The Wawascene was created by Dr. Mark Stock, former Superintendent of the Wawasee Community School Corporation. Due to its local popularity, Dr. Stock has left the blog site to future Wawasee administrators.

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Tuesday, April 24, 2007

So...what should we do?

A commenter on the last post regarding the Indy Star series on truancy, made the comment that schools should do more to motivate students.

What should we do? I am asking sincerely with no pretenses here. Describe for us a compelling vision of inspiring and motivating teaching within the context of the curricular restraints that teachers currently face.

Describe for us a system of schooling that will motivate most all students to perform well and stay in school till graduation.

Please be professional and tactful.

I believe that if most instructors knew what they could do tomorrow to motivate all their students to care deeply and perform their best, they would do it immediately.

Society has changed a lot in just a few decades, yet schools look pretty much they way they always have. We all have this intuitive feel that societal changes are causing students to feel less and less connected to school. We struggle to know how to respond.

So...what's your vision of a compelling and inspiring education that would motivate almost all of today's students?


Kim Herr said...

A system of schooling that will motivate most students to perform well and stay in school until graduation...Hmmm

Well, lets start with WHS. I think a great starting point would be to address the need for improving the school climate? Administration must seriously address the state of student/staff morale and the atmosphere for learning/teaching. We are fortunate to have many, many wonderful educators in this school system. However, is there truly a collaborative system in place where teachers and students feel like they have a say in what happens at school? Is school an enjoyable place to be? Are extracurricular activities encouraged and are the achievements of involved students noticed or recognized in the course of the school day? Are incoming freshman and their parents introduced to an exciting plan for success and involvement for their student?

It is my observation that the answers to the afore mentioned are largely, No.

Yes, we must continually strive for academic excellence, but at the same time, students must be given choices, certain freedoms, and respect. The majority of students must not be penalized for the actions of a few. Administrators must listen to the voices of the elected student government and encourage students to get involved and make a difference in their school. We must empower our young people, not dismiss them.

How do you motivate struggling, truant students when even the "successful" students are feeling frustrated and defeated? Administrators must be open to giving students and teachers a say. Positive relationships, student to student, student to staff, as well as staff to staff are essential for success and motivation.

I say take a very close look at the school's climate. Is this a school you, the adult, would like to attend? Is there a strong sense of school pride among staff and students? Are the involved students succeeding in the classroom? (Statistics say they will) Are those same students satisfied with their school experience? Are your teachers satisfied with their work experience?

I'm sure that if administrators are willing to listen, students and teachers will talk. Those in charge must allow students and teachers to be instrumental in developing a system of schooling that will motivate. Adopt a strategy that says "yes" and "let's try it" as much as possible!

For there to be positive change and success, we must find a way to encourage and mentor students from the moment they enter those doors as freshman. Seize the opportunity at freshman orientation to bring in all the clubs, coaches, and extracurricular programs that the high school has to offer. See to it that every student makes some type of connection and leaves feeling like they are part of a community. Give thought to scheduling that may include weekly resource study time, academic mentoring, or peer counseling.

This isn't the time to throw our hands up in despair. The best way for the school to respond is to initiate a meaningful dialog with it's students and staff. Allow room for debate, critical thinking, and compromise. I don't believe the school can continue to force feed it's students a steady diet of academics and testing without allowing kids to be kids and enjoy an occasional dessert, like having some fun again in school.

Vanessa said...

I've said this before and I think it bears repeating. Schools need to take the time to show students how what the students are required to learn is relevant to the adult world. This applies to all subjects: algebra, geometry, trigonometry, physics, chemistry, English, foreign languages, etc. If students don't see the relevance, then they aren't going to give a damn about that particular subject. They need to see how knowledge of algebra or geometry or whatnot is actually used in the jobs that 99.9% of students will encounter at some point in their lives.

I realize that this won't completely solve the problem, but if knowing *why* in addition to knowing *how* will help motivate a student to stay in achool and do well therein, then it's a Good Thing.

Wawasee Mom said...

I agree with Kim, we have many great teachers. However, I feel that the curriculum leaves a great deal to be desired. I feel that if we had engaging curriculum and our teachers were given the freedom to connect the curriculum to each individual class our kids would be engaged in school.

