Showing posts sorted by relevance for query story behind story. Sort by date Show all posts
Showing posts sorted by relevance for query story behind story. Sort by date Show all posts

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Seek First to Understand...

Behavior isn't something to manipulate, it's something to understand.

flickr photo via kokichuelo

I have spent the better part of my teaching career to date working with kids who manifest very adverse behavior. I have received hundreds of hours of professional development related to helping these kids improve their behaviour, some of which was considered to be severe. I've been trained in behaviour management techniques designed to manage behavior, corrective techniques to correct behaviour and modification techniques to modify behaviour. What nobody ever trained me to do however, was understand behaviour.

Behaviourism is a well known school of thought relative to working with kids who display challenging behavioural tendencies. According to Wikipedia, behaviourism, sometimes referred to as the learning perspective (where any physical action is a behaviour), is a philosophy of psychology based on the proposition that all things that organisms do — including acting, thinking and feeling — can and should be regarded as behaviours. Applied Behaviour Analysis  is a term used commonly in education to describe how we analyse the behaviours we see in schools. In my role as an educator working exclusively with severely behaviourally challenged kids I have participated in many functional behaviour analysis (FBA) that are designed to provide hypotheses about the relationships between specific environmental events and observed behaviours in students. I must admit, the FBA process is as close as I've ever been to actually understanding behaviour, but even this process has left me wondering, "do I really know the story behind what I'm observing when I witness adverse behavior?"

Sunday, January 13, 2013

The story behind the story...

A Chinese hanzi is often made up of multiple characters to create a unique meaning. The hanzi above is constructed of different characters that individually represent ears, eyes, undivided attention and heart. A beautiful alternative definition of the verb to listen is created... to listen means to hear with your heart; to be totally engaged and focused on understanding deeper meanings behind what we hear.

Every day I am reminded of how important it is to listen to student`s stories. I am fortunate to have time during the school day to hear with my heart as I listen to the real reasons why kids end up in the office talking to me. Like the young man in this clip, sometimes kids just need an opportunity to be honest and real so we can understand their struggle better.

In my school, we don`t think of a trip to the office as a punitive thing. We think of it as a resiliency building thing. An office referral is one of four resiliency pathways (as we call them) within our school that kids travel down depending on the nature of their challenge on any given day. An office visit more often than not means some adverse behavior would have been displayed.

Thursday, February 10, 2022

Everyone Here Has Been Broken

If we could understand the nuances of empathy, often the missing link in ignorance and conflict, the world would truly be a better place for all.

We talk about personal space all the time. We commonly understand that invading one's personal space is a not-so-good thing to do. As with many things we say because we've always said them, I'm not sure we really understand what we're asking of ourselves when we commit to giving each other our 'space.' Perhaps we don't even understand what we're asking ourselves not to do. 

How well do we understand what we're referring to as our "space?" I'm not sure.

A thought experiment...

Let's say that in the context of human interactions we can identify C waves (connoting cognitive interactions,) E waves, (connoting emotional interactions,) and P waves, (connoting physical interactions.) To simplify cognitive waves can be described as any form of understanding, while E and P waves are variables that affect our ability to understand. In other words, how we feel about our learning, and the environment we learn within, are pivotal elements that determine largely how well we actually learn in the cognitive domain. Since Descartes we've generally accepted that C waves were the independent variable, but what if in fact E and P waves create authentic constraints; challenges to our ability to comprehend and fully understand the phenomenological realities, our environments, and the people we encounter within them?

Monday, April 13, 2020

The making of a teacher...

During the COVID19 crisis I've been doing a lot of thinking and reflecting... the gift of time has been nice if I'm being honest; a silver lining if you will amidst the chaos of what's happening right now. I'm one of those who have continued to go to school every day just for myself to keep that routine present in my life and so not to go stir crazy at home. Spring break has me at home today though, and for the rest of the week so I've become reacquainted with KARE Givers, (I hadn't written anything at this blog before last week since summer of 2016,) and some other things that I haven't done in a long time. I even participated in a Twitter chat last evening, something I haven't done in 8 or 9 years. It's been at least that long since this post has been sitting in my list of drafts.

I first told this story in front of an audience in 2006 to about one hundred teachers at the Central Alberta Teacher's Convention. A few years later I used it twice as an opening to a couple of lectures I gave at the University of Alberta. Later again I used this story as a narrative to open workshop sessions for the Alberta Teacher's Association Corps of Professional Instructors during professional development sessions I wrote and offered as an instructor.

In every case the theme of my presentation, lecture, and workshop was resiliency. The topic of resiliency is largely what KARE Givers is all about in one form or another, most of the posts within this blog have some reference to resiliency as a construct.

Probably as a result of all the thinking I've been doing about life and teaching, I've been brought back to my core and I'm finding myself looking for ground as I introspectively reflect on what brought me to this place in life where I feel like in some ways I know what I'm doing, but perhaps in others, I'm still trying to figure it out. At any rate here is where I am, and I guess I just feel like finally writing this narrative down. Maybe it will help me understand better where I need to go from here.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010


flickr CC image via LaPrimaDonna

No matter what I do or what situations I find myself in, I am realizing more and more over time that it's all about perspective.

I am many things: a teacher; father; husband; son; employee; leader, and no matter what role I'm playing, I have found it increasingly valuable and enlightening to seek perspective. I have mine, but it changes with the moods and experiences I have. Taking the deliberate time to reflect on my perspective, my 'meta-perspective' allows me to adjust as I gain clarity, objectivity and distance from the emotional side of my point of view, (the part that is seldom, if ever, non-biased.)

Reciprocally, taking the time to consider the perspectives of those around me, particularly those who are struggling emotionally with an issue, has allowed me to also gain clarity, objectivity and distance from the emotionality of their point of view; to take a rather clinical approach, if you will, toward understanding what they are thinking, feeling and experiencing, and how or why their actions may be correlated. My growing skill has proven to be invaluable.

