A Label of Kids That Bothers Me

Short and simple today.  It’s a mistake I’ve made.  But it’s one I’m working really hard to not make any more.imgres.jpg

I think it is wrong to label students as “low.”  It’s not appropriate to do it in the principal’s office or the teacher’s lounge.  I don’t think it should happen in the hallways or during meetings.  Educators are really good people, salt of the earth.  They are in the greatest profession in the world and almost always for the right reasons.  I don’t think we do this for malicious reasons but instead because we get lazy with our vocabulary and it becomes part of how we talk.  This isn’t about one school or one district because I’ve heard this all over the state.  It’s wrong for many reasons, but here are the three that seem to stand out most.

  1. “Low” based on what?  Lower than others?  Lower than an expectation?  Low for that moment in time?  Low cognitively?  Low as a human?  Low for their ability to contribute to society?  They are 8.  We don’t have a crystal ball.  Drop the label.  The label really goes against all we know about children.  We know that they develop at different rates, on a different timeline, for a great number of reasons.  By labeling them as “low,” you are refuting what we know about kids and their ability to grow and develop.  Let’s say you have a 2nd grader, who in November is not yet at the grade level expectation established by the school district.  He has been labeled as “low” by school staff.  Does that help at all?  Labeling that student “low” doesn’t take into account all who that student is.  We support the whole child, right?  Let’s not simply look at that reading score, but the type of work habits they have.  There should be a focus on their personal characteristics.  Maybe that student is showing a great ability in music, art, athletics, science, or something else.  Whole child, whole child, whole child.  Let’s not use a label that gives us such a narrow perspective on who that student is.
  2. Do you remember what you got on that 2nd-grade reading assessment?  How about the 4th grade MEAP?  The Algebra test your freshmen year of high school?  In the grand scheme of things, it’s really not that important.  Maybe it’s because there is more to life than that.  Maybe it’s because those are not accurate predictors about the type of person or professional you may become.  All of us as educators are under pressure to improve test scores, but this isn’t about that at all.  At that moment in time, that test score may be the best the student is capable of.  That can change significantly in 5 weeks, 5 months, or 5 years.  Or, maybe that test score is on par with how they may score throughout their school career, but the focus on improving their work habits, personal characteristics, and an area of interest will be the keys to success for that student.  Let’s not use a label that is really a useless predictor of the type of contributor to society that student may become. 
  1. We should always talk about kids as if they or their parents were in the room sitting right next to us.  That requires a professionalism that we should mandate of ourselves and others.  We have to advocate for students when no one else will.  One way to do that is to give them that level of respect.  Let’s not use a label that diminishes the integrity of each student. 

Instead of using that label, try some other approaches that are more appropriate.

  • Not yet proficient as a reader
  • Needs additional support in math
  • Point out their strengths and how building upon them will be imperative to their school success
  • Find areas that are under their control and emphasize growth in those areas
  • Pay special attention to the growth they are making and not just their proficiency level

I guess we all have our pet peeves.  Mine just so happens to be one that I’ve been too guilty of in the past.  I’m excited to start 2017 knowing this of myself and making improvements in this area.

Four Sports Takes: Lions, Spartans, Gophers, and Refs!

Maybe it’s the upcoming holiday break.  Maybe it’s missing being on the sidelines coaching basketball as I did for nearly 20 years.  Maybe it’s that the local hacks on the sports radio show angering me on a daily basis.  Regardless, I felt the need to take a 30-second time-out from my usual blogging about leadership and education to fire away on some sports topics that have me heated up.

Soft Lions Fans

S-O-F-T.  C-O-W-A-R-D-S.  S-C-A-R-E-D.  I can hear my fellow Lions fan Nate Wolfe saying those exact things about some fellow Lions “fans.”  My message to fellow Lions fans is to muster up some semblance of courage.  I can’t take much more of the gloom and doom, “oh my goodness we are going to lose our last three games” crowd.  Slightly worse are those who are almost wishing for it to happen so they can be the “I told you so” crowd. Both are soft.  You know what?  We might be underdogs in all 3 of those games.  But if you were going to tell me in August that we’d have one shot to win the division at home in week 17, I’d have taken it.  Enough of the same old Lions talk and the impact that has on the remaining games because it has none.  Andre Ware is not being asked to complete any passes in Dallas.  We are not handing the ball off to James Stewart and Jeff Chadwick isn’t going over the middle vs. Green Bay.  Past Lions teams have ZERO to do with these last 2 games.  Stop using the past as your crutch.  LIVE IN THE PRESENT.  How about this?  How about the Lions are 16-6 in their last 22 regular season games?  How about we have an MVP candidate at QB in the prime of his career? imgres.jpgHow about how we somehow have a defense that is all of a sudden in the top half of the league?  Don’t be afraid of failure.  Don’t be doom and gloom.  If you can’t enjoy a 1 game lead with 2 to play, what can you enjoy?  Throw your hat in the ring, get behind this team, and allow yourself to believe.  What do you have to lose?  Do you gain anything by predicting losses and then being “right” if they lose?  Enjoy it, relish it, allow yourself to get excited about it.  Those other two stances are simply weak and arguably taken by those who are not even fans.

