Sunday, January 23, 2011

"EduKare"- A new paradigm for struggling urban schools...

Education reform is a hot topic. The media is all over it. So many stories, editorials, features, columns and documentaries revolve around the "drop-out factories," as some urban schools are infamously referred to, and what kinds of educational leadership tactics can be put in place to reform these institutions and their practice. I've been wondering when all this talk is going to turn into something tangible that will actually reform the way we teach and learn.

Michael Josefowicz (@ToughLoveforX), one of the key idea-tappers at #ecosys (Twitter chat every Wednesday at 9:00 EST) and I have been discussing some radical improvement possibilities for the so-called drop out factories of large, urban centers in North America. Michael is from Brooklyn and knows a thing or two about urban issues, and I have a lot of respect for his point of view. We're using the term EduKare to describe a very new and different perspective toward teaching and learning in our most challenging urban environments.

For the most part, schools are designed to effectively serve the average student in the average community. Our system is deeply rooted in Bell Curve thinking; we teach very effectively to the mean and not so effectively to the students who fall away from the mean to either side of the curve. The more students deviate from the mean, the less effective our education system is at addressing their learning needs. Instead of thinking differently by taking a hard look at what these kids need from us, we simply move on and continue doing what we've always done in schools we've always had. In doing so we inadvertently deem kids that don't fit our mean as acceptable collateral damage. If we are to be judged by how effectively we serve our neediest students, this routine is failing the grade.

EduKare is a paradigm shift away from Bell Curve thinking. Instead of teaching to the mean and feeling good about the success of let's say about 65% of our students, an EduKare approach measures success with all students based on the evaluation of how effectively their needs are met as individuals displaying distinct learning variables. An EduKare teaching and learning environment considers pivotal learning variables in each student's story... the story already written, the here-and-now story and the future story every teacher helps write. EduKare is an approach based on the foundational belief that every child can learn, but that detractors to learning can be powerful debilitating forces in a child's life. If these forces are not mitigated, learning will not happen effectively. The EduKare teaching and learning environment very simply provides the services required to mitigate powerful learning detractors in the lives of young people so they can then focus their energy on achieving relative academic success.

Poverty, addiction, social problems, relationship problems, depression, family issues, learning disabilities, violence, gangs... all examples of powerful learning detractors. EduKare is a philosophy stating emphatically that unless kids are able to overcome the negative effects of these detractors, learning in a traditional sense is simply not going to happen. Paint-by-numbers turnaround efforts targeting increased academic performance largely ignore the social variables affecting kid's ability to learn in a traditional school environment. EduKare posits that through a wrap-a-round service provision model in schools, many if not all of these sorts of detractors to learning can be effectively neutralized allowing for renewed focus on academic learning.

A wrap-a-round service provision model is one that places student resiliency as it's top priority. Facilitating resilience in students is the primary goal of an EduKare wrap-a-round model. By drawing a circle of support around kids who live in the margins, EduKare strives to know each one of them as a person first, a student second understanding that teaching and learning is a process that involves people; it's a social interaction, and until a positive and trusting relationship is established between those involved, one that is unlikely to produce top-shelf results. Resilience involves mitigating risk factors and supporting strength factors in a person so life for these students doesn't become a world of stress and unrealistic expectations. Strengths are what matters in education, but we've been tracking a deficit-based model for so long, we've forgotten that each child is a gift that comes wrapped with individual strengths and unique possibilities; all we have to do is make the effort to unwrap them. It's time to get serious about how this should look for all students, but especially our most challenged and struggling.

I'm not going to hide behind the "funding fallacy" on this one. EduKare is not a program; it's a philosophy. The concept of EduKare is scalable on a number of fronts that don't require massive injections of money or physical resources. EduKare does require collaboration, time and commitment to thinking differently though. We can create these elements by redistributing our time to notice where our efforts are failing, focus on how we can think differently, consider our options and engage solutions via the altered lens we would then be looking through. This is a process that every teacher, administrator and paraprofessional in a school can initiate for free. Distributing collaborative and reflective efforts to re-tool our teaching and learning environments so they are oriented more toward individuals and their specific needs doesn't require any seed money at all. This is a people variable... where there's a will, there's a way.

