation to learn
Progress comes from embracing opportunity in the middle of uncertainty
We all must be willing to use our current knowledge and dispositions as fertile ground to grow more
more knowledge, and
more willingness and ability for:
welcoming the unknown
being sincerely motivated to learn
Jerry Jennings March 3, 2015
“The United States has the biggest prison population in the world – we incarcerate 25% of the world’s prisoners, though we’re only 5% of the world’s population. This reliance’s on prisons is recent: in 1980 we had some 500,000 Americans in prison; by 2010 we have more than 2,300,000 American people locked up. Yes, that’s close to 2 ½ million Americans now!”
Piper Kerman has written a great memoir of for 13 months in the Federal prison system. Many people know about her work because they’ve seen the TV show which was created as a result of this memoir. Yes, Piper Kerman wrote Orange is the New Black: My Year in a Women’s Prison.
I like the TV show AND the book. When I write “like” – it is the kind of appreciation that comes when I am made to think deeply about information and when I find myself caring about something which, previously I hadn’t given much thought to. I also love good stories with characters that are authentic. Where people grow and evolve. Where people are complex. All of that and more is happening in the book and the TV series.
If you are interested in learning more about our current American prison system – this book is a place to start. It is the story of one of those many million Americans who have spent or are spending time in prison. It is a story that let us into a world we don’t necessarily know much about. Yet, the world of prison life is huge in America. So, yes – this book and TV series gets us thinking about our country and how we operate.
Kerman sees clearly that “America has invested heavily in prisons, while the public institutions that actually prevent crime and strengthen communities – schools, hospitals, libraries, museums, community centers – go without.” I see this too and would add to the list the need for greater resources in responding compassionately and productively to homelessness and community and mental health across the country.
Orange is the New Black: My Year in a Women’s Prison by Piper Kerman 2010, 2011 is published by Random House and can be bought or checked out of libraries everywhere. The TV show is a NETFLIX original series (Orange is the New Black) is based on the work of Piper Kerman and season three is to begin in the summer of 2015. That gives you lots of time to read the book and catch up on season 1 and 2.
The complexity of the American prison system is important for all of us to think about. Kerman asserts that we “Over incarceration in America destabilizes families and communities, making life outside the mainstream more likely by limiting opportunities for change. We have a racially biased justice system that over punishes, fails to rehabilitate, and doesn’t make us safer.”
The quotes above can be found on pages 303, 299 and 303 of the paperback of Orange is the New Black: My Year in a Women’s Prison by Piper Kerman
We are works in progress: And we are products of our past. This is true of us as individuals and as a species. Sometimes we can find ourselves thinking that change, growth, improvement or progress gets stalled or stopped. We doubt that we, as individuals or as groups, can do much more than just become resigned to stagnation.
We doubt that we can get out the rut we are in. We are pretty sure that we are not going to reach our aspirations because the journey is taking too long and the path is “crazy” confusing and unclear. We are not sure what to try to “get better” at so we can achieve the desired progress.
I have enjoyed reading and thinking about the book: The Talent Code by Daniel Coyle. From my point of view Coyle makes the case that continuing to develop, change, grow, and improve is not just possible – it is how biology works. It is not an accident when we get good at something. In fact, we are hard wired to be able to adapt, change and evolve as individuals – and by extension as groups. He also reinforces my belief that effort and intentionality make a difference.
Here are some of Coyle’s thoughts:
Nature/nurture has been a terrifically popular model because it’s clear and dramatic, and it speaks to a wide variety of phenomena in the natural world. But when it comes to explaining human talent, it has a slight problem: it’s vague to the point of meaninglessness. Thinking that talent comes from genes and environment is like thinking that cookies come from sugar, flour, and butter. It’s true enough, but not sufficiently detailed to be useful. To get beyond the outmoded nature/nurture model, we need to begin with a clear picture of how genes actually work.
Genes are not cosmic playing cards. They are evolution tested instruction books that build the immensely complicated machines that are us. They contain the blueprints, literally written in nucleotides, to construct our minds and bodies in the smallest detail. The task of design and construction is hugely complex but essentially straightforward: the genes instruct the cells to make the eyelash like this, the toenail like that.
When it comes to behavior, however, genes are forced to deal with a unique design challenge. Human beings move around through a big, varied world. They encounter all sorts of dangers, opportunities, and novel experiences. Things happen quickly, which means that behavior—skills—need to change quickly. The challenge is, how do you write an instruction book for behavior? How do our genes, sitting quietly inside our cells, help us adapt to an ever-changing, ever-dangerous world?
