Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Is It “Us verse Them” in Your School?

Is It “Us verse Them” in Your School?

I refuse to perpetuate the “us verse them” mentality that I have encountered all my previous 7 years as a teacher. It is not always possible to break the “us verse them” mentality or cycle but where ever possible I try. I also refuse to perpetuate this mentality in my current role. I am co-principal at BOCES (Board of Cooperative Educational Service) Summer School at Wellsville Central School in Wellsville, New York. Currently, I am a graduate student at Niagara University and attempting to become a future school leader. As part of my internship I have given myself the humorous title of Co-Principal. It’s humorous because, Dan Denner, the other Co-Principle has been the principal here at summer school for 4 years, been a summer school teacher 8 years and has been teaching at Whitesville for 12 years.

We have about a dozen students that smoke across the street, off of school grounds and before school starts. The law is actually pretty clear about under age smoking and loitering around schools, but that is not a direction I really want to go in. I think for some school administrators I’m taking a “different” approach by trying to get to the bottom of why they smoke. I am trying to build a relationship with the students and it seems to actually be working. I often go across the street to talk to them. I affectionately say while crossing the street “Good Morning young lung polluters.” I often say, when I leave, “you young lung polluters have a great morning.”

As co-principal, I’m not sure what to do about it. Calling the police for loitering or underage smoking will, in my mind, not accomplish what I want. Getting the kids in trouble will basically continue the “us verse them” mentality and make them more untrusting of adults. Allegany County is the poorest county in New York State and many of these students have some financial difficulties. According the Ruby Payne’s research, “the only thing that can break the cycle of generational poverty is a caring relationship with an adult and education.” I have tried to create a rapport with the students who smoke and I’ve made efforts to try to guide them into caring about themselves on a very general level. We have also suggested to students about calling their parents and basically the students say “go ahead, cause that’s how we get them [cigarettes].” Nothing seems to work so, last Thursday I took the matter a step further. Near the smoking area I stapled signs to a telephone pole. Actually, they were just little fliers that had pictures of healthy lungs and smoker’s lungs. You could see the black asphalt lung compared to the red, vibrant lung very clearly.

I spoke to a summer school teacher, who is a teacher from Wellsville. I asked him if there is always a group of students who smoke before and after school and he said “yes.” I asked him why he thought they did this. I asked him if he thought it were just students making poor choices. He said no. It is different than that. He stated that it has to do with people not wanting to be told what to do. I agreed with his point. He said that no one likes to be told what to do and that may not be why students started to smoke but it is probably why students continue to smoke.

This morning (8/11/10) I asked multiple students why they smoke. Many of them mentioned that their parents smoked. They also stated that their lives are very stressful. I continued and asked, “what is so stressful about your life?” One student said he has school and a job and his job is stressful. He works in a local restaurant where the kitchen is extremely hot. I did say that other people have stressful lives and they don’t smoke. I also told this particular student about the concept of reframing. I stated that you should try to find something that you enjoy that is healthy and substitute that activity for smoking. So, when you get the urge to smoke you should maybe listen to music, eat raw carrots and read an extreme sports magazine, as a possibility. I gave them an example that is near and dear to my heart. My mother, Susan Weinberg, smoked and she is actually a cancer survivor. I went on to say that my mom smoked and I don’t smoke. I also talked about my own addictions with food. Basically I weighed 30 pounds more than I do now, and there are people all around me that eat foods that I want to eat but I make health choices much of the time.

I can here the “other side of the coin” arguments about my philosophy centered around student smoking in my head. Kids should be held accountable for their consequences. The law is the law. I understand this as well. I also know that when kids continue to smoke around me that it damages my authority. I realize that I am sacrificing my authority to build relationships with these kids for a greater good with the hopes of positive decisions down the road when these students become adults. I would also like to make it clear that this is in no way a cultural issue with the school or the town of Wellsville. I believe that the issue around smoking is deep ceded in poor economic conditions, living environments where this behavior occurs and a misunderstanding of actions and one’s health.

