"How Are the Children?"
In my office hangs a beautiful painting done by Chase Dahl, a student at Weber High School. I selected it this past spring as the "Superintendent's Choice Award" at our district art show. I love to look into the children's faces and see their hopes and aspirations. The painting is titled, "Children of Maasai." Among the many fabled and accomplished tribes of Africa, no tribe is considered more fearsome or more intelligent than the mighty Maasai. It's interesting to learn that the traditional greeting among the Maasi warriors is "Kasserian Ingeri," which interpreted means, "How are the children?" Not "How are you?" or "How do you do?" but "How are the children?" It provides a wonderfully revealing insight into the values of the Maasai culture! Their first concern is for the next generation.
In fact, it is still the traditional greeting of the Maasai, acknowledging the high value the Maasai place upon the well-being of young people. Even the fiercest warriors give the traditional response, "All the children are well." Note that it is not "My children are well," or "Some of the children are well," but all the children are well. Society can't be well unless all the children are well. This also means, of course, that peace and safety prevail, that the priorities of protecting the young and powerless are in place, and that the Maasai people have not forgotten their reason for being, their proper function and their responsibilities.
"All the children are well" means life is good. It means that the daily struggles of existence—even among the poor, include the proper care of the young and defenseless. I wonder how it might affect our consciousness for all children's welfare if we greeted one another each day by asking, "And, how are the children?" The question cuts right to the heart of the health of our society.
Dr. Jeff Stephens
The most important thing for teachers to teach their students is how to think, not what to think. Critical thinking is integral to deep learning and understanding. It is the mental process of analyzing or evaluating information that leads to a problem solving mindset.
One of Aesop’s fables, “The Man, the Boy and the Donkey” is a good illustration of how not utilizing the skills of critical thinking can be detrimental to allowing individuals to problem solve effectively. As the story goes, a man and his son who lived in the mountains had the objective to take their donkey to the city marketplace in order to sell the donkey so they would have money to buy the provisions they needed to survive the upcoming winter. As they began their journey, the boy rode the donkey and the man walked. They passed through the first village on their way to the marketplace where several villagers scoffed at them saying, “How inconsiderate that the boy would ride the donkey and make his father walk.” After hearing this critique, the man rode the donkey and the boy walked. Then as they traveled through the next little hamlet, the people pointed their fingers and shouted, “How inconsiderate that the man would be so selfish and ride the donkey and make the boy walk.” So, again listening to the opinions of the people, the man and the boy rode the donkey together. When passing through the next village on their way to the marketplace, the people gathered and mocked the travelers saying, “How inhuman for the man and the boy to both ride the donkey and overburden this poor animal.” Hearing these dissenting voices, the man and the boy both walked alongside the donkey. Then, while traveling through the last small town on their way to the marketplace, the onlookers laughed, “How stupid for the man and the boy to walk and not ride the donkey and use this beast of burden for which it was created. Finally, in total frustration, trying to please all the people who offered advice, the man and the boy rode the donkey together until it collapsed. The donkey had to be carried into the city where the people in the marketplace sneered, “Who wants to buy a worthless donkey that cannot even walk into the marketplace?” The man and the boy failed in their objective to sell the donkey and acquire provisions for the winter.
When excellent teachers teach their students how to think critically, it helps them deal with current and future challenges in their lives more skillfully. It broadens life experiences and helps students gain a more meaningful perspective. Here are some suggested steps to critical thinking as it relates to problem solving:
In the fable, “The Man, the Boy and the Donkey,” if the man and the boy would have acquired the skills that accompany critical thinking, they would have been better equipped to solve the problem they faced. Before their journey, the man and the boy could have decided that the man would ride the donkey for the first third of the journey. The boy would ride the donkey the second third of the way and they would both walk the final third of their trek. That way the donkey would arrived in the marketplace fresh and strong and ready to be sold. Then on their journey, as the man and the boy received conflicting advice, they could have given each other a reassuring wink of the eye and said, “we have a plan.”
A.E. Mander wrote, “Critical thinking is skilled work. It is not true that we are naturally endowed with the ability to think clearly and logically without learning how or without practicing. People with untrained minds should no more expect to think clearly and logically than people who have never learned and never practiced can expect to find themselves good carpenters, golfers, bridge builders, or pianists.”
