Educating More Unaccompanied Minors

Educating More Unaccompanied Minors

Unaccompanied minors are coming again; We can teach them.

Reports indicate that more waves of unaccompanied minors will enter our country in the days ahead. They will also be entering our schools.

While border issues and immigration policies spark passion and incite dialogue and even raise voices, one thing is for sure. We have a moral obligation to teach the students who enroll in our schools.

One can debate whether or not we would flee a country overwhelmed by violence. One can judge parents who would send their children with ‘coyotes’ across borders, through harms way. One can even vote for policies that build higher fences and place more agents at the borders.

But we cannot debate the following: All children have the right to learn. All children can learn. Great educators teach all children in their classes. And our schools can deliver agency, via education, that can improve the lives of students and their families for years to come.

In preparation for slight, and in some cases drastic, shifts in the demographics of our schools, we should prepare.

I assert we can prepare the following ways:
1. Analyze data regarding how we are currently serving English Language Learners. 2. Recalibrate expectations. While we want to see all ELL students progress, one year for each year of instruction, we should remember that it takes 5 years to fully learn a new language.
3. Train teaching staff, making this a focus of Professional Development.
4. Increase support services. We can predict that students fleeing a country of violence will have experienced trauma. Students spending extended time apart from primary caregivers will struggle. And students facing
5. Celebrate the successes of our students. Many of these students will be the first in their families to learn English, to acclimate to American culture, and to attend University. We should celebrate accomplishments along this journey, with and for students.

On days where teaching this demographic of students feels challenging and slow, it may be important to tap into the wellspring of empathy. Because the majority of our families were immigrants to America at one time or another, revisit this time. Ask relatives who that first American student was. Discover how their success led to your own. And know that you play a critical role in the lives of students whom you serve.

A First Look at Big Picture Learning

A First Look at Big Picture Learning

The way we deliver education in America has to change. I’ve witnessed the glaze in their eyes for too long. As seeds of curiosity dry up, the weeds of disinterest and learned helplessness become a thicket.

As an emerging educational leader, I want to mix it up with the risk takers, the innovators, the school reformers, and the folks that believe deep down, every child can learn.  More specifically, I believe they not only can learn, but actually want to deep down. To tap into this, we are going to have to take some different approaches. The good news is, there are already folks out there, trying new models and seeing students soar!

Elliot Washor and Charles Mojkowski are a couple of them. In their book Leaving to Learn, Washor and Moijkowski identify four salient factors of student disengagement: academic failure, behavior, life events, and disinterest. Beneath those four life deeper needs of students that drive disengagement: not fitting in, not mattering, unrecognized talents and interests, and restrictions.

If schools are to be places where these kinds of students thrive, new “rules of engagement” must be applied to places of learning. A renewed approach to teaching and learning must take student expectations into account more seriously. Students, they argue want authentic relationships with their teachers, relevance in the content they study, work that is important in real-world contexts, and choices in how they will demonstrate their competence. Additionally, students want to feel optimally challenged but given the space to make mistakes along the way. They wasn’t to pursue interests at their own pace and might benefit greatly with flexibility to pursue learning outside the bounds of a cookie-cutter chronological sequence.

“And what would this kind of school look like?” asks the seasoned educator, with piqued interest.

This is why I am excited about my upcoming visit to the San Diego Met. In a little over a week, for three consecutive days, I will shadow Principal Sara Leonard at a Big Picture Learning school in my community. I will get a chance to see what a fresh model of teaching and learning looks like up close. I can’t wait to share my findings.

Washor and Mojkowski know that rethinking the way we do school is ambitious and perhaps risky. “To get something really different and better, educators need to think about learners and learning differently. They need to question their taken-for granted assumptions, forget what they know about schools, reason with a beginners mind, and see possibilities with new eyes- particularly through the eyes of one young learner at a time.”

The alternative, plodding ahead in traditional ways which leave behind so many great minds, is not an acceptable way forward either.

Join Elliot, Charles, Sara, and myself in the days ahead, for a closer look at Big Picture Learning.

Image by College Unbound via Flickr.

Justin Phillips

Justin Phillips

Justin Phillips believes that all kids are “ours.” In order to deliver on the promise of public education, for each and every child, a posture of ownership is a must.  Justin currently serves as an elementary principal in a large urban school district. Additional leadership roles have included instructional coach, lead teacher, adjunct professor, non-profit program director, and college basketball coach. A practitioner committed to continual reflection, he uses writing to process challenging dynamics at play in public education. He pushes toward promising approaches that benefit the most vulnerable students. If you are an educational leader (aspiring, current, or retired), Justin welcomes you to join him on this journey.