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Proposing a Challenge Success Team

January 29, 2011

On Wednesday, I had the privilege to present my proposal for forming a Challenge Success team at my school to our principals committee. Before go too far into my proposal, I should explain what Challenge Success is.

Challenge Success is a project organized by the Stanford School of Education, started by Denise Pope and Madeline Levine, two leading experts on education, teens, and stress. (Pope wrote Doing School: How We Are Creating a Generation of Stressed-Out, Materialistic, and Miseducated Students , Levine wroteThe Price of Privilege: How Parental Pressure and Material Advantage Are Creating a Generation of Disconnected and Unhappy Kids.) It is designed to work with small teams consisting of administrators, teachers parents and students at schools to develop site-specific plans to reduce student stress and broaden measures of success.

The mission of Challenge Success is:

We believe that real success results from attention to the basic developmental needs of children and a valuing of different types of skills and abilities. In particular, we endorse a vision of success that emphasizes Character, Well-being, Resilience, Engagement, Motivation, Problem Solving, Independence and Achievement

Accordingly, we have created Challenge Success with a mission to inform, inspire, and equip youth, parents, and schools to adopt practices that expand options for youth success.

I became inspired to try to form a Challenge Success team after watching Race to Nowhere, and doing a bit more research and finding that most of the experts in the movie (including Pope and Levine) share a connection with Challenge Success. I was most impressed by the organization’s focus on the idea getting all school constituencies (students, parents, teachers, administrators) to work together to discuss and develop solutions to these complex problems.

Here is the proposal I submitted:

View this document on Scribd

Here is my presentation:

Unfortunately, you can’t see the 9 minute video I inserted of Denise Pope describing the problem, but it was so good, that I’ve decided to summarize the message below:

Pope opened the 2008 conference below by introducing the participants to 4 “people”:

  • A stressed out student taking AP Art, he love, and AP American History, a class with hours of reading every night that she doesn’t enjoy at all. The student takes the class because she’s been told it looks good for college. She would admit to occasionally cheating and copying homework because she isn’t interested and feels that she just doesn’t have time to do the homework and all her other activities. she doesn’t feel like she has a choice.
  • A stressed out college admissions director, under pressure form the University president’s to improve the college’s rankings in U.S. News & World Report, by increasing the number of applications and raising the selectivity of the school. He knows that this will make the application process all the more stressful for applicants. He doesn’t feel like he has a choice.
  • A family, consisting of a workaholic father and a mother who spends most of her days shuttling her two kids from activity to activity. The mother worries about her oldest daughter, a fifth grader who is good in math, but not outstanding, so she’s thinking of getting her tutor so that she can be prepared to get into the honors math track, since it is the gateway to the top math classes in high school, which are important in college admission. She does one add one more thing their daughters already very busy life, but she feels she doesn’t have a choice.
  • A kindergarten teacher who teaches the youngest son of the family, and worries about his inability to read. She’s thinking about recommending that he take a summer school class in intensive reading strategy can be prepared. she knows that some students don’t start reading until the first or even sometimes the second grade, but the first grade teachers really dislike it when students arrive who are weak in reading and so she doesn’t feel like she has a choice.

The key point of all these stories is each of these people is making a rational decision, the yet the combined effect of all these decisions is harmful to students. It might be okay if the point of these decisions were to prepare kids for jobs in the future where they might be happy, but many employers complain about how difficult it is to hire employees who have strong skills in writing, leadership and critical thinking. So the end result is no one is happy.

To me, Challenge Success is a perfect example of 21st-century learning; it draws together diverse groups of people to collaborate on challenging problems using systems thinking, and doesn’t look for easy answers.

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