I have three kids in the system (Syracuse Elementary and Wawasee Middle) I have witnessed the same things with all three of my kids with a few exceptions made by some wonderful teachers). All students are taught reading out of the same book. We all know that a whole class does not read at the same level and yet we require that all students read from the same texts. Research has shown that students learn best when taught reading concepts while reading from appropriate leveled books. I can hear you now saying..."that's what Accelerated Reading is for."

Accelerated Reading is not instructional program. It is a quick check to see if students are reading. It does not ask the students to reflect or think about the text. (according to my kids it doesn't really check to see if kids have read very well as one of the students in 6th grade who continually is in the top points brags to everyone that she quickly skims or reads the back of the book and then takes the test)
Students are never directly engaged in higher level thinking on appropriate level books. When you engage students in thinking. They become "invested" in education.

Accelerated Math has no human interaction. In the words of my daughter, an advanced math class student, "who wouldn't be bored? You do a worksheet turn it in and the computer spits out more work."
Trust the people you hired to teach math. Don't take the human contact out of school. I think that most teachers would agree that students learn most and best when they "discover" new knowledge on their own. I have not heard of many opportunities for this to happen in the school corporation. Neither Saxon math nor Accelerated math allow for this.

I have witnessed great things that do engage students happening in some classrooms. I think that the teachers that use Ruth Ayres to help them develop a writing program, most certainly engage students. It's too bad that there are some teachers still teaching writing the way they did it 20 years ago.

I also think that the advanced students are given more engaging material than other classes. Best practice can be used with all students. The lower kids, that are more at risk of dropping out, may, in fact, need it more than the higher level kids.

I think that when we trust the teachers to provide engaing material for all students. More "connections" will be made, students will be invested in their own education and will be less likely to drop out or be truant. If kids think they are missing something exciting they will be less likely to miss. Does it really matter if you miss another day of AM, AR, or Saxon?

Anonymous said...

I agree with the posters. I know we have good teachers, but they don't always do good things. Most, at the secondary levels, teach from the book, give a worksheet or problem set, grade and go-on. There are few and little hands-on or real-life experiences. It's time for teachers to ENGAGE students and make them ACTIVE in the learning process. We could get anyone to teach from a text. These teachers were hired because we knew they had a gift in teaching. It seems to me we may have forgotten what that is.

That's not to say, again, that there aren't good teachers. It's just the methods and support these teachers get isn't satisfactory.

We've been teaching from the same "box" for years. It's time to think outside of it for a moment! The motivation to do well and learn isn't going to come from a threat to punish or expel a student. The motivation is going to come from the students WANTING to be in an exciting, enthusiastic and knowledge-rich classroom with teachers who care about them and their success. Not ones who just expect it to be achieved because they "should" and hand them a worksheet.

Anonymous said...

let's not be like another indiana school and take away their chance for prom if they miss a certain amount of days. let's reward them for the days they are there. even a little reward for perfect attendance is better than nothing.

Anonymous said...

Maybe the answer lies on a continuum. I have seen schools that give college bound academic students cooking classes and art when they should be taking AP Calculus and English. But, how much can a school really do? I am sympathetic with Kim’s analysis, and think she makes many valid points. My statements have nothing to do with personal experience in this district but rather analysis of humanity. Can a school really engage every student? Also, how can they control for those who may not see any value in education because their family does not value education, therefore, why would they see the link to algebra and their future? My family values college education. But, we also value hard work and commitment to family (which is more important than any college degree). Can we really blame schools for poor choices? Look at any class of students and you see parents who have made poor choice after poor choice. So, my point is that maybe there should be an expectation that not everyone will succeed but with good choices that door is open to success. We all know there are certain factors that will improve odds of success, we can tell people and show people the way, but once again ‘choice’ of bowing to every selfish whim or taking the high road with hard work and honor can only be made by the individual. I hope this comment wasn’t too fatalistic, and thanks Dr. Stock for encouraging critical thinking and solution focused remedies.

Anonymous said...

Thank you Dr. Stock for opening the lines of communication on this issue. It is apprciated.

Although I think it's alright to look at questions like, "how do we make students value education if their parents don't?"

However, that's just making excuses. We shouldn't be willing to shrug it off easily to that. If parents don't care, then we show our students that WE do and WE value education.

