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Tag Archives: Educational Leadership

I Am Much Too Alone in the World, and not Alone Enough

Today, I talked with students whose main concern about school is they do not like it. One thing I gleaned was a reluctance to accept personal responsibility which should be something students learn in school. There are reasons for this lack of responsibility. One that is overlooked is responsibility is taken away from children.

What made this an interesting conversation was some of these students are ‘special needs’. In many ways they are bright, articulate problem-solvers frustrated by a system that has failed them leaving them to feel as if they were failing. They see school as a place they have to go and not a place of learning.

What was disconcerting is I am told just get them these students through the system. These children are someone else’s problem next year. We shuffle these students from school to school in this fashion, in effect sorted out of the failed system. Educators, politicians, and bureaucrats fail them daily.

Rainer Maria Rilke wrote this poem and it reminded me of one thing humans want in life: free will and to be part of conversations about them in honest ways. School is not  a game played with unrevealed rules, but a place of learning. What if adults took time, listened to children, and helped them find the path where we each learn new words each day?

I am much too alone in this world, yet not alone
enough
to truly consecrate the hour.
I am much too small in this world, yet not small
enough
to be to you just object and thing,
dark and smart.
I want my free will and want it accompanying
the path which leads to action;
and want during times that beg questions,
where something is up,
to be among those in the know,
or else be alone.

I want to mirror your image to its fullest perfection,
never be blind or too old
to uphold your weighty wavering reflection.
I want to unfold.
Nowhere I wish to stay crooked, bent;
for there I would be dishonest, untrue.
I want my conscience to be
true before you;
want to describe myself like a picture I observed
for a long time, one close up,
like a new word I learned and embraced,
like the everyday jug,
like my mother’s face,
like a ship that carried me along
through the deadliest storm.

Tolerance and Flexibility

Despite the weather, we had a great day. Many students do not attend Fridays. In past years, we attended every second Monday. Our administration changed that this year without consulting parents or me. I struggled with it for several months and made a dramatic shift a couple of months ago. I decided to devote Fridays to art i.e. drawing, painting, and building. I am not an artist in that sense, but was able to get access to resources from a friend who is an artist and an excellent teacher. The students enjoy the change. We built kites today and I felt a positive and life-giving energy in the room. I thought of this poem by Lao Tzu.

Living humans are soft and limber.

Dead they are hard and rigid.

Living, the 10, 000 grasses and wood species are soft and crisp.

So “hard” and “rigid” accompany death.

“Soft” and “limber” accompany life.

So if armies are coercive, they do not triumph.

When wood is strong, the axe comes out.

Strength and dominance reside below.

The soft and limber belong higher.

Children Will Listen

I tell people when I facilitate workshops we do not teach human qualities, we model them. Good sportsmanship, integrity, and kindness, to name a few of those qualities, are prime examples. We seem to live in a world of “do as I say, not as I do”. Children are observant and intelligent and see through this so easily. They know when things do not add up and are inconsistent. In a world that changes so rapidly, adults need to be vigilant, authentic, and careful about the modeling they do.

Stephen Sondheim wrote this song for the musical, Into the Woods. I enjoy songs with deep meaning in the lyrics and this one is a prime example

How do you say to your child in the night?
Nothing’s all black, but then nothing’s all white
How do you say it will all be all right
When you know that it might not be true?
What do you do?

Careful the things you say
Children will listen
Careful the things you do
Children will see and learn
Children may not obey, but children will listen
Children will look to you for which way to turn
To learn what to be
Careful before you say “Listen to me”
Children will listen

Careful the wish you make
Wishes are children
Careful the path they take
Wishes come true, not free
Careful the spell you cast
Not just on children
Sometimes the spell may last
Past what you can see
And turn against you
Careful the tale you tell
That is the spell
Children will listen

How can you say to a child who’s in flight
“Don’t slip away and i won’t hold so tight”
What can you say that no matter how slight Won’t be misunderstood
What do you leave to your child when you’re dead?
Only whatever you put in it’s head
Things that you’re mother and father had said
Which were left to them too
Careful what you say
Children will listen
Careful you do it too
Children will see
And learn, oh guide them that step away
Children will glisten
Tamper with what is true
And children will turn
If just to be free
Careful before you say
“Listen to me”

Life’s Purpose

Professional development days at school leave me wanting so much more. It is a pretense of doing something, but is busyness personified. I am left tired, unsatisfied, and with a bit of headache. I just want a choice. What fuels my spirit?

