Monday, June 6, 2016

On Mentoring: Who Is Your Sensei?

Luis Valentino on Mentoring
Mentoring
(Luis Valentino) Institutions outside of public education have, as a matter of course, provided mentoring support to its members as part of human capital initiative.  Only recently have we in public education taken mentoring as a critical component in our development.  Below is a piece on mentoring written by Dr. Albert Solano, a career educator, consultant, and trainer.  I hope you find it helpful. Enjoy!
 


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Impactful Mentoring: Lessons from Sensei (Teacher)
When we are deep in the minutia of day-to-day work that can often include toxic politics, organizational culture inertia, putting out fires, etc., we can sometimes forget to take a step back and reflect on key lessons learned from a mentor. For me, that mentor was Miyazaki Sensei (teacher). A positive role model who set the example for all of his karate students, he was largely responsible for keeping me off the streets while growing up in New York City. He taught me many lessons at a very young age that I didn't fully appreciate until much later.

Some context...
My mother, a single-parent, invested her money from multiple jobs to enroll me in karate when I was about ten-years-old. It was perhaps the best investment she ever made. It kept me off the streets (mostly) and provided me with a positive role model and teacher, Toyotaro Miyazaki. We all knew him simply as "Sensei." An incredibly talented man who was a well-known fighter in the 1960s tournament circuit and forms/weapons champion in the 70s & 80s, Sensei maintained an enormously humble persona. He didn't care to be called Shihan (master). He preferred Sensei (teacher).

The basics…
In the 1980s, there was an explosion of martial arts popularity in the U.S. Schools were popping up everywhere. The big fads were flips, splits, and spinning kicks. But not at our dojo (school). We would spend years perfecting simple stances, simple kicks, and simple blocks. Sensei could've secured more students (i.e., revenue) if he offered the fancy stuff but he didn't compromise. (Not to knock down people who can demonstrate fancy techniques. I admire their physical talent. The point is Sensei was not quick to implement fads at the school).

Continuous improvement...
When I was a teen, my mother could no longer afford lessons. The kind and generous man that he was, Sensei asked me a question in his deep Japanese accent, "Do you know how to clean?" So, soon after I began cleaning the dojo every day after school and on Saturday mornings. I was a horrible janitor but he was patient with me. A couple of years later Sensei had me start teaching some of the young children's classes. He didn't hand me a booklet with teaching directions. Rather, a culmination of tips as he observed my teaching amounted to a 4-step process. Sensei taught me: 
  1. Plan the content. 
  2. Visualize the sequence. 
  3. Implement and adapt the pace and content as you see students perform.
  4. Reflect on your lesson. 
I taught classes intermittently for about three years, moving over to teach the adult classes, and eventually assisting with tournament activities. It's only as an adult that I came to fully appreciate Sensei's 4-step process, especially step 4: reflect on your lesson. Could I have done a better job teaching the class? What do I need to improve for the next class? 

Lessons learned…

Key lessons Sensei taught me:
  • Don't be concerned with titles.
  • Don't focus on the revenue. Know your core values. Revenue will eventually come from doing the right thing.
  • Don't be quick to adapt the latest fads. Focus on doing the basics well.
  • Be kind and generous.
  • Reflect on your work. 
Admittedly, I sometimes neglected Sensei's key lessons throughout my career. This was particularly true when I was deep in the minutia of day-to-day work as an education administrator. I didn't always take a step back to reflect on my early life lessons. I could've been more patient, thoughtful, and focused on the basics. I definitely could've done a better job to reflect on my work. 

If you find yourself entrenched in the minutia, I encourage you to reflect on a special mentor, teacher, friend, family member or any other positive influencer who taught you key lessons that should be brought back to the surface again. Perhaps you'll find a way to reignite your passion and view work and life through a fresh set of reliable lenses. 

Who is your "Sensei"?

