Monday, December 1, 2014


Ferguson, New York, George Floyd and others, Solutions

An educator's comments on approaching people

Updated 4/22/21 

Educators throughout the years have been prepared for any possible situation that may arise.  When I was lead administrator at Craig Alternative School, a Milwaukee Public Alternative School serving students with severe emotional problems, as well as psychiatric issues, the severest of problems occurred on a regular basis.  We, as a school staff, became adept at handling them in a professional manner.  We were fortunate enough to have a consulting psychiatrist five therapists and the support of the Crises Prevention Institute.

CPI training taught us not only how to approach out of control students but we were able to pass this information on to the students so they could better handle crises situations.

This relates directly to the incident in Ferguson Mo as well as many other incidents.If you can approach young people out of control, you certainly can approach a young man simply walking in the street.  I am especially saddened at the loss of this young man because it could have been avoided.  I have attended way too many funerals of young people and it is way past time to do everything in our power to stop this epidemic.

To begin we must focus on the initial approach to a person whose actions are perceived as problematic.  At the time of approach by the officer, the known “crime” was walking in the street.  Not exactly punishable by death.  So how do we approach this situation without allowing it to escalate?  Was the situation so minor that he had to be approached at all?

Following the guidelines of nonviolent crises intervention, the first step is to be supportive.  In order to give the perception as well as the reality of being supportive it is important to be connected with the community as well as the people in that community.  Without that connection, the chances of escalation increase.  An officer, connected to the community has a much better chance of deescalating the situation simply by talking it through.  If the officer bypasses step 1 and goes directly to step 2, being directive, a confrontation is more likely. 

An example of what works is to approach the person of concern in a non threatening manner.  CPI teaches how, as well as where to stand to achieve this end.  And the conversation must also be aimed at deescalating a potential crises.  An example: " Hey guys how are you doing? Where are you from?  Oh I know that neighborhood" (site a reference point to show you have a connection)  After confidence is gained one might say "We need you to move off the street, ok?"  Be patient and then walk the person to the sidewalk.  

There are those who see this approach is weak, however, I see it as humanizing. When we look past the outer shell into the inner soul we see a human being.  And in many cases this will be effective. However, if at any time it isn't working proceed to step 2, directive. That is when you take charge of the situation and call for backup. Anything to avoid handling the situation alone is good.  First you have an additional set of eyes, and second the other officer can step in to mediate if necessary.  Through CPI we were taught that if a conflict occurs between the first respondent, that respondent steps back and the additional respondent takes over.  Often this will deescalate the situation.  If not, there is more than one person to become forceful.  Even if the incident was shoplifting, and I'm not sure that it was, this approach will not leave anyone dead and will come to an eventual solution.

The second responder is of utmost importance when it comes to stage 3, the restraint. Restraint should only be used when absolutely necessary like breaking up a fight, a physically aggresive person, and only when every other option has been tried.  We were taught never to restrain someone alone.  It is not safe.  We were taught how to control someone physically with out hurting them or us.  And never, ever would we put hands on or even near the throat, the head, the back or the chest.  

Restraint to the ground must be avoided in schools but might be applicable in extreme cases in the community with adults.  Once someone was on the ground they would be held with 3 or 4 people, one hand on their shoulder another on their outstretched arm for those near the front.  Near the feet, each person would hold one foot.  Never ever would we put any weight on their chest, neck, head or back.  First there would be dead silence, and then one person would quietly ask if the person is ready to cooperate.

This incident, however, is indicative of the increase in racism throughout the country. With voter suppression openly targeted at urban neighborhoods to four years of a Presidents language, to the shooting of so many black and brown youmg people, every effort is being made to revive the high level of racism of the past. Institutional racism is the main culprit and must be addressed.  It goes well beyond Ferguson and has taken decades and even centuries to eradicate. We must stay the course.

In many ways this is like a last gasp effort to give credence to the ways that are slowly working their way into the past.  Today there are way too many people who can see through the rhetoric denying racism and that number is growing.  When it raises it's ugly head, it must be addressed in no uncertain terms.