Along with teaching specific curriculum content, we applaud our excellent teachers who teach students the importance of gaining skills associated with critical thinking and problem solving.
Lex L. Puffer
As we prepare for a new school year, I think it is important to momentarily step back from the stressful demands that come with opening school and consider what our overall educational aims entail. If I may, I'd like to share some of those broad goals from my perspective. First, I want each teacher, administrator and support professional to keep in mind that we are here to help in the balanced development of the whole child. In the current climate, it's so easy to fall into the trap of a narrowly defined school mission that simply prepares students to succeed on core tests. However, our vision must encompass a commitment to excellence that exceeds proficiency in basic knowledge and skills and strives toward the realization of each child's full potential.
I value classrooms that are intellectually enlarging and lead to sound thinking, effective communication and skill in quantitative reasoning. Such classrooms engage students in critical thinking and creative imagination. These students then become capable of understanding and solving a wide variety of problems. They develop a depth of knowledge, which allows them to recognize what is genuinely meaningful as opposed to knowledge which is merely peripheral. Depth certainly requires sustained inquiry and persistent effort. Ultimately, the chief result of depth is competence.
Along their learning journey, students should enjoy a breadth of study in history, the arts, science and relevant global issues. We want our students to gain an understanding of human civilization, appreciation for the unique contributions of America to our modern world, and a general historical perspective. All students should have a solid understanding of the physical, biological and social sciences, as well as a recognition of the power (and limits) of the scientific method. Our global economy is currently in tremendous need of leaders in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM). We also want each student to develop a keen appreciation for the arts. The arts promote innovation and collaboration, and positively impact student learning and cultural understanding. Perhaps most importantly, creative endeavor in the arts can inspire and transform minds, hearts and lives!
Obviously, the vision I have briefly described represents a broader, richer, and more comprehensive learning experience than one found in a "test-prep" school. Sharing this vision is not meant to overwhelm those with already full plates. Rather, it is intended to bring perspective to the fundamental goal of public education—assisting students to be successful in life. I honor each of you for your tremendous dedication to children and wish you the best as you impact those privileged to fall under your influence this year!
The summer months provide a wonderful opportunity for all to get some much needed rest! Summer is also a time to reflect, discover and prepare. For our students, faculty and employees it's a great time to enjoy family and friends. We also encourage each one of you (young people and adults alike) to read and learn. Find a good book and take time each day to read. You'll enjoy the quiet and you'll find a relaxing joy thick enough to hold!
Not long ago, I read about a fascinating man named "Buck" Fuller who requested the following epitaph be carved on his gravestone, "Call Me Trim Tab." Richard Buckminster Fuller (1895-1983) was an American architect, author, inventor and futurist. Fuller published more than 30 books and coined several popular terms, including the word "synergy." Fuller often used "trim tabs" as a metaphor for how seemingly small, well-focused actions can produce significant, enduring outcomes.
A trim tab is a small lever on a boat or plane rudder that moves independent of the whole rudder. Modest movements of the trim tab can change the direction of a massively heavy boat or plane producing results far out of all proportion to the actual size of the trim tab. Fuller once said:, "Something hit me very hard once, thinking about what one little man could do. Think of the Queen Mary—the whole ship goes by and then comes the rudder. And there's a tiny thing at the edge of the rudder called a trim tab. It's like a miniature rudder. Just moving the little trim tab adjusts the entire rudder. It takes almost no effort at all. I said that the little individual can be a trim tab. So I say call me trim tab."
In the Weber School District, we have hundreds of "trim tabs." People who work diligently to make a big difference! We have just completed a successful school year. That could never happen in such a large organization without the combined efforts of many dedicated individuals. I thank each one of you for your contribution—for being a "trim tab" that helps to successfully guide our school district as we strive to inspire, build and teach children. And, to our many students, parents and partners, we thank you for your great efforts. It's a marvelous thing to watch our entire community come together to provide for the education of our next generation.