Best,

Al
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Dr. Albert Solano
Educator. Consultant. Trainer

Monday, May 30, 2016

To Charlie, And All The Brave Soldiers Who Died For Their Country

As a kid in my El Paso neighborhood, I remember a number of my older neighbors and friends being drafted into the military.
Many of them, sadly, never returned home safe. I remember one afternoon, in particular, playing out on the street with my friends, when a dark green military car with two men in uniform drove up and parked across the street. They knocked on the door where Charlie lived before he had been drafted. Charlie's mom opened the door and the two soldiers walked in. 15 seconds later we all heard a blood curdling scream that enveloped the neighborhood and lasted forever. To this day I can recall it vividly. Charlie had been killed during the battle of Quang Tri, in Vietnam. Charlie's mom was informed Mother's Day weekend. Needless to say, she, Charlie's dad, and his sisters were never the same again. They soon moved way from the neighborhood. And for us kids, it was the first time that we understood the impact of war, not from a textbook, but from personal experience. That night, I took all of my old green soldier action figures, packed them in a box, and stuck them in the closet - never played with them again. I've come to realize that Memorial Day honors not only the soldiers who gave their lives in the service of our country, but their families and close friends who experience the loss in an incredible way. I have had family members in the military, but, gratefully, all have come home safe. To Charlie, and to all of those brave soldiers from El Segundo Barrio in El Paso, Texas, "we forever honor you and thank you."

Friday, April 29, 2016

Urban Prep: Proving Again That African American Males Can Succeed

academic achievement, success
Urban Prep Academy
Congratulations to the boys at Urban Prep Charter Academy for keeping hope alive and preparing 100% of its senior class to serve as the next generation of African American male leaders.  Over the past 7 years, Urban Prep has sent 100% of its graduates to a college or university.  That is a
remarkable feat, and one that should not only be celebrated but emulated across the country.

Far too many of our men of color are failing to enroll in college, primarily because they are not well prepared. And given the example at Urban Prep Charter Academy, I doubt that we can blame it all on poverty or maleness, or lack of commitment or interest.  It has to do with the adults who serve them believe in them.  Their motto "We Believe" is practiced on a daily basis.  They are their brothers' keeper.  Tim King, Founder of Urban prep Charter Academy summed it up this way.

“Every year, I’m just wowed by these young men, by what they are doing... We started Urban Prep with the goal of moving the needle when it comes to black male achievement and these guys proved to me, the city and the world every year, that we did the right thing when we founded Urban Prep ten years ago.”

Yesterday, in our Wiredprofiles digest, I wrote about Professor Chris Emdin, author of the book For White Folks Who Teach in the Hood...and The Rest of Y'all Too, and an interview he did with Mother Jones.  In his interview, Dr. Emdin spoke to the need for greater understanding and respect for the lives of our students of color, in particular young African-American males.  Student potential is there, as proven by Urban Prep and other institutions; what we as adults have to do is raise our consciousness, and begin to believe - in them.

You can read the curated article on Wiredprofiles: Education's Daily Digest

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

The Power and Perils of Computer Science In Our Public Schools

Earlier this afternoon I was curating articles for the next edition of Wiredprofiles and came across a petition on change.org. It stated the following: America should be a leader in computer science education, yet today most schools don’t even offer this foundational subject. Please join the CEOs, governors, and education leaders below and ask Congress to support computer science in every K-12 school — for our children, and for their future.


This petition has gained momentum after a large number of tech giants, along with other corporate heads have petitioned the congress for monies to increase student access to technology, specifically computers and coding. This ask follows President Obama’s call for more than $4 billion in funding for states to provide greater opportunities for students to use technology in their learning.

I have lead a district wide technology initiatives that included the development of a preK-12 computer science curriculum, implementation of learning and human management systems. I am a big believer in the power of educational technology and a supporter of expanding computer and technology access to all students. In fact, that access should come at little to no cost to students, including their internet access. The emerging technologies are no longer a trend, but is a necessary tool that supports student learning, much the same way as a book, a journal, a blackboard does.

I do have a concern, however. One of the things that we as educators tend to do with propositions, is to make it about the “thing” and not about the quality of the learning experience for the student, and the service that the thing can provide. Too often we look for the new best thing, or the latest opportunity instead of realizing that student success comes when quality teaching and learning takes place in the classroom, day in and day out. And the greatest asset in that endeavor is the classroom teacher. Technology is a tool that supports teachers in expanding their repertoire and their offering.

That leads me to the question of coding. Should all students learn to code? Why? Will they all be expected to become computer scientists? Do we clarity of purpose around it? Many of us recall our own experiences in high schools nad college with Basic, Fortran, UNIX computers, CRT time-sharing, and punch cards. I have forgotten most of it because in my experience there was limited use for it, with few opportunities to apply it in any other aspect of my schoolwork.
As we move forward with expanding student access to technology, lets consider what coding can actually teach a student. During an interview, Steven Jobs, Co-Founder of Apple explained the value of learning how to code, this way.