Let's stop thinking of the "what if's" and "but's." Let's start thinking...


Anonymous said...

Dr. Stock,

Thanks for the meaningful question. I believe we must be careful about "within the context of the curricular restraints that teachers currently face" because what is may not be what should be. We are bound by standards -- but the rest is really up to us.

It seems that many of the comments are supportive of teachers -- and they are right, we do have good teachers who, in most cases, care about the kids.

However, a commonly pervading theme of teachers' discussion is that students aren't motivated, which is a blame game that needs to stop.

We will NEVER be able to stop all dropouts, but we will be able to increase student motivation to be in school if we do a few things in our school corporation.

1. Ensure that ALL teachers, administrators, custodians, paras, and other staff are able to demonstrate appropriate levels of caring for students.
2. Ensure that ALL teachers have a passion for learning.
3. Provide students an appropriate level of voice -- and I don't mean that students should run the schools; they are children...but as they age, they should have increasing levels of input in a variety of capacities. It is appropriate for high school students, for example, to provide input on curriculum, school improvement, and activities (though the professionals should make the decisions).
4. Establish a meaningful curriculum in all subjects. Meaningful curriculum is curriculum that is meaningful and relevant to the lives the students lead today and tomorrow. The curriculum should reflect community values -- and those of students. It should be at a level that students understand. Students should be able to see how they can and will apply it in real-world situations...and it there isn't a real application (any more), it is time to change.
5. Engage students. In addition to providing well-written plans for meaningful curriculum, instruction must be engaging, interesting, and -- yes -- even fun. It should use methods and technology that is congruent with the lives students lead today. "Traditional" methods don't necessarily appeal to today's students who live in a digital world, and "throwing" in a pair-share activity once during the class period doesn't really engage students the rest of the time. Best practices must be integrated throughout EVERY course EVERY day. Technology must be incorporated into EVERY classroom, used by EVERY student and EVERY teacher. It is NOT true that PowerPoint is nothing more than a glorified overhead -- it might be true for those of us who are in older generations, but for today's students, the same information presented on PowerPoint is different than it would be on overhead. A smartboard -- though similar to a chalkboard/whiteboard -- is very different...and students need to experience these media because they are the world in which kids live. Students need to have integrated technology such as web questing, blogging, etc. in their classes -- they respond to such methods more than we can imagine.
6. Eliminate those who won't. I often hear that students who don't want to learn get in the way of those who do, but I suggest that the number of students who don't want to learn will be dramatically reduced by the aforementioned strategies...and so, Number 6 refers to staff. Give teachers -- and all other staff -- what they need to be successful ... training, materials, and equipment ... but remove teachers who won't move forward -- and those who poison the attitudes of others. This is something that we have not historically been willing to do.

These strategies need to be implemented K-12. If you pay attention, you'll notice that our Kindergarteners are very interested in learning and engaged in class...they jump up and down for the chance to answer questions and be involved, but as they grow, that motivation is dramatically decreased because we don't keep up with the kids needs; we don't create win-win situations for all students.

After looking at K, take a step into the classrooms at every other grade, and you'll find that students' interest and involvement decreases every year...because we don't provide meaningful education that reaches to where the students are.

If we did, we would be able to eliminate/reduce the need for much special programming -- mild disabilities educaiton would be handled naturally in the classroom by the classroom teacher; gifted education would occur this way, too.

We are behind the learning curve. It is important that we catch up.

itsrich said...

Please do not forget the other part of the motivation of school kids. It is a key to supporting the teachers, curriculum and your child. PARENTS

PARENTS, when your children start school, spend time each day reviewing what they did that day. Sit with them, on the floor if need be, ask them to show you the papers they brought home. Praise them for the work they did. Show a real interest in what they are doing. If you show it is important, your kids will learn it is important. This will lead to a future of communication between you and your child.

PARENTS, go to the parent/teacher conference. Have a daily dialogue with the teachers if need be on how you can help your child do better. Teachers who care about your child dream about parents who get involved.

PARENTS, read to your child. Help them imagine. Help them dream. Help them think.