I actually perceive a possibility that an EduKare approach would cost less than what our traditional schools cost us today. In order to effectively and efficiently provide a wrap-a-round EduKare environment, access to supports for kids have to be readily available and accessible. I think fondly about the traditional one-room school houses of my regional past. Schools used to be places where people gathered; they were community hubs that hosted any number of events: church; community meetings; celebrations; elections; rallies; concerts or even just a family picnic at the park outside the school. The school was a non-threatening place where all were welcome and where people shared their thoughts, skills, resources and time. Somehow we've lost that spirit of community in our schools. EduKare aims to restore it.

Government spends millions to maintain social services in multiple locations throughout the urban landscape. Assuming the idea is to make these services accessible, I can't think of a better place than schools to house and provide them. Continuing with the school as community idea, why not put social workers, health nurses, police officers and probation officers in schools... even community mentors or senior citizens as significant others willing to volunteer their time in support of kids. These are people resources that perhaps already provide services to children, but could do it more efficiently from within a school where kids already spend much of their daily time.

As schools are renovated, redesigned or built new, physical EduKare elements could be built into them. Community halls, recreational facilities, health clinics, libraries, satellite police stations, social service agency offices... these could be built in to the new building reducing cost of maintaining multiple facilities. Shared costs between agencies and school boards in providing these collaborative service spaces would save money. Thinking way outside the box, why couldn't senior citizen facilities share the same buildings as well? Sugatra Mitra is connecting senior citizens with the time and so much more to offer our youth in a global context; why not bring his "granny cloud" concept to every school? If we can connect significant others to kids in a global context, surely we can make the connection locally within our schools.

I think it's time we realize fully that until we have happy kids, we won't have well-educated kids. Schools that weave themselves into the fabric of the community understanding that theirs is not an environment immune to the social, emotional, physical and psychological ills that affect it are taking the first step toward an EduKare approach. Collaborating with significant others and non-teaching professionals who provide services for students addressing their learning detractors in a holistic way is the second step. Working with these partners to engage individual students and their home families in solution-focused strategies to mitigate problems, and preferably doing this collaboratively within the school building, is the third step.

Looking forward, when we think about education we need to ponder how we provide support to kids in a broader context. Redesigning our physical spaces to include a broader spectrum of authentic learning (living) spaces would allow schools to become so much more than schools. They would become special places that recognize that authentic teaching and learning extends way beyond the traditional classroom, and they would strive to be first-line providers of learning supports, spaces and experiences that draw kids and their families to them.

We need schools where "everybody knows your name," and that offer a place to enjoy life in multiple ways. Contemporary society needs more from its schools than reading, writing and arithmetic. To me this is simply reality.


  1. Sean and Michael -

    I'm a fan of wrap-around care; I'm also a fan of school-as-community-center. I'm interested in what you see as the most immediate steps schools could take on both fronts. Have you looked at models like Big Picture schools?

    I would like to see schools move to multiple learning shifts per day so they can act as hubs of rolling activity and accommodate student work with volunteers and mentors who have traditional work hours; I'd like to see schools accept outside learning for credit; and I'd like to see schools establish more dual enrollment opportunities at community colleges and internships. If school can help students of all ages learn as they want on schedules that the students want, then school will be relevant and can connect more learners with the wrap-around services they need to move ahead with their educations and lives.

    Keep up the work for good.


  2. Heck, if there were a way for me to participate in drop-in facilitating/coaching, I'd be there in a minute. One-on-one is my favorite. But the peer-to-peer is equally important to leverage -- letting kids get extra or make-up credit for mentoring is key as well.

    For all the 'it takes a village' talk that Hillary spewed, I didn't see too much village modeling coming out of the Clinton era. I'm clearly not an Obama fan, but even though it's their's alone, their White House Garden has done more for the concept of 'village' than anything any other presidency has accomplished.

    I love the contrast of the bell curve. The only thing I caution in that tale is to go too far toward the 'individual'. There's a happy medium somewhere in the middle. The individual training that I got from my teacher, wasn't individual, but was actually 'team-based': Yes, she included some individual development -- I still remember on more than one occasion as a 3rd grader (which now I realize was quite significant) that I was responsible to decorate the entire classroom bulletin board. I sure wish there were hidden camera excerpts of that teacher that we could track back and replay -- but there must be many fabulous teachers out there whose stories/techniques who could all be used/shared in this regard.