Day’s end arrives,

Quiet seeks me out–

Busyness dissipates;

A frenetic pace abates–

No hurry,

No frantic pursuit of something;

Whatever that thing might be

Remains uncertain…

Unclear,

Lost in a mist

Focus a little off–

I remain unsatisfied

Until, I wonder aloud:

What is life’s purpose?

Or is life its own purpose.

That Space, That Silence

It has been another long day. I am not always a politically correct person in the way some want. I struggle to say what the dominant group of the moment wants everyone to say. A reason we have polarization in the world is we want others to agree with us sometimes without giving reasons for it to happen. I might agree, but what about those who are not present?

That invisible space between us–

Between our truths

Sacred ground

Till it gently.

That silence you hear–

Almost imperceptible;

It is reverent

Hold it gently.

That space,

That silence,

Emerge magically

No recipe needed.

That space,

That silence,

Easily chased away–

Shhh…

Tuned In and Fired Up

I mentioned this book in Culture of Peace and Angry Young Poet. It was worth a read. I start with a haiku which emerged from the book.

 

Who stretches the teacher?

Journey into their essence

Reveal the learner.

I read Tuned In and Fired Up by Sam Intrator for two reasons: as a teacher and as a graduate student preparing for the dissertation process. Sam contributes to the work of the Centre for Courage and Renewal which based on Parker Palmer’s writings and thinking.

The book is enjoyable, informative, and motivating. Teachers need to take time and pause, reflect upon, and recall the reasons they were called to teaching. There are alchemical moments of discovery we artfully use and define teacher, students, and subject. It is surreal and its magic can never be underestimated as the three blends into a single whole and respects individual integrity.

Part of the magic in this book is Mr. Quinn, the teacher. He took risks and students tuned in and fired up to his genuine presence. Parker Palmer, in The Courage to Teach, suggested “teaching is always done at the most dangerous intersection of personal and private life” (p. 18). Mr. Quinn’s teaching was learning and realized he could wrong. The magical aspect takes a teacher onto the boundary and, then, into uncharted waters. Good teachers take that risk and students sense it.

Towards the end Sam cited William Ayers: “Since teaching is always a search for better teaching, I am still in a fundamental sense becoming a teacher. I am stretching, searching, and reaching toward teaching” (p. 134). This is a virtuous cycle of learning-teaching-learning to infinity.

Sam leaves the reader with an incredible list of those things teachers can reflect upon and use according to their setting. Many are well-known: cultivate rapport with students, compete tenaciously for their attention, and spark their desire to create. Others were ones I felt were lesser known: embrace your role as a performer, tap into their senses, and acknowledge boring. That last one is challenging. At the adolescent level, treat them like they are becoming adults.

Questions: A concern expressed by Sam was a need for genuine collaboration. What practices do you use in your workplace or learning that foster collaboration between adults? If you teach, what ways do you include students?

Recommendation: I loved the book and let me leave you with just two ways. It was easy to read without losing meaning. Sam used simplexity and achieved his aims. Second, he left a thorough recipe without the quantities. I need to figure those out with students and subject.

Intrator, S. M. (2003). Tune in and fired up: How teaching can inspire real learning in the classroom. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.

Palmer, P. J. (2007). The courage to teach: Exploring the inner landscape of a teacher’s life. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

 

ivonprefontaine:

Larry Cuban is a leading writer and researcher in school reform or I think a better way to phrase it is a lack of true reform. He points out several key points in this excellent article. His first paragraph about teachers working together daily is not prophetic as you will see in the article. It has been part of the educational reform lexicon for a several years, perhaps decades is a better word. Why do the ‘reforms’ with all their pat answers and revolving, recycled fads secret this away in the closet? I think they are afraid.

 

First, top down measures are not the order of the day. Second, schooling and learning (my added word) at all ages are complex systems and forged out of relationship not transactional activities. This nature does not invite top-down. It encourages community and collaboration. The leading thinkers he refers to part way through the article are a short but impressive list. I would add others who contribute in many ways i.e. Deb Meier, James Comer, and Nel Noddings come to mind. Finally, real communities actually are dysfunctional. It is what we do in those moments that leads us to collaboration. Joining hands around the camp fire is nice, but only superficially functional. Agree to disagree is sometimes the path.

 

I read another blog today and my conclusion is slow is sometimes the way forward.

 

We in Canada who think we are doing something better are wrong. We all need the same wake up calls, a new conversation, and a reimagining of schooling and learning. Note I did not say school. That is the brick and mortar that in some cases is passé.

