Tuesday, August 16, 2011

LET CHILDREN ACHIEVE HAS MOVED TO TUMBLR. FIND LCA HERE:http://letchildrenachieve.tumblr.com/
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Tuesday, August 9, 2011

LEARN

Recently I was passed this inspiring short film by Rick Mereki. Mr. Mereki has done a series of three films and all can be found here, but the one I want to talk about today is titled LEARN.
Take a quick look at the film and you will see Mr. Mereki EXPLORING in his learning process. In fact learning is specifically portrayed as a process in which one travels, explores and learns about things foreign and mundane, but all stem from the individual's interests.
Is this what school looks like these days? Maybe there is the rare classroom that reflects this idea and inspires students to chase down their inspiration for life, but those experiences are far and few between.
In our cluttered world of testing and observing and modifying our students we have almost no room left for Mr. Mereki's kind of learning, but isn't it this kind of freedom to learn we spend most of our lives trying to attain?
It makes me ponder, what is learning? Is what our students do now learning? How do we inspire our children to find their innate interests, the questions they desire to find the deepest most satisfying answers to? How we do serve up  a healthy dose of inspiration for our children?
That is the tragic missing piece in classrooms across the country. Teachers and students operate daily without the spicy, edge of the seat sort of inspiration that is seen in the LEARN video. In fact in most schools there is little or no access to art, music, film, photography or education about cooking, food or culture. These are tossed out because the influence they have on us cannot be measured. However, can we imagine a world without them?
The ideas we need in order for our society to grow and prosper, won't come from a test score.  It will come from inspiration and real, life tactile learning.  Do we have the fortitude to defend every child's chance to innovate and imagine and learn?
If we allow ourselves to  be swept away by the tsunami of standardization that now threatens the core of inspiration that drives us as humans, we won't last. It is our ability to adapt that has allowed humans to live so long yet be so physically weak.  We have what the rest of the animal kingdom does not. We have creation in our hands. We have innovation in our fingers. We have imagination on our side.
How will we imagine today? How will we foster change where just moments before it seemed impossible? That is the amazing thing about inspiration, imagination and learning. It changes the world in an instant! Where there was no answer before, there is one now.
What will we do today to inspire and grow the imaginations of our students?
Thank you Mr. Mereki for sharing with the world your beautiful inspiration to learn.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

When In Doubt

When we are growing up, most of us are taught that to have doubt is a negative feeling. We are taught we need to know what we want to be, where we want to live, how we want to live, who we want to marry and how much money we want to acquire. In fact knowing insinuates a toughness, a clarity, a wiseness, a single mindedness that will allow us to walk one very straight and narrow path to glory. It conjures images of rough riding cowboys, roping cattle and staring into the sunset. They know their destiny.  They know they are cowboys 'til the end.
Doubt is given a bad wrap. If we have doubts there is something wrong. In fact, there is an entire self help industry built on getting rid of doubt, but what if doubt isn't so bad? What if doubt is what we actually need to help us find better solutions, whether it is for our personal  lives or our academic explorations? Doubt is the moment when we stop and question what we believe to be reality.  What if we started to doubt all the things in our personal lives that cause us trouble. What if we really stopped and questioned if our child was "behind" in reading or math. Is it possible they are? Sure. Is it possible they aren't? Sure.  What if we paused to question whether our child really needed extra tutoring. Is it possible they do? Sure. Is it also possible they don't? Sure.
When we begin to call into question all that we have taken for granted in education, then we can begin the transformation process because we will no longer be accepting traditions without looking to see if they truly are working for us. Are there things that do work in our system? Yes and we should keep those, but not without questioning them first. The process must be endured before an outcome is settled upon.
In school we train kids away from doubt. We tell them not to doubt themselves. We tell them not to doubt what we are telling them. We teach them lessons that push them in a single direction without fostering a sense of inquiry. In fact in a school setting crammed with test taking and a focus on teaching specific techniques to reach a certain goal, the state of inquiry is often frowned upon. We simply don't have time to sit around and question what we are learning!
But what if we taught The Doubt of Science and The Doubt of History? We would be growing minds ripe for critical thinking instead of ones conditioned to fill in bubble sheets.
As every great inventor or thinker will tell you, their most profound moments began with doubt. All inventions start at a point of inquiry.  All the great philosophies and religions of the world started with a moment of thoughtful doubt in which the individual said, "I'm just not sure that is true. Let's think about this for a moment." With that they were off and running, molding and shaping how we now view and understand humanity thousands of years later.
Doubt needs to be modeled by adults. In our own process of sifting through education reform we can teach our children how to doubt what is put in front us and question deeply the best route to take. We can give them the confidence to doubt, to stand up for what they believe to be right, even if that doubt flies in the face of power and authority.  Doubt and inquiry are not something to be taught in the classroom with an instruction manual. They are processes we simply have to make time for, allowing our children to discover, explore and doubt the way adults currently view and understand the human condition. This shouldn't feel like a threat to us. It is simply the inquiry of future generations as they graduate into the caretakers of the world.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Crime and Punishment