Recently, I was invited to teach a poetry lesson in Mrs. Oliva's 4th grade class at Lakeview Elementary. One poem that we read and discussed was titled, "On the Other Side of the Door." This poem describes the endless possibilities for students when they enter a classroom led by a caring, dedicated teacher. One student, Kayla, talked about her teacher, Mrs. Oliva, and how much she loved her. Kayla later wrote to me, "I feel like I can do anything with my teacher's help if I work hard for it." I would like to thank every employee within the Weber School District for your hard work and dedication this school year. Just as Kayla so beautifully expressed, great teachers empower students to attain remarkable performance levels!
I recognize that today's political climate often demands that we do more and more—usually with less and less. And, I'm proud to say that, while we will always have room for improvement, we are meeting the challenge. That fact is reflected in a review of data. For example, as measured by the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), Utah scores in 8th grade reading rose from 267 in 2011 to 270 in 2013. Nationally, scores rose from 264 to 266 during the same time period. Among racial and ethnic groups in Utah for whom scores were reported, white student scores went from 272 to 274 between 2011 and 2013 while Hispanic student scores went from 247 to 256. Students eligible for free or reduced lunch saw their scores increase from 254 to 260. These larger gains by students in various ethnic groups demonstrate a closing of the achievement gap. I love to point to the 8th grade achievement because success there reflects great work by every teacher all the way back to kindergarten!
Utah's public students achieved an educational equivalent of the "Triple Crown" in Advanced Placement (AP) results by increasing overall participation in AP exams by more than 8 percent, increasing minority participation in those same exams between 11 and 23 percent, and increasing the overall success rate on the exams by more than 7 percent. A total of 20,638 Utah public school students took 33,217 AP exams during the 2012-13 school year with 22,398 of those exams earning a passing score—which translates into college credit. This represents an increase of 8.4 percent students taking exams, an 8.7 percent increase in number of exams taken, and a 7.1 percent increase in exams with passing scores, according to the College Board. Utah minority student population also increased its participation rates—American Indian participation increased 21.1 percent, Black participation increased 22.5 percent, and Hispanic participation increased 23.3 percent. Normally, one would think that with a significant increase in participation rates, the success rate on the exam would decrease; however, as noted earlier, the Utah success rate on the AP exams increased by more than 7 percent.
Utah's high school graduation rate rose 3 percent in 2013 to 81 percent. Using the new four-year calculations, Utah's high school graduation rate has risen from 69 percent in 2008 to its current level of 81 percent—an increase of 12 percent in five years. At the same time, Utah's dropout rate has declined from 29 percent in 2008 to 16 percent in 2013. As in most categories, Weber School District's data is even better than the state average. The same is true in graduation rates. Weber School District's graduation rate increased by 4.55 percent from 2012 to 2013 and now stands at 82%.
None of this happens without the untiring efforts of more than 3,000 committed and highly professional teachers and staff members working together for the best interest of young people! I thank each of you as you inspire students to achieve great things as they enter your classroom and give their very best. You're true professionals and it is a privilege to work with you. With Highest Regards,
It has become a tradition in certain universities across the land, for retiring professors to deliver their “last lecture”. This title was made famous by Randy Pausch, who in 2007 delivered a “last lecture” speech at Carnegie Mellon University, shortly before passing away from terminal cancer.
Fortunately, for most who deliver a last lecture upon retirement they live long productive lives after their speech. The common denominator among all their ‘last lectures’ is that they are asked to think deeply about what matters most and what wisdom they would impart to the world if they knew it was their last chance. Please know that I don’t profess to have the knowledge or ability of these noted scholars but for me this is my last lecture in terms of penning a message for this website. With that frame of mind my ‘last lecture’ is simple.
Love the children you serve. The best determining factor for a successful adult is a happy childhood. They only get one shot at being a child, they only get one second grade experience, one chance to be an eighth grader or one chance to have a childhood with people that genuinely care and love them. We must give it our all, we can’t recoup it for them and they cannot do it over. We can’t afford to waste opportunities to lift them to higher ground, to make this world a better and safer place. Don’t stay in education if you cannot do this, the price is too high to pay.
