My latest book, The Violence Continuum: Creating a Safe School Climate, was released a few weeks ago and is the featured title on the publisher’s home page.
It is now available online at:
Review of “What if the Secret to Success Is Failure?” a 9/14/11 New York Times article by Paul Tough
The author of this article mentions, often with little or no insight or analysis, some of the most critical issues in education today including the nature and nurturing of character development (the basis of violence prevention), competition and collaboration, and intrinsic and extrinsic motivation, including reward systems and report cards.
To summarize the “plot” of the article, the author explored the efforts of two atypical New York City schools – the private and prestigious Riverdale Country School for the affluent, and the free KIPP charter school with enrollment open to all NYC students (by lottery). Both focus on preparing students for college and turning out people who are successful in life. Not liking the results they were seeing, they each identified the need to look more closely at character development, and ways to teach those essential character traits typical of a high functioning, autonomous adult.
Using Martin Seligman’s work on positive psychology and his 800-page book (tome) on character strengths and virtues, the headmaster and superintendent of the respective schools looked at the practical benefits of teaching both:
The Good Idea:
The KIPP School ultimately chose the seven of Duckworth’s 24 identified character strengths that were the most predictive of “life satisfaction and high achievement.”
While life satisfaction and high achievement are not synonymous with living a life of high moral character, the list is useful, especially if social intelligence encompasses positive moral traits and pro-social beliefs and skills.
KIPP then took these seven strengths and converted them into 24 statements, such as the student:
The intent was to use these statements as goals for behavior, and to gauge a child’s progress toward high moral and behavioral character. As we read over the list, they sound like the qualities we’d like to see in everyone.
But then they took a wrong turn.
To be continued…
I like the work coming out of the *Consortium on Chicago School Research at the University of Chicago (CCSR). They use both long- and short-term action research approaches in the study of important educational issues such as dropout rates, social promotion, and school safety. These studies are intended to help educators all over the world make informed decisions on policies and practices that directly affect their students.
I also like their work because they take school climate seriously, not just because of the current attention on bullying-prevention, but because their research shows that school climate is one of five critical factors affecting student achievement, and that relationships are the foundation for how secure and capable students feel.
In their May 2011 report, “Student and Teacher Safety in Chicago Public Schools: The Roles of Community Context and School Social Organization,” the CCSR looked at the factors affecting how safe students and adults feel in their schools. As we might expect, students from high-crime, high-poverty (disadvantaged) areas tended to feel less safe.
But the most revealing and promising finding was that students and adults felt safer in disadvantaged schools with high-quality relationships than they felt in advantaged schools with low-quality relationships. The power of positive, caring relationships among students, families, the community, and school staff trumped the expected negative social effects of crime and poverty! This finding has a dramatic impact on where we choose to focus our efforts to improve student achievement.
The CCSR has now released its Five Essentials School Reports. Based on 15 years of research data, they identified five factors that matter most for student learning. The climate of the school and the relationship between the school and its families and community again rise to prominence.
The Five Essentials:
The finding that schools that are strong on three or more of these essentials were 10 times more likely to improve student learning than schools weak in three or more of the essentials should grab our attention and help us focus our efforts. Once again it’s all about relationships and good teaching:
*The National Research Council recommends the CCSR as a model for better linking research, policy making, and practice.