Denise Fawcett Facey

At its best, education broadens the way students view the world and their place in it.

Reaching and Teaching the Whole Child

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The Power of Teacher Collaboration

June 26, 2017

Tags: education, teacher collaboration, Meriden Public Schools, student-centered education, one-to-one technology

Photo: http://www.edutopia.org/sites/default/files/styles /feature_image_breakpoints_theme_edutopia_desktop_1x/ public/slates/collaboration1.jpg?itok=GEGYz-NT
What is the magic elixir that makes a school district a dynamic place where both students and teachers want to be? Is it the people, their teaching methods, cutting-edge technology? Well, one district, Meriden Public Schools in Connecticut, seems to have found it, taking itself from stagnant and lackluster to highly productive, with a real learning community where test scores are soaring. So, once again, what made the difference? In short, it was a paradigm shift, a change in educational perspective.

Asking teachers’ opinions, setting aside time for teacher conversations and collaboration, providing one-to-one technology to enable each child to have access to it, welcoming parent input, allowing students to lead their own learning—these have proven to be the ingredients of a successful school district. In fact, the result of all those conversations and collaborations among teachers in Meriden has been that teachers’ presented ideas and suggestions for improvement that have been implemented and have worked wonderfully. Moreover, teachers are given the professional development that enables them to support students’ progress regardless of their abilities and needs. Indeed, students are empowered to direct their own learning, to further explore areas of interest and to use technology to enhance and guide that learning.

Everyone involved is excited about the innovation and learning that are taking place. What’s more, since 2011, suspensions have decreased 86 percent while expulsions are 95 percent lower. All of this because, by all accounts, Meriden schools are a great place to be. Equally impressive the district’s standardized test scores have risen so much that it is now a multiple-award winning district.

What all of this shows is that respecting teachers as professionals, allowing them to drive district improvements and innovations while making learning student-centered, empowering students to strive for their greatest fulfillment—and supporting those efforts—creates a school district that works for everybody. It’s the kind of district most educators would like to have. And it’s certainly a district where students thrive. Isn’t that the point?

Why Cultural Bias Hinders Ed Equity

June 5, 2017

Tags: education, whole child education, cultural bias, education equity

Photo: http://www.greenbookblog.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/06/unconsciousbias-1.jpg
I loved the diversity of my students. Yes, they were socially and economically diverse. And their varied and multifaceted personalities certainly kept things interesting. Yet it was the cultural diversity that made for a dynamic mix in the classroom. Russians, Ukrainians and Serbs, for instance, blended comfortably with Korean, Vietnamese and Chinese students as well as with students from Latin America, the Caribbean, several African countries and, of course, those born in the U.S. Interestingly, while the students generally got along wonderfully—sharing the commonality of a teenage subculture—when they argued or fought, it was never about racial or ethnic issues. It was simply typical teenaged angst. Perhaps that’s the beauty of being kids.

That diversity in my classroom is a microcosm of our larger society, reflecting an enormous cultural shift over the last few decades. (more…)

May Educator Forum: What Have You Learned from Your Students?

May 29, 2017

Tags: Words or phrases to categorize this post for the tags section

Photo: http://www.anniesullivan.org/sitebuildercontent/ sitebuilderpictures/TeachersPlay1994_edited.jpg
I was always amazed by how much I learned from my students. Sure, I taught them various social studies subjects along with what I hope was a good amount of character. Yet they taught me so much more, elements that have become life lessons that I have never forgotten. Among them are these:

  • Asking questions is not nosey. Unlike conversations with adults, in which prying questions in response to revealing a tidbit of information about themselves are considered intrusive, students want and even expect questions when they hint at problems they are experiencing. I learned this the hard way during my first year of teaching when I missed an opportunity to help a student who had been assaulted and failed to ask any questions at all when she made a cryptic comment. It took a friend of that student to later clue me in. As a result, I began asking follow-up questions with students, enabling me to assist them in areas far beyond academics.
  • (more…)

6 Things Parents of High Schoolers Need to Do

May 22, 2017

Tags: education, tips for high school parents, student achievement, whole child

Photo: https://www.sueatkinsparentingcoach.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/05/black-happy-teens.jpg
I’m intrigued by those articles written by teachers advising parents on ways to help their children succeed in school. Curious about the elements other teachers consider to be the keys to success, I read along, sometimes nodding in agreement and other times baffled by their advice. However, what I’ve noticed is that these articles seem to provide guidance—from teacher interactions and homework to school trips and fundraisers—focused almost exclusively on elementary school parents. That’s a mistake.

As high school teachers know, parents of high schoolers are often perplexed by this period in their children’s lives. The truth is, navigating a wholly new experience in which their children are, in fact, not little children anymore, but are not adults, either, means parents walk a precarious line between helping and enabling. It’s hard to let go, after years of controlling your children’s world, to allow them both to make their own choices and to face the consequences of those choices—especially when you can see the error of their decisions even before they implement them. Yet kids have to grow up. (more…)

The Value of a Great School Climate

May 16, 2017

Tags: education, school climate, school culture, principals

Photo: https://es.pinterest.com/pin/262616221996980446/

A great school is a wonderful place to be. Not based on grades—although grades are usually stellar in such schools—this is greatness fostered by people who enjoy being there, working together for the common good, sharing an educational perspective, supporting one another’s classroom successes. That’s a terrific school culture, and both students and teachers thrive there.

The thing is, a great school culture only exists in the right school climate. It's an intangible that has everything to do with the atmosphere within that school, determining how everyone in the school feels and underlying their interactions. When the climate's good, it encourages innovation, creativity, exploration and growth, among other positive elements. A good school climate brings out the best in everyone.

