Policy

A Faith to Educate

a-faith-to-educate

All I wanted to do was teach: A Reasonable Service, Part 1,” describes the emotional roller coaster educators ride before they can ever begin to teach:

Baffled. Humbled. Grateful. Awestruck. Relieved. Hungry. Sympathetic. Empathetic. Infuriated. Exhausted. Hopeful. Triumphant. Data-driven. Thoughtful. Pensive.

I came into this profession wanting to impact lives; especially for under served populations. Teaching was the vehicle to do so. With every challenging reality of what it takes, my faith, determining my “reasonable service” is my guide.

Integrity:

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Pastor Marion B. Robinson speaks with youth and their mentors during a youth summit.

As my career unfolds, my pastor, Rev. Marion B. Robinson reminds me to, “Always do what is right.” Rev. Robinson mobilizes whole communities around issues in education. As an educator, anything that is wrong within, our power and influence, we are obligated to change it. If it is not within our influence, we are required to challenge it. We are advocates for the students we serve. Who else knows their story like we do? Who else knows how it impacts their learning like we do? I can recall being infuriated as a brand new teacher to be handed a full course load of the lowest level students. I wasn’t furious because I did not want to teach them. I was furious because of what their placement and the expectations that were set for them implied about them. My response: teach them; with everything I had. I recall being further infuriated when these same students were not placed in higher level courses the following year as I recommended. Many of those students were more successful than they had ever been because barriers were removed.

Our “reasonable service:”

  • Measure every decision against, “What is best for kids?”
  • Remove barriers
  • Challenge policy
  • Challenge Colleagues

Intel:

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Outside of the Impact Center, Pastor James D. Gailliard shares with visiting educators the need for holistic ministries and services in order to impact communities.

Along the way in my career, I met Pastor James D. Gailliard. While leading a holistic ministry to meet spiritual, physical and social needs in his community, he reminds me, “Every number has a name, every name has a story and every story matters.” I am encouraged to serve the whole child in order to impact the whole community. In this world of accountability, everything we do in the classroom will translate into test scores for our students. Students are not scores. We are reminded to look beyond the output and focus on the input; our service to our students. Getting to know our students’ stories is what helps us to know how to meet their needs. Why are they hungry? Is the food in the drawer enough or do we need to help parents find extra income or assistance? Why are they acting out? Is there positive or negative attention provided at home. What are their goals and dreams? How can we provide curriculum and experiences to help them? What experiences are needed that they are not getting? What colleges do we need to visit or work force development opportunities can be created? WHAT DOES HOPE MEAN TO THIS CHILD AND THIS COMMUNITY?

Our “reasonable service:”

  • Do not pass judgment on students, families and their circumstances. “Unpack” issues to determine what help is within our abilities to provide.
  • Do not ignore student needs. Always have a willingness to meet student needs. “Where there is a will; there is a way.”

Inter-mutual:

As I am trying to figure out many things in order to better serve my students, I met Rev. Richard Joyner. Rev. Joyner is changing the lives of children and their families through a community garden. He compassionately shared with me, “The schools cannot do this alone. It is our [community] job to get students ready to return to school each day.” He is right; there is a lot we [educators] can do; however, we cannot do it all. We have to enlist our allies, the home and the community.

Our “reasonable service:”

  • Value and invite parents to engage and get involved. Be mindful that engagement and involvement are two distinct and equally valuable assets.
  • Tap into the available resources through churches, businesses and agencies. Resources are not always monetary donations or tangible goods; it can be a service.
  • Be open minded of ideas and suggestions from outside the school. We are serving the same communities there may be some issues or needs the school may not be fully aware. Be open to developing solutions collaboratively with parents and communities.

Intra-personal:

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Pastor J. Jasper Wilkins visits our schools to make an assessment of how his ministry can support our work.

