Beyond Diplomas

08/09/2011  |  Larry Biddle
CELEBRATING IMPROVEMENT With Larry Biddle
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Building strong, self-reliant, self educating young Americans is as relevant today as it was when we started the #1 Program at Conway High School in South Carolina — the home of Jostens Renaissance. Seth Godin, in his blog — www.sethgodin.blogspot.com — says, “The lottery is great, because it is easy. Not certain, but easy. If you win, the belief goes, you’re done. Medical School is great because it is certain. Not easy, but certain. If you graduate, the belief goes, you’re done. Most people are searching for a path to success that is both easy and certain. Most paths are neither.” Today’s 10 Essential Elements of Renaissance (review SEEN Fall Issue, 2010 for these evolutionary building blocks) are simple principles that can be applied at any level of education: kindergarten, elementary, middle, high school and even post secondary schools. Viewing your respective institution through these concepts enables your entire community to focus on teaching and learning for every student. Our quest is to create more niches for more students and to build their futures on their respective passions.

According to Dr. Stephanie Pace Marshall, our learning environments and schooling systems stifle natural learning and great thinking. She opines that we are creating false proxies for deep learning. She cites four areas of major concern:

  • Finishing a course and a textbook has come to mean achievement
  • Listening to a lecture has come to mean understanding
  • Getting a high score on a standardized test has come to mean proficiency
  • Credentialing has come to mean competence

She concludes that we have tried to fix our schools and our children by altering schedules, increasing standards and course loads, and adding remedial classes. She succinctly states that when it comes to deeply educating the minds of our children, we are watering the leaves of schooling and not the roots of learning!

Newsday columnist, Daniel Akst, highlighted the painting of a pipe by Rene Magritte, a French artist. It is called, “The Treachery of Imagery.” It is just a painting of a pipe, really, except that at the bottom it says, in French, “This is not a pipe.” The artist is reminding us that his painting is just a picture of a pipe — an image that cannot be stuffed with tobacco or smoked — and that is a crucial distinction that Akst points out. We must draw a careful distinction between a degree and an education. As we begin our academic year, we are all reminded that all of our schools were built to give students an education. For these reasons we continue to zero in on excellence for all stakeholders and The Jostens Renaissance Guarantee which insures that all teachers have the right to teach and all students have the right to learn, by focusing on individual talents, attitudes, skills, knowledge and style.

At a recent meeting of The Southern Regional Education Board held in Pinehurst, N.C., the panel headed by North Carolina Governor Beverly Perdue focused on the need to improve reading and writing skills in every career from auto repair to laboratory work. Associated Press writer, Emery P. Dalesio, cited several recommendations in his article, Panel Targets improvement in Middle Schoolers’ Performance:

  • Aligning middle school as a time of crucial preparation for future success rather than a mere transition period between elementary and high school;
  • Demanding that middle grades teachers have greater in-depth knowledge of their subjects and know how to teach in ways that engage students;
  • Increasing the percentage of eighth-graders taking Algebra I beyond the current 40 percent nationwide.

As we work with schools across North America, we see that more and more middle and elementary school level institutions adopt and adapt Jostens Renaissance principles to enhance results for all students, not merely the top few achievers. We know that these concepts produce results that prepare our young people to compete in a world where technology rules the day. We simply cannot afford to allow our students to fall behind in reading, math and science, not to mention the vital habits they will need to succeed in life. One of our most powerful Renaissance axioms — we must build to strength rather than cater to weakness — keeps us on target in teaching and learning.

Begin your Jostens Renaissance journey by determining where your school is today. This short assessment will provide you with a snapshot of your school’s recognition practices. The results will help you identify strengths and opportunities for growth.

Score each of the following statements from 1 (strongly disagree) to 10 (strongly agree).

  1. My school has strong recognition programs in place that publically acknowledge all students for their academic and co-curricular accomplishments. Score __________
  2. My school has strong recognition programs in place that publicly acknowledge all teachers, coaches and staff for their academic and co-curricular accomplishments. Score________
  3. My school’s recognition programs support goals and objectives that are clearly defined and communicated. Score ________
  4. My school clearly establishes and communicates the criteria for performance that merits recognition and/or reward. Score ________
  5. My school makes sure that all students are eligible for recognition. Score ________
  6. My school makes sure that all staff members are eligible for recognition. Score _________
  7. My school equally recognizes and supports all activities, including academic pursuits, sports accomplishments and co-curricular activities like drama and clubs. Score ________
  8. My school provides recognition that is valued and appreciated. Score _________
  9. My school consistently recognizes achievements within an appropriate time frame. Score_________

Total Score_________

Overall Score of 63 or above is a good score. Most schools typically score between 50 and 60. If your school’s recognition program scored above 60, your current recognition is better than most. Even if your school scored better than most schools, remember, there’s always room for improvement.

Assess your scores for each of the nine individual statements. A score of seven or above is a good score. Scores of six or below indicate your areas of opportunity. Scores of five or below indicate areas in need of immediate attention.

Now that you have a clearer sense of how you see your school, find out if others share your views. Ask administrators, faculty members, staff members, students, parents and community members to complete the same assessment. Is there consensus? Do you see the same strengths? Are the opportunities the same?

Larry Biddle is considered the founder of Jostens Renaissance. He has been a student of the impact of recognition on individual achievement for two decades. He served as vice-chairman of the South Carolina Governor’s School for the Arts and Humanities, as well as a member of the Coastal Education Foundation at CCU. Dr. Biddle currently serves on the Board of Trustees at Coastal Carolina University.
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  11/29/2011 8:24:59 AM
Joe Moore 


Literacy Alive Steering Team 
Refreshing and insightful!
"Finishing a course", Listening to a lecture = understanding"
"Getting a high score = proficiency"
"Credentialing has come to mean competence"
Dr. Stephanie Pace Marshall's observation in my opinion is right on point. We have many that have degrees and have quit learning.
At my age of seventy-two and a lot of experience I recognize that there is so much to learn. I am still excited about learning and I know the journey is not instant, not easy, but it is exciting.
Thanks Dr. Biddle!

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