It takes more than one strand to make a rope

Bird Droppings October 31, 2010
It takes more than one strand to make a rope

“You cannot contribute anything to the ideal condition of mind and heart known as Brotherhood, however much you preach, posture, or agree, unless you live it.” Faith Baldwin

Each day as I talk to my students I try and set an example and not every day am I successful. But as I think this beautiful fall morning trying to decide if I should work in the yard or be lazy I thought I would take a few moments to write. Many of the children I talk to everyday stand alone, often due to their own choosing.

“No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent.” John Donne –

It has been several years since I did an experiment with a group of young people using sewing thread. I had a thread for each person and then I asked each of them to break the thread which of course was simple and easily done.

“The moment we break faith with one another, the sea engulfs us and the light goes out.” James Baldwin –

After breaking the threads I gave each of them another piece of thread and one by one we joined the threads together. In the end we had a thirty strand piece of string/rope and we twisted it slightly to keep threads together.

“In union there is strength.” Aesop

“Remember upon the conduct of each depends the fate of all.” Alexander the Great

Amazingly enough no one could break the new combined rope even when several folks pulled on each end it would not break.

“So powerful is the light of unity that it can illuminate the whole earth.” Bahá’u’lláh

I still carry that piece of string/rope in my wallet. It surely does make a great example when talking to students.

“I look to a time when brotherhood needs no publicity; to a time when a brotherhood award would be as ridiculous as an award for getting up each morning.” Daniel D. Michiel

It has been a few years back that I attended a demonstration up in Mountain City Georgia. The lecturer at the Foxfire Museum was using a couple of folks in the group and had them twisting and turning six strands of twine into a rope.

“Unity to be real must stand the severest strain without breaking.” Mahatma Gandhi

Real unity, that is the question, and in today’s politically charged atmosphere unity is no where to be found. I showed my students so many years ago that even though having multiply strands of thread all together in a bundle was significantly stronger each time you cut a piece it weakened exponantionally.

“In all things that are purely social we can be as separate as the fingers, yet one as the hand in all things essential to mutual progress.” Booker T. Washington

“We have learned to fly the air like birds and swim the sea like fish, but we have not learned the simple art of living together as brothers.” Martin Luther King, Jr., Strength to Love, 1963

Each day as I sit outside my door at school I witness differences in attitude and differences in brotherhood. Many are similar and in a high school that old cliché of school spirit is generally a good indicator of a semblance of brotherhood, a joining force in a body of humanity. But still there are strands of thread dangling outside weakening the whole.

“Cooperation is the thorough conviction that nobody can get there unless everybody gets there.” Virginia Burden, The Process of Intuition

I will never say everyone has to be identical. I like Booker T. Washington’s statement of each of being a finger yet still being able to be a hand. I use to think it was cool when I would see a six fingered person and in my old stomping grounds of Lancaster and Chester counties often you would see an Amish fellow with an extra finger. There was a recent ad where everyone was upset with Joe who had extra fingers because he could type so much more and do so much more, the ad showed him typing away and multi tasking with his extra fingers. But the ad was also about change and new equipment equalized the office space. So often we can not accept the differences.

“I have often noticed that when chickens quit quarreling over their food they often find that there is enough for all of them. I wonder if it might not be the same with the human race.” Don Marquis

In life far too often we spend our time fretting over differences and not looking for similarities. How can we work as a group a team? Watching college football Saturday for a few minutes along with The Rally to stop the insanity, teamwork makes all the difference in a win or loss. The winner is not always the better team. Always better teamwork will win and it can be only a minute difference, a single strand could change a game and or a life.

“Sticks in a bundle are unbreakable.” Kenyan Proverb

Interesting while writing about unity and still believing in individuality it is a difficult task. I come back to Booker T. Washington’s quote; I can be a thumb and still work as a hand when needed. It is in believing and in trusting we gain that unity and that brotherhood. Watching the rally yesterday one thing kept coming up why all the negative why not work together the problems are here and solutions can be had if there were teamwork. Please keep all in harms way on your mind and in your hearts.

Having a heart

Bird Droppings October 29, 2010
Having a heart

It is chilly out in the middle of Georgia temperatures near almost to freezing but not quite, high forties but one of coldest days so far this fall. We have still a week or two till we are off from school Thanksgiving and a fall break. I was watching TV last night and an old history sort of movie about the Pilgrims coming over to the New World is coming up soon. I find it funny how after that first Thanksgiving relationships between the native Indians and Pilgrims went down hill and it was not long till red skinned natives were the spawn of Satan and were to be eliminated by whatever means feasible. Pilgrims were not much different than today’s politicians as it was land was involved. I found it interesting how things changed so fast. Why is it we only have heart occasionally and some people never do?

