New Teacher Job Interview Do’s and Don’ts

COP Interview Tips

Jennifer Gonzalez and her Cult of Pedagogy site is one to follow on social media. Her YouTube Channel is full of great and immediately usable how-to videos ranging from classroom management strategies to the Jigsaw Method. She recently published a series of interviews with educators in various administration positions that have extensive experience in the teacher hiring process. I was very interested to listen to the podcast and follow the transcript of the conversation for a couple reasons.

First, I am going to be interviewing for my first classroom teacher position in about a year from now. While I have had my own ESL classroom in Guatemala, Colombia and South Korea, I have not been certificated and charged with my own elementary homeroom class yet.

Second, it’s no secret to those who know me personally and professionally that I aim to lead a school community one day as a principal. While this is a long ways off and ultimately contingent on my professional development and competency as a classroom teacher, it is my long-term professional goal as an educator. Thus, I am always interested in hearing about different administrators’ scouting, recruitment and interview strategies.

As a bilingual instructional assistant (paraeducator) in a Seattle public school, I sat on many hiring committees, including those interviewing vice principal, head teacher, classroom teacher, special education and paraprofessional candidates. Therefore, I have some of my own insights about best practices in educator interviews, both from the hiring perspective and the interviewee perspective. Many of my own ideas jibbed with what I heard from CoP’s group of administrators and some of their advice was novel. Below I have included my favorite quotes from this interview series along with some of my own commentary in italics.

Chris Nordmann (@ChrisNordmann), Academic Dean at the Kaleidoscope Charter School in Otsego, Minnesota.

“….just their willingness to continue learning. What are they doing to better themselves? How can they inspire others around them, students and staff, to improve themselves as well?”

“Also somebody who values what other people do within the building. For example, we had someone who was talking about, you know, a lunch lady was gone and they went back and served lunch for the day. Somebody who was willing to go above and beyond to do something outside of their responsibility for the good of the school. I think that’s– If somebody has those things, I can overlook some experience.”

I think being a teacher who is also a lover of lifelong learning themselves is essential. Honestly, I don’t know why you would be in the profession if you aren’t a lover of good books, new information, intellectual exploration and personal growth.

I also just love Mr. Nordmann’s emphasis on valuing all the little things that different school staff members provide to the school community. When I taught an after-school poetry and soccer club in Seattle, the night janitor would often walk in to our classroom in order to do some cleaning or maintenance. I made a point of introducing him to the group of students, asking them if they knew what he did for them each day, and explicitly clarifying the importance of the janitor’s role at the school. You’ve got to model and teach that every life has value, but you’ve got to see and believe it for yourself first.

Penny Sturtevant, Principal at Big Walnut Middle School in Sunbury, Ohio.

“We’re looking to see that you’re pliable, you’re open, you’re willing to collaborate and be a piece. So I think they can relax and say – It’s okay to say, “You know, I’m not an expert in that.” And give that honest response. Take that off your weight that you have to be the expert.”

“They’ve shown the initiative to know our school, and maybe just something about our community. That they felt it was important enough that they spent, invested their time to go and find out, and maybe even know a little bit about who’s interviewing them if they have that opportunity.”

“They talked about the enthusiasm they were bringing that a beginner would bring, but they had that experience of someone who had been in the field.”

“So I would encourage them to pause, think their response, speak their response and not worry about having a vast majority. Short interviews sometimes are the best. I got what I needed.”

“Openness, willingness to learn, and then I think, make yourself unique. You may not think about what makes you unique, think outside education. It could be something as simple as “I’m a runner and I would love to bring running club to the kids.” “I have traveled the world.” Or–I have one staff member who knows American Sign Language so she started an American Sign Language club.”

Growth mindset, initiative, enthusiasm, knowing your strengths and weaknesses, Ms. Sturtevant is describing the kind of people I would like my students to become. Why should her expectations for the teachers teaching and mentoring those students be any different.

Also, her anecdote about a career-transitioner claiming to have the enthusiasm of a beginner, but the experience of workplace veteran really resonated with me. I have taken an alternative route to the elementary classroom and in my first year I will have the enthusiasm and nervous energy of a beginner. But, I have been in a lot of classrooms and have a lot of experience, nearly a decade in fact, with schools, students and the nuts and bolts of teaching and learning. I am going to use that line!

Herbert O’Neil (@herbertoneiljr), Director of Academics for Lifeschool in Dallas, Texas.

“…..so I believe people need to really, really focus on being confident and showing the committee or whoever it is, that you confidently work well with students in just about most situations, or that you have potential to be able to do that.”

There is a great TedTalk for almost all things of interest at this point, and, not surprisingly, for interview body language as well. Amy Cuddy gives a great talk about the importance of your pose and posture in different life situations, and advises interviewees to practice their ‘superman’ pose before going into an interview in order to boost their confidence. Check it out here.

George Couros (@gcouros), Division Principal of Innovative Teaching and learning for Parkland School Division in Stony Plain, Alberta, Canada.