PARENTS, plan trips and activites around the house to spark your child’s desire to learn, go on walks, go to the museum, go to the library, go to the waters edge, walk in a creek, go to the pond, and go find fossils, go look at bugs, and crawl on the ground and look what there is to see. Be actively involved with your child and show them how to learn. Show them math, science and how these things apply to life.

PARENTS, you only have a few years to instill the desire to achieve to learn and to discover. They will reach a point where they will make decisions on their own. When they reach that point, you will know that you have done the best you could to help them make the right decision.

PARENTS, if you do these things for your child, you increase the likelihood your child will be motivated in school.

We have asked the teachers to make our children into adults, but the teachers can only do so much with the raw materials they get from the PARENTS. Do you want teachers to spend time with your child filling in the gaps you left? Or do you want teachers to challenge the future by accelerating your child to even greater heights?

The original question was “…what should we do?” Key word WE, this is a group effort; no one person can do this on their own. I say part of the answer starts with PARENTS.

Vanessa said...

I think Itsrich raises a good point, but when is it feasible for parents to do any of those things? The economic situation in many households not only requires both parents to have jobs outside the house, but it also requires working parents to work more than 40 hours per week. Also, some parents literally cannot afford to take time off from work to attend a parent-teacher conference. It's a lose-lose situation all around.

Kim Herr said...

So much to ponder here, many thought provoking points have been made. The blogger's comments regarding parenting really hit home. It is so true, the schools are reaping what is being sown at home. What is that old saying? "When I point a finger, there's always three pointing back at me." Something like that anyway.

In an ideal world, if all of us had the parenting skills outlined, we wouldn't even be having this discussion. Never has, "It takes a village" been more true as we face the challenges ahead.

I have substituted a couple of times at the high school and I admit, there are some students that are just plain scary on the outside! I can only imagine what must be going on in those heads of theirs. What kind of soul wounds are we dealing with? One is amazed that these seemingly "lost" kids even manage to show up at school. But more often than not, these kids do show up, and I applaud their courage.

Like it or not, our schools have become the surrogate parents in many cases. Which brings us back to Dr. Stocks original question about motivation. If the student is not intrinsically motivated, where does the school begin?

Can an institution love, nurture, discipline, feed, encourage such a broad range of students? As surrogate, the school doesn't really have a choice. Not only does the school get to parent, it gets graded! Boy, doesn't that sound fun? Parent by default, yet criticized more often than praised. I don't envy the position in which you educators have been placed.

Nevertheless, you asked the question. We are here to ask more. I still say, smiling faces and pats on the back go a long way. Are you an approachable parent open to new ideas, or do you rule with an iron fist? How is it working? The village is here, we are willing to help. Let us know what we can do.

Ellen Stevens, Principal said...

Ellen Stevens said . . .
This dialog contains the same information that teachers and administrators spend hours discussing and seeking a "different way" to reach all students. It is encouraging to know that parents in the community feel there is a need for high school redesign and school improvement. We have a building full of teachers who are working very hard to do the very things parents are questioning. The administration at the high school would appreciate anyone interested in working with the high school to contact the principal at or call 457-3147. Open lines of communication are the very best way to serve our students.

Kelly Thompson said...

I am so excited to see the interest and enthusiasm for the prospect of continuing to explore any and all ways to improve our school system.

I have 6 children and some enrolled in all levels of education from elementary to college. And it is in High School that I see the most pressing need for improvement.

I feel that it is time to change the way "we" view high school, not as a continuation of middle school but as a precursor to college.

We also need to change our view of high school students. Realizing that truancy and dropout statistics are staggering, we must understand that many of our students view high school attendance and graduation as optional. With this understanding, shouldn't we look to learning environments that work to recruit and keep students - ie private schools, colleges and universities, and technical learning centers for advice and example.

I don't think we are doing enough to make each student feel a part of the school. Having just enrolled my daughter, a current senior at WHS, in college, we have had a year of phone calls and letters encouraging her to come to many schools. After making her decision about which school she will attend, she has received phone calls from welcoming students, faculty, and administration. She has been made to feel a part of the school even before her first class. She has attended orientations where each and every campus club and extracurricular group was represented, at which she was encouraged to meet with those she might be interested in - never limited to a certain number.