“There are four bases of sympathy: charity, kind speech, doing a good turn, and treating all alike.” Buddha, Sayings of the Buddha

It has been several days since I was working with students expressing a news article in visual form. Over the past few years as I interact with people and seeing how much of an impact learning styles actually make on students it amazes me that such a simple thing is not seen previously. How we learn has been an issue I have looked at very seriously. Humans tend to learn basically in one of three ways visually, auditorially, and kinesthetically, in other words we see, hear or touch. Yesterday I through in the idea of perception as well and how we hear see and touch along with how we interpret is a factor. The assignment entailed using one PowerPoint slide to explain one of the main news articles out currently. The sample I used was based on The Red Lake Shootings – In a few moments about 45 seconds images and a few words flashed over the screen and my interpretation of the news flashed before us.
Students then chose stories and interpreted visually what they saw and felt. Ideas varied and stories varied significantly. One went in a direction of an issue close to home teen suicide and several reiterated the Red Lake Shootings. One how ever focused only on himself. His visual experience while interesting was a whirl of his own image. For several months going on two years I have known this student and his focus so often is self motivated as so many of us our. He derives his day from seeking attention to and through himself be it passing gas and letting everyone in the class room know or speaking out loud to draw attention from a teacher. The idea of disrespect is an understatement but it all is self focused so to say here I am.

“A relationship or an affinity between people or things in which whatever affects one correspondingly affects the other.” –

For quickness I use and there is defined the word sympathy as an interaction between two people or things affecting both. As I thought back to my self centered fellow I wondered as he focused all day on him self does he have sympathy. In the defining quote from Buddha sympathy is established as four aspects those being charity, kind speech, doing a good turn and treating all alike.

“The force of truth that a statement imparts, then, its prominence among the hordes of recorded observations that I may optionally apply to my own life, depends, in addition to the sense that it is argumentatively defensible, on the sense that someone like me, and someone I like, whose voice is audible and who is at least notionally in the same room with me, does or can possibly hold it to be compellingly true.” Nicholson Baker

There are many issues at hand that warrant attention and sympathy today locally and world wide.

“All sympathy not consistent with acknowledged virtue is but disguised selfishness.” Samuel Taylor Coleridge

“Sympathetic people often don’t communicate well; they back reflected images which hide their own depths.” George Eliot

As I searched this morning deeper I found often we tend to view sympathy with caution perhaps this person is being sympathetic for a reason. Perhaps it is for gain thinking back to the Pilgrims. Is it human nature to be so wary so distrustful of others.

“Is there anything more dangerous than sympathetic understanding?” Pablo Picasso

“The capacity to give one’s attention to a sufferer is a very rare and difficult thing; it is almost a miracle; it is a miracle. Nearly all those who think they have this capacity do not possess it. Warmth of heart, impulsiveness, pity is not enough.” Simone Weil

Several semesters back I sent off a paper dealing with kissing frogs. It was a reflection on teaching in a way but really it was a reflection on life. My premise being we should all be frog kissers. Teachers and so often parents are to be the Frog Kissers: Many times I have used the inference to the fairy tales of child hood of kissing a frog. We are always trying to find that enchanted princess or prince hidden beneath the guise of a frog; one kiss and the prince or princess will appear. Being an avid herpetologist along with my son, kissing frogs can be a risky business. Many species secret toxins some so lethal they can kill a man with barely a touch let alone a passionate kiss. There are some that can induce psychosis and hallucinations when ingested. All these efforts by the amphibians are purely defense mechanisms evolved over millions of years.
But the symbolism of the fairy tale and teachers/parents is what struck me. Teaching is about kissing frogs. We as teachers need to be taking those risks trying to find the hidden princes and princesses among our students. In reality we are going beyond simply taking roll and letting that child slip through the cracks. We need to be risk takers we need to set the example for the students that we will make an effort to be there and give each child ample time and place. As I pondered it was obvious as to where and why teachers quit. I see John Dewey’s idea and the example of Dewey in the classroom through Foxfire and all these great idealistic thoughts and then they seem to disappear into educational lala land.
What were to be great teachers seem to be eventually lost midst the flow and ebb of educational bureaucracy and never get a chance to be who they are. For many years I have wondered are today’s students and teacher automations doing as all those others have done before. Turn to page 138 children and read, now answer the questions at the back of the chapter. Raise your hand when you wish to speak and do not get out of line. I recall a Harry Chapin song I use often about a little boy who comes in his first day and colors flowers in a rainbow of hues, until his teacher corrects him and flowers are red green leaves are green, soon the creative spark is gone and another student became a frog. Fortunately in the song a risk taking teacher saves the day and kisses the frog and the rainbow is back. We need to work towards being that which we should be teachers, not simply information stuffers. As a parent and teacher a hard row to follow.