Behind every confrontation, every misunderstanding and every flawed communication is a set of variables that set the stage... a story that leads in a quantum manner toward the trouble. Getting to that story and understanding those variables is the key to avoiding, or at least reducing the negative effect of the trouble. If we can make a sincere effort to understand where others are coming from, (even if we can't ever truly know how they feel, we can at least attempt to see what they see,) we can then retell their story in personal terms that allow us to adjust our reaction appropriately. Interpersonally speaking, to deal with the trouble at face value without knowing the story behind it is unproductive and usually leads to further symptomatic escalation... more confrontation, misunderstanding and miscommunication.

Do something smart... don't just put yourself in the shoes of those that challenge your patience, put yourself in their heads. Your response will be calm, objective, intelligent and appropriate... elements that, generally speaking, lead to improved relations.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Rural EduKare

image designed by Gigi Luberes

In my original post on EduKare I contextualized it as a concept that mitigates problems inherent with urban education. The reality is that EduKare as a concept can also mitigate problems inherent in rural education. The reason it can work well in both settings is the principle behind it- empowerment of individuals in a local context.

Recently I had the good fortune to meet (virtually) Steven Putter (via Twitter @stevenputter.) He lives in Water's Edge, Zambia, and coordinates a very exciting project; one as exciting as I have come across, the Imagine Rural Development Initiative (IRDI). This statement sums up the purpose behind IRDI...
Propagating sustainable success. Creating scalable models for impacting change, IRDI engages real time development for building sustainable communities through the empowerment of individual skills.
The magnitude of this statement is important to note. As a lacrosse player and long-time coach, I often describe the game to non-lacrosse folks and new-to-the-game players as "a team sport played by individuals." Essentially a team is only as strong as its weakest link; in sport and in life. Empowering individual skills in local contexts is a powerful effort that must be made when the goal is a sustainable community, sports team, culture, classroom, school, etc. One element of IRDI that resonates strongly with me is Emergent U. Emergent University is part of a larger initiative at Water's Edge, Zambia to educate local citizens who desire to give back to their community following their study and training. Water's Edge is what EduKare looks like in a rural setting. The underlying principle behind Water's Edge is sustainability. IRDI's effort to create sustainability manifests through support for the individual... just like EduKare...
An EduKare teaching and learning environment considers pivotal learning variables in each student's story... the story already written, the here-and-now story and the future story every teacher helps write. EduKare is an approach based on the foundational belief that every child can learn, but that detractors to learning can be powerful debilitating forces in a child's life. If these forces are not mitigated, learning will not happen effectively. The EduKare teaching and learning environment very simply provides the services required to mitigate powerful learning detractors in the lives of young people so they can then focus their energy on achieving relative academic success.
In the real world, people have problems and challenges in urban and rural settings. Negative factors like poverty, violence, limited exposure to good education, and lack of family privilege don't discriminate between rural and urban settings... these are borderless elements that prevent individuals from focusing their energy on moving forward in life to overcome the odds they create.

We often place geographic borders around negative factors like poverty, and we convince ourselves that these are actually what's holding us back. I have heard many wishes that "if I could just get out of this place, I'd be free from the bonds that hold me back." I think this is an unproductive perspective, and I think Steven Putter does too. Sustainability, to me, is synonymous with productivity, purpose, vision, and pride. Instead of taking people out of the environment they believe is holding them back, we should be reinventing the environment so it is productive, purposeful, and visionary; one that people are proud to be part of and want to stay in. The process needs to be more than just window dressing; when successful, it's a process of creating vision and purpose so people can thrive as productive, proud members of the reinvented communities they live within. Sustainability in communities is supported by learning; it requires that we learn from our place.

I think learning and movement can be thought of in a synergistic way. How we frame learning is key if we are to create a platform of support that sustains it over a lifetime. Our innate desire to learn; to navigate the world we live in needs environmental support to be sustainable in a given environment. It needs a local context making our place a learning place.

More than any other biological species, it appears that humans are born to learn. We learn in so many different, and natural contexts. We are in constant motion; traveling in simultaneous physical, psychological, emotional, and cognitive realms. Robert Sylwester characterizes this need to be in motion,
The planning, regulation, and prediction of movements are the principal reasons for a brain. Plants are as biologically successful as animals, but they don’t have a brain. An organism that’s not going anywhere of its own volition doesn’t need a brain. It doesn’t even need to know where it is. What’s the point? Being an immobile plant does have its advantages however. Plants don’t have to get up every day and go to work because they’re already there.
On the other hand, if an organism has legs, wings, or fins, it needs a sensory system that will inform it about here and there, a make-up-its-mind system to determine whether here is better than there or there is better than here, and a motor system to get it to there if that’s the better choice – as it is, alas, when we have to go to work.

Yes, we do. Each of us is responsible for our livelihood, and for supporting those who depend on us for love and care. Acquiring the skills necessary to fulfill this responsibility is a challenge for all of us. Creating local contexts that reduce our far and wide search for a sustainable life is key to a sustainable home community. Empowering individuals to move within communities instead of away from is how we get to vibrant, self-sufficient communities.

Another recent Twitter acquaintance, Mpule K. Kwelagobe (@MpuleKwelagob) introduced me to the term endogenous (thank you Mpule.)

... from
adjective1.proceeding from within; derived internally.
In addition to representing her country, and the continent of Africa as the first Black African woman to win an international pageant and 1st delegate from Botswana to compete in the Miss Universe pageant, Mpule is doing awesome work in Africa to empower people from within. We don't need to move away from the places in life that we believe are holding us back; we just need to learn how to move (learn) within them. Local efforts to support individual members of a community create a ripple effect that sustains the larger community making it viable and productive. This is the key to creating room to move within communities.

Purpose leads to pride.