“It is a really high priority, so I want to hear the word relationships in your interview. You know, over and over and over again, not just in the first answer. Like if I ask you what the most important quality and you say relationships, but then you never hear about it again, then that tells me something.”

“One of the traits I look for– I’m looking for school teachers, not classroom teachers, in the sense that if I’m looking for a grade three teacher in our school, I don’t want you only working with your children. I want to know that when you go on supervision, and that’s part of what you do, that you’re making the time and effort to connect with kids that are not in your class–and what are you doing outside of this?…..Every kid in that school is yours, not just the one you teach that year.”

“I want to create an opportunity where those people who connect with me walk out a better teacher. Whether they get the job or not, they become a better teacher because if they don’t get the job with me, they’re probably still getting other interviews. They’re going to be working with children. So if I can help them, even if they don’t get it, that’s beneficial to all of education.”

Relationships, relationships, relationships. Mr. Couros’ emphasis on relationships heartened me because I feel it is a strength of my practice as a teacher. Working in South Korea, with over seven hundred ESL students, our limited shared vocabulary and cultural experience, along with the sheer numbers, are barriers to building relationships. Yet and still, I have managed to create some incredible bonds with many of my students, and I feel like if I can do that here, it may come easier when I am back home, working in a more familiar cultural context and using a common language with fewer students.

Joe Collins (@collins6HCPS), Assistant Principal at Harford Technical High School in Harford County, Maryland.

“To me, because that implies that they can learn. By that they can learn the language of the system, of the school. They can learn what’s important to that principal and often times incorporate it into the conversation. The best that I’ve been in you can tell they’re not experts by any means, but you can tell they have a strong grounding in their instruction.”

“You know, you’ve delivered a lesson, twenty kids, ten got it, five didn’t, five thought you were teaching Spanish and it’s a Social Studies class and five are way ahead of you. What do you do? It’s the person that can just go beyond what you expected, which was “Oh, we’ll differentiate” and “Maybe I’ll pair up the five who are really ahead and…” That’s what you would expect to hear, but it’s the person that might say “I don’t really know how I know they got it…what kind of formative assessments would I do to make sure that they got it?” Then you start to perk up and you go Ooh, okay. Then you can get the conversation going to a different level because they already speak your language.”

“ They’re the ones that are asking you the questions. And they’re asking you, “What’s the demographics of the classroom? What kind of technology do I have? Is there a curriculum that’s already provided for me or will I be developing my own?” Those are all things where they’re way beyond the basics. They don’t– Throw any scenario at them, they’re going to handle it because they’re grounded in their beliefs and what they know.”

“You know Lead Learner? I don’t know if you’re familiar with Lead Learner from England. He’s one of the guys that I follow religiously and he’s a head — kind of an executive director in England, so it’s not really applicable to my situation at all, but he gives such great insight.”

Mr. Collins’ point about asking questions and attempting to engage the administrator or hiring committee in a conversation is huge! This is my main takeaway from my experience on hiring committees. The candidates who did not ask questions, who did not prepare questions beforehand, who did not attempt to engage their potential colleagues in a conversation, did not show interest in the job, the school committee, and, frankly, us as potential co-workers. This also indicates a lack of curiosity and a lack of imagination. It is strange not to be curious about how this school works that you may work at soon, don’t you want to know what it’s guiding philosophies and pedagogies are? In addition, it is unimaginative to think that an unsuccessful interview is a wasted interview. If we want our students to learn from failure then we need to imagine how our own interview failures might teach us something, and not be failures at all in the long run.

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Ed Interview: Carmela Dellino

dellino

1) Can you briefly describe your background in education and what your current position is?

I began my career in 1979 as a middle school English teacher. I taught for four years as a high school English teacher, after which I decided that I could best serve students and families as a school counselor. My school counseling career involved four years at a middle school and 13 years as a high school counselor. I then worked as a high school assistant principal in the same school at which I had been a counselor.

After years of being at my school and in many ways still consider the most rewarding work years of my life, I decided to leave secondary education and seek out an elementary school principal position. Admittedly, it was not hard to transition out of the high school AP role. What made it difficult was leaving the school community I had come to love. Since leaving my job as a counselor I really felt a void. I missed the “distance” I felt with kids and families, although most would not say that I was anything from “distant.” I was seeking a smaller school community, one that I could know really well and I also wanted to transition to a high poverty school. Throughout my educational experience, I found that what really fueled my soul was working with students and families who had been marginalized and who did not have all the benefits of privilege that others had. I also wanted to work in an elementary school so that I could support students and families before the gap was so wide and before students were feeling helpless and hopeless.

I served as the principal of a small, richly diverse elementary school principal in a highly impacted area of the City of Seattle. Wow! That was an amazing experience. After four years, I was asked to work as the Executive Director of Schools for the southwest region of Seattle.

I currently work for the City of Seattle as an Education and Leadership Consultant. In this capacity, I provide coaching, consulting and mentorship to Title 1 elementary schools in the city that are receiving Family and Education Levy dollars.

