Student artwork at the High School of Language and Innovation.
The path to graduation is different for every student, and so is our approach.
For some kids, we race to keep up with them: they excel in every course, so we look for new opportunities and train teachers to lead advanced courses.
For other kids, it’s a matter of holding their hand: we offer extra tutoring and pair them up with classmates who can support them. We encourage them. Sometimes, these students need a lot of support in 9th and 10th grade, and then turn into great students by 12th grade.
Finally, there are a few kids we drag towards graduation. Often, these are students who are academically ready to enter college, but find ways of failing courses at the last minute. It might be the fear of change and leaving high school forever, or maybe just needing some attention. For example, a student who has passed all required exams and courses might do everything they can to fail their last semester of gym.
Our high school is made up almost entirely of newcomer immigrant English Language Learners. Every May we give students a required test that measures English proficiency.
The test includes a a 15 minute speaking portion, which is delivered 1:1 by a teacher. The speaking test starts with a simple Warm Up: “A. What is your favorite animal? B. What do you like to do at school? C. Tell me about your favorite foods.” The teacher then asks the student a longer series of questions from a booklet. Topics range from doctors to telescopes.
In our school, we enlist all teachers to administer the speaking test: physical education teachers, art teachers, math teachers, everyone. Continue reading
Student portrait, art class at High School of Language and Innovation
As a school for newcomer immigrant English Language Learners, our students come from all over the world: Dominican Republic, Yemen, Bangladesh, several countries in Africa, Albania, China, Vietnam, to name a few.
However, we don’t know much about school in our students’ countries. Recently, I decided to simply ask: what was learning like in your country?
I was prompted to do this because our school had visitors last week. A group of new teachers were touring the school to learn best practices for supporting English Language Learners.
As part of the visit, I organized a student panel with two of my teachers. The teachers choose five 9th and 10th graders and ensured they represented several countries: Dominican Republic, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Albania. The students had lived in the U.S. anywhere from 4 months to 2 years. Continue reading
Jeetu, a 12th-grade boy, sat in my office, eager to talk.
“You’re the principal, so I can tell you anything, right?”
I was tickled by Jeetu’s question. A lot of kids might have the opposite thought: You’re the principal so let me choose my words carefully and make sure you don’t find out whatever I’m hiding.
Jeetu took New York State Regents exams* in January. I was meeting with every 12th grader who had taken exams and experienced at least one disappointment in failing an exam. Continue reading
This year, my school is focusing on raising the achievement of boys. I’ve learned that supporting boys goes beyond good teaching: we need to show boys more options for how to “be a man.”
Most boys have an idea of what it is to be a man. It’s often a child’s idea of being “hard” or “tough,” “independent.” A principal colleague of mine said he and his staff consciously teach their 9th graders to lose the “tough guy” attitude and just be kids; be students.
This week, I found myself in a conference with a student, Hassan,* and one of my teachers, Matt. Hassan had hit another student who had been calling him a “little boy” and making teasing gestures towards him.
In the past, we might have said, “The next time someone teases you, tell a teacher or administrator.” However, we saw that an 18-year-old boy who sees himself as a man may not want to run to a teacher to solve his problems.
Students at the High School of Language and Innovation collaborating in science class.
The first week of school, I learned that most of my students didn’t know the word “integrity.”
As a tone setter, my assistant principals and I visited classes and did a presentation around our core values: integrity, perseverance, respect, and responsibility. We’re using a new approach, Responsibility Centered Discipline (RCD). In RCD, we coach kids to make choices that embody these core values, rather than simply reminding them of rules. An RCD conversation would go like this: “Jaime, I love when you participate in this class because you have a great sense of humor. Your participation makes a difference. When you stopped doing your work and put your head down, you weren’t showing perseverance. If you can keep showing perseverance and never give up, you’ll not only learn, but you’ll be a role model and leader for your classmates. What can you do when you get frustrated with the work and want to put your head down?” Continue reading
Student artwork sale at the High School of Language and Innovation
I remember my first interview for a teaching position in August 2000, part of the first cohort of New York City Teaching Fellows. I was standing in line at a hiring fair at the Brooklyn Marriott Hotel.
When I got to the front of the line, a harried-looking man introduced himself as a district representative hiring for a position teaching 8th grade in a middle school in Brooklyn. Continue reading