Basic building blocks of community: trust and relationships

I have been referred to a number of books, research papers and TED Talks in the past couple of months, and I have observed a common lens through which I am viewing most of these resources – the blueprints for how people optimally work with each other.

Since this post is a little long, I’ll give you the cliff note up front (aka, “too long; didn’t read” or tl;dr). If you want things to get better in our community, you gotta put your pride on the shelf and go listen to someone else. You gotta walk in someone else’s shoes for a little while.

Make sure you check out the references before you completely walk away from this post; the TED talks in particular are quite engaging (Mitra, Semler, Sirolli, Varty).

And now for the full-blown version…. Read the rest of this entry »

Happenings II: whitewashed walls

I have included two links below that talk about the City’s efforts to wipe out troubled areas. Perhaps what is most interesting about this topic is the overwhelming silence of apathy, punctuated by the strong voices of the few who know and care about what is going on.


How is this related to Education? Why am I including it on a blog supposedly about Unit 4?


In a nutshell, because we are all connected. Whether or not you agree with Brian Dollinar’s scathing analysis, it is extremely hard to dispute the facts; this is just the latest in a trend of sweeping the troubles under a rug. It looks like some of the problems “just go away”, but that is hardly further from the truth. Here is the meat of the matter for me. There are kids in these communities that we have “erased”. These kids are in our classrooms, they might even sit right next to your little one. How are they being helped by these massive community-wide displacements? What kind of lesson are we teaching them? There is a whole other connected issue of our community’s plans to build a frickin’ $20 million jail. Really? So instead of trying to make better citizens out of our troubled youth, we prefer to shuffle them out of sight? Ouch.


Here is something else that is bothering me that I have not fully formulated into an actionable plan. First, here is what the Illinois School Code says:

    (b) School districts shall not promote students to the next higher grade level based upon age or any other social reasons not related to the academic performance of the students. On or before September 1, 1998, school boards shall adopt and enforce a policy on promotion as they deem necessary to ensure that students meet local goals and objectives and can perform at the expected grade level prior to promotion. Decisions to promote or retain students in any classes shall be based on successful completion of the curriculum, attendance, performance based on Illinois Goals and Assessment Program tests, the Iowa Test of Basic Skills, or other testing or any other criteria established by the school board. Students determined by the local district to not qualify for promotion to the next higher grade shall be provided remedial assistance, which may include, but shall not be limited to, a summer bridge program of no less than 90 hours, tutorial sessions, increased or concentrated instructional time, modifications to instructional materials, and retention in grade.



I am confused how we have children percolating through our school district that cannot read at grade level. I may be somewhat blind (I do wear contacts, after all), but it seems to me that a large majority of our children advance through the grades with all their peers regardless. Yet, I have often heard at Board Meetings and PTA Council meetings about how Parkland has to do a bit of remedial training just to get graduates up to speed. I have heard about how we need to focus on literacy and get kids reading at grade level by third grade. Why? I am not trying to poke holes or discredit anyone. I am expressing confusion and a lack of understanding. Why even have a state School Code?


And believe you me, I have become a big support of the need for literacy. I really like the push for literacy by third grade, and the reports that say third-grade reading levels are a good early indicator of whether a child will lean towards the criminal “correctional” system are pretty convincing.


Like I said, these things are connected. Demolishing a troubled neighborhood does no more good to increase the literacy level of struggling students than does slamming the door in their face.


I do want to acknowledge the many good things about Unit 4 as well. I am saving that for the next post, Happenings III.

The Rabbit hole of Parental Engagement via the Illinois State Board of Education

While prepping for the Aug 20th BOE meeting, I noticed a URL at the bottom of one of the PDFs in the BoardDocs (“FY13 Title III Budget.pdf (100 KB)“); you can try typing it in yourself, but you will get an error – I suspect you actually have to log into the ISBE webpage, and on top of that, I think the URL is just the front end of a series of http POST (techy talk for saying that the full URL is not in the address bar). But enough of that. I went looking for the grant information via the ISBE search page and stumbled upon a Family Engagement page, buried deep in the Grants directory. Why? This is just so weird. I am pretty big on family engagement and I am online a bit, but I have never heard about ISBE efforts at family engagement. Why is it under “Grants” of all things?


But the fun doesn’t stop there. I was curious about this so-called “Family Engagement Tool” and dove into the link. With a bunch of rah-rah, they then point you to yet another link, I am impressed that someone did a bunch of work to compile a directory of diverse resources, and apparently a group of folks have got their heads together to think about how families should be engaged. But I cannot shake the feeling that this is all theory. I cannot sink my teeth into any of it. If you are still curious about the “Family Engagement Tool”, you are urged to continue deeper into the rabbit hole by going to the SchoolCommunityNetwork, yet another directory of resources and more theory-crafting. Eventually that leads you even further to Indicators In Action, a whole set of online courses designed to teach the aspiring learner about how schools are connected to communities via a series of videocasts. After following all those links and becoming more and more disappointed, the last thing I wanted was a 2-hour online video class that describes how somebody thinks schools are communities.



Somewhere down the line, I came across this definition of the Family Engagement Tool:

The Family Engagement Tool (FET) is a web-based tool that guides a school team in assessing every aspect of its family engagement programs and practices. The team creates and monitors an improvement plan based on indicators of effective practice.


Guides? I am so lost that I don’t even know what I am doing on these pages anymore. No wonder I have never heard of this beastly entity. 🙂


I will offer an alternative. Instead of getting enough credits to minor in Family Engagement, just use some common sense:

  1. Listen to what other people say – which means you might have to go to where they are, as they are not always (if ever) going to come to you
  2. Tell people what you heard them say
  3. Act on what you heard them say
  4. Tell them what you did and see what they think about it. And, *gasp*, you might just have to go back to where they are to do so


This whole thing of Family Engagement is tricky; most families are already so engaged they are drowning. It might be the family with two career parents, who are obviously engaged in their work places. Or the family where the kids have extracurricular activities 8 days of the week (not a typo, just seeing if you are reading this). Or the single-parent family where the bread-winner is scraping by on 2.5 jobs. Or natives from another country trying to make sense of our backwards culture. Some parents already go to every PTA meeting, or every school function, or volunteer every school day in classes. We are all in different places. But I’m with Vandana Shiva when she compares the non-locality of quantum theory to the interconnectedness of human beings – we are already community, and what we do is already shaping it.

Percolating thoughts

The Board believes the District will be most successful when the community is aware of and understands the District’s efforts and goals.

Source: December 01, 2011 EEE Committee Meeting minutes

I would take this further; the word picture I use is like a marriage – the general health and excellence of the relationship is (I believe) optimal when all parties share the same goals within the context of each individual’s whole self. Yes, the District will be better off when the community is aware of and understands the District’s efforts and goals, but I wish to clarify that and hope that the goals are shaped and the efforts are guided by a strong community collaborative partnership. I say that very deliberately – I do not think the goals and efforts should be determined by the state, nor the government (as it exists now). Unfortunately, it is my observation that our schools are currently, largely, a reflection of  legislation.

Allow me to take you a short tour of stories that have impressed me this past week (or so).

  • Vandana Shiva (hat tip to Pattsi Petri): Ms. Shiva is not stupid – she has studied nuclear physics and has researched Quantum mechanics. As one commentor said “I would have hoped that studying physics and quantum theory would lead most students to similar conclusions of social and environmental equality but it cannot be. It must require a love of people first.” Her ideas of interconnectedness are fascinating, to say the least, but it totally makes sense. I could not help but see this report through the lens of education, especially Read the rest of this entry »