I guess that was not so brief.

2) What inspires you about the work you do at Roxhill?

What inspired me? Students, families and staff. What I came to learn on a daily basis was the power of resilience, determination, compassion, a shared vision and perhaps, most important, the innate capacity and ability of children and families to overcome massive barriers and to achieve at the highest level. What also inspired me was the staff that worked tirelessly with students and families so that they could grow and thrive at the highest of levels.

3) Can you share a story from your first year as an educator, counselor or principal that illustrates an important lesson or skill you think all first year teachers should know or have?

I remember seeing this question when I first read your email a long time ago and I thought to myself, how could I ever respond with just one story. My lessons learned have been many, from the very first year as a teacher, counselor and principal.

But, here’s what I remember:

Teacher: I was 23 years old and teaching HS kids who were 17 and 18. I wanted to show that I was in charge and not get walked all over, yet I really wanted them to “like” me. I remember using sarcasm with this one kid in my second period American Lit class. Well, to make a very long story short, I quickly learned that sarcasm and trying to be liked was anything but what I should be doing as a teacher. Sarcasm is hurtful. Sarcasm is mis-understood. Sarcasm is abusive. Sarcasm is anything but modeling compassion, understanding, “belief-in”, etc… I never was able to salvage a relationship with that student. I can see his face to this day.

Principal: Really, the story here has to do with Alejandra. Her first year at Roxhill, she would barely step into the school house doors. She did not feel it was her place to do so and she did not have the confidence in her own right and skill set of being a voice not only for her kids, but for all kids. I remember I saw her in the back parking lot and she was clearly fuming mad. I asked her what was wrong and she said she could not explain herself. I invited her into my office. At first she said no and then I said that I was there for her — to listen to what was going well and what was not going well. I tried to reassure her that we (me, teachers, the school) are not always right and that we make mistakes and if we have made a mistake, we need to hear about it and learn from it. I also said that she was an equal partner in her children’s education and that when we partner — truly partner – with parents, then our children will thrive. She came into my office. I learned of something a teacher had done that really upset her. The teacher had made a mistake and long story shortened, the problem was rectified. (Teacher did a great job of acknowledging that what she had said was a problem.)

From my first days and for every day that I was a principal at Roxhill, I learned the power of parents as partners in what we do at school. I also learned, experienced and re-affirmed what the great President of Malawi, Dr. Joyce Banda said at Nelson Mandela’s funeral service:

Leadership is about falling in love with the people and the people falling in love with you. It is about serving the people with selflessness, with sacrifice and with the need to put the common good ahead of personal interests.”

4) How do you continue to develop as a professional? Where do you see your professional growth taking you?

I love this question — and struggle with the answer. In my current role, I find that I need to be very mindful to seek out professional development. I can read articles and go to conferences (actually, not so much), but the best PD for me involves processing the work with colleagues. I do not have a small group of educators (I learned a great deal from you from our conversations. You pushed and challenged my thinking!!) that I can talk with, bounce ideas off of. I have been reading as much as possible and listening and learning from the teachers and staff in the levy schools.

Where will my professional growth take me? Hopefully to be partners with teachers and administrators in the field in closing the gap and seeing students achieve at the highest level. I want to continually know more about school reform. What is working? Why does it work? How do you get there? What does it take? What are the key moves for school leaders? How do you support the school leaders in doing what needs to get done?

5) What kind of learning culture do you try to establish in your school and among your colleagues/staff?

I try to establish a sense of urgency that is nurtured with compassion, commitment, and careful and strategic efforts. Everyone in a school (staff, families, students, and even community members) should understand what we are striving to achieve. With this shared vision, everyone needs to work collaboratively to achieve that vision. Hopefully, what happens, is everyone feels our work has meaning and purpose; we feel inspired and supported to do the very challenging work ahead of them; we feel like we are partners in the thinking about what is happening in the school (even though as a school leader, you will be the final decision-maker), and we have fun doing it!

6) What are you currently reading for personal enjoyment? And what book would you recommend for a first year teacher?

I am currently reading Wonder and Unbroken for my personal reading pleasure. Asiya Werfa wants me to lead a book club with Wonder. I am excited to work with some of the students at Roxhill again! My mom loved the book Unbroken and I really want to read it for her. Also, my brother’s father-in-law was a prisoner of war in the same camp where this takes place in Japan, so besides the Italian connection, there is a family connection.

Two books: Creating Highly Motivating Classrooms for All Students: A Schoolwide Approach to Powerful Teaching with Diverse Learners by Margery Ginsberg and Teaching with Poverty in Mind by Eric Jensen. There are many more, but those two are what I think of right now.

7) How do you gain institutional knowledge about a school, district or city office that you are tasked to lead? How do you join that community and learn about its history?