To help address this problem, our genes have evolved to do a sensible thing: they contain instructions to build our circuitry with preset urges, proclivities, and instincts. Genes construct our brains so that when we encounter certain stimuli— a tasty meal, rotting meat, a stalking tiger, or a potential mate—a factory-loaded neural program kicks into gear, using emotions to guide our behavior in a useful direction. We feel hunger when we smell a meal, disgust when we smell rotten meat, fear when we see a tiger, desire when we see a potential mate. Guided by these preset neural programs, we navigate toward a solution.
That strategy works well for creating behaviors to deal with rotten meat and potential mates. After all, writing instructions to build an urge-circuit is relatively simple: if X,then Y. But what about creating complex higher behaviors, like playing the saxophone or Scrabble? As we’ve seen, higher skills are made of million-neuron chains working together with exquisite millisecond timing. The question of acquiring higher skills is really a question of design strategy. What’s the
best strategy for writing instructions to build a machine that can learn immensely complicated skills?
One obvious design strategy would be for the genes to prewire for the skill. The genes would provide detailed step-by-step instructions to build the precise circuits needed to perform the desired skill: to play music, or juggle, or do calculus.
When the right stimulus came along, all the prebuilt wiring would connect up and start firing away, and the talent would appear: Babe Ruth starts whacking homers, Beethoven starts composing symphonies. This design strategy would seem to make sense (after all, what could be more straightforward?), but in fact it has two big problems. First, it’s expensive, biologically speaking. Building those elaborate circuits takes resources and time, which have to come at the expense of some other design feature. Second, it’s a gamble with fate. Prewiring to create a genius software programmer doesn’t help if it’s 1850; and prewiring for a genius blacksmith would be useless today. In the space of a generation, or a few hundred miles, certain higher skills flip from being crucial to being trivial and vice versa.
To put it simply, prewiring a million-wire circuit for a complex higher skill is a stupid and expensive bet for genes to make. Our genes, however, having survived the gauntlet of the past few million years, aren’t in the business of making stupid and expensive bets. (Other genes might have been, but they’re long gone by now, along with the lineages that carried them.)*
Now let’s consider a different design strategy. Instead of prewiring for specific skills, what if the genes dealt with the skill issue by building millions of tiny broadband installers and distributing them throughout the circuits of the brain? The broadband installers wouldn’t be particularly complicated—in fact, they’d all be identical, wrapping wires with insulation to make the circuits work faster and smoother. They would work according to a single rule: whatever circuits are fired most and most urgently, are the ones where the installers will go. Skill circuits that are fired often will receive more broadband; skills that are fired less often, with less urgency, will receive less broadband. Pages 69 – 71
In this multifaceted world where forward progress often seems slow or stagnated: Where change often appears to be minimal or retro – There is a reasonable path toward developing and becoming more able to contribute in these complex times.
These are ‘our times’. We, if we want to be contributors, need to be willing to grow and develop ourselves. That means we have to be willing to “do things” poorly at first – so over time – we might do those same things with more elegance, grace and effectiveness.
What kinds of “things” might we want to get better at? That is a good question for each of us to sort out and answer. Here is my vision of what “things” we should consider being willing to “do” enough to improve our practice.
Engaging – reaching out and truly interacting with- others across differences.
Listening deeply to others by truly ‘seeking to understand, as Covey encouraged.
Collaborating with others to reach outcomes embraced by all.
Seeking the common good, as opposed to seeking to ‘win’ while others ‘lose”.
As Coyle suggestioned in The Talent Code: ”Whatever circuits are fired most and most urgently, are the ones where the installers will go. Skill circuits that are fired often will receive more broadband; skills that are fired less often, with less urgency, will receive less broadband.” So, the circuits that will help us, as a species, to get better at the four dispositions and behaviors I just mentioned are the ones we need to be “firing frequently”. Practice does matter!!!
Learning to read opens doors to the future. Learning to read must be about getting meaningful print in to a non-reader’s or developing-reader’s hands and helping the individual to gain the independence to comprehend the material.
Teachers make the difference for many learners as they become more and more proficient as ‘meaning makers’ as they read. Teachers create classrooms and conditions where: Learners want to connect with print, want to grasp massages and meanings from print and are eager to follow and expand their interests by reading.
Comprehension becomes purpose for reading and teachers become those that help the individual to become a reader who comprehends.
For an individual to comprehend he or she will need to amass strategies for approaching print that include being: proactive, tentative, personal, transactive, thoughtful, imagistic, inferential and reflective. Yes, you are correct – that is a tall order! And it is doable!!!!!