Thursday, January 21, 2021

Michael Josefowicz @toughloveforx - A Legend Passes Far Too Soon


The image above is a snapshot of my first Twitter DM interaction with Mr. Michael Josefowicz. Michael reached out to me in response to a post I had written here at KARE Givers in January 2010 entitled "Why Is It Always About The Funding?", one that he had already commented on in the comment stream. He joined Twitter in April 2009, and I joined shortly after in June of the same year. If memory serves, our first encounter in the Twittersphere began at the original #ecosys chat and would turn into a lasting friendship that I could never have anticipated. I wish I could tell him one more time how grateful I am for that. My dear friend and confidant passed away suddenly just a couple of days ago.

Our first match of "Twitter Tennis," as he liked to call it involved a deep dive into the issue of teacher preparation and professional development. At the time Michael's Twitter bio included something like "Retired Printer- now I want to blah blah about fixing high school." I can tell you he wasn't kidding. Michael had done some teaching at Parsons Design College in New York, and although he was without a shadow of a doubt, an exemplary publisher, I have always thought he missed his true calling. Michael was at his core an insightful and passionate teacher. His passion for sharing knowledge and insight with virtually anyone who would listen is legendary in social media circles and to anyone who knew him personally. I give him all the credit for providing me with more professional support to evolve my teaching than any other person or process I've encountered since becoming a teacher myself over 26 years ago.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Empathy Re-Boot Project

 flickr image via Allen McGregor

My colleagues and I along with our students at Glendale Sciences and Technology School are embarking on an exciting and challenging journey. We are calling it our Empathy Re-Boot Project.

I have returned to Glendale as its vice-principal three years after a one year stint as its counselor. I loved my time at Glendale before, and always felt like there was unfinished business there. The first time around in my role as counselor, I spent a good deal of time helping kids, and staff members too, develop their empathetic lens; the one that allowed them to walk a mile in the shoes of others toward a deeper understanding of their learning stories. We all have a learning story... the part already written; the part we are writing in the present and the hopeful part we intend to write toward the happy endings of the future. In my second term at Glendale I am thrilled to continue this work with the staff and students of my reunited Glendale family.

In Alberta, all schools are in the midst of an important and necessary paradigm shift toward inclusive learning environments. At Glendale, we have been working hard to re-frame our educational perspectives towards the diverse population of students at our school. We don't have segregated programming at our school. We don't pull students out of class anymore; we hold their hands as we walk alongside them. As we walk alongside them we talk to them. We talk to them about their learning story... what's happened in the past; what's happening in the present and what they want to happen in the future. Our goal is to learn their story behind the story, the one that enlightens us toward deeper understanding of what may be challenging students, and ever more importantly, what they need from us to help work toward mitigating the challenges. We're focusing on students' strengths in as asset-based model of intervention. We're downplaying student weakness and focusing our empathy lenses on solutions.

We are re-booting empathy.

Thinking deeply about virtues and character development, we have concluded that true inclusion in our school requires an intense understanding of others, and in particular, their stories. We are taking a phenomenological-post modernist perspective. We believe that individual circumstances can distract from the learning process, but also that striving to know these circumstances, and focusing on supporting strategies that mitigate them at school will lead us down solution focused paths toward optimized teaching and learning. There is always a better path to take. We must honor the perspectives of those we work with when helping divine the best paths.

We are using our empathic lenses to focus on the resiliency of our students, and we are tapping into that resiliency with intent to nurture its growth. We are recognizing resiliency in ourselves, and  we are using it to support kids who are vulnerable. We are teaching them to be more resilient over time by making sure they know we care, and that we want to help them write personal learning stories with happy endings.

Saturday, June 7, 2014

What is learning for?

First People's House in the middle of the beautiful University of Victoria campus... 
the place I learned from Dr. Lorna Williams

I was most fortunate to have been invited to participate in the 54th Canadian Commission to UNESCO Annual General Meeting this weekend in Victoria, British Columbia, Canada. Part of this coming together with a fascinating and intelligent group of big thinkers provided me the opportunity to listen to Dr. Lorna Williams, chair of the First Peoples Cultural Council and powerful advocate for Indigenous languages. She is a member of the Lil'wat First Nation of Mount Currie. She recently retired from her position as Associate Professor in Indigenous Education and Indigenous language revitalization and Canada Research Chair, Indigenous knowledge and learning at the University of Victoria. She has also worked at the Ministry of Education in BC, in schools on behalf of Aboriginal students, written children's books, co-directed the video series called First Nations: The Circle Unbroken and developed teacher's guides and Lil'wat language curriculum, a language that was exclusively oral until 1973. Not bad for a person who was labeled as "retarded" upon entering middle school.

I had never met Dr. Williams before yesterday, but her message resonated for me in a way that makes me feel that I've been learning from her for years. During her address to the delegation of UNESCO representatives and other stakeholders doing the ground work on behalf of UNESCO and UNESCO ideals she spoke about her learning story. As an Indigenous person Dr. Williams has dealt successfully with many challenges to her learning story, but that is for her to tell. I want to focus on two pieces of wisdom that she shared. Her perspective toward learning and the way she described working in environments lacking support instantly became part of my learning story. The following was one of her slides...

What is learning for?
-Dr. Lorna Williams
  • Identity; who I am and where do I fit in?
  • Habits to care for self, family, land, community
  • Practices- learn from others and self
  • Values
  • Worldview
  • What is known and how do I know I learn
  • Learn to be a 'good human being', to have good hands 
It seems to me that in an era of education where things are changing so quickly in the world, that we need grounding perspectives; elements that are universal and all encompassing with respect to curricula that has to become more fluid and responsive as ways of knowing or knowledge systems evolve. I hope we accept as educators that curriculum content choices cannot sustain over as long a period of time as they once did. Elements of knowledge content need more frequent review and change to remain relevant. That being said, a solid and supporting foundation of purpose is necessary to support these changing curricular contexts. Dr. William's thoughts on purpose of learning strike me as a brilliant foundation.

Identity, or seeking the answers to "who I am and where do I fit in?... to me, creates relevance for each individual learner. Without relevance learning will not, and cannot take place in authentic ways.

Habits to care for self, family, land and community to me point to a sense of security and belonging that I feel is also vitally necessary to create authenticity in learning. Without caring connections we are alone and cannot confidently answer the question, "where do I fit in?"