“There are four bases of sympathy: charity, kind speech, doing a good turn, and treating all alike.” Buddha

I keep thinking back to this idea of sympathy it is an active process not simply a feeling. I used loosely the illustration of kissing frogs but each aspect described by Buddha is an action. Charity is an activity although borrowing from a 1600 translation the Greek word agape is translated as charity. In Greek three words translate for love; eros, philos and agape. Agape often is also translated as a supreme unlimited love or God’s love. In the Biblical translations of 1600 the Greek agape would translate to charity, an active love an ongoing love. Kind speech is an action and is a physical response. Doing a good turn not just charity but physically doing something and perhaps the most difficult treating all alike again actively involved.
When I started this morning sympathy was more an emotion. Having a heart as I thought was just a sentence structure used to elicit sympathy and or other emotions. But sympathy is an active word it is beyond and there for having a heart perhaps too is active engaging. For nearly six years now I have ended each Bird Dropping with keep all in harms way in your heart and on your mind, originally I started with the attack September 11th and then war in Afghanistan and Iraq. But it has grown in form keeping in your heart is an action it involves doing not simply mouthing words. I recall nearly three years ago in the state of Vermont which still operates on a town meeting basis and several towns were voting to not send anymore national guards units from Vermont to the Middle East. Vermont has lost more soldiers per capita than any other state. Action some are sending cards reminders of home. For some it may be just a thank you as GI’s return. It is about active involvement, kissing frogs, having a heart, it is about voting and sympathy is action not just thinking about it. Please keep all in harms way on your mind and in your hearts.

An eclectic morning

Bird Droppings October 28, 2010
An eclectic morning

Over lunch a group of students and I began discussing, The Davinci Code and other philosophical diversions and fearing death as a basis for religion came up.

“Learn as if you were going to live forever. Live as if you were going to die tomorrow.” Mahatma Gandhi

It has been a few years since I watched an episode of Star Trek actually it may have been one of the movies. Spock has interfered with Star Fleets objectives in relationship to a small group of colonists on an obscure planet. It seems they live forever or at least aging is so minute that life times are measured in tens of thousands of years. What was interesting is that they by choice became nearly primitive living off the land and pursuing wisdom, reading, writing, all forms of art work. Life became a process of always improving since time was not a factor. As I read this quote from Gandhi earlier that movie popped in my mind.

“The world is apprehended by way of the mind, the world is acted upon by way of the mind and all good things and bad exist in the world by way of the mind.” Samyutta Nikaya

As I thought further about Star Trek and this group of people living on a planet where radiation from their sun seemed to be the key to longevity I was reflecting back on several incidents at school almost two years ago. My assistant Principal came in with thirty minutes left on the day before a holiday to do an observation or so she said sticking her head in the door. On top of the timing I had two extra students who had been placed with me since they are not functioning in regular classes. They were in a sort of holding pattern for a day or two. I was in the middle of trying to alleviate a year book emergency rewiring a CD burner and trying to print out a picture for a teacher who wanted her daughter’s angel scene from a Christmas play I just took for drama dept. and several extra students were assisting in helping down load hard drives from refurbished computers. So all in all, ten things were happening in last thirty minutes of last day before the holiday not counting an observation.
I never mind observations and probably have had more in four years than most have in a life time or was my AP was getting back at me for several previous practical jokes. But we think what we portray in our minds within seconds I was shifted from disaster to plotting a new reprisal. Actually got quite a good report for diversity and individualizing the learning situations.