Originally posted on Larry Cuban on School Reform and Classroom Practice:

Want to give a “no excuses” reformer a stroke? Suggest that teachers working together on a daily basis have a better shot at improving teaching and learning than the highly marketed structural changes of standards-based testing and accountability, Common Core standards, more charter schools, and evaluating educator performance through student scores.

Too many reform-driven policymakers high on the rhetoric of these current reforms ignore how much improvement in teaching and learning can occur when  teachers work collectively in their classrooms and schools to improve their content knowledge and teaching skills aimed at common district goals.

For many years, teachers, administrators, researchers, and a sprinkling of policymakers have concentrated on both traditional and innovative professional development and learning communities to build teachers’ capacities in knowledge of subject and teaching skills to improve instruction in schools and districts. Such school-based efforts converge on the teacher simply because within the complex system of…

View original 1,209 more words

Cartoon Time along with an Ivon Rant

Another Alberta-based educator at The Love of Learning posted this. It reminded me of a Ken Robinson video The Educational Revolution…Why? Because Schools Kill Creativity posted by Gen Y Girl. The video is worth watching several times. The first time I watched the video several years ago an administrator informed me the message was a need to add layers of technology on top of what we are doing.

I am not a neo-Luddite. The original Luddites were not opposed to technology. They opposed potentially catastrophic outcomes blind, thoughtless implementation of technology might have on British society of the time. A message I gleaned was a positive correlation between ADHD/ADD diagnosis and an increase in various forms of imposed, standardized, high stakes testing.

The second message is statistical evidence the highest levels of creativity in school are at the kindergarten levels. After that, it is all down hill.

These are not technology issues, but simply change for the sake of change.

Technology is the artful use of the tools available to us.

Questions: What changes would you suggest for education to make it more child-friendly and child-focused? What can we do to increase the creativity for children in classrooms?

A bit of an American slant to it, but where do Canadian educational systems take their lead from? Is this what we want?

Five Steps to Destroy Public Education

Five Steps to Destroy Public Education.

Diane Ravitch is a real educational reformer in the US. I think parts of her message in this post is universal. I particularly like her comments about underfunding our schools and overcrowded classrooms.

It is just not the underfunding that starves the schools; it is the poor management and decision-making by the bureaucrats, technocrats, and oligarchs. What is the latest fad?

Overcrowding our classrooms silences the teachers. Do I even have time to lift my head and uplift students under those conditions?

pedagogy of the oppressed by Paulo Freire

I read pedagogy of the oppressed by Paulo Freire during my undergraduate experience and return to it as a source of reflection and when I write. Similar to Parker Palmer, Paulo Freire left an indelible mark on my life’s practice. Education is an uplifting, liberating experience which shines light on each step Antonio Machado described: “Wanderer, your footsteps are the road, and nothing more; wanderer, there is no road, the road is made by walking.” Freire’ s contention was everyone can act as an agent in their learning thus freeing them and transforming the world they live in.

Freire used the Portuguese word conscientização which “refers to learning to perceive social, political, and economic contradictions and to take action against the oppressive elements of reality” (17).   Humans become mindful of and present in the world and act to transform it. Freire used a banking metaphor and described traditional education where  knowledge is deposited into students. Teachers and the system act oppressively in determining what is important to learn. Freire felt education uplifted people and their learning. “Liberation is a praxis: the action and reflection of men and women upon their world in order to transform it” (p. 60).  Learning occurs when  compliance and conformity are rejected in favour of dialogue based on love which allows each human to name their world and what is of value in it. The student is a teacher and student; the teacher both student and teacher.

Questions: What can we do to truly bring a new pedagogical structure into our schools and communities of learning? What function would school play in this pedagogical structure? What is dialogue based on love?  What role do educators and communities play in liberation education?

Recommendation: I love the book. It is a challenging, but I return to it often and find something new each time. Today, I became aware of the following: “Concepts such as unity, organization, and struggle are immediately labeled as dangerous. … These concepts are dangerous—to the oppressors” (p. 122). What does this mean in supposedly modern, liberated, and affluent societies?

A second point was the similar language used by Freire and Martin Buber. There is a shared understanding of respectful dialogue using the words I and Thou to describe the uplifting, liberating, loving dialogic process.

Freire, P. (1993). pedagogy of the oppressed. (M. B. Ramos, Trans.).  New York: Continuum.

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