Practices of learning, to me point to the importance of reflection and collaboration and the tools of literacy in all of their forms. It also means the recognition and value of differing perspectives in a learning context.

Values, and to me in particular, the understanding of other's values, is a critical element of the learning process. Interdependent coexistence is not possible without understanding and conflict will inevitably occur and it will be difficult to resolve.

Worldview... to me the understanding that we are here on this earth as a species, and we must think of our viability here from an intercultural species perspective. This is what evolves as our values and the values of others become known and understood, even if not accepted. It's also what allows us the latitude to question others in productive ways.

What is known, and how do we know we learn... this element speaks to the epistomological element of learning. With our evolving worldview in place, affirming what we know and how we learn in optimized ways, (which will undoubtedly be different for different people,) allows us to extended the practice of questioning others to questioning conventions and the status quo, a state that often manifests as the antithesis of learning. Asking ourselves these questions helps us define and extend the limits of our learning.

The last descriptor, and perhaps most compelling to me is "learning to be a good human being... to have "good hands." This point speaks to the taking of a 'trans-species perspective' meaning to me that humans cannot be viable in an unsustainable world where we believe we are superior to other non-human living things, and perhaps even other humans from different places and cultural backgrounds. Having good hands to me means respecting the diversity of people and things, living and non-living, (as it is the non-living physical world that helps support our living viability,) in order to advance on this earth toward sustainable and vibrant futures.

Dr. Williams reaffirmed my beliefs around the purpose of learning, and provided me with the best description I have encountered yet of the big ideas around why we learn. Focusing deeply on these rationale for learning is not easy, however. We are bound by the constructs of time and standards. We battle conventions that perhaps we know are outmoded and limiting. The Law of Regression plays a powerful role. Fear and anxiety are pervasive. We are afraid of change and we sometimes struggle with each other as we navigate around the issues.

Dr. Williams was asked how she prevailed during difficult times when conventional wisdom and lack of support made it difficult to keep moving forward. Her answer was profound and humble, and it will stick with me.

Dr. Williams told us that she has dealt with many obstacles on her learning path, and that she struggled as a young person who was outspoken and headstrong. She told us that over time she began to try to listen and understand where the other was coming from, to grasp the narrative behind their personal learning stories. Her elderly and wise perspective on this was uplifting and inspiring. She said,
I try to make resistance and opposing ideas my friend and ask "where is the fear coming from?"
Alas, hope without fear doesn't exist, that's called naivety. For good to evolve we have to travel paths that make us realize the antithesis of our potential solution. Seeing this provides clarity toward solution focused directions. Another quote I heard during the conference was...
There is a crack in everything; that`s how the light gets in. -Leonard Cohen
This is so truthful and real. I believe Dr. Williams was telling us that by embracing the fear we are exposing the cracks therefore enabling us to move past the problem to begin thinking about the messy process of thinking about solutions with respect to the problem; a distinctly different reality. There will always be challenges. They are the cracks that let us see a way around; a pathway outside of conventions. Dr. Williams's advice to embrace them is, I believe, akin to learning the story behind the story, a process where understanding and acceptance help determine optimized pathways toward the previously mentioned purpose to learn in the first place.

I will remain grateful to Lorna Williams for sharing her wisdom. I will return to school on Monday with a renewed spirit and reaffirmed acceptance that beyond the daily challenges of teaching and learning there is a much bigger ideal to keep tethered and aspire toward... a learning purpose that forms the foundation of everything I do as a teacher and a human being.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Hope and Fear...


Hope without fear doesn't exist; that's called naivety.

Hope is the alpha. All resiliency, all fear, all action is derived from hope, "the thing with feathers... that sings the tune without the words" as so beautifully described by Emily Dickinson in her poem entitled "Hope"...

“Hope” is the thing with feathers -
That perches in the soul -
And sings the tune without the words -
And never stops - at all -

And sweetest - in the Gale - is heard -
And sore must be the storm -
That could abash the little Bird
That kept so many warm -

I’ve heard it in the chillest land -
And on the strangest Sea -
Yet - never - in Extremity,
It asked a crumb - of me.
Emily Dickinson

My friend Daniel Durrant (@ddrrnt ) recently wrote about hope in a nemetics context. Nemetics is a term that has evolved to explain phenomena surrounding the exchanges that occur in our emotional, cognitive and physical spaces.He aligned hope with the nemetic element of engaging. I think he is saying that hope needs to be actionable to be called hope.

Frankl called it purpose in logotherapy. I call it action, but nonetheless hope without action is wishful thinking. How can teachers nurture this hope in students? If we allow Daniel to take us on a nemetics mini-tour of the process perhaps it will resonate more clearly.

He quite cleverly aligned faith, hope, charity and patience as nemetic elements that align with the Notice- Engage- Mull- Exchange pattern. The full spectrum of the pattern looks like this:
FAITH is why we NOTICE- this aligns the seen and unseen. It is the first impulse that triggers everything.
HOPE is why we ENGAGE- this aligns the decision to engage with the value and quality of hope. somewhat a paradox, but oh well.
CHARITY is why we MULL- this aligns the notion of time spent mulling with more purposeful and selfless reasons. also triggers gratitude, which might sync up with patience.
PATIENCE is why we EXCHANGE- this aligns the awareness that what was believed and so engaged by giving time may not be reciprocated when and how we expect. Yet we do so because patience releases attachments and fills our hearts with gratitude for what is present.
"Neme" is an acronym for the fractal learning process of Complex Adaptive Systems. Notice (or not) Engage (or not) Mull (or not) Exchange (or not)... NemeX connotes the actual exchange in progress. Interaction involving these elements surfaces through waves of resonance, and thrives through waves of dissonance, an unsettling of sorts; some may even describe these waves as fear.

Wave on a String

Click to Run

Our decision to become part of a neme means our reality will change, whether slightly or dramatically, it all depends on the nature of the exchange and the degree to which we engage within it.