How do we help our children understand that they are in full control of their lives, free to make the choices that are best for them?  How do our children learn independence through our rules? Do our rules set them up to believe that there is always someone in charge and it isn't them?
I have been thinking about this throughout the week. In our house we use time outs as punishments. What I recently realized was that our kids often feel like victims. They feel, as I believe a lot of children do, as if I am imposing my rules on them. I am in charge and they need to do what I say. It quickly becomes rather dictatorial.
I have been uncomfortable with this set up the entire time I have been a parent and have tried less aggressive approaches, but they usually don't work. After six years of parenting, I am finally clear on how to handle crime and punishment.
Our children have their independence. They always have it. It doesn't have to be earned or gained when they are older. They are always free, but at a very young age they would be not be able to care for themselves. So we have to care for them, show them how to behave in society, show them how to care for others. But through this whole process they are free. We are simply facilitators of life lessons. So how do we use our rules to shape them, but not remove their freedom?  How do we punish without turning our children into victims?
As a parent I simply need to present them with the options available to at that moment. I'm the facilitator, not the dictator. They are are the choice maker, not the victim.
For example, my son has a friend over and they are being very  loud and enthusiastic about setting up a pretend lemonade stand. I have asked them several times to quiet down because the baby is sleeping.  The third time I speak with them I say,
"I know you are having fun, but I have asked you several times to quiet down because your baby brother is sleeping. When you were a baby we were quiet for you and let you rest. We need to do the same for him.  You can choose to be kind and loving and remember that he needs his sleep or you can choose to not be loving and kind towards him and be noisy. If you make the choice to keep being noisy, then your friend will have to go home."
If the friend is sent home and he is upset, I simply refer back to this conversation and remind him that I explained to him what was going to happen. He made the choice, not me.
When I explain it this way, he isn't the victim and I am not the dictator. He is independent of me. There is a healthy indifference and the choice isn't based on my rules. It is based on whether he chooses to demonstrate kindness towards his brother.  That is a choice that will mature over time and if he just isn't ready to make that choice right now, that is fine.  The friend will simply have to go home.
It takes the burden off of me to force him to be good. I don't have to! What transpires is a direct result of what he is capable of doing mentally and emotionally at that time. I simply have to carry out the actions I explained to him earlier. That's it.  I don't have to get angry. I don't have to feel bad. While he may become upset if his friend goes home, this strong emotional response only helps him realize the repercussions of his actions. That's a good thing! Perhaps he'll think more about what he is doing and dig deeper emotionally next time to try to show kindness towards his brother. I can even remind him of that if the issue arises again, but in the end it is up to him to make the choice that best suits him at that moment.
When all is said and done there is no good decision or bad decision, just learning and facilitating. That is our job as parents. Helping our kids feel empowered in life and free to make their choices is part of what we do. Our kids aren't victims of anything if we give them the power to choose otherwise.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

What Does It Mean to "Provide"?

When we talk about providing for our children most of us think about food, shelter and clothing, but what else do we need to provide?
Our kids need more than the basics to survive. They look to parents as their first role model and teacher in life. What role model are we providing? When they get to school they look to their teachers as role models and purveyors of important information. What are we giving them?
Providing for our children means giving them a sense of value for human life, whether it be their own or someone else's.  When we become eclipsed with core standards, standardized tests and the introduction of too much technology into education, we loose track of the importance of the human-ness of raising a child.
Our children are not machines. They are not investments. They are not coming off an assembly line. They are not guinea pigs to be tested on. They are flesh and blood beings, with hearts that need nourishment and brains that need guidance.
How are we providing it?
My greatest goal as a parent is to inspire my children to feel confident and happy in their lives, no matter what they decide to do.  This means that every day I strive to lead a principled life, one that demonstrates value toward every member of my family and community. It means that when faced with difficult decisions, a bad day or a stressful situation, I have to remember that my actions influence them. In fact my reaction to life is a far more powerful influence than any reading, math or writing lesson they will ever receive.  The imprint of what I show them will last throughout their lives. It will effect their decision, their relationships and their success.
If we demonstrate to them that their value is based on test scores, percentiles and the number of friends they have on Facebook, they will be forever influenced in this direction. They will lead their lives in a such a way as to make these things their most important goals, their greatest accomplishments.  Is that what we want?  Is this going to be the kind of person that looks with compassion and care toward humanity, a person that looks to serve and care for others?
Providing an atmosphere of respect for human life, ideas, emotions and interactions is what will drive us successfully through the twenty-first century.  What are you providing today?

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

The Art of Teaching Art

For the past year I have been homeschooling our six year old son.  As a former teacher I had a good grasp on the basics of teaching a young child to read and write, but what I was not versed in was play. Strange, right? You would think that if a person taught kindergarten they would understand the importance of play, but I'm not talking about play just for kids.  I am speaking about the need for adults to lead by example.
We have now been homeschooling for nine months and it has taken me until this month to figure out the importance of my own playful, creative attitude. Teaching my son isn't just about instructing him on the basics of reading and writing. It is also about sharing with him my passions and interests.  If I'm not doing that, I am probably holding back. 
For example, I have a BA in Studio Art and I have been a passionate writer and reader since I was a very young child. I love to play with words, make rhymes, compose songs, dive into paints. I have been writing stories and poetry since I was seven, but I had not introduced my favorite artists, writers, opera singers and other creatives to my son.  Why not?!