To continue the process toward fairness we offer several thoughts and hopes:

1. This incident must inspire all people, especially minorities, in a community to provide minority candidates who are representative of their constituents to run for all political offices.  
2.  All Americans across the country must vote in every election, no matter how small to assure equal representation.  Black and Latino votes can turn the tide in the fight against racism especially when there are Black and Latino candidates. 
3.  A campaign to end racism throughout the country must focus on sending a message to those politicians including radio and television talking heads who profit from subtle, or not so subtle racism.  
4.  Police departments, no matter how small or large must implement community policing including officers on bicycles or walking the beat.
5.  All police departments must hire officers that are representative of the community as well as representative of those who visit the community.  
6.  All officers be trained in non violent crises intervention in a manner similar to that presented by CPI.
7.  Schools become more involved in teaching character development including preparing students with the skills to avoid crises situations.  Although this would not appear on a standardized test, it would be helpful as situations may arise with other students as well as police officers.

These are only thoughts to ponder.  Those in the communities must draw from these or other sources to develop a plan of their own.  The time for action, nation wide, is now!    

Wednesday, February 12, 2014


Experiencing the Community

Seldom does a person go to work and simply do math all day.  The same is true for reading and writing and speaking as well as other subject areas.  When schools separate these subject areas they are only doing half of their job.  The generalization of information gives education as well as the individual skills developed, meaning and relevance.  What better way to develop the whole child than to take learning into the community.

Chosen by students, business and industry can make a valuable lesson not only for the subject matter involved but for the chance to explore a potential job situation.  So many students fail and are pushed into the streets because of a lack of passion for their future.  With community experiences, the student can develop that passion by visiting actual job situations allowing them to expand their minds and interests.

Objectives of a community experience:
Ø To give students the opportunity to learn outside the school building
Ø To encourage students to accept learning as a global experience
Ø To introduce students to jobs, careers, projects, activities, and news that is happening in the community
Ø To incorporate academics into every day experiences to make it real.

To begin, students must be fully involved in the planning of the community experience.  It is their interests that must be explored and their horizons that must be broadened.  To arrange for the visit, the student takes the lead by calling the worksite and making the proper preparations.  The student becomes the contact be it a visit to a local factory or the mayor, governor or president.  The students as a group make a decision based on a consensus.

Next, prepare the students for the trip by teaching the social skills necessary and appropriate for the specific visit.  How would they respond in a businesslike manner in a specific company? 

To accomplish this we must teach academic skills pertinent to the experience.  If mathematics is used frequently on the job, make that the fundamental academic area covered with the lessons relating to the specific jobs students will be seeing.
Have students do research on the specific jobs they will be visiting.  Here we build reading, writing and speaking into the activity.  Research on the internet is faster and more effective than ever.  Each student does her/his own individual research guided by teacher questions preparing their information for a class presentation.  Students develop their projects by reading research on the specific business to be visited, writing a short paper on the subject and making a presentation to the class members.  This would then lead to a discussion by class members and eventually specifics, including specific questions to be ask the experts at the site.

After questions are prepared and student interests are explored, the students prepare for the actual visit.  All students will have a list of questions to ask, will have notebooks to record their responses and cameras to take pictures, where allowed, of the activities of the variety of employees working for the company.  In most companies students will be amazed at the wide variety of jobs available from management to department personnel, to maintenance staff.

Returning from the job site students continue with their social skills by individually writing business style thank you letters to the appropriate personnel.  They then begin the discussion of their visit.  What was important, what did they learn what did they gain from their visit are good questions to ask.  Back in the classroom, the students work together to develop a short presentation, utilizing photos or videos to summarizing their experience.  This presentation, in front of a video camera with all students playing a role, will allow this activity to be experienced by other classes in the future.