Most recently in my career, I have reconnected with Pastor J. Jasper Wilkins. Pastor Wilkins was my pastor early on in my life. In my current role, I serve a community dear to his heart- his home. In alignment with his church’s mission to help, hope and heal he is investing in our endeavors along with the surrounding community. Most recently he inquired, “What’s going on in your world?” I immediately run down the list of “band-aids,” we were putting in place in order to get students where they need to be. He then looks at me and says, “How are you?” Band-aids would not do; and it was probably all over my face. I unloaded the frustration of only having “band-aids,” at my disposal. The next question was, “Who do you speak with to make sure that happens?” It is very easy to absorb issues in a manner of bandaging without repairing. Taking some time to debrief within yourself will allow the opportunity to think deeper toward the steps that drive solutions.

Our “reasonable service:”

  • Take care of yourself in a manner that provides clarity around important decisions that impacts the students we serve.
  • Take the time to determine how you feel about the service you are rendering to your students.
  • Before a collective conversation, think about what it will take to move beyond the “bandages.”

I walk into my role every day with joy– loving curriculum and what it brings to the students I serve. I also know the daily heartache that comes when I have to unpack students’ stories before my eyes in order for them to attend to the curriculum of the day and obtain the opportunities that await them. Learning involves more than we can imagine; before students ever take their seats and books are ever cracked open. Who am I to not serve with my gifts? Who am I to not serve in the ways that I am able? I may not be able to do it all; but I can commit to doing what I can. My faith will not allow me to do this- Education- any other way.

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A heart formed after a storm.

I will ride the emotional roller coaster…I trust that daily I visit the following peaks:

Called. I am doing exactly what I am supposed to do and serving faithfully who and where I am supposed to serve.

Fulfilled. My heart is full. I can rest knowing I have done what I can for those I serve. I have given my “reasonable service.”

What is your “reasonable service?” I welcome you to share your thoughts.

Note:

  1. James D. Gailliard serves as pastor of Word Tabernacle Church, Rocky Mount, NC and president and founder of the Impact Center.
  2. Richard Joyner serves as pastor of Conetoe Missionary Baptist Church, Conetoe, North Carolina and CEO and founder of the Conetoe Family Life Center/Community Garden.
  3. Marion B. Robinson serves as pastor of Saint Matthew AME Church, Raleigh, NC and founder of the Harriet B. Webster Task Force for Student Success, the Flood Group: A Community Education Committee and sits on the board for Wake Education Partnership.
  4. J. Jasper Wilkins serves as pastor of Wake Chapel Church, having two locations in Raleigh, NC. He serves multiple facets of the community in the areas of religion, civics, politics and health.

Where Accountability Lies…

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I consider feedback to be a gift! When I am out in the community and others learn I am an educator, I have grown accustomed to receiving all of their suggestions as to how educators can improve schools. As much as I appreciate the interest and the willingness to share, there are some great gaps that need to be closed when society considers where the accountability for student learning lies.

When I go to the doctor, I respect and trust that they are trained and equipped to help me with my needs. I provide the doctor with my symptoms. The doctor then questions for greater detail and uses the tools at their disposal to make an assessment. As the findings are confirmed, a diagnosis is provided and medications are prescribed. With the information I provided to the doctor and the doctors expertise; we work together to “fix” what is ailing me.

When the doctor recognizes that I am sick and identifies my needs, expertise is put into practice in order to make me well. The doctor knows that I am holding them accountable for my well being. The same is true for what we do every day as educators. When we realize students have not learned; we put our expertise into practice to help students attain the knowledge they need. Often times, this results in practices beyond the school day and beyond school hours because there are many non-educational societal factors that impede student learning prior to students coming to school each day. That’s where accountability lies. Current accountability models do not consider all the factors of student learning.

Accountability models are premised on the notion that standardized numerical outcomes are indicative of the success and health of our students, schools and quality of instruction. This may be true; but the unproductive ways in which these measures are discussed and used within our society will not improve outcomes for students. In order to improve student outcomes; we as a society must improve student inputs such as health, quality of life, access, opportunity and the list goes on; in addition to the continuous improvement of schools and schooling. Educators are accountable for student learning; however with all of the factors that impact student abilities to learn, educators are not the only stakeholders sharing in the responsibility of optimizing learning opportunities for students.

