Thursday, March 25, 2010

Aim for moving targets...

 flickr CC image via johntrainor

When I coach lacrosse I'm always telling players that standing still is not good. In lacrosse, as in many other sports, a player wants to be where they think the ball will go before it gets there. Good players understand that 99% of the game is played away from the ball. I believe this principle also applies to teaching; 99% of teaching happens away from the target.

I love this quote...
An understanding heart is everything in a teacher, and cannot be esteemed highly enough. One looks back with appreciation to the brilliant teachers, but with gratitude to those who touched our human feeling. The curriculum is so much necessary raw material, but warmth is the vital element for the growing plant and for the soul of the child. - Carl Jung
In the context of this post, I draw your attention to the part about curriculum... The curriculum is so much necessary raw material... to illuminate my point. Referring to the curriculum as 'raw material' is interesting. The term 'raw material' conjures up images of unrefined, unsophisticated parts that make up a whole when put together in some meaningful and deliberate way. To me, curricula as raw material  means we should consider it as the ingredients required to create a refined and marketable final product (our target); well-rounded and articulate students who are prepared for life's challenges.

The problem with this analogy is we can't ever really know what our target should look like. Every student is different... There are infinite possibilities for each individual child we teach to become so many things. How can we know what our students will become? Perhaps we shouldn't even try. What if we stopped defining the answers first (curriculum), and started with questions instead without a defined target? Certainly we need a base of principles that we would frame our questions around, but once this reconstituted base (a critically analyzed and paired down set of curricula that forms a foundation for our questions) is established, the limits of our learning are bound only by ourselves... learning should be a moving target.

In education, moving curricular targets should be like the moving ball in a game of lacrosse. Without limiting our students to a rigidly defined set of curriculum, we should be throwing that ball where we think the student needs to be, and the student should be taught how to be where the ball is going to be; to have instinct for learning. It's time for this. It's time for kids to become partners in their own learning as opposed to recipients of a predetermined list of static outcomes.

Students are moving targets. There's no room for static learning anymore in education. Teachers need to learn how to hit these moving targets. Don't let students stand still. As soon as they've caught the metaphoric ball, start thinking about where you're going to pass it next and get them moving there... inquiry-based learning requires questions before it can determine answers.

Start warming up.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Beliefs- Learning should never stand still...

I believe that education is progression; the welcoming of change, the evolution of ideas. The need to be immersed in this movement is characteristic of the life long learner.
flickr CC image via Argenberg

Teachers are very goal oriented, and I often wonder if this is a good thing. So much of what we do as teachers targets static learning goals. Curriculum is the obvious example... we receive our instructions from the Department of Education regarding what we're to teach at each requisite grade level, and then we design our outcomes to match the targets. The teaching process in contemporary education is set up to target an end to the means. Why do we do this?

Away from school, natural learning is so much more organic. Inspiration to learn surrounds us. The incredible world begs us to ask questions and seek understanding about its mysteries. We ask questions, and we seek answers leading to discovery. The process is instinctual. Our wonderment is self-motivated. As long as wonderment exists, it's our human nature to seek understanding.

Perhaps we should try mirroring this phenomena in school. Perhaps we should consider the teaching process more as a means to an end with the end being more learning. In order to do this, I like the idea of promoting inquiry-based learning in school.

Let's start with questions and discover answers instead of defining answers and making up questions.

Let's close the gap between what is natural about the learning process, and the unnatural process of the traditional classroom.

I believe the lifelong learner is simply defined as one who wants to learn every day as a natural element of living. It's an attitude in my mind; the willingness and ability to seek understanding through inquiry are the primary elements of a life-long learner.

Students and teachers who believe learning is a fluid activity that never stops, but rather leads to more questions are life-long learners.

Students and teachers who not only welcome change, (also known as growth) but crave it, are life-long learners.

Students and teachers who want to develop ideas instead of knowing facts are life-long learners.

I am a life-long learner.

Kids Who Outwit Adults...

"Kids Who Outwit Adults", by John Seita and Larry Brendtro, is a must-read for any educator, parent, social worker, therapist, or anyone else who encounters a troubled, hurting child. There is so much that this book provokes in thought and emotion regarding our collective responsibility to take very good care of our kids. If you're interested in positive youth development, you should definitely read this book.

Dr. Seita is a remarkable individual. As a young child, he was apprehended by the State Social Services Department as a result of his mother's lack of ability to care for even his basic needs. Dozens of foster homes and youth care facilities later, 17-year-old John met a new social worker, Larry Brendtro, and many years after that Dr. John Seita co-wrote "Kids Who Outwit Adults" with the same guy, also now addressed as Dr. Larry Brendtro. I have not met another person who can speak so eloquently and genuinely from both ends of the childcare spectrum.

Including a foreword by actor, Matt Damon, the book was inspired by the movie written by he and fellow actor Ben Affleck, "Good Will Hunting." The book references scenes from the movie to begin each chapter as a mirror reflecting the ideas within the chapters. The book also includes numerous anecdotal references to cases Dr. Seita has dealt with as a professional child advocate, and also from his own personal experiences as a youth in care. Underlying the content of the book is the notion that "private logic" is at the heart of every perception people have and perhaps, especially kids. Dr. Seita states,
It is not so much what happens to people that influences their behavior but the meaning they make of their life experiences. Adler also suggests that children construct their private logic and coping strategies as they make sense out of the following issues:
I am...
Other people are...
The world is...
I am of the belief that every child has a story. How kids (people) finish Alfred Adler's prompting statements above are major indicators of how their story affects their perspective. At the heart of a child's story are the experiences and challenges that form the person educators see in front of them every day at school. We make many assumptions about students based on what we see; the lens we look through will influence (I would argue more than any other element of our interaction with kids in school) our practice, our attitude, and our reaction to every child we encounter as educators. We must not take this issue lightly.