“I think everybody in this country should learn how to program a computer because it teaches you how to think. I like to think of coding as applied math and sciences because it teaches us an iterative approach to solving problems and testing out our ideas. While I don’t consider myself a coder, apart from HMTL/CSS I don’t code in my daily work, I did find that learning the basics of how to code on Code Academy has done wonders for improving my problem solving skills.”

Learning to code can help students develop a more open mindset, that provides for the development of enhanced skills in critical thinking and problem-solving, communication and collaboration, and advanced organization. This can result in improved academic skills in students who may or may not choose to pursue a career in computer science, but who have a greater capacity for learning and application.

Monday, April 25, 2016

Fusion Education: A New Perspective On a Familiar Idea

Growing up, I thought I wanted to be a veterinarian, entomologist, professional athlete, dancer, and fighter pilot.   Fortunately, my grandmother saw all of those fantasies as possibilities, and always encouraged me to keep my options open.  She truly believed that the quality of my preparation would determine which of those options, or any others, would become real choices for me.  But it wasn't until I was a high school student that those childhood fantasies could, in fact, become a reality if I prepared myself to attain them.  
student college education

What did that mean for my class choices?  How would teachers and counselors help me to maneuver my way through 4 years of high school that could lead to admissions to top universities, a clear major in mind, and the resources to achieve it?  At the end of the day, would all of that lead to a return on investment as measured by the choices available to me upon graduating from college?

Getting those questions answered led to more questions. What kind of education would I need to prepare for a career in the latter part of the 20th century, and beyond?  Would my major determine the technical or non-technical programs I should consider?  Where would each program take me?  These were questions for me then, and are questions now for thousands of high school graduates preparing to receive admissions letters from their college or university of choice.

Gloria Cordes Larson, President of Bentley University believes that "With college costs soaring, many are questioning the return on investment (ROI) of a traditional liberal arts education. However, the President of Bentley University just outside of Boston, Gloria Cordes Larson believes that combining a liberal arts education with technical skills, creating a fusion education, is the new model for education." 

 And so we wait for those thousands of letters to arrive, informing applicants of the decisions made by the institutions of higher learning they applied to, who are hoping to prepare the next crop of students for a future yet to be defined, while providing them with a well-rounded education.   A fusion education appears to present good options to students and universities.

You can read the full interview with Gloria Cordes Larson as curated at http://www.wiredprofiles.com

Friday, April 15, 2016

On The Privilege of Whiteness

Addressing the issue of “difference” in society is probably the most challenging policy issue facing education. Race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, language, etc., are all words that describe people who are viewed as different, meaning non-white, not straight, limited or non-standard-English speaking, and more. Institutions of higher education as well as K — 12 districts are grappling with how to address this issue in a comprehensive and sustainable way.  Recently, The Federalist Papers Project website wrote an article describing the effort by colleges and universities to address whiteness and privilege.

The “Privilege of Whiteness” workshop is designed for white people to “reflect on and name the ways their privilege impacts their beliefs and behaviors by gaining the skills to identify the historical roots of White Privilege and how it manifests today,”

Are we getting this right? Do we, the institution, not address difference because it makes people feel uncomfortable or because it challenges who we are at our core? Is doing nothing better than doing something, even if we make mistakes along the way?

As I was curating this article to post on our Wiredprofiles Education Digest, I couldn’t help but consider how we as educators choose to take on this issue. Some of us choose to ignore it, “I treat everyone the same”, or we can choose to do equity-lite work through African-American month, Cesar Chavez day, LGBTQ Rainbow Festival, etc. For those with a more raised consciousness, we take it further, asking of ourselves and others to identify and name the concept of “difference”, and challenge ourselves to work with it, and through it in order to fully understand what it means to be white, black, brown, yellow, gay, poor, limited English proficient, fat, old………..

More importantly, what do we do when we begin to understand? What does it do for us? How does a more inspired and aware perspective improve our social condition?