Accountability models across the country allow stakeholders to place blame on each other instead of accepting responsibility for educating students within their respective roles. Policy places the responsibility on educators. Educators place blame on unrealistic policy expectations. Parents blame educators for not caring. Educators blame parents for not supporting the educational system. Employers blame educators for the lack of skilled workers. Communities blame parents and schools for the lack of vitality. The blame game goes on and on and students are lost in the shuffle.

The role of the educational system is to improve the communities it serves. As stakeholders, our roles are as follows:

  • Parents/families are the first teachers of our students. Students experience greater academic success in homes where they are engaged in academic discussion and expectations for academic achievement are set. What students’ value when they come to school is very much aligned to what they learn at home. The home has a responsibility to teach children to be engaged, ethical and productive members of society. “The family is the basic institution through which children learn who they are, where they fit into society, and what kinds of futures they are likely to experience…the home environment may influence the extent of persistence and achievement of an individual in any particular endeavor…” (Stewart, 2007, p. 20). There must be a desire for learning, education, self-improvement and social responsibility taught in the home that is supported through engagement in the educational system.
  • Schools are where the vision of a greater society meets future leaders tasked with carrying out the vision. School factors that affect student outcomes are organizational structures, climate, policies and procedures, academic organization and teachers (Heck, 2008, p. 229; Johnson, 2009). All students come to school with varying backgrounds and experiences. The educational institution is where differences are nurtured, learning needs are met, and students are educated in preparation for participation in the larger society. Through engagement in the educational process, every child should gain access to the opportunities that will equip them for success in life.
  • Communities are essential providers of supplemental resources. Education occurs as a result of student interaction with curriculums and relevant experiences. Often parents and schools are not equipped to provide optimal resources to teach the curriculum and provide necessary experiences. “Family SES [Socio-economic Status], which will largely determine the location of the child’s neighborhood and school, not only directly provides home resources but also indirectly provides “social capital,” that is, supportive relationships among structural forces and individuals (i.e., parents-school collaborations)” (Sirin, 2005, p. 420). School socio-economic status can influence such school factors as instructional arrangements, materials, teacher experience, teacher-student ratios and the quality of instruction (Sirin, 2005). Relationships with community entities, industries, employers, support students access to the content and the experiences that are needed for their success.
  • Policy Makers are accredited for having a larger scope regarding the condition of society and the necessities of its forward movement. If students are not educated, society will suffer. Everything that happens in our society; happens in our schools. “Historically, policymakers have made strides to impact students’ achievement through social reform. “Current policies… are holding the educational system accountable for student outcomes. Research indicates that there needs to be a married reform effort between the two: the social and educational aspects … to get the greatest impact for our students” (Garrett, 2012, p. 68). Practices and policies that make children whole and the future of society better are a result of collaboration amongst parents, schools, communities and policy makers.

Measuring the impact of education solely on standardized assessments implies that the business of educating children is black and white. It is not; there are many components that are required to educate the whole child. Children are not educated until they are whole! Rather than place the blame, we must realize that accountability lies with everyone who has a role in meeting students needs in order to ensure that they come to school prepared to learn and equipped to learn. Every stakeholder is accountable for making sure we educate our children whole.

What are your thoughts regarding where accountability lies?

References:

Garrett, N.C (2012). A study of the perceptions of school system personnel of the academic achievement gap and how their perceptions influence their educational practices (Doctoral dissertation). Retrieved from http://www.lib.ncsu.edu/resolver/1840.16/7913.

Heck, R. (2008). Teacher effectiveness and student achievement. Journal of Educational Administration, 47(2), 227-249.

Johnson, C. (2009, May). An examination of effective practice: Moving toward elimination of achievement gaps in science. Journal of Science Teacher Education, 20(3), 287-306.

Sirin, S. (2005, Fall). Socioeconomic status and academic achievement: A meta-analytic review of research. Review of Educational Research, 75(3), 417-453.

Stewart, E. B. (2007, December/ 2008, January). Individual and school structural effects on African American high school students’ academic achievement. The High School Journal, 91(2), 16-34.

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