Friday, February 27, 2009

No means no!

According to a New York Times article (May 1, 2008) “More than a third of middle- and high-school students may be victims of sexual harassment by their classmates…The emotional toll of sexual harassment by school kids appears to be even worse than physical bullying… “It happens in gym, on the school bus and when kids change classes,” said Susan Fineran, associate professor in the school of social work and women’s and gender studies at the University of Southern Maine. “And it’s who you’re sitting next to, who’s sitting behind you and in front of you.” To study the issue, Dr. Fineran and coauthor James Gruber from the University of Michigan in Dearborn surveyed 522 children between the ages of 11 and 18 about their experiences with bullying and sexual harassment at school. Overall, 35 percent of kids reported they had been victims of some form of sexual harassment. Boys and girls reported equal levels of harassment, but girls and sexual minorities were far more upset by it, suffering from lower self-esteem, poorer mental and physical health, and more trauma symptoms. Sexual harassment by classmates can be both physical and verbal. Walking through school hallways or in classrooms, girls said they must fend off boys reaching out and squeezing their breasts or grabbing their crotch or bottom. But girls also verbally harass each other, making lewd comments and writing sexually-charged allegations on Web pages or in text messages.”

I choose this topic because today I suspended two students for just such behavior. I only found out about the behavior because the victim was brave enough to report it to the counselor who in turn reported it to me. As I told the two harassers, such behavior is illegal and will not be tolerated. I explained to the harassers that “No means no!” And even if the other party does not overtly object or tell you to stop, the offender needs to know that it is still objectively wrong in the eyes of civil society and the law.

Parents can help us end sexual harassment by talking to your child about it. If your child has been a victim, help them to come forward and report this to me or another school staff member. Once we have identified the harasser, we can discipline accordingly. Parents can also educate their child about why harassment is wrong and what they can do to stop it. While I do not believe it is a widespread event at Taylor, I do want to do everything in the school’s power to end it. Your help in this is greatly appreciated.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Some interesting research on rumors

One of the more humorous aspects of working in a middle school is listening to the rumors that pop up. The more uncertain the times or circumstances, the more prevalent and wild are the rumors. “Rumors have been described as public communications that are infused with private hypotheses about how the world works (Rosnow, 1991), or more specifically, ways of making sense to help us cope with our anxieties and uncertainties (Rosnow, 1988, 2001). There is even a Basic Mathematical Law of Rumor which states that rumor strength (R) will vary with the importance of the subject to the individual concerned (i) times the ambiguity of the evidence pertaining to the topic at hand (a), or R ≈ i × a.” (Source: Psychological Science Agenda Volume 19: No. 4, April 2005)

According to Wikipedia, “A Psychology of Rumor" was published by Robert Knapp in 1944. Knapp identified three basic characteristics that apply to rumor: 1. they're transmitted by word of mouth; 2. they provide "information" about a "person, happening, or condition"; and 3. they express and gratify "the emotional needs of the community." Based on his study of the newspaper column, Knapp divided those rumors into three types:
1. Pipe dream rumors: reflect public desires and wished-for outcomes
2. Bogie or fear rumors reflect feared outcomes.
3. Wedge-driving rumors intend to undermine group loyalty or interpersonal relations
Knapp also found that negative rumors were more likely to be disseminated than positive rumors.

I raise this issue because with the arrival of spring comes the arrival of:
• Rumors among students about other students (these are often wedge-driving rumors)
• Rumors among teachers and staff about a variety of topics like salary (these are most often bogie rumors)
• Rumors about legislative approval of the funding formula (these are pipe dream rumors I am afraid).

What do you do when you hear a rumor? Do you spread it or gather facts and data to prove or disprove it? If you gather facts to confirm or disprove the rumor, you are part of the solution. If you further spread or distort the rumor, you contribute to the problem.

While I do my best to laugh at some of the rumors I hear around school, I also understand that rumors often spring from anxiety and fear. My recommendation to those who hear a rumor is to:
1. Find out if it is true or false
2. Not spread it any further
3. Educate the rumor monger that the rumor is true or false
Please help us with rumor control. By doing this, you will contribute to making Taylor and the world a safer, happier place.