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

The Transformative Power of Scholarship, Leadership, and Agency in Education


(Luis Valentino) Education is both an art and a science. Just as parenting involves much more than feeding and clothing our children and raising them safely to adulthood, educating our children involves much more than teaching them the content of a curriculum. Too often in our public schools today we view education in terms of the one-dimensional output goals we have set for our students rather than in terms of the multi-dimensional input processes required of us as educators.  The ability of our students to realize their own enduring, individual goals for a fulfilling career and functional lifestyle – that is the task we are charged with. 
The works of Fullan, Sergiovanni, Greenleaf, Critical Theory scholars, and others suggests that, while demonstrating scholarship capacity toward those one is charged with serving as well as scholarship of self and others is at the core, there is more. Whether a teacher, a principal, college professor, dean, or superintendent, the roles of leader and advocate serve a vital and complementary function. Our responsibility as educators includes the demonstration of leadership towards those we lead – our students, our staff, and each other. Our duty also obligates us to be forceful and committed advocates for those we serve, as well as for self and others. 
This means quite simply that, while our own scholarship and the academic acumen we pass on to our students is certainly the core of our purpose, it is not the whole job. There is more. Much more. We must be more than an Ethernet cable that connects a database of knowledge with the minds of the children. After all, when these children leave our care they will be adults or on the verge of adulthood. They will be tomorrow’s leaders, tomorrow’s parents, tomorrow’s businessmen and women, and tomorrow’s educators.
The word “educate” comes from Latin roots meaning “to rear,” “to train,” “to build up,” and “to lead.” As today’s leaders, we must lead and not just teach.  We take the supple and magnificent minds of the sons and daughters of the families in our school districts under our wing for half of their waking hours during half of the days of their lives from kindergarten through graduation. They are scarcely more than toddlers when we get them from their parents, and they are adults when we give them back to society. We compete with private educators for the privilege of educating and shaping these decision-makers of tomorrow. We tout the benefits and advantages that only a public education system can provide for society as a whole, and we know these advantages require the participation of the vast majority of school children in order for us to fund and realize our vision. And we understand that we must not only have the curriculum but also the tools, the time, the dedication, and the attitude to give each of them what they need so that we can close the achievement gap and empower their spirits in preparation for the tasks and challenges of adulthood.
Scholarship is not enough – and neither is leadership. Agency is the third pillar we must master in order to make sure that we are complete educators with the ability and drive to keep any child from falling through the cracks of an incomplete and imperfect system.
It is impossible to deny that not only the content of the brains, but also the content of the mindsets, the spirits, and the character of the young adults emerging from our educational system is a reflection of our worth as educators. It is not our job to usurp the role of the fine parents of our district, but it is absolutely our responsibility to provide the stewardship and guidance our children need during the most formative hours of their most formative years.
It is our responsibility not only to introduce them to facts, but to challenge their minds, unleash their talents, let them discover their inherent worth and competence, build their confidence along with their abilities, and release their natural human spirit so that they may discover and appreciate the limitless possibilities that life has to offer them. We must do our part as educators to motivate them to seek and find their own vision of fulfillment and their own niche and inspiration for contributing to society and to their own fortune and wellbeing. Their success depends on our skills and abilities, not only in scholarship but also in the realms of leadership and Agency.
Education, like parenting, is a holistic process. If the knowledge we teach is to be effective and meaningful, we must consider the whole child and not just their academic proficiency. It is how these young adults perform, live, and cope once they leave our care that is the real test of our educational system – and of our worth as educators. If we don’t prepare them for the wonders, pitfalls, challenges, and treasure of life, then we have failed.
Education and educational reform is the duty of everyone involved in the educational experience – the teacher, the principal and school administrators, counselors, superintendents and board members, and everyone at the District Office as well. Responsibility, credit, and blame run both uphill and down. We must synchronize our efforts and our resolve, and we must build a new paradigm of education as a team of professionals – as a team of worthy scholars, inspiring leaders, and committed advocates. Our task is to make ourselves better and fulfill every dimension of our role as educators. If we can do that, the rest of the process will take care of itself.
Based on years of research and scholarly studies throughout the profession, the driving force behind the optimization of the education of the future must include three important pillars:  Scholarship, Leadership, and Agency. In order to create the processes that will transform the educational experience and enhance the core competency of our children – as human beings and not just as students – public education must expand its vision of the role that educators play in the teaching, learning, and administrative processes involved.  As you will read, each pillar contributes to a comprehensive whole that can help transcend our real and perceived limitations.