Love what you do. Love your job, love the people you serve. For over thirty years I have cherished arriving at work each morning knowing that I will see incredible things happening for children. Each day there were smiles, small talk, caring people and new ideas. Daily there have been people serving, giving of their time and talents unselfishly to improve the quality of life for students, employees and parents. I have been the benefactor of kindness by individuals who have been genuinely concerned about my weekend, how my family was doing, what I thought about a particular subject and last but not least expressions of gratitude. Thank you for taking an interest in my life, my career and the important work of educating children. I express a sincere and humble thank you to all of you that smiled, that understood, that spoke kind words and performed your labors with zeal.
Love to be the difference. Each day I have been exposed to the heart and soul of education, the people on the front lines that give it their all to make a difference. Your passion, dedication and determination to improve society through education has always inspired me to want to do better, be better and hope for better. All our roles are important in serving children, we need clean buildings, nurturing secretaries, helpful school nurses, safe bus drivers, prepared teachers, supporting paraprofessionals, organized and visionary administrators, dedicated maintenance workers, committed counselors and caring cooks. We need each and every one of you. Education is such an essential work, perhaps the greatest work that we can accomplish for future generations. Through education lives are enriched, ideas are shared, health improved and a greater understanding of humanity is acquired. Thanks to you all, you are great!
Lastly I would tell you to ask yourself the question, “is this really a problem?” I write this because of a life changing experience I had. Two years ago my husband and I went to Africa with some friends. We had a fabulous time seeing the wonders of nature. While in Nairobi, Kenya, I met a gentleman named Steven. Steven ran an orphanage and sold wood carving to help sustain the orphanage. He had over 150 children that were (and are) dependent on him for food, clothing, housing and education. His task is daunting and overwhelming. His carvings are beautiful and priceless. When I returned home I made arrangements to have him ship me some so I could sell them to help the orphanage out in a very small way.
Due to some unique circumstances last fall, a kind friend brought Steven to Utah for a short visit to help him try and acquire some funding for his orphanage. Here is where the life changing event occurred…after he had been here a few days his host took him to Costco. Steven was so overwhelmed by seeing so many items, so much food and such abundance of goods that he literally could not walk down the aisle. He had to sit in front of the store and just watch the people come and go because he did not know where to put it in his mind, he could not wrap his arms around such a scene. He truly was overcome with such opulence. While on the ride back to where he was staying he was extremely quiet, he could not talk, he was processing so much in his mind. Finally when they pulled into the driveway he said to his friend in earnest sincerity, “What do you consider to be a problem?” In other words, do you know what your life is like? I know in his mind he was saying, “I worry every day about a child dying for lack of nutrition, I worry about rain because the children sleep on slabs of cement, I worry about disease, I worry about finding one text book for fifty students to share, what do you worry about, is it really a problem?”
Since that day I have asked myself that question often and it has caused me to have a better perspective on the big picture of life. In always asking, “Is this really a problem?” the small minor inconveniences don’t have nearly the impact they once did. I have not been nearly as concerned if the traffic is heavy; I at least have a car and a road on which to drive. I have not been quite as upset if something I ordered did not arrive on time, nor has the day been ruined if there was a blizzard, at least I stayed warm.
In closing, keep serving, keep loving, keep a passion for education. Keep the perspective of what is really important in your life. Realize how blessed we are to live and work where we do. Enjoy the journey, it goes by swiftly.
My best always,
Linda K. Carver
I was educated in Weber School District schools. Municipal Elementary School, Roy Junior High School (the Redskins not the Razorbacks) and Roy High School (Home of the Royals!). I suppose my experiences in school were similar to most others. I have wonderful memories of my school days including painting with water colors, recess, science fair projects, wood shop, cooking classes, poetry writing, playing sports, great friends and many influential teachers. But, like most people, I have retained a couple of not-so-wonderful memories. I never really learned how to write in cursive. That was taught in the 3rd grade and I wasn’t in school much. My teacher told my parents that I was mischievous. I’m not sure what that word meant but I knew it wasn’t good. I don’t remember acting up in class but I do remember being sent to the principal’s office often. He would call my mother and I would walk home. I’m not sure it was called suspension back then. It was just, “you need to go home.” “Honest mom, I didn’t do anything.” “Well,” she would reply, “the principal said you were being mischievous in class again.” There it was. That word again. She would then give me a prepared list of chores around the house to accomplish. Soon, my trips to the principal’s office became so frequent that I would just walk by his office and wave to him. He’d wave back and I’d head out the front door and walk home only to be greeted by a stern look, a shaking head and a new list of chores. Not realizing it, I was apparently on a path to what they called juvenile delinquency.