Rough Year for the #SpartanDawgs

What a rough calendar year for my Spartans.  The football team gets pounded by Alabama, although it’s hard to be upset with a B1G title and the Final Four.  Then, the MTSU loss for the basketball team in the tournament, the football team out of a bowl game, and now the basketball team off to a tough start.  Well, the football team had one of their best decades in school history.  Winning three B1G championships and finishing in the top 6 in the country three times in a five-year span is a pretty good run.  Most mid-level programs, which MSU is,  never experience that type of success.  Hopefully, this is a one-year variation for Coach D and the Spartans are bowling at this time next year.  The basketball struggles are completely different.  imgres.jpg

The MTSU loss was what it was.  When you make 19 straight tournaments, you are going to be upset here or there.  It happens to everyone.  It’s the beauty and the challenge of the greatest sporting event on Earth.  This year, it really boils down to three things.  First is the departure of Deyonta Davis to the NBA.  Second, is the brutal schedule including Arizona, Duke, Kentucky, and Kansas, none of which were played in East Lansing.  Third, the injuries to Ben Carter, Gavin Schilling, and Miles Bridges.  A team with minimal front-court depth certainly couldn’t afford three injuries in the same position group.  With the special 2016 recruiting class and solid adds in ’17 and ’18, the future is very bright for MSU hoops.  However, I know that NCAA tournament streak is very important to Coach, so I know they will be doing all they can to right the ship and keep that intact.  Has one of the golden eras of MSU sports come to an end?  2017 will go a long way to deciding if that’s the case.

Minnesota Football Scandal

Listening to Gregg, Jim, and Big Dru on 96.1 the other day really had me all kinds of angry.  Their take on the Minnesota football scandal was basically that since there were no legal charges against the players, they should be allowed to play in the bowl game.  I almost drove off the road.  imgres.jpgMy biggest issue with the three of them was they hadn’t taken the time to read details from the police report or information from the EOAA report.  If they would’ve, I’m pretty sure their take would’ve been different.I’m going to stay away from the legal side of things and just focus on the human element for a minute.

Scholarship players at the D1 level are held to a higher standard than others.  It’s just the way it is.  Read the report.  Those players clearly violated the ethical/moral code of conduct on that evening.  If someone disagrees with that statement, we have significantly different views on human decency on planet Earth.  They violated the code of conduct and are rightfully suspended.  Players, who also now admit to not reading the details of the incident, decided to boycott practices and their bowl game.  To top it off, Coach Claeys felt the need to tweet how proud he was of players for standing up for their rights in the boycott.  Well, after about 48 hours and being informed a little bit more what was in those reports, as well as what due process actually means in a Title IX investigation, the players didn’t feel as strongly and ended the boycott.

The university is 100% in the right here.  The players deserve to be suspended.  Their behavior doesn’t match an ethical/moral standing necessary for a student-athlete.  There has to be a clear common sense line in these situations and it was crossed by those players that evening.  Legal, process, investigation, rights, all words used to negate simply what is right and what is wrong.  Shame on those players, the phony boycott, and their coach.

College Basketball;  A Deteriorating Product

I am a HUGE college basketball fan.  It is one of the few sports I will watch regardless of who is playing.  I will take notes when I watch a game when I see a half-court set or BLOB play that I like.  I think the NCAA basketball tournament is the best sporting event in the world as March Madness is something special.  imgres.jpg

However, even I can admit the game is getting harder to watch for one reason.  Fouls.  I was watching the MSU vs. Northeastern game the other night and both teams were in the bonus 4:50 into the second half.  That is 14 fouls in not even 5 minutes.  The more games I watch, the less of a flow that I see.  Whistles, free throws, technicals, and a lack of basketball actually being played.

Here is how I see the issue.  Players are bigger, faster, and stronger than ever before.  They are built to hit, bang, contest, and collide.  I don’t see the game called that differently at the youth level (especially grades 3-10) than I did 10 years ago.  So, we have players who get to the varsity and college level that have played relatively physical and now that they are bigger and stronger than they’ve ever been, they have to all of a sudden avoid contact?  It’s partly a NCAA issue and partly an officials issue.  I’ve never been a big fan of officials, anyone who saw me on the sidelines can attest to that.  But that is a much deeper topic than the words on this page will allow.

I hate the cop out, “the refs are just calling what is in the rules book.”  Really?  Common sense doesn’t apply?  The bottom line is kids aren’t going to significantly change.  They are bred and coached to battle, be physical, and play intense.  It’s the officials and the NCAA that needs to change.  Fouls are like holding in football, you can probably make a case to call one during each play.  I’ve always felt like a key quality to a good official is to call fouls that impact the play or result in one side gaining an advantage over the other. Blowing your whistle and slamming your first forward for an illegal screen with minimal contact on the left baseline as a right side screen and roll takes place, is probably one you can let go.  I just see 10 or more of those each game.  The NCAA needs to rethink their stance and allow officials a greater variation in what they are allowed to let go.  Otherwise, we are down a path of never-ending whistles and officials with more TV time than players.

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!  Best wishes to everyone for a great holiday season.