Leadership Honor

Recently, I was approached as becoming a Deacon in my church.  Numerous emotions overcame me, one of which was self-worth.  I was not sure if I was worthy of such a noble position in my church.  After reading 1Timothy and 2Timothy, along with blessings from friends and family I was able to see the qualities that I have to offer as service to my church and Christ.  With prayer, conversation with others, and a lot of reflection I accepted this great honor.  The following week I was brought up for nomination and our members voted me in accepting me in the service leadership role.

Leadership opportunities come in many forms and in different places.  This opportunity was definitely a surprise.  God our Heavenly Father has a way of wrapping His arm around his children and bringing them closer to Him.  I am looking forward to the many pathways that this will open for me to serve as a leader and in honoring Christ.


First Nine Weeks as an Athletic Director

Currently finished my first nine weeks as the new Athletic Director at Buckingham County High School.  The folks in Buckingham have been great, very warm and welcoming as I have worked to learn this new role.  Since taking over at Buckingham, I have completed requirements to become a Registered Athletic Administrator (RAA) and am looking forward to working towards the (CAA) Certified Athletic Administrator recognition to add to my Doctorate ranks.

The learning curve has been great and the pace has been crazy but with all the support I have received here, in addition to the support from other Athletic Directors in the area, James River District, and Courthouse Conference (37) it has been a good transition.  I want to thank you all.  I am looking forward to post-season football playoffs and transitioning into Basketball season.

Education Equity?

Recently, a teacher in my school shared with me a topic that is being discussed in her master’s cohort.  The topic is regarding SOL Standards and reporting categories.  What is so alarming is the inequity in our State’s educational standards and it is centered around race this time.  Currently, Richmond City Public Schools and their school board members are addressing this issue with DOE and I look forward to hearing more about it as this plays out. 

If our “hurdles” are not set high are we truly clearing them?  – J Garrett

The news story was provided by a peer in her cohort group and the statistics were provided by their professor Dr. Schneider.  Thank you to all that contributed.

The Virginia Department of Education’s goal is for 69 percent of white students to pass this year’s SOL test compared to only 51 percent of black students


 There are a few things I would like to offer to you in thinking about this story and issue. I also think this story is extremely relevant to our achievement gap discussion next week. I do not have time right now to pull up the links, articles, and reports but please follow up with me on anything I share here and I will be more than happy to provide you with primary and secondary sources from my archives.

The SOL s can be considered as a part of a longer history of how schooling in the U.S. tends not to serve poor/working class children and non-white children well.  I mean this as a historical and national trend. Many scholars believe we are in the process of formalizing a two-tiered system in the U.S. regarding the quality of schooling. Alternative certification for teachers plays a part in this but is beyond the scope of this email.

Race in the U.S. has tended to eclipse issues of class for over 100 years. Race as we commonly know it today in the U.S. evolved with the plantation system. Prior to that (about 1700’s) the lower and working classes in the U.S. were diverse and intermarried, worked and lived together (Irish, Italian, Native American, and African or Caribbean) without social sanction. White English Protestant descendants in the U.S. did not consider themselves ‘white’ and the same as Irish, German, Italian, Eastern European or any other ‘white’ group. White identity did not fully emerge in the U.S. until after WWI.  When cheap labor was needed for the plantations AND it was desired to assimilate Eastern and Western Europeans we begin to see two things: Whiteness began to emerge in the U.S. along with Blackness and groups such as the Irish (who originally sympathized greatly with the plight of African-Americans due to Irish Catholic experiences with the English) begin to articulate racist views which increased Irish assimilation and opportunity in American White Protestant society.

Race and poverty intersect strongly in the U.S. Many scholars wonder why the SOL categories are not socioeconomic (as in some other industrialized nations). Race may be more comfortable in the U.S. than to consider issues of economic inequity and there are political reasons for this – historically our Industrial Barons (Industrial Revolution) benefited from marginalizing issues of income inequity, class, and workers rights by focusing on racial divisions.