Somehow, I was allowed to attend 4th grade. My teacher was Mrs. Green. Obviously, she didn’t get the memo about my past “mischievousness” because she took me under her wing and showed a special interest in me. She taught the class how to write creative stories. It was fun! She told me I was a great writer and poet. “I am?” “In fact,” she said, “I’m going to have you read your stories in front of the whole class because they are so good.” “Wow! Xanadu!” In that year that went by too quickly, I gained a bundle of self-worth and confidence. I discovered I could be really smart if I tried. Perhaps, maybe, by chance, I really wasn’t mischievous.
The rest of my public education experience was enjoyable, rigorous, gratifying and demanding. My teachers were absolutely fantastic. They taught me how to study and how to enjoy learning. They taught me to have a deep desire to be a life-long learner. I will always have the utmost respect and appreciation for what my teachers did for me in helping me become the person I am today.
We are extremely fortunate to have literally thousands of caring, competent teachers just like Mrs. Green in Weber School District. Leonard Pellicer wrote, “Our teachers could have chosen to be medical supply sales-people, astronauts, country singers or any other noble profession. Instead, they chose the teaching profession where they can shape lives in ways so special and unique that great teachers are irreplaceable. They acknowledge dignity in children. I believe that teachers, more than any other professionals touch lives in significant and lasting ways.” Henry Adams stated, “A teacher affects eternity; he can never tell where his influence ends.
Nearly five decades later, I stay in close contact with Mrs. Green. Our paths have brought us back together. We are actually neighbors. She is a little bit older and slower now but her mind is still as sharp as ever. She has the same smile, the same caring attitude and the exact same laugh. She walks several miles every day with a friend, not necessarily to stay in shape but to engage in good conversation and enjoy the beauties of earth. Several nights ago, I visited with her and her good husband. We reminisced about the “good old days” and as I have done at least a hundred times before, I told her how much I loved and appreciated her as my teacher so many years ago and what a great influence she has had on my life. I thanked her for giving me confidence in myself. I have since realized that I’m really not a very good writer or poet but she instilled in me the joy of writing. That night, I asked her, “So, what do you remember about me?” She smiled, laughed and said, “You were so mischievous!”
Lex L. Puffer
Teacher actions promoting student learning
While there is no formula that will guarantee learning for every student in every context, there is extensive, well-documented evidence about the kinds of teaching approaches that consistently have a positive impact on student learning. This evidence tells us that students learn best when teachers:
Creating a supportive and engaging learning environment
Students learn best when they feel accepted, when they enjoy positive relationships with their fellow students and when they are able to be active, engaged members of a learning community. Effective teachers foster positive relationships within environments that are caring, inclusive, non-discriminatory and cohesive. Effective teachers attend to the cultural diversity of all their students.
Encouraging reflective thought and action
Students learn most effectively when they develop the ability to stand back from the information or ideas that they have engaged with and think about these objectively. Reflective learners assimilate new learning, relate it to what they already know, adapt it for their own purposes and translate thought into action. Over time, students develop their creativity, their ability to think critically about information and ideas and their metacognitive ability (that is, their ability to think about their own thinking). Teachers encourage such thinking when they design tasks and opportunities that require students to critically evaluate the material they use and consider the purposes for which it was originally created.
Enhancing the relevance of new learning
Students learn most effectively when they understand what they are learning, why they are learning it, and how they will be able to use their new learning. Effective teachers stimulate the curiosity of their students, require them to search for relevant information and ideas, and challenge them to apply or transfer what they discover in new and authentic ways. This encourages students to see what they are doing as relevant and to take greater ownership of their own learning.