“Honesty can be cultivated by transforming your inner language. For example, you might think: “I am no good” or “They are not good.” Is this true? For some strange reason, people want to wallow in the idea of being either the best or the worst. What is true in this moment? How close can we get to the reality of our experiences?” Martine Batchelor, “Meditation for Life

Thinking back to the movie Spock was trying to save the Utopian society of a small group of people as he turned against Star Fleet in the movie. The reason that Star Fleet wanted this planet was literally to sell and package longevity. They were willing to destroy a people for profit. Human nature many would say. I observed those two extra students I had on that observation day. One of them I have for a period every day the other I did not know. As I thought to why both ended with me it was because of inappropriate behavior in class. Such terms as acting out and attention seeking were used. I used to be a big fan of “Law and Order” a popular TV show. Last night a young boy who had been abused was talking with the prosecutor and recalled a particular day in his life. The very man who had abused him for four years was the hero by chance. He was concerned he was “sick” because the greatest day of his life was also with the person who destroyed his life. Shortly after on the show this young man tried to kill himself.

“Real love is not based on attachment, but on altruism. In this case, your compassion will remain as a humane response to suffering as long as beings continue to suffer.” the Dalai Lama

Perhaps I am trying to cram too many thoughts into one sitting. It was a busy day today and yesterday and will be tomorrow preparing for the up coming holiday and end of course tests. We all need to be looking at our lives are we trying to over simplify? Are we being honest with our selves? Do we use the word love as merely an attachment? Can we be more than we are in our given time? Many issues as we head into the holiday season I just need to take my wife’s car to the service station and here in the Atlanta area soon we will be deluged with all the folks heading south. It seems all major interstates seem to converge here and for a late Thursday just a reminder from Will Rodgers.

“Too many people spend money they haven’t earned to buy things they don’t want to impress people they don’t like.” Will Rogers

So as I am thinking further.

“The appreciation of the profundity and subtlety of his thought comes only after serious study, and only a few of the most committed students are willing to expend the necessary effort. Many, upon first reading him, will conclude: that he was a churlish, negative, antisocial malcontent; or that he advocated that all of us should reject society and go live in the woods; or that each person has complete license to do as he/she pleases, without consideration for the rights of others; or that he is unconscionably doctrinaire. His difficult, allusive prose, moreover, requires too much effort. All such judgments are at best simplistic and at worst, wrong.” Wendell P. Glick

Interesting I was thinking Glick was referring to me in this passage but alas it is Henry David Thoreau.

In a lesson plan on how to teach Thoreau Glick points out the difficulties even today though Henry David Thoreau is recognized as a great writer it was his idiosyncrasies that kept him from public acknowledgement in his time.

“He had in a short life exhausted the capabilities of this world; wherever there is knowledge, wherever there is virtue, wherever there is beauty, he will find a home.” Ralph Waldo Emerson, In his eulogy for Thoreau

Early today I was answering an email about how I had gone into teaching. A friend from high school never imagined me teaching. I found that interesting because since I was twelve I have been teaching be it swimming lessons, boy scouts etc. As a parent we are always teaching. I started with Henry David Thoreau in that he was a teacher but he walked away from teaching to be a better teacher. Thoreau left to become a learner. He sought knowledge; he craved new ideas and thoughts. Everything about him was a classroom.

“Yet, hermit and stoic as he was, he was really fond of sympathy, and threw himself heartily and childlike into the company of young people whom he loved, and whom he delighted to entertain, as he only could, with the varied and endless anecdotes of his experiences by field and river: and he was always ready to lead a huckleberry-party or a search for chestnuts or grapes. Talking, one day, of a public discourse, Henry remarked that whatever succeeded with the audience was bad.” Ralph Waldo Emerson

In my email this morning my friend wrote about teaching should be fun and how for many years her fellow teachers thought her methods were different. Often I have other teachers wonder at what I do with students and how and why. But they learn and they ask questions. I was looking back earlier to why I chose teaching. Initially it was because of a Biology teacher I had in tenth grade. I wandered away from direct teaching into publishing of training materials for twenty three years and came back. Often I find myself using the statement I am where I need to be at this moment. My pathway has led me to this spot. Soon we will have a day of thanksgiving of holiday family and friends. So often within the constraints of life we find times of sorrow. Please be aware that around you and near by someone may be suffering as we celebrate offer a hand, a shoulder a thought and please keep all in harms way on your mind and in your hearts and to borrow from a veteran and friend from an email many months back and with veterans day a few days away and still very applicable today.