Another insightful and great question that comes with complex and yet simple answers. Listen, learn, and engage. All this implies that I am going to ask lots of questions and immerse myself in as much as I can. It will mean going to the local grocery store and hanging out with books and art supplies so that families can stop by to visit and I can meet all their family. Maybe they will sit with me as we read a book; maybe they will leave their child with me as we read a book; maybe they will just look at me and gradually come to trust that I care about them. I will go to the housing complexes in my area and one night a month, hold a time when I invite children to come to read and do projects associated with the reading. I will invite families to talk about their own experiences in school, what they hope for and want for their children (it is to be happy and successful) and what does the school need to do to help them. I will go to businesses, walk the neighborhood, talk to the local law enforcement, talk with social service agencies and parks, and church leaders.

Growth Mindset: GoBrain and Making a Splash

Great, resource-rich blog on the growth mindset research and applications for teachers. This blog will be another piece in my study of non-cognitive skills or character strengths such as grit, self-control and curiosity. You can see my notes on Paul Tough’s “How Children Succeed” here:
https://kennygrassroots.wordpress.com/2014/11/18/paul-tough-stuff/

User Generated Education

A recent interest of mine has been the Growth Mindset.  I have blogged and presented on this topic:

Due to my interests, Carol Reiley contacted me about her initiatives about growth mindsets.  First, from her and her team’s website, GoBrain, is the following:

644a24_b860294e2dcb488385908bb95d8f2234.jpg_srz_p_788_575_75_22_0.50_1.20_0.00_jpg_srzhttp://www.gobrain.com/#!the-science/cu1w

Second, she wrote a children’s book, Making a Splash, and decided to crowdfund its publication through Kickstarter – https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/181490972/go-brain-a-childrens-story-to-inspire-life-long-le.

What follows is an interview with Carol about writing and disseminating Making a Splash.

How did you first get interested in the growth mindset?

I’m a PhD student in Computer Science at Johns Hopkins University. My research is studying how medical students learn to become great surgeons. After I read Carol Dweck’s mindset book, a lot…

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Paul Tough Stuff

In 2013 I took part in the Seattle Public Schools Strategic Planning Stakeholder Taskforce, which was tasked with reestablishing the mission, vision and a set of policy priorities for coming the coming five years for the district. On that taskforce, I had the opportunity to discuss many of our districts’ most pressing education policy issues with many of the prominent education leaders and active stakeholders in the community. Invariably, many of the discussions revolved around the so-called Achievement Gap between students of poverty and those of middle-class or higher backgrounds, or certain groups of students of color as against white students.

 

The whole idea of the taskforce was to help the school district identify a few priority metrics by which we could judge student academic progress over the next five years, and thus judge the performance of district officials, school administrators and teachers in their use of time and taxpayer resources. At one point at our table a discussion was sparked about how to measure the intangibles, the social-emotional health and the whole child qualities that may not show up on test scores, but everyone knows is vital to a healthy and productive life. As one of my esteemed table-mates put it, “How do we prioritize the ‘Paul Tough Stuff’?”

 

Paul Tough, of course, is an education journalist, perhaps best known for his first book on education, Whatever It Takes: Geoffrey Canada’s Quest to Change Harlem and America. If you are not familiar, see the controversial documentary Waiting For Superman or google the Harlem Children’s Zone. I read that book in 2010 while teaching English in a community of violently displaced peoples outside of Barranquilla, Colombia. At the time, the book helped to explain some of the struggles I had in the classroom there, although the parallels were few and far between other than blanket poverty.

 

Last week I began reading Tough’s latest book on education, How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character. In this blog post I am going to collect my thoughts about the ‘Paul Tough Stuff’ that I find interesting and noteworthy. Hopefully, I will be able to make some connections to my work as a teacher in Colombia, a bilingual instructional assistant in a Title I school in Seattle and my other encounters with poverty and overcoming it. It just so happens that Coursera, the online MOOC platform, is offering a class on teaching character taught by KIPP Academy co-founder, David Levin. I am planning on auditing this class when it starts in mid-December.

 

Introduction & Chapter I

 

  • Tools of the Mind, is a pre-K teaching method where students are “taught a variety of strategies, tricks, and habits that they can deploy to keep their minds on track.” The three big self-control skills are keeping your focus on the task at hand, managing and regulating emotions and organizing your thoughts. This concept has it roots in the work of the Russian psychologist, Lev Vygotsky, who believed that childhood play is critical in the development of the mental tools that shape a child’s mind. Students make “play plans”, i.e. goal-setting, they use physical ‘mediator’ tools, i.e. visual cues, and they participate in ‘mature dramatic play’, i.e. complex structured play which teaches children how to ‘follow rules and regulate impulses’.
  • The Cognitive Hypothesis – That success primarily depends on cognitive skills.
  • James Heckman – Nobel Economist at the University of Chicago, GED founding board member and researcher. He found that GED recipients ended up with lives that looked a lot like those of high school drop-outs even though they had the cognitive skills to graduate via a GED program or enroll in a university. Heckman concluded that some psychological traits, non-cognitive skills, significantly helped high school graduates in later life. Traits like persisting through a boring & unrewarding task, delayed gratification, follow through on a plan. GED holders are “‘wise guys’ who lack the ability to think ahead, persist in tasks, or to adapt to their environments” Heckman is quoted.
  • The Perry Preschool Project – Detroit area, War on Poverty study on the affects of early childhood interventions on low-income, low-IQ children. Heckman found that nearly two-thirds of the total benefit that Perry gave to its students was due to non-cognitive factors, “such as curiosity, self-control, and social fluidity.”
  • The book’s premise: “What can any of us do to steer an individual child–or a whole generation of children–away from failure and toward success?”