Do we do this with incoming freshmen? I have one - he has no idea what activities are available to him. Wouldn't it be great if our incoming freshman parent meeting wasn't so scary, showing us all that we have to be afraid of, but instead exciting, informing us of all that our students have to look forward to. How about a "club and activity" fair!?! Set up the gym with all that the school offers - if we can't fill up a gym with these groups in a school our size - shame on us! How about a survey of students - 8th graders on up - of what they are intersted in currently - debating, band, sports, sciences, newspaper, engines, art, dance, math, chess, cooking, etc. The list is endless! If we can't find what we need in the way of leadership for these groups, what about asking the community? For example, if a group of students are interested in widgets, find a local widget expert and ask for their input! How about asking middle school advisory teachers to recommend to the high school guidance office areas each student might be interested in and then having a current high school student with a similar interest give that 8th grader a call?

Incoming freshmen have enough anxiety about what lies ahead; some have out and out fear. What it would mean to him to have a call from a teacher, counsellor, and even a current junior or senior who would be able to answer questions.

What if every student was made to feel welcome and wanted - or if we could say we had done all we can do to try to make that happen?

We say that we welcome input from parents and students - how about lunch with the principal, or another administrator? It might take some effort to break down those walls - but isn't it worth it?

We have SRC - Student Representative Council - but they are ineffectual - their opinion, but I second it. They are wondering why they are a part of it - what good has it done the school? They don't want elections to be popularity contests, but real discussions on real issues, that will have real audience with the powers that be. Their disenchantment with SRC could very well carryover to the same emotion for our democratic representative goverment. Will these "school leaders" become school board members, town councilmen, senators, presidents?

We have such a great opportunity with these young minds - regardless what they look like, what color clothing they wear, or how many piercings they have - does that really matter? They were created by the same maker, endowed with the same unalienable rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Let's listen to them - let's give all students a voice - let's let them all feel valued.

I wish some of the anonymous writers to this blog would have identified themselves - we would love to have a PTFO at the high school to help implement change!!

Anonymous said...

Thanks, Ellen, for the openness.

To those encouraging a look at parents, I agree that it is important for parents to do their part.

At the same time, please remember that as educators, we only have control over what WE do...Covey calls that our circle of control.

We need to do all we can to work there.

Anonymous said...

I don't have students at the high school, or I would volunteer for that committee. However, I have been made to feel very unwelcome at the elementary and Middle School levels of PTO. If you are a working mom you are definately made to feel as if you are "lower class". Meetings are held during the weekday mornings. If you volunteer to help, they don't bother to call you or they call you for the jobs that no one else wants.

If I was made to feel as welcome as a student, as I do as a parent, I might just drop out too!

I also think that many of the students may have interests that die quickly due to the favoritism shown in our school corporation. I know I have talked to many parents that say their child is dropping out of a certain sport in early middle school because they do not have the right last name to get much playing time.

HC said...

If this is something that would truly like to be looked into, I can get more information...
We spent 3 y ears in Texas. While there, one of my co-workers daughters attended a school system that REWARDED/MOTIVATED their students to stay in school.
What I remember is that the school system built in time into the school year I believe at the end of each semester so that any student who was in school every day that semester, was out of trouble and had passing grades had time off of school. I think it was up to a week off. Those students that missed school, were tardy, were in trouble, had failing grades, etc, they had to come to school. I believe teachers rotated having to stay with those students that had to come to school. Again, I don't know exactly how this worked...especially regarding state requirements, union, etc etc. But I know it was working quite well. It really gave the students something to look forward to and work towards.."all" students could look forward to a day off if they earned it. Again, I don't know exactly how they accomplished this on all the levels, but would be willing to find out.

Matt Butcher said...

You know, I have to say as I am reading some of these posts: then how exactly do you "engage" someone with appropriate texts? We always say that, but nobody ever says how to do it. How can a teacher interact with twenty different texts in the same classroom? And don't tell me that higher learners want more and more because it just isn't true. Most of them just want to get through the material that they know they can get through and that their classmates are struggling with. If you give most students denser material, more "thinkable" material, I have heard them ask if they could read what Johnny was reading instead. So I would really really like to see a lesson plan that shows how to engage all of these different students at the same time.