“Please remember the sons and daughters in far away lands, for once we were them” Reah Wallace, retired Navy

A new dawn coming a new day and a new reality – who knows for sure – peace –

Education often draws from the NOW

Bird Droppings October 27, 2010
Education often draws from NOW

Several days ago a teacher offered to me a book on curriculum or so she said “Dumbing down of America” by Dr. Samuel Blumenfeld. It has been a few months since I picked this book off the shelf while reading various books at Barnes and Noble as I do so often. This book literally is about the dumbing down of America, pointing out all the faults in the educational system and how we are in worse shape than 100 years ago. The book is advocating home schooling and alternatives to public education and a public school teacher offered this book to me which I find amazing. Maybe my general demeanor as sort of on the other end of the scale politically did not get through to well. However as I think back 100 years ago not all children were educated in public school.
Many kids were living at home or in rural situations where education was not even considered. Mandatory education was still being worked on as late as 1974. In 1972 in Macon Georgia as a part of the work I was doing involving disabled students we found 284 children who had never been in school in less than 60 days. All were disabled and were not required at that time to attend school and in reality most had no place they could go. Now all children are educated in the United States or have the right to free and public education.
As I researched today and found many articles opposing today’s educational systems all of which had a basis in religion and morality. Interestingly enough Outcome based education was condemned and accused of causing all the ills of mankind and John Dewey was the originator and cause of educational dysfunction. These educators against outcome based education were preaching content simply having the right answers. Sort of take a test and all is well and teachers nation wide are complaining about teaching to the test and not to what students need to get on in life or into college. Much of the thanks can go to according to many teachers the No Child Left Behind legislation which is our national educational program. Over two years ago I had written a Dropping and am borrowing a paragraph or two from that particular day.

“The man who can make hard things easy is the educator.” Ralph Waldo Emerson

I recently watched a young man struggle with an equation in his math class homework. He asked me for help and without asking exactly what he needed help with I answered X=3 and was told I was wrong even though the answer was right. How could I answer without solving the equation was his question? I wasn’t thinking about math at the time and since we were working on essays about “how teachers could teach better” and he alone in the class was finished, he was catching up on homework, which was math. I apologized for answering not realizing he needed a solution as well. It really wasn’t about the answer; it was how to get to the answer.

“I believe that the only true education comes through the stimulation of the child’s powers by the demands of the social situations in which he finds himself.” John Dewey

As I was thinking further about this subject it dawned on me do I want children who know all the answers, the dates, formulas and such or do I want children who can find the answers. Somewhere in my wanderings today I found an excerpt from an 8th grade final test in Salinas Kansas. Interesting to try and see what you know. Happens to be from Dr. Blumenfeld’s book where he is showing how we are so far behind.

“Grammar (Time, one hour)
1. Give nine rules for the use of Capital Letters.
2. Name the Parts of Speech and define those that have no modifications.
3. Define Verse, Stanza and Paragraph.
4. What are the Principal Parts of a verb? Give Principal Parts of do, lie, lay and run.
5. Define Case, Illustrate each Case.
6. What is Punctuation? Give rules for principal marks of Punctuation.
7-10. Write a composition of about 150 words and show therein that you understand the practical use of the rules of grammar.

Arithmetic (Time, 1.25 hours)
1. Name and define the Fundamental Rules of Arithmetic.
2. A wagon box is 2 ft. deep, 10 ft. long, and 3 ft. wide. How many bushels of wheat will it hold?
3. If a load of wheat weighs 3,942 lbs., what is it worth at 50 cts. per bu., deducting 1,050 lbs. for tare?
4. District No. 33 has a valuation of $35,000. What is the necessary levy to carry on a school seven months at $50 per month, and have $104 for incidentals?
5. Find cost of 6,720 lbs. coal at $6.00 per ton.
6. Find the interest of $512.60 for 8 months and 18 days at 7 percent.
7. What is the cost of 40 boards 12 inches wide and 16 ft. long at $.20 per inch?
8. Find bank discount on $300 for 90 days (no grace) at 10 percent.
9. What is the cost of a square farm at $15 per acre, the distance around which is 640 rods?
10. Write a Bank Check, a Promissory Note, and a Receipt.

U.S. History (Time, 45 minutes)
1. Give the epochs into which U.S. History is divided.
2. Give an account of the discovery of America by Columbus.
3. Relate the causes and results of the Revolutionary War.
4. Show the territorial growth of the United States.
5. Tell what you can of the history of Kansas.
6. Describe three of the most prominent battles of the Rebellion.
7. Who were the following: Morse, Whitney, Fulton, Bell, Lincoln, Penn, and Howe?
8. Name events connected with the following dates: 1607, 1620, 1800, 1849, and 1865?