 

    • Elizabeth Dozier – Fenger High School Principal, Roseland neighborhood, South-Side of Chicago
    • Nadine Burke Harris – Bayview Child Health Center, in Hunters Point, SF.
    • Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) – Physical and sexual abuse, physical and emotional neglect, household dysfunction, divorced or separated parents, family members incarcerated, mentally ill family members, addiction problems within the family. All of which affect the long-term mental and physical health of a child.
    • Vincent Felitti & Robert Anda – Authors of “The Relationship of Adverse Childhood Experiences to Adult Health: Turning Gold Into Lead.” The first ACE health research done by Kaiser Permanente. “When they looked at patients with a high ACE scores (7 or more) who didn’t smoke, didn’t drink to excess, and weren’t overweight, they found that their risk of ischemic heart disease (the single most common cause of death in the US) was still 360 percent higher than those with an ACE score of 0. The adversity these patients had experienced in childhood was making them sick” despite good habits and behavior as adults.
    • The HPA Axis – Hypothalamic-Pituitary-Adrenal” axis, “the way that chemical signals cascade through the brain and body in reaction to intense situations.”
    • The Firehouse Affect – The HPA Axis is good at blanket responses to stress and intense situations, but it is not surgical. In fact, it gives us stress responses that are not at all helpful in many or most intense situations.
    • Executive Functions – Among Burke Harris’ patients with an ACE score of 0, only 3 percent had behavioral problems at school. Those patients with an ACE score of 4 or more, 51 percent of them had behavioral issues.
  • The prefrontal cortex is adversely affected by stress. The prefrontal cortex is “critical in self-regulatory activities of all kinds, both emotional and cognitive.” Stress and ACE’s make it harder for children to sit still, concentrate, rebound from disappointments, and to follow directions.
  • Executive Function – The ability to deal with confusing and unpredictable situations and information.
  • Stroop Exec Function Test – The word red is written in green letters. What color is the word?
  • Working Memory – The ability to keep a bunch of facts in your head at the same time.

 

Chapter 2

  • David Levin, co-founder of KIPP Academy. Yale grad, TFA grad. Houston area was where the first KIPP school was started, but the South Bronx middle school was their big moment (Michael Feinberg, other co-founder).
  • http://www.kipp.org/mobile/video-60-Minutes.cfm (60 Minutes feature, 2000)
  • 8 of 38 of the first cohort of South Bronx middle school graduates of KIPP went on to complete a four-year college degree. Nearly all of that cohort enrolled in university, but most did not finish.
  • Learned Optimism by Martin Seligman – University of Pennsylvania professor of psychology, argues that optimism is a learnable skill, not an inborn trait.
  1. 3 P’s of negativity explanations: Permanent, Personal and Pervasive
  2. 3 explanations of positivity: Specific, Limited and Short-term
  3. Character Strengths and Virtues: Handbook & Classification, the “mirror image” of the DSM Manual of Mental Disorders (Noble: bravery, citizenship, fairness, wisdom, integrity, Emotional: love, humor, zest, appreciation of beauty, Human Interactions: social intelligence, kindness, gratitude)
  4. What “I think is great about the character-strength approach is that it is fundamentally devoid of value judgement” – David Levin
  • KIPP slogans: Work Hard, Be Nice, There are no shortcuts, One School. One Mission. Two Skills. Academics and Character.,
  • Riverdale Country School, elite prep school in the Bronx, headmaster is Dominic Randolph,

 

  • Angela Duckworth – Penn Pyschology professor, “To help chronically low-performing but intelligent students, educators and parents must first recognize that character is at least as important as intellect.”
  • Walter Mischel, Columbia psychology professor, famous for the 1960’s experiment of the “Marshmallow Test”. Children are posed with a choice, eat the marshmallow immediately and they can only have one. Wait until the test proctor returns in 20 minutes and they can have two marshmallows. Seminal in both its assessment of techniques of will-power by children and the long-term effects of the children’s ability to delay gratification.
  1. The more children were able to distract themselves from the marshmallow at hand or think differently or abstractly about the marshmallow, the longer the children were able to delay eating the marshmallow.
  2. Self-control techniques are most effective when the student or child know what he or she wants, making less immediate, more intangible long-term goals harder in terms of self-discipline, delayed gratification (motivation).
  3. Duckworth divides motivation into two achievement dimensions, both are necessary to achieve long-term goals, neither is sufficient by itself:

1) Motivation – Drive, vision, goal-setting, intrinsic or extrinsic reward

2) Volition – willpower, self-control, grit, determination, persistence

  • The Big Five human personality dimensions:
    1. Agreeableness
    2. Extraversion
    3. Neuroticism
    4. Openness – Creativity, flexibility, linked with a liberal ideology
  • Conscientiousness – Doing your best in all situations without a promise of material reward because of an internal motivation to always do your best.
  1. a) Orderly
  2. b) Hardworking
  3. c) Reliable
  4. d) Respectful of Social Norms
  5. e) High level of Self-Control is the most important ingredient to   

               conscientiousness

  • “People high in conscientiousness get better grades in high school and college; they commit fewer crimes; and they stay married longer. They live longer…and a lower incidence of Alzheimer’s disease.” Along with improved workplace and material outcomes.
  • Samuel Bowles and Herbert Gintis, two Marxist economists, found in their 1976 study of character and schools that students with the highest GPA’s were the ones who scored the lowest on measures of creativity and independence, and highest on the measures of punctuality, delay of gratification, predictability, and dependability. For Bowles and Gintis this indicated corporate America’s desire to create and maintain a docile and dependable workforce, “bland and reliable sheep”, so they created a school system which rewarded conscientiousness.
  • Other personality pyschologists also consider too much conscientiousness to be a negative, an indicator of excessive restraint, difficulty making decisions, unnecessarily delay gratification or deny themselves pleasure, “classic squares: they’re compulsive, anxious and repressed.”
  • Grit: “a passionate commitment to a single mission and an unswerving dedication to achieve that mission.”
  • The KIPP and Riverdale 7 Important Character Strengths:
  1. Grit
  2. Self-control
  3. Zest – Indicator: a student raises her hand to answer every question.
  4. Social Intelligence
  5. Gratitude
  6. Optimism – Indicator: a student believes that effort will improve their future.
  7. Curiosity – Indicator: a student is eager to explore new things.
  • CPA – Character Point Average, grades based on an assessment of student character strengths
  • Moral Character – Ethical values such as fairness, generosity, integrity
  • Performance Character – Effort, diligence and perseverance
  • Madeline Levine, Marin County pyschologist, who says that children of affluent parents now exhibit “unexpectedly high rates of emotional problems beginning in junior high school” because affluent parents are more likely to be “emotionally distant from their children while at the same time insisting on high levels of achievement.” Levine is featured in the Race To Nowhere documentary.
  • For Riverdale students, character and the necessity of character building takes on a different meaning. As the Riverdale counselor, Fierst, puts it, “We are letting you in on the secret of what successful people are like” at KIPP, with impoverished students. While Riverdale’s students are not dependent on their teachers for such information and examples. And yet, Fierst also says, “Our kids (at Riverdale) don’t put up with a lot of suffering. They don’t have a threshold for it. They’re protected against it quite a bit. And when they do get uncomfortable, we hear from their parents.”

→ On both ends of the socioeconomic spectrum, “If your premise is that your students are lacking in deep traits like grit and gratitude and self-control, you’re implicitly criticizing the parenting they’ve received.

→ Riverdale creates a high floor, not a high ceiling for its students. It a risk-management strategy for the parents so as to make it very hard for their children to “fall out of the upper class”. See this Vox.com interview with Peter Thiel for more on this issue.

  • Randolph says, “The idea of building grit and building self-control is that you get that through failure…And in most highly academic environments in the United States, no one fails anything”…because there is a high floor, so not a large chance of ‘original success’ or failure, i.e. no real stakes at play. See the Peter Thiel interview for more on this also, he says he is not a believer in failure, but instead of building successes.
  1. Is it possible that children of different socioeconomic groups need different character building challenges, maybe affluent students need real stakes and a risk of failure in an endeavor in order to build grit, while students of poverty already have grit, but instead need to build conscientiousness and self-control?

 

  • SLANT – Sit up, Listen, Ask questions, Nod, and Track the speaker
  • Code-switching – The ability to recognize and accurately perform the behaviors appropriate to each different cultural setting. The problem with code-switching is that “the kids who are actually part of the dominant culture don’t necessarily act like it at school.” Anti-conformist behavior at Riverdale is the dominant culture’s behavior, while at KIPP everyone has to conform in order to succeed.

Note: This is controversial ground, where race, culture and socioeconomic power come into full focus in the book, yet Tough seems to avoid the deeper implications of this code-switching issue. Are there problems with a school serving low-income students of color and enforcing the expectations of a dominant white culture of affluence which does not even need to follow its own social norms? Why do these students of color need to adhere to these proscribed cultural expectations in that case? Why do they have to diligently code-switch if society has been set up to see their social norms as less desirable, and thus set-up to make success harder for these students of color? Why do they have to worker harder at this, or at all, if they can compete with the Riverdale students on the same level academically? Or, is there just something fundamental about grit and self-control which make them keys to success across cultures, and so we’ve got to teach them in appropriate ways differentiated for each classroom culture?

