Kenneth Bass of Xceed Preparatory Academy: “Possess a heart and soul for teaching”

Possess a heart and soul for teaching. Highly effective teachers know that teaching is not a job; it is a way of life. My advice for prospective teachers is if you are going into education to have a job, look elsewhere. Being a teacher is a calling; you can be successful in other occupations, but […]

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Possess a heart and soul for teaching. Highly effective teachers know that teaching is not a job; it is a way of life. My advice for prospective teachers is if you are going into education to have a job, look elsewhere. Being a teacher is a calling; you can be successful in other occupations, but you will not find the satisfaction you will derive from making a difference in the lives of your students. To be a highly effective teacher you must fully immerse yourself in the profession.

As a part of my interview series about “5 Things You Need To Know To Be A Highly Effective Educator”, I had the pleasure to interview Kenneth Bass.

The 2020–2021 school year marks Kenneth’s 34th year as an educator in South Florida. He began his career in 1987 as a social studies teacher and athletic coach at Nova High School. In 1998, he received a promotion to assistant principal serving at Tequesta Trace Middle School and South Broward High School. In 2003, he accepted an opportunity to serve as a principal in the City of Pembroke Pines Charter School system at the Central Campus and the East Campus. In 2009, under his leadership, the United States Department of Education recognized the City of Pembroke Pines Charter Middle School as a National Blue Ribbon School.

In the spring of 2018, after 31 years, he retired from the public school system, and that fall, he began working in the private education sector at Xceed Preparatory Academy. He returned to his roots as a social studies teacher at Xceed’s Coral Springs Campus and then received a promotion to serve as the Head of School at the Weston Campus when it opened in the spring of 2019.

Kenneth earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in History from Florida State University and a Master of Education degree in Educational Leadership from Florida Atlantic University. He resides in Broward County, Florida with his wife, Beth, and their dachshund dog, Georgie. Together they have three grown children from previous marriages: Kenneth’s daughter, Carly, a third-year medical school student, and Beth’s son, Logan, an IT professional in the gaming and entertainment industry and daughter, Jamie, a college junior.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share the “backstory” behind what brought you to this particular career path?

I did not choose to become an educator, it chose me. I served as the editor of my high school newspaper and planned a career in journalism, but after my freshman year in college, I was inspired by a great professor and changed my major to history. I later earned a certification in social studies education and began my teaching career. My mentors pushed me to earn my administrative credentials, which eventually led me to my current role as Head of School.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your teaching career? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

My most interesting story, my “Aha Moment,” in education happened on a baseball field. I was the assistant baseball coach early in my career when our team won a district championship. The next game was in the regional championship against a team that had a never lost at his point in the playoffs — a perfect 17–0 record. My team was tense. Two years earlier, we played the same team in a junior varsity game and beat them. I pulled out the record book and reviewed it with my players. They realized that they had already played and won against this same team when they were freshman and sophomores. It gave the players a sense of confidence which they leveraged into a win on the way to the state finals. What I learned is that athletics is about building mental skills to overcome obstacles in life on the journey to your destination. I applied this lesson in my classroom and later as an administrator with the teachers I supervise and the school I run.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

Being a part of Xceed Preparatory Academy means that every day has something new and innovative to work on because we strive to be a disruptive force in education. Our educational model is unique and is adaptable to meet the needs of students.

For example, with four different on-ground campuses and a virtual middle and high school (Xceed Anywhere), we constantly collaborate with other educators to benefit the entire student population. A recent project was put together by our long-term Professional Learning Community (PLC) for Social Studies, which I serve on. We organized two days of activities for students across all of our campuses for Inauguration Day and were featured twice on NBC News for our hybrid, collaborative efforts.

I want to provide opportunities for my students to own their education because it will serve them well regardless of what they pursue in their lives after high school. Creating and maintaining a personalized learning plan for each student is always a work in progress. Xceed is a college prep school, so in addition to our academic program, it is my responsibility to foster an environment that enables students to succeed in college and beyond as it is now, not as it was decades ago.

Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the main focus of our interview. From your point of view, how would you rate the results of the US education system?

The seminal event that shaped virtually everything during my career as an educator was the publication of, “A Nation at Risk” in 1983. This work described the US education system as being stuck in “a rising tide of mediocrity that threatens our very future as a Nation and a people.” Unfortunately — for the most part — the American education system remains the same as it ever was. A venture capitalist would most likely view their return on investment in the traditional American model of education as dismal.

Can you identify 5 areas of the US education system that are going really great?

There are some great things I see currently happening in isolated pockets in the US education system.

