School does not dance every Friday

Published 9:20am Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Dear Editor,

I commend the author of the recent letter to the editor criticizing the use of dances at Escambia County Middle School (where I teach) for caring enough about our school to express concern. Unfortunately, the letter was misinformed and contained several faulty assumptions. In three years of teaching at ECMS, I have never encountered dances every Friday. Even when we do have modified schedules, classes are longer than they were described in the letter, and classes are still held every day with the rare exception of a field day in May or a field trip for certain groups of students on rare occasions. If the author of the letter is suggesting that we hold classes for four days and then take Fridays off from teaching and learning, she has either checked out the wrong school, or we as the faculty never got the memo that we were not to teach on Fridays. That is not the ECMS at which I work.

The problem is not that ECMS has gone from five days of teaching to four. We most certainly have not. The problem is that for a complex set of reasons, many children are arriving at our schools extremely unprepared for learning, for respecting those in authority over them, for following directions, and for caring enough about their results to work hard at a task in front of them even if it’s not always fun to them. As a result, our administrators and faculty have all trained to be educators, but if they care about results, they must now spend at least as much time acting as counselors, behavioral specialists, and parents to many of our students as they do educating them academically. Because of these realities, administrators are forced to try more and more creative ideas to reward good behavior and deter problematic behavior. Thus the dances.

I personally wish that the author of last week’s letter was correct on one issue: I personally wish we did have dances every Friday. We don’t have them nearly as often as we used to. Allow me to explain. The problem with her letter was that it clearly made the assumption that the dances were just for fun, that they took away from the students’ learning, and that they were held because we as staff do not care about learning. Nothing could be further from the truth. If research would have been done into why the dances were introduced a number of years ago, the author would have found the exact opposite to be the case.

Several years before I was hired at ECMS, our former principal, Mr. Byrd, introduced these “Friday Free Hours” as a creative means of incentive and reward. They were frequently used, though not every single week, and they worked. If they were only to help raise money for unfunded extra-curricular sports and activities, it might make sense to hold them after school. But one of the reasons for having them during school hours is so we can control both the environment and who attends!

Most students have lots of pent-up energy that builds through a school week, and many have not been trained at home to channel it properly into productive work. When you give students an opportunity, though not a guarantee, of an hour (rarely more than that) at the end of the week to dance to some music, hang out with their friends, or get some fresh air instead of going to class, it becomes a powerful behavioral incentive. Students have to receive permission from all 7 of their teachers to be able to attend the free hour. Teachers are then able to use this “Friday Free Hour” all week long as an incentive for good behavior and hard work. As a teacher, I frequently use the threat of staying back from the free hour as a way to bring student behavior back in line, and sometimes punished them by holding them back.

The bottom line from a teacher’s perspective is that when you allow the students an hour or so at the end of the week to burn off some energy and reward good behavior and hard work, the other 35-40 hours in the classroom become much more productive. Incentive-based rewards are used by parents and employers throughout our culture, and I applaud Mr. Byrd for having the courage to think outside the box and be creative when he led our school and introduced this practice. His results proved that he knew what he was doing. When Ms. Shuford came to lead ECMS, she made it clear to us that if there was a policy put in place by Byrd that was working, she wanted to keep it in place. The free hours were simply one of those policies that she kept in place.

I personally feel that the free hours are a small example of the type of creative thinking we need in educational leadership these days, and especially here in our county. And, if no other schools in Escambia County are using a Friday Free Hour, as the author stated, I personally think they should try it. It works.

The success of our schools is so vitally important to so many aspects of our community that to express negative and incorrect information about them in a public forum does much more harm than good. Rather than complain about a policy from the outside, I would challenge the people of Atmore to find out why our administrators do what they do. Ask them. I’m confident you’ll find, as I have, that they care about the same thing you care about: the success of our children. If you then still disagree with their methodology, I’m sure they would welcome a discussion as to how to achieve the same results in a different manner. If we seek to understand each other, and to bring solutions to the table, we will see our schools, and ultimately our community, continue to improve.

Conrad Weber

ECMS Faculty

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