Why a community experience?  Try this out for size.  Dissect an activity you do on a daily basis.  This could be your job, a hobby, managing a budget, making a meal or playing in a concert.  Anything worth doing would be valuable.  Now take the activity and break it down in separate parts.  Teach it to someone in parts with them taking notes and give them a multiple choice bubble test after each part is completed.  Not only is the difficulty factor increased for those learning, their ability to really learn is hampered.  Does this sound drab and dull to you?  Does this lead to the student igniting their passion for learning?  Does this lead to the student feeling stupid and wanting to give up?  Then why do we do it?

More detailed information as well as lesson plans for other activities can be found in our book, “Saving Students From A Shattered System” at

A little side note for administrators.  So you think doing this on a regular basis will be an administrative headache?  Covering teachers classes as they leave the building, paying more for teacher coverage?  Think again.  Remember block scheduling?  Some say it failed but that was because teachers were doing the same chalkboard talk within those parameters.  90 minutes is plenty of time to get to a job site, visit it and return.  And think how many projects can be done during that time without the ding dong interrupting.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

A Call To Action

Until now, I have blogged about innovative ideas that we have actually implemented in our innovative fully unionized public school years ago.  I present many ideas with the hope that one or two are accepted.  And to accept them you must make them your own, for your school because every school is different.

There are however, some things that affect all schools.  I've talked about the current system of education that needs fundamental change.  As with many educators I am outraged at the direction education is heading.  As an optimist, I do see a little tiny light at the end of a long long tunnel.  I see hope in reviewing and revising Common Core to be realistic and to be general guidelines for success rather than the current deadlines for failure.

To accomplish this, using the words of Randi Weingarten, we decouple the test from the Common Core. Over the last several years I have heard many complaints and concerns about the current education policies. And most of these are justifiable.  We have picked apart current policies quite effectively.  I have seen finger pointing at everyone and the rhetoric that if this person said something it must be bad. We have rallied and marched with our slogans and have given speeches with details all of which have set the table for the main course.  The time to decouple is now!

Now is the time for the main course to be served.  Now is the time for action.  Now is the time to design an assessment that truly does drive the real time education of children.  An assessment that takes kids from where they are, utilizing their individual backgrounds as a jumping off spot, preparing for their future.  Now is the time to make learning real, yes with teacher accountability and yes under a system that that allows assessment throughout the year as students are ready and uses demonstrated learning to get away from the bubble tests.  Ask your colleagues, ask the students ask the parents and dive deeply into everyones minds to get a quality assessment and accountability system.

Begin in your school.  You probably have your own assessment for kids already as the current one seldom reaches the kids.  Show how students have gained skills in your school, individually through pre and post assessments as well as those built into your daily activities.  Do it now and connect with those who have the bully pulpit to get your ideas heard.  Send your results to Dianne Ravitch, Randi Weingarten or anyone else to show what teachers can do.  No more talk, it's time for action.  

If you want to respond to this blog, I don´t want to hear "yea butts"  Respond with your ideas.  Anyone out there have a plan?  What is the crucial part of your plan?

Connected to a good assessment is a quality accountability plan for teachers.  This is essential.  Good teachers are not afraid of quality and fair accountability, in fact they embrace it.  Here are some aspects of a quality assessment:

The teacher is well planned; The teacher uses good teaching strategies;  The teacher demonstrates good communication skills;  The teacher is able to take kids from where they are recognizing diversity as well as the recognizing growth and development of the student;  The teacher innovates on a regular basis; The teacher uses strategies to support an environment conducive to learning;  The teacher uses a wide variety of assessment tools; Through a parent survey, the teacher communicates well with parents;  And yes, students show progress based on time spent in the specific class and from teacher assessments of in dividual students gains taking them from where they are, forward.

Share your ideas and got to our website for our books and more thoughts.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Get out of my classroom and don't come back until you've learned something

Instead of my usual rant, it's time to let kids and partners do the talking.  Thanks to Dr Howard Fuller who was Superintendent of Schools at the time and allowed us to do this as a public school.  Also to Vel Wiley from MATA media who filmed this and partnered with us.  Listen closely to our partners like Will Allen of, Black Health Coalition, Readers Choice Book store with Carla Allyson and many other partners.

So much for me, now for them