Orthography (Time, one hour)
1. What is meant by the following: Alphabet, phonetic orthography, etymology, syllabication?
2. What are elementary sounds? How classified?
3. What are the following, and give examples of each: Trigraph, subvocals, diphthong, cognate letters, linguals?
4. Give four substitutes for caret ‘u.’
5. Give two rules for spelling words with final ‘e.’ Name two exceptions under each rule.
6. Give two uses of silent letters in spelling. Illustrate each.
7. Define the following prefixes and use in connection with a word: Bi, dis, mis, pre, semi, post, non, inter, mono, super.
8. Mark diacritically and divide into syllables the following, and name the sign that indicates the sound: Card, ball, mercy, sir, odd, cell, rise, blood, fare.
9. Use the following correctly in sentences, Cite, site, sight, fane, fain, feign, vane, vain, vein, raze, raise, rays.
10. Write 10 words frequently mispronounced and indicate pronunciation by use of diacritical marks and by syllabication.” Dr. Samuel Blumenfeld, The Dumbing down of America

Interesting part for me was The language arts sections were the hardest. If you look at history and math other than experiential aspect of agriculture questions they are simple compared to today’s classes. I opened up a 1968 biology book from college and compared to a Biology book used in our high school. It is amazing how much different they are. Different is an understatement there are sections and subjects not even in my college book that are in the high school book. The new book had more in it and more difficult material and there were things not even discovered in 1967. So where does this take me, will I teach content or context? Will I teach about specifics or will I teach outcomes? I often use the example of a liter bottle, you can only put a liter in it and how we select and chose what goes in is the difficult part. Funny thing is compared to 1900 we have hundreds of times more information to learn and often with little context. Quantum Physics was not even around along with DNA and so many other aspects of science.
Countries have changed as have who and how events took place in history. So is it content or context? While great to know every date in US history I would rather know that the student can find the dates but can tie it all together and not simply give me facts. Please keep all in harms way on your mind and in your hearts.

Teachers are born not made.

Bird Droppings October 26, 2010
Teachers are born not made

I started this endeavor yesterday and got a bit side tracked and came back to it today. I walked out of the house and crickets were calling as loud as any day during the summer. It was warm and a front was moving through. The day was under way and it was great to be a teacher.
Over the years I have listened to great teachers in college, graduate school, in industry and in the pulpits of various churches. As I went through my teacher education I have been told that men should not teach elementary school, children should be seen and not heard and most of the traditional understandings of what makes a teacher. However within those few negative comments there were positive ideas as well. I heard Dr. Norman Vincent Peale many years ago talk about positive thinking. I heard Dr. Tony Campolo lecture in sociology and everyone left the class wanting to major in sociology. Dr. Glenn Doman in a small college in Texas lectured on human development in 1968 and it impacted me to a point that much of my reading and interest in human development for years to come centered on his ideas.

“….but say there was a student’s union. Might they ask that the dropout rate be lowered? Might they stay at the negotiating table until it was below 50%? We ought to ask kids whether they think the status quo is working.” Bill Gates

In 1972 or so I found a copy of Foxfire 2 at a bookstore and it fit right into the ideas I had about teaching. I was working with a group of Learning Disabled teenagers in Warner Robins Georgia and the hands on approach of Foxfire worked wonders. I asked students what they wanted to read and bought magazines rather than use elementary level books that were provided. Amazingly reading levels went up significantly. Sadly the principal attributed to her preferred reading curriculum and bought more of her elementary level books.

“From the beginning, learner choice, design, and revision infuses the work teachers and learners do together.” Foxfire Core Practice One
It is not nessasarily about technigue that I was intending to write but about that inborn flare for teaching an aspect that I see as an art form, you can compound that with the fact there is not a truly effective means to evaluate teachers. For example in our school a twenty minute observation one to three times a year along with a simple ten or so item check list is our system of evaluation. Time is a crucial factor with administration as to evaluate fifty to a hundred teachers time is paramount to completing an effective evaluation. Charlotte Danielson developed a very good program that has been incorporated in the ETS (Educational Testing Services) program of available tests and evaluation tools. However to be fair to a teacher it takes at least thirty six hours of observation to adequately evaluate with this tool. Most administrators are pushed for twenty minutes in today’s bare bones education budgets.
“The mediocre teacher tells. The good teacher explains. The superior teacher demonstrates. The great teacher inspires.” William Arthur Ward
“Very little is invested in understanding great teaching. We’ve never had a meaningful evaluation system that identifies the demensions of great teachers so we can transfer the skills to others.” Bill Gates
If only we could find a way to effectively evaluate and understand what makes a great teacher. Why is it that kids know and respond accordingly?