    There's also the models (which I've not been able to find online references to) where the more 'classroom based' subjects (like math) are fully integrated with non-classroom activities, such as a school play -- which becomes the focus of the entire school for one portion of the year.

    I've not seen, but would love to know about more-fully-integrated activities that are mainstreamed for giving back to the community -- service projects as learning contexts. Got any?

  3. Chad, thanks for adding to the mix.
    Regarding wrap-a-round, I think a simple twist of the lens is required on behalf of teachers to recognize when the efforts to teach in a traditional sense are not resulting in progress. WHen what they're doing isn't working they ahve to put the horse before the cart and become "process advocates" for the wrap-a-round model to work. Teachers have more access to kids than most helping professionals, and even their own parents in some cases- it makes sense to me that they would be the ones to reach beyond the school to facilitate wrap-a-round services that are effective and timely... build a support network for their students of significant other professionals, family members, coaches etc. and make sure needs are being met.

    Regarding "community schools," I think simply opening them up in non-traditional hours of operation for what could be many different reasons- classes in distributed time slots (as you suggest), mentoring, extended education, counseling (I participated in a pilot 2 yrs ago where we provided free drop-in counseling services to kids and their families at a local high school- all volunteer counselors), recreational programs, library services, etc. would be a good start costing nothing. In some cases it would be profit generating for the school if user groups were charged a rental fee.

    I think there will always be a need for traditional school hours- the working segment of our society (especially families with two working parents) makes the school day duration appropriate for most, but I do agree that learning shifts as you call them are an excellent idea for those other students who fit a distributed schedule better. I also think that tech can mitigate the "learn when the time is right for me" issue by providing 24hr continuous access to what's going on in class for those who can't be there through online access, QR codes, etc.

    Great to hear from you. A pleasure.

  4. Paula, great to read your comments.

    I'm actually more of the "it takes a child to raise a village" slant. There is no more critical imperative for any society than to raise healthy, happy, well-adjusted children. H, Vilakazi talks about the father of the child being every man as old as the child father and the mother of the child being every woman as old as the child's mother- when we perceive every single child as our most precious gift, each one of us becomes a potential guardian of that gift.

    When I refer to the "individual" child I'm not really talking about each student so much as a learner in a teaching and learning context as opposed to a person who needs to feel purpose, care, love and esteem before learning needs can be addressed at all. Without these elements none of one to one, peer or group learning will be effective because the child does not feel a sense of belonging or purpose to ground the effort.

    My school became a candidate school with UNESCO this past fall. As part of the world-wide Associated Schools Project Network we are working on a number of projects like you refer to- Earth boxes growing vegetables and herbs to learn about math, organic farming, social issues of culture and poverty, sustainable food supplies, science re. life cycle of plants and so on. We have a step challenge starting with 17 step machines throughout our school. Kids are walking their way across Canada and challenging other schools to do the same. They are learning about geography, fitness, culture (by virtually visiting each region as we pass through) math (heart rate, patterns, adding), and so much more. Our grade ones count, weigh, portion and volumize a food bank drive each January taking in thousands of dollars worth of food for our local food bank. We've got more examples and are working on a blog that will highlight our projects.

    Such a pleasure to hear from you. Looking forward to more dialog!

  5. Sean and Michael,

    I'm a big believer in a strengths-based approach to student learning and teaching the whole child.

    I've noticed that community-based organizations seem to 'get it' when it comes to the philosophy of EduKare and there are some schools who are getting it also..

    I'm wondering if you have looked at programs that are working with the most disconnected youth such as Big Picture, Diploma Plus and YouthBuild?

    These programs take youth development principles ( and put them in action.

    It sounds like EduKare is taking what programs that have been successful with students AFTER they dropped out of school and making it happen WHILE they're in school.

    ..this is a very good thing!


  6. You have nailed it Mary. EduKare is not a reactive philosophy; it's a proactive one on a continuum from K all the way through to graduation... helping write student's stories by building a social-emotional connection first, and then leveraging that in a strength's-based framework of support for learning success.

    I think I can safely speak on Micheal's behalf when I say that we are looking at any philosophical angle that displays the qualities of EduKare on the ground. Resilient systems are built via strong networks of people and their ideas... it's very exciting to see the fantastic things passionate educators are doing out there. Thanks for pointing out the programs you mention and the link to ydinstitute... will check out all of them.