Because if you ask me, life isn't always about engagement. I hated SCARLET LETTER in high school, but I still read it, and 15 years later understand why we read it now. I hated math but got thru 4 years of it when I only needed 2 to graduate. Sometimes, it stinks to answer comprehension questions after a reading, but state mandated tests require this ability. Sometimes, stuff just needs to get done.

wawasee mom said...

I suggest you read some professional books on reading workshops or guided reading. Is it hard to plan for 20 (I wish I only had 20)students? Why of course it is. Is it my job? Yes, it is. I have 6 different reading groups to plan for each day and 3 math groups. It sure would be easier to do whole group instruction but, best practice and research tells me that would not meet the students' needs.

I have taught as many as 27 5th graders at once. My students were engaged because they were reading at the appropriate level and not only did we discuss their reading in a small group several times a week, they also responded in a journal which I answered every week.

No one said teaching is easy, but if we want what is best for kids then we need to work for it. My kids attend Wawasee schools and I have seen both types of teachers: Teachers that are "old school" and stick to whole group instruction and outdated practices and teachers that stay current and teach to the children.

For example research shows that weekly spelling lists do not make kids better spellers. I know some of you are saying, "that's how I was taught and I did just fine!" The thing is, if you did well in spelling at school you probably would have done just as well having no spelling. People who are visual learners and read become good spellers. If you are trying to make nonvisual learners become good spellers weekly lists are not going to do it.

Open your mind to new ideas and read research. I think we could do so much better at Wawasee, but we need to have open minds and not be afraid of change!

Dawn Shrader, IUSB education student said...

I am a parent, but my child is not yet in school. I am also set to begin my last three semesters of college, and my major is elementary education. I came across this blog in looking up information about the Wawasee schools, and would like to add my opinion.
In my observations of several schools and several teachers, I have seen many good and bad things. In kindergarten, most children display a zeal for learning. They are ready, excited, motivated - wouldn't think of missing school. If their kindergarten teacher is good, she or he will capture this zeal and it will carry through the next grade. It will do the same in the following grades, but only if the teacher helps the students blossom. Teachers must provide a safe environment for children to learn. The children must feel that it is safe, and should be surounded with people (fellow students, staff, and teachers) they can trust. Our classrooms must be mini-working communities within the larger community. Teachers must empower children to help themselves. Children must own their own learning. To do this, assignments must be geared with meaning for that child as an individual. We do an IEP for special needs children, why not do some form of that for every child in your class? Teachers should get to know the child and their parent(s) well. School teaching is not a 5-day-a-week job that ends when the teacher goes home for the day. Parents MUST be involved and included in all decisions involving their child. If teachers show a genuine interest in the child's success, children will realize this and embrace it. Children love to have responsibility, so we must teach it - to them, their parents, and their community - for success to occur. We cannot do it alone - we must ask for help from any and everyone associated with the students in our room, including the students themselves. We must do this from the earliest grades for it to succeed and carry on through high school, or truancy and other problems can never decline.

Cherie Martin, WHS said...

I feel the need to reply to Dawn Shrader. Congratulations for being within three semesters of your goal! You are in the middle of a wonderful experience. Those of us who teach all remember our days on campus with time to delve deeply into research. Those of us who are now in the schools with the students feel and say many of the exact same things you are now learning. Students must feel safe and welcomed. We must work to make a personal connection with each student, a more difficult task for those of us who see a hundred students a day and then change students each trimester. We have signed on to a job that takes more than 40 hours a week. I have tracked that and found that I actually work about twice that number of hours every week. I urge you, Dawn, to hold on to all that you are learning. Soon you will be student teaching and then hunting for a position of your own in a school. You will frequently fall back upon the many things you are now learning as you strive to solve problems and help all your students succeed. I wish you the very best in the years ahead.

Kelly Thompson said...

I listened to the First Lady, Laura Bush, talk on Fox News this morning and she was discussing this same issue. She directed all interested parties to log on to and learn the results of a national study and put the recommended strategies to work in our corporation.

I have only logged on momentarily, and then I decided to let you all in on the site. I will go back now and read what we can do!

Dawn Shrader said...

Thnks for the reply, Cherie Martin! I am loving every minute of my education, and cannot wait to get out there! Kudos to you and all the teachers who go above and beyond the call of duty!
Dawn Shrader