Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Keep Hospice Care, Give Academic Expectations a Shot in the Arm

Early civilizations spread their ideas and concepts through cultural diffusion. The early members of an agricultural society shared their methods with members of the Iron Age and the steak and pepper kabob was invented. Before you knew it the best pasta chefs from China had influenced and changed Italian meals for eternity. Or something to that end. In this global economy we are all one click away from each other. The sharing of ideas, technology and system specific workstyles are evident all around us. Walk into any Old Navy and see how their employees can deal with a folding, or stocking crisis, land a plane or do back-up dance moves for The Back Street Boys. I don’t exactly know what the head gear is for, they may all be voice-to-texting their own blogs for all I know. We function from the boardroom to the bedroom scheduling meetings, utilizing different motivational principles in our conversations, and use various tools that originated from a variety of fields throughout the world. Web-based businesses, hospitals, education systems, auto companies, and every industry in-between share concepts and ideas to make things work more efficiently and strengthen the end product. Some of this industrial diffusion is good, others not so much.

I work in an economically deprived middle school. Rather than go on and on about how no one in particular and everyone in between is hurting our children’s future and the nation's as well, I am looking within the system at a growing issue that is infiltrating our schools and our communities. I don’t know how it started or who introduced the concept but we need to keep it out of our schools- hospice care. Hospice Care is invaluable to many. Hospice, in its beginning, offered shelter and rest, or "hospitality" to weary and sick travelers on a long journey. Today, hospice care provides compassionate care and support for people and families suffering from the last phases of incurable disease. I can not imagine what life and the process of death and grieving would be like without Hospice Care.

In this middle school setting, however, and I am certain in others, the hospice philosophy is applied to students that appear to have no hope, their interest in education has been suffering a slow painful death. It is generally a small group but it seems to be growing. These students are no longer expected to get to classes on time. They won’t be able to do the work anyway. Why bother making life more uncomfortable for them? They don’t always get reported if they are missing. Oh they will turn up, don’t worry the small stuff. Who wants to babysit them or heaven forbid have the other students see what they can get away with. They don’t get disciplined. Aren’t their lives already so difficult? They don’t do their homework, it doesn’t matter, there aren’t consistent or tangible consequences for homework anymore anyway. And we all know they don’t have support at home. Oh, except mine, and probably yours too.

I believe we may be able to trace some of this type of hospice-like philosophy sharing to the cross-cultural integration of the Oprah and Dr. Phil counseling techniques that everyone is now custom fitted with and able to provide to others. We need to support and nurture these children. This is true, but I don’t know about the statistal data to support the impact of ignoring-by-nurturing. We need to validate their feelings and empower them to share their feelings. “Sweety, tell me again why you couldn’t open your text book? Oh punkin, I hear you saying, because you hate school? Oh I understand. Tell me all about that, we can go sit and I can help teach you how to professionally avoid work because darling, when you don’t graduate from high school, you get a big old box of money that appears on your front door step any time you want it”.

I am so much a proponent of tough-love techniques, (probably introduced to me on The Phil Donahue Show). Oh, Phil wasn’t soft. Old school. Clear expectations and immediate consequences. If being in the classroom doing work is the goal, discipline should not feel good or be attractive. Leave that for education, sure there’s work to be done here. Don’t get me wrong I am all about love and support. At the right time and in the right place. Anyone with a toddler knows, all the love and hugs in the world won’t stop them from wanting a bag of candy at the checkout line. And, We all know if you give in now, just count yourself a Walmart statistic. Oh, honestly we’ve all been one checkout line away from a CPS call at least in our inner thoughts, when the baby is screaming and you forgot to pack a bottle because you would just be a minute, and your 4 year old will NOT stop asking for a bag of m &m’s after you already gave in to the sugary cereal and the lunch snack pack processed pizza. You can’t find your debit card and you are a screaming mimi away from letting loose to tell that four year old just what you might do if they ask for the candy one more time. You need to take control and sometimes stay firm because the lesson will be learned with time and consistency. A firm stare down goes a lot further than a huggy, mushy kiss to get a toddler to stop something.

But back to the school based tough love strategies. If you constantly give in and allow a child or student to do what they want a funny thing happens. They constantly want you to give them things. They come to expect that from you. They prolong the behavior and fail to learn that the universe doesn’t operate this way. They also miss out on learning that they have strengths and skills and something to offer. You can’t just walk around asking for things without offering anything in return. I think a big old sip of reality is important. If there are students that don’t want to do their school work at the middle school level, it is not going to get a whole lot easier at the high school level. College won’t be an option without the diploma. If they don’t really like the hours now, there are not too many entry level positions that give them weekends off and allow them to choose their own preferred schedules.

Of course it is much deeper than this. There are so many issues in schools and homes and society. At times figuring out effective non-confrontational way to deal with an adolescent isn’t always easy. Sometimes it may feel more effective to use the old hospice technique. Make them comfortable. Avoid pain. Go further-if I am nice to you, you will be nice to me, colleagues and/or staff will be happy that I am getting you out of their hair and everyone’s a winner! Right? Wrong, it happens again tomorrow and the next day. The messages that are really being sent to these students include: “I want to make this as easy as possible", "You don’t have much to offer so why put you in a class with engaged learners and ruin it for them.” “I don’t value your worth.” “I don’t expect different behavior from you.” “I feel sorry for you, because I am better than you.” “I don’t have the time to invest in you or your future and that’s ok because no else seems to care enough to do that, at least I am (seemingly) happy to see you.” The students don’t understand that there may be underlying meanings just yet, they think they are outsmarting the system. A firm stare down, a clear expectation goes a long way here, too.

The classroom and school expectations don’t have to be impossible, and they typically aren’t , but they should offer clear guidelines and tangible rules. Being expected to do work that is sometimes challenging and maybe even difficult or unpleasant will be long term expectations. They need a level of skill and expertise to pull this off. Getting along with others and being able to follow directions will be utilized far more than hanging out in hallways and bathrooms. Self-control needs to be taught and expected and then practiced. Being prompt and punctual are also life skills for all jobs and many commitments. The academics will carry students far. The general social expectations are needed regardless.

None of this is rocket science, but wouldn’t it be great to be able to encourage and support an unlikely rocket scientist and let them know they have what it takes to go out in the world with value? We need to stop venerating the problems and enabling students to disengage in their educations. We don’t all have to know or imagine that these children have tough lives to determine whether we are going to provide hospitality to these weary academic-avoidance travelers. Seriously, if they do have tough lives maybe we can provide them with extra skills rather than fewer. Don’t they need them the most? Shouldn’t we teach them about clear boundaries and the rewards of meeting goals and expectations? We could teach them about self-respect and dignity so they might learn how to be respectful and expect more from themselves. We can provide experiences they may not otherwise have and begin to understand their true worth.

Keep the headsets in Old Navy, the Hospice Care in the Health domain and check for those hall passes and homework assignments. You can still say hello and smile sweetly.

“You can’t drop out of school and just drop into a good job. You’ve got to work for it and train for it and learn for it. And this isn’t just important for your own life and your own future. What you make of your education will decide nothing less than the future of this country. What you’re learning in school today will determine whether we as a nation can meet our greatest challenges in the future."
President Barack Obama 2010

So much for that box full of money dream!

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