Our poor and working class families have felt the brunt of the Educational reforms since 1997:

In urban areas where we have concentrated and segregated poverty corporate reforms have privatized public schooling. New Orleans, Chicago, D.C., Philadelphia, Detroit, St. Louis… these are cities that have lost hundreds of public schools (without local community consent) that have been turned over to for-profit charters and Educational Management Organizations. These entities go by very different rules than public schools.  In some cases states are annexing districts – for example Michigan and Louisiana – (through mayor-control or state school boards) and vending education services out to the lowest bidder.  We are seeing an ‘urban renewal’ of schooling. Rural areas are not immune to these policies – poor urban areas are just more vulnerable to education reform and policy.

Lower SOL scores mean lower property value (look on-line to buy a house) this has resulted in a de facto redlining that further devalues poor and working class neighborhoods. This has been made worse by the state wavier that identifies the lowest 5 and 10% of VA schools. We also deal with funding inequity – since about 47% of our funding comes from property values. Regardless, over the past 20 years our communities across the nation have become less economically diverse meaning that affluence and poverty has become concentrated and segregated in our towns and cities.

Our schools have been resegregating at a rapid rate* – partly due to the fact that NCLB had HARDER sanctions for Title one schools that did not make AYP – discouraging schools to be economically diverse (which also means racially diverse because class and race intersect). Along with this for-profit charter schools have been intensifying resegregation in many areas. NCLB had the unintended consequence of putting public schools in the position to protect specific ‘testing populations’ because they feared a loss of funding.  

NCLB mandated the use of private vendors for remediation and tutoring in poor performing schools (did not make AYP). In many cases the students who most needed face-to-face teacher-led instruction and help received web-based modules and on-line learning with lab assistants.

Our poorest schools (especially urban) have the highest student mobility, highest teacher turn-over, most TFA teachers (cheap labor, 5-weeks of training), and the highest utilization of long-term substitutes.

Growth and Reflection

Recently, I interviewed with a neighboring locality for a central office position.  Throughout the interview I was able to use a lot of the verbage that we have discussed and have grown more accustom to using during our 711 and 713 classes.   This scholarly sense overcame me during the 45 minute long interview as I continued to use words that we have discussed with a feeling of comfort.  On my way home that afternoon I reflected back over the last two years and the professional growth was very apparent.  I would like to thank my professors and classmates for all the conversations that we have had that has helped me reach that point in my professional life.

Blends nicely with Project Based Learning

Creating Classrooms We Need: 8 Ways Into Inquiry Learning

March 11, 2013 | 10:54 AM | By Tina Barseghian


Flickr: Scratchpost

If kids can access information from sources other than school, and if school is no longer the only place where information lives, what, then happens to the role of this institution?

“Our whole reason for showing up for school has changed, but infrastructure has stayed behind,” said Diana Laufenberg, who taught history at the progressive public school Science Leadership Academy for many years. Laufenberg provided some insight into how she guided students to find their own learning paths at school, and enumerated some of these ideas at SXSWEdu last week.

The less educators try to control what kids learn, the more students’ voices will be heard and, eventually, their ability to drive their own learning. But that requires a flexible mindset on the part of the teacher. “That’s a scary proposition for teachers,” Laufenberg said. “‘What do you mean I’m going to have 60 kids doing 60 different projects,’ teachers might say. But that’s exactly the way for kids to do interesting, high-end work that they’re invested in.”

Laufenberg recalled a group of tenacious students who continued to ask permission to focus their video project on the subject of drugs, despite her repeated objections. She finally relented — with the caveat that they not resort to cliches. In turn, the students turned in one of the best video projects she’d ever seen: a well-produced, polished video about Americans’ dependence on pharmaceutical drugs that was dense with facts backed up by students’ research. “And I almost killed this project,” she said. “There are vastly creative minds that are capable of doing intensely wonderful things with their learning but often we don’t let that live and breathe. Thankfully I got out of their way and let them do the work they were capable of.”

Teachers always come up to Laufenberg wanting to learn more about her progressive pedagogy — and they invariably ask, “But when do you just tell them things? Don’t you have to just tell them sometimes?”

Laufenberg’s answer: Get them curious enough in the subject to do research on their own.
“Kids don’t come to class just burning to know about the War of 1812,” she said. “And you just saying they have to know the facts is not good enough. But here’s your chance to bring them along as a person and get them to learn about it.”

