Thursday, April 20, 2017

More Bang For The Buck: How to Increase the Number of Innovators and Geniuses

More Bang for the Buck

How to Increase the Number of Innovators and Geniuses

by Jill Jenkins
According to  the United States spent 785.9 billion dollars or 14.55% of the total spending on education in 2014 and an average of 59% of the students graduated from high school. Education is expensive, but those who are not wholly educated become an even greater expense for our nation. To maximize the results in education, perhaps exploring the attributes and lives of those people considered a genius or an innovator could give educators insight into helping more individuals achieve this distinction.  A recent article in The National Geographic Magazine did just that.

Albert Einstein

IQ and Brain Research

According to the article "Genius" by Claudia Kolb in the May 2017 issue of National Geographic, after Albert Einstein died his brain was removed, sliced and diced for study, but revealed little about him (Kolb pg. 34). Using an iron-free keyboard designed by Charles Lamb, a  hearing specialist and auditory surgeon at UC San Francisco, jazz musicians where asked to play both scales and improvised music while an MRI mapped their brain activity. According to this same article, ". . .when playing improvisations, the musicians' brains showed increase activity in the outer network linked to focused attention and also self-consorted quieted down," The moment of creation where past learning and skills is seen in a new way gives a genius or an innovator that creative thought. The article indicates that "richer communication between the areas of the brain may help make those intuitive leaps possible.  Furthermore, those considered a genius showed a stronger web of synapses than those who weren't.  Practice makes stronger synapses connections. The article discussed the research by Lewis Terman, the Stanford University Psychologist which indicated that a high I.Q. alone is not a guarantee of a genius.  According to the article, "Genius," Terman began tracking 1500 California school students with I.Q.s 140 or higher and compared their success with a group with average I.Q.s.  Their progress was mapped by Terman and his associates over their lifetimes in "Genertic Studies of Genius. Some of those with high I.Q.s dropped out of college and some without high I.Q.s out performed those with high I.Q.'s.  I.Q. alone is not a measure of inevitable success even though it does play a role. 

What's in your head?

Nurture Vs. Nature

Although the article did not state genetics does not play a role in the creation of genius as studies are still underway, it did find that nurture is important.  According to the National Geographic article "Genius" by Claudia Kolb, Leonardo da Vinci's "pathway began with an apprenticeship with master artist Andrea del Verrocchio in  Florence when he was a teenager (Kolb 49)." Mathematician protégé Terence Tao, who showed "a grasp of language and numbers early (Kolb)," was provided with a rich environment by his parents: books, toys, games and was encouraged to learn on his own.  His parents sought out advanced learning opportunities and he began his formal education early.  At seven years old, he scored 760 on the math section of his S.A.T and by eight went to the university.  Many students may not have the rich opportunities that Tao had, so it is important that every child be provided with a rich environment at school and encouraged to try new educational challenges.

Leonardo da Vinci

The Importance of "Grit"

Self discipline or what psychologist Angela Duckworth calls "Grit" is another element that the article claims is an essential element of all geniuses.  Darwin spent twenty years perfecting The Origin of Species.  Mathematician Terence Tao writes, "hard work, directed by intuition, literature and bit of luck." Thomas Edition said, "Genius is 99% perspiration and 1% inspiration." and he also said, "Our greatest weakness lies in giving up. The most certain way to succeed is always to try just one more time."  As educators, teaching students to focus and the importance of a strong work ethic can help them achieve amazing quests.  Without discipline the students will the highest intellectual gifts will fail to soar.

Charles Darwin

Developing the Minds of All Students

Providing a rich learning environment for the economically deprived is essential, because so many potential innovators are lost.  This means providing not only a college education, but exposing them to books, a rich variety of different learning activities and time to explore.  The school most compensate for whatever these children lack in their home environment.  This costs money.  The government needs to invest both money and resources. Society not only limits those who are economically deprived, but many cultures significantly limit the resources and educational opportunities for women.  According to "Genius" by Claudia Kolb, Mozart's older sister Maria Anna was a brilliant harpsichordist whose career was terminated by her father when she reached 18, marrying age.  Terman's studies found similar results. Many of the females with I.Q.s 140 or higher became homemakers.  In 1972, I fought with my own father who felt a college education was a waste of money for his daughters, because girls are likely to get pregnant and never complete their education.  When I taught in many lower socio-economic communities, I observed the same attitude.  Changing cultural views on the roles of women is essential to open the doors to these potential geniuses. 
Sir Isaac Newton

Standing on the Shoulders of Giants by Isaac Newton

Geniuses do not bloom in isolation.  "Standing on the Shoulders of Giants" is not just a quote by Isaac Newton, another genius, it is true.  Geniuses develop in clusters, piggy-backing on each other.  This means teachers should expose students to the work of others and if possible bring in guest speakers and workshops to expose students to innovators and creative thinkers.

Thomas Edison
As an educator, how do we effectively help more students become geniuses or at least innovators thus giving the government education expenditures more bang for their buck? 
  • First, provide every student with a rich learning environment with a variety of different learning experiences including problem solving, group work, reading, visual stimulus and projects. This means spending more money in economically deprived neighborhoods to enhance whatever the households are missing and providing a free college education to insure that every student reaches his/her potential.
  • Second, insist students develop a strong work ethic. That means hold students accountable.  Every innovator is going to fail and needs to understand that he or she must keep working even when the work becomes difficult.  The work ethic must be coupled with a passion for learning.  This means schools need to be packed with passionate teachers who not only teach, but inspire.
  • Third, genius does not happen in a vacuum.  Students need to be exposed to the innovations and the innovators, They must learn to "stand on the shoulders of giants."

