Friday, August 10, 2012

Mission Possible: How the Secrets of the Success Academies Can Work in Any School

I was lucky enough to be sent a copy of "Mission Possible: How the Secrets of the Success Academies Can Work in Any School" to help answer the following question parents, teachers, and administrators face every year:

Stagnation, being unable to accomplish one’s job at a high level, is one of the greatest sources of low teacher morale.  Why do you think this country treats teaching so differently than it does other professions?  

This is a topic that really hits home with me. Boy Wonder has been in two (soon to be three) elementary schools in his short academic career and the differences between a "good" teacher and a "great" teacher are amazing and startling and eye opening.

We started out with an amazing kindergarten experience. It was hands-on, it was challenging, it was encouraging and rewards-based. Our son thrived in a situation where he worked hard and earned praise or certificates for his efforts, even if his effort didn't always mean he'd figured out the problem completely. The "carrot" he chased was often just far enough out of his range that he'd bring whatever concept he'd been working on home and mull it over with us. It was fantastic and we saw his brain power quadruple in capacity in nine short months.

Fast forward the next two years in a new school and a new program. It was supposedly "self driven" where the teachers took a back seat and let the kids go at "their own pace." Have you met my child? He's brilliant. But his "own pace" takes him straight over to the cut and paste table during free time and not to the challenging books or puzzles station. That's just him. He loves to create Lego men out of recycled math quizzes and glue sticks.

 When we had problems with Boy Wonder's most recent teacher (second grade), we took the problem first to the teacher, then to the program, and then to the principal. Many parents did. And unfortunately, the results never changed. The principal was focused on the "problem" kids. The ones lashing out at teachers, skipping classes, fighting, cursing, failing. There was no emphasis on the rest of the student population--the ones that weren't necessarily in their fancy "advanced elementary" program, but weren't destined for juvenile hall, either.

It was a school-district wide culture, we found. Unfortunately, with the pressures the schools felt to pass this mandated test or that one, to keep violence and bullying from overrunning their schools, they had precious few resources left to encourage, empower, or train their teachers. (At least that was our experience at this particular school. I can't speak for every parent in the district and I'm not trying to.)

Bringing this post back around to the question, I think teachers are no longer tasked with merely leading our children through educational rigors to bring out their best, they've been tasked with so much more that should not fall on their shoulders. They're expected to play psychologist, social worker, educator, nutritionist, and ambassador when dealing with strained relationship between parent and child. As such, they often fail to deliver the necessary results that drive test scores up and translate to lower graduation rates.

I also think legislators are misguided when it comes to "bottom line" economics and schools. It's easy for them to cut budgets and spending for our children because the outcomes and "products" are ten years or more out. So they cut budgets, underpay teachers, and overload them with responsibilities. Then they blame them for declining test standards and graduation rates.

Kinda tragic, really.

The Book

"Mission Possible: How the Secrets of the Success Academies Can Work in Any School" is written by Eva Moskowitz and Arin Lavinia. It's geared toward teachers, principals, education reformers, and parents and tells the story of the New York Success Academies. In addition, the writers impart the lessons they've learned along the way when it comes to encouraging teachers, pushing students toward excellence, and building award-winning literacy programs.

It's a call to action...a challenge to make every school great, no matter what resources are available.

The book includes a DVD with teacher interviews illustrating the concepts described in the text.

Want more information about the authors or "Mission Possible"? Visit

What I Took Away

I loved the sections about reading and writing, an area in which we struggle with our own child. When a subject bores him, he retains very little. And yet, long after bedtime, I will find the same child under his covers with a flashlight reading the lore manuals to his favorite fantasy video game (written for adults.) Around the breakfast table in the morning, he can tell us which Gnome King in which Gnomish century began the war with the Trolls...amazing, really, when he's pushed toward something he likes, he can achieve anything. When allowed to remain in the comfortable, known pool of what he considers "boring" books, he languishes with his comprehension, no matter how well he can read.

The bottom line, according to the authors, is to push him. Rigor is their battle cry, and they claim its the best way to excite students and teachers to do great things. I have to say, I agree.

The Giveaway

The authors were kind enough to send me a copy of their great book. They were even more amazing in that they sent a copy for you, too. All you have to do is comment and I'll select a winner next Monday morning, August 20. Just tell me (and the authors) what your school experience is and how you work as a parent to make it even better.

Thanks so much and have a blessed week!


Disclaimer:  "I was compensated for this post.  All opinions expressed are my own."

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