Jonathan Larson’s musical “Rent” challenged people to look at how they spend and measure the 525,600 minutes that make up each year. Kilgore ISD Superintendent Cara Cooke laid out a similar challenge to the school district employees during Monday’s convocation.
“Each school year we also receive a limited amount of time with our students. Our calendar this year gives us 75,600 minutes,” Cooke said. “This is not much time when we consider all that we hope to accomplish.”
Although each year begins the same way, with a focused attitude and the best intentions to meet each goal and make each minute worthwhile, that focus can get lost in the day-to-day of the school year.
“How do we ensure that when this year comes to a close that we look back knowing that we made every minute count?” she asked. “This is accomplished through the choices that we will make in how we use our time. What we do and how we will do it.”
To be successful, the teachers must be intentional with their actions to enhance student learning and then hold each other accountable to accomplish the goals set at the beginning of the year.
Cooke announced one of her goals for the school year is to visit every classroom in the district at least once per semester.
Each year she has set the same goal, but has yet to accomplish it fully. “Why?” she asked. “Because I have allowed other things to consume my time. Things that are good. Things that are necessary. But not necessarily going to achieve that goal of impacting student learning.”
This year, Cooke said, she has written down her goal and determined she can accomplish her goal if she allows at least six hours per week each semester to visit classrooms across all five campuses.
“To my surprise when I actually did that on paper, it was not as much time as I imagined,” she said.
Cooke compared each day to a bank of time filled with 86,400 seconds of credit each day.
“Every morning we receive a credit of 86,400 seconds. Every night whatever we fail to invest to a good purpose is lost. Every day we receive a new credit, and each night it burns the remains of the day,” she said.
Knowing the limited time she has each day and each school year to influence the district, Cooke said, she has set aside the six hours per week in her calendar, changed only in the case of emergencies.
“I am also sharing my goal with you because I want you to hold me accountable,” she said, noting the priority the goal and the associated time must be part of her plan and schedule. “As you plan, I encourage you to consider how you will use your time. Make sure that every minute that you have in your bank is used to impact the students of KISD in a very positive way.”
With the district’s percentage of economically disadvantaged students greater than 60 percent, Cooke and other KISD administrators changed the format of this year’s convocation to focus on an all-day presentation from Bethanie Tucker on Ruby Payne’s “A Framework for Understanding Poverty.”
Modifying a quote by Theodore Roosevelt quote, Cooke said, “They will not care what you know until they know that you care… This has never been more important than now.”
Tucker’s presentation helped teachers get a glimpse into the circumstances facing students who may be part of the 62 percent of students who make up the statistic of “economically disadvantaged” on KISD’s 2016-2017 snapshot.
“We have the opportunity and, I believe, the responsibility to help our students rise above the challenges that some of them face and give them a hope for a brighter future. The 70 percent that are economically disadvantaged are more than just a percentage on a report,” she said. “They are approximately 15 of the 22 students you will have in your classrooms. We cannot ignore what they are facing each day, and we have to find a way to meet them where they are and help them achieve success.”
Cooke and Tucker both said they owe a portion of their success in life to their teachers who did not base their abilities or future achievements on their circumstances.
“I grew up in financial poverty… I made it out because I had other resources,” Tucker said. “My number one resource: my teachers. That was my number one resource. Without my teachers I never would have made it out.”
Poverty in the context of her presentation means the lack of resources, she explained. The list of 10 resources include financial, but also knowledge of hidden rules, physical, spiritual, emotional, support systems, mental and cognitive, integrity and trust, motivation and persistence, relationships and role models and language.
“Our students who succeed (do so) because they have resources… Human beings need resources to survive and students need resources to succeed… For today, when you hear me use the word poverty, please understand I will not be talking just about financial resources. I will be talking about this list and when I mention students and poverty, I will be referring to students who lack resources,” she told the educators gathered in First Baptist Church.
Any attempts to positively intervene in a student’s education will work only if they are based on the student’s resources.
“If we analyze students’ resources and identify what it is they really need, we have a better chance of meeting their needs,” Tucker said.
This includes teaching students the hidden rules about the school they might not know before walking into the classroom. Teachers, though, must also learn their students’ hidden rules, which developed based on their families and environments.
“Is it possible that when we have children – students – and their parents walking onto our campuses behaving in ways that violate our expectations, if we’re not careful, is it possible we could sell them short?” Tucker asked. “Research says it happens. It happens. The key understanding of the day is that we can’t. We can’t because our job is to teach the students the hidden rules of school and our job is also to learn their hidden rules so that we can create positive relationships with them.”
For some students, the relationships they develop with their teachers will be the only way they graduate high school.
Each person sees the world through their individual lens and that lens can be different for teachers, students and parents, which are correct to them and have been influenced by their environment and the people around them. To better understand each other and all the hidden rules, each person must reframe their view and understanding.
One of those relates to the idea of liking a teacher and respecting teachers.
In some families and situations, to like someone is to respect them. And when a student says they do not like the teacher that in turn means they do not need to show them respect either.
“If all parents could go away with that one understanding – my child does not have to like their teacher, but my child will respect their teacher – if we could get this one message across, the performance of all of our students would improve,” Tucker said.
Overall, the workshop helped Kilgore High School math teacher John Heffner understand the situations in which some students and families may find themselves and why they may act in a certain way that seems strange to him.
KISD Assistant Superintendent Richard Nash said he hopes the workshop, which also kicked off the district’s in-service week, helps remind the district’s educators to look at what may contribute to a student’s actions instead of just reacting to the action itself.
“It’s that different language. It’s that different expectation,” he said “To me, it’s a challenge to us to slow down and say, ‘OK, what’s at the root of it?’ Is it confusion? Is it a misunderstanding?”
“We have the power during the next 75,600 minutes that are in this school year to make a difference in the lives of the students that walk through our doors,” Cooke said. “We have the power to impact student lives in a positive or a negative way. It will be our choice. We must choose our words wisely, use our time affectively, and build relationships that will impact lives for years to come.”