The rest of the Foxfire Core Practices:
2. The work teachers and learners do together clearly manifests the attributes of the academic disciplines involved, so those attributes become habits of mind.
3. The work teachers and students do together enables learners to make connections between the classroom work, the surrounding communities, and the world beyond their communities.
4. The teacher serves as facilitator and collaborator.
5. Active learning characterizes classroom activities.
6. The learning process entails imagination and creativity.
7. Classroom work includes peer teaching, small group work, and teamwork.
8. The work of the classroom serves audiences beyond the teacher, thereby evoking the best efforts by the learners and providing feedback for improving subsequent performances.
9. The work teachers and learners do together includes rigorous, ongoing assessment and evaluation.
10. Reflection, an essential activity, takes place at key points throughout the work.

I have come back to these simple practices many times and each time it seems to me this is just good teaching. Working with the Foxfire Approach to teaching you find very quickly it does take a bit more work but results and the attitudes of kids make it worth the effort. Giving kids input to what it is they are learning adds significantly to retention and their own accountability. I have written about creativity being stripped away from schools in favor of teaching to the test. We seem to find the word accountability bounced around and use standardized tests to measure that accountability. A teacher is a great teacher if everyone passes the end of course test in their subject. Sounds perhaps like a good idea till you are the teacher with ten special needs students who also have to pass the test along with ten behavior problems who could care less whether they were in school or not. Now the great teacher is banging their head against the wall trying to survive and the students are literally working against them.
Essentially it comes to attitude as I started reading Dr. Donald Clifton’s book, How full is your bucket I found that the concept of a dipper and bucket is a good one. Over the weeks ahead as I finish the book I will be sure and use some quotes. In a nutshell we each have a bucket and dipper and either take out of or give to each other. The concept is if you are always giving you will never have an empty bucket. What if we could apply this simple concept in education? Looking at the idea of Foxfire and John Dewey’s democratic classroom and filling a bucket there are possibilities out there we could find a way to take the natural talents of a given teacher and assist them in bringing that out. If we could give students input and communicate and if we could get away from the methods and technique only approach to teaching we could maybe make a significant change in education. So here I am wondering why we do not much like arguing politics probably even the best solution will never see the light of day because of the powers that be. So as always please keep all in harms way on your mind and in your hearts.

Why do we consider thinking a bad word?

“Humans have the ability to shift perspective. We can experience the world through our senses. Or we can remove ourselves from our senses and experience the world even less directly. We can think about our life, rather than thinking in our life. We can think about what we think about our life, and we can think about what we think about that. We can shift perceptual positions many times over.” John J. Emerick

As a teacher do I build walls or doors?

Bird Droppings October 22, 2010
As a teacher do I build doors or walls?

I enjoy arriving at school while the stars are still shining over head I can remember when my youngest would ride to school with me; he is not quite as big a fan of that as I am. He misses that few extra moments of sleep each day. I was in Borders book store a few weeks ago and picked up a copy of James Bradley’s book Flags of our fathers. The opening quote is a very powerful, what if.

“Mothers should negotiate between nations. The mothers of fighting countries would agree: Stop this killing now. Stop it now.” Yoshikuni Taki

I have been in several meetings the past few weeks with teachers and parents. It has been a few days since my youngest son handed me a sheet of paper to sign up for a teacher parent conference in geometry. It appeared that he let a test or two slip by. Any student with a less than 75% grade is to have a conference, school rules. As I am thinking about comments from one of my meetings where a mother wanted the school to do what she was doing in keeping her children up with their work, because she was tired. Ideally it would be great each teacher spend time each day with each individual student. However if you do the calculations at one hundred and ten minutes or so per class and thirty plus students that is less than four minutes a piece if there is no start up or down time. Less than four minutes for each student.

“The real difficulty, the difficulty which has baffled the sages of all times, is rather this: how can we make our teaching so potent in the motional life of man, that its influence should withstand the pressure of the elemental psychic forces in the individual?” Albert Einstein

This has been a favorite quote of mine for many years and hanging on the back of my classroom door where I can see it most of the day. As a parent and a teacher how do we make our parenting and or teaching so potent? How do we or should we provide a doorway or open the door for students and children?