Duffy, in the second edition of his book: Explaining Reading: A Resource for Teaching Concepts, Skills and Strategies, describes that reading comprehension is:
► Proactive, because a reader must be actively thinking and constantly monitoring the meaning.
► Tentative, because predictions made in one moment may change in the next moment.
► Personal, in that meaning resides in the reader’s interpretation, which in turn is controlled by his or her prior knowledge.
► Transactive, because the reader’s background interacts with the author’s intention.
► Thoughtful, because you must always analyze the clues the author provides.
► Imagistic, because (in narrative text particularly) you use the author’s descriptive language to create a picture in your mind of what is happening.
► Inferential, because the reader can only make a calculated guess about the author’s meaning since the author was operating from one set of experiences and the reader from another.
► Reflective, in that good readers evaluate what they have read and determine its significance and/or how it can be used after finishing reading.
Strategies are an important part of comprehension. There are only a few strategies readers use in various combinations over and over again, with slight variation from one reading situation to another.
Monitoring and questioning what is happening.
Adjusting predictions as you go.
Creating images in the mind.
Removing blockages to meaning.
Reflecting on the essence or the significance or the importance of what has been read.
These strategies can be categorized as:
• Before you begin reading.
• As you begin reading.
• During reading.
• After reading.
Learning to read opens doors to the future. Comprehending print is teachable and learnable!!!! Teach can open these doors. Learners can become independent makers of meaning as they read.
My belief is that as leaders we have to be willing to move beyond the status quo! We have to want and pursue deep change. For each and every student to become competent in comprehending print serves the common good.
When it comes to specific variables that lead to Schools That Work: Where All Children Read and Write (2007) Allington and Cunningham (pages 44-45) report that ten features emerged that enhanced the academic achievement (e.g., thoughtful literacy) of students. Their comprehensive review of the research on school change shows that schools can make a difference. Allington and Cunningham have also reviewed the research on classrooms and have concluded that teachers, as they follow the research at the classroom level, make the difference for students in developing early literacy. By clicking in this link you can see the features of classrooms where all learn to read and write.
Classrooms can be highly productive and schools can be highly productive in insuring that all students learn to read and write.
Here are the ten features that lead to schools that work:
- School staff committed to the idea that all children could learn to read and write, and they worked to produce that outcome.
- Substantial investments were made in professional development – primarily investments to enhance teachers’ instructional skills and to create teaching and learning environments that support high-quality instruction.
- Planning was reorganized so that classroom teachers were more heavily involved in school decision making. In some schools, parents and community members also joined the school site-based management teams.
- To implement new instructional approaches, the schools invested in classroom libraries, big books, magazine subscriptions, and student anthologies. Putting books in classrooms and in school libraries makes it more likely that children will have books in their hands.
- The schools allocated larger amounts of classroom instructional time to actual reading and writing activities while using multiple approaches to literacy instruction. Integration of reading and writing activities and integration of reading and writing with social studies and science lessons are common.
- Special instructional programs were reorganized. Extra effort was made to connect special-program teachers with classroom instruction and classroom teachers.
- Expanding instructional time by extending the normal school day for some children is another feature of many of the successful efforts.
- The assessments of children’s literacy development are tied more heavily to everyday reading and writing than to end-of-year standardized testing.
- Successful schools worked to involve families.
- In most of the successful school reform efforts, change started small, not with a wholesale restructuring of the school. It was not unusual to find a multi-year plan for changing current practice. Long-term plans call for long-term commitments to continuous improvement – commitments from the professional staff and from the district leaders who provide the resources that support the change effort.
School districts can change. They can improve. Outcomes for students can improve.
And – don’t expect a “quick fix” or “small tweaks” or “a hidden secret you just have to uncover” to bring about these kinds of improved outcomes. Life in today’s school districts is complex and leadership matters! Allington and Cunningham have gathered the research to shine a light on the direction for that leadership to focus. They have found that sometimes the needed leadership comes from the staff and sometimes it comes from the administration. Either way, for a whole school to become a place where each and every student can become literate – it takes leadership.
Leadership with a clear vision,
Leadership to navigate change.
Leadership to build and nurture a community with a shared mission.
Leadership to empower teachers to others to learn, grow and influence beyond their classroom.
And leadership that supports all as they explore possibilities, adapt existing practice when appropriate, adopt new paths to serve each and every student and being willing to focus on achieving positive outcomes for each and every student.
We will not have schools or districts where all students learn to read and write if we try to get there by following the path of the status quo. Change must happen. For change to be rooted into the future, it requires leadership.
It is time to consider helping to lead this important change.