There is an interesting yet fairly typical article about Michelle Rhee in the latest Time magazine. Chancellor Rhee was a year ahead of me in the Baltimore Teach for America group. I never knew her but admire what she has done with the New Teacher Project and what she is doing with D.C. Public Schools. I won't pretend to understand much about the situation of D.C. public schools or what I think needs to be done. I instead will only comment on one of her quotes in the article. It's not even a real quote but here it is from a moment visiting schools with the writer from Time: "In the hallway, she muttered about teachers who spend too much time cutting out elaborate bulletin-board decorations or chitchatting at "morning meetings" with their third-graders before the real work begins."
Now, I have never been a big bulletin board person, as a teacher and principal. The morning meetings comment hit much closer to home. My school is in the first year of formal school improvement for not meeting AYP (my second year with the school). We are in our first year of implementing Responsive Classroom which has gotten our school chitchatting in morning meetings before the real work begins. We based our implementation on both the literature from and professional development from the Northeast Foundation and the work of Sara Rimm-Kaufmann at the University of Virginia. It seemed obvious to us that the research showed Responsive Classroom that it helps improve climate in diverse schools. So far, in our early implementation, it looks like it really is working in terms of less discipline referrals and improved climate, that second claim being completely anecdotal of course. Also, in my research of Responsive Classroom, it looked like some D.C. schools implemented it years and probably a few superintendents ago. I have no idea what the current state of implementation of it is now.
Where my concern lies is with the idea that the "real work" of schools is always academic and that it never has a social component. Those who know me as an educator, either as a teacher or principal, can attest to the fact that I am not the most "touchy feely" person in the world. I am idealistic or naive enough to feel that we can do both in a school, raise the test scores and achievement of our students but also grow and improve school community at the same time. Radical and lasting change can sometimes occur in a school with a laser like focus on student achievement and effective instructional strategies but also through morning "chitchat" meetings with our students. It is important for all people to feel like they belong.