Saturday, April 29, 2006

"The harder you work, the luckier you get."

I can’t remember where I encountered this aphorism or which corporate titan was quoted, but it’s a fitting lead-in to this posting, which offers a fresh take on Cheryl’s Removing Luck from the Education Equation of 25 April.

Among those who weather “tough luck” years or periods at JIS, students with mild learning or neurological differences and their families are, I suspect, overrepresented. Admittedly, I don’t have access to any formal research that might back up this hunch. It’s an impression developed in talking with parents at advisory forum meetings, PTA gatherings, and other school events. Should the community at large be concerned?

To some extent, it already is. Participants in the ownership perception audit commissioned by the School Council voiced the opinion that students with special needs should receive learning support that will enable them to flourish. I share this view. As a matter of fairness or equity, JIS has a responsibility to provide an excellent educational product to all students, particularly since everyone pays the same high fees.

Policy decisions are often envisioned as a “zero-sum game,” in which a concession won by one interest group – such as students with special needs – results in a loss for another interest group – such as students who don’t have special needs. I suspect that is why audit participants also agreed with the policy decision to have parents bear the cost of more intensive “Level 2” learning support, and were skeptical about opening school doors to kids with more serious disabilities. While I don’t have the knowledge or expertise to offer an opinion on the second issue, I agree in principle with audit participants on the first.

I say ‘in principle’ because ESOL students do not pay one penny extra for the services they receive. Perhaps JIS needs to review current policies and practices with a view to ensuring that these two interest groups are treated equitably. And in revising ends policy or answering the questions “Who does JIS serve?” “What does it produce for those served?” and “At what relative cost?” perhaps Council should set negative or proscriptive limits for the Executive along the lines of: “The Executive will not fail to set equitable policies for special interest groups within the student population.” Of course, Council would also need to define ‘equitable.’ For example, school resources might be allocated on the basis of the share of total revenues contributed by a given interest group.

But the far more important point I want to make is this: With careful attention to the underlying needs of different interest groups and creative thinking, policy makers can achieve winning outcomes for everyone.

In fact, JIS administrators have already taken an important step in developing such a “win/win” policy. Have you heard of the professional development program focusing on “differentiated instruction” (aka DI)? Now in its second year, the program seeks to build the capacity of teachers and staff to assess and actively respond to students’ diverse needs.

The blog has addressed the topic of JIS’ intense multiculturalism. But diversity assumes many other forms at the school. Every student comes to JIS with different background knowledge based in part on their cultural backgrounds, different readiness to learn the curriculum, different mother tongues and varying proficiency in English, different learning styles or preferences, and different interests. Some students are gifted, others have special needs or function below grade level in one or more subjects, with the majority falling somewhere in between. All students have the right to expect enthusiastic teachers who are ready to meet them as they are, and to move them along the pathway of learning as far and as fast as possible.

DI synthesizes and builds on educational research documenting best practices of the kind Cheryl has rightly focused our attention on. Remember the article she shared on formative assessment i.e. using homework, deskwork, discussions, tests, etc. to learn about student needs and strengthen instruction? It is a central element of DI. She has also begun to discuss the importance of standards-based, content-rich curriculum. DI uses standards not as the end or goal of teaching, but as a vital means for helping students to achieve their personal best. As one expert explains:

“The goal of a differentiated classroom is maximum student growth and individual success. As schools now exist, our goal is often to bring everyone to “grade level” or to ensure that everyone masters a prescribed set of skills in a specified length of time. We then measure everyone's progress only against a predetermined standard. Such a goal is sometimes appropriate, and understanding where a child's learning is relative to a benchmark can be useful. However, when an entire class moves forward to study new skills and concepts without any individual adjustments in time or support, some students are doomed to fail. Similarly, classrooms typically contain some students who can demonstrate mastery of grade-level skills and material to be understood before the school year begins — or who could do so in a fraction of the time we would spend “teaching” them. These learners often receive an A, but that mark is more an acknowledgment of their advanced starting point relative to grade-level expectations than a reflection of serious personal growth. In a differentiated classroom, the teacher uses grade-level benchmarks as one tool for charting a child's learning path. However, the teacher also carefully charts individual growth. Personal success is measured, at least in part, on individual growth from the learner's starting point—whatever that might be.”

“Joyful tidings!” you may say. The catch? DI is a significant departure from the way most teaching is conducted and requires strong and skillful leadership to be institutionalized throughout schools and school districts. As the same expert quoted above puts it,

“The reality…is that many…students will encounter a teacher who is enmeshed in a system geared up to treat all 1st graders as though they were essentially the same, or all Algebra I students as though they were alike. Classrooms and schools are rarely organized to respond well to variations in student readiness, interest, or learning profile.”

And indeed, some expert observers believe JIS needs to accelerate its efforts to institutionalize DI. As we all know, organizational change is very challenging. What’s in it for school staff? To borrow Cheryl’s metaphor, why should they shed that last 10 pounds? Or to use the terms of this posting, how will they “win” or benefit from this sea-change in school policy?