For example, in exploring the subject of American identity with her history students, Laufenberg asked them to come up with words that convey to them the abstract idea of America, or what it means to be American. Many of her students came up with the words “greedy” and “ignorant” — a trend she saw echoed throughout many of her classes during her years teaching at SLA. “I got a clear vision of where my students were,” she said.

She asked her students to find images that epitomized America, then asked them to talk about their ideas with their peers, studying data about immigration, taking the American citizenship test themselves (most received an average score of 3, across the board regardless of age), so they could understand the processes and become personally invested in the subject.

“Rather than saying, ‘We’re going to study immigration,’ I took them through a process where they become interested in it themselves,” she said.

“There are so many ways that kids can be active in their learning, beyond the standard call-and-respond business,” Laufenberg said. It may be hard to do with 140 students, but if you consider all the available tools at your disposal, ideas can start to take shape.

Example: Laufenberg asked her students to watch President Obama’s State of the Union address and respond to what they watched and heard. She gave her students the option to either post comments on Twitter (fully public), Facebook (semi-public), Moodle (walled garden) or for low-tech participants, play Bingo with key words the students anticipated they might hear.


 Though some goofed around a bit with comments (“Our school is so cool, we’re tweeting the State of the Union”), at the end of the speech, students had posted a total of 438 tweets and 18 pages of Moodle chat. (Interestingly, no one went on Facebook, though she had set up a separate conversation on the school’s Facebook page.)

Laufenberg was not surprised with the high quality of responses she saw from her students. “Does Obama have the power to reform and adjust how the other branches work?” one student tweeted. “He’s not touching on Iran issue… not a good sign,” another posted. “High school dropout laws, rebuilding jobs in our country, and more equipment in schools… me gusta,” wrote yet another.

“I could have them face off against any pundit the next day,” she said. “They understood it. None of it went over their head — they were making meaning of it. They were offering their own opinions, participating in the conversation.”

Laufenberg used every tool she had at her disposal as a framework for her students to build their learning around.

As most teachers know, when students recognize that teachers are personally invested in their success, they do better, and that affirmation of students’ disposition can help students achieve more. “You can’t ask kids to take risks if they don’t trust that you care about them,” Laufenberg said.

During the weeks and months that led up to the election, Laufenberg’s students got into the neighborhoods and brought back stories from voters at the polls. Though they didn’t always feel comfortable asking strangers questions, they went ahead with their assignments anyway. “If none of it is ever real to them, if it’s only in books, it lacks interest,” she said. “They want to do real stuff, but we are perpetually underestimating what kids can do.”

Laufenberg made a point of defining the difference between “blameworthy” and “praiseworthy” failure. Blameworthy failure is when the student just decided not to participate in a project. But praiseworthy failure is quite different: kids take risks and experiments knowing that they might not get it right the first time.

“No one talks about cancer research as blameworthy failure,” she said. “We don’t expect a five-year-old to be able to shoot free-throws immediately. It’s a process, and we value it in other things, but not when it comes to school. Kids are not coming in as perfect little products or machines — they’re human beings in the process of becoming.”

In the engineering industry, for example, there are “failure festivals” and “failure reports” during which engineers discuss the processes they’ve tried that didn’t work. “We need to have kids do that with their own learning,” she said. “Be self-aware enough to do something with that information.”

“I always told my kids, if I got boring, they should let me know, and if they got boring, I’d let them know,” Laufenberg said. But here’s the twist: kids may actually choose boring because it’s easier, it’s known, it’s quantifiable. “They know what they need to do to get a good score,” she said. When it’s not boring, when the answer is not predictable, that’s when kids are actually challenged more.

For a government history teacher, this last directive has been a tall order. But Laufenberg made a point of trying to create a space where her students were valued, where creativity was paramount, and their voices were allowed to shine through.

“It’s incredibly taxing work, but one of the most exciting and meaningful ways to create transformative spaces,” she said.

Above all, what she wants to instill in her students is a sense of self-sufficiency.

“If by the end of the year, they still need me, I haven’t done my job,” she said. “I’m not coming with them to college. They have to be self-driven, independent thinkers.”

Watch Laufenberg’s fascinating TED Talk “How to Learn? From Mistakes.”