Facilitating shared learning
Students learn as they engage in shared activities and conversations with others. Teachers encourage this process by cultivating the class as a learning community. In such an environment, everyone, including the teacher, is a learner. Learning conversations and learning partnerships are encouraged, while challenge, support, and feedback are given to each student. As they engage in reflective discourse with others, students build the language that they need to take their learning further.
Making connections to prior learning and experience
Students learn best when they are able to integrate new learning with what they already knowand understand. When teachers deliberately build on what their students know and have experienced, they maximize the use of learning time, anticipate students’ learning needs and avoid unnecessary duplication of content. Teachers can help students make connections across learning areas as well as to the wider world.
Providing sufficient opportunities to learn
Students learn most effectively when they have time and opportunity to engage with, practice, and transfer new learning. This means that they need to encounter new learning a number of times and in a variety of different contexts. It also means that when curriculum coverage and student understanding are in competition, the teacher may decide to cover less but cover it in greater depth. While that may be a difficult choice for a teacher it is definitely the right choice!
These are time-proven and research-supported principles of effective teaching. They generally run counter to teaching techniques promoted in “test-prep” environments. As I visit classrooms throughout our school district, I see teachers applying these principles on a regular basis. I appreciate each of our teachers for their dedication to children and commitment as professionals. Your efforts definitely make a difference in the lives of all students!
Happy New Year to one and all. During this past week of festivities I had the rare opportunity to do some baking. One of the recipes I was preparing called for cinnamon, nutmeg and vanilla. It made me smile when I put all these ingredients into the bowl…because whenever you use this delectable combination it is bound to be a taste treat delight. My grandson was “supervising” me and said “Oh, I love cinnamon, put in some extra”. I tried to explain to him that more cinnamon would not help; in fact it would overpower the other spices and the final creation would not taste nearly as pleasant. He had a hard time understanding how this could be possible, why more would not enhance the outcome. It made me contemplate on the concept of balance; balance in all arenas.
Just the previous morning I was driving past a school building quite early. I saw a maintenance crew out removing snow from the parking lot. Later, I drove past a school bus and in the evening I went to our web site to do some emailing. This might seem like an ordinary day, but really when one thinks about it, it is extraordinary. Imagine all the individuals it takes to keep balance in our school district. I have not even touched on the dedication of teachers, administrators, secretaries, office aides, para-professionals, nurses, counselors and so forth. The list is endless and all of these individuals and elements come together every day to keep our schools functioning and in balance. I am indebted to each and every one of you. It is a minor miracle on a daily basis.
I then thought of the balance one attains in receiving a public education. I am a great fan of our school system, although I firmly believe in choice and that parents know what is best for their child, I can’t imagine one could find a better opportunity to bring balance and perspective to a child’s life than a public education. I am the first to admit that the system is not perfect, but neither is life. I once had a father tell me there was no greater foundation for his children than to send them to our schools every day. He felt it was a microcosm of life. He said his youngsters had good days and bad days, teachers that thought his offspring were awesome and teachers that prodded his juveniles to improve. He stated that they had classmates who were great examples and others not so much. They learned of phenomenal ideas and events such as man walking on the moon and yet they were also taught about the Titanic. He expressed his pain when one of his children tried out for the basketball team and was not selected, another lost a class election. But then he voiced that his daughter had painted a portrait that was entered into a regional art show and his son had taken first place at the science fair. Another son sang in the school choir and the boy that had been cut from the basketball team had tried another sport and he was finding great enjoyment and success. Ironically, the day I was talking with this father his youngest child, in kindergarten, was in the principal’s office for throwing snowballs at unsuspecting classmates. It was interesting to get his perspective of balance within our school system, he was grateful for the ups and downs as he firmly believed his children would be well prepared for their life ahead in our changing, challenging and amazing world.
Robert Fulghum who wrote the book, “All I Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten” wrote, “Be aware of wonder. Live a balanced life-learn some and think some and draw and paint and sing and dance and play and work every day some”.
As we start this New Year, I thank you all for your dedicated service, for your unselfish acts of goodness and kindness, for what you do to make Weber School District such an excellent institution of learning. I wish all of you the best, may you find peace, happiness and balance.