In Andrew Razeghi's book, "Hope," he describes the process of engaging a little or a lot as either jumping off the curb, or jumping off the cliff. A small leap of faith, or a large leap of faith is still a leap of faith. Teachers take a leap of faith every day, and depending on their relative experiences and perspective toward life and teaching, either can feel like a very big deal to any given individual... it's all relative.

So again, how can teachers nurture this purposeful hope in their students? Starting with FAITH is why we NOTICE... teachers need to take acclaimed National Geographic photographer Dewitt Jones' advice and "see what they believe."
"Our perspective is what holds the key to whether the solution is ordinary or extraordinary. If we want truly extraordinary vision then we have to continually expand our horizons, take risks. If we don’t push our edge we’ll never expand our view. It’s not trespassing to go beyond your own boundaries." Dewitt Jones, National Geographic Photographer 
So whether we're jumping off a curb, or a cliff, we need to have faith that something good will come from the effort. We need to look for the good in our students and expose it. This is the HOPE is why we ENGAGE... part in celebration of our student's strengths and dreams. Every student has a story, and like Dewitt Jones does when he finds the story behind his photographs, we need to find a story behind our students; the one already written that will give us a glimpse into their hope and their purpose.

As our student's stories evolve, so do our approaches to supporting them. This is the CHARITY is why we MULL part. Using the word mull interchangeably with reflection makes it a bit easier to understand this part of the process. Reflecting purposefully, selflessly and perhaps collaboratively with other supportive caregivers is how we display our willingness to walk the learning path with our students; not to pull them along, or push them on, but simply walk the path with them, learn with them and from them. We are fortunate to have this opportunity. It is a privileged opportunity teachers have to spend every day with curious, excited and eager-to-learn kids... an environment that should make it easy for all of us to also be curious, excited and eager-to-learn adults. Like anything in balance, however, eagerness on the part of any learner has to be tempered with patience.

Teachers need to be patient by nature. Every child is on his own learning timeline. Homogeneous classrooms full of kids perfectly aligned with the education system's developmental guidelines don't exist. There is no average student anywhere. Each child is unique and skilled in his own way, and the PATIENCE is why we EXCHANGE part indicates our understanding of this fact. Living in the present; walking multiple learning paths with students every day is the exchange that exemplifies our patience. We know full well that the outcomes we are working on with students may not be met until long after the paths we walk together diverge and our students have moved on to work with someone else. We exchange with our students in the present to the best of our ability so that they can move on and continue to build their learning paths forward... and back to faith we go; faith in our students and the teachers who will continue the good work we have shared with each student.

Full circle.

Does a sense of fear and doubt ever creep into this process? For me, every single day. Hope without fear doesn't exist; that's called naivety. I don't know how things will turn out for each of my students, but I want them all to be successful on their own terms. Students have fears too... for many the fear of failure. Embracing failure as a necessary element of learning is a critical element of success. If failure was absolute nobody would ever learn how to ride a bicycle. In a strange way, fearing failure is the same as fearing success for if we don't keep trying when we come up against a roadblock, in a way we're saying "what if I get over that roadblock... then what?" Balancing hope and fear on behalf of my students is what drives me to support their pursuit of personal and relative success.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

"EduKare"- A new paradigm for struggling urban schools...

Education reform is a hot topic. The media is all over it. So many stories, editorials, features, columns and documentaries revolve around the "drop-out factories," as some urban schools are infamously referred to, and what kinds of educational leadership tactics can be put in place to reform these institutions and their practice. I've been wondering when all this talk is going to turn into something tangible that will actually reform the way we teach and learn.

Michael Josefowicz (@ToughLoveforX), one of the key idea-tappers at #ecosys (Twitter chat every Wednesday at 9:00 EST) and I have been discussing some radical improvement possibilities for the so-called drop out factories of large, urban centers in North America. Michael is from Brooklyn and knows a thing or two about urban issues, and I have a lot of respect for his point of view. We're using the term EduKare to describe a very new and different perspective toward teaching and learning in our most challenging urban environments.

Tuesday, April 14, 2020

Cultural Tails (Tales) - The Story Everyone Tells

de·us ex ma·chi·na
/ˌdāəs ˌeks ˈmäkənə,ˌdāəs ˌeks ˈmäakənə/
  1. an unexpected power or event saving a seemingly hopeless situation, especially as a contrived plot device in a play or novel.

Our lives are a series of stories that evolve in quantum ways every second as we are affected by the realities in our environments and the decisions we make surrounding them. Much of what goes on around us is beyond our control. From the Stanford Encyclopedia of Psychology, it's phenomenological in the sense that,
the discipline of phenomenology may be defined initially as the study of structures of experience, or consciousness. Literally, phenomenology is the study of “phenomena”: appearances of things, or things as they appear in our experience, or the ways we experience things, thus the meanings things have in our experience. Phenomenology studies conscious experience as experienced from the subjective or first person point of view.
How capably we are able to engineer our own stories depends on our ability to accept that the phenomena that surround us is essentially beyond our control. Sometimes, as in literature or theatre, a deus ex machina is helpful in resolving the seemingly hopeless life situations that are ultimately beyond our control, but not beyond our personal influence and ability to internalize and accept. Partly as a response to what I wrote recently about how the path of teaching chose me, and also just because it's front of mind, this resolve is what I want to talk about today. 

Essential to the stories of our lives, recognizing deus ex manchina that have unexpected power to resolve a sense of hopelessness, or what Victor Frankl would characterize as a lack of purpose, is critical to our resilience and happiness. Viktor Frankl's (1946) Man's Search for Meaning chronicles his experiences as a concentration camp inmate and describes his psychotherapeutic method of finding a reason to live. According to Frankl, the book intends to answer the question "how was everyday life in a concentration camp reflected in the mind of the average prisoner?" He observed that prisoners who found something to do every day appeared less vulnerable to the guards, and subsequently were judged as useful in one way or another; not as expendable. I simply cannot even imagine the horror of that reality, but nonetheless, it was documented by Frankl, (perhaps that was his purpose in attempting to make any sense of the horror,) and it makes sense to me.

