Over fifteen years ago, a new superintendent contacted Main Street Academix (our research division) and the CSCL, and asked us to provide assistance to his administrative leadership team as they struggled to improve their schools. This was a district and a community that had an established reputation as a “struggling system.” The dropout rate was among the highest in the state. Families who could afford to were fleeing the system and sending their children to private schools.
As more teachers left the system each year for higher paying positions in wealthier communities, the students felt increasingly abandoned and that the label ‘ town for losers’ that they heard everywhere was accurate.
One of the first things we did was to meet with teachers, talk with them about their school’s strengths as well as the chief barriers to their success. Teachers listed what they felt were the greatest impediments to their success on slips of paper. While they all listed many different “barriers,” such as budgets, large classes, poor communication, there was one issue, which was widely agreed upon by the majority of faculty. Over 60% of teachers mentioned “no respect here” as their primary concern.
The next day we met with a highly diverse group of students from the middle and high schools. We had pretty much the same conversation as we did with the teachers about the barriers to ‘student’ success, and when asked to write down the main barriers the students also agreed, “there’s just no respect around here.”
At first we were pretty amazed that both groups came up with the same problem, but then we realized that what the teachers meant and what the students meant were not at all the same things. The common connection in this school between what students wanted and what teachers wanted – more “respect” - provided us with an opening to begin clarifying the meaning of respect by students and adults in the school. It showed that there was a real need to further investigate the issue of respect and disrespect in this school by... (see part 2 next week!)