Here’s one compelling answer to the question: SURVIVAL! As in any organization, the school’s long-term health depends on its ability to respond effectively to changes in its environment. In the past, JIS has had a reputation as an elite school. During the heady mid-90’s, when foreign investment was high, the school could choose the “cream of the crop” from among applicants. When Indonesia’s economic and political crises hit in the late 90’s, JIS suffered serious declines in enrollment. To maintain its financial health, it had to downsize staff and begin admitting a student body that was more diverse, both academically and culturally. Long-serving faculty and staff may find it especially difficult to adjust to these changes, but the school’s future depends on it. The better JIS is able to respond to the needs of diverse students or constituencies, the better equipped it will be to “roll with the punches.” In other words, if JIS is able to provide an excellent service to many different kinds of students using DI, it will be better able to respond to the ever-shifting demographic profile of Jakarta’s expatriate community.

Pardon the length of this posting. The takeaway or “homework” for parents?

  • Study the web link above and others to learn more about DI. The blog will continue to address this topic, by the way.
  • Entertain the following possibilities: a) Even if your child enjoys school and receives good grades, he or she may fall well short of achieving optimal academic growth. b) The fortunes of your child's special-needs classmates may be the best indication of how well JIS is able to maximize the personal growth of all kids, including your own.
  • Use all available forums and channels to express support for DI and to ask school leaders for reports on progress in institutionalizing it.
  • Ask your child's teacher how DI is put into practice in the classroom.


At 10:18 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think differentiated instruction (DI) is a good idea in theory but it seems harder to actually practice. I think JIS should concentrate on developing a first class curriculum befitting of a great international school. While maintaining a strong professional development program will help teachers stay current on best practices and methods of teaching that improve all students’ performance. Without a good curriculum for teachers to follow you still have the “luck” factor involved when it comes down to what kind of a year your student will have. I think JIS does a great job with learning support programs and as far as the Level 2 learning program I think the additional cost for the actual users is fair at this time. JIS is an International School and as such you would expect it to have an ESOL program (at no additional cost). However, I feel there should be caps put on enrollment of non English speaking students so JIS’s mission statement will not be compromised.

At 5:20 PM, Blogger Catherine Quoyeser said...

Thank you, anonymous. This kind of candid exchange is exactly what is needed on the blog and in school life.

Since curriculum and instruction are the 2 most important factors affecting the quality of education, I believe any school improvement plan should focus on both. Of course, resources are limited, so the school has to set priorities and strike appropriate balances in instituting change.

JIS has already committed itself to DI via its program of professional development. Are you saying you think this is a mistake, anonymous? I say, wouldn't it be great if the school could sustain that commitment while also strengthening the curriculum? Both measures would benefit ALL students. Perhaps bringing in outside expertise could serve the purpose of maintaining a workable load for staff.

As stated in my posting, I share your support for the principle of passing the cost of Level 2 learning support on to parents. What I don't support is the principle or practice of favoring one interest group over another. I don't have access to the facts that would enable one to assess whether this is the case at JIS, by the way. I simply raise the issue of equity as a vitally important one to consider as Council "revisions" ends policy.

Here's another way to think about equity. JIS has a long track record in meeting the needs of ESOL students and all that that implies in the way of human, financial, and material resources. On the other hand, it moved from a "discrepancy" to an "inclusive" learning support model just 3 years ago. It therefore seems likely that there is a comparative shortage of resources in place to meet the needs of kids with mild learning and neurological differences. In fact, the move to adopt DI as a focus of professional development was a direct response to a Student Support needs assessment conducted with the help of an external expert.

About the quality of learning support services, all I can say is, I've talked to many unhappy parents. Maybe you have been "lucky," anonymous, and if so, count your blessings. It may also be the case that you are basing your evaluation of support services on the experiences of primary school kids. Some expert sources have indicated that the secondary schools are far less successful in meeting the needs of special-needs students.

Across all levels, parents I've spoken to have mentioned implementation of Individual Educational Plans as an area that needs improvemnt. The logical conclusion? Some classroom teachers may need additional training and support to follow through on IEPs. So, we're back to professional development. There may also be a need to strengthen structures of accountability where implementation of IEPs is concerned.

Needless to say, I welcome more thoughts on this topic.

At 5:59 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

At 8:35 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am glad that people that do not have a say in JIS nor aare really informed of the issues can wast time and blog

At 12:51 PM, Blogger Catherine Quoyeser said...

I certainly agree with you about one thing, Anonymous. Parents can't have a say in making JIS an even better school if we don't learn about the issues, discuss them, and voice opinions. As for the blog, I hope yours is a minority perspective. See Cheryl's posting of 24 April in which she announced that the blog had had 493 hits over a 1-month period.

At 12:57 PM, Blogger Catherine Quoyeser said...

I certainly agree with you about one thing, Anonymous. Parents can't have a say in making JIS an even better school if we don't learn about the issues, discuss them, and voice opinions. As for the blog, I hope yours is a minority perspective. See Cheryl's posting of 24 April in which she announced that the blog had had 493 hits over a 1-month period.