There was a time a long time ago when learning how to draw, learning how to compose music, reading poets and the tales told by fantastic storytellers was considered an important of educating a child.  As we have turned more and more to manufactured education we have lost our grasp on how important these influences are on our children.  Showing children examples of great art work and great writers helps them to dream, open their minds to all they could achieve. It helps them innovate and we need innovators to move us successfully through the 21st century.  Educating our children is not simply about teaching the basics of reading and writing skills. It is also about facilitating the immeasurable skill of imagination and innovation.  Without these traits our children are educated to merely be machines, cogs in a wheel of a larger top down, uninventive society that is ruled by a few at the top who may or may not have the best interests of our society and our children in mind.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Who Cares?

We all want teachers to care for our students. I know it is the first thing I look for when I enter a school as a parent or as a fellow teacher.  Perhaps based on the instinct to care for our young we want teachers to bring empathy and compassion to the classroom. However, these traits tend to be lost in today's cluttered educational atmosphere. With testing, budget cuts and union issues making headlines, these more fundamental, but extremely important concerns, don't make it into our conversations. There haven't been any recent news stories about how to attract and train compassionate, empathic teachers.   I suppose the story just isn't as sexy as parents arrested for sending their kids to the "wrong" school or the debate over core standards, but the long term effects of attracting and training  teachers who genuinely care for kids is perhaps much more important. After all, we aren't raising up auto matrons. Our kids need to be taught and shown examples of adults who are inspired, show concern for others and make accommodations for the unique needs of the individual. I know this is a tall order in our current educational environment, but the truth is we can't loose track of the fundamental characteristics that make an excellent teacher.
I am joined today by Dr. Perry Wiseman. Dr. Wiseman is the founder of Wise Foundations, as well as the principal of the middle school he was honored to help found, organize and continues to lead in Southern California.  He is also author of the book Strong Schools, Strong Leaders.  You can read more about his innovative approach to giving a voice to the power of the school community on his website.
Recently, I had the opportunity to ask Dr. Wiseman a few questions concerning the changes we are seeing in education today. Here is one question that is every parent's mind.

1.  In an educational system filled with requirements, test scores, bonuses and lay offs, how can we find educators who feel an urge for care towards our children?

Every organization, whether private or public, has requirements and accountability. Some are stringent and inflexible; others are, on the other hand, more relaxed. Yet no matter where an institution falls on this spectrum, disgruntled, unmotivated employees naturally surface. Perhaps it is the automaton with the desk job clocking in, lackadaisically going through the motions, and then clocking out. Or it is the classroom teacher lacking in enthusiasm, closing his or her classroom door, unwilling to learn new skills—truly modeling the antithesis of the profession. The question becomes: What’s their driving force?

I have always been a member of the “glass is half full” club and firmly believe that people go into a profession wanting to make a difference. Particularly, a classroom teacher demonstrating an uncaring persona isn’t blatantly aiming to harm students’ futures. The problem lies in the fact that they either, one, don’t yet have the skill set (or ability) to work with children; or, two, they are somehow unconnected, operating within their own bubble, isolated from the rest of the community. And a lack of motivation versus a lack of capability clearly requires different approaches.

We’ll start off by tackling the lack of ability issue. This one is pretty cut and dry. Teachers needing assistance must be given intensive site and district support with celebrations at each milestone. And those key players providing support must demonstrate that they care, that their competent, and that they’re consistent.

The second issue, motivation, is a little more intricate and involved. Teachers, more often than not, are discontented and aloof because they feel that they are not being listened to, they feel as though their ideas are not being heard. Obviously, when individuals aren’t appreciated or given opportunities to contribute to change, they begin to steer opposite of the organizations vision and values. It then becomes a tug-o-war with the feeling of: Why should I feed the needs of the organization if the organization is not attending to my fundamental needs? In other words, why should I care about others if they don’t care about me?

So to overcome a lack of dedication to the profession, school and district leaders need to create cultures where it is commonplace for everyone’s ideas to be put on the table—so to speak. No matter the external circumstances that may surface—changes in education code, increased accountability, budgets crises, and so forth—the answers ultimately lie in the room. Unveiling the collective intelligence of any group of teachers will lead to innovation, as well as an unwavering commitment from all.

To end I would like to share a few words from Arne Duncan, United States Secretary of Education, which parallels my outlook. In a recent letter to American teachers he stated, “…how we recognize, honor, and show respect for our experienced educators will reaffirm teaching as a profession of nation builders and social leaders dedicated to our highest ideals” (Retrieved on May 8, 2011 from http://tinyurl.com/3q4f65v).