  1. Not-for-profit charter schools. These public schools can spend all of the taxpayer money they receive directly on their students and classrooms. Because this type of charter school does not have the enormous bureaucracy and overhead costs of traditional district school systems, they are able to provide an excellent education, sometimes for less than 50 cents on the dollar.
  2. Innovative ways of measuring student achievement. The educational innovations described by Tony Wagner and Ted Dintersmith in their book, “Most Likely to Succeed,” is a revolutionary way of looking at education and the way in which student achievement is measured. Rather than standardized testing, students create a demonstration of mastery project which incorporates the concepts they learned across the curriculum.
  3. School choice for families. School districts have much less of a monopoly on education. In Florida, there are various state scholarships available for families to access in order to find the school that can best meet the needs of their child. Students are no longer stuck with attending the school that is assigned to them based on a line drawn on a map even if that school does not best serve their needs. Competition between the public and private sector in the education field demands innovation.
  4. Caring, dedicated educational professionals. The underpinning of all things going well in education are the teachers. Despite all that is going on in our world and in education, with few exceptions, teachers remain devoted to serving their students.
  5. The classroom has left the building. The movement from thinking of a classroom being contained inside a building with students sitting neatly in rows (or circles as educational innovation dictated in the 1980s) has been changed, hopefully, forever, due to the pandemic. For forward thinking educators, the universe is the classroom, and it is our duty to allow our students to explore its wonders. At Xceed, our students are on flexible schedules, studying and working at home or at school, meeting with their teachers one-on-one or in small groups. Tables and chairs can be easily moved around to provide the optimal learning environment for each student.

Can you identify the 5 key areas of the US education system that should be prioritized for improvement? Can you explain why those are so critical?

The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed the serious weaknesses in the US education system which is still designed using the model for factories and prisons. This is a useless and malevolent model to use to educate students in the 21st century. Brining this to light for all to see is perhaps one positive of the pandemic. Five key areas for improvement:

  1. Technology, technology, technology.
  2. Change the paradigm regarding the look and feel of a school.
  3. Develop and implement plans to prepare students for the world as it is and is likely to become.
  4. Create critical, independent thinkers and problem solvers.
  5. Be more precise in illustrating the ways in which academic disciplines intertwine.

Super. Here is the main question of our interview. Can you please share your “5 Things You Need To Know To Be A Highly Effective Educator?” Please share a story or example for each.

  1. Possess a heart and soul for teaching. Highly effective teachers know that teaching is not a job; it is a way of life. My advice for prospective teachers is if you are going into education to have a job, look elsewhere. Being a teacher is a calling; you can be successful in other occupations, but you will not find the satisfaction you will derive from making a difference in the lives of your students. To be a highly effective teacher you must fully immerse yourself in the profession.
  2. Know your students and their families. Highly effective teachers know their students. They know what is important to them as a group and individually. They are familiar with the community they serve. They communicate with parents/guardians regularly and address questions and concerns about the education the student is receiving at the school and in the classroom. Events outside of school are inevitably brought into your classroom. If students are aware that you understand and care about them, you will earn their trust and respect.
  3. Recognize your role in the success of the organization. Highly effective teachers are cognizant of their role in the school. They have meaningful professional interaction with their peers. They learn from each other — constantly. They participate and take a leadership role in activities outside of their classroom. Being active in extra-curricular activities increases visibility for the students and goes a long way towards the teacher being a well-regarded and respected member of the school faculty.
  4. You are a teacher of kids, not a subject. Highly effective teachers are innovative artists that have the necessary skills to hook their students into their lessons. Some do it through music, some through poetry. The point is that to be highly effective, a teacher develops, through trial and error, the skills and strategies that work best for them. They make their lessons come alive for their students. The best teachers know the subject matter so well that they can use the concepts and apply them to seemingly unrelated lessons with their students. A mentor once told me to forget about being a history teacher. Instead, be a teacher of students using history. Using this skill in the classroom with students takes experience, but the best and brightest teachers are all able to successfully implement this way of teaching regardless of the subject matter.
  5. Coach your students. Highly effective teachers do more than just teach the curriculum, they coach their students to use and apply their lessons in a meaningful and relevant manner. Athletic coaches instruct their players on the fundamental skills required to perform well in a competition. They provide practice for the players to use those skills so that when the time comes to compete, the team is prepared. The same mindset is useful for teachers in any subject. The best teachers provide instruction and opportunities to practice, or master, the skills required to be successful. Allowing the students to actively participate in their education is as important as an athlete being permitted to practice and play in a game. A professor once told me that a student who only receives instruction without participation is like being brought to your favorite restaurant and told you may only check out the menu, but not eat from it.

As you know, teachers play such a huge role in shaping young lives. What would you suggest needs to be done to attract top talent to the education field?

Teachers tend to be altruistic and optimistic. At the end of the day, however, that does not put a roof over your head or food on the table. The top students who are earning college degrees in STEM areas are generally not interested in becoming teachers. Teachers want to be treated as professionals and be paid as such. Doing so would be a giant step towards making teaching a more attractive field for the best and brightest prospective teachers.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“Follow Your Bliss,” from Joseph Campbell. I became familiar with Campbell from his famous interview series, “The Power of Myth” with Bill Moyers on PBS. I was hooked immediately and read everything I could that Campbell wrote. Then, in a still-ongoing pursuit, I read the books that informed and inspired Campbell. For me, the quote has provided a beacon to provide direction when faced with life altering choices.

We are blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US, with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂

Malcolm Gladwell. His books and TED talks have had a profound influence on my thinking. I especially like “Blink,” “Outliers,” and “David and Goliath.” His concept of the necessity of working to practice and improve in your chosen field for 10,000 hours provides me with insight as I mentor my teachers. His work has challenged me to see things in a way that to many appear to be counter intuitive.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

On LinkedIn:

Thank you so much for these insights! This was so inspiring!

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