Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Are we losing our boys?

My family and friends have heard me share my concern that too many of our boys are not reaching their potential in our traditional educational system.  I worry that so many more boys are targeted by teachers at the end of the year as being behavioral challenges in class.  I am concerned when I sit in on yet another meeting for a boy who is identified as learning-disabled and in need of special education services.  I feel guilty every time I think aloud that maybe that boy needs to be medicated.  Sure, there are challenging girls, too, but there are many more challenging boys, and our school statistics validate this statement.

So today when I read David Brooks' blog titled, "Schools are encouraging boys to rebel, disengage," I knew this was an opportunity to share my thoughts about educating ALL students at Hale Kula, not just boys. Mr. Brooks shares some sobering statistics about boys' performance in school and the growing gap between the number of males and females who are graduating from college or attending graduate school.  What can we do as educators to engage our students so that we can turn these statistics around?

I believe that our teachers have high goals for themselves.  They all hope that every one of their students will enjoy being in the class and learn what they need to be successful in the next grade level. Teachers spend countless hours planning for their class, and they sincerely hope their students will enjoy those lessons. It can be frustrating, therefore, when one or a few students upset the classroom with their antics or when they refuse to do their work as expected. So much time is expended in attempts to get those students to comply and often, it is a losing battle of wills between the student and the teacher and sadly, the student often wins.  The result is that the student -- usually a boy -- starts to fall behind academically.  Then, this student is labeled as challenging, difficult, and may eventually qualify for special education services. 

As we begin planning for the next school year, what can we do to change the statistics at Hale Kula?  The first step, I believe, is to build a positive classroom culture where all students feel valued.  Our school adheres to the Tribes philosophy which emphasizes that each person is an integral part of our community of learners with something to contribute.  In the coming school year, teachers will be working with their grade level counselor to address behavioral concerns by utilizing the Data Team Process. Through the process of analyzing data and agreeing on and implementing team-building and cooperative learning strategies in the classroom, we hope to see a decrease in behaviors which may be interfering with learning.  

Building positive relationships means that teachers know their students as individuals --their interests, strengths, needs, learning styles, and what's happening in their personal lives.  Knowing this information helps teachers as they plan engaging and relevant learning activities where students apply skills to create new learning for themselves.  Integrating different content area standards into an interdisciplinary unit, solving real-world math problems, infusing research and technology skills to answer student-generated questions on a topic, and creating projects using web 2.0 tools to share what was learned -- these are ways we plan to engage all students at Hale Kula.  It won't be easy, but by providing an environment and professional development for teachers which supports 21st century teaching and learning, we will hopefully see more engaged students in every classroom and fewer distractions to the  learning process.

Every year when I watch the latest version of  "Did You Know" I am reminded about how quickly our world is changing.  If we don't change the way we teach and learn at Hale Kula, we do a disservice to our students -- boys and girls alike.  

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