 

  • Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) – “Using the conscious mind to recognize negative or self-destructive thoughts or interpretations and to talk yourself into a better perspective.”
  1. Metacognition – Thinking about thinking
  2. Thinking about character and about evaluating character are both metacognitive processes
  3. Mental Contrasting with Implementation Intentions (MCII) 2-step process –
  1. Mental Contrasting is “Concentrating on a positive outcome and simultaneously concentrating on the obstacles in the way.” This creates “a strong association between future and reality that signals the need to overcome the obstacles in order to attain the desired future” say Gabrielle Oettingen and Duckworth.
  2. Implementation Intentions are “specific plans in the form of if/then statements that link the obstacles with ways to overcome them, such as ‘If I get distracted by TV after school, then I will wait to watch TV until after I finish my homework.’”
    • MCII is engaging the prefrontal cortex, which again is instrumental in self-regulatory processes, because we are making structured rules for ourselves that can create a willful determination that turns into an automatic response, or habit.
  • William James, American philosopher, “Habit and character are essentially the same thing.”
    • It is a powerful and easily understood thing to tell a child that some people have good habits and others have bad habits. Habits can be hard to change, but certainly not impossible, while character sounds a bit more daunting. Again, see the definition of conscientiousness, it is when people are in the habit of doing the ‘right’ or ‘good’ thing, “meaning the more socially acceptable or long-term-benefit-enhancing option.”
    • KIPP has a strong group identity. See South Korea as a national example of strong group identity with a mostly positive result as well. This group identity can have a strong impact on achievement.
    • Stereotype Threat – The theory that when a group of people are worried about confirming a stereotype about your group, you get anxious, and as a result you create a worse outcome.
  • Carol Dweck – Growth Mindset, “Regardless of the facts on malleability of intelligence, students do much better academically if they believe intelligence is malleable.”
  • Tell students, “Intelligence is not a finite endowment, but rather an expandable capacity that increases with mental work” and the growth-mindset message may improve academic outcomes for your students.
  • So at KIPP, “Levin wanted math teachers to use the character strengths in word problems, he explained that history teachers could use them in classes about Harriet Tubman and the Underground Railroad.” And discussions about literary characters and their personality traits in light of growth-mindset, the 7 character strengths, and MCII.
  • “If you don’t have that kind of social safety net (that Riverdale students enjoy) – and children in low-income families almost by definition do not – you need to compensate in another way. To succeed, you need more grit, more social intelligence, more self-control than wealthier kids.”
    • And here Tough gets back to the code-switching reality. I think his above statement is undoubtedly true and undoubtedly unfair to children of poverty and especially children of color. As teachers, we need to recognize this, and work with parents to assess the character strengths and areas of growth in our students no matter their background, but especially in the students Tough is talking about.

 

Chapter 3 –

  • Elizabeth Spiegel, Chess Teacher at IS 318 in Brooklyn, a Title I school and the best Chess public middle school in the country, or just the best.
  • Elo ~ (10 x IQ) + 1000, meaning a chess player’s tournament rating, your IQ score multiplied by ten and add 1000 and you get what your maximum chess player rating could approximately be (~). This proposes that there is an IQ dependent cap on a person’s chess ability.
  • Executive functions of chess at IS 318:
  1. Cognitive flexibility – The ability to see alternative solutions to problems, to think outside the box, to negotiate unfamiliar situations.
  2. Cognitive self-control – The ability to inhibit an instinctive or habitual response and  substitute a more effective, less obvious one.
  • Spiegel says that, “Teaching chess is really about teaching the habits that go along with thinking.” This should sound familiar, it rhymes with the notion that character and habits are really the same thing. “Like how to understand your mistakes and how to be more aware of your thought processes.” Teaching chess for Spiegel is like ‘psychotherapy’ for most people, you go over habitual mistakes and try to understand why you make them.
  • Spiegel, “I try to teach my students that losing (or failing) is something you do, not something you are.”
  • Chess-in-the-schools, NYC – http://www.chessintheschools.org/
  • Spiegel, “I definitely have a warm relationship with a lot of the kids. But I think my job as a teacher is to be more like a mirror, to talk about what they did on the chessboard and help them think about it.” No condescension! Take the students seriously, believe in their abilities and challenge them to improve themselves.
  • The Marshall Chess Club, Greenwich Village, NYC
  • Laszlo (psychologist) and Klara Polgar, raised three genius daughters, Judit Polgar is considered the best chess player of all time.
  • Grit and Flow reinforce each other, they are both represent a “dedicated pursuit of a goal” and require strong self-discipline.
  • Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, a psychologist collaborator with Martin Seligman, created the idea of optimal experiences or FLOW, when a person is totally engaged by a pursuit, in the moment, free of distractions. “Intense concentration”
  • Falsification: the only way to test the validity of a theory is to prove it wrong. This was coined by the Austrian philosopher Sir Karl Popper. People do not look for contradictory evidence, instead they automatically look for data that proves them right, “confirmation bias”. If a chess player becomes adept at being more pessimistic about a certain move or series of moves, they can more easily falsify their move theory and discover the optimal choice for their next move. You still need optimism in order to be confident and decisive and relentless in your pursuit of success on the chessboard.