Friday, February 13, 2009

The Principal's Corner

One sign of a healthy school is the fact that parents want to enroll their children in it. As I have written in the past, we have lost students to private and neighboring public schools. We have taken steps to reverse this tide including:
• adding pre-AP and accelerated classes,
• increasing our gifted electives,
• creating a schedule that targets interventions to struggling students
• providing lockers
• creating a safe climate with consistent and immediate student discipline

At our 5th Grade Open House last week, we shared these changes with parents and students with the hope that we would attract more students. I am pleased to report that the results have so far borne fruit. I have received well over a dozen phone calls from parents who want to transfer their incoming 5th grader from their neighborhood middle school or a private school to attend Taylor. I also received the following emails from parents in response to our open house. The first was forwarded to me by our evening’s speaker, Rep. Heather Wilson:

“It was good to see you at Taylor Middle School. (My wife) and I were a bit skeptical and not sure if we would send Aaron to Taylor Middle School before we went to the open house. After visiting the school, meeting the teachers and hearing your testimonial about the school, we left feeling very positive and will be sending Aaron to Taylor next year. Thank you for speaking about the school, as it helped us make our decision and Aaron like the school very much. A couple of his friends will be joining him there too.”

This email to me arrived several days later:
“I got your email address from the literature from the open house on Thursday that my family and I attended because we have a 5th grader that will be attending Taylor next fall. My wife was very impressed with the presentation because she felt it was very genuine and it was something that you and your staff seemed to be very proud of. I had my doubts because my oldest boy attended Taylor 8 years ago and to say the least it was very challenging. We have high hopes for our son’s education at Taylor and we feel that you and your staff will get him headed in a positive direction and keep him challenged while he is at Taylor.”

We are encouraged by these unsolicited testimonials. I expect great things from our teachers and kids this school year and in the years ahead. I am particularly eager for the NM Standards Based Assessment in April because it will be an opportunity for our talented students to “show what they know.” I will be writing to you in the future about what you can do to help us shine. For now, thank you for your support of Taylor.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Building your child's vocabulary

Vocabulary skills are critical to success in school and life. The type of language we use influences what jobs we get, where we attend college, even who we eventually marry. Even if parents don’t read to their middle school child every night like they used to in elementary school, you can still help with vocabulary development. The following article which appeared in the SEDL Letter October 2007 contains some tips that can help parents help their kids in school. (Note: Where the author uses “teacher” substitute “parent”.)

““Text talk” is an approach to vocabulary instruction developed by Drs. Isabel Beck and Margaret that focuses on teaching words from stories and poems read aloud to students. It takes advantage of young readers’ listening and speaking competencies to boost vocabulary development. Just reading aloud isn’t enough to improve vocabulary, but teacher-student discussion about the story, book, or poem can improve both comprehension and vocabulary. Teachers can help students understand what new words mean by providing student-friendly definitions, discussing the word in the context of the story, and relating the word to situations with which students are familiar. Teachers can also ask open questions that allow students to make connections among ideas presented in the reading and conduct activities that enrich student understanding—in other words, provide opportunities for children to reflect on what is happening in the story or with the language. Beck and McKeown (2001) noted that teachers also should encourage children to use the words after the initial discussion: “If children do not think about and use a word after initial instruction it is unlikely to become part of the vocabulary repertoire” (p. 18). An example of a text talk lesson that focuses on vocabulary follows:”

1. Read aloud the story Charlotte’s Web by E. B. White.
2. Contextualize the word within the story. * In the story, Wilbur was enthusiastic about making new friends.
3. Provide a student-friendly explanation of the word.
* Enthusiastic means you are happy or excited about something.
4. Have children say the word. * Say the word with me, enthusiastic.
5. Present examples of the word used in contexts different from the story context. * Someone might be enthusiastic about seeing a new movie, or someone might be enthusiastic about going to Disney World.
6. Engage children in activities that get them to interact with the word. * Share something you would be enthusiastic about. Try to use the word enthusiastic when you talk about it. You could start by saying something like
“I would be enthusiastic about __________________.”
You could then say to a student, “Show us how you might act if you felt enthusiastic about ___________________.”
You could ask students: Would you be enthusiastic if
• You could get a puppy?
• You had to go to the doctor for a shot?
• Your best friend was coming over to play?
7. Have children say the word again. * What’s the word we’ve been talking about?
Based on the work of Isabel L. Beck, Margaret G. McKeown, and Linda Cucan, Bringing Words

Teaching vocabulary is not a difficult process and it shouldn’t be entirely left to the teacher. You can do it while watching TV, driving down the road, or while at a restaurant. Every new word you help your child learn improves his or her odds of being successful in school and life. Thanks!