Saturday, April 8, 2017

Three Simple Methods To Improve Teacher Morale

Three Simple Methods To Improve Teacher Morale

by Jill Jenkins
Teaching can be a lonely, thankless job.  Frustration, isolation and insecurity can lead to low teacher morale.  Unlike other careers where sales quotas, bonuses, and title enhancements can remind employees of the quality of the work, teachers, especially those working in more demanding areas like special education or alternative education, often feel frustrated and unappreciated.  The media and government attack teachers. Angry parents berate teachers when their children don't meet their expectations.  The pay is low, the chances for advancement are limited, and the frustrations and demands are overwhelming; as a result, 70% of the new teachers hired in Utah, my state, leave the profession in five years according to the Deseret News.  Even though the low pay is a major contributing factor to the retention problem, teacher morale is also a problem.  Principals and teachers can do little to improve the salary. (That one is on the legislatures and the school boards.) They can, however, address teacher morale.  After all no one became a teacher expecting to get rich, but they all expect some respect. Three simple ways to improve moral are:
  • Create A Community of Caring
  • Empower Teachers To Solve Problems
  • Provide Frequent Fun Faculty Social Interactions

Create A Community Of Caring

Because of the size of the faculty in high schools, teachers often feel invisible, unappreciated and unrecognized by the administration.These teachers often become less productive.  To alleviate this one of my former principals, met each staff member, interviewed and photographed each person.  He used the information he obtain to learn the staff's names and something interesting that he could stop and chat with on a personal level.  By regularly visiting each teacher's classroom, he had a feel for who in his staff were competent leaders and who needed extra help. Each morning he stood in the office and greeted his staff and often asked advice from individual teachers.  His efforts built strong relationships with his teachers and; as a result, teachers felt more compelled to work harder for him. Another principal identified struggling students and had each teacher select three students that each could provide positive interactions. Teachers and students perform better when they feel someone cares about them. By identifying the students who were falling through the cracks many students were salvaged, but teachers actually increased their positive interaction with all students and it made their job more enjoyable. Thus, increasing moral in the entire school. 

Empower Teachers To Solve Problems

When the administration tries to solve all of the school's problems alone, the teacher feel alienated.  When teachers feel part of solutions they have more buy-in and feel more respected.  When teachers see one of their own suggestions implemented, it empowers them and provides a sense of pride.  For example, one of my principals implemented one of my suggestions of focusing on the positive instead of the negative by printing out business cards that we called Paws Cards: Catch Kids Doing the Right Thing.   When a student was discovered behaving appropriately or getting a good score, the teacher presented him with a Paws Card.  He took the card to the office and the secretaries recorded his name, gave him praise and small piece of candy.  Later, the school added the students' names into a weekly drawing. The winner of the drawing won a fabulous prize donated by a local company.  The concept is teachers spend too much time focusing on students who misbehave and ignore those who behave.  If teacher spend more time rewarding good behavior, those who misbehave might learn that by behaving they earn even more attention than by misbehaving. Fifteen years later, the school was still using the Paw's Card.  The same idea can apply to teachers: Catch kids doing something right can be catch teachers doing something right. 
If administrators put teaches into teams to brainstorm solutions to problems every school faces: truancy, tardiness, vandalism, poor attendance, unproductive attitudes, or alienation, teachers may develop an effective solution and feel more connected to the school.  At one high school where I taught, students gathered in small groups in corners of halls and in staircases to smoke and exchange drugs during class time.  The faculty was so frustrated that one science teacher grabbed a fire extinguisher and sprayed a group of students smoking in a staircase adjacent to his room.  The faculty met in small problem solving groups to develop a plan. The solution was simple. Each faculty member sacrificed one consultation period a week.  Each teacher was assigned a partner and wandered the halls on hall patrol.  The high visible patrol made most students return to class without issue.  The more defiant elements were either written up by the team to be counseled and discipline by a vice principal at a later time, or escorted to the vice principal's office for immediate action.  An unintended consequence of the highly effective solution was faculty members who may have never collaborated were working together. I, an English teacher was paired with Keith Tolstrup, a tall shop teacher. We remained friends until his death and I even became friends with his daughter who was about my age. He served not only as a deterrent to wandering students, but a fatherly mentor to me.
Good solutions develop when teachers work together with administrators to solve problems and morale improves.  Furthermore, some of the burdens of the administration are spread to the willing minds of the teachers. It takes an entire community to raise a child.
Behavior issues often drive inexperience teachers from the classroom; however if teachers met with other teachers to discuss discipline techniques and students problems, the inexperienced teachers would feel less isolated and develop positive skills when dealing with difficult students or communicating with difficult parents. These support teams would be more effective use of faculty meeting since most of the information disseminated in faculty meeting could be presented in an email or a memo.

 Frequent Fun Faculty Social Interactions

Finally teachers need a break from the drudgery and need to interact socially.  Frequent social interaction is important.  Have  your faculty create a Faculty Follies, the students will love it and the teachers will be forced to work together at something silly while enjoying themselves.  Create pot luck lunches.  When I taught at one high school, a group of us regularly went to dinner,out to cocktails, to movies or even cross-country skiing.  Venting or just doing something unrelated to school releases pressure in a faculty.  Cook breakfast for your staff like my last principal or bring in a photographer for some crazy shots of the staff barbequing or playing tug-a-war with the kids.