I took away from this book the notion that without purpose, there is nothing. I think I already knew this on some level, but not to the point where I was considering the concept as part of my minute-by-minute navigation of daily challenges. I have come to realize implicitly that purpose needs to be at the core of everything I do. Purpose is a deus ex machina that resolves nearly all hopeless situations in life. It's a very critical one and we may need help finding it sometimes, but we have to have it. Hope is an action word.

Saturday, November 11, 2023

What's Your Truth?


                                            "the truth is..." (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0) by memory_collector

Those of us who work with kids from at-risk environments are challenged by the truths embedded within their trauma. How much we know about the conditions of their lives is dependent on many things, not the least of which are the protocols surrounding the appropriate disclosure of the always sensitive details. Who needs to know? Can those who perhaps want to know impactful details about the kids they work with handle the emotions surrounding the circumstances? Are there those who won't benefit from knowing these details but insist on not being kept out of the loop? 

There appears to be a fairly aggressive desire to know as "much as we can" about the kids we work with, but what if we're focusing on the wrong truths? I'm the first person to assert that we need to know as much as we can about the "story behind the story" of the kids and families we serve, but when circumstances prevent us from knowing as much as we'd hope to, I think we can totally divine a simpler construct in support our most vulnerable clients. In the very simplest of terms, there's only one truth we absolutely need to implicitly know in order to do our best work with kids from at-risk environments... our own.

I have often been involved in difficult conversations regarding the "need to know." At times when it has been necessary to disclose confidential information about a child's personal circumstances, I will typically hear teachers and other school personnel make statements like, "If I had known more about this child, I would have changed the way I interacted with him," to which I typically ask two questions in reply... why and how? 

There's one thing we implicitly need to know about kids surviving adverse childhood experiences; our personal truth in the way we feel about supporting kids no matter the type of environment they arrive from every day. Call it a philosophy, a perspective, or whatever you'd like, but the way we perceive our role as kare-givers (caring for kids from at-risk environments,) is the most important awareness we need to be clear about and one that we can never go wrong with if it emerges from the right perspective. The first part of this truth is that we can never, ever judge a child. I often find that this judgement, when it does happen, is grounded in incorrect assumptions about the child; that the behaviour they're communicating with is intentional or premeditated. It's not.

This inaccurate judgement often also manifests in damaging language (verbal and body) that gets communicated back toward the child. We act out what we're feeling, even when we don't realize we're doing it. When we feel that kids are intentional in being "bad," the tendency to take their perceived actions personally is heightened. Our best work cannot materialize when we believe kids are coming to school with deliberate intent to make our day, and their classmate's days as miserable as possible.

Kids know much more about who they're dealing with than we know about them. I often say kids are like horses; they pick up on our nuances and impressions toward them so much more skillfully than we can toward them just like a horse can feel his rider through the saddle better than the rider can feel the horse. This reality puts both the horse, and the child, at a distinct advantage with respect to the ways they respond to our actions, feelings, and words directed toward them. Kids know when we're not at ease dealing with them.

If all of us who work with kids could empathetically approach each of them with kindness and acceptance perhaps we can get by without the advantage of knowing about where they come from. We'd be expressing nothing toward them that necessarily needed to be reacted to. We would be tapping into what good solution-focused therapists know about effectively working with their clients; that you don't need to dwell on the problems to effectively set goals toward the solutions. We should harbor no animosity toward others for not disclosing details about kids we don't need to know. We could simply feel what we should feel about our role as educators; privileged and humbled to have the opportunity to support them from wherever they arrive each and every day. Defaulting to that presents very good odds that we'll build the trust and comfort necessary for kids arriving from at-risk environments not to be at risk within our classroom environments too. 

Monday, October 24, 2011

Fear and Opportunity- turning the table on bullies

Fear and opportunity... we generally place a negative or defeating connotation on the word "fear." What if fear were a useful element. Perhaps it can be.

A recent conversation between fellow Nemeticists, Daniel Durrant (@ddrrnt), Michael Josefowicz (@ToughLoveForX) and I, led us to question the presence and value of fear in a complex adaptive system that is a school. Fear is rampant in education: fear of failure; fear of consequence; fear of authority; fear of bullying... fear in every case manifested as anxiety and stress. But what of a potential lack of fear... would this be a better state? Let's glare at the issue of bullying for sake of argument. Daniel made a profound statement worth analyzing...
"bullies prepare us for a world that will hurt us, but we want to prepare bullies for a world that will love them."
I know there is no shortage of people who will say this is an unfair and imbalanced trade-off, but I disagree. Every element of a complex adaptive system is engaged in the system in one way or another- that's what makes the system complex... but it's the manner in which these elements (let's just say people) adapt that ultimately determines the sustainability of the system. Fear is a biological condition with a purpose- when exposed to it we make a choice to fight or flee. Either way, the choice we make will determine the quantum direction our action will send us. Both decisions put us in motion. Robert Sylwester describes the reflexive and reflective properties of this process as related as in they're both triggered by fear... fear of imminent threat to survival, and fear of what is unknown, but not an imminent threat. In both contexts, it's up to individuals to react as appropriately as possible to mitigate the fear.

Monday, February 2, 2015

Teaching Within the Culture of the Hope Wheel

Note: The following is an excerpt from the book "Innovative Voices in Education-  Engaging Diverse Communities." I wrote the closing chapter of this book, the one this excerpt (with minor changes) originates from.
A positive school culture is omnipresent and affects everything. People who work in positive school cultures would have a hard time defining them- they just are. 
The above statement came my way via Twitter some time ago. I've been thinking about it ever since. Does culture get thought about? What makes culture definable? Should we be able to define culture? Is there a template for a positive school culture?

If culture doesn't get thought about, it should. Perhaps this is the missing link in some schools... thinking about culture. There is lots of lip service paid toward the element of school culture, but how many actually make a deliberate effort to define their own school culture? With the assistance of my former colleagues during graduate school, I made the effort. The manifestation of our school culture evolved as a circular representation called the Hope Wheel.