  7. Circling back to consider if the title were not just "struggling urban schools" but might be "struggling rural schools". In either case, consider all of the people who may have left a community, but still have an affinity toward it -- with no intent to return, who might readily want to help out the communities that were part of their past.

  8. Paula, you are on the mark. I'm picking up that "struggling urban schools" is a flash point issue in US, so used the title deliberately to focus that issue... but the reality is #EduKare as a concept will work effectively in any school context.
    A litmus test for me relative to any philosophical/conceptual idea is how scalable and transferable it is... I think #EduKare is highly scalable and transferable owing to the integrative and systemic nature of the idea.
    Resilience is a universally positive quality, and #EduKare's primary goal is to foster resilient students by way of exposure to and involvement within resilient learning environments.
    I am so thrilled this dialog is perpetuating and totally appreciate your input!

  9. Great insights, Sean. For too long, schools and community resources - both public and private - have operated as independent silos. The upside of smaller budgets is that it forces all sides to look at collaboration. If the school can't afford quality after-school programs, why can't the Parks & Rec program collaborate with the school and provide their afternoon programs nearby (maybe even for several schools) with the school providing buses? If parents are struggling with language, what about asking a community-based cultural organization if they can offer a class at the school? So much potential collaboration, so little time spent looking at it!

    In terms of community schools, need to give the Obama Adm its due. That is a primary goal. The non-profit Coalition for Community Schools has been pushing this for years in US. Many high-level administration and political figures spoke at their last national conference.


  10. Some very interesting ideas and dialogue, Sean.

    Personally, I like "Community" as the hub and everything else branching around it. Children learn everywhere and a child’s real learning doesn't stop when the school bell rings.

    It's important for students to see and interact with all the social and emotive connections of our everyday lives. It further develops their awareness and understanding of other people's wants and needs. And hopefully, they build more harmonious relationships within themselves and others.

    Your projects sounds super exciting too (ex. integrating social/science/math with food and step challenge units).

    Your post and ideas make me enthusiastic about education's possibilities. With more people generating these kind of ideas, it is my wish that our children will one day grow up to be caring, empathetic and compassionate individuals.


  11. Thank you Eileen and Geoffrey. I will check out the Coalition for Community Schools for sure.

    "Silo" thinking is a huge issue to be sure. We ahve to get past that in order to truly say we are serving kids to the best of our collaborative ability.

    I agree Geoffrey, compassionate communities are the key to #EduKare success.

    Stay in touch.

  12. I love this "EduKare does require collaboration, time and commitment to thinking differently though. We can create these elements by redistributing our time to notice where our efforts are failing, focus on how we can think differently, consider our options and engage solutions via the altered lens we would then be looking through. This is a process that every teacher, administrator and paraprofessional in a school can initiate for free."

    You know that I share the same vision and I will kick it off this year. :)

  13. EduKare is AMAZING! It is similar to my personal philosophy, as well as the empowerment model I developed to reach youh engaging in destructive and/or nonproductive behavior. I'd love to know more about EduKare, and become part of your movement! Please check out my website and let me know if you'd be interested in collaborating in some way.

  14. And we would love to have you involved... check #EduKare streaming on Twitter, and if you give me your URL, I will visit your website.
    Looking forward to getting in touch.
    Thank you for reading and engaging in the dialog!

  15. "... we teach very effectively to the mean and not so effectively to the students who fall away from the mean to either side of the curve" highlights what I was thinking about "the curve".

    If we teach to the peak then kids fall off either edge; if we teach to the edges kids in the middle get mired in mediocrity. I'd like to suggest a slight reconceptualization: to use the edge cases as markers we can navigate by. Because in fact individual kids don't live in an area of the curve; the curve is a sum / average of their individual complexities. So if we design inclusively then nobody will fall through the cracks.

  16. I agree. I'm a full advocate of inclusive education ( I also believe that normal is just a setting on the dryer. By aggregating groups of kids using statistical tools like the Bell Curve and others we tend to pigeonhole kids into constructs of data and forget that they are individual people with undiscovered strengths and abilities.
    Thanks for your comment!

  17. I think your ideas are wonderful. Maybe, if we all start singing the same tune, others will join in. Great work.

  18. Thank you Kathy, and thanks for reading! Appreciate your support for the EduKare concept.


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