 

Chapter 4 – College Success

  • The US is 8 out of 34 OECD countries in terms of college enrollment, but ranks second to last in terms of the percentage of college freshmen who go on to graduate.
  • “An American with a BA can now expect to earn 83 percent more than an American with only a high school diploma.”
  • William G Bowen, former president of Princeton University, Michael S McPherson, former president of Macalester College in Minnesota, and their 2009 book, Crossing the Finish Line: Completing College at America’s Public Universities.

Findings:

  1. a) Undermatching was a big problem among teenagers of poverty, meaning they

were disproportionately attending schools below their academic achievement

level. Undermatching did not mean students more easily graduated from college,

quite the opposite effect, actually.

  1. b) The best predictor of college completion was a student’s high school GPA, no matter where the students attended high school, nor the caliber of the university they entered
  2. c) Angela Duckworth used the same data and found that standardized test scores were correlated to pure IQ test scores, while GPA was best predicted by test scores of self-control, ie non-cognitive, pre-frontal, executive function, character stuff!!!!
  • Jeff Nelson, former TFA teacher, CEO of OneGoal
  • Asking students from poverty to spend 16 years delaying gratification for a chance at ‘success’ and stability is like a grand, real-life marshmallow test, except instead of a known reward, it is an unknown and exotic reward that anyone would be hard-pressed to imagine.

Chapter 5 – A Better Path

“The idea of building grit and building self-control is that you get that through failure. And in most highly academic environments in the United States, no one fails anything.” – Dominic Randolph

  1. “First, as much as possible, you protect him from serious trauma and chronic stress;
  2. then, even more important, you provide him with a secure, nurturing relationship with at least one parent and ideally two.”
  3. Then, you teach your child how to manage stress by repeatedly providing LG “when their pups were stressed out.”
  4. Last, “some child-size adversity, a chance to fall down and get back up on his own, without help.” How to manage failure.
    • Ivy League Insurance Policies, see Peter Thiel Vox interview also, before the Great Recession of 2008, three-quarters of all Princeton grads went into one of two finance careers. Ivy League students, according to James Kwak, are motivated by two main decision rules, “close down as few options as possible; and only do things that increase the possibility of future overachievement.”
  • Tough’s education reform and poverty syllogism:
  1. Scores on achievement tests in school correlate strongly with life outcomes, no matter a student’s racial or socioeconomic background
  2. Children in low-income homes did much worse on achievement tests than children in middle-income and high-income homes.
  3. Certain schools, using a very different model than traditional public schools, were able to substantially raise the achievement-test scores of low-income children.
  4. Conclusion: if we replicate and scale to a national level the accomplishments of those schools (KIPP academy, etc.) we could make a huge dent in poverty’s impact on children’s success.

→ Eric Hanushek, Thomas Kane, William Sanders, the economists and statisticians that first made the claim that through ‘value-added models’ we could identify effective teachers and ineffective teachers.

The “original papers, the ones by Hanushek and others that are now cited by reform advocates, concluded that variations in teacher quality probably accounted for less than 10 percent of the gap between high- and low-performing students.

 

  • Gates Foundation Measures of Effective Teaching (MET Project)
  • 7 million American children are growing up in a family earning less than $11,000 a year, making more likely the effects of ACE on long-term health, among many other disadvantages
  • While some charters and public schools have found a way to intervene successfully in the lives of “better-off” low-income children, those making $41,000 a year in their family of four, NO ONE HAS FOUND A SUCCESSFUL INTERVENTION METHOD FOR THE “DEEPLY DISADVANTAGE CHILDREN”.
  • Orgs that are trying to find systems of support and intervention for the poorest of the poor in America:
  1. Center for Youth Wellness – Bayview Hunters Point, Nadine Burke Harris
  2. Attachment and Biobehavioral Catch-up (ABC Program)
  3. Tools of the Mind
  4. Turnaround for Children – Character-building and Cognitive behavioral therapy
  5. KIPP Through College

 

The crux of the problem of poverty and education achievement gaps according to Paul Tough:

  • The root causes are:
  1. A home and community that create high levels of stress
  2. The absence of a secure relationship with a caregiver
  3. The learned behavior of managing stress appropriately
  • The barriers to conversation and intervention of poverty:
  1. The science of ACE’s is not well known and is dense
  2. If you are not low-income and not a person of color, it feels very ‘uneasy’ talking about the dysfunction in a certain community’s homes.
  3. It challenges political truths on the left and right. That character matters and it can be cultivated by environment of a child, challenge long held notions in red and blue states.