I created the Hope Wheel during graduate school as part of my action research around emotional, social and moral education. I was struggling to visualize a paradigm that could encompass an intercultural perspective; one our very diverse school needed to shift toward. I returned to the roots of my professional teaching choosing a medicine wheel model to represent my evolving point of view. My experience working and living among First Nations people exposed me to timeless wisdom surrounding learning philosophy. To First Nations people, learning is the essence of living; it’s organic and natural, and for many, represented by the medicine wheel in one form or another.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

The Bully-Victim Spectrum

flickr CC image via Eddie~S

We spend too much time dealing ineffectively with bullies and not enough working proactively with victims, understanding that all bullies were first victims.

Hurt people, hurt people. I've heard this quote attributed to many. It doesn't even matter to me who claims these words of wisdom because they are so painfully true. I have worked with countless kids who have been characterized as bullies. The first question I used to ask them after they had hurt someone is why they did it. Their answers were very predictable. Defensive and seasoned bullies would tell me it was the victim's fault, that the victim had it coming or simply deny doing anything wrong, but the other answer I heard allot was confusing to me. Sometimes kids would tell me they didn't know why they did it. I wasn't sure how to analyze this response. It bothered me a bit that perhaps they could be telling me the truth; they actually didn't know why they were committing acts of bullying.

The more I heard this response over time from kids who had treated others badly, the more I believed them. I began to understand that their behavior was wrong and damaging to others to be sure, but that there were variables contributing to it that I did not understand. I wondered about whether trying to find out what variables were affecting the way these bullies behaved might help them understand their own behavior. I started to develop a perception that the first victim impact statement should be given to the bully, because there is a victim behind every single one of them.

I'm not trying to excuse bullies from their hurtful behavior, but it strikes me that they have always been a part of society, and I don't think they're going away any time soon. All of our attempts to stop bullying in its tracks have been unsuccessful. Every day we hear horrible stories about how bullies have inflicted physical and emotional pain on their victims. We are not winning the battle against bullying. Perhaps this is true because we aren't looking at the problem the right way.

I suggest that instead of asking bullies why they did what they did, we ask them a slightly different question. After hearing hundreds of bullies tell me they didn't know why they did what they did, I decided to re-frame my question to reflect the theory that hurt people hurt people. I started asking them this question... "what has made you feel so bad in your life that you feel someone else needs to share your pain?" The result was amazing and heart-wrenching. When I asked bullies this question, the vast majority didn't respond verbally at all; they just started crying.

Behind every bully is first a victim, and we need to learn victim's stories if we are to understand their victim - turned - bully behavior. Once we have this insight we can begin to help victims heal; to deal with their pain so they aren't inclined to inflict pain on others.

We spend too much time dealing with bullies, and not enough time supporting victims. I have yet to meet even one child who entered the world wanting to hurt people.

Behind every bully is a victim with a story. If you want to break the bullying cycle, learn this story.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

We don't need any special labels...

Your attitude is like a box of crayons t by katerha, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License  by  katerha 

The following perspective was shared with me by our school's inclusion facilitator recently...
"Inclusion is an attitude and a value system that promotes the basic right of all students to receive appropriate and quality educational programming and services in the company of their peers"(Guetzole).
Inclusive schools embrace the notions that all children belong, and that all children will learn if their educational needs are met. Notably absent from this definition is any mention of children with disabilities or special education. Inclusion is not a special education issue. It is about developing supportive schools and fostering high achievement for all staff and all students.

As former special education teachers, the two of us were having a discussion about inclusion, and how the terminology special education student doesn't really fit the bill anymore as a result of a welcome philosophical shift toward inclusion within the education system. Our school is fully inclusive. We don't offer any segregated or congregated programming at Glendale Sciences and Technology School... and we're (staff and students) doing just fine. My colleague and I were wondering out loud if we should just strike the term special education from our school's common language vocabulary. In the end, we agreed we should.

We agreed because our school is fashioning itself as one described above... one where
all children belong and where all children will learn if their educational needs are met. We intend Glendale to be a supportive school that fosters high achievement for all staff and all students. We believe implicitly that all students do have a fundamental right to receive appropriate and quality educational programming and services in the company of their peers from caring and empathetic teachers and paraprofessionals within the school. We also believe that all staff have a fundamental right to receive appropriate and quality educational support and professional learning services in the company of (and perhaps from) their caring and empathetic peers. This is how we think the collaborative process is optimized.

This is the essence of our Empathy Reboot Project. We are using this project to illuminate the imperative to be inclusive, and as a conduit to leverage empathy as our vessel toward a truly inclusive school. We know that success is measured in innumerable ways, and that by careful application of a strengths-based focus for all students and staff, we will be able to perceive success where formerly it may have eluded us. We understand that "normal is just a setting on the clothes dryer," and strive to value the contribution to learning that every single child and adult makes within our school. Our school does not equate kids or adults with the tabula rasa (blank slate) metaphor that preschool kids are often attached with, and rather think of each other as numerosus rasa... child and adult learners as abundant slates. We think of every member of our school community as a learner with infinite potential to acquire skills and knowledge. This is how we as teachers model never-ending learning, allowing us to teach knowledge, skills and attitudes more effectively from a place of confidence as opposed to anxiety.

We believe an inclusive school culture is one where all feel welcome and respected. It starts from the premise that everyone in our school... students, educators, administrators, support staff and parents... should feel they belong, realize their potential and contribute to the life of the school. In our inclusive school culture, diverse experiences and perspectives are seen as gifts to enrich the school community. 

An inclusive school culture is one where diversity is embraced, learning supports are available and properly utilized, and flexible learning experiences focus on the individual student. There is an innovative and creative environment and a collaborative approach is taken. At the heart of inclusion is committed leadership and a shared direction... every member of our inclusive school culture is viewed as a potential leader; staff, students and parents alike.