Our perceptions of students are more powerful than most have given the time to consider. Physical appearances, mannerisms, language, attitude, and behavior; are all contextual elements of every child, but to those most disadvantaged emotionally, physically, psychologically, and financially, the variables affecting their context are multiplied exponentially... they simply have bigger fish to fry when compared to the typical challenges we present to them as part of a regular school day. Their hearts and minds are not tuned in to school.

Consider the young student who hasn't eaten for days and is used to not eating nutritious food on a regular basis. Consider the child who has never known a loving relationship with a trusted adult in their entire life. Consider the child who has been routinely abused in any number of ways since birth... to these kids from a contextual perspective, we are the strange ones. They don't "live" in our world, they live in theirs, and it's all they've ever known. We need to be vigilant to recognize these kids, and we need to understand that it is grossly unfair to judge them by a standard that doesn't recognize the unique nature of their background... their story.

If we make it our business as teachers to learn kid's stories, our efforts will prove invaluable as far as understanding why for some kids, the math test is not the most important thing on their mind on any given day... then we can begin to put first things first; helping kids deal with their issues on the way to establishing human connections that will improve our ability to teach and their ability to learn.

Learn kids' stories.

We need teaching schools to create excellent teachers...

flickr CC image via Enokson

I believe firmly that the vast majority of teachers are professional people doing a professional job. We are members of a world-wide cohort of professionals who have been drawn toward the most noble of crafts. Despite this, I remain perplexed why we don't in some instances, act in the same manner that defines other professions and vocations. Pre-service teacher preparation and training is one of these instances.

While other professions and trades evidently see the value of pairing their new members with established, expert leaders within their fields, we have not taken full advantage of the opportunity. We do implement mentorship programs for new teachers, and pre-service teachers participate in student-teacher experiences before finishing their undergraduate training, but if these practices are good, why not extend them?

Lawyers article, doctors intern and tradesmen apprentice, but teachers typically don't participate in this form of on-the-job training to the same degree.Why don't we apprentice new teachers? There are teaching hospitals; why not establish "teaching schools?" I see a tremendous upside potential to this concept.

Pairing master teachers with teachers new to the profession seems to me such a simple and logical plan that perhaps the powers that be consider it to be too simple to be effective. I've written on this blog about Occam's Razor; the Law of Succinctness... maybe the simple plan is just what our profession needs to take teacher preparation to the next, more credible level. I envision teaching schools as those that would be partnered with post-secondary institutions making it easy to conduct academic research into best practices, pedagogy, technology, curriculum, etc., while providing a living lab in the school to test the theories through action-research projects and supervised teaching. I can't think of a better way to overlap the theory pre-service teachers are exposed to within their university training experience and the visceral experiences they would have while immersed within the functional school environment.

Let's take the step in education to become more responsible for our newest teacher's levels of effectiveness and success early in their career by supporting them to a higher degree from within the profession. Let's do this by putting pre-service teachers into our schools where they can witness first-hand and learn from the remarkable work that excellent teachers do every day.

We need teaching schools.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Drug and tech companies... too much influence?

flickr CC image via shipbrook

As drug companies influence medicine, is there a concern among educators that tech companies will become too influential in education?

In a market driven economy, I am of the opinion that sometimes wrong actions take place because they haven't been thoroughly and systematically reviewed beforehand. The Vioxx controversy comes to mind. The massive scale prescription of Vioxx proved to be damaging to our collective health to be sure.

The tech world operates in a market economy too. I wonder if we are occasionally sold a bill of goods in the "latest and greatest" tech tool that will advance our teaching practise and our student's abilities. As I write this, I'm actually wondering as far as software goes, why we're being sold anything tech oriented with all the open-source software out there for the taking. To further that idea in the context of education, can we be far away from open-source hardware? I see possibility in big hardware companies taking advantage of the availability of the recycled tech hardware that Moore's Law creates, refurbishing it, and giving it to educational institutions for free under the provision that a partnership is established to help develop software and uses for the hardware that the partner company has a vested interest in.

All I'm trying to say is, in our vigor to remain on top of Moore's Law in providing the most advanced tech integration possible in our schools, are we forgetting in our haste that just because something is "new," that it doesn't automatically mean it is pedagogically good for us or our students?

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Every Wednesday off...

Here's one for pondering as we all enter the beginning of a long, new work week... what if we all got every Wednesday off?

Think about it; nobody would work more than two days in a row. I foresee many benefits to this format:
  • Every Tuesday evening and Wednesday would be free giving everyone more of that leisure time we all so desperately need to enhance our personal wellness.
  • More family time, or time with friends would be so nice.
  • More concentrated effort during the other four work days each week would result in higher productivity and less stress for all.
  • We'd all be more rested.
  • Kids would be more focused in school.
Ten hour days on the work days excluding Wednesday would still result in a forty hour week (if that's even what we need; I question that.)

We so desperately need balance in our lives, and this work week format would provide some.

Quality, not quantity... Why is it always the simplest axioms we have such a difficult time putting to practice?
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