“The man who can make hard things easy is the educator.” Ralph Waldo Emerson

Could not this person be a parent, friend and or a teacher?

“John Dewey’s significance for informal educators lies in a number of areas. First, his belief that education must engage with and enlarge experience has continued to be a significant strand in informal education practice. Second and linked to this, Dewey’s exploration of thinking and reflection – and the associated role of educators – has continued to be an inspiration. We can see it at work, for example, in the models developed by writers such as David Boud and Donald Schön. Third, his concern with interaction and environments for learning provides a continuing framework for practice. Last, his passion for democracy, for educating so that all may share in a common life, provides a strong rationale for practice in the associational settings in which informal educators work.” Mark K. Smith 2001

So often as I sit and think about how do we work with kids and I recall ideas from John Dewey. This passage written by Mark Smith relates four thoughts from John Dewey’s philosophy engage and enlarge experience, Thinking and reflection, interactions and environments for learning, and democracy in the classroom.

Engage and enlarge experience: If we as teachers draw on what the child knows and has seen and touched and then build on that and develop so that we can move forward and or sideways or up and down.

“Experience is not what happens to a man; it is what a man does with what happens to him.” Aldus Huxley –

“Nothing ever becomes real till it is experienced — even a proverb is no proverb to you till your life has illustrated it.” John Keats –

“Common experience is the gold reserve which confers an exchange value on the currency which words are; without this reserve of shared experiences, all our pronouncements are checks drawn on insufficient funds.” Rene Daume

Thinking and reflection: This is that aspect that Einstein refers to that has baffled the sages down through time – how to get students anyone to think and then as Dewey teaches reflect –

“A thought which does not result in an action is nothing much, and an action which does not proceed from a thought is nothing at all.” Georges Bernanos –

“We are formed and molded by our thoughts. Those whose minds are shaped by selfless thoughts give joy when they speak or act. Joy follows them like a shadow that never leaves them.” Buddha –

“Teachers and learners engage in conscious and thoughtful consideration of the work and the process. It is this reflective activity that evokes insight and gives rise to revisions and refinements.” The Foxfire Approach

Interaction and environments for learning: Providing an atmosphere that students want to be in is a key to success – Be it at home or at school if a child does not want to be there it is difficult to learn and to function –

“Course content is connected to the community in which the learners live. Learners’ work will “bring home” larger issues by identifying attitudes about and illustrations and implications of those issues in their home communities.” The Foxfire Approach –

“For industry to support education and training it must provide a relevant cost benefit to the employer. The content and design of the learning on offer must be capable of not only sustaining the candidate’s willingness and ability to learn but also respond to the ever changing environment within which industry operates.” Mike Goodwin, University of Wolver Hampton addressing the concept of negotiated work based learning

Having a context for learning by providing rationale and reason for what is being taught. Content is much easier to work with it is in the text book but providing context is where doors are created and opened.

Democracy in the class room:

“My own belief….is that a teacher’s stated views – and, more important, the visible actions which that teacher takes during a year in public school – are infinitely more relentless in their impact on the students than a wealth of books of any possible variety.” Jonathan Kozol, On Being a Teacher, p. 25

Students and children being actively involved in their class room changes often the direction and flow of learning.

“Students can be forced to sit through a class, but they cannot be forced to be interested in it, or to do well.” Alfie Kohn

“A visitor then to my democratic classroom in action would walk into a room in which students are working in groups or individually grappling with ideas that will later enrich the classroom. Deliberation and debate would be ongoing as students worked on issues and projects that mattered to them as both a class and as individuals. I as the teacher would not be the center point of the room but would instead be its facilitator and manager.” Ryan Niman

Parents, students, teachers and administrators each have involvement in a student’s learning. There is no specific script that is better than another. As I listened to a mother she wanted the school do take over all she did at home I wondered what are you going to do take a vacation. While she was tired and concerned those 16 hours away from school are as crucial as the eight or so that students spend in school. It is about getting sleep, proper nutrition, care and love which are all integral aspects of getting a child to learn and to have an appreciation for learning. Who opens the door and who creates the door sort of blend in and are not as important as that it is open and students and parents and teachers can each find their role and build. It is up to each of us to try and do just a little better each day in all that we do and please keep all in harms way on your mind and in your hearts.