At 5:01 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The personal development industry has never been bigger! It consists of a myriad of authors basically telling us how to improve our lives. We are constantly being told self help and self improvement has never been easier. New techniques, gadgets and potions adorn the shelves of new age shops and the 1 billion dollar industry, that is personal development, offers many different approaches to help better our lives. They offer ways to increase our bounty and ultimately alter our own reality. A great example of this is how to develop a Prosperity Consciousness. But does this state really exist and if it does will it bring the effortless unlimited wealth promised?
A lot has been written about prosperity and how to attain it. We have been told by many religious traditions and every personal development guru that the Universersal Source (God, Spirit, Cosmic Mind or whatever label you chose to give it) is boundless wealth. We are also told that abundance, wealth and prosperity are our birthright! Why then are so many people ill, broke, frustrated and unfulfilled? Can a person really develop a prosperity consciousness and effortlessly attract wealth? Well as with everything in life there is only one way to find out. Test it for yourself!
Before we can attain and then test the effectiveness of having a prosperity consciousness we need to understand some basic truths. Let's start by explaining three fundamentals of personal development namely; 1. The Universal Source is all wealth, abundance and prosperity; 2. Prosperity is our birthright; 3. You get more of what you focus on.
1. Why are we told that the Universal Source is unlimited wealth? - Because the Universal Source is the consciousness of the Universe - a universe that is still expanding. It is the driving force behind physical reality. It created everything you see, hear, touch and smell as well as all that we are unaware of (microwaves, radiation, air etc.). It has been stated in religious and metaphysical traditions that this intelligence is not only the Source of everything but that it is also the substance of it! It creates the Universe from itself! It is omnipresent (everywhere present). That means that the entire seen and unseen aspects of the universe are a part of this Universal Source. Science reaffirms this theory as it states that nothing is solid and everything is just one mass of pure energy that vibrates at different frequencies and gives the illusion of separateness.
So we can now claim that the Universal Source is unlimited wealth, abundance and prosperity with some belief. For if this Source is the very substance of everything then it is all the wealth, abundance and prosperity that exists at this very moment!
Ok so far? Now lets look at the second point - prosperity is our birthright.
2. If this Universal Intelligence is the source and substance of all things then there can be only one intelligence in the Universe. Jesus said to his disciples "know ye not that you are the temple of the living God?" Buddha attained enlightenment and "oneness". The list of these religious teachings are too numerous to mention but their message remains the same - God (Universal Substance) resides within and around us. It's very substance makes up our physical body and the world around us - "For in him we live, move and have our being" Acts17:28. Therefore, if this Universal Source is at the very core of our being and is the substance from which we take physical form then it stands to reason that we are connected to everyone else and in fact everything else around us - we are a part of all the wealth, abundance and prosperity of the universe. Just as your hand or foot is a part of your body, so every grain of sand, blade of grass, wisp of wind, bar of gold and brick that is laid in a mansion is part of you. The unlimited wealth of the universe is yours for the claiming. It is already yours, always has been and always will be. It is a part of you.
Ok let's go the third point - you get more of what you focus on.
3. "It never rains but it pours", is a saying I have used myself in the past. Have you ever wondered why such a statement appears to be true? Well metaphysics and religion tell us that "as a man thinketh in his heart, so is he" or as Job cried out to God "For that which I greatly feared has come upon me". What we focus our conscious attention on increases! Don't believe me? Test it for yourself! If you can muster up the strength to do it then think in negative terms for a week. Judge everything that happens to you in negative terms and think only of a negative outcome and watch what happens in your world!!! This is a relatively easy experiment as we are conditioned to think negatively by the world. A word of warning though - once you prove that your focus determines your reality stop thinking negative thoughts as best you can.
I will not go into the 'hows' of why our focus has such a profound influence on our lives (that would be the subject of a book or perhaps a future article) just prove to yourself that it does. A clue can be found in the teachings of Jesus when he said "The Kingdom of heaven is within".
So now we have the three principles of the prosperity consciousness explained let's put it to work. The attainment of a prosperity consciousness is relatively simple - just think on the first two principles until you fully understand them and integrate them into your consciousness. As you focus on them you will discover that your feelings of lack disappear and you begin to feel a connection with everything around you. It is really just an attitude shift - nothing metaphysical or mystical about it at all. You begin to consciously realize that everything is a part of you. Your focus changes from poverty to wealth.
If it helps make a list of affirmations that correspond to the two principles outlined e.g. "God is the Source and substance of everything", "I am at one with everyone and everything around me", "I am a part of all the wealth, abundance and prosperity of the Universe" etc. Don't just rhyme them off in a parrot like manner, think on them and realize the scientific or spiritual truths behind them.
Will it work? Well I can say now that if you follow the above instructions a real change will happen in you. You will start to see the beauty of the world and the unlimited resources that are available within and around you. Will you attain wealth, abundance and prosperity? Test it for yourself!

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