I mentioned previously how people don’t like to be told what to do and students are no acceptation. The issue that I am having internally is the idea of “us verse them” and students learning that people in the future will tell you what to do. Students also need to realize that every time someone tells you what to do, it is not always “us verse them.” With that said, no matter what job you have, and there are different degrees of politeness, future employers are going to tell you what to do. A part of me thinks that students need to get used to people telling them what to do or they will never keep a job.

Let’s face the facts. These students are not going to quit smoking at noon today because I had this conversation with them. Really that is not my point. I am hoping that someday, maybe 10 to 15 years from now, that one of these students say “hey, remember that Mr. Weinberg? He was interesting. Do you remember the pictures of lungs he put up?” And I hope that after all the things they heard, seen or experienced pushes them over the edge and my efforts contribute to them making the tough decision to try to stop smoking because someone cared and made an effort.

I would love to know your thoughts on this matter.

If you are a student answering, just leave your initials, or at the most, your first name only. All comments are moderated before they go up on this blog.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Are the Very Nature of Organizations Shifting Too?

Are the Very Nature of Organizations Shifting Too?

Up until now, we really had no good way for two way, back and fourth, communication. Clay Shirky’s book Here Comes Everyone makes you think about the implications of seamless two-way communication. The book is really about “organizing without organizations.” The idea of “flash mobs” not only as a type of art form but as an unstoppable and unpredictable tool for political protest is discussed. The first chapter goes into great detail about how a woman lost her phone in a cab and a nefarious person used it and would not return it. The police would not even charge the person with theft even after they knew who had the phone and was using it illegally. Charges were not filed until a friend of the woman who “lost” her phone helped put pressure on the thieves and the police. This whole first chapter is deeper than just the use of social networking tools for justice. Chapter one talks about our new forms of communication, race and right verse wrong.

Chapter four of this book is titled “Publish, then Filter.” This chapter discusses the whole shift, whether good or bad, in the concept of how media has changed. It used to be that media outlets decided what was news and then publish what they felt was important. Now, it seems with the advent of many web tools that publishing and then filtering is the norm. This chapter and subsequent chapters goes on to talk about the amateurization of professions that were once done by only professionals. Take journalism for an example. Every blogger is a journalist in a sense. Even during my short and sporadic “career” as a blogger, I too have been accused of being that amateur. I was told that I may not be taking jobs away from other people but I was part of the narcissistic communicators who blogged and that thought they had something to say. Just by my blogging I was some how taking away from others who actually had real things to say. I am paraphrasing.

Many of the shifts in how media works today comes down to cost. The word cost is used but does not entirely refer to finances. All organizations, whether it is Little League Baseball or Ford Motor Company, have costs that occur due to being organized. Just the enforcement of rules, scheduling and the shear need to stay organized costs money. Not only does it cost money but staying together or organized is priority one, which, in turn, means that goals and objectives can be no higher than priority number 2. According the Shirky, these organizational costs are called transactional costs. When an ad hoc, grassroots group gets together to work on a project and has no need to organize, the group can put it’s main purpose as it’s number one goal. Many familiar with technology can compare Shirky’s ideas with many open-source software projects, which he does clearly in this book. Many tools now-a-days can allow people to work on a goal without ever meeting one another or organizing, at least in a traditional sense.

Journalism, movie rentals and publishing are causing a domino effect of changes on every industry involving these mediums. It is easy to see how the changes in publishing are changing school text books and libraries. Technology and social media are spearheading these changes. With many of the points that Clay Shirky makes in his book the face of organizations are changing. Not before reading this book, did I ever consider the idea of an “open-source” organization. I’m not sure we totally know how the change in communication and technology will shape the future of organizations. One thing is certain, if organizations become increasingly a thing of the past, educators well have to take a greater role in teaching students to be entrepreneurial or at the very least help students acquire the skills to be their own boss.

This has far reaching implications for education. Basically, education is free now. With MIT and schools like Stanford publishing all or most of their courses online a student can avoid the debt of college. All the “none formal school” attending student has to do is prove that he or she has the skills to do what it takes to succeed in his or her desired profession. Here Comes Everyone says to me that we really no longer need to organize into schools and in many ways we are wasting tax payer dollars requiring the public to pay for transactional costs. I know that there are teachers out there that will fear this. They should not. There is absolutely no reason that the same teacher that fears their job being taken away by an online teacher cannot become the online teacher.