On the other hand, when school climate is negative no one thrives. Such schools seem to suck the joy right out of everyone who enters. It’s an oppressive atmosphere, one where colleagues interact with one another with suspicion, looking out for themselves alone, not working in collaboration with one another but rather seeking only to survive. The atmosphere created by that climate is one of strife, stress and even an undercurrent of malevolence. (more…)

Empowering Students by Making Room for Failure

May 8, 2017

Tags: education, academic failure, metacognition, empowering students, whole child education, student achievement

Photo: https://b-i.forbesimg.com/michaellindenmayer/files/2013/12/blog-photo-failure-success.jpg
It’s that time of year again, the time when standardized tests take on disproportionate value. Long gone are the days when exams were used simply as a tool to determine students’ strengths and weaknesses, to enable teachers to best support students’ progress. No, these tests have become punitive tools for both students and teachers, ways to “catch them failing,” so to speak, so that students are deemed unworthy of moving on to the next grade and teachers’ jobs hang precariously in the balance. The miserable result is twofold: Tests take on far too much power and “failure” becomes the monster feared beyond measure.

But what if we built failure into our curriculums and lessons plans? What if failure was no longer wielded as a weapon to shame people but rather as a learning tool to spur all of us on to achievement? Sure, it requires a redefining of failure, a reevaluation of the way we perceive what failure represents. But if we make room for failure, it then becomes a steppingstone to students’ analysis of their work, for instance, and to further exploration and discovery. That completely shifts the paradigm:

  • Failure then becomes almost desirable as an opportunity to solve a puzzle, to unravel a mystery.

  • Figuring out what went wrong becomes an accomplishment, removing the stigma of having failed at all.
  • (more…)

Students Need Equity, Not Grit

May 1, 2017

Tags: education, grit, education equity, achievement gap, whole child education

Photo: http://cltoronto.ca/wp-content/uploads/2016/06/Equity-vs-Equality.png
“Grit” is among the education buzzwords that seem to have gained a good deal of traction in recent years. Based on the premise that students need to persevere, grit is supposedly a combination of determination and resilience. But here’s the problem: This focus on grit presupposes that students lack the qualities that it entails. Furthermore, it seems to assume that these elements alone (or the lack of them) explains and resolves any academic difficulties students may be experiencing. That’s rather presumptuous. Even worse, emphasizing grit precludes all the myriad other factors, inside and outside of school, that influence students academically and that place some students at a decided disadvantage. These students don’t lack determination or resilience. Anyone who knows all that students overcome just to be in school realizes this. What the students lack is equity.

Having nothing to do with grit and everything to do with advantages they lack, what these students need are elements taken for granted by students of higher socioeconomic levels: (more…)

April Educator Forum: Who Will Intercede for the Student Who Is Shamed?

April 24, 2017

Tags: education, student shaming, whole child education

Photo: http://www.anniesullivan.org/sitebuildercontent/ sitebuilderpictures/TeachersPlay1994_edited.jpg
You will likely recall from your own childhood that kids hate being different. That’s why they tend to dress alike, speak alike, even favor the same forms of entertainment. For the most part, unless the difference is a unique talent, they just want to be like everyone else. Blending in becomes the ultimate goal.

Unfortunately, some adults seem to have forgotten how that feels. Seemingly oblivious to the shame and pain of being singled out for public punishment, too many who work in schools opt to assign students to clean the school cafeteria instead of eating lunch with their friends or stand in a separate line to receive lunch or have a stamp placed on their arm to broadcast to all who see, “I need lunch money.” Yes, this is about lunch money—not students’ misbehavior or violation of a rule but rather their parents inability to pay for the students’ lunch. For this, students have been deemed worthy of punishment. And it's public punishment.

How do adults subject students to such treatment and not feel any shame themselves for being devoid of compassion? (more…)

Gifted and Advanced Classes: The Most Segregated Part of Education

April 3, 2017

Tags: education, education equity, students of color, whole-child education, gifted education

Photo: http://nancyebailey.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/09/gifted.jpg
Consider the following scenario: Jason and Jamal are equally bright students in the same school. With great work ethics and a genuine desire to meet challenges, these students exhibit all the characteristics of students who would excel in gifted and advanced classes. In fact, they happen to have identical scores on standardized exams as well as their overall grade point averages. Yet they don’t have equal chances of being admitted. Since Jason is white and Jamal is not, the real determinant of whether each is admitted to the advanced classes is their teachers. And that’s the problem.

As study after study has revealed, students of color frequently are overlooked as candidates for (more…)

March Educator Forum: What Value Have You Found in Building Students’ Self-Confidence?

March 27, 2017

Tags: education, students' self-confidence, participation trophies, whole-child education

Photo: http://www.anniesullivan.org/sitebuildercontent/ sitebuilderpictures/TeachersPlay1994_edited.jpg
Self-esteem has been a popular buzzword in education for a long time. From participation trophies to certificates for effort, educators, coaches and even parents have attempted to ensure that children’s self-esteem is continually bolstered. However, if everyone gets a trophy, why put in the effort to win? Moreover, if mere academic effort warrants a certificate, is there any incentive for students to strive for excellence? Plus, the sense of entitlement that kids acquire from such tactics leaves little room for intrinsic motivation. While building self-confidence is certainly part of whole-child education, surely there’s a better way to do it.

What really makes a difference is the feeling of achievement students experience when they successfully complete a task at which they have worked hard. Learning a new skill, mastering a task or concept with which they have formerly struggled, competing victoriously in an event— (more…)