In our school diversity is a feature, not a bug. We acknowledge and celebrate differences as we divine characteristics that define us as a uniquely individual members of the school family. Twisting our cultural lens a bit focuses awareness of how self-identity is influenced by our perception of others, the world and everything within it. Culture is what we believe. The circumstances that surround every single conversation about culture are a sum total of the perceptions of those participating. If we are to peacefully and hopefully engage each other, we have to try to understand and empathize with each others cultural perceptions.

The cultural perspective we all hold is shaped by our experiences as influenced by our birthplace, our family, our spirituality and the zeitgeist within which we were born; it’s the cultural reality lens we look through. Our cultural identity is learned beginning the moment we’re born. Obvious physical characteristics and genetic traits define our culture in part from the second we’re conceived. After we’re born, the evolving cultural identity we form is largely influenced by our relationships and surroundings. Steve Van Bockern, coauthor of “Reclaiming Youth at Risk- Our Hope for the Future” refers to this identity as our cultural tail. I had the pleasure of attending a retreat with Steve on the Morley Indian Reservation west of Calgary in 2002. He explained that we can’t cut off our cultural tail; it’s always there, behind us affecting our perspective, but also that great things are possible in everyone’s future despite this tail that follows us.

Whether good, bad or indifferent, our cultural tail tells the story of where we’ve come from; who we are in terms of how our environments affect us, but it doesn’t have to predict where we’re headed. From a cultural perspective, in many ways we begin our lives rather innocently. Like clay to the sculptor, we start as unformed material yearning to be molded and shaped into a more tangible form; our growing cultural identity. Just as soon as we see the light of the world we begin forming perceptions and feelings about our culture and how we are different from, or similar to others. We are the sum total of what we think we are. Adults at Glendale strive to be responsible about noticing the cultural perspectives of children so we can help them form positive perceptions about their personal identities. We also need to do this with each other enabling all of us to confidently build relationships and circles of support as we share our perspectives with each other.

Ultimately these evolving personal identities define us as important and valued members of our school culture. We all have a story... we strive to learn everyone's story at Glendale. Our stories are what define us... we don't need any special labels to help us do this.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Ten EduKare School Reform Paths...

 flickr image via woodleywonderworks

... and the tools we need to travel them.

Wyle E. Coyote knew that kits could help him catch that roadrunner, but the kit alone wasn't enough. He also needed a path. What's the difference? I will say simply that kits are the tools that help us down the path. Wiley didn't have a well-thought out plan; no philosophical foundation to follow when hunting roadrunners, so the tools in his ACME kits were ineffective. Paths and tools to help navigate them need to synchronize if either is to be effective.

For some time now, a global group of excellent thinkers have been vetting a path for EduKare; a philosophical concept designed to improve schools making them better, faster and less costly within their local teaching and learning environments. We are joined in our thought circles weekly by others who are on very similar paths, but who perhaps are using different kits to effect good change in education. I think it's a good idea to share our toolkits so the path to improving teaching and learning environments can be made even more efficient.

Cathy Davidson (via Twitter @CatinStack) blogged the following points recently at HASTAC (Humanities, Art, Science and Technology Advanced Collaboration).
My Twitter pal Michael Josefowicz, who tweets as @toughLoveforx, is one of the very best tweeters on all things education.   He asked me recently about where I thought education reform needed to begin and last night I tweeted 10 for starters . . . but there are so many more.   Please add more ideas and tweet them.   The other person in this Twitter feed is @graingered (Sean Grainger) who I also know only from his Twitter feed.   Follow all these good folks:  #GoodEd

@catinstack's 10 late-night tweets on ed reform (w some a.m. edits): 
  1. End standardized EOG tests--they demotivate learning and good teaching
  2. Test in challenging way, use tough game mechanics w real-time feedback and new challenges
  3. ABCD grading is 19th c factory standard, meat packers: need nuance, subtle, real, honest assessment
  4. Make learning real, relevant, tied to communities, real experience, accomplishment, worth
  5. Omit industrial age "two cultures" binary (stem v art, human, soc). Really? in the Information age?
  6. Teach kids to think through, with, about, for--and create--new, interactive digital global communication
  7. Nourish ability, stop diagnosing, labelling, stigmatizing, medicating disability
  8. Restore arts, music, shop, PE: soul stirring learning that lets kids move, make, sing, dream
  9. stop making college implicit standard for all education, back to preschool. Many worthy careers don't need higher ed
  10. Involve parents, guardians, friends, grandparents as teacher's aids; subsidize healthy breakfasts and lunches

This is as succinct a list as I have seen relative to 10 very relevant education paths to consider. I think dialog around the specific tools to help us get down these paths is warranted, so I've contextualized an EduKare kit in response to Cathy's list (see list below each point):

Saturday, April 11, 2020

A Real Emergency in Education- Crisis As Opportunity...

Let's face it, to some people everything is an emergency.

A Chinese symbol for crisis is made up of two parts:
danger and opportunity…
Crisis as Opportunity (wéi ji) 

Danger – originally pictured as a man on the edge of a precipice
Opportunity – a reminder of the seemingly small but important opportunity that can come out of danger

There is controversy surrounding the symbol above and its interpreted meaning, but that's for other people to worry about. For the sake of the point I'm making, I believe as interpreted, the idea behind the meaning of the symbol above is very important. How it's further interpreted in practice is exponentially more important.

A Taoist story tells of an old man who accidentally fell into the river rapids leading to a high and dangerous waterfall. Onlookers feared for his life. Miraculously, he came out alive and unharmed downstream at the bottom of the falls. People asked him how he managed to survive. "I accommodated myself to the water, not the water to me. Without thinking, I allowed myself to be shaped by it. Plunging into the swirl, I came out with the swirl. This is how I survived."
Emergencies are often what we make of them. 

I can't tell you how many times I've had to address the emergent situation that someone dared to park in someone else's regular parking spot in our staff parking lot. 
  1. a serious, unexpected, and often dangerous situation requiring immediate action.
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